It’s Everywhere

I have often heard of Radon, and thought as most people do that it was an issue limited either to certain geological areas, or resulted from poorly constructed foundations. Radon gas, which is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, occurs in varying amounts everywhere on earth. There is no way to predict which areas or houses may have higher concentrations. Levels of Radon in your home may be negligible, while your neighbor’s house may have dangerous levels. The danger from Radon comes in the form of damage to lung tissues, which results in cancer. In fact, I recently found out that Radon exposure is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States.
So how do we make sure our families are safe from Radon? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking a short-term test first. These take from 2 to 90 days to complete. If your short-term results come back between 4 and 8pCi/L, the EPA suggests following up with a long-term test to confirm your results. Long-term tests run from 91 days to a year and can offer a more accurate measurement. If your short-term results come back over 8 pCi/L, the EPA suggests perform another short-term test to confirm the results since Radon levels can fluctuate widely over time. If the long-term or second short-term test results are 4 pCi/L or higher, the EPA recommends that you take immediate action to lower radon levels in your home. Reducing radon levels in your home requires technical knowledge and skill, and typically involves hiring a radon mitigation contractor.

Deadly Advice

Usually on this blog I try to introduce you to different ways to protect yourself and family, but today I want to warn you away from one.  I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day and came across a post labeled “How to survive a Heart Attack when alone”.  The accompanying article claimed that rhythmic deep coughs could save your life, and cites endorsements from Rochester General Hospital and Mended Hearts.  Like everything else on the internet, I read this with a grain of salt, and decided to check it out.  It didn’t take much digging to discover that like most of these “Forward” type messages the endorsements were fake.  So, the whole story must be fake, right? It turns out that if you are having a very specific kind of heart attack and under medical supervision, rhythmic coughing could actually help.  The fact is that this type of treatment, also called “cough CPR”, if performed without training or in the wrong circumstances could easily turn a survivable heart attack into a fatal one.

There is however something simple that you can do to greatly increase your chances of surviving a heart attack, whether you’re alone or not.   Forget about coughing away a heart attack, and chew an Aspirin.

Mastering Fear

As parents we all feel the sorrow, pain, and fear from the attacks in Newtown.  The loss of a child is an unimaginable torment to those that are blessed with them.  I wish, beyond all reason or hope, that I had some piece of advice that could protect our children while at school, but the fact is that no one simple trick or tip exists or will ever exist that will guarantee our children’s safety at school.  Many different people and organizations have put forth plans of action, spanning from minor to revolutionary, but none of these serves to ease the fear that each parent feels when their child leaves their arms, because none can guarantee safety.  However, as parents we can’t weigh decisions for our children’s future against a measure of fear.  We must master our fears as best we can, primarily in order to quench the fears of those we protect, and secondly to begin with careful steps to ensure that our fears become obsolete. We owe it not only to the victims, but to every child now alive and those yet to be born, to explore every option that has potential.  No political or social agenda is worth the life of a child.

Noah’s Art of Hope

Smartphone Shutterbug

Over 50% of Americans, according to Nielson, now have smart phones.  While there are many advantages and disadvantages of parents with smartphones, there is one pro that was recently brought to my attention and involves the built in smartphone cameras.  As most everyone knows the first question asked by authorities in a child abduction situation is; do you have a recent picture? Smart phones make it easy for parents not only to take lots of pictures, but to share them almost instantly with others via text message, email, or web.  Taking a moment to snap a clear picture of your kids as you are leaving the house for large event or even just every couple of weeks, will not only help police if the unthinkable happens, but will fill your phone with great pictures and memories.

Christmas Cheer

When I was young there was no holiday I enjoyed more than Christmas, but not because of the presents.  For my family the holiday started early in November when we began to unpack all of the Christmas decorations. We had to start early in order to get all of the many thousands of lights and other assorted decorations in place and functional by Christmas.  So for me, Christmas was about being outside with my family, running strings of lights up and down trees, along fences, and anywhere else we could find.  The result of our labor was not only beautiful light displays that drew neighbors both near and far, but a wonderful family bond and beautiful lifelong memories.

Now that I am a father this is a tradition and experience that I want very much to pass on to my son.
When I was younger a string of Christmas lights brought images of joy and expectation to my mind.  While as an adult I have not lost that joy, I also now know that the same lights can be a catalyst of great sorrow.

We have all heard the heart breaking stories of families stricken by fire.  We have heard of the children who instead of receiving gifts, have their parents taken away.  We have heard of parents who instead of glowing faces and excited voices on Christmas morning, wake only to piercing reality that never again will that little hand reach out to be held, nor little head laid upon their chest as sleep overcomes youth. As a father I can think of no worse fate than to have my child taken away, unless it would be to lose them to a fire, caused by a tradition that I previously held so dear. A fire that I could have easily prevented.

We all know the common safety issues with Christmas trees and lights, yet we are all guilty of ignoring them on occasion.  Soothed by the small odds of catastrophe, we make decisions to save time and money, which could end up costing us everything we have.  Will the $10 saved by using that old extension cord be of any help in rebuilding a house?  Will 5 minutes saved by not examining last year’s tree lights endure for the lifetime of a child who lost their parents?  Would the memory of a perfect Christmas tree be of any comfort when consumed by grief for the loss of a perfect child? Of course not.

I still love Christmas and yes my wife and I, along with our son, are continuing my family tradition, even placing some of the very same decorations that I helped with as a child.  The only thing that has changed in me is the care that I take in insuring that the lights and decorations that bring our family joy are never responsible for bringing us sorrow.

There are several simple, relatively painless, steps that you can take that will help ensure your family’s safety this holiday season.  I am only going to mention a few of the ones that seem to be the most overlooked.

The first and foremost is to check you lights and cords.  Regardless of the tedium, make sure that you thoroughly examine every strand and every extension cord for breaks, cracks, frays, or burns. If any of these are placed outside, you need to keep inspecting them throughout the season. If any defects or damage is found NEVER try to repair yourself.  DISCARD the damaged product, the price of replacing it is not worth the risk.  However, care must also be taken when purchasing new cords and lights.  Always be sure to look for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label and always inspect the product just as you would an old one before use.  Also there is a new trend that came to my attention only a few weeks ago, counterfeit extension cords.  Apparently some discount stores have been unknowingly purchasing and distributing counterfeit extension cords.  These cords, with undersized wiring and poor insulation are nothing short of instant fire hazards.  The best way to protect yourself from these counterfeit cords is purchase only trusted brands or from well-established retailers.  More info on spotting these counterfeits can be found on UL’s website.  More info on spotting these counterfeits can be found on UL’s website. 

Once you have safe lights and safe cords, don’t make them dangerous by putting too many lights on one cord.  Read and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for both the lights and the cords.  This goes for outlets, surge protectors, and circuit breakers as well.

So now that we have adequately supplied lights, let’s pick a tree.   This one is simple, make sure you water your tree.  It only takes a second to pour a glass of water, and less than a second for a dry evergreen tree to ignite.   Many people think that an artificial tree can keep them safe, but fact is artificial trees burn nearly as well as a moderately dry fresh cut tree, and can give off poisonous fumes.  The best tree, as far as fire safety, is an adequately watered and maintained fresh tree.

Candles and Christmas go together like, well gasoline and matches.  If you like to lite candles at Christmas, keep them as far away as possible not only form your tree but wrapping paper, stockings, and come to think of it Santa’s Beard!  Here I must mention a pet peeve of mine.  I have often marveled at why anyone would put a candle under a Christmas tree, let alone ON a Christmas tree.  While I enjoy traditions and nostalgic things, I don’t feel that the antique look of a candle decorated Christmas tree is worth losing a house or a loved one.

Last but not least, as in every season, don’t leave your powered decorations unattended, or on while you sleep.  Be sure to have smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly, and keep them equipped with fresh batteries. And, remember to practice your home escape plan!

Resource Links:
UL Website on counterfeit extension cords
Holiday and Christmas Tree Fire Safety from the U.S. Fire Administration
Christmas Tree Fire Stats from NFPA

And So it Begins…

A little over two years ago I began to notice a growing preoccupation in my everyday life.  Normal objects that were once of little concern now leapt out for attention.  Activities that I had once enjoyed, now seemed ill-advised, even reckless.  Even though many of those around me could have told me in an instant what had caused this change, I myself was puzzled.  For the effects were slow and subtle, and took several months. What was this mysterious, nebulous event that caused such a fundamental shift in the way I viewed the world?  I became a father.

From the moment when my wife and I discovered that we were going to have a baby, a seed was planted in my mind.  As our child grew, so the seed grew in my mind and slowly everyday objects and activities became hazardous, unnecessary risks.  I of course am speaking about the natural, and unavoidable instinct that awakens in all parents, to ensure the safety of our children.

In this blog I intend to share with you the ways, both big and small, that I find and that help me make my world safer for my family, in the hopes that you may find them useful too, and we can all sleep a little better each night.