Friday, August 31, 2012

44 Years

Today is my parents' forty-fourth wedding anniversary.

My mother put herself through college, working days as a schoolteacher and taking classes at night.  It took her five years to finish her bachelor's degree.  My father earned his degree in four years and then did a one-year MBA program immediately afterward.  Mom's college graduation ceremony and Dad's business school graduation ceremony were scheduled for the same day, August 31st, 1968.

Both of them skipped their graduations, and they were married on that day instead.  

Nine countries, two children, a dozen pets, and a variety of adventures later, they are still happily married and going strong.  They arrived for a visit from the West Coast last night (we have them for two weeks!!) and Himself and I took them out to dinner tonight to celebrate.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.  We love you. 

How To Sell A House, Italian Style

So, I came across this post the other day, and it reminded me of something that happened the spring after we bought our current house.  (We bought it in late fall, almost nine years ago.)

I was out back working in the garden, and accidentally dug up what appeared to be a religious figurine wrapped in a ziploc bag.  To make it stranger, it was buried head down.  I had no idea who it was or why the hell it was buried in my yard.  Despite being raised Catholic, I had never heard of this whole bury-St-Joseph-in-the-back-yard-when-you-want-to-sell-your-house thing.  I happened to mention it to my mother on the phone later that day, and she explained.  Apparently it is an Italian thing, like bathtub Marys.  Seems horribly disrespectful.  And I gather that the sellers are supposed to collect it once the house sells, but clearly that didn't happen, so I am stuck with one slightly used St. Joseph figurine, if anyone wants it.  I will not be tempting fate by throwing it away.  That is probably even more disrespectful!

We bought the house from an Italian couple, who were very kind to us, but (based on a rant directed at their movers that I inadvertently overheard the day they were moving out and we were moving in) most likely 'connected.'  That was an interesting day.  Our running joke for years has been that they probably buried Jimmy Hoffa in our backyard, too.  Even though he probably wouldn't help to sell the house nearly as much as St. Joseph.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Am So Going To Hell

Today, I was driving along, minding my own business, when a car zoomed out of a side street unexpectedly and almost sideswiped me.  I had to jerk into the other lane to avoid being hit.

Back in the bad old days before I had children, I had a killer commute to work in tons of traffic and was not always known for my patience or kindness when other drivers acted like idiots (me? No...)  During that phase of my life, I developed an unfortunate tendency to swear at those other drivers in a most colorful manner.  Not that they could hear me, but it made me feel a lot better.

Since Thing One was born, I have tried very, very hard to curb my language, and for the most part have succeeded, but sometimes the filter is just not quick enough.  At least the kids weren't in the car with me today when I called the driver who almost hit me every name in the book and then some as I was swerving all over the road.

But then I looked up at the driver of the other car and froze.  Karmically speaking, I'm pretty sure it's not a good thing to roundly and thoroughly cuss out a nun, even one who can't drive for crap.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Thing One's piano teacher said something to him today that really struck me.  She told him that practice does not necessarily make perfect, but it does make permanent.  

Her point was that all the practice in the world does not necessarily help if what you are practicing isn't correct.  If that's the case, all you are doing is ingraining whatever you are doing wrong to the point where it becomes exceptionally difficult to fix.  (She is trying to get him to slow down and make sure that he is playing his assigned pieces correctly before he burns them into his muscle memory.)

When she said that, I immediately thought about my martial arts class.  I recently discovered that I have been doing a particular move completely backward for weeks.  Not quite sure how that happened, but it is the sad reality.  Now, every time I perform that move, I have to make a conscious effort to do it correctly, which is a pain in the ass but my own fault.  

I guess the takehome lesson is a broad one: be careful what you allow yourself to practice, since that will become your habit, for good or bad.  Reflecting tonight on the fact that beyond physical activities, this also includes how I think, how I treat others, and what I say.

I'll be practicing my lessons too.

Miss Alex

I wrote a few weeks ago about one of my heroes.  Got an e-mail this morning from another one.

When I was in graduate school, Miss Alex was one of the administrative assistants in my program's main office.  A beautiful ebony-skinned woman with tidy dreadlocks and a musical lilt in her voice from her native West Indies, she had a smile and a cheerful greeting for everyone who came in.  Over time, we became good friends.

Life hadn't given her an easy hand.  She married young, to a philanderer who mistreated her.  She eventually kicked him to the curb and raised their three children alone, even going into the Army to support them.  When I met her, the older two were grown and gone and the youngest was still in high school.

She had dreamed of being a doctor as a child, but life got in the way.  A few years after I met her, she quit her job at the graduate school: she had decided that she still wanted to be a doctor and was going for it.  Her last child was done with school and she could finally think of herself again.

She took classes at the local community college, then finished a bachelor's degree at one of the Seven Sisters schools that had a program for non-traditional students.  She finished some post-baccalaureate courses at another university afterward, and is currently preparing for the MCAT (the medical school entrance exam) and saving money for medical school interview expenses.  She has still been working while putting herself through school, so the pace has been slow, but she is determined.  She wants to be a psychiatrist eventually, and she will be a damned good one.

Thinking of you today, Miss Alex.  Proud of you and proud to know you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Magic Pill

Thing Two has had a particularly rough week or so.  The behaviors that mark his otherness have been more prominent than usual, which always sets my teeth on edge and my stomach to churning.  I am so hoping that the problem is the accumulated lack of routine and that the start of school in a week or so will help.  Yes, he is better than he used to be.  Much, much, much better.  But it is still very apparent that he is not quite like all the other kids.

Today, I left Things One and Two at the childcare area of the gym while I worked out.  When I came back, I was told by Thing One that other kids had been asking him questions about his brother's behavior, which broke my heart.  He stood up for his little brother, but it kills me that he has to.  Unfortunately, I would guess that this is just the beginning, and I thank God for the kind heart of my eldest.  He is going to need it.  Along with all the patience and forbearance he can muster.

Sometimes, other bloggers muse whether, if such a thing as a magic pill that would make their child "normal" existed, they would give that pill to the child.  A surprising number say (at least publicly) that they would not, that the challenges they face are part of what makes the child unique and wonderful.

I am here to tell you that, if such a pill existed, I would give it to my child without a second's hesitation.  I would trade my own life for that pill some days.

All I want is for my son to be normal.  To fit in.  To have friends.  For myself not to have to worry every day about whether he will be able to live independently as an adult.  Basic things that so many parents take completely for granted.  I can't even imagine NOT giving him that pill if I had a choice.

But of course, there is no such pill, and I have no such choice.  He may get to "normal," or at least close enough, someday.  He has made so much progress over the years that the doctors are guardedly optimistic for him.  The brains are there, no question.  Kid is damned smart.  The wires getting to his brain are just scrambled, but they are mightily scrambled, and the language pathways were affected most of all.  Poor kid got the shallow end of the genepool in several different ways.

So we fight every day to get things just a little bit better, to make him understand and speak better, to make him understand interpersonal dynamics better.  It is an uphill battle and I am often so desperately sick of it, but it is a battle for the long haul.  In the absence of the magic pill, this battle is the only chance we have.

And it is helping.  I know that it is helping.  But some days I just want to cry, and today is one of those days.  I know that I have so many blessings to count, including him, and I will start counting again tomorrow.

Tonight, I am wishing for that damned pill.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bad Weather

Flipped on the news just now to see where the forecasters think Hurricane Isaac is headed.  Not looking too good for the Gulf Coast at the moment.  I lived in Houston for a long time, actually not too far from the Astrodome, and watching the aftermath of Katrina and Rita on TV made me physically sick.  So hoping that the infrastructure holds up this time around and that the impact of this storm is not so deadly and dramatic and uprooting for the poor souls in its path. 

A few days ago, Ms. Moon wrote a post on her blog entitled Tell Me Again Why I Live Here? that got me thinking.  She was reflecting on the fact that Floridians have not only hurricanes to contend with, but also alligators, snakes, and other various and sundry disagreeable forms of wildlife including massive mosquitoes. 

I know why I live where I do (a combination of my husband's job and Murphy's Law), but I ask that same question of my parents regularly.  It is possible to see the San Andreas Fault line from the front porch of their home in Southern California--I am not exaggerating in the slightest--and their homeowner's association runs regular earthquake preparedness and other disaster-related drills.  I have to admit that their town and the surrounding area are staggeringly beautiful, which I presume is why people would be crazy enough to live RIGHT ON TOP OF A MAJOR FAULT LINE, but still.  Their thought process is that everyone has to go sometime, and they might as well be in a place that they love when it happens.  Can't argue with their logic, at least when I'm being rational.  It happens on occasion. 

That said, I hate earthquakes--and tornadoes, for that matter--with a fiery passion.  I prefer my natural disasters to come with warning, preferably a lot of warning!  Surprises are not my thing, never have been.  Having been through several earthquakes in Japan, small ones but big enough as far as I was concerned--it felt like the four corners of the room had been taken up by some malevolent giant on a sudden whim and vigorously shaken on each occasion--I will cheerfully avoid those as much as possible.  I have also seen the sky turn pea green and then dashed headlong for the basement during summer Midwestern storms.  Can't say that was much fun either.  At least with hurricanes, you do know where they are and when they are coming.  Stressful enough waiting for them to arrive, but there is time to prepare with batteries and water and the like, or alternatively to board up and get the hell out of Dodge.

Thinking tonight about the people waiting for Isaac, those with battened hatches and stockpiled supplies and also those who have boarded up and sought safer harbors. 

Rain, rain, go away...    



Sunday, August 26, 2012


In retrospect, my first clue should have been that there was no end time listed for the birthday party on the invitation.

Thing Two was very excited when he received the invitation.  He loves going to birthday parties, and the invitation was from a good friend.  I have to admit (yes, I'm bad) that I was a little bit dubious about this one.  The birthday boy is from a Mexican family.  He speaks English, and his father knows a little English, but his mother (Luz is her name) speaks virtually none.  I like Luz very much, but because of the language barrier, she and I communicate mainly through smiles and charades.  I just wasn't sure how I was going to navigate a birthday party held entirely in a language I don't speak.  But I said we could go because I love my son and I will try virtually anything once.

Around these parts, kids' birthday parties are almost always highly structured, two-hour affairs. Play a game, eat something, have cake, play some more, go home.  With this in mind, I invited a girlfriend to join Himself and I for dinner at our house after the party, which started at 4PM.

When Thing Two and I arrived for the party, the first thing we saw was the huge tents in the yard, one shielding an entire mariachi band plus a formidable and impressive collection of sound equipment.  Then we noticed the whole roasted pig (oh, how good it smelled!), which was at that moment being removed from a brick-lined pit off to one side.  There were a good 50 people there already, of all ages, and more just kept coming.  Precisely three of us were gringos, all parents of classmates of the birthday boy.  We each grabbed a Tecate beer and happily settled in to listen to the music and watch as our sons ran off to play with the other kids.  It was rapidly becoming clear that this was not going to be a run-of-the-mill birthday party.

The hosts turned that pig into tacos, with lime, green salsa and onion on fresh warm corn tortillas.  They may be the best thing I have ever had in my mouth.  Oh my God were they good.  Forget dinner at home!  It was about 6:30 at this point, and I belatedly realized that we really did have to leave, because of the company I'd so misguidedly invited.  But then they wanted us to stay so Thing Two could have his turn whacking at the "first" piƱata (no idea how many more there were!), and then we stayed after that to listen to the thank-you speeches, and before I knew it, it was 7:30.  The cake had not been officially cut yet, but they insisted that both Thing Two and I take big pieces home.  We both wobbled out holding our full bellies and our cake!  It was quite a party, and it was still fully getting into gear when we left.  Bet it kept going into the wee hours.  Next time, we'll plan to stay!

I was thinking about Luz this morning.  She comes to class events at school, even though she can't really talk to anyone.  That takes some serious guts, and I didn't recognize that until the tables were turned and I was the one out of my element.  And I was at a party hanging out with a beer, not trying to figure out what a teacher was saying in a classroom.  Luz has cojones of steel, and I'm proud to know her.  

I imagine she does it because she loves her son, too.  

I Love Freecycle

Today, my awesome mother-in-law took all three kids to her house.  I have company coming later in the week, and accordingly am feeling like I have to clean everything in the house before they show up.  (Not because of anything they've ever said...this is just the Italian neat freak in me.)  I've been married to her son for a long time, and she knows me well--she offered to watch the kids today so I could clean in peace.

One of the many things I tackled was our basement playroom, which is generally a complete disaster.  I took the opportunity to clear out a bunch of toys the kids have outgrown and bag them to give away, since nobody was home to object.  I came upstairs, posted the toys on Freecycle, and within half an hour somebody came to pick them up.  No fuss, no hassle, and somebody who can use them has the toys.  As a bonus, my basement looks much less like a bomb hit it than usual, and the kids can't argue with a fait accompli.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Classic Youngest Child

The Girl has a birthday coming up.

Both of her brothers have remote controlled cars that they race around the house.  She is very annoyed that her old Strawberry Shortcake remote controlled car is too slow to keep up with theirs.  For her birthday, she asked for stuffed animals, costume jewelry and hair clips, and a big car like the boys have.

This morning I bought her a big, badass yellow Mustang.  She is going to love it.

She wants so badly to be big like the boys, which is good and bad.  She taught herself to read at 4 and could ride a bike without training wheels at the same age...she actually never needed the training wheels at all.  She's the best natural soccer player of the three, most likely because she's been on the sidelines of somebody's practice or game with a ball since she could walk.  The flip side of this is that she has been the child responsible for three of my last four ER visits (none bike-related, at least.)

She also really wants to be a big sister (so she will not be the youngest anymore!) but that is not happening.  I am gray enough as it is.  To paraphrase Bill Cosby, I have three children because I did not want four!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Today In The Year 79AD...

...Mt. Vesuvius erupted, burying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under so many feet of volcanic debris that they were not rediscovered officially until the 1700s.

When I was a senior in college, our group of friends debated what to do for spring break.  It was to be our last holiday before we entered the real world of full-time jobs and responsibilities and we wanted to take advantage of it.  My roommate and I (she of this post) were looking at the travel section of the local paper one evening and came across an ad for a reasonably-priced travel package to Rome.  Both of us are partly of Italian heritage, and we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to go to the land of our forebears.  Much to our dismay, the rest of the group, including our boyfriends at the time, decided that they would rather go to Daytona Beach.  We said the hell with them all and went to Rome by ourselves.

One morning, we decided to go to Pompeii for the day.  This involved taking a train from Rome to Naples and then changing trains there to get to Pompeii.  My grandmother's family was from the Naples area, so I was glad to get a look at it, even though all we saw was from the train windows.  My expectations were low--Grandma regularly said "va' fa Napoli" (go to Naples) when she meant "go to hell"--but it looked like a regular city and not particularly hell-like. I was almost disappointed.

At any rate, we got to Pompeii about midday and started walking around.  We had purchased bread, cheese and wine back in Rome, and had our lunch sitting on the stones at the top of Pompeii's ancient amphitheater, looking directly at Mt. Vesuvius and willing it not to erupt again until after we left!  

The city itself was amazing...a moment from centuries ago frozen in time.  The statues and buildings were largely intact, right down to the frescoes on the walls.  You can walk through the baths and the bordellos (interesting frescoes there...), the Forum and many of the shops and houses.  It would be easy to think of the place as just a giant museum, except for the many plaster casts of people who died where they fell during the eruption and left body-shaped holes in the ash.  I remember thinking how small the people were by comparison to people today.  Some of those casts stayed with me mentally for days afterward...the images were tough to shake.  

Altogether a fascinating trip, and I am so very glad that we made the detour from Rome, but I have to admit that I have been very dubious about spending much time around volcanoes since then.

Love This!

I so need one of these signs...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Important Day In History

Today is the day on which my college roommate was born.  Celebrating her tonight, though she now lives far away.  Thinking of the years and stories and memories and inside references that bind the two of us, some funny and some not.  Some soul-cracking times and some silly; lots of ups and downs together.  Thinking of the strong and beautiful woman that she has become over the years, and so very glad that chance or fate or fortune put us in the same classes as freshmen. 

The Wicked Witch of the Far East here, wishing the Wicked Witch of the Midwest a very happy birthday.

Drama With A Capital D

I mentioned that next year's teacher assignments for my kids' school came in the mail this week.  Yesterday, the proverbial poop hit the fan, as people began to share which of their kids had gotten whom.  Emails and texts and rumors galore were circulating.  We were fortunate in that there were no teachers we were really hoping to avoid, so for us it came down to which other kids were in their classes, particularly for Thing One.  In his grade, there are a few other boys that, in general, I would prefer he avoid, since trouble seems to follow them. 

I was thinking about two of those boys today.  Particularly about how sad it is to be only in elementary school and already be one of those kids that is on every other parent's radar.  To be a kid that nobody wants to have in their class or their kid's class.  And the worst part is that neither of them are terrible kids.  As an adult, you can see where their behavior is coming from.  The flip side is that you don't want any issues taken out on your kid, or your kid taking the behavior as a model.  The older the kids get, the more complicated things get.  Thing Two is starting to move into this treacherous territory as well. 

When Thing One was little, and I was grumbling about something like sleep deprivation or potty training, somebody told me "Small kid, small problems.  Big kid, big problems."  Starting to move into the bigger problems now.  Hope my wisdom can keep up with the kids' growth.                 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From The Mouths Of Babes

Every year, a 4H Fair is held in a nearby town at the end of August.  I have been taking my kids to it since they were very small, mostly to see the animals but more recently for the rides and evening fireworks as well.  It has become a late-summer tradition for us.  This afternoon, Thing Two and The Girl and I went over to the fairground to check out this year's setup.

On one side of the fairground, there are four large barns in a long row, housing goats, sheep, horses and cows respectively.  The kids took a good 45 minutes to go through those barns today, and while I watched them interacting with the animals (this is permitted under supervision) I happened to think about a conversation I had with one of the 4H kids years ago, the first time I ever went to the Fair.

I've mentioned before that I grew up mostly in cities and suburbs.  To the extent that there were backyards involved with my upbringing, they did not contain domestic livestock of any kind.  To say that I am unfamiliar with farm animals, even now, would be a major understatement.  Then, I had not the slightest clue.

The goats at the 4H Fair are almost invariably beyond friendly.  They all but climb out of their pens in their eagerness to greet visitors.  That first year, I stared at one of these enthusiastic goats dubiously, understanding that it wanted attention but not having the slightest idea how in the world to go about petting a goat.  (For the record, they like to be scratched on the head.)  I was saved by the goat's owner, a cherubic child of perhaps five with big blue eyes and blond curls, who happened to be in the pen with her goat at the time and delivered a comprehensive and impressive lecture on goat care and husbandry in response to my questions.  That was pretty cool in and of itself.

Then she mentioned that she had another goat at home, one that she couldn't bring to the Fair that day because it was within 24 hours of giving birth.  (Squeamish sorts, perhaps you should skip a line or two here.)  As a mother myself, one whom on several different occasions would really have found it helpful to know when I was within that birth window, I of course had to ask how in the world she knew that.  Apparently it has to do with the position of certain ligaments, which of course human females don't have.  So much for prediction in humans.  But it was still very interesting, especially coming in so matter-of-fact a manner from such a young child.  This kid had her info down cold.  I think her goat won a blue ribbon that year, too.                

Every year since, I've gotten a real kick out of watching the 4H kids at the Fair with their animals.  This is a very rural area, and I am looking at tomorrow's farmers.  I want to support them and their industry any way I can.  But I have to admit that I am just waiting for one of my kids to start asking for a goat or sheep and cringing at the might save us some money in lawn mowing, but cleaning up after The Hound is bad enough!   


The Ref, She Is Fried. Done. Baked.

A friend wrote on her Facebook page yesterday that she would love for summer vacation to last longer, if only her children would stop their incessant bickering. I am here to tell you that I am right with her.  I think that my children are really going to drive me to drink (further into drink?) by the time school starts.  I cannot possibly face another single solitary moment of refereeing!  These three monsters have raised inter-sibling arguing to an art form--it seems to be an activity that they not only enjoy, but actively seek out--and I have officially HAD IT.

Anyone who has spent a lot of time around very small children is familiar with the concept of the evening "witching hour," when the peak (nadir?) of daily crankiness is reached and caregivers find themselves eating dinner standing up while jiggling a screaming baby.   This concept applies to my house in the evening as well, even though my children are long past the baby stage.  By the time Himself gets home, the kids have all been banished to quarters (upstairs, downstairs, or sideways--I don't care, as long as I can't hear them squabbling!), I am beyond frazzled, and The Hound is sensibly nowhere to be seen, probably in a corner somewhere with her paws tightly over her ears.

You know those movies from the 1950s, where the husband comes home from work and is met with a clean house, a martini, the newspaper, his slippers, a wife with a perfect ribbon in her hair, and dinner on the table??  I have a theory that the only reason that ever happened (if it actually did...) was that the wives were able to send the kids outside to play unsupervised all day back then and therefore actually had some peace and quiet once in a while.  That not being the case where I live in this day and age (where kids must be underfoot and within sight at all times by law), I am not quite living up to the '50s housewife evening ideal.  To put it mildly.

The good news is that the kids' teacher assignments for next year arrived in today's mail.  For the first time in several years, everyone is happy with who they got.  The kids are actually excited about the fact that school starts in a couple of weeks.

But not nearly as excited as I am.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Golf Champion

My father has been a golfer (some might say an obsessed golfer) since he was about 12.  Not professional-caliber, but a darned good amateur.  He is a single-digit handicapper, with an enthusiasm for the sport that is obvious from his personal golf cart, which can be enclosed and equipped with a heater so that he can continue to play in what most other people (read, sane ones...) would consider to be inhospitably cold, windy, and/or rainy weather.  No fair-weather golfer he!
One could also reach the same conclusion by inspecting his closet, specifically the very large number of golf shirts therein.  A few years back, Mom instituted the rule that for every new shirt brought home, an old one had to go. 

This past weekend, he won his club's golf championship in the super senior division (ages 65+), for the second year in a row!  Wish I could have been there to cheer from the gallery. 

Way to go, Dad! 


Let's Stick To Science, Indeed

What he said.  A voice of reason in the wilderness!


Just realized that I started this blog a month ago today.  49 posts later, I would say that the first month has been a success from my standpoint, at least in terms of volume!  The right side of my brain hasn't gotten this much of a workout in years (creative writing not being a skill used much in my line of work) and it's been a lot of fun.

As a scientist, I tend to refer to new endeavors as "experiments."  It makes Himself a little nervous when I tell him that he is having an experiment for dinner (meaning something that I have not tried to make before), but as I point out, people who have done research in labs are generally very good at reading and following directions (their research success, not to mention their health and well-being, depends on it!) and what is a recipe if not a list of directions to follow?  I haven't poisoned anyone with my cooking yet...

At any rate, I am enjoying this blogging experiment so far, and it will be continuing.  Many thanks to those of you who take the time to read and comment...I am grateful.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Creatures Of Habit

All three of my kids like having routines.  It is more important for Thing Two than for the others, but thankfully he's a lot more flexible than he used to be, now that he can process what's going on when things change.

This is an especially good thing in the summer, because the constant changes in the schedule would otherwise drive him completely nuts and bring the rest of us along for the ride as a bonus.

It's one thing to be adjusting to the absence of school and a lot of the regular school-associated activities.  Then you add in the fact that many of the activities that do run year-round change days and times in the summer, but not all of them.  Throw in doctor and dentist appointments, parties, vacations, and summer camps, and every week becomes completely different.  I can understand why the kid asks me about the day's agenda every single morning.  He's trying to get a pre-emptive handle on the situation before the craziness starts.

None of this is news to me, and we've actually done pretty well this summer, all things considered.  The revelation over the last week or so is that I really need my normal routines back too!

I carry a lot of schedule-related stuff in my head during the school year, no question, but at least the kids' activities are relatively constant each week.  When they change, it is typically with the sports seasons, so I have some warning, and once they change they stay on the new system for a while.  This every-day-is-different summertime business is getting to me.   So far this summer I have completely forgotten two soccer clinics and a speech therapy appointment because they were not held on the usual days.

I've mentioned before that my brain is completely clogged with useless trivia.  Pulled the medical name for a type of eyelid cyst (chalazion) out of my ear at the pediatrician's this morning, just as an example.  However, that factoid was apparently occupying the neurological real estate required for remembering that piano lessons were moved to Monday this week.  Guess where we did not go today.

I'm ready for school to start...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Hate To Cook

Not in general, but specifically for my family.  Most specifically, I hate trying to figure out WHAT to cook for my family.

Three kids.  Slowly maturing taste buds, but still a preference (given their druthers) for the same five or six meals over and over.  Grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs/hamburgers, chicken nuggets, etc.  Biggest mistake I ever made was letting them get away with eating 'kid food' to begin with instead of making them eat whatever Himself and I were eating.  Boy, do I regret that now.  

Add in a husband who has his own list of dietary preferences, not one of which is allergy-based, and it makes the cook very, very cranky.  

Every so often, I decide that I am only making one meal, particularly on a weekend evening, and that people can just eat it or not as they prefer.  Tonight, I made pecan-crusted haddock.  

One child ate it.  One flatly refused, and the third managed a few bites.  By the time Himself got to his own plate, it was cold.  He had the good judgment and sense to eat it anyway. 

I drank two glasses of good wine, and felt much better for it. 

Tomorrow, pizza. 

Multigenerational Insanity

Himself went out for a 16-mile run first thing yesterday morning.  He is perpetually in training for some race or another: usually a marathon, half-marathon, or relay of some kind.  It helps him to blow off steam, and he needs the outlet.  The relay races are the newest obsession; this year he is doing three, in three different states with three different groups of friends.  Two are about 200 miles in total length, and the other about 95.  A long way, even for a team.

He comes from a family of runners, too.  When I met him, his mother, father, and sister were all serious racers as well--his dad had actually gone to college on a track scholarship.  A daunting genepool as far as I was concerned!

To put it kindly, I am not a runner.  I played basketball in high school (there is virtually no choice in the matter when you are close to six feet tall and attend a small high school.)  To be fair, I was pretty good under the basket at either end--shooting or defending--but was under standing orders from the coach to give the ball to somebody faster and get out of the way every time I pulled in a defensive rebound!  Some people are built for speed, and others of us cannot comprehend why anyone would run 26.2 miles on purpose even once, let alone repeatedly.  Takes all kinds.

Anyway, being the accommodating girlfriend that I was, I made a deal with Himself.  I would cheerfully enter any race that the family was collectively running, provided a) that it was five miles or shorter in length, and b) that nobody would make fun of my finishing time.  For the longer races, I would be the one cheering at the finish line.  That deal lasted for years, and worked well for everyone concerned.

All three of my kids are now runners, as well.  Each has finished at least one race, and Thing One will be looking down the barrel of his first 10K sooner rather than later.  I can say unequivocally that they did not get either their talent or their enthusiasm from me, but this is a good thing.

And apparently I will be cheering at finish lines for years to come, too.

The Things I Learn From Facebook

Today I was reliably informed (by the architect wife of a civil engineer friend) that Jolly Rancher candies have exactly the same compressive strength as concrete, 4000psi.  What I did not hear was WHY a compressive strength test was performed on a Jolly Rancher.  Someone somewhere has way too much free time on their hands.

Nevertheless, the take-home to me is simple: these candies must immediately be removed from our candy bowl.  I pay enough to the dentist as it is, and do not need the children attempting to bite into the sugar-laden equivalent of concrete!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

At Least My House Looks Better

Upset with one of my kids this morning.  Kid lied straight to my face.  Not about anything major or important, even...just out of laziness.  We have house rules about what has to be done in the morning before the electronic games are turned on, and those things just didn't happen today.  (I should add that this is a very short list...we aren't talking hours of chores here.)

I know it's age-appropriate and human nature and all that stuff.  I also know that the games are a lot more fun than the things on the morning to-do list.  I would probably have been OK with it if the the kid in question had 'fessed up when we asked about it.  The lie was the problem.  I want to be able to trust this kid, and right now I can't.  We'll be back to Mom having to personally see that things are done before the games come out for a while, and I hate having to micromanage.

The only good side to this is that when I get aggravated, I clean.  Always have.  It makes me feel better.  (Thank you, neat-freak Italian ancestors.)  The office, the kitchen and the dining room are much less cluttered now, and all the spiderwebs are gone.

Hopefully a lesson was learned today and the behavior will change.  

The spiders are depending on it. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Good Things From Bad

Although I lived overseas for most of my childhood, we came back to the US every summer. Most of those summers were spent with my mother's family in the Central Valley area of California. We stayed with my grandmother, but spent a great deal of time with the aunt and uncle and cousins who lived in the same city. That aunt is also my godmother, and I always felt very close to her and her family even though both of her sons were significantly older than me.

My uncle had been in poor health for the last ten years at least, and to our great sadness, he passed away in May. Family members from near and far gathered to celebrate his life at the memorial service my aunt held for him in June.

Yesterday, I received an email containing some of the "cousin pictures" we took that weekend. It's unusual for a group of us to be together since we are widely scattered geographically, so we document it whenever we find ourselves in one place.

We had been laughing like fools about I don't even remember what right before the pictures were taken, so every one is a happy picture. We love each other, and it shows. I had not seen some of these cousins for years, but it is the kind of crowd where everyone picks up right where they left off with no breaks. And the significant others who were there are just as nutty as the rest of us and fit right in.

Never thought that I would be thinking back to a memorial service weekend and smiling. Grateful for the wonderful family members who put the better in with the bitter.

Love you all.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Necklace of Memories

Thinking today about a couple I got to know years ago (thanks to Grady Doctor for reminding me of them today.)

My first job out of graduate school was at a major national cancer center, and I also volunteered there once a week. I would go in every Thursday evening, check in at the office, and then head up to the leukemia/lymphoma floor. I had a cart stocked with magazines and toiletries and other things to help make the patients' stay a little easier or more pleasant, and my job was to go door to door through the floor with it. I quickly found that not very many of the patients wanted anything from the cart, but almost all of them were happy to have company for a little while. I think many just wanted to have a conversation about something other than their illnesses.

Since these patients were usually receiving inpatient chemo and there for at least a few days to a week at a time, they all had nameplates by their doors. These nameplates also usually listed where the patients were from. A significant number had traveled a long way for their treatments.

One evening, I was surprised to see a familiar (and distant) hometown on one of those nameplates. It is a suburb of the city in which my parents were born, and I mentioned that when I went in to say hello. The patient and his wife were wonderful people, and I was always happy to see his name on the door in subsequent weeks when I was back on the floor (even though in perfect circumstances it would have been great if he had been cured, never to return.) We had lovely conversations each time I saw him, and on one visit his wife gave me a pewter snowflake ornament made in their family business. They had brought a supply to give to "special" people at the hospital, as they put it. I was beyond honored to receive one of these. I put it front and center on my Christmas tree every year.

A few months after receiving the ornament, I changed jobs and moved to another state. To my deep regret, I did not get a chance to say goodbye to this couple before I left. I sincerely hoped that they had not come in because he was doing well.

A year or two later, my mother visited their pewter factory during a trip back to her hometown. She bought me a pendant there, which I am wearing today. I think of them every time I put it on. I hope and pray that things worked out well for these two good people, although I will never know.

Cancer is a bitch.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Oh Deer

I looked out the window this evening and counted 16 #%!#$ deer in my yard. 16.

Growing up mostly as a city kid, I was new to the whole deer thing when we moved here. I actually thought it was pretty cool to be able to see them right in my own yard. People from around here thought I was completely insane. Now I understand why.

They are a threat to the livelihood of the farmers, whose crops they decimate because of their large numbers. They cut a swath through backyard vegetation too. I finally gave up and pulled out all my hostas and lilies, tulips and crocuses, because applying even the foulest of rotten egg sprays didn't keep the deer from eating them down to the nubs. Tulips are my favorite flower, so that about killed me.

Then, they are a threat on the roads. Himself ran off the road to avoid hitting one shortly after we moved here, and we were so lucky that he wasn't hurt. If it ever happens to me, I am aiming directly at that sucker...hitting one would probably cause less damage to my car than the post-swerve offroading did to my husband's car.

But the final insult was when Thing One contracted Lyme Disease from a deer tick in our own yard. Fortunately he got the rash, and I saw it, and got him the antibiotics ASAP. He's fine now.

But this is now WAR. Gimme a shotgun and get out of my way! Anybody want some venison? It will be fresh...

Absolute Deliciousness

Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. In her honor, a food-related post.

I have to compliment Himself on finding the recipes for one of the best meals I have had in a long time: wraps containing chunks of grilled jerk-spiced chicken, a layer of decadent coconut rice, and fresh mango salsa made with lime juice, red onions, mint and cilantro.

(And the coconut rice is beyond easy to make: rice, coconut milk, water, salt and shredded coconut, simmered in a pot on the stove.)


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grace For The Caregivers

Just for the record, I don't intend this to become a blog about the ups and downs of life with a "different" child. So many people do this so much better than I ever could. They can find the right words where I fall short. But I did come across a post on one of these other blogs today that I really have to share because it is so on point.

In yesterday's post, I questioned, almost offhandedly, whether parents and caregivers of children with physical or behavioral difficulties ever develop PTSD-like symptoms.

Today, I came across a great answer to that question, completely out of the blue. In this post, a blogger who identifies herself as MOM-Not Otherwise Specified (or MOM-NOS), the mother of a son on the autism spectrum, shared her belief that it is actually more common than you might think, that it is even (in her words) "the reasonable response of a reasonable person who had been living with unreasonable demands without reasonable support for an unreasonable length of time." Commenters went on to add that in some cases, it should be called "OTSD", for Ongoing Traumatic Stress Disorder.


So offer a hand (or a shoulder, or an ear) to the caregivers in your life. They may be closer to the edge than you think, and it could make all the difference in the world.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Today Is Another Day

Feeling much better this morning. The sun is shining, the blanketing humidity that has suffocated us for a week or so is blessedly gone, and I can hear the birds singing in the backyard through the open window beside my desk.

I'm new enough to blogging that it still amazes me that people are even reading this, let alone taking the time to comment, but I am deeply grateful for the responses both on- and off-line. The consensus from yesterday's post seems to be that I am doing the right thing by cutting out even a small source of frustration in my life. I am very glad for the affirmation. I'll take all the good energy I can get.

I think a lot of the change in my outlook over the years has stemmed from the constant and everlasting struggles with Thing Two. Recognizing the extent of his issues and working to get him the help he needs (and then getting him to actually cooperate with the people trying to help him) while also juggling two other children has taken a lot out of me. Things are SO much better now than they used to be, but part of my brain is still stuck back a few years, back in the phase where nothing could be accomplished without struggles and crying and arguing, if at all. I know that I sometimes underestimate what Thing Two can do and handle now because of that. I sometimes wonder if there is such a thing as PTSD in parents, caused by years of mentally or physically traumatic events relating to their children.

But the child in question had a checkup this morning, at which he behaved well, was able to process most of his conversation with the doctor and respond appropriately, and (wonder of wonders) even cooperated entirely while getting the nasal flu vaccine. Not so much as a pout about it.

And if that isn't a reason to have a real smile on my face today, I don't know what is.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Smallness

I did something petty this morning. Part of me is ashamed. The other part is saying "Attagirl."

A while back, I was asked to volunteer for something. I wasn't exactly browbeaten into it, but it wouldn't have been something I pushed into on my own. Jumped through all the hoops to get in, have been involved with it, but it has made me frustrated more often than not recently. Today, I decided to pull the plug on it. Not entirely, but close. Close enough to remove the frustrating element, anyway.

The shame is that it is something essentially inconsequential in the grand scheme of my life. The frustrations are very small in the universe of things that bother me. I should have been able to shrug off the issue I was having with it. Not sure why I even let it I get to me in the first place. I don't like how negative I am becoming...that was never how I used to be. But at any rate, I've decided that anything that introduces unnecessary frustrations into my life, even small ones, should just go. Working on being positive and really don't need anything unnecessary pushing me the other way.

So I took my name off the list. Pathetic that I felt like I should, no question, but hopefully a step in the right direction in the big picture.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Revenge is Sweet

Last night, we were overrun with sleepovering boys. Their banging slamming singing pillowfighting gaming goofing clomping racket in the basement went on into the wee small hours. Himself, who can normally sleep through pretty much anything short of a direct tornado hit, went downstairs at 4AM and read the last few loud and wakeful ones the riot act. (We don't care how late they stay up; we just object to being kept awake all night ourselves. We are old and need our sleep!)

Come morning, all downstairs were finally out cold. Himself took great joy in blasting Reveille (downloaded for the purpose onto the the laptop shortly before) from the basement stairs at high volume to rouse them all at pancake time. The faces were priceless.

I know--we aren't very nice.

But payback is sometimes a bitch. ;)

In Your Room With The Door Shut

I'm noticing that many of my writing topics so far somehow relate to my mother. This is another one. Hopefully she will take it as a compliment! For the record, I do in fact have a father, a very loving one, and I promise that I will actually write about him and his family at some point as well.

Over the course of my childhood, I learned to play at least half a dozen different musical instruments. Some much better than others, but music classes of some kind, in school or out, were a constant in my life from the age of 6 or so until I finished high school. Mom had always wanted music lessons herself, but it just wasn't an option when she was a child. For that reason, she was tremendously supportive of all my musical endeavors and detours (except possibly for the brief period in which I studied the drums while I had braces on my teeth, and even then she didn't put her foot down, to her everlasting credit.)

She had only one rule, and it was very simple: All brand new instruments were to be practiced in my room with the door shut until I got the basic hang of playing them.

After that, I was more than welcome to sit myself down on the bench of her organ in the family room, right by the kitchen, and "serenade" her to my heart's content and for the full amount of time my music teachers asked me to practice.

Thing One is already a pretty decent pianist, and has asked to learn to play the alto saxophone next year in school as well. I dug out my old sax for him and have been showing him the basic ropes for the last week or so.

I had forgotten quite how much a new saxophone player bleats like a dying cow while learning to control the sound of the instrument. I now entirely understand why I was banished to my room at that stage. I hope I can manage to be as patient with him as Mom was with me!

What goes around comes around, indeed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Garden Is Overflowing

Yesterday, I turned 22 cucumbers and 43 tomatoes into pickles and tomato sauce, respectively.

Every one was grown in my garden and picked within the last few days. We had reached a point at which the entire kitchen counter was covered with bowls and baskets of veggies and something HAD to be done with them all right that minute.

As a child, I hated working in the yard. We lived in the tropics, where everything grew a good foot or so a week, or so it seemed to me. My beloved mother dragged me kicking and screaming out back every weekend to help tame the jungle: the bougainvillea in particular was a flaming menace of blood-sucking thorns and my sworn enemy. (At that stage of the game, I did not appreciate its flowers in the least.) For years, I vowed that when I had a home of my own, the yard would be either green-painted concrete or AstroTurf if I had any say in the matter.

Then we bought this house, and it came with a fenced garden plot. (The reason for the fence became clear immediately...we were and are overrun with marauding deer who eat everything in sight.) In a sudden fit of domesticity, I decided to try growing tomatoes and herbs. Much to the amusement of everyone who had previously been subjected to my thoughts on gardening, I might add. Over the years, the garden haul has grown to include pumpkins, squash, beans, peas, strawberries, eggplant, hot and sweet peppers, tomatillos, and probably other things as well that aren't coming immediately to mind. I've gone so far as to teach myself to can what I grow, as well.

I still don't care much about growing flowers...that hasn't changed. I plant some every year for decoration, but my heart is not in the flowerbeds and hanging baskets.

The real satisfaction comes from feeding my family fruits and vegetables that I have nurtured myself with my own two hands in our own soil. My children pick for themselves and eat while they are playing: berries, cherry tomatoes, peas straight from the pod. Tiny sweet pineapple tomatillos right out of their husks.

This time of year, the bounty is at its peak. I am reminded of my blessings every time the garden catches my eye from the kitchen window.

And not one of the plants in it has thorns. ;)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On A Lighter Note...

...I now bring you the random scientific fact of the day:

Estimated amount of glucose used by an adult human brain each day, expressed
in M&Ms: 250
--Harper's Index, October 1989

Peanut M&Ms for me, please.

The Last Fairy's Gift

Once upon a time, in a magical land far, far away, a beautiful baby boy was born. His parents were overjoyed. A grand christening was planned for him, and all the fairies of the realm were invited to the celebration.

The day of the ceremony arrived, and the fairies gathered around the cradle of the sleeping child to give him their gifts.

One granted him musical ability. Another the gift of good health. A third physical coordination. The fourth a good memory. The fifth intelligence. The sixth, strength and speed. And so on, until only one fairy present had yet to speak.

Suddenly the doors burst open. As a very angry fairy stormed in, it dawned on the baby's mother (who, like all mothers, had far too much going on at any given time and occasionally dropped a mental ball) that she had completely forgotten to invite this fairy to the celebration.

The angry fairy stomped over to the cradle, and sneered to the sleeping babe: "Although I was not invited to your party, I will still give you my gift. You shall have all of the gifts granted to you by my fellow fairies, but you will take every one for granted and never develop or use them!"

With that, she stomped back out of the room, slamming the doors behind her.

As his parents looked on, grief-stricken, the one fairy who had not yet spoken looked at them and said "I cannot change her prophecy, but I can make it less evil. He will in time learn to appreciate and use his gifts, but first he must struggle to find what he really wants to do with them."


Thinking about Thing One today. Minus the fairies, this is his story: the child blessed with virtually every gift imaginable other than motivation.

Himself and I are very, very Type A. To put it mildly, a lack of motivation is not an issue for either of us. We wonder how we produced such a laid-back child. (Perhaps a double negative is also a positive in genetics, as it is in math or English.)

Thing One is still young. And he has not yet learned how to work for anything, because he hasn't really needed to for the most part. He doesn't understand the thrill that comes from working hard for something and then achieving it. We know this. And we try so, SO hard to keep our mouths shut.

He is a good soul. A kind and loving and gentle soul. These gifts he does use, and I am thankful for it.

And I hope with all my heart that he will eventually find what he wants to do with the rest of his gifts as well.

We can't take any credit for our talents. It's how we use them that counts.
Madeleine L'Engle (1918 - )

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Happy Birthday To My Favorite SOB

I've mentioned before that my maternal grandmother was a true character.

She was one of 18 children born in the US to parents who had immigrated from Italy. One of the 13 of those children who survived to adulthood. One of the girls in those 13 who had to quit school before they reached high school. (They were sent to work to help pay for their brothers' college educations.) One of the girls who worked all her life, took care of her own home and family, and then cleaned her parents' house on Sundays. One of the girls who was very happy to marry because it got her out of her parents' house and into a life of her own.

She made it through the 8th grade in school. That was more education than her older sisters received. Until the day she died, she educated herself to make up for what she'd missed. By her chair in her living room there was a basket that always held whatever book she was currently reading, a dictionary and a notebook. Any time she came across an unfamiliar word in her reading, or heard one on TV, she looked it up in the dictionary and wrote it down in her notebook.

The man she married was an only Italian son (he had three sisters.) In those days, in that traditional family, it meant that the sun verily rose and set on his head: He was the favored child, the beloved boy who got whatever he wanted. As an adult, he had a hard time holding a job because he couldn't take orders from a boss. My grandmother, with her eighth-grade education, largely supported the family as a department store saleswoman. And she was such an accomplished seamstress that the store finally forbade her to wear clothes that she had made to work because they were so much more beautiful than the store's offerings.

The family did not have a lot of money, so all three of her daughters put themselves through university. My grandmother insisted that they get a real education so that they would not grow up to be like her. I remember being a tiny, tiny child and having her tell me the same thing. Bypassing higher education was never an option for me: Grandma would without question have killed me first, right after she gave me an ear-blistering lecture about being too stupid to take advantage of the opportunities with which I'd been blessed. As a woman of her times, she also wanted me to marry someone who could support the family ("a doctor or a lawyer," as she usually put it) because she had not been so fortunate herself, but her bottom line was that we all needed to be able to take care of ourselves if push ever came to shove. That was just not negotiable.

Understandably, she was in many ways a hard woman by the time I was old enough to really know her, most likely because she had worked so tenaciously all her life for everything she had. Dear God, the woman could hold a grudge. For all eternity if need be. And she had a head like a rock. As a teenager, I called her the SOB (for "stubborn old bat"): it was a term of endearment, and she knew it. She was sharp as a tack, enjoyed an argument (not in a mean-spirited way, but the verbal sparring of it) and suffered absolutely no fools whatsoever. Even her wardrobe was severe. Everything in her closet was brown, black, navy blue, or white, and every single new article of clothing she bought was worn to church before anywhere else. No exceptions. She was a lady in the true sense of the word and always dressed like a queen.

She was also the kindest of grandmothers beneath the crust. Although she must have been well into her 70s at the time, I remember her allowing my preschool-aged little brother to "tow" her off her armchair and down onto the floor with one of his toy cranes over and over. She never said a word when I ate all the tomatoes and grapes out of her backyard garden or when my brother and I dug an enormous hole in a corner of her yard to use as a fort. She would plan for weeks before we arrived for a visit so that all of our favorite foods would be on hand for us. (This was a woman for whom love was often shown with food: a guest in her home could not be hungry for so much a moment. Ever.) There was invariably a homemade pizza cooling on the counter to greet us, because we loved them. That smell instantly takes me back to her house, even this many years later. She taught us all to make gnocchi and spaghetti sauce the "real" way. When I earned my driver's license at 16, she immediately handed me her car keys: she was so terrified that she would be responsible for something happening to me or my brother while she was driving that she preferred to have me do it, even as new and green as I was then. She loved us so very, very much, and we her.

She died the summer I turned 22. It is one of my greatest regrets that she did not live to see me finish graduate school or dance at my wedding or hold my children. I so wish that Himself and the children could have known her. I read the eulogy at her funeral, since I was the only one who could do it without breaking down on the altar. Our beloved monolith (her daughter's description) was gone, and the grief was staggering.

Today would have been her 104th birthday. Thinking of her and smiling today. She lives on in The Girl, who was named for her and is every bit as stubborn.

Rest in peace, Grandma. You earned it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Saw this today and it cracked me up: how ironic is it that the first real flying saucer came from Earth and landed on Mars, instead of the other way around?

Might As Well Be Vampires Talking

I get it. Really, I do.

I have a relatively unusual blood type. O negative (O-.) Only about 7% of the overall population has it.

Besides being rare, O- is also the "universal donor" blood type. That's what makes it important. Without going too far into the science of it, there is nothing in O- blood that will react negatively with the A and B proteins on the red blood cells of people who have A, B or AB blood types, or the Rh factor protein in anyone with a "positive" blood type (eg O+, A+, etc.) Virtually anyone can accept a transfusion of O- blood without having a nasty clotting reaction and potentially dying.

This makes O- blood very, very popular in the medical world. Hospitals want to have a stockpile of it around because they can give it to anybody without worrying if it is going to cross-react and cause problems. And it can be the difference between life and death when somebody with a seriously rare blood type like AB- needs a transfusion and there just isn't enough of that rare type in the blood bank.

Like I said, I get why having enough O- blood on hand is important for blood banks.

But when I get two texts in two days from two different banks saying, "We desperately need your blood! Please come in!", it still looks pretty strange on my phone. I have to smile.

And I have to go and donate blood ASAP, too.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cooking Therapy

I came across this term in the comments on another blog recently (thanks, Ms. M!) and it struck me deeply. When I feel unsettled, I cook. The simple routines of stirring and chopping and measuring lull my mind, and the smells of comfort food soothe my soul. Molasses cookies (I have the best recipe on Earth for these.) Bread. Soup. My grandmother's spaghetti sauce, the kind that simmers on the back of the stove all day and is never to be wasted on the heathens who actually prefer the inferior jarred alternative. Labors of love and deliciousness, all.

When I was growing up, we lived far from the extended family. We brought them close in spirit (particularly around the holidays, when the missing became most acute, especially for my mother) in the kitchen. How many thousands of the family Christmas cookies did we bake over the years? How many traditional meals did we cook? We soothed the longing for family with good things to eat and the conviviality of creating them together in our kitchen.

I think I'll bake some bread tomorrow. Maybe make some soup, too.


Thunderstorms came through booming and crashing and pouring last night.  Around midnight, it crossed my mind to hope that the new roof was installed correctly.  Seems that the old one was in even worse shape than we thought, so it was a good thing that we had it replaced when we did.  No point in renovating the inside of a house if the roof could leak water into it at any time, we figured.  First things first.

But now we have a solid roof.  And we have rain, which so much of the country lacks right now, and which happily does not appear to be leaking into the house (knock on wood.)  I am grateful for my burgeoning garden and the abundance from the farms around us, none of which we would have without the rain.

The simplest of blessings, and yet the most important: A good roof over our heads, water, and food.  Reminding myself today to be grateful for these and the many others we enjoy and take for granted.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I Am Petty. And Stubborn.

I really, really don't like to be forced to do anything.  It gets my back up in a big way.

Even if the issue is very small. 

Case in point: movies on DVD.  Which invariably have the screen with all the copyright protection notices and warnings in with the trailers before the movie starts.  The screen that you cannot fast forward through even though it is shown at the beginning of every DVD ever made and you are royally sick of seeing it.  The one that makes you (or at least me) want to make a thousand copies of the disc and sell them out of pure perversity.

I look away when one of those notices comes on now.  They can put it on the DVD, but they can't make me read it.

"I had that stubborn streak, the Irish in me I guess."
Gregory Peck


A friend linked to an interesting article on Facebook this morning.  It originally appeared in The Atlantic, and is called "What My Son's Disabilities Taught Me About 'Having It All'."

Marie Myung-Ok Lee, the mother of a 12 year-old with significant medical disabilities and behavioral problems who functions at the bottom 1% cognitive level for children his age, writes that she is often asked how she and her husband possibly manage to even function, let alone be happy, given the challenges and stresses that their son brings to their lives.   In a society obsessed with "having it all," she feels that "people are waiting for our inevitable breakdown, a breast-beating howl against fate that is sure to come once we realize we'll truly never "have it all" -- because of our imperfect son."

As I've mentioned, we had some pretty awful times with Thing Two early on.  Even after his issues were diagnosed and we started slowly moving in the right direction, there were still days when I would rage furiously at the universe because my beautiful, precious son was afflicted with so many difficulties.  Days when I would be despondent about the slow pace of progress and all the challenges yet to be overcome.  And then, often, I would get a reality check.  As if the universe were saying, "Quit your whining and count your blessings, cupcake." 

A particularly memorable reality check came the day I met the mother of severely autistic four year-old triplets in the speech therapist's waiting room.  One of the children functioned at about the two year-old level, and the other two were completely nonverbal.  Okay, universe.  Point made.  Perspective is a beautiful thing, and sometimes a step back makes all the difference in the world.  God knows, I have many, many blessings to count.

As does Lee. She lists many of them in the article, as the "secret" to her happiness.  She says: "We are chasing the wrong things, asking ourselves the wrong questions. It is not, "Can we have it all?" -- with "all" being some kind of undefined marker that shall forever be moved upwards out of reach just a little bit with each new blessing. We should ask instead, "Do we have enough?"

She believes that she has enough.  Resoundingly. 

And I have enough too.  Much, much more than enough.  My cup positively overflows.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mark Twain Is My Kind Of Guy

One of my favorite quotations ever, and so so SO apt today:

"In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer." -Mark Twain

Circumstances have tried my patience massively this week in general and today in particular.  And I have little enough of that virtue to begin with, God knows.  I guess I should just be happy that the kids have not learned any new and unacceptable vocabulary words today.  Time to drink a big glass of wine and hope that tomorrow is less frustrating.   

Irregular English

Reflecting on the fact that the plural of "mouse" is "mice," while the plural of "house" is "houses."  Learning English as a second language must be absolutely infuriating.  So very many exceptions to memorize.  

I studied Mandarin Chinese in grades 7-12.   The first few months were an uphill battle of learning how to use tones in speaking and read an alphabetless language, but after that it wasn't really all that difficult.  It is an old language, so old that it is grammatically simple.  No genders, no tenses, no endings.  It has rules and observes them. 

The university I subsequently attended had only a rudimentary Mandarin program at the time.  Since I had a language requirement to fulfill and did not want to repeat basic Mandarin, I chose to take German instead.  And does it ever have RULES.  Holy cow.  Endings and cases and genders and tenses and I don't even remember what all else.  By virtue of my wandering childhood, I somehow managed to miss out on grammar lessons in English, so most of the grammar I do know came courtesy of my foreign language classes.  And I learned a hell of a lot of that in German.  I actually understood German quite well by the time I was done, but was far too afraid of banging up the grammar to speak it much.

Listening to two small children talking yesterday started this train of thought.  Children who are learning to speak understandably make grammatical errors, in any language.  English-speaking children have the additional hurdle of all the illogical exceptions to master as well.  But fortunately for them, they lack the self-consciousness of the adult who is acutely aware of all the lurking grammatical minefields.

No wonder kids pick up languages faster.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Progress. For Which I Am Always Profoundly Grateful.

Thing Two has some learning challenges.  This, combined with his "my-way-or-the-highway" fundamental personality, has made for some rough years.  To put it mildly.

I thought he was the worst two year-old in the history of two year-olds.  Any deviation from routine would provoke a tantrum.  He would not do anything that we asked him to do.  I had to carry him into his preschool every day because he categorically refused to walk in on his own.  I was so very, very far beyond my wits' end, especially since The Girl was a newborn babe and Thing One only four at the time.  I was completely exhausted and hanging on to my sanity by the thinnest of threads. 

I also thought that there was something wrong with his language skills, but the pediatrician kept telling me not to worry.  Thing One was so advanced as a preschooler that I started to wonder if I was just making unfair comparisons.  I finally listened to my inner voice and took Thing Two to the speech and language center at our local hospital for an evaluation when he was about 3.  The speech pathologist told me that the tests showed a profound language deficit--he understood virtually nothing that was being said to him.  No wonder he did not follow directions.  He couldn't process them.  No wonder he didn't want to go to school.  He had no idea what was going on there.  Routine?  The salvation of a child desperately trying to make sense of the world around him.  I began to sob right there in the office.  How could I possibly not have figured this out?  What kind of God-awful horrible mother did that make me? 

Himself and I grieved.  Then we picked ourselves up.  Then we called our local school and fought for services for him.  And I am not exaggerating when I say "fought."  But we got the services he needed there.  And we also get extra services for him on our own.  This has been going on for years now, and our labors are bearing fruit.  

The experts still aren't sure what exactly is wrong with him.   A significant language processing problem, for sure.   Probably some level of ADHD too.  Possibly a spectrum-type diagnosis in the mix as well, although that is looking less and less likely as he gets older.   Maybe a sensory thing, as if the kid needed any more issues.  All of these can intersect and result in similar behavior.

I am with him all day every day.  It's hard for me to see changes since I am too close.  His therapists see him often enough that they don't really notice changes day-to-day either.  His grandparents are actually good judges of his progress, since they don't live near enough to see him often.  But I am always on pins and needles for weeks before his annual visit with the neurodevelopmental pediatrician, because she sees him only once a year and gives us perspective on the whole year's progress.

We saw her today.  She was very pleased.  We are beyond relieved.  He had a great school year last year, far beyond expectations, and her assessment today was consistent with that.  He speaks, he understands.  He participates.  He tries.  Not perfectly by any means, but he is no longer the child who raged in frustration because he couldn't understand others or express himself.  We still have a lot of work to do, and we know that. 

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel now, and it is not a train.   

Thursday, August 2, 2012

At Least I Am Not The Only Dork In The House

Himself has bachelor's and master's degrees in Engineering.  He just came downstairs wearing a t-shirt I bought for him last year that made us both laugh.

It is black.  In white block letters on the front, it says:

"Resistance is not futile.
It's voltage divided by current."

One of the great blessings of our marriage is that we still find the same things funny.  Clearly our senses of humor are totally and irrevocably warped, but that's okay.  At least they match.  

“The real marriage of true minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humor or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances on any subject cross like interarching searchlights.”
-Edith Wharton

One of My Heroes

I've been taking martial arts classes for almost a year now.  One of my instructors is a very devout Muslim woman of Egyptian heritage who always wears a hijab (headscarf) and long sleeves.  She is actually married to the local imam (Muslim leader.) 

To put it mildly, NOT whom you would be expecting to see as a black belt-wearing instructor at the dojo.  And this woman is fierce as hell and tough as nails.  I am tall and she is not but she would absolutely kick my tail in a real fight.  In addition to the discipline she teaches, she is also a student of two other disciplines, one of which is fricking Krav Maga!  In the immortal words of Dave Barry, I am not making this up. 

She is also positively overflowing with personality.  In the best possible way.  She has been known to attach holiday lights to her hijabs, and everything the woman owns is bedazzled.  You should see her phone.  Even her bowstaff is covered with purple crystals.  Probably her nunchuks too.

I just had to ask her how she got into martial arts. 

Her answer was simple: she wanted to show her preadolescent daughter that the headscarf does not limit her.  That she can be an observant Muslim while still participating in whatever activities interest her, even activities as nontraditional as martial arts. 

She rocks.  I want to be like her when I grow up.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More Murphy's Law

So, I posted some thoughts on Murphy's Law here yesterday.

It has now become clear that I am going to have to deal with it whether I am running late or not.

My roof is being replaced today.  The house sounds like it is under siege with all the banging and stomping up there.  The Hound is cowering in her crate and refuses to come out.

It was bad enough that the A/C repairman also had to come to the house this morning.  We lost a capacitor over the weekend and they could replace the part today.  Fine.  It was a quick repair, and it's hot outside.  The job needed doing.  The repairman's job description should not properly include the dodging of flying projectiles, but at least most of the old shingles are being tossed off the roof away from the side of the house where the A/C units live.  And he has a good sense of humor.  No small blessing.  The A/C is now working, thankfully.

However, the final straw came when there was a break in the pounding from above and I heard the unmistakable sound of a weedwhacker in my yard.

Now, the lawn guys have not been here for about two weeks.  They work on a system where they just keep track of what the yard looks like and come whenever the grass needs cutting and the weather permits, so they have no regular date or time.  I never know when they will show up.

My entire driveway is currently full, between the roofing trucks and a dumpster.  My car is down by the road so I can use it if I need to.  There are piles of debris and stacks of shingles and ladders and tools everywhere.  A series of tarps descending from the edge of my roof are collectively covering a good chunk of my front lawn. 

I ask you:  What part of this scenario would say to any reasonable lawn guy: "Looks like a great day to mow this yard!"  Seriously??  I cannot F'ing believe that they are even trying.  I gather that the head lawn guy has come to some mutually acceptable arrangement with the roofers.  I don't have the energy to mediate, and the lawn guys were well into the job already by the time I heard them.  What the hell?

Roofers and the A/C guy and the lawn guys all at once.  In the spirit of this day, I am now just waiting for the guy who was supposed to come on Friday to powerwash the house (but didn't) to decide that he will do it today instead and show up unannounced.  Which task is just not physically possible with all the tarps in place.  If he arrives, I solemnly swear that I will either blow my stack or start in on Himself's wine supply, which is blessedly abundant.

Murphy's Law can bite me.

Time In A Bottle

Okay, time can slow down now, please. When I was a kid, I remember my mother saying that the days were long but the years were short.  I d...