Friday, March 29, 2013

{this moment} My Natural Dye Project

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments at

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Strange Letters and Homemade Valentines

Our family agreed to exchange homemade valentines this year. Here's what we all came up with!

The first one I received arrived in my post box. I was almost afraid to open it, and I most certainly did not open it before Valentine's Day! The sender was sure I couldn't tell who sent it, because rather than addressing it to "mom", he addressed it to a misspelled version of my name. Tricky.

Helen decided to use nearly ever inch of my ever-so-precious hand dyed (with natural dyes!) red felt (it's my sign of true love to you, Helen). Red is an extremely difficult color to get, but it's hard to say "work with the cheap stuff - or the easier colors, kid". Because I didn't have enough felt for four heart pouches, she made two of them a dark pink.

She carefully sewed two hearts together, making pouches for all of us. Her stitching is getting to be pretty impressive!

I decided to practice the long-lost art of quilling for my cards. Long ago, my sister and I learned how to take a little metal tool and make thin strips of paper into random shapes. I have no idea why I decided to revive this art, except I'm hoping to interest Connor in it to give him a fun way to work on his fine motor skills.

Ed got in on the action with pop-up cards, which were a huge hit.

Connor wasn't about to get crafty, but he was willing to find just about any way he could to sneak in more of his favorite cinnamon candy - so he wrapped some candy up for everyone (including himself).

Proving that he's not always mean to Helen, he actually wrapped up a candy for her that she would enjoy eating.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Snowmobiles and lost teeth

A few years ago, Ed went to Wyoming to ski with his dad. Before he went, I told him "do not, under any circumstances, decide to go snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. It is extremely bad for the environment." I might have even threatened him with eternal damnation. You see, one year when I debated in college, the topic was the environment. Another school ran a case to end snowmobiling in Yellowstone and it is the only absolutely true case I ever heard. Really.

I might as well have said "Ed, snowmobiling in Yellowstone is completely awesome. You cannot miss it!" because the first question I asked Ed when he got home was whether he had done this dirty deed, and he said yes. Followed by "and now I understand why you're so against it because it is an environmental disaster". In fact, the company he went with tried to convince him to sign a petition to avoid coming regulations. I'm pretty sure he didn't sign it.

Fast forward many years. We're in Steamboat Springs, Colorado wondering how to spend an off-day skiing. We decided to go snowmobiling, but only after I confirmed the engines are made differently now and they are no longer the disaster they used to be.

Connor started out riding on the back of Grandpa Dick's snowmobile.

Helen started out on the back of mine, but that didn't last long because it was obvious to me that if we hit one bump, she'd be flying. So I wedged her in front of me, and we were off!
We reached a point in the trip where we were in a huge open field, covered by a foot of undisturbed snow. At this point, the guide announced "parents always hate this part, because I tell everyone that kids can drive if they want". And of course, Connor was on my snowmobile at this point, so I got the wild man driver. I almost had a heart attack when we rounded a few corners at top speed.
When we finished this part of the trip, I got off the snowmobile to reground myself. It was at this point that I mentioned to Ed if there was any other opportunity for small people driving, he was getting Connor. My heart is just not that strong.
As I started to remount the snowmobile, Connor said "Wait! My tooth!" and there, on the seat of the snowmobile was another lost tooth. Connor loves telling this story.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Numbers...and Possibilities

Connor and I were eating lunch last weekend and we started talking about numbers. Connor particularly loves very large numbers, though I wouldn't say he knows much about them. We started talking about careers one might pursue if they wanted to work with very large numbers - including physics and astronomy.

That led to a discussion about trying to find life in other parts of the universe. Connor thought it might be fun to do an experiment trying to figure out if life existed elsewhere. One way to do that experiment, he reasoned, would be to develop a spaceship that would search for life. Then he noted that he might be the person that designed the experiment, but that he'd probably never get to see the outcome of the experiment, because by the time the spaceship got far enough away to find other life forms, he would have die of old age.

Admittedly, I was briefly blown away by the knowledge that:

(1) Connor recognizes he will someday die.
(2) Connor imagines the possibility of the universe being so big that he could travel as fast as possible and still not get to where he's going in a lifetime.

Not bad for a 7 year old.


Monday, March 25, 2013

We were leprechaunED - again!

For the second year in a row, that clever little leprechaun visited us in the middle of the night, making a bit of a mess, and leaving a trail of clues for Connor and Helen to follow. Here's the trail of clues Connor and Helen found this year.

Again,  Helen and Connor had to figure out the word in ALLCAPS. Although only Connor could read the clues, Helen deciphered a fair number of them. They had a great time. The first clue was one that they both found in the traps they had set but had been sprung - with no leprechaun caught! Connor already has plans to fortify his trap for next year.

You tried and tried,
to catch me once more.
If you want a clue,
look on your front DOOR.
We ride in this from near to far,
To find the next clue, look in the seat of the CAR.
The next clue I think will be the third.
To look for it, go to the house of the BIRD.
To find the next clue, you must use your head.
Then look underneath a pillow on mom's BED.
(how did that get there without me even noticing?)

To get the next one, you must really think.
Now go and look in the bathroom SINK.

A new sink I see, I like it a lot.
Now go and look under dad's cooking POT.

This hunt I'm afraid, has come to an end.
Just look one more place, where the mail you SEND.

They didn't get that leprechaun's gold, but they did get a few gold coins and some gold and green chocolates. Happy St. Patrick's Day, all. Hope it was a good one.


Friday, March 22, 2013

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments at

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Moving from Wolf Cub to Bear Cub

I'm not a fan of the Boy Scouts, but Connor loves them. I have found, however, two things I like about the Boy Scouts. First, current scouts get to vote on whether or not gay people will be allowed to join their troops. I love that we get to vote (change sometimes comes from within!). Second, the humor value of Boy Scouts over the past couple of weeks has been big in this house.

In order to advance from Wolf Cub to Bear Cup, Connor needed to complete a series of assignments on things such as healthy living, flag folding, some feats of physical fitness, and other random things. This led to Connor making meals for the entire family one day, which turned out to be pretty fun. But better than that has been watching Ed try and race through all the requirements he should have been working on with Connor over the past several months. Nightly, I hear Connor and Ed discuss important issues like how to have a positive attitude and who should be called in case of an emergency. Watching Ed do this has been pure entertainment, because it is most definitely not on his top 10 list of ways to have fun.

There are two requirements Ed and Connor have yet to complete - one on picking up trash and one on religion. A few days before the banquet, the troop leader made the decision that if the boys were close, they could get their badge at the banquet, but they would need to complete the requirements later.Let's just say, Ed has remarked that he considers it divine intervention that Connor has that badge in hand without having to discuss God, and has gone so far as to say that perhaps God has not authorized Ed to speak on his behalf. There might be some truth to that.

I'm taking bets on when the big "god talk" will happen.

The night of the banquet, I found one more thing I could like about the Boy Scouts. The entertainment was hilarious. Connor's troop performed the skit "Hi, My name is Joe. I've got a wife, and a dog, and a family and a job at the button factory..." which is something I sing with Helen and Connor regularly, that I learned in my own elementary school music class. The boys performed a fantastic rendition complete with bottoms bopping and giggling. I'm sure Mrs. Danes (my grade school music teacher) would be proud.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

King Penguins

Connor's class wraps up a unit on animals soon. Each child was tasked with picking an animal and writing a one page report about the animal. Accompanying their report is a diorama showing the habitat of the animal.

Connor chose King Penguins. This turned out to be an excellent choice for several reasons.

(1) I love penguins, instantly making this Connor's coolest homework assignment to date.
(2) King Penguins live in Antarctica. How hard could it be to recreate Antarctica?
(3) I have a book on how to needle felt animals, and a penguin in on the front cover. Score!

This might be the first project that has actually interested Connor. He was inspired to write three pages of text - which is unusual for him. Connor is very much a "meet the minimum" kind of guy, especially when it comes to writing assignments. He also couldn't wait to start on the project, and kept reminding me that he wanted to work on it.

He acquired a shoebox from his never worn soccer shoes. This pristine pair of shoes arrived the day after Connor broke his arm, and now his feet have grown. Hopefully Helen will wear them, and if not some child on a soccer team will score a brand new pair of shoes from me.

He set about painting the box so that it was covered in snow. He added a little mating and hunting ground and voila - King Penguin habitat! He also did most of the work on needle felting and wet felting a penguin - and he didn't even stab me during the process, which is a huge win for my fingers. I tidied the bird up a bit as we went along. Finally, he added some plastic ice cubes from an Angry Birds eraser set.

He can't wait to show off his report to everyone - which includes a color illustration on the front cover!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Facing 40 - 8K

Last year, my fitness resolution was to complete 108 consecutive sun salutations. I did it. Twice. I'll do it again at some point. I found it to be very empowering.

This year, one of my fitness resolutions was to run 5 miles at a sub-10 minute pace. While this is clearly not a record breaking speed (the fastest runner in my race ran a 4:57 mile) it's lightning fast for me. You see, I run a 10 minute mile. I did that in 2004 when I completed a triathlon and I did it again over Thanksgiving when I completed a Turkey Trot. Those are the only timed running events I have ever participated in. In short, I am not a runner.

But I long to be a runner - to have one of those sleek runner bodies that just says "healthy" when it walks into a room. Not small. Not weak. But here to stand its ground.

So at the start of the year, I started running. I ran in the neighborhood when it wasn't too cold. I ran in the basement on a treadmill Ed and I purchased back in our Crystal City days which no longer keeps track of pace. I even ran in the gym in my office (shudder!). I also had a personal trainer visit me at home which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to change the shape of their body. I am stronger, today, than I was at the start of the year. My softer parts are turning to muscle.

Last Sunday, I made my first attempt at completing my running resolution. I participated in the St. Patrick's Day 8K - which is a super flat course, so probably one of the better chances I had at meeting my goal. My plan was to keep up with Ed for as long as I could. Then, I would attempt to keep running (no walking - except through water stations if desperate).

I kept up with Ed for most of the race. And when he left me, I sensed I had a legitimate shot at meeting my goal. I was passing as many people as I was being passed by - and except for a surprise turn in the course which lengthened it by a couple of blocks - I could see the finish line. I remembered the words my friend Billy had told me "You just have to want to finish it more than you want to quit" and I kept going, at the fastest pace I could manage. And in the end?

I ran for 46 minutes and 29 seconds - which is good enough for a 9:21 mile. I was / am exceedingly proud of myself. When I got home, Connor asked me how I did. I told him I wanted to finish in 50 minutes, but I finished in just under 47 minutes. Even he could tell how proud I was and he extended his congratulations.

I wouldn't yet say I'm a runner - but I will tell you I'm treating myself to a new pair of shoes and look forward to pounding the pavement more in the near future.

Also, yesterday morning Helen looked at my belly and rather than asking hopefully whether there was a baby inside, she said excitedly "Mom, your belly is really flat. Mine is bigger than yours now!".

40 - I'm coming for you in May. I'll be stronger, leaner, and faster than I've been since 2004 when I completed that triathlon. More important? I'll stand my ground.


Monday, March 11, 2013

North Star

Someday, I hope my children think of me as their North Star - the person that shines just a little bit brighter than all the other people in their life. If I'm lucky, I'll be the person they think about when they get to a tough spot. I'll be the one they relive funny stories with and call when they find out they or their partner are pregnant. I'll be the one who shines a light, when all the other lights still leave the world dark. Because it's just a little bit too much to ask that they never encounter darkness.

Connor and Helen each have their own qualities - some of them are easily understood by the world, others a little more difficult. Take, for example, that glazed look Connor gets. He's probably not ignoring you. He's probably trying to digest something you just said, or he's living so inside himself that he just can't break out. He's not trying to make you crazy, I promise. Or the way Helen will adamantly insist it is noon, even as the sun descends. She's just trying to tell you what time she wishes it were. The past is last Friday and the future is tomorrow. The rest of time is just irrelevant.

To be a North Star for someone, you have to recognize that you're at least a little bit like each other. That you're made of the same stuff, even if the stuff doesn't seem to be put together in the right way for both of you. Even if the stuff is really hard to understand. That thing that makes Connor try something a second time even when it makes no sense to do so? That's Ed. That thing that makes Helen refuse to budge because everyone is looking at the little guy to give? That's me.

But I'm also the one standing in the corner and I swear, every time I see one of them figure out something on their own, a little part of gets lifted up. I try not to instantly react with a "good job". I try, instead, to smile and let them feel their own pride, not borrow mine. These are the moments when they don't so much need a North Star, but it's hopefully nice to see a smile of confirmation. But the moment when the pine car fails to win first, when the beads fall off the necklace and scatter on the ground, and when that last task seems impossible - that's when you need a North Star.

And if you look over your shoulder just a little bit, I'm trying so hard to be where you can see me out of the corner out of your eye.


This post was inspired by Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison. Parenting is a challenging job, but what challenges does a parent with Asperger's face? Join From Left to Write on March 12 as we discuss Raising Cubby. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ski Vacation - Part 1

We've been in Steamboat Springs, Colorado since Saturday - and the mountain and town are just about as I remember them from several years ago. We left our own home to a contractor who has done loads of work for us since the time we moved in, and look forward to having two remodeled bathrooms when we return. Or at least having close to two bathrooms. The vanity for one bathroom never arrived (ack!) and the other bathroom apparently crumbled into a bajillion pieces when work on the ceiling began. Not surprising - but causing slight delays in completion, possibly.

When last we left Steamboat, Connor was four years old, delighting in crushing the competition on a little race course with cones set up for ski school. His trick? Slow and steady - let the other kids fall down. This year? Connor was in the older age group for ski school, and skiied so hard on Wednesday that he fell asleep before dinner - and didn't wake until 7:00 the next morning. His teacher was not surprised when we ran into him on the mountain the following day.

I was hoping to snag video of Helen racing on the same little race course that Connor raced on, but she adapted so well to skiing that she quickly got promoted two levels of lessons and is now skiing down a trail that is 3 miles long. Repeatedly! She also learned the two rules of riding the chairlift: no jumping off; no falling asleep.

Connor and Helen started the week insisting that they not be forced to go to ski school, and after one day, were delighted to go back two more days. Just as I remember from last time, these ski instructors rock. We ran into both of the kids at different times on the mountain, and every time the instructor was full of enthusiasm, joking with the kids, and making sure they were having a blast - while also working on some pretty tough ski skills. Well done, all around!

After three days of lessons, my plan was to ski with Connor for the day, while Ed and his dad skied together. But Helen was so excited to show us her favorite run, and she knows how exhausted she is at the end of the day, that she ended up skiing with us today as well rather than going to a lesson. For most of the day, Ed and I each took one child which worked out well. Connor likes to show-off on the blue trails, and Helen can't handle them yet - though her teacher took her on a few yesterday.

My little speed racer.
I figure I have two to three more years of being a better skier than Connor. Wish me luck that I don't break any knees trying to keep up with him!