Monday, February 9, 2015

Allergy Awareness: Please Help Be A Shining Light

Next week we are heading to the pediatric allergy clinic in Iowa City with our little guy.  It's been a few years since we've taken him to the allergist so we are all a bit anxious about what is to come. Since his allergy is severe, we do not have to take him to be re-tested each year as it is unlikely much will have changed.  It sounds strange, but I am relieved we only have to do this every few years.

When testing for allergies, the doctor performs a skin test where they put a liquid substance on his skin and watch for a reaction.  At our first appointment, back when he was 20 months old, they had to wipe it off soon after application.  The reaction to the peanut quickly spread up his back, where it was originally placed, all the way to his ears.  They generally wait ten minutes:  this took no longer than 2.

A few years later we participated in a family allergy study at the Children's Hospital in Chicago. They opted to not even do the skin test since his first reaction was so bad.  Instead, they just completed the blood test and I was so thankful he didn't have to experience it again.

At our last appointment, the allergist applied the substance to his forearm.  Within minutes he had a huge raised reaction.  When it continued to expand to the size of a ping pong ball, we asked for it to be wiped off.  No fun for our little guy.

Unfortunately, peanuts are not his only allergy.  Several tree nuts and shell fish are also on the list. We will see how Iowa City will want to proceed.  These appointments are hard, as they cause much discomfort for him and I know he feels much anxiety about the process.  Heck, I do, and they're not touching me!

Visiting the allergist every few years is a minute part of his care.  Keeping track of any change, even if it is for the worse, helps us manage his allergy on a daily basis to the best of our ability.  We also always hold on to some hope these appointments will lead us to an opportunity where he can be treated for his allergies.  There are many trials going on all over our nation and worldwide, but all in an experimental stage and not readily available to everyone.

These appointments also confirm, from a medical standpoint, that his allergy is real and something to be taken very seriously.  As silly as it sounds, there are many people in this nation who believe food allergies are made up.  They scoff at the idea of nut-free classrooms and schools, imply parents of children with allergies are being overcautious, and make tasteless jokes about people suffering from this serious, and potentially deadly, problem.  It sickens and infuriates me.

I am not one to be shushed on this matter.  In fact, I am quite outspoken.  I am willing to educate people and advocate for not only my son, but others in his position.  When it comes to life-threatening food allergies, ignorance is not bliss and when I come in contact with people unwilling to understand the seriousness of his condition, I press harder and bring the level of education and awareness to a whole other level.

While I don't expect those who haven't walked in our shoes to fully understand, I do hope they are willing to look outside of their own desires and see the big picture.  It is time for the insensitivity in this nation to stop and for the narcissistic behavior to end.  Food allergies are real, the rate of people affected continues to rise, and people can (and have) died from them.  It is no laughing matter and those who drag their feet and do not accept the seriousness of this condition frustrate me.

If you've made it this far, thanks for staying with me.  I am going to challenge you to be a light in the life of people who must manage this condition diligently each day.  Next time you hear someone complaining about nut-free snack lists, classrooms, or activities, speak up.  Be a voice of support and empathy.  Positive influences outside of those living with a food allergy are needed.  If each person who complained was met with one of support for these children and their families, it would begin to make a difference.

My son is an amazing young boy who happens to have life-threatening food allergies.  He is kind, loving, creative, and thoughtful.  He should not be defined by his food allergy and excluded from activities because of it.  He should live in a society of acceptance and one of empathy and kindness, rather than one of hostility and cruelty.

We have been blessed with a wonderful support system of family and friends.  My son's peers have rarely viewed the modifications made for his allergy negatively.  Sadly, at times, it has been the parents who have struggled.  Since preschool, he has been blessed with peers who have been aware of the dangers of his exposure to nuts and very protective of him.  I hope, as he grows older, this continues.  I pray the lights in the children continue to shine and the next generation is filled with kindness and acceptance of those who may be a bit different than them.



Friday, January 30, 2015

Missing My Angel

Seven years ago, about this time, we were driving to our OB's office with our baby boy cozily snuggled in his car seat in the back.  My husband and I were silent, a rock in both of our stomachs, preparing for what we feared the most:  that we had lost the baby I was carrying.

I so vividly remember nearly every moment of those few days.  We were watching American Idol when I felt something strange.  I went to the bathroom to find I was spotting.  My heart immediately sunk.  At that moment I just knew our baby was gone.  I called my OB and she tried to reassure me this didn't necessarily mean anything, but we should come in the next day to see what was going on.

After a restless night of sleep, we took that drive.  I sat in the waiting room hypersensitive to the other pregnant mother trying to distract myself by snuggling with my baby boy. Thankfully it didn't take long to be called into the ultrasound room.  We nervously took the short walk and I tried to mentally prepare myself for the news.

This ultrasound was so much different than the ones I had before.  The large screen was turned off and the monitor was turned away from us.  She didn't cheerfully show us our baby and point to all of their body parts or the beating heart.  There was no beating heart.  Instead, she quickly turned off the machine and directed us to a room down the hall.

It was in that corner room where our doctor confirmed what we already knew.  Our baby was gone. The doctor who we saw that day had delivered our son almost one year from that day.  I remember thinking, "Wow, he has seen us through the circle of life."  With an encouraging smile and a hug we were sent on our way.  The tears didn't come at the doctor's office.  We packed up our son and quietly headed out to our car.

I am not sure if it was shock or denial, but it took a few minutes for those tears to come.  We tried to be brave.  Tried to convince ourselves it was just not in God's plan and it happens to many other people, but once we had to pick up the phone and call our parents the true sadness engulfed us both. The tears finally came and it took days for me to turn them off.

We had made the decision to let nature take its course and hopefully miscarry at home rather than have a surgical procedure.  In the wee hours of the morning nearly two days later it did.  I was not expecting the physical pain to be so intense.  I silently sat through those hours with tears streaming down my face willing for it all to be over.  Once it was, the relief I expected didn't come.  Instead it was just complete and utter sadness.

My mother-in-law had come to help care for our son.  I spent several days lying in bed crying and resting.  I was angry with God and wondered why we had to endure this pain.  I was so very sad and felt so very alone.  It was a very dark time and took a long while before I could see the light again.

That light came 6 months later when we learned we were pregnant again.  It happened to be about a week before our angel baby was due.  It was a bittersweet moment.  I was so happy to finally be pregnant again, but so sad for the baby we had lost.  Getting through the due date was so very hard, but once it passed I was able to nervously embrace my pregnancy.

Thankfully our sweet little girl was born healthy on Easter Sunday.  Looking back I find this day of her birth to be of great significance.  Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead.  A day filled with hope and promise.  A day darkness turned to light.  For us, the light shone so much brighter that day and continues to today.

On that day we lost our baby, but we gained a guardian angel.  I think of that baby often and still struggle through this time of year several years later.  I was nearly twelve weeks into my pregnancy, that so-called "safe zone," when we found out our baby was gone.  For almost two months we were able to rejoice in new life and love our little angel.  While I cannot physically hold and love that baby, in my heart I do each day.

So many people experience the sadness and grief of miscarriages each day.  Losing a child is so very, very hard.  One may think since we were never physically able to hold our child it might be easier, but it is not.  The hope and promise of new life began the day we found out we were pregnant and so did the love we felt for him or her.

Today I will hold my kids a little tighter and thank God for the four blessings he has given us on Earth.  I will thank Him for blessing us with our little angel we affectionately named Peanut the day we found out I was pregnant.  Today I will cry and grieve for the baby we never met, but I know someday I will meet our angel.  Until then I will carry him or her in my heart each day.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

I've had this recipe saved in my Pinterest meals to try folder for months.  A few weeks ago we finally gave it a try and it did not disappoint.  My kids loved it, we loved it, and we ate the whole pot!  I made a few adaptations from the original recipe found at Cooking Classy.  The biscuits are a must, so make sure you make them, too!  Enjoy!

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Rotisserie chicken, chopped in small pieces
5 1/2 T. butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion (I used half an onion)
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots (3 medium), peeled and diced
1 15 oz. can chicken broth
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced 1/2 inch
1/2 t. dried parley
1 t. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c. frozen or fresh peas
2 1/2 cups milk
6 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 t. lemon juice

In a soup pot, melt 1 1/2 T. butter over medium high heat.  Add in onion, celery, and carrots and saute for 3 minutes.  Add chicken broth, potatoes, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to medium heat.  Press vegetables down into soup and cover with lid.  Cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and stir in chicken and peas.

In a medium saucepan, melt remaining 4 T. of butter of medium high heat.  Slowly stir in flour and and cook for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly.  While whisking, slowly pour in milk and whisk vigorously to smooth lumps.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat while stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream.

Pour milk mixture into soup pot, making sure to stir constantly.  Add lemon juice.  Remove bay leaf and serve with warm Parmesan drop biscuits (recipe below).

Parmesan Drop Biscuits

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. black pepper
1/4 t. garlic powder
6 T. butter
2 oz. finely shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and garlic powder for 30 seconds.  Stir in parmesan cheese.  Add butter, and using your fingertips, rub butter in mixture until evenly distributed.  It will come together like the size of peas.  Pour in milk and heavy cream and stir with a wooden spoon just until combined.  (Batter should be lumpy and sticky).  Drop using a large soup spoon onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  Best when eaten straight from the oven!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

Finding yourself short on time and needing an easy dinner recipe?  I've got a new one we tried last night and loved!  I typically make beef stroganoff on the stove, but this recipe was similar with a few extras that made it a hit with both the adults and (almost) all of the kids!

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff
Source:  Campbell's Soup

2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup water
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 package sliced white mushrooms
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped (I omitted)
3 cloves garlic, minced (I used 1 1/2 t. garlic from jar)
1/2 t. black pepper
2 pounds boneless beef round steak, sliced into thin chunks
1 cup sour cream
12 ounces medium egg noodles, cooked and drained

Stir the first 7 ingredients together in the crockpot.  Add meat and make sure it is coated.  Cook on low for 8-9 hours or until beef is fork-tender.  Stir in the sour cream while mixture is still in the crockpot.  Serve over noodles.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Let the magical month of December begin.  With it comes shopping for the perfect gift, baking our favorite Christmas cookies, special activities with the kids, and listening to our beloved Christmas CD's.  Some parts of the holiday season, at least for me, are a little more stressful.  Staying within a budget (I really try...really), trying to not to stress about the cute ideas I had but didn't have time to complete, and making a Christmas list for myself.

If you're struggling with your list, too, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite things with you.  Think Oprah-except not nearly as extravagant and for a busy mom with very little time for herself!  To make it easy, I've divided it up into sections.

Kitchen Must-Haves

-A Griddle.  I got this last year and it has made my breakfast for dinner meals so much easier!
-A Ninja.  We love smoothies and this little machine is awesome.  Also works for chopping veggies!
-Airbake cookie sheets WITH parchment paper.  I've had a lot of luck baking with these forever!

Things to Wear

-I am in love with these fleece tops (I wear a pretty standard mom uniform!).  They run a bit small.
-I also love these jackets.  Practical and wear well.
-I love the Nike Flex running shoes.  When I was running (it's been awhile), they were my go-to shoe.
-I like my North Face jacket a lot.  It sheds, but it's warm!

Things to Read

This section is easy.  I love to read and could go on forever!  I'll spare you and just put a few.

-The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst
-Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
-Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch
-You're Made for a God-Sized Dream by Holley Gerth
-Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider
-Any book by Kristin Hannah, Sarah Jio, Jane Green, Emily Giffin, and Jodi Picoult

-I have enjoyed keeping journals for my kids over the years.  Admittedly, my eldest son's journal is much better than the others, but each kid has a book full of treasures.
-I love my small planner to jot appointments and other engagements down in.  Small and compact.
-If all else fails, ask for chocolate.

Best of luck with your lists!  Each year I find it more difficult to come up with anything.  My request this year?  Money for the travel fund.  Happy list-making!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Best Gift

There is a Care Bears commercial on television that drives me absolutely bonkers!  Their catchy little slogan?  "How could you choose just one?  When you've got more bears you've got more fun."  This commercial runs nearly every half an hour on Nickelodeon Junior, which happens to be the favorite channel in our house.  Each time it comes on I cringe and I just want to turn it off.  The message they are conveying to my young impressionable children is certainly not what my husband and I try to instill in them.

Our goal this year is to simplify and reduce the amount of "stuff" our children receive.  While the marketing campaigns geared towards our children are trying to relay a completely different message, we are working hard to encourage them to choose a few things to put on their lists.  Over the course of the past few weeks, I've encouraged them to choose their top three.  While they typically change, there are a few items that seem to come up more often than others.  In years past, we may have been inclined to purchase those most coveted items, but this year we are purchasing some and passing on the other ideas to grandparents.  It is our hope this will decrease the amount of gifts they receive and instead of being overwhelmed with too many new things, they'll be able to enjoy what they really wanted the most.

In my heart, I think this is the best gift we can give our children.  To teach them that more is not better.  To teach them to really think about their needs and wants and narrow their wants down to what they truly desire the most.  This may be a lot to ask of children so young, but the sooner we can teach this lesson the better.  We live in a society of excess.  Our social influences are encouraging us to want more.  To not settle for just one.  To have the best even if we have a perfectly functioning item that's simply not the latest model.  Never being satisfied is not a pleasant way to live.

When will we decide this enough?  When will our society, as a whole, be content with what we have instead of always desiring more?  Never?  Perhaps, but we are going to do our best to teach our children to appreciate what they have.  To be grateful for what they receive and not disappointed because they didn't get everything they may have wanted.  To realize there are children who have little to nothing and they are blessed in so very many ways.

To encourage this way of thinking, our children need to be given age-appropriate opportunities to serve.  They need to experience the gratifying feeling of giving.  Our charity, From Cover to Cover, is doing a month-long book drive to reach a goal of 500 new books for children in need.  This week my kids were asked to choose some books they thought other children may enjoy.  When I first asked them to share what books they thought we should purchase, they were pretty adamant I should be purchasing books for them.  We had a small discussion about the amount of books in our home and how some children have none.  I could tell they were mulling this over in their heads and soon they were sharing some wonderful ideas.  We purchased several books and they seemed very proud and pleased with their decisions.  It is a simple act of service, one they can relate to, that will continue to shape them into children with servant hearts.    

I may be a little behind the times, but I've recently seen this little quote on several sites about Christmas for our children.  I love it and wanted to share it with you.  Not only is this great for our children, but it would also be awesome for a child in need.  What a great family service project!  I think it would be wonderful to encourage our children to purchase one of the wants off of their own Christmas list to be donated to Toys for Tots.  While it may be hard for them to do, it would be a powerful experience to donate something they want themselves.  

Perhaps the best gift we will give our children this Christmas won't actually be a material possession. It might be the wonderful feelings that come from doing good for others or the lifelong lesson that less really is more.    


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stepping Up

Today I had a meeting with our pilot school, Monroe Elementary, to discuss our Family Literacy Night event coming up in November.  This project for our charity, From Cover to Cover, has become my fifth baby.  I truly cannot tell you how important it is for our communities to realize how much these kids need us.  Not just the Monroe students.  The children at-risk in communities nationwide.  I have found my purpose.  Raising awareness about the striking correlation between literacy and poverty and doing something about it.

Proficient literacy skills are a one-way ticket out of the generational poverty many of these children come from.  It may seem like a daunting task, but it is quite possible to help some of these kids break free.  This is why we have expanded our project to include sponsored literacy nights.  It is why, each day, we spend time working to raise funds, gather volunteers, and make important community connections to spread the word about this huge need that lies right in our own neighborhoods.

What do these children need?  Books.  They need home libraries.  How can you further develop your reading skills if you have nothing to read at home?  Having fewer than 25 printed materials at home is considered living below the poverty level.  This is the biggest area I feel so many of us take for granted.  Our children are abundantly blessed.  Most of us have at least 25 books lying on a table or a book shelf in our living rooms.  Combine that with those found in bedrooms, play rooms, and diaper bags and I am sure most of us are well into the hundreds.  Could you imagine not having a single book for your child to read?  It is a shame, yet a reality for so many.

What do these families need?  They need to be empowered.  If a parent cannot read themselves, that does not mean they cannot help their child to become a better reader.  We are going to work with all of the parents and guardians that come to our events and teach them strategies they can use, regardless of ability, while reading with their children.  We are going to share the importance of reading together each night and walk them through how to ask questions and utilize pictures to further develop the skills of their child.

What do these schools need?  They need volunteers.  More specifically, volunteer readers.  There are many mentoring programs that do not require a significant amount of your time, yet they can make a huge difference in the life of a child.  The more these children are surrounded by people encouraging them to read and reading with them, the more confidence they will build and, in turn, their desire to read will increase.  They also need books.  Quality, engaging, interesting books.  We want kids to look at their classroom libraries and be excited about reading.  Old, worn, outdated books just don't illicit the same amount of excitement as new(er), colorful, eye-catching books.

I challenge all of you to find a local school in your community and help them fulfill one of these needs.  If you live in the QC, I encourage you to join us in our mission.  When I drove away from the school today and passed the lines at the shelters and soup kitchens, it really hit me how important our efforts truly are.  We know we aren't going to save the world, but if we can change the world for a handful of kids, we have made a difference.  You can make a difference, too.  The question is, will you step forward and try?