Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Goodies

Molly says, "Merry Christmas!"  Or, "Bah, humbug!"  It's hard to tell sometimes. . . .

I was a busy girl yesterday.  After Safety Guy's IEP meeting (which went very well), I also made two different Christmas treats:  Almond Sandies, and my Mom's brownies.  Usually I make Pecan Sandies, but I didn't have pecans, so I improvised.  And I've never found a recipe to compare to my Mom's brownies.  When the Princess asked me to teach her how to make them earlier this week it was easy to agree.  She really did most of the work for this batch of chocolate-y awesomeness, and opted for using Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips instead of the walnuts.  The apple didn't fall far from the tree in the chocolate department, although my favorite way to have them is with extra walnuts.  Here are the recipes:

Almond Sandies

2 cups salted butter, at room temp
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
4 cups flour
2 cups sliced almonds
4-5 tbsp. cold water

powdered sugar

Cream the butter and sugar until light.  Add the vanilla and almond extract and mix again.  Add the flour and the sliced almonds, and enough of the cold water to get the dough to stick together.  The dough should be quite firm and not sticky to the touch.  Form the dough into a ball, then cover it and refrigerate it for several hours (or overnight).  You can directly bake the dough, but the cookies will spread a little more - no big deal if you're in a hurry, they just look prettier and stay nice and round if you have the time to chill the dough.

Roll the dough into 1" balls by hand.  The cookies spread very little when baked from chilled dough, so you can get a lot onto a cookie sheet at 1 1/4"-1 1/2" apart.  Bake the cookies at 350 for 12-13 minutes (until just barely beginning to turn brown on the bottom edges).  Remove the cookies to a towel or wire rack and let them cool completely, then roll them in powdered sugar.  Store tightly covered.  (They freeze well, too.)  

If you want to make Pecan Sandies, omit the almond extract, and substitute pecans for the almonds.

Yield:  approximately 6 dozen.

Mom's Brownies

1 cup shortening
4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate squares
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
4 tbsp. corn syrup (optional - makes the brownies a little chewier)

2 cups chopped walnuts OR 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a 9" x 14" baking pan. 

Melt the shortening and the chocolate together over very low heat in a small saucepan (do not boil!).  Stir it once the chocolate is softened a bit, to help any lumps melt completely.  Take it off the heat and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes or so.

Mix the eggs and sugar until light.  Add the vanilla and mix again.  Mix in the chocolate/shortening.  (DO NOT do this while the shortening is very hot - it will cook the eggs.  Lukewarm is okay.)  Add the flour, salt, and baking powder.  If you're using the corn syrup, add that as well.  Combine well.  Mix in any nuts or chocolate chips by hand, as the batter is quite stiff.

 Spread the brownie batter evenly in the prepared pan.  (You can toss on some sprinkles or non pareils at this point.)  Bake for 40-42 minutes.  Cool completely before cutting.

One of the most decadent desserts I've ever made was with Mom's brownies, each topped by a scoop of Ben & Jerry's White Russian ice cream and chocolate syrup.  Amazing!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pleased and Grateful

Gratuitous picture of Molly lounging on my lap.

I am very happy with how our son's IEP meeting went today.  His school psych wrote the most thorough, thoughtful evaluation of our son that I've ever seen, and his primary resource teacher did a great job with his goals and current skill levels.  Both of them zeroed in on his areas of greatest need (executive functioning skills, i.e. planning sequence, and follow-through for many tasks, and social anxiety as it relates to monitoring his own behavior, i.e. he needs continued ABA).  

I am SO glad that everyone there seems to realize that his emotional outbursts and many of his social miscues are the reaction to situations he doesn't understand or overreacts to, and that addressing only the reaction wasn't helping him.  His teachers and counselor started the ABA approach last spring, and we're finally seeing the fruits of it this fall.  He's making good progress, with more good to come.  It's not smooth sailing from here on out, but at last I think we've all got a good handle of what he REALLY needs - addressing the root issues instead of the symptoms.

In other news, we're enjoying the holiday season, and I'm in full cookie-baking, gift-making mode.  Today's goodies are Almond Sandies and my Mom's special brownies (my favorite brownie recipe EVER).  I'll share pictures and the recipes tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

IEP and Simple Things

This is Lucy, one of our guinea pig girls.  Her eyes really are pink.  
And, she's also visually impaired, although you'd never know it to look at her 
and it's not related to her eye color.  
She loves Safety Guy, who gives the girls baby carrots every night.  
She gets up on her hind legs and gives him whisker kisses - very cute.

Tomorrow is Safety Guy's triennial reevaluation meeting for his IEP.  He's going to be participating in the meeting for the first time, since he's a freshman.  I want  him to have a say in what's decided regarding his education, and I'd like him to be able to see everyone working together for his best interests.  He still struggles in school socially, and sometimes the increased high school work load is hard for him, but he's doing his best and growing in maturity.  

When his primary resource teacher asked what I wanted out of this  meeting, I asked for more help for him in dealing with his social stress and anxiety in school.  That seems to be a root issue that leads to further verbal acting out and poor choices in what he says to others.  If we can address the anxiety and stress, he'll be less likely to take his negative emotions out on others.  He's gotten better at "owning" his actions, but I'd like to see him also have the support he needs to head off issues before they blow up on him.  I want the school to be more proactive than reactive.  We've got to get ahead of this cycle of stress and reaction, or the rest of his year will be very difficult.  Frankly, I don't think any of us want a repeat of last spring's difficulties, least of all Safety Guy.

On a happy note, a couple students invited SG to sit with them at lunch on Monday, and he enjoyed sharing pictures and videos from his iPod with them.  It's a small thing, but really, it's a big thing - casual friendship, common kindness, simple fun.  I am so happy that he had that bright spot in his day, and I hope it's the first of many more.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Baking Therapy

The Princess has had a rough week, so today I'm letting her do some solo baking.  She asked to make cinnamon rolls, so she's busy proofing the yeast and getting ready to fill the house with cinnamon-y scented goodness.  It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here, with a dusting of snow, lights on the bushes outside, the Christmas tree up and lit in the family room, and the fragrance of baking filling the air.

Safety guy is watching 'A Christmas Story' for the first time this season (he watches it several times at least each year - just now, the Bumpus's dogs stole the holiday turkey).  I may ask him to put in 'Elf' later.  My personal favorite Christmas shows are the ones I grew up watching - 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas,' and 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' - as well as the 'Muppet Christmas Carol.'  The sounds of the season, familiar as old friends.

I'm in holiday baking mode, and we have two family Christmas get-togethers to prepare for, one next weekend and one on Christmas Day.  The homemade gifts are almost done, most of my holiday shopping is done, and I'm doing a pretty good job of keeping the holiday low-key this year.  I want to enjoy time with family and friends with minimum stress over the holiday prep work.  I hope you're having a pleasant holiday in your home as well.  Enjoy what's really important:  time with the people you love.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bourbon Pecan Cake and Christmas

It's the time of year again, to bring out the family recipes for Christmas treats.  Today I'm baking an old favorite, one that I've never found anywhere else:  Bourbon Pecan Cake.  You could call it a fruit cake, but that would be doing a total disservice to this wonderful holiday cake.  This is to fruit cake what cupcakes are to rocks - no comparison.  I shared this recipe last year, and this year I'm sharing a slightly different version of it, since I had to halve the recipe to save time and money.  Here's Bourbon Pecan Cake, Mark II:

Bourbon Pecan Cake
(original recipe from Mary Thompson; modifications by Laurel Rudd )

1 1/2 c. whole red candied cherries 
1 c. golden seedless raisins
1 1/4 c. bourbon whiskey (any smooth brand – Jim Beam is great in this)
1 c. butter, room temp. soft
1 c. white sugar
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
4 eggs, separated – yolks into a smaller bowl, whites into a mixing bowl
2 1/2 cups sifted flour (2 1/4 cups plus 1/4 cup)
2 1/2 c. pecan halves 
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

The night before, combine the cherries, raisins, and bourbon in a glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight, stirring a couple times. A couple hours before baking, set the fruit out to bring it to room temperature. Drain the fruit and reserve the bourbon-cherry liquid.  Preheat the oven to 275F.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugars gradually, until well-blended, then add the egg yolks one at a time.

In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup of flour with the pecans and mix to coat. In another bowl, sift the rest of the flour (2 1/4 cups) with the baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.  (I have to be honest - I skip the sifting step and just do it all in the one big mixing bowl with the butter and sugar.  I don't notice that much of a difference between sifted/not sifted in this recipe.)

Add the flour mixture to the eggs/butter mixture; combine thoroughly. Add the reserved bourbon and the rest of the flour mixture alternately, ending with flour. Beat well after each addition.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter, gently, then stir in the floured pecans and the fruit. (You can do this in a standard large mixing bowl, just be careful when you stir to not lose any fruit and nuts over the side.)

Grease and flour 7-8 mini foil loaf pans. (If you use medium 3-4 will do, or 2-3 large pans).  Bake the mini cakes at 275F for 2 hours (2 ½ hours or so for medium, 3 hours or so for the large ones). The cakes will be golden brown when done, and a tester inserted in the middle will come out clean.

Last year's batch of mini loaves.

Turn the cakes out of the pans while still slightly warm. If you want extra punch from the bourbon flavor, wrap the cooled cakes in bourbon-soaked cheesecloth and wrap them in plastic wrap and foil (or place them in plastic bags) for strong bourbon flavor.  I usually refrigerate the cakes in plastic wrap and foil, for milder flavor.  You can also cool and store the cakes in their pans for easy gifting.  Either way, the cakes should “mellow” in the fridge for a couple weeks before being used.  They slice best when chilled.

This recipe is truly one of the “tastes of Christmas” from my childhood memories. Mom and Dad used to make a weekend afternoon project of this wonderful treat. Mom would cut brown paper and line the metal bread pans with it, greasing the pans first, lining the pans then greasing the paper again before putting the batter in, to make a very neat looking loaf when done and cooled and the paper was removed. I remember helping with the paper cutting process – and the eating, of course.  The house smelled AMAZING as it baked.   Sometimes I'd sneak a piece of it before school - amazing that no one ever noticed bourbon on my breath in class first thing in the morning!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Standing Up

I'm very proud of Safety Guy lately.  This hasn't been an easy fall for him at school, and he's had his rough moments, but I can see that he's really trying on all fronts.  He's keeping up with the work, even though it's a stretch for him (freshman year in high school is a lot different from junior high), and he got decent grades in the first quarter.  He's also trying very hard to make good choices in how he relates to his peers, with some very mature choices of his own even when it isn't easy.

Probably what I'm most impressed with recently is his self-advocacy.  That's been a long time coming - not just standing up for himself, but doing so appropriately.  We've told him in the past that it's okay to be assertive, but it's not okay to be rude and obnoxious and seek revenge, and he's really doing well with that this fall.  I know it hasn't been easy for him.  In fact, he's really feeling the stress of school and life, and he's frustrated that certain other students keep picking on him or being rude to him even when he's bent over backwards to try to get along with them.

I get it.  This "being the bigger man" is a real bear.  It's not fair, and it's not easy.  I really respect that he's working so hard to continue to make good choices for his own sake.  But, I also respect that everyone has their limits.  Last night he and I had a good conversation, and he was very articulate in describing his feelings about the social situation at school.  He's angry, and he'd like to lash out in some way to make the people hurting him back off.  He says that he feels like he's always the one who has to give in, and that the other students who need to back down don't get consequences that mean anything or stop their behavior.  I can certainly understand his frustration and anger.  I don't minimize it at all.

So, I wrote a short letter to his school psychologist and his primary resource teacher, two very good educators whom I respect.  I told them what he's been saying to me, how he's feeling and what he's thinking.  I know they'll take this seriously.  I consider what Safety Guy told me last night fair warning that he's on the edge, and needs some careful support and judicious intervention in some social situations.  The teachers need to be aware that some bullying is still going on (not as much as before, thankfully, but it's still there).  The last thing any of us want is for Safety Guy to be pushed to the point of reacting aggressively to whatever is "the last straw."  He's doing his best.  He's struggling.  He's told us, point blank, that he needs help.  If that's not self-awareness and self-advocacy, I don't know what is.  It's up to us, as the adults around him, to take him seriously and help him, or our statements of support and praise are meaningless.

I hope he has a good day today.  And tomorrow.  And every day.  And I hope his teachers will be sensitive to his need for a little extra space and grace until his struggles lessen and his stress eases off.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Again

My favorite time of the year is here, the run from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  This year we're having the big meal at my sister's house, so we'll head down there tomorrow morning.  In spite of the weather guys calling for all sorts of ugly driving for today and tomorrow, it looks like it won't be as bad as they originally anticipated.  That makes me happy, since part of our drive is over a notoriously treacherous stretch of highway through large hills.

 Molly, bird-watching from the back window after our first real snowfall last week.

Yesterday I made cranberry-orange bread, and today I'm making pumpkin bread.  If I'm really ambitious, I might make some biscotti, just for fun, later tonight.  I got the Christmas lights put up last week, ready to be turned on this weekend, and we'll get our Christmas tree on Sunday or Monday.  I don't go bonkers with decorating, but we have our own traditions.  We have special ornaments for the tree, and I do the lights simply because I find them to be pretty and festive - simple red and white lights on a few bushes by the porch this year, since I don't have the energy to want to deal with lighting the cherry tree.  We each have stockings, and I make certain goodies throughout the season.
The Princess, who was NOT enthused about the first snow or the cold temps.  
She's wearing long PJs, soccer socks, a fur-lined hoodie, 
and wrapped up in a double-layer fleece blanket.
After this photo, she also put on a scarf and gloves.

I enjoy sharing and giving through this season, and I try my best to not get caught up in the insane consumerism that surrounds us.  I'm doing some homemade gifts for many family members this year, which has been both fun and relaxing.  Some things I purchase will be from local stores.  A few gift cards will also be given, since it's hard sometimes to find what is just right for someone who really would enjoy picking out their own gift from a favorite store.

Christmas cookies, bourbon pecan cake, fudge - it's a good season for eating, that's for sure.  I'll try to share a few recipes before Christmas, in case you want to try one of my family's favorite goodies.  Here's one to start off with: 

Pumpkin Walnut Bread

1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups light brown sugar

Combine pumpkin, eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar, and mix well.  Then add:

3 cups flour
1 tsp. ground ginger
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

Mix until all ingredients are blended.  Stir in 2 cups of chopped walnuts.  (Optional:  this recipe is equally good with miniature chocolate chips, or both chips and walnuts, or with cinnamon chips.)

Scoop batter into three medium foil loaf pans, which have been given a light coating of vegetable oil/oil spray/greased and floured.  Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  (The bread will crack lengthwise along the top as it bakes.)  Let cool for 10 minutes, turn out of pans, cool to room temp, wrap, and store.  It freezes very well.  You can also make this in mini loaf pans (6 mini pans, 350F, 40-45 minutes).

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Enjoy the day as much as you can, hopefully with your families and good friends.  If you have to work, I hope you stay safe and get to see your family before or after your shift.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Life Rolls On

Whoops, it looks like I totally lost October.  I apologize to my friends and family that follow my blog - I just didn't have the mental energy to write about all the things that were happening (good and not so good) over the past seven weeks or so.  There have been good days, and bad days, well days and sick days, ups and downs, stress and fun.  A pretty "normal" month and a half, in other words, but I wasn't up to writing about it.  

Here's a pocket summary of the past month or so:

The kids survived their first semester of school.  The Princess gets her report card tomorrow, SG soon after that.  The Princess has had a very good fall, after a rocky start in math (she was intimidated by the teacher, and not liking the new Common Core curriculum at all).  Safety Guy has had a real roller coaster, great days and good choices, off days and frustration, and a couple really bad days with poor choices.  Thankfully, the new assistant principal really GETS him, and his teachers this year have been very good about working with him to help him make better choices and deal with peer interactions.  It hasn't been all smooth sailing, but at this point the good is outweighing the bad, and I'll be happy with that.

I took my first quilting classes!  That was my big treat to myself this fall.  I can't show you pictures of my project, though, because it's a Christmas present, and some of the other things I've been working on will be Christmas presents too.  I'll share some pictures of my creative endeavors after the New Year.

The garden has limped it's way to the end of the season.  I've got most of the yard clean-up done, and I treated myself to $25 of bulbs (two kinds of tulips, two kinds of daffodils, and an ornamental onion).  I finally got those planted just last week.  I really lost my motivation and joy in my garden this summer, which makes me quite sad, but sometimes it took all my mental energy just to move through a regular day.  There wasn't much left over.  I'm hoping for better things next year.  The bulbs are my gesture of hope for the future.

Grape jelly, made from my very own grapes.  Tasty, too!

I'm still looking for a permanent teaching job.  Realistically, next to nothing permanent will be posted by schools until late winter/early spring, when hiring begins for the 2014-2015 school year.  I've branched out into subbing for our local BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services, for my followers who don't know what that is - they provide special education services, vocational education for high school students, and continuing education for teachers and an assortment of classes for the community at large).  I've been in all sorts of classrooms over the past month - severe needs classes for elementary students with autism, high school classes for students with moderate educational needs and varying disabilities, middle school classes for moderate to severe special needs, and tomorrow a pre-K special ed class.  It's been interesting, to say the least!  It has, however, served to solidify my preferences:  I'd really like to work with senior high students with mild to moderate special needs, either in a 15:1 class or as a resource teacher.  We'll see what's available in the spring.  Realistically, I'll have to apply for everything I'm qualified for, and I may not have the luxury of picking and choosing one kind of class over another.  At least I'm getting to know professionals in other schools and programs, so my name won't be completely unknown to them when I apply for jobs.  There will be a handful of retirements in the two districts I sub at the most, plus undoubtedly more in other districts nearby.  I hope somebody will give me a chance.

Sunset view from our house, early October.

A lot has happened in my life that has raised a host of other issues this year, but many of those questions won't be answered until I have my own permanent, full-time job. And so the winter of waiting begins.  I'd appreciate prayer for my family, and for my future job (wherever and whatever it may be).  Thank you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

You Want Space? You Got It.

It's been one of those days, where nobody seems to have a tact filter or a volume control, where common sense and niceness have apparently taken a long vacation, and where the best decision I can make as a parent is to exile my kids to their bedrooms for the rest of the evening before I say something to them that I'll really, really regret.  

I try to operate on the philosophy that if my kids respect me, and I respect them, we should get along okay, keeping in mind that I'm the parent, and my kids are NOT.  That's never been easy, since from the get-go our son has never seen why he shouldn't have a equal say in everything that goes on in the house, and why he should respect and listen to his parents.  (I've heard that this is a common Asperger trait.  How many of you see it in your aspie kids, friends, or spouses?) 

It's not like we haven't given both kids consistent, regular discipline.  It's not like they doesn't know the meaning of the word "NO."  It's not like I'm a doormat, or a pushover.  But some days Safety Guy just DOESN'T CARE, and lets me have it verbally as if I were his equal, or even his minion, and not his mother.  As our daughter has hit her tween years, she has been acting more and more that way too.  (Which tells me that either our son has ALWAYS been a bratty, know-it-all teen at heart, and that our daughter is just catching up with a vengeance, or that our daughter has been taking notes on our son's behavior all these years and figures that if he can act that way, she can too, and she's making up for lost time.  Either way, it sucks.)

They've had any number of run-ins this past year over their shared "turf" in the bathroom.  Honestly, if I could build a house right now, they'd each have their own bathroom, so they could be totally responsible for them and not blame the other for dropped towels, left-behind socks, or whatever was supposed to be in the little garbage can but is beside it instead.  

Today Safety Guy went ballistic on his sister for leaving socks and clothes in the bathroom when he went to take a shower after his fitness class.  She, in turn, yelled at him for yelling at her.  He yelled at me for not making her clean up her stuff that very instant, and then she yelled at me for not making him pick up the half-dozen toy cars sitting beside the couch downstairs.  I banned both of them from the TV and computers for the evening.  They're upstairs for the night.  I'm done.

Safety Guy wanted space from his sister tonight, and he got it.  The Princess doesn't want to have to deal with her brother's stuff, and that's not an issue for tonight.  Maybe a nice, long, boring evening of nothing but homework and whatever books they find will make a point.  

They wanted space; so did I.  It's not quite how I wanted to get it, but I'll take what I can get at this point.

I just wish it didn't feel so crappy.

Two hours later:  The Princess came down for a bite of dinner, and while I wasn't paying attention, she started making homemade bread.  By the time I caught on to what she was doing, she had the yeast proofed in the warm water, and the bread board out, so I let her keep going, rather than waste what she'd started.  When I asked her what she was doing, she said, "I'm apologizing for my crappy behavior."  Okay, then.  She did her homework and read a book while the bread baked.  It came out of the oven half an hour ago, and we just had some slices with honey.  Safety Guy apologized to his sister (without being prompted), and complimented her on her baking skills.  The Princess apologized to her brother (with a prompt), and all was well again.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Simple Pleasures

Life has definitely has its stresses this week.  A flat tire, which in the course of its repair revealed a much bigger auto repair that needs to addressed soon.  A meltdown by the Princess.   Safety Guy has a chest cold.  A sub job I showed up for, and the teacher showed up a few minutes later - somebody goofed in the scheduling department.  A headache.  A backache.  Just STUFF.  But there have been many good things this week, too.  Sometimes, when life is stressful, the little things mean a lot.

A gorgeous harvest moon, which looked absolutely huge rising over the horizon last night.

Shocking orange zinnias by my front walk.

Sharing plants with friends.

Taking a nap with Cici (my fluffy, bobtailed torbie cat).

Making a nice big batch of spicy jambalaya for dinner tonight.

Organizing a closet.  (Don't laugh - nothing is falling on my head from the shelf now!)

My husband buying me a heating pad for my aching back (and the heating pad helped a LOT).

A couple teachers telling me they requested me specifically for their classes. 

Subbing in a first grade class and getting hugs from several of the students at the end of the day.

And, some things that aren't so little:

The kid who hit Safety Guy in the spring apologized to him, and Safety Guy accepted his apology appropriately, and they shook hands.  (!!!  And I have to say again, !!!)

The Princess has a new friend at school, a girl who just moved here, who rides her bus, shares some of her classes, and has many of the same interests, and who likes my wonderful girl just the way she is, and who lives nearby.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cars, Cars, Cars

Safety Guy admiring a sweet little convertible Austin Healey.

We've lived here east of Syracuse for four years now - long enough to have settled into the local seasonal swing and learn what fun events to look forward to year round.  One thing Safety Guy looks forward to every year is the Mohican Model A Ford Club's annual car show in Wampsville, NY.  It's held at the fireman's field in town, and includes both the auto show (with a several hundred cars or so from the earliest 1900s to the 1980s), food vendors, and a flea market (mostly auto themed, but lots of other fun stuff too).  It's always held the weekend after Labor Day.  Safety Guy and I made our annual pilgrimage to the show last weekend.  Here are some photos from our fun morning:

 We've seen this Bel Air at the show each of the three years we've attended.  
It's one of his favorites every year.

 Hello chrome!  This gorgeous Cadillac Eldorado practically glowed in the sun.

 For the life of me I can't remember what auto had this wonderful hood ornament.

 Of course we saw some really great hot rods, too.

 Safety Guy admiring a Hudson.

 The hood ornament from a '53 Pontiac - it really caught my eye, 
with the hood up against the clouds.

 A '69 Chevelle Malibu SS - almost exactly my first car.  My old Chevelle was handed down to me from my grandfather, and wasn't an SS, but a regular 307.  Plain vanilla as muscle cars go, but oh how I loved that car!  I called mine "Beast," because even with the smaller 307 engine, it was still a muscle car and had that wonderful eight-cylinder roar.

A sweet Corvette Stingray - the ultimate 70s car in my mind.  
I've always wanted to ride in one.

And Safety Guy's favorite car of the whole show - a Delorean.  
This one, unusually, has been painted.  Originally they were all matte stainless steel.  
And, of course, it had a mock-up of a flux capacitor in the back.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Spinning Plates and Acting

I really shouldn't complain - we appear to be on a fairly even keel in the house right now, in spite of the inevitable, predictable ups and downs of Safety Guy's anxiety related to going back to school.  But, appearances can be deceiving.

The kids are managing okay, but I'm just keeping up a nice facade.

Have you ever felt like your life was a series of spinning plates in a circus act, and you were running around trying to keep everything going at the right speed and balance so that nothing fell, crashed and broke around your head or under your feet?

Yes.  Like that.

I'm afraid I've been very good for many years at hiding my struggles.  I'm a decent actor in that respect, although I would rather die than be on a stage.  I keep my cool most of the time, especially in public.  I smile, I do my job, I get stuff done.  I try to appear competent, in control, and ready to deal with everything.  I work hard at it.

The problem with that life-long lie is that sometimes, sometimes more often than I'd like to admit, I'm not in control.  I'm not well-balanced.  Things are crashing and breaking all over the place, and I'm just picking up the pieces and hiding them and moving on to the next crisis, where I do damage control all over again.

But that kind of act can't be kept up forever.  Eventually, the facade cracks, the mask falls off, and everyone who's paying attention can see that I'm just a mess, and my life is in massive disarray.  By that point, it's a real crisis.  (It's like a cat, who will hide that it's sick until it's desperately ill and just can't hide it any more.)  The trick I've needed to learn is to ask for help BEFORE all hell breaks loose.  I'm a slow learner in that respect, often held back by the fear of judgment by others over my struggles.

This year has been the peak of trouble after many years of troubles.  Some friends and family knew some of the difficulties in my life over that time, but nobody knew the worst hurts, the deepest wounds, or the hardest battles, or how often I struggled.  Things have changed since earlier this year, and finally I'm sharing what I need to share with people who need to know, and who can help me.  People who will be gentle with my heart, or tough on my misperceptions, or kind about my regrets, or angry on my behalf, or wise in their advice, or quick to weep with me, as the situation dictates.

It's taken me a long time to learn to ask for help.  And I've learned that I have to be honest with some people in my life to really get help, with the ones whom I can really trust with my broken places, my screw-ups, my sins, my hurts, and my worries and my fears.  There are people that don't need to know my deepest hurts and hardest struggles.  Either I don't know them well enough, or I don't think they want the additional burden of knowing my troubles, or I'm not sure how they'd handle the knowledge.  But everyone needs a few people they can be honest with and trust with their heart.  Thankfully I have a good handful of people like that in my life.  They wonder why I waited so long to confide in them, but they also haven't heaped judgment on me about that.

Everyone needs people to lean on in their life, but that kind of vulnerability requires trust, and when your trust is already broken, it's hard to reach out for help.  But I'm learning.

Last night I spent hours "talking" with my sister using a chat feature.  We covered a lot of ground, from baking and making chocolates, to our cats, to our hurts.  It was such a relief to talk to someone who truly understands what's going on my life right now.  That acceptance and understanding was priceless to me, and by the end of our rambling chat I felt that my burden had been eased and shared.  THAT is what we all need from time to time.

Thank God for professional counseling help from someone who also shares my faith (but is much wiser than I am).  Thank God for friends and family who have been willing to listen and be here for me on this road.  Thank God for everyone who has been praying for the kids and I, and for my husband.  There is hope after all, and healing, and grace like water in the desert.  This won't be an easy road, but it's a necessary journey.  It's good to have friends along the way.

There is hope.

Friday, September 6, 2013

So Far, So Good

September 5th, 2013 - sixth and ninth graders!!

Well, we survived the first two days of school.  Over all I'm quite pleased with how Safety Guy's schedule and classes have worked out.  The student who assaulted him last year isn't in ANY of his classes (some sort of miracle), and two other kids he had run-ins with last year aren't there now.  He likes all of his teachers, although he's a bit nervous about the increased work load, and downright grossed out by the idea of dissecting a fetal pig in the spring for science class.  I'm hoping, really hoping, that whatever struggles he has this year are minor compared to last year.

The Princess is also happy with her teachers.  Sixth grade here is like "junior high lite" - the kids start switching rooms for different subjects during the day, although they have a home room they start and end the day, and where they have one academic subject and keep all their stuff.  She sees her friends in different classes, although her closest friends have different home room teachers.  She's off to a good start, and I hope she has another good year.

I've already been called for a handful of sub jobs over the next two weeks.  I like it when I'm pre-scheduled, since I'm really not a fan of early morning phone calls.  (Those calls can happen anywhere from 5:30 to 6:15, although sometimes I'll get a late call around 7:15 with a frantic secretary saying, "Ack!  We need you here in 15 minutes!  Please!"  Good thing I live close to the schools.)

Safety Guy has had some backlash each afternoon or evening after school, which we expected.  He's processing a lot of change and anxiety in a short period of time.  His stress comes out most often through sharp, snarky, or mean comments or swearing, often directed at his sister.  It's unpleasant, but not unexpected, and I count my blessings that he's not acting out physically at this time. Time alone seems to help restore his balance, so we remind him to go to his room, or just plain send him there if he doesn't take a polite hint or two.  His special interests have been all over the place the past couple weeks as he stressed about going back to school, very intense and persistent.  I'm hoping that he'll ease off for a little while.

I don't know about every person with Asperger Syndrome, or other autism-related issues, but I could pretty much mark up the school calendar to tell his teachers when he'll have the most difficulty.  In fact, I think I might actually DO that - get a copy of the calendar and share it with his resource teachers so they can track his behavior.  He swings up and down with his anxiety and moods fairly predictably.  Anxiety builds up to a peak before each major transition or holiday - back to school (huge), Halloween (not as bad), Thanksgiving (not too bad), Christmas/Christmas break (BIG), winter break (with seasonal affective issues - nasty), spring break (the "I'm sick of school!" meltdown), and the end of the school year ("Thank God it's over!") are the easiest ones to predict.  Then there are less regular anxiety-inducing events:  doctor/dental appointments, family trips, and special events.  SG is due for wisdom teeth surgery this fall or winter.  THAT will be the mother of all anxiety storms, I'm pretty sure, combining Safety Guy's fear of gagging/throwing up with surgery, which he's never had before, and needles, which he doesn't like either, in his MOUTH (that gagging thing again).

So, while I'm hopeful for an overall positive year, I also know I'm in for the long-distance roller-coaster ride of life with Safety Guy.  I hope the ups are good, and the downs are short.  For all of us, this year.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

'Twas the Day Before School Started. . .

Cici, just because.

Tomorrow is THE DAY.  I'll officially have a freshman in high school, and a sixth grader.  They're both excited.  They have their new clothes, new shoes, and a crazy amount of school supplies that the schools no longer furnish.  The Princess has had her first day outfit picked out for a week (including snazzy tall boots, and hair chalk - she's going a bit "steampunk," if you know what that means, with some gamer-girl thrown in for good measure).  Safety Guy hasn't said anything about his fashion choices, aside from not wearing ANY of his new stuff until school officially starts.  But he's easy:  T-shirts with funny sayings, jeans or athletic shorts, new sneakers, and a baseball cap.

I heard back from quite a few of Safety Guy's new teachers, in response to the letter I sent to them last week.  We even went to the school to meet the two teachers who were not at the freshman orientation.  They were both friendly and asked SG directly about his likes and dislikes, stresses and calming techniques.  I feel a little better about school now, although the proof will be in the first few days, when he sees who his classmates are for each subject.

I've already been called for subbing - 4 1/2 days in the first two weeks of school.  That's good.  No full-time opportunities on the horizon, but I just have to keep looking around and see what comes up.

I think I'd enjoy this last day before school starts a lot more if I didn't have the stomach and intestinal flu.  (Blerk.  Enough said.)

I've had the appliance repair guy here, working on our dryer, which pooped out on Saturday of the holiday weekend.  At least I had most of the laundry done before it went kerflooey.  Anyhow, it was a simple thermal fuse ($12.50) and the charge for a service call and labor ($69).  It took him about 20 minutes to diagnose and fix it.  I think I'm in the wrong profession.

So, a day in the life.  Safety Guy seems to be fairly relaxed at the moment, unless you know that his obsessive talking about favorite topics is a sign of anxiety.  He's handling it fairly well over all.    The Princess is getting her supplies together, writing her name in the folders and binders.  The fun of new school supplies; the anticipation of another year.  I hope tomorrow goes smoothly for both of them, with no unpleasant surprises.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tween Girls and TMI

Fun at the water park this summer.  
You wouldn't believe the time we had finding a 
modest bathing suit for her that didn't look like 
it belonged on a senior citizen.

The Princess is a tween.  Oh.  My. Goodness. is she a tween!  Swinging wildly between girly and mature, horses and school friend drama, and all that goes with being a tween.  Only, I don't remember my tween years having such an awful case of TMI.  I mean, am I getting old (don't answer that!), or have things in our children's lives become so ADULT that it's hard to keep our kids, kids until they're ready to deal with grown-up stuff?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the Princess is smart.  Well, no, she'd be the first, I'll have to be second.  Anyhow, she's one sharp kid.  Thankfully she's got a fair amount of common sense (which I'll also admit is an on-again, off-again thing at this age, but she does pretty well with it more often than not).  She's tall for her age, and a young lady that's already getting more looks from guys than I'm comfortable with.  She's not even 12 yet!  But I started trying to jerk-proof her early, as in discussing the things she heard in school and saw on TV and YouTube, and talking about relationships as the topic arose.  I mean, for Pete's sake, kids talk about "dating" in third grade now.  Really?  I mean, REALLY?

Anyhow, even with the preemptive idiot-proofing, even with talking about the ups and downs of physical changes and emotional changes and becoming a young lady, even though I'm pretty laid-back and not easily embarrassed or flapped, she still occasionally floors me with the questions she asks.  Like yesterday, when she asked me a question while we were in the car waiting for her brother to finish his fitness class.

"What is bestiality?"

WHAT the HECK is my 11 year old daughter asking me this question for?  I asked her where she'd heard the word, to buy myself a couple moments thinking space.  She said she heard it at school.

Speechless.  I'm just speechless what my kids are hearing from other kids, who heard it from older kids, siblings, parents, TV shows, and the internet.  Gobsmacked might be closer to my reaction.

So I gave her the simplest definition of the word (because I do NOT want her "friends" explaining it to her).  To say the least, she was grossed out.  (Thank goodness!)  And I hope I never have to go there again.

But now I'm freshly appalled at the things our children (CHILDREN, not young adults, not teens, CHILDREN) are being exposed to, despite the best efforts of many parents to keep them a little innocent a little longer.  When did it become acceptable to expose our kids to such filth and depravity as a rite of "growing up"?  When did so many parents stop keeping an eye on what their kids watch, and who they hang out with, and where they go?  I didn't have THAT sheltered a childhood, and I still didn't know what the F word was until sixth grade.

I'm grieving my daughter's innocence, which is being taken from her bit by bit by forces outside my control.  I've told her to guard her heart and her mind, and be careful what she watches, and she knows that I'm paying attention to what she's doing online and on TV.  I have asked her to stop watching certain things, change the channel, and move on, and I explain why I ask her to do that.  Why certain shows are just too disrespectful or rude or suggestive, why certain comedy routines have funny bits but you have to wade through a cesspool to find the comedy diamonds and it's not worth it.

I hate having to explain things to my beautiful girl that she shouldn't have to hear or think about or deal with yet.

But I'll keep trying to protect her.  That's what I'm here for.  Because I love her, and I want her to know she's worth far more than what the world would sell her for.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Letter

Here's the letter I sent to Safety Guy's teachers and counselors at school yesterday.  I omitted a paragraph of personal information, and changed the names - otherwise, the letter is as I sent it.


To the staff at C---------CSD who will be working with my son, 

I can hardly believe SG is going to be a freshman this year. I wish he were more excited about the transition to high school, and it's true he is a little bit excited. But he's also very anxious and even fearful about returning to the classroom next week. I wish this weren't the case, but it's true.

Eighth grade was very difficult for SG, especially during the spring semester. He experienced a lot of verbal bullying last year from a handful of his classmates (resource and regular, 7th and 8th graders), which increased in intensity as the school year went on. A couple weeks before school ended he was assaulted in the hallway by another student (XX) who punched SG in the head. SG suffered a mild concussion. My husband and I reported the assault to the police, and XX has avoided SG since then, except for flipping him off once or twice when he's seen him at the pool over the summer. SG is justifiably uncomfortable to be in the classroom with XX again this year, and I'm asking you to please keep an eye on their interactions when they do share a class.

Many times during the year, almost daily, SG was called “gay,” “fat,” “retard,” “stupid,” “weak,” “wimp,” “soft,” and other similar insults. He was mocked for his weight, among other things. These insults were done during unstructured time, hallway transitions, and during lunch, and even very quietly during class when the teachers were busy with other students. The antagonizing was often subtle and covert, until SG would lose his temper.

SG did his best to ignore the insults, and sometimes he could brush them off and move on, but sometimes he would reach his limit and react loudly, yelling at the other students. His overreaction seemed to be the goal of the other students, who would get him upset then be amused when he'd get in trouble for yelling or swearing at them. At times he would also swear at his teachers when they tried to intervene or divert him or the other students with whom he was angry. He would always apologize and feel badly for acting out at adults after he calmed down, but the damage was done, and by losing his temper and swearing in class he put the teachers in a position where they had to give him a detention for his public outburst and offensive language. In the second half of last year he had more write-ups and detentions and suspensions than his previous 2 ½ years in public school combined, and then some. We had several meetings with his teachers and with Mr. G, Mrs. J, Mr. F, and Mr. L to try to address this issue, but the fact was that no matter how hard SG tried to mind his behavior (and he did try, beyond what most kids with Aspergers can handle), the other students continued their bullying behavior. Not enough changed from the other students, and then SG was assaulted at the very end of the year.

SG now feels that the school will do little or nothing to keep him safe, and that school is not a place where he will be allowed to learn in peace. He's a struggling student in math and science, and needs all the help he can get. Last year his grades bottomed out as his stress level peaked, in spite of intervention at school and at home, and counseling both at school and individually outside of school. He became inconsistent at turning in work, depressed, and angry, and felt that he'd gotten into such a deep hole that he'd never be able to climb out again, so why try? He gave up. Over the summer he confessed to us that he'd felt suicidal in the spring, but didn't tell anyone.

SG also started antagonizing some of the other students back, to avoid being seen as weak (one of their taunts). He figured he would strike first, and get the upper hand. That never worked in his favor either. Discipline at school and at home did little to curb his growing urge to lash out at the students he thought had bullied him. I'm very concerned about this negative cycle in his life. His emotional maturity is delayed due to his Asperger Syndrome, and it's taking him longer to internalize the self-control that will allow him to make better decisions when he's upset. It's as if he's almost 15 years old chronologically, he looks 17 or 18 physically, and he acts 11 or 12 emotionally. It's not a good combination. He needs consistent, step-by-step help with being able to recognize his own emotions and modify his behavior or choose to leave a situation before things get to the explosion point.

SG needs continued help to manage his emotions and reactions to negative situations in school. He knows the steps he can take to defuse situations or report teasing or bullying, but he often forgets to implement these steps in the heat of the moment. Mrs. J has done a wonderful job working with SG to self-monitor and find better ways to deal with his emotions than acting out verbally, including peer mediation with his classmate CC, with whom he has had many difficulties. (SG and CC often get on each others' nerves because they've known each other for a few years, have been friends in the past, and are very much alike in personality and stress points.) SG has recently stated to me that he'd like to patch up his relationship with CC so they can help each other and stand up for each other, instead of working against each other. I hope the two of them can work on this goal and become friends again.

This seems like a whole lot of negatives to start my introduction of my son to you, but it's necessary if you're going to understand some of the peer relationships and interactions you're likely to see with SG in class. My hope is that having more staff working with him will allow more eyes to be on the peer interactions, so that bullying issues can be nipped in the bud before they become serious. I don't want SG to disrupt your classes by his own behavior, but I also don't want him to be goaded into doing so due to covert peer bullying. We all agree that school should be a safe environment for our students. It was not always that way for SG last year. I sincerely hope that this year is much better for him.

I know you've read SG's IEP by now and understand the basics of his needs – his executive function issues, his need for help being organized, his math learning disability, his social/emotional immaturity, his perseveration on topics of interest to him, and his distractibility. I know you'll address those needs with skill and dedication. I don't need to rehash them here.

What I want you to know about my son is that he's a really neat young man. He loves all sorts of music, collects vintage video games, and is crazy about cars. He likes to study public safety, fire alarms, auto crash tests, shipwrecks, and natural disasters. He hopes to work in criminal justice someday, and will be going to BOCES in a couple years to give it a try. He has a sharp sense of humor (including word-play), and loves good old-fashioned slapstick comedy (ask him about Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd, or the Three Stooges). He enjoys working with younger kids, and helps in our church's toddler nursery. He's gentle and kind with kids with disabilities, and volunteers to work with a younger kid with severe classic autism at church (with adult supervision), and he makes time to play with our neighbor's young son who has Down Syndrome when he and his father walk over to use our old swing set. He's discovered that he likes to write, and this summer has been working on a screenplay for a crime drama. SG is interested in business, and wants to give the Future Business Leaders of America club a try. SG has a great memory for detail and trivia for subjects he's interested in. He enjoys studying history, but isn't much into reading fiction - he prefers to read for information, not pleasure. He's interested in forensics, and loves watching cop shows and true crime dramatizations. He's been taking a fitness class since the spring, with TC of NBC Gym. He enjoys being helpful and he likes routine. He collects Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, and has a pet guinea pig named Flash. He's a gentle giant.

I hope this letter will give you some insight into SG's life. He wants to succeed. He wants to get better grades, pass everything, and move on in life. He's motivated to do well in school to have privileges like attending school dances, going to after-school clubs, and eventually having his own car on campus. It's easy for him to get into a negative emotional cycle, but sometimes he can just as easily be distracted from the downward spin.

A few last-minute suggestions:

It would be good if he could be reminded to take advantage of being allowed to go to the Guidance Office if he needs a cooling-off period during the day, or to chat with his counselor for a few minutes, if he can recognize he needs that space BEFORE he loses his cool.

Music is an excellent reward for his good choices – he uses his iPod to listen to music to calm himself all the time. Ask him about Jazz sometime.

He might also benefit from having lunch in the library, since I know Mrs. S has in the past let a limited number of students who need the quiet to do that. The cafeteria is auditory and social torture for SG.

Large study halls can also pose the same social/auditory issues as the cafeteria for SG, unless the teacher has a strict quiet study hall policy. If the study hall he is in is too noisy/crowded, please encourage him to find a teacher with a resource period he can take advantage of.

SG and I have discussed his academics, and he realizes that he needs to stay after for 10th period 3-4 days per week, for help with homework and projects. Most days I will pick him up from that (unless he rode his bike), since he views riding the late bus as a punishment and a trial.

SG has also expressed an interest in learning about lighting/sound board for drama club. That may be another good outlet for him as an extracurricular activity.

SG can be a bit of a daydreamer, and is easily distracted from the task at hand. He'll be more focused if he's not near a window or at the back of the classroom.

Thank you for taking the time to read this – I appreciate your hard work with our students, and I know you want SG to succeed almost as much as his father and I do. If you have ANY questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to call or email me or my husband. Also, if I'm subbing that day, you can catch me at school. Our contact information is below.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Shall I Put This?

Safety Guy at Darien Lake on his favorite ride - bumper cars.

It's almost time for school to start, and each year since Safety Guy has gone back to public school (this will start his fourth year back after being home schooled K-5) I write a letter to his new teachers.  I introduce my son, and give some details about his strengths, needs, quirks, hot buttons, and interests. He may be going into high school now (eeek!), but I think this year's letter will be more important than all the others combined.

Those of you who have been with me for a while will remember what a choice slice of hell last spring was for Safety Guy at school:  bullying and academic stress, and ending the year with a physical assault, which gave him a mild concussion.  Can you blame him for being anxious about going back to school this fall?  I sure don't, and I can't give him any firm assurance that the bullying won't continue.  Our school has a big problem with bullying.  So, the letter. . . .

Somehow this letter has to be hopeful but firm, clear but detailed, and positive but including the expectation that what happened last spring WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN.  I know all but one of his teachers coming up this year (the one I don't know is a new hire).  I like and respect all of them; there's not a poor teacher in the bunch, and many I would unreservedly call excellent educators.  But, and here's the big BUT, Safety Guy will still be grouped with many of the students who tormented him last year.  He'll have more teachers this year (four subject-specific resource teachers, instead of one resource teacher across four subjects), which means more eyes on potential problem situations.  I am hanging a lot of hope on these teachers nipping bullying in the bud, and sitting on potential problem situations.  

And, I include Safety Guy in the equation, since he has his own heaping helping of teen attitude, and a huge knee-jerk over-reaction to bullying now.  After being teased about being "weak" and a "wimp" last year, he decided it was better to get his verbal licks in first, rather than wait for the bullies to get up a head of steam.  Now he sometimes instigates too, which needs to be addressed.  Also, when he's stressed or upset or angry, he will lash out verbally, and not just at peers.  Swearing at teachers is a great way to get a one-way pass to the office, and makes him look like he's in the wrong even if he was bullied into losing his cool.  He had more behavioral issues last spring than the past 2 1/2 years of his public school education combined.

Our school is also going through some big changes:  new vice principal over the summer, new principal starting at the end of September, and staff being moved around within the school.  On top of this, there's supposed to be a new behavior plan for the school to address the chronic bullying.  I hope it's effective, but I'll believe it when I see it in action.  And I will, soon, both as a parent, and as a substitute teacher.

I have to write this letter, you see, to introduce my son to people who know me but don't know him, who don't know the misery he endured last year, who don't know his hopes and fears, his strengths and weaknesses, his quirks and obsessions, his brilliant sense of humor or his unique powers of observation.  I want them to know that I love my son, and that I will fight tooth and nail to prevent him from being hurt in school again.  I understand where the school is coming from on behavior management, and legal issues, and parent relations.  And the cold bottom line is that I'm a parent first, and a teacher at the school second, and I'll be a pain in the butt as much as I have to in order to help Safety Guy have a successful, safe freshman year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Something Old

Last weekend I enjoyed spending a few hours at the Madison-Bouckville Antique Show, a week-long event that is the biggest outdoors antique show I've ever seen.  I only saw about 1/5 of it, it was so huge.  It was advertised to have 2000 vendors, and I believe it.  It was massive!  Acres of tents and tables, trailers and paths, portapotties and parking, businesses and casual sellers, true antiques, collectibles, and a surprisingly low junk quotient.  Lots of friendly people, good food, and bargaining.

I love antique malls, flea markets, and stuff like that.  I rarely buy anything, although I always am on the lookout for a few special things I might spring for if the price is right and my budget permits.  Mostly, the joy is in the looking, and in talking to the vendors.  

A train set/amusement park, amazingly detailed.

It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not too humid, warm but not stifling hot.  The only downside was my rampaging allergies (I'm allergic to pollen, molds and dust, so antiquing outdoors in farm country pushed all of my allergy buttons at once).  I still really enjoyed myself.

The view from the back of the fair - the wind farm and the dairy farm, 
a typical sight up here in CNY.

This show had EVERYTHING you could imagine, from furniture to collectibles, from art pottery to old tools, from dolls to antique cars, from books to folk art.  It was wonderful, a real treat to just wander and enjoy browsing.  Some smart people who attended were pulling little two-wheeled shopping carts to hold their purchases, or large tote bags.  I didn't buy much (amber/silver earrings, and a paperback), so I didn't need a tote, but you can be sure next year I'll bring one, just in case.  Next year I'd like to spend more time there.  The show goes for an entire week, so I'd like to go on a couple different days.  Three hours on my feet on hard-packed dry ground didn't make my back happy, so I quit before I knew I'd hate myself the next day.  Next year.  Next year.

An old Ford racing car.

Anyhow, it was fun, and relaxing, to have a day to myself.  I need to plan times like that more often, now that the kids are older.  Time to take care of myself.  Time to do things I enjoy.  Time to make sure I get some mental space.  And that cannot wait until next year. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Organization Bug

This has been "the summer of getting organized" around here.  I go through this once or twice a year, where the need to change one thing cascades into a series of "clean it out, spruce it up, or toss it" projects.  I like it when others in the house get the bug too, because then we're all working together, instead of Mom having a bee in her britches about getting the house clean and organized.

This summer's reorganizing has been pretty extensive, even by my standards.  But it feels good to deep clean and sort out stuff.  All three bedrooms are finally excavated and tidy.  The dining room/office is clean.  I touched up the wall paint in several rooms, and repainted a number of downstairs baseboards and windowsills.  The basement is tidiER (a total tidy on that's still on the "to do" list for the fall). We had a garage sale, and donated a bunch of stuff.  Last week we cleaned the Princess' room, and moved the caged pets around so that Cookie (her guinea pig) is upstairs and Norbert (her bearded dragon lizard) is downstairs.

The big victory this week was helping Safety Guy get his room cleaned.  He's a pack rat, and doesn't like to part with anything.  Rather than fight with him constantly earlier this year when he was so stressed, I waited for him to initiate a total clean-out.  That took a looooong time, but finally last weekend he said he'd had enough of the clutter and dust and wanted to make his room a place he could have friends come to hang out.  

Hallelujah!  (And if there wasn't rejoicing in heaven, there was at least happiness and a "strike while the iron is hot" jump by this Mom.)

And I'm happy because HE initiated the process.  HE got tired of the mess, HE was embarrassed, and HE wanted to make a change.  That's HUGE.  But he needed me to help him push the process through. Cleaning is something he does in short bursts, and is easily distracted from.  (SQUIRREL!!)  Also, he has limited tolerance for other people being in his room and "messing with" his stuff.  So I had to approach this as a collaboration, push him just a little past his usual boundaries to finish discrete chunks of the project, and then push him to get back to it after each break.  (Otherwise he'd work for 15 minutes, and take a four hour break.)

Now he has more floor space.  (Heck, now he has a floor!)  We removed an old desk he didn't use, and he bought a cheap TV at the Salvation Army to put in his room just for his vintage video games.  (No cable, no video, just for the games.)  He is so happy to have his games upstairs, and to have space to spread out.  It's the little things like this that I hope help decrease his anxiety.  I hope this gives him more peace of mind when he's home, since I knew the disarray in his room was bugging him, but he didn't want to do anything about it.  I want to help him come up with a weekly cleaning checklist for his room to help him keep up on his own with his stuff.  Life skills, ADLs, self-help skills, whatever you call them - it's a process.

I'm sure the urge to purge stuff from the house will come around again.  For the moment, it feels good to have made some serious progress.  Now, about that pile of laundry. . . .