Friday, 31 August 2012

Day 1 for Reunion

Despite the fuss of the night before, the day started off reasonably well.  Since Drumheller is due for one of the few days of rain they ever get, we decided to have an indoor activity planned.  We debated a few of the options and decided on the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology.  It's a pretty neat museum and even has some cinema connections, they were consulted for the Jurassic Park movies.

Nathan did a very rapid tour of the museum.  It was smaller than I remembered, but the exhibits were still amazing.  They've got an enlargement of creatures from the Burgess Shale, which is over 200 million years old.  I kept pointing out the fossils to Nathan but he mostly wanted to run on to the next thing.

One thing he did enjoy was an interactive display about pollenation.  They had giant flowers with vacuum tubes and you could shoot ball through the tubes to see if they landed in other flowers.  It was an awesome idea.

After the museum, we went for a drive in the surrounding hills.  Avi told us a little about the town, things he'd heard from his Opa and mother.  Drumheller rivalled Calgary as a bustling town back in 1912.  The mining industry was huge.  Opa had to choose between the two and decided on Drumheller since he thought Calgary would never amount to anything.

We had a quiet afternoon to prepare the boys for the Meet and Greet dinner that evening.  Memee and Avi took Alex to their hotel and Nathan and Shelby went swimming.  Dave and I took a much needed nap.

The Meet and Greet went well.  Alex remembered his manners, replying "I am good" when people asked how he was.  They were both really excited to see their aunt Avril, my sister.

The dinner was great: real Alberta beef.  I'm a beef snob and there's nothing like the texture and flavour of the real deal.  Nathan only ate a buttered bun and some fruit and Alex ate the food I'd brought for him.  The community center had an elevator and that's where Alex wanted to spend most of his time.  Nathan was feeling quite shy and didn't want to talk to anyone too unfamiliar.  He got tired and went home with Dave and Shelby.  Dave came back to get Alex and I afterwards.

Most of the rest of the family went on to the Last Chance Saloon, a bar owned by some of our family members.  It's minorly famous in Alberta.  They used to have a horse who loved beer and would come up to a special window and stamp her hoof to order a pint.

This time we were prepared for Alex to go to bed.  I put on the Weather Network on mute and told him he could watch it as long as he was quiet.  He did pretty well.  I only had to remind him a few times and he was asleep before the sleep timer ran out.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Down Day

When we woke up this morning, Nathan was still upset and wanted to stay in the hotel room.  We decided not to push him and instead, Avi and I took Alex out for a walk around town.  We found out the reunion made the front page of the Drumheller newspaper, which was pretty cool.  The article said our family has been in the town for one hundred years, arriving in 1912, which was also a neat fact to know.

Alex got to spend some time at the McDonald's.  He likes their summer advertising campaign of "Only a dollar, all summer" and was thrilled to repeat it for every passing customer.  There are times when the constant repetition wears on my nerves but it's great to see him so happy.

We had a great walk through the town.  It's very diverse scenery with the lushness of the river valley against the scoured stone hills.

It was quite warm and we ended up cooling off in a large fountain.  Alex was surprised when I told him he could go ahead and roll up his shorts and get his feet wet but he didn't waste any time waiting to see if I'd change my mind.

After our cool down, we had to visit Drumheller's major claim to fame: The World's Largest Dinosaur.  It actually is recorded with the Guiness World Record people.  We were a little disappointed to discover that the DQ sign beside it refers to a restaurant over a kilometre away.  Alex insisted on searching the entire parking lot and building to make sure we hadn't missed his opportunity for ice cream.

You can actually go inside the dinosaur and look out from inside its mouth.  Alex was very eager to climb the dinosaur.  I was less thrilled with climbing up four stories of stairs but the view is worth it.

After the walk, Shelby and Avi took the boys for a swim and I got myself a much needed nap after the fuss of the previous night.  That evening we went to Boston Pizza, eager to see if Alex would repeat his pizza sampling.  In retrospect, I should have kept him playing outside while the food was ordered.  It only took fifteen minutes, but it was enough for him to lose his patience.  Avi and Memee took him back to the hotel room and once he was going, Nathan insisted on leaving as well.

That night, Alex threw a tantrum at bedtime.  He did not want to lie down quietly and sleep but I couldn't let him bounce around since Nathan was already asleep in the bed.  Alex kept wanting to look out the window or watch TV but we couldn't give in with a tantrum already in progress.  Eventually he tired himself out but it's going to be another late night and short sleep for me.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Flying Out

So far, so good.

We made it to Calgary with a minimum of difficulty.  We did have some trouble at check-in but that was because the attendant's computer crashed and we had to wait almost half an hour until it rebooted properly.  This meant we ended up running through security and directly onto the airplane.  On the plus side, the boys didn't have to wait at the gate.  On the downside, I had planned to buy snacks and drinks before boarding.  I managed to snag some bottles of pop out of a vending machine but that was it.

Luckily for us, the in-flight entertainment system had a variety of programs from the boys' favourite channel, Treehouse.  Alex watched the same episode of Roll-Play for almost ninety minutes.  He was hungrier than I expected and went through all the food I had packed for him.  I had planned to have some stuff left over for when we landed but I didn't want to deprive him if he was hungry.  We could always get more food in Calgary after we landed.

Nathan had a good time with Shelby and Dave got to have some quiet time to himself on the flight.

(For the record, our trip was not endorsed by Coke.)  I forgot to mention it in the preparations post, but I made each boy a t-shirt which said "Child with Autism: Handle with Loving Care" for the trip.  Those shirts saved us a lot of time and discussion with people.  Nathan was kicking the seat in front of him and when he complained to the stewardess, she just glanced over and then told him it was a five year old with autism and offered him the chance to move.  He told us he had a seven year old who had just been diagnosed and understood perfectly.

After we landed, we got the adults some drive-through dinner and found a park where the boys could run and play before starting our ninety minute drive to Drumheller.  It took us a little while to find a family community.  The first suburb we drove through had parks, but they were just green space with some benches.  It was really nice being up in the foothills of the Rockies with lots of wide open sky and crisp air.

The drive to Drumheller was good.  The boys listened to music and Nathan, predictably, fell asleep.  I always love the descent into the Badlands.  The prairie seems to be infinitely flat with low, rolling hills, going on forever.  But suddenly you crest a hill and you're diving down through terra-cotta layered hills into the river valley.  The town is tiny, depending on the fossil beds and tourism for its livelihood.  To put it in perspective, there's one grocery store but seven hotels.  However, it's doing well.  Many of the other mining towns out there have vanished.

We stayed at the Super 8 and our suite was everything we'd been promised.  It had a full kitchen, including a full size fridge.  There was a living area and then two separate bedrooms.  And each room had its own TV, preventing many of the squabbles which could have erupted.  There was also a pool with a waterslide. 

Nighttime was a little rough.  Both boys wanted to sleep with Mommy, which I had anticipated.  I claimed the king-sized bed for us, which gave us plenty of room for everyone.  However, Nathan was not happy about staying in the hotel.  He'd been getting nervous about the trip as it came closer and having to sleep in a bed which wasn't his was the last straw.  He began to cry and when I asked what was wrong, he said he wanted to go home.  I told him we couldn't go home yet and he began to throw a full-on tantrum.  I think he thought we would give in and take him home (since we generally remove tantruming children from situations).  It was really hard to hear him scream himself to sleep but I tried to just hold him and tell him that I understood he was scared and upset.  And that we would stay with him, that he wasn't alone.  Eventually, he fell asleep.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Preparing for Trip

We've been planning this trip for nearly a year and it's finally time to go.  My family has an extended family reunion every few years, with hundreds of people attending.  We've been saving our pennies to cover airfare and hotels and now we're good to go.

Travelling with children is a challenge.  With autistic children, it can be a nightmare.  Our preparations haven't just been to make sure we could financially make it.  We also had to do our best to make sure the boys will be okay.  I think we've done just about everything we could.

For starters, we're bringing our aide with us.  That gives us an extra adult on site who has no family ties and thus won't be upset at having to leave family gatherings if the boys can't handle something.  On the bonus side, because of their autism, both boys qualify to have a medically necessary companion fly free on Air Canada.  It doesn't matter if the companion is a family member or not, so we got two free tickets.

We're also flying in early and leaving late.  The reunion events don't start until Friday but we're coming in on Wednesday evening.  That gives us all day on Thursday to give the boys downtime and do things at our own pace and on our own schedule.  Things finish up on Sunday but we won't be leaving until Monday, again giving the boys a little time to adjust before the stress of the flight.

At Christmas, we asked my immediate relatives to send us recent photos of themselves so that we could show them to the boys.  This gave them some familiarity with faces and names.  Most of the extended family have never met Nathan and only saw Alex when he was eighteen months old.  A few weeks ago, I put together a social story which explained what would happen during the airplane ride and the reunion.  I took pictures off the Internet and kept things fairly simple.  I've found these stories useful in helping to prepare the boys for unfamiliar, one-time experiences.

I also put together a visual schedule like the one we use at home to help prepare the boys for the day's activities.  We're bringing an iPad for each boy and I've downloaded some of their favourite movies and videos onto it.  We've practiced using earbuds when we have to keep things quiet.  I've packed a box of their favourite toys to play with at the hotel.

Alex's pureed food could be a problem for airport security but I've contacted the Canadian Air Transit Security Authority and I have a doctor's note explaining the necessity.  If I have a problem, I'll ask for the CATSA Operations Manager.

I think our most useful preparation is manageable expectations.  I'm not expecting the boys to be chatting with their great-aunt Mary or to sit quietly through long speeches.  They can play on their iPads or go run outside.  Between Dave and Shelby (our aide), I should be able to stay and participate in events.

I'm really looking forward to this.  I haven't been back to Drumheller for a long time.  I'm a bit of a dinosaur geek, so I'm hoping to share the paleontology museum with my boys.  And I like the Badlands.  There's a weird sparse beauty to the rolling landscape with its multicoloured layers.  Fingers crossed for luck, everyone.

Monday, 27 August 2012

All Work and No Play

There have been times where I’ve tried to boost my productivity in writing by cutting back on my reading and TV and movie watching.  I do spend a lot of time immersed in other people’s stories and sometimes I think I should cut back and focus on telling my own stories.

But I’m learning the balance is more complicated than it looks.  I’ve tried severe cutbacks and I’ve discovered that shutting down my input also shuts down my output.  It’s like my creativity has to be stimulated by being exposed to new information and ideas.  I noticed a long time ago that it’s harder for me to write during the TV off-season.  And I was in almost complete creative lockdown when I was first in university.  I was forcing myself to read a lot of difficult and dense texts and had no TV in the dorm.

Later, I found a better balance and while my education may have suffered, I found my voice again. 

If I want to be a professional writer, I will need to find ways to boost my output.  Right now, it takes me too long to write a novel.  To have a profitable career, I would need to be able to turn out a draft in less than six months.  While still having time for rewrites and promotion.

It’s a big commitment.  I suspect I will have to cut down but I’ll have to find the balance where I don’t shut myself down.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Haunting In Brooklyn

I watched last week's episode of Paranormal Experience, about a haunted house in Brooklyn.  It was an interesting case but I had some major doubts about it.

The family said it took some time for activity to begin.  For several months, everything was fine and then the wife and daughters began to hear an eerie voice calling their name and laughing maniacally.  The wife began to have dreams of being crushed to the mattress.  The daughter had a quilt pulled off the bed.  There were odd thumps around the house and a sense of a malevolent presence, centering on a small dirt room off the basement.

Okay, so far, sounds like a typical haunting.  Watching shows like this is enough to put me off the idea of buying an old home.  Aside from the wiring and plumbing concerns, ghost trouble is more than I want to deal with.  But that's really a side note.  One of the symptoms of the haunting stood out for me: the feeling of being trapped and crushed on the bed.  This is a common haunting symptom dating back almost to the beginning of recorded history.  However, it can also be sleep paralysis, the system which keeps us from sleepwalking.  Just like some people have lighter than normal paralysis and end up walking around asleep, some people have heavier than usual paralysis and can remain paralyzed even as they're waking up.

The marriage broke up because of the activity and the wife and daughters claim things settled down afterwards.

Here's where I had my first "excuse me?" moment.  Isn't a divorce a perfect excuse for moving out of a haunted house?  If the house has creeped you out so much that it's destroyed your marriage, then wouldn't you move out?

The activity started up again when the wife started dating (also suspicious timing in my opinion) and along with the other stuff, they began to see apparitions of a small woman in a white dress and a opaque black mass.

Eventually the haunting was settled by a visit from a medium.  I have my doubts about this case, the facts don't quite seem to fit with the reactions. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Got to Sleep In

I may ruin it by saying anything but Nathan has been doing better with waking up these days.  I went in and laid down with him in the mornings for about a week but then he started being better about being quieter in the morning.

There's a small possibility that I'm just exhausted enough to sleep through him now.  Getting up before 5 am is not natural for me.  I hear him but he's not so loud and constant that it wakes me up enough that I have to do something about it.

Alex has been waking up at 6, which means we have to get started on the day right away with him.  Leaving him alone and bored in his room usually equals a big mess and that's not a good way to start the day.

I always sympathized with Vivian in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when she described sleep as something she could taste and feel.  I'm definitely like that.  I need to be able to get a good night's sleep, usually more than eight hours, or else it starts affecting me.  A few short nights in a row and I'm not a happy camper.

I'm a little jealous of these creative types who are able to sacrifice sleep to give themselves more time to work on their art after their daytime responsibilities are done.  I'm a natural night owl.  Staying up until 3 or 4 am is easy.  I tend to hit a real creative snap between 11 and around 2 am.  But I cannot drag myself out of bed and be cheerful and caring to my children without logging slumber hours.

Everything is a balance and as soon as you think you have it worked out, one of your elements will change.  Right now, I'm just grateful to sleep in.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Face Off (Spoilers)

 A good start for this season of Face Off, the other reality show I watch.  I haven't had a chance to learn everyone's name yet but I did a little happy dance when Joe left the building.  I really felt for his partner, stuck with a non-team player and a horrible makeup job.  I don't know how Joe got on the series, the two makeup jobs he did were basically just mass plastered over the face.

But enough about him.  He's gone!

This week's challenge was to create a Star Wars-esque alien for a cantine scene on Tattooine.  I was thrilled about this because, first, I love Star Wars and second, I enjoy the alien makeups much more than the horror ones.

My favourite was the Dagobah alien.  I thought she was perfect and really captured a Star Wars atmosphere.  They thought out some great details like the breathing apparatus for a tropical rainforest creature in a desert world.  The paint job and sculpture looked organic, the model could move and emote.  It was fabulous.

But I can't be too upset over the choice of winner.  It may not have been as classically Star Wars but they did an amazing amount of work.  They built a robot body to hide the model and then this tiny little Buddha alien to operate the robot.  Hats off to both of them.  Another well thought out concept with great execution.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Everybody Lies

Perhaps I'm overly cynical but I agree with House: Everyone lies.

I read James B. Stewart's Tangled Web: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff.  What struck me was how shocked he seemed to be about people lying.  He covered four case studies: Martha Stewart, who lied to the SEC about her insider trading with ImClone; "Scooter" Libby, who lied to investigators about accidentally leaking the identity of an active CIA agent during the Bush years; Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, athletes who both lied about taking performance enhancing drugs; and Bernie Madoff, who lied to pretty much everyone and stole their money in a giant Ponzi scheme.

Stewart didn't really get into details about how these lies are destroying America other than a repeated refrain of it's wrong to lie and the justice system is based on personal honour. 

Personally, I'm not shocked when politicians, celebrities, criminals and wealthy elitists lie.  I expect everything that comes out of their mouths (or press releases) to be self-serving.  They believe the rules do not apply to them or that the ends justify the means, which means of course they're going to lie if its in their interest!  What shocks me is that they weren't better liars.

A poorly scripted and easily discoverable lie is just insulting to everyone.  It displays a real show of contempt for both authority and the public and that to me is a bigger issue than the lies themselves.  When the "heroes" (and I use the term loosely) of our society treat that society with contempt, the contempt rolls downhill, encouraging everyone in a everyone-for-themselves attitude.

If the justice system is based on everyone telling the truth (which I think may be a stretch), then it needs a new basis.  It's naive to assume everyone is telling the truth, especially when it isn't in their interest.

Ironically, despite my cynicism, I'm a pretty honest person.  I've called waiters back to tell them they've forgotten to charge me for something with my meal.  I've pointed it out when clerks haven't scanned something I'm buying.  I consider it part of the trade for being alert to mistakes made against me.  If I don't like errors which cost me, I also have to be fair and point out errors in my favour.  But I don't trust the media, politicians or celebrities.  Not without some kind of extra proof beyond their stated opinion.  They've got too much riding on endorsements and image to afford to be honest with me.

I'd be curious to sit down with Stewart and ask him why he found these particular cases to be so shocking and compelling.  I was hoping he would have it in the book, but no such luck.  He clearly thinks the answer is self-evident.

Maybe its time to wake up from the nostalgia dream.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Vampires and Creepy Behaviour

Reading Christine Feehan’s Carpathian novels have gotten me thinking about how vampire heroes seem to have a repertoire of really creepy behaviour which no woman would tolerate from a human hero.  Even when they’re good, they stray into the eek-side of behaviour.

Let’s start with the most recent: Edward from the Twilight series.   He’s got the overprotective, lock-her-in-a-cellar-for-her-own-good vibe down.  But the creepiest thing he does is the initial stalking of Bella.  He stands in her bedroom and watches her sleep when she doesn’t know he’s there.  That would have kyboshed any hope of a relationship for me if I had found someone doing that.  It’s a huge violation of privacy and boundaries.

Now for one of my favourites: Angel from Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  He broods, he lurks, he withholds information to avoid confrontation.  He doesn’t try to overprotect, which is good since Buffy can kick his ass without trying.  But he does play hot and cold with her, indulging and then pulling back “for her own good” only to jump back in later.  I’ll leave out the whole going evil as soon as they have sex since that wasn’t completely his fault.

Feehan’s Carpathians are effectively good vampires but have no trouble using their mental powers to coerce and compel their desired women into obeying their commands.  They hold to a strict dominance hierarchy where the male protects and cocoons the female away.  Personally, I hate the concept of being whisked away to an ivory tower to remain sheltered and worshipped for the rest of my days.  The occasional weekend would be nice but eternity in a box would be boring.

Now we’ll go back a bit to Anne Rice’s Lestat and Louis from Interview With A Vampire.  Neither of these men really court a woman, so they aren’t really romances.  In some ways, while they are sympathetic, they are also unapologetic murderers and predators.  Rice tried to clean up some of Lestat’s reputation in the sequels, making him a predator of other predators.  But he’s still an egomaniacal killer who enjoys what he does.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like vampires.  I like them as a metaphor for the dark, primal forces within us.  I love how they all seem to get great hair along with eternal youth.  I like exploring the internal conflict of having to fight your inner demons but also having to rely on them to do what is necessary.  But sometimes I need to pull back and have a little reality check to remind me that much of what they do wouldn’t really be great on a resume of a potential partner.

That’s the purpose of fantasy, to allow us to explore without danger or consequences.  In the real world, a man who is controlling a woman is on the first step toward abuser-ville.  Even if he claims to be protecting her, it’s not okay for him to dictate how she lives her life.  It’s equally not-okay for her to dictate how he lives his life.  Partnership means trusting your partner, even when they don’t make the decisions you would have made in the same spot.

But I guess that’s hard to make into an interesting story.  Guy meets and respects girl, treating her like an equal … yeah, we need to throw a few fangs in there to liven things up.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

To Hug or Not to Hug

I remember reading an article years ago about how you shouldn’t force your kids to hug people since it teaches them that other people can touch them when they don’t want it.  Not a consistent message with teaching them to respect other people’s boundaries and telling them that people don’t have the right to touch them without permission.

Now, I think it’s possible to overthink this too much.  Hugs are a social lubricant and have their place.  And I don’t believe in teaching children to be afraid of people.  However, I think there is a valid point which centers around one word: force.  Children shouldn’t be forced to hug or shake hands.  They can be gently encouraged but if they are persistent in not wanting to, that should be the end of the story.

I encourage my boys to hug and I’ll admit there’s a calculating motive as well as a more emotional one.  Autism makes children and adults socially awkward.  A hug can counteract some of the awkwardness, a kind of mute apology and act of endearment all in one.  By making them comfortable with hugging and by making hugging an acceptable part of our social dynamic, I hope they’ll be comfortable with it in the future.  I don’t want them to speak the language of affection with a foreign accent.

Emotionally, I’m a hugger and I couldn’t imagine not being able to hug my boys.  Alex still tends to be mostly a drive-by hugger.  A quick squeeze and he’s back to doing other things.  But he’ll ask for hugs sometimes, which always makes me feel great.  But I don’t force hugs if they tell me no.

I know there are parents whose autistic children are so touch sensitive that the lightest touch feels like a slap.  Their children scream as if they’re being tortured when their parents try to hug them.  It breaks my heart to imagine it.  It’s so natural to hold your children when they’re frightened and upset and to be denied that must be difficult.

It makes me feel very grateful as I hold my children tight.

Monday, 20 August 2012

SYTYCD - Top Fourteen

So You Think You Can Dance is back and not a moment too soon for me.  This would have been yesterday's post but it got pre-empted by the amazing pizza eating of Mr. Alex. 

First off, I liked seeing the clips from National Dance Day.  The flash mob attendance looked great and I was impressed with the girl who did the dance standing on two horses.  And getting to see Tabitha and Napoleon's new little baby was just sweet.  I wish them well and try not to be too impatient for them to return to choreography for the show.

Overall, I was a little disappointed in the show.  After such a long break, I was expecting them to come out with something really interesting.  Re-doing Mia Michaels' routines struck me as a little cheap and unfair.  Cheap because the choreographers weren't doing new routines and unfair because the routines were memorable and choreographed for other dancers.  I was worried the judges wouldn't be able to overlook their previous associations.  From Nigel's comments during the show, I think I was right.  The emotional impact is never the same for a repeat, there's no surprise and people get caught up looking for their favourite parts.

The opening number for the whole top fourteen was beautiful with the swinging and gliding on harnesses incorporated into the music.  It made me think of birds in flight, breaking free of boundaries and restrictions.

Eliana and Cyrus did the door routine to Duffy's Mercy.  I really liked this one when Katie and Twitch did it originally.  I thought Eliana looked strong and ferocious but Cyrus looked a little lost.  Without the strong male to bounce off, the routine came off as lopsided to me.

George and Tiffany did the routine to Adele's Hometown Glory.  This one was another which Katie did beautifully originally.  I thought George and Tiffany did a respectable job especially balancing the tight and precise opening bits with the fluid movements later on.  But again, it wasn't as good as the original.

I thought Will and Amelia improved on the original French poodle dance.  Amelia captured a playful, sexy side without losing her whimsy.  Will made me believe he was captivated and love struck.  It was more believable than when Randi and Evan did it originally, the chemistry just worked better.

Janelle and Dareian were all right in the bed routine to John Mayer's Dreaming With A Broken Heart.  It was the first time I saw Janelle really embrace a character but it still fell a little flat.  The judges picked on Janelle's hair obscuring her face and I agreed.

I didn't see the originals of either the tribute to Mia's father or the bench routine.  I thought Audrey did a great job as a daughter reuniting with her father in heaven for the tribute.  Her sweet childlike character worked well, although Nigel criticized her for playing it too young.  I had trouble believing Matthew as a father figure but thought he did well.  Witney and Chehon's performance in the bench routine left me a little distant.  Maybe it was just too much Mia in one night but it felt repetitive and empty.

The addiction routine to Sara Bareilles' Gravity was one of my all time favourites.  I got goosebumps watching Kapuno manhandle his partner, playing the part of the addiction keeping  her down.  There was one point where he was just staring at the camera as he relentlessly forced her down and it felt like he was searching for his next victim.  Lindsay and Cole did a good job at portraying the struggle and it felt more like a struggle than something overpowering. 

The eliminations went about as I expected.  Lindsay was a good choice to save but I personally would have picked Amelia.  It's too bad about her.  She was doing well but not really distinguishing herself.  Janelle was a no brainer, even though I like her.  She just wasn't translating well into other styles.  For the boys, George would have been my choice as well.  Dareian always struck me as holding back and Matthew was easily overshadowed.

I'm looking forward to next week.  It's a good top ten and I'm eager to see what they can do.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


This is huge!

Alex ate a slice and a half of pepperoni pizza.

I'll give you all a moment to digest (pun only half-intended).  My son who has been unwilling or unable to tolerate solid food for his entire life, sat down and ate pizza like it was no big deal.

I told Alex and Nathan we were ordering pizza for supper and Alex was unusually demanding about it, asking about the pizza every ten minutes or so.  When it arrived, he grabbed the box and took it to the kitchen.  I asked him if he wanted a piece (thinking he would say no) and he told me "yes" very emphatically.

I put it on his plate, expecting he might push it around a little but then walk away, but instead he picked up and began to nibble on it.  Small bites but definitely bites.  Dave and I are staring at him with our jaws quivering on the table but he's very casual, eating it as if he's been eating pizza every day of his life.

We told him we were incredibly proud of him and praised him but we were careful not to make too big a deal out it.  In the past Alex has gotten turned off his accomplishments if we make too much fuss.  Dave snapped some pictures for photo evidence.

Alex has been making some nibbling forays into the world of solid food for the last year.  He's been willing to try some things.  Always on his own terms and never if there's a fuss or demand on him.  We're hoping this means his curiousity is starting to overwhelm his sensitivity and reluctance to change.

This isn't a breakthrough but it is a great sign of potential.  It doesn't mean he's "cured" of his sensitivities.  And it doesn't mean we can start him on a diet of solids right away.  But it's evidence that his sensitivity can be overcome and that means we're on the right track.

Saturday, 18 August 2012


I’ve been reading the book blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.  It’s about our ability to make snap decisions in a split second using our unconscious mind.  Gladwell explains why those decisions are sometimes great and why they can get us into trouble.  It’s mostly about how we make decisions and when to trust our intuition.

He gives examples of antiquities specialists, firefighters and generals who are able to effectively glance at a situation and come up with accurate impressions.  The antiquities specialists could identify a forged statue at a glance, even though the museum had documents authenticating the item.  A firefighter was able to predict flashover (the moment when the air ignites in a fire) and save his crew, even though the visual evidence pointed to a small kitchen fire.  The general was notorious for his ability to manage complex and intricate assaults but rarely took field reports from his troops.  All of these people were able to draw on their expertise unconsciously to make decisions, even when the apparent evidence was against them.

That appears to be the key.  In order to make good decisions in a split second, we have to have a certain expertise in the subject at hand.  Otherwise we can get thrown by unconscious manipulation and expectations.  Gladwell shows how focus groups end up restricting creativity, since most people have an unconscious negative reaction to new things.  We are cautious when confronting something strange which means unexpert focus groups will automatically reject things outside their comfort zone, even if they would end up liking it if they had more time.  (This explains a lot about why TV and movies have been getting more and more repetitive, since the big studios rely a lot on focus groups to decide what to produce.)

Gladwell also spoke about our unconscious prejudices and how easily we can be manipulated.  He ran an experiment with university students where they had to memorize lists of words and repeat them to the tester.  They thought it was an exercise in memory retention but the real test came after.  The students were told to bring their scorecard to him and hand it in.  But he was talking to a graduate student about her thesis.  The test was to see how long they would wait to interrupt him.  Some of the students had been given lists with words like important, hurry, etc and those interrupted after three to five minutes.  Other students had been given lists with considerate, patient, etc and they waited ten minutes to interrupt.

Gladwell also found a way to change scores on the Implicit Association Test (IAT).  There’s been a lot of talk about how this test reveals implicit and unconscious bias, showing how people take longer to associate positive words with African-Americans or business terms with women, etc.  He found that showing people a short film about Martin Luther King Jr. or Barrack Obama right before the test negated the bias.  The effect didn’t last long but it suggests our unconscious biases might be easier to fix than we ever thought.  Daily counter-prejudice messages or visuals might have more effect than we thought.

It’s an interesting book and it’s making me more conscious of how I think.  I agree with him that we would do better as a society if we understood how our unconscious mind can influence our actions, for better or worse.

Friday, 17 August 2012


First update, I may have made the wrong call in trying to comfort Nathan by lying down with him.  He had another awful night where he was up every hour or ninety minutes with bad dreams.  Something has frightened him badly and I've got no idea what it could be.  He refused to go to his karate class tonight, even though he was excited beforehand.  He just started screaming and refused to go.  We put him to bed early and I got him calmed down enough to say he was afraid of a monster which would throw him through the glass.  I know there's usually a grain of truth buried somewhere in the fantasy but I'm hard-pressed to figure this one out.  The staff at karate are great, very sensitive with the children and someone has been with him at every single class.

But no matter how this goes, I may be in for a long set of nights.  Last time we got into this pattern, I ended up sleeping in his room on an air mattress for three months.

For a more positive update, it looks like I'm returning to the world of gainful employment.  One of the therapy groups we work with was looking for some part time help for their administrator.  The best part is that it looks like I'll be able to help out working part time from home.  If this works out, this could be the solution we've been looking for.  I'm pleased at the idea of being able to help out a company which has done so much for us, as well as being able to help other parents during those scary months after hearing the word "autism" for the first time.

Final update, everyone is now home from the cottage.  Alex came home today with some scratches and bug bites but generally in a good mood.  He's a little more tired than normal but that's to be expected after a vacation.

Now the focus shifts to our upcoming family reunion and back to school preparations.  At this point, there won't be a steady routine until school settles into its normal pattern.  That's almost six weeks total of upheaval.  My kids handle change fairly well for children with autism but this could end up overwhelming them.  But I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Nathan's outbursts aren't the early warning signs.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Bed Wars ... Or Rather, Wake-up Wars

Since Nathan returned home from the cottage, he’s been getting up early again.  As is, between 4 am and 5 am.  Even for the military, that’s early.  Before he left, he was waking up closer to 6 am and was fairly good at keeping quiet until the alarm went off.  Now he’s shouting and jumping around right from the beginning.

For the first two mornings, we ignored it.  After all, it always takes some time to adjust back to normal life after being on vacation.  But it was getting progressively louder and we were having a decidedly cranky boy in the evening.  The third morning, I gave him some verbal warnings and he would quiet down for a little while but ten minutes later, we were listening to the adventures of the Octonauts at max volume again.

This morning, I decided it was time to take action.  Alex will be home tomorrow and he does not deal well with being woken up early.  Since I don’t want to deal with fights starting before the sun comes up, Nathan must relearn the lesson of allowing other people to sleep.

I don’t mind him waking up early.  Everyone’s got their own rhythm and I don’t want to force him into something unnatural for him.  But I don’t think quiet is too much to expect, even from a five year old.  Before his vacation, he was waking up and going downstairs quietly to watch TV, also quietly.  That worked perfectly for me.  He might be up early but when the TV is on, he curls up on the couch and just watches, which gives him a little more rest than bouncing around and playing.  Everyone else gets to sleep and we’re all happy.

This morning when he started to shout, I went into his room and sat down on the bed.  He was not pleased to see me and hid under his blankets.  I explained to him that Mommy and Daddy were trying to sleep and he needed to be quiet.  He wasn’t happy and started to shout at me that it wasn’t fair.  I shushed him, perhaps a little more harshly than I meant to, and he dove back under the blankets.  I decided to lay down with him to keep him quiet. 

I could have sat in the rocking chair but frankly, I was so tired I needed to lie down.  I grabbed a spare pillow and put it down at the foot of the bed and curled up.  To my surprise, as soon as I was settled, Nathan came down and curled up against my back.  He tried to talk to me a few times but I reminded him it was still sleeping time.  After about half an hour, I could tell by his breathing that he had fallen asleep.  I thought about trying to extricate myself from little arms and legs and go back to my own bed but I was more than halfway asleep myself.

I’m not sure how much sleep we got.  I was in his room for over two and a half hours but I kept drifting off and waking up.  Nathan bounced around several times but stayed put in the room and was quiet.

I suspect I’m going to have to do this several more times before he gets the message again.  And I’ll have to keep an eye on how much he’s enjoying it.  The last thing I want is to encourage more noise because he wants to have cuddles with Mommy.  But if I can get back our early morning sleeping hours, it’ll be worth it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Sucker Punch

A friend recommended the movie Sucker Punch to me, telling me it was weird and incoherent but I was going to love it.

Now I’ve seen it.  And I’ll agree it was weird and I did enjoy it, but I didn’t find it to be incoherent.  The plot was strange but with a weird internal consistency.  There were three levels of plot: the “real” world, the burlesque theatre and the steampunk action hero.  In the real world, our heroine is committed to a mental asylum which quickly transforms into a burlesque theatre and brothel.  She plots her escape and each time she tries to achieve her goals, she is transported into a comic-esque steampunk fantasy world.

The visual elements were somewhat jarring in mixing technology and fashion from different time periods but it almost makes sense when you consider that we’re dealing with the point of view of a crazy person (or someone driven crazy by events).  Regardless of how you feel about the heroine, there’s no doubt we’re seeing a fantasy world that she has created.

In all, it was a neat bit of writing.  I was impressed.  Somewhat less impressed by the sexy costumes of the five teenaged dancers/action heroes but I understand that I wasn’t the main target audience. 

I’ve always enjoyed movies and stories where figuring out what was real was part of the fun.  In Firefly, the final broadcasted episode, Objects In Space, featured scenes from River’s point of view.  River was amusingly crazy and it was interesting to see her walking through woods and picking up a branch before telling the Captain: “This doesn’t mean what you think it does.”  Switching to the “real” view, we see the branch is in fact, a gun.

I loved the season 6 Buffy episode where Buffy keeps switching between Sunnydale and a mental asylum.  Her doctor explains that the entire series arc has been a delusion.  The final scene is of a catatonic Buffy in the asylum.  At the time, it amused me to realize I was thinking of the world of demons, vampires and magic as the “real” world and rejecting the asylum as a hallucination.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had another great what-is-reality episode where Riker keeps shifting between an asylum and being in a play.  He worries he’s gotten too far into character and can’t tell what’s real and what’s not anymore.

Perhaps it showcases my own need for a psychiatrist, but I enjoy well-written crazy people.  Walter on Fringe, Drusilla on Buffy, River on Firefly.  I like characters who see the world in a unique way.  It’s fascinating to see the distortions which almost, but never quite, make sense.  They have a freedom which the rest of the world lacks: the freedom to point out boredom and hypocrisy, to break free of expectations.

There is an old Greek story where a powerful politician stops to converse with a beggar.  The politician tells the beggar: If you could learn to get along with people, you wouldn’t have to live as you do.  The beggar retorts: If you could learn to live as I do, you wouldn’t have to get along with people.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

New Home Improvement Project

When I was around twelve, my grandparents gave me a beautiful large handcrafted dollhouse.  I had many enjoyable hours playing with it and it survived reasonably well as it was transported to various homes across the country.

Unfortunately, the last few moves were the hardest.  Since it's been in storage, the tower has collapsed after having something heavy fall on it.  And Alex decided to try and take it apart, taking off the porch railing and some of the siding.  For its own protection, I put it in the basement, out of bounds of little hands.

As you can see, the damage is fairly extensive.  However, Nathan has absolutely fallen in love with it.  Since he's been home from the cottage, he's been asking me to fix the house so he can play with it.  It took a little soul-searching on my part, since I'm worried about it being destroyed but I decided his request would at least prompt me to begin the much needed repairs.

I'm beginning with something simple: the porch railings.  Reconstructing the tower is going to be time-consuming but the porch damage is mostly cosmetic.

Where's Ty Pennington when you need him?

Monday, 13 August 2012

Two Down ....

Today I read about the deaths of two people who made my life more difficult than it would have otherwise been, not that we ever met.

Helen Gurley Brown, the editor for Cosmo, who singlehandedly taught women to hate their bodies for over 30 years, died at 90 years old.

Carlo Rambaldi, the creator and puppeteer for Spielberg's E.T., the first fictional character to ever terrify me, died at 86.

I see there's a lot of debate about whether or not Brown counted as a feminist.  On the one hand, she was one of the first to celebrate a single lifestyle rather than assuming every woman's goal was to get married.  On the other hand, she started the trend of women's magazines focusing exclusively on self-improvement and relationships.  I recall hearing her quoted at one point in claiming that if a woman wasn't beautiful, she wasn't trying hard enough.

However I feel about her message, she was an impressive businesswoman in a time when women weren't credited for having the brains or temperment to succeed in business.

Mr. Rambaldi's passing isn't making much of a splash.  He's a special effects artist from an earlier time, one swiftly passing out of fashion in favour of computer animation.  However, I still recall the first moment I saw E.T.  The creature shuffled out of the shed, its long skeletal fingers grasping the candy.  It looked like a living, breathing creature and I believed every second of it.  Rambaldi's skilled artistry is what created that illusion.  Jaws looks fake when seen without an adrenaline rush.  E.T. still looks real to me and I'll admit that I still have a little flash of instinctive apprenhension when I see a picture.  A little flashback to that terrified child in the theatre.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Paranormal Hurrah!

Yay!  A new season of Celebrity Ghost Stories has begun!  I’ve gotten irritated with the paranormal investigation shows.  The hosts are too credulous and uninformed about things like lens flare and shadow effects or the human tendency to see faces and humanoid figures in random shapes.  When I can explain their “evidence” in my living room with minimal effort and they’re not even mentioning the possibility, they’ve lost me as a viewer.

But I like Celebrity Ghost Stories.  The format is good: five or six individual, unrelated stories.  The celebrity narrates their story and the show does a dramatic recreation of it.  I also like that they tell us what makes this person a celebrity since I usually don’t recognize at least half of them.

The stories may be true or may not be true but you can tell most of them believe what they’ve said.  Since I also believe in ghosts and other paranormal experiences, it’s a good collection for research.  It may not be reproducible but its real to them.

I liked this week’s story about a haunted town in England, Whitticomb.  In the 1600s, on a Sunday, while the church was filled with people, lightning struck and the church caught fire.  Lots of people died, trapped in the fire.  The actor telling the story stopped there on his honeymoon and he and his wife noticed the people seemed odd.  No one was talking, no one was making eye contact and no one would respond to them.  They got creeped out and basically ran away.  The ghost experience and the actual history both sound like fascinating stories.

I also liked the story from Guns’n’Roses drummer about a strange voice he picked up during a recording session.  He insists he was completely sober when this happened.  No matter how they fiddled with the dials or checked the soundproofed room, this guttural growling kept spoiling their backup singer’s track.  Later, it’s late at night and their chairs start to rattle and move around.  A strange man appears and then vanishes.  The studio is empty and they begin to look around.  Suddenly they hear a voice say “Don’t come in here, you’re not invited!” and the door slammed shut in their faces.  Turning around, they saw a strange mist hovering in midair.  When the drummer touched it, it was as if it were ice and it seemed to run up his arm and plunge into his chest.  They made a hasty retreat.  The receptionist told them it wasn’t the first time strange things had happened there.  A head and an arm had been discovered in a garbage can directly behind the studio about ten years previously.  The studio eventually went out of business because of difficulties retaining both staff and artists.

Now that’s a cool story.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Exhausted but Triumphant

First of all, a big yay to me for getting past 200 posts.  When I first started this blog back in January, I worried I was going to run out of things to say.  But I haven't run out of opinions and I have my group of readers.  I'm pleased with myself for sticking with this.

Tonight is going to be short.  I have spent the last three days cleaning out my basement (with my husband's help).  My thighs are killing me from trucking boxes and junk up and down stairs.  Our garage is full of old notes from high school and university, old obsolete textbooks, various keepsakes which no longer spark any memories and expired baby gear.  A dumpster will be coming to get rid of it all.

We have another pile full of things we'll be selling off at a garage sale next spring or via eBay.  It's a big triumph for decluttering and lets us move on to the next phase which is reducing the amount of toy clutter upstairs.  I've been rotating toys in and out of the play areas but the bins are being stored in our bedroom.  Not ideal for creating a comfortable retreat for the adults.

I've never gotten a satisfied feeling from tidying up but purging clutter does give me an aura of triumphant satisfaction.  One I'll be sure to enjoy once I stop hurting and get some sleep.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Dark Knight Rules

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises and it was just as amazing as promised.  I could pick on some details which didn't quite come together but the truth is, those details don't matter.  The movie was awesome.  I cried more than once, which is unusal for me these days, especially for an action-comic movie.  But that's how real the characters felt to me.

I was worried I would be disappointed, especially after I loved Batman Begins and The Dark Knight so much.  The last movie in a trilogy is often a letdown.  The Matrix series is my best example of that.  The first two movies were amazing but the third didn't live up to expectations.  I'm a geek and a writer, which means it is inevitable that I start thinking up plots and ideas in my head, no matter how I try not to.

The Nolan brothers didn't do what I would have done but they still took me on an incredible journey and left me satisfied with the ending.

On a side note, I was somewhat alarmed at a trend I noticed in the previews.  Every single movie they showed was part of a franchise.  Taken 2, Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2, The Hobbit, Total Recall, Man of Steel and The Campaign.  The Will Ferrell movie may not be an official sequel or remake, but his comedies are a predictable formula so I count them as a franchise.

Hollywood is getting very conservative in their choices.  They want to focus exclusively on what's worked before.  This really hampers creativity and originality, which leads to boring stories with bigger budgets as they hope to reignite the old magic.  Hopefully the trend corrects itself soon.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Hitting a Writer's Block

Things have really been progressing well with King of Underhill, I had begun chapter eight and had an outline up to chapter ten (out of a rough outline of twenty chapters).  But now I've hit a snag.

I came up with what I thought was a good side plot but it's now proving to be more complicated than I initially planned.  There's a real risk I could drag down my entire story if I can't get it integrated.  And yet it works very beautifully to explore the character of one of my villains, adding sympathy while still showing how ruthless she can be.

I need to sit down and do some serious rethinking.  If I'm going to ditch it, I need to find a new way to express the character's personality.  If I'm going to keep it, it needs to be more firmly reintegrated.  Either way, progress has stalled for the next little bit.

I'm also having challenges since we're hitting the final weeks of summer and I need to make sure our back-to-school preparations are done as well as juggle the unusual schedule and routine from having the boys take their turns at the cottage.  Finding reliable writing time has become very difficult, especially since Alex has developed an obsession with my little netbook computer.  I've been forced to hide it or else he tries to make it lie flat.

But school with its hours of childfree time is coming just around the corner.  If I can just hold out another few weeks, I'll be back in the golden zone.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Share My Geeky Enjoyment

I am hugely excited right now.  I went to the library yesterday and found a copy of Telling Lies by Paul Ekman.  Ekman is the inspiration for Cal Lightman from the TV show Lie to Me.  I've been trying to find his book but was hampered by the fact that I couldn't remember his name and his general reluctance to be associated with the show.

Wandering the shelves at random has produced yet another hit.  Yay for me.

The reason I wanted his book is not because I'm particularly interested in lying but because he went into detailed descriptions of the physiological changes which happened during various emotional states.  Facial expression, voice changes, body language, hand gestures, all laid out.

One of the criticisms I've received about my writing is that I use the same emotional descriptors (clenching gut, blushing, etc), too often and across too many characters.  This gives me a chance to expand my repetoire and, since I'm taking notes, a reference I can use to avoid the problem in the future.

The book itself is quite interesting.  Ekman is clearly upset that his work is being used to declare people to be definitive liars or truthtellers when, in fact, his work is better at revealling the emotions which people are trying to conceal.  This can be a tool to detect liars but isn't foolproof.  The best example is detecting fear.  It's possible to assume the person is lying and is afraid they will be caught or punished.  But it's also possible for an innocent person to be afraid of being not believed.  And it's also possible for an accomplished and experienced liar to not be afraid because they are certain they won't get caught.

I will definitely be searching for a copy of my very own to use as a reference.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Congratulations Curiosity

A well done to NASA for a successful landing for the rover Curiosity.  No matter how you feel about nerdish accomplishments, this is actual rocket science.

When I first heard about the "seven minutes of terror" landing plan, I thought they'd gotten too gadgety and were going to have complete failure.  A landing which involves a heat shield, self-guided landing thrusters, a sonic parachute, rockets and a crane sounds way too complicated.  But it all worked perfectly.

We watched the Discovery special about the rover and the landing.  Of particular interest was the ChemCam which shoots a high powered laser at rocks to vaporize them and then analyse the dust.

As I watched, the following occured to me: We have built a robot with a death ray and sent it to another planet.  We have officially become the bad aliens in 1950s science fiction.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Cop Show is the New Western

I was reading about how television in the fifties, sixties and seventies was dominated by the western.  There were all sorts of different westerns and plenty of westerns in the disguise of science-fiction, dramas and comedies.  The audience became so saturated that they began to get western-fatigued, allowing pundits to proclaim the death of the western.  They were wrong, as any number of films and shows can attest, but they had a point about audience exhaustion.

I think we might be reaching that point with cop shows. 

I love cop shows but as I flipped through my PVR, I realized that almost everything I watch is a cop show.  There’s Continuum, Fringe and Grimm, all cop shows with a science fiction or fantasy bend.  Longmire, The Glades and Breakout Kings, A&E’s interseason offerings.  Castle, a funny cop show with a romantic twist.  And the classic Law and Order and CSI franchises.  Even House was often referred to as a medical cop show with the disease as the bad guy.

First of all, this proves I watch way too much TV.  But as I started searching for something which wasn’t a cop show, I found my options were basically limited to reality TV programs and sit-coms.  If I want an hour long show with witty drama and interesting characters, I’m apparently stuck with watching cop shows.  Maybe I'll get lucky with September's new offerings.

My husband points out that ten or twenty years ago, everything was a medical show.  It’s not surprising that we end up with a glut of repetitive programming.  Studios like predictable success and if something has been working, they’ll stick with it.  Something different may be brilliant but it might also prove to be a black hole.

I’m taking a lesson as a writer.  It’s easy to end up falling back on the same repetitive patterns over and over again, making the same choices because they’ve worked before.  I’ll have to be careful not to fall into the trap.

Interesting side point: the prevalence of westerns in the early years of TV is one of the reasons why calling a sci-fi show a "space western" is such an insult.  Sci fi audiences got tired of seeing show which were basically westerns with aliens. 

Sunday, 5 August 2012


After a few months of syndication, I have watched the entire Space series Sanctuary, an hour long drama about an immortal doctor from the Victorian age and her efforts to preserve and protect the “abnormals” from human society.

It had its moments of occasional witty dialogue and heart-pounding plots.  But it never quite seemed to come together.  The premise was certainly interesting but I found the stories swiftly devolved into monster of the week.  And it was always the same two characters featured: Dr. Magnus (the immortal) and a police profiler/psychologist, Dr. Zimmerman.  The writers kept their relationship squarely in the mentor-protégé category, which was refreshing, but eliminated the excuse for such a tight focus which a romantic relationship would have required.

Maybe I was spoiled by Whedon and the Buffy and Angel series.  While there was often a monster of the week, there was also a season-long plot arc.  The season might begin with a few kill-the-monster moments but towards the end, it felt like a miniseries as the main Big Bad and our heroes faced off against each other.  The Big Bad might be defeated but it got a few victories in first, making it more scary and putting uncertainty back into the mix.

With Sanctuary, the episodes often ended and were never referred to again.  Dr. Magnus lost her daughter in the first season but there was very little reference to it.  It was casual enough that I thought we were dealing with a Marvel-universe effect where dead characters come back again and again.  They also overindulged a little with the silliness.  Watching Zimmerman dance Bollywood to propitiate a giant spider was painful instead of funny.  And the musical episode fell flat.

But there were moments of brilliance that made it worth continuing.  Chris Heyerdahl’s portrayal of an immortal (and teleporting!) Jack the Ripper was a definite draw.  (I enjoy bad guys, especially tall, good looking ones with their brood on.)  Jonathon Young as Nicola Tesla was bitchily hilarious.  His arrogant ego somehow came across as charming instead of irritating.  And I loved Ryan Robbins as the uber-geek/werewolf.  It was refreshing to finally have someone on screen acknowledging how cool everything was.

I did get somewhat tired of the continuous name dropping.  According to the show, Magnus worked with everyone who ever made any mark in history from the Victorian era onward.  Even fictional characters like Jekyll and Hyde and Sherlock Holmes.

It was a fun series and I was disappointed it never quite coalesced into fulfilling its potential.  But I still enjoyed watching it.