Making Holidays Happy for Allergy Kiddos

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but for allergy families, it can also be one of the most stressful times.

Holiday travel is stressful enough, but the potential dangers of eating foods at new locations adds an extra level of anxiety. No two allergy families go through the same experience, but I wanted to share some tips and allergy-friendly dessert recipes that have worked for us. Some might seem obvious, but I hope you find something useful:

Pack a cooler: Bringing our son’s food everywhere we go is just a given. We do have some “safe” locations (grandparents, aunts, BFFs) where we know they understand his needs and work with us on foods safe for him. But in general we follow the rule that no food is safe at a new location, so we always have his foods along.

Check labels: If you do decide to let your child try new foods, always ask about ingredients and check labels. Even if your kiddo has eaten the food before, ingredients can change — as can a company’s equipment cleaning process. Also, try to find out how and where a food was prepared to avoid cross-contamination.

Don’t forget the EpiPen: This is a given of course, but it never hurts to double-check. Bring more than one if possible, don’t leave them in the car in a hot or cold location, and teach others to use it. Keep other allergy meds on hand (such as Benadryl), and know the location of the nearest ER and pharmacy.

Educate key people: When you’re at a large gathering, pull aside family members who are responsible and comfortable with being a vocal advocate and ask them to help keep an extra eye on your little one. Recruit responsible older children as well — when kids are playing/eating in a group, they can watch out for little ones who might try to share their food.

Educate your child as well: It’s tough when they’re little — my son is now 5 and still doesn’t fully understand the severity of his peanut allergy. But, he is more able to be his own advocate now than when he was younger. He knows he’s not supposed to take food from other people, and we’ve taught him to say: “No thanks, I have food allergies. Please ask my mom or dad.”

Seek out resources: There are a ton of resources available online — check out FARE for helpful information such as holiday tips and an emergency care plan.

And finally…don’t worry what other people think: If you’re worried about seeming overprotective, don’t be. You know what’s best for your child. Do what you need to do to keep him or her safe — and also to keep yourself as anxiety-free as possible during the holiday season. Good luck!

ALLERGY-FRIENDLY DESSERT RECIPES

Okay, I’m sorry – I didn’t want this to be one of those posts where you have to scroll forever to find the recipes, but I got a little carried away with tips! Below are my family’s favorite allergy-friendly desserts — because everyone deserves a treat this time of year, am I right? My disclaimer: These recipes aren’t revolutionary. We’ve found that when it comes to baking safe foods, it’s all about the substitutions. With a couple of key ingredients — Earth Balance buttery spread and Enjoy Life chocolate chips — we’ve been able to safely adapt some of our favorites:

PUPPY CHOW (dairy, nut, and gluten free)

1 box of Rice Chex

2 1/4 cups Enjoy Life chocolate chips

1 cup Earth Balance buttery spread

3 cups powdered sugar

Pour Rice Chex into a large bowl. Melt the chocolate chips and Earth Balance, pour over cereal and mix until well-coated. Pour powdered sugar over mixture and mix until well-covered. Enjoy! (*Note: We used to use a soy nut butter product, but unfortunately the company had a recall earlier this year. Instead of looking for an alternative, we doubled the previous Earth Balance amount, and my son loved it!)

WILLY WONKA BARS (dairy, nut, and gluten free)

These loaded brownies (yes, the name comes from the book because I got the recipe from my fourth-grade teacher after we read it in class) taste AMAZING. (*Note: When choosing a gluten-free flour mix, check for one that says it can be used 1:1 in recipes — one of our favorites is Pillsbury’s baking mix.)

Substitute 3/4 cup Nestle cocoa powder and 4 Tbsp olive oil for 4 squares baking chocolate

1 cup Earth Balance spread

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup gluten-free flour

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 packages Enjoy Life chocolate chips

Powdered sugar (to sprinkle on top)

Melt cocoa powder, oil, and Earth Balance together. Add sugar. Cool mixture. Add eggs, beating one at a time. Add vanilla, flour, and salt; mix until well-blended. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan (I use Earth Balance or olive oil). Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Do not test. Top may look bubbly. Sprinkle very well with powdered sugar.

PECANLESS PIE (dairy, nut, and gluten free)

Okay, I will admit that I am still perfecting this one…my gluten-free pie crusts still tend to come out crumbly, and it’s hard to not have the inside a bit runny. But it firms up nicely once it’s refrigerated. Plus, it tastes great and is one of my all-time favorite desserts!

To make pie crust:

Mix two cups gluten-free flour/baking mix with 3/4 cup Earth Balance spread, 1/2 cup ice cold water, and 1 tsp. salt. Form into ball, roll out, and lay in pie pan. (*Note: With regular flour, this recipe would make enough for two crusts. But I’ve found that halving it makes it really difficult to roll out without it breaking apart, so I use the whole thing — it’s a little thicker, but it works a lot better for me.)

For filling:

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/3 cup Earth Balance, melted

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/3 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, and vanilla; mix well. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust. Cover top with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until center is set. Cool, then refrigerate. (*Note: You could leave the foil off at first, but be careful — without the pecans, the top of the filling can get a chewy-hard layer on top if it’s baked too long without foil.)

I hope these tips and recipes help make your holidays brighter! If you are an allergy family with advice or recipes to share, I’d love any new tips or ideas. Feel free to share in the comments!

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An Allergy Mama’s Prayer

IMG_201Where did the summer go? My baby is starting kindergarten this week! He has severe food allergies, asthma, and eczema, so a new environment can be scary. I wrote this prayer to help ease my fears. If your kiddo is starting a new journey as well, maybe this prayer will help ease your fears, too.

May you always be safe.

May the other kids be kind to you as you walk onto this schoolyard for the first time—and you to them.

May the adults be vigilant, making sure your EpiPen is with you at all times. May everyone understand—or if they don’t understand, may they ask questions, listen, seek out information.

May you be able to answer those questions. To speak up for yourself when needed. To say no to a food that could harm you. May Daddy and I have taught you—empowered you—enough to be your own advocate, to recognize potential dangers in your surroundings.

May I always be there, ready, if you need help—to explain your needs, provide special snacks, talk through potential problems.

But may I let go. Not completely, not yet. But enough. Enough to let you soar, explore, learn, and thrive on this new adventure. Because you deserve to, just as every child does. You deserve to be treated like everyone else—may you always know that.

But may you also know that you are our special child, no matter how big you get. We blinked and you have suddenly reached this milestone. Our baby is in kindergarten. We will blink again and you will be grown.

As your journey continues and new challenges and adventures arise, may you be prepared to face them—may we prepare you to face them.

May you always, always be safe.

And above all, may you know that you are loved beyond measure. Always.

MS Connection Blog Post

I’m absolutely honored to be featured on the National MS Society’s MS Connection Blog! You can read my post, Not Alone – the first of two posts about my journey with multiple sclerosis.

Neither post was easy to write, but I hope sharing my story can help others affected by MS. Check out the rest of the blog and the MS Society’s website to learn more about this disease. Thank you for your support in the fight to end MS!

Goals vs. Deadlines

About a month ago, I told my husband I wasn’t sure I was going to meet my deadline of finishing my latest round of revisions on my WIP by the end of March.

Him: “Wait, you have a deadline for that?”

Me: “Well, sort of…”

Him: “Who set the deadline?”

Me: “Um, well…I did.”

Him:

Yes, deadlines are kind of my thing. I know that I work best when I have an end date set. That’s not a bad thing — sometimes deadlines are required, and they need to be met (like during Pitch Wars). And in those cases, I’ll do what it takes to meet them.

The problem is that I tend to set *unrealistic* deadlines for myself when I don’t need to. There was absolutely no reason I had to get that round of revisions done in March. I was setting myself up for unnecessary stress and disappointment.

So now, I’m learning to rephrase: when setting my own end date for my work, instead of calling it a deadline, I’m calling it a goal. My goal was to get that round of revisions done in March. I didn’t quite make it, but I finished it the first weekend in April. And that was just fine!

As writers, we face enough rejection and are generally hard enough on ourselves. Easing up on our own unnecessarily harsh expectations for ourselves is one way we can lessen that stress.

Here’s to realistic goals and happy, stress-free writing!

A Time to Revise

coffeewritingThere’s a saying: writing is rewriting. Since participating in Pitch Wars, I understand that more than ever. It feels like about ninety percent of my time since last fall has been spent revising my novel! (I think my husband would agree.)

I am still far from an expert in revision, but I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredibly smart and talented people (Pitch Wars mentors, my agent) who are revision experts and who pointed out some writing mistakes I was making.

As I dove into revisions of my second book, I found myself using the same tips I got while revising my first book, so I thought I’d put some of them together into a post. It’s by no means the end-all, be-all of revision checklists, but I hope these tips are helpful to other writers.

Purple prose: I have a tendency to write some pretty flowery sentences. In small doses, that can be okay. But too many slow the story down. Hunt these darlings down and kill them. It’s painful, but necessary. The tip that really clicked for me regarding this: If the sentence moves the story forward, keep it. If it doesn’t, cut it.

Stick to the timeline: I never realized how much I love to jump ahead during an exciting part, and then recap. It’s like I felt the need to stick in my very own commercial breaks. Tell your story chronologically, and if you find yourself adding in a scene break/jumping ahead, really think about whether it’s the right decision.

Foreshadowing: I had a habit of essentially telling the reader about something before it happened–it was an attempt at foreshadowing, but what it really did was pull the reader out of the story. Let the reader experience the story.

Simplify: Too often, I’d use: “She started to walk” instead of “she walked.” Likewise, I can’t believe how many times I used: “She was running” instead of “she ran.” It’s a tedious process, but searching your manuscript for “start,” “began” and “was” can make a big difference.

Filter words: Ah, the dreaded filter words…felt, saw, heard, knew, realized, noticed…I’m guilty of using all of them! Search for these and get rid of as many as possible. Same with the word “just.” This is one I struggle with. Search and cut!

There you have it! I hope you found my revision cheat sheet useful. What writing mistakes do you often make? Do you know of any wonderful revision checklists out there that are super helpful? Let’s all help each other through this writing journey.

Happy rewriting!

A New Beginning

I am so incredibly thrilled to announce (scream from the rooftops) I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!

AnchormanCelebrate.gif

I have signed with Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. She’s amazing, and I am so lucky to get to work with her on THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND, an apocalyptic-friendship-adventure-love story I have poured my heart into!

You could say it all started with this PitMad tweet:

But it really started with Pitch Wars. Because THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND is so much stronger thanks to the hard work and literary genius of my brilliant mentors Meredith Ireland and Kara Leigh Miller. I’m so lucky to have worked with them, learned from them, and gotten to know them!

It’s been an exciting end to the year. Here’s to a 2017 full of joy, hope, and writing the stories of our hearts.

Pitch Wars Bio

Hello, everyone!

I was nervous about doing a bio—putting yourself out there is about as scary as having someone read your words, am I right? But then I realized this is a chance to get to know other writers better and participate in the writing community—which, seriously, is so amazing and supportive—so I decided to go for it!

So, here are some random facts about me:

I have three beautiful children: my stepdaughter is 18, my older son is 9, and my little guy is 4. I am so proud of them, and I love that they all love reading as much as I do!

Bros reading

I am an introvert who has become more outgoing over time, but inside I’m still shy and awkward. (And usually when I engage with a tweet, I second guess myself about 1,000 times.)

I am a huge fan of The X-Files, and I wish I would’ve known about fan fiction as a teen in the 90s—I totally would’ve been writing it. (Perhaps I can start now to finish out that cliffhanger they left us with…)

Mulder Scully

My favorite book of all time is The Handmaid’s Tale, and my top three favorite authors are Margaret Atwood, Gillian Flynn, and Liane Moriarty. But the books that got me back into reading and writing were the Hunger Games and Twilight series. (The Hunger Games series is still among my favorites.)

When I say I got back into writing…I’ve been writing all this time for work, but a different type: I spent 10 years as a reporter and editor at a daily newspaper and now write for a university.

My favorite Harry Potter character is Molly Weasley, and I have been known to threaten to send a howler to my 9-year-old if he gets in trouble at school.

molly-weasley

I try not to use MS to refer to my manuscripts because I have MS, and I tweet and blog about that as well as my writing. (Don’t want to confuse things.) My diagnosis is what spurred me to finally finish “that” book—you know, the one I’d been meaning to finish for years.

“That” book is what I’m entering in Pitch Wars: UNTIL THE END is adult upmarket women’s fiction that is THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE meets THE STAND. Lilia Franklin’s husband and son are on the shuttle to Mars, but she’s given up her seat to save an abandoned child. Now she must brave an apocalyptic Midwest to find another launch—before the asteroid hits. The story is dark and scary, with plenty of action and adventure as Lilia fights to get back to her family. But at its heart it’s a story about love and about finding your strength. I entered Pitch Wars last year but have since revised substantially, and I would greatly appreciate the help of a mentor to take my story to the next level. I’m ready and willing to work hard to get it there!

I need to up my Pinterest game—still working on creating boards for my manuscripts—but I put together this novel aesthetics collage:

Novel Aesthetics UTE

And here is a playlist based on UNTIL THE END:

Work Song by Hozier

Love Runs Out by One Republic

Beam Me Up by Pink

I See Fire by Ed Sheeran

Can’t Help Falling in Love by Ingrid Michaelson

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

Stand By You by Rachel Platten

Something I Need by One Republic

Next to Me by Emeli Sande

Writing a novel has been a lifelong dream, but once I finished it, I couldn’t stop with one! I now have a first draft of a sequel to UNTIL THE END, and I’m finishing up a thriller that is SHARP OBJECTS meets BIG LITTLE LIES.

Thanks for reading! You can find me on Twitter at @ElissaDickey, and find more Pitch Wars bios here. Good luck, and remember:

No regrets

Write on, friends.