Monday, November 30, 2009

Turkeys, Thanks, and Giving

We had a lovely Thanksgiving Day here in Alaska. Snow fell and brought a winterscape appropriate for the Holiday and upcoming holiday spirit. Invited to our friends' for dinner, Yukon, Bear, and I relished an afternoon/evening with this Air Force family transplanted from Spokane. D. is Yukon's fishing buddy (of the bear/fish-avoidance episode this summer) and was excited to show us the finer points of deep-frying a turkey.

Rubbed with Cajun spices and whatever else is required to make a turkey carcass survive a 40-minute bath in boiling oil, the experience was new for Yukon and much anticipated. Despite a momentary and minor lapse of timing and temperature, the birdy boiler was a success and I swear I will never go back to cooking a turkey the traditional way. We're still gnawing on pieces thoughtfully provided for our continued sustenance.

Hope they don't mind us flying to where ever they are stationed in the coming years.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Update For the Wolf Den

Random moments of reflection already this morning. We're up, drinking coffee and watching the last of an overnight snowstorm filter the grayish light into our living room. Yukon and Bear are downstairs watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and I am cooking sweet potatoes.

This is the second year Wolf will not be with us for the holidays, and, perhaps due to a bit more growth on everyone's part, or perhaps simply because we are more comfortable with our roles and arrangements, the emotions surrounding this day and days to come have matured, too.

The spirit of 'Thankfulness'; it has been a part of Bear's preschool curriculum all week, it is on Facebook, in the newspaper, and thus, the concept rests in my own mind as well. But different, maybe than the usual.

What am I grateful for this year, about and for my Asperger's child, and our family?

I am thankful we found, almost by accident, CHYC. It is far away, but it is now Home for our son. Without it he, and we, would be in desperate need.

I am blessed by the people who have been placed, so strategically and carefully, into our lives this past year. People who are so incredibly precious to this journey and its outcome. Were we not traveling this road, our family's relationships with these individuals, while still valuable, would not bring me to a place of tearful thanks today. You know who you are.

I can say today, too, that I am grateful for Asperger Syndrome. A disorder that is frustrating and sometimes cruel, but one that does not allow our son to dwell on his position in life, at least not yet. He is generally happy where he is, who is is with, and for days that come and go with comfortable regularity. Holidays, thankfully, are tougher for us than they are for him. And, God willing, it will stay that way, for I am happy to bear this burden if it means his happiness.

Wolf is spending the day playing in the CHYC Annual Turkey Bowl. He stinks at football, but he has collected stats for college teams, has his outfit picked out, and his attitude hopefully adjusted. His first words to us were about his excitement for the game.

We could hear it in his voice. And we were grateful.

Thanks from us to those who give to him. Every day, all day, all the time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wake Up Call

Yeah, so, apparently we have become a bit complacent about the wildlife in our backyard.

Our first winter in Alaska was spent dilligently checking and re-checking the yard, driveway, and any other outdoor space for our favorite furry, antler-laden creature. Of course we had few problems then, probably because we were looking so hard for them.

By now we have come to a love-hate relationship with moose. They eat the garden, we shoo them away. They provide winter entertainment, we have something to show visiting family and friends. As long as they refrain from stomping their feet all overy our tender human forms, I am content, for the most part, to allow them their simple pleasures.

This morning we realized just how relaxed we had become in our moose-vigilance. It nearly cost our doggie his face.

The dog's early morning constitution usually lasts about, oh, 30 seconds. Yukon let him out around 7 a.m. and the sound of his paws running back up the stairs outside did not immediately bring me to the sliding door. Hmmm. Odd. Perhaps he dug up an old bone, not unheard of.

Dark outside (of course it was, it's always dark now), I nonetheless peer into the backyard and notice Dog is staring at the fence, on point (at least he tries), ears and hackles up. Uh oh. I call, he looks at me. I call again, he turns slightly towards me and again points. Crap.

At this point I decide to call Yukon, who brings a flashlight, smart man. Donning his Crocs and carrying the flashlight, he calls the Dog, who now begins to bark frantically. I was just putting on my own boots when I hear "Oh, God, there is a moose and it's right HERE!" along with a few other expletives that probably woke up the entire neighborhood.

Helpful wife that I am, I shouted "Well, grab the dog and get up here!" Easier said than done because Dog did not have his collar on and without it is more slippery than a snake, especially when trying to avoid his owner.

Meanwhile, Mama Moose, who had been resting next to the neighbor's trampoline, slowly rises to her feet as her Baby, curious of course, begins to point his own nose towards Dog in what I can already tell will be disaster. Yes, there is a fence, but a 4 foot chainlink fence is not, and never has been, an effective ungulate deterrant.

Yukon is chasing and yelling, Dog is barking, I am swearing, and the Moose are trying to figure out what to do. Finally the Dog goes upstairs where he promptly tries to climb in my lap, shivering. Yukon follows and tries the same.

Moose X 2 peaceably decided to eat the neighbor's raspberry canes in a show of diplomacy and hung around long enough for us to wake up Bear. 30 minutes later, they left to finish their breakfast elsewhere and Dog returned to his kennel to regain his composure. Yukon, well, let's just say that a romp around your backyard in your flannel pants and Crocs wasn't the best way to start a workday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Night Skiing

We've created a monster. Thanks to REI and an incredibly savvy department manager, Bear is now the proud owner of his own Alpina boots and skis, with an attitude to match. Now able to participate in Nordic lessons through our lovely Parks and Recreation department, Bear will join other 4-5 year olds in a once-a-week "lesson" (I use this term very loosely; I used to be a ski instructor)on the finer points of cross-country skiing. Yukon and I thought it was high time he got some skinny boards in preparation for his January class. Problem is, we can't get them off the child.

After two or three trips around the neighborhood during the daylight hours, and a lasagne dinner to fortify his little body, Bear announced that he wanted Yukon to take him skiing. Right Now. To the park.

In a flashback to my own Nordic ski opportunities, I recalled a four-day excursion to Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, WA as a child, where we went on a night-skiing adventure with the good-looking ski guide and then were relagated to the Lodge lobby while said guide, his wife, and our parents spent a few hours indulging in Apres' Ski beverages while we noshed on cookies and Shirly Temples, but I digress.

Wanting my own son to experience the mystery of skiing at night without the benefit of Alpine-area lighting, Yukon and I wholeheartedly endorsed the plan, stuffed Bear into his Carhartt overalls (yes, we ski in our Carhartts in Alaska, who cares what we look like?), headlamp, hat and mittens. The boys took off down the street and I was momentarily stopped for a second, watching my youngest navigate his skis and poles, remembering skiing adventures with my own dad.

Gone for about 30 minutes, I could tell they were coming back from the sound of "Angels We Have Heard On High" wafting from around the corner (Bear is practicing constantly for his debut as a sheep Christmas Eve). I opened the window and before I could even say "hello" a little voice shouted up to me.

"Mommy, we saw moose eyes at the park!!"

Now how can anyone compete with that? It's not every day one sees moose eyes and not the rest of the moose.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stop the Train, I Wanna Get Off!

Things just kind of turn out the way they are meant to turn out, don't ya think?
It's been a crazy week in my mind. Between working on an article for Portland Family magazine about single parenting and actually living as a single parent this week (Thank you, Lord, for my husband!), the Memory Train is moving at 90 miles an hour.

My piece for PDX Family is due in a week and a half, and deals with the assumptions, stereotypes, and otherwise interesting comments/questions from well-meaning but not always tactful people. I thought I had my single parenting years (all 9 of them) safely tucked away in the memory vault, planning to release them slowly over a bottle of wine someday with the right people.

What was I thinking?

I asked Wolf his impressions of our one-parent family years while on the phone with he and Therapist B. yesterday morning. Not surprising to B. nor I, Wolf harbors some resentment (I guess as any teenage boy would hold towards his mother) about the what-for's and why's of our situation back then. Those years were tumultuous, stressful, and probably not the way I would have planned to parent had I known better what I was doing. But I did the best I could with a child who demanded constant attention, if only from a subliminal place, without the support of a partner. At least for the early years.

Wolf sees his younger life as a blur, a collage of confusing people and events and places that all combine to make up "us". He does not claim to remember much about his childhood alone with me, and to be fair, there were a lot of moves, transitions, and otherwise difficult-to-understand concepts of which I am not particularly proud.

We were, and are, pretty inter-connected, Wolf and I. For better or worse, much of his inherent character traits were created by my parental design, and while we are a family in every sense of the word, the four of us, there still remains that piece of single-parenthood. I sense it every time Wolf gets angry at me, directly, when I recall past events from his early years, and when he questions about his birth father, my former husband.

So the memory train keeps shooting down the tracks, I keep writing and listening to single parents who, it seems, have "been there done that", and we all keep reminding ourselves that we were damn lucky to be where we are with people who put up with us and our baggage.

It's a wild ride, but I don't know if any of us would change it. Much.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yes, World, the Deep Freeze is Still Here

Perhaps I am beginning to forget from year to year about these cold snaps that suddenly grip us for weeks. At least, it feels like weeks.

I forget when this latest one began, so focused we are on hour-by-hour survival, Bear and I. It doesn't help that Yukon calls and says he's sweating down there in St. Louis. Perhaps now is not the time to tell him that his car is dead because I forgot to plug it in to stay warm while he is away.

This morning it was -15 at my house; the dog went out for only the briefest moment then came scrambling in, shivering from every visible body part and I'm sure the non-visible ones, too. The shades are down until the sun comes up, when I can't stand the darkness anymore. There is ice on the inside of my windows, but I feel like a recluse with shades down all day; I equate darn rooms with someone in the deepest throes of depression, and during the winter in Alaska there's enough of that already from many of my neighbors. So, up they go as soon as the sun crests the mountains; somewhere between 10:30-11:00 a.m. It gives me two or three hours of light and then begins its descent westerly around 3:30.

I have a meeting downtown this afternoon, and I am not looking forward to parking. I shall pray very hard to the Parking God that someone feels compelled to leave their space as I drive up. In an ironic twist, my meeting is to discuss an all-day sled ride/outdoor picnic in March during the Iditarod Re-Start. There will be no toasty warm car with heated seats on that day.

I'm going to go warm up my coffee now and put on some long underwear. I have to go get the newspaper off the porch, and the three steps from the front door to the newspaper box are three steps too far, on this morning.

Wonder if I can put schnapps in coffee before 10 a.m.?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When Yukon's Away, We'll Play

Yukon is in St. Louis this week, spending time recruiting military physicians for the VA in Alaska, so Bear and I are trying to fill in "dad time".

Our usual activity on Sunday afternoons is hiking (or snowshoeing or skiing now that snow is here), and today was no exception. We are fortunate to have access to hundreds of miles of trails nearby, so we chose one of our favorites for our first frigid wintertime trek.

The AKontheGO post describes in detail our trail logistics, and if you really care about that, you can link here. For those who only want to know how people can go hiking in 9 degree temperatures, I am happy to accommodate.

Since the invention of "Little Hotties", those hand warmers available by the gross at Costco, we have made great strides in our outdoor longevity. Bear is now able to last much longer than previously, with warmers stuffed inside mittens, boots, and sometimes pockets, depending upon the temperature. Today we lasted an hour with only warmers in mittens, as we were moving at a brisk clip and the sun was shining.

Part of my new mission with AKontheGO is to talk up the concept of getting outside for some stretch of time every single day, and blog posts reflect our desire to help other families discover the value of getting outdoors together. As a child of the Northwest and the daughter of a forester, this was simple for our family, and it remains simple now. But there are many who do not, and for them I will work harder.

Bear is stretched out on the floor of my office right now, working on some legos as we wind down our afternoon. The sun has set and the temperatures are dropping steadily; down to 5 already. Guess winter has made up for lost time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: Taming Worries

I have received quite a few questions lately on the topic of anxiety and Asperger Syndrome. While I freely admit my child is not (and really, are any AS kids truly the same?) typical in many ways, I can say that anxiety has been a difficult issue to confront.

Anxiety is not a defining symptom of Asperger's; I believe it shows itself once kids have begun to experience the social difficulties that so common to the disorder. Until about 4th grade, Wolf did not really appear anxious about anything in particular; he had some buddies at school, and while he did tend to have trouble settling occasionally in the classroom, academically his grades and effort were very good.

During the latter half of fourth grade, and certainly in fifth and sixth, when the girls magically grew women's bodies and in some cases attitudes to match, and boys started in the obnoxiously sweet practice of kidding, pushing, and generally kibbutzing each other, we noticed a difference.

Unable to understand the cues of such behavior and/or appearances, Wolf grew frustrated as he desperately tried to fit in. He failed miserably and grew more withdrawn at home and thus more anxious about attending school. Teachers did not understand; choosing instead to label him (sometimes to his face) as trouble, and so on and so on, etc. etc. ad naseaum.

At this point, I think, depending upon a child's personality and character, parents might see one of two things happen. In our case Wolf drew further and further into himself, prefering to read, watch television, and otherwise immerse himself in the fantasy worlds of Lord of the Rings, Dragonslayer, and the like; shows and books that depicted a hero who bests all odds to kill the bad guy. Looking back, I am sure that is how he felt, too.

A different side of anxiety, and one that a close friend is experiencing with her son, is a definite fear of failure. Not just at school, for he is homeschooled by the most patient, encouraging mother I could ever imagine, but everywhere. Sometimes kids are so frozen with fear of screwing up that they choose nothing. And nothing, we all know, while devastating, is still not failing.

Asperger's is more than a disability. It is who these kids are, ingrained in the very fiber of their confused souls, and I can only imagine the longings they feel to be like everyone else, even though they may have no idea what that might be. When Wolf was able to join me on a few outings in May, I could see his anxiety increase as our day of activities lasted probably longer than he could manage comfortably. He tried, oh, how he tried, to follow the guidelines set by the therapists and staff, and I don't think I have ever seen him as tired as when I dropped him off that evening. Anxiety wears down bodies as well.

It is frustrating for a parent to try and confront anxiety; we either lose patience after explaining the steps necessary to deal with the feelings and situations, or we, too, shut down and just ignore it, hoping that no attention is the best attention. But they don't get it. I am thankful Wolf has not had the violent stomach pains, headaches, and nightmares that plagued his sleep before he left for CHYC.

It is a lifelong process to manage anxiety; one that I am not sure I fully understand nor appreciate. We tell Wolf that the best he can do is the best we will expect, and we'll go from there.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bring On the Marshmallow World

It's a bit like Christmas, isn't it, that first snowfall of the year?

We woke up to the distinct "scrape, scrape, bump" sound of our neighbor plowing his driveway, a sound that only means one thing. When we went to bed last night, excited about the first real snowstorm of the year, we had no idea that the predicted 1-3" of snow would actually become 5" at our home in east Anchorage.

Of course, the first snow of the winter also means working out the system by which we, and everybody else operates under for the duration. Who will shovel the driveway? (Me, because I like the workout) Where are the brooms, extra shovels (for someone who likes to help) and buckets of Ice-Melt? Who will pick up the dog poop?
A Monday morning snowfall was perhaps not the preferred way to start a week, but here it was and we were ultimately prepared to deal.

Yukon left very early to complete a projectbefore he leaves for St. Louis this weekend, and he was also excited to test the mettle of the new SUV as only a man can. Bear and I left a half-hour early for preschool; a good thing since many people either did not get the memo about winter driving or chose to ignore it. One would think that Alaskans would be used to this sort of thing, but still cars dotted ditches and curbs as frustrated drivers waited for APD to help them out of their predicament.

Bear made me promise not to go out in the snow until he came home, so after lunch we bundled up, collared the dog, and ran and slipped our way around the corner to our local park, a much nicer place to be in the wintertime (snow covers all the grafitti, a sad fact of Anchorage parks).

Now able to navigate his sled with ease, Bear sprawled upon the sled as we made a few laps around the park to solidify a Nordic trail base. We use this park as an easy skiing track for Bear and to further train Jasper to skijor, and need to get the track set before the next snowfall, predicted for this evening.

It was a wonderful afternoon; the snow glimmered and glinted as we frolicked near the creek, the sun was warm on our faces, and spirits were high with glee only the first snow of winter can provide.

Tonight is the night to enjoy Chinese food and 'A Christmas Story', my picks for winning the Bet. Bear wants to watch the movie with us, and as any good mother would, I defered to him to choose among a few pre-selected titles. Not surprisingly, he did not choose a chick flick, so we will instead laugh at Ralphie and Nadafinga one more time.

We are cozily settled in for the afternoon; a chunky birch log blazes in the woodstove, we have hot chocolate and cookies, and a lovely stillness has settled over the neighborhood.

There is something about this day that restores my faith in all that is good.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


This is pathetic. After a month of plotting, scheming, and discerning weather forecasts, this is it??

No one won the bet, as far as I am concerned, so we are beginnning again, an unheard of show of frustration shared by most of Anchorage. Folks here are talking about the lack of snow like farmers discuss a drought and lack of rainfall. I feel like I ought to be standing next to a pickup truck, cold beer in hand and dog in the front seat. "How much didja get at your place? This keeps up and we'll have frozen pipes and those democrats will blame it all on that Glo-bal warming everywhich where."

Yup, it sure is hard to live in Alaska right now, what with now-brown Mother Earth as a landscape which to view as we struggle to fathom this most uncomfortable season thus far. We don't know what to do with ourselves, and we're getting all out-of-sorts.

Our new dates for snow were discussed and settled last night at the dinner table: (and remember the rules; snow must cover the GRASS. Sorry Yukon, the street does not count)

Yukon: November 13 (he hopes a superstitious day will help things along)

Mom: November 10 (haha I have checked NOAA this morning)

Bear: 10 days (we had to help him with this; translates to Nov. 16)

Wolf: November 18

Put in your bets. If Bear wins everybody is invited over for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a premier showing of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves'. Oh goody.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: Making a Connection

Students at CHYC are allowed to call home a few nights a week, depending upon their status on the ladder of progress. They can always receive calls from family, but the privilege of picking up the phone and ringing home is reserved for those who have at least made the barest of effort to progress.

Wolf, like many kids (especially boys) with AS, does not see this as a particularly strong reason to achieve the weekly, and sometimes daily goals that have been set for him. Conversation-starting, and maintaining, is difficult at best and sheer torture for him at its worst.

One would think that calling home would be a positive reward, and for some kids it remains so, but Wolf has perameters placed upon his call structure so that he, and we, do not spend our fifteen minutes of precious contact with ur son learning who got in trouble for what, or why, or how. Kids with AS tend to obsess about things only interesting to them, and the rule-breaking antics of some of his peers is Wolf's achilles heel. Talking about something else is, shall we say, not his favorite way to spend time with us.

So in a strategically brilliant move, if I do say so myself, therapist B and I came up with a plan to teach Wolf to engage and impart some of the skills he is supposed to be learning. And he cannot do a thing about it. Hehehe.

I laugh because I do not know many teenage boys who really wish to talk to their parents at all, never mind the interference of a social disability. But our son is now required to call home three nights a week regardless of progress status, and must ask about us. How we are, what we are doing, the state of affairs in Anchorage. Just about anything.

Mundane? Yes. Pointless? Not at all. The life of a person with Asperger Syndrome is such that every skill we learn on instinct must be taught with a rote learning method similar to learning times tables or spelling words. Memorization, practice, and more practice.

I'll gladly take fifteen minutes of talk about the weather if it will help Wolf's future ability to talk about something other than his world. It's just nice to hear his voice.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Guess We Spoke Too Soon

One should, I have learned, not be too optomistic when it comes to the Swine Flu. A week post-flu has only brought a surge of other bugs that, the pediatrician explained to me, charge forth while someone's resistance is down due to the flu.

A cold had been lingering behind Bear's flu experience, not particularly bad as colds go, but certainly a nuisance to a busy little boy hoping to get back into his usual activities. I am doubly glad, now, that we forewent outdoor trick or treating last night in favor of a Halloween party at Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, as I am sure the 17 degree weather would have made things worse.

As it was, Bear ate no candy yesterday and still had a stomach-ache by bedtime. Thinking it was the way he scarfed down a grilled cheese and fries with friends at our favorite Girdwood eatery, Yukon and I thought little of it. But around midnight (well, 11 p.m. after we set the clocks back) the desperate sound of "Mommy!" reached us in the living room. Yep, a big mess insued and thus another hour of cleaning, changing, and mopping up evidence of the newest bug to hit our child.

Fortunately an isolated incident, there was no more throw-us-uppus but Bear slept in until 10:30 a.m. and is still lounging in his bed, watching the portable DVD player (I throw away all pre-conceptions about this thing; I love it for sick kids) with a 101 temperature.

Since we all had a noticable lack of sleep last night, we skipped church (they were probably glad to not have us there spreading germs, anyway). Yukon has taken advantage of a Sunday at home to try and snag a new television at Costco and I am staying home making a big pot of soup and, once again, sanitizing the entire house, removing Halloween decorations, and drinking coffee.

Pending any further illnesses on the part of the family, I am sure we all will we be functional by Christmas.