Saturday, January 31, 2009

Legos and Dinos and Diggers - Oh My!!!

Today we took the kidlets to The Children's Museum. This was a bit of a spur of the moment, as we only casually discussed the plan last night and didn't say much about it this morning until I called our neighbors and asked if they would like to go as well.

Yesterday or today - no one seems really certain on this - was the opening day for a Legos exhibit. Either all of the adults in our party are just old or this exhibit wasn't all it was made out to be. Oh sure...they had people dressed up in outfits, there were big chunky Legos for the really small children to play with, and they had a few lifesize characters - such as a knight - made out of Legos. However, I guess I was expecting some really intricate and LARGE displays created from Legos and we just didn't see any.

After the Legos, we headed back down to the lower level to see the permanent dinosaur exhibit. No matter how many times we have gone to the museum, I never tire of seeing the dinosaurs. It simply fascinates me that some of the skeletal displays are made up primarily of real fossilized bones with only minimal pieces being bone casts to fill in the gaps. Reiss and Milla are still a bit young to get a whole lot out of the dinosaur exhibit itself, but there are areas for them to play, as seen in the photos above. In one area, they have vest-type dinosaur costumes for kids and adults of all sizes and dino eggs made of fabric to carry around and place in "nests." Reiss is wearing one of the vests in the photos above. By the way, the glasses he wears are adult safety glasses my husband purchased at Menard's. My husband wears glasses so Reiss thinks he has to wear glasses too. He is like that with almost all pieces of clothing. If Daddy is wearing khaki pants, Reiss wants to wear khaki pants. At any given time, including up until the time he goes to bed, Reiss wears his safety glasses. When he gets into bed, he does just like he sees my husband do with his glasses and he sets his safety glasses on the table by his bed. Anyhoo...I'm getting off track here. I just wanted to explain the safety glasses because we have gotten questions about them in public quite often.

When the kids grew tired of playing with the dinosaur costumes and eggs - or perhaps I should clarify: when I got tired of a certain (much bigger than Milla) little girl repeatedly stealing Milla's dino egg while her parents obliviously stared on in the other direction, we decided to move on to another exhibit. It was either that or clobber the little girl's father who reminded me of a wet dishrag. So we moved on.

Next was the "Scienceworks" area and the best part of today's visit, if I do say so. The Scienceworks exhibit has several different displays that are very title appropriate in that they teach children how things work through science. This particular area is fun for everyone. They have a water area where there are boats and rubber "rocks." Another area is a lot like a big sandbox except for the fact that it is filled with mulch, shovels, and a digger that children can sit on and dig around in the mulch. Reiss especially liked this area because he loves any kind of truck or construction equipment or anything that my husband would refer to as "manly." Reiss dug around in the mulch for quite some time. Milla started fussing and wanted to nurse. I was very reluctant to whip out my breast in that area because Milla is one to try and flash the world my goods. Ultimately, Milla won and I sat there chatting with my neighbor with Milla lying across my lap, me hoping there were no peeping tom 8-year-olds trying to catch a peek, and Reiss trying to dig his way to China or South Africa or probably anywhere that is warmer than it was today in our little section of the world.

Eventually digging in the mulch lost its appeal for Reiss and Milla was "over it" as I always say when she is fussing and about to have a let-me-take-a-nap-or-you're-gonna-regret-being-in-public-with-me kind of meltdown so we all headed for the exit. We all placed bets on how quickly the kids would fall asleep (I said before we got out of the parking garage but in reality, Milla was asleep before we even made it to the truck and Reiss not long after getting strapped in his carseat.) and said good-bye to our neighbors since we were parked in different sections of the garage.

All in all, I think the kids had a great time. We were all exhausted and ready to get home. I was proud of myself and gave myself a mental pat on the back for not tackling the dino egg thief's dad. We had a great day!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Did Ya' Go to School?

"Did ya' go to school?"

This is Reiss's new saying. It could be for this week. It could be for this month - who knows. Even on days like today when he did not go to school, there were times when just out of the blue he would get a big smile on his face and ask me, "Did ya' go to school?" He means that he went to school but, as is the case with many children with autism, he has what is called "pronomial confusion." It's when a child gets his or her pronouns like "I" and "you" mixed up. Because we have been asking him for the last few days, "Did you go to school?" he says it back to us, rather than saying, "I went to school."

With two days of developmental preschool under his belt, I think Reiss is making a very good transition into a more structured setting than what I am able to provide here at home on some days. Although he did cry both days this week, I am told by his teachers that it was not for very long and that almost all children go through this because it is a new environment and they have to adjust.

I would like to report that I have photos of the big first day of school, but being the schlep that I am, it was only after I got everything all loaded up, the kids all buckled in their carseats, and the SUV out of the garage, down the driveway and turned around (we live on a cul-de-sac), that I remembered that I should have brought the camera to record the moment. By then, I was scared to death that we were going to be late and that just was not the impression I wanted to leave with Reiss's teachers on his very first day. Now I'm chalking it up as it just wasn't meant to be and that the photo of Reiss's real first day of school should be when he shows up to mainstream (as in, not developmental) kindergarten. I can hope.....and I do have confidence that he can still be mainstreamed - or even homeschooled....but maybe this is where I should slow down so as to not get too far ahead of myself.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Live and Learn, Right?

I know it sounds cliche but if we didn't live and learn, we would never grow. Today's lesson was something that should have been so simple that I probably should have known I was making a mistake before I even tried. An old pro at the game of GFCF living probably would have scoffed simply at the notion of what I did. Not me, I have to believe things will work the way I want them to work. Just call me stubborn.

The plan was to make chocolate chip cookies - the gluten-free and casein-free kind, of course. Like all good cooks do prior to measuring and mixing, I was getting all my ingredients out and arranged in order of use in the recipe. It was at this time that I discovered I was out of sweet rice flour, a common ingredient in GFCF baking and one called for in my favorite GFCF chocolate chip cookie recipe. I stewed over this for awhile knowing that all the snow falling outside would most likely prevent me from getting out after naptime was over. But then, I had a brilliant idea. And I use the word "brilliant" very loosely because, as you will see, the idea wasn't so brilliant after all.

It occured to me that the reason companies like Bob's Red Mill make gluten-free all-purpose flour mixtures is so that those of us eating this way can take the easy way out sometimes just like regular folks and not have to mix thirty-two different flours just to get a flour mix that will produce an end result somewhat resembling it's gluten-loaded counterpart. So my brilliant idea was to substitute a regular recipe for chocolate chip cookies (I was using the one on a bag of regular chocolate chips that are still hanging around here until I can "let go.") in for the GFCF version I normally use. I would then substitute Bob's Red Mill gluten free all purpose flour mixture instead of the flour called for in the recipe. The butter sticks would be replaced with vegan sticks and the chocolate chips with a bag of Enjoy Life chocolate chips. By the way, LOVE those! They are one of the few things I have found that I honestly cannot taste a difference between the regular version (with casein) and those.

Okay, so I've got my recipe ready, my ingredients all set out, measuring cups and spoons ready to go, and the oven preheating. So now I begin....

I put all the flour replacement mixture and dry ingredients together. Then I begin "creaming" the vegan butter replacement sticks, sugars, and gluten-free vanilla (which, by the way, costs $11.49 for 2 ounces! Someone PLEASE tell me there's a better way!). Everything is going fine until the mixture starts to come together....only it's not really coming together. It's mixed but it looks like, well, like when you've made an alfredo sauce and you've cooked it too long and it "broke." No problem, this is only the first step so I keep marching on.

Next, I add the eggs. Hey, now my mixture is looking a bit better and more like what I'm used to from making cookies the old way. With three steps, I add the dry ingredients mixture into the creamed butter, sugars, and eggs. This stuff is looking better all the time. By the time I get the flour mixture all blended in and the chocolate chips added, I have just enough time to get enough dough dropped on my pan to make the first batch and clean things up before the oven beeps.

Everything gets cleaned up, the oven beeps, the cookies go in the oven, and I'm loving this home stretch period. It's the time when you know in a few short minutes you will be stuffing your face with cookies. Seven minutes pass and I take a peek in the oven. Unfortunately, at the very same time my mouth was watering in anticipation of a chocolate chip cookie pigout session, I realized my brilliant idea wasn't brilliant at all. I opened the oven door to see the flattest, most pathetic looking chocolate chip cookies probably ever made. Just by looking I could tell they weren't done yet so I still wasn't losing hope. Two minutes later...I open the oven door again. Now the edges of the cookies had migrated so far from their original centerings that some of them had fused together to form cookie amoebae - but they looked ready to come out.

As I always do with cookies, I let them set on the pan for a good minute or two before trying to remove them with a spatula for transferring to a wire rack for cooling. No go, these cookies were still too soft. Another two minutes go by and I try again. Another no go. So here is where my next idea comes and this one was actually pretty good as it turns out. Okay, a little background first: I have this thing about baking cookies directly on a cookie sheet, as in, I don't do it. Yes, I'm a snob. Yes, I use parchment paper just about every time I bake any kind of cookie or pastry. So anyhoo, my idea is to remove the whole piece of paper with cookies intact and place it on the wire rack to cool. I do it successfully and then comes the question of how to cook the rest of the dough. Trashing almost an entire batch of cookie dough in any instance would be a travesty but trashing a batch of dough made with GFCF ingredients would be simply unconscionable considering the cost.

Without a piece of parchment paper to cover my cookie sheet, I am left with a perfectly clean pan to put back in the cabinet OR dump the entire batch of cookie dough on. So that's exactly what I do. I pop it in the oven, set the timer for fifteen minutes, go in the other room and plop out my breast for DD who still breastfeeds, and I wait.

BEEP! The timer goes off. I get the pan out and what sits before me is one of the best-looking pans of "(Not so)Tollhouse Pan Cookies" I've ever made. Being the eager taste-tester I am, I immediately cut off a square to find that they taste as good as they look. I think even a hardcore cookie snob would have been hard-pressed to to know these were GFCF had they not been forewarned.

Lesson learned: There's a good reason so many GFCF cookbooks have recipes calling for common GFCF ingredients to duplicate regular recipes, rather than people using GFCF mixes in non-GFCF-adapted recipes - the results just won't be the same. Were these cookies good? Yes. Would I make them like this again? Not in a million years. Will I use my favorite GFCF chocolate chip cookie recipe the next time? Yes. And if I happen to be setting my ingredients out to make them and find I am out of something, I will take that as my clue that I just wasn't meant to eat chocolate chip cookies that day.

By the way, the GFCF recipe I mentioned that is my favorite is called "The BEST GF Chocolate Chip Cookies" and is found in Special Diets for Special Kids by Lisa Lewis.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Developmental Preschool

It's sometimes funny how autism can throw a wrench into things. For example, for quite some time I have thought maybe homeschooling might be the way I would like for my children to receive an education. Well, hopefully, that's still not out of the question but I do wonder on most days how I will educate a child in my home with so many special needs. I mean, if it takes professionals who are college-degreed and experienced in the field of special education a good amount of time to figure out what "clicks" for a child with autism, then how in the world am I ever going to figure it all out? That's not discounting myself as a dummy, it's just the reality of things. Sure, I have two college degrees but in totally unrelated fields and I don't use either of them. Parents who homeschool typical (not derogatory, this is how parents of children with autism refer to children without autism) children run into extreme obstacles sometimes. Throw autism into the mix and it seems like the perfect recipe for a "child left behind."

Enough about me wondering whether or not the future will turn out how I want for it to turn out. The reality right now is that Reiss has qualified to attend developmental preschool through the public school system in our area. He will receive speech therapy and social skills therapy. Oh, and I must add, not a nanosecond too soon on the social skills therapy. The sooner he understands that "poke her in the eye" is not a socially acceptable way to preface an interaction with another child, the better!

In addition to the speech and social skills therapy, Reiss will also be watched by the physical and occupational therapists who come in to work with other children. If they feel he needs either service, they will recommend it to the school. It will be interesting to hear what they conclude regarding his needs in this area, as we have always felt that he is a bit "clumsy" - for lack of a better word.

Tomorrow is the big day for the little guy. He's been told he gets to start at the big boy school. I'm not really sure if he comprehends this but I know he is looking forward to "goin' to see the fee-ish." (That's "fish," as in, goldfish for those who are not familiar with toddlerese.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lunch: Chicken nugget and baby spinach wrappers!!!

Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit odd but when you're trying to feed a family a gluten-free, casein-free diet and one of those family members leans a little on the picky side, you get creative. Sometimes that creativity comes out in the form of calling any sort of food cut lengthwise a "_____ fry" - i.e. "pear fry" As in, "Reiss, would you like a pear fry?" To which, he replies, "Do you wanna pear fry?" and I give him a piece of pear that somewhat resembles the shape of potato wedges like you'd get at some restaurants. At other times that creativity emerges as chicken nugget and baby spinach wrappers, as was the case today - and by accident I might add.

So for lunch I sent James and Reiss out to go get french fries from a local place that we know serves GFCF fries. The trip out and going to get the fries wasn't about me not wanting to cook - heck, I was already planning on making the chicken nuggets - it was all for Reiss. "Riding in the Daddy truck" is a big treat for the little guy since he does it so seldom since the arrival of little sis'. The plan was to send them out for fries while I made chicken nuggets from scratch with chicken breasts, GFCF corn flake crumbs, and my special seasoning which isn't mine at all, but a recipe I have stored away in an online cookbook. They would provide the fries, I was to make the chicken nuggets, and we'd all meet back here for lunch. Of course chicken nuggets and fries may serve as "lunch" for some but serving these two things alone does not constitute lunch for me, as doing so would break my number one rule for lunch/dinner meal service: Always serve something green. Today, "green" was organic baby spinach leaves that were an item in our Farm Fresh Delivery bin this week.

Getting Reiss to eat chicken or any sort of protein is often a battle of the wills between him and myself. Getting veggies into him is quite a lot easier than meeting our quota for daily protein, thank goodness. So it was here that Reiss' own creativity came out by his want for making some sort of sandwich out of the items on his plate: chicken nuggets, french fries, and baby spinach leaves. Not much to work with in the way of sandwich ingredients but alas, chicken nugget and baby spinach wrappers were born! Reiss simply took a piece of chicken cut from a larger nugget and wrapped it in the baby spinach. Now these were nothing like the lettuce wraps you may get from the large chain restaurants - they were better because their size was just one bite. It was a win-win situation. Reiss was having fun wrapping his little pieces of chicken in the baby spinach and his dad and I were happy because he was enjoying himself and getting a healthy lunch. Above all, we had a peaceful meal, which has not happened in a very long time around here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Craisins are out!!!

So after repeatedly reading in different sources about the risk of phenols, especially in "red" foods, you would think Craisins would be the last thing I would ever want to feed a child with autism-related behavioral issues, right? Wrong!, not me! I had to go and buy the three pound bag of them because they're an easy finger food and fabulously portable and - for those who know me - because they were a bargain! Well, no more! Craisins are banned from this household, much to my dismay because I really began to love them.

After a bit of casual and unscientific experimentation, I have found that when Reiss is not given Craisins we see fewer appearances of disaster child. When he is given Craisins, he thinks he has to wolf down several ounces of them like he's not eaten in three days and then not long after doing so, "Disaster Child" invariably emerges - and with a vengeance. We can go from having a pretty decent afternoon to Mommy wanting to drive the SUV into a retaining pond quicker than I can zip the tab closed on the reclosable bag of Craisins. In case you can't tell by the level of insanity I am caused by Disaster Child, suffice it to say that simply the notion of Disaster Child making an appearance sends fear through my whole body and rattles me at my core.

So much for bargains......I may have to find a more expensive portable toddler snack or whatever - anything to avoid a Disaster Child sighting. It ain't a bargain if you have to get (Fill in the blank: alcohol, massage, manicure, MNO, etc.) therapy just to recover from an afternoon of dealing with Disaster Child and keeping a restraint on yourself so as not to clobber the little guy.

I love you, Craisins, but now we must part ways and move on. It's for the best, or at least, for the sake of my sanity.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good News, Bad News

As part of the preliminary requirements for DS to see the nearest DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) doctor in our area, I attended a two hour informational seminar last night. The doctor, Dr. Mary Lou Hulseman, spoke for an hour and then took questions for the remainder of the time. Before going, honestly, I was harboring a bit of dread. Our son is already on a gluten-free and casein-free diet - as are all of us in our home - so I really did not look forward to sitting through an hour of listening to someone speak about something we have already put into practice. However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about much more than just the diet and supplements used in the DAN! protocol. Dr. Mary Lou spoke of treatments I've never even heard of used in upping the defenses in autism patients' immune systems.

All that is the good for the bad. Because there are only four (soon to be five) DAN! caregivers in the entire state of Indiana, one can only imagine the waiting list to get in to see any of these providers. Today I called for an initial appointment with Dr. Mary Lou and had to leave a message. A few hours later my call was returned, but only to inform me that the first available appointment is in October!!! Basically, we're on our own until then.

My part-time job continues: finding out everything I can about GFCF and supplementation for children with autism.