Back To School Allergy Awareness Tips

By Rachel Sircy

education-662458_1280It’s that time of year again, when kids and teachers across the state are heading back to school. For an increasing number of parents, the school year is a time when they worry about their child’s health and safety. Our schools are attempting to become safer places by installing metal detectors and having police officers on campus, but what about those kids for whom the danger is ever-present and lurking in the lunchroom?

For those of us with food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies, staying healthy and safe is a constant battle. But there are things that we can do to keep our kids (and let’s not forget those teachers and school staff who may have allergies also!) from coming into contact with the wrong foods. If your child or someone you know has a food allergy which may be flared up at school, DON’T BE PASSIVE! There are steps you can take to help protect your child and everyone at their school.

  1. Contact the school and let them know ahead of time who your child is and what kind of food allergy they have. Be prepared to provide a doctor’s note. Let the school know how sensitive your child is to their allergen and then offer advice on how to control the situation at school. Don’t forget to provide the school with your child’s emergency medications, if they take any.
  2. While you on the phone with the school, see if they would be willing to promote food allergy awareness through programs like Be a PAL. There are tons of resources to help kids understand what food allergies are and how to help and protect their friends, from pamphlets and worksheets to coloring pages for the littlest learners. They are great classroom resources! Visit: https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/be-a-pal
  3. If you and your child don’t have a food allergy, but find out that someone in his or her class does, then try to be mindful when providing snacks for your child and especially when providing treats for the class. Take a few minutes to learn about the allergy and how you can avoid it. Peanuts and nut allergies are extremely common and there are very simple methods for avoiding exposing nut allergy sufferers to their allergens. There are plenty of alternatives to nut butters on the market, including soy butter and sunflower seed butter (Tastewise, I prefer the sunflower seed butter. Enjoy Life Foods has a ton of products, including individually wrapped snack bars made from sunflower seed butter, which I can personally say are quite tasty. I would guarantee your kid won’t know the difference.)
  4. Remember, school time isn’t the only time that we need to be mindful of allergy sufferers. Any school function could be a place of exposure. So be sure to pack allergy-friendly snacks and treats for any of your child’s after-school programs, including sports practices and games, dance lessons and recitals, etc.

Those of us who may only have celiac disease and not food allergies are still aware of how hard it can be to feel comfortable and safe in a world filled with stuff we shouldn’t eat. So, let’s be even more careful to stand up for our allergy-suffering friends!  Happy back to school!

Celiac Disease and Children: Some Things to Keep in Mind

By Rachel Sircy

pic 1I’ve been thinking lately about my daughter, who is four, and about whether or not she may also have celiac disease. I’m sure that those of you out there who are celiacs wonder about passing on your gluten intolerant genes to your children. So, for those out there wondering if you should get your children tested for celiac, here are some facts from the Celiac Foundation’s website about children and celiac disease:

* Children with a first degree relative who is a celiac have a 1 in 10 chance of developing celiac disease. So, it’s not a certainty that your child will develop celiac disease if you have it, but they have a higher chance than someone who doesn’t have a close relative (parent, sibling) with celiac.

* Some children start showing signs at different times than others. The jury is still out on why this happens, but some children will begin to show signs of celiac in late infancy or toddler-hood and some don’t develop symptoms until much later in childhood, even into the late teens or early adulthood. What this means is that even if your child is older and has been consuming gluten for most of his or her life, they can still develop celiac disease.

* Children of different ages are more likely to exhibit different symptoms, but there is some overlap in the signs children manifest when they have celiac. Keep an eye on your child if they have a lot of bloating, gas, constipation or foul-smelling diarrhea, chronic fatigue, irritability and especially if they are very young and are vomiting frequently and have poor growth or failure to thrive. Some rarer or more unusual symptoms which can appear in childhood are frequent mouth sores (I still get these!) and that itchy, blistery skin rash known as dermatitis herpeteformis.

pic 2So, apparently severe celiac disease is not common among children anymore, so the symptoms listed above may not be strong enough to be alarming. However, if you know that your child has a higher risk of celiac disease, just be on the look out for those symptoms listed above. And make sure you check out the Celiac Foundation’s website, they have a wealth of information for you to draw from. Remember, children heal from celiac disease much better than adults do. It’s better to get your child tested earlier rather than later because the sooner you can get them on a gluten free diet, the sooner they can heal.

Honoring our Dads

By Rachel Sircy 

This past weekend was Father’s Day, my sister’s wedding, and my nephew’s birthday party. Sound busy? You have no idea.

I want to dedicate this blog post to the man who made all three of these things possible at once, that is my stepfather, Bob Wachenschwanz. He’s a man with a big last name and a bigger heart. Not only was my sister’s wedding this weekend, but my parent’s backyard was the site for the reception. A party tent had to be erected, tables and chairs set up, decorations set out and then all of it had to be cleaned up that same day. Bob – with help from my sweet husband (also a wonderful Dad whom I would like to honor), my brother, new brother-in-law and the groomsmen – did all of this, and still managed to walk my sister down the aisle, take my nieces and nephews on a wagon ride, and host a dinosaur-themed birthday party. At one point before the wedding, a strong wind knocked over the party-tent and badly damaged one of the poles. The groomsmen gave the tent up for lost, but then Bob showed up with his multi-tool in hand and straightened out the pole by himself. One of the guys said that he must be Macgyver, which is actually what my sisters and I used to call him when he and my mother were first married. We also referred to him as Bob the Builder – after the children’s TV show character, because the theme song to that show goes, like this, “Can he fix it? Yes, he can!”

I am sharing this story because this weekend I was reminded what a treasure I have in my stepfather. I wanted to thank him and let him know how much I love and appreciatefather and kids him. Men who put in the time and effort to love and care for their children are hard to come by and I don’t want to take Bob for granted.

I want to encourage all of you readers out there to take some time this week, or this month, to think about and show your appreciation for the wonderful Dad in your life – whether he is living or is gone, if he’s your stepfather, uncle or just a dad you happen to know. Let him know that you see his hard word and you are thankful for him!

Wrapping Up Celiac Awareness Month

By Rachel Sircy

Well, May 2019 has come and gone. It’s no longer Celiac Awareness Month, but I would encourage each of you who either have celiac disease or know someone who has celiac to continue to spread the word. It’s a real issue and it should be taken seriously.

My post this time will be an extremely short one (for me), because my husband and I have just moved and we’ve also had family in town for the Memorial Day holiday. I managed to stay completely gluten free for the holiday, and I realized this past Memorial Day that staying gluten free is becoming very do-able. Of course, it’s still a matter of reading labels very carefully and also of cooking your own food, or eating food cooked by someone you trust – I must here give a shout out to my mother-in-law who is so careful to make sure I have plenty to eat, even when she’s cooking to feed a large gluten-eating crowd.

Let me end this month with a hopeful note: we are farther along in medical research and in the ease of a gluten free lifestyle than we’ve ever been! Just today while grocery shopping, I came across fresh gluten free linguine and fettuccine at very affordable prices at Aldi. Later, by random chance, I stopped by a Food Lion store that I don’tFood_Lion_logo.svg 2 usually shop at only to find that they had a huge gluten free section. Food Lion isn’t typically a store I shop at because many of them don’t carry a large selection of gluten free items, but at the Food Lion in the Three Fountains area of West Columbia I stumbled upon a vast array of Schar products including: baguettes, ciabatta rolls, graham crackers (the Schar graham style cracker is my absolute favorite), Gillian’s brand croutons, Amy’s microwavable macaroni and cheese cups. It was a treasure trove. I will be going out of my way to visit that Food Lion again. So many stores are stepping up to meet the needs of the gluten intolerant. We are in a good place, and I believe it’s only going to get better from here. So, head out there and look for some GF hamburger and hot dog buns and gluten-2984643_1280enjoy your summer! (Just FYI: Aldi runs GF hamburger/hot dog buns as a summer seasonal item, though they tend to run out quickly, so if you see them there, get as many packs as you can afford. Also, that Food Lion in West Columbia had Schar hot dog buns)

It’s Still Celiac Awareness Month!

By Rachel Sircy

For readers who missed my last post, May is Celiac Awareness Month. It’s the time of year when celiacs around the globe try to spread the word about what celiac disease is and what we can do about it. This post, I’m going to continue my celiac story. I think that one of the best ways that I can help spread the word about celiac disease is to make it personal. So, instead of a lecture, I’m going to tell you a story. (P.S. If you missed the first part of this story, check out my post from earlier this month).

The story of my life as a celiac is both complicated and simple. The simple version of it is that I was sick for most of my life with celiac disease. The complicated part was living with a disease I’d never heard of and that none of my doctors had even considered as a possibility. As a child, I was first diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency at age two when my hair started to fall out. Even taking daily vitamins, I struggled with borderline anemia. By the time I was in my senior year of high school, extreme fatigue, memory problems, and joint pain plagued me and got worse and worse. My grades, which had always been good, began to plummet, and though I’d always been a little bit spacey, I started to become dangerous. I had trouble staying awake for long periods of time and began to fall asleep in class. When driving I know I was worse than most drunk drivers. I frequently ran red lights, not even realizing what I’d done until it was too late. Oftentimes I would misjudge curves in the road, and I accidentally ramped more than one sidewalk. I would also make these misjudgments while walking and would slam into almost every door frame that I passed through, sometimes hard enough to actually stop me in my tracks. My friends in my last year of high school (and some teachers) began to tease and then seriously ask me about getting tested for ADD. I had trouble holding a steady conversation for more than a few minutes. By the time I got to school each day, I couldn’t remember what I’d eaten for breakfast. One girl nicknamed me Blondie – not because I was truly blonde, but because she felt it captured the Out-to-Lunchness of my personality.

I had all of the problems listed above, but I never had any serious gastric symptoms until I was around 19 years old and had left the country to study abroad for my sophomore year of college. During that school year, I began having horrible stomach pain after every meal. It was as if hundreds of gas bubbles were trapped in my stomach, and it seemed that these painful gas bubbles were churning up fiery stomach acid that gave me heartburn I could feel in my ears. All this made me nauseated and yet, I couldn’t throw up if I wanted to. I don’t know why, but in my case, instead of vomiting and diarrhea, my gastrointestinal tract seemed to simply shut down. In short, by the time I finally broke down and went to the gastroenterologist at age 21, I thought I might have an ulcer or be dying of stomach cancer.

I had an IgA blood test done at age 21 on my first visit to the gastroenterologist. I was truly blessed to find a doctor familiar with celiac disease. When he first came into the room to see me, he asked a few questions, poked my stomach a little and said, “I’m pretty sure I know what’s wrong with you.” He hit the nail on the head. My endoscopy was scheduled for a few days after my 22nd birthday and it was the best gift I’d ever gotten. My doctor saw me again after the results came in; he read the report in front of me and when he looked up at me he said, “Yeah, I thought so, You look like a celiac.”  He explained to me that my intestinal lining, which should look like a shag carpet, looked like a tile floor. My case, he said, was fairly advanced for someone my age. I was told to go on a gluten free diet. I had no idea what this meant. I’d never heard of gluten before that doctor’s visit, and it seemed to me that everyone in that office had lost their marbles. How on earth could whole wheat bread – the staff of life – be bad for anyone? I wasn’t a health nut, but I’d been raised to believe in the virtue of brown bread and whole grain spaghetti. A nurse came in and opened a huge book called “The Gluten Free Bible” and told me I needed to throw away my toaster. I felt like I’d been kidnapped by people from an alternate dimension where people wore their clothes backwards and no one in her right mind would think of eating whole grains. I was completely and utterly overwhelmed by my diagnosis.

That’s where I’ll end my story for now. I’m going to write one more entry detailing my foray into the world of gluten free eating to finish up my Celiac Awareness Month posts.

The good news is that there are so many advances in this area of distress that I think celiacs should take heart. There is currently a bill getting ready to make it’s way through the federal government compelling the National Institutes of Health to pursue a cure and research into the autoimmune and genetic factors of celiac disease. If you or someone you know have celiac disease, it’s worth your while to get on the Celiac Disease Foundation’s mailing list. They do send a lot of emails, particularly this time of year, but they do keep you up to date on the latest research and general goings-on in the ever-widening world of gluten intolerance.  Additionally, they give you real ideas on how to make a contribution. Recently, because of their notifications, I was able to send an email to Lindsey Graham asking for his support for a bill that has recently gone before the Senate requiring drug and supplement manufacturers to label gluten in their products.

Infographic_Celiac Disease at a Glance

Medicine is an often overlooked source of hidden gluten.  Prescription and over-the-counter medications can contain gluten, and sometimes celiacs who observe strict diets can fail to get better because they are still consuming gluten through their medications. FYI, these are some places you should look for gluten if you are intolerant: medicine (pills and liquids), lip balm, toothpaste and mouthwash – in short, anything you put in or near your mouth needs to be screened for gluten.

Happy gluten free living to all my allergic and intolerant peeps out there!

 

Gluten-Free Easter Candy

By Rachel Sircy 

Well, another candy-filled holiday is upon us and we know what that means… Everyone who needs to avoid gluten has to Google each and every one of the pastel colored confections that you come across. This Easter, however, I’m not going to just give a list of manufactured candies that are gluten free (if you would like a list of those candies, check out verywellfit.com‘s Gluten Free Easter Candy list, but remember to ALWAYS take lists you find on the internet with a grain of salt. Be safe, not sorry!). I’m going to make the focus of this post my alternative way of dealing with this Easter: I decided to make my own candy.

Okay, so I understand that making candy isn’t rocket science, and there are probably many of you who are real candy-making mavens. However, I thought I would share this post particularly because I am NOT a candy-making superstar. I wanted to show that even if you’re not experienced, you can make delicious candy that your family will enjoy, and if your family happens to be gluten free, this is by far the safest option for you.

Pinterest is overflowing with recipes for Easter candy specialties. At first, I thought I’d try to recreate one of my all-time favorites, the Cadbury Creme Egg. This candy’s gluten-free status has been hotly debated for a long time. I used to just take the risk and eat it, but that really isn’t smart, and I certainly won’t recommend it to anyone reading this blog who needs to be gluten free. I didn’t end up making it though because it turns out that there are a lot of steps to making fake Cadbury eggs, so I thought I’d better start with something much easier. Also, I have no idea what invertase is or where to find it, and it appears to be a crucial ingredient to liquefy the candy center of the eggs. I needed something totally amateur. My inspiration came one day at work when I went to the communal candy jar and realized that all that was left in it were Hershey’s Cookies ’n’ Cream Eggs. I used to absolutely love Hershey’s Cookies ’n’ Cream candy bars, and I have made a gluten free version of this candy bar, which actually may be better than the real thing. The best part of it is, there are two ingredients: white chocolate and gluten free chocolate sandwich cookies. All you do is mix the two together and, voila! Cookies ’n’ Cream bark.

However, I wanted to make something a bit more festive, to put in my daughter’s Easter basket. Here are my first attempts:

These colorful looking candies are basically the result of about an hour (including all the stops and starts) in the kitchen with two bags of Nestle white chocolate baking chips (they list that they’re gluten free on the package), one package of Glutino chocolate sandwich cookies and some leftover gluten free food coloring I had forgotten about in my kitchen cabinets. I only had three colors: blue, yellow and green, but they still turned out some pretty cute candies if I do say so myself. I purchased the flower and egg candy molds at Hobby Lobby and Michaels, respectively. They were less than $6 together and they’re silicone so the candy just pops right out once it’s been in the fridge or the freezer long enough to harden.

Here are your instructions to make these candies (I’m giving general instructions and not a real recipe since I’m not a chef and frankly, you don’t need a recipe for this):

  1. Melt your white chocolate – I used a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, but you can melt your chocolate in the microwave as well.
  2. Portion out some of the chocolate into smaller bowls – I took about 1/3 of the white chocolate and divided it between three smaller bowls. I used a couple of drops of food coloring per bowl to make the three different colors. If you want to make more colors, I would really recommend purchasing a third package of white chocolate chips to have enough to divide up.

Candy 3

  1. Crush the cookies and mix with the larger portion of the melted chocolate

Candy 4

  1. Work in steps – To make colored eggs, paint the inside of the egg molds with the dyed chocolate (my daughter’s old baby food spoons worked really well for this actually). Freeze or refrigerate until set. Fill the mold with the chocolate/cookie mixture and freeze or refrigerate again until set. Top with more of the colored mixture and again freeze or refrigerate until set. You see the pattern? This is pretty much it.

Candy 5

I did do it a bit differently with the flowers to get the yellow in the middle, but you can probably guess how I did that. Just freeze the dollop of yellow before adding the blue. It takes about 5 minutes.

Candy 6

And this is what the inside of those eggs look like:

Candy 2

(Don’t tell me that doesn’t look better than a candy bar. Look at how big the cookie chunks are!)

So, if you’re tired of trying to scan everything in the grocery store into your Shopwell app to see if it’s gluten free, just try your hand at a simple candy recipe. I guarantee you can find something simple and delicious, even if you’re a beginner like me!

Happy Easter!

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Someone Else’s Burnt Toast

By Rachel Sircy

So does anyone else remember the version of the Pollyanna movie with Hayley Mills in it? That was one of my favorite movies as a kid. They played it all the time on the Disney Channel, and I watched it almost every time it was on. Of course, the part that everyone remembers is when Pollyanna is explaining the “Glad Game” to her aunt. The Glad Game is one that Pollyanna’s poor, missionary father taught her to play when all of her dreams of getting a single doll — something other than the rocks and sticks that are her only playthings — is cruelly dashed by an idiotic person with a cushy, workaday warehouse job. The idiot in the warehouse mistakenly sends a pair of crutches (how does this even happen??) instead of a doll. There is apparently no return policy with whatever company it was that sent the crutches and since Pollyanna’s poor, missionary father spent all their money just trying to get this kid one measly toy, there is nothing for her to do but be glad that she doesn’t have to use the crutches. You play the Glad Game by choosing to find a reason to be glad about all of the horrible mistakes that make your life just a little bit worse.

bread-breakfast-eat-33309.jpgWell, I failed at this game on Saturday. I loved Pollyanna, but I didn’t seem to absorb a single lesson from it. You see, HRH (her royal highness), my four-year-old daughter, woke me up on Saturday much earlier than I’d intended to wake up. Half-asleep, I went to the kitchen to make her some peanut butter toast for breakfast. I grab a toaster – we have two: one that is gluten-free and one that isn’t – and I stick two pieces of whole wheat bread in the slots and press down the lever. Each piece of toast comes out slightly burnt on one side. I think to myself, “that toaster doesn’t usually burn toast.” It wasn’t until I pulled the second piece of toast out of the toaster and began to smear peanut butter across it that I realized my mistake. I had used MY toaster, the gluten-free one. This may not seem like a big deal, but celiacs cannot share toasters with people who eat gluten. I had completely ruined my toaster just by putting two pieces of wheat bread into it. I let out some bear-like growl which must have frightened HRH because she yelled out from the kitchen table, “Mommy, what is wrong with you?!” To which I replied, “Oh, nothing, sugar. Mommy is just in the kitchen destroying her appliances.” It was all a bit melodramatic.

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What was the point of telling you this story? Well, just this: life is hard, and even though I think that blind optimists should be pelted with lemons, it really does make a difference to look on the bright side. I’ve pretty much been a sour troll of a woman for most of my life, but I am slowly learning a lesson that my pastor touched on in his sermon last Sunday: those with chronic illnesses cannot afford a single, negative thought. Really, none of us can. Life is hard for everyone. It’s harder in different ways for different people, but it can be especially difficult for those who have chronic health conditions. So after my little pity party over the ruined toaster, I decided to play the Glad Game. I’m really glad that I didn’t have to eat that burnt toast.

Nailed it.