Thursday, November 30, 2006

Landing on His Feet

Alan has been taking a special-needs gymnastics class on Thursdays for several months now. Last month, we added a second class on Tuesday evening. Alan's body is getting stronger and he is more agile. Alan's motor planning has been slow to develop. Now, at fourteen years, eleven months, he is gaining rapidly.

A major thing that coach Jerry has been working on is Alan's weak upper body strength. Today, he addressed this by having Alan bear walk fast over a distance. He also had him push up on a bar. On Tuesday, he was swinging between two non-parallel bars and raising himself up on them.

Outside of gymnastics, we have also noted Alan's strides in motor planning. He has been going to the Teen Center once a week to play basketball and pool. We noticed when we took him to an indoor court in Washington over Thanksgiving with his athletic nephew, Kal, that Alan could actually sink more baskets. Kal was better at defense and knew the rules, such as taking turns shooting, so their balls didn't collide. Don commented that now Alan has a certain grace when he is shooting baskets. I am glad that Alan can participate in this common, inexpensive sport.

Back to gymnastics. Ever since Alan began taking gymnastics, the coach has been having him go on the running trampoline, running or hopping down the long run and then jumping into a forward somersault. At first, Alan did it with all of his body touching the mat. Then, he used his arms to somersault, but the rest of his body didn't touch. Recently, he started flipping over in the air without touching, until he came down on his back. I can't do that. I never could do that.

Today, with encouragement to jump higher and to stay tucked longer, Alan landed on his feet a couple of times. Jerry said that all he needs to do now is to perfect it. Go Alan!

Alan thinks the most fun in the gym is to jump on the large trampoline with a snowboard on his feet. He can jump up onto a large block and back down again and do a seat drop and forward drop with the snowboard on.

With every new apparatus or move, Alan has to complain to Jerry that he can't do that. Today, Jerry had a large bucket at the end of the climbing rope. I didn't get to see what the purpose was, because Alan could not get into the bucket the way Jerry wanted. I expect, though, within a few more times, especially with a boy who can do it ahead of him, Alan will rise to the challenge, as he has with hurdling the balance beams, bear walking and somersaulting.

Tomorrow is the day to measure Alan's height as I do every first of the month. I imagine that he will have grown the half inch from last month's five feet, five and a half inches to equal my five feet, six inches. He will be so happy. And I am so proud of him for having the courage to learn all these hard moves that haven't come easily to him. He is becoming an athlete.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Trying to Look Youthful
I'm trying to look and be as youthful as I can be without looking or being ridiculous. I see others making some errors that I don't want to make. I have made some myself and felt foolish.
For instance, I know that I need to limber up. I see people with that stiff walk that show that they spend too much time sitting. Then, when they do get up on their feet, they walk like a marionette. I don't want that to happen to me anytime soon. That's why I'm stretching and researching yoga.
I'm also still coloring my hair. I tried going lighter. A kind of blonde I was this summer. I even let some white grow out. Mom did that when she turned the age I am now. Let herself go white. I decided that I am not ready for that, with the help of my stylist, who was thrilled to go back to coloring my hair darker, with some highlights. I don't want to have one of those all one color hair dye jobs that make it look like I am wearing a wig. So, for now, with a teenager still at home, I am bothering to see my stylist and fit in so that I look like others around here. I hope nobody is snickering at me. Go ahead if you are reading. I can't hear you.
So, with the colored hair, I am still plucking out the odd white hair from my eyebrows. When they get more numerous, I wonder if I should be buying a pencil to try to cover the white hairs? Who knows?
I am also having a look at some make-up tricks. I read that if my lipstick bleeds, I can try edging my lips with concealer first. I don't notice my lipstick bleeding yet, but if it does, I hope I can remember this long enough to try it. I don't wear lipstick all the time. This season is dry, though, and I like to keep lipstick on my lips to prevent chapping. Of course, I could get in the habit of slicking them with gloss. I may have to try that.
I know not to use frosted products on my face. I have seen what that can do to older skin. It gets in the ruts. I saw a suggestion to put "a dab of white underneath my brows to make my eyes pop." No, that won't work for me. My current worry is not to bring any attention to my already smaller than usual eyes. My eyelids are sagging so badly that I may have to contemplate some kind of eyelid surgery just so I can continue to see out. I don't want that sad hound dog look.
So far, I haven't grown jowls. I am afraid of those flaps. I am, though, in danger of developing a scrawny chicken neck. I hope I can live with it when it happens. Not much I can do about that. I can't wear turtlenecks in California.
Now and then I do worry about my presentation. What does the world see when it looks at me? I hope I project a satisfactory image so that I won't put people off. I don't want to look like I'm cross nor a clown. Someone pleasant and friendly is my hope.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Zapping Stress

Most people these days have some stress in their lives. I know I do. So what do you do to zap stress? I have written about exercising. Tonight, I am going to lift some free weights. Last night, I did some stretches for my legs using my yoga band. I listened to big band music when I was getting ready for bed.

Something that is stressful for me is clutter on surfaces. I need desperately to get the table in the living room we call the game table cleared off. Tomorrow, I am going to go to Target. I can get some supplies there for organizing all the piles of paper into binders and other holders. Somehow, having the right supplies motivates me to get the job done. I have also made a deadline for myself.

Something I read recently suggested sighing away stress. Inhale deeply. Then exhale through a sigh and imagine your worries disappearing with the sigh. When I was visiting Dana, there was a bottle of shampoo that said that the Japanese imagine the water washing away the past when they are in the shower. I suggested that to Kal. I also read that if we get more oxygen into our bodies through exercise, later stresses don't have the same flight or fight effect on us that they would if we had less oxygen.

Another thing I can recommend is to make a warm drink. I am awash in tea when I am at home and not going out. Tonight, I am going to treat myself. I will make a large cup of hot cocoa with milk. Then I will squirt a dollop of whipped cream on top. Mmmm. After the weights. Yup. Gotta move. That's the best stress zapper of all.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Chocolate, I Want Chocolate!

Oh, I've found some, but it isn't very satisfying. I want a chocolate bar or a chocolate from a box of chocolates.

What is it about chocolate? In our family, there are two who don't crave chocolate, one female and one male. I just don't get it. I don't get why I and others crave it, nor why some people can take it or leave it.

The chocolate I've found is not hard. It isn't as satisfactory. On the other hand, given having no chocolate or this chocolate, I'll take it. It is comforting.

Chocolate doesn't last long with me. I will keep helping myself until it is gone. That's why I only buy a chocolate bar occasionally. It's why I don't really appreciate having a whole box of chocolates around. It is why I send the Halloween candy off with Don to his office where someone else can add to poundage besides me.

A single piece of excellent chocolate from Switzerland, Germany, France or Austria is a wonderful treat. I can eat it and then it is gone. Sometimes when Don has to go to Europe, he will bring said treat for me. I hope he does this time.

He left today for what he and I hope is his last long trip of the year where he is gone for several days. That's probably why I am craving chocolate.

The other reason is that Alan is obsessing. He is obsessed with getting mail. On our return, he was eagerly anticipating the tub of mail that was held until our return. Well, nobody was home this afternoon. Maybe that's why the letter carrier didn't leave it. She didn't leave a card for pick up at the post office, either, so maybe she simply missed us.

I should be glad that Alan isn't acting out physically. I know I am sensitized to his ranting because of years and years of it. Today, he has gone on bitterly for several hours without many breaks. He is winding down. At least he is philosophical. He just said, "Maybe we'll get the mail tomorrow."

And I've had my chocolate. It's an innocent pleasure when it is just a bit.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Western Sunset

Our home faces west. We happen to live in the area where many of those western movies of the middle of the last century were located. Some were even made in Wildwood Park, which our home overlooks. Many times I have commented to Don that the sunset reminds me of those where the cowboys were riding off into the sunset.

Tonight's sunset was one of those. It had fiery orange, much apricot and some yellow to my eye, and I called Don to come and look at it. "Isn't that a great sunset?" I asked him. He agreed that it was. Now, I didn't remark on how it reminded me of all those westerns we went to see as kids. We have both said that too many times. Just the same, I thought it.

It is remarkable to me that we have ended up here in the very place where those make-believe movies of our childhood were made. I thank the good fortune that we have a home in such a beautiful spot, looking out on the park, and in the distance, the Santa Monica mountain range. In fact, Westlake Boulevard leads onto one of the roads down to Malibu. I have been on that road but hope never to have to use that particular way to the beach again since it is narrow and full of switch-backs. It is terrifying for someone afraid of rolling off the side of the mountain. The view, however, is gorgeous from there. The sunset over Malibu is likely why many stars and movie moguls like to live there. I get to enjoy the sunset from this side of the mountain every day that I think to look out the kitchen window or patio door at the right time in the evening. The soft night will soon fall. In the meantime, the glory of the heavens is mine.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Salmon Creek
We just got back from a glorious walk at Salmon Creek Park. It is just at the end of Hazel Dell Avenue. Dana and Kal live on 82nd Street off Hazel Dell Avenue. This is the closest park right in the city. Despite that, it has a wild area along the side of the creek.

We hoped to see some birds Dana mentioned that live there. We were blessed. The first birds we saw were ducks. Ducks live just about everywhere, even in our little manmade creek in Conejo Creek Park in Thousand Oaks. Dana said we might see an osprey at Salmon Creek. We did see a bald eagle nearby on the way out on our walk. Soon, there was a lady stopped still in the path. She was watching three bald eagles across the creek high in a tree adding to a nest. We all had them pointed out to us. Even Alan, Sir Whingealot, spied them. He does like birds. He said he couldn't see them very well. They were far away.

When we walked out as far as we wanted to and turned around, we scared two bald eagles high in the trees beside the path. They flew back to the nest across the creek. I should add that this creek is as broad as a river this time of the year in this rainy place. We were delighted to have a sunny day.

Next, we saw two blue jays. When Don prepared to shoot them with the camera, they both flew off, one at a time. The photo opportunity was missed.

Last, we saw a huge osprey nest in the cross poles of an old telephone pole. The phone wires are long gone. The manmade tree limbs are ideal for the size of an osprey's nest. Nobody was home, though.

We walked on down past the parking lot where we had left our car so that we could take a look at the swimming hole and raft where Kal swims in the summertime. On the way, we picked up sticks so we could play Pooh sticks on the bridge over the creek. We had fun playing Pooh sticks and Don and I remember when Dana and Cate played Pooh sticks on a bridge in England not far from Dover where my paternal grandparents lived before emigrating to western Canada in the early years of the last century.

Alan, Kal and Dana played on the fun spinning equipment in the playground. We have never seen these two contraptions. They work like a top for one or two kids. That was a fun end to our walk in the sunshine.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Actually, I mean to talk about how inflexible my body has become. I was never a pretzel. I couldn't even touch my toes when I was a teenager. Now that I am forty more years plus, I should not be surprised to find that I am not able to bend so much.
The thing is, today I discovered that I can't sit on the floor with my legs up the wall. I don't know if I ever could. I would like to be more flexible than I found myself to be.
Today, too, I tried to do yoga from a DVD with Dana. I really couldn't do much with the poses. I need a DVD for beginners. I will have to try harder to loosen up. I do want to be able to get my coat on when I am in my eighties and nineties. The amusing thing was that all week I have had the sleeves of my coat turn inside out when I have been trying to put my coat on and have had to have help. I took the lining out of this coat to have the coat dry cleaned. Now it isn't the same. I suppose that I will have to take a few stitches and tack it back in so that this annoyance doesn't happen again. It is a metaphor for what I can expect to happen to me if I don't limber up some.
So, now I have another to do so far as exercise habits go. I am already doing some weight work at Curves as well as aerobics there and on the treadmill. At Curves, too, we are supposed to stretch after exercising. I am faithful about it. There, too, I discovered that I can't do many of the stretches. I will be working on stretching and reaching farther and in new directions. Maybe next year I will be able to do some yoga and stretch my legs up the wall.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

From the Pacific North Wet
Coming to the northwest corner of the contiguous United States usually means arriving in the Pacific Northwest. There is a reason it is always so green up here. Wet. So today, Don said we are in the Pacific North Wet.
Even in the rain, there are lots and lots of attractions in the Portland/Vancouver area. We are across the Columbia River from Portland in "the other Vancouver." When we say we are going to Vancouver, people often assume Vancouver, B. C. Our daughter Dana and her son Kal moved here more than a year ago.
So what did we do today? We didn't visit anything important. We visited our daughter and grandson. That is why we came. We will be cooking and playing board games tomorrow. Alan wants to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. That's a typical Thanksgiving for many Americans. No football. That's the only thing missing.
Don and I each forgot something to wear this trip. Don travels extensively on business. This is the first time in memory he has forgotten his pants! He only had the pair he came in. I forgot a nightie! Vancouver Mall is right nearby so we were some of the first customers this morning. I'll bet you didn't know that someone has to turn on the escalators in the morning, did you? When I went to step onto the escalator, it wasn't moving. I asked a clerk to show me to the elevator. She remarked that she would turn on the escalator for us. We like J. C. Penney and the store was having a one day sale. Don got two pairs of pants and I got a nightie. We were out of there in half an hour.
Once we got to Dana's, we decided we needed to go to the Safeway at the end of her street to get lunch foods for Alan. We picked up some other essentials, including a Marionberry pie for tonight and a pecan pie for tomorrow. Don went off to the plumbing store with Kal to get a new kitchen faucet. When Dana, Alan and I got home with the groceries, Don was half way through installing it. While Dana got lunch, he finished up. She must be relieved to have a new one that doesn't leak.
Right after lunch, Don and I and Alan went back to Safeway to pick up the prepared turkey dinner and some wine. These will make our traditional meal nicely. Dana is a vegetarian. Guess what we forgot to get? The Tofurkey. She went back later to get it.
Next, Dana, Alan and I went to Target. I needed some more socks and we picked up a birthday present for Kal to be hidden until his early December birthday. One more thing off the to-do list.
We went to Blockbuster to return and pick up games for Kal's X-Box. When we got home, Kal and Don had gone back to the plumbing and lighting store. Don says it is his new favorite store in Vancouver. They got one full spectrum bulb. We had also got one at Target. We can replace more now that we know the best place to get them is the plumbing and lighting store.
Dana made tacos for dinner. She lived for a long time in Texas and California, so tacos are a simple meal for her to get together that she likes and we all enjoyed.
Did we see any attractions? No, unless you count the cherished faces of our loved ones. Don has a few more items to repair at Dana's house. Tomorrow, we will make lists and play games. I have challenged Alan and Kal to see who can last longer on the exercise machine Uncle John and Auntie Val picked up free for Kal. It is kind of a cross between a cycle and a rowing machine. It ought to tire them out pretty well. We will likely also go for a walk outdoors in the neighborhood in the rain. It will be a happy Thanksgiving. I hope your Thanksgiving is happy, too.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Learning with Indoor Plants
Here in southern California, I don't have the need to grow a lot of indoor plants like I did when we lived for twelve long winters in Edmonton. There, I needed a reminder that plant life went on during the dark, cold season. In fact, indoors there I grew many of the plants that thrive outdoors here. Here, they are gigantic relatives of those tiny potted plants. For example, in the garden here, planted by previous owners, is a gigantic split leaf philodendron which rises to around eight feet!
Here, though, I still have some green growing indoors. I keep three pots of African violets beside the kitchen sink. They bloom frequently. When a plant gets over large, I throw it out and buy a new one that fits the pot. Throwing it over the hillside outdoors adds compost. I have learned that trying to keep one going that has huge leaves and the roots and soil are spent is not rewarding. At times, I have taken a leaf and potted it up to get a new plant economically. I should do that again to show Alan how it is done.
Another plant that I like to have indoors is a blooming phaleanopsis or butterfly orchid. I have had other orchids, too, but I like the showy butterfly one a lot. If I get a bouquet of cut flowers, I am lucky if they last one week. Even if I bring cut flowers in from my garden, they are usually shriveled by a week's time. Don likes to cut roses and Bird of paradise stems to display in vases. As far as having flowers that last a long time, an orchid plant can't be beat. It lasts weeks if I buy one with buds and looks grand on the counter.
For years, I have kept the plants that have bloomed and tended them. Eventually, they have all dried out without sending up another bloom spike. I keep trying to learn how to have them re-bloom. I am excited now to see if I have accomplished this. Two of the plants that I keep on the counter in the kitchen have sent up spikes that I believe will bloom. This morning, I drenched all the orchid plants in "rain" from above since I believe that is how they get moisture in nature. (The African violets, on the other hand, are watered by adding water to the saucer they sit in so they will wick moisture upward. The leaves do not like to be wet. Probably that is how they get water in nature, also.) I will be happily anticipating investigating what has happened with those two spikes when I return on the weekend. I hope I don't come back to dried out sticks. I hope that there will be flower buds formed on the spikes. It is good to have hope.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Good Heavens, Why Haven't I Packed My Suitcase Yet?

I don't know what it is this time. I want to go. We have our tickets and Don just now printed our boarding passes. I do have some things laid out on my bed, mostly clean underwear. I do have some things in and on top of my rolling carry-on bag. So what is the hold up?

I have a list partly made. I know I will forget some things without a list. We have passports, for example, so we do use them as identification in the airport. The thing is, Don needs to get them out of the safe. So I do need a list to remind him and me of what we need to do.

It seems to me that as time goes by, I procrastinate more. It isn't something I can put my finger on exactly. Most things I have to get done, I get done. I don't know why I leave packing to the end. If the truth be told, I have enough clothes that I could have packed everything I want to wear as soon as the washing was done on the weekend. I could have worn other clothes. Mostly I did, but the clothes didn't find their way by themselves into the suitcase. Actually, I will need different clothes. Warmer than I have been wearing for a few days now. It is hot! I have the air conditioner on this evening to cool the upstairs down.

I think it is because I am feeling frazzled. I am not really tired. I got exercise today. I'm just feeling mildly out-of-sorts and frazzled.

I had better go upstairs, put some soothing music on, and practice being Zen. Counting out enough clothes for each day and something to dress up in for Thanksgiving Day should be easy. I will also do one of those activities I learned during a particularly stressful time of my life. It goes like this: tense up all the muscles you can. Then, imagine untying the knots you are tied in, one by one. This figuratively releasing knots works well for me, especially in my neck in the region of the old brain. I'm off to exercise my old brain.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Importance of Rituals

The Thanksgiving rituals are ones we can all share. There are many religious rituals. The ones I am sharing tonight are personal and family rituals. Right now, Don is reading aloud to Alan. Despite being nearly fifteen, Alan still wants his Dad to read to him and if Dad is away, he asks me to. I remember when I had no children but was taking a children's literature class in preparation for teaching. The instructor was a wise woman who said she was still reading aloud to her twelve year old and she and her husband read aloud to each other. She encouraged us to read aloud with whomever we wished. She cherished reading aloud to her child long after the child could read to herself. I don't remember when reading aloud to our daughters, now adults, ended, but it did end. I am not looking forward to the end of this ritual with Alan.

In our family, we sit down to eat together. When Alan and I are alone, often he begins to make his meal without me. He nearly always comes to find me and asks, "Mom, will you have breakfast with me?" I don't always eat, but I do always get something to drink and sit down with him. Sometimes we are silent together and sometimes we talk. When Dad is here too, he eats his breakfast alone before hurrying off to work. He likes to do that without anyone to slow him down. During weekends and holidays, however, we sit at the table together. Sometimes we are reading the newspaper but we always stop reading to converse about something or other.

At the beginning of the week, before they get too hard for me, I like to work the crossword puzzle. By Friday, I nearly always don't try it. I like the ritual of doing a crossword in the morning. I ought to bring a book of crosswords to the table to do on those mornings when the one in the newspaper is too difficult.

Now, I have the ritual of writing my blog. I have done over fifty of them now. I'm not yet an old hand, but on the rare night that I miss doing one, I feel as though the day is incomplete.

Rituals are comforting. They are often best shared.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Now That's Relaxing!
Someone writes, "I discovered I like jogging outside in the evening--it made me look forward to my runs as quiet time to relax." Um, not me. I don't wanna!
So what did I do tonight? I watched some t. v. I enjoy watching MythBusters with my husband. Although many times I get to laugh when I watch, and laughing is relaxing, most times the crew is blowing something up or doing some daredevil hare-brained thing to test a myth. Tonight, I had to leave the room while they tested a myth about firing a gun on an airplane and making a hole in the side of it. If I had stayed, I know I would be terrifying myself in my dreams, recreating all this including me and/or a member of my family, in this situation. My husband did tell me that according to the test, firing a pistol on an airplane, which did cause a hole, did not also cause a crash. He flies a lot on business. We are flying on our trip this coming week. Nope, I didn't need to watch that and it would not have been relaxing.
Usually, I read to relax. I read before sleep. I read in between tasks when I do house work. I read when in the bathroom. Both sides of the family are bibliophiles. I also read e-mails and am on several special interest lists. I get plenty of support and relaxation from those.
I also read today that to calm down the flight-fight reflex, getting more oxygen into the system helps a great deal. The writer suggests running up and down a couple of flights of stairs. I think belly breathing, and preferably, belly laughing, also would have the same effect. So, if you have a YouTube video, a funny story to relate or something hilarious that happened to you, do send it my way. Relaxing through laughter is an ongoing goal for me.

Friday, November 17, 2006

In the Season of Shortbread Cookies and Pecan Pie
It's back. The season with megacalories in every bite. Portion control. That's the ticket. How does one do portion control when there are so many choices? Two or three shortbread cookies. Small bites. Then a piece of pecan pie. Just one piece. Fat and sugar season, I think.
My sister showed me how to quarter an acorn squash and bake it. Served it with butter. Yum. I wonder if I could eat it without that succulent serving of butter? What else could I top it with? The acorn squash itself can't have many calories.
Elizabeth Taylor was once quoted as saying that the elastic waist pants have ruined American figures. So true. Today, I put on a pair of pants with a belt when I went out. I'm straining against it. That's a clue to cut down and exercise more.
Tomorrow I will return to Curves after missing two sessions. I am glad I had my family visit. Next week, I will have another long visit. It does make it hard to get in exercise.
I read tonight that even walks that aren't power walks help prevent cardiovascular problems. I hope to take some strolls while away. While waiting in airports one can usually stroll some also.
My labrador also needs to lose weight so on Sunday I plan to take her on a walk around our neighborhood. Tomorrow, after Curves, I'll be stuck at home because we have house painters coming to paint the back of the house. Maybe I can also get in a session on the treadmill. I am feeling better today after having had a full night's sleep, so if I also get a full night's sleep tonight, I will feel more like walking.
And eating foods that are mostly fiber and water....

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Giving Great Gifts
My thoughts are turning to figuring out gifts for people I care about. This is not only for the upcoming Christmas season, but also for several birthdays of significant people.
A gift that is hand made but made with thought for the person to receive it is a terrific gift. If someone you know likes nuts, for example, you could fill a jar with nuts and tie a note to it that says "I'm nuts about you."
A photo of a person doing something that you will enjoy seeing them do is also a winning idea. In many cases, photos of people of any kind are appreciated.
For sure, I don't want gifts that caused people to stroll grimly through the stores spending money on something they see there just to get me a gift. I think many people are like that.
It does help if the people you are giving gifts to give you some ideas of things they would like to get.
Given how hard people work these days, I am inclined to give gifts that offer them some comfort or diversion.
I'm not hard to please. There are many things I like, so long as they aren't very expensive. Expensive gifts make me feel that the person should not have spent so much on me, especially since I don't really spend a lot on gifts for others.
What I do like, is the fun of having something to open that delights me, intrigues me or teaches me.
Thinking about the intended recipient and trying hard to figure out something to make or buy that they would like in this way, is part of the anticipation.
If you are on my list, please do give me some kind of a wish list. I need all the sleep I can get and don't need the worry of trying to please and feeling as though I am falling short.
My next task is to find some things for Alan to put together that those who he loves would like to get. Ideas are welcome.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Major Breakthrough
Change is bad. That is one of the things that Alan says frequently. We keep pointing out the changes that he has enjoyed and some he has tolerated and some that after some difficulty, he has had to accept.
Alan likes eleven television channels. He recites them to anyone who will listen. Today, he declared that he is adding HGTV after the holidays.
This morning, during math, a time when I try not to distract him if I am thinking clearly, I told him that I noticed in the newspaper that there was a new table of Time Warner's channel line-ups with our area included. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, I got a recorded telephone call that informed me that today all the channel line-up would be different. Previously, this would have sent Alan spinning. He would have rushed from the room in anguish. If I had been thinking clearly, I certainly would not have mentioned it during math.
So what happened today that was a breakthrough? First, he was able to finish the math assignment without stopping to see what had happened to the channels he likes to watch. Second, he did go upstairs for a minute when he was getting the next book to study. He did look at the t. v., but when I called him to come back to the table, he came. He was not fazed. There was no meltdown. There was not even any discussion of the situation.
Later, when he was through, he told his visiting uncle that Animal Planet had moved to channel two hundred and something. He was exact. I just can't recall which one it was. He was simply being helpful because he knew that Uncle John also likes Animal Planet.
Alan didn't get to watch t. v. until nearly suppertime with all that we were doing today. That didn't bother him at all. He didn't have to rush to see where his channels were because he had the channel line-up printed in the newspaper and he was content to refer to it as needed.
Does this mean he doesn't fuss about other things? No, not at all. There were a couple of relatively uncomfortable fusses today, along with a lot of irritating talk on his favorite subject, politics. It just means that in this one instance, he was able to display emerging flexibility and maturity.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Good Game
One of the many things parents want their kids to be able to do is to play games as good sports. That is certainly also my goal in teaching games to Alan. We ended well today, with him shaking hands with the winner of a card game. He really likes this game. I like it, too.
The reason that I like Apples to Apples is that it doesn't have the predictable outcome that many games have. The "judge" has to choose which card he or she thinks fits best. The judge's choice is final, whether or not all players would choose that same card or not.
We are playing the junior edition. Soon, I think, Alan can play the adult version, so we will probably get it in the next few months.
Alan likes to win. He prefers to win. Yet he is learning that in order to play, sometimes he doesn't win, and the fun of playing is enough.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

No Power Struggles/No Undue Compliance
"The goal in parenting is not to have obedient children who are easily controlled, but children who will eventually operate autonomously, " says Jan Faull, M. Ed. in her book Unplugging Power Struggles.
Achieving the balance between these two is hard even for parents of typically developing children. For the parent of someone with autism, this is even more dicey.
At times, one does need to have absolute and immediate obedience. When there is personal safety involved, you want the child to trust you that when you say to "Jump", he needs to jump and jump right then.
Most of the time, though, we need to relax our control and let the child figure out what he needs to do next. That does not mean that we let the child do whatever he wants. It means that we need to lead the child to discover what is required.
In some ways, our almost fifteen year old son is like any other teen. He doesn't want to do chores. He doesn't want to do things that suit the family when it is time to do them. He wants to run his own life, until, of course, he needs to be driven somewhere.
In other ways, he is definitely autistic. He doesn't want to shower at any other time than the time he self-appoints. Yesterday, he let me cut his hair. His dad and I wanted him to shower to get rid of the bits of cut hair that stuck to his head and his clothes. Nope, he didn't want to shower then. Shower time was at 8:16. (In case you don't know the significance of that time, it is fourteen minutes to 8:30, which is also why he wants to go to bed at 9:16. He plans to move it back to 8:15 and 9:15 on January 6, his fifteenth birthday. How autistic is that?) Eventually, by telling him several times that he could also shower at 8:16, he was persuaded to get into the shower to rinse off.
So, we continue the see-saw of figuring out what we need to tell him to do and what we can have him figure out he might do and probably should do.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


One of the things most people on the autism spectrum share is perseveration. The person will latch on to a topic, perhaps some distinct words of a topic, and talk about this at every possible opportunity. The idea that conversation is to share ideas and we only talk about topics others are interested in at the time does not only not occur to them, it doesn't get through to them or cause them to stop.

Now, I know you may say, "But my uncle or my Dad or my Grandma has repetitive topics." Yes, many people do. However, most of them stop when they notice that people aren't listening, are rattling paper, looking around the room, or finding an excuse to leave. If they don't, then maybe they are somewhere on the autism spectrum, too.

Today, Alan went to his acting class run by Actors for Autism. Afterward, the woman who runs the group kindly said first that Alan had done well today. Apparently, some of the morning went well. She did remark, however, that at the beginning it was a difficult slog with him. The word slog didn't come from her, but with my knowledge of Alan, I imagine that is how it was.

He had two presidents' comments that he kept repeating today. The first was the first President Bush's "I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." We have been hearing that one over and over since he heard the recording at the National Archives back in September. No amount of admonishment has got him to stop saying it to everyone he has as a captive listener. Today, to my embarrassment, he added former President Clinton's remark, "I didn't have sex with that woman!"

I know that I am not supposed to allow myself to be embarrassed by his gaffes. It is human nature, though, for a mother, to be upset when her child says or does something embarrassing in public. It is hard for me to cut myself some slack.

We put some brakes in place in terms of consequences in this particular class. If you have any ideas on how to get these perseverations deep sixed, please let me know.

It doesn't help much to realize that in two months there will be new perseverations to drive me wild.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Feel Good Movies and Music

Alan has a Friday night ritual with his dad. They watch a movie together each week. I usually don't watch with them as their "date" gives me time to do something I would rather do. Tonight it was to have a nap. I "came in" at the end.

When tonight's movie was over, Don remarked to Alan, "That was a real feel good movie!" It seems to me that they don't make those anymore. I realize that perhaps I am simply looking back to the past as being rosier than the present. I don't think that's the case, though. I know that things were tough in past decades. I lived through some of them, although for this particular movie, I wasn't yet born. I am aware that many things are better now. Yet people had a way of uplifting themselves and everyone else for a bit with a feel good movie.

The same thing can be said for song lyrics. I can't say that I know of any songs from the 2000s or even 1990s that are feel good songs. People don't go around whistling bits of songs that stick in people's minds and make people smile.

I guess I ought to be really glad that technology exists these days so that we all can watch feel good movies made decades ago, sing or whistle their songs, and forget our troubles for a few minutes.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Showing Some Flexibility
Many people do not know what it is like to share the life of someone with autism. Indeed, those on the autism spectrum vary widely in the degree of impairment and in which effects of the disability affect them more or less than other individuals with any of the diagnoses that are on the autism spectrum: pervasive development disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, autism and perhaps some others.
Today is a typical day with Alan. There are some things that are nearly always the same, some that are often so, and some that are different. Alan is a bright student. He likes to do his work. We begin with math when we are both fresh and have not usually had any conflicts of any kind, large or small. While I do have chores for Alan to do, in the morning before his school work, the routine is simply to eat, take care of the two dogs and get dressed. Once in a long while, I have him bring his laundry down to the laundry room before work. I try to avoid that and incorporate it after math is over. Can you tell math is not my strong suit? If you know me already, you know that is so. Alan does not like to do anything he sees as a chore, so there are discussions and tensions I prefer not to have before math. Today, we had three different questions in his mixed practice that were similar to others that have already been covered but which neither of us has mastered. It has been a problem in the past to get Alan to skip over these and to go on to the next question he can do to get other questions done and to leave the unsolvable ones until Dad can tutor us. Today, I am happy to report, he did label the dfficult questions, leave space for them in his exercise book, and move on. That is a huge step for him as in the past he has always wanted to do all the questions in order. I want him to realize that most people need some tutoring at some point and it is fine to move on, if possible, and get to the tutoring later. There are many jobs one has to leave at one point or another, move on, and come back to the work later, so this is also good work training.
Today, also, there were still election reports coming in. Alan has been quite happy with the outcome of this election. Immediately, he has begun to look forward to the next presidential election. He is comparing elections of the past where there has been a change of direction and also he has chosen six or eight possible Democratic challengers he thinks could win the presidency, and stated why he thinks one challenger can't win. This is a sign of his intelligence and ability to weigh past outcomes and make predictions about possible future outcomes. What is too bad about all this is the fact that his Dad and I, mostly I, have got quite testy with him about his repetitive comments and his insinuating them into every possible situation. It is difficult not to get bothered when someone will not give a subject a rest. In addition, he repeats the names of past candidates under his breath and aloud, when he is thinking of them, but they have nothing at all to do with what is happening or being talked about by others at the moment. As my friend commented, "My Dad does that, but he has Alzheimer's." I must give Alan more understanding and try not to flinch, or worse, discourage him with negative feedback. I know I need to simply ignore it as much as possible once I have heard it the first time and I truly intend to do that.
We go to the library on Friday afternoons. This Friday, along with Saturday, the library here is closed for Veteran's Day. Alan reminded me of the fact and I am glad that he was able to make our library visit part of our Thursday plan. He is definitely getting more flexible. On the other hand, here is an example of the rigidity he sometimes has, and how we were able to discuss it without any anger on either part. Alan wanted to get the DK Eyewitness Amphibians book. There were three copies on the shelf. He picked up the most battered one. I picked up the newest one. He wanted to get the first one. I told him since it was a science book, it is preferable to take the newest one. He picked up the third copy, which was identical to the first,except the cover was less battered. He said several times, " This one has the other Eyewitness Titles on the back." I looked inside "my" copy to find the copyright date and to see if there had been a revision. Nope. Actually, he could have had either of the first two copies, since my argument had no merit now. Here is the good part. Once he saw that the inside of the newer looking copy was the same with only the covers being slightly different, he took the newer copy in his hands, put it in the bag and left the two "older" copies on the shelf.
When we were outside, he began to tell me, "That was like my waffles." "And my waffle syrup." The Vans waffles are the same inside, the same as the Trader Joe's waffles." "I wouldn't take any other syrup than the blackberry sugarless Knott's syrup and the stores stopped carrying it."
Woo, Hoo, Alan! I'm so happy for you! I hope this ability to accept something slightly different or a lot different expands.
This very week, he accepted a new watch that is a man's watch, rather than a child's watch. Yes, it is a digital watch. Yes, it is a Timex watch, both features of the old watch. However, it is an Ironman watch, with some blue on it to match his eyes.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Blessing My Body

Like many people, especially female people, but some men do this too, I am constantly telling myself that I need to do something about the less than good appearance of one body part or another.

It has occurred to me, that I need to be grateful that most parts work just fine. Oh, my receding memory for names means that I now write names down as soon as I get home. Soon, I fear, I'll have to carry a 3 x 5 file card so that I can jot a name as soon as I hear it. Maybe the person will be pleased and maybe they will think I'm dotty. I don't care. I don't like the feeling of knowing I should know someone's name and not being able to recall it when I see him. One Dad at the meeting last night said his name and by the time I got home, it was no longer available to me. Maybe it was Joe? Also, I don't run much anymore, and when I do, I am soon winded. My knees hurt me, now and then, also. This has mostly been taken care of by wearing shoes with inserts to correct something called over-pronation, and, I hope, exercising regularly.

The writer of a yoga book I have out of the library suggested something radical to me. I am familiar with asking for blessing from a higher power. That concept is central to many religions. What I had not yet considered, is my own ability to bless my body parts. This additional notion resonates with me. She says to bless your body parts when you wake up and again in the evening, and to bless your good deeds of the day. She concludes, "Everything in your being is being moved by your spirit. Talk to it and befriend it." Thank you, Shakta Khalsa, for giving me this.

I think I will also pull out my gratitude journal. I had better get busy thinking of 5 things I am grateful for.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Better Breathing

I've been reading about breathing better. Yes, I know that we all know how to breathe, at least everyone reading does. We do it without thinking. The thing is, I want to do more abdominal breathing and also to breathe more deeply.

I have also been reading about the relaxation response. There are several exercises that one goes through to induce this response. Some are based on visualization. I really liked one that said to imagine going to the beach. Go slowly, step-by-step down some stairs, then down the beach, and finally, wade into the water. Feel the cool water around your legs, swirling. Enjoy that sensation a few minutes, feeling the warm sun on your face and on your back. When you are ready, imagine yourself going back up the sand, step-by-step, and then up the stairs, step-by-step. At the top, return to where you were.

Some are based on belly breathing. I actually own a CD by Dr. Andrew Weil on breathing. The thing is, I haven't yet felt I had the time to devote 30 or 40 quiet minutes to learning how to breathe better. It would have to be when both my husband and my son are asleep. Up until now, I have wanted to sleep when they sleep and haven't had one of those infrequently occurring nights of insomnia. It remains shrink-wrapped.

In one book I have, there is one set of breathing exercises you do lying on your back on the floor. You start out imagining that your body is a huge balloon that fills with air, starting from your toes and gradually filling all the way up to your neck. There is more, but you'd have to read the book. Next, the author wants you to practice breathing standing up. She gives you deep breathing pointers that are meant to be used for every stretch and exercise you do.

Later, when she is talking about exercises, she recommends that you do them in the nude. Now I know I won't be doing those breathing exercises in the nude. Why not? I'd be hooting and snorting with laughter so much, I couldn't breathe at all. I'd be turning blue and my eyes would be watering. Should be quite a workout, though!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election Eve

Most people here in the U. S. will be thrilled to have the election over with tomorrow night. I can't say that there will be nobody as thrilled as I will be, but it will be close. We are all tired of the ads and the recorded phone calls. We have all pretty much made up our minds how we are going to vote. Of course, here in California, there are a number of propositions and also seats (judicial?) for which I was not well prepared and have to say I left some of those out. I feel really responsible to pick the best candidate for any position. Ever since I regained the right to vote, after becoming a citizen, I have voted in every election, big or small. Some of the local races such as city council can have a big impact on one's life.

If you know Alan, you know that he is obsessed with the presidency, the cabinet, the Supreme Court and all that he can learn about past elections. He sets my teeth on edge with names from the past such as Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver. Lordy, I should be able to remember what offices these worthy people stood for, but I don't retain this information. I think my brain cells are running away, just the way my legs would like to, when I hear these names. Today he drew me in. "Mom, did you know that there is a school in now I am listening, with full attention...named after Adlai Stevenson?" I said evenly, "Alan, what kind of school is it?" "I think it's a high school." Again, I mentioned that he must not bring in the names of any former candidates into our conversation. Later, he just had to tell me that at his Actors for Autism acting class he is doing a claymation of the 2000 election. He also wants to make a clay model of the president known as "Old Rough and Ready." I am chagrined to admit that I am almost convinced that is Zachary Taylor but a part of me isn't sure. When I took U. S. History when we first came to California, I got the top mark in the class in the first term and lost by one point to a woman from Viet Nam in the second term. I am rapidly becoming more and more like those who have been here a long time or born here. We are a little deaf to our history. I truly am glad he has an outlet for all this information. I hope he is also learning to listen politely to other students' obsessive topics.

And, with my absentee ballot mailed a week ago, I am ready for this election to be over. There won't be candidates waving at us as we pass in the car and setting Alan off yet again. The lawn signs will disappear, the phone calls will not be recorded and I won't have to plead with Alan so many times to please stop talking about it. I can hope for a new obsession, or at least a novel twist on the old one. At least nobody can say we aren't covering history and civics.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Maintaining My Spirit

"Into each life a little rain must fall." For some of us, it is an unremitting downpour. Some people seem to me to have a very serene sail through life. Some of us aren't so lucky. It also seems to me that often the person most affected by events is a parent. I always notice other mothers with worried faces. Grandmas, Grandpas, Dads, too, but especially moms.

Often, we need to do something good for ourselves, even for a few seconds. That time can most often be when we are exhausted from all that we can't control but merely must deal with, and when we lie down to sleep. Lately, I have been chanting to myself in my head. It usually goes something like this: warm and dry, safe and calm. Over, and over and over again.

Some people can read stories and not be affected by the turmoil in others' lives. Some people don't see themselves drawn into such things. And, for some people, it is comforting to know that other travelers have their own difficulties.

I recognize that even with all that goes on that discourages me to my bones, I am still here, still coping and need to find ways to raise my spirits, a few seconds at a time.

If you have a cat or a dog, you are fortunate indeed. Most of them can soak up as much stroking as you want to give them and they don't complain or shift uncomfortably.

During one bad period years ago, I remember turning up the music in my car almost painfully loud and shout-singing along while I drove between one place and another I had to be that was neither comfortable nor comforting. Sometimes Vivaldi just makes me jumpier.

One of the things I do now is to spread a lavender salve near my nostrils before bed. I also put Jergens original scent lotion on my hands because that was the scent my mom always used. When my husband is away on one of his frequent business trips, I play love songs on the CD player. Every night, I also play ocean waves crashing on the shore. I need to dig out those slippers I was given that have a microwavable packet with herbs. This time of year, warming the feet in the evening is one of those things I do that comforts me.

Restoring my spirit so that I can sleep and get up to get through another day, hopefully with some humor and some moments when I feel connected and useful, is my aim.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Congratulations, Darren!
My nephew, Darren Smith, who lives in Camas, Washington, just completed the Florida Ironman marathon. That is a remarkable feat for anyone. For Darren, it must be especially sweet. Darren suffered an injury when he had an operation a few years ago. He has competed in the Challenged Athlete Foundation half marathons for a few years. This year, he was training to do the marathon with non-disabled people. They have legs that work normally. Darren, I am so very proud of you tonight. You made your dream come true. You are an Ironman!

Friday, November 03, 2006

What Can We All Do About It?

Many conveniences we hardly give thought to have a hidden cost. There is the environmental cost and there is even the cost we did not know about before. Consider the plastic grocery bag. Would you be asking for paper or plastic if you knew that bags costs you five cents for each one?

We do need something to carry home the vittles in, not to mention all those other things sold in food stores that aren't food but that need to be toted home. I want to know why grocery stores aren't buying their bags made from corn-based starches that degrade naturally. I found out that I can buy biodegradable trash bags for $5.00 to $6.00 a roll from But at our house, we use the plastic grocery bags to carry out our trash. I'd really appreciate it if I could get the grocery bags that are biodegradable, even if I had to pay ten cents for each bag instead of the five cents each bag costs me now. They cost you, too. Did you know that some grocery stores, such as our Ralphs, give you a credit if you bring back your grocery sacks and ask that the groceries be bagged in them? Recently, I have carried six bags with me in the car. I got thirty cents off my order when I remembered to carry them with me to the check-out. I don't always remember, but I am trying to make a habit of it. Thirty cents isn't much, but it is less plastic going into the landfill. I'll bet sometimes the bagger uses a dozen bags on my larger orders. That's sixty cents. I would bring a coupon to the store to save thirty cents, or sixty cents, I reason, so why not return and reuse the bags?

Whole Foods has sturdier plastic bags that would last through several shopping trips. I have to get in the habit of remembering those bags somehow, too, when I go on my less frequent trips to their store. I like the store but can't get some products I need there. Also some people call it Whole Paycheck instead of Whole Foods. They also sell a sturdier plastic bag one is supposed to be able to bring back and forth for months. I am not certain it fits in their bag-filling contraption, however. I don't want to be unpopular holding up the line.

I do know that the Trader Joe's canvas bags do not fit in the bagging contraption and don't stand up by themselves the way that paper bags do. I own a couple of them and sometimes do remember to take them when I shop there, which is also now and then. They are environmentally more responsible but do have the problem of slowing down the bagging.

I do ask for paper bags at all the stores once in awhile. We pack our newspapers into them for recycling. I try not to ask for paper bags all that often. Think about how long it takes to grow a tree. Do you know what a pulp mill smells like? Paper is too precious a resource to me to use throw-away paper bags for bringing home the groceries.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Laughing Gets Me Through
For some reason, when the funny gene was meted out, I didn't get the one that lets me think of funny things to say at the time they are needed. Some people can think of funny things to say right at the time. Others, like me, sometimes have something I once heard called "staircase wit." In other words, the very thing one could have said pops into the head just as one is going away down the stairs.

Today, someone wrote on one of my lists that she is getting paid at work to check the packages that come from Ikea with furniture in them. Today one came with the wrong screws. Someone who is always writing something funny wrote back right away, "They must have had a screw loose." It did stike me as funny at the time.

As with other things in which I lack talent, I have become a great appreciator or fan. If anyone has suggestions for a joke-a-day site for normal people, I'd love to have it. You see, when life gets difficult for me, I find that if I can find something to laugh about, I can carry on. Sometimes tears do come. Sometimes I don't sleep, but I can manage to put one foot in front of the other if I have had at least one laugh.

One person writes that having a laughter kit is a good idea, complete with a clown nose and other things that sometimes make people laugh. The thing is, I am not going to be the one at the mike. I am not even going to be the one next to you at dinner that thinks of something funny that is appropriate for the moment. I can't see how keeping a kit with a clown nose in it is going to help me find someone to tell me a funny story or joke.

It is all well and good to command a person to lighten up. That is hard to do if one doesn't know how to tell a joke or give a witty response. The best I can do is make sure that the corners of my mouth turn up into a smile when we see each other and make a special effort not to have frown lines between my eyebrows. I am drawn to people who have crinkly lines around their eyes from smiles and laughter. I know you are, too.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Yesterday, I read about research that has shown that elephants can recognize their own reflected image. The other species with this ability the article lists, along with people, are great apes and dolphins. I wonder about some other animals, too. I have known cats to look a long time at themselves. The question is, are they admiring themselves, as I suspect, and know that it is themselves, or do they just see another animal looking at them? We'd have to be able to run the tests on a cat.

The question of what effect a person has on another and his or her awareness of that effect is on my mind. Today, Alan and I were in a restaurant with another mom and her son. Alan got onto one of his topics related to the office of the American president. He asked Christina if she knew something about President Nixon. Christina answered him generously and talked with him a bit about Mr. Nixon's accomplishments. Whatever we feel about Mr. Nixon, there were some positive things about his presidency. Wade, the other boy, told us that he is not at all interested in politics. He is, however, interested in basketball. He asked Alan if he knew any teams or any players. No, he doesn't. Alan shows no interest in watching basketball, although he likes to play it in the gym at the Teen Center when he goes on Mondays when the gym isn't being used for volleyball. Alan has no idea about finding something to talk to Wade about. This is a boy he sees a couple of times a week. I am struggling with how to get Alan interested enough in televised basketball to be able to talk about the game with someone like Wade. The thing is, being able to talk about sports is one of those things that young males need to be able to do.

Without forcing it on him, I need to figure out how to interest Alan in those social topics that make it possible to be friendly and not drive people away from him. Unless he can join a club that discusses the American presidents, most of the time he will be alone once a person realizes that he is going to talk and talk and talk about them.

And too, the skill of looking interested, even if bored, so that he can go to the movies or play a game of pool with someone, is another one he will need to learn.

In the meantime, I am off to learn about motor neurons. Some researchers think that the lack of motor neurons characterizes autism. If so, what, if anything, can the autistic person do to compensate? Can they be developed in someone?