Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fighting the Summer "Slide"

This summer, I was determined to give my almost-first grader and almost fourth-grader a daily routine that included academic activities to beat the Summer Slide.

Are you familiar with the "Summer Slide?" It is the concept that students forget valuable information over the summer, causing the teachers to re-teach concepts in the fall that were already covered in the spring.

Our daily routine combined academics with the opportunity to earn electronics. I asked my boys to complete 30-minutes each of math, writing, and reading (at appropriate levels) and in return they earned an electronic activity, such as a YouTube video or video game time. Each day they could also complete either the math (using IXL Math or ABCya) or the writing (using Scribblenauts) electronically. We went to library weekly to replenish the selection of books for reading time.

Overall it went well. My oldest would occasionally complain that summer was for "relaxing" and not doing school work, however the routine of the plan worked well for him. He's they kind of kid who would happily watch TV, play video games, or watch YouTube videos all day if we did not give him set guidelines. The youngest happily followed the routine and would often go to the schedule posted on the fridge to check "what's next."

School starts in just a few days for my kids, so we will see how much of the Summer Slide we prevented. How about you? What works well for you to prevent the Summer Slide? Comment with your ideas below.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bringing You Up to Date

So, it has been almost a year since I last posted and A LOT has changed... let me bring you up to date.

I have resigned, after 12 years, from teaching public school music and am now a staff member at a community music school.

As the Program Manager, my staff duties include managing the programs (classes, camps, workshops, etc.) and faculty details & needs, as well as tech duties such as social media and website management. I also teach flute lessons for all ages and Musikgarten classes for newborns through 9-years old. I have been a faculty member for this music school since 2011, and I am really enjoying my new tasks and duties.

I firmly believe in music education being available to everyone. Over the past year I have worked with the Executive Director of the music school to increase financial aid assistance for families, to expand our outreach programs of low-cost and no-cost music classes & lessons for local students, and to work with faculty members to create interesting classes, camps, and workshops.

The transition has had challenges: setting up a new routine with my children, adjusting to my new schedule, and revamping our budget to fit the new income. Last year when the calendar read "August," I kept feeling that I was forgetting to do something... as any teacher can tell you, August is when we start planning for the new year of teaching. This year is not so bad, although my social media feeds are full of teacher memes ;)

Since I am a big fan of Jimmy Fallon, here is a short list of Pros and Cons of this transition:

Do you have any Pros & Cons to add to my list? Comment with them below :)

I have lots of great ideas and thoughts to share, I just need to have better habits at sitting down to write a post... and I promise not to wait too long ;)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hashi's and Me: my experience with a thyroid disease (part 3)

I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an incurable autoimmune disease that involves the thyroid gland. In a series of 3 posts, I am going to detail my experience with this disease to date. It is my hope to raise awareness and understanding of the disease, as well as provide a bit of support to fellow sufferers. I am not an expert or a medical practitioner; I am simply a person who is trying to live with this disease.

Part 1 covers the When: the timeline of my diagnosis.
Part 2 covers the What: definitions, descriptions, and symptoms.
Part 3 will cover the How: resources I have used and methods of maintenance I have attempted.

How do I treat Hashimoto's Thyroiditis?

There is not a straight-forward answer to this. No clear-cut path to healthy living. Every person with this disease experiences a different assortment of the common symptoms (refer to Part 2 for the list), plus they often experience a symptom or two that is not common. This may also be combined with other illnesses and diseases with additional symptoms. And the treatment method varies from doctor to doctor. I often wonder if instead of treating this as a thyroid disease, the doctors should instead treat this as an autoimmune disease. Would that make a difference?

From the time of my diagnosis in 2006 until 2013, I put complete faith in my primary care doctor and then in my endocrinologist that I was being given the best care possible. But years of monitoring my blood-work and adjusting Synthroid was helping with the levels, but I was still not feeling healthy and then symptoms seemed out of my control. When my daily exhaustion became too much to bear, when I had to keep two sets of clothing to compensate for the 20 pound roller-coaster every 6 months, when snapping at my children became more than just unacceptable, I realized I needed something more.

On a visit to my primary care doctor for a separate issue, I asked her if she could recommend a dietician or nutritionist who could help me to regulate my symptoms through food and supplements. Surprisingly, she sent me to a health food store to speak with the owner. I went immediately to the store following my appointment and had a great chat with the owner, who is diagnosed with Graves disease. We commiserated over our symptoms and she handed me iodine, chelated zinc, b12, selenium and natural thyroid. Over the next 2 days, I noticed an immediate change in my energy level and mood swings. I continued taking these for the next few months. At my next endocrinologist appointment, I brought along this list of supplements to share with her... and she essentially told me that she did not support some of it. She told me to immediately stop using the iodine and just rely on iodized salt. She told me to stop using the natural thyroid due the risk of allergic reaction. She "allowed" me to continue the other supplements as long as they were making me feel better, and she did recommend the best times of day to take them for best results.

Over the past year, I have debated these supplements. Sometimes I stop taking them for a few weeks when I doubt they are actually helping with my symptoms. Then when my symptoms are annoying enough I take them again. I have also done online research for what else I can do to help manage my symptoms. Of course, there are many contradictory articles (broccoli or no broccoli, for example) so it is still hit or miss whether the advice will help me with my symptoms. But I'm willing to try.

Sometimes it is extremely challenging to follow one of the recommended food plans. I am primarily pescatarian (veggies, fish, eggs, but no meat, mainly because meat does not agree with my gut) so then eliminating other items really limits my food choices. There was a moment this past spring that I honestly felt there was nothing I could eat!! Currently, I am attempting to be dairy-free, soy-free and gluten-free as much as possible, as well as avoiding many of the veggies mentioned in the second link below. There are still some days that I feel it would be easier not to eat than to figure out something I can eat.

So feel free to pick and choose from the following resources. I have read MANY more articles regarding thyroid disease and treatments, however most repeat the same info or are useless. Some of the useful info I have tried, and some I want to try in the near future. I have set an appointment with a new endocrinologist in 3 weeks; perhaps I will get some new/better advice to try. If you have a resource worth sharing, please comment with the link and your experience. Good luck and stay hopeful!

Bauman College Holistic Nutrition: Scroll down and there is advice on food & supplement choices, as well as an excellent list of books and additional websites.

Jill Grunewald, Holistic Nutrition Coach: Set-up as questions and answers, scroll down for food & supplement suggestions.

Stop the Thyroid Madness: Lots of info on understanding thyroid test results and available treatment options (this site promotes natural desiccated thyroid). There are also 2 books available to purchase.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hashi's and Me: my experience with a thyroid disease (part 2)

I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an incurable autoimmune disease that involves the thyroid gland. In a series of 3 posts, I am going to detail my experience with this disease to date. It is my hope to raise awareness and understanding of the disease, as well as provide a bit of support to fellow sufferers. I am not an expert or a medical practitioner; I am simply a person who is trying to live with this disease.

Part 1 covers the When: the timeline of my diagnosis.
Part 2 covers the What: definitions, descriptions, and symptoms.
Part 3 will cover the How: resources I have used and methods of maintenance I have attempted.

What is Hashimoto's Thyroiditis?

According to WebMD, this is the definition of this disease:

"Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an inherited thyroid disorder in which the body's immune cells mistakenly attack the thyroid gland. This attack damages thyroid cells and interferes with the gland's ability to produce thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone plays a crucial role in the health of nearly every cell in your body. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the most common cause of an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) in the United States. It is also the most common type of thyroid disease diagnosed. Women are seven times more likely to develop Hashimoto's thyroiditis than men."

This definition seems so simple, however the more I read about Hashi's I realized that there is still a lot to learn about the disease. There are differing viewpoints and on the symptoms and treatments, and the disease affects everyone differently. When I expand the definition to "Autoimmune Thyroiditis," I get a slightly different definition:

""Autoimmune thyroiditis (AT), also known as Hashimoto's disease, is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the thyroid gland that is caused by abnormal blood antibodies and white blood cells that mistakenly attack and damage healthy thyroid cells. It is a progressive disease that may destroy the thyroid gland, causing thyroid hormone deficiency (hypothyroidism). Autoimmune thyroiditis presents with various combinations of symptoms, making diagnosis difficult. This disease can occur at any age, but is most often seen in middle-aged women. In rare cases, it may be associated with other autoimmune endocrine disorders."

Either way, I interpret this to mean that my white blood cells have included my thyroid on the list of "known enemies" and perhaps at the top of their "Most Wanted" list. As my white blood cells attach my thyroid, my thyroid does not fight back; instead it attempts to continue to do it's job, however the war prevents it from doing the job well. Remember that line in the first definition about "nearly every cell in your body?" That is the key to why the list of symptoms is long and confusing, and why a diagnosis of Hashi's may take years.

Here is a long list of symptoms:
  • Anemia (both iron-deficient and pernicious)
  • Brain fog (forgetfulness, sluggish thinking, loss of energy for life) - check!
  • Chest pains
  • Cold intolerance; cold hands and feet - check!
  • Constipation - check! (TMI?)
  • Depression - check!
  • Dry, coarse skin - check!
  • Early graying of hair - check!
  • Exhaustion after exercise
  • Frequent colds and flu and difficulty recovering from infection - check!
  • Headaches, including migraines - check!
  • High cholesterol, especially LDL
  • Infertility; miscarriage
  • Joint ache/pain - check!
  • Low basal temperature
  • Low libido - check! (again, TMI?)
  • Muscle cramps/tenderness
  • Hair loss - check!
  • Restless leg syndrome - check!
  • Seasonal (cold weather) exacerbation of symptoms
  • Severe PMS
  • Sleep disturbances - check!
  • Slowed speech and ankle reflexes
  • Tired, aching muscles - check!
  • Weak, brittle nails - check!
  • Weight gain - check!
Can you see why the diagnosis is difficult? If this disease is common to middle-aged women, many of whom are working mothers, these symptoms are a part of every day life! When my doc would ask me if I was feeling tired, I would usually just give her "the look:" I have 2 small children and work full-time... of course I'm tired! Problems controlling my weight... don't we all? Brittle hair? It has been brittle and falling out for years; I thought that was due to hormonal changes related to pregnancy. Do I always feel cold? Uh, yeah, but don't most women feel cold all the time? That pain in my hip? I probably am not walking/sitting/standing correctly and my chiropractor is working on it.

Oh, these are all interrelated and mean my thyroid is not working properly?!? Huh. Who knew?

And then on top of these symptoms, which are primarily hypothyroid symptoms, I have discovered I would often have the symptoms on the hyperthyroid & Graves Disease list:
  • feel nervous, moody, weak, or tired. - check!
  • hands may shake, heart may beat fast, or have problems breathing. - check!
  • be hot and sweaty or have warm, red, itchy skin.
  • have more bowel movements than usual. - check! (TMI?)
  • have fine, soft hair that is falling out. - check!
  • lose weight even though you eat the same or more than usual. - check! (You would think this symptom would be awesome... except I have no control on when the weight loss stops!)

These are the opposite from the hypo list, which makes sense: hypo = too little hormone and hyper = too much hormone.

So it seems my thyroid likes to switch back and forth between hypo and hyper. Fun. I rarely come across an article that discusses this switching, but these articles do exist in the literature. There are many doctors and those diagnosed with Hashi's that will state the disease is completely related to hypothyroidism. So either the fact that my symptoms switching between hypo and hyper is rare, or that I should really categorize myself as "Autoimmune Thyroiditis" which swings between Hashi's and Graves diseases.

In part 3, I will cover How I support my thyroid as it is attacked my my immune system.

Since every case of thyroiditis is different, I would love to hear your story. Leave a comment about your symptoms below.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hashi's and Me: my experience with a thyroid disease (part 1)

I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an incurable autoimmune disease that involves the thyroid gland. In a series of 3 posts, I am going to detail my experience with this disease to date. It is my hope to raise awareness and understanding of the disease, as well as provide a bit of support to fellow sufferers. I am not an expert or a medical practitioner; I am simply a person who is trying to live with this disease.

Part 1 covers the When: the timeline of my diagnosis.
Part 2 covers the What: definitions, descriptions, and symptoms.
Part 3 will cover the How: resources I have used and methods of maintenance I have attempted.

When was I diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis?

My mother suffers from a Hypothyroid, so in a way I have been awaiting the day a doctor would inform me I had an issue with my thyroid. In hindsight, I may have been showing symptoms years prior to my diagnosis, but as I will cover in the What, the symptoms all seem disconnected so it can be easy to miss that they all add up to something.

JUNE 2006
I was 5 months postpartum from my first son when I went to the doc for a sinus infection. As she was checking my adrenal glands, she noticed that my thyroid was enlarged. I hadn't even noticed. She brought me a mirror and told me to swallow so I could clearly see it. Of course, I had no frame of reference for what size it should be, but if she said it was enlarged it must be.

I went for blood-work and an ultrasound. The blood-work showed elevated thyroid levels and the ultrasound confirmed the enlarged and enflamed thyroid. My doc diagnosed Hypothyroid and immediately put me on Synthroid. Thus began the series of checking my blood-work every 6 weeks to make sure we had the right level. Once my thyroid levels were stabilized and my thyroid shrunk to normal size, I only had blood-work every 6 months... pretty standard for treatment by a general practitioner.

My doc noticed that yet again my thyroid was enlarged even though my levels were stable. So she sent me to an endocrinologist. My endo requested the ultrasound and blood-work. She noticed the levels were higher than she preferred for treatment so we adjusted the Synthroid. She also noticed very small nodules on my thyroid. Due to the size of the nodules, we decided to "observe" them for growth before doing any type of biopsy or surgery. This observation which involved yearly ultrasounds in addition to the bi-annual blood-work.

My endo was concerned that the nodules were consistently growing and ordered a biopsy. Thankfully, the biopsy came back benign, so we returned to the observation treatment method. At this point, my endo changed the diagnosis to Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, which did not change the treatment method... instead it has changed how I treat myself through diet, supplements, and health choices since I now understand better what is going on regarding my thyroid. Treatment is still a daily struggle, as I will outline in part 3.

In part 2, I will cover What the disease is, including definitions, symptoms, and common issues regarding treatment of the disease.

I would love to hear your stories! Leave a comment with your diagnosis story and how long you have walked this path.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christmas Gifts 2012

Yes, the title is Christmas Gifts 2012. As I am planning the gifts I will make for 2013, I realized I never posted the gifts I made last Christmas. Oops. And I did not remember until a friend of mine invited me to a "craft day." I responded that I am not really that crafty, to which she pulled out the gifts I made last year. So, maybe I am crafty.

Just like millions of American women, my inspiration comes from Pinterest. I stumbled on these necklaces and these glasses and thus I knew what I wanted to make.

I made these for my son's teacher and they were extremely easy!

I found some great glasses at the dollar bins at Target. I have lots of glass paint (from 10 years ago when I made a bunch of votives for Christmas... again, forgot I can be crafty), but the paint can be found at any craft store. For a picture of the paint I use, refer to this blog post.

I squeezed the paint onto a paper plate and used the flat end of a bamboo skewer to put dots all around the glass, making them more dense towards the bottom. I was proud of the end result!

This project was a bit more time intensive, but I loved how I could make each one unique. Instead of square glass, I used the round stones found in the floral section of the craft store.

I wandered the scrapbook paper section for a while to find the perfect papers. I wanted paper with  "words" and paper with "music" for my project, and I also printed my own graphics. I used the stones to trace circles to fit perfectly.

I used modge podge to attach the circles to the stones, let them dry, then used modge podge to seal the back of the paper to the stones. Once that dried, I attached magnets to some, and necklace/keychain loops to others, using really strong epoxy. The most time intensive part of the entire project was waiting for "dry time."

So now that I have finally shared my gifts from last year, I can start gathering materials for the gifts for this year. Happy crafting!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Square-Foot Gardening

For the past 4 years, I have been attempting to start a garden. It started with a container garden in our previous house. I did not feel like digging up the backyard, especially since we were planning to move, so I worked with containers.

My first container garden
The laundry basket is petite cucumbers and the red buckets are 2 varieties of tomatoes. I started them from seeds indoors and transplanted when they were big enough. I also had railing planters on the porch that container lots of herbs: cilantro, basil, thyme, etc. The containers were a good choice since we moved that summer and it was easy to take them along.

Then next step was to create some raised garden beds. Last summer I bought some cheap wood through a yard sale page on Facebook and built the frames for the raised beds. I was determined to build them myself, so other than my husband giving advice and being an extra set of hands, I did ALL of the handy work. I mowed the grass as short as possible in the locations for the beds and laid anti-weed fabric on the grass. The beds were placed on top and I had a local guy deliver top soil. Of course, the delivery truck got stuck... but that's a separate story.

Then the beds sat for a year.

What can I say? Life gets busy.

This spring I got my act together and plotted out my garden. After measuring the width and height, I made a plot on graph paper. Then I did a little research into companion planting and square-foot gardening to came up with a plan.
The paper plan
Then I measured, marked, and used twine to set my square foot boxes within each bed. As you can tell, I had a "helper." My real super-duper helper (my 7-year-old) is not pictured.
Raised beds divided into square foot boxes
I intend to garden from seeds, however I did not have a greenhouse ready to go this winter. Guess what I received as a Mother's Day gift? Guess what is still in the box?

My helpers and I visited a local farm to get plants. My neighbor recommended the place and although it was a 40-minute drive, it was well worth it. I got all of the plants pictured plus two butterfly bushes and 4 rose plants for $60!!
The (almost) finished garden
The items missing are kale, spinach, pumpkins, and potatoes, however I added marigolds and more lettuce than in the original plan.

Fingers-crossed that all the plants survive and grow to fruition!

UPDATE 6/25/2013:

 My garden is doing tremendously well! Of the original plants 2 cucumber, 1 lettuce, 1 cauliflower and 2 marigolds did not survive. I have since added cilantro, pumpkin, and spinach, as well as replacing the 2 cucumber plants.

Picture of the garden with the same angle as the first picture.

A picture from the opposite angle, since the tomato plants block the view.

First tomatoes

First zucchini

First green pepper
UPDATE 7/5/2013:

Picture of the garden, same angle as first picture

Picture from the opposite angle, due to huge tomato plants!