Five ticks and counting

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

The day after my birthday Pete found a deer tick attached behind Lupine's ear.

We've been monitoring her closely ever since for signs of Lyme.

She's been treated twice already, once when she was five and had a bull's-eye rash on her neck and face, and once when she had a mysterious swelling and rash on her abdomen, accompanied by an on-again-off-again fever.

When she had Lyme the first time her personality changed. Her moods swung unpredictably from deliriously happy to debilitatingly sad or angry. She wasn't the girl I knew. When Pete and I saw the rash we shared a collective "aha" moment and gratefully picked up her 30 day supply of antibiotics.

She was back to herself within two days.

And then last week we found another tick, attached under her chin after another day in the woods.

Yesterday I found two more. Attached. In her hair.

And then, just before bed, a third.

Five ticks in two week. Three of them in a single day.

I won't lie. Sometimes the fear gets me. Sometimes I want to shave their heads or never let them go outside. Ever.

Or maybe we'll just move away.

But the truth is, there's nowhere else to go.

Because there is something for us to fear in every corner of the world.

You have crime, they have a nuclear reactor, someone else has hurricanes, a volcano, tornadoes.

We have ticks.


From the creek yesterday I watched chickadees flit from tree to tree I wondered if they had Lyme. Being birds, they don't. But regardless they didn't seem to care either way. 

And all I could think was that I want a chickadee's life. Free, wild, and fearless.

Because even a short carefree life seems better lived than a long and troubled one.


After I pulled the ticks off of her head yesterday she had sighed and slumped into my lap. "Now I can never go into the woods again," she said, her voice high, on the edge of tears.

Because mama is afraid.

Because you might get sick.

Because – ticks.


And to be honest my first thought when she expressed her feelings was "Is she being emotional because she has Lymes?"

No, really. It was.

And as the thought bubbled up I decided that fear might a worse poison to us than Lyme.

And so I made a choice.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

Lyme disease and putting fear aside | Clean.

I chose the woods.

Because we make decisions everyday that we hope and pray are right. About kids and life, health and happiness, education and spirit.

And we cross all of our fingers as we say a prayer, hoping we choose well.

We throw the dice.



So yes, baby. You can go into the woods.

Out into ground zero.

Into the forest, the brush, down to the creek, into childhood – to live and be and explore.

To be free, a chickadee in the trees.

But before you go we'll tuck your pants into socks and pull your hair back. We'll put a hat on your head and spray the spray all over and rattle the bones and make a wish.

For safety.

For health.

For luck.

And when you get home we'll check you for ticks – like everyday before – and hope that this time we find them before they attach.

Because we live here.

We live here.

We don't hide here or fear here.

We'll live here.

And yes, your childhood may come with more antibiotics, but it will not come with fear where the forest should have been.


Because today that's the best answer I can find.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

A few notes –

~ Lupine was first diagnosed with Lyme when we lived in town. Avoiding the woods does not remove the risk of Lyme.

~ I wrote about my own experience with Lyme when I was diagnosed last summer. You can find it here.

~ We make a bug spray that contains rose geranium essential oil. This essential oil (along with tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar) can be an extremely effective tick repellents. The catch is that you must reapply often and thoroughly. (I think that is where we've gone wrong.) We used a goodly amount of our spray before our last outing and haven't found a tick since. I'm hoping this will help and we're carrying it with us into the woods from now on, reapplying every hour or so.

~ Based on the suggestion of a friend we're dabbing a dab of our herbal anti-itch balm on each tick bite. It's helping them calm down and heal much more quickly than ususal. Hooray for small blessings.

~ If you'd like more information on how to manage Lyme have a holistic Lyme disease board here.

~ Please sign this petition. It would help if we could address Lyme proactively. Maybe – just maybe – this could help.

~ When I shared my own Lyme story I got lots of emails asking how we were choosing to treat it. If you are curious about how we are handling these recent bites here is our plan. Our physician recommended Lupine take 1 dropper-full of cat's claw tincture two times a day. In addition he suggested 3 pellets per day of Ledum 30 c homeopathic (which we were already giving her for the bites). If she (or any of us) shows any signs of Lyme we will treat with at least 30 days of antibiotics.

~ And finally, if you disagree with my choice to still let my children play outside I can respect that completely. These are big decisions and unfortunatley we can not know what the future holds. Please know that I'm feeling pretty vulnerable right now so let's keep the comments here extra kind today. Many thanks, my friends.

xo Rachel


42 thoughts on “Five ticks and counting

  1. Heidi G says:

    Good for you… it’s hard to embrace the things that we fear, especially when you have good reason. It would be tragic to keep them in. You live in the Driftless where it’s all ABOUT the outside. (And after this WI winter, we ALL need to be out… bugs or no bugs.) Wishing you all well thoughts and a keen eye.

  2. Cassandra says:

    Ugh, we have had a couple ticks already this season too. My littlest just told me that he wasn’t going into the woods anymore. Now comes the task of reintroducing them to the wild…letting them know that it’s okay. And it’s not easy.

    You would have thought that the arctic blast would have produced less blood-sucking bugs this season. Sadly, they seem stronger than ever. 🙁

  3. Kirstin says:

    We choose outside despite the ticks. The dogs bring ticks in the house anyway. Love the way you didn’t let the fear stop you or your family!

  4. Kristen says:

    It’s a constant fear here, too, in Massachusetts. We check, and we check, and we check. Good for you for choosing the woods!

  5. Shannon says:

    Don’t succumb to the fear…..remember your rice experiment and use it! On the ticks. Tell them to please stay off Lupines (and Sages and yours and Petes bodies). I’m sure you already are. Always choose the woods. Especially when your kids love it so…

  6. tamika says:

    I found 3 on myself after standing by our pond for 10 minutes last week. Needless to say, I was creeped out, and considered shaving my own head! Kids needkto be outside ever nice day! Playing in old piles of junk, climbing trees and exploring…even with the ticks! I need to find a good bugspray, the stuff that I made last year attracted bugs!

  7. Trish says:

    We have ticks everywhere here too. No fear, just play. Fear-less, worry-free, diligent tick checks in the evening and morning. Just taking care of business. 🙂

  8. Anna says:

    Fear is so horrible and that is something we as parents need to be careful about and try not to instill in our kids. I had a situation recently where my 5 year old little pixie girl was found by my husband climbing a tall pine tree in our back yard. When he saw her she was already higher than our two story house and lucky because I wasn’t there he did not scream or yell but instead slowly told her what a great climber she was and explained to her to come down. He did take a few photos to show me. When I saw the photo I was in total shock because it is so unexpected of my girl to do that. I did do my best to refrain from telling her to never do that again. I was actually speechless and it was better for all of us. After all what if …… Creeped in and settled just like fear. Because I know what could have happened. My child doesn’t. She was so proud of herself!
    After some thought I realized I am happy I did not speak the first thing that came to mind. I didn’t put the fear in my child. And I know that she is safe now. Later we had a quiet conversation about climbing too high and being safe. The next day I went out with her by the tree and she climbed up to a poit where I felt she was safe! And she was happy!

    You are doing a great thing, taking care of your kids and dealing with this horrible situation. We go upstate NY every summer with the kids and one summer I kept findi g tiny I mean you could see them under a magnifying glass tiny ticks that would attach to my kids. Every day I would take at least five off. Luckily they did not yet carry Lyme disease. But it was horrifying to be there. The kids had no idea but I worried. But we can’t lock ourselves in just have to use protective measures.

    Sorry for such a long response. I just think your post came at a time when I am sort of deali g with a similar situation in my life and fear with kids.

    I admire you and always check up on what you guys are up to. Love your recipes especially the toothpaste one.

    Thanks Rachel and keep on blogging.

  9. Kim says:

    We can’t live in fear, it is just not a fun way to live. My little one and I go crawling around in the woods all the time. The thought is there, but I won’t forgo our time in the woods for anything. So we use spray, we check for ticks and we live, because that is what we are suppose to do with this one, crazy life we have been gifted. Good for you for holding the fear at bay and getting out there.

    I should mention ticks are not as prevalent as they are in your neck of the woods, but they are making their way here, slowly but surely, and we have found them on the dog.

  10. Kristy says:

    Completely worried about ticks as well. Have a very active 3 yr old boy who loves to be outside and dig in the dirt and play in the grass. I live in one of the highest counties for ticks in NYS. So I am pretty paranoid.. Especially after finding a tick on myself last summer… I don’t want my paranoia to affect him so I am just sure to check him thoroughly when we come in everyday.

  11. sarah says:

    That must be so scary. We don’t have ticks here, thank god, but we do have other things which terrorise my heart. Mothers through all the centuries have had cause to be afraid. I have no wisdom better than that you’ve already shared, only (((hugs))) for the mutual experience of maternal worry.

  12. KC says:

    I think that’s a great decision to let her go again. Here in the desert we fear rattlesnakes and scorpions the most. You can’t hide from scorpions they come into the house and can crawl anywhere even into the beds.

    So you accept it and say it a part of life and take care but not to fear. Better yet we bobcats and mountain lions and coyotes who roam our neighborhood and hang out in the wash below our house. We used to have bobcats come through our backyard all the time. It would hop over the 6 foot fence like it wasn’t even there. People tell me all the time to not let my girls play outside in the backyard alone. But you know I’m fear monger. So I let them play.

  13. Kate says:

    I applaud you for not letting fear rule your life (and I’m thankful for a holistic recipe for bug repellant!). I just want to write, not to add more fear for you in a vulnerable moment, but to give you additional information. I only just came to this knowledge myself and had never heard of this disease before…I am now warning all my friends in tick-prevalent areas to be aware.

    we just lost our beloved Boxer dog to a mysterious illness. There were 2 neurologists, a radiologist, an internist, an infection specialist, and a GP on the case, and we still had to put her down three days ago (I’m pretty raw, too, so I understand how you feel at the moment). At one point, one of her blood tests came back with a “soft positive” for something called Babesia. More follow up tests showed that she did not actually have the illness (or so they think, but it’s also difficult to test for after the first two weeks of infection), but I learned a lot about it during the time we thought it might be contributing to her strange constellation of symptoms. It is a tick-borne illness that is very prevalent in the Northeast (all the stranger for my dog in Los Angeles to be showing a positive for it), but is on the rise throughout the US. It is poised to overtake Lyme disease in incidence rates in some areas. I think many of the symptoms are similar, but I am not sure (as most of my research was dog-related) if they are treated the same way. So I only write to alert you to the presence of the disease in case something thought to be Lyme is not responding to traditional treatment.

    Many many healthy tick-free thoughts coming your way from the west coast. You’re right, we all have something (I’m due to update our earthquake preparedness kits!), and we can’t live our lives dictated by scary what-ifs.

  14. Jackie says:

    I came up with my own (I think) cliche this week with similar fears popping around: The only thing worse than something bad happening is worrying that something bad may happen.

    We moved away from a tick-infested area, to an area with a dying economy, and now live in a healthy economy but where there are deadly snakes and spiders. I learned the hard way. But now, like you, we’re trying to embrace the wonders of life with a spirit of adventure.

    I love that you chose not to put “fear where the forest should have been”. Beautifully said.

  15. Natalie says:

    Yes, many of us in the Driftless share this fear and wonder about this decision. But we too continue to choose nature. It is what helps us stay human. It is why we moved here, away from the city. It fills us up. We go out prepared, are careful, and keep remembering that it is “time for a tick check” when we get home. But I still feel that it is so important for us to connect with what is wild.

  16. Jenifer says:

    You go! We can’t let fear control our lives, even though it is often easy to do so. Risks are everywhere, and showing your children that these risks cannot immobilize them is truly a gift!

  17. Kelly says:

    Despite the risks, we must see the world. After a day on the river, at 70+ degrees, in northern Montana, we are combing for ticks, too.

  18. Erika says:

    You are NOT making the wrong choice!
    Four years ago I was studying biology, especially I had floristics,zoology and botany that year, and I spent 4 months living in the bushes and sleeping in the grass.
    I got 42 ticks that year.
    Since I was little I´ve had around 1-3 ticks per year but that was enough for me. In the end I was so scared that I thought I was going to throw up every time I left for the nature.
    But then, after another happy day outside, I decided that there´s worse things in life than ticks.
    Yes, they are nasty and may cause illness. But I can just as easily be runover so why should I worry sick over some ticks?
    I just kept on with the spray, combing my body over each day and keeping a very watchfull eye on the bites. But no more worry. I had enough.

    Ironically I never catched lyme.
    But I´ve got Arnold Chiari, fibromyalgia and MS.
    Things I never worried over. Things that never existed in my head.
    Things I wouldn´t have wanted for anyone.
    But I´m trying to learn with them.
    I have done things theese years that I never would´ve imagined I could get myself through.
    I faint when they´re taking my blood, but MS made me give myself an injection every week. I never fainted. I felt like yes, but I never did.
    I´ve had a 5hour skullsurgery which caused me to having to learn the most basics again. Walking. Eating. Dressing. Showering.
    I am terrified with small spaces and yet I have managed 18 MRI´s.
    I´ve done a lumbar puncture. And I had nightmares over it for over a month.

    I am not trying to scare you.
    I´m just pointing out that even if we worry over anyhing, something else can always happen. Something that may be worse than what we worried over in the first place.
    And then we have had so much energy going to worry. In vain.
    Is that really the best way to use our energy?

    Yes I could´ve gotten lyme. And that would´ve been bad.
    But I didn´t.
    And I spent the rest of that year laughing,walking,picking flowers,swimming,picknicking and doing so much. And I had fun. I remember that year with a smile on my face.

    There will always be something. If not lyme it could be an accident.
    We never now.
    But if we make the best of every day and not let fear stop us,
    we will have the energy to fight everything.

    Keep going into the woods. Keep Lupine wanting to explore the world.
    Keep giving her the strength.
    We never now if she will need it someday

  19. Libellula says:

    Glad you chose the forest! We live in the forest, so no choice anyway for us.

    I am in France and I know several people already on antibiotics as a result of tick bites, 3 people just after this weekend.
    I pulled loads of my multitude of animals, more than I have ever had to do.

    We have dramatically less birds here this year, our nesting boxes for titmouse and sparrow are still empty and our spring is more advanced than yours. Are these the natural predators of ticks? I don’t know, but it could signal a bigger environmental problem. We are losing bees by the thousand here and gaining more ticks. I wish it were the other way around!

    Everyone is talking about ticks here, this is going to be a bad year. Maybe it’s the same in the US? Enjoy the forest and make up loads of spray, thanks for all the advice.

  20. Cheryl says:

    I had a similar experience when we were visiting my parents in NJ. We don’t have many ticks where I am in WV, but NJ is covered with them. I suggested to my son that we go out in the woods, and he replied, “No, I might get a tick.” My mom has been very worried out loud about the ticks around my son, and I could hear her words coming out of his mouth. Needless to say, I said pretty much what you said in this post–the woods with risk are better than the safety in the house any day of the week. And after that he had a great time the whole visit playing in the woods.

  21. says:

    I don’t put a lot of chemicals on my kids but the one day a week I know they’ll be in the woods (a homeschool environmental ed class) I do spray their boots w/ deet. Ticks and mosquitoes are my enemies!! But we live outside mostly in the spring/summer/fall and I have chosen to selectively spray them instead of deal with those bites. Hopefully it’s the right choice in the end. Everyone has to do what’s right for them and their families 🙂 peace.

  22. brooke says:

    I say, Let them play. I have seen my anxiety mirrored in my children’s eyes as well and that is not a good feeling. You are making the right choice.

  23. Kate says:

    Thank you for your post! I love reading your blog. Your words about fear really resonated with me and will hopefully help me battle my own fears that so often get in the way of my happiness. Thank you.

  24. sandra says:

    My husband was diagnosed with Lymes last summer after he developed a large rash where he’d been bit. I also found ticks on my four year old son, but he didn’t develop symptoms and we didn’t have him checked. I think the worry is there but cannot overcome your life. Like you’ve decided, you need to live and there will always be minor disturbances, but even those make the living worth while.

  25. amy says:

    Rachel~I have not read all of the comments so perhaps this was already suggested….but we have had guineas for years…..They are astounding at removing all ticks…..When we have our guinea flocks we never see a tick. Seriously. They are crazy good at ridding your areas of the vermin….mine will even venture into the woods cleaning them of the pests. You must get the birds young and “try” and train them to roost near your home or the wander off….but they would definitely be worth your time:) Blessings for all of you….and I too have traveled the fear path….trying to outwit….the what ifs….it’s an exhausting….fear instilling…notion….and after several years on it… a path I deliberately chose to veer off of….I am so happy I did.

  26. Andrea says:

    HOORAY! For you and your kiddos, that you choose LIFE and not FEAR, hooray that they have a mama who shows them how to LIVE despite FEAR, they have a mama who can CHOOSE a growing path!!! Enjoy your day, in the forest!

    Sending much love and happiness to you and yours!

  27. Knitting Mole says:

    Hi Rach! After reading through all the comments (worried for your soft heart) I was so relieved to see we were all agreed! Be brave Mama and babies! After all, if the worst case scenario is 30 days of antibiotics, I know you are just the Mama to get your baby’s gut flora happy again 🙂 (not to mention, that suggestion of the Guinea Fowl helpers sounds good to me!)

  28. MamaAshGrove says:

    we have been faced with the same dilemma,and it has been suggested to us that we simply do not go outdoors into the woods/field during tick season (which is all the warm season here). I could never choose to keep my kids inside rather than take that risk- that choice would be detrimental to their well-being. It is as you say, there are risks with everything- I don’t choose to keep my kids out of the car because of the car accident risk.
    Great post.

  29. Emily says:

    Fear is a worse poison. I love that and needed that. I have a lot of fear about my babies future…she has spina bifida, and ironically I am more afraid of the radiation she is exposed to during all her tests than her medical concerns,and yes, her childhood will be with more antibiotics than normal as well, but I am going to try to control that fear. More importantly I am not going to infuse that fear into her.Thank you!

  30. Colette says:

    For everybody who experiences tick issues: take sulfur internally for a week, then once a week thereafter. Ticks hate it and won’t attach. 1/8 tp for kids, 1/4 tp for adults. Works for dogs and livestock also.

  31. Tristain says:

    Ticks are my huge fear factor too. We live in western ND and have a high population of ticks out in the to grasses. since we live in the country with prairie grass on every side of our house, our kids are naturally out running through Iit every day. We found our firat tick of the year yesterday… on our daughter. Thankfully it was just crawling up her pants, but still brought back that fear. Thank you for your thoughtful and very honest post on this subject. There will always be danger when raising kids, but we have to let them live and experience all these wonderful things. Ps… your mom’s response was womderful and amusing.

  32. Myra says:

    The year after I first got Lyme, I didn’t plant a vegetable garden, didn’t want to venture into the woods or even hang out near the house. I was miserable. Even now, after another run-in with a tick-borne illness, I just embrace the fact that there are risks. I do check thoroughly every night, but we have so, so many ticks. I had my first (of many) attached tick in January last year after an unseasonably warm day. I’m not willing to hide!

  33. kristen says:

    Guinea hens are loud, ugly and an overall stupid bird…but I love mine. When I see my flock of 20 roaming the woods and fields surrounding our home I feel like I have an army protecting us from ticks. It is worth it. If nothing else, it has really eased my fear to be able to see them hunting my nemesis ALL DAY LONG.

  34. Taisa says:

    Sending warm thoughts to you- wise, brave mama that you are. So often we have to stumble forward with the best answer we can find and just hope we’ve done alright, don’t we?
    hugs, Taisa

  35. Holly Dean says:

    We get ticks regularly too.. no problems yet though.

    What about pau d arco tea or reishi mushroom? I use the latter for the same reasons that I use cat’s claw.

    Love your post today.

  36. Kristin says:

    Dear Rachel!
    I just got the recomondation to wear a naclece of amber. Some friends started it with their dog and he did not have one tick since he wears amber. I will try it with my kids and myself this summer. It sure sounds better to me than taking medicine, even homöopathics.
    Sending you Love from Germany!

  37. Holly Dean says:

    Have you considered Japanese Knotweed (Itadori)? Ironically, my children have caught ticks while playing in bushes of the stuff.

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