Monday, October 26, 2009

After the Fall

Back to mud season.  Rain, grunge, tracks in the house.  Not that housekeeping rules my life.  We keep an uneasy truce much of the time.  The house minds it's business, I mind mine.  But even a dirtbag housekeeper like me can only ignore so much.  Mud season.  It is a usual time for my juggling balls to hit the ground, splat.  My son's education, my career, outdoor adventures, fitness, creativity.  Splat.  It is the darkening of the year, cold and wet.  Summer and Fall glory are fading and the glittering season of Winter has not begun.  An in-between place.  A place of uneasy rest.  And some good tickles.  Alex and I have been playing let's-hide-under-the-quilts-and-have-tickle-fights quite a lot lately.  Such a cozy place to be, especially when still in pj's after the initial bathroom runs.  Then again after lunch when we're dressed and bored.  Again in the evening when postponing the bed time routine.  Warm, dark, cozy, comfortable.  He has absoluetly no fear of the dark, and likes to block out all light under the covers.  Then he will tunnel to the end of the bed like a mole.  It's a riot.  A perfect game for these times.  Thank the Lord for goose down, even as I feel sorry for those birds.  A guilty pleasure.  Now is also a good time for cooking.  Some of my 44 pounds of green tomatoes have turned into bonafide veggies, and I have a glorious tomato sauce in the fridge.  More like tomato soup actually, all velvety and smooth.   Tomatoes grown out in the sun and the wind, under the giant sky, chopped and simmered down into one pot and plunked in the fridge.  A concentrating and distilling down.  That is what this time of year seems to be.  A bit melancholy, and more so this year.  A year since we lost our most wonderful dog.  A time when friends and loved ones lost also come easily to mind.  Summer gone, winter coming, the earth in between breaths.

I feel a bit like the grasshopper juxtaposed with the ant.  Oh-oh, winter's coming and only my fiddle is in tune.  But much as I try I will never be an ant.  This is why I try to keep my life simple.  I do not have the routines and habits to support more stuff.  In fact I want to free myself of more stuff.  Clear out the composting items (only metaphorically speaking, I swear) and get down to the really necessary.  Less things to clean the mud off.  Two billion people on this earth live on less that two dollars a day.  I think I can do better.  All I need is a warm house.   And a few clothes.  And my outdoor gear.  And food of course, and my books.  Let's not forget indoor plumbing.  Art supplies are good.  So are my radios.  Gotta keep the two vehicles (well, not really but...) and the washer and dryer are key.  Maybe I can get rid of the pine-cone collection?  But not my rocks.  Or pets!  Hmmm.  Maybe just the mud.

But really, it's all good enough.  Kevin is very busy and business is doing well.  Alex still loves his school.  He now has a new job of calling out the bus numbers for kids to line up at the end of the day.  I got a call from one of the mom's who picks her daughter up, telling me what a wonderful job he does.  And I had tea with his aide last week.  Two and a half hours of sharing about Alex, in both directions.  It was delightful.  She is a grandma and just a marvelous woman.  He is starting to really connect with emotions now, his world is opening up and coloring.  At home we talk about many things, and at school he is learning every day.  He cried and cried at school over a story about a girl who flew out the window and over her town, he could not talk about why.  He told Miss Trudie, "I look out my window and try to fly, but I can't..." and cried some more.  Last year, when Lucky died we told him how she flew up to heaven.  Now he is getting words and images for that sadness, and that is a very good thing.  It is sometimes trying, as emotions leak all over every day happenings, but it was much worse for them to be so deep and impossible to understand.    They say that kids with autism do not have much emotion, and that is so untrue.  What is true is they are often locked off in their own well, with no connection to the processing and logic part of the brain, so that they can only be in one part or the other.   With little or no communication between the two and no understanding of how to corral and control emotion.  Better to just seal that area off.  But you can't.  And then when these kids fall in the well, it is so hard to get out.  Tantrums, head banging, lashing out at others.   Endless fear or rage or sadness.  Until they escape, and leave all those impossible emotions behind, sealed off again and avoided.  Little by little, we are connecting the two, and this will be our biggest job for the next several years.  We get the brunt of this work, and that is fine.  At school he is happy and joy filled.  He is impressing them with his memory and love of academic skills.  And the kids seem to really like him, even if they don't get why he is so quirky.  He still can't converse in kid language, and his attention span and fidgetyness keep him on the move during class.  But with continued work it will all come around.

So things may be muddy and dark, but the world keeps on spinning.  The end of one adventure becomes the beginning of another, as long as you're living in a circle and not a straight line.  I think it is time to go for a run with the new dog... in the mud.  C-ya!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Writing Wanted

I want to write. 
Tried tonight. 
Lots to say. 
No brain today. 
Could be the cold.
Could be the virus.  
Bookkeeping done.
What else desireous?

Thursday, October 15, 2009


It's not that I don't like winter.  I do.  I really do.  I get excited to ski the trails, skate the ponds, and hike the rivers.   I love to hear water under ice, watch gorgeous individual snow flakes, feel frozen air hit my lungs at 20 below.  I love to snowshoe in silent woods and sled the deserted golf courses.  When it is winter the world outside is yours.

When it is 40 degrees, and raining, and dark, I just want to go to bed.  And stay there.  At this time of year it is cold and miserable.  The trails are mud, the clouds are grey, and the sun gets up late and goes to bed early.  And so do I.  This is the Achillies heel of my outdoor year, perhaps of the whole Northland.  As the joy of the harvest goes past, and the last brilliant days are wrung out, the darkening of the year begins.

Maybe I should take my cue from the bears.  Hibernate for real.  Give Christmas a miss and hang a sign on the door, "See you next Spring!".   The cat wouldn't mind.  I'd have to put the feather bed on, to match the down comforter.  Usually I wait until the first real cold snap.  Instead I can snuggle in now, and dream away the months.   Maybe this year I'll do it, I've had the impulse before.

Yeah, it's not that I don't like winter, I just do not like the build up to get there.   I guess I'll just throw in a good movie, drink some tea, and wait, wait, wait for the snow....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Harvest Dinner

I am stuffed to the gills as I write this.  Tonight was the annual Harvest Dinner for the Clifton Volunteer Fire Department- Duluth Township.  It is held at the Duluth Town Hall out on the Homestead Road.  Not on Homestead Road, mind you, but The Homestead Road.  There is something very curious about the countryside around Duluth.  It is fiercely proud, and quirky.  There are people who have lived there for generations, and most of them know their good fortune.  Many more have moved in during the last few decades, and they are dedicated to the area.  Alex's aunties, Barb and Sherry, live in the country 'round there.  They have a gorgeous wooded place, with a house they built from scratch and a shop that is the envy of all.  Woods (40 acres), fields, a stream, fire pit, Quonset hut, a huge garden, and now the happiest chickens on the planet; their place has it all.  Oh yeah, and a killer dog yard for when they have to go to work, free range cat, and 10 acres of invisible fence for the pooches.  Their name for the spread is Camp Bark in the Dark.  But I digress.

This year was my first in three that I have made it to the feast.  Alex and Kevin make it every time and Alex even made the poster this year.  Twirling his pasta on a fork, with a big grin.  It is a fund raiser for the fire department, and Sherry is a fire fighter.  So is Jody, who also fixes violins and lives nearby.  She picked the numbers and our little family had a clean sweep in the door prizes.  We walked away with the coolest cutting board ever (wooden circle with an engraved spiral), sustainable farming calendar and gift certificate for the New Scenic Cafe, and alphabet letters that interlock.  The music in the background was great, fiddle and guitar duo.  It took about ten minutes for me to realize the musicians had also played at our wedding.  I thanked them and informed them that the music had done it's magic and we were still happily married eleven years later.  There were dozens of happy eaters, all cozy in the Duluth Town Hall.  An old country community building that we had wanted to get married at, but could never get ahold of anyone to work it out.  The unknown woman we sat next to had fought to create Alex's charter school, when it was slated to be closed 7 years ago.  She also knows my great friend Sam.  Maybe we have just been in town long enough to make all these amazing connections, but I also like to think we have been doing a few things right along the way.   Cultivating what is good and nourishing.

The food, of course, was excellent.  Spaghetti with fresh, organic, homemade sauce.  Veggies straight from local gardens.  Venison and locally harvested meat.  And dessert, dessert, dessert.  Kevin is going deer hunting at Sherry's tomorrow, and we are hoping for venison of our own.  The suckers are running rampant around here right now, and if we don't harvest them they will eventually come up with overcrowding illnesses.  Plus they are as free range and organic as it gets.  Tasty too.  I do still have some lingering, post-vegeterian regrets, but I live with them.  We are starting to break the news to Alex about where some of Mama and Daddy's food comes from, he still being a total vegeterian.  Not for lack of trying on our part, he just wont touch meat.  We started by explaining tonight that we were stopping by Barb and Sherry's after the dinner to close their chickens in for the night.  So no other animals would eat them.  This is a little part of the world we have not been terribly forthright about.  He never asked, we never explained.  He was rather interested in this new bit of information, and enquired about what types of animals might eat the chickens.  We came up with about a dozen local predators.  He didn't ask anything else, but we did forge on and mention Daddy was going to try to shoot a deer tomorrow.  I am not sure that he knows what that means, but if Kevin brings one out of the woods I guess he will further his education.

So, now the Harvest Dinner is past and the trees in the country are at their peak of color.  I currently have 44 pounds of green tomatoes ripening in the kitchen, and three coolers full of apples.  The last of the flowers fill two jars on the table.  Tomorrow we may have venison for the freezer and  Sherry stated she forsees eggs in our future.  Winter is surely coming (especially since it snowed today), but I think our cozy little free range life in Duluth should see us through.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Film at 11

Well, I think this will work.  This is a little piece that was done for the news in our area.  Since Alex is such a ham, and loves his acting, we were asked to participate.  It was fun, except for the fact that we had to do it twice.  They lost the first entire interview set and film.  Not sure how that happened, but a few weeks later they sent an entirely new crew to film again.  I would be very curious to compare the two, since I don't think I said the same things at all.  But I'm sure the gist was the same.

I am so indebted to this clinic, I think I would go to the moon for them.  Our fundraiser last month pulled in over $9,400, so I feel like I am helping out even if I was only a little part of it all.  Still could do more, just not sure what.  I do NOT like the way I look or sound on camera, so Hollywood is out unless I get a makeup artist (or 12) and voice coach.  Tahirih is the bomb... maybe we could write a book together or something one of these years.  Perhaps when survival of junior high is imminent.  For now I am just happy to be helping in small ways.

In other news, Alex ate parmesan cheese the other day, without any coercion at all.  I just put it on the table and announced he did not have to eat it because it was for me.  And today he ate two different kinds of pizza.  Also, this morning he woke up and announced that he was a fish, "Bloop, bloop.".  For a kid who ate only bread and pasta and had almost no imagination a year ago, we're doing pretty well.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Adventure Calls

In the crush of parenthood, homeownership, working, and life in general I have gotten spotty at picking up the phone when adventure calls.  Sometimes I know and just don't pick up, other times I let the machine get it and never call back.  Still other times I have made sure I was out of reach or booked when I figured the call was going to come in.  I almost missed it this time and that would have been a shame, because there would not have been another call of this type to take this year. 

Today it was Lake Superior that was calling.  She wanted me to come out and play in the surf.  I know, I know, it is October and that sounds damn cold.  I almost declined on those grounds, but then I did the quick math and realized I would likely go the entire year without surfing if I did not get out.  Avoidant as  I am, that just did not sit right.  And it is not that cold yet.  It is not like it is snowing or anything.  So, I cautiously agreed to go out with my friend Alaina.  She and I have been kayaking together since the mid 90's, and we are nicely matched in skills.  She kicks my butt in alot of things, and occasionally I get to do the kicking.  We also live about five blocks apart, so the set up would be easy.   And we both have kid pressure so I knew she would be good for a similar time frame as me.   And thus our little adventure was born (and came to fruition with a lot of help from Kevin).  I whined a fair amount about it being cold, my being out of shape, and general anxiety over the surf, and she commiserated and yet got us out to do it.  And out we went.

Surfing on Lake Superior has changed in the last 20 years.  Back in the day it was all kayaks, and that was good.  The craft move similarly and all paddlers are evenly matched.  I know where a kayaker is going to go, and what to expect in general.  Now a days the fashion is all surfboards.  Surfboards!  That is so silly, but it is true.  I don't like this trend.  They sit out on top of the best waves, and then barely catch them.  They leave many waves wanting, but get freaked out when there is a kayaker in the line-up.  I have not figured out how to navigate this well, so I sit far away from them and barely get any rides.  I will figure it out eventually.  The thing is, they move differently, and have a whole code of ethics that I am not up on.  Again, I will figure it out eventually.  I suspect they are here to stay.  It was a big storm that brought on this surf so there were tons of them.  18, to be exact, sitting right where I wanted to be.  Oh well.  I wasn't up to speed today anyways due to it being my first day out on surf.   That always freaks me out and keeps my super conservative, so I doubt I really missed anything anyways.  Who knows, since I can't beat them maybe some day I will join them.  When I need a new hobby.  Ha!

Even with the anxiety, the driving rain, the 40 degree temperatures, and the surfers, it was marvelous.  Lake Superior is breathtaking, and Stony Point is gorgeous.  It is a spot where there is a large rock ledge, an old lava flow, that seeps into the lake and smooths out the bottom for some killer waves.  The water is clear, as there are no creeks coming in nearby, and it is blue.  Very blue.  I am not sure how that works since all the rivers that flow into the lake are Tannin Brown, like root beer or tea, but Lake Superior is a gorgeous blue color.  Especially at Stony Point where the rock is light grey.  Grey, and today it was being pounded by huge blue waves that would hit the ledge and then spray a good 15 feet into the air.  The sky was grey too, due to the rain coming sideways.  But really, it was rather warm.  Once I got into my wet suit bottoms, layers of fleece, dry top (think gor-tex with rubber gaskets at neck and wrists), spray skirt, bulky life jacket, head cover, helmet, and gloves, well by that time I was quite warm.  And I did not feel the wind or the rain.  Just the excitement of getting out on the lake. 

Lake waves and surf are quite a different thing from waves on the river.  On the river the waves stand mostly still and the water runs past.  In the lake the waves are crashing past and the water is mostly still.  And the waves are ever changing.  The swell comes from far out, where is has built across the miles with wind action.  It is uniform and not very big until the bulk of it begins to run into the shallowing bottom.  Then the swell rises into a peak, and if it rises high enough the wall of the peak turns verticle and curls over to crash down on itself as momentum pushes it towards it's end on the shore.  After the crash the wave is all whitewater, frothing and rolling on towards the beach.  Surfers play on the wave face, kayakers play on the wave face and in the whitewater.  As long as you keep your balance you can ride the wave and the whitewater; twisting, turning, spinning, and even backwards riding.  It is very fun, and exhilirating.  If you lose your balance you are dragged along upside down, while the wave tries to foil every attempt to roll.  Sometimes if you roll you get slapped over by the next one, and sometimes the next one.  It has been awhile since my balance was in question that way, but I still remember.  And that balance can go when one is freaked out or tired.  So I remember, and play it safe.  Probably too safe today, I only got a few good rides in the hour we were out.  But they were worth the trouble. 

It feels so good to be finally floating after all the prep, scrambling and racing on the way out after pushing off shore.  Next you power through the whitewater that's trying to push you back to the shore, line after line of whitewater.  If the waves are too big then the whitewater or building waves can pushes you too far back, of flip you over entirely before you break out into the quiet zone where the water is deep.  Then you get to turn around, assess the waves coming in, wave to a few surfers, confer with your paddling buddy, and wait for a good ride to catch.  Always adjusting position for wave and wind action and the strength of butterflies in your stomach.  There are always many false starts before the perfect situation is reached.  Where the wave is just right, your position is just right, and your will and skill takes you onto the moving face for a ride, ride, ride.  Oh it is glorious when it all comes together.  And really, this opportunity, to surf Lake Superior and be a part of her power in a fun crazy way is one of the reasons I settled here.

I am glad adventure called today, and I will try to remember to pick up earlier next time. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Almost Perfect Day

"Following the leader, the leader, the leader, following the leader down the rapids!"  When the going got tough, the tough got singing.  I don't even remember why Alex was unhappy, but he started asking where the car was.  This is not a good sign when it is a good two river hours away, with lots of rapids in between.  But that little song turned it around.  Suddenly he was happy to be out in our inflatable kayak, following three friends down a long and twisty rapids.  Perhaps it was having to leave the rope swing behind that we had discovered, and the boys had tested, that got him grumpy.  Jethro, at 11, had done an excellent job climbing the ladder up the bank and swinging out over the river.  Alex got to the first rung and dragged his way in, twice.  Which I thought was great for a little guy who is not even a graduated pollywog.  And he did too.  Jethro was not impressed.  He went higher and higher, and probably would have stayed there all day, but we had to move on so we could get home sometime.  The river was low, low, super low, so it took longer than usual.  But it was stone gorgeous out.  Hot and sunny in mid-September.  The woods starting to turn to fire.  I tried to get our friends with a cata-raft out with their two girls, plus more friends who boat whose son would have fit with Alex, but no luck.  It was just our little crew of five people and four boats.  No dog this time, maybe if Kevin had come along to wrangle and play.  He had to get some work in before we go off to Pittsburgh next week, so I played it safe.  Alex is doing great with the whitewater routine now.  He does not even protest when I clip on his helmet, or stuff him is his wet suit.  He prefers sitting on the bow of the boat, with feet in the water if I let him, and I have to get stern to have him sit near me for big water.  But he sits, and then grins through the whole rapid.  This year he has gotten to paddle with a mini-canoe paddle, next year we may need to upgrade.  For entertainment today Anett rolled with his paddle, after making her boat go in a circle while she was upside down.  They don't have a TV either...  Anyways, between the rope swinging and the singing down rapids and the entertainment, it was another perfect day (except for the parent missing out).  After the first verse that I made up Alex took it over and continued to sing down the river, inventing new phrases as we went.  It was a golden moment.  For a kid who didn't talk much a year ago, we sure have come a long way.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Glorious Fall

It has been drop dead gorgeous up North.  75 degrees and sunny.  My tomatoes are finally ripening and the apple tree is packed with Haralreds.  I have been running up on Hawk Ridge regularly, which is up behind our house.  I can leave the house and with a little three block warm up be into a trail through the woods that connects to the Superior Hiking Trial.  Eventually you will be able to get from my house to Canada on foot.  For now I just go about 3km and am very happy winding through the pines and oaks, past the raspberries and thimble berries.  On the ridge our family has seen chipmunks galore, multiple cheeky squirrels, a zillion lbb's (little brown birds), deer a-plenty, hawks, eagles, owls, and even two black bears.  It is a magic place.  Usually I run up with the dog.  It used to be our old dog, and I have named my favorite height Lucky Peak after her.  Jack has not earned a landmark yet, but that will come.  I find running clears my head, gets my blood going, and makes my days better.  I have been at it consistently for three years now and would recommend it to anyone with good joints. 

So, we are now at the end of week two of school for Alex.  It has been a long road, with many twists and turns to get here.  Today he was observed by the Autism specialist, Sheila Merzer, that the school hired for better programming for Alex.  We are going to the annual Harvest Fest tonight for North Shore Community School, so I hope to hear more about the day.  We get a communication notebook home every day, and so far it has all been good news.  Alex is happy in his class, and is fully integrated.  He has not needed to be pulled out once due to meltdown or upset.  He does have a full time aide that he shares with another boy, and I don't know yet how much assistance he has been needing.  I will be checking on that shortly.  So far it has been time to get used to the routine and slot in as much as possible.  The Autism specialist is one of the best in the business, and she will have spotted all the places where it looks like Alex is understanding, but he really isn't.  That is the tricky thing about Autism with Alex.  He learns patterns and how things work in one way, but cannot easily transfer that knowledge.  So we are always trying to vary things and figure out where the knowledge gaps are.  We are going out of state early next week, so this is the last day of school for Alex for a week.  I hope to write a bit more once I hear how things have gone this week.  Overall, from our end, he comes home happy and tired.  He sits with the same little friend on the way to school, Lussi, and plays with her at school too.  He also talks about his new friends Issac and Beourn.  Plus he has started reciting some of the school routines at home, like holding up one finger for quiet, two for stand up, and three for go quietly to the door.  Oh, the bus is here, gotta run!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Summer Review

 Well, I do not know why these photos are so small, must be the formatting and will try to fix it in time.  It has been an excellent summer for camping and outdoor adventures.  We finally got ourselves a used Grumman canoe to go with the 14 kayaks, and that really upped our camping.  Also I pitched a little fit last year when I realized we had not camped AT ALL, and swore this year would be different.
 Jack and Alex both did great in the new canoe- The William B.  Our only trouble was when Kevin was casting from the stern.  I was pretty sure there would be major chaos if he landed a fish.  Luckily this did not happen.  
 Our first real camping trip was up to Indian Lakes Campground at Brimson.  I found the perfect North Shore camping guide by Andrew Slade and we just got amped and started going whenever time and weather permitted.  The first trip was early June.
 Jack turned out to be an excellent camping companion.  He even figured out how to open the tent on his own when he needed out in the middle of the night. 
Mid July the Carlton Kayak Races came along again.  This was our 13th year of putting on the St. Louis River Whitewater Rendezvous.  Always a marvelous time.  Yes, that's me going down the top drop on the Slalom.  Whee!
 Alex's best friend Fraya was in the horse show at our little county fair, so we went to cheer her on.  Alex loved the animal barns this year (previous years he has refused to go in...too loud) and he is getting a taste for rides as well.  It is not summer in the Mid-west without them!
 Our biggest camping trip was a three day to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  On the first night, when we camped in campground on Sawbill Lake, Alex met this big bug.  He thought it was very cool.  On the second night we had some bedtime tears (which never ever happens in our house- we are very fortunate in his sleep habits).  I am not sure if it was because we were out for a second night, or because we were away from the car (at Alton Lake on portage in to the BWCA), or just because he was extra tired.  That was our only autism bump in the road.  Otherwise the usual kid whining occured at times, fixed by strategic snacks and distractions.

Finally in late August and early September the weather was warm enough for more expeditions in our new inflateable kayak.  We now know Alex can fit in it with an adult, and a dog or second little kid.  It is a bit of extra work to add  the dog or another kid, but well worth it.  We started with short trips, then added long trips with snacks on board, and finally cut the snacks to only at rest breaks.  He is taking the whitewater like a champ, and has now been on board for class II+ and III-.   Yeah, it has been a good summer!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hello Again

Well well, it has been quite awhile. Summer goes so fast up here, I can't believe it is already September. As I put Alex on the bus, however, for the first day of Kindergarten, the reality of fall was apparent. It has arrived, wrapped in a summer package. It is 70 and sunny today, time to tend the garden and get a little more sun before the rains set in. This summer was a bit lacking in the good weather department, until this last week. Now it is gorgeous, and all the trees are coloring early to celebrate. I am not sure where to start, or go, with this post, so will ramble for just a bit, then see if I can get some pictures up.

It may not seem it, but I am ecstatic about Alex starting school. I wish I could go to his school, and I hope my wishes will line up with his experience. His school really wants him, and that is great, coming from a system that often treated him more as a burden. Again, from my perspective, and not the individuals that taught him, but the overall system. A few key comments like, "No no, you wont want him in a regular classroom" just before we mainstreamed him in a private preschool, and later from another staffer, "Gee, sounds like he's doing great in regular preschool, but I am sure the best place for him will be back in a special ed classroom next year.", shows that the Duluth school system has one plan and one plan only for a kid on the Autism spectrum. Also, I was recently told by a district insider that, "We are required to graduate our special ed kids (from high school) with an eighth grade education.", and "We shoot for adequate education, no more." Wow. So glad we found the charter school, and that is it's own district, with it's own goals. If all goes well the need for services will drop off as Alex learns and grows, as he integrates into this system that seeks to teach all it's kids strong social skills, as well as the academics. In fact, their hand book says, "We believe that social learning is as important as academics.", which is so true! Where is a kid who graduates from school but can't make friends or work with people? That kid is living in his parents basement forevermore. And what about a kid with no self control? Of course all of this must also be taught and modeled at home, but how perfect to have it as a basis for learning at school too, rather than an after thought. I swear there are still many schools where the principles of The Lord of the Flies still rule.

With that thought, I am off to enjoy the day before I must be off to work for the evening. I have morphed into a new schedule at work, where I will work mostly days, with a few evenings here and there. That way we can have a semi-normal schedule with work during the day, family time in the evening and weekends. And I will try to fit in more blog time too. Cheers!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Perfect Day

Whitewater. My addiction. Or perhaps passion, since addiction con notates a continuing indulgence. And while my recent outings (in the last 6 years) have not been as frequent, they have been memorable. Last summers five day paddling trip to Wausau was excellent, for example. I was on my own, like the old days. I got to teach a little and train a lot. I visited many family members and friends. I introduced a great young man to the sport. And I reacquainted myself with my slalom boat on big water. I even won some money, which I spent on gas and extra Whitewater T-shirts and sweats for my boys. Our local slalom was also a blast last year, with hot competition among the "senior" women (maybe they could call us Cougarettes) and good runs for Kevin. We traded keeping Alex on dry land. And there have been various days on creeks in the spring, several good surf days out on the big lake, and play sessions with friends down in Taylors falls. Yes, great and memorable days, but not like this one.

Today was perfect. I wish I had a camera along, but will have to resort to 1,000 words instead. Picture blue and breezy skies, warm water, and bug free woods. Deep woods, cut through by sparkling whitewater. And into this scene came a group of seven. A nice number for a long leisurely paddle down 4.5 miles of whitewater. The group could form and reform, making variations, stopping to play and visit, and keeping it lively. No one was in a rush. There were two families of three, and a spare. Four parents, two kids, and an experienced local boater out for his first cruise of the year. Alex won the prize for youngest, at five. Jethro got the nod for bravest, at eleven and in his own boat. Mama Beth was second bravest, alone in an inflatable with the five year old. Kevin paddled shotgun in his play boat, and actually did not need to stay real close. It was happy and mellow paddling in the SS Kinney. No threat of falling out, except when a tired boy threatened to throw himself overboard at the end. But more on that later.

This little trip was a gamble. How does your average five year old deal with going down a long whitewater river for the first time? Well, no one actually knows as so few have done it. His last trip had been approximately eight minutes, he did great then he was done. He wanted out, and that was it. No second run. No way. This was going to be a wee bit longer, by about four hours. But the advantage was that no one would be on shore, daddy would be in a boat too, the car would be out of sight, and actually everything he was familiar with was out of sight. No roads, no paths, no trails. Just the river. And me with a dry bag full of treats. This was a good strategy.

And he liked the rapids. After the first experience of getting wet at the front he decided to sit closer to me, and that was just fine. He got nervous and started shouting, "Whoa, Whooaa, Whoooaaaa!" as we went down wave trains, but was soon wanting to go down more, or paddle back up to go down again. He had his little canoe paddle in the front, I had my kayak paddle in the back. He would sometimes get to swinging it about, or tossing it overboard, in which case it would take a rest behind me. The treat bag was useful for long pools between rapids, except the time he ate a granola bar way to slow and I had to go down stream trying to avoid all splashes so it would stay dry in his hand. It worked. The Louie is a nice progressive river so the rapids and waves kept getting bigger. By the last few he was grinning ear to ear in the drops.

He also liked the setting in general. At the start there was a nice little drop to play in, so he and the other boy got out on the rocks and had their own fun. Floating in a 1 1/2 foot "pool" that was 5 feet across with a little jet of water through the middle, scrambling on rocks, looking at various wildlife. At the half way point we all stopped at a canyon and climbed up to a rocky overlook to bask in the sun and have more treats. And at the end he was tired of sitting in the boat, so he draped himself across the bow, dragging arms and legs in the water. We didn't move very fast, but it was fun. He was rather cranky at that point and kept saying, "If I fall in, if I fall in!", and I kept assuring him, "I'll drag you out". But he really did want to go in so we worked together to almost lower him all the way into the water, but then he would get unsure so I would drag him back in. It was a very good time. And he bonded with Jethro too. Jethro was giving him tips on how to paddle, and initiated a few splash fights. Alex was shouting for Jethro to come over to our boat by the end of the trip.

I would be lying if I said there weren't a few tears here and there, mostly due to being wet and staying wet in clothing. And also getting used to paddling gear. Plus some blinding sun, and generally a new environment. Next time we will have better gear, sun glasses with floaties, and more treats. Over all, however, it was a stellar day. I am happy, and satisfied, and ready to go again when we get the chance. Kevin swears he will paddle Alex next time, and bring the dog too. For that I will surely find a way to keep the camera dry. As for this first trip, the acid test was when we got to the dock four and a half hours after our start, and Alex asked, "Why are we done???".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The SS Kinney

Last month we went to a slalom race and picked up our new boat. Alex raced in it (with me), finished, and placed. With a ribbon and all. What a riot. I never thought I'd own an inflatable kayak, but I also never knew how wonderful kids are.

Here is his first taste of whitewater. In a hard shell K-2 with his buddy Carver stuffed behind him, and Carvers daddy Kent in the back. There are no photos of the race run that we know of, everyone else was racing too! But we sure had fun.

You Can't Win for Losing

On the way to pre-school we stopped at the bank. When we came out the boarder collie was sitting in the back seat eating Alex's peanut butter sandwich. Jack had unzipped the backpack, opened the lunch sack, taken the bag of chips and put it on the seat, fished out the sandwich, unwrapped it, ate the first half, and was starting on the second. He looked both ashamed and proud when busted. It was too far to go home and we were going to be late, so we stopped at the nearest store to get a loaf of bread and new peanut butter. I took the backpack with us. At pre-school the story was told, a new sandwich made, and chuckles all around. They eat outside in summer, so Jack came to visit, kept on a leash from all the little lunches. Jack and I then went to the next stop, the grocery store for real. I now had a dilema, as there was no secure place in the Subaru for a loaf of bread and a new jar of peanut butter. I could have tied Jack to his seat, but I didn't want to do that. Taking the items into the store would have been too much to explain. So I stuck them on the roof. Went in and did a pretty good shopping trip. When I came out I noticed my goofy loaf of bread on top of my car, and Jacks face in the window. As I got closer I saw that the bag was opened, from the top. I looked at Jack, knowing he is smart and talented, but not that smart and talented. I looked around again, and then realized the local culprit who would rip open a bag from above. Yes, Duluth has seagulls. I laughed all the way home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Hmm, my next post was written today, but is dated March. Opps and oh well, but want to register that it was written in MAY. I swear! Also, thinking about opening the blog to a wider audience for fun and motivation. Any thoughts???

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring, catch it while it lasts!

Well, here it is, May. May? May. In Duluth these things can creep up on you. In some ways it feels like it has not been Spring at all. Winter seemed to hang in forever, and then we didn't get Spring, just mud. I have not gotten out to play, and instead have let many things consume me, such as Autism, work, deaths, business, home, and Alex's future.

The worst thing, perhaps, has been the decision of where to send Alex for school. So many options floated around. Local school, or "special" school, half day or full day, school district or charter, regular curriculum or "basics" curriculum. The school district has it's ideas, which seem to be all kids with autism need the same level of support. Meaning a mostly separate classroom, with some inclusion, maybe. We had clarified that since mainstreaming in preschool was going very well we did NOT want that option. "Awwh, really?" was the response, even after a long clarification of the benefits of mainstreaming and the stellar progress Alex has made this year. The icing on the cake was hearing second hand that my IEP manager thought that I simply did not want my son labeled. Good thing my philosophy is that success is the best revenge, otherwise my spring may have been filled with psychotic retaliation. Into this morass enter a serendipitous trip to beauty salon. No really, it's true, I got a hot tip on the best elementary school ever from the wonderful woman that cuts my hair. The North Shore Elementary School is north of Duluth by 6 miles. It is in the woods. It has 40 acres, that include trails, ponds, skating rinks (2), gardens, and a straw-bale greenhouse. It is Environmental Education based (my first college degree), they have Outside time (beyond recess) every day, they are sponsored by the Wolf Ridge Environmental center of Northern Minnesota, they will not be closing, moving, or remodeling like ALL of Duluth's schools, their staff will not be shuffled around like cards (again like all of Duluth schools), and best of all, their principal is PUMPED to have Alex in the school. She has worked with many autistic kids in her previous job and she said the magic words, "You and Kevin know your son best and we want your complete input in all aspects of teaching him." Including requirements for his aide, and any and all necessary accommodations. Hallelujah. We did not jump immediately, but as I considered more and more how frustrated we have been for the last three years with the Duluth school district I knew it was likely we would go. We searched our personal network for information on the new school and heard 95% glowing reports. The other 5% we can deal with. I could go on and on, but will stop here. Needless to say, we jumped. We jumped from the giant ship of Duluth, to the tiny sailboat of NSCS. It is it's own charter school, and is run by it's teachers. Oh, we are so ready. This past year at a private preschool has been delightful and Alex continues to grow in so many ways. He is charming these days, and we are having so much fun with games and language and explorations. We can hardly wait to see what next year will bring.

So, things are looking up. Yes, there will be a lot of work yet to get Alex's new education plan on track, but it is all very exciting. Plus it is full on Spring now, green grass, leaves popping, blue skies, the works. I am off to a slalom kayak race this weekend and will pick up the greatest family toy... an inflaitable kayak so that we can take Alex on many a river adventure. And non-boating friends too. I competed in my first 5 km of the season last weekend and didn't die or anything. Mother's Day was a blast. And we are getting our camping plan together for the summer. And the garden plan too. Warm weather may be in short supply up North, but we use it to it's full advantage. Yes, things are looking up, and I may even blog more than once every two months too.

Why I Love my job/ Why I Hate my job

I have just gotten off my seven day stretch at work. I work on a locked behavioral health hospital unit for children and teens. These thoughts were rolling around in my head as I ran through the woods on a much needed workout.

I love my job because I am active. I could never sit in one spot all day, I would go nuts for sure. I learn something new every day; about my kids, myself, mental illness, living fully, or the realities of life. I am privy to extremely confidential information and try very hard to keep that trust. I am challenged every day to keep positive, keep learning, keep hope, and keep giving...without being sucked dry. I work with some of the most amazing people on the planet. All of our kids are brave and scared and tough and have huge problems, but also amazing strengths.

I hate my job because I see a slice of life that can be very depressing. There are many wars going on and my unit is on the front lines of all of them. The war on drugs, the war on alcohol abuse, the war on sexual abuse, the war on hopelessness, the war on wasted potential, the war on ignorance, the war on untreated and misunderstood mental illness, the war on criminal activity, the war on selfishness, the war on prejudice. I am sure there is more but that is what pops to mind. And in all these wars there are victims, and they come through our doors. Their stories are often terribly sad, and their behaviors can be quite disturbing. What they have come through they take on themselves. Seven year old perps, eleven year old criminals, and teenagers who will spend their entire lives in and out of hospitals and institution. One gets tired of being lied to, shut out, ignored, needled, degraded, yelled at, spit at, kicked, and attacked. Especially when the staff really just wants to help.

Why do I keep coming back?? Well, after getting past the nasty behaviors and disturbing stories, you find the kids. They are real. They are multi-dimensional. And they are not hopeless. They respond amazingly to respect, consistencey, education, caring, and safety. I find, in every single kid that comes through, something that I can like, admire, relate to, or understand. They can be fun and funny, sweet and creative, deep and inspiring. They all have families, and friends, and people rooting for them. Some we even help while they stay with us, and that is enormously satisfying. Others we just hope and pray that the seeds we plant will take root some day.

I am sure there are more reasons I love and hate my job, let's just say it is an education of the most interesting kind.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Welcome to Planet Jellybean

First off I have to say that Planet Jellybean is a cozy place. It is comfortable and familiar. It is populated by beloved characters and much happiness. It is where Alex spends a fair amount of time, and Kevin and I get to visit often. On Planet Jellybean the street signs are friendly and many ordinary things in our world take on great importance. The inhabitants of Planet Jellybean change over time, and that is part of it's charm. We read a story about it's most famous inhabitants just before bedtime tonight. Wall-E is a very nice robot trash compactor, and if you have not seen his movie you must. We read his book and Alex vibrated with excitement and was again thrilled with the story end. We have Wall-E toys, a Wall-E book, and the movie. We have learned that we cannot watch favorite movies endlessly, so they are limited to about once a month. This month we will visit the DVD on March 17, a very important day as it is a national holiday, and also Grandma Wahly's birthday.

If we watch a particular movie too much we get into trouble, which leads me to the second most popular set of celebrities currently on the planet. Alex has a new set of friends that includes a lion, a zebra, a hippo, some penguins, and a best friend, a giraffe named Melman. A hypochondriac giraffe, at that. He talks about Melman, he talks to Melman, and currently has 3/4 of Melman's dialog in Madagascar memorized. Yes, we have watched it too often in this cabin fever time of winter. I think both Kevin and I showed it on the sly to the boy, for some extra exciting time (or to get him to tolerate a haircut) and now we are paying for it. I will take it as a compliment that Alex called to me today, saying, "Melman. Melman!!" I said, "I am not Melman!". He replied, "Melman Mama, come here!!!".

We drive a lot on Planet Jelly Bean. Alex sits in the back and makes his fists into a steering wheel, and gives me a running commentary on driving. It is so pleasant to hear, because we learned last year that early on, when a child with autism is silent, it is not because they are thinking deep thoughts. It is because they have no thoughts at all, that they are not 'saying' anything inside their own head. First children have to talk out their thoughts, then they internalize that voice later on. Well, we are talking out now, and that is just fine. We talk about driving, we talk about the street signs, we talk about what has happened, and we talk a little bit about what is going to happen. Talk of the past is a very recent thing, and I am grateful for it. In my younger days I was all about living in the moment, being fully present in the present, and damn the past and future. This is still all zen and good, but. But if all you have is the present... you are quite limited. Anyone seen 50 First Dates? I have read other accounts of people with no memory and no planning ability and it is not cute, it is scary. We are building that frame work for Alex right now. He is just getting how the past works, and how to talk about the past. We started learning in a consistent way with street signs. Consistent, predictable, and repeatable. Especially in our neighborhood and on common routes. It is coming along. As for the future (tense that is), well it remains quite anxiety provoking. I suspect it is a vast ocean for our Jelly Bean inhabitant, so we need to start building some boats and sailing them. But for now we are just looking out from shore.

So, what else is happening on Planet Jelly Bean? Well, all the street signs are familiar, and Alex gets to drive well before his next eleven birthdays go by. There are many trains, and many more railroad crossing signs, all with bells, lights, and gates. Every body of water has a Lift Bridge. The foods are all carbs and mostly crunchy, the drinks are milk or apple jucie. No dreaded "Just water". Jack puppy and Lucky dog play all day, and Alex can drag Beeswax around any which way without getting into trouble. There are ball pits, gym mats, and zip lines galore. All the ski hills have Magic Carpets, and he never has to turn. Tricycles are everywhere and the sidewalks are all flat. There are zero entry warm pools in every neighborhood, and the exciting fountains and water mushrooms are a safe distance away. Books abound and he never has to take his favorites back to the library. He gets to go to friends houses to play every day, but can go home anytime. There is a birthday party every week for someone. It's not such a bad place, this planet. I will be sure to give you updates from time to time. We certainly spend enough time there.

PS Kevin came up with the name... of course.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Winter Family Report

Okay, so it has been awhile since I have posted. It is not for lack of desire to connect with friends and family, but rather the old organization challenge. It has been an excellent winter in many respects so I will outline some of the fun being had in no particular order (because then I would have to remember the order).
With Alex there has been
  • Sledding galore
  • Downhill skiing
  • "Hiking" with Jack (half being pulled on the sled)
  • Tobogganing
  • Winter parties with snow fun and bonfires
With Kevin there has been
  • A fancy Scottish dinner (Robert Burns turns 250)
  • Various Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon highjinx
Family wise there has been
  • A trip to Family Camp way up North
  • More "hiking" with Jack
  • More downhill skiing
  • Watching the Inaguration on line- and promising Alex we will take him to the White House when he is 8
And on my own there has been
  • Running on frozen rivers with Jack
  • Skiing the trails with friends, including by moonlight
  • Jumping through a hole in the ice after a nice long sauna, three times, at night by lantern light (at a balmy 10 degrees F)
All this in addition to getting through several days of minus 30 degrees F where school was cancelled, keeping up house and home, work, preschool, business, therapies, and volunteering at Peace church. Yikes, no wonder it seems like it has been a long winter. And in all this there has been the great joy of hearing "President Obama" as a statement of fact not conjecture. Sure, there has been quite a bit of dark and depressing news, but there is also great hope.

Alex had his assessment back on December 31, and we had the great pleasure of having it confirmed that we are doing the right things with him. We didn't get any new labels, but the psychiatrist did feel that he is on his way to being fully mainstreamed. She will be attending his preschool in April and write her report to support a schooling path that will be most beneficial to him. We are not exactly sure what that will be right now, but as the year progresses it will become clearer. Unfortunately the school district has not been great at helping him fulfill his greated potential. The schools are more focused on smooth sailing for the schools, but I guess that will keep Kevin and I employed fully as parents. Alex is definitely wanting to interact with his peers now, but still cannot communicate at his age level. We are going to move up a level at the Scottish Rite Language Clinic, from his interacting with the therapist and me or Kevin, to having another kid in the sessions. We have recruited his dear friend Fraya and these sessions start this week. It should be interesting.

Kevin has been working extremely hard at the business. He has had orders coming out his ears and has been dealing with a back log since a few weeks before Christmas. People held off from ordering in November and early December, then noticed they were cold or needed new gear. He is close to caught up now, and that is a good feeling.

So, that it is for now. I will try to post more,and more frequently, but must admit that Face book has eaten into my computer time a bit. Ahh technology... once again working to find the balance. Good luck to all with enjoyment of the end of winter. Only six more weeks, sez Puxatuney Phil, and we will be on to spring!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Snow, Glorious Snow

Happy 2009! For winter lovers the new year is certainly off to a good start. For winter haters... there is always tanning. I have finally gotten out and LOVE IT. Went sledding a few days ago with my dear friends Kerisa and Anna and we had a blast with Alex and Jack. Jack is an excellent sledding dog. He runs and frolics but does not nip or bark. He even took the sled part way back up the hill one time. Not happy, but he did it. It kept bumping his butt. Alex was a bit more hesitant but had some great moments. They included several tandem rides with all adults, and even a solo or two. I think there is a serious future in it for him. The only loser was our sled. It cracked into five pieces by the end of the venture, so now the search begins. Mid winter sled hunting... better than looking for the Titanic. Today Kerisa got me out on my first cross country ski of the year. I can't believe I waited this long. And whined as much as I did about how I should clean/organize/declutter/whatever, before I said, "Oh what the hell, Alex is at school, I better go." It was fantastic. The temps in the 20's. The trail perfect (now that the groomer is fixed). The woods gorgeous. And wonderful company. Look out, I shall never blog again. Every spare moment will be on that lovely Lester Park Trail at the end of the neighborhood, or possibly going up the river on skis with the dog bounding behind. Happy Snow Year!!