Monday, November 26, 2007

Travel Tips #1: Surviving the Flight

Ah, Mexico. Sunshine, margaritas, white sand, turquoise-colored ocean waves, rainbow-colored fish, Mayan ruins, dolphins, iguanas… Cancun was fabulous, and our trip was smooth, easy, and a lot of fun.

We travel a lot, and we’ve had some minor challenges with my son’s food allergies over the years, so I’ve learned a lot about how to plan ahead and stay safe so that the trip is a blast and not a bust. Since traveling with food allergies can be scary, especially if you’re new to the whole experience, I’ll spend this week and next explaining how I do it. It may or may not work for anyone else, but it’s how I cope.

This week I’ll talk about the first challenge, which is, of course, the airplane ride. To survive the flight without problems, I always carry two things: HandiWipes, and my own meals and snacks. With the HandiWipes, I can clean off the tray tables and arm rests before my son starts handling them. He doesn’t react to peanut dust in the air, fortunately, so we can be on planes that serve peanuts if I’m just careful about cleaning his area.

You can call ahead and request a no-peanut flight. I’ve had varying degrees of success doing this. It depends on the airline, the flight, the person you talk to, the flight attendants assigned to the flight, the alignment of the stars and moon, the political instability in Outer Splatvakia, and the mating rituals of sea porcupines. I’ve been chewed out by flight attendants because I didn’t call ahead, and I’ve been chewed out by flight attendants because I did. And most of the time, I just forget to call ahead or decide I don’t have hours to spend on hold. So I take my Handiwipes and my own snacks. Call it a cop-out.

As for in-flight meals, here’s what I do: I have a collapsible insulated lunch sack. In that, I tuck a couple of empty quart-sized Ziploc freezer bags (depending on how many flights are involved – 1 per flight). Then I put another Ziploc bag of ice in the lunch sack to keep the lunches cold until we get to the airport. Finally, I put in sandwiches that I’ve made, or lunch meat and crackers, cookies, etc. If we’re staying in the U.S., I can pack fruit. If we’re going to another country, you can’t take fruit across the border, so I’ll pack fruit leathers.

At the airport, before I go through the security line, I throw away the baggie with the ice in it (don’t want security getting concerned about a bag of ice), then go through the security gate. On the other side of the gate, I find a fast-food restaurant and ask them to put ice in one of the empty bags (sometimes the soda fountains are out in the public area, so I can fill my own bag with ice). Then I put that bag back into the lunch sack. Voila!

That’s how we make it through the flight. I still have to fend off flight attendants trying to give me peanuts (I am shocked at how many airlines still serve them). But at least I feel like I’ve got my little part of the plane under control.

Next week, I’ll explain how I handle food while we’re on vacation.

Meanwhile, now that we’re back in Utah, I’m trying to remember to put on socks instead of flip-flops in the morning. I’m never quite ready for a vacation to be over!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Twenty Things I’m Grateful For

I’m going to be celebrating Thanksgiving in Cancun this year with my son and husband and some good friends – and boy, am I thankful for THAT! Wherever Thanksgiving finds you this year, I hope you’re able to spend some time doing something you love with people you love.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here are twenty things I’m grateful for, in no particular order. (Except for the first two.)

1. My son. I never dreamed love could be this big.
2. My husband. I never dreamed love could be this solid.
3. Email – so I can stay in constant touch with dear friends, colleagues, editors, bosses, family, and writing sources around the world with the click of a few keys.
4. Margaritas – made with real lime juice, very good tequila, triple sec, and a dash of Grand Marnier, over ice.
5. Caribbean islands, trade winds, white sand, and unravaged coral reefs.
6. Family members who love me and never hesitate to show it.
7. A career doing something I truly love (writing).
8. Lays potato chips – regular, unadulterated, salty.
9. Red rock canyons, hidden rock art, and the sound of wind hushing through sagebrush.
10. Modern medicine.
11. The internet – I can’t imagine being a freelance writer without access to a world of information at my fingers, even if it’s 3:00 in the morning. Librarians HATE it when you show up at 3:00 in the morning in your jammies demanding obscure facts. The internet doesn’t mind at all.
12. Friends – wonderful, dear friends; the kind who really will help you move (twice), who offer to take your kid when you’re running crazy, and who go out of their way to find or create allergen-free recipes because they want your kid to be safe at their house and parties.
13. The Bill of Rights -- such a simple document, with such unbelievable ramifications (which most Americans have long since taken for granted).
14. Eric Johnson, Steve Morse, Eric Clapton, and other guitar gods.
15. Blue sky and sunshine sparkling on a lightly dusted ski run, with the world rolling out in hills and valleys below me, the solar rays warming me, and lyrics from an old Kansas song running through my head.
16. My passport.
17. A southern Utah sky at night, with the stars so vivid and silent I can feel the earth spin in heartbreaking beauty.
18. The storytelling tradition that links all people through the centuries and across continents.
19. Chancing upon a poetic turn of phrase in the ordinary pursuits of everyday life.
20. Companies that make allergen-free foods, because they protect the joy of my life every single day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Chopsticks and Other Birthday Surprises

My son has become enamored of all things Japanese. He’s a huge Pokémon fan, and he’ll watch as much Japanese animation as I’ll let him (which isn’t much). About six months ago, he announced that he wanted to go to Japan. Our family travels a lot – we skip the expensive toys and save up for trips instead – so announcing that you want to go to some far away country is a perfectly natural thing to do around our dinner table.

When he made this announcement, I asked him why he wanted to go there. “Oh, you know,” he said, trying to pretend it wasn’t all about making a pilgrimage to Pokémon hallowed ground, “See the sights, see the people, try the food.”

Try the food? My son, the picky eater? The kid who wouldn’t eat wet food until he was 7? Who won’t eat a cooked vegetable if his life depended on it? Who refuses to eat food that is mixed with any other food? The kid who needs a new fork when he switches from his chicken to his pears?

The kid who’s allergic to nuts?

Oh dear. Japanese food uses a lot of nuts, I explained. And I think they cook with cold-pressed peanut oil that leaves the proteins alive and well and ready to attack unsuspecting allergic boys. Japan may be off the travel itinerary for a few years, I explained.

Undeterred, he kept up his requests for all things Japanese, including the food.

Then I found Tepanyaki – a Japanese restaurant in our town where the chef does the fancy cooking tricks at your table-side grill. Right there on the menu, it said they didn’t use nuts in their food. I asked the waitress, and she assured me they were a nut-free restaurant. I couldn’t wait to surprise my son!

Friday night, we celebrated his 9th birthday. After a party with 15 friends at the skating rink (whew!), we went to the restaurant for a family birthday dinner with just us and his grandparents. He was buzzing with excitement. His eyes were as wide as saucers as the chef entertained him with flying egg tricks, fancy knife-banging, and an onion volcano.

Then came the real shocker. My son the finicky eater tried EVERYTHING. He tried several sips of the soup and gave me the thumbs-up sign. (He hates soup.) He mastered the chopsticks in about 90 seconds, and used them to eat the stir-fried veggies. (He hates cooked veggies.) He dug into the stir-fry noodles. (He hates noodles with anything but margarine on them.) He ordered shrimp, gobbled it all down, then asked to try the salmon and scallops, both of which he loved, then asked for more. (He’s decided he loves seafood.)

My husband, my parents, and I all just stared at him in confused delight. “Who are you and what have you done with my son?” asked my husband.

The whole time, the birthday boy was grinning like a monkey and bouncing in his seat, eagerly looking for the next course and the chef’s next cutlery trick. When they brought out ice cream with a birthday candle in it, he blew out the candle, then proceeded to eat the ice cream with chopsticks. I kid you not.

Tepanyaki has just vaulted to the top of my son’s favorite restaurant list. If he can’t go to Japan, this will be the next best thing. Seeing him so happy at a restaurant where he had the freedom to try anything on the menu made me feel like I got the real birthday gift this year.

You know what this means, don’t you? It means that I’m buying a big box of chopsticks, and from now on, whenever I cook anything new, I’m going to tell him it’s Japanese.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Guest Blogger: My Earliest Allergy Memory

Today, I have a special guest blogger… my son. I wanted him to write about Halloween, but he decided to write about his earliest allergy memory. (Naturally. My will is the law in this household, you know.) The events he describes might be slightly enhanced, but he was only 2 at the time, and he does have quite the flair for the dramatic…

"Hello! I’m Kelley’s son. I have food allergies that complicate my life in many ways. Especially because they can kill me! However, I have a secret weapon…Benadryl and EPIPENS! They are the things that save lives like mine all over the World. Without them I wouldn’t have lived to tell this story. In fact I wouldn’t even be here right now. Because there was an accident when I was two. We were at Arctic Circle when a person that worked there offered me ice cream. (We didn’t know about my food allergy to peanuts.) We accepted it. Then it happened… I had an allergic reaction! Luckily Mrs. Kim came along with Benadryl and said: “TAKE THIS BEFORE YOUR CHILD CHOKES AND KILLS HIMSELF!!!!!” After that fiasco she said: “Don’t you know about FOOD ALLERGIES!?!?!” My mom, dumbfounded said: “No what the heck are you talking about?” After Mrs. Kim had finally satisfied herself with her lecture about allergies, and I had said ‘thank you for saving my life’ about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times, her boy and I have been Best Friends ever since. Now I carry these medicines everywhere I go. Everywhere I go I read labels and ask about food."

Hi, it’s me again (Kelley). For the record, we DID know about his food allergy, but just barely. So I was a little panicked when he had that reaction. Fortunately, Kim was with us and offered us her medicines. I gave him Benadryl, and we made it to the doctor’s office in time and didn’t have to use the Epipens.

Since that episode, we’ve learned a lot. My son, who will turn 9 this week, has learned how important it is for him to be aware of his own allergies. He does very well managing himself at school and with friends – he asks about ingredients, he reads labels, and he doesn’t hesitate to inform people of his allergies. We’ve come a long way, baby!