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.