Practice makes perfect!

As anyone who follows our blog knows, our youngest daughter, Olivia, has anaphylactic food allergies. We save up her expired epi-pens (now Allerjects) and use them for practice on oranges each year. This year each child in our family was able to practice with two devices. The video depicts Olivia setting off her expired Allerject for the first time. You can sense the nervous energy as she wasn’t sure what to expect. I also love that her “child” is allergic to “peanuts, potatoes, and salmon”. Olivia is allergic to peanuts, eggs, and soy; we told her about friends’ child who is allergic to potato, and the child in the waiting room when Olivia was challenging Macadamia nuts was allergic to salmon. She obviously recalls what we tell her. I love all the facial expressions and deep breathing after administration!

We will reiterate to all kids that you do not need to use the new ten-digit dialing system when using 911!

p.s. Her “treat” after each needle/appointment is duct tape rather than food. You can see she is sitting on her beautifully decorated chair!

Easter 2014

It’s been a wonderful mix of work and family this weekend.

This time of year is busy around this house, to say the least! It’s end-of-semester for me at school, and Music Festival for the kids. Throw in a couple of courses I’m taking, spring yard work, and the return of “guest season” and there’s never a quiet moment – we were happy for the forced slow-down that comes with the Easter holiday!

We’re lucky to have D’Arcy’s brother and his family live on our street; the cousins got together on Good Friday and spent some quality time playing outside in the Spring sunshine before we took dinner to D’Arcy’s parents in Halifax. Because all of our days seem to be scheduled with one activity or another, we don’t get there to visit as often as we’d like, so it was nice to be able to take our time and relax with them, having a really great visit. We took lasagna, salad, homemade brown bread and blueberry cobbler. Everything was a hit and we were even able to pack some leftovers in containers and store them in the freezer so that they can have a meal again another time.

The Truro McDonah cousins

The seven Truro McDonah cousins enjoy the Spring sunshine and greening grass

Saturday was a work day. Olivia had been invited to a birthday party at the movie theatre. We have to take some extra precautions at the movies because of her allergies, so we had prearranged with the birthday girl’s parents that one of us would go with her. Because I had a mountain of marking to do, D’Arcy took her and the two of them enjoyed Rio 2. (At least D’Arcy enjoyed the parts he stayed awake for!)

On Easter Sunday, the kids have to wait until all four are up and awake before they’re allowed to go hunt for eggs and that was close to 8:30 this year! Back when Olivia’s food allergy list was extensive (peanuts, treenuts, eggs, soy, dairy, and many fruits as a toddler) there wasn’t any safe candy for her, so the Easter Bunny started to hide loose change in plastic eggs; a tradition which continues. It always amazes me how close their totals end up being – this year the range was only $6.50 between the most and the least. Because we didn’t have any guests, the bunny also set the table in the dining room for brunch and left treats on each plate, as well as nine new fish in the fish tank. Unfortunately, four of them didn’t survive their journey…

About to unlock the door and begin the egg hunt!

About to unlock the door and begin the egg hunt!

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Some eggs are easier to find than others

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Reading the Easter Bunny’s note and learning about “new friends”

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Sarah got a lucky egg – not too many have toonies!

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The Easter Bunny set the table!

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Some treats at each place – the first time Olivia has ever had a chocolate bunny!

After the hunt was over we had brunch of cinnamon rolls, yogurt, and casserole made from sausage, red pepper, onion, potato, cheese and egg (no egg for Olivia, of course!) before going to Easter Mass. At the church, the kids used some of their Easter money and lit candles for Uncle Dick and Mr. Mailloux, whom they are missing this year!

We spent the afternoon watching curling, playing outside, marking, etc. before going to my parents’ house for dinner. (I may have even had a short nap in a spring sunbeam…)

We had a yummy dinner of roast lamb with a mint/gin gravy (yum!), vegetable casserole, and a stewed tomato dish with lemon dessert.  My mother creates a scavenger hunt for the kids each year, and it was fun now that they can all read and are a little older that the hunt could be more involved. First they had to run all over the house and find magnets that spelled out “Happy Easter”, then they had to each complete a crossword puzzle. Next, they had to pair up into teams with an adult and we competed in a tossing game. That produced lots of laughs as we made up team handshakes. Eventually they each got a gift which they were able to trade with one another. They had little dollar store games in them and were a hit!

The boys share some laughs before dinner

The boys share some laughs before dinner

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Ginna tries a new recipe for mint/gin gravy – it’s a keeper!

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A beautiful table setting in the Spring sunshine

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Easter 2014

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Laughs before dinner with a Who Am I? game

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A little massage out of the blue!

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First task complete!

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Reading the next clue

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Concentration

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Alex is hard at work, completing his crossword puzzle

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Finally they get to their gifts!

It was a wonderful evening and we feel fortunate that we were able to spend quality time with both sets of parents this weekend.

Happy Spring!

 

Somebody pinch me!

Olivia finally had her almond challenge today. (It had been put off after her bouts with pneumonia.) I will admit I did not sleep well last night – tossing and turning and having crazy allergy-mom dreams. We had some almonds that D’Arcy’s father had given us that contained the allergy warning: contains almonds. I can’t stress enough how difficult it is to find tree-nuts that aren’t contaminated with other tree-nuts and peanuts.

At her last tests, Olivia tested negative for an almond allergy on her skin-prick tests, but had a 4.6 on her blood test. Her allergist was confident that she was no longer allergic. After being thoroughly checked over, Olivia was offered a quarter of an almond. It was interesting for me to watch her. She was nervous about eating it, and afraid to put it in her mouth. In fact, she didn’t want to hold it, so her understanding nurse gave Olivia a plastic spoon to use.

After her first two quarter almonds, she ate the next half almond she was offered with gusto. After three hours, when she had eaten eight whole almonds without reaction, she was declared no longer allergic to them! She ate another four for good measure!

The important take aways from our day at the allergist: She has been cleared to eat almonds, pecans, walnuts, and pine nuts at home because she tested negative on skin tests and very low on blood tests and had this successful challenge.  She is only allowed to eat these particular nuts if her father or I have given them to her. She is still allergic to cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, hazlenuts, and Brazil nuts, and the risk of cross-contamination is huge. She is scheduled to challenge cashews in October and our hope is that eventually she will be left with only peanut, egg & soy allergies to contend with during her lifetime.

Our home will continue to be peanut and tree-nut free to keep both Olivia and our food allergic guests safe.

In the meantime, we celebrated with a box of Honey Nut Cheerios on the way home! 😉

One step at a time…

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The BIG swim!!

Last week, I was lucky enough to have three of my dearest friends together for a sleepover at our place. We talked and laughed and drank wine. We even went to a nearby restaurant’s patio for a bite to eat – how civilized! Karen, Angie, Theresa & I all got to know each other while living together in residence at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) many years ago. (Actually, Theresa & I first met at Piano camp at Acadia University when we were in elementary school, but reconnected at “The Mount”.) Theresa was taking Public Relations, Angie was taking Business Administration, and Karen & I were taking Tourism & Hospitality Management. The four of us have been together through a LOT over the years: jobs, loves beginnings and endings, marriages, long distances (Karen married a pilot and has spent many years based in the Maldives and Sri Lanka), career changes, babies (Theresa & I were in the same hospital together when our Sarah and her triplet boys were born six days apart!), milestone birthdays, awards, the death & illnesses of parents, holidays, new houses, etc. We have the kind of friendship that always picks up right where it left off, and we know that we have each other’s backs – no judgments! Twenty years of friendship has seen a lot of water under the bridge! (Foreshadowing metaphor…)

Getting ready for a charity ball at MSVU; winter 1993.

Getting ready for a charity ball at MSVU; winter 1993.

Twenty years later - older and (hopefully much) wiser.

Twenty years later – older and (hopefully much) wiser.

As much as I love all three of these women, my “Vital Friends“, who each bring something different into my life, this post is about Angie. Three years ago, Angie left her high profile job with a major insurance company, sold her house and belongings, packed everything else she owned into her little car, and drove home to Nova Scotia. She applied to Dalhousie University to study to become an occupational therapist, and was recently valedictorian of her graduating class!! A number of years ago, she became involved with Camp Brigadoon, a summer camp here in Nova Scotia for kids with chronic illnesses, while it was still in the planning stages. In their own words, “Brigadoon is a non-profit recreational facility on Aylesford Lake in the Annapolis Valley. With our partners, we deliver camp programming to children, youth and families living with a chronic illness, chronic condition, or special need across Atlantic Canada. Brigadoon is a place where campers come to experience new things, meet friends who are facing similar challenges, and to just be themselves…not a patient, a chart full of symptoms, or a good little soldier.”

On August 4th of this year, Angie is swimming with 35 other people, across the Northumberland Straight – 14 kilometres – from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island to raise money for this deserving cause.

For the record, this woman does nothing half-way.

Angie’s friend Amanda, who will be her surface support, traveling alongside her in a kayak during the swim, created the following video, which is three minutes long, in anticipation:

For the record, Angie figures it will take her about six hours to complete her swim. Yikes.

Angie’s fundraising goal is $5,000 before she gets in the water, and as of our evening together, she was at just over $3,000. This is a camp that our daughter Olivia, would qualify to attend some day. Every $1,000 raised sends one more child to camp!

To donate, please click on the following link: Angie’s Big Swim for Brigadoon Camp.

Thank you!

Brigadoon Children’s Camp

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast

Two new gluten-free breakfast recipes (Egg & dairy-free too!)

This morning around the breakfast table, we were dealing with gluten-free and egg-free diets, as well as no cheese for another guest. We tried two new recipes, both which were successful. Since I posted the photo on our Facebook page, I’ve had requests for the recipes, and also from the guests, so thought we’d post them here for easy access.

Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free banana muffins

Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free banana muffins

Gluten, egg, and dairy-free banana muffins

Mix the following together with beaters until smooth:

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil (we use canola)
  • 2 tsp. egg replacer mixed with 1/4 cup water OR 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine the following dry ingredients, then add to the wet mixture and stir until moist. Do not over-mix.

  • 2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (We used Bob’s Redmill)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Line muffin tins with papers, divide batter between 12 muffin cups, and bake in 350*F oven for 20 – 22 minutes.

Egg, dairy, and gluten-free crepes

Egg, dairy, and gluten-free crepes

CREPES:

  • 3 Eggs worth of prepared egg replacer
  • 3/4cup rice milk
  • 3/4cup Water
  • 3 TBSP oil (we use canola)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (We used Bob’s Redmill)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 2 TBSP potato starch
  • 1/2t Salt

Combine together all ingredients in bowl and whisk until combined. Batter will appear deceivingly thin. Cook crepe in hot, oiled frying pan and top with desired filling. This morning we served our egg-free guests crepes filled with asparagus, tomato, basil, chives and boursin cheese; and our cheese-free guest, the same herbs & veggies in scrambled eggs. (Pictured above.)

As you can see from above, these recipes are also soy-free. However, the flour we used (Bob’s Redmill) is processed in a factory that uses soy and tree-nuts, so we consider these recipes both “unsafe” for our daughter.  If we used a different flour, they would be safe.

Please let us know how they turn out for you! We will definitely serve both of these recipes again!

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast

We Gave’r at the 2013 Bluenose Marathon!

Let me begin by making it clear that I (Anne) am a fair-weather runner in every sense of the word! However, one of our favourite family traditions takes place on the long weekend in May each year- The Bluenose Marathon in Halifax. This year was our sixth year attending, and fifth participating as a family.

Six years ago, when he was eight, Evan joined the running club at his school and got to go on a bus from Truro to Halifax to participate in the Youth Run portion of the marathon. He was hooked and so were we. D’Arcy had been a runner when we were first married and the boys were babies, but like many of us do with exercise, put it to the side when life got busy with other commitments. So when Evan announced he wanted to start running, and then Alex wanted to join him, we did what crazy parents do and joined them. Once I got started, I realized it wasn’t so bad and once you get through the first kilometre or two, it actually starts to feel good. (As long as where you’re running is flat.) I still will make any excuse not to go, but it’s a healthy, free activity that we can do together as a family.

This year, as I was registering us in February to take advantage of the early-bird registration rate (makes a BIG difference for a family of six) I registered D’Arcy first, and in doing so didn’t realize until after-the-fact that it automatically defaulted to the full marathon registration rather than the 10km race I was supposed to sign him up for! After I assured him that I had not recently taken out a new life insurance policy on him, he decided that he might as well train for the half-marathon. It’s been on his bucket list for awhile, and since he’s going to have a milestone birthday this year (ahem) he took it very seriously.

We left for Halifax directly after school on Friday. D’Arcy’s brother & his wife were away biking in Cape Breton this weekend so had offered us their house for the weekend. We can’t thank them enough! It was wonderful that we had comfortable sleeping arrangements and a full kitchen to use for meals, which are always tricky when traveling with food allergies. We picked up our race-kits at the Expo, got some groceries, then got settled in, making our plans and arrangements for the weekend.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, but cold. We entered into the mass of people at the Halifax Metro Centre to make sure the kids knew where to meet if they got separated. (We learned that lesson the hard way a few years ago!) We left the boys in charge of the girls at the start line, and D’Arcy & I went up the course to find a spot to cheer them on.

The Bluenose Youth Run is the largest youth run in Canada. This year there were over 4,000 participants! It was extra special for the girls to run the race for the first time with their brothers – holding hands throughout the entire 4.2km course! 🙂 The energy and excitement is hard to imagine if you haven’t experienced it! I had worried that Sarah especially wouldn’t have a good time (did I mention it was bitterly cold?) and wouldn’t want to participate again, but even she had a huge smile each time we saw her!

The McRunners speed through the city

The McRunners speed through the city

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I think Alex was the motivator for the group!

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Nearing the finish – love that Sarah’s sweater is now open to show her bib and Evan is wearing Olivia’s sweater around his waist!

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The McRunners, together to the finish!

After the race, we got ourselves together, packed up some food and went out to Mike & Emily’s to help with their boys and make them some supper. (For those who are new here, our niece Emily just had major surgery to remove  tumors from her spine and neck.) It turned out that Emily wasn’t having a very good day, and was in the city having a procedure, so it turned out to be good timing that we were able to be there that particular day. We spent the afternoon with Mike and the boys: playing racing games, walking in the woods, and getting some laundry caught up.

Uncle Darce and Seamus were a team!

Uncle Darce and Seamus were a team!

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Phinn gets ready to take us to “The Pit”.

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A fun way to spend the afternoon.

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Mike & D’Arcy discuss marathons, boats, and renewable energy.

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Fun for the cousins!

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Olivia gets a lift from cousin Mike.

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A springtime walk, home through the woods. We only lost three of the city-kids for a short period of time…

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Warming up together by the fire when we got back to the house.

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Sarah makes a new friend.

For supper we had veggie pasta, Caesar salad, and a lemon pie so D’Arcy could “carb up”. Emily and her grandfather arrived home just in time to join us, but she was in a lot of pain. After supper, we quickly got some food into the freezer, did the dishes, and left them so they could all get to bed. (And so could we!)

We were up bright & early on Sunday morning to get ready for our big day! I don’t think D’Arcy or I slept particularly well, but as my running partner, Kim, told me – “as long as you rested your legs, you’ll be fine”!  Evan & Alex were running the 5k which left right after the marathon runners, so we went up to the start line to watch. We met up with D’Arcy’s sister Erin, and nephew Ryan, who were also both running the half-marathon.  We watched the boys start, then said good-bye to the half-marathon runners and went to the Metro Centre where the girls were going to wait to meet the boys. Because it was so cold, the girls were happy to watch the finish on the big screen inside.

Evan & Alex ran a good race, although Evan’s shoelace came untied and he ran the rest of the race with it like that rather than stopping to tie it. They had mixed reviews on their times. They both wanted to come in under 25 minutes, but Evan’s chip time was 0:25:29.5 and Alex’s was 0:26:33.1. Personally, I’d be happy to be able to run 5km at a 5 minute pace… When they finished, they came in to the Metro Centre to look after the girls while D’Arcy & I ran. Their race had started at 8:10, D’Arcy’s at 8:45, and mine at 9:00. It gave us lots of time to switch off.

I was running 10km with my childhood friend, Kim. Let’s just say that our training has included one walk together, and three runs separately – all spring! There may or may not have been some wine involved in our training as well. (It’s a carb, right?!)  The most I’d run at once this year was 5k. I wasn’t quite sure how the run would go, and we hoped to finish in about an hour and ten minutes. We had a ball running together when I wasn’t panting for breath! We had already made a pact ahead of time to walk up the hills – there are some doozies on the course!  I loved all the signs, the cheers, the kids who lined the course high-fiving and blowing bubbles, and the bands – yes, live bands – who were playing on different parts of the course. As we headed over the bridge, runners from the marathon, and then the first 10k runners started coming in the opposite direction. We yelled and cheered for each of them as they passed us. It was a great way to take my mind off the burning in my legs and my lungs! In the end, we finished with a time of 1:09:05.5. Kim’s time was two seconds faster than mine because she started to sprint at the end. Not bad for a couple of 40 year olds… 😉 Our goal for next year is to train and come in around an hour. Totally doable…

We met up with the kids who had been great while we were gone and started watching for D’Arcy to cross the finish. He and Erin completed their race with a time of 2:02:55. D’Arcy had hoped to finish in two hours. Our nephew Ryan? His time was 1:40:42. Show-off.

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Waiting for the gun to start the Full Marathon

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D’Arcy & our nephew Ryan discuss who will be faster than whom. Maybe Ryan could have piggybacked D’Arcy for part of it…

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Kim & Anne, ready to run 10km together.

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D’Arcy and his sister Erin with their half-marathon finisher medals. Thank you Erin for all your support and for coaching D’Arcy through it!

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The McRunners, happy to be finished!

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Our yearly photo with Myles – another part of the tradition!

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We had to take one more to make sure Aunt Erin was in the photo too!

After the race, we took the girls to Woozles Bookstore – a favourite – which Sarah reported was the best part of the weekend. 🙂 We went back to Brian & Morag’s to do the laundry, change the beds, and pack up. A friend of ours had died, and the memorial service was being webcast, so we took the time to watch. Although we couldn’t get back to town in time to attend in person, it was wonderful to be able to be part of it from away. Olivia wasn’t feeling well and had developed a fever, so we stayed away from the new baby we wanted to go see and from any other people we wanted to visit. We got home in time to have some Chinese food for supper (since Olivia wasn’t eating anyway), then hung out quietly together until we all went to bed early.

Our tourist season starts in earnest today, and we have rooms booked every night this week. D’Arcy was up early to mow the lawn before the rain starts, and Alex has a full day of dress-rehearsal before his school’s production of “Annie” this coming weekend. Our lives tend to be busy, so I am happy that six years ago Evan suggested we start running and I reluctantly agreed to join him. Even though I can no longer keep up with my teenagers, it’s still an activity we can all do together as a family, and the short respite for us during the May long weekend keeps us refreshed for the season ahead!

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast Website

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!

tests

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.