Tuesday, August 21, 2018

And The Number of the Counting Shall Be Three

I wrote this article for the monthly newsletter of my local Society for Creative Anachronism.

The article of general interest to anyone who camps, and I frequently get requests for it, so I thought I'd host it here where it might be a little more accessible and easy to find.  


It’s the time of year when we’re spending a lot of time outdoors in this gorgeous weather, at events, during mundane activities, and even in our own backyards. There’s a lot of things out there in the bushes we need to watch out for, and I hear a lot of misinformation circulating around. 

Even about the bushes themselves. 

I’m talking about the bane of my existence, the one thing I fear more than ticks, mosquitoes, fire ants, bears, or storms. Yes, folks, I’m talking about Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, and Poison Sumac.  It’s a cliché, but it’s true: “Leaflets three, let it be.”

We’ll start out by talking about a few common common lines of thought about the subject, some true and some not. 

False...provided you’ve showered since exposure:  Don’t scratch the rash, you’ll spread it. 
Truth: Usually, the rash comes up on your skin a few days to a week after you’ve been exposed. If you’ve showered since then, the urushiol (the oil that causes the rash) will have washed away. The “spreading” effect that has spawned this idea is due to the fact that the rash comes up on skin at different rates. The liquid inside the blisters does not cause a reaction. However, don’t scratch hard or break the blisters, as doing so leaves you open to infection. 

False...provided you’ve showered since exposure: Don’t touch the rash, you'll catch it. 
Truth: Again, the rashes are not contagious. They don’t spread the rash on you, and they won’t spread it onto other people. Now, what you cando is get exposed to the plant, get the urushiol on you, and then go up and shake hands with someone or hug them. If the urushiol gets on them, they can get a rash, even if they were indoors all day. At that point, it’s like the flu in that you can get it from a doorknob. I’m talking directly to you, people who love to say “Oh, it’s cool, I’m immune to the stuff.” Please be aware that many people are not so lucky and wash up if you’ve been exposed, unless you like the idea of being a misery vector.

False: Sometimes Poison Ivy has five leaves instead of three. Sometimes it has thorns.
Truth: Sometimes Poison Ivy grows mixed in with Virginia Creeper, which looks very, very similar to it except for the five leaves instead of three.  It is possible to get a rash from Virginia Creeper, but for a different reason entirely. Virginia Creeper contains oxalate crystals, which can irritate some people’s skin. The plants are not the same species, and for most folks, Creeper is harmless.

Blackberry is another look alike, only it has thorns. Poison ivy never has thorns. But often it does grow where wild blackberry grows. It’s sneaky like that. Still, it’s like identifying snakes....if you aren’t sure what you’re dealing with, assume it could potentially hurt you and avoid it. 

As for Box Elder...to my eye, it just looks so much like Poison Ivy I can't tell where the tree stops and the Poison Ivy vine that's frequently growing on it starts. It happens, and it's a cruel prank as far as I'm concerned. 

Usually False: I got exposed once, and I didn’t get a rash, so I must be immune.
Truth: You probably won’t the first time get exposed. It’s that next time that you have to worry about. The rash is an immune response. And it’s an unusual one in that it tends to be delayed in most people (hence the long lag in time between exposure and the manifestation of the rash). You might think you’re immune, but every time you get exposed, you risk that being the time you end up finding out how much fun steroid shots aren’t.

False. And possibly criminally negligent: I’ll just burn it out.
Truth: Smoke from this sort of plant could literally kill you or someone else. It can go straight into the lungs, cause a respiratory reaction, and cause you or someone else to asphyxiate. Best way I’ve found to get rid of it is to spray it with Roundup Heavy Brush Killer and wait a week or two. Chopping it out just encourages it and fills it with spite. So poison it, wait till it dies, then very carefully remove the dead plant and bury it. Be aware it can still get revenge even when dead. Which brings us to....

False: It’s winter. I don’t have to worry about it now.
Truth: Oh, yes, my friends. Yes, you do. And it’s even worse in the winter because it’s harder to identify it. Look for vines with reddish, hairy looking bark and little woody shoots that stick straight up and have a little bends near the top. Maybe there will be the remnants of tiny white berries on the stems. Sometimes you can find the dead leaves in the surrounding leaf litter. It can still get you even dead. It’s like the mummy or Nosferatu. Only nastier.

Poison Ivy and Oak prefer disturbed areas, but they can and do grow just about anywhere. I’ve seen them in all sorts of environments, particularly the types of places we like to have events. I’ve seen them in parks and even at Riverbanks Zoo hiding in a planted bed. 

Poison Ivy: This plant matures into a vine and covers trees, fences, anything it can get around. The sets of three leaves are pointed, satiny to shiny, with a jagged margin. The stem on the middle leaf of the trio is often a little longer than the other two. It grows into a vine that when mature, is covered with reddish, hairy fibers that look like they might be fun to touch. They aren’t.

Poison Oak: Same three leaf rule, but the leaves are rounder and the lobes irregular and random. Again, satiny leaves. This plant matures into a gawky-looking shrub that can reach about ten feet, but usually it stays in the two to four foot tall stage in my experience. It gets small green berries that turn white.
Both plants are beautiful in the fall, turning bright shades of yellow and red.

Poison Sumac: Thankfully, fairly rare. It grows in wetlands and is far less common. Which is good, because it’s brutal. The one time I got tangled up with sumac, it sent me to the ER. It can grow into a good sized tree, and has long, compound leaves of seven to thirteen leaves. It looks nothing like Oak or Ivy. I haven’t seen one since (I was at an SCA event in Georgia, actually.), so I haven’t taken any pics of sumac. It would probably behoove you to at least have a passing familiarity with it. You aren’t likely to encounter 
one, but if you do, you could really get messed up.

Learn to identify these. I would almost say avoid Google Images, because I have seen all kinds of crazy things identified as Poison Ivy that isn’t. However, if you do use Google Images, just make sure your sources are reputable. Cross reference heavily. In any case, I’d rather you be wrongly afraid of Virginia Creeper or Sassafras or Box Elder and be safe than not be aware of anything and end up in misery. So if you err, err on the side of caution.

If you are exposed to it, or think you may have been, simply rinse your skin off in cold water (this is important. Use cold water first to avoid opening up your pores.). A splash in a creek or stream will do fine, even a careful rinse-off out of a canteen will help. I carry bottled water in my van at all times for this very reason. You have a very short grace period once you’ve been exposed (I'd call an hour seriously pushing it. Anything less, your mileage may vary.), but it’s not that hard to get it off your skin. 

If you know you’re going to be exposed beforehand, applying Ivy Block to your skin creates a barrier to keep the urushiol off, buying you a little time to clean up before your immune system kicks in and goes crazy. There is also a product called Technu which can be used to help get the urushiol off after exposure. I’ve used both, and I recommend both, but in all honesty, plain cold water will work if that’s all you have. Be aware of urushiol contaminating your clothing, too, and act accordingly. I recommend undressing right there in front of your washing machine and not contaminating your living areas. Rinse off with cold water, and then...and ONLY then, take a hot shower. Under no circumstances should you take a bath. A bath will redistribute any urushiol left on your skin and coat you in something you really don’t want to be coated in.

These things might sound extreme. However, I’m the most allergic person I know to this stuff, I spend a lot of time in the woods, and I rarely get into this kind of trouble. That’s because I am paranoid and I treat urushiol as if it were radioactive kryptonite. Because for me, it is. It is possible to have an anaphylactic response to this stuff. Not only that, but wallowing obliviously in the stuff during your first week of Pennsic can really ruin your will to live the second week. You don’t want ivy rash at War. You don’t want it ever. Pay attention, learn a little woodlore, play safe!

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Road Home Is Now Available!

Howdy, friends, just a quick update to let you know that The Five Dollar Mail Book 3: The Road Home is now released.

Again, thanks for all your support. Watch this space for info on the next projects!

If you're just joining us, I invite you to poke around a bit, and if you like the content here, please come visit us over at Wattpad for more content.

Books are all available both as eBooks or as gorgeous trade paperbacks.

Riders & Kickers: The Five Dollar Mail Anthology 

Talk to you soon! Happy trails!


Saturday, July 16, 2016

We're Still Here, We're Just Hanging Out On Wattpad

Howdy, all,

Hoping everyone who was reading here is finished up. For the time being, we are directing traffic over to Wattpad, so the whole unedited story is still available for free, just not here right now.  This is so I can better promote my book series. All the extra stuff is still right here at this site, as well as the first ten or so chapters and all the extra side stories.

I can still be reached at this site. Drop a comment anywhere and it goes straight to my inbox.

Book Three, The Road Home, is nearly ready to be released, so very soon, you'll be able to get the finished, edited book series, including the extra stories, in its entirety from Amazon (and the Barnes and Noble website, etc.).

If you're just joining us, I invite you to poke around a bit, and if you like the content here, please come visit us over at Wattpad for more content.

Books are all available both as eBooks or as gorgeous trade paperbacks.

Book 1: The Green

Book 2: Lynch's Boys

Riders & Kickers: The Five Dollar Mail Anthology 

Book 3: The Road Home (to be announced Summer 2016)

Talk to you soon! Happy trails!  -gina

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Holiday Schedule for the Home Stretch

So, we're in the home stretch of this thing, both for the year and for the Five Dollar Mail series. Been a crazy busy holiday season so far for us (we're catching up on a lot of lost time!). I thought I'd be ready to post tonight, but the truth is I am just not. This is the last bit of our story, and I don't want to rush it, so I'm just going to allow myself to run on a holiday schedule for the next week or so. I may having something up this weekend, but I'm not sure how that's gonna go yet, but I fully intend to have something up for next week.

I don't want to just bang something out at this point and post it hastily. This is the final bit, you know? While I am really ready to be done and move on to other projects, a large part of me isn't quite ready to let it go yet.

I got called in last week to reprise my "La Befana" thing at the kid's school I can't tell you how much I love doing this. I read Old Befana to them (the linked version of this story is so beautiful). Handed out some candy, dispensed some hugs, and talked about Italian Christmas traditions. The main thing the children seem to love the most, though, is the hat. I don't know if you can tell, but it's covered with bird and animal puppets, including a cardinal that sings and a nest full of baby birds. I always have to stoop down so they can make the bird sing and the babies wiggle.

And yes, before you ask, I dug Radagast the Brown. A lot. I actually considered adding some birdshit to my kit.

That broom you see there was made by none other than Bill Frazer, who is married to my editor Marie and who took the pic of me on the back of the book covers. I just added the Christmas bling to it.

Anyways, I'll see you before Christmas, so until then, enjoy this season of peace and be safe.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why Paddy's Not At Work Today

So, I've had an...interesting...week.

I don't know if you're aware, but we had a bad flood out here a couple weeks ago. It didn't really affect me where I live, thank goodness. I live on a high, sandy ridge, so I was safe. The only problem we really had was later, the water pressure in the pipes was so excessive that many people had their plumbing damaged. I have some old plumbing in the upstairs, and the valve on the shower cracked. I came home from music practice one night to find water dripping through the ceiling onto my kitchen floor.

Travel in town was iffy because a lot of roads were out. So I tried to cobble together a fix using spare parts from another valve I had lying around. No good, valve too far gone. And while I'm up there tinkering around in the attic messing with the upstairs plumbing, I forgot to cement one of the pipe elbows I'd put in.

Pipes capped off
Remember when I told you the pressure was excessive? I walked up to the street, turned on the water, and heard people screaming "turn it off! turn it off" from inside my house.

So, swearing and cringing, I turn it off and go back inside. Niagara falls was happening in my kitchen. Now we're down one valve, one pipe, one drowned light fixture. I have no choice but to cap the pipes until I can get to the hardware store at this point.

The next day, a big chunk of wet drywall collapsed all over my breakfast nook.

Fast forward to this Sunday, when I went up there to try to fix all the damage I'd managed to do to my home. My attic is a cramped mess, so I decide that before I pull up the plywood up there (I don't have a proper floor up there, just plywood on the joists) so I can see what's going on, I need to clean up a bit and toss some old stuff.

And that's when I fell through the freaking ceiling.

The kid, sitting on the sofa, heard a noise and looked up just in time to see the ceiling in the living room burst open and what she thought was pink cotton candy come exploding out.

Cotton candy for everyone!
I didn't fall all the way through, because I fell onto the main joist on my way down and for a few minutes, thought I had broken my damn leg. The husband kind of crammed some of the drywall back in place, but before that, it was hanging down over his favorite chair like the Sword of Damocles. Thank God he had gotten up when he did, because five minutes later, his chair was covered in broken drywall and Pink Panther insulation.

And to add insult to injury, the kid and husband had been folding clean laundry down below, and now much of it had to be re-laundered because it got covered with fiberglass particles.

All this tribulation and horseshit because of a leaky shower valve.

And now we got the holidays coming up and my kitchen and living room have destroyed ceilings and I have one single shower left in my house that works, and even that one leaks.

I thought I'd maybe have some time to bang out a post last night and today, but then a friend was in desperate, serious need of long road trip out of town for a couple hours to clear her head. So we got in my van and drove. And I promised the husband I would work on getting the shower up and running tomorrow. So I am really sorry about all this, but I'm gonna have to take a breather this week and fix some stuff before we end up having to shower in the backyard with a garden hose.

Sometimes your week doesn't pan out the way you think it will.

On the upside, my leg ain't broke.  

Here's a funny little lego video of the Irish song, Why Paddy's Not At Work Today.  

Paddy, I feel ya.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Riders & Kickers Finally Released!

Finally, after much tribulations, floods, panic, gnashing of teeth, and tearing of hair, Riders & Kickers, The Five Dollar Mail Anthology, is finally released!

It contains the holiday tales and various other short stories found on the website, plus Ask Wash and some general info about the Pony Express. It also contains two new previously unpublished stories: one co-written with longtime reader Erin Sackett, which is illustrated with never-before-seen illustrations by Diego Candia, and the other, a substantial novella by my husband Jim Shelley, who has done quite a bit of collaboration with me about story arcs for FDM over the years. To be honest, The Five Dollar Mail really wouldn't exist without Jim's support and creative contributions, so I love that he wrote a story of his own for this.

It also contains a sneak preview of the cover for what will be the third and final book in the trilogy, The Road Home, which I am finishing up writing now. 

Anways, Riders & Kickers is available both as an ebook, and also as a beautiful trade paperback (not linked on Amazon as of this writing, so if you want the trade, just do a search on Amazon for it. It's there.). I hope you enjoy it!

As always, thanks for reading!


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Statewide Marco Polo Match!

Head's up, y'all. My town is pretty much underwater right now. I have no doubt we're gonna be declared a federal disaster area before it's over, if it hasn't already.

I lived through Hurricane Hugo, and I ain't never seen anything like this shit that's going on here right now. I currently live on a high ridge made of sharp sand, so my place is okay, but I can't really go anywhere and I don't know how long power and internet is going to hold.

If it holds, I'm gonna keep to my normal posting schedule. If you don't hear from me, I'm sitting in the dark holding a flashlight and hoping I don't have to pull the kayaks out, and you'll hear from me when you hear from me.

On the upside, if I don't lose internet and/or power, looks like Riders & Kickers will be released next week!

Stay dry!