Monday, June 21, 2021

What I eat in a day to lose weight

In my last post, I explained why I'm trying to lose weight. Today I want to share with you how I've managed to lose 5KG in five weeks, and how I plan to lose a fair bit more. 

Two weeks' difference: June 7 on left, June 21 on right.


The eating plan I've chosen to follow is Trim Healthy Mama. I first tried eating this way eight years ago, when I was in the last few weeks of pregnancy with my son. It worked really well for weight loss (and for growing a healthy baby), but I found it too hard to maintain, purely because of how busy I was juggling babies and toddlers at the time.

These days I have more spare time, thanks to competent children and the fact my husband works from home, so I'm finding I can give Trim Healthy Mama the focus it needs. There are also loads of THM recipes online now and a lot more foods available that support this way of eating than there were eight years ago, which makes it a whole lot easier. 

What is Trim Healthy Mama?

I'm no expert, but the THM guidelines I try to stick to in order to lose weight are these:

  1. Avoid white sugar and white flour. These are the only no-go foods, because they spike blood sugar levels too much, and one of the goals of the plan is to stabilise insulin production. Of course, if you do eat these foods, give yourself grace because it's going to happen from time to time, and your next on-plan meal is just around the corner. I have replaced sugar with stevia/erythritol blends, like THM Sweet Blend, THM Gentle Sweet, Truvia or Natvia, which are gentle on blood sugar levels. Monk Fruit sugar is also gentle, although it's more expensive so I've never bought it.
  2. Centre all meals around protein, and choose one fuel source per meal - either carbohydrates (E for Energising) or fat (S for Satisfying) - not both. 
  3. If eating an E meal with carbs as the fuel source, keep fat to 1 teaspoon or less. Also, stick to low-glycemic carbs like beans, chickpeas, quinoa, oats, brown rice, whole wheat sourdough, kumara, beetroot, etc, and don't eat more than 45 grams of carbs. (I actually don't know how to measure how many carbs I'm eating, so I may not be sticking to this very well.)
  4. If eating an S meal with fat as the fuel source, keep carbs to 10 grams, but eat whatever amount of fat is required to achieve satiety. 
  5. Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables. 
  6. Eat every three hours. Don't go more than four hours during the day without food, and make sure there are at least 2.5 hours between different fuel-source meals, so you don't unintentionally crossover. 
  7. Throw in the occasional Fuel Pull (FP) meal or snack, where both fat and carbs are pared back. These are especially useful for snacks in between two different fuel-sourced meals, because they can pair with either a carb-based meal or a fat-based one. 
  8. Drink plenty of water and sippers (refreshingly tasty and health-giving drinks). 

What I eat in a typical day

Breakfast

The breakfast I eat most often at the moment is scrambled egg whites on homemade organic sourdough, which is a carb-based E meal. I buy Zeagold Egg whites from Countdown, which makes this really quick and easy to prepare. I simply mix them with nutritional yeast, Nano Curcumin, Nano Silymarin and Nano Quercetin for their various health benefits and because they turn the egg whites yellow so they feel more like regular scrambled eggs. 

I bought an Ozeri Stone Earth frying pan (this is an affiliate link, which means if you click on it and purchase a pan, I will receive a small commission) so I could cook the egg whites without fat and they wouldn't stick to the pan. After doing some research, it seemed like Ozeri was the best choice because it doesn't release dangerous chemicals into food like other non-stick coated pans do. 

Cooking capsicum chickpea patties in my Ozeri frying pan.

Egg whites and other foods slide right off the Ozeri frying pan, so I've been really pleased with it. 

My friend, Dreama, gave me some sourdough starter and her sourdough recipe, so I've been able to make organic whole wheat seeded sourdough bread once or twice a week, as needed. My son really likes eating sourdough toast with jam and butter for breakfast too, which I'm happy about, and my girls have started eating it sometimes too.  

Lunch

For lunch I will eat on-plan dinner leftovers if I have any. Otherwise I might whip up a garden salad and add a tin of tuna in spring-water and some light cottage cheese for creaminess. Depending on what vegetables I use, this will either be an E (Energising carb-based) or an FP (low-fat and low-carb Fuel Pull) salad. 

Another favourite lunch of mine is this Crunchy Thai Peanut and Quinoa salad. 

I found the original recipe at Cookie and Kate, but have modified it to make it a THM E recipe. I'll be sure to share my THM version of this recipe with you in an upcoming post. I love this salad because it's really hearty and tasty, and I often have most of the ingredients for it growing in my garden, so I get to eat it super fresh. 

Sometimes for lunch I'll whip up a smoothie or a frappe. (I'm drinking a berry smoothie in the photo at the top of this page.) There are lots of recipes for these online and in the various THM cookbooks. 

Dinner

My dinners vary quite a lot, so it's hard to give you a typical one, although they do tend to be fat-based S meals. 

I often make some kind of creamy chicken and spinach dish, which I serve on cauliflower rice for myself and on pasta for the rest of the family, with a hearty serving of side vegetables. 

Sometimes I make a chicken and pesto risotto, using a cauliflower/broccoli rice blend instead of Arborio rice.  I'm still perfecting this low-carb risotto recipe, but once I have it nailed, you can be sure I'll share it with you. 

Slow cooker beef curries are another favourite S dinner. I might serve mine on Konjac rice or cauliflower rice to keep it low-carb, and throw in a large side helping of green vegetables too. 

A recent lamb, feta and mint salad featuring lots of homegrown vegetables was so good, it tasted like something I would order at a restaurant. I based it off this BBC Good Food recipe, but added a few more vegetables to make the most of my garden, and of course I used an on-plan sweetener rather than castor sugar in the dressing. 

The lamb salad would be considered an S meal, because lamb is quite a fatty meat. I served it with homemade potato wedges for the rest of the family, but just ate the salad on its own for my dinner. 

Recently I also made a rare E meal for dinner of Chargrilled Capsicum and Chickpea burgers.

The rest of my family had theirs on homemade buns, but I served mine on sourdough to keep it on-plan. We had a few patties leftover, so I ate them for lunch a couple of times, sometimes on sourdough and sometimes wrapped in lettuce. 

Snacks and Dessert

Snacks and desserts are so important on Trim Healthy Mama, and are when I usually indulge my sweet tooth with tasty tummy-trimming treats. They are the thing that make this plan doable for me, because I don't feel deprived. 

In the pantry right now, I have a container of chocolate peanut butter cookies that I baked. 

These are an S (fat-based) recipe from the original Trim Healthy Mama book and are so easy to whip up using peanut butter, cocoa, an egg, an on-plan sugar like Truvia or THM Gentle Sweet, and vanilla. I also throw in a few Healtheries sugar free chocolate chips for extra yumminess. (I buy the chocolate chips from PAK'nSAVE or Countdown.) 

A couple of weeks ago I made Chocolate Banana Muffins, a recipe from Trim Healthy Cookbook. These were a good E (carb-based) sweet treat for me and were handy to take out and about.  

Sometimes its inconvenient to have an E snack or dessert, because I may have just eaten an S lunch or dinner, so I also fill my fridge with Fuel Pull desserts like Chocolate Snickers Pudding. Another THMer shared her recipe for this on the Trim Healthy Mama Journey app. (See more about the app below.) I've modified the recipe slightly to increase the protein, so will share my version with you here soon. 

My fridge stocked with two different-sized containers of 
Chocolate Snickers Pudding. 


These puddings are SOOO yummy and filling, but have very little fat or carbs so I can pair them with any type of meal. They use peanut flour as the base and glucomannan as the thickening agent. (My sister-in-law gave me the glucomannan, but I believe she bought it from iHerb. It goes out of stock on iHerb often so if that's the case, you can also purchase it from Supplements NZ, although it's more expensive from there.) 

Sometimes I eat fruit for my snack. We have a lot of mandarins growing in our garden at the moment, so I might eat three of these for an E snack. (They're quite small.)

Drinks and Sippers

If I'm hungry but it's not time for my next meal yet, I might make myself a hot drink or a sipper. 

My favourite hot drink is Avalanche Sugar Free Drinking Chocolate. (I buy boxes of these from PAK'nSAVE or Countdown.) 

I use unsweetened almond or cashew milk instead of dairy milk in these drinks, as they are lower in carbs and so make it a Fuel Pull drink. 

My favourite sipper at the moment is a Lime Boabab Boost Juice. 

I simply squeeze one of the limes from my garden into a glass and stir in a teaspoon of Boabab powder (I bought mine from iHerb), and a couple of tablespoons of an on-plan sweetener like Truvia. I top the glass with water and stir it all together. Boabab powder is an amazing super food, so this is a tasty and healthy way to refresh myself. 

How I'm staying accountable

When I decided to commit full-time to eating this way, I bought the Trim Healthy Mama Journey app to keep me accountable. 

I use it to post photos of all my meals so I can track when and what I'm eating. At the end of the day, I click the Daily Recap button, which groups all my meal photos together in a collage so I can see exactly what I've eaten that day.  

The photos are labelled with their fuel-type, so it gives me a good overview of the different fuel-types I've eaten, which encourages me to change things up and keep my metabolism revving. 

With the Journey app, I'm also able to track my weight and measurements, and compare them with my goals in a handy graph. I bought an inexpensive set of scales from Kmart so I could weigh myself, and I'm using my sewing measuring tape to measure my waist and hips each week. 

On the Journey app I can also post selfies and side-by-side comparison photos, which help motivate me when I see the positive changes happening in my body.

There's also a community aspect to the Journey app that I really enjoy. I'm able to follow other people on THM, and see what they're eating, which gives me ideas for my own meals. We can like and comment on each others' photos, to encourage each other on. 

When I started eating this way, I gave myself a short term goal of staying on plan until my next birthday (in September). I'm hoping that by then, the habits will be so ingrained that this will just be a way of life for me. I'm also motivated to see how I look at that next birthday. 

I'll be sure to post those recipes I promised you in the next couple of weeks, and will keep you updated with how I'm going on Trim Healthy Mama in future posts. Do you have any questions you'd like me to answer in a future post? 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The start of my weight-loss journey

Photo taken at the start of my weight loss journey.

I almost didn't want to write this post, in case I jinxed my weight loss journey, but I'm keen to get back into posting regularly on Craving Fresh, and I want to write about real things to make it worth your time being here, so.... weight loss it is!

Historically, I haven't been very good at getting to a healthy weight and staying there, so I'm hopefully breaking new territory in my life with this journey. 

If I really examine my thought processes, I guess I thought I wasn't someone who could lose weight, for a whole number of reasons:

  • I get too hungry
  • I love food too much
  • Food comforts me when I'm sad/bored/lonely/stressed
  • Chocolate is my favourite thing
  • My blood sugar levels drop too quickly if I don't eat often enough
  • I'm big-boned, so even when I was smaller, I felt too big. What would be the point of going to all the effort of losing weight, if I still wouldn't like how I look?

And so on. Lots of reasons that felt very important to me. 

But after I got my melanoma diagnosis last year, I lost around 10KG in three months, which surprised me since I'm not someone who thought they could lose weight. (See above reasons.) 

There were a number of factors contributing to this weight loss. 

Firstly, I did a 7-day water fast when I got my diagnosis, upon the Lord's suggestion. The fast wasn't for weight-loss reasons, it was to position me spiritually for the battle ahead - trusting God with my life in all things - but it did have the side effect of kicking off some weight loss for me. 

Secondly, my immunotherapy treatment initially caused my thyroid to become overactive, which gave me more energy and sped up my weight loss.

Thirdly, I ate a mostly raw vegan diet for three months.

Fourthly, I started walking three kilometres several mornings a week. 

Unfortunately, my thyroid then switched to being under-active and my iron levels plummeted, so I became very tired and stopped walking so much. I also began eating a more standard diet that included meat, to try and bring my iron levels back up. All these things caused my weight to creep up again until I had put the entire 10KG back on. 

However, something had switched in my brain. I realised that it's not actually impossible for me to lose weight. 

I had also gained a really big motivation to lose weight.

I want to live. 

You see, melanoma feeds off fat. Fat in your body, and fat in your diet. A lot of cancers are sugar-adapted, meaning their favourite food source is sugar, but melanoma's favourite food source is fat. I really want to bring the fat levels in my body down to a healthy level, so that my body is not such a prime candidate for melanoma. 

I don't know if there are still melanoma cells circulating in my body. There's no blood test to tell me if there are. My hope is that between surgery and immunotherapy, we got rid of all the melanoma, but I just don't know. Only time will answer that question for sure. 

In the meantime, I want to get my body as healthy as possible so that it's not the kind of place where melanoma wants to spread and grow. 

So that's my number one reason for wanting to lose weight. 

My number two reason is pure vanity. When I see full body photos of myself, I don't like what I see. Funnily enough, when I look in the mirror, I don't mind my reflection so much. It's just the photos that bother me. They do not lie. 

Five weeks ago I decided to make a change. I committed to eating the Trim Healthy Mama way, because it seems to be the healthiest, most balanced and manageable way to lose weight that I can find. I bought the Trim Healthy Mama Journey app to help keep me accountable, and it really is helping. 

In five weeks, I've lost around 5KG and, more importantly, I've lost some belly fat. I haven't felt hungry or deprived at all in that time. It has taken some work and organisation to keep me on plan, but the payoff makes it worth it for me. 

In my next post, I'll share with you what I'm eating in a day on Trim Healthy Mama to give you an idea of how it works in reality. 

In the meantime, feel free to cheer me on or ask any questions you might have. 

Emma xx

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

One year since surgery

Can you believe it has already been a year since my big melanoma surgery? I scarcely know where the time has gone, but it was exactly one year ago today that I was being operated on at North Shore Hospital. 

My most recent CT scan. 

All the news I have to share since then is good. I've had several CT scans since surgery, and they've all been clear. 

Receiving my three-weekly Keytruda infusion.

I've completed 16 rounds of adjuvant immunotherapy with Keytruda, and last week my oncologist discharged me. I've now be referred back to the care of my surgical team, who will book me in for six-monthly CT scans to keep an eye on things for the next few years. There's no blood test that tells you if you have melanoma, hence all the scans. 

My side effects to the immunotherapy have been few and far between. I'm still suffering from a slightly underactive thyroid, but I'm hoping that will come right again, as it has already done so before during my treatment with the help of prayer and iodine. 

My scar one year after surgery.

My scars have healed well, although they've thickened up quite a bit so my surgeon is planning to do steroid injections in them to help make them less noticeable. 

Heading home after the MelNet conference.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation at a MelNet conference for nurses at Auckland Hospital, which was well-received. I basically just talked through my melanoma journey, but with a specific focus on my interactions with nurses to make it relevant for them. It was an interesting experience for me because I got to sit through most of the conference, and learned a lot about the world of melanoma. 

Rangiputa Beach. 

In April, a lovely friend gifted my family and I with a week-long vacation at her holiday home in Coopers Beach, which was absolutely wonderful. She lost her own husband to cancer a number of years ago and likes to bless people who are going through cancer journeys with holidays there. 

It truly was a blessing.  

We had the nicest time, exploring many beautiful places that reminded us all over again why we love living in New Zealand so much. I felt the Lord tell me that the holiday was a blessing for me, because he loves me. I knew I was coming to the end of my treatment while I was up there, so it was a lovely way to see out this strange year. 

Maitai Bay

In so many ways, I feel that this cancer journey has been more of a blessing to me than a curse. I've been so thoroughly bathed in God's love and in the love of friends and whanau that I've come out of it with a deeper appreciation for my life and the lives of the people around me. I'm living in hope that my life has a lot more of it left.

Thank you for journeying with me this past year. God bless you!

Love Emma

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Our homeschool life ~ Term 1 2021

We've been homeschooling for a few years now, and a lot of our curriculum choices have stayed the same during that time. 

For maths we've stuck with Math-U-See, although I now supplement that with "Fun Maths" days where I play Right Start maths games with the kids, do logic puzzles and generally just try to make maths fun.

We've also continued to use Story of the World for our history curriculum and are still working through the second volume of that. I only do history once a week, so it takes a while to get through the books. I love how interesting the stories are, and how they've helped me and the kids to put the known history of our world into a logical order in our minds. 

Science has been our most changeable subject when it comes to curriculum. We've done some Apologia, some Mystery Science, some homeschool group science classes and we're currently doing The Good and the Beautiful Chemistry. As with history, I only get to science at home once a week at most, so it takes me a while to get through any topics. 

For Language Arts, we've stuck to The Good and the Beautiful the whole time and loved it. However, I've just changed up our writing curriculum this week, so I thought I'd explain why. 

I've really loved The Good and the Beautiful, especially for its focus on good and beautiful literature and art. I've also appreciated how simple it is to use - just open and go to cover a wide range of subjects including reading, writing, spelling, geography and art. I'm a little sad to let it go, and will continue to use its stories for reading time with the kids where I can, because they are so wholesome and uplifting.

However, I've been feeling that the kids need more of a focus on writing. There is some writing in The Good and the Beautiful, but it's mixed in with all the other subjects, so the kids only come to it now and again. I really want to do some consistent writing with them so they can build their skills. 

Before the Christmas holidays, I did a free three-week trial of IEW's Structure and Style program, and found it really good so decided to purchase it. Andrew Pudewa has put together online videos that the kids can watch, where Andrew walks them through the process of writing. Each week there is a new story to read, which provides the material for that week's writing exercises. 

Andrew Pudewa is hilarious and engaging to watch, which has helped to draw the kids in, and yet he explains everything in such a clear and logical manner. I'm finding Structure and Style a good fit for all three kids. It's pretty challenging for Master J (7), who doesn't love writing yet, so I've paired him up with Miss L (11), and they work together to write their key word outlines, rough drafts and final drafts. That partnership is working well so far. 

Alongside Structure and Style, we're also doing IEW's grammar program - Fix it! Grammar - and have started with book one, The Nose Tree. It's very simple and doesn't take too much time, as the kids just have to edit one sentence from a story each day, and then write that day's sentence into their own copy of the story, before looking up one word from the sentence and copying the definition into their own page of definitions. The story grows by one sentence each day, which is pretty cool.

Now that I've described what we're doing for our set curriculum bookwork, I'll explain what other activities we're doing (or trying to do) this term. 

Last week I invested in a soccer ball and a couple of soccer goals, so the kids would have an incentive to run around the yard. They've been getting out there even more than I though they would, and coming back inside sweaty, which is great! 

Master J and Miss S are still using the Simply Piano app to learn piano. They practise every day, and are progressing well. Master J could probably benefit from the help of a teacher, but he is learning something and using the app is both affordable and enjoyable, so I'm going to stick with it for now. 

Miss L is still doing Suzuki violin lessons and it's wonderful to see how far she has come with those. The lessons have trained her ear so well, they're even helping to improve her singing.  Lessons are happening via Zoom at the moment, since Auckland is in a Level 3 lockdown. 

I also started teaching the children French last week. I've been wanting them to learn a language for a while, but it's hard fitting everything in. I studied French myself for several years as a girl, although I've forgotten most of it now. Still, it's useful to have that base there for helping the children. We're keeping it simple so that it will be doable for us, and are just watching a Learn French with Alexa video on YouTube most days and learning what she has to teach us. 

So far the children have learned some simple greetings, as well as how to count to twenty and the days of the week. 

We're also currently using YouTube to learn our national anthem. It's such a wonderful song! Every time we sing it, we're singing a blessing over New Zealand. I love it so much. 

My friend, Geraldine, lent us two beautiful Uncle Arthur Storytime books, so we've been reading a story from those most days. I highly recommend them if you can get your hands on them. The stories are so uplifting and help teach the children (and me) how to live with better character. 

We taught the kids how to play the card game 500 over the summer holidays, so we usually play a few rounds of that each day. Today was particularly rainy, so the kids played a lot of other board games too. 

I think that covers everything we're doing at home for homeschool.

It's hard to say with certainty how many of our outside-the-home activities we will get to do this term, as Auckland keeps going in and out of lockdowns. 

We're meant to be doing athletics with a local Christian homeschool group, but have only had a couple of sessions and now we're in lockdown again.

We had also signed up to do writing, art and science classes at another homeschool group, but we've only had one session and now those are on hold again thanks to Level 3. One of the classes might continue by Zoom, which will be nice for the kids. 

We did manage to go on our big homeschool group excursion this term to Tree Adventures, which was so much fun. That excursion had been cancelled in 2020 because of lockdown, and it looked like it might get cancelled again, but happily we squeaked through. The kids and I all took part, and it was terrifying and exhilarating and hard work. 

We loved it!

I was hoping to get Master J into soccer this term, but that's been put on hold because of Covid. The girls are supposed to have their first netball trial in a couple of weeks, but there's no telling whether that will go ahead now. 

Never mind. We're still loving our simple homeschool life, and days at home just mean more time together learning and enjoying each other's company. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

My nine-month post-surgery update

Hello dear ones, I hope this post finds you well.

I know many of you have been wondering how my melanoma treatment is going, so this update is well overdue. I do apologise. I have no excuse, other than that I was enjoying a lovely, long, summer vacation with my whanau. 

It has been nine months since surgery and everything is going as well as could possibly be hoped for. 

My scars are healing well, and not giving me too much trouble. I'm continuing to have physiotherapy every three weeks on them, where I receive massage and laser therapy. The scar is a bit lumpy bumpy and tight still, but I'm sure it will come right in time. 

I've had three CT scans since surgery, and they have all been clear. Of course, there's always the chance that tumours are growing which are too small to see on the scans, but I'm hoping for the best. 

I've had twelve rounds of Keytruda/pembrolizumab (pictured above - with my personal details erased for privacy reasons), and have five more rounds to go. It's really starting to feel like the end is in sight and I'm hopeful the melanoma is gone from my body for good. 

Issues with my thyroid and liver have completely resolved. In fact, my last few blood test results have all come back in the normal range. 

It's unexpectedly good news that my thyroid has returned to normal. Typically when the thyroid is impacted by Keytruda, those impacts last for life. I think that two things have contributed to my recovering thyroid. One is the enormous amount of prayer coverage I've been enveloped in, and the other is that I take Lugol's Solution iodine every day, which has both helped my thyroid to recover from the Keytruda and has also helped to protect my thyroid from CT scan radiation damage.

My oncologist is really pleased with how everything is going. The fact that I did have initial inflammation of the liver and thyroid shows that the Keytruda has activated in my body, which is a hopeful sign if there were indeed any melanoma cells still lingering. Hopefully my body will have targeted and eliminated them by now. 

My iron levels are still lower than I would like, even though I've been eating meat again since October 2020, but I'm not overly tired anymore. In fact, I feel pretty much normal. Woohoo!

I continue to trust in God for my future, knowing that whatever happens, he's got me.

Love and blessings to you all.

Emma xx

Friday, December 4, 2020

My six-month post-surgery update

Hello dear friends and family. 

I was planning to do a post-surgery update for you every month, but as you may have noticed, the five-month one never happened. 

I did actually think about writing one, but I had a lot of mental processing to do that I wasn't up to sharing at the time. You see, one of my dear friends lost her battle with depression, despite getting help and doing all the right things, and it really threw me. 

I had been praying for her for a long time to receive healing, yet my prayers went unanswered. 

That was hard for me when I've had so many miracles on my own health journey. It felt unfair that my my friend didn't also receive a miracle. 

I know that God is good and that my friend was ultimately saved, because she had given her life to Jesus and He would have been there to meet her and advocate for her in heaven, but I so desperately prayed for a miracle for her here on earth too. 

That's one of the hardest things about living this life with the limited perspective we do. We don't know why God chooses to intervene sometimes and not others. We can't see the end from the beginning as He can, and we just have to trust that everything is ultimately going to work out for good if we put our faith in Him, because He has said it will and He has proven faithful before.

I guess I didn't feel like I could write an upbeat post last month about how everything is going well for me with my treatment, when my friend's fight against depression had ended so badly. But I realised that if no one shares the good stories for fear of making other people feel slighted or unseen in their suffering, then it will seem like there are only bad stories happening and the darkness will get awfully black. 

So I'm back this month to testify to God's goodness in my life, even as I hold it in balance that we are all dealing with various struggles at all times, and sometimes those struggles feel completely overwhelming. 

My only advice (which is the advice I've been living by for the past seven months since I got my stage 3 melanoma diagnosis) is to pray, ask for help, allow God to shape you through your struggles, and hold on to hope. 

Here's my good news:

My shoulder is functioning really well. It's almost back to normal and I'm able to do most things without struggle. I still have to stretch my neck multiple times a day to keep working against the scar tissue that's trying to pull it tight, but it's healing well.

I had another CT scan a couple of weeks ago and it was clear; It didn't show any signs of new tumours forming. Hurray!

My thyroid became under-active over the past couple of months and I was fearful that it would become so under-active I would need to be put onto Thyroxine for life, since my oncologist warned me that's the usual chain of events when the thyroid is damaged by Keytruda. However, I've received prayer for my thyroid and also been taking Lugol's Solution Iodine daily, and my thyroid has started to recover. In fact, it's almost back to normal. Hallelujah! (But please do keep praying for it.) 

My iron got really low in the last couple of months and I've struggled with fairly extreme exhaustion. I've been eating meat since it started to tank and also taking spirulina and Spatone iron supplements, and my last blood test showed a slight improvement. I'm still tired, but hopefully on the mend. Tiredness is one of the common side effects of Keytruda, as the treatment causes more immature blood cells to circulate, so that could also be what's sapping my energy. The under-active thyroid won't have been helping either. 

I would appreciate your prayers for my energy levels. 

I've been taking liquid chlorophyll each day and drinking vegetable-packed smoothies for breakfast, filled with all the good things like kefir, kale, spinach, okra, cauliflower, blueberries, spirulina, cinnamon, collagen, Nano Curcumin, Nano Quercetin, Nano Silymarin, Boabab powder and Vital All-in-One green powder. I think the smoothies and the liquid chlorophyll have helped my liver to keep detoxing the Keytruda, because all of my liver levels have returned to normal and stayed there for the past few months. 

Lately I've really been enjoying homeschool with the kids. We've been changing things up a bit, trying new things and it's been a lot of fun. We now do "Fun Maths" twice a week, where I bring maths alive with stories, competitions, games, logic puzzles and living maths concepts. The kids and I all really enjoy it and, whenever I ask, the kids say it's their favourite subject. We've also been having fun with science experiments, which is something I've never felt that confident doing with the kids before. I'm just so grateful that I get to spend my days with my children. 

Whatever happens to me, we've been able to pack in a lot of quality time together because we chose to homeschool. 

God is good and I've been enjoying my morning quiet times with him. I've been keeping it fairly simple lately and just reading various books from the New Testament. At the moment I'm reading 2 Corinthians. It's been amazing to me the things the Holy Spirit has highlighted as I've read, and it has reminded me that the Bible is a living book, which the Lord is able to use to speak directly into our hearts and circumstances. 

I'm also part of a ladies' group that meets weekly, and we've been working through Priscilla Shirer's Bible study, The Armour of God. It has been a really blessed time together. We've learned a lot about the weapons God has gifted us with, and we've also had the opportunity to lift each other up in prayer each week. 

I did an interview for Melanoma NZ's November newsletter, to help get the word out about the importance of getting dodgy moles checked early. You can read the article here

We have a large swan plant directly by our kitchen window. I've loved watching dozens of caterpillars transform into Monarch butterflies over the past month as I've cooked and washed dishes. The kids and I even got to watch a butterfly hatch this week, which is something we've never managed to witness before. 

And I believe that's all my news. As always, feel free to ask any questions you may have about my melanoma journey. 

Bless you. 

Love Emma

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

How we're homeschooling in term 4 of 2020

It's been said before, but 2020 has been a weird year. 

Homeschooling has definitely had its benefits for our family during this year of lockdowns, in all the obvious ways you can probably imagine. And, since the first lockdown, Paul has been permanently working from home, so that's been a bonus for our family. 

However, our family has missed out on a lot of the fun activities we normally do, like going to homeschool groups, swimming lessons, netball games, church activities and in-person piano lessons. Those are the things that add a little spice to our week, so it has been a disappointing year in that regard. I'm grateful that some of those things started back up again once we returned to level one, although not all of them did.

All things considered, this homeschool journey is a blessed one. I'm grateful for all the "extra" time it gives me with my children, especially after coming face-to-face with my own mortality this year and realising that there are no guarantees I'll always be here with my family. 

I thought it would be interesting to share how we are homeschooling this term, since we've changed a lot of things around from our normal way of doing things.

No homeschool groups

The biggest change this term is that the kids aren't going to any homeschool groups. Back when we first started homeschooling, the kids went to two different homeschool groups each week. 

At the start of this year, I decided to cut that down to just one group, to save money and to give us a bit more time in the week for doing schoolwork at home. However, the group we chose to stick with didn't run at all in term two because of Covid, and only ran for two weeks last term before the second lockdown shut it back down. That same group has been postponed again this term because of issues around its venue. 

We are really hoping it starts up again next year, as we love our homeschool group and the precious friends we've made there. 

Nature journaling

To take the place of the homeschool group this term, we've organised to get together with another couple of families each week to do nature school. Basically, we go to somewhere in nature to play and do nature journaling, where we take the time to really study something from nature and draw it as accurately as we can. This was inspired by the writings of Charlotte Mason

Our nature journaling outings are always a gorgeous time. I get to catch up with the other mums and be inspired by their homeschool journeys, and the kids get to free play until we tell them to sit down and draw something beautiful from nature. 

With all the nature journaling we've done so far, I've been amazed by how long the children can focus for, and how much they notice and observe. 

Artist study

Also following along with the Charlotte Mason way of schooling, we started an artist study this week. I checked out a book of Colin McCahon artwork from the library, and we will spend a few minutes each week looking at one of his paintings and reading a little bit of the story behind the painting. We will do this for several months, before moving onto a different artist, so that my kids can really get a feel for Colin McCahon's style.

There's also a Colin McCahon house in French Bay, which I plan to take my children to on a field trip as part of our artist study. 

Poetry study

I'm trialling quite a few Charlotte Mason concepts this term, and another one is her poetry study. As with our artist study, we will focus on works all by the same poet for several months to get a thorough appreciation of that poet's style. We will simply be reading one poem each week by Robert Louis Stevenson, as I already own his book, A Child's Garden of Verses

I told the children a little about Robert Louis Stevenson's life when we started this poetry study.

Read aloud time

Another Charlotte Mason idea is to read living books - stories from history that bring it alive. For the past couple of weeks I've been reading to the children William Carey: Obliged to Go. This is the fascinating story of a man from England who became a missionary in India in the early 1800s. Reading his story, the kids and I have been struck by just how difficult life was for people living back then.  

For fun, we're also listening to the Wild Robot audiobooks whenever we drive somewhere in the car. These are completely fictional and set in the future, but still interesting and engaging. 

Trialling the Simply Piano app

Miss S's piano teacher moved out of Auckland during the first lockdown and we continued doing piano lessons with her via Skype for two terms, but over time it became apparent that this wasn't working as well as the in-person lessons had been. 

I made the tough decision to cancel our lessons at the end of last term. I was really sad about it as I loved our piano teacher, but it's a big financial outlay each term and I could no longer justify the expense, since the Skype lessons were putting Miss S off wanting to learn the piano. 

Instead, this term we bought a year-long subscription to the Simply Piano app and are trialling how that works for our family. We're only a few weeks into it, but so far it's going really well. Miss S enjoys her piano lessons again and maintains her focus for a surprisingly long time with them. She seems to be particularly motivated by the awards she receives at the end of a piece, if she plays it perfectly. 

Another benefit to the app is that it has three accounts, so Master J and Miss L are also able to use it to learn the piano. Miss L already does formal violin lessons with a teacher, so learning the piano is an added bonus for her, but I hadn't put Master J into any formal music lessons yet and was wondering what to do for him. He seems to be enjoying the Simply Piano app, so I think this could be a good introduction to music lessons for him. 

I imagine that at some point we will need to find a formal piano teacher again for Miss S, and for Master J if he wants to continue with learning piano, but this is meeting our needs for the moment. 

At the very least, it's getting Miss S re-engaged in playing the piano, and it's getting Master J to try something he wouldn't have otherwise tried. Financially, it's a much more affordable option for us too, which is always helpful. I have a feeling Miss L is going to be able to play all the instruments by the time she's a grown lady. 

One-day school

One thing that has continued on from last term is that the kids are still going to their one-day school each week. It works out well for our family at the moment, as I'm able to get my immunotherapy and physiotherapy treatments while they are there. 

As with all schools, there are some good things and some bad things, but on the whole I'm pleased that my children are able to attend. They get to spend time with really lovely friends, and they have been memorising poems and songs each week, which is something I always mean to do with them but never seem to get around to. 

I think that going to the one-day school also makes them appreciate their time at home with me more, as things are a lot more relaxed at home. 

Book work

When they're at home with me, the children work in their individual Math-U-See and Good and the Beautiful Language Arts books each day. They also do their music practise, do chores, read their Bible and do some form of exercise. 

Science

We do science together as a group.

We are currently working through The Good and the Beautiful Beginning Chemistry unit study. This week we got out all our various scales, rulers and measuring cups and had a play with them so we could learn about the importance of accurate measuring in science. It was a fun lesson, with water splashing about and everybody weighing themselves and our cat.

History

For history, we have been working through The Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages all year. We usually just do one lesson a week on this, so it will take us a while to get through the whole book, but it's always fascinating. 

Story of the World 2 lap-book.


We started out the year making lap-book components during each history lesson, but this was actually quite distracting, so I've now assembled all those lap-book components and stuck them in the kids' lap-books for them to look at, and my children instead simply glue in their timeline pictures and colour in an official Story of the World colouring page about the story we're reading. It's much simpler and helps the kids focus on what I'm reading to them. 

Bible study

Every day the kids read their Bible to themselves for a few minutes, but we also have a group Bible lesson from time to time. In this group lesson, I read a chapter from Scripture and the children draw whatever picture they're inspired to draw from that chapter. They also copy out a Bible verse from the chapter. 

We're currently working through Genesis. I find that the kids ask a lot of great questions during this Bible time, and we have some great discussions. 

Excursions

One of the great things about being a homeschool family is getting to go on excursions during the week. If it's a rainy day and I feel like the kids need to burn off some energy, I take them to Jump, the trampoline park. If it's a lovely day outside, we might visit a beach or go for a bush-walk. I really appreciate being able to do these things during school-time, when the places we visit are not too busy. 

Last week we went to Muriwai Beach, because Miss S had been gifted a voucher to go horse-riding there. We made an afternoon of it, and spent several hours playing at the playground and exploring the beach and tunnel next to the gannet colony. It was a truly magical day and really reminded me why I love this homeschool life. 

I think I've covered off everything about our homeschool in this post, but, as always, feel free to ask any questions you might have.