Happy Hypoallergenic Holidays

IMG_0427‘Tis the season for joy and laughter and beautiful décor and delicious once-a-year treats. My steps for making merry with allergies include:

1. Trimming an artificial tree. I know this is a polarizing issue for Christmas celebrators, but for those with environmental allergies, the scented, sapping needles in your home for weeks at a time aren’t ideal. They have come a long way in artificial tree aesthetics, too.

2. Filling our candle holders with unscented candles. Perhaps not as festive as Peppermint or Christmas Cookie scented candles, but avoiding fragrance is generally a good idea with severe scent allergies.

3. Collecting stocking stuffers that aren’t candy. Most retailers have trinket sections in both their stores and catalogs and I make sure to grab any adorable ones I find throughout the season so I can fill each family members’ stocking with non-food items for Christmas morning.

4. Bringing the goodies for the class holiday party. This way, I can ensure everything that is served is safe, and I leave the Nutcracker paper plates for the parents who are unfamiliar with allergies.

5. Hosting a nut-free cookie exchange. A few years ago, my sweet sister organized a cookie exchange and invited guests to bring their favorite nut-free cookie to share. It was not only the kindest gesture ever for her sister with allergies, but was tons of fun and I look forward to making it an annual tradition.

6. Refreshing our holiday music mix. Even if we are following the same tried and true allergen-free recipes we cook all year long, it feels way more festive if “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by She&Him is playing in the background.

Happy hypoallergenic holidays!

The Safe Haven That is Chick-fil-A

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As a family with allergens, we strive to eat the purest form of any food. On our quest to do so, we learned that french fries (“hots”) are most often NOT simply potatoes cut and submerged in oil. They are potatoes that are egged, soyed, milked, breaded, and generally altered. They also are often cooked in the potential allergens of peanut or soybean oil. 

We have also realized that french fries frequently share fry baskets with other products. This alters the purity of the fries, my friends, as if a basket had shrimp fritters in it moments earlier, it now swims with seafood and gluten. 

So where does one with severe FPIES and a love of french fries go for some good ‘ole hots?! 

Enter Chick-fil-A and their waffle fries. The ingredient list is simply real potato and a color retention additive. They are cooked in pure canola oil. They are also fried in a basket dedicated solely to waffle fries, eliminating the chance of cross-contamination. They are also pure deliciousness, and pair perfectly with lemonade (“made”).

Since discovering the purity that is Chick-fil-A waffle fries, we have frequented the drive-thru lane and bounded through the doors of this Atlanta-based chain too many times to count. Instead of toys for W’s birthday, we received gift cards from family members who know his frequency of requests for “hots and made”. For over a year, it has held not only the top – but the only – spot on our restaurant list as it is the single dining establishment where we know that W can eat with no issues. 

Chick-fil-A has certainly become a safe haven for us in the midst of FPIES. It provides an option for road trips, a place to meet friends for lunch, and a sense of inclusion for W who eats the same thing as his siblings (and let’s be honest, his parents – who can resist Chick-fil-A waffle fries?)!

More hots & made, please!

A Thanksgiving Meal for All

IMG_0388Thanksgiving is a time for grace and inclusion and so, more so than ever, it is especially important that W can eat our family’s meal. It is also a must that everything is delicious enough for the obligatory Thanksgiving seconds!

As such, I have carefully curated a menu in which the main cooking ingredient is olive oil and each recipe is free from dairy, wheat, egg and additional allergens for W.

Here’s the spread:

A turkey that is free-range, local, and organic.

Mashed potatoes

Brussel sprouts with bacon

Garlic roasted carrots

Cranberry relish

And for dessert, we serve apple popsicles made simply by freezing local apple cider in popsicle molds.

Happy thanksgiving!

You Are a Badass

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I recently picked up this New York Times bestseller by the same name. WORTH THE READ. 

Let’s be honest, allergies don’t necessarily make one feel like a badass. To live safely with allergies, we must often remove ourselves from certain situations instead of confidently joining in the fun. 

Having lived in the coastal town of Hilton Head, South Carolina with a seafood allergy, I have stood at many a low country boil watching others indulge while I hover in the corner with an EpiPen and a rumbling stomach. Thanks to my latex allergy, I’ve literally run – not walked – away from friends at parties to avoid balloons. In school cafeterias today, separate tables exist to which children with allergies are assigned, removing them from their classmates and friends. 

It can also be hard to feel like a badass if your young child has FPIES. I once took W to run errands with me and decided to not wear our matching uniforms of sweats. Instead, I dressed him in a seersucker onesie and myself in a flowered blouse and skinny jeans. I even refrained from pulling my hair into a knot on top of my head. I was feeling pretty darn good about ourselves and swaggered on into the first stop of our outing. A sweet high schooler said hello and then smiled at W. He paused for a second, looking slightly funny at her, then proceeded to projectile vomit. The moment quickly spiraled from one of shopping in cute clothes (insert regrets about not wearing our sweats and leaving my hair down) to the beginning of one of his worst episodes which ended with us in the hospital for days. 

While reading a book doesn’t make these instances stop, nor does it make allergies and their seriousness disappear, there are coping mechanisms, mantras, and just good sentiments certainly relevant for living with allergies. It is also super well-written, hysterical, and sweet. 

As an allergy navigator as well as a parent to one, I particularly connected to the parts that covered:

Gratitude – for I am grateful for the foods that nourish us, safely, and the friends and resources we have to go through life with allergies, joyfully

Money – for I am undeterred by the bills for the medical care, organic groceries, and other costs that keep us healthy 

Faith – for I have faith that a higher power will keep that Goldfish out of my little’s grasp

Loving Yourself – celiac disease and all 

I’ll end this post with the same sign off as the book – you are a badass. (Now go snuggle up with a 100% cotton blanket and read it.)

7 Fall Family Outings that Don’t Include a Restaurant

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For the last year, we have avoided all but one restaurant to ensure no allergen cross-contamination for W.

So instead of eating out, we take advantage of resources in our area and find experiences that keep us local, busy, and away from food allergens. 

Our recent favorites make the most of fall weather by:

1. Starting each Saturday with a visit to a different playground or park in town.

2. Grabbing pompoms and cheering on the local collegiate team at a game. 

3. Attending a harvest festival at a cultural institution. The beverage on tap is most likely apple cider and thankfully, apples have always been a safe food! 

4. Filling a basket at a pick your own orchard or farm. Bonus: this creates a positive experience around food for W.

5. Inviting friends for an afternoon at a vineyard or brewery – two places where children are surprisingly and increasingly accommodated and outside food is often allowed.

6. Hearing outdoor live music.

7. Indulging W’s love of horses (and lack of a horse hair allergy!) and participating in anything equestrian, from horse races to barn feeds.

So many options that don’t include “Waiter, table for minus one”! 

What’s in my Diaper Bag

 

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To stay active with a little one with not so little allergies, a well stocked diaper bag is a must. I am an adoring fan of these essentials:

Born Free glass bottles

Glass was recommended as safest for W’s specialized formula. I hesitated that glass would not be ideal for our lifestyle but actually found it quite convenient. Glass seems to clean easier than plastic, formula leaves less residue, and the glass never once broke in two years of on-the-go use. The Born Free set also met our needs for flow control. 

Huggies Little Snugglers diapers

Disposable diaper selection usually comes down to personal preference for design and cost. For us, it came down to reactions. Some diapers we tried caused my lips to swell and some gave the littles’ red rashes, while others smelled like chemicals. Sure, I might prefer an aqua polka dot to Winnie the Pooh, but ultimately, the Little Snugglers won out as the most accommodating for our families’ allergies.

Huggies Natural Care wipes 

As with the diapers, these are hypoallergenic and caused no allergic reactions for me or the babies (while other brands and types did). I’m no chemist so while I can’t explain why, I just know that I’ve invested a small fortune in Huggies products. 

Aden + Anais blankets

The Aden + Anais cotton muslin blankets are hypoallergenic, absorbent, and the ideal weight and size for a multitude of needs. With baby food-related allergies, spit up and other not so pleasant liquids abound, and the blankets are perfect for both soaking up and/or wiping off surfaces. They are also substantially larger (and substantially cuter!) than most burp cloths so can absorb quite a bit or tuck up around a wee one, depending on that day’s need, while still folding and fitting easily into a diaper bag.

Silicone pacifiers

One of our pediatric allergists suggested the Nuk or MAM pacifier as their designs include holes on the sides which allow for more air flow and provides less surface area to cause a skin reaction. The silicone nipple is a must for those with latex allergies. 

BEABA spoons

These utensils also came recommended as they are silicone (so no latex), dishwasher safe, and free from BPA and other things one doesn’t want in their little’s mouth.

Wooden and cotton toys

Modern day toy makers are increasingly sticking to wood, which is certainly more hypoallergenic than a material I may or may not be able to pronounce. When scouting soft toys to throw in the diaper bag, cotton is the go-to.

Happy diapering and adventuring! 

Accepting a Dinner Party Invitation

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Lingering conversations. A home cooked meal. Cloth napkins from the sideboard drawer. A second glass of wine. I pretty much love a dinner party.

And we are lucky enough to occasionally get invitations for such at friends and family members’ homes. Most of our invitations are from those who know me and so the invitation comes withstraightforward instructions along the lines of “send me what you can’t eat”. 

Sometimes, however, we receive dinner party invitations from people who have yet to experience the allergy side of my life and images of me enjoying that second glass of wine fade into panic over the theoretical peanut butter pie served for dessert. 

I’ve learned that while I strongly dislike feeling as if I am a high-maintenance guest, it is necessary to notify the host of my allergies before agreeing to dine in their home. I’ve also realized that it’s not actually being high maintenance. It’s being safe, healthy, and unapologetic for a medical condition I did not choose – all things I will instill in W as he, too, navigates friendships and experiences with allergies. 

So, a narrative that has developed over the years to address the issue, without putting the onus on the gracious host, often goes like this:

Host: Hi Margaret, can you guys come over for dinner on Friday?

Me: Thank you, we would love to join you! However, I have severe food allergies (then list them) and wouldn’t want to make it difficult on you. Would you like to come to our house instead, or meet at a restaurant if that’s easiest for you?”

This leaves room for the host to decide if they are comfortable or not accommodating  my dietary restrictions. If they are not, I have offered two other options in which to enjoy each other’s company. In my experience, however, they usually are, so the conversation continues:

Host: That’s no problem!

Me: Thank you so much for accommodating. We look forward to it and will bring an appetizer.

These last two lines are important. Of course, I want to say thank you and will do so again during the dinner and again afterwards. I am incredibly grateful for those who open their home and plan and execute a menu especially for me (which probably requires straying away from their go-to meal to serve). 

Also, bringing a dish is clutch. Saying that you will is better than posing the question “what can we bring?” as most hosts reply with “nothing”. Allergies or not, however, one doesn’t want to show up empty handed. More importantly, by bringing a dish, I remove a piece of the dining experience in which the host has to consider my allergies – ultimately making it easier on him or her. 

Which will hopefully lead to another invitation! 

Talking with Children About Allergies

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I remember it vividly. I walked into the taqueria for chips and salsa and left with the stunning realization that I didn’t know how to explain allergies to my child. 

It was kids night at the local Mexican restaurant and as part of the festivities, a balloon entertainer went from table to table twisting into reality Weiner dogs and giraffes. My toddler daughter’s face lit up when she saw them while my own face winced. For those latex balloon configurations were an exciting novelty to her and an allergy trigger to me. 

I told her we couldn’t get one and she began crying. I consoled her and said another time. I told her I was so sorry and apologized for not being able to accommodate her very normal request. I agreed that it was sad. I looked to my husband to jump in. I wept into my margarita.

In short, I did everything wrong. 

The next day happened to be her annual check up and with the previous evening’s incident fresh on my mind, I asked the pediatrician about explaining allergies to a three year old. He told me she is smart and to tell her the truth. Every time we encountered an allergen, simply say “that makes mommy sick.” Repetition is key. Say it over and over again. “That makes mommy sick.” Saying different things, using different words, or stumbling over different explanations and looking to someone else for an answer is confusing at best, and terrifying at worst, to a young child. The concept that something making someone sick clarifies. 

He also said to never apologize or emotionalize it. For its not something to be sorry for or emotional about – it’s a medical condition the same way any other condition is. She will only be sad if I make it sad. She will only cry and emote if I give her permission to cry and emote. 

I thought this all made darn good sense, but I needed to see it in action. So the next time we were faced with a balloon opportunity, I knelt down, looked my daughter in the eyes and said “those balloons are beautiful but we can’t go near them. They make mommy sick.” She nodded her head, shrugged her shoulders, and said “oh, okay.”

Amazing! My child IS smart and DOES deserve the truth! 

Having the knowledge to say these simple few words in a matter of fact, unemotional manner empowered me. I felt like I had the necessary tool in my tool belt and no longer felt panicked that I would encounter an allergen with my daughter in tow.  

This also translated well when several years later, we explained to her that her baby brother had allergies, too. “That makes W sick” not only makes sense to her, but she can easily explain it to others. I overhear her use the same line to her friends when they question why W’s breakfast plate is piled high with hots instead of buttered pancakes. She says it matter-of-factly, unemotionally, and confidently.  

The simple truth at play!

Scouting Cotton

FullSizeRenderScouting for cotton has become much more than a hobby. A hobby is something you do for fun but I, my friends, search for cotton out of need. My textile allergies prevent me from wearing much else while W’s eczema merits a pretty strict use of the fabric. So we hear recommendations for pure cotton time and again in our allergy / immunology / dermatology / pretty much all -ology offices. 

Side bar: You go, Eli Whitney. Without the invention of the cotton gin, we might find ourselves destined to a life of synthetic fibers and hives (or worse). Or searching high and low for this textile and paying a pretty penny. Thanks to Whitney’s genius invention, however, cotton is both readily available and affordable. 

Despite its prevalence, though, I still find myself overwhelmed by the copious amounts of fabrics I must sift through to find cotton. These days, rayon, modal, and viscose abound.

There is also a lack of consistency in labeling clothes. The tags are never in the same place in clothing garments, so I waste hours in stores pulling up shirt sleeves and finding side stitched labels that lead to only a dry clean recommendation. When I can find the label, it is often a certain percentage of aforementioned rayon, modal, and viscose. I almost jump for joy when I find 100% cotton staring back at me.

The inconsistency continues into fabric use for clothing lines. I once found a two-piece suit that consisted of allergen-free pants and a non allergen-free matching blazer. Question mark question mark. 

Online shopping for clothes isn’t much better. It often consists of hours of scrolling and searching for one shirt (which may or may not fit, as it is online and we’ve all traveled that road). Online shopping with allergy requirements also leads down rabbit holes in which I waste time trying to research what particular terms mean and somehow land on a site dedicated to tattoo artists. 

Alas, I have made huge strides over the years building up a resource base for ginned threads. Thefabricofourlives.com is great for both learning more about cotton and for identifying some currently-on-the-market cotton threads. I also increasingly find both clothing and home designers committed to the use of cotton. I follow them. Friends share links. I bookmark them. 

And I always, always share my scouted cotton threads!