Monday, February 15, 2016

14 Things About You at Age 14

  1. Suddenly your hair got all wavy!
  2. You like steampunk fashion and asked for a waistcoat for Christmas.
  3. You joined the Debate Club at school.  So far, though, every position you've gotten is one you don't agree with.  Which I guess is the whole point of debate....  You grudgingly let Dad come see the last competition.
  4. You make a fruit & veggie smoothie almost every night.
  5. You will now eat salad.  
  6. And you discovered coffee!  (decaf for the moment)
  7. You took up painting this summer and really enjoyed it.  Especially painting in the open air in the park.
  8. Your sneakers are size 13!
  9. You would like to do medieval re-enactment.
  10. You are finally old enough to do blacksmithing. You have been wanting to do this for about 5 years.
  11. I hear you singing when you think no one is nearby.
  12. You grew an incredible 10 inches this year!  You are taller than me now and not too much longer before you catch up to Dad
  13. Deciding on which high school to go to was tough but you made a good choice. 
  14. Your last report card had three 100% marks.

  1. You do not like your sideburns at all.  Dad has to trim them a few times a week.
  2. The mustache and little whiskers don't bother you as yet.
  3. You regularly call us into the other room to watch something with you.  And then after about 1 minute you tell us to go away. 
  4. You are swimming backstroke now and getting the hang of it.
  5. I put a "favorite characters" folder on your speech app and now that is all you want to talk about.  We had to hide it at school so you would concentrate on your work.
  6. You are sleeping later in the morning.  Not as late as your brother, but late for you.  8:00! whoo!
  7. Now you are on a bowling team with Special Olympics.  
  8. You grew about 5 inches this year.
  9. Your shoes are size 7.5, finally in a men's size. You like to step on the back of them and wear them that way.  Maybe I should just buy you clogs.
  10. You are still a flirt.
  11. You really like vegetables now.  Especially asparagus.
  12. Your teacher reports that when you hang up your things in your locker, you put your hat on the shelf, your coat on one hook, your scarf on the 2nd hook and a glove each on hooks 3 & 4.  LOL!  I am going to ask her to take a photo before winter is over.
  13. You are warming up a bit more to the idea of a pet.  A rabbit is the only animal that doesn't get an outright no.  
  14.  Your last report card had two 100% marks.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Best books of 2015

I read 37 books this year.  That's the lowest number since I started keeping track in 2011, but that's ok.  I added needlework back into my goal list and was dividing my time between those two things. If a book doesn't really grab me within the first 100 or so pages, I don't force myself to finish it.  Reading is my stress relief and if I'm not enjoying it, then out it goes.  

So without further ado, these are the books that got 5 stars from me this year (in no particular order):
  1. A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon.  This is available as an eBook only and it took me quite some time to find it.  This little novella tells the story of what really happened to Roger MacKenzie Wakefield's parents and how he was orphaned during the Blitz.   
  2. The Space Between: An Outlander Novella by Diana Gabaldon.  Also an eBook only edition, this novella tells the story of Joan MacKimmie, one of Jamie's adopted daughters, who makes her way to Paris to enter a convent.  She is helped on her journey by Michael Murray, Jamie's nephew.  One of Claire's old enemies learns of the connection and things get complicated.  With both of these ebooks, I love how Diana Gabaldon fills in little bits and pieces of all the characters in the Outlander universe.  Michael, Joan, Dolly & Roger Sr. are very minor characters in the other books but now here they are full-fledged and we come to care about them just as much as all the others.  It also makes it easier to wait the 3 or 4 years it takes her to write the next big book.
  3. A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor.  Mr. Shaw's Home for Watercress and Flower Girls is a home and refuge for London's flower girls, many of them orphaned and crippled.  (think Eliza Doolittle in much poorer circumstances)   In 1912, Tilly Harper leaves her home in the Lake District to become an assistant housemother.   Soon after she arrives she finds a diary in her room written by an orphan named Florrie, who dies searching for her lost sister Rosie.  Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie, while getting to know and caring for her new charges.  Through her journey she finds a new life for herself.  I loved this book.  There was a lot of historical research done and it led me to learn more about the flower girls.   For instance, when the fashion for fresh flowers waned, many of the girls got training to make flowers from silk and feathers for the millinery trade.  Queen Alexandra arranged a "rose day" where people made charitable contributions through the purchase of silk roses to help fund rehabilitation programs for the flower girls and ensure they had a place to live.
  4. The Secret Place by Tana French.  French's novels are the only detective/crime/suspense ones I read.  I'm normally very susceptible to scary stuff and don't read or watch anything that will give me nightmares.  But French's writing is so good and her characters so multi-dimensional that I'm willing to risk it.  A popular boy was murdered on the grounds of a girls' boarding school a year ago and the case remains unsolved.  The school has an anonymous gossip bulletin board (the headmistress's answer to social media) and 16-year-old Holly Mackey arrives at the Dublin murder squad with a postcard of the dead boy's picture with the caption "I know who killed him" that she had found on the board earlier in the week.  Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to join Dublin’s Murder Squad and gets his chance, if his new partner Antoinette Conway doesn't throw him out on his ass first.  They delve into the confusing and tangled world of teenaged girls and their relationships, the use of social media and how nothing is how it looks at first glance or even second and third.  I didn't love this one as much as some of the earlier novels, it felt like it was trying too hard to come up with that final twist that leaves you gasping with surprise (I feel the same with Jodi Piccoullt's latest efforts), but it was still a good read and just scary enough that I was on the edge of my seat.
  5.  Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper.  I'll get it out of the way right now.  This is now on my top books of all time list.  If you read nothing else this year, go get this book.  Like M. L. Stedman (The Light Between Oceans, also on my top list), Hooper is able to convey entire histories in only one or two sentences.  Eighty-three year old Etta wakes up one morning realizing she has never seen the ocean.  So she leaves a note on the table for her husband Otto and sets off on foot from their Saskatchewan farm, heading east.  Otto understands Etta's need and doesn't follow.  Russell grew up with Otto and he has loved Etta from afar for most of their lives.  So in his one and  only act of defiance in his whole life, he follows and tries to find Etta. As for James, I'll let you find out for yourself who he is.  This book blurs the lines between memory, illusion and reality as well as youth and old age.  Is our reality our physical body or our memory and does anyone else have a say in it?  It explores our human need for reinvention and connection in ways that stayed with me long after I finished reading.  
  6. One Plus One by JoJo Moyes.  Moyes is one of those authors where you read one of her books and instantly go to the library or the bookstore and get every single thing they have written.  Jess is a single mom with problems.  Beyond the obvious financial ones, her teenage son is getting bullied.  Her math-whiz daughter has a chance to compete in an olympiad event that they can't afford to go to.  Ed is a tech millionaire with problems of his own.  But helping Jess is the one unselfish thing he has done in maybe ever.  And he's not really sure why he's doing it!  But try as he might (and boy does he try) he can't really make himself stop.  I love how Moyes pairs these unlikely people together and suddenly you can't imagine them with anyone else.  This book had me laughing out loud, crying, cheering.  Definitely a fun read. 
  7. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I had only read Gilberts memoirs (Eat, Pray, Love, etc.) and didn't really know she wrote novels as well.  This book follows Alma Whittaker's life.  Born in 1800 to a botanical explorer, she grows up in a wealthy family where intellectual pursuits are prized above all else.  Her intense study of mosses bring her closer to the realities of evolution, but as a woman scientists are unlikely to take her work seriously.  Late in life she falls in love with Ambrose, a Utopian artist, whose ideas are in direct opposite of her own.  The novel ranges across the world - Peru, Amsterdam, Tahiti - and across ideas and the evolution of what we know about the world.  Definitely a page turner.
  8. Neverwhere (Author's Preferred Text) by Neil Gaiman.  I've tried to read a few of Gaiman's books before but never finished one because frankly, they were too weird.  Alternate realities are cool but sometimes they were just so way out there I couldn't find anything to grasp onto in order to make sense of the story.  This book is a bit hard to describe, but it's the story of ordinary Londoner Richard Mayhew and his unlikely journey into the world of London Below to help the Lady Door save it from destruction.  Maybe I just liked it because it was set in London.  
  9. Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon.  Any visit to Mitford is a good one and I loved this Christmas tale of Father Tim's gift and all the residents of Mitford and their holiday doings  I have a tradition of reading at least one Christmas book during the season and I'm glad I found this one.  I mistakenly reserved the audio version rather than the book.  I don't normally listen to audio books because I find myself getting distracted and having to rewind constantly.  But for some reason I didn't have that issue with this and I really enjoyed it.  I drove around town, grinning like a fool the entire time I listened.  
  10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  There seem to be a lot of WWII-era books on the shelves these days.  Whether that is because of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the current political climate or perhaps just the perspective that time brings, I don't know.  Usually when there seems to be a "theme" like this I tend to steer clear, they all seem to repeat themselves and it seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of whatever seems to be making money in the moment (see: teenage distopian novels).  This book, however, got such great reviews I decided to check it out.  It combines two things I love, well-researched historical fiction and the perspectives of two different people living in the same time but worlds apart.  Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of 6.  Her father, who is Master of the Locks at the Museum of Natural History, builds her a scale model of their Paris neighborhood so she can memorize it and therefore find her way around by herself.  Then comes the German occupation and they are forced to flee to a relative in Saint-Malo, on the coast of Brittany.  Werner grows up an orphan in a mine-town in Northern Germany, where he discovers an old radio scavenging with his sister Jutta.  His interest in radios and ability to fix them wins him a place at an elite military academy just as the Third Reich is coming to power.  As they grow up and their paths grow inexorably closer, the anticipation of their meeting keeps you turning the pages.  At its heart this novel is about the good in the world and all the ways people can be and are good to each other.  Something we all need to remember no matter the times we live in.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday Decorating Realities

#1: Start in one room, realize that as long as you're moving furniture, etc. you should deep clean. Tell yourself (again) that you will do this on a more regular basis. (sorry Mom!)

#2: Move all the crap from each room as you decorate. Pretty soon I will get to the other end of the house and all of this will have to be dealt with!

#3: It is a Universal Law that you will marry a person of the opposite Tree Light Color Persuasion.

#4: It is also a Universal Law that you will marry someone of the opposite Tree Light Application Method persuasion. See also: To Tinsel or Not?  Also: Angel or Star?

 #5: You (again) remember that you should have gotten the amaryllis bulbs and planted them in your decorative holiday pots around Halloween. As it stands now (and forever it seems) when Christmas comes around you will have ratty looking bulbs sitting in a pot of bare dirt instead of glorious blooms of red and white and pink and candy striped.

#6: Where are all the $*(*@ green extension cords?

#7: It's just not Christmas until the Advent Wreath catches fire.

#8: It is probable, but not possible, that in an alternate universe there are, actually, enough Christmas mugs. But here in this house, no, no there can not, and never will there be, enough Christmas mugs.

#9: The emergence of the Santa Cookie Plate brings great joy. But you cannot eat off it (no, not even cookies, all you weisenheimers. You know who you are.). Because it is, you know, reserved.

#10: Be Honest.  Those little foil wrapped Santas and ornaments, marshmallow snowmen, ribbon candy, etc. are not going to make it until tomorrow.

#11: Who knew fake trees shed just as much as real ones? Especially when you store them shoved in a closet that is too small for it.

#12: The dream of Christmas quilts got as far as buying fabric. Which if I could find again I probably wouldn't like now. Oh wait, I did manage to make pillowcases for two of the four beds. Where are those?

#13: The snowman teapot holds a mouthful of tea and the cookies go stale if you put them in the snowy cottage cookie jar, but they are just so DANG cute!

#14: Our gingerbread houses will never look like the magazine ones. Instead of feeling bad about it, we make up silly scenarios about why it looks like it does: "starving reindeer herd" "avalanche!" "abominable snowman tripped"

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Defines Us

I once had someone ask me if we didn't, perhaps, identify too much as the family of a child with special needs?  I remember feeling bewildered. I didn't answer.   How could I answer?   How was I supposed to answer?  I wondered what our life looked like from the outside.  However that was, it probably didn't accurately reflect our reality anyway.   There's a reason parents of kids with special needs tend to hang out together.  Nobody needs to explain anything.  How could we not identify ourselves as the family of a child with special needs?  How on earth would it be possible to do less of it?

We try very, very hard to do things with M. on his own and encourage his own interests.  Sometimes our efforts are more successful than others.  We don't expect him to be responsible for his brother too much in the short term, and while we hope he will want to in the long term, that's not something we dictate to him. (Though I will freely admit that any significant other he brings home will be scrutinized, especially how they interact with P.)  But doesn't his brother's existence, his very twin-hood, define M. to a certain extent?  In the same way that my having nine siblings defines me and my husband's strong Italian heritage defines him, the way we grow up shapes the people we are. To what extent do we define ourselves and to what extent is that definition thrust upon us, either by circumstance or accident or luck?

P. has spent the last 10 days at a local camp that serves children with special needs and those who are economically disadvantaged.  Amazingly, this is his 5th year attending.  That's hard to believe when I think of how we chickened out and decided not to send him at the eleventh hour the first year he was eligible to go. We only agreed to let him go the following year because our amazing friend K. volunteered for the week and was able to send us daily reports.  I remember being amazed at the "veteran" parents who threw a sheet on the bed, kissed their kid on the cheek and left.  They just... left.  We stayed far longer than we should have that first drop-off and M. begged to stay because "who will take care of P?"  For that entire week we didn't dare move very far from the phone in case he was miserable and needed to be picked up right away.  We talked about him constantly.  The second, third and fourth years he attended, P. jumped out of the car when we got to camp.  We felt more comfortable leaving him, though we still cried on the way home.  Still, we ventured farther afield with M. and were able to stop worrying for longer and longer periods of time.

This year P. was excited to go, he started bouncing in his seat when he recognized the road.  But he didn't leap out of the car.  He treated it more like home.  He waved hello to everyone, strolled into his cabin and picked out his bed (top bunk, of course).  After we put the sheet on his mattress, he shooed us away.  He climbed up and set it all up himself -- pillows and blanket and Barney and Blue and Woody and Buzz and water cup just the way and where he wanted them.  When it was time for us to go, he didn't cling even a little bit.  I was happy about it in the moment.  "Look how mature he's getting!" We were different as well. We knew he was in good hands and that he would have a lot of fun. We chatted to the counselors we knew.  But instead of instructions about P. we asked how their year had gone and what were they doing now?  The walk to the car was easier and we didn't cry.  M. had a camp the same day and we had to get him where he needed to be on time. We couldn't dally. It seemed we had matured as well. We had become the parents I marveled at the first year.  We just... left.

Without having to get up for summer school, we all indulged our night owl tendencies and slept in later.  It was very quiet. I felt more successful in my attempts to meditate.  We spent all day gardening or at museums or fossil hunting or visiting Toronto.  We even saw a movie that wasn't animated.  We ate out at restaurants without caring whether pasta was on the menu.  We shopped for furniture without worrying about whose patience was waning.  There were no complicated vitamin regimes to prepare (and consequently, none of us took our vitamins either).  My husband and I each went to events without in-depth discussions of schedules. We didn't think about therapies. I went to work and didn't panic about being home in time for the bus.. No one's bowels were the topic of conversation. No one needed their meat cut or help getting their teeth brushed. I didn't have to translate anyone's communications.  I almost never had to look at someone's clothes before they left the house to make sure everything was on right. We were able to take long showers without making sure someone else was watching to be sure P. didn't wander outside in his underwear or decide to sit in the hot car or eat the entire contents of the cold cut drawer or try to turn on the stove or drape the waiting laundry over the furnace and hot water heater.

That's not to say we didn't miss him.  Of course we did!  When it rained, we worried he wouldn't be able to swim.  And when it was sunny, we worried he was giving the counselors a hard time getting out of the pool.  We hadn't sent as much food with him this year, was he eating most of what they served?  In the past he has gone to the Christmas in July session -- was he wondering where the tree and the decorations were?  Perhaps there was a theme for this session that we should have known about and talked up.  I noticed that M. was sleeping in his brother's bed.  He didn't want to do some of the things we suggested because he wanted P. to do them too.  He invented a new game that he couldn't wait to show his brother how to play. The large hole in the day was more than just P.'s absence.  I found myself constantly analyzing thoughts and emotions. What exactly was different this time?  And why was it different?

And then as we were in the kitchen last night, making P.'s favorite pasta salad for his welcome home meal and talking about what time we had to leave this morning, my husband hit the nail on the head.  "This week has been too easy.  It feels wrong somehow."  With just M. to worry about, everything was easy.  Had we been experiencing life as a "typical" family?  Is this what family life feels like for most people?   That's not good or bad, just something we have never experienced. It felt like we were coasting through life. If we had this existence all the time, we might forget to be grateful. We might forget to strive for someone other than ourselves. We might forget to be cheerleaders. We might forget to be who we are.

As I am typing this, the television is blaring, and the rhythm of lots of little figures being dumped out of their bucket and put back in resounds through the house.  I've had to negotiate snacks and supervise wiping and cut up meat.  At least ten times, I have said "Leave your brother alone!"  I've packed the backpack for school tomorrow and made sure the speech device is charged and that we have lunch supplies ready.  I have washed all the bedding so that Barney and Blue and Buzz and Woody can go back to their normal places.  The vitamins are laid out.  Everyone is where they should be and everything is once again as it should be in our world.  And to my mixed feelings of gladness and regret, P. has signed "more" and said "more camp" and "go camp" several times since we arrived home.  He is trying to get used to the normal routine again too.

This year, camp gave us a taste of what life might be like when M. and P. don't need us on a daily basis. Children grow up and move on and parents learn to redefine themselves in the wake of those milestones. We expect our typical children to do that.  We're proud of them when they do.  But our children with special needs?  We set up trusts and we arrange for guardianship and we put them on a waiting list for an independent living situation when they're 11 because those lists are so very long.  We never talk about our fears that it might never happen. And maybe if we're totally honest, we're equally afraid that it will.  And yet our children mature and grow just as others do.  They become more independent in their own ways and eventually they begin to build a life away from us, even if only an internal one.  Even if it is inch by inch over a long period of time.  Sometimes it begins with the return to a place they feel at home in, with people they feel safe with.  And we have to let them do it.  Even when it's hard.  Especially when it's hardest on us.

I am the parent of a child with special needs.  That role does define me. I am the parent of a typical child. I am the parent of twins.  Those roles define me as well. But now, maybe, as time goes on... I see that other things, some long-forgotten, and some new, can define me as well.  And I will need to sit in the noise with these thoughts until I become used to them.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dear Menopause

We are through!  Through, I tell you!

We've known each other, what?  8 years now?  I admit, I wasn't on board with our relationship in the beginning.  You pursued me more than I thought seemly.  But you wore me down and it was just easier to give in.  Fine, I said, we can hang out sometimes, just don't crowd me, give me my space.  Then just when I was getting used to  having you around, you went off on this massive game of hide-and-seek and disappeared for 11 months.  Then you came back all raging and crazy and acted like it was MY fault because I told you to get lost just that one time. I still haven't really forgiven you for that.  

Yes, there have been tears and bitchy fights and some anger management issues.  It totally was too your fault.  It was!  Let's not have that argument again, ok?  Ok.  Overall, I've tried to maintain a relatively cordial relationship and just kind of try to live in a peaceful coexistence with you. Which has not been easy with the crap you have pulled.  Oh, really?  You are soooo not the innocent party here.  I'm not getting drawn in to your drama anymore.  I'm just trying to deflect all your negative energy and move on with my life over here.  Those hot flashes that have gone on for way longer than you promised?   I like not having to carry a sweater everywhere.  The newly sparse eyebrows?  Not having to tweeze everyday gives me 10 more minutes of free time.  Then you hit me with the chin and neck hairs.  Ok, I can deal, the Tweezermans are still in the top drawer.  The never-shrinking muffin top?  Empire tops are all in style now.  Just yesterday there was a really good sale.  Then there's the freakiness of my neck, what about that, huh?  Nora Ephron tried to warn me about you.  But did I listen?  And the saggy upper eyelids?  I can live with those, my glasses hide the worst of it.   The crepey skin on my hands?  You're not my only friend.  Moisturizer likes me too, you know.   How about the grey hairs that are totally a different texture than the rest of the hair on my head?    I rock the short hair.  The forgetfulness?  Why do you think they invented post-it notes, huh?  The sleepiness?  Well, I've always liked sleeping.  Sleeping is one of my talents!  Forgot about that, didn't you?  Proof that you don't really listen when I talk.  So, you counter with insomnia?  There's... I... Just...  You are SUCH a bitch!  Yeah, don't act like some of this has nothing to do with you.  It does.  Who let Aging in?  You two are like bosom buddies.  I told you no sleepovers, didn't I?  If anyone's gonna sleep around here, sweetie, it's gonna be me.  But no.  You had to have a buddy.  I go away for a weekend and you have a party and now we're all sharing closets.  Own that one, honey.

But this latest stunt?  You have gone too far this time.  I am done.  Done.  I mean it this time.  Pack your bags and be gone by morning.  Nose hairs.  There's the line.  I am drawing the line.  Right there.  I AM DRAWING THE LINE, DO YOU HEAR?

Love, Me.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

13 Things About You at Age Thirteen

Teenagers!  Yikes!

  1.  You got Warhammer for Christmas and are enjoying the process of putting together your army.  You are thinking about paint colors and figuring out the rules of the game.
  2. Your favorite meal right now is fake chicken.  You're still not crazy about vegetables.
  3. You are very interested in healthy eating and I often find you replacing things in the grocery cart (and we eat pretty healthy already!)
  4. You like to try unusual drinks, like Birch Water (sap from birch trees) or things with vinegar in them.
  5. You still love archery.
  6. The family near-sightedness has appeared.  Your glasses will be ready this week.
  7. You want to be in charge of the garden this year.  Maybe that way it will actually happen.
  8. You like your hair a little bit longer.
  9. Your favorite shirts are the ones with the hoods.
  10. Your favorite movies right now are The Hobbit (all of them) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
  11. You love to sneak up on us ninja style.
  12. You are still a night owl.
  13. We like to watch baking shows together.  The current favorite is the Great British Baking Show.

  1. Swimming is still your best thing.
  2. Your favorite Christmas gift was Wiggles DVDs.
  3. You are a pro at using the iPad.
  4. Spaghetti or any kind of pasta is still your favorite meal.
  5. Your favorite shirts are the ones with stripes.
  6. You like your hair a little bit shorter.
  7. You love to set the table and you like it when we have dinner by candlelight.
  8. Every morning I scrub your face and then realize your face is not dirty, you have the start of a mustache.  Eek!
  9. You are still a lark.
  10. You like to go grocery shopping, especially at BJ's.  
  11. You still love hats and wear one every day.  The current favorite is a black top hat.  But I think this plaid one you got for your birthday might replace it.
  12. The physical therapist at school says you love the exercise bike and the treadmill.  She has to make you get off!  We were very surprised to hear this.
  13. You love to take photos.  Of what you are watching on television, of things in the refrigerator, of us, sometimes even yourself in the mirror.  And you take a lot of them, you can fill up a memory card in a few minutes.  I keep the really good ones.

Owl Always Love You

Progress  on the needlework goals!  This little bellpull is for sweet baby D.  She's almost 4 months old so I think it totally counts as a new baby present.  Her room is all woodland animals so these sweet owls really jumped out at me.  And her mom said it arrived in the mail so now it's safe to show a photo :-D  Whoooo else may be getting a stitched gift this year?  Wait and see!