Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Magical freedom

Here it is already... November. Wow. How did that happen?! That last post I just went ahead and published, written in July, was the last time I had enough focus on any one thing to actually write about it.

I guess this means I'm doing well. I feel better than I have felt in a long time. I do feel a little scared to write that, lest the bottom fall out of my wellness... but anyway, I have felt well enough to get entrenched in several large undertakings. These undertakings are large enough that I actually don't have time for them all! But I do love them each enough that I flit back and forth between them, not certain to which I should give priority.

Obviously, however, the kids are the first priority. That goes without saying. They have been immersed in playing Minecraft with each other and with their father. I was nervous about allowing them to play this online game, since I lifted restrictions on screen time for them about a year ago. We used to make sure that we didn't plug in until after 3:30 pm each day -- my rationale being that kids who go to school don't get to have unlimited screen time. Also, most of my homeschooling friends have pretty stringent limits on their kids' screen time. But, when Everett became passionate about computer programming, and would tell me with great delight about the next program he was going to implement when I was tucking him into bed, I wasn't going to be the gatekeeper to happiness anymore.

And, it's really amazing how much he has flourished in that time. Both kids have. This morning I surprised him with two new O'Reilly books -- Head First HTML 5 Programming and Head First Web Design. He became interested in HTML 5 back when he had first implemented his website and wanted to know how to get some of the programs he had designed in Python on his website. Back then (earlier this year), there were no books on HTML 5, and it wasn't for certain that HTML 5 would even become standard yet. We found the limited information that was available on HTML 5 at the time, and made it available for him. So, he was so excited to see that HTML 5 book there this morning. Perhaps it is a bit selfish of me, but I love seeing his enormous shining eyes and genuine smile when I've figured out just what to get to feed his desire for learning. It's a high I can't really describe.

Naturally, all of this has been trickling down. The desire to learn independently, the enthusiasm, the recognition of endless possibility. Lucy has been pursuing her own passions, as well. She has been actively participating in MIT's Scratch Community making animations, developing her drawing skills, connecting with friends, and just today, she made her first WordPress blog post. The kids are constantly chatting with each other, dreaming of new collaborative designs for Scratch or Everett's web site. Sometimes the negotiation becomes quite heated, and that's when I realize they are not only really passionate about these things they are doing, but they are developing valuable teamwork skills for the future. Lucy has even been composing stories with a local friend using chat.

Even I have been inspired by their willingness to take risks and explore technology. In a fit of frustration with my homeschooling group's current communications platform, I designed not one, but two different forums for testing -- the first one used phpBB, which was pretty easy to set up (with a tiny bit of hand-holding in the beginning from Everett) and then after wanting to learn more about forum engines, I discovered yet another one (Simple Machines Forum) and implemented it within just a few hours. I can't tell you how empowering that was. I turned some anger and frustration into a potential solution. And even if my group is not interested in using those platforms; I am still happy to have had the experience of getting to learn how to make them!

Even the challenges we have faced in computerland have been useful. Everett created a site called MyDog: Blog About Your Dog as a subdomain on his website. He figured out how to do all of it himself. He programmed it all using PHP. Not long after its release, it was found by SPAM bots. :/ What a way for a kid to learn about prescription drugs! First he started deleting the SPAM posts manually, one by one. I asked him if maybe there was a faster way to get rid of them, since there were hundreds. And just with that suggestion, he knew he had to create a search algorithm in his MySQL database to get rid of all the errant posts. At that point, he didn't know how to keep the posts from being entered onto his website in the first place, so he disabled posts to MyDog. :( For a while. He knew that he had to figure out how to enter a captcha code to eliminate bot posts, so then he implemented that. His remaining issue is that the text is too small, so it can be very hard for humans to tell what the pass code is to enter a post. Maybe he'll get that changed someday, when it seems important to him.

Because of this passion about computers, we do have trouble getting outside enough. For various reasons, we didn't make it to the park as much as we have in years previous when the weather was cooperative. Our yard is small and our house is large and comfortable. I got a basketball hoop on Craigslist, hoping the allure would create hours of sweaty fun. A skateboard and all associated safety gear has also entered our house. But alas, the new territory of creation on the internet isn't matched by the beauty of the outdoors. Yet. I know from experience that many opportunities that present themselves, sometimes just do so at the wrong time. It never ceases to amaze me that just when I think, "Oh, I guess they're just not interested in that..." I'll see them experimenting with it. Patience certainly has its rewards.

We did have a nine-day long hiatus from the computer. We took a trip to Washington DC with my parents, and it was nothing short of magical. Nine days was not nearly long enough. It is worth a blog post of its own, for sure. I'll comment simply on the relationship between the lifestyle we experienced there and our health, for now. We walked miles every day (we did not have a car), and we ate lots of wheat and vegetable oil, I am sure. And it didn't seem to affect the kids at all. It was sunny for the majority of the time, we got to breathe iodine-rich ocean air, did not have the challenges of high elevation, and were constantly moving. It was a little difficult to eat enough, I think, for the number of calories we were expending. I say that because I would be hungry upon waking (which is not normal for me), and would feel extremely nauseated if I didn't eat breakfast right away. This didn't seem to be a problem for anyone else. I have my ideas about why (hmm, what is something that I do all the time that neither my kids or husband do?).

Anyway, the hiatus just proved to stimulate creativity in all of us. Walking along the streets of Washington DC, surrounded in history, my family brainstormed about a world they would then create in Minecraft upon returning home. They wanted to re-create the impressive Metro system we took daily. They wanted to generate copies of the monuments. They came home and made a dream city, together.

Does it get any better than this?

How the Summer Flies, Achoo!

This blog is still in its infancy, and while I started it partially in response to folks telling me I should, and a desire to get my thoughts out of my head, I have wavered back and forth about how refined it should be.

I have a great big post planned, in response to my post on The Staff of Life, about all the potential problems with eating wheat. There are so many, really, that I want to be sure I take the time to reference what I write very well before publishing it for all the world to see. There are plenty of folks in my sphere of influence who want their information to be well sourced; they want it well-grounded in science. And I should be able to provide that, right? With my educational background, certainly that should be possible, right? Typically, I like to hold myself to that standard, and in some way, it makes me feel somewhat bulletproof, but it certainly does not make me bulletproof. Nor does it make anyone else bulletproof, because as anyone who has read or studied a lot of science (or statistics, for that matter), or walked a mile in any shoes knows, there are ways to lend support for one's argument, and still be wrong. Nothing is certain.

And fortunately for my constipated brain, I have other influences in my life who encourage me to write whatever it is I am thinking, because that too can be valuable.

I started writing my posts on wheat at the same time I decided again to attempt to eat gluten. At first, it gave me increased energy, and it aided in raising my body temperature (which had been significantly decreased after nine months on a very low-carb diet). I brought wheat back into my diet to help give my thyroid, brain and muscles the carbohydrate fuel I needed to warm up and move again. Also, I brought wheat back into my diet to provide a source of B-vitamins and choline that I was having difficulty getting from other food sources. However, as the months passed, I became tired again, and had signs of hormonal imbalance that had been well-managed while eating gluten-free. So now, I am playing detective with my health again, trying to understand how gluten might have these effects on me. As I mentioned, I'll share some possibilities in an upcoming post (possibly after the summer is over).

Summer for me and my family tends to be hot and heavy in every sense of those words. The days fill up, we are presented with so many awesome opportunities, typically more than there are days in the summer, and we need an equal amount of time to decompress. Typically, I take the winter to scale back and be less active, relax, renew and reflect. This winter, for reasons I can't even recall, was nothing like that. So, we rolled into the warm weather already somewhat drained. Nonetheless, even before life became so hectic and busy, I found that I tend to have problems with my health and energy levels at two specific times of the year: February and July.

February is a month when I typically want to be left alone. That may sound harsh, but it is true. My birthday is in February. I don't know if there is a connection there, but around late Janurary and early February, I start feeling more like reading and less like going places or even visiting with people I love. Because my birthday comes at that time, those wishes are very rarely fulfilled. I have investigated the possibility of the decrease in my mood and energy levels at that time being caused by Vitamin D deficiency in two ways. One year, I took, from October through April, several thousand IUs of Vitamin D3 most days, in combination with my very favorite Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil blend. That year, I was free from illness all winter! It was fantastic! But I still wanted to be left alone in February.  This past winter, I tried an altogether new experiment; I went to a tanning salon 2-3 times per week. My mood was better, and although we had a couple of illnesses come through the house, my battle with them, as long as I was tanning regularly, amounted to no more than a slight tickle at the back of my throat and transient sinus problem, whereas my kids got sick. My mood, to my happy finding, was much better, and my anxiety surrounding having to see people was a bit better, but still not great...

Which makes me wonder if I just need some solitude at that time of year, and if trying to change myself to please others is an aggravating and futile effort.

Which brings me to July. Could there be a busier month? Aside from December, of course. July is a month that is jam-packed with fairs, festivals, birthdays and anniversaries -- plenty of reasons to celebrate. It's also a very hot month, which usually leaves me hiding inside, away from the sun, breathing recirculated air. We very rarely get sick in July, which is great! What July does bring, however, is the weed and grass pollen season.

The very first year Everett had terrible hay fever was a year that we were outside very regularly. We were visiting farms at least every week or two. His first allergy-related runny, stuffy nose came after a trip to our CSA at the time, Monroe Farms, to pick vegetables. That very first year was interesting; I noticed a direct correlation with his consumption of gluten. If he had gluten the day before, his hay fever was awful the next day. I was able to somewhat relieve his symptoms with a homeopathic remedy, Allium cepa. Avoiding gluten had the effect of eliminating his symptoms entirely.

So last year, when we were nearly 100% gluten-free, as we were on a low-carbohydrate diet, he still had allergies. That was one of several hints that the diet was not necessarily a cure-all. This year, his allergies are even worse, after having been on a low-carb diet (something about which I will blog, I promise), and having added many carbs back (mostly complex). Yes, from April through early July, however, we were eating gluten in all its delicious forms.

Some other things we have tried for allergy relief for him include drinking raw milk (there are testimonies of folks correcting seasonal allergies with this simple dietary addition), local raw honey, bee pollen, quercetin, Vitamin C, and this year raw adrenal glandular. Making sure the windows are closed before 5 a.m. and running a non-ozone generating HEPA filter in our bedrooms has been extremely helpful. I try to give pharmaceuticals only when it's clear he's miserable, and it is compromising his function. I have not given him Allium cepa in several years, because I was informed that its chronic use can lead to asthma, much in the same way suppressing symptoms with pharmaceuticals might (see, I can't find a reference for this).

But what does "compromised function" mean? This year Everett's allergies got so bad that he actually got head to toe hives whenever he stepped outside in the morning (before noon), or even if he touched something that had been near an open window, or if he sat by an open window. It seems like if someone is that sensitive, function is fairly well compromised. (As an aside, what does that mean for having dogs going in and out of one's house?)

Early on in our health investigation, when Everett was about three and a half, we went to an allergist (wow, that was so much fun, I feel for anyone who has ever had to take their very young child to an allergist). What did we learn? We learned that he was, at the time, allergic to absolutely nothing (except the histamine control scratch was the largest they had ever seen). I was also tested, though, and I discovered I was allergic to bluegrass, timothy grass, perennial rye grass, cedar and juniper. That would explain why, for so many years, I would lay on a grass lawn and stand up to find that I was covered in hives.

Our current house was surrounded in juniper when we moved here. Four years ago, I somewhat unwisely decided to remove one of the juniper bushes myself in order to plant a flower garden in the back yard. For three days afterward, I was bedridden with what felt like the flu (body aches, headache, plugged sinuses and fever). Last summer, a neighbor across the street had a landscaping service remove her extensive juniper bush (probably 10 by 20 feet of juniper), and while I didn't get a fever, I did get the body aches, headache, fatigue and plugged sinuses, just from going outside.

An important part of managing my own environmental allergies has been using a neti pot for sinus irrigation. It's not a lot of fun to use with a small child. But at one point, I did purchase a Waterpik system, with a special nasal irrigation tip, which was easier to use for Everett. We haven't re-instituted nasal irrigation for him; and perhaps it is too little too late.

So what in the world happened this year to increase his sensitivity so much? While we had changed multiple variables in our living situation leading up to this sudden exacerbation of allergy symptoms (adding back carbs, adding back wheat, not closing the windows, not getting as much time outside as usual due to a very rainy spring), there were some even more recent things that I sense could have contributed.

I, Fat4Thought, the detective, noticed that while eating gluten, long before this episode with hives occurred, Everett's level of general anxiety had increased. Also, he had been getting little spots around his mouth again. But then, we left the kiddos for a couple of days with their very kind grandparents, who we all love very much. Grandparents who give of themselves most generously in so many ways, and who we are so lucky to have in our lives. Grandparents who give of themselves so much that they have little time or energy left for cooking, and thus eat out at restaurants, a lot.

What this means is that my kids get to eat a lot of really wonderful and interesting foods, and that they are not picky eaters by any stretch of the imagination (except that one kid might be sick and tired of eggs and not care for chard, and the other doesn't like liver, but that hardly qualifies them as picky, IMO). The other thing that means is that they get a lot of vegetable oils and food chemicals when they visit. And the two times this year they stayed with (and had a magical beautiful time with) their grandparents, we picked them up and they had both visibly gained weight.

We can reduce their inflammation. They eat very well 95% of the time. They just may be ultra-sensitive to those kinds of foods because they were born to a mother with a toxic burden of vegetable oils and food chemicals. My concern is for their grandparents. My parents. Fortunately, they are people with a good nutritional foundation from their youth; better than what most folks who grew up in the 70's, 80's and 90's had, when frankenfood really took the scene.

It's hard for me to strike a balance between stepping away from the kitchen to contribute to the world, and relaxing, renewing and reflecting. I see from watching my parents that I am not alone in this struggle. They contribute to the world around them in so many ways, from volunteering at church, maintaining special hobbies and to watching their grandkids