Sunday, December 7, 2008

This is December?

It's been plenty cold, with several freezes (including one that was serious enough to freeze our entire large pond across thick enough to support the weight of four very confused ducks). But my lovely Dianthus are undaunted. Not only do the flowers refuse to die, but the plants have put out new buds. I bought some of these as annuals about 5 years ago and they re-seeded themselves. They are the first of my garden plants to begin blooming in spring and, obviously, the last to quit in the fall.

Some fun dianthus facts:
  • They are commonly called "pinks" after the seemingly pinked edges of the flowers.
  • The color pink is named for this plant.
  • The carnation is a perennial dianthus subspecies.
  • There are around 300 subspecies of dianthus.
  • The swamp pink, an endangered plant native to Delaware and other eastern marshlands, is not a dianthus, but a type of lily.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Snow For Thanksgiving

We took a little Thanksgiving Day drive through Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. What a gorgeous day! We saw plenty of birds: black ducks, northern harriers, buffleheads, tundra swans, but the snow geese definitely ruled the day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Muskrat Love

While watching our ducks swimming in the pond the other day, Carter, my little nature guru, spotted an unidentified swimming object. He summoned me to the dock to have a look. By the time I got there, he had determined that it was a little muskrat. Together we watched it swim across the pond and come out on the bank opposite us. We decided to get a closer look, though Carter had to warn me.

"Watch out for the smell, Mom."
"Yes, that's how they got their name."

This is how most of my conversations go with Carter. Sometimes he points out things, like this with the muskrat, that seem so obvious once he mentions them. Other times his observations are more subtle, though no less able to make me feel dumb as a post. Just yesterday, I was very excited to discover a belted kingfisher flying back and forth above the pond. I shared this with Carter, who immediately began referring to it as "she". It didn't really sink in at the time he said it. But later, when I went to look it up for my bird of the day picture, I discovered that females have a smudge of reddish brown on their breasts which males do not have. So, when Carter called it "she," he was quite correct. As he usually is.

Anyway, our little muskrat didn't let us get very close. He swam away and dove under the water. I would love to have gotten a picture of him, but no luck. Here's a cute one that I found online, though:

We've seen him two other times, so perhaps he will become a permanent resident. Carter informs me muskrats are related to lemmings, not rats, which makes them infinitely more appealing to me. As for the smell, well, I never got close enough to vouch for that one. I'm just going to take Carter's word for it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Lessons I Learned From the Election

1. While prejudices still exist, they are far more prevalent in the minds of the oppressed than in those of the oppressors. As a woman, I learned soon enough that there are those out there who think of me as less capable based solely on my gender. But I also learned that those individuals had no real power to hold me back. It was only if I bought into their ideas--even if on a small level--that I would be powerless. This presidential election has convinced me that racist attitudes work in the same way. They are kept alive more by their victims than their perpetrators.

2. Our political parties have been overrun by political expediency. Every politician to a greater or lesser degree seems consumed with finding the path to electability. All the post-election talk about what the Republican Party needs to do to regain power makes me sick. If you define yourself by certain principles and ideals--Democrat or Republican--then you should draw a line and stand by it, rather than running around moving the line every time a new poll comes out. Which brings me to . . .

3. Polls are killing our political process. There were new polls every day. Every single day! They analyzed every bit of minutia and shaped political opinion by labeling candidates as frontrunners, underdogs, arrogant, untrustworthy, desperate, etc. The authoritative air with which these polls are delivered turns them into self-fulfilling prophecies. And exit polls? They should be utterly abolished.

4. Government is the new religion. As we push real religious sentiment farther and farther into the fringes of our society, we are experiencing the inevitable drift into assigning spiritual needs onto our governmental leaders. While we all crave hope, an unfortunate number of people think that hope can be found in a person, when our nation's religious tradition would put that hope in a higher power. And hope in a higher power dictates a level of individual responsibility--responsibility that answers only to that power and, by extension, pure principles, not the whims or desires of "the world". And agency is the cornerstone of the divine plan. Any move away from it puts us at the mercy of an earthly power which will ultimately fail. Divine power is the only authority that can be counted on in the long run--the only one which will never fail. Therefore, to put the responsibility on a political leader of providing hope is a dangerous and naive move. If the people desire hope and a connectedness with their fellow men, they need only begin to reach out on a personal level. Why demand that the government do it? The government should govern, not dictate goodwill and legislate hope.

5. I am still proud of my country and have great confidence in the foundations upon which it was built. I was proud to see my children catch their own piece of enthusiasm in the process and to share their excitement as we crowded together in the voting booth, made our selections, and pushed the big green "VOTE" button. I haven't forgotten the feeling of national unity that enveloped us all after 9/11 and I know that feeling still exists in the heart of every American, ready to be awakened again if called upon. I wish we could hold onto it everyday instead of saving it for times of crisis, but, for me, for now, it is comfort enough to know that it's there.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


A few months ago I picked up a book called The Fabric of Autism by Judith Bluestone. Ms. Bluestone, herself afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome, combines neuroscience with what she learned from her own personal experiences to illustrate the role played by the nervous system in shaping the dysfunctions associated with autism spectrum disorders.

Ms. Bluestone links the information she sets forth, "weaving" it into a single treatment modality, aimed at repairing and retraining the body's sensory systems, allowing the individual with autism to function with fewer obstacles and impairments. This modality is the basis for the HANDLE Institute, which she founded in 1994. HANDLE, which stands for Holistic Approach to NeuroDevelopment and Learning Efficiency, incorporates elements from a wide range of theories and places an emphasis on individual obstacles and functioning over diagnostic labelling.

I was not very far into my reading of this insightful book before I determined to pursue this approach for Austin. Two weeks ago, Austin had his HANDLE evaluation at the hands of three very lovely and knowledgeable women. It has been almost 11 years since Austin was first evaluated and bestowed with the useless label of Pervasive Developmental Disorder--Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Since then, he and I have endured many different scrutinizing evaluations--many of which were useful, but all of which have made me feel violated, sick, and sad. This is the first time my sweet son has been addressed as a party to his own treatment. Every aspect of the process was explained directly to him, including the treatment recommendations. They sat and explained to him how his brain works and continued speaking to him even when he had very obviously stopped listening. The whole process was so warm and respectful that Austin became very animated and interactive with the evaluators. At no point did I feel that he was devalued as a human being and reduced to the sum of his weaknesses. What a gift!

Without boring you with the details, I will say that the information gained from the HANDLE evaluation process was very interesting and gave us new insights into certain quirks or difficulties Austin has. He now has 14 activities that we perform with him each day. Most of these are very, very short, and all of them together take about 30 minutes total to do. Already we are seeing an increase in independence, some improvement in his sleep habits, and a greater inclination to conversation. I am excited to see what gains lie ahead for him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From Housing to Healthcare

Don't you

Financial Advice

During the past few weeks of economic confusion, we have received two letters from our financial advisor. Yesterday evening, he called. Now, keep in mind, we are no top dollar clients, just a single income family with a rolled over IRA. Not only is it very gratifying to receive this level of attention, but the advice we've been getting has been very helpful and reassuring. I asked him if it would be alright if I shared part of his latest letter here and he said that would be fine. This was written Thursday evening just after the big drop in the stock market.

"Here is what I would expect over the coming days. The all out panic hits the market and, if today was not the bottom, expect havoc on Friday and/or Monday. I think once that happens and the system has cleansed itself of the panic, the market will rebound strongly. Unfortunately, it will not necessarily be over yet. The market has a tendency to test its bottoms. It did so in 2002, the DOW dipping into the 7,000s in July, rebounding strongly and retesting by dipping into the 7,000s once again in October 2002 which happened to be the bottom.

"The panic is here and the market should bottom very soon. Expect it to rebound quickly and decisively, but don't get too comfortable. Within a few weeks or months, it could very likely retest its lows and then we should see a sustainable rebound going forward.

"The economic news will get much worse. The market is pricing in the depth of the recession that "experts" are finally waking up to. The market will be on its way up long before the economy turns around. So don't worry too much about the economic news, the market is already ahead of your worries.

"On a side note, you may want to call your politicians and tell them to leave well enough alone. I don't see where their actions or their words are doing ANYTHING to help the situation. That being said, the market appears to now be ignoring the government and making its own adjustments. This is a VERY positive sign and it's the first time in a year that I feel I'm getting a good read on what the market is doing and I think it's trying hard to bottom out."

--David F. Boothe, President
BIG Investment Services

He also told us not to watch Glenn Beck, which made me wonder if he might know us a little too well. On a serious note, he predicts the world economy only has about another 30 good years before a major global collapse. This should give me more than enough time to build my concrete bunker and barricade myself inside it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Healing Powers of Bird Watching

When Austin was very young--about 4 or 5--he told me, "I was born to love birds." At the time I just thought it was cute, but now that he's almost 14, I have to believe him. Bird watching remains one of his favorite things to do in the world. His bird knowledge is impressive--from identification to migration patterns to imitating bird calls.

Recently, the Delmarva Ornithological Society started a youth birding club, called the Delaware Dunlins. This past Saturday was our 3rd outing with them. During a slideshow presentation on raptors, Austin actually raised his hand twice--not to answer a question, but just to ask one. This is remarkable behavior for my sweet, standoffish ASD child. Not only did he engage in this way, but the leaders are very appreciative of him. They recognize his interest and knowledge that he goes to such pains to hide from everyone and they look for ways to draw it out of him. And the other children are so kind and attentive to him, not showing the inclination to be put off by his antisocial behavior that I have come to expect. By the time we left Saturday, I wanted to hug everyone there (but wisely refrained). It means a great deal to me that there is a place where I can take my son and know that he will be accepted as a contributing member of the group.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Bailout or Not?

I'm going to imagine that I am not alone in feeling utterly clueless about the economy. I mean, I feel confident when it comes to managing my personal finances--I use a budget, am debt free, have an emergency fund, and do my own taxes. However, when it comes to understanding what's at work behind the current financial collapses, freezes, mergers, and bailouts, I'm hopelessly confused.

However, I heard a very good explanation this morning from a CNBC panel regarding what will happen if no bailout takes place. Housing values will go down, our ability to borrow money (including the use of credit cards) will be greatly diminished, credit limits will be cut. Looming foreclosures will result in a drop in revenue generated by property taxes. This means that your community will either have to raise your property taxes or cut services or both. The most dramatic impact of this trend will be seen in the arena of public education.

Now, I realize that my cold-hearted conservatism is going to come out here, but I just have to say that, given all that, I would rather take my chances with no bailout. The sad fact of life is that bad things happen and I think it is a mistake to adopt the attitude that we should do whatever it takes to avoid hardship no matter what the cost. I have been hearing a lot of financial experts and political pundits telling us all that we have no other option. There is always another option. What happened to "Give me liberty, or give me death!"? If we could have avoided the attacks of 9-11 by giving up our freedom, would we have? Should we?

We have enjoyed such a long period of national prosperity, that I fear we have lost some of our fortitude and, therefore, our ability to choose the tough choice for the sake of preserving our ideals and our liberty. Let us not become so afraid of hard times and struggling that we will sell our very souls to avoid it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

And then . . .

I am sensing a subtle difference between Obama and McCain in this debate. Obama seems to be speaking in much broader, general terms, and McCain is speaking in specifics. McCain is making good use of his experience and is coming across very well as a potential leader who has really been in the situations Obama is only hypothesizing about.

Obama has just implied that Iran's rise to power is a result of the fact that we removed Iraq as a powerful enemy to keep it in check. Whether you agree with the fact that we went into Iraq in the first place, how can you say that the region would have been better off if Saddam Hussein was still in power?

I don't think there were any real surprises tonight. Obama got his points across well as best as I can tell. I don't agree with him, but I think he got himself across. But McCain definitely came across as more experienced and knowledgeable.

That's Debatable

Twenty minutes into the debate and the candidates are still debating tax breaks and what to spend our money on. I know I'm provincial, but I just don't like the idea of the government taking money from me to spend on non-essential items. Whenever I hear terms like "invest" with regard to taxpayer money, it just makes me want to throw things at my television. It's my job to invest my money, not the government's.

Thirty minutes in and John McCain finally said that he would consider a spending freeze on all non-essential government spending. Hallelujah! Of course, Obama considers that "using a hatchet where you should use a scalpel". But, if you're broke, you must cut everything out of your budget except that which sustains life. I just fear that we've gotten too much into being a country that doesn't trust its citizens with their own money.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Surprise Visitor

When you live in the woods--as I happily do--you are bound to get unexpected creatures in your house from time to time. I've experienced a whole variety of wild creatures invading my personal space: birds, bats, flying squirrels, lizards, etc. So I was not overwhelmingly shocked when I went into my basement and saw this:

Luckily, I was able to get this little 5-inch ring neck snake to sidewind its way into a jar and I was able to restore it to a more suitable habitat for all involved. He was a cute little guy, though.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Double Dipping

Delaware's longtime senator Joe Biden is running for re-election this year. There's really nothing unusual in that. Nothing, that is, until you consider that he is also running for vice president alongside Barack Obama. Before that, he was running for president. It seems as though Joe Biden is exceptionally eager for your vote in 2008, though he may be a little unsure as to which office he most wishes to occupy.

According to Delaware state law, Biden has the right to run for election in both campaigns at once. However, I don't see how any constituent could consider themselves well served by this practice. Not only is Biden shortchanging his senatorial duties to occupy himself with a national campaign, he is cheating Delawareans out of the chance to vote fairly for his replacement should he win both races and choose to resign from the Senate. In this case, Delaware's governor would fill his seat by appointment. This appointee would serve for two years, after which a special election would be held to finally allow voters a say. Obviously, the appointee would have a certain advantage in such an election, having been given two years to campaign while already on the job.

The whole business is utterly distasteful and only compounded by the fact that Biden is making no effort to hide his lack of regard for the state he represents. He has lived in Delaware since he was 10 years old and served in public office here since 1970, when he was 27. However, he continually promotes himself as being from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Interestingly, I don't hear Sarah Palin promoting herself as being from Idaho; instead she seems rather proud of her Alaskan home which has an even smaller population (and slower growth) than Delaware.

But take heart, Delawareans, Joe Biden still considers our state an adequate consolation prize should he fail at his greater quest.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Presidential Politics

This has been a difficult week for me. Despite my best intentions to not dwell on things or get my hopes up, I became completely consumed with McCain's impending VP decision. Watching the political prediction markets, I did, in fact, get my hopes up regarding Mitt Romney's chances. Yesterday, when it began to look like that wasn't going to happen, I had to go through a grieving process for the second time in this election process. Just last night, I vowed I would not vote for McCain if he didn't put Mitt Romney on the ticket.

Now, let the record show that I remain loyal to my man Mitt, but I'll be schnookered if John McCain didn't pull a real live rabbit out of his hat. Sarah Palin is beyond impressive--a woman that makes me proud of my gender for the first time in my adult life! Oh, wait, I think I may have just confused myself with Michelle Obama for a second there. Seriously, Palin epitomizes what a conservative woman is all about. I'm not quite ready to replace my Romney bumper sticker, but I am pretty certain that I can actually vote for McCain without holding my nose with this woman's name beside his.

"My Brother's Keeper"

Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech yesterday. He tried his best to make it an historic speech, but I'm not sure he succeeded. Granted, his nomination might be historic, but not the speech, not even if he did deliver it in front of a very poor representation of the Lincoln Memorial. The set was apparently intended as a reference to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s truly historic speech, but the fact that it required explanation shows that people were not really making the connection.

Meanwhile, Obama laid out his political philosophy which hinges on the belief that the government should take full responsibility for all of us. He couches this socialist ideology in charitable rhetoric that makes it sound like he is taking the moral highroad. However, while Obama lauded the importance of individual responsibility, his plans would eliminate it. The government will become the parent and provider of the citizens. According to Obama, when people fall down, they should not have to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps; the government should be there to pick them up.

This is what Obama means when he says we need to be a country who says "I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper." If you think he was referring to an ideal of individual responsibility for ourselves and our fellow men, consider the peculiar irony of those words. Barack Obama has a brother who lives in a hut in Africa without even running water, barely surviving on an income of $1 per month. It seems that Obama does not feel a need to personally be his own brother's keeper.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Autism and "False" Hope

This is the time of year when parents everywhere are preparing to send their children back to school. As a homeschooling parent, this means something a bit different for me. This is the time of year when I steel myself, not to send my children out into the world, but to once again tackle the daunting task of educating them. Luckily, I am a school junkie and get very excited by things like new pencils and books and art supplies and science kits. But there is always that element of pressure brought on by the fact that these are my kids and I want them to have the best education possible. Because of that pressure, I am always looking for new techniques and methods to better achieve that goal.

The fact that one of my beloved students has autism adds yet another--and more intimidating--layer to the mix. Where he is concerned, not only am I providing education, but also therapy. Ten and a half years after his diagnosis, I can look back on many nutritional, medical, experimental, and behavioral interventions that we have tried with varying degrees of success. Ironically, Austin is the healthiest member of our family--the least likely to get sick and the quickest to heal when he does. But the hurdles of his disability remain stretched out in front of us. And so, at this time of preparing to roll up my sleeves and get back to the business of educating, I am also readying myself to renew my efforts to somehow lead Austin to an independent adulthood.

Throughout my experiences as a parent of a child with autism, I have encountered many experts, and even fellow parents, who believe that the various treatments that are out there offer nothing more than false hope. They would have the families of these children accept the disability and realize that there are certain things they will never be able to achieve. I understand that this type of acceptance may bring comfort to many parents. However, I would rather throw myself into the pain of the hope-disappointment cycle everyday than give up forever on my child. The thing is, no hope is false. Hope is what moves you forward, believing that progress is possible. Living a life of hope can only bring positive results. Even if it means that 9 out of every 10 things I try will fail, I know that I will eventually come across the one that succeeds, even if just a little. Sure, the greatest wish of my heart would be to have my son made whole in an instant. I know that is not likely to happen. I accept my son for who he is, respect him for what he has to overcome just to accomplish things that most people take for granted their whole lives, and love him unconditionally. But I will never accept his disability. It is a mortal enemy that would take my son's whole life from him if I let it. So I fight, continuing to reach for every morsel of hope I can lay my hands on.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shooting Stars

Every year at this time, my family ventures outside to lie on the ground and scan the night sky for the breathtaking Perseid meteors. From razor-thin shooting stars to huge blazing fireballs, this is the best astronomical display for those of us too far south to see the Aurora Borealis.

For the best viewing, wait until the moon has set and pick a spot away from outdoor lights. I recommend a towel or blanket so you can lie right on the ground. At peak visibility, you should be able to see one every 5-10 seconds.

Check out this time lapse shot:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Christian the Lion

So, the Whitney Houston music in this clip makes it especially sugary and corny, but it's still a moving story. Check out the complete story here. And if this video inspires you to get in touch with an old friend, just remember they are unlikely to greet you quite like this.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

I was tagged by Kimberly to list my guilty pleasure songs. I don't know how many of these I can come up with, but here goes:

1. More Than a Feeling, Boston
2. Bitchin' Camaro, Dead Milkmen
3. Dead Man's Party, Oingo Boingo
4. Wilkommen (Cabaret), Alan Cumming
5. Dude Looks Like a Lady, Aerosmith
6. The Dance, Garth Brooks
7. Everything on the new Sweeney Todd soundtrack
8. I Wanna Be Sedated, The Ramones
9. What You Need, INXS
10. Anything by Clay Aiken

(Okay, I only named 10, but two of them contain multiple songs, so they count extra.)

I'm assuming Kimberly's tag included following her example of listing my 10 favorite X-Files episodes, so:
1. Bad Blood
2. Post-Modern Prometheus
3. Memento Mori
4. Redux I & II
5. Anasazi
6. Pusher
7. Tunguska
8. Terma
9. Detour
10. Requiem

Okay, that was not as hard as I thought it would be. I tag everyone on my blogroll (just for the songs, not the X-Files bit, unless you're so inclined).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Introducing . . .

So I was unofficially tagged to tell about each person on my blogroll. So, without further delay:

Blog o'Kimberly
I first fell in love with Kimberly when she lived here and we went to church together. She and I shared a life-altering phase together. She knows all my pathetic weaknesses and dysfunctions, and not only loves me anyway, but gets exactly where I'm coming from. She is honest and unpretentious and can be simultaneously glamorous and grungy. All that said, what I love most about Kimberly is her uninhibited spirit of adventure.

Crazy DE Days
I have liked Chris since I first met her. She is approachable and down-to-earth and unapologetically herself--all qualities I wish I had more of.

Kemp Krew
The thing I find most captivating about Michelle is that she always has a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. But behind that wry little smile is a very soft and kind girl. She has a nice combination of strength and vulnerability.

My Little Family
Amy is a real dynamo. She's not the type to hesitate and question her ideas. She just jumps right in and makes them happen. It's always a gift to have a person like this in your midst.

Shahan Shack
I have known Rachelle for years. She is a very warm and expressive person. The thing I like best about Rachelle is her boundless trust in others.

The Little Peers
Lorien is like my other self--the self I would be if were more highly evolved. She has a self-possessed serenity that I love to be around. The million little similarities we have make me feel like I've found a long lost sibling I didn't know I had.

Thistle Hut
My friendship with Julie began online and moved into real life when I called her on the phone and asked for her help with a web community I was creating. She is passionate, opinionated, and honest. She can be intimidating, but is really a tender-hearted person. She is an expert at creating beauty around her, both in her home and her yard. The best thing about Julie for me is how she taught me the importance of knowing my own mind.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

They're Back!

I thought when I released these little guys, I would be lucky to catch a fleeting glimpse of them from time to time. Surprise! They are now regular scavengers at our duck pen. They eat everything the ducks spill (which can be quite a lot). And, having spent so much of their lives in a pen themselves, they have no qualms about strolling on in when the ducks are out and making themselves at home.

We are beyond thrilled! This is one bird project I will gladly do again.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

And They're Off!

It took three weeks for them to hatch, 10 days for them to develop flight, and 7 weeks to be ready for freedom. Our nine little Northern Bobwhite Quail are the most charming little birds. They have been fun to watch and fun to listen to. Even though I wanted to keep them as wild as possible, I couldn't resist sitting a little way from their pen to watch them occasionally. We had to catch escapees no less than 4 times (which was easier than I would have thought).

When we opened the pen for them to enter their new wild home, they were a little confused at first, but caught on quickly. In the five days since their release, we have regularly spotted them wandering through the thick undergrowth at the edge of the woods, making very happy noises and taking dust baths.

Best wishes, little birds!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bye-Bye, Birdie!

There comes a time when all good things in life must come to an end. Of course, some of those things wear out their welcome before that time comes.

Since I began raising ducks in 2006, it has been a love-hate relationship all the way. Ducks are beautiful and fascinating creatures. Watching ducklings enjoy their first experiences with water is highly entertaining and seeing them fly for the first time is always remarkable.

However, ducks, though fastidious about their personal hygiene, create an environment that is completely filthy. They are violently territorial and deplorably unintelligent. My ducks have probably brought me as many moments of frustration as of joy.

In past years, we have had very high morbidity with our ducks. Out of the initial four we purchased two years ago, only one survives today. Of the three that were hatched last year, only one survives today. This year has been dramatically different. Our hen (last year's lone remaining hatchling) laid 28 eggs. With our help, she hatched 22 ducklings, 18 of which made it to the age at which they could leave their mother. To go from 2 ducks to 20 was a bit much for us to manage. Our duck pen simply could not accommodate that number of full-size ducks. We chose two to keep, and the rest we tagged and loaded up into the van.

I must say that I do not advocate releasing domesticated animals into the wild. Animals that have imprinted on humans tend to lose too much of their flight response to survive in a predatory environment. However, in the days leading up to the release, my ducks stopped following me, would not come to me for food, and would not really eat the food I put out for them. They stayed in the water and began treating me with great suspicion. It was as if some internal switch had been flipped in them. They were ready to fly the coop. Perhaps there is an optimum window of time for the release of domestically raised wild birds. Just as they would leave their duck parents, they were ready to leave their human ones, too. Even so, I selected a very secure location for them, in a park where the level of human activity keeps predators to a minimum and where there is an existing wild population of ducks with a lack of human shyness.

They took to their new home immediately and within minutes were following a group of older ducks--at a respectful distance, of course.

So, I admit, I was a little sad to see them go. It was the end of a big chapter in my world--my world which is a lot quieter today.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert (1950-2008)

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death today of political analyst Tim Russert. There aren't many news personalities I respect, but he was one of the few I did. Regardless of his personal political leanings, he was always unbiased and fair, honoring the truth above his own opinions.

I will miss the intelligence and character he brought to his profession and offer my condolences to his friends and family.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Illegal Homeschooling

In honor of having just finished my 8th year of homeschooling, I thought I would take a moment to reflect in horror on the recent judicial wranglings in California on this topic. First, California courts declared that homeschooling is not lawful unless the parent has formal teaching credentials. Then, after much outcry from the public, the ruling was vacated. The most disturbing statement to come out of all this is the declaration that the Constitution does not give parents the right to homeschool their children. How many people in our country believe that our rights come from the Constitution, I wonder? According to the founding fathers, our rights come from the Creator. The Constitution was intended to define government, put limits on its power, and, in so doing, protect the God-given rights of the nation's citizens.

The education of my children is my domain and my responsibility. How I choose to fulfill that responsibility is fully my decision. This is not a right given to me by my government and, therefore, is not a privilege that can be revoked. Even as I defy anyone to prove my children are not adequately educated, I reject the notion that anyone else has the right to make that determination on my behalf.

For those of you who do not homeschool, do not sit comfortably thinking that this does not affect you. Anytime the government makes a move to chip away at one parent's dominion over the rearing of her child, they chip away at the rights of all parents. It is only one small step at a time to lead us into a society in which the government is the ultimate parent with final say over how our children are raised.

Friday, May 23, 2008

News Bytes

1. Joe Biden, while carefully not endorsing Obama, is speaking out on his behalf in a big way today. It seems he has penned an article in the Wall Street Journal defending Obama's views on national security. Is our perennial Delaware senator positioning himself to fill a potential Kennedy void in the Democratic Party?

2. The Texas courts have ruled that the raid on the so-called FLDS compound went too far when it seized 400+ children. They are to be returned to their families within 10 days. It is, of course, under appeal, so we'll see if that happens. I don't agree with the lifestyle this group espouses, but I am quite certain I disagree with a system that removes children from their homes and families in such large numbers with so little evidence.

3. Mitt Romney is one of three men visiting McCain's ranch in Sedona, Arizona, this weekend in what is clearly a VP screening. I really am not sure how I feel about the idea of Romney as VP to McCain. It would be a surefire way for McCain to secure my vote, but it would be hard to stomach all the same. Anyway, in honor of Mitt Romney's return to the news headlines, I dug up this little gem from February. Enjoy:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Animal Behavior

With apologies for some unflattering shots of my backside, I had to share this little clip my husband took of me feeding our duckling flock. This is my third year raising ducklings, but my first year using actual duck parents. The last two years I raised them myself under a brooder lamp in my basement, taking them outside each day and sitting with them in the grass so they could run around. I tried to get them to imprint on me, but they remained very standoffish. As they became old enough to have the run of the place, spending their days on our pond, I would often have to go out on a boat to herd them off the pond at feeding time. They would sometimes come near me, but would never eat out of my hand or let me touch them in any way.

This year, we had a successful outdoor hatching with our nesting pair. The hen laid too many eggs to incubate herself, so I put some in an indoor incubator. In the end, she and I hatched out 19 ducklings. She has raised 16 of those. The other 3 hatched after all the rest, and I was unable to get the mother to accept them as hers, so I have kept those inside as in the past. The point of all this is that I find it fascinating that the 16 being raised by a mother duck follow me around the yard, pecking on my feet and clamoring for food. They are full of adventurous confidence. The 3 I am raising are shy and keep their distance from me. It's as if being without a natural mother has left them feeling cautious and unsure of themselves.

You can see in this clip that I have a hard time walking for all the ducklings thronged around my feet. And it's not just me--just this morning, they all chased my piano tuner to his car. Fortunately, he was a good sport about it.

(Technical note: This was recorded on a digital point and shoot. The clicking sound you hear is the auto-focus continually adjusting. For all my love of technology, you'd think I'd have better toys.)

Monday, May 19, 2008


Courtesy of Lorien . . . my 3's:

3 Joys

-My children. I was going to include them in with "my family," but they fill an entirely different portion of my soul than the rest of my family, so they deserve top billing all on their own. They are part of almost every waking moment of my life and I have learned to love that aspect of my life. I have already learned so much about love (and patience) from them and I can feel myself learning more every day.
-My family. My wonderful husband is truly my very best friend in life. He has never spoken a cruel word to me and has been my safe and secure haven from the world going on 16 (yikes!) years. My parents, too, have given me such unfailing love and support throughout every twist and turn life has dealt me.
-My home. There is no place on earth where I feel the peace I feel at my home. I love feeling like I am in my own little world, being able to walk outside and see nothing but trees and hear nothing but nature.

3 Fears

-Being separated from my children, either by death or some other unthinkable event.
-The dark. I need to see what's coming. I probably have big control issues.
-The dentist. The smells! The sounds! The horror!

3 Goals

-To help my Austin to have a full and productive life.
-To go back to school. I am such a school junkie. I don't even know what I would study, but I would love to go to graduate school someday.
-To take my kids on a cross-country roadtrip. This may prove to be out of reach, but I would love to do it.

3 Current Obsessions or Collections

Obsession is my main modus operandi. If I like something for more than 5 minutes, chances are I will develop an obsession with it. I can be awfully fickle, though, and easily abandon one obsession for the next. I do have a few enduring obsessions, however.

-Computers. If it can get done on a computer, it always moves to the top of my to-do list. I love my machines. Love, love, love.
-Organizing. Most people who know me will fall over in shock when they read this, because I am not very organized. I am, however, completely and dysfunctionally addicted to the process. I love to plan, make lists, schedules, flowcharts, etc. I could do it all day long--on my computer, of course.
-Autism. Don't ever ask me about this topic unless you are prepared to cruelly pull the plug on the conversation, because I could go on for hours. Causation, symptoms, biomedical treatments, behavioral interventions, I find it all endlessly fascinating.

3 Random/Surprising Facts

-I love to do my taxes. Early in our marriage, John and I used to compete over who got to do them. It was always a big victory for the one who got hold of the W2 first. Yeah, I know, I'm a freakish nerd. I'm okay with that.
-I hate chocolate and soda.
-When I was in college, I was a subversive, liberal, vegetarian (for a little while, anyway), grunge-loving, man-hating, shaved-head, cross-dressing, folksinger. I looked like this:

Just be glad the picture is not bigger.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


So, I first started out to have an autism-themed blog. I didn't get very far, because I felt too constrained to say profound and meaningful things about autism for every post. It's hard enough to be profound and meaningful in general, but narrowing it down to one topic makes it an even harder target to hit.

So time passed and I got a burst of political fervor and thought I would start a political blog. This was slightly easier to do, since there is a never-ending source of new political happenings to form opinions about. However, my stomach is not really cut out for a steady diet of those topics either.

I started reading some of my friends' blogs and realized that I wished I had a blog where I could just chat about whatever I was in a fervor about at the moment. Sometimes that will be autism, sometimes that will be politics, and sometimes it will be randomness. So, I have resurrected this first blog, thrown in everything from the second one, and I'll see where it goes from here.

Over and out.

Monday, May 5, 2008

For Whom the "Belle" Tolls

I love animals. I had many in my youth, including two horses. Riding a horse is magnificent. To be able to experience firsthand the power and speed of one of these animals is exhilarating. Watching them run is the next best thing. I have long admired the strength and grace of the thoroughbred racehorse, looking forward each year to the Kentucky Derby.

This year, of course, the Derby ended with a tragedy that is becoming far too commonplace in horse racing. When Eight Belles finished second only to suddenly break both legs in such a calamitous fashion that euthanisation was the only option, every racing fan's mind went immediately to Barbaro, who met a similar fate just two years ago. How can these animals be so frail that their legs can not hold up under the very activity they were born to do? Has the sport become so much about the big money and prestige involved that there is no true love of the animal left? With horses being bred for speed at the expense of every other valuable quality, horse racing is quickly becoming an exploitative spectacle instead of the celebration of an inspiring animal that may be tamed but remains always wild in spirit.

Belle's death tolls a warning for this sport. Let us hope it will be heeded before tragedy becomes the new legacy of the racehorse.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One In Four?

Yesterday the Center for Disease Control released the results of a study on teens and sexually transmitted diseases. It seems that one out of every four teenage girls is infected with an STD. Now before you hurt your head trying to mentally tally up every teenage girl you know, you will be relieved to know that the experts have a plan to solve this crisis. The first step in this plan is to step up education efforts to let teens know that you can have and spread an STD without showing any symptoms. Step two is to make sure teens know they can tell their doctors anything without fear of their parents being told.

Are you kidding me? Have we lost all vestiges of common sense? The growing teen pregnancy rate as well as this new horrifying statistic are direct results of the willingness of parents to abdicate their authority to the state. We let the pop culture and media dictate the morality of our youth, the public school systems determine what information they will be given regarding sexuality, and doctors serve as the confidants. We are already on a very slippery slope leading us rapidly into becoming a government-led society. The state will have the last word when it comes to our children. And, in case you were wondering, that governmental philosophy is called communism.

We need to stop pushing so-called tolerance at the expense of old-fashioned morality. It is not intolerant to promote a higher standard of conduct. We need to purge our discourse of euphemistic terminology--such as "experimentation" and "safe sex"--and reattach the full weight that ought to belong to sexual relationships. What our teens need to be taught is that there is no such thing as recreational, casual, or safe sex. We won't even let our children drive under the age of 16, and then, not without intensive instruction and licensing. They are held accountable for their conduct behind the wheel, but we as a society seek continually to remove accountability for sexual conduct, handing out condoms and insulating teens from the parental consequences that are the main tools for shaping appropriate behavior among children.

So, here's my revolutionary proposal. Let's cut off the experts' access to our children and put the authority back in the hands of the parents. I know it sounds like a long shot, but it just might work.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Evils of Cross Voting

If a man puts on a dress he does not become a woman--not even if he includes all the details right down to the lacy undies. No matter the quality of his disguise, his lack of genuine femininity renders him unsuited to serve as a representative for females.

Open primary voting allows for the same distortion of reality. As long as presidential nominees are selected by parties, only the members of those parties ought to have a say in selecting the nominee. Abuse of an open system is going to happen, with voters trying to swing the opposition party's vote in their own party's favor. However, the greater threat lies in the more subtle impact of allowing voters who lie in some undefined middle ground between the Democratic and Republican parties to influence the course of any group with whom they share no affiliation.

The argument that open primaries increase voter turnout has no validity to those of us who adhere to a specific party and embrace a certain set of political principles, only to have those principles altered by those outside the party.

Those voters who truly cannot decide between the two major parties and feel compelled by conscience to register as Independents ought to pour their political fervor into putting forth stronger third party candidates who most fully represent their ideals. If they lack the interest or inclination to do so, that is so much more reason for them to abstain from primary elections.

Monday, February 11, 2008

No Fair (Tax)

Even if there wasn't some undefinable quality I didn't like about former governor and current Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, his enthusiasm for the so-called "fair" tax would be enough to cost him my support. Now, I know it feels good to hear phrases like "abolish the IRS" and "fair tax," but no one votes on emotion, right?

The basic idea behind the fair tax is to eliminate the income tax, replacing it with a national sales tax. In order to provide the federal government with the same level of revenue it currently receives, this sales tax would have to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30%. Of course, this would be on top of the state sales tax. We can't deprive the state governments of their fair share of our incomes, after all.

Gone will be the days of rewarding individual charitable donations through the deduction system. Instead we will have a nation crippled ever more by debt, as credit card balances bear the brunt of consumption-based taxation.