Friday, May 23, 2008


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, 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 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.