Allergies come in all shapes and sizes

It’s been a long time since the stomach flu has hit our house. Sure we’ve had colds, croup, pneumonia.. but stomach flu? Nope.

Until Sunday.

When Miss A puked all over the couch downstairs. She had a very brief fever, threw up some more and then it was done. Mr man today had a rather severe belly ache all day but thankfully no more vomitting.

As a result, I’ve been compulsively washing my hands. Now, I wash my hands a lot anyway. I’m a bit of a germaphobe. I am fairly certain I get it from my mother who still, on occasion, asks me if I washed my hands when we are in a public bathroom. And she may deny this but it’s happened. At times I’ve said yes and she’s responded with “with soap?” People, I’m in my 30s.

So really, it’s not surprising I am a bit OCD when it comes to germs. I wash my hands frequently and fervently.

And I’m allergic to many soaps.

It doesn’t always bode well for me. Like today. Today my right hand is on fire and itching like mad from overwashing.

Miss A accidentally washed her hands with a neighbor’s clearasil recently which made her hands swell up, go fire engine red and erupt into teeny little bumps all over. She was crying in pain then and now I have even more sympathy for her.

Since then almost all soaps irritate her hands. By the end of the day they are red and itchy again, like mine.

Allergies don’t always have to be anaphylactic. They can be skin irritations or hive inducing (which is why we will never have a real Christmas tree.. but that’s for another post). Regardless, allergies  are really frustrating!

We are currently playing “find the soap that doesn’t bother Miss A’s hands”. We think Lush products are OK so far, but SoftSoap is definitely out as is Strawberry Shortcake soap.

Oh the hunt.. it never ends when you’re an allergic mama to allergic babes. But that’s what we do as mamas right? Protect them regardless how big or small the problem? And protect her I shall.. while hoping that it also works for my own soap problems..

If anyone has any suggestions I’m all ears!

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Italian Family Secrets..

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have Italian in my blood. My mother’s father is from a little part of Italy called Calabria. Though I’ve been to Italy, I never went to his home down. My parents and my mother’s siblings and spouses have been though – they even got to see where he grew up.

My grandfather had a tough start to life in Canada. He came over by boat at age 13. When he arrived, he was placed in elementary school because of his lack of English. A fight got him kicked out of school early on and he never went back. Despite never having received a formal education, my grandfather was very hard-working and married a wonderful woman. Together, they had 4 kids in a house filled with lots of love and tradition. And food. Lots of food. My grandmother was French Canadian (what language my grandparents spoke must have been amusing.. neither spoke English very well). She learned to cook all of the Italian staples as though she herself was Italian.

I don’t remember a lot about my childhood and when I try to picture my grandfather’s house, my memory is vague. But I remember the kitchen (including the little glasses that had playing card suits on them), the outline of the dining room, that there was a little bedroom off the dining room, the basement we never really went down to because it was musty and concrete. I remember the front room with the blue sofa.. and the fact that my grandfather watched a lot of football and baseball. He loved his Montreal Expos. He lived on a street with lots of other Italians and lived near his siblings. Somehow when we were all there we fit around the table.

I remember the smell. It always smelled slightly old, and slightly like spaghetti sauce. This last part might have been because the majority of the time we went there he was cooking spaghetti sauce, but it’s what I remember. I have very vague recollections of eating lunches at his house – platefuls of spaghetti with sauce, and he always made “tsk tsk” noises at me for putting on so much parmesan cheese, but then he looked at me with his balding hair and bright smile when he saw I could twirl the spaghetti with a spoon.

My mom makes the most amazing sauce – similar to his if I recall. Her chicken cacciatore is to die for. My aunt’s lasagna could make a mouth water from 3 miles away, and her brajoles (an italian appetizer similar to meatballs but more log in shape) fly off the plate the second they’re done.

I carried on a few traditions. I make a mean chicken cacciatore. My lasagna is pretty stellar. And my husband now makes brajoles that might even rival my aunt’s (brajole bake-off family?).

There’s one big difference though. We’ve translated all these recipes into gluten-free. And they STILL taste amazing.

The other night I went one step further. I made my lasagna vegan. I tweeted out:

“I can’t decide if my Italian grandfather would be proud that I’m making lasagna vegan, or if he’d be rolling in his grave..”

My mother replied with:

“He would probably say “that’s not lasagna!”  :)”

So true. But sometimes, you need to do what’s right for your body. Now truthfully, I can’t call my lasagna vegan, because I didn’t cook it separately from my husband’s so I’m sure some of the “juices” got mixed. But friends, this was the best gluten-free vegan soy-free lasagna I could have dreamed about. It smelled divine. It looked divine. I put one bite in my mouth and sighed. It was THAT good.

I cooked mine in the slow cooker. If you’re going to make it in the stove, assemble it and cook at 350 for 40 minutes or so.

1/3 cabbage – diced-ish. I roughly cut mine into smaller than bite-sized pieces.
2 celery stalks, diced
handful of baby carrots, diced
1 zucchini diced (or put it in the sauce)
one package gluten-free lasagna noodles
Sauce – you need about 4 cups of sauce – I used leftover homemade – my sauce has zucchini
Daiya cheese (optional)

1. Saute the diced vegetables in a little bit of olive oil until softened. Remove from heat.
2. Spread about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of the slow cooker – no need to spray the slow cooker with any anti-stick stuff.
3 – place down one layer of noodles (I kept mine uncooked) – you have to break up some for them to fit. (I used a 6 qt slow cooker)
4 – Spread half the veggie mixture on top.
5 – Add another cup of sauce and spread over veggies. Sprinkle some daiya cheese if using (mozzarella would be best but I used cheddar with good results)
6 – Repeat – noodles, rest of veggies, sauce
7 – Add one more layer of noodles and one more layer of sauce then sprinkle some “cheese” on top.
8 – Add about 1/4 cup of water on top – this will help the noodles cook.
8 – Put lid on, cook on low for 5-6 hours.

It’s easy, amazing, and I was all cleaned up by the time lunch was done. And even though there was no ground beef in it, no ricotta, no sauce to smother on top and top with Italian sausages, it was still delicious. And it still smelled like my grandfather’s house.

Yoga for anxiety

I’m taking a five week session called “yoga for anxiety”. The teacher is great and seemingly has a lot of experience in the world of anxiety.

The class started on Friday.

Right after this happened.

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It snowed. We don’t get giant snow storms often here in Edmonton but this time we did. The roads were hell. They don’t use salt here so given that 25cm of snow fell atop frozen rain… well I think if you close your eyes and pretend you’re on a slip n slide you might know what it feels like to drive on it.

I hate winter driving. I can take a bit of snow but this was awful. On Wednesday it took Chef Husband a full hour and a half to get home from work.

And it’s only November.

But I digress. I drove to the yoga studio (a 20 minute drive instead of 9) and proceeded to have a panic attack.

I was anxious about taking a class on anxiety. Fitting? But of course. I learned after that I wasn’t the only one feeling anxious which I have to say made me feel a lot better. Nine women are taking the class. Nine women have anxiety problems of varying degrees. Some of them had never taken a Yoga class before. Some were regular practioners.

But we all have a common goal and that’s what I love about yoga.

We focussed on belly breaths and on sensing which poses were helping and which weren’t. We journalled a lot. And when we went into shavasana I lay down on my back and almost fell asleep.

This has never happened before. Normally I try not to fidget. I try to relax. Lately I have taken to lying on my side to feel more calm. But after this one class I went deeper into shavasana that I ever have before.

This, friends, is promising.

It’s not a “preference”

Celiac disease seems to be a hot topic these days. The gluten-free diet is becoming a bit of a fad diet along with paleo, and even to a degree, veganism (disclaimer: I know a lot of vegans and see this as a viable and awesome diet. But let’s be honest, a lot of people go vegan to go with a trend, not because of what they believe in or for health reasons). Celebrities are turning to a gluten-free diet to help lose weight, or keep the weight off. Actresses like Jennifer Esposito are being kicked off of shows because of health issues associated with Celiac disease. And people like me are finding it harder and harder to be taken seriously.

Take that girl over there. The one who’s going to a restaurant with a bunch of her friends. She’s on the gluten-free diet for what she believes to be weight-control. She’s not celiac; she’s not gluten intolerant; she’s not allergic to gluten or wheat. She tells the server she’s Celiac and can’t have gluten. The kitchen implements all of their requirements for creating an allergy-safe meal – sterilizing everything, using special pans and utensils. The server comes back and sees said girl munching a piece of bread from the basket he brought over. He says “excuse me miss, but that bread has gluten.” She says, “Oh it’s fine, I’m not really Celiac I just don’t eat gluten for the most part and it’s easier to explain by saying I’m Celiac.”

It happens. A lot. People say they’re allergic to wheat, gluten, dairy, etc and really aren’t because it’s “easier” when they’re going out to eat. And I get that to a degree. You are taken more seriously when you’re allergic to something.

But tell me this – how are we as celiacs and food allergic people taken seriously when people like that are wrecking it for us?

Because friends, they are wrecking it. Restaurants question whether Celiac is really that big an issue. People say they’re Celiac but “not really that sensitive” so they don’t worry about cross contamination. Every time that happens, a restaurant or server might become more lax. They might not sterilize to the same degree as they would have before. And someone could get seriously sick, or worse, go into anaphylactic shock.

People who are claiming gluten-free, dairy-free, speciality diets as necessity as opposed to preference are causing those of us with that necessity grief. And I’m getting annoyed by it.

I have a soy intolerance, so does Miss A.  I rarely consume dairy; likewise with Miss A. No one in the house consumes peanuts. Mr Man, Miss A and myself avoid wheat completely. The dairy and the soy are preferences; the nuts and gluten are necessity. I don’t claim to be allergic to dairy or soy when I’m out and about – I ask about the ingredients but specify that I tend to avoid it, not that it’s an allergy. In fact, if I’m asked if I have an allergy, I point blank say NO to dairy and soy. I don’t. And I won’t claim to.

Even hospitals themselves are at fault. When my daughter had surgery last year, we specified that she had Celiac disease. It was recorder on her chart she had a wheat allergy. When I noticed it, I said “She doesn’t have a wheat allergy, she has Celiac disease”. They didn’t change it. And you know what they brought her for breakfast? Rice Krispies. Rice Krispies (unless the GF ones) have barley malt. Thankfully Chef Husband had packed food for her in case it was an issue. So she got to consume homemade banana bread instead.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. The only medical solution to it is complete avoidance of gluten. But you know what? Gluten-free living is not a cure. I still have days where I feel run down and not like myself. I still go through periods of time where I need a lot more sleep than I think the majority of people need. My body has a disease and as much as the gluten-free diet makes my life livable and comfortable now, it’s not a cure-all.

Do your part. Celiac disease is real. Allergies are real. They are not things that are made up for fun, and they certainly aren’t a preference. Help keep us safe and learn more about Celiac and Allergy restrictions. Make this a safe place to live and not a place where we worry about going out anymore.

Halloween Allergy Style

Halloween is always a scary time for those of us with food sensitive children. That said, Halloween is a time where I am reminded constantly of how proud I am of my children.

Yesterday was the first time they had a Halloween party at school with both of them being celiac. Mr Man had one last year, but his class was nut free and he still ate wheat then.

I was nervous. Really nervous. I texted Runner Girl about my nervousness. She reminded me that I have smart kids who know what they can and can’t eat. And so I talked to them and talked to them and prayed that it would all be okay. As a parent of allergic children there’s this fine line where you want your children to be able to participate in events like all the other kids, but you want them to be safe and secure. Sometimes that means keeping them home, or making hard decisions. But yesterday I let them go.

And they wowed me. Mr Man had asked me to send him with cheese and crackers. He knew that the cheese and cracker plate would be off-limits for him – he knew he couldn’t eat the cheese if it was on the same plate (I learned today that the brilliant parents sent cheese strings individually wrapped which avoided cross contamination). He ate the plate of cheese and crackers I brought him and was even too full to bring the cupcake I had brought!

Miss A also ate cheese and crackers I sent her (we did a special treat of dairy for her birthday) and also ate the cupcake. They ate a couple of veggies from the platter that was brought in but other than that they stuck to their own food. And they were fine. They told the parent volunteers that they had to be careful. One of the parent volunteers in Mr Man’s class informed me today that she was really impressed with how diligent Mr Man was. Makes me proud.

Last night they went out trick or treating. Now, we live in Alberta. Cold Alberta. Snowy Alberta. We had snow on the ground and it was below freezing for the Halloween night. The kids braved the elements with their snowsuits under their costumes and headed out. For 2 full hours. They came back once midway, dumped their candy on the floor and started sorting. Smarties, twizzlers and reese anything immediately went into the hand-out bowl. I worked on the other stuff – the oh henry’s, the mars, the coffee crisp and nestle crunch (both of which went into Chef Husband’s bowl), the jolly rancher chewies. If it didn’t have ingredients on it, it went into the hand out bowl. While I was sorting kids came to the door. Mr Man asked each kid if they had any allergies and if they didn’t, he’d dump a whole lot of gluten and nut filled candy into their bag. If they did, he grabbed from our allergy-safe bowl. He’s 6.5 and I was so proud.

I maintain that raising your children to be their own advocates is key. Teaching them what they can and can’t eat needs to be at the forefront. As much as we want to, we can’t protect our children without their help. Knowing that my children are so cognizant of their allergies and aware of their limitations makes me feel like I’m doing a good job. I’ve said it a few times in this post but I will say it again: I’m so proud of both of my kids.

(In fact, as I was typing this, Mr Man who stayed home from school today pulled out Nibs from his candy bag and said “moooooommm! You left these in my bag! I can’t eat these!” and put them aside.)

Happy Halloween!