Monday, October 29, 2012

Tiny Prints Holiday Card Giveaway!

It's that time a year again where we're starting to think about what we want to do about holiday cards. There is always the good ol' generic drug store pack of holiday cards you could pick up, fill out and mail off, but it seems that is not the current trend. Nor is it very personal or fun to tell you the truth. I was one of those drug store holiday card purchases until just a few years ago. Then I jumped on board the photo holiday card bandwagon (I'm usually a very late follow to trends, so this is not surprising)!

I usually purchase my Christmas cards from Shutterfly each year. Well, this year I got a blog campaign email from Tiny Prints (they seem to be a division of Shutterfly), and thought I'd check them out. They offered to sponsor my post and a giveaway (details below), but I won't blog about something if I don't like it. So I headed to the website to check out their Christmas Cards. I must say, I'm quite excited about this site and will probably get my Christmas cards here this year!

When I make a holiday photo card, I spend most of my time just trying to decide on a style. I'm picky. I want my card to have several photos, not just one. I want it to be a certain size and still have room for a little letter summarizing the big things from our year. Then on top of all of that, I don't want it to be too typical holiday design - I'm just not into Santas, candy canes, ornaments, or other "typical" Christmas icons that show up on card designs. So that always seemed to limit me to a handful of styles, none of which I loved. I wanted elegant, simple, and yet still Christmasy (is that even a word??). I've loved my cards in the past, but mostly for the layout and photos. This year Tiny Prints might make me LOVE every aspect of my Christmas card. They have some amazing designs and prints that feel very elegant and stylish to me. You can get the standard Christmas designs too. Add to that the option for a premium doublethick matte cardstock, and you could make a really fancy holiday card this year.

I think I'm in love with this design, but I haven't had a chance to go through every design they have. Hmmm... deciding what style I want may still take majority of the time. At least this time I'll be having a hard time deciding which I love best instead of which I dislike the least.

This one makes me think of a vintage sign or candy shop for some reason.

Oooh, while this one doesn't feel very "Christmasy" (I've decided it's a word for at least today), I think it is really cute and fun! There was something like 800 designs on the page I pulled up, so there is something for everyone, I'm sure! 

 Want a chance to join me in trying out Tiny Prints for your holiday cards this year? Tiny Prints is giving me a chance to give $50 off your total order (expires 12/14/2012, no extensions and does apply toward shipping) to one of my readers! To enter leave me a comment below telling me what you're favorite thing about holiday cards is. Then on Friday, November 9th, 2012 I will randomly select one winner and Tiny Prints will email you your promo code!

Even if you don't win, check out their Specials Page and see if you find anything for you! Good luck!

Peanut Allergy No More? Maybe...

Yup, you read that right. Five years might be the longest we have to live with the worry and panic that comes along with Big Monkey's peanut allergy. The key word here is "maybe," but hey, I'll take a maybe over the thought of having to worry about him for the rest of his life!

We appear to be a pretty normal family trying to let our kids experience life, and for the most part, we are. I let Big Monkey experience everything we can despite his food allergy. He still goes to birthday parties, the zoo, playdates, trick or treating, and to the circus. We just always go prepared (epi pens) and take precautions (i.e. he eats nothing without my approval and we wash hands a lot). So far we've been lucky (or done well) and haven't had a need for the epi pen (we have used benadryl on a number of occasions though). Of course all the worry takes its toll. I hate to see Big Monkey growing up so worried and fixated on food and what's in it. All the precautions we take only fuel my OCD and anxiety issues. Worst of all, I look at Big Monkey's future and the thought that he could have an accidental exposure anywhere down the line that could take his life makes me shudder in fear. I would move heaven and earth to make this last worry go away.

About two months ago, I found a support group that introduced me to the hope of just that. The process is called oral immunotherapy (OIT), and it is a potential "cure" at most and a "safeguard" at least for my son's peanut allergy. Where do I sign up, right? Well, it's not quite that simple. The catch to this great sounding treatment is that it requires a huge commitment, comes with some risks/side effects, isn't cheap, and will take a lot of sacrifice on our part. Here's what we're looking at.

If you're at all familiar with allergy shots, then you can sort of think of OIT as the oral version of allergy shots. On Big Monkey's first day he would be fed a very very tiny amount (think like 1/100,000 of the final dose, which may only be a few peanuts) of peanut flour and watched carefully. He would then have his dose increased gradually until he either showed any symptoms of reaction or until we reached the goal amount for day one. This is considered the "desensitization" day and takes anywhere from 2-8 hours. The goal on day one is to teach his body to not react to the presence of small amounts of the peanut allergen.

After day one, Big Monkey will consume a dose of peanut protein twice a day every day for the next 3-6 months with the dose increasing each week (less often if he shows side effects or has difficulties). If all goes well, then somewhere around the second month he would consume his first whole peanut (um, yikes for mama!). This period of time induces tolerance to the peanut protein. Once he reaches the ability to consume a certain number of peanuts at one time, he "graduates" from the desensitization treatment process and would move into the "maintenance" phase. This phase includes eating 8 peanuts twice a day in the beginning and eventually 8 peanuts once a day. How long these maintenance doses need to be continued is not yet known, but eating 8 peanuts a day (or 8 peanut M&Ms) for the rest of his life would be a small price to pay to be able to attend school without having to eat lunch at a separate "peanut free" table.

Doesn't sound so bad right? Well, it won't be a walk in the park. Each of these weekly dose increases must be done in the allergists office so that Big Monkey can be monitored and properly treated in the event of a reaction. OIT is safe, but it does come with side effects. Side effects often include hives, itching, rashes, runny nose, itching throat, some wheezing, stomach cramps/aches, and vomiting. Anaphylaxis can occur during treatment, but the risk of this over the entire course of treatment is only 1-2%. As far as I can find in the literature, only 1 person has died during OIT and that was due to a dosing error in a clinical trial. Studies have shown that reactions most often occur on the first day, during dose increases, with exercise to close to a given dose, or when the person is ill (fevers, viral infection, etc). Sounds scary to some, but we live every day with the threat of an unexpected deadly reaction, so some vomiting/stomach aches/other reactions in the presence of a doctor doesn't sound nearly as scary.

Giving doses in the doctor's office every week is the complicated part of this treatment. Here is why: there are only a handful of doctors in the US that offer OIT, and of course, none of them are local. The nearest doctor to us is located just outside of Portland, OR. We've done a cost comparison, and traveling every week from home to Oregon would be more expensive than just living in Oregon for 6 months. So, if Big Monkey gets the all clear and is a good candidate for this treatment, the boys and I will be considering temporarily relocating for 6 months.

Why do I say 5 years might be the longest we have to live with the fear from this allergy? Well, because the doctor we are considering starts as early as age 4. After the New Year, we will have Big Monkey component tested (using the uKnow peanut test) to see what peanut proteins he is allergic too. If he is allergic to the proteins that cause anaphylaxis (we haven't had an ana reaction to date, so we don't know), then we will schedule a consult. If the OIT allergist says we're a go, then hopefully we will start sometime in 2013!

Of course the best thing in the world would be if we went in to the allergist and they told me his test results show he's no longer allergic at all. Here's to hoping!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

G is for Gumball and Goodness Grief

Goodness grief is what I kept repeating off and on all week. We struggled a bit getting through the week, but all is well now that it is the weekend. Other than the fact that Mama Monkey has a bit of a cold.

This week we did G is for gumball. I thought as a field trip we would go to the Jelly Belly factory. So we did, but we were only there maybe a half hour. We tasted a few jelly beans and then waited in line for the factory tour. We made it upstairs and got our little paper hats. Then just as we were about to go through the doors for the tour, Big Monkey decided he was too scared and didn't want to go. I asked several times and he insisted that he wanted to go home. Poor Baby Monkey was in my arms crying "No, jelly bean me, jelly bean me, no go home!" He was very sad, but I couldn't imagine having a terrified preschooler in the factory. So we left. Good thing too as my friends reported that the factory was decorated all spooky and scary for Halloween. Whew, I narrowly missed that disaster. Unfortunately, I didn't even snap a photo out front because Big Monkey just didn't want to.

We had a few more cranky days between the boys, but we managed to fit in some school. Friday was by far the hardest day with Baby Monkey. He was just looking for trouble the entire time. I'd get him set up with an activity like beads and as soon as I'd turn to help Big Monkey, Baby Monkey would leave his activity and go destroy something else. Sigh, it was a long day. In retrospect, I believe Baby Monkey was fighting this mild cold as well.

We counted gumballs and added them to our gumball "boxes" as Big Monkey called the gumball machine printouts. He actually liked this counting activity. We often do "graphing" versions of counting where he has to count the number of something on the paper and then place the same number of cheerios, beads, or magnets. He's not crazy about that for the numbers larger than about 6, but he counted gumballs very willingly here. 

Baby Monkey showed me that he could trace the letter C. He actually traced both letters completely on his own before scribbling all over the paper.

Big Monkey attempted a color by number sheet and did a great job! He worked hard to color in the lines as best he could (which is a big deal for him as he'll usually just say that he can't because "it's too hard").

Baby Monkey practicing his cuteness skills.

We attempted to take some photos of all 3 of us, which is quite hard when lying on the floor with both kids on top of you and no pillow behind your head! I think we did pretty good though.

This was Friday. Yup, Baby Monkey attended school half naked that day. He had a blast gluing gumballs onto his machine. I did all the cutting for him, but Big Monkey did all his cutting and gluing solo.

Power magnets.

So I've tried clip cards with Big Monkey before. The idea is for him to clip clothespins or paper clips to the card based on the number printed on the card. Well, we've had some major problems with his ability to clip either a normal clothespin or paperclip, and thus, a lack of interest in the counting clip cards. So I bought some of those tiny baby shower clothespins. He seems to have an easier time clipping these, although on this particular day he was having a hard time paying attention to how many pins he had on his card. At one point when I was dealing with Baby Monkey's destruction, he had 19 paperclips on the card for 9. Some days are not our best. :)

Next week we move on to P is for pumpkin to celebrate the week of Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I am NOT a better parent than you...

In fact, I may be a terrible parent compared to you. How would I ever know since I'm not you and I don't know your kids? In fact, while I'm doing my best to do right by my kids, I have a whole slew of my own issues that I'm hoping I don't dump on them in the process.

I had a friend mention today mention that she was tired of all the "mompetition" (great word by the way!) in today's parenting society. She is so right that this exists. So many parents think their way of parenting is the only right way and they aren't afraid to tell you so. They're also not afraid to tell you if they think you're doing it wrong. It's sad, especially when it makes great people rethink the idea of becoming parents in the first place.

I thought about what she said (which included mentioning seeing this mompetition in Facebook posts, blogs, etc...), and I started to panic a little. I thought, gee, I sure hope none of my friends or family feel this way about my comments or blog posts. I could have asked her if I was a culprit of this mompetition, but I didn't. Why? Well, I probably didn't really want to hear if I was since that had never been my intention (I really should put on my big girl panties though and take the criticism if that is the case. If she is reading this, she knows who she is and I give her full permission to scold me privately). Mainly, I decided that even if I have not made her feel this way, I still needed to post something to let the rest of my friends know that creating competition is never my intent with anything I write, post, or even say in person!

I am so far from perfect as a person or parent. I wouldn't choose some of the parenting choices others make, but I respect them all. Those decisions are being made for kids that are not my own, and it's not my job to decide what is best for them.

The choices I make are what is best for my children, not necessarily yours. I share because there are people out there that have asked me for ideas. A number of my friends have asked about where I get some of my activities and how we carry them out. My husband likes to follow my blog during the week so he feels like he's there with the kids more. I'm part of a peanut allergy support group where many members share their journey and enjoy reading the journey of others. There are so many reasons why I post the things I do, but trying to say I'm a better or more knowledgeable parent is never one of those reasons. If you've ever felt this way about anything I've said, my deepest apologies.

With all that said though, I don't plan to stop sharing. So if my words at all offend you or make you feel bad, by all means, please just stop reading them as that is not their point. We are all doing the best we can for our kids and that is what is important. I think you are all amazing parents (or would be if you're not currently), and should keep doing what you are doing!

Friday, October 19, 2012

F is for Fish and Fun!

This week we focused on F is for fish and had quite a bit of fun along the way. After several weeks of traveling and squishing school into days, we finally had a regular week with three full days of school. Ok, so full day means about 2 hours each day, but still that's what is normal for us.

We started our week with a trip to the local aquarium with Big Monkey's friend Ladybug. We haven't seen them in awhile, and when we pulled up to park, Ladybug screamed out her car window "you are my best friend!" It was very cute. We had a fun time, but I was surprised by how wild and crazy Big Monkey and Baby Monkey acted while we were out. We had a rough night the night before, so I think that was the reason. At least we got to see some cool fish.

Then we used the next three days for school at home. I've noticed a lot of improvement in both boys this past week. It amazes me how suddenly they master certain skills. For example, we got these great power magnets (even I think they're fun) to use with magnet sheets. The boys take the magnets apart (they come stuck together) and then place them in the little circles on the picture. The papers are on top of cookie sheets so that the magnets stick (yup, I lost two of my good cookie sheets to the school room). Big Monkey has always been good at these and has fun using either a single color, a pattern of colors, or just random colors. Baby Monkey used to just take the magnets and stick them all over the page, to each other, and to other random places on the cookie sheet. Then he'd put his pieces back in the box and steal his brother's magnets. Well, this week I looked over (yeah, he got a sheet from a previous week) and there Baby Monkey had 2 magnets neatly placed in the circles on his sheet. He only put down a total of 3 magnets, but that's a major step for him!

Big Monkeys cutting skills have improved greatly. He's now able to carefully cut along a line of almost any shape.

We've also improved on patterns. Big Monkey seems to really get the concept of patterns now. Although I am a bit concerned about some of our color recognition. I'm noticing he often calls red, green, and a few other colors something else. If I call him out on it, he corrects himself. So I'm not sure if he's just not paying close attention or if it's something else. I'm not concerned that he doesn't know colors, he does. I'm concerned about color blindness. Ready for a quick genetics lesson? The genes for color blindness are located on the X chromosome. My dad is shade blind, and I'm a carrier for the gene (it's recessive, so have 2 X chromosomes means I have one good gene that compensates for the defective one). That means each of the monkey boys has a 50% chance of having some sort of color blindness (they each inherited their X chromosome from me and each had a 50% chance of getting the one with the defective gene). I believe that I read somewhere that kids are usually tested around age 5. I might pursue that topic with the pediatrician a little sooner.

He can at least matched the same colors together though.

Another item I've been working on is trying to teach Big Monkey that we read things from left to right. He really likes to read and write from right to left. So I figure we should start now. I point out words as I read books to him. I show him how I write. I've tried to instruct him on which direction he should write and read. None of these things had a very big impact. Then one day I watched him doing 2 activities. The first was counting the numbers of the calendar in the background of the above picture. I had to help him go from 6 to 7 instead of from 6 to 13. He's starting to get a handle on that. Then I watched him singing the ABCs as he pointed along to the letters in the back of the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom book. This has been the biggest helper in teaching him to read from left to right!

We do more than paper work during the week. I just don't often snap photos because I'm usually helping or enjoying. This week Baby Monkey played with the beads and an old (cleaned) milk jug. He had a great time dropping them in the jug and then dumping them back out into the container (yup, a cleaned yogurt container).

We also did lacing blocks, which for some reason, the boys think make good "lassos" once the blocks are on the strings. Oye...

We also found a nice little surprise on our front porch this week. We got a boo basket from one of our neighbors. This person went all out and had the boys in mind when they built the basket - there were even 2 pairs of Cars socks! As well as crayons (2 boxes), color and number flashcards, a pumpkin carver and other goodies. I have a few ideas of the sender and we are so greatful!

 Next week we are expecting some rain. This mama might have to get creative on keeping the boys entertained!

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Early Lesson In History

The boys (mainly Big Monkey as Baby Monkey was mostly along for the ride) got a very early lesson in history this past week. All sorts of history!

First we took a week and a few days and went on vacation as a family. We visited Grandma's house and Disneyland. We checked out the new Cars Land at California Adventure, but quickly discovered that it is geared to an older (or at least taller and braver) set of kids. The main ride - Radiator Racers - had a minimum height requirement of 40". Daddy Monkey and I managed to sneak on, and it was a super cute and very well done ride. However, it would have been way too fast for Big Monkey, who is afraid of pretty much anything more thrilling than Dumbo. We had a great time, but I think we will wait several more years before returning (in hopes that the boys will be less afraid then). We did have great success with Big Monkey meeting several characters though!

 We also made a visit to the beach while we were on vacation and enjoyed making some sand angles and climbing trees. 

After a brief 4 day return home to do some laundry and squeeze in some school work, the boys and I jumped on a plane and headed for Arkansas. This is where the lessons in history began!

What's in Arkansas besides a ton of trees? Well, it seems that a fair number of my extended family is located either there or Texas. The rest are scattered among about 4 other states. We attended the family reunion for my maternal grandmother's family and had a blast!

The reunion took place in a state park, and it was gorgeous. The Monkey boys spent 2 days doing pretty much nothing except playing in the dirt. They couldn't have been happier and they got to meet a great group of kids that I calculate to be about their 5th cousins maybe (is that even the right terminology??). My entire immediate family (sans Daddy Monkey who had to work) flew out for the reunion. What a lesson in family history!

There is a theme every year, and this year's was patriotism. Great Papa Monkey wore his army uniform from when we was 17 and the boys got to dress up as mini-Marines. We only had to wear costumes for about an hour, so we went all out and had fun with it.

Then we stayed with Grandma Monkey for a few extra days and explored Little Rock. We saw the ducks at the Peabody Hotel. They ride down the elevator and then "march" (run/waddle really) to the fountain in the lobby where they stay for the day. The Peabody Hotel in Memphis has this too.

Then we took the boys to the Arkansas Old State House Museum. I really thought we'd only make it 10 minutes in this place before I had bored, whining children, but see, my boys like to prove me wrong. We spent 2 hours in there! We saw a history of the Arkansas battle flag (a great introduction to how the US flag has changed over the years), the governors, and even an old legislative room complete with candle holders. Then there was an entire wing of the building about growing up in Arkansas. It was all about the history of childhood in the state including really old wooden school desks like these that the boys tried out: 

Of course, Big Monkeys favorite thing was the cannon out front. Not sure he is showing his intelligence in this photo though considering he had his head practically inside the thing...

The last day we were there we walked half way across the Big Dam Bridge, which is the largest pedestrian only bridge in North America at 1,700 feet. It was peaceful and gorgeous. We even saw the fish swimming below and got to teach Big Monkey a little about how a dam works.

There are great school lessons in every day life even when on vacation! Some of which are better than what one will ever get from a text book.

Next week we are back to our normal school schedule in Mama Monkey's office/school room. We squished 3 days of school into 2 this week and worked on D is for dinosaurs (we completed C is for caterpillar the week between vacation and our Arkansas trip), and will move on to F is for fish next week. That means there might be a trip to the aquarium in store for the boys! If it's not too busy, I'll actually try to take some photos.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The beginning of our food allergy journey

Food allergies affect approximately 15 million Americans. The most common allergens are milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, and fish. Many people outgrow certain food allergies. Sadly, the foods that cause the most severe reactions (peanuts, shellfish, and tree nuts) are less often outgrown. Reactions can include vomiting, rashes, itching, swelling, anaphylaxis, and even death. What's even more frightening is that one person's reaction can change with each exposure. Someone may have hives and itching for years upon exposure and suddenly develop anaphylaxis. A diagnosis of food allergy is not something any parent wants for their child.

We are not strangers to food allergy here in the monkey household. Mama monkey has had a shellfish allergy for as long as I can remember. Big Monkey has a peanut allergy. To date Baby Monkey has no known food allergies, and Daddy Monkey can eat anything (except milk because he's lactose intolerant which is not an allergy).

We've known about Big Monkey's peanut allergy since he turned 1 year. At 11 months I fed him egg whites (he had eaten egg yolks before, but the whites are the allergen) and developed a rash around his mouth. At his 1 year well baby visit, his pediatrician recommended a RAST test. This is a blood test that checks for IgE antibodies (the antibodies responsible for the reactions to food) specific for certain foods. The number indicates how likely they are to be allergic, but does not tell you the type of reaction that would occur on exposure. We tested Big Monkey for several foods, although I have since learned that this method of testing without history can lead to a lot of false positives. In our case, Big Monkey was positive only for eggs and peanuts.

I must admit, at age 1, eliminating eggs was much harder than eliminating peanuts. Everything has egg in it. Bread is even often brushed with egg whites to form a nice crust when baked. I spent that next year focusing mostly on eggs, but of course also not allowing peanuts near my son.

We retested at age 2 to find out that Big Monkey could again eat eggs! Yay! I was a super happy mama that day. However, his IgE levels went up for peanuts. Despite trying to keep him peanut free, his allergy was not going away. At that point we hadn't had any reactions and had no idea how he would react to a peanut exposure. Our first known exposure (i.e. One that resulted in a noticeable reaction and not just random small hives on his body) occurred when Big Monkey was about 2 years 9 months old.

We went to a friend's house for a playdate. We had not planned on staying for lunch, but the kids (and mamas) were enjoying themselves, so we decided on sandwiches. We made ham and cheese sandwiches for the boys and gave them their food. Then my friend made her daughter a pb and jelly sandwich. She sat on the other end of the table from my son. My friend washed her hands and then got a cup for my son's drink. To be cautious, I washed the cup with soap and water before giving it to my son. About 5 minutes later, Big Monkey had hives all over his face and his lips were swollen. He kept scratching at his neck, but otherwise said he was fine. We are not sure if he picked up residue from the cup, the table, or somewhere else, but it was a wake up call to me on several levels. First, it showed me exactly how little peanut residue it takes for him to have a reaction. As far as I know, that was just a contact reaction. Had he actually ingested a peanut, he may have gone into anaphylactic shock. There is no such thing as being too careful. Second, it showed me how I'll prepared I was. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I had an epi-pen, but in that moment I realized that I had no idea when to administer it. I had no benadryl on me. I had no idea what dose to give him anyway! There was so much I had to learn that day and so much more that I am still learning.

Big Monkey is now 3 years 9 months old. It has been exactly 1 year since that incident. I now know to give benadryl for hives and the epi pen at the first sign of wheezing/difficulty breathing. I carry a bottle of benadryl, a medicine dispenser, and 2 epi-pens everywhere I go with Big Monkey. Anyone who is left alone with him is trained to administer the epi-pen and has benadryl dosing instructions, and he is rarely left with anyone that is not daddy or the grandparents. We are a peanut free home. I now know that products that say "may contain peanuts" actually contain peanuts 2-8% of the time, which is not a risk I am willing to take. In fact, "manufactured on the same equipment" is no longer a risk I am willing to take. I have learned that peanuts are not always called "peanuts" in all products (i.e. Arachis oil is peanut oil) and there are hidden peanuts in so many things. Ant traps, miracle grow potting soil, and even bean bags contain peanuts or peanut shells. Shampoos, lotions, granola bars, cereals, chocolates... The list of labels I must read seems to grow by the day.

Today my goal is to protect my son and still allow him to experience as much of childhood as I safely can. We still have playdates, we still go to the zoo and Disneyland, and we still fly on airplanes, but I am the "OCD mom" everyone stares at as I wipe my child's hands every time he touches something and is constantly telling him to not touch his face/mouth etc... I wipe the grocery cart and use a cart cover (or better yet, I bring my own stroller and cart). I'm not crazy. We're just trying to survive and have hope that he won't have to live a life this paranoid forever. Maybe he'll still outgrow this. Maybe, just maybe, there's a way to desensitize his body to this allergen. This has become a real possibility, but I need to complete more research before posting on that one.