Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Resilient New Year!

Greetings from sea level!

I'm in Houston this week, visiting family. Signs that we're at sea level are everywhere, mainly in the form of damage left by Hurricane Ike back in September. Wooden fences are still lying where they blew over. Blue tarps still cover hundreds of roofs. A storage unit complex nearby is still in shambles. No conversation goes on without some reference to Ike.

Counting blessings is easier when you see what other people had to live through.

But, as always, life goes on and people pick up the pieces and keep moving forward. Our relatives lost part of their roof, and water caved in their second floor ceilings. They've got a new roof now and a new fence, but they're still waiting for a drywall repairman to finish the upstairs rooms.

But they cheerfully welcomed us into their home for the holidays anyway. So here we are, enjoying ourselves thoroughly, spending wonderful holiday moments with folks we love.

I'm taking advantage of being at sea level, too. I've been baking a few of my milk-free, egg-free, and nut-free recipes here, to see what sea level changes I need to make. So far, it's gone well -- the biggest difference I've noticed is that breads take less time to bake here. I almost burned the pumpkin bread because I wasn't used to how fast it would cook here, and my apple muffins didn't rise as much as I thought, so they were kind of flat. But other than that, they tasted good and had the right texture, so I must be on the right track.

Recipes are tricky sometimes, but I have no patience for tricky. If a recipe is too fussy, I throw it away. My recipes, like my houseplants, have to be hearty and forgiving. They have to be adaptable to a busy household, where I'm usually throwing muffins in the oven and watching the clock because I have to have my son at his next sporting or social engagement in exactly 23 minutes, and the muffins will take exactly 17 to bake, 1 to slap onto the cooling rack, leaving 5 to drive to the appointment. You know. Your life is probably a lot like mine. Most people's are, I guess. I forget that sometimes, until I'm face to face with proof that my life is actually pretty darn easy, compared to what others are going through.

So I'm baking at sea level, thinking about life with allergies, and life with hurricanes, and life with all the trials it throws at us. And I'm thinking that we're an awfully resilient species. As 2008 winds to a close, I'm looking ahead to 2009 with more optimism than I have in a while. Part of it is from seeing how people down here are moving ahead despite blue tarps flapping over their heads. Part of it is from being surrounded by loving friends and family, and remembering that they care about us no matter what happens. And part of it is simply seeing that my pumpkin bread turns out no matter where I bake it or even if I nearly burn it. It's a resilient recipe. If my recipe can survive change, so can I, right?

Here's to a resilient New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hope for This Season of Light

The season of light is upon us.

Today is the beginning of Chanukah, when Jews light the candles on their menorahs to celebrate the miracle of a sacred lamp burning steadily in the reclaimed temple for eight days on only a single day’s worth of oil. Christmas is on Thursday, when candles everywhere will be lit to welcome the newborn Prince of Peace to earth. Kwanzaa starts on Friday, with candles for Kwanzaa’s seven guiding principles. Yesterday was the winter solstice, and drum circles and candles said good-bye to the shortest day of the year and welcomed the lengthening hours of sunlight. In another week, the New Year will arrive in a shower of booming fireworks.

In the middle of our darkest times of winter, we use candles and fireworks to restore light and remind us that the darkness will not last. The cold will give way to warmth. The ice will thaw. The spring will come. Leaves will bud and flowers will bloom. And we light candles to show we remember, we believe, and we will persevere until light spreads around us once again.

Last week, I was outside at my mailbox when I heard a flock of geese approaching. We live near a bird refuge, so geese are forever flying overhead, even in the winter. I stopped and waited to see them as they came up over the house across the street. It was a small flock. There were nine geese.

And one seagull.

The seagull was white and shining in the sun, almost glowing beside the darker, larger bodies of the geese. But the seagull appeared to be a welcome member of the flock. He soared and glided in the middle of the others, keeping perfect time and formation with them. As one the entire flock, including the seagull, curved into a turn, and they headed for the mountains, finally disappearing in the distance. There was no honking protest. There were no missed wing beats. There seemed to be nothing but comfortable acceptance. The seagull was simply a member of the flock – whether temporary or permanent, I don’t know, but it was clear he was welcome. Adding the seagull didn’t diminish the flock – it enhanced it, adding a quiet splash of sunlight to a routine flight of noisy shadows.

It was a lovely thing to see. If nature can make acceptance look that easy and beautiful, perhaps all hope is not lost for us human beings after all.

So my wish in this season of light is this – that we all find, somewhere in our hearts, the capacity to welcome each other’s light into our little shadowed worlds, because there is strength in numbers and beauty in new colors. And strength and beauty are good things to keep close as we push through the cold months ahead.

May the lights of the season be yours. Merry everything!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Best Intentions

Last week, at our Davis County chapter meeting, I brought the free samples provided by Enjoy Life! Foods, which are free of the top 8 allergens. A member let her children try the cookies and snack bars, excited that they didn’t have the allergens she knew her kids would react to.

Within minutes, two of her kids were breaking out in hives. We don’t know what caused it yet (she’s going to the doctor to have them retested), but my guess is it might be the sunflower or flaxseed in the snack bars, because those – while not in the “big 8” – are foods that some nut-allergic people are also allergic to.

It was scary. But the only way most of us discover a food allergies is when we actually eat the food. So it could have happened to her and her children anywhere. The only silver lining I could see was that it happened when she was with other moms who understood, and who were all armed with medicine. We didn’t have to use any of the EpiPens in our possession, but she did use Benadryl.

Of course, the irony was obvious – the point of a food allergy support group is to prevent this kind of thing from happening, not to make it happen! So we left feeling terrible that such a thing could happen in our group.

But we did learn several lessons. First, a reaction can happen at any time, and with foods we don’t even know we’re allergic to yet. Second, we need to have our EpiPens and Benadryl within reach, no matter where we go. Third, surrounding yourself with people who understand and can help goes a long way towards keeping the panic level down. And fourth, even the best intentions can go awry.

So check the expiration date on your EpiPens and make sure your Benadryl is ready. Before you go to those holiday gatherings or even out gift-shopping, be sure you’ve got that medicine with you. You just never know.

All our best thoughts are with the mom and her kids who have to add a new item to their list of allergies now. That’s not what they wanted for Christmas at all. But hopefully now that they know, they’ll be able to avoid an accidental reaction in a more inconvenient place or time.

Let’s all ask Santa for a cure for food allergies this year, shall we?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Shopping

“Got your holiday shopping done yet?” everyone keeps asking.

Yeah, right. Christmas is still two and a half weeks away. What’s the rush? I’m still washing sand out of my swimsuit from my Thanksgiving trip. I’m still wearing tank tops because I haven’t had time to swap my summer shirts out of the closet and move the winter sweaters in. (It takes a lot of tank tops to stay warm.)

What’s worse is I’m hosting a holiday party tonight, and I still haven’t decorated my tree, hung a wreath, or figured out if I still have paper plates lying around somewhere I can use. I also haven’t cleaned the bathrooms, run the vacuum, or dusted. (Those shelves are supposed to be gray and fuzzy, right? Can I pretend it’s artificial snow and not dust?)

Procrastination seems to be my official vocabulary word for December.

I don’t have any idea what to get my son yet for the holidays. He seems to change his mind every other minute. Now he wants a Wii (fat chance). Yesterday he wanted a Nerf shoot-em-up assault something-or-other (mommy doesn’t do guns, remember dear?). The day before that, it was a PSP (but you already have a Nintendo DS!). Last week, there was something about Guitar Hero, or maybe a real electric guitar. And a boy-sized jeep that really runs (right, keep dreaming). Or a pet (ack!), or a giant Legos city, complete with working plumbing, a functioning government, and trade deals with Japan.

I think I’ll get him a rock. It always worked for Charlie Brown. Or maybe that was Halloween. I can’t keep anything straight these days.

Anyway, while I was flipping desperately through store ads in the paper last week, I came across the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker. Seems that’s the popular item for girls this year. It looks kind of cool, but the pink would definitely not go over well with my son, despite the obvious cupcake appeal. I think the manufacturers shot themselves in the foot by making it pink. I know a lot of cupcake-eating boys, myself. Oh well. So far, it’s the only thing NOT on his list.

The really interesting thing about the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker, however, is that the cupcake mixes are gluten-free. Who knew? It’s not really advertised anywhere that way – but it’s making the rounds in the food allergy network. The year’s “must have” toy for girls, and it’s gluten-free? That’s pretty remarkable.

Now, if I could just find something remarkable that’s on my son’s list and that doesn’t cost the equivalent of a college education. (Sorry, son, we would have sent you to college, but we got you that “starter” pack of Bakugan cards and figurines when you were 10 instead, remember?)

Good luck with your shopping! And let me know if you find Guitar Hero on sale, for like $1.98.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Caribbean Dreams

Re-entry is hard.

I love vacations, and I hate coming home. Coming home means piles of laundry, stacks of mail, a to-do list a mile long, looming work deadlines, and cold weather.

Sure, it’s nice to sleep in my own bed. I guess. Oh, who am I kidding? I much preferred sleeping on the 43-foot catamaran we just spent a week on while sailing through St. Lucia and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Endless miles of turquoise water. Coral reefs teeming with fish in every color of the rainbow. Millions of stars in an unspoiled sky. Steel drum music wafting over the water from the nearby beach bar. Flippers and masks piled in the corner, ready for the next snorkeling foray. Rum punches. Conch fritters. Fish on the grill, freshly pulled from the water off the back of our boat.

I traded all this for gloomy skies, a messy house, and Christmas sale commercials?


I’m a traveler at heart, and there’s no way around it. Right now, I’m sitting here with a handful of exotic coins in my pocket – they have scalloped edges and an old-fashion sailing ship on them. A giant conch shell, its inside pink and pearly, sits drying on my kitchen counter. My passport is lying open in front of me, its latest stamp a testament to my wanderlust.

I’m addicted to travel, and my addiction is apparently hereditary. My son has it, too. He got his first passport when he was 4 months old, when we went to Holland. At 2, he went to Hawaii and Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. He’s been to Mexico a couple of times, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, and now St. Lucia and the Grenadines. His wish list includes places like Pompeii, Japan, London, and Paris. Not bad for a kid who just turned 10. He’s gone through two passports now, and we’re about to order his third.

With his food allergies, we have to be a little more cautious and a lot more prepared than some when we travel. I carry a ton of food with me whenever we travel – lots of Enjoy Life! Foods granola bars, fruit snacks, and boxes and cans of things he can eat if we get stuck.

But the real life-saver is that since we chartered our own sailboat, we cooked most of our meals ourselves. Chartering a sailboat for a week is like renting a condo for a week – you have your own kitchen, so you can cook all of your own meals. The big difference is that you can’t usually sail your condo to another island when the mood strikes you!

Another good part about this trip was that our airline experience was positive – we discovered a benefit to the airlines’ recent cost-cutting measures! We flew American Airlines this time, and apparently they’ve done away with free snacks. No little packets of peanuts or trail mix! Instead, they have “food for purchase” on some of the flights. You can purchase snacks like chips, a cheese plate, or even a sandwich, but because they’re pretty expensive ($6), few people did. Personally, I felt a lot more relaxed on the flight because there simply weren’t as many wrappers floating around the plane.

Being able to control the food my son comes into contact with means my luggage is heavier, my planning is a little more complicated, and our meals might not be as spontaneous, but it does mean that we can still succumb to that wanderlust in our hearts.

Now if only I could feel as good about my return to reality. Where did all these bills come from, anyway?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving Gatherings

Today, as I was driving around town running errands, I drove past the city park and workers were already putting up holiday lights. It was a little bit of a shock – the sun is shining, the weather is still warm, my husband had to mow the lawn again yesterday… It doesn’t feel like the holidays are approaching. But then I realized Thanksgiving is next week.

How did that happen?

Like it or not, the holidays are, indeed, on their way. And with the holidays come family gatherings, parties, and traditional feasts. And as if there isn’t enough pressure surrounding large family gatherings, when you throw food allergies into the mix, the holidays can sometimes feel like a field of land mines.

To help prepare for Thanksgiving, we had our November meeting of the Davis County support group last week. Our first order of business was to welcome a new member to our group! We spent quite a bit of time discussing safe foods and how to find them, such as chocolate chips, granola bars, cereals, cake mixes, brownies, cookies – all those foods we love to indulge in but have to be especially careful of when we shop and cook for food-allergic family members.

We also exchanged some allergen-friendly Thanksgiving recipes, such as the Salt Lake Tribune’s recipe for Apple Crisp, found here. (Just substitute safe margarine for the butter, and gluten-free flour if necessary.)

When it comes to holiday survival techniques, we talked about a few ideas that have worked for us. One survival technique many of us have used at family gatherings is to simply bring our own food for our food-allergic kids. I used to carry safe chicken nuggets everywhere we went when my son was younger. I still tuck a couple of safe granola bars in my purse even now, just in case we can’t find anything at a party for him to eat – at least that will tide him over until we can make a graceful exit and find him some safe food.

Another tip is when going to a potluck, always volunteer to take the dessert. When people bring desserts, they bring their fanciest creations, which for some reason almost always seems to ensure they will include nuts, chocolate, and dairy ingredients. So volunteering to bring a dessert will cut down on some of that risk, and will ensure that your food-allergic family member gets something sweet to look forward to at the end of the meal.

We ended our meeting by sampling some tasty treats from Enjoy Life! Foods, who graciously sent us a sampling of goodies, such as four flavors of granola bars, two flavors of cookies, chocolate chips, and their latest product – scrumptious Boom Choco Boom chocolate bars! Enjoy Life! Foods makes products that are free of the top 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish). Locally, we can find their products at Smiths, Dan’s, and Whole Foods Markets, as well as others. Check out their website here.

It was a good meeting, and we enjoyed sharing tips and ideas with each other.

Next week, I’ll be exercising my favorite Thanksgiving survival technique – escaping. I’ll be as far from electronic devices as possible, so I won’t be posting a blog entry next week. But I’ll be back after Thanksgiving, so look for a new blog entry when I return!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Study, Another Contradiction

Yet another study about peanut allergies has been published this week, and this one just adds to the confusion. Welcome to the non-exact science of food allergies!

The October 2008 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has published an article detailing a study in which Jewish populations in the United Kingdom and in Israel were compared. They used Jewish subjects in both countries to try to level the playing ground between the two groups as much as possible, with both groups sharing similar genetics and social and economic backgrounds.

In the U.K., mothers are advised to avoid peanuts while pregnant and nursing and to avoid feeding their infants peanuts, so at nine months of age, only 10% of the U.K. children in the study there were eating peanuts. In Israel, there is no such recommendation, so 69% of Israeli children were eating peanuts. What they found is that 1.85% of children in the U.K. have peanut allergy, while in Israel, only 0.17% of the children have peanut allergy.

In other words, in the U.K., where mothers limit children’s exposure to peanuts, kids were ten times more likely to have a peanut allergy than in Israel.

Now what?

The conclusion many people will leap to is simple – early exposure to peanuts is GOOD for you! But is it really? Other studies have shown that early exposure INCREASES the rate of peanut allergy. As so often happens, scientific studies are contradicting each other, and no one understands why.

Many of us who have children with peanut allergies would question this finding, at least from our own experience – I ate peanut butter sandwiches throughout my pregnancy because it was one of the few foods I could stomach during those nauseating months, and yet my son reacted the first time I let him have a bite of peanut butter. If early introduction should have prevented his allergy, all those sandwiches I ate when I was pregnant should have made him a little peanut-eating superman. On the other hand, he was over a year old when I gave him that sandwich, so maybe if I’d given him peanut butter when he was 4 or 5 months old… who knows?

The authors recognize that one study such as theirs cannot be used to reverse current recommendations. In fact, the study says more “randomized controlled interventional studies…are therefore required to determine whether peanut avoidance or the early dietary introduction of peanut will prevent [peanut allergy]. Until such evidence is obtained, current recommendations should remain unchanged.”

Human beings love simple answers. We like one-to-one correspondences. We like to find a direct line between two points. And it really, really makes us mad when we find a nice, straight line, and then someone has the audacity to point out that our straight line falls apart when the end-points are moved around a bit.

So although the study used two groups of Jewish children, all the variables weren’t controlled. What environmental chemicals are used in the U.K. that aren’t used in Israel? What other foods are frequently given to Israeli children that could be providing a kind of protection that U.K. kids aren’t eating? Do both groups have the same chemicals in their drinking water, in their cooking utensils, in their bread? What medicines do the children in each group receive? How long are they nursed?

There are thousands of variables involved when it comes to analyzing the human body chemistry, and I don’t envy scientists the job of sorting them all out as they wage this ongoing battle against food allergies. But I salute them and cheer them on.

I don’t know what to think about this new study. I don’t know that I believe early introduction will save children. I don’t know that I DON’T believe it.

But I do believe that the more studies like this that are performed, the closer we’ll get to understanding what is going wrong inside our bodies. It won’t be easy – when our bodies decide a nutrient is a poison, something outside the boundaries of logic is at work, and it will require thousands of different scientific minds thinking in thousands of different directions before we round up enough points to show us that the lines are really connecting in a meaningful way.

I’m glad this study has been published – not because I want to see a new push for early introduction of peanuts, but because I want to see another group of scientists say, “What? Is that true?” and dig into their own new study to verify, contradict, or more likely, cast more confusion on this conclusion. That’s the only way we will advance this frustratingly non-exact science of food allergies.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Another goblin-glaring, spirit-spooking, monster-mashing day has come and gone. My son the Human Whirlwind dressed up like a Clone Trooper from Star Wars. We went to some friends’ house for trick-or-treating and Halloween hi-jinx and had a great time.

As usual, we didn’t let food allergies slow us down – for dinner, the kids had safe hot dogs wrapped in safe Pillsbury breadsticks so they looked like mummies… um, the hot dogs looked like mummies, that is – not the kids. (The grown-ups opted for hamburgers instead of hot dog mummies.) We also had Bush’s Baked Beans (no milk, eggs, or nuts), Jell-O Jigglers in Halloween shapes, chips and salsa, and safe carrot cake cupcakes with icing decorated like pumpkin faces and spider webs.

We didn’t go hungry. Somehow, we never do!

Every once in a while, I like to try something new, so this year I decided to roast the pumpkin seeds that I pulled out of the jack-o-lanterns that my son and I carved the night before Halloween. I’ve never tried it before, but they turned out pretty tasty. After reading a bunch of different recipes, I combined the best ideas of all of them, and this is what I came up with. If you still have pumpkins sitting on your porch that you never got around to carving (I still have several), open them up and roast the seeds for a savory snack. Bring a bowlful to your next gathering and watch how fast they vanish into thin air!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 quart water
2 Tbsp salt
2 cups pumpkin seeds (about one large-ish pumpkin’s yield)
2 Tbps safe margarine or olive oil
1 tsp garlic salt (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder and 1/2 tsp regular salt)
1 tsp seasoned salt

Pull the seeds out of the pumpkin, removing as much of the strings as possible. Rinse. Bring the water and 2 Tbsp of salt to a boil, then add the pumpkin seeds and boil for 10 minutes. Drain, spread out on paper towels, and dry overnight.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a saucepan or skillet, melt the safe margarine. Remove from heat and add the pumpkin seeds to the melted margarine. Sprinkle with the seasonings and stir thoroughly, so that all the seeds are coated. Spread evenly in a single layer on a large cookie sheet.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until crisp and golden. Let cool. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

Some people like to eat them shell and all. Others like to remove the shell first, like sunflower seeds, and eat only the green soft seed inside. Either method is tasty – it’s up to you!

Monday, October 27, 2008

CDC Reports Increased Food Allergies

Last week, food allergies were in the news again. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report saying three million children in the U.S. have food or digestive allergies in 2007, which is an 18% increase in a decade (click here to see the report). But those numbers are a lot smaller than the numbers FAAN, researchers at the University of Chicago, and other food allergy experts have estimated – the usual estimate is about eight million children and four million adults in the U.S., and rate is estimated to have doubled among young children in the last five years.

Even though the CDC’s conservative numbers are much smaller than everyone else’s, they still show the same overall trend – food allergies are increasing rapidly, and we still don’t know why.

This latest finding from the CDC really didn’t add anything to what we know about food allergies. It didn’t say how close various cures may be. It didn’t say why the rate is increasing so drastically. It didn’t offer new ideas on how to prevent food allergies.

But it did spur the news media to discuss food allergies again, like this interesting AP news story on the Allergy and Asthma Source website and this report from Reuters. And this time, because the severity of food allergies is becoming more well-known, some news outlets took the opportunity to report on related stories. For example, ABC News did a report not on the CDC’s findings per se, but on the promising ongoing study on peanut desensitization (click here). They also included a link to an April story they did on school bullying using peanut products as weapons (click here).

Once upon a time, food allergies were considered too obscure to warrant any attention from news outlets. But now, food allergies are prevalent – celebrities talk about their food-allergic children, school districts around the country are tackling the problem head-on, and states are slowly but surely enacting guidelines for schools to use when handling children with food allergies. The U.S. is becoming more aware, and the news media is more willing to address the issue.

This is great news, indeed.

While we crave new advances, cures, and preventions, we are still happy with simply increasing awareness. Simply put, the more people in society who understand how dangerous food allergies are, the safer we food-allergic adults and our food-allergic children will be.

This week has been an encouraging week for us, because of the CDC’s release and the way the news media has responded to it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Teenagers, Rollercoasters, and Other Halloween Fears

Yesterday, my son and I went with some friends to Lagoon, our local amusement park. Each fall the park stays open on weekends for “Frightmares” – most of the rides are open, and they add a few haunted houses and change their musical shows to be sung by vampires or chainsaw-wielding loonies. It’s pretty fun, but yesterday was a beautiful, warm 70-degree day, and the entire state of Utah was there. The lines were so long we didn’t even bother trying to get into the haunted houses – it would have eaten up the few hours we had. So we stuck to the roller coasters and other rides, which suited us just fine.

Usually when we go to Lagoon, my son’s favorite treat is an Icee – one of those frozen slush drinks. We know they’re nut-free, so we don’t usually branch out of our comfort zone. Yesterday, however, the friend we were with wanted to get a snack, and my son decided he wanted something different.

“Please, Mom, can you ask about the pretzels?” he begged.

Grrr. I hate asking 16-year-old food service employees about food ingredients. The blank looks don’t do much for my confidence. And I especially hate trying to sort out the safety of food when there’s a long line forming behind me.

But because I dote on my son, I broke down. Surprisingly, the little kiosk that sold the pretzels didn’t have a line, so I had both 16-year-old employees to myself. “My son’s allergic to nuts,” I began. “Do you know if your pretzels have any nut contamination?”

Blank looks. “Uh…” one said. The future of America, I thought to myself, and shuddered.

I tried again. “Or maybe you have the packaging that the pretzels came in, and I could check the ingredients label?”

That lit a light-bulb. “Oh, maybe…” she said, and rummaged under the counter. She pulled out a giant flattened cardboard box and pushed it up to the small window so I could read it.

The only big-8 allergen it listed was wheat! My son did his little air-guitar victory dance right there in the middle of the sidewalk.

Both 16-year-old employees looked a little bewildered, but they were happy to sell me a pretzel.

So that was my success story for the week. I nudged myself out of my comfort zone and braved a couple of glassy-eyed teenagers, and my son not only lived to tell about it, but he got to add a new treat to his repertoire. And I got to be the hero.

All-in-all, it was a good day. Well, except for the part about sitting in the front row of the Wicked rollercoaster. I’m still trying to forget that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trick-or-Treating Safely

Wednesday night, we held our October meeting for the Davis County chapter of the Utah Food Allergy Network. We welcomed a new member to our group – he’d just found out a few days before about his children’s allergies, so we helped him by discussing safe brands of food, suggestions for surviving restaurant outings, and other ways to handle this new world of living with food allergies.

We also talked about Halloween. Trick-or-treating time is only two weeks away! Kids everywhere are choosing their costumes, begging for big orange pumpkins, and dreaming of giant bags of candy.

But for us parents of food allergic kids, Halloween can be stressful. Should we let them go trick-or-treating? Should we have a party instead? Should we stay home, lock the doors, and turn out the lights? What about that giant bag of unsafe candy?!!

In our family, we’ve discovered that the candy is really the least important part of the holiday. The adventure is the best part. Candy seems like the goal (“I’m going to fill this WHOLE bucket!”), but it’s really just the excuse for dressing up, running around the neighborhood in the dark squealing with flashlights, and getting together with friends.

Focus on the adventure, and create your Halloween traditions around the parts of the holiday your kids love best. If they like to trick-or-treat, don’t be afraid of that. There are plenty of things you can do with unsafe candy afterwards, and if the kids know about the rules ahead of time, it will be surprisingly easy to keep them safe while doing it.

Here are some tips for safe trick-or-treating that we talked about at our meeting:

Tip #1: No one eats anything until everyone gets home and the parent reads the label on every piece of candy. That way, no one is eating unidentified foods and having a reaction while you’re out in the dark a block away from home. Make sure the kids agree, understand, and agree again. No one sneaks anything (not even Dad).

Tip #2: If you child is super-sensitive to an ingredient, you might have them wear gloves with their costume, so that any allergenic candy that touches their hand on the way into the bag doesn’t cause a skin reaction. Toss the glove in the wash or in the trash when you get home.

Tipe #3: Unlabeled candy is assumed to be unsafe. Period. The only exceptions are brand-name candies that you are already familiar with and know are safe. (For example, I know Starbursts and Skittles are okay for my son, so I’ll let him keep those.) If there is a type of candy that he’s particularly interested in, I might promise to look for it at the store the next day, and read the ingredients there. But it goes into a separate container until we’ve seen it at the store and verified its safety.

Tip #4: Before you head out on your adventure, talk about what you’re going to do with any candy when the night is over. Here are some ideas:

1) Go trick-or-treating with a friend, and at the end of the night, dump both kids’ candy together, then make two piles – a “safe” pile for the allergic kid, and the other pile for the non-allergic kid. If they both know about this plan beforehand, they are usually more than willing to do this.

2) Buy a bag of safe candy ahead of time, and at the end of the night, let your child “trade” you for all the unsafe candy he brought home.

3) “Buy” the unsafe candy from your child – but establish a price ahead of time, such as a nickel a piece, a dollar a pound, or the whole kit and caboodle for a new DVD, a small toy, a trip to the movies, a night out with Dad, a visit to the dollar store, or other such treat.

4) Look for a dentist or other business in your area that buys candy from kids on the day after Halloween. There’s at least one dentist in Layton that does. The kids get money, and the dentist donates the candy to a children’s hospital, I think.

5) Let the child “donate” the unsafe candy to Mom or Dad, so they can take it to work and share it with their coworkers.

6) Let the child donate the unsafe candy to a local women’s shelter, food bank, homeless shelter, or family of an Iraqi soldier – the soldiers always seem to appreciate candy that they can share with friends or give to Iraqi children.

Don’t let Halloween spook you. There are plenty of ways to celebrate safely – have a party at your house, go trick-or-treating with a plan for replacing the unsafe candy, visit a haunted house or Lagoon’s Frightmares, or rent The Nightmare Before Christmas and snuggle up together in the dark.

An especially fun idea for celebrating is to go to UFAN’s Halloween party on October 25 – it’s a food-free party that every kid will love! Click here for more details!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hunting the Elusive Safe Candy Corn

It’s that time of year again – candy corn season! I love candy corn. I don’t know why. It’s kind of a ridiculous craving. After all, what’s so appealing about artificially colored bits of sugar? Beats me. But it’s hard for me to get into the autumn spirit without it.

Alas, it’s a bitter-sweet craving, though, because there are no brands of candy corn that are nut-free. (Not to mention they usually contain egg, too.) Three years ago, Target produced their own bags of candy corn that had no nut warnings on them. I was ecstatic! I even had their service desk call their manufacturing plant, who assured me that there was no nut contamination! Finally, my son could try my favorite Halloween treat! He loved them, and I was thrilled!

Unfortunately, it was a short-lived thrill. The next year, they didn’t offer that candy anymore. Oh sure, I finally get to share candy corn with my son, he’s developed a candy-corn sweet tooth like his mother, and now I can’t get them anymore. Great. So now I’m back to compulsively checking the ingredients label of every bag of candy corn I walk by. All brands we’ve found have a nut cross-contamination warning. I even asked my wonderfully helpful contact, Ronni, at Enjoy Life! Foods for help finding some. She asked her contact at the Allergy Grocer, and that contact said that no one is making allergen-safe candy corn yet.


My friend Kim was laughing at her own desperation this weekend, because she discovered a greeting card in the store that contained a small packet of candy corn, and she found herself reading the ingredients label, hoping they were safe. She was already calculating how many of the greeting cards she’d have to buy in order to get a reasonable candy-dish full of the colorful little treats when she found the words in the ingredients label that dashed her hopes. They weren’t safe.

So, what’s a food-allergic mom to do? Hit the internet for a do-it-yourself solution, of course. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to not fear the mixing bowl. This morning, I went on the hunt. Surely someone somewhere has tackled the elusive candy corn and developed their own recipe, right?

Right! I found a vegan recipe for candy corn at “The Urban Housewife” blog. Click here for the recipe. It does call for soy milk, but I'm hoping you can substitute rice milk if you're allergic to soy. I haven’t tried making it yet (I’m going to have to psych myself up for a 15-minute kneading session, since I haven’t worked out in … uh… decades?... and my upper arm muscles bear a striking resemblance to Jell-O), so I can’t vouch for the recipe, but it looks reasonable and the photos look tasty. (Maybe I can just show the photos to my son. “Here, sweetie, don’t they look tasty? Just pretend Mommy made some for you, ‘kay?”)

But if you’re a candy-corn junkie like me, and you’ve got the upper body strength to wrestle these little morsels into shape, this might be just the ticket to a tasty Halloween! And I like the Urban Housewife’s suggestion of hosting a candy-corn-making party so that you can share the kneading duties with friends. What a great idea for a kids’ party activity, too!

So all hope is not lost for us candy corn addicts. Where there’s a sweet-tooth, there’s a way. Enjoy this recipe, and many thanks to the Urban Housewife for sharing her recipe!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Made a Card!

OK, all you crafty types... I made a card for World Card Making Day and posted it on that website to share. You can see it by clicking here (I'm "NoPeanutsMom").

I am NOT a card-maker. So my effort is kind of wimpy. But surely someone out there can make a cooler card about food allergies. Do it, post it, and help raise awareness!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Celebrate World Card Making Day!

Are you ready for the third annual World Card Making Day? It’s almost here – this Saturday, October 4, is the big day! It’s a day set aside for card-makers all over the world to share the fun of card-making.

You might think I’m joking, but I’m not. Retail stores all over the world are hosting card-making events like workshops, classes, contests, and sales. Craft bloggers are blogging about it. Card-making enthusiasts are having card-making parties with their friends and family.

It’s a pretty big deal in paper-crafting circles. How do I know so much about it? I’m the project manager of World Card Making Day, working for CKMedia, the publishers of magazines like Paper Crafts, Simple Scrapbooks, Creating Keepsakes, and Digital Scrapbooking. As a freelance writer, I do a lot of work for CKMedia, but managing World Card Making Day was something new for me. I didn’t even know such a holiday existed before, but now that I’ve experienced it first-hand, I love it!

As part of the World Card Making Day festivities, ordinary card-makers like you and me are invited to post of photo of a card we make on the official World Card Making Day website’s Creation Corner Gallery. Every day this week, the editors of Paper Crafts magazine will select one card from the Gallery and post it as the Featured Card on the Paper Crafts website. (Featured cards even win a prize!)

So I had a great idea for World Card Making Day – what if we took this opportunity to make a card to send to someone we know who lives with food allergies? Make the card, take a photo of it, and post it on the World Card Making Day site. You’ll spread awareness of food allergies, brighten someone’s day, and maybe even win a prize!

What kind of card could you make for food allergies? Here are some ideas:

· A “Cheer Up” card for someone who’s had a rough week with food allergies.
· A “Thinking of You” card, with an allergen-free recipe tucked inside.
· A “Thank You” card for someone who went out of the way to help your family with food allergies, such as a parent who served popsicles instead of ice cream at their kid’s birthday party because your milk-allergic child was invited, or a relative who left the almonds out of the traditional family green bean casserole at the last holiday gathering.
· A “Thank You” card for a teacher who eliminated peanuts from her classroom.
· A “Happy Birthday” card for a food-allergy parent, attached to a new allergen-free cookbook.
· A “Happy Halloween” card, with a list of things to do with unwanted Halloween candy after trick-or-treating, like addresses of dentists who buy back candy for cash.

I’m sure we can all come up with more great ideas for telling people how much we appreciate them in our ongoing battle to keep our families safe.

So get out your scissors and paper, get crafting, and brighten someone’s day! Then share your card with the rest of the world by posting it online here.

Happy World Card Making Day!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Egg Cartons and Pinto Beans

Every year, Kim and I get to search for safe alternatives at our sons’ school for parties, craft supplies, and other activities. It begins to feel like a scavenger hunt sometimes: “We need some egg-, milk-, and nut-free gum drops to use on a gingerbread house. I’ll start with the stores on the west side. You hit the stores on the east.”

We’ve already had our first scavenger hunt of the year now. Our boys’ fourth grade teacher uses egg cartons and pinto beans to help her students understand division and multiplication. They use the twelve sections of the egg carton and divide up the beans between them – a good tactile reinforcement of math.

The only problem is, the used egg cartons the teacher has been saving for several months to use in the classroom aren’t safe for Kim’s egg-allergic boy. So off on a scavenger hunt we went!

First, I tried ice cube trays. At Target, the ice cube trays had sixteen compartments. At the dollar store, they had fourteen compartments. I stood in the aisle, a mountain of blue and white ice cube trays in front of me, and called Kim. “They have 14 compartments. Do you think that’s okay?”

“Maybe we could saw the extra two off the end,” she suggested.

“Or maybe we could paint the extra two compartments a different color and tell the kids not to use them,” I said.

Both solutions sounded kind of lame. We thought for a minute. Then Kim had an idea. “Forget the ice cube trays,” she said. “Let me make some phone calls.”

Later that afternoon, Kim had found an egg farm in the phone book, called them, and spoke to a nice man who just happened to have several dozen brand-new, unused egg cartons, still in their plastic wrappers, sitting in his office. It turns out they’d changed their packaging recently, and these egg cartons were the leftover old style and he didn’t know what to do with them.

Kim did.

So she drove out to the egg farm, and drove away with 54 unused, uncontaminated egg cartons.

When she took them to the school this morning, the teacher gave her a strange look. Kim quickly explained why these cartons were safe, and the teacher was very relieved. “I thought surely you should know egg cartons weren’t safe for your own kid!” the teacher laughed.

So all is good now. I’m buying a new bag of pinto beans this afternoon for the teacher to use (because her old ones would be contaminated with last year’s used egg cartons). So by tomorrow, the kids will be multiplying and dividing their way to a whole new level.

And Kim and I can chalk up another successful scavenger hunt!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fresh Veggies and Other Signs of Fall

It’s September, and the leaves on the mountainside are turning. The hummingbirds, tired from their air battles at the feeders during August, are zooming off on their migrations. The geese, which have been practicing flying in formation over our house for weeks, have finally gotten the “V” thing down (after various ill-advised attempts at other letters of the alphabet, such as “Q,” which generally involved mid-air collisions and noisy retorts of indignation). They’re nearly ready for their southern journey.

Evenings are chillier; afternoons are bright and warm, but no longer hot. The swimsuits are put away, and a few sweaters have moved to the front of the closet. And the farmers’ markets and fruit stands are stocked with the vegetables and fruits of fall.

At our Davis County UFAN chapter meeting last week, we celebrated the return of fall by sharing some favorite veggie recipes, all free of the top 8 food allergens. It turns out, all but one were sweet potato recipes – but all were different and delicious!

Our discussion topics ran the gamut, as they usually do. We discussed doctors, and how a board-certified allergist that is experienced in food allergies can get completely different test results from a general practitioner or pediatrician who merely dabbles in allergies. We applauded the ways one member found to boost the nutritional value of rice milk for her daughter. We talked about how the Alexander the Elephant Goes to School DVD does a great job of teaching school-kids about food allergies, and two members gave their copies to another member to show to a kindergarten class.

As usual, the discussion was lively and informative, and we enjoyed being together. For those of you who couldn’t join us, here’s my recipe for Fasoulakia (also spelled Fashoulakia – Greek Green Beans with Tomatoes). Enjoy!


1 c. onions, diced
2 T olive oil
1/4 c. safe margarine
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes (don’t drain), or about 5 fresh tomatoes, diced
2 cans (14.5 oz each) green beans, drained (I prefer whole beans, not cut), or about 2 lbs fresh green beans (steamed)
2 cubes Knorr’s beef or chicken bouillon (Knorr’s is egg- and milk-free, but Wyler’s isn’t safe)
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
fresh oregano or parsley, chopped (optional)

Over medium heat, sauté onions in oil and margarine until they begin to get transparent. Do not over-brown them. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. (If using fresh tomatoes, add a little water to keep moist.) Cook about 5 minutes (or a little longer if using fresh tomatoes). Add green beans, bouillon cubes, garlic, and chopped herbs (optional). Cook for 5 more minutes or until heated through. Don’t let all the liquid boil off or the beans will burn, so if necessary, add just a little water. Serves 6.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Off to a Good Start

Two weeks of school gone; only 37 more to go. Not that my son’s counting or anything. But when his favorite subjects are recess and P.E., and P.E. is only taught once a week, the days get kind of long.

Personally, I’m glad the first two weeks are over. Those are usually the most stressful for me and Kim (the mom of my son’s best friend), because that’s when we make the rounds giving food allergy presentations in school. First, we meet with our boys’ teachers to tell them about their allergies and talk to them about classroom strategies, such as keeping their lunch boxes separate from all the other kids’, identifying a location for their medicine, and so on.

Next, our principal invites us to give a presentation at her staff meeting, so we can tell ALL the teachers about food allergies. Because we give this talk every year, some of the teachers have heard it so many times they joke that they could give the talk themselves. But none of them take me up on my offer to trade places! And they admit the refresher is helpful. Other teachers are new to our school – and some are new to the United States – so the presentation is even more valuable for them. This year, our school has a nursing consultant (a parent volunteer who has officially signed on with our school to be our health official), so she helped with our presentation this year, which was very reassuring.

Finally, Kim and I gave one more presentation – this one to the lunch room staff, several of whom are new this year.

Because Kim and I have done these presentations every year, we no longer have to screw up our courage to go plead to get on their agendas. At this point, it’s an accepted and assumed notion that we’ll be doing these presentations, so the principal and the lunchroom manager actually came to us and asked us when we could come do our presentations.

That’s a great feeling. It shows us that food allergy awareness and precautions are important in our school. It doesn’t mean we never have food issues at school. We do, frequently. But there are precedents, rules, and guidelines, and when a problem comes up, we have those to rely on and to help resolve those issues. We’re not re-inventing the wheel every time a question arises, and we’re not fighting as much of an uphill battle.

So the school year is off to a good start, and the teachers and lunchroom staff are as prepared as we can help them be.

Now, if we can just get through the next 37 weeks...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Preparing for Natural Disasters

We had a little storm this morning. The clouds grew black, the lightning and thunder struck, and the rain fell for about 15 minutes. We even got a bit of pea-sized hail. Now it’s cool (50 degrees), cloudy, and breezy, with a bit more rain just starting to fall. My son’s soccer practice got cancelled, and he and his friend are playing in the basement today instead of out riding their skateboards. So much for a Labor Day last-day-of-summer kind of holiday.

But as Labor Days go, we’re having a MUCH better one than the folks along the coast in Mississippi and Louisiana. Hurricane Gustav is lashing at levees in New Orleans, shredding the cypress trees in Gulfport, and tearing at emotional and physical scars just starting to heal from Katrina three years ago.

It’s hard to imagine living through a natural disaster. At least today, because the sky was low and menacing when I woke up, I felt a small connection to the people in Gustav’s path. When Katrina hit New Orleans three years ago, I stood on my porch and looked out at a beautiful blue-sky day, and tried very hard to understand the devastation going on at that very moment in Louisiana. It seemed impossible that the weather over my head could be so very different from – and indifferent to – what was going on there.

Every time a natural disaster hits somewhere in the world, I think of all those people trying to escape. If they have a few minutes, they throw some scant belongs into a suitcase and hit the road. How do you decide in a few minutes what to take and what to leave behind?

Personally, it takes me at least 12 hours to pack a suitcase for a weekend away. And that’s when it’s a planned holiday, not a mad rush for safety. So years ago, when an earthquake had hit California on another holiday, and I spent the day watching the news reports, I decided to finally do what all the experts recommend – pack an emergency kit. With the TV showing photos of crumpled bridges and buildings, I got out a notepad and began making a list. Then I went to the store and began stocking up on all the things I knew I’d need.

Now, every year I go through our emergency kit and update it. I replenish the food. I swap out old medications for new ones. I take out the clothes my son’s outgrown and put in bigger sizes. I update the phone numbers and financial information that we would need if we found ourselves evacuating on short notice.

One thing I make sure I have is plenty of food that my son can eat, as well as his Benadryl and EpiPens. When I hear about people staying in emergency shelters, I worry about the ones who show up with food allergies. I doubt the shelters are equipped to handle people with food allergies – especially multiple food allergies. Perhaps they are – maybe they have meals set aside for people allergic to gluten, milk, eggs, and nuts. But more likely, they’re making do with whatever they have on hand, and the cross-contamination alone must be a constant threat.

If you have an emergency kit, or if the Gustav hurricane footage is making you think today is the day to put one together, be sure you put safe food, Benadryl, and EpiPens at the top of your list. One emergency at a time is enough.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to School Volunteering

First day of school.

The new clothes. The new backpack. The new lunch box. The new scissors. The new binder. The new haircut. The new EpiPens.

For my son, it’s back to the school morning rush, the homework, and the little social dramas that make up the school day. It’s back to a regular schedule and regular bedtimes and regular dinners.

For me, it’s back to my second volunteer job (in addition to my regular job and my other volunteer job). All school year, I volunteer in my son’s school. My son loves for me to be there. At 4th grade, he’s still happy to see me walk into his classroom. He even hugs me. It’s gratifying to see that as much as he wants to hurry up and become a grumpy, angst-ridden, sullen teenager, there’s still my little sunshiny kid inside there. So I carve a few hours out of my crazy work schedule to spend time in the classroom.

There’s another benefit to my being in the school every week that my son doesn’t realize. And, no, I don’t just mean that I can spy on him when I’m sitting in the back of the room sorting math worksheets. Because I’m in there so often, the teachers get to know me. They know they can count on me. They get to know me on a friendly basis, and we develop a sort of relationship that is much stronger than it would be if we only saw each other once every semester at those slightly nerve-wracking parent-teacher conferences.

That kind of relationship comes in handy when you have a food-allergic kid. If the only time they ever saw me was when I had a worry or a complaint about food in the classroom, I don’t think they’d ever be very happy to see me. I would become “THAT” mom, and no one ever enjoys being "THAT" mom. "THAT" moms seldom succeed in getting teachers to accommodate them willingly.

I’ve also found that just seeing me in the hallway often reminds teachers to ask me about upcoming food issues, like whether they can have salsa and chips on Cinco de Mayo. I’ve heard the sentence, “Oh, you just reminded me… tomorrow we’re doing such and such with food, is that okay?” so many times, that I know they’d never remember to call me and ask about these things before-hand. So by being visible to them on a weekly basis, I jog their memory and keep the food allergy issues at the front of their mind. Otherwise, I’m sure they’d forget.

I understand. Teachers are just as frantically busy as I am. When ever hour of the day is filled with half-a-dozen urgent tasks, we forget things. We have good intentions. But we still forget.

So I take a deep breath, set my alarm a little earlier, and work a couple of hours of volunteering into my weekly schedule. It makes my son happy. It makes the teachers happy. It makes the other kids in school who have allergies happy (even if they don’t know it).

And it makes me happy (even if I’m grumbling about the less-than-attractive bags under my eyes), because it makes the school a little bit safer for my son. After all, I want him to use the new scissors, the new backpack, and the new lunch box. But I don’t want him to use those new EipPens. Not even once.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's Back to School Time!

First things first: Oksana Chusovitina won the silver medal last night! Yea! (I’m not even going to mention how it should have been a gold, and Alicia Sacramone should have gotten the bronze. No siree. Not gonna mention it.)

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…

As of today, there is one more week of freedom for my son. One more week of staying up too late, hanging out with friends, reveling in the glorious sunshiny afternoons of summer vacation.

Then, blammo! Just like that, it will be all over, and then it’s back to uniforms, lunchboxes, worksheets, sitting still at a desk all day, asking permission to go to the bathroom, and worst of all – homework.

My son is refusing to think about it. As far as he’s concerned, life is one big summer, punctuated by annoying periods of darkness called school, which he effectively wipes from his memory every June.

Whether or not HE wants to think about it, I HAVE to. And so do a lot of other parents. That’s why back-to-school was the topic of discussion at our Davis County chapter meeting of UFAN last week.

We welcomed six new families to our group last week. Some were newly diagnosed with food allergies and trying to find out how to adjust to a new way of thinking about food. Others have been living with food allergies for a while, but are facing preschool or school for the first time. Some came from as far away as West Jordan and Riverton. Others were from here in Layton.

We talked about ways to prepare for the new school year – one member described how she just showed her daughter’s kindergarten class the Alexander the Elephant food allergy video from FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network), which helps explain the seriousness of food allergies to kids.

We also discussed food allergy tables in the lunchroom, ways to minimize contact with peanut butter and milk on doorknobs and trashcans, and giving presentations to teachers.

From there, we ranged onto other topics that always seem to be seething just below the surface – why family members are often the hardest to convince that food allergies are both real and as serious as we say, how to fly in a plane full of peanuts, how you have to read labels EVERY TIME in case a manufacturing process or recipe changes, and how to cook when family members are allergic to drastically different things.

It was a lively discussion, and on that left us all with new ideas, new suggestions – and a few new worries. Of course, that’s the way life is. But it also left us looking forward to next month’s meeting, to seeing what new things we can share.

Last spring, I posted some tips for dealing with your child’s school. I’ll repeat them here, in the hopes that they help smooth the way for other parents this week. Good luck, and enjoy these remaining few days of summer. I know my son is.

1. Volunteer a lot, so the staff knows you and counts on you (not just for allergy issues). If the only time they see you is when there's a food allergy, then you may start feeling like they're whispering "Oh no, here she comes again." But if they see you as a "Gosh, what would we do without her" kind of volunteer, then the occasional food issue will be coming from a great mom who's making a reasonable request.

2. If someone else is already the class mom, or you can't volunteer for that position, tell the teacher you really need to attend all parties and field trips because of the food allergy. The teacher may want to let the other parents know that you'll be selected for all the special events because of the food allergy, so that they don't think the teacher is playing favorites or something.

3. Ask the principal if there are other food allergic kids in the same grade, and if they can be assigned to the same teacher. That makes it easier for the allergic parents to trade off field-trip and party chaperone duties, it puts all the kids in the same class so that the classroom can be more allergen-free, and gives you some backup in food issues. (It's nice to NOT be the only one.) Statistically, about one in twenty kids has a food allergy, so chances are good there will be more kids than just your child.

4. Volunteer to shop for all the snacks or food materials for classroom parties or food educational units (like making noodle necklaces or gingerbread houses, etc.). Tell the teacher if she'll collect money donations, you'll go buy all the ingredients. They're usually delighted to get out of having to shop.

5. Make several copies of your Food Allergy Action Plan (see FAAN’s website) and ask to hang one in the office, the cafeteria kitchen, and the classroom, so that your child's photo and "What to do in case of a reaction" instructions are handy no matter where he is.

6. Practice with your child what he should do if he "feels funny." Role-play and pretend you're the teacher, and have him come up and tell you what's wrong. Often our kids are too shy about asking for help, so have him practice with you, and with the teacher if possible. Not only does that give your child words to use if something happens, but it helps impress upon the teacher how important it is.

7. I get on my principal's staff meeting agenda at the first of the year and give a 5-minute talk about allergies and demonstrate the EpiPen. I also give a presentation to my son's class, and all the teachers and aides he comes into contact with. If you're not comfortable doing this, ask if there are other allergic parents that you can contact. Talk to them about ways to teach the teachers -- maybe another mom would be willing to give the presentation if you make the photocopies. It's easier when there are two of you involved!

8. Remember, In Utah, your child can legally carry his EpiPen. But he probably can't administer it to himself in an emergency, so make sure the teachers and everyone else know where it is and how to use it. My son carries his in his backpack so that it's always in the classroom, and I also fill a second prescription and they keep it in the office. So he has two sets at school.

9. If he's going to be having lunch at school, talk to the Lunch Lady and cafeteria monitor. Introduce your child, tell her what your child is allergic to, and let your child know that the Lunch Lady is a friend that will help keep him safe. Then remember the Lunch Lady and the cafeteria monitor on holidays with little thank you cards or gifts to show you appreciate them. Few people do that. But it will help keep your child's food issues fresh in their mind, and they'll get to know him well.

10. Ask about setting up a food table just for allergic kids. All that’s required is a table with a sign that says allergies only, and the cafeteria monitors clean it with a separate marked bucket and cloth. Don’t let them make your child eat in a separate room or the principal’s office. He shouldn’t be punished just because he’s allergic to some foods! Ask the principal to mention the allergy table in a newsletter or other information that goes home with kids at the beginning of the year. You may find other kids with allergies expressing an interest in sitting at the table if they know it’s available.

11. Ask the parents of your child’s friends to send safe lunches with them every once in a while, so they can eat with your child. Make it a fun place to be!

12. Most peanut-allergic kids don’t react to the smell of peanut butter in the air, but a few do. If you are worried if your child will react to the air in the cafeteria, ask to take him in for a “practice run” right now. Sit in the cafeteria for half an hour and see if he reacts. If he doesn’t, cross that worry off your list.

13. Eat lunch with him for the first few days. That will reassure both of you that you can both handle this!

14. Talk to the teacher about which cafeteria door your child should use to avoid peanut butter contact (usually the one furthest from the playground), where to put his lunch bag after lunch, and where his EpiPens will be.

15. Remind your child NOT to throw away his lunch trash. Tell him to bring it home in his lunch bag, so that he can avoid using the trash can. If another kid slam-dunks a half-full milk carton in the trash can, you don’t want your milk-allergic child to get splashed.

16. Be aware and be prepared, but don't panic! School is going to be a lot of fun, and your child will do just fine. And believe it or not, so will you!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Olympic Hero in Every Mom

When we are young, we think we are strong. We feel immortal. We feel powerful. We feel limitless and chosen.

Then we have a child. Suddenly, we are reduced to bumbling, stupid weaklings. It takes every ounce of strength we thought we had just to make it through another sleepless night. When our baby cries, we cry, undone by the helplessness of not knowing why he’s crying. We despair, thinking our parenting skills inadequate to raising a child capable of thriving in a suddenly dangerous world.

When our child is sick, we grow sick with worry. When our child stumbles, our soul is bruised. When our child’s heart breaks over some perceived injustice, our heart shatters.

I never knew how weak I was until I had a child.

Last night, I was watching the Olympics like several million other human beings on this planet (and probably a few on the international space station), and I saw one of those pithy little overly sentimental profiles that they run periodically to give a “human interest” angle to some of the athletes. The profile introduced us to Oksana Chusovitina.

My definition of strength changed in the course of a few minutes.

Oksana Chusovitina is a gymnast. She’s in her fifth Olympics. She’s 33. She’s more than twice the age of most of her competitors. And she’s a mom of a boy who has fought leukemia.

And she nailed that vault. Twice.

The fact that she’s been competing for 20 years in a sport that exacts so high a physical price that most competitors peak at the age of 17 or 18 is impressive. That alone deserves high praise. To keep her body performing at that level for decade after decade is truly a Herculean feat.

The fact that she’s competed for three different countries (the Unified—formerly Soviet—team, Uzbekistan, and now Germany), during her Olympic career is incredible.

The fact that she’s able to put up with all those squabbling, giggling, petty teenagers surrounding her for so many years is commendable.

The fact that she was able to continue that grueling training and get her body back into competing shape after she had a baby is practically miraculous (as all of us who have struggled to lose those extra baby fat pounds know).

But it all pales when you learn that when she discovered her child had leukemia, her world turned upside down. Faced with a lack of cancer hospitals in her home country of Uzbekistan, she made a life-altering choice. She called a gymnastics acquaintance in Germany and asked for help.

Most of us don’t like to ask for help. Ever. We’ll tie ourselves into pretzels before ever asking anyone else to hold the door for us as we wrestle with 6 bags of groceries. We think it’s a sign of weakness to ask anyone for help. And we want to think of ourselves as strong, of course.

But Oksana asked for help. And the head coaches of a gymnastics club in Cologne, Germany, gave it to her. She moved to Germany where her son began cancer treatment, and she began training with the German club. Because of residency requirements, she couldn’t compete for Germany for three years, so she continued to compete for Uzbekistan while she trained in Germany, all while her son slowly recovered from his leukemia.

In 2006, she finally gained German citizenship, so this year she is a proud member of the German team. And her son, according to the profile last night, is healthy and pretty darn good at doing backbends, himself.

I wonder if Oksana would have retired from gymnastics by now if she’d had a healthy boy who didn’t need expensive, drastic cancer treatments. I’m sure she wouldn’t have uprooted her tiny family and moved to a completely different country, away from family, friends, and familiar routines. But the things we do to save our children are the things we do without thinking about them, without considering consequences to our own lives or bodies, without hesitation, and without fear.

When it comes to loving our children, we are fierce, and tireless, and strong beyond all measure.

Oksana won her first Olympic medal before any of her teammates were even born, and there’s a good chance she could win another one this week at the age of 33, but that isn’t want makes this woman strong. It’s that she had a child, and she makes herself strong to keep him strong.

Go Oksana. Grab that medal. Or not. Whether you win or lose, millions of us mothers feel a little stronger today because of you.

You’re everything an Olympic hero should be, and more: you’re a mom.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Guest Blogger Kim Martin: Our First Child-Free Vacation

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that Kim Martin is one of my dearest friends, and one of her sons has food allergies and happens to be my son's best friend. Last week, Kim and her husband took a short vacation for the first time without their kids. (The kids thought it was great to have fun 4-day sleepovers with friends. My son thought having a brother for a few days was a blast!) I asked Kim if she'd like to blog about what it was like to spend some quality time with her husband for a change. Enjoy!


This past week I did the unthinkable. For the first time in over ten years, I left my children behind and went on vacation with my neglected husband. We had never left the kids for many reasons (e.g., they would miss us, we would be miss them, and the biggest: who would safely feed our son who is allergic to milk, eggs, nuts, peanuts, seafood, sesame seeds, raw tomato and raw peaches). Now it seemed we had nothing to hold us back. The kids now ten, eight, and six, are old enough to understand that we will be back, we will call and talk to them, and we have amazing friends that understand food allergies and always have forethought about allergies when making decisions for our children. I was out of excuses!

My husband and I began out journey to San Diego at the Salt Lake City airport. We missed breakfast in our frantic attempt to return library books and rented movies before leaving town. We decided that before the flight we should grab a snack from one of the shops in the airport. We shared with each other that even though our son was not with us we needed to choose something nut-free out of respect for those flying with nut allergies. Oh, how our thinking has changed over the years!

We arrived in sunny California and went straight to Seaport Village. We set out for a lunch of seafood and a stroll along the beach with ice cream cones. It felt strange to eat and snack without reading ingredients or packing safe alternatives. We left food allergies behind for four days and three nights. Or did we? Yes, we could eat these foods and not worry about kissing our son and having a reaction, but our daily habits were to remain. We still found that we must wash our hands before touching things. After all, I would be returning home with the purse I carried with me to the restaurant. This had become our life and it’s a nice one. We don’t mind it. We just do it.

My husband and I talked of having “unsafe” food in our hotel room. Before food allergies we both loved nuts and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We planned to visit the store and stock up on the contraband. I think we both thought we missed it more than we actually did, because we never went to the store. Sometimes we hear people in our life glamorize food and the taste and start to feel like maybe we are missing something. I found when given the choice we didn’t choose it anyway. These talks I give my kids about food and its use in nourishing the body, not to shove it into your body for taste, have found their way into my thinking, too. How interesting.

As a couple we spent our time focusing on each other. We found we weren’t missing anything from our previous life before food allergies (except energy and enough hours in the day).

It’s amazing to me what becomes important in life when faced with obstacles. For us, it’s our marriage, our three children, family, and having such amazing friends. These friends made it possible to go on vacation without even considering food allergies into the equation. Yes, we have had to overcome some big obstacles, but I feel like this is the happiest, luckiest, most amazing time of my life. I couldn’t ask for more.

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's a War Out There

Most of us grow up thinking of food as a good thing. It’s healthy, tasty, comforting, expected, needed, depended on, craved, enjoyed, shared, loved. We never expect it to turn on us. But then, in the blink of an eye – or the pop of a hive, or the wheeze of a constricted airway – a once-benign food betrays us and we’re left reeling from the shock.

No longer our friendly companion, that food has suddenly become “the enemy.” We begin to see that, like any enemy, that food has infiltrated all corners of our lives. It lurks in every snack, every meal, every social gathering. Its insidious influence invades our schools, our entertainment, our church, our homes. We can no longer trust that our world is protected. This bad food has infiltrators – okay, so most people call them allergens – in every aspect of our lives, and we no longer feel safe. Our innocence disappears faster than a tax refund.

Discovering my son’s peanut and tree nut allergy was just this sort of betrayal. As for myself, my three favorite vices are potato chips, margaritas, and a good cup of coffee. Discovering that I have diabetes put a big dent in the first two, and an irregular heartbeat has just put the kibosh on the third one. Granted, all three were vices I’m probably better living without, but still, they were MY vices, I was kind of fond of them, and as vices go they certainly could have been worse. Why couldn’t I have suddenly developed an allergic reaction to, say, cleaning toilets or a health condition that could only be cured by moving to a tropical paradise? No such luck.

It takes a long time to build up our defenses after they’ve been breached by a double-crossing food. We have to teach ourselves new ways to cook. We must retrain our families to live without foods they’ve trusted all their lives. We put our allergic kids through food training boot-camp, trying to convince them that they have to give up foods they used to love, so that they can once again be safe. We build an arsenal of new recipes and EpiPens.

It often feels like a silent war we’re waging. From the outside, perhaps we look fairly normal and in control of our lives. But within the borders of our hearts, we know the battles we’re waging and the victories we count (and the losses we try not to).

With time, patience, and determination, each of us eventually reduces our all-out war to a peaceful truce – where we secure a safe home and some trusted allies in the form of friends, family, and schools. We still might find ourselves with the occasional border skirmish on our hands, but over all, we come to understand the enemy, find ways to limit its affect on us, and build healthier lives without it.

And while we must always remain on guard against our new food enemy, eventually we make our worlds secure enough that once again we can turn our attention to the more fulfilling parts of our lives, like enjoying a soccer game without fuming over the post-game snacks, or watching a great movie without mindlessly downing a giant tub of popcorn, or enjoying all the fun of a birthday party without pining for a slice of refined-sugar, fat-laden, cardboard-tasting birthday cake.

In short, we get to “make life, not war.”

This week is my blog’s anniversary. I started writing this weekly blog one year ago, and it’s been an eye-opening, fulfilling year. I’ve learned a lot about food allergies, and shared a lot with all of you who read this each week. Thanks!

Here’s to another year in the trenches with you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Allergy-Safe Camping

Two weekends ago, I was dirty, sunburned, covered in eau de bug spray that only marginally worked, bathed in wood smoke, blinking ash out of my eyes, and engaged in competitive mosquito-slapping.

It was great! I was, of course, camping.

It was our second annual camping trip with a group of close friends – five families, for a total of ten kids and ten grown-ups. The kids range in age from 4 to almost 11, and they’ve all grown up together, so they’re a noisy, close-knit bunch that play at full-tilt from the time they rise until they begin to drop off around the campfire as the moon gleams and the parents laugh at old stories.

We spent two nights by a picturesque lake under towering pines on the north slope of the Uintas. The days were blue-sky gorgeous, and the nights were star-spangled and frosty cold. Camping in Utah is a joy, made better when you can split the cooking duties with other people.

We arrived Friday afternoon and left Sunday mid-day, so that meant we had five meals to deal with. After some complex mathematical calculations during our planning, we discovered that five meals divided by five families equals… let’s see, one meal per family, right? Yep. We’re purty smart.

So each family planned and prepared a single meal for the whole gang of twenty, and it made everyone’s weekend that much easier.

Because we have two allergic kids in the bunch, we make sure all meals and snacks are safe for them. The last thing we want is a life-threatening food reaction when we’re hours from the nearest hospital, so we simply ban all of their allergens from the entire campsite. All food the five families bring is free of milk, eggs, nuts, peanuts, and seafood.

Too restrictive? Not hardly. We ate like royalty!

Friday night was Susan’s fantastic kalua pork, rice, and salad, followed by a cherry chocolate birthday cake that was sinfully good.

Saturday morning was Necia’s fruit and cinnamon rolls on a stick, grilled over the open fire, along with bacon and breakfast cookies. When is breakfast ever that fun?

Lunch was a feast of Lorie’s delectable chicken salad and a smorgasbord of sandwich fixins on a variety of breads and tortillas.

For supper, Kim’s hobo dinners of beef, potatoes, green beans, and carrots all roasted in foil pouches over the campfire were delicious and really hit the spot after a hard day of fishing and Frisbee. And the roasted corn-on-the-cob was a first-of-the-season treat. Garlic bread was the finishing touch.

Sunday’s breakfast was my assignment, so I brought a variety of muffins – blueberry, chocolate chip, banana, and carrot cake – which I’d baked a few days earlier and frozen so they’d survive the trip. I also provided apple slices with Sunbutter for dipping.

All of those meals were completely free of milk, eggs, nuts, and seafood, but anyone who might have joined us would have never guessed. It was all delicious and nutritious, and there was plenty of it!

This group of friends has been close for seven or eight years now, so we’ve had a long time to get used to dealing with allergies and a long time to find delicious recipes. Each time we get together, it becomes a game for us moms to try out new concoctions. It’s fun, and nine times out of ten, it’s successful. (My chocolate chip muffins were a little too dense, but my carrot cake was a hit!)

Having food allergies hasn’t meant giving up on parties and get-togethers. It has meant we’ve come to appreciate this circle of friends (and more) who accept food allergies as a normal part of life, and who are infinitely willing to change their own cooking and eating habits for us. That is TRUE friendship.

We’re already planning next year’s camping trip, and I’m already coming up with some new muffin recipes to try. It’s the least I can do to thank these wonderful friends.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Changing Our Kids’ Eating Habits

Almost every month, a new person finds their way to our Davis County UFAN meetings. Often they or their children are newly diagnosed, and they’re struggling to find a way to ease this transition into thinking about food in a whole new way. We welcomed just such a mom to our group last week, so our discussion revolved around ways to help her five-year-old daughter learn to change her eating habits.

Teaching a child to avoid certain foods is hard. Doing it when that child is old enough to have already developed a taste for those foods is even harder.

Unfortunately, food allergies can develop at any time. (I became allergic to barley and avocado in my 20s.) In some ways, it may be easier to have your child’s allergies appear when they’re very young, before they learn to love fudge, or popcorn shrimp, or ice cream. Although there are safe versions of most foods, the tastes aren’t always the same, and it’s hard to get a six-year-old to understand why he can’t have the ice cream at Baskin Robbins now, when he could last month. But if he’s grown up knowing only the taste of soy ice cream, he doesn’t have that problem.

So when you’re faced with teaching an older child that managing her food allergies means giving up some of her favorite foods, it can be an uphill climb.

Some kids are so tired of being sick or miserable from symptoms like eczema, vomiting, or hives that they’re willing to give up those foods to feel better. But some kids really can’t seem to associate the bad reactions later with the yummy taste now. All they can focus on is the instant gratification – what happens later, even if it’s only ten minutes from now, doesn’t concern them. We have to be concerned for them and take on the role of food cop. And they don’t like it one bit. (Neither do we, frankly.)

Once again, we find that this parenting gig is hard. I know, I know, big surprise.

Of course, we’re not alone. Lots of parents face challenges when it comes to food, regardless of whether allergies are involved. It’s our job to teach our kids healthy eating habits. (And that’s made even more difficult when our own habits aren’t that great!)

We have to teach them why they can’t eat candy for breakfast. Why they can’t eat six popsicles in a single sitting. Why they have to eat at least one serving of veggies with their hot dog. Why they can’t eat the entire bag of Oreos right before dinner.

We try to teach about the food pyramid, or at least the four basic food groups (I never have gotten the hang of that pyramid). We teach portion size. We teach concepts like balanced meals, healthy choices, and why fiber helps them poop.

Then after all that teaching, we still find ourselves arguing over every bite of green veggie, every pilfered lollipop, every suspiciously empty wrapper.

It’s just another of those less-than-fun aspects of parenting we signed on for when we brought home that little bundle of joy. So our issue is teaching why food allergens make that brownie off-limits. The next parent is dealing with an empty Twizzler bag under the bed of their overweight child, or a meltdown over a can of soda with their diabetic kid, or the pizza party for the child in a kosher or vegan family.

We all have food issues, I guess. And what works for one child seldom works for the next, so it’s difficult to offer advice. Tricks and bribes, rewards and consequences, explanations and threats – we probably try ’em all at least once, with varying success. The only constants are vigilance and time. We talk ourselves blue, pull out our hair, and wring our hands to shreds because we have to. It’s our job, and we do it in the hopes that someday our kids will get to the point where they can manage their food issues themselves, competently and confidently (and maybe even better than we manage our own, if we're honest with ourselves!). And believe it or not, most of them really do get there.

So what can we parents do for each other? Offer support, encouragement, ideas, and cheers – the things we never get from those very kids we’re trying to help, but that make us feel a little better when coming from other parents sharing our dilemma.

Together, we’re that much stronger.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Being Allergic to Aluminum Stinks

I’ve spent the last week looking for my deodorant in all my usual stores. It’s not there. I’m afraid it’s gone for good.

I’m frustrated. I’m irritated. And in a few weeks when my last stick runs out, I’ll be smelly, too.

It stinks when you find a product you depend on, and suddenly either the stores stop selling it or the manufacturer stops making it.

I’m allergic to some metals, including aluminum. That makes it impossible for me to use antiperspirants, because they use an aluminum salt to work. I can wear deodorants that don’t include an antiperspirant, but all they seem to do is apply a little chemical-smelling perfume in an effort to out-smell the B.O. I’ve tried a bunch of them – including the infamous crystal – and none of them worked at all. It’s a sticky problem.

Then one sweet, happy day, I found an Adidas deodorant that uses something they call “Cotton-Tech.” Finally, something that works with my body chemistry! I love it. I depend on it. I can’t live without it. And now, I can’t find it. I can’t even locate a phone number to call to see if they still make it. Something’s rotten in the state of deodorants, I tell you.

This morning, I hunted online and found two online stores that appear to carry it. I guess I’ll have to pay a small fortune to have a dozen or so shipped to me, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the product arrives as advertised. If not, I’ll end up with a dozen sticks of something I can’t use. I worry that the shippers will substitute something they think looks similar. Do I smell a conspiracy? And I’ve learned that sometimes these stores are just getting rid of the remaining stock of a discontinued product, so this might be the end of my deodorant story. That’s the pits.

I wish stores had the flexibility to be more responsive to smaller groups of customers. There are a growing number of people who are trying to avoid aluminum now because of the suspected link to Alzheimer’s disease, and I’m sure I’m not the only person allergic to aluminum. I know that’s why Adidas gave this aluminum-free deodorant a chance. But I guess we still aren’t big enough of a group to convince the marketing arm of Adidas that they should continue to support this product.

I realize that retail economies force stores to carry only products that fit the largest number of customers, and large manufacturers will only continue to produce products that sell to a giant target base. If they don’t catch a whiff of success on the first try, they are quick to pull the plug.

Food allergic people are, unfortunately, becoming a larger target audience every day, so slowly but surely we’re sniffing out a few new products and resources every year that cater to us. But those of us with metal allergies are still pretty small in number, so I guess I’ll just have to be patient and bide my time until stores cater to me again.

In the meantime, I plan to support those online retailers and hope I get what I order. And if I don’t, you might want to stand upwind.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Relaxing at the Arts Festival

The Utah Arts Festival was this past weekend in Salt Lake City. On Saturday I went by myself, because I was speaking on a panel about the “writerly life” sponsored by the SLCC Community Writing Center. But Sunday was even more fun, because that’s when I took my son.

My son and I love to go to arts festival – we wander through the booths, looking at paintings, photography, pottery, and sculptures. We laugh at the funny things we see (and the funny people). We hit the Maui Wowi stand for an icy fruit smoothie. We listen to music. We pick out the things we’d buy if we were rich, like that really cool inlaid wood coffee table that was in three curvy triangular sections that could be pulled out into separate tables. Yeah, definitely that. And maybe that glass vase in shades of gold and turquoise. And the earrings with the silver doodads for me. And for my son, the garden sculpture made from an old army helmet that looked like a little creature driving a tank.

We stopped to listen to a guy playing a Chapman Stick – a stringed instrument that kind of combines both a guitar and a bass. We wandered through the children’s art yard, even though my son is getting a tad too big for the activities. He still liked playing the large variety of musical instruments from around the world that were set out for kids to try – especially the Chinese gong, which he whacked with great zeal. OK, I admit it. I tried it, too. I had never banged a real gong before, and really, that’s something you should definitely do before you die, right?

So we had a great time, just the two of us. (Dad’s on a business trip, so he missed out.)

At arts festivals like this, food is always ubiquitous. There are lots of food stands with culinary choices ranging from Thai food to Navajo tacos, pizza to crepes, Greek souvlaki to grilled corn on the cob. Usually, those food booths are clustered in just one area, which makes it easy to avoid. But for some reason, those cinnamon-roasted almond stands get scattered throughout the fair. They smell wonderful, but they always make me nervous when I walk by them.

This year, I noticed a nonprofit group was raising money by selling PB&J sandwiches and cold milk for $2. They had a booth in the food area, but they also hit upon an even more enterprising idea – they had a guy pulling a little wagon through the festival, selling the sandwiches from his wagon.

As marketing goes, it’s a great idea. Get the kid food out to where the kids are melting down. What’s more brilliant than that? When my son’s blood sugar drops, he gets really whiney and argumentative. If we’re out somewhere and it’s been too long since he ate, I’ve found that a quick soda (even though I’m not a big soda fan) is a great antidote to his downward-spirally attitude. He becomes a new kid almost instantly. So bringing PB&Js out to the masses is a great idea. I bet it saved a lot of temper tantrums this weekend.

But it still made me a little nervous to see that wagon driving around the booths. On the other hand, it only made me a LITTLE nervous. That’s when I realized how much my son is growing up. A few years ago, the sight of that wagon would have sent my heart pounding. But he’s old enough now, he’s not going to pick up a half-eaten sandwich off the ground and put it in his mouth. He’s not going to handle everything he sees. Of course, he did still pick up that gong mallet and strike a mighty blow with it. And who knows who handled that mallet before him?

But I realized that as he gets older, I’ve become much more relaxed in environments like the Arts Festival. I stay prepared, with his medicine and wet wipes handy. And I point out things like the roasted almond stand so that he’s aware of his environment and can take precautions. But it’s so nice to feel like we’re both watching out for him together, instead of me watching out for him, and him hell-bent on turning my hair gray.

So if you’re a parent of a toddler with allergies, take heart. It really does get easier as he gets older.

Of course, when he becomes a teenager, I’ll probably take that statement back. For a lot of reasons. But I’m not going to think about that just yet, okay?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Children’s Menus Are My Friends

I don’t want my baby to grow up. And not just for the normal reasons, like hormones, teenage angst, driver’s license agonies, and dating.

No, my concern is much bigger: I don’t want him to stop ordering off the children’s menu.

Yep, that’s right. I’m that shallow.

I like that he’s still 9 and still content with mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and burgers. That makes me happy—and not just because it only costs $5 (although that is certainly a nice bonus). My main problem is that once he starts ordering off the adult menu, it’s going to be a lot harder controlling the cross-contamination with nuts.

After all these years of navigating kids’ menus, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with where we can eat and what he can order. And the chance of cross-contamination is minimal – when they dump frozen nuggets onto a plate and microwave it, there’s a lot less chance that they will somehow mix with the walnut-vinaigrette dressing on the adult salad.

But now that he’s getting older and more adventurous in his eating habits (“Look, Mom, they have grilled shrimp!”), the possibility of his food coming into contact with nuts will begin to go up dramatically.

When he was really little, the only foods he ate were Cheerios, grapes, and chicken nuggets. Every night for a whole week in Hawaii when he was 2, I cooked chicken nuggets in the hotel microwave, cut them up, put them in a baggie, and took them with us to restaurants. He was happy with his baggie of chicken, and his dad and I dined on lovely restaurant fare in peace.

That was easy.

Now I realize that soon he’s not going to be satisfied with a hot dog from the children’s menu when he knows there’s a sirloin steak on the very next page. I guess I knew that this time would come eventually. It was too much to ask that he would go off to college with a box of baggies and a Costco bag of nuggets.

Last night, we went to a barbeque place for dinner, and I asked the server about the barbeque sauce, the meat, and all the places where nuts might be lurking. My son loves barbequed meat, so I knew I had to be prepared for him to tackle the adult side of the menu.

Then what does he do? Orders a bowl of mac and cheese.

Maybe I’ve got another year or two before my baby grows up, after all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hidden Allergens in Unexpected Places

Last week, our Davis County Chapter of UFAN had our monthly meeting. As usually happens, our discussion bounced from topic to topic like a 6-year-old on a Skittles overdose. We tossed around ideas for dealing with nursery and preschool teachers who just can’t seem to grasp the concept of keeping unsafe snacks out of the reach of toddlers. We talked about how some parents of classmates will always forget and send in peanut butter no matter how many times they’re reminded. Then we talked about the unexpected places we’ve found food allergens.

I’ve been dealing with my son’s peanut and tree nut allergies for eight years now, but I still learn new things to worry about. The new danger I learned about at last week’s meeting? Top soil. Apparently, nut manufacturers have to do something with all those nut shells, so they grind them and mix them into top soil, potting soil, or even some fertilizers. I guess I never thought about what happens to all those shells. I’m all for recycling and conservation, but the thought of ground-up nut shells under my son’s feet makes me more than a little worried.

Here are some other unexpected places where our support group’s members have found food allergens, especially nuts, milk, and eggs:

• Body lotions, creams, and moisturizers
• Exfoliants
• Shampoos and conditioners
• Soap
• Shaving creams
• Makeup
• Nail polish fast-dry
• Household cleaners
• Toothpaste
• Dentist office toothpaste and polishes
• Vaccinations and shots (many are egg-based)
• Bird seed
• The sand in sand & water tables (often uses crushed nut shells)
• Livestock bedding
• Beanbags (including some beanbag chairs, hacky sacks, etc.)
• Ant traps and mousetraps
• Potpourris
• Scented candles

I found a similar, but even more comprehensive list, on the website for F.A.I.T.H., an Alabama-based food allergy group.

After you’ve lived with food allergies for a while, reading ingredients labels on grocery items becomes second nature. But Wednesday’s meeting reminded me that I have to remember to read labels on everything my son comes into contact with, not just the things he eats.

Monday, June 9, 2008

At Long Last, Summer!

Ah, summer! School ended on the last day of May, so we’re officially one week into our summer break now. Is there any time of year more full of anticipation than the beginning of summer? Endless weeks of sunshine and adventure stretches before us like an untracked beach. And after a long, snowy winter and this cold, dreary spring, summer’s arrival is as welcome as a long-lost friend.

I know a lot of parents are already counting the days until school starts again, but I’m not one of them. Maybe it’s because my husband and I only have one kid, but I don’t dread having him home. In fact, I relish it! To hear other moms talk, perhaps I’m an aberration, but I actually enjoy spending time with my son the Whirlwind. He’s always finding ways to make me laugh.

We share a love of adventure, a sense of humor, and a hunger for new experiences, and summer is full of all of these. So I try to arrange my writing jobs so that I can spend as much time playing with him as possible.

We’re already had our first adventure of the summer – a trip to our family cabin on a lake in Wisconsin. (We just got back this morning at 2:00 am, in fact.) Although the weather was cool and cloudy, we still had plenty of fun visiting relatives and friends, fishing, hiking in the woods, and passing the evenings with puzzles, videos, and card games while watching sunsets over the water.

Now we’re back home and spending a few days with one of the Whirlwind’s cousins. Next up – a weekend in Colorado to visit more friends. Then it’s a couple of months of swim lessons, skateboarding, camping, field trips to museums and nature parks around the area, concerts, swimming, arts festivals, another cousin visit … and that’s just the stuff we know about. I’m sure there will also be birthday parties and picnics, sleepovers and movies, cookouts and fireworks.

It’s busy, but it’s all the stuff the makes life joyous instead of drudgery. I’ve got my bag packed with sunblock, water bottles, EpiPens, a camera, and a notebook, so I’m ready to make the most of these fleeting summer weeks. All too soon, August will be ending, that school bell will be ringing, and we’ll be thinking, “Where did the summer go?”

But I refuse to think about that now. At this moment, summer’s here, I’m wiggling my toes in the sunshine, the Whirlwind is splashing in the pool with his cousin, and life is so very, very good.