27 February 2008

More from the beach

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What daddies are good for at the beach

Water in my eyes, Daddy!

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At the beach

Oh, we were in Florida for three days on the weekend and oh, it was heaven! We visited Grandpa and Grandma, and my high school friend, Marta. Yes, it was a long time ago, and Marta and I lost touch for years and years, but found eachother on the internet on that reunion website. That was a few years ago and we have been writing emails ever since. It was the occasion of her 60th birthday and her partner, Ginger, threw a lavish party with dinner and dancing, and baloons and coasters and pens and little writing pads all celebrating the day. We met lots of their friends and had a great time. Julia enjoyed being a social butterfly – she deciced to wear her Chinese clothes and I didn't stop her. She looked stunning and she pranced around the party rooms and terrace. When she was tired or bored with us grownups, she played quietly with her clay and little animals at our table.

I talked to her OT therapist about her clay work. Of course, the more that I read the more I find to worry about. I was kinda' worried that her clay work was a way for her to hide from her surroundings. Annie asked me a few questions about the play, includig how Julia transitions out of playing with it, and she told me that we should remind Julia that she can use her clay work to calm herself down or to regulate herself. It is a good tool for her as long as she can stop doing it when she needs to.

Julia loved the weather and water – as did her parents. Oh, to be outside without so many clothes!! Flip flop paradise! Ocean sounds and warm water pools. We did not do as much of anything as I would have liked but in three days we packed in a lot of visiting, eating (Oy!), and water play. Julia had one day on the beach, and another day spent primarily in the condo pool. She even layed down one day in the middle of the day.

We were/are very grateful that Marta and Ginger hosted us where they were staying. It made the trip possible and not at all worrisome. And it was great to see Marta, become really reaquainted and to finally meet Ginger. Both David and I felt we had wonderful connections with both of them. We are a bit lonely up in Wisconsin – our Indy friends are so far away. We have great neighbors here, but we long for some good friend talking at times. We had that this weekend and it was so appreciated.

Ah, friends.

Before we left on Thursday, I was sworn into the Wisconsin Bar. Yahoo! No big job offer yet, but I've been in contact with a volunteer lawyers group that I hope to start working with next week. I have more applications to put in for a few posted jobs. I hope that I will be able to meet a few folks through bar activities. AND then I hope, hope, hope a job is out there for me.

I want my kitchen and I want to be able to travel again!

We continue to work with Julia in the evening during our Family Work time. Yesterday, we did pre-writing work and played a game with it. At school, Julia is drawing vertical and horizontal lines starting from a dot made by her teacher. Julia starts at the dot and draws the line straight down or across as a dashed-line indicates. I made dots of different colors and light lines of yellow. Julia had to match the dot to the colored pencil she used to make the line. Then, we made lots of dots across one line, and took turns telling eachother to close our eyes, pick a pencil, and draw a line from the dot of the correct color. This game taxed Julia a bit – taking turns, matching colors, and drawing straight lines – but she got into the swing of the game and completed it successfully.
I try to take ideas for our family work from what she is doing in school or in therapy. I definitely try to make it a challenge for Julia. And we don't usually repeat what we do. I am also working on what it is like to learn new things all the time, or rather, new ways to do things that she might have done before. She is 7 and we are still working on pre-writing and pre-reading skills, but she does pick them up quickly when she is presented with them. And she is willing to do the work with us in the evening. AND she is talking about “playing games.” She still does not understand what that means exactly, but it is something we do together and we take turns when we do it. That she understands.

As for entering back into the Wisconin winter. Oh, hum. I cannot say that I am not tired of this winter. Enough already! I am ready for spring. I heard a news person say that she saw signs of spring without elaborating what they were. I couldn't see any today, but I am very willing to believe her.

17 February 2008

Lion Dances

The masked Budha wakes the lions up by batting them on the heads. Then hs uses the fan to guide the lions to where they can be fed with red envelopes.
Julia loved watching from the protection of my lap.

But the best part of the day was when Julia was allowed to visit with the lion heads and when she was allowed to try on one of the lion heads and to move its eyes and mouth.
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My very pretty girl dresses up

My girl is so pretty in these pictures. She takes my breath away.

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Party, computers, and snow

Interesting weekend we are having. Right now, it is snowing after a rain all morning that made ice covered walkways and roads. Latkah hated it on her walk this morning. She has been great about the snow and ice, but she can't take the very cold water she had to walk through today. It looks like the water penitrates her fur in a way that the more solid ice and snow doesn't.

And now the snow has begun. We are predicted to get 7-10 inches. And we are inside for the day.
We were expecting a play date today with two families I met through an autism support group. Julia was looking forward to playing with the boys, but no one is goin' no where today.

David is doing lots of household tasks that he has wanted to do for awhile. I don't want to do anything because . . . . well, all I do is household tasks. I can't even think of that last part with a whine or complaint, and not really either. Really.

Yesterday, we went to a Chinese New Year party hosted by our local FCC (Families with Chinese Children) group. Lots of kids, mostly Chinese girls, running around a community center with parents watching or running after them. I was in the later category.

Julia agreed to wear the last of the Chinese chothes that we brought home with us from China (She has not worn any other other outfits that we brought home either because she just didn't like them or they had pant). It was the dress with pants she tried on two weeks ago. I didn't expect her to wear it but was so happy that she did. She looked so lovely! I did her hair in real “Chinese circles” as she calls them with two decorations in each bun. I'll post pictures.

Julia had a wonderful time at the party. My internet friend, Cathy, was there with her 4 daughters. Julia had met three of them before and hung on 2 of them for most of the party. She just loves to be with kids. These girls are so very nice to Julia, and Julia appreciates it so. When we were leaving she hugged each of them and told them that she loved them. Couldn't have been sweeter.

I also met a woman with a daughter from China who is on the spectrum. Cathy introduced us. She has been at it longer than I have, and I may have found someone to compare notes with. Comparing notes, that's what I need right now. As I read and research, I still have so many questions, espeically about results and of course, prognoses. The short answers seem to be that no one has been doing the interventions that they are doing now for a very long time, and also every autistic child is different. But it will be good to talk to someone who has been told some of the same things we have been told and to compare notes. Although her daughter came home younger than Julia did, her parents have many of the same unknowns.

Her daughter and Julia say close to eachother during the performance and speeches. No doubt that both girls have related challenges. You know, there is still a part of me that wants someone to find they madea mistake, that Julia is just slowly adapting and one day she will wake up and be normal. How long does a mother hold on to that wish, how long to keep wishes on stars?
At the party, there was two dance performances – one a Manderin nursery school and the other a kid dance and drum group. Julia liked the dancing but she was waiting for the Chinese lion dancers – a New Year's tradition. She first covered her ears when the cymbals and drums began but she eventually uncovered her ears and took everything – the sounds, the music, the dancing lions in. She did stay on my lap but was so excited to see them. We “fed” the lion, another tradition with is supposed to bring good luck for the new year, with dollar bills in red envelops. After the dragon dance, we all sat down to dinner. Julia spent a lot of time examining the lion heads and she was even allowed to try one on.

Dinner was cater and Chinese (of course), and beside the noodes, rice, and sweet fried dough, Julia especially liked going through the line with Cathy's girls instead of with David and I.

This morning, Julia woke up in a wonderful mood. She usually wakes up in a fine mood but today she was esepcially happy. We worked on a computer game – a jump start numbers program. For the first time, Julia had the patience to sit with me and to listen to and be helped to follow directions. This is a GIANT step and I am so proud of her. It was a numbers game – matching the number of “astroids” with the number of other objects in a spaceship. She had to click on the correct number of astroids, put the astroids into the ship and then click on a lever. If the number was correct, the ship sailed away. She needed help with the number of astroid to put in the ship but she was happy to have the help time after time and to get the ship to sail away.

Much later, and it is still snowing. We are debating whether to go out and try to do something about it or to wait for it to end. Oh, I hate to go out, but maybe a little blowing of that mess will be of some good tomorrow.

15 February 2008

Friday night fun

For the last few weeks, we've been going to the Y on Friday nights. David works out for a little while and Julia and I go to one of the gyms where they blow up these big get in and jump and slide toys. There are three, the smallest being for very young ones, the middle sized one is mainly for 3 year olds but at times a bunch of kids Julia's height get in and have a blast, and then the biggest one which covers the length of the gym and has 4 sections ending with a bit soft slide. What a blessing for a winter Friday! Kids running and jumping and having fun until they are flushed and tired, and parents watching, hoping that no one gets hurt and that those little ones get tuckered out for a good night's sleep.

We came home to a salad and frozen pizza. Julia will remind me when we go food shopping that we need another pizza for the freezer. She loves to pick out the pizza. I think it's insurance against hunger.

Two things referring to my big and little discussion --

Two nights ago when I was asking Julia about two lumps of clay. Which is big? Which is little? Which is this? When she couldn't remember the word, she would look at me. Waiting for me to prompt her. I don't think she's ever done that before.

Yesterday morning, Julia came to the breakfast table and saw the pile of clay balls that we had left on the table from the night before. She picked up a little ball and said, "Mommy, little."

Oh, my girl.

13 February 2008

Big and small, more and less

So trying to figure out Julia and numbers, a friend who is training to be a Montessori teacher reminded me that concrete should come before abstract and numbers are pretty abstract. She suggested to teach her more and less. So we tried to work on more and less tonight -- much too abstract. I switched to big and little -- and I see that she doesn't understand opposites. I know that she understands the concept of more and less or big and little on some level. Yes, she wants bigger piles of clay or toys, but she does not have some piece of the pie.. I just don't know what that piece is. She does not understand complete concepts or she does not really have the vocabulary. I am going to do more work on big and little and see where that gets us. It took her a long time to learn up and down, and open and closed. Does she have a problem learning concepts like these, or is she just without experience, or is it just language.

After I put her to bed tonight, I thought about the simple Sarah Boyton book called “Opposites” that we read to Cheshire when she was 1 or so. We had lots of books like that that we read to Cheshire. Julia does like more sophisticated books, but maybe she needs more of the simple ones. How hard for her to be without these basics.

The other suggestion that Janet has was to use Chinese numbers for counting. I am going to wait for a bit before I try it, but some of these concepts are somewhere in her brain. Could it be that it is hidden behind some Chinese, or that using Chinese is a key to translating some of these concepts. Maybe it is translation.

She is such a puzzle, my girl.

11 February 2008

Dinosaur costumes

I have the feeling the Julia is channeling Mardi Gras. These are the newest in dinosaur costumes -- said costoomes.
On their heads are "special clips." They have masks with reigns, comfortable saddles (sometimes Julia says saddles are uncomfortable), and rings on their tails. Baby dinosaurs rode in the saddles and they has special masks as well.

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Practicing a wink

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10 February 2008

A possible high of -1

All this talk about the weather is not complaint, it is amazement. Yesterday, it was in the 30's but once it got dark the temperature started to crash. When I woke up it was -9, and now it has warmed up to -7. No one is out, walking by our house, and we live on a popular walking route. The day is incredibly sunny -- the sun saves a lot of cold days here.

Julia and I spent part of yesterday at the Garden Expo. This would have been one of those cheesey home shows that are filled with booths that sells all sorts of things you never knew you needed with only a slight nod to the expo's topic. We've been to a home show here that was like that and I've been to the Indy garden show which is mainly the same. BUT in Wisconsin, there are enought garden, plant, environmental, wild life clubs and state, county, and city services which each had their own booth to make this gathering incredible. I brought home a ton of literature and only picked up what I thought I would read. Everyone was talking gardening and saving butterflies and new uses for old parks. On top of that, people were buying garden chotchkas with such a passion that all those frivolous booths with pink toads drinking tea suddenly seemed very relevant to a good garden. AND seeds -- you'd think it was time to start digging. I heard middle aged people possitively giggle over new sunflower mixes and mini-pumpkins.

Wisconsin continues to amaze.

Julia wanted a kite or a flamingo, and I told her we could get one or the other at the Expo. We found some beautiful kites that were incredibly expensive, and I had to explain that we couldn't get that. She took it very well, a sad look (the kite was beautiful) but no opposition. I told her we'd look for a flamingo and we were on a mission. She remembered out quest through the pond exhibit, the hammocks, a big sand box, miles of seed racks (where I looked but didn't touch), and a hot dog snack. And we found a silly pink flamingo with wings that flapped, the whole thing on a stick to put in the garden, but until spring, I am sure our new pet will find a place among dinosaurs and jungle animals, not to mention princesses and the beast.

Today, we are off to see a juggler and do food shopping. We usually go to the Y on Sundays, but Julia has a stuffy, running nose and a cough that hurts to listen to. We have been pretty lucky with getting sick this winter. I expected much more considering that we are new in Madison. I do think that Julia has developed some immunity to our North American bugs. She is an incredibly healthy child -- good peasant stock. Like us, just a bit east of our heritage.

09 February 2008

Challenges defined

We have a proposed meeting at the end of February with school officials for Julia IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for Julia's next school year. She had benefited from having an aide this year andspeech/ESL therapy at school. OT (occupational therapy) at school might be a good thing for her aswell. I am trying to figure out what else I need to know to add to this meeting.

Our two biggest areas of concern are her lack of social skills and her inability to be outwardly directed. We are working on the second concern every day -- our family work is usually about doing something that Julia would not consider doing by herself and trying to keep her at it beyond her interest time. I think of it as stretching her willingness to do outwardly motivated activities.

I have not really started working on social skills. We need to expose her to kids, to show her how to play with them, and I think, we should also be showing her our own socializing as well. This is a challenge for me but I am writing it down here to move me to do something. To stretch myself a bit -- after all, I have sucha good role model.

08 February 2008

Gong Xi Fat Cai

Gong Xi Fat Cai – Happy Chinese New Year! Welcome to the year of the Rat which actually began yesterday, but I fell asleep while putting Julia to bed and woke up this morning. Perhaps a very good new year celebration!

According to the Chinese Zodiac, Year of the Rat is the first in the cycle of 12 Animal signs. Rat Year is a time of hard work, activity, and renewal. It is a good year to begin a new (I hope so), get married (maybe now), launch a product or make a fresh start (Here we are in lovely Madison). Ventures begun now may not yield fast returns (what else is new?), but opportunities will come for people who are well prepared and resourceful (I hope that is us!). The best way to succeed is to be patient, let things develop slowly, and make the most of every opening you can find (Okay, I am ready).

Or so says Wikipedia with a few of my own snide comments.

We have not begun to celebrate CNY. We need too much regularity in our house right now. Maybe in a year or two. We are planning to go to a CNY party in another week put on by our local Families with Chinese Children (FCC). It will be our first venture into the Chinese adoption community here although we've met some families with Chinese kids.

Just yesterday, Julia was looking at the travel pictures in the sunroom. David was setting up a computer program for her and she pointed out the pictures from China. She told him that they were of China. I have pointed out these pictures before – months and months ago – and didn't think that Julia took notice.

The dress that Julia has on in this picture is the biggest dress that we had made for her while we were in China. I thought it would be more than two years when she could wear this, but it is 17 months from when we came home. The kid grows! I could not get her to wear the other two outfits that we had made in China and I am hoping that she will wear this one for the CNY party and then when we go down to Florida for Marta's party and to visit the grandparents. I don't want to force her Chinese heritage on to her and Julia has shown only slight interest in Chinese things apart from the food. So the only plan is to go very slowly.

Gong Xi Fat Cai
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06 February 2008

Another Snow Day

Oh my but it is snowing. It started last evening, but didn't start to accumulate until much later during the night. We had a few inches – say 3 – by the morning and school was canceled. Then, it really started snowing! I blew snow three times today – the last just before 5 pm. At that time, there was so much snow on the driveway and the walks that it was almost too much for my dashing little Torro. When David got home, he blew some of the street to get into the driveway. It is now 8 pm and yes, it is still snowing.

We are all inside and going no where fast.

The place where they “never call off school” has had two, and possibly three, snow days in the last two weeks!

Julia and I stayed cozy and warm all day. Julia spent lots of time with her clay and her little people and animals, but we did some writing work and some money counting work. We made an underwater scene in a shoe box. I went outside to blow snow, and Julia stayed in watching movies and playing. I would check in with her and she responded each time I called to her. After my last blowing, we made corn soup and broccoli for super and broke into David's chocolate easter bunny, or as Julia calls it that “bunny chocolate.” The bunny chocolate tasted a bit like freezer burn but nothing like good chocolate.

I continue to struggle with the Bar in Wisconsin. I called the examiners on Monday to see if my file was complete. I was missing my employment verification from both courts and my criminal check. Indiana let me know the criminal check was mailed on the 1st of February, but when I wrote to the courts, Chicago told me that they had not received it. Indy, in the form of Ranger, did not respond. I could believe that Ranger misplaced the form, but not Chicago. So I have to ask by letter for the forms to be resent. Oh, I am still hoping for the end of February to be sworn in, but I might have to settle for March.

The job outlook is dismal. The few jobs I've applied for have not panned out. I called the agency in town that handles lawyers and spoke with a friendly woman. She asked if I would be willing to be a legal assistant, and then told me that because I had no firm experience as a lawyer, she couldn't even recommend applying for that kind of job. I was so surprised that I did not tell her that I worked support staff before I went to law school. But Hell!

So it is a tight market. If it wasn't that I really, really wanted to a great kitchen and a tile bath, plus real disposable money, maybe full time at home would be fine. I need reinvention; I need to figure out what, how, and then how to do it.


I took the dog for her last walk of the day (Julia insisted that Daddy put her to bed even though it was my night. Do you think she had plenty of Mommy today? So, I did clean up and dog duty.
The snow – more than a foot -- has stopped but not before it has caused lots of problems on the road – some cars and trucks stranded on I90 for the entire day and the governor just declared a state of emergency in our county. But walking, it is beautiful out there. The wind made snow dunes that bend and curve. And it is quiet – silent, soundless. The ears stretch to absorb some noise. The sky leans to almost light, snow reflections, and purple. The air cracks with cold. Tomorrow will come with tasks and demands, but tonight is perfect.

05 February 2008

Something new

I see something new in my spicy dragon -- some quality that is not as frenetic, not as rushed and rough, a sweetness, a sassy-ness that we have only had hints of before this. Julia is happier and tells us that. She wants even more cuddles, and last night she wanted to sing about everything -- eating dinner, sitting on the couch, counting pennies, yelling at the dog. She is a flower unfolding.
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02 February 2008

Winter Festival???

Snowy Saturday! The weather commentators have been saying that if we get the normal amount of snow for the next three months – yes, winter includes April – we will break the current records for snow falls. The city is running out of salt for the roads and mixing in greater and greater quantities of sand. The roads are still being plowed pretty well but I guess if we get too much more snow, life may get a bit dicy.

We went to the winter festival today, and after last week's wonderful entertainment, we expected a lot. There were supposed to be booths and stuff for kids and racing and exhibits for all of us to watch. As it happened, I think it may have been snowed out! Hard to believe that they couldn't accommodate the snow, although last year at this time I had started reading on line news about Madison and for this festival they had to “import” snow. Not necessary today.

Anyway, very few booths went up, the tub slide that we had talked up to Julia looked so dangerous that she wouldn't get near it, and if she had, I'm not sure which of us would have been willing to risk our lives to go down with her. I'm sure there are some 9 year old boys who had a great time. There was cross country ski competitions but it was too slow to enjoy watching – a skier or two at a time going through a rather short course racing against the clock.

We walked around the square, looked at a few things, and went to the kids museum. There Julia was going to show Daddy her favorite exhibits, but the dinosaur exhibit was gone, as was the milking “barn.” We still had the city streets and the trucks and stone table, but the loss of the dinosaurs cuts a big hole in the museum. Julia was disappointed, and everything else was quite crowded. Thankfully, her behavior was really fine. She was disappointed but just went onto the next thing instead of throwing a tantrum.

We had lunch at a chain called Noodles. Julia heaven! She had pan friend noodles and sampled my Pad Thia and David's Italian noodles. The kid is eating. I've notice that she been eating a lot the past week or so. Three meals and lots of snacks – most of it pretty healthy. I am expecting a growth spurt.

After lunch, we did a bit more walking and found a guy carving ice. We could see his Bucky Badger and a horse. He was working on a sled with a dog behind it with a small chair saw and a big chisel. Julia watched his work and when he noticed her, he said hi to her. Julia asked him if he knew it was snowing. He said yes, and she said the snow should stop. And he laughed at her and said that he loved snow. Then he bent down and handed her a chunk of ice. It was about the size of two handfuls for her to carry. It had been cut from his sled chunk so it had some very nice angles cut out of it. Julia was very happy with this gift. She thanked the sculptor and carried it for the rest of the afternoon.

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Clay creations

Two of Julia's recent clay creations are inspired by the movies Happy Feet and Finding Nemo. The first is a dinosaur riding a sea scooter. She said it was like the fish on the road going to Sydney. In the movie, Nemo's dad, Marlin, took the current with a bunch of turtles to get to Sydney. The dino is traveling on the same underwater highway.

This is a penguin holding her baby. Julia makes and draws a lot of family groups. Mommies and babies, daddies and babies. Julia is also drawing dancers dancing together. She doesn't try to make them from clay.

In Happy Feet, the penguins tap dance. Julia was trying to do what the penguins do and she turned to us and said, "My feet don't work." No one but penguins and my high school friend, Jimmy Brennan, are born knowing how to tap dance. The rest of us learn and practice, practice, practice.
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