15 Things I’ve Learned in Four Years of Food Allergies

Posted by Carly Morgan

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It’s been four years to the day since we found out that Eva has severe allergies. I still remember that first allergy test – the three hour wait, the red welts, the nurse trying to show me how to use an Epi pen. I came home and filled bags up with all the food in the house that wasn’t safe to give our kid and when I was done I felt like someone needed to come in and reassure me that I was just being overdramatic and making a big show because surely that was too much stuff. I had bagged up 80% of whatever we had in the kitchen and we ended up with nothing but things like rice and mustard and baking soda. It couldn’t be that serious.

The next day we spent $300 on medication and put our cats up for adoption.

That feels like a really long time ago. I’m also happy that it no longer feels like the sky is falling, which is how everything felt for the first three months or so. Eva has allergies. She’s severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower, shellfish, and animal dander. And it’s fine. We manage.

15 things I’ve learned about food allergies in the last four years:

  • It’s not as hard to eat around food allergies as you think it would be. Once you get used to cooking the basics at home, you have a lot of control over what your family eats.
  • Food allergies can be expensive but they don’t have to be. If we bought Eva all the high-end nut-free snack products and specialty items at Whole Foods, the rest of us wouldn’t eat. Making accommodations by subbing in fresh fruit and homemade dessert is a cheaper fix and not all that inconvenient once you get used to it.
  • You will have more people who try to protect your kid than people who fight you on it. For every complaint I’ve ever gotten from someone who doesn’t want to deal with Eva’s restrictions, I have twenty people who have gone out of their way to ask about safe foods, wipe their kids’ hands, and provide non-edible birthday treats.
  • Eva isn’t the only kid out there with severe allergies. The popularity of the teal pumpkin project this Halloween just underlines how many kids are walking around with their Epi pens.
  • Advocacy can get uncomfortable but parents are the first line of defense for allergy kids. After Eva’s first preschool gave her peanut butter, we accepted their apology and sent her back for the rest of the year even though we never felt as safe. Looking back, I wasn’t prepared to stand up for her and I’m so mad that I kept her in that dangerous situation for so long.
  • People will try but they don’t know. Eva’s exposures to allergens have mostly been from people who think something is safe because they don’t know better. There are things that she’s allergic to that you’d never flag if you weren’t looking (cumin, potato chips, dried fruit, etc.) and using dry napkins or hand sanitizer doesn’t remove nut residue from hands or tables. I so appreciate the effort but we also double check everything.
  • Other kids aren’t mean about it at this age. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about food allergy bullying, but we’ve never encountered anything like that first hand.
  • Just because she’s been around something before doesn’t mean she won’t react to it next time. This seems to be especially true of animal dander. That stuff just sneaks up to get her.
  • As terrifying as using the Epi pen is, it’s much worse to realize you need it and you aren’t sure if you have one on hand.
  • Not being invited to birthday parties just stinks even if you think you’re protecting someone else’s kid. Trust the parents to make accommodations or bow out if the party won’t be safe. I’m firmly in the camp of including everyone now that we’ve experienced the whole-class-except-Eva guest list a few times over.
  • Cracked skin from eczema leads to a higher chance of allergic reactions which can lead to illness/asthma which can increase skin cracks. Breaking the cycle with aggressive skin care saves a lot of stress in the long run.
  • There are summer camps just for kids with food allergies to bond in a safe atmosphere away from parents who feel like they have to hover 24/7.
  • If there’s an activity, sports team, or classmate’s parents who just refuses to make any kind of accommodation (or starts showing up with PB granola bars to make a point), sever that tie. It might be disappointing for your kid but in the long run, that’s not a relationship you guys needed anyway.
  • If your school won’t accommodate your kid, that’s illegal. Any school that receives federal money (all public schools and most private schools) have to provide reasonable accommodations for any student with a medical condition like food allergies. You can set up a 504 plan to determine what those accommodations will be. (Granted, you might have to fight like hell to keep that thing enforced, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how on board most teachers are. They don’t want to kill your kid!)
  • Living with severe food allergies gives your kid a good base to understand things like empathy, disability, independence, responsibility, and how their body systems work together. It’s not all bad!

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Resources for Kids Interested in Art

Posted by Carly Morgan

Eva is very into art. I feel like most kids like to draw and create things, but Eva has been art focused forever and, much like her bottomless interest in rocks and her obsession with Disney Infinity, her passion for art goes way beyond anything I’m interested in. I like art but I don’t want to talk about it all the time and outside of pre-packaged crafts I’m not that creative. So nurturing her artistic side has been something of a challenge.

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I would love to have just thrown crayons at the kid but I also want her to get inspired by art ideas that she hasn’t come up with herself. Exposure to art is tricky because we have unimpressive art museums around here and Calvin would rather put toothpicks in his eyes than go to art museums. So, we needed to find a new way.

Because I am a giant nerd, I first started looking for books that would help me expand the world of art for Eva. I bought a book about teaching art to elementary school students and I liked how it broke down different principles, but it’s structured as though you’re going to be teaching 20-30 kids at once so a lot of it wasn’t worth it for me. (Maybe if you’re planning on doing art projects with homeschool groups?) The Artful Parent was a lot more helpful because it’s focused more on creating creative spaces and opportunities for art, rather than specific art projects. I also liked the format more, probably because it was written by a blogger.

That book suggested having books on hand that had different examples of art, so I got The Art Book for Children, which covers a lot of the big classic pieces of art and that’s been great to have on hand, but we’ve actually gotten more mileage out of 1000 Illustrations for Children, which was an impulse purchase at the local art museum. There isn’t quite as much variation in art type or country of origin but it’s more accessible for Eva and it’s actually kind of nice to just be able to look at a piece of art and not think about how super famous it is and how you really HAVE to like it because everyone says it’s so good.

Finally, we’ve done a bunch of projects based out of this book, which has a lot of different kinds of art that kids can do. It’s out of print right now but we use it so often I thought I’d include it. Used copies are pretty cheap!

If you aren’t as into getting info from books, you might want to try these websites out:

Of course, the final part of the puzzle is to keep art stuff on hand. We’ve swung between having too much (the mess around the house!!) and too little (those pre-stocked art kits are so, so boring) and it turns out that having a little bit of a lot of different mediums is the best bet, if that makes sense. We don’t need ALL the paints, but we need some paint. We don’t need ALL the paper, but we need at least 6-7 different types. The only thing we don’t need is glitter, mostly because it just makes me yell a lot when it ends up all over the house.

Oh, and everything needs to be washable. That’s key. There are also materials that are just too old for the kids right now, including pottery clay, liquid ink, hot glue guns, and electric pencil sharpeners. Learned that the hard way.

Here are some of the materials we keep stocked these days. I have a running list on Amazon so I can restock when we run out because it took us a while to find the good stuff instead of the cheap stuff they try to pass off because kids don’t know the difference. Some were an investment but a lot of them are stocking stuffer prices:

The First Month: How Kindergarten is Going

Posted by Carly Morgan

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We decided to put Eva in Kindergarten this year even though we wanted to homeschool because we figured it was worth seeing exactly what she’d be missing by not doing “regular” school. I’d heard that Kindergarten isn’t the best measuring stick because it’s still more relaxed than the higher grades and the homework load is light, but we still wanted to see how she’d do. Well, she’s through the first month and I’m reporting back.

Earlier this week, Eva was late for school. To be more precise, her very pregnant mom had a hard time getting herself together and out the door, which made Eva’s ride to school arrive five minutes after everyone else had gone in. That meant that all three of us had to go in to the school to check her in because they lock the building up tight for safety reasons.

We hung her bag and coat outside the door to her classroom, stole a quick hug, and then I opened the door so she could go in. The class was in the middle of quiet carpet time with only the teacher talking and I couldn’t see any of the other students but as soon as she stepped in there was a chorus of excited voices saying “Eva!” “Eva is here!” “Hi, Eva!” “Eva, we’re so glad to see you!”. I had enough time to see Eva’s whole face light up before she disappeared into the room.

Every day, she runs toward school. Different kids pop up to grab her, chase her around the playground, or hold her hand. She helps out around the class doing random odd things that aren’t assigned to anyone which isn’t a huge surprise because Eva might actually convert praise to energy the same way plants convert sunlight and she thinks her teacher walks on water. She loves everyone at the school. Students. Librarian. Crossing guard. Everyone.

Is she learning anything? No, not yet, unless you count social discoveries and the school fight song. Working at home has pushed her forward and the curriculum isn’t quite set up to catch up with her this year. So it’s school but it’s not school school and between the three-hours-five-days-a-week schedule and the super pregnancy going on at home, her homeschooling has stalled out at the moment so her brain is getting a bit of a break. But she’s really happy so I’m happy with our decision.

And next year?

Don’t know yet. Just don’t know. But I want her brain working and right now she’s coasting free and easy so I’m anticipating either a major pick up in workload coming from her school or a fun battle of the ages when she starts doing challenging work at home again and refreshes all those feelings of frustration and/or boredom. So there’s that…

Asthma, a New Baby, and Clean Carpets from Stanley Steemer

Posted by Carly Morgan

This post was sponsored by Stanley Steemer. The thoughts and opinions below are my own.

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I am embarrassed enough about what I am about to tell you that I almost didn’t agree to partner up and write this post. It’s a mom confession but not one of those safe ones where you know that everyone has been there at least once (yoga pants at Target, kids’ sandwich crusts for lunch because it’s not worth cooking something extra for yourself). This is one of those confessions that deserves major judgment. That being said, I’m writing this post because I put off this task forever thinking it would be too hard, too expensive, and not worth it because my kids are too messy and it turns out I was wrong.

Guys, we got our carpets cleaned.

I am in my thirties and I have never ever hired carpet cleaners before. I’ve only lived in rentals and, outside of flood-type emergencies, I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to warrant cleaning the carpet. Most places clean the carpets between tenants and I’ve only ever lived in apartments for two years or less, but we’ve been renting our little house for more than five years now and this is the first time we’ve arranged to get the carpets cleaned.

I know. Cone of shame.

Being honest, the thought of getting the carpets cleaned was always balanced against the fact that our kids are mess monsters and ultimately it never felt like it would be worth it. They spill EVERYTHING. It’s not even worth buying juice and keeping it in the fridge because it all ends up on the carpet anyway. Why would we bother to clean the carpet in our rental when our kids are little and disgusting and will just mess it up? Plus, the house is small and Eva has asthma and the thought of her breathing in a bunch of chemicals made me nervous. And it’s a rental…it’s not even our carpet!

All fine and logical until you factor in 5+ years of dirt and the fact that I had taken to either apologizing profusely when someone came over for a playdate or simply skipping playdates in general with new friends because our carpet was awful. Our dining room in particular was beyond embarrassing because it’s the central hub of the house, connecting all the other rooms, and there was this horrible black-ish worn out intersection of dirt thanks to all the foot traffic.

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So, when Stanley Steemer offered to partner up and clean our carpets in exchange for working on this post, I decided it was a sign what with the new baby and all of the nesting, etc. What really won me over was the fact that Stanley Steemer is certified asthma & allergy friendlyTM, which means that they’ve been proven to remove 94% of carpet dust, pollen, and dander that can cause asthma flare ups. I had been worried that the cleaning process itself would actually worsen Eva’s asthma temporarily so we didn’t get the carpets cleaned even after we got rid of the cats, but it turns out that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends that carpets be cleaned professionally 3 to 4 times a year. With all the pollen changes that happen in Autumn, this is always Eva’s toughest season so it feels good to have a head start on it.

I was still stressed about the cleaning process, particularly because we have a small and crowded house and I’m too pregnant to move stuff around too much, so I wasn’t sure how all of that would work. It ultimately was much easier than I thought because they moved the furniture that they could and, once the carpet was clean, they put the furniture back with protective pads and sheets of plastic under it so I didn’t have to have a bunch of furniture stacked in the kitchen waiting to go out on the clean carpet.

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It was also faster than I thought it would be – fast enough that I had them do our loveseat and a large area rug that I got a few years back. Funny story about the rug: a friend of mine gave it to me after she used it as the base of her photo booth during a blog conferences and she told me I probably needed to have it cleaned because it had three days of foot traffic on it. I told her I would but of course that never happened, especially after the kids started to spill all over it, so this lovely rug has just been so sad living with us. It felt good to finally get that taken care of and see the difference once it was clean!

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I was impressed by the little details that I hadn’t thought about, including safety bumpers on the doors and furniture and little signs reminding us to step carefully onto our tiled surfaces while the carpet was still damp because it was a slipping hazard.

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The carpet also dried faster than I thought it would and we were fine walking around on it by the evening. We kept the windows open to dry it but we don’t really have any fans to set out so I wondered if all that humidity would stay trapped but it wasn’t an issue.

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect because we don’t do carpet cleaning but I was impressed by how much they were able to get out and the difference it made right away. I thought the dining room in particular might be a lost cause because the combination of food staining and foot traffic had made such a mess but it all came out nicely. You can still see a pattern of wear in the areas where we walk all the time but it’s a huge improvement.

So maybe this is a grown-up responsibility that everyone mastered by the time they turned twenty but if you’re putting off getting your carpets cleaned because you rent or because you have small children or because it’s all just too much, it was really not the ordeal I thought it was going to be and I’m so much happier with the house in general now that it’s done. It’s also inspired us (including the kids!) to keep the house a little cleaner and it made us get started on the baby’s part of our bedroom because the carpet is now so fresh and clean. Plus, Stanley Steemer has a bunch of tips and how-to videos about care and cleaning up carpet stains in between professional cleanings.

The biggest perk, though, is the asthma thing. Eva had absolutely no reaction to anything that happened during the cleaning and if it turns out that she has an easier fall/winter season because all of that gunk came out of our carpets, I am going to be absolutely thrilled. Those invisible triggers are the worst!

If you’re interested, you can schedule a cleaning online complete with an estimate for how much it will cost so you don’t end up being surprised once your house is all clean. There’s also a call center that’s open 24/7 if you have any questions.

Nursery Reveal: Our Tiny Shared Bedroom for Baby Boy

Posted by Carly Morgan

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When we started telling people that we were expecting our third child, every other person immediately asked if we were finally going to move. We moved into our house on the day that Eva was born, about five and a half years ago, and at that time it was absolutely perfect for two people and a baby. Now that we’re going to be a family of five, things have definitely gotten tighter.

It’s a house but it’s basically a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment because we only have the one floor and since we live in one of Salt Lake City’s most charming neighborhoods, our house is more than eighty years old. That means the bedrooms are small with old closets, old windows, and not a lot of extras.

On the plus side, there are a lot of things that we love about this house, including the neighborhood and the fact that it’s a very short commute both to Kyle’s office and to the local children’s hospital. (Not a selling point for everyone, but the Morgan kid tends to end up in that hospital a little more than the average bear.) So, even though we knew it would be tight, we weren’t in a hurry to move just because of the baby. Instead, we plan on sharing our room with the baby for the first year and then either looking into a new house or putting all three kids in one bedroom.

We had both Eva and Calvin in our room when they were infants, but the big drawbacks for keeping them in there past the first few months are that it makes settling the baby at night more complicated and limits how much space everyone has.

Our solution was to divide the room in half this time, rather than tuck the crib into a corner, so we now have a micro nursery sharing the bedroom with our sleeping space, which is comprised of our king size bed, shelves mounted on the wall to hold things like books and our television, and our couch which is currently doubling as a headboard. That might sound a little nuts, but once we added some curtains to divide the space, our part of the room turned into the world’s coziest parent fort and we actually love spending time in here.

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As for the nursery part of the room, a small sofa with a storage ottoman set up a place to nurse/pump and the other side has a mini-crib and a little bit of storage. The result is the perfect micro space for a new baby boy.

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The sofa is the SOLSTA sleeper sofa from IKEA and we bought it a few years ago to put in the kids’ room. It’s small but surprisingly comfortable and easy to clean so we really like it. I picked up some extra soft pillows and a throw to fancy it up for the baby and we brought our Boppy out of storage. You can’t see, but the breast pump is tucked in beside it (although I’m really hoping to upgrade before baby gets here). It helps to have something to put your feet up on, so we added a storage ottoman to hold blankets and give just a little extra seating when we need it.

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On the back of our bedroom door, I added a removable storage rack to hold a few little things for baby. We didn’t necessarily need the extra storage because our storage ottoman is holding baby blankets with lots of space left over, but I wanted things to be easy to reach and baby stuff is so cute when it’s out on display anyway.

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The print over the baby’s crib is actually a bulletin board I found at TJ Maxx/Homegoods. I think it’s supposed to be wedding decor because that’s the section I found it in, but I liked how calm it was and I figure we’ll be able to use it as a family bulletin board later on since it isn’t strictly baby art. The little mirrors were another find from the same shopping trip. I was originally going to do a small gallery wall of prints but it’s such a small space I didn’t want to overwhelm things.

The quilt on the crib is from Just Born and it matches the Babyletto mini crib perfectly (I’m obsessed with this crib by the way!!!). I added a little pull out tray that I found at Target under the crib to hold some diapers and wipes. We actually have a separate changing area in the house that I’ll share later but it’s always nice to have options in the middle of the night.

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We also have our little Radio Flyer walker wagon (the only walker that ever worked safely for our kids) and small selection of toys. Eva drowned in toys when she was born and Calvin had a couple of big bins, but we learned that we really only needed a few classic favorites for those first six months because EVERYTHING is an interesting toy for babies. So, the wagon is a good place to have just a couple of things on hand waiting for baby to get a little bigger. It’s also keeping the baby stuff safe from the curious, germy hands of the siblings.

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Overall I’m very happy with how the space has turned out because it’s a nice to place to settle but everything there is functional and can be repurposed when we don’t need a nursery anymore. Most of all it just feels great to have it all pulled together now. Just waitin’ on that baby!!

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