Leelo Starts Third Grade

Leo starts third grade in the morning. Think he looks cool enough to go to school with the big kids? I think he'll be fine, I trust his teacher, he spent some time in the new class during summer school to help ease the transition, and I'm looking forward to helping support some great learning this year. I think he'll be thrilled to get back to school and a super-structured routine.


He's had six summer weeks without any weekday daytime aide support, teaching, or respite (excepting one week of sleepaway camp). We've never gone that long without at least some daytime in-home support. But Leo's in such a good space with both his temperament and his ability to occupy himself that it's been really no problem for either of us -- as long as I keep an eye on him when Mali's around. (I hope this good period lasts, as his respite hours -- which we use for two witching hour evenings per week and a few hours on the weekend -- just got halved.)

This last week or two has seen lots and lots of talking, some spontaneous patterning: "Blue star green star red star orange star! Red heart purple heart yellow heart..." Also a lot of repeated phrases from books & songs but with his name inserted, e.g., "Leelo happy! Leelo sad! Leelo good and Leelo bad!" (from The Big Book of Beautiful Babies -- a favorite since he was a baby). He's been doing really well with pronouns, especially proper use of Me. And he's on another creative call-and-response vocal scatting bender. Really cool patterns there.

He's also been more willing to try different foods. We got him to eat peanut butter & banana, and pb & honey sandwiches! I also got him to chew a Marcona almond but he spit it out. Still, he put it in his mouth and chewed when asked. There may be new food options coming for our boy, yet.

As for the rest of us: Iz has one more week before starting sixth grade. This milestone apparently requires a quest: we need to journey to San Francisco to find her the perfect plaid miniskirt. Hokay. Maybe once we're there we can find someone to satisfy her question as to whether the geographical jurisdictions of San Francisco City & County are identical.

Mali is adjusting to kindergarten. By the end of her second week in class, she was able to endure an entire day without any formal disciplinary sanctions. She says she's too tired to speak in Spanish when she gets home, but if you start speaking Spanish to someone else and she understands you, she can't help but join in. She is not yet bucking against the quite boring dress code, and instead goes for fabulous the moment she gets home (if you scrutinize the Leelo picture above, you'll see her reading a book while wearing her gold tiara, a flower lei, a tutu, and dress-up shoes).

She has also taught herself to swim down to the bottom of our pool and retrieve the dive toys Leo usually plays with. Watching someone that tiny swim like a mermaid is pretty cool.

Seymour continues to have the best job ever. Two days ago he hiked Angel Island with an archaeologist, in a couple of weeks he goes to Jackson Hole. And that doesn't even cover the cool things he gets to do in the office, and the amazingly talented people he gets to do them with.

Meanwhile I'm tired (count many times I wrote "cool" in this post) and my computer has gone kablooey and I'm writing this on Iz's laptop. The problem with my beloved 3 1/2 year old MacBook Pro workhorse is not (just) the overfull hard drive -- that is supposedly not damaged. No, something's amiss with the OS, says the Genius Bar people. So I tried an OS reinstall. That failed, but in doing so it took up all the remaining space on my hard drive -- no space for a restarted reinstall. Back to the Genius Bar in two days. If you've tried to contact me on my personal domain email address since mid-day Friday, I'm not ignoring you. I just can't access that account right now.

Off to bed. Badger lent me a nice quirky page-turner called A Fistful of Sky and I want to conserve enough energy to get through at least three paragraphs.


ABA Affordably on Demand: Rethink Autism

If you're at all familiar with ABA Therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis), you know that you can use its anchor techniques of carefully planned positive feedback and reward/reinforcer systems to influence almost anyone's behavior. And that's what I wrote about at BlogHer this week (I hope people decide to use their newfound behavioral powers for non-nefarious purposes):
BlogHer: Using Behavioral Approaches in Autism (And on Anyone)
I also wrote about ABA therapy in general, why it can be so useful for helping children with autism learn, and -- most importantly -- a new way for autism families who want but normally wouldn't have access to an ABA program to bring it to their child: an comprehensive online program called Rethink Autism. As I said on BlogHer:
Rethink Autism creates a customized ABA curriculum for your child, provides hundreds of concise but thorough video-based lessons supplemented by printed lesson plans to teach you how to teach your child, allows automated scheduling so that you can coordinate with with your ABA team as to who's teaching your child what and when, and produces really straightforward data tracking and analysis. They even provide email curriculum support. This is a valuable and very well done resource, and I recommend it.
But here is something that I didn't mention on BlogHer, and which I think new, overwhelmed autism families need to understand: You can use Rethink Autism's many, many videos to learn how to interact with your child. If the integrated data tracking and scheduling is too overwhelming, then put it off until you're ready.

Instead, browse the topics -- which include motor skills and social skills as well as academics -- watch the videos and print the lesson plans, and start practicing those techniques with your child. Learning to communicate and motivate children with autism aren't skills that come naturally to many parents, and how-to manuals can only describe, not model. Video demonstrations, however -- those show exactly what to do. And if you need clarification, Rethink Autism provides email support. Once you're comfortable using the techniques, start incorporating the data tracking elements.

I've included some screenshots of the Rethink Autism interface below, so that you can see for yourself how well organized and planned the program is. I found it easy to use and the interface beautifully and gracefully designed. Click on the screenshots to enlarge them:

Individual lesson plan interface

Tracking data and team comments within a lesson plan

Video lesson interface: choosing steps

Video Lesson demonstration, including physical prompt

Regarding cost, as I wrote on BlogHer:
Rethink autism is also affordable. In fact the monthly Personal (as opposed to Organziational) subscription rate is less than one hour's time with a veteran behavioral therapist. While this is an incredible value, if it's still outside your family's budget, there are organizations like ACT Today! that help autism families fund their children's needs.
Rethink Autism provides excellent resources beyond its paid ABA therapy programming. It also provides free-of-charge resources for new autism families in its What Is Autism section, including a thoughtful Coping/Living With Autism area that reminds parents to appreciate and accept their child, themselves, and to act instead of reacting. There is also a Community section, in which Rethink Autism participants can ask questions of the staff and each other about issues and concerns.

Rethink Autism is a resource that the ABA therapy-using section of the autism community has needed for a long time: comprehensive, easy to use, and accessible by any individual with a computer, internet connection, and browser. I am grateful to the good folks at Rethink Autism for creating these tools, and I encourage those of you who reach out to or mentor families with new autism diagnoses to spread the word.

Disclosure: Rethink Autism granted me a few days of trial access, but I was otherwise not compensated in any way. What I have written above is my honest opinion, as it always has been and will continue to be in any reviews that I post in this space.


Review: Daniel X: Watch the Skies

When I found out that copies of James Patterson's new young adult book Daniel X: Watch the Skies were available for review, I immediately asked my eldest child and Patterson fan, Iz, if she wanted me to snare her a copy. She said "yes, please," so I turned around to my computer and wrote "yes, please," too.

The book arrived. Iz gobbled it down. She liked it, she said, because it was never boring, it was funny, it was fast, and it had what she considered to be an interesting twist at the end. She also liked the back-end placement of teaser chapters from other, forthcoming Patterson books, and wanted to know when she'd be getting her complimentary copies of those? I told her I couldn't guarantee anything but we never know.

Then I sat down with the book to see if I liked it as much as Iz did, and initially the answer was "no." The story was creative and exciting enough, about an orphan teen alien hunter and his friends, both imaginary and real, battling a giant malevolent extraterrestrial catfish-like media producer who makes marionettes out of humans before exterminating them, all in the name of "endertainment" and TV ratings; the book features explosions, fast cars, motorcycles, spying, narrow escapes, and chases galore, plus lots of nose-thumbing at school administrators. But it reads like Michael Crichton for kids: an innovative but minimally padded story outline, and it's peppered with too much of what seems like movie, songs, restaurant, and brands product placement. And the chapters were jarringly short -- many were only two pages. Daniel X: Watch the Skies was all bam-bam-bam action, with no time to take a breath or let characters develop. I found it disorienting yet skimpy, and was surprised Iz enjoyed it.

Then I put the book aside and thought about its appeal, and the authors' (it is co-written with Ned Rust) motivations some more. James Patterson is also the founder of ReadKiddoRead, a site devoted to getting kids to love books like the author does. And I get the sense that Daniel X, like the Maximum Ride series Iz also enjoys, is about getting kids to do that reading using any hooks necessary. From this perspective, Daniel X is a rich read -- it's full of such hooks.

Many older kids and teens, and indeed adult sci fi/fantasy fans don't want character development. They want action. This book will give them that, in an extremely violent but still relatively sanitary fashion -- people are melted into goo, but there is almost no blood or gore. And the book is so fast-paced and there are so many action scenes that readers don't really have time to analyze what kind of violence & action they're reading about.

The constant citing of contemporary brands might be more grounding and comforting for some readers than a book skirting the retail and cultural footholds of our era in a bid to remain classic. Daniel X: Watch the Skies might not age well, but then again it might remain very much a symbol of that which was 2009. We'll see.

Daniel X has much for a parent to approve of in that it celebrates love and responsibility towards family, friends, the environment, and even animals. It's also quite tame when it comes to teen relations. There are funny feelings in tummies, there are kisses and swooning -- but naught else. Parents or guardians concerned about all that sexy sex pervading teen literature should be pleased.

That tameness makes it rather strange, though, that the authors keep mentioning Stranger in a Strange Land as a pillar of literature, one of the Best Books Ever. I have already been teaching my kids about Stranger in a Strange Land concepts like the Fair Witness and grokking -- but consider the book itself inappropriate for my ten-year-old Iz, who's on the younger end of the Daniel X readership. What are kids to think about Daniel X when they discover the book he adores says it's usually a girl's own fault when she gets raped? That it depicts sixties-style free love? This is a bit of a misstep, in my opinion.

I could also do without the unsubtle preaching about the evils of technology and media and how they turn people into mindless consumer bobbleheads, but I suspect readers who enjoy Patterson's books are willing to put up with that quirk in return for a rip-roaring bit of chaste ultraviolence with the likeable, resourceful, cheerful teen alien hunter Daniel X. They might smirk a bit, though, if they're reading his story on a Kindle.


MotherTalk sponsored the Daniel X Book Tour. In addition to putting yet another volume on Iz's groaning bookshelf, they provided reviewers with modest Amazon gift certificates. I look forward to using our certificate to replace my son Leo's loved-to-shreds copies of My World, Hop on Pop, and Everyone Poops.

A is for Acorn, or Mali vs. Kindergarten

Apparently this picture would have been a more appropriate than the beaming, flower-bearing one in regards to Mali starting kindergarten.

The week before kindergarten had been such a frenzy of the fantastic & the fun that Seymour and I rarely sat down, but we did manage to keep the kids engaged, even with all of them out of school. And I thought we'd done a fairly decent job letting Mali know what kindergarten would be like: long day, mostly Spanish, one teacher, mandatory good listening. We anticipated hiccups with that last one, but not big ones.

Oh, honey.

When I picked Mali up from her first day of Kinder, the teacher said everything was fine. Mali also said she had a good time (I assume that's what "boring" meant when tossed off by our four-year-old drama queen and capped with an eyeroll). Our youngest immediately collapsed into an uncharacteristic afternoon nap, exhausted by the herculean effort of kindergartening.

Seymour and I felt all was well with the world, so we hugged Iz and my mom, and scampered off to our four childless nights and three childless days in dreamy Lake Tahoe. I focused my worries on Leo spending six days and nights away from us, on how he was handling that change, and whether the camp aides had the communication skills to reassure him properly, or if he was having too much fun to fret.

We checked with my mom the following afternoon, and were informed that Mali was Student of the Day on her second day! School was obviously working for her, and vice versa. My mom picked up Mali directly from her classroom for the next two days and heard nothing to contrast with our visions of Mali as the best, brightest, funniest, cutest, and chattiest student in her class.

Friday arrived, we rose early, checked out of our hotel and back into reality, then tore down mountains and across valleys to arrive at Leo's camp by pick-up time. Our boy greeted us with giggles, hugs, and an an enormous, gap-toothed smile. He had a tremendously awesome time, based on both his aide's account, and the amount of dirty gear he'd amassed. His laundry also contained no evidence of toilet accidents -- not a one! What an amazing boy and amazing time and amazing staff to keep Leo that centered and engaged and yet not too overwhelmed. (His front tooth wasn't the only thing he lost, BTW. He also came home minus his beloved plushy Catbus/Nekobus, a pair of tennis shoes, and swim goggles. I don't think they have a lost & found. Damn.)

We whisked our exuberant boy to a quick lunch at his favorite Indian restaurant with just Mommy and Daddy, then took him home to spread his post-camp love glow to Iz and my mom. Leo was then so pleased to be home that Seymour volunteered to stay with him so that Mali could have a similarly parent-focused, non-sibling-tainted pickup from school. Off I went.

When the bell rang, I bounced up to Mali's teacher expectantly, and said "Hi! I hope you had a good week?"

She looked at me without humor. "Actually, I tried to contact you but I must have the wrong number," she said, "Mali has been acting out all week. She threw an acorn at me on Tuesday, she is saying 'no' when I ask her to do things, and she is encouraging the other children to defy me. I spoke to her several times but it's not helping. I need you to speak to her."

I gaped at her in shocked silence.

She continued, "It's probably the language, doing everything in Spanish. But I really need you to speak to her."

I stuttered, "I am so ... sorry. I am so sorry. My mom was here this week because my husband and I were on vacation, did you let my mom know? She told me that Mali was Student of the Day, so we thought everything was going really well. That's really not like her, I'm so so sorry."

She said, "We pick Student of the Day out of a hat. Here is your independent study packet for next week while she's away. Please speak to her."

I grabbed Mali's hand and scampered away in shame. When we got to the car, I asked Mali why she wasn't being nice to her teacher and why she was choosing to not be a good listener. "It's your fault," she said, "because you left."

Good thing that kid isn't abusing her formidable social and emotional intelligence powers.

Mali's maladaptive kindergarten behavior made for a great story at Seymour's homebrew-buoyed and bluegrass-grooved 40th birthday bash the next day, but I am worried. I do agree with the teacher about the challenges of language immersion, but I am concerned that Mali doesn't see why she should behave when her brother doesn't stop acting "badly" or being "mean" to her whenever he can.

I think it's time to work in some behavioral approaches, i.e., systematically and concretely tracking positive consquences for positive behavior, as opposed to slamming her continuously for negative behavior -- which tends to make her more defiant anyhow.

She goes back to school tomorrow after a week's respite in her grandparents' alternate reality/boating wonderland. I hope the break has given her time to contemplate and process the environment of her new classroom. I know that Seymour spoke to her while they were afloat, and I have been gently reminding her about the importance of good classroom behavior since she returned last night. But I am aghast and fretting, and would welcome any further advice.



Here's Leo after having lost his first tooth at camp, and also being very very happy to see his mom & dad after six full days away from us:

Toofless Wonder!

Now Leo and I are in San Diego with my mom, while Seymour and the girls are boating up in Canada (and our dear Grace should know that they're on a fuel- rather than wind-powered boat). There have been five million exciting and a few shocking developments in the last two weeks, but damn if I've got the energy and recall to address it all right now. Perhaps once we get back home and Leo has two parents and/or some respite. Active boy, especially on the road with few of his usual comfort zones to retreat to! As I tweeted yesterday, traveling with Leo, even when he's sweet and compliant and happy like he is now, can feel like this:

Six Leos! Or Is It Seven?

Home tomorrow. Seymour and the girls home Saturday night.


Paimon for Seymour's 40th

Paimon for Craig's 40th Birthday

As made manifest by Lea Ada Franco, a.k.a. Lea Hernandez. We had the pleasure of hosting Madama Franco as a houseguest last summer; at that time Seymour introduced her to the world of Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda. M. Franco enjoyed visiting Califa so much that she did some illustrated imaginings and sent them to the author, who summarily posted one on her own blog. Seymour thought it was all just grand and secretly coveted the Paimon imagery, so M. Hernandez graciously created a unique painting for Seymour's 40th birthday. The scan above doesn't do justice to the original watercolor's luminosity: you'll have to come over to see that for yourself.

And, OMG: PIG!!!!


Leo Camp Dispatches

We are not supposed to call Leo's camp under any circumstances except emergencies. So you can imagine the intensity with which my chest exploded each time the phone rang with the camp's caller ID. KA-BOOM! POW!

Thankfully neither call was about an actual emergency, the kind that would require us to remove our extremely lazy selves from this mountaintop.

One was a question: What the hell does your kid eat? My answer: since there's an anaphylactic peanut allergy at camp and he mostly eats PB&J sandwiches, not a hell of a lot. I told them that it would be okay if he spent six days surviving on bread, bananas, apples, and the yogurt I sent in to be mixed with his meds. It's camp. Now that I know the camp does food allergies lockdowns, I'll send extra food (veggie booty, extra yogurt etc.) just in case, for next time.

The second call was to let me know Leo got bitten by another camper. No broken skin, and Leo's fine. But he'll have a mark. My reaction: I had to stop myself from laughing. Not that it wasn't serious, but -- they're calling me for that? There's no way his injury could be worse than the bite marks & black eyes from a recent Lucy/Mali brawl. He's likely forgotten about it already. Seymour and I think Leo probably tried to swipe someone else's food.

I can't wait to find out what else transpired at camp when we talk to his aide during Friday's pickup.

Meanwhile, Seymour and I have two plans for today: 1) Truckin' down the Truckee & 2) Dinner & libations with Jennyalice's wonderful sister Demanda & her pastorly partner. Mmm, vacation!


New BlogHer Post: Choosing to Parent a Child With Special Needs

I might be holed up in a cute little studio at an off-season ski resort with vertigo-inducing views of the Carson Valley while my handsome husband mountain bikes the Tahoe Ridge Trail; I might be cursing extortionate internet access rates while praising my mother's timeshare sorcery in getting us this place for $35/night, but damn it, it's still a BlogHer Tuesday for me -- and that means a new post.

Today's foray is about choosing to parent, live, love, and work with our kids with special needs.

Mostly, I'm grateful for and humbled by the people who do it by choice, not because of some celestial travel agent's decision to send them to Holland instead of Italy. Not that we don't appreciate Holland. Pot is legal, after all, and I enjoy talking with Holland's denizens about why they are content, and have nothing against Italy, but it's not relevant to them.

The bulk of the BlogHer post is an interview with the foster parent of a Deaf teen who has oppositional-defiant disorder and other labels. That dad -- a friend from college -- is an amazing man, and reading what he has to say is worth your time.

I also talk about dropping Leo off at week-long sleepaway camp, and the palpable positive energy of the counselors there. I didn't talk about how I held it together, didn't cry until I heard a radio commentator describe Euna Lee's reunion with her daughter while I drove away from my son. I'm choosing to tell you that here, now, in my personal blog.


Mali Is Officially a Kindergartener

She's off! We have a kindergartener at Esperanza!

Mali didn't seem particularly sad when Seymour, Iz, my mom, and I left her behind in her new classroom, with her new teacher who is super super cute and embodies all the best kindergarten stereotypes: she's kind, energetic, playful, and loving. The teacher had us trace our kids' hands, then color in a birthday cake with their name and birth date. Serious fun. Love it.

We anticipate a standard Mali take on her first day of kindergarten. Not a lot of great listening, much fun nonetheless, and a somewhat surreal spin on what may or may not have occurred.

Here's our kindergartener:

India's First Day of Kindergarten

For contrast, here's Leo's first day of kindergarten. He still uses this backpack but now it doesn't make him look so Lilliputian:

Leelo's First Day of Kindergarten

Here's Z's first day at Esperanza (though she started in first grade, having somehow finished kindergarten and preschool simultaneously):

Zelly's First Day at Adelante


Leelo Team Meeting Report August 2009

Here are the latest whats and hows of Leo, from his most recent team meeting. Leo himself left for week-long sleepaway this afternoon. I am trying not to freak too much, or worry about the sniffly nose his camp nurse said was fine as long as he avoids a fever. I am also convinced he'll lose his first front tooth while he's away -- it was flapping in his mouth like a broken gate. I hate to miss that. The camp crew said they'd try to save it, if possible.

Leo’s Team Meeting Notes 7/30/09: Squid, Therapist V, Supervisor E, Supervisor M

Does about 15 min per session, needs prompting to keep on task and not click mouse randomly, working on consonant-vowel (CV) and CVC words and simple sentences.

ACTION: continue with adult facilitation (not independent work)

Pants up: working on buckling at school, next step-transfer skill to belt on waist; Leo now using briefs (not boxers)

ACTION: get mirror in bedroom to increase Leo’s ability to self-monitor and manage his own pants; be sure to slow Leo down when he is dressing so underpants are pulled up neatly first, then pants. Keep pants short (e.g. cuffs)

Eating Speed
Nice, steady improvement at home and school, except when very hungry- frantic, grabs food.

Update from Therapist V
Nice progress re: folding laundry, following directions w/traveling; getting attention using name, giving a play idea; walking- fading out holding hand.

Action/CAUTION: - Leo may bolt into street without clear warning/provocation, be sure to reinforce his walking beside you and be ready to grab him if he runs into traffic.

Action: next step for getting attention and giving a play idea- Leo needs to further expand these requests (currently fluent with tickles, hugs, physical play and affection); consider as next steps- requesting books and activities, using visual choice board prompt or the actual materials. (Therapist V, Therapist E, Therapist M, Squid and Seymour)

Behavioral Definitions/Approaches
Aggressive behaviors include: hitting, pushing, pinching, scratching, kicking, elbow grinding, head-butting others, throwing materials

Self-injurious behaviors include: slapping self on face and stomach, hitting head against surfaces, hitting hands against surfaces,

Precursor behavior: stomping

Responding to target behavior: (Therapist E and Therapist M modeled)

Aggressive: MOST IMPORTANT: EVADE (step back/away, do not approach or touch)
  • “Stop” + visual
  • “Sit Down” + gesture
  • “Check schedule” +name card
  • Leo transition to next activity +schedule icon
Reinforce Leo at end of this sequence if compliant.

Self-Injurious- prompt more appropriate replacement; redirect; ignore; remove straw if he is chewing/holding.

If blocking, do NOT make eye contact. In general, minimal eye contact when problem behavior is occurring.

Social interaction and play, and problem behaviors with siblings

Squid expressed concerned about safety, and is currently emphasizing preventing problematic contact, and keeping Leo engaged to reduce aggression;

Therapist M- Leo needs to develop a repertoire of positive ways to interact with Mali, Then, he needs to practice positive interactions with Mali at least 5 times as frequently as he is aggressive with her. So- if he hits her 3 times in a day, there should be at least 15 opportunities to practice some more appropriate way of interacting with Mali.

Leo also needs to be able to control himself (vs us managing his aggression by keeping him engaged, limiting his world to those environments that do not occasion aggression).

Supervisor M continues to recommend that Therapist V work with Leo to greet/hi-5 etc. Mali at least 5 times during their session, and that they do at least 1 table activity/game together, with Leo and Mali across from each other (e.g. try Eric Carle picture-imitation game), or an obstacle course (they have done this together in the past). If necessary, 2 adults can facilitate to ensure safety.

This activity should be a regular part of Leo’s visual schedule with Therapist V, so it becomes routine for Leo.

ACTION: Squid and Seymour to communicate with Therapist V, Therapist E and me around this, so that we can develop a comfortable plan for working to reduce Leo’s aggressive behavior at home.

Toilet Training
Next steps- Action: Squid elected to continue working on standing while peeing at the toilet at home and in other locations. Therapist M will facilitate at school.

ACTION: re-visit toileting initiations and night-time continence in 2 months.

Independent Work/Leisure at Home
Continue to manage materials- variety, novelty, high-interest, systematic rotation; and to do in various locations

ACTION: keep adult prompting to a minimum; if prompting is necessary (e.g. if Leo gets off task, needs help) , it should be a physical prompt or a gesture, and NO EYE CONTACT. (Therapist V, Therapist E, Squid, Seymour)

ACTION: store weekly supply in big bin- let Leo chose from these to set up own materials. Then rotate out each week. (Therapist M set up this week)

Visual Supports at Home
Family reports consistently using mini-schedule for 3-5 activities, or “first-then” situations, especially helpful when out of house, changes in routine, etc. Using mini-binder for storage (alphabetical).

ACTION: more name cards needed, and icons for going on trip (Therapist V, Therapist E)

ACTION: fade out picture on “snack” card to increase sight word vocabulary (Therapist E);
Put meals, snacks, and straws on schedule to reduce behavior problems (Squid, Seymour, Therapist V)

School Update
Therapist M met with new Teacher C and former teacher M to facilitate transition. It is likely one para from current class will move to Teacher C's class with Leo.


Happy Anniversary

To the wonderful man with whom I'm privileged to share a life that would have considerably less sanity without him in it. I can't believe it's been fourteen years since that priest remarked to our gathered families that "no one ever believed this bride would wear white." (Our Catholic priest was not a worldly man, and was referring to the goth past I'd described in our marriage interview, rather than besmirching my virtue.)

If you saw this cute boy all those years ago, I bet you'd knock him on the head and take him home to your cave, too:

Handsome Craig Age 21



Wonderful, Wonderfully Busy Week

This is going to be one hell of a week. It already is, really.

Saturday we went to a dinner party at an old friend's house. It was one of those meetups where you think to yourself, "And why is it we haven't made more time to spend with these amazing people?" There was much talking of scifi and fantasy literature by the evening's end, which makes me want to have a small geeking out dinner party of our own in the near (but not too-near) future. Not too near because:

Sunday we hosted Godfather M's 40th birthday party. So much fun and so many great people! I'm sure he'll write about it, too, and when he does I'll include a link. Until we see what Miguelito has to say about his own party, enjoy a visual:

Michael Procopio 40th Birthday Altar

It must be stated that Hedonia's Thin Mint Juleps, which he was kind enough to mix personally, and which included liberal sloshings from the bourbon bottle pictured above, were better than I'd imagined: smooth, delicious, and dangerous.

Seymour really went all-out, meat-wise; he cut down bay laurel branches from Ep's and Clyde's (formerly our) yard, marinated beef chunks in garlic and lots of salt, and then skewered the beef on the branches and suspended it all right over coals. It was great fun watching Miguelito & Seymour pushing all that meat onto those sticks while everyone else tried to outdo each other's naughty puns.

Michael, Master of Impaled Meat

Yesterday my cousin G came into town on a week-long visit from Kyushu. We have been plying him with lots of Mexican food, introducing him to nice people, and taking him hiking and swimming. He teaches kindergarten in Japan, and is a natural not only with Mali but with Leo too. Good company to have around during these kid-full days of school being out forever. G was even a good sport about going with us to register Mali for her own kindergarten, which starts on Monday (!).

Today we got a letter from Iz at her High Sierra sleepaway camp. She had a gnarly respiratory infection before she left and while she mostly recovered, went to adventure at 8,000 feet above sea level armed with an albuterol inhaler. She must be completely well, as her letter says she survived the across-the-lake swim test, completed a polar bear swim, and went on an all-day alpine hike.

We also got her STAR test scores in the mail today. Even though she doesn't think she's as good at math and science as she is at language, she got perfect scores in both of her "weak" categories. Matches nicely with the 12.9+ grade reading score she got earlier in the year (which basically means she tested beyond their ability to test her). Those scores will be excellent fodder for criticizing her self-help skills, as in "If you're so smart how come you can't keep your room clean?" I can't *wait* to try that one. (Yes I am kidding! I am not about to intentionally undermine the self-esteem of a girl who is entering middle school!)

Tomorrow is a special day, Mine & Seymour's 14th wedding anniversary. We have plans, yes we do. Fancy dinner plans. I tried to make the day extra-festive by dyeing my hair a favorite shade of red, but our local stylist could not quite perform. That'll teach me to not make time to see Stylist A in San Francisco. But perfect hair is not a requirement for a cherished evening alone with my favorite person.

Thursday is Vicki Forman's reading at Book Passage! You must go. I will definitely go. I know that a lot of other incredibly cool people are going. I'm even bringing my mom, who arrives that day at noon and who, if all goes well, will immediately be whisked off to lunch with my cousin G at the better-than-we-deserve new Italian restaurant downtown.

Through all this, regular life does and will continue. Leo is disenchanted with his baby sister, and makes her life difficult if they spend too much time together in the house, so we're hiking almost every day, because hiking makes him feel happy and accomplished. He has been exceptionally accommodating about the lunches we've dragged him to this week (due to his own good nature, and also lots of take-along activities and foods he likes, e.g., apples). His front tooth, which has been loose for months, is hanging on by a thread and should come out any time. I hope it comes out before he goes to week-long sleepaway camp on Sunday. Need to pack for that, by the way. Oh, and for Seymour's and my own sleepaway in the Sierras during that time (we are staying just long enough to enjoy the first of our kids to have a typical first day of kindergarten, then we're on the road, with thanks to my mom for sitting on the girls).

There are forms to be filled out lest Leo's Medicaid lapses, bits of my car's exterior falling off and needing to be replaced, Seymour in a really intense production cycle that includes some cool new independent work, Iz coming home from camp tomorrow, her soccer practices beginning Thursday, Mali's school supplies to acquire, arrangements to be made for Seymour's 40th birthday party (a week from Saturday; Godmother Stacy already booked live bluegrass band), a neat new BlogHer assignment (details later), an monthly posting request by the moderator of a blog I adore & respect, and books going unread and sleep being unslept. I am off to do something about the latter, so that I'll have enough energy to enjoy this wonderful, wonderfully busy week.


Good Day or Bad Day? Revisited

Here's a visual follow up on Worst Day/Best Day, as illustrated by Leo:

Leo's Happy Face on a Happy Day!

Leo drew this happy face and wrote his name spontaneously after a day in which we went hiking, went to his favorite restaurant for lunch, and on his first day out of school. What a happy, happy face he drew! I didn't necessarily associate it with having a good day; I figured this iteration of a happy face was his standard version until...

Leo's Unhappy Faces on an Unhappy Day

...we had a bad day. He and his sisters didn't get along, we didn't get to go on a hike, I had to drag him on unexpected errands after he was already done erranding for the day. After we finally came home and he got to relax for a bit, I had him do a few activities (dot-to-dots, simple mazes), then had him turn the printouts over to draw on the back.

First he drew the decidedly UNhappy face in the upper left-hand corner.

I said, "Leo, can you draw a happy face?"

He drew the unhappy face on the top right.

I drew the happy face in the lower left and said, "Leo, this is a happy face. See the smile? It's like a U. Can you draw a happy face?"

Leo drew the still very unhappy face in the lower right hand corner. He knew exactly how to draw a happy face, but sure as hell wasn't going to do it if he wasn't feeling happy!

Excellent communication, methinks. Smart boy.