Saturday, August 30, 2008

Godparents Visit Bear

At least, that is how Bear sees it. As far as he is concerned these folks came up to see only him.

Longtime friends of Yukon and I, M and P came up on Thursday night and even brought the good weather with them. M is celebrating a five-year anniversary of battling cancer; this is the Cure Year. Having her with us to share in the delight of her godson is a treasure, indeed.

Bear wanted to show them the Anchorage Zoo on Friday, so off we went. The photo above features P and Bear standing on the moose viewing platform, his favorite spot. Why, I am not sure, as moose viewing for Alaskans is about as exciting as seagull viewing for Washingtonians.

Today we went to Girdwood for a very special event. More on that later.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain and Who?

Sarah Palin, that's who. When Yukon called me at the crack of dawn to tell me that our Valley Governor, Sarah Palin, had been selected by John McCain as his running mate, my response was probably like everyone else's.

"Are you kidding?"

Oh boy, the media is going to have a field day with this. Troopergate, Wasilla, Yup'ik husband, beer nuts, Wasilla, Iron Dog snow machine race, frumpy dressing, Wasilla....

I hope the Repubs know what they are doing. Uncle Ted has bumped heads with her lately, that can't be good.

Visit the Anchorage Daily News site to catch local impressions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Maternal is Political, Please

The CEO/Editor of MamaLit, a book review site I contribute to, has asked that we mama writers plug the site one more time. So, here I am, pitching the site again. Especially since my review of The Maternal is Political, by Shari MacDonald Strong, is the August/September book club pick.

I have unsure whether the lack of comments for the review is due to lame writing on my part, or disinterest in nonfiction on the part of readers.

Go to the site, read the review, leave a comment. I'll be glad you did. So will my editor. The link is on my Blog List, or above.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Voting, Bear Style

I took Bear with me to vote this afternoon in Alaska's hotly contested Primary Election. Whoohoo, it's gonna be a late night in front of the telly to see how things shape up.

Bear was a little unsure of which process we were undertaking, calling it "going boating" instead. I clarified the word and he asked what "that voting thing is". For lack of a better explanation, I told him voting was how we decide who is going to be in charge.

He replied, "Mommy, I already know who is in charge. You."

At least now I know some of what I tell him sinks in.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Got Berries?

I skipped out on my Sunday afternoon run in favor of pursuing the first real berry picking expedition of 2008, finally. With our cloudy and cool summer weather, there was some doubt as to the fate of the berry season at all, but we trundled up our buckets, bug dope and goofy hats and drove up to our favorite berry location.

Arctic Valley is Anchorage's very-berry playground. A small ski area in the winter (Alpenglow), the valley entertains hundreds of berry-seekers young and old in the latter part of summer.

Almost immediately upon veering off the main trail, we discovered our cache of crowberries, the little, dark and not-very-sweet berries that I find make the best jelly and syrup. Bear brought his army trucks and amused himself quite well among the little trails and byways nearby. We didn't have to worry about real bears up this high; they are all down near the salmon streams, so it was a relief to let him wander with relative freedom.

My biggest asset (besides the endless energy of Yukon) is the berry catcher, a handy scoop with tines on the end that makes berry picking a thousand times easier. We collected almost five quarts of berries in our short visit and I am now cooking down a quart of them into juice before I go to bed. A lot more to do tomorrow. The juice will be made into syrup and jelly in time for our trip down South in a few weeks. Yes, I am indeed funneling syrup into a beer growler. It was handy and just the right size.

After such a stressful week, the berry ambiance was exactly what all three of us needed. The air smells like autumn, the laughter of kids traveled down the mountainsides, and berries plunked into our buckets (like my Easter Bunny one?) with confident "plops", noisy at first, muffled later as we filled up.

So Alaskan, so good.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Road Ahead

Wolf and I parted on Wednesday afternoon, both of us ready to return to our daily routines. In fact, Wolf asked if he could go back to his English class, which was being held in the courtyard outside that day. Not one to stand in the way of learning, I told him to go ahead, and that was that.

I had time to continue up the road from the school towards the huge copper mine. The weather was still hot and dry with a stiff breeze coming from the east making the day seem cooler than it really was. This photo is looking west just a short drive from Wolf's school.

I climbed on the plane at 9 p.m. City time, and landed at midnight Alaska time. Yukon allowed Bear to stay up late and come to the airport to meet me. It was heaven to have another child's arms wrapped tightly around my neck after releasing his brother's a short time before.
Looking ahead. Always looking ahead. Even if we can't see the end of the road.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wolf, in Person

Yes indeed, my son is as tall as me. I was able to take a few photos of Wolf this morning, thanks to his kind and supportive therapist, S.
S. had asked how Bear was handling the absence of Wolf, and I reflected that he had been saying "We sure do need a broder around here." S. decided that little "broder" seeing big "broder", alive and well, trumped the usual rule of no cameras in the building. For this I am so grateful.

That decision was but one of the many ways CHYC keeps the entire family under its wing. AS affects everybody, especially when the student is far from home, as, I found out today, 90% of the kids are. This was confirmed for me when the school van pulled up to the entrance around 8 a.m. to deposit a mother and daughter, fresh from the Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole experience of a redeye flight.

Wolf and I planned my last day (tomorrow) with care. More Scrabble, a few magazines, Quiznos subs, and some goal-setting for the family visit in November. God willing. It is back home Wednesday on an evening flight, back to the other boys, back to the routine. As it stands for now.
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Monday, August 18, 2008

In Wolf's Den: Reflections

Today's visit was shortened to allow Wolf the necessary time to digest yesterday's actions and their consequences as they relate to my visit. I had a little time to check in with other staff and be validated, an important thing for any parent, even more so for those of us living with and raising up children with AS.

One of our projects this morning was learning the process of problem-solving. I will list the six steps as I found myself thinking it might just be helpful for grownups as well. After all, how many times a day do we find ourselves in situations that need careful problem-solving? Personally, many for me.

1. Stop and Think. How do I feel? (like strangling the kid who just flushed a whole roll of toilet paper down the already slow toilet)

2. What's the problem? (Hmm, water dripping down the basement light fixtures in a beautiful cascade; errant child hiding under the bed)

3. What can I do? (We list 3 choices here, some positive and some negative. Me, I can spank the child, I can put child in timeout, I can make child help clean up mess and follow the plumber around)

4. What will happen if I do each of those things? (Important here; stating clearly the consequences of each action helps us see exactly what could happen).

5. What is the best thing to do? (This sometimes can be tough; we all would like to give in to our impulses regarding the wrongdoer, sometimes going back to consequences is valuable here). I think that making the wee child follow the plumber around and learning how to operate the washer and dryer is valuable.

6. Be happy with my decision becaue I stopped to think and solved my problem! (Yippee! See how well this can work for a mommy?)

I had a nice day exploring the City. Very hot weather made it even better. Took myself out to lunch, even, and read the whole paper.

Both Wolf and I benefited, hopefully, from a day of reflection.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

In Wolf's Den, or, Wolf, Raw

"What I am is good enough, if only I would be it openly."
-Carl Rogers

Living with Asperger Syndrome is kind of like being able to speak but not hear. You know that someone is saying something to you, and that they expect an appropriate response, but since you are forced to guess what they are saying, your response is often very different. Only those who know of your condition are able to adapt their style of communication to meet your needs. And sometimes, even that doesn't work.

It became evident to me, now looking at Wolf from the outside, that life is very difficult and confusing from his perspective. Perplexing, even. People expect him to act on, speak of, and decipher all the social cues that the rest of us send and receive on instinct. When he cannot, another brick is added to the fortress he has built around his body.

Today was tough; arguing and provoking is still the moat to be crossed before any progress can be made and those bricks can be dismantled. A child with AS is at an additional disadvantage. The placement of Asperger's on the Autism Spectrum means a kid is intelligent and aware of something "not quite right" about himself, and yet he does not have the hard wiring to mitigate it. Nothing worse than knowing you are quirky or wierd, and not believing you can fix it.

Those bricks of self-doubt, anger, frustration, and fear are as strong as any castle wall, and ironically present the barrier to any freedom as well. Staff at this school work very, very hard with all of the students to gently yet firmly remind, coach, and when it becomes necessary, tough-love their charges into the desired realm of behavior. And we as parents need to trust with absolute certainty that this is the right way.

Pushing out the bricks one at a time may be the only way, and the long way. But the staff of the school feel that the one-at-a-time method is better to preserve the fragile prince or princess inside who hasn't seen the light of day in years.

We had a good day, despite the struggles. Scrabble, lunch and dinner together, and some honest learning time to bring both of our lives into some focus as they relate to each other. Tomorrow we begin again.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

In Wolf's Den

The flight attendant warned us about the sun before we even left Anchorage. "Keep your window shades down," she cautioned. "The sun will be rising as we come into the city, and it can be overpowering." The tone was set.

With a smooth flight and even smoother collection of bags and rental car behind me, I pointed my little blue Honda southward towards Wolf's school. It is quite beautiful down here, hot and sunny, and the mountains stick up like sentries surrounding the city.

The school itself is located in an area that was formerly considered the countryside. Now the encroachment of suburbia and all that goes with it have the school smack in the middle, not necessarily a bad thing.

I arrived just after breakfast time for the kids, so Wolf was ready and waiting for me when the front desk called. It was a long and lanky young man who walked though the double doors, Dungeons and Dragons book in one arm, the other stretched out to give me a welcome hug. I might add here that Wolf is as tall as me, but with bigger feet.

He introduced me to his counselor who suggested a tour of the school. Built in a circle, the facility has a lovely courtyard in the middle, landscaped through a grant from Lowe's Hardware. It is a nice place to visit and listen to the waterfall, smell the flowers, and get some fresh air. The kids also use it as their freetime area.

Wolf was a bit anxious as we approached his peers, but settled down to play some Scrabble and have a fruit smoothie from my first trip to Target (there were two today). We had a nice time just catching up and rediscovering each other, a very crucial beginning to building up a "new" relationship.

Wolf ate lunch with his pals and I went to his room to investigate his outgrown clothing situation, of which there was much. Before heading to my hotel I ran into Target again for a try at sizing clothing to a kid who is not really a kid anymore. Coupled with my post-red-eye stupor, this lasted about an hour before I had to stop and go to the hotel for a nap.

Before I left the school, Wolf and I agreed to share dinner together, so I brought his favorite McD's, along with strawberries and some really, really good cookies with frosting that I had to have. Really.

I had intended on staying with Wolf for a while, but he was so excited about his new duds, and the sheet/comforter set I bought, that he wanted to go to his room and get his stuff all "fixed up." So we parted company early; probably a good thing since the day is catching up to me.

I don't have much insight to offer at this point; it felt a bit like we both were a bit unsure of what to do with ourselves, probably because he can't leave the school and I am still learning just where we are allowed to venture within the school's walls. But I am not to worried; today was a reconnection day, tomorrow will be its own, and at least I am here.

Wolf says hi to everyone, and pledges to work harder on writing letters or postcards. It will be difficult to post any photos of him on this visit, since he is on campus, and the campus has clear confidentiality rules that I certainly respect.

Like the sun, the day was powerful, but beautiful.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Update From the Wolf Den

The computer spit out my itinerary with a few thumps and a sigh. There it is, the e-ticket to visit Wolf this weekend.

Our conversations lately have been few; Wolf is having some struggles with accountability and it is frustrating for him, and for us, especially over the phone. He is, however, very excited for my arrival, probably as much for a "taste of home" as anything.

Requests for books, Pokemon cards, and spicy Cheetos have been made, and my bag is rapidly becoming less about my stuff and more about his. With the next visit not scheduled until late November, I also need to transport warmer clothing (hard to believe with the temperature down there in the mid 90's today). And bigger clothing; Wolf has gained upwards of 12 pounds since his arrival, in part, I am sure, to a combination of daily exercise and starchy institution food (which he loves).

Unfortunately, Wolf will not be able to accompany me off campus on this trip. The point system that rewards kids for making responsible choices and upward strides is a quite a few shy this week. We had thought that notice a month ago of my visit would provide the incentive needed for Wolf to step up and make the points happen, but it did not. Hard, but necessary tough love perhaps will win out and provide motivation for the next trip.

My flight is a red eye (the only direct flight Delta does to this city) so I am sure Saturday morning will be emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting, given my propensity for hating air travel at any time of the day combined with a first glimpse of my child's face.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Home Grown Grub

Well, maybe not grown, exactly, but caught here in Alaska. Our freezer is now full, courtesy of our own efforts and those of our life-saving friends who offered us a ton of salmon and halibut. So, in addition to the previously mentioned clams, we now have scallops, halibut, salmon, rhubarb, rhubarb juice, and cranberries. The only thing missing is the big game.

Yes, the hunting permits have been issued to Alaskans, published in our paper for all to see. We do not pursue anything that does not swim or otherwise live near the water; I am content in this weakness. But we will, I can safely say, dine enthusiastically on whatever large animal our friends get and share with us. Thanks to the carcass drop-off.

Most sausage and seafood outfits in town also have game-processing facilities to aid Alaskans in their efforts to use all of their wild game. One of our favorite haunts is Indian Valley Meats, down the Seward highway some 25 miles. We like it because in addition to fabulous local sausage, they also have great salmon (smoked and pickled). They also have the best sign telling people where to drop off their respective carcasses.

Mind that you do not drop off the wrong carcass at the wrong door, however. Bone in, bone out, half, whole, these folks got it down to a science and will process, bag, and freeze the whole darn thing in a few days. Nice when one has 100 pounds of moose meat to jockey into the freezer (of course, every self-respecting Alaskan has a second freezer).

The tourists don't much care for the sight of dead things on the loading dock; maybe that's why hunting season begins after labor day. The ones yesterday had a hard time watching two guys unload their smelly, bloody fish from no less than five coolers. We'll see who's really crying when they get home and pay $20 a pound for halibut!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hiding in Halibut Cove

I think every writer fantasizes about the "perfect scenario" to write his or her masterpiece. I found mine last weekend while we were down in Homer.
Halibut Cove is located across Kachemak Bay from Homer, accessible only by boat; about a 45 minute ride. With 200+ residents in the summer and a mere handful in the winter, Halibut Cove is built upon the rocky shores and inlets of an Alaskan gem.

Our friend's parents had treated us to a special dinner at the Cove in honor of her birthday (extra-nice since they live in Nashville, TN), and the trip was the capstone of the weekend, for sure. Yukon and I discussed the possibility of renting a cabin there next summer to experience the ultimate in Alaskan relaxation. No internet, no television, no cars, no worries.

Note the photo displaying the small burial spot of a young girl. We discovered this gravesite after walking along a local path to the bluffs. I found it fascinating. What had happened? Who was she? No grave marker, no information was on the marker. Her blue eyes were mesmerizing to us in the evening light, the wind whispering around the wild grasses and wildflowers planted there. It was a sobering, yet somehow joyful spot, and I stood there for quite some time.

Sometimes peace comes to us in the most remarkable ways.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Momma Moxie

One of my newest adventures is working with MamaLit, an online book review/book club site operated by an incredibly hard-working mother in Portland. A fellow blogger at Working Mother magazine, she started MamaLit to enable busy moms to read reviews of hot books, fresh from the publisher.

My book to review was a bit of a departure for me. "The Maternal is Political" is a collection of essays by mothers across the spectrum of politics and social awareness. Anna Quindlen, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Kingsolver, and other fascinating woman writers are allowed to speak their minds about motherhood and social change.

I read the book as I jetted down to Seattle in June, and read it again on the way home; it was that good. I believe it hits store shelves soon, so read the review at the MamaLit site, available here or to the right, under my Blog List. Perhaps you will feel as I did and become refreshed by Mom Power.

Vote Mother this year!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Clamming Up

Clam digging as a kid was a highlight of any trip to the beach, so Yukon and I decided to head out of Homer some 16 miles towards Whiskey Gulch, where we introduced our friends to the dirty, wet, and addicting sport of clamming.

The nicest part was that the kids were so easily amused by the holes left by the shovels and clam gun that we didn't have to worry about them a bit. They also were intrigued by the clam gun that magically sucked up a razor or butter clam and deposited it on the sand. Holes, mud, water, and sea creatures; heaven. Even the sand in their sandwiches later on didn't dissuade them. They had a great time.

My job was to reach into the hole and try and dig out more. I got pretty good at it. We ended up with nearly 50 (not even close to the limit per person) and decided to stop there, realizing that we had to go home and clean the suckers.

I won't go into the cleaning process; my friend had nightmares about it afterwards. Let's just say that they look a whole lot better all cut up and nicely frozen in bags...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fishin' and Campin'!

Little Bear's favorite saying, accompanied by the moves pictured here. After a weekend amongst friends down in Homer, sunny weather, and lots of seafood (clams, scallops, and halibut) for the freezer, I think we all should throw our hands in the air in thanksgiving.

More photos coming tomorrow, but to appease those who are wondering if our weekend restored our faith in humanity and ourselves; indeed it did.

There are some happy campers in this house tonight.