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Shane and the kids gave me a guitar yesterday. A real one...it's gorgeous, it's red, and it's a really really nice guitar. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to learn to play, I was thinking maybe, you know, a garage-sale guitar to learn on or something. I should know by now that's not what would happen :).

So we played outside and worked in the garden all day (which was an amazing, beautiful day) and then at the end of the day I lit a fire in the outdoor fireplace and we sat out there while I practiced my first few clumsy notes.

It was a wonderful Mother's Day.

back to basics

Spring is a good time for change, don't you think?

We have begun eliminating some of the generally icky and slightly sinister things from our lives that have been allowed in due to a lack of vigilance, on our part as well as our society.

I, like most everyone else, appreciated things like "teflon" and "gladware" for what they did for convenience in our lives. But the growing portent of things like contaminated plastics, drugs, foods, and toys that have been compromised is not fantasy. The risks are real, and even though they are remote (and I acknowledge that, I'm not so outer-limits as to be that paranoid), we have come to the conclusion that when we can quite easily avoid these things, we will. Why keep taking these simple risks when the effort to avoid it is almost nothing? No excuse.

So, here we go quite satisfied, and in my case quite excitedly, back to the basics. Not that they are a stranger in this house, but we are re-committing ourselves to glass and cast-iron, organics and simple foods. We don't kid ourselves that we can control it all. We don't delude ourselves about the power of fast-food, marketing, and convenience in our society (and in the homes of the other adults in the equation). But for a few meals a week and for this one corner of the planet, we can offer good and whole and safe things in life, so we will.

It feels good. And it tastes good.

Turn if off, baby

Earth Hour is tonight at 8pm in your local time zone (www.earthhour.org). Turn off the lights, the TV, and the computers for one hour.

Light some candles. Tell stories. Hug, laugh, and do a good thing.

just an update

Everyone in our house has been sick, repeatedly, in a round-robin type fashion that is making us all insane. Is it just me, or has this winter been a festival of viruses and nasty bugs? Bleh.

Other than that, stuff is good in a crazy way. I got my promotion, which means more freedom but more work at the same time. I feel like I'm making a lot of positive changes and building momentum, but it's also hard as hell. I feel truly drained at the end of the day now (and being sick constantly doesn't help).

I haven't been cooking like I had planned. Salad-like arrangements appear now and then, and an obligatory cheese pizza once in a while, but my energy is elsewhere temporarily.

I did manage to get back into the workshop for a couple of evenings. I'm working on an unusual candle-plate object. After a long time under the oxy-acetylene torch, looks sort of like a puddle of scorched sugar. Why shouldn't art look like scorched sugar? I'm ok with that.

Autism moment of the day -

Other kid's mom at school: "Hi Matthew, how are you?"
Matthew: "Good. I'm a rock star."
Other kid's mom: "I know! You totally are a rock star!"
Matthew: "Adios, mi amigo! Hasta luego!"
Me: "*???*"

Where the hell did that come from? Hilarious!

I love hearing good news

My best friend since the 2nd grade (and still my closest friend) told me today that she's pregnant. Yay! I'm so thrilled for her. It reminds me that there is still a lot of hope and goodness and joy in the world. I wished she lived closer. She has always been more of a sister me than my actual sister. But she lives 1500 miles away, which is a drag. When we do see each other, though, it doesn't seem to matter.

I'm looking forward to seeing some little baby toes and a little fuzzy baby head next summer.

just watch

This Saturday would have been my dad's 60th birthday. He would have spent the day watching Jeopardy, complaining about the state of the world, telling duct-tape jokes, and insisting that no one make any fuss over his birthday. On Saturday I will call his mother, my incredible, inspiring, and wonderful grandmother, and she will weep bitterly that no mother in her eighties should have had to bury her child in his fifties. She loved him so very much, and he used to call her every single Saturday morning. I will cry when I hang up because each time I talk to her I am afraid it's the last time and my hands shake.

This Saturday is also our twins' 8th birthday party. My relationship with them grows and changes every day, as they do. Long ago I would have called our family's challenges unusual, but now I don't think there is any such thing. Every family has a unique set of problems, terrors, joyful moments and peaceful breaths. No one's family is unusual. They are all just what they are. Family is simply the fact that you are all still there when you wake up the next morning.

On Saturday my mother will come to the party, and I will watch her shower my kids with love and enthusiasm. She loves them and she also fears they may be the only grandchildren she'll ever be able to know and touch. She is both resolute and heartbroken that my sister has severed all contact with any of our family and taken her baby out of our lives too. I thought motherhood would open my sister's eyes to the connections between all of us that are so clear to me, but she has been much too successful at shutting out those that love her.

Saturday I hope to see my brother too. He is only 17, and he losing his father. For years my stepfather's failing health was just a footnote, but things have become very very hard for them all. My mother has been worn down with the work and the worry of caring for both of them. My brother has struggled with a cycle of behavior problems and drugs. I wish I could help him.

We are all so human, and even as parents we carry our damage with us. It is a testament to the power of this family bond that it can overcome and withstand so much, but it can and will be lost. And when it is lost, the devastation shakes you to your core.

On Saturday I will raise a toast to my mom, my dad, my grandmother, and all parents of the generation before me. They have shown me a picture of the storms I will have to weather in the years to come.


About a Dog and His Boy

From the moment we knew Matthew was autistic, it was clear that social behavior was one of the biggest areas he had difficulty with. The subtle rules of interaction with others were totally lost on him. To this day, at almost 8 years old, most social activities are still a mystery to him. He doesn't understand how others expect him to behave or react, and he almost always chooses the wrong thing to say or do. When he truly craves interaction, he doesn't know what to do to make it work. He has never really known how to have friends or participate in games.

And then comes Elwood the dog. I've said before that this dog won me over big time, but that was even before the developments of the last couple of months.

For the first several months that Elwood lived with us, Matthew was at a loss as to how to cope with him. Almost immediately he learned to go open the back door and put Elwood outside when he couldn't figure out what else to do. When he wanted to play on the floor, the dog always wanted to come lick his face, and with no other skills available, he just put him outside over and over.

Then a couple of months ago, things started to change. For a little while he would just hold on to Elwood's tail and go careening around the house pulled along by a totally confused dog. It was a very slow process, but eventually I noticed them playing some kind of weird game that didn't make much sense. It was a blend of fetch, chase, and keep-away, with some wrestling thrown in. Matthew put him outside less and less.

Then I started to notice how Elwood sticks by Matthew's side anytime he is in the house. Elwood normally follows me through the house without fail, but now when Matthew is here, he wont leave him. They play strange games that involve a lot of yelling and running. I often hear Matthew call out "Come on, Elwood!" and then the two of them go thumping down the stairs to play.

They have become inseparable. When Matthew is away from us, Elwood wanders into his room over and over looking for him.

Tonight I came downstairs and saw one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. Matthew was sitting on the rug, playing intently with some toys, completely absorbed in his task. Elwood was wrapped around his body in the shape of a C, curled around Matthew's lower back, dozing lightly. They were completely at peace, with Elwood looking after his boy.

I don't know that anyone other than the two of them can understand the unspoken rules that they play by, but it works. It matters.


Veggie Patty - Your Vote is Requested

One of the most important steps in making veggie patties is before you even buy any veggies. You have to decide what direction you're going in...

- This will involve beans, chilies or chili powder, onions, cheese...

- I've never tried an edamame-based patty, but I have read about them, and they usually include some mushrooms, ginger and other asian flavors...

- Bring on the garlic, cheese & tomato paste, and probably mushrooms again, but what base? Orzo? Risotto?

- This will involve garbanzo beans, olives, and probably some kind of flour...

When I originally started making these things, my goal was to make them meatless, wheatless, and overall fairly healthy. However, some recipes just don't cope well without flour of some kind. Wheat flour or breadcrumbs are just plain easy to deal with, but if we're going to go to this much trouble, why not optimize? So I experimented with flax flour, yada yada. To make anything stick together at all I've found that you have to have some egg, and sometimes some cheese, and some format of a flour-like substance. Flax is SOOOOO good for you, but that's a whole different post.

So...time for some votes:

What cuisine?
Mushroom or No Mushroom?
Wheat or No Wheat?
Cheese or No Cheese?

You decide...

On Vegetarian Cooking

Let's start with some of my favorite vegetarian blogs.

Fat Free Vegan Kitchen is a great site for all-around healthy recipes. It's not literally fat-free, since she often uses nuts and seeds and other foods that naturally have some fat, but she makes it a point to avoid adding any EXTRA sources of fat to her recipes like oil, etc. She also has a killer list of veggie blogs that are a wealth of resources.

Insomniac Chef is good and creative and has some adventurous cuisines, but has less of a super-healthy slant.

Veggie Meal Plans is a wonderful site because she plans out the whole week's menu including the grocery list for the week, and often posts how she makes use of leftovers and surplus ingredients.

Vanesscipes is also fun and inspiring.

I love to read these blogs, but I don't always have a chance to try the recipes. There aren't many that I could reproduce faithfully with any hope that anyone in my house would eat it but me, but I do find that the more I learn about vegetarian cooking, the more simple tricks I incorporate into my own cooking.

On that note, it's long past the time when I should make and stock up on my own homemade veggie patties. I've tried three different approaches, all tasty, and all with their own drawbacks. It's time for round 4. I will work on it at some point this week and do my best to post the recipe and/or the results.