Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Rarely have I looked forward to a four-day weekend with relief as I have this year. I don't have to go or be anywhere except the family dinner on Thursday. I love baking, which is a middle-aged surprise for me. I don't bake anything fancy, I just feel a relief and satisfaction doing it, admiring my handiwork, and sharing it with others.

This year I baked cornbread and lemon loaf, having fun with all the tins I bought recently from Sur La Table on sale. I also made a salad and served up my simple green beans in my new casserole dish  (on a sale within a sale) with rooster designs by Jacques Pepin.

James is interested, but still says "no thanks" when I ask if he wants to try some. He had pizza for Thanksgiving, but he managed to sit at the table with us through dinner, despite all the anxiety over the animals that he might encounter at his grandparents' (dog was in his kennel, cats were snoozing in a back bedroom). He looked like he was enjoying himself.

After dessert, (he tried pumpkin mousse pie and liked it!) He found a quiet spot, periodically ambushing his cousins with "can we do Hide and Seek now?" Just before Thanksgiving wrapped, the cousins indulged him in two games. James was delighted. Thank you, cousins!

While I helped with the clean-up, James politely shut himself in the laundry room with his Kindle, so the dog could come out of his kennel and the cats reclaimed their house. We looked for deer on our way home (a new fascination for him) but found none.

The next day, I discovered three things:

  1. James likes (regular) pumpkin pie.
  2. We are both thrilled to hear Christmas music on the radio.
  3. He likes The Ramones (he came in at the end of Spider-man: Homecoming).
He likes pumpkin pie!!!! That practically counts as a vegetable, right?!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Life Skills, Home Version

At 12, James has chores to help around the house. He empties smaller trash cans into a garbage bag and then hauls the bag off to the dumpster. He can gather his far-flung dishes and stack them neatly in the sink. He knows where the snacks are if he gets hungry. He cleans his own bathroom and helps pick up around the apartment and his room. He helps me to shop and to carry groceries.

Today we started two new items:
(1) Independence at the laundromat. While James has been doing his own laundry for a while now, that was when we lived in a house, and our washer/dryer were in the garage. Now we use the little laundromat downstairs. There are stairs to navigate with the full basket. He now needs to deal with a coin box, which requires correct sorting of quarters and mastery of the coin slide mechanics. And timing -- we share the little laundromat with 4-5 other units. James has learned that if you don't quickly make a move on an empty washer on the weekends, you will need to wait another hour before trying again.

(2) Vacuuming the carpet. This is big progress. James used to scream and cry at the sound of a vacuum cleaner. Over the years we progressed to his tolerating it behind closed doors in another room. In an apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting and two cats, however, vacuuming has become more necessary. I gave James the choice between cleaning the cat box or running the vacuum cleaner. He chose the vacuum cleaner. He has learned how to plug it in, that the cord comes out of the unit and retracts if you depress a lever. He has learned which lever allows the handle to ease back and that the red button controls the on/off function. The noise still bothers him, so I will take him to try on headphones that dampen noises.

Not only does this help me, it (hopefully) shows James that everyone needs to pitch in to help keep a home going. It's also giving him life skills so he can have a more independent life.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Food Shopping Evolution

Well, the day has finally arrived: James is eating more food as he prepares to hit his main growth years. At age 12 (almost 13) he is reaching 5'6". He is still a picky eater, and his overall well being suffers when he does not eat.

Luckily, Costco has an answer for that: cheese pizzas that he asks for (4/$10 ... yay finally having an oven that works! So long, Little Caesar's!) and yogurt. I have bookend foods (dinner and breakfast) that fit in my budget!

Then there's Costco itself. I have James come with me. We get in walking time - yay, exercise. He also helps carry out to the car and returns the cart, if we take one. Of course he meets people he knows ("James! Hi!" from one of his yard duty buddies, while we wait in line).

I am starting to look at the clothes. James is now wearing mens' size 10.5 shoes and small in clothing. Pants are tricky, as he has the length, but is still in kid mode for bone size -- I can still get away with kids XL sizes there sometimes.

We have already determined that the underwear is a no-go (No briefs. What the heck is this new style in mens' underpants?). He does not like the socks or shoes. But jackets, shorts and pants? Those are distinct possibilities. And a bathrobe.

This Costco addition to our weekly shopping comes at a good time, in a way. The Trader Joe's nearest us (yes, our beloved Trader Joe's, where the Crew Members all know James and miss him if I shop without him) took a hit in the Tubbs Fire last month. The building still stands but the business next to it was completely destroyed and a lot of smoke and water damage resulted in the surrounding area. It's closed for probably the next year.

This means that we now have to shop 10-15 minutes further south, at the next Trader Joe's. This one is in a big retail complex that includes a Costco and Costco gas station. If we time our runs strategically, we can hit all 3 without too much craziness at checkout or the parking lot. James grumbles about having to go with me, because he has developed this weird phobia about plants (since August) and guess what Trader Joe's sells outside their entrance? Once inside, it's okay. We see a lot of our regular Crew Members, and I think that reassures all of us.

Raley's strangely enough, still has the best prices around for cat litter (for what I can easily haul up 16 stairs) and canned cat food. They also have a good emergency sized cat food in the brand they prefer. So I still shop there, either after I drop off James at school or on our way back from Boys and Girls Club. They also have the soft wheat bread that James likes, and the lunch ham that I can use for work lunches. Occasionally they will have a good deal on berries (for James' sister) or asparagus and Peets (for me). And come birthday time, this is where the kids get to pick out the frosting and decorations for their birthday cakes (they both still like making their own cakes from scratch with a Lazy Daisy recipe). I like Raley's a lot. I am glad it's still one of my regular retail stops.

Two new local shopping establishments are being added to our routine: Berry's Market and the True Value Hardware stores down the street from us. But that's another story ...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Schoolbox Project: Disaster Relief Unsung Hero

So, there was this wildfire ... The kids and I were displaced for over a week from our new home, which we'd moved into barely a week prior to that.

View from my bedroom balcony, 3am
Schools shut down. No one knew where the fires would flare up next or when they might be stopped. For the first 3 days, the main focus was on evacuations, not containment. While the closed hospitals and schools had and used their email, phone and text systems to communicate with patients and parents, other organizations were silent.

No one answered the phone at our new apartment complex. The Boys and Girls Club never picked up, let alone posted a message or provided a recording. Nothing from the North Bay Regional Center. Roads and highways kept closing. Highway 101, the main thoroughfare, was closed periodically, with some main on/offramps closed for over 10 days. People were still trying to find staff, get a phone signal, locate the proper agency who could okay a reopening.

Some children on the spectrum lost their home and their schools (through fire or temporarily via evacuation). Regardless of the type of loss, these losses hit our kids on the spectrum especially hard. The familiar neighbourhoods and routines that helped keep the overwhelming world in patterns they could deal with were gone. Suddenly.

Many, like us, left in the middle of the night, with flames close behind them. And suddenly, they didn't have a home. The world looked, smelled, sounded, and felt totally different.
View from living room window, 3am.
While parents were faced with still having to work (if their jobs were still there and functioning), monitoring the radio for updates, trying to call insurance, or filling out assistance paperwork, our kids on the spectrum were afloat in uncertainty, stress, and trying to hold it together.

Sunrise two days later, 10 miles north of our apartment: rush hour.
For most of a week, we were thankfully able to stay with local family members. We had time to pack some clothing, our cats, and other items meaningful to us on our way to safety. After the first day, I went to work. It had power, gas, water, phones, and the internet -- a combination missing from most of our area for almost 5 days. It also allowed me a daily pilgrimage to the police lines to visually reassure myself that the apartment still appeared to be fine.

My daughter tended a house full of cats, read, and helped out a lot. She had friends to talk with. James ... had his Kindle. He was with people who loved him in a familiar place, but it wasn't HIS place. He and I slept on sofas and he had to deal with living with a dog and eating different foods. He did get to watch a little more TV than usual but he was off his orbit.

After several days of being polite and trying to keep it together, James started verbal stims, spitting (in garbage cans, but still), and taking random things apart. I started taking him on drives to find a phone signal and let him use my phone for internet access. We spent part of a weekend afternoon bagging carrots for the local Food Bank. Anything to give my family and James a break from each other after my being at work.

Then I heard about the Schoolbox Project. A temporary setup was opening close to my work: the Skylane Project. I signed James up. He went there for a few days, until his school and Boys and Girls Club opened back up. It was wonderful. The staff were kind and patient. I could tell they loved working with kids and wanted to give them a safe place to be.

I could check on him during the day on break and pick him up after work and we'd head "home" together. James liked getting outside and being with littler kids (he was pretty much the oldest kid that I saw there). He helped them put things away. He tried sneaking out (testing) and the staff and some hockey team players took the time to talk with him about staying with the program and then engaged him. He spent time in a Quiet Tent. He jumped and skipped. They had his adored Nachos Doritos for snacks. He really liked the day that someone brought in a ukulele and let the kids take turns making sounds with it. I asked James what songs they sang and he said: Down By the Bay.

 It was a good break for James. It meant a lot to me, as a parent trying to get us back to normal. We were very lucky that our place was okay and we did get to go back. James' school reopened and all the staff and most of the students returned. We are thankful that we were able to get back to our routines in our spaces.

Looking back now, after about a month, I can see how much the community has been responding to this crisis. It is amazing and gives me hope. There are many people and organizations helping those hit with losses. I salute them all, and not least The Schoolbox Project. They heeded a need in a crisis and tended to it, and our special needs kids and families benefitted. Thank you.

Myths and Our World

Homework assignment for James: Come up with your own mythology: 3 sentences, less than 1 piece of paper. I weep.


James has been fascinated with the deer who live in the area around us. He loves to spot deer on rides through our agricultural region. Today we took our first drive along Geyser Road since the fires came through and ravaged our county a little over a month ago. It was very evident that this road served as a major firebreak.

During the hour plus-long drive, all I heard about were the deer. Did we see the deer? What did they do? What do they eat? Did they escape the fires? Do they get hit by cars and die? We did saw the deers, didn't we?

He gave the deers voices and dialog, usually "Oh no, we're on fire!" or "The deer are eating, Mother, hear them? Munch, munch, nom-nom-nom." and "Crash! The car smashed into the mommy deer and the baby deer! Aaaaah!"

We saw one deer dash across the road out of a burn zone, across the road, to the foliage on the other side. We talked about that one darned deer for 37 minutes.

All this came together for the Mythology assignment:

  1. The deer had bright colours (like purple and red).
  2. They walked into some smoke.
  3. The smoke turned their colours into camouflage.
Thank goodness, a productive outcome!


Sunday, November 05, 2017

Falling Back, and Back, and Back

So, have you set your clock back yet, all you Daylight Savers? Oh how I look forward to this: Reclaiming some lost sleep. In theory. I have learned to temper my hopes.

This year, recalling past early morning halls of OMG fame, James woke me up at 3:something, 4:30am, 5:15am, 5:35am .... and then I lost count.

The first time, he merely announced he was awake. Second time, I heard his stomach growling as he prowled the hallway. I directed him to go make himself some waffles, and he did.

Interlude.

One of the next times, I was roused to the sound of someone jumping on his bed, which has no frame. A quick knock-knock quieted that fun.

Then the pacing and marathon of door opening and shutting. I forget what time that was. Provided clear direction to go to his room and use his Kindle quietly and STAY there for at least an hour.

Turned over to try and rest some more.

Then the neighbour with the horribly effective subwoofers turned on his TV.

OMG.

The apartment is still throbbing as I type.

Sleep deprivation: always fun. Not.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

First Passenger Train Ride

James loves trains. He has been on train rides before at Disneyland:




Travel Town:


Little Steamers:



But on the West Coast, there have not been a lot of chances to experience passenger rail. That changed this weekend with the opening of SMART. We took an afternoon trip from the Sonoma County Airport to downtown San Rafael and back. Standing room only, most of the way. Luckily, we arrived early enough and got seats.








What an exciting was to spend a Monday. Here's to more train trips!