Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fur Rendezvous Means Family Fun

It's our fifth winter in Alaska, which should account for many of our family's interesting habits, not the least of which include bizarre attempts at entertainment.

With a name like Fur Rendezvous, all sorts of interesting images might come to mind, but let me assure you that all intents are aboveboard and quite innocuous. At least, until next weekend when the Miners' and Trappers' Ball takes place, but that is another story completely.

At any rate, Yukon, Bear, and I, along with our good friends, took a field trip to downtown Anchorage today to enjoy a bit of Fur Rondy. The carnival atmosphere of the whole event, held since the 1930's, was to celebrate both the end of winter (sort of) and the return of trappers from a long and potentially dangerous season of trapping game. Pelts were bought and sold, much alcohol was consumed, and much celebrating insued as Anchorage saw the light of day for the first time since November.

Over the years a more family-friendly theme developed with carnival rides and other, tamer events became the norm. We enjoyed our day downtown, as the photo above illustrates. Not every day one can take a ride on a choo-choo in a snowsuit.

Friday, February 26, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Into the Lions' Den?

For several months now a little bitty idea has been rolling around in my head. An interesting idea, one prompted by friends and writing peers, and one that now has snowballed, appropriately, into something a bit bigger.

I've written about the conversations Yukon and I have had with the State of Alaska concerning Wolf and his progress, outcomes, and situation. I've pondered the recommendations from people who still do not completely understand the disabilities surrounding our child and the ramifications of a premature discharge from CHYC to merely meet a standard developed by other State of Alaska workgroups. "Bring the Kids Home" is an initiative launched a few years ago in cooperation with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Like many things that happen in local government, this one sounded good to me when a) I had no personal connection to the idea and b) when a half-the-story newspaper published, well, half the story in a feature article.

Apparently, from 1998-2004, out of state placements of children to Residential Psychiatric Treatment Centers increased 800% from previous numbers, especially among Alaska Native Children. In 2004, lawmakers understandably looked at these numbers and the subsequent costs and impacts of such placements and lost their marbles. Understandable.

BTKH was birthed from a financial nightmare coupled with the emotional backlash from families such as ours whose children, some of whom had never left the state (or their village, for that matter), are now living and eating and growing someplace else. Whoa.

So, the idea? To write it all down. To ask the questions. To find the other parents and bring my story into their world in the hope that someone else will find comfort. Or at least a partner in this absolutely crazy journey. Our autism-spectrum kids do not, at this point, have a place to belong here in Alaska. Time for some hopey-changey, I think.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


It's snowing. Snowing a lot.
Guess we're not experiencing spring just yet. 10 inches expected before the end of the day.

I had good intentions of attending a meeting of Get Outdoors Anchorage this morning, then to the telephone store to fulfill my promise of moving into the Twitter age with a new Android Hero. Bear and I made it about a mile before a school bus slid down a hill and stopped all traffic, so we turned around and settled in for a snowy day at home.

Right now I'm listening in on a conference call for the meeting I cannot attend in person, and Bear is watching Sesame Street, the lucky guy.

Snow shoveling is also on the agenda...a lot of snow shoveling.

Monday, February 22, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Finding the Good Stuff

I read a lot of blogs written by a lot of powerful, insightful, and loving moms, some of whom I've known most of my life, and all of whom face their own challenges when it comes to parenting their children. Lately it seems as if those of us with special needs kids and teens are going through a rough patch. Maybe it's the season, maybe it's that our kids are all growing and changing and entering new phases of their respective disabilities, I don't know.

Reviewing my own blog last weekend, which I do once in a while just to check in on myself, my characters and sometimes in-your-face posts, I noticed one theme noticably absent when it comes to our oldest son; positives.

Not like the "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative" sort of stuff; that would be unrealistic. But I admit that for all the bitching and complaining I do about my teenage son's behavior, I sort of overlook the good stuff that is, without a doubt, still present and for sure makes up who Wolf is as a person as much as the Asperger's or OCD or whatever the heck is going on inside his head.

This has followed me around for the last few days as our family of Three Minus One took a break at a local ski resort. As we skied, ate, and played in the hotel swimming pool I became acutely aware of other teenagers' behavior, their mannerisms and modalities, and wondered, if just perhaps, I had buried the Good to manage the Bad.

What is it I miss?

I miss a barky sort of laugh that comes with little reservation at a Pink Panther movie. I miss stacks of science fiction novels beside a bed that is no longer in this room. I miss an incredible mind that can process facts and history's important dates with the efficiency of a PC. I miss the boxes of Legos and K'nex and nuts and bolts. I miss a boy who somehow became a man with little help from his mother but who still, somewhere, possesses enough of my personality to remind me of me.

Perhaps instead of burying what is good, I should take a lesson from Therapist B. and remind myself that there is always positive to reflect upon, every day. And to celebrate it with as much fanfare as necessary until we all believe it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Living it Up

Just when we needed it; another weekend away. Nice.

I'm sitting in front of a huge window at Alyeska Resort, the largest and oldest ski area in Alaska, watching the groomers pave a path in the slushy snow that has dominated landscapes across southcentral Alaska this past week.

We've been here since noon; Yukon and Bear had lessons, I skied runs in some tough-to-turn snow, and now everybody is relaxing in their own particular way. The boys are in the pool after a great dinner at a local organic restaurant and I'm wrapping up some particulars for a piece on spring skiing in Alaska.

We're here until tomorrow afternoon. It's nice to be able to get out of town. After weeks of flooring, child, and organizational stress, simply taking the time to do something fun, even as it coincides with the ultimate deadline of an article, makes sense.

I don't think it's an accident that I do what I do. Travel is a huge part of my life, and I'd be lost without its ability to escape, if only for a little while.

Friday, February 19, 2010

From the Wolf Den: He Spins Me Right Round, Baby...

It's challenging to parent a child with social and/or emotional disabilities. Anyone who has struggled to teach, discipline, or simply live with a child who doesn't understand the boundaries of basic human nature knows this already, but as that child grows up into a teenager, those challenges become more difficult and complex.

Normal 13-18 year-old behavior, coupled with co-occurring issues centering around things teenagers focus upon; boundaries, physical changes, social cues, and the like make Wolf's world, and thus ours a very unsettled place indeed. A week without any major incidents involving our son and his peers does not necessarily mean a good weekend ahead. A solid family therapy session on Wednesdays with a glimmer of understanding and empathy does not necessarily lead to follow-through on his part.

The past two weeks have been full of wild upswings and low blows. A visit from a State of Alaska social worker (as part of her annual in-person visit to all Alaska kids at CHYC) gave our victimstance teenager a perfect platform to list all the things wrong with the school, staff, and his peers. Fortunately SW had been given a heads up to this thinking error and hopefully took this information with the appropriate grain of salt. At the time Wolf had been in a fairly good place in terms of both his behavior and motivation at school and in therapy. The three of us had engaged in a productive dialogue and during a Care Plan Review the former Director from Wolf's old unit had mentioned the possibility of his return should things become more positive.

We were all feeling pretty positive, including Wolf, who stated his intentions to complete his workbook and therapy sessions and social skills groups, and promised to work hard to get back to the old unit.


I could tell even before Wolf got on the phone last night that something was amiss. The staff person did not engage in any pre-visit chit chat (I know everyone there well enough by now that we are on a first name basis with many employees); when Wolf got on the phone his voice held the telltale gloom and doom.

My heart doesn't sink anymore, really, when I hear the Voice of Glum. I just complete an inward sigh and begin my processing with a child who is looking for symphathy and gets angry when I don't provide it. Upon recommendation of Therapist B., Yukon and I will merely validate and offer a pathway of processing of an incident to encourage Wolf to use us as a source instead of a rescue operation. Not so easy for any of us because our son conveniently leaves out crucial elements of almost every story, especially the parts where he has, (cough) erred.

What happened? No, start over; I do not want to hear how so-and-so dissed you, or told on you, etc. etc. etc. Now, what happened, and don't leave out a morsel of information.

What could you have done differently? No, stop right there. "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer. Tell me a specific thing you could have done differently. Let's start way back with when you walked out of the classroom...or dining room....or your room.....etc. etc. etc.

The worst response I get is "I wasn't thinking". Ah, the old "I'll blame it on my brain" excuse. Of all statements from the boy, this one is most aggravating. Well, perhaps "I forget" is not far behind.

Some days I feel like a record player spinning and spinning and spinning the same song. Somebody better come along and bump into me so that needle jumps out of its worn-out groove...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Apparently I Missed the Equinox

Were you, as was I, misinformed about the arrival of Spring? According to my son, it is tomorrow and we'd better be prepared. Obviously he is.

With the unlocking of Yukon's suitcase, the giving of copious gifts commenced, including the much-loved shorts and running hat from none other than the Nike Store in downtown Portland. Bear wears the ensemble every day, sometimes changing his shirt, sometimes not. If ever there was a child destined to be the next Prefontaine, it would be this one.

Today we took the dog to the vet and this of course was his outfit. We garnered many a smile from other clients, some in sympathy, for we Alaskans have indeed been fooled into thinking it might be spring. Temperatures today were in the low 40's, the main roads are clear and dry, and moose have once again ventured into neighborhood gardens to eat what remains of shrubbery.

Clearly my son, anyway, has acclimated to Alaska. He didn't even shirk as icy puddles threatened to innundate his socks. Such a trooper. I can't say as much for me. I still am wearing my hat and gloves, which probably made us quite the site trotting to dog off to his appointment.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Only my husband could return home under such circumstances. Yes, I did hear the dog bark at 1 a.m., signaling his arrival. Yes, I did wonder (but only slightly) why it took an extra half-hour for him to finally come upstairs and lie down next to me, heavy sighs predominately factoring into our late-night greeting. "You're not going to believe this," he groans.

He forgot his wallet on the plane? The airline lost his luggage? He didn't have any money to pay the cab driver and so still has him sitting in our driveway? "Worse."

"TSA locked Big Bertha." For those of you who may not completely understand, Big Bertha is a hard-sided, enormous-borderlining-on-obnoxiously-large suitcase Yukon purchased at Costco, and which I detest on trips. B.B. goes everywhere with Yukon, however, in a little love affair of "stuff" my husband manages to accumulate whenever he goes down to Portland. And here we were with her 110 lbs of booty safely locked up tighter than a...well, you get the picture.

If it wasn't so serious, I'd laugh (well, I did laugh, a little). Yukon did have some quite important medication inside the thing, and some perishable goodies bought from Trader Joe's, so it became imperative that we figured out a way to break the code.

Yes, the keys were still inside. Why? Simple. TSA tells us, quiet emphatically, I might add, NOT to lock luggage. We, in our quest to fulfill at least some form of patriotic duty, abide by this rule. But probably should have taken the keys out, now that I think about it. But then we'd have to find a place for them, and sheesh, I have enough trouble keeping track of my car keys I use every day...

Yukon rose from his travel-induced coma and started calling airports. Knowing that it was the PDX'ers who but the kibash on his Bertha, he first called the Anchorage Baggage gurus who gave him a "Well, shoot, I dunno how we can do anything, we don't actually help people, we just ask the size and color of your bag with this little picture card." They did, however, give us the phone number of the Portland TSA, asked for a supervisor, and found that, indeed, somebody really screwed up. I could hear the swear words over the phone lines.

Long story short; we bundled up B.B. in the truck, took her to church and out to lunch, which she enjoyed very much, and ended up at the Anchorage International Airport, where Bear and I amused ourselves counting cars and playing "I Spy" while Yukon, in a feat of strength, manhandled Bertha out of the truck, onto the icy sidewalk, and on into the Alaska Airlines baggage department, where, apparently, the TSA Portland Manager had made his wishes known. They were waiting with a big ring of keys that in a jiffy freed our Trader Joe's Applewood Sausages from their rapidly-warming prison.

And the keys are dangling from my ears this morning. I finally found a place to keep them. Kind of cute and very appropriate for a travel writer. Maybe I can hang around the airport and unlock other people's luggage with my new earrings. Wouldn't that be something?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Our Last Day Without Dad

Yukon is finally coming home after what seems like an endless week. Bear and I have been eating things like nachos and pizza, staying out much too late, and generally indulging ourselves in nothing but mindless, out-of-house activity so Handyman can finish what flooring he can while we wait for the remainder of product to arrive from a store in Kenai. Yes, we ran short, Lowe's isn't carrying our brand anymore, and the only place that has more is three long hours south.

This morning Bear and I attended our local Special Olympics Winter Games, held at our little ski area, and starring athletes I ski with on Thursday nights. I wanted Bear to meet some of my "Buddies" and really get a sense of the athletes' accomplishments, for some simply making it down the course. He got it. Clapping and cheering for our first wave of athletes, we made it through about 20 skiers before we needed to get across town to our own ski event, Little Nordic class at Kincaid Park.

After a quick lunch and hasty wardrobe change, Bear shuffled off to his class and spent an hour practicing food-related stances like "pizza" and "french fries", along with the duck walk (not food but certainly entertaining to watch). With 30 or so kids (and a bunch of hovering parents), our coaches are a dedicated and affiable bunch, not minding a mommy armed with a camera taking shots of antics going on all around them.

The weather is warm today; in the 30's, and the sun has been shining all afternoon with a warmth not felt for months. We hesitate to call it spring, but darned if it doesn't feel like something like. Yukon arrives home in the middle of the night, sometime, just in time to help us celebrate our Valentine's Day tomorrow with chocolate chip waffles and bacon. Bear has missed his dad, he is one lost puppy without his kindred spirit, and I'm afraid I'm a poor substitute.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: A Label's Lable

The world of behavioral health was turned on its ear today with the release of DSM-V, the 'bible' of the psychiatric profession. In revision for over a decade, the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition, is the source professionals, the government, and yes, the insurance industry utilize as a tool for diagnosing mental illness. Many parents and I know it simply as The Book.

The Book has figured prominently in our world, the first time in 2006 when an educational specialist dug it out after a particularly intense question and answer session with Yukon and I. She said "listen to this" and read from The Book under a heading titled "Asperger Syndrome". Another year would pass for an "official" diagnosis, delivered then to the Insurance Company and subsequently the State of Alaska, to whom a DSM label made all the difference.

According to today's announcement, The Book now labels my son a bit differently. In black and white, in that tiny, doctor-speak language that takes a true scientist to decipher, DSM places Asperger Syndrome out of its own limelight and into a flush of similar, but sometimes more upsetting, diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorders. NPR did a number of interviews and stories today about this fifth edition; talking with parents of children diagnosed and labeled and thus receiving services or being ignored, depending upon the point of view.

Lifesaver or liability, The Book nonetheless makes the rules. I understand the battle many parents will wage for the sake of protecting a high-functioning child from a spectrum that spans a plethora of abilities and disabilities, fearing less will be done to help, less caring will be had, or fewer options will available to choose. Parents of kids who suffer from long-term disabilities and/or illnesses know the pain of a label; we've all heard them. Wierd. Freak. Faggot. Retard. Many just can't take one more. They will fight. Hard.

Labels are what we allow them to be. I choose mine, carefully:

My son. God's child. Book or no.

Monday, February 8, 2010

From the Wolf Den: We'll Always Answer

CHYC has a policy preventing kids from sharing their personal contact information with one another during their stay at the school. Upon discharge back to their respective communities, students who wish to remain in contact with each other are allowed the privilege of exchanging info if both sets of parents or caregivers agree. The reasoning is simple and practical; many kids are not discharged at the same time and some, sadly go back to habits and patterns learned prior to admission at CHYC. The policy exists to shield, in a sense, the kids still in school from behaviors staff work so hard to change.

Some time ago Wolf and a buddy conveniently forgot this policy and exchanged phone numbers before Wolf was intercepted with said number, and Yukon and I started receiving phone calls from a city 45 minutes from Anchorage. "Is Wolf there?" a gravelly, pre-pubescent voice inquired. We explained that no, Wolf was still in school and to check back later when we had a better idea of his discharge date (this was last spring). CHYC and the parents are aware of these calls, btw, and left it up to us as to whether or not we wanted any more.

We could have told him to stop calling, for each interaction with the young man, D. was a stark reminder of how much we missed our own teen regardless of his issues. But something told us to wait. A very mannerly young man, D. always responds "Great!" to our question of how he is doing and how school is progressing. He seems genuinely happy to talk with us, even though our conversations are no longer than five minutes and there is no interaction with his buddy Wolf.

When he called last week, I reported no appearance of Wolf yet, and asked how things were going. After an uncharacteristic pause, D. replied "Okay. I'm having a hard time at school." Not knowing how much, or what, to say to a kid I only know from vocal interactions and nothing else, I replied that I would be thinking of him and hoping things got better. I heard a sniff from the other end of the line, and then a quiet "Thanks" came across.

That's why we'll keep answering when he calls. Maybe we made him feel better, maybe not. But we were there, maybe when no one else could be.

I hope it made a difference.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Progress Becomes Us

New Floors: $2,000
New Accent Furniture: $300

Watching the Dog spin 360's across the living room because he can't stop: Priceless!

We're in the home stretch, nearly there, as in almost done with the Kirkland Flooring 2010 Project. One room to go, easy-peasy.


It's our room, and Yukon conveniently flew South today to Portland, where he will spend a week undoubtably drinking copious microbrews and chuckling to himself over this good fortune of NOT needing to stay up until midnight cleaning out from under a bed where dust bunnies the size of Volkswagen Beetles reside.

I believe he has done this to me before, and I sense a pattern.

But this time I am not pregnant and overly emotional. Hehe.
So here I am, listening to opera on our classical music station, drinking a glass of red wine and contemplating a box of very enticing chocolates left over from Christmas, and wondering where, if anyplace, I should begin.
Perhaps the bed. I am sure this will all look much, much better in the morning.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bear Meets His Match

Our Bear operates under the assumption that his father exists only for him. Even I take a back seat, and have since day one when the child arrived and turned a little cone-shaped head toward his daddy's voice.

Yesterday we met Yukon at the office and walked next door to a local hospital to visit our friends and their brand new, spanking fresh baby girl, born the night before. Yukon is a baby guru, a whisperer to all newborns who hear his deep, soothing voice and melt right there in his arms. As did this tiny bundle of cuteness (I like when my friends have daughters so I can be all uncharacteristically gooshie). Until Young Mr. Bear caught on.

After weeks of baby-related questions that only a five-year-old could ask, after excited prodding to see the baby "when it is done", after a bouncy walk across the hospital parking lot, this child, who loves all children, saw his father holding and kissing and loving on another baby...and put on his angry eyes.

I believe my son was still a bit shocked in the photo above that something alive and wiggling actually came from another human being, so I suspect the smile was a dutiful response to Yukon's question of "Isn't she cute?" It was all downhill from there.

Thank goodness our friends had a stash of dvds in their room. Bear promptly parked himself in a chair and watched a movie about trains, which of course was much better than talking to his traitor father.

Now I know what would happen in our house should another baby suddenly appear. Mutiny.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We Have Us a Different Sort of Groundhog

While the rest of the country is concentrating its efforts on a certain rodent by the name of Phil, we Alaskans are taking a more laid-back approach. Winter? Yes, what about it?

We have groundhogs, too, but ours are called something else, which is fine by me, since the name 'groundhog' seems to imply ugliness. Maybe its that 'hog' part. But we call them marmots here in Alaska, a name shared by most of the alpine Pacific Northwest and Europe.

As large members of the rodentia family, marmots are cute, curious, and in our case, lazy this time of year. Alpine marmots are all about missing the second day of February, mostly due to the fact they probably can't get out of their den yet. While America flashes the spotlight on Pux. Phil, Alaska is not watching the activities of our own furry friends because we know better.
The marmot in the photo above is probably mad somebody took his stash of trail mix, since the marmots I have met in my lifetime of hiking are usually quite amicable. Or maybe he/she is yawning.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Floors and Family

When I was about 13, my parents decided it was high time to expand our 1,000 square foot home to accommodate three growing children. We moved out for three months to allow for a complete gutting and rebuild of the house in which I had grown up. I have never felt so unsettled in my entire life.

So it is no surprise that the minor displacement of my current home is somewhat unnerving. Not impossible to manage, but slightly irritating in that I cannot find anything, the interior is covered with dust, and the pantry contents are in a box in my office, much to the delight of the dog.

However, the worst is nearly over (what I have to see, anyway) with the near completion of living room/dining room/hallway. What a difference!