Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Food Free Fun

As summer is fast approaching, so are summer plans. Barbeques, picnics, ice cream parties, and other glorious fun that is not so corn allergy friendly. (I don’t know about you, but anything that involves food; even remotely, sets my radar spinning and sends me running.) Although it is always possible to go to food centered events toting your own safe goodies, and have fun simply socializing, its also fun to plan a few outings or activities that don’t center around food.

  • Check your local library. Many city libraries have free programs for all ages. My daughters have enjoyed puppet shows, performing dogs, endangered wildlife, and a variety of other engaging presentations over the years. Many libraries also sponsor a reading program; where the incentive is a free paperback book at the end of summer. (a reward that a food allergic kid can actually keep!) To find out whats going on at your library; drop by and look for event postings (or ask the librarian) or google your own hometown + city library. You should be able to find their homepage.
  • Art classes: Many art and craft supply stores offer free or low priced project classes. (Please be aware that many also offer cake decorating classes, and if they are in the same room there may be food residue, a danger to those with anaphylactic allergies.) Michaels offers Saturday Kids Club projects on an ongoing basis. (Check with your local location if you need ingredient info on products used. Projects vary slightly by location, and you may be able to work with the class coordinator to get safe products for your child’s needs.)
  • Local Parks: Many now have small walking trails, or fitness paths for “grown ups”; and what child doesn’t want to check out a new play structure? Google your own hometown and parks recreation to find local parks and information about available facilities (most websites list basketball courts, swimming pools, playgrounds and restrooms etc.) We find the ideal times to explore are after breakfast, with hunger pains being our cue to go home for lunch, or after dinner, while the house is still cooling off and we have energy to burn before bed.
  • Local museums: Check out your local tourist bureau for information about local tourist attractions. Of course you’ll want to skip the chocolate factory tour; but there are often local attractions that us locals never hear about…or just don’t think about visiting, since we drive by the signs every single day. Sculpture exhibits at City Hall, a local history museum, or a toy train collection will be proudly advertised by the Chamber of Commerce and can be a surprisingly pleasant way to spend a few hours. Many museums offer free entry, at least on certain days (such as Free First Friday every month) so be sure to take advantage of those offers.
  • Local festivals: Art and wine festivals are full of wine and beer and delicacies that we can’t partake in; but they are also a fun way to see local artist’s work. It can be fun to just walk around and watch an air brusher at work, listen to a local band, or get a free 2 minute massage.
  • Hiking: Local hiking trails are a great way to stay in shape, and get back in touch with nature. Its also a great way to get together when you just can’t think beyond meeting for coffee (water for me, thanks) or lunch (er, just here for the company. That foccaccia sandwich with carmelized onion and feta cheese doesn’t look the least bit tempting. Really.) Bring plenty of water, and a map.
  • Miniature golf: There are many mini golf and arcade style areas available in most cities.
  • A fun, little known, activity is Letterboxing. Letterboxing is sort of like a treasure/scavenger hunt in your own town. Check a website such as http://www.atlasquest.com/ to find local letterbox sites. Bring an inkpad, a stamp, and a notebook. Inside a letterbox you'll find a booklet for you stamp with *your* stamp, and a stamp to imprint in your own notebook. Remember to hunt and hide the boxes with care, so that the box doesn’t get discovered or stolen. This is a great activity for kids and adults. Hints vary from step by step directions to ones that actually require a little research to track down the location. They can be hidden anywhere from inside a hollow library book to the bottom of a dry creek. You may want to “plant” your own boxes, too. (If you have a GPS unit, geochacheing is a similar activity, with cooler "prizes" hidden. But, letterboxing is cool enough for me.)
  • Indoor fun centers: There are an increasing number of indoor fun centers with climbing structures and arcade style games available. Most serve kid friendly, not allergy friendly food, but since kids will be mesmerized by flashing lights and catchy music, you have a good chance of getting away without eating. Even places like Chuck E Cheese have tokens available without food purchase. Your best bet at these play areas is to arrive and play early, when the equipment is at its cleanest. (and before someone else's kid gets around to dropping forbidden food in the ball pit.)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Book Review

Although food allergies are difficult at any age, kids seem to be hit particularly hard. They're young, they're vulnerable. And they aren't in control of their own lives. (well, usually)

As a parent, I worry about how my kids deal with their food restrictions. How do I help them to feel more "normal"? How do I protect them from the insidious "snacks" everyone wants to share? How do I deal with the "but its important to try new things" argument? How do I protect them from a world that doesn't understand food allergies?

One way that I help prepare them is through reading. We've always helped them through difficult times by finding books that they can relate to. There are books about moving, books on starting kindergarten and books about new siblings. But food allergies? There just aren't that many books out there that deal with this troubling subject.

I'm happy to report that we have found a book that my kids, at least, can relate to. It is called Eating Gluten Free with Emily. We read this book to help them understand about Celiac Disease, which I have. But halfway through the first reading my daughter cried out "That's just like me!", referring to the way Emily feels about her food restrictions.

Celiac disease and food allergies are different; Celiac is an autoimmune response which causes intestinal damage when gluten containing foods such as wheat are consumed. A food allergy is an antibody response to foreign food proteins, with a variety of symptoms from rashes, to gastrointestinal to full blown anaphylaxis. However, they both are treated by avoiding the offending foods.

As a short synapsis, in this book, Emily is diagnosed with Celiac disease when she develops diarrhea and a bloated belly. Testing is done through a test she needs to sleep through (an endoscopy) and for her, it is a cut and dried diagnosis, which many of us don't actually get with corn allergies. She talks about what she can still eat, and that she can get other "normal" foods from the health food store. (Again, this is not often true for corn allergies...but we can make good simulations, so the analogy may work for corn allergic kids)

Although Eating Gluten Free with Emily is not specifically corn allergy related; it helps to bolster self esteem by showing that dietary restrictions are just a small part of who you are. They can make you feel different, and can be isolating. But, following your required diet makes you feel better. And, you can still live a full life.

In the end, Emily heads off to camp with a cooler full of safe food; where she meets another kid with Celiac disease. I'm not sure how likely it is for a child to meet another with a corn allergy, but its definately possible. And the message is clear, you are not alone. You can survive, and thrive. A message I need, myself, sometimes.

This and other books about food allergies may be available from your local library, or through Inter Library loan. See your local childrens librarian for more information.