Umbrella Wars Diverted

Dimitri in tie

He felt the tie added a touch of class to the outfit.

Convo with (almost) 10 year old boy:
Boy Child: “Mom, where’s my umbrella? Can I play with my umbrella?”

Me (rising from chair) “Are you going to play responsibly with your umbrella?”

Boy Child: “Yes.”

Me: “Do you know what playing responsibly with an umbrella means?”

Boy Child: “On second thought, never mind.”

I don’t actually know if he figured out that responsible umbrella use is boring, that I was planning to monitor him with it, or if he was dodging a lecture on it. Either way, I suspect I saved someone this morning from a world of hurt.

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We Remember

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IN FLANDERS FIELDS
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

I am neither a pacifist or a fighter. I want world peace, and we still don’t have it.

More than I hate war, I hate the need for war. I hate the need to send our young adults into the fray of death, where even those who are not physically harmed are forever changed. I hate knowing that if we don’t step in thousands will be tortured or murdered. I hate that there are people capable of such atrocities. I hate that these regimes are so terrible that the people who live there are too afraid  to stand up for their human rights.

For all you who have served, thank you. For all you who love someone who served, my gratitude to them. I know very few of their names, but I am acutely aware that my life is infinitely blessed because of them.

Remembrance Day is for those who fought as soldiers because of tyranny, because of hatred, because of blame. Presidents and generals are nothing without soldiers, thousands upon thousands who serve and die in battle so that my children will never feel the reasons why.

Remembering soldiers is not the same as supporting war. All good people hate war. All good people hate killing. But all good people must make a stand against the bad, and when the bad have risen to great power, good people must walk into their hell, do what they hate at great risk to themselves, take up the torch of those who have fallen before them, so that other good people may live freely.

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This is What She Can Do

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These pics are just two examples of what Shayla taught herself to do in Blender, a 3D graphics program. She follows tutorials found on YouTube.

I promised an update on the homeschooling, and this is the latest development. Don’t worry – it’s good news.

Yesterday (Thursday), we had her IEP (Individualize Education Plan). How can a homeschooled child have an IEP, you ask? Here in British Columbia, Canada, the Ministry of Education has incorporated a model of public-school curriculum with homeschooling families. We receive appropriate assignments from her teacher, take them home and work on them together. We meet again in two weeks, review the work, and receive the next assignments. It is called “Distributed Learning” or “DL” (parents also have the option to take over the curriculum for full homeschooling, but we opted for DL). DL is flexible, with a mix of classroom electives and kitchen-table work. However, her autism presents challenges which are itemized in the IEP, along with plans on overcoming or working around them while pursuing a publicly funded education.

Just an itty-bitty back story. Both our kids have ASD, our (almost) 15 year old daughter and our 9 year old son. Dimitri, our son, is getting along alright in school (though they have recently started the testing for dyslexia on my request), but Shayla did not thrive (sorry, sweetie).

Every year, we would enter into her IEP meeting with hope that this year would be the year we figured it out. We would find that right combo of staff and curriculum and classmates to turn the key. We never did.

I should point out that we have made great progress in the ten years she’s been a student. All of us – most especially Shayla – have put in tremendous effort to make school a rewarding and productive experience. We’ve been mostly blessed with great people on our teams (some we were happy to see leave), but by the time we left an IEP meeting we felt slightly ill, like everything was going to be exactly like the years before and that someday, somehow, it was not going to be all right.

Shayla is smart. I don’t mean like Rain Man splinter-skill smart. I mean, she can leave you dropped-jawed in awe with what she accomplishes. She just doesn’t thrive in a classroom. She needs unlimited time to complete tasks, reminders to stay on task, tasks that spark her interest and creativity or, if not, a teacher who can make a dull assignment manageable. She needs absolute silence as she works, no movements in her peripheral vision, and no distractions. She needs someone with her to see when she needs to move, eat, break, or just be brought back to focus.

Her IEP’s always emphasized her struggles. She was never “smart”, according to her IEP. She had skills and strengths, but for kids like her the IEP is not about skills and strengths. It’s about plans and strategies for staff to react to those times when her challenges win.

I strongly suspect that Shayla is a 2e (twice exceptional) kid. Her autism is combined with intellectual and creative gifts. (Hint: I strongly recommend picking up the book, “Bright, Not Broken” if you have a child with autism, ADHD, ADD, or any type of mental or behavioral diagnosis.) She doesn’t “study”. Study involves memorizing information handed to you by an adult with the understanding you will be expected to prove your memory skills later during a test. She “learns”. She finds subjects and projects that excite her, that trigger her curiosity and her desire to achieve. When one “learns” something one doesn’t have to “study” for it, because the information has been perfectly processed and integrated into their daily life.

I know Shayla tried her best in school. She puts serious effort into managing her challenges, but she’s human and challenges are hard because, well, they are challenges. But she very often succeeds. I know, because I know what her challenges are and I know when they come up against her. I know she doesn’t react the same way all the time, and there is a whole host of circumstance that can affect her. So I know she works hard at being the best she can be, likely harder than most adults.

I have often said that sometimes – just sometimes – miracles come disguised as disasters. Sometimes, when all has been torn asunder and you must pick up the pieces, you realize you had them in just a bit wrong, but you had gotten used to seeing them in that way you never considered it could be better. That’s what happened to us all last year, when we effectively fired that high school and said, “We love her and we are not letting you near her again.” We had to have someone really terrible, really cold and disrespectful not only to us but to Shayla, to make us see that she had to get out. She wasn’t thriving before, but we – all of us – went into each year with fresh hope. Now that she’s out, I can see the opportunities we have to set her free of her challenges and let her shine, opportunities that, by the nature of the public-school model, we’ve never had before.

This is what yesterday’s IEP meeting brought me. As per usual, we worked from last year’s copy and made our adjustments. And we were slashing that thing to bits. This challenge, that challenge, all of it no longer relevant because she is out of the classroom.

Previously, all the work involved in utilizing the IEP fell to the Education Assistant, a woman (usually) who had the hardest part of the job for the lowest pay. We – me, my husband, and Shayla – were dependant on the EA to help reach these behavioral goals with a result that could be quantified with a number. When the everyday was poised for successes and setbacks, how do you measure overall growth? “Your child has had a 20% reduction in Recognizing Personal Space, but a 30% gain in Proper Hygiene.” The measurement is subjective. Has there been a drop in reminders, prompts, and outbursts? That has as much or more to do with her external management (school staff) as her internal management (self-regulation), a fact we learned last year.

She no longer has an Education Assistant. She has parents. We are not the front-line soldiers in a bureaucratic system. We are the ones the bureaucratic system had to answer to. If something works, we do it. If it doesn’t, we let it go. For the first time we have the responsibility to fulfill that IEP. Us. Her parents. And you know what? I’m revved.

I know I could not have done this a decade ago. I owe a debt of gratitude to the amazing staff we’ve worked with through the years she attended the brick-and-mortar schools. Many thanks to Alana, Cathie, Melissa, Carmel, Lisa, Kyla, Mrs. M, and others who gave us this foundation. Thank you for being there for her, for us, for nurturing her during your time with her not because it is your job but because the kids in your care are more than a job. Thank you for giving us the confidence and security to leave our precious child with you, and thank you for showing us how school should be so we recognized when it wasn’t.

This feels good. It feels like we are opening doors rather than closing. She has smarts, she has family, and she has support. She is going to rock this.

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The Anti-Anti-Wheat Movement

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This is a request to the must-educate-the-misguided-public Internet consortium. I’m usually very supportive when people correct ads and trends that are misleading or out-and-out fraudulent. You also stand up to the anonymous commenter publicly bullying subjects in random photos and videos shared across cyber-space, and you keep your arguments credible and authoritative by using correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. For these acts, I personally thank you. With no sarcasm intended, I get that you keep the rampant mob-acceptance of the unacceptable somewhat in check by bringing the horde back to reality. I really do.

With that being said, please back away from the gluten free lifestyle. I mean very, very far away.

I am celiac. I must eat gluten free all day, every day. No exceptions. Any gluten I ingest is accidental. I’m quite ill afterwards, and it doesn’t end at the gut for me. I get intense fatigue, nerve damage and some form of neurological impairment for about two months while the gluten leaves my system. I know every pro-wheat argument includes the exception for people like me right before they list all the valid reasons gluten free as a single diet choice isn’t all that healthy. I agree that it can’t work for long-term weight loss, and the only good diet is a balanced diet high in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. But if someone wants to go gluten free and asks me for advice, I’m all over it. I applaud their choice and tell them where to find the best substitutes.

My reasons are selfish. Completely, totally selfish. Sue me.

If you’ve ever tasted the older gluten free baked goods, you would wonder how this trend took off. Sure, over-processed blech bleached white flour is about as good for you as packets of sugar mixed with slow-acting poison, but it’s hard to appreciate what you are not putting into your body when the alternative feels like cardboard and sometimes tastes like it was left underneath rotting cat food. As the comedian, John Pinette, said, “Have you ever tasted gluten free food? It needs gluten!” (His gluten-free routine had me in tears, holding my gut that ached from laughter.)

In the early days of my diagnosis going to restaurants was challenging. Wait staff rarely knew what gluten was, let alone what on their menu didn’t have it. The kitchen was little better, and I felt like – and was often treated like – one of those rude and demanding diners whose food is secretly spat on. I used to marvel how vegetarians – a diet that, with few exceptions, is a lifestyle or religious choice and not medically necessary – were catered to while my health issue was an annoyance. And I say this as a former vegetarian (ten years with no meat until my daughter was born). Meatless items were marked with a symbol on the menu. Gluten free had to be researched in the allergen binder, if there was one, generally presented to me by the manager because the waitress was done with me and my ridiculous request.

It all changed when my question of, “What do you have on your menu that is gluten free?” was suddenly met with, “Is this an allergy?”

O.M.G. It was like the rays of heaven fell down and landed upon the waitress’ head. I didn’t have to explain myself, or defend my position. I felt validated, but mostly I felt heard. Never mind that celiac disease is an autoimmune condition and not an allergy (Benadryl can’t help) – someone understood that I was asking because I had to ask.

I told her what a pleasant change it was, and that she had made my day. She smiled and shrugged, and she explained that some diners wanted gluten free by choice.

What? Choice? Who would choose to give up nearly everything in the grocery store? The concept baffled me.

Then, during one of my rare and treasured wanderings through the bookstore, I saw prominently displayed the now famous book, “Wheat Belly”. When I read the tag line, “Lose the wheat, lose the weight”, I actually laughed. What sort of strange twist of logic was this? Going gluten free caused me to gain weight. As terrible as the gluten free options were, they were significantly higher calorie than the white-flour counterparts. Like, twice the calories for 2/3 the size of bread slice. Plus, I was absorbing more now that my gut had healed. (Yay, me!)

Very quickly, like in a matter of months, grocery store chains began stocking lots of gluten free products. Sections were dedicated to foods I could eat. Cake mixes, cookies, and actual varieties of bread. Then pastas, cereals, and snacks. Foods I never questioned, like potato chips (GF tip – always check ingredients and never presume) were suddenly labeled gluten free. It had risen from the ranks of the strange and undesired to be a badge of honor. Buy me! I’m gluten free!

I no longer laugh at the “Wheat Belly” book. I thank it and the movement it started. Because now that the diet I have to follow is a lifestyle trend, everyone wants a piece.

My grocery store now has three areas to buy gluten free goods. No longer a tiny selection of freezer-burnt options hiding in shame in their health-food section, I can find nearly everything I love in a version I can eat, including all that junk I shouldn’t.

The cost has dropped. My bread was around $8-$10 for a tiny loaf. Now, if I look around I can get it for $5.50 – $6. Ditto for cookies, cake mixes, and flours.

Speaking of flour, Robin Hood has a gluten free all purpose mix. ROBIN HOOD! The go-to company for flour, the trusted name brand and the industry expert of good flour, has a gluten free blend out for several months now. And it’s gooooooood. I’ve used it for baking. My gluten-loaded family can barely tell the difference.

DuPont, the edible-chemical giant, has invented an additive that allows gluten free breads to mimic the texture of wheat breads (link pending). This is also a new product, and I can taste – and feel – the difference in my food. Chemical crap-storm? Yes. Yummy, yummy, yummy? Also yes.

I can order pizza, and sometimes it tastes like pizza. Pizza has always been my favorite food, and for years I had to make it at home or go without. Many chains now carry a GF crust, and the kitchens are pretty cool with avoiding cross-contamination. I am currently on a mission to find and sample all GF pizzas. (The best in my area is Boston Pizza, but my all-time fav is Abbey’s. Sadly, I am separated from the closest Abbey’s by several hours and an international border. The Boston Pizza version tastes just as good, but it’s smaller for about the same price as the Abbey’s.)

Smart restaurants are making gluten free options. Some have a separate menu, or the dishes are marked with a GF symbol on the regular menu. I am no longer embarrassed to ask, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Even the sandwich shop at Disneyland had gluten free bread, which was not posted anywhere in the restaurant, and my meal was made by the chef herself to protect it from the contaminated surfaces. Everyone is cooperative and supportive, so even if I have to order salad I feel confident it’ll be safe.

None of this would be possible without the deluded masses looking for a quick weight loss solution. And the movement has improved the lives of undiagnosed celiac sufferers, who think their body has been purged of a Big Business poison rather than a naturally-occurring protein they can no longer tolerate. Hey, whatever makes you feel better about yourself. Whatever motivates you to monitor your food intake or to set health goals. It’s all good. Please, go gluten free. Let’s keep those sales numbers up. Just make sure to add colorful servings of real produce to your daily food intake while you are at it.

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The Ghosts of Halloweens Past

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This is the time of year when we make things go “bump” in the night, when we decorate with ghouls, ghosts, and zombies. At least we do here in Canada and the US. October 31st is fast approaching, and so me an’ my neigh-bohars are gettin’ ourselves sum Halloween fun!

It is, as far as I can tell, the only holiday that is all about the kids. Costumes, free candy, knocking door-to-door, the motion-activated animatronics that scare my kids to pieces are all about playing. The adults who celebrate do it at kid level – and often with the adult version of empty calories. It’s fun, and it’s one night only.

This is the time to get into horror films and ghost stories. We love ourselves a good scare, and for now it’s expected and all good-natured. But what would you do if something happened for real, something that you couldn’t explain? Or maybe you have explained it, but the “reason” just feels wrong, or it doesn’t fit with all the facts. You might just brush it off, because it happened only once. Or twice. Or several times, but nothing was odd enough to send you, screaming, to the local ghost hunting group.

If you have, you are not alone.

I’ve had so many of these incidents I can’t even remember them all. My mom, my neighbours, my friends, my husband – they’ve all got at least one story to tell. They are often little things, mostly unexplainable and easily forgotten. Some are huge, but only on a personal level and completely unsupported by scientific evidence. Or to be exact, the evidence falls outside that which mainstream science is willing to accept as normal.

How do I scientifically prove that I spoke to my brother-in-law and my father-in-law on the day of their funerals, thirteen years apart? I don’t, but I know it happened. The orbs and the mists I’ve seen, the simple knowing I am not alone – none of these can be validated, but they are all “proof” to me. Whether someone believes any of it has more to do with what they think happens after death, when we enter “that unknown country from whose borne no traveller returns”, than in their confidence of my truthfulness.

Many of you may now wonder about my sanity. You may think I’m a nice lady, but I’ve got a couple of screws loose. Or that I’m so open-minded that common sense has slipped out. Yet even the skeptics can be shaken by what defies all rational explanations.

My father is the perfect skeptic. Solid, logical thinking defines him. He’s practical, rational, and calm, and he generally accepts as real only what he can see or touch, or what science can prove mathematically exists. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, does believe that aliens cannot leave their home planet and visit Earth, and he accepts that there could be a heaven but is more certain about the fourth dimension.

Over the decades that my parents have lived in their house, we’ve had several odd goings on. Mostly it happens to my mother or me, but all of it has been benign if somewhat weird. As these tales were told my father would shake his head and, like a smart man, keep his opinion to himself.

Then one bright and sunny morning my mother phoned to give me a short rundown of what just happened. I won’t repeat the story because it is not mine to tell, but I will say that my father, Captain Calm, was seriously freaked. When I dropped by later that day, he was still dazed and unsettled. He privately told me everything, and he was deeply troubled that he could not explain it.

Months later, the incident came up in conversation. My father waved it – and his reaction – away.  He cited some perfectly rational possibility, and announced that was all it was. But to fit his explanation his story had changed, and key points had been dismissed or altered. He even called his reaction a form of confusion.

I don’t bring it up around him anymore. It makes him uncomfortable, and I would rather let him believe what he wants. I only mention it now to illustrate how you cannot prove the paranormal to those who don’t want to accept it. It isn’t the fault of the evidence, it’s the boundaries of the comfort zone.

With this topic now opened, I would like to extend an invitation. If you have paranormal experiences you wish to share, or if you need to talk to people who will offer insight or help find rational explanations, I encourage you to visit http://ghostplace.com. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s supportive (so supportive, in fact, that they even have a skeptics’ page). It’s filled with normal people who either have paranormal experiences or are interested in them. There, you can discuss a benign, a mischievous, or even an evil presence. No matter what your experience, you are not alone.

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K.I.S.S.

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Sometimes I just want to bang my head against the wall. Like tonight.

Dimitri is an anxious child. I don’t know if this is a phase or the autism or something else coming through, but he worries a lot. Tonight’s worry was over the sun exploding.

I should point out that I have an eclectic set of beliefs that bring together science and religion. Basically I believe whichever school of thought gives me the most comfortable answer to my question. If science has a reasonable explanation, I go with science. Anything to do with consciousness and what happens after we die, I prefer religion because the science explanation sucks. So my kids get exposed to talk of God, the soul, angels, and spirit guides just as much as they hear about astronomy, math, and physics. This is an important point, which I will get to in a minute.

Because I am a big fan of “The Universe” on H2 channel and they covered dying suns in one episode, I gave him the “science” answer. Yes, my sweet darling, the sun will explode, eventually and long after you are gone.

Big. Mistake. But you already saw that coming, right?

I told him it was seven billion years away (give or take a few). I told him he would not be alive, nor would his children’s children’s children’s children. I promised him it would not happen in our lifetimes. I told him that number was more years than the Earth was old. I sat him down and showed him how many zeros separate 100 (number of years in a very long life) and one billion.

He was freaked. On the verge of crying. Every few minutes he would talk about it, scared as if it could happen at any minute. At one point in the evening he asked, “Why can’t God do something about it?”

Seriously kid, it won’t matter. I went the science-fiction route and said that we would have the technology to live on another planet in another solar system. He asked if we could switch dimensions by then. Sure, why not? By now I will agree to anything that will put his mind at ease.

Yet the possibility of switching dimensions did not reassure. What if we end up in the Minecraft dimension? What if Earth looks different? What if people don’t look like people?

Kid, I thought, the dimension thing was your idea. Stop finding fault with your own ideas!

Time for Plan B (from Outer Space).

“Look, kiddo, here’s what I will do for you. I’ll ask God to make sure nothing happens.”

He looked up at me, eyes shining with desperate hope. “Promise you’ll ask Him?”

“Yes. Promise.”

He let out a long, deep, and satisfied sigh. “Okay,” he said, and returned to his latest Transformer toy.

Apparently I overcomplicate. The lesson learned is K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simply, Silly.

P.S. – Did you know that all heavier elements in the universe are the products of exploded suns? There would be no gold, silver, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, iron, or most of the periodic table, if suns didn’t die. That means we are made of exploded sun guts. Just something to think about.

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Vacay with the Family…Even the Ones You Are Not Related To

As I mentioned in my previous post, I just got back from visiting with hubby’s family. There were fun times, stress times, happy times, and productive times. My SIL – that’s hubby’s brother’s wife – is expecting their first child, and though she is seven months along this is the first I’ve seen her plural. I got to feel the baby kick her insides, and I had to watch all color leech out of her face as the baby stretched her abdomen organ to the point of intense pain. I sat and waited at my MIL’s condo for word from my BIL who was sitting in the ER with his wife, trying to find the cause of these pains. (The bad news was, they don’t know what is causing it. The good news is, they know what isn’t.)

I ripped my MIL a new one more than once, because she’s arthritic, diabetic, and has MS, so for God’s sake SIT DOWN! Make yourself, and your health, your first priority. Follow the advice of the nurses and listen to your body. Let the kids – including that 45 year old child of yours – get their own drink. Let someone else cook and clean for you and the four extra people who landed on your doorstep. We are family. It’s what we do. I’ve been in your house enough times that I know how to load and unload your dishwasher.

Phew.

But there was one 24 hour period of this trip that has to be the best day in memory; a side trip to hubby’s hometown. Though his immediate family all moved to The City over the past decade, he still has cousins and friends in DV. This small town of less than 10,000 strong is where his roots are.

The friends in this community are lifers. They are the people you don’t see for years, yet when you meet again nothing is altered. The friendships are continuous, the loyalty strong, the trust absolute. I’ve known these people as long as I’ve known my husband (21 years) and I love them as family.

On this recent trip, “Jim” (not his real name, in case the quotation marks made you wonder), one of hubby’s best friends throughout high school, invited us to stay with him and his family on their acreage. Jim has a son, “Don” a couple of years younger than Dimitri. These two boys are joined at the hip whenever they get together. Don has a fort in a little woods, a lawn bigger than a football field, a swing set, and two dogs. Jim’s wife is gifted with plants and gardens, and she has a huge plot of flowers and vegetables.

That day was bliss. Dimitri and Don played, and played, and played. They talked, they planned, they swapped ideas and stories. They relished the company and never once complained of being bored.

Shayla stimmed. She story-planned, she role played, she renewed imaginary friends. She slept 12 hours, and woke happy and refreshed.

There was not a single moment of inappropriate language or behavior from either ASD child. Not. One. Moment.

And they had freedom. The house is set far off the highway, and even a good distance from their country road. Kids roamed and ran. They took up space. They were safe, in view, and happy.

We made it down around dinner time on Saturday and stayed all day Sunday. Saturday was the important night, because “Ken”, another friendship lifer, had a party scheduled, an open-mic jam session in his barn-sized workshop. We were all invited.

Ken has a little girl, “Anna”, a sweet little cherub who stole the show for awhile. There were assorted other kids, all much older, but it was Anna’s comment to Dimitri that brought something into perspective, something about good friends.

Dimitri came running out of the house excitedly. Anna had told him, “Your daddy is my uncle.”

Now, Dimitri gets blood relations. He has an uncle-and-aunt set on his father’s side and on mine. He has two cousins and one on the way. He also has second and third cousins, and he knows they are extended family.  He loves his cousins, and gets excited whenever we plan to see them.

So, my little boy understood that an uncle’s child is his cousin. Anna just called his daddy an uncle. The connection made him giddy when he asked me, “Does that mean she’s my cousin, too?”

Think fast! Not a cousin, not by blood. But apparently her family calls my husband by the title of Uncle, which is very cool in my books. And we don’t want to say the child is misinformed and start that sort of heartbreaking argument between the kids.

“She’s not a cousin by blood, but her daddy and your daddy love each other like brothers.”

And then the truth showed itself to me. Exactly the right answer to the question. “So, yes, she is a cousin of sorts. By love, not by blood.” And then, so no child was excluded, “Don’s your cousin in the same way.”

Knowing that kids overshare while never getting a story straight, I made a point to tell both moms in case they got confused in the days to come. They each glowed at the story. Me, I thought it was a handy explanation. They made me feel like I was inspiring.

These are the friends I want for my family. The kind that stay with you, the kind that shrugs off odd behaviors, that presumes the best of you, that you know will love you because they have seen your worst and accept it as part of your package. They are family by love.

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