Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Journey To Health Part 2: Food as Medicine

Click here to read part 1 of this series, Journey to Health Part 1: Symptoms & Diagnosis

After spending most of last year struggling with anxiety, stress, and worry, my health was wrecked. I had literally worried myself sick and was left with gastritis {inflammation of the stomach lining} and acid reflux disease. The advice of my GI specialist was to continue taking Zantac and Tums until I feel better, or possibly for the rest of my life. As a 34-year old in otherwise great health, I wasn't ready to accept that as my fate. Knowing that different foods can profoundly hurt or heal the body, I set out to change my diet in order to feel better, heal my body and eventually, hopefully, be able to go off of medication as a result.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disorder. While researching ways to support my thyroid through diet change, I repeatedly came across recommendations for the Paleo diet. I decided to try a Whole30 challenge at that time and was very happy with the results. I even noticed changes in my children while eating a cleaner, healthier diet. After the 30 day challenge, I never went back to eating the way I used to and I continued to read and learn more about the benefits of a Paleo lifestyle and how food can heal the body. That background knowledge turned out to be my starting point on this healing journey.

According to my GI specialist my gastritis developed from high levels of stress which causes too much stomach acid which causes inflammation of the stomach lining. I didn't feel overly stressed, certainly not to the degree that it would affect my health. I'd always kind of been proud of my ability to handle stress without much suffering. But this time, as I stopped and looked around at my life and considered that I'm not a 22 year old college kid anymore, I realized my body might need a little {or a lot} more TLC than I usually give it. Time for some changes.

I did a little online research on gastritis and I learned it can also be related to other autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's - red flag! As I began figuring out how to address this issue I decided to focus my efforts on stress management, acid reduction, autoimmunity, and of course inflammation. This would mean avoiding foods that were contributing to my problems, adding foods that could help heal my digestive system and reduce inflammation in my body, and then incorporating supplements and practices that could also reduce my symptoms and promote healing.

What I eliminated: Acidic & Inflammatory Foods
I started by addressing what would help me feel better quickest - the acid. My stomach was producing too much acid due to stress, which I don't directly have control over, but I could avoid adding to it. So I began my healing process by eliminating acidic and acid-producing foods from my diet. That includes- coffee, tea, soda {which I don't drink anyway}, tomatoes, citrus, and dairy. Avoiding those foods while continuing to take Zantac seemed to be a good start to reducing my symptoms. This should give my stomach a little break and hopefully a chance to repair.

At the same time I needed to reduce the inflammation in my stomach and avoid anything else that could be irritating it in addition to the acid. This is where my knowledge of the Paleo diet came into play. Paleo is a style of eating with the purpose of reducing inflammation, healing and optimizing the digestive system, and helping the body function at its best. Added to my list of eliminated foods would be grains, soy, legumes, processed foods/sugars/oils, and alcohol. I knew that sticking to Paleo guidelines would be gentle on my digestive system, giving it a break from irritating foods and would promote healing. It would also reduce inflammation elsewhere in my body {because stress and stress hormones like to do that}, otherwise optimize my body's systems and functioning, and help to balance out my hormones. There are many, many more health benefits to a Paleo diet and all of them work together to help you feel your best and function at your best. They're way too numerous for me to list here, but I highly recommend reading The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser if you're interested in learning more.
This is not my graphic. I could not find a source to credit, but found it on Pinterest.

What I added: Healing and Soothing Foods
Besides eliminating foods that are problematic for my condition, there are other things that are  helpful for reducing my symptoms {or stopping them completely} and healing my body. While tea is usually acidic and not a good idea if you suffer from gastritis, green tea has such amazing anti-inflammatory benefits that they outweigh its acidity. Since gastritis is inflammation, I'm drinking one mug of organic green tea each day, nothing added to it. And if stress is truly the underlying cause of my problems, then there could be lots of other hidden inflammation in my body whose symptoms aren't as obvious. Green tea, for the win.

I've also discovered the amazing healing benefits of collagen powder. It is so good for you in so many ways, but most importantly for me- it is very healing for the gut lining. Collagen is the material that basically holds us together. It's a huge part of our skin, hair, nails, joints, and mucous membranes. The digestive tract has a mucosal lining, so consuming collagen helps to keep that lining healthy. Best part- it could not be easier to incorporate into your diet. It dissolves in any liquid of any temperature and is completely tasteless. I add 2-3 tablespoons to my smoothies in the morning, but it can easily be added to soups, juices, or the batter of baked goods. It doesn't change the flavor or consistency and it's super easy for the body to digest. I feel like this is one of the most important additions for me since it's directly addressing the health of my stomach lining. I absolutely love that it has so many other benefits, too!

Lastly, I'm tossing some chia seeds into my smoothies for a huge dose of antioxidants, extra hydration, and anti-inflammatory Omega-3s. Because those things never hurt anyone, right? Basically they're very nutrient-dense and I feel like the more nutrition I can pack into my diet, the better shot my body has at functioning normally and healing up. Chia seeds are also flavorless and easy to add to lots of foods- smoothies, soups, baked goods, sprinkled on salad, made into pudding, mixed into oatmeal, or just added to a glass of water.

Today, I'm a full year into this journey and about six months into the dietary changes. I'm happy to say I'm feeling a lot better now than I was before. My symptoms seem to be almost 100% controlled. Every now and then I'll have a day when I don't feel well but those are much fewer now. My anxiety has decreased significantly since I've started feeling better. Being afraid of your food is not a good place to be. And trying to be mama when you don't feel well is an entirely different ball game than when you can just go crawl into bed on a bad day. Our stresses are far from behind us, but being able to wake up and function normally on a day-to-day basis has made a big difference in lowering my stress level, which of course then helps me feel better and function normally. I am also continuing to take Zantac twice a day for now. As much as I don't want to be on a daily medication, I think it's important to support my body until it's fully healed. I want to give it plenty of time on the modified diet to adjust and get back to normal before I stop taking the Zantac.

Diet changes are not the only way I'm working on healing. In part 3 of this series I'll talk about all the other changes I've made to my lifestyle to help manage my stress and support my body's healing. Stay tuned :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Journey to Health Part 1: Symptoms & Diagnosis

Happy New Year! Welcome to the time of year when everyone and their cat decides to get healthy! Let me just say- I think that's fantastic. We should all have at least ONE time of the year that we're making an effort to take care of ourselves, amiright? Well, I'm not trying to burst any bubbles, but this is actually not that kind of post. The timing is just really, really coincidental. Truth is, I've been on a journey to health for the better part of a year now. It began 9 months ago as a simple decision to drop some extra pounds and eat healthier foods. As life has a tendency to do, some circumstances came up and various things happened that really started to affect my health in a negative way. I struggled for a good bit before I realized what was actually going on. Once I put the pieces together {and saw a doctor, of course} I figured out what I needed to do to heal my body and feel better for good. I'm still in the very early stages of putting those measures into place, so there's lots of this journey left to experience! But I wanted to document it all for my own reference and as always, to perhaps help someone else.

It all started early in 2016. Hubs decided he wanted to start eating better so we agreed to do a Whole-30 in the month of March. We planned, we ate, and it was awesome. We both did really well sticking to our meal plans and were super happy with the results. We tried and ate things that were totally new to us, learned a lot of new recipes, and realized that, in fact, we could survive without bread. Going forward we decided we would stick to the guidelines of a Paleo-style of eating when we were cooking and eating at home, but would allow ourselves to go off-plan if we were invited to someone's house, or eating out, etc. where we didn't have much control over our food options. So we continued that way happily.

As the year went on we experienced a virtual rollercoaster of stress, worry, excitement and disappointment {which still continue, I'll add}. I know that sounds like normal life, but this was way more than the every day ups and downs everyone experiences. Serious peaks and valleys. Serious fear and worry. And serious excitement, too, like taking our girls to Disney World for the first time ever. Anyway, I will spare you the details of all of those, except to say that looking back I can, almost with certainty, point to stress as the root of my troubles.

It was in the spring time when I first noticed my symptoms- feeling extra full after a normal meal, even a bit nauseous, feeling bloated and needing to burp more than usual {a little TMI, sorry}. The best way I can describe it is feeling like I ate 3 Thanksgiving dinners. Sometimes the nausea was really intense and I'd have to go lay down for a while. I figured maybe it was a temporary issue or something I was eating that didn't agree with me. I've never had stomach problems before except some heartburn in the later weeks of my pregnancies so this was pretty unusual and worrying for me {as if I needed more to worry about}. I started keeping a food journal just in case, but after a few weeks it showed no pattern. Basically it was just eating in general that made my stomach hurt.

As the summer wore on we were trying to make some plans that were very up in the air, changing sometimes daily. One day things would look promising, the next it was looking nearly impossible. There was so. much. going on and my health was paying the price. My symptoms were not getting better. Sometimes I ate very little all day long, skipped meals out of fear that eating would make me feel worse, or stuck to the BRAT diet in hopes that it wouldn't cause me any trouble. I decided to start taking over-the-counter Zantac and made an appointment to see a GI specialist in mid-September. After asking me a few questions about my lifestyle, he concluded that the problems were likely caused by stress, but wanted to do an endoscopy to make sure I hadn't developed an ulcer. After that appointment, I read everything I could about peptic ulcers and adjusted my diet to remove any foods that could potentially aggravate an ulcer. Those include acidic foods like coffee, tea, citrus, and tomato products, as well as foods that increase acid production like dairy. I also increased my Zantac dose to the max OTC recommendation - 150mg x2/day. The Zantac seemed to make a difference, but I wouldn't say my symptoms were gone. I still had instances when they were really bad, in fact. While I was grateful for the relief it gave me, it certainly wasn't a magic pill.

Through the continued stress and excitement, I had my endoscopy in mid-November. The doctor reported that there were no signs of anything serious, just some gastritis {inflammation} and indications of GERD. He also took a few biopsies to test for H. pylori bacteria and celiac disease, both of which came back negative. His recommendation: just keep doing what I'd been doing.

If you've ever been on the receiving end of that advice, I'm sure you understand my disappointment. I came to this doctor hoping for answers. Of course there was some peace of mind in knowing my insides had been checked out and everything was normal for the most part. But to walk away with no solution to my problem was disheartening to say the least. What I was already doing {my own self-treatment, mind you} was just keeping me mostly functional so I could manage to care for my children on a daily basis. I wanted to know how to address the cause of my symptoms in order to make them go away - for good, if possible. I wasn't ready to resign to this as a lifelong condition for which I'd need to take acid-control medications for the rest of my days. I'm 34!

I'm not medically trained in any way, but this is what I don't understand about Western medicine. In so many cases a diagnosis is given and symptoms are managed pharmacologically. The end. I'm sure that part of the reason is that doctors are not properly trained in nutrition and are actually not able to identify the role that a patient's diet is playing in their illness unless the illness is obesity, and even then they would recommend eating a low-fat diet which itself has been proven ineffective. But it's increasingly difficult not to wonder if part of the reason is that there's profit to be made when a patient becomes dependent on medication for life.

Sorry, but that ain't gonna be me. With no further help from my doctor, I was on my own to educate myself and determine my course of action. Fortunately, I'm no stranger to holistic health. I've been a believer in food as medicine for several years now and have done lots of homework on the subject. I'm very familiar with many functional medicine practitioners and have read several of their books. I follow them on social media and keep up with the research they share. So, I knew exactly where to start on my quest to get my health back. And that is how my 2017 began.

Read all about how I researched my condition, decided on my own course of healing, and how that's going so far in Part 2 of this series {coming soon}.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Our Plan for a Simple Advent

We're all familiar with the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season and how it basically steals our joy and completely redirects our focus from the real meaning of Christmas - celebrating the arrival of our Savior. When our girls were born, I became determined to instill in them the idea that Christmas is about Jesus, first and foremost. I also want to teach them that it's about giving, caring for others {especially those in need}, and love. We've really enjoyed using an Advent calendar over the past several years to celebrate each day by doing something together as a family. But the last thing I want to do is add to the chaos and scramble of the season by over-scheduling Advent or holding myself to impossible Pinterest-level crafts and activities. Let's face it, those are way more about us than about celebrating Jesus, anyway, aren't they?

To avoid that trap, I've planned a calendar of simple Advent activities for each day so that we're still preparing for the birth of Jesus without sending ourselves {me} into a total frenzy. It's true that some of the things we do require a little planning or purchasing supplies, but many of them are also free and as utterly simple as having a Christmas song dance party or hot cocoa night. While those particular examples are admittedly not entirely Christ-centered, they're still something fun and memorable to do together as a family, which is also an important part of the Christmas for us.

I plan out our simple but meaningful Advent using my super simple and easy-to-make Advent calendar...

It is quite literally a piece of foam board with small envelopes glued to it. {I'm not even giving you a tutorial, because this is NOT Pinterest-level ;) } You can see I fancied it up with some sparkly scrapbook letters to spell "advent" at the top. I pretended the asterisks were snowflakes because my creativity knows no bounds.

I used an elegant command hook to hang ours, because #rentallife.

Since the girls are 1, 3 and 6 our activities are somewhat suited for younger kids, but many of them can be done with kids of any age. As our girls grow up we'll add in more in the way of serving others. Keeping things age-appropriate and in line with the kids' interests is key to keeping them on-board and excited about Advent each day.

Here's our countdown, in the order that we'll complete the activities, since some lend themselves better to being done earlier/later in the season...
25. Write letters to Santa. I like to maintain a format of something you want, need, wear, read. The open letter of "everything I can imagine wanting" sort of steers away from the direction we're trying to take them.
24. Visit Valley View Farms. This is a local nursery/garden center that turns into a Christmas wonderland at the holidays. We wander through looking at all of their dozens of pre-decorated trees and thousands of ornaments. We let each of the girls pick out an ornament for our tree before we leave.
23. Christmas movie night. I do this on Friday nights because that tends to be our family's Friday night go-to activity anyway. We take turns choosing the movie.
22. New Christmas Jammies. It's like a little Christmas present early in the season. Our girls love this tradition.
21. Choose 3 toys to give to needy children. We always need to purge a few toys before Christmas and I love that this gets our girls thinking about others in need.
20. Craft: Gingerbread Garland. Use cookie cutters {or whatever you have} to trace and cut out Christmas shapes on brown paper. String the shapes onto some cute string or ribbon and you're done! 
19. Read Luke Ch.2. We have the Jesus Storybook Bible and really love it for telling stories in a way kids can understand. I chose to do this earlier in the season so we can refer to it as a reminder of why we're celebrating.
18. Nativity Memory game. Found this on Pinterest, and my kids love playing memory. This helps familiarize them with the different people who are part of the original Christmas story.
17. Christmas shopping. Now that 2 of our 3 girls are old enough to understand gift-giving, we like letting them pick out a gift for their sisters. We also have the cousins in our family {13 of them} draw names and choose a gift for each other.
16. Christmas movie night #2. Second Friday night of the season, next person's choice.
15. Read: The Story of Christmas. This is another book that tells the Christmas story in a kid-friendly way.
14. Christmas song dance party. This is a great way to get some of that excited energy out {therefore, you may want to have more than one of these, like once every afternoon?}
13. Make a birthday card for Jesus. After all, his birthday is coming up.
12. Craft: Coffee filter snowflakes. Play some carols while you cut, and make your home feel festive :)
11. Make gifts for grandparents. Grandparents love a hand made gift from their little cherubs, and the children benefit from thinking of putting a smile on their grandparents' faces as they carefully craft something special for them.
10. Hot cocoa night. This is best done by Christmas tree light. Get creative with some yummy add-ins and make it more special than just a cup of Swiss Miss. Play some carols or read special stories and just spend some cozy time together.
9. Christmas movie night #3. Third Friday night of the season, next person's choice.
8. Bake Christmas cookies. This simple tradition is a classic memory-maker for kids. Make some extras, wrap them up and take them to a neighbor or friend!
7. Decorate "trees" at Nana's. We spend Sundays at my mom's with my siblings and their children, so it's fun for the kids to do a little special craft or snack together at the holidays. And what's more festive than decorating a Christmas tree??
6. Craft: "Gingerbread" houses. This is another classic tradition. However, if you don't want your children having all the sugar, you can make them out of cardboard, cotton, gems, beads, and glitter. All the fun without the toothache :)
5. Make a Christmas treat to share. Make or bake a simple treat and take it with you to visit a friend, or drop it off to a neighbor or someone in need.
4. Christmas mani-pedis. We're a girlie household, and mama sells Jamberry, so we love doing our nails for Christmas!!
3. Go see Christmas lights. When I was little my mom always used to take us out on a drive one evening through a bunch of different neighborhoods to check out all the Christmas lights. I always loved that and enjoy taking our girls, too.
2. Read: The Night Before Christmas. I have the actual book that we read when we were little kids, and while this story is not Christ-based, it's still a classic and I love reading it with my girls. One day I look forward to passing the book on to them :)
1. Prepare Christmas breakfast. Since Christmas morning is always such a rush of excitement {though we work really hard at making it calm and peaceful, no one wakes up at 5am or anything like that, and no one goes downstairs without mommy & daddy}, I like to have a special breakfast prepared in advance and ready to pop in the oven before the present-opening even begins. This helps minimize the crazyness and makes sure we have a hot delicious breakfast. The smell of baking cinnamon rolls ain't too bad either! ;)

In the past we've done some other activities like seeing a live nativity and making Christmas cards for soldiers over seas. We may still do some other things like that this year, but I try to change up our plans a little each year. What are your favorite advent activities?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Night Terrors Part 2: Answered Prayer

At the time I wrote my last post, we were feeling pretty discouraged and desperate. We had tried several different solutions to help stop our 6-year old daughter's night terrors. We had banned any mildly scary/questionable tv shows or movies, were vigilant about her using the bathroom right before bed time, and tried waking her up right before the night terrors typically occurred. All of those efforts were to no avail. The night terrors had been going on nightly for weeks on end. Our sleep was suffering and our anxiety and frustration was building every day. I was all but convinced that nothing was going to make any difference.

The very next day after writing that post, my essential oils kit arrived (from Young Living, they have no idea I'm writing this post). A few days later, I had the diffusers set up in the girls' bedrooms and was ready to give it a shot. We had absolutely nothing to lose.. well, except the little bit of sleep we were getting each night, I guess. Being a super-newbie to essential oils, I went with what little I knew.  I put 3 drops of lavender oil and 2 drops of an oil blend called Stress Away into the oil diffusers. I also applied a drop of of lavender to the pulse points behind their ears. We did our bedtime routine as usual, tucked the girls in, and waited.

Her night terrors would usually strike between 45-60 minutes after we put her to bed. I was watching the clock and trying to distract myself at the same time. I was so hopeful and desperate, yet I didn't want to set myself up for disappointment. After all, nothing else we had tried made any difference. What were the chances that some nice smelling oils were going to suddenly do the trick? Oh, me of little faith! But alas, the one hour mark came and went. All was quiet. We waited a little longer. Still quiet. Eventually we went to bed ourselves. I had been having so much anxiety about going to bed knowing that she could be waking up any minute that it was hard for me to settle in. But nevertheless, I was cautiously optimistic. The later we got into the night the less likely she would be to have a night terror since they typically occur shortly after going to sleep and generally in the first half of the night.

Sure enough we woke up in the morning after our first quiet night in months. To say I was in disbelief is an understatement. In fact, it wasn't until we'd had a solid week of quiet nights that I was fully convinced that the oils had made the difference. The quiet nights continued until I decided to change up the oil combination one night. Just like before, she had a night terror at the exact usual time. This was even more confirmation for me that the oils had worked. When I went back to the original combo of lavender and Stress Away, she slept through the night again.

I wish I could say she hasn't had another night terror since using the oils, but she has had maybe 2-3 over the past two months, which is still a drastic improvement. Each time we were able to identify a significant contributing factor (such as being overtired or forgetting to use the bathroom before bed) that probably just counterbalanced the positive effect of the oils. Before this experience, I truly didn't understand (or believe, if I"m being totally honest) how essential oils could physically affect the body. Well, we are true believers now and could not be more thankful to have found a completely natural, zero-side-effect solution that works reliably to help our child sleep. I only looked into essential oils because we desperately needed a solution for this problem. And wouldn't you know, the amazing, healthy answer was something so simple and miraculously crafted by God himself. He is so good.

After realizing the power of essential oils, we have used them for numerous other applications as well. I suffer from headaches and have been able to use oils to relieve them. I've also used them to help with digestion, anxiety, and focus. We diffuse and apply them to help support immunity, especially during the winter months. And that's just how I'm using the oils that were part of my starter kit. There are tons of other oils out there I haven't even met with amazing benefits all their own. The possibilities are endless, and I'm sure I'll be using my oils for a long time to come. I'm looking forward to sharing more about our EO journey and all the ways oils work their magic in our lives!

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about essential oils, I'd love to share what I know and how oils have made a difference for our family. Please leave a comment and we'll get in touch! 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Night Terrors: Part 1

*Fair warning: this is long. I tried to keep it informative, but it's also an extremely personal issue that has weighed heavily on us for some time, so it turned into a bit of a vent as well.

There are just few things that rip a parent's heart out like being unable to help your child. If you've ever had to deal with night terrors, you know that feeling well. Night terrors are different than nightmares. They're not actually a dream that the child wakes up from in a frightened state. Instead, the child sits up as if they're awake and screams, cries, thrashes, etc. It's a terrifying experience for a parent. Unfortunately we know from experience.

For us, about six months ago we noticed Big Sister waking up in the night just a little while after we put her to bed. She always cried and acted completely terrified, but wouldn't answer us when we asked what was wrong, or anything else for that matter. It was really like she wasn't even awake. She just stared and screamed. After maybe 5-10 minutes of holding her and talking to her she would eventually calm down. At that point when we would ask her why she was awake and crying, she was just as confused as we were. She had no idea why she was out of her bed, and no memory of waking up or screaming for all that time.

At first it just happened a few times now and then, but before long she was having weeks in a row where she would be up every single night. Because she acted so scared when it happened, I assumed she was having bad dreams from something she had seen, perhaps on tv. Naturally, we banned the scariest thing she was watching right away- My Little Ponies {it has some surprisingly dark episodes!}. That seemed to make a difference for a little while, but sadly it wasn't a solution. It started happening again. That's when I realized we weren't dealing with bad dreams, but night terrors.

As I'm prone to do when I need solutions to anything, I went to Pinterest and read everything I could find on the topic. The more I learned about night terrors the more I was certain that was our real issue. Characteristics of night terrors are...
  • waking at roughly the same time each night
  • inconsolable screaming, crying
  • thrashing or flailing
  • a blank stare, not truly awake
  • no memory of a nightmare or bad dream
  • occurs in the first half of the night while nightmares tend to happen in the second half or early morning
  • most common in younger children, usually outgrown by adolescence

Once I knew what we were dealing with, I just wanted to figure out what I could do about it. Is there something we can change that's causing this? Can we prevent it from happening? Can we stop it once it starts? I found out that some things that can cause night terrors include...
  • a change in bedtime routine
  • a full bladder
  • a traumatic experience
  • being over-tired
  • a fever or being too hot
  • stress or anxiety
  • feelings of insecurity
  • major life changes

None of those seemed to ring true for us. The only thing I could come up with from that list was perhaps some stress from beginning school again. I try really hard to make it fun and not a stressful experience {one of my main reasons for homeschooling, actually}, but she is somewhat of a perfectionist in that she wants to do everything exactly right on the first try which can cause her some anxiety. She is also super amped about school this year, so it's possible that it's not even a negative stress. Unfortunately there's not really any way of knowing for sure if that's a factor or not.

Also to my serious disappointment, there is almost nothing you can do to stop or prevent night terrors. Generally the advice is to sit with your child, speak to them gently, and comfort them by holding or hugging them, but only as much as they'll allow as this makes some children thrash even more. For us, when we hear that she's crying, we get her out of bed and out of her room right away since she shares with Little Sister. We take her to our room and have her use the potty, even though we always have her go right before bed. This seems to shorten the amount of time it takes for her to calm down. After that we usually just sit with her and hold her on our bed, telling her softly that mommy and daddy are right here with her and everything's okay. Thankfully she mostly just cries, yells and rocks. She doesn't physically resist being held or comforted as many kids do. I have to say it's just a heartbreaking experience as a parent though. Just this week she has woken up sobbing her baby sister's name, and yelled things like, "I'm afraid something bad is going to happen!" "Is it really real??" and "I want to go home!" It is so hard to feel like she's experiencing something traumatic but not being able to get through to her and reassure her that everything's okay. After a while, there is a distinct change in her facial expression and demeanor. She quiets down somewhat abruptly, and we're able to communicate with her again. Just tonight when she settled down I asked her, "are you ok?" and her confused answer was, "yes... why not?" There's a small amount of comfort in knowing that she doesn't recall any kind of trauma or nightmare in all this, but it certainly takes it's toll on all of us.

Currently, beginning this week, she has been waking up twice each night. The first time it's about 45 minutes after we initially put her to bed. The second time happens about 20-30 minutes after we get her back in bed from the first episode. Each time it takes about 15-20 minutes from the time we get her out of bed until the time we tuck her back in. This means we spend from bed time until her first episode waiting for it to happen {this is a time of high anxiety for me}, then spend about 20 minutes getting through that. Half an hour later we repeat the same process, and then she's finally in bed for the night to begin her consecutive hours of sleep around 10:30. By that time I am amped from anxiety and my heart is leaping out of my chest with every teeny tiny sound I hear. It's extremely difficult for me to go to bed and fall asleep when my brain just knows someone is about to wake up screaming at any second... aaand that's why I'm awake at 2 am writing a blog post.

Like most moms, I refuse to rest {and can't, really} until I've exhausted every known option to help my baby. Through my combing of Pinterest, I have come across several families' stories about what worked for them. One more common tactic is "scheduled awakenings," which is basically what it sounds like. You identify the amount of time between putting your child to bed and when the night terror occurs. It's usually about the same amount of time each night. For us it seems to be around 45 minutes after bed time. Once you've identified that window, you wake the child yourself approximately 15 minutes before the night terror would usually happen. The idea is that you're disrupting the sleep pattern and hopefully resetting it so the night terror doesn't happen. We have tried doing that twice so far and both times she has still had a night terror, which is really discouraging. Perhaps if we continue doing it eventually it'll work. Tonight, it just seemed to prolong the inevitable. We woke her at 9:00, had her back in bed at 9:15, and she had her night terror at 10:15 {just when I was convinced it might have worked!}.

The other recommendation I've come across is the use of essential oils. If you know me, I love a good natural remedy. But more than that, I'll do anything for my kids, even if it sounds like hocus-pocus. I've been interested in EOs for a little while now, and actually about a week ago just ordered my first set. They haven't arrived yet, but I've been doing my homework and plan to try a few different options to see if they might help us out. The uses and benefits of EOs really are amazing, and there are a whole bunch that are used for calming anxiety, helping with relaxation and sleep. But wait!... Before you write me off as totally nuts, I'm also putting in a call to our pediatrician in the morning for her advice as well ;) I have to say, though, I'm feeling pretty hopeful that the EOs will make at least some difference. We can diffuse calming varieties in the hour or so leading up to bed time, add them to the bath water for an extra-calming bath experience, as well as apply them directly to her skin at bed time. I've already gotten a diffuser especially for her bedroom so I can diffuse calming/relaxing oils for her through the night.

Beyond scheduled awakenings and EOs, I'll continue hunting down any remedy known to man mom. I'm already planning to overhaul our bedtime routine to increase calming time before bed. I'll also be looking for points of stress or anxiety in our day that can be eliminated, and working to make our homeschool work as enjoyable and low-stress as possible. I honestly don't even know if stress is the true cause of her night terrors, but I can say that none of the other causes I've read about seem to apply, so that's what I have to go with. As with anything, I have to wonder if this could be diet-related. Is she eating something that is affecting her chemistry and throwing off her stress hormones or sleep patterns? As far as I'm concerned, it's always possible, so a diet adjustment may be in the works. I'll probably save that as a last resort as it's especially difficult to keep a child to special dietary restrictions. And of course, I'll continue praying - for her, for us, for sleep, for answers. That is the most effective solution to anything and everything, after all.

I've titled this post Night Terrors: Part 1 because this story isn't over. I'll continue to share our experience and what helps or doesn't. Let's all just pray, if you would, that it only ends up being a 2-part series.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Making of a Homeschool Schedule

We're at it again - homeschool, and changing schedules! I've combed Pinterest over for homeschool schedules, just looking for some inspiration, good ideas and to see what other seasoned homeschoolers are doing. I've yet to find anything I thought would work for us, and so I continue to work and re-work a schedule of my own creation trying to find our magic formula. It may never happen as our needs are likely to change over time, but I think for now, and two weeks into our school year ;) I've finally settled on a keeper.

Last year for Kindergarten, I kept things really open and informal. I began the year with a very standard public school-like schedule where a designated amount of time was spent on each subject every day. I very quickly realized that wasn't working, and modified that to more of an alternating A-day/B-day schedule so we could spend a little more time on each subject and still be touching on them several times a week. That wasn't much better. It was too much planning, too challenging to keep a 5 year old working by the clock, and we were still spending WAY more time on school than I felt was necessary for a single 5-year old. Hello, reason #1 why we decided to homeschool!

Big Sister was unhappy, mama was unhappy, and at that point we did a total overhaul. We began using what is commonly known as an "unschool" approach. Big Sister picked what topics she wanted to learn about and we just dove in learning everything we could about it. It worked really well and we both loved it. What I discovered though was that we both needed just a little more structure than "no schedule at all." It was too easy to skip a day, shorten a lesson, get off-track, etc. While it was Kindergarten and I was perfectly fine with a relaxed schedule, I knew for first grade we would need to step things up a notch.

As the new school year approached, I sat down and excitedly hammered out a schedule. My goal was to have a fair amount of structure and to cover all subjects without spending an overwhelming amount of the day "working on school." After lots of thinking and working and re-working I had a very standard public school-like schedule with a designated amount of time spent on each subject every day. Ugh.

Fortunately, before we even began I realized it was too much to cram into one day. Unless we were going to work for a standard public school-length day of six hours (simply not possible for us, and still beyond what I think a first grader needs) we could barely spend 10-15 minutes on each subject. While that probably fits a first-grader's attention span for pencil and paper work, I didn't feel like it was enough to accomplish anything she would actually retain. We don't do much pencil and paper work. Our approach is a bit more non-traditional. It's not entirely "unschool," but I prefer projects and experiences that she's more likely to learn from and remember in the future. Short little 15-minute lessons just don't work with that approach.

What I've found works best for us is keeping the routine of a few daily must-dos, and then working more in-depth on one core subject area project or activity per day. I have a very imaginative girl, and she takes her time with everything. She asks a lot of questions and really takes in all aspects of what she's doing. I don't want to hurry her along and discourage her exploration and inquisitive nature. I chose homeschool for her so she could learn and explore at a pace that she enjoys. She's also choosing the topics we study, so they're all things she's very interested in and curious about. The whole idea of our approach is to dig deep into each topic and learn everything we can learn about it. Here's the most recent schedule I've worked out....

Truth told, it's still kind of a challenge to keep her on a timed schedule, and I have a hard time stopping her in the middle of something she's doing to move on to the next thing just to stay on schedule. In reality this could end up being more of a daily to-do list than an actual "schedule" we adhere to. As in- did we do our reading practice? Check. Did we work on the math project? Check. As for what time it is or how long that took us to complete, it's still my goal to get it all done between 9:30-12:30.

So for all the other homeschoolers like myself, combing Pinterest for a good sample schedule for their young learners, here is my sample. More importantly, here is my story of realizing that you should be doing whatever works best for you and your child. It's ok if it looks nothing like the public school schedule... even if the county reviewers suggest that it should. Spend your days teaching your child in the way they learn best. That's all. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

We Have a Threenager

The Threenager is a unique creature. Small, yet mighty, and very, very loud at times. The Threenager is extremely adorable and cuddly in appearance, standing roughly 30″ tall with messy hair and kissable cheeks usually dotted with remnants from the most recent meal or snack. For the most part they survive on a simple diet of cereal, yogurt, and chicken nuggets. On occasion they will consume fruit {preferably mixed in ice cream}, and vegetables if properly pureed into smoothies, popsicles, or baked into a chocolate cake. Threenagers possess {and store?} extreme amounts of energy which they use to run, play and shout approximately 15 hours of the day. Although the Threenager biologically requires 10-12 hours of sleep daily, they generally will resist any attempt to offer them rest until the unknown limits of their energy stores have been maximized. Do exercise caution when handling a Threenager as they’re not the cleanest of creatures. Frequent hand-washing, bathing, and/or hosing-down is often recommended since they tend to pick up an inordinate amount of germs, grime, and filth over the course of their adventurous day. Most of the time they are quite charming and playful, and although domesticated, Threenagers have an uncanny ability to mimic wild animals. Their moods can be sensitive and vary greatly from moment to moment. If dissatisfied for any reason, the Threenager has been known to bear teeth, roar, growl, howl, and thrash about. This behavior is likely to persist until the Threenager gets his or her way, has been sufficiently comforted, or gives up on his or her pursuit. 

It can be challenging to share your home with a Threenager, but for all the challenges they present, there are also many rewards. Known for having wildly comical personalities, Threenagers can and will say anything that comes to mind. They have a unique perspective on the world and life in general, and when they share their thoughts, it is both insightful and hilarious. They are fantastic huggers, usually squeezing tightly around your head or neck, and have irresistible, infectious laughter. They’re excellent for keeping a household lively and entertained. They are feisty, loyal, imaginative, messy, destructive, adorable, goofy, and so darned lovable. If you’ve ever had a Threenager, you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t, I highly recommend the experience :)

Little Sister, our sweet middle child, turned three in March. Where that time went, I have no idea. She is both our fireball and our delicate flower. She is our wild-child and the most-attached-to-mama. She will push Big Sister’s buttons mercilessly and but will follow her every move. She is crazy adorable and she drives me a little bonkers some days. 
Lately, everything is drama. She was helping me make zucchini muffins the other day. I was mixing the batter in our blender and when she saw me shredding the zucchini she threatened me- “You do not put that zucchini in the smoothie muffins! If you do that, I will not be your baby any more!” While hilarious, her sass has kicked up a few notches recently. Another example, I can’t remember what she was upset with me for, but her line was, “And secondly,” {points her finger in the air} “you don’t tell me what to do!” These moments usually make me laugh and aren’t at all problematic. But for each of her sassy little zingers, there are probably three all-out meltdowns. It’s the same whether she gets her feelings hurt, is infuriated, or has an injury {real or imagined}… she flops to the floor/ground on her bottom, opens her mouth and wails. Sometimes she goes flat on her back. Most of the time it’s over something minor that is easily fixed. I take that back, most of the time it’s because she wants something Big Sister is playing with, and our policy is to ask nicely for a turn and when the other person is finished with the toy, they’ll give it to you. Threenagers aren’t usually too keen on that policy. All in all, it’s not even the meltdowns and the attitude that are the trouble. It’s the fact that they inevitably arise at a really really really bad time. We are working through it day-by-day, and I know for sure that when our spunky little Threenager turns 4, we’ll miss some of her shenanigans. I have a strong feeling that many of them will stick around, but there are always those things that they eventually stop saying and doing. While I won’t miss the tantrums, there is a lot about this Threenager of mine that will be sorely missed as she grows up!