Friday, May 5, 2017

I Almost Woke Up Dead ...

I resurrected and updated this article that I wrote in 1998, because it still is relevant today.

I almost woke up dead . . .

My house tried to kill me. No, I'm not kidding. Just a few (more like twenty-three) years ago, I was living in a rental home and I am very lucky that I didn't wake up dead one morning. It was a bit strange how I figured out that my home was a potential killer. I had turned 25 that fall and I was depressed. I didn't know why, but I was. I was tired all the time and I had headaches, bad ones. All I could think was "How could I feel so old at 25?" I thought it had to do with my birthday (which seems laughable to me now) until one day as I rounded the corner by a large heat register I smelled a strange odor. I called the gas company.  It turned out that I had a carbon monoxide leak in my house. The reason I kept feeling progressively worse had little to do

with my birthday, except that it was autumn. Autumn meant that as it got cooler I kept my house more closed up and used my furnace more and thus the carbon monoxide was becoming increasingly concentrated. I want to stress that I while I smelled something in my house, carbon monoxide is odorless. I never really knew what it was I smelled. If it hadn't been for luck, I might not have lived to share what I learned.

I would go to work and get a little fresh air. By the time school was over I had a raging headache and all I wanted to do was go home and go to sleep. When I would get home, I couldn't seem to move. I would crash on the couch for the rest of the night, which has never been a typical habit for me.

Once I realized I was being poisoned by carbon monoxide, I moved out. It took two weeks to replace the furnace which was the main suspect.  Meanwhile, a well-meaning friend had given me a puppy thinking I might be more apt to notice signs sooner if another living thing was in my house and started acting sluggish.  My mother, more practically, sent me a carbon monoxide detector.   Of course, I also armed myself with a few more facts: 


 
1.  Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, deadly gas. Because you can't see, taste or smell it, carbon monoxide can kill you before you know it's there!

2.  The great danger of carbon monoxide is its attraction to hemoglobin in the bloodstream. When breathed in, carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen which cells need to function. CO rapidly accumulates in the blood causing flu‑like symptoms like headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells, confusion and irritability (my students were noticing this symptom with me). At increased levels, vomiting, loss of consciousness and eventually brain damage (jury is still out for the long-term effects it had on me, just in case you were wondering) and death may result.

3.  Carbon monoxide is a by‑product of combustion when fuel is burned. It is produced by common home appliances, such as gas or oil furnaces, gas appliances, gas water heaters or space heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills and wood burning stoves. Fumes from automobiles and gas powered lawn mowers also contain carbon monoxide and can enter a home through walls or doorways if an engine is left running in an attached garage.

4.  If a home is vented properly and is free from appliance malfunctions or air pressure fluctuations/blockages, carbon monoxide will most likely be safely vented to the outside.
Frequently today's energy efficient homes are tightly sealed and can trap CO in a home year round. Furnace exchangers can crack and vents can become blocked.  Sometimes fireplaces can backdraft which can force contaminated air back into the home. Exhaust fans on range hoods, clothes dryers and bathroom fans can actually pull combustion products into the home.

5.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector per household, near the sleeping area. Additional detectors on every level of the home provide extra protection.


The dog wasn’t nearly as useful as the detector, which went off several other times while I lived in the home and could have saved my life. Incidentally, about a year after my first problem with the CO in my home I learned that a family that lived in that home almost 30 years prior was also poisoned, but were rescued when someone went to check on the family after they didn’t show up to school and work.  They were sleeping, a little more than they meant to be, aided by the gas they were breathing. I’m sure they were glad to wake up alive. I was too! It turns out I had plenty to be alive for these past few decades!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Clearing the Air!

I am not the world’s best housekeeper.  I once heard someone who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness say that they gained considerable clarity about their priorities upon receiving such news. She said she wished she had the time back she’d spent cleaning and was certainly not going to spend her remaining time doing so.  Since hearing that, I have moved cleaning much farther down on my priorities list.    I suspect my mother would vouch for that as when she last visited, I think she could have written her name in the dust on nearly every surface in my house!  The day after she left, I was actually home during daylight hours.  With the sun shining in I was able to see just how dirty the place was and like it or not, cleaning had to move up on the priority list. 
It was so dusty in our house, I was surprised no one was asthmatic from all the dust.  Home indoor air quality is one of the reasons why cleaning is important.  The five major indoor environmental triggers are secondhand smoke, dust mites, pet dander, mold and pests.  With many people spending 90% of their time indoors, it is important to learn how to protect our indoor environment to reduce asthma triggers.  The USDA has a great resource called Help Yourself to a Healthy Home that can be downloaded from the web. 

Of the five major triggers, I can at least cross secondhand smoke off the list of concerns at my own home, but I know not everyone can.  We commonly think of tobacco smoke, which with more than 40 carcinogens, is fairly well known to wreak havoc on the function of breathing.  Some other sources of secondhand smoke can be from fireplaces, candles and gas stoves.  Limiting the use of fire in the home and using exhaust fans over gas stoves can help improve indoor air quality. 

Dust mites are not quite as obvious, partly because they are too small to be seen and can be found almost everywhere in the home.  Some ways to reduce dust mites and in turn improve indoor air quality are to wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water and use the dryer, keep indoor humidity at levels between 30-50%, when replacing flooring consider hard floors instead of carpet and vacuum often, even your furniture and mattresses.  It is also a good idea to replace pillows every five years and to limit stuffed animals in bedrooms.  For those items that cannot be washed, consider freezing.  I’ll admit that in my house cleaning fury recently, I did find my husband’s duffle bag in the chest freezer. It wasn’t there to kill off dust mites.  In that case I was concerned about bed bugs, but that it is another story entirely that I’ve been itching to share.  It was funny to open the chest freezer and find the duffle bag.  Apparently I haven’t been cooking or cleaning, since it has been in the freezer since a hotel stay in November. 
Of all the indoor air quality concerns, I get calls about mold the most.  Mold problems come from excess moisture, so the very first step is to find the source of the moisture and then work from there.  Outside of leaks and other unusual problems, we end up with moisture in our home daily from showers and baths.  Be sure to run the bathroom fan.  With mold, if you see it or smell it, clean up with a bleach solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.  Another suggestion is to limit houseplants, especially in bedrooms, to avoid molds. 

At my house the pet is a pest, so it is hard to distinguish between the two, but either can be an asthma trigger.  If possible, keep pets outdoors.  Keep pets off beds and out of bedrooms, particularly in rooms where someone with asthma sleeps.  It is also a good idea to keep litter boxes, pet beds and cages away from sleeping rooms.  Try to keep pets off fabric covered furniture.  Vacuum often with a HEPA (High-efficiency particulate air) vacuum.  As for the pests, you don’t really want them in your sleeping rooms or other areas of your home either.  Some ways to manage for pests are to reduce clutter, clean up spills and crumbs promptly.  Caulk and seal areas where pests can get into the home.  Make the place just a little less hospitable for the pests.


My husband wondered if making the house inhospitable to his mother-in-law would work.  I actually wonder, with as dirty as the house was last time she was here, if she will ever return. If only people would visit after I cleaned and not before!  Of course, I’d rarely have company that way.  Whether or not your mother visits, I hope the indoor air quality tips will help you clear the air around your house.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jest for the Health of It

When was the last time you had a good laugh -- one of those deep belly laughs, a laugh that used your whole body, from the doubling over with amusement to tears running out of your eyes?  If you cannot remember, I hope you’ll make a point to find something particularly humorous today, because laughter is good for you.  I’ll spare you the reading of several journal articles, but give you the conclusions to two different studies I perused.  One study was on depression, cognition and sleep of an elderly community and the other was on depression, quality of life, resilience and immune response in cancer survivors.  Each study concluded that laughter is good medicine.  Laughter therapy is useful, cost-effective and has positive effects on depression, sleep and insomnia.  One study concluded that laughter therapy may be an effective nursing intervention as it improves quality of life and resilience. 

Laughing can also be great for social bonding.  One of my recent good laughs was with my daughters.  I was telling a story of something I thought was superbly funny and as I told the story, the thought was still tickling me, so I periodically had to stop talking as I was consumed with laughter.  Then, when each of my daughters started to understand what had amused me so, they each laughed as heartily, if not more so, and there we were laughing and laughing at the kitchen counter.  My oldest daughter laughs with such enthusiasm her whole face is consumed in the task, which, when you observe it just makes you laugh even more.  Apparently, this is inherited.  I told her the next day part of what made the story so funny was her reaction.  I told her I was laughing as much because she was laughing as because of how funny the story was.  She just looked at me, deadpan, and said, “Same.” And, then, with a twinkle in her eye admitted that my laughter was so funny it made her laugh all the more.  With her sixteen-year-old style, she said, “Your story wasn’t nearly as funny as you were.”
Our family fit of laughter was probably good, not only for our relationships, but also for our physical and mental health.  Laughter can increase blood circulation, raise your heart rate in a good way and work your abdominal muscles.  Think of it as inner jogging for the body!  Laughter lowers levels of stress hormones, releases endorphins and lowers blood pressure.  It enhances creativity, problem solving, and fosters harmony.  Laughter is a natural internal tranquilizer with no known bad side effects!

You need to figure out your own humor enjoyment, whether that is reading cartoons, reading or telling jokes, playing small practical jokes (where no one can get hurt), telling funny stories, watching videos or playing gags on friends or family.  What I find truly humorous are the stupid things I do.  One day, in an attempt to carry too much out of my office to a class, I got wedged between the wall and the desk.  As I hit both and got stuck, I happened to look up in surprise and catch my reflection in a mirror.  The look on my face was hysterical and it became obvious that it was ludicrous of me to even think I could have made it through that space with that much stuff.  Then I thought how I might have looked to anyone else and I started laughing so uproariously that my co-workers came to check on me.  I tried to explain, through the laughter, but the moment was missed on them! 
I also think my own sense of humor has either been influenced by genetics or environment.  My dad and grandpa were both famous for hiding somewhere unexpected and scaring people.  In fact, my dad would recall stories of taking people by surprise with such delight.  Two of his famous sneak attacks gave him pleasure for years.  The fun in his style caught on with me somehow and I’ve been known to plan similar attacks.  One year at 4-H camp, I was in the lodge and shutting things down for the night when I saw that one of the chaperones was headed toward the lodge.  With the lights off, I crawled over to the door to remain undetected, crouched, and waited quietly.  As he came in, I saw he had on shorts, so I just reached out and rubbed my hand lightly on his ankle.  You should have seen his reaction!  When he got over it, he was laughing as much as I was.  One night at my house, one of the girls got me by surprise and couldn’t have done so more beautifully.  After the initial adrenal rush of the scare, it was as funny on the other side of the humor equation. Plus, I was truly proud. They had thought quickly to take advantage of a situation and get me back for several times I’ve spooked them. We laughed and laughed.


Michael Pritchard is credited with saying, “You don’t stop laughing because you grow old.  You grow old because you stop laughing.”  March 22 is National Goof Off Day – who knew?  It was probably some clown who came up with that idea!  I’d suggest thinking of some great things to do that day, but more importantly, try to find something humorous today.  There have been dozens of studies on laughter, but I suggest you conduct some of your own informal research anyway – jest for the health of it!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Backlog



According to freedictionary.com the definition of backlog is 


back·log

  (băk′lŏg′, -lôg′)
n.
1. reserve supply or source.
2. An accumulation, especially of unfinished work or unfilled orders.
3. large log at the back of a fire in a fireplace.

Well, guess what?  I have been spending January taking care of a backlog, as in an accumulation of unfinished work.  I had over-scheduled, and under-planned for any interruptions, when all of a sudden this fall I had some.  We had a change in staffing in our office and I had to go into triage mode dealing with the most critical issues first.  Therefore, I did not get posts to this blog completed in a timely fashion.  

Even though many of the posts I'm publishing are now outdated, I wanted to complete the task just the same.  So, please forgive the multiple postings ...

Put a large log at the back of your fireplace and enjoy catching up.  I am!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Feeling Stretched as a Caregiver?

Powerful Tools for Caregivers is an educational series designed to provide you with the tools you need to take care of yourself.


This program helps family caregivers reduce stress, improve self-confidence, communicate feelings better, balance their lives, increase their ability to make tough decisions and locate helpful resources.


Classes consist of six sessions held once a week.  The class will be led by Jane Wolery, MSU Extension Teton County, and Alice Burchak, MSU Extension Toole County. Interactive lessons, discussions and brainstorming will help you take the “tools” you acquire and put them into action for your life.


You will receive a book, The Caregiver Helpbook, developed specifically for the class.  A donation of $30 to help defray the cost of the book is suggested, but not required to attend the class. The classes are offered at no cost.

Classes will be held at Choteau City Hall from 10-11:30 a.m.  Sessions are held on Tuesdays and will run from November 8 to December 13. For more information or to register, contact the MSU Extension Office in Teton County at 406-466-2491 or email teton@montana.edu.  Class size is limited and pre-registration is required.

All Shook Up!

I have been thinking about snow globes.  Sometimes they just sit there so pretty on the shelf and then someone comes by and shakes them and the snow falls softly until it settles again.  Other times someone comes by and really, really shakes them up.  You wonder how the little figurines inside don’t fall out of place.  At times my home finances feel like a snow globe – sometimes calm and settled and then sometimes something happens and it feels like our finances have been shaken up again.  The vehicle breaks down, someone needs surgery, there is a job change … it often doesn’t take much for serenity to be turned upside down!  

If you’d like to take control of your finances, MSU Extension has great resources in our Solid Finances series.  The Solid Finances program was started in 2013 and includes weekly financial webinars.  This year’s series includes topics such as health care insurance options for those nearing retirement, avoiding financial scams, Banking 101, and estate planning and family legacies.  Each webinar can be joined live on Wednesdays at noon.  This year’s webinars started on October 5, but the great news is that all webinars are recorded.  In fact, you can listen to any of the 50 webinars that are posted on the MSU Extension Solid Finances webpage.  Some of the recorded webinars include topics such as understanding credit scores, teens and money and how to reduce debt.  

There are topics for every stage of life. If your financial world is pretty settled, like a snow globe on shelf, it doesn’t hurt to dust it off every once in a while and take a look at it to be sure.  If your financial world is a little shaky, it might just do to take advantage of the free resources to establish Solid Finances.  

Babysitter Boot Camp


MSU Extension in Teton County is planning a Babysitter Boot Camp for Thursday, October 20 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Choteau Baptist Church.  Registration can be made at teton@montana.edu or 466-2491.   The class is being offered free of charge and will be filled on a first-registered basis.  Class limit is 25 participants, with a minimum required of 10 registered by Monday, October 17.  Participants need to bring a lunch and beverage to the class.

During the Babysitter Boot Camp, babysitters will learn basic training in first aid.  Babysitters will learn how to get marching orders from the families they serve, and will receive ammunition to become Purple Heart babysitters.  
All participants will have a chance to learn about how to plan enrichment activities (including crafts, games, singing, and science activities) to keep the children in their charge occupied. Babysitters will also learn about providing nutritious and safe foods for a variety of ages and will learn about foods that are common choking hazards.  Sitters will learn skills to provide top-notch customer service and to keep themselves safe as they develop their babysitting business.  

Members will leave the Babysitter Boot Camp fully armed with ideas for safe fun and tips to use throughout the year when in charge of kids.  To enlist in Babysitter Boot Camp, contact the MSU Extension Office in Teton County at teton@montana.edu or 466-2491.