Family Dinner: Turning A Chore Back Into A Hobby

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What’s for dinner?

This question can add stress to the end of a very long day.  And if you don’t have a great answer to that question, it can leave you feeling even worse.

I happen to enjoy cooking.  So when did this become such a chore?!  When I have the right ingredients on hand, putting a fabulous, healthy meal in front of my family gives me a boost and makes me feel good.  So I decided to make this, along with  the meal planning that goes with it, part of my routine.  It’s something I need to spend time on anyway.  Why not do this chore in a way that’s much more fun and enjoyable?  And if this can make the week run smoother, even better!

Every weekend, typically on a lazy Saturday morning before the activities of the day take over, I spend time with the latest edition of Cooking Light Magazine and some favorite cookbooks to plan my meals for the week.  As I pick out my recipes, I do 2 things:

1. Add the name of the dinner I’ve chosen into my Outlook calendar.  Or you can just write it into the family calendar on your wall.  It may seem a bit silly to write it into the calendar but once the busy week gets underway, you’d be amazed at how quickly you forget the great plan you made the weekend prior.

2. Capture all of the ingredients in OneNote.  I’ve got a shopping list page in a OneNote notebook that I share with my husband (more on that later).  Over time, I’ve organized this list to match the order that I roll through the store in.  I keep a lot of the typical items in the list like milk, eggs and apples so I remember to restock that stuff but it allows me to also remember the unique things for the recipes I’ve chosen.

From there, the plan is set and the weekend agenda can take over like it usually does.  Often getting the actual grocery shopping done can be tough in between all of the kids activities and time spent with friends.  This is where having the list in OneNote is super handy.

At the grocery store, if the list is long, my husband and I can divide and conquer.  We can both look at the list at the same time and check things off.  Since the list is ordered based on how I usually move through the store, he can start at one end while I start on the other.  We literally end up meeting in the middle.  Since I don’t have the ordering of my list perfect (yet), we both check items off the list on our phones and nothing is forgotten.

If you’re just getting started, this may feel like advanced organization.  But if you start with one meal or even just a basic shopping list, you’ll be amazed how over time, it gets easier and easier.  I’ve had random weekends where the meal planning just didn’t get done – and what a stressful week it was!

So turn cooking and meal planning back into the hobby you used to enjoy.  And reap the rewards through the rest of the week.

Using the Calendar to Manage Back To School Anxiety

I think all kids get a little anxious about going back to school. What will their new teacher(s) be like? Will their best friend be in their class? It’s tough for all kids, and even their parents. But for a child with Autism, it can be even tougher due to difficulties around being able to express how they are feeling.

My 13-year-old son loves school. But he’s showing signs of anxiety as we look ahead to school starting next week. He communicates with me mostly via text messaging, even if he’s sitting in the same room with me. He’s on a trip with his dad this week and will return the day before school starts.

After he left, I got this text from him,

“Get my PE shirt in my room in the anchors and put it in my backpack so I could wear it to PE”

He’s thinking about school and what he needs to bring on the first day. PE happens to be his favorite class with his favorite teacher. Before he left, I told him I’d get his school supplies together, but I didn’t mention the PE shirt.

Today, I got this text from him,

“Next Tuesday after school you’ll drop me off at 11:30 and on next Wednesday the bus will be coming back on bus 45 like last year”

He knows the first day of school, the Tuesday after Labor Day, is a half day. In this text, he’s trying to understand how he’ll get to school that day and also confirm that the next day, Wednesday, when the typical school schedule starts up again, he’ll be riding the bus to school like last year – and that it’s the same bus.

With our typical kids, we can talk with them and help answer questions about the things they are wondering about, the things that make them anxious. But with my son, that doesn’t work. What DOES work for us, is using an electronic calendar.

I set up an Outlook.com account for my son and then I shared his calendar with myself so that I could easily add information to the calendar directly from my Outlook.com account. When you share a calendar from one Outlook.com account with another, the other person gets an email telling them that the calendar has been shared with them and then this calendar shows up in their calendar list. When you share it, you can decide if the other person can just read the calendar or you can give them the ability to actually add items and change things. I keep my son’s calendar “turned off” most of the time so it doesn’t clutter my work schedule but when I need to add something, I can easily toggle it back into view, add what I need and it’s done.

I’ve given my son a smart phone so he can text with me in order to communicate with me. But the calendar is our second method of communication. My son remembers schedules really well, AFTER they are established. But as we try to establish new routines, the calendar is key.

Over this past summer, he went to camp with Outdoors For All. They schedule camps a week in advance with different activities everyday. When the schedule is sent, I add the details to my son’s calendar, including things he needs to bring. For example, if they are swimming that day, he needs to bring a swim suit and towel, wear sun screen and remember to bring a lunch. If they are hiking, I add a note in his calendar to “wear hiking boots” and he takes care of the rest.

The calendar gives my son a sense of control. And because I can let him know what is going on and add information about what he needs to bring to camp or to school, he gets the independence that he desperately needs to have, especially as he enters these teenage years.

When schedules change or the routine has exceptions, this can also cause anxiety for any child, but especially children with Autism. I also use the calendar to help manage these changes. For example, my son has guitar practice every Tuesday evening with his step dad.

Guitar Practice

If the guitar instructor cancels due to illness, I go into the calendar and change the appointment from “Guitar Practice” to “No Guitar Practice – Peter is sick today”. My son checks his calendar after school. When he sees this, he knows the schedule has changed, knows what to expect, and there’s no issue.

No Guitar Practice

You may wonder, why don’t you just tell him that practice has been cancelled? With my son, it takes multiple times for a verbal message to register. And if the babysitter is the one passing along the message, for some reason, my son doesn’t believe her! But if it’s written in the calendar, he believes it. I know he needs visual aids to help him comprehend things. The written item in the context of this day and time in his calendar is how he understands the changes.

When he was young, we started with visual schedules. This is a common tool for younger children with Autism. But as our son has learned to read and as his interest in electronic devices has grown, his schedule has grown up to be just like an adult who manages their work schedule in Outlook. And his ability to understand schedules may be one of my key tools to helping him be an independent adult someday.