Spring colors and sick kids

This year, like I mentioned in this post I'm choosing two colors to represent the essence of each season. The calendar says spring so I've switched from my winter theme of icy blue and golden orange to lime/celery green and lilac purple.

April 2011, My garden, Maine

I've started using my new green and purple gel pens to highlight in my bullet journal.

When I bought my bouquet this week at the market (still using the gift money my mom gave me when I was sick, those flower dollars sure stretch at the market) I asked specifically for a green and purple inspired arrangement and I was thrilled to find ranunculus also.

This is the only spring color in my world right now. Yesterday's weather was snow and freezing rain.

I chose my spring colors not because these are the colors of mid-March in Montreal, they are the colors of hope in my heart.

Color is really important to me. I express my creativity in photographing color, decorating with color, and even wearing bright colors. Choosing colors for each season is something I'm playing around this year with as a creative exercise.

Late last week I went through my photo archives to find photos of green and purple from past spring seasons to brighten this post and to celebrate the arrival of spring, and look what I found in my search. Photos of the kids on a hike, wearing purple and green, taken on the first day of spring six years ago.

Where do I begin? The perfect pre-adolescent skin, Celine's middle part, the scowl on Brienne's face, Laurent's adult teeth in a child's mouth. These children are my heart.

These photos capture the essence of the woods in spring. Very bright, no leaf cover yet. Snow still on the ground, melting to reveal the dead leaves from last autumn. There are no pretty colors in the woods in early spring/late winter, but they are coming. The angle of the sun, the length of the day, years of experiences assures us it is so.

I know the woods in all seasons but something I am not familiar with is long bouts of winter sickness.

The kids are still sick from the flu they all got last month. This is the worst winter sickness season we've experienced as a family.

Sickness has moved through our family like waves, first the flu, starting with one person and moving to another. Then as the kids seemed to be getting better and started to resume their normal activities, as teenagers are very wont to do, another wave of sickness hit each child, a secondary infection or illness affecting eyes, ears, and upper respiratory (different for each child).

April 2010, the woods, Maine

Last year a friend asked me what we did when our kids were sick, we were having a discussion about alternative medicine and holistic health. I said we didn't do much because we didn't get sick that often. Fluids and rest were the main strategies, and herbal tinctures, garlic, and oregano oil if necessary.

I haven't had to use my herbal tinctures for years and through our successive moves I tossed some of the sketchier bottles and old dried herbs. I don't remember when the elderberry syrup ran dry, but I didn't replace it. That section of the cupboard dwindled in size over the last few years.

April 2010, Bates College Campus, Maine

My education in essential oils has been slow and mostly limited to good blends for soapmaking and body care products, which is an entirely different game than healing illness.

I know nothing about homeopathy and many other alternative medicines. I don't have experience with bone broth and all the "traditional diet" nutritional recommendations. I haven't needed to acquire that knowledge.

Till now.

It's been a sea of sickness for eight weeks, unprecedented.

May 2011, Bates College Campus, Maine

There are many possible reasons for this, including a change in our diet last year in which I've allowed more animal products and processed foods (granola bars, crackers, bread, some ready-made meals) into our house.

The traditional diet folks will not make a link between animal products and illness, but when those foods start to replace immune-system supporting and disease-reducing plant foods, something our family has eaten a lot of in previous years, a case can be made for a possible link. And no one thinks processed foods are healthy. And the same principle applies, if eating them reduces your consumption of health-supporting foods you compromise your immune system.

Is it possible that our plant-based, almost all homemade foods diet really did protect us so well all those years from flu and winter illness?

May 2015, Quebec

I don't think it's that simple though I do feel I've compromised our health with some of the changes to our diet.

We live in a new city, and we're in much closer contact than we've experienced before with a lot of germs. And the flu hit our social circle hard this year. Many people we know have struggled this winter through virulent illness.

Kind of creepy but also somewhat reassuring, we're not the only ones.

Once I got over my own illness, and thank God I didn't catch a secondary one, I was able to re-educate and newly educate myself on remedies and solutions, source the herbs I needed to start re-stocking our cupboards, make bone broth, do more research on essential oils and be introduced, albeit very reluctantly and skeptically, to homeopathy.

This is the part of the story where you might expect a "the successful protocol has been...", "how I've healed my family with herbs", or maybe even a sales pitch for a particular essential oil. None of that is forthcoming because it's not clear to me what, if anything, helped.

I am not convinced of anything at this point, except this: I didn't understand the possible implications of "getting the flu".

There has been no miracle cure in our family this winter. Some people swear by essential oils, other people say to use with extreme caution. My friends are convinced about homeopathy, I'm not. I am probably most familiar with herbs but I'm not used to treating long illnesses with herbal remedies.

May 2015, Quebec

This week we took two kids to the doctor. Our first sick doctor's visit in over a decade. In one child it was "just" congestion (which we're actively treating with all manner of remedies), not an ear infection, though I'm still holding onto the just-in-case prescription the doctor gave me.

In the other child it was acute bronchitis and sinusitis, and we are using the antibiotics prescribed, and we are so thankful for them.

I've been a parent for nearly seventeen years and I've never experienced anything like this, the flu followed by a secondary illness. Sickness that requires more vigilance, more remedies, more preventative measures than I am familiar with.

I can't go back but I wish I had been more prepared, more knowledgable.

This bout of illness shook my confidence but it also gave me experience, and showed me I definitely need to re-educate, re-stock, and learn new things.

I've had success in the past treating simple illnesses with basic herbs, healing foods (garlic, ginger, etc.) and topical essential oil applications. I have so much more to learn but I can't learn it all, it's overwhelming. We have to pick and choose what we invest our energies into. "Alternative" medicine and holistic healing is not my passion, though it is my preference.

May 2015, Quebec

Ultimately, I need to find my own mother-wisdom in these matters. But I can't gain that without the experience, and who wants the experience of being sick!

I hope with some meds and probiotics; and other foods, strategies and remedies to support healing, the recovery journey will continue, without new infections. God help us.

I would love simple recommendations in the comments, if you have any, for foods or herbs to support the healing process.

I have two courses picked out to educate myself on essential oils and herbal remedies for cold and flu specifically. They won't do me any good now but I don't want to be this ill-prepared again.

My goal is that by next winter I'll have a straightforward "at first sign of sniffles do this" protocol. Something along these lines. (Though I tried many of these things this year. I think I just didn't catch it soon enough.)

It's hard not to feel like a mother-failure when something like this happens. I felt that way, coming out of my own sickness, when I was mentally and emotionally drained.

But that kind of thinking does me and my family no good whatsoever.

June 2015, Quebec

Instead I am choosing to recognize that I have the resources I need: a healthy mind to make sound decisions and access to medicine and remedies. I can educate myself for the future. I can, and will, be better prepared next time. And I can be grateful for so many blessings, right now.

I am grateful that I am physically, mentally and emotionally well enough to take care of my family. This is no small feat for this time of the year. I am grateful Damien is well and we can tag-team parent our kids through this season. I am grateful our teenagers still seek the comfort of our bed in the middle of the night when they are unwell and needing comfort. (Of course one of us has to leave in that scenario, there is not room for three adult-sized people in our queen bed!) I am grateful for a car to drive to walk-in clinics nowhere near our neighborhood.

I am grateful for mother-wisdom and intuition. I am grateful for medicine of all sorts, knowledgeable doctors who say "let's wait and see", knowledgeable doctors who say "let's treat this", and caring friends who offer the remedies that worked for them.

I am grateful that though the kids are suffering through sickness right now the situation could be so much worse. We have a safe home. We have access to clean water, good food, health food stores, and medicine. And we have time. Time to recover and rest.

Spring is coming, there are flowers on my table and hope in my heart.

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  • Lisa

    Lisa on March 25, 2016, 3:07 p.m.

    I'm sorry it's been such a long struggle for you all! Having the flu really stinks! That said, I strongly believe that our bodies sometimes need to get sick. It's, in the long run, healthier than never having an illness. Maybe you can cling to that as you work with the last, dying strains of this one?


  • Barbara Tougas

    Barbara Tougas on March 25, 2016, 3:18 p.m.

    Washing dishes. Put a drop of bleach in the dishwater to disinnfect dishes that are washed by hand and air-dry them so you don't transfer germs from dishtowels onto cleaned dishes. Body alakalinity. Viruses don't survive in a body that is more alkaline. Buy alkaline strips and test your body alkalinity. Test your drinking water. If it isn't around 7.3 mix it with distilled till you get the right alkalinity. Bone broth. Use organic chicken (best for flu and colds),or organic beef bones to make the broth add: Peas, carrots. Ginger, garlic, onion, celery, peppers, salt, peppercorns, strain the broth and boil it down to half. Drink the broth with a sprinkle of Cayenne pepper in a cup. Extra broth can be saved in quart jars and used as a base to make all sorts of hearty vegetable soups. Even freezes well. Sometimes I add a packet of gelatine to my cup of hot broth if I am not eating much solid food. Feed a cold, starve a flu. That's my motto. Eat lots of toast and tomato when in recovery mode to pamper your liver.


  • Beth

    Beth on March 25, 2016, 3:29 p.m.

    ~~Many sympathies for the illnesses in your house.  This week I was hit, quite suddenly, with a fairly severe cold that turned into bronchitus.  Of course, every cold I get turns into bronchitus so I don't find it all that concerning.

    I"m not an expert by any means, but my life experience has lead me to believe that natural remedies and such are much better as preventatives rather than actual treatments of illness.  Not that western medicine is any better in terms of treatment unless you have an actual bacterial infection.  In my experience, once you're sick you're just sick and your body needs to fight it off.  Granted, common sense things like rest and healthy foods are imperative so one can't dismiss their importance.

    My guess is being in the city and involved with the homeschool co-op are more the causes of the illness.  Schools, and other groups of kids, tend to be petri dishes.  ;-)  Back before I had kids I was sick much more frequently than I am now because I was working with students from every school district within a 25 mile radius.Not to mention handling their violins and cellos.   My husband commented that before he hooked up with me he was rarely ill but would catch everything I managed to come down with.  Now that I'm not teaching we get sick much less often.

    That said, my kids go to public school and when the older one started K3 they both started getting sick more often. When my younger son was 5 months old my husband had N1H1 at the same time my older son had chicken pox.  Fun times.   Even so, we only contract mild ailments like a short stomach bug or cold.  We have very few sick child doctor visits and the last few have been for things like athlete's foot that wouldn't go away with OTC and natural remedies.  Just this week I did an inventory of the last time anyone in our family had oral antibiotics and the most recent was five years ago. I don't think my younger son has ever had them.  We eat what I consider a very healthy diet with very few processed foods but we do eat animal products.  I'm not convinced we would get sick less if we became vegan.  Of course, I'm pretty careful about my kids' sugar intake so that could be part of why we tend towards only mild illnesses.   Part of me wonders if it's just sheer luck.  We have family members who have similar food habits and their kids are sick much more frequently and severely than ours are.  Who knows. 

    Although I will concede that the past month or so I've stopped drinking my ginger lemon honey tea mixed with fire cider on a daily basis.  Maybe that's why I was hit so hard this week.  If I look back on the past several years, the handful of times I was ill were times when I didn't or couldn't heed the warning I was getting sick and load up on remedies and rest.  I think that's partly why I believe more in preventatives.  Who knows.


  • Sophia

    Sophia on March 25, 2016, 5:47 p.m.

    I love learningherbs.com.  I haven't taken that particular course, but you are in excellent hands with Rosalee de la Forêt. Herbal medicine is a beloved hobby of mine.  I lean to the side of caution with essential oils, and with colds and flus I mostly use herbs for preventative measures...this year.  When we move to a new city or state we usually get sick a lot our first year and I go through my knowledge and resupply herbs and remedies that, like you, had dwindled and I never replaced.  I share your gratitude for the knowledge we have available to us in natural medicine and the wisdom to know when to use antibiotics.  And I love that you buy yourself flowers for the soul!  Take care!  


  • Constance

    Constance on March 25, 2016, 9:14 p.m.

    Whenever my kids have a stuffy head or say their ears are starting to hurt I put homemade swimmers ear drops in right away. It dries out the ear and changes the ph so bacteria can't grow. Don't do this with a full-fledged infection though (ouch)!


  • Auntie Ruth

    Auntie Ruth on March 26, 2016, 1:30 a.m.

    I can sympathize with your family.......I've been coughing off and on since early January with sinus congestion, etc and it is very hard to shake!   Really hope you're all on the mend soon!  I've used some oils but my Buckley's stops the coughing the fastest.


  • Lisa

    Lisa on March 26, 2016, 1:46 a.m.



    This has been the worst flu season I've experienced with kids in 27 years. The youngest (15 year male) had to go to the doctor twice because of first bout and then the worse 2nd bout. He has never had an antibiotic and he hasn't been to the doctor for an illness in 10 years. He had to have breathing treatments with a steroid for three days, which scared me, but the doctor said his lings were so closed off with mucous and infection, he'd have to go to the hospital without the treatments. He's also on antibiotics. Long story short...I had nothing for him since he never gets sick. We eat traditional food, so that wasn't a problem since he's had it his whole life. The new factor was that all his siblings are out of the home and he decided to try school, so,  I'm assuming the new germs this winter, and I'd guess that's the same for your kids in co-op. I liked what one commenter said above...sometimes we need to get sick to build up an immunity. Grateful for modern medicine when we need it. 


  • Julie

    Julie on March 26, 2016, 4:19 p.m.

    I'm sure it's the fact you are in a city and exposed to new germs.  Don't blame yourself.  Zinc is great to take at the first sign of cold -- it really helps lessen the severity.  And garlic has antibacterial/antiviral properties, but it has to raw, not cooked.  Beyond that, wash your hands A LOT.  More than you ever though possible.  Wash before you leave coop and then again when you get home.  Carry wipes if necessary (you can probably make your own) and bring alone one of the safer hand sanitizers you can get at a health food store (or make your own).  That is the way most respiratory viruses are transmitted -- hand to face.  You're not just with new kids, you are on public transportation, etc.  Also, do your kids play any ball sports?  Anything where kids are passing a ball with their hands allows infection to be passed on.  Feel better!


  • Sara R

    Sara R on March 27, 2016, 9:35 p.m.

    Yes! I have the same feelings about color...and Spring...and motherhood. You've written a lot of what's on my heart at the moment. Thank you! P.S. Purple and green are my colors this season, too. 


  • jodie

    jodie on March 28, 2016, 3:13 p.m.



    Could you please share how you protected yourself and your children from ticks and other insects while hiking the appalachian trail/  Thank you.


    • renee

      renee on March 28, 2016, 3:23 p.m.

      We used Picardin based insect-repellent on our skin (though we didn't use this all that often)  and Permethrin insecticide on pants, tents and windbreakers. Sawyer sponsored us for both of these products, and our water filters. You can find links to those products here.


  • Cat

    Cat on March 29, 2016, 2:08 a.m.

    Our local medical clinic is very holistic, anti overuse of anti-biotics, very trustworthy. My doctor once told me that we tend to totally underestimate how long recouperation takes from an illness such as flu or chest infection etc. We've been led to believe that a week or so and we should feel fine. Sometimes that does the trick with lesser coughs and colds, but for more serious illness it takes weeks to recover, sometimes longer. I think as a society  this idea of long recouperation does not fit in with our thinking - either because of busy, demanding schedules or because we like to believe we have mastered control over illness. Neither are true. Sometimes it just takes a long time and sometimes it takes some active medical rather than home remedy treatments. In any case, it is hard going when sickness goes round the family - I hope you are nearly through it. 





    • renee

      renee on March 29, 2016, 2:18 a.m.

      I totally agree. In our culture we feel we don't have time for long recuperation times, schedules are busy. If my kids had been in regular school they would have each easily missed three weeks of classes (and this was before we finally saw the doctor). At the high school level this would be difficult to catch up. 


  • Barbara A Tougas

    Barbara A Tougas on March 29, 2016, 3:45 a.m.

    When I was working, I found that I 'caught' colds easily when something 'was going around' until I realized that I had to hide my coffee cup in my desk and not let anyone else use it. Even though the cups that everyone used were washed, the germs were not sterilized off with just a little soap and water. At home, I learned to appreciate the 'sanitize' button on my dishwasher, because it really disinfected the dishes used by anyone in the household that was infected. It cut down on the number of illnesses and reinfections. I also learned to sanitize my keyboard at work when the flu was going around, doorframes, door handles etc.Even being careful not to use the same hand towels in the bathroom. A doctor once told me, if a bug doesn't seem to go away, sometimes people get reinfected more than once with the same bug.


  • Marianna

    Marianna on March 30, 2016, 2:05 a.m.

    My husband is a physician and claims this is the worst flu season he has seen in at least 10 years...people are getting hit hard by it and taking a long to recuperate---including him! Sending get well vibes to your family. 


  • Valerie McKnelly

    Valerie McKnelly on April 3, 2016, 4:29 p.m.

    Miso soup is very nourishing when you're sick.  South River Miso (online) has many different types of miso (a living food), tamari, etc, that are probiotic, and even some that are soy free.  It's a good soup to sip when you're recovering.  Also, Aviva Romm has a website, Healthiest Kids, where she offers online classes about keeping well and using herbs and tinctures as both preventives and to treat illness.  It's a good course, excellent content.

    I am sorry you've been hit so hard.  We are a military family and move every two years, and I have noticed, our first year in any place we are all a bit sicker than normal, the second year we usually have fewer (if any) illnesses.  So, every other year is a sicker year, lol.  Perhaps a big part of it is just being in a city, with a lot more people, and a lot more germs.  Vigilance with handwashing can help.  I make my kids sanitize their hands immediately upon leaving any public place (grocery store, post office, library, etc), and then wash them thoroughly with soap and water when we get home.  I also encourage handwashing prior to eating anything, unless they are in the back yard or on the trail, because I think dirt germs are helpful, while flu germs are not.  I also try to remind them to keep their hands away from their face (it is so hard to do--we all touch our faces subconsciously all day long!).  It does seem to help.

    In cold/flu season, I give elderberry syrup to everyone every day, more if they are sick.  They also get a multivitamin, extra vitamin D and C, and probiotics every day.  You may already be doing all of this, and perhaps this is just one of those bummer years for you, and I really feel for all of you.  I hope you are all well and back in stride again soon!



    • renee

      renee on April 3, 2016, 6:10 p.m.

      Valerie, thank you for all this wisdom! We do a lot of these things already - though not near enough post-public-places hand washing, I'm sure and the face touching thing is huge! IWe love Miso, it's one of my go-to "remedies" for wellness. I think I might try the daily elderberry syrup next winter. I've usually only used at signs of sickness but next winter I want to be really proactive. I'm culling lots of advice and ideas from people here and local friends etc. I appreciate your input. 


  • Janice

    Janice on April 12, 2016, 7:05 p.m.

    This tip is related just to the congestion/sinusitis. . . I am very prone to this especially following a cold or during allergy season and it would often lead to bad sinus infections.  My doctor advised that I use a nettie pot daily or at least at the first sign of any congestion with mild saline.  I use it once or twice a day now when I have the slightest sign of sinus pressure/congestion and it has totally worked--no full blown sinusitis and no sinus infections since I started doing it a year ago. 


  • Alaina

    Alaina on April 19, 2016, 11:17 a.m.

    This is the worst season we've ever had for sickness as well, and it has been that way for most of our friends. So much so that between a few families it was either them or us for most of the winter and so I haven't seen some people in a long while. It seemed we went only a week or two before something else would hit. It was all respiratory stuff but some of it was really bad, not just mild. We haven't changed our diets or anything really. I was told by a few people it was the mild winter? We did have real winter with snow but much warmer than our usual -20 C and below. Very few -40 days. So maybe that was it? I don't know but we haven't had anyone sick here in weeks and its been a huge relief.


    • renee

      renee on April 19, 2016, 11:28 a.m.

      It's interesting. Isn't it kind of terrible that it makes me feel better that other people experienced something similar! I'm so glad you're feeling better.


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