Tuesday, October 2, 2012

F is for food allergies

F is for…

Food allergies. The FAAN Walk for Food Allergy in our area just so happened to coincide with the "Letter F" theme for my daughter in our school this week. We were among several hundred people, including many from our local support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely), who gathered on a rainy Saturday morning. The committee did a fabulous job setting up the venue so we could register, peruse sponsor tables and participate in activities under cover. The rain had slowed to a sprinkle while we all enjoyed walking around the lake. Even if it were pouring while we walked together, it wouldn't have mattered. It is a fabulous to feel the support the walk showcases.

Fantastic, not fearful. The annual event is a chance for my 9-year-old son to feel like part of the gang. Joseph's allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard don't isolate him or make him feel anxious at the Walk for Food Allergy. Instead it is a time when he feels support from the hundreds of other kids just like him, along with friends and family who gather just for all those kids with food allergies.

Fever. Yes, Pamela really embraced this "F" week theme. Unfortunately, she has been fighting a bad cold complete with cough and a fever. So she and my husband, Gary, had to miss the food allergy walk. But she was happy to wear her walk shirt to support her brother from home. While Joseph missed having them at the walk, he feels the support from Gary and Pamela in the way help keep him navigate life with food allergies each day.

Fundraising. The walk allows kids like my son to feel a sense of community, while also raising money to advance the efforts for research, education, awareness and advocacy. I am so proud that Joseph contributed his own money that he had saved, and even his little sister Pamela chipped into the cause with her own cash. My 4-year-old said, "I want to help my Joseph so he doesn't get sick."

Fall favorites. The food allergy walk is one of many fun, Fall activities we have been enjoying. Fall colors and shapes are natural subjects for various crafts that involve lots of colorful paint, glitter, paper and glue. Pamela especially enjoyed painting a big fall tree and then throwing colorful leaf confetti onto her creation. We recently visited a local pumpkin patch, where Joseph and Pamela had fun checking out the huge pumpkins in the field and choosing their own smaller, orange beauties to paint. My favorite find was the Long Island Cheese Pumpkins. Not only was I happy to find something connected to my Long Island roots here in North Carolina, but also I was thrilled that the pumpkin yielded wonderful puree to make tasty allergen-free pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread.

Fresh fruit. Thankfully Joseph's allergies do not prevent him from enjoying fresh fruit. Each season brings variety in the fruits we enjoy. Fresh apples and oranges are in abundance right now and make healthy, simple snacks that we have been eating each day.

Fitness and football. The weather, until Saturday, had been sunny and less humid. Perfect for all of the tennis my son enjoys playing. Whether he's been practicing, competing in matches or playing with friends, Joseph has been playing tennis about four days a week. He is having a blast and exercising his lungs, which seems to be helping his asthma. He also enjoyed playing football in his homeschool gym class, a sport we especially enjoying watching while we cheer for our favorite college football teams. So of course, I had to work football into our "F theme" week and brought out the football beanbag toss game to play in school. The kids have fun with a little math thrown in.
Fudge. Pamela was thrilled when I mentioned that fudge starts with "F." So we pulled out the allergy-friendly recipe for fudge that we use each year during the holidays. I use the "Oh Fudge" recipe from "The Divvies Bakery Cookbook", using Vance's DariFree milk alternative and Enjoy Life Mega Chunks. What a treat to indulge in the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate! It certainly brought a smile to Pamela's face during a week she's been sad because being sick has meant she's had to miss fun events like the food allergy walk and her dance class.

Footprints. Pamela will be stepping her little bare feet in various colors of paint and walking across a long sheet of paper to make footprints as one of our "F" week crafts. It is such a messy, fun craft. I'm sure we will be enjoying more fun, Fall activities even after "F" week is over. I'm glad that we were able to participate in the FAAN Walk for Food allergy so that Joseph was able to feel the support of hundreds of people leaving their footprints of support for kids like him with food allergies.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fellow chocolate lovers learn patience

We have been reading the delightful book, "Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake" by Michael B. Kaplan, every night for the past week. The story of a precocious, young bunny who has a tough time waiting to indulge in her slice of yummy chocolate cake quickly became a favorite for my 4-year-old daughter Pamela when she borrowed it from the library months ago. She was thrilled to find it in a bookstore this week.

So each night, my daughter and I fall asleep dreaming of chocolate cake. Since we are chocolate lovers just like Betty Bunny, we decided it was time to make a chocolate cake for ourselves. We also love college football in this house, so I decided the chocolate cake should have football picks decorating the top so that I could pass it off as football Saturday cake.

We made the cake using King Arthur Flour's Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake mix and Cybele Pascal's recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting from The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook. I had told Pamela the night before that we would make the cake, so she had to demonstrate some of the patience Betty Bunny struggles with waiting for her cake. The dessert followed homemade chicken noodle soup — another favorite for Pamela. That meal also requires patience as I make the broth by simmering a chicken carcass, onion, parsley, celery and carrots one day and then make the broth, chicken and vegetables into soup with Tinkyada gluten-free rice pasta the next day. But everyone at the table agreed that our allergen-free meal of chicken noodle soup with bread made from King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Bread mix, followed by chocolate cake, was worth the wait.

Nine years ago, when we embarked on life with food allergies, I needed patience to make recipes work with substitutions and to find products that are safe and taste great. Those also were worth the wait as we are eating much better than we did at the start of this journey.

We are gearing up for an event this month that help support my 9-year-old son, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard. The FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) Walk for Food Allergy, which is held throughout the United States, raises money for education, advocacy, awareness and research for food allergies. Sometimes it tests my patience to wait for more people to understand what it's like for my son to live with the knowledge that one bite of food could kill him, or for research to progress to the point of a cure.

But each year, when we walk with hundreds of others who do understand, and who are at an event to support my son and the nearly 6 million children like him with food allergies, it makes it that much easier to wait for change. We await the food allergy walk each year and it is so wonderful to indulge in a day of fun and support, just like Betty Bunny enjoyed satisfying her need for chocolate.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Author's message resonates beyond sports

Joseph sat on the edge of his seat, occasionally chuckling, as he listened to sports journalist Mike Lupica relate anecdotes from the world of sports and explain how he comes up with story ideas during a book signing for his latest book, "True Legend". My 9-year-old son was so excited to meet a famous author of books he enjoys and it was extra exciting that he met Lupica on the day the new book came out.

Joseph especially enjoyed listening to the sportswriter talk about his inspiration for and process writing his first young adult novel, "Travel Team", about a group of kids who were cut from a travel basketball team. Lupica's focus on kids' resilience in overcoming adversity rings true beyond sports. Sure, the theme resonates with Joseph from an athletic standpoint. More than once, he has had to brush off a tough loss on the tennis court and go back out there for another match, or deal with the disappointment of not being able to participate in an event when he thought he had earned a spot to compete.

But, as a child with life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, he also can relate to the need to rise above obstacles in his daily life. I am proud of the way he overcomes various issues, whether he is ensuring his safety by avoiding an unsafe food or event, keeping his head high while the target of unkind comments about his allergies, moving past anxiety about a potentially dangerous situation, or focusing on what he can have and do, in spite of his allergies and asthma.

The book signing is an example of an event that Joseph can attend without worrying about his allergies. I have always championed books and I am so pleased that bookstores like Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh host authors so that kids like Joseph, who love to read, can be inspired. It also is wonderful that the organizers keep it simple and focused on the reason people are there, without adding food into the mix. Joseph and all the other kids just wanted to hear what Lupica had to say. Nobody was thinking about snacks while they were hanging on every word to gain insight about the new book's characters.

Joseph was thrilled to meet an author who has already given him joy through his stories and perhaps, a bit of a boost about the honor in dealing with some of life's challenges.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cake for my princess

Tiny, sparkly, pink hearts continue to appear throughout my house more than a week after we celebrated my daughter Pamela's 4th birthday. The confetti, while insistent in its ability to dodge the vacuum and travel to a seemingly new place each day, makes me smile because it reminds me of the sparkle lighting my little girl's eyes during her princess party. Her sweet face lit up the most when she saw the princess doll cake I had made for her.

She was thrilled to see Princess Aurora surrounded by a sweet, pink, poofy dress. I was excited to make it for her, as well. Birthdays are special and we love to make our two children feel extra special on their birthday. I love planning their parties and creating cakes that make them smile.

I have been collecting pictures of birthday cakes since my 9-year-old son, Joseph, was a baby. It didn't matter that I couldn't follow the cake recipes or use the exact toppings and ingredients they recommended — those pictures don't cater to my food-allergic son's diet free of peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard. I just consult the photos for ideas. If one of my children wants a certain type of cake, whether a Harry Potter golden snitch or a princess doll, I will find a way to make it. The creative process is so fun for me and I love seeing the joy on their faces when I present their cake. The princess doll cake was one in particular that I had been eyeing for a long time. So it was a blast for me to figure out how to layer the cake shapes, hollow out the middle for the tall princess doll and wrap Aurora's hair up in plastic to keep her locks frosting-free. For this cake I made one of my family's favorite cakes using King Arthur Flour gluten-free chocolate cake mix (substituting the eggs, of course) and Cybele Pascal's vanilla frosting recipe from her cookbook, The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, thickening it as needed to work properly for dress decorating.

Pamela does not have food allergies like her brother, but she eats the same diet as him at home. Because of her propensity to get up in the middle of meals to pick up a toy or go give Joseph a kiss, I don't feel confident that his environment would continue to be safe if she is eating unsafe foods in the house. But I do take her out on little dates to go for pizza or macaroni and cheese, and she washes her hands and mouth as soon as we walk in the door. She knows it is important to keep Joseph safe and is happy to take the steps necessary to do so. Pamela enjoys our lunch dates, but she never begrudges her brother because she is not able to eat the same food at home nor does she whine about not getting a treat when she is out with Joseph.

I'm proud of my little princess for caring more about her brother than food choices. Perhaps it's just because the rules about food have been in place in our home as long as she's been alive, and I certainly have improved in my allergy-free cooking during the past 9 years. But I still give her a lot of credit for just accepting that she eats the gluten-free, dairy-free pizza I make at home and she wouldn't even think to ask for a cake she sees in the bakery displays to bring home for her birthday. After all, she wants her big brother to be able to enjoy her birthday cake as much as she does. When my kids are devouring the allergen-free sweet treats we make, whether birthday cakes, cupcakes or blondies, they are not thinking about allergies. They are just thinking about how much they are enjoying their yummy dessert.

Both of my children had a blast playing princess-themed games, making crafts and eating dessert at Pamela's party with their friends and family. As with all parties we host, the snacks, "royal" dinner and dessert were all free of the foods to which Joseph is allergic so he could feel safe enjoying himself, just like his little sister.

As my birthday girl relished her pink frosting and homemade, dairy-free ice cream, I was thrilled that I could help add to her princess sparkle on her special day.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer treats and Lego feats

"Stir it up, put it in the oven, press the button, then take it out." My sister Linda and I recited that little phrase many times when we were kids while we stirred chocolate syrup into our bowls of ice cream to create our own chocolaty, cold confection. Only when I recently taught my 3-year-old daughter Pamela to do the same thing with her ice cream, did it occur to me that it was odd that we were pretending to cook ice cream. It was just a fun way to enjoy our treat and now my daughter thinks so, too.

We celebrated the official start of summer this week with homemade, dairy-free ice cream and cherry cobbler. Pamela opted to have a bowl of ice cream so she could happily stir in Ah! Laska organic chocolate syrup, while the rest of us enjoyed a scoop on top of cherry cobbler, still warm from the oven. My cherry pitter has been getting a lot of use this month. I love this time of year when my fingers are stained with cherry juice. I've been doling out bowls of fresh cherries, fruit kebabs stacked with fresh cherries, grapes, blueberries and watermelon, and baking cherry pie (using Cybele Pascal's pie crust recipe from "The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook") and cobbler. Clearly, I love fresh cherries and I'm glad that my children enjoy the healthy fruit, as well. I'm always happy to revisit some of our favorite summertime treats that I blogged about last July.

While we enjoyed our summer dessert, my kids and I discussed some traditional summer activities that we have already enjoyed. Pamela is thoroughly enjoying her first foray into swimming lessons while Joseph had a wonderful time experiencing camp for the first time earlier this month.

Joseph, 9, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, along with having asthma, was thrilled to attend a Lego Mindstorm Robotics camp near our home. He had not expressed an interest in attending camp before. After all, he is busy with tennis, indoor lacrosse and other activities to keep him busy. But when he heard he could spend a week building a Lego robot and learning to program it, his desire to attend camp skyrocketed.

I couldn't have asked for a better inaugural camp experience for my son. I knew that because the program went from 9 a.m. to noon each day, the chance for food issues would be lower. I first consulted the camp website where the camp organizer listed the schedule for each day and I loved on many levels that he was so organized. When I emailed him, he confirmed my assumption when I saw no snack time listed on the schedule, that there would be no food at the camp. Joseph was thrilled that he would be able to attend a fun camp and not worry about being around unsafe food.

I sent Joseph's allergy action plan, along with a sheet explaining how to use an EpiPen when I sent in his registration. I also talked to the camp organizer before the week started and asked if I could bring a box of wipes for the campers to wipe their hands off. He completely understood my desire to ensure that the campers didn't have any allergens left on their hands from breakfast or a snack they had munched on in the car on the way to camp before touching the same Lego pieces and computer as Joseph. He had no problem putting the wipes at the door and reminding all of the kids to wipe their hands each day when we signed our campers in. Putting out wipes might seem like a small action, but I was so thankful that they took me seriously and ensured the wipes were used. That has not always been the response I have received, even when food has been present. So I am extra appreciative of their efforts.
When we arrived for the first day of camp, I was thrilled that the teen running the camp and his mom were conscientious about Joseph's allergies and the medication pack he carries. The 18-year-old girl who was helping with the camp told me that she too has food allergies and was well versed in how to use an EpiPen. I felt like her being there was just a little extra bonus in making me feel good about my son's well being while at the camp.

Joseph had an amazing week working with other kids to build and program their team's robot, Lightning Bot. He was so proud when his team even won the competition on the final day of camp. I was thrilled that he was able to experience such an enjoyable, enriching week without worrying about his allergies.

I'm happy that, as summer officially begins, my family has already stirred up some traditional summer fun and yummy treats. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fun, allergy-friendly times in Happy Valley

My family and I spent a fantastic weekend visiting my alma mater. All I wanted for my 40th birthday was a trip to Penn State where I could enjoy with my kids a place I hold dear and spend time with some amazing friends. But traveling with a food-allergic child can be stressful. For me, that anxiety is eased with preparation, consideration and awareness.

I don't allow Joseph, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, to eat any food that is not prepared by me. So before we embarked on our 8-hour road trip, I loaded up the cooler, insulated bags and lunch boxes with safe food for my 9-year-old son. Lots of wipes and paper towels, along with disposable placemats also are staples. Of course, we don't go anywhere without Joseph's medical pack containing two EpiPens, Benadryl, his inhaler and a copy of his allergy action plan. In addition when we travel, I make sure all of his daily medications have a full prescription, and pack his nebulizer and Xopenex, and two additional EpiPens that are usually kept at home.

Once I booked our feather-free suite (Joseph has asthma and environmental allergies, as well), complete with a refrigerator and microwave, it was time to plan the menu with Joseph. After all, I want him to enjoy his food while he's watching the rest of us sample restaurant fare. My daughter Pamela, 3, also eats only Joseph's food when we travel so that she doesn't create an added risk for him.

I cooked and froze several entrees, generally enough so that they each could get two meals out of each dish. I have included a sampling of his trip menu at the end of this blog post. We also packed plenty of fruit and non-perishable food, such as Enjoy Life granola that both kids like to eat for breakfast or as a snack, single-serve applesauce, Enjoy Life cookies and Green Mountain Gringo tortilla strips that made an easy snack eaten plain in the car and a plate of nachos in the hotel room with a little melted Daiya cheddar and mozzarella. I had frozen some cupcakes and cake slices that we had made for celebrations during the previous month so the kids could have special treats, as well.

The biggest treat for them was spending time with friends. The consideration and kindness of those friends made it possible for Joseph to just safely enjoy himself, instead of being singled out or anxious because of his allergies. Before the trip, my friend Michele asked what snacks would be OK for her kids to eat near Joseph and what they could do to make him safe. I asked her just to avoid anything with peanuts, peanut butter or tree nuts and asked that everyone wash their hands after meals. Not only did Michele and her kids avoid nutty snacks and wash their hands after each meal, but also they did so without mentioning it. Each time we stopped to eat at a restaurant, I wiped Joseph's table area and chair and placed his paper placemat in front of him. As he pulled his own plastic cutlery, juice box or water bottle and safe food out of his lunch box, the happy chatter of friends continued. There were no disparaging comments about what Joseph couldn't eat or begrudging attitudes about washing their hands.

The simple steps they took to help Joseph feel safe without making a big deal about it or making him feel bad about it, means the world to me. Their kindness helped us all to enjoy our time in Happy Valley. Joseph and Pamela were thrilled to meet my friend Stephanie and listen to us reminisce while we walked through campus one afternoon, stopping of course to climb on the statue at the Nittany Lion shrine. They had a blast hanging out with Michele's kids, Jason, Brooke and Ava. Whether they were checking out footballs at the Penn State All-Sports Museum, posing by the Joe Paterno statue, having water battles in the hotel pool or playing mini golf, Joseph got to enjoy himself as one of the gang.

As the summer travel season heats up, it's important to decide and review what steps will result in an enjoyable and safe trip for food-allergic family members. Everyone has different comfort levels about what is safe and what works for him. Food-allergic families can find resources about traveling with food allergies from sources such as the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), Kids with Food Allergies (KFA), Living Without magazine, Gina Clowes' article, "Food allergy tips: You can take it with you", and The Nut-Free Mom's top travel tips. The AllergyEats website and app also allow people to find ratings regarding food allergies about restaurants in the towns they are visiting.

I'm thrilled that preparation and kindness helped us all to leave State College, Pennsylvania, with such happy memories.

Joseph's trip menu included:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Strawberry sweetness

A beautiful, vibrant rainbow greeted us yesterday morning when we looked out the kitchen window. My 3-year-old daughter Pamela was especially excited to see the colorful wonder. I couldn't help but hope the special sighting signified promise for our day.

But as the rainbow faded and more rain sprinkles showered our neighborhood, our hope for strawberry picking later in the morning dimmed. Pamela put on her "strawberry" dress anyway, perhaps drawing hope from the rainbow that we would be bringing home buckets of strawberries before the day was over. It's always good to follow the lead of a young child with dreams and determination. Her middle name is Hope, after all.

We didn't get to the strawberry patch in the morning. Instead we took Joseph to the allergist for his immunotherapy shots for several environmental allergies. I was happy to cross the errand off of our list for the week, but I should have remembered that those shots also exemplify hope. Hope that someday Joseph, 8, will be desensitized to at least some of those allergies that induce asthma attacks and contact reactions. I've already seen improvement in him after more than a year of receiving the treatment. Those shots also spur hope that the immunotherapy treatments currently being studied for food allergies could also someday help my son, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard.

I still wasn't too hopeful that we'd get strawberries when we left for story time yesterday afternoon. But as I wrote recently, a visit to the library always brings smiles. When we left the library after yet another fun story time, the sun was shining and we finally headed to DJ's Berry Patch to pick strawberries.

Joseph and Pamela were so excited to carry their buckets into the field and start filling them with bright red strawberries. Of course, they tasted a few upon picking them to make sure they were just as sweet and juicy as they looked. Pamela loved the tiny strawberries and said they looked like little lights when she picked one with the skinny stem so it swung in her hand like a tiny fairy light. Joseph liked the cool-shaped strawberries that almost looked like little, chubby hands. Both couldn't wait to get home to sink their teeth into more of their juicy haul and had lots of ideas about what we should make first.

First, we just enjoyed the strawberries as they were – delightfully sweet in their own right. Then, we had some chocolate-covered strawberries using melted Enjoy Life Mega Chunks. Today, we made deliciously creamy, dairy-free strawberry ice cream. I also made a batch of strawberry jam for us to enjoy tomorrow on warm bread (King Arthur Flour gluten-free bread mix) that I will bake in the morning with Pamela, my willing assistant. I have fond memories of enjoying my grandparents' homemade strawberry jam as a child. They made and preserved fabulous jam each season, including peach, plum, marmalade and strawberry, which always had a way of bringing me comfort. I make an extremely simple jam recipe – there is no pectin or sealing jars with wax for me. This method works for my low patience level, yet still provides a comforting, sweet addition to our meals.

We still have a bucket of strawberries left from our picking to enjoy. Joseph has requested strawberry shortcake. We made Cybele Pascal's recipe for strawberry shortcake from her Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook last weekend and it was a big hit. But perhaps we will make her allergy-free strawberry cupcakes for tomorrow's strawberry treat.

I am thrilled that such a simple food is so sweet and healthy in itself. It is even more exciting for my kids that there are so many yummy treats we can create with the juicy fruit that are allergy friendly. Even better is the joy I had spending some time in a strawberry patch with two kids who were happy as could be because of a field of fruit. Red has been a prevalent color on my children's faces for us since seeing that rainbow yesterday. I'm so glad that my daughter's hope that was reflected in that rainbow was fulfilled. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Love of the library

I admit I was not a happy camper this afternoon when I pulled out of the driveway with my two kids strapped in their seats in the back of the car. My miserable cold was making me, well, miserable, with absolutely no sympathy from my son and daughter. Though, I've made it clear that I'm sick of going through boxes of tissues and clinging to mugs of hot tea, one child wouldn't put on her jacket and the other had to be reminded again to bring the library bag with him to the car – little things that can sometimes irk this mom. But there was hope. I knew that in only 4 minutes I would find relief because I would be walking through the doors of one of my favorite places – West Regional Library.

In honor of National Library Week, I'm happy to say that I have always loved the library. There is something about being surrounded by books that is like a salve. Bookshelves and baskets overflowing with books fill my home and I'm only happy with a couple books and my Kindle on my bedside table. If I'm in a great mood when I go to the library, the prospect of meeting new characters or becoming reacquainted with old favorites, finding new adventures and learning more information makes me even happier. When I'm not in such a great mood, like today, my negativity seems to dissipate as soon as I walk into the home of thousands of stories.

Books have inspired for as long as I can remember. Whether I was listening to stories at home and during story time at the Northport-East Northport Public Library, using a flashlight to read in the backseat of my parents' car during evening rides home from my grandparents' house or working at the library while I was in high school, books played an integral role in my life. The library has changed since I was a kid. I order books through the library's online catalog so they are waiting for me to pick up, I check out books using the library card on my key ring and computers fill large areas of the building. But the joy that comes from perusing the shelves and jumping into adventures from around the world remains.

My kids love going to the library, too. Joseph, 8, is a voracious reader, who loves going to check out stories and page through nonfiction books. He recently was thrilled to attend a writing workshop, during which an author provided tips on crafting a story. Joseph also got to hone is Scrabble skills at the library thanks to the kindness of a 14-year-old Scrabble whiz I wrote about for The Cary News. When Erik Salgado heard that my son enjoys playing the board game, he offered to share some tips. Joseph was so excited when Erik, who won the National School Scrabble Championship this week with Andy Hoang, and his mom spent a couple of hours with Joseph in a study room at the library teaching him the ins and outs of the game. We even caught a showing of "Kung Fu Panda 2" on the library's big screen. These opportunities are all free and free of food.

Because there is no food or drink allowed, the library is a place where Joseph, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, feels safe. He doesn't spend his time looking over his shoulders to make sure no one is eating ice cream or peanut butter sandwiches near him. Sure our love of the library has been tested over the years. For example, when Joseph was younger the kids munching on cheesy fish-shaped crackers (which inevitably made it onto the floor) during story time made him uncomfortable. When I mentioned the issue at the library we now frequent to prevent cheesy crumbs inhibiting our fun when Joseph comes with us to Pamela's story time, they nicely announced it at the start of story time and we've not had any food issues at this library. He's also had to stop reading a few books because his eyes got itchy or he had an asthma flare-up while reading them. Yes, the fact that library books can accumulate dust or go in homes with pets and other various allergens can pose a risk for Joseph. As always, we are prepared to deal with the risks Joseph's allergies pose. But for the most part, his library experiences have been fantastic. And those books that do cause issues are simply returned to the library and replaced with other adventures for Joseph to jump into.

Today, story time helped wash away the last of my bad mood.  I couldn't help but smile as soon as Pamela, 3, and the other kids stood up to sing about gardening and pretend to dig. Although there is no registration required, the weekly 25-minute gathering where preschoolers can enjoy books, music and flannel board stories is on our calendar just like ballet, tennis and all of our other activities. Each week, Pamela listens intently to Miss Sue and participates in all of the interactive fun. Today, she was excited to hold up a picture of a bunny with the number 8 on it when her number came up during the reading of "10 Hungry Rabbits" by Anita Lobel. After story time, she enjoys selecting books then claiming a spot on our favorite funky red bench to discover new stories.

As we packed our extremely worn library bag full of new selections today, my love for the library was once again reaffirmed. As the three of us walked out into the windy day, we talked about which books we would read first and of course, how soon we would return.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Filling our baskets with fun

Little hands were reaching into the box as soon as I opened it, grabbing for the cute little Easter-theme bags of colorful Gimbal's jelly beans. Pamela yelled out, "Pink, pink!" as she clutched a bag featuring the pink confections, while Joseph quickly found the bag full of flavors for honey lovers. Immediately, I started wondering if the jelly beans' arrival last week meant there would be none left for Easter.

My son Joseph, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, was thrilled to enjoy jelly beans just like so many others during the Easter season when we were introduced to allergen-friendly Gimbal's jelly beans last year. We can find bags of them at the local Wal-Mart, but when I saw the specialty packs for Easter and other varieties on the company website, I couldn't resist making an order. Our Easter desserts will be more festive with the pastel jelly beans and sour bunnies.

Our kitchen is showing signs of Easter's approach this week. My daughter Pamela had fun making Easter cookie shapes and pressing jelly beans into the frosting. Next, we plan to turn red velvet cupcakes (using our favorite recipe by Cybele Pascal) into mini Easter baskets with jelly beans and sour bunny in the middle of the frosting. Then we will place each cupcake into an Easter basket cupcake collar. Chocolate-covered strawberries and homemade chocolate eggs featuring melted Enjoy Life Mega Chunks also will make it onto our Easter celebration menu. Both kids enjoy deciding what desserts to make for the holiday so that the unsafe confections that abound on Easter are not missed.

While we make lots of safe treats to celebrate the holiday, a majority of the enjoyment is without food. Even just hopping around like bunnies, elicits giggles. They both had a blast over the weekend collecting eggs filled with trinkets at the NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely) annual food-free Easter egg hunt over the weekend. They both were thrilled to run through the field, baskets waving in their hands as they hurried to pick up their eggs. No surprise that Pamela grabbed mostly pink and purple eggs, while Joseph leaned toward the orange and yellow hues. It is such a pleasure to watch them happily open each egg to discover something new, such as a rainbow-colored ball, sparkly pink ring or bottle of bubbles, without a worry that a deadly piece of candy will pop out with the potential to ruin their fun outing. Instead of candy, the Easter bunny hides baskets in our house that are full of toys, books and other trinkets. Joseph is hoping the bunny will hop on over with a set of Hexbugs, while Pamela hopes the furry friend will grant her wish for a swimming doll.

The wood eggs the kids color each year also help us safely enjoy the Easter tradition of coloring eggs. Joseph and Pamela loved painting their eggs last week and we continue to admire their handiwork, featuring colorful swirls and polka-dots. Their creative juices will continue to flow this week with more crafts and fun school activities, including those plastic eggs and several printables featuring Easter and spring themes. For example, 2 Teaching Mommies provides an Easter symbol set of printables that features adorable little chicks and bunnies that Pamela has enjoyed using for patterns, counting and letter sorting. Both of my children love playing the roll and graph game that has them cheering to see if the chick, the bunny or even an egg will have the most rolls to make it to the top of the graph first.
I hope Easter day is as enjoyable for my kids as the week leading up to it has been. Now, if only I could make sure my little bunnies don't hop off with too many jelly beans during the next few days before Easter. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A bit of Irish fun

My Irish eyes were smilin' today. As I watched my kids, donned in various shades of green, bite into their green-frosted, chocolate cupcakes I reflected on a fun St. Patrick's Day. We didn't go to any big events, but we did activities at home to celebrate and pay homage to the Irish part of our heritage.

We started our day with green waffles (Cherrybrook Kitchen Gluten Free Dreams Pancake & Waffle mix) with a side of fresh strawberries, just before the kids discovered the shamrock trail a leprechaun made after he escaped from our leprechaun trap. At least that sneaky little Irish fella left coin-filled "golden" pots behind in the trap.

Leprechauns, rainbows and shamrocks colored our little world today. Pamela and I baked the yummy cupcakes (King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix) — of course, Joseph made sure he taste-tested the batter. We played various games, (such as "Roll a leprechaun") did a rainbow science experiment and used a green pepper to make shamrock paintings. Both Joseph and Pamela enjoyed the rainbow shamrock treasure hunt the best (a great printable from The Crafting Chicks) They had fun reading the instructions on each colored shamrock and then finding the treasure — a green bucket filled with trinkets, such as bubble pens, pencils, lollipops and punch balloons. For dinner, I made a family favorite – shepherd's pie, using the pie crust recipe from Cybele Pascal's Allergen-Friendly Baker's Handbook. I thought about dying the mashed potatoes green for the shepherd's pie. But when I remembered how grossed out everyone was when I tried that a previous year, I placed a shamrock cookie cutter on top of the pie to give it more of an "Irish" feel.

As Pamela was starting to hide the twinkle in her eyes for the night, she was ready to hop to the next holiday. "When are we going to paint the eggs for Easter, Mama?" Both of my kids are so excited to paint the white, wooden eggs we get each Easter from Oriental Trading. I love them because they give my food-allergic son a chance to safely enjoy the tradition of coloring eggs. But also, I enjoy adding them to our growing collection of colorful egg creations each year. Indeed the wooden eggs we will paint for Easter arrived this week, along with the prize-filled eggs we will contribute to the annual food-free Easter egg hunt our local support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely) will host next weekend. Easter can be dicey for food-allergic kids, who might feel like they have to be as sly as leprechauns to escape the chocolate bunnies, peanut butter candies and yes, eggs, that seem ubiquitous this time of year. That is why we are thankful to skip the candy-filled egg hunts and enjoy an afternoon searching through a park for brightly colored eggs filled with trinkets — not food.    

Not once during any of our activities or meals today did Joseph worry or feel bad about his food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard. Instead he enjoyed the many fun holiday activities that can be done without food. Plus, we are blessed to have many safe food options to make that we didn't have to count on Irish luck for our family to enjoy yummy meals.