Monthly Archives: March 2014

Green with Envy

ImageIn my house, St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty big deal. I would probably rate it as the 4th most important holiday that we celebrate behind Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. July 4th is almost up there but despite the fireworks and warm weather, the Irish holiday wins out in our house for one reason…we live in Dublin. No not that one, the other one. The land that our little burg is located on was first surveyed in 1810 and named Dublin since it reminded the surveyor of his beautiful homeland in Ireland. It was incorporated as a village in 1881 but didn’t officially become a city until 1987. Since that time in 1987, the city has fully embraced it’s “Irish” heritage. There are limestone fences, brick sidewalks and 19th century architecture throughout but these are just the obvious nods to the Emerald Isle. We host one of the nation’s largest Irish Festivals and have multiple town pubs that pay homage to one of Ireland’s favorite pastimes; throwing back a pint or two. Even the day that St. Patrick’s Day lands on (March 17th or 3/17) is found hidden in every day life that many Dublin residents probably aren’t aware of. The freeway exit to Dublin off of our city’s outerbelt: Exit 17. My zip code ends in 3017. Coincidences…no. This town takes it’s Irish seriously.

(Side note: My wife is associated with the visitor center here so if any of the facts above are wrong, I’m going to hear about it.)

So this past Saturday, under chilly but bright blue skies, Dublin had it’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. It’s the only suburb in our area that holds a parade and the size of the event rivals (or maybe even surpasses) that of our main city. And why not, it’s Dublin! People decked out in green put out their folding chairs two hours before the parade starts. Irish Wolfhounds and Setters are the dogs of choice for the day. Kilts are worn whether they should or shouldn’t be. It really is an event embraced by the community. And since it is a community event where my wife is very well recognized, our family is busy the entire day. From office visitors to prepared lunch functions, the actual parade is our “down” time during an extremely busy morning and early afternoon.

When watching from my fourth row spot this year, my feelings were confirmed that one of the best parts of the parade for me is seeing all of the kids up against the barriers with open hands and bags, waiting for candy. By this time of year, their Halloween stash is long gone (hopefully) and they are all anxious to replenish their sugar supply. During the parade, the kids will cheer for the bands and flinch away from the clowns but they’re most excited to see the politicians, church groups and local organizations that are walking along the route and passing out the sweets. They run the gamut of emotions over what amounts to a two cent Tootsie Roll. This year, there were numerous children in our area; including my daughter and her friends, my nephew (his sister was in the parade), various work associates’ kids and Cam. Cam’s at that odd age that we all go through where he’s too “cool” or “grown-up” to publicly do some things but privately will still participate in them. Given the amount of people at the parade, I was surprised to see him with a candy bag in the front row. Not only was I surprised that he would risk being seen by friends but I was surprised that he would want any candy at all given his Celiac condition. Knowing that he has a good grasp of what he can and can not eat, I still asked him if he understood that he couldn’t have anything he collected (I’m a parent and it’s my job to ask the obvious questions). He acknowledged that he did and we made an agreement that the candy he received, he would give to his cousin when she was done riding in the parade. He was o.k. with this idea…or so he said. My niece was towards the front of the parade so when she finished and arrived in the seating area, the parade was only about halfway done. Once she was settled, I had Cam hand her the bag that he had been adding candy to for the past 30 minutes (he was doing quite a good job due to his long arms). When he handed the bag over, I witnessed a familiar look flash across his face. It was brief but it was there. The joy of the parade slightly went away for what could have been perceived as envy. He may have been jealous that what he collected was no longer his. But I’ve seen the look before and I knew that it was neither envy nor jealousy. The look was resignation. Resignation that, once again, his condition has changed something that he has enjoyed doing his entire life.

This past six months I have developed sympathy and gained the utmost respect for those in our communities that suffer from any type of food allergy or food-related condition. Something that many people take for granted is a thought process that never stops for those affected. Cam’s disease has opened my eyes to these situations but I often ask myself if I am seeing everything. Would I have just assumed him o.k. if I didn’t see the envy/jealously/resignation on his face for those brief few seconds? Did he feel isolated having to pack his own sandwich and not getting to grab a Corned Beef and Swiss on Rye at the lunch we went to after the parade? Was the reason he didn’t stop and speak with his friends earlier in the day due to the fact that they were in line at a coffee shop where he doesn’t feel safe? I may never know the answers to these questions. Since we are still in the first year of his diagnosis, it’s possible that I may be jumping to conclusions and creating situations and feelings in my head that don’t exist. But until we are more comfortable with his condition (if we ever are), my wife and I will continue to look for these signs and find ways to make things better if we can. Currently, the communication between us and Cam is great but I realize that he is two months away from being an “official” teenager and chances of our communication levels being what they are today will take a drastic hit with the introduction to hormones and the pressures of high school. So with the worst in mind, I will keep my eyes open. Open to the changes happening in the food industry. Open to the development of medications to assist with the auto-immune response to gluten. Open to all of Cam’s feelings. And in the end, if we can see these things and maintain the level of communication with Cam that we currently have, Irish eyes will be smiling over this Dublin home for a long time.

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Take Me Out to the Ballgame

StadiumIn my little part of the world, warm weather and Spring finally made an appearance this week after a long, long winter. The temperatures were only in the 60s but it was as if the entire community had just been released from months of solitary confinement. Everyone was outside. Kids were on their bikes, joggers were glad to be off of their treadmills and those people out walking their dogs looked a little happier than when they had to perform this task in negative wind chills. Cam also pointed out that it even “smelled” like Spring. I’m not entirely sure what this smell is but I completely understood what he was talking about. It is a precursor or future, glorious sunsets and great things to come in the next few months.

In our house, many of these great things will take place around a baseball and/or softball diamond. Cam didn’t make his middle school baseball team (though we are so proud of the efforts that he made) but he is still on an advanced-level travel team along with a number of his friends. His practices will get into full swing (no pun intended) in April. I’m also the head coach of my daughter’s softball team and we just had our league’s player draft last weekend. Our practices start up in April as well. On top of that, we’ll go to a couple of games for our minor league baseball team at their beautiful Downtown stadium and we’ll travel to catch a game or two in person of my lovable, albeit hapless, Cubbies.

Games this year are going to present a new challenge for us. We are going to need to be more conscientious at these stadiums much like we are when we go out for regular meals. We can take the the advice of the famous song and buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack (both are safe for us) but that’s about it at the traditional concession stand. Now, I’m not expecting much on a local level where my kids play. These are volunteer-run concession booths and we’ll just bring our own hot dogs to enjoy them on an Udi’s bun between games. When it comes to the professional stadiums though, my expectations do go up a bit. New stadiums have realized that the fan experience should include a wide variety of high quality food choices. Crab cakes are being served in Baltimore, a meatloaf “cupcake” is served in Detroit and even Rocky Mountain Oysters are served at the games in Colorado. At the parks, the chances of Cam finding something safe to eat are a bit of a mixed bag. Our local minor league stadium is state-of-the-art with open views and great vantage points of the game but the gluten free menu is lacking. Actually, it is non-existent. I don’t remember ever seeing any gluten free options in the multiple visits to the stadium last year. Looking on the team website, it doesn’t look like anything has changed for the upcoming season. For a Celiac, this venue is a plan ahead and bring your own snacks ballpark experience. Fortunately, most major league baseball stadiums now have dedicated gluten free concession stands to go along with their standard and higher quality offerings. For a complete list of stadiums that are gluten free (as of the beginning of last year) see fellow blogger Taylor’s great post at Gluten Away  http://glutenaway.blogspot.com/search?q=stadium).

The Major League Baseball stadiums are providing us nice options and allowing Cam (and other gluten sensitive customers) to feel “included” within their friendly confines. But what about other sports? Why is it taking so long for these venues to embrace the fact that gluten free is a necessary way of life for a growing section of the population? About 1/4 of the NFL stadiums are on board and approximate 1/2 of the current NBA arenas have offerings. Our local NHL team doesn’t have a gluten free concession area. Our college football stadium, which seats 105,000 people eight times a year, is antiquated when it comes to it’s food offerings. Think about the money lost at these venues. Consider that 1 in 133 people are diagnosed Celiac and let’s assume that as a consumer they would purchase $15 of food and drink at a game. The hockey stadium seats 18,500 people so, statistically, 139 of these people could be diagnosed Celiac. If these consumers were given the opportunity to buy food & drink, that’s an additional $2,085 in concession sales per game that is not being realized. At 40 games a season, the arena is missing out on $83,400. Using this same formula, the college football stadium is losing $94,800 in business over the course of the eight game season. And this is only factoring in people who have officially been diagnosed. Add in the number of people with gluten-intolerance and/or gluten sensitivity and there is a lot of money being left on the table. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on the food and beverage policies that these, and other stadiums, have in place. I’m sure that it would cost some money to make at least one of their concession areas 100% dedicated to gluten-free offerings and they are probably hindered a bit by what they can purchase from the companies where they get their concessions. But if other stadiums around the country already have these in place, shouldn’t it be an investment to look into?

Over the next six weeks, we are going to have the opportunity to attend two huge sporting events that should provide a lifetime of memories. Unfortunately, I’ve looked at each venue and haven’t found any dedicated concessions (though I have sent an e-mail to one as their web site was pretty vague concerning their food offerings). But you know what? That’s o.k. We have enough time to plan accordingly for these trips and assure that they will be remembered for the right reasons. Continued awareness and advocacy about this growing dietary need will help stadiums and venues such as these to make changes for the benefit of the Celiac customer. Hopefully, the trend continues and this happens soon as we have many more games to go to and so many more memories to make.

Plugging Away

Saturday mornings are great. After five days of early morning alarm clock awakenings, the chance to wake up on your own terms is a real treat. During the week, your first conscious thoughts of the day probably consists of a checklist of items that you need to accomplish before even stepping outside of the house. Tasks such as getting yourself ready, waking up the children, packing lunches, making sure the kids are on the bus and then concentrating on what you have to get done generates more stress in many houses than what the normal person should have to burden. And then, you have to repeat this up to four more times as the week goes along. Ugh. On a Saturday, these tasks are noticeably and gladly absent. The kids may or may not sleep in (even better if they do), the question of “what’s for lunch” doesn’t need answered at 8:00 am and getting yourself ready for the day has no time table and could possibly even be skipped depending on your agenda. Sunday brings for some the responsibility of church and family so you do have to make yourself presentable and there’s usually a scheduled time to be somewhere. Not as stressful as during the week but not as nice as a Saturday morning. 

My former college roommate had a great story about his Saturday mornings from when he was going to grad school out at Cal-Berkeley. Every Saturday morning, he would go to the same donut shop to get a cake donut and some coffee. The shop was run by an older Asian gentleman who, whenever my friend walked in the door, greeted him with a bright smile and a broken-English exclamation of “Happy Saturday!”. Happy Saturday. Two words that have stuck with me and been a part of my vernacular every weekend for over 15 years. A perfect summary of how this day should be. Yes, some Saturdays bring chores or the requirements of doing things that we may not have the time to get to during the week. Many of us have to act as personal chauffeurs to our kids to get them to games, practices, birthday parties, etc. But since these are our children and not our bosses and since these chores are completed on our time and not associated with deadlines, I don’t think that it takes too much away from he good vibes that waking up on a Saturday morning provides. 

Yet, as I sit in my chair and type this post this Saturday morning, I have watched my wife hard at work in the kitchen for going on two straight hours. She has been busy making her own flour mixes, putting together cookie dough and prepping items for the rest of the weekend. She yells over to me items such as white rice flour and dedicated gluten free butter that needs added to our grocery list. She keeps plugging away to stay on top of the needs presented by this new lifestyle in our home. The re-invented chef concocting comfort food for our Celiac son. She loves to cook so this is not as much of a burden as it would be for me or for 95% of the general population but it is still something that needs to be done. Not doing it is not an option. Would we love to be able to say we’re going to restaurant A for lunch without worrying about cross-contamination? Yes. Would we like to be able to stop at the local bakery to pick up a pack of cookies or bread and not have to mix flours and dough on our days off at home? Absolutely. Are we there yet as a food society? No. 

I feel bad because I would love to help her more than I do but since the kitchen is her realm, I need to continue to educate and push for awareness in the food industry. We need to make it known that Celiac cases have increased dramatically in the past 50 years. People need to understand what the symptoms are since 83% of Americans who have Celiac are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. When these numbers are understood, the food and restaurant industries will be forced to make more changes to accommodate the population. As education continues, gluten free diets will no more be considered just a fad. More choices will be available for my son and for others. My wife’s “having” to plug away in the kitchen will be replaced by her “wanting” to cook. When these things happen, it will be a Happy Saturday for everyone.