Ticks suck. Literally! Take action to prevent tick-borne diseases like Lyme.

Taking precautions to prevent tick bites is a daily necessity in many places today. I’ve opted to include insect repellent clothing (treated with permethrin) and judicious application of insect repellent in our family arsenal against these tiny pests, combined with physical measures such as covering the skin as much as possible.

Repel insect repellent spray

Spring to fall, insect repellent stays in the car

Statistics tell us that tick-borne illnesses—including Lyme Disease in my region—are now endemic in vast swathes of the country. This became clear to me on a personal level when I totaled up the number of kids in my child’s first grade class that I knew anecdotally to have a Lyme diagnosis: six out of 21 kids!

29% of my son’s first grade class had Lyme Disease

We chose schools based at least in part on practices including time outdoors and nature study every day, but one result was increasing the kids’ exposure to a still-expanding risk of infection via insect bites.

In addition to Lyme, other tick-borne diseases include babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tularemia. There are more, and specific symptoms and prognoses differ, but the most important thing to know as an nature lover or outdoors enthusiast is that tens of thousands of Americans are infected by tick-borne illnesses every year. Some continue to suffer ill effects for years.

Infected ticks are a risk to human health in every state in the USA except Hawaii.

Prevention is better than treating a disease

Where simple steps can prevent pain and suffering, I choose to take defensive action. There’s controversy about how Lyme should be diagnosed and treated, for example. I’d rather not have to become a part of that debate.

Here’s how I protect my family:

1) Know the risks & be vigilant

Ticks are found in many regions, but they tend to lurk where leaves accumulate and trees or brush meet open areas. Here in New England, all those charming stone walls are great spots to stop and rest on a hike, but also popular hangouts for ticks.

Ticks have evolved to wait alongside paths for their prey.

Learn where ticks are likely in your area. Try to avoid brushing up against foliage if possible.

Ticks can be active any time the weather warms above freezing. They don’t die off seasonally like mosquitoes do. They are most active from roughly April to September, and their feeding habits vary according to their life cycle stages, but I’ve taught my kids to take precautions against ticks any time the temperature is above 40ºF.

Check yourself and your children after time spent outdoors. Teach your kids to check themselves, too.

Bathing upon returning home is best, though washing isn’t guaranteed to remove ticks from your skin. Close inspection is necessary. Some ticks are as tiny as the head of pin.

Change clothes when you come inside after spending time in tick-likely areas.

If you want to wear lightly worn clothing again without washing, put clothes in a hot dryer for just ten minutes. The heat is what kills the little beasts.

2) Take all feasible physical measures to keep ticks off your skin

This is so simple, and probably more effective than anything else: wear long pants and tuck them into your socks when you’re in tick-infested areas. Yes, you will look like a dork, but you won’t come home to find a tick attached in one your crevices.

Ticks don’t fly or jump. They linger at the tips of plants, waiting for a likely host.

Once they’re on your body, they climb. The tick finds an attractive feeding spot, buries its head in your flesh, and feeds on your blood. It might inject a glue to hold tighter into your body, or anesthetic saliva to prevent your feeling its presence.

A tick might remain on your body feeding for several days. Longer exposure to an infected tick increases the odds that the infection will transfer to you.

Cover your skin, and ticks will have a harder time feeding off of your blood or transmitting disease.

3) Use chemical repellents in a targeted way

It’s downright ironic that I prioritize buying organic food, but I’ve invested in a set of insecticide treated clothing for every member of my family. I’m concerned enough about the threat of tick-borne infection to take this step. We wear treated clothes when we’re spending significant time out of doors.

Treated clothing comes from many brands, and is often labeled using the Insect Shield® license, but I’ve seen variations on the market like Buzz Off, NosiLife®, BugsAway, or No Fly Zone®. I look for bargains on Amazon or in the Sierra Trading Post catalog since I care far more about function than style for this category of clothing.

You can also apply a permethrin treatment to your own clothing at home, but then you have toxic liquids to apply correctly and store or dispose of properly. Home treatments also wash out faster than commercial ones. The solution is very dangerous to pet cats. I choose not to apply permethrin treatments at home for these reasons.

For daily wear at school and during outdoor play, I made ankle wraps from commercially available, permethrin treated bandanas. This was far more cost-effective than buying many pairs of treated pants, and the bandanas are easier to find than treated socks in children’s sizes. It also removes the insecticide to one layer further from my child’s skin.

At full retail, one bandana costs $18, and can wrap two pairs of ankles; treated pants retail around $60 per pair and are quickly outgrown by kids. Outdoors, my kids have been instructed to tuck their pants into their socks, and wear the bandana wraps on top of the socks.

One more very affordable option is to buy Insect Shield® socks in a men’s size, then cut them into ≅2 inch tubes (slices of sock.) You can get about eight pairs from one pair of large socks.

Wear these slices as sweatbands around wrists and ankles like a fashionable athlete circa 1980. Dorky again (well, perhaps that’s in the eye of the beholder), but quick to don, relatively cheap, and great for putting a physical barrier right where you need it. These will also hold long pants or sleeves snug against the bare skin to stop crawling ticks.\

I keep insect repellent spray in my car and I encourage my child to keep a bottle in his school cubby for application before recess, if it’s allowed. We use bug spray just on our feet and ankles before we go outside to walk or play.

Kids are usually in a hurry to get outside, so I combine as many of these measures as possible each day. If they miss one step, they still usually have some protection against ticks.

Prioritize whichever measures you and your family are most likely to remember to use every time you spend time outdoors. One of my sons was good about remembering to pull on the “sweatband” style bands; one of them just tucks his pants into his socks before school and is happy to stay like that all day.

Do what works.

4) Immediately report tick bites to your doctor

When I found a tick on myself one morning, attached/embedded and engorged, and obviously acquired at least 24 hours before, I opted to take a prophylactic dose of antibiotics. Our home attempt at removal squished the tick and therefore increased my risk of acquiring any disease it could be carrying.

This was the only time I’ve found a tick on a member of my family in this condition. We’ve found them crawling on our skin but not attached in other cases.

I also sent the dead tick into a lab at a state university for identification and testing. It cost me $50 out of pocket, but, when the results showed that my tiny attacker was positive for tick-borne disease, I was relieved to have taken the antibiotic.

I might not have become infected without these measures, but they helped greatly with my peace of mind. Keep in mind that I usually take a wait and see attitude before giving any member of my family antibiotics. I avoid medication when possible and try to resolve health issues with rest, diet, etc. I was unwilling to gamble when Lyme Disease was in the equation.

Definitely discuss these measure with your own doctor, but be aware that a single dose prophylactic antibiotic is an option in some circumstances, and ask for treatment if your situation warrants.

I’m also grateful that I took the prophylactic treatment as I’ve since been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that includes joint pain. I would have wondered more about the potential for chronic Lyme disease otherwise, though my symptoms aren’t a great match for those widely reported.

Even if you don’t take preventative antibiotics, but you later become symptomatic, notes in your medical record about a tick bite could provide a useful clue to your health care provider.

Wooden jigsaw puzzles: what was old is new again

I’ve mentioned this before: I love assembling jigsaw puzzles.

Some of my enjoyment of puzzles relates to fond memories of doing them with my mother when I was growing up.

Another element is the sense of well-being I get from assembling all kinds of things. I also like putting together furniture from IKEA, and building Lego sets.

There’s a reason I worked in software quality assurance (QA) for a number of years. I get satisfaction from methodically completing a series of steps, confirming every expectation has been met. I’m weird like that.

So one of my favorite pastimes is completing a jigsaw puzzle.

After almost forty years of doing puzzles, I was amazed to discover a new frontier in this relatively straightforward hobby.

The wooden jigsaw puzzle difference

wooden jigsaw puzzlesI started collecting wooden jigsaw puzzles. Continue reading

Summer vacation isn’t the enemy of modern parents, but it reveals social boundaries

Last week, I saw an ad predicated upon the idea that summer vacation is a nightmare for parents. It wasn’t even Memorial Day yet, and, already, they’d infected the airwaves.

Do parents really bemoan summer break?

I despise commercials that attempt to advertise products based upon the perverse notion that I loathe spending time with my children.

The Back to School ads are even worse than the End of the School Year set. Parents dance in the streets because they are unable to contain their joy at giving up the burden of spending entire days in the company of their own kids.

Are these the same kids Americans were so desperate to have that more than 10% of US women of childbearing age have used infertility services? Bah, humbug!

My kids are cool, and I enjoy their company. Summer means no alarm clocks and more opportunities to say yes to their (admittedly, sometimes goofy) requests. Summertime equates to free time.

Or are parents with limited resources desperate for better solutions?

I’m crying foul. I think this is primarily a lame advertising trope.

But, of course, there is added stress for families where all available caregivers work outside the home. Finding appropriate summer camps or childcare is a pain. That’s true 365 days a year in America for kids too young for public school.

This isn’t a summer problem, or a parenting problem. It’s a political problem, and an economic one. This is not proof that parents want their kids to stay locked up indoors year ’round.

Instead, we see a sign of a childcare problem in a society expecting high rates of worker participation from able bodied adults. (Those would be the same adults who most frequently produce offspring!)

Really, how many of us resent watching the kids pour out of the schools and into the home, onto the beaches, and into the parks?

Most parents work their butts off attempting to earn the best for their kids, and that includes fresh air, exercise, and time and space to dream the biggest dreams. That’s where summer vacation can really shine, but only for those with the time and resources to let it happen.

My family’s summers include travel, museums, hours poring over books of our own choosing, and lots of time with extended family. I don’t even have to question whether or not this is a good use of my kids’ time. Of course it is!

I can barely express how grateful I am for this privilege.

We supplement our lazy summer days with hours of Khan Academy and specialty family camps, not because we feel compelled to keep up, but because learning new things is awesome and we want to share the joy with our kids.

I don’t believe for one minute that there are legions of caring parents in America who want more testing, more trivial comparisons, and more common core for their beloved children.

Parents want their kids to have access to opportunities. Parents want their kids to learn useful stuff. Parents want their kids to grow up well and be successful and happy.

I can’t even say how much I wish summer vacation was an equal opportunity benefit for all children.

Who really hates summer break?

Parents today—like most people today—struggle under a burden of technology and schedules seemingly designed to detract from a fulfilling life.

Theoretically, we live in an era of reduced physical effort and greater access to information, leading inexorably to an easier life. In practice, maybe not so much.

These commercials are lazy work on the part of advertisers, but they do reveal a modern day American tragedy.

Some of us have to get a little desperate when school lets out for summer.

Some of us get to enjoy our kids’ company in the same situation.

Lunchbox life saver: Weck glass storage jars paired with Thermos insulated containers

Some small tweaks in behavior can eliminate daily annoyances. One of those, for me, was the switch from storing leftovers in miscellaneous containers to using glass canning jars with narrow necks made by Weck.

What makes a glass jar revolutionary?

The mouth of a Weck ¼ L Cylindrical Jar (neck opening) nestles perfectly inside the rim of a Thermos insulated jar. It also holds just the right quantity of food to completely fill a 10 ounce Thermos.

I can microwave leftovers in their storage container (Weck jar), then simply invert the jar over the Thermos to quickly and neatly transfer the warmed food.

My old method was messy & inefficient

Before, I would transfer a serving size portion of leftovers—judged by eyeballing the quantity—from a larger Pyrex storage container to a plate. I’d re-heat the food, then fill the Thermos from the plate. Unless I took the extra step to measure out the serving of food, I routinely over- or under-estimated how much mass on a plate would precisely fill an insulated jar.

Or, I would store single servings in plastic containers, but then I would need to dump the food onto a microwave safe dish before re-heating.

We don’t heat food in plastic because of the potential health risk of leaching toxins. I prefer not to store food in plastic for the same reason, though I’m not zealous enough about the subject to avoid it when there’s a real danger of broken glass.

In either case, I also had to spoon the food into the Thermos after heating. That usually resulted in at least a little spilled food and a greasy mess on the outside of the lunch container. Remember, hand-eye coordination is not a particular strength of mine. My arthritis also means morning stiffness in my fingers, further reducing my competence in the kitchen, especially during the before school rush.

Objective improvements thanks to Weck jars

Here’s a list of functional improvements I can attribute to my switch to storing individual servings of leftovers in Weck jars:

  • less wasted food
  • no dirty measuring cup and/or
  • no dirty plate used for re-heating
  • no dirty spoon used to transfer
  • no dirty kitchen counter from spills
  • less frequent cleaning of lunchbox interior from carrying greasy Thermos

More subjective benefits

Though I tend to put function first, the intangible benefits of this new storage and food transfer solution have also made a big impression on me.

Glass jars are beautiful

I debated whether this should be reason number one, but it’s too easy to overlook little changes that bring a lot of joy to everyday life. Beauty is one of those.

Weck jars lids narrow neck - 1

L to R: ½ L Juice Jar; 080 Mini Mold Jar over ¼ L Juice Jar; 760 Mini Mold jar over 975 ¼ L Cylindrical Jar; plastic storage lid, glass canning lid, 762 1/5 Jelly Jar

Even with my lackluster photography, Weck jars make a pretty picture.

I originally bought a set of three of the ½ L Juice Jars from a fancy kitchen store at an exorbitant price. I had a functional use for them, but I also just loved them. Aside from looking nice, the juice jars, in particular, are sized to feel great in the hand while you hold them.

Compare these two views:

Though both cupboards store functional kitchen equipment I use every day, it should be obvious which items I store in a closed cupboard, and which are stored in plain sight.

Made in Germany, meant to last

Americans who aren’t familiar with the German manufacturer, Weck, should know that these are canning jars. Consider this a European equivalent to our Ball or Kerr canning jars.

The difference, and, again, what makes these so perfect for use with a Thermos, is the size of the mouth of the jar. You want a jar with a 2-3/8 inch opening to mate with a Thermos. Weck also makes wider mouthed jars more similar in diameter to the mason jars used in the USA, so check the size carefully before you place an order.

Because these are canning jars, they are made of thick, strong tempered glass. They were designed to be immersed in boiling water as part of the canning process, then stored for long periods to keep food fresh. They are sturdy.

They are microwave and freezer safe, and I routinely use them for both.

Avoid sudden temperature changes when using glass, and allow room for expansion when freezing liquids. Weck jars are sturdy glass, but any glass has the potential to break if mishandled.

Standardized sizes for sensible accessory storage

I realized years ago that buying a set of containers with interchangeable lids works much better for me than a bunch of disparate sizes. I am reasonably good about tossing a container that’s lost its lid, but why run that risk in the first place?

To keep up with the packed meal demands of my family of four, I own six Thermos insulated jars in two sizes, all of which use interchangeable lids.

Though I’ve now expanded my Weck jar collection to include both 2-3/8 inch and 3-7/8 inch diameter sizes, in both cases I can always order extra lids to replace any that are lost or mangled. The jars are somewhat expensive, but the plastic lids are very reasonably priced.

One less thing to worry about

A canning jar won’t change your life, but, if your family carries packed lunches, it might remove a moment of stress from typical mornings. In our household, that’s one of the busiest—and most stressful—stretches of the day.

And, after all, is there any more beautiful way to store your jelly beans?

Weck jelly beans

Spit it out! Memorizing phrases & the parroting process for improving foreign language fluency

Rote memorization won’t make you a fluent speaker of a new language, but it can be a powerful tool for increasing your foreign language fluency.Pimsleur

You often resort to routine phrases in your native language

Imagine this common scenario.

You’re hurrying into a familiar place, surrounded by people you know. Someone asks casually, “Hi! How are you today?

Most likely, you answer without a thought:

Fine, thanks.”

You answered with a learned response. You weren’t engaging the higher functions of your complex brain and its multiple intelligences. You went by instinct. That’s rote.

This kind of verbalization isn’t going to make you a master public speaker. It isn’t the rich, nuanced stuff of great oratory or literature. But words and phrases like these make up a huge proportion of the words spoken every day.

If you cultivate your knowledge of simple, canned responses to common questions and scenarios in a target language, you can really accelerate your comfort with speaking and your eventual progress toward fluency.

Fluency only comes if you actively use the language

I’ve always been a good student. The strength of my short term memory and my classroom skills made it fairly easy for me to get good grades in high school and university classes in Spanish and German. In spite of this, even after years of study, I was nowhere near fluent in Spanish, though I could read written materials fairly well.

By contrast, in only one semester of purely spoken Japanese taught by an immersion method, I learned a handful of phrases that stick with me in their entirety (and at full speed) to this day.

After that course, I never studied a language the same way again.

Do you intend to read, write, or converse in your target language?

Before Japanese, I improved primarily in the area of language my classes tested: reading and writing.

Sure, the students in my classes engaged in dialogues, but these were a small fraction of the time spent, and conversational skills were almost never on the test. With 15 pairs of high schools students talking to each other simultaneously, ostensibly in Spanish, there was no way for the lone teacher to notice—let alone correct—errors, omissions, or even a total failure to complete the assigned dialogue.

If your interest in acquiring a new language is to read, say, Descartes in his native French, or Don Quixote in the original Spanish, the American classroom experience may serve you well. For everyone else, read on! Continue reading

Blessings by the minute, from the playground into sleep

By school pick up time—around 2:30pm, so hours before many people even think of finishing their days—my reservoirs of energy are nearly empty. What used to be an afternoon lull is more often, now, my afternoon collapse. It’s the most persistent and insidious symptom of my autoimmune condition.

Afternoon delight? Fugeddaboutdit!

The work of a stay-at-home mom may include some flexible hours, but school pick up time is not among them. The kids are done when they’re done; someone needs to go get them. There are a few dads driving up in the daily rotation, but most chromosomes in the car pool lane are XX.

Add me to that list of who’s who.

playing outside - 3

Outdoor “play equipment” doesn’t have to be expensive or complex

One of the things I like best about my son’s school is the emphasis placed on time spent playing and learning outdoors. They aren’t quite as adamant about it as our preschool was—there, kids went out, rain or shine, unless there was a truly bitter freeze or risk of lightening strikes—but the value of free time, active play, and exposure to fresh air and sunshine is respected.

So, while I’m often running on fumes by 2:30pm, I bring a book, I pack a thermos of tea or an appealing snack, and I just generally prepare myself for a comfortable wait so my little guy can stay longer with his friends and play even more after school. It may only be a half an hour, but what a precious 30 minutes for a kid.

I’ve read that child’s play is currently endangered. I tend to agree that this is a grave loss for the kids in question and society overall.

On a beautiful spring day, it isn’t much of a sacrifice to allow this time for my child to release some of that seemingly boundless energy. My arthritis doesn’t flare as often on moderate days, lessening the cost of pain. In the absence of rain, I can move around and avoid getting stiff from sitting in the car. I get to socialize today, too, with other moms and some lingering members of the school staff, all of whom take advantage of the beautiful weather to linger outside.

DS2 and his knot of friends are involved in a complex dance of running, falling down, enacting simulated agonies, then jumping up to do it all over again. Some of the girls join in at times, weaving themselves into the game, then drifting away to huddle under a different tree, whispering their own solemn secrets. They start a new adventure by climbing a large, horizontal tree.

playing outside - 2

An admittedly awesome tree, some string, and a lot of imagination sparked this adventure

“Watch out for that poison ivy,” they advise me when I come closer to take a picture. After confirming I’m not there to take my son away, they quickly re-submerge in their play. They stop only when a preponderance of mothers appear, all ready to go home.

There seems no possible sweeter moment for me, as a mother, than this one, until later, after a tick check and bath, after dinner, after fun, when the little guy is lying asleep nearby and I’m restless and reflective. His breathing is deep and even with no sign of the nocturnal asthma that sometimes harries our nights.

No doubt the fresh air and tree climbing contributed to his deep, peaceful slumber, even as the memories of the same disrupt mine.

He’s so big, now, my little boy, but still so very small. My love for him swells in my breast like a wild thing rearing up to escape its confinement in a cage. It is ridiculous how much I adore this child. I’ve always found it easier to really notice this while he’s quietly sleeping.sleeping - 1

The night air drifting in the window is still soft and smells of spring. Many hours remain for slumber, and there’s more play in store for tomorrow. It’s time to tuck this unbridled passion for a silly little boy and his winsome ways away, and attend to my own dreams.

A cold shoulder was my shorthand for “I hate it when you leave”

We all have behaviors that we’ve not so much chosen as assumed. One of mine was pointed out to me years ago by my beloved spouse.

DH observed:

“You always pick a fight with me before I travel.”

He was completely right.

Once this behavior was drawn to my attention, I gained a measure of control over it. Now, on the evening before DH leaves for a business trip, I don’t pick a fight about how one ought to load the dishwasher or the correct position for the lid of a toilet not in use.

Instead, I cling to him almost desperately, and whisper sadly:

“I hate when you go. I want to punch you. I love you.”

Note: These are just words of frustration. Families should not hit each other.*  If your family hits you, please get help. Call the police.

Even wallowing in awareness of my reluctance to part, and fully cognizant of my tendency toward easing the transition through verbal aggression, I still need to express it.

At least now, this expression has joined the ranks of our commonly understood, odd, humor-filled scripted interactions.

“I’ll miss you, too,” DH says. “I wish I didn’t have to go.”

He hugs me tight and gives me the reassurance I’m tacitly requesting.

DH doesn’t always speak my language, but he’s gotten pretty good at interpreting it.

Someday, perhaps I will evolve even further. I may yet grow into a kinder, gentler person who doesn’t feel angry—and find a need to express that anger through nitpicking fights or unpleasant words—when confronted by the temporary loss of my love.

He’s my best friend. I hate it when he goes away for even one night.

That’s probably what I should learn to say instead.

 

 

*There is some physical contact that is perhaps best described as martial arts practice in our family. That requires the explicit, stated participation of all parties, and is only supposed to occur in our exercise room. None of the men in the household seem capable of confining their wrestling to the gym, but it is the rule, for the benefit of the furniture as well as the safety of the combatants.

Books by my bedside 2017/05/23

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least have a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

Non-Fiction

Economics, history & politics

Why Nations Fail : the origins of power, prosperity, and poverty by Daron Acemoglu

Gaming

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set Rule Book

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set: The Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure book

Language

German I by Pimsleur (audio CD)

Math & technology

Gödel, Escher, Bach : an eternal golden braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Fiction

The Great Passage written by Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter (note: this was a freebie from Amazon for being a Prime member)

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul (Young Adult title)

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Young Adult title)

Reading Notes:

Preparing for a role playing game is all consuming

I found a few sleepy moments to finish the latest installment in my before bed brain candy mystery habit (J.D. Robb’s futuristic series about Eve Dallas), but managed very little additional pleasure reading this week.

I haven’t found the motivation to finish Thirteen Reasons Why, but I started My Kind of Crazy. I was hoping it would be a little more cheerful. Young Adult and Children’s titles can be very relaxing, but these both tend more into “youth at risk” territory. It takes more energy for me to read something distressing.

My Kind of Crazy feels like it could get amusing, but it isn’t yet. It also read like a book about a boy written by a woman. I checked the author’s bio, and, yup, Robin is a woman. I’ll keep reading and see if my opinion shifts.

Starter SetMost of my free time last week was spent prepping for running a Dungeons & Dragons game session that morphed into two evenings of play. It’s not strictly reading, though there are about 100 pages of information with which the leader (DM) should be familiar. So I read through it, then made some notes, then read some parts again. After the first few hours of game play, I also printed out some cards to help me keep track of every individual character.

Thus far, my experience as a D&D DM feels like an exercise in office supply logistics.

Mom is my Dungeon Master: D&D role playing games as family hobby

Full-time Mom, new blogger; add Dungeon Master to my illustrious titles

I avoided doing any housework this weekend. I also missed making a daily post to this blog for the first time in nearly two months. Why? I am now the Dungeon Master (DM) for the D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) Starter Set adventureLost Mine of Phandelver.”

Most of my free—and some rather expensive—minutes for a week and a half have been spent on this endeavor. Even with a ready made campaign, being a DM doesn’t come cheap in terms of time. I hadn’t even played a game of D&D since the 1990’s. The learning curve was steep!

Phandelver game DM view of cave Wolf room 3

Spoiler Alert: Don’t look too closely if you’re planning to play Lost Mine of Phandelver as a PC

What’s a Role Playing Game (RPG)?

Not sure what a role playing game (RPG) is, exactly? Wikipedia and others can explain them in greater detail, but start by imagining a shared group storytelling experience that follows a set of rules to impose some structure and some interesting randomness on the proceedings.

The person conducting the story and acting as “referee” is the Dungeon Master (DM); every player contributes to the overall story by describing what their player character (PC) does in the context of that story. The DM can use a “campaign” (story) written by someone else like I did this weekend, or she can create a scenario, world, or universe uniquely her own.

If you are imaginative and enjoy other table games, RPGs could prove a similar source of fun for you and yours. It is time consuming, though. I spent ten hours this weekend around a table—during two evening sessions—with my family and some good friends. That’s in addition to the hours I spent preparing earlier in the week.

Everyone was fully engaged and having fun, including a pair of middle school aged kids playing with their parents. That’s a coup according to this mom. Aside from getting to bed late on a school night (oops!), this first family foray into RPGs proved a great success.

I can’t really take the credit for initiating the game, though. I do, however, emphatically accept the kudos for working my butt off to give everyone a good time.

Read on to find out what got us started. Continue reading

Mending: sustainability, minimalism, and one likely repercussion

Recently, I’ve been enjoying a few interesting blogs, including one by a young woman who writes primarily about minimalism in her wardrobe, and another that tends to focus more on sustainability in overall lifestyle and particularly her finances (though she blogs on many topics.)

I found myself musing about a less than obvious relationship between these two sets of writing as I was ensconced on the couch the past few evenings working on a necessary repair project. If your lifestyle and values dictate buying fewer items of better quality, you are going to have to learn how to mend (or employ someone to do it for you.)

linen-duvet-mending-1.jpg

Linen is strong, but brittle when dry. Here’s what can happen in the dryer when someone else launders the bedding and doesn’t know when to be extra careful with the linen duvet. Linen sheets can easily outlast cotton ones, but they require proper care.

Mending is a skill that was once ubiquitous. Before the Industrial Revolution, things (man-made objects) were quite costly and labor—especially that of women in the home—tended to be cheap. Even after the advent of affordable and readily available machine-sewn, purchased clothing, many people retained the sewing skills to make repairs and simple alterations.

Today, a t-shirt is so cheap, we treat it as disposable. We don’t own just a few outfits; even the poor in a developed country can own a wardrobe rich in variety. When we stain a garment, or it rips, it “costs less” to buy a new one than to spend time remedying the problem.

Yes, we launder our clothing, but often with little care, because individual garments have very little intrinsic value.

This ceases to be true when one invests in sustainable products. Organic, locally-sourced, fair trade, and high quality typically equate to expensive. If I’m willing to pay someone of my social class in my rich nation to produce my clothing or housewares, I’m going to pay more than I would for equivalent items made by impoverished factory workers under exploitative conditions.

I’m going to have to do some work to make these products last longer, because I can’t afford to replace them frequently.

My values also dictate that I shouldn’t be replacing, I should be repairing, re-purposing, and, at the very least, recycling my no-longer-useful-to-me discards.

Fortunately, an artisan-made product is likely to be better constructed of higher quality materials than the mass market equivalent. Sturdy trousers in a sensible fabric with a full lining will neither wear out nor require cleaning as often as thin, cheap cotton pants. Worn or soiled linings are quickly replaced. Good construction techniques mean the possibility to let out or take in a waistband that no longer fits.

Unfortunately, the world at large doesn’t always make it easy to act anachronistically. I am the only person in my household who understands the details, and importance, of my rather sophisticated laundry sorting process. When someone helps with the laundry, invariably, a delicate (expensive!) item ends up going through the “wrong” wash.

There have been tragic losses: a darling pair of organic wool overalls that went from size 6 to a toddler 2/3 after a trip through the dryer. Sigh. Luckily, we had a young friend who got to enjoy those for another year.

There have also been signs of remarkable resilience. I don’t recommend repeating this test, but, if your child throws his good trousers in the big hamper of regular wash and dry laundry, they might come out of the dryer just fine. These wool blend dress pants from Nordstrom held up to a full cycle of warm water wash and hot dry. They didn’t even shrink! The child was allowed to live.

The example I opened with is my Linoto linen comforter cover  (a.k.a., duvet.) If you want gorgeous, 100% flax linen bedding made in the USA by people who will go above and beyond to make you happy, I recommend Jason at Linoto as your source.

I also own flax linen bedding sold by Coyuchi and cotton/flax blends and hemp linen sheets from Rawganique in Canada. I’ve even sewn some specialty sized linen pillowcases myself using fabric purchased here or here.

If you follow the care instructions, you probably won’t need to do the kind of repair I’m undertaking right now.

linen duvet on bed - 1

Linoto duvets (two twins) with Coyuchi linen sham and skirt

Then again, if you live in a busy household with a family that is sincerely helpful but not particularly educated or enthusiastic about specialized laundering, I can also reassure you that your expensive linen sheets will still survive for years, and probably not tear like mine, if you just keep them out of the dryer, especially with other, heavy linens.

Mine were in constant use for five years before tearing. Here’s what happened:

If you’ve ever had a load of sheets in the dryer with a comforter cover, you’ve probably experienced the “giant wad of linens balled up inside the duvet” phenomenon. I can’t explain the physics, but it always seems to occur. Maybe its related to the knotting of agitated strings.

When I’m feeling well and managing the laundry myself, I carefully redistribute the linens midway through the drying cycle to separate these and the pillowcases that get wedged inside the elastic corners of fitted sheets. If I’m feeling really well, I hang up my linen items after a few minutes in the dryer to soften them up.*

None of my helpers remember—or bother—to do either of these additional steps.

More than once, a heavy ball of wet cotton has been caught inside my delicate when dry linen cover. More than once, someone has helped me empty the dryer and yanked on this heavy mass without supporting the linen piece from the strain. Eventually, the fabric wore near the top seam that always caught this weight.

Instead of fixing it immediately when I saw the signs of wear, I put off reinforcing this area… and, recently, that’s where the fabric tore.

I am not at all expert in mending, but I do have rudimentary sewing skills. I have needles and thread in the house, and I’m not afraid to use them. My cover won’t look perfect when its repaired, but the tearing and fraying will stop, and it will still be usable as bedding. Luckily, a duvet has two sides, so I’ll put it on the bed mended side down.

Minimizing your possessions to just what you need and buying sustainable, ethically sourced goods are great ideas, but you may have to adjust your lifestyle to fit. If you can’t get every household member on board with these adjustments, prepare to learn some new skills.

Today, mending! Tomorrow… darning socks?

Good thing I know someone who knows how to darn. Maybe she’ll teach me.

This is how we all take part to make the world a little better than we found it.

 

*My husband dislikes the texture of line dried laundry, so, when it comes to longevity vs. softness, I’m going to choose marital accord over more sustainable laundry practices. Personally, I love the crisp, dry hand of air dried linen.