Spring Update


To Spring by William Blake

O Thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Through the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell one another, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turn'd
Up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth
And let thy holy feet visit our clime!

Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our lovesick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish'd head,
Whose modest tresses are bound up for thee.

It has been a long time since I gave any kind of update around here. This time of year has me raring to get started on too many projects! But first, a look back at the last few months:

As of today, we only have 20 homeschooling days left to log until we reach our required 180 days! I'm feeling very good that we will be done by around the end of April. Of course, we aim to be lifelong learners. But after our 180 days, I must create a portfolio for each child and meet with an evaluator in order to get a letter to submit to our school district by June 30. 

The boys are really loving their science study this term--the Electronics study from Sabbath Mood Homeschool. I bought it over Black Friday to use for next year, but on an impulse, I bought all the materials (a bit pricey!) and gave it to them for Term 3. I thought it would be just the thing for the boys to work on together and I was right. 

The guide is labeled for high schoolers, but the book is for ages 10+, and I felt confident that with the boys' high interest in the topic, Peter's reading ability, and John's confidence in building things, they would be able to tackle it. They have sometimes needed a tiny bit of help in getting the projects done, but really it is working just as I planned. They are enjoying themselves and learning a lot. John always wanted to do soldering and now he knows how! They are excited to work on this lesson 4 days a week.

Sylvia read through her first Dragon Masters book with some help from me which was just the push she needed to get enough practice to take her reading to the next level. She has been busy embroidering and sewing daily. We really need to get her comfortable with the sewing machine and I need to spend some time helping her get started with crocheting because she wants to create!!!!

She started Hoffman Academy and was so into it initially. Now the excitement has worn off and she has been finding it VERY frustrating, even though it looks to me like she is doing great. I think I'm going to have to stop convincing her to practice for a few days and see if she misses it.

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John sort of freaked out on me about the books I was assigning to him for reading practice. He said that he was SICK OF THE TWADDLE!!!! I didn't think that the book he had just finished was twaddle but upon reflection, I realized that he was really complaining that it was childish. I was looking for books at his reading level, but his interest level was not matching up with the books. Fortunately, his reading has continued to get stronger so I assigned him a book I had been saving for him--Understood Betsy and he is slowly reading it without complaint. He says it is OK. 

Peter had been working through AOPS Algebra and had gotten through about half of the book, but I felt like his energy was really flagging. He enjoyed participating in the AMC 8 exam again and was meeting once or twice a month with a college student for some math enrichment, but he didn't seem as exciting about his regular math lessons anymore. 

I strongly felt like he needed some kind of math challenge in community with others, so I uncharacteristically splurged on an AOPS class on Counting and Probability for him. It is too expensive for us really. But it is so good for him. He is tackling hard problems and overcoming frustration and just being invigorated again. I'm hopeful that we will find some kind of summer math enrichment for him to do with other middle schoolers this summer. He needs to be with other kids who share this passion--even if only for 1 week of the summer. 

When I wrote my last update in September, 3-year-old Harry had just started pre-k. And he lasted all of a few weeks. There were parts he liked, but so many things he didn't like about it. If it had been 3 days a week, we probably would have kept it up, but it was Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 1:30 which was too much for him. 

Plus the bad habits, like saying "what the heck?" and obsessing over who was "best friends" with everyone else at pre-k didn't make me feel like he needed to keep attending. He did learn some letters though. And he also learned that he can separate from me and make new friends. He was thrilled when he was allowed to stay home and be a regular part of our morning time again. And I was thrilled to have him. It was so nice to be able to tackle a few extra cleaning projects when he was gone, but I had really missed him.

In December, I gave myself the gift of bloodwork just to check on my overall well-being. Besides the regular bloodwork offered, I added on two thyroid measures and a vitamin d test. When I got the results, my jaw hit the floor. My thyroid was not working right (TSH was 10) and my vitamin d was deficient (18). 

In the 3.5 months since I got those results, I have experienced so much healing that I look back on 2021 and realize how sick I really was. So sick that I couldn't do one outing with the children and then come home and cook dinner--so I relied on freezer meals. So sick that I had to just grind away at routines even when they weren't working well for our family because I couldn't find the energy to fix them. So sick that every family hike felt like I was dragging one leg after the other. So sick that I didn't want to meet up with friends or take walks instead I had to force myself every time. I thought it was just being overwhelmed with having 5 kids during a pandemic--I won't say that didn't have something to do with it. But I was also physically sick. 

Soon after I got my results, I met with my doctor and she diagnosed me with hypothyroidism (presumably Hashimoto's) and agreed with my proposed course to try some lifestyle and nutritional interventions and see if they improved my symptoms before trying medication.

I immediately gave up coffee and reduced gluten and dairy and increased my intake of vegetables, meat, and sardines and began taking a higher-quality vitamin to support me as a breastfeeding mother. I stopped any calorie restrictions or intermittent fasting I had been doing to try to lose the baby weight that had stubbornly hung on after George's 1st birthday came and went. I began megadosing on vitamin d with a liquid supplement (under my doctor's instructions). I got a reverse osmosis water filter to remove salt and fluoride from my drinking water. I ate a ton of good food and tried to get a lot of sleep. Within weeks, I lost 6 pounds and began to see my energy and mood improve.

I decided to use EverlyWell (referral link) to test my thyroid function several times over the winter to track if the work I was doing was yielding results. They have a test you can do at home that checks TSH and T4, the same tests I had done in December, but it also included other, very important measures like my TPO antibodies and my T3. My first round of results came a month into my journey--my TSH and T4 had already improved. My TSH was down to 3 (from 10) and T4 up to 1.1 (from .89). These measures are generally considered within a normal range. But my TPO antibodies (which should be below 40) were 1100+! At least Hashimoto's was confirmed by these results and I could focus on getting my condition into remission.

Dr. Izabella Wentz and her website http://thyroidpharmacist.com/ were my most important resource from this point on. Knowing that I had high antibodies really motivated me to dig in and work hard. I started taking more supplements recommended by her site and her book, Hashimoto Protocol. I also went totally gluten-, egg-, and dairy-free and then went into a 6-week autoimmune protocol diet that was also free from nuts, seeds, legumes, nightshades, and grains. At this point, I lost a few more pounds effortlessly, and I noticed that a fungal infection on my toe that I had been suffering from for over 4 years had just disappeared!

By February, another EverlyWell (referral link) test showed that my vitamin d levels had rebounded to a healthy level. I finished my AIP diet and while I am remaining off gluten, eggs, and dairy, I have been loving eating a small amount of rice and oats plus nuts, seeds, tomatoes, and potatoes.

I tested my thyroid levels again in March and my measures had improved again. My antibodies went down 264 points! But there is still more work to do to get them into a remission level.

I had already taken Dr. Wentz's advice on many supplements including selenium, magnesium, zinc, probiotics, and thiamine, but one thing that she had recommended--digestive enzymes--I had not wanted to add to my regime due to the cost and I didn't think I needed them because I didn't have digestive problems. But, I thought my husband might like them so we bought some and I gave them a try. WOW! She said they were a game-changer for her and they were for me too. I wish I had tried them earlier. I use this brand and my energy levels are what they were in my early 30s again. I feel like a million bucks! I actually want to exercise and be active--physically and socially. And I started losing weight again without effort and am currently down a total of 13 pounds since December.

My monthly cycles have been unpredictable . . . anywhere from 32 to 54 days long, so I'm also working on correcting estrogen dominance (which can be a trigger to Hashimoto's as well). I started seed cycling (eating flax and pumpkin seeds in the first half of my cycle and sesame and sunflower in the second half) and I'm about to start taking maca again. I had taken it in 2016-2017 when I experienced 2 miscarriages as well as several chemical pregnancies before becoming pregnant with Harry in August 2017. I now look back and wonder what role an undetected thyroid problem played during that time. 

I'm going to keep up the good work of taking care of my body. I'll retest my thyroid in a few months and go from there.

I was all set to pay off a big federal loan of $26,000 before repayment began at the end of January, but since the student loan pause was extended until May, I opted to pay off my last private loan of about $14,000, thinking that I would have enough time to get together the additional money needed to pay off the federal loan before it began accruing interest again April 1. But with supplements, thyroid tests, food for a special diet, a water filter, and fun stuff like camp deposits, I'm falling short of my debt goal. 

I'm trying to be ok with that. For many years we did not spend money on summer camp or even travel beyond our 5-day camping vacation at a state park. But the kids are getting older now and I want to give them affordable fun like YMCA camp or a weekend camping with friends or a trip to visit my sister in Columbus and my husband's 91-year-old grandmother in Deleware. So debt freedom will need to be pushed back by a month or two. It is coming closer all the time and our very frugal days of the past mean that we can splurge in a frugal way now.

We also did another crazy thing for us--we bought tickets for my husband to take Peter on a weeklong trip to Dubin, Ireland in November 2022. Peter hasn't been on a plane since he was 1 and we had always hoped to plan a special trip for each child at some point. Reading Take More Vacations inspired me to dream of giving each child an international trip with their father (who is more adventurous about travel than I am) even on our limited budget provided we were willing to go wherever we found a cheap ticket that worked for our schedule. 

We got passports for John and Peter earlier this year and when I found $332 roundtrip tickets from Baltimore to Dublin over Thanksgiving through Scott's Cheap Flights (referral link), we booked them. I did try to use the techniques from Take More Vacations on my own to find cheap flights via Google Flights, but I have to say that Scott's Cheap Flights service is so worth the $39/year it costs (they have a limited free version and free trial too!) because they identify the best flights and also give you some info on what is included with each fare and costs for carry-ons and checked luggage which differs so much from fare to fare and airline to airline. 
While we've been spending on travel and health, many of our day-to-day costs are rising--including heating oil (I spent over $1000 within 30 days on oil!), food, and gasoline. Our food costs have seemed especially high in the last few months and I'm hoping that being finished with the AIP diet will help. The USDA calculated that a family with members like mine on a thrifty eating plan would need to spend $1316 on food per month. I spend significantly less, so I must be doing a lot right!

But we've been talking about how to cut household costs to maintain our standard of living while still making our desired progress on our student debt. Here is what we've come up with so far:
  • lowering our thermostat by 3 degrees in the day and night
  • quitting Netflix for at least the short term
  • opting out of a few events that would require a 50+ minute drive
  • consolidating errands as much as possible to save on gas, even if it means running out of things for a few days/weeks
  • stop buying soft white wheat berries and just use hard white wheat berries or all-purpose flour (I was buying both and soft white cost twice as much)
  • signing up for the Federal Affordable Connectivity Program which gives us a $30 rebate off our monthly broadband internet bill
  • using Bing Rewards again to earn a $5 Amazon gift card per month to use on my needed supplements
  • doing surveys through our local supermarket so we can earn enough points to get a free Easter ham because we don't spend enough money there to qualify without the surveys
  • shopping through Swagbucks (referral link) when I'm purchasing health foods from Vitacost because they give a better percentage back than my usual go-to Rakuten (referral link) which I still use for everything else, including Wal-mart pickup.
  • visiting discount grocery stores again to find really good deals on staples like oats, sardines, canned tomatoes, etc.
  • being very mindful about avoiding food waste or any other kind of waste
  • not driving 3 hours to go to my favorite book sale where I would buy $100 worth of books 
  • selling a few homeschool items we no longer need
  • growing a small but productive garden in the backyard to supply us with plenty of herbs, greens, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and a few other things we enjoy in the summer like sugar snap peas and rhubarb
I've been reading like crazy. I've already read 15 of 36 books on my Reading List for 2022 plus a handful of books not on that list as well! But Bleak House has really slowed me down. I've been reading it for weeks and JUST passed the halfway mark. It isn't my favorite, but it is growing on me. 

I loved Persuasion and even Moby Dick. The most fascinating one so far has been The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow. It was a hard read, but so worth it if you are interested in the topic. I also thought this one was quite interesting: Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York's African Burial Ground by Joyce Hansen & Gary McGowan. I will be assigning it to my son next year to complement our history studies.

I'm slowly reading The Art of the Commonplace and I think I'm going to get a lot out of it even though I'm not a huge Wendell Berry fan so far. 

And the Charlotte Mason reading group I started over 4 years ago is finally beginning to meet regularly again. We met a few times last summer but otherwise, we've missed 2 years. We are picking up where we left off--chapter 9 of Philosophy of Education. 

Just a few of the books I am enjoying reading with the kids right now are:
For many years I felt like I had to plan every single little thing before we started school because I did not have the energy to do more than survive from week to week. But I'm feeling so good that I have a great sense of peace about planning this year.

Although have already selected many of the books we will use for homeschool next year, most of the nitty-gritty of our homeschool planning will be happening in the next 3 months. I am so looking forward to it! 

I always feel a tiny bit anxious until I feel like I have found "the right books" but then I enjoy prepping them and selecting all the poems, memory work, plays, read alouds, and morning time materials to round out the curriculum. 

I'm probably most excited to plan Peter's geography next year--a subject he really enjoys. I purchased the textbook Across This Land (although I bought the older edition from Thriftbooks) and have been pairing it with videos like was done here for Halliburton's Books of Marvels. I hope to share them when I am done. 

Whew. That's my brain dump about the last few months! If possible, I hope to write recaps of what we did and what we skipped from the homeschool plans I made last summer. But actually planning next year sounds like more fun, so we'll see ;-)