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.