Thursday, October 30, 2014

Putting the Happy back in Halloween

If you're reading this blog, you know that we have food allergies in our house.
Lots of food allergies.

Okay, maybe not THAT many food allergies.  But it's enough to throw a damper on anyone's candy-tabulous, sugarlicious, Trick or Treat-a-thon.  At this point, my kids are starting to outgrow the treats, and too sophisticated for the tricks.  We geek out on costumes, we pull out a few favorite movies, like The Great Pumpkin, and we have our own treats.  (Okay, so Bumblebee is still young enough to trick or treat a little bit, and Penguin might sneak out as well.  If her friends are going in a group, she's been left out enough.)  But the main focus of the night is no longer the loot.  It's the fun.

However, there is a new trend that would have made the early days so. much. easier.

It's called the Teal Pumpkin Project.  It's about allergy awareness, but it's so much cooler than some of the allergy aware projects I've seen in the past.  The main concept is that people offering allergy friendly fare put a teal pumpkin out front.  That way, parents of kids with dietary restrictions can scope out the safe houses and plan their route accordingly.

It doesn't stop there though.  My favorite part of this project is that it wants to include all kids with dietary restrictions for any reason.  So...the teal pumpkin doesn't just mean allergy friendly candy.  (Because who knows what kids might be allergic to?  Beet coloring, yellow #5, corn syrup, chocolate...Or candy that is typically safe might not be safe in treat sized packages due to the way holiday candy is processed.)

Teal pumpkins on the front porch mean that this house offers NON FOOD TREATS.

That's right.  Those pencils and toothbrushes that teens wearing fangs and a five o'clock shadow spurn?  Kids with food allergies love 'em...they get to actually keep those treats.  They also like whistles, bubbles, mardi gras beads, glow sticks, and anything you find in the party store.  Used books can be a hit too...some libraries offer 'Friends of..." booksales where you stuff a bag with as many picture books and easy readers (and whatever else) that you want for only a few dollars.  Offer them up at Halloween, and then donate the leftovers to the next'll have saved candy money and maybe even inspired a few kids to read.

You can put out a teal pumpkin and still offer candy.  Just make sure that there are also non food treats.

If you don't want to start this year, there's another benefit to the whole non-food treat thing...they won't grow moldy in storage.  So stock up in November and stuff your extras away with the Halloween decorations.  And next year...put out a teal pumpkin or two.  Most kids won't know or care, they'll choose whatever they want and go on their way.  But the few who do need to be cautious, will appreciate that little plastic toy in ways you can't begin to believe.  Because it's a way they can be included without noticing that they're different.  :-)

Which means that the most stressful, tear inducing holiday for many food allergy kids can be happy again.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I've been sitting a lot lately.  In public parks, in waiting rooms, even at the dog park.  I can't help eavesdropping.  It's not even eavesdropping...I'm in plain sight, and greet the people around me, then sit.  And listen.  
I find that no matter the age of the people around me, conversations often turn to the same thing.  Other people.  
It's amazing how easy it is to bond over the criticism of a mutual friend.  Clothes, spending, parenting (or dog training) techniques, are all up for judgement.  
And then, invariably, the victim shows up and is greeted with open arms.  
I suppose this is part of human nature.  And maybe I'm just more aware of it because October is Bully Free month.  Or maybe it's because our Girl Scout troop is focusing on dealing with bullies in our lives.  
I know I've been there.  Done the same type of thing.  I've been the topic of conversation more than once.  I've even had people strike up a conversation about me at the same table I'm sitting at.  Which can be as amusing as it is uncomfortable.  
Lately, I can't help but notice how...high school it all is.  
Perhaps we never really outgrow high school.  But maybe, just maybe we should.  
Which is why I'm making a conscious effort to be nicer to those I know who are a victim of these conversations.  And I'm (trying) to keep my discussions about others positive.  Acknowledging quirks, accepting differences, and sending out prayers that they have peace, or support, or whatever is appropriate.  
It's what I want my kids to do.  It's what I want them to emulate.  It's my little way to be the change, for whatever it's worth.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stress, Cause or Effect? A Few Thoughts

I need to start by reiterating that I am not a doctor.  Just a human being, living and learning and reading and experiencing.  And, of course, sharing some of those experiences here, on a publicly accessed page.  (Wow, what am I thinking?)

Stress.  From a dictionary perspective, stress is related to strain or pressure.  This pressure can be physical (Like lifting a heavy sofa will strain various muscles) or it could be emotional.  From a medical perspective, stress seems to be a trigger and/or a scapegoat.  Any number of ailments can be related to stress; health issues can also cause stress.  Relieving stress through meditation, or yoga, or simply by taking better care of your body can improve many symptoms that don't seem to have any other cause.
However, stress can be a complicated answer.

The symptoms of stress, according to Mayo Clinic, include fatigue, headache and stomach upset.  All of these, in varying degrees, are also symptoms related to food allergies and other issues.

Ironically, if you dig deeper, food allergies and Celiac Disease can be triggered by stress.  But once the mechanism is turned on in your body, no amount of meditation or yoga will turn it off again.  Same goes with food allergies.  Once that switch is flipped, the medical condition is yours for life.  You can manage it, and stress management techniques will help.  But, you will have lifelong dietary restrictions.

There are people who are able to expand their diets once they get their symptoms under control.  To my understanding, there are a couple of reasons for this.  The most important is that they do not have true allergies (or Celiac).  I've discussed allergies before.  They're caused by the body identifying normal proteins as threats, and sending out the firing squad.  Your symptoms are your body being caught in the crossfire.

Foods can cause symptoms without there being a clinical reason like allergies or Celiac Disease.  Some foods are innately hard on the digestive tract.  Some people eat when they're stressed, or focus on specific foods when they feel stressed out.  Since stress dampens the digestive process, and can cause digestive distress, stress-foods might become associated with discomfort when it's the stress that's to blame.

How do you know the difference?'s hard.  But, as long as you can keep a varied diet there is no reason you shouldn't avoid a suspect food.  Even if it's a big food group like milk.  (There are other sources of calcium.)  The key is to keep your diet balanced.  That means plenty of vegetables and multiple protein sources, as well as fruit and a couple of grains.  Sometimes I wonder if people get better when they start avoiding certain foods just because they are now looking more closely at their diets and making better choices.  It's certainly a possibility.

Likewise, no matter how much adjusting you do to your diet, it never hurts to do some stress reduction.  Yoga.  Meditation.  Long walks in the woods.  None of those include any potential trigger foods, and they'll all help you look at the bigger picture and live a more full life.
With or without specific food groups.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My daughter looks at me with reproach, tears glistening on her cheeks.
I'm putting dinner away.  It comprised of (gluten free) pasta, a stir fry involving onions, garlic, spinach and eggplant, and a couple of chopped up turkey burgers, with parmesan and canned red sauce on the side.  (The kids don't like homemade red sauce)  There was also the option of salad, but no one was interested.

"I'm hungry!"
There's still plenty here, if you'd like.
"Why don't we ever eat REAL food?"
What do you mean?
"We don't have any real food in this house."
What is real food?
"You know...stuff you don't have to wash, or cut or cook or 'prepare'."
I raise an eyebrow at her.
"Like crackers.  Or cereal.  Or yoghurt.  Or pizza."
Those aren't necessarily 'real' food.
"Normal people think it is!"

Um, okay.
For the record, all of the things she cited, except for pizza, are in my fridge or cupboards.  They just aren't full of artificial colors.  Making them...fake, I guess?
Kids are weird.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I've come to accept that sometimes, people who are aware of my allergies still forget.  And that's okay.  But recently, it came up.  An out of the blue, "Really?  Are you serious?" from someone who knows, or should know, that I have to be careful to the point of being extreme.  I can't eat that.  I can't eat this.  I can't be in the same house as popping corn.  It wasn't a big deal.
In fact, it wasn't a big deal to the point of them making it into a big deal.  (Really, I was already on to another subject.)  But then they finally came to terms with it by shrugging and saying I was always an au natural kind of girl.
Granola mom.  Grapenuts.  Tree hugger.
It gave me a jolt.  I mean, I always recycled.  But I grew up in California and it was sort of beaten over our heads in elementary school, by the tree hugger parents and new environmental curriculum teachers.  Reduce, reuse recycle.  Trim those 6 pack soda plastic holders.
I never was crazy about neon-colored food; it still amazes me that some people are.  The rest I do because of allergies.  Don't I?  
I mean, I shave my legs.  I used to wear a little bit of makeup.  Paint my nails.
I've given some of that up.  Partly from the allergies (Do you know how expensive it is to find makeup free of my specific allergens?  I still need to track down sunscreen.)  Partly from takes too much energy to worry about it.  Partly it's just me.  I don't feel a *need* to sit in front of the mirror and enhance my face.

Huh.  Maybe I am a crunchy, grapenuts, tree-hugging granola mom.
Having unique food allergies has made me much more aware of the world around me, the political side of our food supply and my personal carbon footprint.  I'm not to the extreme that some people are in, and I think it might be because I'm not inherently crunchy.
Then again, maybe I am.  I inherently want to reduce our carbon footprint and protect our food supply.  I want natural, organic, pesticide free food.  I want farm fresh, local produce.  I want my kids to see the woods, and animals roaming free, and know where food comes from.  (Not the grocery store.)
On the other hand, I like little rubber duckies, and cute paper plates for birthday parties, and a variety of not-so Earth friendly possessions.

Which came first?  Crunchy or not?
I suppose it's all about awareness.  Without awareness, I wouldn't know how to make informed decisions or how to protect the Earth.  I wouldn't make 'better' choices because I wouldn't know the impact of my "worse" choices.

Without the allergies, I wouldn't have awareness.  And while I wish I didn't know a lot of what I do know, in the end I'm better for it.  Regardless of when the change occurred, I am the Granola Mom.  (Although, I'm allergic to granola, too.)  :P

Monday, January 13, 2014


When I began this blog, I was frustrated by the phrase "Maybe it's just stress..."  The doctors seemed to use it randomly, as a fall back, meaningless phrase to excuse the fact that they didn't know the answer.  It was a way to withdraw pressure from them and place blame back on the patient.  Not only do you feel awful, it's your own fault you feel awful.  You're too stressed and should have spent your copay on a good yoga class instead of this doctor visit.
For awhile, I believed them and strove for a more stress free life.  (I felt awful.  I alternated between worried I was dying and hoping for it.  Not because I wanted to die, mind you, simply because the pain and discomfort was really and truly THAT bad.  And all the doctors could do for me was say "Maybe it's just stress...")  What kept me looking for an answer was the fact that, although life was stressful, I always felt like I was handling it.  The most stressful moments came from my physical symptoms and the way they interfered with my real life.
And I found answers.  I discovered that corn derivatives are evil for my body.  I discovered that my immune system was attacking anything that remotely resembled a corn protein (or sugar) and was so smart that it didn't care what a label said.  If there was corn in there, my stomach found it and attacked me for it.  I discovered that gluten made my body fight back, too, though maybe not quite so hard.  I developed, fought and recovered from H Pylori.  I gained weight (in a good way).
Today, I'm actually functional.

I'm also under tremendous stress.  Everywhere I turn with my daughter there are dollar signs.  Or doctors saying that she needs things that cost more money (I'm sorry, but material items that will be disposed of in the short term are NOT needs.  Classes that I don't even expect her to attend and have to drag her to kicking and screaming are NOT needs.  Soda, candy, and single serving packages of junk food are NOT needs.  Nutritional drinks masked as milkshakes might justifiably make the list if they didn't end up smashed against the wall because I've already gone and laid the groundwork of good nutrition over the first 8 or 9 years of her life.)  The depression hit us hard.  (I think the history books will consider the last 5 years a depression, even if there wasn't a specific defining day of beginning)  I have a child with Anxiety (and depression, who acts out because we took too long to find her the labels and help she needed) and one with specific health conditions that need time, patience and treatment.  I have a household to run, temper tantrums to clean up after, interesting neighbors in the neighborhood, food to prepare and spend so much time holding things together for others that I can't wedge in a few hours for a regular job, even if I were to find one that would take me, faults and all.

To call that stress sometimes seems like an understatement.

But I'm not losing weight.  I'm not vomiting, or doubled over in pain.  I get occasional tension headaches that I'm not thrilled with...but with my specially compounded pure over the counter strength acetaminophen, I can handle those.

And still, there are a few people (mostly doctors) who when asking about my history want to blow off the corn allergy as 'probably stress related symptoms'.  I don't want to be bitter, or jaded, but it's my body.  What I do or don't put in it should be my choice.  I shouldn't need a doctors okay.  But to take medication that doesn't attack me I need them to stay on my side.  To get a note stating that I'm not being unreasonable when I bring my own food to an amusement park, or an airplane, or wherever they'd rather you buy food there, I need them on my side.  To reduce my stress that I can trust them to BE on my side if I ever do get to a point when I need some help that doesn't come from inner strength or a homegrown garden...I need them on my side.
The dismissive hand in the air when I remind them of the corn/dextrose allergy is NOT reassuring.