Thursday, October 30, 2008

An Election Choice Post

I was googling "coexist" and this popped up. I enjoyed reading the post about this man's election choice. It did not sound angry, it did not call anyone names or seek to villify anyone. It sounded reasonable to me (I don't necessarily agree with him, but I really appreciate him taking the time to share his thoughts). I've read so much commentary about politics recently and so much of it has been very angry. It was so nice to read something that wasn't. Plus, I always think it's cool when Christians are into triathalon training.

Halloween Candy - To Eat or Not to Eat?

I got an email from a friend warning about certain Halloween candy that might be tainted with melamine. It passed muster on snopes, but a blog post for the LA Times seems to suggest it's alarmist. What's a parent to do? I don't know, I've got a kid with a severe food allergy to peanuts, so we're probably chucking it all - except for the KitKat's that were imported from Canada (peanut-free facility -- go Canada!). I'm pretty sure my daughter doesn't like them anyway, though she claimed she might. Oh, I also have Vermont Nut Free chocolates - both purchased from Peanut Free Planet. I do question whether this was necessary.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Love It When a Shrug Comes Together

I have just about finished this shrug that was my 'shrug of torment' but may become my 'shrug of triumph.'

Long story short, I began a project from the book, Knit Tricks! that involved knitting two long rectangles. Each rectangle is seamed on the top and bottom at its ends, creating a sleeve with an opening that loops around the torso. With two of them you have two sleeves with the torso loops criss-crossing your middle. It looked cute on the mannequin in the book. Well, as I knitted, I realized this would be a bear to get on and off and it was likely that it would be hot, since the torso would be double-wrapped in knit material. So I put it down for a long time. Since I had used such cheap yarn, I saw no point in ripping it to use for another project. So it sat and sat. In my time on Ravelry, I eventually found a new pattern (the Donegal ribbed shrug) for which I could use what I had already knit. It worked, but I heavily modified the pattern leading to the philosophical question, at what point does a design become your own and not simply the modification of a pattern? Who knows.

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft, raspberry
Needles: Size 9 (I use Denise Circulars so I am constantly adapting the length of the cord)
Pattern: heavily modified the Donegal ribbed shrug
CO 60 stitches. Knit in 2 by 5 ribbing; I chose knit 2, purl 5 as my 'right' side. After knitting 10 inches for the abandoned pattern, I switched to the shrug. I decided that I would skip the cuff in the pattern (because I'm lazy and didn't want to knit extra fabric just to roll it over as a cuff. And maybe I didn't like the look, but I think it was the laziness). I was concerned that the sleeve might feel tight around my elbow and upper arm so I increased a bit once the sleeve was about 13 1/2 or 14 inches long.

Increasing in ribbing is an interesting thing. I decided to increase on the RS by doing K1, M1, staying in pattern to the 3rd stitch from the end and then doing an M1. I did three increase rows on the RS, so I ended up with 6 extra stitches (66; sort of ironic because I actually CO 66 for the first project and ripped that out). I continued to work these 66 sts in pattern for the shrug until it looked like I was coming to the opposite upper arm (I kept measuring the shrug against myself to get a feel for when that would happen). For the decreases, I decreased stitches per RS row three times (decreasing a total of 6 stitches). For each decrease row, I knit 2 together, followed the pattern until the last 2 stitches and then ssk.

The shrug ended up being 64 inches long and then I seamed up the sleeves. The sleeves are not a perfect match and the pattern does go off course where the seam occurs. If you want to plan for a perfect match, go for it. It was too much for me and I just don't care.

I decided I wanted the ends of the scarf to taper and I wanted that to be a result of binding off, so I decided I would do the scarf in two parts and seam it together at the middle (which would be at the back of my neck). At one time I thought I would simply seam the middle, at other times I thought I would save myself the effort of seaming and simply pick up the stitches and knit it out the other way. I went with picking up the stitches and knitting it the other way. Don't do this, it is stupid, difficult and you end up with a shift in your knit and purl columns that cannot be reconciled. On the up side, you get an Escher-esque join at the back of your neck. I have long hair, so it won't be seen anyway when I'm wearing it. But learn from my mistakes, just seam that sucker.

CO 58. Knit in 2x5 ribbing for about 30". Again, I measured against myself, holding the CO end at the back of my neck and seeing if it was long enough to cross my torso and meet in the center of my back. At about 30", I began decreases to keep the taper. I decreased at the beginning and ending of every row. I began with knit2together and ended with ssk. I decreased until I had 16 stitches and then bound off.

After the mess that was my picking up stitches to knit out the other way, I followed the pattern until it was about 15" from the center and then started the vertical slit in the center for the keyhole. This was a modification to the pattern, which called for a horizontal keyhole which I didn't like. To make the vertical keyhole, I knit in pattern to the center, held the other half of the stitches on a holder and knit out one side for 5 inches, setting those aside. Then I picked up the other side and knit that out to match and then joined them all together again. The keyhole was about 5 inches long and then I continued in pattern. I thought it looked floppy, so I later reinforced it with single crochet around the keyhole. This reminded me too much of a Georgia O'Keefe painting and I hated the way the scarf look stuck through the keyhole so I ripped out the crochet and seamed the keyhole. My advice is to skip the keyhole. I think I'm beginning to hate the keyhole concept, which I once thought was so clever.

I finished the other side of the scarf and followed the same pattern for decreasing and then edged the scarf and the bottom of the shrug in single crochet to firm it up and keep it from rolling. To finish the shrug, I picked up stitches along the bottom of the shrug (54 sts) and knit an inch or so of 2x2 ribbing. Then I seamed this ribbing to the scarf.

The anticipated buttonholes ended up being wrong, so I moved them. I had initially thought I would put buttons and button holes on the ends of the scarf but in holding is up to myself, it created a huge gap. But moving the location of the buttons and buttonholes will create a nice, shapely fit. It's all in the geometry, baby.

I added the buttons based on what looked best when I was fitting it. I also knit in buttonholes but found that only one of them was correctly placed. The other hole I seamed up and then added a button loop by chainstitching and single crocheting. However, when I closed the back, it had an ugly gap. So much for planning.

As an interim fix, I chained a cord on each end of the scarf, between the buttons and buttonholes and tied a bow.

I was an improvement, but I felt I could do better.

This is my final answer. I removed the buttons, kept that center tie and added cords where the top button and button hole had been. I'm satisfied with this solution. Buttons would have been fine, I really just need to put that bottom button higher.

So maybe this "pattern" stinks, but this is a 'go with the flow' garment that you fit to yourself as you knit it. No slavishly, blindly following a pattern because I'm not giving you enough of one to slavishly follow. You can thank me later. Just call me the Swedish Chef of sweater design.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Danger Lurks Everywhere for the Food Allergic

yes, I am the star of my very own action-adventure film. Or maybe I'm just a supporting actor, but since I'm the mom of an allergic child, I'll put myself as the current star and realize that she will take over as star when she is older.

As I become more aware of issues involved with food allergens, I am also becoming more scared, but I'm also learning a lot. I'm confident that as I learn more, I will become comfortable with how to keep my daughter safe. And then once I'm really comfortable, she'll be older and independent and I can worry that she is kissing some boy who just ate peanut butter or she's at a party where she is eating chicken satay (I believe there are stories for both that involved fatal reactions). We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

For the first time while grocery shopping today, I actually used my cell phone to call customer service for many of the products I was buying.

Red Baron 4 Cheese Classic Crust frozen pizza: according to the Customer Service rep (who kept me on the line awhile), this is produced in a peanut-/tree nut-free facility.

Store brand Bran Flakes cereal: (yes, this is the cereal of choice for my 8 year-old). Customer service took my name and number and said they would have to call their producer to find out allergen information and they should be able to get back to me by the end of the day. DD has been eating this for months with no problem, but I put the box back on the shelf and bought Wheaties instead -- I'll have to call them at some point.

Honey Maid Graham Crackers (Nabisco): long chat with Customer Service. Sounds like they will mark it if they think it is likely to contain nuts. She said much more than that, but I was in line at the check-out so I don't remember everything. Basically, Nabisco and Kraft are big companies and from what I have read, they are good about labelling. The Customer rep said nothing to contradict that.

I will note that it is hard to grocery shop with two kids while calling companies constantly. I look closely at labels and note that Nestle's Semi-Sweet chips are produced in either a shared facility or on shared equipment (can't remember which and it doesn't matter because, for us, it's a no go either way). I want to check with Hershey's since that was the other brand of semi-sweet chips there that was not generic. I have heard good things about Hershey's, but I need to call customer service myself.

This call made at home:
Pillsbury Customer Service: long recorded statement about allergens, referral to FAAN. Speaking to an actual rep, she directed me to the label. It's not the ingredient list (the obvious), it's not in the "contains" line underneath (obvious again), the bottom line says "may contain egg ingredients." According to the rep, that is the label that is used when the product is processed on shared equipment or in a shared facility with an allergen. Since we aren't allergic to eggs and peanuts and tree nuts are not mentioned, we should be safe.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What is Safe When You're Peanut Allergic?

DD is seriously allergic to peanuts and is also allergic to tree nuts, sesame, and maybe soy.

I know I should be home baking any treat she might have but it seems so much easier just to buy packaged cookies. I'm now researching brands that are safe to eat. It involves rather strange calculations - I guess that's just risk management. It's pretty easy to avoid peanuts and maybe even peanut products, the devil is in cross-contamination.

My DD's last reaction was months ago from a chocolate chip bakery cookie, somehow it must have gotten peanuts on it or in it. Okay, so we've learned that it is stupid to feed her bakery cookies - shared mixing tools or baking sheets are enough to cause a serious reaction in our child. So we avoid bakeries - but this also means avoiding baked goods. No baked goods means no birthday cakes, no cupcakes, no cookies - nothing, not at potlucks or for snack-time or at birthday parties. I think once we get this established it will be easier, but it's a little hard for us right now. That said, her last reaction was from a bakery cookie and in the ensuing months (pretty much until right now), she has eaten bakery items, birthday cakes, cookies, cupcakes, etc. It might make one ask why restrict them now? Because maybe we've been lucky and now that we know better, how can we accept that risk when it's so easy to just NOT eat them. And really, I should just be baking cookies on a weekly basis - it's not that hard and then I have worry free snacks.

This link summarizes some study's findings regarding warnings that are on packaged goods - basically, the lowest number is 12.5% of the time items with shared equipment or shared facility warnings actually contain peanuts. Sure, it's just some study, and I think we've beat the numbers because I'm sure DD has eaten items from a shared facility more than 8 times, but maybe I'm ready to stop playing the odds.

It's not always easy to get information on packaged goods. I guess I need to be calling customer service a lot. Again, it's the cross-contamination issue. It's easy enough to see if peanuts are listed in the ingedients, but it's the possibility of cross-contamination on shared equipment or in a shared facility that causes this worry. The laws regarding labeling do not speak to the issue of advisory labels such as "may contain" or about shared equipment or facilities. The labels you see now are voluntary, just because an item is not labeled as shared facility does not mean it was not produced in one, it just means that company didn't label it. And they don't have to. This is where the equation involves factoring in brands with good reputations for labeling. (There is actually an open comment period on this law, so you might want to look into this if it's an issue that impacts you).

I've seen lots of websites arguing either for or against the safety of the basic Oreo sandwich cookie. Lots of people trust Nabisco's labeling practices. While others, as a matter of common sense, do not trust an item where one of the versions contains peanut butter since you can't really know if they are run on the same production lines and therefore pose cross-contamination risks. So, are Oreos safe? I don't know, but we've been eating them but I think we'll stop and stick to our peanut-free facility Dare cookies.

It's beginning to feel like dealing with a food allergy is something out of a Clint Eastwood movie, "so you've got to ask yourself, do you feel lucky?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Love Canada

because it seems easier to find packaged cookies that carry the label "made in peanut free/tree nut free facility."

Since my DD is allergic to peanuts and treenuts, I do not buy products that contain them or that are labelled "may contain." I also don't buy products made on shared equipment. I'm not quite sure what to do about labels saying "processed in same facility." My allergist told me I need not avoid them because it's mainly a liability label, but I've learned from other moms that FAAN reported about a study that showed that items labeled with shared facility actually contained nuts more often then items labeled 'may contain.' What's mom to do? Not buy any of them.

The problem becomes more complicated because labels regarding same facility and shared equipment are not required. They are advisory labels. So, what if one company decides to share with me that the item was produced in a shared facility but another company doesn't have any indication of what kind of facility was used? Should I assume it's peanut free? That's a pretty risky assumption for me since my child could go into anaphylaxis. What do I do?

Well, recently, I've been buying Canadian. My selection isn't large at my local grocery stores, but there is a version of a malomar type cookie called Whippets by a company named Dare. Not only do I know it's from a safe facility, my daughter really likes them. And, she can learn French from the packaging. And, I love it, the cookies are not covered in chocolate as we Americans might say, they are "enrobed."

Riddle me this - I can find nearby Latino groceries and various Asian groceries, but why are there no Canadian grocery stores? I guess the two Canadians I know do not make a large enough population to justify the cost. Or maybe it's because Canadian food is pretty much the same, except for the nut free facility thing. husband goes to Detriot on business, I should send him with a shopping list. As I'm sure you know, the nearest foreign country south of Detriot is Canada.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The beginning of the peanut allergy

I wrote this post because I've been meaning to and in response to this call for stories.

About 2 years ago, I learned that my oldest daughter is allergic to peanuts. This caught me completely off guard because she had eaten peanut butter around the age of 2 and had had no reaction that I saw. I'm not sure she ever ate much peanut butter, but I clearly recall when and how she was exposed to it (peanut butter spread on crackers given to her with my permission by a neighbor). I remember I was nervous but relieved when there was no reaction. I don't recall that she didn't like them.

I'm not sure how much peanut butter she ate later on. I think I probably bought Ritz bits peanut butter crackers, not sure if she ate them. I do remember her telling me she did not like peanut butter. She is a picky eater, I thought she was just being picky.

A month or two before she turned 6, I remember being at a playdate. The mom asked if Suzanne was allergic to peanut butter because she wanted to offer her a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. I said she didn't like it, but she might eat it because of the chocolate chips. She ate a few bites of it. Within a half hour, she told me she felt sick. I figured she had picked up a bug and we left. She threw up a few times in the car. I don't remember much more about it - I don't think she vomited when we got home. She took it easy the rest of the day and I chalked it up to a bug.

A month or two after that, I bought some chocolate peanut butter at Whole Foods. I thought it would be great if my picky eater would eat peanut butter sandwiches. I offered her a baby-sized spoonful. She asked what it was, I told her to try it. She ate it. I asked her if she liked it, she said it was okay. I told her it was peanut butter, she got upset with me and told me I should have told her. I thought she was being a drama queen (yes, I know I'm a bad mom). She threw up. Then she got very conjested. A friend of mine's son had recently had a peanut allergy and I knew about giving Benedryl, so I gave her some (or maybe it was another antihistamine I had). I watched and waited and she threw up a few times over the course of a few hours but she seemed fine by bedtime and we put her to bed (that might have been dangerous). But, everything was fine.

I think I understood at this point that she had a peanut allergy. I talked about it at a park day and another mom overheard me and told me I should take her to an allergist and get an epi pen. I really didn't see the point, I mean, just don't eat peanuts, right? How hard is that? I even said this to my mom, I think. Well, my daughter's annual check-up was soon after so I mentioned the allergy to her pediatrician who gave me a referral to an allergist. I made the appointment and we had to wait a month or so. The allergist did a skin prick test and it came back positive for peanut - she gave me a prescription for an Epi pen and a prescription for a blood test. My daughter hates blood tests and I wondered what the point was - we knew she was allergic. I saw no point. I did fill the Epi pen prescription, but I blew off the blood test. At this point, I will fault the allergist. She did not give me any information about food allergies, not even a pamphlet from FAAN. I don't recall anything she did to educate me or to suggest that I should educate myself. It seemed very cut and dried - don't eat peanuts and peanut products.

A year later, I realized my Epi pen was about to expire, so I wanted to get a refill. I called the allergist's office and the nurse was a bit unfriendly - they always fill an Epi prescription, but she noted I had not been for a follow-up or gotten the blood test. I made an appointment and went to it. I got another blood test order and this time, we did it. My daughter handled it really well (my daughter is terrible in the doctor's office when it comes to anything that might lead to pain - it's bad). The blood test (RAST test) came back showing high levels for peanut (over 100), meaning it's unlikely she'll outgrow it. It also showed allergies to pistachios, cashews, almonds, and sesame. The allergist's office sent me the results but said I didn't need to come in. This was about a year ago. Again, no education on food allergies from the allergist.

So, up until that point, she avoided peanuts or peanut products. We still had peanut butter in the house, I still bought Reese's Peanut Butter cups to give out at Halloween. The allergy had very little impact on our life. The epi pen was in my purse, so it was with her most of the time (we homeschool).

Last February, my husband (phew!) bought her a cookie at a bakery where she has had cookies lots of times. Well, from what I gather, it was on a tray that also held peanut butter cookies. She ate half the cookie and then they came in found me (I was in a museum exhibit and the bakery was a vendor in the museum). She told me her tongue was itching her. She prepared her thigh for the epi pen. I told her it wasn't necessary and gave her Benedryl. We left the building. She started throwing up in the car (ziploc bags and used butter containers make great barf bags). She got very congested. I was very worried, but I had seen this before. She was very thirsty and kept drinking a lot of water and kept throwing that up into the bag.

We got home and she seemed okay. We put her down on the couch. She seemed sleepy so we let her rest. I had forgot that you should always put a towel under a sick child. She vomited. It was a mess, so I sent her up to shower. My husband took care of that while I cleaned up the couch. When she got out of the shower, he told her to get into her jammies and get ready for bed. I saw hives developing all over her body. I had hit my watch and wait threshhold. This was a new symptom she had not had last time. Strangely enough, I had just had my first experience with hives the week before when I woke up with them all over. I had called the nurse hotline for our insurance and they had told me to go to the ER since I had hives on my face (and facial swelling), because of the possibility that my throat could close up. So, I knew a little something about hives.

Off I sent DD to the ER with DH (she picked him over me, I wonder why). I kept listening for wheezing but didn't hear any and she did not seem to be having trouble breathing. I did not give the epi because after reading the package insert, I was a bit nervous about it and I was under the wrong impression that it was really only needed if there were breathing difficulties. I was clueless about anaphylactic shock - though from what I know now, I don't think she was in it anyway. I did give the Epi Pen to DH in case. Now I have been told by the allergist that once two systems are effected, she should have the Epi. Since her previous reactions had not required a trip to the ER, I was really trying to avoid that and I know once you use the Epi, you are off to the ER. My reasoning may be flawed, but I did have reasons for the actions we took (or failed to take).

They got to the hospital and it sounded like she got a liquid steroid. They kept her for a few hours for observation (to make sure the reaction doesn't come back aka biphasic). She came home and that was that. I don't really know why I didn't look more into the issue except that the next week she was in the hospital for stitches for a serious laceration she got while playing in the front yard. I think I was just shell-shocked.

I do have some friends who are knowledgeable about allergies and it was at this point that I started asking for more information. I learned that we should not be buying foods from the bakery, the risk of cross-contamination is too great. I learned we should not be going to ice cream parlors, those scoops are used in all different flavors, they aren't cleaned and it's possible the ice cream has bits of peanuts from being scooped with a scooper used on a peanut flavor. One friend also strongly suggested I find an allergist who made food allergy education a priority and derided allergists who merely give an Epi pen prescription and send you on your way.

I'm still not sure why I didn't do more research but maybe that was all I could handle. Maybe because her allergies were so limited and obvious - peanuts are not like milk or wheat, they are pretty obvious and easy to avoid, was my thinking. My husband has a mild tree nut allergy and he doesn't have much trouble avoiding those - it just never seemed like a big deal.

After my daughter had a trip to the stables for a horse grooming and riding activity and came back with severe facial swelling and red eyes, I decided it was time for another trip to the allergist and to start learning more about allergies. Our appointment was two-fold, it was a rather delayed follow-up to her February reaction and to get testing for environmental allergens. This time, I was a bit more prepared with questions. There is a new doctor in the practice and she answered the questions I asked and she did give me a FAAN pamphlet. We had some testing done and then followed-up with more tests -- I had a whole list of questions for the follow-up visit. This was an important lesson I learned from the yahoo group TerrificKidsWithFoodAllergies -- get your questions all set and ready so you can ask the allergist at the appointment. I think I even got some suggestions for questions I should ask.

I am now vascilating between freaking out all the time to thinking it's not that big a deal. For a long time I was assuming that since her last reactions have been pretty slow moving and have not involved breathing trouble that we would have a lot of warning. Now I've learned that past reactions are not predictors of future reactions. That scares me. So now she has a medical alert bracelet and carries and epi pen and I'm informing the adults who are with her whenever I am not.

I am trying to figure out how to be reasonable in my notification to others about the allergies without sounding like a whiner or being demanding. It is becoming obvious to me that even if you tell people of the allergy, you can not be certain that they will know about cross-contamination issues. I know I wasn't aware, even when I knew I had a kid with allergies and I certainly was even less aware before I did.

So now, I'm going through an emotional process of mourning the loss of things like going to an ice cream parlor and bakery and worrying about going to restaurants. But I also realize how lucky we have been and how a food allergy is better than a lot of conditions or diseases a child could have. I've also been spared the worry and concern of having a toddler with severe food allergies. My DD is old enough to advocate for herself and though it saddens me, it also makes me proud to see her taking responsibility by carrying her Epi Pen and declining food that she knows (or even suspects) is not safe for her to eat. She actually turned down pieces of a Hershey bar that was offered to her when she was at a recent social event (which is safe - I checked the package) and later told me she knows she can't eat food that's not from home.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

By a Mom of a Peanut Allergic Kid

I've been known to rail against Newsweek articles on this blog, but here's one I really liked. Well, not an article, an opinion piece. Could have written it myself. It's very hard to find a balance between asking for reasonable safeguards and freaking out because your kid could die. Probably won't, but, well, you really don't know. And this author has not seen her child have a reaction, and I hope she never does.