Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dawning of the computer age

Usually Trillian and I take a backseat on gift-giving for both Christmas and Scooter's birthday. We'll pick out something we think he'll like, but nothing very expensive.

But this year, we decided to go for something a little bit bigger: a computer. Maybe you've read about One Laptop Per Child--if not, go take a look. In any case, Trillian and I decided that it might be time to give Scooter his own bit of technology. He has shown interest in our laptops, but has generally restrained himself from messing with them. The laptop we got him is somewhat limited in its software, but it is incredibly durable. And cute.

So far, Scooter has let us do the navigation, as the touchpad mouse is a bit difficult for him to maneuver. We play the memory game a lot--one version has him matching uppercase letters with their lowercase versions, the other involves basic addition (and he's now able to do the simpler problems). He absolutely loves the built-in camera and will get me to take picture after picture. His favorite activity, however, is to have me do a bunch of typing in the word processing program so that he can hold down the Erase button and watch it all disappear.

I have to say that the decision to get Scooter his very own laptop was not automatic for us. We never went for the toddler computer accessories, and we don't want to turn this into another screen he spends a lot of time in front of. But I also think it's unavoidable that Scooter will need to have computer skills; heck, he's likely to begin keyboarding at school as soon as he starts reading. So this seemed like as good a time as any to begin his opportunity to experiment with technology.

I'm sure we're in for a lot more memory and photos and typing before we move on to other things. But hey, he typed his own name today!

Friday, December 28, 2007

What I did on my winter vacation

I'm only slowly coming out of vacation mode. Though I justify that somewhat by the fact that all of this 'relaxing' has been interspersed with errands and further checking off of the items necessary to establish myself as a resident of this new state. I've been here less than a week and knocked off a good number:
  • Driver's License
  • Car Registration
  • Library Card
  • Gym Membership
  • Waited for the satellite TV guy (even if he didn't come, it's still something I did)
  • Gotten a name and number for Scooter's OT
  • Left a message for Scooter's gymnastics
  • Canceled Canadian automobile and residential insurance (even if I'll need to follow up next week since the last person I spoke to there mentioned that they sometimes lose track of faxes)
  • Made our first mortgage payment
  • Checked on the progress of our floor-refinishing (they look gorgeous!)
There's plenty to write about, but you'll have to excuse me if my mind is unable to move from list-form for a bit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas: the aftermath

Where to begin?

Scooter received a ridiculous number of toys this year. This is nothing new--his grandparents have a tendency to think "just one more little thing" for the month or two before the holidays. But this year, there was the added knowledge that we wouldn't have to go through the usual organizational nightmare of figuring out what was staying and what would be going home and how we would get it there. As a result, he received several bulkier items, including a little red wagon and a play tool bench. In a week, once our stuff arrives, the grandparents know that they'll be able to put it in the back of their SUV (it won't all fit into our car) and drive it up to Springfield.

One of the highlights, however, happened on Christmas Eve. For the past two or three years, we've let Scooter open one present early. He'd been asking for a particular Lego set for months, the only specific item on his wishlist. We decided to go ahead and present it to him on the 24th. And a good thing too. When I told him that he got to open a gift that night, he immediately asked, "Where's my Lego set?" He opened it up, put the pieces together, and then refused to let it out of his sight for his bath. It even slept with him that night.

On Christmas morning, I spent a good amount of time helping Scooter get his gifts out and putting things together. Later in the day, we played games, read books, played trains, and did puzzles. More of the same today, plus lots of wagon-pulling outside. He's sleeping hard right now!

[Moving away from toyland, my favorite gifts demonstrate my ultimate nerdiness. Trillian found binder clips with designs (butterflies and flowers) on them and a new book stand. I have already started to make use of the binder clips and will use the book stand when I study tomorrow.]

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Scenes from a homecoming

I had a direct flight yesterday--one stop, but no need to switch planes. There's no such thing as a nonstop flight to where I was going, so that was a pretty good setup.

Except that there was fog in Chicago. And when there's fog in Chicago, all US air traffic gets horribly snarled. Luckily things cleared up enough that we only had a 2 1/2 hour delay in Buffalo. Once airborne, I slept through a good chunk of both flights.

On the second flight, I changed my watch to my new time zone.

* * *

I had explained to Scooter the previous night that I would be coming in fairly early, telling him something along the lines of, "You'll wake up and play for a bit. Then you'll come to the airport and I'll be there before lunch."

We've been trying to be as explicit as possible with such explanations so that his expectations will be appropriate.

So of course, he understood exactly what I was telling him that time, and my flight ended up delayed.

Apparently when he woke up that morning, he immediately started playing, whereas usually he likes to go sit at the breakfast table with Grandma and Grandpa. Then at about 9:30 am, he started asking if they were going to the airport. Had my flight been on time, they would have left very shortly after.

So he was squirrelly all morning and started to disbelieve people when they said I'd be arriving soon. This was especially the case when Trillian and her brother were telling him they could see my gate from the waiting area. There was no plane there yet, and he was pretty sure they were just making that up anyway.

* * *

I came through one of the revolving doors at the airport, but not the one they were looking at. I was not very far away when I finally got their attention, so Scooter didn't have too far to run. A few steps, and he flung himself at me. I noticed as soon as I picked him up that he's gained some weight.

He went very quiet, I suspect a bit overwhelmed, and just smiled and hugged me. He wouldn't let me put him down for very long and never broke contact when I did.

* * *

Halfway back to Capital City, Scooter fell asleep, his hand still on my arm.

Trillian turned around from the front seat and told me two stories about how excited he was to see me again.
  • The night before I came, he told her that they were "missing one more human." He listed the humans who were there and then said they needed to pick me up from the airport.
  • Before leaving for the airport, Scooter insisted that his shirt be changed since he had gotten some breakfast on it. Then he wanted Grandma to brush his hair and lift him up to check in the mirror.
* * *

That I will not have to travel a significant distance any time soon has not quite registered yet. I am enough in Christmas mode that I can't quite comprehend that this isn't our usual two-week stopover. That when we do leave in two weeks or so, it will be to our house in Springfield, not to the airport. So that will be one more shift.

It is nice, however, to be sitting on the couch, listening to Scooter chat to his Grandma as she makes gluten-free sugar cookie dough, Uncle W. practicing his music in the background.

Happy holidays to everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Homeward bound

After the movers left yesterday, as I settled into the reality of needing to write another ten pages, several songs kept running through my head:
  • Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn." OK, really just the one line. Over and over again. Mayhaps this reflects the small nibbles of sleep I've managed over the past four or so days? It was the loudest in my head last night as the clock rounded on 4 am. I think there may also be something to the fact that today is the first day in a good week or so that I can head to bed early and not worry that I'm neglecting anything. Coincidentally, I'm in a New York city that begins with B.
  • Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound." Tomorrow I will step off a plane and into my family's arms.* One of the thoughts that has kept me going in the past two weeks plus that we've been in different countries is the moment that Scooter will throw himself into my arms. (Sorry, Trillian, you'll have to wait for the second hug.)
  • Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street." I have three CDs on my laptop and I listened to them several times yesterday as I worked on my paper. It's not even my favorite song from Shaking the Tree (a sort of 'greatest hits' album that's now 17 (!) years old, but has amazing harmony and a tendency to sneak into my head. I think, perhaps, that this is also my subconscious' recognition that I could definitely use a little mercy from my professor.
  • with occasional instrumental interludes courtesy of the strings in Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." Solitude Standing is another of the CDs on my laptop, so that's another song I've heard multiple times recently. There's something about the strings part of the instrumentation that is particularly melancholy and captures the introspective nature of that song so well. And I have most definitely been dwelling in my head, perhaps a bit too much.
The words, non-school words, are starting to come back to me. There are sentences, non-academic sentences, wanting to be written. I am ready.

*Obviously not directly. First I'll have to push my way through the gate area and then search for Trillian and Scooter in the crowd before I will actually get my hug.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Laying low

It has certainly not been my intention to lay low. There are hundreds of things that have been running through my head. I've started a number of posts, but always stopped after a sentence or two.

I'm actually experiencing a very bizarre state of mind right now. Yes, I am stressed. The packers come tomorrow, the movers the next day. My last paper is due Friday, the same day I need to drive to Buffalo so that I can catch an early flight on Saturday.

But it's not entirely the stress that is messing with my mind. Not that I can even begin to explain how my brain's working right now.

I have no doubt that everything will get done. As far as the apartment goes, I know that at least I don't have to do the packing myself, removing a huge amount of the burden. But it doesn't mean that I won't be up late so that I can organize things and make sure all the things that are supposed to travel with me don't get packed up.

And the paper exists mostly in outline form. A pretty decent outline, actually. So the rest will get filled in. Won't be a brilliant paper, but I don't need brilliant, just passing.

So I'll probably be laying low for a few more days yet; there are just too many things to keep track of. Hopefully by the time I get my paper in on Friday, my mind will be working in a more linear fashion and the sentences will come a little more easily.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A whole different kind of cheating

There's a Simpsons episode that begins with the family celebrating an A Bart received on a test. When asked how he accomplished this, he recounts how he found himself reading over a chart of the universe repeatedly in an attempt to block out the sounds of Skinner and Krabappel's make-out session. He concludes: "So when I took the test, the answers were stuck in my brain. It was like a whole different kind of cheating!"

I have what I sometimes call a "sticky memory," which is to say that I remember a lot. Without much effort. Sure, it's not quite what it used to be, a result of continuing sleep deprivation and a mother's preoccupations, but information still has a tendency to get locked into my memory without too much effort.

As a student, this ability--to take everything in and store up lots of details I had not made a specific effort to remember--served me well. But when I started to realize that remembering facts did not come easily to everyone, to most people in fact, I began to feel a little guilty. Like I was cheating. Somehow, it was an unfair advantage (and I was very big on "fair") that learning required so little effort on my part.

Not that I was lazy. I truly loved learning for the sake of learning. Even if a teacher didn't offer me extra enrichment (and they often did, in the form of more difficult spelling lists and math challenges), I was always reading, a mix of fantasy and non-fiction. Still, I couldn't help but feel that it was cheating that I could breeze through anything placed in front of me.

Something that probably confirmed and increased this feeling was the realization that other people didn't really want to know that I could usually score 100% without any discomfort. Coupled with that was the "dirty little secret" that I enjoyed expending the effort that I did to learn. (Which, of course, is no small part of why I could learn so easily. It's not that I put forth no effort, but rather that it was not an effort I found disagreeable.) And so I began to keep quiet about how I was doing, sharing my grades with no one, feeling almost embarrassed by my successes.

This has been so ingrained in me that I find myself nearly flinching to write this next statement: I have almost never been academically challenged. Not in a "how will I ever cover so much material in so short a time?" or a "here's a new concept I need to practice with so I can understand it more fully" way, but in a truly brain-stretching, "not sure I'll ever figure this out" way. Not even now, in a doctoral program, in a field that is considered by some to be particularly difficult.

Why this now?

I took my last class-related exam today. My calculations told me that I would be fairly safe if I scored a low B- on it. And so, given everything else I'm dealing with right now, I decided that I would not knock myself out in studying. I was gambling on the likelihood that I'd be able to recall enough details from my presence in class to fill out essays to the proper length. I did do some review for the translation portion, but again decided to leave a large portion of it to chance and my ability to puzzle through even a difficult passage without any aids.

The upside is that I'm pretty sure I won that bet. In fact, I suspect that the lowest grade I'll receive is a strong B+, thus giving me a little more wiggle room in the quality of the paper I'll be turning in soon (last class-related paper). But I thought I'd feel a greater sense of accomplishment or closure, something other than the slight tug of guilt and... blah.

I know that this feeling is mostly irrational and that this isn't grade school anymore. In fact, one of my friends said to me before the exam, when I confessed to her that I had not studied appropriately, "But you'll remember what you need to." And she said it as a positive, not the dirty little secret that I've treated it as.

Maybe in a couple weeks, once the paper is finished and our stuff packed and everything else satisfactorily concluded, I'll be able to turn this around and find some small happiness that I didn't have to drive myself crazy with days on end of studying. I can already accept it intellectually, but maybe I can finally start to convince my conscience that a good memory is not a form of cheating.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Just when it starts to get sappy, the city goes and sh!ts on you.

In addition to the studying I've been doing, there are a number of move-related tasks I've been chasing down. Faced with a choice of locations where I could handle one of these, I decided to take a little walk this afternoon and go down by the Harbourfront. It has been one of my family's favorite walk routes, mostly in the summer, but I thought it would be nice to go down that way one last time.

As I walked away from the lake, I started thinking about all the things that I never got around to doing in Toronto with Scooter. Some of them were probably never going to happen--as much as Scooter was interested in the CN Tower, I think he was scared of going that high. But, I was starting to feel just the slightest bit sad that we hadn't done some other things.

And then I walked under a tree full of songbirds--do they not realize it's winter?--and felt it. A bird had shat on my head.

When I got home, I immediately stripped and went into the shower, washing my hair three times, once with my liquid mint soap since mint has natural antiseptic properties. I also decided that this was as good a sign as any that I'm done for the day. So now I'm in my pjs and eating an early dinner.

Toronto's got just over a week to give me a better last impression.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A break from the dead white males

Not that I need to be thinking about anything beyond the end of this semester, but my mind is particularly fractured right now. And so, even though I shouldn't be spending any time here anyways, I've been contemplating posts on a wide number of subjects:
  • I saw Golden Compass this past weekend and really enjoyed it. It's been about 7 years since I read the series, so there was lots I'd forgotten. Definitely makes me want to go back and reread the books, especially since there's been such a hoo-rah over their anti-religion positioning. Perhaps it's because I approached them as already a staunch atheist, but that's not something that struck me as at all surprising.
  • This time of year also has me thinking about being an atheist during the holidays. I've mostly come to terms with the celebrations that Trillian and I have chosen to share with Scooter, but I'm thinking about their significance (both general and specific to our family) throughout.
  • As I prepare to head back to the States, I've been thinking a lot about my experience in Canada. The past few days have involved a lot of meditation on the parts that drive me nuts (dealing with the bank and Canada Post bring those thoughts on). But I've also realized that I'm intractably American and am trying to decide what I think of that.
  • I've also found out that the teaching job most closely matching what I taught before will open up in the Springfield Public Schools in about 3 years. It would only be part time (though I could probably add secondary certification in an additional area) and would require me to go back for some education credits, but it is something I've been thinking about doing.
  • Trillian got me a Christmas gift. Which is something we haven't done in a while. She tells me it's something small, less than $20. And so, in between pages of various histories, I've been pondering what to get her in return. Not that I'm going to reveal it here, seeing as she's a regular reader, but I think I've settled on an intangible that should go over well.
Back to some long dead writers.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Procrastination, now in written form

I should be reading through a whole slew of primary texts for my exam on Friday. Or working on my paper due the week after.

Instead I've been doing a whole range of odd, piddling activities around the apartment. Cleaning Scooter's bath toys so that they don't get moved with scum on them. Organizing the pantry by what I will try to use up or give away before the packers come. Unpacking boxes from the last move to make sure we're not just moving crap we meant to get rid of before (like the broken, plastic plant pots that were in the hall closet).

Productive, to a degree, but not that pressing.

But it's a good indication of where my mind is, i.e. not on my schoolwork. Again.

I have this bad habit of self-sabotage whenever I find myself with too much to do. Usually I manage to pull through anyway, but there is a tiny voice in the back of my head that is reminding me it's not guaranteed.

Not that I haven't done anything school-related. I did confirm for myself today that none of the academic libraries near Springfield carry the books I'll need for the second part of my comps and that community borrowers do not have access to inter-library loan services. I also confirmed that those books are either unavailable or prohibitively expensive. So I will probably have to make a number of trips back to Toronto specifically timed to the length of my borrowing privileges at the library.

But now I'm headed back to the historians for a bit.

After I make a cup of coffee...

Friday, December 07, 2007

When turning inward isn't a good thing

Most evaluations of me as a child would make some mention of how "well-adjusted" I was.

I was an excellent student, attentive, well behaved, eager to please. When asked to do new tasks, I generally did them with the minimum of direction. I've always had a steep learning curve, adapting to new situations quickly.

Teachers loved me. Other students called me "teacher's pet" and "brown-noser," assuming I did all of this for the sole purpose of gaining teachers' favor.

My internal experience of this, however, was quite different than anyone else's perception.

I never understood the praise of my adaptability and quick adjustment, didn't know where that came from. Because I knew that the time leading up to a big change or new expectations generated flurries of anxiety, a churning stomach, an endless loop of potential outcomes in my head. Once the new situation arrived, I was always fine. I think, perhaps, that's when the adults in my life would make their observations, not when the waiting was threatening to capsize me.

And I couldn't help being a teacher's pet. I had a strong sense of rules and authority from a very young age. Even when rules seem pointless or silly, I have always tended to follow them, as long as they didn't conflict with what is safe or right (in a black-and-white sense). I would be mortified for hours whenever I got in trouble for talking out of turn--pretty much the worst offense I got called down for.

Have I ever mentioned that I used to bite my nails? Still do a little on occasion, though I pick on them more than I bite now. But I used to bite them down to the quick. Until I bled. And then bite them some more.

Or that sometimes tears would begin to stream down my face unbidden. Still do, though I have better control and know when it's going to happen. But I used to cry over seemingly minute things. And I never really knew just why and couldn't explain it to anyone who asked. Which would make me cry more.

Viewing myself as being on the autism spectrum, self-diagnosing specifically with Asperger's, explains a lot of this, I think. The rigidity, need for routine, fear of changes, acceptance of authority, self-reproach for the smallest mistakes--all fit within common descriptions of Aspies' personalities. But I quickly found ways to mask the outward displays that would draw too much attention. So I was the quiet, smart, good girl.

I think that most of the adults in my life were willing to take me at face value, simply because it was easier. I toed the line and actively avoided drawing attention. One less kid to worry about.

But I know, from my personal experience, that a lot of pain can lurk beneath the quiet exterior. That an "easy" kid may actually be acting quite unhealthily, ignoring her (or his) own needs in order to avoid being "trouble."

I remind myself of this frequently with Scooter. Trillian and I have been thankful that he has rarely acted out of frustration against other kids; he only rarely pushes or kicks those who tease him. But I am mindful of the fact that he often turns this frustration inward, hence his meltdowns. I have started to notice that there are times when a criticism or denial generate a look on his face that I recognize, a defeated look, a look of disappointment in himself. The tears well up, his face crumples, he wants nothing more to do with whatever initiated the feeling.

I don't know how much pain I can spare him. I don't know how to keep him from being so hard on himself. Maybe, just maybe, I can make sure he doesn't slip through because he's not enough trouble to warrant further attention. Maybe he can find the balance between being a sweet kid and still getting his needs met.

In the meantime, my stomach will be churning and the tears threatening.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Global Warming Thursday: Just how much convenience do we need?

I just saw a commercial that made me want to laugh at first--until I realized it was serious. It starts out with a woman complaining that when her dishes came out of the dishwasher, they were still wet; there must be something wrong with her dishwasher. But that's not a joke. No, there's a new product that is intended to dry your dishes faster.

Now my dishes do in fact usually come out a little wet. Maybe because I don't use a heated drying cycle. It's not like they come out absolutely dripping, however, so I'm not sure how this is supposed to be such a big problem. And I notice that I can't find anything about which chemicals exactly are in it or how it manages this magical drying.

But this sort of product points to something else that bothers me about the endless line of new items that are supposed to make our lives earlier. So many of them put more chemicals--who knows which ones?!--into the environment or create additional waste. Or both. All in the name of saving a step or a minute. The argument is always that we have busy lives and will somehow save time if we have a specific product for every task.

I have been guilty of this, and there are several products in my house that attest to this. We have been very fond of our Swiffer and its different pads; we have used Lysol wipes and dryer sheets. And I know that we won't give up every convenience. But I have a few ideas for how we can balance convenience with environmental-consciousness in our new home:
  • We have already switched to a "reusable dryer sheet." They eliminate static electricity and soften fabric without any chemicals. And they last for at least 500 loads. Even in a large household, that's a year or more of drying without chemicals. There's probably a dollar savings to boot. (Found them at Whole Foods, if you want to know.)
  • We will be keeping our Swiffer handle, but I may replace the pads with microfiber cloths. They perform similarly to the dry Swiffer pads, but can be washed and reused. And if I don't have any of those handy, I may just grab a newborn cloth diaper.
  • I have two solutions for wipes. One is not to use them. And we don't use them very often at this point. But there are occasionally cleaning projects that just scream for one to discard the items used for wiping afterwards. For these, we'll be making some homemade wipes. We can use recycled paper towels and control the ingredients in the cleaning mix.
Truthfully, those steps just aren't all that inconvenient. Only the homemade wipes will create any additional work--and not that much once I have the plastic container.

And I definitely think it's convenient to lighten my burden on the planet!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

No rest for the weary

Trillian and I both feel like we haven't had a break from all this motion. Sure we made it to Capital City on Sunday, but we've spent the last two days going back and forth between Capital City and Springfield to let the painter in (the master bedroom's brown turned out gorgeous, but the office color is a bit more purple than blue--we'll manage), set up phone and internet service, and wait for the cable guy--only to discover that the service center lied to us when they said we could get that hooked up before our TV arrived. On top of that, I've been running errands around Springfield both days.

And then I head back to Canada tomorrow so that I can finish up my semester and supervise the move.

Of course, all of the back and forth of the past couple days was immediately validated when we brought Scooter with us this morning and showed him his new house. He loves his room with its sky blue paint and fluffy white clouds. He played with the vehicles we brought up for quite a long time. He explored other parts of the house, remarking especially on the fireplace. And then I showed him the playset. He discovered that the slide is a very fast slide indeed, that the previous owners left some dump trucks for him, that there is a tricycle in the shed, that there is a sandbox that will be filled when the weather warms up a little, that we have a flat grassy area which will be excellent for soccer. He pronounced our "brand-new" (40+ years, actually) house "perfect."

Before today, I think that the house was mostly an abstract concept for him--pictures and descriptions, but nothing concrete. Now he has a frame of reference and can talk about the slides and swings on his playset, the paint and curtains in his room. I find myself arriving at a similar point. Even though the house itself has been real to me for some time, it is only now sinking in that it is our house, that we rightly have keys and can let ourselves in and out as we please. And this will serve as my frame of reference as I struggle through these last few weeks of class and separation from my family: knowing that we will all be there together, making that house our home, in less than a month.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Not dead, just feel that way

Will post details and observations in the next couple days. Every leg took longer than planned, except for today, which was insanely long anyways.

But I got to see some of my family, including my adorable niece. And Scooter did an amazing job--even without watching DVDs the whole way.

Have to go to bed. Trillian and I have an early appointment at our house--our house!--tomorrow morning. Getting stuff painted, cable hooked up, all the fun stuff.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Because usually I'm so calm

I had intended to map out some plans I have for my blog over the next few months, but find myself staring 11 pm in the face and knowing that tomorrow will be hellish.

And then there's the fact that I hop up every 2 minutes whenever I think of something else that needs to be done before we leave.

Now it's true that I will be coming back, that we don't have the movers breathing down our backs. Yet. But the current trip requires a balance between loading up things we want to move ourselves--some papers, pictures, special books--and bringing items that will make a 3-day trip with Scooter bearable.

We're mostly there. It's not like I'm running around with a mile-long list and no hope of going to bed before 2 am. But trip preparations always make me more anxious than usual.

So most of my energy has been going towards that (plus feeding the troll over at my previous post). I'll be in and out over the weekend, no guarantees of when I'll be posting or commenting. Send your positive vibes this way--keep off the bad weather, banish construction and traffic jams, encourage Scooter to nap frequently. We'll need it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scattered thoughts with a little Global Warming Wednesday thrown in

Another bulleted post since I'm definitely suffering from a scattered mind today. And my thoughts are definitely all over the map.
  • I discovered that one of Scooter's friends, the one who was moving to Scandinavia, already left. I had meant to get a picture of him and ask his parents for their new address. But at least I got Scooter's address to them, so maybe we'll be able to have the boys exchange pictures and "letters."
  • Another Scooter-related item: Trillian and I met with his OT today for an exit meeting. She gave us a list of things we can do at home to help Scooter with his weakest areas. But at least we now feel like there are a small number of well-defined goals that will make the biggest difference in his physical development.
  • Our mortgage company managed to find one more thing that had to be signed--really a corrected version of a form we signed yesterday. Luckily it didn't require notarization and we were able to scan the signed form and email it back to our closing agent. I'd love to say that we're done, that closing is complete, but both Trillian and I are waiting for some last-minute panic tomorrow.
  • I am so totally engrossed in the current Writer's Guild strike! I check out United Hollywood and Pamie every day for the latest news from the picket lines. Perhaps it is my father's blood and his communist/ Marxist/ peaceful activism tendencies. And then there's the whole artists' solidarity thing. Not that I'm a professional writer or that I would go the screenwriting route, but still...
And here's my favorite:
  • I have a troll! A paid troll even. I thank United Hollywood for writing about this. My troll has been posting comments on an old post of mine: Banning bisphenol A from last month, my post for Blog Action Day. I'm amused. Because here I am, a small-time blogger, and some corporate shill is spending his time and company money arguing with me. It may have something to do with the fact that my blog tends to come up fairly high in searches on bisphenol A. So they need to have that voice in my comments to try to discredit my concern and make anyone who reads that far drop their own doubts. (On the other hand, I think I'll be setting comments to close after a set time so that I don't have to keep dealing with drama on posts that aren't active. As neat as it is to see that this post is frequently read, it's not personally satisfying to run back to old posts when I know that the core of my audience won't see this unless I bring it to their attention.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


It is only in the past few days that the reality of our move has begun to settle in. And now it's practically upon us. To be fair, this first trip is to transfer Trillian, Scooter, and our car to the in-laws'. I have to come back to finish my seminar and oversee packing, so my departure isn't permanent--but the idea that my daily existence will be changing is just now starting to register.
  • No, I didn't find the title. I'm pretty sure I put it somewhere "safe" at some point, thinking I'd remember. And once I do find it, I'll realize just how logical it was. Or maybe it will turn up in some place I've already looked multiple times, just tucked behind another document. In the meantime, I'll be sending off for a new one. It means we won't be registering the car next week, but we have a little bit longer and could probably even justify claiming that the clock on that shouldn't start until we no longer have our Canadian address.
  • The house is almost ours. Closing has come damn near to killing us, thanks to a whole litany of little things. Trillian and I spent yesterday chasing down a couple items and today signing documents and then getting them notarized, copied, and overnighted back to Springfield. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, our i's are dotted and t's crossed. But holy hell, we're really going to be living in this house!
  • Scooter has 2 1/2 days left of daycare. Today, while Scooter and his class were playing outside, I dropped off the little packets I put together for his classmates (a postcard and magnet with our new address) and some gifts for the staff. I chatted with one of his teachers outside and she said, "You're going soon, eh? Really exciting for you, but we're sad." And it really hit me that I too am sad that Scooter will be leaving his friends and teachers. They've been so wonderful--always acknowledging just how neat a kid Scooter is, even if he does have extra challenges.
  • I was also knocked out to find a book--Great Trains--in his cubby. I'm pretty sure it's the one I saw him 'reading' (i.e., explaining pictures) to a classmate a couple weeks ago. They gave it to him. He's absolutely over the moon about it, and I'm touched beyond belief by the gesture.
  • On Sunday, the three of us went to a gathering that involved a good number of area bloggers and their kids. This group of women has remained a bright light for me in Toronto, even at my lowest and most homesick. I was so glad to see several of them, but occasionally had to quiet the nagging thought that I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to and was probably looking at another 'last.'
  • Trillian and I went to lunch at our favorite bistro yesterday once we'd tracked down the information for the final mortgage issues. We had a very pleasant meal as always, but we were very aware that this was our last trip there. Probably our last trip out together in Toronto given how hectic the next couple days will be as we get ready to pack up the car and head out.
I have no doubts that this move is the right decision for everyone in my family. I fully expect us to be much happier in Springfield. I hate bad-mouthing Toronto since I know so many great people in the area, but it's been a tough 2 1/2 years for my family and there are several things that will be better simply for not being here. Maybe that's why these recent rushes of emotion have taken me by surprise.

But as we were recently told during a recent consultation about helping Scooter with the transition, it's important to acknowledge the sad bits, not just play up the positives of the future. And so, yes, I'm a little sad.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Keyed up

I should go to bed. I have been so tired lately--there's no excuse for staying up.

But I'm a bit tightly wound right now.

I just spent the last 90 minutes searching for our vehicle title. I can find the lien release, but that won't be enough for registering our car in Springfield. And of course, our old state makes it close to impossible for us to get a replacement title when we don't have an address in that state. So I have sent off an email message and will follow up with a phone call tomorrow.

I might also be a little keyed up because our mortgage people have seemed hell-bent on making us miss closing. We are supposed to close on Friday and, given that we're in another country, we have to build in some time to return documents. Today they told us about another condition imposed by the underwriter. We got it cleared up quickly enough, but isn't this a little late to be suddenly discovering new conditions? And then when they finally got all of the information to our closing agent, it appears that some of it is wrong. So we have to clear that up tomorrow morning, get everything printed, go to a notary, and get them to FedEx.

I've got one more place I'm looking for the title and then I'll go stare at the ceiling for a while.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Winding up

There has been an increase in stress and anxiety in my household over the past couple weeks. That isn't exactly a surprise--we're moving very soon. And the way we're going about it will spread the transition out over a month or so. But the first part occurs next week when I ferry Scooter and Trillian down to her parents before I fly back up to finish up my class and oversee the move-proper.

Part of our intent in this process has been to settle Scooter in at his grandparents for most of December. It's a place where he feels comfortable and has plenty of people who adore him. It can also serve as a base for Trillian from which she can handle some of the things that still need to be done for our new house.

But I shouldn't be surprised that Scooter has caught a whiff of the anxiety and is feeling a bit keyed up over the changes. We have told him that we're moving and have talked about all the great things that we'll have there. But it won't stop him from missing the routines of his life here. And so he's been telling us about everything he likes here, how much he loves his friends, how great our current "house" (apartment, really) is, how much fun he has in Toronto.

It tugs at the heartstrings.

Of course, I need that to deal with the other side of his increased anxiety. He has started making a repetitive noise, a grunt from the back of his throat. It's not entirely voluntary, and so Trillian and I are dealing with it the way we've come to deal with most of his speech and kinetic idiosyncrasies: ignore it. If we don't ignore it, if we repeatedly point it out and try to stifle it, we know that he'll either do it more or come up with a new behavior to replace it.

The problem with all of this for me relates to my own sensory issues. I am very aurally sensitive. I have learned to tune out a number of noises and have done other things to desensitize myself (this could be a series of posts on its own), but a lot of this breaks down when I'm experiencing greater levels of stress and anxiety. As Trillian so often points out: like mother, like son.

I have this feeling that things will start to improve once we get to my in-laws'. I expect some of the anxiety to begin dissipating as soon as we're in the car this weekend; sure, long car trips are stressful in themselves, but it will be a relief to finally be doing something towards the goal we set ourselves so many months ago.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Because I'm easily amused on a Friday night

Officially, I was looking at the PLAYMOBIL website because I've read that they manufacture their toys in Europe. I've been keeping this in the back of my head, thinking that this might be a good way to steer Scooter in the next stage of play. I remember fondly the fire truck and knight sets I had.

But it would be unfair of me to turn this into a serious, "responsible buying" post when what got me thinking about PLAYMOBIL tonight specifically was a bit on Robot Chicken. Because, yes, I am really a 14-year-old boy.

The first product I went to was this one:
I have been sorely tempted to buy him for my library carrel. He seems like a good mascot for me as I read through the poetry of long-dead men.

I first saw my potential mascot and some other new sets at an Indigo (killing time one afternoon). Of course, I really like the Colosseum set-up, but I would spend too much time reenacting the chariot race from Ben Hur and throwing various figures to the lions.

Recognizing that my son may not want the particular mix of Roman and Medieval sets that I would (and, yes, I totally think they can go together; given that the Medieval sets include dragons, I don't think we're too worried about timeline here), I clicked over to some of the other sets, including Construction. Where I found this gem:
I sent the link to Trillian via chat (yes, we chat on our laptops while in the same room).

She asked, "Why would you want a toy port-a-potty?"

"It goes with the construction set," I said. "For a touch of realism."

And then inspiration hit.

"I have an idea for a new set. You could buy a bunch of the port-a-potties and put them in a row next to the Medieval stuff--as a Renaissance Festival. And then you could take some of the accessories and put random pieces on modern people--geeks at a Renaissance Festival!"

So I ask you, just exactly how warped will my son turn out?

Especially if I buy the Zoo set just so I can get this:
I mean, so he can play with it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ho ho holy sh...

Although retailers have notoriously been stocking the shelves with Christmas items earlier and earlier, US Thanksgiving remains the imaginary line beyond which all retail-hell breaks loose. Since I've been cultivating habits of mindful consumption and have a son who has a very short wish list,* the TV ads for after-Thanksgiving sales took me by surprise.

Every year, one of my cousins spends part of Thanksgiving afternoon pouring over the advertising supplements and planning out her route for the next morning. She gets a charge out of going out to the stores insanely early and completing all of her holiday shopping by 10 am.

I, however, am hugely averse to large crowds of people who are set on specific items and willing to push through anyone in their way. Trillian and I tend to do our shopping online and/or make gifts ourselves. Even if we don't get the monster deals of Black Friday shopping, I am willing to view the extra cost as a convenience surcharge (or maybe the cost of sanity).

In any case, one of the shocks yesterday was seeing the ads for stores that would be open at 4 a.m. 4 a.m. I already think that the "doorbusters" at 5 and 6 in the morning are a little crazy. But seeing this new bit of insanity, I begin to wonder how long it will be before stores open at midnight.

I'm not a Grinch, I'm not a Scrooge. I enjoy figuring out what exactly to get for everyone on my list and have a pretty good track record. But I'm not at all fond of the barrage of commercials during this season or the frenzy at malls and big-box stores.

Which is why I'll be glad once we make it past the holidays. And the after-Christmas sales. Argh, almost forgot about those.

*No, seriously. I've started asking him what he wants for Christmas and Hanukkah and he has a one-item list: a $30 Lego set which he has wanted since this past summer and which I know my mother-in-law has already tucked away in a closet. When I asked what else he wanted, he just said, "A tree and presents." He doesn't care what, just wants the Christmas morning experience.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Admission is not defeat

Last night, I finally allowed myself to admit that I was not going to be able to handle the month of December as I had it mapped out. The short version:
  • Very beginning of December, drive down to Capital City with Trillian and Scooter.
  • Fly back a few days later.
  • Mid-December, seminar exam.
  • 3 and 4 days later, exam over 1st half of comps (it's two 1/2 days of writing).
  • Next day, packers box up all of our stuff.
  • Day after that, movers load up all of our stuff.
  • The following day, my seminar paper is due.
  • Finally, I fly out to my family.
For a long time, I convinced myself that I could manage this, that I could balance everything and not flip out worrying about moving just before I had to go into my exams.

But the past couple of days have brought a few new things--niggling little things, a presentation, a proposal for the second half of my comps, a committee meeting--that have stolen study time. Just a few hours here and there, but enough to derail my study plans to the point that completing all of my comps reading becomes a greater source of tension.

So I sent an email to the supervisor of this part of my comps this morning. Admitted that I'd packed my December too full, that I would be dealing with too much at the time of my exam to write with a clear head, that it would be a huge weight off if I could push it back to January or February, that I was hoping to write the exam remotely (this had been mentioned for the second half of my comps). That I would stand by my original date if this was too difficult a request for any reason, that I could still be ready, but that I would really appreciate the chance to do this when I wouldn't be feeling so overwhelmed.

I hate admitting when I've taken on too much--not so much to Trillian or my friends, but definitely to people in positions of power over me. I worry about showing anything that might be considered weakness to those whose judgment of me can affect outcomes. And so I very carefully pick the moments when I do this, when I ask for some concession or accommodation, when I admit that I can't do it all.

Now I just have to make the best use of this reprieve that I possibly can.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Because we all need another time suck

Have you found Test your vocabulary skills and donate rice through the United Nations. The rice is paid for by the sponsors whose ads appear at the bottom of each screen. You can categorize the time you spend on this site as both education and philanthropy.

I mean, seriously, it would be downright selfish of you not to go play, right?

Monday, November 05, 2007

What I'm watching

Although I began the semester with the intention of not watching much television, that plan hasn't come to fruition. In part, it's due to the fact that when I'm particularly productive, something my library carrel has facilitated, I don't have the concentration to power through another few hours of heavy reading. So instead I allow myself to sit on the couch, leisurely work on less rigorous tasks (email to my supervisor, compiling information I have handwritten in various places, looking for call numbers for books I need), and watch TV.

Herewith are the shows playing on our television on different nights of the week. Thanks to time shifting and the occasions when Canadian channels play shows on different nights from US stations, I have no idea if we're watching things at their "regular" time.

  • Simpsons. No need to explain or justify.
  • Other Sunday night cartoons. We usually leave these on, although I don't miss them if we don't.
  • How I Met Your Mother. A funny, funny show; we laugh out loud every time. Barney is reprehensible, but marvelously played by Neil Patrick Harris. We also get a kick out of the Canada jokes.
  • The Big Bang Theory. The only new sitcom we're watching. Hilarious. A lot of quick-fire dialog that uses math, physics, and other nerd humor at its base. Courtesy of this exchange, Trillian and I now say to each other, "Superman could catch her, but he would slice her into three equal parts," whenever one of us goes off on a tangent considering the ramifications of various theoretical circumstances (which happens a lot more than I should even admit). We also debate whether Scooter is more likely to be a Sheldon or a Leonard.
  • Pushing Daisies. This was created by the same guy who created Wonderfalls, which I have mentioned before as one of those shows I loved only to see it yanked off the air before it got a fair chance. Again, the main character (played by the actor who was the brother on Wonderfalls) has an otherworldly ability that he must keep (mostly) secret at the same time that it compels him to do things he wouldn't otherwise. Not your average network offering, and I am so glad that it seems to be picking up a following.
  • Biggest Loser. The only reality show Trillian and I watch. And we usually miss the first half hour or hour, depending on when it starts vis a vis Pushing Daisies. I like the positive aspects of the changes the contestants go through. That said, I most dislike the game-playing side, and that will be the thing that makes it easy to stop watching at some point.
  • Private Practice. Total brain candy. Good cast, generally amusing, even when the "big message" of the episode is too saccharine. We mostly started watching because it's there.
  • Bionic Woman. Ronald Moore, the man who is behind the updated Battlestar Galactica, brings us this much darker Bionic Woman. I like dark. I would also be lying if I said I started watching for any reason than Katee Sackhoff. She plays Sarah Corvus, the original bionic woman, who is supposed to be dead after going a bit haywire. She is a delicious nemesis, and I most love those episodes in which she has a fight scene. But the rest of the show is growing on me too--even though I keep hoping for Isaiah Washington's character to meet a messy death.
  • Ugly Betty. We started watching this part of the way through the first season and are hooked.
  • Grey's Anatomy. Another one that has hooked us. We have kept watching, even when we're screaming at the television over ridiculous storylines (George and Izzy? You've got to be kidding me!). And yet we keep watching.
  • Thursday has been the hardest night for us since we also like the sitcoms that play opposite these shows. So we've decided to catch My Name is Earl, The Office, 30 Rock, and Scrubs in reruns since it's usually easier to catch up on sitcoms. And with the writer's strike, that could be sooner than later.
Friday and Saturday are the empty nights for us, so that's when we make use of the library system's inter-library system and extensive DVD collection. Once we're back in the States, those will be Netflix nights.

So, are you watching the same shows or now wondering what the hell kind of person I am?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Scattered Sunday

I have not been nearly productive enough this weekend; I seem to have stalled out a bit again due to the growing list of things to do and shrinking amount of time. But I'm not going to dwell on all of that tonight. Instead, random moments from the weekend.
  • We took Scooter for a haircut. He got the same stylist as two cuts ago, a very good thing. She is amazingly quick and accurate, giving excellent shape to the cut in a very short amount of time. To Scooter's credit, he didn't cry at all, didn't even protest. Still refused the clippers to clean up the edges, but he just shook his head no instead of crying or yelling.
  • Trillian got a haircut too. Which means I'm the 1/3 of the family that didn't.
  • Scooter and I started a four-week series of workshops at the Ontario Science Centre. The highlight is getting to play for half an hour in KidSpark before it opens to the general public--just him and 4 other kids! Of course, he still managed to have a fit over sharing some space with one of them.
  • Trillian and I whispered to each other in amazement as Scooter worked on letter-matching cards we got him some time ago. He has known his letters for a long time, but has found most activities too frustrating or boring or difficult (particularly in terms of fine motor skills). But today, he pulled them off his shelf, asked what he was supposed to do, and then completed the whole set once I'd shown him the first one (plus I had to help with 'x' since they gave 'fox' as the 'x' word--seriously 'xylophone' or 'x-ray' wouldn't work? ).
  • Vegan cheese does not melt well. Even the brand that proclaims on its label "It melts!" This is the missing piece for making pizza that Scooter and I can eat, and we're not quite there yet.
  • Many conversations with Trillian now include phrases like "once we're settled into our new house" and "we'll need to find one of those in Springfield or Capital City." We're a little excited.
But then my mind turns to things like getting the tires on the car looked at, along with going through more items to toss, recycle, pack, etc. And so I will just stop for the moment.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Mentally moving in

Even from Toronto, we've already experienced some of the small town hospitality that Springfield has to offer.

The current owners of the house we're buying offered to give an informal walk-through so they could explain some of the systems and answer questions. Since we won't be there until after closing (ah, internet and fax machine, how you have simplified the process!), my in-laws went for us. Probably didn't hurt that my mother-in-law has been dying to see the inside.

My in-laws went last night and reported back to us. With so much wonderful information that makes me love our new house, our new neighborhood, our new school system all the more. Among the tidbits:
  • We have fruit trees! The cherry trees and apple tree all produce fruit; the apricot trees are not reliable because it frequently gets just a bit too cold for them. We managed to visit when the trees weren't bearing fruit, so I thought we didn't have any; other houses had peach trees heavy with fruit and/or made specific mention of what trees they did have.
  • The wife usually plants a vegetable garden and has two beds designated for this. She hasn't used one of them for a while, because the dogs kept walking through it, but she says the soil in it is excellent.
  • Both of their kids went to the public preschool and have used the special education services at the school 5 blocks away. They couldn't say enough good about the school system. And the head of that department lives in the next cul-de-sac over.
  • They've already told the neighbors that we're coming, and everybody is looking forward to meeting us. Including the lesbian couple with kids who live right behind us.
  • There are 8 kids on our cul-de-sac alone.
  • One of the older residents on our cul-de-sac makes toy shooters (that shoot mini-marshmallows) for all the kids when it warms up and then all the neighborhood kids chase each other around, making special use of the weeping elm in our front yard as a fort.
  • They are leaving us an enormous binder with all of the instruction manuals and additional information for everything they can think of. They will also be passing along the name of painters so we can get a couple rooms done (we're leaving most of their painting as is, but want color in the master bedroom and don't want a pink office).
I know that handing over the check for the rest of the down payment plus closing costs will be one of those moments that knocks the wind out of me; I try not to think about it too closely, especially since we will still have some savings left over and the whole point of that account was to earn interest until we bought another house. But I don't think I will suffer from actual buyer's remorse. Because every new piece of information just convinces me further that we have made the right decision.

And I can't wait until it's our furniture in there, our art on the walls, our son on the slide. Our house.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Candy for breakfast

Or, what we did for Halloween.

All in all, it was a pretty good Halloween.

Scooter began the day by discovering the Halloween basket that had been sent to him by his grandparents. Not exactly a healthy breakfast, but Halloween's only once a year.

(What he didn't know: Grandma ordered the basket before finding out about our change in his diet. It arrived on Tuesday and so I spent some time picking out the verboten candy--most of it--and replacing it with some items I had already purchased.)

We then headed to school, his astronaut costume carefully tucked into a bag. Scooter checked multiple times to make sure it really was in there! When we got there, the other kids were wearing their costumes, so he eagerly slipped his on. One of the younger kids, visiting with his teacher, wore the same costume. Luckily, Scooter didn't take that as encroachment on his territory and happily pointed out to others that there were now two astronauts.

I picked Scooter, not out of costume, up shortly after lunch for OT. As we traveled to his appointment, I asked if he wanted to wear his costume. He said no each time, but quickly changed his mind when we arrived and another kid had her costume on.

When he finished his appointment, in the spirit of an extra fun day, I offered to take him to the CN Tower. He agreed with that plan until we got home--then he just wanted to shuck the costume and play with his trains. Since the whole point was to have fun, we settled in and covered the living room floor with tracks.

A little after 6 pm, I asked Scooter if he wanted to go over to the coffee shop to trick-or-treat. One last time into the costume. Then he started asking us, first Trillian and then me, what we were going to wear. He seemed so disappointed that Trillian said she didn't have a costume that when my eyes fell on my Eeyore costume (where it had been placed in preparation for storage), I decided to put it on. As we walked over to the coffee shop, he would start each statement to me with, "Eeyore..." And I would respond, "Yes, astronaut?"

We dropped off our canned goods, ordered a couple of drinks and a treat for Scooter (plus a treat bag from the baristas), and enjoyed a little family time in costume.

Home for bedtime with a story about pumpkins, and a very tired astronaut-no-more told me Halloween was fun. I imagine that next year will involve actual trick-or-treating, but last night's low key approach worked for me!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Here's something to scream about

Earlier this week, I came across some scary images on Dale McGowan's* blog, The Meming of Life.

Take a minute. Go check it out.

(For those of you who are ignoring my orders, here's a summary of what you would see: a photo and close-up details taken by Chris Jordan that, in real life, measures 5 by 10 feet. The first shot is a little hard to make out, lots of dots of color. The next two zero in until you can see that these are all plastic bottles. 2 million plastic bottles. The number of plastic bottles used in the States every 5 minutes. OK, so go look at the pictures now.)

Let that sink in. 2 million plastic bottles. 5 minutes.

And the vast majority of those bottles are not recycled. The exact percent varies from place to place, depending greatly on the availability of recycling containers and how aggressively governments promote recycling. The American Chemistry Council (whom I would probably want to gag with their new PET bottles if I looked a little more closely at where all they're putting their new products) estimates that the amount of plastic recycled increases each year but the recycling rate stays steady around 25%; we're consuming more plastic, but recycling habits remain the same.

I doubt any of this is either completely new or surprising to most of you. Even though I didn't have precise numbers, I can't say these details are unexpected. Nonetheless, it does strengthen my resolve to work on the habits I identified for myself recently.

  • I always bring a travel mug to campus with me. Now that I have a carrel, I'm also bringing a thermos filled with my morning coffee. Once I've run through that, I allow myself to purchase some more. Or just fill it with tap water. Or use the department kettle to heat up water for herbal tea.
  • Speaking of herbal tea, I have taken to stashing tea bags in my backpack. And a small bag of ground coffee. (My department has an espresso maker. They even have ground espresso there, but I feel a little uncomfortable with my lowly graduate student self using it.)
  • If I forget my mug, I don't buy any drinks. I can make use of some community mugs in the department--not ideal, but I haven't had to do it more than once this semester!
  • No sodas, no bottled water. If I move off of hot drinks, I stick with tap water.
  • My newest effort is to make sure I bring a snack and drink for Scooter on those days when he'll need one. Otherwise, I'm still purchasing a bottle of orange juice for him on those occasions, but I'm down to about once a week on that.
  • Finally, on those few occasions when I do end up with a plastic bottle, I hang onto it tightly until I can find a recycling receptacle, even if that means bringing it home to our own bin.
All of this has required little shifts in thinking and then a short period of adjustment. But, just as with bringing my own bags for all of my shopping, it has not been that hard to make the changes. And again, there have been associated benefits that were not even part of my original intent. I'm saving a lot of money now that I'm not making such frequent runs to Starbucks or Second Cup. I'm consuming fewer calories since I don't impulsively grab a soda at the convenience store. My drinks have less contact with plastic--just the top, since most of my mugs are metal. I have better control over what my son drinks--only organic apple juice, 100% orange juice (with low or no pulp)--and what he drinks it from--a sippy cup made of a more acceptable plastic or his metal Sigg bottle. Not too shabby for minor changes.

So that removes a couple plastic bottles from the picture. If another million or so people join in, then we'll be getting somewhere.

*McGowan edited and wrote parts of Parenting Beyond Belief, a book I've been skimming bits and pieces of. The focus of both the book and the blog is secular parenting. He talks a lot about his thoughts on and experiences in raising free-thinking children. A really good read, especially for my atheist-parent readers who might be wondering "what now?"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trick or treat?

I've had to think more about Halloween candy this year since we've started Scooter on a gluten-free, casein-free diet. Of course, all of his favorites have milk chocolate, if not also some wheat ingredients. So I made sure to buy some 70% dark chocolate (no milk ingredients) and a selection of candies like candy corn and jelly pumpkins (not Scooter's favorites, but they might tide him over).

But then there's the issue of trick-or-treating. Which is difficult for a number of reasons:
  1. Our complex doesn't organize anything for trick-or-treating. Last year we had 0 kids come by.
  2. We would need to figure out somewhere to go--most likely drive to--if we wanted to give Scooter the full on experience.
  3. If we did hit a large number of houses, we're likely to end up with 90% of his haul being candy neither he not I can eat.
  4. And it's a school night.
Instead, I think we may see if he's satisfied with a trip to our favorite coffee shop. They're decorating for Halloween and it would give him a chance to show off his costume.

The other aspect of the coffee-shop trip I like is that they're collecting non-perishables for Daily Bread.

When I first read about Daily Bread's Fall Food Drive a couple weeks ago, I went through our pantry. Trillian and I had already decided we'd be making the switch in Scooter's (and my) diet, so it made sense to get rid of any gluten-containing items that Trillian knew she wouldn't use before our move. I filled an over-sized tote with mixes and soups and pasta and a number of other things and happily dropped them off on my trip to the grocery store.

But we still have more than we're likely to use in our pantry, and I will gladly pack them up and bring them to the coffee shop so that out little astronaut can drop them off in the collection box.

Reverse trick-or-treating. Less junk food, fewer calories, a cleaner pantry, and a good feeling.

Want more of the nitty-gritty about what we're doing with gfcf? Go check out my Kitchen.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Weather update

The weather here is settling into "definitely fall," with cooler temperatures and occasional showers. But there does seem to be more consistency, and I'm even fond of the cooling off.

Similarly, a number of things have evened out since my last weather forecast. So here are some miscellaneous updates:
  • Having the windows open to cool down the apartment has been wreaking havoc on all of our sinuses. Luckily, we are close to where we want to be and should be able to maintain a pleasant temperature without opening the windows for more than a few hours a day. (Funny how a too-hot apartment can completely unsettle one.)
  • It's finally sinking in that it really, truly looks like we will have the house we wanted. Both sides are very eager for the transaction to be completed, and we're left with very few potential dealbreakers.
  • I went to go check out my carrel... and the key didn't fit. It's not that the lock or door sticks, as a friend told me about his, but that the key could in no way fit into the keyhole. So I had to go through the whole song and dance of waiting until the carrel office was open and being as sweet as I could to the woman who wields great power over a small part of the universe. I got a new key that actually does work.
  • And discovered that my space is not too bad. I'm on a floor with windows in the carrels and have a split desk, part of which is actually at a good height for me (as tall as I am, tables usually hold my books much lower than is comfortable).
  • Plus, I reread the regulations more closely and determined that it says I need to give up my carrel if I leave the university. So even though I won't be on campus, I won't technically have to give my key back in two months and can still use it when I travel up to Toronto.
Now if only I could get my momentum back for my comps readings.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I am flexible, not a push over

The best parenting advice I ever received was to trust my instincts. Despite all of the "helpful" suggestions other people would be quick to offer, I would know my child better than anyone who didn't live with him, so I would be in the best position to figure out what he needed. Not that this has kept other people from offering their thoughts, but it has helped me stay true to what I think Scooter needs.

I suspect that a lot of the parenting I do looks more like "indulgence" and "spoiling" than "flexibility," as I like to call it.

It is true that Scooter gets much of what he requests. And, although I started typing a list of the general categories of his requests and why we fulfill them, I've decided that I don't need to do that sort of justification. The long and short of it is that we tend to fulfill those requests, within reason, that are food-related or strike us as "it won't hurt anything and it will make things easier for everyone."

The first affirmation that I received for this parenting style was when I read Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Child. One of the things she advocated for children with food-related issues was to offer primarily those foods that the child would eat and not to push new foods too aggressively. We had pretty much been doing that anyway, but it gave me permission to feel fine about doing it.

More recently, the developmental pediatrician told me that the best way to determine if an parenting approach works for Scooter it to consider his reaction. Not in a give-him-everything, hop-to-it, he-shouldn't-ever-cry way, but in a trust-your-gut, you-can-read-him-best way. He even gave as an example an exchange from the beginning of the appointment.

Scooter had been rolling a toy truck on top of one of the plastic chairs before the doctor arrived. Once the doctor had come in and we'd made introductions, Scooter started up again. I turned to him and said something like, "Why don't you play with the truck on the floor now?" To which Scooter responded, "Uh... no." So I switched from a question to a request: "Scooter, please play with that on the floor." Again: "Uh... no." I pondered for a bit, determined that the noise really was too distracting for me and took a new tack. Maintaining as even a voice as possible,
I said, "Scooter, it is very noisy when you roll the truck on the chair and makes it hard to hear the doctor. It would be helpful if you played with it on the floor." He paused and looked at me, then pleasantly said, "OK," and moved down to the floor.

Not exactly an amazing moment, but a good illustration of what works. Scooter is stubborn and generally doesn't want to change what he's doing just because someone tells him he should. (I can clearly picture Trillian saying, "Gee, I wonder where he gets that?") But, he is interested in the way things work and cause-and-effect; additionally, he does like to help. So presenting a simple explanation and appealing to his ability to improve a situation goes much further than a command.

Today was one of those days that walked the flexible/indulgent line. After a slightly late start and a short debate with Trillian about letting him stay home (cough and a low-grade, but not exclusionary, fever), which Scooter decided by saying he wanted to go show his stickers to his friends, Scooter and I made it to daycare. But things were a little off from the start. Free play was ending early since there was going to be a fire drill. So not only did he miss out on the time that would have served as a gentle transition, but he got worried once he knew the alarm would be going off. (My bad for telling him.) I stayed for the drill, carried him down the stairs--the stridency of alarms overwhelms him enough that he can barely move--while I helped marshal some of the other kids. He cried the entire time and got more worked up when we headed back in since I got stuck holding a door while he was swept up by the other kids going up the stairs.

And so we sat on the side of the room for a while as he cried and told me that he wanted to go home. And we sat and sat and sat. And then we went home.

He mostly played by himself and watched DVDs. No, I didn't get quite as much work done as I might have otherwise. But truly, my one regret is that I didn't bring him home sooner. The shift of events had been such that his day had veered off course. And it just so happens that Trillian and I both had days that were light on scheduled items.

So I bent, but not over.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cloudy with a chance of rain

Today saw a sudden shift in the weather. After several sunny days, with the last two bringing record-breaking high temperatures, today has been gray and cloudy with rain on and off. Usually I enjoy autumn rains, but this day has found me in a bit of a mixed mood, reflecting the day's weather.

Rain: Our apartment has been unbearably hot since they've turned off the air conditioning and we have almost no ventilation.
Silver Lining: We are finally back down to a decent temperature thanks to the large drop today.
Cloud: It has taken all day and we're still on the high side of livable since our tiny windows have been catching no breezes.

Cloud: My plans for the day have gone all akimbo, because my back started acting up again and I can't sit in the chairs on campus for very long.
Silver Lining: By coming home, I could make sure Trillian had the information needed to wire the rest of our earnest money into our escrow account. At this point, everything's in line for our closing next month!
Rain: A spitting mist. My reading is going so slowly, more so when I don't stay on schedule.

Cloud: My back is bad enough that my chiropractor has advised against exercise that requires exertion.
Silver Lining: The athletic center refunded the money I paid for the classes I haven't been able to attend, without any hassle or red tape.
Rain: Cold drizzle. But that means I'm not attending the classes. I'm very sad that my plans to take ballet have fallen through for the semester.

Cloud: I've spent several hours over the past week trying to find out what residency requirements there are for my program to make sure that I won't screw up my degree progress if I don't maintain an address in the area.
Silver Lining: I walked into the office today and was told that it's entirely up to my department--and they've said they're fine with the arrangements I want.
Rain: Slight chance. I'm tentative about the information I received. The person I spoke to went and consulted anyone else and then prefaced her answer to me with "As far as I can figure out..." I'm just hoping she figured correctly.

Silver Lining: I finally have a carrel in the library, my own private space to work when I'm on campus. Or, as Trillian has dubbed it, a place to stow the crap that's currently taking over the couch so maybe more than one person at a time can sit there.
Cloud: I will actively be on campus for only another 2 months. For some reason, it took a good 3-4 weeks longer for me to get my assignment than another person in my department. And it's not on the floor I requested, so I won't just be able to pop out of my carrel and grab a book for quick reference.
Rain: Holding my breath. Technically, I'm not supposed to keep the carrel if I'm not regularly on campus, so I need to read back through the contract and see if there are any loopholes for my situation or if I'm likely to be able to escape notice.

Here's hoping the rain clears up soon--though if the sun shines too much and heats our apartment back up, I'll still be able to find plenty to complain about.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I had plans, many months ago, to spruce up my site over the summer. Yeah, maybe you can see this too... it didn't happen.

But I've started to work on one idea I had way back when: a second, but connected, blog. I can't remember when exactly I thought of this, but it appeals to me to have a second site where I can post about some of the things that have sometimes felt out of place here, recipes and other food issues in particular.

And so was born The Mouse's Kitchen.

Truthfully, I reserved the url weeks ago and kept meaning to put something, anything, up. As it so happens, Aliki's post yesterday was the little prod I needed. She linked to an article from CBC News about a brain-gut reaction, specifically the effect of propionic acid, a fatty acid commonly found in wheat and dairy products, on behavior. Coincidentally, we just started transitioning Scooter over to a gluten-free, casein-free (i.e., primarily free of wheat and dairy ) diet.

We based this decision mostly on anecdotal evidence and discussions with other parents. This is something we've debated for months. Every time it came up, we'd agree that it was probably worth trying, but would put it off since it's so hard to implement. The bulk of Scooter's diet has long been carbohydrates and dairy, and he's such a picky eater that we didn't want to subtract foods. He favorite snacks were Cheerios and goldfish crackers. For something more substantial, he has been partial to cream cheese on crackers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and chicken nuggets (but only very specific breadings).

But we have started to make the transition. No changes at school--since we'll be leaving soon. At home, however, we've nearly made the switch. We're still experimenting with replacements, and we have to work on remembering to bring approved snacks with us when we go places he's used to getting a treat.

Anyway, I'll be writing about the parenting and personal aspects of this change, plus keeping track of how different products and recipes are received over in the Kitchen. So drop by the new place.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Wednesday was my lowest day. Not that today was easy. Since last night, I've had some dizziness and my skin is threatening to break out in hives, but I'm holding it together.

And what I found as I walked to my chiropractor appointment (still dealing with the back) was that I am thankful. Not for the miscarriages, obviously, but thankful nevertheless.

I am thankful:
  • for my wife. Trillian came home from her yoga class with a bouquet of bright flowers and a decadent chocolate dessert. I know that this is a tough time for her too, so this simple act meant even more.
  • for my son. Scooter has been trying our patience of late, pushing boundaries even harder than before, but I know that this is all part of him making up for lost time and is his own way of dealing with sudden leaps in ability and understanding. And I know better than to take for granted the amazing conversations we're starting to have and the little signs that his sensory processing overdrive is calming down a little.
  • for laughter. On the way back from OT this week, Scooter and I laughed uproariously. He was answering "I don't know" to every question, so I pretended not to know his name and made ridiculous suggestions. We both found the name "Murgatroyd" particularly hysterical, as well as Hieronymous, Ignatius, and others. My favorite part, however, was getting him to run into the apartment and greet Trillian with an enthusiastic, "Hi, Murgatroyd."
  • for health. Sure this back injury has slowed me down and forced me to juggle my time so that I can get to the chiropractor's office a couple times a week. But I walk there without any problem.
  • for financial stability. We can afford for me to be in school, not bringing in a significant income. We can afford the trips to the chiropractor. We can afford Scooter's OT. We can afford our upcoming move. And knowing that is one less stressor in my life.
  • for much, much more. My in-laws and knowing how excited they are about our move. My friends, both in real-life and on the internet. DVDs of TV series I love (we've been watching Wonderfalls tonight). Indulging my love of coffee and chocolate. Easy-to-assemble children's organizational furniture from IKEA. And so many other, almost inconsequential items. Because the little things can tip the balance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bracing for October 19th

8 months ago, I was 1 month pregnant. Trillian and I were celebrating an anniversary and getting ready to travel to see your parents, whom we immediately informed about the pregnancy.

7 months ago, I lost that pregnancy. The baby I was pretty sure was a girl. The little girl who would have been due October 19th.

That date has been looming for me and today it has been a monolith.

I knew it would be hard, that I wouldn't just forget. For a short while, I thought I would have something to soften the day a bit, but I lost that pregnancy too.

I know that had I carried this pregnancy to term, things would be very different for us right now. I would have already finished the first part of my comps (out of necessity--plus I might have done more work if I hadn't been so distracted), but would be putting my seminar on hold until the spring. We wouldn't be moving to Springfield in two months. And we'd be chomping at the bit to get out of here.

But I'm still dealing with the uncertainty--and it eats at me to be no closer to knowing when and if this will ever happen for me, for us.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Banning bisphenol A

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day. And the topic is the environment. Add to that BlogHer Acts Canada's focus on getting Canada to pass a ban on bisphenol A. Of course I'm joining in.

I've written about bisphenol A before. It's a chemical found in many plastic products, particularly polycarbonates, but also the lining of tin cans. If the plastic is clear and rigid, chances are that there's some bisphenol A in there. But, of course, such labeling is not required, so one can't be sure.
Although it isn't supposed to, it does leach into food; chemically speaking, it is an estrogen receptor and has hormone-disrupting properties at incredibly low levels.

As I planned out in that previous post, we have switched to using glass containers for more foods and stopped using polycarbonate bottles. We have not discontinued all use of plastics, but now serve most of Scooter's food on/in #5 plastics (one of the least toxic).

But I would like to take this moment for a little rant. I mentioned this in a comment over at BlogHers Act Canada, but let me say a little more.

Before Scooter was born, Trillian and I did the whole new-parent thing and carefully researched everything. Even though I intended to breastfeed for at least a year, I knew that Scooter would need to take some feedings from bottles once I went back to work at 5+ months. And so we settled on Avent bottles, even bought the adapter so that I could pump from my Medela pump directly into a bottle. Even when Scooter refused the bottle at first, we stuck with Avent, trying out different nipples (eventually ending up with the sippy cup mouthpiece). So I panicked when I realized that we've been exposing our son to bisphenol A all along.

That's bad enough. I try not to beat myself up about it since I didn't know at the time and can't change what has already happened. But I thought maybe Avent would be concerned about this too. Go to their site, however, and this is what you'll find.

Now the Avent site refers to various regulatory agencies that have approved bisphenol A for food-grade products and that claim there is no danger from it. They hide behind these studies--I say 'hide,' because many of these studies have been funded by the chemical industry or conducted by panels with likely conflicts of interest.

I am both angered and dumb-founded by this whole thing. This chemical is an estrogen receptor. That means it upset the hormone balance in men and women alike. And in such a way that it can lead to things like obesity and early puberty, not to mention low sperm count in men and a greater disposition towards breast cancer for women.

And yet governments assure us that they have determined "safe" levels, often with the help of those very considerate folks who produce bisphenol A. Take one last look at the chart over in the Wikipedia article. Now I'm not saying that every study on that chart is as sound as the next, but look at the general trend, look at the wide range of effects. And look at where the US and Canada put their limits.

In addition to my post here, I will be sending a letter to Avent. I will explain why I will never use their products again and how angry I am that they continue to ignore the science.

Are you angry too? Write a post, write a letter, sign the petition. Make your voice heard. When we all yell about the same thing, it's a lot harder to ignore.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Non-diagnosis and perspective

Nearly every year that I taught at that private school in the States, the Advanced Placement literature course was part of my load; there were two different curricula for it, so I alternated my syllabus between years. This started out as quite the treat for me. It's a difficult course, requiring students to truly stretch their abilities. To that point, most of their work on the language I taught was composed of grammar and translation. Suddenly, they were expected also to read poetry in this language, be able to analyze it on various levels, and write coherent essays conveying all of this. The payoff, however, was that they had the opportunity to read truly great literature.

Usually with a course of this level, the students have enough invested in the subject that they are interested and want to do well. They also tend to be focused on their college applications and making sure that their transcripts include the right number of difficult courses. Although I have issues with this, it theoretically led to motivated classes. I say, "Theoretically." My first AP class was a dream class, but after that I had a mix of students who just wanted the AP credit and/or were really too weak to handle the demands of the course, with only a few of the best sort thrown in.

In the last two years that I taught this course, I actually had behavior problems to deal with. Both times, it was a core of boys who were, quite simply, mean, plus another boy who was frequently the target of their teasing. From everything I'd heard, this dynamic had been going on for years.

The target of the teasing, I'll call him E., was an odd boy. To see that he had trouble reading social cues would be a gross understatement. His attempts to joke often fell flat with the other students. Some of the teasing would go over his head, but sometimes it hit him hard and he'd lash out. He was generally regarded as intelligent, but his strengths were in memorizing and concrete thinking.

The first year that I taught E., the syllabus involved reading significant parts of a long, narrative poem. In addition to translating and analyzing the assigned portions, students also had to read the entire work in English and be able to keep track of what was happening in the plot. E. would drive me nuts by openly demonstrating that he had not read the story closely--usually with questions that revealed an ignorance of the story beyond our text's minimal summaries, but also by refusing to keep track of who the different characters were.

He also made frequent reference to what a translation of the poem said when we went through the original text in class. Despite my lecture to the students along the lines of "Technically, you're not even supposed to be using a published translation when you're working on your own translation for class. Moreover, published translations are never going to be literal translations, so they won't help you get the grammar right. But I also know that you will use a translation, because everyone does--and I did. So here's my bottom line: don't tell me you're using it and when you do use it, use it responsibly" (followed by an explanation of what that means). His fellow classmates got the hint; however, E. continued to say things in class like, "but that's not what my translation says."

I remember one day in class when he had made another remark, can't recall the topic. But I sighed. Audibly. He didn't make any sign of noticing, but the rest of the class laughed. And I got very upset with myself. Because I have always considered it my responsibility, as the adult in the room, to keep such feelings to myself, to give no indication of my personal attitude towards students with whom I have personality conflicts. So I worked very hard not to let that happen again, although he continued to drive me crazy.

At the beginning of the next year, my second year with that same core of trouble, one of the administrators left copies of an article on Asperger's in the faculty lounge. I read it with general interest until a couple pages in, when I saw a picture of one of the kids being discussed. He reminded me immediately of E. Now I'm not saying that there are easily discernible physical markers of Asperger's, but the picture triggered something for me.

Suddenly it was clear: E. had Asperger's!

No, he hadn't been diagnosed. And I wasn't going to force my idea on others. (There was a whole other dynamic with his parents and the administration, so I knew I'd get myself in trouble approaching either party.) But just thinking about E. in these terms helped me reshape my relationship with him.

I made sure that any directions I gave to E. were as concrete as possible and didn't assume that he should be able to fill in the details, even when his classmates could. When he asked questions that were either repetitive or (to me) obvious, I either answered them patiently or told him where he could find the information for himself. I assigned groups for cooperative work and created seating plans that minimized his proximity to the bullies and other distractions. I made sure to praise him when he did good work--not more effusively than I would have with other students, but I made sure to praise him. And I cut off the bullies in no uncertain terms, not that I had condoned their actions in the previous year, but I decided this was a case where I needed to come down on them harder than I usually would--and they did back off a bit at least.

I can't say that I ever came to like this student. And even if his perception of his experience in my classroom didn't change at all (and I'm not sure it did, he really was that clueless about social interaction), my experience of his presence did. It also made me realize that, as a teacher, I did not need a special report from the study skills coordinator indicating a diagnosis to be able to adjust my teaching to a student.

I have been thinking about E. a lot since starting the process of getting Scooter evaluated, this time from the parent perspective. Even more since it is looking increasingly likely that Scooter may not receive a diagnosis that puts him on the autism spectrum, possibly no diagnosis at all that would relate to special services at school. This is not entirely a bad thing, as I don't expect he'll need extra support past the first few years of school. But I do worry that, without an IEP, the first few years might be even rougher and he might end up disliking school--something that could have long-term consequences.

And so I cross my fingers and hope that my expectations of our school-district-to-be are correct: that teachers will be experienced in dealing with students of all sorts, that they will be willing to make minor non-disruptive accommodations if it will make a difference for a student, and that the other students will be accustomed to "odd" students and therefore more accepting. High hopes and high stakes.