Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fighting My Gut Feeling

It started almost two weeks ago. We were celebrating Liam's 5th birthday with close friends. It was a wonderful day, filled with happiness, love, and laughter. After the guests went home and we all started to wind down, we noticed that Liam had hives on his belly and back. This had happened before, so we gave him some Benadryl and didn't think too much of it.

Very early the next morning, Liam found his way into our bed and the constant scratching became something we were well aware of. After just a couple of minutes of his tossing and turning, my husband decided to turn on the light, to which we found him covered, head to toe (literally- scalp to the tops of his feet) with huge, bright red hives. Since our youngest was still sleeping, Joe decided he would take Liam to the emergency room, while I stayed home with Nolan. I hated every minute they were gone. I wanted to be with Liam, to help sooth him, to make him feel better.

When they finally returned about an hour later, Joe told me that the doctors believed that the hives were a reaction to the antibiotics that Liam had been taking for an ear infection, that they gave him a dose of steroids, and stop giving him the meds. We did.

Sunday went by, every minute he looked a little better. Monday morning arrived and I noticed that his ears were a bit read and were sticking out a bit. I scoured his body for any other signs of irritation, but only found the remnants of the allergic reaction. I reluctantly took him to preschool with a pretty unsettling feeling. Within two hours, Liam's preschool coordinator had called, saying she believed he was getting worse and should be picked up.

By the time I got there, he looked miserable. The hives were back, his eyes, ears, and lips were swollen, and he could barely walk (at the time I thought it was due to the uncomfortable rash on his legs). I rushed him to urgent care, where once they heard the words "swollen lips" they looked a bit more worried and urgency could be felt. We were shuffled to a room within a minute or two, where Liam was watched closely by three doctors and two nurses.

Two hours later, we were sent home. I was terrified to leave, due to their constant reminders to call 911 if there was any swelling of his tongue or breathing issues. He was, once again, given steroids and we were on our way. It took three more days for Liam to feel well enough to return to school. Even though the constant rash was a thing of the past, and scratching done resulted in an instant hive that would disappear within a few minutes.

We made it through work and school on Monday, but when I arrived to pick him up, he was barely walking and looked like he was on the verge of tears. Once again, I took him to see his pediatrician, who told me it was just a muscle cramp in his leg. Totally unrelated to his health issue of the week before.

We went home, did the things he suggested, and within two hours Liam was running and playing like
normal. We thought, for once, we had an easy answer.Then pick up on Tuesday resulted in the same situation. We did the same things as the night before, which once again, resulted in a happy boy. Wednesday, the leg pain migrated to the heels of his feet. Today, his feet were bothering him, yet again.

His smile lights up the room!
Due to his allergic reaction possibly being thanks to antibiotics, our pediatrician suggested that we take Liam to an allergist. Today was the day. Unfortunately, because he is still hiving at the slightest scratch he couldn't be tested on his skin, as they usually do. We were sent to a nearby lab to have his blood drawn to be tested that way. Unfortunately, after two failed attempts, a ton of tears, death stares, and four nurses, we left without a drop of blood.

I'm worried for many reasons. 1. His allergic reaction was so severe. 2. We don't know what, if anything, he is allergic to. 3. His leg/foot pains make him walk like a 70 year old man and breaks my heart simultaneously. 4. Autoimmune diseases run rampant from both sides of his family tree. 5. We have to go back to try a blood draw again tomorrow.

What if he is really sick? What if this is more than muscle cramps and allergies? What if my broken genes are hurting him? What if whatever is attacking him, doesn't stop? What if we never find out what is causing this? All I can do is think about my poor little man, who celebrate his birthday between painful illnesses. How can I watch my little boy be so sad, scared, and confused? I'm trying to be strong for him. I'm trying to be proactive rather than feeling defeated. I'm trying.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sprucin' Up the Place

From the moment we set foot in our current home, we know that it was going to take a great deal of TLC to get it to sparkle the way we knew it could. The house was a rental for many years, then sat empty as a short-sale for two years, before it became ours. As you can imagine, it needed a good scrub-down, paint, and just plain love. We have lived here for just over a year and are making a great deal of progress toward making it the dream home we have always known it has the potential to be.
Half Bath with New Floors

We began making changes before moving in. We had the 12 year old cream carpets cleaned, the house was cleaned top to bottom, and most rooms were painted. As we began unpacking our things, we noticed just how well the house had been kept. Other than sitting empty and not being updated over the years, it really had been given a lot of attention and upkeep. The kitchen cabinets were in amazing shape, the light fixtures were lovely, and the overall feel of the house changed the second we put our things into it.

Before and After Living Room
Before and After Dining Room
After a few months, we began our renovation projects. We started with the half bath, our boy's bedroom, and the loft. You can see all of these projects on my past post, Creating a Home We Love. Just this week, we tackled our most anticipated of changes. The floors. We have been so proud of our new home, however, the yucky carpet has made us hesitant to invite people over. It has been a flat-out embarrassment. We had planned to put it off for a few more years, but we just couldn't wait any longer.

Since flooring is so expensive, we want to take our time between projects, and we don't want to settle on a single detail, we decided to stick to just the downstairs flooring. We had the worn out, stained, and I'll say it, smelly carpet removed. It has been replaced with my new love, engineered hardwood floors in Chocolate. We love the color, look, and texture of these floors!

Before and After Family Room
It was quite the project, as we had three good-sized rooms as well as a pantry and the half bath to cover. We have always thought that the way that our living room, dining room, and kitchen flow, it would look best if all rooms had consistent flooring. I think we were right. We love the way that the flooring changed all three rooms, as well as helps to create a beautiful flow to our home. 

We also took on the family room flooring. We once again, removed the gross carpet and replaced it. This time we decided to stick with carpet, but went from cream, worn carpet, with fluffier, speckled carpet. We wanted to keep the cozy, homey feel as our boys wrestle and play on these floors. Once again, it transformed the room. Everyone loves to lay on it because it is so soft and comfy. 

Now we are proud to have visitors, we are proud to say this is our home, and we can see the potential coming to life. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Big Boy Bed Tips: Times Two

Since the day baby boy #2 moved into the same bedroom as his big brother, my husband and I have dreaded the future move to big boy bed. The dread was there for several reasons. 1. My little Teddy Bear is a busy, noisy guy. 2. He has to fall asleep alone. 3. He takes FOREVER to fall asleep. Before last night, our bedtime routine consisted of both boys getting jammies on and brushing teeth together, then Teddy Bear and I would huff it up stairs to read books, rock, sing, and snuggle one on one, while Mr. Skinks and daddy picked either read a book or a show to watch together. Once the above mentioned steps were complete, I would put Teddy in his crib and join the other two downstairs.

While finishing up the show with my bigger boys, I would listen to the little one talking to himself through the monitor. When the show/book pile was complete, Liam and Joe would head upstairs, Liam would lay down, and Nolan would jabber on for who-knows how long. Usually, Liam would fall asleep quickly and eventually Nolan would too. See my problem?

How would I deal with a boy who has never liked help to sleep, is busy, knows how to open doors, likes to talk, and takes a very, very long time to go to sleep? We needed a game plan, because we were sure that this transition would not be as easy as it was with his big brother. However, since we were so successful the first time around, we decided to use several of the same tips, as discussed in the post Big Boy Bed Tips.

We did have to adjust several of the tips to fit the new situation, but they still seemed to come in pretty handy. Here is how we modified them this time around:

*Talk about the move before doing it: We did this, however on a much shorter timeline than with Liam. Since Nolan learned how to climb out of his bed, seemingly in one day, we had to rush this a bit. We did talk about it the whole day of the move though, especially at nap time (which was his last sleep in the crib).

*Let them pick out new bedding: We had just purchased new bedding a couple of weeks ago, so we didn't do this specifically for boy #2, but he did pick out his new sheets when we got them and we transferred his usual bedding to the new bed.

*Have them help with the assembly process: Again, we had to make some changes as Nolan moved into Liam's toddler bed, and Nolan's crib was converted into a daybed for Liam to sleep in. We did have both boys help with the deconstruction of the crib though. They loved helping daddy!

*Keep the crib in plain sight: As the crib has become Liam's new bed, this was an easy tip to fulfill. It's still right where it has always been.

*Don't go back: So far, so good! We learned the first time around, that you should not go back from making the switch. It makes it difficult for the little one to get comfy in their new surroundings and just prolongs the transitional period. This is a tip we will follow this time too.

*Be consistent: This pertains to how you redirect. Before making the switch, my husband and I sat down to discuss how we would get him back to his bed, if he tried to get up. Being on the same page, and having the same reaction to the situation is pretty helpful. We agreed on a course of action and are consistently dealing with it the same way, every time.

*Thing ahead: We had to do this even more so, than we did with Liam. Nolan is adventurous by nature and has no fear. This made preparing the room for more freedom a bit more complicated. When Liam moved to the big boy bed, we made sure distractions were minimal, but mainly focused on making sure that the room would be safe for him to wander alone. Knowing that Nolan would probably take his new-found independence to a new level, we practically cleaned out the room. The only things remaining were the beds and a dresser that has been bolted to the wall.

*Follow the same routine: We did this as best we could, but we did make a couple of tweaks. We still put on pjs and brushed teeth together, but now Nolan and I read books while he lays in bed, then I gently rock him in bed (more on this below) until Joe and Liam come up or he falls asleep, which ever comes first.

*Be positive: We did our best to make the switch fun and exciting for both boys. It was especially helpful to have big brother on board. As I would assume with most siblings, Nolan looks up to his big brother more than anyone else, so if Liam is excited for the change, so is Nolan.

Now for my additions:

*Help them as little as possible: This looks different for different children. For example, with my oldest, we literally put him to bed and walked out of the room. This worked well with him and he learned to put himself to sleep. However for my youngest, this won't do. If left to his own devices, he will be up until the wee-hours. Instead, I have tired a couple of strategies, listed below. The point of this tip is that you should be doing as little as possible. The sooner they put themselves to bed, the better.

      -Rocking in bed: If you have a little mover on your hands too, gently rocking them while they lay in bed is especially helpful. Put one hand on the small of their back, then slowly rock them back and forth. The pressure from your hand will give them comfort as they fall asleep, while the rocking motion helps to reduce distractions as it makes it difficult for them to focus on other things. I also realized that not giving them eye contact during this time, speeds up the process. You want them to essentially, forget that you are there so they can drift off to sleep. Once they close their eyes, slowly stop rocking. If they don't open their eyes, slowly reduce the pressure on their back, until you are able to get up and leave the room.

     -Play dead: For some kids, just having you in their room will help them to stay in bed and relax enough to sleep. Lay by the bed (not in it) and pretend to be asleep. If you need to redirect, do it non-verbally. Cause as little distraction as possible.

           *More consistency: Above I discussed being consistant with redirects. You also need to be consistent with how you help your child get to sleep. Obviously, if something is not working, you will need to try something else. However, don't do this too often and try not to make changes while in the midst of helping. Changing your plan, while it's in motion, can make it difficult for the child to know what your expectations are. It's also a welcomed distraction from the goal- sleep.

*Switch the beds, but bring the mattress: Liam and Nolan switched beds so that they each got the "I'm growing up" feeling, however Nolan took his mattress to the toddler bed and Liam took his to the daybed (converted crib). This is important as mattresses shape themselves to the person laying on them and with all of the changes your kiddos are going through, you want them to feel as comfortable as possible.

*Reduce distractions: This may seem like a no-brainier, but things that would usually not bother your kids in a normal scenario, may be just the distraction they need to stay awake when trying out a new bed. Because of the all the new things associated with this transition, a child's senses are heightened, so the slightly wet diaper, the not-quite full tummy, the music that is a smidgen too loud, or the neighborhood boy playing basketball in the street can be all it takes to ruin a perfectly good rest.

*Enlist the help of the older sibling: As I stated earlier, when big brother/sister is excited, so is the little one. This philosophy will also work when it comes to "monkey see, monkey do". If the older sibling lays down quietly right away, it is more likely that the little one will as well. Ask the big boy/girl to be your helper and praise them for doing well. Make sure that any expectations you have of them are doable and clear before sending them into the lion's den.

*Remember this is a transition for both siblings: Be patient and clear with both children. Also, make it a happy experience for both. Don't let the older sibling feel as though it is all about the younger one. They need to feel appreciated and responsible for their actions as well.

After about 30 minutes of back rubs and snuggles, I left my boys to fend for themselves and here is what I found 10 minutes later. Here's hoping for a repeat this evening!

As with my first set of big bed transition tips, take what you can use and ignore the rest. YOU know your child better than anyone. If something doesn't sound like it will work for you/them, use your best judgement. The move from crib to big boy/girl bed can be stressful and frustrating for everyone involved. No need to add to it.

I will update this post to let you know how things are going in the next week or so. I will also add new ideas, if any come to mind. Please share your experiences with these tips and any ideas you have. I hope there is a great deal of rest in your future!

Good luck!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I Avoid Media: 5 Reasons Why

Media is the route of all evils. Since banning it from our home in November, my perspective on what is out there has changed. We all get desensitized when we are on media-overload. You don't know just how much, until you take a break and "re-sensitize" yourself. Last night we lost a remote. The one that controls Netflix, our DVD player, and Pandora. My husband and I were stuck watching network TV. I was busy with school work and soon my husband was snoring on the couch, yet the TV was still alight.

It wasn't until I closed my computer, done with work, that I realized what was on. It was a "news" program where they focus on one or two "important" news stories, going through every detail. This particular episode focused on a death that occurred during the making of a movie. It was NOT news. It was NOT entertainment. It was horrible.

Watching less than an hour of TV last night, reminded me just why banning it was so important. Avoiding something makes you see it for what it truly is, and media today is garbage. Here is a short list of reasons why our media is ruining us:

1. Death is Not Entertainment: I will admit, before having kids, I loved CSI, Forensic Files, and Criminal Minds-type shows. Since having children, I realize just how messed up that is. Even "news" programs such as Dateline and 20/20 focus on every horrific detail of someone's worst moments. I don't need to see a frame-by-frame from the speeding train's perspective as it hits and kills someone. Why is it interesting to watch stories about people being killed and worse?

2. Culture is Dying: There was a time when people played music, told lesson-teaching stories, played wholesome board games, and were active to entertain themselves. Now, we rely on a screen that plays out our worst fears. No wonder we have all become so cynical.

3. Pitting Us Against One Another: Just about every piece of media imaginable pits people against one another. When every story is written in a "us against them" scenario it only creates hostility, when there shouldn't be any. The media creates fights, arguments, scandal. Stupid.

4. Narcissism: Every article, news program, TV show has a message board. Everyone's opinion is asked and shared. Why does your opinion matter. You know nothing about what happened, other than what the media has chosen to tell you. Why does this make you an expert? Why does that give you the right to share or even have an opinion? I don't care what Eva Mendez said about yoga pants. I have far more important things to worry about. Yet one quote, taken out of millions of words that have come out of her mouth, can generate blogs, "news" articles, opinions, and hours wasted. The media is making us think that our opinion matters far more than it should. It's making us think we all have the right to comment on the lives, words, and beliefs of others. It is creating narcissists.

5. Nothing of Value is Valued: When someone does something amazing and uplifting, if it even makes it to the news, it gets a blurb. Nothing more. Yet Kanye West and his wife create headlines that last for days. I don't want to see your butt, Kim. I don't want to hear your rants, Kanye. It's not just that the media is portraying unrealistic standards as the norm and the goal, but the standard that the goal embodies has nothing to do with someone's true value. It has to do with how much controversy they can cause. Drama does not equal value, success, kindness.

I am not a conspiracy theorist and I'm not saying we don't have screen time on occasion. We do. We just make conscience choices. I'm aware that I participate in Facebook, write a blog, and read articles now and then. There really is no complete escape from media's grasp. I am simply thinking critically about what is obviously being done. My time away from media has given me an objectivity and clearer picture of the facts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I Hate Cancer

Up until a year ago, I felt very disconnected from cancer, what people who have cancer, and those who love them, go through. Although, like most, I have some personal experience with the disease, but nothing quite "hit home". My Gramps died of melanoma, but he had also just lost my Grams and he felt "ready" and "gave up" on life. Although he passed from cancer, we have always associated it with a broken heart rather than a horrible disease. When my dad was a child, he had leukemia, but he beat it and it has never returned. I have also had many years of being asked if I have cancer, due to my hairless head. But I have never really known someone when they were battling such a relentless, heartbreaking sickness.

This all changed last year, when one of Nolan's pediatricians passed from breast cancer. I knew all about her battle as she confided in me the day we met, as most people in her position do (I assume my baldness helps them to feel an instant connection). However, when I last spoke with her, just 3 months before her death, she was in remission, feeling well, and in positive spirits. It wasn't until her passing was announced at the doctor's office, that I even knew the cancer was back. So fast.

About the same time that we learned of her passing, Joe came home with horrible news. His friend and co-worker was diagnosed with leukemia. In the last year, he has gone through cancer, chemo, and remission, several times. Each time resulting in incredibly optimistic highs followed by crushing, heart-wrenching lows. In the past week or two, he went from finding a partial bone marrow match in a family member, to being told that he is not healthy enough for a transplant. The cancer has taken over his body. There is nothing left that can be done, but hope for a miracle.

Just as the school year began, I learned that one of my past students (a family I know well, as I have had three of their children- so far) was also battling this horrible disease. She too has gone through chemo, a bone marrow transplant, and is now getting stronger and stronger each day. I am so happy for the path that she has found herself on. I am thankful for the friends and family that surround her, for the doctors who have kept her strong, for the donor who shared his healthy bone marrow, for her strength, and for the long, healthy life that is stretching out in front of her.

Throughout this past year, my thoughts on cancer have changed. Now, being asked if I have it is not annoying. I know those who ask are either looking for a connection or they are offering support. Either way, they are good people. Good people whose lives should not be darkened by cancer's awful shadow.

I hate cancer.

I hate that the bravest, strongest, best people on this planet leave us too soon. I hate that family and friends have to suffer as they watch their loved one suffer. I hate that no matter what we do, no matter what medicines we try, no matter how much love we share, or support we offer, sometimes cancer still wins. I hate feeling powerless, helpless, and heartbroken. Waiting to hear news we have always had hope would never come.

I am not religious. However, several times over the past few days, I have prayed for a miracle and I will continue to do so. For all of these people. For all who cancer touches. For everyone.

I hate cancer.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Am I Evil?

Please tell me I'm not evil. Please tell me I'm not the only one. Please tell me that you feel and act exactly the same way when your husband is sick.

I hate to admit it, but I become an inpatient, uncaring, horrible wife when my husband is sick. My lack of understanding could be due to the fact that he acts like a gigantic baby when germs get the best of him. Or it could be how he requires total isolation when he feels the tiniest sniffle. Or it just might be the fact that I become a single parent (to three, rather than two), housekeeper, and cook when he is down for the count.

It could also have nothing to do with my husband at all. It could be the fact that my kids go completely bonkers when one of us is feeling low. As was demonstrated while I was preparing dinner, when my youngest decided to dump food coloring all over the pantry floor. Or earlier today, when he dumped out an entire, brand new box of wipes onto the floor. Or when the oldest decides that today is the day to throw every temper tantrum possible in a 24 hour period. I may resent him for putting me in these situations.

Another possible reason for my frustration could be that when I am sick, I am still here. I help as much as I can. I rest on the couch, so that I am still available to him and the boys. When he is sick, he hibernates. He is essentially useless to me and the kids. It could be that too.

Either way, no matter what the reason for my intense frustration, it is there. I actually get angry with my husband for being sick. I know it's not fair. I know my grumpiness doesn't help him get healthy faster. I know that he can't do anything about it. But I still do it. I still feel the way that I do.

Maybe it is that he is such an amazing husband and daddy, that I just don't know what to do without him. I have never felt like I have to parent alone, except when he is sick. I never feel neglected or forgotten, except when he's sick. He is my true partner, in everything that we do, except when he's sick.

You would think that this would make it easier for me to be nice to him when he's not feeling well. Unfortunately for him, I think it makes it harder.

Get well soon Joseph. Or I will have no choice, but to ignore the fact that the boys are headed up the stairs, strait toward our bedroom, in all their noisy, energy-filled, "I miss Daddy!" glory.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Train Themed Birthday

My two year old loves his "choo choos", so when thinking about a theme to celebrate his birthday, trains were an easy sell. I started planning about a month in advance. Well, I started organizing ideas in my head. Fast forward four weeks, and you would see me frantically throwing things together, hoping for the best. This was (by far) not my most thought out party, nor was it the best organized, but I think it turned out pretty well. If I do say so myself. Here are my my long-planned, yet hastily executed results.

As guests arrived at the party, they were greeted with a railroad crossing sign, compete with neon, reflective "flashers". I love to welcome party goers in a festive, fun way. It may seem like a silly touch, but I think it helps to get everyone into party mode. It transforms my normal, everyday home into "Train World".

Next I worked on one of my favorite party-planning tricks, the picture frame sign. To go along with the train theme, gifts were left in the "Luggage Drop-Off" area and the party favors were located at the "Baggage Claim". As usual, this was one of the easiest things to do, but got tons of compliments. Everyone loved the simplistic idea and that it carried on the theme.

My next order of business was food. You can't have a good party, without good snacks. I love to bake, but I find it too stressful to try to organize food, bake it, wrap up all other party prep, and then socialize freely. Birthday parties are where I tend to take a foodie backseat. I still want to provide yummy treats for my guests, so I think long and hard about what to serve, but most likely, it won't be homemade.

The easiest place to begin was drinks. Simple. Water and coffee for adults, juice for kids. Everyone was happy. To add locomotive flair, I added tags that said "Chugga Chugga" to the drinks, then tags that said "Chew Chew" to the cookies (our treat of choice).

Speaking of cookies, we have a long-running tradition of having cookies instead of cake. We love that they are so versatile. No matter what the theme, cookies work. We also enjoy that they require no prep (before or during the party). I don't have to take time out of my visits to cut the cake, serve it, and clean up after it. I can pass around the basket full of cookies, guests can choose their favorite variation.

We have found a fantastic, local bakery that is creative, fun, and delicious. Year after year, they knock our socks off! This year was no exception. We talked into their bakery, less than two weeks ago, told them the theme would be trains and that the color scheme would be red and blue, and this is what they came up with. Amazing!

On to the snacks! I started with an idea. A snack train, where each "car" carries a snack representing something that would actually be transported on a train. Obviously, I also wanted the snacks to be tasty for kiddos and adults too. I also needed a way to store these snacks that could serve as train cars. Lastly, I wanted to find a fun way to share the food names with our guests. Here is the end result:

Rectangle-shaped containers stacked with animal crackers (livestock car), Veggie Straws (lumber car), chocolate covered peanuts (coal car), pretzel sticks (log car), and fruit snacks (produce car). The train was led by a toy engine and ran on tracks made with electrical tape stuck to the counter top.

The last task at hand, was to create the parting gifts of my Teddy Bear's buddies. I wanted to stick with the train theme, through and through, so I scoured the internet to find fun train-themed gifts. Luckily I did this part early on! I found and ordered conductor whistles, added a flashlight and a cute tag reading, "Thanks for making my Birthday Party a STOP on your trip!" and tied it all up with a bow.

It was a frantic, busy, amazing day and I wouldn't change a thing! My little man had the time of his life, we spent the day surrounded by those who love our Teddy Bear, we received a ton of compliments, and it really was quite easy to throw together, even if it was VERY last minute. I love throwing parties, planning for them, decorating, and hosting, but the very best part of hosting a birthday party, is the smiles I see on the little man pictured below. It's all for you Nolan!

My little conductor