Friday, December 27, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope everyone had a wonderful day.

Christmas is a two-day affair for us: we spent Christmas Day at home with Mum's side of the family, and then Boxing Day at Dad's house.

We had family, friends and food, beautiful weather and two long, relaxed days.

I forgot to take a photo before lunch: so here's the aftermath.

Nothing says Australian Christmas like the sight of kids running under the sprinkler after lunch!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How to Stay In Budget at Christmas

Christmas is one of the most expensive times of the year. There's decorations, food, gifts, more gifts, more food, last-minute gifts, cards, postage, travel, the list goes on.

This year we are hosting Christmas lunch at our house for the first time ever. This has been really exciting (I love planning!) and a bit nerve-wracking (because I need things to be perfect). We don't have a lot of extra cash to spend on Christmas, so we had to think how we were going to make this work.

1. Create a Budget
Obviously! It sounds really simple, and it is. Figure out how much money you can realistically spend on Christmas. Then go to the bank and take that money out of your account. For everything Christmas-related, you are going to pay with cash. This makes it much easier to not overspend and to actually keep track of what you are spending.

2. Share the Load
The best Christmases are the ones where everyone helps out. Phil and I sat down and worked out what kind of food we wanted to have on the day. Then we assigned dishes to our family members. This is something normal in our family: we always bring something to share. Everyone had made it clear that they wanted to contribute in this way, so by creating a 'master list' we made sure that we'd have enough and that we weren't doubling up anything. You don't have to be too specific; you could suggest a dessert, or a vegetable side dish, or ask a relative to bring their 'signature dish'. Whatever would help you and works for your situation. If someone doesn't enjoy cooking or doesn't have time to do it, you could ask them to bring something pre-prepared, such as dip to start. Or ask what they'd like to bring and work around that.

3. Write a List
Now that you know what you are going to be responsible for, find recipes and ingredients. Look through your fridge and pantry and see what you already have on hand and what you need to buy. I already have lots of brown sugar, for example, so I won't need to buy more to make the glaze for the ham. I also looked for decorations we already have, and thought about how I could use them in different ways.

4. Look for Sales
Get online and check out the sales at your local stores. This is especially good for items such as decorations and dinnerware. I want a holiday-themed table, so I looked at several stores to see who had the best prices. I could then work out a closer estimate of how much would be spent on decorations vs. food. I decided to go to Ikea to get a lot of the tableware, and had in my mind a figure of around $20 that was allocated to this store. I was so happy to find the items I wanted were further reduced, and I only spent about $10 there. Score!

5. Don't be Afraid of Generic
Seriously, you don't need to buy brand-label everything. For some items, yes, it does make a difference, but for things like sugar, flour, and other baking ingredients, you'll never be able to tell. My usual grocery store has their own brand which is usually much cheaper than the name-brand stuff and is of a good quality. I'm not going to pay a premium for nice packaging.

6. Unpack Carefully
Once you have your decorations and food, put it together on a separate shelf. This way, you won't lose anything, and you won't accidentally use ingredients for other meals. It will be easier to check that you have everything required.

7. Give Homemade Gifts
Christmas is really over-commercialized, and most people just want to spend time with family and friends. I created hand-made gifts for all the adults this year. It saves a lot of money and it's more personal.

8. Stick to the Plan!
It is so easy to impulse-buy when shopping. DON'T. You really need to stick to the list you made previously. I don't care if there's the cutest thing right there, or this product is on sale so you just want to pick up a few because surely you'll use them...NO. This shop is just for your Christmas stuff, which is why you took the money out in cash and you're just paying with that. If there is a great sale, go back later when you're doing your normal shopping. If there is something adorable that you can't live without, wait until you have all the necessities that you wrote on your list and see if there's cash left over to buy it with at the end.

Another tip is that Christmas items usually go on sale right before the big day, but don't leave all of your shopping til the last minute because the shelves might have been ransacked!

We had already bought the kids' presents as well, but it's good to stick to the plan when buying those gifts. Create a budget for that, too. It doesn't have to be separate; you could combine it and make one big Christmas fund. Whichever way you go, you have to look at the overall picture of your finances and have a realistic idea of how much you can spend at this time. Shop around, look for sales, and no impulse buying! I think that's our biggest downfall. But if you can create a budget you're happy with and stay under it, you will be much more relaxed and able to enjoy Christmas without worrying about the bills.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Tale of the Two Front Teeth

Felix has been attending a three-year-old program at his future school for a few weeks now. It's one afternoon a week where the children attend with their parents and get accustomed to school. They'll do a few art activities, play outside, and come back in for a story and songs. It's been great and Felix loves it, and he's even more excited now about starting school next year.

On the final day, he went with Phil and my mum, because I was taking Victor to his usual clinic visit at PMH. When I finally arrived home at 6pm, I noticed a line of dried blood between his top tooth and the gum. Phil explained that he'd bumped it on a chair at school. Felix said it still hurt, and it was difficult for him to eat. He'd slipped and came crashing down on the chair directly on his top teeth, as if he were biting it.

The next day, it looked worse. The top gum was bruised, a dark purple colour, so I took him to see the dentist. This was his first ever dental visit, and he was a bit nervous, but the hygienist was very nice and took the time to explain everything to him. She had a look and agreed that the bruising was pretty bad. She decided he needed an x-ray to see if the tooth had moved at all, become fractured, and basically just to get a clearer view. He did so well...stayed nice and still, and we had our x-ray.

The good news is that the tooth hasn't appeared to have moved at all, and we couldn't see a fracture. This is great, because we certainly don't want the baby tooth to be pushed up against the adult tooth and possibly cause issues with his permanent teeth. She decided it just looked like soft tissue damage, but we booked in to come back again in two weeks' time.

So, two weeks later, he was back in the chair. The bruising has healed up really well and he's not having any more pain from it. He's able to eat normally again. The bad news is that the tooth, and the one next to it, now looks slightly discoloured; a pale grey. This could mean that the nerve of the tooth has died or become damaged, which leads to that grey colour. The best case scenario is that this means nothing. He continues on with life, the tooth eventually falls out and is replaced with the permanent one. The worst case scenario is that he could develop a chronic or recurrent infection in that tooth, which could affect the permanent one waiting above it. There's just no way to predict at this point what might happen.

Our plan is to visit the dentist one last time this coming week, and if the tooth has discoloured even further then they will refer us to a pediatric dentist. This could mean the tooth needs to come out...but that's getting way ahead of ourselves. It probably just means we need to keep an eye on it and have the tooth-extraction conversation if problems ever arise down the track. If we do get a referral, it will be good to get a second opinion anyway and learn more about what's happened.

Have I ever mentioned I'm terrified of the dentist? Yeah, I am. I'm not afraid of any other medical procedure...needles, blood, guts, surgery...don't care. There's just something about the dentist that I just can't stand. The last time I went I was given a prescription for Valium for the next visit (and I never went back!) So you should see me hold it together in that dental office for Felix. I am the perfect image of a calm, dental-loving mother. I could pass for someone who sees the dentist for fun. I could win an Oscar for my performance in there. Although, to be fair, all they've really done is look with a mirror and taken an x-ray. They haven't brought out the big guns that originate from my darkest nightmares. That little scrapey metal hook....can't even deal. But, I am determined to not pass my fears onto him.

So that's what's been going on lately. I'm really hoping that nothing eventuates from this. Add the suspected spider bite he got on his leg the other week and the poor boy has been through the wars! Aside from that we're good. Just enjoying our last few weeks together full-time before he goes off to school...the end of an era.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Lights: Our Own 'Minivan Express'

When I stumbled upon this idea on Pinterest, I knew we had to try it and make it a yearly tradition!

The idea was created by Erica on Confessions of a Homeschooler. The premise is that it's just an ordinary night like any other. The kids get ready for bed, but they find a golden ticket for the 'Minivan Express' in their beds! The family jumps in the car and set off to look at the best Christmas lights, complete with Christmas music and snacks. Not having a Minivan, we went with the title 'Christmas Express'.

Erica has kindly created a free printable, which I printed and laminated today while the boys were busy playing outside. I placed a ticket in each bed just before bedtime. They were so excited to find the tickets! Felix said "I just love it!" and Victor held onto his ticket all night, even falling asleep holding onto it at bedtime.

Phil got some Christmas music started with the Pandora app, and we set off in search of the best Christmas lights. Luckily, we didn't have to go far. About five minutes away is a beautiful walk-through light display. So much effort has been put into it and the boys' faces lit up when they saw the lights. We wandered through and saw the illuminated reindeer, candy canes, shooting stars, even moving images. Afterwards, we drove around looking at other local Christmas displays before finally heading home for bed.

It was such a wonderful experience. Felix was so overjoyed at the surprise! I thought Victor would be too young to understand it but he honestly seemed just as excited. Of course they both loved watching the lights.

This is definitely going to be a yearly tradition for us! Now if I can find a way to get those tickets back to use again next Christmas...

Apologies for the image quality, all photos taken with my iPhone while holding a baby.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

25 Best Secular Christmas Songs

I love Christmas. But as a non-religious person, to me Christmas is more about being with family and friends and spreading peace and joy than it is about the birth of Jesus. So with that in mind, here are my top 25 Christmas songs that reflect these qualities. You can use them to count down the days until Christmas, or since the first week of December has passed already, just enjoy listening to them! Each title is linked to a youtube video so you can start right away. Merry Christmas!

25. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!
Although I've never had a white Christmas, (our Christmases are far from white!) this is such a sweet song. Lovely imagery of cuddling by the fire during a snowstorm, being with loved ones, and that love keeping him warm when he finally braves the cold to go home. Awww.

24. It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
A catchy song listing all the great Christmas-y things to look forward to.

23. Winter Wonderland
The first time I saw snow was on the eve of my 22nd birthday. I didn't have clothes warm enough for it but I ran out in the street anyway until the cold felt like needles and I was forced to turn back in. But the snow was so beautiful. Obviously I've seen it on TV and in pictures but it doesn't quite capture it. It actually sparkles and glitters in the sun. I love this song because it reminds me of the beauty of winter, even though our Christmas is in the summer. It's my dream to have a white Christmas one year, and you can bet I'll be singing this song all day!

22. Santa Baby
This is a cute, tongue-in-cheek song about an extravagant wish list. I love the original version sung by Eartha Kitt, with that retro quality to it. I wonder if Santa gave her the things on her list? Each item is more extravagant than the last and always gives me a giggle. I wouldn't say no to a yacht for Christmas...or the deed to a platinum mine either!

21. Last Christmas -- Wham!
Really, no Christmas list is complete without this 80's pop hit. It has sad lyrics but a happy, upbeat melody, and basically revolves around a guy who had his heart broken last Christmas. It's just so catchy, I can't help singing it each December.

20. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
This one's a crack-up. Ok so I guess it's sort of dark, but I love a bit of morbid humour!

19. Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
Cute, catchy and up-tempo.

18. Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Ah, this song creates a bit of contention in my house! We sing it with the boys, but Phil doesn't like it when I add in all the additional back-up lyrics. Sorry, but when I hear the song I just can't help it. Doesn't seem right to just have Rudolph with a very shiny nose. It's "like a light bulb!" Of course, the biggest disagreement comes right at the end. Will Rudolph go down in history like Columbus or like Fat Cat? Do my kids even know who Fat Cat is? Who cares! It's a Christmas tradition!

17. Christmas Kisses -- Allstar Weekend
This is a new addition to the Christmas song playlist. It's sweet, upbeat, maybe a little saccharine...but really, aren't all the best Christmas songs a little too sweet? It's what makes them become our secret favourites. This is one that really grew on me.

16. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
A Christmas classic. Perfect for gatherings with family and friends that may as well be.

15. Ring Those Christmas Bells
Any song with this much onomatopoeia in it had to be included! So much fun.

14. Mele Kalikimaka 
One of my favourite Christmas movies is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which features this song as Clark Griswold is fantasizing about the backyard pool he wants to install. I also have memories of my year 6 class singing this song at school assembly...which was hilarious as none of us could pronounce the words properly!

13. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas
Just a super cute, catchy song!

12. Jingle Bells
Such a classic, and a great one to sing with the kids. We have a video of Felix trying to sing this song before he could really talk. Now he prefers to sing 'Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!'

11. You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch
I love the Dr Seuss classic, 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'. Sometimes I feel a little bit Grinchy! But the story has a happy ending. As I was writing this Phil looked over my shoulder and told me this song was written for me, so there you have it.

10. River 
The original is sung by Joni Mitchell, but there are multiple covers of this song. This is a very melancholy song about someone who is alone at Christmas, and regrets their past actions. Christmas is all around them, and they just want to get away from it. I think that feeling sad is even worse when everyone around you is happy. I think most people can relate to feeling less than joyful around the holidays at some point in their lives. Many people are alone, have financial difficulties, or are under stress for other reasons, and these problems are really exemplified around Christmas.

9. I'll Be Home for Christmas
It's so easy to feel homesick around Christmas, especially if you've been away for a long time. Sometimes, just coming home is the best present of all.

8. Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
This song conjures up the excitement once felt on Christmas Eve, truly believing that Santa Claus himself would be coming to deliver elf-made presents. In this song, Saint Nicholas seems kind, caring, and generous. There are many songs about Santa and he certainly isn't depicted that way in all of them, but I like this one for the sweet, childlike excitement and joy it evokes.

7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
As sung by the Jackson 5, this song perfectly captures the innocence and joy of Christmas for children. Listening to the young Michael Jackson's voice alone is worth it, but the lyrics of this song are just too cute. It's about a child catching his mother kissing Santa Claus...of course without realising that 'Santa' is actually his dad!

6. Feliz Navidad
Ever since my family sent me a JibJab card of themselves singing this song, I knew this was one that would have to be played every year. I highly recommend you check out the site and send a singing e-card to your family too!

5. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Another song about being home and with the ones we love at Christmas.

4. Carol of the Bells
This one is Phil's favourite and I first heard it at our first Christmas together. It's a beautiful, almost haunting melody, requiring multiple voices harmonizing together.

3. Merry Christmas, Darling -- The Carpenters
Here's the bit where I reveal myself to be a huge dork and fan of The Carpenters. I just love Karen Carpenter's voice. This song is all about wanting to be with the person you love at Christmas, which is really what it's all about.

2. All I Want for Christmas is You
Another song about being with the one you love at Christmastime. Do you see a theme here?! As much as I love the decorations, food, gifts and lights, it's all a bit empty and meaningless if we can't share it.

1. White Wine in the Sun -- Tim Minchin
This song is the ultimate for me. Tim Minchin captures exactly what is meaningful at Christmas, and what's really important in life in a far more articulate way than I ever could. It's pretty amazing for one song to cause the audience to both laugh and cry. But more than the commercialization and more than the religion, it really just boils down to family and spending time with the people we love. That is the true meaning of Christmas. Add to the fact that this song depicts a summertime Australian Christmas and I am totally sold on it, because that is home. My Christmases have always been hot and sunny. The first time I heard this song I was on the other side of the world, miles away from my family. It was freezing cold, it was Felix's first Christmas, and I was so homesick. It really hit me around that time, in the lead up to Christmas with our baby, and feeling so alone. I heard this song about home and family and Christmas in the sun and I think I bawled my eyes out for a week. I wanted to go back to my own family waiting in the sun. It took me almost ten months, but I did get there eventually.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting Back on that Bike

Once again, it's been a long time since I've written anything here. I have the usual excuses: busy, life, etc.

We've been very busy, actually. I've just finished my first semester back at uni (have never had a more time-consuming course), we had visitors from America, and amongst all of that we have been preparing Felix for school and cleaning and going out and staying in and seeing friends and creating craft activities and playing games and watching movies. I think it's also known as living.

The other week was particularly full-on. Two incidents stick out in my mind as being really difficult, and really had an effect on me emotionally.

The first incident occurred when we went shopping in Perth city. It's nine months after the smoking ban was supposed to come into effect, and absolutely nothing has changed. There are people blowing smoke all over the pedestrian malls of Perth. I had been looking forward to visiting the city as a more family-friendly destination, a place where I thought my family would be safe from passive smoking. This is just not the case.

I posted a status about it on Facebook. More of a rant, actually. I was pretty furious that because of other peoples' ignorance, stupidity and selfishness, we would have to compromise our health just to experience a day in the city. And I'm sure I don't have to explain the impact that cigarette smoke would have on Victor's lungs, right?

The second incident occurred a few days later. This time, I was angry again, but angry at myself. And sad. And I went through a huge range of emotions that had all seemed to be bottled up. All the thoughts that constantly lurk at the back of my mind came right to the forefront.

We had gone out to Hillary's Marina, a place of shopping and restaurants and cafes built right over the water. It's about twenty minutes from my house, and the kids love it there. It's a beautiful place where they can swim and play and then have ice cream. They splash about in the water and chase fish and look at the boats and laugh while they try to escape from me and run out into the water as far as they can. They fall asleep in the car on the way home covered in sand and salt.

We went there to have pizza for lunch and have a relaxing day as a family. We arrived early, ordered the pizza, and sat outdoors waiting. The first pizza arrived and I went to take out Victor's enzymes. They were not in my bag.

How could I have been so stupid? He needs them to eat. He certainly can't have a cheesy pizza without enzymes. Because of my stupid mistake, he had to miss out. Phil offered to drive him home and get him lunch at home, but I didn't want Phil to miss out on lunch too. I offered to go, as it was my mistake, but we decided to go hunting for something that Victor could eat, enzyme-free. That basically meant fruit. Victor got fruit for lunch, while the rest of us ate pizza. To his credit, he didn't seem upset by it. But I felt so horribly guilty. I didn't enjoy lunch at all.

This event created an avalanche of thoughts and emotions in my mind. First, shock. That heart-stopping moment when you reach for something that you're sure is there. It's not there. Oh, no. Oh no oh no oh no. Did it fall into a different section of my bag? Panic. No. It has to be here. I'm sure it's here. Tip out the contents of the bag, search.
It's not there. Guilt. What happens now? No matter what, it seemed like he was going to miss out on pizza. So much guilt. It's all my fault. People said, "oh no, it's not your fault." Because it's nice to say that. But unfortunately, it absolutely was my fault. That's not me trying to garner sympathy, that's just a fact. So much guilt piled on me. Victor is too young to understand that he even has CF, let alone understand the role and function of enzymes and the fat content of pizza and the subsequent stomach ache he would receive later if we didn't give him enzymes.
Then anger at myself for being so stupid and disorganized.
Then sadness that this is even something we have to worry about, that this is life now. That for the rest of his life, wherever he goes, he will have to bring his enzymes. That before every meal, snack, latte, whatever, he's going to need to take enzymes. The familiar feeling of it's not fair. 

I get that missing one meal of pizza is not a big deal. Victor will never remember that day. There will be other days and other pizzas. There will be other times when we forget enzymes. But it just brought everything crashing down around me. It brought back the stark realization that this is our life now, and no matter how 'normal' it seems now, it's still not normal. And it will never be normal again.

In that moment, I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream and swear and jump up and down and have a big tantrum. In that moment, not having enzymes there with us represented everything I hate about CF. It was a crash back to reality that I was not prepared for.

I get that I seem to have a lot of these reality checks. My life is like riding a bike. Most of the time I'm cruising along pretty well. The weather is mostly sunny. There's some hills, but we're good. I can handle that. But then CF runs along next to me and pushes me off my bike, and before I know it, I'm on the floor.
Obviously I get back on again. Here I am, writing to you. I'm riding my bike again.

When I posted these events to facebook, I got a lot of support from my friends. I've met a lot of other parents of children with CF who could relate to my problems. I also have a lot of friends who are just supportive and awesome. They 'get' it.

I also have people who don't understand. And it's surprising when you find out which camp someone falls into. It's taken me by surprise many times, and still continues to. Some people were clearly uncomfortable by my facebook posts. Some people truly didn't understand why I was upset. And that's ok. I don't always understand other people's rants. But my feelings were real and valid. I'm so grateful to the people who understood that. I'm so grateful to the people who understand that my lives, our lives, and who I am has changed. I'm grateful to the people who will allow me to fall off my bike, and gently help me back on again.

So, thank you. I hope I can return the favour sometime if you get knocked off your bike. Thank you for being awesome. It's been a weird time for me, because I'm still learning and adjusting and acknowledging the differences in our lives and discovering new priorities and points of focus, but at the same time trying to feel 'normal' and fit in with life. Thank you for having patience with me.

Victor with his apple (not pizza!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

52 Things Every Father Should Teach His Son

I read this blog post today; a list of 52 lessons fathers should teach their sons.
I have no idea who this blogger is or what his mentality is, but by the time I got halfway through the list I realised that this is everything that's wrong with humanity. This is why we can't progress forward as a society.

I decided to improve it. Here is a list of 52 lessons I hope to teach my sons. I'm hoping my boys will learn many of these lessons long before they're teenagers.

(I also think these are wonderful things for mothers to teach daughters. or fathers to teach daughters. Or mothers to teach sons. Whatever. Just teach them).

1. How to Throw a Ball
Learning physical skills and team sports is a great way to build confidence, bond and have fun. You can participate in social games, keep physically active, and have fun with friends. It's also encouraging to see your throwing skills improve with practice.

2. How to Negotiate
The last place you want to be is on the giving or receiving end of a punch. Be confident and quick witted. Stay away from violent people if at all possible. Diffuse a volatile situation while staying calm. Nothing good ever comes of physical violence.

3. How to Dress Presentably
While ripped jeans and old t-shirts might be fine for the weekend, you need to look professional in situations such as job interviews. Even if you don't want a conventional office job, it's a good idea for you to understand what type of dress is acceptable in different settings.

4. The Power of Willpower
It's important for you to believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to? You are capable of achieving anything you set your mind to. Don't mind setbacks, they're just bumps in the road. If you want it bad enough, you'll achieve it.

5. Treat Women With Respect
It's the 21st Century, and we're still having to say this stuff. Clearly the message is not getting through. Fathers, lead by example. Treat your wife or partner with respect. Have a zero-tolerance level for sexism. Have an ongoing discussion with your son about what is and is not acceptable. See an example of sexism in advertising? In a movie? On the street? Talk about it.
Sons, treat others as you would like to be treated. It's just that simple.

6. How to Build a Bookshelf
Learning basic DIY skills can save lots of money in the future and can instill a sense of pride.

7. Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover
The world is a diverse place. Learn to look beyond face value and connect with the person underneath. Learn about other cultures. Don't judge people based on their skin or clothing: the real value comes from what's inside. Forget this lesson, and you'll miss out on a lot.

8. It's OK to Feel Emotions
Another lesson which seems to be lost on boys. Research has proven time and time again that it is important for a person's mental health to be able to express themselves in appropriate ways. If you are sad, you should feel safe expressing that sadness. If you cry, that's ok! If you're angry, punch a punching bag or go for a run. Bottled-up emotions can lead to mental breakdowns, panic attacks, fits of rage. Learn the best and healthiest ways for you to get your feelings out. If you feel like you're not coping, seek professional help. When a person asks for help when they are mentally unwell it is a sign of immense strength.

9. Trust Your Gut
Most people are inherently good, but unfortunately not everyone is out to be your friend. You should trust yourself and if you feel uncomfortable in a situation or with a particular person or group, there's probably a good reason for that.

10. The Importance of Hard Work
You will get out of life what you put into it. Set goals and work towards them. Set little goals to begin with, and feel that confidence boost when you achieve them! Then set bigger ones. You should feel a sense of pride in the things you work hard for. If you don't give something your best effort, learn from it and do a better job next time.

11. The Importance of Physical Fitness
Staying physically active is very important! Find an activity you enjoy, whether it's running, swimming, team sports, dancing, karate, or yoga. The activity itself doesn't matter. if you enjoy it, you'll want to stick with it. Being physically fit has obvious physiological benefits, but it also has psychological benefits as well.

12. The Importance of Contraceptives
This lesson needs to be drilled into every person along with the birds and bees talk. You need to learn everything you can possibly know about condoms. You need to know where to buy them, how to use them, and when to use them. Yeah, this conversation can be awkward. But it's less awkward than asking your parents to drive you to the doctor for STD testing. Or worse...explaining to them that they're about to be grandparents.

13. How to Swim
This is something that I feel very strongly about. You live on a planet that is mainly water. If for no other reason than self preservation, you need to know how to swim. I'm not talking Olympic standards here, but well enough so that should you encounter a body of water deeper than a puddle, you're going to be able to get out again. Of course, swimming is also great for physical fitness and you'll have a much better time at pool parties.

14. Don't Be a Sore Loser
You will not win every race or competition. That's life. It can be disappointing, but there's always next time. Take the lessons learned from the competition and keep trying. Congratulate the winner, and move on. This also applies for the winner. Be gracious. Congratulate the other players/competitors, and keep your feet on the ground.

15. Opportunity is Everywhere
Think outside the box and be inventive. Think about what makes you happy and what you enjoy doing. Is there any way you can use your hobby or interest to further your career?

16. Be Yourself
Be your real, authentic self. Don't try to change to fit in or to impress anybody. It never works, well, not for long anyway. You'll never be happy being someone you're not. And if someone doesn't like who you really are, you don't truly need them around anyway. Seek friends who love you for who you are. Fake people are boring, anyway.

17. Always Give 110%
No job is beneath you. Give it your best. Always.

18. Keep Your Word
Don't say something without following through with it. If you're not sure if you can commit to something, don't say you can before finding out more. Be reliable, or people won't trust you.

19. Do What Makes You Happy
Think hard about what type of career you'd prefer. Study hard to make that happen. Live the dream you set for yourself. Don't choose a career to please someone else. That includes your parents. As long as you are happy and able to pay the bills, we'll be happy.

20. Love Yourself For Who You Are
Some people feel that they were born in the wrong bodies. They see themselves as the opposite sex and desperately want to be seen as the other gender. Every time I read one of these stories, a lot about angst and sadness is discussed. I suspect the only reason anyone feels angst or sadness over this 'change' is because of other people's perceptions. If the world just left these people alone to become the person they want to be, I don't think there would be any angst or sadness at all. Know yourself, be yourself, love yourself. Others will too.

21. No Excuses
Don't make excuses for things you didn't do. If you truly wanted to do something, you would do excuses! Similarly, if you did something wrong, own up to that. Don't make excuses for your behaviour. We've already heard them all, and quite frankly, we don't buy it.

22. Apologize When You Are Wrong
If you have hurt someone or done something wrong, apologize. It takes guts to own up when we are wrong. You'll feel better after you do it, and sometimes this simple act can salvage a friendship. Be sincere. Reflect on your actions and think about how they made the other person feel. Then apologize.

23. Girls.
The thing about girls, boys, and everyone else on the planet, is that they are so individually diverse that it's impossible to put all of them in one box. But speaking very generally, most girls actually do want to connect with you. I'm not a relationship guru, but here's a big hint: it really helps if you and the girl of your dreams actually have some shared interests and values. It really helps if you can have fun together outside the bedroom. It really helps if you are interested in each other as people. And it most definitely helps if you have respect for one another. Don't treat her like an inferior being. Definitely do not treat her like a little sister. You wouldn't like it if she did that to you. Once again, the key to life is just treating people with respect. It's not hard.

24. The Importance of Athletics
This is pretty much a repeat from before, but yes it's important to stay physically active. Whether you choose team sports or individual exercise really doesn't matter that much as long as you enjoy it. The long-lasting benefits of structured exercise are far reaching. I learned self-discipline from my years of classical ballet. This is something I have retained today and it's helped in many areas of my life. It's helped in every job I've ever had and in my current role as a stay-at-home parent and university student. Even though my flexibility and strength has disappeared, I still gained so much from ballet. The same goes for whatever activity you choose.

25. Be Confident
Every child needs this lesson drummed into them. Everyone is unique, everyone has something to contribute, and YES you can achieve anything you set your mind to!

26. Love Yourself
Love and respect yourself enough to take care of yourself. Bathe regularly, keep yourself tidy and presentable. Eat well and exercise regularly. Take time out to deal with any built-up stress. Do things that make you happy.

27. Don't Harm Yourself
This sounds like a repeat, and in many ways it is, but it needs to be said. Don't indulge in self-harming behaviours. This includes drug use, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, partying to the detriment of your studies or job, or eating an unhealthy diet. Even if it seems fun at the time, you'll suffer the effects later on.

28. Treat Animals Kindly
Pets are dependent on you to live. If you make the choice to own a pet, do everything you can to treat it well. It's a big decision and responsibility, which is why you shouldn't get one if you don't think you can do right by it.

29. There Will Always Be People Greater and Lesser Than Yourself
What this means is that there will always be people suffering more, and there will be people suffering less than yourself. There will be people happier than you, and people sadder than you. There will be people with more of everything, and people with nothing. Right now there are people bursting with joy, and there are people dissolving with grief. When you feel like you carry the world's burden on your shoulders, remember that you actually don't. We get a turn in all of these places over a lifetime.

30. Help Others
No matter who you are, where you are, what you can find opportunity to help those less fortunate than yourself. If you work hard and end up in a position of power, remember to stop and thank those who helped get you there.

31. Basic Scientific Literacy
Understanding where we came from, how our bodies function, simple chemistry, simple physics, and the ability to determine legitimate scientific studies from quackery are all very important abilities to have. It will help prevent you getting sucked into the ever-popular pseudoscience, and it will help you make sense of the world around you.

32. Budget Wisely
Learn to draw up a budget and stick to it. Always save for a rainy day and do everything within your power to avoid debt. This includes credit cards. Material possessions are unimportant, but having financial security is crucial. Always have a bit of savings to help keep you afloat. Live within your means. If nothing else, this will save you many sleepless nights.

33. Choose Your Words Wisely
Words carry enormous power. Think before you speak.

34. Basic Courtesy and Etiquette
When meeting someone, look them in the eye and smile. Greet them warmly. Shake hands if appropriate. Say 'please' and 'thank you' when necessary. Say goodbye when you leave. Easy things to do that help create a positive impression.

35. Value Your Family
Your family is where you come from and where you will return. Your family contains the people who love you beyond measure, who will celebrate your joys and mourn your sorrows. Your family will pick you up when you fall. One day you will create your own family with your own traditions, but I hope you will always find room for us.

36. How to Write a Resume and Cover Letter
You will apply for many jobs in your lifetime. Learn how to write a standout resume and cover letter that will lead to you being selected over the other hopeful candidates.

37. How to Play a Musical Instrument
Music appeals to just about everyone, and learning to play an instrument takes years of dedication and practice. After you put the hard work in, you will not only have a new skill, you will have a fun and relaxing pastime, a way to connect with others, an emotional outlet, perhaps a money-making opportunity, and a skill and a joy that will stay with you for life.

38. Stand Up For Yourself and Others
Don't stand for bullies pushing you around. Don't react. Don't give them any of your energy. If you see another person being picked on, stand up for them. Reach out and be a friend. Don't be one of the cowards standing around letting it happen. If things get too out of hand, ask for help.

39. Stay True to Your Values
Remember what is important to you and don't just go along with what everyone's doing because all your friends are. You can say no.

40. Enjoy Being Outdoors
Going camping is a learning experience. It's good for you to get away from the rush of civilization and the addiction of technology. Get outside for a few days and 'do nothing'. Gain respect for nature and learn some useful survival skills along the way.

41. Learn to Grow or Catch Your Own Food
Learn to fish, or start a vegetable garden and grow your own produce. It's a great feeling eating something that you procured yourself, it's good for the environment, it's good for you, and it saves money.

42. Learn to Take Care of Your Things
Your car, your computer, maintenance issues for your home. If you learn basic tasks such as oil/tyre changing, basic IT skills and basic handy work around the house, you will save money and prevent further damage.

43. Read Classic Literature
There is much to be gained by reading some famous written works. Sometimes it might be difficult to understand, but persevere and think about it. Many classic works have multiple layers of meaning and if you read something that really speaks to you, it can even change you as a person. Go to the 'Classics' section of the bookstore and pick something that you like. You won't be disappointed.

44. Learn to Clean
Create a basic household cleaning routine. Dishes need to be done every night, or every time you cook. Clean as you go. If you live alone, tasks such as vacuuming, laundry and bathroom cleaning can probably be done once a week. Pick up stray objects as you go so the mess never becomes overwhelming. If nothing else, keeping your house clean can prevent pest infestations, broken items and lost objects, so it's worth it just for that alone.

45. Learn to Cook
Sorry, you can't survive on a diet of takeaway food. Start out with some simple family recipes. Browse through cookbooks that seem interesting, or search for recipes online. Then branch out and experiment. Have fun with it! Try recipes from different cultures or things you've never tried before. You never know if you'll find something amazing. And if it's less than amazing, chalk it up to experience.

46. Visit the Dentist
I hate the dentist. When I was younger, I thought that I could make the rules as an adult. That I didn't have to go for regular cleanings and checkups. Well here's your opportunity to learn from my mistakes. Go to the dentist! The same goes for the doctor. Take care of your body and get regular checkups.

47. Ask For What You Want
Be sure of what you want from life, and don't be afraid to seek that out.

48. Learn to Haggle and Shop Around
Look for the best price and haggle to make that price lower. The retail price of just about everything is massively over-inflated, so usually you can get a percentage off. Or you might see the same thing somewhere else cheaper if you shop around. When it comes to cars and houses, you are expected to make an offer lower than what they're asking.

49. Everyone Has Worth
Every single person on this planet is worthy and should be valued. It doesn't matter what they look like on the outside. It doesn't matter where they're from. It doesn't matter what they believe, it doesn't matter what gender they are or if they're gay or straight, it doesn't matter if you think they are stupid or intelligent. They are to be treated equally, and kindly.

50. Travel
It's the best way to open your eyes, learn about the world, meet new friends and have amazing experiences. Travel as much as you can. There's so much you haven't seen. Visit the big cities and the tourist attractions, and then visit the small villages and the out-of-the-way places. Take photos. Write it down. Talk to people.

51. High School is Not As Important As You Think.
I'm not only talking about the friends you make (or don't make), but your academic performance. Now, you should try your absolute best. You should aim to do as well as you can, because it will make your life a thousand times easier later on. But, in the worst case scenario, there are ways around your bad grades. You can still go to university and study whatever you want, it just takes a bit longer. If this is the path you take, be aware that is is harder in a lot of ways, but don't let one setback discourage you. Use the time to travel and work, and figure out what you really want to do anyway. Most teenagers have no clue. Get out there and have a think. In fact, do this even if you got wonderful grades. A year or so off will be good for you.

52. Chin Up
Life will throw many curveballs your way. Sometimes you will find obstacles to be nearly insurmountable. There is very little in this world that cannot be overcome. Remember that you can do anything, and take a step.

Are there any lessons you think should be added to the list? Are there any you think shouldn't be included?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vaccinations: How Your Choices Affect Me

Online support groups are invaluable for CF families as they allow us to gain support and knowledge from other people going through the same experience no matter where they are on the planet. There are numerous CF groups on Facebook, most of them pretty similar and perhaps specialized to a certain geographical location or the like. But there are also numerous groups dedicated to the 'natural', alternative-medicine method of 'remedying' cystic fibrosis. These groups seem to grow more numerous by the day and the things I have read on them seem extremely concerning. I have many examples of very questionable decisions and actions perpetrated by parents of children with CF and adult CF patients themselves in the desperate and ill-informed search for a cure.

I had a run-in with a crowd of these people last week. Specifically, the topic was on vaccinations. The majority, it seemed, were against vaccinating their children. I heard the same tired old reasons: worries that vaccines cause autism, concerns over the long and scary-sounding list of ingredients in vaccines, no knowledge of how vaccines actually work and what they do in the body, mistrust of 'Big Pharma', and no real understanding of the diseases these vaccines are preventing or the lasting damage they can do.

I entered the conversation by presenting my facts in a logical and impersonal manner. One particularly insufferable individual, whom we will call Grant for the sake of clarity (and also, because that's his real name) latched onto my argument like a rabid dog and refused to let go. He managed to drag the conversation down into a slinging match, brought his friends along for the ride, and I don't think any of them ever did read what I was saying.

I eventually decided there is no use flogging a dead horse (or talk to someone whose only mode of discourse is to swear and not present any supporting evidence for their case) so I left the conversation. I was uplifted to later find messages of support in my inbox, people who told me they agreed with me and that Grant is unable to listen to anything aside from himself. That gave me a bit of hope, as well as the few messages of support left on the actual comment thread itself and the fact that in the real world, outside these alternative circles, my views are in the majority and supported by current medical science. Phew!

I want to present my argument for vaccination here, while I imagine a world in which I don't have to endlessly repeat myself. A girl can dream.

So, the main question here is the one that I am repeatedly asked by the anti-vaccine crowd, often multiple times within the same conversation. 
Why do I care if someone else's child is vaccinated or not?
Well, the answer is simple. Setting aside the fact that the benefits of vaccination have been repeatedly shown to outweigh the risks, and your child really does deserve a healthy start in life, the unfortunate thing is that vaccines are not 100% effective. If my child is fully vaccinated and they come into contact with measles, they still have a chance of contracting that disease. It's not a big chance if they have had the full immunization schedule, but it's still a possibility. However, if everyone in the community is vaccinated, something called the Herd Effect occurs. This basically means that the immunized community creates a bubble of protection against these vaccine-preventable diseases. If every person in the community is vaccinated, the effectiveness then reaches 100%. This Herd Effect has another very important purpose as well, and that is to protect the most vulnerable members of our society: those who cannot be vaccinated due to legitimate medical reasons or age. Tiny babies cannot be vaccinated against every disease. And there are many tragic reminders of this when tiny babies die from pertussis, a vaccine-preventable disease that is absolutely thriving in the community. Babies cannot have their first pertussis vaccine until they are two months old, and they finish up the full dose several months later. This is a very real danger: In my state, there has been one infant death per year from 2008-2011. Four babies dying needlessly, from preventable illness in the 21st Century. Just think about that for a minute.

Another question, or statement, that gets thrown around like crap in a cage of monkeys, is the whole autism-vaccines link. Except it's not a link. It has been thoroughly debunked. A liar named Andrew Wakefield (he was a doctor, but has since been stripped of his medical license) wrote a research paper in 1998 claiming that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism. However, no other researcher was able to reproduce his findings and it was later revealed that Wakefield stood to profit financially from this vaccine scare in the form of 'litigation based testing'. If you do not vaccinate your children because you are afraid of autism, then you have been conned and fallen for a hoax which has driven up the incidence of measles, leading to serious illnesses and fatalities. If you'd like to know more about this fraud, especially about the unnecessary and invasive testing he performed on autistic children, abuse of developmentally challenged children or the fact that he acted without ethical approval from an institutional review board, there are plenty of sources for you to peruse. Here are a few that popped up with a basic search: This one, highlighting the charges of misconduct, or read the story straight from the man who exposed him for the liar he is, journalist Brian Deer. 

But how about that list of scary sounding vaccine ingredients? Mercury? Formaldehyde? HUMAN FETUS?!
Seriously. I tried going through some ingredients with these people and explaining the various functions of each, but I had better success talking to the wall, so we'll have to go slowly on this one.
There has been an image floating around on the web for years now asking the viewer 'Do You Know What's in a Vaccine?' followed by a list of ingredients with horrible side effects listed. For example, Formaldehyde is defined as 'major component of embalming fluid, poisonous if ingested. Probable carcinogen...' and then a bit more about poison and cancer. Ok, well that sounds bad! And it's true, formaldehyde is used in embalming fluid and you definitely do not want to drink it. But what this poster fails to mention is that formaldehyde is naturally created in the body. The amount created in the body every day is 50-70 times higher than the upper limit of what that person could receive in a single dose.
Other scary-sounding ingredients, like the human fetus mentioned, are not truly in vaccines at all. Some viruses need to be grown in human cell culture. They don't grow as well in animal or egg cells. There are two cell lines used for vaccines that originated from two fetuses in the 1960s. These fetuses were aborted for medical reasons and not to create vaccines. Cells from the fetuses were taken to create cell cultures. The cell cultures live indefinitely, so no new fetuses are required. The viruses are grown in this cell culture and then taken out of the culture to be put into the vaccine. It should also be noted that the use of vaccines to prevent diseases such as rubella also save unborn babies and prevent abortions because it means that babies will not be born with congenital rubella, a condition which causes deformities and disabilities.

Ok, last one on the list today is the claim that these unvaccinated children will remain healthy and will not catch vaccine-preventable diseases because of increased sanitation, and if they do happen to catch it they will fight it off easily because the family eats such a natural, raw/vegan/paleo/gluten-free/dairy-free/whatever diet. And in addition to that, the kids get megadoses of Vitamin C and colloidal silver! (Excuse me while I facepalm. And I think I have to directly address the non-vaccinating parents for this one).
Sorry, but this is called sticking your head in the sand.
These diseases are still prevalent in our society today. The fact that we enjoy modern conveniences such as running water and usually don't have raw sewage on the sidewalk doesn't mean these deadly diseases packed up and left. There are still cases of these diseases in contemporary society. There is still the chance for anyone to come into contact with a vaccine-preventable disease. Maybe we will be ok, your raw/vegan/whatever children will fight it off with a little fever and a rash and well maybe just one cracked rib from the coughing, but will the people they come into contact with be so lucky? Will the newborn sibling of your child's classmate be so lucky? Will the pregnant lady in the doctor's waiting room be ok? What about that elderly gentleman at the supermarket? Or how about the completely healthy, robust child who still succumbs to death from chicken pox. It happens. You don't think about this, because you don't know these people. You don't read their stories. You google 'vaccine dangers' and 'alternatives to vaccination' and are lead to sites such as NaturalNews, which can only be described as a conspiracy theory site. You listen to what you want to listen to and you ignore the rest. People who push vaccines are sheep who follow the crowd. Not you! You're a trailblazer! You aren't going to listen to 'The Man!' You're also a public nuisance and as dangerous as Typhoid Mary. What's worse, is that you actively encourage other parents to follow suit and not vaccinate their kids either. You have been duped, mislead, and outright lied to. The benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, not just for your own family, but for the entire community. 

Who am I to say all this? I am certainly not a doctor or a scientist or a nurse. I am nobody. But I believe I have the ability to distinguish a reliable source from a biased one, and I have been around this argument long enough to have considered both sides and carefully weighed them up. I have carefully thought about who has the most to lose from the anti-vaccination fad, and who has the most to gain. I have taken into consideration the current medical advice on the topic, as well as the charges brought against the person leading the anti-vaccination movement. Unlike the anti-vaccination crowd, I recognize that I do not know more than the entire medical community combined, and I don't believe in conspiracy theories. I understand that there are many people who are far more knowledgeable on this topic than I am, and I have sought out their advice.

I have seen the tactics these anti-vaccination websites use. They twist studies, by reporting something completely opposite to what the study actually found, falsify details and facts, focus extensively on the scary and unknown, do not present a balanced argument, do not acknowledge the work of vaccines in saving countless lives from deadly diseases, and manipulate a parent's fears for their own gain. These sites prey on the ignorance of parents and not only send our community backwards in health, but contribute to the serious illness and fatalities caused by vaccine-preventable disease. I find this deplorable.

That is why I feel so strongly on vaccination. Your choices absolutely do affect me and my family, as well as the wider community. We need to be in this together and seek understanding. Wouldn't it be great to actually rid the world of these diseases? It's a goal worth working towards.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Still Here...Just Busy!

Yes, we're still here. I know, it's been so long since I've written anything. I've just had so much on my plate these past few months, and then every time I thought about posting here I felt terrible because of how neglected this blog has become...and I would put off posting even more...logical, yes?

Anyway, here we are. The kids are well, finally. We've had several bouts of illness, the usual winter colds and coughs, which of course is dangerous for little Victor so he had a course of nebulized Tobramycin to get rid of his productive cough. Felix has had several high fevers followed by cold symptoms, which finally have settled down. Victor had some issues with bloating and digestion and we've been trying to sort that out.

But, it's springtime now. The days, although still rainy, are getting warmer. My garden has exploded with flowers, to the point of ridiculousness. It's actually so nice having a real garden and watching the seasons play out, even if this means that Felix got his first bee sting on Monday. I managed to scrape out the sting and get his foot on ice quickly, so there was barely any swelling at all.

Aside from introducing his foot to the stinging end of the local wildlife, Felix has also just been enrolled in school for next year...Kindergarten, his first year. School begins in February and he will attend for two and a half days per week. I'll know more information after our meeting with the school at the end of October. Felix is very excited about going to school, and I think he's more than ready. I struggled with the idea of sending him off to school versus homeschooling, but right now I think this is the best option for him. The school is very small and just down the road, so we will be able to walk there on nice days. The staff I've met so far all seem very friendly and spoke directly to Felix, including him in the conversations we've had, which I appreciate.

The boys at the library.

And regarding education, I have just started back at university. I'm doing my course externally, which means I don't have to go to classes or put the kids in daycare. I listen to the recorded lectures and complete assignments in the evenings after the kids are in bed. I've also changed course since I was last studying. Now I am working towards a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English. I'm really enjoying it so far, much more than I thought I was going to. I was actually not that motivated to go back to studying, mostly because I'm just really tired and the evenings are my only time to relax, but I'm so glad I did. I'm interested in what I'm learning so it doesn't feel like work, which has probably been the missing ingredient the entire time I've been a student.

So that's where I've been...busy! I haven't been keeping up with anything online so I feel like I've missed a lot. I hope I can get back to writing on a more regular basis. Maybe you'll even see the quality of my writing improve...well, we can only hope.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Winter Fevers

This winter we have almost been hermits. Last winter Felix caught cold after cold, and I really want everyone to stay healthy this year. I didn't actually intend to stay home so much lately, but we've almost been forced to, because almost all of our friends and family have been sick. The germs are making the rounds. So, we've had lots of quiet days at home, days visiting with the few who have managed to avoid sickness this winter, the library when it's quiet, the shop out of necessity. And so far the boys have stayed pretty healthy.

But, our good luck couldn't last forever, and on Sunday evening Felix developed a fever which soared up to 40.5C (104.9F) in the middle of the night. He had no other symptoms, but he was so tired and miserable. Giving him medicine is not easy either, but I had to insist...I am really not comfortable with a fever that high.

The next day he barely moved from the couch, except when he actually asked to go to bed and had a nap. He took maybe two bites of food all day.

His fever kept rising up to 40C, and I was on the phone to Health Direct (a free nursing line) several times that day, but then on Tuesday morning he woke up seeming much brighter. The fever was much lower and he seemed happier in himself. We went to see the doctor anyway for a follow-up, and she could see that his throat was a bit red and he probably has a virus, but it's nothing serious and he's clearly getting better.

Of course Victor then caught it! I was getting him dressed on Wednesday morning when I noticed he was covered in little goosebumps, even though it wasn't cold. I quickly got his clothes on and he put his head down on my lap and fell asleep! His fever has stayed pretty low, but he is clearly tired and uncomfortable and has been off his food. Luckily he is much better at taking medicine so I have been able to give him ibuprofen as needed. I'm just glad there have been no respiratory symptoms.

Fevers are funny my experience they come on fast and with intensity. Felix is a very healthy child, and when he gets a fever it seems to develop out of nowhere and run high, but then it's over as suddenly as it started. It's like the striking of an internal match that is quickly blown out again.

The kids are both still feeling a bit emotionally fragile as I think the worst is over but they still don't feel completely well yet. Victor screamed his head off when he got too near a large plastic representation of Steve Irwin on a shopping centre ride today, but then again, who can blame him really.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: Nuby Icybite Keys Teether

I've been exhausted lately because Victor is not sleeping well. And not only is he not sleeping well, he is cranky during the day. Finally I discovered the cause: molars coming through! Sharp little spikes have broken through the gum on one side, and it looks like the other side is about to match. No wonder he's been so miserable, I'm getting sympathy pains myself just thinking about it.

I believe the best remedy for teething pain is a good old-fashioned teether. Babies naturally want to bite down to relieve the pressure of those erupting teeth. The Nuby Icybite Keys Teether is absolutely perfect for the job! I popped it in the fridge for a few hours while Victor had a nap to make sure it got nice and cold, giving his poor little gums extra relief.

Each key is filled with pĂ»rICE™, a gel-like substance that stays colder longer than water, which is non-toxic. The surface of the entire teether is textured to help the teeth pop through the gum comfortably and the bright colours definitely attracted Victor and made him want to play with it. In fact, even Felix wanted to play with it...although at three, his teething days are over (instead he wanted to open locks with the keys!).

Since Victor has his front teeth now and needs relief for his molars, he was less interested in the keys themselves and gravitated toward the handle instead. This was the perfect shape for him to hold and chew at the same time, and he was able to reach the molars easily. I wonder if the teether would be even better if some of the keys were different shapes, making it look more like a jangly set of keys?

The Nuby Icybite Keys Teether is very easy to wash, which is important for a toy designed for babies to chew on, and seems very sturdy. This is a toy that will last from the first baby tooth til the final, and probably beyond that. The chunky design makes it easy for little hands to hold. I have been putting it in the fridge overnight so it gets nice and cold and then putting it out with a few of Victor's other toys in the morning. He always goes for it so he is clearly a fan! It's also small enough to throw in the nappy bag but the bright colours and distinctive shape means that it doesn't get lost in there, making it perfect for outings.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

We're Home!

We've been on our adventure and we're all safely back home...and have been for over a week, actually, but it's taken me a while to catch up on sleep and life and time zones. Plus I just haven't had the motivation to do anything! It's cliche, but I need a vacation from my vacation...

Anyway, we had a great time. Disneyland was definitely a highlight, as was spending time with family. We're so lucky we could do both.

The whole family at Disneyland with Goofy

The boys loved Disneyland and it was fantastic watching their faces when they met all the characters and went on rides. Even Victor, who is arguably 'too young' for Disney, loved it. He wanted Mickey Mouse to pick him up!

Phil, Victor, Eeyore, Felix and me.

Phil and I got to have a night to relax away from the kids when we stayed in the hotel we got married in and the boys spent the night with their Grandma, aunts, and Cousin Lizzie.

Donna with all three of her grandchildren!

It was a perfect holiday and totally worth the long journey to get there and back. Did I mention that Felix and Victor were great little travelers? We were travelling for over 24 hours each way and they took it all in their stride. We had other passengers comment on how well behaved they are, on a flight which makes even the most mature adult want to throw a tantrum in the aisle.

Phil and Felix in CarsLand

My biggest worry, having no insurance coverage of Victor's CF, ended up not being a problem as we all managed to stay healthy for the trip. Being out of routine was a problem though, as he decided that he was not going to be compliant with his enzymes or chest physiotherapy while we were over there, resulting in multiple struggles every day, but we got through it and now that we're back home he's decided that he will take his enzymes and behave for his exercises after all.

Cheeky boy!

Friday, May 31, 2013

We Made It!

We made it to Seattle! The journey was long and exhausting and frustrating and horrible. It's not something I am willing to repeat for a very long time! In fact, when we boarded the third plane at LA for the last leg, Phil and I both announced that we are NEVER doing this trip again! But, we made it all in one piece. We found that travelling with children actually has some benefits: security personnel simply waved us through customs and we got put right to the front of the line in most cases. Even in America, one of the most security-conscious places on the planet, they didn't want screaming children in a queue. I was particularly worried about entering the country with so much medication, but it was never a problem. No one even looked at it til the very last leg, a short domestic flight, and then all they did was open the bag, glance at it, and then swab down the inside of the bag. All that worry for nothing!

We finally arrived in Seattle and although they were tired, the boys were very happy to see their Grandma. Victor held his arms out to her immediately, as if she saw him every day. Felix was very sleepy and took a few minutes to gain his bearings but as soon as we got to her house he was back to his usual self. It's so strange being back here: we lived here for over a year and have been gone about a year and a half now. In some ways everything is the same and it feels like we've been here the whole time, but then there are little differences that make me realise things have changed since we've been gone. I do miss living here but it's really not a viable option for us, especially not now.

So was it worth the huge journey to come here? It's only the end of our first day but I can say yes, absolutely. Family is so important and we want to make sure the boys retain a close bond with their family. Victor is meeting some family members for the first time, and they haven't seen Felix since he was only a bit older than Victor is now. Phil is in his home country with his family, who he doesn't get to see very often at all. We are also able to relax here after a very full-on year! I think those are all valid reasons for making the trip over here.

I hope to get some photos up soon. It's midnight here and I am writing this on the iPhone so my apologies for any spelling errors! I heard there's going to be pancakes in the morning so I am off to bed right now (and I know my Australian friends will be horrified to know that yes, we all had donuts for breakfast today! It's the American dream!).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

First Illness

Felix and I both had a cold last week. It was nothing too bad...congestion mostly, fatigue, a mild cough. I just wanted to go to sleep the whole time so we spent a few days on the couch watching movies and using hand sanitizer obsessively. The whole idea is that what's just a mild cold for Felix and I could be something much more serious for Victor, so we tried our absolute best to protect him from it. Even so, I felt like a walking germ factory and every time I held him I could feel myself shower him in billions of germs. And with a baby who can't walk yet, you hold them a lot.

Victor got a fever last Monday, just like Felix had a few days before. But, like his older brother, the fever was gone the next day. When Felix showed other symptoms a few days later, I pretended that Victor still hadn't caught it, as he had no symptoms. But, of course, he started coughing on his birthday. His eyes were heavy and he was very sleepy. I called PMH that afternoon and spoke to the doctor on call. He said to keep an eye on him and see if the coughing resolves over the weekend, since he was otherwise well and breathing ok. 

On Monday I put Victor down for a nap only to go in there ten minutes later because he woke himself up with coughing. It sounded really bad, like he was choking on phlegm. I called PMH and spoke to one of the CF nurses. She initially told me to bring him in the next day, but when I said we are supposed to be going overseas next week, she told me to bring him in that afternoon. 

Luckily, my Dad is having a few weeks off from work and was at home so I was able to drop Felix off with him. Victor and I headed to PMH. We met with one of the respiratory doctors and both the CF nurses. They heard him cough several times, and heard his cries turn into big, productive coughs. They heard 'crackles' in his chest through a stethoscope. The decision was made to treat the cough with both nebulized antibiotics (tobramycin) and an oral antibiotic. The hope is that by treating it from both angles, it will resolve quickly in time for the flight. I was told that if we don't see dramatic improvement in a few days, he will probably need to be treated with IV antibiotics for a few days. And if that doesn't work, then he will be too unwell to travel.

Phil arrived at PMH then and we picked up his new medication and headed back down to respiratory to learn to use a nebulizer. This is his first time using one, so we had no time to buy our own and we're just borrowing one from the hospital. Victor was all smiles as we sat in the office with one of our CF nurses. She taught us how to set it up and everything, and then we attempted to actually use it on Victor. It did not go down well. It took the three of us to hold him and the little mask over his face while he screamed and thrashed around. He knocked the nebulizer (neb) cup and spilled most of the medicine all over the floor so he only had about five minutes instead of the required fifteen. We took it home with us and I was really anxious about it, especially how I'd go using it on my own.

The next morning was a disaster as I was by myself with him and he knocked the neb cup again. 

That night Phil was home to help me. We held him tightly as we administered the medication. It broke my heart to see him so upset. Sweat and tears mixed together on his tiny face and he sobbed and said 'Mama, mama, mama,' over and over while looking at me. It's the clearest I've ever heard him say it and I couldn't save him from the situation. I held his little hands, partly for comfort, partly to stop him knocking the neb cup again. We got the full dosage of medicine in him.

This morning I was on my own with him again and I had a big knot in my stomach. He did a lot better this time, but it was awful to watch because he began thrashing and screaming to begin with and finally just resigned himself to sitting there and crying silently while I held him on my lap, arms pinned down with my left arm and held the nebulizer mask to his face with my right hand. This evening with Phil was the same. It felt awful. Like we finally won, but we had to break his spirit to do so. We finally overpowered the tiny baby with the strong will and he's just given up.

My only consolation is that this really is for his own good and one day he will understand. And he forgives easily. After the neb I wash his face, because the medication can cause irritation if left on the skin, and he will smile at our reflection in the mirror. He will then want to play and a few minutes later he's laughing like it never happened, but his eyes are still puffy from crying.

I know there are worse things that could happen and there are children going through much tougher things than learning to use a nebulizer. It doesn't make his fear and frustration any less real and valid. And it's really hard watching your child go through that. We have to persevere though, because he has to get better. He doesn't like the home nebulizer but he'd hate the IV in hospital even more. And then there is that chance that he'd be too unwell to travel. At that point we only have lose-lose scenarios. I don't even know what the best option would be at that point. 

I am going to call PMH in the morning and talk to them about Victor's cough. It's still there, but I think it is less productive sounding than it was on Monday. He's definitely not choking on phlegm. His cries are not turning into big, nasty coughs. He's sleeping well and eating well. He is happy and playing during the day. These are all really good signs. His breathing is perfect. To my untrained ear I think his cough is sounding a little drier, but I doubt myself a lot and wonder if I'm just hearing what I want to hear? In any case, he's definitely not getting worse. I have hope we can avoid IVs this time, but I'm interested to see what the CF team say about him tomorrow. 

I know this is the deal with CF, that ordinary bugs can cause big problems for them. It's just hard to fathom, still, that the little stuffy nose we had has made my boy this sick. I mean, I understand that this is the problem and we know and understand this, but seeing it in action with my own eyes is so different to reading it on paper or talking about it with a doctor. It's awful. I hope that tomorrow he does exhibit the 'dramatic improvement' the doctors are wanting.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, Victor!

Victor's first birthday! I can't believe it's been a year. Seriously. It's gone so fast.

I love planning birthday parties and giving my best shot at making a themed birthday cake, even if they don't turn out like the perfect things all over Pinterest and the more crafty blogs floating around the internet. My Mum always made themed birthday cakes for my brothers and me when we were little and I remember every single one of them. So I have to do the same for my boys, of course!

I felt like I had absolutely no time to plan anything because everyone in the house has been sick, so Victor's party was just family over for cake and a bit of party food in the morning. He had a 'Monster' theme, which was really fun to do!

Victor was so happy to have everyone over and he got so spoiled!

He absolutely loved eating the party food...vanilla pudding and cake were his two favourites. In fact, he may have had a second piece of birthday cake after making it very clear that he was not done yet!

Thanks so much to everyone who came to celebrate with us, and to those who couldn't make it but were thinking of him on the day. I really can't believe my little baby is one already!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Insurance: Denied

Am I living in some kind of la-la land? I realise the seriousness of cystic fibrosis. Truly, I do. I tend to not dwell on it and only focus on what is happening to my family right now. This has been a good and bad approach; good in that I don't get bogged down in the what-ifs and maybes, bad in that I have a tendency to gloss over things "oh, but that won't happen to us." Yes, I still have that mindset. Incredible, really, when I know firsthand that yes, these things do happen to you!

Today I had a nice little jolt back to reality in the form of a phone call. I think all my visits to cold harsh reality come in the form of a phone call, no wonder I keep accidentally breaking each and every phone I've ever had. I'm inadvertently saving myself from things I don't want to hear.

Today the phone call was from the insurance company we applied to for travel insurance. We are going to America for three weeks soon, so we applied to the one company we found that didn't outright deny coverage for CF patients. This particular company said they would consider covering CF on a case-by-case basis. Victor's doctor signed the forms and said he was more than happy for Victor to travel. Victor has been very healthy so far. The medications and treatment he's on are simply preventative at this stage. So it came as a shock to me when the voice on the phone told me our application to have Victor's CF covered for travel was denied. I actually had to get her to repeat what she said.

It felt like massive waves of disappointment roll over me. Everything had been going right. Everything was fine. The kids are healthy: we just wouldn't be going on this trip if they weren't. We got the hoped-for bassinet seat on the long haul flight. We discuss the flight and where we'll be staying with Felix all the time and watch Peppa Pig 'The Holiday' every day during morning physio. I was so confident that this would not be a problem at all. But there we were: denied. I asked why, why was he denied insurance? I was put through to someone else who explained the company takes a 'very conservative view' when it comes to covering CF and he was denied because he is on antibiotics.

Antibiotics...but they are preventative antibiotics. He is not actually sick. He is on antibiotics to prevent sickness. This is standard treatment for babies with CF here! I was told that I could appeal the decision if I could provide medical evidence, but it was highly unlikely they would change their minds. Especially due to our destination and the length of stay.

I don't know why, but it really upset me. I felt irrational and pathetic being so upset about it. I hung up the phone and cried into my pyjama top, feeling like an absolute loser. I took the washing off the line and cried some more. Wandered around in a little circle becoming more agitated and sad. I don't know why it took me so long to realise that not everyone has our best interests at heart. I don't know why it was such a revelation to me to realise that the insurance company's bottom line was money, and that they had absolutely no obligation to cover anything they were even a little bit hesitant about? It hurt to have my child denied something that the majority of people take for granted. I have never been denied insurance before. I've never really even thought about it. To me, getting travel insurance has never been a big deal...I went with the cheapest option, my only concern lost baggage. Seriously. I have lived my life like a little cork bobbing around in the water, keeping afloat somehow, almost oblivious to waves or stillness, because things will turn out ok and nothing is serious because I pop up to the surface again, unharmed and ready for the next current to take me along somewhere. But now I feel the pull of something anchoring me in place and I realise that this is so much bigger than me. I realise that our lives are forever changed in ways I didn't anticipate and there will be more in the future that I still don't know. I now truly understand that Phil and I have to be Victor's advocates, and what this actually means. I suddenly know that I am not the same person any more and never will be again. I know I will lose friends. I know I will gain some too. I know that no one else will ever truly understand what we go through...but that works two ways, because I can never truly understand what life is like for someone else.

I calmed down and called PMH to get our letter sent out so we can get through customs with Victor's medication, and our lovely CF nurse suggested getting in contact with CFWA about travel insurance. I left a message for them but I'm not hopeful. Honestly at this point, I just think we might as well go without it. We'll get normal travel insurance for all four of us, and hope that Victor doesn't have any need to see a doctor for anything CF-related while we're over there. If he does, then he will still be able to get help, but we will have to pay for it out of pocket or discuss options with the hospital. Of course, I am fully expecting that he will be fine and nothing of the sort will happen: if I thought there was a chance of that happening, then we just wouldn't be travelling at this time. And we have checked with his doctor, who is happy for him to travel.

Although I was calm, I still felt unhappy and just exhausted after the morning we had. It just really threw me and so for the rest of the day we just pottered around the house. I took the boys outside to play for a while when suddenly I could smell cigarette smoke coming over the back fence! I couldn't believe this was happening. I am fairly certain it's our new neighbours because we have never had this problem before. I felt absolutely livid. And today of all days! I took the boys back inside and shut the windows and doors. Luckily they had already played outside for a while by this point so they didn't mind coming in, but still, I shouldn't be forced to bring my kids inside because someone is smoking nearby. But that's a different issue for me to rant about another time.

I wrote this on the day it actually happened, which was a few days ago now because I have been busy and quite frankly didn't want to keep thinking about this issue right now. We received a letter from the insurance company shortly afterwards, confirming what they said on the phone. It's there now in black and white in case there's any confusion. Phil and I glanced over it, muttered a bit, and threw it in the black hole of paperwork we have in our house. I'll probably see it again in a years' time and do the same thing with it. Whatever. I consider the denial of insurance to be just another example of ignorance (oh, there are so many examples) and I am not letting it get in the way of our holiday. We have a plan in place in case of emergency (Plan A, B, C, D and so on!) and we are setting the rules for our own life, considering we know our situation better than a company ever could. And I say that these boys are going to see their Grandma and that is final!

Monday, May 6, 2013

How You Can Help

Wondering if there is anything you can do to help a family or individual with cystic fibrosis? Here is a list that can be continually added to of things you can do to help right now:

  • Make a donation to Cystic Fibrosis WA (or the Cystic Fibrosis charity in your country/state)
  • Join or set up your own Great Strides team
  • Create your own fundraiser, with proceeds going towards CFWA (or equivalent)
  • Share details of an upcoming fundraiser on social media so it reaches a wider audience, even if you aren't donating yourself
  • Share pictures, facts, blogs, any information about CF you find on social media and in real life to raise awareness
  • Educate yourself on CF. Find out the facts.
  • Quit smoking, or at very least, confine your smoking to your own property so that others are not forced to smoke along with you
  • Register as an organ donor
  • If you have your own business, donate a percentage to CF research, perhaps during May (which is CF Awareness Month).
  • Learn how to perform physiotherapy (chest percussion) to help out a family by giving them a break now and then
  • Learn how to administer other medications for a young child with CF to give the parents some time off
  • Learn how to fat-match with enzymes and spend some time with a young child with CF
  • If the person you know with CF is admitted to hospital, go and visit them. Bring something for the person with CF to do. If they are young, take over for a few hours to allow the parent to go home for a little while.
  • If you know someone with CF in hospital, visit the family members left at home. Spoil any healthy siblings, who will be missing their brother/sister or perhaps feeling a bit neglected. Prepare a meal. Help hold down the fort for a while.
  • Buy something from the CFWA online gift shop.
  • Volunteer to help your local CF charity in a practical way.
  • Make sure your immunizations are up to date. Needles don't stop in childhood! 
  • Make sure your kids have had all their vaccinations.
  • If you are sick with something contagious, especially something like the flu (or worse), stay home and look after yourself. Don't share the germs!
  • Wash your hands more often.
  • Ask the family how they are going. Listen if they want to talk.
You can also head over to our Facebook page: May is CF Awareness Month so I am posting a CF Awareness picture every day.

If there is anything else you can think of, post it in the comments and I will add it to the list!
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