Monday, January 30, 2012

Love that @lakesideschool students are discussing differing views & disagreeing respectfully. Congress could learn from them.
"foreign" @lakesideschool chemistry equations morphed into using ethanol to make gel ball that was lit on fire. Science is cool!
Doing Trustee visits in @lakesideschool classes. Honors Chemistry more foreign to me than French II was.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Say what? Dylan's speech challenge

We are starting the process of helping our 25-month old son Dylan with some speech delays.  He is is still on the larger end of the size spectrum for his age (88th percentile) but is lagging behind a bit in speech for a two year old.

My gut (and my doctor) tell us it's nothing serious and most likely A) typical boy speech delay, and B) that he is suffering in comparison to his verbal juggernaut four year old sister Ava, who's never met a word or turn of phrase she didn't like and incorporate into her complex word flow.

And to be fair, he definitely excels in ways that she doesn't: he is very adept physically compared to where she was at the same age: he's been climbing and jumping off of stuff since he was 18-20 months old in a way that she didn't even start doing until she was nearly three.

He also is much more patient and persistant in trying to figure things out. When Ava struggles with something (a container she can't open, a toy that's stuck), it's only for a minute or two before the squeals of frustration begin and tears start welling up, followed by her throwing the thing to the groundn or across the room and/or stomping away or over to us for help.

In contrast, Dylan will sit quietly, making multiple attempts to figure out the thing that's posing a challenge. He may grunt in frustration, but he sticks to his exploration for several minutes until he figures it out or eventually brings it to me, holding it out for help with a questioning, "Ma. Ma. Ma!"

I remember Ava at a 21 months already saying the real names for me, Jason and my folks, in addition to nearly a hundred words. Dylan at 25 months only has about a dozen clearly spoken words: mama/Mommy, dada/Dad, Nana, papa, ball, bus, dog, book, cookie, no (of course), moon, Thomas (the train), sock.

Everything else gets pointed to, or he makes the sound for it rather than saying the word. Point to a duck in a book? Cack-cack (quack-quack). A cow? Moooo! A plane (engine sound).

However, as the doctor and therapist noted, he's not frustrated by his lack of expressive language (as the professionals describe it) because he clearly understands everything that's going on around him and is able to communicate his needs sufficiently through yes/no responses and pointing to get his needs met.

He also interacts with us and others in other ways. Over the summer, Ava asked me for a cheese stick but I was busy and told her she'd have to wait. A couple minutes later, I turned around to find that Dylan had heard this exchange and gone into the fridge, opened the drawer and brought his sister a cheese stick as requested. So clearly his hearing is fine, as are his comprehension skills.

We have probably enabled some of the delay. Words and communication are the lingua franca in our house, so we work hard to make sure we're really listening and hearing each other. The downside to that is that we probably communicate for him and are good at guessing what he wants and asking the right yes/no questions to quickly decipher his wants.

Seeing him opening the fridge, I ask, "What's up Dylan? Want something to drink?"
Dylan: (head shake no)
Me: "Want some yogurt?"
Dylan: (head shake no. Points to drawer.)
Me, rifling through drawer: "Want some grapes? Cheese stick? Turkey?"
Dylan: (shakes head yes at turkey and points to it.)
Me: "Okey doke. I'll put it in a bowl for you. Can you get in your seat?"

His doctor and speech therapist say we should instead play dumb and force him to articulate what he wants. Now, I get that that will help in the long run. But in the short run: how frustrating for both of us! That exchange probably takes 15 seconds. The playing dumb routine? What? 2-3 minutes? Some days, that's 2 minutes I'd rather devote to getting something else done, like dinner.

So this week we finally got in to see a speech therapist for an assessment. And it corroborated everything we've deduced: he can hear, he can understand, he's smart, we need to spend more time practicing and enunciating words with him, and he's just not ready to talk more expansively yet. But he's coming along, and we will help get him there.

Where Ava picked up language much more easily just from talking with us, interactions and books, Dylan will need a little more focused attention, which is underway by everyone in the family, including the grandparents who keep him several times each week.

Despite my earlier concerns, it's nice to have a to-do list for this challenge, a sense of a plan for overcoming it, and noticable results already. As always, I feel blessed to have the family support and medical and financial resources to give him the boost he needs to get over this small hurdle. Imagine lacking any of those things and how much stress that would create? My prayers go out to the many who face that exact reality.

Friday, January 20, 2012


As usual, Seattle's hills and a wacky weather pattern made for several dicey days last week weather-wise. Forecasters were a little off with their predictions of massive snowfall and widespread chaos, but some areas did get more than a foot of snow and the storm itself went by many names over the past week: snow-pocalypse, snow-maggedon, and my personal favorite Sno-M-G. Ha!

Many folks either stayed home because they couldn't get around, or because they were instructed to stay home from work if they weren't first responders or essential personnel. With buses on snow routes far from my house and a slick, hilly mess in every direction...
I was fortunate to be able to work from home all week as first snow, then ice on top of snow made commuting inadvisable. Having worked in TV news, then government communications, I've had my turn as "essential personnel" working 12-hour shifts out in the elements or in coordination centers for days on end making sure that people have accurate information and resources for dealing with severe weather. When I was in news, the station would get hotel rooms close by so that those who might not otherwise be able to make in wouldn't have that problem. If necessary, I would do that now for myself, but thankfully, that's no longer the nature of my job.

Unlike my first jobs as a teenager where I punched a clock and worked on a trayline at a hospital in the wee hours, I can now do most of my work by phone and online. Upside: working remotely from home when the weather outside is frightful or dangerous. Downside: if it can be done remotely, it can probably done by someone in the developing world for a fifth the cost. Except that I work in local county government customer servcie, which is hard to outsource to the far reaches of the planet. So far.

The best part of working from home? Stepping away from the computer for lunch and some time in the snow with the kids.

The worst part? Trying to explain to the kids that even though I'm here, I'm not available and that I'm working, even though it looks like I'm just talking on my cell phone (conference calls with other managers to coordinate resources, and share input on operational and policy decisions, like whether or not to close offices for the safety of staff and residents who aren't telecommutin) or typing on my laptop (editing materials, responding to emails, approving timesheets, drafting content for staff materials, planning upcoming trainings, etc.).

At one point while Jason worked and Dylan napped, I was on an hour and a half conference call meeting and Ava asked to do my hair. I nodded yes because I knew it would keep her busy and quiet for an extended period. As I talked and typed, she busily brushed, twisted and parted. I finished the call and the day sporting a couple crazy ponytails and multiple hair clips, but she got her "Mommy-Ava time" and I got my work got done. Booyah! Multi-taskin' mama.


Rockin' Ava's hairdo handiwork after work with a napping Dylan, who was wiped out after running around indoors and out all day with his sister.
Four days into the storm, just as I was thinking how working remotely wasn't so bad, the power went out: no lights, heat, hot food or eventually, electronic devices. Insert blood curdling scream.

Some people in outlying areas are used to dealing with outages, equipping their home with generators and such to maintain at least a semblance of normality in the face of storms and other extreme weather. However, I live in the city so that I don't have to do that. Needless to say, though we had some emergency provisions, they were not enough to make it at all comfortable.

The first five hours weren't so bad. "It's like camping!" Ava said with a smile, though she's never camped in her life.

She and Dylan spent the first few hours chasing each other with flashlights and exclaiming about the first-ever fire in the fireplace. This is the second home we've had with dual fireplaces and this was the first time we'd used them after Jason walked over to a nearby convenience store and procured some firelogs.

Ultimately, we lost power for 13 hours, which was fun for the kids (flashlights! A fire in the fireplace! All the snacks we can eat!) but quickly grew tiresome for us adults, especially once the electronic devices started losing battery life.

Notes for the next time:
  • get real firewood. Firelogs don't really throw off heat, just light.
  • get more batteries and some of those windup lights for the kids so that we don't burn through the batteries.
  • stock up on more no-heat foods (tuna, beef jerky, fruits, etc.)
  • dig out the battery-operated radio/TV tuner. We have one, but it's packed somewhere from the move. It would have been helpful to hear what was going on elsewhere in the area. We were happy in our little bubble though.
All in all, we survived and are back to normal.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Need new activities to keep kids occupied as outage hits 10th hour. They failed miserably @ "see who can be quiet the longest."
Entering 3rd hour of power outage. It's gone from: It's fun, like camping! To: We're freezing. This blows.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seattle's first snow of the year

Seattle had its first snow of the year and really its first snow of the winter. It really didn't start sticking until late afternoon. I went to put Dylan down for a nap and would up sleeping myself for a bit. But what a nice way to spend part of a snowy Sunday: snuggled up with a warm toddler. When I put him down, the front yard had just a dusting. A half hour later, we had a couple inches of accumulation.
So we bundled up and got the kids out for some snow person-making and snowball tossing.

Jason did the heavy rolling and lifting of building the snow base.
Then he led off the snow ball tossing. Don't mess with Dad: he's got an arm like a cannon!
First snow person done (with baby carrots for a nose) and first family shot of 2012. Time for cocoa and soup.

Taste of New Orleans

After a taste of New Orleans earlier, I had a hankering for more. So I made shrimp and sausage jambalaya and my first ever hush puppies, courtesy of Patti La Belle cook book. They're passable. Jambalaya is off the hook.

Comfort food weather

Who requested the perfect-looking turkey, mushroom and spinach lasagna? It's ready.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ava dialed grandparents to say goodnight & recited our cell phone #s. Must find games to continue her fun w/numbers. Vegas card counting?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

40 to 40 update

At long last, here's the 40th birthday update. It ended up being very low-key. I kept trying to muster some excitement or interest in something extraordinary, but I finally accepted that it was okay not to want some big shindig and to instead just revel in the day and the knowledge that I'm happy, healthy and blessed.

I went to work and had a lovely lunch with some cool friends of mine who made me laugh, gave me gifts and reminded me that the best in life was yet to come.
Then my folks kept the kids so that Jason and I could have a solo, grownup dinner without retrieving silverware from under the table, or hoping that the server is kid-savvy enough to not place an open glass of anything (liquid, fire, salt) within arms-reach of the little ones, or making a run to the bathroom to assist a small person with their personal waste management. It was lovely.

I even got to try out a new place. I love fining new places. We did this a lot when we were kid-less. Even the ones that were not keepers were interesting experiences. To me at least.

Jason's deal is that he doesn't like to try any new restaurant when he's hungry. Because if it sucks, not only is he still hungry, he's spent money for it and still has to go find or buy something that doesn't suck. He sticks to what's tried and true. Since he's often hungry when we head out to eat, we don't try many new venues unless I do a reconnaissance run alone or with others beforehand to vet it.

This time, I found great reviews and comments on a place called Blueacre Seafood in downtown Seattle. The chef/co-owner is from Louisiana (yay!) and that came through in every dish.

Baseball-sized and delicious lump crab cake...

Oysters Casbarian with apple smoked bacon, fennel and anise...

Pan seared scallops and clams...

Some sort of awesome apple and cinnamon dessert thing with fresh cream. I was in foodie overload by that point. It all rocked.

The last time we went there, it was another restaurant called Oceanaire that was known for being very good but also extremely expensive. I remember going there with Jason and my folks after my mom had spent a night in the hospital for what turned out to be blood pressure-related sypmtoms.

Her discharge instructions included  something along the lines of "get more exercise, lose weight, and reduce your intake of fried and salty foods." That night, when the waiter arrived to take her order, my mom said, "I'll have the seafood tower," which was some three-tiered ode to every sea creature that could be batter dipped and fried in oil. We literally could not see over it on the table. Jason and I just looked at her in disbelief.

Apparently, it made an impression on my mom too. When we told her where we'd gone for our dinner and that it used to be Oceannaire, she and my dad both asked, almost in unison, "Did you have the seafood tower?!" Uh, no.

But every dish we had was fresh and delicious and our server was great. We'd been joking with him all night and at one point, he came back to the table with our bill to find us both staring intently into our respective phones.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, "I don't want to interrupt your sexting..." Ha!
He took this picture of us.

So in October I started a 40 days to 40 countdown with a list of things I wanted to at least start or make progress on before the big day. Here's how I fared.
    • Renew my study of the French language - in progress and online to boot! The key was finding a list of online learning resources that includes a section on languages. So enjoying this when I can fit it in late at night. The weekly reminder emails are great.
    • Learn to play chess - in progress. I mentioned this to someone and they're sending me a great book that they said helped their neice learn.
    • Plan and take a family trip to go innertubing in the snow - research complete. I found a great article on the Seattle Times website with info on local tubing locations for this winter. We're going in January and hoping to enlist some family members with kids to join us.
    • Take a photography class to learn to use our DSLR camera properly - not done
    • Do some career planning - in progress. Surprisingly, several folks I admire at work asked me specifically about this around my birthday and into December. One even met with me to do a visioning exercise aimed at deciding what my core purpose is, which will serve as a centering tool when I get distracted or overwhelmed with "why don't you do..." or "you have to do..."
    It will also help me prioritize my time and resources so that I'm working on or towards things that are central to my goal or purpose. It's kind of like that saying about journeys: if you don't know where you're going, any path will get you there.I see a corollary as there being many roads to get from here to there, but some take you out of your way while others are much more efficient. Sure, some of the side roads may be more interesting, and the direct route may seem kind of boring at times, but if you ultimately know where you're headed, you can make better decisions about whether to take the road less traveled or stick to the map.
    • Write letters to people I care about to tell them what they mean to me - not done. This is tough, especially around the holidays with all the hoopla and busy-ness to attend to. I think I can make it happen over the course of this year though.
    Work with a personal shopper to upgrade my wardrobe - not done. This will have to happen in phases, for financial as well as time reasons. But I've already identified a store that does this to make it happen. I just need to schedule the time.
    • Sponsor a local family for Thanksgiving or Christmas - I chose instead to contribute to a local charity that supports families and children in need, and to an organization that helps kids transitioning from foster care into young adulthood. It was a nice way to close out the year.
    • Get active! - I added this one after the original post and it's in progress. I don't really have the time to go to a gym before or after work, and frankly, the moist, recently used equipment kind of grosses me out. Always has. Even in college when everyone on the softball team had to work out in the gym.
    But I found out there's a small but nice gym in my building at work that I can use with a few stair masters, reclined bikes, treadmills, a small weight set and some exercise balls. But it will take some serious coordination to pack clothes and shower gear each week, in addition to the multiple bags I already carry to and fro (lunch, purse, laptop/work bag).

    • In the meantime, I've been using the exercise channels on my cable "On Demand" menu and they're pretty good. It's a start, right? Sure, I won't be so ripped it should be illegal extremely hot fit like Hugh Jackman in X-Men Wolverine Australia everything.
But I can work with what I've got. "What I've got" being a still-high metabolism and a not too shabby, nursing-assisted, post-pregnancy body.
  • And I want to set a good example for the kids, which seems to be working: the other night Ava asked if I could turn on the stretching and jumping show. I was perplexed for a moment thinking those damn Fresh Beat Band people had finally rotted her brain as feared, then I realized she meant the On Demand exercise shows.
    "Yes, I just feel like stretching and moving," she explained. Well let's encourage more of that, shall we?!
    • Play pool with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson or Hugh Jackman - sadly, will never be done. But again, a girl can dream.
My favorite part of the day? It's always the cards. Especially the ones Jason got me from the kids, which were signed/scribbled on personally, and his card for me, which read: "Happy birthday to my wife who's still "got it"... [inside message] "From your husband who still "wants it"!

Now that's a great way to wrap up a 40th birthday. Hope your next birthday, milestone or not, is just what you want too.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Skirting the issue

During the summer, I picked up a knitted skirt pattern for Ava while taking a friend visiting from out of town to check out some local yarn stores.

I haven't knitted much since before Ava was born, other than a scarf she asked me to make in her signature pink. It had been so long in fact, that when Jason's Great Aunt told me recently that her favorite, warm, "going to church" scarf was one I knitted for her, I literally had no recollection of doing it. In fact, looking at the well-done cable pattern down the middle, I only vaguely recalled knowing how to knit a cable! But I checked my pattern stash and sure enough, it was there, along with the remaining scrap of yarn that I'd used.

With that kind of lag since I'd picked up needles in earnest, the basic skirt pattern I found last summer seemed simple enough to work on quickly: a few decrease rows after the cast on with two yarns held together, several inches of Stockinette stitch and some easy ribbing.
But with my schedule over the past year, I struggled to find extended amounts of time to spend on it. And when I did, I was often distracted, trying to keep an eye on the kids or grabbing a few moments before nodding off in bed.

Note: while it's possible to knit a simple stitch like this while watching my kids at a mall play area, the activity drew several other staring children who clustered around to watch me work before flitting off to play again and later return to check to my progress.

The lack of unencumbered time though explains why I started, failed and re-knit this skirt twice before getting it right. The first time, I managed to get my cast-on twisted, resulting in a mobius strip-like tube: an unrecoverable knitting error when knitting in the round.

Next, I followed the directions that a lady at a local yarn shop had customized for me and Ava using her exact measurments. We both thought it was knit top down, when actually, it was bottom up and I didn't notice until several inches along. Grrr.

I guess in hindsight I could have finished it either way, but I wasn't sure about the increases/decreases for the ruffled bottom, so I ripped my stitches out AGAIN and started over, after a frustrating night untangling the ripped out lengths of yarn and re-rolling them in to managable balls in the wee hours while everyone slept. Because 11pm to 2am is the only "me" time I'm ever able to carve out this busy holiday season. Okay, any season.

I know, I know: non-knitters may read that and think, "Isn't a hobby or craft supposed to be fun and easy, not frustrating?" Right you are, which only increased my frustration as I thought of all the wasted time. Not to mention that for what the yarns cost, I could have bought Ava a whole outfit plus shoes at my retail favorite Target. But I've learned that skimping on yarn quality is just like skimping on food quality: you may finish what's on your plate (or in your knitting bag), but you will not be satisfied or happy with the end result.

Also, I am persistent (okay, occasionally stubborn) and there was no way I was going to let a prechooler-sized, simple two-yarn skirt get the better of me. Also, this was one of those opportunities to demonstrate committment, patience, and triumph over frustration to the kids, right?

So I knit, unknit, and re-knit again (and again), finally getting this bad boy done in time to go under the tree at Christmas. Granted, I finished the knitted I-cord belt a couple days later, but still, DONE. Take that, skirt of frustration!
Best part? When Ava opened it, she squealed, hugged it to her chest and proclaimed, "This is the best Christmas EVER!"

Oh kid. You have no idea. And while I love me some Target, I can guarantee that no outfit from there is getting that reaction or giving me the same level of satisfaction for providing it for her.

Christmas 2011

We had a lovely Christmas with 35 or so of Jason's relatives for Christmas brunch, followed by a small gathering with my folks at our house. But I was focused on being present rather than on documenting everything, so we didn't even get a family picture this year. But I did capture a few shots.  
 Dylan checking out the Santa figurine at Jason's cousin's house that was the same size he is...
Me and Ava, who asked to have her hair blow dried for the special occasion...

 Which worked out well when she opened the gift that got the biggest squeal: an American Girl doll with straight hair too. The matching dresses came from Ross a couple months ago. It's a line called Dollie and Me, which is toddler and preschooler-sized outfits with matching doll size dresses. My agony over the decision of whether to spring for the doll and if so, what hair type is worth a separate post.
And I didn't get a shot of Dylan with his two favorite gifts: a Thomas the Train talking caboose that can run on his little wooden train set with the other magnetized cars, and a Thomas backpack that can also be pulled on two wheels. It's what he uses for toting around his birthday gift matchbox cars, trains, and these two dinosaurs, which he likes to hold facing each other while roaring, as if they're have a steel cage pose-off in the WWE. Which gives me an idea: man bags for boys. It could happen.

Unbeknownst to him, he picked all of his gifts a couple nights before during a Target run. Unlike Ava, who has fully fallen prey to the marketing juggernaut of commercials during kids shows and basically asks for everything that is shown on TV, Dylan still doesn't get what all the fuss is about and can't verbalize his wants exactly either.

With Ava's requests, we simply say, "You'll have to put that on your list and see if Santa brings it." Since she doesn't read or write yet (beyond her name and individual letters), we might as well say "write an app that will download those to daddy's iPad." But it's bought us some time, since she usually forgets about it within minutes, or until the next commercial or visit to a store featuring one of the coveted items.

With Dylan, I simply took them to the toy aisles in Target and watched what he was drawn to. I already knew anything Thomas the Train would be a win, but watching him beeline for certain items helped. And when he refused to put certain ones down (like the backpack and dinosaurs) until I could distract him or enlist Ava to distract him, I knew we had winners, which I then furtively stuffed under grocery items in the cart while his back was turned. I was like the David Blaine of toy shopping. And he was none the wiser Christmas morning.

Soon after Dylan's birthday earlier in the month, I asked Jason what he wanted to do for him for Christmas.
"I don't know yet but he's getting the full deal," he said rather forcefully. Seeing my blank look he explained, "My birthday was right before Christmas too and I always got that BS 'This gift is for your birthday and Christmas' line. I'm not doing that to him."

"Mm-hmm: basically you got hosed because your birthday wasn't some other month besides December," I replied.

"Exactly," he said. "And it's total bull." Clearly, this is still a sore subject and I'd never realized how much because I've always done dual gifts for him. Your birthday is special and separate from other celebrations, whether it's in April or the day after Christmas. So we did get Dylan several nice little gifts.

Yet all in all, this Christmas seemed to reflect the still-challenging economy and our interest in getting away from gift overload and spending more time with each other rather than money on things we don't need and will just be looking to purge later. It felt right-sized.

And we will be purging the kids' things anyway in the next month or so because they're outgrowing many of their infant and toddler toys. They will hopefully be loved by some other kids soon, freeing up valuable toy box real estate for the Christmas and birthday items.

I hope your family's holiday celebrations were just right for your needs too.

Ice, ice, baby girl

Ava had a playdate with a friend from school whose mom suggested ice skating at the Seattle Center. It was a lovely outing for the girls, who did well once we commandeered the ice guides for kids.

I left Dylan with my folks so that I could focus exclusively on Ava for a few hours, which allowed me to fulfill Ava's frequent request for "a little Mommy-Ava time."
I know that soon enough she'll be more interested in hanging with her little school peeps than with me and her dad, so I'm trying to maximize these opportunities and build special memories while I can.

And I actually love ice skating. I tried it with a bunch of co-workers in one of my first jobs after college and took to the ice much more quickly than I would have expected as a city chick. That outing lead me to rollerblading, which I still love, so it was great to get out there with my girl and zip around even a rinky dink rink while avoiding careening pre-teen boys.

Like every sporty activity we've tried so far, Ava was a natural, taking a couple wobbly but upright laps around the rink before we secured the ice guide. Then she set off at a pretty good clip once she had one. Her steering leaves a little to be desired though as she cut back and forth across traffic a few times, nearly causing skater pileups in her wake. Note to self: work on that before she gets her learner's permit for the car.

Still, we both had a great time and I may even try getting Dylan out at a local rink this winter. 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Years Day ritual: Twilight Zone marathon

My favorite Twilight Zone episode is on: "Time enough at last" about the bookworm who survives a nuclear blast. As an extremely near-sighted book lover who can't see without glasses or contacts, I have always identified with the thick glasses-wearing character Henry Bemis who can never find enough time to read.

The episode is from 1959 but still resonates today with its references to the dangers of nuclear war and the anti-intellectualism of Bemis' boss and wife who deride him for his love of reading.

I love my NookColor ebook reader (and its accompanying app for my phone) because it gives me the feeling that I always have reading material at hand. But some have pointed out that as we as a society move more towards books as electronic data, we are just as vulnerable as Henry Bemis and his fragile glasses because a power outage or computer virus could just as easily eliminate our ability to read the written word.

That's why, despite my love for my NookColor, I still love physical books and always will. But in honor of  Henry Bemis, I do have a backup pair of glasses, just in case.

Easing into 2012

Family around, greens & black eye peas on the stove, Twilight Zone marathon on: 2012 is off to a great start.