The Great Cupcake Escapades

I'm typically a little too, shall we say, all over the place to be much good as a crafty hobbyist. I have things that I enjoy. I like to tinker. But frankly, my mercurial self will never stay enthralled with one thing long enough to say I'm, for example, a quilter, baker, scrapbooker...well you get the idea. Some things, however, I ended up returning to quite often for a variety of reasons; only some of which include the fact that I genuinely like them.

For example, I actually do like to bake. I do not like to clean so my baking is often put on hold with the dread of cleaning that mess up. Someone must be home (ahem, husband, I'm eyeballing you) to do the dishes. In addition, when your child has food allergies, you end up making quite a bit of fancy little baked goods because those are safe whereas other people's baked goods (bought or made) are not or are unknown. Every year we make oodles of cupcakes just before school goes back. Most of those end up in the school nurses' freezer so Megan has a known safe fall back whenever treats make their way into the classroom during the year. This means, of course, that simply boxed cupcakes and canned frosting are not enough. No. These must complete with mile-high frosting and cute decorations you find in shops. These must stand-up to fantastic. If Meg must be different, she will be the different everyone else wishes they had on their plate.

Out of necessity I have become an cupcake maker. Creeping into August and with a desert due to the church kitchen tomorrow morning for mission teams we're hosting, it's time to get back to the cupcake drawing board. Today we're going to make a combination of recipes I've found online in order to produce S'Mores cupcakes. The basis of our creation begins here: http://cookiesandcups.com/smores-cupcakes/

They will be good.

I will make twice as many as I need to keep the family happy. Actually, I may not share.


It's been so long let's get reacquainted.

It seems to me that all blogs should start off with a "who am I?" entry. This one did ten years ago when I created it's inaugural post. Who I was then, a young(er) mother to one child, working part-time, looking for an outlet beyond the 'baby book' style blog I also kept, is not exactly who I am today. A decade manages to change people.

So who am I?

I am a mom. This time around, I'm a mom to two tweens - one about to start middle school as a 6th grader and the other 4th grade. I am a wife. I am a daughter. I am a sister.

I am a volunteer who does not often remember what the word "NO" feels like on my lips. I am a Girl Scout leader, a mentor and trainer for new GS volunteers, and I frequent many other Girl Scout committee meetings. I am on church committees. I am pitching in at various places because I was raised to understand that our purpose is to make the world better than we found it and the best way to do that is to volunteer your time and talents.

I am a writer who suffers from enough self-doubt in my words to approach pitching myself for freelance pieces. I procrastinate while I work up the courage. I've not had the courage in many years, despite having written for publication several times. I am an out of work marketer and public relations maven. I am job seeker whose perfect job would allow me to work at home or work part-time but who is willing to take what I find.

I am a child of the Jersey Shore who is raising her own children in her own hometown. I am seeing the places where I grew up, and the things I thought my children would grow up with, fighting to recover from Hurricane Sandy - cursing her destruction and marveling at the amazing people who have come from near and far to help us rebuild. I am feet on the ground and hands in mix to pick up the pieces. I am part of the solution.

I am a food allergy parent who understands that my primary task in this role is to empower my daughter to respect her allergies and to take charge of them. My job is not to construct a bubble around her, but to teach her to keep herself safe, to be confident and to above all else, not let her allergies get in the way of her happiness or contentment with life.

I am firm believer learning never ends and a child's education is a partnership between home and school. I am always looking for the learning opportunity in all things. How can we grow from this? What can we glean?

I'm a history buff, a political junky, a Yankee baseball and Giants football fan. I may be addicted to Starbucks, but only those drinks that don't taste like coffee. I am an avid reader who sometimes forgets to take the time to feed that passion. I am one who works best with music playing in the background because my brain tends to wander off aimlessly when it's not half listening to someone singing.

I am 40 and that no longer seems "old." Old is now what it's always been - people my parent's age. People my age? We're just getting started on the good stuff.

This is me. This is my blog.

Life With My Overachieving Bunch: Smurfing Food Allergies?

Sometimes the allergy community gets itself worked up over stuff. Sometimes I identify with the rally cry and other times I don't. The latest hubbub over the new Smurf movie is one in which I don't fall in with the masses. Instead of waxing poetic again, I will just share the link to a guest blog post I wrote for a friend:

Life With My Overachieving Bunch: Smurfing Food Allergies?


The big comeback

When I signed off 5 years ago I left things a little open ended. It was nice having my own wall to throw stuff up against. It was fun having others actually read that stuff and leave a few words. As much as I knew I needed a break from blogging, I also knew that one day the words would build up inside again and I'd need to dust off my little slice of the web. That time has come. I can't promise I'll be consistent with frequency. I can't promise it will always be entertaining. It's just me, just like it's always been. Me and Me only and whatever it is that happened to crawl up into that itchy place of my brain and demand my fingers set it free. Are you ready to go along for the ride?


Perhaps it's time

When I began blogging 6 years ago it was a release. This virtual home was a place to come and let out whatever was pent up. I enjoyed it. I looked forward to it. I read blogs. I made new friends. I wrote regularly.

And then I began to write less.

And then less.

And now, if we're being truthful, this blog has become a more labor than love.

When I do come around to post something, it's done as a duty. Rarely do the words flow of their own accord. They come forced. I'm writing here because I "have to," which, really, makes the blog itself pointless. It's not fair to me...and it's not fair to you the reader.

So, what do we do now? Well, I think perhaps it's time to hang-up the keyboard - at least for a bit. I'm not going to take down these pages. I'm invested too much heart into them to just dump them all. I'm not going to say it's "forever" because it's nice to know I have an outlet when I need it.

I am saying I'm on indefinite hiatus. Perhaps as the calendar relaxes some or the urge to release the words building inside me finds no other place to erupt I'll come back. But the hanging and the lingering isn't fair to any of us - those that check in for new words and 'those' of us that feel guilty for not writing them.

I did make some wonderful friends over the years. Some of you have my email address already. Others are welcome to it -- for such folk that want to keep in touch or at least get a heads-up if I reverse course on this decision, leave a comment here with your email (you should be able to put it in the designated field outside the comment itself...but do what works for you!)

For those that have stuck in there with me these years, thank you. Your words and your friendship are much appreciated.


Six years gone by

Behind my desk sits a tall white dresser. It's not an expensive dresser. It's not an old dresser. It is a spare dresser, however, and it's loaded to the gills with photo albums and loose photos I've yet to get into other photo albums.

One weekend not too long ago, we pulled some of the collection out. Logan spent well over an hour marveling over how tiny he had actually been.

And I spent the same duration marveling over how tiny he no longer was.

In just a handful of hours he'll wake up. He'll rub the sleep from his eyes. He'll blink until the clock comes into focus. And then, deciding it's an acceptable time to let free his proclamation, he'll wake up the rest of us with the news that he is indeed an official 6 year old.

In the hot days of summer 2002, Logan spent a lot of time clad in a simple cotton onesie, lying on his back admiring clouds and blades of grass. Today he spends hot summer days mastering the latest video game, trying to perfect his "underwater hand stand" and striving to solve the ever-baffling mystery of riding a bike without training wheels.

Back then he took the world in through those big inquisitive eyes that seemed to dissect the unknown into small manageable pieces. Today, well today he's the same - the unknown just got bigger. Confronted with something new, Logan will study it with a fierce intensity. Sometimes the hands start to move - mimicking the motion of an item's internal mechanism or the way an insect moves. He may even whisper a particular math problem or phrase to himself over and over. When he's done that film of concentration leaves his eyes and he refocuses on whatever else surrounds him. He may have left "the zone" - but whatever it was that got him locked on is now etched in that little head of his.

Logan spent those early days visiting Grandma at her office - a non-profit organization in town. Perhaps the place rubbed off on him. Logan's a regular volunteer by his own desire. He gives time to everything from Meals on Wheels to fundraising walks and food bank collections.

He's an adoring brother who will also, at last from time to time, readily wish his sister would take a permanent vacation to someone else's house. He says this, often with a growl and a rage in his eyes over something or other she's attempted to do to him, but he'd be lost without her. He's always there with a pep talk or a hug when she needs them most. He's her champion and her best friend. Her "Brubee."

He's a good friend, not just to his little sister, but to any kid that comes into his orbit. He's the sort of kid that stops his own race to help another up from the ground. He's the one that's on the bench cheering his team mates even when he's having an off day. He's a kid that doesn't let a little thing like "language barriers" get in the way of some good play time. His philosophy is, "English? Spanish? French? Hey, a Lego is a Lego. Just smile nice and build."

He's a perfectionist and sometimes that's really hard. Things come easy to him and sometimes that's a road block. When something doesn't come easily he's quickly discouraged. There's a tight rope walk we work to master - bolstering his esteem over the tasks that need a little extra work on his behalf while keeping him level headed and realistic.

When Logan was a baby he discovered certain sounds and actions could trigger a cascade of laughter from the grown-ups around him. Little has changed. Logan has a sense of humor and enough self-awareness and confidence to apply that sense of humor wisely. Usually.

Sometimes he struggles to meld the two contradictory aspects of his personality. He can be reticent to change...almost to the point of unease. Yet he's terribly adventurous and curious. He's a serious soul that is a jumble of nerves as he leaps into new situations. He tends to lean back on reserved to almost rudely silent when walking into new places or meeting new people. Yet, he yearns to discover and explore. He looks forward to new opportunities with zeal and he relishes the chances to grow from them. He happily stand before a classroom full of peers and their assorted grown-up types to perform magic trick after magic trick. Moments later, however, he'll stare down an adult he does not know well refusing to speak more than a few words and most certainly not willing to shake their hand.

He loves numbers. He loves to tally up columns of them and then slash that total by subtracting even more digits. He likes to challenge himself with multiplication and he's decided that division might be worth his while. For fun he plows through pages of math workbooks levels ahead of what he's expected to have mastered. And he wants even more.

He's downright enamored with science. He declared himself a future doctor well over 4years ago...and he's sticking to it. Sometimes he even challenges his own doctor. And sometimes he's even right.

He's reader that lacks confidence in his own abilities. He reads well. He reads with inflection and even in varying voices associated with different characters. He doesn't always realize he's doing it. He sometimes doubts he can. He's a phonetic writer that has been known to slam down his pencil and declare "those people that made up the spelling rules" tremendous poop-heads. I struggle not to say "Well sometimes I have other names for them."

Above all else, however, he's my little boy that's not really so little any more. He's six. Just six. Little, although I'd not tell him that. He's just six and the proud owner of two, count them with him, two "grown-up" teeth. His face already slightly more mature for having sprouted them.

There are certain times the light catches his face or a particular way he smiles and I can see that small 6 pound, 13 ounce baby he once was. There are other times, even at this young age, when the shadow catches his jaw just so or the small furrow of his concentrating brow creases a particular way that I see a hint of the man he'll some day become. When he burrows his head into that hollow just above my shoulder and below my chin each night at "tuck-in", I know that even when that very routine becomes passes, the light and creases will still play these tricks on me. Who he is, who he was, who he will become - they'll all reside in that same face, under that same red hair every day I see him.

And, I also know that who he was, who he is and who he will be, will always move through this world as my hero. My inspriration. My masterpiece - who took the reigns and helped to sculpt himself.


Seven minutes TO heaven? Are you aware?

Seven minutes in heaven conjures images of teens exchanging kisses in dark closets. Maybe the phrase niggles at your memory pulling bits of an '80s teen flick that you can't quite remember who was in it or what it was about.

For many, however, the phrase is ominous and sounds a lot more like "seven minutes TO heaven." For individuals with food allergies, seven minutes after the onset of an anaphylactic reaction can be the difference of life and death. Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction involving two or more bodily systems. Severe cases involve a sudden and precipitous drop of blood pressure and/or breathing complications. People that survive a severe case received as shot of epiphedrine within 5 minutes of the onset of symptoms. People that did not recieve that shot end up a statistic of people killed by food.

Tossing out a bunch of numbers and statistics doesn't really do much to drive home the point, however. Knowing that ninety four percent of school nurses reported having at least one child with food allergies in their school is unlikely to sway you. Nor is reading that more than one third of the nurses indicated that they had 10 or more students in the school with food allergies, and 87 percent stated that, compared with other health-related issues, food allergies among school-age children is somewhat or very serious. (as reported in a 2004 study published in the Journal of School Nursing)

Instead let's break this down and make it personal - what do those numbers mean? As a parent reading you and/or your child(ren) already know or will know someone juggling food allergies. Now let me make it a little more personal.

A year and a half-ago, my daugher attempted her first peanut butter sandwich. She was a month shy of her second birthday and more than a littel intrigued by her big brother's favorite lunch. She took one bite and spit it out. She hated it. She pawed at her tongue pleading with us to get it off. It was her only response and we assumed she simply disliked the thick. stick to your mouth texture. Hours later she vomited. Somewhere deep in my gut the little word "allergic" nagged at me. I pushed it aside with the cushion of hours that her sick stomach and her exposure had between them.

A week later we were baking cookies. We had chocolate chips and peanut butter chips to toss into the dough. The kids plunged their hands into the chip bags. Megan ate one peanut butter chip. She popped a second one in her mouth and her face quickly turned from that giggling, happy smiling face she'd been wearing to one full of dread. She began to paw at her mouth again as the tears came down her cheeks. In seconds she was off the chair she had been standing on and vomiting profusely all over my kitchen floor. We cleaned her up. We calmed her down. So we thought. She began to vomit again and this time bright red hives started to emerge on her stomach and back. Her cheeks were red and her eyes were filled with tears and fear. I called the pediatrician to confirm what I knew for certain.

Megan is allergic to peanuts.

Since then, we've seen her allergist three times for general visits. She's now twice endured a skin prick test to confirm her peanut allergy and, after breaking out in a rash from body lotion that contained nut oils, to confirm an allergy to almonds and walnuts as well. She's had blood tests to confirm the skin test and to set a baseline for where she falls on the severity scale of her allergy. (On a scale of 0-6, she's a 5.) Megan goes no where without two EpiPens at arms reach and a bottle of antihistamine close by. We are pros at reading food labels and navigating eateries.

Overall, Megan is a bright, vivacious three year old. She understands her allergy better than many adults in her world. She knows that her reactions have gotten more severe and faster with each exposure - including a recent vomiting episode on the heels of eating a pretzel that came from a batch "processed in a facility that also processes peanuts." That cross contaminated pretzel confirmed a truth she already knew, it doesn't take much to trigger a reaction and while we've not yet had to confront it, the next one could be one to compromise her breathing. She understands, in a way so many grown-ups don't, that previous reactions and the severity level of one's blood test do NOT indicate the way a body will react to future exposure. That's part of what makes food allergies so scary - you can't anticipate. You always need to be prepared for the worse case scenario.

Megan won't eat anything handed to her without asking "does this have nuts?" as she points to the label on the package. And this is the part that makes me nervous. Our family, my parents, her preschool teachers, her dance teacher, even her 5 year old brother, are aware that the dreaded "may contain" or "processed in a plant that also process..." labels are as off limits for a food allergic person as the label that reads "This product contains: [allergen list]." This isn't something, however, that is top of mind for everyone else.

A recent study indicates that up to 1 in 10 products with a "may contain" or processed in" label contains enough peanut protein to trigger a reaction in an allergic person. Or, in real life terms, when the mom in our dance class, remembering the two nut allergic girls in class, put the small Snickers bars back on the shelf in exchange for the Milky Ways she still had selected goody bag candy that neither allergic girl could safely eat.

As parents you have, or you will, bring in cupcakes, cookies, and any other array of snack items to class functions at some point. If you're in Meg's class, please don't take it personally when she's sitting with her own homemade cupcake instead of the pretty bakery cupcakes you sent in. It's not a snub. It's a cross contamination concern. When we're standing off in a corner with her trying to calm her down for feeling 'left-out' please understand, for a three-year old it's hard to have a graham cracker when the rest of class is having Munchkins.

This blog post is the sort that rankles some parents. Listen, I also have a picky eater who would exist on nothing but potato chip laden peanut butter sandwiches if we let him. Although my picky eater HAS given up his staple food at home for his sister's sake, I'm not asking yours to give up his/hers. This isn't a campaign to ban peanuts from schools. Frankly that'd be awfully near-sighted of me. Food allergies are much more extensive than one little legume - there are children with deadly allergies to eggs, wheat, milk, soy, shellfish, corn, and many other less publicized foods in addition to the kids like my Megan with her peanut and tree nut allergies.

I'm not campaigning for an end to Reese's. I *AM* trying to share a personal glimpse at a growing trend. And ok, I am asking that you take the extra moment to look carefully at labels when you're providing a snack for a group of children. Sometimes the "not safe" product is seemingly innocent. It's the plain M&Ms. It's an overwhelming list of jelly bean brands. It's the bakery cookie or cupcake. It's a particular brand of pretzels. I am asking that you do your research because even if it's not YOUR kid, it's your friend's kid or your kid's friend. I'm asking that you ask questions - ask the teacher "I want to send in something for Logan's birthday next week. Are there any allergy concerns in the class?"

I am also asking that eating products with the top 8 allergens (milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shell fish, wheat) begins to equate to "washing hands and face." Think of it this way, you're at the park eating your PB&J. You run off and leap back into the action - touching various surfaces as you go along. There is likely trace amounts of peanut butter left on your hands if you've not washed thoroughly - and THAT little bit CAN trigger a reaction in some allergic individuals. A ring of milk proteins left around your lips can transfer to an allergic person with a kiss. It may not send them into anaphylatic shock, but any reaction, for an allergic person that knows anaphylaxis is a possibility, is a terrifying reaction.

Maybe you've not made the personal connection yet to food allergies. If not, allow me to introduce myself again. My name is Sandy. This is my daughter Megan. A peanut can kill her. A walnut or almond can send her to the ER.

This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week. If you made it this far through this long post, I thank you. Now pass a link to this along to help spread the awareness to one more person.



When I'm not juggling the array of things the family likes to toss at me, I sometimes don my PR maven hat and write a release for my daughter's preschool. The last week we've been working on something to give the interested local TV station about the school's annual butterfly release project. Each year the 400-ish students watch roughly 70 caterpillars morph into butterflies. Then, on a day dedicated to spring and flying things, the classes take turns letting their multi-colored captives take flight with a release organized in one of the property's flower gardens.

Two years ago I rooted the symbolic celebration in the school's renovated building and new addition. This year the butterflies symbolize growth and milestones - the school's newly minted (or soon to be minted) 5 year olds leaving preschool behind as they begin their kindergarten journey. Not just them! Wait! This year's crop of 3 year olds have completed that milestone of "first year of school!" and now pick up the mantel of "big kids in the building." Symbolic joy all around.

This morning I polished the release one more time, got the big smiling nod of approval from the director and considered the project complete. The boy and I dropped Meg off in her classroom, of course, taking time check on the caterpillars in her classroom and admire how quickly very hungry caterpillars can grow. (And imagine! They've done it all without eating through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, AND one slice of watermelon!! I wonder if Eric Carle knows?)

It wasn't until later this afternoon that the words I had written really struck home - and it came in the very same symbol.

Megan was piecing together puzzles on one of her favorite web sites. I had been called over to admire her latest completion. Just to our right, on the same table the monitor and keyboard sat on, was our very own butterfly habitat. It had been a Christmas gift to me from Logan. It was something he knew we'd enjoy together based on our summers of hunting for little 'capperpillars' (as the kids have each called them at one time or another) to keep in our little bug box until they emerged with wings. Earlier in the day we'd noticed something different about our 10 little chrysalises. Three of them were empty and brown mottled winged butterflies clung to the netting drying their new wings.

My three year old was ignoring her new pets - the puzzle was demanding her attention. I heard rustling. It was either one of the flying things fluttering around (which we hadn't really yet witnessed) or it was another hatchling. The movement caught my eye. A butterfly emerging. Pulling itself out of the cocoon that had held it captive for 10 days.

It's wings were folded up and damp. It took steps away from it's former home and shuddered. Each pulse seemed to add more volume to it's wings until it appeared much like it's friends currently hanging around the netted tower.

I had been able to catch my breath long enough to get Megan's attention. She sat next to me, face pressed to the netting watching the process (and wings) unfold. "He's so beautiful," she whispered, already deciding every "painted lady" in the place was a boy.

An hour later I was standing outside and silently thanking the clouds for holding their rain in during "bus stop" time. Meg stood at the front door as I waited at the base of the driveway for the bus to pull to a stop. As soon as I returned with her brother, she gave him the most recent butterfly report. He ran to the porch to see for himself. He spent the next several hours, nose to netting, looking for clues that another one was about to emerge. So far they haven't.

Just before we got the bedtime routine rolling, they checked in with the butterflies one more time. It was then, watching my almost-done-with Kindergartner and my soon-to-finish-her-first-year preschooler, that the words of the release I had written came flooding back to me.

We're going to release our new friends on Sunday. Somehow it seems only fitting that these symbols of new milestones spread their wings and leave their habitat on Mother's Day. Although my own little caterpillars aren't about to make that leap, quite yet, they're growing fast and in the grand scheme...it won't be long.