Tuesday, July 31, 2012

First Group Swim Lesson

What's new and exciting this week? Well, for starters:

For the first time, James is in a group swim lesson, just like his big sister has been doing for years!

While James still has trouble focusing, keeping both hands on walls, and putting his head close to the water, he's also more game to try things than a lot of first timers. Here he is, kicking on a board on his tummy ...

... and his first attempt on his back:

Looks like he's off to a good start!

So Hard, Just for Me

Today I am doing something that is excruciatingly hard - donating my car. It's not just my car. Not just my first new car (25 years ago). My first new car that my Dad helped me test drive and buy.

It's my car that's Been There through a slew of awful life upheavals: breakups, moves I did not want to make, times when the only person I could bear to be around was myself ... and my car. Back when gas was still under $2 a gallon, we'd take off on weekends to hike or be alone on central coast beaches. This car has over 240,000 miles on it. Some parts have been replaced, but it's still basically itself. I've had good times with it too -- road trips with friends to Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.

The hardest thing for me to release is my last big physical link to my life before everything changed in 1991. I'm talking about the Oakland Hills Fire. Where I lost the home, neighbourhood, and things  I grew up in / with in a day, seared by temperatures well over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and blasted in a firestorm that created its own gale-force winds. My family and I ran for our lives twice that day, helped by friends and some family members whom I will remember forever with gratitude.

When I crept back behind police lines the next day, everything was leveled, smoking, and covered with a fine grey ash. The fire was still not out. But there it was, my car -- with the only change of clothes I had in the world in a bag in the trunk. One tire burned and the power lines above had melted and dripped onto it, but it was there, and it the engine turned over when I got in and twisted the key.

In the weeks that followed, I found out who my true friends were, and that process hurt. I lost several close friends and family members in a steady procession in the following 4 years. I found out what bastards our home insurance company was run by, and it sickened me. My auto insurance wanted to total the car, but relented when I said I wanted to keep it. I had it checked thoroughly after, and nothing needed replacing except the burned-out tire. It stood by me and I tried to do the same.

Over the past 2 years, however, it started needing repairs that I could no longer afford. My husband and I decided, after James' diagnosis in 2007, that it would be best to have a parent be stay at-home, and our income halved in consequence shortly after. I've been fighting to keep it with me, though. I know in my head that this has been long overdue; that sometimes I have to let things go to let new things on. I know that holding on to this car is all for me, and it's not helping our family at this point. Someone else can benefit from this car. It still hurts me today though, in a burning way.

I have had the support of friends to help me make the best decision -- it's being donated to the Make A Wish foundation for children. It will go to auction and I hold hope that someone somewhere will buy it and make it go again. It should not take too much - just more than I can give right now. So good-bye, my Mazda. Go and make a wish for someone's child come true, and keep on making a difference in someone's life. I will never forget you.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Scenes By the Pool

Another hot summer afternoon, some more ours enjoyed at the pool. This time I am doing a little work, poolside, before diving in. I just took a break and a few pics with Photo Booth:

I miss the Sunday comics. Just saying ...

Now in ThermalVision!!
And now, back to work ... although technically, this is a break for me, because the kids are occupied on their own and unplugged.

I'd have taken pictures of the skywriters and their "Geico" messages formed in circles too, but they dissipated pretty quickly.

This is how I enjoy the Vineman, BTW. I think it's my new tradition. Pass me that iced tea, Dahling ...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Snoopy Time

James' big sister was invited to a birthday party that involved ice skating at our local arena, Snoopy's Home Ice. It's a gorgeous facility, and quite a gift from Charles M. Schultz and family.

I blew out my knee this week, so James and I remained on the sidelines. We didn't mind too much, as this is a great place to even visit:
"Look, Mommy! Snoopy's nose!"

Yup, that beagle's nose is neigh irresistible!

Oh man, the music took me back to the late 70s-80s, and ice/roller skating parties of my youth ...
It was really nice for us all to be out past our usual time. The kids couldn't get over how light it still was after 8pm and were thrilled to be treated to sharing an order of hot fries on the way home. Everyone slept well that night!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Special Exposure / Wordless Weds: Wacky

Today is Wacky Wednesday at summer camp. Just about everyone took it seriously:

For more images from the heart and to share some of yours,
visit Special Exposure Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Special Needs.
5 Minutes for Special Needs

               and ... Wordless Wednesday

Summer Reading Rewards

On our visit to the library last week we updated our Reading Lists for the 2012 Summer Reading program. Because both kids earned their week 5 stickers, they received gift certificates for some frozen yogurt from a newly opened shop that was just across the Town Green. As it was about 90 degrees out, this was a welcome reward.
I had trouble keeping James focused on writing the titles on his list ...

... because the Blues Clues game (see top of image) suddenly became available.

Yodeling for yogurt.

Mmmmmmm, yoooooogurt. Vanilla, comme toujours.

Thank you, Windsor Library and Yogurt Farms, for making literature delicious and delightful for the next generation!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What Am I: Answer

Another clue:


Okay -- it's Island Oasis!

James and his sister are touring alluring Islands around the world this week for summer camp. So far, they have visited the Phillipines and Arruba. I'd be intensely jealous, except I get a break while they are having a great time.

So far, they've worn leis and grass skirts to sing and dance on the stage at the center, made crafts with jewels from the sea, and even done some science experiments. James has come home with a new vocabulaory word: "cool." I love it!
Bijou by Big Sis

This is his second year with the older kids' summer camp through our Parks & Rec department. Before that, he had a blast for three years of their preschool summer camp. This gives James a chance to shine in regular activities without a 1:1 aide. Many of the staff know him and, because this is James' super power, everyone is his pal.

It's also a chance for James' sister to get out and have some fun without having little brother tagging along like a shadow. Even thought they are in the same program, he's with the younger kids and she's with the older group. It took a little persuasion to get her to relax and leave the supervision to the camp counselors, but things seem to have settled down well.

They get a little adventure and excitement, plus social time with their peers. I get some serenity. We all get to pretend we've been to an Island Oasis. Who knew the community center could be so many things?

Monday, July 23, 2012

What Am I?

Hint: It's a place ... and a state of mind.

Answers tomorrow.

Magic Marker Monday: Crayon People

James took all four crayons from his special library crayonbox and asked for some paper. Usually, he scribbles. Out of the blue, out popped these little guys:

No hesitation, and he was completely happy when they were done. "Here, mommy, this is for you," he said. This was quickly followed up with a request for tape. Where did he display it? In his room, where we can enjoy it together.

Wow, James -- just wow. It's these steady little breakthroughs of yours that make bright sunshine in my life.

For more great masterpieces or to share some of your own, visit
 5 Minutes for Special Needs for more Magic Marker Monday.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

SOOC Weekend: Illusionfish

I really like this photo I took of a fish on our recent trip to the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab.

The reflections of light off the huge tanks and the entry hall behind me made it look like the fish was swimming from the water into the air, near the ceiling, and above the rolling hills outside.

Linking up again with Murrieta 365 for some SOOC show and share, where it's all straight-out-of-camera (SOOC).


A Visit to the Marine Lab

On Friday, the kids and I joined their grandparents on a visit to the UC Davis Marine Lab on Bodega Bay. We drove through some lovely summer countryside and enjoyed a picnic together before joining one of the free, docent-led tours through their facility.

Sea anemone

Some flounders

James became bored about half way through the tour, so we walked back to the main hall for a bathroom break and waited for everyone else to finish up.

We had gorgeous weather and hopefully James learned some new things about fish in our area. His big sister soaked up enough information from before the tour  to answer some of the tour guide's questions to our group. I am sure she'll be sharing this with James for quite some time.
Sea urchin, sea star, seaweed, & some bivalves in the outdoor tide pool.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

More Summer 2012 Reading

Here are three more books that James and I read together as part of his summer reading program. We had mixed successes with this group.

"We Were Tired of Living In a House:"

James liked this book, but lost interest 2/3 of the way through the story. He liked the pictures and the adventure, but was not keen on keeping track of what they carried and lost along the way. If the book had been shorter, he probably would have liked to reread this with me.

"Cubes, Cones, Cylinders, and Spheres:"

I thought this was going to be great, as James was obsessed with shapes last year and retains an interest in them. However, there were no words in the book, and while some photos were interesting, several were also like the one directly above. James was totally not interested in talking about finding 3-D shapes in real-life photos. I think words on a page would have anchored him more to this book. Having children play with the shapes would have been best. All in all, disappointing.

"Spot Can Count:"

James' pick to take home, and by far his favourite book of the week. The pictures were engaging and Spot counted barnyard animals up to 10. An easy-to-read, engaging book for James. He loved the fold-out portions of the book that revealed the number of animals for each page. Some were missing, which sadly can happen with well-liked board books.

This coming week we selected only two books. I think that's good, as I am rereading his SpongeBob books with him as well. For the eleventy-seventh time! We'll check back later to report on our last summer reading selections.

When Is Intervention Helpful?

I read this online column a few days back, and it gave me lots of food for thought. In it, a neighbour asks if it's appropriate for her to call Child Protection Services (CPS) on parents who provide care for their severely disabled child at the expense of their infant daughter. Has anyone else read it?

Holy freakin' cowbells.

I am glad to see that several people emailed in after the initial post to provide some more balanced responses, because the advice columnist's initial response was to affirm a call to CPS. I thought the first commenter (on page 2) echoed my thoughts -- the concerned party should get the parents in touch with support services first.

Now, how many of the general population know (1) that it's there and (2) how to appropriately effect a connection between the two parties? Very few, I am guessing. In part because services and protocols vary so wildly across cities, counties, regions, and states -- there is no consistent way to discover their presence. The larger organizations (like Autism Speaks and MyAutismTeam) try to connect to the more local groups, but keeping on top of what's current is a very difficult, time-consuming task.

Strengthening my conviction of this special needs 411 bewilderment are the instances this year in which I got a taste of the frustration of those close to special needs families who want to help, but don't know where or how to start. I was contacted by a couple of people from my daughter's school district and some friends who know my particular situation and wanted info to pass along to someone they knew. I found out that, as little I know, it's a lot more than some officials. It gave me incentive to create a services pamphlet that, while neither comprehensive nor official, is a fairly decent first step to connect those in need with services and support in our area.

How disconnected we all are. There are so many fantastic people, groups, and services out there, and still so many who do not know they are there. So while the original writer's question made my blood pressure rise, I am glad it put this very important topic out there, so more are aware that services do exist for special needs families.

Most of my information came from our North Bay Regional Center and the professionals who worked directly with our son. Until we were in this situation, I had no idea that special day preschools, developmental therapists, and respite care were available to families on the spectrum. Every week I learn something new. It makes me wonder -- from whom did you hear about services and how did you get the information that helped your family?

When Life Hands You Lemons ...

Stress from health, happiness, and financial issues in our family keep happening. I know we are not alone in this. Dear Lord, how I know. However, all the stress and strife can lay one low. And still, life keeps handing us lemons.

Last week, we all kept hanging in there, by our fingers and toes. If there's some positive divine intervention waiting out there in the universe, just waiting to happen, now would be a very good time to happen -- and here would be good too.

Meanwhile, James wanted to wear aprons (for reasons unclear to me). There were brownie fixin's in the pantry. Away we went:

Everything went very well until ... I realized I couldn't hear the gas running through to the oven. The stove top burners still turn on, but the oven has decided to join the dishwasher in anti-working solidarity.

Luckily, we'd poured the brownie mix into the Pyrex baking pan, so I could take a baking time guess and cook that chocolaty goodness in the microwave. No after pictures, but they were mighty fine. And James got to wear his apron with the red in in it. He took turns mixing the batter and could not have been happier. His sister got to lick the bowl and help me sample the finished goods, which were pronounced deeeee-licious.

Meanwhile, I have a new to-do item on my household improvements manifesto ...

Random at Doran

It's been a tough week for our family. There are some major shifts on our horizons. In a suddenly open afternoon, I decided that rather than worry over things that *might* happen, I should take a time out and go with the kids, living in the *now*.

So I packed snack and beach bags, asked the kids to get their towels, and we piled into the van and took off for Doran Beach, to use our Regional Parks Pass. The weather was mostly grey, overcast, and windy, but that was not important.  There were vast stretches of sand to run on, throw back at the sea, and dig in.

I just liked messing with this photo.

I stretched out on my beach towel and dug into my book, "Three Times Lucky," and watched the kids stalk sea gulls, listened to their yells and squeals, and smelled the tangy sea air as it tousled my hair.

So quiet and uneventful. So hands-on and unplugged. We stayed for hours. The drive out and back along the country roads was both beautiful and soothing. No answers were found, but there was a space of peace, contentedness, and enjoyment.
A little slice of Doran Beach.
It's the little things ...

Magic Marker Monday: Library Art

We've caught up with our reading weeks for the library's summer reading program. Once we get about four weeks in, the prizes start happening. Prizes! As in, additional prize on top of having access to a free library in the first place, with Read-to-a-Dog programs, puppet shows, story times, and computer edutainment games.

James and his sister both received book bags, with crayons to colour a picture of their summer reading dreams on the outside. I loved them both, so here they are:
 James scribbled dutifully in each colour. When pressed to reveal his dream, he said "Reading to Leo." Neat!

Big Sister's was more intense:
"Is that a carrot?" I asked her.
"No mom, it's a bomb to sink the ships," my darling Tank Girl replied.

Bombs being dropped on whaling ships to stop the whale hunting. See the whale getting away while she cheers? I think we'll be checking out some Green Peace books next.

The librarian was impressed and called her bag design concept the most original she'd seen all summer. Then she helped her pick out books on gorillas, whales, and human evolution. I seriously Heart our local library and librarians.

For more great masterpieces or to share some of your own, visit
 5 Minutes for Special Needs for more Magic Marker Monday.

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