Friday, January 30, 2009


The boys and I had a playdate yesterday. The friends hosted, and the kids had fun playing together (or at least near each other) and, especially, dancing. The mom and I had a nice visit, and one of her kids has special needs, too, so she "gets it" when it comes to structure, managing transitions, etc. We've got another playdate planned for a couple of weeks from now, this time at our house. I'm looking forward to it.


The appliance repairman is coming today to (hopefully) fix my microwave. Hooray!


Now we just have to figure out about the odd humming coming from the van.


I love teaching. I get stressed out by getting ready to teach -- making sure the house is neat enough, getting my lesson preparation done, managing babysitting problems -- but once I'm sitting at the piano, I'm in the moment and I love it. I'm really lucky to have a full studio, especially in these economic times.


Abby has a measurement appointment this weekend for her first communion dress. A gentleman in our church is a fashion design professor at a local college, and is creating her dress as part of his professional development requirement for the semester. I am beyond excited. I have no idea what he has in mind, but I've seen his work -- most notably, his niece's wedding gown -- and am confident that he will turn out something beautiful and perfect for Abby.


I've received my 1099 forms, and was shocked to discover that I made more money in one year as a writer than I ever did singing opera. It wasn't that much, but it was enough to assure me once again that I'm on the right path. My dream about an audition last night left me with the feeling this morning of relief and contentment that I'm just not doing that any more.


Morning cuddle time with Brian is my favorite time of the day. He's here now, so I'll put the lid on the potpourri jar.

Happy Friday

Today is the first of our "family Fridays," as I'm calling them. For years and years, the kids have had social skills groups or therapy on Friday afternoons. The schedule has changed, and this means that once everyone is home from school and work on Fridays, we stay home.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it is, considering our family schedule. There is something going on every other day of the week in the late afternoon, which makes what I like to think of as a "normal" family dinner and evening just impossible, or at least rushed. Between my teaching schedule, Abby's violin lesson and my church jobs, we're always rushing or running off somewhere.

But not anymore. Today we'll have dinner together, and I've already put in a request with Earl for fireplace time tonight. Maybe we'll play games; maybe we'll just play. But we'll be together.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The biggest winner?

So if I fail at losing, do I win? The scale moved in the wrong direction this week, by half a pound. The carnage was actually pretty mild, considering what's been going on for the last week, eating-wise, but unwelcome nonetheless.

I clearly need a weight loss plan with more structure, because my own loosey-goosey approach is not working. I could join Weight Watchers, or count points on my own, but that thought makes me cringe. There's plenty of structure there, but I hate it, and can only do it for a few weeks before I totally snap.

I wish exercise alone were enough to lose weight. I really like to work out and am jealous of a friend who does it not once but twice most days.

On second thought, I don't think I like it that much. And she does Weight Watchers for maintenance. But still.

So what do I do? Count carbs? Fat grams? Just eat a lot less? Go to a nutritionist? Another friend does Jenny Craig but I'm not willing to spend the money for the food on the program.

Sometime in the last year I lost my willpower. It's not showing up any time soon, and I need another solution, because January was a bust.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A great weekend

We spent the weekend at our friends' country home in the Berkshires, with friends of mine from college and their family. Steph and I were roommates in Potsdam, and she and Charlie started dating in 1989 and were married a few years later. It had been a long time since we'd seen each other -- perhaps since my own wedding, in 1993 -- so our visit was long overdue.

Roommates, 18 years later

Steph and I had originally conceived this weekend as a girls' getaway, but we decided a few weeks ago to make it a family affair. I was pretty excited about that -- both to meet their kids, and to not leave poor Earl alone with ours all weekend. I didn't know what to expect, though, particularly from Steph and Charlie's son, Chris, who is thirteen. Would he be bored out of his head? Was he into the surly teenager phase? Or would he sleep the day away?

I needn't have worried. Chris was sweet, affable, good with the younger kids and even made us a wonderful lunch of shrimp fra diavolo on Saturday. He seemed to enjoy himself, and I hope he did.

Their younger son, Ryan, was a ray of sunshine in the house. Constantly smiling, he and my three kids played all weekend long: sledding on Saturday morning; playing Sorry! with a rotating cast of players; pretending with our rainforest play set both days. He's nearly seven years old, and played easily with Abby (who did an incredible amount of pretend play) as well as with Brian and Timmy. He and Abby have plans to email each other, and he was overheard planning a visit for Abby and me to their Long Island home in the near future.

Ryan, Steph, Brian and Timmy

As for the adults, it amazed me how easy, comfortable and fun the weekend was. Steph and Charlie are the same as ever, and I remember why we all hit it off all those years ago. We had such a wonderful time, talking about old memories and making new ones. Earl and Charlie did some winter hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and Steph and I had a chance to catch up.

The highlight of the weekend for me was Charlie playing his guitar while we sang. I had printed some charts of old and new favorites and Charlie obliged us with those songs and a few others. It was great.

Charlie, Earl, Timmy and Brian

We're planning another family weekend, hopefully this summer in Canada. At any rate, we can't let another fifteen years go by before we see each other again.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reluctant update

Well, it's Thursday. I managed to stay off the scale this week, as I said I would, and stayed at the same weight.

I'm disappointed, but I can't be too surprised. I've been very good since Monday, but birthday cake (x3!), Bramblewood caramels and a host of other yummies last weekend weren't exactly conducive to weight loss.

There's one more week of January. That scale had better budge this week, or it will be time for a February fit of deprivation. I really don't want that (and trust me, dear readers, neither do you.)

In other news, I have a phone appointment with a magazine editor next week to talk about story ideas. I've also discovered that Exercise TV (on-demand from Comcast) is free again, so I've been using that for workouts when a trip to the gym would eat up too much of my day.

I suppose standing still is better then walking backwards. Right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

If he could do that, maybe I'd have been crying yesterday, too

Timmy had just asked me for the 97th time when he could watch Spider-Man when I told him not to ask me again because someone was coming to fix the microwave.

"Oh, because it's going d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d," Timmy said, rolling his tongue.

"Right," I replied. "Tell me, how is it supposed to sound?"

"Mmmmmmmmmm," he hummed.

"Yup," I said, "so that's why someone is coming to take a look at it."

"A fireman?" Timmy asked.

"No," I answered.

"Daddy?" he tried.

A good guess, but no again.

Timmy was stumped. And, then, like so many of his fellow Americans, he suddenly knew who could fix it.

"Bawack Obama!" he said, triumphantly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On the soapbox

Like parents everywhere, I want the best for my children. Figuring out what is "the best " is one of the challenges of parenthood, and I believe that every family has to find its own path to that destination.

For my children, it means being given opportunities to learn, grow and excel. It means fostering healthy relationships. It means caring for others and for the world, and acting accordingly.

Sometimes -- often -- it means guiding behavior to fit particular situations. We don't run around at the grocery store. We don't hit each other. And we don't engage in stereotypical autistic behaviors when we are fully aware of alternatives and are capable of choosing them.

This is sacrilege to some members of the autism community. Champions of neurodiversity do good work educating and informing the general population about differences, but go too far when they decry parents who prefer to work toward behavioral indistinguishability for their children with autism.

Abby and Brian have diagnoses of PDD-NOS, which stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified. Pervasive Developmental Disorder is the technical name for autism spectrum disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition -- the "Bible" of psychiatric diagnoses. "NOS" is a common catch-all label in the DSM-IV, and is typically used to provide a diagnosis for people whose conditions do not meet all the criteria of the full diagnosis.

My kids' diagnoses of PDD-NOS mean that they meet some of the criteria for autism, but not all. It could also mean that they meet the categories of criteria, but not with sufficient severity to merit the "full" diagnosis.

Regardless of the label, there are definite differences, but perhaps my insistence on working toward indistinguishability is because, on the grand scale, their conditions are on the milder end of the spectrum than those who have the "full" diagnosis.

In other words, my kids are almost typical, but not quite.

Because they're this close, I'm passionate about helping them bridge the gap. (This should not be read to mean that I think parents whose children are more severely affected by autism spectrum disorders are less passionate about helping their own kids.) So I worked intensely with Abby when she was four years old to correct her pronoun reversals. I cue her to put her hands down sometimes. I remind Brian to look at me during conversations. I rehearse social interactions with both of them, and prepare them for playdates and changes in schedule.

Lest the neurodiversitists think I'm quashing my kids' personalities, I'll also mention that I try to understand their needs and honor them as much as I can. For example, I respect Abby's need for time by herself -- now that she can tell me when she needs it, rather than starting by hand-flapping, quickly moving into flailing and ultimately having a meltdown. How did she learn to verbalize that need? Therapy. Practice. Lots of hard work. But now she has that tool in her toolbox. And she's one step closer to indistinguishability.

There is nothing wrong with teaching children to get their needs met in a way that more people would consider "typical."

As my children get older, my views on this subject may change. And I certainly do not have a problem with parents who feel differently than I do. But I do have a problem with being told my way is categorically wrong. Especially when it's working.

Getting political for a moment

I'm either a cold fish, or people are overreacting to President Obama's inauguration.

Yes, it's a historic moment. Yes, I believe he'll be a good leader; maybe even a great one. I watched his speech, agreed with most of it and enjoyed all of it. But I'm not getting chills or teary, and I'm certainly not yelling "Obama!" out my windows like someone in my neighborhood did a little while ago.

President Obama is smart, capable and inspiring. I look forward to seeing what unfolds. But I'm not crying about it. If that makes me a cold fish, then I guess I'll swim in the tank alone.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Date night

Earl and I were supposed to meet friends for dinner last night, but they had a family emergency and couldn't make it. We decided to go out, anyway; after all, we had a babysitter, and it was Earl's birthday celebration.

We went to The Tavern at Granite Links, and loved it. It was a clear, cold night, and we had a lovely view of the lights of Boston, twinkling in the darkness. The food was wonderful. The service was less wonderful: we had to request a wine list and plates for our bread, and our waiter wasn't as attentive as he could have been. But overall, it was a terrific dinner and a nice place to go. We'll try it again, hopefully with our friends next time.

On the way home, we stopped at Montilio's for dessert. What's a birthday celebration without cake? We split a piece of German chocolate (my favorite) and a coffee. We noticed that Montilio's delivers pizza, and wondered if they'd deliver their desserts. Now that's something I'd like to see: a dessert delivery service.

Of course, that is precisely what I don't need. But it's fun to think about.

We had a nice date, our first since November. We've really got to do that more often.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, nice husband

Earl's birthday ended up just fine, despite the absence of the book he wanted. Here's a photo of him blowing out the candles on the famous olive oil cake. Timmy is cheering him on.

And here is another angle, pre-blowout. I typically crop the photos I take, but I thought the floating CVS calculator (Brian is just off to the right of the photo) plus the Bramblewood caramels on the table add to the festive atmosphere. Or the chaotic atmosphere.

Happy Birthday, dear Earl. May all your wishes come true.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Caramel heaven

This falls into the "no wonder you only lost half a pound this week" department, but it must be said.

If you like caramels -- and I don't mean the Kraft cubes wrapped in cellophane; I'm talking about rich bites of sensuous caramel decadence -- then have I got a tip for you.

A college and grad-school chum of mine, Amy Young Goetz, has her own business, and her business is making caramels (and other yummies) that will send you into grateful spasms of caramel pleasure.

I first made the acquaintance of these to-die-for caramels in 1987, when I roomed next to her in Knowles dormitory at SUNY Potsdam. Her mom sent her some caramels in December, as a pre-Christmas treat, and she generously shared and got the entire floor hooked.

I recently got in touch with Amy again, and, having made the happy discovery that caramels are now her business, I ordered some as a birthday present for Earl. They are every bit as good as I remember; maybe even better.

Bramblewood, Amy's business, is located in Minnesota, from where she hails. She'll send them to you, as she did to me.

I'm getting all Paul Harvey here, but I know you'll thank me. I still have caramel goosebumps from that one taste earlier this afternoon. If you decide to treat yourself, tell Amy that Julie sent you.

Not-so-big loser

I lost about 1/2 pound last week. This makes a total of 1.5 pounds in two weeks. A little slower than I'd like, even remembering that Things Take Time.

This week, I'll try harder to follow my diet rules, which aren't really that difficult to follow -- things like not eating while standing up; eating only when I'm hungry; staying out of the kitchen if I don't need to be there (to reduce temptation) and waiting 20 minutes before having seconds.

I won't weigh myself again until next Thursday, either. I weighed myself earlier this week and was down a pound and a half. I think subconsciously I gave myself permission to cheat on my rules because of that, and I gained a pound of it back.

So no peeking until next Thursday.

I did exercise five times this past week, and worked hard at it, too. It's not the exercise part that's hard; it's the eating part. Or, more accurately, the not-eating part.

In other news, I made another writing contact and am hoping he will get back to me because I'd really like to send him something I wrote.

As for my other New Year's resolution, I have been making more time for spiritual practices, but it feels strange to me to blog about it. Sort of like I'm widening my phylacteries, or something. I'm all for accountability, but I think I'll refrain from celebrating my spiritual progress in this space. God sees, and that's enough.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Big spender, big loser

This morning I had to run a bunch of errands. I mapped out my plan: hit Ocean State Job Lot after dropping the boys off at school; get to Barnes & Noble shortly after they opened at 9:00; then off to the mall, which opened at 10:00, to finally do some Christmas returns and to pick up a few things for Earl's birthday, which is tomorrow. All this, and I had to get back to Milton to pick up Timmy from school at 11:00. I was on a mission.

Things started out well enough. I found the things I needed at Ocean State Job Lot (tagline: Home of Adventure Shopping) and even a couple of things that weren't on my list and I didn't realize I needed until I saw them there. All was going well and according to schedule -- it was only a little after 9:00 by the time I checked out -- until the cashier rang up the total sale, which came to $87 million.

Adventure shopping, indeed.

One of the items had scanned incorrectly. With the $4+ million in sales tax, the total came to more than $87 million, actually. The manager came over, looked at the computer screen, then asked me, straight-faced, if I'd be using my credit card. I told him I'd have to call and ask for a small credit increase.

They had to void the sale and re-ring it (a much more reasonable $53) and, despite the delay, it was only 9:20. Plenty of time to stop at the bookstore to pick up gifts for Earl and his mom, whose birthday is next weekend, and get to the mall when it opened at 10:00.


The big bookstore didn't have the book I wanted for Earl, nor did it have the CDs for Judy. They offered to order the book, but since his birthday is tomorrow, that wasn't really an option. Ah, well, I thought, maybe there's still a little bookstore in the mall and I can pick one up there. So off I went.

For those readers who don't know me in real life, a little background: I hate the mall. Any mall, and South Shore Plaza in particular. I think it's from bad feelings left over from the early 90s when smoking was still legal in many places of business, the Plaza among them (this was when it resembled a cave, before the remodeling several years ago.) The combined effect of limited parking, tons of people and cigarette smoke was enough to push me over the edge, and I've never lost that dread of setting foot inside the place. This is partly why I hadn't done my Christmas returns & exchanges until now, nearly three weeks after Christmas.

Back to the story: I made it to the Plaza with a few minutes to spare, so I returned a phone call while I waited for the doors to open. At 10:00 on the dot, my odyssey through the complicated world of returns at Sears began.

I had several items to return and exchange; some with receipts, some without. It all took much longer than I wanted it to, as these things usually do (another reason I'd kept putting it off.) In the end, I got done most of what I needed to do, but it took so long I could only stop at one other store to pick up something for Earl's birthday. Meanwhile, I was walking so fast through the mall while wearing my winter jacket that I was sweating by the time I made it back to the car, with only 1/3 of Earl's birthday presents bought, and 10 minutes to make it back to East Milton Square.

On the way, I called yet another bookstore, and was informed they didn't have this particular tome on the shelf but one was on its way and should arrive within 24-48 hours. Terrific. I decided to call Earl and tell him he would get the book, just not tomorrow. He said he had seen it at a South Station book kiosk, and I rather frostily informed him I was not taking Timmy on the train just to get to South Station and buy a book, even if it was for his birthday. Ah, love.

When I parked the car to pick up Timmy (across the street, since the drop-off loop was filled -- I think some parents must arrive at least 15 minutes before pick-up time to assure themselves of a prime curbside parking spot) I made the unpleasant discovery that I had lost one of my new gloves, which my in-laws gave me for Christmas. I've searched the van to no avail, and think it probably is getting kicked around the floor or drowning in the parking lot slush of South Shore Plaza. Another reason to hate the place.

Home again with Timmy, I decided after lunch to make Earl's birthday cake for tomorrow. He wanted chocolate, and I decided to take the easy way out with a mix. I got out the mixer and preheated the oven, and then discovered I had about half as much cooking oil as I needed. I peered into the cabinet and saw the extra-virgin olive oil. Hmmm. It would never work with a white cake, but Devil's food? What the heck. I filled up the measure, dumped it in, and popped the pans in the oven.

Now my house is fragrant with the heady aroma of chocolate and olives. Earl loves both, but I'm not sure how he feels about them in combination. I hope the frosting will camouflage the olive part of it. If it doesn't, I could always stick a candle in one of the fig newtons I bought at Ocean State Job Lot.

Happy birthday, darling. Your gift is on order. Here's your birthday newton.

What kind of a loser wife leaves her husband's birthday arrangements until the last minute? I do it every single year, and it's not like it's not important to me. Maybe it's just that it comes so close on the heels of Christmas, but for whatever reason, January 14th always sends me into a panic.

I suppose I have an extension on his birthday, as we're celebrating with friends on Saturday, and then with his parents on Sunday. Maybe I can put my hands on the book by the weekend. If not, well, then, I guess it's the thought that counts. Even if it tastes like olives.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cupcake playdate

Fresh on the heels of my playdate column last week, Abby had some friends over yesterday. She remembered that Monday was her friend T.'s birthday, so she brought a birthday card to school for her, and I wrote a note in it asking T. and her sister, K., to come over to play this weekend and we'd decorate some birthday cupcakes.

I meant to call T.'s parents all week, and somehow didn't, but was rescued when her father called on Friday. So both girls came over, all smiles as usual. They're just lovely.

They played for a little while, and then it was cupcake-decorating time. There were several masterpieces. Here's Abby holding one K. made it for her, as by the time I thought to get out the camera, Abby had already eaten her own.

They finished up the afternoon with a game of Uno with Earl and the boys. Abby was pretty tired by that point; staying engaged with peers is hard work for her. But she had a good time, as always. Today will be a play-in-the-snow day, followed by hot chocolate and cupcakes for a snack.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

T.T.T. update

I know I made my Things Take Time resolution public on Monday, and it's only Thursday, but I really did start working on them on January 1st, which was a week ago. And I am happy to report that I have, in fact, lost exactly one pound in one week.

Of course I wish it were five pounds, but better to make small, manageable changes than go crazy and burn out before I reach my goal.

Other T.T.T. news: I did send out one magazine query earlier this week. Also have been making time for more spiritual awareness, particularly timely with Abby having her first reconciliation (confession) next week.

Exercise...less progress, although I've done it two out of three days and am trying to figure out how to fit it in today. I'm a little cramped for time, with the piano tuner coming today (hallelujah!) I guess the only thing I can really do is go to the gym while the boys are at preschool this morning. I hate giving up my alone time, which I use for writing. But I can creatively find writing time later, like after the kids are in bed, when I most certainly will not feel like exercising.

I am off to get dressed in my gym clothes, a concrete step to make me follow through.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The T.T.T. Resolution

Put up in a place
where it's easy to see
the cryptic admonishment

When you feel how depressingly
slowly you climb,
it's well to remember that
Things Take Time.

--Piet Hein, Grooks

Patience has never been one of my virtues. I've had many opportunities to practice it during these last seven years of parenthood, but it's not easy. I suppose no virtues are.

A few days ago, I wrote that it was time to make my annual impossible resolutions list. Instead, I think in 2009 I'm going to remember that Things Take Time, including:
  • Losing weight. I'm not a naturally thin person, but have maintained a healthy weight for most of my adult life. The past year, however, has been a different story; twenty-five extra pounds have appeared on my person. It's time to give them the old heave-ho. Rather than go crazy in a January fit of deprivation, however, I'm going to try what my wise friend Kathleen has been telling me for a long time: make the changes I need to make in order to take care of my health. I will make these small, yet hopefully significant changes, and observe my progress for a month. (If they don't work, I'll have to go into a February fit of deprivation.) Knowing that Things Take Time, I think that the goal of having the weight gone by my birthday in mid-August is healthy and doable. I'll aim for a pound a week, and that will give me some wiggle room, too.
  • Improving my fitness. This goes hand-in-hand with losing weight. I'm going to exercise five days a week, and six when I can. I feel best when I work out regularly, and it's good "me time," as well. I'm planning to head to the gym after picking Timmy up from school this morning. No time like the present.
  • Nurturing my writing career. I am starting the new year with a new and exciting project, and hope to get more of this kind of work going forward. Last fall I aimed for a magazine query a week, and that proved to be too much, as it's the coming-up-with-ideas part of writing that gives me the most trouble. I think a well-thought-out and constructed magazine pitch a month is more realistic.
  • Nurturing my spiritual life. Abby is preparing for her first reconciliation (confession) in a couple of weeks, in anticipation of her first communion in May. I cannot remember the last time I went to confession, and it's not for lack of subject matter. Because attending (multiple) masses is part of my cantoring job, it feels like a job most of the time. Making room for some other spiritual practices, such as going to confession and increased prayer, could be some baby steps in the right direction, after being stuck on my spiritual journey for a few years -- or even going backwards at times.

"Make haste slowly," my dear college voice teacher Mrs. Meyers used to say. I wasn't ready to accept her advice back then, but a few years of living have taught me that she had a point. Slow and steady wins the race. I may walk slowly, but I'm walking.

I'll post on my progress, and that will keep me walking.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Family column, religion feature

My latest family column ran in today's Patriot Ledger.

I also had a religion feature, on tomorrow's ecumenical Festival of Lights to be held in Quincy, Mass.