Monday, 25 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - N is for Nursery

Well it was always going to happen, I fell behind on my A to Z challenge. I was doing so well but then Monkey failed the egg ladder at the first step (that's a whole other blog post). At that point my time needed to be spent dealing with allergies rather than writing about them. My baby was suffering and she wanted her mummy.

She's much better now though. And while I'm never going to catch up and finish on time, I AM going to finish. The allergy theme is so important to me and the last week has reminded me how serious they can be.

So, I'm up to letter N.

N is for nursery. For any parent the decision to send your baby to nursery is a tough one. I think for an allergy parent it's even tougher. While your baby is at home with you, you can keep them safe. Trusting somebody else to take the same care of them and their diet is a very big step.

We first looked round Monkey's nursery three days after her big stay in hospital. I very nearly didn't go. I'd been wobbly about it before her diagnosis, now I was convinced that nobody would be able to look after her. I even thought they might not take her - I definitely expected to have to provide her meals or maybe pay slightly more. I'd read all kinds of horror stories in allergy groups about how nobody could care for allergies properly.

I really had to build myself up for the visit but as soon as I'd been I felt so much better. They were really reassuring about her allergies and the nursery looked like a fab place. I knew Monkey would be happy there.

Monkey started nursery in April 2015 when she was 9 months old. She settled really quickly and more or less picked her own keyworker who she loved to bits. Right from the start they were great with her allergies. They found safe foods for her that we didn't know about and always let us know what she was eating.

Monkey likes her food and she'd only been there a few weeks when she decided she liked the look of someone elses. She stole a sausage off somebody elses plate! She can't eat sausages -they have milk and wheat and sonetimes soya. In a way I'm glad it happened though as it reassured me about the way they dealt with things. She hardly swallowed any as they got it straight out of her mouth. They let me know straight away and asked what signs to look out for. They did have to give her medicine for tummy aches and green poos but other than that she was fine. I was kind of glad they saw a mild reaction as they didn't know us well at this time, I wondered if they thought I was just a fussy, over protective mum.

She's been at nursery a year now and has noved from babies to toddlers. She's with different staff and a new keyworker. They also have a new cook. I'm completely confident that whoever is caring for her will keep her safe though. They're even helping me to get things in place for when she starts school.

So to those of you with little babies with allergies, please don't believe the horror stories. There are wonderful places out there that will do a fantastic job of dealing with your child's allergies.

We've been so lucky to find one for Monkey. Her nursery are amazing and have made things so much easier for our whole family. If any of the staff read this I want to say a huge thank you. Monkey loves you all :-)

Friday, 15 April 2016

Hospital Update (Allergy Alphabet day 13)

Monkey's allergies are looked after by our local children's hospital. We have mainly seen our dietitian but today we met our allergy nurse for the first time.

We've been waiting for this appointment for a long time but we weren't really sure what to expect. We've had appointments in the past (before we were transferred to the children's hospital) where we have waited for ages only to come away feeling disappointed and having more questions than we went in with.

Today wasn't like that at all. We were in with the nurse for almost an hour and a half. I really felt like she listened to everything we had to say. And then she put a plan in place of how we are going to manage Monkey's allergies.

So today M is for management plans. We've been given written plans for allergy and asthma today, detailing exactly what should be done at what stage of a reaction/attack. They're going to be really helpful, not only for me but for anyone else who cares for Monkey. They've given me spare copies to take into nursery.

As well as looking at how to manage a reaction we also looked out how we were going to manage Monkey's allergies long term and how we were going to reintroduce any foods.

We've been given new medication. She now has a preventer inhaler as well as her reliver and her piriton has been replaced by cetirizine. We've also got new creams and ointments for her eczema.

We also appear to have got ourselves a new allergy. We've been advised to avoid sesame due to reactions to houmus.

We are going to try some food challenges though. Egg is the one I'm least worried about so we'll be starting the egg ladder at home tomorrow with some free from angel cake. I think she's going to like it - I just hope it likes her!

Her other food challenges are going to be done in hospital, starting with wheat. Apparently we should be seen as a priority case as her diet is so limited. I have no idea when it will be though. It's a scary time and I feel like I'm poisoning her but even if she can just tolerate a tiny amount of well cooked egg or wheat it will make such a big difference to her diet.

We see the nurse again in four months time but she's hopeful we will have been in for our wheat challenge by then.

Once again Monkey has taken this all in her stride and just enjoyed playing with the toys in the hospital. My little girl is amazing!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 12

When you go shopping how much time do you spend looking at labels? And how much stuff do you just chuck in your trolley without even looking.

Before I had Monkey my answers would be not much and most of it. But that all changes when you're dealing with allergies.

L is for label checking. Over the past nearly two years I have become an expert label checker. I check everything that Monkey is going to eat. I even check if she's had it before. I learnt the hard way that recipes can and do change.

Luckily the top 14 allergens have to be clearly identified in bold on food labels. The top 14 are

  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soya
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulphites
  • Lupin
  • Molluscs
Having these allergens clearly identified certainly makes label checking easier. However, people can be allergic to anything and whilst most of Monkey's allergens are on this list, there are some that aren't.

So, next time you're stuck in the supermarket behind someone who appears to be taking forever to read everything, please be patient. It could be me. And I promise I'm not trying to annoy you - I'm just trying to keep my Monkey safe.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 11

Welcome back to my allergy alphabet. K is for kit - or more specifically our allergy kit. This is a little bag of medication that comes everywhere with us that helps us to keep Monkey safer and more comfortable if she does come into contact with her allergens.

So what's in the kit?

Paracetamol is useful for less serious reactions where the main symptom seems to be tummy pain.

Piriton is used for reactions involving rashes, hives or swelling. Although you can't buy it over the counter for children under 1, Monkey has had a prescription since she was 5 months. Her allergy plan says if we don't see an almost immediate improvement in symptoms we should ring 999.

Inhaler, spacer and face mask
This is probably the bit of kit I dislike the most. Reactions that affect Monkey's breathing are really scary so it's hard to stay calm and make sure she takes her inhaler properly. She has to have two puffs which can be repeated after five minutes if necessary. If no improvement after the second lot of two puffs then we have to ring 999.

This is used to treat Monkey's eczema and can be applied when needed up to six times a day. It comes in a huge bottle so usually this bit of kit stays at home. If she is suffering badly with her eczema I will put some in a little pot to apply while we're out and about.

It can be a pain at times to carry all this kit around but we never leave home without it. It makes me feel slightly less worried, although the chances are if she ate the wrong food she would probably end up in hospital. At least I have something to try and help her.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 10

Most of my posts so far on this blogging challenge have been quite serious. That's kind of deliberate as I wanted to raise awareness and show just how much allergies affect Monkey and our family. It's not all doom and gloom though. Allergy kids still have fun and they still get treats. So with this in mind...

J is for Jelly Babies! Monkey loves them.

I discovered jelly babies completely by accident. I was doing some christmas shopping and having a complete strop that I couldn't get a selection box for Monkey. I had managed to get her a Moo Free one online but it was tiny and I'd seen lots of lovely christmas chocolate I wanted to buy. I was standing in the queue feeling very sorry for myself when I spotted a giant jelly baby.

I don't know why I picked it up. I think by this point I was in such a strop I was convinced she wouldn't be able to eat them. But they were Monkey-friendly! I bought them, took them home, wrapped them and forgot about them until christmas day.

Monkey was very excited when she opened them on christmas morning. Daddy gave her one to try and before we knew what was happening she had four in her mouth and two in each hand. I think it's safe to say they were a hit! I wish I'd got it on video but she was so quick.

I love the fact that she can have jelly babies as a treat for two main reasons.

1. It makes buying her a treat easier for friends and family.
Monkey is lucky to have lots of people who care about her and spoil her rotten. They want to buy her treats and are scared of getting her the wrong thing. The free from aisle can be a confusing place if you're not used to dealing with allergies. Many well meaning people have bought her dairy free chocolate only for her not to be able to eat it as it contains soya. I always feel awful having to explain especially when I know they've gone to extra effort to try and keep her safe.
Jelly babies are instantly recognisable and can be bought without going into any specialist aisles or shops. People are confident buying them so they are now my go-to recommendation if people want to buy her a treat.

2. It's 'normal' food and the same as her friends.
As Monkey gets older, she notices more and more if her food is different to her friends. Whilst she enjoys her free from biscuits, chocolate etc at home, when she's with her friends she wants the same as them. Jelly babies are a treat they can all enjoy together. And unlike free from treats they don't cost a fortune.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 9

When I tell people about Monkey's allergies they quite often tell me that they know someone who is intolerant to whatever. And whilst I'm sure that's horrible and can lead to them being very uncomfortable, it's not quite the same thing.

So today I is for intolerance. How is it different to an allergy? How do you know which you've got?

To understand the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, you really need to be clear about what an allergy actually is.

According to Allergy UK a true food allergy will always involve the immune system. There are two kinds of allergy and this is where it gets confusing.

IgE allergies happen when the immune system releases specific IgE antibodies in an attempt to defend the body from an allergen. Symptoms develop quickly and can be severe and life-threatening. Anaphylaxis is the most severe kind of IgE reaction and requires immediate hospital attention.

Non-IgE allergies are were the confusion occurs. These used to be referred to as intolerances and sometimes still are although this incorrect. They are now recognised as true allergies as whilst they don't release the specific antibodies they do involve the immune system. Symptoms are nore delayed - usually from an hour to three days. Non-IgE allergies are harder to diagnose as they don't show up on blood or skin prick tests.

Monkey has a mix of IgE and non-IgE reactions.

Intolerances do not involve the immune system. Symptoms are often delayed and usually gut type problems. They are not life-threatening but can lead to sufferers feeling very uncomfortable. Unlike allergies, many sufferers can eat problem foods in small amounts - it is when they get a build up that they have problems. Apart from lactose intolerance there is no test available for food intolerances.

Working out whether you have a food intolerance or allergy can be tricky. Many doctors suggest keeping a food and symptoms diary which is something that we still do with Monkey.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Look in my letterbox #11

It's been another very quiet post week here at the Monkey House. But once again I'm linking up with Alice Megan for Look in my Letterbox.

I've had penpal letters from pals in Wakefield, Hereford and Canada. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog regularly will know that I'm slightly obsessed with cute writing sets so having these pop through my letterbox made me smile.

Monkey had a letter from one of her penpals from our facebook birth group. I love that if they keep it up as they get older they will have known each other right from the time they were born.

It's not very exciting but I've also had a set of plastic cups. Monkey has been using a Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup for a while now as I didn't want her drinking from a spout but didn't think she was ready for a cup yet. Monkey is always telling me that "Me big mummy!" and obviously had different ideas. I was about to put the top on her cup the other day when I turned round and saw this.

Apparently Mummy knows nowt and Monkey is absolutely ready for a cup! I got some IKEA ones from Amazon. I'm due an IKEA trip soon but wanted to get them quickly.

And that's it! We've had a few quiet weeks now. My postman will be thinking I'm ill. Wonder what next week will bring...

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 8

Well I'm now over a week into my A to Z blogging challenge. I'm well known for being useless at stuff like this so I'm very impressed with my little self. I think it helps that I could choose my own theme for the challenge and I really want people to understand more about Monkey's allergies. So on we go....

H is for Hospital, a place where no parent wants to see their children. We saw far too much of it with Monkey in her first few months. She was first sent in by the midwife at ten days old due to concerns about her weight.

In hospital at 10 days old
From then on our Health Visitor and GP sent us quite a few times to the Children's Observation and Assessment Unit. She always looked so tiny on those huge hospital beds.

At three months old we ended up in A&E who once again sent us down to the Children's Observation and Assessment Unit. Things were worse this time though and they decided to admit her to the main children's ward.

We spent five days in the hospital. It was awful. She cried constantly, she was in so much pain. We had a private room which was good in some ways but also meant I spent a lot of time on my own, in a small space with a screaming baby.

On the children's ward aged 3 months
Although those five days were awful, they were also the start of things getting better for Monkey. We got a diagnosis at last. The nurse looking after us was amazing, her son had allergies so she told us lots of things to look out for and things that helped.

Since then we've had lots of trips to the hospital but none so scary. They've all been appointments - no A&E visits or being sent there by the doctor. I still don't like it but Monkey seems to love it.

All her care now is with the Allergy Team at the Children's Hospital. Obviously I'd rather not be at hospital at all but if I have to then this place is amazing. We deal mainly with the dietitian, but we also have a consultant and specialist allergy nurse (we're waiting for appointments with these at the moment).

After a long time feeling like nobody was it's so nice to feel listened to at our appointments. I can be in for over an hour discussing Monkey's diet, any symptoms and the next steps for her. I never feel rushed or like I'm asking a silly question. I know I can ring whenever and someone will get back to me.

And Monkey? Well she just likes the waiting room...

Waiting at the hospital

Friday, 8 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 7

Today I want to talk about guilt. I know as a parent it's part of the territory but a lot of my parenting guilt seems to be centred around Monkey's allergies.

So G is for guilt and I'm going to share with you some of the things I feel guilty about.

At ten days old Monkey was in hospital due to concerns about her weight. They were making me pump milk for her so they could see exactly how much she was taking (plenty as it happens - but not from a bottle!). Somebody decided that whilst I was attatched to this machine would be the perfect time to take blood from my tiny ten day old baby.

Now really there were two sensible options here - take her away so I didn't have to see it or let me hold her, cuddle her and let her feed if she wanted to. None of these happened. Instead they put her on the bed, just out of reach while I was still attatched to their machine and told me we'd both feel better if we could see each other.

I didn't feel better. And neither did Monkey. I still remember her looking up at me with these big innocent eyes. They struggled to get the blood. It must have hurt her and scared her and she was all on her own. I still feel guilty that I let it happen. I was a new mum and overwhelmed with everything that was happening. She will never be on her own for any tests again though.

At about two months after weeks of crying and terrible nappies the Health Visitor sent me to the GP and the GP sent me straight to the hospital. More guilt! I just thought all babies cried and pooed but they were worried about her. I should have known, I should have took her sooner.

Monkey's first allergy was dairy - diagnosed at three months. Nobody seemed to have a reason why but I was convinced it was something I had done (or not done) during pregnancy or those first few months that had caused it. During pregnancy my craving was cheese flavoured things and I practically lived in Hollands cheese and onion pies and Walkers cheese and onion crisps and I still think that had something to do with it. I've lost count of the experts who've told me it doesn't but it doesn't take away the guilt.

After we knew about Monkey's allergies I was advised that long term it would be best to carry on breastfeeding but that it would take up to six weeks for the dairy to leave my system. This was probably the time when I felt most guilty. Every time I fed her I felt like I was poisoning her, she would be ill after every feed.

I feel like this post could get very long so I'm just going to list a few of the things I feel guilty about.

  • Eating things she can't have in front of her
  • Her not getting a choice of food when we eat out
  • She has to take a packed lunch when she goes to parties
  • She might not get invited to parties as people are worried about feeding her (we have wonderful friends though so this one is probably just in my head)
  • She was never allowed to any of the Messy Play sessions at our Children's Centre
  • She won't be able to take Communion at church
  • She is different to her friends
  • She hates having her height and weight done at the hospital
  • She still struggles with wheezing at night and I don't know how to make it better 
I don't want this post to be all doom and gloom though so as well as all the guilt I'm also super proud that we've come through the worst of it and have a happy smiley Monkey.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 6

Monkey is taking part in a Free From Feast this year to raise money for Allergy UK. Last year she raised £200 and this year we want to do even better. So when I started this challenge today was obvious - F was for fundraising!

But the more I've been thinking about Monkey's allergies the more I've realised that there's another F that is a big part of every allergy parents life - FEAR!

They may not always look frightened. They'll be used to fighting for their kids and they'll have become experts in their allergies. I can guarantee you they'll still be scared.

They'll feel the fear pre-diagnosis when they know there's something wrong with their baby but nobody can tell them what.

They'll feel the fear when their baby isn't even on the chart for weight. The fear will get worse when they hear the words 'failure to thrive'. They'll come to realise that is just medical talk for poor growth but in that moment, along with everything else they're worrying about, they will think people are saying they're not looking after their baby properly.

Weaning will bring even more fear. With each new food they'll feel like they're potentially poisoning their child.

There will be fear when the baby starts nursery. How can anybody possibly keep their baby as safe as they do? Will everybody know about their allergies? What if they get another child's food?

There'll be fear about doing tests and giving medication. There'll be more fear about not.

Soft play centres and playgrounds are scary places. What if another child drops something? There's that fear again!

Most of all they fear seeing their baby in hospital again. They fear feeling helpless.

I've had all of these fears (and more!) with Monkey but I don't want her to feel scared. As she gets older I will need to teach her about her allergies. She needs to know how serious they can be. But I don't want her wrapped up in cotton wool. I don't want her thinking she can't do things. I don't want her feeling the fear.

I'll do that for her...

Monkey is raising money for Allergy UK

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 5

Welcome back to our allergy alphabet. Today we are up to letter E.

E is for egg, another of Monkey's allergies. This allergy came later. As far as I'm aware she didn't react to egg through breast milk but as we introduced solids she began to have more reactions and we were advised to avoid egg.

Whilst Monkey is less sensitive to egg than some of her other allergens her egg allergy is still quite serious. Allergy UK say that 70-80% of children with egg allergy can tolerate it well baked in the form of biscuits or cakes. At the moment the hospital are still advising that Monkey avoids egg in any form.

Egg will be the first of the major allergen that we try to reintroduce although this will still not be for some time.  Allergy UK say that most children with egg allergy outgrow it so I am feeling hopeful for the future. Even just being able to tolerate baked egg would make such a big difference.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 4

Day 4 of the April A to Z blogging challenge and it's time to talk about the first of Monkey's allergens.

D is for dairy which is the first allergy of Monkey's that we knew about. People often think she is lactose intolerant when I say she is allergic to dairy but what she actually has is Cow's Milk Protein Allergy.

Poor Monkey had every single one of the symptoms mentioned in the video. Her main problems were the crying, terrible nappies and poor growth. But I just told myself that babies cried and babies pooed.

I did take her to the doctors various times with the different symptoms but nobody seemed to join all the symptoms together and look at allergies. It was my health visitor who first suggested an issue with dairy. At first the doctors said she couldn't possibly have an allergy as she was still exclusively breast fed at that point. After seeing a different doctor due to terrible nappies we were advised to go dairy free. About a week later Monkey was admitted to hospital due to wheezing and swelling and concerns about her growth. At this point she'd been having problems for three months and was only just going into newborn clothes. While we were in hospital she was officially diagnosed with Cow's Milk Protein Allergy.

I thought dairy free would be easy. I hate milk. I have the tiniest little bit in my coffee and that's about it. But going dairy free means a lot more than drinking black coffee. Cheese is out, and yoghurt but I suppose they're still quite obviously dairy.

Chocolate was a difficult one for me to give up. But what was really upsetting was to find I couldn't even have crisps instead. Yes, crisps have milk in! In fact I pretty quickly discovered everything has milk in. Giving up dairy was going to be a lot harder than I thought.

I had to learn a whole load of other names that milk could be called. Luckily there are new laws in place now that mean the top 14 allergens have to be declared in food so any of these should clearly state that they're milk. That wasn't the case when we first went dairy free though and I spent a lot of time checking labels against this list.

The following contain, or may contain milk:

Nisin (may)CurdsWhey
LactuloseWhey and casein hydrolysatesLacalbumin
LactoglobulinLactate starterAmmonium caseinate
Artificial butter flavour (not always)    Butter solids/fatCalcium caseinate
Caramel colour (not always)Caramel flavouring (not always)    Caseinate
Delactosed wheyDemineralized wheyDried milk
High protine flour (not always)High protine flourHydrolzed casein
LactabumLactabum phosphateLactate
LactroferrinLactogloblinMagnesium caseinate
milkderivativeMilk fatopta (fat replacer)
Potassium caseinateSolidsSour cream solids
Sour solidsSour milk solidsWhey protine concentrate
Enriched flour(not always)Formage fraisSodium Steatoyal(not aways)
Sherbert(not always)Nougothydrolized vegtable protein
tagatose / NaturoseRecaldentPROSPEC MI (At dentist)
I breast fed until Monkey self-weaned at about 15 months so I was strictly dairy free all that time. Monkey has never eaten any dairy directly. All her reactions were through my milk. Being dairy free wasn't easy but it was worth it. We saw a difference in her almost straight away although it took six weeks for the dairy to completely clear.

Many children can sucessfully start to gradually reintroduce dairy to their diets at around 12 months old. Monkey is 21 months old but has still never eaten dairy even in it's most baked form. We have been advised by the hospital not to do any reintroduction yet. We've not got any dates set for food challenges yet but we've been told that they will be done in hospital. I'm really not looking forward to that day but for now we'll just keep on doing what we're doing and keeping Monkey safe.

A Very Busy Book Club

Monkey loves books. And she loves crafts. And she loves playing with her friends.

Last summer we decided to combine the three by setting up a baby and toddler book club with friends. The first one took place at my house. We read The Gruffalo then ate foods from the story, got busy with play dough and designed our own terrible creatures.

We all had lots of fun but it quickly became clear that my house wasn't big enough. We were able to get use of a room at our local children's centre but that meant it wouldn't just be our little group of friends anymore, we would have to open it up to everyone.

So thats what we did! We put posters up locally and more people joined us.

Then the original group of babies got bigger and more and more mums went back to work. I'd already returned to work when book club started so Monday worked for me me but unfortunately not everyone could make it. We kept in going though and seemed to settle for a long time at 5 regulars who were there everytime.

Our local children's centre is changing management and we were a bit worried that being such a small group they might not let us have the room any more. We stepped up the advertising slightly, but only slightly as we wanted to grow slowly and make sure we had enough things for everybody to do. And at first we did grow slowly with one or two new people each time - some came back and some only came for one session.

And then came yesterday! I have no idea what happened but it suddenly exploded. Book Club starts at two but when I got there at quarter to to set up there were already people waiting. We ended up with 15 babies/toddlers in the club and staff said they had to turn others away due to fire regulations.

It was great to see so many people there but it was a little bit overwhelming. I'd only prepared enough things for eight so we had to do some quick prep for the others. I was slightly stressed but everybody seemed to enjoy it. Lots of people said they'd be back and we've had some really great feedback on our facebook page.

This term we are looking at the books that were the mums, dads, grandparents, whoevers favourites when they were small. This weeks book was Peter Rabbit chosen by Mummy Hercules. It was a popular choice with me as I loved the books as a child and Monkey's Granny is slowly buying her the entire Beatrix Potter collection with a book for every event.

We started by reading the story all together and then went on to our activities. I'm a bit bunnyed out after Easter so I decided to go more on the theme of Mr McGregor's garden. I stuck pictures of Mr McGregor onto sugar paper and the children created their gardens by printing with vegetables. We also recreated a garden in the sand pit, planting lots of fruit and veg.

I didn't manage to get many photos as it was so busy but here is Monkey enjoying the paint.

Painting Mr McGregor's garden

Next book club is my book choice and we're reading Dogger by Shirley Hughes.

Nobody else at book club seems to have heard of it but I loved it when I was little. I need to show them what they're missing!

What was your favourite book when you were a child and why?  Maybe we could include it at book club!

Read With Me

Monday, 4 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 3

Welcome back to my allergy alphabet. I have to warn you this one could get a little ranty.

C is for Cost. Or rather the ridiculously high cost of many free from foods. I've written about the cost of free from living once before. And I'm surprised it's only once. It's one of my favourite rants.

I don't actually buy a lot of food from the free from ranges. We enjoy cooking so most things are made fresh and with the combination of Monkey's allergies it's hard to find suitable products even within the free from ranges.

Sometimes though, I want to treat her and this is when I get annoyed. I understand that free from food costs more to produce but I really don't think they cost so much more. Digestive biscuits are four times the price, a single yoghurt can cost me £2.

What's even more annoying is when a food that is naturally free from allergens and they still stick a free from label on it and double the price. Tesco's healthy eating pasta sauce and free from pasta sauce have almost identical ingredients - guess which one costs more?

I honestly don't think there is any reason for these foods to be so expensive. I think they are taking advantage of people with allergies and allergy parents who just want their children to feel the same as everyone else. It's not fair and it's not right. And it annoys me.

Rant over (for now!)

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Look in my Letterbox #10

I'm a bit late this week but here I am ready to join in with my favourite linky.

It's been a pretty quiet week post wise at the Monkey House. We've got quite a few replies to send out which could explain it. I've had four penpal letters though from Essex, Dorchester, London and Blackpool and Monkey had a letter from her penpal in York.

Monkey also received a toucan box this week. They're a subscription box of crafts for kids. They're aimed at children aged 3-8 so she's still a bit young really but she loves the painting and sticking. They're great for a rainy day, and living in Manchester we have plenty of those. Yesterday was definitely a Toucan Box kind of day and we had lots of fun making a dream catcher and a wind sock.

Toucan Box Fun

I'm off now to reply to some letters so hopefully we'll have more to tell you about next week.

Have you had any nice post this week? I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 2

It's day two of my blogging A to Z challenge and in the world of allergies.... for breathing.

There are many different things that can happen to Monkey when she has an allergic reaction - rashes, vomiting, tummy ache, swelling, allergy shiners, generally being upset, strange poo (sorry!) - but for me the most scary reactions are those which involve her breathing.

The main way in which her breathing is affected is that she gets a wheeze. She's had an inhaler since she was five months old. The first time I had to give it her was awful - we were both in a panic, she was fighting me and I was so upset. These days she is much better at taking it and just lets me get on with it, it's almost like she knows it will help her. I still hate giving it to her but I just have to tell myself it's horrible but less horrible than it could be if I didn't give it to her.

Monkey's breathing definitely gets worse if she eats one of her allergens but she also almost always has a slight wheeze and a bad cough at night. Everybody involved in caring for Monkey has said this sounds like asthma although she is still too young to be tested. Allergies, eczema and asthma are known to be linked so it wouldn't be unusual for Monkey to have all three. The question is does she have asthma as a symptom of her allergies, as a condition on its own or a combination of the two? At the moment nobody seems to know.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Allergy Alphabet - Blogging A to Z day 1

Yes, I know the last time I joined a blog challenge it ended in disaster with me not writing anything for six months but still...

I've joined another one! The blogging from A to Z challenge. I think this one should be easier to stick to though - no more taking strange prompts and trying to make them fit my blog. The only rule with this one is that I have to work through the alphabet with a blog post for each letter. Lots of people are choosing a theme for their alphabet so I thought I would do an allergy alphabet to explain more about Monkey's allergies - what they are and how they affect her and us as a family.

So let's get started!

A is for Allergies

I mention Monkey's allergies quite a lot on this blog.  But what exactly are allergies? Who has them? What do they do? 

Allergy UK say an allergy is a response by the immune system to an usually harmless substance it sees as a threat. In Monkey's case it is certain foods that are seen as harmful.

There is so much to allergies that I couldn't possibly fit it all into one blog post. I'm hoping that with this challenge I'll be able to talk about all the different aspects in much more detail.

I'll be back tomorrow with letter B.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

A day out on the East Lancs Railway

Ever since I had Monkey, Thursday has been my favourite day. It usually consists of Aquababies in the morning, dinner in the library, then Pramtime in the afternoon and usually a trip to the park on the way home if the weather isn't too awful.

Aquababies and Pramtime aren't on for a few weeks though as it's the school holidays. As Daddy Monkey is off this week too we decided to have a family day out.

Last time we went on a train Monkey seemed to really enjoy it so we thought she might like a ride on a steam train. So this morning we caught the tram to Bury to begin our journey.

The East Lancs Railway runs a steam service from Heywood to Bury. The main station and gift shop are at Bury - Bolton Street and there is also a transport museum opposite the station although we didn't visit this.

The staff were very friendly and were chatting away to Monkey as we got our tickets. The train is free for children under 5 but they still get their own ticket. This was great for Monkey who insists "Me big!" and sees no reason why she shouldn't have the same as everyone else!

East Lancs Railway tickets - including one for Monkey!
I would never think of myself as a train person but there is something quite magical about a steam train. I have to admit to being quite excited as it pulled into the station. All the noise certainly got Monkey's attention.

Our train arriving at Bury - Bolton Street

The ride out to Rawtenstall took about half an hour. Monkey spent most of the journey looking out of the window and telling us what she could see. She loved the sound of the whistle and watching all the steam go past and her face every time we went under a tunnel was brilliant.

On the East Lancs Railway with Daddy

We arrived in Rawtenstall at dinner time and had a picnic on the station while watching the train set off back to Bury. Then came the question - what do you actually do in Rawtenstall for 2.5 hours until it's time to get the train back? We were there because that's where the train went rather than any real wish to be in Rawtenstall.

I remembered a park I had visited there about twenty years ago and a quick google said it wasn't too far away so we headed there. They had a fab children's play area which was big enough for Monkey to feel big and grown up but not big enough for me to panic. She's always been quite wary of slides up until the last couple of weeks when she's decided she loves them. There were two here and she went on them both loads.

At the top of the slide at Whitaker Park

The most unexpected part of the day was meeting two owls - Tigger and Digger. There wasn't any kind of event going on there was just a woman walking through the park with one. She stopped to let us see him and told us she'd be back later with another one. We saw her again on her way out of the park with a smaller burrowing owl. We chatted more this time and she explained she had four owls that were part of a larger group that did school visits etc. Monkey has been very into owls lately and loved looking at them although she wasn't too sure about stroking them! Neither was I, although Daddy Monkey was much braver and gave Digger a tickle.

Monkey, Daddy and Digger the owl
We didn't take the pram or a carrier out with us today and I was so proud of how well Monkey managed. She's not two yet and only has little legs but she did so much walking. She really has no idea she's so tiny and still my baby. In her head she's big and grown up!

My big grown up girl
It's been a really lovely day and I would definitely recommend it. We tired Monkey out though. She just about managed the steam train back to Bury but fell asleep on the tram home.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Look in my Letterbox #9

It's that time of week again when we look at what's dropped through the letterbox of The Monkey House.

It's been a pretty quiet week post wise which I'm hoping is just due to it being Easter. I got three penpal letters all from the UK, including one from Elaine who always has the most gorgeous writing sets. Sadly I forgot to get a picture this time.

I also received a bundle of cards from Kerry. An Easter card for the whole family from her family, one for Monkey from her daughter who she writes too and this beautiful baptism card.

My faith is not something I talk about much on this blog, perhaps I should mention it more, but it is something that is very important to me. I'm very excited because tomorrow, on Easter Sunday, I am being baptised, confirmed and received into membership at my church. The card from Kerry means a lot because she played a big part in me finding my faith and returning to church. To hear her talk about her own faith was really inspiring and it's been lovely to have someone to talk to about my beliefs.

As well as her card from Lottie, Monkey has received a letter from her pal Ines in Spain and dairy free chocolates from the Easter Bunny (aka my penpal Ella). I was really touched that somebody went to the effort of finding something she could eat but unfortunately soya strikes again and she couldn't eat them. We've sent them off to the Switch Witch though - a friendly witch with a weakness for chocolate who will happily swap it for allergy safe treats!

I think Monkey's highlight this week has been a letter from Brooke. We knew it was coming as we saw this picture on facebook.

Monkey was checking the post every day and was so excited when it arrived on Wednesday. She LOVES Brooke! She's a big girl, and she dances, and she has glittery pens, and she drew her a picture. She thinks Brooke is great.

And so do I!

You see the thing I haven't mentioned about Brooke is that she has Cystic Fibrosis. She had emergency surgery at just four weeks old and has had to spend a lot of time in hospital. And yet she still has that smile and can make my girly smile.

Brooke is just one of the children who is part of Post Pals, a wonderful charity who aim to put a smile on the faces of seriously ill children and their siblings by sending them happy mail. It's a simple idea but one that works. And one that given my slight post obsession I had to get involved in.

We've written to every child on the post pals site now and we're working our way through the siblings. All it costs is the price of a stamp to make a difference. Not every child will write back - some of them are too poorly or too busy with hospital appointments. We never expect a reply but it's lovely when we get one.

Please check out Post Pals if you can.

Waiting - and worrying

Monkey's not been well this week.

It's nothing I can really put my finger on. She's just not been her usual self. She always has a cough at night and sometimes a wheeze but this week it's been worse. I don't want to put anyone off their dinner but we've also had quite a few explosive nappies.

Although I never underestimate Monkey's allergies, I like to think I manage to stay quite calm about them. But this week I've been worried.

Luckily Monkey is under the care of the Children's Hospital and they are brilliant. Our dietitian is amazing. I can ring her whenever and know that she will get back to me. So ring her I did...

I phoned on Tuesday when she was in clinic but she got straight back to me first thing in Wednesday morning. Our consultant has retired but she's going to get a new one assigned and an appointment sent out asap. She also wants us to see an allergy nurse so we're waiting for that appointment too.

We're waiting. And we're worrying.

And we're one of the lucky ones. Monkey's allergies are diagnosed. She's under the care of a hospital. We have a plan of how to keep her safe, how and when (not yet!) any reintroduction should be done and what to do if she does have an allergic reaction.

But still we worry...

I can't begin to imagine how much we would worry without that support in place. Yet for many allergy sufferers, that's their reality.

The UK is one of the top three countries in the world with the highest incidents of allergy however according to Allergy UK there are only around 30 allergy specialists working here - that's one for every 700, 000 allergy sufferers!

Did you know?
  • In the entire UK, there are only 12 trainee posts for allergy, so that each year only two doctors complete their training as allergy specialists (National Allergy Strategy Group, 2013)
  • 50 per cent of children and young people suffer with one or more allergies (Punekar & Sheikh, 2009)
  • 21 million adults in the UK have an allergy (Mintel, 2010)
  • 90 per cent of sufferers could be managed in their local community. GPs receive little, if any, training in allergy and immunology.
  • With just 30 generic clinics in the UK, that’s one for every 700,000 sufferers.
Allergy UK are commited to improving care for allergy sufferers and their families. They have recently launched their nurses appeal which aims to recruit and develop specialist allergy nurses, strategically place them in communities and raise awareness about the reality of living with allergies.

Allergy UK is a charity that means a great deal to us. They were great when Monkey was first diagnosed and continue to be a great support today. We're really excited about this appeal and want to do everything we can to help. Monkey is currently fundraising with her free from picnic and we're hoping to host more events. She'd love your support. You can donate by text or by clicking on the link or support us by spreading the word. Thank you.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Look In My Letterbox #8

Look in my letterbox is a weekly linky over at Alice-Megan's blog. I've always loved this linky as I'm slightly post obsessed and I'm working hard to pass this on to Monkey. I'm excited to be linking up again now I am back to blogging.

I have loads of penpals and Monkey has a few. This week she got a new penpal all the way from Australia. She was very excited to get her letter and this lovely artwork from her new friend.

Pictures from Lily

She's also had her spring magazine from the Woodland Trust's Nature Detectives. They're always full of fun activities to get us out and about. This time we're particularly looking forward to making bluebells!

I've had letters from seven pals this week - five from the UK, one from Canada and one from the UAE. It's always great to hear from them and their letters make me smile.

I've also had new stationery - a gorgeous 
Cath Kidston writing set for me and a Rachel Ellen one for Monkey.

Allergy UK have sent us their latest magazine. This charity means a lot to us for obvious reasons so we always like to see what they're up to and what we can do to help. We're taking part in their Free From Feast again this year to raise funds.

A thank you - and a giveaway!

When I first started writing this blog, I wasn't sure anyone would read it. It sometimes felt a bit strange rambling away to myself but I found it helped to write down how I was feeling about Monkey and her allergies. We were still quite new to the world of allergies at that time and feeling overwhelmed by it all.

So really at first the blog was just for me. But then something amazing happened - people actually started to read it! I had nowhere near the number of readers of some of the larger blogs I follow but it didn't matter, I had readers!

Gradually I got more and more readers and whilst I still think of this as 'my little blog' each post got slightly more views and comments than the last.

And then I disappeared for six months...

I thought I'd be all on my own again when I came back. Surely all my readers would have disappeared and I'd be talking to myself again. But they hadn't. People were still here and still reading.

So me and Monkey wanted to say thank you. We thought long and hard about what we could give away but the people we know who read this blog like so many different things. And then there are those of you we don't know.

So we decided we'd make a gift basket based on the things you tell us you love. We can't wait to see who wins and get creative.

Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Easter in the Monkey House - Celebrating Allergy Style

Easter - it's a difficult one with allergies.

Part of me thinks that it shouldn't be. After all, we're christians so Easter should be about so much more than chocolate. And it is!

Monkey has been learning about the Easter Story at Sunday School, at ACTS and at Pramtime. She'll be at church on Easter Sunday to celebrate and rejoice.

Learning about Palm Sunday at Pramtime

But still....

Monkey's a toddler! And for most toddlers (and probably most adults!) Easter means chocolate. Everywhere you look at the moment there are chocolate eggs. They're brightly coloured and look like fun. Monkey has been very interested in them.

She can't have them though.

Dairy allergies rule out chocolate. Some supermarkets are offering dairy free eggs. Great! Except it's not so great when they're made from another of your allergens - soya.

I'm determined that the Easter Bunny will visit Monkey though. Allergies might make things more difficult sometimes but I'm never going to let them mean she misses out.

Books are always a hit with Monkey. I found this Veggie Tales Easter book which I think she'll love. Veggie Tales is an american cartoon that retells Bible stories for kids. Monkey has seen it a few times at church and enjoyed it. The book has american spellings which irritates me slightly but Monkey will love the glitter and sparkle on each page.

I also ordered a very cute dressing up outfit. The idea was that she could wear it for her baby ballet Easter party tomorrow but unfortunately it hasn't arrived in time. She's going to look majorly cute in it when it arrives though. We'll find somewhere to wear it even if it's just to nursery!

Pound shops have been great for little bits like chicks and bunnys. I even managed to find some Easter themed colouring books.

But lovely as all this is, I want my girl to have an egg. A real chocolate egg, just like all her friends will have. Step forward Moo Free! Monkey's had their chocolate before, it's made with rice milk and completely safe for her to eat. They've got three different eggs this year - 'milk' chocolate, honeycombe and chocolate orange - and we've got her one of each.

Hopefully she'll have a really wonderful Easter :-)

Sunday, 13 March 2016

New shoes and pizza

Today has been a lovely day. We've taken Monkey into town to buy new shoes. Shoes were a bit of a nightmare when she first started walking. Even taking into account she is small, her feet are tiny!

We eventually managed to get shoes that fit last November. They weren't proper walkers though, we could only get cruisers small enough. Given that Monkey doesn't walk, she runs everywhere, I'm amazed they lasted this long.

Monkey's very first shoes
When we got Monkey measured today her feet had grown. They'd still not grown enough for her to have whatever style we wanted but we could at least get proper walking shoes. They brought out everything they had in her size and Monkey had great fun trying them all on. She's slightly shoe obsessed and is probably going to cost me a fortune when she's older.

The plan today was to get a pair of t-bar type shoes and a pair of more boot type ones. They don't do the boots small enough though. We still needed two pairs though as she's doing so much walking/running these days. I liked them all so let Monkey choose and we came home with these.

All that shoe shopping is hungry work so we went for some dinner with Daddy, Granny and Grandad. Pizza Express might not seem like the obvious choice for someone who can't eat wheat or dairy but they are brilliant for allergies. We were a week too soon for their gluten free dough balls but when they arrive on the 22nd we'll be able to order a full three course meal off the kids menu that is safe for Monkey to eat. As she's getting older she's noticing more and more when her food is different, it's brilliant that her food looks the same as everyone else's. She certainly seemed to enjoy it today!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

We're Back!

Well, that went well....

Some of you may remember way back in October 2015 I signed up for the Blogtober challenge. The idea was I would blog every day in October on subjects provided by the challenge.

Some of you may also remember I said I was rubbish at challenges like this. Despite my best intentions I never seem to stick to them. If nothing else, at least I'm self aware. I lasted three days before it all went horribly wrong! I fell behind, and then I didn't want to post until I'd caught up, and then October was over, and then and then and then until here we are six months later and no blogging done.

So Blogtober didn't work for me and I'm never going to catch up but I miss blogging so now I'm back. No crazy promises about blogging everyday, just back to how I was before talking about Monkey, her allergies and all the fun we have together whenever I have something to say - just like I did before.

So what have we been up to over the last six months then? Monkey has grown - a lot! She's still tiny compared to most children her age and following the bottom centiles but she is on the chart and gaining steadily. She's 20 months old now and weighs 19lb 9oz. She's wearing age 6-9 months clothes.

Monkey in the park

Despite her still being small for her age she is definitely not my little baby anymore. She's moved up to the toddler room at nursery and is moving up at ballet after Easter. She's even going into the big pool at swimming in May. Calling her a baby results in me being shouted at and told "No! Me big!"

Health wise she's doing great. We have managed to successfully reintroduce apple and the plan is to do the same with pear. We're still a long way from being able to reintroduce the main allergens of dairy, soya, wheat and egg though. At our last dietitian appointment it was agreed that no reintroduction would be done until she'd had more tests and even then it would be done in hospital. It's a scary thought but I suppose its the best place for her to be if she does have a reaction.

I will talk more about everything in future posts but just wanted to get my first post back done and get back to enjoying blogging.