Monday, December 31, 2012

Don't Look Down!

Today, I took X-man to the Y. It's the first time since school started where he's been in the big kid playroom. He was excited to go though because it had been forever. The last time we were there, he tripped and fell off the climber and got a small scrape/bruise in the middle of his back. They texted me during my work out (of course, I was in the pool sans phone). But they gave him ice and cuddles until I was there 10 minutes later (we got lucky on the timing).

I signed him in and he went in to play with a bunch of kids I knew from MMO. When I've been there to walk the track, do some PT exercises and focus on some core items over the last month, I've seen a lot of MMO parents coming in for Body Pump and Body Attack.

I ran into our neighbors today, and their daughter was excited about seeing X-man in the playroom. Then I went upstairs and got on an upright bike. I tried to do my pre-surgery workout of doing a hill setting on level 10. It was fine, until I got to the 5 bars of "peak" performance. Then the pedals got so heavy that my recovering foot couldn't handle it. I took the bike back to a manual setting and did a 15-minute workout. Then I got off, cleaned it off and went into the track to do a 30-minute walk.

As I made my way around the track, I noticed a bunch of people working out like mad. The YMCA has started a Crossfit group, and this looked to be the more experienced group. I knew two of the ladies from MMO. They were awesome. Strong, fit, healthy. Seriously, sweaty and beautiful.

I sighed and remembered when I, too, used to do crazy things with kettle balls and jump ropes. It was a huge dose of self-pity, so I vowed not to look down when I walked around for the next 30 minutes. I was doing what I could do. They were doing what they can do. (Lord knows, I couldn't do the pull ups, even with the stirrup bands.) The plan to look away worked maybe 1 out of 3 times. But in the end, I felt pretty good about my 45 minutes of cardio. And, I start working out with Kari on Thursday at 11 a.m. One step at a time, right?

I walked over to the weight training area and did some arm and shoulder work. I ran into Special K. Then I did some walking lunges and some stretching and ran off to get X-man, who had managed to fall down again. He said that his back hurt a lot, but he wouldn't let me look under his shirt either there or at home. The Child Watch people said they looked at it but couldn't see any kind of bruising. They said he was mostly surprised that he'd fallen.

But it was a successful workout. I felt pretty comfortable. Three weeks ago, my PT had me do a two-legged calf lift, transfer weight to my sore foot and then lower down. I couldn't do it. Now I can do it -- on a 1/2 of a foam roller, and I can pick up my foot. We're probably around 60% back to where I was before the injury. If we can get me to extra weight baring for things like pushing the heavy bike pedals and jumping at a volleyball net and jogging, I'll be ever so happy.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

X-man, this is Harry Potter

I'm so excited. For years, I have wanted to read Harry Potter to X-man, but he wouldn't let me. He could not get passed the idea that Harry's aunt and uncle disliked him and made him live under the stairs. But now that he's been on a roll with the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, he's interested. I told him that if he could stomach Lord of the Rings (the movies) he was totally ready for Harry Potter.

But the deal is I have to finish the Fortune Wookiee chapter book we're reading right now before we can start on it. Usually we only read 1 or 2 chapters a night. But since, he's given me permission to read HP, I read 75 pages to him on the way from Bloomington back to Savoy yesterday. :-)

I've got over 2/3 of the book done, but I'm trying to get through it so that we can start the new year with a new chapter book.

We'll see if that happens.

I don't think I've read the original HP in over 10 years. It'll be nice to reread it!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Forget the cow...

I'm actually doing very well at this dairy-free thing. I'm not as resentful as I was before, but maybe that's because my library search for a lot of vegan cookbooks (they don't make a lot of ovo-vegetarianism specific ones, and most vegetarian-only cookbooks use cheese) has come back with a lot of recipes I'm not only interested in eating, but am happy to make.

Today, we took X-man to Chuck E. Cheese in Bloomington because MacTroll's brother was driving from Peoria to Wisconsin today and he left his camera at our place. So, we arrived at CeC a little after 9:30 and X-man and I went in. MacTroll waited a few minutes and then gave them the camera.

We played games for two hours (100 coins for $20) and then we took off down the street to Zoup for lunch.

It sells soup and sandwiches and salads and is a pretty small, but enjoyable space for a quick lunch. I had the V, DF, LF Split Pea Soup. X-man got a cup of potato and cheese soup, but he thought the guy said cheesy potato chip. :-) He also had a grilled cheese sandwich. MacTroll had some kind of cup of beefy soup and half a sandwich.

When we got home, X-man and I finished the Monopoly game he started last night with KTDID while MacTroll and I went to the movies.

We saw This is 40 at the Savoy 16. It was an odd experience. First of all, there were a million people there for the 6 p.m. movie. They were waiting in incredibly long lines. But no one was at the automated ticket selling machine. So we parted our way through the line and bought our tickets in 60 seconds flat.

Then we went into the movie. Since it was Judd Apatow, I was hoping for dumb and funny mixed together. I'm not a big fan of his other movies. But for some reason, I thought maybe I could identify with this one. But I couldn't. The characters were very shallow. It was like watching some kind of strange anthropological study of a culture you just couldn't understand but were trying not to look horrified.

The best part of the film was when Paul Rudd was on his bike and he was careening around town with the Fiona Apple song in the background. On the other hand, the movie was mostly by artists that would have been most celebrated by my parents' generation (Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Lindsey Buckingham, Yoko Ono, Graham Parker, etc.).

And, um, if you're going to pick someone to play the 40 year old female lead who wants to whine about her age and how it's negatively affecting her self-esteem, her looks, etc. -- pick someone whose forehead actually wrinkles so you can tell them apart from the 20-something.

Because on all counts, Leslie Mann (born 1972) is hotter and smarter than Megan Fox (born 1986) in this movie... and it's hard to pity that at all. In essence, I guess the whole thing was just very Southern California. What is deemed in the film as "mid-life" problems for this family were pretty -- petty.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Home for the Holidays

This year most of MacTroll's family came to our house for Christmas. Since we plan on putting the house up for sale in March and hope to move to California this summer (barring any ugly, national financial issues) it's likely to be the last Christmas in a house that can hold nine extra people.

It was super fun to see the family and for X-man to have kids around. He was so excited about it that he couldn't spend the night in the tent with his cousins. He said it was too hard to shut his brain down, so he spent the night on my yoga mat in his Buzz Lightyear sleeping bag on the floor of our room. We've been getting him to bed by 9:30 every night, with his usual 30-45 minutes of reading stories time, so we're not doing too bad.

Lily, on the other hand, was flabbergasted by all the people. I have nieces and nephews that are quiet steppers. Unlike my family, who are all loud steppers. So, children would arise and come upstairs for breakfast and Lily would freak out. "Where did you come from? Have I met you?" Bark, bark, bark. Then she'd sniff them and they'd pet her and she'd remember and calm down. But five unknown kids and four unknown adults makes things interesting for her. Plus, none of them have dogs, so they totally took her for a lot of walks, which she appreciated.

My father-in-law wrote a book about his many years working for Caterpillar. He asked me to proofread it so I started on the preface this morning after the family all left. It's a memoir, so it reads very easily.

X-man had only one real setback this Christmas, when miracle upon miracle, I was able to find a white Wii U. I ordered it online from Toys R Us. It came, X-man opened a Wii U game first and said, "Wait! We don't have a Wii U." Then he looked at me, ran back to pick up the  heavy box, unwrapped it and started to hug it and repeated "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Great! Awesome! Except when MacTroll took it downstairs, it didn't work. We tried a few things and then he went upstairs to look online. Blinking blue light = Wii U D.O.A.

Lots of disappointment. But my Dad did get X-man a copy of Lego Star Wars Clone Wars III for the Wii. And we just popped that in. And any disappointment seemed to lessen.

I think Nintendo was happy MacTroll waited two days before calling their customer support line, too. We have to send the console back in and they're sending us a new one. But I think the guy on the other end was glad there wasn't a verbally abusive parent with a sobbing kid in the background (or lots of kids.)

Overall, it was a very enjoyable Christmas. I have lots of good books to read and a new fuzzy robe. And I also get to start on doing the paint touch ups on the house and finish up getting ready to sell. It's coming so quickly now.

I'm really kind of excited -- and nervous!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Skinny and the Fat

In case you didn't know, I sometimes, to take my mind off of the real world, read I giggle and laugh a lot at what people find newsy or interesting. The obsession with the royal family, that Honey Boo Boo child and, of course, any new hook up or break up. It feels like fantasy.

But another element of People that has always bugged me has been the size of people. And what I don't understand is how People can go on and on about how thin Matthew McConaughey has gotten for his movie role as a person living with AIDS and be blind to how they praise women for that which they illicit concern when it comes to men.

Apparently for men this is okay:

But this dramatic change is not.

But for women, the norm is this:

In all honesty, I get excited when I see women who look more like this:

They're fit. Crazy fit. And I can't wait to get my foot back so I can be that way again, too. Because holy cow, has my body had enough of sitting. And I want to wear my old pants again. 

So as we get closer and closer to me going back to a regular life, I am getting excited. I start to see my friend Kari for workouts on Tuesday and Thursdays. I still go to Physical Therapy on Tuesdays and Fridays. I work on Mondays and Wednesdays. I attend Rotary and volunteer at Carrie Busey on Thursdays. My weeks will be full again. And I am so excited to get my life back. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Caroling is Overwhelming"

Last night, the first graders at Carrie Busey Elementary School had a holiday concert, where they sang carols. They asked us to be there by 5:30 p.m. So we were on time, but I had a feeling getting there 30 minutes before the concert began was going to be a problem. X-man was amped and ready to go the minute he went in the doors. But there was nothing for the kids do until the concert started at 6 p.m., and since we were in the gym, they felt like running. So a slew of kids started a game of tag. He stopped twice to hug both of his first grade teachers. 

About 5:50 p.m. some kids started getting lined up on the riser. X-man figured no adult had told him to stop playing, so he kept running. 

The next thing we knew, he was sitting on the ground between the two audience areas crying. This is not unusual for events like this. They're really not built to be successful for children with social anxiety issues. I guess one of his friends said something about how it was time for him to stop running and to sit down. X-man inferred that what he was doing was bad. So he cried. He doesn't want to be bad. He was having fun. How can having fun with his friends make him bad?

He crawled up in my lap, but it wasn't making him feel better. I noticed Awesome's Mom had moved from her folding chair seat to the wall on the far side of the gym. Awesome wasn't sure if he wanted to sing or not. So, I headed over there with X-man. The music teacher starting singing songs with some musical friends, and X-man got upset that they'd have to wait even longer to go up there. He started crying again. "Why are they singing at our concert? Why do we have to wait more? I'm so tired." 

X-man told me he was suddenly scared to go up there. He was afraid of all the cameras. What if he got nervous and started to cry again and all the cameras took pictures of him crying? Then he noticed that the smartboard with the lyrics didn't have the lyrics on them like it was supposed to, and he cried about that. The principal went to see if he could fix that for him (because like most people, if there's something that can be done, he's the kind of guy that will totally "make it so.") 

He missed two songs. "I practiced so hard, Mommy. I want to sing those songs." He started to cry again. I told him that we could go home or he could show me what he practiced and sing in my lap or he could give standing up there a try for at least one song. He wasn't sure. He tried to take me with him. But then changed his mind. That's when one of his teachers, Mrs. Cabutti, came over and backed me up. He hugged me and I walked him to the edge of the audience. Then he ran up there and waved me back to the wall.

Like a trooper, he sang the whole concert staring at the lyric board reading along. If it got off track, he'd try to look up to the words on the screen projected on the wall for the audience to sing along. He put up his hand a time or two to block out some of the people with their cameras out to help him not be so afraid. You could tell he was nervous, but he was rallying. 

And then something unexpected happened. A first grader's little brother climbed up on the risers next to X-man. X-man thought this was pretty adorable. He likes the unexpected. He kept his eye on him and tried to help him out. He figured he just wanted to sing, too. He even picked him up once, wondering if he could return him to his mother or if it was okay for him to stay. :-) 

Besides crying, the other way I know X-man is working on emotions in his brain is that he chews on everything. His sleeves were in his mouth most of the night. He seeks sensory feedback when he's anxious, it's also when he has most of his sensory sensitivities (shoes or socks are uncomfortable, itchy underwear, etc.)

But at the end of singing, "All I Want for Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth," He turned and smiled right at me (MacTroll took the photos). It was awesome. I applauded very loudly at the end of each song. I was so proud of him for overcoming his fears and getting up there, and Mrs. Cabutti was, too. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sad Mama

You know, I have moms that I love. There are kids that I love. And I knew early on when I was touring the "Mom" groups that there was probably going to be a time when I was going to love a mom and not be so wild about her kid or I was going to love a kid and not be so wild about her mom.

But never did I think that the situation was going to be me being wild about someone's kid AND her mom, but having the two kids suddenly not get a long. It's not one child's fault over the other. They just suddenly started bickering like Statler and Waldorf, except they started getting after each other rather than other people. I talked to MacTroll and X-man about it and then I called my friend to see if she was noticing it, too. I asked if she thought the kids needed a break because they see each other every day. And she agreed.

I really like X-man's friend and his parents, but together, right now, the kids are not getting along, and the other mom hit a nail on the head when she said, "I don't want to force them to be together if they're not getting along and are both miserable."

My hope is that after break, one of them will ask for a play date. But we both agreed it should be on their terms.

But when I hung up the phone, I felt like I'd done the right thing, but I still felt really sad. I think the other mom felt that way, too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Are Mass Shootings America's Version of Suicide Bombings?

I was at my son's school on Friday while everything in Connecticut was going down. I was delivering flowers to his teachers as a thank you for the holiday. I talked with his principal, but I had no idea about what was happening out east. I am not addicted to my phone or searching for news on it, so I was clueless. Another parent was waiting for her daughter. We were both in the hallway in silence and then suddenly she said, "It's just terrible about those children in Connecticut."

She told me what happened. Then her daughter showed up and they left. I gathered Capt. J and X-man and lead them out to the car. I dropped Capt. J off and then went home. I read the news, watched Obama's comment and let X-man watch. He saw the president cry and he wanted to hug him to make him feel better. We both agreed that it was a sad, sad event. The last thing I read was a story where the idea that the shooter was rumored by family friends to have had Asperger's was brought up.

And then I went on media lockdown. I was angry that something like a medical diagnosis like that was linked, and I knew autism groups far and wide would be jumping all over how many reasons that was irresponsible journalism. I didn't want to hear people argue about how terribly we care for the mentally ill in our country or how weapons that shoot as many bullets as the guns he took into the school are unnecessary while others think they are for their Second Amendment rights. And, forgive me, I can't look at the faces of those other six and seven year olds who were slaughtered or the teachers and principals that ran into harms way to try to protect them.

I don't like to think of teachers as first responders. I don't want to hear arguments about how they should have to carry weapons to work with children.

When I do think of something like that happening at the school I returned to teach in on Monday morning, you know what I think about? I think about how many of my two year olds I could hide in a closet with and how in the world would I get them to be quiet in a lockdown situation. How would I hide their faces if we were confronted by a gunman, so they wouldn't have to see the anger in a shooter's eyes.

I think about never seeing my family again. And about all those people who won't see their children again. I get quite emotional.

I remember that areas of the world, particularly in Europe and the Middle East where these kinds of senseless killings of innocent people have been going on for 2,000 years.

Today, I read the paper for the first time since Friday and found this. It kind of summarizes how I've been thinking. In my head, I know that we are safer now than we were 30 years ago when it comes to violent homicide. I also know that as many children in Chicago are killed with more frequency than what happened in Connecticut. But the actions of those that hurt there seem bigger to me. I guess that's true ever since Jonesboro. Maybe I'm paying more attention now than I did to violence when I was a child. Either way, I don't think madness can be controlled.

What I do know is that I don't want bars on my school's windows and armed guards at the door. It's the same way I felt flying in and out of National Airport after 9/11 and seeing giant military thugs with huge guns placed there for "security." I resented it. Just like I resented driving by an anti-aircraft gun on my way to work every morning past the Pentagon. I'm angry it happened. I grieve for those lost.

I'm also pretty sure that if we added up the number of Americans murdered by mass shootings and compared it to the number of people murdered by friends and family members, the violent tendencies of the people we know would out number strangers a great deal.

I once told X-man that the odds of him getting bitten by a shark in the ocean (which he is afraid of) are smaller than the chances of him getting hit by lightning (which he's not afraid of).

I know it to be true, but why does seeing the shark fear in his face about it instantly make me worry, too?

I guess I wish math was more comforting than the power of a distressed imagination and the "what if."

Does that make any sense?

Monday, December 17, 2012


When X-man was a baby, he had a lot of funny onesies. He grew so terribly fast that he was only in 0-3 month clothing for around 6 weeks. But that's what happens when you come out over 10 lbs, right?

Anyway, I found a woman online and she made a small, decorative quilt for me to hang up on the wall. To this day, I have never hung that quilt. I've never found a modern looking rod system to put it up on. And it's a pretty awesome looking quilt.

As it turns out, my closet was getting full of race shirts I felt stupid wearing because I haven't been able to really run since Spring 2011. It made me feel terrible to look at them. So I got them together, along with a bunch of other t-shirts and outfits from MacTroll and X-man and set them in to the woman again. I was sad to learn, while she had the items for my quilt, that she was going to stop quilting after my project because she had a new full-time job.

But she totally rocked this quilt. It's a functional bed quilt, rather than a decorative one. But I love looking at all the pieces! (I don't sew, but I think it's awesome! So many memories.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cooking, Walking, Reading, Cleaning, Playing, Partying, Cooking (again)

I usually like to rest on Sunday, but today is an activity Sunday. I woke up this morning and loaded 1/2 cup of water, 4 chopped up turnips and one whole head of cauliflower into my slow cooker. Around dinner time, I will be mashing it into "Faux Mashed Potatoes." This week, I gave up my bi-weekly purchase of a small tub of Brummel and Brown for a small tub of Earth Balance vegan spread.  I also made french toast out of the Vegan Yum Yum book for the boys and I this morning. I'm trying to take steps to embrace my impending change from a lacto-ova vegetarian to an ova vegetarian. This basically means that I am a vegetable/fruit/grain eater who also eats eggs and honey.  Because my body has decided to get rid of dairy.

I've changed the oatmeal I use for breakfast in the morning. I started exploring the Amy's freezer case for quick meals on the run (since I'm working on M/W this week and will be going back to the pre-school two days a week in January -- whenever they need me. Amy wasn't sure if I'd be in a classroom, floating or subbing, so we'll see as it gets closer).

After cooking, I took Lily for a walk around the lake at Colbert Park. It's my practice walking on uneven surfaces because the path is gravel. It was hard to walk heel to toe like I'm supposed to concentrate on, so when we were done around the lake, we walked an extra 1/2 mile around the block on flat surfaces, so I could make sure that I was hitting the ground with my heel on my bad foot and pushing off with my toe. I found out why my body doesn't naturally do this any more -- it hurts in the joint at the ball of my tiniest toe. This makes sense because it's where the peroneal tendons run... but when I do walk on it correctly on flat surfaces -- it crunches like crazy. And it both feels good and kind of burns/pinches. Almost like it's stuck from non-use. So, I guess we'll be working on that joint's mobility on Tuesday.

I'm currently reading "Work Hard. Be Nice" by Jay Mathews. A book about two Teach for America teachers who are re-inventing education for children who live in poverty -- and are getting some amazing results. I'm only able to fit in a chapter here and there, but it's invigorating as a parent and as an educator.

Today is conquer the laundry mountain day. Clean sheets for everyone!

Today at 2 p.m. Awesome is coming over to play with X-man. MacTroll is going to hang out with them if they decide to play the Wii. X-man is usually a pretty good teacher, but he could use a reminder here and there about being a positive coach rather than a, "Hey, do you want me to use your remote to do that for you?" kind of person.

At 4 p.m., MacTroll and I are wandering across the street to a holiday open house for one of our new neighbors. According to my Christmas card from my aunt, the woman used to be her college roommate. We have a babysitter coming from 4-5:30 p.m. because it's an adult-only thing. What will I wear? I'm guessing my current wardrobe mixing my "Fat Ass" sweatpants and Zella zip up hobo-sleeved sweatshirt isn't ideal. Alas, I lack Christmas sweaters. :-)

Then KTDID is coming over and we are going to make some black bean burgers that we can both freeze and eat as we need at our homes.

My goal was to get some things hung up on our walls today, but MacTroll seems -- unmotivated to do anything but sit in bed and go to the gym at noon. He's home from now until the end of the first week in January. That's 3 weeks. We're pretty happy about it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Candy Cane Hunt FAIL

I work with small kids, so I get that with every new idea you have that there are some bumps that you have to iron out before it really works great (or you toss it in failure). Unfortunately, X-man and I were at an event on Friday night that sounded much cooler in its description than it turned out being.

The Champaign Park District advertised that they were having a flashlight candy cane hunt for free at Prairie Farm. I thought this sounded awesome. We assumed it would be a kind of scavenger hunt, where the candy canes would be hidden during the daylight and then kids would run around with their flashlights and bags hunting for them that night. Or at least that's what I thought this sounded like...

"Kids, we just found out that Santa hid candy canes all over his reindeer’s favorite Park District place – Prairie Farm! So bundle up, grab your flashlights, and come on out to the farm to help us find them! We even hear that some rare and special candy canes have been sighted on the farm – and you’ll get prizes if you find them! Plus you’ll get to meet Santa himself and you’ll stay warm with as much hot chocolate as you can drink!"

MacTroll even found his uber cool headlight so that we could find each other easily with our red blinky lights, in case we lost each other in the dark.

We arrived at 5:35 p.m., 25 minutes early to get a parking space. We were one of the first to arrive. X-man had bad feelings when he saw their Santa, so he just waved and got some free hot cocoa. Then we went out to wait for the fun to begin. X-man ran around with a neighbor by the duck pond shining his flashlight in the water to find the fish, and I began to wonder how exactly all this was going to work. I mean, what if they started finding candy canes laying about?

Then X-man noticed a bunch of people gathering at by the animal pens, so we wandered over to check out what was going on. They had put signs up on the farm animal pens (that are empty for the winter) having different age levels in different pens.

"Really?" I said. The idea that they were picking up food (even though it was individually wrapped) where pigs poop and pee gave me the willies. There was a streetlight that lit up the area, so flashlights were completely unnecessary (and really using the flashlight to hunt had been the big allure to us). X-man handed his flashlight to me and took his bag into the pen. He followed directions like a champ and, as usual, acted as a verbal enforcer for the park district person in their pen reminding kids to come in, line up around the fence, hold onto the fence and wait for instructions. I ran into two CARE friends and we agreed this was -- not what we'd pictured from the description.

X-man (in the blue coat) was standing behind this sign, which I found humorous...

Then 15 minutes passed by. The organizers noticed they had a lot more 3-5 year olds, so they ran a first "heat" for them, but they made the mistake of not letting the other two (6-7 and 8-10) year olds go at the same time. So the kids had to wait... another 15 minutes. At around 6:27, X-man looked at me alarmed. He knew they were about to start, but he suddenly had to pee really bad (Yes, he did go before we got in the car to head there). I managed to get him to the bathroom (warning the announcer we were going -- but he was waiting for some late comers who were still visiting Santa, so we were safe), and we returned just in time for the start.

Now here's the next problem. 45 kids in a concrete pen charging toward candy on the ground. I warned X-man to watch his hands and his feet so he didn't get hurt or hurt anyone else. He was really pretty considerate as he moved through the kids. But the problem was that all the candy canes got crushed by the stampede. Seriously, ours were in 6-10 pieces in the plastic wrap -- and they were the mini ones.

But X-man came out with six crushed mini candy canes and four Twizzlers for an hour's worth of waiting around. He had been very patient waiting the whole time we were there. He hadn't melted down over the need to pee. He had used his words and communicated wonderfully. Then on the way out of the pen, he noticed a boy crying because he hadn't gotten any candy. X-man reached into his bag, grabbed a piece and walked over and offered it to him. The boy refused it. X-man looked confused. "Why didn't he want my candy?" he asked me. I pointed out that he was probably really disappointed and just didn't process what was going on. Or maybe he was hoping for chocolate or something.

On the way out there was a mother with a smaller child who was crying. X-man did the same thing. This time, the Mom took it from him and said thank you, but the child was beside herself.

On the way to the car, X-man said, "Mom, I don't like to go to events where everyone doesn't find at least one candy cane. Kids hate when they don't get something. It makes them feel sad and like they lost at it." I told him I thought he was right, and that we wouldn't return next year. But at the very least, Santa or an elf could have been at the gate handing out normal-sized candy canes to each kid that came, so that everyone got something for being so patient. We also felt bad for the people who were just arriving at 6:35 p.m. when the whole thing was pretty much over.

For the last several years, a group of friends of mine have been helping me put on an egg hunt during spring in my backyard. We do it, usually, the week after Easter. We divide up the yard into little kid/allergy friendly and "pure sugar." So everyone can have a safe holiday. We get all the stuff during the after-holiday discounts, so things are really, really cheap. And the kids go home with their baskets FULL of goodies. Each family brings 12 eggs filled with whatever side their kid will be on and then we put them out the morning before everyone arrives. We open the gates at 10 a.m. and in 10 minutes everything is found and being sorted out in the yard.

Everyone gets something. It's relatively inexpensive, and it's easy to organize. What the candy cane hunt experience made me want to do was invite two or three families to our house next holiday season (maybe when we're in California) and do an actual scavenger hunt with flashlights with about six kids. Because it was a good idea. But scrapping crappy candy off of a cement pad with legions of pig poop germs really doesn't seem like a very festive occasion. I hope things change for the event next year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Feeling the Need for Speed

Today, I walked Lily for a long time >45 minutes. My foot was great. It was a little tender the last five minutes, but I have basically returned to where I was last week at this time before had my moment of stupid on Sunday and injured it.

Tomorrow, I hope to finally have my re-eval at physical therapy. But I have to admit, while I was out with Lily this morning, there were times when I could picture myself running rather than walking. Tonight I walked over to the neighbors to pick up some wrapping paper that I'd ordered from one of the kids who goes to Barkstall. I felt like running down the two houses. It felt like a night to run. Two years ago, I totally would have been out there in it wearing my reflective sash, zooming around Prairie Fields and getting a good look at all the Christmas lights that only a neighborhood within 1/4 mile of a Wal-mart could produce.

I miss coming back somehow covered in sweat but not at all warm.

I hate the extra fat around my middle and in my thighs. I'm scared to get on the scale. I know that I'm about to give up dairy in the new year due to my lactose intolerance. I know that I'm pretty much (outside of eating eggs and honey) about to go vegan.

"Nearly vegan" is what it is called in the book "Becoming Vegan."

I'm not entirely happy about it. But my body is also obviously, not happy about anything dairy that goes into my body. So, I don't have much of a choice.

I got on a recumbent bike and was able to peddle it for an hour the other day. I couldn't do that last spring. It hurt too much. Now there is no pain. So that's something. I think it'll be a long time before I'm able to get dressed up and put on nice shoes.

X-man had a breakthrough this week, which is nice. We're still back and forth between going in for an evaluation here and waiting until we get to Silicon Valley (i.e. Land of everyone is likely to be on the spectrum). We got a letter from Unit 4 the other day about some test he took as a precursor to being invited to test for the Unit 4 gifted program. His results were very good. He wanted me to explain to him the concept of the bell curve. He was worried he was supposed to be in the middle and that he was dumb and missed it. When I explained that he was on the advanced size of the bell curve he got excited. And I have to admit that I got excited seeing him excited.  But it gave him a dose of self-confidence, especially after a day where he'd gotten bullied on the playground. The kids have a nickname for him -- "Absent." X-man explained that he said it's because they think he's stupid in the head. And clearly, according to the test results, he's not.

At Mathman, X-man was working on graphing all the possible addition problems he could make to equal six. When he got through them, he asked if he could use 7 + -1. Mr. Cohen said, "Yes!" So they started working together with negative numbers.

In reading, he's advanced from a level 6 reader to level 12-13. That's good progress. His teacher says they want him to be about a level 16 to be at grade level for second grade. So we're working on it. My worry is that he doesn't perform as well in the school environment as he does at home.

Today, after school, we dropped our neighbor off at home to his grandmother and then we went to the Cookies at the Clearinghouse library. It's where I've gotten most of my materials regarding the Autism Spectrum, Gifted with learning disabilities, emotional intensities, etc. My friend LL is the librarian there. X-man had four cookies, won a door prize (who doesn't love a coffee mug with a beach ball and angry bird bandaids?) and got to see his friend Awesome there. X-man knows where the picture books are, so he brought a couple over for me to read. Then we went to and enjoyed the pottery painting place in town. We ran into neighbors. X-man painted a snoopy on his dog house. I painted an ice cream bowl and spoon for X-man to use at home.

When we got home, he ran down the street to meet his friends' new pet -- a mouse. He said it has three names. One in Russian and then two in English that the kids can't agree on. (Three kids, one mouse.)

Tomorrow is Friday. We're taking X-man's teachers their gifts tomorrow afternoon. Then we're going to a Candy Cane Hunt via Flashlight at the Prairie Farm. MacTroll doesn't get home until late, but he did find his headlamp before he left for X-man to use.

Oh, and I got foam gingerbread houses instead of the ones made of candy and food. It was enjoyable to do together, but much less messy and no bad candy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The medical craziness continues. I was supposed to have my re-evaluation on Tuesday at Physical Therapy, but it didn't happen, because on Sunday, I did something stupid and did too much and got hurt.

So it took yesterday and today to get me back to where I was last Friday. So they're doing the re-eval on Friday. My surgery will have been 3 months ago tomorrow. That's a long time!

The other bit of news is that we noticed a growth on Lily's back this weekend just over her shoulder. I took her into Dr. Mary on Monday and she diagnosed her with a Histiocytoma for now. Cells from the tumor showed that it's made up of round cells and that there are no granules. This means that if it is truly a Histiocytoma, it's likely that the body just identified it and started fighting it causing the growth (it's a little pink and angry). It should go away in 2-4 weeks on its own.

If it doesn't, then Mary's going to have to go in and remove it and biopsy it, kind of like she did with Luke's growth last spring.

I dropped off the two backpacks that X-man and I put together at the New Covenant Church on White Street in Downtown Champaign. They had a room for all the donations, but it looks like they could use a few more backpacks. We made a backpack filled with personal care items and new clothing for an adult woman and for a 5-7 year old boy. Go figure. But I learned that they help a LOT of grown homeless men. They pass out hundreds of backpacks at the holidays. They're also the home to the Daily Soup Kitchen.

They're collecting backpacks from now through Dec. 19th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., if you'd like to take one in. I picked up my backpack from the post school sales at Target and bought everything to go into it there, too. It was a nice hour with X-man thinking about others at the holiday.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Progress on All Fronts

Friday, I bit the bullet and went into the Savoy Recreation Center to walk 45 minutes. If I could get to 45 minutes without stopping, this meant (at least to my physical therapists) I could start moving onto more difficult exercises. It might also mean that I could cut back from 3 visits a week to 2 visits a week, which is nice in not only getting some of my time back, but is also nice because my copay is $30 each visit! (I get totally re-evaluated tomorrow, so I'll know then). Anyway, I completed 45 minutes which was nearly 3 miles. This is very exciting because three weeks ago on Thanksgiving I walked 1.8 miles in 51 minutes. Two legged work is now easy... but now I have to focus on one-legged work. And that's a lot harder.

The other progress has been coming from X-man. He's learned to make a regular capital R, and he's doing it most of the time now when he writes his name.  He used to make what looked like a popsicle with two sticks coming out of it on angles for his R. You can see an example of the popsicle R on the lined paper image below when he writes the R in his name. But the correct R is on the less neatly written unlined image further below.

His "copying" has gotten really good. So when you give him a word to write, lined paper and some time, he does pretty great. It's readable.

When you ask him to make a list often gives you hieroglyphics. He'll point to the letter-like symbols and tell you what they say. That's normal for beginning writers (you'll often see kids do it in pre-k). It's just not usually neurotypical for a first grader. But now, since he's been writing more and reading more, he's starting to pick up the letter sounds at the beginning and the end of words. He wrote a letter to Santa the other day where he copied some words (because we went over what the different parts of a letter are and he could see words like please, thank you, etc. in my letter example). But he phonetically spelled nice = nis. I don't correct him when he does this because he's finally starting to be able to deal with the auditory part in his brain. When he reads, he's mostly memorizing words and word order. That makes spelling so much more difficult. He's a very visual learner.

Anyway, at school they were supposed to make a list of jobs. This is what came out.

Number 1 is Architect. It starts with an "r" sound and ends in a "t." He had to explain to me what it was, but once he did, I got it, plus, he knows that's what his cousin Nathan plans on studying at college next fall.
Number 2 is Dom. Meaning dome. He had to tell me he was referring to the people who dance and sing and put the shows together at Assembly Hall, our local theater space, which is, indeed, a dome of sorts. (A saucer would be perfectly acceptable in my head, too.).
Number 3 is the same. He knew Dom wasn't quite right, and said he got frustrated, so he tried to write it again.
Number 4 I knew without asking. "Mathman." (i.e., He can grow up and be just like Don Cohen.) Notice that he knew that math starts with "ma" but has trouble with blended sounds like "th" or "sh." His spelling test this week was all about those two blends, so we'll see how he did. But it's clear that he knows how to spell "man."
Number 5 or 6 are anyone's guess. I guessed 5 was "Cook Cop" but drew a blank for number 6. And he was tired of talking about it and had moved on. So, I guess I'll never know. :-)

But you can see a radical difference in how he copies when the visual letters are there in front of him and the obvious struggle his brain has when trying to work on spelling words in his head and putting them down on paper. Suddenly lined paper doesn't make sense. Spacial awareness between letters totally disappears. It's like decoding the phonetics and translating the sounds to letters and then thinking about how to form the letters correctly gets all jumbled up in his brain.

We checked out a book from the library called "Ralph Tells a Story." In it Ralph is never able to think of a story to write during writing time. And finally, he thinks of one. My favorite part of the story though is the illustrations, which show that during "sharing" time, Ralph holds his paper to his chest and TELLS this elaborate story in his head about finding an inchworm to play with that a baby comes along and stuffs down his diaper (ewwww!) and then it crawls out. But when you see his paper, you see that what he wrote was one five word sentence. I pointed that out to X-man, and he was fascinated. His goal is to be able to write that one five word sentence from his head like Ralph regularly. I think he's close. He did after all tell Santa in his letter, "You are nis."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cutting the Cheese

When I was a kid, I loved Kraft.
I could have existed entirely off of Mac and Cheese and Kraft Singles.
When I was in high school, I found Beef-a-Roo Cheese fries.
My god, they were amazing.
In college, it was pizza after pizza after pizza... followed by some cheesy broccoli casserole.
My friend Patrick always had an extra stick of string cheese handy at the newspaper office.
Then I moved to Virginia -- and found Whole Foods.
Gouda, Smoked Gouda, Port Salut, Ricotta in a cheesecake -- not Philadelphia!
I came back to Illinois and remembered cheese curds and goat cheese (thank you Prairie Land Farms).
I visited Quebec and found poutine.
Then I had a child... and, holy cow, is he all about the Colby Jack.
At Thanksgiving, I loosened my purse strings -- a lot -- and found Mt. Tam cheese by Cowgirl Creamery at the Common Grounds Co-op.
Cheese is a comfort food. I don't care if it's cold or hot.
I've loved the taste of cheese my whole life, but, suddenly, my digestive system -- not so much.
It used to be that the words "lactose intolerance" could be cured by Lactaid and substituting almond milk with my cereal.
But now it's including yogurt, ice cream -- and, I hate this, cheese.
I'm facing up to the fact that soon, my ovo-lacto (I eat eggs and dairy products) vegetarianism—is about to just be ovo vegetarianism.
The question is -- do I bite the bullet and start now?
Or do I give myself the next three weeks to adjust bit by bit?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Santa's Helper

Tonight, I volunteered for the Crisis Nursery Holiday Shop fundraiser from 4-7 p.m. I have to admit that it made me miss teaching two year olds. The kids were so very sweet.

If you've never done the shop before, it's pretty cool. Area businesses donate various items that cost between $2-$8. Families make a donation to the Crisis Nursery and then children make a list of all the family members they need to buy gifts for and then they go in and pick out what they want for each family member.

I sent X-man with MacTroll last week while I was volunteering at the library fundraiser. I wrote a check for $50 and told them that whatever he didn't spend they could keep as a donation. I made out the list of the 10 people he needed to buy for and a volunteer took him into the store and let him pick out his gifts. Some of the gifts are toys or coffee mugs with fun characters like Wonder Woman on them. Others really funny gifts like bacon-flavored lip balm. Ours our all wrapped up tight and under our tree. I can't wait to see what I got. :-)

After the child is done shopping, they have a million red decorated bags (decorated by people in the community) and  you "wrap" the items and stape a tag on them to indicate whom they're for. Then the child gets to pick out a free book or pencil on his way out the door.

It was a lot of fun. While I was there, I had to use the restroom during a slow period at the Holiday store. So I went around the corner and then stopped in to Wind, Water and Light. I was there to volunteer, so I explained that I had to get back down the hall, but I promised them I'd go back tomorrow. I still have one or two gifts I need to pick up. And I love that store. I could spend hours in it just looking. The owners are also ever so nice!

I miss when they were downtown Champaign, but they have so much more room in Lincoln Square!

I think I'm finally starting to feel the Christmas Spirit.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ho, Ho, Ho!

'Tis the season! And to prove it I spent all day out of my house. This morning the Rotary Club of Savoy had it's first Breakfast with Santa at United Methodist Church. We had over 100 people, and it was a giant success. We were raising money to pay for a solar-powered water tank (i.e. a very fancy latrine) for a village in Swaziland that a bunch of local churches had also adopted. I got to sit at the ticket desk while others served breakfasts, oversaw various games and assisted Santa when he came.

Afterwards, I ran up north to buy Christmas gifts at Barnes and Noble. If you lived in town, you could have shopped from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tolono Public Library would have received a percentage of the sales from corporate BnN. You can also shop online anytime between today and Dec. 6 from anywhere and the library will benefit. More details are at

Then I went to Mas Amigos and had lunch with Freak. It had been so long since we'd hung out. We figured out that we met around 5 years ago. And it freaked us out when we realized that in another 5 years, her oldest would be driving a car. Yikes!

Then I returned to Barnes and Noble to sit at the table for the library and hand out more coupons to people who pass by. If there are any Star Wars fans out there, it looks like members of the 501st Midwest Garrison (i.e. Stormtroopers) will be there next week doing gift wrapping for charity! At least it's on their schedule online!

I headed home at 5 p.m. and had a sandwich for dinner and then got back into the car, but this time (FINALLY) with the boys. We all met up with some other children from X-man's school to see "Santa's Secret Star" at the Parkland Planetarium. X-man liked it. He said he wished it was longer.

We got home and read for 45 minutes. Most of it from me to him because it was after 9 p.m., and he was really sleepy. We're in the middle of a biography about Jackie Robinson. He's been enjoying it a lot. But he also knows that after we finish it tomorrow night, that we get to move on to the Darth Paper Strikes Back Origami Book. :-)

Friday, November 30, 2012


Today, when MacTroll and I walked over to pick up X-man, we were met by his teacher. She has very pretty, large eyes. And as she started talking to me, I focused in on them. They were happy -- no. They were elated. His teacher walked him out today to tell me that he had a phenomenal week at school this week. It was awesome to hear. 

I opened his backpack and found some writing samples from earlier in the week where he was practicing his spelling words. The difference between how he's writing now and how he was writing in late September is amazing. He's met with the OT four times at school and three times and there is considerable improvement, particularly in his Rs. 

I honestly gushed over him all the way home. 

When we got home, X-man and MacTroll wondered down to the basement to start playing the new Lego Wii game we ordered. It's Lord of the Rings. And this time, MacTroll and I have decided to play a slot together that is different from the game X-man has declared "the family game" or "group effort" (because he doesn't like to start from the beginning). 

Our new oven got delivered today because the old one broke right before Thanksgiving. But we'd been eating our way through the things in the cupboard and had no groceries, so we went to Burger King (X-man's choice). Ironically, BK actually has something I can eat that's not a grilled cheese sandwich or a pile of iceberg lettuce. So I had a veggie burger without the mayo and a diet soda. While we're waiting for our food, X-man looks up and sees an Exxon Commercial. And he says to me, why are they lying?

I turn around to see the commercial. It's got a lot of green in it and the words I see are about ExxonMobile helping teachers. Then X-man starts to go into an advertisement he saw on TV where ExxonMobile was talking about having cleaner gas in an effort to try to put a "green halo" on their non-eco-friendly product. X-man still sees things in black in white most of the time, and he's aware that the oil companies are pretty much raping the Earth for oil because Americans (including our family) use depend on our cars way too much. And if he didn't get enough of that view leftist me, he totally remembers the BP oil spill in the Gulf. (I'm pretty sure Valdez was when my childhood distrust and disgust for ExxonMobile started, so this makes sense to me.)

I pointed out to him that it is possible for large oil companies to give money to lots and lots of causes that help humanity out (like donating to school teachers) but that it doesn't really make up for the environmental issues. It's pretty much just a misdirection. I also talked about how Exxon was the richest company in the world until a year ago when the Fruit passed them up.

X-man seemed to like this information. It made him smile. 

Then we dropped him off at the Little Gym for a parents' night out. He hadn't been to Little Gym since August. They're relocating to Urbana in January, so I'm not sure he'll ever really go again. We've been making use of the longer (and cheaper) parents' nights out at the Savoy Recreation Center and the YMCA. 

Now he and MacTroll are playing Legos. There's a whole military command scenario being played out. 

Now he's using Facetime to tell me he's coming to give me  a hug. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where are those dang sheep when you need them?

I have not been sleeping well since MacTroll left on his trip on Monday. Every night I crawl into bed at 9 p.m. after doing the dishes and letting the dog out. And every night I toss or turn until around 2 a.m. I've gotten up at 11 p.m. and written some. I've done late night laundry, figuring if I can't sleep, I should at least do something useful. I've tried melatonin.

I'm not sure what the deal is, but I've also noticed that after only getting 4 hours of sleep, I'm very tired around 11:30 a.m. So I returned from physical therapy on both Tuesday and Wednesday and ate a quick lunch and took a two-hour nap until 1:30 p.m. then I've hopped out of bed, still tired, and driven over to pick up X-man from school.

This morning, I also woke up with a nasty pain in my Achille's on my bad foot. I wonder if it's from the physical therapy exercises. When I go in tomorrow, I'll have to let them know. But here I was planning on going to the pool this morning, but it hurts to walk around even in my walking boot, so I'm resting, instead.

I do have to introduce a speaker at Rotary today and do the reflection. So, I guess I'm going back to bed now and will try to get up and get moving in a couple of hours.

Bleh! I might as well have the cold/mucous thing that the boys have both had in the last week! Since I'm down, I might as well be out! :-P

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let the Torture Begin

I showed up for my first physical therapy appointment today at Accelerated Rehabilitation. My neighbor Gretchen is a therapist there. She's amazing at her job. She's like a muscle whisperer, except she doesn't whisper as much as she beats them into submission.

Anyway, Gretchen is on vacation this week, so her colleague Keith did my work up. He did a lot of measuring and testing and then started me on a few exercises that I'm allowed to do. I've advanced from  just flexing and pointing my foot to being able to do light things from side to side and to try to spell the alphabet with my foot.

When I was in PT over the summer fixing my weak piriformis muscles, I was doing a lot of lunge walking. They had me do some today, too. Needless to say, I can totally lunch like a champ when my right leg goes forward. But when my right leg is in the back, there's no flexibility.

And here I thought I was a bad ass because for the first time in two and a half months I was able to walk down the stairs rotating feet right, left, right, left this weekend! :-)

Keith did a lot of work on my calf, too. He rolled a torture device over is that is strangely more foreign and crippling than a foam roller. It's that "Oh man, this is evil... but it feels so good," kind of pain. The kind where you have to grit your teeth or cling to the table to get through it.

I was there for roughly 90 minutes, and it wore me out, and I have to say, I didn't do much of anything besides a LOT of stretching and a few strength moves on the shuttle.

I get to go three times a week for the next four weeks, and then we'll probably reduce to two visits a week. I'll see Gretchen on Tuesdays, in case she has to beat me once a week with her ASTYM tools, and then I'll see the other therapists for regular work.

Right now, as I type this, Maya, the fuzzball, is sitting in my lap with my zipper pull from my sweatshirt in her mouth trying to zip me up.

I totally wish she wasn't sitting on my left arm, so I could reach the camera!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why Swimming Should be More Like Running

Here's the deal. I don't really have permission to bike or run yet. I tested the "walking for exercise" waters on Thanksgiving and was depressed at the outcome. My usual 15:30/mile pace was up to 27:30/mile. Yes, I know I also had a dog who was excited about being walked around the prairie park and squawked at by pheasants, but seriously, it took me 50 minutes to walk less than two miles.

So, today, I finally stopped eating myself into a coma in self pity and took my lumpy bottom to the pool at the Y. I've been getting better swimming, and I haven't been over doing it.

What I've learned about swimming in the last couple of weeks is that swimmers like to get to the pool right when it opens and get their workout in early. They have the whole "stuff" down pat. They have their suits, their towels, their favorite shampoo and soap, hair products, make up, etc., all organized and ready to go. They scamper into the pool area, claim their favorite kickboards and pulleys and jump into a lane. Lap swimmers don't care about cold water. They just jump in and go. I'm okay with that. I can be hardcore.

But the etiquette of swim lanes at the Y is horribly disorganized. Now, usually when I swim it is during fitness classes, so they usually have 4-6 lanes open for lap swimmers on a weekday morning, which means most of the world is at work, except for stay at home parents, retirees, and folks who work different shifts (or are lucky enough to have some vacation/flex time at their jobs). I usually find someone who is swimming around my speed, sit down on the side of the lane opposite of the one they're using, make eye contact and either verbally ask (usually if they're doing the breast stroke) or point to the lane. The other person nods and I jump in and off I go.

But this morning on a weekend and after a fattening food-focused holiday, was ridiculous. The pool opens at noon, which I hate. Do you know how much more I would enjoy Sundays if rec centers and businesses were open at 9 a.m.?

Anyway, I got changed and limped my way into the pool to see the lifeguards moving swimmers out of lanes. They apparently didn't read the schedule that said that 4 lanes were for the swim team this morning and 4 lanes were for lap swim.

I sat down at the end of the lane and the woman in it swam near me. I asked if I could join her and her reply was, "My sister's coming. I'm sharing with her."

I explained that they were closing 4 lanes so we'd have to all buddy up, possibly have three to a lane and swim rotation. She looked -- unhappy.

So I decided not to push the issue and ended up at the end of the pool with a 12 year old thinking she was teaching a 5 year old to swim and a retiree doing the sidestroke.

And this is when I wish swimming was more like running. When I run at the track, there are posted directions on which way to go. There's a recommendation for where slow people should go versus fast people. At the armory they have two walking lanes, two jogging lanes and two running lanes. I'm usually in the outside jog lane, because I'm slow. When I swam at the ARC outside last summer, they had the same kind of idea. They had four lanes open for swimming 1 slow, two medium and one fast. I go to the slow lane. The Y totally needs to implement something like this. Because at the Y, I'd be in a medium lane.

What I like about running is that all it takes is a pair of tennis shoes, and if I'm feeling very spoiled about necessities -- my iphone with headphones. You give me those two things and I can go forever. I can go outside my house and just move my body and listen to the music. Sure, from time to time, I have to look out for cars, but the path near our house requires me to cross three streets. I can do that without losing too much momentum.

When I'm done running, I'm sweaty and spent. I'm also high as a kite. I get home, suck back some water and hit the shower.

When I'm done swimming, I'm wet and tired, but I'm also hungry. Starving. But I don't need to eat, otherwise what I burned off will have meant nothing. Because I don't burn as many calories swimming as I do running.

But when I swim, my foot doesn't hurt. The minute I stand on the concrete pool floor and walk up the steps using the bar assists, I know it's going to be a while before I run. It makes me sad. I like to swim. But I like to choose to swim. I hate being forced there. I hate the disorganization of swimming at the Y. I hate that although my heart feels like it could swim forever at my non-Olympic pace, I get bored. I hate that I often lose track in my head of what I'm swimming in my workout because I could care less. It's like I'm just doing my time until I get my feet back.

I'm a runner in water. And I wish I knew how to change things so that I loved it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tis The Season

After a day of nothing much of anything (I cleaned out the store room and X-man and MacTroll played Lego Batman 2), we went downtown to the Parade Of Lights.

We ran into Quigs and her family, and some other folks we we hadn't seen in a while. It was lovely. MacTroll waited in line in Aroma for their "special" of hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies.

The parade was smaller this year. I remember when it used to go out and run by West Side Park. This year it was just a big circle from the Orpheum parking lot around downtown and back. It was also renamed the "Bag" parade. A woman was walking around giving kids plastic bags to put things in. Now at the Candy Parade in September, I understand this. Even at Tolono Fun Day a small bag for all the candy being tossed out is needed. But pretty much the only candy that is tossed at the Parade of Lights are Candy Canes, which hit the ground and break into a million pieces...

Or, if you're unlucky, and not looking, you get beaned in the side of the head by people tossing them from inside their cars pulling their floats. Thank goodness for winter hats.

We saw some odd behaviors this parade season, too. Like the guy driving the car for 92.5 the Chief had had an infant and a toddler in the car with him... in the front seat and not in car seats. I get that the car is going 2 mph, but really?

Then we had a Grinch on a Segway who made the mistake of baking up and almost ran over a 2-3 year old who had scampered away from his parents to try and pick up candy in the road.

The Garcia's Pizza Guys came by. They were in their hot air balloon basket and every once in a while they'd let the flame run. We all kept peering closely wondering if they'd pull the cord and burn down one of the street trees.

Then the Vermillion Airport Authority came by. MacTroll loves their slogan, "Gateway to Danville." They really need to call Disney about paying them to use Phineas and Ferb...

What I found most interesting was how many of the floats were put together by cities from outside of Champaign Urbana. It was Fisher this and Rantoul that. Hoopeston high school band played.  It was curious. Lots of beauty queens having a chance to wear their crowns.

But I guess it's really the Christmas season now... I'm even hanging up stockings.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Chilling Out on Black Friday

MacTroll seems to have rebounded from his night-time illness. He's been in bed all day, but is thinking some Flattop might just be the best dinner ever. (I think he just wants to be close to Cocomero -- if it's even open -- and the movie store.)

I've been hanging out writing Christmas cards all day, except for one outing I took with my Mom to the Art Co-op in Urbana. I figured the market would be less busy today on Black Friday than tomorrow during the Holiday Market and "buy local" drive.

I picked up a canvas on sale and some blue tempera paint. The plan was to take the snowflakes he had been cutting out of notepad paper with Aunt Melissa on Wednesday and to glue them on a blue painting. But, of course, once he saw the canvas, he brain had another idea.

So besides three kinds of poster paint, we had fancy tape, glitter glue and oil pastels. About two-thirds of the way through he asked me to work on it with him. So I did. When the paint dries we're going to smear some sealant-like stuff on it to keep it from peeling off of the canvas.

Right now, he has two neighborhood children over playing Lego Batman in the basement. He plays so nicely with both of them. They're 5 and 9, and I love them a lot. There's constant giggles coming out of the basement.

Meanwhile black dog and blonde dog are wrestling on the living room carpet getting covered in dog spit. Maya, the fuzzy cat, is lying in my lap at the computer. And I am 3/4 of the way done with my holiday cards. Woot!

It was lovely until...

Our Chicken New Year (as X-man renamed Thanksgiving) was pretty low key. It consisted of my sister, my parents and my cousin coming to dinner. My dad brought X-man a deck of Star Wars Villains playing cards, and he managed to wipe the floor with Papa, Mom and Dad at War and Go Fish (that is after we all sat down and discussed what movies each of the villains came from). He also played a little wii Batman 2 with MacTroll and some sports with me. But I liked being just around the corner listening to him from time to time talk to other adults. He was in a good mood the whole time.

He ate the bison MacTroll grilled, and the salad I made. He liked the owl ice cream cake I picked up for him at Marble Slab, just in case he considered the dessert my stepmom brought to be too adult (it was delicious chocolate cheesecake!).

I turned on Pixar's Brave a bit later after everyone who wasn't at our house left, and my sister and mom had gone to bed (before 8 p.m.). It was a bit of a wrong move, because X-man was very upset by it. The whole movie is wrought with tension between mother and daughter and there's a time crunch crisis. It did help that I could fast forward through the "bad stuff" which made it a very short movie.

However, it's now 3 a.m., I just woke after having a dream where it was nighttime and I was stuck in traffic and I was late to pick up my son from somewhere. I couldn't get to him, and then I didn't know where he'd be after the pick up time.

And now MacTroll is vomiting in the downstairs toilet. I think I'll go sleep in X-man's bed. Poor MacTroll.

Update 3:48 a.m. And now he's sawing logs...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

504 Plan Meeting

Today, Joel and I had a 504 plan meeting at Xander's school. The meeting was initiated by us after Xander's handwriting issues came to light and the fact that he's starting to get socially ostracized at school again and his teachers reported that he falls apart crying repeatedly during the day as a result of his social anxiety.

At the meeting were his two classroom teachers, the school special education director, the school psychologist, a speech therapist, a special education curriculum coordinator, the assistant principal, another first grade teacher and us. The school team had done several observations of Xander looking at different areas of development. Everyone was in agreement that Xander has developmental delay issues that cause social issues, handwriting issues, spatial issues and fidgeting/sensory issues.

His constant fidgeting, nose picking, biting on his fingers, picking at his clothes, etc., are getting worse. He no longer uses his purple fidget appropriately in class, so we are looking for other options for him, like putting velcro under his desk so he can touch that, and putting bands on his chair so he can push his feet against them (he has a habit of constantly tipping his chair back). They'll also be creating boundaries (like a square section where he sits on the carpet) and giving him a flexible stool so that he can still move, but will know where all of his body parts will need to be contained. This might also alleviate all of his picking at his socks and shoes if they're on the floor and he's sitting up.

These aren't discipline issues. He appears to lack the executive function ability in his brain to stop these habits or regulate his intensity of emotions. Thinking that you can use discipline to cure him of his issues is pretty much the equivalent of thinking you can cure someone of being gay or beat someone into being developmentally normal. Xander is not neurotypical for his age. The anxiety he feels has begun to manifest itself in some sensory defensiveness according to his occupational therapy evaluation. So, we have been purchasing special seamless socks and cutting tags out of clothing items, when needed. It's not all the time, but usually he's kind of amped up before school, so that's when shoes suddenly feel too tight and underwear tags pain him, etc.

One of the social workers will be going into his classroom to talk about how children are different. The teachers have identified that for the most part, kids are pretty sympathetic, but that doesn't mean any of them want to make X-man their friend. They avoid him. But the teachers do say that there are children in their class that will try to provoke him when the teachers are not looking to get him to react/cry because they know he's different. The teachers have tried to have him work with 22 of the 23 children in the class as a partner in learning (reading activities/math activities) and they have identified only one child that he is able to be consistently successful with. On the playground, he will sometimes play in a small group (if they play tag) and he does follow directions, but he does get easily overwhelmed by group activity or by his emotions when he wants to play something that the group doesn't want to play. His communications and relations with adults, however, are very clear.

He'll be going to the social thinking/Zones of Regulation group twice a week and will continue with the handwriting group once a week, in addition to his behavioral therapy with April and his handwriting with Kim (our Occupational Therapist) out of school. 

We meet again, as a group, on Jan. 22. If things aren't responding to the 504 plan, we'll probably try to develop an IEP, which is tricky because there are specific parameters for a child to fit in to get one and the "educational" consideration to get one with his issues would be under "autism." X-man's difficulties, according to my reading, mirror three different developmental disorder possibilities: autism/asperger's, PPD-NOS and Gifted. The school label does not mean anything in a clinical setting. It's just the best way to get him the services he needs, and right now, it's often difficult to be labeled "Gifted with a learning disability" in a public school setting anywhere. In fact, often children who perform at grade level standards don't get selected for services, because technically, despite whatever learning disability or disorder they have they are seen as functioning within normal perimeters on a cognitive level.

The handbook for doctors that determine these diagnosis and the requirements are changing in May 2013. Asperger's and most of the kids identified as PDD-NOS will no longer be on the spectrum because they usually usually have normal cognitive abilities. Instead, they'll have to be rediagnosed as having a social/communication disorder (which we won't know the specifics of until it is released).

So what's the difference between a 504 plan and an Individual Educational Plan (IEP)? Both plans are supported by the federal government and must be acknowledged in every state. However, a 504 plan is for individuals who have less issues than someone with an IEP. The idea is that with the appropriate minimal accommodations and interventions the child will be able to be successful in the classroom with a 504 plan. With an IEP, it's recognized as a much longer road. If we move to California both plans will move with him, the difference is that with a 504 plan, the new school district will implement Illinois' plan but will immediately initiate a 60-day review and may make changes and revisions as they see fit. With an IEP, they have to follow the goals exactly as in the plan. From what I've read last night, the plan is usually in place for about 3 years.

If in January, we don't think there's been enough beneficial movement forward, we'll be working on an IEP, which means the school district will need another 60 days to complete their reviews/observations. In that regard, we'll be putting the house up for sale more at the end of March than the beginning to make sure we have everything ready and in hand in case we sell early.

But that's how the meeting went. There were no surprises, and everyone was very supportive and on the same page. His teachers are amazing. They're very honest about his needs and open to helping him any way they can. We are very thankful for them. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cold When It's Not

I've been in the pool a few times over the last week. Yesterday, I attended the Deep Water class at the Y. I love the instructor. I find that water classes for the most part tend to be where three groups of people work out: the old, the overweight and the injured. I am a triple threat and meet all three criteria. By the end of the class, I wasn't as tired as I was the week before when I started. I also had more flexibility in my right calf/ankle/foot than I normally do. Now if only I could remember to take my hairbrush with me so that I could successfully shower at the Y.

Anyway, I left the Y yesterday unshowered and ran some errands. I felt cold and knew I needed a new jacket, so I went inside Champaign Surplus.

Now, it's not really cold outside, but swimming lowers your body temperature. Just think 98.6 degree me in 75 degree water for an hour. I'm usually plenty warm during the cardio part, but when we slow it down and use the water dumbbells, that's when I start to shiver and shake to try to stay warm. I will admit that sometimes, I have to get out before the stretching part because I just can't take the chill any more. My lips are sometimes blue, and I'm shaking until I get toweled off and get my clothes off, even if I stand under a hot shower after class for a little while.

I have now learned that shopping when cold is a bit like shopping at the grocery store when hungry. I was trying on every furry, sherpa, fleecy warm jacket, when in reality, what I needed was a decent fall coat. I found a coat, but at the last minute found this sweatshirt and made the mistake of touching it. It was outrageously soft, warm and comforting. So I added it to my coat. Then I decided that MacTroll and X-man needed them, too. So I wandered over and found soft, fuzzy things for them.

On the way home, I tried to justify my purchases as holiday gifts, but by then it might be too cold for them to wear. So instead, I busted them out when I got home and presented them to the boys. MacTroll looked at me like I was weird, as I insisted he took his sweatshirt off that got all raggedy from frequent washings. X-man's fall fleece was looking that way, too.

But now we're all fleeced up -- and totally snuggle worthy.

Apparently, my child isn't the only one with sensory issues. :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

X-man's Influential Literature Library

We've been working a lot on self-acceptance and learning through social stories at our house this fall. X-man gets so moved by certain children books that sometimes he cries out of joy, other times he sobs in sadness, and more often than I like, he asks me to shut the book or skip pages because the storyline makes him nervous or scared. "One" by Kathryn Otoshi is one of the books that he always goes back to when he feels insecure. It makes him feel better about the world, and empowered to know that he can make a difference. He also likes that he can talk about how there are less bullies than one might think. In fact, most of the characters in the book are confused, scared and unsure about what to do to solve a community bullying problem. The hope from finding someone who might be afraid of standing up to the bully, but knows it's the right thing is a big deal.

So, when I found Otoshi's second book in the series, "Zero," on the shelf, I bought it immediately. It's about a number that wants to change who he or she is because he or she envies things in other people that he or she doesn't have. This is something else that is rampant in our house. It inspired us to take another look at all the good things we have in our lives, and remember why we rock.

Todd Parr is amazing. I have loved the social constructs in his books forever. I like that his crazy drawings to get to be themselves, that they eat macaroni in the bathtub, that Mommy's work and stay home, that some families have two daddies, or one parent or that children might live with their grandparents. It's Okay to Be Different really focuses in on how diverse humans are and why we should not only be okay with ourselves, but we should be okay with others' differences, too.

X-man is a sleuth. He wants to figure out what he doesn't understand and social situations challenge him. I found this book through the library system before he started with April Keaton. During X-man's second meeting with her, she came out and said, "He said he just read this at home with you." I smiled. This weekend, X-man had a play date with a new friend. The Mom stayed and she and I got to talking. It turns out that one of the elementary schools in town teaches their entire school about social thinking, because it helps everyone with what to do in social situations (bullying, teasing, communicating effectively and respectfully, etc.). For a moment, I was a bit jealous of that school, because maybe, just maybe there'd be more understanding for a child who is different in a more educated environment. CB has a social thinking class this year, but it's limited to just those that have special needs. It's a step in the right direction, but there could be more. Michelle Garcia Winner lives in Northern California. So here's hoping we get to do more with her work when we move.
 My mom read "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" to me when I was a child. It was a story that sometimes I'm allowed to read to X-man and sometimes I'm not. He gets sad for Alexander and gets worked up at how absolutely rotten his day is going. But at the same time, X-man understands that everyone has days like that. Days that suck because of bad luck and bad choices, and that tomorrow is a new day.
 We liked reading "The Art of Miss Chew" and "I Gotta Draw" because they're both books about children who learn differently from the majority of their classmates. They're also books about how teachers who are open-minded and able to adapt for their students can get some awesome results, that not only help children learn but make them happy about going to school.

We have been reading Violet the Pilot since X-man was three. Violet is a mechanical genius and none of her peers in her school want to hang with her. Her parents are amazingly supportive of her endeavors and encourage her (while also trying to set a few safety boundaries), but her only real friend is her dog and her brain. Even though she's ostracized at school, it doesn't affect her ability know what's right and what's wrong, and she self-sacrifices something she wants to save the lives of others in her community when she sees them in a state of distress. 

For a while, X-man was having some trouble following Ms. Frizzle's encouraging words in all the Magic School Bus books about learning through mistakes. He would often not try something because he was petrified of getting it wrong. He thought it made him a bad kid for not being the best at everything. He's chilled a lot between kindergarten and first grade with being anxious about showing vulnerability. He's become more accepting of himself and others. But in the heat of it knowing that there were other kids that were restricting their life experiences out of fear of error was fundamental in him learning to accept that he's human and that no one expects him to be perfect at everything.

X-man's librarian read him Memoirs of a Goldfish last year when he was in kindergarten. It's the story of an only goldfish who relishes his only-fish existence, until his owner decides to make his life a bit more interesting by invading his bowl with other elements and neighbors. Goldfish is very slow to warm to the idea of his quiet life being invaded by others. They make him anxious and unsure, but in the end, he figures out that he understands that his life has become richer with those others in it than when it was just him in a bowl of water. 

Julia Cook is this generation of parents "What do do" lady. We read X-man her "Teeth are Not for Biting" and other books when he was a toddler. And now she's moved on to more advanced social issues for the elementary school-aged. She has a book for almost every social issue your child might face (kicking, hitting, using words, etc.)