Tag Archive | family life

Having a Child with Food Allergies

My youngest has food allergies but that doesn’t stop us from eating well.

By Jen Ashenfelter

Having a child with food allergies can be overwhelming at first, but there are resources and support organizations available to make life easier. My youngest son Christopher, who just turned 11, has food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs which were diagnosed after he turned one year old. Let me begin by saying, fortunately, he has never experienced a severe reaction that required emergency medical attention. He developed slight wheezing and a bright red bottom covered with hives after eating a piece of bread with a thin spread of peanut butter. And so our adventure with specialists, allergy testing and strict food avoidance began.

A look at some food allergy facts and figures, and symptoms

According to information posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy is an abnormal reaction by the immune system to a food protein which results in an immediate release of chemicals such as histamine. Mild to severe symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Hives, rash or eczema
  • Itching, tingling in the mouth
  • Swelling, including the tongue and throat
  • Abdominal cramps, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing, wheezing and/or difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction that can cause multiple, simultaneous symptoms including swelling of the tongue and throat, and difficulty breathing. This reaction can result in death.

Always seek immediate medical attention if you believe your child is experiencing an adverse reaction to a food, and consult with your pediatrician about finding a specialist to handle further testing for food allergies.

It is estimated that at least 15 million people in the United States have food allergies. About 4–6% of children under 18 have food allergies, with more boys than girls developing them. And these numbers seem to be rising each year. 90% of all reactions are caused by just eight different foods. The top food allergens include:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts including walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and macadamia
  • Fish
  • Shellfish including shrimp, crab and lobster
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat

Eggless pancakes taste just as good as those made with eggs.

The glass is ½ full

Everyone’s experience with food allergies is going to be very different depending on which foods have to be eliminated from the diet and the level of sensitivity. Some children can experience a severe reaction to peanut dust in the air and others may only experience a reaction when the food is ingested. Honestly, it was very scary and frustrating for me as a mother at first. But that was 10 years ago. Ok, it will never “be easy” for a mother dealing with a new allergy, yet I think the resources and support have improved over the years. It helps to remain positive, proactive and open to working with people who are not familiar with food allergies.

For us, Christopher’s food allergies are manageable. Baking a birthday cake, holiday cookies and other special treats can be challenging, but I’ve found recipes that don’t include egg and nuts. (I’ll share a few of these recipes with my next post.) Halloween and Easter were tricky at first, but we’ve learned how to handle it positively. Luckily he’s grown up with these food allergies, so he’s used to the dietary restrictions and the taste of alternative recipes. He doesn’t know any differently, and the rest of the family made the transition without too much pain. We have an Epi-Pen on hand in case of an anaphylactic reaction, and his elementary school has procedures in place to handle students with food allergies including a peanut-free table in the cafeteria.

A little education goes a long way in creating a positive experience

I think the bigger challenge is educating Christopher and those around us about his food allergies, as well as making others feel comfortable about it. You cannot expect that everyone will automatically understand or cater to the child’s specific needs. In my opinion, handling the situation requires a delicate balance. Above all, you have to make sure your child is safe. Next, being prepared is important—a little homework goes a long way in creating a positive experience for everyone.  And always, in age appropriate stages, teach your child about their food allergy and how to protect himself.

A food allergy can be a life-threatening situation so it’s important for family and friends to understand the situation before you arrive. It’s best to ask questions and discuss food choices before arriving at someone’s home. I’ve always found it helpful to either bring safe foods for Christopher to eat so our hosts would not have to worry or to politely suggest foods and products to serve or avoid. I also suggest calling a restaurant you plan on attending to discuss how the foods your child may choose are prepared or to preview a list of ingredients. I can honestly say that we’ve never had a bad experience where someone was unreceptive to my questions or requests…and when in doubt, always err on the side of caution.

The following are some helpful links that provide more information about food allergies:

The latest food allergy facts and statistics:


Vital information about food allergies in school settings:


Information from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology:


Tips from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: 



No Ifs, Ands, or Butts: It’s Time to Quit Smoking for Good!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

I have a childhood memory of biking into town several miles with my younger sister, nervously purchasing a pack of cigarettes to try later in the tool shed behind our house. Years later my mother told me she had found that old pack back there yet decided not to say anything about it. Flash forward to adulthood when I worked as the tobacco control coordinator for a regional branch of the American Lung Association in Gulfcoast Florida. As I provided the public with information on the health benefits of quitting and educated children in schools about the dangers of getting hooked I realized something … it could well have been me receiving the help instead of providing it. That first experience smoking with my sister, as well as a few other encounters with cigarettes over the course of my adolescence, could well have gotten me hooked, just as it has others.

Twelve years after my career with the ALA, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in our country, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes.

November 15th is the 37th Great American Smokeout. If you are a smoker, this is the perfect opportunity to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By quitting, you take an important step towards a healthier life.

Due to its addictive nature,  taking tobacco out of your life is not easy to do–yet it is certainly an achievable goal if you prepare, plan carefully, and set yourself up to succeed. In this 2-part smoking cessation series, I first provide you with some overall useful information. Then just before the New Year, I will offer some helpful tips to get you started on the road to a healthier, happier you!

Part 1: Smoking Cessation–Things to Consider Before You Quit

What makes quitting smoking so difficult?

Nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco, is as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Over time, a person becomes physically dependent on and emotionally addicted to nicotine. This causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit, and makes it hard to stay away from nicotine after you quit. There are many other harmful chemicals and substances found in tobacco. To quit permanently smokers must deal with both the physical and mental dependence.

Why should I quit?

Simply put, for your health! Smoking harms every organ of the body. There are both short-term and long-term benefits to quitting smoking. There are also many ways in which quitting smoking can improve your appearance. The biggest reason to quit?  Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness.

What other health risks are caused by smoking?

  • Cancer
  • Lung diseases
  • Heart attacks, strokes, and blood vessel diseases
  • Blindness and other problems
  • Special risks to women and babies
  • Years of life lost

Based on past data collected from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life. Plus, the diseases triggered by smoking can steal your quality of life long before you die. Smoking-related illness can also limit your activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

However, no matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers also enjoy a higher quality of life.

What difficulties might I face as I quit?

Some side effects you should be prepared to deal with:

  • Unpleasant physical and mental withdrawal symptoms (due to nicotine deprivation)
  • Overcoming rationalizations for having “just one” cigarette
  • Temptations and triggers to start smoking again
  • Loss of friendships and social activities that revolved around smoking

Immediate rewards of quitting

Big benefits you’ll notice right away and some that will develop the longer you remain smoke-free:

  • Fewer withdrawal symptoms
  • Fresher breath
  • Cleaner, whiter teeth
  • Better smelling clothes and hair
  • No more yellow-stained fingers and nails
  • Food tastes better
  • Sense of smell returns
  • Easier to breathe while doing everyday activities
  • More money in your pocket each week–smoking is an expensive habit!

You may have heard that quitting smoking causes you to gain weight, yet health benefits of quitting far outweigh risks from a potential small weight gain (usually less than 10 pounds).

Long-term benefits of quitting

Just a few …

Within 20 minutes

Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.

12 hours

The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

2 weeks to 9 months

Circulation improves, lung function increases, and coughing and shortness of breath decrease.

1 to 10 years

Risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s after 5 years; becomes the same as a non-smoker’s 15 years after quitting. Risks of certain kinds of cancers are cut in half, or fall to that of a non-smoker.

Now that you know the health benefits of quitting smoking and are armed with vital information to consider as you make your quit plan, you have taken the first step to a healthier life. Next month I will share proven tips to kicking the habit for good. In the meantime, I welcome former smokers to share their insights and stories. Here’s to your health!

For more information, visit the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society websites at:



Picture-Perfect Gift Ideas

By Ruth Topper

Think for a moment about the best gift that you ever received. Most likely, it was something personal; a gift given from the heart.   One of the best gifts I ever received was a baby gift for my daughter (who is almost 15 now).   My best friend from high school, Gloria, sent me a baby album where she had personally pre-designed all the pages.  The album didn’t have any photos in it—just places designated for them.  The album had been put together so thoughtfully.  At first I was afraid to do anything with it—it was just too beautiful!  I finally “got brave” and started filling the pages with photos and writing stories.  As the pages came together, it sparked excitement—over my pictures and my baby girl.

One of the pages from my daughter’s baby album… a project that ignited my career with Creative Memories.

After a conversation with Gloria, who lived in Minnesota while I was in Pennsylvania, I learned that she was a Creative Memories Consultant and this was called “scrapbooking” (not a household term at that time!).  As a consultant she sold products and helped people celebrate their photos and families by teaching them how to make albums.  This struck a chord with me and within a matter of a few months I became a Creative Memories Consultant too!  I had no idea where this path would lead me at the time since I recently had gotten “Off the Merry Go Round” with the birth of my second child and wasn’t really looking for a job or home-based business.  Would I be able to do this?  Well, if longevity has anything to do with it—then yes, I can.  I recently celebrated my 14th anniversary as a consultant.  After all these years I still enjoy helping people “love their photos” and celebrate them in meaningful ways.  Although there have been financial benefits over the years I always tell customers that they are the biggest blessing I have received.  I have gotten to know people in a very personal way as they share their family photos and stories with me.

As we approach the holidays (and other gift-giving occasions) we often are looking for thoughtful gift ideas.  I would put albums on the top of the list.  Albums have a “wow” factor about them.  In fact, grown men have been known to shed tears!  This idea may scare you a little bit because you envision hours of hard work to create this “masterpiece.”  I’m here to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think.  Albums are a gift of “heart” not “art.”  Pair your photos with your words or the words of a pre-designed album and you will deliver a gift with impact.

Here are a few album ideas:

The Simply Said Book from Creative Memories

1. Simply Said Book from Creative Memories (hey it’s something I know after 14 years as a consultant) – This is an amazing little gift for under $20.  It’s quicker than an album but more than a card.  There are a variety of themes to choose from: Hope, Joy, Dream Big, Teacher, Love and Grandparent.  Each book has 24 pages that are pre-designed with word prompts.  You just fill in the blanks and add 6-10 photos to complete.  You should be able to complete this magical gift in one to two hours.

2.  Album Kits – Album kits are available in a variety of themes such as baby, wedding, vacation, Christmas, etc. at many retail and all craft stores.  You should only need to provide photos, adhesive & pens to finish your album.  One of my current favorite ideas for a theme-oriented album is a recipe album.  You can either photo copy or write recipes onto cards, add some photos of the cook, recipe provider or the final yummy product and insert into an album.  This is sure to be a treasured gift for graduates, newlyweds or family members.

3.  Digital Albums – Digital albums have become very popular in recent years.  To create a digital album you just need a computer, digital images and album making software available through various photo websites and retailers.  Most of these sites have pre-designed pages available to make creating pages simple and fast.   One of the greatest advantages of digital albums is making multiple copies is a snap.  A few years ago at Christmas I decided to make a digital album of childhood photos for my two sisters.   I had to scan almost all the photos for this project.  I used pre-designed pages that allowed me to “drag and drop” my photos onto pages, added some stories and “sister” quotes.  The final product was a priceless memory of our bond as sisters.

Celebrating sisters!

4.  Traditional Scrapbooking Albums – For those who may want to express creativity in their own way there always is the traditional scrapbook album that comes with blank pages so that you can truly transform the pages into your very own.  Although this option may take more time it certainly is always well worth it.   The year my mother celebrated her 80th birthday I spent several months working on an album of her life.   It included pictures of her and her siblings growing up, the story of meeting my dad and getting married, the addition of her three “girls,” her worldly travels, births of her grandchildren and letters/photos that I solicited from her family and friends.  It truly was a masterpiece—if I must say so myself!  She revisited it a few years after I gave it to her and it took her more than three hours to read cover to cover!

People want to know they are loved.  Albums featuring photos and stories are proof of that love.  Give a gift of love to someone—your grandmother, dad, children, friend, etc…  We would love to hear your stories so please tell us about an album that you gave or received that was thoughtful and special to you.

Halloween Candy Overload!

By Karen Hendricks

Some of your children’s fondest childhood memories were probably made during the past week, during this magical, spooky and candy-filled time of year.  Trick-or-treating on Halloween night is one of the best adventures children can have!  But what to do with all that sugary, chocolatey, sweet candy?

Here are a few ideas that have worked well at my house:

  • If your children (or you!) can’t stop munching… freeze it.  Virtually any type of chocolate candy freezes and keeps just fine.  Just put the wrapped candy in a ziplock bag and hide it in the freezer, until you thaw it out at a later date.  Or unwrap a few candy bars of the same type, chop them and freeze in small portions.  You can easily use the chopped chocolate as a topping on dishes of ice cream or as an ingredient in milkshakes.  Snickers bars and Whoppers work especially well for this!

    Kit Kats chop up nicely!

  • Make peanut butter cookies and add some of your fun-sized chocolate candies to the tops of the cookies when they come out of the oven.  Hershey’s Kisses, small Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and other small chocolate candies work well.
  • Set some of the candy aside for decorating a gingerbread house during the upcoming holiday season.
  • Make goodie-bags for your children to give to their friends, especially those who live in rural areas and might not have had the opportunity to go trick-or-treating.  If your children are on sports teams, have them make and give goodie-bags to teammates during the next upcoming practice or game.  Everyone is a child at heart—another option is to share goodie-bags with grandparents.
  • Donate candy to Operation Gratitude, a non-profit and volunteer organization dedicated to sending care packages to military personnel.  Many dentists serve as collection points; some even offer prizes to children who donate.  Or you can contact Operation Gratitude directly.
  • Turn mugs of hot chocolate into delicious dessert:  Fill your mug about two-thirds full, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and then drizzle with your favorite crushed candy.  This is exactly what my family enjoyed on Halloween night… it’s one of our favorite treats!

Hot chocolate, vanilla ice cream and Kit Kat crumble = delish

Feel free to share your ideas and tips below as well:

Torn Between Family and Career

By Karen Hendricks

Mother’s Day, 2005 – while I successfully balanced motherhood with a part-time position in radio.

It’s probably the most controversial, emotional, gut-wrenching decision every mother will make:  Should I continue my career or stay-at-home with my family?  There is no easy answer, there is no right answer, and sometimes our answer to this question changes through the years.  Personally, my answer has changed what feels like a gazillion times.  I left a full-time position as a television producer—a job I absolutely adored—to stay-at-home with my first daughter.  But a part-time job as a radio newscaster was too wonderful to pass up.  Enter my second daughter and my son. I continued working in the radio business, with a very flexible and understanding employer, until cutbacks ensued.  A part-time position as an event coordinator/PR director was the perfect fit for a while.  That position morphed into a full-time opportunity as a PR director and although I loved the position, it was extremely challenging to be the kind of mom I wanted to be at the same time.  The position demanded more than 40 hours of work per week, and after five years, I made the decision to put my family first and wrestle back control of my time.  Lucikly, I had formed my own LLC a few years earlier, even had a few clients on the side (in my “spare time,” ha ha), and I was able to transition to working at home, for myself.  It is a wonderful feeling being able to set my own schedule, work load and focus.  I think I have finally struck the right balance, allowing me to continue the work that I love, but also being able to devote time to my growing family whom I love more.

I recently picked up the book Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood by Samantha Parent Walravens.  What an amazing collection of dozens of short essays by mothers who have all struggled to answer the career vs. family question.  It was perfectly-timed reading material, as I was developing the idea for this very website/blog, Off the Merry-Go-Round.

Many of the essays tugged at my heart-strings, as I could relate to the writers.  The author/editor of the book, Walravens, sets the scene for the essays to follow, in her introduction:

After ten years of changing diapers and chasing toddlers, helping with homework and volunteering in the classroom, I decided to reach out to other women like myself to see how they were dealing with the disconnect between motherhood and professional ambition.  … Whether at work or at home, they reported feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, most, if not all of the time. 

I saw an opportunity.

By admitting they couldn’t do it all, women could achieve a sense of freedom.  By writing about it, they could achieve a sense of community. …

As these stories illustrate, there is no perfect mother, nor is there a perfect balance when it comes to kids and career.  Caught between the heady “have it all” idealism of our feminist foremothers and the rigid realities of the corporate world, women today are creating new paradigms to navigate the conflicting worlds of paid work and parenthood. 

Her motivation was right on target with my motivation for starting Off the Merry-Go-Round.  The rest of the book was a page-turner for me!  I’ve gathered a few highlights that especially spoke to me:

My four years of motherhood have taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect balance, particularly for those of us who have been both blessed and burdened with a first-rate education and a work life we care about, or need.  We cannot help but think about the road less traveled.  Stay-at-home moms will wonder about where their career might have gone if they had continued to work, and will encounter the economic vulnerability that comes with not working.  Women who work full-time will feel the guilt of being absent for so many of the tender moments that childhood brings, as well as the pressure to try to “do it all.”  Those of us somewhere in the middle – part stay-at-home mom, part career mom – experience some combination of the two:  regret about not doing more at work, regret about not being fully engaged at home.  (Carrie Lukas, page 22)

The days are truly long but the years are short.  I started to think about all the times I answered an email while my children told me about their day at school or was too busy working to read them a bedtime story.  And while at the time what I was doing seemed so necessary, so important, I was ignoring the posted speed limit for that particular place and time.  (Sara Esther Crispe, page 41)

Today, with the advent of blogs and all other forms of online communication, millions of moms are rewriting the definition of success by telling their own stories.  The real stories from the trenches of motherhood have emerged. (Alaina Sheer, page 81)

Then, there are the people who tell me that with today’s economy the way it is, it is no longer a viable option for women to be home with their children.  I’m here to prove that it is still a wonderful choice readily available, especially for women with intellectual prowess.  We live simply, but with a much higher quality of life…. (Bracha Goetz, page 93)

Learn more about the book Torn by visiting Samantha Parent Walraven’s website.

How have you answered the career vs. motherhood decision?  What happened as a result–regrets, fears, support, contentment?  We look forward to reading your words of wisdom and building a sense of community on Off the Merry-Go-Round.  Please leave your comments and replies below!

Supporting Adoptive Families

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

No doubt as your child’s school year and accompanying activities get underway, you look around and notice a difference in the cultural makeup of families. The 2010 Census showed that interracial and interethnic married couples grew by 28 percent over the past decade. In addition to marriage, families also become interracial and interethnic through adoption. For families who adopt their children, many of the physical and emotional changes that happen for them are the same as for those who conceive their children biologically. Those who adopt are indeed “pregnant in their heart.”

It can take up to three years to receive an adoption placement. During this time, those who are adopting often need extra support from their families and friends. One of the most helpful ways friends and family can support expectant adoptive parents is to uplift them emotionally and practically. Prospective parents make the same logistical preparations a biologically pregnant couple would, yet deal as well with the emotional rollercoaster that is the adoption process.

If you know a couple or individual seeking to adopt, please don’t be afraid to ask how the preparations are coming or what you can do to help. Know, though, that everyone will handle those preparations, as well as the “wait time” involved in an adoption placement, differently. Some may not wish to discuss many details on a daily basis – perhaps even waiting until the legal revocation period is over to announce the arrival of their child. Others may feel a need to chat more about the adoption process as it goes along, and will want your encouragement when they become frustrated or for you to share their excitement as each new step along the way is accomplished.

In either case, if you are not sure what to say or how to react, the best thing to do is to simply yet tactfully ask the expecting couple or individual. You might say something like, “I know waiting for your child must be tough, and perhaps even filled with frustration from time to time. If you would like to talk about it, I am happy to listen.” Or, “It sounds as though you are very excited now that your paperwork is finished. As you wait for a placement, would it be more comfortable for you if we begin planning your shower now or hold one for you once your baby has been born?”

Sometimes, one of the best showers you can give is a “money shower.” Generally the costs for utilizing an adoption agency’s or a facilitator’s services are significant (in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars). Having some of those costs recouped may be very helpful!

Here are additional ideas for how you can be helpful to adoptive parents:

  • Offer to help prepare a baby registry or decorate the nursery (or older child’s room) to the extent that the adoptive couple or individual is comfortable. Although loss surrounding an adoption placement is rare, some prospective parents may not be comfortable preparing a room ahead of time.

    Offer to decorate a nursery for the new arrival!

  • Send a gift card to stores which have items parents will need when their child arrives. Check if those cards can be used for online purchases. This may be a more convenient way for new parents to shop rather than struggling to coordinate trips to a mall around baby’s nap time – especially if they received a placement earlier than expected!
  • Take the expectant parent or parents shopping to all the fun baby or children stores.
  • ‘Fawn’ a bit over the newly expectant couple or individual – “How exciting for you!” It can be very touching and thoughtful for an adoptive parent to have someone ask how their “pregnancy” is going.
  • Call regularly to check in. Ask, “How are you doing with the wait?” Offer to get together just to talk or to help out in some other way.

As an adoptive parent, I know that it helps when family members and friends are supportive of you when you choose to build your family through adoption. I encourage you to celebrate with the adoptive parents you know, and to treat their child the “same” as if he or she had been born from the adoptive mother’s belly. This will help them create a warm, nurturing environment to welcome their new addition!

Are you an adoptive parent who has been helped by family or friends? Are you someone who has helped an adoptive parent? If so, please share your stories and ideas with us!