Monday, December 31, 2007

This is not a paid advertisement

At this time of year, newspapers and magazines are full of "Best of 2007" lists. I used to compile a list of top ten albums of the year every year at this time, but frankly (and I know this will make me sound old), these days I'm lucky if I could name ten albums that were released this year.

Nonetheless, I love making "best of" lists and I love sharing a great find with my blogosphere friends. So here are ten gems that got me through 2007:

10. Contour pillows: 2007 was the year I discovered chiropractic care. I was having serious shoulder pain in the spring and early summer (probably due to ergonomic miscalculations with my laptop), and since chiropractors are covered by my insurance I decided to give it a try. I've become a chiropractic addict. There are few things more satisfying than the pop-pop-pop of my rapidly aging spine. Anyway, one of the side benefits of seeing a chiropractor was my discovery of contour pillows. The chiropractor actually suggested that I sleep with a rolled towel under my neck, but I just couldn't get comfortable, so I got me a brand new pillow. As I think I've mentioned before, I have always slept well, but now - well, it's a little slice of heaven.

9. Kashi TLC Original 7-Grain crackers: Sometimes I think I could live on nothing but TLC crackers and coffee. Okay, let's be honest - some days I do live on nothing but TLC crackers and coffee. And I have no regrets.

8. SmartWool socks: I live in a cold climate. I mean really cold. We have a few days every year when the temperature is twenty below before you factor in the wind chill. So dressing warmly is really the key to survival around here, and for keeping feet toasty warm there is nothing like the SmartWool sock. Okay, they are expensive (as socks go), so I only have one pair, but I'm telling you, for one day every week, my toes are positively giddy.

7. The Presby Environmental Enviro-Septic System: After several years of living with a failing, and then failed, septic system, we invested a small fortune into having the Enviro-Septic system installed this summer. It's like the Prius of septic systems, I think. Best of all, it works, and, take my word for it, you should never underestimate the value of that.

6. Clash of the Choirs: I'm not even kidding. This was some throw-away little reality something-something that NBC tossed on the week before Christmas to fill time during the writer's strike. Five musical artists - Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton, Nick Lachey, Kelly Rowland, and Blake Shelton - each put together choirs made up of everyday people from their own hometowns and had three weeks to rehearse for a four-night competition. It was completely feel-good without a hint of Simon Cowellishness - drippy sicky sweet, uber-Patriotic, and let the angels sing. I loved every second of it. My only disappointment was when the choirs backed up their celebrity directors on one of their own hits: I'd really, really hoped that Blake Shelton would have his choir belting out "The more I drink, the more I drink...," but, sadly, it was not to be.

5. Scrabulous: Much to the chagrin of college students around the world, boring old people have begun invading Facebook. This year, my worlds collided on Facebook when I suddenly found that my Facebook friend list included current and former students, colleagues, supervisors and supervisees; high school, college, and grad school friends; most of my siblings and a sister-in-law; assorted blogging friends; and even my thirteen-year-old nephew. But the very best part of Facebook is Scrabulous - an online game of Scrabble that is played asynchronously, so that players don't have to be logged in at the same time. At any given moment, I have about six different Scrabulous games in play. And, okay, I spend most of my time getting my Scrabulass kicked, but I'm having a blast doing it.

4. Dexter: I don't subscribe to Showtime, so I was unfamiliar with this series until my uncle lent us the first season on DVD. For the uninitiated: Dexter works in forensics and is a blood-spatter expert. He is also a serial killer with a strong code of ethics. This is a show that's not to be missed.

3. Avon Moisture Therapy Hand Cream: I live in a cold climate (see number 8 above), and winters typically do a number on my hands. In past years, by early November my hands have been dry and cracked and painful and a nasty shade of red. I've tried every fancy hand cream and prescription medication I could find, all with little effect. And then this fall my mom picked up a tube of this miracle cream at some buy-in-bulk table at a flea market and all of my winter hand problems have been solved. I use it faithfully every night at bedtime (because it is so thick and slick that if I used it during the day I'd have to give up hope of holding anything in my hands), I wear gloves every time I leave the house, and I've successfully tricked my hands into believing that it's May.

2. The Highway 16 Traffic Report: This year, the XM satellite radio in my car has spent most of its time docked at channel 16, or "Highway 16: America's Route to Today's New Country." Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I've also been able to listen at home and at work. In fact, I started all of my writing classes by streaming Highway 16 as the students stumbled into class and struggled to wake up (because, while 9:30 might feel like mid-morning to people over 30, it is the crack of dawn to many a college student). The music drew a lot of compliments - though that may have been the result of the mistaken assumption that an expression of approval of my musical tastes might reflect favorably on the assignment of grades (needless to say, I am not so easily bought). Anyway, one of the treats-of-the-week for me in 2007 was the Highway 16 Traffic Report, a commercial-free countdown of the 50 most-requested songs of the week, which airs on Wednesday afternoons (good background as I plug away at my desk) and is replayed on Saturday afternoons (a crowdpleaser when Bud and I are cruising in the car).

1. The Keurig Single-Cup Coffee Brewer: The beauty of not having a Christmas wish-list is that often other people's improvisations are far superior to anything you might have come up with on your own. Such was the case for me when my mom presented me with this beauty on Christmas morning. I'd seen them before in businesses and grocery stores, but I'd always been too intimidated to try them out and risk the public humiliation of spewing steaming hot coffee all over my fellow paying customers. But I needn't have worried: as it turns out, the Keurig brewer is simple to use and produces a steaming hot cup of perfectly brewed coffee every single time. Sigh. Isn't it gorgeous?

So, there you have it - my own personal "best of" for 2007, without an ounce of corporate sponsorship or PAC money behind it. I'm still not able to endorse a candidate for President, of course, (which, interestingly enough, is the way I started the year), but, then, you're probably more likely to heed my advice on matters of coffee than on matters of international importance anyway.

Thanks for sticking with me this year, blogosphere. A very happy 2008 to you - and stay tuned for more strategic product placement right here in the new year.

I'm mom-nos and I approved this message.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A tale of 2007

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

For Bud, 2007 was a year of upheaval and, strangely, progress.

Most of what I blogged about our lives in 2007 was written between the lines. I alluded to what we were going through, but I didn’t write much about it. I wasn’t sure what to say, for starters. And I wasn’t sure how much of the story was mine to tell. So I stuck with allusion.

I talked to Bud’s dad the other day, though, and he told me that he feels like a guy whose character got written out of a sitcom because the actor’s contract was not renewed. I can see where he’s coming from.

As you may have surmised by what I haven’t written this year, Bud’s dad and I are no longer together. It’s complicated, of course, and really not for public consumption. He made a difficult – but logical – move to another area, and he talks to Bud on the phone every day, and often several times a day.

As a result, 2007 was characterized by extraordinary change for Bud. He had to deal with a radical shake-up at home, and with the absence of one of the most primary people in his life. He had to manage confusion and uncertainty and anger and sadness. His transition to a new school year was difficult. His anxiety was at an all time high. His unrelated health issues prompted the scheduling of major surgery.

And yet, he did it.

Bud negotiated the difficulty. He named his sadness and his anger. He forged a new kind of day-to-day relationship with his dad, and became masterful at the art of the telephone conversation. He focused on working through small changes, which helped him learn to work through the big ones. He trusted his dad and me. He kept moving forward.

As a result, 2007 was also characterized by extraordinary growth for Bud – physically, emotionally, and developmentally. He became a terrific reader. He made tremendous advances with language – using it to comment, consult, question, explain, describe, implore. He learned that though circumstances change, a parent’s love never does. And neither does a child’s.

We have all survived 2007, both apart and together. No one has been written out of the sitcom, though the plot has taken some sudden turns. And we all move into 2008 with hope - hope for a year of continued progress and hope for a year of settling in.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Soak up the sun

Bud and I were invited to a Solstice Party on Friday night. It was a kid-friendly party, for which people were invited to wear yellow and orange and bring summery snacks and juices. The main activity of the evening centered around an outdoor bonfire on the snowy ground, with voices raised together to call back the sun.

I told Bud about the party on Thursday and gave him full control over the decision of whether or not to attend. He didn't even pause before he answered: he wanted to go. The Solstice Party was all he talked about for the next 24 hours, and he was so upbeat about it that I think he only half-listened when I told him what to expect.

As we drove toward the house on Friday night, though, Bud began to have second thoughts.

"I'll just wait in the car," Bud announced as we neared the driveway.

"No, I'd like to go in and see everyone," I said.

"I'll wait for you, Mama," he said. "In the car."

"Let's just give it a try, Bud," I said. "If you don't like it, we can go home."

"I don't like it," he said. But he climbed out of the car and walked with me to the door and seemed willing to give it all a chance.

As soon as the door opened, I wondered what I'd been thinking. Let me paint the picture for you:

This was the first time Bud had been out of the house since his surgery.

It was his regular bedtime.

There were not many people in attendance, but most of them were strangers to us.

The place was swarming with cousins. They were the sort of cousins that are old enough to walk, so while there were actually only four in attendance, it felt more like there were sixteen of them.

As we arrived, one of the cousins was crying.


We'd accidentally left Bud's iPod at home.

There were two older children there as well. They were crawling on the floor, barking and pretending to be dogs.

There were two real-life cats darting through the crowd.

Bud turned to me immediately and said, "I don't think so, Mom."

I guided him into the house, hoping that in a few minutes we'd all settle in a bit. I tried to direct Bud to the cookies, to the toys, to the people he knew. I put my hands over his ears. I let him crawl into my lap. And I prepared myself for the meltdown.

The meltdown never came, but Bud never settled in. He tried, but there was just too much, too many, too late, too far. He gave it 25 minutes and half a cookie, then came to me and said with authority, "It's time to go."

I got our coats and boots and we said our goodbyes as the other guests started eating their first snacks and waited for the party to get underway. Our friends, the hosts, rolled with it beautifully as if this had been the plan all along. I wondered briefly what their friends, the strangers, thought, then decided that people who go to Solstice Parties are probably predisposed to roll with this sort of thing as well.

As Bud and I crunched through the snow back to our car, he said brightly, "That was a great party!"

"It was a great party," I said. "Do you think you'd like to come back another time?"

"Yes," he said.

We drove home and got ready for bed, and Bud was asleep before our friends started calling back the sun.

The next morning, I woke to Bud's voice in my ear, asking, "Did you have fun at the party, Mama?"

"I sure did, Bud. Did you have fun at the party?"

"I had fun," he answered. "That was a great party."

As I lay in bed and thought about the way Bud managed the party and framed his memory of it, the lyrics of Sheryl Crow's "Soak up the Sun" filled my head:

"It's not having what you want,
t's wanting what you've got.
I'm gonna soak up the sun."

He's amazing, that boy. He gives me new perspective every day.

It's wanting what you've got.

I'm gonna soak up my son.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ransom Notes and thank you letters

According to a letter from Dr. Harold Koplewicz, Founder and Director of the New York University Child Study Center, the "Ransom Notes" campaign is over. He writes:
Though we meant well, we've come to realize that we unintentionally hurt and offended some people. We’ve read all the emails, both pro and con, listened to phone calls, and have spoken with many parents who are working day and night to get their children the help they need. We have decided to conclude this phase of our campaign today because the debate over the ads is taking away from the pressing day-to-day work we need to do to help children and their families. They are and remain our first concern.

Our goal was to start a national dialogue. Now that we have the public’s attention, we need your help. We would like to move forward and harness the energy that this campaign has generated to work together so that we do not lose one more day in the lives of these children. We hope you will partner with us to bring the issues surrounding child and adolescent mental health to the top of America's agenda...

We invite all of you to continue this conversation online at a “town hall” meeting that we will hold early next year as we plan the next phase of our national public awareness campaign on child mental health. Look for details on our web site

Thanks, Dr. Koplewicz, for listening to feedback, acknowledging mistakes, and working to correct them. And thanks, too, to everyone who wrote and spoke and signed and demanded to be heard. You have made a difference.

See you all at town hall.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A good sign

The Ransom Notes campaign is continuing to get a lot of press, both in the online autism community and elsewhere. Bloggers Kristina Chew, Vicki Forman, and Susan Etlinger were quoted in a recent article about it in The New York Times. And if you're a regular reader of autism-related blogs, you're likely to see a lot of other familiar names on this petition, which calls for an end to the campaign.

Perhaps once you read the petition, you'll consider signing your own name as well.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Surgery? What surgery?

Bud is so good at having surgery, he could do it professionally.

I had a lot of images about how the day might go. I was in "prepare for the worst/hope for the best" mode. But I never even entertained the possibility that Bud's surgery would be such a spectacular non-event.

Having stuffed himself silly at our midnight breakfast, Bud was perfectly content with grazing on Popsicles and jello until we left for the hospital. We arrived early, and I prepared to manage his mounting anxiety as we approached the same-day surgery unit, where he'd had a meltdown of epic proportions less than two weeks earlier, when we tried to visit for a "sneak peak" tour. But the anxiety never came. Bud was calm and pleasant as we sat together in the waiting room. He seemed especially huggy and affectionate, but not in a needy, clingy way, just in a "have I told you lately that I love you" way.

When we moved into the surgical unit, Bud stayed his focused, happy self, chatting with the nurses, answering questions as they were asked, and settling in with a portable DVD player and a stash of movies from the hospital's library. Shortly after he was in his room, they gave him a liquid sedative, which - though I wouldn't have thought there was any room for improvement - made him even more delightful. A steady stream of nurses, anaesthesiologists, doctors, and other staff arrived at his bedside, and Bud announced each new arrival with "I'd like you to meet my friends!"

The whole day followed the same pattern. We had a difficult, tearful ten minutes in the final pre-op moments, when a neighbor of Bud's reacted with some unpleasant noises as he woke from his anaesthesia, frightening Bud as we wheeled him to the OR. But I stayed with him until he was asleep, and in less than an hour the surgeon came to find me to tell me that it had all gone well. I was back in with Bud before he woke up.

And when he did wake up he was all smiles, and gave me a clear, loud "Hi, Mom," without even the hint of a hoarse voice. Bud announced that he was ready to leave in less than an hour, but hospitals have their rules, so we had to sit around and wait for a couple more hours before they sent us home.

Bud's been eating and drinking just fine. He's taking his (foul tasting) medicine without complaint. He had a great night's sleep. He's up and about and playing and talking and acting not at all like a child who has just had a body part removed (in fact, my sister suggested that I check him out thoroughly, in case they mistakenly removed the wrong thing).

So I'm forced to draw two conclusions in the aftermath of this waltz through major surgery:

1. It is likely that Bud will continue to surprise me all the time for the rest of my life, and

2. When you folks send out prayers, thoughts, and energy to the universe, you do not mess around.

Thanks for being with us through it all. I'm off to scoop more ice cream.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Goodbye tonsils, hello ice cream!

Bud's tonsillectomy is tomorrow. I'm a nervous wreck, but I think Bud is actually looking forward to it.

I have tried to be honest about it. Really, I have. We read Curious George Goes to the Hospital, and I pointed out all of the things that happened to George that will also happen to him. I told him about waking up with a sore throat. I told him about losing his voice for a while. But for Bud, the operation means two things: presents and snacks.

His surgery is not scheduled until 11:00 a.m., which means we'll have a long, breakfast-free morning - particularly problematic in light of his new medication-induced appetite. So here's the plan:

He can eat solids until midnight. He's asleep now, but I told him that I'd wake him up at 11:00, and he'll be able to eat whatever he wants. He's downright giddy about it.

He can have clear fluids until 9:00 a.m. I've explained that on Operation Days, the doctor says that you have to have apple juice, Popsicles, and jello for breakfast. Bud thinks this is his kind of doctor.

Bud told me that after an operation, you get to have presents. That are wrapped. That include movies. And toys. I have taken careful notes.

I told Bud that because of his sore throat he'll need to have Popsicles and jello and ice cream and juice and yogurt and applesauce until he feels better. He did the pre-surgery grocery shopping with me. I said "yes" a lot. He can't believe his good fortune.

His backpack is packed with his stuffed bear and a stack of Tubbies, George, and Pooh DVDs for the recovery room. I've promised to download Dierks Bentley Live from Bonnaroo to his iPod before we leave, despite the fact that iTunes warns me of explicit lyrics (but, really, how bad can it be?) Bud is feeling good and is prepared to take the operating room by storm.

Of course, I understand that all this may change the moment we enter the hospital tomorrow, or even the moment I remind him that there will be no toast for breakfast. But I'm rolling with it for now, and keeping my fingers crossed, and hoping that he's not too angry with me when he wakes up tomorrow with a sore throat like no sore throat he's ever had before.

But one step at a time.

For now, I'm planning out the menu for our midnight breakfast, and I'm sending out this post to ask all you thinkers and prayers and senders of energy to channel a little of that thought and prayer and energy this way tomorrow.

We'd be happy to send you some ice cream in return.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ransom Notes and love letters

I haven't been much of an autism activist lately. As I wrote during the summer, my activist energy has been focused on acting locally - it's been focused on Bud. But I just can't let this one pass without comment.

It's a new ad campaign called "Ransom Notes," sponsored by the NYU Child Study Center. Vicki Forman describes it well over at Speak Softly. So does Kristina Chew at Autism Vox.

The campaign purports to be a public service, designed to "create awareness and spark dialogue about childhood psychiatric disorders," though I have to say that, to me, it looks more like a campaign designed to inspire fear - a little "shock and awe" for the masses. The campaign is built around images designed to look like actual ransom notes, that say things like this:

We have your son.

We will make sure he will not be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives.

This is only the beginning.
- Autism

Vicki and Kristina have already, very eloquently, explained why this "autism awareness" campaign is so very troubling.

Let me just add this:

Should Autism decide to send this letter to my house, I've got my reply ready to roll. Here's what it says:

Dear Autism,

You don't have my son; I do.

I will make sure that he is never defined by his autism alone, and I will help him to recognize that, although his autism makes some things incredibly challenging, it also brings with it remarkable gifts. I will make sure that we work on his challenges. I will make sure that we celebrate his gifts.

This is only the beginning.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Dierks Bentley: I'm calling it now

I'm putting this in writing now so that in a short time I'll be able to link back to this post and say I told you so. This is what I'm telling you:

Dierks Bentley is going to be HUGE.

I know: He's already a major recording star. He's already had five number one singles. He has just been nominated for four Grammy's. He's already big. I know.

That's not what I'm talking about, though. I'm talking HUGE. I'm talking cover of People magazine, Barbara Walters' Ten Most Fascinating People, you-better-get-your-tickets-the second-they-go-on-sale-because-the-stadium-will-sell-out-in-minutes huge.

If you've been reading this blog over the past several months, then you already know how kind and generous Dierks and Cassidy Bentley are. And if you've been reading the comments on this blog over the past several months, then you already know that Dierks is the sort of musician who has broad appeal and inspires statements like "I've never really been into country music, but I bought his album and now I'm a huge fan." And if you've been reading those things, then you probably walked away from them thinking, "Nice guy. Talented guy. Hope he continues to do well." So did I.

Then I saw his concert.

Let me put this in context for you: I have been to a lot of live shows. A lot of them. And I've seen a lot of incredibly talented people. I have almost always enjoyed the shows, but, by now, it takes a lot for a show to really blow me away.

This show really blew me away.

I've been trying to find the words to describe why, and here's what I've come up with: Most of the time when you see a live show, the artist takes the stage and performs for you. You stand on the other side of the invisible wall and marvel at their talent. They do what they do best for a couple of hours, and you are wildly appreciative, and then you all go home.

But every now and then, you see an artist who knows how to connect with the audience. The invisible wall evaporates, and suddenly everyone in the room feels like an important part of the experience. There's an energy that builds as the connection tightens; there's a relationship that develops, until suddenly every person in the room - each musician on stage, each die-hard fan in the pit, and even each of the folks in the last row of the balcony - has the same feeling: we are all in this together.

I'm not sure why some artists can create this vibe and others can't. It's not about the size of the venue. I've seen performers in intimate club settings who didn't create it; I've seen Paul McCartney create it in a stadium.

And now, I've seen Dierks Bentley do it, too.

It's this sort of thing: My friend and I had to travel a way to see the show, so we booked a local hotel room to make the trip more manageable. As we were checking out the next morning, the woman behind the hotel counter asked, "Were you in town for the show last night?"

We told her we were. She said she was there, too, and suddenly we were old friends. We talked, we raved, we gushed a little, and then we said goodbye with a "see you at next year's show," because we all knew that, without question, we would be there.

So here's the thing: It's too late to get in on the ground floor. It's too late to see Dierks and the band in a club. It's too late to be among the first to say "I was a fan back when..." But it's not too late to see him in a smallish venue, and I'm telling you, you ought to do it now, because soon it will be. He's going to be huge.

I can't wait to say I told you so.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fill 'em up

Okay, troops, it's rallying time.

Bud has been on a new medication for about a month. It has made a world of difference for him, helping him to manage anxiety, perseverate less, avoid aggressive outbursts, and, of course, sleep. After many difficult and challenging months, Bud is finally settling back into himself.

There's just one catch to the new medication: it makes him RAVENOUSLY hungry. As soon as he finishes breakfast, he's asking for a snack. He's sneaking food out of the refrigerator. He is grazing his way through his days. I've removed most junk food from the house and eliminated things like white flour products from his diet, but honestly, even fruit and whole grains will pack on the pounds if you eat them by the truckload.

Bud had a follow-up visit with his doctor today. He's gained five pounds in the past month. He hasn't grown enough to account for it. It's the marathon eating. Bud's doctor advised me to seek out foods that are filling and low in calories - things like popcorn and vitamin water. Those, I can do. But her other suggestions - things like carrots and celery, and even soups - are likely to trigger Bud's sensory issues. I've always avoided artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes for Bud, but his doctor said they're the lesser concern right now - she suggested swapping out the regular jello, Popsicles, and other snacks for the sugar-free variety whenever possible.

I'm sure Bud's not the first child to encounter this issue. So what can you offer me, oh wise blogosphere friends? What can I give to Bud that will fill him up and stay with him, without pushing his daily caloric intake through the roof?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tree and easy (down the road I go)

Does everyone else on the planet already know about this product, or am I about to provide you all with life-changing information?

The Swivel Straight Tree Stand.

Bud and I went out yesterday and picked out a Christmas tree. He picked it, actually. I was just along for the ride. We brought it home and hauled our old Christmas tree stand out of storage. Now, when I say "old" Christmas tree stand, I don't mean simply that it has been used before. I mean "old," as in it may actually have been manufactured while Baby Jesus was still laying in the manger. That kind of old.

Don't get me wrong - the old Christmas tree stand has a lot of terrific memories associated with it; it's just that most of those memories started out their lives with a tilting evergreen, the screech of metal-on-metal, and the frosty blast of unprintable curse words. We started down the same road last night, but as I caught the falling tree before it hit the living room floor, I said out loud, "Someone must have invented a better tree stand in the past several decades..."

And so, I hauled the tree back out to the garage and waited until morning, when Bud and I could head out in search of a better solution.

It didn't take us long. We walked into the local hardware store, and there in a glow of heavenly light was the Swivel Straight Tree Stand. I inched closer and touched the cardboard box, and I'm telling you, I think I heard the angels sing.

I knew I had found the one.

It did not disappoint. It was easy to assemble, and easier to use. Zip-zap-zup, and the tree was up.

Trust me on this one: If you want a little more merry in your Christmas, track this baby down and let the celebrating begin.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Perhaps I'll just move my lips

Bud is not always a fan of my singing. It's true that when he needs a partner for a duet, I'm usually his first choice (you should hear us do Keith Urban's "I Told You So," with me on lead vocals and Bud singing the part of every instrument in the band), but he often objects when I sing along with the radio or hum out loud as I putter around the house.

"Mama," he'll say to me. "Just listen."

Or - my favorite - "Don't sing, Mama. Just burp."

This morning I walked into the kitchen, quietly singing "oh feeder monkey size" to myself, and Bud burst in from the other room.

"No. Just quiet please, Mama," he said.

"You know, Bud," I said, in my ongoing effort to lobby for just a tad more air time, "When I was in the eighth grade, I was actually chosen for the glee club."

"What?" he asked.

"When I was younger, I was such a good singer that they picked me to be in a very special singing group at school."

"And now," he replied matter-of-factly, "You can't sing at all."