Monday, December 31, 2007

This is not a paid advertisement

At this time of year, newspapers and magazines are full of "Best of 2007" lists. I used to compile a list of top ten albums of the year every year at this time, but frankly (and I know this will make me sound old), these days I'm lucky if I could name ten albums that were released this year.

Nonetheless, I love making "best of" lists and I love sharing a great find with my blogosphere friends. So here are ten gems that got me through 2007:

10. Contour pillows: 2007 was the year I discovered chiropractic care. I was having serious shoulder pain in the spring and early summer (probably due to ergonomic miscalculations with my laptop), and since chiropractors are covered by my insurance I decided to give it a try. I've become a chiropractic addict. There are few things more satisfying than the pop-pop-pop of my rapidly aging spine. Anyway, one of the side benefits of seeing a chiropractor was my discovery of contour pillows. The chiropractor actually suggested that I sleep with a rolled towel under my neck, but I just couldn't get comfortable, so I got me a brand new pillow. As I think I've mentioned before, I have always slept well, but now - well, it's a little slice of heaven.

9. Kashi TLC Original 7-Grain crackers: Sometimes I think I could live on nothing but TLC crackers and coffee. Okay, let's be honest - some days I do live on nothing but TLC crackers and coffee. And I have no regrets.

8. SmartWool socks: I live in a cold climate. I mean really cold. We have a few days every year when the temperature is twenty below before you factor in the wind chill. So dressing warmly is really the key to survival around here, and for keeping feet toasty warm there is nothing like the SmartWool sock. Okay, they are expensive (as socks go), so I only have one pair, but I'm telling you, for one day every week, my toes are positively giddy.

7. The Presby Environmental Enviro-Septic System: After several years of living with a failing, and then failed, septic system, we invested a small fortune into having the Enviro-Septic system installed this summer. It's like the Prius of septic systems, I think. Best of all, it works, and, take my word for it, you should never underestimate the value of that.

6. Clash of the Choirs: I'm not even kidding. This was some throw-away little reality something-something that NBC tossed on the week before Christmas to fill time during the writer's strike. Five musical artists - Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton, Nick Lachey, Kelly Rowland, and Blake Shelton - each put together choirs made up of everyday people from their own hometowns and had three weeks to rehearse for a four-night competition. It was completely feel-good without a hint of Simon Cowellishness - drippy sicky sweet, uber-Patriotic, and let the angels sing. I loved every second of it. My only disappointment was when the choirs backed up their celebrity directors on one of their own hits: I'd really, really hoped that Blake Shelton would have his choir belting out "The more I drink, the more I drink...," but, sadly, it was not to be.

5. Scrabulous: Much to the chagrin of college students around the world, boring old people have begun invading Facebook. This year, my worlds collided on Facebook when I suddenly found that my Facebook friend list included current and former students, colleagues, supervisors and supervisees; high school, college, and grad school friends; most of my siblings and a sister-in-law; assorted blogging friends; and even my thirteen-year-old nephew. But the very best part of Facebook is Scrabulous - an online game of Scrabble that is played asynchronously, so that players don't have to be logged in at the same time. At any given moment, I have about six different Scrabulous games in play. And, okay, I spend most of my time getting my Scrabulass kicked, but I'm having a blast doing it.

4. Dexter: I don't subscribe to Showtime, so I was unfamiliar with this series until my uncle lent us the first season on DVD. For the uninitiated: Dexter works in forensics and is a blood-spatter expert. He is also a serial killer with a strong code of ethics. This is a show that's not to be missed.

3. Avon Moisture Therapy Hand Cream: I live in a cold climate (see number 8 above), and winters typically do a number on my hands. In past years, by early November my hands have been dry and cracked and painful and a nasty shade of red. I've tried every fancy hand cream and prescription medication I could find, all with little effect. And then this fall my mom picked up a tube of this miracle cream at some buy-in-bulk table at a flea market and all of my winter hand problems have been solved. I use it faithfully every night at bedtime (because it is so thick and slick that if I used it during the day I'd have to give up hope of holding anything in my hands), I wear gloves every time I leave the house, and I've successfully tricked my hands into believing that it's May.

2. The Highway 16 Traffic Report: This year, the XM satellite radio in my car has spent most of its time docked at channel 16, or "Highway 16: America's Route to Today's New Country." Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I've also been able to listen at home and at work. In fact, I started all of my writing classes by streaming Highway 16 as the students stumbled into class and struggled to wake up (because, while 9:30 might feel like mid-morning to people over 30, it is the crack of dawn to many a college student). The music drew a lot of compliments - though that may have been the result of the mistaken assumption that an expression of approval of my musical tastes might reflect favorably on the assignment of grades (needless to say, I am not so easily bought). Anyway, one of the treats-of-the-week for me in 2007 was the Highway 16 Traffic Report, a commercial-free countdown of the 50 most-requested songs of the week, which airs on Wednesday afternoons (good background as I plug away at my desk) and is replayed on Saturday afternoons (a crowdpleaser when Bud and I are cruising in the car).

1. The Keurig Single-Cup Coffee Brewer: The beauty of not having a Christmas wish-list is that often other people's improvisations are far superior to anything you might have come up with on your own. Such was the case for me when my mom presented me with this beauty on Christmas morning. I'd seen them before in businesses and grocery stores, but I'd always been too intimidated to try them out and risk the public humiliation of spewing steaming hot coffee all over my fellow paying customers. But I needn't have worried: as it turns out, the Keurig brewer is simple to use and produces a steaming hot cup of perfectly brewed coffee every single time. Sigh. Isn't it gorgeous?

So, there you have it - my own personal "best of" for 2007, without an ounce of corporate sponsorship or PAC money behind it. I'm still not able to endorse a candidate for President, of course, (which, interestingly enough, is the way I started the year), but, then, you're probably more likely to heed my advice on matters of coffee than on matters of international importance anyway.

Thanks for sticking with me this year, blogosphere. A very happy 2008 to you - and stay tuned for more strategic product placement right here in the new year.

I'm mom-nos and I approved this message.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A tale of 2007

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

For Bud, 2007 was a year of upheaval and, strangely, progress.

Most of what I blogged about our lives in 2007 was written between the lines. I alluded to what we were going through, but I didn’t write much about it. I wasn’t sure what to say, for starters. And I wasn’t sure how much of the story was mine to tell. So I stuck with allusion.

I talked to Bud’s dad the other day, though, and he told me that he feels like a guy whose character got written out of a sitcom because the actor’s contract was not renewed. I can see where he’s coming from.

As you may have surmised by what I haven’t written this year, Bud’s dad and I are no longer together. It’s complicated, of course, and really not for public consumption. He made a difficult – but logical – move to another area, and he talks to Bud on the phone every day, and often several times a day.

As a result, 2007 was characterized by extraordinary change for Bud. He had to deal with a radical shake-up at home, and with the absence of one of the most primary people in his life. He had to manage confusion and uncertainty and anger and sadness. His transition to a new school year was difficult. His anxiety was at an all time high. His unrelated health issues prompted the scheduling of major surgery.

And yet, he did it.

Bud negotiated the difficulty. He named his sadness and his anger. He forged a new kind of day-to-day relationship with his dad, and became masterful at the art of the telephone conversation. He focused on working through small changes, which helped him learn to work through the big ones. He trusted his dad and me. He kept moving forward.

As a result, 2007 was also characterized by extraordinary growth for Bud – physically, emotionally, and developmentally. He became a terrific reader. He made tremendous advances with language – using it to comment, consult, question, explain, describe, implore. He learned that though circumstances change, a parent’s love never does. And neither does a child’s.

We have all survived 2007, both apart and together. No one has been written out of the sitcom, though the plot has taken some sudden turns. And we all move into 2008 with hope - hope for a year of continued progress and hope for a year of settling in.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Soak up the sun

Bud and I were invited to a Solstice Party on Friday night. It was a kid-friendly party, for which people were invited to wear yellow and orange and bring summery snacks and juices. The main activity of the evening centered around an outdoor bonfire on the snowy ground, with voices raised together to call back the sun.

I told Bud about the party on Thursday and gave him full control over the decision of whether or not to attend. He didn't even pause before he answered: he wanted to go. The Solstice Party was all he talked about for the next 24 hours, and he was so upbeat about it that I think he only half-listened when I told him what to expect.

As we drove toward the house on Friday night, though, Bud began to have second thoughts.

"I'll just wait in the car," Bud announced as we neared the driveway.

"No, I'd like to go in and see everyone," I said.

"I'll wait for you, Mama," he said. "In the car."

"Let's just give it a try, Bud," I said. "If you don't like it, we can go home."

"I don't like it," he said. But he climbed out of the car and walked with me to the door and seemed willing to give it all a chance.

As soon as the door opened, I wondered what I'd been thinking. Let me paint the picture for you:

This was the first time Bud had been out of the house since his surgery.

It was his regular bedtime.

There were not many people in attendance, but most of them were strangers to us.

The place was swarming with cousins. They were the sort of cousins that are old enough to walk, so while there were actually only four in attendance, it felt more like there were sixteen of them.

As we arrived, one of the cousins was crying.

Loudly.

We'd accidentally left Bud's iPod at home.

There were two older children there as well. They were crawling on the floor, barking and pretending to be dogs.

There were two real-life cats darting through the crowd.

Bud turned to me immediately and said, "I don't think so, Mom."

I guided him into the house, hoping that in a few minutes we'd all settle in a bit. I tried to direct Bud to the cookies, to the toys, to the people he knew. I put my hands over his ears. I let him crawl into my lap. And I prepared myself for the meltdown.

The meltdown never came, but Bud never settled in. He tried, but there was just too much, too many, too late, too far. He gave it 25 minutes and half a cookie, then came to me and said with authority, "It's time to go."

I got our coats and boots and we said our goodbyes as the other guests started eating their first snacks and waited for the party to get underway. Our friends, the hosts, rolled with it beautifully as if this had been the plan all along. I wondered briefly what their friends, the strangers, thought, then decided that people who go to Solstice Parties are probably predisposed to roll with this sort of thing as well.

As Bud and I crunched through the snow back to our car, he said brightly, "That was a great party!"

"It was a great party," I said. "Do you think you'd like to come back another time?"

"Yes," he said.

We drove home and got ready for bed, and Bud was asleep before our friends started calling back the sun.

The next morning, I woke to Bud's voice in my ear, asking, "Did you have fun at the party, Mama?"

"I sure did, Bud. Did you have fun at the party?"

"I had fun," he answered. "That was a great party."

As I lay in bed and thought about the way Bud managed the party and framed his memory of it, the lyrics of Sheryl Crow's "Soak up the Sun" filled my head:

"It's not having what you want,
I
t's wanting what you've got.
I'm gonna soak up the sun."

He's amazing, that boy. He gives me new perspective every day.

It's wanting what you've got.

I'm gonna soak up my son.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ransom Notes and thank you letters

According to a letter from Dr. Harold Koplewicz, Founder and Director of the New York University Child Study Center, the "Ransom Notes" campaign is over. He writes:
Though we meant well, we've come to realize that we unintentionally hurt and offended some people. We’ve read all the emails, both pro and con, listened to phone calls, and have spoken with many parents who are working day and night to get their children the help they need. We have decided to conclude this phase of our campaign today because the debate over the ads is taking away from the pressing day-to-day work we need to do to help children and their families. They are and remain our first concern.

Our goal was to start a national dialogue. Now that we have the public’s attention, we need your help. We would like to move forward and harness the energy that this campaign has generated to work together so that we do not lose one more day in the lives of these children. We hope you will partner with us to bring the issues surrounding child and adolescent mental health to the top of America's agenda...

We invite all of you to continue this conversation online at a “town hall” meeting that we will hold early next year as we plan the next phase of our national public awareness campaign on child mental health. Look for details on our web site
www.AboutOurKids.org.

Thanks, Dr. Koplewicz, for listening to feedback, acknowledging mistakes, and working to correct them. And thanks, too, to everyone who wrote and spoke and signed and demanded to be heard. You have made a difference.

See you all at town hall.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A good sign

The Ransom Notes campaign is continuing to get a lot of press, both in the online autism community and elsewhere. Bloggers Kristina Chew, Vicki Forman, and Susan Etlinger were quoted in a recent article about it in The New York Times. And if you're a regular reader of autism-related blogs, you're likely to see a lot of other familiar names on this petition, which calls for an end to the campaign.

Perhaps once you read the petition, you'll consider signing your own name as well.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Surgery? What surgery?

Bud is so good at having surgery, he could do it professionally.

I had a lot of images about how the day might go. I was in "prepare for the worst/hope for the best" mode. But I never even entertained the possibility that Bud's surgery would be such a spectacular non-event.

Having stuffed himself silly at our midnight breakfast, Bud was perfectly content with grazing on Popsicles and jello until we left for the hospital. We arrived early, and I prepared to manage his mounting anxiety as we approached the same-day surgery unit, where he'd had a meltdown of epic proportions less than two weeks earlier, when we tried to visit for a "sneak peak" tour. But the anxiety never came. Bud was calm and pleasant as we sat together in the waiting room. He seemed especially huggy and affectionate, but not in a needy, clingy way, just in a "have I told you lately that I love you" way.

When we moved into the surgical unit, Bud stayed his focused, happy self, chatting with the nurses, answering questions as they were asked, and settling in with a portable DVD player and a stash of movies from the hospital's library. Shortly after he was in his room, they gave him a liquid sedative, which - though I wouldn't have thought there was any room for improvement - made him even more delightful. A steady stream of nurses, anaesthesiologists, doctors, and other staff arrived at his bedside, and Bud announced each new arrival with "I'd like you to meet my friends!"

The whole day followed the same pattern. We had a difficult, tearful ten minutes in the final pre-op moments, when a neighbor of Bud's reacted with some unpleasant noises as he woke from his anaesthesia, frightening Bud as we wheeled him to the OR. But I stayed with him until he was asleep, and in less than an hour the surgeon came to find me to tell me that it had all gone well. I was back in with Bud before he woke up.

And when he did wake up he was all smiles, and gave me a clear, loud "Hi, Mom," without even the hint of a hoarse voice. Bud announced that he was ready to leave in less than an hour, but hospitals have their rules, so we had to sit around and wait for a couple more hours before they sent us home.

Bud's been eating and drinking just fine. He's taking his (foul tasting) medicine without complaint. He had a great night's sleep. He's up and about and playing and talking and acting not at all like a child who has just had a body part removed (in fact, my sister suggested that I check him out thoroughly, in case they mistakenly removed the wrong thing).

So I'm forced to draw two conclusions in the aftermath of this waltz through major surgery:

1. It is likely that Bud will continue to surprise me all the time for the rest of my life, and

2. When you folks send out prayers, thoughts, and energy to the universe, you do not mess around.

Thanks for being with us through it all. I'm off to scoop more ice cream.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Goodbye tonsils, hello ice cream!

Bud's tonsillectomy is tomorrow. I'm a nervous wreck, but I think Bud is actually looking forward to it.

I have tried to be honest about it. Really, I have. We read Curious George Goes to the Hospital, and I pointed out all of the things that happened to George that will also happen to him. I told him about waking up with a sore throat. I told him about losing his voice for a while. But for Bud, the operation means two things: presents and snacks.

His surgery is not scheduled until 11:00 a.m., which means we'll have a long, breakfast-free morning - particularly problematic in light of his new medication-induced appetite. So here's the plan:

He can eat solids until midnight. He's asleep now, but I told him that I'd wake him up at 11:00, and he'll be able to eat whatever he wants. He's downright giddy about it.

He can have clear fluids until 9:00 a.m. I've explained that on Operation Days, the doctor says that you have to have apple juice, Popsicles, and jello for breakfast. Bud thinks this is his kind of doctor.

Bud told me that after an operation, you get to have presents. That are wrapped. That include movies. And toys. I have taken careful notes.

I told Bud that because of his sore throat he'll need to have Popsicles and jello and ice cream and juice and yogurt and applesauce until he feels better. He did the pre-surgery grocery shopping with me. I said "yes" a lot. He can't believe his good fortune.

His backpack is packed with his stuffed bear and a stack of Tubbies, George, and Pooh DVDs for the recovery room. I've promised to download Dierks Bentley Live from Bonnaroo to his iPod before we leave, despite the fact that iTunes warns me of explicit lyrics (but, really, how bad can it be?) Bud is feeling good and is prepared to take the operating room by storm.

Of course, I understand that all this may change the moment we enter the hospital tomorrow, or even the moment I remind him that there will be no toast for breakfast. But I'm rolling with it for now, and keeping my fingers crossed, and hoping that he's not too angry with me when he wakes up tomorrow with a sore throat like no sore throat he's ever had before.

But one step at a time.

For now, I'm planning out the menu for our midnight breakfast, and I'm sending out this post to ask all you thinkers and prayers and senders of energy to channel a little of that thought and prayer and energy this way tomorrow.

We'd be happy to send you some ice cream in return.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ransom Notes and love letters

I haven't been much of an autism activist lately. As I wrote during the summer, my activist energy has been focused on acting locally - it's been focused on Bud. But I just can't let this one pass without comment.

It's a new ad campaign called "Ransom Notes," sponsored by the NYU Child Study Center. Vicki Forman describes it well over at Speak Softly. So does Kristina Chew at Autism Vox.

The campaign purports to be a public service, designed to "create awareness and spark dialogue about childhood psychiatric disorders," though I have to say that, to me, it looks more like a campaign designed to inspire fear - a little "shock and awe" for the masses. The campaign is built around images designed to look like actual ransom notes, that say things like this:

We have your son.

We will make sure he will not be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives.

This is only the beginning.
- Autism

Vicki and Kristina have already, very eloquently, explained why this "autism awareness" campaign is so very troubling.

Let me just add this:

Should Autism decide to send this letter to my house, I've got my reply ready to roll. Here's what it says:

Dear Autism,

You don't have my son; I do.

I will make sure that he is never defined by his autism alone, and I will help him to recognize that, although his autism makes some things incredibly challenging, it also brings with it remarkable gifts. I will make sure that we work on his challenges. I will make sure that we celebrate his gifts.

This is only the beginning.
- MOM-NOS

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Dierks Bentley: I'm calling it now

I'm putting this in writing now so that in a short time I'll be able to link back to this post and say I told you so. This is what I'm telling you:

Dierks Bentley is going to be HUGE.

I know: He's already a major recording star. He's already had five number one singles. He has just been nominated for four Grammy's. He's already big. I know.

That's not what I'm talking about, though. I'm talking HUGE. I'm talking cover of People magazine, Barbara Walters' Ten Most Fascinating People, you-better-get-your-tickets-the second-they-go-on-sale-because-the-stadium-will-sell-out-in-minutes huge.

If you've been reading this blog over the past several months, then you already know how kind and generous Dierks and Cassidy Bentley are. And if you've been reading the comments on this blog over the past several months, then you already know that Dierks is the sort of musician who has broad appeal and inspires statements like "I've never really been into country music, but I bought his album and now I'm a huge fan." And if you've been reading those things, then you probably walked away from them thinking, "Nice guy. Talented guy. Hope he continues to do well." So did I.

Then I saw his concert.

Let me put this in context for you: I have been to a lot of live shows. A lot of them. And I've seen a lot of incredibly talented people. I have almost always enjoyed the shows, but, by now, it takes a lot for a show to really blow me away.

This show really blew me away.

I've been trying to find the words to describe why, and here's what I've come up with: Most of the time when you see a live show, the artist takes the stage and performs for you. You stand on the other side of the invisible wall and marvel at their talent. They do what they do best for a couple of hours, and you are wildly appreciative, and then you all go home.

But every now and then, you see an artist who knows how to connect with the audience. The invisible wall evaporates, and suddenly everyone in the room feels like an important part of the experience. There's an energy that builds as the connection tightens; there's a relationship that develops, until suddenly every person in the room - each musician on stage, each die-hard fan in the pit, and even each of the folks in the last row of the balcony - has the same feeling: we are all in this together.

I'm not sure why some artists can create this vibe and others can't. It's not about the size of the venue. I've seen performers in intimate club settings who didn't create it; I've seen Paul McCartney create it in a stadium.

And now, I've seen Dierks Bentley do it, too.

It's this sort of thing: My friend and I had to travel a way to see the show, so we booked a local hotel room to make the trip more manageable. As we were checking out the next morning, the woman behind the hotel counter asked, "Were you in town for the show last night?"

We told her we were. She said she was there, too, and suddenly we were old friends. We talked, we raved, we gushed a little, and then we said goodbye with a "see you at next year's show," because we all knew that, without question, we would be there.

So here's the thing: It's too late to get in on the ground floor. It's too late to see Dierks and the band in a club. It's too late to be among the first to say "I was a fan back when..." But it's not too late to see him in a smallish venue, and I'm telling you, you ought to do it now, because soon it will be. He's going to be huge.

I can't wait to say I told you so.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fill 'em up

Okay, troops, it's rallying time.

Bud has been on a new medication for about a month. It has made a world of difference for him, helping him to manage anxiety, perseverate less, avoid aggressive outbursts, and, of course, sleep. After many difficult and challenging months, Bud is finally settling back into himself.

There's just one catch to the new medication: it makes him RAVENOUSLY hungry. As soon as he finishes breakfast, he's asking for a snack. He's sneaking food out of the refrigerator. He is grazing his way through his days. I've removed most junk food from the house and eliminated things like white flour products from his diet, but honestly, even fruit and whole grains will pack on the pounds if you eat them by the truckload.

Bud had a follow-up visit with his doctor today. He's gained five pounds in the past month. He hasn't grown enough to account for it. It's the marathon eating. Bud's doctor advised me to seek out foods that are filling and low in calories - things like popcorn and vitamin water. Those, I can do. But her other suggestions - things like carrots and celery, and even soups - are likely to trigger Bud's sensory issues. I've always avoided artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes for Bud, but his doctor said they're the lesser concern right now - she suggested swapping out the regular jello, Popsicles, and other snacks for the sugar-free variety whenever possible.

I'm sure Bud's not the first child to encounter this issue. So what can you offer me, oh wise blogosphere friends? What can I give to Bud that will fill him up and stay with him, without pushing his daily caloric intake through the roof?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tree and easy (down the road I go)

Does everyone else on the planet already know about this product, or am I about to provide you all with life-changing information?

The Swivel Straight Tree Stand.

Bud and I went out yesterday and picked out a Christmas tree. He picked it, actually. I was just along for the ride. We brought it home and hauled our old Christmas tree stand out of storage. Now, when I say "old" Christmas tree stand, I don't mean simply that it has been used before. I mean "old," as in it may actually have been manufactured while Baby Jesus was still laying in the manger. That kind of old.

Don't get me wrong - the old Christmas tree stand has a lot of terrific memories associated with it; it's just that most of those memories started out their lives with a tilting evergreen, the screech of metal-on-metal, and the frosty blast of unprintable curse words. We started down the same road last night, but as I caught the falling tree before it hit the living room floor, I said out loud, "Someone must have invented a better tree stand in the past several decades..."

And so, I hauled the tree back out to the garage and waited until morning, when Bud and I could head out in search of a better solution.

It didn't take us long. We walked into the local hardware store, and there in a glow of heavenly light was the Swivel Straight Tree Stand. I inched closer and touched the cardboard box, and I'm telling you, I think I heard the angels sing.

I knew I had found the one.

It did not disappoint. It was easy to assemble, and easier to use. Zip-zap-zup, and the tree was up.

Trust me on this one: If you want a little more merry in your Christmas, track this baby down and let the celebrating begin.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Perhaps I'll just move my lips

Bud is not always a fan of my singing. It's true that when he needs a partner for a duet, I'm usually his first choice (you should hear us do Keith Urban's "I Told You So," with me on lead vocals and Bud singing the part of every instrument in the band), but he often objects when I sing along with the radio or hum out loud as I putter around the house.

"Mama," he'll say to me. "Just listen."

Or - my favorite - "Don't sing, Mama. Just burp."

This morning I walked into the kitchen, quietly singing "oh feeder monkey size" to myself, and Bud burst in from the other room.

"No. Just quiet please, Mama," he said.

"You know, Bud," I said, in my ongoing effort to lobby for just a tad more air time, "When I was in the eighth grade, I was actually chosen for the glee club."

"What?" he asked.

"When I was younger, I was such a good singer that they picked me to be in a very special singing group at school."

"And now," he replied matter-of-factly, "You can't sing at all."

Oh.

Rats.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One for the books

Thank you, blogosphere friends, for the fabulous array of suggestions you sent to try to help me out of my current book rut. As always, I was overwhelmed by your willingness to share your thoughts and insights. I made three separate trips to three different bookstores to browse their stacks armed with the list I generated from your comments and e-mails. You folks know your stuff! I've got enough material to work with to keep me reading happily for the foreseeable future.

As you know, though, this time around I wasn't just looking for a great book; I was looking for the right book. So I scoured the shelves, reading back covers and inside flaps and first pages. I carried some books around to see how they felt in my hands, to see how well I settled into them. I browsed further. I walked around some more. I took some breaks. Twice I went home empty-handed.

And then I found it.


Nicole Krauss's The History of Love.

The back cover intrigued me. The first page captivated me. I started reading it this morning while I waited for my mechanic to put on my snow tires, and it made me want to stay in the stuffy, overheated waiting room as long as I could.

I'm officially hooked.

I just Googled The History of Love to find a cover shot to upload, and I found this blurb, which includes these words:
This novel is fragile and robust like spider’s silk, showing how the stories of others become entwined with ours, and how the act of writing can in itself be an act of love and solace, of fearless trust in unknown readers to connect with characters, ideas, and emotions...

Yes. This is most definitely the book for me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ab fab

I spent this morning complimenting Bud on things, and he spent the morning correcting me. It's not that he was being humble; it's just that I was choosing all the wrong adjectives.

He read the Christmas card that our news carrier sent us. "What a good reader you are!" I said.

"No, I'm not a good reader," he said.

"You're not?" I asked.

"I'm fabulous," he answered.

Later, it was time to get dressed. "Can I get dressed all by myself?" he asked.

"Sure you can," I said. "What a big boy!"

"No," he said. "I'm fabulous."

When he was finished dressing (all in red and only half backwards), he came into my room to show me what he'd done.

"You look so handsome!" I gushed.

"No. Fabulous," he corrected.

As the morning wore on, the sniffles that Bud has been battling for days began to settle in his throat, giving him a froggy voice. Seizing the opportunity as it arose, Bud began scripting the characters he knows who speak in crackly, froggy voices, like Eeyore ("Come back anytime, soon as it's a windy day.") and the fox from Dr. DeSoto ("How I love them raw...")

I laughed and hugged Bud. "You are SO CUTE!" I said.

"I'm not cute," he said. "I'm fabulous."

I had promised Bud pizza today, so despite his croaky voice and his rapidly waning energy, I piled him into the car to head to the pizza shop. As I helped him settle into his booster seat, Bud exploded into a raspy, wheezy cough.

"Oh, Bud," I said. "You don't sound good."

"I don't sound good," he repeated sadly.

"But you know what you DO sound?" I said, as I leaned over him to buckle his seat belt.

"What?" he croaked.

"FABULOUS," I answered. Bud smiled widely as he reached out, grabbed my neck, and hugged me so tight he choked me.

Absolutely fabulous.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Seven more

Daisy from Compost Happens has tagged me for a meme, in which I am instructed to:

1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I'm accepting the challenge with hesitation. I've done similar memes twice before - once by listing five things about myself and once by listing eight things. As I mentioned in the first of the memes, I am, by nature, an almost pathologically private person, so "outing" myself on things is difficult. And I'm even more gun-shy about it in the aftermath of the "eight things" meme.

In that meme, I revealed the fact that, though I take breaks of five or more years at a time, I have been following the ongoing plot line of a soap opera for more than twenty years. Shortly after I posted it, that juicy little tidbit was leaked (good-naturedly, of course) to a room full of college students, who had already considered me "old," but who immediately changed their assessment to "old and uncool." Unfortunately, the part about the five-year hiatuses was left out of the revelation and I was assumed to be a daily devotee of said soap, and though I tried to set the record straight, my attempts simply snowballed into "the lady doth protest too much" and all hope of redeeming myself was lost.

Needless to say, thus began the next five-year hiatus.

Anyway, Daisy has responded to my tags in the past, so I will muster up my courage and tentatively reveal the following seven facts. Be gentle with them, blogosphere. Be gentle with them.

1. I mentioned earlier this week that I'm having trouble sticking with a book - any book. I'm having the same problem with television shows. Fifteen minutes into an episode, and I'm pretty much done. I even have to work at making it through a whole episode of Grey's Anatomy. And never mind a two-hour movie - that's just not going to happen. What do you suppose that's about?

2. I can't think of anything I want for Christmas. Okay, I can think of one thing - this - and I have my mom lined up to make the purchase. Beyond that, though, I'm pretty much all set.

3. I don't know who I'm going to vote for in the primary (are you sensing a trend here?). I would like to throw my wholehearted support behind a candidate. I'd like to be sporting a pin, a bumper sticker, and a yard sign - but I just can't commit. If I had to vote today, it would probably be for John Edwards, but, really, I could just as easily go for Obama or Clinton. I've always wondered how people could head to the polls still undecided, and yet I have a hunch that may be what's in my future.

4. I am going to see Dierks Bentley on his Throttle Wide Open tour. I haven't told Bud. I feel as guilty as I did when I went to see Paul McCartney without him - perhaps more so. On one hand, I know that there's nothing about a live concert that Bud would enjoy - not the volume, not the hour, not the crowd, not the lighting. Nothing. But still, on the other hand, it's Dierks. It's like I'm sneaking into Teletubbyland for lunch with the guys and not inviting him. I feel like a crumb. (And yet, somehow, I don't feel bad enough to stay home...)

5. I am having a GREAT experience teaching writing this semester. Those who followed my adventures last fall may remember that my writing class and I struggled to make it through the semester together. Not so this time around. It's a lot of work, but I'm having a ball.

6. A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me what I liked least about my job. I couldn't think of anything. I'll bet there are not many people who can say that.

7. I don't like fudge, but I am attracted to the idea of fudge. For many years, when someone would offer me fudge, I would think, "I shouldn't take any, because I don't like fudge. But it looks so good, and I love chocolate. I must be wrong about this. I must like fudge." And then I would take a piece and have a bite and realize that, in fact, I don't like fudge.

I'm tagging the following seven people, with the caveat that this is entirely challenge-by-choice and all tags from me are completely optional:

Mommy~dearest, from The Quirk Factor
David, from Thoughts-0-Dave
March Day, from One March Day
Kirsten, from Kirsten Can
Maddy, from Whitterer on Autism
Jenn, from Good Job, Mama!
KAL, from Autism Twins

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Roast WHAT???

Over the past year, Bud has become a terrific reader. What I mean is that he can read almost any words set before him. He reads them out big and strong, with feeling. He reads with gusto.

It's still unclear, though, how well Bud can read for content - how well he can follow the thread of a story, how attentive he is to the details, how much he can follow the shift of perspectives from character to character - the same challenges, of course, that he encounters in everyday life. But in recent months we have made the slow transition from storybooks to chapter books - from books meant to be read in one sitting to books that require a bookmark and a "let's read some more tomorrow." Every night I read another chapter to Bud. Sometimes I try to gauge how well Bud recalls what has already happened, how well he can predict what might happen next. Mostly, though, I try to figure out if he is even listening closely enough to follow the meaning of the words I'm reading.

Last night, Bud and I read a chapter of The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling. It's the story of a boy, John Midas, who only wants to eat candy. In last night's chapter, John's parents were at wit's end. I read aloud the account of John's visit to the doctor as Bud hummed quietly in his bed, and though I wondered if he was tuning me out completely, I kept reading as John's father launched into a lecture:
"Don't you think there's such a thing as enough?" Mr. Midas persisted. "Don't you think that things are best in their places? I mean, don't you think there's a time for spaghetti and a time for roast beef and even a time for pickled herring and garlic toast, as well as a time for chocolate? Or would you --"

Suddenly, Bud bolted upright, grabbed the book from my hands, and shouted, "WHAT???"

His eyes scanned the page and I wondered what I'd read that had triggered a reaction that strong: had I just said something that sounded suspiciously like "Teletubbies" or "Dierks Bentley?"

"They eated TOES???" Bud asked incredulously.

"No," I said, thinking I'd caught the misunderstanding. "Garlic TOAST."

"They eated roast FEET???" he asked.

"Oh!" I said, "No, roast beef. Roast BEEF."

"That's FOOD?"

"Yes. Beef. It's like hamburgers."

"Not toes."

"No, not toes."

Bud kicked back the covers, grabbed for his toes and tried to reach them with his tongue, apparently just to see how they'd taste.

It gives a whole new meaning to "putting your foot in your mouth," don't you think?


A very Happy Thanksgiving from Bud and me to all those who are celebrating it today. May you enjoy good times in good company - and may your holiday table be entirely free of roast feet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cousin boom

The other day, Bud was setting up a live-action version of the Reader Rabbit Toddler computer game he's recently rediscovered. He'd already created the Bubble Castle, Follow-Me Theater, and the Musical Meadow, and he was searching through the house with an elephant in his arms.

"I need a Cousin Basket," he said.

"A Cousin Basket?" I asked. "What's that?"

"A Cousin Basket," he explained. "For the animals."

I scrolled through the Reader Rabbit game in my mind: Rainbow Rock... Pop and Play Animals... Sky Shapers... Baby Basket Bingo.

Bingo.

I've mentioned before that Bud is not a fan of babies. They're not as bad as thunderstorms or dogs, of course, but they certainly run a not-too-distant third. They're loud. They're unpredictable. They move suddenly and quickly, and they are best avoided at all cost.

Except.

Except that Bud has a one-year-old cousin. She is a loud, unpredictable, sudden-moving little thing, but she's adorable - and Bud knows it. She adores Bud, too, and he enjoys the admiration, so, against all his better judgment, he just can't help but like her.

Therein lies the conflict.

But Bud is a problem-solver, and problem-solve he has. He has decided that though he still doesn't like babies, he does like cousins. And when the two come into conflict, cousins trump babies every time. So, he's happy to play a modified version of the Reader Rabbit game - and I think we can all agree that Cousin Basket Bingo is infinitely more palatable than Baby Basket Bingo could ever be.

Bud's willing to expand his cousin horizon even further. We have good friends we have not seen much over the past two years, because they have two very small children. But, lately, Bud has been coming up with excuses to drop by their house - he wants to show them his paper bag mask; he wants to show them a dance he made up. And he is clear with his requests: he would like to show these things to our friends and their cousins.

It's very good news, really, because now I can let my brother and his wife know that they're free to introduce another new cousin into the family. Just as long as they don't go and have a baby.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Throw the book at me

I have forgotten how to read.

At first, I was mildly concerned, but now I'm starting to panic. I can't read. Well, yes, I mean, I can read - I can look at words and know what they mean, I can string the words together into sentences and paragraphs and pages and collect the big picture, but I'm talking books here. Books. My shelter from the storm. My escape. My adventure. My friends. My books. I've forgotten how to read them.

It's been going on for several months. In those months, I have started and abandoned a dozen books. Good books. Books that I should like - that I would like, if I could just read them. But I can't. I can make it through about a chapter, and then I lose interest. They sit on my bedside table and mock me. I pick them up and put them down. I swap them out for other books. Nothing works.

So, please: help me out here. I need a book. I need a really great can't-put-it-down-if-you-try book. But I have qualifiers.

I am looking for a book:

that is not about autism;

that will not make me cry;

that does not involve children who are dead or abused or neglected or in pain;

that is not about women in midlife "finding themselves" or getting their grooves back;

BUT (and this is important)

that is not too light and fluffy.

I am looking for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Or Assassination Vacation. Or a new Rochelle Krich mystery.

Help!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Promising trend

I'm almost afraid to put it in writing.

I'm almost afraid to put it in writing, but if I don't put it in writing, then I'll have to climb on to the roof of my house and shout it as loud as I can and I don't want to have to do that because it's raining and the roof is slippery and I'm not particularly adventurous. So here it is, in writing:

Bud slept nine hours last night.

He slept ten hours the night before.

This is huge.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shine your light

If you're a frequent flyer on the autism blogger circuit, then you know Niksmom from Maternal Instincts. You know all about her wonderful son Nik, and you have been worrying with her about the profound difficulties that he is experiencing right now. If you don't know Nik and his mom, then this post will give you an idea of what they are going through.

Tonight, Niksmom posted this. She's worried, and she's asking for our help.

So, please: If you're the praying type, send prayers. If you're the thinking type, send thoughts. If you're the sending-energy-out-to-the-universe type, then channel your energy in their direction. Do whatever you can, even if - especially if - you think that there's nothing you can do.

We are with you, Niksmom. We are with you.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wake-up call

I've mentioned several times before that Bud's creative problem-solving skills are superb. Here is yet another piece of evidence.

As you may recall, Bud has not been sleeping well lately. Since sometime in late August, he's been waking for the day between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. Over the past week, though, thanks to a shift in his medication, he has been sleeping most mornings until sometime between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. What's even better is that when he wakes, he is much more calm and self-sufficient.

He typically comes into my room a couple of times after he's awoken to: 1) assure me that there are no storms, and 2) confirm that even though it's still dark, it is actually morning, by asking "Can I read books?" (In general, I respond to this question before 4:00 a.m. with "No, it's still nighttime. Try to go back to sleep." and after 4:00 a.m. with "Yes, you can read books quietly.") Once he gets the thumbs-up on book-reading, he dons his iPod and settles in with a stack of books, and I half-doze as I hear him talk and sing - and sometimes dance - in his room.

He clearly keeps his ears open, though, for the sound of my alarm clock, which signals to him that I am ready to get out of bed and join him. Lately, I've been using an iHome clock radio, which allows me to wake to a song on my iPod, and I usually only hear a few notes before Bud dashes into my room to greet me.

One day this week, Bud woke a bit before 4:00 a.m., but was clearly up for the day. He spent almost an hour in his room, then moved out into the hallway and lingered by my open door, waiting for the sound of my iPod, which wasn't scheduled to go off until 5:30. Around 5:00, I heard him rustling around at my bedside, but I kept my eyes closed and pretended to sleep. He climbed up next to me, and very gently slid his iPod headphones over my ears. Seconds later, I heard the opening strains of Brad Paisley's "All I Wanted Was a Car."

"I hear music!" I said. "Does that mean it's time for me to wake up?"

"Yeah!" Bud said with a giggle.

I've gotta say, if you have to wake up at 5:00 a.m., that is definitely the way to do it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Almost famous

Do you happen to read Country Weekly magazine?

If you do, you might want to flip to page 58 of the November 19 issue, which is currently on newsstands. On the bottom of the page, in the section titled "What's Online?" you'll find two pictures of Dierks Bentley - one showing him with long hair, the other with short hair. Next to that , you'll find a blurb written by Music Editor Chris Neal, which reads:

Dierks Reaches Out

The mother of an autistic child recently posted an open letter to Dierks Bentley on her blog, momnos.blogspot.com. She recounted how her son, Bud, was confused by the fact that Dierks has long hair in some of his videos and short hair in others. Dierks' wife, Cassidy, read the post and e-mailed her - and then Dierks himself sent Bud a package including a one-page handwritten letter explaining how he got his hair cut a year ago. The mother reports that Bud is now comfortable with seeing both the long- and short-haired Dierks. "I believe that The Dierks Bentley Hair Crisis of 2007 is officially over," she writes.
Wild.

Initially, I was thinking that as an homage to Country Weekly - and as a tip of the Stetson to anyone who might surf over to my blog after reading the article - I should use a country music reference for the title of this post. I considered using Miranda Lambert's "Famous in a Small Town," but then it dawned on me that I'm not sure you can consider yourself "famous" if most people don't know your real name. And, certainly, few people in my small town would connect this particular blurb to me.

But, still and all, it is pretty cool, don't you think?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

'Scuse me while I kiss this guy

Bud and I were riding in the car today, when Bud asked out of the blue, "Mama, what's a country roads?"

I glanced around to see if there was a sign outside that he was reading, then, seeing none, I said, "Well, it's a small street, in a place that's not too busy. Kind of like this street."

Bud was quiet for a minute, then asked, "Mama, what's a oh feeder monkey size?"

"A what, honey?"

"A oh feeder monkey size. What's a oh feeder monkey size?"

I played it through in my head: Oh feeder monkey size. Oh feed her, monkey sighs. Oaf eater, monkeycize! Oh, feed our monk, he sighs. Our feet are monkey-sized. I was stumped.

"Bud," I said, "I don't know what that is. Where did you hear that?"

"From Dierks."

From Dierks? Oh feeder monkey size?

Then it hit me: Country roads.

Country roads. Oh feeder monkey size.

"Country roads. Old theatre marquee signs.": the first line of Dierks Bentley's "Every Mile a Memory," and a classic case of mis-heard lyrics. In my book, "oh feeder monkey size" is right up there with Creedence Clearwater Revival's "There's a bathroom on the right."

What's the best song lyric you've heard someone get wrong?

Double-edged iPod

I've written before about what a useful tool Bud's iPod is. It's especially helpful when we're out shopping - it helps him manage the crowds, the bustle, the noise. It helps him stay focused and calm.

But there is a flip side.

Bud's iPod seems to invite comment from the older generation. Occasionally the remarks are made to the air, but are clearly directed to me, and involve some sort of commentary on the technology-driven isolationism of kids today, with a subtext of judgment about parents who indulge their young children too much - all said, naturally, with a wink and a laugh. That stuff rolls off pretty easily.

More challenging to manage - and more common, unfortunately - are the comments directed to Bud himself. The comments themselves are innocent enough, but it's like the iPod is a magnet for them; we hear them nearly every time we're out in public.

In almost every case, it seems the stranger takes a look at Bud and surmises two things: 1) Bud is listening to music so loud that it would be difficult to hear a comment made to him, and 2) Bud's failure to engage with the strangers around him and his seemingly complete focus on the music he's hearing is an unintended side effect of the iPod and is not, in fact, Bud's intent.

So the stranger leans down to Bud and asks loudly (or, sometimes, even shouts): "WHAT DO YOU HAVE THERE?" or "WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO?" or "CAN I HAVE A LISTEN?" or "HEY, WHAT'S PLAYING?" Bud inevitably pulls back and doesn't answer, which prompts the stranger to either move closer or talk louder or both.

I have not come up with a good response to this yet. Sometimes I try to engage the stranger myself, answering the question and shielding Bud from further interrogation ("He's listening to Dierks Bentley. He's a big fan.") Sometimes I pretend to engage Bud in my answer ("You're listening to Dierks Bentley, aren't you, Bud? You love his music.") And, occasionally, when my mom-sense tells me that this will continue unless I intervene more directly, I say "He's autistic. The iPod helps him feel more comfortable in crowds." I never know how Bud feels about that particular response, so I try to use it sparingly. For the most part, I just smile and nod, and try to get Bud away from the questioner as gracefully as possible.

I have to admit, though, the more it happens, the more I start thinking that the next time we go shopping, maybe I'll wear my iPod, too.

Friday, November 02, 2007

All in good time

"Time will tell." That's how I ended my last post: time will tell if Bud's preoccupation with weather is really diminishing or not. Time will tell.

Yesterday, Bud had an appointment with a new doctor to look at his medication in a more global way. The appointment was in the same major medical center we always visit, but it was in a different location in the center - coincidentally, the same area where his pediatrician's office used to be, many years ago.

As we traveled to the hallway we hadn't visited in years, Bud said, "Remember when I'm littler I was scared of elevators."

"That's right, Bud," I said. "You were really scared of elevators when you were little, and now you're not scared of elevators at all."

"I'm not scared when I'm bigger," Bud said. "Just when I'm littler."

"That's right," I said. "Now that you're bigger, you like riding in elevators."

"Yeah," he said, as we kept walking.

"And you know what?" I said. "Someday, when you're even bigger, you're going to say to me 'Mom, remember when I was littler and I was afraid of storms? Now I'm bigger and I'm not afraid of storms at all.'"

"When I'm bigger?" Bud asked. "Not I'm littler?"

"Yes," I said. "When you're even bigger than you are now, storms won't scare you anymore."

Bud didn't say anything else, but I could tell that he was thinking hard about it. I was thinking hard about it, too.

Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Plain as the nose on your face

This year, my fall has been defined by the weather. Specifically, it's been defined by Bud's anxiety about the weather. Rainy days - even those unaccompanied by thunderstorms - have been horrible, because in Bud's mind they all bring with them the potential for thunder. But even clear days have been a struggle this fall - because any cloud in the sky might be the wrong kind of cloud, and because every clear day ends with dusk. And dusk means that the sky gets dark.

Just the way it does before a thunderstorm.

In recent months, Bud's anxiety has been so intense that it led to a trial run with a new medication that is (so far, fingers crossed) having positive results. These days, Bud is not as anxious about the weather, but he is just as conscious of it. A few weeks ago, Bud jumped at every noise - real or imagined - after nightfall: "What was that? Is that thunder? Is that a storm? Is a storm coming? Are the lights flicking?" But these days, the anxiety has been replaced by mere preoccupation: "That's not thunder. That's just the dryer. Is that you, Nana? That's just Nana making some noise. Don't you worry, Mama. There's no storm. That's just a truck." It's not as troubling, but it is just as constant, just as ever-present, just as nonstop.

I've tried every approach I could think of over the past few months to respond to Bud's weather preoccupation. I've tried reassurance, negotiation, rational explanation, scientific analysis, myth and fairy tale, joking, ignoring, and (in my less proud moments) grouching and whining.

Nothing has worked.

This weekend, however, I began to see a glimmer of hope. Bud was doing his now-typical "it's-not-a-storm" commentary, and I was continuing to vary my responses in an ongoing trial-and-error way, until, finally, I was approaching wit's end.

Bud asked, "There's no thunder, Mama?"

And, with no game plan and no good ideas, I put a silly look on my face, zoomed across the room to Bud, put my face in his, and bounced my nose against his cheekbone.

Bud laughed.

He laughed.

I crossed back to the other side of the room and resumed what I'd been doing.

Bud asked, "There's no storm?"

I dropped what I was doing, zoomed over to Bud, and wordlessly bounced my nose against his face.

"What you did to me, Mama?" Bud asked, giggling.

"That's what I'm going to do from now on," I said, keeping the silly look on my face. "When you ask about a storm, I'm going to do this {zoom-nose-bounce} and that means 'no, there's no storm.'"

I began to walk away, then heard from behind me, "That's just the wind?"

Zoom-nose-bounce.

Laughter.

I walked away again. This time I heard the laughter first, then a giggle-filled sentence asking "There's no storm today?"

Zoom-nose-bounce. Laugh together.

So far, the slapstick comedy of zoom-nose-bounce has carried us through three days - three rain-free days, of course, but three days nonetheless. Its effectiveness seems to be diminishing a little as the weather preoccupation regains its foothold, but unless it's my imagination, I think that maybe - maybe - the intensity of the perseveration is diminishing a little, too. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'll keep following my nose, keep my fingers crossed, and hope that the skies stay clear.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Grand theft meme

Rules and conventions of the blogosphere be damned!

I'm posting my responses to a meme. The thing is, I have not actually been tagged for the meme; I just read about it at Bubandpie. And, though Bubandpie was tagged, she didn't really respond to the meme. Bren, the person who tagged her, did respond to the meme, but I tracked back and discovered that Erin, the person who tagged Bren, had thrown meme-ing caution to the wind and just went and made the darned thing up.

So, given the rampant flouting of the rules that has defined this meme so far, I'm stealing it.

What song is in your head?

Chris Cagle's "What Kinda Gone." It's the story of a guy whose partner slams the front door and gets into her car saying something that sounds like "I'm gone." The singer doesn't think much about it until hours pass, she's still not home, and he starts thinking about what exactly "I'm gone" might have meant:

These days "gone" can mean so many things:
There's "gone for good" and there's "good and gone,"
There's "gone" with a "long" before it;
I wish she'd been just a little more clear.
There's "gone for the day," "gone for the night,"
And "gone for the rest of your dog-gone life."
Is it a whiskey night, or just a couple beers?
I mean, what kinda "gone" are we talking 'bout here?

It's just the sort of word-obsessive sentiment that I might have written myself.

What is the newest album in your collection?

Tricky question. The latest actual CD - real, live, take-it-out-of-a-plastic-jewel-case-and-hold-it-in-your-hands CD - that I bought was Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full. But I'm an iTunes kind of gal. I'm all about the download. And really, I'm all about the single-track download - the most recent of which was Billy Currington's "I Got A Feelin'."

What is the top album on your wish list?

If I were going to download an album today, it would be Keith Urban's Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing.

What is the most recent live music event you attended?

Brad Paisley, with opening acts Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler, and Jack Ingram. Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.

What is the top live music event on your wish list?

I wish I was going to be here tomorrow night.

A bit more about live music: I saw a lot of live music in my teens and twenties, but I've seen significantly less in the Post-Bud years. I've probably seen Elvis Costello the greatest number of times - I'd guess it's somewhere around a dozen. I've seen him with the Attractions, with the Imposters, with the Brodsky Quartet, with Nick Lowe, and on his own. I've seen him skinny and edgy; I've seen him heavy and bearded. I've seen him indoors and outdoors, in large venues and small ones, from the second row and from the balcony. And it's been a great show every time.

Paul McCartney must run a close second for the number of shows seen (though he's a clear first for best show of all time). Leo Kottke probably comes in third.

What are the top three albums currently in rotation at your house?

Again, I'm not all that album-oriented these days, but I'd have to say that between Bud and me, the highest-rotation albums at our house are all Dierks Bentley - his self-titled debut, Modern Day Drifter, and Long Trip Alone. They're actually Bud's CD's, but he lets me listen to them.

I'm tagging no one, since I'm not playing by the rules anyway, but should you choose to join this little den of iniquity, post a comment so I can follow the link and read your answers!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wholesome prison blues

Bud and I watched the DVD 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure recently.

As the movie approached its climax, the evil Cruella de Vil and her henchmen foiled a rescue attempt by the film's hero, a puppy named Patch. The villains swooped down upon Patch, scooped him up, and tossed him unceremoniously into a cage, where they locked him in and left him.

As little Patch peered forlornly between the bars, Bud burst into song on the couch beside me and I had to pause the video while he performed a full-scale emotional rendition - complete with verses, choruses, and instrumental breaks - of Dierks Bentley's "Long Trip Alone."

I can't imagine why...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Do not dissterve

Bud's assertiveness skills are better than ever.

These days when someone invades Bud's personal space - tries to cuddle when he's not in a cuddling mood, or (heaven forbid) plants a kiss with out expressed permission - Bud is quick to redirect: "That's not nice. You have to do nice things. Otherwise, there won't be any (fill in the blank with whatever activity was scheduled to happen next)."

Yesterday, Bud's Nana joined him on the couch, but was apparently sitting too close for comfort.

He picked up his book and moved to a different location, saying matter-of-factly, "I'm moving. You're dissterving me."

File this one under "be careful what you wish for." We've been telling him to use his words...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When is a school a house?

It can be so hard to understand the game plan when you're a literal thinker. And so hard to explain the game plan when you're not.

This morning, I told Bud that tonight was Open House at his school, and that after supper he and I would return to the school with all of the other kids and parents so that he could show me his classroom.

Later, I was upstairs getting ready for work and Bud joined me in the bathroom.

"I'm ready for my supper now," he said.

"It's not supper time, Bud," I said. "We just had breakfast. You need to get ready for school."

"It's not a school day?"

"It is a school day."

"It's just a house day?"

"No, Bud. It's a school day. You have to go to school."

"It's a school house? House school?"

"Oh! Yes. Open House. It is Open House day, but not until after school."

"After school?"

"Right."

"Not at school?"

"Well, yes - at school. But not during the school day. Later. At night."

"At night?"

"Yes."

"Open House day at night?"

"Yes. First you go to school and have regular school, and then you come home, and then later you go back with Mom. But not right now."

"I don't go to school now?"

"No, you do go to school now. For regular school. Not school with Mom."

"Not with Mom? Nana will take me to school?"

"No, honey. I'll take you to school for regular school. But then after supper, I'll go back to school with you for Open House."

"Let's have supper."

Sigh.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Digging for the meme

It's like looking in a mirror. And, I have to admit, I'm a little freaked out by what I see.

Let me back up. Last December, Linda H. left a comment on one of my posts. She wrote:

Hi MOM-NOS,
I have a totally different subject matter than your post. I hope you don't mind. I just recently read a book, and you kept coming to my mind when I was reading it. It is a bizarre connection because the book is about archaeology. Possibly the connection because in human history there are many mysteries where there are clues to what happened, but no smoking gun evidence to make positive conclusions. To me understanding autism is very similar to this. Anyway, if you are looking for a book to read, I think you will really enjoy it. Don't let the title scare you away if archaeology is not your thing. The book is by Josh Bernstein (from the History Channel), "Digging for the Truth, One Man's Epic Adventure Exploring the World's Greatest Archaeological Mysteries".
Take care,
Linda
How could I ignore a recommendation like that? I added the book to my "to do" list even though I'd never seen Bernstein's television show (still haven't), and it has taken me until now to finally get around to it.

So far, I've read the Foreword of Digging for the Truth, which is less than two pages long, and I can already see why I kept coming to Linda's mind as she read the book. And I don't think it's because I'm the Archaeologist of Autism.

I think it's this: Josh Bernstein writes in my voice. Or I write in his. Either way, we each use a quirky combination of writing conventions that, when taken together, create a fairly distinct style. Or I thought it was distinct. But (now, I see) perhaps not.

This discovery is actually well-timed, because I've been watching a writing meme float around the blogosphere, morphing with each post. For Kristen and Kyra, it was meme about writing strengths. For Drama Mama, it was observations about writing. For Niksmom, it was more of a writing confessional.

So, I'm jumping aboard the memewagon and morphing the meme a little further. My meme is entitled: "What I Learned About My Writing From Reading Less Than Two Pages Written By Josh Bernstein, or: How I Discovered that I'm Not So Original After All"

Some things that Josh and I have in common:

1. We use italics when we want to help the reader (and we always want to help the reader) know which word in a sentence should get the most emphasis - because, as you know, the right emphasis can make all the difference.

2. We tend to use a lot of dashes - though we use parentheses, too (like this) - because we make a lot of tangential comments in the middle of our sentences.

3. And we also start sentences with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Even though some people consider it weak writing. But we don't care. So sue us.

4. For us, the comma is a useful little device, because it allows us to collect our thoughts, giving our readers a moment to pause, allowing us to construct lengthy sentences in which we reflect upon subject matter, insert our own perspectives, ponder their meaning, and, of course, make lists.

5. We're concise.

I'm anxious to continue reading the book, if only to find out more about my writing. But, I have to admit, I have a feeling that by the time I reach the end, I will want to either marry Josh Bernstein or punch him in the nose.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No Go PoMo

I've made a decision.

It's the thirteenth day of October and this is my eighth post of the month. That feels good.

I have a hunch that if this were the thirteenth day of October and this were my thirteenth post of the month, it would not feel as good.

I'm opting out of NaBloPoMo this year.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ever goofy past

In my last post, I made the claim that Paul McCartney was "at his goofiest" in the new video for the song "Ever Present Past."

I stand corrected.

A good friend and fellow McCartney fan sent me an e-mail reminding me about a dance sequence from McCartney's 1973 television special James Paul McCartney. The song was "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance" and the sequence was... well, it's hard to describe. I wish you could see it for yourself, but I've only got a grainy copy on VHS and it seems that no one has added it to YouTube yet.

Let's just say that compared to "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance," the video for "Ever Present Past" shows Paul being downright dignified.

Here's a still that captures just a bit of the flavor of Paul in his 1973 glory:


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Panned on the run

You know I adore Paul McCartney. You know I do. When Paul is at his best, there is no one better.

But when Paul is at his goofiest... well, you just have to see it for yourself to believe it.

There is a video for "Ever Present Past" on YouTube. I just don't get it. It's Hairspray, cast by Robert Palmer, filmed on the set of The Thomas Crown Affair.

What do you suppose he was thinking?

Bud loves it - but I have to admit, I was greatly relieved when, after only the second viewing, we got to switch over to "Settle for a Slowdown" for the five-billionth time.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spotlights and shadows

The students in my writing class have spent the bulk of the semester writing personal narratives about a single day in their lives. They're currently on the fourth draft and they have officially reached the point at which they are 1) sick to death of that day, and 2) resentful at my insistence that each draft be comprised of entirely new writing.

"But I like my last draft," they say. "How much more can I say about that day? I've already said what happened."

I respond by talking to them about spotlights. "Let's say," I begin, "that I am writing an essay about this classroom. Look around. There's a lot here. There's a lot to write about. But I only have four pages to work with. So I'm going to turn off the lights and shine a spotlight on just one area of the room, and I'll write four pages about just that area."

I turn to a young man seated in front of me. "Let's say that when I shine my spotlight, the only person I can see is Jim. In that case, my essay is going to be about Jim's experience of the class, or my experience of Jim in the class. I'm going to write in depth and in detail about Jim, and to my reader, Jim will be the most important part of this class.

In my next draft, though, I'm going to shine the spotlight on that spot on the wall where the clock used to hang, but no longer does. Now my four pages are going to focus on how things fall into disrepair while we're not paying attention, or about how the presence of a clock affects the sense of timing in a classroom, or about how the absence of something can be even more powerful that the presence of something. And this time, my reader will think that the missing clock is the most important part of this class."

At this point in the lecture, the students sigh heavily and resign themselves to the fact that they are just not going to win this one.

But why am I telling you all this?

Here's why: Blogging is a lot like those hypothetical essays about my classroom. That clockless spot on the wall was there when I was writing about Jim. Jim was there when I was writing about the clockless spot. But they weren't in the spotlight, and so to the reader, they didn't exist.

So I want to say this: I've been shining spotlights in recent posts. My last post about entrainment captured two lovely snapshots - two real, true, genuine, lovely snapshots of my life. The post yielded a lot of "wow." And I can see why: the snapshots were wow. But outside the frame of the snapshots, there in the shadow not illuminated by the spotlight, there was much less wow. Or there was a whole different kind of wow.

So why am I still telling you this?

Sometimes when my writing focuses on one kind of wow to the exclusion of the other, I start to feel disingenuous. I start to feel like I'm lying by omission, like I'm painting a picture of life with Bud - life with autism - just plain life - that is designed to make readers believe one thing, when another thing is equally true. And I start to worry that people will read my writing and think "How can it be so easy for her when it is so blasted difficult for me?"

So, I'm writing this vague and blurry post to let you know that if I shifted the spotlight on recent days and weeks, you'd walk away with a different perspective. But I won't shift the spotlight. And I'll continue to focus on just one kind of wow.

Because, sometimes, that's just the best I can do.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Parenting at the edge of magic

"We are embedded in a world of rhythm worlds. The rhythm world of the body is one, our own personal rhythm world. The rhythm world of nature, and the rhythm world of culture. Those are the rhythm worlds. They all move on together okay, and how you relate to all that stuff is how well you go through life, how happy you are. If you're in love, that's rhythmic. When you're in love with somebody, you feel the synchroning, you feel this entrainment with somebody, you want to be close to them, your heart beats the same way. You feel this thing. That's rhythmic entrainment. That's what love is. When you fall out of love, you fall out of rhythm. What about health, disease? You're out of rhythm. When you're in health, you're in rhythm. Your body is functioning well, the blood is pumping you know, you exercise in the morning, you feel vitality in your life and you're rhythmically tuning, it's a tuning fork, this is what this is. Drumming, rhythm, music allows in the focusing technique, that's what this is. Drumming is a focusing technique, that's all really it is." - Mickey Hart

Mickey Hart's book Drumming at the Edge of Magic has been on my mind for the past couple of days. I read the book in 1990. I'm not even sure why I picked it up - I like the Grateful Dead, but I've never been a serious fan. I've never been a drummer. But for some reason, it called to me, I read it, and it has stayed with me for the past 17 years.

The book is about Hart's life as a drummer and about the art and the spirit of percussion, but it's also about the rhythms of life - the rhythms that are in all things, the way we feel when we suddenly find ourselves in sync with the people around us, the environment we're in, the universe itself.

Hart calls it "entrainment" - the groove that develops when drummers play together in a circle and a spirit emerges and takes over, making the resulting rhythm something greater than the sum of its parts. But, Hart says, entrainment is about more than just drumming. There is a rhythm in life, he says, and we spend our lives trying to get in sync with the rhythms that surround us, to find our groove, to engage with something in a way that helps us become greater than we could be alone.

I thought about entrainment yesterday as Bud and I hiked through the woods together. Bud and I had been out of sync for a couple of weeks - not just with each other, but in general, with the rest of the world. Somehow it seemed like we'd both been going through our days clapping on the off-beat, though, somehow not together, not in counterpoint, and never at the same time.

The weather certainly didn't help. We'd been out of sync since a morning thunderstorm broke our rhythm and started us flailing - Bud beating too fast, me struggling to keep any beat at all.

But not so for a few glorious hours yesterday, as Bud and I hiked together in the woods, alone, together with the universe for the first time in a long time. As we hiked, we fell into rhythm with each other - our footfalls, our heartbeats, and the intake of our breath - we worked together and built on each other, and as we did, the leaves that crunched beneath our feet, the wind that rustled the branches overhead, the squirrels that darted by unseen - they all joined the rhythm, and I was suddenly aware that it was not merely a nice day. It was a spectacular day. It was the sort of blue-sky, cool-breeze autumn day that actually makes you happy that summer is over.

It all came together as we hiked.

Entrainment.

I've also been thinking about Drumming at the Edge of Magic since a meeting with the team at Bud's school on Friday. They'd invited me to join them for some note-sharing, brainstorming and problem-solving as they tried to figure out the best way to address some challenges Bud has been having lately. It was a productive meeting and as we were about to wrap up, one of the team members brought up another behavior Bud's been exhibiting at school: tapping. Tapping with pencils, tapping with hands, tapping with feet, tapping, tapping, tapping, at all kinds of volumes, during all kinds of activities.

"Is he humming when he does it?" I asked.

"Yes."

"He's drumming. To a particular song - whichever one it is he's humming at the time. He's actually very good at it. You can bet that he's drumming the exact same beat he's heard on the CD. Honestly. It's pretty amazing. You should have him do it when a CD is on sometime."

The women at the table were quiet. I glanced around nervously, then added, "But of course, that doesn't make it okay to be disruptive when..."

Then, before I finished my sentence, the team members started talking, their ideas flowing, their energy building, their excitement growing:

"We could capitalize on his interest in drumming..."

"What if we got one of those practice pads that dulls the noise? He could use that in the classroom..."

"Maybe drumming is something we could use as a reward - you know, instead of using the computer all the time..."

"Let's talk to the music teacher. Maybe she could use this..."

"Maybe she'd be willing to work with Bud one-on-one..."

The energy grew, the ideas meshed, and I could almost hear it buzz and resonate and echo as it filled the room.

Entrainment.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Write or wrong?

Are you surprised to hear from me again so soon?

I know. It's only the fourth day of October, and this is already my third post. That doesn't sound extraordinary until you consider that since May I have averaged six or seven posts each month.

So what's it all about, you ask? Why am I suddenly emerging from my self-imposed blogxile?

I'm testing myself.

I'm testing myself because it's October. Which means that it will soon be November.

Which means that NaBloPoMo will be here before we know it.

Which means that I need to decide whether or not I can participate again this year.

Even though I complained for most of the month last year.

At which time I wasn't even emerging from self-imposed blogxile.

But, still, I'm thinking about it. Maybe an external commitment is what I need to get my blogging groove back.

Maybe there's not enough stress in my life already.

Okay, maybe not.

I don't know. What do you think? How many of the rest of you will be participating? Is anyone willing to be my Anne Lamott of November and help me feel incompetent but in good company?

We've got 27 days to decide, folks. Are we thinking write?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sleep, surgery, speculation

I learned this week that Bud needs to have his tonsils and adenoids removed. I knew it was coming. His tonsils are the size of my head. (Okay, not really - but you know what I mean. They're really big.) When he's sick, he has trouble breathing. This summer we had to rush him to the emergency room; that's how bad it gets.

It turns out that his tonsils aren't just causing problems when he's sick. They are also causing sleep apnea, which, in turn, means that he is not having restful sleep. The lack of restful sleep was not news to me. The apnea - the fact that he stops breathing while he sleeps - was. And that's a fact that could give me a lot of sleepless nights.

So he's scheduled for surgery in December. I had my tonsils out a few years ago, and it was the worst experience of my life. Now, I understand that 1) I am, for the most part, a big baby about things like that, and 2) recovery from a tonsillectomy is easier for a child than it is for an adult, but, still, I wish it could be avoided.

There is a silver lining here, however. Yesterday I told a special educator at Bud's school about the upcoming surgery and she said, "Have you seen the research that suggests a connection between tonsils and ADHD?"

I hadn't. But now I have, and it makes me hopeful. Bud doesn't technically have an ADHD diagnosis, but behaviorally, a lot of Bud's challenges look an awful lot like ADHD. So it will be interesting to see what the long-term benefits of the surgery are for him.

At the very least, it's likely to result in more and better sleep. For both of us.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blame Canada

One evening last week, after a particularly difficult morning thunderstorm that sent Bud into a panic attack and caused him to be half an hour late to school, I was more than a little concerned when I heard thunder rolling in the distance as I came home from work at the end of the day. When I entered the house I was surprised to find that, though Bud was highly attuned to the thunder and was talking about nothing else, he wasn't panicking.

My mom explained to me that because it wasn't raining and because they could only hear a distant rumble, she'd told Bud that the thunder wasn't near our house. He wanted to know where, exactly, it was, and since she didn't want to make him afraid to go to any of the places we normally frequent, she took a cue from South Park and told him that the thunder was in Canada.

The thunder continued to roll for the better part of an hour, and with each distant roll, Bud asked for a status report: "Where was that?" And each time, we gave him an answer:

"Winnipeg!"

"Ontario!"

"Toronto!"

"Vancouver!"

It worked, and it kept his anxiety from escalating. Of course, his weather-anxiety has stayed at a constant level all week, bubbling right under his emotional surface, but it hasn't spilled over yet. And for that, I send my thanks - and my apologies - to my good-sported neighbors to the north. I hope you're finding that the storms (and the incrimination) are not too great a burden.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Good hair days, or: Fear today, hair tomorrow

I believe that The Dierks Bentley Hair Crisis of 2007 is officially over.

The long-haired videos are in high rotation. (Bud's current long-haired favorite is "Lot of Leaving Left To Do," during which, every time db makes eye contact with the camera, Bud announces "He's singing it to me!")

We've started watching clips from the long-haired DVD.

And last night, Bud asked me if his hairdresser could give him curly hair like Dierks has.


I am in awe of this child's ability to work things out.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Read on

Kristen from From Here to There and Back tagged me for an irresistible book meme. Maybe you'll want to play, too.

Total number of books?

For many years, I kept every book I read, packing and unpacking them and carting them around with me from college residence hall room to college residence hall room and from apartment to apartment. Sometime in my post-Bud years, though, I decided that I just didn't need them all and I cleared the bookshelves and donated them away with wild abandon. These days I only hang on to the books I lovelovelove and the books I think I might read again, which comes out to about three (smallish) bookshelves full. How many books is that? I'm not sure. I'm not good at that kind of estimate. A bunch. A good number. More than a few; less than a ton.

Last book read?

Sadly, I have not had a good run lately. I've stalled with A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini , not because it's not well written (it is), but because one particular plot point stopped me cold, hitting me too close to my emotional center. That happens sometimes. I'd like to say that I'll go back to the book, but I really don't think I will. (I'm being intentionally vague about the plot point for those who plan to read it. It's not the book; it's me. You should read it.)

Before A Thousand Splendid Suns, I started but didn't finish another book that will (in the spirit of The Believer magazine) go unnamed. After several chapters, I still didn't care about any of the people in the book. Life is too short; I moved on.

Before that, I read What You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Child with Autism, which frankly doesn't really feel like it counts. It was more a handy reference guide than a BOOK.

So, by process of elimination, I'm going to have to go with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Not especially high-brow or impressive, but, then, neither am I.

Last book bought?

Again, Harry Potter. I borrowed A Thousand Splendid Suns, and the other two were sent by the publishers. Before that? I'm not sure. I tend to seek out hand-me-down books more than I buy new ones. It might have been Andrei Codrescu's New Orleans, Mon Amour. (An excellent book, and a bargain at any price.)

Five meaningful books?

Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism by Paul Collins - This book was meaningful to me in many ways. It was one of the first autism books I read in which I "recognized" the child - on page after page, Collins' son Morgan reminded me of Bud. (He still does, in fact; in this interview with Collins and his wife, they report that Morgan is currently fascinated by TV and movie logos. I have spent many an hour drawing TV and movie logos for Bud. I'm not sure whether or not I should introduce him to the YouTube videos that Morgan finds so fascinating.)

On another level (and in a story that was more interesting to live than it would be to read), Not Even Wrong set me on a trajectory that ultimately got me writing this blog. Interestingly, I discovered Not Even Wrong via an e-mail from my sister that included a link to the book's page on amazon.com and a one-line message that read "I think the universe is telling me that I'm supposed to let you know about this book." (Thanks, Sis.)

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - This book blew me away. Blew. Me. Away.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare - Hamlet might be my favorite thing ever written. I find myself thinking about Hamlet a lot - which is interesting, because throughout the play, all Hamlet really does is a whole lot of thinking. Really, though, thinking about Hamlet's thinking helps me to remember to get out of my head when I find myself getting all "to be or not to be" on myself. (And I don't mean suicidal here, folks. I mean painfully introspective and grossly self-indulgent.) Enough said.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott - This book kept me sane in the first months of Bud's life. It made me feel more normal and less incompetent as a mother. Or maybe it made me feel incompetent, but in good company.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - This book replaced A Prayer for Owen Meany as my favorite book of all time. In fairness, I should go back and read Owen Meany again before I state that publicly, since I read Owen Meany in 1989 and Kavalier and Clay in 2005. But, too late; it's already done.

I'm not going to tag anyone specifically for this one, but I invite everyone to join the bandwagon. Leave your answers in the comments here, or just let us know that we should follow the link to read your answers on your own blog.