Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Healing Chronic Constipation in an Infant

When I met 11-month-old Stephen*, I was struck by his easy-going personality.  He entered my home with a smile on his face, and was ready to explore his surroundings. Right away, Stephen started playing with toys and was content while I talked with his mother Melanie for nearly an hour. 

Stephen was largely breastfed, but had started some solid foods at the age of 9 months old.  For the last 2-3 months, Stephen had been severely constipated, only having a bowel movement once a week, and doing so with much straining, screaming, and even some blood. Melanie had tried everything she could think of: doctors, chiropractic treatments, and dietary changes.  But Stephen's constipation persisted despite all of these efforts.

Melanie contacted me to see if there were any homeopathic remedies that might help Stephen. I've been studying homeopathy for nearly two years now, and actively working on homeopathic cases for the last 6 months, so Melanie was referred to me by a mutual friend.** I was happy to guide her in finding a remedy to help Stephen.

How Remedies are Selected

I use classical homeopathic methodology to aid in the selection of remedies. There are many different homeopathic remedies that can help with constipation, but what sets homeopathy apart is that remedy selection must be individualized for each person.

In classical homeopathy, the goal is to find a single remedy that matches the totality of a person's symptoms.  Thus, classical homeopathy takes into account much more than just the main complaint (which in this case was constipation). Symptoms relating to the physical body are just one part of the total symptom picture; understanding the totality of symptoms must encompass mental and emotional symptoms as well.

The total symptom picture is used as a guide to point to the correct homeopathic remedy. Each remedy is well understood in terms of what specific symptoms it can affect. Each remedy has its own set of very specific symptoms (as defined in homeopathic repertories), and even its own personality (as defined in homeopathic materia medica).  In chronic cases such as this, the homeopath strives to match up the total symptom picture and personality of the person to the remedy.   


Guiding Symptoms

In selecting a remedy for Stephen, I sought to understand the total picture of his symptoms and personality. 
  • Main complaint: constipation
    • infrequent stools passed with much difficulty
    • much pain during bowel movements
  • Other physical complaints: 
    • dry, red skin
    • dairy intolerance (even when breastfeeding mother consumed dairy)
    • diaper rashes
    • redness around anus
  • Mental/emotional characteristics:
    • happy-go-lucky personality
    • very curious
    • excess energy before bedtime
    • hates having diaper changed or getting dressed 
    • has to be forced to get into bath, but loves it once he is there


Remedy Selection

Based on Stephen's total symptom picture, I chose the Sulphur homeopathic remedy. Sulphur closely matched Stephen's constipation symptoms (although not quite as specifically as some other remedies), but it especially matched his personality.

In "Homeopathic Treatment of Children", Paul Herscu describes the "happy-go-lucky, smiling type" of Sulphur child.  This child has a "winsome personality" and is "curious".  This type of child also may "kick and fight any time a parent tries to change the diapers. They may likewise to bathe and will put up a fight until dragged into the bathtub; then they often love it."

Sulphur is also a well-known homeopathic remedy for skin eruptions of all kinds, including the red anus, dry red skin, and diaper rashes that Stephen exhibited.  I told Melanie about Sulphur and how well it matched Stephen's overall symptom picture and personality. She decided to give it a try.

Did it Work?

Stephen reacted very well to homeopathic Sulphur 30c. In fact, with just a few doses, he had a non-painful bowel movement for the first time in months. At that time, I recommended that Melanie watch-and-wait before giving any more remedy.

Ideally, homeopathic remedies are given only as often as needed, and not more than needed. The general rule of thumb is that, whenever there is obvious improvement, watch-and-wait to see if any more remedy is needed (as indicated by a plateau in healing or by any regression).

Within a couple weeks, Stephen had established a pattern of daily bowel movements with no pain or discomfort.  As of now, he has had painless daily bowel movements for several months with no need for further doses of homeopathic Sulphur. 

In addition to the dramatic healing of Stephen's constipation, he has also experienced other significant long-term improvements: Stephen no longer has dry, red skin and he has stopped fighting about having his diapers changed.  The correct homeopathic remedy, chosen individually to match the totality of symptoms, can be amazing!

*This is a true story, but I have changed the names to protect privacy.
**I am not a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner. The information I provide is intended to educate, and should not be construed as a prescription.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Our 2013-14 Homeschool Philosophy and Curriculum

We are a few weeks into the new school year, so I thought I'd share our current homeschool philosophy and curriculum.  Currently, my daughter is 6&1/2 and in 2nd grade, and my son is 3&1/2 doing preschool work.


Big Changes in our Homeschool Philosophy

Previously, we were doing a rather rigorous Classically-based curriculum (described in The Well-Trained Mind), with a few ideas from Charlotte Mason Companion thrown in (such as incorporating Nature Study for science). But I knew I needed to change something towards the end of spring when my daughter mentioned extra schoolwork as a good punishment for the kids who stole her bike. This made me realize that I was pushing way too hard, and killing her love of learning. At the same time, I was reading Thomas Jefferson Education (TJED), and a light-bulb just clicked on.

TJED is kind of like a mix between classically-based schooling, unschooling, and Charlotte Mason. It is more structured than unschooling, but much less rigorous than Well-Trained Mind. (You can read about the 7 Keys to Great Teaching on the TJED site here.) There is also a huge focus in TJED on the parents furthering their own educations, and focusing on that, which serves as a great example for the kids to want to further their own educations. And that has really worked in our house. The more the kids see me doing my own reading, studying, and writing, the more they naturally want to do those things themselves, without any of the pressure that I was putting on them before. They are getting to learn lots of things that are interesting to them, and I am getting to learn lots myself rather than focusing so much on their curriculum. And overall we are spending less time on school than before. It is just what we needed.

We are still using some of the ideas from Well-Trained Mind and Charlotte Mason Companion, mixed together with ideas from TJE.  Our school is now much more relaxed and the kids are getting to focus more on their own interests within that framework. We are all thoroughly enjoying the changes we've made to our homeschool.

Preschool Curriculum for 3&1/2-year-old

The methods and topics I'm using for preschool with my son are the same as described previously in this post. My son is allowed to choose whether or not he'd like to do any school work (and he usually
chooses to do school once or twice a week). The specific books he is using right now are:

2nd Grade Curriculum for 6&1/2-year-old

We've been using these resources for a few weeks, and my daughter is really loving it all. No fighting or whining about doing school. She actually now calls it "Awesome School".

In keeping with the TJED philosophy, my daughter is allowed to choose what school work to do (and I make suggestions each day). She (and her little brother) never say "No" to Life of Fred, Story of the World, or science read-alouds, and about twice a week my daughter also chooses to do some work on paper.

  • Virtues and Morals - According to Thomas Jefferson Education, the main learning focus for ages 0-8 should be learning right/wrong, good/bad, true/false.  Previously, I didn't feel like I had much time to teach my daughter the everyday activities around our home, as we needed to spend so much time doing school. But now that we are focusing somewhat less on academics, it has been great for me to be able to focus more on teaching my daughter to be a helpful, courteous member of our household.  She has more daily chores now than previously, and she is given plenty of opportunities to help out with other daily activities as well.  This has enabled my daughter to become a nicer, more considerate person. Right now as I am typing this, both of my kids are washing up our lunch dishes with minimal adult assistance. 
  • Reading - We are no longer doing any formal reading lessons since my daughter's reading level is well above her age. She chooses to read for 1-2 hours every day on her own. To help in learning the correct pronunciation of complex words, I allow my daughter to read aloud to me whenever she asks to (which is typically once or twice a week). I also provide lots of varied reading materials for her through library books that relate to our history and science lessons, as well as fiction books. 
  • Math - We are using several different resources for 2nd grade math.
    • Life of Fred - My kids LOVE Life of Fred, which is a series of math books that tell stories about Fred, a 5-year-old math genius who teaches classes at a university. The chapters are nice and short, and the end of each chapter gives a chance for us to practice math from the chapter (which we usually do on a lap-size dry erase board). In addition to teaching math, Life of Fred also teaches much more. For instance, we learned about the Orion Nebulae in Life of Fred: Butterflies. My daughter gets to choose whether or not she wants to do the problems at the end of each chapter, and she usually chooses to do a few of them.
    •  Miquon Math Labs - Miquon is a math curriculum for grades 1-3 that uses wooden blocks of 1-10 cm to aid in learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. My kids are really enjoying playing with the wooden blocks (called Cuisenaire Rods), and my daughter is enjoying using the blocks to figure out the answers to math problems. The Miquon program includes workbooks, which my daughter can use as she chooses. Unlike most workbooks, the Miquon books are designed to be done with the parent assisting the child, and this really seems to motivate my daughter to want to do the workbook sheets. The workbook sheets can also be done in any order (rather than from the front of the book to the back), and my daughter enjoys the freedom of being able to flip through the book and work on any sheet that she wants to.
    • Math games are a wonderful way to learn math while having fun. We play the following games: 
      • Addition or Subtraction War is a great way to learn math facts without having to do lots of worksheets. 
      • 21 (also known as Blackjack) is a great way for kids to learn addition and strategy as they try to reach 21 without going over. Both of my kids love to play this game. I've made this game even better for teaching a real understanding of what the numbers mean by using a number line. (I made a number line on the wall using painter's tape and a permanent marker.) We each select a colored token (which are really poker chips) and with some masking tape we show how many we have on our cards. As we get more cards, we move our tokens along the number line. This way it is easy to tell how close we are to 21 and also to see what happens when we bust (and go past 21).
      • Yahtzee is great for teaching addition, number recognition, and writing.
      • Monopoly is a great game for teaching larger numbers and the concepts of buying/selling. Since it can be such a long game, I typically limit the game to one hour long and we each start the game with two properties. 
      • Milles Borne is a great game for learning to recognize larger numbers, understand which numbers are greater, and add numbers together. 
      • Khan Academy - Once or twice a month, my daughter asks to Khan Academy. This is a free site that has short arithmetic demonstration videos and it allows my daughter to try her own arithmetic problems as well.
  • Writing - I've stopped requiring my daughter to do writing lessons. I can tell that I was pushing way too hard in this area because she did not want to do ANY writing at all for several months once I stopped requiring it. Now she has passed that period of high-reluctance to write, and she chooses to write about twice a week. I am amazed that, by simply letting my daughter choose when and what to write (and giving her plenty of opportunities to do so), she is writing almost as often as I was forcing her to previously. This method of letting her choose is so very powerful, as she now loves school.
    • I give her lots of options, such as writing in her Nature Notebook, writing letters to friends/family, and writing poems. She most often prefers to have me write out the words for her and then traces over them herself.
    • One writing project my daughter is very excited about is creating her own book. We have put together about 20 pages of colored cardstock paper, and she can write about anything she chooses in her book. She also enjoys drawing pictures to go along with the words in her book.
    • Writing games - My daughter also enjoys writing games such as the following: 
      • Hang-Man - One of us comes up with a word or phrase, and the other person has to guess the right letters to solve the puzzle before the man gets hanged.
      • Writing Conversation - We pretend we cannot hear, so that we write to each other to have a conversation. To make this work, my daughter uses a chart of words to know how to spell the words she wants to write.

  • History and Science - We use the 4-year-cycle outlined in The Well-Trained Mind for history and science. There cycle starts with 1st-4th grade, and then gets repeated again from 5th-8th grade and again in 9th-12th grade, with more detail and rigor each time.
    • History
      • For 2nd grade history, we are using the audio book of Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages as our history backbone. We are all much enjoying using the audio book for Volume 2 this year (as opposed to the hardback version we used for Volume 1 in 1st grade). 
      • In addition to Story of the World, we supplement history study with relevant books from the library. I am using All Through The Ages: History Through Literature Guide to aid in finding books that apply to the topics we are studying.
    • Science
      • For Earth Science, we are using Usborne Encyclopedia of Planet Earth as our backbone, which is supplemented by books on specific topics of interest from the library. We are using More Mudpies to Magnets for science experiments related to Earth Science.
      • For Astronomy, we are using H. A. Rey's Find the Constellations plus specific topic books from the library.
      • Once or twice a month, we do nature study. This may be as simple as collecting and studying Fall leaves or paying close attention to the changes in our yard throughout the seasons. We also take nature walks, looking at the flora and fauna in our neighborhood as well as the nearby desert landscape. Each of us has a Nature Notebook, where we can write about our observations or draw pictures of creatures and plants we encounter.
  • Art - At least once a week, my daughter gets to work on art projects. Sometimes, these projects are as simple as freeform painting, and other times they are full-blown craft projects. Once a month, we have a family drawing class using Drawing with Children as a guide. This is a great activity for our whole family. My daughter also likes learning to draw on her own using Draw Write Now.
  • Music - At her own pace, my daughter is learning to play piano at Free Piano Lessons 4 Kids. She typically practices piano 2-4 times a month.

What changes have you made to your homeschool for the coming year?

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Easy Way to Tell if Your Butter is Nutrient-Dense

Left - Conventional Butter, Right - Grassfed Organic Butter
Butter is one of our most prized, health-promoting foods. Butter is a great source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 (referred to as Activator X by Weston Price).  In the article The Skinny on Fats, Mary Enig and Sally Fallon describe that butter is a great source of "true vitamin A or retinol, vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin E as well as all their naturally occurring cofactors needed to obtain maximum effect...Vitamins A and D are essential for growth, for healthy bones, for proper development of the brain and nervous systems and for normal sexual development."

Nutrient-Dense Butter

To make sure that we are getting the most nutrition from our butter, I make sure to buy nutrient-dense butter.  The best butter is from cows that have been grazing on their natural diet of grass, rather than grains.  The easy way to tell if butter is nutrient-dense is to look at the color. 
While conventional butter looks almost white, nutrient-dense butter has a beautiful yellow color. This color indicates the presence of nutrients, especially carotene and vitamin A.  In Weston Price's studies, he found that Activator X (now known as Vitamin K2) "was only present when the animals were eating rapidly growing green grass. In most regions, this occurred in the spring and early fall."  In addition to having more nutrients, grassfed butter also has superior flavor.

Why We Eat Pasteurized Butter

I am sure that raw butter is nutritionally wonderful, but it is hard to find locally and extremely expensive ($14/pound). We consume lots of butter, and buying raw butter just does not fit into our budget. Additionally, I use a significant portion of our butter for cooking and baking, so the raw butter benefits would be lost in those uses anyway.

However, I feel confident that my family is still getting great nutrition from our pasteurized grassfed butter. The nutrients in butter are largely heat-stable. For instance, according to Chris Masterjohn, "everything I have read indicates that vitamin K is very heat-stable (though it can apparently incur losses from exposure to light)".  So we are still getting lots of nutrition from our butter, even though it is pasteurized.

Seasonal Differences

There are seasonal effects in the nutrient content of butter.  Butter has a deeper yellow color (and therefore more nutrients) in the warm months when the grass is growing rapidly. During the cold months, butter tends to have a lighter color, indicating that there are fewer nutrients present.

The three brands of grassfed butter I typically buy are Kalona Supernatural, Organic Valley, and KerryGold. During the winter, I find that KerryGold butter has the most dark yellow color, followed by Organic Valley and finally Kalona Supernatural.  From late-spring through Fall, all three of those brands have a nice yellow color, but the Kalona Supernatural butter has the deepest yellow color. 

Is your butter nutrient-dense? Do you typically use raw butter or pasteurized butter?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Can Too Many Toys Do More Harm Than Good?

As parents, it is natural for us to want our children to have everything they need.  Beyond the basics of love, food, clothing, and shelter, we also try to provide our kids with plenty of books, toys, and games.  But can there be too much of a good thing?

Even when my eldest child was an infant, I was amazed at how many toys, games, puzzles, and books were accumulating in our home.  Well-meaning gift givers generously gave us more and more, and soon I was wondering where to put it all. We bought toy organizers with neat cubbyholes, under-bed storage boxes, and closet shelving units, but soon even all of those were full.

Even with all of these organizing tools, I started to feel overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of kid-stuff accumulating in our home.  I began to regularly purge toys from our home, sometimes with the help of the kids and sometimes when no one was around.  There were so many toys that most of the time, no one even noticed when some were removed. Every birthday and Christmas, another large influx of toys, books, and games would flood our house.

Were our kids any happier for having so many things to occupy their time?

No, the kids weren't happier for having more and more things to play with.  I noticed that our kids had no respect for their belongings.  When they were too rough on their toys and broke them, there were always more to play with. Our children often fought over toys.

We spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning up the toys that had been gotten out, played with for only a few minutes, and discarded as they went to look for something else more stimulating. My kids seemed to spend more time trying to set up their many toys than actually playing with them. How can a child enjoy playing with 50 matchbox cars at once, when it takes many minutes just to get them all lined up perfectly?

What is wrong with having so many toys?

In the brilliant book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim Payne writes,
"Too much stuff leads to too many choices... As adults... we love the notion of choice. And we love to give our children choices - like gifts - about everything they see, want, or do... We think that these choices help them on the road to becoming who they are...
I strongly believe the opposite is true. All of these choices are distractions from the natural - and exponential - growth of early childhood... Children need time to become themselves - through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff - with choices and pseudochoices - before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: 'More!'
...To a child, a mountain of toys... means 'I can choose this toy, or that, or this one way down here, or that: They are all mine! But there are so many that none of them have value. I must want something else!' ...
The number of toys your child sees, and has access to, should be dramatically reduced... As you decrease the quantity of your children's toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.... A smaller, more manageable quantity of toys invites deeper play and engagement. An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelm.
The overall purpose of toys in our home is to stimulate creativity, not to overwhelm our kids with too many options.  I realized that there were really too many toys in our home and this led to:
  • our children not appreciating or taking care of what they have,
  • our home being cluttered, and  
  • our children being robbed of their imaginations when they felt they had to have specific toys in order to pretend (for instance, not being able to "cook" without a play stove).

How have I reduced the quantity of toys? 

Over the last few months since I read Simplicity Parenting, I've made more of a concerted effort to reduce the number of toys and games in our home.  I've reduced the number of toys coming into our home by requesting "no presents please" for our birthday celebrations.  While my husband has looked on with a doubtful eye, and most often while my kids were not watching, I've systematically dug through all of our toys to get rid of the excess. 

Broken toys have been discarded, and many toys in good condition have been donated to a local shelter.  Some toys have been put into storage bins in the closet, such as the majority of my daughter's stuffed animals. Those toys get traded out periodically. We now have roughly half the amount of toys we had a year ago.

How have our kids reacted to having less toys?

By and large, the kids have not even noticed that there are less toys in our home.  With less toys, there are more opportunities for the kids to use their imaginations instead of relying on structured toys that must be played with in a specific ways. My kids often now come up with their own play scenarios that keep them busy for 30-60 minutes, such as making a store where they go shopping with their baby dolls.

With fewer toys, there is less mess in the house to deal with.  The kids seem to bicker less, and their attention spans for playing with individual toys have increased.  Since we are now rotating some toys in-and-out of storage bins in the closet, my kids seem to really engage with the toys for longer periods.  Toys that were mostly neglected when they were always available now receive lots of focus during the time they are out of the closet.

Interesting observations from a vacation with almost no toys

We recently went on vacation for a week to a nearby small town in the mountains. For a week, the only toys my kids had to play with were a handful of matchbox cars, a few pony figurines, crayons with a few coloring pages, and two card games (Uno and Mille Bornes). There were also no electronic distractions such as TV, videos, or internet. Rather than being bored by the lack of selection, my kids thrived with such a small amount of toys!

One striking observation for me was that there was almost no bickering the entire week we were on vacation.  The small amount of bickering that did occur was related to the few toys we had brought with us. Because there were less toys to play with, my kids naturally gravitated to the outdoors.  They watched the birds outside.  They played with rocks, sticks, lizards, tarantulas, and dirt. They were happy and I never heard any complaints about the lack of toys. 

This experience has inspired me to reduce the number of toys in our home even further. I am once again going to dig through the toys we have and send some on to new homes.  I would especially like to reduce the number of toys now being stored in our closets.

Do you feel overwhelmed with too many toys? What strategies have you used to reduce the number of toys in your home?


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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Juicy Pan-Seared Steak with Rosemary and Thyme (GAPS : grain-free : Primal : gluten-free)

This is one of my favorite ways to make steak.  Rosemary, thyme, and garlic combine with beef for a fabulous taste.  We enjoy our steaks medium rare and beautifully red inside. Pair the steaks with a simple side salad and perhaps crispy fried potatoes: dinner is served!

Juicy Pan-Seared Steak with Rosemary and Thyme
Serves 3 
  • Three 1-inch-thick beef steaks, such as Rib Eye or T-Bone, preferably grassfed
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 Tb refined coconut oil (NOT unrefined coconut oil, as the taste of coconut would not be welcome in this recipe)
  • 1 Tb coarse Celtic sea salt
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp dried OR 1 Tb fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp dried OR 1 Tb fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 lemon wedges
  1. Combine the garlic, coconut oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme in a small chopper.  Pulse to combine and chop it all together. (If you don't have a small chopper, chop the garlic roughly, and then mash it all together with a mortar and pestle or even just using the back of a spoon.)
  2. If your steaks are a bit tough (as grassfed beef can sometimes be), use a fork to tenderize the meat by piercing it repeatedly all over.
  3. Squeeze lemon juice over the steaks and rub it around.
  4. Rub the coconut oil/spice mixture over the front and back of the steaks.  If you have time, put the steaks back in the fridge and let them marinate for a couple hours, pulling them out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you will start cooking them (the coconut oil will solidify in the fridge).  If you're in a time crunch, just season the steaks and let them sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before cooking.
  5. Heat a very large (12+-inch) heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes.
  6. Add the steaks to the hot skillet, and cover with a splatter screen.
  7. For medium rare, allow the steaks to cook for about 3-4 minutes without moving them around, then use tongs to flip them over and cook for another 3 minutes. [Increase the cooking time by a minute per side for medium (pink-in-the-center) steaks.]  You may need to reduce the heat after a few minutes if the skillet starts to get too hot.
  8. Turn off heat, and move the steaks to a plate or platter to rest.  It is very important to let the steaks rest for about ten minutes prior to cutting into them.  If you cut into the steaks when they are still very hot, most of the delicious juices will run out, resulting in dry meat.
  9. Serve!  A side salad or crispy fried potatoes make a great side dish.
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