Thursday, September 29, 2011

Steep Learning Curve Ahead

Well, I'm back to work this week, and I can tell I'll be learning at a fast and furious pace for a while.  While I requested high school/jr. high/middle school in the local district, I could see anything from K-12, and when BOCES starts calling me, I'll be in multiple schools with children with a huge variety of needs, not to mention different schedules, administrative quirks, and routines.  I think I'll get a notebook, and make notes for each place I sub, so I can keep track of it all.  I'll be an "extra" tomorrow at the high school, which I think means I'll do whatever they need at that moment, probably in multiple classes.  Wheee!  But it's Friday, and I can do almost anything school-related for 41 minutes (the length of each class period).

 I've been trying to get back on top of the house cleaning, since it got away from me over the past week or so.  It hasn't helped that B. C. has been a very bad cat indeed.  We'd gotten lax about putting him in his cage when we weren't around to watch him, and he made a mess again.  That was today's chore - cleaning up after him.  Very sad - I'll have to really keep him caged unless I can find a way to keep him out of the family room (his chosen spot to mess).  If I can find a big enough baby gate, that might work between the counter and the wall.  This is the drawback to a fairly open floor plan, that I can't just close a door to keep him out of a room.  Poor old cat, I feel bad having to isolate him like that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lemurs and Parrots

 This is kind of how I felt this morning, 
when I got the call 
to substitute.
Waiting for the spring to let go 
for the past week has been stressful;
today I was catapulted 
into the thick of things.

I had my first day of substitute teaching today.  Actually, it was a half day, but it was fine with me to start out slowly.  I think my FB status update a few minutes ago says it well:
Teaching 8th grade social studies = herding lemurs on speed. Teaching 9th grade "at risk" students = getting a flock of hormone-addled parrots to land and pay attention. The funny part? I enjoyed it, and did okay.
A couple things really stand out to me as I think back on today.  First, I really CAN still do this.  Don't laugh - it's been 13 years since I was last in a classroom, and I've never taught regular kids alone in a public school.  I'd had kids with serious special needs, in a small classroom setting with multiple staff.  I've never flown solo like this, except for some teaching with the home school co-op,which was admittedly much easier because the parents were right down the hall if I needed someone to help out, and it was a small group anyhow.  So, it was good to discover that I really can keep the lid on an entire classroom of students.  Especially after the teacher I was subbing for commented to me before he left about the "at risk" kids, who were supposed to have online work on the classroom computers to keep them busy.  He said, "The internet connection is down for 8th period.  I hope it comes back up; you'd better hope it comes back up."  So when it didn't come back, I essentially had two periods of study hall with them.   Woohoo, unstructured time with challenging students!  But we made it through.
Second, I was amazed at the casual crudeness of the older students.  They weren't mouthy or rude to me (although they were definitely testing me), but just between themselves the swearing and inappropriate comments were rampant.  Granted, these kids already have a number of strikes against them, and I knew that going into the afternoon.  I wasn't expecting angelic behavior and good moral compasses.  But it was still surprising to me, in a sad way.
And the funny thing was, I really liked the older "at risk" students.  I hit it off with them, and they were okay with me.  They listened.  They pushed boundaries quite a bit, but didn't get personal or obnoxious at me.  Maybe I'll get a chance to work with them again.  I hope the teacher will request me the next time.  I seem to have a soft spot for some of the tough misfits.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Hot Rods and a Running Start

 Another scene from the car show a couple weeks ago, a '69 Chevelle Malibu.  
My first car was THIS car - only mine had belonged to my grandpa, 
and was champagne colored with dark green vinyl bench seats, 
and wasn't a souped-up SS.
I still miss that car.  I called it Beast.  It was a great guy magnet, 
but they were always disappointed that it only had a 307 engine. . . .
Safety Guy says he'll buy me one when he's rich.  I love that kid!

This week is off to a running start - dental appointments for both kids, soccer practice for PYY, Sylvan for SG, homework all around, laundry, cooking, etc. etc.  And it's just Monday!  I'm live and as ready as I'll ever be for subbing, too, so I've been setting my alarm early and keeping the phone close so my husband doesn't have to answer it at o-dark-clock.

A Plymouth Superbird - familiar to anyone who's had a kid
obsessed with the movie Cars.

The dental appointments were a rousing success - something I never thought I'd say regarding Safety Guy and going to the dentist.  I LOVE this dentist!  He did the cleaning himself, to help SG get used to the new situation.  This has to be the coolest dental office ever, too - the small rooms have TVs on the ceiling, so the kids can see them while lying down, and the kids can pick the channel.  SG picked the Cartoon Network.  The dentist and SG hit it off right away, and with a combination of showing and telling SG everything he was going to do, quiet patter, teaching SG that if he breathed deeply and slowly he COULDN'T gag, and counting how long he could work uninterrupted, the appointment went smoothly.  I know I said this before, but I am so grateful that they GET IT there.  An added blessing was that neither kid had any cavities.  I guess that nagging them about brushing works.  (Much less pleasant was the surprise that when our insurance changed, we're no longer with one of their accepted insurances at this dental office, and we have to pay up front and get reimbursed by our insurance.  Yikes, I wasn't expecting to lay out over $300 today. . . .)

 I've forgotten what this is - 
but I'm sure Safety Guy could identify it for me.
He's turning into a walking encyclopedia of auto make/model/year info.

I got in a good walk today - a solid half hour, and a good sweat since it was in the 80s and humid.  Remember that song from that kids' Christmas special with Fred Astaire?  That's right, from Santa Claus Is Coming To Town:  "Put one foot in front of the other. . . ."  Good advice, so I'm doing it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fingerprinting and Safety?

Well, I had another first today:  I got fingerprinted as part of the hiring process for substitute teaching.  In NY the schools check their employees against the state criminal records, which makes sense to me.  I wouldn't want someone convicted of a violent crime or a sexual crime or any crime against a child working in a school.  I'm okay with the background check - safety is good.

However, I do have one question about this process.  You see, although it takes 4-6 weeks for the state to check a person's fingerprints and determine if they have a criminal record, I'm already on the school's substitute teacher list.  As of today.  I could be called tomorrow morning  So, theoretically, I could be a sex offender or violent predator, and be working in a New York state public school for a month or more before anyone realized that I was a dangerous person.  Am I the only one who is disturbed by this situation?  If the safety of our children is paramount  in our schools (and it obviously should be), why on earth would the school district allow such a gaping hole in the process for clearing people for employment with our kids?

The more I think about this part of the hiring process, the more uncomfortable I am with it.  As much as I understand that people need jobs, and schools need good subs, and it's a bit of a hassle to interview and hire people over the summer for fall positions, I don't think the school is handling their hiring process in a way that protects the students.  If it takes 4-6 weeks to get fingerprints cleared with state police agencies, then new subs should be recruited, interviewed and fingerprinted in JULY, not SEPTEMBER.

The other thing is, I had to pay for my own fingerprinting - almost $100.  It's a one-time thing, but it's still a chunk of money out of my pocket before I have any chance of seeing a paycheck from the school.  If the school wants to hire me, I think the school should pay for the fingerprinting and background check.

But there is so much wrong with school bureaucracies, and with New York state bureaucracy in particular, I don't even want to go there.  I'm grateful to have the opportunity to earn some money to add to my family's budget.  Thankfully I know I'm not a criminal.  But how does the school know at this moment that I'm a safe person to have around children?  They don't.  And that still bothers me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interviewing, Funnies, and Blessings

I had my second interview with BOCES today, and it went very well.  They want me on their sub list - I just have to go get fingerprinted and have my prints run through the state and federal criminal registries to make sure I'm not hiding anything nasty.  (Nope, nothing to hide, so no worries.)  By the time the prints get processed I might be ready to jump back into the classroom again.  I've never done day-to-day subbing before.  My previous sub positions were all long-term (from three months to a full school year), so I expect to have a steep learning curve bouncing from class to class.  Add in that I'll be on the sub lists for two districts (BOCES and my kids' home district) and K-12 and Special Ed (including high school classes for kids with behavioral issues), and I'm sure that no two days will EVER be the same.  I'm actually kind of looking forward to it - I can do the job, and leave it there when I go home, no strings attached.  I could get to like that.

My kids have been full of fun the past couple days, in pretty good moods and quick to make snappy comebacks and ask interesting questions.  Like Safety Guy, who told me today that he saw something really gross at school.  I asked him if it was something I'd want to hear while eating (I was enjoying dinner), and he said, "I saw two kids KISSING in the hallway!!"  I was glad to hear that he's still grossed out by PDA.  I'm in trouble when he gets curious about it.  Or last week, when Safety Guy told me, as he dragged his tired self down the stairs one morning before school, "I feel like a zombie dipped in glue."

And here's a blessing, and I can't call it small, because anyone with a child who has sensory issues and/or autism issues will realize just what a big deal this is to me.   Here's the back story:  Safety Guy  has always had difficulty going to the dentist, because of his serious gag reflex and sensory and anxiety issues.  Our dentist and hygienist, before we moved, were wonderful with him, but it took them years to get him to the point of comfort just for routine cleaning.  Orthodontics (just on his top teeth, with a different dentist) were very difficult.  The first orthodontist did okay with him, but midway through Safety Guy's treatment the doctor sold his practice and retired.  The new orthodontist didn't have any patience for Safety Guy at all, and none of us were happy.  This situation came up while I was having my own health issues, and during my husband's new job half a state away before the move (so I was flying solo as a parent).  The orthodontist rather abruptly ended Safety Guy's treatment after a particularly difficult appointment (to remove his braces, which they didn't warn us about ahead of time), and I was so fed up I didn't push back on him for his lack of professionalism and courtesy.  I just wanted to be DONE.  So we moved, and found a new dentist for routine cleaning.  They're really nice, but Safety Guy just didn't "take" to them, and it was miserable getting his teeth cleaned and x-rayed over a year ago.

In the meantime, we had Princess Yakyak go to a pediatric dental/orthodontic practice, because a) she's a terrible squiggle in the dental chair and used to need nitrous to hold still long enough to get anything done, and b) she needed braces, and started the process with an arch expander earlier this year.  I love her dentist - he's really wonderful, and so are all of his staff.  Not only that, this dental practice serves people of all ages with special needs.   Over the summer I decided to switch Safety Guy to that practice and see if that would work better for him. 

Today the pediatric dentist's staff called to confirm the transfer of records and the appointment we have set up for next week.  I had indicated on the forms that our son has Aspergers and that he would be anxious about the cleaning.  The lady who called me was wonderful, and asked me what they could do to try to help SG be more comfortable with his first visit with them.  She asked if there were any special concerns we had, dental issues we should bring up, or things they could do to distract him if he became anxious.   And, she told me that her own son has an autism spectrum disorder.  She GOT IT.   The whole practice seems to GET IT.   I am so relieved, and very encouraged.  I'm hopeful that next week's appointment will be a good one for Safety Guy.  But I've already been blessed.  Thank you, Lord, for people who UNDERSTAND how difficult "simple" things like this can be for our son.

Monday, September 19, 2011

TGIF (Thank God It's Fall) Bars

I've got a recipe to share this week, in honor of my favorite season:  FALL.  This is hands-down my favorite time of year, even though as a gardener things are winding down here in the northeastern U.S.  I love the clear days, crisp evenings, bright starry nights, and wonderful colors of fall in my part of the country.  I love the harvest festivals, pumpkins, apples, cool-weather comfort food and hot drinks after long walks.  Okay, so it's not officially fall until this Friday.  I don't care - it feels like fall, the leaves are turning, and I'm ready.

This recipe is new - I just threw it together a couple days ago.  Sometimes that kind of tinkering results in something good.  (Sometimes I wind up with "meh," or "blecch," but this time was "Ooooooh!  YUM.")  It's a perfect fall snack bar, not too sweet and not too guilty.  Enjoy!

TGIF (Thank God It's Fall) Bars

1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temp.
1/4 cup shortening
2 eggs (I used XL; if you use M eggs, use three)
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup whole rolled oats
2 1/4 cup white unbleached flour
3 tsp. fresh grated orange zest
1 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine the butter, shortening, and sugar until blended.  Mix in both eggs, and beat until light (a couple minutes).  Add the orange zest, oats, flour, salt and soda, and mix until just combined.  Stir in the cranberries and walnuts by hand.  Pat the mixture into a greased and floured 9" x 13" baking pan.  (The dough is thick and sticky - you may want to put a dab of shortening on your fingers to help spread it out evenly.)  Sprinkle with white sugar - I used a few tablespoons of regular granulated sugar, but I bet large-crystal sugar would be really wonderful on this.  Bake at 350F for 27-30 minutes, until light golden brown on top.  Let it cool, cut, and serve (or store in an airtight container).  Yield:  24 bars.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

One Ringy-Dingy, Two Ringy-Dingies

Sometimes I just have to laugh.  Ah, Aspergers obsessions, gotta love 'em.  I'm counting my blessings that Safety Guy's pet interests aren't too weird, or obnoxious, or dangerous.  This could be worse:  he could be hooked on toilets, or weapons of mass destruction, or breeding night crawlers.  This week has been a merry-go-round of obsessions, two old and one sort of new:  cars, fire alarms, and rotary phones.

The cars are a constant.  He never gets tired of talking about them, pointing different ones out as we drive, watching them on YouTube or playing video games with them.  He often carries a handful of Matchbox-type cars in his pocket, to play with in spare moments (almost always crashing them together in slow motion and making very detailed, realistic sound effects to accompany the imaginary mayhem).  Nothing new there - it's just got a fresh lease on life after last weekend's auto show.

His newer obsession is an old rotary phone.  Safety Guy has always liked phones - not necessarily to talk on them, but because they a) have buttons or dials, and b) make cool sounds.  Couple that with his love of retro gizmos of all kinds, and I guess this weekend's purchase was inevitable.  He was at a Boy Scout activity this weekend, at a local festival that happened to have a couple "flea market" stalls among the crafts and exhibits.  He used half of his lunch money to buy an old, black rotary phone.  The thing is probably 30+ years old, and used to be mounted on a light green painted wall (you can tell from the paint smears on the sides), and Safety Guy is thrilled with it.  He keeps dialing it and listening to it clickety-click around and around.  He's dying to hear it actually RING.  My husband, bless him for being a techie guy and a good dad, is going to get whatever adapters and connections the phone needs and mount it in Safety Guy's man cave in the basement, so it can be used again.  Safety Guy can hardly wait.

This week he's full-throttle on fire alarms again too.  Listening to them on YouTube, looking for them everywhere he visits, telling me about them at the drop of a hat (any hat, and there's always a hat falling somewhere in the world, so for him any time is a good time to tell me all about fire alarms).  He got home from church today, tired from working in the nursery, and he made a beeline for the computer and started working through his playlist of fire alarm videos.  BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP, WEEEoooEEEEoooooEEEEooo, HONK HONK HONK HONK, blaaaat blaaaat blaaaat, dingalingalingalingalingaling, meep meep meep, aaaOOOOOgggaaaaaahhh. . . .

And he finds that relaxing???   AND he got Tech Guy to say "yes" to mounting an old fire alarm in the basement or the shed if Safety Guy ever manages to find one cheap.  (Ack!  NOOOOOOO!  See this post to understand my reaction.)  Oh well, I'm still counting my blessings.  And maybe buying ear plugs.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Boys and Classic Cars

Last weekend I took Safety Guy and his friend M. to a classic auto show.  It was a pretty good sized one, and I had a great time hanging out with the guys.  They looked at every. single. car.  And they enjoyed browsing through the flea market that was set up there too.  Safety Guy found some hot wheels type cars, and M. found some other sports-related goodies.  The guys had a great time, and Safety Guy got to practice being patient with someone else's pet obsessions as M. hunted for Red Sox memorabilia and WWF action figures.  Here are some photos of our day at the auto show:

We had a great time, and I got some "cool Mom" brownie points for being able to identify quite a few cars.  Although I pretended to get tired of Safety Guy asking me if I saw Car X when I was a kid, and teased him for making me feel old.  Just to be a smart alec he'd ask me if I'd seen Model Ts and WWII army jeeps as a kid. 

He's one cool kid, and his friend M. is really a great guy too - I'm glad they're friends.  They share the same schedule in school, too.  M. was really empathetic and asked me lots of questions about how Safety Guy thinks and feels.  They were in the same class last year, and M. saw Safety Guy being bullied, and how he reacted to various things.  I'm glad SG has a friend and ally at school again this year.  Everyone needs a friend like M.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Moving Forward

I hauled myself out on my bike after dinner tonight.  Alone, wonder of wonders.  It's been nice and cool today - I love the fall, and I'm excited to finally get to enjoy my favorite weather.  Never mind that a little black rain cloud caught up with me while I rode, and I got a bit damp.  At one point I took refuge under some heavy maple trees, beside a wonderful shade garden a handful of blocks from my house.  It was very peaceful, just listening to the rain patter on the leaves, and I amused myself by trying to identify the plants.  Whoever owns that garden has a fairly extensive collection of hostas, among other goodies.

I've been trying to mind my menu lately, with pretty good success.  More lean protein, more fiber-rich carbs, Greek yogurt as a snack, and modest portions of everything seem to be working for me at the moment.  Getting out and exercising is my weak spot, but I'm working on it.  Sometimes during my daughter's soccer practice I walk laps around the field.  Sometimes I walk in the neighborhood.  I'm trying to ride my bike when the weather permits.  My difficulty is that I'm not consistent about exercise. I'm not a schedule-driven person, and I don't have a great track record for following a plan on paper.  Lists and schedules make me twitchy, as if they're just waiting for me to miss a day and FAIL. (It's like topiary - seeing a garden full of topiary makes me feel the same way:  pressured, confined and harassed.  It's just too anal for me to deal with.  It would be like living with Gilbert Huph, Bob Parr's neurotic, controlling boss in The Incredibles.)  So, I'm working on the "Do SOMETHING Every Day" principle.  Sometimes I'm more ambitious, sometimes less, but my goal is to get active somehow, for at least half an hour (and preferably more), each day, indoors or outside.  (And I do count strenuous housework as a form of exercise.  If I break a good sweat bending, stooping, reaching, wiping, carrying, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing for an extended period of time, darn right it's exercise.  But I still try to get out and walk anyhow.)

I'm hoping to be able to just work through this process quietly, with no fanfare.  I'm not a "weight loss blogger," and I'd rather go to the dentist than compare low-fat recipes and weight loss tips with friends, family, and strangers.  (Anyone who knows me KNOWS how much I dislike going to the dentist, too.)  I don't want to make a big deal of it because I'd like to be able to make daily food choices without wondering who's watching.  (And some days I KNOW I'll make less healthy choices.  But that's life - it's a balance.  I'll enjoy that family party or date with my husband and have dessert today, and exercise a little more and eat modestly tomorrow.  No big deal, and life moves on.)  But I figure if I share part of my journey with others, we can encourage each other.  I can't do it alone.

Whether or not I hit a particular number of pounds lost isn't really the point.  What I'm after is improving my health.  Obviously losing weight will feel good, and I'd love to wear things I've only been able to dream about since high school.  But the numbers aren't going to rule me.  Progress can be measured by so much more than a scale.  So, here I go - wish me success!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Sound Of Silence

I confess, I like being alone.  I have NO idea how I survived six years of home schooling, being with my kids 24/7 and trying to be parent/teacher/referee/nurse/psychologist/cook/comforter/disciplinarian.  Today the kids went to school, and the house was QUIET.  It was awesome.  I needed the space, especially after the mega-drama Princess Yakyak has been dishing out lately.

She's almost 10, and hitting puberty early.  Hormones, girl drama, and a strong will have combined into the perfect storm of BAD ATTITUDE the past couple days.  Heaven help me, I don't know if I'll make it through the next 10 years.  I love her to death, but I was seriously put out with her yesterday and this morning.  Thankfully she was in a much better humor after school today.

But I still really, really enjoyed my quiet day.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Little Slice Of Perfect

Our daughter had her first soccer game of the season today.  Despite having new kids on the team, and having two practices canceled due to heavy rain this past week, the girls played well together.  It was a pick-up game with several members of the same-age boys team in town, and several of the girls had to play on the boys team to even the numbers.  It was low-key and simply fun.  I think it ended in a tie, and a good time seemed to be had by all.

My husband walked down to the field to join Princess Yakyak and I (we were there early for warmup).  We sat near the midfield line, chatting with friends and watching the kids play.  It's been a lovely day today, warm and sunny, with blue sky and high cirrus clouds and a breeze.  As we were sitting there, my husband commented that it was a little bit of perfection at that moment.  And he was absolutely right.  Sandwiched between the heartbreak of the flooding in our former home over the past few days, and the remembrance of 9/11 tomorrow, for just a little while all was right with the world around us.

It was wonderful.

Friday, September 9, 2011

By The Book?

 Safety Guy with his new baby guinea pig, Flash, last summer.

Someone commented on my blog the other day that Safety Guy is a "classic aspie."  How true!  In fact, when he had an evaluation last year, the psychiatrist commented that SG was such a textbook example of a young man with Aspergers Syndrome that he could be used as a case study in the class the doctor was teaching at the university.  When we first had it suggested that he might have AS, I got a book with a diagnostic checklist of characteristics of Aspergers.  Check, check, check, down the list I went - and he fit most of the criteria dead on.  The "official" diagnosis later on was an anticlimax; we finally knew that day exactly what had made SG quirky and just a bit different ever since he'd been born.  Receiving a label for his differences was actually a relief to all of us, including SG.

But really, I know (and I'm sure the doctor knows, the commenter knows, and any parent of a child on the autism spectrum knows) that all people with AS/autism are individuals.  As easy as it is to make a list of symptoms and behaviors and compare someone to it, no one is really a textbook example of anything.  Quirks, warts, gifts, deficits and all, they're undeniably individuals.  Which may be why the autism community can sometimes seem so fragmented and, well, autistic about itself.  And why the upcoming revision of the definition of autism for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, 5th Edition (what will be the DSM V) has caused such a ruckus in the autism community.  The new definition will essentially lump all autism spectrum disorders under one definition of autism, eliminating the diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, among other distinctions.  Many people (myself included) see this as a gross over-generalization that will not help people on the spectrum receive an accurate, specific diagnosis leading to improved treatment for their needs.  The response to a broad category of developmental issues shouldn't be to gloss over the differences from end to end of the spectrum for simplicity's sake.  Calling all ASDs "autism" isn't helpful to anyone.  It's like creating a park and saying that all the birds that will be in it are just birds, and can be kept together and treated alike - never mind you'll have hummingbirds, eagles, ostriches, penguins, parrots, ducks and flamingos all in the same habitat.  It won't really accurately describe any of them, or adequately meet their needs in the end.

Labels are easy. They're convenient, and help us quickly sort and prioritize information.  People by their very nature seem to have this impulse to simplify and categorize.  We need the labels to begin to think about how to deal with issues.  But life isn't simple, and neither are people.  The labels we use should be guidelines, not straitjackets.  Which is why I'm sometimes ambivalent about applying the labels "autistic" or "aspie" to our son.  Yes, he has Aspergers Syndrome.  No, it doesn't define who he is.  HE defines HIS autism for the people around him, not the other way around.  While I'm all too aware of his "classic aspie-ness," it's not who he is.  And I'm very glad that so many people in our life have taken the time to get to know him for who he is - smart, funny, quirky, sensitive, anxious, obsessive, and all the rest of his marvelous personality.  And after a while, the people who know him, befriend him and love him just take him as he is.  And isn't that what we all want in the end?

So much for labels.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Highs and Lows

The kids' first day of school went really well - and I'm so grateful to be able to share that.  They were both a bit nervous leading up to this morning, but they headed off to school in good spirits, and came home with a fair amount of happiness.  Princess Yakyak likes her new teacher, and has some good friends in her class.  Safety Guy said the schedule and room-changing of 7th grade was hectic, but he managed without much trouble, and he likes his teachers.  Best of all, the kid who bullied him the most last year is not in any of his classes - hooray!

The Susquehanna River looking east, Sept. 8, 2011,
with Endwell on the middle left, Johnson City on the upper left, 
and Vestal on the right, with Binghamton on the top right.  
Our old neighborhood is on the left side of this picture, 
just past where the two-lane crosses the river. 
Photo courtesy of Lloyd & Ryan Flying
The low of the day has been following the news from the Binghamton, NY, area, which is experiencing major, even catastrophic flooding.  The Susquehanna river just crested an hour or so ago.  Our old house now has water in its walk-out basement, which has never happened before.  My sister Tracey and her family are safe, but isolated in their neighborhood on a small rise of land, with only one road to get out on if there were an emergency (and it's iffy that that road will remain open tonight as the river crests).  Many more friends have evacuated, or are bailing/pumping at this moment.  Our first church in the area has 7 feet of water in it now - another first, and a very sad one since we helped our church family move into that building and fix it up.  My prayers go out tonight for everyone affected by this disaster.  After taking a similar hit 5 years ago, I find it hard to see how the Southern Tier will bounce back from this flood.  It will take years; it may be a permanent blow.  So sad.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rain, Memories, and Anticipation

We're marinating in the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, which has brought sustained heavy rain to Central New York, on top of the rain we had last week courtesy of Hurricane Irene.  The ground is saturated, and the water is overflowing everywhere.  Where we are, it's comparatively minor - isolated creeks at flood stage, water on some low-lying roads, but nothing serious.  Our old home, however, is under the gun for major flooding - again.

I'm a bit unnerved about the flooding in the Binghamton area, and I'm a little surprised.  After all, it's been five years since we went through major flooding there.  I posted about it last year, here.  I'm distressed to see my friends and neighbors facing the same hazards, the same emotional toll, the same damage and the same recovery process.  Seeing their comments and photos on Facebook is stressful.  I've been forcefully moved to pray for their safety, especially since reading on FB this morning that a friend's son was in an auto accident yesterday because of the rain near our old home - he hydroplaned and slammed into a parked car.  Thankfully, he's okay (just shaken and sore), but the car is totaled.  I'll have to make an effort not to hover over the news and FB updates this evening.

On a positive note, the kids have handled the rainy, cooped-up day quite well.  Princess Yakyak kept me company while I did groceries, and Safety Guy has had a friend over for the past couple hours.  He and his friend will share most of their classes, and I'm glad to see them reaching out to each other outside of school.  They've been bouncing between video game systems, and I've heard lots of happy guy noises.  It's a good thing.

Both kids are excited/nervous about school starting tomorrow.  I hope and pray that their first days go smoothly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tie-Dying With Princess Yakyak

We had a very laid-back holiday yesterday.  It rained all day, so it's a good thing we had our picnic Sunday night.  Princess Yakyak had her best friend Giggles over for the day.  As a special treat, we did tie dyed t-shirts and pillow cases.  I had picked up a couple multi-color tie dye kits on sale earlier in the summer, and promised PYY we'd do them before school started.  This was the perfect day.

I'm no expert at tie-dying.  I did it once before with both kids, about 5 years ago.  Same as last time, I read the directions on the boxes of dye, and we went for it.  Spirals, bulls-eyes, free-form designs - we had a ball.  The girls each did two shirts and a pillow case, then Giggles did a shirt for her little sister.  I did an extra shirt for PYY, and a shirt for myself.  The mess was manageable, and the results were bright and happy.  The girls did have some dye on their fingertips - the gloves in the kits were cheap, and the girls couldn't resist touching their creations while they were still wet after the gloves were off.  I washed and dried the shirts late last night, and PYY showed them off for me today.  Lots of fun!  We'll do it again next summer.

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Paintings, and Teddy Bears

 'Binary Sunset' acrylic painting, 11 x 14, August 2011.

I've got a handful of projects spinning around in my mind lately.  I've got two new paintings, and one almost finished.  I've got all the materials to make Christmas ornaments (wooden ones, not ceramic at this time).  And, I've been making small teddy bears - something I've done off and on since college. 

The paintings are more of my abstract designs over color studies - one in greens, one in fall russets and golds, and one in red shading into cobalt blue.  I think one will go to Hartsville Hollow, and the other two will end up in my Etsy shop.

I haven't started the ornaments yet - that's next in the creative queue.  I made some the past couple years, and they sold well.  I'm trying a different approach this year (using spray paint for the base color, and dimensional craft paint for the designs, to give them more texture).  We'll see how that turns out.

Finally, I realized that I have lots of fabric left from various craft projects over the years, and trims and lace and ribbon - most of the materials, in fact, to make my little bears.  All I had to do was buy polyfil and beads for eyes/noses.  My main investment is time.  I'm going to try to sell these at Hartsville Hollow, but I haven't decided if I want to put them up on Etsy.  They certainly don't fit with anything else in my shop.  But they are cute, if I do say so myself.  I've given them as gifts over the years, and made them in many sizes, but I like the little bears the best.  They're a comparatively quick, low-stress project, and I'm so familiar with them I can practically make them in my sleep.  Hopefully they'll sell well for the holidays.

 The first six bears - I've got a dozen more cut out and ready to go.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Home for the Holiday

After a week of running around all over Upstate NY, I'm glad to be home for the holiday weekend.  We had our fun earlier in the week, but now it's back to a normal-ish routine.  With school starting next week, the kids are antsy and edgy.  Heck, *I'M* antsy and edgy.  We'll all be better off when we can settle into the new fall routine.

Until then, we're tackling some home upkeep projects, the biggest one being cleaning out and rearranging our garage.  My husband was given some old cabinets by a neighbor to use as storage and work surfaces in the garage.  They've sat in a corner for a couple months, but now we're ready to get organized.  We have new baskets to hang on the walls for recyclables,  we'll be bringing the chest freezer up from the basement to the garage, putting the cabinets in place (after slapping a quick coat of paint on the wall behind them - the walls have never been painted, and we don't want to have to move everything again later), moving a shelf unit down to the basement for Safety Guy to use in his man cave (and coincidentally clean some of his stuff out of his bedroom), and maybe even installing hooks to hang the bikes for the winter.  All on a very humid day, but hey, it's exercise.  It will feel good to have that project done.

And there's the incentive of ice cream from our favorite local soft-serve place when we're all done.  I need a sign:  "Will work for ice cream."  Maybe that would help me keep on top of the laundry better. . . .

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Day At The NY State Fair

The pond and fountain in front of the Horticulture Building.
It was a gorgeous day, and we really enjoyed having a whole afternoon
to suit ourselves and enjoy the Fair.  Our favorite restaurant, King David's,
had a booth there, so we had both lunch and dinner with them (gyros for
my husband, falafel for me).  We also discovered the joy of wine slushies.

The 9/11 Memorial at the Fair - it was very emotional to see all the tributes 
to the 9/11 victims and heroes all over the fairgrounds, 
but this was the main memorial.

A giant sand sculpture tribute to 9/11.
Oddly enough, it was in the center of a large number of commercial booths.
You name it, they sold it.  They had some real space-age jacuzzis, and
for some reason cooking demonstrations were all over the place.
I enjoyed the vendors selling handcrafted items.

The annual Butter Sculpture at the Dairy Building - 
my husband insisted we take a picture of it.
The sculpture rotates in its own special refrigerated display case.
We also enjoyed ice cold fresh milk there - $.25/glass, and a real treat.
I think our favorite goody at the fair was the maple soft serve ice cream.
We saw some interesting fair foods, too - like the Pig and Potato Parfait
(a huge clear cup layered with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, and mashed potatoes),
and Alligator On A Stick or Shark On A Stick.
I brought home a caramel-nut apple, one of my favorite fair treats.

I loved seeing the displays of quilts, woodworking, and handicrafts.  
We saw so many amazing quilts, but the first one is my favorite.
(I think of it as having gold-brown fractal patterns - 
I'm sure it has a real name, but I don't know what it is.)
The tiger and birds-eye maple rocking chair in the second photo, and the 
inlaid/joined table in the last photo, were amazing, too.

We loved these stilt walker-puppeteers.  They were wonderful to watch.
They wandered around the Fair, teasing people, 
then they marched in the parade.  They had a third member of their
group walking around on foot, using a large folding fan as a prop.
He'd sneak up on people and snap the fan open with a loud POP,
and watch them jump.

Harvesting angora rabbit fur - a very fussy task.  
The rabbit was so patient, like a lady enjoying a day at a salon.  
The unshorn rabbits looked like tumbleweeds with ears sticking out.
There was a demonstration of how the fiber is spun into yarn, too.

Guinea pigs!  That was fun to see.  
There must have been a couple hundred of them
lined up against the wall in their cages.
We tried a couple times to catch the draft horse show, 
to take pictures for PYY, but they didn't have 
posted times for individual classes, 
just the note in the brochure that they'd be showing from 8AM-5PM.
So, no horses.  Sorry, PYY!  I took a picture of the pony ride for her, 
and she was happy with that.

Poultry of every shape and size filled most of one building - 
reminding me of my friends who raise chickens for eggs and 4H shows.
They were having a rooster crowing contest (i.e. given a group of
roosters, who could persuade them to crow the most).

Crazy people riding the human slingshot ride.  
It's bad enough to watch this contraption in action
as a permanent installation bolted down at places like Darien Lake, 
but to see it as a mobile unit with a traveling fair was scary.  
This one wasn't even enclosed in a cage - it was just seats and harnesses
fastened into a weighted tubular metal frame, 
and hooked on each side to the mega-bungee-spring-cords.
You'd have to update my will and buy my tombstone before putting me on it, 
because I'd be dead of fright before the ride stopped its first bounce.

And of course, the concert - a back-to-the-80s triple billing of 
Night Ranger, Foreigner, and Journey.
The photos are of Journey; we were way up in the grandstand.  
The concerts were great, except for the lighting 
(which gave me a nasty headache - I apparently have 
NO tolerance for bright lights flashing in my face any more). 
Watching the crowd was almost as entertaining as the bands themselves. 
We had a great time, and I wouldn't trade the romantic moment 
of snuggling with my husband during 'Faithfully' for anything.

We finally dragged ourselves home a bit after 1AM.
Then we immediately took showers - we were dusty, sweaty, sticky ,
and we smelled of smoke (tobacco and pot, courtesy of a few people 
who felt that the grandstand NO SMOKING rule didn't apply to them).
Then we collapsed into bed.  
What a great day!