Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Maryland Renaissance Festival 2012

On August 25th we went to the Maryland Renaissance Fair with my Mom and Sister. It happened to be opening weekend, but it was the only time we would be able to go before the kids start school. We have been able to go to the Renn Fair every year since Mason was about a year and a half, except last year. We missed last year and it was a total bummer, so Mason was excited to find out we would be going again. Sophie doesn't remember going since she was only a year old the last time we went, but she took her cues from Mason and was jumping up and down the night before. I too, was excited about going back. It's such a family friendly, fun place and I really enjoy dressing up. Only, this year I was also real nervous about going. Having a food allergy to manage makes outings like this a real stressor. You have to plan, plan, plan and then hope for the best.

In the weeks leading up to opening day, I contacted the MDRF staff asking about their food vendors and ingredients, letting them know our situation. They recommended that I bring our own food as they could not 100% guarantee the safety of their foods for those with severe food allergies. That made sense and I was glad to know they allowed outside food in their venue (most places don't and you are just screwed). So I planned accordingly, packing lunch and snacks for both the kids. Mason made it easy when he asked to have his lunched packed too. He really looks after his sister these days, never wanting her to be left out or feel different than the rest of us, and I love that.

I ended up taking the backpack diaper bag; it comes in handy at festivals, parades, and other events, because you can pack a lot of stuff and carry it easily. I made sure to pack a change of clothes; the portable potty seat, as they only have porta potties and no way am I letting my kids butts touch those nasty seats; Benadryl and Epipens; baby wipes for hands and lysol wipes for tables and seats. People may think I am totally paranoid when they see me wiping down chairs, tables, and benches, but when your child runs the risk of having a reaction after touching any surface with traces of peanut and other nut residue, you would be doing the same.

The weather ended up being really nice. After the scorching Summer, it wasn't too hot and only raining towards the end of the day, but not too hard; especially not hard enough to spoil the kids fun. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of childhood and not having to worrying about adult issues. We arrived around 10am and didn't leave until around 4pm; having had a fun filled day. Here are a few of the highlights throughout our day.
The Rouges celtic band. They are awesome and so much fun to hear play.

After The Rouges the kids were hungry, seeing it was 11:30pm and their usual lunchtime. We packed lunchables for the kids and made sure we bought food that was the least likely to be made, or have come into contact with nuts, for ourselves. Pizza seemed the least likely to be contaminated and of course I made sure we all wiped our hands with baby wipes afterward.

After lunch we headed to the clothing stores to take a peak. We have never been able to get Mason to dress up, despite that fact that Grandma, Aunt Jenni, Fred, and I ALL dress up. I thought especially with Fred dressing up that he would concede, but so far, no such luck. Sophie is a different story. She immediately picked out a dress or two that she liked and we tried them on. After finding one in her size and a color she liked, she wouldn't take it off. Then we bought a matching head piece and Sophie was running around the rest of the day saying she was a Princess. I knew we would be able to get my little girl to dress up.
This is Sophie in her garb just after Grandma bought her and Mason a sword and shield set. She, of course, got a bejeweled purple sword and a shield with a Purple Unicorn painted on the front. Mason picked out a black sword and a shield with a phoenix painted on front.
These photos crack me up. How fierce Sophie looks here.
Fred and I in our garb.
Waiting for jousting to start, we took the kids through the maze. Fred and I both thought this was going to be an easy walk through, but still fun for the kids. We quickly learned that it was not going to be that easy to find our way through. Each turn around a corner was met with excitement that this would be the way out followed by laughter when it wasn't. After a while Fred and I began to get really nervous we would never find our way out. Mason suggested that Grandma start yelling so we could follow her voice. Eventually we found the exit; all smiles and laughter, happy to finally be out. It really was fun, especially watching the kids run ahead of us, laughing and smiling, hoping to be the one to find the way out.
Sophie and I then rode an elephant. Being opening day, I totally expected there to be a really long line, but we got to ride immediately as there was no line at all. Woohoo! Sophie loved it and I was glad that she would actually remember it this time.
Mason was really into the jousting.
During the joust was the only time I seriously got nervous and paranoid about Sophia's food allergy. I was sure to steer clear of the Roasted nuts stand, as there seemed to be only one. However, at the event, there were vendors walking around with packages of roasted almonds, cashews, and the such. Sophia tested positive to a severe allergy to cashews along with peanuts and as the vendor made it's rounds I fixated on each of the people sitting around us, praying that none of them bought a bag. We got real lucky.

We shared a treat of strawberry flavored Italian ice stuffed into a hollowed out orange. I remember Sophie devouring the thing, her face stained red the rest of the day.
The kids got knighted and princessed. (If that is even a word.)
Had some fun in the many picture cuts outs.
The adults enjoyed the local brew.

It was then that it started to rain, and I mean really pour. It didn't deter Mason from playing in the pirate themed play area. He loved it, running in the rain. Sophie sat in the stroller, snacking, while we took shelter under the trees and archway.
After the rain stopped we took the kids for pony rides. Mason was old enough to ride on his own this year and absolutely loved that. Because of the rain, there was a small line and the kids got to ride (for free) three times. This was Sophie's favorite part.
Before leaving we got to see Squire on the Wire. This guy was walking this tightrope directly over the crowd, in the rain. It was amazing.

We had a great time and look forward to next year!
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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Stylish, Homemade Drawstring Bags

Back in July, I found this post in my google reader and they looked so cute, I decided to make the kids their own bags to carry with us to our various Summer outings. However, they looked a bit beyond my skill level so I searched for some simpler designs. I settled upon three and they can be found here, here, and here. The first I used only for reference of the patchwork, the second one I liked how she sewed the holes for the drawstring much better, and the third I liked her step by step pictures. I am such a visual learner. Each tutorial is easy to follow and the bags came together quickly and quite nicely. I tried to document my process to give you all a tutorial of my own, but alas, due to my lack of sewing skills (and unable to read directions when I am tired) it was 2am when I finally finished Sophia's bag and the photos came out terrible. There is little to no light in my craft room, or the dungeon as I refer to it sometimes, as my craft room is in the basement with one tiny window in the top corner, and the track lighting we installed is just not getting the job done. So I apologize, but if you follow the tutorials from the links above you should do just fine.

Once I had my plan written down, Mason went with me to JoAnn's (I had a coupon) to pick out fabric. He was insistent on the flame fabric as soon as he saw it. Such a boy he is, I swear. Finding fabric for Sophie was a bitter harder. I know she likes pink, but wasn't sure what she would like beyond that. I finally decided upon a set of flowery fat quarters in pinks, blues and greens. I also purchased cheap white linen for the liner. I then went to AC Moore and bought parachute cord to use as the drawstring. Though, nylon cord from Home Depot would work just a good.

I used a 3/8" seam allowance and calculated that into my measurements, so I ended up with my final bag measuring 13"x11". Perfect for small children.

Supplies for Mason:
1/2 yard of flame fabric cut into 2 - 15"x12" pieces
Liner fabric cut into 2 - 15"x12" pieces
16ft. of black parachute cord cut into 2 - 21" lengths (about)
Grosgrain ribbon cut into 2 - 2" pieces

Supplies for Sophie:
4 fat quarter pieces cut into 4.875"x3.875" strips
Liner fabric cut into 2 - 15"x12" pieces
16ft. of white parachute cord cut into 2 - 21" lengths
Grosgrain ribbon cut into 2 - 2" pieces

(Aren't they such cute models?)

The kids are super proud of their bags and couldn't wait to start using them. I couldn't have gotten them done at a more perfect time as they came in very useful for our second trip to the Free Summer Movie Fest. It was the day after Sophie's trip to the ER and I was uber paranoid about her eating anything that I couldn't read the label. Yes, this included popcorn and all candy sold at the theatre. My plan was to use them to bring our own food. I packed two juice boxes, some fruit snacks, goldfish, and gummy bears in each of their bags. (I ended up caving and buying some popcorn once we sat down and it was fine). We have since used these when going to see other events like Reptiles Alive at the mall (packing snacks like grapes, raisins and goldfish), going to the allergist (I packed it with some books and toys), and one more trip to the movie theatre (this time I made our own popcorn). The kids insist on bringing these with us just about anywhere we go now. I'm glad they are getting good use, and holding up to the wear and tear. I had also intended to use these for going to the pool. Kids could pack snacks, goggles, toys, a change of clothes, etc. in their bags and it would be less for me to carry. But we haven't made it to the pool much this summer. I just had an idea; if I lined the fabric with vinyl it would be perfect for the beach. Note this on my list for future projects.

I had planned to post this back in July, shortly after I finished making them, but recent events pushed this to the back burner. I have found it hard getting back to normal, and writing about projects or crafts have just felt so trivial. I know blog posts have been sporadic at best and sometimes just random, but it has been an incredibly rough and emotional few weeks. Most days I can't even find the words to write, or it all comes out sounding so disjointed (a bit like this post is sounding right now). I am slowly getting back into the swing of things and will hopefully be blogging regularly again soon. In the meantime, what do you think of the changes to my design? I even created, and added two new blog buttons, so if you haven't already, grab one for your website or blog.

As always, thanks for reading.
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Simple Things Sunday: Budding Gymnasts

In lieu of Grandma Sunday, as my mom went out of town today, my sister came over to play Wizard 101 with Mason, and help give him some pointers. If you are not familiar with this online role-playing game, it is a little bit like WOW (World of Warcraft) but for the younger crowd, holding a rating of Everyone 10+. Mason has been downstairs in the basement, on the desktop in Fred's workshop playing this game almost every day this past week. He is super proud of the fact that he can do it completely on his own, and I have been thrilled that he has found something to hold his interest away from me for a period of time throughout the day. Summers are a struggle around here. Boredom being the major culprit. While they are busy playing Wizard 101 and Sophie attempts to diaper her babies, I wanted to share a moment, from the other day, with you.

This weekend the kids and I watched the rhythmic gymnastics final. A bit disappointed we missed the synchronized swimming, I was eager for Sophie to see this sport as she loves to dance. It proved to be a good choice as she stood in the middle of the room showing her own rhythmic moves. "I can do that," she would say, followed by a spinning move. Mason would make the beep sound indicating the start of their performance. At one point there was a minor fight over whose turn it was to perform, because clearly the big space in the family room was just not enough room for them both. Mason tried to do a split jump and land with his feet in straddle, but mentioned he couldn't do it. As Sophie tried the move herself she replied, "see Mason. Easy peasy." Ha, ha, she cracks me up; her personality really beginning to shine.
They were being so cute and funny, I couldn't help grab my camera and capture the moment. I'm glad I did, because it is a good reminder that life can still be normal amidst the turmoil and hardship that have recently befallen us. My children are constantly showing me that no matter how difficult life can be, allowing yourself to smile, laugh, and just revel in the simple things can hold the most amazing healing power.
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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Scratch Test

Last thursday, August 2nd, was our appointment with the allergist. I am not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I was really not prepared for what transpired. *Disclaimer: I want to point out that this was our experience, and that each individual experience is unique to your/their personality, medical history, and circumstances. Always consult, and take the advice of your pediatrician. If you are new to food allergies, as I am, and are about to go through the necessary step of testing, I hope that by reading this, knowing the details of what someone else has gone through, you will be better prepared for your first visit; because I wish I had been able to read about what to expect, in detail, before taking our daughter. That said, below is a detailed account of our appointment with the allergist.

The appointment started off just like any other, getting her usual measurements and vital signs. Sophie was in good spirits, in fact we were all smiling and laughing. Once the allergist came in, we talked a brief medical history and gave the story of how we came to be here that day. He gave her a quick check (looking at her ears, eyes, and throat) before explaining his thoughts and what he would be testing her for today; the usual culprits in food like tree nuts, shellfish, peanuts, egg, wheat, soy, etc. and inhalants such as: cats and dogs. He had a suspicion that she is allergic to eggs and that is what has been causing her horrible eczema. Fred and I just stared at each other, eyes wide, each hoping beyond hope that he was wrong. A peanut allergy we could handle, that is fairly easy to avoid, but an allergy to egg; this would be more difficult.

As we waited for the nurse to arrive and do the testing, Mason played on his LeapPad while Sophie listened to me read the ballet Strawberry Shortcake book. When it came time, the nurse explained the importance of keeping her still during this entire process. They do not use needles, but rather sharp plastic sticks to prick the skin. Sophie was laughing as the nurse drew circles on her back, indicating the different panels. She must have had close to 30 dots on her back, and as the nurse began to prick Sophie's skin, my heart went out to my little girl. She managed to get out an audible, "Ow", before all out screaming and trying to get out of Fred's grasp as he struggled to keep her still. I tried singing to her, anything to distract her, as the test went on, prick after prick. It didn't take as long as you would think, but when your daughter is screaming so bad that her brother is almost in tears and trying his best to tune her out, it feels like eternity. She was crying and saying she was scared and I did my best to choke back the few tears that began to well up. I will not cry today, I told myself. It was finally over and for the next 15 minutes we had the challenge of keeping her from scratching or messing up the marks on her back; which doesn't seem like such a difficult feat, but a screaming 39lb. three year old, whose back is now itching with all the fervor of an annoying mosquito bite, is a lot stronger than you think. I was glad Fred came to this appointment, as I would not have been able to keep her under control. I had to assist a few times when she got loose and stood up on his legs. He held tight to her arms as I sat her back down, holding her legs, careful not to touch her back. She kept yelling, "let go of me! Let go of my arms!" I felt bad for holding her prisoner in this state, but I knew this test was needed, as it was an important piece to the puzzle. Whatever we found out today would get us one step closer to being able to effectively manage her food allergy, ultimately keeping her healthy and alive.

We still had 13 minutes to go. Those 15 minutes felt like an eternity, as we struggled to calm her down. I tried playing her favorite My Little Pony episode on my iPhone; she was not interested. She wanted out of daddy's grasp and to scratch her back. Totally understandable. Mason was begging us to get her to stop screaming. We were trying as best we could. In assisting to hold her still, I was face to face with her back, and had the perfect view as the reactions developed. There was a significant welt appearing, and I prayed it wasn't egg. As hard as we were trying, it wasn't until Mason, who I'm sure was at his own wits end, came over with his LeapPad, to show Sophie his game, that she finally began to calm down. Proof, yet again, that they share a special bond. It was then that the nurse and doctor came back in, went over the results, and measured the welts that appeared. The test showed positive for peanut (that was the huge welt) and cashews. So we were advised strict avoidance of peanuts and ALL tree nuts. Other positive reactions showed up for cats and dogs. Not surprising, as Fred is allergic to both and Mason is allergic to dogs. At least these are not life threatening and can be managed with a dose of Benadryl before going to a house with pets. The doctor said there was a very minor reaction to egg, I didn't see it, and even though he did not diagnosis it as an allergy he is having us put her on an exclusion diet for the next 4-6 weeks. The goal is to find out if the egg is indeed causing her eczema. So if her eczema improves after eliminating it from her diet, than we keep the egg removed. If there is no change, than she can eat egg again. This means we need to avoid all foods that have egg, and let me tell you just about everything we eat has egg in it. As much as I hate to see her in pain with the eczema, I am hoping for no change. Does that make me a horrible mom? At least there is some relief in knowing that if she is allergic to egg it is not life threatening. So I won't have to freak out so much if she comes into contact with this food. The worst reaction will be an eczema break out; been there done that for the last 3 years.

I had a list of questions for the allergist that, of course, I didn't get a chance to go over; only one or two got answered. But, at least we now have a better idea of what she is allergic to and have gone about adjusting our lives to account for them. These last few days have been spent running around; getting school medical forms filled out, signed, and turned in on time; and making our home (snacks and meals) Sophie friendly. I have been posting cheat sheets all over the house and in my purse to help me with the process, and doing my best to educate family and friends. I am trying desperately to get as organized as possible before the school year begins in three weeks and find that I am feeling frantically unprepared. I thought I had it all in the bag until this food allergy through me for a loop. Now I am not so sure I am prepared for it all.
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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

True American Idols

I can remember sitting down as a child with my family and watching the Olympics. We would pop some popcorn and gather around the television to cheer on the USA; gymnastics and figure skating being my all time favorite events to watch during the Summer and Winter games, respectfully. These times were just like watching Redskins Football: our reaction to winning gold was equal to that of winning the Superbowl; screams, jumping up and down, hometown pride, and maybe even a tear or two. Standing on that podium, holding your Olympic medal up for the world to see, must be the best feeling in the world. Who wouldn't want to be an Olympic athlete? They had their faces on Wheaties boxes and epitomized greatness.

I recall being a young child in the 80's, wearing my official Mary Lou Retton leotard, accessorized with sweat bands for my wrists and head, and equipped with pink dumb bells and the rhythm and ribbon set from Get in Shape Girl. Do you remember Get in Shape Girl? I'd put in the cassette tape and shadow box my heart out, or dance around the room with my ribbon pretending I was an Olympic champion. In the 90's, my sister and I would spend our Summers rollerskating in the garage, imitating the likes of Kristi Yamaguchi, pretending to do triple axels and spirals. Fast forward to my 30's and I still get excited over the Olympics. Watching the 2008 Summer games in Beijing, witnessing history as Michael Phelps won his 8th gold medal (a record for the most first place finishes in any single Olympic games) was beyond exciting. We all screamed with pride in our fellow countryman, unable to believe he actually pulled off this incredible feat. So, it was with great anticipation that I awaited for the Olympic Summer games to start this month.

In the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony there were stories being shown detailing the favored U.S. Olympians journey to London. You couldn't help but be inspired. I looked at my kids and thought, these are your true role models. Proof that you should never give up, always give your best, and even if you fail you still achieved something great; and that is enough to make those who love you so very proud. These athletes, some very young men and women, get to represent their country in the most prestigious event in the world. This is no easy accomplishment, and for them to handle that pressure with maturity and grace is what makes them Olympians.

During the opening ceremony, I thought it very poignant for Great Britain to not choose a former Olympian to light the cauldron, but to pass that privilege onto the younger generation; 7 aspiring young athletes who may become future Olympians. Fred and I have made it a point to have the kids watch as much of the events as possible. I want them to see the battles, the triumphs, and the defeats. I want them to see the skill, the dedication, and the courage it takes these athletes to compete. I want them see greatness, and as a result to see themselves.

I thought all this was falling on deaf ears, until the last few days. Mason has been asking to watch the beach volleyball events and in turn, came up with his own version of the sport, using our beach ball, and begs to play it every day. This morning, I woke up and started preparing the kids to leave for our planned trip to Fairfax Corner to see Reptiles Alive. Mason has been excited about going ever since we saw their Rainforest show a few weeks ago. Any time he can see snakes, and lizards, and such is an exciting time. So, when I asked if he was ready to go and he said no, I was shocked. The archery event was on (remember this post?) and Mason wanted to stay and watch it. As I sat there with him, cheering on Khatuna Lorig, my heart smiled. It was a great moment shared between me and my son. Afterward, I showed him and Sophie the women's gymnastics team final I taped the night before. It is always on when they are in bed so I thought they would like to see it, especially since we won gold! Sophie was jumping around the room, imitating their routines. At one point I looked up to see her standing absolutely still, staring at the screen intently before uttering, "wow, she's good." Mason was really impressed too, and after it was over, asked if I could watch him do his gymnastics moves, "but they are the woman's because its the only one I've seen," he explains. I sat there watching him jump from couch to couch, doing his gymnastics, a big smile on his face as he looked at me and said, "I'm doing really good." It reminded me so much of my childhood. He told me that Sophie wanted to be a gymnast. I told him he could too, or he could be an archer, or a swimmer, "or play beach volleyball!" he exclaimed. Yes! I could see that spark of inspiration, the hope, the dream coming alive.

I hope that I am able to encourage and nourish those dreams and to always give my kids the support and belief that they can be whoever they want to be, and do whatever they want to do. I am a parent and I just want my kids to be great: to have the courage, determination, perseverance, and belief in themselves; to always try their best and never give up. In other words: to have the values of an Olympic athlete. I don't care if my kids are olympic gold medalists, or if their dream is simply baking cupcakes. I only want them to believe in themselves; to know that they have greatness and the heart of an Olympian no matter what they do.

So I find it only fitting the motto of these 2012 Olympic Games in London is, Inspire a Generation. Thank you Olympics, for doing just that!
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