Lost in Translation

My daughter brought this quote home from college, as she though I would enjoy it — and I very much do, as I can readily identify with it.  The words had been printed out and tacked on a bulletin board, and it originates from Brian Andreas’ Story People:

There are some days
when no matter what I say
it feels like
I’m far away in another country
& whoever is doing the translating
has had far too much to drink

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Comfort-able

For the first time in months and months — far longer than it should have been, but there we are with the insane busyness of life — a friend and I got together at her house for dinner.

“You look like you’re finally relaxing,” she said after I’d been there a little while, and we decided to not wait in conversational limbo for the third person (who never did show).  “You were so stiff when you came in,” and she made reference by some expression (that now escapes memory) of how I was indicating being relaxed by behaving more normally.

Not “normally” in the er, Normal (neurotypical) sense, but me-normal, where I felt comfortable enough to sit and rock slightly, to not worry about making eye contact, to get a bit flappy at funny events or when agitated, to shed the pent-up motor tics.  To just be me. To “let my hair down” and to set aside unnecessarily restrictive social norms.  To eat my chicken and rice with a fork, and the still-crisp cooked green beans neatly with my fingers (as one does with fries or asparagus), because her table was Nicely Set for our aesthetic enjoyment and yet we weren’t standing on formality.

We talked about typical stuff, like the foibles of spouses, the concerns for college-age kids, the drudgery of eternal home repairs, the quirks of cats, of temperamental computers and the thrills of new mobile phones, of career changes, and the vicissitudes of economic times.

We also talked about atypical stuff, like the difficulties of college education and employment when dealing with various educational/neurological disabilities, of managing arthritis pain and joint issues, of the wonders of TMJ bite blocks, of dealing with the profound cluelessness of the general public for the extreme pain of migraines and how hospital Emergency (A&E) is a horrid place to physically be when in the throes of gut-wrenching-head-splitting pain and the snarkiness of some medics therein.

Crip chicks like we don’t diss on our disabilities, we diss from our disabilities.  It’s not poor-pitiful-me whining but the healthy pitch-a-bitch whining from someone who understands, even when our respective glitches are not all issues shared in common.

I need more social life, but there’s so much of ordinary socialising that I find enervating.

I’m not antisocial; the interest in socialising is not a binary form, where one either does it or doesn’t do it.  But over the years I have learned what I actually enjoy (as opposed to what one is “supposed to” enjoy).  My intro/extroversion levels vary wildly because some kinds of social interaction are nothing but draining, while others leave me (if not physically) at least spiritually recharged.

I’m not fond of socialising by large quantities of people all chattering with each other in the same room, where the conversations get all blenderized from my Auditory Processing Disorder, to where I end up trying to tease apart sequential fragments of half a dozen unrelated conversations, fruitlessly trying to follow just one voice or two, and reasoning out from fractured context what some of the mis-heard words could possibly be.

I’m not fond of socialising where the content gets watered down to less-consequential subjects of chit-chat, by dint of less privacy and some unwritten code of how long one is “supposed” to entertain time with another guest before moving on, and by the other unwritten rules of conversational quid pro quo, where my monologuing to fully deliver a story complete with back-explanations and thesis statements delivered at the end is discouraged in favor of witty repartee.

I like the time to mutually share and analyse our respective news, and the real, content-laden answers to our mutual questions of, “How are you?”  The real “How are you?” question, not the fluff of “How-are-you?” or “How-was-your-day?” that is the social minefield trying to distinguish between polite interested query of acquaintances and polite disinterested query of associates (that latter social coin that is all form and no content), or the mental quagmire of trying to answer “How-was-your-day?” when the question is so vague and our answers are so experientially linear and tangential instead of whatever the hell others were expecting.

I was comfortable — we both were comfortable — because together we had created a social environment that enabled our mutual comfort.  It was an agreement that had been developed by long familiarity and by various conscious decisions over decades, to create a friendship that fulfilled our individual needs over the culturally-proscribed forms.  True friendship enables positive interactions, and supports needs and affirms and enriches our lives.

Here’s a toast to real friendships!

The Crystal Ball Crack’d

The Kid recently took the ACT test, which like the SAT, is frequently used by colleges to determine scholastic abilities, and in his case helped place him for which college writing class he needed.  He had to ask his sister what the test was like, and her impressions about its difficulty level.  I could not personally provide any opinions, because I had never taken the ACT or SAT.

I never took them because no one thought I would go to college.

They made massive assumptions about my abilities and my future. So here’s what happened, and something to think about. I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites.

My grades in secondary school grew worse over the years, and I had to re-take a semester in one class (English of all things, which in later years proved to be ironic when I became a freelance writer, with hundreds of items in print).

By this time in my life, my parents had divorced.  My dad lived in another state, and was even more of a non-player in my life.  Alas, my mother had spent years futilely trying to make me more “normal”, from requiring me to learn right-handed penmanship, enrolling me in a “charm school” at the local Sears & Roebucks to improve my feminine graces, and so on.  But as the years wore on, my faults (problems) became more and more apparent.  She no longer described me as “very bright”, but was quick to list all my failures and describe them in damning detail, until I was ready to vomit or pass out from the stress (though I never did, even though either would have been a relief).

By 9th grade it was apparent to all that I was not gifted scholastically, and the general consensus was that I was lazy, stupid at math, not trying hard enough, and acting up just to make her life difficult.  When she was drunk, my failures and interests and personality traits would be compared to her ex-husband’s, “you’re just like your father, the bastard”.  Even as much of a socially-clueless 14 year old that I was, I knew that these kinds of comments were untrue and inappropriate, and the problem was with her attitudes and her drinking.  But they still hurt, terribly.

I would not be diagnosed with ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, and Prosopagnosia until I was in my 40’s.  Such diagnosis hardly existed in those days; certainly my difficulties were not considered to be due to anything but my own personal failings.

No way, my family and school officials decided, could I be college material.  I could not keep track of my assignments, I still struggled to learn and remember my multiplication facts into 8th grade, and I flunked or barely passed classes.

Given my social difficulties and subsequent lack of dating, and even my utter lack of domestic abilities (mom warned me off taking a sewing class because doing so would “ruin my GPA” – grade point average), I was obviously not highly marriageable. This was the 1970s, and most people still thought along those lines — an astonishing number of girls went to college to “get their MRS”.

The goal then was to get me some kind of minimal trade training, so I would, as she fiercely reminded me many times, not be a burden on the family. It was made plain to me that once I graduated high school, and then later turned 18, I was to be out on my own.  I should not expect financial assistance from her.

So I was enrolled in typing, which was a miserable experience beyond the whole ordinary ordeal of learning to type on manual typewriters.  The room was a cacophony of noise.  The instructor was adamant about constant attention to task, proper posture, and graded with the intent on us producing perfection — as soon as a student produced a typographical error, then the score was made. (Additionally, the students’ pages were  held up to the light against her perfect copies to check centering and spacing). There were many days when I would produce an entire page that was otherwise perfect but for a typo in the second line, and my grade would be an F because I had such a low word-count.  Given my problems with developing manual speed, tracking text (near-point copying), attention, and transposing letters and numbers, I struggled to get a C grade.

But the clerical work that was deemed best for me also required taking bookkeeping.  Not surprisingly, this was also a very difficult class for me.  My aptitudes and interests were not really taken into consideration, because after all, even if writing and science and art were what I liked best, I had not done well in those classes, now had I?  Besides, clerical work was what my mother knew, so like many parents she expected me to follow occupational suit.

Unlike many such students, my story has a relatively happy ending.  I did manage to graduate high school, to everyone’s relief.  A year later, I even enrolled in an evening class at the local community college.  College classes were not easy, partly from my intrinsic difficulties, partly from not having the necessary study skills, and partly from not having a solid academic background.

But the glory of the American system is that such colleges provide opportunities for adults of all ages to acquire the these things, and to gain higher education. I worked hard, and slowly figuring out how I learned, which was not always in the ways that others thought I should study.  Sometimes I had to drop a class and re-try it later on, to finish it successfully. Later on in my 40’s I was to also get some of my issues diagnosed.

I now have a Master’s of Science. I teach college students.  No one would have expected this based upon my previous performance. (Employers who place near-complete trust in Behavioral-Based Interviewing, please note!)  And this point, amongst all the others about the perils of attribution errors, and learning disabilities, and dysfunctional families, this point is crucial:

A child’s future abilities cannot always be predicted,

when based upon their current abilities.

Many parents of children who have developmental disorders worry that their children will never be able to attend school, or finish school, or go on to college, or hold a job, or live on their own, or be loved by a partner, or have a family, or talk, or be potty-trained, or any number of milestones.  Just because the child cannot do the same things that their age peers can do, or are expected to do.

This is one of the biggest points of contention or discussion between the “autism community” (parents of autistic children) and the “autistic community” (children, teens and adults who are autistic, and many of whom are parents as well).  Even beyond the farcical assumptions that either community is monolithic with regards to attitudes and knowledge and politics et cetera, there are inherent issues that need to be mutually addressed.

One of the best resources for the autism communities are the autistic communities.  If parents go around just talking to other parents, especially those other parents who are consumed by the “Terrible Tragedy and Selfless Suffering Families” world-views, they may fall prey to this easy assumption:  If my child can’t do it now, he’ll never be able to do it, and our lives will be ruined.

Sure, not everyone takes it to that extreme.  Sure, there are a few children who do not achieve many of those life-goals.  But those lack of achievements does NOT automatically mean that their lives are ruined, or their families’ lives are ruined. They do NOT automatically mean that people cannot live relatively happy, healthy, and productive lives.

Please do NOT assume that not being able to use speech as a reliable means of communication is the same as not being able to think, or not being able to communicate, or not having anything to communicate.

Please do not assume that because a child does not learn in a traditional manner that they are learning “the wrong way”, or that they cannot learn at all, or that they must be taught “remedial learning lessons”.

Please do know that even when children have problems, and are slower to acquire skills, they are not doomed.

Please do not give up on them.

“Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.”

~First words (at age 35) of an autistic man [quote source]

I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites. Kindly see the newly-updated “NOTES TO COMMENTERS” box in the top of the left sidebar for important information. Read the rest of this entry »

A few updates

The 92nd Edition of the Skeptic’s Circle is up, and The Lay Scientist gives us the latest press conference news as given by the Team Skeptic Manager Martin, from the state-of-the-art Olympic training facility in Beijing!  Prepare to be amazed — but never bamboozled.

The July issue of the Pain-blog Carnival is now up at How to Cope With Pain blog.  Readers share a variety of subjective experiences and treatment information.

Speaking of things painful, I put up a couple of photographs I modified to demonstrate some of the visual disturbances I experience during migraines.  Due to the trigger potential, I put these on a special page.  (The images are described for those with impaired vision.)  Alas, the Kid was laid flat by a migraine today — the preventative meds certainly help reduce the numbers of attacks, but they don’t completely eliminate them.  However, he reports that the new medication is a definite improvement over the old one, wooziness notwithstanding. A quiet “Hooray” for this encouraging news.

And although the timing isn’t quite “news” anymore, it’s not so late for it to be “olds”, so do check out the 42nd Disability Blog Carnival over at Pitt Rehab, where Greg gives us a break from the usual busyness for some summery relaxation at the beach, and plenty of great links.

As for me, I have to blame day-long teacher training class all week for my dearth of posting.  It’s been really good, but so intense — having to sit and focus on attending, listening, and learning for hours on end is hard.  Every day I run an errand right after class, and then come home to crash for a 20-minute catnap for my brain to do some filing before I can even think about cooking dinner.  The fatigue is a good reminder of what it’s like for all our students!

(Now if only the tinnitus would Shut Up.)

P.S.  Time to play ADD hide-and-seek: if you were a $100 calculator left in some random location by a teenager, where would you be?

P.P.S.  We already checked the breadbox.

Congratulations!

Are due to the Kid, who managed to hang in there through the finish of the scholastic year, despite various difficulties with the school setting. The cool part is that (after securing the Official Paperwork from the school), our high school junior then went on to take the GED test and passed with flying colors, thus earning the equivalent of a high school diploma.

While the rest of his former cohort is gearing up to start their senior year of high school, our son is finishing up a second college class, and is enrolled for the fall term as a full-time college freshman.

Even better, he says that this is the first time in years since the sight of stores filled with school supplies has not filled him with dread. Additionally, having a summer job doing construction labor has made him realise the value of further education, and even given him moments of, “I wish I were in class.” We’ve not seen this kind of scholastic enthusiasm in years.

Way to go, guy!  We’re proud of you.

a blonde 12-month old boy seated on a chair, reaching up and pecking at the keyboard to an early 1990's personal computer

a blond 12-month old boy seated on a chair, reaching up and pecking at the keyboard to an early 1990's personal computer

Stories of Yesteryear (II)

I found these several-years-old tales while looking for something else — you know how that goes!  Meanwhile, I have a report, a PowerPoint, an assignment, a summary and remarks to complete in the next 48 hours, so once again there’s not much time for new stuff.  However, I have found the background material to answer someone’s ADHD question and will post that in a couple of days.

(Previous Stories of Yesteryear.)

It is Saturday evening and we are having a family movie night.  I have made buttered popcorn, and remembered to put the lid on the air popper this time!  My son has made a pitcher of lemonade, and daughter is busy digging through the piles of VHS and DVDs.  Our video cabinet has an almost surreal quality – like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia, it seems bigger on the inside than the outside, and more than once most of my  daughter has disappeared within its depths as she digs through the movies.

After much vociferous discussion we decide to watch a Star Trek show, the Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribblations”.  We have all see this episode several times, and are delivering the especially funny lines of dialog along with the actors, as well as making accessory comments along the way.

In the show, Odo and Worf are at the bar, trying to not to stand out, but being aliens, failing to do so.  “You know,” I remark during an action lull, “I always sympathized with Odo – he tries so hard to fit in, but never quite makes it.”

My son laughs, “Just like you, Mom.”

And I grin at him. Read the rest of this entry »

Home on the Range

It’s spring, and with spring we were once again entertaining the invasion of the Little Black Ants*. (Yes indeedy, sometimes the common names of insects are actually straightforward, and we have things like Little Black Ants or Soft Brown Scale.) Every year I put out the bait traps and spend several days sponging most of the 3 mm. arthropods off the counters and drowning them in the sudsy dishwater, until the rest of the wee bastards have taken enough poison back to crash the colony.

Don’t get me wrong — I like ants. I think they’re fascinating, and spent many happy hours of my childhood watching them. I just don’t want them in my house any more than they want me in theirs.

It’s tiresome for me, and it’s tiresome for the family who are subjected to mum’s infobites about the Formicidae, although this past week the kid finally understood why the alien race from the Ender’s Game books was called the Formics. (However, ants have nothing to do with Formica plastic, which just goes to show that etymology is as convoluted as entomology.)

Ants will of course, leave trail-pheromones for other ants to follow, and these were all energetically tracking around in their proscribed invisible-Tube map pathways around my sink, the faucet, the countertops, the splashback tiles, the Kitchen-Aid mixer, the breadbox, the cutting board, the knife block, the dish (draining) rack, the electrical sockets and switches, the toaster oven, the stovetop (range), the sugarbowl and butterdish (both of which have lids — hey, we’re not immaculate, but we’re not stupid), the coffee and filter cannisters, and anything else that the human residents had left sitting out.

(Insert clichéd maternal nagging to family about not cleaning up after snack-making.)

The other afternoon when I was doing the washing-up, I stood there and observed their peregrinations until I was able to finally pinpoint the ingress spot. Underneath the window ledge was a slightly chipped spot in the grout, and I waited to observe two ants disappear into the hole and not re-appear (which would have indicated a dead-end). Ah-HA! So yesterday I tracked down the remainder of the tube of tub caulk and clotted up the hole. I swabbed up the remaining immigrants (after photographing them). The good news is that no more ants have appeared today, which likely means that there’s not another hole. Maybe I’ve licked the problem once and for all.

Or, at least until another weak point develops in the grout.

* These could be Monomorium minimum or some species of Crematogaster, but they were running around too fast to get a really good macro shot to tell which. I want a microscope of my own!

Shucks, not Disabled

Of all the people in the world, my eldest would be the least likely to be dismayed by becoming a “wheelie”. Every time we visited the science museum in Denver, dad and I could always count on at least a solid hour of book-reading time as the kids played with the wheelchairs in the Discovery Zone.

When a staph infection on one knee got especially nasty (round, red and swollen, requiring repeated expulsion of alarming amounts of pus), we scheduled a visit to the doctor. In addition to getting antibiotics and analgesic, there was a good-natured enquiry by the patient if this might not earn the doc’s permit for a wheelchair? After all, mobility was definitely impaired — hobbling between bedroom and bathroom was difficult — and definitely meant unable to hike around the hilly campus. Well, replied the doc, were it both knees he would.

Shucks!

So, time to take the semi-disabled student back to college. I packed up the “Bug of Holding” with the overnight luggage, and we went back to the campus. The swelling made it difficult to bend the knee as well as to put weight on it, which meant that any footwear with laces, zippers or heels was extremely difficult to put on or use. Well, that was essentially all the footwear currently owned, so we stopped by a Target store to get some sandals. Hobbling inside, we espied three wheelchairs lined up near the shopping carts (buggies, trolleys), one of which was motorized.

I was surprised to hear some initial concern about whether the store would allow someone who wasn’t Officially Disabled use one. We were just borrowing one of the regular chairs, not the motorized one, of course they would, I answered. Besides, if anyone gave us grief, they could always be shown the big nasty, which by this point was doing a rather disturbing impression of a mammary gland, “nipple” and all.

So we went down the shoe aisles, and I noted with relief that the aisles were not only wide enough for the chair to get around easily (including U-turns), but also that the store did not have the sort of display clutter at the end-aisles or within the aisles that some stores feel compelled to put everywhere. This is one of the reasons why I prefer shopping at Target (compared to K Mart, or the big-bad-bully of retail, Wal-Mart); the stores are relatively free of excessive visual complexity or navigational hazards.

My eldest quickly realised that some half-gloves would be really helpful if there was going to be much wheelchair usage. That wasn’t the only accessory that would have been required, either. Read the rest of this entry »

Repelled from the Garden

Triocereus candicans

Trichocereus candicans

There are few better times to visit a garden than when everything is unfolding in the fresh new flowers of the season. If you’re visiting a desert garden, spring is nice because it is not as hot as summer.*

I’m a serious “garden-geek” and visit gardens where-ever I travel. Hubby has perforce acquired a taste for gardens, albeit at strictly the tourist level. He has even taken pictures of me squatted or perched in awkward positions as I strain to take pictures of plants, because well, that’s what some of our vacation consisted of. He will (most thankfully) exercise patience as I take pictures of giant compost heaps as well as rare blue poppies or blooming agaves. We have also found that when you’re jetlagged and desperately trying to stay awake to adjust to a distant time zone, a tour of a garden is a perfect way to get the necessary daylight exposure for the inner clock, and is a good opportunity to stretch and exercise airplane-cramped muscles. Even better, it is an attraction that does not place heavy cognitive demands on the visitor just to enjoy it (which is important for those of us who cannot sleep on plane flights).

So when hubby is looking for things to do with his papa, he thinks that a trip through a garden would be a great way to spend time together, and also get a change of scenery. But is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix accessible? Hubby is hard of hearing, so pulling up their Web page on his Blackberry is his first route of information. But he can’t find the information he seeks, and then tries phoning. Unfortunately that just yielded the annoying automated system. When you cannot understand the recorded message, having to go through the entire phone tree again to listen to it a second time is not only frustrating and laborious — the message is also not likely to be any more intelligible the second time around!

Well, this lack of accessible information about site accessibility is really vexing. It’s also really surprising — Phoenix and the surrounding cities are full of seniors, due to the climate. One would hope that large portions of the garden would be accessible for wheelchairs and walkers, but gardens aren’t always. In fact, many botanic gardens have gravel or wood chip pathways, or even put flower beds way out between expansive lawns, which turns garden tourism into wheelie triathalon events.

Meanwhile, I’m hanging around bored in an automotive waiting room as I get a dead headlamp replaced. Receiving his frustrated text message, I then start my own search. Read the rest of this entry »

Andrea Knows Noodles

“Luck is like having a rice dumpling fly into your mouth.”
~ Japanese proverb

So. The eldest is in town for spring break and loves any sort of dumpling, so tonight I made cheese pierogi. This requires making the noodle dough, which after resting gets a few pressings through successively thinner bands in the pasta roller (the hand-cranked machine is not necessary, but it does make the job a little quicker). Of course, once an eighth of dough has been properly flattened, it has to go someplace safe and the countertop is full of other stuff, so I hang the two-foot long sheets over the backs of the dining chairs.

The sheets of pasta are then cut into circles (my official dough cutter is an old tin can with both ends cut off), filled with a bit of cheese mixture, folded and sealed shut, and then boiled for a few minutes before being served all slippery in butter. Somehow there are never any the next evening for dinner, because a pieróg (or two) sounds like the perfect midnight snack. Or breakfast. Or second breakfastes. Or brunch. Or lunch. Or a tea-time nosh.

After we stuffed ourselves with pierogi, to the point that we know to quit because our tummies are saying, “Enough already!”, contented sighing ensued, and after a while I got up to put away the leftovers.

And then I discovered a forgotten sheet of pasta draped over the back of my chair. Having leaned back against my chair, the dough was now stuck to the slats. “Why didn’t someone tell me there was still noodle on the chair?!” I asked incredulously. (What a waste of perfectly lovely noodles.)

Hubby indicated that he’d seen the dough there, but didn’t think I would actually sit on it. As if!

“There’s some stuck to your jeans, too …” added the eldest. I twisted around to look at my tuchis, and peeled more pasta off the waistband. ::sigh:: If you’re one of those people who has trouble with figures of speech, I will explain that is not really what they mean by food that “goes straight to your hips”. Cheese pierogi are fattening, but they are also dense, so there’s a limit to how many you can eat in a sitting.

Make these for your family. Heck, share the fun and make these with your family by having them help roll out and fill the dough circles — just keep an eye out for stray dough pieces. Like so many things, they take longer to make than to eat, but they’re not really very difficult. The sour cream dough is not only delicious, it’s also more tender than traditional egg noodles. Pierogi are Polish dumplings; I’m not Polish, but like our eldest, I never met a dumpling I didn’t like.

PIEROGI WITH CHEESE FILLING

(“Pierogi” is plural; one dumpling is a Pieróg)

DOUGH
5 cups flour
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon salt

FILLING
1 pound Farmer’s cheese, grated
1 egg
2 tablespoons minced parsley (optional)
black pepper, to taste
melted butter

Mix together the flour, eggs, sour cream and salt to make a dough. Remove to a well-floured board and knead until the dough is smooth. Cover and let rest in the fridge for half an hour until rolling out.

Tumble together the cheese and other ingredients. Cut dough into eighths for more workable quantities. Roll out an eighth as thin as possible, cut out a circle, put 1-2 tablespoons of cheese filling to the side of the center, fold over and crimp shut.

Cut any leftover bits of dough into long noodles and add them into the pot to cook. Gently drop pierogi into a large pot of boiling water, and let cook until they have been floating at the surface for a couple minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and lay in a heated platter, drizzling with melted butter; you can garnish with some more fresh parsley.

Some things improve with age

The other week, one of the profs was looking up medication side effects for a parent. This prompted some vexed musing aloud, “Does anything improve with age?”

In retrospect, it was probably one of those rhetorical questions that people don’t really expect to get answered. With my attention mostly focused upon some specimen slides, I answered, “Wine and cheese.”

“No,” he clarified, “in people.”

“Oh.” Slight pause on my part while I did a mental search. But of course, my inner google is a buggy beta-version. “I know there’s something, I just can’t remember it right now.”

Later on that evening I remembered them:

  • Perspective: When you’re older, you have a much better idea of what things really are important.
  • Coping : A lot of things that we do as coping skills are so ingrained we don’t even recognise that they are coping skills. We forget how many things used to be laboriously taxing, like driving stick in traffic, juggling different kinds of demands, and so on. (The reason we get grouchy when things change is because that means we have to re-arrange all those coping strategies we had forgotten we were using.)
  • Discrimination: After a lifetime to buying clothes, cameras, eating out, and other complex choices, we have developed internal algorithms that take into account numerous objective and subjective qualities. We have figured out what things are worth spending money on, and what things aren’t.
  • Appreciation: We also know just how important seemingly inconsequential things can be, like dry socks.

One of Those Days

Last night I heard one of the cats gacking but haven’t found the mess yet.

I removed the ornaments a few days ago, but the tree is still up.

Is it too late to send Christmas cards?

I keep forgetting to schedule a haircut.

I dropped a Pyrex dish full of green beans and it shattered all over the floor.

Two messy pans and nine ruined crêpes later, I gave up and left the family to eat the ham with Swiss cheese sauce on toast-or-whatever. How come alla sudden I can’t cook crêpes?

Dishwasher still needs to be repaired.

I also need to finish painting the hallway.

I went to go soak my infected toe and achy joints in a hot bath and realised that the tub needs caulking all over again.

Tomorrow I will wear the suede loafers that don’t need polishing and the slacks that don’t need hemming. We will pretend the shirt doesn’t have a bleach splotch on the cuff.

I sure hope a button doesn’t fall off my shirt a second time this week.

I really hope the undiscovered cat gack isn’t in one of those loafers.

Some days the best thing to do is to put the Good Fight on hold and go to bed.   The world will still be there when I lurch back out of bed tomorrow.

Cultivate Your Inner Mantis

Every parent of a child with special needs has had Very Bad Days. Hell, every partner, sibling, good friend, and housemate has had those days. But there’s something especially protective about the way parents are on behalf of their children (blood relations or not; there’s more to parenting than DNA). Maddy just had one of Those Very Bad Days. This post is dedicated to her, and to everyone else who has been such situations. You don’t mess with mama bears. Or any species of protective parents. Even if we parents are stunned by the utter meanness, stupidity, lack of consideration, or bureaucratic idiocy, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have those flashes of utter savagery flick through our hearts.

The difference being that usually we think before we speak. Or, that we suffer badly from l’Esprit de l’escalier and the appropriately witty or remonstrative remark doesn’t occur until the moment has long passed. Or, all we can do is stand there and sputter.

So here is Mildred the Mantid. She was mother to more than I could count and an amazing hunter with ninja-like reflexes and deadly skills. And before you make any comments, the whole story about female praying mantids biting the heads off their mates is somewhat apocryphal, and quite likely an artifact of being stuck in a small laboratory cage with nowhere to dash off.

However, having watched Mildred dispatch a number of dinners, I can tell you that she would start her meals by first biting off the head of her victim, quickly and neatly dispatching whatever had wandered too close. Brains are relatively fatty, so are good calories in a world of lean, crunchy critters. Then she would leisurely rip off the wings, because there’s no good eatin’ in insect wings. Ditto the ends of the legs. And when finished, she would daintily begin to groom herself, much in the same manner that a cat does, brushing off her antennae, and nibbling down each of her six limbs from the thorax all the way down to the tarsi. Then she would flick her wings back into a comfortable position, and compose herself to waiting there quietly, all over again. Even when she was “very preggers”, all large and ungainly from being egg-heavy (photo on right) Mildred was a predatory force to be reckoned with.

Don’t Mess With Mom.

Don’t go saying dumb-ass, idiotic, rude, uncaring, insensitive, presumptive, judgmental things about our children …

… because then we have the lovely image of the fabulously wicked female mantis, who after sitting perched in her pose of Absolutely Shocked bug-eyed stillness, will — in a flash — reach out with her raptorial forelegs to grab the intruder and BITE THE HEAD OFF.

There. Much better now.

 

Bread and Circuses

Just a couple of quickies here while I’m busy preparing for some new classes.

Firstly, the 77th edition of the Skeptic’s Circle is up at WhiteCoat Underground, with a rather humorous post by PalMD, “The Overmedicalized Edition“. I love reading these circus posts because it’s a good way to find great new blogs!

Secondly, there’s the “December Pain-Blog Carnival” at the How to Cope With Pain blog, also run by a physician blogger.

And for the “bread” part of this post, here’s a recipe that was a big hit last week, home-made waffles! Yes, it’s a bit more work than buying the frozen sort and throwing them into the toaster, but I guarantee that these tasted a helluva lot better than the frozen sort. The guys couldn’t even tell they were gluten-free, THAT’S how good they were! (All the frozen GF waffles I’ve ever tried were as dry as Styrofoam.)

Because I’m an ADHD-forgetful sort of cook and clumsy and somewhat arthritic, this recipe comes with assorted tips, including some in case you’re not used to making home-made waffles. Read through directions for tips before cooking.

WONDERFUL WAFFLES (GLUTEN-FREE)

Special equipment: waffle iron, mixer to whip egg whites, and if you have one, a blender and a towel. If you don’t have a blender you can use the mixer, BUT beat the egg whites before mixing the other ingredients, so the beaters are clean and dry for the whites.

  1. Inspect the mixer and blender to ensure nothing has fallen into the bowl or pitcher, that the bottom is securely screwed onto the blender pitcher, and that you have the lid to the blender.
  2. Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand before you start cracking:
  3. 4 large eggs, separated
    1 ½ cups milk (360 ml)
    ¼ cup oil (60 ml)
    1 1/2 cups GF flour mix (about 150 g, depending upon blend)
    5 teaspoons baking powder (25 ml)
    1 tablespoon sugar (15 ml)
    1/2 teaspoon salt (2 ml)

  4. Find the no-stick spray to use on the waffle-iron plates, even if it’s supposed to be a “no-stick” surface. If you don’t have no-stick spray, pour a little vegetable oil into a drinking glass, and use a clean 1.5″ (4 cm) wide natural bristle or heat-resistant barbecuing brush, as synthetic bristles may melt or scrunch up — YCIHIKT (You Can Imagine How I Know That). I put the oil into a drinking glass so I can stand the brush upright in the glass, rather than having it constantly fall off the edge of the wee bowl of oil, thus making another mess for me to clean off the counter.
  5. Clear some space on the kitchen counter, and plug in the waffle iron for it to heat up while you’re doing the mixing. The plates should be shut while it’s heating, for safety and efficiency.
  6. Crack 4 eggs, separating them into yolks and whites. The yolks go into the blender, and the whites go into the mixer bowl. Fresher eggs have “bouncier” yolks and separate more easily (just so you know; it’s not like you’re really going to have both fresher eggs and older eggs sitting around). Eggs will crack in half more easily and neatly if you knock them on a sharp, thin edge (table knife) than a wide, blunt edge (rimmed bowl). TIP: if this is an iffy task for you, then crack each egg over a small (separate) bowl so you can fish out the bits of shell before adding to the other yolks and whites. There are also egg-separater gizmos one can purchase — get one that you do not have to hold onto to use.
  7. Use the mixer to whip egg whites to soft peaks. I like my KitchenAid stand-mixer because it can do its own thing without me holding the mixer up in the air (vibration is hard on my joints). Yes, the beast cost more, but it has outlasted three hand-mixers, and it kneads dough, too! It’s worth buying something like this because it enables more cookery.
  8. Use blender to mix the milk, oil, egg yolks, and dry ingredients. If you put the wet ingredients into the blender before the dry ingredients, the batter is less likely to end lumpy. I still have to stop and scrape powder off the top edges once during the blending, but that’s pretty minor. TIP: to reduce the awful blender racket, put a folded towel between the blender bottom and the countertop; this reduces the cabinet-as-acoustic-chamber for the motor vibration.
  9. [Remove the mixer bowl from the stand.] Pour batter from the blender down the side of the mixer bowl so it slides underneath the egg whites. Tilt the bowl to a comfortable angle, and use a rubber spatula or spoon to fold the ingredients together. “Fold” means to stir the ingredients together slowly and gently in vertical circles; the batter will have the consistency of almost-melted ice cream.
  10. Spray both plates of the waffle iron with no-stick spray just before pouring in the batter. Re-spray before cooking each waffle. Even if your waffle iron is so miraculously non-stick that you didn’t need to do this for traditional waffles, you will need to do it for GF waffles; YCIHIKT.
  11. This is enough batter to make several waffles. Pour in just enough batter to fill the bottom plate, and then wait several seconds for bubbles to start forming before closing down the top plate. This allows the batter to partially “set” so you won’t have a bunch of goo oozing off the edges that will have to be scraped off later on; YCIHIKT.
  12. Bake until the signal light shuts off (if your iron has one) or until the waffles are appropriately crispy. TIP: our family likes to warm up the syrup(s) so the waffles don’t cool as fast while we’re eating them.

You can also sprinkle some cinnamon into the waffle batter, which is nice if you are topping them with apple stuff. Some people like to add a teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla extract; I keep forgetting to do this. I’ve also tried almond extract, which made the waffles taste like holiday cookies, but hubby prefered traditional waffles.

TIP: if you want to add blueberries to your batter, use either fresh ones or still-frozen berries — thawed blueberries will “bleed” and turn the batter a pale teal-green color; YCIHIKT. They still taste good, but …

Stories of Yesteryear

Today I finally got around to decorating the tree, which shows you just how behind I am with things. (But the bedroom painting and sofa-futon assembly is done!) The Kid chose to go shopping instead of decorating, and I requested some wax worms from the pet store (for my Fiery Searcher beetle), and some groceries. There was about a two second pause, and then the kid asked me cautiously, “Those wax worms aren’t related to the groceries, are they?”

After reassurances to the negative, I handed off the extended grocery list, and started opening the crates with the holiday stuff. While decorating the tree, I remembered some stories of past years. These are from the:

“Some Days I Just Don’t Understand People” File

Some years ago, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. “We really need new towels for our green-and-white bathroom,” I volunteered. Our current towels were over a decade old, and getting raggedy with holes and rips and threadbare spots.

Christmas came, and I unwrapped a large box of towels. It was one of those coördinated sets, two bath towels with two matching hand towels and two matching washcloths. And they were all pink. I don’t like pink; I haven’t liked pink since I was a small child. Nothing in my house was pink, especially not my bathroom. Each towel had a big embroidered appliqué on it, with the bath towels having dinner-plate size areas that were too stiff and rough to make them usable for drying off. I was unfolding a towel and asked her, “Do you think they will soften up after they’ve been washed a few times?”

“Oh you’re not supposed to use them — they’re just to hang up for show,” explained my mother. She was pouting because I wasn’t ecstatic to have a functionless gift. This was not unlike my birthday, when she had given me a heavily-ruffled blouse full of scratchy lace, that was four sizes too large.

~~#~~

A few years later, I worked temporarily at a local garden center on weekends and evenings. They had extended their evening hours until 9:00, but few folks had caught on yet. Maybe it was the freezing rain on that Friday night, and the snow on the Saturday afternoon. But by Sunday the roads had been cleared, and the customers were finally trooping through the store more-or-less steadily.

I was shelving, and overheard a customer ask the store manager, “Do you know anything?” (Now what would Miss Manners reply to that?)

Some wit at the corporate head office decided to put the dog chews and bird seed on sale for 1/3 of their regular prices; I think that’s what they mean by a “loss leader”. So customers would trot in with their coupons to buy just 99 cents of seed and leave again, after much wandering around and asking questions about the other merchandise.

“Can I buy just nine feet of this eleven foot tree? The top’s not really pretty.” No, they didn’t want the tree merely trimmed down (as people sometimes do), they wanted to pay for just part of the tree. But because we bought an eleven-foot tree from the grower, that was the price we had to sell it for. Unlike a side of beef that gets pieced down to primal cuts and then steaks, Christmas trees are a whole-unit item.

“Where are the extension cords?”
“They’re all over here,” I answer, pointing to a small end-aisle display of brown lightweight extension cords and orange heavy-duty extension cords.
Customer, disdainfully: “I don’t like this brown; do you have any blue ones?”
“No. All of the extension cords we have are over here,” I answer, smiling despite chapped lips. This was a small garden center folks, not a gianormous hardware store that stocks extension cords in “designer” colors.

The phone rang.  I picked up the receiver with one hand, and use the other to cover my free ear and block out the background noise of the endless tinny Christmas carols that were giving me a headache. “Garden center and pet store, this is Andrea,”
“Do you have any ponderosa pines?”
“No, but we do have white pines, with or without flocking.” (“Flocking” is the white artificial snow stuff they spray on trees.) I was thinking, ponderosa pine Christmas trees?
“I want a ponderosa pine to plant outside.”
“We don’t have any balled-and-burlap live Christmas trees to plant outside, ma’am.”
“I don’t want a Christmas tree, I want a landscape tree.”
In December? The ground had been frozen for weeks; everything was covered in snow and ice! “No, I’m sorry ma’am, we’re not selling landscaping materials at this late date.”

I was standing with a customer in front of the ornament rack, pointing to hooks and replacement parts for Christmas tree lights (fairy lights). “Do you need any ornament hooks or or replacement bulbs?” I asked, always ready to save customers an unnecessary trip back to the store.
“No, just these balls,” she replied, holding a box of glass ornaments.
“Then I can ring that right up for you … That’ll be $13.92. Do you want a sack for those?”
Customer, staring at her box of purple glass balls, “Oh, do you have any of that wire stuff you use to put these on the tree?”
“Yes,” I responded, unplugging my key from the register and walking back to the aisle where we just were. I held up two different packages of hooks, “We have long ornament hooks, and short ornament hooks.”
“Oh. What’s the difference?”

And this, O Best Beloved, is why I don’t work in retail any more.

I Have Something to Tell You

Well, with all the buzzing going on around more noisome news, I was certainly glad to find something sweet during a recent forage of my news source trapline*. It’s a new-ish piece of Assistive Technology (AT) for communication! But this post isn’t just about a nifty little mechanism (which I’ll get to in a minute); it’s about the social stuff around using ATs to communicate.

A variety of disability bloggers have discussed different electronic mechanisms they use for communicating with others**. There are a number of hurdles faced by users of augmentative communication (aug-comm), and unfortunately they are often greater in number than other kinds of AT. With any tech, there’s always the issues of finding out about it, trying it out, affording it, the learning curve, dealing with maintenance issues, upgrading to newer models when something gets too worn out or is simply too archaic for customer support or technical compatibility, working it in with other hardware in your life (“It’s a great piece of equipment, but my chair doesn’t come with a trailer so I can’t simply schlep it everywhere”) and other annoyances (“How is anyone s’posed to type on these tiny buttons?”).

But communication AT has its own strange set of social-disability type hurdles. Our culture so inextricably links communication with speaking Read the rest of this entry »

All in the family

Sometimes after a child gets a diagnosis (or diagnoses) the parents begin to realise many of the same issues from their own childhoods, and on through adulthood. In our family it took the opposite route. It took years to really see the aspie qualities of my kid, partly from unfamiliarity, and partly because in a geeky family like ours … most of those qualities are “normal”. Not until the teen years did the social issues, the APD issues, and ADHD-related educational issues really become unavoidable. The tics went away after several years, as happens sometimes. But I think there was less “denial” as there was unawareness and a sense of internal normalcy: “this is just the way we are”.

A very nice article by Benedict Carey illustrates this: Your Child’s Disorder May Be Yours, Too

Mr. Schwarz, a software developer in Framingham, Mass., found in his son’s diagnosis a new language to understand his own life. His sensitivities when growing up to loud noises and bright light, his own diffidence through school, his parents’ and grandparents’ special intellectual skills — all echoed through his and Jeremy’s behavior, like some ancient rhythm.

His son’s diagnosis, Mr. Schwarz said, “provided a frame in which a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated aspects of my own life growing up fit together for the first time.”

It can alter the present, too, if parent and child have enough common ground. Mr. Schwarz, the software developer in Framingham, said he became in some ways like a translator for his son, who’s now 16.

“I think there are a lot of parents of kids with these diagnoses who have at least a little bit of the traits their kids have,” Mr. Schwarz said. “But because of the stigma this society places on anything associated with disability, they’re inhibited from embracing that part of themselves and fully leveraging it to help their kids.”

Our understanding of diagnoses mean changes over time, and we leave or entirely skip that stage of grieving over not having a promised “normal” child, or possibly even viewing the issues as horrible things that must be cured at all costs. Instead, we find that our children are different rather than damaged, and that we ourselves are oft times different as well. We move from grief to acceptance, and realise that acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.

In fact, we do not have children with broken wings, but we are in many ways flocks of different kinds of birds, not unlike the diversity of finches that Darwin found in the Galápagos, all adapted for slightly different niches. After all, we don’t all need to be penguins attired in identical tuxedos.

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