Prevent Foot, Knee, and Heel Pain from Soccer Cleats 

The standard fit of soccer cleats doesn’t make any orthopedic sense (see this article on podiatrists whose patients play soccer) and yet, it’s the norm. If you play soccer in cleats, you probably know they can be pretty uncomfortable. However, when I was a new soccer mom, the first time I went shopping for cleats for my kids, I was stunned by the stiffness and narrow shape of the shoe. The uppers were stiff, synthetic leather and the sole plate was hard plastic with a thin, flat insole. I sucked it up and after twisting many a pair, I settled on some Nike cleats that I generally find are the least stiff of all the brands. Fast forward through 5 years of soccer playing, and my kids started complaining of knee and heel pain, enough to knock them out of sports for weeks at a time. 

I wish I had paid more attention to the cleat fit issue from the beginning because now I realize what I should have done from the start to help the cleats fit better. It should be standard soccer education along with “what is a shin guard?” Here is a list of the things I learned to do to help the cleat fit as much as possible:

Replace Insoles with OTC Orthotic Inserts

Far and away, the best thing you can do to make your cleats fit more comfortably is to replace the soccer cleat insoles with orthotics. Out of the box insoles on cleats are minimal drop with minimal padding. If you follow some principles behind minimalist footwear, it would seem like this is a good thing. However, the stiffness of the shoe and rigidity of the soleplate probably negates this. 

Instead, the insole should provide some of the shock absorption and protection that you will need from both the impacts and the rigidity of the cleat. There are a couple of OTC orthotic inserts that are often mentioned as fitting well in cleats: Currex CleatPros and Superfeet Carbon. We tried a couple of different Superfeet and found the Everyday Superfeet Insole (Green) to have the deepest heel cup and the most cushion for shock absorption. 

  • Tip #1: Orthotics and insoles are FSA/HSA eligible. (They can feel expensive, but then again, the visits to the orthopedists or podiatrists cost even more. We’re skipping those type of doctor visits in the future. Plus, they will just tell you to buy orthotics, too!)
  • Tip #2: When selecting orthotics, pay attention to:
    • the level of arch support, 
    • depth of heel cup, and 
    • the thickness of the insole to determine if it’s the right orthotic for you.
  • Tip #3: it’s easier to try orthotics in your cleats if it comes with a removable insole. However, it’s also possible to scrape out any glued on, out of the box insoles and slide in your orthotic inserts. See pic below.
soccer cleat insoles removed for orthotics
Glued on insoles removed from Firm Ground Nike Cleats

Stretch and Soften the Uppers

Stuff a compression or regular tennis ball or shoe-tree as far into the shoe as it can go. We were able to get into the lower toe area and leave it in for awhile. This can help resolve the squished pinky toe feeling to some degree and give a little more room in the toe box. This is player preference, but there’s a balance to be had between ball feel and painful toes.

Add Heel Lift or Heel Cup

Sometimes the orthotic insert isn’t enough shock absorption particularly on the heel. You can add a gel heel lift which increases the drop on the cleat, which is usually zero drop (i.e. completely flat). Sever’s and plantar fasciitis are common heel injuries that occur with cleat-wearing athletes. In both diagnoses, contributing factors include tight calf muscles, irritated heel pad, or muscles that just haven’t caught up in growth with the bones. A heel lift reduces the stretch on the calf muscle and heel cups can provide more shock absorption and support for the heel strike during activity. We ended up with the heel lift which I stuck to the shoe underneath the insert. Heel cups can sometimes be hard to get used to – my kids kept feeling like the cup was going to come out of the shoe, but they are also a popular option. 

Wear Cushioned Soccer Socks

Some soccer socks don’t come with extra cushioning, but many do. Cushioned socks just add that one more layer of shock absorption and some protection against blistering in cleats. 

Twist Before First Wear

I’m sure the boot guy does it for the pros. By that I mean, break in soccer shoes for fit and comfort.  On an episode of Amazon’s All or Nothing: Manchester United, the camera shows the boot room for the team and there’s an equipment guy giving all kinds of TLC to each of the players’ cleats. Wow, until my son turns pro, it’ll have to be his poor mom. Wring the cleat multiple times and knead the uppers until the shoes feel like they give more easily. Yeah, you could also let your kid break them in on the field, but then they may have a blister or two – depends on how much of a helicopter parent you are! 

Resources

Podiatrists weigh in on the problem with soccer cleats and offer advice:

Products we’ve used:

Common pains from soccer:

What You Need to Know About a Health Savings Account (HSA)

Everywhere on the Internet, you will easily find the basics on health savings accounts (HSAs) about who is eligible, what the rules are, etc. However, as they say, “the devil is in the details,” both good and bad.

Is an HSA right for you?

Using an HSA is, in fact, a big pain in the ass. It’s not easy to manage and use it efficiently and a certain amount of administration is required. While financially beneficial, I have to view it as getting paid a decent amount of money to do some low-level administrative work. 

Opening an HSA

Below are the things I “wish I knew before” I got started with the HSA:

#1 Start Saving in an HSA as Early as You Can

If you’re going to set up an HSA, the younger you are, the more money you can “make” with it! If you are eligible, see how your HSA with high-deductible plan compares with your other health insurance options in my other post, “Health Insurance Plan Comparison Spreadsheets.”

It’s one of the best retirement account options out there, without actually being limited to retirement. It’s pre-tax money going into an investment account and tax-free withdrawals (for qualified medical expenses). There’s no other investment account like that. It’s essentially tax-free income that you can use before retirement. As much as I hate the administrative side of the HSA, I think it’s the financially savvy thing to do, and I’m going to teach my kids to set up an HSA (and a Roth IRA) account as soon as they can. 

#2 Watch Out for Employer Contributions and Contribution Limits to the HSA

If your employer contributes to your HSA, make sure that you account for that in your overall contribution limit and set up your contributions accordingly. We didn’t pay attention to that and over-contributed last year. You may pay a penalty for excess contributions. Fortunately, you can typically rectify it online and with the IRS before the tax filing deadline, but it’s more admin work for you!

#3 Set Up a Stable HSA Provider Outside of Your Employer’s Provider

HSA providers can change even if you don’t change jobs. Set up an HSA provider account that is separate from your employer. Even if you don’t change employers, your employer may often change the HSA provider from year to year or even mid-year. It gets complicated to manage funds in multiple accounts. Ideally, we would have kept it to two.  Additionally, some of the employer’s HSA providers charge fees for the investment portion of the account. 

I followed the Finance Buff’s recommendations and opened an account at Fidelity which is fee-free. (Seriously, the Finance Buff author is like the financially savvy uncle I always wish I had!) It seemed like a no brainer when compared to HSA providers that do charge a fee to invest your HSA funds.  

#4 Avoid Investing With the HSA Provider That Your Company Uses 

Why? Because when your company decides to change providers, you have usually have to liquidate all investments or roll over to another provider. When you are forced to rollover your investments, you have to liquidate your investments and find equivalents in the new account, regardless of market timing. To keep it simple, keep cash funds in the employer account and only make investments with your own provider. Many employer HSA providers also charge fees for investment accounts – all the more reason to choose your own provider that doesn’t charge fees.

#5 Create a Physical and/or Virtual Home for Medical Expense Receipts

Create a physical home (a file folder, envelope, box, sock, whatever!) for the expense receipts as well as a file folder on your computer. Separate that into two piles –  reimbursed and not yet reimbursed. Creating the structure before you begin accruing medical expenses increases the likelihood of your staying organized and getting the most or anything out of your HSA! This sounds so basic, yet you would be surprised how critical it is to not hating your HSA. Just ask my husband for which paperwork is the all-time enemy of mankind. Even if you only reimburse yourself once a year or every 5 years (theoretically, there is no time limit), having the organization structure is what makes this manageable.

#6 Avoid Using the HSA Debit Card

I’ve found that reimbursing myself later gives me much more flexibility and time to think about which HSA I want to draw from and when I want to withdraw it. It also potentially allows your money to grow in the meantime. The flexibility offsets the inconvenience of having to manually reimburse.

Another reason to avoid using your debit card is that some people have the debit cards that draw from both your HSA and your LPFSA (the FSA account that you are allowed to have in conjunction with an HSA).  Watch the debits carefully because a technical error may draw from the HSA instead of the LPFSA (it happened to me!) Why is this a problem? Your LPFSA is “use it or lose it” for vision and dental expenses in the calendar year, while your HSA is not. You should always use up your LPFSA first, so you have to monitor the debits carefully to make sure there are no technical errors (which sadly, are quite likely) and time-consuming to fix.

#7 Plan How You Want to Use Your HSA Funds

It’s no use for you if you never use the money in the account, so have a plan for what medical expense you would like to use the money on. The longer you wait, the “less” the medical purchase will cost, assuming growth in your savings. A prudent way to manage the funds is to leave a portion uninvested so you can access it immediately if needed, and invest the remainder. Ideally, you should not draw from the invested funds when the market is particularly down. 

#8 Review the Complete HSA Eligibility List

Make sure you know what is considered an HSA-eligible expense to get the most out of your HSA. Medical bills and services with conventional medical providers are usually obvious HSA-eligible expenses. However, depending on what the balance of your medical and financial needs are, you should know that there are a lot of day to day items that are HSA-eligible items now, particularly after the CARES Act of 2020. (This post calls the items out about half-way down the page.) 

The website, HSA store, seems to have the most current and comprehensive eligibility list. Familiarize yourself with the list, so you can save those receipts to reimburse yourself as needed. Some of the less obvious, but commonly purchased items that I found useful here are many items of common use: OTC pain relief, allergy meds, face masks, Covid tests, sunscreen, orthotic insoles (OTC or custom), sports wraps and bandages, and first aid products. 

#9 Watch Out for State Taxes on HSA Investment Income If You Live in CA or NJ!

HSA investment income is currently federal and state tax-free everywhere except California and New Jersey. It doesn’t mean that HSA is not beneficial in those states. It just means that if you live in either CA or NJ, your HSA investment earnings are subject to state tax (they are still federal tax-free). Again, my “uncle” at the Finance Buff has a very helpful post on this called, “California and New Jersey HSA Tax Return Special Considerations.” 

Using an HSA can be a lot of work – think about whether you can do the job. It can save and earn you a lot of money, but you have to use it correctly to maximize the financial benefits.

Do you have extra tips? I’m still learning, so would love to hear more ideas! Email me at wishiknewbefore20@gmail.com

Resources

Best HSA provider:

Over contributing:

CA and NY state tax considerations

Comprehensive list of HSA eligible expenses

Best Chinese Medicines

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been a part of my American upbringing because my parents grew up under TCM principles and philosophies. Our family healthcare approach has evolved to be a mix of both Western and Chinese medicine along with some skepticism for each of them (see “5 Reasons Not to Rely on Doctors“). However, through generations of family trial and error, we’ve come to find a few Chinese herbal remedies that are popular, commonplace, and often more effective than Western options. Here are the top Chinese herbal remedies that sit in our medicine cabinet:

Best Chinese Medicine for Strains, Sprains, Bruising, and Soft Tissue Trauma: Yunnan Baiyao

Best Chinese Medicine for Strains, Sprains, Bruising, and Soft Tissue Trauma: Yunnan Baiyao
Yunnan Baiyao in powder form, photo credit: tiensproduct.com

Yunnan Baiyao is an ancient Chinese remedy for severe bleeding, trauma, bruises, sprains, strains, and pain and a whole lot more. A lot of Chinese herbal medicine is slow-acting, so it’s not easy to tell if and when they start to help. This is definitely not that kind of medicine – Yunnan Baiyao effects are almost immediate. It’s available in powder, capsule, and patch form. As I understand it, it keeps blood circulating (and not stagnating) through the applied area and also provides some pain relief. We’ve used this regularly for severe bruises, sprains, and fractures, but have not tried it for post-surgery recovery. With it, we’ve had significant swelling and sprains disappear in 1-2 days. We’ve also used the patch version for chronic, recurring pain – with about 80% success rate. There’s an interesting story behind this medicine that you can read about here. We would reach for this before any ice pack and are now using an integrative approach to speed up healing.

Best Chinese Medicine for Allergies and Sinus Infections: Bi Yan Pian

Chinese medicine Plum Flower brand, Bi Yan Pian works as  well as Zyrtec
Plum Flower brand, Bi Yan Pian

I came across this Chinese formula for allergies called Bi Yan Pian, when I was browsing this book, Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. It’s similar to this pediatric liquid extract herbal formula called Windbreaker which I had originally been giving my child. However, this has worked way, way better and faster. It seems to work even better than Zyrtec for both me and my child. The dosing instructions for the Plum Flower brand are 4 pills, 3x a day. However, I only need 4 pills once a day and my 8 year old takes 2 pills once a day whenever we experience symptoms. During our last allergy season, we would take them only after we started having hay fever symptoms, and the pills seemed to halt the symptoms within the hour. Zyrtec often doesn’t work for us after our symptoms have already started.

Best Chinese Medicine for UTIs: Ba Zheng Tang

Ba Zheng San or Tang seems to be the most effective remedy (in both Western and Eastern spheres) for UTIs
Ba Zheng Tang, liquid formula

Ba Zheng (Eight Rectification) San or Tang seems to be the most effective remedy (in both Western and Eastern spheres) for UTIs in our experience. I wish I had known about Ba Zheng (Eight Rectification) from the beginning when my mom first started having UTIs. The UTIs became chronic after regular antibiotic use. After years of trying tons of Western remedies (D-Mannose, premarin, antibiotics, garlic pills, oregano, cranberry, you name it), I saw this formula mentioned quite a lot in my research on Chinese medicine for UTIs. It seems to be a formula that specifically targets urinary symptoms and is used for acute UTIs. After 10 years of recurring UTIs every 4-6 months, my mother stopped her last two UTIs with this formula and hasn’t needed antibiotics in 2 years! It almost seems too good to be true. I’m guessing that overcoming the last two infections without antibiotics helped to stop the cycle of antibiotics to recurrent UTI. Berkeley Community Acupuncture has helpful information on how long and how often it could be taken. It’s not meant to be taken long term. If you can’t stand pills, I also found Ba Zheng in liquid formula.

Best Chinese Medicine for All Things Female: Dang Gui

Best Chinese Medicine for All Things Female: Dang Gui
Sliced dang gui root, photo credit: tcmwiki.com

Also known as Chinese Angelica Root, dong quai, or Angelicae Sinensis Radix. This is popular as the go-to herb for any female issues. It’s apparently beneficial for men’s health as well. We’ve used it for improving regularity of menses and reducing the side effects of hormonal imbalance that women naturally go through. Don’t take during menses (only in-between periods). 

Anecdotally, a friend of ours tested extremely anemic to the point that she was recommended to go through iron IV infusion. Before doing the IV, she decided to take iron pills (known to have poor absorption by the body) and dang gui for a few months first to see if she could get the numbers up without IV infusion (which can have some side effects). When she retested, she was no longer anemic and the hematologist said she could hardly believe the results as iron numbers don’t typically go up that fast through oral intake of iron pills. This is a strong- acting herb. It comes in pill form, but we have only ever used the dried root form brewed in soup. Here’s the basic recipe we use: Simple Dang Gui Soup or Tea Recipe.

Best Chinese Medicine for Immune System and Energy: Ginseng

Best Chinese Medicine for Immune System and Energy: Ginseng
Ginseng roots, photo credit: superfoodevolution.com

There’s American or Asian ginseng. We’ve only tried the Asian ginseng. I see it suggested for use in a variety of ailments, but in our family we take it for primarily overall vitality, energy, and immune system strength. In our family sample size, we’ve linked it to improved asthma and allergy reactions and general sense of well-being in both the kids and adults. Depending on your body’s constitution, some may find it too strong, akin to taking a dose of caffeine. As with dang gui, it is one of the stronger herbs and and it’s important to check the contraindications for it, as it really depends on your body type and needs. Definitely read the literature on it before taking, to see if it’s a good fit for your body’s needs. This also comes in natural dried root form, and in pill and extract forms. 

Best Chinese Medicine for Eye Health and Clearing Inflammation: Chrysanthemum

Best Chinese Medicine for Eye Health and Clearing Inflammation: Chrysanthemum
Dried white chrysanthemum flowers, photo credit: amazon.com

We take chrysanthemum flower in tea form, steeping the dried flower in hot water. To feel any benefits, you have to take it regularly for long periods of time. It’s indicated for clearing heat and inflammation in the body. There’s white or yellow chrysanthemum and they have different indications. White is mostly taken for eye health (dry eye, etc.) and visual acuity. Yellow for common cold-related symptoms. The most obvious benefit we’ve ever had from it was relief from dry eye and allergy-caused eye irritation. Here’s the basic recipe we use: Chrysanthemum and Goji Berries Tea Recipe for the Eyes

Best Chinese Medicine for Mouth Sores: Watermelon Frost

Best Chinese Medicine for Mouth Sores: Watermelon Frost
Watermelon frost, photos credit: suanie.net

Watermelon frost is available in spray or powder form and is indicated for canker sores and sore throats. We’ve only used it topically for sores in the mouth and it seems to reliably heal the sore quickly. I see many TCM/naturopathic practitioners recommending it for sore throats, so I may try that someday. 

Resources

Yunnan Paiyao

Other TCM for injuries (sprains, strains, bruising)

Bi Yan Pian

Ba Zheng

Dang Gui

Ginseng

Chrysanthemum

Watermelon Frost

Lowest Price for EpiPens

Updated as of 11/4/22

We have food allergies and we need to carry around EpiPens. But we also have a high-deductible HSA-eligible health insurance that doesn’t cover very much, so below is a rundown of the options I went through to find the best price for EpiPens. My takeaway is that if you can’t get an EpiPen or EpiPen alternative for free, you should only pay up to the low $100s in the U.S. See the rundown of options below.

(This fall of 2022, I had to fill our EpiPen RX at Walgreens for $109 with a GoodRX coupon. The GoodRX price is only if you don’t use insurance. In prior years, I bought Auvi-Q which was available at $25 for those with poor insurance coverage, but that Auvi-Q price went up to $125 in October 2022. All of this is ridiculous, isn’t it?)

EpiPen size comparison
In case you’re curious, an EpiPen size comparison: (L to R) Auvi-Q, Adrenaclick, Mylan/generic EpiPen

#1 Health Insurance EpiPen Cost

When we had excellent health insurance, I was able to buy a pack of two generic EpiPens for as little as $30. I’ve also seen online that some people have health insurance that can bring the cost down to $0-$5. 

Unfortunately, now that we have health insurance with a very high deductible, those generic Epipens would cost me $476. I detest anything associated with health insurance these days, so even if I could afford $476 for epipens, I would do my best to avoid this option.

#2 EpiPen Manufacturer Discount

On the Mylan brand name EpiPen website, you can get a savings card for up to $300 on brand name Epipen, and a savings card of $25 on generic EpiPens. However, you’re only eligible for these savings cards if you also have commercial health insurance:  

“The Epipen Savings Card® helps eligible patients who have commercial health insurance save on out-of-pocket costs.”  

– Mylan website

And in fine, fine print, Massachusetts or California residents are not eligible. At any rate, if I were eligible for the savings card of $25, my generic EpiPens would now cost $451 instead of $476. The search continues. . .

(FYI, the brand name Mylan EpiPen and the generic EpiPen look and work exactly the same. The EpiPen alternatives operate a little differently.) 

#3 EpiPen Alternatives

There are a few other EpiPen alternatives. You would need to get your doctor to write you an RX specifically for one of these alternatives. 

  • Adrenaclick – about 6 years ago, this was the wonderboy of EpiPen alternatives because CVS offered them for as little as $10 (I don’t remember the fine print of this offer). However, without insurance, it’s now offered at a retail price of ~$110 at Target/CVS pharmacies. You can also print out a $10 savings card that should bring you to ~$100. 
  • Auvi-Q – our allergist suggested trying Auvi-Q. This is the EpiPen alternative that talks you through the process. It has a retail price of $4500 that nobody actually pays. I called the Auvi-Q customer service number and learned that they have contracted with a direct delivery pharmacy called ASPN Pharmacies. To start the process for direct delivery service, call them or complete this direct delivery enrollment form. The pharmacy itself has mixed reviews. (My personal experience was that it took me about 2.5 weeks and two followup phone calls to get the EpiPens.) However, the ASPN representative told me the following:
    • If you have commercial health insurance AND YOUR INSURANCE COVERS the Auvi-Q, then the cost will be $0, even if you have a high insurance deductible.
    • If you have commercial health insurance AND YOUR INSURANCE DOES NOT COVER the Auvi-Q, then the cost will be $125. (In October 2022, this cost increased from $25 in prior years to $125 this fall!)
    • If you need more than one pack of 2, you can order a second one for the same price after a 30 day waiting period.
    • For those without insurance, they offer a patient assistance option if you complete this patient assistance form. If you don’t qualify for financial assistance, they say that the most anyone should have to pay for Auvi-Q is capped at $360. At that price, you would be better off with a Adrenaclick or the generic EpiPen options through GoodRx and the like (see #4 below).
  • Symjepi – I’m not familiar at all with this option, but I saw it listed on the GoodRX website as an Epipen alternative. Pricewise, I didn’t see any quotes that made it a better deal than the Adrenaclick or Auvi-q. I’m not sure there is any point to considering this option seriously.

#4 Prescription Cost Saving Websites for EpiPen

There are a lot of prescription cost saving websites out there now that can offer prices in the low $100s. To get these discounts, you search the name of the drug and the website returns an out of pocket cost comparison of the Rx’s cost at local pharmacies, along with a coupon that you can use at the pharmacy. These are the costs of the EpiPen if you pay without using insurance.

Here are a few of the sites I looked at. The costs below are based on my local zip code, so may be different for you. This is what I found for 1 pack of 2 generic epinephrine auto-injectors: 

#5 Your Allergic Friend with Good Health Insurance 

It also crossed my mind to ask if any of my allergic buddies with good health insurance wouldn’t mind just calling in a refill for me to pick up. I figure that would be about $30 and without the kids in school, I really don’t need an RX in their names. Just throwing this idea out there. . .

#6 Expired Epipens

You either already have expired Epipens or you have friends that do. I think I’ve never felt that comfortable with expired Epipens, knowing that I carry them around in all sort of temperatures that could lead to its degradation in performance. However, if they’ve been stored safely, they could very well be perfectly useful, so you may keep that in consideration in terms of how many new Epipens you may want to buy. A study in 2019 showed that even Epipens that were 30 months past their expiration date were still effective. (See here if you’re trying to figure out how to dispose of them.)

Resources

Articles summarizing EpiPen costs:

Auvi-Q

Epipen

Adrenaclick

My Favorite Free Printables

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been supplementing home learning for the kids here and there. I’ve found a few free printables that we really like – because they print well, and have an interface that is easy to use.

(There are a lot of interactive sites that can supplement learning as well, but with all the Zoom and other digital resources that the schools are requiring the children to use, I’m trying to dial it back and reduce screen time for the kids.

Here’s a running list in the various categories of what I’ve found and used:

Favorite Free Math Printables

Both of the math sites listed here provide a lot of different printable worksheets that go up to at least 5th grade. I see calculus topics on Math Aids, and if I remember correctly – that would be high school!

  • https://www.math-aids.com/  – I use Math Aids quite a lot to give my kids the practice with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division that they don’t get with common core at school. I think it helps them to understand the common core approaches better. There are a wide range of math topics on the site though that we haven’t reached at my kids’ age.
  • https://www.math-salamanders.com/ – I’ve used Math Salamanders less than Math Aids but I liked the mental math problems and it has a similar interface to Math Aids. A large variety of worksheets in a large range of math topics are available.
  • I used the blank multiplication chart on https://www.memory-improvement-tips.com/  to teach my kids their times tables. There are a variety of well laid out charts to choose from. The site also seems to have other cool brain games and memory improving techniques that I hope to explore more someday.
mathaids
math-aids.com Division section

Favorite Free Geography and Map Printables

https://online.seterra.com/ – We just started some geography and I found this awesome site called Seterra, for free, professional-looking blank maps for the seven continents to teach the kids all the countries of the world. The printables were just a minor part of the site. The site is an extensive free resource of games and resources on world geography.

Seterra

Favorite Free Comic Book Template Printables

http://allfreeprintable.com/blank-comic-book-template – My kids’ latest passions are in graphic novels and comic books, so of course they wanted to write their own books, too.

ComicBook
Just one of a variety of comic book templates from http://allfreeprintable.com/blank-comic-book-template

Favorite Free Chinese Learning Printables

Since extracurriculars have been cut down so much with the pandemic, we’ve been doing more Chinese lessons at home and these two printables are wonderful.

  • http://chineseprintables.com/  – This straightforward site called Chinese Printables allows you to print grid paper or practice paper in a variety of styles
  • http://chineseworksheetgenerator.org/ – I love, love, love this Chinese Worksheet Generator. You input any characters that you want and it will generate great looking practice worksheets, along with options for stroke order, etc.. This is especially useful for us because it’s curriculum agnostic and allows us to customize the worksheets for our kids to suit whatever we are learning or need to practice more.
ChineseWorksheetGeneratorBorder
Sample worksheet generated by chineseworksheetgenerator.org

 

Favorite Free Eye Chart Printables

If you’ve read my posts on myopia, you know that eye health is a biggie for me. To help with some of the myopia reversal techniques and also regularly check everyone’s vision, I use free eye chart printables. Since my kids’ tend to memorize the chart, I’ve even made my own customizable 10 feet and 20 feet eye charts.

eyechart
Read the message that I wrote for my kids with https://www.homemade-gifts-made-easy.com/eye-chart-maker.html

Other Favorite Free Teaching Printables

I found this site to have a lot of free teaching printables to help supplement home learning. It’s regularly updated by different sources, so it provides a bit of inspiration even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for. It’s UK-based, but many materials are still applicable for us. I’m sure there’s a US equivalent, but I just haven’t come across it yet.

Thoughts? More info? Better info? I’m all ears. Email me at:  wishiknewbefore20@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Reduce Your Allergies Naturally

phytocort asthma allergies
From left, Vitamin C, a bottle of liquid extract of Chinese medicine, Phytocort

Maybe Zyrtec doesn’t work for you lately or perhaps you don’t like its side effects. Personally, I fear that we don’t know much about the long-term use of these “safe” OTC antihistamines for allergy relief. Instead, I’m hoping to treat my sneezing family as naturally as possible. Below are some of the things that I’ve been reading about (and in some cases, trying out):

1. Avoid Antibiotics as Much as Possible

Scientists are increasingly looking at an imbalance in the microbiome as the root cause of many of the problems we have with our immune systems not working properly. These problems include both food and environmental allergies, asthma, and dermatitis.

It’s not too far of a stretch to see the problem with taking antibiotics, since antibiotics essentially kill all the bacteria you have, both the good and the bad.

I really wish I knew this before, both for myself and the rest of my family. Apparently, some of the good bacteria don’t come back. Antibiotic overuse has also been linked to people suddenly developing serious allergies later in life. It should also be noted that antibiotics can be found in our food and water supplies, so even if you’ve managed to avoid antibiotics for infections, you’ll probably still have some low level of exposure to it. (This topic deserves it’s own blog post.) But basically, avoid antibiotics as much as you’re able!

2. Try Traditional Chinese Medicine to Address the Root Cause

Perhaps strengthening your body in other ways can still help to address your immune system gone awry. I don’t want to be lugging an air purifier around for the rest of my life! Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners often claim that acupuncture and herbal medicine can alleviate symptoms as well as address the root cause of hay fever.

Since TCM is tailored to the individual’s constitution, I didn’t find any obvious herbal formulas to try for adults. Generally speaking, I found these herbs commonly listed in formulas to address the root cause of allergies: ginseng, huang qi (astragalus root), bai zhu, gancao. I’ve also read about PhytoCort which some people find to treat asthma and reduce allergies.

For children, I’ve been looking for ways to address what seems to be cough-variant asthma in one of my kids. A TCM practitioner recommended a combination of liquid extract formulas from “Gentle Warriors”, a line of children’s herbal formulas. The formulas were selected based on my child’s constitution and the presenting symptoms. I’m skeptical, but also hopeful. We’re trying it out for 1-2 months and I’ll be sure to update this post with our results.

Update as of 1/6/2021: After we tried these formulas last year, my child’s cough-variant asthma seems to have disappeared! After having this asthma cough for over 1 year, it’s now been gone for 5 months! We’ve managed to keep off of Qvar and Singulair, oral steroids that had bad side effects for us.

3. Eat a Diet Rich in Natural Antihistamines

If you’re in the midst of having allergic symptoms, this approach isn’t going to help you right away. However, over a couple weeks, it sounds like a person with mild allergies could benefit. Common foods with natural antihistamines include: bell peppers, citrus fruits, pineapples, broccoli, cauliflower, berries, apples, tomatoes, black/green tea, ginger.

My family has pretty good eating habits and many foods on this list are already a regular part of the diet. Yet we still have allergic symptoms so I’ll have to say this doesn’t get rid of all your allergies, although I guess they could always be worse.  Anecdotally, as a data point, I’ve noticed that my two kids who rate equally on the allergy scale, have different levels of allergic symptoms. The one who happens to eat a lot more fruits (2-3x more than the normal serving that everyone else eats), also happens to experience less allergic symptoms. Then I read this study about how a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit and vegetables was found to be associated with less allergy symptoms, which further boosted my small finding.

4. Take Natural Supplements to Boost the Immune System

The amount of natural antihistamines found in foods may not be enough for some allergies. Higher dosages in capsule or powder form enable higher intake to replicate the dosages given in scientific studies. These supplements include:

Vitamin C – I found Vitamin C at the top of many lists. Apparently, vitamin C both inhibits the release of histamine from anti-inflammatory cells as well as helps to break down histamine after it has been released. However, the current recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for children (25mg-45mg) and adults (65mg-90mg) may be too low to create the expected allergic relief. The current RDAs were in fact calculated as the amount needed to prevent scurvy and not other ailments. According to the ODS, the highest daily intake likely to pose no risks is:

  • 400 mg for infants aged 1–3 years
  • 650 mg for children aged 4–8 years
  • 1,200 mg for children aged 9–13 years
  • 1,800 mg for teenagers aged 14–18 years
  • 1,800 mg in pregnant or breastfeeding teenagers aged 14–18 years
  • 2000 mg for adults

For my kids, I decided to trial 400-500mg dose. We are only 1 week into it, so I will have to update this post when I have more observations.

Quercetin – this is an antioxidant also regularly included in everyone’s list. It’s high in leafy greens, apples, grapes, and onions to name a few. I saw a range of dosage recommendations for taking it as a supplement. For adults, I saw a range from 500mg daily to 1000mg 2x/day. For children, Dr. Weil says 200mg daily 2x/day for hay fever.

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) – this is an antioxidant that some websites report is stronger than Vitamin C. It’s touted as being able to break down mucous, and reduce allergy symptoms. While it can be found naturally in protein-rich foods that you might eat, like turkey, eggs, etc., a much higher dose is needed for therapeutic effect. I read that NAC caused stomach pain in high doses for some users, so I would proceed with caution. I saw recommended dosages of 300mg 2-3x daily.

Probiotics – Probiotics are the supplements that contain the good bacteria that your gut needs for a healthy immune response. Whether probiotics are effective in putting the good bacteria in your gut is still being studied. However, this doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying. There have been quite a few studies that suggest taking probiotics may result in less hay fever symptoms.

What has worked for you? If there is something that has really worked for you, I would love to know about it!

Email me at:  wishiknewbefore20@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

 

Resources

Natural allergy relief in general

On Traditional Chinese Medicine for children

https://www.craneherb.com/shared/articles/28_Gentle_Warriors.aspx

On Vitamin C

On quercetin

On NAC

On probiotics

On antibiotic use and allergies

Thoughts? More info? Better info? I’m all ears. Email me at:  wishiknewbefore20@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Keeping Produce and Cheese Fresh

It’s probably obvious why I’ve been researching how to make fresh food last as long as possible (not including freezing, pickling, cooking, etc.). In an effort to go grocery shopping just once every two weeks, I’ve discovered my Achilles heel in my desire for fresh produce. Below are the methods I’ve found so far for some fresh food that I recently bought.

Keep produce fresh
Keep produce fresh

How to store cucumbers as long as possible

I found conflicting opinions. Epicurious says to clean, dry, and wrap them in a dry paper towel, tucked inside a plastic bag. However, kitchn.com begs to differ. Its writer says to keep them on your counter at room temperature, away from ethylene-gas-producing foods like banana, melons, tomatoes (which cause other foods to ripen/spoil faster).

Well, I’ve already tried the Epicurious method and it has never gotten me past a few days, so next time, I’m going to try the counter top method.

How to store leafy greens / salads as long as possible

I reviewed a bunch of expert-sounding sites, including another nice write-up in kitchn.com that actually compared 3 different methods. The overwhelmingly best method seems to be: wash, dry, and then store in layers of paper towels in a plastic container (not a plastic bag!) According to confident practitioners of this method, produce stored this way can last from 10 days to 1 month! Fantastic! Except I don’t currently have any plastic containers that would suit this purpose. . .

How to store tomatoes as long as possible

I used to toss tomatoes directly in the fridge. Well, now I know better. If they’re ripe and you’re not going to eat them right away, put them in the fridge.

If they’re not fully ripe, leave them on the counter at room temperature until they have become fully ripe. To allow them to ripen properly, Food52.com and a number of other reliable-sounding websites, says you should either place them stem side down or place a piece of tape over the stem “scar” to prevent moisture from leaving the tomato (drying it out) and keep air from entering which creates mold.

How to store broccoli as long as possible

We find our broccoli to go bad within a couple of days, so I can tell you for sure how NOT to store it: Don’t leave it in a plastic bag in your vegetable crisper. We get terrible results from this. Listonic and Wikihow offered two different options to try: 1) Wrap it loosely in a damp paper towel and it may last 4-5 days. 2) Store the broccoli like a bouquet in a bowl/jar of water, stem side down and it could last 5-7 days.

How to store zucchinis as long as possible

Storing zucchinis didn’t seem to be as interesting for the internet as tomatoes. The general consensus seems to be to avoid putting zucchinis in the fridge if possible because the cold ages the zucchini. If you do put it in the fridge, then put it in a plastic bag (partially open or perforated to slow down the oxidation process).

If you do leave it at room temperature in the open air, the zucchini will shrivel in about 2-3 days. Instead, it is recommended that you put it in a plastic bag, again with holes on the countertop. I’m not sure about this recommendation, as I have personally have found zucchinis to last at least one week unwrapped on the countertop.

How to store cheese as long as possible

Yeah, I know this isn’t produce, but I’m having a problem with this one, too, so I figured I’d just add it here until it finds a better home. The answer seems to be to wrap cheese in wax or parchment paper and then place in a plastic bag. There’s such a thing as a cheese bag which apparently works best, but I don’t own one and chances are, you don’t either. If the cheese sweats a lot, then you’re supposed to replace the paper each time you take the cheese out.

I’ll keep this post updated as I look up other veggies and storage methods. What suggestions do you have for making produce last? I’m all ears!

Health Insurance Plan Comparison Spreadsheets

Updated September 27, 2021

Changing jobs? Open enrollment? Recently, we were choosing between a variety of health insurance plans, including ones with HSA options. Before I thought to look online, I had already made my own comparison spreadsheet, but I guess that’s all well and good because it was a nice, eye-opening experience to think through the ridiculous rules of each of the health insurance plans myself. Even the plan representatives barely understand the rules. 

Later on, I found a few different health plans spreadsheets online that I thought were helpful and collected the links below. There are also various calculators and comparison widgets on health websites, but they hide the logic and calculations they’re using to compare, so it’s not as useful. In the end, it’s a bit like picking stocks because of the assumptions and guesses you have to make about your future needs, but I still found it more useful than not thinking about it at all. Hope some of these are helpful to you too.

#1 Mr. Money Moustache and Reddit Health Comparison Spreadsheets

These two spreadsheets that I found on the forums of Mr. Money Moustache and Reddit are quite similar and straightforward to use. They compare a PPO plan to an HDHP w/HSA. They graph out the costs of the plans based on medical costs which is helpful to see around what cost point that the plans are most cost-effective. It comes down to what you think your costs are likely to be:

#2 Business Insider Picking Healthcare Plan Spreadsheet

This one posted by Anisha Sekar on businessinsider.com had a thoughtful, step by step post accompanying the spreadsheet:

#3 Healthcare Plan Worksheet on spreadsheetsolving.com

I also liked this spreadsheet on spreadsheetsolving.com (interesting site and worth further review for those of us who like spreadsheets!). The poster did a nice job of talking through the logic behind the calculations:

#4 Simple Worksheet at The Finance Buff

Recently (9/27/21), I came across this post at thefinancebuff.com called “Do The Math: HMO/PPO vs High Deductible Plan With HSA.” The post helps you to think about how to choose a healthcare plan and includes an abbreviated worksheet to work through a simple comparison, especially if you’re not in the mood to slog it through with a detailed spreadsheet. The Finance Buff website itself is a great resource for personal finance, btw!

#5 My Detailed Health Plan Comparison Spreadsheet(s)

To use any of the spreadsheet versions below, log in to your Google account while you are accessing the spreadsheet, then you will be able to select “make a copy” and modify it however you want in your Google Drive.

In each of the versions below, there’s a tab to estimate usage costs, and then another tab to see how the different deductible amounts for the plans actually played out based on the estimated costs. Don’t forget to adapt the spreadsheet logic to your own plans’ rules. Also, If you catch some obvious errors, I would love to be notified!

Health Insurance Plan Comparison V1 – February 2020

Health Insurance Plan Comparison V2 – May 2020

Health Insurance Plan Comparison – Reader-modified 2021

Minimalist, Athletic Shoes for Kids

In another post, I wrote about how I decided to lean towards minimalist footwear for my kids and for myself. Well, I didn’t realize that finding children’s minimalist, athletic footwear (and there are definitely degrees of minimalism here) would be so difficult! In fact, most popular brands had very thick soles and were heavy. Others were too rigid and narrow, particularly in the toebox, and even others also had positive inclines, so much that I was effectively putting my child in a slight heel. None of those made any sense to me and yet those were the majority that I found.

Below is what I eventually found (some of which I ended up buying, others which I considered). Zappos and Amazon are my go to sites for buying shoes due to their easy buy and return policy. Buying shoes isn’t like buying t-shirts – easy return policies are so key!

Photo credit: zappos.com

Tsukihoshi Mako – These are my personal favorite. They’re flexible, some sole, zero drop heel, very washable. Lots of color options (compared to some others) and athletic-looking enough that my kids didn’t feel too different from their Adidas, Under Armor-clad peers. Velcro closure for fast in and out! Plus, this model has been around for many seasons. Around $55 & up.

Tsukihoshi Kaz – These are another favorite, but don’t come in some of the larger “Little Kid” sizes. Same pros and cons as the Tsukihoshi Mako. Around $50 & up.

Photo credit: zappos.com

Merrell Kids Trail Glove – I just noticed these recently (2021) on Zappos and will have my boys try them out. They’re very lightweight and have a barefoot feel. The sole is minimal with very light cushion, but it’s still sturdy with with a lot of traction on the bottom. The toe box is pretty wide, but doesn’t seem quite as wide as I’ve seen on Vivo, Xero, or Altra models. Advertised as being good for cross-training, available in sizes for toddlers through big kids. Listed at $50.

Photo credit: zappos.com

Altra Kids’ Athletic Shoes – Altra’s running shoes for kids have a large toebox for toe splay. Last I checked, there were two models, Kokiri and Lone Peak – my kids found both models to be comfortable. They are flexible and lightweight. They are zero drop, and though the soles look thick, they are actually much less cushioned than your typical running shoe. We love these shoes, but we did find that the traction on both models wore down pretty quickly. $60-$70.

Photo credit: zappos.com
Altra Youth Lone Peak trail shoe
Photo credit: altra.com

PrioI’ve been eyeing this model for my kids to try maybe in the future. They’re not available on Zappos or Amazon, so ordering is a little more “work.” Also on the pricier side, $70. Check their website for more info and pics.

Nike Free RN (pictured below, left) and Nike Flex (pictured below, right) for kids – some of the versions of the Flex and Free RN are pretty lightweight and very flexible. They tend to have thick, wide soles. Maybe that’s for stability? At any rate, I couldn’t discern much of any incline despite the thick sole on some of these models. Look carefully for what’s important to you though because there’s variation even within the models and from season to season. My kids found them super comfortable in general and said they felt like slippers. $40 – $70, depending on the model – plus these go on sale frequently when the newer versions come out.

PLAE – I don’t have a particular model in mind and we don’t own any of this brand, but almost all their shoes seemed to be zero-drop. We’ve definitely tried some of their models on a couple of times, too, but I find them a bit stiff and heavy though for a minimalist shoe. They look like a good fit for wider feet and toebox and the bottoms feel robust, for those wanting a sturdier sole. $50 & up. 

Photo credit: zappos.com

Martial arts and wrestling shoes – Most shoes used in these sports tend to be zero-drop. Their flexibility varies. Asics makes a wrestling/martial arts shoe, so it is a high cut shoe, but aside from the ankle support, the rest of the shoe is very flexible, zero drop, with varying degrees of width. Puma, Adidas, Asics also have martial arts shoes that are zero drop, somewhat flexible, but sometimes a bit narrow in the toebox, and the leather (faux?) can make the shoe a little stiffer to begin with.

Indoor soccer shoes (not the grass cleats!) – Indoor soccer shoes are typically zero drop, so we got that requirement out of the way quickly. They also have the “cool” factor, so my kids are always excited to see these. After that, you have to sift through the brands and models for the ones that suit your child’s feet. Nike has the most models that felt flexible and lightweight. Alot of them look good, but have rigid soles and for whatever reason, soccer shoes tend to run narrow though, and are all lace-ups. Around $35 & up. 

Photo credit: zappos.com

Thoughts? More info? Better info? I’m all ears. Email me at:  wishiknewbefore20@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Best Shoes for Children

Best shoes for children

I never would have thought that buying shoes for children would be a complicated matter. But one day in my early shoe-buying days, I wondered how much space there should be between the top of my child’s toe and the top of the shoe. I looked it up and the search results opened a Pandora’s box of other considerations that changed the way I thought about footwear. 

Trends in Children’s Footwear

My major takeaways on footwear in general:

  • Research in this area is slowly emerging and evolving
    1. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/09/barefoot-best-for-children
    2. https://lermagazine.com/cover_story/thinking-small-making-strides-in-childrens-footwear
  • There is a movement away from stiff and over-supportive shoe towards footwear that is soft, flexible and conforming to the natural shape of the foot as researchers delve into the root cause of many foot pain, problems, and deformities as people age 
    1. http://time.com/5294580/healthy-shoes-footwear/
    2. http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/
    3. People in barefoot communities rarely have the foot problems that shoe-wearing people have developed
    4. How we walk has actually been shaped by the shoes we wear (for better or worse)
    5. Shoes that support the natural shape of the foot and gait are now thought to be best because they support the development of strong feet
    6. Over supportive shoes do too much work for the foot, so that the foot becomes weak and prone to injury. For long-term foot health, the objective is to develop strong and stiff feet. 
  • The majority of shoe-buying guides for children support the current thought that we should allowing a child’s foot to grow naturally, which means flexible, minimal, non-restrictive footwear that retains barefoot feel while protecting the foot. However, they stop short of advising that adults do the same. http://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-sneakers-for-kids.html
  • The majority of adult and children footwear sold in stores is still supportive athletic shoes with elevated heels and trendy footwear (think high heels, shoes with lights, pointy toes) that prioritize fashion trends over natural footwear.

Footwear for Children

So what does this mean for the footwear that I buy my children? Back to the original question!  I wrote a post to list the best minimalist, athletic footwear I’ve found for my kids. Below are my major takeaways on buying footwear both for children and incidentally, adults as well:

  • Childen’s feet as in all other areas of their body are in developmental stage so all the more critical it is to have footwear that allows them to grow properly. Most experts, buying guides, and recent research seem to agree on this one, that up through toddlerhood, children should wear shoes that are minimal, flexible, allowing them to feel the ground properly as they learn to walk and run:
    1. Shoes should not restrict any sort of natural movement of the foot. Anything that restricts the natural spread of the foot lengthwise or width-wise can cause foot development deformities that lead to foot pain in later life.
    2. The shoe should adhere to the foot completely, so that the heel isn’t falling out or the foot sliding back and forth sideways or front to back. However, there should always be a little room at the top of the shoe for growth and varying foot sizes (feet tend to swell at the end the day). 
    3. Try shoes on at the end of the day for best fit, since feet tend to swell by the end of the day
    4. Avoid second-hand shoes if possible – I’ve adapted this to occasional wear (backup shoes for the younger one!). See point below about changing up your shoes every now and then. 
    5. Shoes should not have any heel at all (known as zero drop) and flexible soles that can bend AND twist
  • After age ~5 is where the opinions seem to diverge significantly and you’ll have to decide where you fall on this debate to determine your purchasing choices. Some continue to feel that the same philosophy applies to footwear of all ages. However, the mainstream opinion and footwear options feel that shoes need to have more rigidity for stability, arches for support, toe spring to aid the foot forward, and so on. 
    1. An example of this divergence can be found in the difference between the APMA (American Podiatric Medical Association) guide and the opinion from the emerging minimalist movement. https://www.apma.org/files/FileDownloads/Helpful%20Kids%20Shoe%20Shopping%20Tips.pdf;
    2. The emerging minimalist footwear movement differs: http://naturalrunningcenter.com/2011/09/28/kids-minimalist-shoes-ensure-natural-foot-development/
  • Applying the same child footwear philosophy to adults makes sense to me.  I found this online video guide for children’s footwear to be particularly helpful for both kids and adults: https://naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17884028-how-to-choose-healthy-shoes-for-kids
  • Any shoe should feel comfortable right away – don’t expect it will get better with wear. 
    1. It’s possible that it will, but the time you spend wearing an uncomfortable shoe is bad for your foot health
    2. Most likely, it won’t get better – only worse because you’ll be aggravating whichever part of  your foot for a longer period of time once you actually wear the shoe out the store
  • Order shoes online (with a free return policy!) whenever possible – this gives you time to wear a shoe indoors for a longer period of time. Even shoes that feel comfortable right away in the store, can start to feel uncomfortable after an hour. And you never would have known that if you bought the shoe from a store and wore it outside right away. If you only wear them indoors, you can still return them! Added bonus: you don’t have to deal with your kids in a shoe store arguing with them about selecting all kinds of shoes that aren’t good for their feet!
  • Switch your (properly fitted) footwear around on a regular basis – this allows you to exercise different muscles, bones, and joints instead of applying repetition to the same areas by wearing the same shoe everyday. So for kids this may mean not having just one pair of shoes to wear for the entire year, but 2-3 pairs to change out on a regular basis

Resources

Below is a list of additional links that I reviewed in my research:

Posts on kids’ developing feet needs:

Looking at the big picture, footwear for adults:

Mainstream guide to choosing shoes:

Minimalist guide to buying shoes:

Athletic shoe buying guides: