A Health Update {Hashimoto’s, pregnancy, fertility, and food}

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve talked about my health here, and I know some of you might be curious how things are going with treating my autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) naturally, and how it has affected my pregnancy.

Quick background: I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in summer 2013, after years of not being able to find any answer to why I felt completely awful so much of the time. This diagnosis lead to massive changes in my already “healthy” diet. Over the previous years I’d been vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, avoided processed and refined foods, done detoxes, and yet still had very little energy and got debilitating headaches more days out of each month than not.

Once I learned the root cause of all of these problems, I was quite determined to learn to manage it naturally and very much wanted to avoid the need for any medication. I began researching a ton and found that much of what I’d always known to be true in the realm of nutrition, actually wasn’t (at least not for every person). In the midst of all of this I was also trying to conceive our third baby, and after 1.5 years of trying was diagnosed with PCOS. I learned that hormone balance depends on an abundance of healthy fats, and that I needed more quality proteins to help keep my blood sugar stable. I was told to avoid gluten, as it increases inflammation for people with autoimmune disease, and as I dug deeper I found that same to be true of legumes, sugar, dairy, and grains in general. All signs pointed to a grain-free, primal (paleo) diet, and I decided to give it a try.

I haven’t eaten any gluten at all since January 2014, and permanently quit dairy and corn a while after that upon seeing so clearly how much they affected how I feel. I rarely eat sugar (refined white sugar, almost never) or legumes, and I have gone many stretches being completely grain-free. This has been such a huge change, and definitely not always easy. I miss lentils and bread, but when I think about how I used to feel when eating them frequently, it really doesn’t seem so bad.

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So back to pregnancy. After over a year and a half of trying to conceive, even with all these dietary changes my progesterone was still low, so I was put on a natural compounded progesterone. We found out in late June of last year that I was pregnant, just weeks after starting the hormone treatment. At 8 weeks, it ended abruptly in a miscarriage. I don’t know, and will never know, if Hashimoto’s was to blame at all, but after it happened I became a lot more careful with my diet, avoiding inflammatory foods and increasing healthy fats and veggies. In January, after more months of overusing pregnancy test strips and wondering if it would ever happen, once again I was faced with two little pink lines. This time felt so different though. The anxiety that had surfaced after my miscarriage attacked with a vengeance, and I fought it every day with prayer, faith, and essential oils. When I passed the 8-week mark where I’d been last time, and especially when I reached the 12-week mark where risk is considered much lower, I began to relax. Twelve weeks happened to come almost exactly when I’d been due with the one we lost, which was bittersweet but also healing for me. With the second trimester came the end of my constant nausea, and I entered the phase of truly enjoying this pregnancy.

My morning (read: all-day) sickness in the first 12 weeks made it basically impossible to stay as strict with my diet as I had been. I still avoided gluten, sugar, dairy, and most legumes, but added some grains back to save my sanity. Protein-rich foods often made me feel ill by simply thinking of them. Even now, I’m eating rice or a piece of millet bread here and there, and simply trying to listen to my body and discern what it needs on any given day. Sometimes that’s a big green smoothie with kale, pineapple, mango, coconut milk, banana, avocado and coconut oil. Sometimes it’s sweet potatoes, or raw coconut oil chocolate, or some eggs or grass-fed beef. Most of my cravings have been along those lines, though sometimes it’s for things like donuts or ice cream and I’ve had to find creative healthy ways to satisfy that!

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Pregnancy can affect thyroid problems pretty drastically at times, and for the first time I have needed a low dose of thyroid medication. I don’t love being on it, and am hoping to be able to stop after baby comes, even if it means getting even more strict with food for a while. I truly believe that the body can heal itself, but I don’t want to do any experimenting with thyroid levels while I’m pregnant.

Despite that, this has overall been the best I have ever felt while pregnant. I have more energy than I remember having with the boys, much fewer headaches, and most significantly much fewer digestive problems. My first two pregnancies involved almost constant tummy issues—painful indigestion practically ever time I ate—and now it’s pretty rare and usually directly linked to slipping up and eating something I shouldn’t (like some corn chips, hummus, or peanuts).

Supplements are also pretty important when growing a human, and must go far beyond a simple prenatal vitamin.
I take a prenatal multi recommended by my nurse practitioner (who treats my Hashimoto’s). It contains methylfolate instead of the standard folic acid, which is absorbed much more readily by my body.
My other dailies are: fermented cod liver oil (one of the very best sources of essential fatty acids and vitamins A & D), a quality probiotic, curcumin (turmeric capsules, for inflammation), a special thyroid supplement from my nurse practitioner, and a magnesium/calcium drink.
I also use various essential oil daily according to what I need. One of my favorites is the Gentle Baby blend, which is specifically for pregnancy and babies. The book Gentle Babies has been a great resource for figuring out which Young Living oils can be used while pregnant.

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I think that just about covers it (for now anyway). What a wild ride this has been! I’m so thankful for all the knowledge I’ve gained and help I’ve received that has helped this pregnancy along so far and helped me grow the healthiest baby possible, and feel as well as possible so I can enjoy every moment of this. Now at 24 weeks, I am deeply aware of the magic of being her home for these months, her nourishment and protection. Every kick and squirm I feel is so very precious.

they are my heart

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They are my heart. They fill my cup and simultaneously empty it. Motherhood is tough and messy, beautiful and vulnerable and absolutely amazing. There are moments of greatest joy and deepest ache, bliss and utter defeat often in the same day.
Today I’m sporting a bruised eye and nose from a toy thrown at my face yesterday (because I would let the 3 year old watch Netflix on my phone. yes really.)
This morning I woke before they did—a habit I’m trying hard to form—and brought my cashew milk hot chocolate back to bed for quiet time alone. Yet not really alone—this new life wiggles and kicks inside me and I feel the reality that she and I are the most connected we will ever be in our lives. That truth breaks my heart in the most wonderful way. I want to savor every minute of this.

I’ve been wanting to start writing here again for a while. I hate to make any promises, but I will say that I have the desire to do so and am going to give it a shot. I have so much I want to share, and am a perfectionist about photos to go with posts, and often I know it’s going to take so much time that I end up posting nothing at all. But really I have things to say. So I’ll just begin, and see where it goes.

Instagram has functioned as my daily blog for a while now, but it is fleeting and I crave something with a bit more depth and permanence. Yes indeed I am pregnant with our third baby—a girl! (I hadn’t shared that tidbit here so now it’s official.) We are so filled with joy. Nearly 23 weeks now, and after a very nauseous first trimester I have been fully enjoying this time, soaking it in and trying not to rush because it’s likely going to be my last pregnancy.

I’ll be back soon ;)

kombucha

kombuchaSomewhere along my journey of learning how to heal naturally from Hashimoto’s, I began hearing about the many benefits of fermented foods and drinks. They are loaded with probiotics, and aid in gut and immune health.

Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea and contains beneficial acids and enzymes in addition to probiotic cultures. (more on its benefits here!) It’s fizzy and can be slightly sweet depending on how long you ferment it. The first time I tried it years ago, I absolutely hated it. I think it was mostly that the flavor was so unexpected, and when I finally tried it again I didn’t mind it much. Now I actually really enjoy it.

Making it at home beats store-bought in both price and freshness. It’s really easy and doesn’t take a ton of extra time. The easiest way to start it is to ask around and find a friend who can give you a scoby (the kombucha starter culture, which is very strange looking but totally non-threatening, I promise. It’s name stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. Yum!) Scobies are always growing new top layers, so it’s great to give pieces away to friends interested in starting their own brew!

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Once you have a scoby, which should hopefully come in about a cup of starter kombucha, you’ll also need:
-1 gallon of filtered water
-5 bags of green tea (or 5 teaspoons of loose leaf- some people use black tea, but it has to be one of the two; herbal won’t work the same way)
-1 cup of granulated sugar (don’t use a substitute here- the scoby “eats” the sugar during the fermentation process, so you don’t end up consuming it)

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1. Bring the gallon of water to a boil, remove from heat and add the tea. Steep for a few minutes and remove bags or strain loose tea.

2. Add the sugar and stir. Cool to completely room temperature (heat will kill your scoby).

3. When the sweetened tea has cooled, pour into a gallon-sized glass container (like a really big mason jar—I just use two, and I have two separate scobies. This fits better in my little kitchen. Cover with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band and let the jar sit in a dark corner at room temperature.

4. Let it ferment for at least a week or up to a few weeks—it will get less sweet and sour towards the end. Taste it, and when it seems right to you, remove the scoby and all but a cup of the kombucha and pour into glass containers (mason jars or these bottles work well). Save the reserved liquid to start your next batch. Store your kombucha in the refrigerator. You can drink this as it is, or you can continue to ferment it for a couple more days in bottles in the fridge—just add in any fruit you wish (fresh or frozen- some good options include berries, ginger, or pineapple), and be sure to burp the bottle each day to release the pressure. After a couple days your kombucha will be fizzy and delicious, and you can strain out the fruit and return the kumbucha to the bottles and keep refrigerated. It will keep for up to a couple months, but I doubt it will last that long!

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Explorations in Nature Journaling

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When we started homeschooling and began to research the Charlotte Mason approach, I knew that nature study and nature journaling were going to be a big part of our homeschool life. Spending time outdoors, paying close attention to the amazing beauty around us and learning the names of our finds, and using art to record it all while also practicing handwriting… it seemed a perfect and important part of the experiential, hands-on curriculum I was forming.

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I gave Seth a small notebook to record his finds and we began paying more attention to the world around us. I was so excited for all that he’d learn from these experiences, but I had absolutely no idea how much I would get from it myself. I always loved art, and used to spend a significant amount of my free time as a child and teen painting and drawing. But along the way I got busy, and often frustrated by my efforts. I turned to the camera as my primary means of artistic expression. So when I pulled out my watercolors and purchased a little watercolor journal, I was mostly doing so to encourage Seth and sketch alongside him. But I fell in love. My prior frustration and perfectionism fell away because it was simply a field journal and didn’t have to be perfect. I was reminded why I’ve always loved to paint, and got excited about learning about the amazing creatures and plants surrounding us. The process of documenting our outdoor adventures has become so therapeutic for me and I look forward to that time spent with my paints and field guides and this little book. I’m doing it regardless of whether Seth is in the mood or not (because, as a five year old boy, he’s definitely not always in the mood), but I’m certain that my passion for it will rub off on him and his brother at least a bit. Already, they are asking for their paints and art supplies more frequently.

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My Materials

My sketchbook of choice: Strathmore Visual Journal 140lb
For more official paintings (which I’m doing much more of as a result of this love ignited by nature journaling), I love Arches Aquarelle blocks
I have been using the same very inexpensive set of tube walercolors that I’ve had since college, but I’m so excited to have just purchased this simple set from Winsor Newton. Learning to mix any color from just a few is one of the most important skills in watercolor. This set is wonderful because it’s small enough to go with me anywhere.
My brushes are a mix- some were my mom’s and could easily be older than me. When I purchase a new brush I like to do so in person rather than ordering online so I can see and feel it. My most-used brush at the moment is a size 3 round brush made by Grumbacher.
My pencils are all Faber-Castle but I’m really not very picky- any art pencils will do. My favorite pens are Micron- they are really amazing. I use the tiny 005 for details and fine lines, the 01 for slightly heavier lines, and the 03 for writing.
Field Guides: I love the laminated pocket guides made by Quick Reference Publishing (I found many at Barnes & Noble that are specific to our area.) We also have and love the Audubon Guide to Florida.

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My Process

I only sometimes sketch right there on the spot. I’d really like to do so more often, but my current season of life involves chasing a 2 year old, so I usually snap photos with my phone of things I want to journal later—along with collecting things like leaves, rocks, shells, and flowers to press.

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I start by sketching with pencil, getting the basic lines and shapes. I usually have a basic rough idea in my mind of how my page will end up, which items I want to draw, etc. I cross-reference my phone images with my field guides and often the internet as well, and in the process I learn interesting facts about each thing, it’s scientific name and common name, and those things go into the journal as well. When everything is done in pencil, I go over it with my micron pens and erase the pencil lines. Once in a while I’ll paint first and add in details with the pens later, but usually I prefer the prior method. When I’m painting, I begin with the lightest colors and then layer in the deeper ones.

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While at Wild & Free recently, one mama mentioned that her boys don’t have the patience for very much art journaling, but they love to recreate some of their nature finds with clay. I thought it was such a great idea, and definitely one I’d like to try!

We’ve been incorporating art in other ways as well, and my goal is to weave it into many different subjects. There are so many ways to tie art into science, geography, history, literature, and the list goes on. I really believe that they’ll learn more and internalize what they’re learning better if they exercise creativity while learning it. Seth always seems much more interested when we do. When we were discussing the the axial skeleton in science, he drew a skeleton (looking at a library book for reference) and labeled the bones we’d been talking about.

I will have to post an update soon, because already I’m seeing our methods shifting into something much more experiential and less workbook-based. And as a result, we’re both enjoying homeschool so much more!

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Battling anxiety with hope and oils

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I haven’t talked about it here yet, but if you follow me on instagram or are friends with me in person, you know that in June of this year—after over a year and a half of trying—I was pregnant. And then by the first week of July, I wasn’t. Losing a baby was something that I never expected. Always knew it to be a possibility, yes, but it’s something that can’t feel close and real until it actually happens to you. I always trusted my body completely in pregnancy and birth, and had very little fear surrounding that stage of life. So when I was hit so suddenly with the loss of our tiny baby at 8 weeks, it was a shock I could never have been prepared for. The emotional and physical pain was greater than I ever would have thought. Over the weeks that followed, the most intense pain of it dulled gradually. I stopped crying during diaper commercials (well, for the most part at least). But in place of that pain, anxiety had entered. I was on edge all the time. The boys would climb onto me and I felt like I couldn’t breathe; any type of crowd made me want to run far and fast; I worried over every little thing and couldn’t sleep at night—everything in life felt magnified and too heavy. It took me a while to realize that it had been spurred by my miscarriage. Through a conversation in a friend’s kitchen, it dawned on me how freaked out I was by the thought of getting pregnant again, while simultaneously wanting it more than anything. And so I began the work of trusting God and accepting that it’s out of my hands and in much more capable ones.

Around that time we received our starter kit of essential oils from Young Living. After hearing them recommended time after time for anxiety and depression, I decided to start using Valor and Joy daily- I dilute them 1:1 with a carrier oil in a little roller bottle, and roll just a little on my wrists, heart, and behind my ears once or twice a day. The difference I’ve felt has been amazing. The best way to explain it is that I feel balanced, and more grounded. I can breathe again, and life is still life, but I don’t constantly feel like it’s more than I can bear.

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So I’m clinging to hope, trusting in things I can’t see, and so thankful to have these wonderful, completely natural tools to help me heal. I will never stop being sad when I think about the baby we lost, but I know that we are okay, and that we’ll have another baby when we’re meant to. For now, I am feeling better, and that feels freakin awesome.

Wild + Free | Saving Sisterhood

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On Friday of last week, I hopped on a plane to Virginia Beach to spend the weekend with over 100 beautiful women who are dedicated to raising our kids with love and intention. Wild and Free is a homeschooling conference, but even more so it is a retreat aimed at fostering true sisterhood among mothers and refreshing us for the coming year teaching and raising our kids.

There was an incredible lineup of speakers who inspired and encouraged us throughout the weekend. I’ve followed many of them on Instagram for some time, so meeting these amazing ladies in person was a little bit like meeting celebrities, only much more exciting. But despite their fame in the blogging IG moms community, these were real, relatable women. This made me love them each even more. The real-life friendships I formed this weekend are ones I am so very thankful for. There was laughter and tears and late-night talks and long hugs. These girls just get it, and that can be so rare. I came away wishing so much that I’d been a little braver and started more conversations, connected with more new faces- but there is only so much time, and the ones I did meet were truly awesome. (Like this girl, Tara—this is us at the beach on the last day. She seriously rocks.)

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I wish I could share every nugget of wisdom, every takeaway. I took a lot of notes.
Joy is gratitude/giving/getting back up (Naomi), sisterhood is worth saving (Kelsey), say no to the rest so I can start saying yes to the best (Tiffany)… these thoughts only scratch the surface. It was good.

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I am already looking forward to next year. I’m making it a priority, financially and logistically, because this weekend fed a very hungry part of my soul. I came home refreshed and more ready to pour into my kids, and with new friends to stay in touch with and share encouragement with throughout the year. Of course motherhood still brings it’s daily challenges, but I feel like I’ve added a few more tools to aid in those days.

I really hope to see some of you there next year.

Homeschooling: the first few weeks

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It’s been almost four weeks since we started homeschooling, which seems so crazy to me. Parenting makes time go by quickly, but it seems even faster now. Our normal days don’t feel rushed or overly complicated; we’re able to take time to just be. That part is really good. It was important to me from the start of this journey, to give room for slowness and create an environment of simplicity. I feel like kids will learn more, naturally, if they are not rushed around in a flurry of scheduled activities. When we do add those in, we’ll do so very intentionally. My sense of being busy right comes mostly from work and learning to balance working from home with teaching at home. I’m taking it one day at a time, managing my time, prioritizing my family, and recognizing daily that I cannot do this on my own strength. There have been so many little things that have affirmed that we’re on the right path, and for that I’m so thankful.

Right now, our only weekly commitment is CC (Classical Conversations), which has been so much more a blessing than I ever expected. Our group is so diverse, with families in basically every different stage and philosophy. The backbone of it—the classical education model—makes so much sense. Seth is making new friends (who are such respectful, kind kids), and he’s constantly asking me if it’s Tuesday yet- even on Wednesdays.

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We have definitely had bumps in the road. Most days have tested my patience considerably. (Though not more so than all of our days during the summer. Being on my own for 12 hours with 2- and 5-year old boys is exhausting!) My friend Tiffany always refers to homeschooling as “parenting on steroids” and I have to 100% agree. You’re in the thick of it all day, every day. But the rewards—the connections with your kids, the knowledge that you’re pouring into them in such a real way, the act of learning and exploring together—are simply the best.

Seth was pretty resistant to “doing school” for the first weeks, and only very recently has gotten more into it. We added the Explode the Code phonics workbook, and it’s working beautifully for him. Each lesson has a page that involves reading full (simple) sentences, and he always wants to skip ahead to that part. His pride in being able to read them on his own is so awesome to see and gets me excited to be on this journey. I’m learning to gauge what works best for him. We have to do formal learning first thing in the morning, and he only lasts so long. I noticed very early on to watch for his cues that he can’t sit any longer, and stop then before either of us have a chance to get frustrated.

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My favorite things so far have been reading to them aloud and doing nature walks/keeping a nature journal (which has really taken on a life of its own for me- I’ll do a post about it soon). I think we’re finding a rhythm of sorts. I don’t expect it to ever be easy (it is parenting, after all), but I do think we’ll find a bit more balance. It’s becoming our new normal. I’m so excited for what lies ahead.

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Lavender Lemonade

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Lavender Lemonade

7 lemons, juiced
2 limes, juiced
1 drop lavender oil
14 cups water
1-1/2 cup organic agave nectar

Mix all ingredients together and chill.
Add more water or agave, depending on the size and tartness of the fruit.
Be careful that you don’t add more than a drop of lavender oil so that it does not overpower your lemonade.

My friend Sondra and I served this at the first oils class we taught last month and everyone loved it! I’ve made it at home since then and it’s the perfect refreshing, relaxing drink for a weekend afternoon!

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***  Any suggestions made on this blog are very specific to Young Living essential oils and should not be used with oils from another source. Statements made on this website about Young Living Essential Oils have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products and information are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Anyone suffering from disease or injury should consult with a physician. If you are currently on medication, please DO NOT STOP. This is just how I make & do things. you must make informed decision for yourself and your own family. 

“We are starting our journey with Essential Oils and have done our own research on the purity of oils.  I am confident in using oils in our recipes because we only use Young Living.  They are  beyond organic and never use pesticides, herbicides or any harmful chemicals. Their soil has never been exposed to them as well.  I don’t suggest ever using any other oil for ingestion because I don’t know of their purity. “

Natural Healing + Essential Oils

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One of my goals for this year was to replace more of our medicine cabinet with natural alternatives. For years now we’ve used homeopathy, herbal supplements, and other natural remedies to treat various ailments, but we still frequently turned to OTC medicines and I loathed every single time the boys were put on antibiotics. I also wanted to dive deeper into treating my autoimmune issues (and the host of symptoms it causes) naturally.

I’d always been curious about essential oils, and even had a handful of them from the health food store that I used to make cleaning products and such. I’d heard of using them medicinally but I knew so little about it. I figured the benefits were mainly in the aromatherapy aspect, but I didn’t realize how powerful they could be beyond smelling good! Then my best friend started using Young Living oils and her excitement about them was enough to get me to finally look into it. We purchased a starter kit, and within a week of receiving it my husband and I were both completely on board.

Before my introduction to the world of therapeutic grade oils (which are so very different from the brands you’ll find at Whole Foods), I had absolutely no idea what a wide range of things they can be used for. We use them topically, diffused into the air, and occasionally internally*—for cuts, burns, bites, sore muscles, headaches, immunity, fevers, coughs, congestion, hormone balance, stomach aches… that’s seriously only scratching the surface. I hear testimonials every day about amazing results people are experiencing with everything from everyday issues to truly serious health problems. EO’s support the body’s natural ability to heal itself, and I just love that.
And honestly: they do smell really good!

I recently decided to begin sharing more about how we use our oils and what’s worked for us so far, and hopefully start a conversation with others on this journey. Find out more here.

*Any suggestions made on this blog are very specific to Young Living essential oils and should not be used with oils from another source. Statements made on this website about Young Living Essential Oils have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products and information are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Anyone suffering from disease or injury should consult with a physician. If you are currently on medication, please DO NOT STOP.

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