My Quarantine Life: Week 24

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Jolene, my work from home supervisor.

Decision Fatigue. I am definitely feeling it. Prior to the pandemic, I had most of my life on a schedule designed to operate on cruise control. This made me more efficient so that I could focus on what matters most. 

For example, having a minimalist wardrobe reduces decision fatigue. When you only have 4 pairs of pants to throw around the room, you are less likely to feel frustrated with what you have to wear. Admit it. We all have times when we have been getting dressed in the morning, and some article of clothing gets removed and thrown around the room because it doesn’t fit right, feel right, look right, etc. When you have a minimalist wardrobe, you minimize decision fatigue. Every item you own is a favorite, so you are more likely to be happy with the first outfit you put on for the day.

In quarantine, I am running into decision fatigue with food. Yes, I do like to be creative. However, it is now downright absolutely exhausting having to be creative with food every single day. Due to the food shortages, many of my go-to items are unavailable. I have to get creative with what I do have. 

There is no longer the option to make something up quick in 30 minutes or less. I am often spending more than an hour cooking every single day. This is because all of my food allergy friendly convenience items are unavailable. I am being forced to cook every single meal from scratch every single day.

Take breakfast, for example. My special allergy-friendly cereal is either unavailable, or the choice that is available has a limit of 2. This is made even more challenging when I have people shopping for me by just adding items onto their own list. I have to just obtain food by where people are already going and what they can get for me. It is making living with food allergies that much harder.

For breakfast, I have been making muffins since cereal and milk are unavailable. Allergy-friendly milk, by the way, has been completely unavailable since the end of February.

Making muffins every 2-3 days is hard work. Yesterday, I had to shred the carrots by hand. Yes, they are made from scratch. I have no shortcuts available. Food in quarantine is hard. I am also going through more muffins because I am eating them for snacks. I get hungry a lot, and none of my allergy-friendly snack items are available due to factory closures. Food shortages are real. 

I have been trying to figure out how to get food without relying on my informal supports. As things have reopened and people go back to their routines, they don’t tend to check on me as much in quarantine. It is really challenging to order things online. I cannot get produce or anything fresh that way – only shelf stable items.

My fear throughout this entire pandemic is that I do not want to put anyone at risk to help me. Plus, if a person or people helping me get COVID, then they will no longer be able to help me because they will need help themselves.

That fear has come true. About half of the people helping me with food are now in quarantine awaiting COVID test results.

I have been hungry all the time throughout this pandemic. I don’t remember hunger like this since I was a child. This is primarily due to the fact that I have multiple food allergies and there are severe food shortages. I’m not going to eat something just to have it kill me. That defeats the point.

Decision fatigue over lack of food options combined with the fact that I have lost close to 15 pounds during the pandemic, has created a problem. I weigh less than 100 pounds to begin with. I have to figure out how to create some sense of normalcy with food even with food shortages.

Obtaining food is my biggest challenge right now.

Thankfully, one local non-profit is delivering food to houses for free – food pantry style. I requested a delivery last week to help. The challenge is that they were not able to accommodate my multiple food allergies. I am only able to eat about half of what they give me. It was also challenging trying to open the bags without touching something I am allergic to and causing a reaction. 

Money is tight right now since food prices have escalated to 3-4x more in the pandemic. That’s if you can find food. I hear many stories of bare shelves in grocery stores.

Instacart does deliver to my area. It is expensive. Many people have recommended that I not try it due to the expense. However, at this point, I am starving and desperate. 

I was so hungry the other day and the only thing I had to eat without spending an hour plus cooking was 2 hot dogs. Something needs to change. I need food.

I did sign up for a free 2-week trial of Instacart. Yes, I am fully aware I will be charged for it after the 2 weeks. However, I did the math, and it works out to be $8 per month for the service. Seeing that I will be in quarantine for close to a year if not longer, I decided to take the risk. At this point, I am so hungry, I just want food.

I placed my first order on Instacart. I was so impressed it arrived in less than 2 hours. Not only that, but I had the best “shopper” (yes, I tipped her well). 

For the first time in 6 months (since about February), I now have cereal, milk, bacon, allergy-friendly snacks and a few other items that make me feel more normal. What’s better is that Instacart is cheaper than the local delivery service I used previously. The other delivery service had a $100 minimum and a very limited selection of items. Instacart allows me to send someone to the stores where I know they have my allergy-friendly items. They also only have a $35 minimum, which is a lot easier on my wallet right now. 

While I still feel bad asking someone else to go to the store for me … well, this is their job. I’m sorry it’s their job, but thank you. Now I don’t have to worry about half the people helping me being quarantined for COVID tests. As long as Instacart can keep enough employees … Yes, I am tipping well. They deserve hazard pay for this. 

There are still food shortages. I had strawberries on my Instacart list, and the shopper had to substitute blueberries because there were no strawberries. That’s fine. I’m not picky. I was just happy to have fruit. There was also a substitution with my ground turkey … again, no problem. This is the first time since February I have been able to get ground turkey. I can’t wait to make turkey burgers and carrot fries this week. I communicated my food allergies to the shopper so they were able to make appropriate substitutions for me when needed.

I’m not sure if this Instacart thing is a good thing or a bad thing, but when I received my Instacart delivery this week, it was the first time in a long time I felt almost normal when it came to food. Everyone has been trying to discourage me from Instacart, so I am a little skeptical. 

However, I have what I need to make several of my normal meals and do not have to get creative with what I have. I feel very rich that I actually have food right now. I even have some things in my freezer so that I can go a while between needing groceries so I am not putting Instacart people at risk. I am happy that when I tip them, I am tipping a local person who needs the money right now.  

Food and work continue to be my two biggest challenges in the pandemic. I need food and I need to be able to do my job so I can continue to get paid. I am so thankful to be employed.

I am not sure if Instacart is going to solve my food issues or even if it will be more affordable than what I have been doing. Maybe I am throwing my money away. Who knows? All I know is that I am hungry, and I can’t live with being hungry anymore. The food shortages are one of the hardest things I have lived through.

Anyone else have any positive or negative experiences with Instacart?

Old Habits Die Hard

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Simon in the window enjoying fresh air.

In times of stress, it is common to fall back on our coping skills. Some coping skills are positive and some coping skills are negative. As we age, we gradually replace negative coping skills with positive coping skills. When you know better, you do better.

Some coping skills are not necessarily negative, but there comes a point when a particular coping skill is no longer needed because you have overcome the problem. Either the life situation has changed so that you do not have that problem anymore to require a coping skill, or you have adapted to the situation in such a way that it is no longer a crisis which prompts coping skills.

This coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we have ever lived through before. It is prompting all types of coping skills in people, myself included. 

I keep trying to find something to equate to our current situation. After all, the beauty of coping skills is that if they work for one crisis, they will probably work for another.

I spoke earlier how the pandemic is worse than when I was in New York City on September 11. I stand by that statement. At least in 2001, one could leave the City and escape somewhere else where life was still relatively normal. In this pandemic, there is no escape. It is pervasive. It alters our daily routines, habits, and life. It even alters our homes, which is the place of sanctuary for many. Your home is like your lair where you can freely be yourself, and now your place of refuge is being invaded by “working from home.” 

In trying to somehow wrap my brain around this pandemic and what it is doing to life, the only situation with which I can equate the current situation is when I was homeless. Even that is not completely accurate. The only parallel between homelessness and the pandemic is the stress and the scarcity. Trying to figure out how to get food and basic supplies. Other than that, the comparison is an oversimplification. I have someplace safe to live with my family. The only challenge is how to get supplies safely.

Below I am going to outline three coping skills that have made a resurgence for me in the current crisis. I honestly never thought I would have use for these coping skills again. I thought I had finally gotten to a point in life where they are no longer needed. I thought wrong. 

Old Habit # 1 

Toilet paper. Oh, yes, you knew I was going there, didn’t you? Toilet paper is the story of my life. When I was growing up, I would have to make one roll of toilet paper last 4-6 weeks. Now, due to the coronavirus, I have decided I am going to do the same.

I am going to make a 12-pack of toilet paper last for an entire year. I am probably going to be doing this until I die. 

Buying one 12-pack of toilet paper each year saves money. By using less toilet paper, I can take the $5 or $10 I would have spent on toilet paper and use it instead to purchase food. Yes, our economy is that decimated. Food shortages are pervasive and real.

I am supplementing my one roll of toilet paper per month with cloth baby wipes. Some people may complain that this creates more laundry. They are small. I do not think it creates more laundry. Plus, now that I am wearing pajamas twice instead of once, there is “space” for the cloth baby wipes because I am going through less pajamas.

In fact, I am actually saving water by using cloth baby wipes for pee. I flush my toilet less. When I use paper toilet paper, I typically flush the toilet every 2-3 uses so that the toilet does not get clogged with the paper. Using cloth baby wipes, I only flush the toilet once or twice per day. There is no paper in it, unless there is # 2, which gets flushed immediately. 

Old habits die hard: I am only using one roll of toilet paper per month, similar to when I was growing up and would have to save the nickel change from food stamp purchases to be able to afford one roll.

Old Habit # 2

When I was in grad school, I would work Tuesdays through Saturdays instead of Monday through Friday like all of the other executives in my office. My grad classes were on Mondays, so this worked well for me. Weekends were Sundays and Mondays. I loved it. 

It was also nice having a weekday off, because if I need to schedule a doctor or some other appointment, I could do so without having to take off of work. The only challenge was that some places are not open on Mondays. For example, I remember I could never get my hair appointment on a Monday because the salon was closed on Mondays.

Trying to work from home during coronavirus has been a challenge due to little to no internet service. I type things into google docs so that I can copy and paste into an email when I do have internet service. I hope that I can get things in fast enough to be able to send the message before I lose service.

Also, being that I am in the high risk group, I am extremely apprehensive at returning to the office and being surrounded by my coworkers who have many many more exposures than me. I do not feel that is a safe situation. I can only control myself. I cannot control people around me.

I have asked to change my current work schedule from the Monday through Friday back to the Tuesday through Saturday format, and it is going great! I actually get decent internet service on Fridays and Saturdays so I am able to get more work done. This is in contrast to Mondays, where I spend all day waiting for one web page to load, and it may not even be the web page I need. 

Also, if I do have to go into the office, which I did this past weekend, I have the entire place to myself. I can get things done with minimal exposure. I have always worked well independently.

Tuesday – Saturday work reminds me of when I was in grad school. Summer 2015 was one of the best summers of my life, so there are good memories of this work schedule. I feel good.

Old Habit # 3

 Make do or go without. This was the mantra of the Great Depression and it is again the mantra of the Great Depression part 2. It was also what got me through the 4 months of hell when I found out my rent on my apartment doubled (with 2 weeks notice) and I was trying to buy the house.

I have spent so much money on trying to get food these past two months that I have completely blown my budget. It’s different when you have to have other people shop for you and then reimburse them. It’s also hard when you are trying to keep a week’s worth of extra food on hand in case people can’t get to you right away. I am dependent on when other people go to the store.

I do not want to ask people to go to the store for me because then they are putting themselves at risk for me. So I’ve been telling people to let me know when they are going to the store for themselves and I will just add to their list. 

Throw in multiple food allergies to that mix and the food shortages of food allergy specialty items … well, it’s been rough.

So my mantra is to make do or go without. I literally have no extra money to spend on anything. If you are expecting me to “stimulate” the economy, forget it. The only thing I am doing is paying my essential bills and food.

To this end, I have cut out all non-essentials. That includes hair cuts. Hair salons are still closed right now anyways, and even when they do reopen, I do not feel safe enough to go back. 

I am going to isolate and socially distance myself for a very long time until I am sure this is over. It could be years, and I am okay with that.

This means I will be cutting my own hair. 

Previously, “make do or go without” meant that I only had my hair cut twice a year. My hair was really long – down to my butt. What I learned was that only getting it cut twice a year saved me money but was horrible for my hair. My hair ended up so damaged that I ended up having to get it cut into a bob. 

Many people have said that I should grow out my pixie and that I can save money on haircuts by just letting it grow long again. The problem is, that is not healthy. Plus, long hair is a major pain. Now that I have had a pixie, I am not going back to long hair again.

I finally got a pair of clippers and buzzed it off. The clippers were $60. Since I usually pay $50 for a haircut, it will only take two hair cuts for the clippers to pay for themselves. If I do not go back to the salon and continue to do my hair myself, that is money saved I can use for food.

It is going to be a very long time, possibly even years before I will feel safe enough to go back to a salon, to be honest. Make do or go without. I am making do by cutting my own hair. I will go without the salon. 

Another way in which I am making do or going without is air conditioning. I still do not have enough money to get air conditioning for my house, even though it is medically necessary. Heat exacerbates my neuro symptoms. I have to go without, so I am making do.

We are supposed to get a heat wave later this week. I do not have money to buy any more black-out curtains for the windows, so I am going to go ghetto and tape towels and blankets over windows in addition to the curtains I do have. The more I can block the light, the cooler it will be in the house. Or, at least, I hope so. We will see how bad my neuro symptoms get. 

I am making do and going without air conditioning because I can’t afford it, no matter how medically necessary it may be.

What old habits do you have that have come back to help you cope with the pandemic?  

 

Welcome to My World

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Jolene likes to sit in the kitchen sink.

Every day I leave my house, I never know if I am going to come home. I could have an allergic reaction while in the community and end up in the hospital. Back in 2014 when I was still teaching, one of my students spilled milk in my lap. I have a severe dairy allergy and went into anaphylactic shock once the milk absorbed into my skin. I was intubated, and then spent several months in ICU on a ventilator along with kidney and liver failure.

This is how I live every day. If you think my dairy reaction is bad, my nut reaction is worse. It has now been over 10 years since I have had an allergic reaction due to something I have ate. All of my reactions have been from touch.

For example, if someone has been eating handfuls of almonds, then gets in an elevator and pushes a button, they have transferred nut oils to that elevator button. If the button is not properly cleaned, the nut oil will live on that button for up to 21 days before the protein breaks down.

If at some point in that 21 days, I get in the same elevator and push the button, I will have a nut reaction. How severe my reaction is depends on how much of the nut oil I absorb through my skin.

I always have what I call “allergy spots” on my skin from touch reactions. These are open wounds that sometimes bleed, sometimes leak clear fluid, and take several months to a year to heal. If I absorb enough of my allergen through my skin, I have the whole stop breathing and need an epi pen reaction that sends me to the hospital.

Every single day I leave my home, I don’t know if I’m going to touch something that is going to cause that reaction or not.

With current events, COVID-19 is operating on a similar basis. We have learned we can catch the coronavirus from surfaces. We can catch the coronavirus from asymptomatic carriers. Every day we leave our house, we don’t know if we are going to be exposed to the coronavirus or not because it is every where and it is invisible.

Welcome to my world with severe food allergies.

The world we are living in right now that involves masks, cleaning supplies and gloves is the world I live in every single day. Except instead of trying to kill coronavirus, I try to avoid nut oils and dairy that have the potential to kill me.

I was talking to one of my friends this week who made the comment to me that they can finally empathize with my disability of having several severe food allergies that react by touch. There is not much difference for me dealing between dealing with the coronavirus and my food allergies. Both are invisible things that yield the same result: intubation, a ventilator, and possibly death.

If my food allergies had an 80%+ chance of killing me before this started, I now have a 90%+ probability of death if I have a reaction during the coronavirus. 

While the coronavirus situation is not easy for anybody, I am hoping that the experience will give people a little bit of insight as to what life is like for people with severe food allergies every single day. 

This is a horrible way for people to empathize with what we live through, but here it is.

So the next time you complain about having to wear a mask and gloves when you go out, think of people who live with this concern every day. People with severe food allergies like mine go to work, school, and stores every day of our lives not knowing if today is the day we are going to touch something that causes a reaction that will send us to the hospital.

Hopefully the good hygiene habits of wiping down surfaces and washing hands will continue once the pandemic is over. It is not just COVID-19 that kills people, but things like nut oils too. You may enjoy that peanut butter sandwich, but to someone else it is lethal.

Isolation Log: Covid Date 6.a.20

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Simon jumped into the recycling bucket after he threw one of his toys in there. I helped him to get it out.

When this is all over, I want pizza. 

It sounds like a simple request. Restaurants are open for take-out and delivery right now. The challenge is that I have multiple food allergies, so I can’t just eat any pizza. It has to be allergy friendly pizza. The nearest restaurant that makes allergy friendly pizza is over an hour away. They can’t even get the ingredients to make the allergy friendly pizza.

Normally, I would be able to get a frozen daiya (allergy friendly) pizza. However, with the food shortages, they are not currently available. With the food shortages, I cannot even obtain the ingredients to be able to make one at home. I do cook almost all my food from scratch, but I like to treat myself to a daiya pizza about once a month or so. 

The “specialty” items that people with food allergies require for everyday life are not considered to be “essential” items. Unfortunately, the food allergy community is hard hit in this pandemic right now. 

When the only thing left on the grocery store shelf is a jar of peanut butter and you have a nut allergy … no one should have to make the choice about whether they want to die of starvation or die from eating something that will kill them. However, that is the situation that some people are experiencing in our community right now.

I realize that everyone is making sacrifices right now. I am very happy that I do have food to eat. I guess it’s just hard when there are certain comfort items you want and cannot have because they are not available. So, yes, I am whining that I don’t have pizza. It’s a first world problem. I will eat my lentil loaf for dinner tonight. I am making vegetable soup in my crock pot tomorrow. 

As soon as allergy friendly pizzas are available again, I want one. I think that everything I “want” right now is a food item that is unavailable due to the food shortage.

Food shortages are real, folks.

I am very fortunate that I have people helping me with supplies. I have food and everything else that I need.

Right now, we are sitting tight waiting for anti-body testing so that things can reopen. The world will not be the same after this. We all have to try to find a new normal. Anti-body testing is probably a pipe dream, since there is no covid testing of any time in my county. We just have to hope that we can ride out the second and third waves of this virus.

What foods are you looking forward to having when they are available again? Hopefully the food shortages will end soon and not get worse.

Stay strong out there. #NYTough

The Fourth R

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The last of the grapes I ate the other day. I am pretty sure those are the last grapes I am going to have for a very long time due to scarcity and price gouging.

We all know the three R’s. We grew up with reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, the three R’s are typically reduce, reuse, recycle. To the three modern R’s, there is a fourth R in our COVID-19 world, ration.

At first blush, there does not seem to be much difference between reduce and ration. They both indicate a decrease of some kind. However, when I sat down and thought about it, I realized that the difference between the two concepts is macro and micro.

When I think of reduce, I think of concepts like minimalism. Minimalism typically involves reducing the total number of items in your home. It also involved purchasing less things. Not only are you bringing less items into your home, but you are paring down items that are in your home so that overall, you have less. This is on the macro scale.

When I think of ration, I think on the micro scale. We take the items that we have and use less of them. We are not reducing – getting rid of the item – because it is an essential item. However, we are using less of that essential item so that it lasts longer.

The reason why I am focusing on rationing during this period of time is that I am trying to reduce my expenses. Mass layoffs are real now, people.

If we can make what we have last longer, then that is less money we have to spend in replenishing essential items. We are also leaving essential items on the shelf for someone else to have in this time of scarcity.

It is not just about toilet paper anymore. People are hoarding all types of things. If you run out of an item, you may not be able to get another one, either in-store or online.

Items that I have had difficulty obtaining include: feminine hygiene products (this is a REAL problem, people – bigger than toilet paper), fresh foods, pet products, and canned goods.

I did not realize how wasteful I am as a person until I started thinking of this idea of rationing. I am trying to reduce my water, gas, and electric bills. I am trying to reduce how often I use things inside my house to delay when I need to purchase more.

Some ways I am trying to be more mindful:

  • I am now actually paying attention to how much laundry soap I am using. Those little lines inside the cap mean something. Laundry soap is one of the “specialty items” I have to get due to my multiple food allergies. Most commercial laundry soap contains almond oil, which means my clothes could send me into anaphylactic shock if I did not have “special” laundry soap. I am trying to be conservative with how much of my “specialty” laundry soap I am using since it is now almost impossible to obtain.
  • To that end, I am trying to wear clothing items more than once before washing. I am also getting more uses out of items such as towels before washing them.
  • Toilet paper. Yes, I am now counting sheets of toilet paper used. Look, toilet paper scarcity was a real problem in my childhood. This situation is not helping.
  • I am using my crock pot more. This week, I have used it every other day. I am literally using all of the fresh food in my house. I am not throwing anything away. If something looks like it is starting to go bad before I can “use” it, I am throwing it in the crock pot with anything I can to make a soup, stew, whatever just so I do not “lose” that item.
  • I made chicken breast with vegetables in my crock pot. It was the best piece of chicken I have ever had in my entire life. I will not bake or grill chicken again. Any time I have chicken in the future, I am going to cook it in the crock pot. Crock pot chicken is amazing.
  • My dish soap is also a “specialty” item due to multiple food allergies. I am very conscious of how much dish soap I am putting in the sink to wash dishes now.
  • I am unplugging everything when I am not actively using it. This includes the microwave and coffee pot. If they are unplugged, they are not drawing power.
  • Since I got my pixie haircut a year or so ago, I use less soap and shampoo. Again, all my soap and shampoo are specialty allergy-friendly items that come from one company in California. I am serious that if this goes on much longer and I cannot get a haircut, I may shave my head.
  • Kitty litter and trash bags. I use trash bags to line my cat pans for easier clean up. I am trying to reduce both the amount of kitty litter I use and the trash bags I am using for liners by scooping their cat pans more often. My trash hauler requires us to use 13-gallon clear trash bags, and those are difficult to obtain right now, both in-person and online. 

Anyone have any other suggestions for rationing or ways to reduce expenses when stuck at home?

Stay safe and well. 

The Great Milk Conspiracy

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People with food allergies, particularly people with multiple food allergies, are food insecure. When you have multiple allergens to avoid, that means you have to buy a lot of specialty items. Specialty items are not only hard to find, but also more expensive. People with multiple food allergies are typically unable to use traditional food pantries unless the food pantry somehow caters to people with food allergies.

I have 5 of the Top 8 most common food allergens. My reactions are severe. My last year of teaching, one of the kids spilled their milk in my lap. It’s a simple spill, right? No big deal.

It was a big deal. The milk soaked through my pants. I absorbed it through my skin. I stopped breathing. I began to have a seizure. By the time I made it to the hospital, my kidneys and liver had started shutting down. I spent several weeks in ICU.

One of my friends recently said that they heard a newscast that food allergies are all in your head. If that was true, I would have wished that away and not spent so much time in the hospital followed by several long months of recovery.

My food allergies are nothing to joke about.

No, I cannot have “just a little bit.” No, I cannot “pick it out.” I cannot have any contact by any means, period. This includes no cross contamination.

I am like this with peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg and wheat. Of the five, my worst reactions are to almonds and dairy. No, I do not have celiac disease. I have an actual allergy to wheat, which is something completely different.

I cannot go into a Dunkin Donuts unless I have a death wish. Seriously. If I ever decide to attempt suicide, I am just going to walk into a Dunkin Donuts. A few years ago, Dunkin Donuts added almond milk. It is quite prolific. I cannot even enter into a Dunkin Donuts to use a bathroom at a thruway rest stop. Who knows how thoroughly the surfaces were cleaned? If I come into any contact with almond milk/almond oil, I react.

I cannot have “normal” cow’s milk (or goat milk or sheep milk or any other animal milk). I cannot have almond milk. I cannot have soy milk, because all soy milks have an almond warning on them.

I typically have  rice milk, coconut milk or hemp milk. Coconut is a misnomer. Coconut is not a nut, it is a drupe fruit and a member of the seed family, and is safe for those with nut allergies. Hemp nut is a misnomer. Hemp is actually a seed, and is safe for those with nut allergies.

These specialty milks are quite expensive. I typically get a half gallon (2 litres) at Aldi for $1.69. This week, Aldi was all out of my milk.

I like milk so that I can have cereal in the morning. I eat allergy-friendly cereal, of course. My medication requires me to take it with food. Mornings are a hard time for me to eat because I don’t feel like eating, and cereal is the easiest thing for me to gag down in the morning to take with my medication.

The past few mornings, I had to get creative with breakfast so that I could take my medication. It was not fun.

Today, I went to 6 different stores looking for milk.

At all 6 stores, there were walls and rows of “regular” cows milk. There were walls and rows of almond milk.

Was there rice milk or hemp milk?

Nope.

It was only at the 7th store that I found what I needed. Now, keep in mind, I typically pay $1.69 for a half gallon (2 litres). Today, at the 7th store, when I found what I needed, I paid $4.69 for 1 litre.

Now, that is quite expensive.

If I have to do this on a regular basis, then that means that half of my monthly food budget is going to be allotted just to milk.

This is partially why people with multiple food allergies are food insecure.

I am one of the privileged ones. I have a vehicle, so I was able to drive to 7 different stores trying to find what I needed. Imagine if you have to ride the bus, take a cab, ride a bike or walk to a store. What would someone in my situation do then?

Food is extremely challenging to find when you have multiple food allergies. This is why I always tell everyone I am not picky about what I eat. I will literally eat anything that won’t kill me. With so many food allergies and reactions so severe, I cannot afford to be picky or to partake in some sort of alternative diet such as vegetarian, vegan, keto, etc.

The rules are simple. Will this kill me if I eat it? No? Then eat it. If it will kill me if I eat it, then don’t touch it. I have actually not had a reaction to something I have eaten in almost 15 years. The 10+ reactions I have had in the past 15 years have all come from touch, or skin absorption.

If I did not have food allergies, then it would be very easy to live on a $30 per week grocery budget. I’d be having macaroni and cheese, sandwiches of all kinds, pizza, ice cream, you name it. I look at grocery store ads and fantasize about all the things I would love to eat if I did not have food allergies.

With multiple food allergies, $30 per week does not go far. I just spent $14.07 on “milk” for the week, which was about ¾ of a gallon. If I want a loaf of bread, it is $10.79. Allergy-friendly bread loaves are smaller than regular loaves of bread. I typically get 3 or 4 sandwiches out of an allergy friendly loaf of bread.

I have to pre-plan my days and be sure to pack enough food for where ever I may be. I cannot go out to eat – hardly anywhere in this area. It’s not like I can just pick up food on the fly or go to a convenience store and get a snickers bar if I’m hungry.

Maybe for my last meal. If I was on death row, I have a milkshake and macaroni and cheese on the list for my last meal, maybe I should add a snickers bar to that.

The great milk conspiracy comes from the fact that I went into 6 stores and found walls of regular milk and almond milk, but no milk for me. Do stores and manufacturers just not think about all the people who are allergic to both dairy and almonds? I did not even see soy milk at some of these places, not that I can have that either.

What is with this trend in almond milk? It is my worst nightmare. This is why I wear a warning label like a Gremlin.

You want to see how fast I can run, whip out a carton of almond milk. I’ll be gone in a flash. I don’t have a death wish today. No thank you.

Maybe I should just give up on specialty items. I mean, I’m sure if I was on food stamps that people would judge me for checking out with a 1 litre carton of hemp milk for $4.69 when I could get a half gallon of regular milk for $1.29.

More importantly, when did milk become a specialty item?

The dairy industry has such a hold on our food system that they are advocating for alternative milks to be called something different. The dairy industry argues that something like rice milk isn’t real milk and should not be called milk.

There are times when I think “I don’t care what you call it as long as I can put it in my cereal and it doesn’t kill me.”

There are other times when I think “Why is my milk less than your milk? I should have access to milk too, whatever form that may take.”

Who would have ever guessed that trying to buy milk would create such drama?

This is the first time I have had this experience with trying to find milk. I do have this experience with allergy friendly pasta and allergy friendly flour on a regular basis. Whenever I do find allergy friendly pasta or allergy friendly flour, I buy them in bulk. I consider them treats because they are so expensive and so hard to find.

Part of me thinks that things like milk, bread, pasta and flour should not have to be considered treats. They should not be hard to find. They should not be expensive. Those items should be staples. I should not have to drive to 7 stores to find what I need. Don’t most people go to 1 or 2 grocery stores? Why do I have to go to multiple stores looking for “specialty” items?

Maybe my thinking is all out of whack. But when you have a large industry like the dairy industry saying you can’t call rice milk “milk” because it doesn’t come from a cow, and it takes me 7 stores to find something to put on my cereal in the morning, we have a problem.

For now, the Great Milk Conspiracy can take a rest. I have enough hemp milk for my cereal for the rest of the week. I can tell you right now, that breakfast tomorrow morning is going to be amazing. I may have completely blown my food budget, but I can have cereal again. At least, until the milk runs out.

Mayberry, baseball, birds, & Grub

So, I’ve had an exciting week. After realizing last week that I was way overscheduled and overstressed at work, I made a conscious effort to slow down my schedule this week. When I have an abnormal reaction to a normal situation, I know that its time for an adult time out.

My time out started on my day off Sunday, when the weather finally cooperated enough for me to go to baseball. After an almost solid two weeks of rain outs, it was nice to see the sun and support the local team. While there is a minor league team about an hour south of me, I took in a college game about 4 miles down the road, and I had a better time there than I did my last time at a minor league game. The kids are talented, it was great ball, and the atmosphere couldn’t be beat.

On Monday, I headed up to Lake Ontario hoping for some surfing. The waves were okay to kind of glide on, but not good surf like we had last year. Still, I enjoyed the water for most of the day, at least 6 hours. I also got pulled into a football game and some Frisbee.

The only snafu came around lunch time, when the scene was reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds. I eat on the beach all the time, and the seagulls typically land around hoping for scraps. I had never seen them be aggressive as they were this past Monday.

If my lunch break was a newscast, the headline would have read, “Asshole Seagull Steals Hummus Pita.” I kid you not, these birds were not just hanging out begging for food per the usual seagull experience. I actually had one swoop down and steal hummus pita out of my hand. It was so cleverly orchestrated, it made Ocean’s Eleven look like child’s play. Luckily, my apples, raisins, pickles, and everything else was safe. The taking of hummus pita was conducted with stealth swat-like precision.

While I work nights, and very much prefer working nights, I am actually home three evenings this week. While unusual, it is a welcome change every once in awhile.

My favorite classic TV channel that I get on bunny ears has ramped up showings of Mayberry in the nighttime line up. That means I have three nights this week that I am home to see both Mayberry and Happy Days.

If I could slow down my life to a state of perfection resembling a sitcom, I would love to live in the world of Mayberry. Baseball, surfing, and Mayberry are the things summer nights (and days) are made for.

Finally, I went out to dinner tonight for the first time since being diagnosed with my autoimmune disorder. Eating out with 4 food allergies and an autoimmune disorder is nearly impossible. Anytime I eat prepared food, I run a risk of cross-contamination, if not an all-out reaction.

I had passed by this new restaurant for a few weeks now, that advertises as paleo (whatever that is), vegan, and allergy friendly, so I decided to stop. I usually pick vegan items because it knocks out half of my food allergies, so I only have to check for the other two.

To my delight, not only was the menu easy to navigate with a surprising abundance of options given my allergies, but the staff was able to handle my warning label without batting a eye.

Normally when I want to eat out in a restaurant, it becomes this huge production. As soon as staff find out I have food allergies, the manager gets called over, numerous servers and cooks start running around; its chaos. I appreciate the extra effort in taking precautions that I don’t die, but it just makes eating out embarrassing, so I rarely do so.

The staff at Grubs tonight wrote them all down, nodded like they get this all the time (which maybe they do, because they are the ONLY restaurant I have EVER seen that advertises as allergy friendly), and delivered my food, only noting one substitution due to my allergies. Said substitution was presented in the nicest manner: We know you couldn’t have X, so we gave you some of our homemade Y. It was delicious.

My meal was even prepared in a designated “top 8 free” cooking area, so I am pretty sure this was my first experience eating out having a significantly reduced risk of cross-contamination. If only every restaurant could handle food allergies this way.

While my journey in rewinding real slow has primarily been about minimalism, reducing possessions, and focusing on life priorities, it is also important to remember to slow down our time.

Spend time doing what we truly love to reduce stress levels, ensure happiness, and be more productive in our daily lives and at work. I’m sure I have been much more pleasant to work with this week than I was last week now that I have made a conscious effort to slow down. I don’t know about you, but I do better at work when I make the effort to take care of myself.

How can you take care of yourself this week? What does your version of Mayberry look like?

Depression Era Cooking

Cooking, baking specifically, is a positive coping skill for me. With 4 food allergies plus an autoimmune disorder all adult onset, both cooking and baking have become daily challenges.

I have, for the most part, mastered egg substitution. With an egg allergy, I have learned that I can substitute applesauce for up to three eggs. Recipes beyond three eggs require some creativity. The individual cups of applesauce commonly found in children’s lunch boxes are the perfect size to equate to one egg.

I have used this applesauce coping skill to adapt some recipes. I successfully make banana bread on a regular basis. I even found an allergy friendly recipe for pumpkin pie that, while a lot of work, completely made my thanksgiving last year.

Tonight, completely by happenstance, I came across a recipe for depression era chocolate cake. I don’t even remember exactly what I typed into google, except that it involved something concerning the link between egg allergies and gluten autoimmune disorders.

Whatever I typed, I was fortunate enough to come across the depression era chocolate cake recipe. In the 1930s, eggs, milk, and butter were limited and expensive commodities in the United States. If Americans wanted baked goods and treats, then they had to get creative. Ingenuity is a hallmark of American civilization, indeed.

While invented for the purposes of economy, depression era chocolate cake is actually vegan, and perfect for someone trying to navigate the minefield that constitutes the modern problem of navigating the world with multiple food allergies.

It is quick, it is easy, and it completely fills the void left by being unable to bake comfort foods due to multiple allergens. Prior to food allergies, I used to enjoy making brownies and other baked goods to take to the fire station, for example, for some of my friends who work there. Since food allergies, I have had to make my entire environment allergen free due to the severity of my reactions.

Last night, not only did I have all of the ingredients readily on hand, but baking depression era chocolate cake was the perfect answer to the “I’m sick of eating the same allergy friendly food all the time” dilemma.

I have a new recipe to add to my arsenal, and now feel that I have something to contribute when it comes to potlucks and dishes to pass that is not completely obscure to those who don’t have to worry about food allergies.

I’m starting to wonder what other depression era recipes may be out there that would help with navigating the very frustrating world of multiple allergens.

For now, I have baked my cake and am going to eat it too. Lets hope that my search for more depression era recipes that are allergy friendly proves fruitful.

Depression era chocolate “wacky” cake recipe found in multiple locations, so it should be considered common knowledge without having to be cited:

1 1/2 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used the vegan one)

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

 1 tablespoon vinegar

1 cup water

preheat oven to 350. Bake for 30 minutes. I would recommend 35-40 if you use a loaf pan as I did for thicker texture.

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Warning Labels

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I’m so badass I come with a warning label like a Gremlin. You know, those cute furry things that you are not supposed to get wet or be fed after midnight. By the way, at what point in the morning is it no longer considered “after midnight?” I come with directions also. It’s called a medical alert bracelet. It lists all my food allergies plus my autoimmune disorder, so you know what not to feed me (or touch me with) a la Gremlin style. Unlike Gizmo, I do not sing pretty songs and look at you with soulful eyes.

Now that my autoimmune disorder has a diagnosis, I have a new, updated warning label. My warning label is still in my Boston Marathon colors and is made of military paracord instead of metal so that it can withstand the active lifestyle I lead when not being knocked down by my autoimmune condition. When I’m surfing, salt water is rough on jewelry. The metal IDs just don’t stand up to all the salt I put it through from salt water (surfing) to sweat (running) to tears (when I’m in pain at night).

Warning labels are interesting in that in order for there to be a warning, someone probably did the action, and there was probably a lawsuit about it. Think back to the huge McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, and now all coffee cups have a “Hot!” warning on them. What completely baffles me is that some warning labels seem to be common sense. Apparently, sense is not so common if it has to be on a label.

For example, “do not iron shirt while wearing.” Duh. Yet, for this warning label to exist, I am sure that means someone did actually iron a shirt while they were wearing it. There was probably a lawsuit following the event. Who did they sue? The company who made the shirt or the company who made the iron? Was it a one-person event where someone attempted to iron part of his or her own shirt while wearing it, or was it a two-person event where someone ironed a shirt while it was being worn by another person? Who on this planet thought this scenario was a good idea? Were you sober when you were operating the iron?

On a child’s superman costume: “wearing this garment does not enable you to fly.” This partially makes sense. Children engage in magical thinking. I can see how a child would either believe or pretend that the Superman costume could make them fly. I mean, come on, haven’t you played the game as a child where you would jump from one piece of furniture to another trying to avoid the “lava” on the floor? If you did not play this game as a child, you may want to rethink the epic-ness of your childhood. Hopefully the child wearing the Superman costume has an adult with common sense nearby who can explain that the costume does not make you fly so that the child does not get hurt. If you are an adult that thinks that you can fly while wearing a Superman costume, then I hope you live in a single floor dwelling, and can you please let me know what you are smoking? If an adult thinks they can fly, then you are on some pretty good stuff, or you need professional help so that they can give you some good stuff to correct your thinking.

Liquid plumber: “do not reuse bottle to store beverages.” Flashback to Grandma’s house where every time you open the refrigerator it was either like Christmas where every container is a surprise or some sort of Price is Right game where you had to guess the contents that are in butter tub # 1. Butter tubs, Cool Whip containers, these were the original Tupperware pieces minus the cool sucking sound. If your grandparents were alive during the Depression, they probably reused every container possible. You just never knew if that butter tub really held butter or some really yummy Thanksgiving leftovers. You did not need Cracker Jacks to get a surprise in every box when you could just open the refrigerator box and get a surprise butter tub. Yes, I do believe that “I can’t believe its not butter” holds the mashed potatoes, Bob.

Back to the liquid plumber warning label – who in their right mind would reuse this container for a beverage? Haven’t we established the Mason jar as the ubiquitous holder of all liquids from milk to beer to juice to wine? I mean, seriously, if this warning label is on the bottle, then someone must have actually reused a liquid plumber bottle to hold a beverage. Then, they must have sued liquid plumber due to the effect of reusing the bottle for a beverage. I’m sure there was bodily harm involved in this event. Really, what frame of mind was one in to do this in the first place? I know the feeling that sometimes we “don’t have a pot to piss in,” but that is a euphemism. It is not meant as truth. There was no other vessel of any kind any where for a beverage other than the liquid plumber container? Hmmmm.

My warning label gives a list of items that may potentially kill me. They are mostly food items. This is, of course, an oxymoron. Food is supposed to keep us alive, not kill us. This is a special kind of hell I live in. Of course, there are a lot of other things that could kill me too like tornadoes, or airplanes, or cancer. No one gets out of this world alive. At least it’s not like the old pea-green Oregon Trail screen where someone dies of dysentery or something weird like that. We’ve been able to eradicate quite a few diseases. Plus, I don’t have a covered wagon, so I have to come up with some other way to die.

I wear my warning label everywhere except when I am inside my house. My home is the only place where I can be that I am certain does not contain any of my allergens. It is the only environment over which I have total control. I don’t live in a bubble, but my house is probably as close to the bubble lifestyle as it gets. Too bad it doesn’t come with an airlock like some cool NASA spaceship. “Please stand clear for detox from top 8 allergens.”

Anyways, my updated warning label arrived the other day. This is one of those moments where sometimes you just need to laugh so that you don’t cry. Laugh now, cry later, right? At this point, I would just like to comfortably sleep through the night and be able to function at a more optimal level during the day. Beggars can’t be choosers.

What warning label do you come with?

Enjoy the Ride

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One of my favorite well wishes is the reflection that a birthday is the start of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the ride! Birthdays are my favorite holiday. Not only are they a celebration of life, but also recognition of those people who are important in our lives. I always say that every time I get a birthday, it is like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me.

My birthday is coming up soon, so it is that time of reflection upon the prior year and also goals and wishes for the year forthcoming. My wish for 36 was for a quiet year. Ages 34 and 35 were quite tumultuous with negative life changes and health crises. I had wanted 36 to be quiet after all the excitement. I got my wish. Not only was age 36 a quiet year, but also it was quiet with a sweet sort of joy I have never before experienced.

In my early 30s, I had read an article quoting an English study regarding happiness across development that claimed that age 33 was the happiest age across the lifespan. In general, I would have to say I agree. I have been saying for the past few years that age 33 was the best year of my life, before it all went to hell with age 34 and 35, but you never get a rainbow without a little rain. Age 33 was a great year. Sure, it had some challenges, as life always does, but there were some major milestones and great moments in my 33rd year. I was able to see my favorite baseball team play in their home stadium for the first time in my life. It is an experience that I know I will think of dearly when my time comes and my life is flashing before my eyes.

However, as age 36 comes to a close, I have to say that in its own unique, unassuming way, age 36 has now usurped age 33 as the happiest year of my life. As with any age, this past year has had it’s own set of challenges, yet the positives of the past year have far outweighed the negatives. This is what has made age 36 my best and most favorite year ever:

  1. I fell in love (again). Anyone who has ever been in love and then somehow lost it, either through death or through the drifting apart that people sometimes do, will tell you that love is that magical feeling that seemingly comes once in a lifetime. We often do not even realize that this is IT: this particular person/relationship/event is love until after it has passed. In general, I would agree. The person with whom I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with passed away 10 years ago now, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I had found the love that you only find once in life, and that the only thing I would be able to find in the future is maybe a comfortable companionship.

This year I fell in love again and I would have to say that not only was it not expected, but it is also the type of love that I realize and understand that this is IT. It is not something fickle or fly-by-night. Rather, this is a person I have known almost all my life, and has grown quietly through the years while I was busy making other plans. If there were ever a pure form of love, I have it, and to experience that type of love is truly a gift. I have learned that love can give you joy and love can bring you pain. Loving someone means being comfortable with and giving them room to be their own person, make their own choices, and find their own happiness, whether or not that includes me. I have learned that I can love someone very deeply, even if it is a person with whom a relationship does not work out. While love is pure, time is of the devil’s making, and true love understands the only way to love is to give yourself so completely that you are vulnerable to the possibility of loss.

  1. I found myself, and I did not experience an existential crisis in the process. I am the Queen of the Existential Crisis. Pretty much everyone around me will attest that I spent most of my 20s in Where’s Waldo mode, only to have matured in my 30s to a more suave Carmen Sandiago persona, complete with brimmed hat and dreams of world travel. I am staring down age 37 and can proudly say “no mid-life crisis for me” (yet)! I completed my final degree after spending 20 years in school and have eased into my retirement from my life as a professional college student more comfortable in my own skin that I have ever been at any point in my life. I have been better able to handle life’s challenges in stride and have surprised myself with my ability to adult.
  1. I have arrived. Life is a journey, and while I agree with that sentiment in general, I have to say that there is some feeling of accomplishment when we cross a finish line and recognize how far we have come, even with so far to go. I am at a good place in life. While I still struggle and face health challenges, I am finally at a position in my life where I am able to take care of myself in the best way possible. After over a decade of working multiple jobs, 60-70 hours per week, with often only holidays as a day off, I now have employment I enjoy. I have employment I enjoy, that pays me well, and gives me days off. This gives me the freedom to have time to spend doing whatever I choose and also time to be able to take care of myself better than I have been able to take care of myself before. While I face many challenges with my multiple food allergies and autoimmune disorder, I can say that especially in the past year, I have finally been able to make the life changes necessary to put me on the path to good health instead of simply being subject to the whim of my disease.

Part of my efforts to rewind real slow is to help me take care of myself better so that I can enjoy life more. Life is short, and I have sacrificed so much in the pursuit of my education. This past year, I have finally arrived at the point where I am able to live instead of simply survive, and I now see how truly sweet life can be. In 35 years, I had never seen this sweetness of life on such a broad scale. I had caught glimpses of happiness at certain times, but this past year has been the first time I have experienced a sustained sort of joy and contentment in life I have never before seen.

Looking forward to age 37, my wishes are that I am able to take everything I have learned in the past year and continue to grow. I am hoping to be able to get my autoimmune disorder and food allergies under control so that I can enjoy parts of life I am sure I have never imagined. I hope that I am able to make good choices and can continue to surprise myself with my ability to adult. In all honesty, I am hoping to be the type of person this year that my cat thinks I am. Out of all the things I have learned in the past year, I have discovered that the most important is love. While it may sound trite, my cats are the only ones who have been constant in my everyday life for 18 years, and I hope to be everything to them that they have been to me, especially as Kitty will probably only be around for a few more years. I want to enjoy this life I have created for myself and utilize the freedom I have to chart my own course.

So while I am unsure of what age 37 has in store, I am at a good place with firm footing to face whatever is coming. I am hoping that after all the storms I have weathered, that this is my time for a rainbow, and that I can truly take my time to enjoy my ride around the sun.