Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fireworks and Matches

Sometimes having one child with special needs and one child without special needs really breaks my heart.  In spite of our best efforts at fairness, sometimes Safety Guy receives more attention than Princess Yakyak because of his Aspergers Syndrome.  He needs more close attention than PYY to learn and be successful with the things she picks up and does almost effortlessly.  We are careful to not compare them to each other - they are unique individuals, after all, and so different that the old "apples and oranges" saying doesn't begin to cover their distinctions.

Princess Yakyak has not had an easy time growing up in her big brother's tracks.  She's had to make more accommodations, grow up faster, and put up with more than a little girl should have to put up with.  Sometimes he's been a very good big brother, playing with her and helping her.  But far too many other times he's been unkind and demanding, losing his temper at her when she hasn't done things the way he expected, yelling at her when she was in his space when he didn't want company, misunderstanding her actions and motives.  Her very existence in "his" world has always been hard for him, because he likes order and predictability, and, well, we've joked that Princess Yakyak's real name should have been "Entropy."  She's not a shrinking violet; she doesn't have a "go along with whatever you say" personality.  She's not passive and easygoing - she's smart, willful, and fiery.

She and her brother often get along like a box of fireworks and a box of matches.

Last night Princess Yakyak and Safety Guy had yet another major blowup.  He was very rude to her when she came into the room while he had a friend visiting.  He yelled at her, and told her to "GO AWAY!"  I felt really badly for her, even though her own overreaction didn't help the situation at all.  She came upstairs to vent at her father and I, and that devolved into her having a rant about "You love him more the me!   You always do things his way!  He's such a whiner and a baby!  He shouldn't get away with stuff just because he has stupid Aspergers!"  She was so angry at him, and at us too.  It really broke my heart, even as I had to point out that she was doing some of the same things to him that he had done to her, and taking her frustration out on all of us and making a tough time even harder to deal with.

Eventually she lost her head of steam and we were able to talk more about the situation without additional drama.  Balance and sanity were restored, Princess Yakyak was giggling over silly things we talked about at bedtime, Safety Guy was reprimanded for his behavior toward PYY, and we finally all made it to bed.

Just half an hour ago, he did it again to her, accusing her of being a thief when she'd simply picked up something by mistake, then gave it back to him and apologized.  When he accused her, she lost her temper and clouted him on the arm and yelled at him, then ran out of the room, still yelling.  I don't think I'll win any "good parent" awards for what happened next, but I told him that what he'd done to her was cruel and uncalled for after she had nicely admitted her mistake and apologized and made it right.  He complained that she'd hit him, and I told him he had deserved it for being a jerk.  He eventually apologized to her, although I don't think it was sincere.  He apologized again later, and meant it.

When will this ever end?  Someday my husband and I will be gone, and they'll have to get along with each other without us as a buffer.  Will they ever get along mostly smoothly?  Will they ever really value each others' uniqueness?  Will they support each other and be there for each other when they're needed?  Some days I just want to cry when they hurt each other.

Some days, Aspergers sucks.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Inside Scoop

Today I got the real inside scoop on my son's classroom.  That's right, I subbed for my son's resource teacher!  It was a half-day job, just enough for me to meet the kids and get a read on the classroom dynamics.  It was very interesting, to say the least.

Let's just start off by saying that seventh graders are all a bit flaky.  Hormones + little/no prefrontal cortex activity (i.e. their decision-making skills fall somewhere between those of a spider monkey and a nerf ball) = all sorts of, um, unusual conversations and situations.  And, there is virtually no filter and no time lag between what they think and what they say or do.  They all live in a perpetual Steve Urkel "Did I do that?" haze.  Add on top of that their perpetual embarrassment at the fact that they even HAVE parents, and I wasn't sure if Safety Guy would be glad to see me, or mortified.

I don't think I embarrassed Safety Guy too badly.  He only tried to get away with a couple extra trips to the drinking fountain (squelched or postponed), and he got a kick out of watching me deal with the other students in his resource class.  I know a couple of the students from outside school, and that in itself was interesting - one guy acts the same everywhere he goes, while the other is a hapless follower of the stronger personalities in the class, doing and saying things I'd never heard him say outside of that room.

Several of the kids are given to all sorts of double-entendres of the young teen variety - that is, virtually any innocent remark anyone makes can be construed as something suggestive or rude.  Oddly enough, I earned brownie points for calling them on it and not letting them get away with it - they were impressed, and said I was cool.  I'm not sure if I'm pleased that I handled it well or disappointed that I got the subtext on the first try.  I guess I'm both.  Anyhow, they now know that I'm really listening, and I'm really not going to take it from them.

A couple kids in there have picked on Safety Guy in the past, leading to him having meltdowns at school.  They don't consistently target him - I get the impression from Safety Guy that they're opportunistic, but not seriously trying to harass him.  It's good to be able to put names and faces to his classmates.  Hopefully that will help me help him deal with their bullying behavior in the future, since I'll know who he's talking about.  And, his classmates now know that I'm in the school frequently and know who they are.  That may help as well.

But really, what I've seen is that the resource classes in our district essentially track the kids, keeping the same group of kids together year after year.  That's true of most schools, who find it easier to keep kids with similar learning needs together.  If it's a good group of kids, that's not a problem, but when there are all sorts of personality conflicts and behavioral issues involved, that becomes a big problem, especially for the kids who are the target of bullying behavior.  Safety Guy feels like he cannot get away from the kids who have picked on him, no matter what he does; he feels trapped.  I'm not sure if there's a remedy for this situation, aside from being on top of what's going on in his class as much as possible, and making sure the school knows I'm watching.

I'm not sure how much Safety Guy's classmates learned today, but I know I learned a lot.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Traveling With Aspergers, Part 2

I've been thinking more about my last post, about traveling with someone (particularly a child or youth) who has Aspergers.  I realized that most of what I said can apply to very young children, with or without Aspergers or autism spectrum issues.  I guess some things about traveling we learn to deal with as we grow up, and the social/emotional immaturity of many people with AS predisposes them to need help learning these travel-related skills beyond the age-range most kids learn them.  (Although I have to say, some adults don't cope well with travel even without ASDs, so some of my ideas will apply to any travel situation.) 

Here are my three keys to travel with someone with AS:

It occurs to me that we can do very little in an unpremeditated manner in our lives with Safety Guy.  Spur of the moment stuff is very difficult for us to manage.  Every transition needs some sort of preparation for Safety Guy, whether it's an extra few minutes to get him to change mental gears and stop an activity before we go out to the grocery store, or a week or more spent discussing the details of a long trip to a new place.  And he's gotten much more flexible as he's gotten older (relatively speaking - he still was ready to be upset when I asked him to leave early for church with me this morning, so we could drop something off on the way, but he went along with me after a few minutes).  I can't just go up to him and say, "We're going to the store RIGHT NOW," and expect him to jump up and be ready immediately.

In our family, we have what we call the "10 minute warning" that we try to give Safety Guy before we need him to change activities when he's not expecting it.  Just that little bit of time to wind up one activity before leaving to start another makes all the difference in his attitude and ability to make the change successfully.  It works in the car as well, letting him know we'll be stopping, or that we need to get on the road again after a break, when we can often shorten the amount of transition time to "a few minutes."

For long trips, I carry a sort of "emergency kit" of things to distract the kids, for when they start to get sick of the drive (which is usually about one hour into a seven hour car trip).  This could also probably be used on any trip by air, although we haven't had to fly with our kids.  Here's a list of what's in a typical "Look, something shiny!" bag for our family when we travel any really long distance:

- a new Matchbox or Hot Wheels car (one of Safety Guy's comfort things is
  carrying a toy car in his pocket - he has lots at home, but new ones are always a
- colored pencils, a sharpener, and paper or coloring books (for PYY, since Safety
  Guy rarely draws)
- a new Mad Libs book (for all of us - a great family activity)
- a handful of high-interest books for both kids - things from home they maybe
  haven't seen in a while, and something new for each of them  (I figure if we're
  taking the time/$$/trouble to travel all day, it's worth the money to actually
  have a chance to ENJOY the trip)
- a couple books on CD or tape (they love listening to books in the car)
- a pack of gum for Safety Guy, and a pack of Tictacs or Lifesavers for PYY
  (who can't have gum because of her braces)
- extra batteries for any electronic devices the kids bring

One thing that totally throws Safety Guy for a loop while traveling is a long delay, like a traffic jam, or traffic backed up because of an accident.  The more frustrated he becomes with the delay, the more likely he is to take it out on everyone else in the car verbally.  It's a nasty cycle.  When we travel, we expect these kinds of things to happen, even if Safety Guy doesn't anticipate them.  In the case of a traffic jam, if we can get off the highway and find an alternate route, we will, but often that's not an option.  In that case, we try to distract him.  Getting him talking about a favorite topic is a good starting point.  There's also asking him questions about the cars around us (since he's a walking fount of trivia about vehicles of all kinds).  Pull something out of the emergency bag.  Distract, distract, distract.  It can be exhausting for us, but it's not nearly as bad as him having a full meltdown when he's maxed out his coping skills and there's nowhere to go but ballistic.

One thing that helped Safety Guy on long trips, once he was a little older, was to put him in charge of THE MAP.  We'd give him a map of our trip, and he'd keep track of how far we'd come, what was coming next, and roughly how far we'd gone and still had to go.  That was useful on several levels:  it gave him a task to focus on, it made him feel somewhat in control (oriented in time/space as we motored along), and it taught him a lot about map reading and geography - a home school/Aspergers win/win if ever there was one.

I realized quite a while ago that I spend a lot of time anticipating what can be an issue for Safety Guy in any situation we encounter, and trying to head off problems before they occur.  I've worried in the past that I anticipate too much, because I know he has to learn to handle things for himself eventually.  I've consciously backed off and let him try to handle many more things for himself without my intervention, even though I'm ready to step in if necessary.  Safety Guy is old enough now (13 +) that he wants to handle things on his own, and he doesn't like to have his mother hovering around to embarrass him.  Unless something is looming that I know will be a big problem immediately, I hang back and let him try to sort out what he needs to do.  Or, quietly and without making a big deal, I'll say something to another adult he knows in the vicinity, and they'll give him some support.  It's a constant balancing act, determining how much help he needs, and how much help to give, and how to give it without making it too obvious.  Thankfully there are many adults in Safety Guy's life who know when and how to lend him a hand without embarrassing him.

I'd say that the keys to traveling with someone with Aspergers to minimize the chance of anyone having a major meltdown are to PLAN AHEAD, to BE PREPARED, and to BE AWARE.  But, there are three other things I would add that are equally important:

MODEL the coping behaviors that you want the person with AS to learn - both emotionally, and in concrete skills,

VERBALIZE what you're doing and trying to teach them (spell it out, directly teach it - don't try to be subtle or assume they'll pick it up on the fly), and

STAY CALM, because they'll react to your emotions, positive or negative (you can't lose your cool and expect them to keep theirs).

And, if you're a person of faith, I have to add to PRAY, because nothing takes the place of the Lord's care for His children (parents and kids alike).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Traveling With Aspergers

I just read a post from Confessions of an Aspergers Mom about the difficulties she's anticipating involving a long weekend away from home, visiting family, with her husband and her two teen sons (who both have Aspergers).  She asked for help and advice, and while I don't know if I have anything new to tell her, I hope she can glean some encouragement from the comment I left on her blog.  After I commented, I realized that I had the kernel of a blog post, so I'll expand on what I said.

Traveling with a child or young adult who has Aspergers can present all sorts of challenges.  My experience has been that some issues can be overcome, some can be avoided, and some just have to be endured.

The first big hurdle is the change in routine.  People with Aspergers are often very routine-driven, and prefer to live within their self-defined comfort zone of routine as much as possible.  Any kind of travel messes with their world, and they don't like it.  We try to discuss upcoming travel with Safety Guy starting several days to a week ahead of time, so he can think through the change before it happens.  We talk about where we're going and why, who we will see, and what we will most likely be doing, how long we'll travel and where we'll stop.  We talk about past trouble points and what can be done to make them easier this time around.  We try to prepare him for the change in routine BEFORE it's right on top of him.  Quick changes are always hard for him, so the advance warning helps.  It's a double-edged sword, though, since sometimes too much anticipation can lead to anxiety as well.  It's a balancing act.  We're finally at the point where shorter trips to familiar places don't need nearly as much preparation as longer trips to unfamiliar places.

The next hurdle is the change in familiar details.  I guess that's related to routine somewhat - it deals with the everyday elements of their world that they're used to and expect at certain times or in certain ways.  That could be anything from a favorite breakfast cereal to a TV show that's on at a particular time of day.  (Oh, the agony we'd go through if Safety Guy wasn't home to watch "George Shrinks" at 3PM when he was 6!)  Some details are portable (like bringing the cereal with you to the relative's house), while some aren't (no TV in the car).  So, we'd try to keep some details constant, and stretch Safety Guy to accommodate new things as we went.  Sometimes we were successful.  Sometimes he'd have a rip-roaring meltdown.  We kept stretching him, and changing details has gotten easier on him as time has gone on.  Now the promise of a particular reward seems to help him weather some trying changes (like knowing he'll get to use the computer first when we get home if he stays calm in the car, or that we'll be stopping someplace familiar for dinner along the way).

One of the most frustrating hurdles for us was the change in personal habits.  Not only does traveling mess with daily routine and familiar details, it also discombobulates a person's hygiene and self care habits - like using the toilet.  Oh. My. Word.  We had more issues surrounding getting our son to use public bathrooms while we traveled when he was younger (4-8 in particular).  He was afraid of toilets that automatically flush.  Add into that the upset routine, the strange places, his fear of crowds and his sensory issues related to echo-y spaces,  and you can see where public bathrooms off of major highways would be one of Dante's circles of hell for him.  We couldn't just stop for a minute - every potty break was a half hour (or longer) trial of our patience and his bladder as he nerved himself up to use the toilet.  This gradually got better for him over a period of years, and is mercifully not an issue for him any more.  Allowing extra time during rest stops is a good idea anyhow, so everyone can stretch their legs and get out of each others' personal space, which leads us to. . .

. . .  the too much togetherness thing.  Safety Guy loves his family - but not at close range for long periods of time.  That can be an issue at big family gatherings, but at least in a house he can usually find a quiet room or go outside to get some space.   It's always an issue when we have to go any distance in the car requiring travel for longer than 15 minutes.  This is where the sibling thing gets really hairy, because Safety Guy and Princess Yakyak have to sit together in the back seat and they can't get away from each other.   (SUVs are funny that way.)  Then you get into the whole "two strong-willed kids who don't know how to back down and when to shut up" syndrome, which gets piled on top of the boy/girl, older/younger, and AS/NT dynamics.  Our best bet as parents is to distract and divide them as much as possible in that confined space, through isolation techniques (i.e. MP3 players or video games with earbuds) or the strategic use of games, snacks, and other incentives (otherwise known as the "Look, something shiny!" ploy).  If we're taking a long trip, I often carry a stash of gum, small candy, music, books, and games (like Mad Libs) to pull out when tempers are getting frayed, hopefully before anyone goes nuclear.

Yet another hurdle is food.  Many people with Aspergers have sensory issues or distinct preferences related to food.  Safety Guy has always been a picky eater, with a fairly narrow set of preferred foods, which has made travel and visiting relatives for dinner a risky undertaking for years.  When he was younger, we'd take certain food items with us or purchase them to add to a family meal.  (For years he'd only eat one kind of margarine on his bread - Brummel & Brown Spread, which he called "round butter" to distinguish it from "square butter," i. e. real butter, which he still doesn't like on bread.)  He's broadened his food selections gradually over the years, and our extended family is used to his picky ways by now, but we're still working on the food thing.  Last weekend my husband's mother served a nice lunch of various cold salads and bread while we were visiting.  Safety Guy passed on the salmon salad, and commented to the whole table, "It smells like cat food!"  Ack!

And finally, there's the unexpected.   The traffic jam.  The bad weather.  The flat tire.  The overheated radiator.  The accident.  The cancellation.  The lost item.  The forgotten medication.  The electronic device out of battery power.  The "wrong" food served at a restaurant.  The injury.  Any of these things and a thousand others can throw anyone for a loop.  It's just that I've noticed that the loop with Aspergers is often bigger and more dramatic.   Many people with Aspergers and related ASDs are very linear thinkers.  They visualize how their trip should go, with every step a known quantity and a limited tolerance for variables.  If something happens that forces them to deviate from their anticipated course of action, it can really cause big problems.  The problem is, you can't really anticipate these things.  But, like a good Boy Scout or Girl Scout, as a parent you can be prepared as much as any reasonable person can, and you can teach the person in your life with Aspergers how to cope with the unexpected.  They learn more about rolling with the punches each time something unexpected happens and you model working through the issue.   It's a long process, since generalizing a skill to deal with what are essentially one-off events (emergencies or detours) is very difficult for them, but it's probably one of the most important life skills they'll ever learn.

I'm sure I'll think of more hurdles, but for now those are the ones that stick out in my memory and current experience.  Our kids are relatively good travelers now, but that doesn't mean we haven't worked hard to get as far as we have, and there's still room for improvement.  I'm open to other ideas and comments about traveling with someone who has Aspergers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Studying History and Liking It

 Safety Guy at Fort Stanwix, NY, 2010

I've always loved history.  I was the kid who would read encyclopedias for fun.  I enjoyed history classes in school.  I read ahead in the textbook, because I liked the subject matter.  My parents had something like 20 years of National Geographic magazines in the basement, and I used them as my own personal history and nature library.  Favorite issues got reread many times (especially the ones about Pompeii).  After waffling through several majors in college, I ended up as a history major.  I still read books about various topics and personalities in history for pleasure.  So, it's not surprising that I really enjoyed teaching my own children about history when we were home schooling.  What really thrills me, though, is that Safety Guy has apparently picked up my love of history for himself.

I'm really excited about his ongoing interest in history.  So many students have no interest in the past at all, but he's always been receptive to learning about history.  I just had to "pitch" it to his interests to catch his attention.  Want to study the opening of the American West?  Let's look at the expansion of railroads.  What about the Civil War?  Don't forget transportation and industrialization.  The Industrial Revolution was easy - inventors and inventions were a natural bridge to other issues.  He's been interested in shipwrecks from every era for years, and that has led us from ancient Rome to World War II and everywhere in between.  This April is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and he's already renewing his interest in that famous disaster.  He likes classic and retro TV and music, and that's led him to take books about more recent history (the later 20th century) out of the library.

I'm fortunate - my husband enjoys history almost as much as I do, and we've been taking the kids to museums and historical sites since they were born.  And, what's even better it that they LIKE visiting these places most of the time.  Historical sites and living history museums are great for family outings.

This week he's revisiting World War II, through a program called WWII in HD, which combines old documentary and news footage with interviews.  It's pretty graphic stuff at times, but he's older than the first time we went over this topic, and he decided on his own that he wanted to learn about WWII in more detail.  I'm glad he WANTS to know about these events from our history.  Today I told him the saying, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it," then had to explain it to him.  I think it's exciting that he wants to know about these things.  Hopefully it will serve him well as he grows up and moves on in his life.

If nothing else, he'll be really good at older editions of Trivial Pursuit. . . .

Monday, January 16, 2012

Minor Miracles

Anyone who knows Safety Guy knows that he is a picky eater.  (That's like saying, "Frank Sinatra was a singer.")  I know various family members have for years and years been mystified at his, um, shall we say eccentric and narrow eating habits.  Some other people have been quick to ascribe his apparent disregard for "normal" kid dietary preferences to him being spoiled - i.e., he's picky because we didn't make him eat whatever we put in front of him. 

We decided years ago that we had too many issues to deal with concerning Safety Guy, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner didn't need to be pitched battles every day.  After one memorable meal where he vomited up what we'd just had him consume under duress, we decided we needed to pick our battles better.  As long as he ate a healthy balance overall, we decided we'd cut him some slack and put our energy into more pressing needs - like social interaction and life skills, and mitigating meltdowns and tantrums.  The corollary to this is that his younger sister, Princess Yakyak, also got more slack with what she'd eat.  She doesn't have her brother's bionic taste buds, but she is still a somewhat picky eater herself, although she'll eat many more foods than her brother.  They have a couple quirks in common:  neither of them have ever taken a liking to any meal involving sauce over pasta (except Kraft macaroni and cheese), and neither of them like ground beef or sausage in any form.

To be fair, both kids have been much more willing to try new things this past year.  They don't like everything they try (who does?), but at least they'll taste new things.  Princess Yakyak will finally eat lasagna, bacon, and apples with the peel on, and Safety Guy will eat real fried haddock, pineapple (in very small amounts), and cookies with chocolate chips.  So they have been making progress with trying and eating new things.

ANYHOW, what happened last night has to qualify as a minor miracle of some sort.  We spent this weekend visiting family.  At my parents' house, my Mom made a wonderful meal of stuffed shells with sauce (made with ground beef and sausage), tossed salad, and garlic bread.  Out of this, our kids would usually eat the garlic bread, and nothing else.  Last night BOTH kids tried the shells and the sauce after a single request from me, and BOTH kids LIKED IT.  Well, Safety Guy disemboweled his shells (he doesn't care for ricotta cheese), but he ate the meat sauce and the pasta, and said it was good and had seconds, and Princess Yakyak ate all of her shell with sauce too.  The adults around the table sat and stared at the kids as this happened.  We could hardly believe our eyes.  Hallelujah, will wonders never cease!

Sometimes it's the small things, isn't it?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Boot Camp and Wrestling

 I survived boot camp at the fitness center!   One day down, many more to go.  I don't ache nearly as much as I thought I would, except for the front of my thighs.  Ooch, I can really feel it when I do stairs, or stand up or sit down.  (Advil is my friend.)  It was a good start, and I'll be back for more.

Safety Guy had his second wrestling practice tonight, and he really got into it.  He did all the exercises with a good will (except when they asked him to try to do a cartwheel - that was a total no-go, lol).  I was also unbelievably encouraged to see him working with another boy close to his age, practicing holds and falls.  The other boy (Safety Guy spent an hour working with him, and didn't get his name - sigh) was so patient with him, showing him where to put his hands, how to lean into a move, what to do.  He walked and talked Safety Guy through the moves over and over.  Safety Guy took his lumps with a good attitude, smiling through the tumbles and pins, and getting up to try again.  The coaches gave him 1:1 when they saw he needed help with a particular move.  He was mostly attentive when the coaches demonstrated moves - there were too many interesting things to look at in the fitness center (including old fire alarm bells).  He had a great evening.

I'm not one to cry at sad movies.  I'm not a weepy person at all; that's not where my emotions find an outlet.  But I have to admit it, I had a lump in my throat watching Safety Guy tonight.  The kid who doesn't like physical contact or team sports decided to try wrestling.  The kid who doesn't like noisy places had no problem being in a fitness center full of kids and coaches and parents.  The kid whose sensitivity to pain is really out of whack and who cries when he gets what appear to be minor injuries took an elbow to the mouth and shrugged it off after a half a minute.  The kid who struggles to connect with other boys apparently made a new friend tonight (even if he doesn't remember his name yet).  I am amazed, and very grateful for the kids and coaches working to help Safety Guy try something new and totally outside his usual comfort zone.  To see Safety Guy smiling through the practice, bouncing with enthusiasm after a successful move, acting like any other testosterone-high young man just discovering his strength - it was wonderful. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Random Wednesday

It's been too warm for me to start winter sowing.  I never thought I'd be saying that, living in Central New York and on January 11th, but there you have it.  It's over 50F again today - wonderful, early spring type weather.  I'm afraid to sow anything, because in temps like this some seeds could sprout, then freeze solid when winter arrives for real.  I'm not complaining, though, because that means this winter will feel SHORT.  Even if we get dumped on with snow for the next two and a half months, that's still far less winter weather than we usually get here near the Great Lakes.  Last winter lasted forever - bitter cold and heavy snow for almost 6 straight months, late October to early April.  It was unbelievable, even with a mild January "thaw" that lasted all of a handful of days.  I'm hoping to start winter sowing next week.

Safety Guy started wrestling last night.  He was a bit overwhelmed at first, given the gaggle of younger kids in the club.  There are a handful of boys in the 12-14 age range, though, and when he found his friend T. he stayed near him.  Safety Guy is a total novice at wrestling, and probably the biggest darn beginner the coaches have ever dealt with, but they got him right into the swing of things.  He needs 1:1 to learn the basic positions, he'll be working on his fitness and strength as he goes along, and he won't be ready to compete until next winter.  But overall it was a GOOD experience for him.  He got a little upset when he had difficulty picking up on the exercises the guys were doing, until the coaches showed him step by step how to do each one.  Then they started showing him some basic positions and holds.  I wondered how he'd handle the physical contact required of this sport, since he's never been a rough and tumble kind of kid, and has studiously avoided contact sports.  But I knew he had a good chance of sticking with this when I saw a coach pin him, and Safety Guy was grinning.

 Winter?  What winter?

I'm starting a fitness class tonight, one that meets during Princess Yakyak's new acrobatics class (at the same fitness center that Safety Guy does wrestling - Titletown Fight Club).  It's called an Adult Boot Camp, and this session is small, with just a few ladies in it.  A handful of guys attend another boot camp session later in the evening.  The instructor for this session is a really nice young woman who doesn't make anyone feel intimidated or inadequate for starting from a low fitness level.  I'm looking forward to this class, and I hope it can help me keep moving forward with healthy choices in my life, and set a good example for my kids.  My husband has a gym where he works, and he does that a couple times each week and runs as well, so he's doing great already, and is very encouraging to me about my own desire to become more fit.

I substitute taught in a high school resource class yesterday.  One period the teacher pushes into is a 12th grade chemistry class.  I started out my morning feeling really rough around the edges, like I was fighting off something emotional and physical, with anxiety capping the whole bleh experience.  I was not looking forward to going to work, even though I knew this teacher's classes would be pretty mild mannered.  I was pleasantly surprised to go to the science class and find that they were watching the pilot episode of "MacGyver," and taking notes about all of the science-related stuff he used or did.  I can think of far worse ways to start my day than by watching Richard Dean Anderson. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

To the Zoo

 Tiger cub at the zoo yesterday - 
and I just noticed the house down the hill 
behind the exhibit, outside the zoo.  
Imagine living there, 
and hearing the adult male tiger roaring, 
and the elephants trumpeting.  

I love zoos.  I always have.  Must be all the nature programs I watched as a kid.  (Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, anyone?)  And I hate to rush through them.  I like to stand and watch the animals, but you know that taking most kids to the zoo isn't likely to result in unhurried time to observe the wildlife.  It's more like, "Hurry up!  What's next?  Is that a bear?  SQUIRREL!"  So I consider myself blessed that my daughter is just as animal-crazy as I am, and is (usually) willing to take some time to watch the creatures at the zoo.

 Tat and PYY waiting for the penguins to swim by.

Yesterday I took PYY and her friend Tat to the zoo in Syracuse (the Rosamond Gifford Zoo).  It's a nice, medium-sized zoo that appears to take pretty good care of its animals.  It's done some upgrades over the past couple years, notably to their Asian elephant exhibit, and this year they had success in breeding their pair of Amur tigers, resulting in three beautiful cubs.

 Flamingos and ducks - can you believe this photo 
was taken yesterday, January 7th, in Syracuse, NY??

PYY and Tat loved the zoo, and we took our time.  We looked at EVERYTHING, which is just the way it should be.  I took lots of photos, and we learned a bit as we wandered through the indoor and outdoor exhibits.  Still, I thought it funny that after all the exotic animals we saw that day, they were just as excited to see the pony at the petting zoo.  Yes, my daughter and her friend are also certifiably horse-crazy, just as I was at that age.

Tat and PYY, and the pony at the zoo.
Exotic animals?  Who cares!  HORSE!!

We spent the whole afternoon wandering through the zoo.  (Well, I spent the last half hour wandering around the gift shop while the girls dithered over purchasing souvenirs.)  So many wonderful creatures, so little time!  Later this year we'd like to take the kids to Washington D. C., and you can bet the trip will involve an afternoon at the National Zoo.

Golden lion tamarin - posing just like he knew I wanted a good shot.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Catalog Season

 Last year's catalogs - but I've got an impressive pile this year too.

'Tis the season - when garden catalogs arrive in the mailbox every day, tempting me with images of what could be in my garden.  Spring is so close, but so far away.  It's good to see certain catalogs arrive, like old friends dropping by for a yearly visit.  I have a few catalogs I always return to, because of their excellent products and good customer service.  (There are also dozens of others that get a cursory glance, then recycled or trashed.)  My three favorites are Bluestone Perennials, Select Seeds, and Pinetree Garden Seeds.  There are other catalogs I go to for specialties once in a while, too (like Marietta Gardens, Oakes Daylilies, and North Country Daylilies for daylilies, and Argyle Acres, Iris City Gardens, and Superstition Iris Gardens for irises).

I entertained myself this week with placing my annual Bluestone order. This year's goodies include 'Bluebird' asters, 'Innocence' mock orange, ' salvia 'Carradonna,' tricyrtis 'Sinonome,' echinacea 'Harvest Moon,' and euphorbia 'Chameleon,' and a couple beautiful mums.  I love getting a big box from them in late April or early May - it's like Christmas all over again.

I've marked up my Select Seeds catalog, circling things I might like to get.  I'll place that order next week, so I need to make up my mind what I want.  Pinetree will be after that, for whatever vegetable seeds I don't already have on hand.

Speaking of seeds, it's also time for me to go through my seed box and see what I have, and decide what I need.  It's time to start winter sowing, even though we haven't had a very winter-like winter for CNY so far.  But I'm ready to start, with a stash of milk jugs and a big bag of seed starting mix.  Maybe tomorrow I'll get going on that.

Anticipation - the long, slow joy of gardening.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Purse Shopping on Etsy

I've been using the same purse for a few winters now.  Sadly, it's showing its age and wear (I'm hard on purses), so I decided to get a new one.  I'm not a person who collects purses.  I use one for summer, and one for winter, and make each of them last until they practically fall apart, so I don't have a spare.  Now it's time for my every-few-years winter purse purchase.  I decided that I wanted a messenger-bag style purse, so I could carry a drawing notebook with me all the time.  That way, during free periods while subbing, I could use my time to draw. 

My summer purse. 
(Photo by Nancy Tanguay at Uniquely Nancy)

I love Etsy.  So many artisans and crafters, artists and vendors!  I got a wonderful summer purse from UniquelyNancy a couple years ago, and used it until the strap wore out.  I think I might make a new strap for it and use it again this summer.  I love batik fabric, so I looked for a bag using that kind of material.  It also had to have a long, adjustable strap.  This time I found exactly what I wanted from Lisa at ItsSewDarnCute.

My new winter purse.
 (Photo by Lisa Davis at Its Sew Darn Cute)

I've had wonderful experiences buying from various sellers on Etsy.  I love supporting other self-employed artists.  Even though I'm buying online from all over the U. S., it's still "buying local."  It's an easy way I can help small businesses, and get exactly what I'm looking for in a special purchase.  I hope that people who purchase my art and crafts feel the same way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fizzle and Meltdown

My morning in a Facebook status:

Pffft - lake effect snow fizzle. Kids are off to school (PYY is NOT happy about this).
     Darn bus came 2 minutes too late to prevent a total meltdown of both kids,
     who are now both grounded. *SIGH* I thought we'd avoided the big after-holiday
     back to school obnoxious sibling bratty kid rude teen hissy fit extravaganza - silly
     On the other hand, they're there, and I'm HERE, so it's still a good day in my

Monday, January 2, 2012

End of Winter Break - Maybe

 So, we might get some snow.  
But they keep changing the map, the timing, 
the weather alerts and the snowfall amounts,
so we may actually get a rain of sherbet and a hail of M&Ms.
Which would be nice, actually - much better than snow.

We've had a very mild winter so far in Central New York.  Last year by now we'd had two months of snow, several snow days, and brutal cold.  This year has been warm and mostly snow-free.  It was over 50F yesterday - New Year's Day in CNY, and I barely needed a jacket!   Unbelievable.

That is supposed to change tonight.  It was 38F this morning, and by tomorrow morning it's supposed to be 10F, with wind up to 30 mph.  And, we're in the target area for 4-8" of snow to blow and drift in the high winds.  (Early today they said 5"-9", then upped that to 6"-10", now it's back to 4"-8".  So the weather wonks really have NO IDEA how much snow we could get, and by covering all their bases they can say, "See, we told you so!" tomorrow night.)

So, we may or may not have the first day back to school for the kids tomorrow.  I'm betting on a delay at least.  But I'm still going to hustle the kids off to bed soon, knowing that it will probably take them a while to wind down and fall asleep.

Curiously, Safety Guy hasn't been perseverating on going back to school.  Routine changes can be hard for him, but he's handling this one really well compared to other years and  other changes.  He did give me a major league hassle about going to church yesterday, and another about cleaning his room today.  But both PITA episodes were short-lived, and I won (i.e. he did what I asked when I pointed out that the alternative to obeying me was to lose all of his electronics privileges for his last free days before school started).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A-listing I Will Go.

I spent New Year's Eve and tonight making new listings for my Etsy shop.  That can be rather time-consuming, but it's worth it to get it "live"online.

I did the photographs a couple days ago.  I need to redo a handful of photos, but I decided to get the listings up and add the better photos tomorrow (when I'll have good daylight for new pictures).

I listed a tea light candle holder, which I like a lot.  I don't use tea lights in exposed holders like this one, though - not since the "Valentine's Day Fluffy Cat Tail Candle Incident" and the "Stupid Cat Loses Eyebrow Whiskers On Mantelpiece Candle Incident."  So I'll sell it, to someone with either smarter cats (bwahahahahahaaa!) or no cats at all.

I also listed a handful of necklaces in an assortment of styles.  I've sold some necklaces through Hartsville Hollow this year, so I'm hoping some sell on Etsy.  I've had very few sales on Etsy this year, which is probably a combination of the poor economy and me not regularly listing and promoting my stuff on Etsy.  If I want to really grow my art into a second income, I need to get serious about promoting my work, and creating new work regularly and often.

Finally, I listed a dozen teddy bears.  Little teddy bears, only 9 1/2" tall, just the right size for a child to carry around or tuck into a backpack.  I started making the bears to occupy my hands while I waited for Princess Yakyak at soccer practice.  Most evenings I'd go for a long walk, then sit and sew.  I had oodles of fabric stashed from old projects.  Some of the fabric was from my mother, remnants from past quilts.  Some of it was from my own quilt and craft projects over the years.  I've made teddy bears since college, in a variety of sizes, but I didn't modify the pattern to make the little bears until about 4 years ago.  Once I started making the bears this fall, I also picked up fat quarters occasionally just because I liked the fabric.  Anyhow, before I knew it I had over 20 bears.  Some became gifts for friends and family, but I still have quite a few left.  So, even though they match nothing else in my Etsy shop, there they are.

For the New Year, I hope to be more purposeful and disciplined about being creative.  That sounds rather counter-intuitive, but if I want to make any money from my art, I need to have a goal and a plan.  That's where my husband (a.k.a. Mr. Organization and Planning) will be a big help.  I'm excited for 2012 - I hope it's a good year for my family, and yours as well.