Tuesday, October 31, 2006

12 Months of Halloween Candy? Help!

We live on a hill. A very steep hill. People use our hill as their daily workout, doing lap after lap around the block. People do not want to drag their children up and down the hill to go trick-or-treating. So far, we've had five groups--nine kids total--and I think the last few are getting just a little old for the masks.

When we lived in the flatlands of Northern Virginia, we had easily 40-50 kids. In Campbell, we also had about that many, but I think some were repeats.

So now we're sitting on three Costco-sized bags of candy, unless we get one more group through. And I think those kids will be very happy. If not, Thomas might be taking a few treats to work tomorrow.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I Know I Said I Wouldn't Do It, But

The election. I know, I know: I wasn't going to write anything else about it before THE DAY. But these thoughts are fairly benign. For me, anyway. So here goes:
  • Everyone who votes should do so by absentee ballot. I've spent a couple of hours today with my ballot and the Official Voter Information Guide--you really can't get it all from :30 and :60 spots, ya know. I tend to wade too deep into some of this stuff, but I know that I can't keep it all in my head and I KNOW I don't want to spend two hours in the voting booth while I re-read the text of the various initiatives and propositions and candidate statements. Especially since Tuesday is not one of Hannah's school days.
  • The one glaringly empty box on my ballot right now is the one under "Governor." I'm not sure that I trust Arnold (does he need a last name?), but I just can't connect with, like, believe in the distressingly bland Phil Angelides, who--I swear--has made so little impact that I just had to look up his name. I'm leaning toward Peter Camejo (Green Party), but I might just write in Thomas, who would, after all, make an excellent governor.
  • The candidates from the two major parties need to stop thinking that everyone knows who they are and what they stand for. Those ads I mentioned before? They kinda get lost in the fog from the steaming pile that spews from our televisions for seemingly years on end. Please, submit a statement to the Voter Information Guide. Not everyone looks for the little "R" and "D" on the ballot. I hope.
  • The American Independent Party of California is not what you think it is. Make sure you look them up before you register. If that's not what you were looking for, choose "Decline to State." Excuse me, I need to go wash my browser now.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Issues With My Issues

I've been in a bit of a mental rough patch lately and, until today, I thought I'd been dealing with it. But right after breakfast, Hannah came over to me and very solemnly asked, "Mommy, do you have issues today?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know: problems. Are you having problems today?"

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry so, instead, I gave her a big hug and told her that I thought my issues were going to take the day off.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Physical Therapy Appointment #2

The girls woke up early (6:45) and decided to let the whining begin. Charlotte wanted to eat, didn't want to eat, followed by the always-frustrating "Pick me up! No, no, put me down!! I want a nap! NOOOOO No Nap!" (Remember--she doesn't talk yet, so these are all just my interpretations of the yelling. Quite possibly, she was saying something more along the lines of "My it's chilly this morning! May I have a cup of tea?") So by the time we arrived for our 9:00 appointment, everyone was in a really delightful mood. Well, not the therapist, although she may have been by the time our session was over.

We put Hannah in extended care after Pre-K so that Charlotte could finish her regular Wednesday class and so we could try to get her other appointments scheduled on Monday or Friday afternoons. Even late on a Wednesday would be fine. But the waiting lists are long for PT, OT and speech therapy, so you have to take what you can get. And we got 9:00 every Thursday morning. Meaning that Hannah has to come along. And that I have to get over my distaste for getting out of jammies before 10:00.

The first session, Hannah did really well. She read her books and watched quietly for most of the time. Today, not so much as it became more of the Hannah Show. I know she feels left out, but Charlotte starts to shut down a little if there is too much going on. And Hannah refused to stop bouncing and asking questions and asking for toys--especially the noisy toys. So Charlotte, not surprisingly, was very fussy and didn't want to do most of the activities until about 10 minutes before our time was up. And I can't really be angry or upset with Hannah; she's four. All of this is new to her--new toys and new people.

Thank goodness Lora (the therapist) writes up notes for me after every session. That way I know what we actually went over each day, as well as what our homework is for the next week. She is also really good about trying to find ways for Hannah to participate. Hannah is very excited about that part and proudly tells everyone that she helps Charlotte with her exercises so that she can walk like a big girl. It's really very sweet, but I still think I'm going to look for the duct tape this weekend.

While the Cat's Away

Ah, poor Thomas. Little does he know that while he is away in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest (OK, he's at a lovely hotel in Seattle), I am at home dusting off my archaeologist's tool kit. Why? Because there is a half gallon of Denali Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream that cries out to be returned to a more vanilla-like state.

Bonus? All that digging burns off more calories than are actually in it! Or so I am telling myself.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I Should Have Known

When Charlotte was evaluated for her program, the pediatrician told us that it would be six months to a year before Charlotte was walking (she was 19 months old at the time). When she had her physical therapy evaluation three weeks ago the therapist said it would be six to twelve months before she was walking normally (Charlotte, not the therapist). But I guess Charlotte is a little more like her sister than we thought; tell her she can't do something and she decides that that is the one thing that she must do.

Sooooo---drum roll, please . . . .

On Friday, Charlotte decided that it was time to prove everyone wrong. I took away the laundry basket she was using as a floor sander and she stood there looking at me and then just started walking. Six or eight steps at first, but then Hannah wanted Charlotte to walk to her too, so she went another six. And then another.

By Saturday morning, she was going as if she had been walking for months. Thomas and I sat about six feet apart at first, gradually moving out to about 15 feet. Charlotte just kept going from one of us to the other, stopping only long enough to get a hug before turning around again. She probably went 20 round trips before deciding that that was enough.

I wept.

At first, my face just hurt. I couldn't drop the ear-to-ear grin. But then the cascade of emotions kept coming: amazement, relief, wonder, delight, pride, joy, and, yes, relief again. And then came the tears. It's been so hard to watch her running on those poor callused little knees. Hard having one pediatrician tell us that she had all of the symptoms that they see in kids with autism. Really hard trying to ignore the people who would say "Ooohhh" in that knowing way when they asked her age after discovering that she didn't walk or talk yet. After all, they don't know her like we do. They can't see the wheels turning and the knowing way she watches everything and absorbs everything.

But then Charlotte got up and walked and, just when I thought the day couldn't get any better, she signed "Daddy."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lessons From a Two Year Old

OK, almost two years old.

A few days ago Charlotte had her third class at a program for children with developmental delays. Like all of the kids in the program, her delays are mostly physical but, as she usually closes her eyes and turns away when something unexpected or new comes into view, she probably has a sensory integration issue as well.

Over the past few weeks, Thomas and I have learned a lot about Charlotte that we never would have figured out on our own. Like the way she "cheats" when coming to standing to avoid using her calf muscles. (She has low muscle tone in her calves and does whatever she can to avoid working those muscles.) She can walk while holding on to something or someone, but generally gets around by walking on her knees. I tried it with her one day; trust me when I tell you that this is not comfortable! She is pretty fast, though: Lately when I put Hannah and Charlotte to bed, I'm reminded of the days of trying to stuff two cats into one crate for a trip to the vet. The cats, of course, were not giggling madly as they galloped away. But I digress.

One of the program directors told me that low muscle tone is not a problem with the muscle itself, but rather is the strength of the signal from the brain to the muscle--not something that you can change with exercise. (You can learn to compensate, however.) So everything Charlotte does is twice as hard as it would be for most people. The way it was explained to me is to "Think about what you do every day. Now think about doing it while wading knee-deep in water." Which is probably why she sleeps so much. Of course, we always thought "Yay! Good sleeper!" but no, it's actually because she's exhausted just from being up and around.

Having Charlotte in this program is a gift; in a very short time, it has helped her both physically and socially. She loves the singing and painting and playing with all of the messy stuff we don't normally do at home (see below). And the parent support group has been good for me, too. Until now I didn't want to acknowledge--even to myself--how difficult this has been. Hannah was so precocious, hitting every milestone way ahead of her peers, that it was hard to readjust and admit that I might have been expecting something different, and that I had been trying desperately not to force that expectation on Charlotte.

But every day as I watch her and play with her, I find myself both awed and humbled. She is such an amazing little person--very curious and affectionate and happy. And she is almost always in a good mood. To quote Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, she "makes me want to be a better person."


A few of the tips I've picked up from Charlotte's teachers include:
1) Put Cheerios in an ice cube tray to force her to use a pincer grasp rather than the "sweep."
2) When drawing or painting, point the tip of crayon or brush toward her so that she picks it up correctly.
3) A thin mix of corn starch and water is a good tactile exercise. It's a very different feel and strangely addictive--once the kids agree to actually touch it.
4) And the strangest one so far: Empty a couple of tubs of Cool Whip into a large container. Toss in a few toy animals and cars and let the kids play. This exercise is actually used for speech--it helps the kids learn to imitate animal sounds and car noises. Very messy but lots of fun!
5) Do not wear nice clothes to class. Ever.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Return of the Diva

This morning I was awakened by the sound of Charlotte crying. It wasn't early, so I wasn't really worried. "She's probably hungry," I thought. Then the cry changed to the one that makes moms run. So I hopped out of bed and I ran.

Charlotte was sitting in her crib, sobbing.

Hannah immediately volunteered the reason:

"I was singing opera. Charlotte kept singing something else. I told her to stop. And then she fell down."

"Did she have help falling down?"

"No. I was singing opera and she wouldn't listen. And then she fell down."

"How did she get the red mark on her face?"

"She fell down. By herself. And banged her face on the crib. By herself."

Hannah loves opera--has from the first time she ever heard it. Maybe that's because she actually heard it in utero: Thomas and I went to see Andrea Bocelli when I was about five months along and she was kicking like crazy during the whole concert. There's a funny story that goes along with that--Thomas won't let me forget it but I'll save the long version for another time. Short version: I had only heard Andrea Bocelli--loved his voice; never seen him. I said something about him always having his eyes closed in his photos. Thomas told me that Bocelli was blind. I was, to put it mildly, mortified. (Ironically this made me able to feel for GW Bush when he made his unfortunate comments to a visually-impaired reporter wearing sunglasses to a press conference.)

So anyway. Hannah is an opera fan. Charlotte is not. Hannah may or may not have knocked Charlotte over for her lack of musical appreciation. But I didn't see it and Charlotte can't talk, so I can't punish Hannah for something that may not have happened. Unless you consider punishment to be (as she did) the chat about why we have to be nice to other people, especially people who, one day, are going to be big enough to hit back.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Nobel Prize for a Noble Endeavor

Not many things will get me hopping out of bed at 5:30 in the morning. Girls crying? Yes. Random news bit? Not usually. But today was different. Today, the first thing I heard was that
Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank had won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. This is amazing in that, while richly deserved, it was--at least in most quarters--completely unexpected. There were so many other high profile nominees and Muhammad Yunus is not exactly a household name. Yet.

I first learned about Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank after Thomas met him through work and come away amazingly, infectiously energized and awestruck--not something that he does every day (the awestruck part, that is). So I did a little research on Mr Yunus, an American-educated Bangladeshi economist, and became a fan.

The idea behind the Grameen bank is that small--very small--loans can make an incredible difference in people's lives, and that that positive change can spread through the community. When we think "loan" we're probably thinking, minimum, a couple thousand. But Grameen Bank deals in micro-finance with loans not in the thousands of dollars, but in the tens of dollars. If I remember correctly, the first loan Mr Yunus made--while he was a college student--was less than $20. It was all the money he had in his pocket. But it was paid back, on time and with interest, and thus began Grameen Bank, which has now made loans to more than six million people.

Grameen Bank is decidedly not "trickle-down economics" which gives tax breaks and incentives to the rich and hopes that they will then invest more in industry, which will in turn create more jobs. Grameen turns that model on its head by making small loans to people that regular banks won't touch. Those who, in some cases, have nothing but their word and a business idea to offer as collateral. And these "risky" loans have paid off in a big way: Since the bank started, it has made more than five billion--yes BILLION--dollars in loans of which an astounding 99% has been repaid. Want to guess the repayment rate for the typical banking industry? Try "Not even close." Because of this, Grameen has been able to turn a profit every year but three. The people who pay off the loans come back for more to expand the initial business or to create a new one. They hire workers and buy raw materials, spreading the wealth throughout the community.

Grameen Bank's borrowers own 94% of the bank, which has more than 2,000 branches and more than 18,000 employees. And the vast majority of the borrowers, and so the bank's owners, are women.

Mohammed Yunus understands that poverty is at the root of much of the world's ills and that empowering the poor of the world to take control their own lives is the only solution that makes sense. And that this solution benefits not just the borrowers themselves, but the entire world. So kudos to the Nobel selection committee for seeing past the dazzle of more famous nominees in presenting the Nobel Peace Prize to Mohammed Yunus and Grameen Bank.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Almost Heaven

It's raining.

The girls are asleep.

The windows are open.

There is jazz on the stereo, a glass of wine in my hand.

I close my eyes and feel myself drift in time.

I can almost make out the sax player across the smoke-hazed room.

I begin to lose myself in the seductive rhythm.

The dog just farted. The spell is broken.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

And the Insanity Continues

It's been interesting reading the fallout from the Mark Foley mess. For the past few days, the denunciations of Foley and the House leadership have come from right, left and center. I almost fell off my chair when I heard that the Washington Times was actually calling for Dennis Hastert's resignation for not removing Foley as Chair of the House committee on missing and exploited children.

But today, while scanning the comments on an ABC News blog, it happened: Somehow, someone has decided to bring the "C" word into even this. Yes, that's right: Bill Clinton. The posters want to know why this is such a big deal to ABC when they didn't really have a problem with Bill having an affair with a 19 year old intern. First: Monica was either 22 or 23 at the time and not an intern, but a White House employee. So while stupid, the affair does not come close to the alleged actions of Mark Foley. Second: IT HEADLINED THE NEWS FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR!!!

Another frequent question/criticism was why ABC had held the story until five weeks before the election. I suppose it's a valid question and I can think of several valid answers. But for me, the bigger question would be why the House leadership decided that it was ok to leave him as Chair of this particular House committee? Even the slightest suspicion of inappropriate contact with an underage kid should have been grounds for removal. But because they decided to sweep it under the rug, we are left with the indelible impression that the House leadership cared more about the security of their grip on Congress than the safety of the pages who go there to learn about the legislative process. Not exactly the lesson they signed up for.

I've also been disgusted and bemused by the left-wing wackos (yes, yes--we have them too) who are using this opportunity to tar the entire Republican party as the "Gang of Pedophiles." Where is the moderation? Where is the sanity? This is about one sick man and the few creeps whose first thought was for their own hides. But, as we've become so polarized over the past five years, politicians on the right and left are constantly looking for the slightest incident that could tip the balance of power. This is taking it too far.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Dream of a Reluctant Minivan Driver

Yes, that would be me.

People are always asking if I like the minivan--a 2005 Toyota Sienna XLE. And I can honestly say that, for what it is, I do like it. It gets great gas mileage and there's plenty of room for the girls, a Great Dane and whatever else we might need. The automatic doors are great when you're juggling kids and grocery bags. But still. It's a minivan: People speed up when I try to pass them. I get flipped off for driving in the carpool lane even when I'm doing 80. (Um, not that I would do that, of course.)

But, like so many other minivan drivers, I too have a fantasy car. I'm 99.99999999999% sure that I will never own it, much less drive it, but hey--a girl can dream!

In the meantime, I'll just keep my bitch boots on the accelerator of--sigh--the minivan.

Fighting the Urge to Vomit

A week or so ago, I managed to piss off the one sister I have who still speaks to me (don't feel too bad; I only have two) so I tried to stay away from the political for a bit. But I can't do it any more. I am angrier now than I have been since November of 2004 when, in our infinite wisdom, we once again allowed a morally bankrupt politician, seemingly deficient in both brains and compassion, to occupy the White House. When was the last time America was so reviled around the world? And where the hell are the people who were elected to represent us in Congress? Hiding behind their own shadows, that's where--at least when they aren't flexing their muscle with the HP investigation, for Christ's sake. Because really, it's almost election day; time to make it look like they've accomplished something.

Every day, something else comes out that screams "Hey, maybe someone did make a mistake about Iraq. Let's take a look at some options." Is that allowed? Hell no. Instead, we send out the big guns to once again brand as a traitor and un-American anyone who questions the president's conduct of this war. Snide, contemptible remarks like "I have to wonder if the Democrats are more concerned about protecting the terrorists than about protecting the American people" and "Some people won't be satisfied until we are forced to read Miranda rights on the battlefield" serve as red herrings to draw attention away from the continued evisceration of the Constitution.

Do you think that anyone actually read the Military Commission Act of 2006 before they voted on it? No. Want to know why? Because they were still filling in the blanks the night before the votes were cast. And we certainly don't have to worry about anyone being read their Miranda rights--on or off--the battlefield; the battlefield is now wherever the president says it is. And on the matter of torture: "We do not torture," the president recently told us. So if we don't and haven't, why do we need to immunize from prosecution anyone involved in the "harsher" interrogations that have occurred since September 11, 2001? If they did nothing illegal, members of the administration, CIA and others should already be protected under existing law, no?

There. It's off my chest and (at least a bit) out of my system; maybe now I can think more clearly. I've turned off the comments on this one because really, I'm just venting and I don't feel like being flogged for it.