Thursday, September 11, 2014

Eating out with Food Allergies: Do’s and Don’ts for Restaurant Staff

Eating out when you have food allergies is an adventure akin to playing Russian roulette. 

Funnelcake at the fair. Thankfully, no nuts in the booth.

It's not Russian roulette because restaurants don’t try to accommodate you — they do – but because the staff in restaurants have a varying understanding of what food allergies mean. Just for fun, I’ve gathered three examples from recent experiences at restaurants to illustrate my point. If you are a restaurant owner, chef, or server, feel free to use these as educational materials for your colleagues.

Know the Ingredients of the Food
I don’t eat out often, but when I do, I tend to go to one of a few restaurants in my neighbourhood where I’ve found a dish or two that I can eat. One of these dishes is a very yummy calamari that is normally served with a small container of hot sauce and a similar container of garlic mayonnaise.

When I order food, I always tell the server that I’m allergic to eggs and nuts and they let the kitchen know. Despite this, 95% of the time, my order of calamari comes plated with both hot sauce and mayonnaise.

You’d think people working in the food industry would know that mayonnaise contains eggs…

Be Aware of the Nature of Food Allergies
Last month, I had a meeting held in a fairly fancy location. How fancy? It has a dress code of business casual. It is perhaps a sign that I have worked from home for a very long time that I didn’t really know what that meant and had a hard time finding an outfit that qualified.

The meeting included a dinner from a neighbouring equally fancy restaurant. As is usually the case with events that include food, I ate from home. It’s a lot easier and less risky. Upon hearing of my food allergies, the very nice hosts of the meeting talked to the restaurant staff about accommodating me. A lovely woman came to talk to me and we got into a detailed discussion of my allergies to make sure they could accommodate them. There were no nuts listed on the menu, so that was a good sign. I asked about peanuts, as well — I’m not sure I’m allergic to them, but better safe than sorry.

“There are no peanuts in the kitchen,” the lovely woman said, which was greatly encouraging.

“What about the satay sauce?” I asked, having checked on my phone and learned that it is a peanut sauce.

“Oh,” she said, “it’s on the side.”

Apparently she didn’t know about cross contamination and that some people are so allergic they can’t be near certain allergens without risking an anaphylactic reaction.

Controlling Liability? Think outside the Box
I recently attended a conference that included meals. The staff at the location bent over backwards to accommodate me so I could enjoy the food and be safe. Partly because they were very good at customer service and partly because the location had rules prohibiting outside food to control issues of liability.

We discussed bread and pastries and they specified that although they would be very, very careful, they couldn’t guarantee that the bread was safe. No worries, said I, I’ll just bring a couple of slices of bread that I know is safe. This was when I was acquainted with the abovementioned rules.

This was also when I suggested that the risks (and therefore liability) inherent in me eating the bread they made, the safety of which they couldn’t guarantee, was perhaps higher than me bringing in a slice of bread that I knew was safe.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Our Hands Can! Community Stories — August 2014: Food

We are experiencing some technical difficulties with the Show Us Your Hands! website and emails. Please bear with us. You can reach Show Us Your Hands! through our Facebook page and on Twitter in the meantime. You can also reach us at suyh14ATgmailDOTcom.

What can your hands do with food? That was the Show Us Your Hands! Picture Project theme for August and it really hit a chord in the community. We received a lot of terrific submissions on our Facebook page. Our Advisory Council reviewed them all and selected their favorite to win the prize for August, a copy of Kim P. Miller’s terrific book Living with Juvenile Arthritis: A Parent’s Guide. See who won later in this post.

Here is a small selection of the August submissions:

Kelly gave us a two-for-one submission of her and her husband’s hands holding coffee cups. She said “Coffee is surely part of the food pyramid in my life! This is a picture of my husband and I, who both live with autoimmune arthritis, sharing a walk on our anniversary!” We agree completely, Kelly. Coffee is essential.

When Martine posted her submission, she also gave us a good tip. When writing the story to go along with her photo, she explained “I just finished preparing my yearly garlic paste - I grow my own organic garlic, and preoare a paste with olive oil. I freeze it in little quantities and voilĂ ! Ready for all culinary experiences, all year-round.” Great idea, Martine!

Kim posted a terrific shot of her hands peeling shrimp for special occasion. This was a very important step in making shrimp Alfredo, the dish her son had requested for his birthday dinner. Happy birthday to your son, Kim!

This month, we also wanted to show you the face (and hands) of one of our Advisory Council. Andrea Sarullo posted this creative collage of heard eating sushi, one of her favorite foods.

And the winner of the prize for August is AnnLouise! She said “This is my croquembouche - the first time I've been able to bake since being hit hard and diagnosed earlier this summer, just a week after my 20th birthday.” That’s is seriously impressive creation, AnnLouise! Congratulations on being this month’s winner! Send us an email at suyh14ATgmailDOTcom to get your prize.

Do you want to go participate in the Picture Project? The theme for September is “work.” This isn’t just about paid work, but also anything you do as a volunteer or in your home (yardwork and housework counts!). Here’s what you do:

Take a photo of your hands at work, doing anything productive. Post it on the Show Us Your Hands! Facebook page and tag your post with #showusyourhands.

And that’s all! Submit as many photos as you’d like. At the end of the month, our Advisory Council will choose their favorite. The September prize is a signed copy of Danea Horn’s wonderful book Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness. Thank you for donating your book to the Picture Project, Danea!

We also should let you know that by submitting a photo, you give Show Us Your Hands! permission to use the photo and your name in our community programs, such as the monthly Our Hands Can! Community Stories.

To see the other entries in our Picture Project, hop on over to the Show Us Your Hands! Facebook page. While you’re there, why not submit a photo yourself?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Heaven: A Visit to the Toronto Islands

Heaven. We all have different definitions of what's complete bliss, but for me it includes the sound of waves, the smell of sunwarmed sand and salt water, a vast expanse of moving water with no land as far as the eyes can see, and very few other people.

I've been off my day job for the month of August, but a miscellany of events conspired to keep me working for the first couple of weeks. I didn't really kick into mental vacation mode until a week ago, but when I did, it was with a vengeance. It was a beautiful day, sunny and hot (we haven't had a lot of those this summer) and I decided to exercise my newfound range and go to the Islands with my camera. This time, I was not headed for Ward's Island, with its quirky cottages. This time, I wanted to see a lot of water and so I returned to Centre Island. I haven't been there for a long time — there's a small amusement park and carefully manicured park area and when I go, I want unkempt and natural. But the north side of the island provides the best access to the view I wanted, so that's where I went. And was I ever glad I did.

Going into the ferry, I saw a couple of unexpected extra passengers, a charming moment that started the day off just right

Although I prefer the natural and unkempt look, I have to admit that Toronto Recreation and Parks has done a stellar job with Centre Island. There are vast lawns with signs like this

Both old and new trees, wonderful flowerbeds and all of it is surrounded by waterways crisscrossing through all of the islands. It's incredibly beautiful and wonderfully peaceful. I wandered around for a while, enjoying it all. And then I headed for the other side of the island.

Once there, I gazed for a bit at the beach — crashing waves! Actual sand! —  but quickly moved on to something special. There was a pier jutting out into the lake! I'm pretty sure that it's new  — I don't remember this being there the last time I visited (granted, this was 15 years ago or so). It's a wonderful addition, taking you unexpectedly far out onto the blue water. The end divides into two, which is another wonderful design element. It means there are less people on each "wing" and you're much more likely to hear nothing but the sound of wind and the cries of seagulls. A less brilliant design element is that the railings are composed of two wide wooden planks, positioned just so that someone in a wheelchair can't see above the top. I did sneak this photo in the gap between the planks

I also spent some time communing with a young seagull, who fervently hoped that I would share some food with it. Since I hadn't brought anything but a box of raisins, its hopes were dashed, but it took a while for it to realize this. In the meantime, I engaged in some avian portrait photography. Seagulls are taken for granted and not like very much liked. Getting up close and personal made me realize anew just how beautiful they are. The colouring of the young ones is a particular favourite of mine and thanks to my young friend, I got an up close view of the intricacy of the patterns that protect newly hatched chicks from predators. Thanks to the wind, I also got a better idea of just how soft these feathers are

It eventually got tired of trying to telepathically intrigue me to cough up food. So tired, in fact, that it yawned. Yes, yawned!. I had no idea that birds yawn! Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera ready, but take my word for it. Then it flew off and after consulting the map on my trusty smart phone (best investment ever), I decided to do the same (sort of) and take a walk along the coast, headed west. I'd never been in that area before, but I thought I might be able to see more beach and significantly more water than I could at the pier. Moving off the pier, I got another beautiful view of this area. As in so many other places on the islands, you can see the CN Tower peeking up over the trees, a reminder that the city is right there.

And then I moseyed off along the path. There was a lot of vegetation between me and the beach, but every now and again, there was a really good view. There was also a path leading into a protected sand dune, the last of its kind on Islands and I followed the dock as far as I could, but stopped before I reached the sand. I have recent experience with the incompatibility between wheelchair tires and sand. Nonetheless, sitting in the middle of this dock, hidden from the path, was so peaceful.

I continued moving west, peeking out at the sand in the water, enjoying the silence, only occasionally interrupted by someone else enjoying the area on a bike.


Mostly, it was just me, the sound of waves, the smell of sunwarmed stand, and blue water as far as the eye could see.


Okay, so I was missing the smell of saltwater, but this close to the lake, there was still that undefinable scent of a large body of water, which is so close I'm not going to quibble.

Much too soon, I was time to return to the docks for the ferry back. And on the way, there was another moment worthy of inclusion in my version of heaven. Because what's heaven without something that makes you laugh? In this case, a veritable herd of purple first years celebrating f!rosh. I love engineering students…


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

4 Stress Busters for Writers with a Chronic Illness

There are distinct benefits to working for yourself and even more benefits to having an office in your home. The commute is ideal, the dress code very relaxed and you can set your own hours. This is fantastic when you have a chronic illness. There are also drawbacks. Recently, I’ve been forced to reevaluate how I work and manage stress (or rather, don’t manage stress) and I may have gotten a bit of perspective.

First, I wrote down the factors that contribute to my stress levels being unreasonable:

Multiple projects and roles. I often say I work part-time, but I don’t. I have 8 part-time jobs/roles/hats, some for pay, some not. Together, they add up to one (or more) full-time job. It’s a lot of balls to juggle.

No space for writing and thinking. The hats require so much energy and time that there isn’t room for things I want to do. Such as write my next book. Or having quiet time to think (also required for writing).

Multitasking. Lots of competing deadlines and massive influx of email. This doesn’t actually get more done. Instead, I flit from task to task and hat to hat, desperately trying to keep up. It keeps me from focusing and lend a looming sense of having missed something somewhere to every day.

Social media. This is part of my work, but managing multiple accounts over several platforms feels a lot like disorganized flitting. 

Not enough hours in the day. Because of my Mandatory Rest Period, I work in two shifts: 4-5 hours during the day and another 1-2 after dinner. That’s the plan, anyway. Often, the after dinner shift drags on and I’m still at the computer late at night. Often, I end the day exhausted and in a lot of pain.

I looked at that for a while. Then I started figuring out ways to deal with it.

Inbox Folders, Rules and Notifications
I wear a lot of hats. That means a lot of email which create an avalanche, under which individual emails are buried and often remain unaddressed. I’ve now created folders related to each individual hat I wear, as well as a Level 1 and a Level 2 folder, into which I will sort incoming emails not related to a particular hat based on urgency. Next I set up rules to funnel emails from individuals with whom I work under each hat directly into the appropriate folder. 

This helps my primary inbox to remain uncluttered (mostly). It will make it easier to focus on what I need to do for one particular job/task/hat, while emails related to other roles are elsewhere and not distracting me. Instead of flitting from task to task, I can now concentrated on one area at a time. 
And one more thing will help cut down on distraction. It’s one thing to get the ping to notify me of incoming email, it’s quite another to see a link to it hovering over the article I’m writing. I simply don’t have the restraint to ignore it. So I turned off desktop notification.

Do 6 Things
About a year ago, I talked about ways to give 80% at work, leaving 20% for things like writing a book or say, having a personal life. I also wrote about Mary Kay’s Six Things approach as a way to get there. Mary Kay built her empire by doing six things every day. She'd start out the morning with a list of six things and worked her way through them. If one didn’t get done, it would become Thing #1 the following day. I don’t know what she’d do if she finished her list at 3 o’clock, but in my variation of her approach, that means I can goof off for the rest of the day. Or write.

I did use this approach for quite a while and it had a wonderfully relaxing impact. I got a lot more done than I thought would be possible, had time for myself, the people I care about, and writing. And best of all, significantly less stress. Somewhere along the line, I started adding one or two more things to the list and lost control. It’s time to incorporate the Six Things approach into my life again and this time, be vigilant about not adding more to the list.

Automate Whenever Possible
This one deals especially with the social media black hole. Leigh Mitchell’s presentation at the Living ARTHfully event included information about how to automate social media to make using it more effective. I’ve already started using Hootsuite and Hootlet and aside from the new toy joy, these really are amazing tools.

Set Boundaries. Stick to Them.
This relates back to the 80% I talked about above. Sending email at 10 PM on a regular basis is just not healthy. So, I’m going to be setting boundaries that will create work-free zones in every day:

Take a one hour lunch break. As long as the weather is nice, leave the house! Head to the lake whenever possible. Come winter, read a book, write a chatty email to someone I like or call a friend.

No working after 9 PM. That includes email, writing, and phone calls in which work of any kind is discussed. Time off isn’t just about not doing work, it’s also about thinking and talking about work.

Have no-meeting days. Designate one day to be free of meetings and appointments.

Say no. Remember that other people’s priorities don’t have to become mine. Repeat this mantra to myself daily.

Call in sick. Working for yourself means no sick days and working in your home means you can work no matter how you feel. This is nuts.

Respect myself, my priorities, and my work. They come first. All of the above are great tips, but they only work if I let them. Making sure I follow my rules is an indication that I respect myself and the reasons I created them. I have a feeling this may be the most important.

And lastly, one more rule. Which is that the rules can be set aside when it’s important. The trick is to make sure that that happens only in situations that warrant it — crises, massive deadline, etc. However, if I do follow my guidelines, there should be enough energy to rise to such occasions.

Do you have a good tip to add to the list?