Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Leaf Quilt

At long last, my quilt is done!  I'm pleased with it, even though I'm aware of its flaws.  I still love the patterns and colors of the fabrics, all in shades of beige with a couple slightly darker accents, and the border on the reverse in a wonderful blue/beige/taupe fabric against a retro blue-on-taupe flower pattern.

It's a king-sized quilt, with 361 individual leaves on it.  Some of the leaves I like better than others.  After the first 40 or so I got much better, and at the very end of the quilt, when I finished the last square, I went back and "fixed" some leaves from the early days that I wasn't happy with.  I also found one lonely square in the middle of the quilt that I'd left blank by mistake, and filled that in.  Most of the leaves are from deciduous trees (maple, beech, crab-apple, oak, willow, tulip, others) with a couple evergreens (holly, pine) and a few sprigs of clover and a couple hosta leaves for variety.

I'd like to do another quilt using entirely different fabrics - batiks, in shades of blue/green/brown.  However, I want to take a beginner's quilting class before I try piecing anything again.  I'm definitely aware of my limitations, and matching corners is something I need to learn properly.  Fortunately, there's a great quilt shop just down the road that offers classes.  I'll take a class this fall, perhaps for a wall hanging.

I love playing with the colors of fabric.  There are over a dozen different fabrics in this quilt, and they almost all have natural motifs or patterns (leaves, grass, cork, floral, stone).  I picked up fat quarters and half yards of fabric all over the place for a couple months before I started.  I was very picky about color/texture, and I learned a lot when I put it all together.  Some of the fabrics are better than others - better weave, better design.  Two of the fabrics were so close in color to my quilting thread and so tiny in pattern that it was very hard to keep track of what I was sewing on them (*imagine me with crossed, squinting eyes here, and my nose 4" from the quilt o_O *).  Next time I want to play with fabrics that make me think of water, and batiks have attracted me for years. Someday I'd love to learn to decorate and dye batik fabric - but that's yet another hobby for another time. . . .

Friday, April 29, 2011

Treasure Hunting

I found a small treasure today while browsing at the Salvation Army.  You just never know what you'll find there.  This time, besides a couple videos and books for the kids, I found a lovely handmade stoneware mug.  It has a perfect signature on the bottom by Roberta Dallimonti.  I don't know her as an artist, but the mug fit my hand like it was made for me, and I've wanted to buy some nice stoneware mugs on Etsy.  But, since good handmade mugs sell for $18 each (and up), I just haven't gotten around to buying one, let alone a set.  And here at the SA was a gorgeous large one in shades of cobalt, indigo, periwinkle and white.  For $1.99!  SOLD.  So that's my little treasure for the week.  When I got home I looked up Ms. Dallimonti online.  It turns out she's a ceramic artist living and working in Southern California, and has been successful at her chosen work for several decades.  I'll enjoy using her gem of a coffee mug.

I also got some small treasures from my camera - some of the photos I took yesterday evening turned out really well.  There are days I get a handful of good shots, and days I get a camera full of nothing (unless you count fuzzy, improperly focused shots of flowers, my thumb, the garden, my foot, the landscape, the ceiling, cat fannies, guinea pig noses, kids making faces, and general dreck, lol).  Here are some of last night's efforts:

For the week or so the little weeping cherry tree blooms each April/May, 
it's one of my favorite subjects.  The light last night was wonderful.

The tree was buzzing with several kinds of bees.  
The bumblebees are my favorite.

I like the contrast of the sun-washed flowers arching against the blue sky.

Tulip 'Daydream' glows in the low evening light.

Our neighbor's little cherry tree blooms candy pink.

A little earlier that day, I caught Molly posing in the window.  
Her shadow was more interesting to me than she was.  
She didn't seem to mind, since the window was open 
and she could watch for birds in the cherry tree.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunny Day, Mixed Thoughts

My second batch of mail-order plants arrived today, from Bluestone Perennials.  It was a fine bunch of plants (they always send good quality), and I spent a pleasant bit of time planting them a little while ago.  This year I ordered a quince bush ('Cameo,' which should have peach flowers early every year), a baptisia ('Twilight Prairieblues'), lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), variegated Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum variegatum - what a mouthful, but it's a great shade plant), achillea ('Walter Funcke,' with coppery-peachy flowers), gaillardia ('Amber Wheels'), and a clematis ('Silver Moon').   Bluestone always sends a bonus - this year it was extra of the achillea, so I was able to put it in two places in the front yard - sweet!

The storms blew through last night, and the weather has cleared with a whoosh - it's sunny with high clouds, and quite breezy this afternoon.  It's a good temperature, in the low 70s, and delightful for being outside.  Thankfully, that's where the kids are.   They NEED to be outside and active after all that rainy, cloudy, gray weather.  (They also NEED to be out of my immediate space.  Too much togetherness can be a stressful thing.)

Safety Guy is playing outside with our neighbor's young son, who is about 3.  SG is a magnet for young kids - they just gravitate to him, and he loves playing with them.  He'll tolerate things from them that he would NEVER have put up with from his own sister or older cousins, and they adore him.  (His youngest cousin, not yet 2, can do no wrong in his eyes.)  He's also started volunteering in our church's toddler nursery.  It's a shame that we've already had to talk with him about child molestation (that's part of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout "curriculum," the awareness of sexual abuse and how to avoid it or report it).  It's also disturbing that we know we'll have to tell him that some people might not want him to watch their kids someday because as a young man he might be considered unreliable, a possible pedophile, just because he wants to work with children.  It makes me sick to think that that's part of our world, that inbuilt suspicion of young men, and it also frightens me that our son could someday be hurt by someone making a false accusation against him, just because he has a gift for engaging with little kids and enjoys their company.  (It's no wonder there are few male elementary school teachers - who wants to work under that cloud?)  Safety Guy has said that he'd love to babysit someday, and we did let him take the Red Cross Babysitter's Course last summer, but honestly, we're not likely to encourage him to babysit unless we know the family extremely well, and they know him.  It's sad, but that's the way it will have to be.

Sometimes this world stinks.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic

I don't usually watch TV during the day, but I was drawn in by this short movie on Hulu this afternoon.  It's called "Loving Lampposts:  Living Autistic," by Todd Drezner, a filmmaker and the father of a young autistic son.  The movie is part of his quest to understand his son's condition, and to try to figure out what the future may hold for him.

I was really absorbed in his narrative, which covers a lot of ground:  the controversy over the cause(s) of autism, its diagnosis and treatment from the 20th century onward, daily struggles for people with autism, public misconceptions about the condition, and the different philosophies of living with autism (is it a disease to be cured, a war to be fought, or a neurological difference to be adjusted to and worked with?).  Along the way he talks with doctors, teachers, parents, adults with autism, and profiles autistic children and adults of all ages and a range of abilities.  I was especially drawn to the stories of adults living with varying severities of autism and navigating through their lives.  Our son will all too soon have to learn to navigate as an adult in what will always be for him a strange, confusing world.  (I heard a wonderful comparison once, that having autism is like being a tourist in your own country:  you understand the general superficialities of getting around town, but the interpersonal nuances, figures of speech and social implications are an ongoing mystery.)

This movie/documentary was overall very hopeful in tone, without going to the extremes of either fear-mongering (OMG, your child has autism, your life is over!) or candy-coating (They're just different, and must have some gift to compensate for their problems, you just have to find it.).  I appreciate the candor of the people interviewed, and the overall tone of, "We can work with this situation - it will be hard, but in most cases there will be progress for the person affected with autism, sometimes great progress.  You love your child anyhow, and work for their best outcome."

Perhaps I like the documentary because it generally agrees with my own philosophy of raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder (Aspergers Syndrome in our son's case).  I don't think he has a disease or is broken.  (He's not crazy, lazy, undisciplined, retarded [I hate that term] or defective - but I've heard that implied about him before.)  I do consider his AS a disability, but it's not the end of the world for us or for him.  I'm reasonably sure that his AS has a strong genetic component, and has nothing to do with vaccines or dietary issues.  He has been totally himself since the day he was born, with no sudden losses of verbal or social ability or physical crises over illness or medical procedures.  He has his strengths; it's up to his father and I to help him make the most of those, and to work with/around/through his weaknesses.

Having worked with disabled adults of widely differing abilities, I think the future is hopeful for our son, with a lot of hard work by us and by him.  I count my blessings that he is smart, has a strong vocabulary and reading skills, and has come so far with his social skills (while still being insanely aware of his ongoing educational needs and social blind spots).  Of course I worry about his future, but I'm not sure I worry more for him than for his "neurotypical" ("normal") sister.  They'll both have their struggles, and I don't think one will be easier than the other.  (Lord help me, I'm not looking forward to Princess Yakyak's teen years!)

If you know someone on the spectrum, and especially if you don't know someone autistic but would like to understand more about autism, this movie is well worth your time.

Weeds and Stewardship

My favorite "weed" - wild violets.

A weed is just a plant growing where you don't want it to grow.  The concept of a weed as an unwanted plant is foreign to Nature.  Where a plant can grow, it will, in competition with the plants around it in a never-ending dance and street fight.  Likewise, the concept of a garden, a plot of land planted and maintained to a standard that exists only in the mind of the gardener, is foreign to Nature.  Where humanity meets nature, there grows a garden (because we have this innate need to bring "order" or assign purpose to our surroundings), and where there is a garden, there are by definition weeds - plants out of their (people-) designated spaces.

I enjoyed a long walk around the neighborhood today, over a mile and a half.  I took my camera, and right away my eye was caught by the little bits of color cropping up in yards and by the roads.  Yes, many homes have lovely daffodils and hyacinths blooming now, and the tulips will follow soon, but my eye was attracted to the little jewels, the ragamuffins, the tiny upstarts - the weeds.  So I took pictures of them.

The flowers were naturally more plentiful in yards that had not been treated with commercial herbicides.  I could see the economic/social divisions as I walked through this side of town, from one area to the next.  Generally the bigger, newer homes had fewer weeds, while the smaller/older/rental homes had more weeds.  There's definitely a bit of social pressure to have a weed-free lawn in certain neighborhoods.  My own organic principles (and my admitted lack of fussiness about a lawn) have run up against this peer pressure with this house.  My husband also prefers a nice, green, weedless lawn, so he and I had to compromise.  He will treat the front and side yards (visible from the street)  with some granular weed/feed combo, but we'll leave the back yard play area and veggie garden area chemical-free.  Almost all of our neighbors use a Chemlawn-type service, so there's no way we can avoid runoff or windblown spray, but if we wanted to avoid that altogether we wouldn't be living in this neighborhood, so I've decided to make the best of it.

I have no idea what these are, but they appear every spring, 
like little sapphires in the grass.

Every inch of land on Earth is under someone's stewardship, either in its use or its protection.  I firmly believe that we are stewards of this world under God, and that we should treat it responsibly, whether we have a balcony garden, a suburban plot, an allotment, a farm or an estate.  I get a lot of joy from tending my garden, but I realize that's not everyone's thing.  Still, I enjoy showing others how I see the world, and maybe even encouraging them to think of their property in a different light.  The more they can appreciate their landscape, hopefully the more informed decisions they'll make about its care.  And maybe they'll even learn to appreciate the occasional weed.

More wild violets.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kinda Sorta Jambalaya

I'm sure a Southern native would laugh at my "jambalaya," but it's one of our favorite meals.  (Well, for my husband and I - the kids wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.)  Unusually for me, it involves a box mix.  Of course, I can't just leave it alone - heaven forbid I strictly follow the directions on the box!  If you like spicy food, you can adjust this to your preferred heat level.  I make it pretty spicy.  It's a great one dish meal - protein, fiber, veggies, and carbs all in one shot.

Laurel's Kinda Sorta Jambalaya

1 8 oz. box of Zatarain's Jambalaya Mix (available in regular, mild, spicy and low sodium - I prefer the low sodium version, which is at their regular spice level, but I can't always find it; obviously you can add more cayenne if you want extra heat)
2 lbs. bulk poultry Italian sausage (I buy mine at Wegmans as patties, but links work just as well; I prefer their "hot" recipe)
4 cups water
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 16 oz. bag Wegmans Frozen Southern Blend (a mix of diced onions and sweet red pepper, black beans and black eyed peas - you could probably substitute one small diced onion, one small diced red pepper, one can black beans and one can black eyed peas, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup uncooked rice (I prefer to use brown rice)

Brown the poultry Italian sausage in a large, deep skillet.  Add all of the other ingredients and stir to blend.  Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for an hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You can add a little more water if you like it soupier, or use less if you like it stickier. Serves 6-8.  (It goes down really well with iced tea, too!)

Rumbly Weather, Green Green Grass

Today is the first really warm day we've had in quite a while - mid 70s and humid.  A few days of this and we'll have sprouts and leaves everywhere.  If it stays warmer, I'll have tulips open by next week - color!  Bright oranges and golds and white in the front yard, dark and light pinks in the back yard.  I'm looking forward to planting annuals in a couple weeks.  My winter sowing containers are filled with tiny sprouts.  Just a little longer, and I can plant out those vulnerable little babies.  Amazingly, they'll be full-sized plants by July, ready to bloom.  Winter sowing just blows my mind every year.

The little weeping cherry tree is in blossom, and the bees are in heaven.  They're everywhere, drunk on sweet flower wine.  It's cheerful to hear them at work again.  I love the delicate white flowers of this tree, and its coppery bark.  I wish it were fragrant.  We had a decrepit old crabapple tree in the front yard of our old house.  It was prone to black spot, stingy with foliage, and the fruit was tiny and hard.  But, every spring it bloomed magnificently pink, and incredibly fragrant - waves of the most powerful rose scent you can imagine drifting all over the yard.  Bees would swarm that tree by the hundreds, humming and dancing as they stored up its nectar. 

 The old crabapple tree in all its glory.

So far we've had a rather soggy spring, with more clouds than sun, more rain than rays.  Still, it's getting the lawn off to a happy start.  The grass is oh so green, and growing like crazy.  If it ever dries out enough for us to mow, we'll have a lovely yard.  We had some sun earlier, but now it's rumbling again in the not-so-distant distance, with more scattered storms to chase through this evening.  Soccer practice has already been canceled.  (Update:  I had to turn off the computer for a while as I was writing this - we had a nasty storm graze us, complete with a tornado warning.  There's more to come - I'm finishing this post between two red blobs on the radar. . . .)  My yard squelches when I walk through it.  I don't dare use the wheelbarrow to move compost, or to carry bags of mulch anywhere off the pavement.  Right now I don't dare walk anywhere in the back yard - I'd be up to my ankles in mud.  I was joking on FB this morning that I should go ahead and dig my long-dreamed-of koi pond, since I wouldn't have to excavate much at all to get a respectable water feature.  Hopefully it will dry off a bit over the next few days and I'll be able to get to some of the yard work by the weekend.

Daffodil 'Ice Follies,' with a visitor.

The kids are back to school today, and both seemed to have a good day and be happy to have their routine back.  Princess Yakyak is acting overtired and cranky now, and I can see an early bedtime in her future.  Safety Guy was quite pleased to tell me that one of the bullies that has been picking on him got a comeuppance in gym class - while jumping rope, his pants fell down.  Safety Guy says he didn't see it happen, but said he howled with laughter when his friends told him about it.  So in his book, it was a pretty good day. 

Daffodil 'Geranium'

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter, Models, and Looking Forward

We had a lovely Easter.  We enjoyed church in the morning, then drove down to see my sister and her family.  My parents and one of my other sisters were there too.  It was good to see everyone.  We also had the chance to stop in and see another long-time friend, Neil.  It was so good to see him again.  We topped off our Easter by grabbing dinner at one of our favorite restaurants near our old house.  We got back home late, and the kids went to bed without any fuss, so the day ended well. 

Today is the kids' last day of spring break.  They may not be excited about going back to school, but I know they'll be relieved to have their routine restored.  Princess Yakyak's soccer practice begins tomorrow and will be twice a week, and her games will be on Sunday afternoons.  We'll be starting Safety Guy's math tutoring soon too (probably on Mondays and Fridays, and Scouts are still on Wednesdays).  It's going to be a very busy end to the school year.  I don't know when we'll get back down to visit family again, but we want to visit my husband's family soon.

Safety Guy's Easter gift this year was a model car to assemble.  That's kind of taking my life into my hands, because his patience with model assembly has always been limited, but he has been asking for another model to work on.  He loves cars, and wanted to try assembling one again.  I picked out a heavy, die-cast body model of a Camaro.  It required some assembly (glue and screws) but no painting or decals, and he did most of it himself.  It looks good, although he was frustrated with himself when the assembly wasn't as easy as he thought it should be.  Still, he did well overall, and I encouraged and helped him when he was upset.  Learning patience (with himself and with projects) and the fine-motor skills that go along with model building is a struggle for him.  I think he did great on this one - each time it's a learning process, and he gets better.  (Princess Yakyak got a Webkinz Angora bunny - no assembly required, lol.)

Safety Guy is anxious about returning to school tomorrow.  He's had a long year with lots of changes and lots of bullying issues, and just plain annoying kids in his class.  (I have a great deal of sympathy for his teachers - he's part of a very difficult group of kids this year, and he's not a totally easy kid himself.  The combination of personalities and behaviors in his class has meant a very long haul for his teachers.)  Safety Guy is really annoyed with the kids who pick on him (I can't blame him) or who get on his nerves (frustrating, but he has to learn how to handle that - life won't go out of its way to NOT annoy him).  I'm glad there's only about 8 weeks left in the school year, for his sake.  I'm hoping to get out of this school year without any major meltdowns on his part.  His CSE meeting is coming up in early June, where we'll work on next year's accommodations for seventh grade.  This will be a very interesting year, I'm sure.

I also need to contact the Boy Scout camp he'll be going to early in July.  It will be his first time going to summer camp, and for a whole week at that.  I'm certainly not worried about his safety, but I am concerned that the counselors working with him understand that his Aspergers will require some extra attentiveness and help on their part for his experience to go well.  He's excited about going, and he needs to decide which badges he's going to work toward while he's there.  He's not a big hunting/fishing/sports kind of guy, so we'll have to steer him toward things that are more in line with his interests while challenging him to do his best.  I'm sure he'll have lots of fun - and I'm sure I'll be on pins and needles the whole week he's gone, wondering how his camp experience is going.  I don't think I'll ever stop worrying about how he's doing; this is just a taste of things to come.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


The weather finally decided to act like spring today - the clouds cleared around noon and blue skies and a warm breeze settled in.  It was in the mid 60s this afternoon, which made for very nice gardening weather.  I was in and out of the house all day, puttering in the garden when I wasn't cleaning, cooking, or taking some time to read.  I pulled weeds (mostly grass creeping in from the lawn), spread mulch, planted nasturtium seeds (a couple hundred and more), checked on everything sprouting, and took pictures of the daffodils.

I love daffodils.  Nothing is quite as cheerful in the spring as a sunny golden daffodil, although I love the bitoned and white ones too.  I have an assortment of earlier and later bloomers, although I didn't get to plant my favorite late ones, the poet's daffodil (Narcissus poeticus recurvus) last fall - which I'm kicking myself for now.  They are lovely, and smell so sweet.  This fall I swear I'll plant a couple dozen of them.

 Poet's narcissus from my old garden.  
They are so wonderfully fragrant, 
and among the last daffodils to bloom each year.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The First Mail-Order Flowers of Spring

 Fringed bleeding hearts (Dicentra eximia), one of my favorite plants.

Next to Christmas, spring is my favorite time to get packages in the mail.  Usually I place several orders in January and February, and waiting for late April when the first arrives is a little like waiting for Christmas morning.  Today my first package arrived, from Gilbert H. Wild Nurseries.  It was a small order, but very nice to receive after a tough week.

Daylily 'Frans Hals,' a golden oldie.  I love its bold coloring.

I had ordered a daylily ('El Desperado,' which is yellow with a mahogany eye and edge - I've wanted that for quite a while), six bulbs of the asiatic lily 'Commander in Chief' (dark orange), and three fernleaf bleeding hearts (Dicentra eximia).  They all arrived looking good:  a small triple daylily fan (par for the course for Wilds, which sells smaller fans cheap, but they're always healthy), nice healthy bulbs (not large, but solid), and stocky bareroot plants with big crowns.  There was also a bonus daylily - 'Frans Hals.'  I actually have three of those in a clump already, so I plunked the fourth in a tough spot by the garage - if any daylily can handle that location, it'll be 'Frans Hals,' which is as tough as nails, a real trooper of an oldie.  Everything is in the ground now, awaiting the rain later tonight.

Asiatic lily 'Avignon,' which is no longer available - 
I'm hoping 'Commander in Chief' is comparable.

I have another, larger order outstanding with Bluestone Perennials.  I'll be really excited to get that delivery - if today was the stocking at the foot of the stairs, the Bluestone order is the pile of goodies under the tree.  The best thing about THIS holiday is that it's GREEN.  Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Two Meltdowns For The Price Of One

 The delicate, crinkled new foliage of goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus).

We had a great visit with my parents over the past two days.  It was good to drive down to spend a night with them, even though the schizo weather was giving me a sinus headache.  The kids like to visit Grandma and Grandpa because of the abundance of TVs and snacks in their big house.  The kids can get away from each other and entertain themselves and eat - what could be better?  For my part, I like being able to turn them loose there and have time with my parents to talk, play Scrabble, kibbitz, craft, whatever.  It's not like when the kids were little and needed to be supervised all the time.  Visiting Mom and Dad is a little bit of freedom for ME, and boy did I need to get out and away from my own walls this week.

We had a good drive down, listening to the CDs Safety Guy and I brought, and watching for the Amish farms along the route, so Princess Yakyak could see the horses and other livestock.  We saw some new lambs along the way, and speculated about when the farm raising Belgian draft horses would have new foals out in the pasture.  We went out for lunch with my parents, and later I stopped at the pottery shop in town and picked up a handful of pendants to work on.  I played Scrabble on the XBox with my Mom.  (Our son is quite impressed that his Grandma has an XBox 360.  She gained quite a few coolness points with that purchase.  The ONLY game she plays on it is Scrabble.)  The kids got to OD on cable TV (which we don't have at home - PYY loves Animal Planet, while Safety Guy goes for a mixed bag of stuff.)  Safety Guy spent some time using Grandpa's train and flight simulators on the computer.  After dinner, I got to take a lovely long walk with my sister Debbie.  I spent a good chunk of the evening working on the pendants, and on two other ceramic pieces my sister had that needed glazing but she hadn't gotten around to finishing.  The work was quite relaxing; I hope the pieces and pendants fire well.

I love the new foliage of columbine, 
especially the way it catches raindrops.

Today was more of the same:  hanging out with my parents, kids watching TV, me finishing the ceramics, lunch all around.  After lunch the kids helped me pick up fallen branches from the yard.  (It's been a windy week, and Mom and Dad's lot is partially wooded, and pretty big.  It's a spring chore to clean up the winter's dead-fall so Dad can mow.  Tossing the branches saved my Dad an extra chore his back could do without.)  Finally it was time to go home.  About an hour after we got in the car, halfway home, the kids' behavior took a turn for the worse.  And kept going south from there.

I don't know what it is about late afternoons and kids.  It's like they have some internal timer that goes off and their limited daily ration of patience, good humor and common sense abruptly runs out.  When they were really little, we called it the witching hour.  Since it's spring break, I guess I've been half waiting for this to happen at some point anyway, because their normal routine is gone this week.  We home schooled year round just for that reason - prolonged breaks are NOT good for the kids' behavior, especially for Safety Guy.  I have not been looking forward to spring break.  I'm not really looking forward to that aspect of the summer off, either.

The hellebores, slightly faded from their 
first-opened darker plum color, but still lovely.

It started with the usual sibling picking nonsense.  It gradually built up, our son reacting more and more out of proportion to the jibes from his sister and the enforced "togetherness" in the car.   At one point he got annoyed that I was singing along softly to some songs on the radio (he doesn't like it when people sing along).  He was mad at having to be in the same vehicle as his sister.  (What did he want me to do - make her get out and walk?)  Princess Yakyak was extremely talkative, living up to her nickname in spades.  Nobody was happy.

We stopped to pick up dinner and a few odds and ends at the grocery store, and they squabbled through picking out their food, past the produce, past the meats, and into the Easter goodies (at which point Safety Guy called his Dad at work to complain about his sister - aren't cell phones wonderful?). They continued to snap and snark at each other through the rest of the store and into the checkout line.  By the time I paid, they had both earned an early bedtime.  By the time we got home, I had asked them not to talk to each other at all.  By the time their early bedtime rolled around, Safety Guy was in full-blown Aspergers meltdown mode, and Princess Yakyak was all self-righteous and snarky while provoking him (as if we couldn't see what she was doing).  The evening finally ended with a yelling/crying/frustrated son (slamming his bedroom door in my face when I told him it was time for lights out), a shouting/whining/nasty daughter (who just happened to forget how to turn off a loud, annoying electronic toy that was keeping her brother agitated), a confiscated noisy toy, two closed bedroom doors (with sniffling, upset but finally quiet kids on the other side), and a girl grounded for the following day.

I told my wonderful husband, who has Good Friday off, that I am going to finish the groceries ALONE tomorrow.   It might take me a while.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tough Questions From A 9-Year-Old

 A girl after my own heart - playing in dirt, looking for worms.

Aside from the fact that I think our daughter Princess Yakyak is totally cool and awesome, I am also uncomfortably aware that she's quite smart and insightful.  Not just in the way that most kids can be (in a seeing-through-the-words, cutting-through-the-crap kind of way), but also when it comes to living with her brother. 

She's reached the difficult point where her social and emotional maturity are starting to surpass her brother's.  That's one of the tough things about Aspergers Syndrome - generally their social/emotional maturity is quite a bit less than their chronological age, somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of their chronological age.  So our son, at 12, often acts/reacts more like a kid of 8-9.  (It doesn't help that he looks 14 or 15.)  For a while it was like having emotional twins in the house, only without that twin bond that might soften the rough edges.  Now she is realizing that she's ahead of her brother in many ways, and that gap is likely to only get bigger for a long time.  He might not reach his full emotional maturity until well into his 20s or even early 30s.  (Yes, we're already praying for his future girlfriend/wife.)

Princess Yakyak has asked us a number of tough questions about him recently: 

"Why does he act so much younger than he is when he gets frustrated?"  
      This one is easy to answer, but still very frustrating for all of us:  "Because his Aspergers means he isn't growing up emotionally as quickly as you are, and he acts younger because his emotions ARE younger.  He can't help it, but he can learn.  It just takes much longer for him."  I knew this day would come, when she passed him in general emotional maturity.  She's still just a kid, and I can't ask her to set the example for him - yet, she does whether she wants to or not, and will do so more as she gets older.  At some point I hope she will become one of his protectors, standing up for him when others put him down.  This in-between period will be rough, and there's no way around it.

"Why do you tell him how to behave, and he doesn't listen?  You tell him over and over!  It's not fair, he gets away with stuff!"
     The key phrase is "over and over."  He doesn't "get" correction the first time every time.  For that matter, no kid does, and we've pointed out to PYY that her criticism isn't entirely fair, since we've have to repeat things to her too.  Still, generally, he needs to have corrections repeated multiple times, in multiple situations, before he "gets it."  She thinks we aren't hard enough on him, because he "gets away" with stuff (i.e. does stuff he's been corrected for in the past).  The fact is, he keeps doing or saying inappropriate things, we correct him for it, and we have to repeat the correction the next time he does it again.  Repetition, correction and generalization, repetition, correction and generalization, repeat ad nauseum.  As I've pointed out to her (more than once!), it's not any more fun for us than it is for her or him when they don't listen the first time.

"How come he has so much trouble with math?  It's easy for me, and I'm only in third grade."
      His math learning disability is not related to his Aspergers, but his AS doesn't help how he deals with his math learning issues.  It doesn't help that his sister is quite good at math.  Her skills are at least equal to his right now.  Sometimes she gloats at this, knowing that she can do something better than he can.  This is really hard for me as a parent - I want her to be justifiably confident in her own skills, but not to elevate herself by putting down her brother.  This is the intersection of sibling rivalry and special needs.  It can get pretty ugly.  I understand that she can see that she's doing better at math than he is, but I will not tolerate put-downs over his math difficulties or his Aspergers.  I've had to come down hard on her for belittling him, which isn't fun for either of us.

"Why is his handwriting so bad?  And he draws like a kindergartner!"
     That really is related to his Aspergers - many people with AS struggle with fine motor skills.  I'm not flapped about it - he can type, and we'll be looking into voice recognition software so he can dictate his school work as he gets older.  Again, I'm glad that she has no trouble with fine motor skills, and is in fact quite good with writing and drawing - art is her favorite subject, and her cursive is neater than mine ever was.  But we will not tolerate it when she puts him down for his lack of fine motor skills (or anything else).  Again, he can't help it, and slow progress is better than no progress.

"Why does he talk about things over and over and over?  It's so BORING!"
     Ah, Aspergers - how do I love thee?  This is a totally, stereotypically AS thing, this total absorption in a topic down to the smallest details, and the complete disregard for whether or not others are as interested in hearing about it as he is.  Safety Guy cycles through several topics.  Right now he's stuck on vintage video games and game systems.  We are all heartily sick of hearing about them, in spite of our best efforts to redirect him, or politely tell him that he needs to talk about something else for a while.  I know his amazing memory for minutiae will serve him well in some future profession.  I think he'd make a fantastic museum registrar, or forensics specialist, or paralegal.  For now, though, I could happily go for a whole year without discussing the top 10 best and worst video game systems of all time.

"Why is he so selfish and mean to me?" 
     This one really breaks my heart.  Safety Guy has never really gotten over having a sister.  He has regarded her as an interloper in his world since the day she was born when he was just over 3 years old.  I know he loves her as his sister (in a general sentimental sort of way), but he also would much rather that she impinged on his reality as little as possible, and only on his terms.  It's the random factor:  he can't control her, or what she says or does, or how loudly or close to him she does it, and she really gets on his nerves.  He has little patience for her, especially when she distracts or interrupts him, and he's often not nice about it at all.  ("Go away!  Leave me alone!  Stop talking near me!  Stop making noise!  Don't stand near me!  Be quiet!"  And much worse.)  We've done our best to soften his rough edges with her, but the fact is that he can and often does come across as selfish, mean, and downright nasty to her. 

Only some of this "selfishness" can be attributed to his Aspergers - like the typically blunt, graceless statement of what he sees as his rights and place in the (center of) the world.  In his mind, this is HIS house and HIS space, and the rest of us should see and do things his way.  We are in his space, not the other way around.  There's precious little "we" in his emotional vocabulary.  Hardly a day goes by that we aren't refereeing between them, talking about using fair language (not "always" and "never" statements), talking through how something is said is just as important as the words themselves.  It makes me crazy, because we haven't raised them comparing them to each other.  They're each uniquely wonderful, so why are we having so much trouble with this?    

Sibling rivalry + Aspergers = heartache.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Week Off - For Them

 Molly "helping" me get a picture of my husband for his job file.  
He needed a portrait shot.  I got him to smile by suggesting that 
he think of our daughter having kids of her own. . . . .

Spring break.  I never used to mind it before, because we home schooled and never took more than three or four days off at a time even in the summer (because doing so would totally throw off our son's behavior - his Aspergers means that routine is our friend).  THIS year, the kids are back in public school.  NOW I understand why public school moms aren't nearly as excited about spring break as their kids are.  Normally I have Monday mornings blissfully to myself.  Not so today, and the rest of the week looks equally "kids in my face"-ish.  I should have planned more activities for them.  Maybe we'll go see a movie later in the week; "Rio" sounds like fun.

I'm hoping to make the break enjoyable and pass quickly for all of us with some fun  activities, and an overnight trip with them to visit my parents.  We're getting down to the end of the school year - I can hardly believe there's only about 8 weeks left after Easter, since Easter is late this year.  The summer will be on top of us before we know it.  For now, I'm enjoying the daffodils in bloom, and the green starting to appear on the amur honeysuckle bushes and the willow trees.

Safety Guy is perseverating like crazy lately - I'm sure he's having a mental growth spurt.  He's been looking up all sorts of "history of technology" stuff on YouTube, then quizzing us on it.  (He assumes that we remember the make/model/year of any tech gadget we've ever seen  in our lifetime, or around our parents' and grandparents' houses.)  This morning he was showing me a video of the evolution of the cell phone ("Did you see this one?  Or this one?  How about this one?"), and he's been going on about the development of television as well.  (He wants one of those monster console sets from the 70s, with "knobs that turn!")  We've had to tell him quite a few times that we need a break from hearing about his current interests.  He just walks up to us and starts talking, regardless of what we're doing at the time.  Let's just say we're practicing social/conversational skills a LOT around here lately.

Fire Flowers, Mixed Media (acrylic, marker on canvas board), 6" x 8", 2010

On the art front, I'm having a heck of a time finding a ceramic shop I can work with up here.  It's looking more and more like I'll need to invest in my own kiln by the end of the year (or sooner, if I can get a part-time job).  I'll have to decide how serious I am about pursuing the ceramics - it's not an inexpensive art form, but I enjoy it so much that I think it would be worth the investment.  Aside from the relaxation and pleasure I get from working with ceramics, I can't sell what I don't create.  While I'm down at my parents' house this week, I think I'll go to the one ceramic shop still open in that area and make something just for fun.  Maybe a few tiles, instead of one larger piece.  Although, I really, REALLY want to make a large round platter as a wall art piece - I've had an idea stuck in my head for over a year.  But to put the time and effort into that, I have to really trust the studio to fire it right.  The studio near my parents' house is okay for small things, but I'm not going to risk a large, difficult, labor-intensive art piece there.

And, the news in home improvement:  The downstairs half bathroom is completely ripped out, and ready for me to paint this week.  My husband has been working right along on this project.  Really, all I'm doing for it is the painting, and "consulting" on fixtures etc.  It will be a little jewel box when we're done, painted in a dark saffron gold color, with white trim, bronze fixtures, and a lovely wood vanity with an overmount porcelain sink.  I hope it looks as good as we imagine it will, especially when the afternoon sun shines in there.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wisdom from an egg carton

 "We are not amused."

This week has been one long round of "What the heck?" and "Gaaaaahhhh!" and "Stop the drama!"  This morning really twisted my knickers, and was kind of the last straw.  It was a small thing (taking our son for a Scout activity, and no one else showed up - we still don't know if it was a miscommunication about the time, or if everyone else thought someone else was going to show up and pull their weight).   I was pretty annoyed, having gotten up early and chivvied our son out the door on a Saturday morning (never a fun thing, kind of like poking a grizzly bear with a stick in February).  I fumed my way home, and immediately went back out for a walk around the block to blow off some steam.

This is my motivation and inspiration this month.

So, having the time to bake now instead of later for fellowship hour at church tomorrow, I decided to make biscotti.  Still annoyed, I started getting out the ingredients and tossing them into the mixing bowl.  I got to the eggs,  and used the last four in the carton.  As I went to toss the carton, my eye was caught by writing inside the lid.  It said, "This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalms 118:24."  SLAP.  Nothing like the Word to shine a bright light on my bad attitude.  So I'm trying to rejoice and be glad, when this whole week I've wanted to whine, mope, complain, and have a tantrum and meltdown or two (or more) of my own.

 Sometimes depression creeps up on you, until you're surrounded.

We've been dealing with some changes here, including starting math tutoring for our son soon, and a new job for my husband.  Thankfully the new job is still local, so we don't have to move, and it's a good move up for him, and into something more stable than he was in before.  It's been stressful for him to go through this job change, so it's been stressful for me by extension, even though he's handled the process very well indeed.

I keep telling myself, manure grows beautiful flowers. . . . 

I'm trying to find hope in the small things, and enjoy the many good things in our lives right now.  It's been a long, hard spiritual winter for me, and I'm still looking for spring in my heart.  God willing, things will start to thaw and grow again soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Drama is Exhausting - SO CUT IT OUT!

I try not to use a whole lot of texting acronyms in my blog.  I really can take the time to write out my thoughts.  Sometimes, though, a good "old" OMG, WTH? seems to cover the bases quite nicely.  Such is my day today, where drama is queen (and king), and I'm exhausted. 

Drama from Princess Yakyak (who procrastinated on her homework, got upset when something she'd been asked to put away several times got broken, and had a complete meltdown before school, complete with stomping, pouting, yelling, insults and tears). 

Drama from Safety Guy (who didn't get the Mac as soon as he got home because I was using it, and then when his phone didn't do what he wanted). 

Drama from my geriatric cats (don't ask - it was ugly - and involved Lysol).  

I want to go home.  Oh, wait, I live here.  Crap.  Okay then, I want a vacation.  ALONE.  Or at least time to go out for a coffee after my husband gets home later tonight.  (Good man, he suggested that I go out, after I posted some of my rant on FB.  He wrote back to ask what sort of minefield he would be walking into when he got home.  Then he called to talk to me, and could hear in my voice that I AM DONE.)

I am having a Stark.Raving.Mad.Mommy kind of day.  (Check it out, but be aware that the language can be rather pithy.  Funny as heck, though, and dead on about parenting stuff I can relate to, including the Aspergers thing.)   Or a Rants From Mommyland sort of day.  (Same warning only more so, same good stuff.)  

Please excuse me - I hear more drama in the background.  Princess Yakyak is grounded from all media and electronics for three days, so Safety Guy is annoyed that she's in the kitchen, where she can see the TV.  Never mind that she has no interest in Tron:  Legacy, and will be out of there momentarily.   He has a bad case of TTP (The Third Parent) as well as COTU (Center of the Universe).  I'm developing some tics and twitches myself. . . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Slow Mo(tivation)

 My first daffodils, heavy with rain this afternoon.

I think I need a vacation.  Or at least a day at a spa.  Maybe a swift kick?  Whatever, I just can't seem to get my behind in gear artistically, and my days seem to go a in slow motion merry-go-round of off-to-school, laundry, errands, cleaning, back-from-school, homework, dinner, kids' bedtime routine, quilting, reading, and bed.  (Somewhere in there a shower usually occurs each day, and the occasional trip for groceries - a highlight of the week.) 

My sweet husband asked me today if I was bored.  He calls me a couple times a day, just to chat for a few minutes, and I really like that.  (Today he referenced Stevie Wonder and said "I just called to say 'I love you!'", and I told him he's the only one who can sing that to me.  It's a sweet song, but it was massively overplayed during my high school years.  Add to it that it's so stinkin' catchy, I'll have it in my head for days - but there are worse things.)

I told him that I'm not exactly bored - I'm just not sure what to DO.  Boredom would be my own silly fault.  There's never any excuse for boredom; there's always something to do.  It's a question of my own motivation and focus, not an external lack of stimulation.  I can't seem to get up any momentum.  I know it's temporary.  I've been through this before.  In a little while I'll get totally jazzed about something, a house project, sewing idea, or piece of art, and I'll be off and running again.  I guess we all need these slower, down times to regroup before moving forward.  I'm not wired to live flat-out busy all the time.  I'm amazed at people who do live that way (but not envious - burnout is not fun).  So I'm trying to ride the wave of life again, enjoying the slower pace of this week, and getting ready for the next push up the hill of life.

Soon enough soccer will start for Princess Yakyak, and math tutoring for Safety Guy.  (That might necessitate some serious schedule and parent juggling, since both events will likely happen at the same time, on the same days, 20 miles apart.  Hmmm. . . . .)  Summer is just around the corner, with activities and Scout camp, gardening and family outings, house projects and all the usual summer and household stuff.  I'm looking forward to it, actually.  So no, I'm not bored - I'm just in slow motion.  I'll pick up speed soon enough.

Oriental poppy foliage - it's so spiky and fuzzy, 
I love the texture.  I can't wait for the blooms, either.

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Voice, and Carly's Voice

Although I've been blogging for about a year now, I still feel like a real newbie in the blogsphere.  I'm still learning, and still finding my voice.  I don't have a huge number of followers.  In a media world of catch-phrases and sound-bites, labels and pigeon-holing, I don't seem to fit in.  My blog isn't a diary.  It's not focused on a single-topic.  It's not a snarky-funny send up of motherhood, autism, education, or marriage.  I'm not an educator with a mission, a pundit with a soapbox, an artist out to shock or inspire, or a woman on a crusade for one good cause.  Sometimes I'm a little bit of each of these things, but I don't want to focus on one niche in particular.

Blogs are fun, but they can be as one-dimensional or multi-dimensional as the author wants them to be.  My favorite blogs tend to be "slice of life" ones, where the blogger has something to say that resonates with me.  At the moment I'm following a disproportionate number of blogs about families with a child with an autism spectrum disorder.  It's just where I am.  But my interests range so much wider than that, and I hope that the family, friends, acquaintances and strangers that honor me by stopping by to read what I have to say don't mind my lack of a specific topical focus.

My blog is a little bit like a scrapbook, a way to note and share things that catch my eye, inspire me, disturb me, frustrate me, encourage me, anger me, invigorate me.  It's a little bit like a kaleidoscope, giving my readers a fractal view of the many segments of my life.  (If you read long enough you might see a pattern!  Or  come to the conclusion that I'm just a little bit cracked.)  It's a little like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.

Today I'd like to share a video about an amazing young woman.  Diagnosed with severe autism at an early age, nonverbal and with difficult behavioral issues, she was considered to be at least moderately mentally retarded as well as autistic.  Imagine her parents' and therapists' surprise when she started typing on a laptop  without assistance at age 11, and had a lot to say.  Carly now has her own blog - stop by and listen to Carly's Voice, if you have a moment.  You'll never look at a person with autism quite the same way again.

(My sincere thanks to Blondee for sharing this video via FB.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Cleaning, Again

 Fuzzy baby lupine leaves - they are so delicate.

Some people manage to get their spring cleaning done in one cathartic swoop, hoeing out the entire house and cleaning top to bottom in one go.  My spring cleaning tends to range over several spring weekends, depending on the weather and what needs doing.  I put the kids to work today, Safety Guy doing windows, and Princess Yakyak matching videos and discs to cases (a never-ending source of annoyance around here - wanting to watch something, and finding an empty case).  Safety Guy and my husband will be building me a couple new raised bed boxes today, too.

This weekend I started the great summer/winter clothing swap, which also involves seeing what the kids have outgrown that can be passed on to the Salvation Army.  My closet also gave up a bag of things that are too small/too outdated/too worn.  I've saved a handful of things I hope to wear again, but mostly I want to keep only what I'm actually using.  Looking at things I cannot wear right now is just plain depressing.  When I lose the weight I want to lose, I'd rather start fresh with my wardrobe.  I also need to go through Princess Yakyak's dresser with a vengeance, since I'm sure she's outgrown a lot from last year.  

 Our front entry, ready for planting later this month. 
I think I'll put some small sedums in front of both containers, 
and callibrachoa (like cascading mini petunias, warm yellow and apricot) 
with something tall and spiky in the middle in the containers .

I enjoyed some garden time yesterday.  I dug some garden gold out from the bottom of the compost bin and dumped it in one of the new raised beds.  I also started putting a fresh top dressing of mulch on the beds in front of the house, including adding some topsoil around where the juniper stumps are (just in front of the new containers), to raise that area so I can plant there.  It will take quite a few bags of mulch to do the whole bed, so that will get done over several paychecks.  We mulched that area heavily last year, so we only need about 1" all over to dress it up now.  I prefer to use pine bark mulch, for its natural color, and for the way it decomposes nicely into the soil over several years.

I've got sprouts in several winter sowing containers now:  alyssum, onions, the first of the zinnias, annual phlox, California poppies - spring is sprouting!  (That's alyssum to the left - I'll just break the seedlings apart into clumps to plant them in May.)  It's always very exciting to see the sprouts each year.  Another week and I might start seeing tomatoes and peppers popping up.  I also planted carrots in one garden bed a couple days ago.  The peas I planted in March don't appear to be doing anything - I suspect they were eaten by birds.  I'll sow another batch and cover them with wire, and see if that helps.

And, one last sure sign of spring:  I saw the male bluebird checking out the nest box a few days ago, his brilliant indigo feathers flashing in the sun.  Now that's a joyful sight indeed.