The big one….

Last Saturday, I went upstairs to start my grad school homework I neglected all day because of our five kids’ sports schedules. Just 20 minutes later my husband came into my office worried that John might be having a reaction. I expected to go downstairs and put a plan into action. But what I didn’t expect was to find my son at the bottom of the stairs, eyes red, teary and panicked. I’ve always read about “the impending sense of doom” in some cases of anaphylactic reactions. And here it was, the look of doom staring right at me. In that one brief moment, I KNEW.

I started hammering him with questions as I jumped on a chair to reach the medicine cabinet over the desk, looking for the Epipens:

Does your mouth hurt?

“Yes.”

Does your tongue feel funny?

Yes.

Does your throat feel like it hurts?

“Yes”.

Does your tummy hurt?

Yes.

Do you feel like you are going to throw up?

“Yes”.

“I’m scared mom”.

It’s OK John, keep talking to me.

At the same time, my husband relayed the story of what he ate – a Popsicle with dairy in it. He bought it earlier in the week for the other boys, and John grabbed one for dessert after checking the labels.  Contains Milk was not bolded in the list, but he failed to see the first ingredient in normal typeface – Nonfat Milk. John blurted out that he ate half of it before his mouth started hurting. He felt the reaction almost immediately, but didn’t want to tell his dad yet. So he got a paper towel and tried to wipe his tongue clean first. He said he felt worse by the second and was forced to tell my husband he was having a reaction.

I grabbed the Epipen and firmly injected it into his outer thigh. Michael, his four-year old brother was by his side looking up at him in stunned silence. David and Matthew, (9 and 8) sat on the couch nearby, but I was too distracted to know for sure what their reaction to John was. He said started feeling better almost immediately but I knew we had to get him to the hospital right away.

This is where I made a huge mistake. In a panic I was worried that if I called 911, they’d take him to the hospital nearby which is NOT where I wanted him to go (I had a horrible experience there a year ago and vowed never to return). I wanted to drive him to a much better hospital 15 minutes away. As I drove, John told me he still felt sick and his throat started to hurt again. In that moment I knew he should have been in an ambulance getting monitored instead of sitting in the front seat of my car.  I was so angry at myself – I should have known better. Lesson learned, and will never be forgotten.

When we got to the ER, it was of course, packed with all sorts of trauma; people throwing up, a knee gashed open from an accident, an elderly woman who was too weak to fill out her own paperwork and a little boy who split his eyelid open. I knew John’s vitals needed to be taken right away. When the woman behind the glass window asked me, “Can I help you?” I became the Shirley McClaine character in the film TERMS OF ENDEARMENT – the part when she started going crazy on the staff so they would give her daughter pain pills. Though I didn’t go that far, I did let the nurse know in no uncertain terms he needed immediate attention and told her what happened. I thought he might be experiencing a bi-phasic reaction. The nurse stood up and called a doctor right away and John’s vitals were immediately monitored. His blood pressure and pulse ox were subnormal. He was dizzy, quiet, and weak. He started shaking and shivering violently. He was nauseous and wanted to throw up. He look terrified and confused – wasn’t the injection supposed to make it all go away? I tried to explain to him, yes, many times it does. But sometimes the injection simply buys time, and the body continues to react.

I was alone with my son in the ER, holding him, pushing his long, golden hair away from his deep brown eyes and praying to God that his body would fight back. I was angry, sad, scared and numb. I told him he would be just fine, and that he would feel so much better soon. With every reassurance I gave him, I needed to tell myself. Eventually he did overcome with aggressive treatment and he started to feel better and his condition stabilized. The doctors and nurses were incredible, especially one doctor in particular. He spent a lot of time with us, and asked a lot of questions about food allergies in general. He told me when he was in medical school he wanted be an allergist, but the ER is where he landed. Before we parted, he told me he learned a lot from our case and thanked us.

Over the next few days things returned to normal for John. He went back to school, soccer, basketball and band practice. He hung with friends and played play station with his brothers. But for me, I was stuck in the sadness of watching my son nearly die from a goddamn popsicle. Everyone asked me all week – how is John? How are you? And every time they did, I felt the trauma all over again. I kept thinking about the Shannon’s, Hom’s and Giorgi’s – and every other family who have literally watched their child die from a food allergy. I wondered how did they ever find the strength to go on? How they continue to fight and advocate for the rest of our food allergy children? How does a parent go on after losing their child? I’ve lost both my parents (my father from lung cancer at 14 and my mom from pneumonia at 22), and that pain and loneliness never really goes away. But when I had my children I started to finally feel love once again. What I experienced with John last weekend rattled me to the core. I became numb and terrified and retreated into myself all over again – because the very thought of losing one of my children put me into a tailspin of pain and abandonment. It’s the unspoken symptom of being a parent of a child with a food allergy – the vulnerability and fear we live with every day. The fact that John could face anaphylaxis next week, next year, or maybe in 10 years is something we as food allergy parents have to live with. And then maybe that ONE time he wouldn’t make it. Like last Saturday. When he almost didn’t make it.  I know I can’t dwell on it, but I can’t forget it either.

What I’ve learned is….there’s still more to learn. And more to do.

In 2004 I had my first food allergy policy conversation in John’s preschool classroom in Barrington, IL. I remember how scared and timid I was over simply asking for some preventative measures to keep my little preschooler safe in his classroom. I’m no longer afraid, scared, and timid to ask for things are common sense approaches to keeping these kids safe AND included in their classrooms. No, the only thing I am terrified of is John dying. So I’ll never stop talking. I’ll never stop fighting. And I’ll never ever apologize for doing what I must to keep John and kids like him safe AND included in their classrooms. THEY DESERVE IT.

Just a few short weeks ago, the food allergy community celebrated a HUGE victory for food allergy policy and advocacy in the state of California. Thanks to CAFA (California Food Allergy Advocates Senator Huff (and his office!) for their tireless work in getting the stock epinephrine bill SB 1266 signed into law by Gov. Brown:

CAFA is happy to share that SB1266, a bill that would provide schools with life-saving Epinephrine was signed by Governor Brown on September 15th, 2014.  The law goes into effect on January 1st. This law will protect students and teachers who suddenly develop severe allergies for the first time while at school.  Startlingly, 25% of the emergency first-aid Epinephrine used at school is used on people who have never been diagnosed with an allergy.  The students and teachers will be able to receive first-aid if they experience a life-threatening allergic reaction at school.” – CAFA Advocates”

It’s incredible to know that WE CAN make a difference. WE CAN change policy. WE MUST keep pressing on, however. Because the past couple of weeks I’ve experienced first hand how much more work needs to be done on behalf of food allergy policy, especially in schools. I MUST keep pressing on, push harder and educate more widely. Because yesterday, I sat for a moment and thought “if so much has changed, then why am I still having the same conversations about food allergy safety at school as I did 10 years ago?

Twice in the past week I’ve had conversations with my kids’ teachers about sensitivity toward food allergy policy in the classroom. During parent information night in one of my kid’s classrooms, a teacher was going over classroom policy and procedures; absences, make up work, tardy policy etc. Then it came down to the “Birthdays” line item. The teacher’s comment was “Birthdays. Yeah. Well, you can see I didn’t write much about that. Because now we can’t have food for birthdays anymore because of all the food allergies so there won’t be much celebration I guess. So, birthdays are not really celebrated.” My mouth was actually on the floor at this moment, and I was so dumbfounded that by the time I tried to respond, the moment passed. Everyone moved on to the next line item. And I sat there, stunned. Really? Was that just said OUT LOUD?

Fast forward a few days later. John came home to tell me about a teacher of his handing out candy as a reward in class, and offering a free pizza with friends at lunch coupon. Let me be clear, John was more bummed and felt left out in his classroom than anything, but even so he did NOT want me to single him out, make a big deal or embarrass him about it. I asked him “so what would you like me to do?” He simply said, “just please don’t embarrass me.  But I am bummed”. I had to meet with this teacher over a separate issue and sent an request for a meeting. The teacher responded and made a great suggestion – bring John with to the meeting so he can discuss his concerns too. Brilliant, I thought! He’s in 7th grade now, and should learn to self-advocate on his own behalf. So we both showed up before school one morning, and had a discussion about the one issue first, then the food allergy/treat concern next.

So many of us have had this conversation before – I’ve been having mine regarding John since 2004. Yet, 10 years later, I’m sitting next to my son, having the SAME conversation. Different teacher, different circumstance, but it’s the SAME conversation.

Me – “John has a medical 504 Plan that legally requires you, his school, to accommodate his life-threatening food allergies by using food free items as a reward in place of the food”.

Teacher  – “Oh I’m sorry, I thought it was OK when I said at his 504 meeting that I like to serve these little treats.”

Me – “No, it specifically says No Food in classroom. May I see the treat please?

Teacher hands the treat to me to review. It says Milk in ingredient list.

Me – John’s as allergic to dairy as he is to nuts. And he has severe asthma. This isn’t OK. And there is no food in the classroom. Can you explain the pizza party reward please?”

Teacher – “It’s a coupon for homework night off or pizza for child and two friends at lunch.”

Me- Is it possible to use a coupon for a non-food reward?

Teacher – Well I don’t want to exclude John and make him feel left out by taking away these rewards.

Me-But you are, just by merely offering them.

John – How about (gives a non food recommendation)?

Teacher – No that wouldn’t really work because of XYZ.

John – Oh. OK. 

Me – Per John’s 504 Plan, there is no food to be given or used as reward. That’s a contractual accommodation and technically I would need to file a complaint with the OCR to investigate the repeated 504 violations at school. I want to work together on this, minimize attention to John’s allergy at school and make sure from this point forward we have an understanding.

Teacher – Well I certainly respect your viewpoint and what you are saying.

A beat.

Meeting is concluded. John and I leave the classroom and I can see the frustration in John’s eyes. He saw the frustration in mine. Because, though the meeting was overall nice, positive and helpful, it doesn’t remove the underlying fact that, again, we are forced to have a conversation about policy regarding handing food allergies in the classroom. And despite the expectation that 504 plans are followed to the T, or that teachers understand it is a medical disability that could cause a child’s death on their watch, we are STILL having conversations about broken agreements, misunderstandings and feelings of being singled out. John experienced as a food allergy kid, in that moment, what it feels like to be a food allergy parent and advocate. I asked him how it felt and his answer was “FRUSTRATED.” My answer back – “ME TOO.”

Side bar – I’m blown away by an organization called Canary Kids Film Project. It is a not for profit group that is doing some truly ground-breaking work in getting answers about why our kids are chronically affected by allergies, asthma, autism and autoimmune diseases as well as a host of other ailments. Please take a moment to read what Canary Kids is all about, and find any way you can to support their efforts. I plan on helping in any way possible to see this documentary get made. And we start getting the answers we need to take care of our children’s health. If you are in So Cal please join me Saturday Oct 25th in Newport Beach at True Food Kitchen for a special fundraising event honoring the incredible Robyn O’Brien, author, advocate and founder of AllergyKids, and Bob Sears, MD author and pediatrician. Hope to see you there, and if you can’t please consider making a donation on behalf of your own child to this organization. Because this project is for all of US.

 

Square One

IMG_3231I have taken my son to an allergist every year since his food allergy and asthma diagnosis at age one. And every year, I sit with his doctor and we go over his test results, talk about how to manage his medical conditions, get medication refills and new forms signed. But this year, for the first time in a long time, I sat there next to my freckle-faced, athletic, smart, empathetic and whip-smart funny son and CRIED. Why? Because I was told his asthma is far worse than it should be for a soon-to-be 12-year-old boy, and that his lungs are literally failing him. FAILING HIM.

I’ve written on this blog for many years about John’s severe food allergies. I’ve traveled the country to talk about food allergy awareness and advocated loudly for change in school policy. I’ve written cookbooks and taught cooking classes. But what I haven’t always shared is our battle with John’s asthma. Not because I didn’t want to. But because I didn’t know how to. Talking about lung disease has never been easy for me. I lost my father when he was 52 to lung cancer, my mother to emphysema/pneumonia at age 59, and I have battled my own asthma and chronic lung infections as well as my siblings. When John was diagnosed at a young age with asthma, I thought I was prepared to deal with it. I thought I knew how to manage it. I was wrong. I had no clue.

Today John’s doctor had a “coming to Jesus” discussion with John and I. Based on his updated lung function tests, his levels were triple the normal amount in a child his age. In other words, his severe asthma at age 12 could likely lead to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) by the time he is in his 20’s and 30’s (an extraordinarily young age for this disease) if he continues to not aggressively treat and manage his asthma every single day. At this point in our conversation, she didn’t address me, but HIM. My preteen son, who more often than not is forgetting his Epi at home, eating things without checking and not taking his daily inhaler. Full disclosure: I have been gone and an absentee mom all summer traveling, going to school etc. and haven’t been checking as closely with his asthma medications. I feel totally responsible for the continued deterioration in John’s lungs. A horrible, horrible feeling.

She looked at John in the eye, and asked him, “do you really want to live a life with daily meds, steroids, oxygen tanks, and giving up an active lifestyle because you can’t walk a flight of stairs? What if you couldn’t shoot a basket or play a game of soccer? Do you want to give up the things you love because you aren’t taking responsibility for your life today? Don’t you think at your age you should become responsible for keeping your Epi in your own pocket and remember to take inhalers on your own in the morning and night?

She then looked at me, and told me flat-out that John’s lungs are in unusually bad shape for a child his age with no other environmental risk factors. She couldn’t believe that he is a starter for his travel basketball and soccer teams, and most of the time plays entire games without ever getting called out. She said the inflammation in his lungs is severe; a normal level is around 10, his is 65. She said not treating his asthma now while his lungs are still developing will guarantee COPD at a young age, an irreversible disease. She explained our hearts are our body’s engine. But engine’s need fuel…which is our lungs. Without the fuel (lungs) our engines (heart) stops. She also reiterated that based on John’s lungs, a simple cold to him could keep him in bed for weeks, or in the hospital, and continue to damage his lungs permanently. Based on today’s results, his daily medication was increased to the max for a child his age, in order to aggressively start reversing this damage. Next course of action….using medications approved for COPD.

I sat there painfully numb. As she described images to John of people with COPD taking steroids and using oxygen tanks, I immediately flash backed to my own parents’ lung diseases. As she spoke to John, I remembered my father’s lung cancer destroying his entire body and mind in a matter of months, faster than I could even process at age 14 that he was going to die. And disintegrate into someone I barely recognized. I then remembered my mother, my best friend and angel, going into the hospital December 23, 1996 for a back injury (brought on by the overuse of steroids to treat her emphysema) and never coming out. I remembered her weak body and lungs contracted bacterial pneumonia not once but twice while in the hospital, putting her into intensive care. And then ultimately, her heart stopped. Because the fuel (her lungs) ran out. Just like John’s doctor described. Then I sat there and sobbed quietly because I thought, not only did I fail to help prevent my own mother’s death by demanding her to quit smoking or get healthy, I didn’t check in on my own son for his daily asthma treatment. Here I was, running around doing this and that, only to find that I was failing my own son at home. In a moment, I felt such shame it was unbearable. Last year I first learned of the severity of my son’s asthma. This year I learned it got even worse. Under my watch.  I realized nope….I can’t do it all. No way.

John told the doctor, “I thought all these years my food allergies were the thing that could kill me. Never really thought about the asthma”. She reminded him that BECAUSE of his SEVERE asthma, and because of his SEVERE food allergies, he would go into anaphylaxis into SECONDS. Mere seconds. My son could die. In seconds. Barely enough time to remember where the hell his Epipen was if he maybe forgot to take it with.

Today was extraordinarily painful for me as a mother. Because I remembered what it felt like to watch my parents struggle with their health. I realized I failed in balancing my school and work and family life. And I remembered that advocacy, education, and awareness starts at HOME. It starts with me. It starts with John. BUT it also starts with my husband. It starts with his brothers and sister. It starts with all his aunts, uncles and cousins. It starts with his teachers, his friends, and his coaches. I can go talk at conferences, and schools and where ever else for years. I can hope that PTA’s and school nurses and moms who demand birthday parties at school will open their hearts a little wider with understanding for the health and well-being of these kids with medical disabilities. But none of it, and I mean NONE OF IT matters if we don’t start right at home. Something I personally needed to remember.

http://www.lung.org/associations/states/illinois/news/the-link-between-asthma.html

http://www.webmd.com/asthma/news/20100517/childhood-asthma-linked-to-risk-of-copd

http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20268528,00.html

http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/

 

I’m BACK!

First of all, I want to apologize for being such a loser blogger. I’ve had several, OK lots, of people email me asking where I have been these past few months. They want to know if my website address changed. They want to know if I am alive and well. They want to know if I quit blogging or recipe writing or advocating altogether. My answer to all of the above; NO. A big fat NO. I’ve only been temporarily disconnected. My life has been crazy busy! But I’m back, and stronger and more resolved than ever to raise my voice not only on behalf of our food allergic kids, but for us, as parents in general. As Maya Angelou famously once said…”When we know better, we do better.” Right on sister.

Since my apparent last post in November (yikes…has it really been that long??) I’ve been working at an internship (yes, at my age), driving super long commutes (to LA and Santa Monica, need I say more?), and going to graduate school full-time (though I didn’t actually realize my course load was full-time until last Friday when I had to check my school status. I kept wondering why I was SO TIRED all the time, so I guess that explains it.) And aside from that, I am plugging along on some scripts, papers and material for a new book. Oh and my children; I still do all the normal stuff for them like homework help, grocery shop, cook and try to volunteer when I can at school but truth be told….I have sucked at that this year. (But I tried my best to be where I could!) Life has been busy. It has been hard. But it has been life-changing. And I mean that in the nicest way.

I’m having more fun than I have ever had….writing, working, learning and growing. But growth is challenging, no doubt. My children have seen me stressed, unsure, nervous, tired, resolved and disappointed. They also have seen me happy, elated, excited, creative, and more alive than I’ve been in years. I often work alongside them at the kitchen table, doing homework and plugging away, night after night. I have my good days. I have my off days. But every day is an opportunity to “know better to do better”. All I know is, that for right now, in this moment, we are exactly where we are supposed to be. And tomorrow, we might be somewhere entirely different. But that’s life, isn’t it? We’re all malleable, or at least we should be. Life is not really meant to be lived in a linear way, I think.

So here is a recipe I LOVE. It’s in my Meals book and it’s one of my favorite fast meals, especially now, during the craziest of days. Stay tuned in the next few weeks; LOTS of exciting food allergy information and stuff and events to share!! Thank you guys for always being there for me, for being so understanding and patient with my lame ass. LOVE MY PEEPS. Stay tuned….I’ll be in touch soon. xoxo

Kelly Rudnicki book

CHICKEN SALAD

Serves 2

 

This is my favorite way to use up leftover cooked chicken from my Weekday Roast Chicken recipe. It is very fresh, light and flavorful. I love to put it on a bed of spinach salad or tucked into allergen safe pita bread. Feel free to omit or add celery, grapes, apples, or raisins according to your personal tastes.

 

2 cups diced ,cooked chicken (leftover from Weekday Roast Chicken)

¼ cup Vegan Mayonnaise

¼ cup dairy free sour cream

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup finely minced celery

¼ cup finely diced peeled Gala or Granny Smith apple

½ cup coarsely chopped red grapes

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve as is or in allergen-friendly mini pita bread, tortilla or your favorite sandwich bread.


 

Giving Thanks….

1211-leftover-casseroleIs Thanksgiving really just two days away? Usually by now I would normally have scoured the Internet, foodie mags and my huge collection of cookbooks for new recipes to try for the holidays. Time slipped away from me this fall, it seems, and here I am just NOW thinking about what our Turkey Day Dinner is going to look like. Thankfully, I can go back to my tried and true Thanksgiving Day Allergy Friendly Menu and recipes for ideas.  Last year, my dear friend Silvana Nardone published my favorite classic recipes, and I will be turning to them again tomorrow. I am somewhat of a traditionalist (ok, sort of) and always like to stick with the classics for Thanksgiving. There is a certain comfort in the expectation of status quo, especially when you are dealing with holiday feasts. However, I’m dying to fry a turkey. So one of these years, I am going to invest in a fryer and just do it. Yes, I’m nervous I will burn my house down or fry my face off, but for the most part, I’m always game for trying something new.

I also just wanted to let you, my readers, know how thankful I am for YOU. Your words of inspiration, encouragement and support have meant the world to me all these years. I read everything you write to me, and try my best to respond to every comment or email. Everything I do regarding my books, articles or advocacy is completely influenced by you and your stories. You inspire me to do better, and to work harder. I am thrilled that President Obama signed the stock epinephrine bill into law recently, even happier that he outed his own daughter’s life threatening food allergy thus giving even more attention to the fact that food allergies affect so many of us. I am excited we continue to have forums, walks, expos, conferences, and summits every year that allow us, as parents, bloggers, and advocates to have a voice on behalf of our vulnerable children.

That’s the key though…USE YOUR VOICE to raise awareness. Talk about our world, and how to keep our kids safe and included, especially in their safe haven…their classrooms. It’s our responsibility to keep not only our own children safe, but EVERYONE’S children safe. We are a community of dedicated, educated and loving parents who just want to keep our children alive. It’s really as simple as that, isn’t it? So don’t ever feel bad about asking for things, talking about things, or raising the roof once in a desperate while.

I will never give up fighting for safer allergy aware policies for our children. And I’ll never give up hope that we’ll someday find a cure for them too. Remember….ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. And I guess that’s what I am most grateful for this week….hope. I have enormous hope that 2014 and beyond will bring about even more change, awareness and research on behalf of our FA kids.

Finally, a HUGE thank you the absolutely amazing novelist Curtis Sittenfeld for this moving and beautiful piece she wrote for Slate today. Happy thanksgiving y’all….xoxox

 

Tears in Heaven….

Me with the beautiful Bay Area Walk organizer Sharon Wong!

Me with the beautiful Bay Area Walk organizer Sharon Wong!

I just returned from San Jose last night, where the Bay Area FARE Walk/Run for Food Allergy in honor of BJ Hom was held. This event alone raised nearly $120,000 for food allergy research and awareness. Over 800 families affected by food allergies attended the walk, and enjoyed presentations by CA State Senator Jim Beall, NBC News Bay Area Laura Garcia Cannon, and San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen. Steven Powell US Navy 1st Class Petty Officer sang an incredibly moving “Tears in Heaven”, as well as awesome performances by food allergy musician Kyle Dine, American Idol Season 11 finalist DeAndre Kamele Brackensick and many, many others. Brian Hom, his amazing and beautiful family, and all the incredible volunteers who made yesterday an enormous success deserve our deepest gratitude. As most of you know The Hom family lost their son BJ in 2008 from anaphylaxis, and Brian has devoted his time and life to raising money for allergy research and awareness. He’s a remarkable man.

I had the great honor to also meet many of the Bay Area families whose lives are affected by food allergy. One family in particular came over to my table where I was greeting families and signing books. As soon as I saw her, I knew exactly who she was, but she reached out her hand anyway and introduced herself and her husband as Joanne and Louis Giorgi. Oh my God, I thought. I MUST go over and hug her tight, from one mother to another. And hug her husband, as one parent to another. I thought, what could I ever say to a mother who lost her beautiful daughter just months ago? What do I say to a woman whose daughter’s last words to her were “I’m sorry” before dying right before her eyes? Her eyes….that’s what I looked through for the strength to say something when I didn’t know what I could possibly say to ease her horrific pain.

“I’m incredibly sorry”, I said to her. She looked so strong, so resilient, so brave. “Thank you”, she said, and admitted it was a tough day for her and her family. I looked over at her husband, who had the same look of heartbreak in his eyes. I looked back over at Joanne, and saw her own eyes well up with tears. I just had to tell her in that moment what was deep in my heart; that I am forever grateful for the courage she and her family have shown in educating others about what happened to their sweet daughter Natalie. That I can’t stop thinking about Natalie, and how her tragic story will inevitably save lives. The lives of OUR children. Right then I opened my cookbook to the photo of John, and said “this is my son John. He has the same allergies as your daughter. I know he is always one accident away from the same tragedy as Natalie’s. I’m scared, and heartbroken, because your daughter’s death reminds me to never forget what work MUST be done by the rest of us to raise food allergy awareness. As a mother, I am so DEEPLY sorry for what you are facing”. Tears, tears and more tears shared between two mothers.

With tears in our glassy eyes, I promised Joanne I will do everything I can to help her with the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Foundation. I will work even harder to knock down doors in our schools to enact laws and policies in schools that will keep our food allergy kids safe AND included in their classrooms. I will use my voice to speak for those who can’t. I promised Joanne that we will never forget Natalie and what her life meant to all of us. It was incredibly brave of Joanne and Louis to be at that walk yesterday, in the company of so many families who struggle with food allergies. They were there yesterday to not only represent Natalie’s life, but to represent all of US.

The rest of US have a responsibility to Natalie Giorgi to use the voice within us. We must speak as loudly as we can for our children. We all have the ability to make a real difference in our schools. We mustn’t expect others to fight for us. We must do whatever we can to hold our children’s schools accountable. Schools are in the business for our children. Bottom line. I don’t care about extra paperwork, administrative hurdles or school politics that so many say are the road blocks to change. It is irrelevant to me. Our children’s well-being comes before all else. And most of all, don’t ever listen to someone who says to you, “Things will never change”. Or “You can’t”. Instead, say “I will”. We owe it to families like the The Giorgi’s, The Hom’s and The Shannon’s to NEVER GIVE UP on educating and raising awareness. May God Bless the angels in heaven who will guide us every step of the way.

Steven Powell US Navy 1st class Petty Officer sings – See more at: http://www.foodallergywalk.org/faf/help/helpEventInfo.asp?ievent=1061755&lis=1&kntae1061755=D51AEB04ABE840C796E7509D87AD7F93#sthash.mdra6c38.dpuf
Steven Powell US Navy 1st class Petty Officer sings – See more at: http://www.foodallergywalk.org/faf/help/helpEventInfo.asp?ievent=1061755&lis=1&kntae1061755=D51AEB04ABE840C796E7509D87AD7F93#sthash.mdra6c38.dpuf

Too busy to cook…sigh.

October MSL CoverWell, I only wish I could proclaim to my family on the busiest of nights that I’m simply too busy to cook, But the reality is, even if I didn’t have a child with food allergies, I’d still have to cook something. Because quite frankly, there are too many mouths to feed at the Rudnicki house to start taking orders for individual meals. I have found it is easier to cook one meal, and declare that “Dinner is served. Take it or leave it!”. This has kinda been my mantra for years, but it has been especially true the past several months since I’ve started graduate school. Mom stuff, writing stuff, sports schedules, and carpool schedules are mixed in with my homework and twice a week commute to LA…needless to say it’s crazy around here! So lately I’ve been putting my slower cooker to use and making simple meals that are healthy, fast and can double as left-overs.

These two recipes from Martha Stewart’s October Living issue (not to be confused with her fabulous Halloween issue) have been a lifesaver. The Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is very similar to mine in my book The Food Allergy Mama’s Easy Fast Family Meals. But I REALLY loved her addition of fresh lemon and parsley. I use my favorite dairy free Vegan parmesan cheese as a replacement for the dairy version. This is the fastest dinner you will EVER make. I promise. My kids LOVE  this dish too.

If I have a few extra minutes I love to make Martha’s Scallopini Alla Marsala dish. I love to use chicken cutlets in place of the pork tenderloin too. It’s a warm and comforting dish that is perfect on its own or with a side of the Spaghetti. Be sure to use dairy free margarine in place of the butter.

Bay area fans DON’T FORGET I will be in San Jose this Saturday October 12th walking with families to raise money for a cure at the FARE Walk/Run for Food Allergies in Memory of BJ Hom. To date they’ve already raised more than $98,000. Please come out to say hi! I will have books to sign and purchase for a donation to FARE.

Happy fall everyone!!!

 

 

K

 

 

Will Farrell’s Bit at the 2013 Emmy’s….were you offended?

Will FerrellHi Peeps! An interesting discussion started on my Facebook feed today about my choice of sharing a video of Will Farrell at the 2013 Emmy Awards. As you may or may not have heard, Farrell brought his three kids on stage and did, what I thought, was a hilarious parody of not being able to find last minute child care for his kids. Watch the clip here and see for yourself what the whole bit was about.

My choice to share the video on my personal Facebook page raised some concern from a a few friends who were offended by Farrell’s “nut allergy reference” (though I still don’t understand what he was even trying to imply in his comment, because it was more of a rambling statement rather than a coherent one.) A reference was made about Farrell’s 2012 alleged prank on his cast mate, Zach Galfiadias who apparently had a life-threatening allergy. So, because I’m kinda lazy and don’t feel like editing my response about this from my FB page, and because what I wrote is really from my heart, I figured I’d just literally cut and paste my comment about it here, and open up the discussion to you guys. I’m very curious to know what you think. Were you pissed? Offended? Thought it was funny? Or not? Or did you even care? Let me know, because I’d love to know:

Will Farrell allegedly pranked his cast mate Zach Galfiadias, knowing he was allergic. The story was originally shared on The Daily Show, and I’m not certain it was determined if the event actually happened. But btwn that, the Portlandia bs segment, and many other things that have portrayed allergies as something that isn’t life-threatening pisses me off to no end. It always feels like whatever work I’ve done to advocate or educate is negated through people’s careless comments. I have learned over the years to really be thoughtful about the things I take issue with, because you simply cannot fight every fight, or tackle every comment or issue that comes up. I have heard my fair share, either directly or indirectly of really, horrible and mean spirited comments about the validity of my son’s allergies, or about my work, or my books. I’ve read vile comments about me in the comments sections of news articles. i have been emailed nearly every day or every couple days FOR YEARS from people who are pissed at me, my blog, my outspoken advocacy work. I have learned to ignore 98 percent of it now, because the negativity that used to be thrown at me would literally exhaust me. At some point I realized I have control over my reaction to such things, but I can’t control what others say or do. I fight like mad for our children’s rights at school, because that’s worth it to me. I don’t fight the shitty emails. I don’t fight the shitty comments I hear through the grapevine about me at the grocery store. I don’t fight dumbass comments. Regarding this clip, to me, it’s a hilarious parody of what every mom kind of has to go through…the nut allergy comment was literally “a nut allergy”…and the context in which he used it didn’t even really make much sense, so I really, truly believe he flippantly used the comment while he ad libbed through the segment with his kids. I honestly didn’t take offense to it because I didn’t see it as him trying to attack, or make fun of people with food allergies. Even so, it’s totally cool to get pissed off at his remark. I’m just not offended by it when there is so much other stuff I choose to take issue with. Now, the Joel Stein column? I DID take issue with that bullshit very loudly as you may recall in my blog years ago. That was worth it to me to call out. Will Farrell at the Emmy’s? Not so much. But believe me, if I ever did meet him, I would ask, and then if he answered like an ass, then he’d get my foot up his.

So what do you think about it all? And how do you feel about what you choose to take issue with or not? Do you pick and choose your battles? Or do you believe every battle is worth it if it means others will be educated about the dangers of food allergies? How do you handle negative comments?

Back to School…What’s for dinner?

Sept2013_COVER_V3_largeToday all my kids went back to school. I’ve waited for this day for a very, very long time.  For the past 13 years I’ve been very lucky to stay at home with my five children, making bottles, sleep training, potty training, making crafts, watching Barney and Elmo, going to the park, the library, the apple orchard, the museums, baking (LOTS of baking I might add), volunteering at preschool, grade school and now middle school, taken care of sick kids and just trying to be the best mom I can be. It’s been a whirlwind. But now I have to admit I’m ready for the next part of the journey. I’m ready to learn and grow as much as my children have been learning and growing. I’ve always loved school, I’ve always loved learning, and I love being a student of life. Our personal journey and evolution never ends. There’s always something new to do, to learn, and to see. I’ve only scratched the surface. I want to see and do MORE. And I want to share it all with my beautiful, amazing and talented children every step of the way.

So now that they are all in school full-time, I can take back some of my hours to do more of what I love. As mothers it is so important to remember who you were before you were a mom, and even before you were a Mrs. To nurture your own space, inner creativity, and personal needs is the greatest gift you can give yourself AND your children. Let them learn from YOU how to take care of their spirit by showing THEM what it means to love and honor yourself, and as well as everyone else around you.

So tonight, I’m back to school too. Grad school. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone and I love it. I love the feeling of opening my mind to all things new. But I still have to feed my family, and a fast and easy dinner is always needed at our house. So lately, I’ve been trying lots of new recipes that aren’t my own creations. This Chicken-and-Broccolini Mac and Cheese from the September issue of Martha Stewart Living has quickly become one of my favorites. The recipe below has been modified from the original to make it allergy-friendly. I have all of Martha’s books, magazines and many of her Everyday Food mini-magazines. She’s one of the few cookbook authors that I have truly learned from. Martha IS one of the great teachers of everything related to home-keeping and cooking. Since my mother passed seven months before my wedding day, I looked to Martha for all her tips on cooking, cleaning, decorating, and even ironing.

In addition to the recipe above, check out my Vegan Back to School Roundup of my favorite recipes at Martha Stewart Living. They’re super fast and delicious, and ones I’m certain your entire family will love.

Enjoy the new school year everyone…full of hope and promise to learn more and do better! xoxo

MD110116_Mac_and_Cheese_4631CHICKEN-AND-BROCCOLINI MAC AND CHEESE

Serves 4-6

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for baking dish

2 c. dairy free milk (soy, rice, almond, your preference)

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves, cut in half horizontally

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

8 oz. dairy free cream cheese

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

12 ounces allergy friendly (dairy, egg, nut, gluten-free) noodles or small shaped pasta

12 ounces Broccolini or broccoli florets

1 3/4 c. dairy free cheddar cheese, shredded

1 c. fresh allergy friendly breadcrumbs (coarsely chopped allergy friendly bread in your food processor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 3 quart broilerproof baking dish with oil. Bring milk to a simmer in a pot. Add chicken; simmer until cooked, 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Remove pot from heat; whisk in mustard and cream cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shred cooked chicken. Cook noodles or small shaped pasta in a pot of boiling salted water, 3 minutes. Add Broccolini; cook until noodles and Broccolini are al dente, 2 minutes. Reserve 1/2 c. pasta water. Drain noodles and Broccolini; toss with chicken, sauce, pasta water and dairy free cheddar. Transfer to a baking dish. Toss breadcrumbs with oil; sprinkle over casserole. Cover with parchment-lined foil; bake 20 minutes. Uncover casserole; increase heat to broil. Cook until top is golden brown in places and breadcrumbs are crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.

 

Natalie Giorgi…

If you are a parent of a food allergic child, you probably already know who Natalie Giorgi was, and every detail surrounding her tragic death July 26th from an allergic reaction to a rice krispie treat. If you don’t know her story, read and watch the news clip here. I won’t go into all the details, as I think watching Natalie’s mother retell her 13-year-old daughter’s death in tearful angst is enough. Enough, I hope, to send ANOTHER wake-up call to anyone out there who questions the seriousness of food allergies.. a wake-up call to well-meaning parents who still insist on fighting food policies in classrooms that keep food allergic children AND teens safe. Accidents can and do happen. And they will continue to happen and innocent children’s lives will be at risk until we can 1. find a cure or 2. successfully advocate and get the message out that food allergies are dangerous and can kill.

Honestly, it’s very difficult for me to even talk about Natalie’s death, and watch her mother’s plea on TV to educate others about how a peanut allergy took her daughter’s life. Because no matter what is said about it, the reality is, this woman’s daughter is gone, forever. She watched her daughter dance. Then she watched her daughter get violently ill. Then gasp for breath. Then she heard her daughter say “I’m sorry” before she ultimately died after three epinephrine injections that were SUPPOSED to save her life, failed. THIS MOTHER WATCHED HER DAUGHTER DIE FROM SOMETHING SHE ATE. Can you imagine? The innocence of a 13-year-old girl just having fun on a camping trip with family and friends, only to end up dying because she took a bite of something that was made with food that could kill her. Can you imagine, just for a moment, what this mother, father, siblings, extended family, and friends are all feeling?  I have tried to imagine, and my heart breaks in two. My world would be shattered. Please pray often for this family.

So it’s the end of August, the beginning of the school year for children across the country. It’s a tough time for many parents who are sending their children to school with life-threatening food allergies. They must go in every year to review food policies in classrooms, snack lists, and stock nurse’s medicine cabinets with life-saving medication. They must sign up as the resident “snack mom” and “field trip chaperone” every year, in order to ensure their food allergic child is safe and feeling included in his or her own classroom. They must have meetings with their child’s teachers, principal, and school nurse about policies and (hopefully) Section 504 Plans, all designed to keep their kids safe. They also must endure the stupid and ridiculous comments and rants from some parents who howl at the thought they won’t be able to send in certain foods to class anymore because it’s dangerous for another food allergic child to be around. It’s tough all around. No matter what grade, or what age your child is, you’re always starting from scratch with new teachers, new classes, new everything.

I do believe things are shifting in a positive direction. I had the opportunity to attend a summit sponsored (and full disclosure, paid for) by Mylan. This summit was an incredible opportunity to talk about everything related to food allergies with top FA advocates, bloggers and activists. We literally holed up in a room and tweeted live about the latest research, listened to an informative and engaging panel discussion surrounding anaphylaxis and epinephrine access at schools across the country, learned about public policy and legislative updates and also discussed Mylan’s incredibly successful EpiPen4Schools program.

I was truly blown away by the knowledge, passion and purpose displayed by everyone in that room. I am also inspired by the leadership at Mylan. They are committed to the food allergy community through helping schools get access to epinephrine as well as offer a $0-Co-pay Card to help patients get afford up to three EpiPen 2-pack or EpiPen Jr. 2-Pak cartons per prescription. (see here for more information). I am very proud of all their hard work on behalf of food allergy awareness.

Looking forward, there is still much work to be done on behalf of food allergy awareness in our schools and in our communities. With the new school year here, now is the time to schedule a 504 Meeting with your child’s school to determine eligibility. My former state in IL did and EXCEPTIONAL job in creating everything you need to get your school up to speed on food allergy policy including sample 504 Plans, sample classroom letters, sample food free classroom celebration ideas, etc. I am still trying to get my current state of CA to start drafting some of these important protocols, but it’s definitely a work in progress. Follow this link to get you started with the right tools.

 

Finally, I will be at three events coming up this fall and would love to see you there if you are in the area:

October 12, 2013 Bay Area FARE Walk/Run for Food Allergies in Memory of BJ Hom: I am honored and excited to be a part of this amazing day. I will be selling and signing books and a portion of proceeds will go directly back to FARE.

October 27, 2013 Los Angeles FARE Walk/Run for Food Allergies: SO excited to be back at this walk. We had a blast last year! I will be selling and signing books and donating a portion of proceeds directly back to FARE.

November 2-4, 2013: FABC: Food Allergy Bloggers Conference: This is an inaugural year for the FABC conference and am SO excited to be a part of an amazing group of speakers! Please see the website for ticket information and the schedule.

Enjoy the last days of August!!!! xoxo