I Shall Not Live in Vain

Today’s my last post on Peanut Butter on the Keyboard as a regular contributor, and I’m feeling bittersweet.

Have you ever had a tangle of necklaces on your counter that you’re trying to sort out? Attempting to figure out why I’m leaving this place of grace  is something like that. Eventually, those chains–each representing a passion, duty, or unmet goal–separate unto themselves and you see clearly again.if-i-can-stop-one-heart-from-breaking-i-shall-not-live-in-vain4

Ultimately, all my reasons for leaving come down to this: I sense a need for a change in direction. Hanging out here is such a pleasure. But as I age, as my children grow up, I want to continue to grow, too. I want to keep moving. Looking ahead. Evolving.

Yet it’s hard–because the years I’ve spent as a mother with children in the house have been the best years of my life. I’m scared of what comes next. I still have a couple years to go before the nest is empty, but I’m ready to start contemplating that change. It will require feeling out, slowing down. Expressing gratitude along the way.

I think the first blog post I ever did here–or darned near the first–was about poetry. Emily Dickinson never had children, but she understood what it means to be a mother. I love how her poem, “If I Can Stop,” [see below] celebrates the concept of nurturing, of mothering the world. You can be a guy and show maternal grace. You can be childless. Blast it all, you can be a soldier or nurse or admin person and mother your troops, your patients, or your boss and your clients!

Emily says in a simple, beautiful way everything I long to say about being a mother. By golly, I know I haven’t lived in vain.

At the soul level, we all long to feel we’ve made a difference, right? Our children are gifts to the world. Let’s celebrate that fact! And let’s remember that every day brings new opportunities to lift a baby bird into its nest again–or dare I say, push it out when it needs to go (smile).

To Emily, Shana, Jennifer, Robyn, and Maisey, thank you so much for including me in this wonderful undertaking to create a space where moms can come to find understanding and support. I’ll be following along and chiming in occasionally. Big hugs to you and to all our readers. You’ve enriched my life beyond measure.

Kieran XOXO

If I can stop

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
–Emily Dickinson

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 24 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job. My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a senior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college junior; and my youngest, Dragon, is in tenth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy. www.kierankramerbooks.com

What We Pass Down to Our Children

I put this story on Facebook the other day, but I think it’s relevant to our discussions here at PBOK:

Should I file this incident under *Outrageous Rudeness* or *Wow–So THAT’S Why*? On Monday night, I attended an academic awards ceremony at my son’s school. The auditorium was packed. Many people had to stand at the back, including my husband and me. This meant a small, seated group behind us would have to look between us to see the stage, which was really far away.

No one liked having to do that–we were all apologizing like crazy to each other–except for this one woman. She kept yelling, “Get out of the way!” So everyone did their best to squeeze together so she could see.

Anyway…another woman came in with an elderly lady pushing a walker. Literally, the only place left to go was in front of the shouting woman. So the shouting woman did her thing. She yelled, “Get out of the way!” And the escort to the elderly lady said, “She’s 97-years-old. There’s no place left to stand.” And the shouting lady said–I kid you not–“I don’t care if she’s 200 years old! MOVE!”

My husband was pinned behind a bunch of people. I was able to maneuver around a bit, and I felt compelled to speak to the shouting lady. I went over to her, lowered my glasses, which I wear to see long distances, and said, “Ma’am. We’re all doing the best that we can.” And she did her thing, yelling and being rude. No surprise.

But what *was* a surprise was the fact that I noticed, for the first time, that the poor person who’d come in with her was one of my former students. This student was the meanest, rudest, most upsetting student I have ever had. But she was also smart. Smart must run in their family because obviously they were at the academic awards ceremony, cheering someone on.

I smiled at my student. But inside my heart was breaking for her. Because I had just found out why she was such an unhappy girl when I knew her. And it bothered me all night thinking about how adults definitely communicate their philosophy of life to their children…and if that adult is a mean-spirited person, then the child might very well turn out that way, too.

I hope my student, now that’s she grown up and likely in college, can see now how the world reacts to ugly behavior of the type her mother/grandmother/relative displayed. I hope she’s able to break the cycle.

Note: The old woman was just fine–people offered her their chairs. But she couldn’t get to them. We were too tightly packed in, like sardines. 

How much were you influenced as a child by the atmosphere in your home? Do you remember any specific instances where you acted a certain way because you saw an adult at home act that way? And do you see you children doing the same, imitating you?

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 24 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job. My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a senior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college junior; and my youngest, Dragon, is in tenth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy. www.kierankramerbooks.com

Screen Time and Kids

If you’re confused about screen time for your kids, watch this short video outlining the pros and cons of screen use for children and at what age it’s appropriate. And then make your own decisions for your family.

How much screen time does your child get? 

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 24 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job. My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a senior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college junior; and my youngest, Dragon, is in tenth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy. www.kierankramerbooks.com

September 11th and Children

First of all, RIP to all the Americans we lost on 9-11. And to all the children born on September 11, I hope your parents have been able to filter out all the noise and keep the sense of personal celebration that you deserve to have on your birthday. I wish that for the grownups born on this day, too.

A lot of you reading this might not have had kids on September 11, 2001. You might even have been a young teen yourself. But for those of us who were parents, it was really tough, as you might expect. How do you explain such a disaster to children without destroying their sense of security?

photo-13 I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that September 11 changed everything for the kids who lived through it. My son says his generation is dogged by the events of that day. We tend to forget about it on a daily basis, but it’s there, stamped into our collective unconscious. My sister, who teaches college, says that her current students–who ranged in age from 6 to 10 at the time of the attack–have so much more anxiety than their pre-September 11th counterparts. According to her, the anxiety levels have been getting progressively worse since September 11th happened.

No one was left unscarred.  I know personally of two friends who lost loved ones. One of them was a flight attendant on the plane that crashed into a field. The other was a stockbroker in one of the towers–he left behind a wife and two toddlers. And then in my own family, my brother-in-law was inside the Pentagon when the plane hit. And my brother was in the air on a flight out of Boston, heading to D.C. We had NO idea of either of their statuses for a while. Could my brother be in the plane that crashed in the field? Or was he possibly in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon? Was my brother-in-law hurt inside the Pentagon? It was terrible not knowing.

If it was such a trauma for the adults, imagine what it was like for the kids. I do know that where I lived, in Hickory, NC, the elementary schools turned on the TV’s in the classrooms. I can’t remember if they dismissed them early, and that’s because I was homeschooling at the time.

My two older kids were 8 1/2 and a brand-new 10.  We saw the towers fall. I remember falling to my knees, literally. I cried and prayed and said things like, “God help them!” as we witnessed, surely, thousands of deaths at almost the same time. I wonder if not only the world trauma of that day but the household trauma branded itself deeply onto my two older kids’ psyches. What happened to them when they saw Mommy so afraid? All I know is that in general, they have suffered more anxiety growing up than our third child, who was in diapers at the time and had no idea what was happening.


Of course, we talked about it. We talked about it a lot. The drawings and narration you see here were done by my then 8-year-old daughter the next day. She made a book entitled, SAD, SAD DAY.  I have to marvel at the resilience of children, how they are filled with optimism no matter what. Look at the cute winking heart on that top drawing! And in the bottom narration, my daughter leans heavily on her faith in God to make it all better.

Other generations of children have been scarred by war. I guess at this point all I can do is pray for the children who went through September 11th and hope that the day will always remind them that we can never take our lives for granted or the lives of the people we love. Maybe our children who witnessed that day’s events will also live less on the surface and more in the realm of the substantial. They “get” loss and death. May they use the knowledge and experience thrust upon them on September 11 to make the world a better place.

I’m curious: If your kids are too young to remember September 11th, how do you handle the day? Let me know in the comments! And of course, please share anything you’d like about your own experience. 

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 24 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job. My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a senior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college junior; and my youngest, Dragon, is in tenth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy. www.kierankramerbooks.com

Guest Mom Alyssa Alexander: The First Step

Welcome, everyone, to the funny, touching mom world Alyssa Alexander inhabits when she’s not lost in writing a Regency tale!

The First Step

It is the Eve of Kindergarten.

Pencil case. Check.
Backpack and lunchbox purchased. Check.
Bus number. Check.
Open house attended. Check.
Locker, classroom, bathroom and desk located. Check.

To do: Make lunch for the first day, pack up the backpack, lay out tomorrow’s clothing—for the record, my Biscuit doesn’t wear nice little polo shirts or khakis. He’s chosen a Ninjago ® t-shirt and basketball shorts for the first day of school.

Mama’s worries: Will he find his classroom or aimlessly wander the halls? Will he like the teacher? His friends? Will he exhibit proper behavior? (Always a worry with small boys of exuberant natures and overly curious personalities.)

Biscuit’s worries: Do they have snack time and outside time? (A boy must have his priorities.) And, when can he go to science class?

Aside from those minor (?!) worries, it seems like we’re all set. The bus will stop at our driveway tomorrow and pick him up. He’ll go to school, meet new friends, meet a new teacher, and hopefully learn the difference between U and V, which seems to be very tricky. Still, for us, this isn’t entirely unknown territory, as Biscuit has been in daycare since he was an infant and attended preschool as well. Same thing, different location, right?

Wrong. In so many ways. This is a step away from me, somehow, even though he’s been in daycare for so long. I know, I know, it’s just another in a long line of steps he will take that make him an independent man (assuming I’ve done my job right.) We’ve had some firsts before, of course. First day at daycare, first overnight visit at Grandma’s, first step. But that doesn’t make kindergarten any easier.

This is my first and last child. My only. There’s never been a first day of school before, and there will never be another for me. Or for him. So I guess that puts me and Biscuit on even ground, doesn’t it?

Yes, there will be the first day each year, but that’s not the same as the first day of kindergarten. With a bus. And hot lunch. And lots and lots of children I don’t know instead ten kids who grew up with him in daycare, moving from the infant room to the toddler room to the preschool room. I don’t know this (very nice) teacher, I don’t know the parents of these other children. I don’t know where everything is in the classroom or what he will do there all day. And I won’t get the chance to ask the teacher every day what he ate and who he played with and whether he took a nap. Yes, over time I will meet and become friends with many of these parents and children, and I can always talk to the teacher, volunteer and attend conferences.

But in reality, I have little no control over my child’s daily life. That’s a terrifying thought for this mother. I’m not overly protective—the opposite, I would say. But this is uncharted territory. There will suddenly be a barrier between me and my child. It is school.

And it is tomorrow.

. . .

It’s the morning.

He’s gone.

Yes, everything went wonderfully. We got up on time—even early. Biscuit popped out of bed, dressed in his favored shirt. Ate a big breakfast so he would be ready for a good long day at school. The backpack was filled with paper and his super hero lunchbox. A little heart sticker was on a piece of paper folded in his pocket in case he needed some love during the day. I have a matching sticker and love note tucked in my purse.

I was able to laugh as he ran down the driveway shouting “Where is my bus? Where is my bus?” We waited, and waited, and waaaaited. Then there it was, in all its yellow-gold, airbrake, unmistakable diesel-smelling glory.

He didn’t even turn around to look at me before he climbed aboard. He just went right up those steps without a backward glance, tumbled into the first seat with all his knobby elbows and knees knocking around. Then he looked at me though the little window. He was so short he could barely peek over the edge. But he was grinning. And blowing kisses.

And then he was gone. Leaving me in dust and diesel exhaust.

I cried only a little, as I watch my baby ride off with big, scary fifth graders. I had never noticed how really, really big fifth graders are. They I pulled up my mama jeans and went to work, and tried desperately not to wonder if he could remember where the bathroom was and if he could find his lunchbox.

. . .

He’s in bed now. Exhausted. Two more love notes are folded up on his chest (I will move them to the nightstand, though, so they survive the night).

All my worry was for naught. In fact, he told me “I can’t even answer all of your questions, because I’m too excited to talk!” So not only did he make it through the day, he thrived. New friends (whose names he doesn’t know), a new teacher, a numbered table to sit at (“I’m at table number one, mom!”), and that super hero lunch box ready for the next lunch.

Still, while he’s so excited for tomorrow, I’m left wondering what happened to my baby! Because instead of the infant and toddler I thought I had, I’m raising a boy. A real boy. With scabby knees and bruised shins, and questions about the universe and mortality and how popsicles are made and how bugs fly. A boy who will get on the bus tomorrow, grin at me and blow me kisses, and once again leave me in dust and diesel exhaust.

I guess, in the end, I’m doing something right. He will be carrying that little love note in his pocket, and I’ll have my love note in my purse. Until the day he doesn’t take the note to school anymore, of course.

But I think I’ll keep mine for a little longer.

marble030313_99Alyssa Alexander is pretty certain she belongs somewhere sunny. And tropical. Where drinks are served with little paper umbrellas. But until she moves to those white sandy beaches, she survives the cold Michigan winters by penning romance novels that always include a bit of adventure. She lives with her own set of heroes, aka an ever-patient husband who doesn’t mind using a laundry basket for a closet, and a small boy who wears a knight in a shining armor costume for such tasks as scrubbing potatoes.

Look for her upcoming debut, THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK, from Berkley Sensation on January 7, 2013, and available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And come find her on Facebook and Twitter!

Guest Mom Amanda Brice on Food Allergies

Today’s guest mom, attorney and author Amanda Brice, is covering a topic that literally makes my heart race and my breath shorten as I write this sentence! Like Amanda, I’m the mother of a child with a serious allergy, so serious that a bite of the wrong food could be life-threatening. Living with this possibility all the time is not easy. Thanks for listening to Amanda and for trying to understand what families like ours go through. And if you deal with serious allergies in your household, just know that you’re not alone. –Kieran

“References that include everything from Snooki to Chewbacca will have you laughing out loud.” – Romantic Times

“It’s good, frothy fun. Like a hot chocolate with a marshmallow and lots of sprinkles on top. I defy you to read this book and not laugh out loud. It’s full of wit and humour.” – Bookish Trish from Between the Lines blog

Mmm…hot chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles… But in our house, that marshmallow will be egg-white-free and the chocolate safe from cross-contamination with nuts.

Reviewers tend to agree that one of my strongest points as a writer is my humor, and I do love writing funny. But I’m not going to be funny today because the subject of today’s blog is no laughing matter, and that’s food allergies.

Perhaps it’s an unusual topic for a blog titled “Peanut Butter on the Keyboard,” but the photo at the top of the website makes clear that kids can make messes. It’s all cute until those messes put others at risk.

Recently Hollywood has taken to getting cheap laughs by making fun of food allergies, the parents who deal with them, and the kids who have them.

Nick Jr. was in the crossfire of food allergy parents this past spring when their Nick Mom programming (that begins at 10 pm EST, so presumably kids should be in bed, but that’s only 7 pm on the West Coast and I don’t know about your kids, but mine are wide awake and watching Nick Jr. at 7 pm) featured a highly inappropriate skit called “Taking the ‘Food’ Out of ‘Bake Sale’” in which a bunch of moms guffawed about how put-upon they are with all these fad diets today. The video in question had a bullying undertone, implying that families are overreacting to nothing.

This summer, the Smurfs 2 movie also jumped on the “all these crazy parents are overreacting” bandwagon by including a scene mocking an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts, a potentially fatal reaction, for cheap laughs. Shortly before a character ate a corndog that had been cooked in undeclared peanut oil (after which he reacted and was rushed to the hospital), his stereotypical helicopter parents, in true caricature style, made their demands clear – his diet must be organic, BPA-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, food-free. The implication was that parents were just making up food allergies – everything needs to be peanut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc, because of overreacting parents. They were not just making sure all the kids in the party scene could eat the cake. They were making sure everyone laughs at the gluten-free-peanut-free-vegan-cake-made-with-love as if to say “how hilarious it is that kids these days need all this special food?!” Insert audience eyeroll here. Ho, ho, ho, barrel of laughs!

Even if the ingestion of peanuts was inadvertent rather than bullying, when did poisoning a child become a comic moment? It was an unnecessary scene, making fun of parents and their kids in what was supposed to be a nice family movie.

I know it might seem like it’s not that big of a deal: “It’s a joke. Relax.” But that’s the point. It’s not. Not to kids who have to deal with food allergies every day. Kids who constantly have to inspect everything they eat so their throats don’t swell up and they die can’t just relax. Nor can their parents.

Sadly, it seems that the only way to get many people to change their mind about their belief that the food allergy epidemic is blown out of proportion is for them to experience it firsthand. Time columnist Joel Stein learned the hard way that it’s real. Having previously written a piece that began “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special,” he blamed the epidemic on over-reporting. A year later, his one-year-old son suffered anaphylaxis to tree nuts: “sneezing, then breaking out in hives, then rubbing his eyes, then crying through welded-shut eyes, then screaming and finally, vomiting copiously at the entrance of the Children’s Hospital emergency room an hour after eating his first batch of blended mixed nuts.” Believe me, this is the worst type of eating crow.

The recent death of a girl at summer camp (as a result of eating Rice Krispie treats cross-contaminated by peanuts) underscores the seriousness. This is why it is completely reprehensible to make a joke out of a kid needing an EpiPen.

You wouldn’t joke about a kid having cancer. Or autism. Or using a wheelchair. So why is this acceptable? It’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s a health concern. A health crisis, I would argue. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), this potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18. That’s roughly two in every classroom.

A 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that there was an 18% increase in food allergy between 1997 and 2007, although there is no clear answer as to why. Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. Every three minutes. Reactions to food can range from a mild response (such as eczema, stomach cramps, or an itchy mouth) to anaphylaxis, a severe a potentially deadly reaction.

I know the stereotype is that food allergy parents are overprotective. And maybe we are. But that’s because we have to be vigilant. And we’re not unreasonable. I know people like to joke about our crazy demands, but I promise you that we don’t expect you to provide special food for our children at your private party. We just want to know the ingredients so we can make our own decisions. In fact, most food allergy parents I know are among the most low-maintenance party guests around. Not only do we bring our own food and help chaperone, but we help you clean up afterwards!

As for school-sponsored events, we encourage you to consider alternative treats. To quote the excellent article A Mom’s Perspective: A Guide to Registering Your Food Allergic Child for Kindergarten, is “it really so much trouble to substitute an unsafe pretzel with a safer brand that costs the same and was available at the same store? I wondered how resentful they would be if someone handed their child a homemade cookie baked with arsenic!”

Meet Ballerina Girl and Monkey Boy.


Ballerina Girl is anaphylactic to tree nuts (those are all nuts that grow in trees, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, or pine nuts – please note that although peanuts tend to be the big allergen you here about the most in the media, it’s not actually a nut – it’s a legume; tree nut allergy is different, but no less dangerous), gets hives from sesame seeds, an itchy sensation when she eats raw mango (although cooked is fine), and eczema from eggs.

Although we avoid all of the above, the ones we are most vigilant about obviously are the nuts. Hives, itching, stomach pain – all of that is uncomfortable and we don’t want to inflict unnecessary suffering on her. But the fact of the matter is that you don’t die from a single accidental exposure, whereas with nuts she could. It is life-threatening.

Even worse, a child doesn’t need to eat one of their allergens to have an anaphylactic reaction; contact with another child or an item that has been exposed to the allergen – such as might occur when a child shares scissor or a pencil sharpener and then rubs his eyes) can sometimes be enough to trigger onset.

Monkey Boy fortunately doesn’t have any allergies. However, he does have a milk protein intolerance and a rice intolerance. (Yes, I know. A half-Asian kid who can’t eat rice. Who knew?) Ingesting any amount of dairy in any form (not just milk, cheese, and ice cream, but casein, whey, and other forms that we have to check carefully on product packaging) or rice can cause hours and hours of severe cramping and screaming, and occasionally vomiting. For months we just thought he had colic. Well, colic is a catch-all term that refers to a baby who screams and you don’t know why. Turns out in his case it was because I was breastfeeding him and inadvertently poisoning him with my own diet. We now diligently avoid rice and dairy to keep him from pain, but thank goodness it won’t kill him.

Ballerina Girl carries an EpiPen because of her potential for anaphylaxis. We also keep pre-filled spoons of Benadryl around. We don’t need to take such precautions with Monkey Boy (and it wouldn’t make a difference anyway, since his is an intolerance rather than an allergy).

Although the word “allergy” makes people think of stuffy noses, a food allergy is actually an immune response – your body mistakes something in food as harmful and attacks it. It can affect your entire body, not just your stomach or sinuses. Symptoms may include:

  • Rash, hives, or itchy skin

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing, or breathing (CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY)

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. When anaphylaxis presents, the primary treatment is injection of epinephrine, such as with an EpiPen  or Auvi-Q.

The most famous food allergy is peanut allergy, but the Big 8 allergens that the FDA requires food manufacturers to list on labels also include tree nuts, eggs, milk, shellfish, fish, soy, and wheat. These eight foods account for an estimated 90% of all allergic reactions.

When a food irritates your stomach or your body can’t properly digest it, that’s an intolerance. Symptons include:

  • Gas, cramps, or bloating

  • Heartburn

  • Headaches

  • Irritability or nervousness

The most famous food intolerances are Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and lactose intolerance.

So…what should we as parents do? For the record, I support food-free classrooms, but not nut-free schools. (Unless there is no separate cafeteria and the children must eat in their classrooms, in which case I support nut-free schools, such as at my daughter’s preschool.) Removing the food completely from the classroom is becoming a more widely accepted accommodation as children with severe food allergies are protected under 504 plans as qualifying under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In an ideal world, I’d love to have all nuts and peanuts eradicated from the face of the planet, but I know that’s not happening, at least in this lifetime. Besides, while most anaphylaxis is the result of nut and peanut allergies, and most other allergies present in more moderate (though uncomfortable) reactions, some children are anaphylactic to milk or fish or shellfish, just as an example. So are we going to pit seriousness of children’s allergies against one another? If all allergenic foods are banned, what would the children eat? Therefore, I support learning to reduce the risk (such as keeping food out of the classroom entirely) and practicing good hygiene (teeth brushing and hand-washing with soap and water – allergens are proteins, not germs, so use of hand sanitizers is not sufficient), rather than outright bans.

However, if your child does attend a nut-free school, please abide by this policy. It was put in place to protect, not to cause hardship. There are many nut-free snacks and lunches your child can bring instead of PB&J sandwiches. Snacksafely.com recently released the 2013 Safe Snack Guide, which is a list of commonly available commercial snacks intended as a guide for schools, organizations, sports leagues, clubs, parties, play dates, and other events where snacks may be brought in the presence of people with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and/or eggs.

Peanut butter derives much of its taste from the roasting process. There are a number of other spreads available at the store that use a similar roasting process and taste remarkably similar to peanut butter, such as sunflower seed butter or soy nut butter. Similar doesn’t mean “exactly the same,” so you might need to ease your child into it. Simply mix ¾ peanut butter with ¼ alternative spread when lunching at home, and then change the proportion to more of the alternative spread over time.

Voila! Simple, and it will do so much to help your kids’ allergic friends. Even if your school doesn’t have a nut-free zone, you may decide that you prefer the taste of one of these peanut butter alternatives. And we can all breathe easier knowing that everyone is covered.

Or if you’re in the mood for homemade, I list some of my own favorite recipes on my “Extras” section of my website. Just because a food is “safe” doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. Each of the recipes on my list is devoid of the Big 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, shellfish, fish, wheat), so if you don’t have those allergies or have other ones, you may need to substitute.

You see, I’m not just an allergy mom, but the heroine in my YA mystery series also has food allergies. I wrote the first book, in which my heroine suffers a reaction after the villain switches her “safe” Pad Thai with the regular kind, before my daughter was even born. At the time, I just thought that it would be an interesting and topical subplot, because as scary as the thought might be, food really can be used as a weapon in this way. In fact, the book was published two months before my daughter ever suffered her first allergic reaction to nuts. Although I’d done research when writing those scenes, nothing could prepare me for the firsthand experience of watching your child’s face swell, the itching, the coughing, the wheezing, the gasping, and finally the vomiting. There is nothing scarier than not knowing what to do for her or how to help her.

Amanda Brice lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband, a 3 ½-year-old daughter, and a 20-month-old son. An intellectual property attorney for a large federal government agency, she combines her love of writing with her legal career by speaking on basic copyright and trademark law on the writers’ conference circuit. A two-time Golden Heart finalist, she is the author of three books in the Dani Spevak Mystery Series, and has a YA time travel romance series beginning this fall with 1816 Candles. You can learn more about Amanda and her books at her website.

Write Your Crazy Wish List! ***

What crazy wishes do you have? I think that’s a little different from a bucket list. On a bucket list, you actually think that you might be able to do everything on it, right? You just need to get up the nerve, find the money, the time, etc.  But on a crazy wish list, there might be things you know you can’t do. Or will never do, for one reason or another.

So what’s the point of a crazy wish list?6a00e55246b63f8834017617873753970c-800wi

Well, it’s to remind yourself that you have a vivid imagination that you’re ignoring 99% of the time. Yes, even we writers do that. We might imagine stories for our characters, but we stop imagining things for ourselves.

Now you’re probably asking: why should we bother remembering we have imaginations? We have bills to pay, for gosh sakes! And kids with issues, and job challenges and a host of other substantive realities with which we must deal. Sheesh!

We need to remember that we have imaginations because they buffer us against the slings and arrows, and they bring us joy–two very important functions. Plus, there’s another big thing our imaginations do for us, and you’ll find out at the end of the article what I’m talking about. This exercise leads up to it. So let’s get started!

I recommend you update your crazy wish list all the time! As in, get a white board, put it in the kitchen, and let it be a family crazy wish list! Read each other’s! Draw weird pictures around them. Laugh about them. And then, maybe…go after one of those crazy wishes! Or you can hide your own personal crazy wish list in a box and bury it in the garden and dig it up every once in a while to update it. Add a candy bar so that every time you open the box, you get a special surprise! Anything goes when it comes to your crazy wish list! You can even make a crazy wish list about how to do your crazy wish list!

If for some reason, you won’t do this, please at least encourage the kids in your life to try it. They won’t stop writing, I promise you. They can have as many crazy wishes as they want!

Here’s my crazy wish list for today. Don’t hold me to them–they might change tomorrow:

1) I want to be Captain Kirk’s woman in a Star Trek episode. They’d put that soft lens on me when the camera focuses on my face, and my hair would be woven in a beehive basket design, just like Nurse Chapel’s.

2) I wish Billy Joel were one of my best friends and he’d come over tonight for a big jam session. My sisters and I would sing harmony over his shoulder while he’s playing “Until the Night,” a very sexy song of his that hardly anyone knows!

3) I’d love to win a Rita! Or at least be nominated for one again!  Or is it the book that wins? And is nominated? I get confused about that, but either way, I’d be psyched!

4) I’d love for one of my books to hit the New York Times list. I mean literally. I’d like to throw it and watch it bounce off the newspaper. NOT.  (I’m the worst joke teller!). No, it would be really awesome to be on that list. But until I make it, I’m going to keep throwing my current books at it every Sunday.

5) I want one of my books made into a movie, and I’d be on set with all the stars, and we’d be best friends and go karaoking every night. Hopefully, George Clooney would be there, and I’d prank him really badly. He’s a master at pranking people, and I would catch him by surprise. He’d respect me so much, he’d ask me to marry him, and I’d have to tell him, “Sorry. I love my husband.” And then he’d give me his house on Lake Como in Italy just because he’s pining away for me so badly.

George's House on Lake Como--I'm in the window, waving!

George’s House on Lake Como–I’m in the window, waving!

6) I wish all the homeless dogs and cats of the world would have people who loved them and took care of them.

7) I dearly wish every child would be cherished and well fed, and that when they shut their eyes at night, they felt safe and happy.

8) I wish cancer were cured.

9) I wish I could fly.

10) I wish I lived in a castle in Cornwall with my same family and pets and that I were a duchess who drove an emerald green Jaguar convertible and ate scones with clotted cream and gooseberry jam every day. What is a gooseberry? I have no idea. But it’s on my crazy wish list because it sounds so delightful and cozy, like something out of The Secret Garden. I can just hear Glinda the Good Witch saying this wish out loud in her tinkly-bell voice….

My castle in Cornwall--it's vacant right now as I'm chilling on Lake Como.

My castle in Cornwall–it’s vacant right now as I’m chillin’ on Lake Como.

billie-burke-as-glinda So do you have the idea? Just writing down my crazy wishes has made me feel happier somehow. It buffers me against the hard times. It gives me a spark of joy. A lot of that joy comes from admitting what I want to do. When we were little, we weren’t afraid to tell the whole world what we wanted to do, were we? We could dream!

And now for that bonus thing our imagination does for us. It seems almost like a selfish, ridiculous thing for a responsible, hard-working adult to make a crazy wish list, but ironically, our imaginations, given free rein, always brings us back to community. We can’t help ourselves. We think about other people even when we’ve been given “permission” to indulge ourselves. That’s the magic of the crazy wish list. It reminds us that there are things that we need to work on–really big things that need solving on a global scale or smaller, more personal things in our own lives, our own circles. And if we get too caught up in our little routines, we can forget those things. I know I can’t cure cancer, but I can do my best to avoid the triggers. And I can pray for people I know who have it. I can maybe even go to the hospital and visit strangers who are sick with cancer. The crazy wish list reminds me that I’m alive, part of a big, wonderful world. It infuses me with the power that comes with recognizing this miraculous connection. I’m way bigger than any boring old to-do list!!! There is potential in me that I have yet to tap. There is good I have yet to do. 

Wonder Woman, watch out!

Thanks for reading my crazy wish list, and if anyone wants to share, I’d love to read yours!

*** Feel free to call it your “CWL,” as in, “Hey! have you written your CWL yet?” That’s what the really self-important among us call it to make ourselves look smart and special. It’s like the TPS report of OFFICE SPACE fame.

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 24 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job. My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a senior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college junior; and my youngest, Dragon, is in tenth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy. www.kierankramerbooks.com

Guest Mom Kathy Altman: Unfinished Projects

You know how people watch Hoarders partly out of curiosity, partly from the delight they take in being horrified, and partly out of the need for assurance that someone out there has a worse problem than they do? Well, sit tight, folks, because if you’re not a finisher, I’m about to make you feel very, very good about all those barely-starteds and half-dones hanging around your house.

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Besides all kinds of crafts and home repair endeavors, I’m also in the partial stage of weeding flowerbeds and hanging pictures and filing paperwork and cleaning out my car and learning Scrivener (a tool for writers) and unpuzzling thousand-piece puzzles. Why so many unfinished projects? I have a good excuse now—since I started writing seriously ten years ago, most of my spare time has been spent hunched over the laptop—but I didn’t have that excuse when I began most of the above. Yep, some of these projects are more than a decade old. So did I drop them out of boredom? Poor time management? Something shinier caught my eye? Loss of interest? Out of sight, out of mind? (Though it’s a bit of a stretch to apply that last one to the unpainted living room walls I look at every day.)

The sad thing is, there’s no hope for any of these projects. Every now and then I resolve to dedicate a few minutes each day to getting at least one of these done—even if it takes a year—but tearing myself away from my writing? Not easy. So…I suppose I just answered my own question. There was always something I wanted to do more than I wanted to cross stitch or scrapbook or organize closets or paint walls. The good news is, I’m not going to find anything I love more than writing, so the only DIY projects in my future will be stories, and I’ve actually managed to finish a few of those. Seven books so far, though the first five attempts are different degrees of unreadable. And never mind that I fantasized about writing a book for two decades before I managed it. Yet I did finish, which helps ease that nagging sting I feel whenever I think of all I’ve left unfinished. Then again, there are some half-dones I don’t mind contemplating at all. Like that half bottle of pinot noir on the counter. And that half a cheesecake in the freezer. And then there’s that delicious romantic thriller I’m only halfway through…

Still. I am tired of looking at those walls. Think the cheesecake and wine is enough to lure Glinda to my place?


SAJ_book_coverKathy Altman writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and the occasional ode to chocolate. She’s published by Harlequin Superromance, and contributes to USA Today’s “Happy Ever After” blog. When she’s not writing, reading or putting in her forty hours a week as a computer programmer for the Air Force, she enjoys baking, watching the Ciarán Hinds version of Persuasion and making other people feel superior by letting them win at Scrabble.



The Poop Song–Yes, I Really Said That!

My 15-year-old saw this the other day and thought it was hilarious. I laughed, too–especially at the sublime tone of the announcer at the beginning–and then I said, “Wait! This will work at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard!” So here it is. I think it’s really cute and perfect for little people to watch if they feel nervous about potty training. Enjoy!

If you have any other links to great potty training videos or articles, please feel free to leave them in a comment. Or if you have a helpful tip to offer yourself, we’re all ears!

Hugs, Kieran 🙂

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 24 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job. My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a senior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college junior; and my youngest, Dragon, is in tenth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy. www.kierankramerbooks.com

Guest Mom Kimberly Kincaid: Food Is Love

As a foodie romance author, I write by the mantra that food is love. Many of my characters view food not just as physical sustenance, but as something evocative and nurturing, something more than simply what’s on the plate.

I’m here to tell you, friends. Life imitates art.

As a self-described “great big foodie”, I am a huge fan of food that comes right from the earth. So it’s no great shock, really, that every season, my kids and I pick strawberries (spring), blueberries (summer) and apples and pumpkins (fall). But this year, we decided to go for something new. We packed a lunch and our bushel baskets, put on our sturdy sneakers, and we headed out to go peach picking. While we’re big fans of the convenience of those fruit cups you get in the grocery store (what parent isn’t, at some point or another?), there is something really affirming about seeing sun-warmed peaches right on the trees. My kids were so excited to belly up to the trunks and branches of peach trees and twist the fruit right off the limbs. And, as a food lover and also a mom, I was excited for them to see firsthand where real fresh food comes from. It wasn’t just “let’s pick peaches for something to do” or “let’s pick peaches to have snack for the next week”. My kids got to have the evocative experience of feeling the fuzzy fruit, of smelling the sweet-tart air in the orchard (if we could bottle it, we’d be rich!) They got to realize that food doesn’t just fill the belly. It can be an experience, from farm to pot to plate. It becomes “more”.

   photo credit Kimberly Kincaid
photo credit: Kimberly Kincaid

Portrait of young attractive happy amorous couple in bedroomThis is an idea that I weave into each of my books. In my new novella, Outside The Lines (available July 30th), my heroine comes from a rough-edged background. Because she knows all too well what it’s like to be hungry, she makes it her life’s goal to feed people, and works as the manager at a restaurant to do just that. Of course, her job gets tougher when she has to team up with her ex-fiance in order to get that job done at a charity fundraiser! But her drive to feed people, to nurture them with simple, honest food, motivates her to see beyond her past. The food becomes “more” in the story as it brings them together.

So whether you’re going for a right-from-the earth experience with your kids or cooking with someone you love (your spouse or parents or friends), let the food be what brings you together! And if you live in the Washington DC metro area, consider taking a lovely drive out to Stribling Farm in Markham, VA, for peaches. It’s worth every delicious bite!

Kimberly Kincaid’s Peach Cobbler:


1 ½ to 2 pound peaches, washed, pitted and sliced

4 Tablespoons granulated sugar

4 Tablespoons light brown sugar

1 Tablespoon AP flour

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon almond extract (vanilla will do in a pinch!)


¾ cup AP flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

½ cup milk (NOT skim!)

Toss all filling ingredients in a bowl and let sit for about 30 minutes. Juices will start to run. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl, through sugar, with whisk until well combined. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter (or two forks) until mixture resembled coarse meal. Stir in milk until just combined. Place filling mixture in a 9-inch glass pie plate. Drop heaping Tablespoons of dough over filling mixture, leaving space between scoops. Bake 25 minutes until golden. Cool slightly. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

kimberlykincaidKimberly Kincaid writes contemporary romance that splits the difference between sexy and sweet. When she’s not sitting cross-legged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber”, she can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to éclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. Kimberly is a 2011 RWA Golden Heart® finalist who lives (and writes!) by the mantra that food is love. She has written two digital novellas, Love On The Line and Drawing The Line, about hot cops and sexy chefs, with a third novella, Outside The Lines, due this summer. She is also thrilled to have collaborated on a Christmas anthology with Donna Kauffman and Kate Angell, titled The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap, to kick off her Pine Mountain foodie series with Kensington this October. Kimberly’s first full-length novel, Turn Up the Heat, will follow in February 2014. She resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters. Visit her any time at www.kimberlykincaid.com or come check her out on Facebook and Twitter.