Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Antioxidant Bark

Uh-oh. Bunco is in two hours, and I need something to bring that people will like that's relatively easy to do. Shockingly, I found a solution. And it was good. Of course, I had to replicate this to prove it wasn't a fluke, so I chose the fun of Memorial Day as my testing ground. Even more daunting? I was going to be bringing it to French Foodie Mom's house. Gulp.

I think it passed the test, though.

Plus, it's super easy. In the heat of yesterday, I literally used the sun to "cook" it. And the ingredients are absolutely flexible based on what you like or what you want. Somehow, there's still a little bit in my fridge, but not much! Oh, and did I mention you can totally pretend this is healthy for you? Yep.

Antioxidant Bark

8 oz dark chocolate (get the good stuff)
1/3 c raisins
1/3 c dried blueberries
1/3 c dried cherries
1/3 c flax seeds
(or coconut or dried strawberries or real nuts of all sorts or ... get creative!)

(Boo to my camera for running out of batteries and then my camera phone mysteriously deleting the majority of the photos I took of this process. Oh well.)

In a double boiler, gently melt your chocolate. That means put a metal bowl on top of a pot with a couple inches of water. Heat the water to a boil and gently melt your chocolate, making sure no steam escapes into your chocolate or it will seize and get nasty. OR if it's summer, put your chopped chocolate into a bowl and put it on your back porch for 15 minutes. Literally. Mine was completely melted at that point - and yes, I once upon a time had pictures of it.

After removing the chocolate from whatever heat source you're using, add the dried fruits and flax seeds or whatever other ingredients you want. Stir gently until they're well combined.

Pour the mixture onto a sil pat or parchment paper - something flexible so you'll be able to remove it after it's hardened. Use a spatula to spread it into a thin layer, as a little of this goes a long way.

Place it into the fridge to harden for a half hour or so. Then remove it and break it into pieces. Try not to sneak too many for yourself before you serve them to others. You want to keep this cold, as it melts pretty readily!

Yum. Enjoy this and more with Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Blessed with Grace!

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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Greatest Motivator

I am finally back from Autism One and beginning to put up posts from many of the speakers I attended while there. Not all the speakers and presentations I attended were focused on autism, however. In fact, many were definitely applicable to kids anywhere, and some sessions were just flat out applicable to life.

Sophie Uliano is a perfect example of this, as she spent her time talking about ways to go green. I have very few friends at this point who aren't interested in doing something greener than what they are today, and Sophie's presentation was a great example of how you can do it easily. She started off joking that she isn't one who lives in a yurt eating fermented foods all the time. She's a "real" woman and mom who doesn't have a ton of time - or money - and needs finds ways to do things differently.

She talked about how it's the little choices you make every day that add up over time. No one (ok, very few people) can do everything "perfectly" green, but you find what you're passionate about, and you move to make better decisions in that arena. Rather than focusing on global warming, climate change, and greenhouse gases - which seem so far away - find your own motivator. She doesn’t get up in the morning and think about polar bears drowning. She gets up and thinks about how she's going to pay her bills, how she's going to get my kids off to school, etc. That’s what she's connected t and what motivates her. The big picture polar bears is not necessarily a good gateway or motivator for a lot of people.

In her experience, most people are motivated to go green by one of four things: health, children, food, or beauty. Health comes up they were diagnosed with cancer, their child has huge allergies, etc. Children are a factor. Think about all the people who got pregnant and went wow! That's what changed things for them. Food is another big motivator. We all have to eat, and a lot of people begin caring because of this as they realize all the toxins and other issues with our food supply. When all else fails, some people start caring because they want to buy a lipstick and they realize all the toxins that are out there and want to be careful of what they put on their face.

When Sophie grew up, she was raised in an era of great frugality. Things were reused and recycled, they ate what was in the garden, etc. It was just common sense, not “going green” as a thing. Back then getting a new pair of shoes was a big deal. Today things are a whole lot more different, but yet it can still be that simple.

Sophie's take is that we need to wake up before it’s too late – not because there’s going to be a cataclysm and Manhattan is going to be under water – but before it’s going to be too late for you and your community and your family, before you have a health crisis. So many people then say “I wish I’d known five or ten years ago” Once we wake up, we need to wake up our friends and family. It’s not a “you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that and doom and gloom” but instead coming from a place of joy and love.

In her view, green living is a preventative healthcare. Every aspect of green living is related to health. Every day there are about 50 better decisions you can make. Women tend to be the decision-makers and are powerful. We can make a difference, and through social networking, we can become agents of change. If you become more aware of things like parabens and phthalates and BpA and the like, it’s a slow awakening, but we’re getting there.

One of the most important things we can do is to vote with our wallets. Every time we purchase something, we cast a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. It’s more than just wanting to recycle; we need to create the market for recycled goods, as well, so that more things are recycled.

Again, the focus is that small things add up. A lot of people think I’ve got to green my entire life, and it’s so overwhelming. I need solar panels and green all my food and it gets to be too much. It can be as simple as going to the store and saying that from now on I’m going to only buy organic milk. The cumulative effect of what we do is what makes the difference.

Every day we are exposed to a cocktail of toxins. Tryglyzan is a really bad toxin – really want to avoid it, and it’s in the antibacterial soaps. When it’s added to other chemicals and hot water is added, that’s when it becomes a hot carcinogen. When you think about it, our skin absorbs over 60% of what we put on it. Think of the nicotine patches or contraceptive patches - those medications are absorbed. So is everything else. Instead, you can use castile soaps with a few essential oils for shampoos and soaps and the like. It’s far easier than you think.

Phthalates are in hair spray, lotion, soap, shampoo, nail polish, fragrances (perfumes and the plug in air freshener stuff, etc), vinyl (shower curtains or toys), food packaging and plastic wrap, wood finishes, adhesives, detergents, and even medical devices. It’s a neurotoxin and an obesogen, interestingly. It’s what makes plastics soft.

So what can we do? Use glass storage containers for our food. Never buy meats, fish or veggies that have been wrapped in plastic – which is admittedly very hard to do. Instead, try to buy in paper or waxed paper. Avoid all skin care products with “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredient line (I found a really great line of cosmetics that I love that isn't expensive while at the conference by the way that fits this!). Avoid as much plastic in your home as possible – plastic toys, storage containers. Avoid using insecticides and pesticides in and around your home (again, great vendor that had all natural bug sprays that I am happy to recommend once we test it out in the next few weeks).

Parabens are another nasty chemical that is in so many things. They are the preservatives found in skin care products that have been found to disrupt our endocrine system. Look at the ingredient list of items you purchase for: methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-, paraben. Our hormones govern all the biological processes in our body, so this is especially important for young girls and children. There has also been a lot of controversy recently around breast cancers finding parabens in the tissue.

Here, we can buy skin care and more that is stated “paraben-free” on the label or website. Sophie also suggests that we make our own skin care products – which also allows us to save money, too. That's one of my goals, personally, though I've yet to find the time or energy to do so. Sophie has several books, and one of them has many recipes for very easy and natural - and cheap (not just put mayonnaise in your hair!) recipes for this. Sophie's orange alert list for skincare includes: Fragrance, anti-bacterial products (Triclosan), Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Talc, MEA, DEA, TEA, Sulphates, FD&C and D&C (with a number). Those are the ones you want to avoid.

Chemical sunscreens are another big issue - and with summer just arriving (literally, today, in Chicago), this is the time to think about it. We need sunscreens for a lot of reasons, but the ones we typically buy have problems. Think about sunscreen in two ways. Sunscreens can have a physical barrier – think the lifeguard white of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – or a chemical barrier – PABA, oxybenzone. The chemical barriers are a huge problem for many reasons, but no one wants to walk around with the white nose look. Instead, there are new technologies out there that make the physical barrier possible without that look. You want to look for the micronization or the nano particles (the micronized particles are preferred) which give you that physical barrier without the white. Also, do not spray your children with the sunscreen! When you are buying sunscreen, there is very little difference between a 15 and a 30, and definitely anything beyond that is not worth it. Make sure you reapply every 2 hours with the 30 - and always reapply after you've been in the water.

Fire retardants (PBDs)are a big problem, and they're in sleepwear, bedding, mattresses, computers, electronics, and more. Breast milk was tested and it is showing PBDs. Even newborn babies are showing a body burden of fire retardants, etc. When you buy a new computer, etc. really be mindful of what the companies are doing to phase out the worst of the chemicals. When you purchase sleepwear, wash it in detergent like dishwashing soap. They say to be careful with washing it so you don’t wash out the fire retardant, but I'd much rather keep myself safe and watch myself around fire.

For your bedroom, the mattress and bedding are issues with the PBDs, especially after Congress passed the regulation that all bedding has to be flame retardant. Check out the specs: they cannot catch fire with a two foot wide flame thrower for 70 seconds. Seriously? That's the issue? Needless to say, you can imagine the chemicals required to make that happen. There are organic mattresses you can still buy, but they are super expensive. Sophie recommends the wool bed company www.surroundewe.com that makes a mattress topper and then has something that encases your entire mattress so the chemicals stay away from you but you aren't spending $10,000 on a mattress. Considering how close I am to needing a new mattress (mine is from the mid-1990s - honestly), this is something I will be looking into shortly!

There are similar issues with the chemicals in all our carpets and rugs and furniture. Sophie mentioned www.flor.com that makes tiles for the floor that are wool and nontoxic and affordable. For furniture, you want to avoid particleboard or engineered wood. She brought up the example of cribs that are hardwood - oh, except for the slats. Search hard and ask a lot of questions. Paint is one that most people are familiar with, and it's becoming easier to find ones that have zero VOC, plus you always want to ensure there is adequate ventilation.

In the kitchen, we're familiar with many of the recommendations to avoid bPA - and now many of the replacements for bPA are shown to be not so safe. Use glass storage, which is becoming more and more readily available. You want to have a water filter (LifeSource is far better than reverse osmosis in Sophie's opinion) for both cooking and drinking. Buy and use non-toxic pans (360 Cookware and Chantal), and minimize microwave use. Try to get rid of as much plastic as possible.

Sophie is also bit on making your own cleaning supplies. You don’t need to buy the eco-friendly cleaners that are so expensive. Instead, you can do your own for $0.20/bottle plus smell great and non toxic. Use hydrogen peroxide – which is completely non toxic – in an opaque sprayer bottle and use that to kill the germs in your homes. Can also essential oils like lemon or rosemary. Almost every essential oil has antibacterial properties. Personally, I also adore my Ionator HOM and use that for just about everything. If you have lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide, you've just just about everything you need for cleaning - and so much cheaper, too!

In your living Room, you want to use an aromatherapy diffuser and not the plug-in air fresheners (remember the warning earlier about "fragrance"), try beeswax candles (which are great for asthma – and can make your own easily and cheaply with instructions in Sophie's book), use baking soda to deodorize your carpet when you vacuum and also upholstery when it stains. Make sure you're vacuuming around the entertainment console at least twice a week. The dust there picks up all sorts of nasties and then gets spread throughout your house. There are also specific houseplants that can really help your air quality, again with specific recommendations you can get through Sophie's website and books.

In the bathroom, you can clean just about everything with white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide with a little tea tree essential oil. It has huge antibacterial properties. You also want to look into a whole house filtration system – 50-70% of exposure to water pollutants for adults occurs through the skin. Use a a healthier shower curtain that isn't vinyl - or get the glass doors like I just did! You also want to be careful of the chemicals that are in your toothpase and mouthwash – watch for fluoride and dyes there (flueoridealert.com for more information). There are tons of natural toothpastes out there now, and I really like some of them, personally. You also want to get chlorine and percholorate out of your water.

To improve the general air quality, you want to plant trees in your environment. Try to bike or walk in low-traffic hours when the pollution isn't so dense. Definitely purchase a top notch air purifier (Sun Pure), and clean your ducts.

Obviously when it comes to food, we want to cook from scratch as much as possible. There are tons of chemicals we can avoid during the processing of food that way. You also want to know what to buy organic and not to buy organic. Look for the dirty dozen and green fifteen that are released each year to help you decide. When eating, you want to get a lot of leafy greens (kale & spinach) with folate to protect against chemical exposure. Where possible, you want to grow your own food in a garden. If you can, minimize meat and dairy intake. Sophie suggests eating minimally cooked food to ensure you eat enzyme rich food. When asked what the easiest and best thing to start with – it’s food. We eat every day, and this is super easy.

There was also a lot of recommendations by Sophie to say no to GMOs. Currently, the US labeling doesn’t tell us about GMOs, and she believes the risks on human health are not yet adequately studied. If you buy USDA certified Organic, it cannot be GMOs. There are clues, however. Look at the digits on product stickers – if it begins with a 4, you don’t know what is. If it begins with an 8, it is GMO. If it begins with a 9, it’s fine. You can try to order a produce box from an organic farm or join a CSA – which is often better than farmer’s markets because those can include farmers from all types of farming methods. Be careful with soy and corn, Sophie suggests.

Just finding ways to eat healthier is huge with Sophie. She suggests we use coconut oil - which is something that I will be looking into now - for all our cooking. To help pass it to the next generation, always involve your kids in the preparation of food, except in those cases where you're sneaking greens into their foods! On that note, Sophie recommends soups as a great way to put all sorts of great stuff like veggies and such that they don’t realize. She also wants us to have a mini-salad with every meal, which is a great idea, I think.

When you're having a baby, there's another big priority list in Sophie's mind. You want to have BPA-free bottles – glass bottles are best, and there are lots of shatter-proof ones out there now. Look for organic food and mattress and bedding. You want to use non-toxic skin and bath products. Get a HEPA filter in the room. This is critical per Sophie because fire retardants build up in dust, and this will get them out and away from us.

There is also a huge checklist of things at our children's school, especially considering that they spend so much time there every day. What cleaning products do they use at school? Have they checked the paint for lead? Is the water filtered in fountains? Has any artificial grass passed tests? Are there hand sanitizers in class rooms? What do they do at parties? Typically, they are so wasteful with games and paper products and everything else, plus there are all the dyes etc with toxins that Sophie is concerned with. What is the policy on carrying cell phones? What is the ventilation like? Lighting: is it full-spectrum? See if they can replace the lights with full spectrum lights that we need to fully function biologically, Sophie explained.

This seems really overwhelming, especially to me. Rather than making it a one woman crusade, can you work with other parents to put together a green team to look into all this and work on it? Sophie asks if you can make your own non-toxic hand sanitizer and bring it into the classrooms and teach the kids and their parents to do the same - yes, she provides a recipe in her books.

It’s all about finding your sweet spot. Everybody has their sweet spot, something they’re passionate about that they can do. Maybe you love to cook. Maybe you love to galvanize people in your office. Maybe you’re super involved in your school. Pick one thing and green that. It’s too overwhelming if you try to do it all at once.

As Sophie explained it, when we’re communicating about green, come from a place of love not fear. It’s not something that should make people feel guilty. We should never do this. It’s just about caring and coming from a point of loving yourself, your life, your kids, and the planet. If you come from that point of view, you don’t do it because you have to or someone is telling you to, but because you want to.

And that whole post is overwhelming. Can I do all of it? Nope. Can I do half of it? Probably not. Can I make fifty better decisions here and there? Absolutely. And that's what I'm going to focus on. You can, too. In all, I found her talk incredibly informative and inspiring, although it really opens my eyes up to how much more work I need to do - like that vacuuming around my console to get rid of the radiation building up in the dust around it!

For more information, visit Sophie Uliano's website here.

More Autism One posts to come. I've got almost 15 lectures, I think, and I'll be putting them up as I have the time to sort through my notes. I hope they are interesting or helpful for you. Please let me know your feedback - and be aware that I am posting the information from the presentation, with my opinions noted in places, not presenting what is 100% my opinion.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Great Translation With A Girl In Translation

I wrote a post last year inspired by A Girl In Translation, and this time around, I'm giving it an official review. I read the whole book again, and I am glad I did. It was just as engaging this time as it was before. Want to know why? Read my review on BlogHer here.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

How Does Your Engine Run?

I have been attending the Autism One Conference over the past few days. There are a ton of really great sessions, and the interesting thing to me is that the information doesn't just apply to autistic kids - or in some cases just to kids at all. I have come away with so many things to think about and tactics to use with myself and with both the wee ones.

This is the first of my posts on many sessions. This was the presentation by Mary Sue Williams, OTR/L and Sherry Shellengerger, OTR/L on their "How Does Your Engine Run?" and The Alert Program. More information can be found on their website The Alert Program by Therapy Works, Inc.

We all need to be regulated to effectively navigate our world. That holds true whether we have special needs, like Mister Man, or whether we are completely neurotypical (or “normal” to the rest of the world). Every day we do things that helps us regulate ourselves so that we’re in the right frame of mind to function. And when we don’t… we aren’t functioning well.

Have a habit of chewing on straws? Do you tap your feet when you’re bored? When you talk on the phone, do you doodle on paper? Or maybe you twirl your hair? Or are you someone who takes a bath or a long walk when you need to calm down? All of those are things that we do to self-regulate. The difference between what we “normal” people do and what those on the spectrum do is that they do it “longer and stronger,” according to Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger who presented on “How Does Your Engine Run?” The Alert Program and Autism earlier today.

The two therapists presented on their “How Your Engine Runs” program and self-regulation strategies. I found it very interesting and – once again – applicable to so many people beyond just those on the autism spectrum. We do all need to be self-regulated, and that level of awareness or arousal varies based on what we’re doing at the time. If we think about it, our energy levels are very different at bedtime than they are if we just finished eating a big lunch versus being a kid coming in from recess versus sitting down to work. And our energy levels aren’t always where they need to be to successfully do what we need to do. Have you ever been to a football game after having been up way too late the night before? Our engines aren’t running nearly high enough for what’s appropriate in that situation. Or what about when we’ve drunk a few too many cups of coffee and need to sit down in a yoga class and meditate – our engines aren’t running low enough there.

The idea is that we all have engines, and they can run at different speeds. And we need different speeds for different situations, but they don’t always match up with what we need them to, nor do they always match with others in our environment. Picture that teacher who just finished a huge lunch having to corral the children who are coming in from playing at recess. The teacher’s engine is likely going to be running too low for where it needs to be, and the children’s engines are going to be revving far too high after their fun running around and playing. And the mismatch there is likely to lead to a not exactly optimal classroom situation until they get closer to where they need to be.

The ability to understand where all our engines are running – us as parents and those of our children, whether they are neurotypical or not – is sort of important in having successful interactions with others and functioning within our environment. Fortunately, the two therapists also presented several ways to help get us all self-regulating better.
So what is self-regulation? Essentially, it’s the ability to sustain or maintain and change a level of alertness appropriately for a task or situation. When you think of a high state of alertness, you think of someone who is high or wild or out of control. Someone who has a low state of alertness isn’t necessarily someone who needs more sleep but someone who still looks lethargic, droopy, or like a couch potato. The optimal state of alertness is where we are alert, focused, and attentive. And yes, that optimal state is different for different situations – again, picture yoga and that football game.

The Alert Program from Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger uses an engine analogy to help kids attain an optimal state for learning attention and behavior. When they’re in a high state, it’s hard to remember to follow the rules. We all have engines; some of us are just need more help changing gears.

To help children tell us where their motors are and to help them understand what it means to them, there are different ways to explain it rather than just high, low and just right. Some children are good with sounds (Whoo! for running high, for example). You can also use colors as defined by children where red might be running high and green being just right. You can use Winnie the Pooh as a just right and Tigger as a high and Eeyore as the low engine. Or you can find something that is a special interest to them like dinosaurs or Star Wars – anything that will help them understand the concept. For some children, even this is too abstract, however. For them, you can try something more concrete like feeling how quickly your heart is beating. There are, also, some children who can’t understand even that in which case you can simply use the analogy with the adults in the situation – parents communicating with each other or between the parents and teachers sharing in a spiral notebook to help everyone understand how the child’s engine has been and help them understand how the child is doing and why.

A child who tends to have a high or a low engine will both have issues, though it obviously manifests itself differently. They aren’t in just one place on the engine spectrum, however. It will fluctuate throughout the day. Though it may always be low, sometimes it is a little higher or a little lower. Either way, it is hard to learn when our engines are running too high or too low.

For families, it’s really important to figure out the times of day when there are mismatches in engines – the times when Mom’s engine is running low and the kids’ engines are running high and the like. That’s when it’s even more important to get everyone to the just right point. That means Mom, too.

Being alert isn’t just “paying attention” the way our teachers told us in school. By second or third grade, we figured out that we could put our eyes on our teacher and not really be paying attention – instead we can look at them and think about something else entirely with our mind wandering. Or we could be focused on the teacher and absorbing the information while looking at our desks and doodling – because the doodling helps us to self-regulate and get our engine into the just right place to be able to learn. It isn’t about what how we get to learning always but the fact that we’ve found a way to allow us to focus enough to learn. We really want to watch our level of alertness at the beginning and the end of each activity and at transition times to make sure that we’re in the just right place – and that our children are.

The remainder of the session focused on how to get to the just right point. The theory? “When in doubt, do heavy work – pushing, pulling, tugging, or towing.” It works when our engines are high or when they’re low. We did an exercise to get us there, especially since this session happened right after lunch and our engines were starting to run low. We put our hands together in a prayer position and pushed hard, then relaxed twice. Then we cupped our hands together and pulled apart before relaxing twice. We put our hands behind our heads and leaned our heads back to stretch before putting our elbows together and looking down to stretch that way. We placed our hands over our heads and shook them, then shook each leg. The difference in our alertness was impressive. It didn’t last the whole rest of the presentation, but it was amazing to see how much of an impact it caused. And this is a simple thing that we can do – or that our kids can do.

My other favorite exercise was the shake exercise. I can see Mister Man really enjoying this one, as it’s a bit silly, but it worked even better than the previous one for getting us to the just right place – again this works whether our engines are running high or running low. They called it the shakes jar. Pretend like you’re holding a jar in your hands. Take a deep breath and blow it into your jar, which turns on the shaking. Shake it over your head. Then put the shakes into your head and shake your head. Pull the shakes out and back into your hands. Proceed to put the shakes in your shoulders, arms, hands, face, knees, feet, and the like before taking another deep breath at the last with the jar in your hands and blowing the shakes out of the jar. The deep breaths at the beginning and the end make a difference, so don’t forget to do those. Our posture changed, we were more alert, and it was far easier to listen.

Another example of heavy work that can be done while sitting is one I may have Mister Man work on, as he can do it himself at school – or out. You simply place your hand on your knee, then push up with your knee and down with your hand. Then do the same with your other knee and hand. After that, place one foot atop the other, pushing up with the bottom foot and down with the top foot. Reverse this, and you’re done. It’s nearly invisible to others and something that can be done without disrupting the class. I love it!

Studies have been done on this, and heavy work has been found effective to assist in self-regulation, changing tasks smoothly, organizing themselves, and more. So why does it work to use heavy work? The number one job of the brain is to keep us alive and safe. If it sees danger, there is almost an unconscious reaction in the middle part of our brain which decides if it needs to pay attention to the alert or ignore it. If it decides this is a valid threat, it will send messages to other parts of the brain and then to the autonomic nervous system – making our hearts beat faster, sweat, dilate our eyes, create shallow, upper chest breathing, change our skin color, etc. Our bodies go not just into fight or flight mode – the most common two responses we think of – but also potentially into fright mode, which is where we freeze like a deer in headlights. What we think is happening is that there are people who simply have an overactive sensitivity to this system. When they are bumped lightly, as in line at school when someone doesn’t stop in time behind them, they punch the person behind them. They can’t tell the teacher why they did it because it was an almost unconscious fight response, not a thought process. That isn’t to say that children don’t punch others or act out for other reasons, but for many, this is the fight, flight or fright response kicking into gear – or overgear, as the case may be.

All team members need to recognize that if we can stimulate the back part of the brain, it will send a message to the rest of the brain that everything is ok. And we do this with bottom up self-regulation, which is where the heavy work comes in. When we carry a heavy box of books or push a wheelchair or a cart with extra weight on it, then we’ve sent messages that everything is ok to our brain through this heavy work – and we’re in that just right place with our engine – and we are less likely to hit someone if we get unexpected sensory information.

The fight or flight response is typically not too subtle and easy for us to see. The fright response is easier to miss, as are the more subtle flight or fight responses. When a child is told that he needs to finger paint but has sensory issues, he may ask to go to the bathroom or point out a crack that needs to be fixed, so he has to go get a custodian to do that. Or he may react with anger (fight) saying, “No! This is stupid!” or he may do the activity but be in a fright reaction where he just starts crying during the activity. We can also sometimes see the reactions in the changes in their tones of voice. When a child uses a lower tone of voice or a growl, that may be a signal that they’re having a fight reaction. Or they may use a might higher or thinner voice that is leading to a flight response. If we can capture these before they go into the higher response and get them to re-regulate, that’s the ideal. Our aim is to be a detective to figure out what may have brought on this initial response so that we can assuage it for the next time or help them work through it this time – or both.

Top down self-regulation is what we typically ask kids to do. We tell them to think through it: if you don’t finish your work in time, we can’t go on the field trip. We make them remember constantly that they have to calm down to be able to do X, which is mentally exhausting to do all day long. Ideally, we want to use both top down and bottom up regulation at the same time so that they understand the consequences of their actions (the top down) while being able to effectively regulate themselves (bottom up) to be able to accomplish the necessary tasks. How do we do this? Ask the child to do some heavy work and explain that this will help them get their work done because they need to get it done in time to be able to go on the field trip.

So how do we set ourselves and our nervous systems up for success? And by “we” I do mean all of us, not just our kids or just our special needs kids. We need to encourage movement breaks for self-regulation – all of us. And when we’re asked to memorize and then access information, like in school where we have to pull all that together, it helps to use our mouths to self-regulate. We may drink tea or chew on straws or suck on hard candy or chew gum or something else. Finding the effective method for you – and your children – is key. And it may not always be the mouth that is the effective heavy work to re-regulate. It may be another method.

Some people need to move. It may be pacing, jiggling a foot, rocking in a chair or something else. Many children want to do well in school but find it hard to sit still for that long. They look for something that will help them attend but often gets misinterpreted. Touch is another self-regulator. We all have our favorite clothing that makes us feel comfortable or our favorite couches or blankies (mostly for little kids though, right?) that keep us centered. There are visuals that can work, too, from natural light to piles on a desk or a clear desk. It will vary by person, and that’s ok. Sound is another factor in our regulation – from fire alarms to classical music to complete quiet. They all put us in a different place. Perhaps when we’re doing something familiar and comfortable, we can have more sound. When we’re trying something new or more challenging, we may need complete silence to be in the just right place to allow us to focus.

There are certain things we do every morning to get us up and going and also to get us through the day. Think about all your different routines and tactics to get ourselves running higher or lower, as the moment requires. We don’t want to stop these behaviors if they are our (or our child’s) best attempt to attend to the task at hand. If they are walking around and fiddling, do they remember the story you’re telling them or not? Sometimes we have to do a little detective work to figure out what works for our children, as everyone is different.

Breath also supports our self-regulation. I really liked the phrase “When I feel upset, I can blow until I feel just right.” It’s a way of using deep breathing to self-regulate. I’ve tried in the past explaining the deep breathing philosophy to Mister Man, but it’s a challenge for him to understand how to do the deep breathing. The therapists showed us how to pretend to be smelling a flower (with a really deep breath, holding the “flower” in front of us) and then blowing out a candle (with a single finger held in front of our mouths to simulate the candle). I can see that being an easier concept for Mister Man and something that he could more easily get.

We all have engines, and we all self-regulate. Our kids just do it bigger, stronger, harder, etc. We all do it to some degree though, and communicating this helps everyone understand and takes away the shame and the stigma. We’re all doing it. We just don’t talk about it.

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It S'Not A Problem

Little Miss has been picking her nose a lot lately. I'm guessing the continual change in seasons in Chicago from winter to summer to winter to summer and back again is wreaking a little havoc on her poor sinuses, along with ninety-nine percent of the population around here.

Nonetheless, while I can ignore it to some degree (thankfully, she isn't a booger eater) or remind her gently when I see her, my mom is repulsed by it and is willing to try any tactic she can to get Little Miss to stop.

Yesterday's attempt:

Little Miss, my mother wheedled in a charming voice. How will you ever get a boyfriend if you pick your nose like that?

(Aside: because a five year old needs to worry about getting a boyfriend? But that's another topic to discuss with my mother later. Let's not pressure her about her worth as a person as measured by her relationship status, please.)

But, Grandma, she looked up at my mom oh-so-matter-of-factly, it's ok. Paul (not his real name) picks his nose, too!

Foiled again.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Well, At Least You Know I'm Always Honest....

In addition to writing this blog, I also have my review blog (with ahem, some pretty decent giveaways with relatively simple methods of entry - go!). One of the things that's really important to me as a person, let alone as a review blogger, is to write honest reviews about the products and services I see. I don't want to be someone's mouthpiece, and I want people to - and hope that they do - trust me when I say something.

To that end, I point out the flaws. I don't simply pitch the press release but instead talk about my experiences and reactions to the products. Granted, I tend to accept only reviews from products I anticipate liking. And when there are issues, I bring them up to the company first to give them a chance to correct them. I'm not out to bash anyone, and a reivew that would be that is instead simply provided to the original company, not that it's been an issue often.

Book reviews fall into the same category for me, and I'll be doing more of them - outside the posts inspired by From Left to Write books - in the future as part of the BlogHer Book Club. My first published post with them on BlogHer is for A Jane Austen Education written by William Deresiewicz.

Like I said, now you all know I'm honest. Go read my review here to see why I say that.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Peanut Chicken

My recipes come from a variety of places. Some of my baking comes from my mom, but I have to admit that I've never picked up a recipe from my dad before. Until now, anyway.

He made us a great dinner a couple weeks ago, and we all loved it. Except ok for the wee ones who loved the first bite then decided it was too spicy. Altering it at home was easy enough, and they are now hooked. Yum!

Peanut Chicken

4 large chicken breasts, cut into bite sized chunks
1/2 c creamy peanut butter (I use the organic, no sugar added one)
2 T soy sauce
1/2 c chicken stock
1/3 c teriyaki sauce
1/2 red onion
1 T olive oil
1 c sugar snap peas
water chestnuts

Place the peanut butter, soy sauce, chicken stock, and teriyaki sauce in a bowl and mix it together. Especially if you're me and have your peanut butter in the fridge to keep it from separating, it may not look very pretty right about now.

Cut the onion into a small dice. Place it into a pan with the olive oil and saute until softened. Add the chicken and continue to cook until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside.

Add the peanut butter sauce, and turn it down to a simmer. Let it cook, stirring periodically, for twenty to thirty minutes. At the very end, add the sugar snap peas (and water chestnuts, if you have them). Stir until the veggies are warmed through, then serve over rice.

Ok, so we didn't have the peas this time around. Hush. It was still good.

Enjoy this and more with Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Blessed with Grace!

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Monday, May 23, 2011

There But For The Grace Of God

As a mom to two children, there are a lot of things I take for granted.

I take for granted that when we need a doctor or a hospital, there will be one available - and we can get there within minutes.

I take for granted that I can go to a grocery store at just about any hour of the day or night and can get whatever food and however much food I wish.

I take for granted that the wee ones will have school tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

I take for granted that when there is a need to use a rest room, no matter where we are, we can easily find a relatively clean one available for us.

I take for granted that as summer slowly grows upon us, the air conditioning in my house will keep us cool during the day and our ceiling fans will prevent us from sweltering at night.

I take for granted that when I open the door to my garage, my car will be there waiting for me to simply put a key in it to go - fully gassed up and in repair.

I take for granted so many things that make my life smooth and easy and spoiled. It isn't just for me but for the wee ones, too. I take for granted all the opportunities they have not just today but in the future - and I see nothing but happiness and hope for them as they grow up.

And I know how lucky I am to do so. I know there are so many other options that could be there for us - there but for the grace of God. I have friends who are losing their homes. I have friends who are being diagnosed with horrible illnesses. I have friends whose spouses are doing unspeakable things to them and their children. And then there are the lives I hear about - the wars and famine and pestilence and fear and worse - that are so far from me but yet touch my heart.

And for a moment, I don't take it for granted. For a moment, I am profoundly grateful once again to have everything I do. I am so very grateful for the opportunities and for the plenty that I have, knowing it could so easily be wiped away. I look at the devastation right now of Joplin, Mississippi, and I shiver, knowing the hair standing up on my arms last night as I looked out at the storms approaching my house was nothing compared to what the survivors there feel now.

And truly... there but for the grace of God go I.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of the book Tiny Sunbirds by Christie Watson as part of the From Left To Write book club. We don't do traditional reviews but instead write posts inspired by the book. I received no compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

They Know Themselves So Well

We recently went to visit some friends of mine who had twin babies. This was the first time the wee ones were able to meet the babies, and they were fascinated by them. They looked and peered at them in amazement, not believing that they could ever have been that small once.

Little Miss eventually got up enough courage to touch one of the babies' feet gingerly, but that was the extent of it. Mister Man was thrilled to know that he had lucked out and missed the opportunity to "assist" with a diaper change.

As we were getting ready to leave later in the afternoon, I asked the wee ones if they wanted a little brother or sister.

No! they both exclaimed at virtually the same time.

Really? I asked, somewhat curious and also amused. Why don't you want a baby brother or sister.

Because they don't know how to use the bathroom, Mister Man stated firmly, his eyes as wide as saucers.

And babies can't do very much, Little Miss added.

Oh, I see. And you like to do fun things, right? I asked, hoping for some more insight.

Uh-huh, was the only answer from Mister Man.

Besides, Mommy. Babies sleep a lot, and it's important to be quiet around them, Little Miss piped up.

Yeah, Mister Man agreed enthusiastically. And we're really not very good at being quiet.

Point taken. Not that there was the possibility of them having another sibling, but the logic of it all is perfect, I think.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Guess What, Mom! I'm Having A Party!

Mister Man arrived home on Tuesday in his usual flurry of activity. His backpack was quickly slung to the floor, his shoes kicked off and disappearing in different directions, and his backpack opened for unpacking. Then the wailing started.

Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom! I forgot my note. I lost my note!

What note, Sweetie? I asked, confusion on my face, hoping it wasn't something from the teacher.

My note, Mom! I left it in Mrs. C's car, he sniffled.

Oh, that's ok. We can call her, right? As soon as you can stop crying, I can call her and talk to her about getting it back, I intoned calmly.

The sniffling quickly slowed, then ceased. Mister Man took a deep breath, and I picked up my phone. Hey, Nancy, I said. Mister Man left a note in your car today. He's freaking out - any chance we can get it back from you at some point? What kind of a note was it, Mister Man? I asked to the side.

It was Post-It Notes, all stuck together, he explained eagerly.

My eyebrows raised, I repeated the new information. And he's saying that there are a bunch of names on it, too. Any luck? I heard rummaging in her car before the triumphant note in her voice told me she'd found it even before she announced the success.

As I got off the phone, I turned to Mister Man to try to figure out what this note could possibly be. Well, Mom, it's a list of everyone who wants to come and everyone who can come. Oh, and everyone who can't come but wants to come and everyone who doesn't want to come but can come, he blurted excitedly.

Come? Come to what? I took a deep breath, fearing to hear his answer.

My party, Mommy! My dinosaur party on Saturday, he explained, somewhat impatiently.

Your what? What dinosaur party? I could hear the panic in my voice already.

The party to make dinosaur eggs. I asked everyone in my class, and they can come on Saturday at 11am. My note shows everyone who can come, his explanation began to grow impatient.

Mister Man. You have tae kwon do on Saturday until 10:45 and won't be home until after 11. Little Miss has a soccer game from 10:30-11:30. How exactly are you supposed to have a party? And do you think maybe this is something you should talk to me about, I explained as calmly as I possibly could, mentally writing the email to the parents in his class explaining that there was no party on Saturday when we would not be home.

A little backstory.

On Monday, Mister Man was reading his Boy Scout magazine and came to an article on how to make dinosaur eggs. The boy wants to be a paleontologist, and his favorite birthday gifts have been the toy dinosaurs he "excavates" from a sand/clay "egg" with tiny little tools. When he'd asked if we had sand (yep, sandbox) and flour and salt and coffee grounds (well, sorta), I had agreed that he could at some point make a dinosaur egg, provided that Daddy agreed to save his coffee grounds.

Annnnnnnd enter autism.

I love that he had the social instincts to want to invite his friends. I love that he wanted to share this great thing with them - and that he knew to ask if they were interested in it or not. But the whole planning a party that he didn't talk to me about first because he didn't think through the whole thing, that I don't love so much.

After long explanations, I thought he understood that he could have a party at some point but that we'd need to plan it together.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. Mister Man, Little Miss, come on upstairs. It's time to get dressed for school, I called down - just like I do every morning.

But Mooooooom, I'm busy. I've only gotten through two and a half of these so far! Mister Man whined back up at me.

Call me suspicious, but I booked it down there to see what he was so hard at work on that he couldn't come upstairs to get ready for school. My suspicions were confirmed.

Note that he picked up on the fact that the party can't be at 11am. It's now at 11:03. And I believe he snuck a peek at the calendar to see what day might have fewer things going on, though he neglected to discuss this with me.

I will give him kudos that he (successfully) figured out how to divide his class evenly into four groups - since he thought he was going to use his four small dinosaurs that he'd excavated previously. The fact that he hadn't thought through the fact that his friends were probably each going to want one of their own or that the eggs wouldn't be dry by the time the children left never entered his mind.

I sighed again. And I checked the calendar. June 4 does work for us. And he's gotten his class so excited about it (to the point that his teachers have requested that I chat with him about how he can't talk about it during school anymore). And though he also told Little Miss that she could invite her whole class to the party (ummm 40 kids in my house making dino eggs, I'm not that much a saint), he now understands that she can invite one or two really good friends, but that's it.

And that email to the parents explaining the fiasco? Yeah, I'm about to hit send on that one. Then again, if he's going to plan a party without asking me, I suppose I'd rather have him do it in first grade than in high school!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Mister Man's Photos

Mister Man has had the opportunity to be a part of a photo "competition" that requires him to take photos that we need to narrow down to his favorite 25. In the course of a little over a week, I let him borrow my Sony A33 several times to take photos.

He took over 1,300 photos in that time. 1,300.

Many of them turned out like this:

But we also ended up with some like this.

I'm a proud mama.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Chocolate Martinis

Some things become a signature item. My husband has a few of those. Whenever it's pancake time, the wee ones look to him. When adults come over, they're beginning to look to him for something different.

He's our martini man. Chocolate martinis, to be specific. They're pretty much a staple at any party we throw now. Well, except for the Super Bowl, of course. It doesn't fit so well then.

But yum. Did I mention yum? Nah... a picture's worth a thousand words:

Chocolate Martini

5 parts half and half
1 part vodka
3 parts crème de cacao
3 parts Godiva liqueur
Hershey’s syrup for garnish

Place the half and half, vodka, crème de cacao, and Godiva in a shaker with ice (or two cups turned with openings facing each other to make a shaker if you don't have one).

Line your glass with chocolate syrup to make it look pretty, but use less than you think you'll need. Gravity helps you more than you anticipate here.

Shake the alcohol, and pour immediately into your glass. Serve and enjoy. If there are leftovers, save them. Warning: placing them into a camelback is dangerous. Just sayin'!

Enjoy this and more with Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Blessed with Grace!

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Little Miss Is Ummmm Growing Up?

We all know that our babies won't stay babies forever, much as we sometimes wish they would. Even our toddlers magically turn into big kids one day when we blink and those adorable little traits have been replaced by just as adorable but oh so different big kid stuff.

As they grow, we start to fear new things. It isn't about choking on grapes anymore or falling down the stairs - in general! - but now we worry about bullying at school, about sports and all sorts of peer pressure. In our heads, we have an idea of when some of these issues "should" rear their ugly heads. Granted, some take us by surprise, but for the most part we are at least aware of many of them.

Then there are those that jump up years before we think we have to worry about them. And those are the ones that probably freak us out the most. Read more about my new worry on The Chicago Moms here.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tea, Anyone?

I wrote the other day about my own little version of heaven. Or rather, I showed you the pictures from my heavenly experience. Though pictures are worth a thousand words, there's more to the story than just those pictures.

So of course, I told the story - on The Chicago Moms, who were the ones who sponsored the tea. Go check it out. Look for more blogging there from me again; I'm getting back on track!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - My View Of Heaven

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