Cheapy Cheapskate's Night Out for Under $15

Just yesterday my husband and I got unpleasant news about our quarterly tax payments for 2009. Short version: we need to throw more sticks on the fire under our newly-cost-savings-conscious bottoms.

Seymour pointed out that incidental dining costs are one of our biggest drains: We can still have our date night once per week, but should be wary of dinner plus drinks plus coffee plus dessert plus a movie. That shit gets expensive.

But does it have to? Not necessarily, not for the savvy scrimper.

Our city is the county seat. The county jail and adjoining courtroom loom over downtown, amidst a nimbus of bail bonds offices and inexpensive bars. Reasonably strong well drinks at the friendly, clean bar directly across the street from the county jail are $4. I haven't figured out why the drinks aren't quite as strong as they could be: is it because the owners suspect that recent county guests are less likely to make a fuss, or because getting said guests seriously liquored up is a questionable idea?

It's only a two block walk from the jail to Pizza My Heart, a chain restaurant that makes a fine, large, slice of pesto pizza with a NY-style crust for only $3.25. They'll even give you a cup of water to counter the effects of that well drink, if you ask.

(Bonus: PMH stocks the large red straws that my son loves to stim on, and leaves them in open, unattended bins by the beverage area. Tonight marked another victory for LUST: The League of Unrepentant Straw Thieves!)

Coffee and Dessert
The pastry and coffee areas of my heart normally belong to Pamplemousse, but they close by 7 PM on weeknights. Downtown's other patisserie, La Tartine, cannot compete with "Plapamouse" (as my youngest calls it) in quality, but it stays open until 10, has free wifi, and is across the street from Pizza My Heart. A generous cup of good black coffee is $2.15; that plus two 50 cent mini-palmiers equals $3.15 for coffee and dessert.

I am in the habit of recommending my dentist to anyone who might possibly need dental care, because he sends me one movie pass for each person who shows up in his office and mentions my name. So, for me, tonight, the movie was free, and the total for my evening really was under $15. However this is not a reliable method for dealing with a bigscreen habit, so I recommend buying movie passes at Costco, as you'll save almost $4 per ticket.

With my dentist pass, and including a dollar tip at the bar and in the tip jars at the pizza joint and patisserie, the total for a stiff drink, dinner, coffee, dessert, and a movie was $13.40 per person. That really was my total, as I timed my arrival after 7PM, when downtown parking becomes free.

With a Costco movie pass ($7.50), the adjusted total for the evening would still have been only $20.90. Yay, suburban cities with vibrant walkable downtowns!

For those of you who are now laughing because you are my husband or co-editor and are at least eight inches taller than me and would never consider the above a filling meal: Pack a sandwich into the movie theater. Er, if your theater allows such things.


A Separate Peace

Jo Spanglemonkey gave us her extra IKEA swing chair more than two years ago. Last week we finally installed it.

Leo needed some time to believe the new swing was real, and permanent. He kept circling back to it, sitting on it for a few moments of exhilaration and disbelief, going off to do something else, and then coming back and finding out that *the swing was still there.*

Another feature that makes our house a happier place for Leo and his sisters and encourages independent play, plus makes us more of a destination for friends and family: check!

Leo in His New Chair Swing


No Brain Scan for You!

Say you have a cute four-year-old girl whose older brother has a few developmental issues.

Say you have become a sucker for researchers who want to run tests on your little girl, as long as those tests are free, and do not involve injecting radioactive materials into her veins because even though that's how you paid for your second trip to West Africa while you were in college*, you haven't entirely worked through your feelings about irradiating children. As long as those tests are part of developmental evaluations that will reassure you that your tiny monkey is fine, just fine.

Say you've hit the jackpot: a study that provides not only a small stipend, but also thousands of dollars' worth of free developmental evaluations -- including an MRI and genetic screening.

The researchers are excited, they think your daughter might be perfect for their needs. Then they tell you what the study is about: Reading acquisition/pre-readers. And this is your daughter:

This is the same kid whose preschool teacher told me, during today's parent/teacher conference, that they'd had to break out new reading learning books for my girl, because she'd already blasted through all the levels they have at her school. (A school which includes kindergarten).

What do you do?


I have a few scruples, so I sent the study coordinator a link to the above video. She told me that, alas, since Mali can already read, we no longer qualify for the study.

I would be a ball of conflicted but amused irritation if she hadn't already pointed us towards a different researcher and a different study.

*Oh my god this must be why Leo is autistic!


Clarification: I am much more amused than irritated. I am used to being told that Leo doesn't qualify for such-and-such; it didn't occur to me that Mali might be disqualified for very different reasons.

Please know that I am helping the original researcher find Mali substitutes who are at a different point on the reading learning curve.

Down BlogHer Way: A New Post


My second BlogHer post is up: A Declaration of Fierce Mama Bear Love.

It's got everything: Passion! Advocacy! A cute picture of Leo! A list of his nicknames! Bop on over and let me know what you think.


Seeking Stories: The Can I Sit With You? Project

Three weeks of kids on spring break or out sick ended when I plopped Leo's little bottom on the bus this morning. I am exhausted. So, of course, back to work!

Here's our latest Can I Sit With You? announcement. Please take heed, because -- come on -- you know you have a good story and want to see it online and in print (um, and help the kids):

We've been so distracted by publishing two books and flitting among the associated events that it took us a few beats to realize: it's been over a year since we asked people to send us Can I Sit With You? stories.

Please, send us your Can I Sit With You? stories!

We know you have a wonderful tale or two from your school years, because so many of you have popped up at our readings -- or emailed us -- and told us so.

And who can resist the feel-good hat trick of getting a story published while helping to raise money for kids with special needs plus helping school kids in general feel less socially flummoxed?

So, damn it, tell us about your memorable social experiences in elementary and middle school. We want to share all kinds of stories: good or bad, triumphant or wrenching.

We always love to feature tales from former outcasts and underdogs, but would also like to hear more from those of you whose social seas were complicated by undercurrents like special needs and learning disorders, eating disorders, and gender or sexual identity. And then there's the funny. We also appreciate the funny, and the wry.

Got it? Good. Here is your assignment:
  1. Read our Mission Statement
  2. Read our Submission Guidelines
  3. Write your story (we're only asking for 1000 words)
  4. Send it to us!
If your story is a good one but you're worried about making it shiny and slick, no worries. We are skilled editors, and will spit-polish as needed.

Don't make us rap your knuckles with a ruler, pass you a nasty note, throw spit balls at you, or make fun of you on Facebook. Send us your story, and send it now.

In gratitude,

Shannon & Jennifer


Autism, Dentists, and Shots: How to Avoid a Fail

Leo is on spring break. This means the two of us are hiking a lot, and scheduling Leo's medical appointments during what would otherwise be school hours.

Yesterday was Dentist Day, which occurs every six months. We have spent years, literally years, getting Leo used to his wonderful dentist, the exam chair, opening his mouth for prodding and viewing, etc. This is neither the easiest nor quickest solution, and it took a lot of work, but now our former screamer-and-bolter is used to the dentist and her staff and routine. He will, and did, (mostly) comply with the visual exams and cursory teeth cleanings.

Fortunately, according to the dentist, he has the teeth we want all of our children to have -- the strong, plaque-repelling ones. But he's still not had x-rays or a proper, deep teeth cleaning, so we agreed that he would undergo sedation for his next visit. I'm not thrilled, but it's necessary, as we need to know if he has any cavities between his teeth or issues with incoming adult teeth. (Bonus: if we need to draw blood for any other, non-dental medical needs, we can do it then, too.)

We also confirmed that his "It hurts, my mouf, I want Tylenol pleeease" talk that had been making me nervous this past week is due to a loose front tooth. Seymour and I can't wait to see what he looks like with gappy teeth, so expect lots of pictures when it falls out.

Today was more complicated: Injection Day. Leo is behind in his vaccinations due to years of hesitance and vaccine/autism mulling. Since I no longer believe vaccines had anything to do with who Leo is, I decided it would be easier to for him to have four shots at once instead of spacing them out.

Leo hates shots. Hates them. And he is big and strong and non-compliant. But as our local medical office has historically shown skill and compassion with my kids, I felt confident that Leo would actually receive his shots.

Even more important to me, though, was his not being terrified during the procedure and heartbroken afterwards. I wanted him to know what was coming, and to understand that it would pass quickly and that there would be a treat for him afterwards (compliant boy or not). So I set up his portable visual schedule with a hastily created "Doctor" icon followed by the usual ones for "Car" and "Snack."

We discussed his schedule several times before leaving the house, and again in the car. He really got it, and announced, "Doctor Time!" when we arrived at the office. I checked us in, confirming the "extra nurses" accomodation I'd requested while making his appointment. They called us into the exam room and sat Leo on the table. I reminded him for the last time that the doctor would be coming in to give him shots, and mimed injecting him in the arm.

Three nurses came in to help with the four injections -- all people who understood that Leo needed cheerfulness, minimal talk, strength, and speed. (This is unfortunately not always the case -- nurses often try to talk Leo through the procedure beforehand, which freaks him out, and then they try to talk him down, which makes him even more upset.)

They delivered three injections before he knew what what happening. By being calm, kind, and firm, they were even able to do a sub-cutaneous TB test injection without him entirely losing his shit.

(At least, not in the exam room. There is still no laxative more effective for our boy than a trip to a doctor's office. He left large deposits -- in the proper receptacles -- before leaving both the doctor's and the dentist's offices.)

Everything happened so quickly that Leo didn't have time to get truly upset. As soon as the bandaids were slapped over the injection sites, he was completely recovered, and ready to go get his snack. Which means I didn't crave a strong drink. Win-win!


Michelle Garcia Winner Conference May 8 in Redwood City

This is a fundraiser for SEPTAR, the Special Education PTA that I helped found, as well as an opportunity to build real skills for interacting with people like my son:

SEPTAR and Belmont-Redwood Shores Special Ed PTA present:

Michelle Garcia Winner: Implementing Social Thinking Concepts and Vocabulary into our School and Home: A Day to Develop Team Creativity

Friday, May 8th, 9 AM - 4 PM
Community Activities Building (CAB)
1400 Roosevelt Ave.
Redwood City, CA 94061

NOTE: Tickets are discounted $85.00 through TODAY, April 15th; $100.00 after. Lunch and workshop materials are included in the ticket price. Participants will also have an opportunity to meet with local service providers.

Buy your tickets online:

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, specializes in the treatment of individuals with social cognitive deficits: those with diagnoses such as autism, Asperger Syndrome and nonverbal learning disorder. She began teaching social thinking in 1995 to brighter students when she went to work for a high school district as the districts speech language pathologist. Social Thinking was born out of necessity as a way to reach those bright but socially clueless students that needed more information than just what social skill to use. They needed to know why they should bother to use that skill.

Michelle entered into private practice in 1998 (part-time) and then full time in 1999 due to community demand. Both parents and school districts wanted her to work with their students.

Her clinical services continued to evolve and expand, Michelle Garcia Winners Center for Social Thinking, Inc saw over 250 children (preschool through adults) in 2008 from the Silicon Valley area of California for weekly therapy sessions. Over the years, to meet demand she has hired and trained a number of educational/speech and language professionals in the art and science of teaching social thinking. Simultaneously she also began a company called Think Social Publishing, Inc to handle the growing demands of speaking internationally as well as self-publishing her own and now others books.

In 2008, Michelle also co-founded with Dr. Pamela Crooke, a non-profit dedicated to social thinking for the Silicon Valley Region of California, called Teach SOCIAL Silicon Valley. The word SOCIAL is an acronym for Social and organizational concepts in individuals across a lifespan.

As Michelle has observed the concept of Social Thinking take off across the United States and other countries, she also found she had less and less time for clinic management. She realized she was serving both a local and a national/international community that was growing quickly.

Michelle decided to close her Michelle G Winners Center for Social Thinking, inc. in August of 2008 and give the option to her trained therapists to open a social thinking clinic that they manage within the non-profit, TSSV. 100% of her employees agreed they wanted to start this new clinic, which officially began in Sept, 2008.

While Michelle is not on the regulating board of TSSV (given it would be a conflict of interest), she will continue to offer trainings to the clinical staff of TSSV through monthly grand round meetings. She will also serve on the advisory board.

Thus, from September 2008 onward Michelle will work for Think Social Publishing, Inc. DBA, Social Thinking along with colleagues Stephanie Madrigal and Dr. Pamela Crooke. Social Thinking will run a small (no-growth) social thinking clinic. This will allow these therapists to continue to work with clients, while also serving as a training facility to professionals who come to learn how to apply the core concepts of social thinking from around the world.

In doing this, Silicon Valley will continue to have and expand an excellent clinic in their community to not only help clients and their families but to also train educators from local schools. This also allows Michelle to continue to focus on developing and sharing new treatment ideas as the concept of social thinking expands and matures for parents and professionals to apply world-wide.

The heart of Michelles work is illuminating the often elusive and intangible world of social thinking, and developing practical strategies that can be easily used by parents, educators and service providers, across different environments, to teach social thinking and social skills.

A pioneer and visionary in her field, her work is being applied not only to persons with autism and related disabilities, but also more broadly to students in mainstream classrooms and to adults in vocational and professional settings in the U.S. and abroad. Her goal is to raise awareness among administrators, educators and parents about the critical role that social thinking and social skills play in every students life, not only in achieving academic success, but also for success in adulthood and life in general.

Michelle is internationally recognized as a thoughtful and prolific writer in the area of social thinking/social skills. She travels around the world speaking on a multitude of topics relating to social thinking, and repeatedly receives accolades for her educational, energetic and enthusiastic workshop presentations. She has been invited to train psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, parents, educators and government policy makers on the importance of social thinking.

Michelle has written several books on social cognitive deficits and social thinking, and has released training videos/DVDs for educators and parents.

In 2008, she was presented with an Award of Special Congressional Recognition for her pioneering work.


This course meets the qualifications for 6.0 hours of continuing professional development credit for Speech-Language Pathologists as required by the California Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Board. SLPs can record their own hours using the ASHA Verification of Attendance form towards their ASHA CEUs. This will provide the equivalent of .6 CEU (PDP54).


Tafoni Boy Tafoni Boy, Won't You Be My Tafoni Boy

Tafoni Boy Tafoni Boy Won't You Be My Tafoni Boy

Leo at Salt Point State Park, having the Easter of his life. Our trip together was mostly very sweet, with only a handful of Whoa Nelly! incidents.

Expanded trip musings by tomorrow morning.

Update 4/15: Except we had an emergency SEPTAR board meeting last night. Happy tax day, everyone! Updates late tonight.

4/16 And then tax emergencies yesterday. I hate to be the excuse lady and so will make no more promises as to posting except that I'll try soon as Leo has a dentist appointment this afternoon and that's always an event.


An Exhilarating, Exhasting Week

I am still processing this past week. Here's the shorthand version:

Jennyalice and I emerged from a week of our boys' Spring Break and into the alternate reality that was Woolfcamp. at the inimitable Grace D's. Tweeting superseded blogging for the weekend, so check out the tweetstream if you want the more immersive version. Although that still doesn't give you a true sense of Grace's hospitality, nor Gwendomama's (who provided lodgings for the trio pictured below), nor George's music, nor Susie's impish and informative ringleading, nor Sarah's charisma, nor the wonderful food, drink, and mind-melds. All in 24 hours. With so many new and renewed friends. Can you tell that I'm exhausted all over again, just thinking about how much fun we had?

Jen Myers, Jen Monroe, Shan
Two Jens and a Cephalopod

The very next morning my brother and his family arrived from the East Coast, to stay with us. I've been trying for years to arrange for my brother, who is a military history buff, to tour the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation. This time the planets finally aligned -- thanks to my friend Liz.

My brother thought he was humoring me. He thought he was going to get to see five tanks in a field. What he encountered instead was an expertly maintained workshop and three-warehouse facility containing almost 200 military vehicles in beautiful condition. He remarked that he doesn't think any existing museums can compete with this collection. And it took *him* all day to process what he'd seen -- he couldn't even really talk about it for a few hours.

Zelly & the Tank Used in Mythbusters
A Mythbusters fan with one of the tanks used in a Mythbusters episode

India, Getting Ready to Launch
Liz called this "Dr. Strangelove, Preschool Edition."

The next morning my brother and sister-in-law wanted to show their son San Francisco. I agreed, but told them it'd likely be the blast version as we only had three hours to do it, between dropping Leo off at school and picking him back up. So we went ogled the view from Twin Peaks and drove down Lombard and walked around Chinatown and had Dim Sum at Great Eastern on Jackson and then sped back to Leo's school just in time for retrieval.
Three Monkeys Atop Twin Peaks
Atop Twin Peaks

Then my brother's family had to leave, to visit other relatives across the Bay. My kids and I had the entire afternoon to ourselves. I decided that, since we'd been having such a great week with such good luck and since all three of my kids were in such good moods, it was time for me to try taking them to the movies -- by myself.

Huge success! We saw Monsters vs. Aliens (non-3D to my eldest's chagrin) and Leo got to eat M&Ms and stayed in his seat the entire time and told me when he needed to use the bathroom and my optimism meter clicked forward at least five times.

Three Kids at the Movies
Three kids at the movies. For real.

On Thursday my youngest got five vaccinations at once to meet Kindergarten entrance requirements (which demonstrates how much our attitude towards vaccines has changed, as when she was born I wouldn't even let them give her a vitamin K shot). She then got a purple stuffed pony from the Toys R Us bargain bin as a reward for being a good little pincushion, and immediately christened her new horsie "Annette." Ah, retail therapy.

Early yesterday, Friday morning, I put the girls and my husband on a plane so that they could spend Easter weekend with their grandparents because Leo is just not ready to do that kind of traveling. I know they'll have a great time.

And so will Leo and I. We have three days together with just us two and I'm going to make the most of it, make sure we have fun in each other's company. Like going rock climbing, as we did yesterday at Castle Rock State Park:

A natural and enthusiastic billy goat

Today the two of us will spend the night in a Sonoma county hotel. This is Leo's first overnight trip in a year, and I hope things go well, that the hotel pool and local croissants will be compensation enough for the unfamiliar sleeping arrangements. I hope that the pagan hippies will still have their farmer's market in the morning. I hope that Leo enjoys the local playground as much as he usually does, and enjoys the hiking at Salt Point.

I hope that, tomorrow, my girls have the times of their lives at their Grandparents' golf club's Easter Egg hunt.

I hope this is the last childhood Easter my kids ever spend in two different cities.


You May Approach the Short Bus

That's the title of my first post as a BlogHer Contributing Editor. It's a friendly but unapologetic statement of purpose, and a declaration that the responsibility for children with special needs transcends the boundaries of the special needs community. Here's the BlogHer summary:
When I realized my son Leo had autism, I saw short buses everywhere. They ARE everywhere. If you don't believe me, take a tally. Then think about the kids riding on them, and their parents and families. I want you to see all those buses, and consider what they represent.
Click on the button below to read the whole post:


Awash in Autism Awareness, and What You Can Do

Leo Hiking at Skyline Ridge
Autism: Coming Down a Trail Near You.

Leo has been home sick for several days, which means I was too distracted by autism to realize that Autism Awareness Month has begun.

He has an icky but manageable cold. I have tissues and hand sanitzer, and he's cheerful and ambulatory -- so I've been doing the same thing I always do to raise autism awareness, Pinky: making him a visible part of our community.

I've been hauling Leo onto local trails and sitting with him in the farthest corners of local cafes. Since "cheerful" does not mean "at his very best," his autism has occasionally been on display. There are some loud noises, there is some head slapping. Not enough of either to be disruptive, but there's not doubt that Leo is on that spot of the trail, in that part of the cafe.

We don't leave or move on, because tolerating hikes and cafes are part of Leo's learning process as a community member. So the noises and slaps are quickly followed by encouragement from me, by reassurance that he will be okay in the few minutes between him disappearing his croissant and me disapparating my coffee, that we will turn around and head back for the car after we've hiked to the lake.

Leo at Horseshoe Lake
The lake turned out to be reinforcer enough.

While ours wasn't an official effort, trust me: Anyone who has been anywhere near my son this week has been aware of autism.

And it's not enough. My son and our family and his peers need more than your awareness; we need your acceptance. For that to happen, for us to get beyond the theoretical and the puzzle ribbons, you and my son have to get to know each other. Cookie Magazine (of all sources) recently published some first steps you can take, via Paul Collins's guidelines for inviting his autistic son to your typical child's birthday party.

If you don't click through, then at least try to absorb this excerpt:
Having an autistic kid over can be almost thankless—while you'll get our fervent appreciation, there'll be at most a mumbled thanks from [our child]. But here's the thing: He notices. Months after [the] party, he kept surprising us with all the details he remembered, and he's still asking to go again. Of autism's many paradoxes, now you know its greatest one: Your kindnesses may not be acknowledged, but they're always felt.

I am not going to hide my son away so that you don't have to deal with him or think about him, but I will teach him to function the best he can when he's around you. For you to truly participate in Autism Awareness Month, you need to try to accept him as he is, right there in front of you, doing his best to navigate your frequently incomprehensible world.

Five other takes on Autism Awareness Month: