A day in the Steel City

We drove out of the rain in our little city, south to Pittsburgh for several items of business. First, our panel discussion and booksigning at the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley. We pulled together a group of authors from the western end of the state: Gene Ware, Cindy Lynn Speer, Sharon Donovan, Kathy Otten, Gloria Clover, Carole Waterhouse and me. We had a very interesting conversation with Maryanne Eichorn about the relationship between small press authors and indie bookstores, and the path to publication each of us had followed.

Sunset along Shiloh Street, Mount Washington

Then on to the rest of the day, taking pictures for the upcoming book trailers for CONVICTION OF THE HEART and SECOND CHANCES, since they’re both set in the city. The Cabana Boy and the kids took a trip down to Carson Street to explore the collectible toy shop and score a couple of Transformers.Here’s a few of the shots that struck me.

Since CONVICTION OF THE HEART is about a Pittsburgh attorney who defends and protects a battered wife of a city councilman, I expect our trailer will feature the courthouse and court rooms. Suzanne Taylor is a family law attorney and single mother who encounters a city police lieutenant interested in her. He’s just been promoted and finding the “joys” of supervisor status not exactly what he’d anticipated: bureaucratic delays, rebellious personnel, financial juggling.

But they find consolation and challenge in each other, while the danger escalates when the      councilman strikes back.  

And Pittsburgh is an attractive city, as well. Although the traffic is something we’re not used to, and neither of us were pleased to deal with.  Not sure exactly what events were going on last night, but there were reroutings and traffic jams and construction blockages everywhere! Also a lot of loud, rowdy folk traveling in Anderson buses, wearing Steelers’ gear:

Pittsburgh is a great place to set stories. I’ve got two novels about women lawyers coming out in the next year, and I think I’ll continue that trend in years to come. We can populate the city courthouse with many memorable ladies to come. 🙂

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Two days, two zoos

In the few short days between the time Little Miss’s school let out and summer school starts, I wanted to take her someplace, you know, just Mommy and me kind of thing. So we went to the Erie Zoo.

Compared to the Miami Metrozoo and even the Cleveland Zoo, Erie’s is pretty small. But it’s also intimate. Time after time, we came right up to the animals–the kangaroo exhibit is a walk-through where the kangaroos are all loose and hopping around where people are!

Little Miss got a chance to get close to her favorite, the giraffes:

The zoo also has a fabulous carousel with exotic animals of all kinds. Little Miss, of course, chose… A warthog?? What? Instead of a dragon? A panda? A giraffe??? Oh well. At least she’s diverse.

She also enjoyed currying the goats; not the same as goat curry, which you should not mention at a petting zoo, I’m sure:

The next day, my daughter S came to Pittsburgh from her home in Tennessee, with her new man. They were headed for the races, but they took time to visit the Pittsburgh Zoo, as he is particularly fond of such things. They’ve been to zoos all over the eastern United States. But Pittsburgh has something really incredible in the PPG Aquarium at the zoo, (see the website for video) where you walk through a tank of sharks and other fish as well as get a chance to see the polar bears swim right over your head.

I hadn’t seen her for several years, as we were out West last year when they came here, and she looks wonderful, having lost a hundred pounds after surgery. She’s back in school and working hard as a single mother trying to improve herself. And I appreciate that she’s taking some time to relax and have fun as a grown-up as well. This is a hard balance for all of us to maintain. She seems to be getting it right.

Here’s all of us enjoying the fishies:

Now if we could only figure out why all the monkeys were so excited after we left their area…and where Dr. Doo-Be-Do has gotten to….  hmmm….

Never a dull moment

Amidst the angst and carrying-on about the children, the Captain’s travails, Dr. Doo-be-Doo getting ready for junior high, and Little Miss fighting off a nasty ear infection, we have also become “home away from home” for two young ladies from China’s Capital Normal College attending the local private college for a semester.

They don’t live with us–they live in a dorm. They’re very busy with their studies, because the school is a tough one. But we’re on call if they need something, and we’ve had dinner together–Chinese people cook very differently at their homes! We have also made a trip to Pittsburgh, to see some sights, like the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Science Center. I’m not sure any of us really “got” Warhol and his co-artists, but the Shepard Fairey exhibit with the picture of Obama, the word HOPE under him, was displayed, and that exhibit was interesting.

The Science Center has a new sports activities center that had foot racing, all sorts of bouncing, flying, VR opportunities. The Cabana Boy and the Doctor climbed the rock wall–Dad made it to the top, Boy, not so much. We do have some pictures showing Dad’s best side. 🙂

See us here on the Overlooks on Mount Washington, doing our touristy best to show off a jewel of a city:

The girls had a good time here, but what they REALLY wanted to do was stop and visit the Prime Outlets at Grove City.  I’ve promised to take them and some of their friends who traveled with them for a full day there, once the weather gets nice. I guess girls will always be girls. 🙂

Into the big leagues

In our rural neck of the woods, we’re pretty fortunate in terms of autism diagnosis and treatment options, first because of the medical card loophole which means that wraparound services, among others, are covered by the state, and second because most communities have autism-trained wrap programs. Up until now, we’ve been able to treat within a 30-mile radius.

But the Captain’s ongoing saga has finally driven us further afield. None of the medications seem to be having an effect and there are still multiple infractions at school and home each week. As the school psychologist said, “There are always social concerns with Asperger’s kids but they are capable of internalizing and learning appropriate behaviors-especially when they are as bright as he. Typically, as they get older, the Asperger’s tends to fade some. He is getting worse. I could be totally off base here but I have been thinking about it a lot and, with the efforts that have been put forth at home and at school, there is something else going on.”

So this week we went to Pittsburgh to the Watson Institute, which has quite a reputation for diagnostic programs, to see what else is going on. We spent an hour and a half with a psychologist and her intern going over the 19-page intake packet and other documents they’d requested we send, fleshing out info they wanted to have for testing purposes. Next we’ll go back for a full day of testing for the Captain, as they look at the Asperger’s, ADHD and attachment disorder possibilities among others. Who knows, there might be something brand new in the picture none of us have considered!

Once that’s done, we have to go back for a review session to go over the testing results. I told them that if we need to treat in Pittsburgh to be successful that we certainly would. 200 miles roundtrip is a lot, but hopefully we wouldn’t have to do it often. Pittsburgh is a pretty cool place; we’d just have to make it a family outing or something. But they seemed to think we could bring the results back here for our wrap people to implement. Either way. Just so progress is the upshot.

This and the unavailability of respite is taking a lot of our mental stamina. But we’re hoping to see through this to a more positive direction soon, perhaps as soon as the turning of the year.

We continue to focus so that both of the other children are able to have our attention as needed, and they seem to be doing well. Dr. Do-Be-Do has finally matured into an understanding that teasing can be gentle and loving instead of hostile, and his quick temper has faded. Little Miss is moving into regular conversation modes, initiating conversations and breaking into others’ conversations with relevant questions and material– a big step from never responding unless skillfully questioned. In with the good, out with the bad, that’s what we say!

Running out of time

How does it happen, every year? Summer starts when the kids get out of school and you have this huge vista before you, all the things you’re going to accomplish, both educational and just-for-fun, and the next day comes, and the next–and suddenly it’s August already and almost back to school! How does that happen?!

Not that we haven’t done anything. All three kids have dutifully gone off to camp daily since the second week in June (with its three-hour round trip driving), until the annual visit to Memaw’s house. We’ve had picnics, and put up the inflatable pool (okay, so it’s a little green at the moment from disuse, but it’ll get better next week after camp. And some algae stuff.). We’ve visited family and friends within a reasonable radius (Hey, Jen and Seb!), had a blast at motel pools on the way, hit the Erie zoo, we’ve seen movies and plays.

So now we hit the stretch and all those things we were going to do this summer to get everyone ready for school are sitting at the top of the downhill slide. Little Miss has a stack of papers her teacher sent home, as well as learning a typing program so she doesn’t have to face so much handwriting as she enters fourth grade. Ditto Boy is going to spend days with his dad learning how to do household things–hanging drywall, repairing broken items, changing the car’s oil–all designed to help with his self-esteem and self-confidence.

The Captain — well. Seventh grade. The Cabana Boy has a program of computer learning ready for him, and we’ve finally decided to put a computer in his room with Internet access (appropriately limited) so his thirst for trivia can be fed and maybe he’ll just learn something. Plus, he’ll have access to online communities of peers who may be easier to communicate with, less ready to judge. Over the last ten years, my closest friends have been those I’ve met online, not in real life; maybe that’s not such a bad way to go.

There are still movies we want to see, places to visit. Our museum membership in Pittsburgh gets us into half a dozen places free, and we want to take the kids downtown to gaze up in awe at the crystal palaces of the business world. Two major Irish festivals remain, featuring Gaelic Storm, who delights us all. We’re not quite ready for Cedar Point or King’s Island, but we might try Waldameer. Still haven’t made it to the beach. Or the park. Or the library. But we’re gonna! Sometime! Maybe about midnight on a Wednesday in a couple of weeks! Hurry up! Time’s a-wastin!

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If you have any time left this summer, come visit the Parents Helping Parents Carnival, where there’s a lot of good advice and funny stories about the parenting life, and gain some perspective at the Carnival of Work-Life Balance.

So Long, and thanks for all the Mice

I have an excuse for not writing, and I trust the companion piece I’ll post later tonight as a separate page, will allay the irritation some blog readers have expressed at my long delay.

Primarily, the last two weeks have been spent appreciating the children–or more accurately, their absence–during their annual trek to grandmother’s house. (which is, oddly enough, over the river and through the woods in South Carolina. Seriously.) I had an agenda; several, actually, though Carol at A Different Nest and the Cabana Boy had perhaps the healthier attitude, which was to kick back. Ha! Fooled them, says I!

So, yes, we weeded the garden, and tended the influx of Japanese beetles. We mowed the yard. We cleaned–interminably–children’s rooms, clutter and closets and winnowed and sorted and threw out, threw out, threw OUT. We saw two movies without a babysitter! We stayed out late! We read books in peace. We got medieval for a day. We saw a play, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) which I reviewed for the local paper. This in addition to the regular work schedule, which was taken somewhat lazily while there was time to refresh.

But the best part was our reward, wherein we took a trip to the Culinary Academy at Punxsutawney, PA. They have a great program where members of the public and even parents can come for a formal multi-course meal prepared as it would be at the Four Seasons or the Biltmore, served in black tux apron and white gloves. K reserved a table for us, and we enjoyed an assortment of fancy feasts, straight through from lobster ravioli, ciabatta bread with mediterranean butter (butter whipped with some dried tomatoes and fresh basil and oregano–to DIE for!), veal and pork medallions, to the bananas foster or creme caramel with hazelnut cappuchino. The food was amazing, but even better was watching K in her element. She has so clearly found her niche, and she was confident, well-liked by peers and competent. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I found myself wiping away proud tears, seeing she’s grown into a young woman of skill. Watch out, Top Chef--K is coming!

From there, we headed west for an evening in Pittsburgh. I’ve always liked this city, and riding the T downtown for a walk among the skyscrapers as the sun wound down was fabulous. We weren’t sure where to eat, but we came across Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh fixture. For the uninitiated, the Primanti Bros. sandwiches come with coleslaw, slice of tomato and fries ON THE SANDWICH, melted together with cheese. Can you say dining heaven twice in one day? I can. Then a ride back up the Incline with a final stop in Oakland by the University of Pittsburgh for some Sumatran coffee and a killer blackberry scone.

In the morning, we took our time and cruised the bookstores off East Carson Street, where one of my novel manuscripts is set. The visit brought back memories of time spent in Pittsburgh as I researched my lady attorney and her knight errant, a police lieutenant, dealing with a city councilman with a secret to hide. I got the book, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, as people always ask if I’ve read that when I tell them I’ve written something post-apocalyptic. We meant to hit the Andy Warhol Museum, but frankly we were just having fun lazing. So we gave up and headed south.

Our destination was the New River Falls Lodge , a B&B on the New River just outside Beckley, WV. The Cabana Boy booked us the Riverview room at a price that compared with any hotel in the area, though as it turned out, our room became the whole building, as no other guests booked for the weekend. Everything was high-end, executed perfectly and delightful. Our host, Paul, was accommodating in every way. Canoes and rowboats were part of the experience, so the Cabana Boy and I braved the river, though not the rapids, and spent some time by the nightly bonfire on the river’s edge.

Friday morning, we went for a short drive to Sandstone Falls, a national park area, and this is the subject of my new page here. Incredible, incredible day. The woods, the water, the wildlife–a definite recharge. Topped off with some together time, we felt satisfied at last.

Saturday, of course, back to reality. We met the MIL in Beckley, and came home with the children. They were happy to see us, and vice versa, and we had an easy trip home. The oddest occurrence was coming downstairs this morning to find a window screen pushed loose, a small shelf of antique pitchers all over the floor, the mulch bucket dumped and chicken bones chewed, and the cat food bag ravaged. Clearly one of the feral cats from the neighborhood had discovered the loose screen and come in to get something to eat. He was gone when we got up, but right on the kitchen windowsill was a dead mouse.

You’re welcome, cat. And next time you jump up to come through the screen, I want to be watching when you hit the glass. Oh, yes I do.