Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back to school with allergies

I can't believe that we're already in the middle of September. The last two weeks have been a total whirlwind of back-to-school activities, school forms to fill out, and a gradual transition into kindergarten for my 5-year-old (who also had a birthday last weekend). Whew!

I'm lucky that my kids' elementary school is a nut-free school, so I don't have the same number of worries as so many other allergic parents. My allergic kid still carries an epipen in his backpack, but the risk of encountering peanut oil on a door handle or water fountain is so much reduced that it's just not the same level of risk for us.

Every school newsletter has come with a large peanut/nut allergy warning, and there are "nut-free zone" posters scattered all around the school.

He also has two teachers this year, one on Mondays and the other for the rest of the week. I've chatted with both of them, and they're comfortable with dealing with his allergies. In fact, the Monday teacher also has a peanut-allergic daughter who's the same age. And scarily enough, she also has had to use her daughter's epipen on her, when her daughter had some fruit from a tray which had somehow been contaminated with peanuts.

The biggest change that I've made this year is to Andrew's lunch. Last year, I refused to send him to school with peabutter sandwiches, because I was worried that the teachers wouldn't be able to tell the difference between peabutter and peanut butter sandwiches, and then other kids would bring in peanut butter sandwiches and claim that they're peabutter. But after a brief conversation with the teacher, and an assurance that most parents are now hyper-aware that they can't send peanut butter to school, I've broken my own rule and let him take peabutter sandwiches to school.

The yucky part -- he also wanted some dairy-free cheese slices to take to school for snacktime. What I didn't realize until I opened up his lunch bag that afternoon: he put the cheese into the peabutter sandwiches, which were in blueberry bagels. Blech! (On the bright side: at least there wasn't any ketchup involved.)

Divvies cookbook winner!

I had ten entries into the draw for the Divvies cookbook (9 comments on the post and one via email), so I did a quick random draw, and lucky #7 was who the random number generator at told me was the winner.

According to the winner's blog, it looks like her very cute toddler has just been diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy, so she's now doing a lot of cooking from scratch -- so this cookbook will come as a great help to her and her family!

Thank you all for entering, and waiting ever so patiently for me to do the draw.

Next time I hold a contest, it won't be around the first week of school! It's been a little insane around here, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh Fudge — Divvies cookbook contest

The book publisher for The Divvies Bakery Cookbook contacted me last month, just when I was missing all of you and missing writing about our family's allergic adventures. They offered to send me a review copy of the cookbook, and an additional copy for one of my blog readers.

They also sent me an additional freebie: the recipe that's in the cookbook for dairy-free and nut-free chocolate fudge. (It isn't soy-free, unfortunately, as it uses a soy creamer.) Click on the image below, and you'll get a larger version of the allergy-friendly fudge recipe from the cookbook.

So I whipped up a batch of this fudge. I used dried cranberries instead of marshmallows because I like having a little bit of sour in with all the sugar of fudge. The recipe is really good, and unlike a lot of dairy-based fudges that I've made in the past, this one actually crystallized and turned into a really tasty, just-right chocolate fudge.

As you can tell, the kids like them too.

And as I mentioned above: You too can win a copy of this cookbook! Just leave me a comment on this post, and I'll enter you into the random draw. If you're having trouble leaving a comment, you can also email me, and I'll enter you that way. This contest will run from now until midnight on September 5, 2010, and I'll get my husband to do a random draw of all entries. Then I'll contact the winner for an address, and send that to the publisher, who'll mail the cookbook out.

Full disclosure: I wasn't paid to write this post, but they did send me a free cookbook as well as the one that they'll be sending to the prize winner. I'm always happy to promote books that help other allergic families, so good luck to all of you who are entering the contest!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Did you miss me?

Yeah, it's been a while since either of us updated the blog. Tony posted in January, then we had the Olympics in February, and things were rather hectic around town. (Yes, we got to go to the opening ceremonies — the whole thing was an unbelievable experience, and I've become an Olympics junkie.)

The allergic angle: nothing they served at the venue was safe for the kids except for the pop and water. Even the fries had a dairy coating. Thumbs down to them. I'm just glad that they let us bring our own food into the venue once I showed them the epipen and benadryl. The Olympics venues were very high-security, and all the ticket pages said that we weren't allowed to bring our own food in except for medical situations. And they wanted us to get to the opening ceremonies at least 3-5 hours before the event started. Yeah, you'd panic too, wouldn't you, with two hungry allergic kids, and not allowed to bring food in with you?

I guess I'm now doing a quick summary of this year so far!

Andrew finished first grade, and only had one bad allergic reaction at school this year, when his teacher fed him yogurt ice cream. Yes, she didn't realize that yogurt is dairy. At least that's what she told me on the phone. Fortunately, it looks like his dairy reaction is getting a lot weaker — he just went off to the bathroom and vomited a couple of times, and didn't get hives. He didn't even tell her that he'd vomited until he was done.

And then she tried to use the epipen on him, even though he wasn't having breathing difficulties. And when we looked at the epipen that night, it hadn't actually been activated. (I couldn't blog about it this politely at the time; distance and time is making this a lot easier to write. And his teacher this September is getting an epipen trainer from me, and I'm going to watch her use it on an orange or something. Oh yeah — here's a useful link: free epipen starter kit/trainer available here!)

Both boys went to the allergist in May. Andrew's still allergic to the same things, but we can definitely take eggs off his list. The good news came from Geoff's test — he only had very small wheals for nuts, and no bumps at all for eggs, shellfish or dairy. So we've let him have all of those, and he hasn't had any allergic reactions so far. My fingers are definitely crossed!

The summer's gone really well for both kids. We signed them up for a crafting program, where they did papier maché, clay sculpting and poured candles. Andrew got a lot out of this program because he has such a passion for building and crafting. For me, it was my first experience with dropping them both off for a "camp" experience without a family member around. I made lunch for them, and packed lots of fruit, safe granola bars and cookies, and left the epipen and benadryl for emergencies. And both kids had a great time, and nothing happened except that they got too busy to eat their lunches properly, and had a great time with other kids.

Okay, I'm being rather verbose here. Apparently, I've missed blogging, and I've missed all of you! I'll be back soon. My goal is to write at least once a week, and I've got a cool contest coming up — Divvies Bakery has given me a copy of their cookbook to give away — I'll have that announcement up in a day or two!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Thank you Sophia and Rhonda

I know what you're thinking...who are Sophia and Rhonda? Well, I don't know them least not personally, but they've done something incredible and I want to thank them. Rhonda has a daughter Melanie and Melanie is allergic to nuts. During a flight on Air Canada, Sophia locked herself in the bathroom for 40 minutes while the snacks containing nuts were being served.

I've flown on many an airplane for business, and a few for pleasure, and since Andrew's nut allergy appeared, I've started to notice what others around me are eating on the plane, and what the airlines are serving for snacks. Most of the flights I take are "short haul" hour, maybe two. Fifteen years ago on this length of flight, the traditional snack was almonds - the smoked, over-salted ones. Today, it's pretzels or cookies. You know what? As much as I love almonds (although I will confess to preferring them raw and unsalted), I don't begrudge being forced to choose between pretzels and cookies...or...dare I say it..."nothing thanks, I just had breakfast".

I read recently, I think it was Allergic Living, where some airlines refused to stop handing out almonds because they were the "traditional snack" on flights, and customers demanded them. Are you kidding? You don't DEMAND anything on an airplane these days, and I don't know of anyone that would switch airlines because one served cookies instead of almonds, or Coke versus Pepsi. Come on...that's absurd. The convenience of the airline's schedule and the friendliness of the staff have far more to do with my choice of airline than the food. Maybe that's just me.

Back to our heroes. Having to lock herself in the bathroom to get away from nuts? That's just wrong. I never want to have to think "How many epipens did security let me bring on board, and what happens if something...happens?" while I'm at 40,000 feet. After that experience and "difficulty accommodating their needs even after being informed of their nut allergies" they complained to the Canadian Transportation Agency (sort of like the US FAA for you folks state-side). The upshot of this effort is that Air Canada has 30 days to effect the CTA's ruling which requires:
"an exclusion or buffer zone where passengers within that zone will be advised that they can only eat foods that are peanut-free or nut-free and that they will only be offered peanut-free or nut-free foods as part of Air Canada's onboard snack or meal will also address the risk of other passengers eating peanuts or nuts"

Air Canada is honestly not my first choice for air travel in western Canada. Depending on how they handle this, they could become a contender though. Westjet hasn't served nuts in a long time and Andrew and I have flown with them. In the mean time, thank you again to Sophia and Rhonda, and when I'm travelling by plane, even without my family, you can sign me up for the nut-free section!

If we're lucky I'll get to sit in a part of the airplane with no peanuts, no almonds, no cashews, and none of those other "nuts" we never want to see on a plane.

I first saw this story on the CBC's website. You can click there to read the story or here to see the video clip.