Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Encephalitis - Seizures Again 15 years later

In September of 1995 I woke up in the middle of the night with the thought that I was being possessed by a demon and should be on the X-Files.  I was having a grand mal seizure.  After it was over I managed to drag myself across the house and get my parents up.  I had a few more that night and was taken to the ER.  It was determined that I had encephalitis - an inflammation of the brain.  The only warnings I had were that evening I had had a slight headache, sensitivity to light, and was slightly chilled, but none of that had stopped me from playing in my soccer game.  I ended up being in the hospital for four days and sent home with an Acyclovir treatment and put on some Dilantin anti-seizure medication.  I ended up being allergic to Dilantin and so they switched me to Tegretol.  I took it for six months, stopped taking it, and never had a problem since.

Until last Thursday the 23rd.  Floyd and I had both got the flu and were throwing up and just not feeling good.  The girls however were feeling fine and were not very sympathetic to our plight.  I was hesitant to call family for help because I didn't want to expose them, but by the afternoon we were getting desperate.  I called my wonderful sister and she said she could come over and take them out for a bit so we could take a nap.  So she came over and rounded up the girls and took them out, while Floyd and I crawled into bed for a nap.  I hadn't been asleep very long when all of a sudden my left foot started jerking.  While pregnant I had had some wicked leg cramps so that was both Floyd and my first thought.  But then the twitching traveled up my body till I couldn't breathe.  I was having a seizure.   I don't remember much after that, but Floyd called 911 and an ambulance came and took me to the hospital.  I had another seizure in the ambulance.

We all went back to my parents house and we spent Thursday and Friday night there.  They put me on Tegretol, but I have not responded well to it at all.  I feel sluggish, dizzy, my head hurts and in general I feel like I am walking through Jello.  I wanted to be on Tegretol versus Keppra because the literature seems to indicate that Tegretol is safe to take while breastfeeding while Keppra is definitely not recommended.  But I can't function on Tegretol and I need to function.  I am slightly frustrated because I'm not positive I need to be on drugs.  It could have just been a complete fluke, but then I cringe at every muscle twitch and am terrified of having another seizure.  I am also frustrated because I want to talk with the neurologist some more about medications, but don't have another appointment for two weeks.  At the previous appointment I was walking and talking (but not doing math very well --apparently I said that 100 take away 3 and take away 3 again was 234), but now I cannot remember anything that happened that day. 

But I called and got a prescription for Keppra.  I nursed Allie to sleep and that is the last time I'm going to nurse her.  I weaned Selena before she was ready, and felt bad for it.  I figured Allie would get the benefit of more gentle weaning.  I planned on nursing her till she was two, give or take 6 months, but she would definitely be closer to two than one.  But its not going to work that way.  She is going to be so upset when she wakes up in the middle of the night.  My poor baby.  I just hope the Keppra does work for me and this torture won't be for nothing.  And yes, I know there are plenty of benefits to weaning and some of them I am really looking forward to, but I could have been patient.  Allie is my last baby.  There was no hurry.  Then to add insult to injury I can't drive for six months.  That is going to be a huge pain.  The only good I can think about that is that hopefully I'll learn how to take the bus.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Toddler Backpack

I made Selena a backpack for preschool. She puts her daily show and tell in it. It is so nice for her to have a backpack that doesn't dwarf her. I bought the pattern from Made By Rae and really liked it. I have also made her Lickity Split Bag, and so far am very impressed with her patterns. I need to get her Big Butt Baby Pants pattern next.  I am contemplating trying to make a camera bag out of the pattern.  I think it is about the right size and if I just added a bunch of foam it might work.

I used some more of the Marcus Brother's Porcelina collection. I really, really like that fabric.  Allie is wearing the backpack in the picture.  She keeps stealing it and many fights have broken out over it.  I really should make Allie one of her own...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Camping at Dosewallips State Park

We went camping at Dosewallips State Park a couple weeks ago and it was a lot of fun.  We rented a platform tent which was pretty nice.  I felt it was the right level of roughing it.  Not quite as rough as camping in a tent, but more rough than a motor home.  The platform tent had some beds (we brought our own sheets and blankets), a lamp, and a space heater.  The site was pretty big and fairly private.  The only problem was that Allie fell off the platform twice. :(  The canvas walls look like they are stable, but if you lean on them they aren't.

We bought a hot plate from Fred Meyer (about $13) and used that to cook on since there were utility hook ups.  That worked out well and I think was much easier than trying to cook over the fire.  Of course we did do smores over the fire.

Of course the weather didn't cooperate.  The day we arrived was gorgeous, but it rained quite a bit the second day.  It was cloudy the day we left.  But we still went out and walked along the river and went out to the beach.  Floyd and I ran on the hiking trail (Steam Donkey Trail/Maple Valley Loop) that was at the campground.  It was a pretty good run; I think about 4-4.5 miles.  I had to walk on the bit that had some switchbacks, but other than that it was fairly good for running.  We saw the elk herd and that was pretty cool.

It rained when we went out to the beach, but apparently it is the best spot in Washington to get clams and oysters.  We didn't attempt to get any, but we did have fun watching all the little crabs scamper around. 

We took the Kingston ferry and the campground was only about an hour off the ferry, so that was nice that it wasn't too far away. Allie doesn't appreciate long car rides.

We got ice cream at Mora in Kingston.  As a snobby ice cream eater, their stuff is "homemade" and thus good.  I still prefer my own, but theirs is quite comparable.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Early Childhood Education - First Do No Harm

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We're all home schoolers
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I have wanted to write a post about this for a while because I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how my children learn and how I can educate them.  I love learning, researching, debating, reading, and problem solving and I want my children to love and be good at these things as well.  So how do I encourage a love of learning?  I've basically decided that children are already born with the desire, so basically I just need to not quash it.  

So, of course, I’ve read lots of books on the subject and there are two books I really like.  The first book is by John Holt called How Children Learn.  I was fairly skeptical of the book at first because Holt is an author lauded by homeschoolers, specifically unschoolers, and I had never really understood the arguments for homeschooling, but I was reading the book to get some more insight.  When I started the book I didn’t get it, but by the end of the book I thought Holt was brilliant.  One of the main reasons I ended up convinced was because I’m fairly sure my third grade teacher employed Holt’s philosophy and I have so many memories of that year of school.  It was by far my favorite grade.  I have virtually no memories of second or fourth grade, let alone what I learned those years, but I remember third grade and all the things I learned very well.  Also many of the things he talks about, I was already doing intuitively, but reading his book gave me more intent in how I teach my children.

The second book I like is called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.   This book isn’t about education.  It is about how people become an expert, and some of the chemistry in the brain that goes into this.  While people may use the information in the book to come up with a completely opposite educational philosophy than mine I thought it added more authority to many of my practices. 

Ironically, all the time I spend thinking and studying about how to educate my children results in me not doing much of anything.  I consciously step out of the way and try to let my kids do their thing.  Yet this doesn’t just mean I get to sit and read a book in the corner while my children become brilliant, because I act as the facilitator, and question answerer.  So here are the things I aim for in educating my children:

Self-direction-  I let the girls pick what they want to do and what they want to learn about.  If inspiration strikes for Selena to cook a pie, I figure out how she can do it.  If I am cooking dinner and Allie wants to help, I pull up a chair and try to figure out a way she can be involved.  If Selena wants to go for a run in the pouring rain, off we go.  

If my knee-jerk reaction is to say no to something they want to do, I figure out why.  Usually it is because it is too messy, or it is too dangerous.  If it is because of the mess I usually overcome the urge to say no and let them do it.  If it is because it is dangerous, I reevaluate and decide if it really is remotely likely that serious injury could occur.  If it isn’t, I let them do it.  So things like scissors and staplers aren’t necessary off limits.  I try not to underestimate their abilities. I try not to hinder their independence even though doing so is a hindrance to me. 

I am letting their own natural curiosity dictate what they learn and in doing so they are not turned off by learning because nothing is being forced.  Unfortunately one of the vagaries of psychology is that many times when someone is forced, bribed, cajoled, paid, to do something, even if it is fun, it no longer becomes fun.  Which is why, Holt argues, that the desire to learn, which is so abundant among young children, diminishes the longer they are in school.  It is not until they are adults and out of school for a while that they begin to take up hobbies and enjoy learning again. 

This wasn’t the case for me.  I always enjoyed school.  However, I do feel that I learned more in college when I had more choice in my coursework and that I have learned even more since being out of school.  I had to do a lot of learning on my own for my job and that has given me confidence in my ability to teach myself anything.  I used to wish to go back to school for fun, but now I wonder why I would pay anyone to explain stuff to me that I can learn on my own.

Not interjecting with corrections- This one takes patience because it is so much more efficient to do something myself, but if the girls are doing something, and they are doing it wrong, I let them do it and let them figure it out themselves. However, if they ever ask questions, or ask for help I will do whatever they ask.  Holt addresses this fiddling around and said that it was necessary in order to learn something.  In the book The Talent Code the author, Daniel Coyle, talks about how messing up while learning something actually creates the neural pathways for a skill more efficiently than any other method of learning.  Coyle calls this deep practice.  There is also the psychological aspect that many people will lose interest in something when they are told they are doing it wrong, or when someone is there to do it for them.   Holt has many examples of where he observed children becoming demoralized and playing dumb after being corrected, and opposite examples of children figuring out on their own that they had been doing something incorrectly without ever being corrected.  

Letting the activity lead to its natural conclusion – Many times Selena will want to do something over and over and over and honestly it gets boring.  But repetition is a key part of learning a skill.  In The Talent Code Coyle talks about how a skill is developed when the neural pathways for that skill become thickly lined with myelin.  The way you create myelin is to do the skill.  The more you do it, the more myelin lines the pathway and the better you get.  Meaning anyone can get good at something if they practice enough. 

So when we are out at a child centered activity like the park, or the zoo I don’t hurry the girls to the next activity or exhibit because I’m bored, or I think they’ll like it, or I want them to learn something new.  I want them to get as much exposure as they feel they need.  Obviously when other people are around, orAllie needs a nap, or I need lunch, or we are meeting someone somewhere, or the place is closing, I have to interrupt, but if I don’t have to, I won’t.   Conversely I’m not going to make them stay somewhere when they no longer want to. 

Unstructured Activities – I try to seek out activities that are relatively unstructured for all of the above reasons.  In free play environments my children can choose what they want to and do it for as long as they want to and I believe get the most out of the experience. 

Providing Inspiration – While I don’t like to direct the activities that they are doing I do direct the activities I am doing, and sometimes I choose activities on things I’d like them to learn.  For instance many children learn to write before they read, so I write things, like thank you letters, or grocery lists.  What often happens is Selena comes up and asks to write her own letter or her own list.  She might ask me how to spell a word or draw some letters and I show her, or make some dots for her to trace, or if she asks me to, I will write it for her.  Sometimes she just scribbles and tells me what it says.  All of these responses are great.  I don’t try to quiz or cajole her into writing something specific.  So far she has learned a lot of writing and reading skills this way.  She can write lots of letters and has even written some words all on her own. 

This subtle introduction of “learning materials” was a key revelation to me when I read Holt’s book.  I didn’t understand why sometimes Selena became so interested in a subject and other times she didn’t.  After reading How Children Learn, I realized that most of the times she wasn’t interested was when I had “pushed” something too hard like saying, “Ooh this is really cool Selena do you want to come and see it?”  She can tell when I’m faking interest.  Usually only things I’m legitimately doing will pique her curiosity. 

Inspiration works even better when it comes from other, usually slightly older children.  I have seen this especially with Allie.  She picks up on things Selena does immediately.  Unfortunately it also works the opposite way too.  I have noticed that Selena will be climbing on the playground and some kids will come who can’t climb as well as she, and she will stop doing what she was doing before, seemingly because she isn’t supposed to know how. 

Observation: Along with the inspiration comes observation.  It is much easier to learn something if you watch someone do it, and then try it yourself, than if someone tries to explain it to you or makes you figure it out on your own in a vacuum.  While fiddling around and making mistakes is important, that step doesn’t come until after you’ve watched someone do it. 

For example if we are at an activity that involves an art project, I will let Selena either watch the other parents (who are usually doing the project for their child) or I will do the project myself.  Then if she chooses she can do the project the way she observed, or if she isn’t interested, she can do it however she wants to.  Either way is fine.  Another example is how Selena learned to do puzzles.  She was fairly young when she went through a puzzle phase.  But she learned to do puzzles by watching me do them.  Instead of telling her to try to do it herself I did the puzzles over and over again whenever she told me to.  Then after watching me do them enough times she was ready to try them herself.  Then she entered the fiddling/making mistake stage and I gave her the space she needed to do that.  I only offered input or help when she asked. 

Avoiding quizzing – I try not to quiz the girls and ask them whether they can do something.  This is something Holt emphasizes.  I’m not completely convinced on this one, but it does seem that when other people put Selena on the spot, and ask her if she can do something, she sometimes freezes up and gets embarrassed.   There really isn’t much point in shaming her, so I try to avoid it.  

Books – I love books and think there isn’t such a thing as too many books.  So much can be learned from them and stories are fun.  So we have lots of books in the house.  We go to the library often.  It was more often (once a week) when it was just Selena, but we still go about every two or three weeks now, and we check out a LOT of books.  I try to be a bit discerning on what books I pick out for them, but I do let them pull books off the shelf and dump them in the basket.  I am not going to limit how many free books they can borrow from the library.   If we get books that they don’t like, or are too long, or are too simple the only thing it cost us was a little extra muscle lugging them back and forth. 

Well Roundedness- I like to include all aspects of learning into our daily routines.  Behavior, cooking, cleaning (this one I haven’t been too successful with), running, climbing, singing, dancing, art, sewing, etc are all part of the education I try to provide my children.  I believe that all areas of learning are integral in the process of learning more abstract topics, like reading, writing, and math.

Nutrition- In the Talent Code Coyle talks of how the neural pathways of learned skills are surrounded by myelin.  Myelin is mostly made up of fat.  The food that has the most brain building fats is human milk.  This is one reason why I believe that the longer my children nurse the better.  Other foods that have important fatty acids in them are fish, chia and flax seeds, nuts, avacado (there is some dispute over whether plant based omega-3 fats are as beneficial as animal based).  Furthermore foods that contain trans-fats are anti-productive to forming myelin.  I have no qualms about fattening food (except for trans fats) and try to feed these foods to my children.  Sometimes I also supplement fish oil in our diet as that is one supplement where I have noticed a difference when I take it .

So that is most of the things I try to do to educate my children.  It is an ideal that doesn’t always happen, but I do my best.  I also have to admit that I worry and agonize about when they start school.  Most teachers and classrooms are not set up in a way that aligns with this philosophy.  Selena started preschool last week and while the school is not very many hours a week and is mostly play based I still cringe at the lesson time planned where they have an “educational curriculum” that consists of the letter of the day.  Floyd is a former public school teacher and does not want to home school, and honestly I don’t really want to either for purely selfish reasons.  However I do daydream about starting a one room schoolhouse with kids from 5 – 18 where the kids decide what they learn and study, and where the teachers are mostly there as facilitators and resources

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
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(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Happy Half Birthday and First Day of Preschool

Selena is now 3 1/2 and she is in one of those stages where she is learning new things quickly.   Her climbing is improving daily.  There are some monkey bars at a nearby playground that have a slight downward angle and are quite high and now she can do them all by herself and even let go and land on the ground without help.  I need to get it on video because she looks pretty small doing them and it is pretty impressive.

Her hand and eye coordination has also improved a lot.  She can now catch something if you throw it to her and she can throw better as well.

She has now also figured out how to use the computer by herself.  She can use the mouse to click on stuff and drag it.  She can even use the scrolly button to scroll a web page.  She mostly plays on the starfall website or the Super Why and can do most of the games on them without help.  I'm proud of her, but am not completely sure if this is a good thing or not.

She is getting better and better at writing.  She almost knows how to spell her name without help.  I've seen her do SELE before she asks for help and the letters are getting in the right order and facing the right way more often.

We went to camping, to the Evergreen State Fair, and blackberry picking and she had a lot of fun.  Her favorite parts of camping were riding the ferry, and making smores.  She enjoyed the rides and playing in the farming maze at the fair.
She also had her first day of preschool.  She has been waiting for this moment for months.  She enjoyed it a lot and was upset when I came to pick her up.  She didn't know why it wasn't longer, she was playing on the playground and didn't want to go, and she didn't want to wait five days to come back.  The first thing she told me about was how she didn't know where Owen went during snack time.  I guess he might have gone home?  She said she had a funny teacher.  She brought home some worksheets and she didn't completely color in the sun.  She said next time she would, but she got tired so she didn't finish.  They made her walk around in a circle "for some reason" (maybe duck, duck goose or something?).  They played and played and played.  They had animal crackers for snack and water.  She took three sips of water.  They had music time, but weren't allowed to sing.  Then they did sing an America song.  They read a Clifford book, and it was one she had never read before.  It is very weird for me because its the first time she has been away and I don't get a report from an adult on what she did.

Lately she has been in a phase where she keeps asking if I love her or Allie.  It is really annoying because she asks it at least 20-30 times a day.  I keep saying I love you both or ignoring the question.  Then she'll say I have to love only one.  She'll also ask if I love her when she does bad things and I say I do.  I love her no matter what.  Well to balance all this annoyingness she was playing with Allie and Allie smacks her, so she tells Allie to not hit and then says, "Even though you hit me Allie I still love you," and my heart melted. :)  She has also been very helpful in figuring out what Allie wants when she is crying.  In the car she'll give Allie snacks, she watches for when Allie drops things in the stroller. On my sleep-in-day apparently Allie was crying and saying Mama so Selena comes in (thankfully right about when I wanted to get up) and says, "Allie is crying and calling your name."  So she's looking out for her little sister, at least some of the time.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wild Berries in Western Washington (Blackberries)

This is a continuation of my series on wild berries in the Pacific Northwest.

In the Puget Sound area typically Labor Day weekend is the prime time to pick blackberries.  However we have had a very cool summer and there are still lots of green berries on the bushes right now and overall not a plethora like usual.  There are two species that are ripe right now.  I already blogged about the native trailing blackberry that was ripe a month or so ago.

Himalayan Blackberry

This is the most common bush you will find around here.  It is an invasive species and is often treated as a weed. According to my berry book the only other place in the world blackberries are treated as weeds is New Zealand.  You will find these bushes in almost any empty lot, empty field, under powerlines, or on the side of the road.  The best spots to pick are bushes that are away from the road and have lots of sunlight.  Make sure the bush looks healthy as people will sometimes spray them with poison.  Bushes near the road may also have lots of pollution on them.  The bushes will grow in the shade, but the berries are not as sweet if they do not get a lot of sun.  The berries grow from green to red to black and are ripe in late August early September.  The leaves are oval shaped and have serrated edges.  The bushes are very thorny so you have to be careful while picking.  The berries that are perfectly ripe and taste the best are the ones that are slightly soft and come off the bush without having to pull hard.  You can usually find bushes that have large amounts and you should be able to pick a bucket or two of berries without much problem.  It is really satisfying to get so much delicious free food.  Blackberries make yummy smoothies, ice cream, milkshakes, and jam.  Flash freezing the berries is a good way to preserve them for later eating.

Cut-Leaf or Evergreen Blackberry

The evergreen blackberry is quite common as well though not quite as common as the Himalayan.  The evergreen blackberry's berries are firmer, have larger seeds, and in my unscientific sampling are less likely to be sour.  These berries also go from green to red to black and are ripe in late August early September.  The leaves are deeply incised and tend to be a darker green (the first picture's color seems to be more accurate).  This species doesn't tend to be as loaded as the Himalayans so picking a large amount is a little more difficult.  But many times the two species grow together and you can pick both at the same time.