Saturday, March 16, 2013

Homemade Natural Coconut Bodywash (Update!)

After nearly 6 months, it's time to make a new batch of coconut body wash! This time, I took a trip to the Co-op to stock up on natural soap and vegetable glycerin. To see the differences between vegetable and the glycerin found in the band-aid aisle, read All Things O'Natural's post. Short version,  natural and healthier!

The recipe is the same in ingredient amounts and ratios as my original post Homemade Coconut Bodywash, just different products. 

Three bars of unscented natural soap (approximately 12 oz) at $1.79 each, cut up into small pieces. I prefer unscented so I can add whatever I want, but use any scent you like!

Dissolved and melted in 12 cups of boiling water. 

Add in 3 Tablespoons of vegetable glycerin. 
(This bottle was $9.99 at the Co-op, but can be found cheaper on Amazon)
Add in 3 Tablespoons of Coconut Oil.

Then add in your favorite essential oil or a mixture of oils, if you desire. I added about 10 drops of Peppermint and 15 drops of Lemon. 

Natural Coconut Bodywash
  • 12 cups water
  • 3 bars unscented natural soap (12 oz)
  • 3 Tablespoons Vegetable Glycerin 
  • 3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
Cut the soap into small pieces. In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil and melt the soap.  Add the Glycerin and Coconut oils. You can add about 20-25 drops of your favorite essential oils if you want a scented variety. Pour into jars or containers and let thicken overnight. Another alternative is to put it in the fridge or outside if it is cold. Makes 5 pint sized jars (approx. 80 oz). 

Another 6 months of clean! 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Happy Baking Mishaps: Almond Butter-Banana Cookies

I'm so thankful for Pinterest and the vast amounts of gluten/dairy free recipes, especially healthy "cookies" that I can grab and go before my blood sugar gets too low to stay one step ahead of the kids. One of my favorite recipes so far is the Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies by Cupcakes OMG!. As I looked at the recipe, I realized that I had only around 3/4 of almond butter instead of the 1 cup that was required. That was the first in the list of baking mishaps.

Thankfully, my style of cooking and (sometimes unsuccessfully) style of baking is very much improv and substitute based, influenced largely by my mother's cooking style. With a family of six whose schedules took them in all different directions, running to the store for the one missing ingredient was generally not practical. That's when the substituting skills came in.

To sum up: to make up for the lack of almond butter, I added a very ripe banana. I also didn't have any aluminum foil, parchment or wax paper to line the cookie pan. I did, however, have coconut oil! After all the other ingredients were mixed in and the cookies were spread on the coconut-oiled cookie sheet, I realized I had left out the honey. No need for panic! I figured the the sweetness of the banana would make up some of the sweetness, so I would just have to wait until the cookies came out to see how they tasted.

Makes 8 medium sized cookies. Obviously one was sacrificed for the greater good. 

They turned out great! More cake-like, less oily and crumbly than the cookies without the banana. They didn't require a lengthy "setting" time on the cookie sheet either.  As to the taste, I was pleasantly surprised. I'm not always in the mood for really sweet foods, especially for snacks, and always prefer the lessening the amount of added sugar. The chocolate chips add a bit more sweetness, making it perfect for me, almost like a lightly sweetened biscuit.

Almond Butter-Banana Cookies
Adapted from Cupcakes OMG!

  • 3/4 cup raw almond butter
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup dairy-free chips (or to taste--I get the Trader Joe's brand)
  • Approximately 1/2 Tablespoon coconut oil (or foil to line cookie sheet)
  • If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add 1/4 cup raw honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mash the ripened banana. Stir in the remaining ingredients. On a coconut-oiled or lined cookie sheet, scoop out batter to make around 8 medium sized cookies. Bake around 7-8 minutes (oven temperatures may vary). 

Delicious! I think I will continue to experiment with flavor combinations. Maybe add organic, juice-sweetened fruit spread instead of the chocolate chips. Maybe mix peanut butter and almond butter. Coconut flakes? Cinnamon? Lots of different possibilities! I would say it was a successful series of baking mishaps. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Children's Books for Therapy

After attending an inspiring training on play therapy last week, I have really been reexamining how I and my team conduct therapy with our clients. In the "high-energy" setting of daytreatment, it is easy to get focused primarily managing behaviors, attempting to scratch the surface of the paperwork pile, and essentially just try to get through the day without someone getting punched out or seriously physically injured. It seems like this focus increases in the winter months when the therapists are feeling the seasonal affect changes as well as the kids. It's not a great time.

After listening to Paris Goodyear-Brown's stories, techniques and tips on how to help clients succeed in treatment through play therapy, I had several realizations.

#1. I remembered why I am in this field. Therapy with kids is where I am drawn. It excites and inspires me.

#2. I have been letting the environment of my job have too much influence over how I conduct therapy with my clients. That needs to change!

#3. I have a multitude of skills that I bring to the table. For the purpose of this post, the focus will be on my organizing and planning abilities. I excel at both, to a point that if I lose sight of what my goal and purpose is with a particular client or group if my lists, sub-lists and sub-sub-lists are not current and put in some sort of meaningful order.

Being a therapist, especially in my setting, requires that I put on the following hats all in a given day (or on an hourly, or minute-to-minute basis): group and individual therapist, coach, nutritionist, life-skills teacher, social skills teacher, caregiver (this should never be the focus, but is occasionally necessary),  reading/writing teacher, conflict mediator, care coordinator, secretary, message carrier...the list goes on.

That is a very long list, and is reflective of my harried emotional state at the end of many days. Then I remembered a novel thing: planning! If I am a teacher of many different sorts, I should look at what teachers do after they go home at night. "Lesson" planning for group, individual sessions and skills work. I constantly walk a fine line of doing my job and my work leeching into every aspect of my life in an unhealthy way. My resolution, however, is the following: Only work on researching and planning for treatment, activities, etc at home. I really love doing this part, and there is not time during the day to do it at the office. Now, that means I must have a boundary around how much time I commit to this endeavor per day/week. I don't know what that is yet, but I will figure it out.

As part of my planning sessions, I spent part of this very snowy snow day (the first in a year and eight months of working at my job!) compiling a list of children's books with therapeutic topics to use in groups during our reading (therapy nerd term: bibliotherapy) day. During these days I read a book to the kids who then reflect on the message behind the topic and apply it to their current lives or situations. Sometimes the most they are aware of is that Dr. Seuss uses really weird words. But we persevere, and I use my overdeveloped thinking on the spot skills to relay that, "Yes, Dr. Seuss does use really weird words and pictures. What do you think people thought of him in a time that everything was "proper" and much more structured? It took a lot of courage to give his strong messages in a fun way!"...and on I go.

Although I can think on the spot rather quickly with no child the wiser, I prefer to have a structure in place. That structure is reflected in my list. I have a bunch more books at the office to add to this compilation, and hope to get all the Berenstain Bears books someday. I use the suggestion of ages 4 and up very generously. These books are just as much for me as my 9-12 year olds. I will be updating this list and adding more all the time. Please write suggestions of any books with therapeutic topics that you may have! I'm grateful for all the information I can get my hands on! I also have the PDF file of the book list (my techie skills are not enough to upload a PDF online). If you would like a copy, you can direct message me at my twitter account JillEHDamron with your email address. Happy reading!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Natural Homemade Body & Antibacterial Lotion

This Minnesota winter has been horrible for my skin! I developed eczema on my hands, which has never occurred. I had already been evaluating my usage of commercially made hand soaps and lotions, even from the Co-op. I also work with germ-incubators (a.k.a.: kids) 40 hours a week, and wash my hands a ridiculous number of times per day. I'm also steering away from using alcohol-based hand sanitizers because of the chemicals and the fact that they dry out my hands like no one's business.

So, I've already made my own non-toxic Homemade Laundry Soap and Homemade Coconut Bodywash, homemade natural deodorant  toothpaste, washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and switched to a locally made bar soap with moisturizing ingredients from the Co-Op. My latest homemade venture is lotion and antibacterial lotion for the office. My concoctions are inspired from Go Hippie Chic's coconut body butter and Jillee's antibacterial moisturizing lotion.

 Natural Coconut Oil Lotion

  • 8oz. or 1 cup of raw Shea Butter
  • 1/2 cup Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 cup Almond Oil
  • Essential Oil of Choice (I prefer a more natural scent, so I used around 5 drops of lavender essential oil to get a faint scent)

Shae Butter and Almond Oil from Amazon. Virgin Coconut Oil from natural food stores or Trader Joe's

In a double boiler, or glass bowl on top of a pot with a small amount of water at the bottom, melt the Shea Butter and Coconut Oil . Add the almond oil and let it sit. In Hippie Chic's post, she states that a Kitchen Aid mixer is the best way to get the whipped consistency after the oil has cooled enough to harden around the rim. I don't have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so by trial and error I used a hand mixer after leaving it out overnight (or put it in the fridge to speed up cooling process) when it had hardened throughout. It took about 5 minutes or so to get to the consistency that I wanted. A little goes a LONG way. 

The recipe made enough to fill a 16 oz upcycled peanut butter jar and the 4 oz recycled almond oil container. 

The almond oil container is for the antibacterial lotion. Add approximately 10 drops of Eucalyptus essential oil (used for both chest and nasal decongestion as well as for its antibacterial properties). Ta da! Your very own moisturizing, anti-ezcema, skin cracking, antibacterial lotion to ward off the germs. 

I'm really enjoying my journey to create a toxic free environment and lifestyle for my family and me, I hope that you do too!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gluten/Dairy Free: My Before & After Story

I'm going to take you back to the first 22 years of my eating life. I loved all things pasta, pizza, bread, pretzels, cookies, crackers, cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream. My mom taught us healthier eating habits when I was younger, so I knew the nutritional value of wheat over white bread, but that didn't stop me from eating two Wonderbread grilled cheese sandwiches with creamy Campbell's tomato soup when I talked my Grandma or dad into getting white bread at the store, or went to a friend's house. If I was sick, chicken noodle soup and Saltine crackers made me think I felt better. Peanut butter and jelly/honey sandwiches were my lunches 4 or 5 days out of the week. When I got back from swim practice, I would ravenously devour a big plate of spaghetti with meat sauce.

Can you guess which one is me? :)

As I got older, continued to swim and started working, I would take my staple lunches to the pool: crackers and cheese, PB& J,  pretzels, fish crackers, granola bars, the occasional fast food hamburger (because the chicken had always been revolting), fruit and baby carrots. Sometimes I would get wild and order a sub from a local restaurant. I know, look out. Needless to say, I ate foods that were both nostalgic, at the time delicious, and very much mimicked the standard American diet.

Racing with Stevens High Team at State, 2004

And I was sick. All the time. When I was younger, this translated into stomach aches, headaches, and a depleted immune system that gave me ear infections as an infant and left me susceptible to illness growing up. I would like to point out that anxiety issues had a lot to do with somatic symptoms, but I firmly believe that this was only part of the cause.  

 In my high school and college years, I had a feeling of almost "heaviness" in my body (though I never had a weight problem), a fuzzy head and nearly continuous issues with my digestive health. Probably the worst outward symptom that something was wrong inside my body was my moderate to severe acne that plagued my face beginning when I was 11 years old. 5 years of antibiotic treatments only suppressed the problem, and wrecked my immune system even further (acute bronchitis four times in a year is not normal for a 20 year old). I spent a ridiculous amount of money using prescription and over-the-counter products for my acne. Nothing worked.

Then one day, something amazing happened. My husband (then boyfriend) gave me a trip to the spa for my 23rd birthday! During my first ever facial, the esthetician commented on the placement of my most inflamed acne. I will never forget her words, "See this infammation around your mouth and chin? That's from a food allergy." I had never heard of such a thing! We talked about the most common food allergens, and I definitely knew casein (the protein in dairy products) was one. So I thought I would try cutting out one of the next likely causes: gluten.

But what is gluten and casein, and what are they in? They are the proteins in grain and dairy products, respectively. Gluten is what holds baked goods together. Come to find out, gluten and dairy are in almost every packaged/processed food. I set out researching all I could about gluten/casein sensitivity and intolerance (I had already been ruled out for Celiac Sprue, but testing for food allergies requires getting onto a specialist's lengthy waiting list and is not always reliable).  So, I did it the old-fashion way. Cut it out completely! I was so desperate to get better, I hardly cared that I wouldn't be able to go to a restaurant and order spaghetti or lasagna again (until some restaurants offered GF/DF options). It did throw me for a loop a little when I realized I would never be able to have the full experience of an all-American hamburger again, but I was convinced it was worth it.


And it was.

I recently read the quote by Kevin Trudeau, "Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel."   This was true for me. I thought the fuzziness, digestive issues, and acne was just how it was. I was so wrong.

My gluten and dairy-free (GF and DF or CF for casein-free) journey began. It involved finding out that packaged and processed gluten and dairy-free options were not much healthier, if at all, than their gluteny and caseiny counterparts because of the preservatives and additives that go into them. My journey involved finding out how great I felt if I ate naturally gluten-free and dairy-free foods like sweet potatoes, brown rice, almond milk and flour, etc. I really learned to read labels! I also learned how awful I feel after accidentally ingesting gluten or casein. When I don't, I feel great! Lots more energy, good digestive health, and only an expected mild breakout here and there.


I wanted to share this part of my life to continue to bring awareness to food intolerance and allergies (this awareness has greatly increased even over the last 3 years!), and to provide a backdrop to my discovered passion of green living, toxin-chemical free, chronic illnesses, holistic and natural medicine, the effects of food on the body and mind, and bringing awareness to the dangerous messages food companies are and are not saying. I want to share this knowledge for people who need support in beginning or continuing a gluten/dairy-free lifestyle, or a more natural, healthy lifestyle.

You can find copious amount of knowledge on Pinterest, including my own boards on healthy food and lifestyle choices including Eating Gluten and Dairy FreeLiving Gluten and Diary FreeHealthinessNatural Solutions and Natural Healing. There is a ton of information on the internet and in books. For just starting out gluten-free or allergen-free, I found a couple of helpful books:


I am an open book about my own eating habits, lifestyle and the knowledge I have accrued on food allergies/intolerance and healthy living, so don't hesitate! My goal is to write another blog detailing guidelines of gluten/dairy-free eating and symptoms of food intolerance to supplement this post.  For now, be mindful. Pay attention to how you feel and what you put in your body. It could be life changing! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

B.A.N. Emotional Reactivity

This topic has been on my mind for the last few weeks, but it was never more relevant for me than this week. It was a week of emotional ups and downs and some serious frustrations and disappointments. In the past, it has been so easy to either shove the emotions out of sight and out of mind, or to let it just all explode. Neither are helpful. Hence, this week's conversation starter: B.A.N. emotional reactivity.

Instead of listening to the same songs and talk shows on the radio over and over that can put me on edge before walking into work (NOT a good way to start the day anywhere, but especially not with EBD youth. That's just asking for it), I fished through my console for the CD's I bought at a mindfulness seminar last year with Mary NurrieStearns. I remembered that I liked her as a speaker, so I gave the CD a try to see if I could find anything at all helpful for that day. Oh, and I did.

Image courtesy of

What I found were ideas that I quickly wrote down and gave to my co-workers upon entering the building so I wouldn't forget them. I was pretty excited about these seemingly simple, but challenging concepts. The one that has been sticking with me for the past week is to B.A.N emotional reactivity (This is not how she presents the material, but I needed the acronym to have a chance at remembering the concept).




When you are facing an emotionally charged situation and feel yourself reacting, this is a way to avoid stuffing the feelings and thoughts down for them to come out in a side-ways or completely unrelated manner, as well as to deter your emotional reactivity from coming out in your actions.

For example, a child slams the door and comes charging out of the classroom for the fourth time this hour, stomping into another room swearing, throwing things and refusing to return to class. Immediately I feel strong emotions well up inside me. I could choose to ignore the emotions and push on, hoping they won't come out on the kid. I could choose to let my emotions impulsively lead my actions and do or say something that is the opposite of helpful or therapeutic, and probably pretty damaging to the child and our rapport. Instead, I am going to B.A.N. this experience.

When I feel the strong emotions, the first thing I am going to do is BREATHE. This will decrease the intensity of my physiological response. Secondly, I am going to ALLOW this unpleasant and strong emotion to continue. This is the opposite of what I want to do. However, it will subside. Emotions will always come down, you just have to let them run their course and decrease in intensity. Third, I am going to NAME what I am experiencing. "I am feeling frustrated because I have worked really hard to help this child remember their coping skills."   "I feel annoyed and pressured because I have so much paperwork to do."   "I feel discouraged and frustrated because this child knows how to get what they need."

By B.A.N.ning my emotional reactivity, it is less likely to come out in my actions or some other way down the line (including somatically or through burn-out). I have also once again practiced mindfulness. I am staying in the present, breathing to decrease my physiological response, allowing the emotions to continue to decrease my emotional response, and naming the situation to increase insight into why I might be feeling this way, what I may need, or what priorities I may need to adjust. After practicing this and understanding myself,  I am also better able to practice empathy and gain understanding in what the other person is trying to communicate verbally or behaviorally.

Think of some situations in which trying to B.A.N. your emotional reactivity would have made a situation different, perhaps for the better. Then the next time you have an emotional  reaction, pause and B.A.N. This has been so helpful to me that I have it taped to my lamp. Right next to the phone. Where I make all the intense phone calls after working all day. Believe me, it is necessary.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mindful Interactions...Not Just for Therapists!

Work last week was more stressful than usual, so I though now would be a good time to discuss engaging with others mindfully. While my day is mostly comprised of interacting with children, I also have multiple opportunities to interact with adults. Hence, I will be sharing my thoughts on how to have mindful interactions with both populations. Both are not so different, you just need to change the delivery a little!

In a previous post, I stated my view of mindfulness. It is focusing on the present. It is paying attention to what you are seeing, feeling, experiencing and thinking as it is happening. It is paying attention to how my body is feeling based on my emotional response from my mental assessment of the situation. When applying this concept to interactions with others, the last step is giving an intentional response.

Let's take examples from my work experience to illustrate the challenge, but necessity, of employing mindfulness when interacting with children. I love doing therapy, but for this population, many times behavioral modification (using techniques to increase positive behavior and decrease negative) comes first. Being mindful during these situations is particularly important.

Now, when a chair is being thrown at my head or a child is screaming and swearing at me because they didn't like the natural outcomes of their poor choices, my first instinct is generally not to stop and think. If they are running away or refusing to follow any directions, it is easier to take it as a personal vendetta rather than mentally and emotionally removing myself from the situation before reacting.

 In practicing mindfulness, I often times have literally seconds to be aware of my emotional responses that impacts what I am feeling in my body. But once I got started, it gets easier to get to that place automatically! Thank God. It's still hard work. It includes stopping and assessing the situation. Asking the question, "What is the function (therapy speak for reason) behind this behavior?" It is because they want to ruin things for other people, make people mad, get out of something? Possibly, but what is behind that? Anxiety that someone will leave or reject them? Their basic needs will not get met? Learned behavior based on past experiences that at one point ensured emotional or even physical security? Maybe it is simply that they are children, and don't have the words yet to ask or tell, they can just show through their behaviors. Regardless, I make my assessment and use these as a basis for my very different responses to each kid in each situation. The responses tend to follow the same pattern in a very calm but decided voice:

"I am hearing that you are wanting/not wanting to do ___________. That's your choice, but I can't help you until you follow directions/meet expectations. When you do __________, then you can do _________."
"If you continue to do ________ then ________with happen."

If-Then statements work wonders. Sometimes I have to repeat this statement over and over (along with "I am going to be doing _______, when you are calm I would like to figure it out with you", etc), until the child realizes that their current method of getting what they want is not working, and they try something else. Hopefully, it is to follow expectations. Sometimes it is to up the ante, then we start over again. Eventually, they generally find that they prefer to get positive attention for their choices rather than unfavorable attention for poor decisions. It also helps to keep my head on straight and my emotions in check, to remember that it is not about me and I don't have to fix everything. There is a function for the behavior and I need to determine my response to increase their ability to think through situations and make their own choice, be it positive or not. This is slowly becoming my first instinct.

Shifting gears, let's think about interactions with adults. The same concepts still apply. Having a mindful interaction involves gauging your own emotional and physical responses ("Why do I have a reaction to what they said? What is that about?" What might be the reason for their actions/words?") before reacting or giving a response. Practice seeing things from their perspective before responding instead of just reacting. That could save a lot of frustration and misunderstanding in the end. You may need to take a break and come back. You may need to ask to think before giving a response. You might open up a conversation that greatly improves your relationship, or at the very least be practicing empathy and greater self-insight.

This seems like a lot, but give it a try! One step at a time.

1. Stop and think
2. What are you feeling?
3. Body scan, what does your body feel like?
4. Ask yourself, what is the function (reason) behind their behavior?
5. Based on this information, how will I respond?

Be compassionate toward yourself. Try again. And again. And again. Just trying itself increases mindfulness. And that is the whole point.