Sunday, April 27, 2008

One Man's Junk...

Happy Belated Earth Day. Hope you all have been recycling and reusing and planting trees.

I'm sorry to say that our recycling practices are staying about the same. One new thing we are trying out is observing National Turn Off Your TV Week. We started on April 21st and we haven't really missed much. We did turn the TV on twice to see the ten o'clock news and once to watch The Office. I just couldn't help it. But other than that, we can say we haven't needed much TV.

We have been lucky since the weather has been very nice, so we have been outside most of the week during TV watching hours.

Sweet Pea's girl scout troop talked about Earth Day at her meeting this week. The troop leaders asked each scout to bring a bag of things going to the garbage. They spread out a tarp and dumped all of the bags together and created a mountain of cartons, paper, ribbon, beads, tools, cans, bottles and anything else headed for the landfill. The purpose of this idea was for the girl scouts to reuse the refuse, and 'invent' something useful from it. I'm not sure if anything of actual use came out of the pile, but many creatively decorated pieces of art were generated.

The girls dove into the pile of garbage just like it was a pile of new toys. Luckily, Lady Di had the foresight to send a couple of glue guns with me. Once the little scouts were told where to get their stuff stuck, I had a line up for the rest of the meeting. I got to glue nuts and bolts to boxes and plastic things to cans. One little scout wanted me to hot glue pieces of paper to a Dixie cup. First, we tried plain white school glue, but the Dixie cup had a wax coating which repelled the glue. I then went for the big gun and tried to hot glue her paper. The wax on the cup foiled the hot glue too, as all I was able to stick were my fingers together.

To match Lady Di's foresight, I also brought a useful item to the inventing party. Duct tape. I did not have the foresight, however, to realize that kindergarten fingers struggle when tearing duct tape. And since they were unable to tear the tape, it was, of course, what all of the scouts wanted. So when I wasn't burning my fingers with hot glue, I was tearing strip after strip of duct tape.

At the end of the night, Sweet Pea had put together a robot made from straws, a votive candle and an empty liter root beer bottle. Her robot was also prepared for camping with a broken flashlight around its neck.

We brought it home, showed Mom, and recycled it as soon as SP went to bed.
Now where is that remote?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Boom, Boom, Acka, Lacka, Lacka, Boom!

The kids recently got a gift from their Golfing Grandparents. They each got a set of dinosaur capsules. I didn't realize they still made headache medicine for dinosaurs.

Actually, they are little capsules that you put in water. Once they soak in the water long enough, a dinosaur shaped sponge grows from the capsule.

The kids absolutely love these things. They have even been known to fight over them when an odd number of capsules are left. We have one little bean counter who especially makes sure that things are fair. And if the situation happens to be a little 'more fair' in her favor, she usually doesn't expose the error.

It's strange, sometimes, to see what will excite the kids. The kids really love to watch these capsule work, so of course, we limit them and use them as rewards for good behavior. Hey, anything a parent can use is free game.

So, when we say, "Capsule time!", both kids come running with wide eyes.
"I'll get the cups!", shouts Number One Son.
"I want to pour the water!", demands Sweet Pea.

After a short debate about water temperature, (one party claims warm water works faster. The other party isn't patient enough to wait for the sink water to warm up.)each kid is ready with their cup of water. They then choose which color of capsule they would like to use this time.

"Which color are you going to use?", Sweet Pea asks.
"I don't know, green I guess.", N1S states uninterestedly.

"Yeah, I want green too.", Sweet Pea shrewdly decides. Not only does she want to keep the number of capsules even, she also doesn't want to get caught with less capsules of a certain color. Even though she may have more yellow capsules, it would destroy her to be without a blue capsule if her brother saved a blue one for the end.

So the capsules get excitedly thrown into the water with much singing and ceremony. Then the kids stare at a floating capsule for ten minutes or more and discuss what shape they think the sponge will be. It is at least another ten minutes before one of the capsules starts to melt enough to change shape. These things are not very fast. The initial excitement has somewhat worn off at this point and the kids start to feel bored. They usually leave their capsules to finish on their own.

When they check back after a half hour or so, a fully formed, sponge dinosaur is swimming happily in their cup. When I say fully formed, I mean a two dimensional, gum stick sized silhouette of a roughly dinosaur shape. It seems pretty anticlimactic to me, but the kids are thrilled.

They match up their dinosaur shape with the chart on the back of the package, so they are learning a little about what a certain dinosaur looks like. Then the dinosaurs get taken to bath time, where they either get to swim with Mermaid Barbie, or they get to take part in a Star Wars water battle.

After they dry out, they hang around by the tub or sink for a few days before embarking on their next great adventure to the landfill.

It's nice for the kids to get such joy out of an inexpensive simple toy. Perhaps other kids would think it lame to play with any kind of dinosaur that is not on a Play Station. We probably will never own a Play Station for just that reason. Too many video games can sometimes take the imagination out of playing. Too many video games can also take the imagination out of my wallet.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Remember When

A picture is worth a thousand words. It is often worth a thousand memories too. We also attach memories to objects other than pictures. A special childhood toy, a ticket stub or cherished gift from the past are common things to mark those special events or eras in our lives.

Recently, Lady Di came across a homemade sweater that Number One Son wore when he was between one and two years old. This blue sweater was knitted by a friend of my Grandma Peg. It has a hood and it zips up the back.

This sweater is special for two reasons. The first reason is that it was homemade and from N1S's great grandmother. The second reason is, he looked so cute in this picture that we called it our Teletubby picture. The hood has a puff ball on the top and would always stick straight up in the air. It just seemed appropriate.
Great-Grandma was smart enough to ask her friend to make it a little big for him so he got to wear it for a year or more.

It's hard to believe how small our kids were back then. They grow so fast. At least we can still rely on pictures and special objects to refresh our memories of the way they were. Never underestimate the power of a picture. I'm lucky that Lady Di is a scrapbooker. But you don't have to scrapbook to take and save great pictures of your kids. So, go ahead, take a picture of them right now. Who cares if they are sleeping, scowling or pooping. You never know if a memory will be lost or saved.

Plus, it is really hard to recreate the memory eight years later. Number One Son was a good sport for this picture. He thought I was being silly, but he indulged his father's wishes. It's alright though, I told him that I would delete the picture and no one would see. Now I have a wonderful memory (bargaining chip) for his teenage years.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Time for Frosty to Head North.

Old man winter is looking a little crippled and tired these days, and the forecast doesn't improve for him. We are expecting 60 and 70 degree days this week. It's hard to believe that we had enough snow to make our biggest snowman of the year just last Friday.

When the kids went out to play in the snow last week, I went outside with the purpose of putting a few things away in the garage and getting things ready for spring. I had no intention of building a snowman. If the kids wanted to build one, they could handle it themselves.

After getting the bird feeders filled and a few deck chairs out, Sweet Pea came to show me what she had done. When I went to the front yard I saw a snowball which was bigger than SP.

"Did you do that yourself?", I asked.

"Yeah, can you help me with the rest?", she pleaded.

Since she had gotten off to such a good start, I couldn't resist.

I rolled her snowball to a suitable spot in the center of the yard. That added added a another two or three layers to the already chubby snowman.

Number One Son was also helping. He had rolled another ball to be the middle of the snowman. His snowball was dangerously approaching the girth of our first snowball. So I warned him not to roll it anymore. Unfortunately, he stopped rolling it about ten yards away from our base. So, once again, I had to roll another snowball over to the middle of our yard. Once it reached the base, I was confounded by the age old snowman problem of building a snowman middle that was too heavy to lift onto the base. I tried once or twice to lift it with very little success. So, with a hernia looming, I was forced to resort to getting a board from the wood pile and sliding the middle snowball up a ramp to its final resting place.

Lastly, the head went on with no problem, as I had just enough strength left.

As the kids packed snow onto the snowman's love handle creases for stability, SP made the observation that our snowman stunk.

"What do you mean, 'It stinks". I think we did a good job.", I inquired.

"I mean, it's all covered in poop.", she answered.

Since the snow was extra wet and sticky, our efforts had rolled up all of the dog and rabbit poop in the yard. So we had to cover those spots up with clean snow.

Once our creation was complete, SP decided to make a snow puppy to stand next to our snowman.

This week, however, our snowman is looking a little worse for wear. His puppy must have run away, and he has certainly let himself go. And just like all of us who get older, his face was the first thing to go. I will probably find his face this spring when the mower tries to chew up the rocks we used.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taxing Time

It's time to roll up the sleeves, sharpen the pencil and put new batteries in the calculator. It's almost tax day. I actually don't use pencils or calculators, because I use a tax program for the computer. I do sometimes, however, roll my shirt-sleeves up to my shoulders to relive my glory days from the Eighties.

But enough Wang Chunging, and back to taxes.

Everyone always dreads tax time. It's a big pain to have to get your big shoe box full of receipts down out of the closet and try to remember which of Sweet Pea's imaginary friends to claim as dependants. We also had a few goldfish die in the course of the year to claim along with funeral expenses.

Luckily, I don't try to figure it all out myself. I use Turbo Tax each year because it is simple enough even for me to use. It asks me questions. I answer them. Then it tells me what my refund is. I always have tax taken out of my paycheck because I never want to be short at tax time. For me, it is worth it to sacrifice a little interest to the government for the security to know that I won't have to pay in April. It also provides a little bonus check to start the year off. I know it was my money to start with, but it's like finding something I had forgotten about.

Using Turbo Tax also is a bit humbling. I ask it if I can deduct movie rental fees for renting documentaries for the kids. It says, that does not qualify. Then I ask, can I deduct medical expenses? "You did not spend enough." , it replies. "Well, can I at least deduct the Foreign sales tax on that set of lederhosen I bought from Germany on Ebay?", I pleaded. It shouts back, "No! You are too much of a loser for buying lederhosen!"

I then typed in, "What can I deduct then, you stupid computer program!"

It typed back, "Thank you for using Turbo Tax. We have submitted your return to the IRS for audit. You will need to come with some creative receipts because we told the IRS a bunch of stuff about you."

Groan. I wonder if HR Block is any nicer.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bowling With Friends

Last Sunday, we celebrated Autism Awareness Month with a bowling/pizza party at the local lanes. Lady Di coordinates an autism support group in our area. Meetings usually are attended by eight or nine families at a time to discuss autism, asperger's and various successes and challenges.

So the group went bowling. We had five families show up for bowling and pizza. A couple of the lanes employed the bumpers. That is one advantage of bowling with young children. Our bumpers got a pretty good workout. I think the kids even bounced a ball or two off of them.

Both kids love to go bowling. Number One Son was a little frustrated with his second game, but he still had fun visiting with a few of his friends.

Sweet Pea had fun every time she threw the ball down the lane. When she didn't knock down very many pins, she would put on a dramatic face and slouch back to her seat before laughing. When she got a spare or strike, her two fists would rocket into the air with a "WoooWhooo!" as she skipped or danced back to her seat. She also invented a different to way to high five after a good frame. She would put her palms together and we would slap the backs of our hands back and forth three times.
After the first game, I let the kids bowl a few of my frames while I hung out at the pizza and root beer table.

I could tell that the kids had fun, because it was hard to get them to leave when we were done. It was nice to get together with families that face some of the same challenges that we do in day to day life. For some with autism or asperger's, the noise or the smells of a bowling alley would be too much of a sensory overload. Our group, however, had no problems and since Minnesota is smoke free in public areas, bowling alleys are now much better for people with sensory issues.

An added benefit to the outing was showing the public that having autism or asperger's doesn't mean being unable to enjoy normal activities as a family. Many times families struggle with prejudice and embarrassment when kids act up in public. But autistic kids are no different than other kids in that respect. You, as a parent, learn what situations to avoid, and our children learn how to cope with sensory and social challenges. How else will they learn how to behave if they never get the chance to be in a social situation?

So, next time you are at a restaurant, or grocery store or bowling alley, and some one's kid is having a meltdown, autism or not, don't think of it as your evening being ruined. Think of it as a child who had too much to handle this time, but will probably do better next time.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

April Showers Bring Bunny Gingerbread Houses

Our rainy day activity for today was to assemble and decorate a bunny gingerbread house kit. The kids were asking what they could do today.

"Can we play out in the rain?", "Can I go to a friends house?", "Can I make mud pies?"

"NO!, It's raining too much. And we can only play clean games today."

Then Sweet Pea suggested that we put together our Easter Bunny house kit. "Mom said we were saving it for a rainy day."
"Boy! Does she have a good memory."

Our kit is actually a chocolate graham cracker kit and it comes with frosting pouches, decorating stuff and four cracker bunnies. It looked just easy enough for even me.

I let the kids do whatever they wanted to the house. They had to squeeze their own frosting and sprinkle their own sugar. So much for our clean game day.

I don't know what I was thinking. We also got our floor nicely 'decorated'. Luckily, Liberty was ready and waiting patiently under the table to vacuum up any wayward gum drops.
Halfway through her decorating, SP informed me that she was so clever.

"Oh, yeah. How come?", I asked.

"Because I mixed my yellow and blue frosting together to make green.", she proudly proclaimed. I'm so proud of my little scientist.

Number One Son made quick work of his half of the house. He put his frosting and candy in even patterns and was done in ten minutes. SP was letting her creative side show. She had to paint all of her walls completely with a plastic spoon. She also felt the house needed frosting snow and grass on the ground. In this picture SP did the front and the right side. N1S did the left side.
I only had to get after one of the kids once, when I caught one of them with her mouth on the frosting pouch.
I said, "You can't suck the frosting out of the pouch."
Her answer was, "I wasn't sucking the frosting out. I was just tasting it."
I guess that isn't as bad, huh?

The house eventually got finished. I don't know why I let the kids do what they wanted. The house came out beautiful, but the table and floor came out coated. I vacuumed the floor and the table before I used the spackle scraper to chip the hardened frosting away. But I did get the kitchen back to 'good enough for me' status.
I then let the kids go out and play in the rain to wash the frosting of themselves.

Now we have to decide when to eat the house. My guess is, it will probably get eaten during the week when the kids are at school. That darned Easter Bunny is so sneaky.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Kids Gone Mild

Just to let you know, today is World Autism Awareness Day, which is kicking off Autism Awareness Month. If you happen to see the symbol of a multi-colored puzzle piece on someone, give them a slap on the back and a 'right-on, thumbs up'.

Spring Break has finally ended. The kids had a little more than a week off due to a teacher workshop tacked onto the end of break. The kids enjoyed their vacation, but were really ready to get back into the school routine. Number One Son had been rising with the sun for the last three days. I kept telling him he could sleep in but he didn't want to. He was also getting a little tired of playing 'Littlest Pet Shop' and 'My Little Pony' board games with his sister.

Sweet Pea didn't let her brother's enthusiasm for mornings influence her. All during break she slept in until a respectable hour. But you could tell that she was getting anxious for school to start again too.

I guess Mom and Dad are pretty boring. No MTV beach parties, no road trips to Daytona, no milk chugging contests. They did get to ride their bikes in between snow storms though.

On the night before school we mentioned that break would be over tomorrow and school would start again. Both kids raised their hands and yelled, "Yay!" It's nice that they are still at an age that likes school. It won't be too long until school is the enemy to be 'cut' at all opportunities and snow days will be prayed for more intensely than anything in church.

Until then, we will appreciate a 'fun school' attitude from them.

It's too bad that Spring Break couldn't have been a week or two later this year. The spring weather is just on the cusp of being really nice. Sweet Pea even commented this morning that she doesn't like waking up in the night. She means she doesn't like her mornings to be dark outside. But, the days are getting longer a few minutes at a time. At least the sun is up by the time the bus comes.

Before long, summer will be here and then the real vacation starts. If they were anxious for school after one week off, how will they handle three months? Maybe year-round school wouldn't be a bad idea.

Stuff About Me

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.