Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chocolate Glee!

With a Friday that was FULL starting with an IEP meeting at the junior high (all promising discussions), clarinet lessons (we did a spunky polka duet), and much more, I thought  I was going to have a sleepy evening until this arrived in my inbox: 

Please join us to welcome Claudio Corallo back from Africa to Palo Alto in celebration with music, chocolate & wine on Friday, May 8th from 6:00PM-9:00PM.
Dear friends and chocolate lovers. 
We're very excited for Claudio's return from Africa and we invite you to our chocolate boutique where we will listen to Palo Alto's string quartet (live), drink fine wine, taste the most original chocolate in world and of course celebrate Claudio's return from our plantation in  São Tomé e Príncipe
Even more exciting, is the oportunity we will have to celebrate together the National Geographic's twenty four printed pages feature story on Claudio Corallo and our chocolate.

Do not miss this extraordinary event; join us for a chocolate-evening and discussion with one of the most innovative cacao growers and perfectionist chocolate makers in the world!

We look forward to seeing you there to help give Claudio a warm back to California welcome!

I just could not miss it!!!!!  He’s my favorite chocolate guru as many will recall:

Panos and Robbin run the store and are already good friends

The lady behind the quartet is his daughter who lives in Lisbon and was a great translator.

I basically hung out close by all evening long occasionally sampling chocolate (I know all his products) and more voraciously listening to every word he said.  I found out how he recommends eating the 100% chocolate, three samples at a time!  I learned that his heart is still in the Congo where he’d love to return.  I loved his comparison of his chocolate making methods to those of olive oil makers in Florence (where he’s from).  The idea is to create the highest quality plant and then minimally process the result so that all those flavors come through.  This guy is really the master!!!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Upper Deck Retreat

I have gradually fallen in love with our upper deck.  It's a small spot, perhaps 8 x 8 feet.  For the first year or so, we hardly used it all all.  Then I gave up planting anything outside of containers because no matter how "deer resistant" it was, the deer ate it.  So, the upper deck became my spot for planting container roses and then a gardenia, hydrangea, and finally this spring's herb garden. 

I tend to hang out there in the morning or afternoon when I can have partial sun and the stunning views up into the redwoods.  I also bring out morning tea and reading / work to do.

Tracker approves of the full sun
This is actually the large, lower deck, but I do this much more often higher up...
... so I can see up into the tree tops.

 And, now that the summer heat has begun, my first roses are blooming too so that there are colors and fragrances in this small spot.  It's a wonderful place to enjoy a few minutes of peace and beauty.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cousin Love

This morning Cameron's seven-year-old cousin headed home to Connecticut.  It was just such a delight to see them play together and thoroughly enjoy each other's uniqueness.  So, I'm sharing a bunch of pictures.  They make me smile and feel warm fuzzies :)

Goofing off in the back seat
Enjoying Teriyaki... she doesn't share Cameron's love of sushi

Helping in the tried-and-true game of Squash Cameron
Sea cliff exploring together
Chair snuggles 
A park visit with Andrew and me while Cameron was at school
Couch snuggles
True companionship

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tracker's Bend in the Road!

We started raising Tracker for Guide Dogs for the Blind when he was seven months old.  I hadn't raised a guide dog puppy since high school, but it was a fun experience and a great way for us to try out having a dog for our family.  When he went back for training, I was a properly teary mess.

Right before I crossed the bridge to bring him back for training.
But, then I started getting excited.  He was advancing through the training!  I could see what phase he was in each week!  It was really exciting!  I couldn't wait to attend the graduation and see him succeed! He got to phase 7 out of 8 and I was expecting a call from the guide dog club leader any day to let me know he'd been matched with a blind person.   I got a different call from the club leader.  She said that he'd been dropped!  

This is my summary of what she told me that I shared at the time with friends/family:

Tracker Update :(
I just got off the phone with the club leader and found out they dropped Tracker from the guide dog program!  He’s always been very lick-y (which isn’t a problem, they just match lick-y dogs with people who like it).  Apparently, once he nibbled a little when very excited.  No big deal and certainly something they can train.  Last week he was licking upward when the instructor was putting on the harness and his tooth caught her lip.  They say is was clearly an accident and part of the licking, but it’s now a liability issue for the school.  If anything happens in the future, it’s considered as potential evidence of having a history and the organization can’t graduate a guide that opens them to liability claims.  Apparently the instructor is newer and was also devastated because he’s such a great learner and guide and she was looking forward to his graduation too.  So, we’ve been processing for the last hour.  Andrew and I have been chatting about the possibility of accepting him back and how that would work for our family or, the other option, encouraging the school to place him with a different program.  We’re both feeling stunned.  I’m going to take a day to think and a night to sleep on it at least.  Andrew is leaving it up to me, Tracker would be my dog and my responsibility.    Wow, I was expecting I’d write next to say that he was in phase 8/8.  As of yesterday, he was in phase 7, almost a fully trained guide dog!  He would be a perfect dog to help Cameron with everything therapy dogs can do… I’m leaning toward becoming a pet owner, but I do want to be cautious about rapidly making a ten year commitment; it’s time to do some thinking.  Definitely feeling topsy turvy :)

This was the official dog drop notice that the leader forwarded to me:

DOG: 5J35 - Tracker M\LGX\Yellow - TRN\REL  DOB:5/26/2013
SUMMARY: Tracker is a tall, yellow Labrador Golden Cross. He was an eager learner, but could become overly stimulated in challenging areas or when learning novel concepts. Therefore, he benefited from a relaxed, casual teaching environment with an emphasis on positive reinforcement.  He was able to progress through all the phases of training and was an attentive, willing worker.
Tracker tends to have low body awareness, especially in moments of excitement. He also has oral tendencies and enjoys showing affection by licking, however in moments of excitement this can result in his teeth briefly making contact with his handler. It is important to note that Tracker is good-natured and has shown improved self-control with maturity and clear boundaries; however he demonstrated this inappropriate contact on multiple occasions, especially with new handlers. This behavior is the ultimate reason for his release from the program.
It is recommended the above information is considered when making a decision about Tracker’s placement. He has an affectionate, playful side and enjoys lying on his back to get belly scratches.  While in formal training, Tracker was placed in Commuter Foster Care with a couple who had two other pet dogs. Tracker did exceptionally well at their home; he was responsive to all verbal commands and had no incidents of inappropriate mouthing behavior. A similar “forever home” that provides clear but fair rules and can enjoy his spunky, playful side would be an ideal match. It should also be stated that while vocal in the kennel environment, he had nice house behavior and settled well on tie down in the Training Office. 
Tracker is healthy and is only on preventative medications for fleas and heartworm. He is eating 4 cups total of Natural Balance Lamb and Rice (split-feed).

Here he is getting in the car as I picked him up from the school.

We decided to take him back and I delved into doing research about autism service dogs.  I also spoke with a school that trains them.  The director was clear that I can privately train Tracker as a service dog and he'll have all the legal protections of any service animal.  Most of the work in training a service animal is the raising and socializing.  There are a handful of specific commands that I can teach, but the autism service dog’s job is to be perfectly behaved in public and to offer a few tricks as conversation ice breakers and some deep pressure (head on lap) when the kid needs it.  I need to teach Tracker several of those specialized commands to help my son and then teach my son how to be a dog handler (likely the longer step).  So, now I have a service dog in training jacket and I can privately make him an autism service dog for my kiddo!  It was definitely a time of feeling topsy turvy for for awhile, but now we're getting used to it and... Tracker is definitely feeling at home :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gluten-Free Baking... Rediscovering a Hobby

I've taken a huge break from my baking passion since I found gluten was a trigger for more migraines for me.  Recently though, I've been tinkering with baking again and having success!  I've had plenty of flops too, so I wanted to share the two resources for gluten-free baking that have had the same feeling of warm, cozy goodness as wheat-flour-based baking.  I most wanted a gluten-free biscotti and googled my options and... had three flops in a row!  Not to be discouraged, I tried a fourth and it was a success!

I substituted almond extract and added sliced almonds, bits of dark chocolate, and diced, crystalized ginger.  Yum! I've also tried cinnamon rolls from her website which were yummy.  Brittany Angel has a lot of free content, but I would have purchased a subscription if not for my new bible of gluten free baking!

I've enjoyed America's Test Kitchen in the past, but their cookbook on gluten-free baking is spectacular!  I have made successful: flaky biscuits, coffee cake, pumpkin bread, lemon pound cake, blueberry muffins, ginger molasses cake, and oatmeal raisin cookies!  Some of them have disappeared so quickly that I haven't had a chance to get pictures, but here are two:

So, those are two resources that I have found really helpful in rediscovering this hobby that used to give me such pleasure.  Back to the aromas of fresh baking pampering our household each week... tonight, fluffy dinner rolls to match the chicken pot pie that's our new favorite!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Further Introductions

Before I forget, I must make two more introductions to friends along my walk "to the white fence and back again".  First, allow me to present the Ivy Ladies.  They are a ring of redwoods draped in robes of ivy.

Aren't they just so delightful in their cozy circle :)

And, my other introduction is to a venerable, old gentleman the "Shake hands?" tree.  His branch goes all the way from his trunk, up through the branches of another tree, and down to about four feet above the road, just at the perfect spot to...

(bottom right)

(lower left from the middle, just above the road)

... shake hands!  He's so friendly, every time; I hope you get to shake hands with a tree soon :)

One more thought on publishing that article...

As I was working with that potential co-author for the article "Parenting for Independence, we tried our hand at writing a blog post for The Objective Standard first.  The idea was that we wanted to focus on the tool of "Engaging a Child’s Cooperation by Appealing to Self Interest" or "Motivating Children by Self Interest: Parenting Tool Box".  We hadn't picked an official title, but we thought this was a a good start. We also considered it as a potential series and perhaps something that would help us work toward making a full length article for publication in the journal.  We didn't get to something super snazzy, but this is how far we did get and I'm putting it here with her permission because it may be of some use.  I did most of the writing after the diagram phase and she hasn't tweaked it in ages, so please consider all the faults mine and we can share the positives.  In any case, I hope you find it fun to employ the tool of appealing to children's current values as a way to achieve a win win in some tricky situations.

IntroParents make many seemingly reasonable requests, such as “clean your room,” and “do your homework.” We find it obvious that cleaning helps a person enjoy his property and studying is essential to mastering subjects.  But, children often prefer making messes and goofing off!  Why don’t explanations that make so much sense to parents work? Are parents and children bound to win-lose conflicts until the children grow up? There is a way to often side step that confrontational approach; parents can help a child to discover the short-term, concrete benefits that will appeal to his rational self-interest. In essence, they can ask themselves what is one benefit of this activity that my child might love right now or one he is capable of imagining happening soon?

While it sounds good to have children happily cleaning because they see a benefit they want right now, what benefit could possibly be so exciting for cleaning their rooms?  Finding lost toys can be powerful!  Finding Pocahontas behind the bookshelf after she was lost for two months can be an extraordinary experience for little ones.  Even if a child isn’t missing something (or aware of missing it), finding it easy to locate items quickly when you want to grab them is fun.  No kid likes searching for the fifth Yahtzee die when friends or family are waiting, or missing out on an impromptu baseball game because he can’t find his glove in time.  It’s also nice to have a space ready for coloring or lego castles or other new projects without needing to clean up first.  These are things that children can notice and thus they’re cleaning because of a benefit they want, that they see as in their best interest now.  

Arithmetic over video games?  Spelling over lego wars?  How could a parent ever appeal to a child’s immediate self interest when it comes to homework?  Since we’re not talking about distant goals like getting into college and getting a good job, how can we expect a young kid to do homework because he sees the benefit now. Parents can help a child imagine the near-term benefits of a homework assignment. For example, calculation skills offer more independence with managing money to get a desired toy. Vocabulary opens up a wider range of fascinating books to explore. History is filled with exciting stories of what people have done and what has or hasn't worked from which children can find inspiration and explore dilemmas like whether to appease or to take a stand against a bully.  Parents can also use their own creativity to make make a challenging topic more immediately fun.  For example, if a child doesn’t understand negative numbers, a parent can make a game to move the child’s body along an imaginary number line: plus two, minus six, plus negative three, minus negative five (and of course it’s cool to switch off too so the child can direct Mom or Dad).  Spelling words can be incorporated into goofy paragraphs and typing practice into software games.   

While no tool works in every situation, it is easier to avoid parent-child conflict when parents focus on benefits that children find engaging now.  Their cooperation is then motivated by their own self interest. With practice, tasks seen as chores (cleaning a room or studying for an exam) can become enjoyable as children recognize the immediate benefits. Over the years, the longer-term benefits become more and more evident too, but with a few less battles along the way.