Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Apparently I'm allergic to stress

What do bees and the writer of this blog have in common?


The background: Just over two years ago, I was taking a shower and decided to use a product my wife had purchased; its primary ingredients were grape vines and other parts of this plant. When I got out of the shower, I looked in the mirror and decided that my face looked redder than usual. A little later, it felt hot and swollen. I went to the doctor a couple days later, a bit concerned since the red spots had spread all over my entire body. Two courses of steroids later, it was cleared up, but my doctor and I decided that maybe I should avoid grape products.

Now it just so happens that this outbreak occurred within a week or two of the following events: final grades and comments were due, my last week as a teacher at my old school, closing on the house we were selling, and moving to Canada. I ignored the possible correlation with my stress level.

To be fair to the grape-allergy theory, I had some "gastrointestinal distress" the couple of times I ingested something with grape in it, but no further outbreaks of hives. At least, not when I could track down anything with grape in it. There were two more incidents during my first year of grad school, but I couldn't discover anything grape-related. Again, head in the sand about stress.

In the past few months, I have slowly added small amounts of grape products back into my diet. Balsamic vinegar in salad dressings. Wine-based sauces. The occasional raisin in a baked good. So far so good.

A few days ago, my chest started to itch. I wondered if something had bitten me, refused to notice that it was spreading a bit. Yesterday, I started to admit that this looked like hives, that it was covering more than the initial spot, that my thighs--when viewed from the right angle in the shower--might have a few dots themselves.

This morning, denial was no longer an option. After a painful shower--I've scratched a little--I dug out some cortico-steroid cream we happened to have here (originally for Scooter, but my doctor had OK'ed me using it before). That went on my chest and down onto my breasts. I could see the red undertone starting on my arms, the worst of it in the crooks of my elbow. This afternoon, I bought some caladryl spray and am now pink.

Trillian confirmed for me this evening that the hives have started to recede. I could try to make the case that my interventions have had their intended effect, but Trillian would argue otherwise. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we'll be writing an offer tomorrow. Or that even if this house falls through, we saw two others today that we'd be willing to make offers on. We think we can get this house down into our range; we know we can get our third choice.

Weight lifted, hives receding.

It is seriously time to take up yoga again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I wish I had been wrong

Back in May, I wrote about visiting with old friends whose relationships I found distressing. Just so you don't have to click around right now, here's a relevant quote, from that post. It's a bit long, but I discovered when I started to write this new post that I'd already said many of the same things, in almost identical language:
We stayed with one friend I met during my first graduate program; between some of A.'s LiveJournal posts and a few hints around her house, we've suspected something is up in her relationship. A.'s wife was away on business, so we didn't have a chance to witness anything in particular--and we weren't going to push for information since A. tends to lay out everything she's willing to and nothing more. Not that I want to see things fall apart for her, but Trillian and I both are not very fond of her wife. A. left the area where she grew up and moved a long distance so her wife could take a job in the city we lived near at the time... and then her wife left that job shortly after they had bought a house that stretched them financially. The wife has since taken another job and (fingers crossed) appears prepared to stay there for a while. And A. has finally, after a couple years, found a job that comes close to matching what she did before she moved. The wife is anti-intellectual--I don't just mean stupid, but really against making an effort to learn new things. And now we suspect that she may be cheating on A. While our friend might be better off in the long run without her wife, I hate to think about the complications involved in the whole mess.
Today came the post we'd been expecting for a while: they're breaking up. Or really, have already broken up, though it's not clear to us whether or not this was the case when we visited (and then the cheating may not have been cheating). As I suspected, their financial situation with the house will keep both of them in it for a while. When we were visiting, it looked like one had taken over the downstairs, the other the upstairs, and they shared the kitchen.

I hate finding out that we were right, that Trillian and I read the subtle clues around the house correctly, that the hidden-between-the-lines frustration, even as her career and other aspects of her life seemed to be picking up, was the struggle to deal with a relationship that was falling apart. And it was painful to hear the defeat in her words, the failure she feels at letting go of this relationship when she had truly meant her commitment several years ago. I don't know anything about fault, if there is any, but feel pretty certain that my friend held onto the slightest glimmer of reconciliation longer than her ex--and I imagine that adds to her pain.

There is a part of me that wishes to reach through the distance and offer platitudes and comfort. But she has, for the moment, cut herself off from communication as much as possible. And I understand why and want to respect her desires in this. I completely understand the decision to lob this bomb out there and then duck away from the fallout. She will get no I-told-you-so's (especially since I didn't--Trillian and I kept our opinion to ourselves) or this-is-for-the-best's. Maybe chocolate.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Scooter shorts

Taking a day off from house-hunting, remembering that there is still one house we can see ourselves living in, focusing on other things.

I believe I've said before that time at Grandma and Grandpa's seems to be a magic tonic for Scooter. It brings out so many things that have been percolating under the surface. We've only been here a few days, but little things are already evident.


Scooter's favorite toys here are his Lego Thomas trains. My mother-in-law asked me the other day how much longer he's likely to be interested in them, as Lego has come out with a few more trains now (of course, the old ones just aren't enough). I looked over at where Scooter's trains are set up and said, "I can see him playing with them for a long time to come."

But the play has changed. It used to be that I would set up the tracks, just so. And then put together the stations and other accessories, just so. Scooter would then run the trains around, reenacting Thomas stories.

His play has become less constricted. He still wanted the trains set up immediately upon our arrival, but didn't seem to mind that we didn't have all of the pieces right at hand. As I put together some of the characters, he started laying track and didn't seem to mind that it was a mish-mash instead of neat loops. And he's changed up the layout numerous times, occasionally asking me to create a loop here and there, but insisting on doing most of the building.

He has also become imaginative with the trains themselves. He had started this the last couple times we were here, mixing up the pieces of the various characters, but he has expanded his experimentation. Mutant trains currently sit on the track. Cranky's winch is attached to Percy's base and is towing part of James' tender behind him. Harold's head faces one way on Thomas' base, with Gordon facing the other direction. On the one hand, it's a little creepy and reminds me of the mutant toys that Sid made in Toy Story; yet I cannot deny that we are delighted with this new twist on creativity.


Scooter likes to help around the house. One of his 'responsibilities' is to help water the plants. He immediately figured out how to use the spigots on the rain barrels and is careful to turn them off completely when he has filled his bucket. He has also taken to sweeping and will come ask for the broom when he spills a few snack crackers.

While "I do it" has been part of his speech for some time, it has become a much more frequent utterance. It's obvious that he's feeling much more confident in his abilities and now realizes just how much he can do. When Grandma was a little slow to get him the water he requested, he jumped down, grabbed her glass, went into the bathroom, filled the glass, and walked back out. Sure, he spilled some of it down his front, but he did it all by himself.


Just because it's cute: Grandma made a very yummy dessert yesterday that involved a white cake. She offered to let Scooter lick the bowl. He looked at it and announced, "I want one where I put my finger in and it's chocolate."


And another little bit of progress: We've been trying to get Scooter an appointment at a local pediatric clinic that was recommended to us because they treat a lot of children with autism. We had not had our call returned when using our Canadian phone number and so Trillian called again this morning--and got voice mail. But when we went to Trillian's afternoon appointment with her local doctor (in a new location), we noticed that the pediatric clinic was practically next door. So while Trillian went to her appointment, I went to get one for Scooter. At first, the receptionist told me they wouldn't have anything before October. I asked if she could recommend another pediatric clinic, in Capital City or Springfield, and mentioned that we had come to them because our son my be mildly autistic. She asked me to wait as she headed into the back. After a couple minutes, she came back and asked if we could come in early tomorrow--one of the founding pediatricians of the clinic would be able to fit us in then. So maybe, just maybe, we have our new pediatrician--at the very least, we should be able to get the official referral we need to make sure the developmental pediatrician is covered by insurance next month. Another little step, but it's encouraging.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I do not cope well with uncertainty. My mind fragments itself, traveling down the various paths of 'what if' until I'm stretched wide and thin. Nearly to breaking.

Our house search is predicated on a series of these potentials and we are proceeding on a number of gambles. Hold out for that extra bedroom for that child we may or may not have, who may or may not be able to share with Scooter. Insist on a single-level layout, or no more than two levels, so that it will be accessible for Grandma, when it's possible, even likely, that most of the visits will be to their house. Look only at Springfield, not at Capital City, because of the services available for autistic children, services Scooter may or may not qualify for, may or may not need. (On the other hand, we have (almost) firmly ruled out Capital City, even knowing that their charter schools are performing very well, because what if they didn't have space for Scooter, what if they couldn't provide the support he needed, how would we find an affordable home in a safe elementary school district since the charter schools are only for middle and high school.) Stay at our current range, hoping to talk people down a bit on price, rather than find out just how much more the bank would pre-approve for our mortgage; make decisions now instead of when we know whether or not I'll get the job I'm applying for, a job that would add another very large amount to our buying power.

We don't have to make decisions yet. We don't have to make decisions during this trip. We can wait, see how much lower prices sink on their own, see what new houses come on the market, make a few more trips to visit Grandma and Grandpa, who will faithfully watch Scooter as we head up to Springfield yet again. There is nothing wrong with this. We can even wait until we're ready to move, put our stuff into storage, stay with Grandma and Grandpa, figure it out then.

But I don't deal well with uncertainty. And I fear my holes are beginning to show.

Friday, August 24, 2007


What's the best way to deal with a long day of travel with an over-excited 4-year-old and the jet lag of jumping a couple time zones? House-hunting the next day, of course.

We didn't head out until the afternoon and still managed to squeeze in 12 houses. Well, 11--if you don't count the one that none of us took more than two steps into before the smell of cigarette smoke was too overpowering to continue. It had been a promising house otherwise, but it was obvious that the owners smoke heavily indoors and that it would take more than a carpet shampooer and fresh coat of paint to get rid of that.

Out of the houses we saw, one remains a real possibility--one that Trillian had seen last time too and reported to me that she could actually imagine our family living in it. It's main defect is that the kitchen is rather small, especially in terms of counter space. And the layout is such that it would be hard to supplement with work space close enough. Of course there are a number of other little things to look into too--possible flood problems given its location on a hill, where exactly the one small bank of solar panels hooks into the system, a backyard in need of work. But it remains the best use of space for our family's needs.

(Odd, random anecdote: When we went to look at the house we ended up buying in the States, I scraped my knee on the wall, squeezing back to look at the date on the water heater. At the time, I silently told myself that was a bad sign--and yet we ended up with the house. Today, as I went up the fold-down ladder to the attic storage space, I scraped my knee (the other one, I think) on the "hand-rail" along the top half of the ladder. Hmmm.)

Our plan at this point is to look at a few houses that are just a bit above our price range--not because we're planning on upping our limit, but because the market is slow enough that we might be able to get a low bid accepted. It's also a chance for us to see if there is a noticeable difference between the current price point we're considering and the next one up.

As tends to happen when looking at a number of houses, we're getting a better sense of what precisely we want and the sorts of things we're willing to compromise on. We seem to be drawn to single-level homes. Not that I would immediately rule out anything with stairs, but we have yet to see a layout with multiple-levels that also delivers everything we want as well as the single-level we like. We've also noticed that stairs eat up a lot of square footage, and so many homes that claimed to be bigger than our favorite didn't feel like it.

House-hunting has also confirmed something for us: even with the frustrations we've faced, we still view our family as waiting for a second child. Little things came our of our mouths today. "This might work if we had two boys and they shared a room, but we can't be sure of that." "The huge difference in size between the second and third bedroom would be a point of contention between the children." "Scooter might be able to handle these stairs, but there's no convenient way to gate them for a baby."

My head is swirling with the implications of all of these thoughts and looming decisions. It's after midnight, by my body's clock if not the one here, and so I know better than to think I can figure any of it out right now. Hopefully by pouring some of it out here, I'll avoid exceedingly bizarre dreams in which the different houses splice themselves together or sprout new rooms until I no longer know where I am.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Bloggers in action

A quick and dirty post since I'm frantically packing for our trip down to Capital City (and a weekend of house-hunting in Springfield). But there's something I wanted to bring to your attention.


Go on over and have a look. Don't forget the comments too since people have been adding interesting links. There's also a schedule for the personal action items that will be encouraged throughout the year.

You can bet I'll be participating in both, even after I've headed back to the States. I've mentioned my love for the little actions before, so that part shouldn't come as any surprise, but I am equally motivated by the big topic that's been chosen. It's the one I voted for, even though I had suggested something else on the list.

The issue of harmful chemicals in our food and other products is a big concern for me for many reasons. Trillian and I go out of our way to buy organic when we can. There are some products, particularly some fruits and vegetables, that we will not buy conventional. There are others that we compromise on, oranges and other things with rinds that are supposed to be safer, but that still leaves me a little on edge. And I worry about chemicals that are considered 'food-grade,' even without any or dubious scientific support for their safety. I won't even get started on additives in plastic containers.

I also won't say much about the problem of unsafe toys, the fact that new recalls--usually for lead-based paint--seem to pop up all the time. I am not sure what to make of the fact that there is usually some statement about "unacceptable levels of lead." Unacceptable levels? How much is acceptable? How much would they normally allow on the toys that I give to my son?

It's that last thought that makes this issue even more personal. Our multiple Thomas trains have been sent back to the company and we're awaiting the return of "safe" ones--and some bonus, we're promised. But that doesn't keep my son from noticing that he's missing trains.

Now Scooter has a ridiculous number of trains (blame indulgent parents and the fact that every relative gets them for him). The three engines (and multiple freight cars, though those don't count as much) are nothing in the grand scheme of his railroad. But he has an incredibly sharp memory and is also a kid with a need for sameness. Last week we were talking about trains and numbers and colors, and when I mistakenly brought up #5--really, I know that Henry is #3, what was I thinking?--he immediately said, "James is lost." Today, as we drove to OT, he brought up Skarloey and Salty and said both were missing. Salty is not part of the recall, so I told him we'd look for him when we got home. For Skarloey, I decided to take a page from Bub and Pie and told him that Skarloey had to go away for a little bit but would come back later. His response: "And maybe James will come home soon too."

Edited to add: Trillian just reminded me that Salty got lost at Grandma and Grandpa's on the last visit and has not been found. So there's one we'll be repurchasing.

I want harmful chemicals out of our food and toys because these are things that shouldn't hurt us. To me that is a simple and logical desire. But I also want to get rid of harmful chemicals so that I don't have to sneak through my son's room and steal away his toys or worry anytime he gets a new gift that there is some unseen danger lurking in the paint.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A key to the gate

The post I was composing in my head as I ran errands around campus and downtown today was entitled "Stuck in the land of preliminary evaluations." I was pondering the fact that we have been feeling stuck in the system right now.

During Scooter's playgroup last week, when I spent so much time chatting with the other mothers,* I discovered that the other boy is in the process of being evaluated at the same place where we have our appointment for the end of October. She warned me of something I'd heard others allude to: the first appointment is more preliminary than anything else, a screening to decide if the child needs to move on to a more thorough evaluation. But she added a piece of information I had not been given: the time between her initial assessment (just this month) and the second evaluation is 6 months. When I do the math, that adds up to us not being here for the most important part.

This basic information was confirmed when I went to Scooter's speech therapy playgroup this week. I spoke with the coordinator afterwards, mentioned the recent frustration of having people dismiss our concerns, insist that Scooter is perfectly normal. She was supportive and, despite her frequent reminders that she cannot diagnose (though she has worked with so many autistic children that we trust her impression), spoke some to the changes she's seen in Scooter since the first time she observed him. She actually saw him at one of his lowest points; he was grinding his teeth and chewing on his clothing nearly non-stop, brought on, we're almost positive, by what we'd been told to do with him in speech therapy. At the time, she told Trillian "mild to moderate."

The coordinator began by saying, "He's so high-functioning" that people who only observe him casually might not pick up on the little things that are concerning. And she told us that her opinion is that he'll be diagnosed either as very high on the spectrum or PDD-NOS--and that the second is where she most expects he'll end up.

But the other side of what I found out in this conversation is that the playgroup he's currently in, that runs for only 5 weeks (and we're missing 2 because of vacation/house-hunting), counts as a block of treatment in place of the 8 weeks we thought he'd start in September. While the playgroup is generally good--and was apparently much better this week since the most disruptive child wasn't there this week--we had thought that this was in addition to a regular session.

So now we need to try and find some sort of speech therapy for the fall--out-of-pocket, of course.

These were the frustrations bouncing around my head until I got home. Trillian was chatting with her mother online. Turns out her mother had gotten in touch with the clinic in their general area that does developmental evaluations. She had spoken with the receptionist for a while, but couldn't provide all of the information they needed. So my mother-in-law passed the phone number along to us and I made the call. The receptionist immediately knew who I was and had the intake form ready to be filled in. She took down all of our information, including Trillian and Scooter's US insurance, and told us she'd work on getting pre-approval for the appointment.

Then she asked when we'd be in town next, which is for approximately the next three weeks (we'll be there in a couple days). I said that we would also be in and out of town for a number of things this fall and would be willing to make a trip for whenever we could get an appointment. She then apologized--they didn't have any appointments for our current trip--but they did have an opening the last week of September and then several more in October.

We're currently planning the logistics of this trip (do Scooter and Trillian extend their stay or do we make a trip back 2 weeks after our first trip?) and know that it will cost a bit either way. But insurance will likely cover the appointment itself and we may actually be a step closer to moving from hunches and suspicions to an actual diagnosis.

*We spent a lot of time lamenting the fact that occupational therapy is not covered for any of the possible diagnoses of our children, despite the fact that it is the one single therapy that has done the most good.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Stamp collecting

I bear two reminders of the weekend.

The first is on my left hand. At this point it's barely visible. But once it was a red compass, courtesy of the Pirate Festival.

More visible on my right hand, not only because it is more recent, but also because the ink seems to be a bit more stubborn, is the triple circle logo of the Ontario Science Centre in blue.

On Saturday, the whole family headed out to the Pirate Festival. It was opening weekend--just in time since we're headed out of the country later this week. The cool weather made it quite pleasant to stroll around the grounds, although it did mean that Scooter was wearing a sweater over his red- and white-striped shirt. But that was OK since he sported plenty of other pirate paraphernalia. We had cooked this up the night before; he strapped on his eye patch, grabbed his hook and money-bag, and helped me clip his pirate flag onto his stroller.

We made several rounds to check everything out. Scooter was not as scared of the pirates as last year (when he did the ambivalent they scare me, but I don't want to leave them). Last year, his favorite part was sitting in the tavern, eating their snack mix. It was Frito-Lay's Munchies Snack Mix, but has since that day been known in our house as "Pirates." This year, the biggest hit was the games. He especially enjoyed a game where the object was to catapult pirate-themed duckies into a barrel of water. He didn't do particularly well on any of them (with me helping a little, he did get some duckies to their target), but he also didn't care. It was simply a blast to watch the duckies fly, toss rings, and fling balls at a castle wall.

(One side note. Walk or take public transportation. We were glad we weren't driving since the festival is near the Ex and traffic was heavy. If you're riding a streetcar along Lake Shore, I'd even suggest getting out a few stops early--whenever traffic gets heavy--and walking the last few blocks.)

On Sunday, Scooter and I made a trip to the Science Centre. Trillian's been a little under the weather, so this was a way to give her some down time. We got there right at opening and headed directly to KidSpark. Construction on a house, waterfalls, ball roller coasters, so much other fun--and without a crowd!

Of course for Scooter, no trip to the Science Centre is complete until we've visited the toy store upstairs. After a busy week and weekend, however, it was overwhelming for Scooter and he had a bit of a meltdown. I had been hoping to get him a bag of marbles--I remembered that they had a big bin of them where one could fill a bag for a set price--but they didn't have them anymore. Eventually, I directed Scooter to a marble run set that's compatible with the one he already has. He has not yet allowed me to mingle sets, but I imagine we'll get there sometime soon. And then we can build things that rival the kinetic sculpture he can't get enough of.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A list for Friday

So many posts swirling in my head. Too many. And as a result I can't organize my thoughts enough to post on any one of them. Instead, have a list:
  • Scooter had mostly a good day, but then a bit of a breakdown at bedtime. In the midst of his crying, he expressed a desire to be a baby again. I remember feeling that way at times, and it breaks my heart to think he already has those moments.
  • I've also been remembering lately what it was like to grow up knowing I was different, even when I couldn't put my finger on what made me different. I think about this both in terms of how it has affected me (with new perspective since I've recognized my own autistic tendencies) and how Scooter will be affected himself.
  • A movie has been filming on campus, and it got me thinking about how many places I've lived where there was some connection to the movie business.
  • I've been contemplating adding a second blog and/or updating the look of my nest here. It's been on my to-do list since I was forced to switch to the new Blogger platform (and lost my Just Post buttons, which I still need to replace).
  • I have an idea for a whole series looking at what I will and won't miss about leaving the big city and what I'm looking forward to or not in a small town. Lots of fodder there.
  • After reading in bits and pieces for many weeks, I have finished Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great. It's a book I received via Metro Mama's MBT blog. As promised back when I received my copy, review is coming.
Not sure what I'll get to this weekend. We're off to a pirate festival tomorrow--the idea of that seemed to cheer Scooter tonight and calmed him down before he fell asleep. He was especially interested in the idea of attaching his pirate flag to his stroller so that it can be his pirate ship for the day. Arrr, matey.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Socialization for mothers

I mentioned last week that we'd magically fallen into a special playgroup for Scooter this week. And it's been very good for him. There are two other kids in the group, one girl and one boy, and they quickly meshed. Not in a "best friends forever" sort of way, but a "you're fun to hang out with and I can be myself" sort of way. All three have sensory issues and some degree of language delay. In addition to the structured socialization, they're learning some skills to evaluate their own arousal level, which is the first step towards self-regulation. (And the 14-year-old boy in me is sniggering over 'arousal' and 'self-'anything.)

The flip side of all of this is that I'm spending a couple hours each morning in the waiting room with two other mothers. They both have boys who are around 2-years-old, so much of their time is taken up by supervising their play. But we still have ended up chatting a bit. One of the mothers is a bit loud (and her son is louder, even for a 2-year-old), so it can be taxing for me to interact with her. She's the one who, on the second day, filled us in on all of her son's details and the frustrations of not having any coverage for the sensory issues (although there are other things her daughter is covered for). She loudly lamented that one doctor was willing to pursue something on the autism spectrum, but that her doctor is "so obviously not autistic" and "why would I want to stick her with that label." I bit my tongue--I really just wanted to get my exams graded and I've had that conversation way too many times recently.

Then this morning I ended up in the waiting room with only the other boy's mother for a little bit. She asked first about my graduate program, since I'd mentioned I was a student before, and then we talked a little about our sons. I finally said something about being on the waiting list for evaluation and my suspicion that Scooter's mildly autistic. And then she told me that her son is on the same track, slightly ahead in terms of when he got the referral and such, but that we're looking at very similar things for our sons. We didn't get a chance to talk much more than that, but it was a moment of recognition and a momentary break in the isolation.

Tomorrow's the last day of the group, and I have to admit I'll be glad to have a return to our normal routine for a few days. Sure we're headed to the grandparents' next week for all sorts of schedule interruption--but at least we can leave Scooter with the grandparents a few times and let them deal with the crazies.

Cute side story: Trillian mentioned to Scooter this morning that we would be moving closer to his grandparents and asked if that sounded like a good idea. He enthusiastically said yes and then started to gather a few toys and asked if he could bring those. Over the next half hour, he added a few more things to that list, despite our reassurances that we weren't leaving immediately and that all of his toys would come when we moved later. But I found it really touching that he was so eager to go now that he was willing to leave most of his stuff behind. And encouraging--because I think that the transition of the move may not be too bad as long as we have the grandparents nearby.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Baby steps that spread

In March, I pledged to work on cutting down on the number of plastic bags I used by bringing my own with me whenever I went shopping. I was already in the habit of bringing bags with me to Whole Foods, a store where that behavior was encouraged and commended. One of the hurdles for me was dealing with the looks and uncertainty of the cashiers at stores where this wasn't standard practice. I heard a lot of "are you sure" whenever I would say I didn't need a bag--even when I was holding out the bag I had with me.

In the past few months, the process has become much easier. I still occasionally end up with a plastic bag, an average of probably less than one a week, usually as a result of an unplanned shopping trip. But my awareness of wanting to avoid collect disposable bags means that I make fewer unplanned purchases and that I try to buy no more than the one portable item I spontaneously thought of so that I can turn down a bag.

It's also easier to deal with the cashiers. Some of this may be my resolution and practice. But I also think that this has become a behavior that's being encouraged in more and more stores. To wit:
  • Trillian and I made a trip to Ikea this past weekend. In the US, they are now charging for plastic bags; I felt left out then. But the cashier informed us, when she noticed us packing our items into the two tote bags we'd brought, that the Canadian stores would be following suit in October. Some part of that is due to the fact that people will grab handfuls of the large bags and walk out with them, but she also said something along the lines of, "All the trash has to go somewhere, so maybe we should make less of it."
  • I've noticed that Shoppers is now selling their own reusable bags. I haven't seen a lot of people using them, though I've seen a couple being bought. But one result of that is the cashiers don't seem quite so surprised to see my bag (even if I tend to bring the smaller Whole Foods bag with me).
  • In fact, just about every store I've been in now has displays of reusable bags, usually store-branded. That makes me chuckle a little, because of course every store wants people to carry around a bag with their logo. I'll admit we've got two Whole Foods bags, plus one with the Loblaws logo that we got for free at the Green Living Show. I use the smaller Whole Foods bag for quick errands and feel fine about giving them that advertising since they had them for sale ages before everyone else. The larger Whole Foods bag comes from a store in the States and is a wonderful insulated and zippered bag--specific to grocery shopping. But most of our regular purchases go into a couple of large tote bags Trillian's mother gave us one Christmas so that we'd have extra bags for the trip home. We're not using them for anything else, so it works out perfectly.
Of course, I've noticed that Whole Foods seems to be the only store that gives a discount for reused bags (up here at least--Trader Joe's does too, but they're not as ubiquitous), and I wonder how well the practice will catch on among the general public without some sort of incentive. As if cutting down on litter and petroleum products isn't incentive enough...

Sigh. But hey, I'm encouraged to see more people working on baby steps like this since I'm convinced that's going to be the best path to getting the most people to make sustainable changes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Picking my politics

I started thinking about voting when I was very young. My parents emphasized it as an important civic responsibility. I accompanied them to the voting booth, visited my mother when she worked at the polls. I remember staying up late to watch news about the 1980 presidential election; the three of us (my younger sister was asleep) watched sadly as it became obvious that Reagan would win. I also remember wondering how so many people could vote for the wrong person--I was 7 and still thought that my parents knew everything. To be fair, I still think that they were right on that one and that the perspective of time is confirming this.

Before I voted for the first time, I imagined that I would, that I could, only vote for someone with identical views to mine. Of course, the reality, I soon discovered, is that there just aren't that many candidates out there who match my views closely, let alone completely. And then, as I realized after my first presidential primary, those candidates are unlikely to make it past the early rounds. So I've become a little more realistic and try to weigh viability with my most important issues.

While I like to think of myself as carefully considering all of a candidate's stances, there are three issues that get my immediate scrutiny: gay and lesbian rights, the environment, and education. Certainly that has been my approach in deciding to support John Edwards.

I should start by admitting that I pretty much limited myself to Clinton, Obama, and Edwards from the start. Kucinich probably matches my views most closely, especially on gay marriage and the environment, but I see him as more effective in the gadfly role than as president. None of the others either inspire me or have a realistic shot in my view.

As important as education is to me, I have not been focusing on it too much at this point. Whether or not they specifically name "No Child Left Behind," they allude to the need to reform the current set up. Plus the standard support teachers, be it with increased salaries or other improvements--I'm all for that, especially since I still haven't ruled out teaching in a public school.

So that leaves the environment and gay rights.

In my opinion, Edwards has the strongest environmental stance of the big three. His statement articulates a number of areas for improvement and then he outlines concrete steps towards these improvements. Clinton and Obama both say all of the correct things, but neither gives a lot of details or goes beyond the party line.

But the deciding factor, the moment I can pinpoint, comes from the discussion on gay rights. A few months ago, General Pace, the top military officer in the US, said that homosexuality is immoral. He later sort-of apologized, saying that those were his personal views and should not have been aired in an official capacity. Both Clinton and Obama were asked if they thought homosexuality is immoral, in the context of Pace's comments. Their initial responses basically dodged the question; it wasn't until later that they took exception with the content of his remarks.

As this post points out, Edwards led with a remark similar to Clinton's eventual backtrack:
I disagree with what he said and do not share his view, plain and simple.
Neither candidate used a "gay" word, but this was Edward's initial response, not his "spin."

Similarly on gay marriage, Clinton and Obama both give the party line, "I support civil unions, but not full marriage." Both responses struck me as the party line and nothing more. And? Try to find that information on their issues page. It's not there.

While Edwards essentially has the same stance, his statement feels more genuine. He admits that he personally is conflicted about terming it "marriage." But he also recognizes that this is primarily a semantic issue, that the current federal restriction of the "Defense of Marriage Act" should be removed, and that same-sex couples deserve the same rights as married couples. He also has made it clear that he wants a federal non-discrimination act for gays in the workplace, an end to "don't ask, don't tell," and no restrictions on adoption based solely on sexual orientation. How do I know this? Because Edwards has an LGBT category on his issues list.

So that's why there's an Edwards 2008 magnet on my car now.

(There are additional reasons I ruled out other candidates, but I didn't want to go down the negative path... yet. I may reconsider.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Global Warming Monday: BlogHers Act Canada Vote

I was going to save this for my "Global Warming Wednesday" post this week, but time is of the essence. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the issue for BlogHers Act Canada is the environment. And so now there's a vote this week to determine what our exact focus will be.

Head on over and make your choice:

Besides the larger issue that we're voting on, BlogHers Act Canada will also include a monthly personal action item to encourage individual changes. Not that I consider myself the inventor of this, but I do take a little pride in having suggested it.

And remember, even though this is officially BlogHers Act Canada, there's nothing that says you have to be Canadian or in Canada to take some action yourself. I plan on following along even after we've made our move to Springfield.

So go vote already!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wearing my politics on my trunk

I covered the back of my first vehicle in bumper stickers. Things like "War doesn't decide who's right, just who's left" and "Wage Peace" and a rainbow flag.

I was more restrained with my second vehicle and switched to static cling window decals. The first two were a rainbow triangle and the mascot from my undergraduate institution. When I went to my second PhD program, I added one from that institution, less from pride than from a desire to make people aware that even though I had an out-of-state license plate, my car belonged there.

Our current vehicle, a basic family car, has remained sticker- and decal-less. Not because of any particular conscious decision, it's just happened that way.

Until last week.

We've moved a step down the ladder in terms of commitment--it's a magnet, easy to reposition or take off as whim dictates.

I imagine that even the Canadians have noticed that politics are already heated in the US. It's over a year before the 2008 presidential election, and yet both sides have already had multiple debates. I had thought that being in another country would provide a good buffer--that was certainly the case for the midterm elections last year. Perhaps our impending move has changed that a little, but I think I'd have had a hard time pretending I didn't care regardless of where I expected to be next year.

Which brings me back to the magnet I slapped on the back of our car, purposely, just before heading to the family reunion. It says "John Edwards 2008."

I could go into a long explanation of why both Trillian and I, independently, came to the conclusion that he is the best choice of the Democratic candidates* and why he's the first political candidate we've ever given money to directly. Most likely I will lay it all out there fairly soon.

*Do I even need to say that none of the Republican candidates are even a choice for me?

(And tangentially related, politics didn't come up much at the family reunion. Very liberal on that side of the family, but even discussing which Democratic candidate one supports can cause emotions to run a little high--and that is something the family avoids. Of course, what I generally heard when anyone saw the Edwards magnet was that they were excited about Obama... even if they agreed more with Edwards' policies.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Global Warming Thursday: These boots were made for walking

I obviously knew that yesterday was Wednesday--I used the day of the week in my title. But for whatever reason, something didn't click, and I forgot to write a "Global Warming Wednesday" post, despite the fact that I have several ideas lined up.

I have discovered a fun and interesting time-suck tool that is available online. I came across it a couple weeks ago, but was reminded of it again in the past couple days. (Bad academic that I am, I can't find either of the original references and am hanging my head in shame that I can't give appropriate credit.)

When you have some time, head on over to Type in an address and it will give you that location's walkability score. Using Google Directory information, it determines how many grocery stores, restaurants, schools, etc are in walking distance. By means of some behind-the-scenes algorithm, it assigns the address a score. The creators of the site give general guidelines for interpreting the score:
  • 90 - 100 = Walkers' Paradise: Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car.
  • 70 - 90 = Very Walkable: It's possible to get by without owning a car.
  • 50 - 70 = Some Walkable Locations: Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car.
  • 25 - 50 = Not Walkable: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.
  • 0 - 25 = Driving Only: Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car!
There are, of course, limitations, but these are acknowledged upfront and you can keep them in mind when looking at the map that's created around your address. One definite limitation for me is that the site sets 1 mile as a walkable distance, and I know that we have frequently set as "everyday walkable" places that are over a mile away. It also measures "as the crow flies," so it doesn't account for twists and turns.

The green part of all of this should be pretty obvious: the more walkable a neighborhood, the more one can rely on walking rather than cars or even public transportation, the less pollution created. Add in health benefits and an increased sense of one's community--it's wonderful.

Now for the fun part. I have been plugging in all sorts of addresses and seeing how they stack up.
  • My mom's house (and the house where I grew up): 54. A number of these places are new from when I was a child. But I would still place it as borderline "very walkable." We could walk to school through junior high and had a couple grocery stores and several restaurants within a few blocks. Work for both of my parents was outside of the mile limit, but both of them walked on occasion, sometimes created the family schedule with walking in mind. We were a one-car family my entire childhood and it was usually not a problem.
  • The first house Trillian and I rented: 63. Funny thing, we drove a lot more than I did living at my parents' house. The immediate neighborhood was nice at our little house and we would walk our dog, but the stores around us were very downscale and not necessarily safe at night. So I would rate this neighborhood lower on walkability.
  • An apartment I had while in my first PhD program: 75. Not in a city that's very pedestrian-friendly. I actually had people yell "Get a car" at me when I would cross the street (with the light, even). But I did walk a lot, other than when I had to go to class--no public transit to get there.
  • Our house in the States: 63. Same score as the first house we rented--and we walked all the time. I notice that that Whole Foods we shopped at almost daily doesn't show up, even though another store right next door to it does. With public transportation to get to work, we really could manage walking everywhere else.
  • My school in the States: 78. Not a surprise. It's in the middle of a major city. Trillian and I once thought about getting a condo in the city and getting rid of our car. Of course, finding anything bigger than a small one-bedroom in our price range and in a good area would have been a shock. There's also the fact that we've realized we're not really city people.
  • Our current place: 73. I would probably place it even higher. We really could manage without a car and have gone weeks at a time without using it. Our favorite grocery stores are not walkable, but we're able to do a lot of day-to-day shopping close to home and make one trip every week or two to the bigger ones.
  • My current favorite house in Springfield: 45. Kind of what I expected, probably higher than I expected. It's a small town with concentrated retail and twisting roads. The school district we like best is not the closest to this area. The roads are very twisty, due primarily to topography. So this is a trade off. On the other hand, there are a bunch of trails running all over the town and I've read and heard that it's an active community. So I'm hopeful we'll jump right in and figure out those trails so we can walk and bike all over the place.
Now have at it. See how your neighborhoods, past and present, stack up.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Random thoughts on a Wednesday

Things that are floating around in my head...

I'm finding it a bit clunky to constantly refer to "the city where my in-laws live" and "the town where we hope to live" or "the town close to my in-laws' city." And so it's time for a few more pseudonyms. For these, I borrow from the Simpsons.
  • Springfield. OK, the town we're moving to does not have an international airport or two universities, some of the items that magically pop up whenever they're needed for a plot detail. Our town is quite small in comparison, but it will serve as the location of our family's zany adventures (which will all be resolved in 22 minutes, right?).
  • Capital City. It's not as far away as the 220 miles Capital City is from Springfield, but my in-laws' city is definitely the larger city to our smaller hometown-to-be. It's where we'll head for nights of culture and nice restaurants. And free babysitting.

I've started combing through the MLS and seriously coveting some houses. We kind of want to hold off on closing until November or December so that we're not paying on two places for more than a month, but we're contemplating making an offer during our next visit to the area with the hope that sellers will be willing to wait a little for a sure thing (since we're already pre-approved for a mortgage). And I'm trying not to get too giddy right now since there was an article about the housing market in Springfield and the fact that sellers are dropping their asking prices since nothing's moving right now. I have seen proof of this in a seemingly-gorgeous house that dropped by $35,000 yesterday--into the top of our range. (I'm trying to remain even-headed on this one though, given the great disappointment that was the last house we fell in love with online.)

Scooter was being trouble at bathtime tonight. I finally gave him the option of just not taking a bath (I reserve this offer for a couple times a week, not on consecutive nights). He jumped at the chance, but then didn't want to let me brush his hair. "Do you have to be so much trouble?" I asked. "Yes," came his even response. Pause. Then, "I'm just like Uncle W." Not sure where that came from, but I bet my mother-in-law would agree.

Scooter also started a new block of OT today. Trillian took him and chatted with the woman who did our original intake phone call. In the course of the conversation, the woman mentioned that they had just had an opening in a small playgroup for next week. Et voila, Scooter has a special activity for next week.

Today was the last day of new material for the class I'm teaching. We're reviewing tomorrow, so I still need to prepare some of the topics students have specifically asked me to cover. But I'm almost done with an entire summer of teaching. It's been a long summer, but I have to appreciate my students and how dedicated they have been. Consistently. They're the reason I've had the energy to keep going all week, every week, a major reason I didn't just take a few days off during my miscarriage. So while it will be a relief to have my schedule free up (can we say "Reading for comps?"), I will miss them.

On that sappy note, time to plan out tomorrow's class.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Multiplication and conversation

Trillian has been posting to our family blog, informing friends and family members about recent developments with Scooter. She has been matter-of-fact about the potential for an autism diagnosis and the actions we're taking to help him (regardless of what the final pronouncement is).

At the family reunion, it became clear that many people have been reading our family blog. And that those who don't have heard from those who do. Thus, Trillian and I both had numerous conversations on the topic. A fairly representative conversation:

WM (well-meaning family member): Has anything more happened with Scooter?
OP (optimistic parent): Not yet. We're scheduled for the evaluation this fall.
WM: He seems just fine. What are they worried about?
OP: Well, his speech is behind where we'd expect. And he definitely has sensory processing issues. Some of that's being addressed in occupational therapy. The sensory piece may also affect his language development since it's become clear to us that he has trouble with aural overload and filtering out important noises.
WM: That doesn't seem too bad.
OP: There are also concerns about his social interactions. He's drawn to the loud and aggressive boys, but ends up being a target when he hangs out with them. His teachers at daycare are wonderful and have been redirecting him to better suited playmates, but he's still working on things like communicating his feelings to them.
WM: But do you really need to label him?
OP: We're pretty sure he'll need some support for at least the first couple years of school to ensure he has success. And that's part of why we're moving to [town near in-laws]. (and that would turn into a whole other conversation)
WM: Well, he seems fine to me.

Most conversations were some variation on this theme, with continuous assertions from the family member that Scooter seems like a healthy little four-year-old. I didn't disagree and would agree that he was active and smart and sweet and creative and everything I could want in a child. I would even concede that I suspect that Scooter's biggest issue is the sensory piece and that if we can help him with that the other problems will be much easier to deal with.

As I mentioned before, this is the mathematician side of the family. I suspect that some of their unease with the topic and insistence that everything is just fine comes from a certain recognition of themselves in Scooter and our descriptions of his problems. I recognize in their reaction my initial response to the suggestion of autism. And so I tried to be factual and straightforward, demonstrating confidence and comfort in our plan of action. This seemed to work with most people so that I didn't have to push my point or have the same conversation multiple times with the same person. But it's a large family and they generally prefer talking one-on-one. Anyway you do the math, it's a large number!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A bump in the road

We went through the hotel room twice, checking for any little thing that might have been forgotten. Heaven forbid that we forget any little toy Scooter had received in a kid's meal over the weekend. Went over the room with a fine-toothed comb.

Or so we thought.

I went to grab my teaching notebook, the one with my plans for this week and a stack of recently graded quizzes. Not in my backpack.

I have been able to confirm that it was found in the hotel room. For which I am very thankful since I had it folded so it would probably just look like a pile of white paper. And it will be sent to me very soon.

But that still leaves me with a week's worth of planning to redo and a without a stack of quizzes I had intended to return tomorrow in preparation for the final exam next week. Nothing I can do about the latter, but the former is pre-empting any additional posting.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A post before my head hits the pillow

It's not like I was without internet service. But the weekend conspired to keep me from posting. There was the traveling very late into the night. And then the free internet that didn't always work. And the sharing a hotel room with a four-year-old, so we all go to sleep at the same time. And the hours spent away from the hotel, spending time with the family.

We went to the family reunion.

I told one sister about the second miscarriage in hushed whispers off to the side of the yard. Nobody else asked about more kids and I didn't volunteer the information.

Trillian and I both spent quite a lot of time explaining where Scooter is in the autism evaluation process, what his particular red flags are, and why we're planning the move back to the States. These conversations deserve their own post--this is the mathematician side of my family and I found it quite ironic to have them repeatedly and passionately exclaim that they saw absolutely nothing at all wrong with Scooter.

The most distressing aspect of the weekend for Trillian and me, however, is the fact that we seemed to have entered an espresso-free zone. Every place that said it had coffee had exactly that. It's not even a snobbery thing, but rather a concession to the fact that both of us tolerate espresso far better; when either of us drinks a single cup of drip-brewed coffee, she runs the risk of the jitters. We managed to find a Starbucks at a mall that wasn't too far from the festivities, but it was definitely out of the way and not open this morning before we headed back home.

Much to write, much to read. But first, much sleep to be slept!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Strength in numbers

Before BlogHer, the wonderful women over at Mommy Blogs Toronto put out a call to Canadian bloggers to nominate an issue for BlogHers Act Canada, a complement to BlogHers Act. They polled their readers (and as many others as they could reach by word of mouth) to determine what issue should be the focus of cooperative action for the next year. The winning topic: the Environment.

Now I have to admit that I'd been fairly quiet in the original call to action. I did not pick a specific issue or write a post when the initial call went out, mostly because I couldn't quite decide how I fit into the "Canada" part of this. I'm in Canada, but not actually Canadian, and Trillian and I now have a timeline for leaving Canada, so I won't be here for the full year of action.

Nonetheless, I participated in the survey that was created after a number of women had written impassioned and persuasive posts on a range of issues. All of them seemed (and still seem) important and urgent. But, yes, I did go with 'Environment' as my top choice.

I am already encouraged by the MBT approach to this issue. The first post-announcement piece talks about the need for focus, for defining the goals of those who want to help out, something that's quite necessary if this will be more than a lot of exhortation and platitudes without much action. Sandra gives some suggestions/asks for feedback:

We all need to hear your thoughts on what that actionable direction should be...

Is it getting Canada to commit to Kyoto?
Is it seeing legislation passed to eliminate plastic shopping bags?
Is it pesticides?
Is it educating children about living green?
Is it protecting our vast natural resources?
Is it pollution?
Is it packaging?
Is it over consumption?
Is it eating locally?
Is it green power?
Is it any one of the thousands of other possible areas that need our attention?

My initial answer is "Yes."

OK, that's not very helpful. And I don't feel like it's my position to push for any particular direction since the most I'll be able to do once I'm settled back in the US is throw my voice into the mix from afar.

But if I were going to weigh in a little (and I obviously am), I think that it might make sense to take a two-pronged approach. It's obvious to me that climate change is not something we can leave entirely in the hands of the government and that we need individuals to take the initiative with the hopes that governments will follow suit.

With this in mind, the first piece is getting people to make a personal committment to making changes towards more sustainable living. This won't be any one action across the board, but requires people to do an audit of their lives and figure out what they can realistically accomplish. Perhaps that means presenting, every week or two, one small change that people can make that would have a positive impact on the environment. Participants could then pick which ones they would be willing to work on. Not exactly original (cough, cough, kind of what I'm doing with this series, an idea I didn't exactly dream up on my own either), but a way for people to make a difference in their lives.

The second piece is picking a larger issue, one which should be addressed by the government, and putting together a grass-roots campaign to get the legislature or enforcement or basic consideration that is currently missing. And since this is BlogHers Act Canada, this one could definitely be geared to Canadian specifics. I'm drawn to "protecting our [i.e., Canadian] vast natural resources" for this, but that's just my gut and I don't have an exact goal in mind.

I encourage all of my Canadian readers to head over to the above links. Weigh in, get involved. And to my stateside readers, go ahead and weigh in too. Or at least follow along and see if anything comes up that's applicable in the US. Which, given that we're all on the same planet, will probably be a decent amount. Even when I head back south, I'll definitely be reading along. And occasionally throwing my voice into the mix from afar.