Cuba As I See It, Day 2 – Havana to Cienfuegos via Bay of Pigs and Giron

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These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It

Day 2 – Saturday, Dec 24
Havana to Cienfuegos via Bay of Pigs and Giron

We awoke, packed up, ate the provided breakfast of fruit, eggs, bread, guava juice, orange juice, and coffee. It was delicious. I don’t know if this was legislated somewhere or if it is just the custom, but each of our homestay accommodations all across the island served us the same breakfast: eggs cooked to order, fruit, and bread, with coffee, juice, and sometimes tea. There were a few variations such as the kinds of fruit (guava, papaya, mango, or pineapple), whether there was butter or honey or milk or none of the above, the kind of fruit juice (guava, papaya, pineapple, orange), etc, but the main components were always the same. There was also what looked like raw sugar and if they had milk it was warmed for the very strong coffee. At this particular casa there was no butter for the bread. We met several other tourists, some in our group, some with another group by the same tour company focused on salsa dancing. We found out later that immediately  after Fidel’s death and during the national time of mourning, these trips were somewhat hampered. But more about that will come later.

Our tour guide arrived and we left to head for Cienfuegos. We passed through a tunnel which is one of the 7 Wonders of Cuban Engineering, constructed by France and bought with sugar. To be honest, the description was much more impressive than the tunnel. It was less impressive, for instance, than the Baltimore harbor tunnels and certainly less impressive than the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Virginia Beach.
There is only one era you need to know to tour Cuba: 1959-1961. Everything is referred to as either “before The Revolution,” “during The Revolution,” or “after The Revolution.” As their version of the narrative goes, before the Revolution was bad, during the Revolution many heroic and amazing feats were accomplished, and after the Revolution things were wonderful. We also quickly learned that according to their rhetoric (billboards, slogans, and speech), “The Revolution” is not only an event but a force that actively does very positive things. When I mentioned this to my second son, who has done some research on Cuba, he asked which of the revolutions of Cuba I was talking about. I informed him that (with the exception of one person, José Marti, a hero of the fight for independence from Spain who the more recent revolutionary figures piggyback their fame to) there is only one revolution that matters: the one happening from 1959-1961. It doesn’t even have a name except The Revolution.
We were allowed to take pictures of anything except of police and soldiers. We were warned that if we took pictures of either, they would take our cameras and send us home. We saw both soldiers and policemen (with the exception of 1 woman, I only saw men in these roles). The policemen were often only armed with a nightstick. They never bothered us and we certainly didn’t bother them.
Sugar used to be the main industry in Cuba, but now tourism is. There were 11 of us in our group, 2 Australians, 2 Italians, 6 Americans, and 1 Chinese (who is studying at an American university). The variety of nationalities created an interesting way to get different perspectives on the things we were seeing. Several of the people on the trip have been all over the world to places ranging from Africa safaris to Iran to Antarctica. We met people from all over the world during our time in Cuba.
After The Revolution only one new sugar factory was built. All of the others are from before The Revolution and I don’t think many improvements have been done since then. Between 1961 and 1989, the Soviet Union traded their oil for Cuba’s sugar. With the Fall of the USSR in the 1990’s sugar prices dropped and Cuba destroyed many of its sugar factories, though I never did figure out why they would destroy them. It’s possible that when they said “destroyed” they meant that they simply stopped using them. I’m not sure how many are functioning now, but it seems that most of them still sit in a state of disrepair. We saw a lot of sugar fields during our travels.
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We did see a few other crops growing, and some personal gardens in the rural areas, but not many large fields of anything but sugar. Because of government regulations (and also, I suspect, a lack of resources to do otherwise) all of the food grown in Cuba is organic, and many of the farms still use oxen, horses, or mules to tend the fields. We saw some tractors in use, but mostly in the cities hauling things in wagons. Much of the land lies fallow, not being used for any production of food. I am not sure if this is purposeful because I know growing sugar is hard on the soil, or, as I suspect, it’s simply bad management. In our entire time traveling the island I only saw maybe 2 or 3 very small herds of cattle.
Our tour bus was state-owned. It was pretty nice with padded seats and air conditioning. It had seats for 15 people, and there were 12 of us. I think these buses are made in China.
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People stand by the sides of the roads holding out money, trying to catch a ride. You see, there are a lot of these exact same tour buses in Cuba, and it is illegal for them to be empty. So after our bus had taken us on this several-day trip from Havana to Baracoa and our group caught a plane back to Havana, the tour bus driver would drive back to Havana and pick up people all along the way, selling them tickets for the trip. The bus is tracked by GPS and he must carefully record everything. Of course the ticket money goes to the government. If he is caught with an empty bus or doesn’t sell tickets properly he will be in trouble and lose his job. Jobs related to tourism are some of the best as they receive tips and therefore often make more money than the average Cuban. There are doctors who change professions to work in the tourism industry because they can make better money.
There are no traffic jams in Cuba, but it’s not because of the great public transport (remember the tourist buses?) or the splendid roads. On the roads there are farming tractors, oil trucks, bicycle taxis, bicycles, tour buses, horse-drawn carts, Russian Lada brand cars, Peugeots, Hyundais, etc. and 1950s American cars and Jeeps on the patched or cobblestone roads. I did not see any regular types of pick-up trucks, I saw only three 18 wheelers, and minivans or other vans are rare. I did see several of what we would consider livestock trucks hauling people who were jammed in wall-to-wall. I guess that makes the tour-bus option look downright plush.
Until 2011 you had to have a special reason to have a car made after The Revolution (1959-1961). Government officials, doctors who needed to travel, and others with special permission were the only ones with newer cars. That is why there are so many 1950’s cars still running in Cuba. There was no way to get a newer one, so they just kept the old ones running.
These vehicles will start to pass another vehicle on the 2 lane road with no shoulder and not very much room to pass before possibly going head-on with another car. Nobody slows down, and it feels like an intense game of chicken. But I never saw a wreck the entire time we were there. The roads in the cities are generally pretty good. The rural roads, though, were often patched until there are more patches than road. We hit a few areas where the main highway-type roads were gravel.
Cars are exorbitantly expensive, about $18,000 for an old Russian Lada.
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A 1950s Ford truck that you can make some money hauling stuff with but is in bad shape would be maybe $30,000.
If you charge someone for a ride without having the proper license and you get caught, you will be in trouble. If you do that, you have to agree between you that, should you get stopped, the passenger will say you are friends and you are just taking them to their destination for free. There are taxis, but they require a license to operate. They are often the 1950’s American cars.
There are also trains. If you want to have some torture, try a Cuban train. Putin supposedly signed an agreement with Cuba to give them some more and newer trains, but if it happened no one has seen them in operation. Here is a YouTube video of a “fast” Cuban passenger train. The one we saw was going much slower.
There are no ads or commercials, but political billboards abound. For example, this one is near Giron and the Bay of Pigs and celebrates “The First Grand Defeat of Yankee Imperialism in Latin America.” I apologize for the quality of this picture; it was taken through a bus window.
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 All over the cities and countryside are these reminders of what The Revolution does for the people and how great the revolutionary figures were. I cannot emphasize enough how pervasive this message is. The most common visage on them is that of Che Guevera, though Fidel and Raúl Castro also make appearances. I’ll tell more about Che on a later day. It got to the point where my husband said, “I’ve seen so many pictures of Che that I think I could draw his face, and I can’t even draw!”
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After Fidel’s death in November, 2016, people were respectful with no demonstrations or opposition, at least none that was reported by the state-owned media. The time of mourning was 9 days. They didn’t play music or dance or serve alcohol during that time. Some of the tour groups run by our tour company focus on dancing and partying, as I mentioned above. Their activities were very much restricted during this time. Until January 6 (the day we flew out of Cuba for Mexico) there was a period of “controlled happiness” with some restrictions on dancing etc. No restrictions on playing music or serving alcohol were evidence, though. Of course, I also do not know what the normal amount of those things is, so maybe what we observed is less than normal. Fidel willed that nothing be named after him after death. We’ll have to wait and see if that is honored or not. Since there a pictures EVERYWHERE of the other revolutionary figures, that would be one way to set him apart from them.
We ate lunch at a tiny restaurant near the Bay of Pigs called El Butty, a delicious lunch of crab, octopus, or pork with cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash. They have several international flags hanging but no US flag. The owner asked if we would send him a US flag.
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We visited the Bay of Pigs, a beautiful area where the land is very rocky and rough. It would be very hard to walk on, much less run on to invade. The water for quite a ways out is shallow, so it would be impossible to bring a boat up to shore. Whoever decided to invade there wasn’t making a good decision, unless they landed in a spot with different terrain than what we saw.
We visited a museum in Giron near the Bay of Pigs that celebrates the Cuban victory over the Yankee Imperialists there. If you judged solely from their presentation you would think they had defeated the whole of the American armed forces, taken huge numbers of prisoners whom they then treated very well, and suffered very few casualties. The museum also celebrated some of the major accomplishments of The Revolution and Fidel in particular. It showed pictures from before The Revolution of really poor living conditions and malnourished children. It also told about Fidel’s “Alphabetization” project whereby in 2 years they wiped out illiteracy on the whole island. The two most commonly cited pieces of evidence for the greatness of Cuba are their education and health care.
We saw the Palacio Vallo a beautiful house in Cienfuegos. There was an owner of several plantations who didn’t resist when, during The Revolution, the state took away all his land, so they let him keep this place to live. He is dead now, so it has been converted into a restaurant and club.
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We also saw a yacht club. I’m not sure who belongs to that club, but there were some beautiful boats there. Some people are doing quite well for themselves, evidently.
We checked into our casa for the night, and had a couple of hours of downtime.
Since there was an old and small, but functional TV in our room (complete with rabbit ears) we decided to see what their programming was like. We found they had four or five stations. One was a music video made of different angles of video of the person singing. One was some kind of drama that was just ending. One was a talk show of some sort. And the one we watched titled “Fidel in History” was how great Fidel Castro was and all the good things he had done. This particular episode in the many-part series focused on the literacy program we had also heard about in the Giron museum. There were, of course, no commercials. I can totally understand why in Cuba there is a lot of live music and dancing, why the town squares are always busy, and why people sit on their front stairs talking to their neighbors. They usually have no air conditioning, and their TV is worse than awful.
We ate dinner at a place whose name I’ve forgotten but I liked their emblem for personal reasons: they had great initials.
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They also had very good food. We were quickly learning that Cubans serve good food in large portions. The only problem was that they often would only have a few of the items listed on their menus. Or sometimes they’d give you a several-page menu to ignore with an attached index card-sized piece of paper telling what your options really were.
After dinner some of us went to a 10:00 Christmas Eve Mass at the cathedral on the town square. Christmas was cancelled between 1959 and the Pope’s visit in 1998 but now it can be celebrated. Having been there for both Christmas and New Years, I can tell you that New Years is a much bigger deal there. Neither Vince nor I had been to a Catholic Mass before, but Vince fully understood the Spanish homily and liturgy and I enjoyed the folksy music. Their version of Silent Night played on guitar was especially nice.
We got turned around on the way to our homestay and wandered the city a bit at almost midnight, but Cienfuegos is a safe and clean city with one exception: there are no pooper-scooper laws or at least if there are they’re not enforced very well. There are a good number of horses on the street and lots of stray dogs around so you need to use a flashlight to not take a stinky souvenir home on your shoe. This we learned the hard way.
To continue the journey, click here for Day 3.


Delta Airlines Doesn’t Know Peanuts or A Defense Of “Crazy” Food Allergy Parents

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I am on a Delta Airlines flight and they just offered me peanuts. We usually fly American Airlines, so I was shocked. Luckily my daughter is not with me or I would be freaking out. 

Why? I am the mom of a child with food allergies. And sitting near someone eating peanuts could kill her. Literally. Last time I checked, an airplane is not a great place to have a major medical emergency. Unlike milk or eggs or most other food allergies, peanuts somehow contaminate the air around them and even a trace amount in the air, similar to the way a smell works, can cause a reaction. So why the peanuts when so many have similar reactions? I have no idea. Obviously someone making decisions doesn’t understand the severity or seriousness of the situation. 

My daughter is allergic to all nuts (technically that’s peanuts and tree nuts), any milk products, eggs, and shellfish. She will have a life-threatening reaction simply by being in the same room as peanut butter or getting milk or ice cream on her skin. A tiny bit of the wrong margarine (99% of the ones on the market) can make her deathly ill. This reaction by definition includes more than one body system, such as GI, respiratory, skin, etc. As a mom, these reactions are very scary. You never know how bad it’s going to be this time; each one is different. Maybe this time she’ll “just” throw up and break out in hives all over. But it could be just as likely that her lips and face will swell up and her throat will close off and block her airway and kill her. And as the parent, you’re the one making the on-the-spot call about what to do. Except in an airplane the options are more limited. Even at home it’s a crazy-stressful situation. Can it be treated with just Benadryl? Do I call the ambulance? Give an EpiPen (a shot of epinephrine)? Give 2 EpiPens? Which hospital to use? When seconds matter, you don’t have time to call the doctor. Is this a reaction that will keep getting worse or is this as bad as it will get this time? 
And complicating the situation for some families, the families with no prescription plan, is the fact that the price of EpiPens has increased to where they are now $600 for a pack of 2. Some reactions take 2 to control. And last time I heard, ambulances don’t carry them, so even if your insurance plan covers an ambulance ride and emergency care, you’re still supplying the EpiPens. 

So next time you hear about the mom of a food allergy kid who seems to be taking it a little too seriously, going a bit extreme, put yourself in her shoes. If it was your kid who could die simply from being in the room or on an airplane with peanuts, would you take it lightly, try not to inconvenience someone? I hope not. 

And Delta Airlines, please change your snacks before you kill somebody. 


Memories of Mexico: Day 4, San Rafael

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A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

This is the fourth installment in a series about that trip.

You may read the first three posts by clicking on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The next morning we slept in.  We had been busy and up late for a couple of days, so that was needed.

By the time we go to the restaurant it was lunch time.

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I had a hamburger and coffee,

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We went and picked up our hosts and headed back to San Rafael, the town we had driven through the day before where I had visited the Pharmacy and seen Don Quixote.  Well, not him personally, but his statue.

We visited a large family in their home.  One of the adult sisters (of 10 siblings) had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and they had asked us to come by and pray for her.  This family was obviously very close.  It seems that in their social structure, extended family is their welfare, social security, and health insurance as well as filling many other roles socially.  They fed us an “appetizer” of fried pork slices, tortillas, beans, and a salad of lettuce, onion and tomato.  They probably thought I was crazy for putting my salad along with the pork on a tortilla and making a taco, but I did it anyway.  They don’t eat cold vegetables on tortillas.  This appetizer was more like a lunch and less like an hor d’ouvre, but that was good because dinner was to be pretty late in the evening again.

After our “snack” we headed over to the place we would hold service.  It was at the home of another family (the family that made the flan from the night before) and was in the bay where they detail cars.

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They had chairs all set up as well as some very nice flowers provided by a relative who owns a flower shop.

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Service started

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and people continued to arrive.  Here I am playing my violin.

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By sermon time, we had quite a nice little crowd.

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Again, there was not enough room for a traditional altar call, so people prayed in their seats.  The young man on the far left hand side is a high school student who met us at the home we visited earlier in the day.  He is taking English classes in school, so I encouraged him to come to service and listen to the preaching in English that was then translated into Spanish.  He did come and listen and received the Holy Ghost during prayer time at the end.

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I learned to play a few of their songs on piano in spite of not having any idea what the words said.  Here is a piece of one of them that we closed the service with.

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When service was over, they moved several small tables into the area and served dinner.

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This is the outdoor stove on the sidewalk where they made the ponche (fruit drink).  Next to the big pot were a stack of day-old tortillas for any passers-by to take and feed to their animals.

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Besides having a car-detailing business, the family that hosted us also ran a small convenience store, pictured here.

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This is the kitchen where these hardworking ladies prepared the meal.  Several of them were from the family that lived here and hosted us.

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And these are some of the people who received the Holy Ghost during the services we attended in Mexico.


Memories of Mexico: Day 3, Potrero Nuevo and Casitas

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A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

This is the third installment in a series about that trip.

You may read the first two posts by clicking on Day 1 and Day 2.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

After a breakfast of eggs and fruit, coffee and coke

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we went out to our faithful SUV.  The night before, though, we had gotten in too late and all the paved spots were taken, so we had to park in the dirt lot.  They had an interesting alternative to lines and instead used beautiful plants.

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As Steven was wading through the jungle, I looked around and realized it made more sense to back the car in.

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The SUV was great for what we needed, but it was a little different from what we usually see here in The States.

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After picking up Maribel, Marcello, and Amanda, we travelled to the little town of Potrero Nuevo.

They usually have service in this home, belonging to some of the church members.

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However, since they were expecting a larger-than-normal crowd, they had prepared for us across the street in an outdoor auto-body shop.

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The owner of the shop is in the righthand picture in the blue shop.  He was a very nice man.  He showed us some pictures of the work he’s done on trucks, and it was  quite impressive.  He was in the process of repainting and replacing the bottom of the refrigerator shown in the picture.  It wasn’t your typical church building, but it worked quite well for our purposes.

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The 24 attendees (plus our 5) would have been hard pressed (excuse the pun) to fit in the blue house.

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Marcello opened the service.

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I played the keyboard for worship service.  I am not sure I was adding much positive to the experience at this point, but I was starting to get the feel of the songs.  Marcello held the mic next to the keyboard speaker so I could be heard.

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I also played violin, this time making sure to tune immediately before I played, so it stayed in tune all the way through.  I used a soundtrack for accompaniment, using a flash drive plugged in to a little pink speaker that Amanda loaned us.  Steven held a mic next to it to increase the volume.  It wasn’t fancy, but it worked.

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Steven preached with Maribel interpreting.

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Several people came forward for the altar call.

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Following the service, they served us a lunch of baked chicken, red spaghetti, green spaghetti, tortillas, potato salad, and spanish rice: more food than I could eat in several meals.  The red spaghetti was seasoned to taste similar to the Spanish rice.  The green spaghetti tasted like it was seasoned with avacado and green chilis.  The potato salad was much like ours.  They also served a traditional Christmas drink called “ponche” made of boiled fruit.  Click here for the recipe.

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The chicken they ate was seasoned with a red sauce which looked very spicy, but Maribel had helped us out by instructing the cooks to make ours mild.  They also let us try some mole (pronounched mole-ay) sauce.

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As we left, they offered us some chocolate cake.  Of course I had to eat it: I wouldn’t want to offend.  It had fruit in it and was very moist, almost wet, but was very good.

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These beautiful plants were just outside the auto-body shop.

We had to leave in order to get back to Casitas in time for them to prepare for night service.  On the way out of town we saw this gentleman.

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This statue of Don Quixote stands in San Rafael, a town we went through on our way back.   We also stopped at a grocery store and picked up some supplies for that night’s after-service dinner.  While they were shopping I went across the street to the Farmacia (Pharmacy) to get some headache medicine.  I was just going to buy some Advil until I remembered that Mexico has different prescribing laws than exist here in the states.  I asked if they had the prescription drug I use for my headaches (Toradol) and they went in the back and got me some.  This works for any drug that isn’t a controlled substance.  Those require a doctor’s prescription even in Mexico.

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For the medicine I needed, though, purchase required no prescription, no doctor authorization, no nothing except for my knowledge of what I needed.  A similar experience happened a few days later when I had a pimple that was getting really infected.  I went into the pharmacy, this time in Casitas, and with the help of Maribel, got a medicine that in the states would require a prescription.  It worked really well and cleared up the infection within a day or two.  People without my nursing experience wouldn’t know what to get or how to administer it.  There is also some debate about the quality of the medications.

Following a short nap at the hotel, we dressed up and went to church in Casitas.  They had moved the benches onto the porch and had rented tables and chairs because of the meal after church.  It was very nicely done.

We started with Marcello opening the service with a full house and every seat filled.

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Then about 25 more people came in.

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When the time came for Steven to preach, the building was packed.  Marcello and I ended up sitting in the doorway on the porch because there was just no room.

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The building was too packed to have people come forward for prayer, so everyone prayed in their seats.  2 people were born again of the Spirit just like it happened in The Book of Acts.

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After church, the ladies of the church served dinner.  These ladies worked very hard to make sure everybody was fed.

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People were everywhere: at the 4 tables inside and on the benches on the porch.

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I helped, even though my Spanish is VERY limited.  The people were very nice and figured out what I was asking even though I’m sure I said it wrong.  I managed to get everyone some bread, cups, soda, and then dinner.  They used the same menu as earlier in the day, with chicken, green spaghetti, and potato salad.

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The only addition was that this time we also had chocolate flan for dessert.  I don’t know why my tongue is sticking out in this picture.

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After dinner, several families wanted pictures with us.

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And I wanted a picture of this sweet little lady.

We went back to our hotel that night tired but happy.

By the time we got there the gate was closed and we had to honk the horn for the night watchman to come open the gate.


Memories of Mexico: Day 2, Mesa Del Tigre and Paso Real

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A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

This is the second installment in a series about that trip.

You may read the first post by clicking on Day 1.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Upon arising after a good night’s sleep, we got ready for the day and walked down to the hotel restaurant where Daniel quickly showed up and helped us order.

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I think we might have gotten him out of bed.  Steven ordered scrambled eggs with cheese and I ordered an omelette with tomatoes, onions, and sausage.  Their sausage tasted different than ours, but was very good.

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I let them give me beans and tortillas and Steven did not.  We soon learned that beans and tortillas come with every meal unless you ask for them to not bring them.  We both ordered some fruit which turned out to be apples, cantaloupe (Daniel didn’t know what the English word cantaloupe was but instead just called it melon), banana, and papaya.  It was served with honey and lime.  Maribel told us later that they think the honey helps with digestion of the fruit.

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We then drove to the home of our hosts.  Maribel offered us some freshly squeezed orange juice and after showing us around their home we walked down what we would call about 1/2 block to the church.  Here are some pictures.

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This is the view from the street.

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You enter the church from the left side.  Here is Amanda with the painting that’s on the wall next to the entrance.

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 Here are Pastors Marcello and Maribel Fernandez at the entrance with the posted service times.

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This is what you see when you walk in.  (Well, you probably won’t see these people in these exact spots.)  It is an L shaped room opening to the right and left.  The street is out the window you see here on the right.  The building is small but tidy and clean.  The roof is thick corrugated metal, similar to many others we saw.  The floor is concrete.  The benches are wooden and smooth.

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This is what if you look in the window by the street.  Notice the fans.  They don’t have air conditioning and it gets VERY hot there, especially with lots of people in the room.

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This is what you see directly in front of you as you walk in the door.  The light is on ahead of you in the bathroom.

Following this we headed out of town: destination Mesa Del Tigre.  We had mentioned to Daniel at breakfast that we were going to Mesa Del Tigre and Paso Real and he didn’t know where it was.  That should have been a clue that it was a little off the beaten path.  We drove northward on Hwy 180 and then turned onto a rocky rutted mud road which goes through what they call a ranch, but we would call farms and orchards.  It jostled my brain, and I was suddenly impressed at the wisdom of my husband renting an SUV.  I don’t know how a car could have made it.  They usually take a bus which is reportedly even more bouncy and jarring.  We passed groves of trees growing oranges, papaya, more oranges, grapefruit, bananas, and oranges, plus also crops of beans and corn, and then more oranges.  Amanda was saying she was hungry, so we promised to stop at the next McDonald’s we saw.  She was happy until she realized the nearest McDonald’s was about 2 hours away.  We paused long enough for Marcello to pick a few oranges which actually turned out to be what we would call clementines.  There was fruit everywhere: on the trees, on the ground, in the ditch…  I told Amanda this was the drive-thru.  The fruit was delicious.  She still wanted McDonald’s.

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We climbed into the mountains and passed through Paso Real, the little village we would return to later in the day for service.  First, though, we were visiting some saints in nearby Mesa Del Tigre.  As she drove, Maribel dodged chickens running wild, and she said if she hit one she’d have to pay for it.  Evidently they know exactly which chicken belongs to whom.

We arrived at Mesa Del Tigre and drove into a field surrounded by homes.

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Most of the construction is concrete block covered with stucco or plaster.  The homes were very open to the air.  One of these homes belonged to Hermana Santa (her first name is Santa, the Spanish word for saint, and “hermana” means sister).

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Here is Amanda with a beautiful bush outside the home we visited.

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Hermana Santa was very hospitable and sweet and made us fresh tortillas and some chicken soup with fresh cilantro.  The round bowl-type object in the middle of the table is a hollowed-out gourd used to keep tortillas warm.

Here is how she made the tortillas.

She sold a fresh turkey to Maribel who took it into town and resold it for the same price.  Maribel helps her get her chickens and turkeys to market this way.

She also had a parrot which she did not sell.  His name was Doroteo and he did not like Steven to take the video.  The bird kept turning his back to the camera.

Following lunch, we went back part-way down the mountain to Paso Real, the village we had come through earlier, where we had church service.

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It was a church belonging to another group, but one of the men of the village lets them use it to gather.

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12 people were in attendance besides our 5.

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Marcello opened the service with prayer

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Then we sang some songs.  I tried to play along on the violin, but the songs were new to me, so I’m afraid I was probably more hindrance than help.  They sang a few slow songs and a few fast ones.  The fast ones were in a minor key.  They usually sing a capella with Maribel leading.

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Then I played a violin solo of How Great Thou Art.  They knew the chorus and sang along in Spanish as I played.  The weather was very humid and cool, and embarrassingly, I had to stop and tune in the middle of my song.  It just wouldn’t stay in tune.

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Then Steven preached and Maribel interpreted for him.  She was nervous as this was her first time translating for a sermon, but did a splendid job.  The prayer after the sermon was a wonderful time of time of repentance and dedication.

Following service we met each of the people there.  I took some pictures from the door of the church.  As you come out the door, this is what you see.

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Thatched roofs are common.  They are made of palm tree fronds, and they do not leak.

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Here is a picture of the underside of a thatched (palm frond) roof.  This method is vertical, weaving the fronds in and out of a wooden structure.

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The bottom half of this picture shows the other kind I saw.  In it, the fronds are placed horizontal and attached to the bracing, but not really woven.

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If you look left when you go out of the church, this is your view.

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And you see this if you look right.

Down this road a bit is their general store, a house with a walk-in-closet-size room in the front with a few items for sale.  I went with Amanda there to buy some toilet paper.  This was a recurring theme on this day.  The bathroom was an outhouse-like structure out in back of the church.  I rapidly discovered that the American definition of “bathroom” is very narrow.

I also saw my first tortilla truck.  This works on the same concept as our ice cream trucks.  A loudspeaker on the top of the car or truck plays music and occasional advertisements for fresh tortillas and tortilla dough.  I never saw them sell any, but I guess they do.

From here we got in the Jeep and drove to the house of the elder who allowed us to use the building.  His wife was sick at home with a diabetic ulcer on her foot.  We went in the home and prayed for her, also meeting part of the family.  Extended family is very important in their social structure.  Everywhere we went we were introduced to sons, daughters, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins…  Extended family is their welfare, social security, health care insurance, and all-around support system.

Following this, we got back in the Jeep and drove back over the bumpy roads, through the orchards, to Casitas.  We dropped by a hotel owned by church members Gabriel and Rosa.  They also own a ranch with cattle and lime orchards.  Then we went to eat at a place called El Pirata (The Pirate).  Gabriel and Rosa also came with their grandson to eat with us.  We discussed farming and ranching.  A lime farmer this season is getting 800 pesos for a metric ton of limes.  That’s about $61 American for 2,205 pounds, or 2.7 cents per pound of limes.  I remember paying a lot more than that the last time I bought limes at the grocery store.  With the farmer getting that much money, I imagine that his laborers picking the fruit aren’t getting paid very much.

They had very good food at El Pirata in very large portions.  Their appetizer was a spiced shredded fish with chips and a hot sauce meant to be mixed with mayonnaise. (They use a lot of mayonnaise there, even putting it on their corn-on-the-cob in place of butter.)  This was quite good and we ate a lot of it as we waited for our food.  While we waited, this gentleman came around to entertain us.

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Steven took a video of him singing, which he thought was delightful, perhaps because we also gave him a tip.  This reminded me of my teenage days when I belonged to a group of strolling musicians that often played at banquets as people ate.  Amanda told us later that he was singing “All the drunk people raise their hands”.  But we weren’t drunk, so we didn’t.

Here he is singing his song.

The entire time we were there people tried to sell us snack and trinkets.  I got quite good at “No, Gracias”.  Rosa bought us some sweets that were fried dough with sugar on them.  They reminded me of the Cinnamon Twists served at Taco Bell, but they were much better.

After eating, Maribel delivered Hermana Santa’s turkey to a local restaurant owner who also happens to be the landlord for their home and the church building.  That family owns several local businesses including a fish market and restaurant.

This season is a busy time for Casitas, as it is a coastal town frequented by many Mexicans on holiday.  Since we were there between Christmas and New Years, business was good.  I do think, though, that we were the only Americans in town.  I’m sure in that little town of 2,225 our presence was known.

Following this, Marcello, Maribel, and Amanda walked across the street to their house, and we drove on down the road to our hotel.


Memories of Mexico: Day 1/2 and 1, Travel to Casitas

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A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Day 1/2

Philly AirportWe left the Philly airport on the evening of the day after Christmas and flew to DFW where we spent the night in a hotel.  (For some reason, I was given TSA PreChek while my hubby was not.  This made him a bit frustrated as I zipped through security with my shoes on and he had to do the whole screening thing.)  This would allow us to arrive the next day into Veracruz, Mexico in the middle of the day, not in the night when we still had a 3 hour drive to get to our final destination: Casitas, Mexico.

 When we arrived in Dallas we were pleasantly surprised that the hotel had given us a suite because they thought we were honeymooners.  They were about 17 years too late, but we enjoyed the complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Day 1

We arose the next morning bright and early.

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Well, early at least.  I wasn’t feeling too bright.  We flew into Veracruz, Mexico.  From the air, I noticed what I thought were colorful stacked shipping containers.  They were actually apartment or townhouse buildings.  Whereas Americans generally paint their homes white, brown, or gray, the Mexicans have no such inhibitions.

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I saw homes of all colors and hues of the rainbow, which I found to be quite delightful.  These 2 are not my original photos, but the scenes I saw were very similar to this.

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We arrived at the Hertz rental car facility and Maribel, Marcello, and Steven went into the office to make arrangements.  Maribel is fluent in both Spanish and English (as well as Portuguese).  Steven speaks only English, and Marcello speaks only Spanish.  Amanda, who at 11 years also speaks Spanish and English, stayed outside with me.  When they brought our Jeep around, Marcello walked around it with an employee documenting things that were scratched, dented, and broken.  There were quite a few, and we didn’t want to be blamed for them when we returned the car.  Nearby, another employee cleaned a car while listening to a very loud and thumpy version of “I’m Sexy And I Know It” in English.  I wondered if he knew what it was saying.  I still don’t know, but I heard several other American songs during my stay, sometimes in places where I knew for sure we were the only English-speakers.

After the paperwork was done, Maribel drove us down to the harbor in Veracruz.  On the way through town we passed some policemen, but they didn’t look like American police.

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They looked like this.  I didn’t know whether to feel really safe, or really in danger.  This is not a picture I took.  I found this one on the internet; I was too chicken to actually take their picture.  We saw several police, both federal and state, during our days in Mexico.  Both kinds always carried automatic weapons.

We hoped to park along the street and walk to the beach to see the Gulf of Mexico.  The parking spots were all taken except those blocked with traffic cones by some enterprising people who had arrived earlier and claimed the spots for those who promised to eat at a certain restaurant on the beach.  It was either that or not go, so we opted to eat at their restaurant.  Here is a view of the waterfront restaurant.

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 We would also be where we could see our car, which made our hosts feel good as well.  This was my first experience at a REAL Mexican restaurant (because I would soon learn they are quite different in every way from the American version).  They led us to our seats, plastic chairs like Americans would use on a patio, and a rickety table.  It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while.  They handed us one very-worn laminated menu.  With help from Maribel I ordered the grilled shrimp.  I figured that it would be mild and simple.

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 It was very good. They served them with the heads still attached, which I learned was customary.  It was a bit messy and they didn’t supply any way to clean my fingers.  Though I can’t remember exactly, I think it was served with beans and tortillas.  I think this because almost every meal I ate in Mexico was, including breakfast. Steven had shrimp also, but his was seasoned, though he ordered it to be not too hot.  Maribel had garlic shrimp, I can’t remember what Marcello ordered, and Amanda had shrimp cocktail.  The Mexican version of shrimp cocktail comes in a tomato juice with shrimp, avocado, and some other green things in it, served with saltine-type crackers.  It is served like a drink, but eaten with a spoon.   Again, this is not a picture I took, but It was a lot like this.  Later on I will post a video of Steven trying this dish at our hotel.

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The whole time we were there eating, vendors tried to sell us things: plantains all sorts of ways, peanuts seasoned a variety of ways, and various other goodies.  I quickly learned to say “No, Gracias.”  That worked pretty well.   You can see in the background of this picture the man in the blue baseball cap is selling chicken, shrimp, pineapple, ham, and I don’t know what else.

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After our lunch, Amanda bought some roasted salted peanuts which she then squeezed lime juice on.  They eat lime juice on all kinds of things.  Limes are quite plentiful there, at least this time of year.  Maribel and Marcello later expressed that they were somewhat embarrassed by this restaurant experience because it was overpriced and not good quality for the money.  Steven and I didn’t know the difference and enjoyed the cultural immersion.

We got back in our rented SUV and drove out of Veracruz toward the north and Casitas, where Maribel and Marcello live.  We left the city, paid a toll, (I guess that’s not just an American institution) and drove along the coast.  At the toll booths we always saw several police officers, again with machine guns.

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We traveled on Federal Highway 180 which goes from Brownsville, Texas all the way down to Cancun.  The stretch we were on was mostly 2 lanes.  We passed through many little towns and villages, occasionally seeing the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.  It was very undeveloped: no highrise hotels or boardwalks.  Just beautiful beaches and rolling waves.  We passed the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station

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and recurring signs showing the “Ruta De Evacuación”.

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 I assumed the 2 things were related but tried not to dwell on these thoughts.

We saw several gas stations.  They didn’t have various kinds: I guess Pemex has a monopoly on gas stations in Mexico.  You can buy any kind of gas you want, as long as it’s Pemex.  Gas prices were not advertised on the signs.  imgres-2

Most of these had a convenience store attached of the OXXO brand.  I am not certain that they were all OXXO, (though they could have been) but most were.

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We stopped for a bathroom break (it was nice and clean) and I got a mediocre-quality Vanilla Cappucino from their machine for about $1.00 American if I remember correctly.

As night fell, we continued along the coast.  I saw one sign more than any other, even Pemex.  It looked like this.

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I finally asked Amanda what it was, though I suspected I knew because some things cross all cultures.  Sure enough, it is a kind of beer.  Later on in the week I would also see this sign, which needed no explanation.

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Well after dark, we drove through Casitas, past the church and the gate which led to the Casa de Fernandez.  We were tired, though, so we kept driving with promises to check that out the next day.  Maribel had spent much time and energy finding us a hotel that she thought would be acceptable.  She had done a wonderful job.  They don’t have many American visitors in this area, so she had to make sure they would have someone who spoke English.  When we arrived, they called Daniel, a civil engineering student on holiday who had learned English from a boss at a restaurant he had worked at.  His English was quite good.  He helped us to our room and showed us around.  Everything was very white and clean.  The floor was tile, though there was a small (maybe 1.5 x 2 ft) throw rug to wipe our feet on.  This got a lot of use since it rained all but one day that we were there.  It was a bit chilly, though my sweater was plenty sufficient for me, but the locals were freezing.  They are used to much warmer weather.  The hotel had A/C but no heater, but luckily we didn’t need it.  Then Steven drove Marcello, Maribel, and Amanda back to their home while I unpacked.  Since everything was right on Hwy 180 I didn’t figure he would get lost.  Sure enough, in about 20 minutes he returned.

We walked down to the restaurant, an open-air porch with a thatched roof, where Daniel was waiting to help us.  I ordered some tacos and Steven ordered some steak with peppers and onions, with both meals to be accompanied by Coca-Cola.  Steven offered me one of his peppers, and I said I would take a tiny bite.  He insisted they were just bell peppers and popped a big slice into his mouth.  He rapidly found out that they were not bell peppers but something much stronger.  He made a loud noise and Daniel came running to make sure everything was okay.  I laughed and laughed, glad I hadn’t accepted his offer.  I think the employees thought we were loco.  The tacos were beef, served with soft corn tortillas, Spanish rice, and beans with crumbly (probably goat-milk) cheese on top.  They were quite good.  No cheddar cheese, sour cream, or cold vegetables were served with it.  Evidently that’s American.  I wish I had taken a picture, but I was just too tired and didn’t want to look like a silly tourist, an inhibition I soon learned to ignore.

Then we went to the common room right off of the open-air registration desk, the only spot with wi-fi, and we FaceTimed with the kids and my parents who were staying with them.  The connection was slow, but sufficient enough to communicate some.

We went back to the room and finished unpacking, I took a very quick shower because I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water, and went to bed.


Food Allergy Tips for the Newly Diagnosed or I Wish I Had Known Then What I Know Now

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Though I am trained as an RN, this blog is intended to share our personal story, not to give medical advice. Please consult a doctor for any medical advice you may need.

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My 4-year-old daughter had severe eczema that was totally out of control. Her skin would crack and ooze and redden and swell and itch mercilessly. Her practitioner decided to do a round of allergy testing. Since her skin was so bad, they did the blood test instead of the skin pricks. I didn’t think much of it; they had done this when she was less than a year old and she was allergic to eggs and peanuts (and dog, but we don’t eat much dog), but that was all. We had gotten used to the egg and peanut allergies. As she started eating table food we adapted her diet to fit her; she kind of grew with it. Well, when this round of tests came back, she was allergic to EVERYTHING food-wise. Her practitioner picked out a very few foods that she thought were safe, and my daughter basically ate those same foods for about a month. To the list of eggs and peanuts to avoid, we added corn, wheat, oats, tree nuts, shellfish, apples, milk, fish, beans, peas, carrots, garlic, spinach, sesame, and soybeans. Oh, and also she had to avoid eating anything containing these foods, any derivative of these foods, and anything processed on the same equipment as these foods. Feeding her was suddenly very tough. At 4 years old, she didn’t understand what was going on and would sometimes sneak foods she wasn’t supposed to have. (Did you ever try to feed a 4-year-old the same 5 things for a month?) We gradually added in one food at a time to see what her reaction would be. About twice a week we would try a food from the forbidden-food list. Sometimes after eating a food she would get really itchy and break out, so I would pull her back off that food and mark it as questionable. Her skin was so volatile that it could be from the food, or it could be some other unknown. Then I would wait several days and try it again. If she reacted twice, I marked it down as a for-real allergy. We determined, after the whole process of elimination was done, that she was truly allergic to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, sesame, and soy: a formidable list, but certainly much better than the original one.

Having dealt with her allergies for the last five years, I have learned many things that I wish I had known when she was first diagnosed. Here are some of them:

1) False positives abound – Especially if your child has eczema, the results from allergy tests will probably show lots of things they’re allergic to. They are almost assuredly NOT allergic to all these things, but you must be patient and work the process to find out how she reacts to actually eating the food. One day maybe they’ll have a better process, but for now, this is it. Do as we did: find a few things allowable. Then, every 3 or 4 days try a food on the forbidden-foods-list. If the food doesn’t affect them negatively, you’re golden.

If the test says it IS okay, it probably is. There aren’t too many false negatives. http://drrobertwood.com/beware-false-positives.shtml

2) Become a label reader – Learn what to look for. The Big 8 allergies are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, etc.), tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, etc.), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. In the US, food companies must declare if a food contains these. However, there are several ways they might do this. For example, if it contains wheat flour it might just say that in the ingredient list.

Sometimes it will be in Bold:

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Sometimes it will not:

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If it contains whey or casein or cheese or any other milk derivative, it should say something like “contains milk” below the list:

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Or it could follow the ingredient right in the list with a parenthesis like “cheese (milk).”

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Some products are wonderful and list it really plain in bold print at the bottom of the list. Some are hidden in a 10-line-long list of ingredients. It’s like extreme hide-and-seek. But they do have to declare it in some way.

Companies do NOT, however, have to declare if the food was prepared in the same facility as one of these allergens. Even if they did, does that mean that it’s in the same building but ½ block away, or does it mean that the same conveyor belt for the “Peanut Delights” candy is used for the “Unpeanut Delights”. (Sing with me now: Almond Joy’s got nuts. Mounds don’t.) Or it could mean that the same conveyor belt is used, but it’s been several days since a batch of peanuts touched the belt and it’s cleaned thoroughly every day. You can see the problem. It does seem from my experience that name brand products are a little better about declaring things more clearly than generic items.

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As always, the best things are fresh, homemade, and simple. My daughter actually eats healthier than the rest of us. If you are still confused or want more information, you can go to http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm079311.htm for more.

3) Anaphylaxis!!! – This is a big scary word for a full-body, multi-system allergic reaction. In other words, if you only get hives (skin), it’s not anaphylaxis. If you just throw up (digestive system), it’s not anaphylaxis. If you only wheeze (respiratory system), it’s not anaphylaxis. However, if any 2 body systems are affected at once in an allergic reaction, it is considered anaphylaxis. Now, to make things a little more complicated, some of the symptoms are not readily apparent (blood pressure changes, for example). Or if you pass out (technically only one system) you obviously won’t be able to know or communicate what else you’re feeling. Take a look at this link because it describes it a lot more thoroughly than my little summary can. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Signs_and_symptoms_of_anaphylaxis.png

Click here to go see a printable “Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan.”  You should ask your doctor to fill this plan out for you so that it is individualized to you.  Make sure you understand the actions for each possible situation.  If in doubt, call 911 while you take a dose of Benadryl, give a shot of epinephrine (click here to read about the different epinephrine auto-injector options currently available), and you’ll get an ambulance ride. Once at the hospital, they will keep you there until the epinephrine has worn off to make sure the symptoms don’t come back. In some states, ambulances do not carry epinephrine, so make sure you keep yours on you at all times. Also, do not leave them in a hot or cold car as it can damage the medicine. I keep one set in my purse and one set at home. (If your child attends school or daycare, you will need to check their policy concerning accessibility, storage, and delivery of epinephrine and Benadryl. Since I homeschool my children, I am not knowledgable in this area.)

4) Restaurants – Most people eat out. To not do so at all is quite unreasonable. In the 5 years since we discovered all these allergies, my daughter has never had a reaction from eating at a restaurant. We don’t eat out a lot, but we do go on vacation and have the occasional fast food lunch or birthday celebration at a restaurant. Here’s what I’d advise. Print up some little business cards (Avery labels from Staples work great) that say “My name is Soandso and I am allergic to: …” and list your allergies.

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If you live in an area with a lot of hispanic kitchen workers you might want to get it translated into Spanish.

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When you go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant, pick something from the menu that you think will work for you, or make up something that you think would be doable for them. Order that, give the waiter the card, and then ask them to double-check the ingredients and make sure it doesn’t include anything on your card. We often ask for a grilled chicken breast with no rubs or seasonings with steamed veggies with no butter. Most places will happily comply. (They don’t want a lawsuit or bad publicity, and they do like big tips. If you leave a big tip to a good waiter you can count on good service in the future and have secured yourself a safe place to eat.) As far as fast food or chain restaurants go, they are actually a little easier than one-of-a-kind restaurants. Almost all chains now have websites with allergy information on them. Check ahead of time and pick out a few things that work. I know at McDonald’s my daughter can have a plain hamburger and chicken nuggets; no fries. At Arby’s it’s a roast beef sandwich with no bun (yep, a sandwich with no bun) and curly fries and cherry turnover. (Arby’s often has all their employees change gloves when you tell them you have a food allergy! Yeah!) If we go by Dairy Queen for a treat, she can have an Arctic Blast. Every great once in a while restaurants will change their ingredients, so re-checking is good. I use an app called Allergy Caddy that helps me when it’s a spontaneous on-the-go situation, but they can’t always keep up with changes. If you discover something wrong, notify them and they’ll update their info. Some places are just impossible; I love little hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop restaurants but they are flat-out dangerous if my daughter is along. The employees of these wonderful little spots often don’t have a clue about what an allergy means. (One time at a little place I ordered “a hamburger, no cheese because my daughter has a milk allergy”. I made it as clear as I could. NO CHEESE! The guy comes out with a burger with a slice of cheese on it. When I said she couldn’t have cheese he just took the slice off and tried to give it back to me. Eye-yi-yi! Scary stuff, right there!) Avoid buffets: you can’t check the ingredients and people switch up the serving spoons all the time. Chinese restaurants are out if you have a peanut, sesame, or soy allergy.

5) People will not fully understand; don’t expect them to – They try, and their intentions are good. Educate if it will do anyone any good. Don’t give anyone a 2 hour lecture about the dangers of peanut clusters or the evils of inaccurate food labeling. Use your noggin in filtering good advice from bad. Be kind. Teach people “Don’t Feed The Bear”, so to speak, and teach your child to check with you before eating anything. An older child can understand, but a little one cannot be expected to “get it”, especially at first. Those closest will have to have a few very basic instructions, but don’t expect them to “get it” either. Somebody has to be the point person who is making decisions and giving orders.

6) You’ll get it – It’s like drinking from a fire hydrant at first. There’s so much information coming at you and so many changes you feel totally overwhelmed. Eventually you will figure out what you’re really allergic to, and you’ll learn to cope with those specific things.

7) There is hope – Many people outgrow their allergies, though not all do. Prepare yourself that you may not outgrow any. Then if you do, it’s an added bonus. My little one just outgrew her soy allergy. Yee-haw! Also, there is extensive research going on for a treatment for these food allergies, and I believe one day we’ll have the cure. Just not yet.

8) Little specific-food tidbits I’ve learned –
For egg and milk allergy, find a health food or natural food store that offers vegan foods. Egg replacer, fake cheese, and even fake ice cream, can all be found there. Just watch out for soy and nuts if those are allergies you also have, because many, even most, of these vegan items have soy and/or nuts.

Even with a soy allergy, most people can have soybean oil and soy lecithin, so some things that say “contains soy” at the bottom may actually be perfectly safe. Do a little test by trying soy lecithin and soybean oil (one at a time) to make sure it’s safe for you, and then read the labels more specifically than “contains soy”. If it’s soy lecithin or soybean oil the label will probably say “contains soy” but you can still eat it. However, be careful because some things have BOTH soy flour and soy lecithin. That’s obviously out. This is one that restaurants do not at all understand. If it has soybean oil or soy lecithin they will say it is unsafe. Ask them to read the actual labels for you, or ask them to bring you the label or make a copy of it.

Corn is similar in that many people with corn allergy can eat corn oil and corn syrup. Again, figure out your allergy and your body, and read labels like crazy.

9) No insult intended, but read “Food Allergies For Dummies“. It is an easy-to-understand primer, a wealth of information, and it’s written by a doctor who is allergic to peanuts, so he’s lived the experience.

Good luck in your journey. That’s exactly what it is. And though it’s probably not a journey you planned or wanted, it can definitely be managed and it doesn’t have to shut down your life.