Thursday, November 29, 2018

Learning Spanish

A big reason I chose to move us to Mexico was for all of us to become fluent in Spanish. It's been interesting to observe how the change is taking place.

Both girls are immersed in Spanish all day at school. Only art class is taught in Engligh (by an American). And Calliope generally chooses to play with English speaking friends at recess (all in the grade above hers, so she doesn't see them at other times, except her after school circus class). It's interesting to me that all these other children are fluent in Spanish as well as Engligh and prior to this year, generally played in Spanish, not English. I'm not sure what caused the change. And while I know Calliope would learn faster if she was only speaking Spanish, I'm also glad for her that she can relax and play with confidence, without worrying about her language skills.

Amelie was with a bilingual nanny in Brooklyn until she was nearly three and a half (not including summers), so in many ways, she had a huge advantage. I don't think she spoke much Spanish with Susie but I believe she understood what Susie was saying.

Both girls went to a Spanish immersion daycamp for two weeks this summer and last summer but I don't think they really learned much. A few words here and there but that was it.

Amelie also has a big advantage in naturally being fearless. She has the confidence to just dive in, without fear of looking stupid. She's also youngest, with the most "plastic" brain (plastic in the sense of ability to change and grown new neuronal synapses). Her class is also entirely in Spanish -- I think she is the only child who wasn't already fluent in Spanish and many of the children don't speak English. And of course, the "work" of preschool -- which is techinically called kindergarten at their school -- is pretty simple. There's no academics. They have stories and songs and playing and mealtime (the children take turns helping to prepare the food and set the table). Lots of concrete activities that get repeated every single day. Ideal for solidfying one's grasp of a new language.

Calliope is more cautious. More risk averse. And also more dreamy and less imitative than Amelie, by nature. And she's in first grade (Waldorf has grades a year behind -- you have to be eight to be in second grade so she is repeating first grade since she was just barely seven at the start of  first grade) where the work is a bit more challenging. First grade in Waldorf schools focuses on fairy tales, a favorite of Calliope's but certainly challenging in a new language. Luckily her teacher translates for Calliope as needed (she is also the only non-fluent Spanish speaker in the class). But they are also learning the letters and number in Spanish, things she knows well in English already, so this is really helpful. So she is learning more slowly than Amelie but is progressing. The Waldorf approach is MUCH more relaxed than what we experienced in the States and C's teacher is not concerned, and so neither am I. Even better, her teacher shared with me that when Calliope volunteers a word in Spanish during class, all the other children cheer for her! This makes my heart sing.

As for me... well, I had six years of Spanish in middle and high school (plus one terrible semester of college Spanish). But of course, that was a long ago. But I was lucky to have had a teacher who made us speak nothing but Spanish for the last two years. I didn't like her very much at the time but I am so grateful now! However much I've forgotten -- no doubt a lot! -- I've retained a lot, too. And little phrases and verbs bubble up into my consciousness now and then which is entertaining.

I'm also working with a fellow parent from the school, a trained teacher, as my Spanish tutor once a week. It's surprisingly fatiguing -- I'm sympathetic, now, to how tired my girls were the first few weeks of school! -- but I do think it's helping a bit. Slowly. No doubt if I did more it would help more but for whatever reason, I'm not terribly motivated. But last night I went to a parent meeting for Amelie's class and was completely shocked to find that I could understand almost everything that was said! That was a first. A lovely surprise.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My Keto Experiment

Inspired by... I'm not sure what... multiple references to it on the comments section of a blog I follow, Runs for Cookies (a blog by a woman who has lost 125 pounds and kept it off for multiple years, despite mental health issues), I read a book called the Obesity Code by Jason Fung. He argues, compellingly, that most diseases of modern times are due to our diet. Our bodies are not adapted to the massive amounts of carbohydrates we eat. Every time we eat, our insulin spikes. These frequent spikes cause inflammation throughout the body causing obesity, diabetes, cancer, PCOS, hypertension and Alzheimer's Disease, which he calls Type Three Diabetes (I didn't know that Alzheimer's is much more common in folks with diabetes). He advocates a very low carbohydrate diet and often, intermittent fasting.

For the most part, I feel pretty healthy. But I do have PCOS, though it's luckily under good control by taking Metformin twice a day. Without it, I would be heavier and have irregular cycles and acne. I started taking it when I was TTCing for Calliope and never stopped. My hemoglobin A1C, a measure of blood sugar over three months, was prediabetic a few years ago but is normal now. I have no idea why it got better. I get very anxious at times, especially around my period. It was terrible last month when I was so stressed about finding someone to rent my Brooklyn apartment -- thankfully it rented at last. I also get anxious sometimes about my longevity as an SMC -- I need to be around for a very long time for these girls of mine. And if I could drop a few pounds -- I've been about 20 pounds over my ideal weight since I developed symptoms of PCOS in my early thirties (from taking birth control pills, though the medical literature would tell you that's impossible) -- that would be amazing. Interestingly, I think I've lost a few already as a result of living a much lower stress lifestyle and getting more sleep since moving to Mexico. My doctor always told me that stress (cortisol) can cause weight gain, especially around the stomach, and my experience definitely supports that!

On the other hand, I have a lot of negative baggage around dieting. I had sworn to an intuitive eating way of life. I find that when I create rules for food for myself, I tend to immediately rebel. I do better when I listen to my body.

So I am wading into this experiment with caution. I lost weight by getting sick from the air pollution in Mexico City and couldn't eat for a few days so that muddied the waters a bit. Was I feeling queasy from my developing bronchitis or from trying to eat Keto? Hard to say. I did two weeks on and then took ten days off for our trip to the US -- too hard to maintain a strict diet way of eating (WOE) while staying with family (who believe in the high carb, low fat diet that has been thrust upon us by the American government for more than fifty years, with all the evidence in the world stating that it's unhealthy). And now I'm back to Mexico and feeling better.

So today is day three (round two). I just tried out my new blood sugar and ketone monitor and my blood sugar is 83 and my ketones were 1.3. Which means, I think, that I am in low grade ketosis. Since it's only day three and it's supposed to take 4-5 days to get into ketosis, I'm very pleased. When I am ketosis, my body is burning ketones from fat instead of glucose. Right now I am adding a lot of fat to my diet to fill myself up as I get used to a low carb diet but the hope is that over time, I will need to eat less fat and will burn energy from the fat in my body stores instead.

Time will tell!

If things go well, I will post before and after photos. For now, I feel pretty good. I started to feel a little wonky yesterday afternoon so I drank some electrolyte replacement solution in water and that helped. Apparently dehydration is common with ketosis.

I've been fasting 12-16 hours over night (from 9 pm until anywhere between 11 am and 2 pm), depending on how I feel. It's pretty cool. I get hungry but I also feel weirdly good -- very focused and calm and energetic. By fasting, I'm allowing my insulin levels to get even lower. The lower the insulin levels, the less inflammation there is, over time. Then I have two meals, a few hours apart, with no snacking in between. It pretty much goes against everything I had ever read but his book made a ton of sense to me.

Anyone else read his book or doing Keto or intermittent fasting? I'd love to hear from you!

Thanksgiving Week

The girls and I traveled to the greater DC area for Thanksgiving week. I was really looking forward to it, and wondering if it would feel strange.

Both girls were sick starting the Monday before. Amelie had a fever for a day and then bounced back and just had the typical toddler runny nose and junky cough. Calliope's symptoms were strange, though. She didn't seem very sick in terms of congestion but would wake up each night, crying in pain. She stayed home on Tuesday since Amelie was home due to the fever, but seemed perfectly fine... until the Motrin wore off. I didn't think much of it. She's always been a drama queen very sensitive to pain.

We took a taxi and then a bus to Mexico City on Thursday night. We spent the night there then flew to Dulles Airport on Friday. It was possibly our easiest flight yet! Amelie has finally learned how to watch a screen, hooray! :)

Our friends Emily and Annabelle had journeyed down from Brooklyn to spend the weekend with us. After discovering that our hotel didn't have a functioning pool or restaurant for our stay, we managed to switch (and upgrade) to a lovely Westin. We were all thrilled to be together. We finally got all the girls to bed and Emily and I settled in to finally catch up.

But then Calliope woke up crying. She was too sleepy to tell us what was wrong and I finally had to yell at her to get her to snap out of it. Then she said something about her legs hurting. And her stomach too, I think. I looked and she had these three weird bug bites on her left leg. And her ankle was a little swollen. I figured she had had them a while and just hadn't noticed. It seemed bizarre that they would wake her but I gave her some Motrin and at her request, Emily got ice and we rubbed her leg with ice. After a little while, she felt better and went back to sleep.

Emily and I shared the king bed that night -- she tried the pull out couch for about one minute and said no way -- with Amelie in the middle. Amelie woke up in the middle of the night to see Emily sleeping with a T-shirt over her face and started screaming, completely freaked out. It was funny to us in the morning.

We went to breakfast in the morning and then were getting ready to swim when Calliope noticed that she had more bug bites. And she was limping a little but as I mentioned, she's always been very sensitive to pain.

After the pool, I noticed that the other side of the same ankle was swollen. Now that was strange. Also there was the fact that I had had a worsening cough for at least two weeks, ever since a trip to Mexico City seemed to have kicked off a virus.

Annabelle and Amelie both went down for a nap and Emily stayed with them while I took Calliope to urgent care. For both of us. At this point her other ankle had swollen up and also her right palm. And she had a lot of back pain. It was hard for her to walk. They said I had bronchitis and she had a rare autoimmune reaction called Henoch Schonlein Purpura. The "bug bites" were actually tiny little bruises from her blood vessels leaking. By the time they saw us she had loads more of them on both legs. The stomach pain and the arthritis were part of it, too. They gave me a stack of prescriptions and told me to take her to the ER for stat bloodwork.

We stopped at the grocery store next door to fill my prescriptions and I pushed C around in a grocery cart and got a picnic dinner while we waited -- string cheese by Frozen (what a thrill for the kids after no string cheese for three months) and pretzel chips and tomatoes and donuts (C's request). Once the prescriptions were ready, we got yet another Uber and went to the ER.

My aunt came and joined us there which was awesome because it took quite a while for the bloodwork to be processed. Her urine and blood and strep test were all normal. They gave her prednisone for the pain and swelling in her joints and told us to see a local pediatrician in three days and we were finally released. She was so happy to be out of there!

The next couple days were hard for her -- pain came and went and she was emotionally fragile -- but after that she seemed fine. We saw a doctor three days later who said everything looked fine but if she got a bad stomach ache -- worrisome because Annabelle got sick the next day and threw up -- we would have to go back to the ER. Luckily she's been fine so far. She also said C would need weekly follow up for two months then biweekly for four months then monthly for six months, to follow her kidney function. Which mainly entails checking her blood pressure and doing a urine dipstick to check for blood.

Unfortunately, great medical providers are hard to come by in Mexico. I've reached out to two different providers who declined to see her -- I assume they haven't seen this illness before -- and now have an appointment for her with a third person. But I also ordered urine dipsticks and a pediatric blood pressure cuff to use at home and may decide to take over her care myself, at least part of the time. I have mixed feelings about it because on the one hand, these tests are simple and easy to do at home. On the other hand, I really strive to avoid being my children's medical provider. It's too close to home -- I lack perspective. But it's so much more convenient to do these at home! We will see.

The rest of the week went well. My cough gradually got better. It was nice to see family. The kids enjoyed playing outside with their cousins in the cold air.

To my surprise, they were both very happy to come home to Mexico. I thought they might be homesick for Brooklyn after a taste of the States but they are glad to be back and going to school... though Calliope is staying home today for supposed stomach pain. I have some guilt about not realizing how much pain she was in before and have now become a softie.

Fading bruises from Henoch Schonlein Purpura

Waiting for blood work results in the ER

Happy to be back at the hotel with beloved friend Annabelle. Masks are for fun, not illness.

Hooray for having energy to play outside!

Eighties hairdo for the girl who keeps cutting her hair on the left side.