. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Worthwhile Books and an Honorable Mention

I recently bought two books from Amazon.com that grabbed my attention because of their titles. I originally was searching for books to read with a child about Asperger's Syndrome, which is most related to the diagnosis of PDD-NOS that my son has. Both conditions are on the Autistic Spectrum, but people with them function at a higher level than those with classical Autism.

The two books I bought that I mentioned above are called, "All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome" and "All Dogs Have ADHD" and are both written by Kathy Hoopmann. (Coincidentally, the two books are listed with a book that my sister loaned me called, "Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger's" by John Elder Robison in the Frequently Bought Together section on Amazon's page.) 

Both the "Cats" and the "Dogs" books are in an easy-to-read picture book form that would be great to display on your coffee table or in a waiting room somewhere. There are colorful photos of cats or dogs on each page in various situations and poses that depict the Asperger's or ADHD traits. Without spoiling the whole book (which I couldn't anyway because the photos are what makes the books), here are some direct quotes:

From "Cats":
  • An Asperger child looks at the world in his own unique way.
  • An Asperger child often has exceptionally good hearing, and loud sounds and sudden movements may scare him.
  • His other senses can be heightened too, such as touch and smell.
  • He's often fussy about what he eats and wants the same food presented in the same way, day after day.
  • Other kids make friends but don't invite him to play, and he may be bullied.
  • He may become a loner caught up in a world of his own, where small things fascinate him for hours and he can do the same thing over and over again without getting bored.
  • When he talks, he goes on and on about the same topic and bores everyone silly.
  • Daily rituals comfort him and he likes a good routine and gets worried if the schedule is changed.
  • He is honest, which is great of course, but sometimes he's too honest. Yet when he tries to tell a lie, he's not very good at it.
  • As he grows older he senses that he is different from everyone else and feels as if he belongs on a different planet, like an outsider looking into a world he never truly understands.
From "Dogs":
  • He knows what he wants and he wants it NOW.
  • When opportunity presents itself, he goes for it, and may dive straight into a situation without thinking of the consequences.
  • He is easily disorientated, he's always losing things, and often can't find what is right in front of his nose.
  • An ADHD child can be distracted by things other people don't notice, and his priorities may differ from those around him.
  • His senses can go into overload with everything going on, so he goes from one task to the next without finishing anything.
  • Books can be hard to understand, and things learnt are tricky to remember.
  • He doesn't know where to start, and even if there are instructions, he may not know how to follow them.
  • People keep saying "You can do better if you try harder," but it's simply not true.
  • Being very sensitive, he gets sad because he wants to be like everyone else, but he just can't.
Both books have the statement, "When things get too much for him, he may tantrum." Also, both books state: "Sometimes others think they can bring him up better than his parents can." And both books do finish off with the last half of the book dedicated to positive statements like getting support from those he loves, persistence and perseverance skills, and growing up to be successful adults like Henry Ford and Einstein.

So in a roundabout way, I did find some books to share with a child about Asperger's and think this picture book format might make it less intimidating than a chapter book. They are really funny when you see a cat or a dog photo with each statement like the photo of a cat batting a string for the "can do the same thing over and over and over again" statement. In the ADHD book, there is a photo of a white dog literally dragging his master along the ground as he pulls the leash with the "when opportunity presents itself, he goes for it" comment.

"Look Me in the Eye" is third on my reading list, after the audiobook I'm currently listening to and it's sequel in book form.


Monday, December 29, 2008


Last summer an old college friend took a detour to our home while on a summer trip from her home out to California. She and her kids introduced my oldest son to geocaching, which according to the geocaching.com website is: 
a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.
All you need is a portable GPS device like the one Santa brought my son, an account on geocaching.com so that you can get the coordinates (and sometimes hints) for the caches, and the desire to get out and hike on a beautiful sunny day (sometimes going in circles). My son provided the first two items and we both love hiking on beautiful sunny days, so off we went with my dog, Lucy. Of course, we did cheat a little bit today by driving from one mesa to another one to find some different caches.

We had 6 geocaches programmed into the GPS device from the 943 listed within a 50 mile radius of our home coordinates. Anyway, we found the first "microcache" fairly easily--a tiny metallic capsule attached to a pole and we documented the visit. The second location was found after an easy mile walk along the mesa top but we couldn't find the actual cache and decided that it must be buried in the 2 feet of snow. Same happened with the third cache when we went to its coordinates. For the fourth and fifth caches, we would have had to walk down steep, snow-covered terrain to find them, and we couldn't even find the trailheads because of the snow. So we skipped those for today. But for the sixth geocache, we had a good time. We parked on the side of the road once we got in the vicinity and hiked to the location indicated by the GPS. Using the clues that were left on the website for the treasure, we hunted all over until we found it, and recorded the visit. Very creative! The cache was hidden inside a log.

Besides finding geocaches, you can hide them as well. I want to do this for my son once he teaches me how to use his GPS device to mark coordinates. Once you hide a cache, you can log the location on the website for others to find it as well. But if you hide one, you have to care for it, making sure it is in good shape for everyone.

We told each other that we'd go back to the missed locations when the snow melted in the spring. I know we'll do more exploring before then, though!


Thursday, December 18, 2008


If I liked being out in the cold weather, I think I'd take up snowshoeing. But I'll be saving money because I would rather stay at home and walk on my treadmill than to walk out in the snow and freezing winter. Thursdays is our PE day and today I got to join the class in snowshoeing around the school.  

There are some really innovative ideas that float around the school where I work and when the PE teacher told everyone she was writing a grant so that she could get snowshoes for the kids for PE class, people thought she was a little crazy. But she wrote the grant and has received
enough snowshoes for her classes, various sizes and the top of the line. They come in a variety of colors, but the pink camoflage Yukon Charlie's snowshoe for the girls were really quite cute. They go for about $60 a pair at REI!

I am glad that I had my snow boots today so that I could get out there with my student when she tried it as well (I bring snow boots for that dreaded lunch duty time that I have to walk around the playground out in the, yes, winter weather).  Well, snowshoeing out in the field was pretty fun and I could see how a person could get a good workout from it.  I didn't today, though, because I was going at a very slow pace to keep with my student.

Our PE teacher also has other great ideas for fitness.  She's gotten two Dance Dance Revolution sets for the kids also, which they love.  She has them bowling and even juggling (both of which leave me winded when we do them--all that bending over to set up pins or pick up dropped balls, respectively).  Then of course, there are various ball games that she knows and that the kids enjoy. I wish I'd had a cool PE teacher when I was young!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow Day

We got a foot or so of snow last night and so I woke up to the announcement that school, therefore work, was cancelled. They also shut down the Lab, which is the main employer of the town, so as far as I know everyone is home today. The snow plow just arrived to plow our street and it is a bit after noon. That means that he'll probably plow a load of snow at the end of my driveway. Eesh.

Though I'm not a huge fan of the winter season, it was nice to have so much pretty snow outside (and me all warm and toasty inside). When I went outside and started to shovel snow, a very kind neighbor came over with his snow blower and removed all the snow from around my truck in the driveway and cleared a nice path on both sides and to the front door. I want to get a goodie package together and will send it over to thank him.  

Even though I didn't do a lot of snow shoveling, I rewarded my efforts with a hot cup of chocolate! Lucy enjoyed running through the snow as you can see from the blurry photo on the right.

The winter storm warning is in effect until 5 am tomorrow. It is supposed to continue to snow until Thursday afternoon, but I doubt if another snow day will be called tomorrow. Maybe we'd be lucky to have a 2-hour delay.  

In any case, I'm going to stay inside as much as possible and will stay warm and toasty.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in the Kitchen

This weekend I spent a lot of time in the kitchen doing my holiday baking and making candies. While I worked I listened to Christmas music to really get me in the mood. I made something for everyone: fudge, Rice Krispies Treats (red and green), shortbread, applesauce cake, and a double batch of our favorite family Christmas candy. I also did make a recipe of "Loving Cups," which came from my sister. Too bad they didn't turn out very "loving" since they stuck to the mini muffin pans.  You have to use a knife to scrape out the cookie.

While making fudge I noticed that I'm a counter-clockwise stirrer.  Five minutes of stirring tends to make my mind wander and think of ridiculous things.

The fudge and Rice Krispies Treats recipes were right off of the packages of marshmallow creme ("Fantasy Fudge") and the Rice Krispies cereal box, respectively. The shortbread is a recipe of mine that I've made every year from the Good Housekeeping cookbook. The applesauce cake recipe came from my aunt and is in the family cookbook that my mom made for a family reunion many years ago. I didn't add the raisins, though, and left half the batch without nuts as well. The favorite Christmas candy recipe came from my mom via a woman that my dad worked for when Mom and Dad were dating.  Mom would make it every year but when I moved away I started making it myself.

One more week of school to go before the two-week winter break. I plan to visit my sister for a few days but after Christmas I want to clear out my pantry, clean the shelves, and paint them. I also need to do some touch-up painting around the house where dings have chipped off the paint. Not too exciting, but something that needs to be done.

Have a good week!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Couple of News Links on Autism

I was told of an article in the USA Today about a new study about the autistic brain.  Although I did not read the USA Today article before it was thrown in the recycle bin and was recycled, I was able to find an article by Googling the subject matter.  I found that the study was presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America and indicates that it may be possible to accurately identify autistic children at a very early age by measuring brain wave patterns to determine if a child has a significant lag in auditory processing. The MSNBC article, Brain Waves Show Autism Language Problems states:

Unique brain wave patterns, spotted for the first time in autistic children, may help explain why they have so much trouble communicating.

Using an imaging helmet that resembles a big salon hair dryer, researchers discovered what they believe are "signatures of autism" that show a delay in processing individual sounds.

That delay is only a fraction of a second, but when it's for every sound, the lag time can cascade into a major obstacle in speaking and understanding people, the researchers said.Imagine if it took a tiny bit longer than normal to understand each syllable. By the end of a whole sentence, you'd be pretty confused.

The study authors believe that's what happens with autistic children, based on the brain wave patterns detected in school-age children in their study.....

.....In autistic children, response to each sound was delayed by one-fiftieth of a second.

"We tend to speak at four syllables per second," said Timothy Roberts, the study's lead author and the hospital's vice chairman of research.  If an autistic brain "is slow in processing a change in a syllable...it could easily get to the point of being overloaded."...

.....Roberts, the study author, said the findings fit with a leading theory that suggests autism is "a disorder of connectivity in the brain."

And here is something that blew my mind when I read it:  Associated Content Article, Man Murders Autistic Teen Son.

Allen Grabe shot his autistic teen son, 13-year-old Jacob, September 11. Jacob has autism, though at least one report said he had Asperger's syndrome. Grabe killed his autistic son with a pistol inside their home in Colorado. Allen Grabe is being held on $1 million bond at Mesa County Jail on "suspicion" of first-degree murder. Suspicion? You mean a leprechaun might have pulled the trigger? Authorities offer no motive as to why Allen Grabe would kill his autistic son.Denver Post readers have offered their theories: Raising an autistic child could be very stressful.
Well, that theory is bull because it implies that raising an autistic child could turn a normal father into a murderer. It implies that Allen Grabe was otherwise normal. It suggests that Allen Grabe would have been a normal father had his son not been autistic. It also implies that Jacob's autism was severe, versus mild, even though he attended a regular school and routinely played with a 14-year-old neighbor. It implies that Jacob Grabe's autism was an alarming impediment, even though the mother of the 14-year-old described Jacob as "a very, very smart boy," and another neighbor described him as being friendly and polite.
Yes, a smart, polite autistic boy could also have meltdowns, but this does not excuse the father for killing him, and it should not even be implied that "stress" from raising an autistic child could lead a parent to murder. How about the theory that Allen Grabe was just plain evil? After all, Jacob, though with autism, sounds like he was a pretty cool kid: another neighbor, who wished to remain unnamed, said Jacob raised money for school by selling cookie dough, candy and other things in the neighborhood. Plus, Jacob ran track. Sounds like a high-functioning autistic child to me. This neighbor is quoted: "He was a great kid."
The article continues and discusses what should happen to Grabe.  I agree with the author when he says, "lock the evil man up in prison for life."


Sunday, December 7, 2008

'Tis the Season!

One thing I love about this time of year is getting out all of the boxes of Christmas decorations and decorating the house, inside and out. Each decoration has some kind of memory associated with it and each item has a special place. I do admit, I always seem to pick up a new ornament or a new decoration each year and so that adds to the collection. I can justify it since each year I find something broken. I'm still finding places to put things, although it is almost to the point where I might have to start choosing what to display!

This decorating process takes a whole weekend and many people involved. There's a color scheme with the house: blue and white. These are also the colors of the lights that we put on the tree with the exception of the multi-colored star topper that we've had for 16 years. 

Today was the special day that we got our tree and we always go to the same place in town: Delancey Street trees. I think we found today's tree in less than 10 minutes. This is amazing considering how long it used to take the family to find a tree back when we lived in California. My sister and I would always argue over which tree was better--the wider one or the taller one. Delancey Street always brings the prettiest trees from a farm up in Oregon somewhere. I also like that when we buy a tree from them, it is going to a wonderful cause. The foundation helps ex-substance abusers and ex-convicts  to turn their lives around and to become productive citizens. 

We started off the weekend with a wonderful Christmas party on Friday night that had such delicious food. There was ham, turkey pot pie, potato salad, and green salad. For dessert there were many fruit pies, a lemon cake, a Craisin cake, and a Death by Chocolate cake. The whiskey punch was especially good.

So now the holiday season has officially begun (or did it start with Thanksgiving?). I hope you have as much fun decorating and celebrating as I've had so far and plan to have in the weeks to come.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Catching Up With My Reading

One thing that is nice about driving all day to a destination is being able to catch up on some reading. It is about a 6 hour drive from here to my sister's house where we spent the Thanksgiving holiday. During the drive up I was able to finish reading The Host by Stephenie Meyer, which is a book that she wrote for adults.  Not for teenagers like her Twilight series.  It was getting dark during the last two chapters and so I read with the interior car light on even though I know that is not a good idea.  The book was really good so I just had to finish it.

Then, on the way back home I was able to finish reading Way Off the Road by Bill Geist.  It is a collection of stories about small-town America. One of the funniest was called "Mike the Headless Chicken".  I'm glad my dad sent me the book to read.

Also on the way home I was able to start a new book called Rebuilt: My Journey Back to the Hearing World by Michael Chorost.  It is about a man that completely loses his hearing as an adult (after being hearing-impaired all his life) and undergoes a cochlear implant.  My sister recommended this book and so far it is very captivating.

So in between all of the other things I do during my days, I will keep on reading. It is what I like to do in my "down time" right before bed at night. My problem is, my To Be Read pile is getting larger even though I'm still reading eight different books at one time.  They're all so wonderful!