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Archive for May, 2009

“Mmmm… I fancy some coffee,” I said.  M made it, and we stood in the kitchen and drank it, enjoying the quiet of that room as if it were a haven, while chaos reigned in the family room.  It was as close to bliss as I can find these days, with two toddlers about — to stand in the kitchen and drink coffee in silence with my husband.  When I finished the first cup, I poured myself another.

It was over too quickly, as ever, and time to get the girls down for their naps.  M took E1 up to the loo and then get settled, while I attempted to grab her little sister, who was running away from me as fast as her tiny legs could carry her and yelling at the top of her voice, “Nooooooooo!”  When I finally got caught her, she struggled so hard that I knew laying her down to change her nappy would pointless, so I hoisted her up onto my shoulder instead to create an exciting diversion.  Ooooh, this was new, being up so high!  She stopped screaming and looked at me, intrigued and starting to smile.  I capatalised on this upswing and told her I was a tiger! and then began to bite her bare belly.  She erupted into giggles, pushing at my face with her outstretched hands, and protesting most unconvincingly.  I was laughing, she was laughing, and my ruse had worked: when I laid her down, it was on the changing mat, but now she hardly noticed.  The whole operation was down before she even realised what was happening.

And then, as I was fastening the tabs on her nappy, I noticed the patch of red forming on her stomach.  Like someone pulling the needle across an old vinyl record, everything stopped.  I looked closer, and saw three white spots — three tidy little hives evenly placed amid the patch of angry skin.

My mind went straight to Code Red and began the drill:

When did she last eat? A while ago…  maybe an hour…

What did she eat? Nothing unusual, nothing new.

Alright, what touched her skin there? Oh!… My mouth.

And what did you eat? Coffee.

Coffee…  Coffee… Coffee!  Coffee beans!  Beans…! Oh shit.

The RAST tests say she’s allergic to beans, though we’ve never field-trialled the hypothesis, and I always knew in the back of my mind that that meant coffee was risky as well.  And here now, on her skin, the three perfect little hives staring up at me seemed to be telling me that it was.  Oh, and another, higher up where… yes, she’d bent down in her giggling convulsions and I’d nibbled her a bit there as well.  Yes, there was no doubt…

So this is a contact reaction! It takes a special level of allergy to break out in hives just from mere contact rather than actual ingestion — it’s a food allergy on hyper-drive.  This, I was slowly beginning to comprehend, was a serious allergy — possibly one of her most serious to date.

And… and… not even a reaction to the actual drink itself, just to the trace of it left in your saliva!… It got more serious still.

I stopped and pulled it back — it could have been the milk in my coffee.  We know she has an allergy to dairy, but it’s always been relatively mild — she can tolerate the bread I make even though it uses a small amount of milk powder and wee bit of butter.  And though I don’t drink milk directly, or even have it in my umpteen cups of tea each day, she does tolerate a splash of milk in my occasional cup of coffee.  But maybe that kind tolerance has now disappeared… maybe it was the milk.

I thought about testing it myself — putting just a drop of milk on her skin to see — and then quickly realised I’d be a fool to do that.  If her milk allergy was indeed on the march, morphing quietly from “mild” to “contact”, then a second exposure could potentially move directly past hives and escalate to something far, far more dangerous.  No, I wasn’t going to conduct any stupidly curious experiments on my daughter.  I would ring the allergist office on Tuesday and ask their advice.  Until then, we’d just have to treat coffee and milk with equal suspicion.

But no need!  Sod’s law ensured that the very next day, she made a bee-line for her sister’s milk cup when it fell to the floor, and got to it before any of us could catch her.  It was snatched from her grasp with moments, but a drop… a drop… a milky white drop flew from the lip of the cup and arched through the air, falling, falling, falling in slow motion, until it landed with a gentle plop on the top of her bare foot.

I froze.  M froze.  And she, sensing our tension, stood stone-still and looked at us in confusion with her blue eyes wide.  A paralytic moment and then we rushed into action — I wiped the droplet with my finger and reached for the wipes in order to wipe again more thoroughly.  And then… just stopped myself and looked at her foot… Nothing.  I made myself wait on the wipe for a minute more…  Nothing.  I let five minutes pass and then checked again…  Nothing.

It wasn’t the milk then.  It was the coffee.  We have found her thirteenth food allergy.  And it looks to be fierce.

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Making lunch today, while the girls played in the family room, I overheard E1 say to her sister, “No, no, not like that… like this, you little numpty!”

Probably I should be concerned that one of my daughters is speaking to the other in that manner… but mostly I was smiling to myself that, even after over a year since we moved here, how British are my kids?

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Something I Miss about Britain

Coffee served in a mug — or better yet, in a big cup and saucer, with a real spoon for stirring.  Over here in the US, it seems every coffee shop I go to gives me my coffee in a paper cup, regardless of whether I am order to go or to stay.

And a paper cup just doesn’t cut it for me — there’s no sense of leisure, no feeling that you can settle down and take your time and really enjoy your cuppa.  Holding a paper cup just isn’t anything like wrapping your hands around a real cup that sits heavy in your hand and goes clink when set it down.  Drinking from a paper cup makes me feel like I should hurry up, get on my way, get outta here…  It is the antithesis of what a coffee house is supposed to be about.  I have no idea why they use them!

Something I Love about the States

But the coffee that’s in that paper cup?  It’s rich and heavenly, every time.  It’s coffee that takes itself seriously, coffee that tastes like it means it.  Paper cup or not, the coffee here is just delicious.

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Four years ago this week, I had refried bean burritos for dinner.  I was tired, so very tired, and I couldn’t think of anything else to cook.  It was quick and easy, tasty and filling.  And, as it turned out, a huge mistake.

I remember every moment of the rest of that evening.  I remember when the burritos began to repeat on me, from both ends.  I remember being terribly uncomfortable.  I remember wanting to lie on my belly to let the gas rearrange itself in my guts, but there being no way to lie on my belly.  I remember the moment that I realised that much of my discomfort had nothing at all to do with burritos and, to my horror, that I was about to find out if heavy labour and a bad case of gas make a good combination.

Four years have passed and I don’t know where the time has gone.  It feels like only a moment ago — a moment — that I held my beautiful new baby in my arms.  Her face was smooshed, and more green and blue than the pink I’d expected.  She was as ugly as I knew she’d be and more beautiful than I ever imagined she could be.  I was exhausted, energised, and my life had instantly changed in ways I couldn’t even begin to understand at that moment.

And now she is four years old, 42 lbs instead of eight and a half, and so tall that her head rests on my belly when she runs up and throws her arms around me  How did this happen?  How could she change so much and so quickly?  She is a wonder to me every day — my daily companion, my sometimes tormentor, my deepest truest joy.  I am so proud of the person she is, and is becoming.

And yet, when I looked through the pictures of that magical day four years ago, and it all came rushing back to me — the feel of her velvet skin, and her feather-weight in my arms, her amazing newborn smell — I could not stop my heart from calling out that mother’s lament…

oh where oh where have my babies gone?

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On the news the other night, they did a live location report from a town that was on the way to the place M was working this time last year.  He doesn’t drive out that way much anymore, and so neither of us had seen that particular street in a long time.  As I looked at the telly, I felt a real tightening in my belly, noticed my jaw had clenched.  I looked quickly over at M and could see from the tension in his face that he felt the same.

This time last year was incredibly stressful for us and, though I knew that, we were so busy just powering through all the difficulties that I don’t think I ever consciously registered just how scary it was — not at the time, and not after.  We just kept going and never looked back.  It wasn’t until we saw that news report, and that road that used to carry M to his job, to all that stress and uncertainty, and we both had the same physical reaction that I realised quite how deeply we’d been affected.

This week is the anniversary of his layoff — that awful morning when he unexpectedly walked through the door at 8.30am and told me that, just three months after arriving in the country, there was no longer a job, no longer an income, no longer a health insurance policy.  This week hasn’t snuck up on me — I have been watching it on the calender, watching it get closer and closer, and just willing it to pass by quietly, uneventfully.  I wanted it behind us.  I wanted that awful time as far away from us as I can make it.

So I was actually quite pleased — chuffed, in fact — when M told me he was on call this past weekend and they had six jobs lined up for him on Saturday.   Yeah, he’d be away all day,  and, yeah, he’d be exhausted at the end of it, but the extra hours would be a serious boost to the paycheque and, more than that, would be just the thing to turn this week into a symbolic victory to crush our memories of the same week last year.

He clocked up eleven hours and… came home exhausted.  But we wrote the number on the calendar with glee, and looked forward to a bumpercrop week that our wallets — and psyches — have been aching for.

E1 woke me yesterday at 8am — too early for me — and asked for a glass of water.  Sensing that I could subdue her enough to go back to bed for an hour, I obliged and headed downstairs.  But as I crossed the living room, I stopped in my tracks, confused…  then frightened.  M’s truck was parked outside.  It was 8am… on this week… and M’s truck was parked outside.  I quickly gave E1 her drink and dashed back downstairs to phone M.

“Where are you?  Why is your truck outside?”

His answer stopped my heart — stopped it– because he inadvertently echoed his words from last year, “They’ve sent me home.”

I waited.

“There weren’t many jobs on today, and I have more hours than anyone else, so they’ve sent me home.”  Ah.  They’ve done that to him before.  It stinks — it means his Saturday hours no longer count as overtime; it means instead of getting the weekend off, he gets a disjointed Sunday-and-Tuesday off; it means that he completely loses all the headway he’d thought he’d gained, and the paycheque will be just ordinary instead of the windfall we’d been hoping for.

He got out of the truck and came into the house with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.  It was fake and — though I appreciated the attempt — it didn’t last long.  He soon deflated onto the couch and we spent the next two hours talking through the things that had been weighing unspoken on both our minds all week — fears, memories, disappointments…  We both know — and noted — that a being sent home for a day is fine, compared to being sent home for good.  Losing a day is a lot better than losing a job –and  something to be thankful for, especially in this economy.  But the way his hours keep fluctuating… all the uncertainty from one week to the next… from one day to the next…  It’s frightening, deeply unsettling.

M made the most of the day, of course: he went to the park with the girls, made a trip to the shop, and tidied up the basement.  But his spirit wasn’t in it and I could see that.  When we got the girls down to bed at last and sat down with our end-of-the-day cuppa tea, he sighed heavily.

“That really gave me knock today, you know…  That really did something to me, when they sent me home today…”

“I know.”  It had done something to me too.

M breathed out slowly.  “I want to go home.”

“I know.”

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I was watching the local news the other night about the floods in West Virginia.  There was a bloke talking to a reporter in front of a completely submerged state highway and he was saying that there was no way in and no way out — they were stranded, just waiting for the waters to recede and hoping they don’t rise.  He explained this… to the reporter.  M chuckled away at his thick accent and asked me if that was what was considered “hillbilly”.

And I’ve seen other news reports before where people have been in similar situations in different parts of the world, stranded or isolated because of war or disease or some natural disaster, and waiting and hoping for help to come.  Will a helicopter come to lift them off the precipice?  Will the opposition forces break through the enemy lines to save them?  Will the snow melt and clear the roads before they run out of food?  The reporter is always there to get their stories, to keep us updated on their plight.

And it just suddenly occurred to me the other night, as I watched that man in West Virginia sweep an outstretched arm toward the swirling, brown floodwaters and tell the camera that they were completely stranded by these floods…  it occurred to me…  how did the reporter get there?

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One of the suggestions the nutritionist gave us (when once we finally got the insurance company to agree to pay for us to see one, but that’s a different post…) was to freeze cooked meatballs or hamburgers, as an easy instant meat option for E2.  They would have to be made without any egg to bind them, of course, but she reckoned it would work well enough.  I made some the other week, in preparation for our weekend away, and friend them first in canola oil (frying for E2 is good — she needs as many calories as we can give her) and then poured in a bunch of apple cider and let it boil away.  Turns out that ground beef cooked in American (that is, cloudy) cider is absolutely gorgeous.

My mother makes the girls cornmuffins almost every week.  She’s figured out a way to make them without any egg or dairy, and it’s so handy to me to have them in the fridge for last minute snacks.  …And for anytime bribes — it’s amazing what my daughters will do for a cornmuffin!  And the making of cornmuffins is as good for my mum as it is for them — given all of E2’s food issues, it means so much to my mum to be able to help fill her up.

We’d got a late start for home on Sunday and so were belting it back when the girls started asking for dinner.  We didn’t have time to stop… and I had nothing that would give them a proper meal that they could easily eat in their carseats…  What to do?  And then I remembered the little hamburgers still sitting in the food bag, and now nicely defrosted.   Of course, they weren’t so much like hamburgers really, being by necessity bun-less and condiment-less.  And they’d started falling apart when I tried to squish them flat, so their shaped ended up as a sort of midway point between meatball and burger… and oddly familiar.

As I reached back and handed them to the girls, they looked at their strange dinners in confusion.  E1 turned hers over in her hand and asked, “Is it… meat?”

“Yes, sweetheart.  It’s meat.”

E2 held it in her little hand and gamely bit straight in.  When she surfaced, it was with a huge grin…

Meat Muffin!” she annouced with glee, and dug in again.

My poor, sweet, multiple-allergy baby has the strangest diet!  She goes without cookies or cakes or candy, she lives on what most people would called diet food, and she almost never gets to eat out.  And now… now she eats meat muffins!

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