Monday, December 29, 2008

A Blast From the Past


Wow. This image is courtesy of my dear friend Rob, who went to massage therapy school with me in Boulder. We were part of a tight circle of friends (that came to include this guy named Kevin), we went on many outdoor adventures together (Boulder Canyon, Nederland, Moab...to name a few), Rob and Kevin began to paddle together the summer I left for Duluth, and Rob visited Duluth several times before moving up for about half a decade. He is now in Maine, but sent some old photos of Lucky. This one was taken in 1996, a few months after I found her. I had left my junky rental in town(that would not take dogs) for a junky rental up the North Shore (that would). It smelled of mold, and was probably falling apart, but it had a fenced in yard, was right across Old 61 from Lake Superior, and my roommate worked in the Cities (i.e. only home on weekends). It was heavan. I only stayed there a few months before my roomate gave up the lease, but it was perfect for the time. My last almost single home. Kevin moved to Duluth that January (yes, I advised him to pick a time with better weather). I believe his visit to this little abode, with these fuzzy creatures, for a gorgeous Fall weekend, sealed the deal that was struck in Boulder. Thank you Rob, for this cool little time travelling trip.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Our Best Present

We just secured the best Christmas present we could have asked for. Alex is going to get to play with (and be assessed by) "The Autism Whisperer". She is a wonderful therapist out of the Cities who has been working with kids with all forms of autism since the 70's. She is called in by agencies all over Minnesota when they need a refined diagnosis and accurate read on tough cases. Alex may not be a tough case, but the more specific information we can get the better. Also, the information about autism out in the world is overwhelming and often conflicting. It is terrifying to be experimenting with your child's life, and even though we feel we have had some miraculous guidance so far we are far from confident that we are doing all that we can. Just once I am hoping we will have some definitive information. Our assessment is December 31 in the Cities, it is slated to be fully covered by insurance, and the next day our insurance will change to a provider this therapist cannot accept. Yikes. Methinks the angels are with us. Happy Holidays to you!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Arrives

The Storm
It is winter in a big way now. Today it came to the door with champagne and flowers. We are in the midst of our first snow storm of the season. As we were driving away from church this morning, on our way to coffee and a close view of the lake, the boom lowered and we went from Christmas tunes to the sound track of the Titanic. Skies turned black, visibility dropped to about two feet, and four wheel drive did not mean four wheel stop. If you have never been to Duluth you may not realize that it is also known as "Little San Francisco" for its steep hills. This makes for tricky navigating, worse downhill than up. Well, we were going down, and a mere stop light holds no sway over gravity. I kind of like this kamikaze driving, but Kevin does not. Especially when other cars on the road have less grip and less sense. Since the whole family was out we decided to head it home, as we could not actually see the 14 foot waves out on Lake Superior. Too much driving snow and gale force wind. Other than sliding through a few intersections and some sideways slippage it was uneventful once we got out of the wind tunnel of downtown. By 3pm school had been canceled for tomorrow, and the buses were no longer running. The whole town looked like one of those bad head cold commercials, the ones where people shoulder into the white wind in their flapping winter coats. Alex and I spent the afternoon down at Sam and Fraya's house, having our annual Christmas party. Opening presents, baking cookies, and generaly being very silly. Only nine blocks away, we Subarued down, and made it home tonight just fine. The storm warnings go until tomorrow at noon, and it will be interesting to see exactly how deep the snow gets. I think the official report will be around a foot. For the first storm of the season it is not too bad.

Winter Magic
Before the storm we had a nice warm up for the season. It has been steadily getting colder since November, and dustings of snow have come now and again. It is a relief when the blanket of snow actually arrives because it brightens up the world immensely. Those without winter may not believe me but it is true. There is nothing darker than a snowless November, where all light is sucked in by miles of bare trees, acres of dead grasses and brush, and endless grey skies. Once snow arrives the lights are turned back on, and the earth sighs with relief that the rooted plants and little animals with be safe from the brutal cold. So, the lights being back on, that is magic trick number one. Number two is a most beautiful sound in the world. With snow and cold comes quiet. In deep cold comes deep quiet. You notice the squeak of snow under foot. Your breath becomes alive. And you can almost hear your nose hairs crackle as they freeze when you breathe sharply in. In this weather the rivers freeze completely over, but they are still alive. I love to hike on or near frozen rivers, especially the little wild ones around here. In the middle of town you can drop into a canyon and be alone in the world, you, the woods, and the river. That in itself is breath taking, but then to hear the gurgle of water under ice... pure magic. I could listen all day. I don't know what it is about it, but it is an amazing music I never tire of. The silence, your breath, the movement of almost frozen water under ice. Words do not do it justice. And this brings us to the third magic moment of winter for me so far. The feather bed. Not the feather quilt, that has been on since October. No, the super thick quilt that goes under you and under the bottom sheet and radiates warmth up in a way no other bedding can. Ahhhhhhh. For days are short, nights are long, and we should all really be hibernating in our feather caves. Good night!

Meet Jack

Here he is, our bouncing baby Border Collie. He is truly a sweet dog. Jack Flash Kinney (JFK for short) is the newest member of our family, and slotting in well. Loves winter. Adores running. Happily entertained by anything that bounces, is furry, or can be thrown. And our squirrels fit all three categories. Has not caught one yet, but got a mouth full of tail fur last week. A very good boy, he comes when he is called and is catching on to house rules. Alex has taken to leaning on him in the last few days, and pulling his fur, and even threw a soccer ball on his head. Jack has taken it all in stride and knows that he is not allowed to eat the child. Stop by when you can, he would love to play.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2007/2008

Okay okay, I'm blogging again! I have started to be harassed on this blog (see previous post comments) and also my Face book account, so it is time. My public is waiting (ha ha), my friends and family need more ways to fritter away their time. Just got back from a run with the new pup, and that always clears my head very well. Lord knows it is pretty cob-webby up there. I got to thinking about why I was not blogging. It has been over a month since my last tiny post, and before that my tributes to Lucky held sway. Part of me is just not ready to move on. Lucky was my first real Grown Up dog. She was there shortly after I moved to Duluth, already in love with Kevin, and unsure where our future would take us. I was still technically single, and she was there through engagement, marriage, and settling down. She was my, and our, adventure dog. Getting us out into the Northwoods, keeping us on the trails. She was our reluctant house dog too. And a darn good one. But now we have another dog and a new chapter is beginning. Before that really gets rolling I need to review some more.

2007 sucked. Plain and simple. It was the trifecta of Infertility, Autism, and Injury. It was so bad that I think I may have some PTSD from the whole deal. Of course we got through everything, found the light at the end of the tunnel, and even the joy along the way, but overall I would not wish such a year on anyone. 2008 was not so bad. Progress was made in all areas, even if it was sometimes only acceptance and redirection of thinking. I had a complete and total recovery of my shoulder and even won a few medals at an awesome kayak week in Wausau. Alex continues to amaze us and we love him more than words can say. Business is still tooting along, if we have made it this far we are likely to do fine. And as for the expanding family, well, we decided to get a puppy. I turned 40, and that threw me for a surprising loop. Still not so sure about that one but really, what can you do?? Have gotten into some nice healthy habits, and have not been dead last in a running race since '07. And we even bought ski passes for this year so am bound to get out on the slopes, something I have not done regularly since my ski bum days back in '92. But Lucky died and that has been terrible, and sad, and heart breaking. She was a one in a million dog, at least for us. She was so deep in our family we would have sent her to college if we could. And the loss of her magnified all other losses, recent and past. Plus it came at the darkening of the year. When the cold creeps into unaccustomed bones, before one concedes the battle and pulls out ALL the wool and fleece and long underwear, and even boots. One cannot stay warm just by putting on a coat, as in summer and fall. It takes extra measures, and before they are in place the pain of cold can be intense. Plus we had a new dog. A dog I was not ready for. He was supposed to perk Lucky up. She was supposed to teach him the ropes. Instead we were deep in grief, he arrived three days after we put her down. A pup who could not be her. And who had many needs. And who did not know not to pee on the carpet. Or to ask to go out. Or how to come when called. Or to stay in the yard. New dogs are much more work than old dogs, and the future is not certain. You do not know if they can learn all the important things. You do not know if they will bite your child in the face, or not. And they do not love you exactly like your old dog did. But through the darkness there was a spark of hope, a flame of desire, a fire for a good life to continue.

I do an excellent job of compartmentalizing my life. Around Jack I have been a good doggie mom. Around Alex I have done all the care taking and games and therapies, and fun stuff. At work I have been my usual focused self. Where I have fallen down Kevin has picked me up. A few dear souls have heard pieces of my whining. And in the quiet times I have been working on integrating it all. The holidays have me reminiscing, sifting out the bad, lifting up the good, laughing at the laughable. I have sent out the cards from 2007 that didn't make it and sat in their envelops all year...that was about half. I have yet to put together a 2008 card, it may need to wait into the new year. Business is actually rocking right now, so the tanking economy is not taking us down on this round. Work has been wild, but that is okay. Jack is turning out just fine. Maybe even more than fine.

So, perhaps the cob-webs are now out. I promise to get out more posts, take more pictures, and keep the connections going. Maybe next I will ramble about cutting down on coffee, chatter about the up sides of the down economy, or just natter on about the new pup and wonderful snow. We shall see...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama Mama

Well, in these dark days of fall, with upcoming snow, freezing cold, and endless nights, at least we have January 20th to look forward to. As a once-upon-a-time world traveler, I feel that my country has finally redeemed itself. Instead of starting another war for oil or military maneuver to protect our international corporate interests, instead being a bastion of isolation and ignoring the planet, we have finally made a bold and bright statement. We have elected an intelligent, well traveled, globally inclined president. A man who puts it all out there, and does NOT say My-way-or-the-highway, but rather, "It is time to work together to be greater than our parts.". A time of hope. A time of brilliance.

And now that we are bound to have some color in the White House, perhaps next this nation will be ready for a female in charge. Hey, I can dream....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

12 years is a Long Time

Already the heartbreak is fading, and that feels like a betrayal. But the celebration continues. My mom sent me Dog Heaven, which is a beautiful book. More tears there, of course, on the first read. A few more reads on and I have read it and smiled. Empty, but smiling. Right or wrong, she is now writ large in the stars.

Here are a couple more fun photos.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More on that Good Old Hound

I don't have photos from before Alex on my computer, but from the beginning of that time I have many. So I picked out a few favorites to highlight our family transition. This is Lucky just after Alex was born in 2003, we had had her for seven years and she was 8 or 9 years old. Always a good girl, and always game, she went with the flow. She is pictured with the monster squash we harvested that September. We were all afraid it might eat someone, but it made wonderful soup.


Here Lucky is contemplating this new addition. It didn't throw sticks, but had interesting smells.



She decided, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

"Besides, my parents sure are having fun with him. "


"I might as well have fun too..."




And then Lucky inspired Beeswax to get in on the fun...

That may have been part of an evil plot.



But no, Lucky loved her Beeswax, and didn't want him to miss anything.

I can't really believe that she was already at least seven by the time Alex came along. I always saw her as such a puppy. Wagging, happy, wanting to go for a run in the woods. Chasing chipmunks in the garage (she even caught one once), barking at strangers, hiding from deer. She was stood down by a baby dove one day. She was really a softie, but she was very proud that she was mistaken for a Rottweiller once. Well, okay she had some help with that one. She was on my bed back in '97, she never left it when I was not home at the rental, and my roommate Jay had a friend over. He was walking by my dark room and heard the dog growling as she defended my futon. It was dark in my room and light in the hall, and Jay was winding him up. The poor guy thought he was going to get eaten. Of course she never left the bed, and he never saw how short her legs were. Ah, the golden moments of her life. She also caught a pigeon once, but I think it ran into something before she grabbed it. She had such a soft mouth that she did not crush it, but I did have to pry her jaws open to get her to drop it. She was great in a canoe, after her first trip. Once she realized that escape was not an option, and dang those Boundary Waters lakes are cold. After one dive and swim near a portage she let us lift her into the boat without protest forevermore. In fact she evetually self loaded, enjoyed her trips, and had one memorable night at a camp site with a whole troop of mice. It was an island and she ran after those little critters to her hearts content. Never caught one. Other highlights included a stint as a sled dog, and a few skijouring tours. She chased a kayak into Superior bay once, but never did like the surf. In fact she never liked to swim and would not go deeper than her chest if she could avoid it. And that was only about four inches deep. But snow, she loved it. She'd go into a four foot drift, no problem. Only occasionally had to get rescued. Mud, also no problem to her. And as for things worse than mud, well she liked those too. When she was younger, faster, and went further afield she rolled in some absolutely nasty things. And boy was she proud when she did that. Could not understand what all the fuss was about from the humans either. Oh, Lucky Dog. She had her own sleeping bag, and several of her own quilts. Even had her own tent for awhile. We wont talk about the toys, she had every one that she'd ever been given that had not been lost or stolen by another dog. We even gave her a fence (a joint gift to Alex too), but she really didn't appreciate that one. Prefered to range the hood on her own terms. Fortunately as she got older she became a bit of a Houdini and got in many unauthorized wanders this past summer. Several heart attacks were had when we realized she had disappeared AGAIN from the yard but all those stories turned out good. On a family outing she met her first bear on the trails last spring, although I don't think she actually saw it, and that is probably a good thing.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Twelve years is a very long time and there are so many good memories racked up. The yard is empty now. The house is quiet. I am tired from crying so much. The cat is louder than usual today, looking for his companion. We are coming to terms with her death, and celebrating her life. It was a great one, and we are so blessed that it was my truck that she ran in front of so many years ago.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Very Good Dog

Lucky in '07

Stop the clocks. Cover the windows. Put on your black. A very good dog has died. Lucky Dog, who was between 13-14 years old, passed on yesterday at 4pm. She was in kidney failure, and had been slowly and quietly declining for several months. When she stopped eating last week we realized something more than old age was wrong. When she could not eat without throwing up, or go on a simple walk with any pleasure, we knew it was time. She had not let us know how sick she was. She only wanted to please us. As always.

I found Lucky August summer of 1996. She was running loose on the streets, dodging cars, and ran across four lanes of traffic and right in front of my truck. I did not hit her, and thus she got her name. But it turned out I was the Lucky one. She had been neglected, abused, did not know what the inside of a house was. Probably left in a back yard on a chain her whole life. She did have a collar on, but it was so tight I had to cut it off. No one claimed her, thank goodness. After a few weeks of being fed and loved her personality came out. She started to shine, and even though no one would take her originally, and I had to move to accommodate her, I knew I had done the right thing. She got trained up in a snap, loved runs in the woods, and always came when called. After a month or two she even started to play, she was no longer the beaten down and neglected pooch I had found. Kevin was living his last months in Colorado and he flew in for a visit. I will never forget when she jumped out of my truck at the airport. She was very happy to meet him and he just laughed and laughed. She did look pretty funny with her big dog body and short legs. She sat on his lap for the three hour ride up to the North Shore, just happy as a clam getting her neck scritched.

She was always there after that. For every outing, every road trip, every friend coming over. She traveled the country many times. We were convinced that most of the people who traveled to our wedding came to see Lucky. And we did not disappoint. She was part of the ceremony, and she went on our honeymoon too. 12 years she lived with us. I will not lie and say she loved Alex. She was bumped as primary child and she knew it. But we gave her as much priority time as we could, and she never had a mean thing to say to the little intruder. In fact, once he started dropping food she saw his value, and even came to appreciate him. But she was always our dog, mine and Kevin's. Even though the cat came first, she was more of a child. She ventured into the world with us, and was always more dependent.

It has been hard. So hard to lose her. We chose to put her down, once we knew what everything added up to. We could have put her on IV's, and pain meds, and had more blood draws, tests, and procedures. She would have suffered it all, she would have continued to try to please us. But she could not eat. And she could not walk in the woods. And she just wanted to sleep. We did the best we could for her- there were no good answers since we could not turn back time. We were both there with her in the end. She went peacefully and in my arms with Kevin holding her paw. Alex had said good-bye and excuded himself to play. We buried her in the woods at Camp Bark in the Dark, next to another doggy friend.

We already miss her so much it is unbelieveable. She was the best kind of dog anyone could ever wish for. Please say a toast to Lucky, the Very Good Dog.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Big Event

Kevin and I renewing our vows (10th anniversary)...did you know they expire?? And yes, that is a gold strapless dress. I knew I could not beat my boys (in fashion) but figured I could join them. Hope I didn't look too dorky. Or old!

Alex held up very well in part II, his baptism. He was very shy but didn't mind the water too much.

With bow tie, "fox" sporran (former beannie baby), mini-Prince Charlie jacket (with real silver buttons), and fly plaid (the over the shoulder bit), Alex was dressed to meet the Queen. And yes, those were girls shoes, at least before Kevin added an extra buckle on the toe. He swears they are to proper shoe. Look out therapy bills...
And here the Kinney men are, actually in their Douglas tartans, as well as me and Grandma Becky. Granddad's mother was a Douglas, so they can wear Douglas or Mackenzie tartan ("Mackenzie" being the derivation "Kinney" came from). They all have such wonderful gear because Kevin sewed all the kilts and everything he and Alex are wearing. Yes, it is tough to live with such genius! Note that Alex and Kevin both have matching tartan vests, Kevin is trying to start a trend...

So, enough about the outfits. The event was exactly what it needed to be. Pastor Kathy was a wonderful officiant and it was lovely. We did not get outside due to threatening weather and various challenges with standing for long periods. So we were inside the foyer of our church, which is being remodeled. Other than the echos, which Alex didn't like, it was marvelous. These photos are the first we got to cyberspace, ones with better lighting may follow. I wish we had a photo of all family and friends and pets...maybe in the next batch. We kept it nice and small, but now I wish we had planned like a wedding! Oh well. Grandma's Becky, Jean, and Marty came, Grandfathers Chaz and Bruce, Uncle Craig, Alex's godparents, and a small crew of friends were in attendance. The whole week was a bit of a blur, with lots of visiting, food, and catching up. We wish we would have had many hours more with everyone. Alex was a trooper and even had a good amount of fun.

Now we are renewed, I forgot to check the next expiration date. Alex is well baptized and ready for confirmation. Well, maybe not just yet. Peace Church is a wonderful community and we are glad to have him grow up with a nice solid spiritual foundation. Fall is moving on here in the Northland and we are truly at Peak color now, with rain coming down. In two weeks all the color will be gone, but not forgotten. I am in the middle of my work week, first one back after vacation and not so bad. I knew I'd better get this post in before Fall gets away from me. On Monday I have my final shoulder surgery, just a little one to take out my Gore-tex strap, but I don't know if I will be able to type much for awhile. Now I am off to work, and will hopefully squeeze in a hike tomorrow with Alex and Lucky.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Don't Ask Questions

Once again I have been blown away by our SLP. Speech and Language Pathologist. I have felt very stuck lately with communication with Alex and frustration has been rising like the tide. When she handed me a Little People play set of a wedding and asked me to play with Alex while she watched behind the glass I knew I was in trouble. In fact I blanked. Froze up and really wanted to cry and throw up the white flag yelling, "I can't!". I can't play with him in front of Her. She always knows how to connect, and lately I have been at a total loss. Well, I muddled through and it was extremely painful. She did not yell at me, or correct me, or even hit the nail on the head just then. She simply said I was aiming too high. I was thinking "wedding" (actually: recent-renewal-of-vows-how-did-she-know-and-how-do-I translate-this?????) and she was thinking "sit on chair, have girl sit on chair". Alex tuned right in when it was sitting a Little Person on a chair. In our next session she busted me for asking questions. Big time. I have fallen back in the habit of asking lots of questions of Alex, which is a big No-no. Basically it is the most stressful thing you can do to a kid with communication difficulties. Or it is simply quizzing him on things he already knows, which is not productive. And back to those communication difficulties, it has really hit me that although Alex knows a ton, and is very smart, general conversation and long sentances are completely foriegn languages to him. Unintelligable. Which is why he repeats odd things that don't make sense. It is like hearing a great cool french phrase and repeating it, but not understanding it. So, even though I know he is really smart, I have to remind myself that he is not yet fluent in English. By toning my verbasity down considerably in the last day I have increased communication with my little bug 90%. Hallelujiah.

So, if you want to know more about how to communicate with kids with autism and language delays check out autismgames.blogspot.com and Tahirihs recent posts. Her insights are amazing.

ps More on the big weekend wing ding soon...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fabulous Fourty

Well, looks like I made it. I was a wee bit uncertain last evening when I ended up running through the woods during a thunderstorm, but it all worked out just fine. It was only as I was approaching the granite and white pine (i.e. tall lightning rod) encrusted peak of the ridge that I questioned my safety, but I passed safely and had a riot on the run back down. Through the heavily overgrown snowmobile path that I never take, I got soaked. It was all very amusing since it was nice and warm out. Unfortunately the boys were not home to witness my return. But return I did and rolled right into my fourth decade.

Today I am starting things out right with good company (Kevin and Alex), good coffee, good sentiments from various and sundry dear people in my life, and a few good projects. Will post photos of the new gate entry to our picket kingdom, and the new bird feeding station. The yard is really coming together nicely and it has been a gorgeous day for puttering. Took the hound out to the Hartley woods after taking Alex to preschool, the leaves are beautiful and the sky is a crackin' blue. Nice breeze out too. I am exactly half way through my vacation and an extremely happy camper. Next a fair share of our relatives will be arriving for the weekends big event, our 10th Anniversary and Alex's Baptism. But tonight my buddy Samantha is taking me out for dinner and a movie. Looks like 40 wont be so bad after all.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why I Love This Town


I arrived at Bangin' in the Brush early and nervous. A 10km race through the woods north of town, it is a fundraiser for the Korkki Nordic ski trail. The "Bangin'" part is no joke, as this is an old fashioned trail through thick woods, best skied on with a good foot of snow for a base. In the fall it is rough and tumble. I have never raced it before but have been aware of it for years. They always have great T-shirts. That's all I had to go on, but figured if I seriously wanted to run a real race every season, and not just talk about it, then this was it. I was pretty sure my friend Anett, who is a crack outdoor athlete, would be there. I also figured I could be in trouble since I could never keep up with her, and have never raced more than five km. But then again, what the hell, it would be my last race in my 30's so might as well go out in style. Or a flaming, spectacular mess.

So, there I was at 10 am, alone in the woods. A few others waiting for the start, all strangers. And then, halleluja, Anett arrived. And then Stacey from book club. And then Ellen from the women's running group. And then Sara!! Who has pulled me through my two previous races. And then Julie from work. And then Lisa from Peace Church. And then Judith from book club who just deliverd my son's godfather's baby. And then two Dr's who sub on my unit. And then my pal Beckett's husband. And Rocket, who I've known since 1989. This town may have 90,000 residents, but I guess the outdoor nuts are pretty incestuous. I can't belive I've never run this race before! Well, okay, I really could not have run 10km without being near death before training this last year. In all there were over 100 of us running this race, 10 tough kilometers through brush, mud, and ankle busting hillocks. It was the perfect cool but sunny morning. Trees starting to color orange, gold, and red. I did not take off like a bat out of hell and blow up in the first mile (see past running posts), I took it slow and steady. Me and Sara, once again. Talking, laughing, and dragging each other up a few nasty hills. Over all it was beautiful. I guess I can survive 10 km. We did not set any land speed records, but we finished. And I even procured a loaf of bread at the prize drawings. Didn't exactly win it, but since I jumped on it after a fumble, I got it. And the two numbers on either side of mine won pairs of skis, maybe it will be my turn next year. I guess I will have to go back.

Today is a day later and I am rather sore, but not too bad. I am happy to have completed a trail 10km on short notice. Good to know I can do that now even if I slacked off a bit on the training this month. I guess that regular 30 minutes, 3 times a week really has paid off. Now maybe I will have to start working on speed, then there will be more beer left when I make it to the finish. Yeah, there's plenty of work to be done in these upcoming 40's. And plenty of crazy Duluthians to do it with.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

September 18???

How in the heck did it get to be September 18? This is my absolutely favorite month of the year and it has flown by. Not as fast as Granddad, working for FEMA in Texas, but pretty close. At least by my reckoning. So where did it go? Well, a small chunk went to my Uncle Earl's funeral in East Troy, Wisconsin. It was very good to see all my cousins, and their kids, and my Aunt Sandy, just a sad circumstance. I have not seen much of them since going off to college so it was very good to catch up. As I get older it seems to me that people don't often change a whole lot over their lives, they just tend to get more responsible. The same core person you knew when you were 10 is still there, they just are less likely to sit on you or tickle you until you scream. And they may or may not be at peace with the life they have lived so far. Most are and that is good too. Where else did the month go? Well, another chunk got rained out, that would be earlier this week. And early on I guess it was the "back to school" or rather "on to preschool" mind frame.

So, here we are, September 18 and barely an outdoor adventure to show for it. I have been on a few runs and a few walks. Got Alex out on his bicycle by the Lake yesterday. The leaves are turning for real now and some gorgeous shows are out there. Red, oragne, gold and yellows. The apples are looking very tasty on our tree. I saw a flock of Pelicans the other day at the playground, flying like geese but much slower. That was very cool. I also saw a bald eagle, and a sharp shinned hawk, and an osprey over Superior Street today. I can only imagine what they saw up on Hawk Ridge. Our chipmunks are going crazy building condos under our front steps, and the bunnies and squirrels are looking awfully fat these days. Plus there is a never ending stream of little brown birds flying through our yard, dodging the hawks. And birds keep flying into Kevin's shop looking to find a nice haven. For some reason he does not want them building nests in his fabric. Go figure.

Things have smoothed out a preschool and we had our big IEP meeting today. We did not even get yelled at for changing our minds, and the school folks seemed to think we had a good point putting Alex at Congdon Creek. He will be getting extra services and the school district will provide an aide that our boy will share with another little guy with extra challenges. They don't figure he will need much help...hurray!! Things are settling in nicely, I better go enjoy September while I can!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Better and Worse

Well, all the things I was whining about have gotten better. Back to a more centered and even place, happy and mellow. Except for the fact that a family member has died. My Uncle Earl, my mother's sister's husband, passed away yesterday. It has been sobering. He had been ill with cancer, but we all like to think the people we know will beat the odds. And we forget that we will all Not beat the odds at some point. Mortality is tricky. Dwell on death too much and you start to die yourself, forget about it completely and meaning slips out the window. Kevin, Alex, and I are going down to Southern Wisconsin for the funeral, if I can get off work. But that is another story. My Uncle Earl was a great big man who liked everyone to enjoy themselves. He and my Aunt Sandy had three boys and a rough and tumble house. All I know about Football and Eucher(a trump card game) I learned from them. It will be good to see the family, Uncle Earl will be missed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kicking my ***

This transition time is kicking my ass. There, I said it. I have been in a rotten, terrible mood for days now and can't seem to shake it. It is my week off, the weather has turned to perfect early fall, our new schedule is set, and I am a crab. I hate my mess, I hate all the things I have put off, I hate my clothes, and I hate my garden. They all need upgrading or burning. Oh well, I guess it can't all be roses.

I'm going for a run.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another BIG Day

Alex started at pre-school today. Regular pre-school. Filled with quirky, normal, half-crazy children. We are thrilled. Alex took it in stride. He swung at any kid getting in his space, but the teachers took that in their stride. The principal is excellent. I think Alex will love it within a week. So far no official word from the school district, but we did hear from his old teacher the other day. We are going to have a meeting in a week or so. The school bus showed up this morning. That was kind of hard (we did inform the school we were not coming) because it had been our routine for the last two years. His best little friend was sitting right up front on the little bus and I wonder if he even knew he was at Alex's house. He's not visited here and he used to get on after Alex, but someone might have told him. I hope he didn't know. I feel a little bit bad for not sticking with the district and advocating for the changes we need from within, but I really did not want him to start kindergarten this year. So I would have felt bad bailing from the Autism program next spring and insisting he do kindergarten over. All things considered I'll take my guilt hits now. I am nervous that it will all turn out terrible, but that is just average nerves. I really do have a good feeling about the whole plan, and feel we are on the right path.

Another note, we found an excellent OT today. We started OT to just help get a handle on physical things for Alex. Our guy, Doug, diagnosed a few things right off the bat. He said Alex probably has a very hard time moving food around with this tongue and knowing where the food is, so he likes to stuff his mouth with familiar textures that grind up easy(bread and crackers) or eat smooth things. This is part of "motor planning" and we are going to start working on this from different angles. He also suspected that Alex can't lie on his stomach and put his hands out like superman, and dang if he wasn't right. We are going to work on that too. Should help with strength and balance to get that on line. Plus he had a riot on the zip line and stretchy hammocks and trapeze. I love our clinic. One other weird thing, Alex cannot step on big squishy blocks. They are too wobbly for him and freak him out. He gave up immediately. Oh. are we going to have fun building obstacles in the basement.

So, that's it. The boy is crashed already, and it is time to veg out to a fluffy movie!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Big 05

As promised, the Alex photo from his birthday. We have tried the bike (and new helmet) and he is liking it more and more. How can this be??
ps He picked red this year for his birthday decorations...last year it was pink :-)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Birthday Boy

Mr. Alex turned 5 years old yesterday. 5! How can this be? Just the other yesterday we were having a baby. Now we have a bona fide pre-schooler. This must be some kind of magic. Or brain trauma. Either way it is mysterious. I told him the story of the day he was born (the cleaned up version without all the angst, trauma, and medical personnel) and he greatly enjoyed the pictures. He is getting very interested in the growing process and the stories of him as a "bayybeeee", as he says. Right now he keeps climbing into my lap and trying to type, so I will keep this short. His big birthday present was a bicycle with training wheels and we are all very excited about that. I will post pictures when I can, after he stops jumping in my lap and I get some coffee in!

A word from Alex:
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wrecked

Man, am I tired. But it is a good tired. Am off to bed soon, but just had to sneak a post in. It has been a huge day. Before Alex's 8:30 speech appointment this morning Kevin told me our therapist, Tahirih, wanted to mostly consult with me (rather than the usual excellent playing with Alex). She, like us, was becoming uncomfortable with our school plan for Alex this year. He has made such massive gains this summer that sending him to the full time Autism classroom again seemed not quite right. Sure, the idea of an already set plan with lots of professionals on board has it's comfort, but there were many questions that were not clearly answered. We sat down and looked at his IEP for the coming year, and reviewed how the meeting went last spring. At the time we were being pushed by his teachers to start him in kindergarten. Not given any other suggested routes or options. It was that or we were on our own, even though his summer birthday is 6 days before the cut off. We were still on the waiting list for the Scottish Rite Language Clinic, and had barely started at Polinsky with Nikki the excellent therapist. In the meeting the teachers assured me this was the best place for Alex, but many red flags went up. First off they kept down grading his expectations for academics. They stated they did not want to aim too high (even in light of the fact he is age appropriate or above for academics). Then their idea of mainstreaming was to keep him in the Autism classroom all day, except for recess and lunch. With no assistance in those most stressful group times. I advocated against that plan, got him time in the class for his favorite subjects, and an aide for the tough open social times. But it still felt wrong. I also did not like that it was only offered full day, and the teacher poo-pooed my idea that I would like to mainstream him within a year or so. "Oh, you'll want to keep him here for when it gets tougher when he is older." Hmmm. When I was older in school I would have loved to have a room to hang out in with a big swing and lots of toys, what's the motivation to leave?? Especially if the teacher has no plan to fully let you go.

So, after discussing all this with Tahirih (who is a miracle woman), and another veteran of the
school district, we started looking at options. Especially in light of all the gains Alex has made over the summer. Did I mention that last week we went swimming in Lake Superior for a couple hours (it was beautifully warm) and he could not contain himself around other children? He was yelling, "Hi! Hi! I'm Alex!! Hi! Swim with me? My friend Alaina is coming!! Hi!!!". I did not stop smiling all day. And there have been many other moments of his connecting with other kids and really wanting to play with them. So, play he shall. We have scrapped the school plan and he is off to pre-school in a couple weeks. An honest to goodness, mainstream preschool. Filled with typical, quirky, half-insane children. Not too many, a 1-8 ratio with 28 maximum. Alex got go there last year to pick up his friend Fraya for play dates, so he is already amped at the idea. I met with the director today, at the initial call she remembered Alex, me, and Kevin from our Fraya pick ups. Cool. And she is very down to earth. Now all that remains is to inform the school district (left a message with the Special Ed director today, who is very approachable) and we will see if the schools will be willing to help us with this plan or will wash their hands of us. We will work it out either way. We are moving from a plan of Alex in class full time, five days a week 8:30-2:30, to three afternoons a week at pre-school. What are we, nuts?? But then we can keep on with the home program, keep going to our therapists, and see how fast we can catch up with the mainstream. Good thing all the work is play based, since play is a specialty in this house. Good-night!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another Summer Post

A quick and in-between-things post, just to let you know we are alive and well. It is high summer and I am blogging in shorts and a swim top. It is almost hot, which I hate, but will survive. Kevin and Alex are off at the dentist, something Alex looks forward to. Seriously. He likes the suction snorky thing and the neat chair. Hopefully we can keep it that way. Kevin is working hard, as usual, keeping up with Empire orders (! in the summer!) and creating stock, as well as looking into ways to revive Vulpine. It is such a great mission to provide adaptive gear, we just need to figure out how to make it viable. As for me, I am in the middle of my work week. Summer is odd because it is either floating (yuck), or kids that are often very ill and not very nice (yuck), or No Pay Days (yeah). I try to just show up and not get too anxious about the whole situation. Speaking of "situations", I am coming up on 40 and this is freaking me out a bit. I did not think this would happen to me, but never say never. I was warned by a few friends that went before that it is a sneaky one, but thought I'd breeze through like every other birthday. I guess the whole "mid-life crisis" thing isn't just for yuppies. I have been contemplating my errors of the past and fears for the future way too much, and am vowing to Knock It Off. I try to remind myself that I may not be as young as I used to be, but I am also not as dumb as I used to be. Pain has returned to my bum shoulder, which hasn't helped, but I get the next Dr. update next week. It is now one year and a day since I crashed on my shoulder. All things considered I should be over the moon. Maybe there is a touch of Anniversary PTSD going on too.

So, the good news. I had a fantabulous time at the races here in town. Kayaking remains my passion, and I am lucky I found it and grabbed it. We, the paddling families, are starting to strategize ways to get the kids out. Some folks have double whitewater kayaks, we got Alex out on flat water in a canoe, and we met a family whose 10 year old races, who may be willing to sell one of their inflatable kayaks. The trick is to make river time fun for the little ones. We also have friends with rafts, which is another option. So we just need to start going out to play on the river with these different options. More on those adventures to come. And on that note, while family friends went out and paddled with their grade school boy last weekend, we looked after his four year old brother on land, with Alex. The boys had a good time together and Alex was very into his playmate. Calling his name and asking him to play. This is HUGE! We have been very busy working on developmental issues through play this summer, and it is paying off. I can't say what a relief it is to have him interacting on an appropriate and fun level with other kids! We also went to see the movie Wall-e and he is still talking about it. We are also making progress on food issues, which is another big challenge. He has a few new foods, like cucumbers, and apples, with more to come. Overall, we are having a charming time with him. Every day he is coming up with new things to say and new ideas. Funny, goofy things that I will have to start writing down. Plus he remains cute as a bug-in-a-rug and a charmer for the ladies. Most don't mind his shyness!

But, speaking of the boys, they have just returned from the dentist. Must go get the report, and then we will have a new-foods picnic. Hope all are having good weeks.... Cheers!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Favorite Part


Rowan all geared up.


On my wonderful Wausau trip I had many excellent experiences. Many. But my absolute favorite was getting my dear friend Shereen's boys into boats. Rowan, her oldest, was very interested and because of that we made it happen. During lunch on the second racing day I got him all geared up and we went down to the flat water to try it out. We even got his little brother to try after a bit. Rowan had very good instincts and was not afraid. He had good paddle strokes and a nice sense of boat handling. Look out Shereen, getting in a race boat on flat water at Wausau is exactly how I got hooked!



Two new addicts?!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Room to Breathe

Wow, time is flying. I feel like I just got home from my trip to Wausau, and it has actually been a week. Every moment has been scheduled and this is my first chance to get to my blog. Yowzers. Where to start? Wausau.

Back to my home town. It is always very strange to go back to Wausau. Part of me feels like I never left, but then I run across new stuff all the time. The wonderful, open, grassy square downtown throws me (it used to be a rundown Kresgees). My high school is condos. And there is a new giant building towering over the lagoon where I first sat in a slalom kayak and got totally hooked. My old house looks the same, but the trees are 25 feet taller and much bushier. It is all rather trippy. But also nice and comfortable. I stayed out at the camp I went to as a little kid, that was really cool. And I also stayed with in-laws (my sisters) and friends(my dear friend Jennifer's parents), and that was even better. I met a whole bunch of new paddling folks, and hooked up with many old paddling friends. I was paddling, checking out a slalom clinic, and racing too, and I got lots of on water time. Since I am not as young as I used to be (and not as dumb as I used to be) I stretched every day and did very decent warm ups almost every time I got wet. Not a single injury (knock on wood) and only one power sinus douching. The weather was fine, and the coaching even finer. My biggest problem was my own head, and a fair amount of rusty-ness. I was not very happy with myself for the first four days, but by Sunday I was pulling off some satisfying runs. I was one off in my hoped for finishing places on both days (third not second...out of four), but when it came to the sprint for cash I finally got what I wanted. Second place and $25. What could be finer? I also made it on to the local news (hee-hee).

The whitewater was everything I remembered, and more. They have rearranged the Wausau course over the last few years and there are four new holes. Those were surprising, at first. Then there were the moves the coaches were making us do. Tough, technical, and frustrating. Or I should say, FRUSTRATING. I eventually got every single move that was killing me, at least once, but never quite all together. Oh well, next time. And besides, it was still fun. Or maybe more fun because of that.

And then there were family and friends. I started and ended well. On my first day I got to see my mom, my sister, my niece and nephew, and my sisters in-laws (who are great). In the middle I met up with my old dear friends Shereen and met her boys and her husband. We had an excellent supper and next day I got to get the boys in boats and show them the ropes. They did great! And for the grand finale I stayed with Mom and Dad Davis and my final stop in town was at their new condo (absolutely gorgeous) for a shower, a wonderful bite to eat, and to try and catch the news. No luck, but showed off my medal, hugs all around, and hit the road again. It was quite a week.

I missed my boys terribly while I was gone, and must bring them the next time. It was very odd being out on my own, like I used to do all the time. Especially weird to be at the camp with new people and footloose paddlers my own age. It has probably been a good 10 years since I have done something like that, maybe my last week long instructor clinics. Good to know I can still jump in cold with a group of new people and find my place pretty quickly.

And now, home again home again jiggety jig. I got in last Sunday at midnight and up and out by 8:00am the next morning. We have a chock-a-block activity schedule now so it was all go, all week. And work at night. I kept hoping for no-pay-days but alas, no luck. I did get one...but it was revoked 10 minutes later. Needless to say, I was less than pleased. But I muddled through. Alex is doing really great, his language and concepts are blossoming. We are in at the Scottish Language Clinic for the summer, and moving forward on eating issues with an 8 week feeding clinic. Otherwise know as "Play with your Food!". He even ate a rice crispy bar this week...now that's my boy. And my other "boy" is doing well too. Tired, after sending me to play, but seems quite happy. Looks like our Adaptive work is not so dead, and may simply be in a deep sleep. Will keep you posted.

And now I have a week off. Not a full week, due to some switching, but a good start. Planning on getting a little rest, and a little breathing space. Going camping next weekend, and have our local slalom the next weekend, so still busy, but once I get some downloads in order you can see the grin on my face. Happy summer...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer and the Blogging is Slow

Hello readers out there. Summer is truly here in the Northland and the living is busy. And the computer is very uncooperative. It does not like any kind of heat and may take 10-15 tries to get started. Then it may quit at any moment. Needless to say I don't always get to try number 15 before I give up. Especially since timing and time management are not my specialties and I am usually cranking up the computer on a whim. I will get more focused soon, but not until I get to Wausau and have an awesome on water time. This little trip of mine is taking all my extra mental energy, after taking care of my little bug and getting myself to work when required. Blog, home, and all other issues (like good cooking, regular gym time, finances, and anything cleaning) have taken a big back seat for now. Alex is doing good, and we actually turned a corner on home life by investing in "Floortime". More on this after next weeks adventure. Kevin is my hero, as ever, for stepping up to let me go for five days. Not sure why I deserve him but will just be happy about the whole situation. I will get to see my sister, my niece and nephew, my mom, and my dear friend Shereen on my trip too so there will be lots to tell. Hopefully the shoulder will hold out and the boat wont sink. I have actually been training so maybe I wont embarrass myself too much. Or that could just be wishful thinking!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Maybe it's not ALL good : Alex Report #3

Uuufff-da mackie, as we say up north, it's been quite a month. Not long after Alex Report #2, where I stated, "It's all good.", the worm turned. Progress seemed to stop and we even maybe went a little backwards. Alex began to increase his repetitive phrases, his frustration tolerance got shorter and finally became non-existent, his repetitive behaviors increased, compliance decreased, and everything became a fight. Everything. School ended. Summer began. Routine evaporated. Parental tempers became increasingly frayed and finally broke a few times. Alex began to spend a lot of time in time out. It was looking to be a long, long summer. To add insult to injury, there was insurance trouble, things not being covered that should be, and annoying difficulty scheduling his horseback riding, which kept the rest of the summer schedule on hold. Plus the school cancelled one summer school day (down to two from three), and dared to take a one week break. Yikes, what a mess. Meanwhile the weather was going nuts in the rest of the country and world, with floods, fires, and earthquakes, and other friends are having huge upheavals in their lives. At least our problems are minuscule compared to true tragedy.

But they are still ours, and fortunately the worm turned again and we may all survive this period. The big break was a new parent group at the Scottish Language Clinic with my hero Tahirih. She gave us all a primer in the Floortime Method. It is a way of teaching and playing with kids with communication difficulties, and it is awesome. I have more to say but my boys are back from an overnight and it's time for some "floortime" with Alex. Apologies for a short, incomplete post but summer isn't looking so bad after all.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Partly Cloudy with a chance of Rhubarb

Once again, the skies are grey and the air is cold, but summer is definitely coming. The lilies and peonies are up and budding, the lilacs are just about to pop, and my rhubarb is monstrous. I planted it two years ago from a grower at the farmers market. It was about 6 inches across. I was good and did not cut it the first year. I only took about half last year when it was a foot and a half across. And this year I just might be able to feed a small nation with it's five foot spread. I have never seen a rhubarb this big. The leaves are much larger than dinner plates. They make great floppy hats, and could be used for roofing material. Maybe it is time to get going on that dream tree house with Alex. And in the mean time, I get to harvest it all. Most of the stalks are destined to be rhubarb crisps. Bubbly, tart, and hot, with crunchy, buttery, sugary tops. MMMmmmm. Summer in the Northland.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Firsts

There have been many firsts, lately. The first lawn mowing. The first day with the windows open and the heat off. The first sunburn. The first day that Hawk Ridge is green, not brown. And Kevin and Alex had a big first too.

It was up on Hawk Ridge. This is the ridge at the back of our neighborhood. We live in between Lake Superior and Hawk Ridge, about one mile of little houses. Hawk Ridge is so named because of an autumn phenomenon. The hawks and eagles of the north migrate south, but they will not cross large bodies of water. Lake Superior slants to the north east, and all the raptors heading south from north eastern Minnesota and up into Canada funnel along the shore. As they hit Duluth the ridge is the perfect place for viewing them, and the winds at times are perfect for making giant kettles of birds. They number into the hundreds at times, and even into the thousands when conditions are right. The whole ridge is wooded, with trails winding throughout and wonderful overlooks for the lake and our 'hood.

So, the boys were up on Hawk Ridge last week, hiking among the newly green trees with the dog. A beautiful day to be out in the sun... and so it is not surprising they were not alone. When Kevin saw the big black dog he was not surprised. When he saw it's bigger mother, and she stood up, he stopped all forward motion. Fortunately they were just a little far off, and Lucky could not see over the old, brown grass. She probably would have hid anyways, bears not being her favorites. Being a good daddy, Kevin picked up Alex like a suitcase, and began to quietly back away. The bears could have cared less. Once the mama bear concluded the Kinney boys were not a threat she continued quietly munching. Black bears generally are very mellow, unless you trap them in your garage. Kevin swears this was the Lakeside Bear, who has a cub or twins every year and often raids local bird feeders. I am not so sure, but whoever she was she gave Alex something to talk about. His first wild bear sighting at age four, I'm so proud!

(And if you like birding, check out www.hawkridge.org, it's all about the raptors and the ridge.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Going to Wausau



It is Spring (at least for another week) and my thoughts have turned to KAYAKING. I held off on the early season paddling this year because I did not trust my shoulder. Early season is high water, remote locations, cold temps, and the need to be spot on. No way I could get my head around that. So no "Steep Creeking" for me, instead I am all Slalom. It is way more controlled and for some strange reason I just love it. LOVE IT. I was out tuning up the flat water race site last week and finally got in my boat yesterday. It felt good. Kevin and Alex went out hiking with Lucky while I indulged my passion. We have our races here in July, but before that I get an extra adventure. I am off to Wausau to help with a race clinic and race myself, at the end of June. I am so excited I am bouncing!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Spring at Last

As of the 15th of May, Spring finally arrived. The sun is shining, the grass is growing, and the trees have leafed out. AMAZING. I thought it would never come. It has been all grey, rain, and cold until this week. Oh, happiness!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pacing and Consistency

A little bit more about the Mother's Day Race for Breast Cancer, and how I survived it. As per my earlier posts, I was able to race with my friend Sara. She saved my hiney in the Solstice run and did the same for this run too. She is an inspiration to me. I met her back in 1988, worked for her kayaking husband for many years, was a dweller in her attic one summer, and she tipped me off to my job on the unit. Sara is as solid a citizen as they come. She works her butt off as a Mental Health RN, she has two fantastic boys in grade school and junior high, her house is to die for (they built it), and she is always going on wild adventures. Drive down with a friend and the boys to Florida for a week? Sure. Go to New Zealand on her honeymoon and climb mountains and leap off tall hills with a parachute. Yep. Squeeze in a ski week out in Montana with the whole family. Of course. She runs, mountain bikes, skis, kayaks, camps, and was a rugby player. She can also antique and garage sale with the pros. She was the best RN I ever worked with in Mental Health (she has since moved jobs, but not far). She could set a limit, find contraband, confront naughty behavior, and take down an out of control kid like nobody's business. Tough, funny, straight talking, and kind. She told me throughout my pregnancy that I was going to be fine and my child would not suffer too much from having such an inexperienced mama. She even passed on that most important piece of equipment for travel, the porta-prison. And a few wet suits for Alex to grow into.

So, back to the race. I was determined to follow my heart rate monitor and not blow out, but instead I followed Sara. And still did not blow out. We ran and talked the whole race. We were way in back, but we did not walk and we "got 'er done". I discovered my heart rate can go a lot higher than I thought (and the charts predict), and I have not been crazy sore or sick in these few days past. Creaky, yes. Tired, yes. A wee bit unmotivated. Yep. And HUNGRY. But not sick or super sore. And we were not the LAST racers on the course, so that is saying something. We ran the whole race at a faster pace than I have been training at, but I still had a little juice left for a sprint at the finish. Much better to place that at the finish than the start! I will probably resume training soon, with my new heart rate limits, and the discovery that I can go a bit faster than I thought I could.

In my life I have started at least 10 half-assed running programs that I quit within a month. I would be all gung-ho, then get overworked and quit. I never paced myself or was consistent. And I never set decent goals. With pacing and consistency in mind this last year, and Sara and the Mother's Day race on the calendar, I finally broke the half-assed habit. It feels good. And yes, it's really true, slow and steady wins the race.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Hello to all the mom's out there. As I was racing in the Mother's Day race there were groups of cheerers on the route. My friend Sara and I were running together and 6 teens started yelling for us (it was later in the race and we were towards the back...you get the best cheers that way). One of them shouts out, "Are you Mom's?" and we yelled, "Yes!". They started cheering super loud so I yelled, "Are you Kids??" (their mom's were probably in the race), "Yes!", so we cheered for them. Then Sara yells as we pass on by, "We couldn't have done it without you!".

It is such a hard job, parenting. And so great. The toughest job you'll ever love. Payback for all the trouble we caused as kids, and paying it forward for future generations. It is the most life changing thing I have experienced so far, and I am just happy that I have been in a position to work hard at it and do the right thing. I see so many families that have blown it in a big, bad way. I have heard the howls of despair of the abused and abandoned child. The child's deepest question in this situation is, "Why didn't they try harder?", and, "What did I do wrong?". They will never believe someone else's answers, they want their own parents. The kids who are worst off have been both abused and abandoned. Kids seem to be able to recover from either insult, but both together is the ultimate double whammy. Of course those parents don't deserve their kids anyways, but it is a Catch 22, what to do because the kids always want the parents. But you can't make someone be responsible and loving, caring and hard working.

Which is why we should all thank all the responsible and loving people in our lives. They did not have to be that way. And that makes them all the more amazing and inspiring. Of course, no one is perfect, but it is the trying that is really important. The sticking with it, not being too hard on ourselves, and realizing parenting is the hardest job in the world...with the greatest rewards.

I have loved being a mom. I had no idea how amazing it would be, or how hard. Alex is four now so I am pretty used to the job. Early on I realized how much I needed to thank my Mom for all she had done. The millions of little things that make up motherhood. The thankless nature of all those good meals, clean clothes, and nice smelling bathrooms. All the amazing holidays and celebrations. All the times I got patched up and encouraged. How I was guarded and allowed to grow. It's a big job, and I guess that's why Mom's hearts are built with extra room in them. Thanks for everything you've done Mom. Happy Mother's Day to you, and all the other mom's I know!!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Training for Mother's Day

Mother's Day is almost here. I have been training since last year and we will soon see if those efforts have paid off. Will I be blowing noses?, you ask. Or finding lost shoes? Or creating nutritious and delicious meals?? No, I will be running. It is the perfect Mother's Day activity. And it is actually a 5km race for breast cancer I will be participating in. Note the word "participating", not "racing". I tried racing in my first running event last June, and it was a disaster. It was a midnight race on the summer solstice, just me in the lonely dark with 300 of my closest friends. A very cool event, by the way. The disaster part was purely personal. It all came down to an incorrect assessment of my talents. There I was, at the start with two good friends, ready to enjoy a leisurely run for fun. 5km, that's about 3.3 miles and anyone can do that, right? Well, the gun went off and the spirit grabbed me. I took off like a gazelle with lots of speedy and leggy people. It felt good. It felt great! I was running, it was dark, and all these people were running with me. I usually run alone and had pictured racing on my own too. It was much more fun with tons of people. Unfortunately I lost my friends and could not figure out if they were ahead of me or behind me. But it did not really matter because I was RUNNING and it felt great. For at least three minutes I was on top of the world. And then reality joined me on the run. My heart rate started to be prominent in my ears and my lungs decided they were about done with this running stuff. My legs began to remind me that I had never actually been a runner and had not trained for this event. I had a brief moment of iron will and determination that I WOULD keep running, and then I caved. The walk/run began. The fast runners moved off ahead, with hearts and lungs in tact, and many more began to pass me from behind. I walked, tried more running, and walked again. I found my friends, or rather they found me, after several disheartening minutes as I chugged along. I had dropped them like bad habits at the start, but their pacings paid off. Sam buzzed on past, not wanting to walk for fear of giving up the run. Fair enough. Sara came along a few minutes later and encouraged me to quit the "poor me" walking and run at a nice slow and steady pace. To my protests she said, "You can do it!". So, I did. Even up the one hill. I could not have done it without her pacing me and keeping me going. It felt great to finish, and I had learned a valuable lesson. Pacing. I also realized there was another missing piece. Consistency. So I started training. And I have continued training, with those words foremost in my mind. Pacing and Consistency.

And now I have the second running race of my adult life. The Mother's Day race. Another 5km. This time I trained. This time I have an excellent heart rate monitor to wear. This time I will pace myself. This time I may not even have to walk. We shall see...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Alex Report #2

An actual Spring day, April in Duluth at Lester Park.

And here we are today. Well, actually last week, but you get the idea. Alex is a very healthy and happy 4 year old. He will be 5 late this summer. We do all the usual kid things, like go to the playground, eat ice cream, play Candyland, and chase the dog and cat around. Alex is a charmer with the ladies, he especially likes college age blonds. You should see him blush. He likes going to stores with young cashiers, he will say hello and hand over the money, and maybe say hello a few more times if he thinks she is cute. But he flirts with the older ladies too and they generally adore him. He is very good at routine interactions and predicable scenarios. We have one friend in particular who babysits on occasion, and Alex likes to tell her exactly what is supposed to come next. "Time for the Cheezy Pasta!", "Time to tickle Alex!", "Time for pajamas, close the curtains!". He is the best kid ever for going to bed. Early on we followed the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book, and he is now a sleep hound. We prompt him for pre-bed activities (undressing, pajamas, toilet, and teeth brushing) and when everything is set he crawls into bed and boots us out of his room. He will not leave bed until the morning, and only with an invitation to get up. Otherwise he stays in bed and sings to himself or looks out the window. We finished the diaper battle a couple months ago, had to just cut him off from the night time diaper, and he has had exactly one accident since then. He does not like being messy, which works out well.

So, where does the infamous Autism show up? Well, like I said in the last post, he is not good at communicating with children. He does fine with Mom and Dad because we know his lingo, but other kids are usually stumped. He does really excellent with the early talking set, he loves 2 year olds. He can just hang out with them and no one is confused. The more sophisticated the language of other children, the more they notice Alex does not quite respond as usual. He also still is fairly Echolailic- which means he repeats phrases from videos or live people rather than saying novel and topical things. Usually his echos are topical in some way, but it takes a little detective work to figure it out. Like he will repeat highly emotional phrases when he is excited. He also repeats things like, "Ke-Vin!!", just like I say it when annoyed. Oops.

We are definitely making lots of progress. We have started some extra speech therapy because he is exploding with his language now and we need the pros to make sure we are headed in the right direction. They know what to look for, what is on target, and where the deficiencies are. We are also doing 1:1 play groups with typical kids to get him as much exposure in that area as possible. There are just so many things only kids know how to do. And he is catching on. At this time last year he would not interact with peers. It was not on his radar. Now he absolutely loves other kids and wants to be with them. He is following them around and starting to imitate them. Which confuses the older kids (his age) a bit, but generally they just accept him as a quirky play buddy. As he continues to blossom and learn I think he will slot in more with his same age group. We shall see. It is all good. It has been quite the adventure, so far, learning about this new world. It is not nearly as scary on the inside as the initial words "Autism Diagnosis" implied. He is our wonderful Alex. He moves at his own pace, and has his own gifts to give. We have met many truly amazing people due to being on this path, and I am sure we will meet more. Autism is hot in the media right now, which is a very mixed blessing, and there is a ton of mis-information out there. But that is another post. For now I'll just say that this challenge we face is not something to feel guilty about and it is not something to "cure". I believe it is an expression of human genetics, and a learning obstacle that many have faced before. Alex will continue to learn and thrive, and we will work with his strengths while we overcome the barriers. He has so much to give, I can hardly wait to see his exciting future.

Just one of the gang, at the Websters (with a Sido).

And another big smile for the camera.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Alex Report- #1

The very early days, Alex is the one who is sleeping. 4 months old at Christmas.

Our fabulous boy and friends at 6 months old. Valentines day.

Alex and friends his first Spring. Having an off morning- about 9 months old.


It is well and truly time for the first of The Alex Reports. I have put up his picture, and a few snippits, but there are fans out there ready for more. First off, a little background. Okay, a lot of background. Alex is a lovely boy. Bright and funny and loving. A real sweetheart at home and deeply enamored of many of his little friends. He also has been diagnosed with Autism-mild in nature, Expressive Language Disorder, and Developmental Delay. This, as you might guess, rocked our world. It has taken Kevin and I about a year to come to terms with the concept of Autism. What it means and does not mean, what to worry about and not worry about, who to go to and where to go from here.

It all started because we have a huge and wonderful group of friends who all seemed to have kids at about the same time. Alex was in with a mix of babies from the start, and he just seemed to be moving at his own pace. Now, I have never been one to worry about the mainstream, but when my friend Sam (who is an early childhood specialist) gently suggested we have him evaluated at 18 months due to his unique pacing I could not ignore it. I tried. We dragged our feet. That first phone call was really hard to make. But made it was, and we were on our way. We started with the schools, and they have been excellent. Early on it was just Speech Delay that we were working on and worried about. Before age 3 the specialists came to our house(it's never been so clean), and since he turned 3 Alex has been going to school. When he started taking the bus he was too little to climb the steps! There have been adjustments of program and diagnosis along the way and he is just about to finish up with his second year in the classroom. We got the Autism diagnosis about a year ago, in April, when Alex was 3 1/2 years old.

Why Autism? Well, it all really comes down to social abilities for Alex, and learning style. He does not learn effortlessly, like most typical kids. He never played and experimented with toys. He did not pick up language. He did not point, or imitate, or want to be with other children. Groups stressed him out, and unfamiliar people freaked him out. Basically, he had to be taught how to speak, and play, and socialize. The good news is that he is an excellent learner. Once he learns something he has it, but he has to be taught. Everything. And he is not a big fan of change. Plus he does not really speak the language. It is as if you were dropped into the middle of a foreign country and knew not a single word. You would smile and nod at people if they were nice and moved slow and concentrated on you, but you certainly could not jump into the middle of a sporting event or the market place and understand what was going on. Much less be successful and communicative. His peers are currently light years beyond him in language comprehension and acquisition. And he does not yet understand emotions, his own or others. He is beginning to, but is not at all sophisticated. He will likely have difficulty all his life with that one. A hallmark of Autism Spectrum Disorders is not being able to easily read the multitude of subtle emotional cues, therefore not understanding what people are really saying. They say that verbal communication is actually only 7% the words that are said, and 93% the tone, rate, volume, context, and body language used.

So, there is a lot of work to be done with our little guy. But, like I said, he is an excellent learner. And we are learning to be where he is at so we can be better teachers. The Scottish Rite Language Clinic has been the most helpful with this one. There are amazing people there, and they even have a great blog. It is called autismgames and is all about how to play to get into the autism world, and then bring that world closer to the typical world. Playing those games with Alex likely has a lot to do with his recent and excellent progress. That and all the great teaching at his school. Plus his wonderful little self growing older. He is learning and succeeding every day, picking up new things, and getting more in step with his little friends. We are in a delightful stage at home, no opposition to speak of and always wanting to "play Mama". This is HUGE! So huge that I will have to save the details for my next blog. But rest assured, there is plenty more to come.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Winter Returns

Well, Lake Superior will not be freezing today (like it did for this photo in Feb. 2007) but we are due rain and snow tonight. Yes, living in Duluth is always exciting. I have learned to expect to write off one season every year. One of them will be a bust, either no snow in winter, or too much precip in the spring, summer, or fall. Occasionally we even get a hot summer. And every seven years we get descended upon by Army Worms, but that will have to wait until there are actually leaves budded. For now I would say we are having the Spring that Wasn't.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tragedy at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre

The worst I could imagine when I was working at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre of New Zealand has happened. A young woman instructor took a group of students on a Centre approved adventure last week, and 6 students and their teacher died. The instructor and 3 students lived. Were mistakes made? Of course. Death is never an acceptable adventure outcome and this was not just "an act of God". Risks were taken that in hindsight look totally inappropriate. An adventure was undertaken that we could not even attempt as part of an insured center in the US. But the fact is hindsight is too easy, and I was a part of that system. Something similar could have happened on my watch.

What this group was doing was "canyoning". Going into a restricted, boulder strewn canyon with a river running through it. I was in that very canyon several times. I wore my wet suit, helmet, and life jacket, just like this group. It was always spooky and exciting. I never did take my own group there, and that was okay with me. I rappeled in with staff for training and group building, spending several hours boulder hopping, wading, swimming, climbing, and scrambling back out again. The tragic group walked up from the bottom, for an up and back down again trip. While they were in there a drought breaking storm hit the volcanoes 4km away and the river rose very high, very fast. As they attempted to exit the gorge most of the group was swept over a dam and further down river. There is a full investigation happening now and it will continue for months. The families and friends of the victims are devastated, as are the OPC staff and the greater community. This is a complete tragedy in all senses of the word. I feel deeply for that instructor. The situation is horrifying.

I survived my time at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, as did all of my students. Not just survived but thrived. There were marvelous adventures had, growth galore, lives changed and uplifted. It was a peak experience in many ways. The OPC has given so much to the world, that Sir Edmund Hillary was willing to lend it his name. He was the first to summit Everest and of course knew all about the risks of adventures. New Zealanders in general are fantastically adventurous folks, and their country one of the best places on earth for adventures. In our world today, I believe that outdoor pursuits are an antidote to many of societies ills. They bring out the best in people and put society into great perspective. But. But they must always be weighed and measured. And this is the tricky part. This is what will really be investigated. Were the risks appropriate. For the students, the instructor, the staff, the Centre itself. Was the chain of decision making appropriate. Were all of the risk mitigating factors and systems in place correctly. Huge questions and many will be answered philosophically because they cannot be fully answered technically. If we looked at all the risks in the world we would never go anywhere. And what kind of life is that? But now that I am a mom I see it all more clearly, or maybe life is held more dearly. I have always been a safety nut, while at the same time pursuing adventure sports. I have lived that delicate balance. Now that I have a son, it is all getting re-weighed. I know the rewards of the outdoors (they are fantastic), and I try to take into account all the risks (they are vast). I hope to pass along both of those areas of knowledge, and keep getting out there myself. When done right it is still all less risky than getting into a car. But the fact is there are seven young people who died last week due to outdoor adventures, and many others left behind to sort it all out. I feel for everyone, and especially that instructor.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

I love Earth Day, but it also leaves me feeling guilty too. Like I should be doing more. Well, as an American that is not hard to consider. Perhaps I should move to another country and live off $1 a day by farming, hunting, and gathering while living off the grid. Sure would make blogging hard... Instead I guess I will celebrate how I usually do, by drinking almost Fair Trade and mostly Shade Grown, with a high percentage of Organic, coffee and listing to myself the ways that I am not too hard on the earth.

I am a huge fan of Reduce, Reuse, and then Recycle. Reduce, well that's an easy one. I usually avoid shopping and will go "without" for a long time before making a must have purchase. I live in a tiny house so can't fit a lot of stuff anyways. And I keep my income low so I wont be tempted to upgrade (just kidding). Reuse, this is a favorite. I have reused furniture, reused cars, a reused house, reused clothing, reused boats (mostly), and reused pets. I even sometimes remember my re-useable shopping bag. And then there is Recycle. I am rather a nut about this. I even pre-cycle by choosing some purchases in part due to their recycling potential... The thing that bugs me, however, is not knowing exactly what is happening to my recycling. I hear much of it is now going to China by the ship load, and onto a nefarious fate from there. It is kind of like when I worked at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre in New Zealand. We had the kids sort EVERYTHING for recycling. After two months working there I went on the final recycling journey with the maintenance guys. This was fun because it meant I got to surf in the back of the Ute (pick-up truck), but then we got to the tip, and into the pit went all the recycling. Just like all the garbage. To be burned. DAMN! It was the dirty little secret because there were no recycling facilities nearby. I am sure that has changed by now, but it points out how things aren't always as they seem. And progress is slow.

But I try to keep a good attitude. And keep living lightly on the earth. I have nothing on some people, and all the natural systems of the earth, but heck, you gotta start somewhere. As a species we will eventually learn to clean up after ourselves. Just like mom always said.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Day Hath Arrived

Well, here it is. The official first entry of my grandly opened blog. If I knew how, I would string up some of those plastic flags and put up a few giant balloons, like at a car dealership. To blog, a conversation with the world. It is not like I have all that much to say, or that I think people really want to listen to me. It is more that, if I could, I would pack up my little family for about three months of every year to go visit all of the fantastic people of our lives. I used to travel quite a bit, and I loved it. I thought nothing of taking off after a job or schooling finished and visiting where ever for extended periods. I was probably a bit of a nightmare for some. I routinely would show up unexpected places, unannounced. I wasn't trying to be rude, I just barely knew where I was headed and was willing to follow my wild hairs. I tried to be a good guest, and even wrote up a poster for friends in Vail with the House Pest rules. And it was not just traveling around when I had time off, I also moved quite a bit. Well, 21 times between ages 20 and 30, to be exact. For years it was just me, and my truck, or kayak, or mountain bike. I had a lot of fun in those days, and the best part was connecting with people, both new and old to my life. Of course I was always keeping my eye out for that someone special too. And someplace special to land. Amazingly I found both, and here I am today, in Duluth. The only problem with my chosen home is it's proximity to the ends of the earth. If a friend does not already live near Duluth, they will not be casually dropping by on their way to anywhere. Family makes a concerted effort to get here, and there is never enough time. And so, that leads us back to this blog. Since I am limited in my ability to road trip just now, this seems the next best thing to dropping in unannounced. And now that there is a little one in my life, to love and help grow, I want to share his story too. And the big guy too, of course. So read on, if you wish, and thanks for stopping by. I'll try to keep it interesting, and even amusing at times. Let me know what you think!
Cheers,
Beth.