Cooking with the kids

This summer I worked on teaching my kids what I called Life Skills. We worked on doing the laundry, discussed money, banks and saving for the future, and we cooked. I wanted to teach them the skills that they will need when they go off on their own – even though they have many years before that becomes necessary.

And one of the skills I think everyone should know is the basics for cooking. They need to know more than just how to use the microwave. I wanted them to be able to read a recipe and plan out a home-cooked meal.

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Jase (age 2) making scrambled eggs.

Now this summer wasn’t the first time the kids have helped in the kitchen. They had washed dishes before as well as stirred or added ingredients to a pot. Jase loved to beat eggs for scrambled eggs when he was a toddler even though he didn’t eat the eggs.

And started them off at young age is really the best way for them to learn and be comfortable in the kitchen. Yes, it is easier to banish them from the kitchen so that you can cook in peace. But there are many benefits to inviting them to help.

  • Helping in the kitchen can encourage them to try new things. Kids often are willing to try a meal that they helped prepare.
  • Working in the kitchen also helps them learn planning ahead. Not only do you need to have all the ingredients, you need to plan it so all the dishes in a meal get down at close to the same time.
  • Cooking in the kitchen helps reinforce reading (the recipe) and math (adding and fractions).
  • It teaches them to appreciate the chef. Putting a home cooked meal on the table takes time and effort.
  • It builds their self-confidence and self-esteem as they learn a new task.

And don’t think your toddler is too young to help. Even small kids can help tear lettuce for a salad or smash crackers to cover the chicken. Here is a link to a list of age appropriate tasks for kids in the kitchen.

There are also plenty of websites and cookbooks out there with kid friendly recipes and tips for introducing your kids to the kitchen and to cooking.

As for my summer lessons with the kids. They went well. Both of them made a dessert – frosted brownies from scratch for Lexie and cookies for Jase. They learned how to make their favorite meal – Zippy Beef & Mac Casserole.

I also had them each pick out a recipe, shop for the ingredients and prepare the whole dinner. Jase made chicken drumsticks that were a hit with Lexie. He loves French fries so that was part of his dinner though we just used the frozen type. Lexie made cracker chicken and skillet potatoes – two of her favorites.

Yes, cooking with the kids might mean more of a mess in the kitchen and it might take twice as long to make a recipe but I firmly believe the benefits certainly outweigh the negatives. With school starting we have slowed down on cooking together but maybe I will start having them help on the weekends.

 

Why doesn’t the tooth fairy and Santa bring equal gifts for all?

“Madison gets a toy from the tooth fairy. I hope I get one too,” Lexie says as we tuck the miniature yellow tooth chest under her pillow.

“I don’t think so,” I reply. “Our tooth fairy brings you money. Madison’s tooth fairy can bring her toys if she chooses.”

“Mom, there is only one tooth fairy.”

toothfairy 00140It is a predicament that every parent faces. Kids talk. They talk about what the tooth fairy brings them. They talk about what Santa brings them. And often there is a discrepancy between what my kid gets and the other kid.

Our kids get a one-dollar coin under their pillow for each lost tooth. (They get two one-dollar coins for the very first tooth.) But there are parents who give $5, $10 or event $20 a tooth. Or there are parents, like Madison’s, that give a toy for each lost tooth.

According to CNBC, last year the Tooth Fairy paid an average of $4.36 per tooth. That is up 25% from 2013 when she paid $3.50.

IMG_2962Hmmm….I guess that means I am on the lower end of the scale. But I am not about to change my ways. I like our dollar coins. They are golden. They are special from the tooth fairy.

(I don’t let my kids spend them. Otherwise, I would have to go find more coins. Nope, we keep using the same recycled set of 5 coins.)

Christmastime is even worse. This past Christmas was the first one where Lexie actually questioned why other people received more gifts from Santa than she did. She came home talking about kids getting piles of gifts from the big guy. In some cases, everything under the tree was credited to ol’ St. Nick.

This doesn’t happen at our house. When we had kids, my husband and I had to establish our Santa rules. I don’t recall if we even discussed whether or not to introduce Santa to Jase. I think that was a given. And we didn’t really combine or take one person’s experiences over the other. We started our own traditions.

santaI didn’t want all gifts to be from Santa. If I am going to spend my money buying all these gifts, I want the credit for the cool stuff. So we decided one gift from Santa, and the rest would be from us. So the kids see our gifts leading up to Christmas but of course Santa leaves his wrapped gift in front of the fireplace. He also fills their stockings with lots of smaller goodies – candy, books, toys.

When the kids were younger, they really didn’t differentiate between Santa’s gifts and those from us or the grandparents. Even now, I didn’t realize they paid attention to what gift was from whom until Lexie brought up the whole ‘why do we only get one gift from Santa?’ thing.

I don’t know any way around the tooth fairy/Santa Claus issue. Kids aren’t going to stop talking about these figures and what they bring. And parents are never going to get on the same page. I guess I will keep dodging the questions until my kids stop believing in the tooth fairy and Santa.

Ambloypia and allergy update

As I have mentioned before on this blog, my daughter Lexie suffers from eczema (exacerbated by her allergies) and has amblyopia. In the past two weeks we have visited the ophthalmologist and the allergist so I thought I would give an update.

Amblyopia

Lexie was diagnosed with amblyopia in June of 2012. We started patching her “lazy” eye at the end of August 2012. A year later there has been a VAST improvement. Her doctor was thrilled with the results. In the beginning we patched her “good” eye (which causes the lazy eye to have to work) for four hours a day. It then went down to two hours a day. Now we are down to just a half an hour each day! We go back again in two months for a follow up.

eyeglasses_2270_129578649At the appointment he also dilated her eyes to see if she needs a new prescription for glasses. Wow did her prescription change. Her vision has gotten so much better but not clear enough for her not have glasses. She picked out new frames – red with butterflies on the sides. They aren’t the ones I would have chosen but hey, I don’t have to wear them. As long as she likes them and hopefully wears them. We have been fighting with her lately to get her to wear her current glasses.

Allergies

We had not been to the allergist in over a year as the antihistamine prescribed (Xyzal daily) had been handling her scratching relatively well. But when it came time to refill it this month, they wanted an appointment before renewing it. The appointment came at a good time as the week prior, Lexie had attended a bible camp and had come back with some bumps on her legs. She proceeded to scratch them which of course made her legs look bad. My husband wanted the doctor to prescribe a steroid to clean up the marks while I was thinking a prescription for an antibiotic might be enough. It turns out that we both got our wish. I came out of the appointment with a record SEVEN prescriptions.

Besides the oral steroids and antibiotics, the doctor renewed her antihistamine and prescribed a second one for nighttime to see if that would reduce any scratching at night. She also gave us one for a nasal spray to use during the few months of a year that Lexie’s allergies result in a runny nose.

The last two prescriptions were for emergency drugs. While at the appointment, I relayed to the doctor an incident in March where after we had been out to eat, Lexie began complaining that her throat hurt. Within an hour, she was covered in hives. We ended up giving her Benadryl and calling the Nurse’s line. The nurse increased the amount of Benadryl we gave her to 2 teaspoons and suggested taking her to the ER if she didn’t improve in thirty minutes. Luckily within thirty minutes, Lexie was fine. The thing that concerned us and her doctor was her throat hurting. It might have been because it was closing due to the allergic reaction. So we got a prescription for an Epi Pen Jr. and a lesson on how to use it. The last prescription was for a chewable steroid to keep in a medicine key chain that had some Claritin in it. We are to give Lexie the pills if she ever breaks out in hives like that again. Of course we haven’t had an incident like that again so far but the scary thing is we don’t know what triggered it.

Should we lessen disappointment and rejection for our children?

I read this blog recently about why your kids being left out of things is good thing. It focused on that kids were not learning to handle disappointment and rejection because we, as parents, have become too worried about hurting their feelings. Invitations have to go to everyone so no one is left out. We give second place trophies or all participants get a medal. I don’t recall any of that while growing up, but I do recall the horrible feeling of being left out and of course as a parent I want to minimize that as much as possible for my kids.

Both Jase and Lexie’s schools have policies that if you are sending birthday party invitations through the school, you have to invite everyone or at least all of one gender. I know this is done so you don’t exclude someone and hurt their feelings. So far, we have been inviting the whole class but that means larger birthday parties. Since we usually do them at a party place, more invitees of course means more money. For Jase, we have told him that next year when he turns 9, he can only invite a select few friends. By this age, I expect the other kids to be a little better equipped to handle not being invited than at the kindergarten age.

left outI know kids have to learn about disappointment, but it is hard to know you are being left out of the fun. My daughter Lexie idolizes one of Jase’s friends who lives in our neighborhood. Emily likes playing with Lexie but there is a two year difference in age. One day, Emily had an all-girls play date, and she didn’t invite Lexie. We walk with them daily and the play date never came up. Lexie found out about it when Emily and two other friends were talking about it on the day of the get together. Lexie was crushed not to be invited. She cried all the way home. And no amount of explaining that her friend might want to play with girls her own age would make it better. I know this won’t be the last instance of heartache, but it was hard to watch. If I had known what was coming, I would have avoided the situation by not walking home with the neighbors that day as Lexie was after all only four at the time. There is no way she would understand not being included.

2nd placeAs for the sport organizations giving out trophies for all participants, Jase’s karate group does that. They have a tournament each session and everyone either gets a first or second place trophy. Jase has come in second place every time. Not once has he been excited about getting a second-place award. He knows it isn’t first and is disappointed. This actually has inspired him to train extra hard for the next tournament which was this month. He came in second place again though he did do much better this time and only lost by one point.

In the case of sports and trophies, I am fine with them not giving out awards to everyone. I know that my kids need to learn that they will not be the best at everything. But as for being left out, I am torn. Yes, I know it will happen but gosh is it hard to watch, or as I remember it, it is hard to endure. I don’t know that it makes anyone better to feel unwanted for whatever reason.

Allergic to Everything: Part One – Getting Rid of the Pets

Lexie was two and a half when we finally had her tested for allergies. We had been seeing the dermatologist for a year before he agreed that her eczema might be related to allergies. The allergist ordered a blood test to determine her allergies. I was eager to find out what she might be allergic to especially if it helped relieve her itching. There was no way I was prepared for the results; she was allergic to everything.

They tested thirty-seven items – ten environmental things such as dust, pet dander, grass and twenty-seven common food items. She scored a Level 2 classification or higher on all of them which indicated an allergy. And one of the highest allergies was to cats (Level 6) and dogs (Level 5). The first words out of the allergist’s mouth was get rid of the pets.

We had three cats and a dog at the time, and they were part of the family. One of the cats had been with us longer than Lexie. None of us wanted to see them go so we decided to try everything we could to keep them. We made her room a “safe” room. We cleaned it and kept the door closed and the cats out. And since dust (Level 6) was another high allergen, we bought dust mite protective stuff for her beds and installed an air filter in her room as well as the living room. We tried putting anti-dander solution on the pets and cleaning more often. We even replaced the carpet in our living room and on the stairs and put in laminate flooring to reduce her exposure to dust and pet dander.

We received her allergy test results in October.

Lexie in December 2010.

By December, Lexie was miserable. It was clear that the animals were still causing her problems. While my parents were willing to take the cats for a while to see if that helped, we had no one who would take in our black lab that had just turned one. Seven days before Christmas, my parents took the cats. I cried like crazy the day they left. But Lexie’s reaction to their absence was immediately noticeable. Every winter, Lexie’s nose always seemed to be running like she had one long continuous cold. The instant the cats were gone, her nose stopped running. She still itched around the dog who we were keeping in the kitchen, so we found her a new home. She left us the day after Christmas.

The house was extremely empty without our pets, but Lexie was doing a little better but not great. Clearly the pets were not the only problem. It was time to start eliminating food from her diet to see if we could uncover which foods were causing her the most problems. I will address eliminating food next week and the following week I will tell you how we were able to bring the cats back nine months later.

Dealing with childhood eczema

Anyone who has had eczema or a child with eczema knows how horrible it is. Eczema is a chronic disease that causes itchy, inflamed skin. There is no cure for eczema. And sometimes no matter how many lotions, ointments or creams you try, the itch cannot be resolved. An estimated 30 million Americans live with this disease.

My daughter first showed signs of eczema when she was three months old. Within months, she was scratching all the time. The pediatrician diagnosed her with atopic dermatitis (the most severe level of eczema) and gave us a steroid cream to help relieve some of the itching.

Because my son had a mild case of eczema as a baby, we were already use to using fragrance-free and dye-free soaps, detergents and lotions. But Lexie’s eczema was more severe than Jase’s. While he outgrew it by the time he was two, Lexie just seemed to get worse. She was constantly scratching until her skin bled. The itching prevented her from sleeping well, which of course meant we didn’t sleep well. Most mornings her sheets were stained with blood.

Back of Lexie’s legs at age 2.

When she was 18 months old, we were referred to a dermatologist. But here it was just more of the same. He would prescribe a cream, and we would try it, but it wouldn’t help. In fact, often whatever cream or lotion we used, she seemed to itch more.  She would cry every time we treated her as if the medication stung her raw skin.

I turned to the internet to look for relief, checking out hundreds of pages of eczema and trying countless different lotions and treatments that others said had helped them or their child. Nothing seemed to help.

To make matters worse, because of the open sores from her scratching, she developed an abscess under her arm, which had to be drained (not a fun experience at all). This would be the first of ten abscesses that she would have that year. Luckily, we became good about catching them early and cleared them up with antibiotics instead of the dreaded draining by the doctor. But none of us were immune to them. Because her body was covered with numerous cuts, she constantly had high levels of staph on her skin (which is common for people with eczema), and we all ended up developing at least one abscess.

Now, a few friends and quite a few strangers who remarked on her skin had suggested a milk allergy as being part of the problem. My mom also suggested a grass allergy since after being outside, she would just sit down and scratch her feet. So I mentioned it to the dermatologist, but he dismissed allergies as being the trigger.

After we had been seeing him for a year with no relief and after a really bad flare up, the dermatologist finally recommended we see an allergist. The allergist sent her for a blood test. The results were staggering. They tested her for 37 common things, and she was allergic to every one of them.

I will write more about Lexie’s allergies next week. But I just want to say that for anyone who is diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, please don’t wait as long as we did to see an allergist. Even though avoiding whatever you are allergic to won’t “cure” the atopic dermatitis, it can certainly reduce flare-ups and in our case, a whole bunch of scratching.

For more information on eczema, I highly recommend the National Eczema Association. EczemaNet is another good resource.