Saturday, June 25, 2016


They’re eating me alive.

It took me a couple of days to figure out it was chiggers. I pulled a seed tick off me. It was in an unmentionable place. I itched in so many places, I thought it was from mosquito bites, or even fleas that my dogs had brought in. Fleas just laugh at the Frontline-Plus I use on them, so I sprinkled  them with Seven Dust, an old remedy that seems to be working.

Then I remembered my first encounter with those tiny red bugs known as chiggers. It was right after I had moved to this rural area. I had trimmed weeds in my front “yard” half a day, and by that evening, my ankles were covered in chigger bites.

I thought I had protected myself against any insect bites this year. I have used Deep Woods Off, then an organic bug repellant that smells heavily of citronella. In this heat, though, I sweat off any protection within an hour, even during early-morning forays.

Chiggers live in the woods, in tall weeds and in tall grasses. Hello, I’m surrounded by all three. Chiggers jump on you and hitch a ride. Only their larvae bite, a fact that offers no comfort at all. Those are microscopic in size. Contrary to folk lore, they don’t burrow into your skin. They don’t have to. They can, however, stay attached and feeding for several days.

Like an other-world creature from a sci-fi movie, their claws help them grab onto your skin. Then a chigger attaches its mouth to the skin and injects saliva. Ugh! The saliva contains an enzyme that breaks skin cells down to liquid form. Your body responds by hardening skin cells around the saliva, creating a tube through which this critter sucks the dissolved skin cells. Double ugh.

What makes them so insidious is that they like to bite in tender, moist places like the folds of your skin and places where clothing fits tightly to the skin. In order words, around the ankles, waist, armpits, crotch or behind the knees, I have bites in all those places except my armpits. So pardon me if I don’t show you a photo of my bites.

Summer and fall are prime time for chigger bites, of course. They aren’t active when the temperature falls below 60 degrees and die off when it drops below 42 degrees. Now you know why I hate summers.

Nothing itches worse than chigger bites. Not mosquito bites. Not even tick bites. The itching they cause is so intense you almost claw your skin off scratching. I’ve tried topical Benadryl gel, spray-on Benadryl, a generic Benadryl capsule, Neosporin cream with a pain-relieving agent, and Ivy-Dry spray. The latter does nothing but burn like hell. 

You aren’t supposed to use oral Benadryl while using the topical. Bummer. But I saw no such warnings against Neosporin with Benadryl capsules. So that’s what I’ve resorted to. That combo brings a little relief, at least for a few hours. Then I repeat the process.

When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask God why in the world he created chiggers. For the life of me, I can’t see what purpose they serve, other than to make people miserable. 

Now excuse me while I scratch.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Schedules vs. Flexibility

Mallory is always a joy to ride.

I’ve never been much of a scheduled person. I can make out schedules with the best of them, but sticking with them, well, that’s another story.

My biggest excuse is that I like flexibility. Trouble is, I’m too darned flexible, so I find that I only accomplish what I have to in order to meet a deadline. Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson calls it, “the tyranny of the urgent.” I tend to see after whatever I feel is urgent, letting other stuff slide. Then I get frustrated because I didn’t do the things I really wanted to do, like ride one of my horses.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need some structure in my life. That means scheduling time with my horses and the gym. I want to ride more, and I need to exercise to gain some strength and flexibility. It’s one thing to lack the strength to pull myself up onto a horse without a mounting block or step-stool. I can rationalize that because it’s better for the horse if a rider doesn’t pull on the saddle with her entire body weight. It’s a sad state of affairs, however,  when I have trouble throwing my leg over the saddle.

So, I came up with a simple, flexible schedule that should allow me more time with my horses and the gym. In the mornings, before the summer temperatures and humidity squeeze the breath and electrolytes out of me, I’ll ride and exercise, but on alternate days. Later in the evenings, when it has begun to cool down, I might work on outside projects, like refinishing porch furniture and planting succulents. I’ll stay indoors and write or do other indoor projects when the sun is at its highest. When winter comes, I’ll ride during the middle of the day, and stay indoors when it’s cold.

I got off to a good start this week, and feel so much better emotionally for having done so. Monday I rode my TWH, Mallory. Tuesday I went to the gym, Wednesday I rode my Cobb pony, Jazzy, and Thursday I was at the gym again. Ideally, I should be at the barn or gym by 7 a.m., but that hasn’t worked exactly as planned. Nevertheless, I’ve been back in the house, showered and dressed by 10:30 each morning, which ain’t half bad. The idea is to rotate the horses, so that I ride Mallory twice and Jazzy once the first week, then Jazzy twice and Mallory once the second week, and so on. That way, each horse will get some much-needed exercise at least three times over a two-week period. The benefits for me are psychological and emotional. 

Jazzy isn’t as excited about my plan as I am. Unlike Mallory, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, Jazzy can be ornery when she hasn’t been ridden in a while. That’s especially true when we’re leaving the barn. (It’s called barn sour.) She dumped me off Thursday. After lunging her in the arena for a few laps in each direction, I got back on and rode for half an hour. Thank goodness for Epsom salts and Tylenol, but my left hip hurts as bad as a country singer’s heartache and I’ll have a hitch in my git-along for a few days.

I would ride Mallory again today, but I have a movie date with my grandsons at the Summit. Like I said, it’s a flexible schedule.