Thursday, July 30, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

I think less than a month ago I was wondering when it was going to rain.

I am taking that back, now.

My lawn is so wet the worms are drowning, and my strawberries (whimper) are rotting. I had to pick many yesterday to be sure I got at least something, even if they were not really ripe yet.

At least the brussel sprouts are continuing their growth spurt, they are now taller than Bear. I'm going to have some huge cabbages, too.

When the rain stops I'll take a picture; right now I'm not going out there...

I only hope that summer is not over, compared to the temperatures the Lower 48 is experiencing, we are downright wintery!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den

Another Hour of Power with Wolf wrapped up about a half-hour ago, and as usual, more interesting insight into the world of a child living with Asperger Syndrome has materialized.

Funny how clear the issues become on some days, and how murky those same issues appear on others. Usually it depends upon Wolf's level of tiredness, either real or perceived, as to how much information we glean, but today, despite feigned exhaustion, we were able to pull some "stuff" from his innermost self.

I know I have written before on the subject of anger since kids with AS rely upon this emotion as the umbrella for the other, not so positive ones on the list. Shame, fear, sadness, all three are fairly complicated and difficult to discern for a child who has trouble describing any sort of feeling in the first place. Anger, with its surface-level location is the easiest and quickest way to release tension that is probably caused by the above, even if the kid doesn't know the whats or whys. All he or she knows is the flood of hot anger spewing out like lava from a volcano that if not channeled elsewhere, will burn badly.

The hurdle comes in finding that channel, the place for anger to go until it runs out and the real feeling underneath can be dealt with safely. Difficult and downright scary if one has spent a lifetime doing and saying things with anger as the emotion of choice.

B. gave Wolf some scenarios for homework along with some choices for feelings. He is to read the scenario and then circle the feeling he thinks best matches with the situation. I am thinking that parents of kids with AS or ADD could create their own scenarios and choices for feelings and then have a family meeting to discuss them, creating a forum for talking about perceptions surrounding emotions and how each individual handles them on a case-by-case basis. Heck, I think it would be a great exercise for families no matter their circumstances since feelings are a root of our relationships.

Next week we're going to read Wolf's assignment and see how far he got. Anybody else want to try their own? Below are some examples.

Scenario: Little brother sees his mom is on the phone and can't say "no" to going outside without a grownup. He goes out the front door by himself, wanders into the street and is narrowly missed by a passing car. Mom hears a horn honking and somebody yelling, so she runs outside just in time to see little brother standing in the street. She runs outside, grabs little brother and spanks his bottom. She is also crying. She feels.... EMBARRASSED/SHAMED, SAD, AFRAID

Scenario: You go to the swimming pool with friends wearing your new swimsuit. Your mom bought it for you so you haven't had a chance to try it on yet, but it looks so cool that you just know it will fit and everybody will like it, too. At the pool your friends are going on the water slide, so you do too. As you are going down the Master Blaster Slide, your new swimsuit, which is too big, you discover, slides right off you and you end up going into the splash pool with it mostly off your body. Everybody laughs and points at you when you come up from the bottom of the pool, and as you pull your suit back up. Your face is red and you start crying.

None of us have ever had any of these experiences, right? Let me know how it goes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Update From the Wolf Den; and it is Okay

I am taking a little break this afternoon while Yukon and Bear take a stroll up to their favorite trail. Despite a week of relaxation, it also has been a busy one, so a bit of time to myself is certainly welcomed.

We have not heard from Wolf in a few days, but had informed the school where we were and what we were doing, and so Wolf, in typical Wolf fashion, may be taking advantage of our absence to call other people on his "preferred phone list".

The question has arisen of the difficulty it must be for us to vacation without our other son. Difficult physically, not at all. The constant watching, preparing, and regulating every single action of Wolf that makes for anything but a vacation is not present, so in this respect, our week is not difficult.

I can say that, now. But we miss him; we miss him every time we pass his favorite beach or go to his favorite restaurant. Bear is insisting on a lot of pictures for Wolf so we can show him where we went...

Wolf understands, as well as it is possible for him to understand, that our life is not on hold while he attends school. After a year-plus at CHYC, the boy knows that there are some things he will miss, but he also knows that in a month or so we all will be visiting him in SLC. In that respct, he has grown.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stormy Weather.....

Don't know why, there's no sun up in the sky....yes, that old song has been a'playing in our heads these past few days as rain, wind, and falling temperatures down into the (gasp) 50's have us scrambling into our fleece.

We awoke last night to pounding rain and howling wind swooshing around the cabin; Bear was a bit frightened so Yukon had to go in and rearrange the night lighting system to get the child to go back to sleep.

Fortunately for all of us, however, was the fact that we were exhausted from our special evening event with our good friend, T. A great guy who lives in Homer, works at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, T. is one of the few people that Wolf connected with, and who connected with him. We count him as a valued friend, and whenever we come to Homer, he is one of the folks we look up first.

T. owns a boat, and the day before had dropped a crab pot at the bottom of Kachemak Bay. Hopeful that a few Tanner crab might be lured into the trap, he asked if we would accompany him on last night's pulling of the pot, to which we needed no second invitation.

A slightly bumpy ride ten minutes past the Homer Spit led us to the pot, whereby Yukon and T. proceeded to pull up 200 feet of line, revealing, eventually, 37 crab in the pot.

We were ultimately able to keep five, with the rest being out of season Dungeness crabs or too-small Tanners. Fine by us. You can see how much fun Yukon and Bear had on the outing; both were excellent crewmen.

On the way back to the boat harbor we stopped by Gull Island, where thousands of seabirds spend their summer nesting and raising chicks. Noisy beyond belief, the island is full of birds and their, uh, leavings. But it was fascinating to see so many species of birds, including the gorgeous Tufted Puffin, survive together.

Tomorrow might be just as stormy, so our clam digging adventure might be postponed yed another day, but I am sure we'll come up with something.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Peace Becomes Us

What is it about this place, that brings about a serenity that we are unable to achieve in our semi-urban town of Anchorage?

We are a shy 48 hours into our vacation to Homer, Alaska, and already I feel a definite lack of anything remotely resembling stress upon my body and soul. Although gray clouds and periodic rain showers dominate our weather landscape, the pit-pat of drops upon the tin roof of our cabin refresh rather and irritate us, and running along the beach in rubber boots and rain gear brings us back to my youthful days in the Pacific NW, where it seemed to rain every time we went to the ocean.

Yukon is in his element; playing with Bear at the shoreline, running with the dog, pouring beer with a free hand. His ability to put any thoughts of concrete plans from his mind is enviable, and I am trying my best to follow his lead.

Bear is a child in heaven. We geared him up for the upcoming fall and winter at the Kachemak Gear Shed (our place for things every good Alaskan should have), and he has spent the weekend wearing his new Grunden's foul weather pants in a state of sandy bliss.

We visit the beach at least two times a day; eagles and ravens accompany us, as well as just about every dog in Homer. It's a laid-back, mellow place, Homer; we are realizing with every trip down how much the town reminds us of our former home in Port Angeles, WA.

Right now Yukon is down at the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Co-Op obtaining the fresh run from the grower that arrived about ten minutes ago. Bear and I are taking a breather after some pilot bread and hot chocolate, and are admiring our fast-growing collection of rocks and shells that is taking over the south windowsill.

This is the place.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hi Ho, to Homer We Go

In our first attempt of the year at an actual, bona fide family vacation, Bear, Yukon and I are departing for Homer at some point today. I say 'some point' because packing the family truckster always takes longer than I imagine, and with the dog added into the mix of things, even longer.

The house is secured with its own babysitter (must keep those vegetables and flowers from wilting, don't you know), the refrigerator has been somewhat purged of items that might make for a disagreeable homecoming, and we're all set for an extended party in our favorite cosmic town.

More from the temporary Homerite family as soon as we get situated and I have a beer in my hand...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den

Last night I was up too late working on a piece for a Portland area family magazine, focusing primarily on our decision to move Wolf down to CHYC and the resulting ramifications.

As I clickety-clacked away on the laptop, it occured to me that perhaps this story is a bit more unique than I had originally thought. While Yukon and I were in the throes of painful parental decision-making, the ultimate outcome simply seemed the right thing to do for the right reasons, and the fact that the facility was a few thousand miles became secondary.

Of course we wish the State of Alaska provided resources for its own children, many of whom hale from villages so remote that parents/relatives of CHYC students cannot visit but once per year, if at all. We wish there was adequate and positive psychological/psychiatric care for children with such disorders as Asperger Syndrome, Bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, etc. beyond the minimal programming school districts and some support agencies provide. We wish there was another way, but right now it does not exist, so here we are.

CHYC is the only residential school that treats children/teens with Asperger Syndrome on the West Coast; another is in Texas, and if CHYC is full, children from Alaska go there. I keep telling the Clinical Director at CHYC to come on up and set up shop in Alaska, and I am only half-teasing.

One thing I wish we had was a more cohesive network of parents/caregivers from Alaska who have children in CHYC; a support system is crucial to the continuance of positive care for our kids even as they are away from us. Unit Director and I have been discussing this possibility; my background as a support group facilitator might come in handy to set something up, perhaps at minimum a casual meeting night.

Our circumstances are a bit different from other families who are facing the challenges of Asperger's; a combination of care needs and care availability was the driver in our difficult decision. But our love for Wolf and our desire to give him every possible opportunity for success isn't unique. We are parents, and like most parents, we simply look to what is right for our kid, even if it is difficult or out-of-the-box of "normal treatment".

But, then, I've never been one for traditional anything....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brussel Sprouts, Anyone?

Perhaps I should have planted only one bush of brussel sprouts, instead of four. One or two squash vines, instead of six.

This summer is so drastically different from last year, I couldn't help myself. With almost two months of little rainfall and near-constant sunshine, Alaskan gardens (and their gardeners) are singing and dancing in their rows.

I think today is the first day in a long time where it is chilly (only 65 degrees) and cloudy. Bear and I spent the morning playing with friends at a local elementary school and then took care of the errands we have neglected while the sun shone, much like other Alaskans who fear any time lost by mundane tasks during sunny days.

For those who wonder what vegetables are sprouting in the Kirkland garden, we have those brussel sprouts, purple potatoes, squash, beets, a few raspberry canes, four or five kale plants, and tons of strawberries. I have taken a lesson from my father and planted vegetables in the flower beds; interesting and productive.

We're headed to Homer, our home away from home, in a few days, where we'll relax at a cabin near the beach.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Wolf Den Painting

"Updates from the Wolf Den" have a new look, with the addition of a special painting to my blog posts. A few people have asked about the name, the change to the painting, and its background, so I am happy to oblige.

The name 'Wolf' came about by accident, I suppose. When searching for pseudo-names for my sons during the creation of this blog, I randomly chose Bear and Wolf, not realizing until much later the connection and irony the name implied with respect to the journey with our oldest child. Wolves are animals who operate under a strict social hierarchy and those who cannot, or will not, conform to that hierarchy are deemed "lone wolves" and subsequently shunned from the pack. I added "Update from the Wolf Den" as a reminder to myself and to readers that Wolf may think he is alone in this life, but we will not allow him to be so.

The painting that has replaced my Husky/Wolf picture is not of my own doing, sadly. It is, however, a watercolor painting by my beloved uncle from Marysville, Washington, who gifted us with portraits of both our children from photographs I had provided him. The setting is Seward, Alaska, the last family vacation we had taken with Wolf two summers ago. Wolf is engaging in his favorite pastime, beachcombing, and had just finished building a stone wall to hold all the treasures found along Resurrection Bay. It is my favorite portrait and, I believe, speaks volumes about my son. It hangs alongside his little brother's portrait, from the same vacation, in our hallway.

Thank you for continuing to read about our journey, and keep passing along the blog address to anyone you may know who is traveling a similar road.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where Are We, Again?

I am sure I must be mistaken. This sunny, hot stretch of weather cannot be in the Alaska I have known for almost four years. Not this place where I have been forced, under direction from the Anchorage Daily News' garden guru, to actually use my sprinkler for something other than a door stop.

Day Whatever of no measurable rain, and Alaska is on fire. Literally. On. Fire. There remain 62 active forest fires burning right now in the state, and due to a sluggish jet stream, most of the smoke has descended upon our little wilderness haven.

Smoke has been so thick that it has been declared "Unhealthy". The usual view of the green, lush Chugach mountains is obscured by interesting layers of smoke, and (this is the fun part)we have ash. Go figure, ash from a volcano in March, ash from a fire in July. We can't win.

The air smells like an overburned campfire and stings the eyes, including Dog's, whose tears have nothing to do with my refusal to give him the leftover pork chops.

Our photo montage of the week includes a BLM Fire helicopter swooping down upon the mommies and kids gathered at our local swimming hole to suck up water for a fire mere blocks away. Also shown is the view from our deck this afternoon, when Bear and I decided to make a break for it and go downtown (where the smoke is decidedly thinner) and visit our children's museum and have lunch at the Glacier Brewhouse. Sacrifices we make in the name of safety...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

From the Wolf Den: Cover Story

Every one of us has a Cover Story; coping skills we have used to manage our lives since childhood. When life deals us a blow, big or small, we use such skills to work our way through and hopefully come out the other side a stronger person. Cope. Deal With It. Adapt.

Coping skills are vital to our survival, and their success or failure depends upon our willingness to choose appropriate ones and to use them even when it would be easier not to. For example, taking a long run or listening to soothing music, expressing our emotions verbally or drawing out frustrations on paper; all are appropriate choices when we are under emotional "attack".

Children with Asperger Syndrome have trouble coping with life in general, and the staff at CHYC, from Day One, establish appropriate coping skills which are then factored into daily life. The hard part is getting the kids to use them. So many are already using coping strategies that are not appropriate; from alcohol use to lying to violent temper tantrums, they are simply ways the kids have found to mask the real hurt. Constructive or appropriate, not so much.

Wolf's cover story is headlined by his virtual shut-down when a painful situation or topic is introduced. It is indeed a visible reminder of how far he has yet to go. The coping skills developed over a year ago are still present, but they are choice #2when they need to be #1. Covering him like a thick blanket, the negative coping mechanisms overshadow the positive ones, while the staff, and we, work like anything to remove that layer.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Come Visit and We'll Take You Here...

New favorite trip. Hands-down the best yet we've experienced. Train ride, raft float, icebergs, cocktails, and incredibly sunny weather. Ahhh, Alaska.....

Read and see more at AKontheGO.
Click "Find Family Fun".

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How Time Flies

Someone asked me today how long we have lived in Alaska, and I had to stop and think a minute. Interestingly enough, or perhaps not so at all, I refer to our timelines as seasonal. Alaska, as I have mentioned ad naseaum, functions in so many ways dependent upon a particular season (or two, as we like to call them Winter and Un-Winter).

We arrived here in Winter. Just after Christmas, fresh from the deep South, and anticipating the many new stages of our lives, or so we thought.

Nostalgia trailed me this weekend, as I had time to catch up on a bunch of things that never seem to get done when Yukon is around (he was away fishing all weekend)

I hauled out photo albums to put away the stacks of pictures that seem to materialize out of nowhere, even with our digital storage on various computers. Alaska does that to you. I also took stock of what outdoor gear Bear and Wolf will need for their respective Winters to come (yes, we are already thinking of Winter, for it is but s few months away). Bear can fit into Wolf's ski helmet, he cannot yet fit into his long underwear, but I fear in a few years he, too, will grow like his older brother, leaving me high and dry for gear.

Sigh. Three Winters and Three Un-Winters. We're headed for Number Four. Amazing. Wish time had a tail.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cheers, Sarah!

I'm watching an explosive version of our Channel 11 news tonight after an unbelievable announcement this afternoon by our governor hottie, Sarah Palin.

Apparently while my family and I were enjoying a pre-Independence day train ride and float trip down South, our Lady of the Day was hosting a press conference on the deck of her fancy Wasilla home. For the sake of the Alaskan people, she stated, wiping an imaginary tear from her imaginary-prescription glasses, Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska, effective as of the date of the Governor's Picnic.

Oh. And why did this shake up occur? "It was the hell-yeah that clinched it," quoting the apparent votes by her family stemming from what must be a lousy way to live if you are the Palin children or Spouse.

There will be more, however. You betcha. As sure as Russia is right across the pond, there will be more. In the meantime, I'll raise a glass to certainly the most interesting year in Alaska politics...

Update From the Wolf Den

It's appropriate that we are coming up on Independence Day. I cannot think of a more fitting title for a weekend to kick off Wolf's first outing w/ his peers in almost a year.

Hitting the Super mark of the school's 'tier of success', Wolf was able to go with B. and a bunch of other stars to see 'Transformers' yesterday. This further convinces me that B. is a saint sent from heaven to attend willingly such a film with eight adolescent AS boys. From all reports everyone had a great time and succeeded in proving their ability to be like everyone else for a few hours.

Sounding excited and positive on the phone last night, Wolf was anxious to tell his dad all about the movie and outing. He sounded like any other teenager who had a night with his buddies...we'll take it.

Tomorrow the kids are going on a picnic; they'll have to participate in many preparatory activities and work together to accomplish their tasks. A tall order, but as B. says to us over and over; "once the light bulb goes on, it's WAY on".

Cross your fingers.