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One of my central goals is to motivate clients to push through challenges and learn to live, work, love and play despite them. Often, this doesn’t involve fixing a problem, but rather living fully in spite of it!

In 2008 my family’s passion for travel was threatened. My husband and I had travelled with our babies, since 1995, every opportunity we had - domestically and internationally. But when our youngest had an anaphylactic episode in Istanbul, Turkey, at only 18 months old, we almost lost our gumption to continue our family pastime. Eager to not succumb to the limitations fear imposes, I read voraciously about travelling with food allergies and learned how to always be as prepared as possible for an emergency.

I planned my trips based on different priorities and with a pragmatic lens. By way of example, my journeys can and do involve air travel, but I typically avoid islands where there are limited medical facilities. I like to rent homes or apartments, rather than hotels, so I may cook in a meal or two. Knowing “best practices” and “industry culture” is important to me. It’s not enough to just carry plenty of medicine, medical documentation, snacks for flights, wipes and other products (i.e. seat covers) to avoid cross contact. I try to stay current on airline culture (how much, when and to whom to discuss food allergies when travelling) and I try to select my destinations carefully, based on more than just my travel interests. I need to consider cooking practices and related allergen risk (hard to avoid hazelnuts in Turkey), communication (finding English speakers in Hungary was harder than Denmark) and general food safety practices (food labeling and laws, kitchen safety, etc…)

This is the story of one recent journey to Western and Central Europe, which highlights my belief that being as informed, prepared and empowered as possible facilitates an easier, relaxing and more enjoyable journey. The experiences described can be relevant if your destination is global or right at home in the U.S.A.

We travelled to Denmark, Hungary and Poland and for the most part were staying in major cities. I knew that language and local cuisine would pose additional challenges on this trip. For instance, Danish specialities rely on eggs or mayonnaise (think Smørrebrød with Hønsesalat, traditional dark bread with a chicken salad spread on top), and when in Hungary or Poland, one can’t always be assured a server with skilled English or schooled in food allergy protocols. At home or abroad, servers don't always know that mayonnaise is made with eggs or what cross-contact is and how to avoid it. My research and planning led me to use food allergy translation /travel emergency cards and translation apps to make sure communication wasn't a barrier. Every year the market expands with more effective and helpful technology and I love working with clients to help them select the right cards or app for their needs.

When we get to a destination, we start our trip at the supermarket. We like to stock up on safe foods and snacks for our child with food allergies. In Copenhagen most people speak English splendidly so we simply asked folks to help us out when reading labels. Using the translated allergy cards, ensured our helpers understood how important their support was. In Hungary and Poland, finding English speakers isn’t as easy, but everyone is eager to be helpful. Tapping the under 30 crowd improves one's chances for bilingual support. My oldest child, a young adult herself, found an app for us that used the phone’s camera to literally read an ingredient list in another language and then translate it to English. These products and methods aren’t perfect, but they help. In my travel experiences, I have also found pharmacies that sell some food products, especially those specializing in health food products, to be fantastically helpful. Typically the pharmacist speaks English and sometimes the products there are produced with labels in 4 - 7 languages, including English!!!

Our most cherished travel experiences center around authentic cuisine! So when in Hungary, eat Langos (fried dough prepared with all kinds of ingredients), Palacsinta (crepes) or Gulyas (goulash)! Right? Well not necessarily if you or a loved one are allergic to gluten, eggs or milk. It takes determination, resourcefulness and sadly, a more flexible budget, to still eat authentically. On an early evening walk through Budapest’s District VII, the Jewish Quarter, exploring the neighborhood’s architecture, history and ruin pubs, we peeked into restaurants and asked for menus. We were determined to have an authentic, yet safe local meal. Restaurant staff tended to be more available and willing to answer questions before the busy dinner hour. This neighborhood had dozens of grungy old buildings that had been creatively renovated to maintain their bohemian charm while creating a chic dining experience. Our fourth or fifth stop was at a restaurant that looked like a bookstore. Konyvbar (Dob utca 45, Budapest, VII) loosely translated to Book Bar, was a tastefully decorated restaurant with wall to wall bookshelves, an inviting fireplace and very bilingual wait staff! They not only had various offerings that my entire family could eat, but they were also willing to customize whatever we needed. The restaurant’s literary themed menu offered diners an intellectual and linguistic spin on the experience, making it all the more fun. Our theme was Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho so we aptly chose from drinks such as blood orange sangria and martini madness and ate narcotic red pepper cream soup with murderous chicken and butcher’s sirloin.

Some cuisines don’t always lend themselves to customization, even when on a flexible budget. While we did delight in pierogi at a wonderful little restaurant called Pierozki u Vincenta, a Van Gogh-themed small restaurant serving meat, vegetable and fruit pierogi (ul. Juliusza Lea 114, Krakow), our other evenings in Krakow, we struggled to readily find what we needed. We couldn’t find allergen-free recipes or wait staff that could answer our questions. Feeling frustrated, our kids suggested we try an international cuisine, one we knew well enough to “vet” on our own - and our hunger and frustration tolerance led us to acquiesce! While this definitely challenged our traditional methods of experiencing a foreign destination and its culture, we discovered a tiny little Sushi restaurant in the heart of the Kazimierz district in Krakow, called Youmiko Sushi (Józefa 2, 33-332 Kraków.)

Youmiko Sushi, which had approximately 3 four-top tables and a sushi counter service area for 7 - 8 people ranked in the top 10 on typical travel rating sites. Unless you came off hours, you simply couldn’t get in without a reservation. We realized that if we came early, we could sit at the bar and watch our chef prepare our food. Our sushi chef’s English was very good and he followed our instructions fabulously… we were confident as we were able to sip sake, admire his culinary artistry and at the same time, make sure all knives and surfaces were wiped clean! And I must say that this sushi was some of the best and most beautifully presented we have ever had in all our domestic and international travels. In our 4 days in Krakow, we ate there twice, each time reserving the highly coveted bar stools to have the best food safety view in town! Most larger cities now have an assortment of international restaurants. Finding those that typically suit your family's eating needs is often a nice way to improve the odds that you will have a relaxing, if not culturally local-authentic, meal.

Over the course of our 18 day trip, things didn't always go so smoothly. At least 4 - 5 times in Hungary and Poland, we sat in restaurants, read menus and in the ordering process realized we needed to leave. We quickly learned to NOT order drinks until we got through the food allergy Q & A. This is where worry sat like heavy clouds around our heads. The waiter says, "I don't THINK there's mayonnaise in the sauce," or tells you not to worry because the chef RARELY puts nuts on salads. "No, I don't think he is cooking with them tonight." This is about when someone in my family gets a gut feeling, an intuitive reading that measures the reliability of what we are being told by our servers and the weight of those worry clouds. When either reaches a certain level, we just exit! Leaving a restaurant is frustrating - and often leaves you annoyed and hungry, but ultimately reflects you at your most EMPOWERED! We trust ourselves first and foremost and listen to our inner voice at all times!

It’s also important to plan for your own pleasures. Our youngest is the one with food allergies. On our European adventures before she was born, we typically ended each evening with a treat. In Italy, for instance, we never went a day without one or two scoops of gelato - our family nightcap. It was a cherished tradition. As a family of five, we now need to plan a little differently to create our own new traditions. For food treats, we take advantage of renting space with fully stocked kitchens so we can make our own sorbet and freeze it for when we get home from dinner. And we have also taken on new non-food rituals. One of our favorites has been listening to books together on tape. The first few Harry Potter novels created beautiful shared moments on recent trips introducing our baby to my older kids’ most cherished books!

We also scheduled separate time with our older children so that they could have culinary experiences without feeling badly under the sad, jealous and sometimes even worried eyes of their sister. Taking time separately, giving space for the other children to enjoy a meal or two without our typical food allergy inquiry regimen, built more tolerance for the frustrations we often experienced when together. This commonly occurs as a matter of course for families with children of different ages. This trip, for instance, we separated to experience the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Nothing really prepares you for the emotional impact of witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, and our littlest wasn't ready for it. I had read that quiet and space for reflection are needed to sort through the grief, terror, anger and many other emotions that seize you on this visit prior to transitioning back to the the hustle and bustle of touristy Krakow.

We planned therefore an entire special day long outing for our youngest to give the rest of the family time to visit the camp and to transition back at their own pace, peacefully. My husband and I split the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau over two days, each planning an age appropriate outing for our child with food allergies on the other. He brought her to Wawel Castle, a handsome castle perched on a hill with splendid views of Krakow, towers with dungeons, a dragon’s den, and beautiful gardens. On my day, I planned a low tourist day, with interesting local child friendly experiences. With over 450 shows per year, children of all ages would enjoy a visit to Krakow’s famous Groteska Theater, for a puppet show. While they are typically in Polish, they are so visual that all theatergoers can enjoy the experience. There were no shows on our day together, so we chose to visit a local hangout for young families in the heart of Krakow, called Kocia Kawiarnia Kociarna, the Cat CAFE on ul. Krowoderska, just a short walk outside the pedestrian part of town. Upon entering the cafe, you order from baristas as you would expect in any good cafe with personalized drinks, pastries and smoothies. After ordering, you are given a hand painted wooden miniature cat, which connects your party to your food and drink order and you are invited to pass into the cafe’s seating area through a special door, which separates the food preparation area form the seating zones for customers and cats - of the feline sort!!! You are asked to not pick up the cats and to only pet and indeed cuddle with them should they ask it of you. There is an additional room in the back with a loft that you can actually climb up onto, but reservations are required. We sat in the main room, patiently, eagerly hoping a cat would choose us for play! The baristas spoke English well and understood my daughter’s food allergies. They washed a blender, especially for her and made her a fruit smoothie to enjoy. She sipped heartily and happily, gently appealing to the cats with toy mice and yarn, to join her for some lap time.

Traveling with food allergies takes extra planning, effort, flexible budgeting and scheduling, and requires a good amount of frustration tolerance, and courage. By being an avid learner and creative planner and through practiced interviewing and perseverance, you can access some authentic culinary experiences and some simply satisfying, if not culturally intriguing ones. These strategies align with the principles that inspire Food Allergy U, that of educating, supporting and empowering families with food allergies. Resuming international travel after our petrifying experience with anaphylaxis in Turkey, reaffirmed my family’s travel tradition and passion. We are again, living out our values and pastimes. I can’t guarantee allergen or reaction-free vacations, but I can be courageous, creative, resourceful and flexible.
About the Author
Lori Moussapour is the founder of To Empower U.  She is a social worker, coach, public speaker, and educator - whose mission is to help people push through challenges to find both passion and balance in love, work and play. As a parent of a child with several food allergies, she is particularly dedicated to the food allergic community. She launched Food Allergy U, a division of To Empower U, to support, educate and empower those living with food allergies and to promote more sensitive, informed and inclusive communities. Lori offers one:one coaching and social work services in office or online. She is especially committed to helping individuals and families with food allergies manage worry and stress. She uses evidenced based programs to coach and counsel those whose anxieties take up too much emotional real estate. Lori writes a blog to inspire personal or professional growth and change and to empower the Food Allergic community. To learn more visit www.ToEmpowerU.com.
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Guest Blog by Amanda Orlando, Founder of Everyday Allergen Free & Handled With Care
I'm so excited to announce the launch of my new allergy-friendly e-shop, Handled With Care

"As people with food allergies, we know that a little care goes a long way"

Why did I create the shop?
I've been allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (excluding coconut), dairy, soy, and certain legumes, my whole life. The idea for the Handled With Care was derived out of two sources of personal frustration. 

First, with online retailers that don't have a curated selection of allergy-friendly products available to browse. With so many wonderful allergy-friendly, family run companies popping up on the market, discoverability is so important! Everything in the shop is selected for people with food allergies, celiac disease, or other dietary restrictions in mind. 

The second, that outside of major cities where grocery options are limited, it can be difficult to find free-from foods. I was fortunate to have gone to university in Toronto, but many allergic teens outside of the city did not experience the same accessibility to safe foods that I did while away for school.

Given the strong focus on curation, there is also a wide selection of product bundles that make great care packages or gifts. I believe that safe products should be easily accessible and affordable for everyone, even if you don't live close to a natural foods store. 

Giving back
3% of all sales will be donated to The Walk for Andrea from now until the end of September, 2018. This charity supports food allergy research at Sick Kids hospital and the walk to raise awareness.

The Brand
The title, Handled With Care, has so much meaning for me personally. Yes, it’s a cute pun on the fact that our products are ordered and shipped, but it also reflects the thoughtfulness and care that I have put into curation, and that each customer puts into selecting products for themselves or as a gift. As people with food allergies, we know that a little care goes a long way. 

What can you find at Handled With Care?
Products from FreeYumm, Made Good, Enjoy Life, Super Seedz, Giddy Yo Yo, Zego, Vermints, Holy Crap, Kiss Freely, Da Lish cosmetics, No Nuts Beauty, Niu Body, and some exclusive accessories. And more brands coming soon!

Launch promotions
Customers will receive a free gift with purchase, graciously sponsored by FreeYumm foods, while supplies last. Shipping is only $5 on orders of $50 or more*, and free with purchases of $75 or more*

A bit more about myself:
I'm the author and photographer of Allergen-Free Desserts (2015) and Everyone's Welcome (2019) cookbooks, a long time allergy blogger, and not only do I have allergies myself, but I'm a food allergy aunt/sister/daughter and friend! I currently live in Toronto. 

Follow Handled With Care on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook
Follow the Everyday Allergen-Free blog on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

*Before taxes, duties, and shipping. Within Canada and the continental United States.
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Guest Blog by Caroline Moassessi - Gratefulfoodie
Have you ever had one of those enlightened conversations where you start off as a stranger and at the end realized you just found a new tribe member who gets you? Well, meet Amy Feuerstein, the mom of Drew, who inspired her husband Leigh and co-owner of OWYN (Only What You Need) to get behind the new plant-based top eight allergen-free protein drink. OWYN hopes to turn food allergy stigma on its head, one sip at a time.

It’s more than a beverage to this family.

“We were completely devastated when our son was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE), we felt the world was over,” Amy recalled.  Drew was diagnosed with EOE in first grade after he vomited for two straight weeks. With a family history of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerated Colitis, this diagnosis was very unexpected as Amy had never heard of EoE.

Following doctor’s orders, Amy and the family, in solidarity with Drew, followed an elimination diet.  Amy chopped and cooked away using only limited ingredients as she followed the new diet closely while creating appetizing meals. 

Turning a negative into a positive, Amy explained to Drew, “we’re not taking things away, we’re adding in foods that are healthier for you and will make you feel better”. Tapping into her food and nutrition background, Amy closely managing her son’s diet as she zeroed in on high-flavor, nutrient-rich and allergen-free foods. 

Drew had been diagnosed with allergies to all fish and shellfish, “we carried two Epi Pens at all times: at home, traveling and school.” Amy also shared, “Drew loved sitting at the allergen-free table at school."  Allergy savvy Amy hosted many playdates, not only to calm her nerves but to provide safe and tasty snacks for all. 

“No one fully understands unless you live and breathe it yourself,” Amy explained, “you just can’t have a little.” A sentiment she remembered explaining to well-meaning family members. 

Fun in Amy's house included lively discussions about how to read and understand food labels and learning about the benefits of vitamins, minerals plus micro and macronutrients. Her kids chatted about proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. She presented food as an exciting journey to good health and growing up. These practices turned out to be a life-saver when Drew needed a special diet and food was a culinary adventure in her home with new twists and turns.

Munching away at the kitchen table, she'd point out, "this food is feeding your brain and organs." Happily, Amy described how different foods help develop muscles or regulate and strengthen the immune system to fight off disease. 

This foodie mom had tamed back the enemy and used it as a tool to heal and grow.

His EoE is currently in remission thanks to a therapy using Flovent, without it, he would be limited in his eating. “It’s been rollercoaster of emotions,” Amy reminisced thinking about the family’s early years of finding a new normal. 

"Drew is my life, it was the hardest time I have ever experienced" Amy reflected.

Looking forward, I asked Amy about the OWYN beverage, she said, "I never thought of it as a beverage." I was confused by her answer. She explained, "I think of it as fuel. Good for the body in the same way

you'd eat fruits and vegetables".  Amy indeed had turned lemons into lemonade.

A little OWYN secret: Amy’s husband Leigh confessed to wanting to erase the misconception that people with food allergies eat foods that taste like cardboard. He wants to see everyone eating healthy and nutritious foods that just happen to be allergen friendly and amazing.
Food Allergy Awareness Week Giveaway!
The Giveaway runs from 12:00am PST on 5/13/18 to 12:00am PST 5/27/18
There is a "Made In The SAME FACILTIY" label on this product, however, they have intense testing and protocol. To learn more about OWYN's Allergen Testing Program visit their Allergen Testing Page. As always, call a manufacturer if you have questions and to find your personal comfort level with a company.
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I received a package in the mail today from Organic Bread of Heaven. The box contained some very yummy looking items, which included their Rustic Sourdough, Apple Cake, Banana Bread, Chocolate Chip Cake and a bag of their Heavenly Cookie Crunch Granola. I tried the Apple Bread and it was so moist and delicious. I can't wait to try the other breads and I am very excited to dig into the Heavenly Cookie Crunch Granola. Granola has to be one of the hardest things to find without peanuts and nuts.
Organic Bread of Heaven is a family owned bakery located in Indiana. They offer a huge selection of organic, nut, peanut and soy free items.  Check out their website and look at their large selection of bakery items.  Please note that they do use coconut, so check with your allergist to make sure you are ok to eat coconut. My family is cleared for coconut, so their items are definitely an OK here for us. You can order online or call them at 219-883-5126. I received my items via Fedx and they were very fresh, however, they also offer local home delivery.
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I am the father of five children, three of whom have food allergies (tree nut, dairy, egg, and sesame).  For years, I found myself in situations likely familiar to many of you – incredibly frustrated trying to find “allergy-friendly” restaurants for my family.  Whether our travels took us to nearby towns for my children’s sporting events or faraway cities for vacations, we often needed up to an hour or more just to find a restaurant that could accommodate us!  Needless to say, this constantly recurring process was challenging and emotionally taxing.

Eight years ago, I decided there had to be a way to solve this problem.  The result was AllergyEats, a website where the food allergy community came together to help each other find allergy-friendly restaurants by rating their own individual dining experiences. Since that time, AllergyEats has evolved into an app for both Apple and Android devices, as well as added sections to the website devoted to Disney World, a blog with insights about specific restaurants, dining out tips, and much more.  We also run multiple social media feeds across popular platforms.

While you may already have your “go to” restaurants, you might be surprised by the allergy-accommodating venues you’ll find by doing a search on the AllergyEats app or website. New restaurant reviews are added every day across the country, thanks to our loyal community of raters. It’s a great way to learn about an independent restaurant or a chain that you thought could never accommodate your allergies. To help our community and encourage other food-allergic diners to leave their reviews, you simply rate your restaurant experiences by answering three multiple-choice questions and add an optional comment to give more color about the details of your dining experiences. The process takes only a minute or two, but the more people who leave ratings on AllergyEats, the better for all of us when we’re searching for a place to eat.

After eight years, AllergyEats has amassed quite a database of restaurant ratings around the country.  Of course, there are still regions where AllergyEats could use greater support in terms of restaurant ratings.  Included on that list are some major markets and smaller towns in Michigan. With that in mind, we are excited to partner with No Nuts Moms Group in what we consider a win-win-win situation for the Michigan food allergy community and all AllergyEats’ users.

To help support No Nuts Moms Group’s activities in Michigan, AllergyEats will donate $5 for every restaurant rating you provide on the AllergyEats app or website from 3/26/18 through 4/30/18 using the reference code “NNMG” on the bottom of the restaurant ratings page.

By rating restaurants, you will:
1) Help other food-allergic diners find allergy-friendly restaurants (or avoid those that are not able to accommodate!)
2) Reward those restaurants that earn good ratings, and 
3) Raise funds for your local food allergy community

ALL restaurant ratings are helpful - fast food, casual dining, and fine dining; good experiences and bad; chain restaurants and mom & pops; and all allergies from the Top 8 to the hundreds of less common ones.  The important part is that you share your experiences for the benefit of others, knowing that the resource you’re helping improve might help you in the future too!

So get out and rate those restaurant experiences today!  We are all in this together!
Paul with his three food allergic children
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Beyond the Equator’s story began about 10 years ago when a Louisiana sugarcane farmer, Carl, enamored with the potential of superfoods, traveled to South America in search of new farming opportunities. Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was Carl’s landing place, and there he began a chia farm with a group of local Bolivians. Over the next 7-8 years, Carl and his team worked to build a responsible and sustainable farming company, concentrating primarily on chia as well as mung beans, quinoa, and cow peas. In 2016 we decided we could do more for the end consumer by integrating superfoods into everyday use products; and thus, Beyond the Equator was born.
Carl in one of our immature quinoa fields
We very strongly believe that chia seeds are the most underrated superfood in the world, and while experimenting with different recipes we realized that chia was also particularly unique in its ability to absorb and stabilize liquid. With that in mind, we eventually found ourselves experimenting with protein shakes, plant-based milk, and cereals. The a-ha moment for us was when we realized how well ground chia seeds mix with nut and seed butters. Once we added chia, the butters hardly separated and retained a very smooth and creamy texture. As we continued developing our seed butter, we began researching just how our product might fit for consumers and that was where we first found out about the increasing prevalence of nut allergies. While no one at Beyond the Equator has any allergy issues, we all know someone who does and we quickly reached out to friends and family to hear their first-hand takes. Two things were made clear to us: there aren’t currently enough options for those who have allergies and over the last decade allergies have become even more prevalent. Furthermore, with many schools banning nuts outright, it was difficult for parents to keep the peanut butter at home when there weren’t that many other choices besides getting rid of the classic PB&J altogether. We immediately knew that we had the solution to this problem and forged full steam ahead developing our seed butter. Our final recipe is 5 Seed Butter, which features sunflower seeds as the main seed followed by chia, flax, hemp, and pumpkin. Our butter is also all natural including only the 5 seeds, 1 gram of cane sugar, salt, and Vitamin E as the preservative.
We launched our 5 Seed Butter in December of 2017 and are now proudly in 18 grocery stores in Southern Louisiana, as well as Amazon Prime. The response from the community—not only those with allergies but also those who enjoy nut and seed butters in general—has been wonderful, and we feel that we are really helping those with allergies and those trying to avoid nuts in schools or at work by providing them a delicious alternative to peanut butter.
Here’s my personal favorite recipe, our Butter Chocolate and Banana Smoothie. It’s a fantastic dessert that is both craveable and healthy.

Butter Chocolate and Banana Smoothie
Ingredients: 
1 Cup Milk or any Milk alternative
1 Banana
2 Tbsp 5 Seed Butter
1.5 tsp. dark Cocoa Powder
2 tsp. Honey
1/8 tsp. ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Ice
Directions:
1. Blend all ingredients together until it reaches the desired consistency.
2. Enjoy!
3. Optional: Be fancy and garnish with banana, mint, and chocolate shavings.
Kevin and I at our most recent sampling at Breaux Mart in New Orleans
Written by Will Myers with the help of Kevin Bratcher and Carl Newton
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Thank you so much Allergy Shmallergy for nominating No Nuts Moms Group for the Brotherhood of the World Blogger Award. It is always a nice feeling to be recognized by fellow food allergy advocates.

The Rules:
  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and post a link to his/her blog.
  2. List the rules of the award and post a picture of the award.
  3. Answer the questions from your nominator.
  4. Nominate other bloggers and be sure to let them know.
  5. Write a list of questions of your nominees to answer.
Questions & Answers:
  1. Where do you get inspiration for your blog/writing? I am not a huge blogger, but when I do blog it has to be something I am very passionate about. My inspiration is my food allergic child and members of the No Nuts Moms Group. I really like having guest bloggers and sharing other's stories and experiences.
  2. If there are past lives, who were you/what was your profession? This is a hard question for me. I don't know......maybe a Flapper in the 20's. LOL! I took a test on what were you in a past life and one site said I was a Biochemist and the other said I was a cat, which is funny because I am highly allergic to cats.
  3. What song brings back a strong memory each time you hear it? Janice Joplin, Bobbie McGee and really there are so many others, but this one just stands out to me the most. My girlfriends from high school would blast this in the car and sing so loud. Those days with them were so simple and carefree.
  4. What’s your hidden talent? I am very crafty. I love to make crafts and one of my favorites is making bracelets.
  5. What makes you feel grateful? My family without a doubt. I am not sure what I would do if I didn't have them.  
My Nominees for the Brotherhood of the World Blogger Award:
My Questions for my Nominees:

1. What is your favorite vacation spot and why?
2. What are your top 2 favorite allergy friendly products that you cannot live without?
3. If you could pick any animal that you were in a past life, what would it be?
4. What is your motivation for continuing to be a resource to so many in the food allergy community?
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Guest Blog By Denise, Founder of Partake Foods 
Throughout my life, I’d never really thought twice about food allergies. I don’t have any food allergies, and neither did anyone in my immediate family. However, shortly after my daughter, Vivienne, started eating solid foods, I got very quickly acquainted with them.
 
As an infant, Vivienne suffered from eczema and what my husband and I thought was severe colic, but in hindsight, we now realize that her ailments were tied to my diet, since I was breastfeeding.  After a very scary Thanksgiving (& first birthday), we learned that Vivienne has FPIES to eggs, IgE allergies to bananas, corn, pistachios, and cashews, as well as an intolerance to wheat.
 
I resorted to making all of her meals and snacks from scratch, but quickly realized that was not a sustainable solution for our busy family.  I searched for meal and snack options that would meet her dietary restrictions, my nutritional standards, and still taste good, but I came away from store shelves feeling frustrated and disappointed. And that’s when the idea for Partake Foods was born.
 
My goal for Partake Foods is to provide a top 8 allergen free solution for every meal and snack occasion – one that is not only allergy friendly, but also tastes good and is made with simple, whole food ingredients.  Our first products are 3 flavors of mini cookies – Sprouted Grain Chocolate Chip, Carrot Oat, and Sweet Potato Millet – that are all Free of the Top 8 Allergens, Certified Gluten Free, Certified Vegan, and Non GMO Project Verified. They’re made with simple ingredients, and we skipped the rice flour, gums, and stabilizers that you find in so many allergy friendly products – We also threw in some real fruits and vegetables!
 
My hope is that Partake will not only be a part of the solution, but also will contribute to figuring out what’s causing the stark rise in food allergy incidence, so we donate a portion of revenue to food allergy research.
Partake Foods Giveaway: Two winners will be selected to win three boxes of Partake Mini Cookies.
The giveaway will take place via No Nuts Moms Group's Facebook Page starting Wednesday, August 9th through Friday, August 11th. We will announce the winners on Saturday, August 12, 2017. The winners will have 48 hours to claim their prize or another winner will be selected. Good luck!
Now available to purchase on Amazon.
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Guest Blog By Kathy Argel, Founder of Allergy Kids Central
Long before marriage and kids, I had the desire to help children. As to what extent, I didn’t know. I just wanted to help children, millions of them all over the world. On July 6, 2002, I gave birth to the most precious baby boy who had a laugh that uplifted my soul. I named him Tristan. Little did I know he would be the start of my journey. I grew up in a family with no food allergies and no environmental allergies. Our skin was smooth as silk, our appetite as normal as the next kid, and our kitchen cabinet void of any allergy medications. The word “allergy” was never even muttered in my house.

When my son was three years old, I gave him a piece of toast with peanut butter. A minute later, he handed the toast back to me and he had hives all over his face. I didn’t know anything about hives. I just looked at him and thought he must be allergic to peanut butter. I didn’t feel any urgency to rush him to the ER because I didn’t know the magnitude of its consequence. Luckily, the hives dissipated, so I didn’t think of it again.

It wasn’t until we moved to Virginia that my life changed in so many directions. Tristan was four years old and I also had a five-month-old baby girl. I found a new pediatrician who tested Tristan for allergies because he had eczema. That’s when I found out he had food allergies. I was given an EpiPen, but I still didn’t feel the consequence because Tristan looked fine and acted like any other boy. However, when he was five years old, he came home from school scratching his arms. At first, I thought it was his eczema bothering him again, so I applied cortisone. After a few days of constant scratching, I noticed how voracious his scratching would get and how uncomfortable he was feeling. At that point, I knew something was wrong.

I brought him to an allergist who later told me he had multiple food allergies. He couldn’t eat peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, wheat, shellfish, beef, chicken, watermelon, apples, carrots, and string beans. He was severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs. I had to put my son on an elimination diet to clear his system of these allergens. Suddenly, I felt like I was caught in a tornado sweeping me in crazy directions filled with fear, confusion, helplessness and disbelief. Sleepless nights became my new normal as he would wake me up with bloody arms and sheets from all the scratching, and I found myself cleaning him up every night.

Tristan’s schooling was affected. The social worker said Tristan was delayed developmentally and wasn’t focused in class. They referred me to a pediatric specialist who later told me he had Asperger’s and needed to take medicine to keep him focused at school. I was shocked and numbed with disbelief once again. I read all the literature about Asperger’s, but I couldn’t bring my heart to agree with the doctor. I felt something was not right and that the doctor had been too quick to diagnose and medicate my son without giving him a chance to heal and live. After numerous visits to the pediatrician and endless prescriptions for new steroidal medications, I cried out to Tristan’s pediatrician about how the medications were turning my son into a little monster. She told me the medications were just band-aid fixes—Tristan needed to heal from within. Looking straight into my eyes from one mom to the next, she said, “Go with your mama instincts. You know your son the best.” I decided to stop all medications except for one antihistamine that I gave Tristan once a day.

I tirelessly resorted to the internet and researched everything there was about eczema and food allergies. My pursuit was relentless as I tried to figure out what was going on with my son and what I needed to do to help him. I started a food allergy journal and wrote down every food, medicine, and activity he was exposed to. I was determined to get educated and to heal my son.

Meanwhile, my son’s condition worsened. His eczema spread all over his body with hives. Then his beautiful olive-colored skin became pale. His eyebrows were falling off and his stomach was always bloated. I was frightened because suddenly I saw a different child who was slowly deteriorating in front of me. Despite what was obviously happening on the surface, Tristan remained surprisingly happy and energetic. His little sister, Nina, made him laugh every day. The amazing thing about kids is their resilience and their spirit to live. God bless them!

I found an amazing woman online who wrote a book about eczema and how she had healed her body of it. She became instrumental in my learning. She was patient with me and gave me unlimited coaching whenever I needed to talk to her. I will be forever grateful to her for propelling me to learn more about food and its healing properties.

Through my journal, I learned Tristan had delayed reactions to wheat, which explained the nightly scratching that resulted in bloody sheets. I switched to gluten-free pastas and breads. I also learned that soy contributed to eczema, so I eliminated all the culprits and cooked his food from scratch.

I also took him to someone who analyzed his blood and found that he was not digesting his meals wells, so I started giving him enzymes. Then I learned about probiotics, so I focused on healing his gut while eliminating allergens.

His skin started to heal, his hair started to grow back, and he started to thrive once again. At ten years old, we celebrated when the social worker, his teachers, and special education coordinator all agreed he didn’t need special education anymore. His grades had earned him a place on the honor roll for the first time. Tristan was on top of the world when we told him he didn’t need to be pulled out of class for special education anymore. He started to excel in all his classes and in sports.

I finally understood my son. I accepted who he was and what he needed to eat in order to survive and grow into a handsome, happy young man. I remind Tristan that food allergies do not define who he is, and I encourage him to advocate for himself and for his little sister.

When my daughter, Nina, was ready to enter pre-school, I learned she had peanut and tree nut allergies as well. I wasn’t as nervous and unprepared as I had been with Tristan. She was ahead of the game because food allergies had become common knowledge in my family. Nina knew how important food choices were to the health of the family. My two kids are a dynamic duo as they remind each other to grab their EpiPens before we leave the house and to read all labels. They’ve also become my cooking assistants and are on their way to cooking full meals for the family.

Four years ago, I started to draft my first book. My daughter, a gifted artist, sketched out amazing characters with creative names for my story. I hired an illustrator to make them come to life. That first book is still in draft mode because I felt the characters were meant for a different purpose. I turned those characters into tags. I placed the tags on my kids’ lunch bags, athletic bags, and book bags. Other kids found them adorable and creative, and the tags allowed my kids to advocate for themselves in a non-threatening and fun way. I later created silicone bracelets to wear to school and athletic games too. Necklaces soon followed with various colors.

Because my creations were a hit with my kids and their friends, I knew many kids would benefit from them too. Suddenly, I started to receive custom orders. I realized kids needed support for various medical challenges as well. This was when “Allergy Kids Central” was born. This website serves as a resource and online store for kids and parents living with food allergies and other medical challenges. It has been an amazing journey watching my site develop and connect to many incredible families, peers, and similar support groups.

Empowering kids with safeguarding products is a first step to spreading awareness. However, providing knowledge, encouragement, and support will foster confidence, independence, and self-worth. Raising kids in a society of fast food chains can be challenging, but providing healthy substitutions can be just as rewarding. There can be challenges at school when certain events call for certain foods that are off-limits to my kids. It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned that planning ahead and communicating effectively can turn that dilemma into a success for everyone, including my kids.

This led me to writing my first book, Dear Diary, I’m Going to a Birthday Party! I felt kids living with food allergies needed a voice to express the emotional roller coaster they go through with food allergies. It begins with an “All About Me” page describing Nina Packer’s all-time favorites and the names of her school, her best friends, and her food allergies. I chose this beginning to let the reader know that kids with food allergies are no different than the next. It ends with a positive note and an empowering message.

It has been fifteen years since my journey began. It took ten years to figure it all out. But, today, I realize that in order to help my kids, I needed to learn and experience their way of life. One thing I know about all kids is they are unique individuals possessing different needs. My products are a reflection of those needs. My book is the first of a series I plan to write that will help kids to voice their feelings in this world full of uncertainty. But, one thing for certain is that this mama will continue to advocate, educate, and empower kids through her fun products, kid-friendly website, online resources, and encouraging books. Growing up, my mom always said, “Dream big!” However long it takes, my goal to help millions of kids will come true. Until that day happens, my heart will continue to overflow with love and gratitude for each child touched by my creations.
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Several years ago I joined The No Nuts Moms Group which was founded by Lisa Rutter and a year ago I became a part of the Team as a Support Group Co-Leader.  The NNMG has taught me a lot about how to navigate food allergies and keep my son that has a life-threatening allergy, safer. I have learned about several food products from the group, like Surf Sweets, a company that is dedicated to producing delicious, organic treats free of the 10 most common food allergens. The have been a go-to item for our kids school parties because of the multiple food allergies within the classroom, which makes them the perfect party treat to have a safe and inclusive celebration. These yummy treats sparked a fun idea for my friend, Michelle and I. What if we created an organic allergy friendly lemonade stand with Organic Sweets products?!
Hosting an allergy friendly lemonade stand was a great interactive way to show how kids with food allergies can still enjoy the same things as other kids. To make the lemonade stand, I asked my husband, Scott, if he could make a cute lemonade stand out of pallets that I had seen on Pinterest.  At first this sounded great but then we realized it wasn’t realistic because Scott had enough projects on his honey-do list, we had kids’ events to attend and homework to keep up on.  Instead, I bought a few items at the store and grabbed some items from inside my home to create an organic, allergy friendly & rustic lemonade stand.
The things I purchased from local stores consisted of:
  • Yellow felt table cloth
  • Paper pennants
  • Biodegradable cups & straws
  • Ice tea pitcher
  • Organic lemonade & lemons.
  • Surf Sweets Organic Fruity Bears
To create the table I used a folding table with a white bedsheet over it & then I put the yellow table cloth over the white sheet.  Then I grabbed other items from around the house to give it a more rustic organic appearance. I created the sign from a simple poster board & poster board letters.  All the neighborhood kids loved the Surf Sweets Organic Fruity Bears and lemonade. We even had our really good neighborhood friends join in and help us. My kids are excited to host a few more allergy friendly lemonade stands this summer. Next time we plan to raise money & support our favorite organization, FAACT (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis connection Team). 
Surf Sweets Giveaway:
Surf Sweets wants you to have fun this summer making your own allergy friendly lemonade stand! Go to their Facebook page and comment on the post about the lemonade stand with your answer to the question, “how does your family celebrate summer?” They will pick 2 random winners to receive 50 packs of Surf Sweets Organic Fruity Bears candy and a Lemonade Stand Kit valued at $100. The kit may include: lemonade pitcher, bio-degradable cups, straws, table cover, chalkboard sign and a bowl or basket. Additionally, 5+ winners will receive Surf Sweets products! The giveaway will run from June 5 - June 12, so hurry up and enter!
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