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We're happy about hemp seed butter on sliced bananas.
I can't even begin to count the number of times I've gotten excited about a grain-free dessert dish looking all pretty on Pinterest, only to discover upon clicking further that it calls for nut flours or butters, or both. I can usually hack my way around the flour problem by substituting with quinoa or coconut flour, but I've been stumped by the nut butter problem for a while.

Not anymore.

Enter: hemp seed butter. It's a hypoallergenic wonder-food, full of essential fatty acids and a sweet, nutty taste, and a texture that gives ants on a log its proper place in a nut-allergic home, and – yes – subs in perfectly for peanut or almond butter in all of those Pinterest-sourced Paleo recipe finds. And the truth is, Paleo friends (love you as I do), you probably shouldn't be eating as many nuts as you are via baked goods. They're tough on the digestive tract. But hemp seeds? Green light. Go to town. (Trust me, once you taste this stuff, you'll want to eat your face off...)

Here's What You'll Need:

  • 1 cup shelled hemp seeds
  • 3 Tablespoons raw hemp seed oil
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup or raw honey

Here's What You'll Do:

Use a food processor or blender to combine all ingredients. Enjoy as you would a nut butter. Yum.

 
 
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Love.
Things are busy and blissful on the Alt-Mama front. I'm easing out of the "fourth trimester" while rounding the bend on my birthday -- I turned 29 this week! -- and will soon, I suspect, be updating here more. Which is to say I'm starting to feel almost human again in that I'm psyched to wear real clothes (lucked out -- my skinny jeans still fit!), start working on some holiday projects, hit up some yoga classes, and generally, gently rejoin the world at large. With a baby strapped to me. Cuz that's how we roll. 

I've actually been feeling quite human on a different, deeper level in that babies are out of this world amazing and I've just been soaking this precious, fleeting, intense, decadent time in. (With many thanks to Aaron, who's rocking the Daddy job with as much grace and charm as ever, but is also busting his ass in the training program he's been in since summer's end. Paid training program. Thus I can have this precious time, after my own work-heavy, very-pregnant summer. Thank you, Aaron!) It's a whole new experience this time around. As you know, Kaspar's babyhood was not at all normal or easy, and Otto's first three months have been (as far as 'normal' or 'easy' mean anything, really) both of these things. So far, babyman is eczema-free, reflux-free, happy, comfortable, super laid back. 

It's always made me deeply sad to think of how much Kaspar went through when he was tiny (which is one reason I direct my energy into finding solutions). And he isn't out of the woods entirely yet, although he is certainly -- undoubtedly -- thriving. Having gone through those difficulties as a family, however, has made these past few months all the more special; I was mostly successful in my determination not to let the fear of a recurring baby-allergy situation seep into my pregnancy with Otto; I knew that if we did face similar issues, I'd have been able to help him far more rapidly and effectively than I was able to with Kaspar, because of all I know now. And yet I am relieved beyond words that we don't have to go there. We'll test Otto for food allergies before he starts solids, to be safe. For now, however, he's growing like a happy, healthy little weed on breast milk, and the only things I'm avoiding eating are nuts. (I was prepared to go super hypo-allergenic for over a year, if need be.) Pretty rad. 

Rather than regret that Kaspar's experience wasn't as peaceful as all this, too, one of my doulas suggested looking at it from a broader perspective; he was strong enough to handle what he went through. (He smiled almost all the way through it, actually, and he's still smiling now.) And he laid the groundwork for Otto's smoother ride. Their paths are linked in this way, and I am grateful to Kaspar for all that I know now that I'd never have learned had he not been exactly who he is.

In addition to parenting this baby and big-kid for the past three months, I've also been writing over at BabyZone (often with little O on one boob and a pump on the other, and Kaspar on one knee... it's a trip). Yep, that's right. You can get the Alt-Mama fix you keep coming here for via the links below. I've been having a lot of fun with the content, and am pretty proud of these pieces. Read 'em. Send me traffic and comments and love. Then swing on back here, because I meant what I said about updating more. And projects. Oh yeah.

November: 

10 Awesome Shoes for Hipster Babies
What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: An Interview with Jennifer Margulis, Author of The Business of Baby
6 Ways to Help Big Siblings Stay Happy with a New Baby at Home
10 Beautiful Books for the Mindful Child
Britain to "Pay" Moms to Breastfeed: Is This Fair?
What Makes a Great Mom-Friend BFF?
7 Ways the Infant Stage Makes me Grateful for Everyday Things
3 Gratitude Practices for Preschoolers and Tots
My Mama Mojo Toolkit

October

How These Moms Found Their New Normal
You Know You're in the Newborn Vortex When...
In Defense of Milk Sharing
Why I Want a Sister Wife
Gluten-Free Lactation Cookies for the Milk-Makin' Mama
Pregnant? You Might Want to Move to Sweden
I Ate My Placenta
The Family Bedroom
Family Growing Pains

September

The Green Layette
What New Babies Bring to 9/11
Otto's Birth Story
6 Reasons I'm Having a Home Birth
 
 
Accounting for Kaspar's food allergies is second-nature to us at this point; we're used to bringing food for him wherever we go, and when we go somewhere more far-flung, we think ahead to how and where Kaspar-safe snacks and meals can be quickly secured. After all, Kaspar is a fast-growing three-year-old, and he asks for snacks pretty much constantly. He's probably the healthiest snacker around, given his options; my boy loves fruit, veggies, raw cheese, last night's leftovers. He's a good eater, and a happy one. He's been opening the fridge lately, just to peruse, which is a little annoying. (I feel like such a mom, "Kas, please close the fridge! You're letting all the cold air out.") But I also appreciate his urge to snack independently, and I think it can be harnessed to both of our benefits, given that we're going to have a baby in our house very soon. I've decided to convert our lowest refrigerator drawer from a catch-all produce bin to a Kaspar Snack Emporium. Stocked with easy-access containers filled with healthy, Kaspar-friendly snacks, little man can go to town whenever he feels hungry between meals. It's very Montessori-esque and it'll make life just that much easier when my hands are just that much more full. (I'll definitely post photos when I've executed this plan. It's on my to-do list for next week.)

As streamlined as our system is, or will soon be, there are moments when I envy the ease with which allergy-free families can feed their hungry kids. I mean, travel is one thing, but even the snacks isle at the grocery store reminds me of the convenience factor we're missing out on. But when I look closely at the ingredients (and packaging, and prices) convenient snacks contain -- even the "healthy" ones -- I realize they're loaded with not only Kaspar allergens, but also sugar, salt and weird, processed oils. They're also a total ripoff. I even checked out a few boxes of gluten-free snack bars while at Whole Foods the other day. I was not inspired.

Well, I take that back. I was inspired to make snack bars at home, for Kaspar -- who's always down for new foods he can enjoy -- and Aaron, who's been bringing lunches to work, and buying sugar/salt/weird-ingredient-filled granola bars when what he brings still leaves his stomach rumbling for more. And for me, because hungry mama + easy, one-handed snacking = breastfeeding win. Thinking ahead! In fact, when I found this recipe via Pinterest, I was psyched; I've been reading up on milk-boosting foods, and apparently quinoa has been renowned for centuries in South America for its breastmilk-makin' properties. So cheers to a quinoa-based snack bar! (Kaspar, who's not big on quinoa taken straight, has been very happy to eat these, too; I'm all about healthy meats, and plenty of them, but it's nice to have a protein-heavy snack option that's non-meat-based, as well.)

Anyway, I modified the recipe a bit to suit our family's tastes/necessary food restrictions/love of chocolate chips. The bars turned out wonderfully; we've all been chowing down. The recipe's original author recommends using the recipe as a base, and switching up the ingredients according to what you like, too. 

Here's what we put in ours:

Ingredients:


3 cups of pre-cooked quinoa (1 cup of dry quinoa with 2 cups of water cooked for 30 minutes. I soak mine for a day in water with a few tablespoons of whey added, before cooking)
1 cup of gluten-free flour -- I used gluten-free oat flour
1/3 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup of raw hemp seeds (you can use any kind of seeds)
1/3 cup of raisins
1/3 cup of chopped dried apricots
2 TB of soft extra virgin coconut oil
2 TB of applesauce
1/2 ts. of sea salt
dash of cinnamon
2-3 TB of raw honey 
3/4 - 1 cup of milk (I used raw, but you can use a non-dairy milk instead if that's your thing)
1/2 cup (thereabouts) chocolate chips (we use these)

What You'll Do:

1. Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl.
2. Spread evenly on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper
3. Bake at 275 degrees F for about 50 minutes 
4. Cool, slice into rectangles or squares, and serve/save/savor.
 
 
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One of my besties, who gave birth to her second baby eight weeks ago (at home! You're amazing, Erin!), showed up at my place with baby girl -- and smoothies -- in hand last week, as well as a huge bag o' new baby goods... Because she is somehow rocking the mom-of-two scene enough to get in the car and go places. With altruistic carry-on's. Round of applause very much in order. (I get no such applause as I hadn't even yet made it over to her place to visit her and meet said new baby, which is why she took the bull by the horns and came to me...) Anyway, it was a treat and a half to meet her sweet daughter, finally, outside the womb, and to sit and hang out for several hours, sipping on the smoothies and catching up after a very busy and semi-chaotic couple of months in both of our lives. (Both of our little boys were at school.) As for the baby, she breastfed pretty much the entire time, taking little naps here and there for a few minutes in between chow sessions. I asked Erin if that's how they usually roll, and she said it is; some people schedule set feedings with their infants, but she and her baby have gotten into a nice, all-day grazing rhythm, and it works for them. 

It was good for me to witness, as exclusively breastfeeding Baby O is a huge priority for me; given Kaspar's allergy situation, and what we all went through when he was a baby, I want to have full control over Baby O's diet, via my own; as I add foods into the mix, gradually, I'll be able to keep an eye on him for symptoms like eczema, and take note as I go. I'm hoping he's allergy free, of course -- it's as likely that he will be as he won't, so I'm making the proactively positive assumption that he will not be food-allergic -- but I feel so much more prepared this time around in the event that we do encounter any tell-tale signs. We won't be thrown into a tailspin again, following bad advice and worsening the problem, for months before we begin making it better, anyway. And exclusively breastfeeding will play a major role in helping me to keep everything in check. (Cybele Pascal, author of The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook, reversed both of her sons' severe food allergy symptoms while nursing them by adjusting her own diet accordingly.) Even without allergies to contend with, however, I just want, and plan, to breastfeed Baby O. It's cheaper, super convenient, and good for moms and babies -- and society at large -- alike. Although I breastfed Kaspar for a while, it didn't work out quite as I'd thought it would; there were a lot of factors involved in that, but as I read more about what makes for breastfeeding success (I'm reading Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding and Making More Milk), I've realized how many misconceptions I had, and how much misinformation I was given, the first time around, right from the beginning. For example, a nurse in the hospital where Kaspar was born told me he shouldn't still be hungry soon after nursing for forty minutes. What I should have been told was to keep my baby with me and just nurse like crazy, for, well, a good six weeks to get my supply -- and our own natural feeding rhythms --  strongly established, just like Erin and her baby are doing now. I'm planning on it for round two. Here are some additional steps I'm taking in support of that plan:
  • I've got two rock-star doulas on my birth team, both with breastfeeding expertise, and I'm planning on a natural, drug-free birth.
  • We're going to wait for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting it.
  • Baby O will be placed on me, skin-to-skin, immediately. He will not be given a bath. (He can be wiped down, but the smell of what's on him will actually stimulate his nursing instinct, and the arrival of my milk.) 
  • I'm going to request that Baby O is not taken to the hospital nursery at all, and instead that everything that would otherwise happen there happens in my room, with me.
  • Hep B vaccination? Not happening.
  • I'm renting a hospital-grade breast pump to take home with me. I really didn't love pumping the first time around -- does anyone? -- but that sucker's gonna get some serious use. (Another good friend has gifted me her hands-free pumping bra! It may not be sexy but it is going to make my life more awesome.)
  • I'm preparing a freezer full of GAPS (minus eggs and nuts) friendly food to keep myself well-fed. Some of it will come to the hospital with me, too. That'll just make things easier.
  • I'm going to consume my own placenta, in capsule form, courtesy of one of my doulas.
  • I'm going to let the baby nurse as much as he wants to. For as long as he wants to. Forty minutes is fine with me.
  • Baby O will not be circumcised.
  • I'm going to actually rest (and nurse a lot) during my maternity leave, rather than launching a new career or plotting to relocate half-way across the country. 

Looking back, although the food allergy stuff came out of nowhere and definitely affected my milk supply (major stress plus no sleep is no mas for booby milk), I realize that many of the things I thought were abnormal last time simply weren't. (Did you know it's normal for one breast to make more milk than the other? Or that pumping only a few ounces per sitting is par for the course, at first?) But because of what that nurse said, followed by some choice, discouraging words from the hospital pediatrician upon my discharge, I bought formula during Kaspar's first ride home, and supplemented from the start. That probably wasn't necessary. And it definitely didn't help. I'm a huge advocate of supplementation when it's needed -- breastfeeding isn't always successful as a standalone, and moms should definitely use whatever helpful means they can find to both feed their babies enough and to get as much mama milk as possible into that mix -- but I feel ready, this round, to give my boobs a fair shake before calling in backup. 

Anyway, here's to Erin and her sweet baby for bringing the reality of breastfeeding a newborn home -- literally -- for me. 

Now let's talk baby clothes, shall we? I was also reminded, by the bag of newborn-sized goods Erin generously brought with her, of how incredibly small new babies are, and of how fast they grow. I've long since passed along Kaspar's baby clothes, and definitely didn't have a stash of newborn onesies, socks, and little kimono-style snap-T's (gotta watch for that healing umbilical cord) anywhere in my home, or even on my mind. Now I have a super-cute stash! Erin included lots of plain white basics in her hand-me-down package, too; I knew as soon as I saw them that I'd be busting out the dye tub soon enough. And I did, a few days later. 

I left some of the white items alone, but dyed four onesies, four snap-T's, and a few cotton diapers, just for fun. Unlike my previous adventures in hand-dyeing baby goods, I didn't use the high-quality dyes; I just bought some Tie Dye powder -- it was at least non-toxic -- at Hobby Lobby and had at it, tying up a few of the items before dyeing, and dunking the others in unscrambled. The results are more neon than bold, but I like them! I then used a fabric marker to add some pro-booby flair to two of the onesies: the international breastfeeding symbol on one, and a "Boob Me" message on the other. (Get it? Like 'beer me'? But BOOB me? Yeah, you get it.) I wasn't at all sure how that'd turn out -- I didn't want it to appear as if I'd just scribbled on the respective items, all amateur-hour style -- so I printed both the symbol and the words from my computer, put the printed images into the onesies (i.e. between the front and back pieces of fabric), and then held the onesies up against sunlit windows to trace the designs before filling them in. This gave me cleaner outlines, and I actually love the sketchy, organic effect of the marker in the solid fill spaces. For all of the serious breastfeeding prep I'm reading and thinking about, these provided a fun little project for me to pour my positive intentions and expectations into. They're cheerful and cute and, I hope, will get the good booby-milk juju going when Baby O is born.

Do you like the onesies? Did you breastfeed? Did any of you have more success breastfeeding second babies after learning the ropes with your first? What do you think of my game plan? (Pretty thorough, right?) Anything else I should add? Leave a comment below!

 
 
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Celebrating the Spring Solstice on the morning after the ER. Nothing like a new kazoo to keep it posicore.
We had our second run-in with anaphylaxis a couple of weeks ago, on a Friday night. Kaspar tasted some mustard -- which he'd eaten a few times before without recourse -- with his chicken at dinner, then ventured out to the backyard while Aaron and I finished our meal. The yard is entirely fenced in, and we can see most of it through the sliding glass doors that look out onto our porch; our table sits next to the doors, inside. We've been enjoying Kaspar's recent habit of playing out there after dinner, as it allows us to have a few minutes to actually speak to each other in full sentences while the little man burns off his last bursts of daytime energy before his bath and bedtime routine begin. Kaspar, for his part, has been feeling like quite the independent dude on his solo play-escapes, though he pops up to the porch to tell us things through the doors every three or four minutes when he's out there. I'm sure this makes him feel more secure, and it provides a perfect way for us to keep close track of him while still playing it casual; he doesn't think we're actively supervising, even though we are. On that Friday, he went down his slide a few times, pushed his Tonka truck around the back of the house (the blind spot -- we can't see him when he runs around there) and then reappeared at the doors, all smiles: "Hi!" I took one look at him, slid open the doors and lifted him onto a chair inside; his upper lip was beginning to swell in the middle, just where it had when he suffered a severe allergic reaction to some lentils almost exactly two years ago. During that episode, the rest of his mouth had quickly followed suit; my baby tore at his throat with his hands while he struggled to breathe, and Aaron called 911 while I administered an Epi Pen into Kaspar's thigh. This time, Kaspar wasn't having any trouble breathing, but I knew what we were dealing with, and how quickly his condition could -- and most likely would -- change.

I grabbed a Benadryl (they're pretty much always within reach at our place, although we rarely have to use them anymore), gave it to Kaspar, and then explained to him that his lips were swelling a little bit and that he was probably having an allergic reaction; I told him we might need to go to the hospital, and we might need to use an Epi Pen. I'm not sure if he really even knew what these things meant in practical terms. We talk about food allergies all the time, obviously, and Kaspar's had minor reactions to foods since that terrible ordeal two years ago, but never any facial swelling and never again an Epi Pen. (If his eyes start itching or he gets hives, a Benadryl followed by close monitoring are usually enough to nip it in the bud.) Our allergist told us, during our annual round of testing and appointments last year, to use the Epi immediately if we do see any lip-swelling, but since Kaspar seemed otherwise fine on that recent Friday, Aaron and I decided to give it five minutes post-Benadryl before making a decision: If Kaspar had gotten any worse, we'd have used the Epi pen right away. If he improved, we'd call his pediatrician's after-hours line, get some advice, and continue monitoring. If nothing changed, we decided, we'd call 911 and take it from there. Thankfully, he didn't worsen in that five minutes. But his lip was still swollen. Significantly so. I talked to him calmly about how he was okay, and was going to be okay; I told him I'd be with him every step of the way if we had to go to the hospital. My eyes left his face only to watch the second hand creep around the clock. At the five minute mark, my gaze met Aaron's. I said, "I'm going to call 911."

"Do you think we need to?" Aaron said. (Kaspar's condition was alarming but not entirely foreign to us, and on the spectrum of anaphylaxis-related symptoms, his were pretty mild. That said, anaphylaxis to any degree is not, by definition, 'mild.' No one wants to give a kid an Epi pen injection and spend Friday night in the ER, but we both knew that this was probably exactly what we were about to do.)

"Yes, his lip is swollen. People D-I-E from this, Aaron; we have to go by the book. We can wait on the Epi, but I'm going to call."

"Okay, yeah." Aaron said. "Call."

"D-I-E. Die," Kaspar said. We looked at him. (He looked pretty pleased with himself. And swollen-lipped.) Aaron and I talked about this later ("Did you hear him say that? How did he know what that spelled?") but in the moment, we were moving quickly, and we didn't comment. Aaron stayed with Kas while I took my phone into the bedroom and called 911. I explained the situation, and the operator said an ambulance was on the way, and that we'd need to go ahead and use the Epi pen. With the phone on speaker (911 prefers that you don't hang up until in-person help arrives), I held Kaspar on my lap while Aaron gave him the shot. I told him it would hurt, but reassured him that it was going to help him and that the pain wouldn't last for long. He whimpered for a minute and I hugged him tightly. Then we heard sirens, and, a few moments later, opened the front door. As our neighbors poured out of their houses toward ours, four first-responder firemen surrounded us, got a handle on the situation, and then asked if it would be okay if they came into our home. Two minutes later, an ambulance pulled up and two EMTs joined us there.

Kaspar was still doing well; his throat wasn't closing, but the EMTs told us that reactions sometimes quickly take a turn for the worse half an hour, or more, later, and that we did the right thing by using the Epi pen. They took Kaspar's vitals and asked us questions about what had happened, what foods Kaspar's allergic to, his history with all of this, and so forth. Last time, we'd been rushed into an ambulance and immediately to the ER, lights and sirens blazing. This time, the scene felt like it was under control; I was scared, but not terrified. I was focused. We were all mutlitasking -- I was holding Kaspar and answering questions, Aaron was answering questions and packing a bag, the EMTs were asking questions and taking Kaspar's oxygen levels, collecting the used Epi pen and Benadryl dosage information, and so forth. Kaspar was pointing to the machines the EMTs had brought inside and asking all kinds of questions of his own.

We did need to ride in the ambulance (Kaspar thought this was pretty cool), and go to the ER. I rode with Kaspar while Aaron followed in our car, just like last time. I breathed deeply and talked to Kaspar throughout the ride. I focused on staying present, breathing, and nodded "Okay, yes, I understand," when the EMT prepped another epinephrine injection, "Just in case his lips swell any more." The EMT's were kind, and wonderful with Kaspar, and with us. The hospital staff, too, were all attentive, gentle, and kind. We know so much more now than we did last time, and we were able to provide the pros with the right info, and to explain matter-of-factly that Kaspar'd had mustard before but had reacted only this time. They could tell we know what we're dealing with and that we didn't need the regular spiel, during our visit, on the dangers of food allergies. We didn't need to think about anyone D-I-E-ing. We needed to get Kaspar into a definitely-stable zone, and then get our little boy home. We stayed for several hours -- there's a certain amount of monitoring time required after an Epi pen injection -- and then, after Kaspar was given some oral steroids and we received instructions to give him another Benadryl at 1 a.m. (both of these medications would keep him safe from a rebound reaction overnight, and the steroids would keep him in the clear for 36 hours while the allergen made its way out of his system), we were discharged. Despite being hopped up on, um, six or seven little plastic cups of apple juice, Kaspar fell asleep as soon as he was strapped into his car seat. He slept right through Aaron carrying him from the car to his bed when we got home, and through wetting it twice overnight (apple juice revisited), until morning. I slept beside him, in that awake-sleep moms master when we have newborns, listening throughout the night to the sound of my son's deep, rhythmic breathing. 

We'd been planning to celebrate the spring solstice the following morning; Aaron and I made breakfast and then gave Kaspar his 'Solstice Basket.' I'd gone a little overboard with gifts, and at that moment, I was happy to be able to spoil him. He looked a little worse for the wear -- hair matted, dark circles around his eyes -- and he was a bit lethargic, but he was delighted to set up our solstice centerpiece and blow bubbles around the kitchen. I learned the next day, from a coworker whose 13-year-old nephew has had to self-administer an Epi pen due to a life-threatening dairy allergy, that an anaphylactic reaction (followed by adrenaline and steroid treatment) causes a person to feel pretty gross for several days after it all takes place. This isn't surprising -- any kind of severe shock has got to take a major toll on all of the body's systems -- but it did stop me in my tracks as I reflected on Kaspar's enthusiasm for his usual passions during the day after his ordeal. After our Solstice celebration, Aaron went to his Saturday animation class, and Kaspar and I spent the day together at home. He kicked his soccer ball around, asked me to play music so he could dance, and generally romped at about 80% of his usual romp-capacity. I, on the other hand, felt relieved, but wiped out, physically and emotionally. I played with Kaspar, hugged him a million times, felt grateful that our experience the previous evening had been a relatively tame one compared with our first ER trip, but my mind spun: Kaspar's allergies are supposed to be going away. He's not supposed to be developing new allergies. Do we need to start being wary of all spices? (I'd known mustard is related to sesame, which Kas is super allergic to, but very few people have a cross-reaction between the two.) His reaction had happened so quickly; what if he hadn't come running back to the doors, from behind the house, to say hi? How long would I have gone on with my dinner before calling his name and checking on him? And then the bigger questions: is he really safe at school every day? We take every precaution, but what if something like this set in while he was on the playground? Are his teachers watching him? How will he go to high school? Will he have to prepare all of his own meals in college? How will he date? How will he travel? What will his life be like? And the thought I wouldn't let myself think, but that hung overhead like a dark cloud: This is real. This is still serious, it happened again. One mistake and my child could D.I.E. 

After a few days, we'd resumed our normal routine, and Kaspar was doing great. My spinning thoughts had also calmed down. We had our annual allergy testing appointment scheduled for the following Wednesday; I'd thought we might hold off to give Kaspar a break, but the previous Friday felt long past, and we went as planned. We did some skin testing, and ran blood tests a few days later. Not surprisingly, Kaspar's mustard skin test yielded a giant red welt. He is highly allergic to mustard now, and one of only a handful of our allergist's patients who is. It was a relief, in a way, to confirm this; now we know to avoid mustard. And while it was unsettling to acknowledge that Kaspar has definitely developed a few new allergies over the past year -- fish and annatto, a natural coloring -- among them, his overall situation is still steadily (in fact, dramatically) improving. On the skin testing day, we learned that he can now safely eat bananas and avocados. Our allergist also reassured us that tons of research is being done on kids' food allergies; they're now epidemic in our society, which has spurred great progress and funding into finding true cures. (I'd asked "How will Kaspar go to college?" aloud, and he said, "There will be a cure by then.") He also reassured us that families who know about their kids' food allergies manage them very effectively; Epi pens are a must, and they're not fun, but they save lives when they need to. What counts is that we have them. Kaspar is going to be okay. I found this deeply reassuring. But the most powerful information our allergist passed on came a few days later, when he called to give us some truly astonishing news: Kaspar's most severe allergies, across the board, have come down by 50% over the past year. Peanut, two years ago, clocked in at a 70 (lentils were at a whopping 90-something); last year peanut had come down to a 40. This year it's at a 21. Other nuts, soy, wheat, eggs and so forth have likewise followed suit. Oats are probably okay to eat -- 'probably' enough that I was given the green light to try them at home. (Haven't done that yet. We're still partying hard over bananas.) Fish was all over the place. We'll need to re-test that to know what's up.

To provide some perspective, the 'safe zone' for a food is a score of 2 or less. We still have a ways to go, and Kaspar still definitely cannot eat those foods he's allergic to. But our allergist told us last year, and this year, that with this many allergies at these levels, he didn't have any expectation we'd see much improvement, and certainly not at this pace. The chances of kids with one or two food allergies growing out of them are pretty good, but this isn't so -- statistically -- for kids like Kaspar. His initial allergy counts were shockingly high, not just to me, but in the eyes of the allergist, who does this day in and day out. They're still up there, but nowhere near where they were. "Keep doing everything you're doing," he told me over the phone. 
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K, ready for skin testing. Such a trooper.
After the ER, I felt overwhelmed by our situation, which is to say utterly stalled, like we're stalked by a threat that will never let go. Like it happened again, and it wasn't as bad, but it can happen again, with new foods. The questions spun and spun. How will Kaspar have a normal life? Will he ever be safe? Will he be happy? Kaspar lives entirely within our orbit right now, and cooking all of his food, making raw milk yogurt, and ensuring nothing crosses his plate that he can't eat is a matter of daily life for me. But as I looked ahead to school trips, summer camps and soccer teams, I realized how disruptive this could all become for him, how his participation in events and activities will always come with questions about what and how he'll eat. And of course there's the question of access to emergency care if it were to become necessary. A friend recently sent me this New York Times Magazine article about a new food allergy therapy that's shown some promise (our allergist actually does not recommend this at this point; it can cause major side effects like esophagitis -- and definitely anaphylaxis, although that theoretically happens under controlled circumstances -- and results have not been shown to be lasting...); while I was fascinated by the treatment it describes, I was also struck by the description the author offers of her family's own reality, and those of the other families profiled in the piece. She described our reality. And reading it, I realized -- as much as our lives are pretty calm now, as much as we have our system down -- our reality is extreme. And it's scary. At times, any given moment that we don't see coming, when our kid runs around a corner and his mouth is starting to swell, it's terrifying.

But after our appointment with our allergist, and after his phone call... and even now... I am ecstatic. We do have our system. And we have our Epi pens for the scary moments we never see coming, but they are rare. We're prepared for them. Kaspar takes his Chinese herbs and drinks his raw milk and his fresh juice and eats a great, ever-expanding diet (who needs fish?) and his allergies are getting better. Last year was not a fluke. His numbers are coming down. By a LOT. Defying odds. Surprising all of us. When he was a baby, he was miserable and so were we, and it seemed we'd never find our way out. And now I'm allowing myself to think a thought I haven't quite permitted full formation in my mind, because it seemed impossible, and almost too wonderful to imagine, almost scary to imagine for its radical promise, hovering over my head in these years of mothering: when Kaspar goes to college, it's possible he won't have any food allergies at all. This might not follow him forever. Maybe not for much longer, even. These allergies are going away. Every single one of them. I finally, firmly believe that they can, and I'm determined to see that they do. 
 
 
I wrote on Parenting.com today about my approach to diet during pregnancy; in a nutshell, so to speak, I'd thought, before becoming pregnant, I'd avoid all of the foods Kaspar's allergic to while baking baby #2. Not only did my first trimester cravings blow that plan out of the water (hello, junk food), but -- now that I'm in my second trimester, or will be tomorrow -- I'm not only feeling far more energetic, and 'normal' in general, including in terms of the foods I'm craving (hello, wholesome healthy stuff), but I've got a game plan for *hopefully* setting new-baby up for an allergy/eczema/reflux-free start. That game plan is the full GAPS diet. Sans the nuts and wheat, the former of which is allowed on the full diet and the latter of which is allowed (in sourdough form) if no digestive problems are present... but since neither digests super easily for anyone and since both are major allergens in general, I'm just avoiding them. Easy enough. I've read the GAPS book, which is densely packed with nutritional information; it corroborates with what I've learned over the past three years, and what's been working, overall, for Kaspar. And since we already eat nutrient-rich, real-food fare up in here, I'm only having to tweak a few things to transition into GAPS-ville. The diet basically heals and seals the gut, thus healing immune system-related health woes (of which Americans suffer many, food allergies among them). I'm planning to take Kaspar, and our family, through all of its stages once baby's here and the timing is right, but for now we're starting at the least restrictive, most nutritionally broad place -- the "full" GAPS diet -- as per the recommendation for pregnant women. Anyway, go ahead and read up via my post on Parenting, and on other blogs, like this one. Then get to your farmer's market and into your kitchen, cuz the best part of this approach to gut-love is that you get to fill your belly with good, nourishing food. 

I should mention that there's quite a bit of meat involved in the GAPS diet. I was grooving on a mostly vegan spurt a while back, which felt light and clean in my body at the time. I think I needed to detox in a major way and sort of reset once our two years of sleep deprivation resolved to some degree, and eating tons of plant matter helped get that work done. (As did an Ayruvedic cleanse I did a short while later. I felt like a whole new person after that. Still do.) But I then found myself drawn toward meat again -- high quality, locally-sourced meat that hasn't suffered, that is -- and whenever I get acupuncture I'm told I should be eating it regularly. (Something about building my blood.) Pregnancy only increased my desire for it. So, while it may feel like I'm somewhat all over the place on the subject, good meats remain a part of my, and our family's, diet. As far as GAPS is concerned, that's a healthful thing, especially for expecting mamas.

With that in mind, I made a recipe from the GAPS book (linked above) last night, tweaking it a little to my liking. Aaron and I have each made stuffed peppers before, but only vegetarian versions (they make for an attractive, and generally popular, veg dish). Thus, last night's version -- which were definitely not vegetarian -- were quite different than our previous renditions. They meat is flavorful, but dense. I definitely suggest eating these in a bowl with a good amount of the stock they cooked in surrounding them. I chopped mine up a bit in the stock so as to create a kind of soup, and that was delicious. I also suggest adding whatever vegetables you'd like to the meat mixture before stuffing the peppers, and some cumin. If you're eating dairy, throwing some shredded, raw cheddar cheese in with the meat mixture before cooking would also be kind of amazing... In short, these stuffed peppers are filling and tasty, but I could tell -- even at first glance -- the original recipe was written by a doctor, rather than a chef. I'm eagerly awaiting the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, which is due to arrive at my door any day now; it's recommended by the GAPS people and boasts an index full of mouth-watering recipes. (I peeked at its back pages on Amazon.) Anyway, I've gone ahead and written out my improved (and yummy) stuffed peppers recipe below -- feel free to tweak it further. If you do, let me know what works well!

Click "Read More" below for the recipe!


 
 
I was recently interviewed by YourBabyBooty.com, an amazing website full of empowering information for parents! Check out the video (click here, or on the image above or below) and share with anyone you know who's hitting up against a wall but knows, deep down, there must be a way through. 
 
 
I've been a little MIA on the blogging scene, both over at Parenting.com and here on Alt-Mama, since the New Year; you may have guessed from my not-so-subtle hints that hormonal things are happening which can explain my relative quiet. As in, I'm a little bit pregnant... about seven weeks. Yay! I'm excited, crazy-hungry, a bit nauseated, and tired; between massage brain and baby brain, there hasn't been a lot of writing going on. That being said, good writing (and reading, for y'all) awaits, as I'm going to be back on Parenting's Project Pregnancy blog -- where I documented all things pregnancy #1 back in 2009/2010 -- shortly. And I have fun things planned for Alt-Mama, too. So strap in. It's about to be bump-watch (plus nesting plus all-around prenatal par-tay) time. 
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Houston, we have a (cute!) heartbeat.
I know I'm letting the secret out 'early,' but I'm okay with this. I actually didn't even know about the twelve week safety zone when I was pregnant with Kaspar; consequently, all of our friends and family knew we were knocked up by, like, four weeks. (As with this pregnancy, I got a positive test very early on.) Only then did someone at work gasp in alarm (pregnancy news spreads quickly) and tell me I could very well miscarry -- she said it just like that -- which sent me into a fit of nail-biting until the end of my first trimester, which, coincidentally, coincided exactly with my wedding day. Now, I know miscarriage is indeed common (20% of pregnancies... that's a lot), and in fact that woman at work who brought me up to speed had experienced a few more than a few miscarriages herself (she has since, through the wonders of modern medicine, delivered a healthy baby boy). But if my Kaspar-fetus survived wedding-planning stress -- which he obviously did -- I know for sure that the experts aren't lying when they say there's nothing one can or can't do to prevent a miscarriage from happening. Either the baby's gonna stick, or it's not. And while I of course feel deeply for mamas who've miscarried or had pregnancy-related difficulties (my own mom struggled with some of this), and I'm well aware it happens to perfectly healthy women all the time, I also try to bear in mind that the stories of multiple-miscarriages others have told me are not my story. I want to be excited, enjoy this first trimester, and -- above all else -- keep fear and 'what if's' at bay.

I believe every woman should handle early pregnancy, miscarriage, pregnancy-at-large and birth in whatever ways feel right to her. Each mama's stories are different, and our stories are deeply personal. So personally, while I feel a sense of community and empathy with all mamas everywhere, living our different lives and our different stories, I'm choosing to focus on positive stories for the purposes of pregnancy #2. I well remember the excitement of pregnancy, but also a certain tendency toward fearful pregnancy that pervades our culture, and is also often, if inadvertently, shared and spread among women ourselves. Whether we're scheduling our next 'screening' for some (barely) potential problem, or hearing other mamas tell of days-long, painful labors and emergency C-sections, it's easy to get caught up in an expectation that, at any moment, something might go wrong. Well you know what? It's not my first rodeo. And I know that, of course, something could go wrong. At any moment. It probably won't, but if it does, I can handle it, and I know I'll have the support and love of our family, our friends, and you good readers out there. In the meantime, tell me positive stories. I promise to tell positive stories, too.

I have a few things I could be afraid of during this pregnancy. I have a blood clot history, and therefore am classified as high-risk; I'd like to have a pretty hands-free pregnancy and a home birth -- a safe and wonderful option for low-risk pregnant women -- but instead I'm working with a wonderful doctor and a doula (TBA), and injecting myself with blood thinners every day. I did that last time, too. Unlike last time, I know what questions to ask and I know what I do and don't want in delivering my baby. As it turns out, I probably won't have to be induced, and I can probably have a natural birth in a hospital setting. So that's cool. The other thing that's nagging at the back of my mind is, obviously, a food allergy and eczema remix. What we went through with Kaspar was really hard for all of us. It took me a while to even consider the possibility of pregnancy again, knowing that a food-allergic baby #2 is indeed slightly more probable for us than for a family without allergies in the mix. But statistics, (positive) stories from other allergy mamas, and my doctor, have assured me that it's far from guaranteed our second baby will have any allergies at all. Doctors have no idea why, but many families have one kid with countless allergies, and other kids with none. And some studies show that eating nuts during pregnancy prevents food allergies, while other studies show the opposite. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason around this topic yet, and not a lot of knowledge. Even so, I'm going to avoid eating the major allergens during my second and third trimester, and I have an appointment scheduled with Kaspar's TCM doctor to see if there are some herbs I can take to help prevent any allergic issues in my baby. And if this baby does show symptoms similar to baby-Kaspar's, we'll know what we're dealing with, and we will be fine. 

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Blood thinner injections. Yeehaw.
I am declaring this a Fear-Free Pregnancy, no matter what happens, and knowing full well that this is life, and sometimes -- in life -- shit goes down. I'm focusing on feeling awesome, and visualizing a happy, healthy me, and a happy, healthy baby. I'm drinking a lot of juice. And eating a lot of carnitas tacos. I'm dreaming up names. I'm bracing myself for two small kiddos, as my one small kiddo creeps up on turning three. Age two was far from terrible -- we had one week of difficulty, which was about the extent of it -- and was a piece of cake, I suspect, compared to what's in store. Kaspar is as joyful and animated as ever, but this age is, um, something. Everything that already took twice as long as it did now takes twice as long as that ("Kaspar, please climb into the car... Kaspar, please get into your car seat... Kaspar, please get in the car... Kaspar, please stop pressing the buttons on the door and climb into the car.... Kaspar-get-into-the-car..."), and Kaspar's constant questions reflect new layers of comprehension that often catch me unaware (yesterday: "If you like what than you should have put a ring on what?"). He hears everything, feels deeply, and talks and moves continuously. This is a fun stage -- this boy of mine is so loving and funny and sweet, it's amazing -- but I'm pretty much exhausted all the time, and it takes a lot to make me tired. I am excited, though, for the months to come, for baby time, and to watch my baby #1 grow into his role as big brother. 
What do you think about the twelve week safety zone, early pregnancy, and first trimester changes? How have your second (or third, etc.) pregnancies differed from your first? Suggestions on great pregnancy books for positive stories? What's essential in a good doula? (We'll be interviewing next week.) Thanks for joining our family on this journey!
 
 
We don't eat much processed or pre-packaged food around here, save -- until recently -- for those genius little organic pureed fruit and veg pouches that can be purchased at pretty much any grocery store nationwide. In fact, every time Kaspar and I go to the grocery store -- until recently, that is -- we make a deal that he keeps his cool while I shop, and, as a reward, he receives a "fruit squeezie" once we hit the baby stuff aisle. I like that these pouches pack a little nutritional punch (fruits, veg and chia seeds? Cool!), so my kid sucks down a dose of nutrients while under the impression he's receiving a treat. I also like that I can easily throw a pouch (or five) into my purse for days out on the town, or even for more far-flung weekend travel. I like that the packages are BPA-free. But I don't like how much they cost, given how little food is actually in them, and I don't like throwing all those packages (by the handful, once emptied -- post-outing -- from my purse) in the trash. As much as we've relied upon 'fruit squeezies' for bribes and mobile snacking, I've also felt that they're economically and environmentally, well, wasteful. And while I get that convenience sometimes leads to compromise, these downsides have kept me from loving the 'squeezies' as much as Kaspar does -- until now.

Enter: the Little Green Pouch, a fillable, pourable, re-usable, freezable, dishwasher-safe, BPA-free, totally awesome make-your-own 'fruit squeezie' solution to our family's little wastefulness problem! This pouch has a leak-proof zipper-type opening at the top into which I can pour all manner of fruit/veg/chia seed creations, and a little capped spout -- just like the throwaway pouches -- through which Kaspar can enjoy his nourishing, now-affordable treats. I've been filling these pouches with fresh, homemade juices, as well as kefir smoothies, and even (lightly cooked, then pureed and cooled) fruit and veg combos like the one pictured below -- that's an apple, spinach and blueberry "squeezie" in the making. The photo at top is Kaspar downing it whilst in the midst of a full-on sinus infection last week... There's no way I'd get a pan-full of spinach anything into sick Kaspar without cloaking it in treat-dom, but he ingested this mix happily, thanks to the pouch, and, needless to say, benefited immensely from the anti-oxident boost.

I have three or four prepared pouches in the fridge at all times, ready to grab and go, and I keep one in the freezer for longer days. As for weekend or week-long travel, we'll probably still rely upon the store-bought stuff when we run out of homemade, but not wasting packaging and cash when we're kicking around home, and Austin, means I don't mind forking it over (and throwing stuff out) quite so much when convenience really does call our names. 
Wanna get in on the 'fruit squeezie' fun? Little Green Pouch has generously offered to gift a four-pack of pouches to a lucky Alt-Mama giveaway winner! It could be you! Leave a comment below and tell me what your favorite juice or smoothie ingredients are.  Don't forget to include your email in the required field so I can reach you if you win. (I will never give, sell or lend your email address to anyone.) I'll select -- and announce -- a random winner next Wednesday, January 9. Have fun, and good luck!
 
 
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Kaspar happily piled a bowl-full of veggies onto the pizza... and then ate them ALL.
While I always dreamed Kaspar would one day eat chocolate chip cookies (Alt-Mama style, of course, i.e. super healthy and super delicious), Aaron's big food goal for our very-food-allergic little man has been a slice of pizza. I think it's a guy thing. It seemed appropriate enough, though; Kas hails from Brooklyn, after all. Guy thing and Brooklyn roots aside, however, Pizza seemed a long way off, for a while, given that Kaspar was severely allergic to dairy, tomatoes, and wheat. But as his allergies have slowly improved -- thanks to a certain alchemy of TCM, Ayurveda and time -- the pizza thing seemed increasingly possible, especially over this past year. 

Kaspar can now eat tomatoes and cheese, but wheat is still out of the picture, as far as we know. He was still highly allergic to it last time we tested; this was confirmed last Thanksgiving, too, when a wayward stuffing crumb gave him a swollen face, and gave me a good scare. We avoid wheat and gluten along with all nuts, and Kaspar's various other off-limits foods, and we're planning to run tests again this February, when he turns three, to find out if things have continued to change for him. If wheat were suddenly okay (it happens), that would obviously make daily life a lot easier for our family. In the meantime, we're all about rocking our "something" in style. And I found a way to feed my kiddo chocolate chip cookies, thanks (heartfelt) to Namaste Foods' Perfect Flour Blend. Thanks to the brand's pizza crust mix, which is free of wheat, gluten, and anything else that might aggravate Kaspar's system, Aaron has found a way to feed him pizza. Boom! There's no stoppin' us now.
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Sampling? Encouraged.
We don't make a big deal about Kaspar's dinners usually being different from ours, because that's just the way things are for him. When we first found out about his allergies, I thought I'd try to prepare food we could all eat, all the time, so he'd feel included. But aside from quickly realizing this would be impossible, it also struck me that it might be unwise. His sense of normalcy is created in our home; in the interest of his developing an ability to self-advocate, and self-regulate for his own safety, I've chosen instead to prepare separate meals. We all eat together, and mealtime is a pleasurable experience in our home, but Aaron and I often eat things Kaspar can't. Like, every day. As Kaspar's fruit and vegetable options have expanded, I'm able to prepare sides we can all share, and this has been a good opportunity to talk about foods, where they come from, what they taste like (sweet, sour, etc.), and whether we each respectively enjoy those tastes. Allergies are sometimes part of the conversation (Kas might ask what we're eating and if it's okay for him -- which is exactly the mechanism I intended to put in place, so he wouldn't make dangerous assumptions around that question), but mostly we all just chow down on, and enjoy, our respective dinners and mutual company. When Kaspar's at school, or when we're traveling or visiting friends, he knows that he can't just eat what everyone else is eating... but he also knows I'm on top of it, thinking two steps ahead, and will reliably produce something he can eat, and will enjoy.

That being said, the opportunity to cook an entire meal together, and eat it together, is rare for us, and it was a gift we all savored during a recent family pizza night. We talked it up with Kaspar first, explaining all of the steps involved in making pizza: mixing and pre-bakign the dough, layering our toppings on the crust, baking it again, and then eating it -- all of us! He asked, "It's okay for me?" and we said "Yep! It sure is. This pizza is safe for you. We checked." 

Kaspar was, of course, as excited for the journey as he was for the destination. As with making juice -- or even pancakes -- together, I noticed his (methodical) involvement led directly to his enthusiastic consumption of the food we'd prepared. (FWIW, I've noticed this trick works well with adults, too...) I'd filled a bowl with vegetables for him to put on top of the crust, including chopped tomatoes, kale and broccoli, and he munched on them intermittently (raw!) as he placed them on the pizza, and then of course devoured his slices, veggies and all, once the finished product came out of the oven. Score! 
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SO good. Even for regular wheat-eaters.
Aaron and I devoured our slices, too; the flavorful crust, which contained Italian herbs, was the perfect chewy (but not gluey -- a common gluten-free fail) consistency. Topped with all of those vegetables and melted raw cow's milk mozarella and cheddar cheeses, we all felt like we were eating something decadent. We'd prepared the entire bag of crust mix, but even with a cookie-sheet sized pizza, Aaron and I had to deliberately hold ourselves back from eating the remaining few slices after dinner. (Or for breakfast the next morning.) We sent them to school with Kaspar, in his lunch box, instead. When I picked him up, his teacher said he'd "had his own little pizza party at lunch", (boy was psyched!) and that he'd told her all about making the meal with us the night before, getting right down to the details. *Broccoli, baby.*
I love Namaste Foods. I really do. Not only do they make foods that taste delicious (seriously, friends LOVE our chocolate chip cookies), but they really go the distance on the allergen-free front. Their products are all gluten-free, and, unlike most other brands that produce gluten-free products, they're also free of the top eight allergens, produced in a 100% dedicated allergen-free facility, and they produce mixes that are made of the kind of stuff I actually want to feed my kid. I usually advise parents with food-allergic or celiac kids to avoid the overpriced, highly-processed products marketed to those folks, and instead make their own food at home, as we do... It's simpler, less expensive, and WAY healthier. No contest. But Namaste Foods? They're different. They're all about the whole grain, whole foods love. And, when I inquired with them about whether they have any knowledge of where the rice in their rice flours is sourced from, due to recent, alarming reports on high arsenic levels in rice products, they got right back to me; not only do they know where their rice comes from, they test ALL of the rice flours used in their products to ensure they contain no arsenic at all. That's what I call going the extra mile; the arsenic thing was just one more threat in a world of threats for people with food allergies (who tend to eat a lot of rice, as other grain options can be limited... they certainly are for Kaspar). Namaste Foods caters to this population, and I appreciate that they pay attention to what matters, on the large and small scale, so food-allergic people can worry less, and eat more. Because, of course, we love our food-allergic family and friends, do we not? It's nice to know when a brand has their backs. And it's extra nice when that brand makes food we can all share together, and enjoy, in good health. (FWIW, it's also extra-extra nice, as a mom of a food-allergic kid, to have a few 'convenience' foods in my back pocket -- or, you know, my pantry -- so that I don't have to cook two meals, from scratch, every time our family eats... Namaste Foods gives me a free pass on those nights I feel like slacking.)

So guess what. It's giveaway time. Namaste Foods has generously offered to send one of you a reusable tote bag containing 3 Namaste Foods products, a copy of their Simple Pleasures cookbook, a copy of Living Without magazine, and assorted recipe cards. Here, have a look:
Want to win? Simply leave a comment below (don't forget to include your email address -- it won't be displayed online, and I won't sell or give it to anyone else) and tell me one way you and your family enjoy mealtime together. And feel free to participate even if no one in your family is food-allergic. Trust me-- these products really are yummy and wholesome for everyone!  I'll randomly choose a winner next Wednesday, December 12, so let's get this party started. Good luck!