Thursday, December 24, 2009

Abby's Christmas Eve mass prelude

Abby played "O Come, Little Children" before the 4:00 Christmas Eve mass today. The sound on my little camera isn't the best, but you get the idea. I'm very proud of her.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cookie tray post

Lots of little thoughts here tonight. None are big enough for their own post, so here's a little tray of assorted musings and thoughts.

The big news is that I found the recipe for the Christmas cookies of my childhood today. How I love the internet. Just this week, I've found that recipe, "Christmas Jollies" by the Salsoul Orchestra (YouTube, originally found by a Facebook friend but then I ran with it), and also a website ( that lets you personalize a message from Santa for the kids or adults in your life. Actually, the Portable North Pole was posted by another friend on Facebook. Maybe I just like Facebook, not the internet.

Of course, I posted the cookie recipe on Facebook, too.

The funniest thing I heard all day was Timmy, my 4-year-old, chanting, "DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!) at the Celtics on TV tonight.

Not only did I make those famous sugar cookies, but I also made 8 little loaves and 5 big loaves of pumpkin bread. I'm baked out, for tonight, anyway. I still want to make ginger-pecan cookies and cranberry-oat-chocolate chip cookies, though. As Clarice the reindeer would sing, there's always tomorrow.

I've been trying to offset the cookie footprint by exercising longer today, and doing double sessions yesterday. It can't hurt, but let's just say it's a big, big footprint. A Bigfoot cookie print.

Tomorrow, I need to brave the crowds at the grocery store for Christmas dinner veggies, and Christmas Eve lasagna ingredients. I hate to use my child-free time for that errand, but it will take longer with Timmy in tow after preschool. The question is, when am I going to finish wrapping presents? Maybe I'd better sign off and do a little more of that tonight.

I suppose I should put away all those cookies, and clean up my kitchen, first.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays from the Fay Family

Abby, Brian and Timmy
December 2009
Merry Christmas from our family to yours
best wishes for a wonderful 2010

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bring on the holidays!

I am done! Done, done, done! I taught my last day of lessons today -- capping it off with a very well-done book recital by one of my students -- and am now officially on vacation until January 4th.

Of course, this refers to my teaching duties, not writing or cantoring (especially not cantoring, with Christmas in a week.) I love teaching, and wouldn't give it up for anything, but I also really enjoy my little vacations, or in this case, bigger vacations.

The best part is...the kids still have school through next Wednesday! Followed closely by the knowledge that my next deadline isn't for a week and a half. I'm giddy with anticipation of the free time.

I plan to thoroughly enjoy the next several days of preparation for Christmas. I'm not in a panic at all, and plan to keep it that way. A little wrapping, a little baking, and fortunately, no shopping, since I'm done with that, too.

Ahhhh. I don't remember feeling like this, a week before Christmas, in a long, long time.

Sebastien Lucien article

My feature on 12-year-old triple threat Sebastien Lucien, currently performing in "Best of Both Worlds" at the American Repertory Theatre, ran in today's Patriot Ledger.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Winter coat saga

I was in Rochester for Thanksgiving, when my mom asked, "Did you ever get the zipper fixed on your winter coat?"

I had no idea what she was talking about, as I hadn't had my winter coat out of the closet yet. After thinking about it, I realized that she was referring to my fabulous green jacket, a down ski parka I got from Freecycle a couple of years ago. I vaguely remembered that the zipper had broken late last winter.

When I got back home, I checked it out, and saw that the very first tooth on the left side of the zipper was bent, preventing the zipper pull from doing its job.

After trying to bend the wayward plastic tooth back into position, I got the bright idea of just snipping it off. This worked very well. The zipper closed, and it was great until I started moving around. The zipper promptly split from the bottom.

This would not do, with a Boston winter coming on.

So, being frugal (or so I thought) and always preferring to repair rather than replace, I took the jacket to a local seamstress. She informed me she wouldn't take the old zipper out, explaining that the feathers from the jacket would get all over the shop. I had my doubts, but she knows sewing and I don't, so I took her at her word. She said she could "shave off" the teeth of the old zipper and sew a new zipper on, probably for $30 or so.

Oh, and I had to go get the replacement zipper, since she didn't have time.

I cheerfully took down the name of the tailor supply store in Dorchester, and fully intended to get there, find a zipper (hopefully for a reasonable price) and bring the zipper and jacket back to the seamstress, who would shave the old zipper and sew on the new.

What actually happened was that I drove around with the jacket in the van for at least two weeks before I finally faced facts: I wasn't about to go to Dorchester, buy a new zipper, bring everything back to the seamstress and pay half the cost of a new jacket for the privilege.

I reluctantly decided to start looking for a new coat, and made a cursory investigation at BJ's, but didn't find anything I liked. I wanted a longer coat than a parka, preferably black, and absolutely needed a hood. BJ's had nothing of the sort.

I kind of brushed it off, until I heard the weather forecast a few days ago, which promised very cold temperatures this week. I put a shopping trip to Marshall's in my calendar, and off I went yesterday.

I found only one coat there I liked, but it turned out to be perfect. Car-coat length, black, down, with a wonderfully warm hood with (faux) fur trim. I feel like an Eskimo princess with all that fur around my face. It's a wonderfully cozy coat, and I drove directly from Marshall's to a clothing drop-off bin and sent my Freecycle green parka off to someone else, who hopefully will be able to find a way to keep it closed, and enjoy its warm wonderfulness this winter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Out of sorts

I've been out of sorts for a few days. It all started when I overbooked myself last weekend. It's like I hate to see an empty space in my calendar, or something. I had decided we were going to put up our Christmas tree and decorate it, but hadn't put it in my calendar, so I kind of forgot about how much time that would take. Then, when I realized I'd be out during two prime decorating times, I got pretty grumpy about the whole thing.

I managed to shuffle some things around and it all worked out fine, but somehow that has put me in a bit of a funk. It's like I can't get started.

I just blocked out a bunch of time in my calendar for other Christmas things that need to be done. Now the trick is not to think, but to just do those things when the time comes.

Every year I swear this year will be different; that I'll enjoy the holidays and not get overwhelmed and overburdened. And, every year, I'm lucky to make it to Christmas Eve in one piece. I did get my shopping done early this year, and that certainly helps, but I'm still feeling as though I'm behind the 8-ball, and I'm so darned tired, too, that I can't seem to spring into action the way I need to.

What I'd really like to do is take a nap. Like until April.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another family column

This column ran a few weeks ago in the Patriot Ledger, but was never posted online. Here it is, from the Greece Post, my hometown weekly.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A few random thoughts

Why is it that the one day I'm up early, the kids sleep in?

A great trip to Rochester this week, and I'm glad to be going home today.

No desserts until Christmas. I have been out. of. control.

I'm hitting the Y this morning before the trek back East. It will be good for the kids to run around in the "Mystery Cavern" there, too, to burn off some energy before we hit the road.

A family is a place where you can all get in each other's way cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and the tension can be pretty high, but it goes away and it's all good and there are no hard feelings.

Wii is such fun. Earl does a mean "Eye of the Tiger" on the American Idol game. Me (mii?), I finally learned the words to "Stayin' Alive." Randy and Paula loved me; Simon said I just didn't look like an American Idol. The truth hurts.

My baby godson, Eli, has the best little laugh ever. He is precious.

Serialized anxiety dreams might make good column fodder. Hmmm.

Timmy, my showoff social butterfly, got stage fright when it was his turn for American Idol. The tears in his little eyes! He was so relieved when we told him he didn't have to sing. Poor baby.

For the first time in years, literally, I am getting excited for Christmas. I think it's because I have most of my shopping done. Thank you, FlyLady, for making me work ahead this year. I don't think we'll be decorating tomorrow, but maybe next weekend.

The kids are awake! Off to start my day.

Christmas show preview

Here is my preview of "What Christmas Means to Me" -- dinner theatre at the Tirrell Room in Quincy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Back in the saddle for a short ride

I attended church choir rehearsal last night. I don't usually go, as I rarely cantor when the choir is singing, but the music ministry at my church has a special event this Sunday evening, a hymn festival in honor of Christ the King. We have a dress rehearsal on Saturday, but I decided I'd better go to another rehearsal just to be a little better prepared.

I'm glad I did. I quickly discovered I need to spend some time getting my music in order, and that I need to make copies from my hymnal of a few songs.

The music director also asked me to sing a couple of solos, one of which is a beautiful obbligato vocalise over a very interesting setting of a traditional hymn text. I even get to sing a few high notes; a rare thrill for this soprano, who never sings but in middle voice these days.

I've pretty much ceased to think of myself as a singer over the past few years. I'm not actively trying to get performance work, preferring teaching and cantoring to the stress of auditions. My sister asked me to do a recital with her this summer, and I just couldn't even get my head around the idea, let alone find the time in August (a crazy, crazy month in our family) to do it.

But last night in rehearsal, it felt pretty nice to be able to sing a couple of things in my normal range, to sing them well, and to have people appreciate it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stirred up

I've got a blog post or a column or something stirring around inside me, but haven't the time to actually write anything. (Of course, if I spent less time looking up videos from "Between the Lions," perhaps I'd have more time to write.)

Just briefly, then: I was chatting on the phone with a friend today, and I started telling her about how I've backed off on the master plan to become a Very Busy Writer, at least temporarily. Over the past couple of months, I've come to realize that I really am very busy already, with teaching, cantoring, mothering and the writing I do as it is. I don't need to make a huge push to have piles of multiple deadlines every week.

This is not to say I'm not ambitious. I love to write, and want to do as much of it as I can (for all you editors out there who might think I'm retiring or something.) There's no question that I'll continue to write as much as I can. I'll meet my deadlines, and I'll enjoy it, too.

It's just that the two kid-free hours I get on weekdays, when Timmy is in preschool, aren't enough with which to launch a full-blown career. Next year, when all three children are in school all day long, I'll be able to devote more time to it.

I still want the world, but I'm going to wait a year before I start seeking it in earnest.

Funny video

I saw this on PBS with Timmy earlier today, and I'm still chuckling about it. It's spot-on for G&S style, and of course I love all the big, giant, humongous words!

Recommended reading

Here is a post by Susan Senator that anyone with opinions about Autism Speaks as an organization should read.

I've been disturbed by some of the awareness campaigns put out by Autism Speaks, as well as by the backlash from people on the spectrum -- generally high-functioning -- who dismiss Autism Speaks and what the organization stands for and tries to accomplish, often with the catchphrase, "Autism Speaks doesn't speak for me."

Susan has written a terrific essay. What do you think about the subject?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Little swim

Today was lift-weights-with-Abby day, and I decided that, crowd or no crowd, I was getting in the pool this morning when the kids were in swimming lessons.

My swim started out rather busy -- there were four of us in the lane, one of whom was trying to do physical therapy of some sort. He got out after a little while, so then it was just three swimmers, and we managed to stay out of each other's way pretty well. Then, one by one, the other two got out, and I had the lane to myself for a few laps. I did 15 all told, with fewer backstroke lengths than usual for recovery time. A decent workout, considering I did a Nautilus circuit beforehand.

I took an online swimming lesson this afternoon -- really just watched a demonstration video of the forward crawl. It turns out I'm doing it pretty well, although next time I'm in the water, I'll pay closer attention to my kick speed and to the angle of my hands.

No swimming tomorrow; I'll be singing three masses in the morning and then heading off with Earl to our Marriage Encounter Weekend reunion. I'm really looking forward to it. It promises to be more of the same kind of work we did three weekends ago, and even though that work can be challenging, it's already making such a difference in our lives together. We wouldn't miss it for anything.

The end of the drama

This morning, I got a short email from the distraught dad I mentioned in yesterday's blog post. He wrote that he may have overreacted and that he didn't mean to imply malicious intent.

It was very nice of him to write back and acknowledge my email to him. I cannot blame the man for overreacting; if his son took the review as hard as it seemed he did, it must have been difficult, as his father, to see that. Hopefully father and son are both feeling better.

I'm glad all this is resolved. As they say in the business, on with the show.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Did I call it, or what?

Yesterday I posted a link to my review of Cohasset Dramatic Club's "Lend Me a Tenor." (Read the original blog post here.)

It turns out that, wording change or no wording change, I apparently greatly maligned one actor, whose father informed me as such in a tersely-worded email this morning. He reproached me for my lack of compassion for his son's individual situation, which, naturally, I could not possibly have known.

It made me feel bad, of course. I wrote back to the father, explaining that there had been a bit of a wording change, that I certainly had been unaware of his son's situation, and that I try to gently offer suggestions where I feel they are merited, even in community theatre.

In my singing life, I've been on the receiving end of criticism (and faint praise, which is sometimes worse) and I know it can be disappointing to read that one's performance was not universally cheered. It's hard; sometimes really hard. I do hope that this actor (as well as his father) can get past the review -- dismissing it, if necessary -- and continue on to this weekend's performances without giving it another thought.

Another writer told me today that she gets this kind of feedback from readers all the time, and that she just tells herself that if she's going to write a review, then she needs to be comfortable being reviewed, herself. I think it's good advice. I hope I can take it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Funny Timmy

Yesterday, all three kids were in the car with me as we were coming back from the Y, where Abby and I had lifted weights and the boys had played in the babysitting room. Brian asked me how far I could see, and this led into a short discussion on how far and how well we all could see.

Trying to bring a greater sense of gratitude into our lives, I said, "What a wonderful gift from God, being able to see."

There was general agreement in the van. Then Timmy said,

"And a wonderful gift from France was the Statue of Liberty."

He was right, of course.

Big swim

I did it! I swam 40 laps today!

I was going to go for a mile (36 laps or 72 lengths) but once I got to 72, I decided to just keep going to 80 lengths.

I was all grumpy and nervous this morning, worrying that the pool would be crowded. I hate that, and I don't swim as well when I have to share a lane because I'm worrying about where the other people are.

The pools weren't too crowded today, though. I started out having to share, and then had a lane to myself for maybe 30 laps, which was lovely. Then another swimmer wanted to share toward the end, which really was okay, but not as nice as having the stripe to myself.

I'm able to concentrate more on form and technique (such as it is) when it's just me in the lane. Last week and today I started experimenting with my breathing and a little bit with my follow-through on the armstrokes. I really have no idea what I'm doing, of course, but it's funny how changing something will affect how I feel when I'm in the water.

All told, I think I was in the pool about an hour, with hardly any rest time -- just to adjust my darned goggles, which decide to leak at the most inopportune times. I'm a slow swimmer, but all those laps have to count for something.

I might swim a few laps on Saturday when the kids have lessons, although it's been wildly crowded the past couple of weeks. If not, back to my lifting weights/swim 20 laps schedule on Tuesday, followed by another big swim on Thursday.

Theatre review

My review of Cohasset Dramatic Club's "Lend Me a Tenor" ran in today's Patriot Ledger.

Unlike some other reviews I've written, it looks like this one ran in its entirety, with one noticeable wording change. I am careful about how I offer criticism of community theatre, and generally try to use my teacher persona, offering suggestions rather than blasting something that I feel that doesn't work. Gentle wording is important to me, and it was the gentle part that was changed, alas.

It's really not that bad -- just a little stronger than I originally wrote it. The meaning is essentially the same; it's just not as nice. Ah, well, no one ever won friends being a critic.

Monday, November 9, 2009

November currents

Current Book -, I'm not reading anything right now.

Current Music - again, I got nothin', unless you count Suzuki recordings.

Current shame-inducing guilty pleasure - pumpkin chocolate-chip bars, Freschetta pizza for lunch instead of Lean Cuisine

Current colors - plum and yellow, not together, though

Current triumph - embracing my Organizer personality type, and putting it to work for me.

Current fetish/obsession - pumpkin bars; getting all prepared for Christmas before December 1st.

Current annoyance - a sweet tooth that will not quit, hair that sticks up and out

Current Drink - coffee

Current indulgence - going out to dinner mid-week (tomorrow!)

Current slang/saying - Well, then.

Current outfit - plum top, navy yoga pants, pink baseball cap. Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Current excitement - looking forward to a big swim on Thursday

Current endorsements - Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Google Calendar

Celebrity crush - hmmm. I got nothin', except for the usual Johnny Depp, but I haven't seen him for so long that it barely registers.

Current links - Asperger's Association of New England; Freecycle; The Word Detective

Current movies - rarely watch 'em, but it's almost time for A Christmas Story.

Current wish list: ummmm...maybe a Blackberry or iPhone or something like that? I'm really very enamored with Google Calendar, and am thinking, wouldn't it be cool to take my Google Calendar with me when I'm out and about? But it's totally not something I need.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Today's family column

Here is today's family column, inspired by a saying related to me by a fellow writer: "You do the math; I was an English major!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Splish, splash, sniff

I decided to make swimming my only workout today, and hoped to be able to do 30 laps, or maybe even 40. I've done 20 a few times, after lifting weights, and it hasn't been too hard, so I figured, more than 20 without weightlifting beforehand would be a snap.

I can't say it was a snap, but I did swim 30 laps this morning. I drowned a couple of times, and had a very annoying stretch when I couldn't get my goggles to seal correctly, but once I fixed the goggles and remembered that I was supposed to exhale when my face was in the water, I was fine.

I'm essentially a self-taught swimmer, and I don't pretend to be good at it. I can do a serviceable front crawl with rotary breathing, and the backstroke, which I use every fifth length to give myself a little break. I usually breathe with each crawlstroke, but was experimenting with breathing every two strokes, and was able to do that pretty well for about half the time I was swimming.

I had a lane to myself today, which was a luxury. It was in the middle of the pool, though, not on a wall, and I did get a little freaked out about the deep end when I first started swimming. I figured out if I just don't look at the whole big pool and all that water -- if I just keep my eyes on my own little lane stripe, I'm fine. As long as I don't look at the drain, either.

Since I had a fair amount of pool water up my nose earlier today, and survived, I decided to try out my new neti pot a little bit ago. My brother, a longtime neti user, gave it to me last weekend, and I've been wanting to try it, so I finally did.

Of course, I did it wrong at first, and had all kinds of salt water down my throat. Yuck. But I got the hang of it, and it was okay.

I can't say whether I'm smelling smells I've never smelled before, or anything like that, but I'll continue to check in with nosewitness bulletins now and again.

Feature on Meredith Hansen, soprano

Here is my feature on Cohasset native Meredith Hansen, who will be singing the role of Frasquita in the Boston Lyric Opera production of Carmen, which opens this weekend.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Souls' Day

I'm remembering those I love who have died today, on the feast of the commemoration of all the faithful departed, or All Souls. The entire month of November in the Church is dedicated to the holy souls, beginning with All Saints' Day on November 1st.

Below is the first reading for today, which is often read at funeral masses. It's a beautiful reading, and always brings me deep, calm comfort whenever I hear it.

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
(Wisdom 3:1-9)

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Halloween photos

Here is my web album of Halloween at our house. My brother and his family were visiting, and my neice, Mairi (black cat) and nephew and godson, Eli (gray mouse) joined my three kids for trick-or-treating.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Theatre preview

From today's Patriot Ledger -- my preview of Sondheim's Assassins, opening at the Curtain Call Theatre in Braintree next weekend.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brief update

Things going on here:
  • Marriage Encounter is the best thing ever. Earl and I did it last weekend, and it was such a gift to our relationship. It's a great "tune-up" for couples whose marriages aren't facing serious trouble, but which could use a boost. I cannot recommend it enough.
  • I thought I'd never get the stories done in time, but I met two deadlines today, easily.
  • I've almost met the third, which is tomorrow's. Final tweaking and editing in the a.m.
  • Since my last lap swim update, I've swum 20 laps on two separate occasions. That seems like the right amount, for now, especially since I always swim after first lifting weights.
  • On the other hand, I've not exercised for two days and feel like a slug (see deadlines, above.)
  • My brother and his family are visiting us this weekend, which means the cousins will get to go trick-or-treating together. Hooray! My kids are so excited about Halloween, they're not walking, they're hovering.
  • I'm growing my hair out (which is a relative term, of course) and it's in that I-hate-it stage. It sticks out in the silliest places and there's no good way to deal with it. Even my usual disguise of a baseball hat can't cover all the crazy exuberance of hair that is more than an inch and a half long.
  • I hear there's a World Series going on. It's worth noting that we've moved on in our house, particularly Brian, who is now following hockey, basketball and football.

We're all healthy and happy and hoping we stay that way, with all the colds and flu going around. Off to bed. Immune systems undoubtedly work better when they're well-rested.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Good things going on here today:
  • I lifted weights at the Y and swam 15 laps (30 lengths) of the pool. Yay me!
  • Abby's pink cowgirl boots arrived today. They are adorable.
  • I changed the language on my Facebook page from English to Pirate. It's killing me, it's so funny.
  • Three more days until Earl and I get away. Can't wait.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A few random thoughts

I'm really enjoying teaching Abby CCD this year. I wouldn't want to teach a classful of kids, but a little structured faith-sharing with my own daughter is wonderful. It's proving to be another nice way for us to connect.
Brian learned the right hand of "Cuckoo," practiced it for two days, and then learned the left hand. He's playing hands alone every day now, and even played left hand while I played right this morning. He will be putting it together in no time.

For those readers unfamiliar with Suzuki piano study, "Cuckoo" is a big deal. It's the first piece where each hand has its own line to play (i.e., not unison.) The coordination it takes to play a melody in one hand and an accompaniment in the other is phenomenal. Forgive me if I gush about my boy, who is showing all signs of tearing through Cuckoo, just as he did the Twinkle variations.
I am the only person I know who can take a walk in a suburban park and get lost. I had 15 minutes to kill before I had to pick up Timmy today, and decided to explore the far recesses of Cunningham Park, starting with the community garden plot, meandering through the pines along a paved road, going up an interesting-looking staircase and discovering a neighborhood I didn't know existed, and then flagging down a state car to ask for directions back to the front of the park, which is across from Timmy's preschool. I felt a little silly, but had been wanting to explore the park for some time, and made a good start today.
I am supposed to do my 7-point housecleaning today. I've done three of those points and am totally unmotivated to do the others.
On the other hand, I did do some flinging today, getting rid of stuff we don't need or love or want. If it were up to me, I'd fling an awful lot more, but the kids might miss their toys.
My hairdresser is coming tomorrow, and not a moment too soon.
It makes me outrageously happy when people I don't know personally become fans of mine on Facebook. I'm also thrilled when friends decide to "fan" me, too, of course. (Want to become a fan?
I am writing this blog post because I am trying to fend off a primal carbohydrate craving. Usually the afternoon coffee takes my mind off it, but not so today.
Earl took Abby and Timmy to a costume store yesterday, while Brian was at a birthday party, and found some pink cowgirl costume pieces for Abby. Hooray! I bit the bullet and ordered her a pair of western boots last night, after explaining to Abby that she would be wearing them long after Halloween. There's no reason a girl in Massachusetts can't be in touch with her inner cowgirl after the fun of trick-or-treating is past.
I am off to do at least one more housecleaning task. Not to eat any carbs.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The cat's out of the bag

I spent yesterday afternoon cooking and baking, in anticipation of my sister and brother-in-law coming over for dinner last night to celebrate his birthday. Abby helped me make the coconut cupcakes (Dave's favorite) and while they were in the oven, I decided it was a good time to talk with her about her diagnosis. I told her I wanted to get the book from her therapist and read it with her, and she was game.

The book, called All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, captured her attention right away. She loves animals, especially dogs, but cats are a close second, and the cute and cuddly kitty photos drew her into the book immediately. She wanted to read it herself first, so I let her, and then we went over it together afterwards.

I grouped some characteristics touched on in the book, which Abby has or has had in the past, and she was able to self-diagnose. We talked about it for a little while, and then she wanted to move on to something else, which was fine, of course.

I told her that she could talk with Earl or me any time she wanted. I also explained that not everyone knows what Asperger's is, unless they have it or know someone who has it. She immediately responded, "Okay, then I won't tell anyone I have it."

I explained that it didn't have to be a secret, but that it might be complicated to explain it to people who didn't know what it was. She seemed to understand.

When I tucked her in bed last night, she was reading the book again. She hasn't brought it up today, and that's okay, too.

It is snowing here this afternoon, and it was a really, really big problem for Abby a few minutes ago. It's not the winter. It's still the fall. Will the snow come in the house? Will we have to shovel? What if it snows on Halloween? You name it, she was concerned about it. Big sobs, big tears. Big hugs from me, big reassurances from Earl.

Snow in October is an unexpected change, and unexpected changes can be really hard for people with Asperger's. Things that the rest of us would shrug off with an "Oh, well," or an "I can't believe it's snowing!" are disproportionately stressful to some people with Asperger's, or any form of autism spectrum disorder.

Abby has calmed down, now, but it was a good 10 to 15 minutes of weather-induced emotional crisis in our house. Thank goodness it's blown over, for now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A funky week

I've been in a bit of a funk for the last several days. I claimed I didn't know what was wrong with me, even though I had my suspicions.

I wish I could say that I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and shook off the funk, but instead, I muddled through the first three days of this week, moping around, grudgingly going through the motions, and eating way too much of the wrong things. Eating poorly is counter-productive, and I know it, but I honestly could not seem to help myself. It was bad.

Yesterday, I finally made myself sit down to write a column, which I need to file tomorrow, and confirmed what I'd been suspecting since last week: I really didn't have anything amusing to write about. Life has been chugging along here, and it's been fine, but not all that entertaining. I've been focused on Abby, her changed diagnosis, and how I'm starting to do things differently because of it. It's been very exciting to me, and interesting, but not exactly lighthearted fare for a general audience to read on a Saturday morning.

Finally, I decided on a topic from my running list of column ideas. I forced myself to start it yesterday, and when I went back and looked at it this morning, it was okay, and I was able to finish it. As soon as I completed my draft, my mood lifted, immediately and unmistakeably. Struggling with a little writers' block was really weighing me down.

Not coincidentally, I realized last night I had to reorient myself spiritually, yet again. I'm starting to think it's a constant thing; that I'm not suddenly going to automatically point to true north without continual adjustments on my part. I knew this once; why do I lose sight of it so often now?

At any rate, the column is written, I'm feeling better and more grounded, and I'm not eating poorly today, either. Everything is connected to everything else, even writing, prayer and food.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A good day

The kids had the day off from school today, for a teacher in-service. We needed to take the van to the repair shop first thing, so I was facing a (forecasted) rainy day with three kids and no car. What to do?

For starters, we kept to our normal morning routine. Both Abby and Brian practiced, and Abby, in particular, was really focused and playing very, very well. She was also pointing out to Earl the musical similarities between her current piece and a piece she worked on a few months ago, explaining her dynamics and martelé bowing to me, and playing with excellent tone and mostly excellent intonation. She's blossoming into quite a musician.

Brian got a new piano practice plan; he's thrilled to be working on the B major scale, with its unusual left hand fingering and five whole sharps. He just eats this stuff up. He's playing "Honeybee" hands together with dynamics. "Cuckoo" won't be far off, at this rate.

After our morning routines, the kids miraculously decided to entertain themselves with drawing, coloring and reading independently and to each other. I took care of a few household things, and after lunch, we took a walk down to the auto repair shop, since the van was ready. It's just down the street, and it was good for the four of us to get out of the house for a bit.

Then, back home, the kids watched Martha Speaks, and we worked on our big project for the day: making "monster cookies" -- really just glorified chocolate chip cookies, but colorfully named from Abby's own kids' cookbook. Timmy measured the brown sugar, Abby dealt with the butter, Brian helped with eggs and they all took turns measuring flour. They were all great little helpers and it was a lot of fun. The cookies were pretty good, too.

After the boys' dance class and Abby's choir rehearsal, Abby and I made dinner together. She had chosen a chicken fingers recipe from the same kids' cookbook, and she prepared the crumb topping and breaded the chicken strips. She also helped season the oven fries, and put together a veggie plate, including peeling cucumbers, virtually on her own. It was such a treat to have her so interested, and focused, and connected. Everything turned out pretty well, too.

We had family game night -- a 40-minute cutthroat game of Uno, then snacks and bedtime. Abby was perseverating on tsunamis a bit; Brian brought up the topic (which he called "salamis" but then explained what he meant) and Abby ran with it. I hope she's able to put it out of her mind to get to sleep. She seemed pretty worried when I tucked her in, despite our reassurances.

I'm so grateful to have had such a nice day with the kids. Abby has been in a very good place lately, overall, and that makes life so much easier for everyone. Plus, I feel like I actually have a daughter to relate to, instead of a project to work on. I write that, fully understanding that it sounds cold and distant, but for me, that's how parenting Abby has been for most of the past eight years. This new connectedness is such a revelation, an emotional opening-up, that all I can do is be thankful and enjoy it.

Abby said a very funny thing tonight. We play Uno with a set of cards that have characters from the last Batman movie on it. On one card, there's a clean-cut man dressed in a suit. Abby played that card, looked at it, and said, "He looks like he's going to work!"

I agreed, and she continued, "He's like, 'See ya later Batman, I'm going to work!'"

I agreed again. And then, the clincher: "He's like Dad but with a different head!"

We all cracked up, and Abby joined in the laughter. I don't know if she meant to be funny, but she was, and she enjoyed it, too.

I wish I could lock up all this connectedness and ease and laughter and get it out again when I really need it, the next time Abby goes through a tough time. Like the next extended school vacation, or next summer. Her connectedness and disposition and entire demeanor has improved tremendously since she started school little more than a month ago. It's amazing how the structured environment of school just helps her so, so much.

What I would give to have her so connected and together, year-round.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A little movement

Today was busy enough that I didn't really have time to sit around and wonder why I was just sitting around.

I started off by sleeping 90 minutes later than I usually do, which I needed. Then, of course, I got up when the kids got up, so I had to be Mommy immediately, instead of easing into it with my alone time, as is my habit. But, as I said, I needed the extra sleep, and I fully understood the trade-off when I turned off the alarm clock the third time it beeped at me this morning.

After morning routines, including practicing with Abby and Brian and taking them to school, then bringing them home so Abby could get her backpack, and bringing them back to school, I was off to the Y and grocery shopping in the morning, then stopped by church to pick up Abby's religious education materials. There are no volunteers to teach third grade CCD on Sunday mornings this year, so we're homeschooling her for this. Despite it being another thing to do, I'm looking forward to it. It could be a great opportunity to connect with her in another way, yet with enough structure that she could stay focused and enjoy it. That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

Then, home to quickly put away the food that needed to be refrigerated, and then Earl and I took off for the meeting with Abby's therapist. It was a good meeting; we brainstormed ideas on how to "backfill" her leisure skills so she has some activities to fall back on socially as she gets older. We also discussed talking with Abby about her diagnosis, and the therapist asked me what I was afraid I was going to say wrong.

(Wait a minute...I thought she was Abby's therapist.)

I explained to her that I just wanted to be sure that she and we were on the same page regarding terminology and timing. She shared with us two books we can use, which I need to review before I either show them to Abby or write about them here. They look promising, though.

Abby's therapist also explained to us that Abby will probably have some feelings around the diagnosis, like anger, grief, confusion...not unlike what we had when we got her initial diagnosis of PDD-NOS four years ago. And, to be honest, not unlike what we still feel from time to time today. She encouraged us to sit with Abby in her feelings and to help her celebrate her strengths -- her musical talent, her incredible memory, her reading skills, her growing ability to adapt to changes in her life.

As I said, it was a good meeting.

Then, it was the afternoon whirlwind of putting away groceries, getting ready to teach, and teaching, and then the evening whirlwind of dinner, showers, review homework, snack and bedtime.

The house is quiet now; Earl is downstairs watching the Red Sox in the playoffs, and the kids are sleeping. It's the first time I've had to sit and think about the day.

I like being busy and feeling productive. But, as my friend, Naomi, and my sister-in-law, Jen, pointed out in their comments on yesterday's post, sometimes not being busy is good, too.

The idea of stillness, of inner silence instead of inner chatter, is something I've been doing a little thinking about, in particular. Earl has lately been visiting Glastonbury Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Hingham. He bought a book, entitled Finding Sanctuary, about applying monastic principles to one's own life, which he read, and gave to me to read, too.

I've just started reading it, and am not quite sure what I think of it yet. I mean, I love the ideas; of laying down silence as the floor of one's sanctuary; of finding time to be silent on the inside as well as on the outside. Of eliminating needless chatter. Of pulling up the weeds of unnecessary distraction and creating the time and space to allow the flowers of God's whisperings to grow.

But liking the ideas, even understanding the ideas and agreeing that they're good ones, is not the same as actually putting them into practice. I want to grow spiritually, but right now it feels like another thing on the to-do list, and something that I feel like I can't take on.

And yet, perhaps if I made a little time for what is really important, it could help me to see more clearly the other things in my life, not all of which, let's face it, are really that important.

I pride myself in my ability to plan, to organize, to carry out. But all that puts me squarely in the center of my own little universe, where I believe I can control things. And life doesn't always work like that, to my chagrin.

Maybe five minutes of "be still and know" could help me loosen my grip on the controls, and to be comfortable with it, in time.

God lives in the hard places, I think.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I'm typically in motion, either physically or, more often, mentally. I'm teaching, or writing, or mommying, or FLYing, or planning my next move for any of those things. I do take breaks, of course, but rare is the time when I just exist. I often feel guilty if I'm not being productive in one way or another.

But this week, I've hardly been moving at all. I have exercised, of course, and taught, and written, and mommied and even FLYed, a little. But I've also done a lot of just sitting around. I haven't even been making my famous to-do lists, and when I have, I have been ignoring most of the entries. The guilt is piling up, along with the tasks on the lists, and I don't seem to be able to make myself do anything.

Yes, I'm consumed with Abby's issues right now, between attending the AANE conference last week, and tomorrow's meeting with her therapist to discuss how we're going to talk with her about her Asperger's diagnosis. But it's not like I'm doing extensive research, or preparation, or anything particularly constructive about it.

I feel like I'm waiting, and I don't know what I'm waiting for.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Just call me the little mermaid

I've gone swimming twice in the past three days. I'd forgotten how much I love it.

A couple of friends from college days, with whom I've reconnected on Facebook, swim a lot, and it must have been all their status updates that got me thinking. About a month ago I decided that I should get a bathing suit that I could use for real swimming, not my BJ's $20 tankini with too-long straps that fall off my shoulders all the time. After hemming and hawing and searching online for a suitable suit with free shipping, I bit the bullet, paid the lousy $5 shipping and got a wonderful x-back tank from Land's End. It's not as streamlined as a racerback, but it works, fits and stays on my shoulders, which is important for all sorts of reasons.

On Saturday, when the kids were in their swimming lessons, I ducked out to the member services desk at the Y and bought a swim cap and some goggles. I changed super-quickly into my new suit and managed to squeeze in a few laps before it was time to collect the kids after their lessons. Feeling refreshed, buoyant and powerful, I resolved that I'd swim every Saturday.

And then I got thinking...why not stop by during the week for a few laps? It's not like I have the swimming technique, the stamina, or the time to spend an hour in the pool or anything, but why not jump in and do a little bit after lifting weights? It's a little more exercise (and every little bit helps) and it makes me happy. Why not?

So today, I was a whirling dervish in the Nautilus room, trying to get all my machines done so I'd have time to swim a little before having to pick up Timmy from preschool. I whirled myself into the pool area, discovered 3 lap lanes open (and one of them EMPTY), swirled into the locker room and tore back out of there 2 minutes later in full lap-swimming gear, including earplugs this time. I found a safe perch for my glasses, put on my goggles and gingerly stepped down the ladder, relieved that the pool was much, much warmer than the ocean at Nantasket (and even warmer than the other pool on Saturday.)

I set off in my inelegant front crawl, which I taught myself to do in grad school when I first discovered fitness swimming. As usual, swimming into the deep end freaked me out; there's something about seeing the lane-marker stripe go down, down, down that just gives me the willies a bit. (Strangely, it didn't bother me in the other pool on Saturday. Maybe because that pool is much newer, and doesn't look like it would like to swallow me up for lunch.)

Soon, however, I was concentrating on breathing air, not water, and didn't have time to think about the menacing stripe too much. All told, I only did 5 laps, with some resting in between laps. I think I could have swum longer, but I had to whirl myself into the locker room (leaving quite the array of puddles, I'm sad to admit) and into my dry clothes and get back to Milton to pick up Timmy. I was only 4 minutes late. Next time I'll have to allow myself more time, and not stop at the bank on the way to the Y. I think I'll try again on Thursday.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

To the edge of disclosure

Abby and I were sitting at the dining room table on Sunday afternoon. She was getting a headstart on her homework for the week, and I was having my afternoon coffee and skimming the Boston Sunday Globe magazine. I turned the page to Connecting the Dots, a piece about an adult's discovery at age 41 that he had Asperger Syndrome. I skimmed the subheading and let out a little "huh."

"What, 'huh,'?" Abby asked.

I hesitated. Explaining Abby's diagnosis to her is on my agenda for this year, in conjunction with her therapist. While we all think it's time she started to understand it, we haven't really discussed the approach we'll take. I want to tell her but I want to do it the right way, and I'm not sure what that is.

Abby was looking at me. Sometimes her radar is very acute.

"There's an interesting-looking article here," I said.

"What's it about?" she asked.

"The man who wrote it just found out that he has something called Asperger Syndrome," I said.

"What's that?"

"It's a difference he has, in the way his brain works," I said.

"Is he going to die?" she asked, worried.

"No, no no," I reassured her. "It's not a disease. It's just a difference in the way his brain works. It makes it harder for him to make and keep friends."

She thought about that. "Do we know anyone who has it?"

"Well, do you remember Mommy's friend Erik, who came over for dinner a couple of years ago when Kathleen and her family were here?"

"Yes," she said. Of course she remembered. Abby never forgets anything.

"Well, he didn't have a doctor tell him, but he was pretty sure he had Asperger's, and I thought so, too," I said.

"Is he still alive?" she asked, worried again.

I took a deep breath. "Sadly, no," I said, "but he died in an accident. It wasn't the Asperger's."

"Do we know anyone else?" Abby persisted.

"Well, not exactly, but Asperger's is a kind of autism, and you do know someone with autism."

"Who?" she asked.

"Your friend P," I said.

"How do you know he has it?" she asked.

"His mom told me," I said.

"How does she know?" Abby asked.

"P's doctor told her," I explained. "And he also does some things that people with autism sometimes do."

"Like what?"

"He asks a lot of questions, he says the same things over and over, and sometimes he talks too loud. He's very smart but he has trouble looking at people sometimes, and he needs work on his friendship skills."

I was generalizing; I haven't noticed P's trouble with eye contact -- perhaps because eye contact is an issue in my own family -- and I really don't know about his friendship skills, but that terminology is something that Abby's therapist uses with her.

Abby thought about that for a minute. "Does anyone in our family have autism?"

"No," I said, choosing to interpret her question narrowly. "No one in our family has autism like P."

She didn't react with any sort of emotion. I thought she might be relieved, or disappointed, but she just took it all in.

"Can you help me find this word?" she asked, showing me her phonics word search.

"Sure," I said.

We have to tell Abby about her diagnosis, and soon. She notices differences between herself and her friends, and just last week, a girl in her class told Earl at drop-off time that a boy calls Abby a "weird girl." The sooner Abby can own the Asperger's, and therefore we can take a more direct approach to helping her succeed with it, the better.

I'm going to call her therapist today. This can't wait.

Friday, October 2, 2009

AANE conference and reflections

I attended day one of the Asperger's Association of New England conference today in Boston. The speaker was Kari Dunn Buron, author of The Incredible 5-Point Scale. She had a lot of good things to say about Asperger's, about anxiety, and, in particular, about social cognition as a part of human development that is missing or impaired in people with ASDs.

Much of Buron's morning presentation was derived from the research of Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University in England. He is at the forefront of social cognition research, and coined the term "mindblindness" to explain the delayed development of theory of mind, which, simplistically defined, is the ability to take another person's perspective.

(It has always struck me as odd that Simon Baron-Cohen and Sacha Baron-Cohen could be related, yet they are. Cousins, to be exact. Theory of mind and Borat, from the same family. Wild.)

Back to the conference: this wasn't my first exposure to the 5-point scale. My dear friend, Kathleen, introduced it to me a couple of years ago, when I wasn't really ready to do anything with it. Then Abby's therapist used a similar tool last year, but it seemed kind of complicated, and I didn't really understand it.

Now I understand it better. It's a way of systematically teaching social and emotional concepts. Typically developing people generally absorb social and emotional knowledge from infancy. Generally, people with ASDs don't. Furthermore, people with ASDs generally learn best from a systemized, logical, rules-based approach. The 5-point scale applies this approach to social and emotional learning, making the unwritten "rules" of social interaction more manageable and easier to understand, and therefore, to learn.

I need to reflect and talk with Abby's therapist on how to use the scale at home for Abby, perhaps with regard to improving her willingness to do homework or around her difficulties with changes in routine.

Another thing I learned from going to this conference today is that I am profoundly grateful that I don't have to go into Boston for work. I used to do it every day, and tonight, at the end of the day, I had that old familiar feeling of my ears ringing and my eyes bugging out and my scalp feeling like it needed to stretch to make room for the buzzing discomfort inside my head.

People familiar with ASDs and Asperger's in particular will undoubtedly see the irony in my description of sensory overload, an issue that many people with ASDs struggle with. But seriously -- so many people on the trains, so close, with so much music spilling out from so many earbuds, the fluorescent lights, the squeaks as the trains went down the tracks, the jostling and going around curves -- the whole experience just overloaded me, not to the point of meltdown, but definitely past the point of comfort. I am so thankful that I work mostly from home. Not to offend people who rely on public transportation, but I found the entire experience dehumanizing.

In general, I am a huge fan of the concept of public transportation. I'm just grateful I don't have to commute anywhere.

East, west, (working from) home is best.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lazy day

Well, it's actually not all that lazy. Just not hyper-productive. Cloudy and chilly, only one tiny deadline looming, nothing to panic about. I need to get ready to teach in a little while. A longish afternoon coming up.

Allowing myself to fantasize a little...what I'd really like to do is put on cozy pajamas and crawl into my bed and take a nap. After a couple hours of that, I'd like to get up and eat some warm cookies from the oven, maybe with a cup of tea. Then maybe back under the covers for some reading or more snoozing. Maybe a movie on TV later, then back to bed for real.

I must be ideal day would be spent in bed.

Instead of my fantasy afternoon, I'm going to finish this blog post, take a shower before my babysitter comes, teach five music lessons, put a supper together for everyone, and get ready for my conference tomorrow. Also will have to meet that tiny deadline tonight, as I'll be out all day tomorrow. And then, by gum, I'm going to put on cozy pajamas and crawl under the covers.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Worry is unproductive but I can't help it

I'm a worrier. Always have been. Usually I can "get past" a worry, or at least get along with it. I'm having trouble with that at this particular moment, however.

Two big worries are on my mind: Abby's success in school, and the H1N1 flu virus.

I hadn't really been worried about the swine flu. We're all healthy; Earl, who is at higher risk because of his asthma, will get the vaccine, and we'll all be fine. We'll wash our hands a lot, I'll disinfect the piano and doorknobs like a madwoman and that will be that. But a healthy 18-year-old from Hingham just died from H1N1. This has given me pause. I'd been thinking that the news coverage has been hype, bordering on sensationalism, but now I'm not so sure.

My second worry was born of the twin events of open house at Abby's school last night, and an impending math test for her today. She is capable of doing the math; we've reviewed all the concepts together and she understands them. But getting her thoughts down on paper, legibly, is really hard for her, and it takes her a really long time.

At open house, her teachers stressed that third grade is a big year, the year in which students go from being little kids to big kids, and independent learners. From ongoing Readers' Notebook assignments to more sophisticated math to independent spelling work to cursive writing, I worry that Abby is going to be faced with big challenges at every turn.

By far the biggest issue for her has to do with output. The physical process of writing her thoughts is really hard for her. Combine this with her low executive function skills, and I fear that the foundation on which her teachers plan to build for more sophisticated learning will be a weak one.

I know they will scaffold these skills for her, but I think I will need to do some extra practice with her at home, too. Not that I mind -- I'm happy to do whatever is needed -- but getting her to comply with extra work is difficult. It may have to be a team effort -- extra work in theory assigned by her teachers, and presented to her as such, but really my doing and my responsibility.

We could start by some extra typing practice. It would be best for her to move toward typing instead of struggling with handwriting, as the output requirements get larger and more complex. Her teachers recognize this, but I don't think the practice time they outlined at open house last night will be sufficient.

The best antidote for worry is action, so I need to create a plan. Right after I wash my hands.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Making room

I came home from church last night to hear a very strange sound from the basement. It was of such low frequency, coming up through the floor, that I almost felt it rather than heard it.

I knew Earl and the kids were downstairs, so I didn't really pay it much mind, and walked around on the main floor for a good five minutes before I realized that it was Earl playing his bass.

Earl hasn't played for years. He did some gigging in the early years of our marriage, but was far more interested in the orchestra business than in being a performer. And then, he left his job at New England Conservatory (he had been the ensembles manager for the prep division), joined Prudential, and has been enjoying his career ever since. He's rarely picked up the bass in that time.

Sadly, the bass has been in the basement for at least 5 years, ever since it was moved out of the "extra" bedroom that became Brian's and Timmy's room. It is in need of repair, although the sound is still decent -- no rattling or anything. I suggested that he take it to The E String, with another one of my 20% off coupons, but he quickly informed me that it would be at least a $5000 repair. Perhaps another day.

We looked around the house for better place to store the bass, but it's not something that one can fit just anywhere. We finally decided on the corner behind the piano, which necessitated some rearranging of toys, books, and our gigantic Christmas cactus, which should be getting ready to bloom soon. (The plant's internal clock is a bit off; I call it my Veterans' Day cactus.)

Because of the rearranging, I buckled down and dealt with my disaster of a bookshelf and the numerous piles of music books on the piano. I now have a very organized set of drawers where the messy bookshelf used to be, and all my piano teaching music is clearly labeled. The piles on the piano are gone, or rather, relocated to the basement, until I can go through them and put them away, which will also mean going through lots and lots of old files that are stacked up in front of my music bookshelves down there. It's just as well, though. I've been thinking that we probably don't need to save every note from every team meeting from Abby's preschool years any more. They're not of any practical value now, and I'm certainly not sentimental about the files, nor the times from which they came.

So the living room, which is also my teaching room, now has more open space, along with Earl's bass in the corner. (There are also four violins in the room, and another one upstairs, but that's another blog post.) I dread dealing with the piles downstairs, but will do it 15 minutes at a time if I have to, until it's all done.

Abby had a pretty rough day today, with no school for the Yom Kippur holiday. Now that I'm thinking about all the rearranging we've done in the house, I wonder if that's what threw her off. She was really out of control at times.

If it was the environment that was making Abby crazy, then maybe it's what enabled me not to be crazy in dealing with her this afternoon. I'm always better put-together, mentally, in orderly surroundings. That is not to say my surroundings are always orderly, but that I'm much more serene when they are.

As long as I stay in the living room, I can be a calm mama. Ohm.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Good news

I've blogged many times about my struggles with being overweight. In mid-August, my dear friend Elaine gave me a book called Lose it for Life. It's different from other weight-loss books I've read, in that it really made me think not only about what I eat, but why I'm eating it.

It's also different because it approaches weight issues from a Christian perspective. I was initially skeptical, thinking that it would be written in the evangelical/born-again/over-the-top approach that I really have never been able to relate to. I was pleasantly surprised in this regard.

Because of this book, I've been making small changes in my eating and exercise habits, as well as trying to manage stress differently, and making time to nurture myself spiritually. It's been up and down, both the effort and the scale, but this morning, I made the pleasant discovery that I have lost 5% of my body weight since August 23rd.

Five percent is a fraction of what I need to lose in order to bring my weight into a healthy range, but it is a significant start. God is good.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekly wrap-up

Things are moving at a pretty fast pace around here, and I'm not blogging as much as I'd like. Here's the weekly wrap-up of the lives and times of the Fay family:
  • Abby continues to make progress on her new violin. I received the "Don't Fret" in the mail and successfully installed it myself, albeit with nervously shaking hands. She's working on dynamics for "Long, Long Ago" and has a pretty good feel for the terraced dynamics. We're working on crescendo and diminuendo. which are harder.
  • Brian is nearly finished with the Twinkle variations on piano. He learned legato playing this week, and is justifiably proud of himself. We will probably start Honeybee today or tomorrow.
  • Timmy and I are falling into a good routine for school days, playing games after lunch and each having our quiet time at 1:00. He had a playdate yesterday, which he enjoyed very much, despite the fact that I inadvertently locked the hosts out of their own house.
  • Earl has given two Special Needs Solutions presentations this week, which were very well-received. He's at a conference all day today, doing the same presentation for the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts Caregiver Conference.

I'm plugging away with my various activities: teaching, writing, FLYing, mothering. I had an arts feature in the Ledger this week, about local orchestras and their fall concerts. My story on Tommy MacDonald and Bob Richard, who create custom-made furniture by hand, came out in the October issue of South Shore Living magazine. And this is a "Just a Minute" week, as I posted below.

I also had writers' group on Monday, which was very helpful for fine-tuning a query letter, which I sent on Tuesday. I think it's a perfect pitch for a national niche magazine, and am hoping that the managing editor thinks the same thing. I'll follow up with her next week.

I'm still up a little, down a little, weight-wise. We soldier on, as my sister would say. I've been enjoying my daily walks and really look forward to them. Today is a work-out-with-Abby day, doing weightlifting at the Y.

Last night there was a dessert potluck and social for the Milton PAC, the Special Education Parents' Advisory Council. It was really fun, and wonderful to see so many families there. My family and this group have had a bit of a rough road at times, and I was relieved and happy that everyone was so friendly, and appeared willing to let bygones be bygones.

It's a three-day weekend, as the kids have no school on Monday because of Yom Kippur. I'm hoping we can do something fun that day, maybe apple-picking.

And that's the week that was. Time to make breakfast.

Honey-dos and don'ts

Here's today's family column, about my two lists: the Honey-do and the Honey-don't. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New violin for Abby

Abby started violin with a new teacher on Monday. The first thing her new teacher did was to confirm what I've suspected for at least six months: she has outgrown her 1/4 size violin.

So, today, after a full morning of practicing, exercise and swimming lessons, Abby and I headed over to The E String, a relatively new string instrument shop in Quincy. I had blogged about it when we tried out a new restaurant right across the street last fall, but hadn't had the occasion to visit until today.

It's a pretty small shop, but there are lots of violins, violas and cellos of all sizes for sale and rental. My thought was that we would simply rent a violin, since it would have to be traded up for the next size within a year or two. But, after speaking with the proprietor, we realized that it actually was more economical to buy, even given the growth factor; we'll get 75% credit on the purchase price when we go to trade up for the next size.

To top it off, I subscribe to the South Shore Sudden Values e-mail, and The E String had a 20% off coupon on strings and tuners in the e-mail. Of course, the coupon didn't apply to instruments or shoulder rests (which we also needed) but the owner decided to honor the coupon for our entire purchase. So, even given that we didn't buy the most expensive 1/2 size violin, we still got quite a deal. We are the proud owners of a violin with decent tone, a bow, case and shoulder rest, for $177.

Of course, we realize that Abby will have a bit of an adjustment period to the bigger instrument, and the fingerboard isn't marked yet. I ordered a Don't Fret for her new violin on eBay for less than $4 with free shipping -- much better than some other online places who wanted $5 for the Don't Fret and another $4 for shipping! Anyway, that should be here next week, and then Abby will really be off and running.

All in all, a lot of musical equipment for a very reasonable cost. Anyone in the area looking for a good student instrument, check out The E String on Cottage Ave. in Quincy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sunny Friday

We've reached Friday of the first week of our full fall family schedule. Despite a rough start on Monday, the week was a pretty good one.

I've written before that I swear by to-do lists, but I'm now completely addicted. Between the daily lists, email reminders (from myself and FlyLady), my teaching schedule, the kids' morning and evening routines, and their new reward chart, we had a very efficient week.

More on the reward chart: A few weeks ago, tired of constantly telling the kids what to do and when to do it in the morning and at bedtime, I borrowed my dear friend Kathleen's idea and created written routines for them.

Here is Brian's morning routine. Now, all three kids were all excited about their routines when I first created them, but the luster was wearing off last week, and I found myself having to remind them to get moving in the mornings, often with yelling. It's not a good way to start the day.
So I found a reward chart online, tweaked it to include rewards they really like (Abby and Timmy like movies or TV; Brian is motivated by cold, hard cash) and told them they would get a star for every day that they completed their morning routines without being reminded.
It worked like magic for a couple of days. All three kiddos were talking about their reward charts a lot, counting their star stickers and calculating how many days it would be until they'd reach the first reward level.
Then, Abby had a tough morning on Wednesday. She managed to complete her routine, but with no small amount of intervention (and, to be honest, frustration) from me.
Later that day, I realized I was sabotaging my own system. There was no need for me to intervene, and certainly no need for me to yell. If she completes her tasks, she will get a star. If she doesn't, she won't. Simple.
Thursday morning, she again seemed headed for a tough time. I pulled her aside, and calmly explained to her that she had her routine and she knew what she had to do. I told her that I wasn't going to yell, or even to remind her, but that if she gave me trouble with anything (such as brushing her hair or practicing her violin) I was simply going to walk away, and come back when she was calmer.
She still didn't seem to understand the impact this would have on her morning, so I connected the dots for her: if I was going to walk away and wait until she was calm to come back and help her, that would take more time. The more time each step on the routine took, the less likely it would be that she would complete her whole routine before we had to leave for school. And, of course, if she didn't complete the routine, she wouldn't be able to have a star for that day.
Then she saw the light. After trying to argue with me a little ("But I want you to yell!") and testing me with hair-brushing and practicing (from which I walked away, in both instances), she settled down, did the rest of her tasks, and was all smiles when she could pick a shiny star for her chart. And this morning, she moved through her routine with no problem.
I don't believe the reward chart will work forever, but it's been a very good and simple solution for us as our schedules have gotten busier this month. And, because we've been consistently practicing in the mornings, Abby has learned all of "Long, Long Ago" since Tuesday, and Brian has blown through two Twinkle variations (piano) since last weekend, plus the G major and D major scales. They're very proud of themselves, as they should be.
We're rushing less and doing more, and making music, too. It's a great way to start the day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blue Monday

Today hasn't been a good day. It's 5:45 a.m.

I woke up just past midnight, heart racing, from a singularly horrifying dream. I was with two of my children in the World Trade Center. The plane hit. I started down the stairs, holding one child's hand, carrying the other. People were still working in the offices. Very few were evacuating. Didn't they know the tower was going to fall?

The child whose hand I was holding couldn't keep up. I let go of the hand and kept going.

I woke up just before the tower collapsed, and had to talk myself out of going upstairs and making sure all three children were snug in their beds. I knew it was just a dream, but had a hard time convincing my hammering heart.

Not as horrifying, but still a downer, was the discovery that I gained 1.5 pounds yesterday. In one day! I've been trying to stay positive, but as I looked at my weight chart, I realized I've been essentially holding steady for nearly 3 weeks. Up a little, down a little, but basically plateaued.

Then I saw a photo of myself from a neighborhood cookout yesterday. I'm always surprised to see just how fat I look in photos. I'm not sure why, as I've been quite overweight for a couple of years, now.

Mondays are hard enough without waking up and feeling like a double-whammy failure.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Today's family column

Here is today's family column, from the Patriot Ledger. Score: pitching machine, 2; Julie, 0.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Busy bee

It's been a fairly productive week. I've been living by my daily to-do lists, which are tremendously motivating to me, help me organize my time and stay on task. I love reaching the end of the day with everything on the list crossed off.

Yesterday, I didn't quite make it, however. I had an internet connectivity problem, which took me more than 1/2 hour to fix. On the upside, I was my own network administrator. On the downside, my filing and ironing piles didn't get any smaller.

The thing about filing and ironing is that they keep. The piles are still there today, and I will get to them. I will.

I could have put in some time on the piles last night, but I wanted to watch President Obama's speech about health care. As usual, the President gave a great speech, which made a lot of sense to me. I do have some questions about how his plan would work, especially on the issue of cost, but I liked what he had to say.

And I am grateful that fixing the nation's health care system isn't on my to-do list.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Brian goes to kindergarten!

Here he is, the big boy, on his way into his first day of kindergarten at Tucker School. He had a great day, and especially loved lunch (pizza!) and recess.

He learned a song about saying hello to children around the world, and he was trying it out on me, greeting me with "Shalom!" as he came in from playing outside this afternoon.

When I told him at bedtime tonight that he gets to go back tomorrow for another whole day of kindergarten, he gave a sleepy cheer. Brian loves school; always has. He just wishes he had homework, like his big sister.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Date night

Earl and I went out Saturday night, for the first time in quite a while. True, we did go kayaking a few weeks ago in Canada, but we hadn't gone out for dinner in ages. After settling the kids in with the babysitter, we hopped in the car and headed for Cambridge.

Normally we wouldn't voluntarily venture so far north. There are few things on this earth I hate more than sitting in traffic, and the thing about Cambridge is that you have to go through Boston to get there. But we had a gift certificate to dante, a restaurant that looked very promising from the website, so off we went.

We were lucky; no traffic on the expressway. We found parking at the Cambridgeside Galleria, and I realized that I don't just hate South Shore Plaza; I dislike malls in general. But the parking was cheap, and we found our way across the street to the Royal Sonesta, which housed the restaurant.

The friendly hostess seated us on the patio, which overlooked the Charles River. It was a gorgeous night, and we took our time with the menu.

I wish I could report that the food was stellar, but it wasn't. It was adequate, and hot, and impeccably served, which was great. Just being able to eat it while it was hot was a treat, and something I always appreciate when we go out, since that's the only time we're not helping the kids with their meals, while our own go cold on our plates.

At any rate, we had some wine, some laughs, and both realized we're turning into fuddy-duddies. Neither of us could stand the music, too loud, even on the patio, and dance club-esque in a variety of languages. Earl looked at me during dessert and asked, "Do people really listen to this stuff?"

My particular contribution to the fuddy-duddy department was my visceral reaction of distaste to see grown women in baby doll dresses. I'm no fashion maven, but anyone over the age of two wearing that style looks ridiculous, and all it would take is a mirror for one so dressed to realize it. So simple, and yet it eludes so many.

Overall, a good date. It was wonderful to reconnect with each other as the summer wound down and we geared up for back-to-school.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A little space, please

No matter what I did with the line spacing on the entry I just posted, it wouldn't do what I wanted. Thank you for trying to read it, even though there's a 400-line paragraph.

Girls' day out!

Abby and I had an outing today. We'd been looking forward to it all week, and we both had fun and enjoyed each other's company.

We started at the Y, where Abby used her workout book for the first time. It worked like a charm, and charmed the trainers at the Y, too, who oohhhed and ahhhed over it. Abby did every machine independently, although I helped her with one that was hard to adjust. She worked hard and I did my whole workout, too.
Next stop was the mall. As regular readers of this blog may recall, I hate South Shore Plaza. I try not to set foot inside the place more than a couple times a year. But Abby had received several gift cards for her birthday from stores at the Plaza, so that's where we headed on our first leisurely mother-daughter shopping excursion.
Though we weren't in a rush, we were on a bit of a mission: she needed new sneakers, so we stopped at a shoe store first. Of course, the style she liked wasn't available in her size, so we had a pair put on hold at another store. We'd go get them later.
Next stop, Macy's, where Abby (with encouragement from me) found a very sporty scooter skirt/jacket outfit, in pink, of course. I helped her pick out a shirt to go with it. She was pleased.
We decided we needed lunch, so off we went to the food court. Pizza and a kiddo smoothie for her; chopped chicken salad sans bacon or cheese for me. Very nice conversation, too. It was so wonderful to be out with her without her brothers, and without worrying about whether it was getting too much for her. It wasn't. It was fun.
We stopped at another store (for which she had another gift card) and she bought new headphones for her portable CD player, and a couple of CDs. We were done in the mall, and we stopped by a friend's house for a quick visit. Very nice, again.
Then, off to the other shoe store to get her sneakers. One last stop, the bank. We were done!
When we got home, we shot photos of her beloved stuffed dog, Puggie, and made movies of Puggie, Brian's dog, Lucky, and Timmy's dog, Francois. We capped off our girly day with a manicure in purple for her, upon which she drew snazzy pink polish stripes.

For years, I've despaired of ever having what I've considered a "normal" mother-daughter relationship with Abby. I've believed that she doesn't, and wouldn't ever, have the ability to, or the interest in, doing any traditional mother-daughter stuff together, let alone have the ease of conversation that I'd longed to have with my daughter. But as I think of it, there are a few things we do together. We practice her violin; we cook and bake; we exercise; we successfully went shopping today. We did nails. And I only redirected her conversation (for perseveration) a few times, toward the end of the outing, when we both were getting tired.

We're not shopping til we drop, but that's not my thing, anyway. She's not confiding the dark secrets of her heart, but she may be too young for that. Or she may not have any dark secrets.

But today, on our outing and at home, we've enjoyed one another's company. What a gift.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Timmy's exercise video

Timmy and I did a yoga video earlier this afternoon. Apparently he was inspired. Here is his first exercise video, for your workout pleasure.

Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Photo Printing

(Visual) support can be beautiful

I'm newly enthusiastic about the effectiveness of visual supports for my kids on the autism spectrum. We've been using them for years, of course, along with their teachers at school, but I'm starting to think of some creative applications on my own.

A simple example: Brian's kindergarten orientation was this morning. He "felt sick" before we went, and I knew it was nerves. On our way out the door, I tucked my camera in my purse, thinking that maybe a few photos of his classroom could help him manage his anxiety until Tuesday morning, when his classes will start.

Toward the end of the orientation, I asked his teacher's permission to snap some photos of the room (not the children), which she readily granted. I took a few shots of the various areas of the room: the meeting rug, a play area, the computers and clock (always Brian's favorites), his cubby, and the room number sign.

When we got home, I printed them out in wallet size, all on one piece of paper. No text, nothing fancy. He was thrilled. He looked at them for a few minutes, hung them on the refrigerator, then promptly announced, "I'm not worried about kindergarten any more!" That's my boy.

Another example: Last week I blogged about Abby being trained on kid-sized weightlifting machines at the Y. She completed her three training sessions, but still has difficulty managing the multiple steps required for each machine, let alone actually being able to record her progress. The Y does have a weight training class for kids with Asperger's, but it's designed for older kids, and they meet in a quiet training room with adult-sized equipment, which is too big for Abby. That will be great in a few years, but doesn't help her now.

I then contacted the director of the Partnership Program, which trains and provides volunteers to assist people with disabilities. When I called, I was informed that the program is for adults with disabilities, not children.

The director then asked me if I could be Abby's volunteer.

Now, I love the Y. Earl and I have been members there for something like 15 years. The kids take their swimming lessons there; the babysitting staff is terrific; I've burned countless calories there and the organization does a lot of wonderful things for the community, as well. But I have to admit, it was hard for me to control my irritation when it was suggested to me that I work with Abby, myself.

I love my daughter. I would, and do, go to great lengths for her. But there are two reasons I will not work with her on her weight training:
  1. I want this to be something she can do without relying on me, to develop a healthy habit, to enjoy the self-esteem from accomplishing something out of the ordinary for her; and
  2. I want my own workout time! My idea is that she can exercise on the kids' equipment while I use the adult equipment on the same floor (per Y rules.) Of course, I could shadow her, and then she could shadow me, but that's not time-efficient in a busy family, and getting to the Y involves 20 minutes of travel time, as it is.
After grumbling about this situation for a little while, I decided to make Abby a workout book. I took the outrageously complicated (for a kid with Asperger's) workout card and created a simple, step-by-step process for each machine. I cut these out, and put them into the pages of a pocket-sized photo album, with a few clip art illustrations of exercise, equipment, stretching, and even a squirt bottle (to remind her to clean the machines after using them.) I even found a pug clip art, and put it in there after the stretching page, and wrote "Good job! Rozzie would be proud!" (Rozzie is my mom's dog, whom Abby adores.)

She loved the book, and is very excited to try it out. Test flight, tomorrow morning, when Abby and I have a girls' outing at the gym and the mall. I'm crossing my fingers that it works for her. I may need to tweak it, but I'll do it, if it means that she'll be able to do it, by herself.