Friday, July 29, 2016

Moving the Goalposts

My record is far from perfect, but I've managed to keep up my "20 min writing each day" for longer than I expected. Since it hasn't even been a full month, that tells you just how much faith I had in myself starting out. But anyway, I'm changing the rules a bit.

Instead of 20 minutes writing every night, I'm going to give myself 30 min of 'mommy time', which can be writing, walking, or something else to help me center and refresh. (Facebook or mindless internetting does not count!) I've picked up on the Pokemon Go craze, because of course I have, and our dog is a huge fan of the extra walkies this entails. For awhile I was trying to fit in both writing and a Pok√©walk, but I was losing too much sleep and The Mess was getting even more out of hand than usual. So I will compromise, with this caveat: if the writing starts to take a backseat, I'll change things up again.

I'm having a hard time tracking when is the best time to write. Some evenings I'll leave it until the last minute only to find myself nearly brain dead. On the other hand, I started out this evening without two brain cells to rub together, but after food and housework accompanied by the inspiring Hamilton audiobook, changed my mind and sat down to this ramble right before bed. On rare days when Pippin and Bella are napping at the same time I can sneak away with the Chromebook, and those are good days. Maybe when school starts up I can pull off the daytime writing more often, but with half-day kindergarten I'm not going to hold my breath.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brag post

Since I usually write to complain about how crazy the kids make me, I want to take this opportunity to brag about Merry.

Quick side note to make sense of why the two stories below are actually a big deal--Merry's biggest challenge right now is listening and processing instructions.

Our boy's latest sensory kick has been mud, which I almost don't want to complain about because it's so typical that it goes straight into stereotypical. In spite of my efforts he managed to get himself slightly muddy at the park today, not muddy enough that I couldn't put him in the van, but enough for him to volunteer "oh, my feet are muddy! I'll have to wash them when we get home." He was really looking forward to that part, apparently.

Once we got home he didn't bother to wait for me, but *listened* to my instructions, headed into the bathroom and washed his own feet in the tub! He even climbed up on the toilet to get his soap (long story) and I'm not even mad because other than sticky hands, this is the first time he's voluntarily washed anything for himself! Very proud.

Then to top it off, I told him that he'd have to clean up his trains before playing video games. Cleaning up the trains has been a sticking point lately, he understandably wants to leave them out so that he doesn't have to keep building the same track over and over again. But the creeping mess around here is beyond ridiculous, so I use screen time as a motivation to make some temporary headway with cleanup.

I told him one time, then got caught up in baby and chores (and Facebook, lets be honest). I assumed he had decided it wasn't worth the cleanup effort and would either play with his trains or something else. But lo and behold, fifteen minutes later I realized he was halfway through the cleanup! It was hilarious though, because instead of just picking up the trains, he would detach one car at a time and let it have a solo victory lap around the track before depositing it in the box. One by one, making the cleanup part of the play.

After the exhaustion of this crazy wonderful summer, it gave me such a glow to see him process, follow through and enjoy his reward.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli

What a time to be alive! Using a magical device I can summon groceries to my front door within a few hours. Or in other words, Amazon's PrimeNow is my new favorite thing.

I realized this morning that I was missing a few key elements for trying a new recipe and had to face the choice of skipping our park and picnic outing for a store trip or putting off real cooking for yet another day. (These days I can only manage one major outing during the day between naps, feedings, and omg three little people!)

Amazon to the rescue! I was even able to get frozen food, and could have done fresh produce if I'd wanted to spend the time figuring out a minimum order. Anyway, the day was saved and the recipe turned out awesome! Merry and Pippin put it away with nary a complaint, which is unheard of for a new recipe in these parts.

I made a few changes to Tasty's Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli, and it turned out delicious and super-easy.

2 lbs top roast (our market sells it as London Broil), sliced thin (could also use chuck roast or other boneless roast)
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. sesame oil

1 1/12 Tbsp. cooking sherry
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 Tbsp. beef broth
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets (or frozen broccoli)


Mix 1c broth, soy sauce, sugar, oil, sherry and garlic in crock pot, then mix in beef. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or high for 2 hours. In the last 20 min of cooking, mix cornstarch and 4 tbsp broth, add to crock pot and mix. Steam broccoli separately or add it to beef for the last 5-10 min of cooking. Serve over rice.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Statistically, you have almost no chance of getting in to see the uber-hyped musical Hamilton, but you should absolutely get hands on the soundtrack. I was skeptical at first--hip hop and rap are nowhere near my musical comfort zone, but musicals in general are pretty smack dab in the middle so I had to give it a try.

It'd be pretty bad form to recommend music and then claim to have terrible musical taste, so lets just say I'm . . . unadventurous when it comes to music. I can listen to the same stuff forever (this actually comes in handy for retaining my sanity when it comes to kids music) so I've listened to precious few new things for the past . . . decade? But I kept hearing all the hype and wondered if it was actually that good. (Spoiler: it totally is)

The source material for the musical, Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, finally showed up from the library and I am so excited! I'm not a huge biography reader in general, but after falling in love with the musical I'll snap it up.

It's easy to see why Hamilton's life inspired the brilliant Lin Manuel Miranda, and I'm consistently impressed at how well the musical condenses the drama and emotion of the founding father's life. By now I've memorized the lyrics well enough to see familiar phrases waving at me from Chernow's prose, and in the back of my mind the soundtrack pounds through the corresponding scenes in the book quite satisfyingly.

There's plenty of interesting deviations between the musical and the biography, but so far they've only been either implied or minor facts, not anything to change the spirit of the narrative.

From the musical I had the impression that the three Schuyler sisters were Philip Schuyler's only children (and Angelica claims specifically that her father has no sons), but it turns out he had 8 children who survived to adulthood, three of them sons. The edit makes sense though: Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy were the oldest children; their brothers were quite a bit younger. The aura of heiresses also adds to the drama of the musical's romance.

Another notable change is that Angelica was already married before either sister met Hamilton. (Fun Fact! Eliza was the only one of the 5 sisters who didn't elope.) This changes the courtship dynamic and eliminates the tragically beautiful song Satisfied, but the relationships between Hamilton and the two sisters seems pretty faithful to Chernow's account.

I'm not going to bother outlining every deviation between biography and musical, but I may follow up with any that I find noteworthy. Not liveblogging the read, but not bothering to finish the lengthy thing before I write about it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday whine

Another rough day. Was the last one a Monday too? For awhile I thought that being a SAHM and therefore on duty 24-7, I was immune to the Monday blues. But that was during the school year, when Merry had school and the comfort of a predictable schedule. He's been having a rough time lately, meltdowns and tantrums several times a day instead of only once a week or so. Time to try a few new strategies.

His therapist recommended a scheduling and routine building app for the tablet to help Merry regain some control and predictability. (Choiceworks for iOS, but we'll probably try the similar First Then Visual Schedule on the Android tablet since the boys' iPad is ancient and sloooow) I've been dragging my feet, but I'm pretty sure she's right--his pretend play lately has been putting his toys through morning and bedtime routines. We'll see how it goes.

Incidentally, I hate being the mom who whines about summer. I loved the last few summers we've had, spending most mornings out at parks, bringing a picnic lunch, watching the boys play, and enjoying the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. And I was looking forward to this one too! Still time to salvage it; the hard part is just getting out of the house--once we're out at the park or wherever, things are back to beautiful. I suspect if we can put Merry back on a more even footing, things will vastly improve.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Doggie Heaven

Source: http://imgur.com/gallery/9Kz3f

Around this time last year one of our dogs had to be put down. I wasn't sure what Merry understood beyond "Zoe's gone, she's not coming back." But for some reason he's been asking about her lately, and we had one of the longest conversations we've had. Definitely the first about such a difficult topic.

It was incredible and terrifying, because I was simultaneously going "ahhhh! He's asking questions, this is amazing!" and "ahhhh! How do you explain death to an autistic 5 year old?*" and "why did I even bring up doggie heaven? I don't even know if I believe in doggie heaven, what a great start to his religious education!"

It went something like this:

Merry: We're going to see her again soon gesturing to the stuffed dog we named Baby Zoe years ago
Me: No sweetie, Zoe is in doggie heaven, she can't come back.

[The next day]

Merry: Tell me about the dog places.
Me: Do you mean the vet? The pet wash?
Merry: Tell me more dog places.
Think I see where this is going
Me: Are you asking about doggie heaven?
Merry: Yes. What do dogs do there?
Me: uhhhh, they run and play, eat tasty food and sleep on comfy pillows!
Merry: And we'll go get her soon.
oh no, I'm going to have to use the D word
Me: Love, Zoe died. We can't see her again, we can't bring her back.
ooohhh, I'm so not ready to talk about people heaven, pleeeease don't ask about people heaven and the possible intersection with doggie heaven
Merry: *long pause* Our other dog isn't going to doggie heaven.
Me: No, Millie's healthy, she'll be with us for a long time.
Merry: She's not going to die.
Me: She will some day, all dogs do. But not any time soon.
Merry: She's not going to die!
Me: She's going to stay with us for a long time, you don't have to worry about it. Lets get ready for bed!

*or any 5 year old, really. The only wrinkle autism adds here is that I'll probably get only one shot at this for years and very little feedback on what he's thinking about it.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Getting back on the writing horse! I missed a few days because of a family visit, but the important part is starting back up again.

Next month's book club read is Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I started it up with absolutely zero idea what it was about and stepped straight into the twilight zone. Quick background: We're relatively recent transplants to the Seattle suburbs and the Gaffer has worked for two of the big tech firms up here. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? takes place in Seattle and out of nowhere the novel's opening hit viscerally, terrifyingly close to home.

Within the first few chapters we're mired deep into the high-stress tech industry, vicious private school parent politics and the hazards of blackberry vines. Although the setting is several miles away from us and several social strata higher, it feels like turning over a pleasant log and finding a bunch of maggots. But worse, because I actually enjoy entomology way more than stressful social situations.

*Deep breath* But other than the gut punch of the opening, I'm really enjoying the book. The characters are vibrant, the plot is intricate and delicately crafted, and its overall a fun read. Four stars.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis

I didn't think it was possible, but it turns out there's a C.S. Lewis book I don't like. Pilgrim's Regress is the first novel Lewis wrote after converting to Christianity and is an allegory for his faith journey up to that point.

Before roasting this particular novel, I have to say that I absolutely love Lewis' writings. His fiction and nonfiction have been central to my own developing faith and whenever I feel spiritually dry or lost, I return to Lewis.* Narnia, Til We Have Faces, and his Space Trilogy are on my list of "books I will re-read occasionally until I die".

But there's a reason Pilgrim's Regress is rarely mentioned among Lewis' other works. For one thing, it's racist af. I usually look at a book and author's cultural surroundings and tend to gloss over racist references to see the larger message, but no. You cannot use "brown girls" as your allegory for base lust. Right. Out. And it only goes downhill from there; I can't even bring myself to repeat some of the phrases he gets stuck using when starting from that point. If your writing is so racist that it makes my privileged, protected, very white self uncomfortable, it's really bad.

Past the racism though, PR is largely a failed allegory, which is something Lewis himself admits in the book's afterward. Its modeled after Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and also feels very much like George MacDonald's Phantastes (not a coincidence, I'm sure). I wasn't particularly fond of either book, so its not surprising that this one failed to impress me as well. I did see many ideas and themes that show up in his later writings, but you could easily skip this novel and miss none of Lewis' most beautiful, enduring ideas.

I've often heard that Lewis and Tolkien, who were close friends, had a bit of a falling out over the Narnia series, because Tolkien disliked allegory and wasn't impressed with the series. That always makes me feel like a kid in the middle of a divorce, but if Lewis started work on Narnia soon after PR, I can more easily imagine why Tolkien wasn't enthusiastic. "Another allegory, Jack? Will this one also include bland, obviously named characters and a rather rambling, obscure journey across a dull landscape?"

I almost gave the book up a third of the way in, which is very rare for me. But I did get a reward for sticking it out til the end: Lewis' afterward to the third edition is brilliant. Written 10 years later, it offers an explanation and redemption of the novel's more obscure points and has several quotable lines in its own right.

*Ok, so technically the first place I turn should be the Bible, but due to a myriad of personal and spiritual failings, I have a hard time reading Scripture all on my own. I get there eventually, but usually need a bit of a running start.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Gratitude

This morning was hard. Not spectacularly, trip-to-the-ER hard, but the soul-grinding slog of Merry fighting every step of the morning routine, Bella yelling constantly for attention I couldn't give, and Pippin wanting adorably to be his own boss about every. little. thing. I was up before 6 and didn't manage to take my first blessed sip of coffee until after 9, after which things improved considerably.

But rough mornings have a nice chiaroscuro effect on the rest of the day. For one thing, after a start like that, its satisfying to look back and realize that the rest of the day went pretty well. The boys played outside 3 different times, ate healthy meals, and I even managed to give Bella a bit of avocado to experiment with. (At 4 months and as the third baby, giving her table food doesn't happen unless I have a bit of spare sanity, so that's a good sign.)

But more importantly, once the coffee starts to take effect and I finally get a second to breathe, a difficult morning only highlights how good I have it. The most I have to complain about is that my three beautiful, wonderful children drive me crazy in my nice safe house while my husband is at his job? Yeah, perspective and gratitude save the day.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lesson Learned

So the first lesson learned from this experiment is that 20 minutes a day is not enough to actually write anything substantive. I had some half-developed ideas yesterday about mindfully celebrating holidays, but between the time limit and writing late at night I ended up with the mess posted below. Apologies for that.

I'm not a night owl by any stretch of the imagination, and although I'm not planning to limit my writing time on purpose, life intervenes. For instance, late nights have become Right Out with the hobbits waking up at 5:45 on the dot every morning and Bella up at least once a night. Boring, but that's how it works in this season of life.

Should I continue posting every day, or allow myself to carry posts over for a few days in the hopes of producing the occasional coherent thought? If it ends up preventing regular writing or posting I'll go back to daily entries, but for now I'd like the option to sit on a thought for a bit before belching it out to the internet.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Holiday Blues

I have a holiday problem. Every time there's a big one we fall short of my expectations for how it should be celebrated. This is partially because of the unrealistic expectations I pick up from Facebook and other social media: it seems like everyone is posting fun awesome stuff that we 'should' be doing, but between the difficulty of organizing an increasing number of children and the sheer difficulty of planning at all, I'm constantly falling short.

I can't dismiss the problem as simple unrealistic expectations though--the rhythm of holidays breaking up the normal flow of things is important. I remember the first Christmas we celebrated as new parents. We intended it to be pretty low-key. It was our first Christmas alone as a new family without the traditions that would have shaped the holiday if we were at our own parents homes. Merry was too young to bother with the whole Santa business and the Gaffer basically wanted to treat it like any other day. For some reason I even skipped Christmas mass, probably because baby is an excuse to sit anything out unless you're determined enough. This was before the days of near-constant social media, so I hadn't been marinating in everyone else's Merry Christmas posts. But it felt off, not to recognize such a huge holiday somehow. By early afternoon we were bathing Merry before heading to Christmas dinner at my aunt's, and I ended up bawling into the bathwater because a Christmas that wasn't special was so deeply wrong.

This would have partially been due to hormones, but the point still stands. The Gaffer seems to be content to leave holidays as ordinary days until social demands require otherwise. I can't do that. Can't let the social media pressure dictate how we celebrate, but taking the time and energy to plan an outing, a special meal, a special treat--something that marks the day as different and set apart, that's worth it.

Happy Fourth, ya'll :-)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Looking Back

It's been two years since I started this blog, and almost that long since posting; once I get past the guilt of starting a blog and then almost immediately dropping it again it's interesting to compare where we were then vs now.

The biggest and most wonderful change is that we've added another hobbit to the family! Little Bella is almost 5 months now and me from two years ago would be surprised at the thought of having a daughter. I'd always had this mental picture of myself as a mom of boys, but it's a beautiful change. She's absolutely wonderful and the boys adore her; Merry in particular amazes me by being an attentive, affectionate, and (mostly) gentle big brother.

The gluten free dairy/caesin free diet ended up being unnecessary, yay! After about a year on the GFCF diet we were seeing great improvement, but couldn't be sure whether it was the diet, the therapy, or simple mental/emotional development. After a few tests to reintroduce gluten we decided that it wasn't having a negative effect, and gratefully went back to tasty baked goods.

Dairy was a different story though; we noticed more aggressive, explosive and self-harming behavior on days after Merry had dairy. Bummer. Then we tried a probiotic, since I'd seen several promising studies about the gut-brain connection and how it might be linked to autism. It wasn't a fancy probiotic, just an off-the-shelf gummy and I wasn't expecting much. But we soon noticed that when he was on the probiotic, dairy didn't seem to bother Merry as it had before. So we ended up keeping the probiotic and reintroducing dairy, much to everyone's relief.

Pippin is two and a half now and blowing us all away with his quick grasp of language and social development. He's a super-happy and cheerful little guy and between the three of them I'm constantly swinging between brain-fogged exhaustion and crazy joy.

Two years ago we were just getting into Merry's diagnosis and now I can see how much progress he's made. We still have plenty of work to do, but we were so blessed to have an amazing preschool and good ABA program for him. Looking forward to kindergarten in the fall!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Writing goals

I need to write more. That's a thought I have so often and don't act on that its ridiculous. So here's my attempt to change things around a bit. I'm going to try to write 20 minutes a day, every day. Could be a book review, could be a family update, could be random ramblings, could be an attempt at writing an actual story. The end goal is writing a novel, but it's so far off at this point that I'm just taking daily excursions before even attempting the foothills.

I'm pretty sure I've started this attempt before and failed after . . . a week? Less? So I've been wondering what stops me and what I can try to keep it up. I'm currently trying to decide whether it will be more helpful to publish posts as I go along to keep myself accountable, keep everything private because I'm going to be writing stupid stuff and do I really want to fill the internet with more stupid? or save posts as drafts for possibly publishing later if I decide they're worth sharing.

The last option sounds like the worst. Either publish all or hide all, otherwise I spend far too much time and stress over what's worth sharing or not. *deep breath* Lets go with share all, because its the scary option and doing scary things is a good mental exercise. I'll exempt any writing I do towards a story I might eventually try to take up seriously--even then maybe I'll update with a quick "I totally did writing today, yay me!"

Tip #1: Do not sit down with computer in front of children. That's an instant invitation to beg for videos or playtime and then I spend the entire 20 min refereeing. Hide upstairs, write after bedtime, or distract them with TV or tablet first.