Nut Free Tiger’s Game

Our family went to a Tiger’s game a couple weeks back (delayed post, I know) and had an absolutely amazing time! The Tiger’s offer a “Peanut Friendly” game one weekend every year. They clean a few suites and sell tickets with special accommodations for families with nut allergies. Isn’t that wonderful? For those of you who have never been and are curious, here is the run down. The seats are all located in one of three suites that are thoroughly cleaned prior to the game. The suites are all open to each other and there are no assigned seats, so you can walk around and swap seats once you’re inside. They do offer food for purchase, but none with peanuts or tree nuts. Unfortunately for those of us with dairy allergies, there was lots of pizza in the area. You were also welcome to bring in your own food/drink, but they asked parents to not pack anything that could cause an allergic reaction, including nuts, dairy and eggs. The tickets include entrance through the Tiger’s Garage, which is typically reserved for season ticket holders. This was an especially nice touch for those individuals who want to avoid the concourse entirely. The event coordinator was extremely competent and helpful- we will definitely be taking advantage of these nut free games in the future!

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We were so excited to take Raymond, and especially Ricky, to their first Tiger’s game. Raymond was a champ the whole time- just such a happy camper hanging out in the Solly wrap. Ricky had a blast! He was so excited the whole time and really enjoyed all the sights. We were comfortable walking through the concourse, but carried him the whole time since the ground is covered in peanut shells. His favorite parts were definitely meeting Paws and riding the carousal. Paws told Ricky (with hand motions, obviously) that he liked his sweatshirt and Ricky was pretty darn pumped about it. I was nervous leading up to the game, but I am so glad we went outside of our box. We were definitely cautious the entire time, eating only our own snacks and wiping down surfaces outside of the suite (I’m talking to you tiger carousal parked right in the middle of the food court and no doubt licked by some child after eating ice cream). Ricky’s face and excitement made it all worth it and it really was the best family day!

Ricky’s 2nd Birthday and Italian Pasta Salad

Our oldest little man turned 2 last week! I still can’t believe it myself. He is such a sweet boy and we are beyond blessed to have him in our lives. We had a little party to celebrate, just our immediate families and a few close friends. Ricky had a blast being the center of attention and everyone enjoyed watching him play, open presents, and of course- eat cake!

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We made sure all of the food was Ricky-friendly (i.e. nut free, egg free, dairy free) so no one would have to worry about smooching him or playing with him on his big day.Food allergy friendly party menus are not the easiest to create. You want everyone to enjoy the food (and not just “this is pretty good for being allergy food” enjoy it) but make sure it is 100% safe. Here is what we came up with for a nut free, egg free, dairy free dinner menu to serve ~25 people.

Appetizers:

Entre/Sides:

  • BBQ chicken on the grill (just chicken breasts slathered with some Sweet Baby Ray’s
  • Italian Sausage (be cautious of the buns used, not all are dairy free)
  • Applegate Beef Hot Dogs
  • Italian Pasta Salad (see recipe below)
  • Fruit Salad

Dessert:

Everything turned out great! The Italian Pasta Salad is a recipe of my MIL’s and I’m so glad she shared it! Most pasta salads contain dairy or Miracle Whip (i.e. eggs), so it is wonderful to have one that is completely safe for Ricky but still has lots of flavor!

Italian Pasta Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 box spiral noodles (we use Ronzoni Smart Taste)
  • 1 bottle Italian Dressing
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/2 package pepperoni, cut into halves (watch for dairy. we used Hormel)
  • 1/2 head broccoli
  • 1/2 head cauliflower
  • Seasoning: This recipe originally used McCormick Salad Supreme seasoning, but since that contains dairy, we mixed up our own! There are no exact measurements, use each according to your taste!
    • Salt, Sesame Seed, Poppy Seed, Paprika, Garlic, Black Pepper, and Red Pepper

Directions

  • Cook pasta according to box
  • Cut up veggies and pepperoni and toss with the pasta
  • Mix seasoning into Italian dressing
  • Stir dressing mixture into pasta and veggies
  • Enjoy!

Ricky’s First Ice Cream Outing

This weekend we went out for ice cream. This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal for most families, in fact it is probably a weekly occurrence. For us, though, it was the first time Ricky has ever been able to go to an eating establishment and actually get something…and it was amazing.

On a recent trip to a local ice cream shop I noticed that they had a product listed as dairy-free. Let me start by saying that this is the same ice cream place that I grew up visiting and ranks FAR above any other similar shops. If you are from the metro-Detroit area you have most likely heard of Erma’s and if you haven’t ever visited, get in your car now. They specialize in frozen custard and it is amazing. They also change their flavors every couple of week so many people have special favorites that they wait to come up on the menu. My favorite is Wild Erma and it may or may not be marked in our calendar- it is scheduled for the weeks immediately following Baby #2’s due date and I had to make sure Karl was well aware that obtaining this custard was his primary duty while I’m out of commission (ok, maybe not primary, but important nonetheless).

I digress… so, I noticed that they had a product called Erma’s Ice, which is labeled as dairy free. It is very similar to sorbet in consistency and can be swirled in a cup just like normal soft serve! I gave the Utica store a call and they were very accommodating and read me all of the ingredients- there was nothing Ricky couldn’t have! Next step was talking to our allergist and he said as long as the ingredients were safe, the main things to watch out for are:
1) Is the Erma’s Ice always in the same canister or is it alternated with custard (providing high likelihood of cross contamination)? Answer: Erma’s Ice is always made in the same canister!
2) Are there ever nut flavored ices or other products made in that canister? Answer: Nope! There have never been any nut flavored Ice products.
3) Is there an individual spout for the Erma’s Ice or does it share a dispenser with custard (again, ensuring cross contamination)? Answer: Erma’s Ice can be twisted with custard, but it also has an individual dispenser spout.

Erma’s Ice seemed to meet all possible criteria for an allergy friendly food! Karl and I packed up the little man and went to the local Erma’s right when they opened on Sunday. We wanted to avoid any crowds and that place is hopping pretty much every evening. It was a wise decision and I was able to talk directly to the same excellent employee that had talked to me on the phone previously about ingredients. She was so thoughtful and even though I didn’t ask (which I should have- dropped the ball here), she went and put on gloves to handle Ricky’s Ice. Her thoughtfulness combined with getting to experience something all parents look forward to doing with their kids brought me to tears. I was definitely looking forward to the outing, but I had no idea how emotional it would be! So, this is my long, drawn out shout of praise for Erma’s Custard and encouragement for those that have food allergies to consider this an option for a fun family outing.

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photo 2 (21)What a happy boy! I just love bringing a smile to his face, especially when it involves a little red mustache 🙂

Family Vacation = Success!

I am thrilled to report that family vacation was a success! Never underestimate what some good planning combined with amazing family member support can accomplish.

Last Thursday, the day we were set to leave, started a little rough. I woke up to no power. Power outages are never fun, but they are even less fun when you have several loads of laundry to do and a whole lot of packing before your hubby gets home from work. Not to mention a trip to the grocery store for Ricky’s vacation food that was not happening due to my car being trapped in the garage (this 35 week pregnant lady was not about to manually lift the garage door). Now add the fact that I was panicking over the potential thawing of my fresh stash of freezer meals. No good, no good at all. Come 5 pm there was still no power, but we were bound and determined to get on the road that night!

Karl got home and drove our chest freezer over to my sisters and we loaded it up with everything we needed/wanted to save. I packed as much as I could and included the necessary unwashed items to wash when we arrived- thank goodness the place we were staying had a washing machine! We stopped at the grocery store on our way and ended up only being around an hour behind schedule! Gotta love some efficient team work.

After a few trips with Ricky I have determined that weather and the amount that the little man sleeps can really make or break a vacation. The weather was perfect and Ricky went down without a fight for every nap and bedtime. Did I mention that this trip was a success? Since the weather was so nice we were able to stay outside at the beach with him almost the entire time, which made avoiding food contact a lot easier. During meal times we simply sat at the edge of the group and used our own booster seat, which we returned to our room after every meal. Our immediate family was so helpful- sometimes I don’t give them as much credit as they deserve. My in-laws took turns with Karl and I feeding Ricky and playing with him outside during meal times so that Karl and I were able to socialize and enjoy our meals as well. We truly are lucky to have such supportive and caring family! We have traveled with Ricky in the past, but this time he was older and therefore far more active! Here are a few things I learned about vacations with a food allergic toddler.

Tips for vacationing with a food allergic child:

1. Rent a cabin or condo type space rather than stay in a hotel room. This gives you the option to pack and prepare all of your own food if necessary. If you do bring your own food- be sure to label it clearly if you’re sharing a kitchen with others! We kept ours in large ziploc bags labeled “Ricky’s Food” and as separate in the fridge as possible (we commandeered a drawer at the bottom of the fridge).
2. Don’t try new foods, but do try new things! One of the things I was most excited to do with Ricky was roast marshmallows. Marshmallows are one of his favorite treats, so I couldn’t wait to share this traditional summer activity with him. I purchased a roasting stick ahead of time that only he used (to avoid cross contamination from others making smores). Of course he didn’t actually like the roasted marshmallow (silly kid, he’ll learn…), but he did like sitting by the fire, watching the kids and eating a plain marshmallow.
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Only un-roasted marshmallows for me please!

3. Make sure everyone you are travelling with is aware of your child’s food allergies. We vacationed with family- immediate as well as extended family members. Because they all know Ricky well, most of them know to either abide by our food rules (which mainly means washing up extensively after eating/before playing with Ricky) or keep their distance. Since the group did include some that aren’t around Ricky a ton though, I had to be sure to remind people rather than expect that everyone remember 100% of the time- I know how tough that is! Reminding people can make you feel like a nag, but as long as it is done gently I like to believe that people, especially family, understand that it is necessary to keep our tot safe.
4. Sometimes a little isolation is necessary. Isolation from others is never fun, but sometimes it is better than the alternative. Since we were staying in a retreat center, everyone shared one eating and cooking area. There were a lot of kids on this vacation and unfortunately, that means peanut butter. Because this was not a situation where we could require or really even request that peanuts/treenuts not be present, that meant we had to be extra cognisant of what/who Ricky came in contact with. We spent a lot of our time out on the beach, sometimes playing with others and sometimes just by ourselves. Karl and I made the most of Ricky’s nap times to hang out with family, but while he was awake our main priority was keeping him safe, and sometimes that meant isolated.
5. Don’t limit yourself more than necessary. Karl and I were VERY hesitant to go on vacation because we were so afraid of possible allergic reactions. We could have taken the easier route and stayed home, but I am so glad that we decided to calm our nerves and go! Traveling or being away from home in general is tough with food allergic kids, but it is also important that they lead full lives and get to experience as much normalcy as possible. For us, normal means being around lots of family, so we are bound and determined to figure out the best solutions to make family gatherings enjoyable experiences!

A few of my favorite photos from the trip:

Playing with papa and dad

Walking on the beach

First boat ride with Grandma

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35 weeks!

Honey Balsamic Chicken Strips and Vacation Hopes

Happy Wednesday! This week we are in preparation mode for an upcoming family vacation with Karl’s extended family. Karl and I really struggled with the decision to attend the vacation this year. It is an annual trip and one of our favorite weeks of the year- we love his family and love spending time with them. That being said, as most allergy parents know, vacations are stressful when traveling with a food allergic child. There are extra dangers when you’re outside of your normal surroundings and in our case, we have to pack all of Ricky’s food because there is no guarantee we’ll be able to find his normal non-dairy, non-soy, non-egg, no-nut options where we are going. I don’t really mind packing the food since we’ll be driving and have enough room for a cooler, what scares me more is the potential for contact with his allergens once we arrive. The family all stays in one big retreat center, cooks in a big kitchen and eats together in a big dining hall. One obvious solution is to just stay away from those areas, which we will, but I also don’t want to entirely isolate my son from everyone. It is the family’s vacation and I fully expect everyone to be snacking all day, and understandably, not washing their hands after every time they eat. This means that I have to be extra on-guard when someone wants to play with Ricky as well as extra cautious about what toys he plays with. After MUCH deliberation, we decided to give it a shot with the flexibility of coming home early if there is more stress than fun. I’m hoping that lots of preparation and the support of immediate family members helps to make this vacation feel like a real vacation instead of a very nerve-wracking trial run for travel. Fingers crossed that when we return I can report back that the trip was amazing and there were no mishaps! Oh, and I’m also 35 weeks pregnant as of tomorrow, so let’s hope I don’t go into labor early 🙂

As promised- another delicious freezer meal!

Honey Balsamic Chicken Strips

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs chicken breast
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)

Directions

  • Mix balsamic, minced garlic, olive oil, honey and a bit of salt and pepper (to taste) in a ziploc bag.
  • Slice the raw chicken breasts into ~1 inch strips. Add the chicken to the ziploc bag and marinate for at least 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • When done marinating, empty the chicken and marinade into a 9×13 baking dish and bake for 35-45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through

Note- to freeze, simply mix all the ingredients per directions in the ziploc bag and freeze until ready to cook. 

June Book Favorites

Happy Hump Day! I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend! We spent lots of great family time. We went to a neighborhood waterpark for the first time and had a blast! Ricky has always loved water, so any place that has fountains and a water slide just his size is right up his alley! We also had his first swim class on Monday. They submerge the little ones in their first class, so I was pretty nervous but he did great! Karl was in the pool with him and it was the perfect daddy-son time. I love watching those two play and bond.

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Let’s dive into some of our favorite books from this past month! Like most little ones, when Ricky likes a story, that means we read it a minimum of twice a day for several weeks.

June Book Favorites

June Book Favorites1) Mighty Dads by Joan Holub – I included this book with Karl’s Father’s Day gift and it became a fast favorite. Ricky’s obsession with trucks continues and he loves hearing about how the daddy trucks help out their little ones. The pictures in this book are so bright and colorful, and I love how it highlights several different types of construction trucks and the functions they perform.

2) Scuffy the Tugboat by Gertrude Crampton – Let me start by saying that this is not my favorite story in the world. For some reason though, Ricky just can’t get enough. The book follows a grumpy toy tugboat as he leaves a toy store in search of a more adventurous life, only to realize that he is in fact very happy living a simple life sailing in the bathtub of a little boy. It is on the longer end for his age, but Ricky sits in captivation throughout this entire book, pointing out different aspects of the illustrations along the way.

3) I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole – We are doing our best to prepare Ricky for the arrival of baby in August, but there is also only so much a 21 month old can comprehend through words alone. Given that Ricky loves stories so much, I figured a big brother book would be perfect to help acclimate him to the idea of a new baby in the house. When Ricky and I made a trip to the bookstore, I was pretty surprised by the lack of options. A lot of the books were very dry (read: boring) and focused on much older children becoming siblings. This book is simple and highlights the interactions a little boy can expect when a new baby comes into their house, such as talking to the baby and snuggling the baby. It also points out that the baby will be too little to do many of the things big brother can do, such as play with toys or eat certain foods. My favorite part, though, is the fact that mom and dad love the big brother and he is his own special person, and being a big brother is just one more special thing about him. I may or may not have cried the first time I read the book to Ricky…oh pregnancy hormones.

4) Hop on Pop by Dr.Seuss – We have had several Dr.Seuss books on the shelf since Ricky was born, but previously he had absolutely no interest in them. All of a sudden, these are his go- to book grabs. He loves the part of this book when Pat almost sits on a cactus- he flips right to this page and says “No! Ouch!” Pretty adorable, if you ask me.

5) Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr.Seuss – I love the visuals in this book and the encouragement for little one to try making different sounds. Ricky has mastered a lot of the sounds, but there are still some tricky ones we’re working on. This is the perfect little interactive story to flip through over and over!

I hope you all have a great week!

Outdoor Play Area

When we first moved into our house, the back patio area was quickly identified as one of our first projects. It was all red bricks and very uneven, so we replaced with stamped concrete. Big improvement! The patio area also featured a very pretty waterfall… that didn’t work. We (ahem, Karl) spent many hours and $$ trying different pumps and re-sealing it in hopes of getting it back up and running (although, according to our neighbor it hadn’t worked for at least 10 years, 2 owners ago). After a lot of resistance, Karl finally convinced me that it was time to rip the thing out and make the area functional. As mentioned back here, my mom still had my 90s Little Tikes play gym so we decided to make the area a mini playground for the kiddos.

I think Karl may have been kicking himself for convincing me to get rid of the waterfall once he realized just how many rocks and concrete he had to remove. It was a lot. Our quick little backyard project lasted about a month and a half thanks to those stupid rocks. After demolition, he had to remove some electrical work, level the ground with additional soil, spray for weeds, tarp the whole area and finally, add wood chips! We used wood chips specifically designated for playgrounds to keep the area as safe as possible. Here are some photos of the process…trust me, Karl loved me taking pictures from the window while he worked 😉

Not a progress picture, but the best one of the original waterfall area I could find...

Not a progress picture, but the best one of the original waterfall area I could find. It was a hot mess.

Check out that hunk with a sledgehammer! (Sorry Karl, but I had to...)

Check out that hunk with a sledgehammer! (Sorry Karl, but I had to…)

Finally, no more rocks!

Finally, no more rocks!

We're getting there... tarped and ready for wood chips!

We’re getting there… tarped and ready for wood chips!

Forever daddy's little helper, Ricky loved filling up his little bucket with wood chips and carrying them behind Karl's wheelbarrow.

Forever daddy’s little helper, Ricky loved filling up his bucket with wood chips and carrying them behind Karl’s wheelbarrow.

Daddy's biggest fan- this is a common sight, at our house, Karl outside working and Ricky standing watch at the window.

Daddy’s biggest fan- this is a common sight, at our house, Karl outside working and Ricky standing watch at the window. Note- the first blog appearance of Ricky’s beloved bunny, Hop.

And finally…cue drum roll please…. the final product!

Final play area Okay, so I realize this is not anything mind-bogglingly spectacular, however it is a big leap forward in making our yard more kid-friendly! We’re very happy with the final product and Ricky may or may not be a fan as well (please note that he is in the play structure in the picture above because the second it was ready he was all over that thing). Yay finishing home projects! …now what’s next?