Reducing Allergens in the Home:: What Works for Us

My Wyatt:  Comedic genius, bug-scientist, book lover, allergy sufferer.

Anyone who knows my little family is quite aware of my sweet Wyatt's HORRENDOUS allergies.  At around 18 months old, his little nose started running and hasn't stopped since.  He also has bouts of eczema that flare up from time to time when his outdoor allergies are especially bothersome.  Although his allergies are year-round, there are particular times of the year that are far worse than others. 

Jason and I have elected not to have Wyatt undergo the skin testing for now, since he's only 6 years old, and other than tell us exactly what trees/pollen he's allergic to, nothing would change as far as treatment of symptoms goes.  He's on Singulair daily, and takes an over-the-counter syrup daily, too.  He isn't quite old enough for the shots that could specifically target his triggers, so we're just waiting until he's bigger.  In the meantime, we've researched and implemented many simple things that have made a very big difference for our little guy.  I'm sharing with you in hopes that if your pumpkin is suffering, hopefully one or more of these things will help you!

Keep in mind, these are steps that work for our family.  We do not smoke.  We do not own pets (aside from a few sea monkeys and a couple of betta fish).  Those two things alone make a huge difference for most kids...keeping the home smoke-free and pet-free.  I don't expect that anyone will be sending Fido or Fifi packing unless their child's allergies are extremely severe and are pet-induced...but when it comes down to it, our people kids should come before our furry kids...so if you have pets, here are some things that might help:

1.  Keep the pets off of the furniture, especially your child's bed.  Banning pets from bedrooms is a good practice, too.
2.  Vacuum/sweep/mop often.  A vacuum with a hepa filter is a bonus, and the static-cling mops (wet and dry) kick up less dust than the old fashioned broom and dust pan.
3.  Bathe those critters frequently.  Often it's the saliva on the fur that causes the reactions.
4.  Have kiddos wash their hands/face immediately after playing with pets.  If needed, they might want to change clothes, too.

Now, if you're like us and don't have pets, and outdoor culprits and dust are your tormentors, then here are some cleaning steps you can take that make a huge difference.  Obviously, any or all of the following can be implemented in a home with pets, too, and will only help!  I'd like to go ahead and admit right now that I'm a tad compulsive when it comes to cleaning...so to answer your question: yes, I literally do everything on the following list; no, I don't expect you will.  Just read it and choose from it the few things that will easily transition into your routine.  I firmly believe even changing one or two things could make a drastic improvement for your little one.  Here goes:

1.  Do not wear shoes past the point of entry of your home.  So much pollen, dust, dirt, germiness, etc is spread throughout your entire home with every contaminated step you take.  Create a little spot in your entryway or mudroom just for taking off and storing shoes.  Bonus: you'll extend the life of your carpet/rugs.
2.  Vacuum regurlary, especially the high traffic areas.  Don't forget fabric furniture...it collects dust and pollen, too!  And a quick wipe-down of leather, wood, glass, and metal furniture helps, too.
3.  If possible, wash draperies/curtains about once a month or so.  If the fabric is not machine washable, at least use the hose attachment of your vacuum to give them a once over.  And don't overlook mini-blinds...a static-cling duster once a week will keep dust from building up on them.
4.  Dust frequently.  It's unbelievable to me how dusty my house gets in a week.  I eliminated some dried floral arrangements that couldn't really be cleaned, and I gently wipe down my live plants every blue moon.  Old books are really awful about harboring dust, so I just make sure that a couple of times a year, I tear everything off bookshelves and thoroughly wipe everything down. 
5.  Don't forget those disgusting ceiling fans.  Ours rarely get used, so if left alone, they start "growing" a nasty layer of dust.  If yours is past the point of no return, and you don't want to send all of that ick into the air, use an old pillowcase to cover each blade and swipe the grotesqueness into the case.  Other overlooked dust magnets:  light fixtures, trim above doorways/windows, picture frames/mirrors, legs/arms of wooden furniture.
6.  Change/clean your air filter to your central heat & air often.  And if the vent slats are getting gross, vacuum them or wipe them off.  And same goes for your vacuum cleaner's filter if it has one.
7.  Wash pillows/pillow cases and stuffed animals often...along with any other item that regularly goes into that bed.  Or better yet, get rid of the stuffed animals.  That doesn't fly at my house...Wyatt is particularly fond of each and every one of his stupid beanie babies and pillow pets...so they just get laundered...a lot.  And I wash the decorative pillows/cases around the house every month or two, too...I'm not a lunatic about it...just when they seem like they need it.
8.  Don't leave the doors/windows open.  This is a killer for me.  I grew up in a home that would pry open every crevice to let in the beautiful spring time and fall air...at least I have the memories, right?  Nothing is more detrimental to my kid's allergies than the outside air...boo.
9.  Change bedsheets at least once a week.  During the bad times of the year, I change Wyatt's sheets twice a week...and sometimes his pillowcase more.  I'm also really careful to make sure that his bed gets made daily, with the covers completely covering his bed and pillow.  This prevents any dust from settling on his sheets and pillow during the day.  Hey, every little bit matters.  Also, and if your kid is like mine, this ain't gonna be easy:  no playing on the bed.  Think of the bed as a sterile, safe, allergen-free zone.  The less it's messed with, the more likely it'll stay that way.
10.  Nighttime baths, during which the hair gets a good wash every single time, every single day.  Even on the days you didn't go anywhere.  My son protests this particular item on my list more than any other, but it's a non-negotiable.  All day long, dust and pollen get trapped in those gorgeous red locks, and if I don't wash it, that all gets transfered to the pillow and sheets I've tried so hard to keep sterile from allergens.  Sorry, Dude.
11.  Any clothes that have left the confines of your home...even just to go check the mailbox...go into the laundry.

Stuff I don't do, but you might try:
12.  An air purifier in the home.  Now, I don't have one of these, but we're currently on the search for one.  I've heard mixed reviews on so many models, and I'm not even sure that they'd make a difference, but it seems like they'd really help, so I'll let you know if/when we get one what we think.
13.  Sinus rinse.  Yeah, right...like that's going to happen with my psychotic child...but hey, they work.
14.  Remove any/all carpeting from your home.  This isn't even a financial option for us...just ain't going to happen...so that's why I'm just very diligent about vacuuming often and having it professionally cleaned twice a year.  If replacing the entire house-worth of carpeting with wood or tile isn't an option for you, either, but you can afford to just do the bedroom(s) where your allergy sufferer(s) sleeps, that's a great start!  Area rugs should be used minimally and cleaned often.
15.  No wood burning fireplaces.  I'm such a buzz-kill, I know, but all that soot and smoke permeates the entire room. 

Okay, are you still with me...?  As I mentioned above, Wyatt deals with eczema...most of which is triggered by the dyes and perfumes in soaps, but sometimes a mild food allergy will trigger it.  So I make sure to use dye- and perfume-free soaps and detergents and cleaners whenever possible.  Also, I strive to get all of the dusting and vacuuming done while he's out of the house so that anything kicked up in the air will hopefully have settled before he has to breathe it in.  Best rule of thumb is to know what triggers your kiddo's allergies, and adjust your routines accordingly.  It's a lot of trial and error sometimes to figure it out, but it's well worth the time invested if your stuffed-up kid can suddenly breathe unihibited.

I really hope something here helps you!  As a Mama, nothing is as stressful as watching my little buddy suffer.  Since we've started implementing these things, his medications can keep up and he rarely is symptomatic anymore!  I'd love to hear from you in the comments section if something in particular really helps you!

Just another fun find for my nature-loving, allergic-to-the-world boy.


Light and Hazy...some basic editing tips!

I have only been photoshopping for a little over a year, and to be honest, I haven't even begun to tap into the potential of this software.  Recently, while trying to figure something out, I discovered that I've been doing things the hard way...imagine that.  I have purchased hundreds of preset actions over the past year, but many times I want to achieve a particular effect without using an action since actions tend to be fairly heavy-handed and require lots of adjustments to tone them down to my liking.
I want to share with you how to use nothing but the adjustments that come in photoshop to achieve a soft, hazy edit with sunflare added in for fun.
Step 1:  Pick a pic. 
I chose a photo of my son in his halloween costume that I love...you can see the
SOOC (straight out of camera) on the left.  It was exposed properly, but felt too heavy and dark for the light-nature of the photo...plus, I wanted it all dreamy and such.
Step 2:  Adjust the lighting situation.
To begin, click the little new adjustment layer icon (see pic below) and choose Levels.
That little graph controls the exposure of your photo.  I wanted to lighten up shadows and haze it up a bunch, so I slid the middle slider to the left until I liked what I saw (about 1.33).  Now, you might lose some of the details in the blacks that you want back...you can slide the far left slider to the right a stop or two to darken those blacks back up.  And the one on the far right..?  It will perk up your highlights...I like to bump it over a bit to brighten up all of the whites.  Careful, though...you might cancel out one or the other by doing both...you can preview your changes by turning the "eyeball" icon on/off next to the Levels layer.
Step 3:
I wanted to warm up my already pretty warm pic because my child is an albino red-head and he was pretty pale.  If you click the New Adjustment Layer icon again, this time select Photo Filter (see pic).  I chose the Warming Filter (85).  Just play around with them.  You can click the eye to turn that level on and off to see the difference it makes. 
Special note:  the cooling filter does wonders on orange newborn skin!!  It also fixes that weird yellowish hue from indoor photos if your white balance was off!  And, you can also add really artistic hues to your photos and black and white conversions with this tool!  Don't forget you can adjust the opacity of the photo filter layer if the default is too strong!

Step Quattro:
Like I said, I wanted this to be a very hazy, dreamy, super light image.  To get that haze, I clicked the New Adjustment Layer icon again and selected Hue/Saturation.  I slid the Lightness slider until I liked what I saw.  If you start to lose those blacks again, you can always adjust your levels layer by clicking on that layer and playing with the sliders.  You may also benefit from opening yet another Adjustment Layer and selecting Brightness/Contrast...
Step 5:
Flatten your image by going to Layers>Flatten image
You might want to stop here, or if you're like me, you might want to add some sun flare for fun!
Step 6:
Click the Add a New Layer icon (see pic below).  You will need to use the paint bucket tool to fill that layer with black. 
Then, select Filter>Render>Lens Flare.  A cute little dialog box will pop up giving you the choice between several different styles of lens flare.  To pinpoint the origin of the flare (wherever the lightsource should be for your photo), just click the image in the pop up box to move the flare around until you like where it's at.  (see second image below).

Now that your flare is how you like it, click OK.  Next, change your blending mode on the flare layer to "Screen."  You may adjust the opacity if necessary.  If there are any weird spots on a part of the image that you don't like, you can click the icon that looks like a circle inside of a rectangle and then use a black brush to brush off any of that layer you don't like. 

Lastly, I like to run a high pass filter on my image to sharpen it up a tad, and usually a noise reduction filter.  To do the High Pass, flatten your image, then make a new layer by clicking CTRL+J on your keyboard.  With that new layer highlighted, go to Filter>Other>High Pass.  Change the blending mode to Soft Light for a subtle effect, or Vivid or Hard Light for a stronger effect.  (You can adjust the opacity, too, and brush off anything that it's too much on...you'll have to click that rectangle with a circle again and use a black brush to "wipe off" the sharpness where you don't want it).  After that, run a noise reduction filter by clicking Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise.


I Heart Faces Photo Challenge: Best Face of 2012

 Picking my favorite image of 2012 was not an easy task.  Aside from images of my clients, about 99.9% of my photos are of my son...and I love every single one of them.  Even so, I do have my favorites.  Ironically, the photo I've chosen is a selfie. 

I cannot express how deeply personal this photo is...it was the first self-portrait I'd taken in almost two years that I saw myself.  I'd just started coming out of a deep depression, and this photo felt so hopeful to me...that maybe, just maybe I was going to be okay afterall. 

I double exposed it (in photoshop) with a photo of frost-covered tree branches with the sun flaring out from behind the trunk that I'd taken the winter before. 

The dormant tree, sleeping,frozen with ice...the hopeful sun bursting through the twigs, warming them; thawing them; preparing them for the spring that was to come.

This image was submitted to the I Heart Faces photo challenge-- www.iheartfaces.com
Photo Challenge Submission