Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Allergy Post

I have an appointment to take O. for allergy testing at the end of this month.  I'm dreading the actual appointment because I know it likely won't be pleasant for him.  I've had skin testing for allergies done before, and it's not terribly painful, but a two-year-old will probably have much more difficulty contextualizing the discomfort in respect to the information it will hopefully provide!
He has broken out in hives a few times, but we haven't been able to connect it conclusively to any foods that he has ingested.  It may have been a reaction to a virus, which is relatively common in children.  I'm really hoping that he doesn't end up having the same allergy & chronic hives issues that I have, but that is out of my hands.  I have a junior epi-pen for him just in case he should react more seriously to something at some point, but I've never had to use it.
He's been off dairy since last summer because I suspect that he is allergic to dairy, so it will be good to finally have a confirmation either way.  He had only been eating dairy for a few months prior to that, so he didn't really miss anything when I took it out of his diet.  Since I'm allergic to dairy, we rarely have meals that use diary, unless it is something that can be added to each person's individual dish, like cheese on pizza or tacos.  I haven't introduced him to eggs, shellfish, or peanuts yet.  The medical advice used to be to avoid the major allergens until age two or three, but now some reports are recommending introducing these common allergens into children's diets at an earlier age.  They suggest that withholding foods until a later age can actually cause allergies!  It's hard to know what to do!

I thought I would do a little post about some of the tips I have picked up along the way in regards to finding good food while avoiding these allergens.  If you don't have any allergies or interest in veganism, this may be a dry read, so go ahead and skip it!  It has been a continuous process of trial and error to find foods that work, so maybe this post can help somebody who is in the same situation.  It's much easier nowadays to go dairy-free, egg-free, and peanut-free than when I was a kid.  Unfortunately, there seem to be more people who have restricted diets now.  Fortunately for those of us with dietary issues, that means that the list of alternative foods is much more diverse, and profitable for companies to invest in.

Cow Milk Alternatives:
The most common non-animal options for replacing cow's milk are: soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, potato milk, and hemp milk.  So far, I find soy milk the most palatable among the options, although I remember there was an adjustment period at the beginning where I didn't quite enjoy drinking it on its own.  It was also one of the first alternatives on the scene, so perhaps I didn't give the others a fair shot, and I haven't yet tried hemp or coconut milk.
I did attempt making my own soy milk from dried soy beans once upon a time, but the resulting taste quickly dissuaded me from ever trying it again!  It made me realize that the commercial soy milk is probably highly processed compared to the home-made versions.  The home-made versions also lack the added fortifications in commercially produced soy milk that make it nutritionally comparable to cow's milk.  My current soy brand of choice is Silk, partly for taste, and partly because it seems to be the most affordable at Superstore, where I do most of my grocery shopping.  Most of the major brands are comparable in taste, and there are several different options in regards to flavoured/non-flavoured, sweetened/non-sweetened, and extra fortifications, such as omega oils.  The major brands seem to all come from non-GMO soy beans, and most also have organic options.  There are even soy creamers for your hot drinks.
For my son, I buy almond milk.  There are some studies that suggest that soy may not be totally healthy - some jazz about soy plant proteins and interference with hormones.  I'm usually more interested and opinionated about health issues, but ... can it [soy] really be that much worse than drinking milk from another animal species?  I've read enough about both soy and bovine milk consumption to know that both have potential health implications.  While none of the claims about the dangers of soy have ever been scientifically proven, there seems to be less controversy about almond milk, and my son enjoys drinking it.  It's also free from cholesterol and saturated fats, and has 50% more calcium than cow's milk.  If you shop at Superstore too, you can usually mix&match three cartons of Silk soy or almond milk for just under $3 a carton.  Lately I've been purchasing one almond Silk, one omega-enriched soy Silk, and one indulgence in chocolate soy Silk.
I've tried rice milk, oat milk, and potato milk, and none were appetizing or affordable enough to convince me to switch from soy.  There is also some controversy about the levels of inorganic arsenic present in rice milk, which you can read about in more detail here.  I'm sure that I would love coconut milk, but it isn't readily available here yet in the ready-to-drink form.  It looks like Silk has recently launched a line of coconut milk, so hopefully it is available in Canada soon.  Their site boasts that it also contains 50% more calcium than cow's milk.  I know that you can use canned coconut milk to make your own, but I haven't tried it yet.  Check out my friend's blog entry here about how to do it.  Hmmm...I think I just might try that after reading it again.  I'm not sure how much calcium and vitamin D it would contain, so look for that if you give it a try.
With all my allergies, I've never been brave enough to try goat's milk or sheep's milk, so I can't offer any opinions on those options.

Non-Dairy Cheese

I've tried every vegan cheese that I've found in the stores, and, sadly, most of them are abysmal.  Many of the brands of soy-based "cheese" available in regular grocery stores contain casein, a milk protein.  I suppose those cheeses are aimed at folks who are just lactose intolerant, and not allergic to the proteins et al.  I recently discovered Daiya vegan cheese, and finally found a cheese alternative that hits the mark.  It tastes good and it melts.  What else can you ask for in a food pretending to be cheese?  The other vegan cheese that I've tried taste fairly tofu-ey and don't melt at all.  I ordered pizza a while ago from a local pizza parlour that had been advertising vegan cheese.  I kept dreaming about the cheese, so I finally called them up to find out what kind of cheese it was.  The Daiya site then led me to a store locater where I could spend a small fortune on a bag of "mozzarella" for special occasions.  It supposedly freezes well, so I might buy a bigger bag next time and stick some of it in the freezer.
Another product worth a mention is Tofutti's Better Than Cream Cheese.  Granted, it's been about ten years since I've had dairy cream cheese, but I think it tastes pretty good.  They also make a non-dairy version of Sour Cream.

Ice Cream!
So Good vanilla ice cream is my favourite staple non-dairy ice cream.  Not that I, ahem, buy it often enough to call it a staple.  Most gelato shops also have a selection of non-dairy, egg-free treats as well if you are out on the town.  We bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker last year, and it makes some pretty delectable gelato-like treats too.  I'm still looking for some good recipes to make more of a (non-dairy) ice cream in the machine.

Replacing Eggs
Replacing eggs in baking is easier than I thought it would be.  A google search will provide you with numerous methods of replacing them.  My favourites are a ground flax seed and water mixture, and the commercially prepared Ener-G egg replacing powder.

Vegan Butter
While many people assume that all margarines are non-dairy because they aren't "butter," most margarines do in fact have milk ingredients, usually in the form of whey powder.  Earth Balance vegan "butter" or margarine approximates the closest taste to real butter.  The original version is very solid and hard to spread, but they also have a whipped version that is probably easier to slather on your raisin bread without ripping big holes into it.  Earth Balance also has margarine in little blocks, which is fantastic for baking.  Becel now has a vegan version of margarin, and Fleischmanns and Celeb both have a "lactose-free" version that, as far as I have been able to determine, doesn't contain any milk ingredients at all.  While many people assume that all margarines are non-dairy because they aren't "butter," most margarines do in fact have milk ingredients, usually in the form of whey powder.

If you are looking for dairy-free and egg-free mayo, check out Vegenaise and Nayonaise.  I prefer Vegenaise, but either will do the trick for your tuna sandwich or BLT.

Peanut Alternatives
I won't pretend to be an expert on peanut allergies, since I have no problem with them, and my son hasn't actually even tried them yet.  He's been fine with almonds, so I'm hoping that bodes well for his future with peanuts.  Aside from the replacement of peanut butter with other nut butters, which include such yummy concoctions as almond butter, cashew butter, and macadamia nut butter, there are some products which are aimed specifically at people with nut and peanut allergies.  We haven't tried soy butter, but my son loves pea butter.  It's made from golden roasted peas, and comes pretty close to mimicking the texture and colour of peanut butter.  It doesn't taste bad, per se, but I prefer the real PB myself.

That's all for now!  Off to nurse my sinus cold with some head steaming.  That makes me feel like a cabbage.  Good times.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Crayons, Crochet, and Broadening my Naming Horizons

Chicken Pot Pie is in the oven, sonny boy is out with hubby to pick up some tires, and I have a few moments of quiet in my day!  [The quiet moments were over soon, as I'm now finishing up this post a day later] The bun in my oven is active as ever, especially as I looked through more baby name books today.  We have a few more ideas bouncing between us, but nothing has been decided yet in the event that we have a girl.  The chances of us having a girl are actually higher than for a typical couple, because of the effects of my husband's chemotherapy.  Strange, but true - seventy-five percent of men who have had this type of chemotherapy beget only girl babies.  However, we've got some pretty dominant male-producing genes on his side of the family that seem to be evening out the odds.
I'm trying to be more open-minded about names.  I even forgot to mention another one of my peculiar picky requirements with regards to names in the last baby-name post.  There are several girl names that I really like, but they have less likeable nicknames associated with them.  And the truth just is that you can't control what nicknames your child will be given.  I desperately wanted a nickname as a child, so maybe I should just be glad if the possibility of a nickname exists at all for my hypothetical daughter.  I tried a few times to create nicknames for myself, but they never stuck.  I remember my fourth-grade teacher looking through a pile of papers that we had handed in and asking "Who is "Rea"?  I was hoping in would be a natural transition to my new nickname to just start using a nickname, but, alas, that was not to be.  There was also the time that I tried to go by "Hershey" after dressing up as a Hershey's kiss in grade five.  Thank goodness that one didn't stick!  But I digress.  I was looking at my wedding photos on the wall and remembering how I chose my wedding dress.  I had tried on several dresses that I thought I would like, but none of them was the dress.  My younger sister convinced me to try on a dress that I probably never would have otherwise.  It was poofy, super bright white, and the bodice was covered in crystal sparkles.  I loved it as soon as I put it on, to my great surprise.  The strangest thing was when my husband (fiance at the time) was trying to guess what my dress looked like, he said that he didn't really need any hints because he knew that I would pick out a poofy, sparkly dress.  Sometimes he knows me better than I know myself, I suppose.  I'm going to try to keep my dress experience in mind and put away my list of name requirements and see what happens.  Maybe try on a few names for a couple of days to see if I surprise myself.

I'm not the only one who is getting excited about the new baby.  Today my son rubbed my belly and then looked up at me and said "Please, can I have her now?"  He's been saying the funniest things lately.  A few days ago, he studied my face and said:
"Mommy, [Can] I touch your eyebrows?"
Me: "Sure"
O.: "Mommy, what they smell like?"
Me: "I don't know.  Why don't you smell them and see?"
O. sniffs my eyebrows and smiles: "Mommy!  Maybe they smell like ... strawberries!"

I probably used up my weekly quotient of appropriate use of television to entertain one's toddler today, thanks to heartburn, lack of sleep, and the achy hips and back of the third trimester [Today wasn't much better in that department, thanks to sonny boy waking up with another cold].  I've been trying to do more fun things with him lately, so that I don't feel so darn guilty on days like today.  My wonderful husband put up a shelf above my craft table to help me get organized, and I've started bringing O. downstairs to do crafts at the table with me.  I've been perusing other blogs and websites to get some ideas for toddler crafts, but it's hard to find crafts that are aimed at little boys, or at least more gender neutral.  We tried out a "make your own multi-coloured crayons" craft a few weeks ago, which led to many happy hours of colouring together.  I bought some big bags of crayons from the thrift store, and some silicone mini-muffin trays for moulds.  I actually bought some really fun-shaped ice-cube trays from the thrift store too with the intention of using them as moulds; luckily I realized that they were plastic and not silicone before putting them in the oven.   Yikes, that could have created quite a stinky mess in the oven.  The mini-muffin tray worked fine, although the shape was not quite as thrilling.  I haven't really been able to get the tray clean since using it for crayons, so I'm glad I just used a cheap one from the thrift store, and I'll just keep it for that purpose in the future.  You can find a tutorial here, on this crafty lady's blog.  She has lots of great ideas on creating toddler art with their handprints, fingerprints, and footprints.

Broken crayons awaiting their transformation.
Getting ready for baking.
Watching and waiting...
We've also been using up a stack of paper plates that I've had in the closet for probably seven years and in three different homes to make animal masks.
My parents cleaned out their old supply of dot matrix printer paper, which makes excellent coloring paper, and fun little "ladders" for little toy people.  

I've also been contributing to this year's case of wintertime crochet-induced tendonitis lately.  I was asked to make three sets of owls for a ministry my church hosts for single moms.  The owls are companions to the book "Owl Babies" which deals with separation anxiety.  I enjoyed making them and having a good excuse to make more crocheted creatures.

My little guy became quite attached to the owls, so I made a brown momma and baby owl for him to keep too.

Another new addition to the collection,  Gerald the Giraffe.
I'm tinkering around with making my own patterns too.  This lion is one of my first attempts, although I realized I should have actually written down the pattern as I created it, because I can't even remember what I had for dinner yesterday, let alone a whole pattern.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oui, oui, monsieur

Wow, that was a wordy post yesterday.  Can you tell I'm starting to think about birth a lot?

Here's a shorter tidbit for you.  I saw this idea on pinterest, which is kind of a neat-o site, for felt mustaches that you can wear via an elastic around your head (available for sale here).  I thought my little guy might have fun, so I cut out some brown felt mustaches and showed them to little O. before I attached the elastics.  I'm glad I did before going to the work of sewing on the elastic, because he was definitely not interested in wearing any fake mustaches.  "No, mommy.  I already have my own mustache, mommy," he said, pointing to his upper lip.  He really seemed quite offended that I didn't notice his mustache!  I tried a few more times this week because his reaction is so cute (is that cruel?), and he's more adamant each time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is "no-name" an option?

I remember one particular Sports Day in Elementary School when, for the first time, we were split into multi-grade groups and siblings were put into the same group with one another.  Our first activity of the day was to brainstorm a name for our group, and make a song or a banner or something like that.  After much debate, we decided on "The No-Names."  I don't recall whether we actually couldn't agree upon a name, or if we thought that it was a clever idea, but I remember that we were all quite pleased with the decision in the end.  And I remember being so thrilled about being in the same Sports Day group as my big sister.  I think they do Sports Day differently nowadays - no more coloured ribbons for placing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in each race, and they probably don't have a giant tug-of-war at the end of the day between all the groups, either.  Goodness, that was a liability lawsuit waiting to happen with the inevitable trampling of grade one kids by grade seven kids when the losing team lost their footing!
I have roughly eight weeks to go in this pregnancy, and we still haven't decided on a name if we have a baby girl.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised...I remember being in labour with my son, driving to the hospital, and making the final confirmation about a girl's name with my husband.  I've always thought it to be so strange when people take a few days to name their child after he or she is born.  You've had nine months to think about it, right?  Now I'm afraid that might be us after all if we can't decide on something.  For some reason, boy's names are so much easier for us to agree on.  There's a sense of magic when you find the name you are going to give to your child, and for boy's names, we could agree on several names that we would both love.  My husband and I both have at least one girl name that we love, unfortunately we've both vetoed each other's top picks.  I'm much pickier when it comes to girl names, for some reason.  I like names that are classic, not in the current top ten names, not unisex but not too frilly either, and that have some substance of meaning behind them.  I like biblical names, but there are so few women of note to choose from in the Bible, and some of the coolest women in the Bible just have names that don't appeal to the modern ear.  Dorcas?  Eunice?  Lois?  I prefer names that start with vowels, or liquid sounds, or glides (for all you linguistic geeks out there) but there have to be some hard sounds in the name too so that the name doesn't get lost like a vapour once you've said it out loud.
As you can see, I'm going to have to get over some of these self-imposed requirements if I'm going to pick a name in the next eight weeks.  The name we had chosen for a girl when I was pregnant with my son is out of the running now.  The first name lost its magic for me somehow, and I now have a niece whose first name is the same as the middle name that we had chosen.  I should even have a backup name or two picked out since both my sister-in-law and cousin-in-law, whose children will have the same last name as us, are both due to give birth just a few weeks before I am.  The chances are pretty slim that we would pick the same names, but stranger things have happened!
I kind of wish that we had found out the gender of the baby so that I would know whether I need to even go to the effort of finding a name that we can agree on if this little hiccuping baby in my belly is a girl.  But, I know I will enjoy having the surprise to look forward to once I go into labour with this one.  I never regretted not finding out the gender with my son, although I do remember being extremely annoyed at one point in my labour because I was convinced that everyone else in the room knew the gender and just wasn't telling me!  I'm sure that we will be able to decide on a name, and, once we do, I think we'll "feel the magic" of the name.  Especially when we see that baby for the first time!
I'm really starting to get excited about having another child.  I feel like I have been pregnant for-ev-er, probably since I have been pregnant now between this pregnancy and the last one that I lost for ten of the last eleven months, and I still have two months to go!  But it finally feels like I can see the finish line and imagine holding a sweet little newborn in my arms again.
I'm also getting more anxious about the birth.  There is a tiny bit of positive anticipation, in hoping that things will progress more naturally this time, and because I feel better educated about the birthing experience this time around.  I've got a few birthing books on the go right now, including Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block, and Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake, and Abby Epstein.  I watched the documentary companion to Ricki Lake's book, called "The Business of Being Born" (only after I finally figured out how to change the parental control settings on our Netflix!) and I finally understood why people want to have home births.  I feel like I'm caught in a bit of a loop in that regard: I think that many of the reasons my birth experience with my son was difficult was because of unnecessary medical interventions, which probably wouldn't have happened if I had given birth under the care of a midwife or a more natural-approach doctor, and perhaps in a home-birth setting.  However, because of the complications that we encountered with the labour and delivery, and then my son's breathing problems and infections and an 8-day stay in the NICU, I can't feel comfortable giving birth away from the immediate skill and equipment found at the hospital.  It's a bit of a catch-22 - I know that being at a hospital might put me at more risk for complications, but I want to be at a hospital in case there are unforeseen complications.  In the end, I decided that I just wouldn't be comfortable birthing at home, which would defeat my purpose in ever considering having a home birth - to be more comfortable and allow things to progress more smoothly.  I feel like I would be too fearful of something going wrong to be able to relax and let my body do what it needs to do.
One thing that most of these books, the Ricki Lake doc, and a few other books that I have flipped through seem to agree on is that pitocin (a synthetic version of oxytocin, a hormone that your body naturally makes) necessitates a need for epidural pain relief.  Without writing out all the sordid details of the birth experience, I'll just say that I had my labour augmented with pitocin and no epidural, so maybe I wasn't crazy for thinking that my labour was much more difficult than I had anticipated.  Maybe I'm not as big of a wimp as I felt like afterwards.  One of the books even goes so far to suggest that subjecting a women to pitocin without an epidural is like cruel and unusual punishment.  I'm really hoping to avoid pitocin or any other form of induction this time, and just have a normal labour.  Prayers are welcomed!  As are suggestions for girl names!
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