"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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The Two Tests

The starting point of all achievement is desire. ~Napoleon Hill

My son Tim and I each passed a test last week. Each of our tests required months of preparation, learning bit by bit, with a large amount of practicing over and over again. The consequences of either of us passing either of our tests and making a mistake are potentially life threatening, and I told Tim repeatedly that if he does not pass the first time there is a good reason behind it. His test administrator wants to make sure he is safe and knowledgeable about the subject matter.

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Tim passed his driving test on the first try and received his Minnesota Driver’s License this week. Rock on, Tim! Many of my friends who remember when he was three years old and I would bring him to lab could not believe that he is Almost All Grown Up. I breathed a sigh of relief because our area is scheduled out for months for licensing exams, and if Tim didn’t pass this time he would be taking his driving test during the winter. When I mentioned that to the staff at the counter who helped Tim fill out his paperwork her response was, “Oh, no worries. We’ve tested people during snowstorms before and they did fine.” One of my technicians, who openly admits to being a terrible driver, also mentioned to me that she did not pass her licensing exam the first time yet the State of Minnesota sent her a driver’s license anyway. Not passing, however, simply meant that Tim would retake the test another time.

My test was not as big a deal yet opened up an entirely new world for me.

 

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Neither my friend nor I passed our lead belay test the first time, but we did pass on the second try. My boyfriend, who has been lead certified for Idon’tknowhowlong, was there both times, fully supportive, a little bit nervous, and trying to stay out of the way. My friend was devastated when she failed the first time. Me, not so much. One of our administrative assistants for the lab I work in mentioned a number of years ago that 99% of the experiments we as scientists set up fail, which is actually true. She admitted that she could never live with that much failure, which probably is for the best that she never went into science, because the bulk of it is about failing, and adapting, and retesting, and failing again.

I told my friend who took her failure so hard that she will not pass her test until the staff are confident that she knows what she is doing and is safe. I also prefer to make the bulk of my mistakes before anything becomes serious, and I mentioned that the more mistakes we make while preparing for our test, the better we will be for it. I would rather make a mistake before or during our test rather than halfway up an 50 foot cliff, for example.

I was prepared to give Tim the same advice when I took him for his driving test. This is actually a difficult exam in Minnesota, and many people do not pass it the first time. I knew he was a good driver, but I did not want him to get his hopes up. Instead, I told him to do his best and reminded him that if he does not pass, it’s no problem – we will simply sign him up again and practice what he needs to work on. I was nervous for him while waiting, and the butterflies in my stomach made me realize how much I want him to succeed in everything he works toward. I was so happy for him when he passed, and he even let me give him a big hug in the middle of the hallway before we went in to fill out his paperwork.

Tim has been successful in so many small ways in his life. These are events that often go unnoticed, and for some people, are expected to happen as part of daily life. When Tim was smaller and went through weeks of not being able to control himself, a success was getting through an entire school day without the principal calling me at work. Last year Tim worked a part-time job in his school’s store, and we celebrated his first paycheck. Now that he has his driver’s license he will apply for another part-time job at the teeny tiny family-owned grocery store down the road from our house. The sign on their door reads “Stock boy wanted…no grouches!” which indicates that, if Tim gets the job, a cheerful and enthusiastic attitude will be a must-have. A month ago Tim took the ACT exam in preparation for college. As the nervous parent who waited in the chilly car for a full 15 minutes AFTER the exam starts Just In Case something happened and Tim needed to come back out, I was nearly in tears because I was so happy that the world of a college education is an attainable goal for my son.

The driver’s license was a publicly known success for Tim, which made me very happy for him. He was proud of himself, he knew he had worked hard for it, and he watched how his efforts paid off. For 16-year-old Tim, this privilege indicates independence, self-sufficiency, and now, finally, a fully justified need for a cell phone.

 

 

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Squash For Sale

Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

~ Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married

Every now and then I take it upon myself to educate the general populace about Why I Love Living In Minnesota. I never intended to move here, and having never met anyone from Minnesota before said move, I wasn’t convinced it was a real place. Sure it’s drawn on the United States map, but who could tell me for sure that he or she had actually been there? No one in my life thus far.

Then almost exactly sixteen years ago I picked up from New York and relocated to the Upper Northernmost part of the Midwest. After getting over a decade of initial adjustment which included but was not limited to nine month winters, intricate downtown skyway systems, and The Minnesota Accent (Yes, Minnesotans, you have one. And now I do too.), I started to really enjoy myself. Here is one reason why:

Several local vendors around the area rely on the honor system.

Several local vendors around the area rely on the honor system.

How awesome is this? You should be answering to yourself, “Pretty freakin’ fantastically ah-mah-zing.” This type of sign does not exist in New York. Or anywhere else I’ve lived for that matter. How often is it that you can be out and about, tooling around on a Saturday afternoon, only to discover a small farm selling their fall harvest based on the honor system? I have seen these signs around my neck of the wood for maple syrup, lumber, hay, sweet corn, and vegetables of all sorts. It’s easy enough to do…simply park, get out of your car, choose your whatever, and leave your money in a metal box on the front porch / in an envelope weighted down with a rock / or simply drop it through an open window in the detached garage. Easy peasy.

Neatly arranged pumpkins for $5.00 each.

Artfully arranged pumpkins for $5.00 each.

This sign was for pumpkins and squashes, lots of them. One afternoon my boyfriend and I were running errands with our youngsters and drove past a small sign with an arrow advertising $5 pumpkins. Since we were out to purchase pumpkins anyway, we followed the sign until we came to a house surrounded by fields. There we saw several dozen pumpkins and a few buckets of neatly arranged squash, sitting out in the open, available for anyone who took the time to stop.

After choosing a couple of pumpkins, I started sorting through the squashes, which were marked $2 each. Squashes in the regular groceries are sold by weight, meaning that the healthier and heavier the squash, the more it costs. These were sold for a flat fee, so I took time to dig into the different bins and choose the biggest, rounded, healthiest looking squashes I could find. I bought a spaghetti, and acorn, and a butternut squash, each of which I adore for their different consistencies, flavors, appearances, and textures.

Neatly sorted squashes for $2.00 each.

Splendidly sorted squashes for $2.00 each.

Squash in my hands is the gift that keeps on giving. I cooked up the butternut squash first and used it in the following recipes:

Caribbean Squash:

Note: This can be made with any type of squash.

  • If it is a butternut or acorn squash, cook it in the oven like you normally do (peel the butternut before cooking) and mash it.
  • If you are using a spaghetti sqush, cut it in half, cook it, and then string the pulp into a bowl.

Ingredients I use:

  • Add 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp butter, and 2-3 tbsp rum. I used Appleton Estate rum that I purchased while in Jamaica.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

***Leftover squash?*** How can that be? If you didn’t eat it all in one fell swoop, here is another idea:

Butternut Squash Bread:

Ingredients I use:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup butternut squash puree
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup applesauce (I use this in place of vegetable oil)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans

How I use them:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F (Gas Mark 4). Place oven rack in center of oven. Generously grease a 9×5-inch loaf pans.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine butternut squash puree, sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and water until well blended. Add the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Lightly stir in the chopped nuts.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before cutting if you have enough self-control to wait that long. Or burn the roof of your mouth like I did.

***What – you still haven’t used all your squash?*** You can also turn mashed squash into croquettes:

Squash Croquettes:

Ingredients I use:

  • 1 cup mashed yellow squash (drain if watery)
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon basil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup coarse bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Vegetable oil

How I use them:

  • In a large bowl, combine mashed squash, onion, thyme, basil, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. The mixture should be quite thick; add more bread crumbs if it isn’t thick enough to form balls easily.
  • Heat oil in a pan until a small amount of batter floats to the top quickly, to about 370°. Form into balls about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.
  • Fry 3 or 4 balls at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan too much. Cook until golden, about 4 to 6 minutes; drain on paper towels.

That took care of the butternut squash, much to my stomach’s delight. Here is how I used my acorn squash:

Squash and Chickpea Stew:

This is an African recipe that I make each year. This stew sticks to your bones when the temperatures dip below freezing…in mid-September. We’re in Minnesota, remember? This vegan stew freezes well for future yumminess.

Ingredients I use:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 diced red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound diced yellow squash
  • ¾ pound diced red potatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices
  • Pinch saffron threads (if you’re feeling fancy)

How I use them:

  • Heat butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until onions are soft and translucent and the spices smell good, about 5 minutes.
  • Add squash and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir to coat, and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes and their juices, and saffron, if using. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until squash is fork tender, about 10 minutes.
  • You can also make this in your slow cooker after sauteeing the onions and spices. Transfer all your sauteed ingredients to the slow cooker, Add your squash and potatoes, cook on low for 6-8 hours. In the last hour or two, add the chickpeas, tomatoes, and saffron and cook on high or until done.

***Leftover stew?*** No worries…do what I did and turn it into a salad.

I brought this salad to a work potluck as a vegan dish to offset the multiple meat and cheese trays that the rest of my lab signed up for. The best part is in a morning meeting before our potluck, I invited the marketer on my programs to crash it. She, being of Indian heritage, responded “Well, I don’t think I will be able to eat anything that people bring.” To which I replied, “I brought a vegan dish! Will you join us now?” Which she did and had a wonderful lunch hour filled with socializing and free food.

Pesto Quinoa and Couscous Salad:

  • Start with a mixture of 50/50 quinoa/couscous. Cook 1 cup of each separately and then combine them in a bowl.
  • Add as much of your leftover stew as you wish. Mix it in well with the grains. If you don’t have leftover stew, you can still make this! What you want to do is add two cups of cooked chickpeas, diced tomatoes, onions (fresh or cooked – you choose), cooked potatoes if you want, and don’t forget to spice it up a bit.
  • Lastly, I stir in the pesto. I make pesto using basil and parsley from my garden and freeze it in small containers to use throughout the year. You can purchase pesto or make your own. To keep it vegan, I recommend using Parma! Vegan Parmasan Cheese (http://www.eatparma.com/).
  • Chill or serve at room temperature and enjoy.

Two weeks later, I still have the spaghetti sqush in my refrigerator, waiting for me to give it some attention. So far my total investment in half a month’s worth of delicious food has been $4 for the two squashes I have used. I am already thinking about how to prepare my last $2 squash and see how far I can stretch it. Excitingly enough, more squash adventures in cooking await for this coming week.


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Running Resources

It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop. ~ Confucius

As our short Minnesota summer is starting to wind down, I’m beginning to wind up. I have three races in the next eight weeks, two half marathons and a 10-miler, that I have been training for since May. My daily schedule consists of work, Timothy time, and training. Training, training, training. My boyfriend made me promise him that when I finish my last race at the end of October I will take the next month off. No exercising beyond climbing, yoga, and an occasional hop on a semirecumbent bike. I agree with him, that after all of this running hither and thither, to and fro,  fore and aft, is finished I need to take a few weeks to let my body recover and repair. Timothy agrees as well, reminding me that in late summer/early fall I turn into a crazy person when it comes to my running schedule.

In the meantime, however, run I do. This entry is devoted to my experience in training for long distance races. Where I run, how I run, and when I run. What I wear and what I don’t wear. What I do and do not eat.

For starters, let’s discuss The Schedule. Anyone who has trained for an event, whether it’s by foot, bicycle, water, or a combination, knows that you need to be prepared. You need to be disciplined with your training because come the big day you want to have FUN with it. There should be no grand surprises about what your body is capable of or how long your endurance can last. I make my own running schedule, which consists of three runs a week: one long one, one medium one, and one short one. I have been doing 9-12 miles for my long run each week, followed by a 10K (6.2 miles) for the medium one, and a pound-the-ground-go-as-fast-as-you-can 5K (3.1 miles) for the short one. I do three runs a week, always with a day between runs, and on the non-running days I do activities such as an elliptical trainer, rock climbing, yoga, or simply a nice after-supper stroll through my neighborhood.

I recently came across a schedule from Self.com that outlines how to train for a half-marathon. What I have been doing is very similar to this:

Self.com

Self.com/fitness

Not ready for a half-marathon quite yet? Never fear…Self.com also has training plans for shorter races, such as this one:

Now that you’re ready to train, what do you wear? While I usually forego style when sweating it out, I have discovered that the right running gear makes a difference. Here is what I keep in my closet:

Footwear:

Shoes – Asics work best for me, specifically their Gel-Nimbus 12 running shoe. I go half a size up when purchasing running shoes. I also replace the insoles that come in my running shoes with Sof Sole Athlete Cushion insoles.

Socks – Socks can make an enormous impact on how my feet feel during and after a run. I can tell when I hit 7 miles because that distance is when my soles start to ache a bit. Purchasing socks with cushioning around the heel and the ball of the foot with a compression band around the arch helps my feet stay comfortable longer. Brands to shop for include Under Armour, Sugoi, and SmartWool PhD, all of which offer both low-cut and knee-high lengths.

ID tags – Road ID sells personalized ID bands for your wrist, ankle, and shoe. I always run with their Shoe ID attached to my shoelaces. It contains my name, my city of residence, and an emergency contact number in case of an accident. While none of us intend to become injured while exercising, you never know. I have tripped over my own two feet many a time.

Clothes:

Bottoms – What I wear in the summer differs dramatically from what I wear in the winter. Year-round, however, I choose running gear that wicks away moisture and contains a hidden compartment or two for keys and such. My favorite brands for running in warm months include Skirt Sports, Sugoi, and Zoot. Skirt Sports offers a wide variety of running skirts with attached bottoms that come in short, capri, and long lengths. Sugoi sells both running skirts and shorts with liners. Zoot also sells running shorts with liner and has a good selection of thermal running apparel for colder months. If you have chafing issues, try Body Glide’s Anti-Chafe Balm. Usually I do not having problems with chafing, but there is a seam on one of my running skirts that starts to chafe during the last couple of miles of my long runs. An application of balm before running to the part of my skin where I know the seam will start to rub has helped me a lot.

Tops – What I wear on top during the summer doesn’t make much of a difference to me, but for winter running I prefer running shirts from Under Armour and Skirt Sports. Under Armour designs unbelievably warm clothing that stands up to our cold Minnesota temperatures, and Skirt Sports sells long sleeved tops with thumbholes to cover the tops of your hands. Skirt Sports also sells arm warmers, which are good for running in layers. While most running gear comes with pockets to stash keys and other small items, my favorite and most useful running purchase of 2013 has been the Women’s Stow-N-Go Sport Bra from The North Face. The front of this sports bra has a double-layer chest pocket that is actually quite large, the advantage being that whatever you stow is easily accessible.

Fuel:

Food – You truly are what you eat. When I run, I know within the first couple of miles whether I have been eating properly or not. I don’t run on a full stomach, and my breakfast of choice before a race consists of one hard-boiled egg. I am also careful not to overhydrate since that results in trips to the bathroom and nausea for some runners. Most of the race courses I have run have water stops every couple of miles, so if you’re in need of a quick drink, one is close by. For training, I keep my diet mostly vegetarian with white meat and/or fish every other day. Eggs, wild rice, salmon, chicken, hummus, and plenty of dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and mustard and collard greens provide me with plenty of energy and endurance for long runs.

Hydration – I drink plenty of water throughout the day and keep my alcohol intake to approximately three drinks per week. For long runs over eight miles I always bring a water bottle with me. If the weather is above 80ºF, I also bring a water bottle along on 5-8 mile runs. Staying hydrated is important, especially in drier climates. I have found that underhydration results in extreme thirstiness after a run (of course!), leg cramps, longer recovery time, and sleep disruption. I don’t do energy or sports drinks, but if those work for you, use them. I also don’t drink a lot of juice and honestly don’t know whether juice helps or hinders running…I’ve heard both.

Where to run:

The awesome part about running is that you can run anywhere. Lace up your shoes and go! I have started running on Minnesota’s Gateway State Trail due to its length. The trail is 18.5 miles, stretches from St. Paul to Stillwater, and is relatively quiet. There are no cars to contend with, and all of us who exercise on the trail share it with each other. Running for me has a large mental component, and my long runs are easier if I split them up into two smaller runs. I will start at one point in the trail, run half the distance I want to run, turn around, and run back. While I run I see other runners, cyclists, roller bladers, Nordic skiers, and people on horseback. The horses are fun because when I come upon one, it will match my pace. The owners are usually tolerant and let their horse run with me for a few minutes before either trotting ahead or pulling it back into a walk.

Below is a map of the Gateway Trail. I included this last winter when I wrote about snowshoeing. This is also blissfully fun to do on the trail when the weather allows for it, which in Minnesota can be 6-7 months of the year.

Here are some photos I took one evening while running on the Gateway Trail. I love running on this trail because the scenery changes every mile or so. Enjoy and happy running!


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The Witness

Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out. ~ Michel de Montaigne

I take marriage for granted. In the United States, I, a woman, can marry the man of my choosing practically anywhere, anytime, and by anyone. I can elope in a heartbeat or plan an elaborate ceremony with a ten-tiered cake and five hundred guests. I can have one of my girlfriends perform the ceremony since she received her ordination online to officiate another girlfriend’s wedding a few years ago. Or I can be married by a priest, a minister, or a justice of the peace. I can also choose not to marry, which I have done by being extremely selective about the men I become involved with. The minute one of them brings up the prospect of a future, more children, or finding their soul mate to share their life with until death do they part, the date and any potential relationship for me is over. As my boyfriend puts it, I am a strange bird.

Even though I have no intention of remarrying, I am all in favor of other people’s weddings. In the past three years I have seen both of my younger brothers marry kind, intelligent, lovely women who are well suited for them. My sister will find her person eventually, but she has an entire lifetime ahead of her to do that. Several years ago I had a female coworker who moved from South Minneapolis to San Francisco so she and her partner stood a chance of being able to be legally wed. After marrying in 2008 when same-sex marriage finally became legalized in California, they had a son together and now live very happy, quiet lives.

Minnesota joined California on August 1, 2013, when Governor Mark Dayton declared this date as the “Freedom To Marry Day“. The Freedom To Marry bill that was signed in May at Minnesota’ State Capitol went into effect, and the exclusion of same-sex marriages came to an end.

I have remained silent and relatively unopinionated on the topic of same-sex marriage in general. I believe in marriage as an institution, and I believe that everyone deserves love and a healthy relationship. I have seen friends in unhealthy marriages choose to divorce, and I have seen them choose to remain in the marriage. I have seen friends who are looking for their one true love in life, and sometimes they find that person and sometimes they don’t. I have seen friends marry in response to their biological clocks, which tell them it’s time to start a family. The State of Minnesota also seems to endorse marriage in general, since married couples tend to have better tax breaks, better interest rates when purchasing a home, and more of a social life. I can say this because I have lived in Minnesota both married and unmarried, and it’s two completely different worlds.

Then there are the couples like my coworker who moved to California with her partner because she knew she would be able to be married there sooner than here. We always want what we can’t have, don’t we? Going into something as binding as marriage comes with risks. People’s personalities change over time. People become physically sick or mentally ill. People meet other people. Finally, some people leap before they look, and decide after that the view isn’t quite what they expected it to be. Being denied what you want can be beneficial. It gives you a goal to work toward, and you appreciate what you have when you finally have it.

The wedding venue, overlooking the St. Croix River which borders Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The wedding venue, overlooking the St. Croix River which borders Minnesota and Wisconsin.

I saw this type of long-awaited appreciation this past weekend when I stood as a witness for a marriage that two people had been waiting to legalize for fifteen years. The wedding was simple, with the judge, his wife who took pictures, my boyfriend, myself, and the couple. The judge and his wife own a home which overlooks the St. Croix River, and the morning was blissfully cool with bright blue skies. When I arrived at their home, the judge asked me if I was one of the witnesses, and I told him, “Yes, I am the best man.” The judge was originally from Boston and still had his accent after all these years, which was great when he started the ceremony in a booming voice to let the St. Croix River Valley know that two life partners were finally becoming legally united. The couple wrote their own vows, and my boyfriend teared up as they were exchanged. I cheered when they sealed the ceremony with a kiss.

The newly married couple had decided to spend the rest of the day hiking in Taylors Falls. They have no honeymoon planned, despite my gentle urging. For them it was back to life as usual, which is how it should be. They knew each other, they knew their relationship, and they knew that they wanted to be together for the rest of their lives. There were no surprises. What I saw were two human beings who had already been one in mind and spirit for quite a while. I also saw two human beings who were best friends, which is a critically important piece of romantic relationships. This wedding, as simple and speedy as it was, reinforced my belief in true love, companionship, and the beauty of being alive. It opened a small crack in my own mind that some day, marriage may be for me again. Just not this moment.


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Driver’s Education

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. ~ Denis Waitley

Tim is in his last week of his Driver’s Education course. In Minnesota, when you turn 14½ years old, you become eligible to take 30 hours of classroom instruction on how to drive a car. When you finish the course and turn 15, you take a computerized examination at your local Department of Motor Vehicles where, if you pass, you will be issued a driving permit. The driving permit lets you learn how to drive with a licensed adult in the car, which is good practice for taking the exams necessary to earn your Provisional License at the age of 16. In Minnesota, you can earn your Regular Class D License at the age of 18.

What just happened? When did my baby boy grow up into a hairy teenager?

What just happened? When did my baby boy grow up into a hairy teenager?

My son has been looking forward to his time in his life for several years now. From the time he was small, and especially after he was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s, I have raised Tim to be as independent as possible. Sometimes it has been painful for me to watch him struggle, but his struggles are necessary to help him grow into a fine young man who believes in himself and has the ability to reach his full potential. As a result of the attitude I instilled into my child, he has approached life looking outward. The parent-child relationship is the only human relationship, to my knowledge, where the end goal is separation.

And separate we do and have been for the past three weeks, three evenings a week, for three hours. I get home from work, take a minute to sit down, and then I jump back into the car with Tim to drive him to Safeway Driving School. Since classes run from 6-9 pm, the first week I rushed home to make sure I fed Tim supper before leaving. One afternoon, however, Tim informed me that I did not need to feed him supper that night. I asked him why, and he said he was going to walk over to one of the fast food restaurants near his driving school during their break to buy supper. While saying this, Tim pulled some money out of his pocket and further informed me that he has his own cash and doesn’t need any of mine. When I offered to cover his meals for him, he declined at first (independent boy!) but after a few nights of seeing how quickly meals out add up, he accepted my offer (smart boy!).

With the exception of one evening, Tim has been doing fine in class. Fine during the break where he crosses a parking lot to purchase his supper, and fine with the schedule. The only hiccup was one night when I picked Tim up at 9pm and he threw me a funny look as he got into the car. I asked him “What’s up?”, which is a good way to phrase to my autism spectrum son “What on earth happened this time? Why did you lose control of yourself? Why can’t you just sit quietly like the other students? I hope no one called the police.” Tim’s reply was, “DRIVE! I’m really hungry! I forgot my money tonight!” I laughed, said how unfortunate that was, that I would be hungry too, and we drove home where I made him the fastest supper I could scrounge up out of the refrigerator.

Tim will be finished with the classroom portion of driver’s education at the end of this week. For me, I have had 30 hours to myself in the evening over the past three weeks. What is a mom to do? Here is a list of what I have accomplished:

  • Bought a new drill & hung shelving and a clothes-drying bar in my laundry room
  • Purchased picture frames, framed photographs, sorted through old frames
  • Weeded gardens, both vegetable and flower
  • Made the following jams and preserves: Pineapple, Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, and Peach-Nectarine
  • Made salsa
  • Cleaned garage
  • Went through all kitchen cookware, knick-knacks, storage containers, and donated four full boxes to Goodwill
  • Ran on Minnesota’s Gateway Trail to begin training for three upcoming races this fall; discovered that horses on the trail enjoy keeping pace with the runners 🙂
  • Mowed lawn
  • Pulled out and cut up dead trees and branches from my backyard, burned in our fire pit to make ashes for garden fertilizer
  • Steam-cleaned carpets and deep-scrubbed bathrooms
This is one way to spend an evening while your child is at driver's ed.

This is one way to spend an evening while your child is at driver’s ed.

Tonight I am out of things to do and may spend the evening with a bottle of wine and Netflix. For my fellow vinophiles, there is still time to head out to The Cellars and take advantage of their summer sale. Through the end of July, their vintage wines are the same percentage off as the day of the month. This means that on July 31, you will save 31% on a large selection of wines in their shop. Several ports are also included in the sale.

Is your Minnesota teenager ready to learn how to drive? Here is some information that I found useful on how to go about obtaining a driver’s permit for Tim.


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The Path By The Lake

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth.

~ Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

One of my friends lives his life so fall off the beaten path it’s not even funny. He grew up in Mexico City, made his way up to the United States as a young man, somehow ended up in Minnesota, married his long-time girlfriend when she lost her job and needed health insurance, and traveled to Kazakhstan after seeing the movie “Borat” and managed to get himself arrested. Where do I manage to meet these people? Work, of course. I ended up on a project that he was the Human Factor Specialist for, and we eventually discovered that I fit into his definition of friend. One afternoon he and his wife taught me how to make tomatillo sauce and gazpacho while downing cups of espresso (it can be done, however shakily from the caffeine), and we have stayed in touch off and on over the years. This man and his wife share common interests in traveling all over the world and meeting all sorts of people, which is what drew them together in the first place. Their home, which is a mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, contains statues, skeletons, photographs, masks, and other souvenirs from their trips and also serves as a landing ground for a constant stream of international students. Each year on Grand Old Day, a street festival that most of St. Paul turns out for, they host a picnic in their back yard. This year it looked like this, and it was as fun as it looks:

Fun lives here.

People who diverge from what most of American society considers normal tend to really stand out. The coolest ones are the people, who like my married friend couple, are simply being true to themselves rather than deliberately trying to be noticed. I was talking to one of my coworkers yesterday about my recent career decision to move into Project Management, which is an unconventional decision for where I am in my company. The part I work in has two career paths: Technical and Managerial. As my coworker pointed out, when I was given the option of either staying on the technical career path or moving into a management position, I chose a path that went straight down between the two. I am forging new ground in my department, making my own way by doing what I have discovered I do well, and I am being met with opposition. Fortunately a solution exists. The product development parts of my company looooove Project Managers, so I am meeting with people in those groups to let them know my interest in moving over. My manager is supportive but sad to see me looking elsewhere because she loves having someone to manage her technology platforms, but she knows that I need to take the next step in my career.

The way I discovered my path-off-the-beaten-path was a simple but stretched out process. The more projects I work on at my company, the more I discover where I function best on a team. I also meet more people, and in meeting more people I become exposed to more opportunities. Very few of these opportunities are handed to me on a silver platter. What usually happens is that I notice something that other people either pass up or don’t fully investigate. I, being naturally curious, figure what is the worst that will happen and, once again, choose to deviate from the norm.

Where does this path lead to?

Where does this path lead?

Yesterday afternoon I decided to take some photos of the lake by my house when I got home from work. We have had a lot of rain in the Twin Cities, and this was a rare sunny afternoon. I started out by walking along my running route and came to a path built into the side of a small hill. I have passed this path hundreds of times before but never stopped to check it out. When I reached the top, I saw that someone had set up a bench in memory of one of their loved ones. When I sat on the bench, I had a beautiful view of the lake. I could have sat for hours in this silent, hidden, isolated spot that was literally across the street from my house.

The secluded spot I found.

The secluded spot I found.

Whomever the bench was dedicated to must have loved looking at the lake. I know I do. That is why I run by it. Right now it is covered in lily pads. Soon it will be filled with loons who call their loopy calls to each other when the sun is setting. In the fall it will be surrounded by trees with leaves of all colors, and in the winter it will be a sheet of ice. Taking the little path up the hill gave me a new view of the lake I see and adore every day. I had the opportunity to see it through someone else’s eyes, and the view was breathtaking. I was thankful for the fresh perspective and glad that I went off the path I already knew so well. It made me think that exploring new paths in life, wherever they may be, should be an adventure. You never know what you will find awaiting you, and it may be more wonderful than you imagined.

Here is what the lake looks like when you are sitting on the bench.

DSCN0532

I mentioned recipes for gazpacho and tomatillo sauce. Here they are, both perfect for a hot summer’s day. We usually cook chicken in the tomatillo sauce, and gazpacho is meant to be served chilled with toasted bread or croutons.

Gazpacho

  • 2 cups stale bread
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • One cucumber
  • One jalapeño pepper
  • One green pepper
  • One onion
  • Red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • One cup cold water, plus more for soaking

Cover the bread with water to soak. While bread is soaking, saute the garlic and onions in a little bit of olive oil. Transfer garlic and onions to a blender. Squeeze excess water from bread and put this in the blender too. Add tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, and vinegar. Process until smooth. Add olive oil in a slow stream while the processor is running until you make an emulsion. Add the cold water until the gazpacho reaches the consistency you want. Season with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

Tomatillo Sauce

  • 3 lbs tomatillos, cut into quarters
  • 9 serrano chiles
  • One onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt

Sauté onion and garlic in large saucepan in olive oil until soft. Stir in quartered tomatillos, chiles, and one cup water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tomatillos are softened. Remove from heat and cool. Transfer mixture to blender, add cilantro, lime juice and blend until smooth. Add salt to taste.


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Fun With Tim

Tomorrow’s a day of mine that you won’t be in. ~ Vacation, Go-Gos

By 10am Central Time on Saturday morning I will be in Mexico, ready for a week of rest and relaxation. Daniel has a seminar presentation the week we return to work, so he will reluctantly be towing his laptop along. I told him we have an entire week to whip his presentation into shape while surrounded by palm trees and the Caribbean Sea. While I feel guilty about leaving Tim behind, Daniel’s mum is a strong believer in adult-only vacations for couples with children. I’m not sure if it makes me a better parent, but I sure do feel restored and re-energized when I get back.

Yesterday, to meagerly compensate for leaving Tim for a week, we spent the evening at the Mall of America. The Mall of America, located in Bloomington, Minnesota, is something fun to do with kids, or without, whatever your pleasure. All in all it is so astronomically fantastically ginormous that there is something for everyone. I only go a few times a year because I am not a Mall Person and my ventures within are for a very specific reason. Nordstrom Rack sells shoes in Ladies’ US Sizes 4 and 5, and this is a sure-fire place for me to find a shoe that fits my foot. However, Tim and I have decided to go to the MOA every so often just for fun.

Rather than describe the amount of entertainment that one building can contain, here’s a picture we took from the second level:

We had to take a picture of the Peep.

We had to take a picture of the Peep.

We also stopped in at the Lego Store, which is a sure win no matter who you’re with. The Lego Store also has a complimentary rest area near the entrance where parents can have a sit-down while their children play with buckets of free Legos. Daniel’s parents and I have done this with Peanut on many an occasion.

One Lego creation towering over the store's entrance.

One Lego creation towering over the store’s entrance.

Tim and I also visited the mall’s SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium. We picked up coupons from a kiosk advertising the aquarium’s new octopus garden, and we were sold. When we purchased our tickets we also decided to buy the behind-the-scenes tour which took about 45 minutes and led us through the water testing laboratory, the food preparation area, and up to the scaffolding on top of the aquariums where two of the sea turtles swam up to greet us. The tour through the aquarium itself is self-guided, and you can linger for as little or as long as you like looking at jellyfish, sharks, manta rays, tropical fish, and now octopus. At the start of a tour are a few shallow pools where you can touch starfish and sea anemones. My favorite part of the aquarium is near the end, when you walk through a tunnel with the fish swimming over your head.

Tim and Seahorses.

Tim and Seahorses.

The best photograph I took is near the end, when an alligator decided to size Tim up. Tim told me the alligator was looking at him, and I said no way. Then Tim moved and the little alligator followed him and stood up on its hind legs to get a better look.

Challenge!

Challenge!

As enticement to visit the mall and all it has to offer, I’ll leave you with one last photograph. Wherever your travels may take you, please stay safe!

Jellyfish :) .

Jellyfish 🙂 .