Hey there! And welcome back to my little corner of cyberspace. I hope you're having a great week so far, I know I am.
My ramble today is a bit different from what I normally do, but I hope you'll find it useful any way. As many of you know, my mother has developed dementia and so I've had to hire companions to help us keep her safe and sound. Over all, I've had pretty decent luck. Two of the ladies have almost become part of the family in many ways, and they are as devoted to mom as I could wish. Yet one and all of them, for what ever reason, seem to have never been taught how to properly care for good kitchen knives! Needless to say, this came as a rather large shock to me; and it leaves me wondering just how many others out there were never taught how to take care of their knives as well.
The first thing to understand is that a good kitchen knife is more like a hunting knife, or even a good pocket knife than a table knife that comes as part of a table setting. Unless you have a set of "Ginsu" type knives from Walmart or Target, or any other thrifty store, a good kitchen knife is a finely crafted tool designed to cut with little or no force needed. This means a good, high quality steel that's been properly heat treated and fitted with a handle or grip that fits the hand smoothly allowing for a firm, comfortable grip. And as such, it needs to be cared for in certain ways; especially since it probably se you back a pretty penny!
The first, and perhaps most important rule of taking care of any good knife is never, ever wash it in the dishwasher! Always hand wash your knife in warm, soapy water and immediately hand dry it and put it away. Why? Three reasons really.
First there's the handle. Even today with man made materials becoming ever more prevalent, many good knives have wood handles; and a dishwasher is entirely too harsh an environment for any fine wood implement. I mean, you wouldn't wash your $1000.00 dining room table with 140 degree water and allow it to air dry, or bow dry it with hot air! Before long you'd end up with a table that was dry, cracking, and probably warping into a hunk of junk you'd expect to find in the landfill. So why do that to the finely crafted wood handles on your knife? Before long, maybe even after the second wash, you'll notice that the handles don't feel as smooth as they used to in your hand. Then, as the wood continues to dry out after repeated washings, they'll start to crack; and sooner or later they'll get to the point where they actually won't be safe to use any more. By hand washing them, they'll last much longer. You'll still want to oil them with a good, food safe oil like Linseed oil or maybe Grapeseed oil now and them, but at least by hand washing your knife handles have a chance to last long enough to pass them on to your grandkids. If you continue to wash them in the dishwasher I can almost guarantee they won't last 5 years even if you're lucky.
The second thing to keep in mind is that in a dishwasher, items are not secured firmly. As a result there is always some movement of the items that will allow one item to bang into another. And when the item being banged into is a knife, you're going to end up with nicks, scratches, and rolled edges. Granted a good sharpening can take care of these little problems, but still. Allow enough nicks to form, and your prized $200.00 Shun Classic will cut no better than a $20.00 Walmart special; and maybe not as well. By hand washing with a soft cloth, all of that can be avoided.
The final reason has to do with the way a knife blade is made. Forging and grinding may be the methods used to shape a blade, but unless the blade has been properly tempered and heat treated it will never hold an edge. The blade needs to be tempered so that it reaches a hardness that will allow it to stand up everyday use, and then it needs to be heat treated so that it isn't too brittle. I know, I know. That sounds like a contradiction doesn't it. But consider a diamond. A diamond is the hardest substance known to man, which is why diamond edge saws are used to cut extremely tough metal and other hard things. But hit a diamond with a hammer and you'll find out that it's as brittle as glass. And so your knife needs to be heat treated so that it isn't brittle, which involves heating the blade up and then cooling it down under controlled conditions. But what happens if it is then heated up again, and this time isn't allowed to cool down under those controlled conditions? If it's only done once, probably nothing. But if it happens time and time again, especially if it's heated up to the hotter settings of a dishwasher using a Sani-rinse setting, then the blade will slowly loose it's tempering and start to degrade. After a while, your knife will no longer hold an edge the way it should and once again your prized blade will be no better than a flea market bargain basement knife.
So you hand wash your knives. But what then? Why you dry them of course, and you dry them carefully and immediately. Letting them air dry is almost as big a no-no as putting them in the dishwasher. Why? Simple. Any knife, given enough time, will start to rust. True, stainless steel will resist visible rust for many, many years. But even stainless steel will eventually rust, and if your knife is high carbon it'll rust almost just from looking at it cross-eyed! And there's nothing in the world that will cause rust to appear faster than water. So dry them immediately with a soft towel and put them away as soon as you're done drying them.
But now we have to consider where you keep your knives. I've been in more than a few homes where knives are carefully put in a drawer, but there's nothing in that drawer to keep them from banging up against each other as the drawer is opened and close; see reason number two for why knives should not be washed in a dishwasher. Why in the world would you hand wash your knives, and then allow one of the main reason for doing so to happen during storage? The least you can do is place each knife blade in a protective cover! Better yet, buy yourself a good knife block or a magnetic strip designed for storing knives. I've seen the magnetic strips sold at Ace Hardware for as little as $20.00 and on Amazon.com for as little as $15.00. Cheap indeed when you're talking about caring for a set of knives that could easily run you $300.00 or more.
Finally, you need to keep your knives sharp. Contrary to what I overheard one man telling his son at a recent gun and knife show; the sharper you keep your knives, the safer they are. And the reason is just plain common sense. The sharper your knife, the easier it is to cut; so you don't end up putting a ton of pressure behind the act. The more force you need to use to cut anything, the more likely it is that you won't be able to stop the cutting motion once you're through what ever it is you're trying to cut; and that will almost inevitably lead to cutting yourself. But to paraphrase Alton Brown, that's another ramble.
So there you have it. The proper way to care for your kitchen knives. If you need advice on buying them, well I've already done rambles on knife steel, blade shapes, knife grinds, and handle materials; and those rambles apply to kitchen knives just as much as they do the hunting and tactical knives I more commonly write about. However my wife has talked me into writing a self published e-book on knives that I will be offering through this site once I've had it edited, sort of a Knives for Dummies type thing (though of course copyright laws mean I couldn't call it that unless the company who publishes the For Dummies line of books decides they want my little book as one of their own). In the mean time, I hope the rest of your week goes as well as it has so far if not even better and I look forwards to seeing you here again. And as always; remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey there, and welcome back. Hope you had a great Valentine's Day with the one you love most. Today I thought we might talk about one of the things that can make Autism so scary for those who don't have a lot of experience with it, namely Meltdowns.
Now before I ramble too far, l should point out that there is a distinct difference between a Temper Tantrum and a Meltdown, and as a result the way you handle one can be extremely different as well. With a classic temper tantrum, the person throwing the tantrum is very aware of what is going on; and with good reason. A temper tantrum is nothing more than an attempt to get one's own way in what is commonly held to be a socially unacceptable method. Most children out grown temper tantrums by the time they're in elementary school by learning (often the hard way) that temper tantrums are more likely to bring unpleasant results than rewards. But our point here is that the person throwing the temper tantrum always knows what going on around them, because they're busy trying to gauge the reaction of those they're trying to influence. Indeed, if you watch a child having such a tantrum, you'll often notice little pauses and sly glances where the child is trying to see just how successful they're being; and if everyone around them is continuing to ignore them they'll stop. The same if it looks like mommy and daddy are getting mad and punishment might be imminent. So for these types of misbehaviors traditional discipline (rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior) works just fine. But a meltdown is a horse of another color all together.
Now I must admit that sometimes a meltdown does start off as a temper tantrum, especially if the child is young. But this really isn't all that common (or at least it wasn't for my son); and even if it does, once it hits meltdown then all the rules for dealing with a tantrum go right out the window. You see, in a true meltdown a child (or even adult) on the autism spectrum seems to get locked into some kind of internal loop where most external stimuli can't register well enough to break through. Once this happens the person in meltdown mode is more or less lost in their own mind with no way out except through; an experience that can be truly terrifying for both the person going through it and those around him or her! If it can be caught early enough in the cycle, sometimes something as simple as a hug can help to stop the meltdown in it's tracks. I've also had luck with silly humor (sticking a pencil in my ear and talking into my shoe for example) and jokes. But once the meltdown reaches a certain point, all you can do is wait it out and try to make sure the person going through one doesn't accidentally hurt themselves or others. There have actually been times when I've had to use my martial arts training to subdue my son during a meltdown, and you can have no idea how heartbreaking that can be if you've never had to do it yourself. For the rest of the family, and this is what I've very carefully instructed all of my mom's companions to do, the best and safest thing is to simply get out of his way and let him work through it on his own. Fortunately before my health issues caused me to lose my job, I was able to get Wills some private therapy which has greatly decreased the number of meltdowns as well as shortening the length of time they last.
So what can you do if you find yourself needing to dealing with a family member who suffers meltdowns? Well the first thing to do is to learn to be aware of them and what's going on with them at all times. Very much the same sort of situational awareness that you should be practicing for the purpose of self defense, just narrowed down to one person (and yes, you can narrow it down to your loved one and still maintain it for your surroundings as well. It isn't easy at first, but it can be done). You also have to understand them on a rather deep level and learn to recognize the triggers that can lead to a meltdown. In my case, if my son starts talking about certain cartoon characters in certain ways then I know it's time to try to distract him before a meltdown occurs. But how do you distract them?
Every one is different, so what works for me might not work as well for you, but there are a few things you can try. And once you find things that work, you can start modifying them to work better for your situation. For my son, hugs are often a great way to head off a meltdown; and it makes sense if you think about it. A big ole' bear hug tells him that he is loved, and makes him feel safe. It reinforces the fact that he is not alone and that his mommy and daddy will do anything they can for him.
As I mentioned earlier in this ramble, another thing that works well for us is humor. My son has a great sense of humor, even if he is rather silly at times, and getting him laughing breaks the train of thought that is leading him to a meltdown and gives him something more enjoyable to think about. After all, I'd much rather deal with Silence! the pirate than a son who is locked into a dreadful loop that keeps him from realizing what is happening around him and what he's actually doing! And besides, I'm sure that dirty rotten stuffed parrot deserved to walk the plank anyway! Silly bird. Imagine not knowing when to be silent!
Another item that often works great for many families is a Calm Down Box. This is just a simple toy box or bin filled with things the child enjoys, such as puzzles, colored pencils and paper, games the child can play by him or her self, play dough or modeling clay, and things like that. Plus, at least for us, putting one together is a great way to spend time with your child and getting them to help decide what goes into it will help assure that they'll be more willing to use it when things get rocky.
I could go on for quite a while suggesting other things you can try. I could, but instead I think I'm going to give you some homework of a sort. Dealing with meltdowns means knowing your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew as well as you possibly can. Yet it can be extremely frustrating as well, especially since so many people on the autism spectrum have communication difficulties. So I'm going to recommend a few books that I found extremely helpful with links to where you can get them on Amazon.
The first, and the one that helped me the most, is The Reason I Jump by Naomi Higashida. Written when the author was only 13 years old, this is a first hand account of what it's like to have autism.
Two others are Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robinson and Thinking In Pictures by Temple Gradin.
For some more suggestions on how to manage meltdowns, and hopefully keep them from happening I found No More Meltdowns by Dr. Jed Baker to be extremely useful. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but his book is still hands down the best I've found so far.
And finally, a new one (to me anyway) that I wish I had found sooner, there's 101 Games and
Activities for Children With Autism, Ausbergers, and Sensory Processing Disorders.
Are these suggestions and books a magic bullet that will make everything hunky dory and your life all sweetness and light? Oh hell no. But they may make things easier and more manageable, and that's all we can really ask for, right? But for now I must get ready to head to the smoke house where I'm working part time now. So I'll wish you luck, and remember. If somethings worth doing, then it's worth doing with attitude!