Passing through the eye of the needle

“I want to believe in the misdiagnosed but see: he is not altogether well. He escapes to a room in his head like a ship to sea, even as the gulls fly above, imploring: land, land.  I am earth beneath storm, the air inside a snapped reed.  I scream my helpless anger into an empty room.”

– Beth Kephart (A Slant of Sun)

It was eight years ago this month, January 17, 2002,  that we finally got the answer to a question my husband and I had been asking ourselves since Zachary was just 10 months old – Is he “all right?” Back then, being “all right” was the answer we wanted despite all evidence to the contrary.

We had gone the familiar route – hearing tests, assessments for early intervention, numerous trips to doctors and fruitless internet searches. Zach had been “evaluated” from every angle – and now, in the small office of a very nice licensed psychologist we would have our worst fears confirmed, our path forever altered. But, that dreaded diagnosis gave us a place to begin.

Getting in the game is, for many ASD parents, the hardest part. Labels, constructs, pigeon-holes – all are fashioned so that parents can qualify for special therapies, insurance coverage, placements.  Classifying, naming, qualifying that otherworldliness each of our kids possess is left to the professionals – doctors, therapists, educators – even legislators. The toughest job is the navigating;  That is left to us parents and they don’t hand us a road map.

Imagine being dropped on a lonely highway in the middle of nowhere and having only your wits to find your way. That is where most of us start out – thumbless, clueless – hitchhiking along to an undetermined destination.  I believe it is easier for the biblical camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an ASD parent to enter the kingdom of  Autism. But, times are changing and there is much more available to today’s parents.

This morning, as an experiment, I googled “autism services” for my area of Virginia and the search yielded 27,600 results in .34 seconds – and when I googled “autism services” alone, my computer spat out 6,810,000 in .26 seconds.

Progress? Maybe. But the sheer number of routes are intimidating and most of us aren’t hoping to stay long. We have a “temporary visa” mentality – get in, get out – more of a rescue mission really.

I was definitely hoping to keep my visit short, in fact I felt instructed to do so. When Zach was initially diagnosed his psychological evaluation described his verbal skills with a caveat – that while he was expanding his vocabulary and had the capacity for appropriate interaction, this was typically “fleeting.” His skills at that time represented “an instructional window that if appropriately utilized, is strongly predictive of a good outcome.”

Reading that caused a tremor of panic inside me, because this isn’t the kind of window that stays open, it’s the kind that someone paints shut when you’re not looking. 

For a very long time after “D-Day” we did what we thought we should for Zachary – he ceased being our son during that lost time and became our project. We even bought a sturdy plastic file box where we housed all our war plans.   We pursued every avenue of therapy, diet and medicine with the urgency and fervor of the newly converted.

Some helped, some didn’t. Most didn’t. The only thing we knew for certain was how miserable we all were trying to figure it out. That fleeting window was what we focused on. In the end, Zachary was the only one who could show us how to keep it open. When we quit struggling out of exhaustion, with nothing but our helpless love to give him, he let us follow. He showed us more and more of the person he continues to become today.

The reality of the window is that Zachary will always be on the other side of it. I don’t have the power to pull him back through it, nor does he need me too. But it isn’t shut – I can follow him through it; I can let him show me around. I can relax in this new, exotic land. My guide is from here, he belongs here and there is so much he can teach me if I let him.

Zachary’s salvation is not something I can control, things will unfold as they should, and we will survive. In the words of Mother Teresa We can do no great things, only small things with great love. And that is enough.


Hat’s off to “Sensory Friendly” films

“Sensory Friendly Films”  is a fantastic collaboration between AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society of America.

They put their heads together and came up with a way for ASD families to go to the movies ” in a safe and accepting environment.”  Once a month, this theater chain will offer a showing of a family film “in a more accepting and comfortable setting for this unique audience.”

Lighting and sound will be adjusted, families will be allowed to bring their own snacks and most importantly “audience members are welcome to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing.”  I can tell you with absolute certainty that this venture is going to be a success. So many ASD parents are too wary of their children’s “enthusiasm” to go to the movies. We choose matinees at discount theaters where crowds are likely to be smaller, poorer and hopefully less judgemental. Plus, we sit by the exit with a getaway plan at the ready. I can remember taking Zach to see “Batman” (the first one with Christian Bale) – he was so excited during a scene where Batman tests drives the new Batmobile that he stood and applauded while fellow viewers yelled “sit down.” There were other movie outings (Spiderman 1,2 or 3) when Zach was aggressively shushed by strangers because of his ongoing monologues. I can’t count how many times we simply picked up and left a theater in the middle of a film because his behavior was too distracting for fellow viewers –  or too insulting. He used to comment loudly about bald men in our midst – and the follicly challenged masses never seemed to appreciate his observations. It was better to skeedaddle than get into a debate with someone when asked if I knew that my kid was “really rude.”

With “Sensory Friendly” films, families will be able to enjoy an outing where their child will be free to repeat lines, stand up, sit down, fidget and wiggle to their heart’s content. This is preferable to watching the film from the exit aisle while your son does zigzag laps. Think of the gentle understanding, the freedom from persecuting stares! Why, your dear daughter could eat some stranger’s popcorn and the worst that will happen is their kid will eat yours!

And imagine the stress free potty breaks to the ladies room escorting your son! When you get  “that look,” in the gals-only enclave, just reply confidently, “I’m attending a Sensory Friendly film, thank you very much.”

This month’s film is “Tooth Fairy”  and the sensory friendly version will be shown Feb. 6. You can check for a local theater near you on the ASA website at:

Here’s to hoping you have a non-judgemental, incident-free outing!

Gizmo can help give a voice to those without one

In ASD circles, “assistive technology” can mean a variety of different things, from software to teaching tools.  There are literally hundreds of products available and they can be costly.

“Tap to Talk” is one of the coolest and fairly priced communication programs I’ve seen in a long time and it can run on a Nintendo! I would love to hear from anyone who has used it. From what I have read on their website (lots of raves from ASD parents) , it is an application currently available for Nintendo DS and personal computers. It can help a non-verbal child or adult communicate through  pictures (similar to PEC communication symbols) and you can customize the application from a library of more than 2,000 pictures, as well as adding your own. advertises their service for $99.95 per year, which would not include the cost of a Nintendo DS. According to their web page, the Nintendo DS-Lite costs about $129 and DSi about $169.

I think this device could be helpful to ASD children who are verbal as well. I know Zachary still responds much more quickly to picture symbols than words and we used some assistive technology when he was very young.

I am really excited to see if  Tap To Talk has any success with adults on the spectrum.

Post a comment if you or someone you know is using one of these!

Life is sweet when you’re coming unglued

I am looking out my window at a dust bunny colored sky and craving soup instead of exercise.  Potato soup to be exact- made with real bacon and butter.

It has been a little over a month since I had surgery to repair a “ventral” hernia – doc speak for some of your innards poking their way through weak spots in your abdominal wall.  

To repair mine they made a two-inch slice vertically over my belly button, stuffed my escaping viscera back inside and closed me up.  The surgeon instructed me not to lift anything heavier than a phonebook for six weeks. After that I could  exercise as strenuously as I please. The problem is that I am nearing the six-week mark and the only thing that pleases me is taking it easy for a little while longer.

I’ve enjoyed having an excuse to do the light lifting around here. Besides, instead of stitches, my surgeon used glue to put me back together. Coming unglued is something that happens to me daily in Boy Town, but now that it might come with a visual, I use it to my advantage.  It’s been much easier to get the kids’ attention with disembowelment on the line – you just have to know how to tweak the drama.  A little grimace hear and there and one of the boys insists on carrying the laundry hamper downstairs. With a carefully placed hand over my midsection, I bend to pick up a wet towel from the bathroom floor and another of my brood rushes to hang it up for me.  Bracing against the kitchen counter with both hands,  I ask meekly if  they have finished their homework and I get a “Yes Ma’am.”  Life has been pretty sweet.

The problem is my midriff has relaxed quite a bit too – right over the top of my jeans.  I don’t know the extent of the damage in pounds, but  I’d say it’s easily a baker’s dozen. And then there’s the dust and dog hair issue – the devil’s in the details. While the males that surround me have been helpful and agreeable, they don’t give a whit about the flying filth and filaments. Not so for me – I wield sticky lint removers and vacuum attachments with the persistence and skill of the last Samurai.

Perhaps  I will  start slowly – in the face of a thousand dog hairs I could focus on one baseboard.  Maybe tomorrow I could tackle the smutchy ceiling fans, and the furry heating ducts. And once I’ve made the house fit for man (not beast) again I can summon the courage to get my expanding bod back to the gym.

But first, I really need to make some soup.

Scaring Armpits is Funny Business

There was a time, several years ago, when I used to make deals with God. It went something like this . . .Dear God, if Zach can learn to use the toilet I promise not to ask for another thing . . .Dear God, if Zach could just learn to eat with a spoon, I’ll never ask for another thing . . .Dear God, if Zach can quit grabbing women’s breasts . . .

Back then I just couldn’t see that my odd, loving, little nightmare on wheels would ever grow up, ever change, ever learn – not without divine intervention.  Instead of having faith in him I pleaded with the Almighty.

Zach was 7 when he finally conquered the potty and he quit using shite as an artistic medium. He began eating with utensils and behaving himself around the fairer sex shortly after that. Our rocky little boat set sail in smoother waters. We are still riding on an even keel, navigating a wake here and there, and I am enjoying Zach instead of managing him. Truth be told, he is the easiest of my offspring to deal with now.  Of course, the competition consists of two hormonal teens and a cranky 4-year-old, not too tough to outshine, but still – the boy is the cream in my coffee!

Nowadays, the only thing rockin’ our boat is the dreaded, awful P-WORD – puberty. It’s here and I can’t fight it. Pleading with a higher power now is not going to stop the fact that my beautiful boy is going to turn into a man, with all the smells and hair that entails.

Which is how the day came that I had to “scare his armpits.”

Since I have already walked the puberty road with my older two, I am familiar with the boy aroma that starts ripening to man stink somewhere between 10 and 12. So, with the help of his brothers, reeking of teen spirit but trained in the ways of the roll-on, we gave Zachary (ever the visual learner) a live demonstration of the latest hygiene habit he must acquire – deodorant. He watched, he listened and then, when I attempted to swipe, he clamped his arms down tight at his sides like two chicken wings. I, being trained in the ways of distraction, rolled a little on the back of his clenched hands to show him that the stuff was harmless and told him to smell it. Well, you can’t sniff your hands without lifting them and I went in for the kill.

Every morning after that I still had to pry open the pits, but I did it as quickly and quietly as possible. It wasn’t pleasant but the aftereffects were.  Recently though I had the bright idea that an aerosol (sorry, Al Gore) would be so much easier – why, I could spritz those stink holes before he knew what hit him! And so, armed with a travel size bottle of Axe (easier to hide in your hand) I snuck up from behind and managed to strike. This was easy to do, since Zach was busy admiring himself in the mirror (an essential part of his hygiene routine), but before I could manage the second strike, he turns to me all big-eyed and yells “You scared my armpit!” The both of us froze and then we started to laugh.  I laughed until tears were streaming down my face and when I finally gained my composure, Zachary dutifully lifted his other arm and said “Do it again!”

Now, scaring armpits is a delightful part of our morning. And I never had to plead with God once. . .

For those of you who could use a printable visual aide, go to this link:

Temple Grandin – Always my hero, my hope

I  just finished listening to Dr. Temple Grandin’s latest interview on NPR that aired Jan. 5 and, as always, I am completely blown away by her. For me, Grandin is the guardian angel of autism. She gives us hope and understanding from a perspective every parent craves – from the inside.

When my son was newly diagnosed, nearly seven years ago, her book,  Emergence: Labeled Autistic,  was among the first I checked out of the library. I didn’t appreciate her insight then as I do now. To be honest, the part of the book where she talked about the “squeeze machine” she designed for herself and how its deep pressure helped calm her, scared and horrified me. At that time I could only see what lie ahead for Zachary from my own narrow view. And to borrow a line from Joni Mitchell, I can see autism “from both sides now,” thanks to her. 

Grandin, an expert on livestock behaviour and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University,  was discussing her new book, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, but she touched on autism here and there throughout the discussion. She said that both animals and autistic persons engage in repetitive behavior when they are upset – pacing polar bears and dogs who chase their tails are not unlike our kids when they are spinning objects or lining up toys.  She said she enjoyed playing with sand and watching it flow through her fingers as well as spinning a metal plate on her bedpost when she was overwhelmed with sensory input as a child. But, she cautioned, if she had been allowed to do that all the time she would never have been able to achieve the success she has now. She said her life at home was very structured and credits that structure with helping her become so functional. Mostly, the interview concentrated on her work with animals. She talked about how animals have the same basic emotions that humans do – “fear, anger, separation anxiety and seeking” – and how understanding that has helped her understand them and how better to handle them.

The interview, as all earlier interviews she’s done with NPR, was incredible, not just for the content, but for the simple fact that this brilliant woman is conducting an interview on NPR without a single misstep – she has learned to navigate both the neurotypical and the typical world with grace and confidence. Being a huge fan of hers, I am loath to miss any interviews she does, so I am in the habit of  tracking what she is up to – an internet stalker of sorts. I find her absolutely captivating.  She is such an inspiration, not only for all she has achieved in spite of her disability, but for her spirit. What comes through more clearly than her achievements, than her brilliance, in all her interviews is her happiness – and that is at the very root of my worries for my soon-to-be teenage son.  I have made my peace with all that he may not achieve, but, as we should for all our children, I want him to find happiness and a passion for something – a connection so strong to the world that he will not spend his days hiding inside his own mind.  She is living proof that there is a future out there for all our children on the spectrum to become happy adults  in whatever capacity that might entail. So, I am thankful, ever thankful for her – Thank you Temple Grandin, thank you, thank you!

If you would like to hear her latest interview in its entirety go to

And be sure to set your DVRs for Saturday,  February 6 at 8 p.m. ET, when Temple Grandin: , Autism Gave Her a Vision. She Gave it a Voice, premieres on HBO. Actress Claire Danes will portray Grandin. The movie is based on two of her books – Emergence  and Thinking in Pictures.

If you would like to see The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow, a documentary she did for the BBC, click here

The Boom List – Trudy’s Favorite Things

5. – If you like a good bit of sarcasm as well as funny parodies then you will love this website which is a spoof on, a website dedicated to the craftastic folks who like to buy and sell their handmade items.  At Regretsy, they come up with creatively crafty items that no one will buy, but will bust a gut reading about – such as this handmade matchbox spoof on “Charlotte’s Web” that reads “Charlotte’s Evil Twin” – the web message the evil twin has spun reads “Pork 49 cents a pound.”  But this was not as hilarious as a posting about vulvacrafts – priceless!



4. The Bissell Proheat Select Pet 2X – When you live with 4 dwarves on acid and a crackhead blunderhound, this thing comes in handy! Let’s say your ready to crawl in bed with a good book and a nice glass of Pinot Noir after a tough day of muttering under your breath. But your freshly bathed preschooler, upon seeing the pretty glass of  “juice” decides to climb the nightstand to investigate. It’s all over before you try to read the same chapter you tried to read last night . . . or is it? This thing is a lifesaver! One minute to heat up and three minutes later – no vino stain. Of course, if you cry too hard while you are cleaning your eyes will be too swollen to do any reading, but you will have enough energy left to get yourself a fresh glass of wine. And when you wake to find a mess of Blunderhound poo (induced by the Hickory Farms summer sausage stick the goat-dog gobbled up with the paper still on it) just take a deep breath, get those yellow rubber gloves you swore you would never wear and let the cleaning fun begin!!  Bissell Proheat Select Pet 2X, I love you!

3. Trudy’s Sock Sack – If you hate socks as much as I do, this could be a great way to find the love again.  I have taken to stuffing socks in a little gizmo I bought once-upon-a-time at a dollar store.  Sock-like in appearance, it was originally intended for storing plastic grocery bags. It has an elastic opening at both ends and a fabric loop at the top. I recently found some again at the grocery store, made by Brawny and strangely enough, called the SacSoc! I now have one for each kid and hang them on  door hooks. Prior to my genius idea, when time allowed I would sort the socks and dutifully stuff the children’s designated drawers with them, but more often than not it was a pair-at-your -own-risk-two-basket method, one basket for dark socks, one for white. It wasn’t a bad method, but with the new one my kids actually wear matching socks now, so that is a bonus!

2. Green Smoke – the electric cigarette! A friend of mine purchased one for his mother for Christmas – I thought he was pulling my leg and had to google it! The environmentally friendly advertising ploy kills me! I think it would make a nice gift for the smokers in your life – they get the nicotine hit without the bad benefits that come from a real cigarette – no chemicals, no tar supposedly. And they come with little battery chargers! They claim you can use these in restaurants since there is no real smoke! I’d like a video of someone explaining that to a waiter. I hope they try it on St. Paddy’s Day, then they can order a green beer to go with their smoke! If anyone one actually tries one of these things please post a full report!

1. Taking the Law Into Your Own Womb – In the state of Utah gays cannot legally marry and unmarried couples cannot adopt, i.e. gay couples cannot adopt. Apparently this rubs one Utah legislator the wrong way. Rep. Christine Johnson (D-Salt Lake City), perhaps knowing how slowly this state’s laws catch up with the rest of the country, has taken a rather vigilante approach. She announced this week that she is currently carrying a baby for two Salt Lake City men who were legally married in another state. She is already 4 months pregnant. She decided to become a surrogate for her friends and is accepting no compensation outside of the medical bills. She said, “I can very much empathize with their desire to become parents and share their lives with and open their hearts to a child. I’m immeasurably grateful to be a mother. Gender or sexual orientation is less important than children being welcomed into a supportive, loving home. This child is going to have an amazing life.” I must say, Rep. Johnson, you may go down in Utah history as the most innovative lawmaker this state has ever known, you go girl!

It’s April and I’m praying for Sky

pegasus1April is Autism Awareness Month and I’ve been meaning to write about something, or someone rather.
His name is Sky Walker Steuernagel, he is 18 and he is profoundly affected by autism. He has been in police custody in Portage County, Ohio since Jan. 29 for the beating and subsequent death of his mother, Dr. Trudy Steuernagel, 60, who was a political science professor at Kent State University.

 I first learned of Sky, and his mother Trudy, on an internet autism forum I joined last December. And on that same forum, I learned of her death. It was such crushing, gut-punching news for the fellow members of the forum that their usual volume of lengthy posts dried up in silence for awhile. It touched on so many issues that no one could really find the words. But now, in addition to the Ohio press, the story is getting more mainstream attention – there is an article in the April 20th issue of People magazine as well as a much-debated mention in a article. The postings have picked up now, many of them with a common thread – fear.
We all want awareness to our cause, but how will this tragedy play out among the general neurotypical public? Will it be the mistaken kind of awareness of autism – that those who suffer from it can turn into dangerous and violent individuals who are less than human, not to be trusted as family members or even playmates for your children, not to be included?
I’m sure that might be true for a small few. There is a minefield of misunderstandings when it comes to autism and the general public. Meltdowns and tantrums, which are rather common among our children, aren’t pretty, we don’t tend to wax poetic about those moments because when they happen to our children we know they are trying to communicate something that their words cannot. We hate ourselves for not understanding those blow-ups, those sensory-overloaded tempests, but in our darkest of hearts, we fear those times, we have never had the odds on our side and we see this tragedy on more personal terms – could that be me someday – could that ever be us?
 And sometimes we hate the neurotypical community for their lack of understanding, for we throw you all in with the gape-faced man who shook his head at us in the supermarket while our child bellowed like a banshee amid the produce, we add you alongside the woman that stood by in horror and scolding commentary while we tried to comfort and contain the flapping arms of our daughter who didn’t want to leave the beautiful fountain at the zoo. But fear, hate and misunderstanding grow best in the dark, where there is no awareness, no light and no trust.
 Sometimes, while we are doing our very best suffering, we also feel we our doing our very best loving. There is such surrender in the kind of loving we learn while living with our kids. Unfortunately, self-love, self-awareness, takes a backseat to this “unconditional love” – we find solace in platitudes. And, like water on a rock, we slowly erode. We quit reaching out to the NT world and stay tucked away with our special children. We tolerate the intolerable to our own detriment. We decide our pain is unique when in reality you can’t measure sorrow. Our rain cloud may be bigger at times but in the end we were all washed in the same rain. The problem is we tend to hog the umbrella. We start to slowly lose our ability to sympathize with others, to interact with friends – their more common complaints pale in comparison to our magnificent sorrow. Their lives and the details of their lives sounding like so much vacuous twaddle – so we start to circle the wagons, dig the moat, barricade ourselves from the very world we so desperately miss. These are the gentle failings of the parents of children on the spectrum, but they are the most dangerous.
Trudy Steuernagel even wrote of those failings in some opinion pieces for Kent State’s college newspaper. “I had no patience for good and decent colleagues who told me how busy they were,” she wrote. “Busy? Try spending an evening sitting in a closet with your back to the door trying to hold it shut while your child kicks it in.”
This was an article from last March. Sky was 17 then. He is now a 6”1’, 200-pound 18-year old. I can’t imagine he was much smaller just 10 months ago when he was lashing out at that closed door. These good and decent colleagues are quoted in a couple of  the news articles I have read, saying that Trudy always felt like Sky’s outbursts were manageable.  Perhaps, despite the very evidence in print, she had slowly elevated her ability to manage Sky in the eyes of her colleagues. They talk of her in such glowing and kind terms there is no doubt that she was admired and deeply respected. Nor is there any doubt of her dedication to her son. Another colleague, when discussing Sky’s current future, said “Trudy more than anything would want her son taken care of, but she also would recognize that she wouldn’t want anyone else to be at risk.”  That quote speaks volumes. She put Sky first, before comfort, before friendship, before herself . This is not uncommon in our community, but it isn’t healthy or safe. I was rereading some older posts on the autism forum that  Trudy had written. One included some words of encouragement to a young mother who was struggling with her newly diagnosed 4-year-old. Trudy said “I know how hard it is to stop worrying about the future, but the present is far too important to waste on worrying about things that may never happen.”
The present is important, and it’s true that wasting your time worrying about what may come can rob you of your joy, especially when it is in scarce supply. I don’t know how or if Trudy’s death could have been prevented. Hindsight is rarely helpful. All I know is that , for me, their story has a bit  of cautionary, uncomfortable truth in it. That the more we tolerate, the more we isolate. And while we may keep our neurotypical friends, family and even strangers from the the harm and discomfort we feel our lives offer at times, we are the ones ulitimately who are harmed.
As for Sky, he remains in the custody of Portage County police. According to the latest news articles I could find on his case he has been ruled incompetent to stand trial and has a court-appointed guardian. His lawyers entered a “not guilty” plea for him March 23. God willing, the judge for his case will send it on to civil court where Sky could either be ordered to a mental-health facility or released. The best outcome, the one I am praying for, is that he is placed in a group home. 
As for Trudy, I was wondering what she was thinking about when she chose her user name on the autism forum. Until her death, I had known of her only as “Pegasus.”  She even had an icon of the horse-god of greek mythology next to her name.
Pegasus, according to legend, was fathered by Poseidon and carried thunderbolts for Zeus. He avoided being captured by rising to the heavens as a constellation. I find that comforting. I am told that in the late summer you can see this constellation high in the night sky. I for one will be looking for that beautiful outline and remembering a brave woman, who reminds me that even when doing the bidding of the Gods, I must keep myself  on my list of things to fight for.

When life hands you a rusty-spoon day, call for help!

Simpler times - ah life!

Simpler times - ah life!

I have from time to time, rated particularly challenging days with my all-boy progeny as “rusty spoon” days.
These are the days when I report to my husband that if time travel were possible I would head back to the early 90s and tear out my ovaries with a rusty spoon.  I tend to dabble in metaphorical sadism when I am at my worst. And obviously, with time travel an impossibility, there is no need to worry that I will be castrating myself with rundown flatware any time soon. Also, this kind of hyperbole has great shock value – it gets my feelings across in a graphic, attention-grabbing way, that my husband can read as clearly as a red-flag at the beach when the currents are too high for one’s personal safety.
Obviously, it’s a cry for help.  I realize this kind of black humor is frowned upon by decent mothers and would-be mothers everywhere, but then they are not in my boat, nor am I in theirs so, I will leave them to come up with their own metaphors for crying “Uncle”.
These women would also find no solace or humor in the saying “mothers of teenagers know why animals eat their young.” But, yesterday, I considered this as a possible tattoo with only slightly less seriousness than my H.G. Wells-inspired spoon surgery.
It started when I went off my nut about the condition of the family room and began threatening removal of any and all fun possibilities in technicolor language until said mess was cleaned up.  It finished with my dear teen digging in his belligerent heels to the injustice of it all and flipping me a certain gesture that I can say with all honesty I never imagined in my wildest dreams would be intended for me. I’m not naive, I expected the gesture would be exercised at some point in his adolescence, like when the first mad driver cut him off in traffic. But, not when the first mad mother asks him to pick up a few dishes and socks. I was so shocked I actually called my husband at work – which is the equivalent of “Now you’ve done it” around here. He‘s like my fire extinguisher – “break glass only in an emergency“.  My husband is a passionate *cough* if not volatile devotee of RESPECT. Perhaps it’s the Navy man in him, but calling Dad, is not done lightly. I am a very independent person. I pride myself on managing home, hearth and unruly boy brood with a minimum of whining. Mostly because reaching the Navigator on an aircraft carrier is a lot like trying to order pizza online – it’s such a huge hassle you can’t even remember why you wanted to do it in the first place. Sometimes this is a good thing, I hang up out of frustration with something new to be pissed about.
Another first of my rusty spoon day- my dear teen got to hear me get in touch with a phrase I vowed never to say to my own kids, “Just wait ‘til your father gets home.” 
I guess it was a day of firsts for us. And, like all adventures in parenting, we both learned something.  I hope that my son learned there are some lines you shouldn’t cross, (that is a direct quote from his Dad) and that paying the piper is more expensive than listening to her pipe, and lastly, waiting until your father comes home is a long and uneasy wait.
I learned that my little boy is not such a little boy anymore, and that tirades aside, respect will have to be a two-way street if I want to get through these coming years.  I will have to take a page from my husband’s book as well – talk less and act more.
Also, I am going to try giving more responsibility to the irresponsible  and see how that goes.  My eldest has the “Tom Sawyer trick” to doing chores – if done badly enough perhaps someone else will step in and do them. And, I hate to say it, it has worked in the past.  I am also going to stick to my guns when it comes to the consequences. I have trouble staying the course when my children are unhappy, and unfortunately they know this. As my husband says, they play me.
 I have to remind myself that while I can’t always give them everything they want, I do give them everything they need. I have to remind myself that while my teen may hate me from time to time I can love him enough to make up the difference. And loving him doesn’t mean loving his behavior.  In a past argument he accused me of only caring about his future, and I am guilty as charged. I need to stay focused on what he can do today.  I’m sure I can step back a bit, but I will not step away.
While having two D’s on his report card “is still passing” and that’s hunky dory with him, the consequences that loom are summer school and 3 months of restriction. While he believes homework is just busy work and “beneath him” so too will be my extraneous housework, chores and chauffeur duties. While I may have to watch him flush away some opportunities and close some doors that could have been open to him, I will love him enough to let him make his own mistakes and be a soft place to land when he falls.
And should adolescence rear it’s ugly head again as it most likely will in the near future (my middle son turns 13 in two weeks!), I will try to remember that while standing knee-deep in the flow of life, sometimes all you can do is roll up your pants and call a plumber.

Trudy’s favorite things – “The Boom List”

leanergreener2009 Oprah is always talking about her favorite things on her show, and I don’t have a show, but hey, I do have a blog!

So here’s the first installment in what I hope will be a new feature here, (drum roll please) it’s: “The Boom List”.

I decided to make a bigger effort at reducing my family’s carbon footprint in 2009 and I recently purchased a soda maker from

1. THE FOUNTAIN JET HOME SODA MAKER: I first saw these things in Mother Jones magazine. After a little more reading and research online I decided to purchase one and I LOVE IT! Not only do my kids think making soda is incredibly fun, they like the idea of it being planet-friendly. Plus, the soda tastes just as good, if not better, than store-bought and it has contain less sugar, calories, carbohydrates and sodium than grocery store brands. Diet soda club sodas contain no sugar, no aspartame and contain Splenda®. If they ever make some with Stevia instead of Splenda I’d be over the moon! As for the green part, the soda maker requires

No batteries or electricity
– Reduces energy used to manufacture bottles and cans
– Reduces gas and pollution from shipping packaged beverages
– Eliminates pollution from batteries

Also, according to their web page “206 billion liters of bottled water were consumed globally in 2008 (Zenith International Global Bottled Water Report, 2008). The energy required to make water bottles in the US only, is equivalent to 17 million barrels of oil (Container Recycling Institute, 2002). According to the US Recycling Institute, more than 80% of bottles in the US do not get recycled and end up in landfills. Also, an estimated 4.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions were produced in the process of replacing the 134 billion bottles and cans not recycled in 2005.”

They have a feature on their web page where you can calculate “your fizz quotient” – this tells you your “numbers” – data on how exactly you will be helping the environment, your health, your lifestyle and your wallet based on the number of people in your household and information about your drinking and consumer habits. My family of 6, being “heavy sippers” will, in one year, go from using 95 cubic feet of landfill space for soda cans and bottles to virtually nothing, consume 376,603 fewer calories, carry 3,723 less pounds in cans and bottles and save up to $347 on the cost of soft drinks.

Not bad for a product that only cost me $79.99 – I bought the basic “Fountain Stream” – but I’m thinking of upgrading to “The Penguin” – stay tuned . . .

skidless 2. SKIDLESS BY YOGITOES:  This thing is the bomb! It’s a kind of towel for your yoga mat, but the back of it has rubbery, grippy bumps that hold to the mat and voila, it makes your yoga practice skidless – I do hot yoga, which makes a lot of sweat, so this thing absorbs all of that plus it prevents slipping – in a word, awesome! The Skidless is pretty pricey though, I got mine for $50 at a local yoga studio. You can buy them online and they run about $55.

3. SNORG TEES: I have always loved funny T-shirts, the clever ones, the tacky ones, even the ones you make yourself (iron-on T-shirt transfers rock!) and I think I have hit the jackpot with Snorg Tees ( vivalastewart_thumbnailAccording to their web page, the business was started in the spring of 2004 by a group of young folks who decided they weren’t meant for “real jobs.” Five years later their business is booming. They consider their company universal since they shipped their first order to NASA. While the business partners come up with most of the tees, they take suggestions.  I have few ideas they might like! Just last summer I made some tees for my kids to commemorate our first year as puppy owners. The front reads “Olive Fest Survivor 2008” the back: “She put the PU in PUPPY.” I just hit a local craft store for the transfers, bought some tees, printed them off the computer and voila!
cujosm4. THE CUJO: I’m pretty sure I’ve tried every dog leash out there and the “Cujo” is by far my favorite. Made by EZY Dog ( these 40-inch leashes are made with a stretchy, shock absorbing material similar to a bungee cord and have handles similar but smaller to those used by water skiers! When your walking 92 pounds of Blab around the neighborhood, this thing is a lifesaver, or at least, a shoulder saver. I bought mine for around $25.00 from a local pet shop but you can order them online as well. They make extensions for their leashes too in 24 and 40-inch. I am planning on trying out the extension when I get up my nerve to take the beast rollerblading!
patientdoctorthumb5. 5-SECOND FILMS: One of the creators of 5-Second Films, Michael Rousselet, is a good friend of my nephew’s, so out of curiosity I checked out the site –
 After a good half hour of these “films” I had made up my mind. Rousselet and his strange film making friends will be wildly famous some day. This site is a bit like You Tube meets SNL, but funnier. The brilliance is in the 5-second limit – if they can’t make you laugh in five seconds then you won’t resent wasting your time on their web page. One of my favorites, outside of the Academy Award spoofs, is “The Catholic Church Rules the Universe.” If you’ve got 5 seconds, it’s worth a click.

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