How to Feed the People You Host

holiday-table

I’ve spent some holiday dinners eating dry bread and salad.

In front of me on the table were platters piled high with other food, but because of a combination of my vegetarianism and allergies, only the bread and salad were real options for me. In those moments, I harbored no ill will toward my hosts; having hosted holidays before, I knew that it took a lot of work to accommodate the preferences and allergies of a complicated group of guests. It’s not a job for an inexperienced or inexact home chef. I knew all this as I sat and ate my undressed salad, nibbling on my plain bread, and I wasn’t bitter.

Still, I’ve tried never to do that to a guest in my own home unless I had no other choice. Over the years, I’ve had guests for Jewish holiday meals who ate no carbohydrates, no grains, no gluten, no dairy, no beans, no soy, no tomatoes, no nuts, no broccoli, no cinnamon — not to mention the years when my own child was on the six-food-elimination-diet or the chylothorax diet. I’ve managed, in most cases, to offer at least two tasty options to each person — even options that others at the table would enjoy, too. It takes planning, but it’s not impossible.

Here’s how I’ve done it: Continue Reading…

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A Letter to My Friends Coping with IEPs and 504s

Dear friends,

i-see-you-worried-parentsI read every single Facebook post you share about your children.

When the school year begins and my children are worried about whether their friends will be in class with them, I see your worry scroll across the screen in a darker, more anxious tone. Will the new teacher understand your son? Will the school protect your daughter from her nut allergy? Will the one-on-one aide be reliable, communicative, loving?

I know you probably wonder if anyone whose child doesn’t need that level of support has even noticed you. Perhaps that flicker of wonder passes quickly as you walk away from the schoolyard each morning to a list of therapists and specialists to call, or perhaps it digs in more deeply as you watch other parents’ first-day-of-school photos scroll past, uncomplicated. Continue Reading…

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Lemonade Out of Gluten-Free Lemons

grocery-cartSometimes, I just have to laugh at the way the universe answers the questions I haven’t even asked yet.

It’s half-way through the summer of 2017, and here I am, suddenly aware that I live with one foot in the summer of 2010. I spent that summer in a cloud of specialty flours: tapioca and arrowroot, garbanzo and white rice and coconut and and sorghum. I sprinkled xanthan gum like a gluten-free fairy into all the creative ideas I had for how to make food for my daughter, whose health challenges required that she cut out dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, meat, and gluten. During my deep-dive into specialty cooking for what I called the “joy-free” diet, I dreamed in recipes and grocery store trips. Along the way, I picked up several dozen grey hairs, but I also became an unwilling expert on food challenges.

Though my daughter’s health issues resolved without any need for her to continue with food restrictions, the knowledge I gained never went away. In some ways, it’s not unlike a spare tool in the garage; though we seldom need that particular odd-shaped wrench, the neighbors know we have it, and they can borrow it any time. Even though we may have bought that wrench to put together a hospice bed or to tighten bolts in a subfloor that collapsed beneath our feet — and seeing it brings back every memory of that awful time — we’re glad it’s going to use for someone else who needs it. That wrench — my reluctantly-gained knowledge — shouldn’t go to waste.

Because of this, my friends call me when they need to follow an unusual diet or avoid a common food. And because I want to make lemonade out of those gluten-free lemons, I always help. Always. Continue Reading…

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Loose Ends

The pensive platform-makers at Girl Meets Voice shared a quote this week that had me nodding at the screen:

It seemed karmic, somehow, that I would read this reflection in the same week when finally, after years of thinking-about-it, I sent away the application for my daughter’s full, unabridged medical records.

The circumstances seemed a little like destiny. One morning, digging my way through several days’ worth of ignored email, I saw a message from the hospital where she’d had all of her treatments, telling me that I needed to complete additional paperwork with her signature if I wanted continued access to the abridged records they keep on their online portal. At age twelve, it seems, they want their patients’ consent for parental access. I clicked on the link to download that form and noticed, on the same page, the link to download a request for full records. Without taking much time to change my mind, I clicked that link, too, and downloaded both forms.

A year ago, I had visited the medical records department of the hospital when I was there to visit a friend’s child. Propelled by a feeling of both excitement and dread, I asked for copies of everything and was told that such a request takes weeks to process, and required the completion of a written request. At that point, dread won, and I walked away without doing anything.

Now, however, it has been more than three years since the surgery that finally liberated my daughter’s esophagus. I no longer hear her cough and wonder if she can’t breathe. I don’t have to make vacation plans around her procedures or whatever strange diet she might be on. She’s slowly, slowly gaining height and weight. The remaining signs in her of a sickly past are limited to the long scar on her back and, perhaps, to a missing inch or two in height.

In the years when we were still in the thick of it, I sat often enough in rooms with doctors that I could ask questions about what they thought and why. At first, they thought it was loose tissue in her larynx that made her breathing so loud. Then, they thought it was the extra arm of her aorta that choked her so tightly. Then, they said it was food intolerances keeping her from eating well and growing. Finally, they found the meandering artery smashing her gullet, and a surgery to move it away changed her trajectory from illness toward robust, glowing health. She seldom talks about it anymore, absent-mindedly eating a bucket of popcorn, a bowl of cherries, an overflowing bowl of pasta.

For me, though, there are a few loose ends. Sometimes I turn a corner and feel them flapping behind me when I hear a nearby baby cough. They tickle my ankles and make me lose my balance for a moment every time I watch my daughter get a vaccination or a blood draw. Mostly, though, they float into my vision when I’m paying medical bills and go to file anything in her huge, bulging folder of insurance paperwork.

They nag at me: why did this go on so long? Why did the doctors who missed her diagnosis disappear and stop returning our calls? What kind of test results went unnoticed, what kind of clues did we miss?

As I begin to flesh out the book-length version of my daughter’s medical mystery, I realize that the experiences alone are not enough. At first, they were all I could stand to share, but without a conclusion drawn from them, they amount to nothing more than a wild story for a cocktail party. After three years, I am ready to tie this package up in twine and to label it in uppercase letters. What will the label say? MISDIAGNOSIS. NEGLIGENCE. APATHY. CORPORATE MEDICINE. FATE. MALPRACTICE. UNSOLVED MYSTERY. RARE. SILOS.

I’m ready to find out.

loose-ends

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Feeding the Democracy

scones for the aca

The house was quiet last Friday night after an evening of happy chaos. My children tucked into bed, I faced the kitchen with resolute attention.

On the stove, a nearly-empty pot of lentil stew was developing a crust. Next to it, the picked-clean brownie pan shone with spray-grease, and a cutting board with the shreds of peeled carrot and the ends of a cucumber was topped with my best chopping knife, visibly dirty. The sink was empty, but clean dishes dripped on a towel on the counter above my humming, hardworking dishwasher. Every measuring cup and spoon in the house awaited me.

I put on some quiet music and hatched a plan. First, set the oven to pre-heat. Get the next set of ingredients ready before you tackle the pots on the stove. Make some tea. 

Every moment saved is vital to a mission of importance. I learned this in the years I followed this same set of late-night tactics to feed my family under a set of ridiculous dietary restrictions. In the evenings, I often made snacks, planned the next night’s meal or the next morning’s breakfast. I tried to clean my kitchen every night too, so that even I could start fresh the next morning.

It didn’t change my daughter’s diagnosis if I stayed on top of meal planning and dishes, but it contributed in a different way. When I didn’t do these things, I woke to a set of daunting tasks that kept me from pursuing the bigger issues of my daughter’s health care. If the day started with me unprepared, I played catch-up and my family absorbed that energy, too. Giving my family some sense of normality in what seemed like totally abnormal circumstances meant more work for me, but the results were worth it. As we dealt with a new set of daily routines and limited access to our previous life, whatever I could do to lengthen the fuses of my family had value.

I had to feed my family through that crisis. And now, I’m trying to feed my larger family through what’s to  come. Continue Reading…

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