Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Almost New Year!

Yes I have been a total slacker on this blog.

Life is like that.

I still have posts to write about our dining experiences at Walt Disney World (mostly positive) and I'll get to those.

It's been crazy around here with the holidays.

Also, we think Olivia had an allergic reaction to food a few weeks ago.

Long story short: Olivia used to love the regular Krispy Kreme doughnuts (the pre-boxed doughnuts you can buy at the grocery story). The label read as if they were safe. I checked ingredients and labels online and it all seemed OK. Until about a month ago. Liv came home from ballet class feeling totally fine, ate one doughnut, and then went to bed a little bit later.

She woke up a couple hours later and had thrown up IN HER SLEEP. That's right. She threw up in her sleep. I still can't wrap my brain around that.

When she came in our room she was flushed and shaking and said she felt "weird" and dizzy. We cleaned her up, had her brush her teeth, and then she went back to bed. She was fine the next day but we kept her home from school because she was afraid of being sick again.

We have no proof that it was the doughnuts but in digging a little deeper I did discover that while Krispy Kreme says they don't knowingly add peanuts to their products they can't guarantee that the products are peanut and tree nut free because they can't guarantee that their suppliers are a peanut/tree nut free supplier and cross contact may occur.

And so...we've eliminated Krispy Kreme doughnuts from the house.

I think the episode scared Liv and she's been a bit more unsure about food lately. It makes me sad to see her stressed out about food.

Here's to an allergy safe 2016.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Muffins for Moms...But Not Kids with Food Allergies

If there is an event I dislike more than any other at school it has to be "Muffins for Moms" and "Donuts for Dads."

What is supposed to be a fun time for kids and their moms or dads is really anything but "fun" when your kids has food allergies.

Doughnuts can be full of eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and gluten. So if your kids has an allergy to any of those items there is nothing fun about it.

At Olivia's old elementary school they used to have a "peanut free" box of doughnuts (and since they were from a local bakery that we regularly use for peanut-free birthday cakes I trusted that they were safe).

Today was the first "Muffins for Moms" at her middle school. The doughnuts were from that same local bakery but the school failed to have a "peanut free" box.

I asked the principal if any of the boxes were nut free. I received a blank stare in response. And then I said "if they aren't then Olivia can't eat them, so I wanted to double check with you." [In my head I was thinking "so that we can avoid a potentially bad situation right here in the cafeteria....]

The response: "Oh my gosh. I didn't even think about that. I guess I need to start thinking about that in this day and age, don't I?"

Yes. You do.
Especially since you have many kids in your school with food allergies.

And then she says to Olivia: "You need to remind me about that next time."

No, my sixth grader doesn't need to remind you. As principal your job is to think about ALL of the students, even those with food allergies and then ask for help from a food allergy parent if you need it. I'd be more than happy to help out and offer suggestions.

One of Olivia's friends - also a sixth grader - said "I can't believe they didn't have a safe box of doughnuts! There are SO MANY kids with peanut allergies in this school."


In this day and age with the prevalence of food allergies - peanut allergies especially - every principal needs to think about whether or not the food they are serving at a school event has a safe alternative.

As it is, I made sure Olivia ate breakfast before we went to school but I could still see that look of disappointment on her face. So instead of eating doughnuts we went to the book fair and I bought her two new books.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Well we made it through another Halloween.

And for the first time in a long time Olivia came home from trick-or-treating with a HUGE smile on her face.

The last house she and her friends visited was the ONLY OTHER HOUSE in our neighborhood with a teal pumpkin and the homeowner dumped the rest of the nut-free candy into Olivia's pumpkin bucket.

That made her happy.

"Mommy! Mrs. B dumped all her candy into my bucket! How cool is that?!?" 

It's the small things people.

And after witnessing someone making fun of the whole Teal Pumpkin project on Facebook yesterday it was nice to see that some people really do "get it."

Also, this is where the "happy" part of the blog post ends. 

Here's where I get all vent-y about food allergies. Don't post snarky crap on your Facebook page about what color pumpkin you should put out if all your candy is unsafe for kids with food allergies. And don't leave comments on a post like that about how it's "well-established" that people know you hate kids with food allergies.

I don't care if it was meant to be snarky or sarcastic.

There is absolutely NOTHING funny about food allergies. Like ever. So don't try to make fun of them. And if you find yourself wanting to make fun of food allergies substitute another disease for "food allergies" - you know like "well we all know you hate kids with diabetes" or "everyone knows you hate kids with cancer."


Again, I don't care if you're trying to be snarky or sarcastic - there's a time and place for that and dealing with food allergies isn't that time.

OK...enough ranting.

Here's hoping your kiddos have safe candy to enjoy and that you all had a Happy Halloween!

Up next...Thanksgiving! Gobble gobble!

Friday, October 30, 2015


Well it's here.



I have my teal pumpkin and a bowl of non-candy spider rings ready for trick-or-treating. I also have a bowl of candy for any kids who want a food treat rather than a non-food treat.

Tonight the kids went to their grandmother's senior living facility for trick-or-treating. Halfway through Olivia walked past me and said "well, there are about two things I can eat in my bucket." And then she sighed, shrugged, and walked away to gather more candy she can't eat.

And that my friends is what Halloween usually looks like for kids with food allergies. Great costumes and a bucket full of crap they can't eat.

Example A: Our safe and unsafe bowls -

As you can see "unsafe" beats out "safe" each year. (And while those Utz pretzels ARE peanut and tree nut free, they're processed in a facility with sesame seeds so they're off limits for Olivia).

I'll be repeating this whole safe and unsafe sorting again tomorrow night. And then I'll be sending most of the candy with my husband when he leaves for work on Monday so I'm not tempted to eat any of the chocolate. ;)

Olivia knows that Halloween is a tough holiday for her and while she loves dressing up I think she's about over the whole trick-or-treat aspect. What's the point when all you end up with is a bowl full of Skittles? I mean they're great and all but a girl can only eat so many Skittles.

I encourage you to get a teal pumpkin and support kids with food allergies this Halloween. Find some non-food treats (stickers, spider rings, bouncy balls) and give those kids a choice when they come to your house.

Believe me the kids with food allergies (and their parents) WILL appreciate it.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Seeing the Teal Pumpkin Project in Action

Today we took the kids to the Toledo Zoo for the annual Pumpkin Path.

It's the zoo's trick-or-treating event where kids and adults can dress in costume and the kids go to stations to get candy. In years past it's been sort of a bust for Olivia since more than half the candy she would receive was unsafe.

This year she was so excited to see that the zoo was participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project - there would be a teal pumpkin at any booth that was handing out "unsafe" (not allergy friendly) treats.

Here's how it went....

First booth with a teal pumpkin was great - Olivia asked for a "teal pumpkin treat" and they immediately gave it to her. Score one for the zoo.

Next booth with a teal pumpkin was handing out Cracker Jack. You know, caramel popcorn with peanuts. Olivia says "I'd like a teal pumpkin treat" and the volunteer says "OK" and proceeds to put TWO bags of Cracker Jack in Olivia's bucket. I grabbed the bags, looked at the woman and said "She has a peanut allergy and CAN'T EAT THESE." Her response: Oh.

We had to find the RIGHT PERSON to get the safe treat - which they had HIDING BEHIND THE BOOTH for some unknown reason.

Third booth - handing out Milky Way which aren't safe for peanut/tree nut allergies. Olivia again says "I'd like a teal pumpkin treat" and the volunteer PUTS TWO CANDY BARS in her bucket. Again, NO.

After that it did get better.
But seriously. 

I commend the zoo for participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project but the groups that were passing out candy needed a bit more education on the point of the project.

Olivia did come away with a fun stash of stuff:

But at the same time she seemed a bit sad about the whole experience. I suppose Halloween just isn't as fun when you're a kid with food allergies. I asked her what was wrong and she said "I just wish they were all teal pumpkins." I think she still felt left out - even though she was getting fun "stuff" it wasn't the same as what the other kids were getting. Special stuff sure, but still different because of the food allergies.


Halloween can't be over soon enough.

Are you participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project this year? You can learn more about it here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Teal Pumpkis and Halloween

No I didn't go anywhere.
Yes, life got in the way of blogging.

But I'm back! Just in time for Halloween party planning!

I'm not gonna lie - Halloween is not exactly my favorite holiday anymore. At least not when it comes to food and candy.

Honestly it can be rather stressful trying to navigate all the candy and treats and unsafe things when it comes to food allergies.

This year I'm actually HAPPY that Olivia doesn't have a classroom Halloween party - it's one less thing for me to worry about. And it's one less party where she might not be able to eat the same things as her friends.

Of course we still have another party and several chances for trick-or-treating to get through, but we'll make it. Olivia knows the drill: you can take the candy but you can't actually EAT or TOUCH anything until you come home and I sort through it all. I separate the candy into "safe" and "unsafe."

I'll let you guess which bowl ends up with more candy. ;)

This year, for the second year in a row, we'll be putting a teal pumpkin on our doorstep. Why is that, you ask?

Well let me explain.

The Teal Pumpkin Project was launched as a national campaign last year by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) as a way to raise awareness of food allergies and promote inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season.

And if you decide to participate in the program you can put a teal pumpkin on your doorstep and then purchase some non-food items (stickers, glow necklaces, bouncy balls are a few ideas) and give those to the kids who come to your house.

Of course you can also pass out candy - but just keep the candy separate from the non-food items in order to avoid any cross contact. :)

If you're interested in participating in the teal pumpkin project you can take the pledge and you can download a sign to hang at your front door. 

The Teal Pumpkin Project is one way to include kids with food allergies during a holiday season that can be fraught with peril and peanuts (and other allergens).

If you're a room parent or if you're on the school PTO, you could also incorporate a teal pumpkin into any school Halloween celebrations. Always remember to ask about kids with food allergies in the classroom and include the child, exclude the food.

And if you're looking for a list of snacks that are safe for kid with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and/or eggs check out the Safe Snack Guide. It's been updated for Halloween! 

Here's to a safe and Happy Halloween!

To learn more about the Teal Pumpkin Project visit the FARE website.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Back-to-School with Food Allergies

Today's the day!
The kids have gone back to school.

And now is a great time to start thinking about how to handle food allergies at your child's school. Whether you're planning classroom parties or thinking about sending birthday treats this year - if there is a child with food allergies in your child's classroom it's a good idea to do some research so you can include all the kids.

If you're looking for a safe snack option for the entire classroom I suggest bookmarking the Safe Snack Guide. This guide is a catalog of common snacks including pretzels, chips, popcorn, candy, cookies, crackers, and more. It is updated each month and will provide users with information about which snacks are free of peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs.

This is a great tool for schools, sports teams, PTAs, and more.

If you are a parent with a child who has food allergies, FARE has published an updated Emergency Action Plan for parents to "provide a plan of action and authorize others to administer medications should their child suffer an allergic reaction." The form is filled out by parents and the child's doctor and can be given to teachers, staff, coaches, scout troop leader, daycare, and more.

If you're a teacher and you have students with food allergies, you can print out signs to hang in your classroom so that the other students and/or parents are aware of the food allergies.

If you are part of the school's PTO/PTA ask for input from the parents of kids with food allergies - we are always willing to help out when it comes to planning safe and fun events where NO child is excluded because of food. 

Keeping kids with food allergies safe starts at home with the parents but when our kids are at school we rely on the faculty, staff, and even other students to do everything they can to keep our children safe. It really does take a village to keep our kids safe and allergy-free.

So if your child comes home this week or next and says they have a classmate with food allergies, don't bemoan the fact that PB&Js aren't allowed at lunch or that you can't send in homemade or store-bought cupcakes for little Timmy's birthday.

Instead, look at this as a teaching and learning experience for you and your child. Reach out to the parent of the child with food allergies and see what IS safe for snacks and treats. Ask what you can do to help plan classroom parties. Teach your child what food allergies are and how they can help keep their friend safe. Check the Safe Snack Guide for ideas on treats that are safe for kids with peanut, tree nut, and/or egg allergies.

And remember - exclude the food NOT the child.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Middle School and Food Allergies

The day is almost here - Olivia starts middle school tomorrow.
Sixth grade.
Someone quick! Hold me.

I'm feeling a bit anxious about this new adventure. And I'm sure Olivia is a bit anxious too. That comes with the territory of moving to a new school with 250 kids in the sixth grade (when you're used to just 58 kids in your grade since kindergarten).

Factor in food allergies and you're playing a whole new ball game.

At Olivia's old school they knew about her food allergies (they didn't always handle them very well, but it was somewhat easy to navigate). Now, we're at a new school with a lot more kids which means a lot more chances for something to happen.

And yes, this is how my brain works. I'm ALWAYS thinking about "what if?"

Olivia knows what she can and can't eat but her teachers don't. And she's going to have many different teachers throughout the day - probably at least six.

Now, I know that this school has been good about dealing with food allergies in the past so we have that going for us. And, Olivia will be carrying her EpiPens with her at all times (which is new for her - in elementary school they were locked in the school office...which is a whole different post).

Last week we dropped off her medicine form in the office and the secretary asked if she could share the information with all of Olivia's teachers. Of course, I said yes. As we left the office I heard her tell one of the school counselor's about Olivia's allergies .. a good sign.

About two hours later the phone rang at home and it was Olivia's homeroom teacher - calling to ask me about Olivia's allergies! This was a VERY good sign. He wanted to know how severe the peanut allergies were - if kids could still eat peanut butter around her. And he wanted to know what kind of candy was safe. I ended the call by encouraging him to always call me with questions.

That is exactly the kind of support kids with food allergies need from their teachers, classmates, and parents of classmates. Always ask questions. Don't ever assume something is safe. And always ALWAYS exclude the food not the child.

Happy back-to-school! Here's to a great school year.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Happy Friday!

Seriously you guys?
It's August 14 and I'm such a blogging slacker.

This week has been all about back-to-school MADNESS (more on school and food allergies in an upcoming post)!

But today I just have to share some super exciting news!

Today you need to check out the YoDish Blog because yours truly is a guest blogger!

What's YoDish, you ask? Well, it's a super cool new app for your phone that gives you all the details you're looking for about restaurants in your area. It's a great new tool to look up and even share your food allergy, gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan dining successes (and even the failures).

I was playing around with the app recently and when I looked up Five Guys it gave me the waring "peanuts everywhere!" ... because I have my profile set at watching for peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame seeds.

Seriously, you need to check out this app! (No one asked me to talk about the app, I'm simply sharing it because it is that cool).

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The End of July

Yes, I know.
I was supposed to blog every single day this month.
But things happen.
Like being on crutches for the past three weeks...which somehow rendered me incapable of blogging.

That's my excuse. we are at the end of July.
This means school starts again IN THREE WEEKS.

How is that even possible? I swear summer break just started.

Anyway, I'm doing my best to "remain calm" about Olivia starting junior high (or as I like to call it 6th grade) in just a few weeks. She'll have her EpiPens with her at all times as the kids at the junior high are allowed to carry them!

And, based on a conversation I had today she might not be the only kid with food allergies in her grade. I had to call the school today regarding a snack that will be served at orientation in three weeks and the school secretary told me I was the "third or fourth" parent to call about peanut allergies in the 6th grade.

Now, I don't want to say this makes me happy - because it doesn't. Food allergies SUCK and I'd never wish them on anyone. But when I told Olivia about it she said "oh good!" ... I think she's hoping to connect with some other kids who have the same issues with food. Ever since second grade she's been one of only two kids in her grade with food allergies.

And I can guarantee I was the only vocal parent when it came to food allergies in her grade.

Me? I'm just eager (and a bit anxious) to see how the junior high handles food allergies. Here's hoping it won't be a battle at every turn.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Let Her Eat Cake

Ah, birthday cake. Something that seems so simple but can be so complicated when you're dealing with food allergies.

I actually dread birthday party invitations - when Olivia gets invited to a birthday party I know that there's a really good chance she won't be able to eat the birthday cake. Granted there are a couple of parents who go out of their way to (1) bake a safe cake so, or (2) order a safe cake. But that's more of an exception than the rule.

Olivia recently went to a friend's party where the cake was from an "unsafe" bakery and she couldn't have it. She said she was OK about not eating the cake, but I could tell she was a bit sad too.

[Now this is the point where some people will say, "you should have sent her with something to eat!" to which I would respond "Yes, I could have. But I didn't because I didn't think I would need to based on other parties at this house. And that failure is totally on me." So don't judge until you're in MY shoes.]

At that party Olivia was able to enjoy all the other food (including the vanilla ice cream) and she kept insisting that she wasn't too upset about the cake. Me? I would have liked to talk with the parent before the party to know what was being served. But I don't always get what I want.

As difficult at "friend parties" are, when it comes to birthday parties at our house (or within the family) we have two local bakeries where we get our cakes.

The first bakery is Brieschke's Bakery here in Sylvania. They have a "peanut-free and nut-free" area in the kitchen where they prepare cakes in a safe spot. And the peanut/tree nut-free cakes are kept away from the other "unsafe" cakes in the pickup area. This is my favorite spot to get cakes.

Another safe place is Sautter's Markets (again in Sylvania). I ordered safe sugar cookies from here for Olivia's end-of-year party at school. And we've had a few cakes from here too - all peanut/tree nut-free.

That cake? Well that's Olivia's dad's birthday cake - a nut-free red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. YUM!

If we're ordering cakes (or cupcakes) those are the bakeries we're using. Of course I also love to make box cake mixes (or "homemade" cakes ... ha!) ... and for the most part we've found that Betty Crocker cakes are great for peanut/tree nut-free options. (One exception is a Blue Velvet cake mix from good ol' Betty - it has a nut warning right on the label!)

The funny thing about cakes is sometimes - even when we know the cake is safe - Olivia won't eat it. I'm not sure if this is because she's 11-going-on-15 and she's being moody or if she's afraid the cake really isn't safe.

(An aside: I can't imagine what it's like to be afraid to eat something. It makes me sad to know this is Olivia's life right now).

So here's my tip for cakes: If you are hosting a birthday party and inviting kids with food allergies, call those parents and talk to them. If it's possible to get a nut-free and peanut-free cake (if the child in question has those allergies), do it. No one will know the difference (unless of course your kid loves German Chocolate Cake...then there's nothing you can do).

If the cake isn't going to be safe for the kids with food allergies you can either (1) have a safe alternative or (2) CALL THE PARENTS and let them know so that a safe alternative can be sent for their child.

I'll say this again - kids with food allergies shouldn't be left out simply because of their food allergies. If there is a way to include them when it comes to birthday party treats, please do so. You have no idea how much that means to the parents of those kids.

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to enjoy a slice of that nut-free and peanut-free red velvet cake. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Ice Cream

Finding safe ice cream for Olivia isn't always easy. But last year in the Outer Banks we found Scammell's Corner - an ice cream store and surf shop that has SAFE ice cream! It's our go-to spot in Nags Head for ice cream. This year we visited 4 or 5 times. And the best part - other than the nut-free CASE OF ICE CREAM - is that they sing to you as they scoop your sweet treat.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Baseball Games and Food Allergies

Yesterday we made our annual trek to Progressive Field in Cleveland to watch the Indians play.

Baseball games are a fun tradition but they're also very stressful for kids with peanut allergies.

Normally when we go to the game Olivia will get a hot dog and that's about it. She can't eat the ice cream. Or Dippin' Dots. Or the popcorn.

Yesterday though we were in the "club" level which meant unlimited food and beverages (talk about the best way to see a baseball game!).

Olivia was very excited about the hot dog stand - and the buns were safe too! (Buns are one of those 'must-always-check' items because sometimes sesame seeds are listed). And the buffet in the club lounge had salad, which is one of her favorites. And one of the other food stands was a "make your own" snow cone so Liv made THREE snow cones during the game.

The one thing about baseball games that isn't fun is the overwhelming presence of peanuts. And on the club level at Progressive Field there were BARRELS of peanuts - all self-serve. Fill a bag with peanuts as many times as you wanted and drop the shells everywhere.

To say this stressed Liv out would be an understatement.

We ended up sitting at the top row of our section (due to the fact that I'm currently on crutches) and she actually said "Mommy, I love sitting here because no one can eat peanuts behind us and throw the shells on the floor."

Eventually though we had to move to our "regular" seats further down in the section which immediately stressed Liv out. As soon as we sat down she saw the guy behind us shoving peanuts in his face throwing the shells all over the ground and she burst into tears.

She was seriously scared.

And then we saw the backs of the seats were coated in little bits and pieces of peanut shells, including on the cup holders. This meant Liv couldn't put her beverage in the cup holder without risking touching peanut shells.

We didn't stay in those seats very long. I wasn't going to make Liv sit there and be scared.

Whether an allergic reaction was going to happen or not isn't the issue. My kid was scared and that was enough to make us move back inside the lounge.

I just wish that baseball stadiums - major and minor league - had a designated "nut free" zone for families dealing with food allergies. Sure some of the teams have "nut free" nights but one or two nights during a season just isn't enough when the rest of game are full of peanuts and shells all over the ground.

I'd really like to see these stadiums work with food allergy families and national organizations to develop safe zones for kids and adults with peanut allergies.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - A Cupcake

This is one happy girl! A peanut and tree-nut free cupcake for dessert at Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom! When you aren't able to eat dessert at most restaurants it's a pretty BIG DEAL when you find a safe option. And the fact that it's a chocolate cupcake makes it that much better!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Just a Normal Day

OK, I know. I know.

I said I was going to TRY to post every day this month. But it WAS a holiday weekend. So I had a free pass, right? :)

Anyway...last Friday was a BUSY day around here. The girls had golf lessons in the morning, then we spent the day at the swimming pool (in the HOT sun), then we celebrated my niece's 10th birthday with a cookout and cake.

Olivia ate a lot of food. She skipped the birthday cake - I'm guessing because it was from a "new" place that she didn't feel comfortable with. But the cake was nut-free and peanut-free. Sometimes she just doesn't want to eat the safe foods.

What Olivia didn't do on Friday was drink enough fluids (as we would learn on Saturday...just wait for it).

She started complaining of a headache on Friday night and I passed it off as "too much sun."

When she got up on Saturday she said her head still hurt and she was thirsty. So she drank a glass of water. And she was hungry. So I made her pancakes (and by "made her pancakes" I mean I tossed 3 frozen pancakes in the microwave).

A few bites into her breakfast .... she throws up. All over the kitchen floor. The look of shock on her face was memorable to say the least.

My first thought? Not "Oh crap! Liv has the stomach bug!" but rather... "CRAP!!! What did she eat?? Is she having an allergic reaction to something?"

Now, even though I thought she was eating "safe" foods, "is it a reaction?" was still my first thought.

Because that's our reality.

In the end, we determined that she was dehydrated and drank too much water too fast first thing in the morning. By that night she was running through the golf course sprinklers with her cousins and eating (safe) s'mores.

Hope you all had a Happy (and allergy-free) Fourth of July.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I'm Trying To Say

So since this is my new blog I decided to challenge myself to try and write a post a day this entire month. It's part of the NaBloPoMo series with BlogHer. The theme for July is "Connect" which seems perfect for this blog since that's what I'm trying to do.

Today's writing prompt is sort of perfect: "Do people generally understand what you're trying to say?"

Um. No.

I don't think that most people do "get" what I'm trying to say when it comes to food allergies. Oh sure, there are a select few who "get it" - my family, some friends, and well that's about it.

When Olivia was first diagnosed with her food allergies someone actually posted on Facebook "It's not the end of the world."

No, it's not. And I never said back in 2011 that her food allergies were the end of the world. But they were the end of the way things were. Gone were the days of eating out wherever we wanted or grabbing a package of those "break-and-bake" cookies at the store. In one day everything about how Olivia ate was changed.

Fast forward a few years and as I become a louder advocate for my child and her food allergies I have found that many people choose to only hear what they want. Or they just don't listen at all.

I had a country club manager tell me last summer that food labels were only "created by lawyers" to protect companies.

Yeah. No.

I have been told to "step up" by other parents at Olivia's former elementary school when I pushed back on why everything has to revolve around food at school. I have been accused of wanting to create a nut-free school when in reality all I was asking for was some cooperation from other parents.

So you see, not everyone understands what I'm tying to say.

When I ask for a nut-free alternative at school events - for all kids with peanut and/or tree nut allergies, NOT just for my daughter - I'm not trying to be difficult or start an argument. I'm advocating for the safety of kids with food allergies. I'm doing my best to make sure that those kids aren't singled out for their food allergies but are instead invited to participate with all the other kids.

When I push back and demand to be heard it's not because I'm trying to be a bitch. It's because I want other parents to understand that it really does take a village to keep kids with food allergies safe. It's about inclusion not exclusion.

When I talk about food allergies at school it's not because I want a peanut-free school (although I wouldn't complain one bit if classrooms with food allergy kids banned cupcakes and cookies for parties and birthdays), it's because I want people to understand the seriousness of the issue. (And because I would like to see the end of birthday cupcakes and events centered around food.)

And when I hear other parents say things like "well that's not fair to the other kids" or "my child can ONLY eat peanut butter so too bad for you" I know that they aren't understanding the big picture.

Which is why I started this blog. To talk about that big picture. To talk about food allergies and how it's very likely that your child WILL have a classmate (or four) with some kind of food allergy. To talk about how great it is when people are supportive and protective of my child.

So hopefully people will understand what I'm trying to say here and are willing to listen. Because food allergies aren't going away. And neither am I.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Random Things I Think About All the Time

I will freely admit that I'm always thinking about Olivia's food allergies.

I'll see a recipe in a food magazine and think "well, that's one more thing I can't make." Or I'll be watching a cooking show (as I do every night while I cook dinner) and the chef will be making something with hazelnuts, or peanuts, or pecans and before thinking "wow that looks amazing!" I'll think "Olivia will never get to eat that." Or I'll be checking out a menu at a local restaurant and the only words that pop out are "sesame," "hazelnut," "pecans", and the like.

Now that might sound all doom-and-gloom to you but it's the reality we deal with.

As of right this very moment Olivia can't eat a myriad of things including: pesto (pine nuts = tree nuts), pecan pie, Nutella, most candy bars including those "without" nuts because they're processed in the same facility as peanuts and/or tree nuts, a bagel from our local bagel spot (Barry Bagels), a Big Mac, a Quarter Pounder, a burger or anything else from Five Guys, some brands of pretzels, some types of crackers, pistachios, anything from Chick Fil A, hummus, Almond Milk (or Cashew Milk), M&Ms, Burger King, anything with peanut butter, sesame seeds, most break-and-bake cookies, peanuts, doughnuts and cookies from most bakeries, most chocolate chips, some cereals, regular bread crumbs, milkshakes from Steak 'n Shake, Cool Whip, McFlurries from McDonalds, frozen coffees from just about every coffee shop, almonds, walnuts, any tree nuts (the risk isn't worth it), anything processed in a facility that also processed peanuts and/or tree nuts, anything with sesame seeds....and the list goes on.

Trust me when I say the list of can't-eat items is MUCH longer but I decided to NOT add everything. But you get the idea, right? 

It's no wonder that I spend a lot of time thinking about Olivia's allergies.

I also think these random thoughts:

- I hope she never gets bullied at school for her food allergies. Kids (and adults) can be so mean and heartless. 

- What if someone tries to bully her with food? 

- Why does everything at school have to revolve around food? Since when did cupcakes become so freaking important?

- What happens when she starts dating? What if her boyfriend wants to kiss her but he just ate Nutella? Oh my gosh! She's going to be kissing boys! And they can't eat the food she's allergic too! 

-What happens when she goes out with her friends in high school and she has to carry her EpiPens? Will her friends be supportive of her and the food choices she has to make? 

- Oh crap. She's going to go to college someday. Will she be able to manage her food allergies?

- I just ate pecan pie at Thanksgiving dinner. Now I can't/won't give her a kiss goodnight. 

- We're on a plane. I hope no one eats anything that she's allergic too. Oh great, they're selling snack boxes full of things with tree nuts. 

- I hate nuts. 

- Crap. I ate a sesame seed bagel at lunch. I need to wash my hands. And brush my teeth. 

- Oh good. It's Halloween again. Time to trick-or-treat and get a bucket full of candy she can't eat. I hate holidays. 

- This is so unfair for Olivia. 

- OK. Time to create an Easter basket with no candy. 

- I sure hope the allergy tests are negative next time. 

- Maybe it's time to do a food challenge?

- Why her?

- Oh man. She wants to try crab legs at dinner. What if she's allergic to shellfish and we don't know it? Good thing the EpiPens are nearby. 

- I hate food allergies. 

- The waitress says she told the chef about Olivia's allergies. But what if she didn't? 

- Did the waiter/waitress REALLY write down the list of food allergies? 

- Oh shit! Olivia just opened a package of crackers that were covered in sesame seeds! Holy SHIT! Quick! Brush off the table. Get the crackers away! Wash her hands. (This actually DID happen a few weeks ago - we were at a new-to-us place in the Outer Banks and Olivia opened a package of crackers that had sesame seeds on top. I have NEVER seen someone drop something SO FAST. She recovered quickly. Me, not so much).

...and the list goes on and on. 

So you see...allergies are an everyday kind of thing.
We take the good with the bad.
There are small victories and big defeats.

Yesterday Olivia's dad took her to the ice cream shop up in Maberry and SURPRISE! they really DID have a bottle of Hersheys' chocolate syrup behind the counter. So my vanilla ice cream kid was able to skip the sprinkles and have chocolate syrup instead. She was VERY happy.

Which just goes to show: sometimes all it takes is some chocolate syrup on a bowl of vanilla ice cream and all is right with the world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Allergens Show Up in the Strangest Spots

As a parent of a child with food allergies I spend a lot of time reading labels.

I'm talking about A LOT OF TIME.

If you happen to see my in the grocery store it's a good bet that you'll find me reading a label.

Food labels are a tough nut to crack sometimes (sorry). There's no rhyme or reason really when it comes to food labeling. Sometimes allergens are listed, sometimes they're not.

The FDA requires that the top eight allergens are listed - milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, crustacean shellfish - but other than that it's sort of a free for all. There's no real requirement about the whole "manufactured in a facility that processes" labeling.

Which is why parents of kids with food allergies read EVERY SINGLE LABEL.

And if something says "processed in a facility" or "may contain" or anything of that sort and those words are followed by peanuts or tree nuts, it's going to be off limits for Olivia.

The hardest ingredient right now is sesame seed because it doesn't have to be listed at all.


Because it's NUMBER 9 on the FDA's list of top allergens and only the TOP 8 MUST BE LISTED.

Yep, that's right. There's not a top 10 list of allergens that must be listed - there's a top 8 list. And sesame is number 9.

Things that contain or may contain sesame seeds include bread crumbs, most of the Pepperidge Farm breads, bagels, hummus, Asian food, Mediterranean food, crackers, some pretzels, some chips, and the list goes on.

And it's not always food that is the culprit. Last December I discovered the Lip Smackers brand lip gloss is made with sesame seed oil (WTH?).

So the label reading goes as far as beauty products, lotion, shampoo, makeup, etc.

You just never know where those pesky allergens are going to show up!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dining Out with Food Allergies

After Olivia was diagnosed with food allergies, our dining out routine changed dramatically.

Gone were the days where we could say "hey, let's try out that new restaurant" without a second thought about the menu.

Now we have a running list of where we can go and where we can't go. Olivia will never eat at Five Guys. She likely won't learn how amazing sushi can be. Hibachi restaurants are off limits. Chick-Fil-A is a no-go. Burger King is off the list.

Why so many "no" restaurants, you ask? Let me explain....

Five Guys fries in peanut oil and has boxes of peanuts at the door. It would be like walking through a mine field. Sushi = sesame seeds which = cross contact. Same with the hibachi restaurants. The last time we ate at one Olivia was sick the rest of the night (this was B.A. - before allergies). Chick-Fil-A also has a peanut oil issue. And have you seen the buns at Burger King? It's sesame seed heaven.

Nope. Nope. And nope.

Now our restaurant routine is more like "Hey, we should go here." To which I normally respond "I'm not sure if it's safe for Olivia. I'll have to call/check the menu."

I'm a big menu reader. And since Olivia's diagnosis my eyes immediately dart to words like "sesame seeds," "coconut shrimp," and "[insert peanut and/or tree nut] encrusted whatever."

Who would have thought that words as innocuous as "sesame," "coconut," "pecans," and "hazelnut" would become my red flag words? 

If we're dining somewhere new the first thing I do is tell the waitress "My daughter has a peanut, tree nut, and sesame seed allergy so please inform the kitchen of this so they can ensure there is no cross contact." I also make sure that the food isn't fried in peanut oil. And if I see things like coconut shrimp on the menu I know we can't order anything fried. The risk just isn't worth it.

Recently on vacation we stopped to dine at a Mexican restaurant in West Virginia and when I asked the waiter if the tortilla chips were fried in peanut oil his response was "Cheese dip?" It took several attempts at asking the same question (and getting the same "cheese dip?" answer) before we learned the chips were safe.

Sometimes food allergies are lost in translation.

We have a running list of "safe" places for Liv here in Toledo (and a list of "no way Jose!" places too). 

We love dining at Ciao! for special occasions like birthdays - they are always receptive to my "allergy instructions." The same is true of Mancy's Italian. Olive Garden is a good spot and Liv recently dined at Red Lobster with her dad and they gave her their "allergy menu" which was pretty awesome.

We frequent our local Fricker's for wings. Subway is a good bet for sandwiches (in turn we avoid the local bagel shop because there are sesame seeds everywhere).

Basically if I walk into a restaurant and tell the waitress/waiter about Olivia's food allergies and they (1) write it down and (2) come back with updates from the chef about what is safe/not safe I am willing to add that spot to our "safe to visit" list.

Of course menus can always change and ingredients can and do change so it's a good idea to ALWAYS tell the servers about Liv's allergies.

And sometimes I need to do some investigation before allowing Olivia to visit a restaurant - including reading the menu if it is online or even visiting in person to see what's what. 

Dining out with food allergies is challenging but it can be done. One of the things I'm going to do with this blog is short reviews of local restaurants with a good/bad rating when it comes to allergies.

Happy dining!

Friday, June 19, 2015

I Scream. You Scream. We All Don't Scream for Ice Cream.

I love ice cream.

Like seriously LOVE it. I could eat ice cream every night - but I don't because I'm trying to lose weight.

Olivia also LOVES ice cream, but it's a sticky and slippery slope when it comes to finding a safe place for her to enjoy her second favorite dessert (chocolate mousse is her first favorite).

Here in Toledo we used to visit a spot called Mr. Freeze - it's a seasonal place, serving soft serve cones and sundaes from March through October. We don't go there anymore because they have a rather prominent sign at the counter that basically says "if you have a peanut or tree nut allergy we don't think it's a good idea for you to eat here."

Another soft serve spot - Melo-Creme - has been better, in that we've visited there once and they wore food service gloves and took out about 10 cones to find a "safe" (read: no cross contact here!) cone for Olivia.

Currently our go-to spot is a little place up in Mayberry (in Sylvania). It's a coffee shop-slash-ice cream shop and for the most part they're good (not great) when it comes to Olivia's allergies.

Their soft serve ice cream is safe and they'll usually open a new box of sprinkles for her. But a kid can only eat so much vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles before it gets really boring!

So the other day Olivia want to change it up a bit - she wanted something different. Which, when you have peanut and tree nut allergies, isn't always easy. Especially when it comes to ice cream. She wanted hot fudge on her vanilla soft serve.

That was a no-go. The hot fudge was processed in a facility that also processes peanut and tree nuts. So, I asked if they had any Hershey's chocolate syrup (since that's a safe option). Nope. No chocolate syrup. The somewhat clueless teenagers behind the counter looked at the different varieties of scoop ice cream and said "we can open a new container of one of these for her."

Um, thanks for the idea but look at the ingredients - 95 percent of the ice cream there has nuts or tree nuts as an ingredient.

Olivia, knowing the ice cream battle was lost, said "I'll just have what I always get." And then she proceeded to eat about 10 bites and threw out the rest.

Ice cream -1, Olivia - 0.

It's very frustrating for Olivia - she used to love to go out for ice cream. Now when we suggest it she rarely wants to go.

Like I said, you can only eat so much vanilla soft serve with sprinkles before it gets really OLD. 

We used to have a Cold Stone Creamery right down the road and we could go in there and they'd know Olivia (it's the peanut allergy girl!) and whoever was working would go to the back, open a brand new cotton candy ice cream, get a clean bowl and scoop, and mix in chocolate shavings and sprinkles for Olivia. Sadly the store closed last year. :( 

I think our favorite ice cream shop is Scammell's Corner Surf Shop and Ice Cream Parlor in Nags Head, North Carolina (in the Outer Banks). Not only does the owner sing as he scoops ice cream but he has ALL THE PEANUT AND TREE NUT FREE ICE CREAM in ONE cooler! It's totally separate from the other ice cream flavors. Pure genius. And, he always uses a clean scoop to scoop out the ice cream. AND he has Hershey's syrup and hot fudge for the ice cream.

I'm not ashamed to say we visited there about four times on our most recent OBX vacation. Also, we totally need a Toledo-based Scammell's. I'm just sayin'.

I wish I could open a totally peanut- and tree nut-free ice cream parlor where we could serve all nut-free and peanut-free ice cream with safe toppings. It could be connected to my nut-free and peanut-free bakery and restaurant.

Safe ice cream and cookies and cakes for everyone!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Life Isn't Fair.

There's something that's been nagging me all day. It's not anything earth-shattering but it's like an annoying buzzing noise that just won't go away.

So in order to make it stop, I figured a blog post was in order.

I was eating lunch the other day with a group of women (of varying ages) when Olivia's food allergies came up.

As we discussed what Olivia can and can't eat one woman at the table said at her grandson's school they ban ALL classroom treats because of the prevalence of food allergies.

I said I wished Olivia's old elementary school had done that when she was there because even though the classroom parties (Halloween and Christmas) were normally "safe" for her, every single time a kid brought in cupcakes or cookies for a birthday Olivia wasn't able to eat one and had to eat a Jolly Rancher instead.

And I said how unfair that was for her to be singled out because of her allergies.

And then someone at the table said "life isn't always fair."

Excuse me?

Life. Isn't. Always. Fair.

I had to (1) quickly change the topic so as to not lose my shit at the country club, and (2) pretend I didn't really hear those words in relation to food allergies and MY daughter.

Now, I have NO idea if the person was saying that like "man, that really sucks that Olivia wasn't able to participate" or if it was more like "sucks to be Olivia but she needs to learn that life isn't always fair."

I like to give most people the benefit of the doubt so I'm going to assume that the person who said that wasn't saying it to be mean and spiteful but was rather just a bit clueless when it comes to kids with food allergies.

Because let me tell you, we already know that life isn't always fair. There's nothing "fair" about food allergies.

Kids with food allergies learn early on what it's like to be "left out" and "singled out." They know what it's like to constantly hear "No, you can't eat that" and "No, we can't go there because it's not safe."

Recently on vacation in the Outer Banks we were dining out and Olivia had a tough time with the meal. We weren't able to order her favorite appetizer (calamari) because it was cooked in the same oil as coconut shrimp and we avoid coconut. That was the first "no" of the night. Then at dessert she had a meltdown when she really wanted the chocolate mousse but we weren't sure if it was safe.

Imagine for a moment crying over dessert. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?

In the end the chocolate mousse was deemed "safe" and Olivia was able to enjoy it. But that doesn't normally happen.

So the next time you feel like telling a food allergy parent that "life isn't fair" you might want to rethink your choice of words.

Instead of thinking about how "fair" it is to bring cupcakes or cookies into a classroom (or how "unfair" it is to prohibit them) think about how you would feel if you were the ONLY PERSON in a group of your friends who couldn't eat the same thing everyone was eating. And imagine that the food you can't eat is something you LOVE.

Think about how you might feel singled out. And now imagine that you're a child in a classroom where everyone is eating a cupcake except you - you're eating a Rice Krispie treat or a piece of candy. And that's just NOT the same.

Life isn't fair.
But please don't feel the need to remind us of that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hi There.

So because I don't have enough to do already (cough, cough) I decided it was high time to start another blog.

You know, to add to the three I already have (one of which I sort of pay attention to, one that I'm trying to love more, and one that I haven't loved posted on in YEARS).

But this blog is different.

This is all about allergies. Olivia's allergies to be specific.

If you're new to my world (hello you!), let me give you the 4-1-1 on what's going on.

Olivia is 11. She'll be entering 6th grade in the fall (ACK!) and she's been living with food allergies since the fall of 2011.

She was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame seeds when she was in the second grade. To say we were shocked by the diagnosis would be an understatement. We had NO idea that anything was wrong.

In retrospect we probably should have suspected something - she would throw up after eating peanut butter and finally stopped eating at completely. We dined at a Hibachi restaurant about 10 months before her diagnosis and she was ill that night (we know now that it was from the sesame seeds). And as a baby she had horrible eczema and issues with certain formulas).

Now, we've been living with and dealing with the challenges of life-threatening food allergies for almost four years.

I wish I could say it gets easier but it doesn't. It's more of a routine now. There are still tears and frustration (from Olivia mostly but also from me). There are challenges. There are horrible people who can't see past the end of their noses.

But we deal.

So this blog is going to be about how we're dealing. And what we're doing. And places we love to visit in our city (the "Glass City" is Toledo, Ohio just in case you were wondering) and beyond. I'm going to share a lot, so be prepared.

And, thanks for reading!