Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I was going to write a Global Warming Wednesday post on saving water--lots of water just by flushing the toilet one fewer time per day, for example. And then it turned into a toilet-themed day and I find myself derailed by those moments.

After rough-housing with Scooter and dropping some of my salad with dressing on my pants, I decided that I should change both my shirt and pants before heading off to my tutoring job. Scooter started calling for me, just I was finishing up.

"Whatcha doin'?" he asked.

"Changing my clothes."

"Why? Did you pee in them?"

Cue loud laughter from the living room.

That alone was pretty amusing for us and will be repeated to the family. The part the others may not hear, however, is that I had to change my clothes again later. This time because of pee. Not my own (I'm quick to add). No, Scooter peed on me before his bath, because he--and I quote--"was making funny noises." My son was too busy trying to one-up my silly noises to make a quarter turn and move about a foot towards the potty.

So now we're using more water than I would have planned today, since we're running that load of laundry twice.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The "talk"

I was the kid who told other kids about sex on the playground. Except my information was factual. Of course, they'd still exclaim, "No way!"

There is enough of a gap between my younger sister and me that I was curious about babies and how one ended up in my mom's tummy. And my parents had made the considered decision to answer our questions about sex truthfully and with the correct terminology. Not that I remember the exact discussion 30+ years later, but I'm pretty sure it ran along the lines of, "When a man and a woman love each other... penis... vagina... sperm... egg."* I'm pretty sure there was a library book with illustrations too.

I was a little squicked out when I thought about the mechanics, but the biology intrigued me. As a result, I would occasionally ask my mother further questions. I remember finding out about birth control for the first time, probably around age 6, because I asked my mother why it was that families seemed to have so many kids "way back when" but most families when I was growing up had between one and three kids.

These discussions decreased in frequency as time went on, however. I could sense that my mother was a bit uncomfortable with my questions. And then we had sex education in grade school, and I think my parents were fine with leaving it at that unless I sought them out.

The piece that was missing for me in all of these sex talks was the emotional piece. Or rather, an honest consideration of the emotions involved. The common implication, both from my parents and from the school presentations, was that they wanted me to have the information, particularly if I also accepted the information that I was not ready to have sex and would not be until I was of a marriageable age. To bolster this stance, most of the information was very clinical and the primary focus was on all the bad things that could happen if I had sex before said age.

One of the big problems with such an approach is that it ignores the fact that sex is a biological drive, that the hormones which kick in at puberty are incredibly strong, that--let's face it--even the promise of sex can feel pretty good. This approach presents the decision as entirely a matter of logic; I think it can leave the impression that if you give in, you're either weak or bad.

The first person to address the emotional piece with me was my high school boyfriend's mother's partner (follow that?). After they discovered that my boyfriend and I had been having sex (ah, the irony of responsible teen sex; there's more evidence to be found), she sat us down to talk. "Obviously you know the mechanics" (witness the fact we admitted that we'd been intimate); "obviously you know about birth control" (witness the condom wrapper). "And I know it's useless to tell teenagers to just not do it. So let's talk about the emotional side." I don't remember everything we talked about, as I was just relieved we were not being yelled at, but I do know there was stuff about respect and the dynamics of the relationship. It was not a particularly comfortable conversation--what teenager do you know of who would enter this conversation eagerly? Nonetheless, I appreciated that this discussion was not about moral judgments or scare tactics; instead, she recognized and honored our decision and proceeded from there.

This is something I want to make sure my son gets from me. And from the start. Obviously I won't start with the same sort of discussion that I had at age 17, but I will address whatever emotional part seems appropriate for the discussion at hand and won't pretend like one pronouncement is right for everyone on every occasion.

* I don't remember them ever telling me that I had to wait until I was married to have sex, but if it wasn't explicitly stated, it was subtly there. The initial sex talk may have been, "When a man and a woman love each other, they get married and...."

(Just because)

Inserting a brief, non-serious post here, but given that I know a good number of my readers are grammar and spelling enthusiasts, I just have to point you to this post over at Friendly Atheist.

And Trillian and I keep forgetting to take the camera with us when we venture down to Capital City so that we can get a picture of the "Pedestrain Crossing" sign.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Don't tell me how to talk about sex

A few nights ago, as I was unwinding before bed, I had the TV on as I did some research--either Thomas trains or gluten-free stuff, who can remember these things. I'm not even sure what channel I had it on. A commercial came on, one of those black and white PSAs. It went back and forth among a variety of kids who were all saying things like:
  • "Mom and Dad, you need to talk to me about sex."
  • "I may not seem like I'm listening but I am."
I nodded along a little. I've always felt strongly about the importance of talking to one's children about sex. Heck, I've been known to talk to other people's kids about sex (my sisters and some students who directly asked me my opinion about some things they'd been discussing in human development... so I answered with my honest opinion).

But as the commercial continues, the tone starts to change a little and I'm starting to wonder where this is going.
  • "If you talk to me about sex, I'm more likely to wait."
OK, my sense is that children of parents who speak openly with them about sex, not just the mechanics but also the emotions and responsibilities, might be more likely to approach sexuality in a more mature manner and possibly wait for a more appropriate relationship. But still, I feel like I'm waiting for the moment that will make me want to yell.

Ah, there it is:
  • Voice-over: "Tell your kids you want them to wait ’til they’re married to have sex."
Oh, and one more:
  • Final screen, faint printing at bottom: "Paid for by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."
Now I should not be surprised at this, given the current administration and their continued push for abstinence-only education, regardless of what scientific research may say about its (lack of) effectiveness. And apparently my indignation is a little late in coming, though that can be attributed to being in Canada when this first started to run.

Nonetheless, I was, and am, indignant that my tax money is going to tell me what I need to tell my son about sex, that I must necessarily believe sex should be saved for marriage. Because I don't. And not just because I had sex as a teenager. This is something I have actually thought through quite carefully.

Speaking in the most general of terms for the sake of brevity, the idea of saving sex until marriage is both outdated and sexist. Historically, women have been held to this standard much more rigorously than men; it is a way of controlling one's property--both the women themselves and the guarantee that the children who will inherit your property are actually carrying on your bloodline. Add to this the fact that women were routinely married off in their early teens and that the average age of puberty is thought to have been later than it currently is. Back then, it was quite possible for a girl to be married off before hormones had kicked in; now, kids are frequently looking at a decade or more between when they enter puberty and get married.

Allow me to play the gay card here too. The simple statement that people should wait until after they're married to have sex is inherently heterosexist. Given that gay marriage is not legal in the US, outside of Massachusetts, the message is that the gay kid should never expect to have sex or conversely that any sex they do have is bad. Yeah, I'm just not on board with that.

Now, I'm not advocating promiscuous, irresponsible, unsafe sex, and this is something my son will hear. For me, sex is something that ideally occurs in a stable, loving relationship and is the logical next step in expressing the love between two people who respect each other. On the other hand, I don't believe that sex occurring outside of that sort of relationship is the end of the world, causing irreparable damage to one's psyche.

I am sure that there are plenty of parents who will continue to tell their children to wait until marriage, whether because they truly believe it or because it is the easier conversation to have. That is their right--I disagree and would even be willing to discuss this, but I respect that parents must choose their own position. But I'm indignant that the government thinks it can choose my position for me.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Speech that makes me speechless

Scooter's speech never feel outside of "normal" in the technical sense, but all of his official scores put him in the very bottom of the "normal" range. On the one scored test he had, at 3 years 11 months, he performed best in the area of "expression." But this was measured by his ability to name objects--something that an Aspergian profile would expect to be a strength--and not by his ability to communicate thoughts and desires. And so even though he was never given an official label of "speech-delayed," I have used this label to some extent.

After his semi-diagnosis of sensory processing issues and the subsequent improvement in his speech after even a couple weeks of OT, I started to develop a theory of what had caused his delay. Since Scooter is particularly sensitive to auditory stimuli, I suspect that most sounds came at him as nothing more than a bunch of noise. In environments with multiple things going on at once or heavy background noise, he could not pick out the important streams unless his attention was drawn very specifically to them. I think that this also affected his pronunciation, as he had some trouble repeating sounds and words with precision.

At any rate, his speech began improving when he started OT, as if gaining physical control of his body helped him gain some control of his senses (which is pretty close to what was happening). But I still thought of him as speech-delayed. Not horribly and any improvement in communication was cause for celebration. But I was also aware that his peers continued their own jumps forward in language, and so I saw Scooter's development as keeping pace rather than catching up; he lagged at the same distance, but at least the gap wasn't growing.

One thing I had noticed is that Scooter is doing a much better job of picking up on words used in conversation and then working them correctly into his own sentences. He has also become more interested in narrating what is going on around him or recounting something that happened recently. And he's telling stories--cute, strange, funny stories that start from the familiar and then veer off into the absurd.

Scooter and I went back to see the school's OT this week. The pretext was further evaluation, but really the OT didn't see why he should have to go without a service he obviously needs while we wait a few weeks to get the paperwork in order. He'll be visiting her on a weekly basis soon enough, and in the meantime she can get to develop a relationship with him. At the end of the session, she again told me what a pleasure he is. And then she added, "His strong verbal skills should really serve him well in school."

Which took me completely by surprise. My son? Strong verbal skills? I said something to her about how his talkativeness is a fairly recent development. And then thought about this the whole way home.

I have gotten so accustomed to thinking of my son as lagging behind his peers that I forgot that he would catch up at some point. This is not to say that he is entirely "normal." He will almost certainly receive some speech therapy for his pronunciation issues. And his mode of expression continues to be a little different than one would expect from an almost-five-year-old. He's definitely headed towards being a "little professor" and will need continued instruction and role-playing for the social side. But a lot of things have fallen into place, developing so naturally that I didn't even notice how far he'd come.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not that we didn't know, but it's nice to be reminded

I've been wanting to write about this for about a week now. Originally, I wanted to frame it in terms of Kittenpie's recent post on parental bragging. But my mind isn't that organized right now, so I'll just come at the topic head on.

Scooter is smart.

We don't have the official results from his cognitive evaluation, so I don't have numbers or percentiles or anything like that--nor would I want to be that specific even if I did. But it was quite obvious during the evaluation that there are some amazing things going on in his mind, and the evaluator said as much.

Between my experiences as an educator and as a subject of these sorts of tests, I had a pretty good idea throughout of the purpose of each test and the sort of performance my son was turning in. I knew going in that such tests progress in difficulty and that evaluators are making note of how the subject approaches the task as much as their degree of accuracy.

The first two tests included a writing component, and so Scooter gave up before time was up due to his fine motor issues--which is what the evaluator noted to us later: he understood the exercise, but couldn't follow through.

On spatial reasoning and pattern recognition, he did very well and was happy to continue for quite some time. With the patterns, even his wrong choices made some sort of sense. And when he got to the section in which he had to pick out the things that went together, he made clear several times that while his choice might not have been the intended answer, he had a logical reason.

When I took him for an emergency bathroom break, the evaluator explained to Trillian that she has continued several of the tests past the point where he was getting "correct" answers in order to test his attention span. Which is apparently quite remarkable. His spatial reasoning is also well developed.

Of course, one of the most interesting parts of these evaluations has been realizing just how much he knows and can do. The little bit of the written tests were one part; even though he didn't do very much of either one, he demonstrated the ability to apply logical rules. In another section, the evaluator asked Scooter to define words. My favorite was his definition of "hero": "someone who saves and flies and lands."

On the other hand, his approach to several of the tests confirmed for me the suspicion that his thought processes are a bit... different. In the definition section, he described every word with three qualities. When asked to pick out things that go together, one from each of two rows, nonetheless he insisted that two items from the same row went together; when the evaluator tried to rephrase it along the lines, "But what if you picked one from this row and one from the other, what would you pick then?" he refused to play along and stubbornly insisted on his previous answer.

We're lucky to be in a school district where each tested area is considered separately. I've read of people who have to deal with districts where a high cognitive score "balances out" a low motor skill score, making the kid "normal" on paper. Because Scooter has already qualified for OT services (and probably speech too), other results will not disqualify him. In fact, they will use the results from his cognitive testing to make sure that he is provided enough of a mental challenge.

I think that this last bit will be very important. On two or three questions, Scooter started to give smart ass answers, with a gleam in his eye and that special smile, but when the evaluator would ask him again or change the question slightly, he would immediately give his real answer. This was very different from his eye test. I think that the key was the nature of the questions, the fact that they weren't overly easy, even at the beginning, and they required him to really think. He was engaged and interested and ready for more.

There's been one other very positive aspect of this process for Trillian and me. Scooter has been utterly charming at all of his evaluations--agreeable, polite, friendly, excited. We've been swimming in remarks about what a pleasant and fun kid he is. It is such a nice change from the times that we felt like all anyone saw in him in Toronto was a sad, shy, weepy child. I have been so happy that they get to see the kid we know he is from the very start.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Global Warming Wednesday: Dirty laundry

When Trillian and I first set foot in this house, we both felt our hearts soar--just a little. Most of the houses we had seen up to that point had been disappointments; all of them with additional pictures and tours online were quite different in person. This was the first, and only, house whose online representation matched the physical tour. As we progressed through the rooms, we allowed ourselves to let go of a little more jadedness. By the time we headed out, both of us had placed it at the top of our personal lists.

A tiny moment in the tour, not a major factor in our decision, but something we were pleased to see, was our first view of the washer and dryer. Exactly the same as the beloved pair we left in the house we sold before moving to Canada, a Kenmore front-loading washer and its mate. Now, I'm pretty sure they picked the pair because the space allotted to laundry is a closet that requires stacking if one wants both a washer and dryer in there; at least they didn't pick an "apartment-sized" unit such as we had in our condo. We had been very pleased for the four or so years that we had our front-loader in the States, and so we already had in mind replacing any traditional washer and dryer pair in any house we bought.

Let me focus on the washer.* Front-load washers do tend to be more expensive. Looking at the Sears website (since they carry Kenmore), I see a range of $599.99 to $1699.99. The cheapest model is closest to what we have--slightly different model number, but same control panel. According to the Sears website:
This ENERGY STAR qualified high efficiency washer can save you up to 45% in Energy & 35% in Water as compared to a traditional top load washer. This washer features a Tumble Action Washing System that showers water down through the clothes ensuring that 100% of the clothes are being washed 100% of the time resulting in superior stain removal and gentle clothing care. The 950 RPM final spin speed will help remove more moisture from the clothes resulting in shorter drying time.
Some of what this means:

  • The EnergyGuide says that this model uses 224 kilowatt hours per year, on a scale of 113 to 680 for similar models. The yearly operating costs are estimated at $19 for electric, $10 for gas. This reflects 2004 energy costs (vs. the 2000 costs listed on the EnergyGuide the previous owners left us--of course, our model also appears to use about 28 kWh/year less).
  • For every setting, there are options that are marked with a symbol to indicate that they are more eco-friendly. The Eco Cycle is slightly shorter than a Regular Cycle, though usually more than enough for everyday loads. There's an option for a faster final spin, which removes even more water, meaning clothes will dry faster. There's also the Auto Temp Control. Set it here, and the washer will regulate the water temperature for cold and warm settings so that the setting is what you actually expect.
  • The front-loading washer only requires half the detergent of a regular washer.
  • There's 3.1 cubic feet of space inside. And since there's no agitator in the center, you can use all of it. This thing can handle seriously large loads. Not that I kept close count of how many loads we did each week in our condo, but I suspect we've cut the number of loads by about a third.
  • It's driving me nuts that I can't find an exact figure for this model, but I think that it uses 8-12 gallons per load (this is a number that's stuck in my head), but one site I did find suggests 18-25 gallons for front-loaders, vs about 40 for regular washers.
If I go to top-loading washers, I find a price range of $319.88 to $1199.99. That's a $280 difference at the low end of both ranges, a bit more at the top. Clicking on the 3.2 cubic foot Kenmore at $349.99, here's what I find:
  • On the same EnergyGuide scale, this one uses 389 kWh/year, with a cost of $33 for electric and $17 for gas heating. That's not quite twice the front-loader. And not Energy Star compliant.
  • This is a pretty stripped down version. There are fewer cycle options, only one spin speed, no temperature regulation. There are three water level choices, but you'll only be able to use a lower water level if you're putting small loads in.
  • While there's 3.2 cubic feet inside, a chunk of this is taken up by the agitator. And you have to make sure to leave enough room and put clothes in loosely enough that they'll move around enough to get cleaned.
  • I'm not sure if the Canadian model is exactly the same as the one linked above, but if so, this one uses 38 gallons for a load at the highest level.
Some rough calculations (rougher than I'd like since I'm tired):
  • The difference between the two models being discussed is $250 (599.99-349.99)
  • We have a gas water heater, so let's say we're saving $7 (17 vs 10) on heating the water each year (probably more since we wash mostly in cold, but that's another topic).
  • The government estimates that a household does about 400 loads of laundry a year. So let's say we'd do that many loads in the top-loader. Even though I estimated 30% or so fewer loads in the front-loader, let's drop it to 15% fewer, so 340 loads per year.
  • For the top-loader, that's 15,200 gallons of water. For the front-loader, using a higher-than-I-think figure of 20 gallons per load, that's 6,800 gallons of water.
  • I'm finding a figure of $3.72 for every 1000 gallons of water on old utility bills. That would mean $56.54 for the top-loader, $25.30 for the front-loader.
  • Our favorite detergent is Ecover's Laundry Detergent. We buy it in the 100 oz bottle, which is labeled as 40 loads: 2.5 ounces per normal load. A front-loader can use half as much detergent, so that's 80 loads. I don't know how much we spend on a bottle locally, but Herb Trader has it online for $7.26 per 51 ounce bottle. For a 2.5 ounce dose, that's $0.363 per load. For the front-loader, that's $0.1815. So the cost of detergent for the top-loader is $145.20; for the front-loader $61.71.
  • Final yearly cost of energy, water, and detergent: $218.74 for the top-loader, $97.01 for the front-loader. A savings of $121.73 per year. At 2 years and 1 month, the front-loader has made up the difference!
But buying a front-loading washer is not just environmental and ecological, it also improves the cleanliness of your laundry. Truly, it washes clothes better and gets out all of the soap. Can you tell I like this machine?

*No dryer is Energy Star compliant. They just can't be made to those specifications. BUT a front-loader spins more water out of the clothes than a top-loader, so clothes coming out of a front-loader dry in less time. If you hang clothes to dry instead of using a dryer (which I really want to do, but they will freeze outside right now and all of our extra space right now is taken up by boxes. Soon.), you cut any drying energy and costs to zero.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Reverse culture shock

In moving to Canada, I found it hard to distinguish between true culture shock and the usual sort of adjustments required by moving between different urban areas.

Now I'm dealing with this in reverse. Some of the little things are definitely the result of being in a new environment, town instead of city, house instead of condo. We're driving more because there's much less public transportation, retraining ourselves to put the garbage out on the proper day instead of dropping it down the chute.

But I've also experienced a few funny, little stutters in everyday activities.

When receiving change, I have a tendency to slip my wallet back into my pocket if I'm owed less than five dollars. In Canada, that would come back to me entirely in coin form; in the US, however, I find myself collecting singles. So now I'm fattening up my wallet instead of weighing down my pocket.

Whenever I fill the gas tank, I experience a moment of shock and panic. At almost $3 a gallon, the first bit of math that springs to mind is 40 liters--that's some scary multiplication. Then I find myself doing the opposite conversion from before; I'll only be pumping about 10 gallons, so the cost is only 25% of my initial calculation.

So far, the math's working out in my favor and the stutters are not even stumbles. But I am amused to be experiencing culture shock in my native country that is truly US culture shock and not just a function of the new location.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Seminars, by the numbers

5 seminars:

65 class meetings
10 presentations
7 papers
129 pages written (excluding figures, charts, and bibliographies)
3 final exams
1 translation test

5 A's

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Global Warming Wednesday: Bathroom audit

OK, so I'm starting my audit with the smallest rooms in the house. We have two bathrooms, one full, one three-quarter. They've been on my mind this week since we've already had our first plumbing emergency. Turns out that we had two-feet of roots blocking our pipes over 100 feet from the house. The plumber told us that his records show that he's been out about once every four years for this problem, so we've bought ourselves a little time on this--and we can keep up with maintenance now to make sure we don't have to deal with a back up or nasty chemicals anytime soon.

I have never been big on skylights, but the fact that both of our bathrooms have one has turned out to be a big plus. When Trillian and I first spent any time in the house, we would find ourselves trying to turn off lights that weren't on. So far, we have found that we just don't need to turn the lights on during the day. Talk about conserving electricity.

For those times that there is not enough sunlight, we are in the process of switching to CFLs. The switch is complete in the master bedroom, but I have yet to get the bulbs for Scooter's bathroom.

An even bigger issue than electricity in the bathroom is water. Again, the master bathroom is good to go: low-flow toilet and shower head, no drips or leaks. Scooter's bathroom still has a monster of an old toilet, so that needs to be replaced at some point. I am also unsure of the shower head that's in there (and am not going to check right now since the light going on might wake him up), so that may need updating too. I'm not aware of any leaks or constant drips there, though I've noticed that the tub faucet is slow to shut down--I'll have to make sure that doesn't turn into a drip.

Finally, although I won't do a full inventory here, I am trying to be mindful about the products that we bring into the bathroom. We are already a bit stingy with chemicals; while mixing my own cleaning products is not something I've started at this point, we tend to stick with milder products like Seventh Generation's cleansers.

All of this leaves me with a list that's not too bad.

To do in the next month:
  • Replace light bulbs in Scooter's bathroom. 6 over vanity--try to find round CFLs instead of spiral. 1 in fan.
  • Check shower head in Scooter's bathroom and replace with low flow model if above 2.5 gallons per minute.
  • Check the water heater to see where it's set. Consider lowering the temperature a little.

To do in the next year:
  • Replace toilet in Scooter's bathroom. This might slide over into the "Keep in mind for the future" category, depending on finances and the scope of other projects.

To keep in mind for the future:
  • Replace master bathroom shower head with an even lower flow model.
  • Consider solar-assisted water heating. This is something I'll be looking at more closely along with overall heating/cooling issues.
  • As we finish up products (personal and cleaning), replace with items that are environmentally friendly, both in terms of ingredients and packaging. Try to stick with minimal packaging or containers that can be recycled here. Whenever possible, try to obtain reusable items.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Smart @ss

Smart-assery runs in my family.

It is most obvious on the loud, New York Jew side, emphasis on the loud. Family gatherings are a non-stop display of wit and zingers.

But the Puritanical side has a quietly wicked sense of humor too. Fewer obvious insults, but these are sharp people who will notice (and point out) one's little contradictions.

My sisters are more of the loud smart asses; my younger sister in particular comes to mind when I think of the definition of 'smart ass.' But I've participated in my fair share of smart-assery. I was still pretty young when I responded to my father's "Don't be a smart ass" with "Better than a dumb ass."

My son is following in these footsteps. At his recent hearing and vision test, the school nurse eventually gave up on assessing his distance vision. After doing his close vision, she made her first attempt. Using a chart with pictures on it, she started with the larger ones while he was standing nearby, establishing a common vocabulary. Then she sat a chair back a ways and had him sit on my lap. As she pointed at the smaller pictures, he named the first couple correctly and then refused to answer again. We finally got him talking again and then... Pointing to the duck, "Star" he said. The tree, "Circle." Mischievous smile across his face.

OK, fine. Move onto the hearing test.

After the hearing test, one final attempt at distance vision. I mentioned to the nurse that he knows his letters, thinking that his interest in reading and writing might make him more amenable to playing along. First couple letters, right on. And then she points to a C. "E," he says. Hmm, vision problem or is he being silly again. D is F, E is H. The smile grows again.

Diagnosis: smart ass!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Apparently my place is in the kitchen

"We haven't eaten out in ages," Trillian remarked to me recently. We then went out to lunch the next day, but her point remains valid. We're eating nearly all of our meals at home. And we're not talking about take out or delivery or deli meals, but home-cooked. And I've been cooking them.

Now I actually enjoy putting together a good meal and am pretty good in the kitchen (if I may say so). But we've frequently resorted to someone else's cooking due to busy schedules and simply being tired at the end of the day. With the move and our renewed commitment to gluten-free eating for Scooter and myself, however, planning and making meals has become a higher priority.

This also means that I'm back in my other kitchen, The Mouse's Kitchen. Mostly I'm posting gluten-free recipes for the meals that are particularly easy and/or have great results, but there's also mention of the mixes we've found and how those turn out. I don't claim to be an expert, either on issues of gluten intolerance or cooking, just a persistent researcher who fiddles around in the kitchen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

And now for the good news

Today was one of those reminders about the ins and outs of homeownership. Not to go into too many details, but it involved our first emergency call to a plumber. On the upside, we had a reminder that we're in a small town with a lower-cost-of-living than before when we were handed the bill.

I don't want to let that divert me from the recent news that has brought us relief and a promise of routine.

The three of us went to Scooter's occupational therapy evaluation at the elementary school. The therapist was great with him, and he was immediately at ease with her. At the same time we were proud of how cooperative he was and how well he did at many of the tasks, Trillian and I were both worrying that he would push himself just out of qualification.

He cut along several different lines, although he forgot a couple times of how to hold his scissors or maneuver the paper with his free hand. He copied all of the patterns she made with blocks, both when she left her models up and when she took them away. He wrote his name a couple times and drew some straight lines.

But his cuts were uneven. It was clear that he had to concentrate very hard to manipulate the blocks without knocking them over. And he simply could not color between the lines he was given.

On top of that, she had the opportunity to observe his auditory sensitivity a couple times. Nothing major, but it was quite obvious how hard he finds it to filter out background noise. And she tested some of his gross motor skills when he was aroused, so she had the chance to see what a hard time he had maintaining coordination when unfocused.

The therapist told us that she would try to qualify him and which pieces of information we should emphasize to the district evaluators next week. I don't think it hurt that Scooter was incredibly sweet and the therapist would obviously enjoy working with him--she said as much.

So the therapist called back after running through the results and toting up his scores. He qualifies for OT through the school! And that alone qualifies him for the public preschool!

He'll still go in for the full evaluation next week, and the OT wants to send him to the physical therapist for an evaluation too. There's still speech (though he has exploded in expressive language; if he needs any help, it would mostly be in pronunciation).

We would love to see him getting OT and PT both to work on motor planning and tone, but just knowing that he'll definitely be in OT and will be able to engage in structured socialization in the preschool program is enough to send us over the moon.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Global Warming Wednesday: Home audit

As I mentioned at the beginning of the year, I want to perform an environmental audit of our home and come up with a plan for what we'll do to minimize our impact. Right now, my plan is to go from room to room, recording both what we're doing well and where we can improve. At the end of each entry, I've decided to divide my action plan into three parts:
  • To do in the next month. These are things I want to take care of immediately, though I'll give myself a month since I need to be realistic about everything I've got going on. This will include switching overhead lights to CFLs, something we've already started, though some fixtures will take a little more searching than others.
  • To do in the next year. These are things that might require a little more time, effort, or planning. It might also include new habits I want to adapt, since those can take some time to become second nature.
  • To keep in mind for the future. These are things that would be good changes, but need to be put off due to expense or balancing waste with energy savings. For example, the previous owners replaced the boiler and furnace. They bought units with OK efficiencies, but not nearly as high as we would like. Replacing brand new units right now, however, would be both prohibitively expensive and a potential waste when balanced against the energy and resources required to manufacture new ones.
I'm also hoping to come back with some more general posts again, though I won't promise anything until I get through my next set of exams, sometime in February.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Scenes from a cul-de-sac

Recent, fresh snow drew the children outside. It was one of those wonderful snows that I have missed: pure white, fairly dry, easy to pack. A snowball fight broke out and two teams of two devised ways of ambushing each other. Sleds made their way out of garages and then down the pile of snow from previous plowings.

Scooter wanted to go play with the kids, so we ventured out in our snow gear. We wandered out to where the kids were having a snowball fight and half joined in. Scooter tossed a little snow at anyone who was nearby. The older boys were wonderful, gently tossing light snowballs at him, falling over whenever he got some snow on them.

When a few sleds came out, Scooter was unhappy that his was still at Grandma and Grandpa's. He grumped about that for a while, but came around when he had a chance to join a younger boy in an inner tube. One of the next door neighbors pulled them down our driveway, and we took turns pushing them back up.

Other parents came out to the cul-de-sac too, and we chatted for a long time with the neighbor who's an audiologist and speech pathologist for the school district.

This is not an uncommon scene in our neighborhood, according to what we've heard. In the summer kids are out almost non-stop. Our driveway, apparently, serves as the locus of many activities, especially sledding and bike riding. All of the parents keep an eye out for all of the kids.

This is so very much what we wanted.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Here we go again

Tomorrow we begin the process of having Scooter evaluated for the public school's services. He has a total of at least three appointments over the next week or two, and then we should be able to get a sense of which services they'll be providing.

Trillian spoke with the elementary school's OT provider today. She gave some background on Scooter's issues and where things stand for him. Although we won't know for sure for a bit, I suspect we're standing on the edge I thought we were. Now that Scooter has been through two blocks of OT, he may have improved too much to receive OT sessions in school. Due to the various regulations (local, state, federal--everybody has rules), he probably won't test far enough behind in development to qualify specifically for OT. The funny thing is that when he was evaluated almost a year ago, he was approximately 18 months behind in gross motor skills; his ball-catching ability came in at 30 months instead of 48. Now, he's probably within normal range for that skill and others.

On the other hand, our public school system recognizes sensory issues as a separate category under which students can qualify for special services. Although Scooter has improved greatly in that area, he's still noticeably distractable; instead of crying and running away when the vacuum cleaner runs, he just stops what he's doing until it's off again.

I am actually counting on the fact that he'll be in an unknown setting to skew the results a little more in our favor. School will be like that anyway at the beginning. And I won't be adverse to the removal of services down the line, once he has established himself at school and is more comfortable.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The red balloon

Today we made a trip to Capital City to collect more of the items we'd left at Grandma and Grandpa's. Scooter played for a bit, and we visited with Trillian's parents.

Before heading back to Springfield, we went by a "specialty retail grocery store" to pick up a few more food items. It's the sort of place that gives out balloons to children. It's been ages since we shopped there with Scooter, so this was the first time he even noticed the balloons. He spotted them immediately and told us he wanted one. We agreed that we'd see to getting one at check out.

As we wound our way through the aisles--didn't want to miss anything since we're still stocking up our pantry--he noticed that some balloons had escaped and were bobbing along the ceiling at the front of the store. Three of them, to be exact. And it concerned him to no end; he couldn't believe that nobody else was doing something about it. By the time we'd reached the end of the next aisle, he'd decided that he needed to rescue the red one.

At checkout, Trillian stayed with the groceries while I took Scooter up front. Grabbing him by the hips, I hoisted him up until he could just reach the ribbon. "Way to go," said a passing woman as Scooter proudly pulled the balloon close.

We took it back to show Trillian, and she tied it to his wrist. The whole way home, he talked about balloons and made up a number of imaginary scenarios involving them.

The red balloon is currently floating over the couch as I write this, and my little boy is asleep in his bed.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ruminating on books

Without fail, our movers remark on the number of book boxes they're hauling around. The ones we had this time were not accusatory (some get quite huffy), but sort of curious. "Have you read all these books?" "What do you do with all of them?" "You must have your own library."

I said that we had read most of them, leaving out the explanation of how there's a good section of reference works that we have not read cover-to-cover. Or that I have multiple editions of different texts.

It is a library of sorts, akin to what one finds in the homes of most serious students of the Humanities. Very similar to what I grew up with, although smaller than my father's collection as of yet. I just can't imagine living without books all over the house.

When I was in junior high, I made friends with a girl who was in several of the same classes and activities. In retrospect, I realized that she was the first close friend I had who did not come from an academic family--all of my other friends were children of teachers or professors. The first time I went to her house, I was struck by how decorated it was. And the lack of bookcases. I don't think there was more than one or two low bookcases in the family areas. My friend had one tall, skinny bookcase with a few books on it. It was not an issue of money--her family had much more than mine--or even intelligence, they just didn't keep books around.

We still have stacks of book boxes in half of our garage. We got the office to a point where we could bring in a couple of our bookcases and some books. And that goes a long ways towards making the room seem right. Once our painter is done in the master bedroom, I know how I want to rearrange things to fit my grandmother's old bookcase against one wall. I also can't wait to make use of the built-ins in our living room, conveniently next to my study area.

And I promised Scooter that I would find his books. We have a handful out for bedtime reading, but he's missing that moment of looking at all of his books in front of him, full of possibility, so many choices.

Off to bring in some books.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Things that add up (in a good way)

  • Seeing our stuff in our house. Even if it's mostly in boxes and not where it needs to be.
  • Scooter greeting each of his trains as they came out of the box.
  • Efficient, courteous movers.
  • Bright white trim, freshly painted.
  • Discovering that Amy's Kitchen makes a line of gluten-free frozen foods.
  • That are vegetarian and delicious.
  • And that our local grocery store carries several of these items.
  • Meeting some neighbors. Who have a son about a year younger than Scooter. Who likes Thomas. I see playdates in our future.

The grumps have lifted noticeably. Even fighting with the satellite TV people (who will have to return this weekend to fix things) couldn't bring me down.

It's been a long day, and we're all exhausted. And nowhere close to being done. But, wow, what a difference this one day has made.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Beware the Grumps

We are a household of grumps.

Scooter has been just a bit out of sorts for a week or so now. He doesn't have a routine; even if Trillian and I could get organized enough to figure out a schedule, it would be pointless since everything has been thrown off by the holidays. We're working on preschool and gymnastics and other activities, but everyone has been out of the office.

Scooter has also been figuring out the implications of the move. Up until a few days ago, I don't think he saw the new house in Springfield and our apartment in Toronto as mutually exclusive. He loves the paint job in his room and playing in our backyard, but still talked about taking his new toys back to Toronto. When we explained that his toys would be coming to our new house, that we weren't going back to Toronto soon, the tears spilled over--tears of true sadness and not the usual tears of a meltdown or frustration or anger.

Trillian and I, in turn, are grumpy from dealing with Scooter's other mood swings, the wait to get into this house we've owned for a month now, the inevitable questioning of ourselves (how could we have timed things differently?), and the usual frustrations that come with setting up a new household. Some work in the house took a week longer than expected, the movers and our painter will overlap, getting our TV set up has taken 3 separate trips and 14 hours of waiting. Trillian's been trying to work throughout this, I've been making pitiful progress in my comps readings.

I can tell that our continued presence, especially since it overlapped with the holidays and other guests, has been wearing on my in-laws. As much as they love Scooter, they have had to deal with more attitude and acting out than usual. I know they'll be glad when we can all have our own space; we'll see each other frequently, probably multiple times a week, but for shorter periods of time.

With every day, I tell myself that we're closer to being in our house and settling into the life we've been working to create for our family. I'm trying to look past the unpacking and organizing and the other things that will inevitably prolong the grumpiness. Right now, I need to look right past that, because otherwise I'll skip right over grumpy and straight to harpy.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Most years, I don't pay a lot of attention to the changing of the years, other than to silently curse as I write the wrong number for several weeks. The most significant beginning, my real New Year, usually falls in September, with the start of the school year. As a result, it's been years since I made resolutions at the end of December/beginning of January.

But this year, this January 1st, coincides with a number of big changes in my life. And so I find myself viewing this new year as a new beginning, a bit of a clean slate. I can't quite bring myself to write traditional resolutions, so I present this list instead.

This will be the year that:
  • we figure out how big our family will be.
  • I find a way to enjoy exercising again.
  • I finish my comps.
  • I complete an environmental audit of our new house and devise a plan for how we can minimize our impact.
  • we hang artwork in at least two different rooms.
  • we get Scooter evaluated and determine what supports he'll have in school.
  • I experiment with gluten-free baking.
  • I meditate regularly.