Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Another successful cake baked!

This last weekend was my husband's birthday. I asked him what type of cake he would like, and he mentioned a German Chocolate cake. My immediate response was no way...pick again. His second choice was a coconut cake. That was a little better.

If you've been following my blog, you know that I'm a "from scratch" baker when it comes to fancy desserts. It's really one of the only ways to bake when you are trying to avoid processed foods and have to cook for a peanut allergy.

After doing some recipe research online, and remembering that I had successfully pulled off the chocolate marble cheesecake he requested last year, I re-considered the German Chocolate cake.  Especially since I found this great recipe that started with a boxed German Chocolate cake mix.  Yes, I was willing to "cheat" just a little, especially this time of year when I'm on over-load.  Well, the problem was, that I couldn't find a German Chocolate cake mix that I was willing to purchase given the list of ingredients.  I did find a Dr. Oetker** organic vanilla cake mix, and after comparing the ingredients thought I'd take a chance.  I also purchased Baker's German Sweet Chocolate bar (unfortunately, no other organic or peanut risk free option in site) to turn my vanilla cake to chocolate.

I mixed the box mix with the buttermilk, oil & eggs per the recipe I found on Barbara Bakes and then had to figure out how to add the chocolate.  The recipe that came with the chocolate instructed to melt the chocolate in the microwave with 1/2 cup of water.  No sooner did I do that when I realized that I just added an extra 1/2 cup of liquid to the recipe.  Already committed, I poured very thin cake batter into my pans and held my breath as I watched my cake layers in the oven through the glass. The cake layers turned out beautifully, but how would they taste?

I did use pecans in the frosting.  Abigail does not have a tree nut allergy, but given the high risk of cross-contamination, the peanut clinical trial guidelines require that tree nuts be removed from the participants diet.  My parents have several large pecan trees in their backyard.  We've talked to our doctor at Duke, and because there is no risk of cross-contamination, Abigail is allowed to eat pecans from their trees.

Here's how the cake turned out.


And how did it taste?  Incredible.  It's the most moist chocolate cake I've had in a really long time!  Yeah, another successful cake baked!  Happy Birthday to my wonderful husband!

**Just a note about the Dr. Oetker cake mix.  There was no allergen cautionary label on the box, and I haven't been able to find any information on their website.  In hindsight, I shouldn't have allowed Abigail to eat a piece until I knew for certain. It's a Canadian company, and they're usually really good about labeling. I'll contact them and find out.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Girl Scout Cookie Rally

Can you believe it's almost that time again?  Abigail is attending a Girl Scout Cookie Rally this morning where the girls will play games, do a craft and sample cookies all for the purpose of getting excited about selling them.  So, here I am, early this morning looking up the ingredients of each of the cookies to see which ones she can sample and which ones she'll have to skip.

There are two cookie manufacturers that provide cookies for the Girl Scouts.  In our region, it's Little Brownie Bakers.  Other areas of the country get cookies from ABC Bakers.  Both have excellent allergen labeling policies.  If you are concerned about peanut/tree nut ingredients and the risk of cross-contamination, you'll need to know which bakery supplies your cookies and/or double check the labeling on the box.  At Little Brownie Bakeries, the Thin Mints, Samoas, Trefoils and the Thank U BerryMuch cookies are safe for peanuts and tree nuts.  The Dulce de Leche and the new Savannah Smiles may contain traces of tree nuts, and of course, the Tagalongs and the Do-si-dos are not safe for either.  It looks like ABC Bakers has just 3 cookies that are safe which are Thin Mints, Thanks-a-Lot and the Lemonades.  That's a bummer!  At least the Thin Mints are safe!

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of my daughter selling Girl Scout cookies.  However, I do love her being a part of the organization, and we've found a really great Brownie troop in the new area where we live.  I was pleased to find out that her new troop is selling cookies to raise money to go on a mother/daughter trip when they're in 5th grade.  That gives them 4 years (the other girls started working towards it last year) to raise the money to spend a long weekend in Savannah, the birthplace of Girl Scouts.  So, I'll be out there in the cold with Abigail the first of January while she rings doorbells asking if anyone wants to buy Girl Scout cookies.  And, I'll even buy a box...or two.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

GMO Food Labeling...Why Isn't It?

There is a ballot initiative in California to require labeling of genetically engineered (GE or GMO) foods. While there are lots of supporters, there is a consensus that there is not much hope that this initiative will get passed.  There just doesn't seem to be enough consumer awareness of the risks of GMO food or how wide spread GE ingredients are used in the food we all consume.  Why is that?  My husband forwarded me this great article on why GMO foods may not be in the media as much as some of us would like. The author, JD Rucker, did his research and came up with 4 big reasons why it isn't.

The first reason is that there is simply too much information, i.e., information overload.  There are too many other worrisome topics being covered in the news, the loss of jobs, healthcare, the withdrawal of troops and upcoming elections to name but a few.  If GMO food was such a big deal, how come someone isn't screaming about the risks from the roof tops.

Which brings me to his second reason, and to paraphrase the author, if GMO foods are so dangerous, how come people aren't falling over on their soy lattes?  The dangers aren't immediate, but there are many, cancer, fertility issues and food allergies immediately come to mind.  Rucker is right though.  If people were killing over on a regular basis, that would be news. Giving people statistics on research studies and declining health trends does not make an interesting story.

The third reason is that neither the mass media or the US government want to get on the bad side of Monsanto (which is why few are screaming about the risks from the roof tops).  While organizations like Organic Consumers Association are out there battling the giant, with campaigns like "Millions Against Monsanto", there is very little press from the big networks and media outlets.  Rucker found this video that he thinks explains it loud and clear.  It's worth watching.

The final reason why GMO food risks are being ignored is the impact to the cost of our food.  If consumers knew the risks and were no longer willing to purchase 80% of the food in our grocery stores which were now labeled for GMO ingredients, what would happen to the food supply? Governmental officials would have to commit to stronger protection measures with new regulations, farmers would have to go back to traditional growing methods and food prices would soar.

I loved finding this link to an infographic outlining the threats to our food. Click here to see it full size. It takes a fairly complicated subject and makes it easy to understand.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bird Seed

I love watching birds at my backyard feeders. Our new house is further out and has a great mix of trees and open space, perfect for birds.  My feeders attract a wide variety of birds, and I have to fill them often.  Unfortunately, while Abigail can help me identify the birds from our kitchen window, she can't help me fill the feeders.  Bird seed either contains or is manufactured in a plant with peanuts and tree nuts.

Labeling guidelines do not apply to feed for animals.  Manufacturers of bird seed and pet food are not required to label for allergens, although lately, I have seen quite a few bird seed bags printed with an allergen statement.  To date, I've not seen or heard of a bird seed supplier that is peanut/tree nut free.  If you know of one, please leave a comment.

It's also that time of year when schools, preschools especially, make bird feeders using pine cones or bagels.  A lot of schools have stopped using peanut butter as the base for obvious reasons, but many teachers and care-givers forget about the risk of the bird seed.

I did some research, and if you do want to have your peanut/tree nut allergic child have some hands on experience feeding your backyard birds there are other options.  Here's a whole list of kitchen scraps like leftover rice, cooked pasta, over-ripe fruits, stale bread, dried cheese, etc., that can be fed to the birds.  Another neat idea is to use leftover bacon or other animal fat grease, strain it, mix it with the kitchen scraps to make suet.  I particularly like this idea.  Abigail can get involved, and I can save some money on bird seed.  The downside of having so many birds....they eat a lot of seed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rejected Treats

I signed up to take a sweet treat to my son's preschool Halloween party. I originally planned on making mini candy apples using a recipe I found in Family Fun (obviously ignoring the suggestion to use peanut butter chips and chopped nuts). I soon found that caramel doesn't stick easily to cut apples, and I couldn't find a peanut safe caramel dip (a little boy in his class has a peanut allergy). Butterscotch chips were recommended in the recipe, but I couldn't stomach the ingredients in the butterscotch chips. At the last minute, I was scrambling to find something to make that was fun, healthy and safe.

I modified a recipe and made popcorn balls. I mixed popcorn (popped safely in a brown paper bag), organic raisins and the peanut safe candy corn that I found at Dollar Tree, and topped it with melted butter and mini marshmallows. I formed them into sticky, sweet popcorn balls. They were yummy!


We're at the party, and each child is served a Cherrybrook Kitchen cupcake (my first time sampling...they were quite good), my popcorn ball and some pretzels. My son ate it all, but he was one of the few. I heard one child tell his mom "yuck" and to take his popcorn ball off his plate. I saw the majority of them end up in the trash can. In other words, they were totally rejected!

I tried.  It was all the right ingredients that preschoolers love.  I guess it was combining them that was the problem. I packed up all that was left, and my family has been enjoying them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Treats and Safe Candy Corn!

Again at Target (I shop there a lot), I found another healthy, peanut-safe trick-or-treat option.  Different Target this time though which explains why I didn't see them at my last visit.  An entire post could be devoted on the frustrations that occur when stores within the same chain don't carry the same products.  I run into the same issue with my grocery store and with Wal-Mart, but I regress.  There are 80 packs of fruit snacks in a box for $4.99.  Right on the very front of the box is a picture of a peanut with a red line slashed across it, and on the back a label stating that the snacks are made in a nut free facility.  The snacks from Florida's Naturals are made with real fruit and there were no artificial colors listed in the ingredients.  I bought 2 boxes and hope there are some left over to pack in the kids' lunch boxes.

Another good find this week was safe candy corn.  Not necessarily healthy, but peanut safe.  If was the first candy corn that Abigail has ever eaten, and she was hooked.  I find them too sweet, but Abigail loves sweet treats, and you can't get much sweeter than candy corn.  I found the bag at Dollar Tree.  The candy corn is manufactured in Mexico for Sunrise Confections.  It does contain egg and soy, but made in a peanut/tree-nut facility.

Kids were in too much of a hurry to try them to let me take a picture before opening the bag!
Jelly Belly also makes a Halloween mix of candy corn flavored jelly beans that is safe for peanut and tree nut allergies.  Other than online, I've only seen the product at Marshalls/HomeGoods.  It was $5.99 for a 9 oz. bag.  Personally, I liked the price of the bag at Dollar Tree where, yes, everything there is a dollar.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Allergy Friendly Halloween Treats

It's that time of year again.  The time when the aisles are stocked with every type of candy imaginable, most of which aren't safe for our peanut allergic children.  I did find a couple of non-candy options this year that I wanted to share.

While shopping at Target, I came upon 3 products that are good trick-or-treat options for peanut and tree nut allergies.  The first product is Angie's Kettle Corn.  It was priced at $6.99 for a bag of 24 snack packs. Here is the allergen statement from their website:

Angie's Kettle Corn is certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization and is produced in an nut-free environment. Ingredients used in the production of all our kettle corn products are free all of the regulated food allergens. We do not allow nuts of any kind in our production facility.

A plus for me is that they also have a non-GMO statement although I'm a little confused about their corn oil and will be contacting them for clarification.

Another find is Pirate's Booty.  It's gluten-free, and according to the website, "Pirate Brands’ products are made in a nut-free facility, therefore are peanut and tree-nut free."  The Pirate Brands' products are natural, but are not GMO free.  Our family has switched to the Trader Joe's brand for this reason, but for the purpose of Halloween, these small packs are perfect.  I believe that this box of 20 packs was also $6.99.

I selected the Utz Halloween Pretzels to give out at our house.  Printed right on the bag are the words "manufactured in a peanut and tree-nut free facility."  That makes me happy.  That and the fact that there are minimal ingredients, and it was just $3.99 a bag for 35 individual bags of bat and pumpkin shaped pretzels.  Here's a link to Utz's nut allergy information.

They have a very lengthy statement about using GMO ingredients and have several products that are GMO-free.  Unfortunately, the pretzels were not on that list. As I was searching their website for information for this post, I read this statement, "A vast amount of food biotechnology information has been carefully evaluated over the last ten years and found to pose very little risk to society.  The consumer issues involved here are ideological and emotional, and not scientific."  I must admit, I took offense to that statement.  Might just put me up on my soapbox and prevent me from willingly purchasing their products again.

With kids collecting so much candy on Halloween night, I like to provide an alternative.  I'll also purchase Halloween-themed pencils, erasers or other treats and hand those out as well.  There are a ton of kids in our new neighborhood.  I have a feeling I need to be well-stocked.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Changes at Duke

I must admit, I'm anxious. Dr. Burks has accepted the position of Chair of UNC Department of Pediatrics, Physician-in-Chief of N.C. Children's Hospital and is leaving Duke University Hospital.

We received an e-mail from our doctor in charge of the Peanut Sublingual Clinical Trial assuring us that, for the time being, it was business as usual. We can expect to see changes. The trials are to move to UNC sometime next spring. So, yes, I'm anxious.

Abigail's next appointment is in January for blood work. I assume we'll drive to Durham. Her big food challenge to see if she can tolerate up to 15 peanuts is scheduled for June. That should take place in Chapel Hill. I don't mind the change in location, I just want re-assurance that there are no changes planned for the studies.

Here is the article announcing his new position.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Moved!

Yeah! We're in! Not settled, but in! Can't find a thing. Boxes are everywhere, but we are moved!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Comments

I had a reader today e-mail me because she was unable to leave a comment on the blog. Thank you very much to that reader! I was unaware of the issue (although I did wonder why no one was leaving comments). I did a little research and found that if I changed a setting the problem should be corrected. My wonderful reader helped me test the change, and it worked.

So, please leave comments. I love getting them, and your information not only helps me, but is often very valuable to other readers as well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Allergic Contact Dermatitis?

I promised Abigail that when she turned 8, she could get her ears pierced. I dragged my feet as long as possible, but finally, this last June (her birthday was in February), I surprised her and took her to Claire's. All of her visits to Duke requiring skin prick tests and blood test have really given her nerves of steel, and she didn't flinch.


I chose the 14 karat gold earring option, she picked out the amethyst birthstones.  She was tickled and proudly showed off her new "big girl" look. 

Admiring her new earrings.
Her ears hurt.  At first, I thought it was normal.  She did a good job keeping them clean, but the holes stayed a little pink in color.  It hurt her to sleep on them, and she counted down the days till she could remove them at bed time.  After 6 weeks, we purchased sterling silver earrings so that she could start changing them.  We had a little difficulty getting the new earrings in, and they continued to ache, mostly at night, and when she pressed on her earlobes. They weren't really red or oozing significantly so I didn't think too much of it.

After 8 weeks, we felt it okay to take out the earrings and leave them out at night or for a day.  Her ears were still sensitive to touch.  She ended up taking them out and leaving them out for several days, and while you could feel a crusty substance inside the piercing, her ears stopped hurting.  Obviously, the sterling silver earrings were a problem.  I had saved 14 karat gold earrings from my childhood, and after having to re-punch through a thin layer of skin, she wore those for a couple of days.  The same thing happened.  Her ears starting aching again, and she wanted to take them out.  So, now they've been out for a week, and they are no longer sore to touch.  They are still a little crusty though.

I don't understand.  In my research, it looks like she might have allergic contact dermatitis.  What doesn't make sense though is that she wears all types of necklaces and bracelets with no problem.  Almost daily, she'll wear an inexpensive, nickel-plated necklace or bracelet to school, and she has a sterling silver cross that she wears to church.  We've never noted redness or a rash where the various chains and fasteners rub against her skin.

We haven't tried the inexpensive earrings.  It just stands to reason that if she can't wear the expensive pairs, she wouldn't be able to wear the cheap ones.  We should try them.  If those don't work, I'm afraid we don't have many more options.  I did find a brand called Concepts Earrings that might work.  I'm afraid though to even see how much those cost.

Sadly, Abigail's ears have bothered her so much, that she's no longer really interested in wearing earrings.  The pain is not worth the price of vanity in this case.  Having spent $48 to get her ears pierced, I'm not so sure I'm ready to give up on this.

Any opinions...ideas...experience?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Moving

I'm falling behind blogging....again. First it was a busy summer and the preparation for the start of a new school year. This time it's because we've purchased a house and are moving. We're leaving our community of 13 years and moving to z different county located 40 miles south of where we live. It's a full time job right now coordinating the move, packing and making sure the transition will be as smooth as possible for our kids.

In this last year we have put our house of 12 years on the market, sold it, moved to a rental, researched communities, house-hunted and purchased a home. The end of this state of limbo is in sight. One week from tonight we'll be exhausted but moved in.

And after that, hopefully some return to normalcy. First though, I've got to get Abigail situated in a new school. You know what that means, more meetings with the staff, more medical forms to complete, more Peanut Allergy Action Plans to prepare and possibly more allergy awareness to promote.

I've got a huge week ahead of me. Time for some rest. It's going to be another very busy day tomorrow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"GMO Film Project"

Here's a link to a 6 minute preview of a movie currently untitled, but referenced as the "GMO Film Project." This short clip is quite impacting, and I hope you'll take the time to view it. How is it that the people of a 3rd world country devastated by an earthquake understand the dangers of GMOs, while the majority of the people in the US don't know and/or don't care? Here's the introduction summary:

THE GMO FILM PROJECT tells the story of a father's discovery of GMOs through the symbolic act of poor Haitian farmers burning seeds in defiance of Monsanto's gift of 475 tons of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds to Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake of January 2010. After a journey to Haiti to learn why hungry farmers would burn seeds, the real awakening of what has happened to our food in the US, what we are feeding our families, and what is at stake for the global food supply unfolds in a trip across the United States and other countries in search of answers. Are we at a tipping point? Is it time to take back our food? The encroaching darkness of unknown health and environmental risks, seed take over, chemical toxins, and food monopoly meets with the light of a growing resistance of organic farmers, concerned citizens, and a burgeoning movement to take back what we have lost.

Today in the United States, by the simple act of feeding ourselves, we unwittingly participate in the largest experiment ever conducted on human beings. Massive agro-chemical companies like Monsanto (Agent Orange) and Dow (Napalm) are feeding us genetically-modified food, GMOs, that have never been fully tested and aren't labeled. This small handful of corporations is tightening their grip on the world's food supply—buying, modifying, and patenting seeds to ensure total control over everything we eat. We still have time to heal the planet, feed the world, and live sustainably. But we have to start now!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Healthy Lunches

I was reading an article in the Natural Awakenings Magazine recently about school lunch nutrition when I came across a staggering statistic. In an interview with Chef Ann, author of several books and advocate for improving student menu plans, I read that "some studies indicate that children born in 2000 may die at a younger age than their parents because of the food they eat."  Is that not a mouth-dropping statistic?

Apparently, it was a prognostication made by the Centers for Disease Control. I searched the CDC website last night, and couldn't find reference to the study. I would have liked to have read or least skimmed the study in its entirety.

Here's another statistic for us parents with young girls.  From Michigan State University, "girls eating a high-fat diet during puberty, even those who do not become overweight or obese, may be at a greater risk of developing breast cancer later in life."  What our kids eat now is definitely setting the foundation for their health as adults.

I've often joined Abigail for lunch and have seen what they serve in the cafeteria... pizza, nachos, mac 'n cheese, chicken patties, burgers, hot dogs, french fries, tater tots and chocolate milk.  I understand that for many children in this country, this is the best meal they're going to eat in a given day.  I also understand that it needs to be inexpensive.  But, does it have to be highly processed, high in fat, salt and sugar, full of genetically modified ingredients and additives?  These foods lead to cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes.  Should we not look hard at that statistic and invest in our children and their future?  We don't live in a 3rd world country. Why should our life expectancy be on the decline?

Now, in case you are sitting there thinking that you ate pizza, french fries and drank chocolate milk when you were in school and you are in good shape and healthy, let me just say that you ate real pizza and french fries and drank real milk.  That's the difference. There is nothing real about what is served in most cafeterias or packed in most lunchboxes.  1996 was the year that genetically modified/ engineered soy was introduced.  By the year 2000 (note the year), 54% of all soybeans harvested in the US were genetically modified up from 7% in 1996.  GMO corn made up 25% of the corn harvested in 2000.  That's up from 1.5% in 1996.  These numbers have done nothing but climb. Think high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil, canola & vegetable oil, modified food starch, maltodextrin, soy lecithin to name just a few.  All ingredients commonly found in our food, and unless organic, all derived from genetically modified crops.  Don't forget the milk and cheese.  1994 was the year rbST was introduced.  By 2000, approximately 1/3 of dairy cows were in herds supplemented with rbST.

I only let Abigail purchase lunch from the cafeteria one day a week. On that day I even encourage her to take her water bottle as opposed to purchasing a milk.  If I had my way, she wouldn't eat from the cafeteria at all.  Don't get me wrong, packing lunch is no picnic at our house either. Abigail has to pack the majority of it, and would go without rather than having to take the time to put together something of substance.

She would also live off of starches and carbohydrates if I let her.  Crackers, chips, snack bars, pretzels and pastas are about all she wants to eat.  That and dairy in the form of cheese and yogurt.  Per my insistence, a typical packed lunch consists of a slice or two of ham or pepperoni (both organic), cheese stick (rbST-free) and crackers (GMO/additive-free).  If I have dip she'll eat a couple of carrots so I make an organic ranch dip.  I also insist on a fruit and purchase fruit cups in natural juice with no color or sugar additives.  Snack is usually pretzels or crackers, cereal or fruit bars (also all GMO/additive-free). One day a week, I'll heat up mac 'n cheese or toast some mini-pizzas to send in a thermos.  I try to keep a lot of other options in the pantry and the fridge, but this is what she chooses day in and day out.  If she could, she'd eat the cafeteria food every day. She's not worried about breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and the like.  That's my job.  Educate her now, condition her to eating healthy now in hopes of it becoming an adult practice.  And, that one day a week in the cafeteria?  It's my attempt to loosen the reins a bit and not create resentment over the contents (or lack of) in our pantry.

For more reading on GMO foods, rbST and healthy eating, check out the links on either side of the blog posts.  Here are links that I used to get my statistics on year 2000 usages of GMO foods and rbST.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

EpiPen Bag Tag

At Abigail's school, 3rd graders switch classes for math and reading. The kids will eat snack in one of those classes.  Her EpiPen needs to go with her. In the past years, it was kept in the teacher's first aid backpack. Middle of last year, it became her responsibility to grab the backpack and take it to the cafeteria. This year, we think she is responsible enough to also keep up with her medicine during class change. To make it easier, I found this cute leopard-patterned shoulder bag with a pocket for her water bottle and snack and a separate pocket for her EpiPen, Benadryl, medical forms and Peanut Action Plan.

Worried that a teacher or other care-giver might not realize that her bag doubled as a medicine bag, I needed something to identify it's contents. Lately, she's become self-conscious, and while I would have liked a flashing, neon sign, we compromised. I made a bag tag which I hooked to the zipper of the pocket that contained her EpiPen. I like the way it turned out. She personalized the tag by picking out the pattern on the back side of the tag.


Here she is on the first day of school carrying her bag.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

She's Ready! I think.

Backpack sitting by the door, lunch packed, snack packed, water bottle filled, outfit laid out, alarms set, school supplies dropped off at Open House, teacher meeting regarding allergy held, Peanut Action Plans printed and posted in classrooms, Peanut Action Plans printed and laminated and attached to inside pocket of backpack and medicine bag, EpiPen and Benadryl tablets packed in medicine bag, new EpiPen bag tag made and attached to..you guessed it...medicine bag, medical authorization forms dropped off at health room, EpiPen and Benadryl tablets packed and ready to drop off at school health room, special "Hope you are having a great day, miss you, love you" note written and tucked into lunch box, nervous jitters calmed before bedtime, prayers said asking for a successful first day, camera ready by back door...I think we're ready for Abigail's first day of 3rd grade!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Just in time for school....

Well, the missing-in-action blogger is finally back at her desk. Just in time to complain about the amount of work it's taking to get Abigail ready to enter 3rd grade. I'll spend the rest of the evening filling out emergency action plans, packing medicine and making sure all "i's" are dotted and "t's" crossed. Tomorrow morning we meet with her teacher to discuss her peanut allergy. How easy it would be for us parents of allergic children if all we had to do was purchase school supplies and maybe a couple of new outfits at the start of each school year.

Speaking of meeting teachers, I'm a touch puzzled with her's. I reached out four times in 8 days using 3 different forms of communication in an effort to schedule this meeting. It wasn't until Open House last night that she acknowledged receipt of my messages and asked what time was good to meet. I'm hoping that's not an indication of things to come. She did present an excuse. She was busy unpacking and prepping the classroom.

We don't have a 504 in place for Abigail. Up until this point, her teachers and the school administration have been super easy to work with and very accommodating. Do you guys have one? We're so close to the end of the trial. Just one more school year. I don't want to permanently label Abigail if we can get through this next year without one. I've got an e-mail out to our doctor at Duke to see what they are advising their trial participants. I'm anxious to hear back and see if they think Abigail should have one even if she is considered "peanut allergy free" next summer. However, depending on the outcome of our meeting tomorrow, I might be filling out the paperwork. I'll keep you posted.

I have several tools that might be of some help in back-to-school preparation. Links to classroom letters, safe snack lists, etc., are in the right hand margin. I've used Google Docs. Let me know if you have trouble accessing them. I also have an Allergy Action Plan that I give to each teacher to hang in their classroom and a smaller version that I laminate and put in her medicine bag, backpack, etc. I haven't been able to save those and keep their format in tack so if you are interested in those documents, e-mail me, and I'll send them over.

There is still a lot to be done this evening. I've made an allergy tag for her EpiPen bag that I'd like to share. I also have a ton to catch everyone up on. It's been a very busy summer. Thanks for your patience. Thanks also for continuing to support my efforts with this blog. You guys are great!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Good News...

I've got more good news to share, but first an apology. It's been ages since I last posted. Life right now is spinning precariously close to out of control. We're house hunting in a area about 50 minutes from where we currently live. It's not a familiar area so I'm spending hours researching homes, neighborhoods, schools, churches, etc. It's a big move for us taking us away from a community that we've lived in for the last 14 years. Keeping up with the latest news in the food allergy world has taken a back seat to finding a house that our family can call home.

Now, for the good news, and it's not that we've found a home. Hopefully, that will come soon. The good news, no, make that great news, is that I've just received Abigail's latest IgE numbers. It's down another 2 1/2 points to 6.6!! Her baseline number (number she started the peanut sublingual trial with) was 10.4. After 4 months of taking the daily peanut protein drops, it peaked to 16.7. At the one year mark, it had dropped to 12.9. In January of this year it was 9.28, and in June, 6.6. We're heading in the right direction. She's got another year to go, and I'm feeling confident we can get there!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Abigail Likes It!

For the first time ever, Abigail ate a sunflower butter sandwich for lunch.  Now, to most families, that wouldn't be any big deal.  But, in our family, for a child that, up until a day ago when asked if she wanted to try sunflower butter would make a disgusted face, it's significant.

We've used sunflower butter for years (at least since Abigail was 18 months old) as an alternative to peanut butter.  My husband and son eat it almost on a daily basis.  Over the years, I would ask Abigail if she wanted to try it.  Occasionally she would, and each time, same results.  That disgusted face.  Now, I should admit, that she does like the Sun Cups, but they're covered in chocolate.  Yesterday, at snack, she asked to try a cracker dipped in the sunflower butter.  She's never asked before.  She ate several.  Today at lunch she asked again if she could have some and then ended up spreading it on bread and making a sandwich.  She even asked to lick the knife.  I was amazed.

I believe that your body has innate self-defense mechanisms to keep it safe.  My fair-skinned, red-headed son, doesn't like being outside in the intense heat.  Abigail doesn't like the smell, texture or taste of the sunflower butter which is quite similar to peanut butter.  Self-defense mechanisms to protect themselves?  I'm purely speculating here, but what if through this densitization process with the peanut clinical trial, she's losing that self-defense mechanism?  Just maybe.  Or, maybe just wishful thinking.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's Been Another 6 Months

I can't believe it's already been 6 months since Abigail's last appointment for the Peanut Sublingual Immunotherapy Clinical Trial. It was time for another trip to Durham, NC, and the Duke University Hospital. This particular visit marks our two year anniversary in the program. Just 365 more days of daily drops, one more 6 month blood work appointment, two more food challenges and we're done. Unofficially anyway. There will still be follow-up visits to monitor her desensitization.

Another visit down!
You can tell from this picture that Abigail is just thrilled to be back. Upon our arrival, we were just a little confused. "Clinical Trial Research Unit" was no longer labeled on the front doors. At first we wondered, if in the last six months, they had moved the unit to a different part of the hospital. This small sign was all there was to announce that yes we were still in the right spot. They now share this hall with another cancer unit and it got top billing on the big double entrance doors.

This visit, like the rest, started with weight/height measurements and the application of numbing cream on both her arms. She then had to spit in a tube (her least favorite part of the visit) and sit through a skin prick test.  This test is no longer as uncomfortable as it used to be.  The skin reactions are now minimal, and her back doesn't itch near as much.

Abigail's doctor marking where the skin will be pricked.


Final results.  Some swelling at highest dosage (on top left).
Minimal swelling at the remaining pricks.
Here is a link to pictures of Abigail's last two skin prick tests.  There have been visable changes each time.  She also had 6 vials of blood drawn and then it was time to say good-bye to Dr. Kim.  His Fellowship at Duke is over, and he has accepted a permanent job in Chapel Hill.  We'll miss seeing him on our visits.  He was fabulous with Abigail and extremely patient in answering all of my many questions.  There is already another doctor assigned to continue Phase I of the Peanut Immunotherapy Sublingual Trial.  We did not get to meet her at our appointment.  While we were having our visit, she was busy doing a food challenge with the very first patient in Phase II of this trial.  I'll follow up on details of that trial in a different post.

So, what's next?  Daily drops, a report on Abigail's IgE results from this visit and a 6 month lab appointment in January 2012.  Starting in December of this year, the first participants in our trial will be starting their end of study food challenges.  When we go back to Duke in January, we'll be updated on those results.  Then in June, Abigail will have her food challenge.  If she can tolerate it, she'll be given the equivalent of 20 peanuts.  Assuming there are no issues, and I'm not expecting any (she tolerated the full 10 peanuts at her food trial last year), we'll be asked to not give her the drops or any peanut product.  After 6 weeks, she'll be given a food challenge again to see if she can continue to tolerate the 20 peanuts.  If so, we'll then introduce small amounts of peanut into her diet and/or continue the drops.  That's yet to be determined.  And, just as important, if she tests negative again to tree nuts, I'll be able to again purchase products manufactured in facilities using tree nuts.  Even better, her doctor felt she'd be able to pick up a can of any type of tree nuts and just munch.

While a year seems so far away for Abigail, I look back at how quickly the last 2 years have flown by, and how much progress she's made.  I'm looking forward to the conclusion of the study.  What will I blog about then?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anaphylactic Reactions and Teenagers

Wow! I just watched this video on YouTube, and am somewhat speechless.  It's part of the The Anaphylactic Allergy Podcast Series (104) and features a high school student that had no history of a peanut allergy until age 15 when she got sick just walking into a Thai restaurant and smelling peanuts.  She's had numerous reactions requiring the administration of an EpiPen.  When she does come in contact with peanuts or the smell of peanuts, her lips swell to the point they crack and bleed and her face swells so that it peels.  Swelling in her throat follows sometimes causing her to black out.

A standing ovation should go to the Palos Verdes High School administration for requiring a peanut free school in order to keep her safe.  They even went so far as to require all of the students in her classes to sign a statement that they understood that there was to be severe repercussions if they brought peanuts to school.  Instead of protesting, the students took this teenager's safety to heart and did everything they could to look out for her.  It can work!  Maybe the school in Florida where parents were asking that the 1st grader with the severe peanut allergy be removed from school should take notes!   

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Peanut Clinical Trial & Heathy Eating...Why I Blog About Both!

In my last post, I shared a Top 10 list of reasons why GMO food should be labeled.  Bottom line...so that we, the consumer, can make educated decisions on the type of foods we want to purchase to feed our families. I hope you all have had a chance to read through the list. I've been blogging for months now about the hazards of eating GMO foods, and if I haven't been convincing enough, hopefully that last post helped tip the scales in my favor.

It also helps explain why I continue to mix subjects in my blog. I've often wondered if I should have separate blogs. One for healthy eating/living and another for our journey in the peanut clinical trial. However, when I come across the link between the two, for instance:

There’s already plenty of evidence that the Bt-toxin produced in GM corn and cotton plants is toxic to humans and mammals and triggers immune system responses. The fact that it flows through our blood supply, and that is passes through the placenta into fetuses, may help explain the rise in many disorders in the US since Bt crop varieties were first introduced in 1996.

In government-sponsored research in Italy, mice fed Monsanto’s Bt corn showed a wide range of immune responses. Their elevated IgE and IgG antibodies, for example, are typically associated with allergies and infections. The mice had an increase in cytokines, which are associated with “allergic and inflammatory responses.” The specific cytokines (interleukins) that were elevated are also higher in humans who suffer from a wide range of disorders, from arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, to MS and cancer.


Or this:

The young mice in the study also had elevated T cells (gamma delta), which are increased in people with asthma, and in children with food allergies, juvenile arthritis, and connective tissue diseases. The Bt corn that was fed to these mice, MON 810, produced the same Bt-toxin that was found in the blood of women and fetuses.

When rats were fed another of Monsanto’s Bt corn varieties called MON 863, their immune systems were also activated, showing higher numbers of basophils, lymphocytes, and white blood cells. These can indicate possible allergies, infections, toxins, and various disease states including cancer. There were also signs of toxicity in the liver and kidneys.

I think that I'm on the right track in keeping you guys up to date with what's going on in the world of food allergies and how the food we eat might very well be the root cause of those food allergies.

By the way, I took both of those excerpts from this article, Dangerous Toxins from Genetically Modified Plants Found in Women and Fetuses, written by Jeffrey Smith and published on the Institute of Responsible Technology website.  There's a lot of good information in the article, and I encourage you to read it in it's entirety.  In the meantime, I'll continue to research and report on both.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top 10 Reasons to Label GMOs

Anybody else totally disturbed by this?

10 scary reasons to label GMOs:
(taken from the Organic Consumers Association, Organic Bytes #279)

#1 Monsanto's Bt-toxin, in its Bt-producing GMO corn and cotton (used in food in the form of cottonseed oil), was found by Canadian doctors in the blood of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of the umbilical blood of their babies.

#2 The authors of the Canadian study conclude that the women and their babies were exposed to Monsanto's GMO Bt-toxin through a "normal" non-organic Canadian diet, including non-organic (so-called "natural" and "conventional") meat, egg, and dairy products from animals fed Bt corn.

#3 Monsanto's GMO "Bt" corn and cotton plants are engineered to produce a insecticide in every cell of the plant that kills insects by breaking open their stomachs.

#4 Mice fed Monsanto's Bt corn had elevated levels of immune system substances that are also higher in humans who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, allergies, Lou Gehrig's disease, autoimmune disease, and colitis.

#5 Young mice in the same study had elevated T-cells, which are increased in people with asthma, and in children with food allergies, juvenile arthritis, and connective tissue diseases.

#6 Monsanto's GMO Bt-toxin has properties of known allergens - it actually fails the World Health Organization's allergen screening tests.

#7 Monsanto's GMO Bt-toxin has been found to bind with the small intestines in mice and with intestinal tissue in rhesus monkeys.

#8 In addition to its GMO "Bt" crops which are engineered to produce insecticide, Monsanto also produces GMO "RoundUp Ready" crops, engineered with a bacterial DNA that allows it to survive otherwise deadly doses of its herbicide RoundUp.

#9 In the only human feeding study ever published on GMOs, Monsanto's GMO "RoundUp Ready" soybeans were found to transfer Monsanto's "RoundUp Ready" DNA to the bacteria living inside human intestines.

#10 According to Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology, the transfer of Monsanto's GMO Bt DNA to human digestive bacteria could create a "living pesticide factory" that could be responsible for the "increase in gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and childhood learning disorders - since 1996 when Bt crops came on the market."

I have a hard time describing what I feel when I read about GMO's. To think of the damage we are doing just by eating the very food that is supposed to sustain us.

More on this later.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peppermint

We can't seem to put Abigail's chronic stomach aches behind us.  Last summer I took her to see a pediatric gastroenterologist and through history and blood work, he ruled out a ton of potential culprits, Lupus, Crones, Celiac to name a few.  We opted not to do an invasive endoscopy because the blood work didn't indicate a need.  We left with a diagnosis of Functional Abdominal Pain and a prescription for Zantac.  We had already tried the stronger Prilosec without much benefit, and it was not something I wanted her to continue to take anyway.  The Zantac helps with the occasional bought of reflux.

Later in the fall, I took Abigail to see a Mind/Body Therapist who specialized in treating children who have chronic pains.  She worked with Abigail for a couple of months teaching her how to use breathing and visualization techniques.  That had some benefits and the stomach pain stopped occurring on a daily basis.

I'd like to say that she no longer suffers from stomach aches, but that's not the case.  They seemed to wain this last winter, but now she's complaining about them more frequently.  She has also been experiencing heartburn/acid reflux more frequently and most of the time Zantac or children's Tums takes care of it.  But other times, her stomach just hurts for no apparent reason.  I ask, and she'll say that she's not nervous or anxious about anything, although sometimes, I can attribute her stomach pains to a particularly stressful week.  By chance though, I did find something that provides some comfort.  Peppermint.

Whether it really helps physically I don't know.  It could very well just be a mental thing.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website though, "because it has a calming and numbing effect, it has been used to treat headaches, skin irritations, anxiety associated with depression, nausea, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, and flatulence."  The site also reports that a number of studies support the use of peppermint for indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome.

I'm a big tea drinker.  I start with hot green tea in the morning, usually have iced black tea in the afternoon, and a lot of evenings drink hot peppermint tea before bed.  While I was tea shopping for myself, I came across Just for Kids Organic Tummy Comfort by Traditional Medicinals.  It's safe for kids with mild herbs in child appropriate amounts.  Abigail doesn't drink it too often, but I like having it available in the pantry.  I usually make it and then ice it down.

Seeing how she enjoyed the peppermint tea and was always asking to have one of my Newman's Own Organic Wintergreen mints, I wanted to find a special tin of mints just for her that was pure peppermint.  My local health store stocks VerMints.  These were a wonderful find.  They're nut free, GMO free and gluten free...and they're all hers, making them extra special.

Neither the gastroenterologist, her pediatrician or her doctor at Duke believe that taking the peanut drops is causing Abigail's stomach aches.  I just know that she didn't complain of stomach pains until several weeks after starting the peanut clinical trial. I posted about my concern as long ago as March 2010.  We won't really know if the two are associated until we've finished the trial.  Maybe not even then.  She'll still have to continue eating peanuts to maintain her tolerance.  Another year though and she should be desensitized.  If by chance the two are linked, then these stomach aches should go away sometime between now and next June.  If not, I just don't know.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Allergic Reaction to Peanut-Tainted Blood

There is an article published today on msnbc.com about a boy that had an allergic reaction requiring an injection of adrenaline during a blood transfusion. The doctors looked at all possible scenarios including allergic reactions to drugs and latex.  It wasn't until the boy's mom mentioned him having a similar reaction to peanuts when he was an infant that made the doctors start looking at the blood donors.  They traced the blood back to five donors and found that three of them had eaten handfuls of peanuts the night before they donated platelets.  Apparently, there are no other documented incidences of this happening; however according to this article, there have been other incidents reported of patients developing a peanut allergy after receiving donated blood from a peanut allergic donor.

This has my mind spinning.  The majority of the time, blood transfusions are given in life or death situations.  Getting a peanut allergy as a result is a small price to pay?  Right??  Wrong??  Or, should Abigail and other peanut allergic individuals not do something special and donate blood?  But, what about the flip side?  How are they protected? In the future, will blood donors need to document that they've eaten peanuts prior to making the donation?  According to this article, "the major allergen in peanuts, Ara h2, is extremely resistant to digestion because of a peptide that can show up in blood serum for up to 24 hours after ingestion." In this case, when the boy's blood was tested, the doctors found his levels of peanut-specific antibodies and the peptide were far higher than normal.  The scientists studying his case claim that the peanut eating donors transmitted the allergen which triggered his reaction.

I'd love for you to read the article and then let me know your thoughts.  As peanut allergies continue to rise and until doctors and scientist have a handle on this epidemic, I'm pretty sure we've not heard the last of this.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Last week was Food Allergy Awareness Week, this week is National Eosinophil Awareness Week.  Whether we're parents of food allergic children or have a severe food allergy ourselves, we understand the trials of diligently avoiding offending food(s).  What if though, all foods were offending?

I have a very dear friend whose 9 year old son has Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE).  He went from a child that could eat everything to a young boy that could eat nothing.  Earlier last year, his only food source was a special elemental formula juice box.  After numerous endoscopies with biopsies, he has since been able to add foods to his diet.  Know what he can eat now?  Grapefruit, lite canned peaches, sweet potatoes and pinto beans.  The only seasoning allowed is salt and sugar.  His only drinks are water and the elemental formula juice boxes. 

What is EoE?  It's a disease characterized by inflammation of the esophagus with an abnormal number of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell associated with allergies, parasites and cancers). In my friend's son’s case, the elevated levels are caused by food and possibly environmental allergies. Symptoms vary by case.  Her son started off with reflux that did not get better with medication and chronic stomach pain. As time went on he had chest pain, throat pain, regurgitation 20-40 times a day and vomiting after eating. He also has had chronic sinus infections since he was an infant and continues to suffer from croup during winter months.

I know what a battle it is to keep Abigail safe from the risks of her peanut allergy.  I understand what means my friend goes through to keep her son safe, and I see how incredibly brave her son is as he watches his friends enjoy what used to be his favorite foods.  I don't pretend though to understand what their family must go through on a daily basis.  We can still go out to eat.  Abigail can still have a birthday cake not a cardboard box decorated like a cake so that there are candles to blow out. I can still fix our family's favorite foods.  We're not spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment each month on elemental juice boxes because insurance doesn't cover them.  We can rely on organizations like FAAN to help fund food allergy research and serve as our voice for new legislation.  Abigail has blood drawn and skin prick tests performed every 6 months.  She's not put to sleep for an endoscopy every 2 to 3 months.  No, I don't pretend to understand.

What I can do is help my friend raise awareness and be there for her when she needs emotional support.  I love her dearly.  I've been leaning on her for support in dealing with Abigail's allergy for years, and I can't thank her enough for that.  She's a blessing in my life.  She and her family deserve a few blessings themselves.

If you'd like to read more about EoE or find out more about National Eosinophil Awareness Week, my friend has a blog, www.eeldkids.blogspot.com.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Air Canada Denies Peanut Allergic Passenger...Right or Wrong?

Imagine this.  Your 19 year old son is about to embark on a two week mission trip.  Yes, he does have a severe peanut allergy, but as a family, you've flown several times a year for family vacations so you feel confident in his safety while aboard the airplane.  After much preparation, it's time to take your son to the airport, get him checked in, kiss him good-bye and tell him to have a safe trip.  Except that's not what happens.  Instead, you get to the airport, go to check him in, properly declare that he's carrying Epi Pens and antihistamine tablets and are then told by the airline staff that he'll not be flying on their airline without authorization from their medical desk.  Now, are you upset that your son is going to miss his flight or are you angry that your son is being penalized because he has a severe peanut allergy?

This was the case for Matthew Burns earlier this week as he tried to board Air Canada which would take him from Halifax to Toronto. From there he was going to catch a plane to Fiji where he would join the other volunteers for his mission trip (not a bad place to go for a mission trip...but I regress).  His mom booked the flight using a rewards program, and told them of her son's allergy.  She did not contact Air Canada directly.

Air Canada spells out their peanut allergy policy on their website.  They require a 48 hour notification so that they can create a peanut free zone around the passenger's seat.  In this case, the airline was not notified by the reward company, and they refused to let Matthew board the plane.

Matthew did make it to Fiji.  He was able to get a seat aboard an American Airlines flight that same day.  American Airlines didn't have a problem with his allergy.  In fact, their website states that while they do not serve peanuts, they take no extra safety precautions for their food allergic customers.

So, what's worse?  An airlines that refuses a customer because they did not receive notification and were not able to make a safe zone or an airline policy that says travel at your own risk?  According to the article, the parents weren't necessarily upset because the airline refused to let their son board the plane, but more because the staff at the ticket counter wiped their hands of the situation and did not offer to help the family find a solution.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

I'm using a post that I wrote last year this time.  I hope you don't mind seeing it again.  It's one of my personal favorites.  Happy Mother's Day to all of my wonderful readers!

Today I want to recognize a special group of moms...moms of children with life-threatening allergies.  A mom with an allergic child has a lot on her plate making sure certain foods stay off their kids' plates!  So, here's to the moms that make sure that the EpiPens and antihistamines are always on hand and in date, that read every label on every food, that call ahead to restaurants to see if the food is safe, that know every party/special occasion that takes place in their child's class in order to provide a comparable safe treat, that have meeting after meeting with school officials and teachers to discuss the special requirements of their child's allergy, that fill out multiple health forms and action plans with in case of emergency details, that receive the grumbling from a few that feel put out for having to accommodate their child's allergy, that hate knowing their child will be labeled as disabled, that search cookbooks looking for allergy friendly recipes and websites looking for alternative ingredients, that break the bad news to their child that they can't attend a function because it's not safe, that help their child sort through Halloween candy bags and Valentine card boxes to remove offending treats only to find that the throw out pile is larger than the keep pile, that keep up-to-date with all food recall information to make sure there isn't a mislabeled food violation in their pantry, that write their political leaders asking for more support for food allergy issues, that get angry with food manufacturers for worrying more about the bottom line then the safety of their child, that go to battle with acquaintances maybe even family members that don't believe the seriousness of their child's allergy, that hold their child's hand tightly while they have blood drawn or their skin pricked during a food allergy test, that explain to their child one more time that they're not weird and that yes it is unfair that they have this allergy, that pray regularly that there will someday be a cure for or even just a better understanding of food allergies, that wait year after year thinking this will be the one when their child outgrows their allergy only to realize that it's probably not going to happen, that watch their child go off to school by himself and worry all day that he isn't exposed to that one or more foods that can make him deathly ill, that soothe a child upset by an insensitive comment made by a peer, that spend hours researching the latest food allergy treatments, that drive miles out of the way to shop at grocery stores that stock safe foods, that spend hundreds of dollars more a year for those safe foods, that frequent their child's school at lunchtime so that their child doesn't have to sit alone, that shelter their young child from the true consequences of their food allergy and later watches as their older child accepts those consequences for themselves, that teach their child how to inject a life-saving device into their thigh, that hope their teenager isn't too cool or too forgetful to carry their EpiPen when they're out with their friends, that rush to the hospital because one of their greatest fears did occur and their child is having difficulty breathing, that remove an offending food from their own diet so as to not put their child at risk, that privately battle their anxiety, that paste a smile on their face and assure their child that everything is going to be okay and that pray they can keep it together, be strong for their child and family and protect their child from the dangers they face on a daily basis. To you fellow moms, a very special Happy Mother's Day!

Many Blessings,
Melanie

Monday, May 2, 2011

Please Label GM Ingredients!

My Favorite!
I've been pretty hypocritical lately.  I've been under a lot of stress these past few weeks, and I've found myself eating junk foods that normally would be off limits because of their genetically modified ingredients.  During our house-selling/moving process, I discovered Ben & Jerry's ice cream and have personally eaten 4 pints in just as many weeks.  In fact, I even went so far as to write my name on top of a container telling my family that I was not sharing and that the container was off limits.  Ben & Jerry's has a great story to tell about their allergen labeling, their rBST-free dairy and cage-free egg ingredients and Fair Trade chocolate and vanilla.  However, on their website, they do state that they are unable to use other non-GM ingredients.

On the other hand though, I've been super worked up about the use of genetically modified ingredients and there not being a legal requirement for companies to label these ingredients.  In order to find out if Ben & Jerry's used GM ingredients, I had to do significant searching on their website.  As parents of allergic children, we're used to constantly contacting food manufacturers, so we all know it's a time-consuming process.  Now add to that finding a company's policy on the use of genetically modified ingredients.  It's no longer about just trying to avoid peanuts and tree nuts to keep Abigail safe, it's now also about trying to protect the health of my whole family.

There is a big movement right now in the organic community to pressure stores to insist their food suppliers label foods.  I think the realization is that we can't depend on our government to force the issue by passing a law.  I did do my part though by contacting my state representatives.  The target store right now is Whole Foods.  According to the article, "Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto," by Ronnie Cummings who writes for the Organic Consumers Association, "a self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it’s time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of genetically engineered crops, such as Monsanto’s controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for “coexistence” with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack."

What's the main reason Whole Foods surrendered?  According to the same article, "Whole Foods is pleading for coexistence with Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and the rest of the biotech bullies, because they desperately want the controversy surrounding genetically engineered foods and crops to go away. Why? Because they know, just as we do, that 2/3rd's of WFM’s $9 billion annual sales is derived from so-called “natural” processed foods and animal products that are contaminated with GMOs."

Here's a YouTube clip of a protester trying to get answers at a Whole Foods as to what products contained genetically modified ingredients.  Her point... if you'd require labeling, consumers could make educated purchasing decisions and the store employees would know what they were selling.  However, as a Monsanto executive stated,  If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it. 

If you're unclear abut the "natural" versus organic labeling, here's a link to an older post on my blog to get you started.

Back to to Ben & Jerry's.  While they do use GM ingredients for their US products (they've re-formulated the European flavors because of it's GMO-free requirements), they are actively, and have been for years, trying to find alternatives to GM soy and corn ingredients.  Per their website, "Our goal is to be GMO-free in both our domestic and international products. Some of the issues we are confronting at the present time are the availability of a non-GMO supply of alternatives such as corn syrup and add-ins such as candies, and certification of those supplies. Currently we cannot obtain secure free assurances from all of our suppliers."  I've got to give them some credit for trying!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Organic Chocolate Syrup

I've been using this syrup to make my kids' chocolate milk now for a while.  I've also been known to put it over vanilla ice cream for a quick treat.  It's organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, sodium-free and best of all, peanut-free. And, yes, it's good.

I buy the chocolate syrup at a local store that specializes in organic products, but it's also available for purchase online. Unfortuantely, it's the only product from AH!LASKA that is made in a peanut/tree nut free facility.  They also make cocoa powder for hot drinks and baker's cocoa, but these are made in a facility with other peanut products.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Single Digit IgE Number

In the craziness of moving, preparing for Easter and our trip to the beach (where I'm writing this post), I almost forgot to tell everyone about my latest call with Abigail's doctor at Duke.  Now that Abigail is on the maintenance dose, we only have to drive to the Duke Clinical Trial Unit every 6 months for lab work.  In between those visits, the doctor calls to check in to see how she is doing, and to see if there are any issues or concerns.  I had not heard her IgE lab results from our January trip to Durham so I was anxious to find out what her new numbers were.

Her IgE number is in the single digits!  That's incredible!  Our goal is to get her number to 2 by the end of the study.  We are on our way.  Her number is now 9.28.  With a year still to get there, I quote our doctor, "Abigail has a really good chance of kicking this thing."

Her IgE numbers are following the pattern that they are seeing with the other clinical trial participants.  When Abigail was 18 months old, her number was in the 14 range.  When she entered the study at age 7, her number was 10.4.  During the study, it spiked to 16.7, then down some to 15.5, then 12.9 and a year and a half into the study she's at 9.28.  One of the biggest conclusions the staff at Duke has made is that this process takes time.  They increased the sublingual immunotherapy study length by 6 months for a total of 36 months instead of the original 30.  They've found that the extra time is getting the numbers that they want to see.

While Abigail's IgE numbers were in the teens to start, Duke is still seeing the same trend with children that start with numbers in the 300's, 800's and even 1000's.  The number curve is still the same.  The numbers spike and then drop along the same curve.  I have a friend whose daughter's IgE number was in the 300 range, spiked up over 500, but is now in the 50 range.  It sounds like a long way to go to get to 2, but her percentage change is in line with Abigail's.  Her daughter is just seeing the drastic changes while Abigail's change of 2 to 2 1/2 points is equally a big deal.

Bottom line...it's working!  We are so blessed.  You guys hang in there too.  The latest trial that Duke is doing now is administering the peanut protein via a patch.  I really believe doctors are doing everything they can to make this process of desensitization as easy as possible to administer so that it can be done by allergist and doctors beyond those involved in the trials.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Good Tip for Candy Treats

My youngest son is in preschool with a little girl that has a peanut allergy.  This last Friday, their class had an Easter Egg hunt.  Parents were asked to bring in a dozen plastic eggs filled with treats.  The note home to the parents reminded us that there was a child in the class with a peanut allergy and asked that we be mindful of the type of treats that we put in the eggs.

On the way home, I let my son open the plastic eggs that he had found during the hunt to see what treats they held.  Guess what was in one of the eggs?  A miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  Seriously?? There were several hard candies in some of the eggs, some questionable, but there is no question about the safety of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  Was that a busy mom that just didn't think or an irritated mom that was making a statement.  Given that I know all the parents, I'm going to choose to believe it was a busy mom.  Regardless, I made a call to the mom of the little girl giving her a head's up of what he found in one of his plastic eggs.  I told her I felt her pain.  Abigail is all the time bringing home unsafe treats from school and birthday parties.  As a second grader, she knows that she's not allowed to eat anything until we look at the treats together.

I was reading through a copy of Family Fun yesterday and came across a really good tip that had been submitted by a reader whose son had several severe food allergies.  She found a really large jar and put lines around it at several places.  Each line had a dollar value associated with it.  When her son received treats that he couldn't eat, he'd drop it in the jar.  When the candy reached one of the lines, he could choose to keep saving or turn it into cash to then spend on something he wanted.

I have 2 one gallon bags full of candy that my kids have received from various parties and holiday events.  It's not all unsafe, I just limit the amount of candy my kids can eat.  Not only the amount though, but the type.  I'd rather they have something that I've provided that is either organic or that does not contain artificial sweeteners and dyes.  I might try this tip and make a treat trade-in jar for our house as well.  In the meantime, does anybody know what to do with all that candy?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Easter Treats

I'm having a hard time finding Easter treats that both meet my health standards and that are safe for Abigail's peanut allergy.  I'm sure I could find items to order off the internet, but I feel like those items come at a premium plus the additional shipping charges.  Having had luck at World Market with the Sun Cups in the past, I thought it was worth stopping in to see if they had any Easter candy.  They did.

I found these Marshmallow Easter Eggs made by Rose Manufacturing in Ireland.  The allergen information lists dairy and soy only, and they're labeled gluten free. There was no label for peanut/tree nut cross-contamination which appears to be a World Market requirement, and because they are made in the UK, there was a good chance that they didn't contain GMO ingredients. At $1.99 for a pack of 6 individually wrapped eggs, I thought it was worth the chance.  I couldn't find anything about the product on their website, so I e-mailed the company.  Here's their response:

Thanks for purchasing our products. I hope you enjoy them. Our manufacturing facility is a nut free environment with the exception of Coconut used on site. All raw materials used on site are GMO free. Hope this puts your mind at rest and have a nice Easter.

I haven't had a chance to try them yet so I can't guarantee the taste.  However, considering they each just contain 7 grams of sugar, are made without GMO ingredients, have no artificial colors or flavors, are gluten free and are made in a nut free environment, they're going in the Easter baskets.  I went back today and bought a few more packs.  My sister has Celiac Disease so they're going in her basket as well.

I'll have to do a taste test later this weekend.  I'll add a post note with the results so check back.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

GM Food and Robyn O'Brien

For the first time ever, I reached out to my elected state officials.  I expressed my support of the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act.  It's an issue that I feel extremely strong about, and I felt the need to do something. I've gotten one response, which frankly, is more than I expected.  I don't know if it will make a difference, but I feel good for having made the effort.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that I'm a big advocate of eating foods that are either organic or are not made with genetically modified ingredients.  I believe that genetically modified foods are making us sick and also play a huge role in the increase in food allergies.

Here's a link to a YouTube video featuring Robyn O'Brien, author of "The Unhealthy Truth."  That could be me standing up on stage.  Just ask my friends.  Give me an opening, and I'm going to tell you how the food you're eating is making you sick, how we are human guinea pigs, how disgusted I am at how big business is making profits at our well-being and the well-being of our children, grandchildren and future generations to come and how our government is allowing them to do so.  They'd tell you how I'd mention that over 85% of the food in our grocery stores contain GM ingredients and that food manufacturers are not required to tell us.  Like Robyn, I'm trying to make a difference one person at a time.  I get so thrilled when you guys send me e-mails telling me that reading my blog has made you change the way you eat.

So, watch the video, get fired up and help me make some changes!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Finally...

Finally...another post.  It's been days.  Sorry about that.  We sold our house.  Wanting to wait until the due diligence period was over before we signed a lease on a rental or started packing, we had just 3 1/2 weeks to find a house, pack, load, unload, clean and close.  Now we are in the process of unpacking, at least somewhat.  We only signed a 6 month lease so I had to pack extremely strategically, packing items together that we might need, won't need and need immediately.  I've been both physically and mentally exhausted.  We were in that house for 12 years.  That's lots of time to collect "treasures", i.e., junk, and plenty of time to create memories that saddened the moving process.  What eased the transition is that we moved only 5 miles away in order to allow Abigail to finish her current school year.  We're not yet loosing access to friends, our community or our church.

I've got lots of post ideas.  You great readers are also e-mailing me links to interesting articles and suggesting post topics.  Keep them coming.  Now, I've got to get busy.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dove Chocolate

One of my blog readers sent me an e-mail about Dove Chocolate and their "awesome" labeling for peanut/tree nut allergens. I went on their website, but couldn't find a written statement. However, if you call their automated phone system (800-551-0704), there is an option to press for a list of peanut free products.

I hope my reader doesn't mind me quoting her, but she spoke to several reps from the Mars company, and I wanted to pass along what she found out. They told her that "they will always list "may contains" if it is manufactured in a facility or on shared equipment with peanuts." Several of their products no longer carry a "may contain" warning so the assumption is that they must have a peanut free facility.

Thanks to my reader for e-mailing me. She was excited to be able to buy a candy bar for her peanut allergic son, who was in heaven having such a wonderful chocolate treat.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Special Offer from Annie's HomeGrown

Annie's HomeGrown is giving away free garden gloves and packs of vegetable seeds with the purchase of two of their products.  We almost always have a box of the Bunny Crackers and/or boxes of mac 'n cheese in our pantry.  It was just a matter of filling out the information online.  The gloves come in either adult or childrens' sizes.  I selected the kid's size, and I'm going to put them to work in my garden this spring.
http://www.annies.com/root
Free Root 4 Kids gardening kit is available with PROOF OF PURCHASE of any TWO (2) Annie’s Homegrown or Annie's Naturals products. Products must be purchased between January 5, 2011 and April 30, 2011.  Offer good in U.S only. Limit one per household or address. Must be 18 years or older. Supplies are limited. Offer expires April 30, 2011 or while supplies last.  Allow 8-10 weeks for delivery. 


Update 5-6-11 
We received our package today from Annie's.  The kids loved the gloves.  They fit Abigail perfectly, but are a little too large for my 3 year old.  He didn't seem to mind.  I loved the surprise coupons that were included.  $5.50 worth to be exact for Bunnie crackers, pasta, snack bars, dressings and cereal.   Hope you got yours!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

High School Freshman in Coma

A 14 year old, high school freshman girl is in a coma after going into anaphylactic shock. The coma is a result of delayed CPR and an extended period of time without oxygen flowing to her brain. There are plans later this week for her to undergo surgery so that a feeding tube can be inserted.

Apparently, she was hanging out with some friends after school and they were eating Kellogg's Crunchy Nut cereal for a snack. The words "peanut" or "nutty" appear about 20 times on the cereal box. She did know the severity of her allergy. There is no mention of an epinephrine pen anywhere in the article. Her dad mentions that Benadryl had worked on past minor allergic episodes to MSG and preservatives.  Here's the link if you'd like to read the full story and see the Fox News video clip interviewing the girls father.

I really don't know how to comment. It's a very tragic tale that brings up more questions than answers.  I can say this though.  It's a perfect example of one of the main reasons that my husband and I decided to pursue the peanut clinical trial at Duke, and why we're putting Abigail as well as our family through repeated 290 mile round trips to the Duke Clinical Research Unit, multiple blood and skin tests and a daily regiment of drops for 3 years.  We were very concerned of what would happen when our very strong-willed, opinionated daughter reached the pre-teen and teenage years and was no longer under the constant supervision of either ourselves or another adult.  My husband agrees.  Ironically, when I told him about this girl in Phoenix and the tragedy, his first comment was, "that's why we are in the clinical trial."  What a blessing this trial is for our family, and we pray that the results bless many in return.

A mom wrote on a food allergy message board that she trains all of her teenage daughter's close friends on the signs of an allergic reaction and the administration of an EpiPen.  Prior to letting her daughter go anywhere with her friends, she makes sure that they are all aware of where the EpiPen is and asks that they make sure it doesn't get left behind in the car.  What a great tip.

In the meantime, we need to keep this young girl and her family in our prayers.  I can't imagine what they must be going through or how much they are suffering.