Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keep the Faith

Holiday season is officially here, bringing with it endless opportunities for all kinds of celebrations and let’s face it, challenges, for those living with food allergies. In the last month alone, my second grader has had numerous “close calls” with impromptu treats served at school and beyond. It’s enough to turn me into Ebenezer Scrooge some days and wish for it all to go away. I’m sure there are many of you out there who know exactly what I’m mean. Some days it feels like a never ending battle that you will just never win, but I’m here to remind you there are always ways to try and find a little faith.

I did, most recently when I had the privilege to attend the AFAA Food Allergy Conference earlier this month in Minneapolis, MN. What a great lineup of optimistic speakers addressing real life topics and sharing exciting possibilities for food allergy sufferers in the very near future.

For example, Steve Rice from the
Food Allergy Initiative announced that a comprehensive new training program for educators (developed in collaboration with FAAN ) is scheduled to be rolled out in 2011. Another great speaker with the Food and Drug Administration announced that an FDA-sponsored restaurant guide to food allergies (which has been years in the making) may also be implemented as soon as next year. And within five years, treatments like the Chinese Herbal Remedy now in 2nd phase trials may be available by prescription or possibly over the counter.

These major milestones in food allergy advocacy and research are most definitely cause for celebration, with the promise of many more advancements to come. So in those moments when you’re ready to say “Ba Humbug” to potential health scares caused by holiday cheer, remember that real progress is being made in big and small ways. And when it comes to my daughter's food allergies, any level of progress most definitely makes my days both merry and bright!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gimbal's Candies

I'm always on the lookout for good, food allergy friendly treats, and with Halloween just around the corner, I am very excited to be offering Gimbal's Candies at a few upcoming BugaBees events this month!

With products like Gourmet Jelly Beans, Cherry Lovers and Honey Lovers Fruit Chews, Gimbal's candies are produced in a facility that is completely free of peanuts, tree nuts, egg, gluten, soy and dairy. (And fish and shellfish too.) Not only are they safe for kids with any and all of the Top 8 food allergens, they are also gelatin and trans fat free. Most importantly, they are YUMMY.

To sample a few of these tasty treats, stop by Oompa Toys in Middleton, WI on Saturday, Oct. 23rd from 2 to 4PM or Flourish Studios in Chicago, IL on Saturday 30th from 10 AM to Noon. And don't forget to wear your costumes!! We hope to see you there.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Upcoming BugaBees Appearances

Book Signing
Saturday, September 25, 2010
9 AM to Noon

Hopkins, Minnesota
Sponsored by Food Allergy Support Group of MN

Book Raffle
Saturday, October 2, 2010

Katy, Texas
Sponsored by Kids with Food Allergies

Storytime & Book Signing
Saturday, October 23, 2010
2 to 4 PM

Middleton, Wisconsin
Sponsored by The BugaBees and Oompa Toys

Storytime & Book Signing
Saturday, October 30, 2010
10 AM to Noon
Chicago, IL
Sponsored by The BugaBees and Flourish Studios

Book Signing
Friday, November 5, 2010

Bloomington, Minnesota
Sponsored by the School Nurses of MN

Book Signing
Saturday, November 6, 2010
8 AM to 4 PM
University of Minnesota - Minneapolis Campus

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Reprint

If you've tried to order a BugaBees book online in the last few weeks, you may have been disappointed to find that they are completely out of stock!

The good news: Cricket and the gang are in high demand. The bad news: We won't be able to meet that demand until September 24 when the new inventory hits our warehouse.

So, in appreciation for your patience, we are inviting you to take $5 off the cost when you order at Bookhouse Fulfillment by October 15th. Enter "SAVE5" in the coupon code box before checkout, with our thanks for your understanding. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

'Lil Foodies

Who doesn't love a free lunch? My youngest friends in the Chicago-area have a chance to enjoy Qdoba's kids menu for free, and so much more on Saturday, August 21st. Kids eat free all day at the restaurant's newest location in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. But there's more! Stop by between 11 AM to 1 PM and hear a reading of "The BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies" by yours truly. Participate in other fun kiddie activities and learn how to customize an allergy-safe Qdoba meal for your 'Lil Foodie. Don't miss out ... we'd love to see you there!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Epi Keys

Hey! Here is something really cool that I am excited about: The Epinephrine Key. TCB Medical recently introduced a new epinephrine auto-injector to replace the bigger and bulkier pen-shaped injectors currently available. Designed by an allergist to be a small, portable device that attaches to a keychain, your epiniphrine goes everywhere your keys go, and is more likely to be available for emergency use when the need arises.

The Epinephrine Key injector is also much more user friendly than pen shaped auto-injectors. Once the cap is removed, the safety buttons can be depressed and the device can be activated by compressing the tip against the leg in one fluid motion. This design significantly reduces the risk of improper injections into the thumb which can cause further problems in an already stressful situation.

The Epi Key is not yet available, but a fully functioning prototype has been developed and is in the testing phases. TCB Medical Devices expects fast-track approval through the FDA, meaning the Epinephrine Key could be on the market and available to allergy patients in as little as four months. Read more about it here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

School Nurses Conference

Okay, I admit it. I've been busy enjoying the summer, and perhaps neglecting my blog, Facebook & Twitter updates more than I should. Even so, I have managed to work in a few BugaBees activites, including the National Association of School Nurses convention last month in Chicago. Friend and fellow author Susie Bazil (of The Sick Bug) joined me and all I can say is we love those school nurses! I so appreciated the opportunity to hear their stories and help support their efforts in promoting food allergy awareness in schools.

One school nurse that continues to inspire me personally is Karen Leister from Southern Boulevard School in New Jersey. In 2006 along with her school psychologist, Karen created an incredible program for her district called FAST Friends (FAST standing for Food Allergy Support Team). Established with a grant from the Chatham Education Foundation, this group meets five or six times a year on various topics designed to help elementary school children better understand their food allergies. The goal of this group is three-fold: to offer support to children who are learning to eat differently at school and beyond, to equip these children to (eventually) assume their own care through education and to raise awareness in the community by teaching others and by thanking those who are most helpful in supporting kids with food allergies.

Karen's program has been so successful that in 2009, she received an honorable mention for the national Muriel C. Furlong Award for Making a Difference from FAAN. Kudos to Karen! And on behalf of all the grateful parents out there, kudos to all of the school nurses who are working hard on the front lines to keep our children safe. We couldn't do it without you!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Peanuts on Planes

A few months ago, I took a much needed vacation with my girlfriends to collectively celebrate our 40th birthdays. Our travel plans required airline transportation, and while I was overjoyed with ability to “get away”, I still could not get away from thoughts of my daughter and her nut allergies.

During the course of my flight to my vacation destination, I just kept thinking “How will she ever do this?” as the flight attendant went aisle by aisle passing out peanuts and pretzels. On my return flight home with a different airline, snacks were not provided of any kind, but there was a passenger across the aisle from me that pulled out her own little lunch, which appeared to me to be a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Sigh. “I’m never taking her on a plane,” I said to myself at that moment. Road trips are just as fun, right?

I know there are other families that do travel on airlines with food allergies. Some have great success stories. Others have horror stories. For me, I guess I fall on the conservative side. I would rather not take the risk. Why add stress to an activity intended to remove stress from your life?

BUT CHECK THIS OUT … The United States Department of Transportation has recently proposed new wide-ranging consumer protections for air travelers, Including Peanut-Free Airlines!

Can it possible be that someone is finally, actually getting it? Of course, the proposal is controversial, and of course, may not amount to anything in the end. But I am very encouraged by the fact that it is even being discussed. And if a ban does in fact become enforced, I offer my apologies to the peanut farmers of America. I know this has a negative impact on your livelihood, but it obviously has an overwhelmingly positive impact on my daughter’s life. In my world, “living” (as in not dying) trumps “earning a living” every single time.

The public is currently invited to comment on this issue at the Regulation Room. In the meantime, if you or your family MUST travel on an airplane and food allergies are a concern, FAAN has some great information and advice about how to do so safely. Happy trails to you, one and all!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fun Stuff

It's always so much fun to visit with students of all ages and last week was no exception! Thanks to all the kids for being such great listeners and food allergy advocates during my most recent classroom visits. You are all precious and wonderful and make the world a better place to be with your open hearts and minds.

And last but not least, it was very, very fun to hold our first ever BugaBees Book-A-Day Giveaway contest in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week! Congrats to all of our winners, from England and all across the U.S.: Maria Musicka, Carol Nockels Depke, Melinda Olson, Jennifer Haldeman, Sarah Suarez, Julie Henning and Melody Krouse.

I hope you will enjoy the book and continue to share its optimistic message with others.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The BugaBees Book-a-Day Giveaway for Food Allergy Awareness Week!

The BugaBees know that missing out on certain foods, doesn't mean you have to miss out on all the fun. So in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, we have a fun little giveaway contest planned! Here's what you need to do:

  • Post a comment on the BugaBees blog (right here) or on the BugaBees Facebook page anytime between May 9-15th
  • EACH DAY one participant will be randomly selected to win an autographed copy of "The BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies"
  • All winners will announced on May 16th
  • One comment per person, per day please :)
Good luck and go to it ... Help spread a little extra food allery awareness this week! I know of a few million kids who will be glad you did.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fine Arts Week

While the topic of food allergies has become a major area interest for me in recent years, so has the fine art of writing - children’s literature and otherwise. This is why I am so thankful to Ms. Finnegan for recently inviting me to participate in a writer’s panel discussion during Fine Arts Week at Middleton High School.

Joined by three other newspaper columnists and sports writers, it was really kinda cool to see that whatever the genre, our advice to the students was essentially the same: write what you love, work hard, and revise, revise, revise!

Many thanks to the teachers, students and panelists for their interest and enthusiasm!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Emergency Action Plans

It’s that time of year again when my 1st grader starts coming home and telling us about the fire drills (and sometimes tornado drills) they often conduct at her elementary school. Many businesses also take time out to do crisis management drills and run mock emergency action plans every now and then. Which is why a few years ago, I came up with idea for our family to start doing our own surprise Epi-Pen drills, just to help keep us on our toes.

My daughter Mollie gets to be in charge of deciding when she tests us by acting out the symptom(s) of her choice and seeing how we respond. This typically involves her shouting, "uh oh, I think I ate a peanut!" which is enough to send us into action. We check on her and ask a series of questions, such as "Do you have hives? Are you breathing ok? Are you throwing up? Are you experiencing swelling or shortness of breath?" etc. She gets to decide the answers and we respond accordingly. It's a great way to ensure our Epi Pens and phones (for calling 911) are always charged and where they should be. It's also a great way to run through the procedure for giving her a shot if needed, which we always use our Epi-Pen trainer for.

If you haven't done this before, I highly recommend giving it a try, and extending it beyond family to other caregivers, babysitter, parents, etc. I guarantee, someone will walk away learning something new. Most recently, my friend (who often hosts Mollie on play dates in her home) was surprised to find you can administer the shot directly through clothing. These little details, along with developing a physical memory of what to do in a crisis situation, help empower and prepare everyone involved!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Drive

Spring is officially here and I for one am psyched! There’s something about the fresh air and sunshine that actually make me feel more energetic and motivated … to deep clean my house. Yes, I have big plans for Spring Cleaning this year, including some serious purging of surplus toys and books that are scattered about every room of our home.

Which is why I was so excited to learn of the The
Half Pint Book Drive currently underway. Across the U.S., Half Price Books stores are working to collect and distribute children’s books to those in need. New and gently used books donated through this program help provide inspiration for children from low-income families, while helping to boost literacy skills outside of school. In many cases, children are getting their first book through the Half Pint program. The drive accepts any type of children’s book, including Spanish language books, as long as they are in good condition. The program is now in its 12th year and has collected more than 2 million books for community centers, special schools and many more children in need.

The Half Pint Book Drive ends March 31st. If you’re like me, I know you have at least a few (or more than a few) children’s books that are worth sharing and passing on. Visit Half Price Books to find a neighborhood drop-off location near you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Literacy 24/7

Many thanks to my new friends at the Literacy Network for including me in last week's Literacy 24/7 line-up! It was truly a pleasure to be included in such a great event. I met some adorable kids and lost count of all the yummy allergy-friendly cookies I ate provided by Enjoy Life Foods. I highly recommend the Gingerbread Spice ... a must for any pantry, even for families without food allergies!

My favorite part (aside from meeting all the wonderful people who came out to hear a reading of The BugaBees at Willy Street Co-op) was meeting award-winning author Kevin Henkes. His picture books, in a word, are AMAZING and our family absolutely loves them all. It was an honor for me to chat with him a bit, and guess what? He shared with me that while growing up, his brothers had food allergies. Yet again, another reminder that the topic of food allergies is relevant and universal pretty much wherever you go.

Although the week of Literacy 24/7 has come to a close, fundraising for this important cause still continues. The Literacy Network organization is a broad collection of community members comprised of more than 400 volunteers, 1,200 learners and 30 partner agencies working to improve reading, writing and language skills in Dane County. Please consider supporting their noble efforts with a donation today. Open a book. Change a Life. Support literacy programs in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Read Across America

Happy Read Across America Day! And thanks to all the students at St. Francis Xavier school for a wonderful author visit. One of my favorite things we did in honor of Reading Awareness Month was send cards to the Cat in the Hat in celebration of 50 years of Dr. Seuss. In exchange for every online card the Cat receives until June 30, Random House will donate one book (up to 2 million) to the nonprofit organization First Book. First Book's mission is to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books. Please support their work in communities nationwide, and send the Cat a birthday wish today!

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Bring on the celebrations! During the month of March, not only will I be rejoicing the 40th year of my birth (yes, I said rejoicing), I will also be participating in NEA's Read Across America project.

This signature program, developed by the National Education Association, is building a nation of readers. Now in its thirteenth year, this year-round initiative focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources.

NEA's Read Across America Day takes place each year on or near March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Across the United States, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers participate by bringing together kids, teens, and books, and you can too!

On March 2, the National Education Association calls for every child to be reading in the company of a caring adult. So grab your favorite kid, your favorite book, and enjoy some quality time together.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


My daughter Mollie ends up getting a lot of press regarding her food allergies and involvement with my book The BugaBees, so for now, I’m here to give equal representation to her 3-year-old brother Max – the baby of the family and the apple of my eye! Max is “all boy” as they say, and worships Lightning McQueen, Thomas the Train and Curious George. He also has never been tested for food allergies and I’m thinking it’s about time I do some investigating.

Our doctor tells us because there are so many false-positive results in clinical testing alone, the best way to do so is to just give him peanuts, tree nuts, etc. If he has any sort of reaction, then a clinical test will confirm the presence of a food allergy. Sure. No problem. Except there are lots of problems I can envision, which is probably why I haven’t done anything about this in the last three years of Max’s life. :)

First, I am hyper-sensitive about bringing any peanut/tree nut products into our home, so I’m not really excited about doing a “food challenge” in our kitchen or anywhere else in our house for that matter.

Secondly, Mollie and Max are almost always together. I’m not really sure why I feel the need to protect her from my little experiment with him, but in this case, I feel like less is more. The less obvious it is that Max will be in the next room consuming foods she’s allergic to, the more comfortable I think she will feel in general. (Because lets face, 3-year-olds are not exactly pristine eaters. My kitchen floor and dinner table can prove it.)

Thirdly, WHAT IF HE HAS A HORRIBLE REACTION?!? Yes, I have multiple Epi-pens on hand but somehow, I can’t get psyched up to create a situation where I might very likely need to use one. Plus, we live a good 20 minutes from the nearest hospital, so it’s not looking like that will be happening anytime soon.

What do other parents do? I’m dying to know. For now I’m thinking I might just have to meet him in the back alley near our health care clinic with a Nutter Butter in hand and see what happens.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Review: The Sick Bug

For those of us living in colder climates, the seasonal sneezes, sniffles and flu bugs are all unfortunately still alive and well. As such, it is my pleasure to take this timely opportunity to give props to my friend and fellow children's writer, Susie Bazil, author of the adorable book, The Sick Bug. In this delightful award-winning story, little Tess doesn't feel well. When her Mom says she has ''a bug,'' Tess becomes concerned, believing that she may have an actual insect inside her body. Mom goes on to clarify that Tess's type of bug is a ''sick bug,'' and she gives fun and imaginative descriptions of the creatures, explains how they affect a little one's body, and, most importantly, advises how to get rid of them.

This awesome book is definitely a favorite at our house and a highly recommended read for any family with young children! Susie will be among the children's authors featured at the upcoming Midwest Kids Fest on February 13 & 14th in St. Paul, Minnesota. Stop by the Beavers Pond Press booth where she will be signing and selling books at 20% off. (She'll also be happy to sell you a BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies book at the same discount!)

Saturday, January 30, 2010


My severely allergic 1st grader has just been invited to sell magazines and - you guessed it - NUTS for an upcoming Daisy Scouts' fundraiser. My first reaction while reading the permission slip sent home involved heart palpitations, sweaty palms and an internal dialogue that went something like this: "Why not just have her sell rat poison? Or maybe a nice set of steak knives? How about some guns and amo?"

Then a few days passed, and I asked myself why I didn't have this sort of reaction when she sold Girl Scout cookies just a few months before. In that situation more than half the choices contained peanuts or traces of them, and yet, she took and distributed those orders just fine. We discussed proper handling of the boxes well in advance of their arrival and she was very clear about which cookies were safe for her to eat and which were not. She did a great job.

So why am I freaking out now? I've read articles about some children who actually have full blown anxiety attacks at mere sight of the word "peanut" or whatever it is they're allergic to. Is this what's happening to me? When parents are told by a physician "your child could die if they eat {fill in food allergen here}, it's hard not to be a tad bit overprotective. But is putting the FEAR OF GOD in her at any mention of the word inflicting yet another type of condition that will require years and years of therapy and psychiatric counseling?

If I'm really honest with myself, my rational side tells me my previous poison/weapon analogy to nuts isn't altogether fair. Yes, nuts are just as life-threatening for her, but so is riding in a car without a seat belt. It's my job as her mother to teach her to live with caution, not live with fear. Ten years from now, that will include speeches about texting while driving and underage drinking and other risky behaviors that, like it or not, exist in the real world.

And let's face it, nuts exist here too. Some days it seems as though they're EVERYWHERE. And they are no doubt here to stay. So while my emotional side would love to boycott this sale out of principle, and call up the head of the Daisy Scout Council to explain why this is not the best product to be selling ... I have a feeling I'm going to let my rational side win out this time. Providing my precious girl with the best tools I can for navigating the situation, can only inspire empowerment and prepare her for the many challenges yet to come.

Am I nuts to let her sell nuts? A big part of me says yes. The other part says yes ... but wish me luck anyway.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


As author of The BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies, I often have the opportunity to talk with schools and community groups about the book, as well as the topic of food safety in general. I am almost always asked the same inevitable question regarding why the prevalence of food allergies is on the rise. My typical answer: I wish I knew!

The good news is, researchers around the world are currently searching for new therapies to treat, and one day cure, food allergies. Many scientists believe that with proper funding, a cure could be found in less than a decade. Unfortunately, food allergy research in comparison to autism and other similar afflictions is at present grossly underfunded and in need of dire some attention.

As such, I was excited to recently discover that the Food Allergy Initiative has made it easier than ever to send a letter to Congress requesting funding for food allergy research. It takes less than two minutes! Log on and let your voice be heard at
FAI Advocacy and be sure to share this link with others who want to help. Yeah!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Live and Learn

Our family feels very fortunate to be able to say we absolutely love our pediatric allergist. Dr. Healy is not only extremely well-informed in his vocation, he also has a great rapport with children which makes going to the doctor not really feel like going to the doctor.

Still, as much as he has been able to help teach us how to care for our daughter’s food allergies, he will be the first to say that he does not live with it day in and day out. That’s why I’m here to tell you that support groups can be so important. I must admit, in our first few year’s of Mollie’s diagnosis, I pretty much rejected the idea of them. I pictured everyone sitting around like they do in the AA meetings portrayed on TV where we’d all have to confess our struggles and talk about the doom and gloom of what it’s like living with food allergies.

Since joining the Food Allergy Association of Wisconsin, I am am pleased to say this is not the case! We have great topics of discussion, featured speakers, product samples and other meaningful information to share with each other. Much like those classes you take before childbirth, it’s clear that every person’s experience is different and I love being able to learn from them all.

For example, in a recent meeting, I discovered for the very first time what the side effects can be from an epinephrine shot. I have thankfully never had to use one on my daughter, but a family in our support group explained how they were not so lucky. During their story, I learned that this life saving shot can often turn the child blue or ashen and cause them to tremble and shake…

Really? Of all the hours of using Epi-Pen trainers and talking to our doctor, this little fact never had come up. Until now. And I’m so glad it did, because if I’m ever in that frightening situation myself, I feel like I’ll be a little more prepared to handle it, simply because I’ll know what to expect.

Gina Clowes of
www.allergymoms.com has compiled a wonderful, comprehensive listing of support groups that may be in your area. Check it out on (on the bottom of her home page). Thank you, Gina!

So this is my heartfelt pitch to anyone who has never attended a food allergy support group meeting: Consider giving it a try. Even with the best doctor in the world, I think you’ll find you still have something to learn – or better yet, something to share.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Welcome to the first official BugaBees blog post! I will be the first to admit I am far from becoming a social media superstar, but here’s the thing – you bloggers are some serious smart cookies (allergy-free ones of course) and since I have truly learned so much by reading posts of other experts in the know, I thought that if it’s possible help just one other person by sharing my own experiences, why in the world would I not do so?

When I think back to how much I’ve learned from the first day my daughter Mollie was diagnosed with severe food allergies, it is staggering. At that time, I thought if I just carried her Epi-pen, read ingredient labels and remembered to inform wait staff at restaurants of her food allergies, everything would be fine. Four years later, I now know it’s not that simple. There is no black and white in the world of food allergies, just a lot of gray areas where parents need to ask questions and advocate for their children.

I’ve also discovered that there are a lot of people out there who really love peanut butter – enough to fight for it, sign petitions against banning it, and other serious stuff. Some believe that a mere 3% of the population (which equates to approximately 12 million people I must add) should not dictate guidelines that inconvenience the rest, and that “hysterical” parents who fear for their children’s lives should just remove themselves from society to “raise them in a bubble”.

This controversy over food allergies was yet another factor I had not expected but have learned much more about in recent years. I have personally experienced the eye rolls and obvious resistance to making any special accommodations for my daughter where food is concerned. On the flip side, I have also experienced overwhelmingly thoughtful parents and teachers who have gone above and beyond to help her feel included.

So my New Year’s Resolution for 2010 (and every year after that) is to help educate and promote understanding and acceptance of people living on both sides of the issue without judgment or frustration. Because before Mollie’s diagnosis, I was one of those people that just didn’t “get it”. I never gave a second thought to the kind of candy I purchased for Halloween trick-or-treaters, or worried about the open bulk peanut bins at the grocery store, or paid attention to which utensils I used to prepare or serve a meal.

And while I concede that some parents can be a little overbearing about their child’s food allergies (myself included), I have to ask, can we really blame them? If you’ve ever seen your own child swell up beyond recognition or struggle to breathe because a small bite of food, I don’t think you would. I sincerely believe there’s a happy medium out there and I’m on a mission to find it.

Isn’t it Oprah that says “When you know better, you do better?” I love Oprah! And I truly do want to do better for all the little buggers who are out there living with food allergies. So I’m gonna try. Because as much as I used to love to eat peanut butter sandwiches myself, I obviously love my daughter a whole lot more. Is there really a comparison?