Friday, October 22, 2010

Almost allergy-free! (I hope...)

My younger daughter passed Test #2 of 3 today at the allergy doctor's, and we're hoping next week she'll be declared dairy allergy-free. (She passed her blood test and skin test, and next week is a "food challenge" in the doctor's office in which they feed her milk and observe her for any reaction.) I'm already dreaming of a big pizza and ice cream party next weekend. Though I am trying not to get my hopes *too* much. (And realistically, I know even if she can eat dairy, I'm going to be extremely cautious and all Mama Bear on her until I'm completely, totally sure she doesn't react.)

For anyone with kids with food allergies, or if you just want to learn more about them, there are a few resources I've found invaluable:

New England Chapter of the Asthma and Allergies Foundation -- Among its benefits, it hosts educational seminars in the Greater Boston area.

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network -- Has a wealth of information about food allergies and it sends out recall alerts about foods that have been recalled for being improperly labelled and not containing allergy information. (I get a surprising number of these notifications. Very scary that so much food is mislabelled.)

Allergy Eats -- Contains an online database of restaurants with user ratings on allergy awareness and dining experience. There's also an Allergy Eats blog and Facebook page with lots of great information on dining out with food allergies.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stuck in a Dinner Rut...

As I was checking out at the grocery store today, buying hamburger and pasta for American Chop Suey tonight, I realized... I'm stuck in a dinner rut.

Don't get me wrong, I love American Chop Suey. But isn't it just a little... boring?

When we joined a CSA earlier this year it helped make our meals a little more interesting. 10 varieties of squash, collard greens, kale, beets. I got kind of inventive. But the CSA season is winding down, the vegetables we're getting are kind of bottom of the barrel in terms of quality, and I'm just sick of some of the same vegetables week in and week out.

I'm not quite like my mom yet -- every day of the week for her is associated with a different meat she always has for dinner. Monday is hamburger and pasta night, Tuesday chicken, Wednesday hamburger again, Thursday chicken again. And so on. But I do find myself getting into that routine with meals where I make the same things over and over again.

So - any ideas to help me get out of this rut? I'm all ears. I only have a few guidelines:
1) I don't really do dinner out of a box. I mean, I'll cook pasta and rice from a box, but I gave up Hamburger Helper years ago. Don't want to go down that road again. I'd like more "simple, fresh." I will do frozen vegetables.
2) My younger daughter has a dairy allergy. I can make some easy substitutions like soy milk for milk or soy butter for butter, and even some veggie cheese. But I try to stay away from overly cheesy dishes or anything made with milk-based soups.
3) I own a Crock-Pot. And I love using it! Any ideas beyond pot roast would be awesome.

Have at it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Paparazzi ... and Me

No, I'm not famous. The paparazzi don't stalk me or my kids at preschool like they do to Nicole Richie's kids. But I watched the HBO documentary "Teenage Paparazzo" this week and it got me thinking about me and my kids.

One thing that was mentioned in the documentary is that people these days feel unnaturally close to many celebrities (they called it a something relationship, but I forget what that "something" is, and I deleted the movie from my DVR). But basically, so many people are obsessed with Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, and it's because they don't have many other substantive relationships in their lives. Our lives are much more solitary. Kids don't gather at each other's homes after school or ride bikes down the street. It's a much different kind of childhood these days.

Anyway, it got me thinking. I need to do more activities with my kids. But not the kind of structured activities that leads to over-scheduled kids. We need to go to the library more. The playground more. Have friends over to the house more. It made me realize that we are a little too solitary. And while I love just us and our family life, it really is good to have other important relationships. Which reminds me - I really should knock on my new neighbor's door and introduce myself.

A couple other random comments about the documentary:
1) The whole movie is centered around a 13-year-old kid who is a member of the paparazzi. I understand it's important to give your kids freedom and let them pursue their interests, but quite bizarre that this kid was regularly out until 3:00 a.m. snapping pictures.
2) I've grown a little sick of the whole celebrity culture. I mean, I used to be People Magazine's #1 subscriber, but I cancelled my subscription after the magazine ran a photo of Jennifer Garner carrying her daughter Violet out of preschool. Violet is maybe a year older than my older daughter, and she looked completely terrified surrounded by a swarm of photographers. That was the line for me. Don't follow a kid to preschool -- let the family live some type of regular life. So I really applaud Nicole Richie for what she's doing to keep the paparazzi away from her kids at school. OK, off soapbox now. :)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taking on Gender Roles

We're not big into traditional gender roles in our household. My 4-year-old daughter went to bed tonight in her Buzz Lightyear pajamas, she loves baseball, soccer, the colors blue and orange, the movie Cars, Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder. Oh, and she calls herself "Ben." Don't get me wrong, though -- she's not all "boy" in a girl's body. She also likes princesses (though isn't obsessed with them), Dora, hearts and a good cuddle.

My 2-year-old daughter likes everything her sister likes. And she goes by "Bill."

I've tried hard to let my daughters explore their interests rather than pushing them to like what I think (or what society thinks) they should. And the result? Two sweet, happy children.

As my girls get older, I'd like to continue to let them pursue their goals and interests without feeling limited in any way. Which is why I feel daunted by any discussions about gender roles.

My older daughter's observations started innocently enough: boys don't wear earrings, girls have long hair. She got really confused last year by Casey on American Idol when he wore his hair down. Then the observations got a little harder for me to address: only boys play baseball. I struggled with that one, because she's a baseball-loving kid and underneath that comment I heard the silent, "But I like playing baseball." I told her she could do whatever she wanted and I vowed to sign her up for T-ball if she wants to do it in a couple of years.

But this week I felt really challenged. We have a couple of baptisms coming up in our family and my daughter asked me, "Why do only boys get to pour water on babies' heads?" (We're Catholic.) I asked her how she knew that and she said, "I just do. I know a lot of stuff."

I tried to explain to her as best I could that in our church only boys are priests while in other churches girls can be too. But I felt disingenuous saying it, because it goes against what I believe: that my girls should be able to pursue whatever dreams they have in life. Having said that, though, I realize that in real life, my girls will face challenges because of their gender.

So what I'm struggling with is: how do I communicate all this to my children? Should I? Do I prepare them optimistically with the "you can do anything" or be a little more realistic with "well, you can play T-ball now, but when you get to high school, people are going to want to move you over to softball."

I don't know the answers to these questions. But I struggle with them. And I'm trying to do my best.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Our Experiment with Vegetables

This summer my family decided to try something different. We were going to eat vegetables. Well, not that we *didn't* eat vegetables before, but they were more of the frozen peas and canned corn variety. No, we were going to eat fresh vegetables. And a lot of them.

We decided to join a CSA, which I was a little unsure of at first, but for the most part, it's been a really positive experience for us. For one, we got to eat a lot of veggies we've never really tried before. (Like radishes, which I've had in salads and stuff before, but have never actually purchased myself.) And I know this sounds kind of "duh," but we got to find out how much better fresh food tastes. Like freshly picked lettuce? So much better than the bagged Fresh Express stuff.

The CSA also offered a great educational experience for my girls, who got to learn all about where their food comes from and it got them excited to try some of the veggies. (Which has been very challenging for my 4-year-old lately.)

The only drawback to the CSA is that you're stuck with whatever veggies they offer for that week, and some of the vegetables I would not buy as often as we get them. I mean, kale is good and all, but we've gotten it for 18 straight weeks. Enough already.

A couple of my favorite veggie creations this season:
*Chicken stir-fry with eggplant (best use of eggplant, I think)
*Sauteed radishes (with the greens)
*Tomato, basil and mozzarella

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What I Love: My Nook

You know how some women hoard shoes? They have so many pairs that they'll never have a chance to wear them all. Well, I'm the geek version of those women: I hoard books.

I have so many books in my house, they fill up bookshelves, are stashed under my bed, fill up space on the floor. I have classics, contemporary, "literary," comedy ... you name it. I like my books.

So it was with a mix of trepidation and intrigue that I bought myself a nook this summer from Barnes and Noble. And the verdict? I LOVE IT.

What's not to love? I can download a book at the touch of a button and carry my library with me wherever I go. And if I get nostalgic for a regular old book, I have a bazillion of them at home stuffed under my bed. I was worried when I bought my nook that I would have a "trigger finger" and download too many books at a time (much like I bought too many paper books at a time), but so far, I've restrained myself. Maybe because I know the next book is only a click away.

My latest reads: War by Sebastian Junger and The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Contemplating what to read next. Can't wait.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Off to the Allergy Doctor...

This week I'm taking my daughter to the allergy doctor for her yearly testing. My daughter is one of the 4% of kids with a food allergy (dairy, to be exact). We've been dealing with her allergy for a year now -- it's been hard at times, surprisingly easy at others. But I'm ready for it to be over.

We are lucky in that my daughter's symptoms are: 1) not that serious to date (though the doctor says that could change with any reaction); and 2) likely to go away over time. (I think an estimated 50% of kids with a dairy allergy outgrow it by age 3; she just turned 2.) And while my daughter handles her allergy remarkably well (she understands that at Dunkin' Donuts her sister can have donuts while she gets a bagel, and at the pizza place her sister can have pizza while she gets pasta), we did have an incident this past week in which my daughter became very upset that she couldn't have some of her sister's birthday cake. It's so tough to explain to a 2-year-old that she just can't eat certain foods.

I genuinely feel for those parents (and their children) who have to deal with far more serious -- and multiple -- food allergies, and who can't say like I can, "I hope it will be over soon." Because for their kids, it's more likely to be a life-long allergy. In our year of dealing with this allergy, I have learned that far too many people do not understand enough about food allergies (especially at restaurants, which is very scary) -- and some people are just downright cruel about them. I had a former co-worker with a tree nut allergy, and she used to tell this story about how a former colleague baked brownies for the office, and purposely told this woman that there were no walnuts in them -- even though there were -- because she wanted to see what her reaction would be. I laughed at the story at the time; now it just makes my skin crawl to think that someone would endanger another person's life (yes, allergies are *life-threatening*) like this.

I have a lot to say on food allergies and not enough time in the day, so I'll save most of it for future posts. I'll just say for now to please be understanding about food allergies. Those with food allergies (and their parents) do not mean to be any type of a burden, but allergies really are a matter of life and death.

I had a conversation several months ago with a woman at the New England Chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation about food restrictions at school due to allergies. We were talking about parents who get upset that their kids can't bring in peanut butter to school or whatever else, and she told me that what she'd say to these parents is, "Do you really want to be the person to endanger a child's life?" And really, that's what it boils down to. I realize that at a restaurant (or as a guest at someone else's house) I can be full of questions about ingredients and how things are prepared. I really don't mean to inconvenience you, but this is my child's health and well-being (and possibly her life) on the line. I wish everyone could understand that.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Finally Launching!

After probably a year of talking about starting my own blog, I am finally pulling the trigger. What took me so long? For starters, being a working mom, I have very little free time on my hands. But more than that, I've also been debating the direction in which I should take this blog. It's called "SuburbaMommy," which should tell you a couple of pertinent pieces of information about me: I'm a mom, and I live in the suburbs. And while my kids are the center of my life, I guess my hesitation was that I didn't necessarily want this to be a "Mom Blog." Not that there's anything wrong with mom blogs -- I read them, I enjoy them, but I also feel that there's so much more I want to share beyond my mom-hood.

So, this blog will be a mom blog (and I do have a lot to say about my kids and parenting issues), but it will also be a writer's blog (I am a writer by profession), a reader's blog, a pop culture blog and an anything-else-I-feel-like-talking-about blog. I hope you enjoy.