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Journalist Amber Narsulla, interviewed AJGpr client, Betsy Brown Braun for the online parenting site  Betsy is a child development and behavior specialist who weighed in on the question of taking kids out of school for family vacations.

Betsy says, “Some children are flexible and will transition easily back into the classroom, while others will struggle.”

For the full story click here.

Besty is the bestselling author of Just Tell Me What to Say and You’re Not the Boss of Me.

posted by | on psychology | No comments

In her recent blog, Health e, Christina Elston, editor of Los Angeles Parent magazine  posted this piece Redefining Autism: New Diagnosis Guidelines Shouldn’t Worry Parents.  Since Christina turned to AJGpr client, Karen L. Schiltz, Ph.D., I thought I would share it with AJGpr blog readers.   Dr. Schiltz is a psychologist specializing in the clinical and forensic neuropsychological assessment of children, adolescents, and young adults.

Here it is:

For the one in every 100 or so children in this country with autism, a diagnosis is a critical link to treatment and services. It means that school districts will provide extra resources, and insurance carriers will pay for medical and psychiatric treatment.

The word itself has been in use for more than 100 years, but as the psychiatric community prepares to update the definition of “autism,” many parents have panicked, fearing that if the definition changes, their kids will lose the diagnosis and the services that go with it.

The latest evidence suggests that most families need not worry.

“I’m looking at all the kids I’ve tested and I just don’t see that [happening],” says Karen L. Schiltz, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Calabasas since 1988 and author of Beyond the Label: A Guide to Unlocking a Child’s Educational Potential (Oxford University Press, 2011). “I actually felt really relieved when I saw the new definition come out.”

The definition in question is part of the upcoming fifth edition of theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Published by the American Psychiatric Association, it sets the standard for how health-care providers classify mental disorders. The book first listed autism as a unique diagnosis in 1980, but its definition hasn’t been revised since 1994. Meanwhile, the number of children diagnosed has skyrocketed, jumping 78 percent in the past decade.


No More Autism Sub-Categories

One reason the update is causing such a stir is that the proposed definition in DSM-5 collapses a whole range of autism spectrum sub-categories into one single diagnosis. This means that diagnoses like Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and the umbrella term of “Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)” would go away, leaving only autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a clinical label. Many parents have expressed concerns that their child’s diagnosis will disappear along with the subcategories.

Going forward, “the job of a clinical psychologist is to answer a question of, ‘Is it ASD or not,’ rather than, ‘Is it Autistic Disorder or Asperger’s disorder or PDD-NOS,’” says Marisela Huerta, Ph.D., a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. But, she says, parents don’t need to worry. A recent study led by Huerta suggests that most kids with a current diagnosis on the spectrum would keep that diagnosis under the new guidelines.

There’s no harm in eliminating the sub-categories, Huerta says, because research over the last decade fails to identify differences in the clinical presentation (or the range of symptoms) associated with Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s disorder and PDD-NOS. “More importantly, we’ve learned that the different DSM-IV categorical diagnoses are not used in a consistent manner by clinicians,” she says. One recent study even showed that the clinic where a child was evaluated was a more important factor than the child’s actual symptoms in the specific autism diagnosis they received, with some clinics seeming to favor one sub-category over another.


Including New Symptoms

And while it offers only one diagnostic label, the proposed overhaul is actually more inclusive in some ways than the current definition. The new definition would:

• Include sensory interests and aversions among the symptoms used to define ASD – These symptoms – being especially picky about food or irritated by the texture of clothing, for instance – aren’t included in the current diagnosing criteria.

• No longer require that a child exhibit evidence of developmental delays before age 3 – Instead, the definition would require that a child show examples of unusual behavior “in early childhood,” making it easier for clinicians to diagnose children whose delays weren’t noted early on.

• Account for the fact that social impairments may change over time – ASD may look different at age 3 than, say, at age 10 or 30.

The new definition is also more specific and makes it easier to tell the difference between autism and other disorders. Speech delays, which occur in kids with autism but also in those with a range of other problems, have been removed from the criteria. Meanwhile symptoms that are unique to autism – including repetitive movements like arm-flapping, rigid adherence to routines or rituals, and unusually intense or odd interests – must now be present for a diagnosis.

“A large body of research over the last decade has demonstrated that nearly all children with some form of autism demonstrate these types of behaviors at some point in their lives,” says Huerta. “The presence of these behaviors, alongside a pattern of social and communication difficulties, is unique to autism spectrum disorders.”

Huerta’s study, the largest to compare existing diagnostic criteria with the proposed changes, included data on 4,453 children with an autism spectrum diagnosis. She and colleagues reviewed detailed parent reports on the children, and applied the newly proposed criteria. It turned out that 91 percent of the children would be diagnosed with ASD under the new guidelines based on parent reports alone, and Huerta believes that clinician input would clinch a diagnosis for many of the remaining 9 percent. Her study appeared in a recent issue of theAmerican Journal of Psychiatry.

Schiltz, who specializes in neuropsychological assessment, believes the new criteria could even eliminate roadblocks to diagnosing some kids – especially those whose delays were “camouflaged” during the early years. “A kid who played in the sandbox for hours and hours in early childhood seems normal,” she offers as an example, noting that if parents don’t notice that something isn’t right by the time their child is 3, it can be tough for them to get help.

The common question from parents has been, “Why wasn’t this diagnosed earlier?” Schiltz says.

Advice for Parents

The specific autism guidelines in DSM-5 are still under review, and won’t become official until 2013. But Schiltz says the new criteria and definition are only the beginning. You still need a thorough evaluation of the child in order to make a correct diagnosis.

“It takes years and years of experience to understand the complexity of autism,” she says. “When we assess children, it’s a process.”

She advises parents who suspect their child might have a problem to take good notes. “I encourage parents to write things down when you see something that’s not quite right,” she says. Take that list to your pediatrician, ask for a referral to a psychologist, and get another opinion if you feel you weren’t heard. Once you have your referral, Schiltz says, a quality evaluation will:

• look at all possible causes for the behaviors your child is displaying;

• look at your child in all of her different environments (i.e. at home, at school, with caregivers and peers);

• provide an accurate roadmap of all of your child’s strengths and weaknesses; and

• include input from parents, teachers and other caregivers.

The proposed new guidelines, Schiltz says, won’t alter the process a good psychologist goes through in making a diagnosis. But because the criteria are more specific, in some ways the process will be easier. “The way we evaluate will not change,” she says. “[But under the new guidelines] we have more items to look at, and less to argue.”



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AJGpr, a Los Angeles PR firm, found this “Public Relations Best Practices Top Sheet” at Group Y Network. Here it is:

Starting a PR program from the ground up may seem daunting. But, with some common sense, homework and the right tools, it’s a lot easier than you think. The advice here is gleaned from some of our favorite skate-savvy editors and should help you get a step ahead, whether you are starting from the ground up or just need some refresher ideas.

1. Know what “news” is. News is not a new shoelace color, a seasonal product launch (i.e. Holiday styles and colorways) or a team photo shoot. News is an innovative technology, signing of a key athlete or announcing a unique branded event your company is hosting. Take yourself out of your brand’s shoes (ha) and honestly ask yourself: “Would anyone else find this interesting/important/unique?” If the answer is Yes, it’s news.

2. Let the media know about your news in a timely and concise fashion. The old “Who, What, When, Where and Why” is pretty much the best guide. Also be sure to plan out your timing; telling someone about an event that is happening tomorrow won’t get you far… Most consumer mags work 3-4 months ahead of time and trades, 1-2. Online has a much quicker turnaround, obviously, but a solid “heads up” will be appreciated by any editor. Some good lead-time with a reminder email sent 48 hours before the event is often the best equation.

3. The editors’ job is to report on what readers want to read, so let them do what they do best. Think of your pitch like a job interview: present your strengths, your best story, then let it go. Follow up is fine, but don’t be the needler—“Why didn’t you run a story about my shoe/deck/photo shoot?” That will quickly get you pushed far down the priority list. Honestly.

4. For product stuff it’s sometimes best to send the gear out first and ask questions later. Address it to an editor and include a quick but polite hand-written note asking for placement. Let them know if it theirs to keep or a sample that needs to be returned. There is no guarantee that this approach will work but a box full of fresh gear is always more appealing than a fuzzy jpeg in the morning email line-up.

5. Build relationships. Just because an editor doesn’t run your story once, doesn’t mean it won’t happen next time. Being the resource who is quick to respond, easy to deal with, and delivers on time will over time pay off the big dividends. Look at it long term—be the guy/girl who the editor wants to reach out to because he knows it will be an easy transaction, not the guy that complains or won’t deliver on his promises. Editors deal with so many flakes over the course of a day that just being courteous and doing what you said you’d do will put you into the top percentile.

6. Plan, plan, plan. The best PR programs plan out many months or even a year ahead of time. Look at what products or events you have coming down the pipe over the next year (or even two!) and build a PR plan around those items. Having your materials and timelines together allows you to have perfect timing—i.e. corresponding your product shipping to stores or athlete competing in the Dew Tour with secured editorial in magazines and online.

7. Editors are always busy and sometimes lazy*. Ask yourself before initiating contact: Am I making this person’s job easier or harder? PR hacks who make editors’ jobs easier are often the ones that get results.

8. Email is the best way to communicate. Feel free to send a friendly follow up if you don’t get a response.

9. If you are pitching a mainstream publication, there are some story lines that are always popular: the young person who follows his passion and starts a successful company; the local company that most people haven’t heard of but that is doing well in a niche industry; stories that take readers into a hard-to-understand yet interesting industry in their back yard.

10. Even big newspapers these days are desperate to build page views online. Many are posting shorter stories on blogs, and the threshold for getting published is much lower. Check out every publications online presence and send emails directly to writers, many of whom are eager to make story quotas.

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AJGpr client, Dr. Nina Shapiro, the Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology and an Associate Professor at the  David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA says snoring can be caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids that block the airways. If you don’t breathe properly at night, you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain.

Watch the segment on The Doctors here.



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Five Steps for a More Effective Facebook Page for Small Business

Emily Weaver wrote a great tip on Manta that AJGpr, a Los Angeles Public Relations Firm wanted to share. Here it is.

Representing your small business online can be difficult, but if done the right way you can reach an unlimited amount of customers. With social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn it makes it easier for small businesses to truly stay in touch and on track with both potential and current customers.

1. Start with a Facebook Page

Facebook is generally used for social interaction anyway, so putting your business on Facebook will be second nature if you already use it for keeping in touch with friends and family.

  • If you already have a profile on Facebook, you can add a page for a company or small business. This way you can still keep your personal profile active and under the same account.
  • A great way to test out any new page online is to have a focus group you can trust. Who would be better than your friends list on your profile page.

2. Stay informed, get a routine

As a small business owner you want to keep your Facebook page up to date for customers. Not only does that fall under the category of posting content on a regular basis, it also means to be realistic when it comes to results.

  • Post content – a photo, a news story, what you’re doing during the day – something that customers can only get from liking you on Facebook. If you get one ‘Like’ out of it you’ll be thrilled, but don’t expect it all to come at once.
  • Have a goal of what you’d like to see happen out of what you post, just don’t get too distraught over a question you ask that gets no answer. As for posting, make it a habit to update your page at least once a day.
  • There never is a wrong time to post, just as there isn’t a right time to post; whenever you get the time, whenever you have the content. Make it engaging for your customers so that they can get an idea of what you’re about!

3. Update your status with style

The status can be very daunting, but it’s an open space for you to share content with your customers. That’s exciting! Before posting, you might want to map out what you want to share.

  • Do some research on other brands similar to yours and see what they’re posting. For instance a local bakery might post a photo of their famous hot chocolate, or a diner could post a question about what customers would like their special to be for dinner that day- something to involve customers, something that will keep their attention.
  • Don’t think your content has to be completely formal. Make it your own, and represent the voice of your small business.
  • Make sure to post mostly open-ended questions or thoughts to get more of a complete response out of your fans, this way you’re communicating back and forth with the person who matters most – the customer.

4. Keep in touch with customers

This may be an easy task, or a challenging one, depending on what you want to do.

  • As the owner of your small business Facebook page you’ll be able to see who has ‘Liked’ your page. One way you can keep customers engaged is by sending them a message as soon as they ‘Like’ your page. This is a great way to let your new fans know that you’re going to be there to respond and interact with them promptly.
  • Another way to keep customers engaged is to answer them via the messages section onFacebook. Some may just send you spam, but others will probably have legit questions. This section is something you’ll want to keep an eye on each day.
  • In addition to your daily posts, answering your customer’s questions in a timely manner can only give them a positive perception of you. By keeping in touch with customers and answering their questions and suggestions you can keep a connection with them and they’ll definitely have nothing but good things to say about you and your business!

5. What you can offer fans

Think about it- they’re ‘Liking’ your page. What do they get out of it?

  • If you can get something like a promotion going for your fans, or a coupon for 10% off your latest inventory it would guarantee their satisfaction and possibly get them to spread the word about ‘Liking’ your page.

For more ideas on what to post or just for best practices, visit Manta on Facebook to get an idea of how you can use Facebook for your small business.

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Why Your Kid Whines — and How to Get Her to Stop

Bonnie Vengrow posted and article on children and whining on iVillage. To get some perspective on this developmental stage of childhood, she turned to my client, Betsy Brown Braun, child development and behavior specialist and best selling author of Just Tell Me What to Say and You’re Not the Boss of Me.

Here are the “expert strategies to stop your kid’s whining.”

You and your kiddo are chugging along nicely when, one day, she figures out that if she raises her voice, repeats herself over and over, and tosses in a few tears — presto! — she’ll get what she wants. Her latest discovery may mean frustration, aggravation and plenty of headaches for you. But like most developmental phases, whining can be temporary — so long as you nip it in the bud. We turned to the experts for their take on whining, and got tried-and-true advice on how to stop it fast.

A little perspective
Whining is about as aggravating as nails on the chalkboard and can make even the most level-headed mama want to scream. It’s the most annoying sound on earth, but it actually serves a good purpose. “It’s an all-important part of beginning to grow up,” says Betsy Brown Braun, child development and behavior specialist and author of Just Tell Me What to Say and You’re Not the Boss of Me. “Whining is his way of figuring out who he is separate from you, the parent. He’s not doing anything that’s wrong or unacceptable. We have to change the ways we react to it and how we reabsorb it.”

Read More

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Back in June, my client, Betsy Brown Braun, blogged about spanking. I love what she has to say and wanted to share it with AJGpr readers.

Betsy is a parenting expert and the author of two best-selling books Just Tell Me What To Say and You’re Not The Boss Of Me.

 To If Nor Spanking, Then What?

Seems like almost every parent today knows that spanking is verboten. Everyone except that parent who says, “My father spanked me, and I turned out fine.” To him I want to say, You don’t remember how you felt while you were being spanked—the terror, the helplessness, the anger.

Working with parents for 40 years has demonstrated to me that parents spank because they don’t know what else to do that “really works.” It is out of their simmering frustration that they resort to harsh physical actions like spanking, slapping, even pinching, or holding a shoulder just that much too tightly. But it’s all spanking. And it screams helpless parent, regardless of the child’s age, tot or tween. You are showing your weakness.

Children do not need to cry, to be hurt, to be shamed, or to shout “uncle” in order to learn the lesson you are trying to impart. The discipline (from the Latin root word which means learning or teaching) that is needed should be just that–the lesson that teaches not to do that again. It is a lesson that cultivates self-discipline. The child needs to learn; he doesn’t need to be hurt or humiliated. In fact, a child in those heightened emotional states will not learn. Rather, he will be focused on his anger at you, what a mean, bad daddy you are, not even thinking about what he did.

Here are some tips for what to do when you feel like spanking:

  •  Get a grip on your own anger. Grit your teeth and admit that you feel like walloping your kid. Then commit not to do it.
  • Remind yourself that this is an opportunity for you teach and for your child to learn. Often children have to do the wrong thing on their way to doing the right thing. And yes, for that there is a consequence.
  •  Let the child know that whatever the behavior was, you are stopping it. Remove the child from the scene of the crime.
  •  Say as little as possible. “There is no throwing balls in the living room!” using your low, slow, icy voice. Mean business.
  •  Remove and isolate your child to a safe place away from you and the scene. No words.
  •  The key is to DISENGAGE. Do not give your attention of any kind, negative or positive. Nothing.
  •  When you have both come back to planet earth, even as long as an hour later depending upon the age of the child (the younger the child, the shorter the time), do your revisit.
  •  Have a short, direct conversation (and it may be one sided) about what happened and what will happen as a result.
  •  For children seven years old and younger, have your logical consequence ready to impose. (Logical consequences are directly related to the misbehavior.) You showed me that you do not know how to use balls responsibly. So, you will not be able to use balls of any kind for the rest of the week. If necessary, be prepared to take the rest of the family out to play ball. He’ll feel it!   So sorry you can’t play with us
  •  For children older than seven, in addition to the logical consequence, there might be a removal of privileges, or he might have to earn the money to help pay the cost of replacing the window.  He gets it.
  •  Know that it takes time for the lesson to take hold. Much like microwave cooking, it needs a standing time to begin to sink in.
  •  There is no one size-fits-all answer. Your response must be crafted  to the particular child and the infraction.
  •  Remember, parenting by imposing fear is neither healthy nor effective.

You and your child need to be on the same team. You are both trying to get him to the same place, the place of making thoughtful, good choices for himself. And the very first chance you get, catch him doing the right thing. Praise works better than punishment and a whole lot better than spanking.




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My client, Green Living and Holistic Lifestyle expert Randi Ragan, was a guest on KABC to share 5 Tips to Teach Kids About Going Green. Randi is the founder/Owner of GreenBliss EcoSpa, LA’s ONLY Award-winning eco-friendly mobile spa.

Here is the clip and transcript.

As you prepare your children for the new school year, maybe it’s time to try something new, like “going green.”

We met up with green living expert Randi Ragan, who gave us five tips to get you started. First, try to create “zero trash” lunches, which means using a lot of reusable or re-washable containers.

“Zero waste lunch is about figuring out how to pack your kids lunch to school without creating trash at the end of it,” said Ragan.

Stackable tins are a great “green-friendly” choice. But those thin, plastic sandwich bags are hard to replace. Instead, try washable sandwich bags kids can use every day. Also, lose the plastic silverware, choose metal or branch out with bamboo chopsticks.

Next up, lose the batteries. Ragan said 14 billion batteries are thrown away into landfills every year in America.

“So anytime you can help them find a way to play and be creative without a battery, it’s a win,” said Regan.

Powering off those games might be tough, but arts and crafts will send their imagination soaring. Or try to create a fun project, like documenting the ecosystem in their backyard.

Ragan also stresses the importance of getting your children involved in the ecosystem around them. By observing the plants, animals and insects, they can get an appreciation of the environment.

5 eco-friendly tips for kids

Start an organic garden. You’ll end up with great homegrown food and the opportunity to teach your children about how plants grow.

Finally, pay attention to ingredients and read the labels on food and beauty products.

“It gets you thinking about what is going on your skin, and what is going in your body,” said Ragan. “It’s mostly about teaching them to just engage and not pushing it so much, but just actively nurturing their curiosity.”




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My client, Dr. Nina Shapiro,  Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology and an Associate Professor at the  David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has her say about parents choosing or not choosing to vaccinate their kids in a recent blog. Dr. Shapiro is the author of Take A Deep Breath: Clear the Air for the Health of Your Child.

“Nut-free”, “Peanut-free”, and the latest and greatest: “Nut sensitive”. The rage in preschools and elementary schools across the country is to protect our nut-challenged children from nut exposure, even if it means not exposing them to nuts in the same building or playground, to minimize their risk of life-threatening allergic reactions. Allergic concerns have expanded beyond nuts, to gluten and dairy, to the degree that some schools now prohibit ‘powdered cheese products’, to protect children who are especially dairy sensitive. Some schools are not ‘nut-‘ or ‘dairy’-free, but are merely ‘nut’ or ‘dairy’-sensitive. I hope that this means that they take special precautions, beyond just discussing the inner feelings and emotions of those ‘sensitive’ to certain foods.

Please don’t take any of this as sarcasm. I am fully aware that food allergies are bona fide, and when they occur to the point of danger, kids can die, or nearly die, from a severe food reaction. An elementary school girl recently died of a previously undocumented allergic reaction recently, while at school. So an institution’s decision to either ban or, well, ‘sensitize’, potential food allergens, for the greater good, becomes a public health issue, even on the small scale of a school’s microcosm. This is a good thing. By not sending your child to school with their favorite PBJ or cheese puff, you are protecting others. Not necessarily your nut-insensitive child, who happily gobbles powdery cheese products and peanut butter cups in the comfort of your BPA-free hybrid vehicle, but others. Your child’s sacrifice for the greater good is worth it; seeing a small friend go into anaphylactic shock can scar a tyke for life, not to mention the allergic child himself. And this protection of others is important. Equally important is teachers knowing and being re-certified in CPR (which, by the way, might have saved that elementary school girl, had it been initiated before paramedics arrived). Maybe even as important as getting immunized.

Is there a lunch table for the vaccine-sensitive? We promise not to serve nuts. I just wonder if schools would consider instituting ‘vaccine-free’ zones. You know, for the greater good? Just as we are protective of the nut-challenged from life-threatening reactions, what about protecting children from life-threatening illnesses? Public schools can mandate that all must be immunized, but do allow for exemptions, which are pretty easy to get. Many public schools report immunization rates of less than 50% of their students. Private and parochial schools can strongly encourage immunizations, but they cannot mandate that all must be immunized. Some private schools have immunization rates of less than 20%. Yes, that’s right a parent might pay $25,000 a year to a school where less than one in five of their classmates are immunized against life-threatening illnesses such as measles, polio, bacteria which cause meningitis, or pertussis (the one that causes whooping cough). In order for a school to be considered truly immunized, from a public health (or ‘greater good’) standpoint, that particular school’s immunization rate needs to be 90% or higher. Parents have varied reasons, primarily personal, why they choose not to immunize their children. Some parents are concerned about autism risk, even though all of the studies connecting the rise in autism with immunizations have been debunked. Some are concerned that their child’s body is too small to tolerate a large dose of so many vaccines at once, so they spread out the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to create their own ‘tailor-made’ schedule. Some parents think that the illnesses kids are getting immunized against don’t exist anymore, so why bother getting immunized, since illnesses such as polio, measles, mumps, and tetanus have been eradicated anyway.

But here’s the reality: these diseases do exist, and we’re going to see more of them come back. I read about pertussis, the bacterium that causes whooping cough, when I was in medical school. We would learn about this horrible respiratory disease and how it afflicted and took the lives of so many of those poor shlubs from the 1930’s, who hadn’t figure out prevention yet. We would read about them as if they were some primitive Neanderthal tribe, barely able to put two sticks together to make fire. Occasionally a crusty old professor would tell tales of the ‘days of whooping cough’. Ho hum. Well, it’s back. Not so ho-hum anymore. The hundred-day cough, which became an outbreak in California and other states, resulted in many children dying. During the tail end of medical school, I saw H. flu infections, a bacterium that caused severe respiratory illnesses, meningitis, eye infections, and blocked breathing. The miracle of the vaccine for H. flu, which became widely used in 1999, nearly wiped it out. Until now. It’s back, too. Dr. Jonas Salk, the co-creator of the polio vaccine, spoke at my medical school graduation. Polio killed millions, and paralyzed millions more. Thank you, Jonas Salk, and your sidekick Albert Sabin. We haven’t seen polio outbreaks in the U.S. since the 1950’s, when Salk and Sabin’s vaccine began being given widely. Well, we haven’t seen outbreaks yet. We might have to wait until the immunization rates drop some more. But let’s hope not. Polio, whooping cough, meningitis, and measles, to name a few, are still out there – and they could once again be coming to a school near you.

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My client, Green Living and Holistic Lifestyle expert, Randi Ragan recently posted these great vegan recipes for football season on her blog.  Randi is the owner/founder of GreenBliss EcoSpa, LA’s award-winning and ONLY eco-friendly mobile spa.

Never thought you’d see those “vegan” and “football” side by side, did ya? Well, neither did I until I wrote them. But I’ve been thinking alot lately about autumn rituals (see previous posts). I grew up in Texas, where football is the ultimate fall ritual, and tv – watching parties are abundant and plentiful excuses for socializing and eating. Something about the cool crisp air of an autumn afternoon sliding into evening brings up these memories for me. Even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 years now and haven’t watched a football game in almost as long, the urge to snack and hang with friends has never left me. Only now I seek out healthier food, and look for things to make from scratch that are easy, tasty, and will fly in a room full of picky eaters (re: children, adults with suspicions of anything “vegan” in the title). Here are a few delicious recipes to fulfill your own snacking urges and make bountiful use of fall fruits and veggies in the markets now. Go team!

Cheezy Kale Chips
I’d fallen in love with the commercial varieties of these unfortunately expensive grocery store snacks. My motivation in creating this recipe was to see if I could replicate them easily and save, like, $8 a pop.  Done.

1 cup of raw cashews
½ large red bell pepper, seeded
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp. salt
1/2  – 3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
¼ c. water
1 large bunch of curly kale

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Blend/puree everything except the kale in a food processor.   Drizzle water after the initial ¼ cup, as needed, to make the mixture have a consistency like a creamy tomato soup.
Wash the kale and tear the leaves into half dollar sized pieces. Place in a large bowl.
Pour cashew/red pepper mixture over the kale and toss with your hands until the kale is well coated on both sides.

Cover two large cookie sheets with parchment paper or grease lightly with olive or other oil, such as grapeseed or canola.

Arrange the kale on the cookie sheets so that none of the leaves are overlapping.
Place in the oven for 20 minutes, then use a spatula to flip over and re-arrange the bigger pieces that are still wet.
The idea is to slowly dry out the kale without burning it. This might take 30 minutes. Be patient!
Keep flipping the bigger pieces with the spatula until all of them are dried out and crispy to the touch.
Store in an airtight container.

Cheezy Cashew Dip
When I first started seeking out and experimenting with raw and vegan recipes, I was stunned by the ability of cashews to mimic cheese.  I soon discovered they are ubiquitous in this world. They can stand in for cream cheese in a cheesecake, for ricotta in a lasagna, for parmesan in a pesto. Genius!

• 1 cup raw cashews
• 4 oz pimentos
• 3/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
• 2 tbsp tahini
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
• 1/2 tsp garlic powder
• 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
• 1/2 tsp paprika
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/4 cup unflavored non-dairy beverage ”milk”  (rice, soy, almond are best choices)
• 1 tsp mild miso soybean paste
• 1 tsp dry mustard

Grind your cashews in a coffee grinder first into a nice powder. Then dump them and every else into a food processor and blend into a creamy bright orange. Serve with your favorite dip chip, apple slice, or veggie stick. This cheeze dip will fool even the most die-hard dairy-lover.

Muhamarra Spread
This is a quick and easy version of the traditional Middle-Eastern classic. Sometimes it’s made with pomegranate seeds and or syrup, but I like this version which is less rich and more spicy. You can roast your red peppers yourself, but that adds a time factor that not many of us want to incur. We’d rather spend it chowing down, wouldn’t we?

1 7-8 oz. jar fire roasted red peppers
½ cup walnuts, toasted
½ cup hulled hemp seeds
2/3 cup cracker/bread crumbs (I pulsed some almond crackers in the food processor so this recipe would be gluten-free, but use whatever kind of cracker you prefer)
1 clove garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
2 tbsp oil (I used grapeseed, but extra virgin olive oil would be fab)
salt and pepper to taste

Toast walnuts in a dry skillet on low heat on the stove. This should take about 5 minutes. Take care not to burn!
Place all ingredients, except the peppers, into a food processor. Pulse just a few times to break up the nuts a bit.
Drain the peppers, saving the juice or brine in the jar. Add the peppers to the nut and seed mixture in the food processor. Flip it to high until the mixture starts to form a smooth paste. Scrape down the sides once or twice with a spatula. Add the 2 tbsp oil, or 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp of the leftover pepper juice, and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
Pulse a few times to combine.   The texture should be like a thick, but spreadable peanut butter;  add pepper juice or oil to get to this consistency.
Serve with flatbreads, veggie sticks, crackers, on as a spread on sandwiches.