Thursday, October 29, 2015

Looking Forward to the Little Things

I have often said that if you find it hard to get motivated in the morning (whether because of depression, which has been my problem since I was very young, or just because you're not a morning person), find something to look forward to. For some people, that's as easy as knowing that you'll have that first cup of coffee. That's definitely the first thing that makes me leap out of bed in the morning (it doesn't hurt that I'm basically a morning person). I also have things that I look forward to most days that are specific to those days, though. I always remember the Friends episode where Monica was explaining that just because she looked forward to Mondays because that's when her People Magazine came, that didn't mean she was shallow. I realized that I, too, looked forward to certain days because of certain little "pick-me-ups." Everyone has their own, and they change - often frequently.

For now, though, here are some of mine. I'll leave off the weekend because, well, it's the weekend!

  • Monday - it's been my favorite day of the week since I finished with my grad school classes. Monday is a fresh start, a chance to get right everything I got wrong last week. It's a chance to get a head start. It's also the day my favorite podcast - "Lore" comes out.
  • Tuesday - my two favorite emails get delivered to my inbox almost first thing in the morning: The Reader and The Lineup. The former is "Five Bookish Bites delivered to your email each week," and the latter is "where murder and mayhem is delivered daily." I know, but what can I say? I have always loved true crime. When I was around 11, I checked out the encyclopedia of murder from the library so often they just should have given me the darn thing.
  • Wednesday is the one day of the week I don't have to leave the house - an introvert's dream!
  • Thursday -- nothing to love about Thursday. Thursday is about endurance. No, wait! "Thinking Sideways" (another podcast I really like) comes out on Thursdays! New Bitmojis come out on Thursdays!
  • Friday - Henry's day off!
And so it goes. You get the idea. There are also all kinds of little ways to motivate yourself. You just have to find them. Throughout the week I can tell myself things like, "Tomorrow you can start working in a new crossword puzzle book," or "Thursday you can steal ten minutes to knit a row on your shawl." Whatever it takes to make the day palatable - to fake it 'til you make it. It's surprising how well it works. If your happy triggers get stale, find new ones. Think about what you like and start from there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review of Apologia Educational Ministries

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

Is there anything that Apologia Educational Ministries doesn't do? Great science curriculum, Constitutional literacy, the really neat iWitness books...and planners? Yes! Apologia's The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is the most complete paper and pencil planning system I have ever seen. Available in three colors (I received and reviewed the blue), this planner has *everything* you as a homeschooling parent could possibly need.

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

If you're a longtime reader of my blog, you know that I have a love/hate relationship with planners. I sure do love to buy them. I am in love with the thought of them. I just never seem to be organized enough to stick with them. As a perfectionist, I very much feel like I have to "do" them right or not do them at all. Unfortunately, the more complicated, intricate, or complete a planner is, the more there is to "do" right. The more opportunity there is for failure. The more I am afraid and/or intimidated. The longer I sit there stroking the beautiful cover and flipping through the lovely...blank pages. Am I the only one? Please say I'm not the only one. 

The good thing about a review, though, is you are compelled to use the product, fear of failure or not! So, on to The Ultimate Homeschool Planner! The planner begins with mini-calendars that project through 2023. While it is true that you can always look up this information on your phone, it is very handy to have it all in one place and laid out, especially if you like to plan ahead for things. The next thing you encounter in the planner is an extensive User's Guide. Debra Bell, the planner's author believes that not only should some thought go into creating a planner, but she also believes that some thought should go into the planning process itself. Mrs. Bell advocates both a yearly planning retreat and monthly and weekly planning sessions. Additionally, she suggests Monday morning "tutorials" and Friday afternoon "reviews." To aid with these, the planner includes a one-year planning grid, a student goal setter, and pre-planning guides (where you can list family priorities and resources you want to use with each child).

The planner also includes monthly and weekly planning pages. The weekly planning pages have ample space for you to write down your Bible plan, your Battle Plan, your Prayers, and your Hospitality/Outreach. You can also track the week's Memorable Moments and Achievements and Evidences of Grace. In this way, the planner also doubles as a journal, which I really like. Best of all, these pages are all undated. I have seen some fabulous planners, but given that the pages are dated, I have not bought them because the dates rarely coincide with my discovery of the planners, and I loathe losing out on those weeks or months missed. There are also many record keeping pages in the planner - for grades, reading lists, and activities. A few pages of teaching tips are included. Finally what Mrs. Bell calls a High School Planning Guide can be found at the end. I'm not sure that this is actually a high school planner, as much as it is a sample four-year schedule. Still, since this is a homeschool planner, and doesn't purport to be anything else, I am certainly not going to quibble over that! At the very end of the planner are a few pages to make some end-of-year notes. The planner comes in at a very hefty 284 pages and is comb bound and vinyl covered. This planner can stand up to a year of heavy use.

What I Thought and How I Used It

I won't prevaricate. When I got this planner, I wasn't intimidated. I was flat-out scared. I don't like things that require instructions. Instructions scare me. I don't consider myself a dumb person, but if something has directions with it, I hand it to my husband or one of my children. Now, you can tell me to research something - anything - and I'll do it - happily! Tell me to write a paper and I'm thrilled! Tell me to edit a paper and I'm all over it. Tell me to speak in public on almost any subject with no preparation and I'm fine. Just please don't make me deal with directions. We all have our things, right? Well, I'll make a confession: I didn't read the directions that accompany this planner. I am taking very seriously the homeschooling maxim that you take something and make it your own. I did try, but quickly realized that I just didn't want to devote that amount of time to planning. Instead, I dove right in and decided to use this creation as a hybrid planner/record book/journal. I didn't use the Bible Plan section, since I read the Catholic Church readings of the day found on the USCCB's website (which, I would hope it goes without saying, are all straight from the Bible). For prayers and outreach, I wrote about the things I wanted to focus on during the week, but again, used this section more as journaling than planning.

The weekly section offers six sections down the side and six across the top. Each block is divided into five lines. I used the blocks down the side for the three youngest kids (Therese is not doing school right now because of her illness), so each kid got two blocks. Subjects went across the top. I realize that this manner of utilizing the planner is a little unorthodox (and, actually, right now I have extra space using it this way), but within the next few weeks, the kids will be doing more diverse work within each subject than they are now and that extra space will come in really handy. If you have more kids than I do, you'll appreciate all this space. Even when Therese starts doing school again (very soon I hope), I won't be using this planner with her. Her curriculum has its own planning and scheduling system. 

Also, I realize that for many people, planning means actually writing down lesson numbers, etc., like "Easy Grammar p. 43-46," but this is one area of planning that has *always* tripped me up. Inevitably stuff happens and we get off track. Someone who shall remain nameless will have a meltdown, someone will get sick, I will get a headache, or whatever. Then, the planner has gone astray and my OCD goes nuts. I have learned the hard way just to write down the resource. You can see, though, that you do have plenty of room to write down as much as you want to!

Overall, this is an excellent planner. You can use as much or as little of it as you want to. You are sure to find a way to use it. I love that it easily doubles as a journal, since journaling is something that I have done less and less as I have gotten older and busier. It used to be something I reveled in. Because everyone uses planners in different ways, I really encourage you to read the other reviews written by the Crew. Just click the banner below.

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review of IEW's The Phonetic Zoo Level A

IEW Phonetic Zoo
I have been more than fortunate to review several products from Institute for Excellence in Writing. If you think that this company is simply the gold standard in writing programs, you are only partially right. They absolutely are that, but they are so much more! This time around we reviewed Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set]. This set includes the following products: five audio CDs, lesson cards with spelling words and jingles, personal spelling cards, zoo cards, downloadable teacher's guide, link to streaming video of Spelling and the Brain seminar. 

 IEW Phonetic Zoo

The best way to understand the Phonetic Zoo approach to spelling is to read about it on IEW's website. To summarize, this program is different from other spelling programs in many ways. First, the program is designed to work for different kinds of learners. Students hear the words pronounced on the audio CDs, they see the words written on the lesson cards, they write the words on their paper, and they associate them with the zoo animals on the jingle/reward cards. Second, there is no formal word study or busy work with Phonetic Zoo. There is no workbook with an activity to do each day, followed by a spelling test on Friday. Rather, you present the lesson to the students using the large flash card and give the student(s) the small flash card. SThen, students listen to the audio CD (headphones are recommended for reasons explained on the webpage linked above), hear the words pronounced, write them down, and then check them *and correct them* themselves (again, via the audio CD - it has a "checking track"). They repeat the above process daily until they make a 100 on the lesson twice in a row. There is also personal spelling and a final exam.

The Twins and Phonetic Zoo

I used Phonetic Zoo Level A with Mary-Catherine and Michael (both 10). Technically, it is for 3rd grade and up, and the twins are in 5th grade-ish. They are also completely different when it comes to spelling. Mary-Catherine is a pretty natural (but very lazy because she goes so fast) speller. Michael is dysgraphic and both writing and spelling don't come easily for him. He has come very far in the past few years, though. It wasn't that long ago, it feels like, that I couldn't even recognize what he was writing as words. It didn't matter that he read far above grade level; he just couldn't translate the words in his head onto paper. Because of that issue, we have tried numerous spelling programs. So many of them just seem pointless, though. He'll study and he'll try, and something just won't *stick*. He gets so frustrated. I was very excited to try Level A of Phonetic Zoo. We have Level B (Therese used it many moons ago), and while it was okay for Mary-Catherine, it frustrated Michael. The words were just a little too hard. I wanted to see what would happen if I started them both at the beginning of the program.

The good news is that they were already familiar with the Phonetic Zoo model and they both really liked it. Further, because they had already worked through part of Level B, Level A didn't seem daunting. We started on a Monday and I taught them the words as suggested by the IEW site (basically just showing them the card and going over the words). They then sat down to listen to the CD, write the words, and make their corrections. Neither twin got a 100 on their first effort, despite thinking that this was going to be easy because it was Level A. In fact, both were a bit dismayed. That's okay, though! There's always tomorrow with Phonetic Zoo. They both like the fact that they make their own corrections, and they both insist on having an actual "grade" on their paper, regardless of the fact that I tell them that the grade is not what's important - mastering the words is. 

One thing that is really awesome about this program is that the card sets are the same for all three levels, because each lesson in each level tests the same concept. So, there are three word lists on each card. What that means for us is that because I have two levels of Phonetic Zoo, each twin can look at his/her own large card to learn the words, and each twin can collect his/her own small zoo card as a reward. Now, you can still definitely use this program with multiple children and only have one set of cards, but if you plan on using it over time with multiple children, don't be put off by the fact that the card sets are always the same. That can definitely work to your advantage and make things easier (if you have kids who each like to have their own of something (and in my family that happens rarely enough that it is worthy of mention when it does.)). In essence, it just makes the program easier to use with multiple children, either of the same age/level or of different ones.

Michael and Mary-Catherine really like Phonetic Zoo. The fact that each spelling lesson is encapsulated by a catchy jingle really aids in remembering the concept being taught (although it's amazing to me how often, at the beginning of the time period during which they are learning the lesson, they seem to completely forget that there is a unifying theme and go maverick with the spelling). I, too, like the jingles (although spelling is, thankfully, not one of my infinite number of challenges). *I* love that Phonetic Zoo is essentially completely self-teaching. There is very little that I have to do, and as I have indicated in recent posts, that really appeals to me right now. I want to spend our homeschooling time talking to my kids about history and theology, not about spelling and phonics, but I definitely want them to be continuing their study of spelling and phonics. Once again, IEW comes through for me!

As usual, the Crew is reviewing more awesome IEW products, including some I have not even heard of yet but am very anxious to check out! Join me in doing so by clicking the banner below:

IEW Review
Crew Disclaimer

Friday, October 23, 2015

Review of Koru Naturals

Koru Naturals Review

I've reviewed Koru Naturals before, and it has been one of those companies that my family has continued to absolutely love. Their Emu Oil has changed Therese's hair vastly for the better. If you want to see the before and after pictures of what it has done for her, read my last review for this great company. Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that Koru Naturals was coming back to the Crew! This time around, I got to try three new (to me) products: Skin Clear Cream, Manuka Honey Propolis Soap, and Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic. All of Koru Naturals products are paraben, artificial colorant and fragrance-free.

 Koru Naturals Review

The Skin Clear Cream is composed primarily of Manuka Oil and Manuka Honey. It also contains Kawakawa and Harakeke (two traditional Maori remedies for skin conditions), Burdock Root, Thyme, and Canadian Aspen Bark. The Skin Clear Cream is designed to promote skin elasticity, and while it's designed for acne-prone skin, it's really great for all skin types. It is suggested that you use the cream twice daily as a day and night cream.

As someone with rosacea, I am cautious about any new thing I use on my skin, so it was with mild trepidation that I approached this cream. However, I have never had anything but stellar experiences with Koru Naturals, and this product was no exception. I am lucky to be someone who has always had really good (albeit, in the last five years, red) skin, so I didn't approach this cream as an acne solution. I just figured that I would swap it out for my regular night cream and see what I thought (I didn't use it in the morning because I always use something with a high SPF - the necessary precautions of someone with very fair skin. 

The cream comes in a very generous 4 oz. jar (a standard face cream is 1.7 oz.), and it comes with a plastic spatula. That's great news for people who don't like to put their fingers into their products for fear of bacterial contamination. The consistency is on the thinner, rather than the thicker, side, but it's not too thin. It's just right (shades of Goldilocks?). It absorbs easily and is greaseless. The only caution is the extremely sweet scent. If you are sensitive to fragrance in your products, this cream is probably not for you. As to performance, this acted as a great nighttime moisturizer. Because I don't have acne, I can't comment on that property, but it is a great price for a moisturizer with great ingredients, and for that I would probably repurchase it.

 Koru Naturals Review

The Honey and Propolis soap comes prettily packaged as you see above and is almost 5 oz. Although slightly smaller than many bath-size bars of soap you would typically buy at the store, this soap lasts a long time when used as a bath/shower soap. Even better, it is *ridiculously* moisturizing. My skin is very, very dry. When I towel off after a shower, that is evident. I am not willing to pay a lot for a soap or body wash that prevents the horrible drying effects of most soaps, and so I just deal with it. This soap, though, does not cause that drying. I am guessing it's the honey, but it is so moisturizing. Not only does it not feel drying as you're using it (as most soaps do for me), but the moisturized effect lasts through the day. 

I don't read reviews on websites prior to writing one of my own, but since writing this one, I was checking my links and happened to see a review for this soap that mentioned it was good for psoriasis. Nicholas (12) has that, so I'm anxious to see how the Honey and Propolis soap works for him. The conundrum, of course, is that that means that I have to share...but, hey! I know I'm going to be placing another order with Koru Naturals soon, so there you have it! If you suffer with dry skin, I would say that this soap is one you definitely want to try.

 Koru Naturals Review

Finally, I have been using the Argan Oil & Sandalwood Hair Tonic. Now, I am no stranger to Argan Oil. Like many followers of skincare/beauty trends, I have been using it on my face for awhile now. I had not, however, used it on my hair. My hair is, like the rest of my body, dry (thank you, Hashimotos!), though, so I am always happy to try something new to bring some moisture to it. Ironically, I had originally wanted this product for Therese's dry frizzy hair, but she is loyal to another Koru Naturals product (their Emu Oil), and she didn't even want to try it (when you have a Holy Grail product, you have a Holy Grail product!). 

This Hair Tonic says to use a few (as in 2-3) drops, and it is *not kidding* about that. The first time I used it, my hair was waist-length (I've since cut 4-5"), so I used about six drops. It was too many. My hair looked and felt a bit greasy. The problem with 2-3 drops is it is really hard to work that through as much hair as I have. So I changed my approach. Originally, I used this in place of the oil I normally use in my hair after I wash it. As I said, it didn't really work that way. Instead, after a couple of tries, I used it on my dry hair as more of a finishing oil (for smoothing and shining). I had better results this way, although I still had the problem of the right amount not being enough, but any more being too much. Having said that, the ingredients on this tonic are great. From the Koru Naturals website, they are as follows: Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil*, Santalum Spicatum (Australian Sandalwood) Oil*, Helichrysum (Helichrysum) Essential Oil*, Citrus Bergamia (Bergamot) Essential Oil, Citrus Paradisi (Pink Grapefruit) Essential Oil. *organic ingredient

For someone with shorter hair than mine, or for someone with different hair than mine, I think this will be a great fit. As for me, out of the six or so Koru Naturals products I've tried, it's the first that's not a great fit, so that's saying something!

Crew members reviewed other amazing products from this unique New Zealand company, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of their reviews. That's what I'll be doing as soon as I post this one!

Koru Naturals Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, October 19, 2015

Review of Brookdale House's Drawing Around the World

There are some curriculum companies whose materials you feel like you started seeing years ago, but then you just start seeing more and more, and they just keep getting more and more amazing. Brookdale House is like that for me. I had been familiar with their writing models (if you click the banner at the end of this review, you'll be able to see reviews of that stellar curriculum), but I had never before seen the Geography Drawing Series...until now. Because Geography was on our agenda this year, I was thrilled to see Drawing Around the World: Europe come up for review. 

Let me just start by saying that this program is really neat! The book comes as an ebook download and is 256 pages long. Although you can certainly adapt it any way that works for you, it comes with a typical four-day schedule that has been working really well for us. 

On Day 1, a new country (or set of related countries) is introduced. You study the new country, complete a country fact table, locate and label the new country on a dashed black and white map, and draw all of the countries that you have already learned and memorized onto a new map (included in the book).

On Days 2 and 3, you locate and label each new country on a dashed black and white map and draw all the countries you have learned so far.

On Day 4, you list and draw from memory all of the countries you have learned so far.

The formula sounds deceptively simple, but there are a couple of things that set this program apart and make it a huge hit in my house. First, every single piece of paper you need is included in your purchase. If you need four maps in a week, you have those four maps. Also, because you are not just drawing the countries, but you are also learning key facts about them (area, population, major cultures and religions, etc.), this is one complete geography and world cultures program. It is just so easy to learn so much!

 Drawing Around the World in the Delgado House

From the very first, my kids loved this program. As soon as I got the download, I took it to Office Depot and had three copies printed and bound. From that moment, we were off! We have been following the four-day schedule exactly (something I almost never do with any curriculum), and it works perfectly. On Day 1, all of the kids sit with me while I use the computer to look up country facts with them. As would be expected, we often end up going down rabbit trails on Day 1! After all, you can hardly talk about Russia (Week 3) without spending *some* time getting a little bit off the subject of Geography (especially when you get to the issue of religion - you have to talk about the history of religion, the impact of the Russian Revolution, Leninism, Communism, the gorgeous architecture of Eastern European churches, etc.)! 

So, in some cases, Day 1 goes a bit long. Days 2-4, though, are being completed basically independently by the kids. I love that about this program. I am getting to the point where the more things they can do independently, the happier I am. If we can get by doing an hour and a half or two hours of group stuff, followed by their doing their own subjects essentially on their own (aided by me when necessary, of course), that works for me. Brookdale House's Geography fits right in with that paradigm. Spending about an hour on it on Monday sets them up for the whole rest of the week (you don't have to spend that much time on it on Day 1 - that's just how it's working for us, and that's because I love history and geography!), and they are learning so much! 

In case it's not already obvious, we are loving Drawing Around the World: Europe. In fact, I've already pretty much decided to get Drawing Around the World: USA when we're done. The method is just that effective.

As I indicated at the top of this review, though, Brookdale House has so many great products that you'll definitely want to click the banner below to read the reviews of all of them!

 Brookdale House Review
Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Don't Guard Your Heart

As I sit here working on a Sunday, I just had to write a really quick post. There is so much out there for teenagers on guarding your heart, being careful, not getting hurt, etc. You know what? I'm just going to put it out there -- there is something to be said for not guarding your heart. Go all in. Feel. Love. Risk.It.All. It's amazing. If it works, there's nothing like it. If it doesn't, the hard truth is that pain is part of life. Pain births art. Pain grows you like sublime satisfaction never will. Pain drives you to God on your knees.

If you don't risk it all, you'll never have it all. Should you always risk it all with everyone? Of course not, but prudence is part of good character. When you think you've found real love, though, don't hold back. Invest in it. Don't worry about what will happen if it doesn't work out. Burn that bridge when you get to it (oh, the irony of this post and my writing that phrase - inside joke with myself; forgive my self-indulgence). Always ask yourself what the absolute worst thing that could happen is. Then realize that the odds of the absolute worst thing happening are slim. What will happen if you don't lay it on the line, though? At what point do you decide it's okay to stop guarding your heart and love with all your heart?

Be prudent, yes. Pray for discernment, always. But don't follow a blanket, one-size-fits-all rule. That just isn't rational.

Listening to...Sometime Around Midnight by The Airborne Toxic Event

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review of Progeny Press' Sarah Plain and Tall

Progeny Press Review

Progeny Press study guides are the gold standard in literature guides that have a Christian worldview. We have been blessed to review Progeny Press before. We have reviewed Beowulf, The Last of the Mohicans and The Giver, and Pride and Prejudice. Needless to say, this is a product line with which we are familiar and which we really enjoy. For this review, Mary-Catherine used the study guide for Sarah, Plain and Tall (recommended for Upper Elementary, 3rd-6th Grade).

Progeny Press Review
Like all Progeny Press study guides, Sarah, Plain and Tall is composed of multiple parts. In this case:
  • Synopsis
  • About the Author
  • Background Information
  • Before-You-Read Activities
  • As You Read Assignment
  • Chapter Assignments
    • Vocabulary
    • Short answer questions of various types (could include straight up short answer, compare and contrast, figures of speech, and more
  • After-You-Read Activities
  • Additional Resources
There is enough consistency in this literature guide that it will remind you of other Progeny Press guides you may have seen or done, but enough originality that you don't feel that it is just more of the same. For this guide, there are three chapter groupings (that is the nine chapters of the book, Sarah, Plain and Tall, are broken into three groupings for the purpose of the literature guide), and that is perfect for the book and for the age.

Mary-Catherine (10) and the Guide

Mary-Catherine has read Sarah, Plain and Tall before, but she has never done any kind of study guide, so I thought that this was a good way to introduce her to the concept. The book is way below her actual reading level (even though it is right in line with her grade level), but because she is not used to the idea of "doing" literature, the study guide is just right for her ability level. 

First I had to decide whether to print the study guide and have her do it the traditional (pen and paper) way or have her do it on the computer (since Progeny Press guides are writable PDFs). I opted to let her do it on the computer. The novelty approach always helps when you're having your kids do something they're not too sure about.

Because Mary-Catherine reads so fast, and because this is a book she first read many years ago, there was no way that I was going to be able to confine her to, for example, Chapters 1-3, so I just let her re-read the book all at once and then let her work on the guide at her own pace. The vocabulary exercises, while a new idea to her, didn't present any kind of challenge; however, they were exactly the kind of exercise she should be doing. For example, the directions for the following asked her to find two synonyms for the underlined word:

It's completely age and level appropriate. It gets her using outside resources (dictionary and thesaurus) and has her examine words and sentences more in-depth.

The short answer questions are similarly right on target. A kid like Mary-Catherine who reads voraciously doesn't necessarily take time to dissect things like setting (who among us does at that age, really, unless forced to). This study guide led her to do so in a gentle and age-appropriate way. It ended up being the perfect way to begin talking about literature-esque terms like "setting." 

Further, because she could type in her answers, she didn't have to be worried about things like handwriting, having enough room on the page, etc. The typing is really freeing for some kids (especially those who write really big!). 

There are a nice assortment of before you read and after you read activities, too, for people who like that kind of thing. As for me, I really embrace these guides for the pure literature aspect. They are solid scholarship in that regard. For the more creative homeschooler, though, you'll find everything you could desire. All of your hands-on goodness is here! The guides cater to every type of learner.

Once again, I wholeheartedly endorse Progeny Press literature guides. Their range is impressive and they are perfect for those who want their kids to delve more fully into the literature they read. Mary-Catherine enjoyed hers, and I know we'll be back for more! Be sure to click the banner below to read about all of the other guides that Crew members got to use in their homes!

Progeny Press Review

Crew Disclaimer

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Update on Therese

I still haven't written what has led us to this point on Therese (I have that post started, but we have seen so many specialists and gone down so many paths that I am honestly overwhelmed), but the last two weeks have been *hard*. We were so thrilled to get a diagnosis for Therese's disparate and (to all other doctors) undiagnosable symptoms. It turns out that she has a Mycoplasma infection. For most people, that resolves itself in a reasonable amount of time. For a few people, though, the Mycoplasma makes its way into the cells and wreaks havoc in any number of untold ways. The problem is that you don't know it's there. All we know is that Therese started to have problems a few  years ago. The first one, and the one that has plagued her the most, is joint pain. Unrelenting joint pain. She was tested for RA Factor and arthritis. Lupus. Anything. Her ANA level was 1250 (so, so high). She has had two full cardiac workups, a liver biopsy, a gallbladder hida scan, numerous xrays and cat scans, an MRI, and God knows what I'm forgetting. It turns out she has a "fatty liver" that otherwise looks completely normal. She has a gallbladder that empties at 25% of the normal rate, but she isn't symptomatic in any other way. She has abnormally high bilirubin (probably an inherited, mostly non-symptomatic disease called Gilbert's (pronounced the French way). None of this helps us. At all. Interesting. Expensive. Doesn't help.

The Mycoplasma diagnosis helped. A lot. Our wonderful new doctor told us that six months of antibiotics should make her as good as new. She was put on two antiobiotics a day. Cue a couple of her worst weeks in awhile. She has had a terrible headache every day. Bad insomnia. Horrible weakness, dizziness, brain fog (which she has had for months now), small muscle spasms, and I don't know what. She has hardly danced this year at all. She hardly leaves the house.

On Wednesday I took her back to the doctor and he ran a bunch of blood work. Everything came back normal, apart from the fact that her red blood cells are hemolyzing. Essentially, her red blood cells are being destroyed, either from the Mycoplasma or from one of her antibiotics. Because that antiobiotic can also cause some of the other symptoms she's been having (notably the headache and muscle problems), he took her off of it. The good news is that she's not anemic, so her body is replacing the red blood cells as fast as they are being compromised. Her doctor did say that the bacteria did not like being displaced after residing in her cells for so long, and with the antiobiotics shaking it up, things could be unpleasant for her.

Basically, it sucks. It sucks for her and it sucks for us. It sucks because people don't understand. When she manages to get out of the house (only three or four times in the last couple of weeks), she doesn't have "symptoms" of illness - no runny nose or cough or anything like that. But she can't stand up straight or walk well. On Thursday, we were at debate club, and she truly could not even stand without support. She sways and falls into the wall (or over if the wall isn't there). It's not an act and it would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic (it's still kind of funny and she has a sense of humor about it). I wasn't in the room for her debate round (judging my own), but she told me that she got up to speak and immediately went on a sideways trajectory and headed straight into a wall (which is good, actually, because that means she didn't fall).

Pretty much the only way I'll let her out of my sight is if she's with Andrew (her boyfriend). I know that he'll watch out for her as closely as I will. He's also young and has better reflexes. He has a much better chance of catching her if she falls :-/ It's funny - I remember last debate season, many months before they were together, there were a few times when she was unable to get her things schlepped around or she had to get up or down stairs and I couldn't be there to help her. I asked Andrew back then to help her or to watch her and make sure she was okay. I would not have even called them friends back then, but I completely trusted him to take care of her. How much more would I trust him now? He's such a good guy.

The catch is (and I can't believe this even occupies my mind, but it does), that there is a "no romance" rule at Debate Club (a rule I completely support, by the way). Well, on Thursday, Andrew had to hold Therese's hand and arm in order to walk her from place to place so she *could* walk from place to place. And they got some looks. I'll be completely honest...NOTHING about that looked romantic to me. It was actually the posture of a someone escorting a little old lady. Teenage couples holding hands have their hands swinging free between them, they don't have their arms rigid between them at a 90 degree angle. Still. I am just waiting for someone to tell me that their conduct was inappropriate. Maybe I am too defensive (ya think?), but there it is.

In any case, that's where we are with Therese. Yesterday she thinks her headache was better, so I'm hoping that trend continues as the problematic antiobiotic makes its way out of her system. I have to keep reminding myself that she has been sick for years and I can't expect her to get better overnight. It will take months. I miss her the way she was... but considering she wasn't even a teenager when she got sick, I will probably never have her back the way she was. Not exactly. She's pretty great the way she is, and I'll take any version of a pain-free Therese I can get.