Gretchen Schock shares her love of recipes, crafts and frugal living. She also speaks very opening about the challenges and triumphs of parenting a neurotypical child and a child on the Autism Spectrum. After a breast cancer scare in 2012, she decided to say goodbye to her nightly glasses of Chardonnay. It was time to get sober and live life with eyes wide open! The CocktailMom name remains, however with a new focus on healthy and authentic living.


Halloween Craft for Kids- Spiders and Web

This is a wonderful craft that is easy and really fun to do.
You'll need: embroidery hoops, embroidery floss, glue, pipe cleaners, egg carton, markers, goggly eyes and a hole punch.
Start by cutting the egg carton up into single egg holders. Have each child color the egg carton with markers to make their spider and then with a hole punch make two holes for the 4 pipe cleaners to pass through the body of the spider. Glue on the goggly eyes and your spider is complete.

Moving on to the web. Take the outer ring of the embroidery hoop off and have the kids wrap embroidery floss around the hoop making a pattern as they go. This is a lot of fun and each of my yoga kids got really quiet to concentrate on the task. When they are finished making the web, tie the final end to the hoop and place the outer ring of the hoop securely on, this will hold the floss in place.

Put a final hole punch in the spider to secure a piece of floss through so that you can tie it to the hoop, Hang the hoop on your wall with the spider dangling down.
This is a great craft for Kindergarten to fourth grade students.
Happy Halloween!


Carrot and Beet Side Dish

This is a wonderful side dish that is perfect for all types of diets! It's vegetarian, gluten free, vegan and RAW.
Simply shave a few carrots and beets together in a bowl and drizzle with oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Simple and the perfect side dish to bring to your next diner party.


Paper Plate Magnet Maze

When I saw this on I knew it would be a huge hit for my yoga kids. In yoga class we often talk about how we move our bodies and our connection to other people. A game that I use with them in class is to pretend that our feet and hands are magnets and you have to connect to other students like magnets do in various yoga poses. It's so interesting to see their minds busy at work thinking how magnets click together.

I printed out the maze template and had each child color their maze with colored pencils and choose between the rabbit or the spaceship. We then glued the maze to a paper plate. Before we began the activity I hot glued magnets to 12 inch dowel rods. And then glued the magnet to their rabbit or spaceship. The kids loved seeing the magnets react and moving their rabbit/spaceship through the maze.

After we finished the craft the rest of the afternoon was spent trying to figure out what on the playground is magnetic and what isn't. This is a great craft for ages Kindergarten through Second grade. Minimal mess and LOTS of fun!


Chocolate Tasting

This past summer we went on vacation with my wife's family to the beach and had a fabulous time! I wanted to surprise everyone with a special dessert night- a chocolate tasting!

I decided that I wanted to do a blind tasting for the adults and the kids separately. For the adults I purchased six, various brands of chocolate bars that were truly unique. The kind of chocolate bars that I would never purchase for myself because I deem them too expensive or so unusual that I don't know if I want to commit to eating an entire bar. Among them were peanut butter and banana, orange peel, candied rose petals, spicy red peppers and quinoa!

I cut each bar into bit sized pieces and placed on a cutting board with a number next to it. We sat around the table and tried a bite of each chocolate one at a time, everyone tried to guess what it was that was unique about that chocolate bar, what flavor was standing out to them and which one was the best. The overall process took some time but it was a lot of fun to hear the unique ideas of ingredients and made for some interesting conversation. We made sure to drink water or wine between each numbered piece of chocolate to cleanse our palates.

For the kids chocolate tasting I purchased three different brands of milk chocolate that happened to be made in various locations around the world. A Hershey's bar from the United States, Cadbury from London and an Israel milk chocolate bar. For the kids they tried a bite of each chocolate bar and then voted on which one tasted the best.

Try hosting a chocolate bar tasting with your family this holiday season and see what flavor is crowned the winner!


Review: Benjamin Moore Chalkboard Paint

We recently bought a house and converted the basement into a yoga studio. Previously I traveled to various locations to teach yoga and now I just have to walk down a few steps in my home. It's glorious! I wanted the studio to be light and bright and a place where both kids and adults enjoyed coming to and taking yoga classes.

The Yoga Studio Website:

Using the colors from the website and the Bee Yoga Fusion logo, I painted the far wall of the studio a dark pink with Benjamin Moore chalkboard paint. I anticipated it to take a lot of paint and over purchased but it's always best to have too much than not enough right? FYI: the paint only comes in quart size and this wall (roughly 8 feet x 6 feet) took two quarts.

Following the advice that I read from other bloggers I first applied the Benjamin Moore primer that was tinted to match the pink color that I chose. The chalkboard paint can be any color that you would like but darker colors work best in allowing the actual chalk to show up. After the primer I applied 5 coats of chalkboard paint. Allowing each coat to dry for several hours before reapplying. When the final coat was dry I allowed the paint to "cure", as per the directions on the can for three days. Before the initial use I took a piece of sidewalk chalk on the long side and rubbed it over the entire wall which several bloggers recommended to do as well.

The yoga kids are loving it! And the adults enjoy the quotes and words of inspiration that are posted before class. The wall is easy to clean with just a wet rag and looks great even when it is left blank. I think a chalkboard wall would be a wonderful addition to any kitchen or mudroom to write messages to various family members or to post to-do lists and grocery lists. The possibilities are endless!


Make your own Watermelon Roll

My wife LOVES Friendly's Wattamelon Roll, like it's her favorite dessert and the only thing she really wants to have on her birthday. The problem is that her birthday is in the middle of September and often times Friendly's only carries the Wattamelon Roll during the summer months. On her birthday I called three locations that were somewhat close to us and none of them had it in stock.

I thought to myself…it can't be that hard to make!

And it wasn't.

I purchased a container of lime sorbet, two containers of raspberry sorbet and mini chocolate chips. The hardest part of making this dessert is timing the melting of the sorbet. I lined a circular pan with wax paper and began with scooping out the lime sorbet and putting it around the entire edge of the pan. Having the raspberry sorbet thawing and a mushy consistency I then placed it in a bowl and slowly poured in the mini chocolate chips. I just eyeballed it and added chips as I stirred until it was the desired look. Then I quickly scooped it into the center of the pan and finished off with sprinkling the top with a few more chocolate chips.

The result was fantastic! Everyone enjoyed it and my wife was so touched that I went to the trouble to recreate her favorite dessert.
I highly recommend trying it for your family, it's low in fat and a wonderful dessert for guests who have allergies to milk/soy or who are gluten free. Just be sure to purchase gluten free chocolate chips!


Easy Painting for Kids- Seasonal Fun

We are celebrating FALL! The sun goes down earlier and the scarves have come out of their hiding spot deep in the back of the closet. My yoga kids and I spent an afternoon creating fall tree paintings to celebrate the first day of fall.

I put various acrylic paints on paper plates for everyone to share in colors that we would see the leaves on east coast trees change into and with Q tips we painted beautiful trees by dabbing dots on the paper. I printed out the base of the tree on white paper using this free printable.

This is a great activity for kids from Kindergarten to third grade, it doesn't require a lot of prep and the mess is very minimal. Put a blanket on the ground and take your painting outside, it's a wonderful opportunity to talk to the kids about their favorite color of leaves.



Teach Kids How to Breathe During Hard Times

I teach a yoga class after school for elementary school aged children. Everyday I pick them up from their school and we go to the studio to practice yoga, create art and learn how to be more compassionate human beings.

Yesterday my yoga kids were talking about the latest safety procedure that they had to learn how to do that day, I immediately assumed it was a new way to do a fire drill. It’s the beginning of the school year and I know as a veteran mom to elementary school aged kids that the first month of school there are several practice runs of the fire drill so that everyone knows what to do in case there is ever a real fire. But no, it wasn’t a fire drill. It is called “Lockdown”. The kids told me how they have to “stay quiet, don’t move and go to the safe place”. I asked one of my first grade yoga students, “Why would they need everyone to go into “lockdown”? 
“If there was someone bad in the school, or outside of the school.”, she told me passionately, eyes wide with a bit of fear in her voice. 
“Someone bad?”, I asked.
“Ya know if someone came into the school with a gun and wanted to hurt people.”

And in that moment my heart broke a little. I wanted to wrap them all up in a hug and put them in a bubble of protection so that they wouldn’t ever have to practice “lockdown” or know that such horrible things happen in the world. 

My mom has told me stories about “duck and cover”, a safety procedure that was taught to children after the Cold War for fear of an atomic bomb, children would crawl under their desks to take cover. And now in 2014 we are teaching kids how to be safe if someone comes into their school with a gun. One of my kindergarten yoga kids told me how everyone in his class piled into the bathroom and it was dark and a tiny bit scary. Each child shared where their safe space was in their classroom; some were under the teacher’s desks, others in a closet. Another kindergartner told the group that his safe space was hiding behind backpacks. 

We talked about how it made them feel when they practiced “lockdown”. 
Everyone agreed on “sad”. Sad that a “bad person” felt so much hate in their heart to hurt other people. I told the kids that when they are in their safe place they should practice their “belly breathing”. At the end of every yoga class we lay on our backs in corpse pose (Savasana) and place our hands on our bellies and focus on our breathing. Inhaling on a count of three and exhaling on a count of three. The first grader that passionately told me about the meaning of lockdown smiles and says, “That’s a good idea Gretchen. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m mad at my brother too.”

So whether you are feeling scared, sad or really mad bring awareness to your breath and breathe in on a count of three or four and exhaling on a count of three or four. Letting the emotion pass through you while calming your mind.


Special Needs Brother

My wife recently remarked to me that she doesn't feel like our kids get excited about anything, that they don't show their excitement like other kids do. Her comment stuck with me for a few days. As I've been thinking about it and churning it around in my mind, I honestly had to agree with her. There have been several times, just in the last year, when I've been disappointed by their reaction to something. For example this past Christmas we surprised the boys with tickets to Legoland, Florida. We live in Maryland so this was a big gift that involved airfare and such. Both boys had been begging to go to Legoland for months, basically every time the Lego "magazine" arrived in our mailbox. (I use that term in quotes because if you've ever seen this so called literature that the company mails to my children for free...then you know that it is basically a glorified toy catalog.) 

I set up the iPhone on the bookshelf to secretly record their faces once they opened the package with the Legoland tickets and park map, hoping that their reaction would be as over the top happy as some of the videos I've seen on YouTube. They both barely cracked a smile. Instead they were full of questions about when we are going, for how long and then once the day arrived they were both happy to be there. Excited? Well let's just say that their "excited" isn't anywhere close to other children's excited.

And after further thought on my wife's recent remark to me about it, I've come to the conclusion that my youngest son has been looking up to his brother for the way in which to conduct himself emotionally. Almost all children do this, younger siblings look to the older sibling to interpret if something is a good idea, safe etc. Well my oldest son, Logan, is on the Autism Spectrum. And children on the Autism Spectrum have a great deal of difficulty appropriately expressing their emotions.

When Logan was around three years old I use to hold up flash cards at the dinner table that had pictures of various people expressing emotions. These were stock images that showed him what crying looked like, surprise, happy, thoughtful etc. Children on the Autism Spectrum don't naturally understand emotional facial reactions, it often times has to be learned.

So it shouldn't come to a surprise that those children then don't always express their own emotions as you or I would. Logan's "really happy" looks like a very toned down version of a nuerotypical child's "really happy". His emotional reactions aren't as extreme or as identifiable. And now I've realized that my younger son's emotional reactions are simply him imitating his autistic brother, not on purpose of course, it has just happened the way these things do within a family. Could this be a study for future research scientists? I think so. I wonder what else my younger son has learned how to do by watching his older brother and though he is not on the Autism Spectrum he might unintentionally act as though he is.
Have you ever encountered this between siblings where one child is special-needs and the other is not? What did you observe?


Raising a Compassionate Child

The guidance councilor at my boy's school pulled me aside and asked if my younger son, Zane, could participate in "Lunch Bunch" with one of his classmates. Lunch Bunch is for kids who have social goals on their IEP, Individualized Education Plan. The special-needs child and a few classmates can have lunch in one of the teacher's offices, typically the special education teacher's office or the guidance councilor's office to work on whatever the social goals might be for that child. It’s a relaxed environment for the special-needs child to learn how to have a conversation, take turns etc. My oldest son, Logan, who is on the Autism Spectrum, has been enjoying Lunch Bunch for two years now and I think it's been a wonderful tool to aide in the development of cultivating friendships for him. Every kid in his class wants to be chosen to have the special lunch and play with special toys while everyone else sits in the cafeteria.

I was honored that Zane was chosen and not the least bit surprised. He naturally gravitates towards other children on the Spectrum because, I think, they remind him of his brother. But I wanted Zane to choose whether or not he wanted to participate in Lunch Bunch. He lives and breathes life under the Autism umbrella and I didn’t want to force this on him.

While on a dog walk I decided to bring it up and ask him what he thought about participating in Lunch Bunch with this child from his class, Sam*. He seemed curious but wanted to know if he could invite some friends as well. I explained to him how Logan is the key kid for Lunch Bunch in his class and he gets to be the one who invites other kids and Sam is the key kid in his class. I went on to further explain that the good news is that Sam picked him to participate and that it's a special opportunity.

Zane was walking next to me and became silent; I could tell he was analyzing it in his mind. Trying to the change the subject I asked him who sat at his group of desks. He went through the names of all the kids telling little stories about each one. Sam was one of them. So I asked Zane, "How is Sam doing in school this year?"

"Not good. Yesterday he left early because he wouldn't get off the floor."

"What does the teacher do when Sam lays on the floor?"

"She taps him on the shoulder and then Sam grunted at her like this..." (He grunted softly to demonstrate)

"Oh, that's too bad. Did you know that Sam has a different kind of brain?"
"Like Logan?", he asked.

"Yeah, like Logan."
"That’s what I thought. But no one is there to help Sam like Ms. Drew does for Logan."
(Ms. Drew is Logan’s dedicated aide)
We walked for a bit longer in silence and then Zane said, "Do you think Sam would want to be my friend?"
"I think he would. He seems like a pretty cool kid. And I bet you guys have a lot in common."
"He just ignores me though."
"I think he's just processing everything that is going on, I’m sure he doesn't mean to ignore you."
"Just like Logan does sometimes."
"Yup, like Logan does."

I'm instantly reminded of what a compassionate child Zane is and how living under the Autism umbrella can be a pretty good thing after all. 

(* name of the child has been changed)


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