Monday, May 28, 2012


My good friend, Shawn, was born with a disability. If you ever met him though, it would be hard to tell. His personality and spirit for life far surpass his disability. In recognition of his upcoming birthday, rather than ask for gifts, he has set up a fund for Easter Seals Capper Foundation. His goal is to raise enough money to purchase 2 iPads with special software that is used to help treat individuals with autism. Please consider contributing to this very worthy cause. I'm honored to call Shawn my friend and I look forward to what he'll achieve next! Here is his story:

Shawn Bryant's 25th Birthday Giving Celebration

About Shawn
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy after being born 3 months early, my parents were told that I would live a very limited life if I lived throughout the night. However, with all of the prayers and resources that were available, I was able to break free from those limitations and challenge myself on levels that were originally seen as impossible.

The kid who was once deemed to be a human vegetable - is now a international speaker, college graduate, and intern for the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 112th Congress.

I believe because of the work of Easter Seals Capper Foundation, and those alike, many others can achieve great things.

Please help me celebrate a birthday that many believed would never come by making sure others like me have a chance to reach it themselves.

What am I giving money to?
The money raised in honor of my birthday would buy at least 2 iPads which have been monumental in the therapy of those with cognitive disabilities such as autism.

To see how awesome this gadget is, watch this video!

If that doesn't convince you, here are 10 reasons why iPads are so helpful in comparison to traditional materials:
10) Developers are constantly improving apps, so the apps can evolve with your client.

9) Regardless of the child’s age or ability level, the iPad can be accessible through voice or touch.

8) Apps can easily be incorporated into playing, reading, writing, spelling, grammar, songs and video.

7) Many apps offer free or ‘lite’ versions, so before a therapist makes a big purchase they can sample the program’s features then determine if it’s worth the money.

6 ) There are many apps that offer the ability to record a child’s productions to save for later comparison. With this option, this allows a person to do self-rating and go back to double-check their speech.

5) Parents can help their child participate in school lessons to reinforce education at home, and games and activities can draw in friends and classmates, eliminating isolation.

4) Apps that are skill-focused often make great tools for quick criterion-referenced assessments or dynamic assessments of a given skill, without needing to prepare lots of supplies ahead of time.

3) The data-tracking capabilities of app-compatible devices allow therapists to focus on the task at hand. You can then email the session data to the client’s caregivers or yourself to include in SOAP notes.

2) Apps can target apraxia, articulation, language, play skills, pragmatic skills, functional communication and more all in one device. No more lugging around 12 different sets of flashcards.

1) iPads are cool! Many people, children with autism, could care less to use scissors, paper and crayons and most of the time these end up on the floor. Children are simply more motivated by interacting with the iPad than paperandpencil activities

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Super Moon

Well, as many of you know, last night (May 5, 2012) the moon was the closest to the Earth as it will be all year. A few months ago I bought myself a nice, new DSLR (Canon Rebel T2i) and took it for a spin last night. Here's my contribution to the "Super Moon" pictures... Not to toot my own horn but... toot tooot!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

DIY Vanilla Extract

Until recently, I never realized that vanilla extract was simply vodka (or other high proof alcohol) and vanilla beans. D'oh! Once I saw the light, I decided I MUST make my own. I go through vanilla like crazy and the good stuff is just so expensive to buy.

I went out to Amazon and bought some really great premium vanilla beans. Yes, I got a half pound. I couldn't resist the fact that the more you bought, they cheaper they were. And really, you can never have too much vanilla! Then I went and bought some cute little bottles. Finally, I purchased some vodka. Any vodka will do, so I hear. I used a variety from a local distillery. You can actually make vanilla with pretty much any high proof alcohol. I've heard of people using bourbon, rum, vodka, etc.

Anyway, after I had gathered all of the necessary supplies, I set up a little assembly line to package my vanilla extract. First I split each bean down the center, cut them in half (so they'd fit in the bottles) and shoved them into the bottles. Then, using a small funnel, I filled each bottle with vodka. And last but not least, I screwed on the cap. It took all of about 5 minutes to complete! The standard ratio of vanilla bean to vodka seems to be about 3 beans per cup of vodka. Since my bottles were 4 ounces, I used 1.5 vanilla beans for each.

A wonderful blogger made some vanilla extract recently and was kind enough to share the printable for the labels she used. They are super cute and fit my bottles perfectly. I didn't have any sticky label paper at home, but my husband had some beer bottling labels that I used instead. Worked perfectly!

DIY Vanilla Extract
3 Vanilla Beans, split down the center
1 Cup Vodka (or other alcohol)

There really isn't much of a recipe to note here. It ultimately depends on the quantity you want to make. As long as you follow the ratio above, you'll be good. You could probably get away with using more vanilla for a greater concentration. Once bottled, they need to be left alone to "extract" for at least 6-8 weeks before they're ready to use.
I ended up making 8 of the 4 ounce bottles to give away as gifts. That resulted in 12 vanilla beans and 32 ounces of vodka. A liter bottle (~ 33oz) would work perfectly, if you can find that. The liquor store I went to only had 750 ml (~ 25oz) and 1.75 L (~ 60oz) bottles, so I went with the larger one. I assure you, the excess went to a good cause :)

These little guys got handed out as Christmas gifts and everybody loved them! Homemade is a simple, yet impressive DIY ingredient! Give it a try!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

DIY Taco Seasoning

Making your own ingredients is not only a great way to save money, it also allows you to tailor the ingredient to your tastes! One of the most common ingredients we make ourselves is Taco Seasoning. You can buy the little packets at the grocery store for $1 or so, depending on brand. However, with those prepackaged seasonings, you are typically getting far more sodium and other preservatives than necessary. If you have a well-stocked cabinet, you likely have all the spices to make your own seasoning on hand. This is the recipe I typically use for taco seasoning and it makes enough for around one pound of ground beef, or whatever meat you choose. Like I said before, customization is one of the key benefits to making your own ingredients. What I've listed below is the proportions and spices that I prefer, but feel free to make changes to fit your likes!

1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 ½ Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Sea Salt
1 Tsp Black Pepper
1/2 Tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 Tsp Paprika
1/4 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper
1/4 Tsp Onion Powder
1/4 Tsp Oregano
1/2 Cup water

All you do is toss all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. I toss the seasoning over the cooked beef and add 1/2 cup of water, then let it simmer until the liquid reduces a bit. Then it's ready to go! Super easy and delicious!