Stormy weather

I have a confession to make:  I jones for bad weather.

Not just your average cloudy day, cold rain or pretty snow flurry, mind you. Bad weather. Severe weather. Wrath of God kind of thing. A day full of crackly skies and swift wind tingles me all the way to my toes.

Tornadoes have haunted my dreams since I was a child.  One day I will see one in person. This is a promise I’ve made to myself. (Meanwhile, the Cabana Boy, who grew up in Oklahoma, assures me that a close-up tornado experience is really less than gratifying. He should know.)

This proclivity was what drove me to be the reporter who covered the tropical weather season while I lived in South Florida. I wrote the hurricane preparedness tab almost single-handedly every year. I was on a first- name basis with the National Hurricane Center staff. We hunkered down for a dozen storms during our time there, including Hurricane Dennis, Hurricane Barry, Tropical Storm Isidore, Hurricane Bob, Hurricane Floyd, and Tropical Storm Marco.  (Notice those were all male names?  So much for THAT theory…)

We were welcomed to the state in 1979 by Hurricane David, which was set dead on for Miami as it approached the state. Tearfully, I bundled up our little bundle of joy M, barely a year old, left my Air Force husband with his fellow airmen to man the base and drove several hours up the coast to my mother’s house in Vero Beach. Wouldn’t you know, the little devil took a dogleg and came ashore just south of Vero?  We spent a couple of days picking up branches and trying to find anywhere that had electricity before giving up and driving home–to find everything sunny and beautiful.

I’ve always been thankful to have left the Homestead area before Andrew came through in 1992. Most of the houses where we had lived were wiped from the land, as we saw later when we came back to visit friends who had stayed. The oddest thing was looking out toward the Redlands west of the highway and realizing how far we could see; the storm had literally stripped the leaves from the trees so they no longer blocked the view. Two of our kids came north then to stay, left homeless by the storm as well. But we were all safe.

Every year since, I’ve perked up as June 1 comes, awaiting the drama that is the Season. Friends who remained in the South have suffered though seasons like 2005 when Florida was devastated by repeat storms, not the least of which was Katrina. This one always had a bit of humor in that it crossed south Florida where my reporter friend Jim remained, then swung across the Gulf to catch our mutual reporter friend Hank in New Orleans, then took a northeast turn and ended up here. (Other than that, I know to this day, there was very little humor in that storm.)

This year, I’ve watched again, perhaps with heightened scrutiny because my daughter and her family have just moved to Pensacola.  This weekend, I studied all the maps I could find, waiting to see where Gustav would fall. I think they’ll take a hit, there on the northeast side of expected landfall, but at least it’s not a direct one.

Here in Pennsylvania it’s been a rather lackluster summer for bad weather, no major storm outbreaks, clouds rolling in, turning just that shade of green that let you know something’s about to happen. I’ll have to get my fix from a distance, watching on the weather channels on television. And you know, it’s probably safer that way.

A circle of friends

Because we have three children who need a great deal of attention and we both exhibit serious introverted/ hermit proclivities, the Cabana Boy and I are probably terrible examples of one of the skills our children need to learn: how to make close friends.

Now that Captain Oblivious is off to junior high, we are of course probably uber-focused on his social life, trying to ward off an assortment of bad things. Junior high is all about social, you know? The one thing he likes–musicals–is not something that young men are usually focused on at that age. At least not the kind that go to his school.

So the MIL suggests a program called Circle of Friends, where the guidance counselor can actually create people who the Captain can depend on at school. The Intro explains:

The Circle of Friends is not a mere social skills group; it goes beyond that to a more specific focus, developing friendships and providing a quality education for a child with special needs, one that includes learning about social skills through peer relationships and direct instruction. A regularly scheduled Circle of Friends group will help a child in need of social skills develop an idea of what friendship can be about.

But somehow this sounds familiar…why is that?  Oh yeah. This is the reason that the school system wouldn’t transfer the Captain to his home school for sixth grade when we wanted him to be out of his “special” school for a year before junior high so he was better prepared. They said that if he stayed at the school where he’d been for four years, that these people would be friends that would help him transition into the junior high. They specially invited these kids to have lunch with the Captain each week one-on-one to get to know him. This was supposed to create those wonderful bonds.

Well, we saw a number of these ‘friends’ over the summer and at school orientation. The Captain would greet them with enthusiasm and they’d roll their eyes, or worse just walk by and make a comment to whoever they were with. Some friends. He’s even come clean now with reports that some of these ‘friends’ have threatened him if he speaks to them in front of anyone else.

Maybe the concept of peer mentors isn’t a bad one.  This story using the program has kids fighting over themselves to be the child’s friends.  Wouldn’t that be great?  But I can’t see it as realistic.

So we consider home school at the same time we acknowledge it will likely damage his social abilities even farther not to be forced to deal with other children his age for five days a week. It’s so ironic that Little Miss was always more severely impaired, with her dx of classic autism, but she’s come so much farther on the social scale than the Aspie.  We’re open to suggestions. Fire away…

Our own special heroes

We’re watching the series Heroes on DVD, knowing from experience that science fiction for some reason crosses over well from child to teen to adult, and hoping this will help bring the Captain into a place he has something to discuss with his peers. The whole family has really gotten into it, as we draw to a close of the first season, and get ready to rent the truncated second before the series begins again in late September.

The show is reminiscent of The 4400, one of the few shows we’ve watched in recent years (so of course it was canceled), in that ordinary people are suddenly gifted with extraordinary powers, and must come to grips with those and the implications of their subsequent actions. We also enjoyed The Last Mimzy, the story of a couple of children who find an artifact from the future and are thereby given certain abilities to be able to save a world.

What has always puzzled the Cabana Boy and me in these tales is the horror that parents/adults display when confronted with the fact that their offspring/friend can now stop time, or light fires with his fingertip, or build marvelous engineering feats of creation. The reaction is almost uniformly, “Stop that! Don’t be different!”

Overall, we agreed immediately that if someone we knew, child or adult, came to us and said, “Guess what! I can read minds!” Or “I have telekinesis!” or “I can see all the way to the Moon!” we would be astonished and in awe, rather than condemning them. It would be fun to explore the possibilities of their power, learn the extent of what they could do, and when it needed to be controlled, at least to my mind. But then we both grew up steeped in the traditions of science fiction, so we’re used to strange things.

The other lesson it shows is that what’s valuable is often not distinguishable at the outset and is usually discounted or even pushed away by the mainstream if it’s not in a form they want to accept. The Japanese character Hiro Nakamura is a perfect example of this. He’s convinced he’s been chosen to save the world. He leaves his job, deserts his family, leaves everything behind to follow his determination/ obsession/ perseveration to complete this mission. He’s not shy about telling people what he’s up to, and they look at him as odd, even crazy. But he knows there’s something inside him that will get him where he needs to go, if he follows the steps of the hero’s journey.

Maybe it’s the same journey as our kids with autism. They have special gifts–hold the firestarting, please, at least for our impulsive boys!– they have odd methods, they live outside the box; people think they’re crazy, sometimes. Only when those gifts are fully developed will we be able to see how they can –dare we say it? Save the world? Let’s hope so.

It’s all in who you know…and there they are!

Small-town living has its interesting quirks.

Wednesday we had several important events planned. First, Captain Oblivious had the first opportunity to tour the junior high, schedule clutched in hand, finding his way around for seven classes and lunch. We all went, as we had a number of errands on the schedule, so his brother and sister also learned all about the school.

The part I found amusing, of course, was who I found in the crowd: a client with her son; a woman I hadn’t seen in years with whom I’d taken women’s spiritual studies, with her twins, also new seventh graders; the children’s old babysitter, who raved over how tall Little Miss had become and how much she could speak, as she guided her own daughter around, also a new student; and a number of other familiar faces.

What was also amazing, was the demonstration of the growth of Little Miss’s intuitive abilities (what? in an autistic child?) as she picked out a man in a shirt and tie and announced he was the principal. She went over and introduced herself, and I was somewhat bemused, as I had no idea she could gather clues like his tie and bearing, and leap to the right conclusion. One point for her, and another for Ditto Boy, who kept her entertained while the Captain finished his final schedule run-through.

Then we went on to the county fair, which is a full 4-H blowout, the largest agricultural fair in the state, where we ran into (as always) countless people we know well or see only occasionally, with their families. With the elections upon us, the political booths were geared up, and we knew people at each. We stopped by the sausage sandwich booth where Nick and his sister Gloria still serve some of the best bit of heaven ever–but without one of our girls working at the booth, as was the case from 1993-2006. (Seriously–five girls went through the years, and each summer, they’d take a sister or friend with them. Nice people. We were happy. They made $250 in a week, just in time to buy school clothes. They were happy. Good all round.)

We’d agreed to split the fair over two days, knowing the capacity for sensory overload, so that day was the exhibits, food and games day. Being horrid, horrid parents, we started the morning with pie–flaky, fabulous, incredible pie handmade by a bunch of Methodist ladies that have been at this, some of them, for over 50 years. Blackberry, elderberry, blueberry crumb and peanut butter cream (OMG! To die for!), we tasted them all and closed our eyes in Bill Cosby-like gourmet delight.

Skipping the opportunity to try the new ultimate fair food, deep-fried peanut butter cookie dough (!!!) we grabbed instead a couple of hoagies, and a big basket of fried vegetables (what?! the children don’t like them?!! darn! we’ll have to eat them all ourselves! happy dance for the Cabana Boy and me!). Then we headed for the Exhibit halls where we admired quilts and honey, Lego constructs and photographs, bunnies and turkeys, wreaths and frilly dresses, and ultimately checked Little Miss’s entry in the youth category of the floral division.

She had planted sunflowers in the spring, an odd color of burgundy, as they turned out, and she dutifully carried her three-stem entry up on Saturday to be included. (Where, oddly enough, she found her classroom teacher checking in homemakers’ exhibits, and we all had a nice talk about the upcoming school year. Still a small world.)

So here’s what she entered:

Pretty sunflowers

Pretty sunflowers

And here she is with her sixth place ribbon:

We got a ribbon!

We got a ribbon!

So here in a small town, everyone can be Someone, and wherever you go, there they will be, too.

Accepting what comes–with humility

Now that the family love crisis is over, I wanted to acknowledge a very special award I received last week from Jeff Deutsch over at Building Common Ground . It’s called the Arte y Pico Award, and I received it because “Together with her husband, she’s raising two kids with autism and a third with ADD. She writes about her children’s progress with love, patience and strength.”

The award looks like this:(Isn’t it lovely?!)

and it comes with a set of rules, as most of these do, so here goes:

1. You have to pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award in terms of creativity, design, interesting material, and general contributions to the blogger community, no matter what language.

2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each winner has to show the award and give the name and link to the blog that has given him or her the award itself.

4. Each winner and each giver of the prize has to show the link of “Arte y pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5. To show these rules.

I visit so many blogs in the course of a week, I find it difficult to select only five who deserve such special recognition. (On the other hand, I suppose if each person picks five, who picks five more, who picks five more, soon we’ll all be selected anyway, and my quandary will be solved!

First, I’ll salute Dee who doubles her blogging fun at CEOmum-Parenting Is a Full-Time Job and Power of Attorney, a blog on attorneys who’ve found the practice of law less than thrilling. This week she’s a little Olympic-crazy (Go, Jamaica!) but it will get back to parenting soon!

I always learn something new from Melanie at Bean Sprouts. She is honored multiply in her native England as being one of the best “green” blogs, but her words on natural living and ways to help save the Earth always make me feel like jumping in with both feet.

Next, I’d like to tap the author at Understanding My Son who is walking the path so many of us have after a diagnosis of autism in the family, and confronting all her feelings, and sharing them in a thought-provoking way.

V over at Odd One Out has been so supportive of our struggles on a personal level ever since we “met,” at the same time she struggles with her own issues. Instead of brooding about herself (if that was necessary), she has turned her blog into a wealth of information for those of us seeking guidance on the Aspie life, and I’m very grateful.

And finally, I want to salute the “gentil folke” who rescued Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog, where it languished to near-neglect, and is now undoubtedly the most unusual “Extreme” blog around, claiming to be
“YWRITTEN BY A GLOBAL TEAME OF CREATIFS AND TRENDSETTIRS ASSEMBLID IN FELAWESHEP WYTH MUCH COFFEE.” I agree with the new authors: IT YS RAD! Check it out for your share of Olde English, and a good bit of round laughing. For example, their rendering of one popular television show, as it might have played in Chaucer’s time:

SO YE THINKE YE KAN DAUNCEN?: Thys episode openeth wyth all of the contestants in front of special guest judge Henry Bolingbroke. Oon by oon, he asketh each if he or she kan daunce. Yf he or she kan nat, ther ys a hanging. Ye who heare the recap of thys epsiode, think on whether ye kan dauncen, and what ye wolde saye yn front of nat only an earthli judge, but eek the high Judge himself upon hys throne at the final daunce. KAN YE DAUNCE? KAN YE? ANSWIR WEL OR THOU SHALT DAUNCE IN FLAYMES. Thus endeth the episode.

So thank you, Jeff, for your kind words and warm thoughts. I write this blog for myself, somewhat, but also to see if there’s anything I’m going through that either can help someone else, or I can learn from others. It’s the greatest gift of the Internet, in my opinion*; this ability to reach out across the great distances that separate us to share moments of contact. We should certainly take advantage of it.

*You didn’t think I’d say porn, did you?

Sweet Jesus! I’m starting to asterisk, like!

Call me Sophie

So how do you choose between your children?

Fortunately, this wasn’t life or death. I finally got all the babysitting arrangements, time off work and mortgage loan to pay for gas (just kidding. kind of.) arranged, so we could go see B when she came to Toronto, much closer for us than her gig out West.  We hadn’t seen her since 2007, and never know for sure when we will see her again. So we had to go, right?

I was discussing with B how great it would be to see her, etc., when she drops the bomb.

“You know that’s the day K graduates, right?

*blink*  “What?”

Um, no I didn’t know that. And wouldn’t it have been great for K to point that out when I saw her two weeks ago…. *sigh*

B continues very sweetly, “So I’d totally understand if you wanted to go see her instead. I mean, I’m always the one who thinks of others first.”  She gave an evil laugh. “Now which one of us do you love more?”


Now, last year, I drove to Iowa to see M and the grands, when they traveled from the Seattle area. I really do try to see any of the girls whenever I can, as long as it doesn’t involve getting on an airplane. So. What to do, what to do… I call K.

“Oh, yeah, they just told us about that. Sorry.  You don’t have to come. I’d understand if you wanted to go see B instead. Actually, I’d rather go see B than go to graduation.”

But it’s the hat thing.

She was moving up at culinary school from her “grasshopper” student cap to a Hat. She’s been accepted for the advanced year of baking classes next year, so there’s still her externship at the Biltmore in Asheville (which she’s very proud of snagging) and another ceremony when she finishes.  But… the Hat.

They both got great joy from tormenting me about the situation. I asked advice from any number of people, my hairdresser, my secretary, even the Cabana Boy. (He was one of the steadfast graduation votees.) Eventually K herself convinced me it was fine to take the Toronto trip. Her father had agreed to attend the ceremony, and one of her best friends promised to come dressed like me, armed with a camera and the appropriate proud tears.

So we did Toronto, which as you see, was lovely. K came home the following week with pictures and tales of how her chef-professors find her to be as engaging, witty and competent as we always have. And we indeed have a picture of K…and the Hat.  Bon appetit, all!

The Hat, the woman, the myth, the legend...

The Hat, the woman, the myth, the legend...

Toronto: Day Two

We debated many possible ways to spend the afternoon before returning to the States. My request was for a tour of the city, and the Cabana Boy was willing to oblige by being the driver. (Tho it must be said Canadian drivers are very polite, if somewhat unpredictable.)

First we headed to the waterfront at Queen’s Quay. Off on our right are islands, from which, C says, children take the ferry in for school and people kayak to work. The Harbourfront area is a new home for thousands of condominiums, springing up like recalcitrant weeds at the lake ends of the downtown streets. Summertime is festival time, and the Harbourfront is home to many events, including the largest vegetarian food fair in the world.

From there we contined east along the waterfront to St. Lawrence. Although known to tourists mostly for the St. Lawrence Market, with its history, antiques and archives, what I found interesting was the history of some of the very attractive apartment buildings C explained were public housing. In the 1970s then-mayor David Crombie decided that since the area was losing its industrial nature as businesses moved out of the city, that new residential areas would be built, but that they wouldn’t look like “projects,” as so many of these places do. Instead, the public housing would be built so it looked like any neighborhood in the city, and each building would have health services, libraries and schools right in them, integrating them into the neighborhood and providing residents with the services they needed.

Outside SOMA, a heavenly chocolate destination

Outside SOMA, a heavenly chocolate destination

Here we found the Distillery District, a pedestrian-only complex of preserved Victorian buildings, that used to be part of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Now there are a multitude of restaurants and small shops, many of them belonging to artisans who have banded together to create studios. While we were there, several artists were actively painting and weaving, and glad to speak to us. Live music also issued from one of four or five stages strategically placed throughout the complex–a charming walk!

Another interesting site was the Toronto Police Station for the 51st Division built into an abandoned munitions factory, restoring what they could of the front building and adding more modern facilities in the rear.

Uptown, past the University with its fine trimmed lawns,  we found Yorkville, near Bloor Street, the “tony” end of town. This is where you’d purchase your Lamborghini from the neighborhood dealer. The rental blurbs say residents can buy everything they need within a five-minute walk. At today’s petrol prices, that’s not too shabby!

We made a wide circle then through the international neighborhoods of this “world’s most ethnically diverse city.” There are four Chinatowns, each created in a different era, Little Portugal, Little Italy, the Gerrard area India Bazaar, a Greek community, and many other nationalities. C works as the director of an agency that helps train and service the many agencies who help new immigrants who come to the city. Canada recruits professionals from other countries to emigrate, he said, because the Canadian birth rate has declined in recent years. We drove past the public housing on Parliament Street where many of these new immigrants live when they first arrive, before they’ve really decided where to settle. But the biggest chuckle we got for the day was this:

Multicultural hair design, apparently

Multicultural hair design, apparently

Yes, it’s true: you can get Italian styles…in Chinese.

All too soon it was time to go. B and I have always been close, so it was a delight to see her; C was a charming host and a wonderful tour guide. I learned more about the city than I’d ever known, and I await my next chance to visit its beautiful neighborhoods. A bientot!

B and C at the Distillery

B and C at the Distillery

O Canada!

This weekend I had to make a traumatic choice between two of my children (a story for another day, when the scars fade), and I chose to make the trek to Toronto, Ontario to see B, who’d come in from Reno for a week to visit a friend.

I’ve been to this truly international and multicultural city several times, but never in the way we saw it in those 24 hours. Usually we’re concerned with the tourist elements–I’ve been in the CN Tower three times, I think.

A view of downtown Toronto, CN Tower on the left

A view of downtown Toronto, CN Tower on the left

B’s friend C, a long-time resident of the city, determined that he would show us the city like a native. He lives in a small flat on the third floor of a big brick house in a neighborhood full of them. Most of the front yards were gate-to-gate with effervescent bursts of blossom in every color, and nearly every flat had even the tiniest porch or deck attached, so residents could get outside and gather in the fresh air. C agreed with me that as with most of us northern-dwellers, every moment we can hold off the dreaded frost of winter is precious and must be celebrated by plant, animal and human.

One of many, many beautiful housefronts

One of many, many beautiful housefronts

We walked quite a bit, which brought to mind how much we miss when we travel by car, like these Queen Anne’s Lace after the rain:

Crystal drops of water line the stems like holiday glitter

Crystal drops of water line the stems like holiday glitter

Mass transit is de rigueur for the locals; besides the price of Canadian petrol, parking is at a premium and the cost of storing a car is high. The red and white streetcars are everywhere, as are the bright orange taxis. We also took the subway, coming out into one of four separate Chinatowns in the pouring rain. Luckily every shop seems to be a variety store and we grabbed umbrellas quick as the lightning flashing over the lake.

We had dinner in a crowded little Chinese/Vietnamese place on a corner. There was no silverware, and most people had steaming bowls of noodles that came with plates of the freshest mung bean sprouts I’d ever tasted and huge stems of fresh basil, both of which went into the broth to steam. The food was delicious, and C got several specialty dishes for us to try, like cold spring rolls with large leaves of fresh mint and anise wrapped inside, crisp fried spring rolls with a spicy hoisin sauce. For a country mouse like me, living in a small town where everyone looks pretty much the same, it was a delight to watch the faces of people of every nationality pass by the big glass window next to us.

As rain cancelled our plans for Shakespeare in the Park, we stayed in and taught C to play pinochle, and he got to see B’s killer instinct come out. We laughed a lot and told all those old family stories as B gloated over her sister’s imminent 30th birthday.

Sunday morning we walked to yet another incredible restaurant, this one called Mitzi’s, where we had crunchy-edged oatmeal pancakes with just a taste of vanilla custard, topped with a sweet strawberry rhubarb compote, or eggs scrambled with fresh tarragon and thick country toast, next to famous paprikaed potatoes and a pile of fresh fruit with each plate. Then we soaked in the deep character of the mainly Polish neighborhood along Roncesvalles Avenue, with its fresh fruit stands and many restaurants.

Our most important cultural lesson there was taught by this sign:

Or you could use the button to request the light to change.

Or you could use the button to request the light to change.

For many years, C explained, if one wanted to cross the street, one simply caught the eye of a driver and pointed the direction one intended to travel, and the cars would stop and wait. Even now, pedestrians always have the right of way, and drivers who violate this rule get a fine. So your mother was wrong; apparently pointing isn’t rude, it’s a way of life. At least in Toronto.

If you want to learn what happened when we attempted a car tour of the city on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s entry. Stay tuned, eh?