this thanksgiving, we decided we wanted to take an affordable staycation somewhere in michigan. it would be the first time we were looking to stay in actual hotel accommodations with our multiple severe food allergy guy, 'lou - who just turned 3 and is test-confirmed as well as food trial-confirmed allergic to: corn, dairy, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, seafood, lentils, beans (white, kidney, navy, lima, pinto) and sesame. and that's with all the false positives from last june's huge reaction ruled out and tested back in !
however, the bright side was we were not going to have to worry about our almost 5 year old daughter as much now. she used to have anaphylactic-reactive allergy to peanuts but had just been pronounced "cured" by her allergist after a skin test, a blood test and a food trial in his office confirmed it.
we gave her her 1st dose of peanut butter at home, on sunday, november 21, 2010. we were planning to do it every sunday, so there'd be no confusion or over-dosing - we weren't taking any chances! i specifically remember her frist peanut butter at home, because i wanted to take a picture of her holding the jar of organic peanut butter to put on facebook with our happy update about her first eating of peanut butter in the house again, but i'd used a new toothpaste on her that day and she had a big red rash all around her mouth and looked like a clown, so i never took the picture.
we decided on great wolf lodge in traverse city, michigan for our weekend-after-thanksgiving trip with our close friends (and neighbors). i don't know if i was more excited or nervous. i had no idea how i was going to feed 'lou and myself away from home for a whole weekend. i decided to contact the chef there on the very small chance he could make some of our allergy food in his kitchen and enable us to eat in a restaurant like normal people for a change.
i was called back by executive chef greg nicolaou and couldn't believe my ears. he was willing to make 3 meals a day for the entire weekend for our needs and to our specifications. which included doing all the shopping for our very hard-to-find (corn-free especially!) items! i was sure the more i told him about our restrictions and the extent you have to go to to avoid corn, that he would back down from his offer. he never did, and in fact went out and bought items he'd found on his own that he thought we might enjoy!! in all my years as a food-allergy parent, i've never ever come across an establishment or person so accommodating and concerned about our needs.
as it worked out, we didn't end up needing (which is my genteel way of saying we couldn't actually afford) to eat every single meal for a family of 7 in the hotel's restaurant - we brough a lot of snack items and i made a big batch of stew to bring along for 'lou and i to eat in the room (with kitchenette), as well. but the meals they *did* prepare for us were phenomenal.
chef tom made our quesadillas and 'lou proclaimed them better than mine! chef greg made our pancakes and seated us in a private dining area and they were the best allergy-friendly pancakes i've ever had! we were charged prices comparable to similar items on the menu and i brought my own ingredients for much of it to save on paying more for those. my leftover ingredients were returned to me, professionally wrapped and carefully saved.
one night i even decided to let my hair down and see if they could make my margarita from scratch. food and beverage manager valerie micham was there every time we came to the restaurant and was completely accommodating and understanding. she made me 2 margaritas and i don't know if they tasted better because i was on vacation or because someone else made them for a change!
i can't recommend great wolf lodge in traverse city highly enough to any of my michigan allergy friends. of course, it's great for anybody, but food allergy families especially know how hard it is to go out to eat and how terrifiying it is to trust someone else to handle and feed your child something that could potentially make them very ill or even kill them.
after speaking with greg several times before we even arrived at great wolf lodge and then seeing how carefully he'd relayed all instructions and concerns to his very capable staff, i knoew i could let my worries go for the weekend and truly relax. this was the 1st and only time i've been able to do so since having this allergy baby and not staying with friends and/or family and it is one of my most cherished family vacation memories already!
the rest of the vacation went off without a hitch, with the exception of two things: on the way there, everyone voted to stop at a denny's to eat. of course i had brought along food for 'lou and i, but i had to call ahead to every place we considered and ask if they'd warm it up for us. some places will, some places won't. they say it's a health hazard to let anyone else bring in their own food. sometimes if you keep it in your own container, they can microwave it, but the food itself can't touch their griddles or pots and pans. denny's was okay with microwaving my glass dish of stew. (we call it sloppy 'lou stew, like sloppy joes).
as he sat at the table, waiting, he began itching and scratching, it got more and more frantic. soon he got red and splotchy and hives began to form down his forehead and cheeks. he was scratching ceaselessly and literally couldn't sit still. i realized it must be his egg allergy. the place was positively sticky w/ them, they were being served all around us.
i should have wiped down every surface near him, but we hadn't eaten out in so long, it just didn't occur to me. plus i hate looking neurotic and really hadn't known him to break out in hives just from touching them, it previously only happened when he ate them and he got exposed through my milk. (he tested allergic long before he ever got to eat them on his own - he's never had them.) we left as quickly as we could and he was completely cleared up in 20 minutes! you can imagine how concerned i was that we were about to be spending a whole weekend of this and how relieved and overjoyed i was to end up having a completely opposite experience.
the second thing was really minor. i was so proud of myself for remembering to bring jovie's peanut butter so she could have it on sunday before we drove home and i wouldn't disrupt her peanut schedule, but i forgot her toothpaste. after using the hotel's brand, she once again had that clownish red rash all around her mouth for the rest of the day.
our only other single complaint about the place would be the time of year we went. we were stuck inside the whole time and mainly let the kids play in the water park. the chlorine was so incredibly strong, it left you with a sore throat, sensitive skin and some of the kids with a dry cough. there were also a lot of sick kids there this time of year and the water area was shut down twice for barfing incidents. the only one of my kids to be bothered with the cough seemed to be jovie, who kept saying her throat tickled on the long drive home, but it cleared up by the time we got back to our own house.
all in all, a fabulous staycation and one we hope to turn into a tradition!