The Day We Thought Would Never Come

I took Olivia to her yearly allergy appointment yesterday. For anyone who follows along this blog regularly, you know that our daughter Olivia has life-threatening (anaphylaxis) allergies to peanuts, treenuts, eggs, and soy. She has outgrown allergies and intolerances to dairy, cinnamon, avacado, banana, and most fruit. There were times over the years when we weren’t sure what was causing her reactions and questioned shellfish, wheat, and even the possibility of exercise-induced anaphylaxis.

Luckily, as she’s been growing, she’s outgrown most of her allergies and we are left with a short, but dangerous, (and probably permanent)  list. Olivia has had reactions and ended up in the hospital when our B&B guests have been eating nuts in their rooms. As a result, we became a “peanut and treenut free accommodation” – the first in Nova Scotia! 🙂

What was initially overwhelming, has become just the way we live. We’re all very good at reading labels and she is mature enough to understand that she cannot always eat  what those around her are eating. She always asks “Is this safe for me” before trying something new. Our family and friends are supportive and conscientious to ensure she stays safe. Luckily, D’Arcy & I love to cook and bake so we always have safe treats on hand!

Throughout her testing over the years (we received her official diagnosis when she was ten months old) the hope was that she would outgrow as many of her allergies as possible. Because her numbers are so high, and because of the type of allergies she has, she will probably have to navigate her peanut, egg, and soy allergies for life. Based on the results from last year’s blood-work, her doctor tested her skin yesterday for tree-nuts* and egg, to see how they were progressing. Much to our amazement and surprise, her tree-nut pokes (with the exception of cashew) came back negative!


Olivia shows off her poke tests. The doctor ground up actual nuts (rather than the serum they normally use – makes it even more accurate) which was then put onto her skin. They take a tiny needle and poke the mixture so it enters her skin. If a hive appears, the test is positive; no reaction means negative. You can see the hive for egg and cashew on the top left. The hive on the bottom right is the histamine control.

So what does this mean? Although the blood and skin tests are now negative, it is too dangerous for her to just start eating nuts. If the tests are false negatives, she could go into anaphylaxis as soon she ingests them. Olivia is scheduled for an “almond challenge” under medical supervision in June. We chose almonds to test first because they will open up the most options for her: skin creams, cereals, almond butter, almond milk, etc. We’ll continue with challenges throughout the summer until she has passed them all.

To be clear, even if she passes, she still won’t be able to eat nuts in a restaurant or at a party due to the risk of cross-contamination with peanuts, but she’ll be able to eat them in a controlled environment and we’ll be able to eat them around her! 🙂

She was slightly put-out that her allergist decided she could wait until next year to have more blood-work done. I asked him if he’d ever met a child who was disappointed that she did NOT get to have bloodwork? (No.) Turned out she wanted the finger puppet they give the kids at the lab at the IWK Health Centre after their needles are over. Weird kid. We went to Woozles book store instead and got a treat there.

I still can’t quite believe it! Rest assured, we are still committed to being a peanut and tree-nut free property, knowing the peace of mind it brings to our guests with food allergies.

Olivia surrounded by bubbles being blown outside a candy shop in Halifax. Happy her appointment was over.

Olivia surrounded by bubbles being blown outside a candy shop in Halifax. Happy her appointment was over.

* Peanuts and treenuts are not the same thing. Peanuts are a legume and grow in the ground. Treenuts grow on trees and include nuts such as almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts, brazil nuts, macademia nuts, pistachios, and hazlenuts.

The more things stay the same, the more they change?

D’Arcy & I are both teachers. He teaches in the public school system and I am faculty in the School of Business at the Nova Scotia Community College. When we began our B&B ten years ago (I can’t believe we’re at the beginning of our 11th season!!) D’Arcy commuted to Halifax during the school year as a permanent teacher with the Halifax School Board. I was a “work-at-home” mom, and running the B&B was my full time job. Back in 2003, my dad had just retired from his career with Lafarge, and my mother was still teaching primary. My dad has been involved with our B&B from the very beginning, as has Lori, who helps out on Mondays and Thursdays.

D’Arcy made the leap in 2006 and started working at a school in our local school board that was half the distance of his commute to Halifax. (One hour drive from Truro – Halifax.) He worked at that same school for five years, and earned a permanent position in the local school board. Wanting to be rid of the daily commute all together, two years ago he was able to secure a position at a school just a five minute drive from home. At the time, I was working at the Truro campus of the college, which is located just 1km from our home; an easy walk.

Last year at this time, my term position at Truro Campus ended and he got caught up in the cuts that the local school board were forced to make. Because he has a permanent contract, he is guaranteed a job, we just weren’t sure where in the Board which runs from Amherst to Pictou, and as far South as Elmsdale. As it turned out, he was placed in a position at a school in Pictou County, about a 45 minute drive from our home. Shortly after, a continuing full-time position came available that I was qualified for at Pictou campus, and since I knew D’Arcy was driving that way anyway, I applied for it and won the competition.

So, long story short, we have both been teaching in Pictou County this year and have loved it. We hired our neighbour, Ruthanne, this Fall to help out with breakfasts and cleaning on school days, and my dad still loves to come and welcome guests at arrival and chat over breakfast, helping to plan itineraries. D’Arcy & I enjoy making the 45-minute commute together daily; (“Best carpool ever!”) having the time in the car together to talk without any other distractions, and we are both really happy at our respective schools.

We weren’t sure what this year’s round of hiring in the public school system would bring, but on Friday we received the wonderful news that D’Arcy has been hired for next year in a position at his same school and will now be attached to that school. For the first time in ten years, we know where we’ll both be for the foreseeable future. The school where he works is actually a school that is growing in numbers (many of our rural schools have declining populations) so his position should be secure even if there are future cuts.

Stability – a new concept in the McDonah household!

People have been asking if we will sell our home & business and relocate to Pictou County. The answer is no. We love our home and our business and love the community we have in Truro. I grew up here. My parents still live here. Our children are settled in great schools, involved in so many activities, and have wonderful friends. D’Arcy’s brother and his family live on the other corner of our street. Although it is expensive to drive, at least we are commuting together and can remain a one-vehicle family for now.

Will we still operate our B&B? Absolutely! A reason our bed & breakfast has been so successful is because we love what we do. We really love welcoming guests from around the world into our home and getting to know them. We love to show-off our beautiful province to people, whether it is the first or tenth time they’ve been here. We love discovering connections and making relationships with people. Most of all, we’re proud to be a local business that supports the local economy in our community.

We will have to look at how things might change. We have already stopped hosting events such as weddings and parties, and no longer cater private lunches and dinners. Perhaps we’ll eventually turn into a more seasonal operation… These changes remain to be seen after we have some discussion this summer.

What we do know for now is that we are open for business and in full swing for the 2013 tourist season already. Our weekends in May are  filling up and summer reservations are coming in steadily. It’s shaping up to be a great year and our whole team – myself, D’Arcy, Dave, Deanna, Lori, Ruthanne, and the kids –  looks forward to welcoming many familiar faces, and meeting new friends this summer!

Belgravia Bed and Breakfast website.

Donut Showdown

Our nephew Matt lives in Toronto. This week, his girlfriend, Rachel, and her partner, Heather, were featured on The Food Network’s television program, “Donut Showdown”. Rachel and Heather own and operate the VERY successful, “Emma’s Country Kitchen” at 1108 St. Claire Avenue in Toronto. (If you’re in the area, you should definitely stop in and tell them that “Auntie Anne sent you”. Please have a donut for me while you’re there…)

To see the show, click here.

Spoiler alert: They won the $10,000 prize!! Congratulations – we’re SO excited for you!! 🙂

I’m Not That Smart

The 91st Truro Music Festival has been taking place in various venues around Truro for the past few weeks. All four of our children participated in a number of classes: vocal solos, piano solos, band, choir, and musical theatre. They all did very well and we were so proud of each of them. Alex won his 12 year-old Musical Theatre class on a snowy March afternoon. There is no photography of any kind permitted at the Festival while participants are performing, so we were happy when he was asked to sing his solo, “I’m Not That Smart” from “The Spelling Bee” at St. Andrew’s United Church for Holy Humour Sunday and we were able to record his performance. I smile (and sometimes cry) every time he performs – hope this makes you smile too!

Special “thank-yous” to his teacher, Chella Henderson, and accompanist & cheerleader, Sandra MacAulay-Thompson!!