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First of all, I’d like to say that I am not picky with the term “special needs” ; I think today’s Mama Mondays post can help EVERY child!  A child does not need to have a diagnosed impairment to require extra care and attention.  Strong-willed children have special needs; “picky” children have special needs; sensitive or insecure children have special needs.  Most children require a little extra help regulating anticipation and delaying gratification; Christmas can cause a lot of stress even in “normal” children with all the promises of upcoming parties and presents and the delay in realizing them.

For some children who have no concept of time, however, anticipating joyful events can be extremely painful: all promises of future enjoyment swirl around tantalizingly at the same time, all demanding immediate attention, creating a cacophony of desires, worries, and expectations that make present fun unenjoyable and future fun seem irreducibly distant.  Not only are such children miserable, but their parents are usually worn thin with unceasing requests (I think there is probably a version of PTSD that applies to us parents of autistic children in particular!)  No answer we give is satisfactory because the repetition is really a cry for help to sort out what is going on.  Our children are lost in their own desires and have no internal framework for our verbal answers to help them.  We can say, “We are going to Grandma’s on Christmas Day” a thousand times (in response to a thousand, genuinely distraught requests for Grandma’s house), but it has no meaning.  When is Christmas Day?  Is it now?  Is it later?  Will it never come?

Part of the difficulty in hearing those repetitive requests–from an autistic child or otherwise confused or disappointed child–is because our hearts go out to our children when we see how much they struggle with understanding what is going on.  We want to help them; because we have no personal difficulty relating words to concepts of time sometimes we forget that some children cannot visualize what time is like.  Even if our children are fairly well-regulated most of the time, the excitement of Christmas may be enough to disconnect whatever the child may understand of time and cause them to revert to a more immature understanding.  In either case, it is immensely helpful to have an EXTERNAL reference the child can see to teach or reinforce WHEN to expect certain events.

Below, I have created a very simple “Sliding Visual Schedule”.  You could make it in less than an hour.  If you use it faithfully each day and try to stick to a similar routine each week, the repetitive requests for certain events or people should be noticeably curtailed over the next few days and weeks.  Special Schedules can be made for certain times of the year (especially if your child is off school and off schedule); Thanksgiving schedules or Christmas Schedules, for example, can be introduced by saying, “We are going to have a different schedule this week because it is Thanksgiving.  You can help me move the Day Slide over and the Activity Slide down.”

Of course, it may be useful not to mention any events in advance at all because this can be very confusing to children with special needs; if, however, your child is already anticipating or requesting something, this Sliding Visual Schedule should function as external scaffolding upon which an internal sense of time can be developed to put the desired outcome in its proper place.  Once the child has a visual understanding of what is going on, verbal reminders (with pointing to the schedule) are useful to reinforce the concept: “We are going to Grandma’s house on Christmas Day, here (point).  Today (point) is Christmas Eve; we are watching a Christmas movie tonight.  Tomorrow (point) we will go to Grandma’s.  We are still here (point) today and our day is not finished yet.”  Now your words make more sense!

I printed an 11 row x 8 column table, with five simple activities each day of the week (you can use Excel or Open Office Calc, etc.). I used clip art to paste into the larger cells and wrote a descriptive phrase for each activity in the cells underneath. It is extremely important not to clutter your schedule with every activity you plan to do each day: your child only needs to know the “high-points” that will help him pace himself through the day.  Keeping it simple will help your child not to become overly rigid with his schedule and will give you more grace to adjust plans as needed (avoiding further confusion or disappointment!)

The vertical piece of card (“Day Slide”) is slightly taller than the page: a v-shaped cut helps it to hang on the top of the page as it slides horizontally. The horizontal piece of card (“Activity Slide”) has two v-shaped cuts on each side that help it to slide vertically; friction helps it to stay in place so it is important not to space the cuts too far apart.

I put our schedule on the ‘fridge and secure the bottom of the Day Slide with a weak magnet that holds it in place without impeding its movement.  Within three to four days our autistic child’s request for Grandma’s house reduced to almost nothing (by comparison): she now only asks for Grandma’s house when she is upset or confused about what we are doing (i.e. whenever there is a deviation from the schedule…she is still trying to figure out how going to Grandma’s house relates to each activity we are doing!)  This is a significant improvement from being asked every five minutes (yes, literally that often!) if she can go to Grandma’s house.

I am going to give God the credit for this one.  Not only was I beside myself with frustration and concern for our autistic child’s unceasing requests but I had completely forgotten how important visual scheduling can be.  I asked God for help and this idea popped into my head.  In the spirit of Christmas I can genuinely say: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE among those with whom He is pleased!  I wish you and your children the same this year (and for the next).

If you enjoyed this week’s Mama Monday’s post, please share using one of the many features below.  Thanks!

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Check out how we roll..ha, ha, hum. (cough).  Sourdough bread rolls and loaf are rising nicely in our clean oven, "dissected " for you in this post!

Check out how we roll..ha, ha, hum. (cough). Sourdough bread rolls and loaf are rising nicely in our clean oven, “dissected ” for you in this post!

Today’s Mama Mondays post is a series of quick tips to help keep your oven clean, avoid smoke-generating spills, and maintain an even temperature for baking at low-temperatures or for long periods.  This is especially useful if you are baking sourdough bread, drying chives, or roasting tomatoes.

TIP ONE: Clean your oven using all-natural cleaners so you don’t have to worry about toxic fumes getting into your food (or lungs/skin as you clean).  I use baking soda and vinegar.  First, I spray neat white vinegar all over the interior of the COLD oven, then using a spoon I “splash” baking soda over the vinegar droplets to make them fizz.  I allow baked-on residue to soak in vinegar for a while before applying any baking soda.  Excess baking soda makes a mild abrasive that is great at picking up grease and “splatter”.  I use a damp washcloth to help rub the baking soda across the oven’s interior surface.  I wet the washcloth to remove excess baking soda once the oven is clean.  For more tips on cleaning your oven, try Open Eye Health’s natural home cleaning eBook.

TIP TWO: Place a clean Pizza Stone or Baking Tile on the bottom of your oven (or on a rack closest to the heat source).  A Pizza Stone or Baking Tile provides “thermal mass”: it absorbs thermal energy and releases it at a steady rate, reducing oven temperature fluctuations and the negative impact of doing things like opening the oven door to check on your food (although try not to leave the door open any longer than you have to even with a stone/tile).  It also helps to normalize the temperature of the oven so there are fewer hot/cold spots: this promotes even baking especially in older or irregular ovens.

My oven is sparkling thanks to the vinegar and baking soda.  The pizza stone, as you will notice, is not so clean-looking.  I did clean it, but the oil wouldn't come off.  I have noticed that since putting it in the oven damp and using it for thermal mass, all the oil stains have disappeared.  Interesting!

My oven is sparkling thanks to the vinegar and baking soda. The pizza stone, as you will notice, is not so clean-looking. I did clean it, but the oil wouldn’t come off. I have noticed that since putting it in the oven (damp) and using it as a thermal mass, all the oil stains have disappeared. My pizza stone looks brand-new now.  Interesting!

TIP THREE: Create a catching tray.  The easiest way is to place aluminum foil on a rack at the lowest setting.  It is important to create “grooves” so that any liquid spilling over a dish is caught and doesn’t run off the plane of the aluminum foil to the oven’s floor.  Filling the grooves with cheap table salt is the best way to absorb liquid and prevent food from smoking (a great tip I learned from Open Eye Health’s eBook is to sprinkle salt on anything that spills in your oven: this allows you to continue baking without setting off smoke alarms!).  If you are concerned about your aluminum load and avoid using/buying aluminum foil, you can use a stainless steel baking tray with a lip instead.  Make sure the foil/tray doesn’t cover the entire rack (leave a gap around the sides) so that the heat can circulate in the oven properly (keep in mind that adding this catching tray may add to your baking time slightly by reducing the impact of the heat radiating from your oven’s element and therefore increasing your baked good’s reliance on convection-based heat).  A catching tray makes future oven cleaning a snap: just throw out the old salt and replace!

Get in the Groove!  A salted catching tray made of aluminum foil.

Get in the Groove! A salted catching tray made of aluminum foil.

TIP  FOUR: Hydrate!  Gas ovens can be drier than electric; using a catching tray with slightly longer cooking times/more reliance on convection can also make cooking a little drier.  The solution is easy: place a ceramic or glass pan filled with filtered water either directly on the catching tray or on a rack in the setting above the catching tray (depending on how many racks and height settings you have).  If you are baking bread and don’t want it to get soggy from the steam, put a small amount of filtered water in the pan so only as much steam as needed is released; after the water has evaporated, you can remove the pan (when it is empty, using oven gloves) to speed up the cooking time.  Why use filtered water?  When the water has evaporated, the mineral deposits will be left on your dish.  Most of the time this is easy to remove with plain tap water.  However, depending on what minerals are in your water, you may not want to bake them along with your souffles, etc.  🙂  Don’t use a hydrating pan if you are trying to dry or roast something.  To keep roast meat or vegetables moist, use oil or fat and consider using a cover to keep the steam in.

Baking can be a bed of roses...when you use a hydrating pan to combat dryness :-)

Baking can be a bed of roses…when you use a hydrating pan to combat dryness 🙂

Helping of Hope: Right choice.  Cleaning your oven with all natural ingredients and catching spills in advance with a salted catching tray; using thermal mass and a hydration pan to control your baking environment.  Bright future: easy and guilt-free oven cleanup; better results in baking!

If you enjoyed this week’s Mama Mondays post, please share using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

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These apples had already turned brown…then pineapple juice removed the oxidization!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  I apologize for the hiatus in posts; I have a bunch of recipes to post this Thursday, research on whole grains for an upcoming Transformation Tuesdays post… and I am getting over a Sinus Migraine thanks to the ever-changing barometric conditions…gotta love Michigan weather…

To break the no-writing streak, I decided to share what would usually be the subject of a Mama-Mondays post.  The subject was an accidental discovery; I hope I’m the first to mention it and receive some major culinary kudos!

In the past I’ve used freshly-squeezed lemon-juice to keep sliced apples from turning brown; they still turn brown albeit much more slowly.  When my kids have snack-duty for school I usually slice organic apples (apples are #1 on the Environmental Work Group’s 2012 Dirty Dozen list) and roll them in diluted lemon juice.  On one such occasion I ran out of lemons and reached in the ‘fridge for what I did have…leftover fresh pineapple juice from my pineapple oatmeal recipe.  The results were amazing!  Leftover apples came back home, after a full day at school, completely white.

This Thanksgiving I forgot to roll the apples for my Apple-Pecan salad in any juice at all.  They turned light brown in thirty minutes.  Not wanting my apples to brown further, I rolled them in pineapple juice and watched in amazement as THE “BROWN” CAME OFF.  The pineapple juice turned a tan color and the apples turned white.  I showed the slices off to my husband (who had sliced them) and stepdaughter!  They were impressed 🙂  I’m guessing the enzymes in the pineapple juice help to break up the oxidized apple enzymes while the pH of the juice denatured the remaining enzymes so they could no longer be oxidized?  (Any chemistry buffs out there?)

To summarize, here are the benefits of using pineapple juice on apple slices:

  • Diluted fresh pineapple juice completely prevents browning.  Completely.
  • Apple slices taste better with a hint of sweet pineapple than with a sour hint of lemon.
  • [DRUMROLL PLEASE] Pineapple juice REMOVES browning AFTER it has occurred.

HOW TO MAKE FRESH PINEAPPLE JUICE:

  1. Using a sharp knife, cut off outer skin of pineapple
  2. Chop pineapple “meat” into small wedges and process in a blender or food processor
  3. Scoop pineapple puree into a glass jar or bowl and allow the pulp to rise to the top (if you don’t have time for this, skip to step 5 by dumping the puree into the coffee filter),
  4. Remove pulp to eat in lieu of apple sauce or to flavor oatmeal; store pulp in a glass salsa/sauce jar.
  5. Filter remaining juice through a coffee filter placed on a sieve or colander into a glass measuring jar or small bowl.
  6. Dilute juice with filtered water 1:1 and store in your ‘fridge to use as needed to keep apples white or soak grains.
  7. Storage option: freeze diluted juice in ice cube trays and empty cubes into a freezer bag or mason jar.  If you don’t use pineapple juice very often, this option means that you don’t have to worry about it spoiling in your ‘fridge and you’ll always have some handy!

Make sure to give fresh pineapple juice a try.  And since you’ll already have pureed pineapple handy, why not skip the cereal box and make some healthy, energy-boosting pineapple oatmeal instead?

If you enjoyed this…um, cooking tip post…please share using one of the many features below.  Thanks!

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Its about that time: whether you are making vanilla essence or aftershave, it is going to take several weeks for the flavor or scent to properly work itself into your homemade Christmas gifts.  Make them now so that they can be used right away.  Here are four gifts sure to please this Christmas:

  • HOMEMADE AFTERSHAVE ($15).  I used this aftershave recipe from Passionate Homemaking (5 TBSP Organic Filtered Apple Cider Vinegar, 3 TBSP Dickinson’s Witch Hazel, 1 TBSP Vegetable Glycerin).  For a manly scent my husband and father loved, I added 5 drops of Lavender essential oil and 10 drops of Patchouli essential oil (it was a weaker craft-store brand…you may want to use a few drops less if you have a high quality oil).  The interesting things about the scent is that it really does change over time.  The recipe says to wait 3-4 days; at that time the aftershave smells great, but you can tell the scents apart.  After a couple months, the scents blend together and smell like something store-bought.  My husband wears the aftershave I made him every day; when the bottle gets down to 50%, he tops it up with unscented aftershave (same ratio as above 5 A.C.V.:3 W.H.:1 V.G.)  I think I made his present for $15, including the bottles.  It has lasted almost a whole year with 3 top-ups.  The scent has got a little weaker each time, but he isn’t a fan of strong-smelling colognes anyway.  If you want to make your gift very versatile (and a bit more expensive), you can create a homemade aftershave gift basket, providing a large, “refill” bottle of unscented aftershave, the scented aftershave, and the essential oil bottles you used.  That way the grateful man receiving your amazing and thoughtful gift can dilute or strengthen the scent to his hearts’ content!
    Check out my pins below:

  • LAVENDER BALM ($15).  I used this aftershave salve recipe from Passionate Homemaking (2 TBSP Coconut oil, 4 TBSP Shea Butter), except that instead of the recommended manly scents I used 5 drops of Lavender Essential oil and put it in a pretty glass container for a female family member with eczema.    Pure Shea Butter is difficult to find: I had to get it at my local health food store.
  • RASPBERRY, CHERRY, and CRANBERRY “WINE” VINEGAR ($2-$5 each).  This sounds so impressive, but if you have been saving your glass bottles and use scraps from frozen or fresh fruits, the only expense is the organic filtered apple cider vinegar.  The vinegars may be used to make vinaigrette.  So far I have used the leftover juice/seeds from frozen raspberries to make Raspberry Vinegar, a few chopped up Michigan cherries to make Cherry Vinegar, and cranberries that were too far gone to be used to make sauce–mildly fermented but not rotten–to make Cranberry “Wine” Vinegar.  There really isn’t a recipe: approximately 10% of the volume is the finely chopped up fruit, the rest is apple cider vinegar.  Store the tightly-sealed “fruit” vinegar bottle in a cool, dark place for at least a month so the fruit flavors will be infused into the vinegar.  The vinegar will preserve or pickle the fruit bits and keep them from spoiling.  You can make a vinaigrette gift basket by making my Sweet Basil Vinaigrette as well as a fruity vinegar and placing both bottles in a basket with a set of dried, organic herbs used in the recipe.
  • VANILLA AND SPEARMINT EXTRACTS ($10-$15 each).  The greatest cost to this is the alcohol.  Vodka is the most versatile medium for drawing out flavors because it can be used on anything (and is cheaper).  However, nothing beats the Bourbon flavor of  whiskey for a homemade Vanilla Extract.  To make a vanilla extract, use 4 vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol; split the beans lengthwise using a sharp knife and scrape the seeds into the alcohol, then place the bean pods in the alcohol.  The larger the overall amount of vanilla beans/alcohol, the better, because it makes “re-flavoring” easier (I used a large olive oil bottle but you could easily add the beans straight to the alcohol container); When you have used half of the extract, top up with alcohol and shake.  Replace old vanilla beans once or twice a year.  For a spearmint extract(milder and sweeter than peppermint), use fresh spearmint leaves from the garden or your grocer: fill up a glass bottle with rinsed & touch-dry leaves, lightly packed, and pour vodka over them until the top leaves are completely immersed.  Extracts need to be stored away in a cool, dark place for 2-3 months (ideally), 6 weeks at a minimum.  Shaking extracts regularly during this waiting period will help to speed up the extraction process.

    I used old spice jars to make Mint Extract. This should taste yummy in hot chocolate or coffee, give a milder flavor to homemade toothpaste, and add a fresh “Christmassy” flavor to tapioca pudding when combined with a little nutmeg.

If you enjoyed this Mama Mondays post, please share using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

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I came across this idea in a book I was reading while preparing my wedding vows several years ago (!)  I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the name of the book (something about making marriage work on a dime: the closest reference I’ve found is the Frugal Living for Dummies book) but I’ve never forgotten the idea.  It makes for a fun, annual tradition and encourages a sense of gratitude for an entire month.  Similar to waiting for Christmas cards, or counting down for Christmas Day, waiting for Thanksgiving leaves to come in helps children to build up a sense of anticipation for Thanksgiving that transcends Turkey and the trimmings!  For specific instructions, see my pins below.

Helping of Hope.  Right Choice: However you choose to do it, make sure to emphasize Thanksgiving well in advance of your family gathering.  A Thanksgiving tree can help to increase your family’s anticipation and sense of gratitude.  Bright future: encouraging thankfulness in your family before Christmas can help your family to put less stock in material gifts and take greater stock of what is already around them, paving the way for a more frugal Christmas by focusing less on presents and more on lasting memories.  Thankful people live longer, are healthier, and live happier lives!

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I use one brown paper lunch bag to cover two half-sandwiches for my kids. I cut the bag in half (“snack bag” size) and used a sticker and rubber band to secure them. Each lunch bag costs ten cents; that’s half the cost of a plastic sandwich bag! That makes each of my “snack bag” equivalents five cents each 🙂

Despite attempts to remove BPA from plastics, synthetic materials still pose a vital health risk.  Pthalates in many plastics contribute to our estrogen load and increase our risk of breast and prostrate cancersVinyl flooring is a major contributor of pthalates and contains toxic chemicals banned in children’s toys.  Add to this toxic exposure that of all the plastics used for food packaging and storage, and we have an endocrine-disrupting, estrogenic epidemic on our hands…or on our sandwiches, as the case may be.

The solution is surprisingly simple: use brown paper bags to replace sandwich bags and glass jars to hold fluids that would otherwise be placed in plastic bags or plastic containers.

What about freezer bags?  This may sound weird but it works well: rub olive oil on the brown paper bags!  Just one tablespoon of olive oil will coat three to four lunch-sized bags; using your fingers, rub just enough oil onto the bag to saturate the paper and set aside to “dry” (absorb).  Double-bag the item(s) you wish to freeze in the oiled brown paper bags.  Fold the top of the bags over twice and secure with a rubber band, twist-tie, or string.  I use this method to freeze bread; I think it works better than plastic at preventing freezer-burn!

If you need to freeze fluids, oiled bags won’t work because they aren’t sealed water-tight (use glass jars with wide mouths instead): however, oiled bags are water-resistant and should be able to hold things like sliced apples and cooked beans.  Before coating your bags, make sure your olive oil passes the ‘fridge test!

The inexpensive ALDI olive oil (Left) passes the ‘fridge test, but the brand-name olive oil (Right) doesn’t! That means Felippo Berrio’s olive oil is vegetable oil with olive oil flavoring.

Helping of Hope.  Right Choice: throw out your plastic storage bags and replace with glass and paper storage.  Bright future: healthier endocrine system, reduced risk of breast and prostate cancer, less pollution in the environment, and a frugal way to store your food.

If you enjoyed this Mama Mondays post, please share using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

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Read on to see how this can save your bathroom …in a pinch!

This Mama Mondays post is a short tip to help you to quickly clean your bathroom when an unexpected guest comes by…and your ‘loo hardly looks sanitary!  The answer may surprise you… use toilet paper!

Toilet paper is quite useless when wet and that is probably why it is overlooked as a handy cleaning aid.  It may also contribute to a lot of lint, depending what brand you use, so you may be surprised to find out that toilet paper is actually very good at picking lint up!

Regular cleaning cloths and paper towels become fairly useless once they have picked up hair and dust: unless you can keep folding them over as you clean, they end up spreading “bathroom debris” around.  Dry toilet paper is surprisingly good at picking up the dust that accumulates on the toilet lid, the back of the toilet, the top rim of the shower enclosure, and on the bath ledge.  It catches hairs very well, even those that cling to the corners of your floor.  Instead of clogging cleaning pads, cloths, and paper towels with dust and hair, use toilet paper!  It only takes a few seconds and a few squares; the toilet paper can be disposed of in the toilet or trash can.  Then you can perform your regular cleaning regimen for a speedy shine without streaks or left behind “bits”.

Dry Toilet paper can even shine your brass or chrome if you use plenty of “elbow grease”; I’ve even used it to rub spots off mirrors!  As long as the sink is dry, toilet paper can even help you to cut through any scum that may have accumulated at the bottom and to give your basin a clean shine.

So if company comes over and you all of a sudden realize your bathroom isn’t close to rated “G” (U.S.: “General Audiences”), excuse yourself for a minute or two and scour your bathroom with some toilet paper!  Wipe the floors, back of the toilet, the mirror and sink: in just two minutes your bathroom will be greatly improved and no one will be the wiser!  They’ll just think you had to “go”…

I recommend using a PCF (processed chlorine free) toilet paper like Seventh Generation. You can read my review here.

Of course, to AVOID your bathroom getting into a state (I know I’m the only one that happens to 😉 ) I recommend Open Eye Health’s ebook Clean Start: Your Guide for Natural Home Cleaning (click on the image below.  I am an affiliate of Open Eye Health: I love her work on all-natural cleaning) I have used this guide to make my own non-toxic, frugal, and effective cleaners.  It is such a great resource!  I have saved a lot of money by following these recipes and recommendations 🙂  She also has free cleaning planning resources on her site.  Make sure to check out her blog!

Click here to check out this amazing natural cleaning resource!

Helping of Hope.  Right choice: use toilet paper to pick up bathroom debris before cleaning or when you are “in a pinch”.  Use PCF or TCF paper products.  Use natural cleaners instead of commercial cleaners that use harmful ingredients.  Bright future: more efficient cleaning using fewer cloths or paper towels, reduced toxic load and indoor pollution, better overall health, and a better method of keeping your bathroom tidy between cleanings.

If you enjoyed today’s Mama Mondays post, please share with a friend using one of the many features below.  Thanks!

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