Love. Listen/Observe/Read. Act. Repeat.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bonenkai or not?

There are many things about 2011 that tell me it doesn't matter how many black-eyed peas I eat, that Southern tradition for good luck isn't going to work for me.

I loved being a part of many year-end parties in Japan when I was there twenty-five years ago. (Gad, that's a long time.) Even though 1985 was a good year, everyone acted as if it couldn't come to an end soon enough so that they could have another shot at it in the New Year. We ate like kings. And then the New Year came -- and that's three full days of resting and eating and being with family and friends.

Now, 1986 was a very good year for me. So I'm thinking Paige's little project this afternoon of making ramen noodles from scratch (based on a website that has thorough directions, with photos) ought to be our bonenkai. She's trying to channel her dad, who was an excellent pasta maker (his recipe below -- he would have the noodles cut by the time the water was boiling).

Yep, I'm thinking 2012 is going to be a very good year.

Mark's Perfect Pasta
Two heaping 1/3 cups of semolina flour
1 egg
1 T. water
1 tsp. olive oil
white flour
large pot boiling, salted water

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process til a ball forms, about 3 minutes.

Turn out on a floured board and knead for a minute or two until supple. If it's too wet, knead flour into it. Divide into parts and put through your pasta machine. You may need to roll it through several times at the wider setting until the dough is supple enough to start rolling it through the thinner settings. Dust with flour on both sides before you roll it through the cutter.
Drop the noodles in the water and cook until slightly swollen, about five to ten minutes. Big noodles take longer.
Serve hot with garlic butter and grated Romano cheese; your favorite marinara sauce; room temperature with pesto; or cold over cucumber cut julienne style and peanut sauce poured over all.

I've already posted the pesto recipe. I'll put up the peanut sauce recipe tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Text Messages You Don't Want to See While At Work

1:19 p.m.
Sam to Peggy: I got some bad news.
Peggy (holding her breath): What?
1:38 p.m.
Sam: I couldn't fix ClickFree ....
(Peggy exhales.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #149

Peggy: I have a new Christmas arrangement to play for you.
Sam: Yes! The Charlie Brown one. (as Peggy gets to the key change at the bridge) Oh, she's having trouble.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mark's Kahlua

Just about every year this time of year we'd have to hightail it outside and stay gone for a while because Mark would be making kahlua for his friends and music colleagues. The only thing that stinks up the house more than making kahlua is making mustard. Caramelizing onions isn't even on the same scale of stink, I'm telling you.

Ok, guys. Here's the recipe he refined while we were living in Sacramento.

2 quarts plus one cup water
7 cups sugar
6 ounces of freeze-dried coffee
1 T. Hershey's cocoa, optional
1 fifth of Everclear
3 T. vanilla

1. Drive to Reno to buy Everclear. (After we moved to Texas, he drove to Paradise.)
2. Boil water and add sugar. Add coffee and boil for 15 minutes. The house will be really smelly, so go outside. Add the cocoa and remove from the heat. Let cool.
3. Add Everclear and vanilla. Bottle and keep in your liquor cabinet.

Today it's four years since he's been gone.

I don't like thinking that at some point in my life I will have lived more of my life without him than with him.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Overheard on the Dance Floor

Peggy: We twirl pretty well, I think.
Sam: That's because we don't twist each other's arms off.

Oooh, You Make Me Smile

Congratulations, Ted and Lori! Thanks for including us on your big day.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Little Girls Are Made Of

As Paige was packing up for college last summer, we had a dilemma. She'd been borrowing my jewelry box for years because she had way more bangles and beads and baubles than I did.

I stopped wearing earrings when the kids were babies and pulled on them. My skin has autism. It doesn't like bracelets or necklaces or rings. She felt a little guilty about taking my box, especially since that left me without anything for the few things I do have.

On her dresser was a box she'd made at art camp in elementary school. It was empty. I asked her about the ceramic piece affixed to the top. Did she remember making it?

No, she said, but she did remember what inspired her. "I had learned the atmosphere was made up of bits of sunlight, and water, and the grass around us. I wanted to make that. I wanted to make the atmosphere."

That went right to my heart. "I'll trade you boxes," I said. She didn't think it was a fair trade, but I convinced her.

My little girl comes home for the holidays tonight.

Sugar and spice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #148

After Peggy plays "Sleigh Ride" on piano and Sam follows that by using the computer to play "Sleigh Ride" on the synthesizer.
Sam: I'll bet your jealous of Sibelius.
Peggy: Why is that?
Sam: It can play Sleigh Ride a lot faster.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What Big Girls Are Made Of

Last weekend, my grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday. We sent her a pop-up card. My mother and dad were able to go back to Milwaukee for the fun.

My grandmother and grandfather spent a good part of their retirement crafting and selling their little creations at shows in shopping malls. I have quite a few things they made. My grandfather did a lot of small woodwork. I have a spice rack and most of the wooden toys he made, although they have seen a lot of wear and tear, especially a pull toy that Sam drug around the back patio as toddler in California until it fell apart.

A lesser toy, made of plastic, would have never withstood what Grandpa made.

This is unlike my father, who excels at creating furniture -- I have seven or eight pieces that he built or rehabbed for us -- he had enough of the small work crafting crowns and bridges and filling people's teeth, I think. But I digress.

My grandmother made hundreds of counted cross-stitch pieces. I have some Christmas ornaments, and this little hanging piece that has always hung with on the key rack with the house and car keys.

"Home is where you hang your heart."

That's my grandmother. Only recently, did I start really looking at what else grandma hangs on the key rack besides her heart.

Dang, grandma, you've got a set of boxing gloves, a set of shoulder pads, and a pair of nunchucks hanging there.

No wonder you're living so long.

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #147

Sam: Mom, you might want to take a break from the computer.
Peggy: Why? Did you need the Mac?
Sam: No, I'm just worried about your health.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Setback in Santa's Workshop

I have a bad habit of using old appliances until they catch fire or shock me into unconsciousness.

I've been so determined to keep my mid-century Pfaff sewing machine going that I've nearly set the house on fire twice. The first time, I warned the shopkeeper that I was bringing it in for service because it had nearly caught fire and to please be careful.

When I came to pick it up, he said, "Dang, we nearly set the shop on fire."

Today was the last straw. Tomorrow, I buy a new machine. There is too much to do for Christmas, and I can tell I'm just asking for trouble.

After all the sparks flew this time, Sam came into the office/sewing room/Santa's workshop and said, "What's that burning smell?"

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Happy 24th, Sam!

The only time in his life I can buy a pack of candles and use every last one of them.

Here is the cake we nearly always bake for a Wolfe family birthday, ever since I bought Rosso and Lukins New Basics Cookbook and adapted it.

The Chocolate Birthday Cake

1 c. butter
1 1/4 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
2 1/4 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
9 T. buttermilk
1 c. boiling water
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and the sugar in the mixer for five minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next one. Meanwhile, melt chocolate in the microwave by breaking the blocks in pieces and microwaving on high one minute. If not fully melted, microwave for 30 seconds at a time until melted. Fold into butter and egg mixture.

Sift flour, soda and salt together. Add one third of flour mixture with 3 T. of buttermilk and mix on low. Repeat two times, mixing until all buttermilk and flour is incorporated.

With mixer on low, slowly pour in boiling water and then add vanilla. Pour into two prepared cake pans (I prefer Doughmakers) and bake at 375 til it pulls away from the sides and springs back in the middle, 25 to 32 minutes.

While the cake cools, melt 1 1/2 c. chocolate chips in a small saucepan with 8 T. of butter over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, gently store in 2/3 c. half-n-half, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 c. confectioner's sugar. This mixture will be thin. Refrigerate, stirring every 10-15 minutes until its stiff enough to frost the cake.

Start by applying a thin layer of ganache on the bottom cake round. Sprinkle with additional chocolate chips, pressing them down into the ganache. Top with other round, frost top and sides.

Serve. Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #146

After spending half her paycheck on massive plumbing repairs, part 4, ...

Peggy (looking at Sam in his robe, hair still dry): Were you not able to take a shower?
Sam: No!
Peggy: Why? Is the shower still not working right?
Sam: You didn't put the shampoo back.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #145

As Peggy takes Leroy Anderson's famous Christmas tune at half-tempo and still plays lots of wrong notes.
Sam (in a stage whisper): Uh-oh. Sleigh Ride is hard.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tuba Juba Duba

Michael worked hard for a year to learn to play the violin. Mark wanted him to know that music can be fun, too. He suggested this little duet for them to play during the Argyle Talent Show in 2001. Michael captured this video this morning and edited it.
Happy listening!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anthropologist in the Stadium

Saturday was my second time to attend a Texas Christian University home game. They are a spectacle. There is the official horned frog mascot and then there are Michael's friends, who dress in morph suits to look like a Blue Man group guy that drank too much grape juice and Penguin Referee if he wasn't wearing a top hat. We had to stop at Michael's apartment to swap out Sam's shirt. He left the house in CSU green instead of purple revolution.

I believe that in this photo I am the one to look the most like an eggplant.

This game was a little better experience, as it was not raining, like last time, and, also like last time, I was not standing the the mosh pit known as student seating.

The smell of beer is overpowering and even though a person is probably safe, I wear my steel-toed boots for good measure.

The first time I got bowled over by the sheer spectacle of football in Texas was when Mark and I went to Paige's first game as a member of the color guard in the marching band.

We left after halftime. We were really uncomfortable with the amount of community resources going into those games.

Sam loves going to games. It's a great place to catch up with friends.

At TCU, fighter jets fly over, and jumbo TVs get people to kiss each other on Kiss Cam, and people get awards in the end zone during time outs.

At TCU, I watched ladies with hair extensions ignore the game. I watched about 650 high school cheerleaders and dance team members ignore the game. I watched scores of people alternate between sort of watching the game, sort of talking to their friends, and every 60 seconds or so, check their phone for whatever message commanded their attention.

The game was pretty flat during the first half and only got interesting in the third quarter, when Tank Carder intercepted and ran like hell, looking behind him almost the whole 70-ish yards, for a touchdown.

But the distractions -- so many of them deliberate -- were too numerous to count.

I was in the marching band in college. We helped create distractions. We used to mess up the cheerleaders by inserting multi-meter fills in between chants of "Get that ball!"

On the way home, I told the kids I felt like I always do at games, like an outsider. Sam piped up right away, clearly feeling authoritative on the matter.

"Just about everywhere you go, you're an outsider," he said.


Puree in a blender 3-4 cups of basil leaves, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 3 garlic cloves, 1/4 tsp. salt.

Pulse in 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup grated Parmesean cheese. Thin to desired consistency with pasta water, or additional olive oil.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #144

(at the tail end of a discussion on the phone about leftover options for dinner)
Peggy: Of course, there's the noodles. There's still some pesto left in that jar.
Sam: I know. (pause) You know, Mom, you make the best pesto.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Miss Connie

Like most kids with autism, Sam couldn't tolerate having his hair cut when he was little. I ended up having to cut his hair in his sleep.

It worked fine when he was a toddler, although one night he kept waking up and fussing while I was trying to cut his hair, so I stopped. The next day, we went out somewhere to get some carryout and walked past a table with a couple of older men having a cup of coffee. One of the guys looked at Sam and said, "Son, you need to have a talk with your barber."

Mark and I burst out laughing. And I told the man the job would be finished tonight, and no payment was due the barber fairy.

Eventually, our next door neighbor, who was a stylist, said she'd give it a go. We'd do it at home, putting him in the high chair and setting out a mirror. Judy would bring her supplies to the house.

It worked!

Judy was really patient. Sam was fond of telling her what to do, and Judy went along with it.

When we left California, we weren't sure we'd find someone like Judy, but we were wrong. Connie Clark stepped right in. Her big heart and boundless sense of humor got Sam from kindergarten haircuts through middle school.

Haircuts at Connie's became a family affair. Everyone took their turn in the chair -- another thing Sam could be in charge of, who's turn it was next to get a haircut.

We followed her over to Robson Ranch when she moved her shop from Argyle, and that old converted gas station, to a real salon. Even though most of her clients were older, we still came as a mob.

Connie got cancer and eventually she wasn't strong enough to stand all day and cut people's hair. Mark started taking the boys over to Unique Stylists in Denton. After Mark died, Sam kept up his appointments with Wayne. He never lets his locks get very long.

When a life is touched by autism, it touches thousands of other lives in ways you can't imagine until you are there, watching. Connie was one of those people who helped Sam navigate to a fairly independent, normal adult life.

Just by cutting his hair.

We'll miss you, Miss Connie.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #143

Peggy: Bank of America called me today to apologize.
Sam: It's about time.
Peggy: Yes, it was. It was the 'customer advocate.' They are sending me an Amazon gift card as a token gesture.
Sam: Now that's the right way to do it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Peter Principle

Oh, the holidays are coming. Mostly, they stress me out, but I like the making of the presents and the baking of the things. Recipes I don't dare make any other time of year because I'd blow up like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if I did.

Things such as fruitcake -- the kind people love because you douse it with rum once a week -- has to be started this month.

When the kids were little, we would make a gingerbread house that they could take to Cornerstone Cooperative Preschool for the Christmas party and break it apart and eat it.

I took a class from Sacramento County parks and recreation that was just Christmas cookie recipes. Got lots of good ones there -- little sesame thins, which are about as addictive as sables, and one of those early versions of death-by-chocolate cookies that were more brownie or candy than cookie.

We always make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning.

Those little guys were really tender the years Mark was able to score two 50 pound bags of Peter Pan flour. The bags were damaged in a delivery he was making. The flour was fine.

Oh, I loved that flour. We became baking fiends. Scones, biscuits, artisan-style breads, homemade pizza. As the bags emptied, I begged Mark to ask them next time he was trucking for Morrison (he drove a regional run for JB Hunt) to ask them where to get it. They said those big bags only went to restaurants and bakers. They couldn't sell him any.

I know I should be able to find the little bags of Peter Pan in the stores, but I never see them. I buy King Arthur, which is good, too, and Albertsons "O" Organic.


I'll go on the hunt again, but it's going to be another Christmas without Peter Pan.

Good thing Sam's favorite cookie doesn't need flour. This one came from the Sacramento class. It's called Unbelievable Cookies

1 c. crunchy peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 c. chocolate chips.

Mix peanut butter, sugar and egg in a bowl. Stir in chips. Shape in balls and bake at 325 for 10 minutes. Do not over bake.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #142

Sam (after an exasperating evening with an Excel spreadsheet): ... and now it won't fill down.
Peggy: Do you want to enter each cell one at a time?
Sam: Ugh, that will take so long.
Peggy: Do you want me to make a pitcher of pina coladas while you do it?
Sam: Oh. Well. Go ahead.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #141

Peggy: You're working at Albertsons on Halloween. You gonna dress up as something? Wanna be the banana?
Sam: No, Mom, I don't think so. We're not allowed to have fun at work.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween

My good friends at Texas Parent-to-Parent sent out their fall newsletter with some tips to help kids with disabilities, and particularly those with autism, Aspergers and sensory dysfunction to make the most of Halloween.

I asked Sam tonight if he remembers when it got easier for him to wear Halloween costumes. He stopped eating his Blue Bell Christmas Cookie ice cream long enough to say "high school."

So, long past the trick-or-treating days.

Here's a tip sheet for costumes and activities.

And here's a tip sheet for the rest of us to help make Halloween special for all the kids.

Remember what Lucy Van Pelt said: Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #140

(as Peggy sets her cup of chicken broth down on the table)
Sam (in a stage whisper): Mom's going to the bathroom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cleanliness is Next To Impossible

The problem with putting your house on the market is that people come over. And before they do, you have to clean it.

A lot.

And not that Erma Bombeck way, where you just give it a sweeping glance.

Opening our lives this way has been traumatic for Sam, but he's getting better. I got just a little ptsd leftover from when we sold our home in California in 1993. At the time, I was pregnant and chasing two preschoolers. We lived in a 1,100-square-foot house with a forest of tubas in a "hot zip." Real estate agents were supposed to call and schedule a visit, but they would sometimes pull up to the curb and "call."

After a while, I gave up. They could just tour a messy house -- dirty diapers, toys, dishes, tubas, and all.

Here, we live too far off the beaten path for people to take a chance on pulling up and getting permission to see the house. But I am tired of always being "on" with the cleaning. This market is a lot tougher. I've got the place priced competitively, so we have too many people coming through. Some rooms in the house have taken on a museum-like quality.

My mother has that kind of tidiness in her house. My sisters do, too, at least in certain rooms.

I've not ever been that way. It's not like I don't know that I should clean the refrigerator once a month to discourage listeria, but it's amazing how long I can go when I think no one is looking.

I vowed to get better the day that Michael and Paige came running into the office -- I was writing something -- to announce that a spider nest hatched because there were a thousand baby spiders on the living room ceiling.

They thought it was really cool, but decided that leaving it to nature wasn't a good idea. And there really were a thousand baby spiders on the ceiling. I vacuumed for about an hour.

After that, we worked out something called Hour of Power. We put about two dozen small cleaning jobs on slips of paper in a bowl, the kids would roll the dice and take turns picking jobs on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Mark and I would do the tough stuff, like mop the floors or address whatever disaster had been waiting all week (the refrigerator, for example.) By the time we were done, it looked good and lasted almost til the next Hour of Power.

Those were the good ole days.

Well, back to cleaning.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Propped Against The Meyerson Wall

Random thoughts from today's half-marathon (a first for me, for Dallas and for the guy in front of us at the porta-potties).

Following the crowd can be a good strategy, unless you are looking for a parking place. After running 13.1 miles, it's wicked difficult to get out of your truck and walk up your drive. Just because the main architectural feature of a Highland Park house is rustication, it doesn't mean the occupants don't have a sense of humor. Some of the Katy Trail bounces. Volunteers give out water and Powerade. Angels pass out strawberries. The best freebie wasn't the finisher's medal with the 13.1 time turner (needed that really badly about Mile 10), the Oreos (which I'm chewing in this picture), the mini-muffin, the orange, the water, the Powerade or the pretzels. It was the pre-moistened, Texas-size, super fresh, moist towel. There are still places in the city where you can sit on your steps on a Saturday morning, in your robe, drink your coffee and watch your granddaughter watch the world go by.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Just a Little Further

My first half-marathon. And on the Katy Trail. Runner Susan is packing orange-flavored sports beans.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #139

Peggy: I'm not sure dinner turned out.
Sam: The smell doesn't bother me. Are you sure it didn't turn out?
Peggy: It's not what I expected.
Sam (lifts lid of wok): What's the smell?
Peggy: Peanut sauce.
Sam: That doesn't bother me. (pause) But I'm not taking the tofu.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #137

Peggy: Oh, my. I can't believe it. Tiger got a mockingbird.
Sam: Tiger got another mockingbird.
Peggy: He got two?
Sam: Tiger is a cat criminal.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Southern Impolite Meets a Yankee Can of Whoop-Ass

(Note to readers: This is not one of my best moments. I'm exploring events from our lives for the next book, in hopes that there are lessons and wisdom in these experiences. Or, at minimum, a good chuckle. Let's see what happens with this one.)

At the end of Sam's second-grade year, the kids and I went with Mark to Shreveport for a year-end concert with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra.

It was a great opportunity for the kids to see their dad perform as the tubist in the orchestra. Most concert settings are so formal, even I had hard time behaving.

The Shreveport Symphony had always held their year-end concert in the convention center. They put out round tables and lots of kitschy decorations around the room. Some people decorated their tables, too, and of course the food and wine flowed as the symphony played a pops program.

The acoustics were horrible -- there was a level of background noise in the room that I'm sure made it a real challenge for the guys on the mixing board. But a great time was always had by all.

The kids and I sat in the back with some other symphony friends at our table and at tables around us. Given how young the kids were -- Sam was 8, Michael was 5 and Paige not quite 3 -- I was thrilled how well they behaved. Especially Sam. He didn't get up and run around the tables. He wiggled and fidgeted some in his seat. Sometimes he would slip down and stand up next to his chair, but at his size, he wasn't tall enough to block the view for any one around us.

This was a huge accomplishment for him. We had worked hard during second grade to help Sam learn to stay in his seat and pay attention. He had such trouble with it at the beginning of the year that his teacher had begun to send him out to the hallway with his aide when he couldn't sit still. While I could see her point that he was a distraction for the other kids in the class, the aide noticed that sending him out in the hallway was reinforcing the problem. She got worried. I called Kevin Callahan, a special education professor at the University of North Texas at the time. He came to observe and designed a little intervention that helped Sam teach himself to stay in his seat and pay attention. It was brilliant and it worked.

But Sam's behavior wasn't perfect, and even though his little brother and sister wiggled and fidgeted, too, Sam's wiggles got the attention of one woman a table or two away. She would watch Sam. She would whisper to the people at her table. It was hard not for me to notice I was being judged, too.

I did my best to ignore the Chinese water torture of her judgment. We were making some good memories and I didn't want to give her the power to spoil it.

After the concert ended, people began packing up their tables. Sam, Michael and Paige rushed to the stage to hug their dad and meet the other musicians. I stayed behind to pack up our things. I looked up to see the woman was approaching me.

She began to tell me what she thought was wrong with Sam.

I listened patiently for her to get to her stopping point. I told her that actually I was quite proud of my son because he has autism and his dad was performing and this was about the best he had sat still and paid attention this whole year.

Then she smiled this treacly smile and said, "Well, I am a teacher of the emotionally disturbed and in my experience ..."

I lost it.

I leaned forward and yelled, "Get out of my face."

She looked stunned. But she didn't move.

"Get out of my face!" I yelled again.

She took a step back.

"I said, get out of my face!"

Rule of three, she finally went back to her friends.

I was ashamed of myself for losing my cool. And a little grateful that the room was full of ambient noise, enough that only the woman and her friends knew what had happened between us. Maybe another table, but that was about it. The kids and Mark never heard it.

I walked very deliberately towards the stage. I could feel the woman and her friends watching me. I told Mark what had happened and turned and pointed to the woman. He studied her. She and her friends finished packing up and left.

"Do I need to go over there and do something?" he asked.

"Nah," I said. "I don't think she'll bother another autism parent again in her life."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #136

Sam: Hang on, Mom. Your mind is just a tangle of questions. I can't answer them all at once.
Peggy: Yes it is. Sorry about that.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Things I Never Knew I Was Waiting For

I'm fond of telling my kids that their grandkids will be in awe of their childhood experiences -- all of what a computer couldn't do, how crude a smartphone was, how brutal medical practices seemed (that last idea comes courtesy of Star Trek IV The Voyage Home).

I tried to apply that perspective to all kinds of situations in raising Sam. Being aware that you are in pioneering territory is helpful. Lots of people have come before us to do the Lewis and Clark equivalent of defining the landscape of accommodating someone with a disability and laying the groundwork with the public policy that opened up this new frontier of living with a disability.

I try to remember this journey as the Wolfe family Conestoga wagon settling the autism frontier. Nearly every day something new, something without precedent. Sometimes it's exhilarating. Sometimes the risks are clear and present. And always, always, exhausting.

The pioneering days of speech therapy are behind us. If someone in the discipline was interested in a exit interview, I have things to say about what worked and what didn't. I would imagine Sam does, too.

Never was that more clear than when I read the following line in Diane Ackerman's book, One Hundred Names for Love (a book about her husband's stroke and continuing recovery from aphasia, which has some interesting similarities to Sam's speech impairment). She describes a scene where her husband, Paul West, also an imaginative writer, struggles with fill-in-the-blank worksheets meant to help him regain his ability to talk.

"Choosing the correct answer could be as tough as herding cats. But, like most people, I did know the accepted answer. Selecting it, I had to ignore all other answers that spring to mind or were truer to my experience."

Correct is not the same as accepted.

Furthermore, we cannot ascribe too much meaning when a client cannot come up with the accepted answer.

I tried to explain that in my book, when I relayed Sam's experience of confronting vocabulary cards with images of things he'd never seen before. Diane absolutely knocked it out of the park, explaining the inherent social context of many speech exercises.

I think it could be a much bigger problem than those working in speech therapy might realize.

Throughout the book she describes "deliciously ambiguious words" and takes us on verbal joy rides with them. She sprinkles phrases without context and then gives us a fun house worth of perspectives to show how much we depend on context for meaning.

I wish I knew that two decades ago. I can only imagine how much better his speech therapy would have been. I wish I knew that a month ago when we were hit again with this problem.

I wish I knew these things I never knew I was waiting for.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #135

Sam (as Peggy tries to brown chicken in the new tagine on the stovetop): It smells bad in here.
Peggy: That's it. It's going in the Dutch oven.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

See Sam Drive

Sam bought replacement windshield wipers today and, just like his father used to do, decided that five minutes before it was time to go to work, he should try to put them on.

Mark drove me nuts with that. "Oh, don't go to work just yet, I need to change the oil in your car," and I'd be standing there in my high heels and blazer and wondering why after 20 years of knowing that doesn't work, he still did it.

For Sam, it became an all-hands-on-deck operation and Michael managed to get them on well enough that Sam got to work on time.

When he gets home, we'll see if we can get those little guards attached. Meanwhile, I'm hoping the drought holds out for another hour.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Love Letter to Steve Jobs

In 1990, Mark and I didn't know anything about autism. But our little boy couldn't talk and we feared the worst.
Sam was drawn to a simple, hypercard game, "Cosmic Osmo," that came already loaded on our first MacIntosh computer.

As he played, we saw that even though Sam couldn't speak, he could think.

We never got to thank you while you were here, Steve Jobs. Today, I'm sure Mark got that covered.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Comfort Food

Tonight I made a batch of majadrah, a Lebanese lentil and rice dish that Mark and I came to crave when we were living in Sacramento.

The woman who cooked at Juliana's Kitchen would scoop a portion on the plate with falafel and tabouli. Sam was a toddler then, and he didn't care for the tabouli or falafel, but he ate lots of majadrah.

I would ask her for the recipe and she would always refuse. I'm not particularly good at tasting and figuring out what another cook is doing, so it took me the better part of ten years to get it down. The key, I've found, is caramelizing the onions, adding the cumin into the oil and letting it get fragrant before stirring in the rice and coating it with the cumin-infused oil.

Anyways, I had 2 cups of cooked lentils and I hadn't made this in years, so out came the old recipe. And with my first bite, I was back in Juliana's kitchen with Mark and Sam.

When Sam came home from work, I told him I made some lentils and rice and it was one of his childhood favorites. He got a big smile on his face, and then put his nose to it when I told him I started by caramelizing the onions.

"Ooooo, carmel," he said. "I've got to take a shower first, but I'll try it."

That's huge. Sam hasn't eaten beans since he was 3 years old. I'll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, here's the recipe.

2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped coarsely
1 tsp cumin
1 cup long grain rice (white or brown)
1 cup water
1-ish cup chicken stock
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste.

Caramelize the onions in the oil in a Dutch oven. This can take 25-30 minutes. Once the onions are nicely browned, add the cumin and sauté another minute. Add the rice and sauté for a minute or two to coat. Add the lentils, water and stock, cover and cook, over very low heat, without stirring, until the rice is tender. If the liquid is absorbed before the rice is tender, add more stock. Sprinkle the salt over the top when nearly all the liquid is gone and return the cover to the pot.
Taste and adjust seasonings.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #134

Sam: Uh-oh, fluorescent lights. (pauses). Mom, where are .... ?
Peggy: Yes?
Sam: I was about to ask an inappropriate question.
Peggy: An inappropriate question? Oh, you mean you were about to ask where the light bulbs are?
Sam: I was about to ask where the light bulbs are.
Peggy: And you know where the light bulbs are?
Sam: I know where the light bulbs are.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


This is just about the nicest thing a peer has ever said about me ... dunno whether it was Gayle Reaves, or Jeff Prince, or Peter Gorman, or another one of those tenacious journalists over at the Fort Worth Weekly who wrote this, but I've got tears in my eyes.

I've long respected and admired their work and have been jealous at times that alt-weeklies have more ink to accomplish what needs to be said. And the Weekly knows that when it comes to the Barnett Shale, A LOT more needs to be said.

But, as The Hollies sang on the radio on the way home from Arlington today (from yet another public hearing on the hydraulic fracturing frenzy) and as if just to me ...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Buh-Bye, PFY 478

I stood in line at the tax office for a reasonable amount of time, about 15 minutes, which was made merrier because Monte Borders came in halfway through the wait. Monte lights up every room he enters.

Then, I told Sam's sad story to the clerk, handed over his registration sticker and $7 -- again, not too bad -- to get him on the road again without having his license plate pop up in every police scan he drove by.

This was something Sam could have done, but I didn't want him to miss work and I'm just down the street. I'd already planned on spending the day addressing other people's screw-ups (this means you, Bank of America), so I was ready to make a party of it today.

I asked the clerk whether this happened very often, whether she had given anyone else new plates because their plate number was in the warrant database. She said not very often, but it wasn't uncommon either.

And she agreed, this was the best way to fix the problem.

Sam got a new 7-digit plate. I remember when California went from six digits to seven digits on their plates.

That's about when we left California. Too many people.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Best. Rejection. Ever.

I was cleaning out some files and came along this little gem from about a decade ago, when I was first casting about for freelance work while in grad school.

This one was a real keeper.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #133

Peggy: Wanna go to St. Philips in the morning tomorrow, since you're working tomorrow night?
Sam: Yeah.We'll take your truck.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Auto Identity Theft

Sam got pulled over again in Flower Mound.

He tried to tell me this once before, that his car identity had been stolen. It made no sense to me. His car had caught that officer's eye because he was in the wrong lane for a moment, so I thought the license plate story was getting lost in translation.

Kind of like the aphasiac talk in Diane Ackerman's book, One Hundred Names for Love.

But today, he explained it well enough that I knew I had to make a call.

You see, the officer recommended that he just get new license plates. That kind of recommendation doesn't get lost in translation.

I made a follow-up call to the police department and the officer who pulled him over set me straight. Someone got a ticket in Balch Springs and didn't pay it. When they issued a warrant for her arrest the warrant went out on both her driver's license and her car license.

What got lost in translation was that girl's license plate being entered in to the database. Sam got his tags at the Denton County Tax Office in 2008.

Guess where we're going Monday? We aren't going to try to bother telling Balch Springs his are not the tags they're looking for. We're going to solve this expeditiously.

Well, as expeditiously as a human being can experience the tax office.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

His Own Kind of Up

In training for my first half-marathon, as of this morning, I have run 193 miles. That's about as far as Kent Couch flew in 2007, when he launched his lawn chair with helium balloons in his own version of "Up."

Overheard in the Wolfe House #132

Sam: I really like that new ice cream flavor you made. Is it chocolate cookie dough?
Peggy (not wanting to say it's a knock-off of Ben and Jerry's Schweddy Balls): No. But it has rum in it.
Sam: It has rum in it?
Peggy: It has rum in it. Is there any left?
Sam: It has rum in it?
Peggy: Did you eat all of it?
Sam: No. I didn't eat all of it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Explaining the Unexplainable

Throughout Sam's life, the things he's needed to learn had to be taught directly. You cannot imagine how important learning from context is until you are confronted with the inefficiency of hours and hours and hours of direct teaching.

As Sam has grown, he's learned to generalize. He's picked up more from context -- but he had to be taught how to do that, too. Taught to imitate, taught to read context, taught to recognize idioms, taught to generalize.

I get tired just thinking about it.

Now, Sam is struggling mightily with a new problem. And I have to figure out how to explain what civil rights are. Do you know how often we toss out that phrase and we have no idea what it means?

That violates my civil rights.

Read him his rights.

They marched for civil rights.

Google it yourself, and see what a mess you get. Dear readers, can you help?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tour des Fleurs

Random thoughts from today's "race."

I love trail running best.
Dallas air quality is better than Denton County's.
Green bananas taste good after you've run for 2 hours and 40 minutes.
I think it would be easier to run farther if I ran faster.
The homes in Lakewood Trails -- up in the hills around White Rock Lake -- are beautiful, and no two look alike.
My favorite landscapes are the ones where you can tell the owner does it, and not a landscape service.
If you run long enough, your body surrenders the toxins. It took me 3-4 miles, it took RunnerSusan about 6. (Poor thing.)
In the hardest parts of the run, the only people encouraging you are the Dallas police officers at their posts. That has got to be some kind of metaphor about life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #131

Peggy: So what do you think about having hair like Grandpa?
Sam (inventor of the phrase "no hair, just a head"): It will happen if I keep going bald.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lights in London

I promise not to subject you to a bunch of home movies -- especially as aged as these images have obviously gotten -- but I couldn't help myself with this one.

When the Dallas Symphony went on its first European tour in 1997, Mark was hired as second tuba. I went along for the first half of the trip as an orchestra groupie. We had a blast.

We left the kids -- Sam was 9, Michael was 6, and Paige was 4 -- in the capable care of my parents. But we took the camcorder to capture things we thought would interest them on our return.

The videos sat in a box for years after our VHS player died. I borrowed one from my parents this summer and, with the help of a Pinnacle Dazzle, have begun digitizing the handful of family videos we have.

We made this little ditty in London when we realized how much fun Sam would have had, if he had been there to play with the light switches.

This was the first time I've heard Mark's voice since the week he died. I'm not sure who was grinning bigger tonight when we captured this first "movie," Sam -- re-living a favorite childhood memory -- or me, remembering the sound of the love of my life.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #130

Peggy (after Sam ends a phone conversation with North Central Texas College's vice president for instruction): Some people are afraid to talk to deans and vice presidents. You certainly aren't.
Sam: Well, why would anybody be afraid to talk to them?
Peggy: Oh, it might start in elementary school, when children learn to be afraid of the school principal, even though the main part of their job is to solve problems.
Sam: I wasn't afraid of Gaye Pittman Wise. She was a really nice lady.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #129

Peggy: Here's this month's royalty check.
Sam: Man, they're really pushing the money on us now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Higher Ed Could Do More

There are thousands of kids with autism coming of age, and Sharon's comment tells me Sam's experience -- while a first for him -- is not unique in higher education and many in higher education need to do more to get ready.

Read on:

Thursday when I picked Adam up from class, he didn't want to talk, at all. He seemed sad. Finally, late in the night he told me that his philosophy professor asked the class who had read the assignment. Adam answered that he had but, fearing he might get questions he couldn't answer, he added that he was not sure he completely understood what he read. His instructor ridiculed him and got the rest of the class to laugh at him. Naturally, he felt horrible.

But, that's not all. Tuesday he went to the music department to get advice about the possibility of majoring in music. He wants to do soundtracks for movies and he is pretty darn good at it too. He was told that he should stick with engineering because he should have started his music career a long time ago.

He is 16 for crine out loud! Sixteen, with 18 college credits and a 3.8 GPA. What's wrong with the jackasses who are supposed to be teaching our young people.

Higher education has come a long way to accommodate students with disabilities, but there are still problems. This is what happens when you build an educational system that has built-in assumptions.

Oh, and because my past life was in music, I can say this with complete authority: Any music professor who thinks music training needs to begin in childhood, like you do with gymnasts, isn't a true musician and artist, he is a gymnast.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

True Grit

"Thought for the day: there's a lot to live for, and everything happens for a reason. Pain is normal, tears are how we heal, and being happy all the time is unreasonable. We hurt, but that hurt makes our happiness that much more meaningful. The key is to keep moving on, embrace life, and always be thankful for what we have (which is often much more than we give ourselves credit for)." -- Michael Wolfe, Facebook


"Straighten up, Willie. It's time to row." -- Isabel Allende, The Sum of Our Days.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


"How tempting to live in limbo and wait for my real life to return. But this was my real life now. Life is a thing that mutates without warning, not always in enviable ways."

-- Diane Ackerman, "One Hundred Names for Love"

When a test is a barrier

Sam is taking two online classes this fall, one in word processing, another in spreadsheets. I've written before about the requirements he needs to "upgrade" from a certificate to an associate's degree in computer technology. He's just four classes away. It's very exciting.

Both of this fall's classes are in another department at the community college, and both required him to thoroughly read the syllabus and take a quiz over its contents. The students have to get a 100 on the quiz (they have unlimited attempts) before they can start the class. In a way, its a brilliant way to underscore the importance of reading and understanding the course requirements. In some of the larger lecture classes I've seen, professors spend the first day of class reading the syllabus to the students. And I've seen students drop once they realize the expectations.

Sam sailed through the syllabus quiz for one class but not the other. We're not quite sure what has happened -- we suspect, actually, there is a scoring problem -- but it is yet to be resolved. I sat with him yesterday as he tried, again and again and again and again, to secure that perfect score. Before I helped him devise some evaluation strategies, he had no idea how to figure out what he was doing wrong.

It was like being thrown into the ocean with no clue where to swim to safety. You can imagine how wild and panicked a person's thinking might get. And then, when you consider the true stakes how angry you could get.

He can't get the keys to the rest of the online kingdom of the class until he does. An email to the professor about the problem has brought only the suggestion that he drop the class.

And that brings me to the point of this post -- there is testing and then there are barriers.

When I was in junior high school, a gymnastics unit was added to our curriculum, probably in part because of the wildly popular Olga Korbut and the amazing things she did at the 1972 Olympics.

I saved those Seventeen magazine pages with a story and photo about her for ages.

Our instruction was pathetic. Our teacher couldn't do any of the moves, and was continually recruiting a student to demonstrate a move to the others (with that student likely demonstrating that move to the teacher for the first time about 90 seconds earlier.)

Once "demonstrated," we could practice on the equipment, serving as spotters for each other. At the end of the unit, we had to perform the different moves for our grade. We were scored on our ability to do the moves -- nothing about the rhythm and composition of a routine, our body poise, or other criteria used to evaluate a gymnast.

The test was sequential and, theoretically, based on difficulty. Our teacher had no idea what was a hard move and what was easy, in my opinion. But, you couldn't test for a B if you couldn't do all the moves needed for a C.

Because I couldn't go from a crouch on the beam to a standing position using only one leg -- a "C" level move -- I was not allowed to test for any other grade levels, even though I'd been working on all of them, as were my classmates, for six weeks.

Lots of girls didn't get the grade they deserved for having taught themselves gymnastics.

That's not instruction, and that's not testing, so don't make like its the bar exam.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #128

Peggy: I made a green smoothie this morning.
Sam: I've had that before. It's got kiwi and green apple.
Peggy: This one has apple, but it also has kale.
Sam: Oh, man ...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #127

Sam: I had a crazy dream last night.
Peggy: Oh, yeah?
Sam: I dreamt I slept for months. I was still alive, though. (pauses) I don't suppose that could happen in real life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

... And into 2012

The 2012 Old Farmer's Almanac came into the newsroom today and I immediately flipped to the general weather forecast to see what was ahead for us next year. They claim we are in a period of significant change and the low level of sunspot and space weather activity reinforced their read of the long-term weather patterns ahead.

No El Nino or La Nina. It doesn't look too good for Texas, the almanac says. While milder temperatures are in store for 2012, the drought will continue with below-normal precipitation.

I'm inclined to take their word for it. When Sam was in middle school, to prepare for the science fair, he conducted an experiment to check the accuracy of the the Old Farmer's Almanac that year -- not the general weather forecast, but its prediction for rainfall.

He gave them a B-plus.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #126

Sam: I have some shocking news.
Peggy: What's that?
Sam: I have my first quiz and I have to get a 100.
Peggy: Really? How many chances do you get?
Sam: It's unlimited.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer of '11

David Minton shot this in the livestock barn at the North Texas State Fair and Rodeo. You do what you gotta do to stay cool. Today was officially the 63rd day of the summer over 100 degrees.

Meteorologists say we could see relief this weekend, unless a tropical storm forms in the Gulf.

If so, we're cooked.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #125

Peggy: Dixie has been bad today. She's been barking indoors and chasing the cat.
Sam: The main reason it's bad when she barks inside is because you can't talk when she barks. She interrupts your conversation.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Probably Not Probable Cause

Sam started asking me a lot of questions about when might a police officer pull you over, so many that I asked him whether he got pulled over recently.

He had. In Flower Mound.

As far as I can deduce, he got pulled over because the kind of car he was driving and his license plate closely matched someone the police were looking for.

And what was the probable cause, you ask?

Sam still has a frame around his license plate.

He wondered if his identity had been stolen and whether he should turn his car in. We had a long talk about first amendment rights, and private property rights, and who the police work for. I have no idea how much of that sank in.

But tomorrow, we'll pull the frame off the plate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Case Against Long ARDs/IEPs

A Sunday piece in the New York Times (Tierney, John, "Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?" Aug. 17, 2011) explained something we figured out instinctively in the Wolfe house a long time ago -- don't make important decisions when you're tired.

Tierney explains the nuance to it, and its whys and hows. The ability to make good decisions fluctuates; it's not an inherent trait or a cultivated talent.

(And, as I hoped in taking my GRE in college, a bar of chocolate really does help.)

Tierney, a respected science writer, reports:

... studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to- back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.

Which leads me to marathon ARD meetings, those all-day deals to decide what educational goals -- and resources -- will be devoted to your child for an entire year.

That whole go-around-the-table report thing? That can wear you down like a bride and groom trying to decide what to register for.

And plodding through each individual goal? You may just take the recommendation, rather than contribute to meaningfully to the weighing of different values.

As if special needs parents aren't worn down to begin with. Yet, parents aren't part of ARD meeting preparations. They need to review test results and be able to check for their own understanding of the findings. They need to understand the goals and objectives of the speech therapist, the teacher, the occupational therapist, the counselor. More than ever, I'm convinced that the document dump and stilted discussion that occurs at typical ARD meetings guarantees parents will have damaging decision-fatigue, and in the way that Tierney describes it.

We never put a lot of stock in most of the meetings ... as long as resource and treatment options were open. We worked on goals for Sam in other ways.

But for parents who have a lot riding on the outcome of the meetings, it's no wonder that they can turn hostile.

Just like the salesman who wears you down in order to raise his commission, you feel taken. Combine that with the ferociousness any parent has in protecting their child, and you've got a meltdown in the making.

My Dad is Socrates

After a long discussion about this summer's horrendous heat wave ...

Peggy: I confess. In years' past, I would be grateful if we had only a few days over 100 degrees.
Dad: Is that really a good way to live?
Peggy: Ummmm, no.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #124

Sam: You forgot to tell me to take the trash up.
Peggy: Did you?
Sam: Yes.
Peggy: Did you bring the can back?
Sam: Yes.
Peggy: Wow, you sure took a lot of initiative while I was gone.
Sam: I get my groove on when I know you are going to be away.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #123

At the top of an email chain Sam forwarded about visiting Marbridge Village.

Peggy: We can find another day to visit since they can't meet us Labor Day. Meanwhile, you can answer their question that the visit is for you, not you asking for me.
Sam: I already did that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #122

Sam (as Microsoft Office 2010 gets loaded on his Dell via the digital river): .... and so if you need to chat with them, here's where you turn that on ....
Peggy: I'm sure it will be fine. I'm happy to keep an eye on it for you so you can go to work.
Sam: Well, I'm very sorry I got you into this, Mom.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #121

Peggy: So how was work? Was it busy at the store today?
Sam: It's August.

And So It Begins

My friend, and fellow autism mom, Yolanda, calls it the business of empty nesting.

Michael moved into his first apartment this week. I let him shop the house for things he would need to stock the kitchen and outfit the rest of this space he'll share with three other guys. He's a junior at TCU, and each step taken is a further step from the nest. It's exciting to watch, and a little bittersweet.

Paige is next. She will move into the dorm this week at the University of Iowa. Dorm life is not as nice there in Iowa City. I suspect by this time next year, she'll be hunting down her first apartment, the way I did after my first year at North Texas.

Back then, in the dark ages, Bruce Hall didn't have air conditioning. I wasn't putting up with another year of that.

Sam sees these exoduses and knows he's got to make his own moves. We've talked about it a lot in the past year. He doesn't have a good enough job yet, but he's getting there.

Last night, he emailed the folks at Marbridge in Austin. Another young man his age, Daniel, moved there after high school, got a good job at a local hospital, and just this past year, moved out of Marbridge village and into his first apartment. Sam knows that's the kind of support he needs to make the transition.

We're supposed to go tour soon.

And so the last fledging, not to be outdone by his brother and sister, starts stretching his wings.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #120

Sam: Pretty soon we won't have to open the door for the dogs again.
Peggy: What do you mean?
Sam: It will get cool enough to leave the door to the breezeway open
Peggy (forgetting there is weather other than Texas scorch): Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Extreme banking with Sam in the international marketplace, or how I got another 100 gray hairs in the last 24 hours

Last night I sat down to the computer to do a little scanning and the first document that opened up told me that Sam had scanned the front and back of his bank card and driver's license for Avangate -- something akin to PayPal in Canada.

I haven't scrambled so hard in a 24-hour period since he left his wallet on a chair in the waiting room at the dentist's office. That day, someone picked it up and bought gas in Gainesville, about 30 miles away, before we could cancel the card. And Sam had realized the error within the hour.

We did all the usual things -- fraud alerts, card changes, getting the driver's license re-issued.

This time, I wasn't so concerned about Sam having made an error, but that he had left himself too vulnerable.

His intentions were spot on. He upgraded us to OS Lion. We needed Tuxera NTS, a file system that lets the Mac get backed up on an external drive. And probably some other amazing tasks that Sam knows that I don't.

But Tuxera is in Finland. So he had to pay through Avangate. The bank blocked it. That's an international transaction. Avangate sent him an email with several ways to get the payment through. He chose the offline pay and cajoled the bank into authorizing it. Everything seems to have gone through alright.

But, Hey, Martha. I tell ya. If that information got in the wrong hands, someone could drain his bank account.

I went to the bank and ordered him a new bank card. He applied for a credit card. As the good guys at DATCU said, better he shops with the bank's money than his own.

I agree. He manages his money well enough that I know it will be paid off at the end of each month.

Then I called a good friend who I know has LifeLock. She explained it. I persuaded Sam to sign up.

Maybe the rest of us can get in the ring and fight the financial fraud matadors, but Sam is just too much like Ferdinand for that.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #119

Sam: I think I've solved that problem I was having with writing my app. I'd like to show you sometime.
Peggy: Have you finished writing it?
Sam: Oh, it's not time to celebrate yet. I could hit a brick wall or something.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #118

Sam (as he opens the door to head to Albertsons): Oh, it's going to be hot working outside today.
Peggy: Good luck out there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #117

Peggy, lacing up shoes, sighs. Sam smiles.
Peggy: You think it's funny that I sigh so big before going to work?
Sam: I think I sigh more than you do, and bigger.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Breaking the Other Tape

Credit: National Weather Service, Fort Worth

Brainstorming 101: Fixing the Garage Door

After Sam finished fixing problems that came with the Lion upgrade, he suggested that we tackle the garage door. We have an automatic door opener that works when it wants to.

And it doesn't want to very often.

It's been a great chance to brainstorm solutions. We've watched videos on YouTube. We've called Uncle Matt. We've taken turns trying things and watching the trouble spots to come up with ideas.

And because it's primarily a mechanical system, it seems that each thing we try brings a small reward, whether it's knocking down wasp nests to remove a blocked pathway or lubricating parts to lessen the drag on the motor. Each step brings progress.

Sam has decided that we still have some kind of electrical problem, though. He says because we have to hold the button down for it to open there must be some kind of wear in the wires. I told him I'd like to replace the sensors -- they look like they've just about had the life kicked out of them, they've been bumped and bustled so much -- and he's agreed.

And if that doesn't do the trick, he's going after the wiring.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #116

Peggy (opening the home office door): Knock, knock. Gus wants to come in and be with you.
Sam: Awwwww, he'll just stink it up.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reading Assignment

Before my writing partner, Shahla Alai-Rosales, headed out of town for a few weeks, she left me with a reading assignment. (Once a professor, always a professor, she gave me more than I think I can consume in the time period allotted.)

We are looking for books that could be competition or complementary to the book we are planning to propose to a few specialty publishers -- a book about decision-making for parents and caregivers.

For those of us loving and supporting someone with a disability, those decisions can feel pretty high stakes sometimes. Our kids aren't as resilient if those decisions end up being mistakes. Most of us expect to have some role throughout our child's life in that decision-making, but it's easy to get in the habit of doing more than you should.

(Brief digression: Some years ago, my husband wanted me to take over driving while he tended to some other task in the truck. For some reason, he kept barking out directions and reminders to me -- something he did not normally do. I drove past the on-ramp to the freeway and he asked me why on earth did I miss that. I told him that for the past several minutes he had bossed me around so much he just took my brain away. I wish I could say we laughed then, but I can't, and that is the end of this digression, since I hope my point has been made.)

One of the books is by the Turnbulls, et al., from the University of Kansas. Heavy hitters in the world of disability studies and powerful voices when it comes to parenting and advocating. It's title "Disability and the family: a guide to decisions for adulthood." (1990: Paul H. Brookes Publishing)

The layout looked like other books I had to consume in grad school (unbearably dense), but it belied it's content. It's readable and full of terrific information.

It didn't take long for me to get hung up on a page that spelled out the steps of a decision-making process. And they are:

Defining the problem or need
Evaluating and choosing alternatives
Communicating the decision to others
Taking action
Evaluating the outcome of the action

It's pretty easy for me to imagine Sam being able to define a problem or need in many situations. But there are scores of situations where brainstorming and evaluating alternatives would vex him.

For example, Sam wants to move into an apartment. But we have done some computer searches and I can tell he has no idea how to find a place that's safe, appropriate and economical.

My first apartment choice was an unqualified disaster. My roommate moved in three months earlier than me, enough time to set up patterns for her cats to urinate on the carpet (the odor made your eyes water) and to leave dirty dishes long enough that the roaches swarmed as soon as the lights were turned out.

I complained. She made some changes, but ultimately I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

The next place wasn't much better. A firetrap on the second floor, with a neighbor who cooked on his hibachi at the top of the stairs every evening.

The next place after that was a house I shared with two other girls. It was a lot better, but not without its inequities. I allowed them in order to get along.

It helps to know what to think about. He'll need more help than the admonition I could get away with making to my other kids, "don't make the mistakes I made."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Out Like a Lion

Sam got sidetracked with his plans to write an app for iPhone that restores some contact-sorting features he used to have on his Nokia.

Sam works on an old Dell a dear friend gave us, so any app work is going to happen on my Mac. He started amassing the resources he needed and then came to me to say the final step was this: we need to upgrade to Lion OS.

I consented to this upgrade without asking probing questions -- completely, utterly stupid on my part.

Ever since I got my first Mac in 1988 and we made the leap to System 7, I've known it's never simple. System upgrades are like taking off down the autobahn without tying down a bunch of your stuff in the back of the pick-up.

(My mind is in funny loop just now, imagining pick-up trucks on the autobahn racing past Benzes and Beemers.)

What flew out of the Wolfe family pick-up, you ask?

All my financial records (yes, Intuit let the weenies rule over Quicken). Sam's amazing fixes for our family computer network -- including a peripheral switch for our printer and our portable back-up drive. The entire Microsoft Office suite.

I sooooo knew better.

Major backtracking today.

But I'm proud of Sam. He downloaded Open Office. That's fixed. And knowing Sam, we'll be true contributors to the community.

Then, we pulled the Quicken data off portable back-up and he's going to use Paige's laptop to help me convert to iBank. That should be fixed tomorrow.

Right now, he's writing the manufacturers of that peripheral equipment and asking for patches.

See Sam Go.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Anesthesia and the Incredible Likeness of Your Being

I just brought Paige home from the dentist where she had all four of her wisdom teeth extracted. I've been through this enough -- with Mark and the boys and myself -- to know what to expect.

Paige, always thinking, rarely speaking, has yet to say a word, but we're communicating. That includes her throwing a hand signal to make sure I didn't forget about the construction detour on the way home. (I almost did.)

Michael, always questioning, came out of anesthesia with a 10-second loop of memory. He looked at me and asked, "Is it over? That wasn't too bad. How do I look?" Before I could answer the second question, he came again. "Is it over? That wasn't too bad. How do I look?" I squeezed his arm and tried to get to that second question again when he looked up at me the same way for the third time. "Is it over? That wasn't too bad. How do I look?"

The nurse said, "That's pretty common. He'll get his memory back."

Mark had a tougher time of it. Like most of his life, everything came with complications. When I've been under, all I do is sleep and puke. I have to purge before I can get on with my life. But when I do, it's a brand new day.

Sam becomes his essential self, too. When he wakes up from anesthesia, his big brown eyes turn into holes of the universe, just like when he was a baby, and if you let yourself fall in, it's love and terror all in one.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #115

Peggy: With all the traveling and time out of the house I've had, I've missed you.
Sam: Well, get used to it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Expert Consultation Coming

I hope.

The ARC sent me a link to a website that is supposed provide self-help for adults with autism in the work force, called JobTIPS.

I asked Sam to take a look at it. Some of the pages are about interacting with the supervisor and how to keep a job, so it applies.

I think it looks good and the information is helpful, and clearly presented.

He said he'd take a look at it this weekend and let me know what he thought -- I'm hoping to blog it.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #114

Peggy (after a three-day trip to University of Iowa with Paige): So what was your favorite part of being a bachelor this week?
Sam: Running the lawn mower.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

See Sam Fly

Sam hopped on a plane and flew to Salt Lake City to stay with my sister and her family.

Within minutes after his arrival, he sent me a text about how beautiful the weather was.

(Yeah, just rub that one in there, buddy.)

This is Sam's second trip to Utah and about his sixth or seventh time to fly on his own. I don't need to accompany him to the gate anymore, nor does anyone need to meet him there like we did when he first flew on his own.

I did not do a single thing to help him pack, not a prompt about the web check-in or anything. When we got to the airport, I asked him, "do you want to hop out at the curb or do you need me to come in?"

He asked me to come in and stay until he was got in the security line.

But he thought about it for a minute. He really did.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Love Letter to JK Rowling

My daughter and I have tickets to opening night of the final installment of Harry Potter Thursday. The kids have gone on opening night before; this will be a first for me. We'll see part one and part two back to back. It seemed right to do it. Paige, my youngest, heads off to college this fall.

I don't know how my kids would have grown up without being able to do it alongside Harry Potter. Ours is a happy house, overall, one that often looks like the Weasley's burrow, although my clock doesn't keep very good track of the kids and I must wash dishes myself.

But their world has become a dark and scary place more than once, and there were times it seemed only the wisdom in those pages got them through.

When love didn't go as planned, there was Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermoine, to remind them that respect and friendship comes first.

After their father died suddenly -- and they felt all alone knowing that no one else in their world knew what they knew -- along came Luna, who reassured them that she sees the thestrals, too.

And when the mother-of-all-battles came home to burn the burrow and destroy the school, they recognized how to sort the world into the truly courageous and those who can only feign bravery.

I doubt, actually, I could have communicated to Sam what is needed to get through the next few years without those final chapters.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for being there for my kids when all I had left to offer was the wisdom of the best coming-of-age story ever told.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


With the upgrade to iPhones, Sam and I can now text each other. I've watched Sam play with spelling and language on Facebook and knew that he could handle some communication shortcuts. I've watched him use some numbers in place of letters. I was curious what our first crash-and-burn would be like texting.

Our first crash and burn came from the auto-correct.

Me: "Maybe charge the tractor when you fervor from work and let's try to start it again tonight."

When I pressed send, I saw that "fervor" was in place of "get home".

(Awesome guess there, by the way, Mr. Auto-Correct Editor.)

Immediately, I followed that with: "Stupid auto correct. Get home, not fervor."

Within 30 seconds, my phone was ringing.

"Mom, I did not understand your text message AT ALL."

I didn't even try to explain or translate.

"Sam, please just charge the tractor. I'll explain what happened with the text when I get home."

Damn You, Auto Correct.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #113

Peggy: fast, heavy sigh after playing a bunch of wrong notes on the piano
Sam: Bless you. (pauses) Wait, did you sneeze?
Peggy: Nah. But thanks.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #112

Peggy: How was work today?
Sam: We tested a circuit board I've been building.
Peggy: And?
Sam: It worked!
Peggy: Alright. So what's it for?
Sam: A scoreboard. Someone is getting a new scoreboard.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #111

Peggy: I packed your lunch again today.
Sam: Oh, thanks. I need to get in that groove.
Peggy: I packed chicken, carrots and blueberries. Is that ok?
Sam: I was afraid to eat the blueberries yesterday. I thought they would poison me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No Surprise Here

Stanford has come out and said the environment is a significant factor in autism causation.

This is not a surprise in the Wolfe house.

At one time, Mark and I hoped that we could be included in a class action suit being filed against those who had polluted on the east side of Sacramento, including Aerojet and Mather AFB. The same law firm that had pursued the hexavalent chromium case against PG&E, the story that become the movie Erin Brockovich, had found a cluster of autism and thyroid disorders there.

The problem for us was, we were living in an apartment complex one street too far west. We couldn't be in the class because we weren't living in the Rancho Cordova zip code when I became pregnant with Sam -- or so the pre-screening went.

I pushed back hard on the legal clerk who interviewed us. Really, just one street over?


I learned that day that science and law are two very different things.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #110

Sam (belching): I should get all this air up and out now. (pauses). That's better than the air getting out down later.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

That All May Read

Yesterday we mailed back the digital playback machine from the Texas State Library. Sam has been a client of the Talking Books program since elementary school. Many nights the boys put in a Harry Potter book, or Hank the Cowdog, or Lemony Snicket, and fell asleep as the story unfolded.

That doesn't really work for Sam's life anymore. He's working two jobs and, come fall, will be taking two classes online -- just 12 more credit hours, four easy classes -- and he'll have his associate's degree.

I bought him a Kindle two Christmases ago, in hopes that the Kindle -- which has the capability of converting text to speech -- would fill the gap in his life.

It helps when a textbook is available as a Kindle edition. The book can be read to him and that improves his comprehension. We can't expect the Talking Books program to keep up with that kind of need.

But book publishers don't want to cooperate with the e-reader formats. They likely consider what happened to the music industry as a cautionary tale. His most favorite books aren't available, probably because the most popular authors know that where they go, is where the e-reader goes.

We'd pay for the damn books if they play nice with Kindle, which had the decency to offer text-to-speech. We'd buy another e-reader if they would quit buckling to the audio book market and enable text-to-speech.

While everyone else waits for market dominance -- or, in the case of JK Rowling and PotterMore, apparently positions for the continued chaos -- people like Sam can't participate.

It just shows how little we really think about people when our vision is clouded by money.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Working Title

So, yes, I'm working on another book. My longtime friend, Shahla Alai Rosales, an applied behavior analysis professor at the University of North Texas, and I are putting together a parenting book on decision-making.

We recognized that parents make decisions for their young children everyday. But parents of children with disabilities often make more decisions, and sometimes for the duration of their child's entire life. We wanted to put together timeless information for parents, guiding their decisions so that they result in lifelong happiness and satisfaction for their child and their family.

I told my co-worker, Lowell Brown (with whom I'd also like to co-author a book on the Barnett Shale someday) the working title for our parenting book:

Between Now and Dreams: A Parent's Guide for Every Decision You'll Ever Make.

Lowell's deadpan response, "You think that's comprehensive enough?"

Absolutely, dude. And we're going to pack it all in a skinny little book that you can carry around in your brief case or purse.

We're going to change the world.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #109

Peggy (over dinner): So how was your first day at work?
Sam: Fantastic.
Peggy: How many circuit boards did you build?
Sam: Hundreds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Getting By With A Little Help From Our Friends

After my public whine about DARS, a few friends reached out with unexpected and much appreciated offers. Sam seized on them both, forwarding a resume to one and securing an interview with another.

I accompanied him to the interview, in part because I wanted to see my old friend, but also because she asked that I be there.

My friend runs a company started by her late husband assembling circuit boards. I'm sure there is nothing in "What Color is Your Parachute" or any of the other how-to-get-a-job-books about bringing your mom along, but that's how we roll.

Sam and my friend communicated just fine together. They are both straight shooters. She gave him a tour and checked his ability to do some of the fine motor work. Then she told him she would work around his Albertsons schedule for now. Very classy. If it doesn't work out, there is an easy retreat for both of them.

But I have to say, at the end of the interview, when she asked about another task altogether -- helping her link up some kind of time clock hardware to her current accounting software -- I saw a huge spark in Sam's eyes.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #108

Peggy: I put a little more whole wheat flour in the kolache dough this time.
Sam: Sometimes, Mom, you can eat too much nutrition, you know.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #107

Sam: You have a real nice air freshener in here.
Peggy (motioning to the vase on the dresser): It's the tuberose your smelling.
Sam: A Tube Rose?
Peggy: Yes. I think they smell like Hawaii.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Every Day of The Year

Based on things Sam has said about the gas plant next door over the past 12 months, I can tell he wakes up each day and thinks, "Maybe today is the day that they lose and we win and we can stay."

As my friend Nancy said, it's sweet, but it's sad.

It's a universal truth, too. I wake up everyday thinking my husband is alive and my home isn't threatened.

Then I draw my first waking breath.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

They Just Don't Get It

I called DARS today -- that's Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services to you non-Texans out there.

I reminded the counselor that we had talked more than six months ago, looking for help finding an internship ... but if not, soon he would be graduating and, in the eyes of the state, "underemployed."

Well that day is here, and could they help with a job search and a coach, like they did with Albertsons, only with a tech job?

She said just about every way she could that she couldn't help, and I listened and listened. Then when it was my turn to talk, I said, I'm not sure what all I just heard here, but essentially I heard that you can't help.

Oh, no, she said, that's not it. I just don't want you to have any expectations that we'll be successful this time. The providers they work with don't have contacts in the tech world. The best network will be the one I can make for him. Besides, the job market is really soft, no one is getting hired. We could be at this for a very long time.

Essentially, repeating herself, but objecting to my characterization of what she says.

Yeah, I get that at work a lot.

But, I kept my mouth shut on the characterization and went searching for common ground.

Sam needs help navigating this alien world of job-searching. He needs help searching and applying for jobs. He needs help with the interviews. And once an employer is ready to take a chance on him, he'll need help for a little while -- and so will the employer -- understand the expectations and learning how to communicate with each other.

Mercifully, at some point, before she could reply to me with another round of negativity, either my phone hung up on her or her on me.

The guys at nonPareil have seen it -- Sam understands and works hard. He loves to solve problems, and he has a lot of stamina and thinking power to do it.

I called Gary Moore, who collects stories like these because he hears from parents every day, just to add to the pile. The pile know as "DARS just doesn't get it."

He called back and did some brainstorming with me. Lots more than required, but I appreciated it. He reminded me that Sam built a bunch of computers during his internship with nonPareil, computers meant for DARS clients.

But DARS can't help him find that employment.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #106

Sam: What was that all about?
Peggy: Susan was helping me re-arrange the furniture so that it looks a little better when the real estate people come around
Sam: When does that start?
Peggy: Maybe as soon as next weekend.
Sam: We're doomed.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #105

Sam: I miss Michael and Paige.
Peggy: Me, too. What do you miss the most about them?
Sam: Well, I miss Michael, of course. He's been gone the most.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How Paige Sees Home

First Things First

Sam and I spent a good portion of last Saturday afternoon talking about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The house is going up for sale and he's very upset about it.

We are about to become another in what is sure to be a long exodus of refugees from the Barnett Shale. An operator has built a gas processing plant next door. I'm not sure we can even sell the place, but I have to try.

My brother-in-law is an attorney for a pipeline company in another state. Even his eyes popped when he saw what we're being asked to put up with.

(image borrowed from Wikipedia)

Sam has known this has been coming for a long time, but struggled to see the new order of things once we leave. I'm not surprised. People with autism can barely understand our cryptic social orders to begin with. Upend the whole thing and he doesn't know what to do.

Well, the wise Mr. Maslow said that first comes things like breathing and food and water. Breathable air is already in short supply around here, having a next door neighbor dehydrating gas, blowing off relief valves and burning raw gas to run thousands of horses every hour to keep that 16-inch line compressed adds serious insult to injury.

Not to mention, if that 16-inch line ever goes, we go with it.

Seeing it on the pyramid, along with things like food and water helped him understand.

He's fretted for more than a year about what would happen to friendships if we aren't living in the same place we've always been. Half his school chums are graduating, too, and getting jobs far from here. Somehow, Sam saw himself as the anchor in this changing storm.

But friendships are much higher on the pyramid. As a visual aid, Maslow scores for us. Sam finally understands why the exodus is necessary.

First things First.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #104

Michael (via phone, after his car broke down at the merge of I35W and 820): When you're a little kid, you cry and then you do it. After you grow up, you do it and then you cry.
Peggy: That's brilliant, Michael.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Second Biggest Mistake Ever. Or Not.

For a graduation present, I bought Sam an iPhone.

Second only to buying him an old car for Christmas, it was shaping up to be the biggest mistake I ever made.

Family members, friends, and all the AT&T retail sales reps and guys from the Genius Bar at the Apple Store down in Texas have been getting an earful about the Bad Decision Apple Made, one that makes it impossible to assign properties to your contact groups.

It was something his old Nokia phone could do, and he warned me (and has reminded me repeatedly the past four days that he warned me) that without that feature, it was a deal-breaker.

It didn't matter that he could turn on the navigator to help find an alternate route to the airport today, or to the Apple Store. It didn't matter that he could play his favorite music on it. Because he couldn't tell his phone to ring one way for a call from a family member and another way for a call from friends, the phone might as well go in the trash can.

He tried finding apps. He tried work-arounds I found on various help sites. He could create the groups in Outlook, but Outlook wouldn't cooperate with the sync. Even if he gets that to work, he'd still have to program each individual contact with his preferred ringtone.

A waste of time, Sam said. He's right, of course. But I told him that if it's really that important, he's spending an awful lot of time figuring out the work-arounds. So much time, in fact, that he probably would already have had all 60-ish of his contacts programmed.

Yes, he said, but why should he have to waste his time because of this Bad Decision Apple Made.

Then it dawned on me. He could write an app for that.

We had an animated discussion on the way home from the Apple Store about it. I told him a lot of people learn to make a good living by solving problems people want solved.

His perspective changed. Or he at least stopped saying I made a huge mistake buying him the phone. He recognized developing an app as a project, and one with some big hurdles, but he's on his way.

When we got home, he made his first "alert tone" in Garage Band, one that he used on his Nokia that he's upset wasn't on his iPhone. And we looked up resources for app developers.

This could be an interesting summer, especially as the job hunt begins.

Autism Awareness Floofie

I am surrounded by some of the most talented people. Maddy Mathis created this furry little guy in autism awareness colors.

She will attend art school in California. In about a decade, this young woman will be a creative force in the art world.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Terms of Endearment

I first moved to Texas as a college freshman, straight from the Dairy State. There were all kinds of culture shocks for me, including the one where every woman on campus called me "Hon" or "Honey."

No one ever called me that before. But here I was, trying to learn how to eat jalapenos and chicken fried-mistake and the lady behind the serving tray wants to know "do you want grits with that, Hon?" I heard it most was when the staff member and I were in the middle of something difficult, like dropping a class or cashing a check. It felt very patronizing.

And that is because it probably was.

When you get dropped into another culture, or subculture, it's easier to pick up on those kinds of things. And that brings me to the word "kiddo."

Now, I'm not going to blow this out of proportion. One-to-one, it's a term of endearment. It's not the r-word, which mercifully, and finally, the Texas Legislature has banished. All our MHMRs must be renamed.

And this isn't something that requires a People First refresher.

But I've heard this sort of thing so often -- "It was a tough day for the kiddoes," or "I'm trying to find out whether it will help my kiddoes," or "Who's going to stay with the kiddoes?" -- that I'm starting to wonder about the usage.

Unless you're using it one-on-one as a term of endearment, then just don't use it.

It's sounding patronizing.