Valentine’s Day with Sweethearts with Allergies

Valentine’s Day is here which means love is in the air and stores are filled with boxes of chocolate candy. Boxes that my sweetheart cannot buy for me. For as Forest Gump tells us “you never know what you’re gonna get” and that is never a good thing for one with allergies! 

So without the ease of omnipresent candy, my sweetheart is forced to be very thoughtful every February 14th! And each year, he comes up with experience gifts. This year, I’m anticipating tickets to see a band who is coming to town (whose music I love) and previous years have included a guided tour of our city at night (where we first fell in love), a museum membership (for my love of art), a tennis lesson (for my love of the game), and a spa gift card (loved – and needed – by any mom). 

Happy experience gifting to all with sweethearts with allergies! 

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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!

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”! 

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 with straightforward 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! 

Studying Abroad with Allergies

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Twice in my life – once as an undergraduate student and once as a graduate student – I decided to voyage into unknown lands and study abroad. I am forever grateful that I did as these experiences were filled with art, food, culture, music, teachers, and friends that continue to inspire me. Going abroad with allergies is not necessarily simple, but is certainly worth the extra preparation.

I first traveled to London – a decision made by the lack of a language barrier. I could easily tell medical professionals my condition and they could read (and understand) my MedicAlert bracelet inscription. I also lived in a flat in London secured by the study abroad program which, unlike the dorm option, allowed me to prepare my own food and minimize known trigger exposure.

Seven years later, I traveled to Italy and did not have my own kitchen so was more prepared to share my condition with others. Of course, there was also the issue that I spoke no Italian beyond “ciao” and “Bellini”. So before I left, I translated “idiopathic anaphylaxis” for the medical professionals and made cards with the specific allergens I had for anyone handling my food. The customer service department of my health insurance provider was an incredibly helpful resource and facilitated all of the translations I needed. They also suggested very strong verbiage – as in “I will die if I eat shrimp” – to ensure no confusion or ambiguity. 

For both study abroad programs, I researched the local hospitals of places I lived and traveled so that I always knew the location of the nearest hospital. This gave me peace of mind and the confidence to explore outside of the cities I was based. I also shared my condition with my traveling companions and sufficiently scared, I mean educated, them with a tutorial on EpiPen administering. 

Perhaps the most important preparation I did was buy oodles of antihistamines and fill prescriptions for EpiPens in the States before I left. While I could avoid any known triggers, idiopathic anaphylaxis has no limits and frequent episodes will wipe you clean of your meds stash. By bringing plenty, I didn’t spend one minute hunting down Benadryl instead of staring up at David. 

While my study abroad days may be behind me, I am confident my international travel is not. So ….”Hello customer service? How do you say ‘mustard’ in French?”