Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gear: Kid-O-Bunk

My family travels. Quite a bit.  When we do visit friends and family there is often not much room to accommodate us plus kids and sometimes the dog.  I'm sure many of you parents out there can relate.  Travel can be cramped.  I happened upon the idea of looking for some type of bunk cot after seeing some that the Red Cross had set up in a disaster center.  It did not take me long to come across Kid-O-Bunks.

The cool thing about these beds is that they can stack.  Safely.  This really helps in saving space if you are in a cramped room.  When we go camping this saves a lot of room for gear, particularly if it rains and we have to take cover in the tent.

When using the bunks, there is a special leg that is attached to the bottom of the top bunk.  These legs pop into the rounded black "wheel" at each of the four corners. (See Video)  These bunks are then lashed together at each end using the supplied strapping to keep tension between the two bunks.

But, you don't have to stack them, you can use them as regular kids cots.  We have used this configuration during many sleepovers. Kids really love to sleep in these.

Some Specs:

  • 200lb weight limit for each cot
  • 5ft is about the max height for comfortable sleeping
  • Each cot is about 45lbs
  • 18in space between top and bottom bunk
  • Very stable due to width of base
  • Side storage to keep all their crap
               More specs on Amazon

I really have only good things to say about the bed.  However, I will point out a few things to be aware of when using the beds.  
  • Construction. With anything, make sure you have put it together correctly.  The bed can take a minute to put up, so don't expect to do it in a hurry.  If parts are not pushed tightly together or placed correctly, you risk collapse.  I wouldn't expect anything major if that happened as the tension still holds it together quite well.

  • Camping in the Cold.  It's easy to forget the comfort of your little ones.  Remember, these are off the ground, so just like an air mattress, they can get cold underneath.  Make sure you add a blanket or layer of some kind to keep them warm.

  • Sound. Dear god these things can be louder than a Sunchips bag!  So, our kids usually use sleeping bags when sleeping on these.  The friction between the bags and the cot material is noticeable.  It has woken me up a few times.  The solution is simply using blankets or placing a small blanket underneath the sleeping bag.  Doing this actually helps to solve the "Sleeping in the cold" problem.

All in all, I highly recommend these.  Though the price can be steep, you will question as to why you didn't buy them sooner.  

*Any recommended or referenced items you purchase through links helps to support this page

Purchase Links

Read More »

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ticks: The Vampires You Should Be Concerned About

If I haven't freaked you out with my last article about Poison Ivy, let me try again.  Just kidding...maybe.  First, tick bites can be prevented with a little information, which I will give you below.  Don't let this, or any other outdoor risk, scare you or your kids from getting outside.  Risk is an issue I love to talk about in my courses.  The riskiest thing you and your child do every day is getting inside a car.  Getting outside and injured, or getting a tick is low on that spectrum.  I have stories later on...

This is a tick.  Small aren't they.

Ticks. Nature's little vampires.  Ticks are in the Arachnid group and are easily identified as being small and flat with 8 legs. For the purpose of this blog, I will not be going into identification.  It doesn't matter which tick you have on you, that's the tick you don't want on you.

Tick Myths

  • Ticks find you by smelling your blood
    • False - They sense the carbon dioxide from you breathing, your heat and movement.

  • You can feel a tick when it bites you
    • Really...if that was the case, then there would be no tick-borne disease in humans.  They use secretions to "numb" the site of the bite. There is only a small fraction of people that can actually feel them bite. Very small.

  • Ticks jump out of trees
    • They can't jump.  They are found in tall grass and brush.  If you find one on your shoulder, it's because it crawled that far up your body. Just like your ex- literally a "Stage 5 Clinger".

  • Remove ticks by burning them
    • Not a good idea, this could cause more problems, including causing infection.

  • Ticks burrow into your skin
    • No, that's chiggers, ticks only insert their mouthparts.  Think mosquito on steroids.

  • I only have to worry about ticks in the Spring and Summer.
    • I wish.  Though depending on temperature, some ticks do go dormant in the cold month, but there are a few species (Adult Deer Ticks) that are still active through winter.

How To Avoid Ticks

The easy answer to this is DEET (20% +) or Lemon Eucalyptus Oil (but it must contain OLE "oil of eucalyptus" and/or PME).  Spray the hell out of your socks, shoes, pants legs, waistline, and shirt.  It also helps tremendously to tuck your pants into your socks and shirt into your pants.  Not fashionable I know, but it works.  This trick has saved from numerous critters, including chiggers.  If you are concerned about bathing in DEET, I get it.  For me, I'd rather risk the DEET than the disease from a tick.  But you have another alternative in the Lemon Eucalyptus Oil, however, you must reapply frequently! Don't forget!

The other way to avoid ticks is to avoid their habitat.  Well, the whole of the outdoors is their habitat and you can get a tick anywhere.  However, the most likely place is tall grass.  They like to hang out at the tips of vegetation and crawl/grab/fall on organisms as they pass.  Ticks cannot jump nor can they fly, so you have to really brush against them for them to attach to your clothing.  If you wear light-colored clothing, and spot check frequently, you have a greater chance of seeing them before they get to you.

And just because an area was tick free last week, does not mean it is this week.  Tick outbreaks are really interesting as they are like land mines.  You could be hanging out with a friend hiking and be two feet away from one another and they end up with ticks everywhere and you don't have any.  When ticks hatch from their eggs, they don't move very much from their original location, so you end up with many ticks in a confined area.

Sweet Baby Jesus, I Found A Tick On Me

You should always do a tick check on yourself. Look everywhere and I mean everywhere. It's better if someone else can assist you because they can see places you can't.  And if you are tick free...well you and your partner are more than likely naked know....celebrate.  Anyway, what if you find a tick. BURN IT, MURDER IT!  Actually, no don't do that.  Never try to burn it, squeeze it, pour something weird on it, etc.  Use Tweezers or a Tick Key to remove the tick.  With tweezers, grab the tick as close to the head as you can and pull straight out.  Don't twist.  Make sure you are not squeezing the abdomen, the round back part, as there is a possibility you could squeeze some yucky tick juice into yourself.

Remove the tick as soon as possible.  Leaving the tick in until it dies or falls off is a really bad idea.  Current research has shown that Lyme disease, or any other, can be transmitted within hours of the initial bite.

Note: Peppermint oil.
Ok, I have heard of people pouring peppermint oil on a tick and it detaches.  These are more than likely ticks that have just attached. Once ticks are on you for a bit, they are actually kinda cemented into your skin due to the secretions of the tick.  This is why it hurts to pull a tick out.

Ticks and Disease

Most ticks do not carry any disease, so the odds are in your favor.  There are many different species of ticks, and with each species, they can only transmit certain diseases to humans.  Most of these diseases are bacterial with a few viral thrown in for good measure.  The most notable of course is Lyme disease.  Lyme accounts for roughly 70% of vector-borne disease, while all vector-borne is 95% from ticks.  Mosquito-borne is only about 6%.  Bet that DEET is looking pretty good right now.

CDC 2014

CDC: Reported Cases of Lyme Disease in 2015

At the very least, you should place the tick in a Ziploc bag, along with some information about where you were when you got the tick, and the date. Toss that bad boy in the freezer and wait.  If you begin to have symptoms in the next month, you have the tick which can be identified and tested. There are many different diseases, many cause a rash and fever.  Check out the CDC website for more specific symptoms.

Characteristic "Bullseye" rash of Lyme disease.
Courtesy of the University of Iowa.

Important: Just because a distribution map doesn't show the disease in your area, does not mean that it is not there!  Any scientist/doctor will tell you that these are based on historical data and that data changes, just as the ecosystems and landscape changes.

My advice goes one step further.  Here in Texas, and many other states, you can send in your live tick and they will test it.  This is often a free service from your state's health department.  They can then give you exactly what species of tick it was and what, if any, disease it carried.  This is important for two reasons:

  1. It's cheaper to test the tick than you.
  2. There is a possibility that a tick is carrying one than one infectious agent. and
  3. These are important data sets that you are contributing towards.  Some keywords for your search to submit a tick "State", "Health Department", and "Tick" or "Zoonosis".

I have had many ticks, and I've just recently started submitting them to the state for testing.  So far nothing has come back other than a few "hhmmm, that's interesting" comments.  I've had ticks that have had some bacterial relatives to the more nasty diseases, but no illness so far.  With that being said, the CDC estimates there are many cases of Lyme disease not being reported and many going undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. There are also many other diseases from ticks, some nasty, others not too bad.  The Powassan virus is one to be concerned about, as it can be fatal, or cause severe brain damage....and there is no treatment.

 It would be best to err on the side of caution and be stringent in your tick prevention methods.  And if you do get a tick, be sure to submit it for testing.

If in Texas, This is the link for submitting your tick for testing.

Recommended or Referenced Items:

*Any recommended or referenced items you purchase through links helps to support this page.


True Facts About Lyme Disease

CDC Lyme Disease

Youtube: CDC Emerging Tickborne Disease

Read More »

Sunday, June 4, 2017

How to Identify Poison Ivy

Well kids, it's that time of year again! Mosquitoes and Poison Ivy.  Yes, I know, these guys are here in Texas year around.  For us in the southern U.S. states, it's full blown summer, kids are out of school and its time to get out of the house and enjoy the weather before it becomes unbearable.

So while out and about you must know your enemy.  Can you identify poison ivy?  It can be tricky for sure.  If I learned anything from my Plant Taxonomy course it's you never pick a plant your professor tells you to pick up.  Thanks, Dr. Williams.  The second thing is that plants can look very different based on the amount of sunlight, soil, season and geographic location.  I will be using examples I have come across here in Texas, most of these characters will be similar to other regions throughout.

So here we go:

First, should you even be worried?

From the USDA, if you live in these states, then yes.

But if you are in a white state, you don't get off that easy.  There is still poison's in all states and in Canada.

Alright, you may remember the little rhyme "Leaves of three, let them be".  It's not bad advice at all really, it can help you eliminate many of the plants that are often mistaken for poison ivy.  But let's dig a little deeper and really pin down the identification.  Otherwise, you won't be able to go outside for fear of poison ivy, because there are a lot of harmless three leaf plants

Generally, the two outer leaves of poison ivy will have a notched side and smooth side.  The notched side will be facing outward while the smooth side will be facing the middle leaf.  Sometimes the notch is very prominent, and sometimes it is hardly visible.  The trick though is that difference in leaf sides.  

The middle leaf....well, it's highly variable.  Sometimes it's smooth on both sides, sometimes is has a notch on both sides.  So there ya go.

Two plants I often see mistaken for poison ivy are young Virgina Creeper and young Dewberry plants.  Notice that Virgina Creeper has too many leaves and Dewberry has too many notches, or teeth along its leaf edge.  Dewberry also has spine or thorns on its stem.  Poison Ivy will not have thorns.

Virginia Creeper


Poison ivy can also be in a vine form.  It's like a Pokemon.  Not only do you need to look on the forest floor, but also climbing up a tree.  Sometimes you will see the leaves, sometimes not.  I would say look for fuzzy looking vines...but even then it may not be poison ivy, so just error on the side of caution and leave it alone.

Ok quiz time:

Can you spot the poison ivy?

Find the Poison Ivy

Solution 1

Well done.  One more!

Where is the Poison Ivy?

It's everywhere!

Is this poison ivy?


A few more features to look out for, but may not be as definitive as the leaf shape.

  • You may also see red coloration on the stem 
  • Leave are not evergreen and will turn red/yellow in the fall
  • Young leaves can be red and hard to identify
  • Mature leaves can be very large and rounded

I've included a few more links that get into the details of identification.  But as long as you take your time in the forest and practice identification, you will pick up on the small differences and variations of this plant.  Happy Trails!

Read More »