Instead of Posting on New Year’s Eve

So, instead of posting again on New Year’s Even, like I promised, after I posted to the blog I went to the ER instead because I was just really, really ill.

So, now that I’m catching back up on life (I was sick for just weeks and weeks, with 10 days straight just lying in bed. Ugh.) I hope to post again soon.

I Forgot to Post

It was a busy summer, trying to make up for all the nothing we did last year when I was ill. Then I got ill again. Oops! Anyway, I was busy.

The very last post I had was about my mid-year goals review, and here we are again just before New Year’s, so I guess I should evaluate how well I did this year and lay out my plans for the year.

  1. Track food every day to keep to my low-FODMAPs/GF/GERD diet… and still lose weight: Wow. Um. I did this some — some tracking. I certainly figured out my trigger foods better.
  2. Exercise every day: Sometimes I did this, sometimes not. I’m proud of my self for getting 10K-20K steps in a day for most of the days in November. Of course, then I took a month off. Too much being sick. Also, so far this year I’ve gained, oh, 15 pounds or something. It’s ridiculous.
  3. More Trips: Yes! We certainly did that! I may have had too many places in mind though. I see all the things I meant to do and it seems like we barely scratched the surface of what we had planned. But as it turns out, the kids and I are all human and maybe my list was too long. We did so much!
  4. Streamline bed time: Uh. Yeah, bedtime just turned into watching TV together. Somehow it’s working, but it doesn’t feel very “educationy”. We don’t read as many books together these days. I could say that an 11 and 8 year old maybe should be reading their own books… but they don’t read as much as they would want me to read to them. And hey, I still read all their school stuff to them and with them!
  5. Go to bed on time: Started out pretty well this year, but by this last few months it hasn’t been going as well.
  6. Volunteer: Yep! Go me!
  7. Clean a room every day: Uh, sometimes. Other times the house got totally out of control. But I think it’s getting slowly betterish.
  8. Write every day: Well, clearly I didn’t do well with writing on the blog. I did manage to get about 16,000 words done on a book. And quite a bit of writing done with helping folks in the homeschooling and FODMAPs world out. That’s mostly sprinkled through forums, twitter, facebook, and email.
  9. Spend more time with the kids doing what they want to do: I think I made a really good effort at this. No, we didn’t hit every last thing the kids wanted to do. But we certainly did a lot of awesome things. :)
  10. Try new things, make new stuff, figure out what I want to be when I grow up: Oh, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But I did learn a lot this year and tried some new things.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and I’ll unveil next years goals!

Mid-Year Goals Review

I began tracking my goals on this blog in 2012. I updated them in 2013 as my needs changed over time. I mentioned them briefly earlier this year, though I never made up a new list for 2014. Now that we’re halfway through the year, it’s a good time to look at what I’ve been doing and maybe adjust a few things.

  1. Track food every day to keep to my low-FODMAPs/GF/GERD diet… and still lose weight: This is hard. I mean, most fruits, vegetables, and grains make me sick. The rest, I’m really, really tired of eating. But I seem to have figured out more of a balance — I can include foods that upset my GERD by eating them earlier in the day. I’m incorporating more medium FODMAPs foods, by making sure to space them out over a day or even multiple days. Not too much in a row. But now I need to do all of that AND lose weight. Meat and cheese are all low FODMAPs, but I now need to lose 40 pounds.
  2. Exercise every day: I am doing so much better this year than last year, but I need to keep going! If I can increase my exercise more, it will make losing 40 pounds a lot easier…
  3. More Trips: Yes. Yesyesyes. We just took a spontaneous trip to the shore. We’re doing Park Quest. We’re visiting places I’ve meant to visit since we got here. We’re doing great for trips!
  4. Streamline bed time: Yeah, that sort of got out of control. I’ve enjoyed staying up with the kids, but we probably “should” go to sleep earlier.
  5. Go to bed on time: I’m actually getting to sleep a lot earlier than I did last year. I’m sure it has to do with following my diet better, my new pillow, and the fact that I’m so exhausted at the end of the day from all the things I’m doing!
  6. Volunteer: Yes! Finally! I’ve been spending time helping out new homeschoolers, for one. Also, since I got my ham radio license, I’ve been volunteering my time with the National Weather Service to support Skywarn. I helped with communications at a parade on July Fourth, and just signed up to help out at the Marine Marathon in October.
  7. Clean a room every day: I have no idea if the house will get much cleaner, but hey, let’s clean a room a day and keep going. I’ve been doing this somewhat, but the trips out of the house and activities make this a bit harder, since when we are home I’m too busy making low FODMAPs food and feeling tired from running all around town. But I’m okay with it — it’s better than feeling sick and not going anywhere.
  8. Write every day: This blog, my stupid book, anything! No excuses. Write every day. Make time for it no matter what.
  9. Spend more time with the kids doing what they want to do: Reading books, snuggling, working on projects. Make a minecraft mod, decorate cakes. I felt so horrible all last year that I spent a lot of time just trying to get space and be alone and rest. So how about I just eat food that doesn’t make me sick, get some exercise, go to bed and wake up nice and fresh and play with my kids?
  10. Try new things, make new stuff, figure out what I want to be when I grow up: I’m always happy when I learn something new or make something for friends or family to use. This year I seem to be learning amateur radio stuff. We got our Technicians, General, and Amateur Extra licenses, tackled Field Day, and made a few antennas!


Homeschool Freakout Day

A14224.jpgRecently, on a mailing list I read, a mom posted about how she was freaking out about homeschooling. It’s the same feelings every homeschooler has, and heck, probably most parents have: that their kids aren’t learning what they should, that they are unhappy, that the kids will be left behind, and so forth. Basically, guilt that the way they are parenting is just a big mistake. So we reassured her that, of course you feel that way. Most people do. It’s a big undertaking, taking care of a person and deciding what to do with years and years of that little person’s life. And you really get very little training, and only a few tries to get it right. But, you know, no pressure.

That leads to the current atmosphere today of kids being over tested or parents over-Pinteresting out of guilt, and everyone feeling sort of miserable. I get weird and irritable near portfolio review time, wondering if I have enough “stuff” and if the person reviewing us is going to think it’s not advanced enough for my kids or whatever.

It’s hard not to constantly over-analyze how your kids are doing and if you’re doing enough, if they are doing enough, if you should be pushing them harder, or just step back and see what they do on their own. So, I really enjoyed a post over at Bravewriter this week about slowing down and just enjoying things. My favorite part was this:

It’s the long straggly gaggle of children, strollers, and backpacks making their way across a crowded, dangerous parking lot to a museum. Inside, an hour spent looking at three paintings is plenty. It leads to side-tracked conversations about “unrelated” subjects and what is retained is hidden from view for years (maybe a decade).

It really struck a chord with me because I remember when I was in Russia, I saw a really great exhibit of French Impressionist paintings. And just looking at each painting, I knew who painted it — Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, and so forth. Now, this is odd because I never took one art class. Ever. Well, okay, we made construction paper things and clay pots in the fourth grade, but that was my last art class. I didn’t study art at school, I never had an art history class. But when I was little, maybe 5-7 or so, I had some art books in my room and at night when I couldn’t get to sleep, I’d look at the pictures and read the caption to see who painted it and what the title was. I don’t think I read any more of it than that. And suddenly, over a decade later, I apparently had committed that information to my long term memory banks and it came in useful half a world away!

But if I had taken a test about French Impressionists as a kid, I’m sure I would have failed. I wouldn’t’ have anything to show in a portfolio review. But still, the information was there, inside of me, just waiting for a chance to come out and be useful.

So I will continue to show my kids weird science Youtube videos, talk about random stuff with them, and happily meander wherever life takes us. You never know what they might retain for an absurdly long time and use again!

What sorts of strange things have you ever remembered years or decades later that suddenly came in handy?

Today’s Freewrite by the Four Year Old

Every so often (not as often as I’d like), I listen to the kids as they tell a story and I write it down for them. I remember my mom doing the same thing for me, and I’ve always cherished the funny little stories I made when I was little. These days, I get to type the stories, helping me write them down almost as fast as the kids can speak. A weekly freewrite is also part of the Bravewriter writing program, which I really enjoy.

I really liked today’s freewrite by the four year old:

Once upon a time there was a fishy. And then there was clownfish and she said “hi!”. So they swam into the sea anemones. And then there was a sea grape. They both shared it. And then there was a grape and they shared it too. And then there was another grape and there were actually two grapes and they shared it and they got one. And they ate it at the same time. And then there were two more clown fishes. There were four now. Now there’s four grapes. And then they eat the same time. They all eat at the same time. So, they got eight cherries. So they kept and then they saw a rock. And then they went in their sea anemones. And then there was a cherry and it hugged them. I’m done.

My favorite part is when she paused to count how many cherries she would need for each fish to get two.

Curriculum vs. Curricula

School girl holding sign

“Image courtesy of stockimages /”

Okay, so I know this is horribly pedantic and rude and awful and miserable and awful of me…. but for the love of all that is holy and good, homeschoolers, please learn the difference between curriculum and curricula, because so many of you are doing this wrong.

Curriculum is the singular. Like datum, millennium, memorandum, and stadium. The plurals are curricula, data, millennia, memoranda, and … okay, no one says stadia. I suppose only really picky people say datum anymore, either. Memorandum was shortened to memo with the plural memos. But we still use millennium and millennia. No one says, “I’ve visited 24 different baseball stadium”, because they know stadium is singular.

The dictionary recognizes curriculums as an okay plural. I don’t prefer it, but it follows the standard way to make plurals in English. We don’t speak Latin, even if many of our words have roots in that language. Fine. But when you use curriculum as a plural and curricula as singular, you make my head hurt just as much as if you switch plural and singular for any other word.

Try these sentences:

  • “I’m going to go buy some new curriculum.”
  • “I’m going to go buy some new book.”

Or these:

  • “This is a great curricula!”
  • “This is a great books!”

It hurts, just a little bit, doesn’t it?

Now, curriculum can mean an entire course of study, so it can mean an entire plan of dozens of books and subjects. So you could be going out to buy just one curriculum for your kid to use this year. There are plenty of companies that release all-in-one curricula for people to use. But the way I know if you’re using the words as a singular or a plural is if you’re using an article (a, an, the) or singular pronouns (this) or not.

  • “I really love curriculum” compared to “I really love this curriculum”.
  • “I really love book” compared to “I really love this book”.

So, please, for my sake… get your plurals and singulars straight. I beg you!

Note: People make mistakes. I know I do. I miss having a Real Live Editor to fix all of my mistakes. But as I point out above, I don’t think it’s a typo so much as a large number of people who are unaware of this at all. So I try to help. Annoyingly. Without being asked. Because I care.

Low FODMAPs Diet: Adding Foods Back In

Pork and Cream Cheese Pupusas with Fresh Garden Tomatoes

I’ve been on the low FODMAPs diet for almost two years now, but as the diet gets more popular, many more people are starting it each day.

The standard protocol for going on the low FODMAPs diet is to completely avoid all known FODMAPs for 6-8 weeks, while your system settles down and heals. After that, you’re supposed to slowly add problem foods, one at a time, with a few days between each new food. This is pretty standard for any elimination diet.

When I first started the diet, I did the same thing. I avoided all known FODMAPs (though of course I slipped up many times, as you do on a new and complicated diet) for about seven weeks. Then I started the challenge phase. It was really miserable. Every few days I tried to eat a food and I failed just about every single challenge. And there are so many problem foods that the challenge stage can last a really long time!

I decided I’d already felt horrible for too long, so I quit the challenge stage and went back to avoiding FODMAPs mostly, or only eating incredibly small amounts. One or two small pieces of broccoli. A bite of beans. Three grapes. Often I’d mix something in with other foods so I could at least taste it, even if I couldn’t have a lot of it. And that seemed to work fine.

A year into the diet my other health issues started up, so I continued to avoid problem foods when I could. Sometimes special occasions would come up, or I had to eat out, or just couldn’t avoid them for one reason or another. But mostly, I just minimized my exposure to FODMAP-containing foods.

Now, finally, at almost two years in, I’m starting to challenge again. And this time, it’s working a lot better. I sometimes put several mushrooms in a stew or soup. I’ll put snow peas in stir fry. I even once put both snow peas and mushrooms into a soup! Sometimes I use jarred tomato sauce, and I’m mostly ok with the onions. It expands the options I have for foods and helps me get more of the vitamins and minerals I feel I must be lacking when I have to avoid most produce.

Well, this weekend, something amazing happened. First, on Saturday, I ate at a Tex Mex/Salvadoran restaurant and had cheese enchiladas and refried beans. Then, on Sunday, I had a rainbow trout with a chimichurri sauce (which has garlic in it), garlic mashed potatoes, and french green beans. And I seem fine! This is nothing short of amazing, to me.

So maybe there is hope. Maybe challenging aggressively after only 8 weeks is too soon. Maybe some people need to wait a lot longer to heal or for their gut flora to change before trying to challenge.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just the antibiotics I had a few weeks ago, helping to keep my native beasties in check. All I have is one piece of anecdata.

Planning a Meal

Tuna sandwich

“Image courtesy of m_bartosch /”.

This is what I have to go through to plan a meal. I have to think really hard about each and every ingredient… and that’s why it’s so hard to eat out.

Today I decided to have a salmon salad sandwich:

  • Bread — Not just any bread, but GF bread. Oh wait, most GF breads have some sort of FODMAP in them, such as pear or apple juice, honey, chicory, etc.. I like Schar white bread and I always toast the bread because GF bread is usually only edible when toasted.
  • Canned salmon — I use this now instead of tuna, because salmon is awesome and some tuna seems to have gluten or FODMAPs or something. It upsets my tummy.
  • Mayonnaise — I used to use Miracle Whip, but recently they replaced sugar with HFCS. Most mayos have HFCS, but there are some that do not. I use Hellman’s.
  • Relish — I’ve only found one type of sweet relish I can eat, Wegman’s Organic relish. Every other relish has garlic, onions, and usually fructose or polyols.
  • Mustard — need to find one that is GF, no onion, no fructose… I use a brand that is a Dijon mustard without any alcohol.
  • Worcestershire sauce — as long as you are in the US, it is GF. In Canada, it has gluten (or did last I looked).
  • Something crunchy — I used to put celery in my tuna fish salad, but celery has moderate amounts of FODMAPs so I avoid it. Now I use cucumbers. I eat a lot of cucumbers.
  • Herbs and spices — you have to make sure they are GF. When I first went GF, I repeatedly glutened myself with a really lovely paprika my mom brought me back from Europe. After that, I used strictly McCormick’s brand, and now Penzey’s. I usually add pepper (but not too much, it can aggravate GERD), dill, and paprika.
  • Tomato — I used to add tomato. Not so much anymore, because of reflux. The better I feel and the earlier it is in the day, the more likely I am to put tomato on.
  • Extra pickles — in the old days, I’d add fire pickles (spicy sweet pickles) from the farm down the road. Now, almost never, due to reflux.
  • Cheese — sometimes I add cheese. It has to be a non-lactose-containing cheese, so cheddar is acceptable as long as it is GF, but fresh or soft cheeses are not.

You’re On the What Diet?

This is a post for anyone who is wondering just what on earth is wrong with me and why I can’t seem to eat anything. It’s taken years to untangle my health issues, and I’m still not done yet… but at least I’m getting somewhere, finally.

I’ve always had health issues. From infant food intolerances, to repeated bouts of pneumonia, to migraines. I can handle a little discomfort. But after I had my first child, it got decidedly worse. I had near-constant, brutal migraines. My sinuses were swollen and in pain. After my second child, I had swollen hands, nerve pain, and muscle weakness. I had the inability to think straight, like my mind was in a fog. Everything was inflamed and hurt. I’d say that most days my pain level was between 6 and 8 on the pain chart. For those unused to the pain chart, that means it had a direct impact on my life, interfering with my ability to do tasks, sometimes even taking care of my basic needs. I ended up on antibiotics a lot. After seeing the doctor over and over, I had multiple medications to take, I had to clean my sinuses twice a day, I took Advil like it was a vitamin, and I was constantly hanging out in the bathroom with a steamy shower in order to try to get the pain in my head to get the slightest bit better. And this went on day after day, month after month, for years.

My regular doctor sent me to an allergist, who suggested it might be due to gluten. So, five years ago, I went gluten free. My symptoms got drastically better in just three days. It was hard work to get used to checking every ingredient and every meal I ordered at a restaurant, but it was worth it to finally get my life back. I still had good days and bad days, but finally the good days outnumbered the bad days. I had more bad days in the beginning when I wasn’t quite sure which foods tended to not be problematic (spices!), but I also had many friends and family who were also GF to help me. The great thing about the diet becoming trendy, even if it is for stupid reasons, is that many manufacturers removed gluten from their products, so it’s really only gotten easier as time has gone on.

But then other problems cropped up. Back when I was 19, I was diagnosed with IBS. It’s basically a catch-all, we-don’t-know-what’s-wrong-with-you and please-go-away diagnosis. It’s miserable, embarrassing, and even has a horrible, comedy-worthy name. One doctor gave me hydrocodone and told me to go away, another gave me a list of foods to avoid and muscle relaxants to help with the pain. I wasn’t really interested in being on those medicines forever and the list of foods never helped. But I dealt with it. After I went GF, my IBS got worse. So I re-dedicated myself to avoiding the foods I was supposed to avoid and ate fiber until I couldn’t stand it anymore! Still, it got worse. And worse. (Trust me, you don’t want a discussion of the symptoms!) Finally, when I just couldn’t take it one second longer, I went looking for a gastroenterologist in the area and found my favorite doctor, ever. I finally felt like someone was taking my problems seriously.

He introduced me to a new idea from Monash University in Australia — that not only does fiber not necessarily help IBS, it might make it worse! I was initially skeptical of a doctor giving me another new diet that would supposedly help me, but as soon as I looked at the lists of allowed and disallowed foods, I was ready to try it. The foods on the lists lined up perfectly with what I had already determined by experimenting at home. I knew carrots were always fine to eat. I knew green bell peppers always made me sick. And so did Monash University!

So two years ago, I embarked on the low FODMAP diet. It’s hard. It’s really hard. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how people without degrees in Biochemistry or Molecular Biology even manage to figure it out, because it’s so sciency! Basically, it’s like lactose intolerance, but on a crazy massive scale. With lactose intolerance, you can’t digest lactose, a sugar in milk, so when the undigested lactose reaches your intestines, the bacteria there throw a fermentation party… and symptoms result. Well, FODMAPs are just a bunch of other sugars and sugar-related molecules, such as fructose, that do the same thing when you don’t digest them correctly. The thing is, those sugars and other molecules are sprinkled liberally around the food web and there isn’t any easy way to guess which FODMAPs might be in which foods.

I had to reduce or stop eating most fruits, many vegetables (no onions or garlic is difficult!), sweeteners (no honey!), artifical sweeteners (no gum or most diet foods), many types of nuts, almost all beans (*sob*), and many other foods. Like many food-intolerance diets, you start by eliminating everything that might make you feel bad. I felt so much better in just one week. Then, after a month or two of the elimination diet, you slowly try to add things back in to see if you can tolerate them. I mostly failed to tolerate anything and while I was testing each problematic food, I felt bad again. It was a difficult summer.

(Chart thanks to Jeffrey Roberts from It’s a little out of date — some of the foods on the “ok” list are only tolerated in small amounts, such as celery and grapes.)

Eventually, I even managed this crazy FODMAPs diet. I started making my own cream cheese (store-bought cream cheese is high in lactose) and made lists of FODMAPs-free meals so I could have an easy meal list for planning purposes. (List 1, List 2, List 3)  I searched for recipes online and stuck them in Pinterest so I could find them. My mom and I took old recipes and made them GF and low-FODMAPs. I made almost everything I ate from scratch, including chicken broth and pasta sauce, just like I did back when my babies were nursing. When they were babies, they had really bad colic, because they couldn’t handle the onions or garlic in food. I searched for alternate brands that used sugar instead of HFCS, brands that used no onions, brands that didn’t sneak in my mortal enemy, sorbitol. I used maple syrup in everything. I felt great.

But a year later (last spring), I felt bad again. Not just bad… horrible, as in “let’s get to the ER, I think I’m dying” horrible. We haven’t entirely figured out what happened to me last spring and summer, but one major thing I was diagnosed with was GERD. Reflux. I realized that I basically had the digestive system of an extremely colicy newborn. Even worse, it was my beloved low FODMAPs diet that was hurting me. When I lost so many fruits and vegetables, I filled those spaces in my meals with tomatoes, pineapple, citrus fruits… everything that makes reflux worse.

It was the worst year of my life. It was months of unpleasant testing with doctors. I lost 15 pounds because I couldn’t eat. Then I gained 15 pounds because I couldn’t do anything. I got out of shape. I was scared to go anywhere. I spent far too much time teaching the kids how to call 911 and quizzing them about our address, just in case. Heck, I was even injected with radioactive isotopes twice!

So now I take medicine for reflux. I cut tomatoes out for a while. I try to eat way way way before bedtime. I’m at a bit of a loss for what to eat. It would probably be easier to make a list of foods I *can* eat instead of lists of foods I can’t. I’m pretty sure it would be shorter. I still have bad days, but the bad days usually aren’t as bad. On the other hand, the good days are also never as good.

I’m not convinced we’ve figured out what happened to me last year. We’re a step closer, but we still don’t have the complete picture. All I know is that it’s correlated with my allergies and it’s spring again… and I’m scared.


Pi Day — This Friday

Just a quick warning that this very Friday is Pi Day! The day we celebrate 3.14.

I gathered together some fun Pi Day activities:

Other Pi Day activity lists:

And don’t forget to plan a really big party for next year — 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 will be amazing! (3.141592653…)