Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Birthday David!

Happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday to my favorite baby brother in the world!

Happy birthday to you! And, many more!

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Just adorable

Yesterday, as Molly and Shea had lunch, she commented how adorable Shea was when he made a certain face. I agreed, of course.

Shea made a darn good approximation of "adorable" with Molly prompting.

"Shea, do you even know what adorable means?" she asked.

He thought a bit and said, "cute". Indeed.

Molly was surprised that he knew what it meant. So was I and, again, I was happy and relieved that he seems to be cognitively age appropriate. Whatever that means...

We take it all as it comes. Or try to.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Backyard birdy blogging

When I moved to Vashon from the city, I could not believe how many different song birds were here. Of course, in our old neighborhood of West Seattle we were lucky to get a Robin in the spring. Needless to say, all the song birds were hanging out on Vashon and doing just fine without any bird feeders from me. They had plenty of forage and habitat for shelter; a literal birdy paradise.

At first, I could barely discern the difference between them they flitted so fast. But, I learned to differentiate them eventually and I have been an avid bird seed provider ever since.

I do have 3 cats which is sort of a problem for those ground foraging birds like Juncos and Towhees. I try not to think about it but I do hang the feeders up WAY up high to try and discourage that sort of thing.

The biggest deterrent to keeping those bird feeders fully stocked is the squirrels; just the common old Gray Squirrel we have out here. They aren't fancy but they seem sort of smart and without doubt extremely pesky. They will completely chow down a whole bird feeder full of seed in no time flat. Therefore, the market niche of "Squirrel proof" feeders which I have tried many and no, they are not Squirrel proof. The only way I have been able to keep my birdseed only for the birds is to mount the feeders on something they just can't climb. Seems simple now but there were quite a few years of me trying to hang feeders in my orchard trees. The squirrels won and I lost.

Now all my feeders are hanging from my little office building roof just adjacent to the house. We can watch them feed from the kitchen and I can easily see if they need filling which they often do. The variety is dazzling although I only use Black-oiled Sunflower seed. I have to fill the feeders every other day or so, even though I try to get the biggest feeders that will hold the most seed. I know, it's yet another responsibility in a busy day but such a joyous one.

We commonly get Goldfinches and another finch which is Scarlet. We've had visits from Sparrows, Wrens, Chickadees, Grossbeaks, Flickers and even have a very confused little woodpecker who manages to eat from our feeders. The Swallows come each May as well although they don't hit the feeders. They are bug catchers and love our open field where the bug hunting is good. For me, Spring is really here when the Swallows arrive. We have hunters too; Bald Eagles are commonly spotted riding the thermals way up high above the house. We have some Hawks too that nest in the tall Firs but they are usually shy. Although, last summer I surprised one who was hunting down near my feeders. Raptors gotta eat!

I'm bad, I really should have a full list of bird visitors for all you serious birders out there. Now, that I have done some birdy blogging maybe this spring I will keep better track. And, try to get some better pictures too.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

No...tickling...me!

I'm trying as hard as I can to stay out of it. The noise and stomping ebbs and flows, only coming to a peak when someone gets hurt or a line has been crossed. Molly and Shea wrestle, tickle, bug, hassle, badger, provoke, annoy each other unmercifully. All the time. I suppose this is a sibling's job and I try to stay out of it for as long as my frazzled nerves will allow me to. Periodically I holler, "Hey, what's going on?" Silence. And, the cycle repeats itself.

When I hear Shea speaking full sentences (granted short ones) while sticking up for himself, I know that this is as it should be. Molly is Shea's most ardent and beloved teacher and playmate. She can get him to try things that I can only chalk up to hero worship.

I wonder if they will always be friends? Or at least playmates? I remember vividly my brother and I fighting unrelentingly. I remember saying and doing awful, just awful things. I still feel guilty about some of it. But, now I can say that my brother David is one of my favorite people on the earth. I would literally do anything for him. He cracks me up like no one else can and I just adore his positive attitude and generous spirit. I sure hope Molly and Shea will be able to have that unique connection some day.

Molly is 5 1/2 years older than Shea. My brother David and I were 13 months apart. A very, very different dynamic admittedly.

Molly, now 10, is heading into big girl time. The evidence is everywhere. She spent the day searching and downloading pop songs to load onto her i-pod. I don't know any of these tunes but she does, somehow. We spent yesterday watching Mamma Mia, the fabulous musical featuring dozens of Abba tunes that I somehow remember the words to and the perennially sexy Merle Streep. Molly snickered and swooned a little at the romantic bits and has been singing the songs ever since.

I feel adolescence barreling down on me like a steam roller. I know we will somehow get through it but I wonder what it will be like for Shea. Will Molly have any time for Shea anymore? Will her "special" little brother have any room in her day, life, thoughts? It's not her job, I know. But, I sure do appreciate her involvement and it sure would be a different family without her.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The big melt

Well, it has certainly been interesting while it lasted. Thankfully it is beginning to warm up to normal NW temps. Unfortunately, we have a heck of a lot of snow to get through before it really is back to normal. And, it's not happening fast enough for me.

The roads are fine but our driveway is terrible. Jake got stuck 5 ft. from our front door when he tried to go to the store; gravel and slush flying. Ugly. Rain near freezing doesn't really clear it up very fast.

I look out at all my trees and shrubs and wonder if anything will make it through.

By now, I have read about wicked snow all over the country this holiday time and I would not even presume to complain about our pathetic 10 inches. I expect everyone is ready to get back to normal now.

All in all, it has been a wonderful Christmas. Kudos goes to Kathleen and Casey for hosting the Christmas dinner last night. I made the prime rib and mashed spuds, Jake made a truly stupendous gravy. Everything else was yummy including the company. Serious ovation goes to Kathleen's Chocolate/Peanut butter balls. O - my- garsh!

Casey built a big bonfire in his backyard where all were invited to sit and gaze at many "yule" logs piled up. Very cozy and the evening sped.

We have another week of "vacation", at least from school. I think we have enough fun distractionary apparati to keep us going. Molly's favorite gift so far: Calligraphy set. Shea's favorite gift so far: toy cash register.

Looking forward to an interesting 2009; for us all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And so Happy Christmas...

The addition to the house

I haven't really written about this yet. Probably because it has been part of my consciousness for so long it didn't really seem like news. But, now it really is coming to fruition and I am fit to bust.

When we moved to Vashon, we bought a 1908 "fixer" farmhouse on 5 acres. Our little piece of paradise. Although, it was completely trashed and had a gaping hole in the roof. I was scared to death but Jake knew what he was getting into.Or so he said. The house originally was said to have 4 bedrooms but after Jake took it down to the studs and added brand new wiring and plumbing it ended up a 2 bedroom house. Both downstairs bedrooms turned into needed living space.

Those were back in the days when it was just Jake, Molly and me. Two bedrooms was going to work for us but then the sky opened and dropped little Shea into our midst. We were thrilled with our family of four but had to go back to the drawing board on how to fit all of us into a 2 bedroom, 1 bath house.

Needless to say, we have been talking about a 3rd bedroom with bathroom for quite literally YEARS! At first we were trying real hard to just stay within the footprint of our existing house. Mainly to avoid getting building permits with King County; a particularly tiresome, expensive and frustrating necessary evil. Believe me, if it was possible, we would've done it that way, long ago.

So, big decisions had to be made, the inevitable really. With much thought and discussion, Jake designed a simple rectangle addition that would bump out on the north side of the house. To make sure the proportion worked, he changed the roof lines on the addition, one higher than the other which matched the existing pitch of the house. In the addition we were getting a big master bedroom with 2 walk-in closets with master bath. AND, another 3/4 bath which I lovingly call the glorified powder room. Can you tell we are a bit bathroom starved here at our house?

CAD drawings were pulled together from Jake's design. One thing we did right from the top was hire someone to help us with the permitting process. That was money well spent. He helped us pull together the important info and submitted it to the county. Wait, wait, wait. Denied. Non-conforming septic system. Argh! Thankfully, we found someone to help us with a new septic design and re-submitted it. Wait, wait, wait. This time is went through successfully! Hurrah! The permitting process ended up taking a year and a half total.

We broke ground in March 2008. I thought it was a romantic idea that the addition would happen when the house turned 100 years old. Jake did a lot of the work himself. He did the grading for the foundation, framing, sheathing, drywall & mud, siding and of course, will end up doing all the finish work. We brought in island help for the foundation, roofing, electrical, plumbing, tile work, insulation, painting and flooring.

Well, here it is Christmas eve and all I want is to move into my new bedroom. I was really hoping we would be in by Christmas morning but we won't be. Close but not quite. As I type, we have the last of the flooring happening, the plumber is bringing gas to the fireplace and setting up the new hot water tank. We are ready for fixtures to be set in the little bathroom but it may not happen until after Christmas. It's ok. We have come a long way.

With this addition, we've made the commitment to stay put until the kids get out of school. 15 years or so. Wierd to even think so far ahead but now we all have room to grow.

Molly will finally get her own room and Shea will stay and take over the existing kids room. We get to move downstairs with our own bathroom and closet space. Bliss.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas tunes at The Vashon Bookshop

Molly played her violin at our favorite bookstore here on Vashon yesterday. The owners of The Vashon Bookshop are so incredibly wonderful and very welcoming when Molly asked if she could play.

This is her 2nd year doing this and her Christmas tune repertoire has grown from last year. She even broke up the pace with a couple of Celtic tunes that she has been working on over the year.

People are always very supportive and encouraging when she plays; they just go about their business of shopping but manage to clap a little after each tune. For Molly, she gets another taste of performance in a low key setting.

I used the time to get some last minute shopping done. Books are always considered a winner under our tree. Jake scampered to the the hardware store for some foul-weather preparedness stuff. Shea zipped around; they have a nice big children's book area with puzzles and toys and many, many books to tempt. It's a very kid friendly place. I can honestly say, I just love it there.

I encourage you to go see them when and if you are in town. And, when you are there, go across the hall and visit Kronos too, a truly dazzling emporium of fun and cool things. Those gals are awesome too.

Simon's Cat - "Cat man do"

Sunday Pot Roast

Thanks goes to my GGF, Deirdre, for making me buy a Crock Pot last year. I bought it for myself, wrapped it up and put it under the tree for Christmas. We are pretty no-nonsense about gifts around here.

I am not a super-duper foodie like she is. Wish I was! Man alive, she is a great cook. Don't even get me started on her crab cakes! But I will admit that Jake and I can make a mighty good pot roast.

From our Crock Pot to yours:

Pot Roast ala' Dillon

Hunk of beef
Onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
handful of baby carrots
5 or so small potatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 sweet potato diced
Splash or so of Red wine
Beef Bouillon or stock
Olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper
Worcestershire Sauce
Simply Organic brown gravy mix or flour or corn starch to thicken

Saute onion, garlic & celery in olive oil until limp. Place hunk of beef in pan and sear each side while veggies are becoming translucent. Splash with some red wine and stir. Place all into warmed up Crock Pot. Add bay leaf, carrots, potato (both sweet and regular) and couple of good healthy tsp. of Worcestershire Sauce and water or beef stock to cover.

Let cook for half way, 3-4 hours, and add a little more wine or stock so it doesn't dry out. Wouldn't want to be short on the gravy. All told, it takes a good 6 hours to cook a pot roast.

When it is done, I add the Simply Organic brown gravy mix to thicken the sauce. You could also use a flour or cornstarch mixture to thicken.

Under cooking a pot roast will be a very sad occasion. In fact, it is literally impossible to overcook a pot roast. So, let it go all day. The beef should fall apart in little strings or my kids won't even eat it.

Bon Appetite!

Ode to a good snooze

Man, I love to sleep. I just love everything about it; the coziness, the comfi-ness, (feel free to ask me how much I love my Sleep Number bed), the wacky dreams and of course, the all important restorative nature.

I used to be able to sleep in late when I was younger but now I wake up at 7:00 whether I go to bed at 10:00 PM or 2:00 AM. Granted the 2:00 AM evenings just don't happen that much anymore but I still wish I could sleep in like the old days.

I am thankful that both my kids sleep well and through the night. It never has been a problem but I remember actively working at it. I remember letting them each "cry it out", trying hard to ignore the crying and the ferocious guilt. But at the other end of it, both my kids sleep like bricks through the night and wake up happy and ready to go.

On a cold winter Sunday I can really appreciate the idea of hibernation. I read recently that pre-industrial Europeans did sort-of hibernate during the winter . With short winter days and long cold nights, it feels natural to go to bed early and then sleep late. Most, if not all, agrarian activities stopped, so there wasn't much for all the farm hands to do. There were the beasts of burden and the family cow or goat, they needed to be tending winter or not. But, in those days they usually lived inside with the people (!)

From the NY Times, The Big Sleep by Graham Robb.

Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring. The fields were deserted from Flanders to Provence. Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end.

In the mountains, the tradition of seasonal sloth was ancient and pervasive. “Seven months of winter, five months of hell,” they said in the Alps. When the “hell” of unremitting toil was over, the human beings settled in with their cows and pigs. They lowered their metabolic rate to prevent hunger from exhausting supplies. If someone died during the seven months of winter, the corpse was stored on the roof under a blanket of snow until spring thawed the ground, allowing a grave to be dug and a priest to reach the village.

The same mass dormancy was practiced in other chilly parts. In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread. ... The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself” and “goes out to see if the grass is growing.”

Wow, that puts it in perspective for me. No wonder I feel like heading up to bed at 6:30 PM these days; right after dinner with a good book, of course. Ahhhhh.... cozy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shea finally gets to sled

Last winter, I knew I was really thinking ahead and actually bought a sled before it snowed. Boy, some smarty pants. Of course, it never did snow last winter and typically I can't even find it now. Where the heck did that go?

When it does snow around here, there is no finding sleds anywhere. All inventory is snatched up quickly, at any price.

We tried to make your own, cardboard and then pieces of plastic but it was admittedly pretty lame. No offense Jake, you gave it a good shot.

Luckily, some well equipped friends came by with 3. My driveway has just enough slope for a low key ride and the kids took it on with gusto. Sledding agrees with Shea. As his new favorite thing in the world it was a little tough when the sleds went bye-bye.

Kudos goes to Lizzie for sharing all her sleds with Molly and Shea especially her brand new one which Shea completely took over.

The Story of Stuff



The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hot Toddy Recipe

"Oh! The weather outside is frightful. And, being lazy in the house is so delightful, there is really no place to go, so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

But, could you make me a Hot Toddy first?

Call me a boozer if you dare but I sure think we could all deserve a warming "grown-up" beverage this evening.

I love the history and the connotation of the Hot Toddy. Doesn't it sound like something good old Charles Dickens would be sipping as he was cranking out the rough draft of a particularly interesting little Christmas story he was working on?

To the computer to do some research!

Wiki says, " Hot toddy is a name given to a mixed drink that is served hot, believed to have originated in the 18th century to make the taste of scotch more palatable to women." Well, something tells me that the ladies ended up liking it.

Now, the hard part, to settle on a recipe. I found many, many, many; all were different but basically the same. Some used tea and others just plain water. You can use either Brandy, Whisky, Bourbon or Scotch. Lemon was a constant; although whether you use the juice, a slice or zest was up in the air. Some rather fancy recipes asked for a whole clove, cinnamon stick or a sprinkle of nutmeg. Nice idea.

I like that a Hot Toddy is a drink that can be anything. It is not thick, rich and fancy like Hot Butter Rum or Egg Nog. Therefore not super-caloric; except for the booze and the honey, of course. It's a true peasant beverage. I like that the only parameters are that it is warm, sweet with a little citrus and good dollop of booze. Cures what ails you on a cold day.

So, here is my recipe; from me to you:

Shelley's Hot Toddy

Jigger booze: Scotch, Whisky, Bourbon or Brandy - Pick your poison
Juice (and pulp, if desired) of 1 small lemon or 1/2 big lemon
Heaping spoonful of honey

Place all in nice big cup, pour hot water over it and stir. Throw a whole clove or a cinnamon stick in if you got 'em. Careful, it's hot! Sit down and enjoy.

Bonus: If you're feeling a little sick, adjust the recipe slightly by adding freshly grated ginger.

Yes, buy the Ginger root, peel the outside and grate a little bit of it, put that in a tea infuser and steep in the hot water with all the other ingredients. This will really help with head, chest colds and fevers. It's like magic!

All bets are off

Guest blogger: Welcome
Deirdre, GGF
---------------
If you follow this site, you know that here on our Puget Sound island, we are deep under an unprecedented blanket of cold, fluffy snow. Unlike native Alaskans, our vocabulary to describe snow is woefully limited, and, even more unfortunate, quite reflective of our abilities to negotiate the stuff.

At once thrilling, fun, and overwhelming to rain-ready folks like us, arctic temperatures and ice-covered roads throw a wrench into our daily lives, leaving us each a little giddy and a fair bit disoriented. My 85-year old mother, always ready with unusual trivia, chatted last night about the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia. Roughly over solstice, it re-aligned the calendar for the new year; the Romans considered it a "time out of time," meaning that "anything goes" during Saturnalia. All sorts of usually-banned behavior was tolerated and even expected and never mentioned again once the calendar righted itself.

That's how this deep snowfall feels, in a way. No plans for illicit relations among any pals I know, but the regular routine just doesn't seem to apply. With our country roads, our one lone snowplow, and our treacherous hills and valleys, most folks are trapped at home, content to raid the pantry...at least until the beer runs out.

At my house, we are three humans - four with my mom in the evening - holed up in 1500 square feet with two warring cats and a dog that produces enough excess fur each day to knit a new small pet. Luckily, all that fur makes it hot for him inside and just fine for him out, so he is fairly content to flop on the porch and allow the chickens to amuse him. Until he gets hungry or lonely.

But, time out of time or not, 39 (I hope it's still 39) hens and 11 sheep still stand around pretty much all day waiting for their handout and wondering if someone's coming by to make the water liquid again. So, 88' or 18', we cannot step out of life altogether. The greenhouse must be saved from collapsing, the water tank endlessly stomped, the tender young plants shaken free of crushing snow. We must keep the pump house from freezing and prepare for the eventuality of losing power.

I grumble and feel myself getting cranky at the unfairness of not being able to shrug my workaday duties and snuggle down with a good book. Then I look up from the boots I am pulling on and see the sight laid before me. Trees, and fields, and blue skies, and hopeful animals, and an expanse of virgin white that shimmers in the morning cold and welcomes the first footsteps of the day. My footsteps.

This Sunday is the longest night of the year, the first day of Hanukkah, just 72 hours before Santa begins his miraculous journey, and another day until others celebrate their own miracle. Here, with this inexplicable and inexplicably beautiful time out of time falling on Stop Sign Farm, I remember to feel gratitude for this moment and await the new year with something that feels a little like joy.

Sheila's amazing journey

I got this story from my sister in law today.

****************
Most of you have met our cute little Australian Cattle Dog, Sheila. And many of you know our latest challenges with her; after we moved to our new place down by Titlow Beach last year, it has been IMPOSSIBLE to keep her in the yard. Short of putting up a 6 foot chain link fence around the entire half acre, we have tried almost everything. I was considering an "invisible fence", but a friend that had a similar problem with their dog recommended against it. She said the shock was worth getting thru for the freedom. In spite of all the associated training. That would definitely be Sheila.

She seems to have an otherworldly call to run. Therefore, she would break out of the fences and hedge and all the wonderful things David did to try to keep her in the yard. We have a very dense laurel hedge that lines our steep yard, which David lined with fencing, to try and make the hedge an impenetrable fortress. She would climb the fence, go straight thru the hedge, and down the hill. Off to run on the beach (and roll in whatever disgusting dead thing she could find)! She would always come home though, after a while.

Finally, I decided that she just didn't want to be with us, so I, sadly, put a "free dog" ad in the paper. I thought I'd find her a place in the country with acres to run on. I had dozens of calls from people in Graham with a 10 acre farm, etc. Perfect. So we decided on an elderly couple who had recently lost their beloved Australian Shepherd. Very much "dog" people, with several acres, fenced. Horses next door. I checked their place out, then they came to see her and fell in love, of course. She jumped right in their car and was ready to go.

A few days later I called them, she was happy, getting plenty of treats and love. They even let her sleep on the couch (a no-no at our house). She loved driving around town in the pickup with the dad, and running in the acreage.

A few days after that, I got another call. Apparently she had gotten spooked (she is a very spooky dog) when they were dragging a bag of rock salt out of the garage, and "took off like a shot". They jumped in their pickup and chased her. They'd get close and call her, she'd look back at them and then run even faster. They knew they were getting close to highway 512, so they stopped chasing, not wanting her to try and cross the highway. I offered to come down and help look, but they said they would just wait.

Now, about a week has passed, and the temperature has plunged well below freezing. I have been losing sleep over the thought of her out in this awful weather. But, yesterday morning I got a call from my dad, who lives in our old house (the first place Sheila lived with us). He told me they had a visitor. Have you guessed...yes...Sheila! She crossed at least two highways, and God only knows what else, to find us. Over 15 miles! She spent last night on her new bed, in front of the fireplace. Very happy.

Interesting commute yesterday

My sincere thanks go out to pals Jan & Rich who shared pictures from the big city yesterday.

Rich commutes to Seattle everyday...on his bike! I know, I know, he is just this side of amazing.

It's fun to see snowy downtown and Pioneer Square from the comfort of my slippers.

You better not be going in today, Rich! Just found out; yes, he went into day. Wow. Nubby tires on his bike, indeed!

I invite North westerners to send me some shots to document this snowy weather.

Snowed in

It doesn't take much around here. It looks to be only about 6 - 8 inches of accumulation. In fact, the lightest, whitest, fluffiest, best snow ball making snow I have ever seen.

But, the island is stopped in its tracks. I have not seen one snow plow or sand truck. Our sort-of busy, well traveled flat road right in front of our house is quiet, no traffic. Oh, yes, there are a few 4-wheel drive trucks (with chains) cruising about but slow and cautious.

We're about a mile or so to town and I see people, bundled up, walking to town for provisions. I am worrying about the local retailers. This is the week before Christmas and I can imagine they were expecting all those last minute purchases to help this year.

The weather gurus say clear and cold today and then more snow for the next few days!

Of course, my batteries are dead in my camera. I should be documenting all of this. And, I think that will get me bundled up and out walking to town too. Batteries - check. Hot buttered Rum - check. ; - )

Here comes the Guv...and her education budget cuts

Christine Gregoire rolled out her new budget yesterday with $3.5 billion in cuts and no new taxes. I guess, she must have really been serious during the election when she said, "No tax increases" because she trimmed extensively instead of tapping the tax payers for more.

K-12 appears to have not been hit as hard as expected. From the Seattle Times:

"Overall, I think K-12 education did as well as we could possibly hope for," said Paul Rosier, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators.

The biggest proposed cuts were:

• Suspending the cost-of-living raises that teachers receive under Initiative 732 ($349 million in savings).

• Cutting roughly one-quarter of Initiative 728, designed to lower class sizes ($178 million in savings).

• And slashing one-third of "levy equalization," which helps "property-poor" districts ($125 million in savings).

****************************************

Now, of course, this is just little old me talking but how do you cut from an already underfunded program? Answer: very painfully. And, yet again, the teachers take the brunt as if they already weren't under paid and under supported.

Let's hope some real fiscal help and leadership on public education comes from the other Washington soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wizards of Winter



Dazzling Holiday display helps fill food banks
By Sally and John Macdonald


The Seattle Times

Johan Jorna, 17, created a computer-controlled multi-house Christmas-light display choreographed to music as a senior project. The display has a box accepting nonperishable donations for the food bank and a short-range radio signal allows viewers to hear the music from their cars.

Jorna hasn't decided yet which food bank will get the benefit from his computer-driven project; it's his first attempt at an outdoor Christmas light show. But bring food if you decide to drive by because he will have a way for you to donate.

Jorna, who's home-schooled and also attends Cascadia Community College in Bothell, had all the light strings and decorations he needed to make a display that spills over into the next-door neighbor's yard and dances and flashes furiously in time to the frenzied music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Wizards in Winter." (A sign prompts viewers to tune their car radio to 88.3 FM to hear the music from the street.)

He bought $200 worth of wiring and electrical components for the display, including $80 in electrical cords. He figures the project, which he learned how to do via the Internet, improved his soldering skills "and taught me a whole lot about electrical engineering."

Jorna may be a newbie at over-the-top Christmas lights, but "it's something I've always wanted to do on my own and I'm sure it will grow."

Special gifts series, Part 5

Just had to share this one.

I don't know about you but I want to shake this coach's hand. Plus give a big hug to everyone of those kids on that team and that school who supported this special young man with kindness and inclusion.

Maybe it's not how "special" they are but how we as a community react to them?



If the shoe fits...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What do you get for the man who has everything?

I had a really good idea the other day and I was sort of embarrassed I hadn't ever thought of this before. I figured out the perfect thing to get Jake for Christmas.

First, let me say, Jake and I don't really exchange sentimental gifts. We don't give each other cards, jewelry, flowers or candy. We just don't really make a big deal of our birthdays or anniversary.

So, for Christmas, we don't really exchange big gifts but I like to break up the kid-present-a-thon by actually having something for him under the tree. But it is always something very utilitarian. I kid you not; long underwear, a big jar of salted mixed nutz. One year I wrapped up a nice big box of 200 of those little packets of foam ear plugs (he is a woodworker and constantly making lots of power tool noise) He is still working through that box and has plenty to share.

He heats his workshop with a woodstove ONLY and I see him out there chopping wood. I think it was Ben Franklin who said, "Chopping your own wood warms you twice." How true but Jake's going to be 50 next year and would probably like to not have to chop his own firewood. What can you give a man who doesn't want anything? How about more time? Or a back that doesn't hurt as much?

Urica!

The truck with a cord of wood arrived this afternoon. Jake was there to tell them exactly where he wanted it dropped off. He was almost giddy. He really liked his Christmas present and I didn't have to wrap anything. I really made him happy, it's very useful and I supported a local island small business.

Pretty good.

An international welcome

In the interest of positive international relations and showing that average Americans are walking the walk of good global citizenship, I want to thank you and welcome the visitors from all over the world.

Somehow, some way you have found your way to this blog and I sincerely say, Welcome!

Our country took a moral detour over the past few years but we are fighting our way back.

Pray for us. We need all the help we can get.

Snow days for one and all

I overslept this morning but zipped downstairs to check. I was looking for the e-mail letting us know if school was on time or canceled. Bingo! Our first official snow day of the year!

Molly will be jubilant; a whole day to flake around, finish her book, go outside and play in the snow, get too cold and come in for cocoa and then watch a movie.

Shea is a good sport no matter what but I hazard to guess that he would rather go to school. It gets a little boring here at home for him. And, when molly crawls inside a good book, I know Shea is feeling very left out.

Ever since the snow came last weekend, it has been unusually cold, mid 20's and down to the teens at night. Brrr..... We just aren't used to that sort of weather. Water pipes are freezing all over the island and it's the busy time for the furnace and heating trucks. My friends were out of electricity for about 10 hours on Sunday which makes it a pretty darn cold house if you don't have a generator or woodstove.

Last night we were supposed to get another dusting but if it happened it was just enough to cover the roads again and make them extra slick. Although , it appears that a much anticipated storm is coming with more snow and ice and folks are getting prepared.

I went to the grocery store yesterday and it was packed. Usually, mid day while the kids are at school is a pretty mellow time to go. But, yesterday, everyone was out "stocking up" and making the traditional small town chitty-chat in the aisles and in line. The snow and cold was on everybody's lips, gleeful clapping and bright childish grins on middle aged faces.

My east coast raised husband thinks we are all nuts. And, we are. Nobody native can drive in the snow. The Puget Sound was gouged out by glaciers just passing through and we have the hills and valleys to prove it. East of the mountains, yes, they can do snow and do it well. But, us maritime rats are literally flummoxed.

The best advise is to stay home, snuggie in, tele-commute, take a sick or vacation day. Whatever you do, DON'T TRY TO GET TO WORK OR SCHOOL ON TIME!

The local news will be full of "hilarious" footage of cars with no chains trying to climb Queen Anne hill or some such nonsense. Just hilarious if you are watching it over and over from the comfort of your couch with a blankie and/or Hot Toddy. But, I can imagine quite scary for the poor schlub behind the wheel.

So, dig out those long undies NW and put a pot of soup on the stove. We're not going anywhere fast. And, isn't is wonderful?

The Mom Song


The Mom Song from Northland Video on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Food diary

I started another food diary for Shea today. We did this before, when we found out about the allergies. For 3 days, you write down everything he eats, any comments and what the...um...output is like.

He has been on the Gluten, etc. free diet for about 6 months now and over all things have been going very well. His attention span and focus is much better and he is attempting to talk more but still has articulation issues.

We are over the initial shock and have actually gotten used to this new life. But, he just doesn't seem to be able to regulate. He is constipated one day and then has exploding diapers the next.

How is the poor little chap going to figure out potting training with that sort of upheaval?

I want to go in and see our Naturopath again, give her the food diary and see if she has any input or suggestions.

What are we missing?

Peace

Saturday, December 13, 2008

IT'S SNOWING!!!!!!!!

After days of threats and innuendo from the weather folks, the flakes started about 7:30. By 8:30 it was impossible to ignore. Even though Shea was brushed, jammied and ready for bed, I didn't have the heart to not let him play in his first snow with sissy and the big kids. So, we bundled him up, almost ridiculously and let him go.

Molly and the neighbor girls come over in full snow worship. After a busy afternoon hanging out next door, the 4 of them were thrilled to herald the rare weather and proceeded to roll many gargantuan snowballs presumably for the bottom part of a snow person choir in the orchard. Extensive plans were hatched for the morrow.

Shea ran hard with the big girls and came back with snow down his shirt. The little poops. But, fresh and rosy and annoyed (very annoyed) that he had to come in at 9:15. Then he literally crashed.

The weather gurus says it will be real cold for a day or several so our hopes is that the snow will stay for at least tomorrow.

I am almost completely a NW native (lived here since I was 1 1/2 years old) and I have spent my whole life wishing and hoping for snow days. There is absolutely NOTHING that turns back the clock for me as watching snow fall. Each snow fall is a red letter day and we make a big, darn deal out of it.

This is Shea's first. Tomorrow will be a big day. I can't wait!

Hit the wall

I think Shea has just hit the wall. Yesterday with Bubble lady, he just dug in his heals and kept saying, "too hard". He wouldn't even try the words or letter sounds that she wanted him to work on. Bubble ended up getting out the book, The Little engine that could, and talking about how he needs to just try and keep trying. She told him that she knows that he can do it and she is not going to give up on him.

The other night, Shea was playing with a calculator and he asked what it was. So, we broke down the word Calculator into four parts while he repeated them. He said, "Hard word." I thought that was a pretty interesting exchange but I didn't really think much about it until I told Bubble.

She was pretty blown away. Something about how to use language to talk about language is a pretty advanced thought process. Hm...interesting indeed.

Shea has a stubborn streak yards wide. The last thing I want is for language and talking to become a battle ground.

I think this holiday break is coming just in time. We will all get some time off; less rushed with time to just chill. Maybe Shea can bring some new energy and enthusiasm back to the challenge after a little break.

Let's hope.

A teacher's perspective of the economy

I'm not sure if you are all familiar with the DailyKos website. Normal, everyday folks submit their written posts on topics, mostly political, but ranging all over the gambit.

I read a post yesterday, that I just can't get out of my head. Here is a snippet but it is well worth reading the whole post. I am constantly amazed at the extra heart, money and time a teacher provides their students. In hard economic times, I guess the need obviously ramps up too. Most public school teacher contribute $300 - $1000 out of their own income to enhance the learning in their own classroom. And, this is during normal economic times. One can only imagine what is happening now.

My hat goes off to every single teacher out there but I am going to let Mrs. K share her story, she captures it so well.

"Mrs. K, I have nothing to barter." "Mrs. K, I don't have lunch money"

"The American Public School system is the the only institution where there is compulsory attendance for a huge percentage of Americans, everyday. And, those young Americans who pass through our doors bring with them a diverse and immediate picture of the state of America, because in their eyes and with their stories, we see and hear about their families, hopes, dreams and fears.

If you want to know how a community is really doing, you don't have to wait for unemployment statistics. Just ask a community teacher. We have been hearing how children are moving around and moving in with Grandparents. We began scrambling in October to to meet the needs of initially just a few kids who suddenly started to show up dirty and rumpled. We've arranged for them to use the locker rooms in the morning to get cleaned up.

We've been seeing signs like these that Main Street's kids and families are REALLY hurting for a few months, even in the pretty well-off, suburban community we live in.

BUT, today took the cake for me. It was a BIG wake-up call, and I'm still crying. I have a story and Call for Action after the fold."

Friday, December 12, 2008

These kids are terrific...

Speaking of our wonderful high school kids, check out the Vashon High School award winning newspaper, The Riptide. Now, I see they have this great blog.

This may seem unbelievable but these Vashon teenagers ROCK. I'm repeatedly amazed at the thoughtful, mature, confidence. Not everybody, all the time, of course. But, for the most part, yes, these are really good kids.

It was one of the first things I notice when we moved here. Hard to explain actually but the teenagers were still kids somehow. There was still some innocence there.

Jake coaches the Boy's High School Tennis team and he agrees. There is something about these kids. A unique recipe of growing up in a small town with lots of natural beauty, enjoying many, many years of parental involvement, benefiting from all the committed educators, artists and coaches who generously devote countless hours and stir it all up in a community that supports them and has been a village from the start.

Yes, it is a little bit of magic.

Progress or deciding to do something

You should have seen the gathering; a Middle School lunch room with lots and lots of chairs, microphone, big powerpoint screen. They were ready for a wowzer of a school board meeting, that's for sure, and gradually over 100 people showed up. An impressive turn out on a chilly and wet Thursday night.

The Vashon School Board decided to make a bold and confident step. After various boards spent over 20 years talking about it, they have approved going forward with a Capitol Bond; a $75.5 million honey that has created quite a stir in our little town. This bond, if approved by a 60% vote next spring, will quite literally change the face of Vashon High School for many years to come. It will solve many of the nagging, unhealthy and derelict problems that face our current buildings and move forward on a decision that has, quite literally, festered for generations. If you are interested, check this out.

The first hurrah really has to go to Bob, Oz and Terry. Kathy and Laura came along eventually and Dan abstained. Thank you all for your service to our community and to all the thankless work that you do for our schools.

Vashon folks of all ages and backgrounds came out in a full throated affirmation for this investment in the our children's future. People were here to walk the walk. It was an emotional night but very feel goody. People seemed to have really looked inside themselves and consciously decided to stand for investing in our kids future. Many people spoke; thoughtful, profound and nobel sentiments were expressed.

I was wondering if the heightened mood and sentiment has anything to do with our recent presidential contest. It seems that recent election still resonates. So many of us really stopped and thought about what we really are about and what you wanted to align ourselves with. Our community, perhaps still with a little Obama buzz , has decided, confidentially, to move forward. The right direction for all the right reasons. A pretty damn wonderful thing to see.

We're on the way to the ballot in Feb, maybe March. Interestingly, this vote will be the first one since Washington State will go to an all absentee vote. I wonder how that will effect the vote? We need about 2,000 voters to approve this thing. It goes without saying about the bad timing, but I am remaining confident. We'll have to wait and see.

And, there is an interesting economic irony; due to the downturn we stand to save some money by doing the project now. So, the crappy economy is making our project less expensive (!) or as I have decided to think of it as stimulating the local economy.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free lunch?

It seems more and more kids are accessing the free lunch program through their public schools. In fact 80% of schools show sharp increases in their free lunch programs says an article from Newsnet5.com.

WASHINGTON -- There is such a thing as a free lunch. And school districts across the country report that kids are eating many more of them as the flailing economy hits families hard.

The National School Lunch Program fed more than 30 million children in the 2006-07 school year with federal and state funds.

According to the School Nutrition Association, which represents workers who provide the meals, almost 80 percent of schools surveyed by the organization are reporting an increase in the number of free lunches served this year.

Crystal FitzSimons of the Food Research and Action Center in Washington said more families are signing up for free school lunches for their children as they look for ways to trim their food budgets.

"One of the easiest things families can look to for support is the school nutrition program," she said.

Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Children from families with slightly higher incomes are eligible for reduced price meals, which were also being served at higher levels. The organization said an average of 425,000 more students are participating in the programs overall.

As those numbers rise, schools could feel their budgets stretched as well."

Yow! This isn't good news. Thank goodness the families have some relief but we have got to get this economy back on track!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Luck

As luck would have it? Luck of the Irish? Just lucky, I guess.

So much of life seems to be about luck. No, I am not getting overly superstitious on you. I recognize the importance of making good decisions, planning, working hard and having positive follow through. That goes without saying.

But, even with that said, in my opinion, luck has a lot to do with it. I have always considered myself a lucky person; usually landing on my feet, being at the right place at the right time, followed my gut instinct in tricky situations.

I have known people that just don't seem to ever catch a break. They seem to live under a black cloud with yet another problem or dilemma landing in their laps one after the other. Some people thrive in that kind of turbulent, every changing existence and find gratification after each hurdle surpassed. I personally fret for the lack of constancy and the turmoil of that sort of life, jumping from issue to issue trying to put out the immediate fire only to have another one pop right up. It just sounds really stressful.

When I began to realize that Shea had some real serious developmental delays, honestly I was stunned. I just hadn't seen it coming.

We have all heard the inevitable question; why me? Well, that is how I felt. Why me? I felt I had no frame of reference. I didn't know what to do, how to be or how to begin.

Honestly, I was surprised because I had always considered myself lucky. Why was this happening to me? I know, that is tough to say now but it is how I felt back then. I wondered if this was karma? Was I being punished for something I had done?

Time does heal and I have a much more pragmatic attitude now. Nothing will ever be as tough as those early days. Life is funny. I guess I just had a lot more to learn; something I never saw coming and wasn't prepared for. Plenty of good can come out of tackling something that is hard. In fact, sometimes the very best lessons of life come from something hard to take, sad or difficult.

Today, I still feel like that I am a very lucky person. And, at the bottom of it all I am an optimist. Need I count my blessings? Health, friends and family. Good old Jakey, married for 15 years. My beautiful Molly and charming Shea. I'm so lucky to have the time and resources to be home with them as they grow up. Lucky to be able to give them both what they need; to know they are loved, taken care of and safe.

So many children in this world aren't, to no fault of their own. Life isn't always fair.

Luck of the draw?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Heavy negotiations or bargaining for every little thing

I don't know if it is Molly's age (10) or just her personality but life seems to be one big negotiation session...about everything.

For example, whether or not she can;

Stay up later, not take a bath until tomorrow, have her advent chocolate in the morning or right before dinner, pick up her room later, not wear a coat to school, find out what I got her for Christmas, etc. etc.

On one hand I wonder if this is the road signs of a spoiled rotten, entitled kid? On the other, is this her way of pushing boundaries and seeing which limits are set? Or is this just adolescence?

Which ever hand it is, it's just plain exhausting to be constantly in deep negotiations over the most mundane things in life. Ok, granted, mundane for me, maybe not for her.

I tell her she may grow up to be a diplomat at the UN, a lawyer or a professional negotiator. She suspects I'm kidding I'm not.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kill a tree for baby Jesus?

Sorry folks, I know that might be sort of crude but I have always been a little horrified that we celebrate Christmas by cutting down a healthy tree, decorate it and then throw it away. I know, I know, it can get recycled or chipped down for mulch but there is something about it that really bums me out.

We have tried buying a tree in a container that we could plant outside after Christmas. It never seemed to work and we killed it anyway.

Which is why so many people go out and get fake trees I suppose. My mom has one that gets put together like a puzzle each year which is great but no wonderful pine smell. And, no, I don't care what they say, you can not buy it in a spray can.

Yes, we have purchased Christmas trees before and let me say, they are damn expensive! I remember a particularly lovely little table top Nobel that we got when Shea was just crawling. We thought he would be less likely that he would ransack the tree if it was up on a table. Mission accomplished but $50!!!

Our usual way around it is one of Jake's fabulous inventions that I wish we could market and sell. The "Build your own tree". It is simply a 8 foot 4x4 cedar post with holes drilled on 3 sides over the entire length. He mounted it on a rectangle of plywood so that it would stand and voila'; Christmas Tree alternative.

Every year, I go out to the conifers in our yard and cut a bunch of branches, whittle the ends so they can fit into the holes and bring it on in ready to decorate. Over the years, Jake has enlarged the holes at the bottom so that I could put in larger branches and smaller ones as I go up.

Yesterday was a beautiful, rainless day so I set ours up. I suppose it is a little early because the branches will be dry and brittle by the end of the season. But I don't like the tree being up much past Christmas anyway. For some reason, I find it really depressing.

So, it's done. We all had a really fun time going through the ornament boxes and decorating the tree and, of course, it smells wonderful.

Sure, our yard trees got a little prune but we saved some serious green and didn't have to kill a tree for Jesus.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Annual Community Tree lighting

We had another "must see it to believe it" Vashon event tonight. The Community Tree lighting with Santa & Mrs. Clause parading down the center of town on a fire engine. All who want to can get a candy cane or two from Santa and even hug him. I do every year.

This is also the night of Molly's 2nd annual holiday violin busking.

Last year, she thought she would just try it out and see what happened. The concept got her all the way through the fall with her happily (or not complaining too much) practicing holiday tunes to prepare for busking. On the night of the Tree Lighting, she set up her violin case on the sidewalk and started banging out Silent Night, Hark the Herald and others. The results were pretty electrifying. Not only did she make over $50 in less than an hour but she got tons of encouragement and kudos for being brave enough to go out and do it all by herself. I was, of course, hovering near by.

This year we did the same. The night was cold and clear so it was an excellent turn out, lots of people, families out and about. We set up right after the tree lighting near a hot dog vendor. With the poise and assurance of someone many years older, she started playing, a bit softly at first but building as she got comfortable. I stood to the side. She told me not to hover too close but I am there. I wouldn't miss this for the world.

It really is quite interesting to see how the crowd reacts. The kids are drawn immediately and it doesn't really matter what age. I saw just-walking tots hanging out to dance to "Santa Clause is coming to town" and not wanting to leave and various big, cool middle school kids dropping a few coins into the case and saying, "Good job" and "Thanks for the true Christmas spirit". Kids from Molly's grade walk by and shyly wave, they foget that her hands are occupied but she acknowledges them with a smile.

The adults, of course, are enchanted. Many, like myself, could never imagine themselves putting themselves out there like that. I see it in their eyes and expressions as they drop a bill in her case. I shrug and make jokes about pimping my kid but it is obvious that this is her thing, her idea, her show. I am just the groupie and/or manager. I help make it happen but this is not about me.

It was a fun night. She made about $40 in about a half an hour. It was cold and her hands were getting numb. We wandered off to hug Santa and get another candy cane. Even did a little shopping with all the loot she hauled in and ran into some of her little buddies.

When I see her playing music alone on the sidewalk, I get the overwhelming feeling that she will be fine. She is strong, smart and beautiful and will make a good future for herself. I figure if she has the resourcefulness to make holiday money playing songs on the sidewalk, then she will make a creative, productive life for herself. I know, a mother's hope but a very nice holiday feeling.

Advent Calendars

These are such fun each year. Thank goodness Shea can eat chocolate so our annual advent calendar tradition is not disrupted.

I usually buy those super cheap .99 - $1.99 advent calendars at the grocery store as soon as they appear. Buy 'em quick! I have made the procrastinators mistake and thought I could get it "next time" and BOOM they were all gone.

But, this year I started fretting about cheap chocolate and the whole Chinese Melamine in the milk product thing! Yuk. And, to think I was just spoiling my kids rotten and harming their teeth. Now they are getting poisoned by the candy too!

So, I splurged this year and bought pricey advent calendars from Hearthsong.com on sale for $6.99.

More importantly they are made right here in the good old USA by Madelaine Chocolate Novelties, Inc. who assures us that none of their ingredients are tainted.

The chocolate is processed on equipment which also processes peanuts and tree nuts. So, that would be a problem if you are dealing with super high nut sensitivity and reactions but it has not bothered Shea as of yet.

I know, it's just a little thing but holidays are about tradition and anticipation. And, I use it to bribe them to eat a little more of their dinners. Well, then we both win.

We're looking forward to opening door #5 tonight.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rough patch

Shea got into trouble today at school. Something about hitting or bugging the other kids? It wasn't quite clear and I, of course, wasn't there at the time but I can imagine.

His teacher came out to have one of those heart to heart talks with Shea and I just as I picked him up. Shea must've just been pulled for a time out or something because he was in full crying, melt down mode. Not a common thing which makes me think he was pretty tired or maybe could be getting a little sick.

"I think Shea was playing at being a fierce tiger or dinosaur or something and was growling and pretending to claw at the other kids. Some of them did not want to play that way and told him so but Shea would not stop."

I said, "Oh. So you were bugging the other kids, Shea? Did someone pop you in the nose to make you stop?"

Teacher was horrified, "No, no, no! Nothing like that." I never really did find out the full story of what really happened because meanwhile Shea is still sobbing and really beginning to work us over. In this situation, my strategy is to move on to something else, change the scene, transition to something else. But, he was still worked up and hit me as I was getting his stuff to go.

The teacher kept apologizing. I am not sure why. I guess she was sorry that I had to pick up a crying kid. Hey, everyone has their moments; Shea included.

But, this is an example of something that has brewing for a while and I can't quite put my finger on it. Part of it has to do with the way Shea and Molly play together which is very physical. They wrestle and tickle and hug and jump on each other. This, of course, does not work with the other kids. Other than yelling myself hoarse anytime Molly and Shea play rough, I don't know how to change the dynamic. I mean, they love each other to distraction and frankly they should be able to play with each other the way they like to. Within reason, right?

But, then again, how does a kid like Shea learn appropriate social dynamics when Molly is throwing conflicting cues into the mix all the time? Don't get me wrong, this is not Molly's fault but I do wish there was a way to help her see that she is teaching him how to interact with the world. And, those lessons may be making it harder for him to get along.

Another part of this is his Sensory Integration issue which makes him very excitable and frustrated in crowds. He gets really worked up and, of course, can't communicate at the pace or volume as anyone around him. Sometimes he just stops trying and hits the wall. I have seen him strike out from pure frustration; everything is moving too fast for him and he doesn't know how to cope.

Sometimes Shea's progress seems dazzling and I am filled with hope and enthusiasm for the future. And, then sometimes just a little thing like "don't hit" derails all the optimism and shoots me down a road of worry, concern and pessimistic thoughts.

There really isn't anything else to do but soldier on. Some days are better than others.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Food allergy update: what's Shea eating?

Just a reminder; Shea is allergic to Wheat/Gluten, soy, spelt, rye, barley, eggs, dairy/whey, peanuts. When we did the food allergy test we received back a printout that showed low, med and high sensitivity depicted on a bar graph. For example eggs, milk and wheat were literally off the chart. But, I noticed something interesting; because he was allergic to whey, cheeses were showing low reaction due to most of the whey being removed in the cheese making process

Hmm... Interesting and a real blessing for us. Cheese is one of Shea's main protein sources and it was nearly impossible for us to completely exclude it from his diet. So, Shea eats cheese, in all forms, but mainly just by the slice. The same goes for cottage cheese and yogurt which both fallow on the reaction graph.

I expect he is still having some reaction to the dairy but since he seems so much better than before I really don't care. Although, we do need to deal with constipation concerns on occasion because of all the cheese.

We counter it with lots and lots of apple sauce and apple juice. Unfortunately he won't even think of trying any other kind of juice or fruit so that is pretty limiting. We also regularly have Hemp Milk which is really high in fiber, protein and Omega 3 & 6. Shea really likes the chocolate and it really helps.

Lately he has been branching out. Not always and not usually for me. But, Jake can get him to try pretty much anything that is on his plate. He has spent mealtime eyeing it but if I ask him he won't even think about it but if Jake holds the spoon he usually will.

We manage to get him to chow through pretty respectable piles of mashed or baked potatoes. Tonight he had some white rice. He likes corn chips and will eat corn bread. My kingdom for a good gluten free corn bread recipe.

Breakfast is a lot easier. He loves EnviroKidz Organic Koala Crisp and no one would blame him. It is lite and crispy choco-rice cereal. Pretty darn good, I've tried them. He can work through 3 or 4 bowls on a good morning.

And, we found these excellent muffins: Flax4Life Flax Muffins - Chunky Chocolate Chip made here locally in Belling ham, WA. I know, I know, do you see a chocolate theme reoccurring? Well, it is my kid, after all. Not only are these darn good muffins but they are packed with 3200 mg. Omega 3 per muffin and have 10 grams of fiber. They also have 104 mg of Lignen which I have never heard about before but apparently supports both breast and prostate health! These muffins are such a winner that Molly even likes them and I have begun to ration them. But, when I visited the Flax4Life website, I noticed they do mailorder with free shipping! So, I think I may just get that case of 24 and see how long they last.

One of the hardest things was finding a real good pancake recipe. Not just an ok one, he just won't eat it. But, a real good one where he clears his plate, asks for another (with words even) and chows that one down too. Pancakes mean "the weekend" around our house and it was going to be a bummer if I couldn't find one that we all liked.

Well, I found it. Tip of the hat goes to the Naturopath who did the allergy test and delivered the staggering news. While I was still stunned and barely coherent, she pushed a cook book into my hands called The Whole Life Nutrituion Cookbook by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre, MS. CN. I know it doesn't sound very appetizing but it is a very good cookbook with over 200 gluten free, dairy free and egg free recipes.

Buckwheat Pancakes

1 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup hemp, rice, almond or soy milk
1 organic egg (we use Ener G egg replacement)
2 Tbls. melted virgin coconut oil, melted
1 Tbls. maple syrup or Agave nectar

Whip it all up and make pancakes. Somehow these cakes are light and fluffy, have a wonderful slight coconut taste but are not too sweet. The texture is the excellent thing. Most gluten free baked goods seem very flat (to me) so the fluffiness of these is a real hit. Add butter and real maple syrup and you got yourself a weekend morning to be proud of.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Capitol Bond: new high school

Speaking of tight budgets, guess what we are trying to do in our little community? You got it, put a big Capitol Bond on the ballot for a new high school next spring.

I can't imagine a worse time to try something like this with this economic recession and all. But, what are we going to do?

Our high school is in deplorable shape. There are myriad problems including blatant code violations all over the place and we have been slapping band-aids on it for some 20 years. It's understandable. No one wants to pull the 79 Million dollar trigger. Ouch. Well, that is what it costs these days.

Apparently, at the school board meeting last night a veritable broo-haha went down. 3 out of 5 school board member refused to vote on moving forward with a proposal vote. They wanted to table the bond proposal until the next meeting. Yet more feet dragging, you know, how we got into this problem in the first place. I heard all this 2nd hand but I guess the packed house audience stood up and started yelling at the 3 "feet dragging" board members and furiously stomped out of there. Tears were shed, emotional raving, and local newspaper person scuttling and getting statements.

Wow! High drama on little old Vashon. Needless to say, lots of feathers are ruffled. I don't really care. I know they will have to put the bond measure on the ballot eventually and I know I will support it. Yea it hurts. Yea it is a horrible time to have to do it. But, I will support it because I believe in real investment in our kids education and upgraded buildings and classrooms and technologies are all part of that.

So there.

Budget short fall: education taking a whack

Here in Washington state we are staring a big budget shortfall in the face and it ain't pretty.

It looks like our Democratic, public education supporting Governor is going to have to cut public education by a cool Billion. Yah, that is Billion with a B. From where I sit they should be increasing the public education budget by a billion not cutting it. But what do I know? I am just a parent who is up close and personal with public education everyday.

I don't blame the Gov. States have a legal obligation to balance their budgets every single year unlike the Fed's who just borrow more money from friendly and not so friendly governments abroad.

But, when we really talk about investing in America what does that mean? Does it mean new infrastructure and roads? Or does it mean raising future citizens that will be tax paying, productive participants in the society?

Heavy sigh and roll my eyes. So, here we go again. I sure hope we can figure out a way to avoid this cut. Like maybe take a good hard look at all those corporate tax exemptions and other goodies that Boeing and Microsoft get! Or, drum roll please, how about state income tax!

I can hear the collective gasp. But, I would like to know who pays for a civilized society? Wrong, not someone else. You, me and everybody! We pay for a civilized society and dab-blame it, a strong, healthy, supported public school system is part of that!

Ok, I guess I have made myself clear. Rant off.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

And...they're off!

Well, the season has official begun for our family.

Thanksgiving was a lush, fragrant, delicious, slightly tight waist-bandy sort of day. Many thanks to my excellent GGF for once again inviting my whole brood to her house for the day.

The day after Thanksgiving is the traditional Gingerbread making event at my mom's. Her place sports this iconic view of beautiful Seattle and is the quintessential "party house". Some considerable time was spent trying to remember just how many years we have been doing this. Definitely more than 15 was the conclusion; we couldn't pin it down closer than that.

My mom invites a literal horde of folks with their kids to her house for the day. Dazzled by the piles of every kind of candy imaginable and buckets of different colored frostings, most people just need a little time to just take it all in but eventually serious work begins. My mom made 15 separate Gingerbread house this year; simple cottages and sprawling Victorian Mansions. For the slightly overwhelmed there are all sorts of sugar cookies to decorate; elaborate or plain, they are eaten all the same.

Some people really get into it and a design competition could break out each year; usually with Grampa John or stepbrother David winning hands down. But all the results are truly incredible and each person is encouraged to take their house home. I myself don't tackle a whole house but usually spend my creative energy on frosting and decorating piles and piles of cookies.

My addition to the tradition is to get a big pot of soup cooking on the stove. It is fun to cook as a group, take turns stirring through out the day and then it warms us all at dinner time. Of course, the kids didn't eat much being sugar buzzed from frosting overload. But, all in all it is a lovely day; spent with friends new and old, beloved family members watching the kids creating fun memories.

My kids usually stay the night with plans of putting up the tree with my mom the next day. All went as planned without too much mishap this year. I am always impressed with my mom's energy and good graces to host a big event like that with absolutely no eye ball rolling or griping about the mess. She really is a saint. John too.

Thanks mom, for starting these fun traditions and keeping them up. I guess that is what its all about and because of you we are banking so many wonderful memories to savor through out the year and beyond.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Seriously...

I am so thankful for the extra large helping of health, happiness and the terrific people in my life. Special thanks goes to all the wonderful friends and family. Life just wouldn't be what it is without you all!

Here is hoping you will have a warm, wonderful, tasty, tranquil, relaxing, humorous Thanksgiving with your friends and family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sheeple factory: when public school just isn't cutting it

As a self professed bleeding heart liberal, public education is near and dear to me. There has never been a public school bond measure or levy that I have voted "no" on whether I had kids at the time or not.

We were in West Seattle when we found out that our kid wasn't necessarily assured a place at the neighborhood school and may very well be bussed across town for Kindergarten. Alarm bells went off for both of us; perhaps explaining the exodus to Vashon Island by the time Molly was 2 and Shea was just a wish and a prayer. We chose Vashon for the excellent public schools; often times described as "quasi-private".

Now that I have been at this a while, I realize that public schools although legally supposed to serve all children, don't always. How can they when education funding has been cut left and right? It's abysmal really and pains me to acknowledge this.

I met a woman recently who had a son who is on the autistic spectrum and was dealing with many of the same food allergies that Shea is facing. We chatted gluten-free products and recipes and then jumped into the fray.

"How is it going at school?" I asked. She got a pinched, frustrated look on her face and replied, "Not well. They were very concerned with wanting him to just hang up his coat then sit down and shut up. He couldn't draw or cut paper the way he wanted to. It was very frustrating."

"Was?" I think. She told me they decided to pull him from the public school system and do home schooling which so far had been working fine for them. I asked about her 2nd child, a typically developing girl, "No, we won't send her to public school either."

This exchange has really stuck with me. First, no matter how you feel about public education, you make educational choices individually for each kid. If one thing is not working, you try something else. But, I was sad. One bad experience with an overwhelmed Kindergarten teacher chased this family away from our public school. Sometimes that's all it takes.

I see it as the bell curve. The majority of the kids get served pretty well, although that is always debatable. The kids that happen to be on the edges? Not so much. If your kid is on the edges, that can be a very frustrating place to be.

It reminds me of this trend to create "gifted programs" or "accelerated learning" in elementary schools. It seems parents just love hanging this sort of tag on their kid. We went through a period here, where there was a lot of pressure to start tracking and testing as early as Pre-K! We already had testing at 3rd grade to divvy the kids up for math in 4th & 5th grades but now they were pushing for more! The whole shebang! Let's test their little personalities right out the door and label them at 6!

Needless to say, I was really, really, REALLY against it. This is a big topic but in a nutshell; testing is not and shouldn't be the prime designation on determining a child's skills and attributes. Can't we let the kids just be kids for a while instead of shuttling them off into a category? "Here Johnny, you belong in the smart class! Bobby you belong in the below average class!" Does anyone else see the self fulfilling prophesies this much be creating? Not to mention the self-inflicted stresses labeling can cause.

I remember one of the arguments to pursue a gifted program was to give the smart kids appropriate work to do. By all means, go for it. Teach to the highest skills in the class and watch some of the others come up too. Create more opportunities for individualized instruction so that each kid can reach as far as they can. Give the teachers more professional development so they can recognize and work with a child who is gifted. All of the above probably just equate to more money needed; lower class sizes and more investment in our teacher's training. Don't hold your breath.

Maybe the new administration will take a long, sober look at No Child Left Behind and see if there is anything salvageable there. We can only hope.
Related Posts with Thumbnails