Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You Have Homework

A while back, a commenter pointed out that I had word verification enabled on my comments. Actually, she threatened to punch me if I didn't disable it. I totally see where she was coming from.

At the time, I'd been blogging for a good year and had no idea word verification was enabled. I didn't realize until someone pointed it out that I was forcing people to spend twice as long as they should have been trying to get their comment posted. I'm thinking it must be a setting that Blogger automatically enables and if you don't want it, you have to change it yourself. Word verification is pointless. If you're concerned about spam, enable comment moderation and reject those pesky Viagra links as they come in. It takes ONE second!

Okay Blogger bloggers, here's your homework:

1. Go to your main page and click on "Settings"
2. Click on "Comments"
3. Scroll down until you see the question "Show word verification for comments?" and if "yes" is selected, click on "no"
4. Save changes

Hop to it, bloggers! Don't make me punch you.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mojo Slowly Returning to Normal

So, I've spent the last week ignoring the housework and getting outside with Rosemary's Baby to enjoy the intoxicating spring weather. While he raced around, digging up the lawn and swinging from trees (further confirming my theory that he is more in touch than the average person with his inner monkey), I sat on a lawn chair tittering at a copy of Bridget Jones' Diary that I came across at Value Village a couple of weeks ago. This business of unapologetically reading whatever strikes my fancy is just downright healthy!

And on that topic, I have to say that I love Fridays for so many reasons, but the biggest one is that it's Firstborn's school library day. The stuff he comes home with makes me nostalgic for the days when what other people thought of my choices in life made no difference to me whatsoever. This week we have a book about modern basketball superstars and a picture book about the origins of the sun, with Spanish subtitles. Most weeks he'll come home with one story book and one science-related thing. We've read about tornadoes, aircraft, reptiles (yuck) and spiders (I'm okay with those). It's just so amusing to see him sitting at the table, eating his cornflakes in the morning and poring through these books, sucking up random knowledge like a sponge. I love it!

In other reading-related news, did you see that the Archie comics are getting their first openly gay character? Now, I don't want to start a political controversy here. My blog is many things, but a place for intellectual debate is hardly one of them. We got gay marriage legalized here in Canada a good few years back now. It was hugely controversial at the time, and now, as far as I can tell, everyone has forgotten all about it. When the earth didn't explode, and we didn't all start running around talking about how much we love Cher because she's such a survivor, I guess it became clear that not much was changing for those of us who really had no stake in the matter at all. But back to Archie. I can't figure out if they're trying to sell copies by bringing themselves up to date with what's actually going on in the world, or trying to sell copies by riding the coat tails of the gay community. Either way, I don't think I'm the only one asking the obvious question here: Is anyone even reading Archie anymore?!!

Okay, that bordered dangerously on controversy. If you were looking to nominate me for "Best Political Blog" someplace, this post would probably be the one to enter.

I'm going to spend the next few days catching up on all your blogs, and then I'll be back with pictures of all my latest sewing projects. Try not to die with anticipation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mojo Be Damned! Life goes on.

Well that didn't take long! It turns out that when you recognize that you need to take a breather, life doesn't conveniently stop in its tracks to help you out. Already, I have something to talk about.

This evening, Firstborn came running into the kitchen, yelling "Mommy, look! Mommy, look!"

He was so frantic, I expected to turn around and discover that his arm had fallen off. Luckily, it wasn't anything so serious. But there WAS some blood, and he was holding out in front of him the teeniest little speck of enamel. He's lost his first tooth!

It's been so many years since I lost teeth, I wasn't sure how long the wiggly tooth was going to take to finally drop out, and I was kind of hoping it'd stay put for a few weeks until the Captain was home to experience this little milestone. But I guess it'll happen another 19 times or so. And now I have to figure out how much the tooth fairy puts under pillows these days.

A while back, someone in Firstborn's class got a Wii for his first lost tooth. I don't think I was the only mother in town who wanted to give the tooth fairy a good slap for that one. I'm figuring $2 should probably cover it.
How much do you give for a lost tooth?

Friday, April 16, 2010

I've Lost My Mojo!

I've gotten really behind in posting, visiting and leaving comments out here in Blogland. I'm still alive here, people. Don't give up on me.

Things are busy as ever, and there are changes happening. Rosemary's Baby is in the "intake" process for a very intensive home-based program and that should be getting underway here pretty soon. That alone is doing me in. There are people here all the time, which is kind of exhausting, but will eventually free me up to find a little more balance (AKA blog time) in my life. So, it's all good. The getting there is just kicking my butt a little.

And the Captain's return is on the (still distant) horizon. When your husband is gone for long periods, you get good at pretending you aren't exhausted. But everyone knows what happens when you deny and repress things. In the end, it all comes bursting out and you have no choice but to acknowledge it and deal. Or explode. Which is messy.

So, the bottom line is I'm TIRED! Boo hoo! Poor me! I feel like Austin Powers when he realized he'd lost his mojo. Just bear with me. My energy will return and I'll no doubt have all kinds of insanity to share with you. I just might need a little break first.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chicken Soup, But Not

Oh boy. Did yesterday's post sound like the insane ramblings of a crazy person? WHAT?! I'm reading a book that's bad enough to completely trash via my blog, but somehow not bad enough to just PUT DOWN for more worthy pursuits? Sorry. The kids kindly brought home this dreadful head cold. My sinuses feel like they've been hit by a bus, along with the rest of me. And it's making me a little delirious.

It's like my body knows what's going on outside of itself. For the duration of the Captain's tour, I've been disturbingly, disgustingly healthy. But now that there's a far-off light at the end of the tunnel (and it's still pretty distant), my immune system is all like "Lay down, guys! It's safe to let EVERYTHING in now!"

So, when I get sick and there's no one around to dote on me and listen to me whine and make me chicken soup (which is usually the situation when I'm sick. Awfully convenient for the Captain, no?!), I have to get off my lazy butt and do it myself. But chicken soup isn't my all-time favourite, so that's not usually what I make to chase a cold away. I'm a meatball girl.

There's just something about meatballs. I could eat them every day. Anytime we're having a group of people over for dinner, I pull out the crock pot and make one of my sister's easy meatball recipes. Then the Captain walks in and says "Meatballs AGAIN?! What is this? 1976?!" What can I say? Maybe a meatball saved me from drowing as a child. I don't know. I just love them.

Meatball soup is an easy thing to make, especially if you buy a big bulk pack of ground beef and make and cook your meatballs in advance, then freeze them. You just never know when you're going to get sick, so it pays to be prepared! But if you don't have cooked, frozen meatballs on hand, it's not that big a deal either. Just roll up a few balls of ground beef and fry them until they're good and browned. Then proceed as follows.

Meatball Soup

12 small cooked meatballs (or 6 big ones cut in half)
1 large carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
6 cups beef or chicken broth
thyme, hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry macaroni or other short pasta (optional)
oil for frying

Fry the onion and carrots in a big soup pot for a couple of minutes, add the garlic and give it literally 20 to 30 seconds, no more. Throw everything else in the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let it go until everything is heated through and the carrots are tender. Also, if you don't have those specific vegetables on hand, use whatever else you please. Well, maybe not beets. But most other things work fine. As you can see, I had no carrots, so I used peas instead.

Oh, and if you use the pasta but plan to have leftovers, here's a trick I learned from Rachael Ray: cook them separately and ladle your soup over them in the bowl. That way you don't get overcooked, giant pasta lumps sucking up all your leftover soup.

It's so basic and boring and idiot-proof, I'm not sure why I love this soup so much. I guess that's why they call it "comfort food". It just makes me feel better.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Really Bad Books

Back when I was tripping youthfully through my university campus with my whole life ahead of me, I was pretty snooty about what I was willing to read. Had anyone handed me a mass market paperback or some popular thing that had recently been turned into a movie, I'd have gasped, stuck my nose in the air and claimed that I didn't read trash. The one time I broke my own rule, it was to read the horrendous Bridges of Madison County (Oprah TOLD me to!), which successfully put me off of reading popular fiction for years afterwards.

Now that I'm hurtling towards 40, I read whatever I like. The best part about growing older is how much it frees you up. Creating the illusion that you're an intellectual isn't nearly as important as it used to be. My inner snob just doesn't have the energy for it anymore.

When the Captain and I discovered bookcloseouts.com a few years ago, we were in book-lover's heaven. And while we can still get some of the award-winners and classics there, it's really more about the treasure hunt. When they have sales, you can get all sorts of books you never even knew existed for sometimes $2 or less. So a couple of times a year, we treat ourselves to a big book order, and I just randomly choose titles from all kinds of genres that look interesting. This method has netted me enough really fun reads to be considered a success.

But there are also duds.

My goodness, I am shocked at what some of these publishers are willing to print, when so many talented authors have to struggle just to get a foot in the door! Go visit Stephanie's blog and please tell me why on earth this woman wasn't published YEARS ago, when there are people out there with almost NO talent whatsoever making a good living at it!

I'm not going to name the terrible books I've read in the last couple of years because it would be mean-spirited, but to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, let's take an anonymous look at my current read.

I found a romance novel with a murder-mystery as the backdrop for a couple of bucks and added it to my cart. I have to admit, the idea behind both the romance and the mystery is clever, and is actually the only reason I didn't give up after one chapter. I want to see who did it. The title of the book is also mildly witty. Sadly, this is where the positives end.

My first complaint is about the severely underdeveloped characters. It must be one of the harder parts of writing fiction, because this is a problem I've had with almost every bad book I've read so far. In this case, the main character has all the personality of a whoopie cushion. She comes off mostly as an uptight prude, and then suddenly she's doing things that suggest she might have been a hooker in a former life. I can suspend my disbelief just this far, but there's an even bigger problem. Her love interest, the hunky police chief trying to crack the case, is the WORST POLICE CHIEF EVER! In a sad attempt at creating some sexual tension, this author has opted to have the chief completely ignore and dismiss every single OBVIOUS piece of evidence our heroine has brought to his attention. Yeah, yeah, they fight about it, then they smolder, but I would seriously have trouble trusting this guy to issue a speeding ticket, let alone head up a murder investigation. And what is less attractive to any woman on earth than a man who is INCOMPETENT at his job?! It's primal. The caveman who couldn't figure out which end of the club to hit the wooly mammoth with was not the one coming home with a stylish fur for his wife and a roast for dinner that night. We are instinctively looking for certain qualities in a man. Not being able to perform even the most basic tasks in his job description isn't one of those qualities.

My other beef is with the writing itself. For all the snobby guffaws the romance industry receives, it's a damned hard genre to write well. This author misses the mark. The dialogue is stilted and awkward, no one's actions make any sense, and I swear, if I have to read about one more "sensation" travelling to someone's "nether regions", I'm going to shoot myself. People want something a little subtle. I get that. But the euphamisms shouldn't be so cheesy they make you cringe and wish you were reading the dictionary instead.

But on the plus side, I am now eagerly awaiting my latest shipment of books. There will likely be a dud or two in the bunch, but this time I made sure to order a few Philippa Gregory titles for some guaranteed guilty pleasure. Plus (and I am really excited about this), they had a Bob Ross book available this time, so I snapped that up too! Before you know it, this harried-mom-turned-blogger will be doing even less housework and creating masterpieces of "happy little trees"! I might even copy his hairstyle!

There's a lot to be said for letting go of my inner snob.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Autism Awareness

As you wake up to your hot cross buns and dream of the chocolate the Easter Bunny will be dropping off this weekend, I just want to point out that it is also World Autism Awareness Day. I'm sure most of you already have some awareness of this issue. I mean really, who doesn't have a kid on the spectrum these days?! But just in case you don't know anyone with the disorder, I thought I'd put something out there in hopes of raising awareness just a little. I can't speak for all parents of kids with autism, but this is what I would personally like people to know.

We all have our causes, so I'm not going to try to convince you to drop your paycheque on a donation. But there is something you can do to help that doesn't require a ridiculous level of commitment or time. For a parent dealing with this problem, your empathy can actually go a really long way.

Here's what we know. When certain parts of the brain are not working the way they should be, you get a sort of sensory chaos. When I'm working in my kitchen with the radio and dishwasher going, the fridge turning itself on and off and my awesome lighting flickering every three seconds, and then Firstborn comes in and asks me a question (usually a hypothetical one involving zombies), my brain can tune out all those background distractions and focus on answering him. For an autistic child, that ability to filter stimulus is seriously dysregulated. Everything comes at him with equal intensity, or the things he should focus on aren't coming at him with the intensity they should, and others are coming in at a level that is actually painful. It's a brain glitch that makes it literally impossible for our kids to naturally learn the things they normally would, like how to communicate, or how to behave in socially appropriate ways. They can learn to cope in familiar environments by doing things the same way over and over, and for this reason they might like rigid routines. I don't mean to oversimplify here, or to make generalizations. This neurological mystery affects each child differently. But for the sake of creating a little understanding, I want to give some background as to why some of our kids do the things they do.

So, at home or at preschool my kid is comfortable. He knows what to expect from his environment. But what if I take him to Wal Mart? Or to see his brother perform in the school theatre with the choir? All of a sudden we have a whole new set of unfamiliar stimuli attacking his senses: crowds of people, artificial lights, colourful displays everywhere, music, new smells. With that kind of overload, and little to no verbal skills to communicate what they're feeling, is it any wonder our kids get so stressed they start making noises, running around like crazy people, or throwing tantrums?

I gave Rosemary's Baby his pseudonym long before the diagnosis. Actually, it was long before we had an inkling that anything was up at all. We just thought we had a naughty little monkey who liked driving us crazy. But that illustrates my point. Autism is not something that the untrained eye can recognize very easily. To a passerby, a normal-looking kid throwing a hissyfit at the mall is just a spoiled brat whose parents don't know how to keep him under control. And I admit, in years long past, when I was young enough to think I knew everything, I would see these situations and think, "Duh! Get a grip on your kid!" Thank goodness I at least had the sense to not say it out loud. Because for the helpless parent trying to keep a lid on things, the scorn of strangers can turn an already stressful situation into a downright unbearable one.

I truly believe that the majority of people in the world are understanding. They see a screaming kid and they'll give you the "been there, done that" grin. But you do occasionally run into someone who (well-meaning or otherwise) wants to fix your kid's behaviour for you, or give you parenting advice, or just say something downright rude. So, I ask you all to reframe your perspective when it comes to seeing kids acting out in public. It's true that the kid throwing a fit, racing around like a tasmanian devil or suddenly yelling out for no apparent reason might just be being naughty (anyone with a two year-old knows this), but please always assume that there might be more to it. Give a sympathetic smile and keep moving. You'll have the best karma ever.

One last thought. Wherever possible, I like to promote a "we're in this together" attitude for parents of kids on the spectrum. Whether we take our doc's advice as gospel or stubbornly stomp out our own path, follow Greenspan or Lovaas, love or hate Jenny McCarthy, every single one of us is fighting for our kids' place in this world. Whether that be a place where they are just like everyone else, or a place where they are accepted and valued for their differences, we are doing a job that is harder than any other job. And I know about hard jobs. I used to teach Sex Ed to sixth graders.

I'm personally not partial to the term Autism Mom. I prefer the blonde one's Mother Warrior. But whatever you choose to call yourself, and whatever you're doing in support of your child, do know that there are many of us out here who have your back.

We need more research. We need compassion. We need understanding.

Now, go spread the word.