Decorating for Halloween

My husband and I have been talking about doing some sort of yard decorating for Halloween since… oh gosh, since we got married, I suppose.

Other than pumpkins, we really never have.

This year, our son decided he was too old for trick-or-treating,  and asked what we were going to do for Halloween. I asked him if there were some parties he wanted to go to or anything like that, or if he had any suggestions.  He didn’t have any ideas, so I asked if he’d like to make some tombstones with goofy sayings on them like Disney’s Haunted Mansion.  He was enthusiastic.  So, when I put it to his father, of course we got an enthusiastic yes as well.

This was goofy, but fun.  We got some foamboard, Peter cut them into shape, we all painted them gray, Peter did the layout and outlines, then Samuel and I painted, coloring very nicely in the lines.

Autism Awareness and Developmental Issues

I had to get my son’s permission to talk about this, but he said he was okay with me talking about it.

There’s a quiz running around Facebook right now that’s supposed to give your “Autism Quotient”.  While the quiz does say it’s not a diagnosis, a lot of the discussion I’ve seen shows that people probably aren’t clear on what a confusing and complex condition autism can be.

We spent somewhere around six years, for instance, getting a solid diagnosis for my son, who clearly had developmental issues growing up.  They were very quick to jump on the High-Functioning Autistic bandwagon among the laymen.  I foot-stomped on the Asperger’s diagnosis, because Asperger’s kids are hyperverbal –one of the things that makes an early diagnosis extremely difficult[1].   If a kid’s talking obsessively about Thomas the Tank Engine at two or three, why’s that’s kind of normal.  So what if he’s memorized trivia to an extreme level of detail.  Just shows she’s bright, right?

My son was not hyperverbal. In fact, one of the first clear indications that there was something wrong was the fact that he wasn’t talking.  He said a few words as a toddler, but he was at least six before he had progressed to being fluently verbal.  Oddly enough, his verbal development exploded with his teaching himself to read.

The testing process was intensive, going to several specialists in the process.  We were lucky enough to speak to an autism specialist at CHaD (Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth) and got this response:

“Well, he’s eccentric, but he’s not autistic.”


We did eventually get a diagnosis that would get him the help he needed in school, mind.  And he did (does) need that help.   But it took about six years to get a clear and definitive answer on whether or not Autism was the issue or not.  And we’re hardly unusual.

Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder for a reason.  Yes, there are times when autism is pretty easy for a professional to diagnose.   But I can promise you that it can’t be diagnosed from a 100 question test online, okay.  It takes extensive clinical observation and ruling out of other (often similar or overlapping) issues.

If you suspect you might be autistic and think you need help, yes yes yes, go to your doctor and get some referrals to some really good professionals who can help you with this.    There is help available to you.   If you have a sympathetic friend or family member who would be willing to help you, ask for help.  If you suspect you are autistic, it is probable that many of the things you will have to do to get a diagnosis and help will be confusing and overwhelming to you.   An advocate can help you.  (Though this is a Universal Principle of Life, I think.  My son is folding the laundry right now to give me time to write this…)

If you have a child with developmental issues, you are that child’s advocate.  Take it seriously.  Follow up, follow up, follow up.   Talk to teachers.   Follow up at home with coping strategies.   Go online.  Learn about it.

Oh, and don’t forget to have fun with your child.

NIH Fact Sheet on Autism –contains many solid links at the end for extensive follow-up.

[1] I did a LOT of research on the subject when we started to suspect our son was autistic.  This made me less than eager to accept a diagnosis from a nursery school teacher who seemed pretty definite, since I knew that specialists in the field were often stumped.  If a specialist told me I was full of shit and the nursery school teacher was right, fair enough.  Early childhood educators OFTEN spot problems that need following up on, so DO that if encouraged to.  They’re just not qualified to diagnose.

Dear Wool, Can We Have Another Chance?

Dear 100% Wool,

I’m so sorry I abandoned you.  I loved you so much for your warmth in chilly, damp Northern New England. I didn’t like what a pain it was to wash you, but I’m so sorry, I didn’t know there were ways around that.

Can we try again?

All my love,


I’d been knitting with a wool/acrylic blend for the last year or two. I idly mentioned to the lady who owns my LYS1 the reason I was choosing the yarn I did, but that I liked wool’s insulating properties a googleplex times better.  It’s just that I only own five or six sweaters, so they do need to be washed several times a winter.

My LYS guru looked at me strangely, and mentioned a method she uses to wash wool sweaters.   You fill a washing machine with warm (not hot) water and a little gentle soap.  Then you turn it off, but leave the basin full.  Add the sweaters and drop a towel in if the load needs balancing.  Walk away from it for a half hour or so.  Then turn the water to the spin cycle.  This will get the water out without agitating the sweater too much.  then you take the sweaters out, fill again and repeat without soap for the rinse.

The spin cycle does remove the water far, far better than the roll it in a towel method.  This means that if I wash a load of sweaters, I don’t have the damn things on every large flat surface for more than a day.

I’m back to knitting with wool, my preferred fiber for sweaters.  They make a better, longer-lasting sweater.  I realize that there are people who are allergic to wool, but I’m not, so that’s what I’m making for me.

1Local Yarn Store

Yes, I Will Help Stop Bullying

I’m not wearing purple today.  No, not because I don’t care about ending bullying.  I care.  I just didn’t have anything purple clean.

So, here’s the deal.  My way of helping to end bullying is to call kids on it when I see them doing it, offering kids a safe place in my house that’s a no-bully zone, and if someone who has been bullying behaves him or her self, why there’s a place at my kitchen counter for cookies and help with homework for them, too.

Not hyperbole.  I’ve stopped kids from bullying (throwing rocks, actually), offered a safe place for kids who felt unsafe on the street, helped with homework, fed kids snacks and meals, and a former bully (the rock thrower) is a regular guest at my table with the understanding that he has to at least be non-destructive to the people around him to keep the privilege.

Purple is cool.  But that’s the first step.

Think about what you can do for Step Two, then go do that.

Garbage Bowl

I don’t watch Rachel Ray. I don’t watch television. But in noodling around the Internet, I did come across the concept of using a garbage bowl while cooking.  No, it wasn’t Rachel, but a chef.

Even though when I saw the idea and lights came on, angels sang choirs of hosannas and I realized it Made My Kitchen Complete, it’s a stupidly simple concept. Have one or two large bowls[1] on the counter beside you to throw scraps and garbage in while you’re cooking. When you’re done, dump everything from the bowl into the garbage. Clean the bowl. Simple, easy and so goofily obvious that I’m amazed that in nearly 30 years of cooking I never thought of it.

I was making spaghetti tonight and used one. Friends, this really does streamline not only cooking, but cleanup. My trash can really won’t “go” anywhere but across the kitchen, and yes, I’m a “clean as you go” cook[2].  So, this method saves me a lot of steps, and interestingly enough, makes clutter containment while cooking much easier.  Even though I’m hardly a professionally-trained chef, I do ascribe to the mise en place philosophy of cooking.  I do not like a mess while I’m making a meal.

I think this would actually be a great technique to teach kids when cooking, as one of the big issues with kids in the kitchen is mess!  Teach ‘em this, and at least some is contained.

So, my faithful readers, do you use a garbage bowl?  Where did you hear of the concept?  How much do you like it?

[1] I think Rachel Ray markets some, but at $15 for a damn plastic bowl, I think that’s useless.  I have LOTS of large bowls, so just haul out a couple (or only one if you’re not saving anything for stock) and use them.

[2] The rest of my household, however, is not.  Instead a CLEAN UP OR DIE sign in my household, I’ve chosen to pick my battles and let this be a Designated Control Freak issue.  It makes household harmony easier to attain.

Why People Hate the Slanket

Blankets with sleeves.  People either love them or hate them.  I used my Slanket for the first time this morning[1] and because I was procrastinating my real writing, I Googled the several versions of blanket with sleeves out there.

  • They’re ugly/goofy-looking/not fashionable.

Okay, ya got me.  Slankets are silly-looking.   What I don’t get is why this matters.  If you are perfectly okay slobbing around the house in torn sweats, why in hell the goofiness of the slanket is enough to deter you, I don’t know.   If you’re fashionably dressed at all times and that’s a big thing to you, go buy some silk long johns for pity’s sake, and quit whining.

Now, I used to choose a lot of my clothing and footwear based on whether or not it was cute above all else, so I get that it’s an issue.  When I lived in Virginia, I would endure cold, wet feet rather than wear ugly shoes that kept my feet warm and dry.

One winter in New England cured that forever.  If you’re more concerned with cute than warm, you just haven’t gotten cold enough yet.  The slanket is for when you’re at home and working on something sedentary, not for when you’re socializing!

  • They’re dangerous.

People talk about fire hazards from candles and fireplaces, or wearing them while cooking.

Ummm… Idiots, don’t you remember your Girl Scout fire safety training?  Anyone who cooks with loose, flowing sleeves deserves a good burn.  Do an image search for chefs cooking.  Many of them have their close-fitted sleeves rolled up to mid-forearm. There’s a reason for that.

Of course loose and flowing is a bad combination for fire.   If you have a fire going, take off the Slanket to tend to it.  What are you, stupid?[2]

  • They’re inconvenient.

These things aren’t meant for when you’re up and down all the time.    They’re meant for when you’re sitting still and doing something with your hands.  I’m wearing one right now while I’m writing this article.  When I get up to get more coffee, I take it off to go get the coffee.   I expose the delicate flesh of my hiney to the cold air of the bathroom for the few seconds it takes to go pee, too.  Some people just seem to want to take things too far.

  • They’re a cock-block[3].

If “I’m cold” is the excuse you’re getting for not having sex, you and your partner need to start being more honest in your communication.    Sex warms you up.  It ain’t that she doesn’t want to get cold, so she won’t leave the blanket with sleeves.  It’s that she doesn’t want to have sex with you.  Don’t blame the blanket.

Of course, there’s no law that says you have to love a Slanket, but it is a decent tool for staying warm for a writer who’d just as soon not turn on the heat for awhile.  Most of the posts you’ll see for the next few months will be written from underneath one.

[1] I have this thing where I try to avoid turning on the heat before November 1.  It got down to 27 last night, and the house was 60F when I got up.  If I’m going to be sitting still, I need a little warmth, ‘kay?

[2] Yes, I know there’s a Snuggie commercial showing people around a fire roasting marshmallows. Don’t do that.  It is dangerous and stupid.

[3] Yes, some yutz really asserted this.

Trying to remember a recipe

I don’t know if anyone remembers a chicken stock recipe that was on a Martha Stewart show about 11 or 12 years ago, but it went something like this:

1 whole chicken
A bunch of celery, leaves and all
2-3 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into thirds, but not peeled.
2 whole cloves garlic
1 whole red onion, with skin and paper
2 onion halves studded with whole cloves
3 fresh bay leaves
2-3 T fresh peppercorns
A bundle of fresh herbs that might take your fancy (Thyme, rosemary, sage or such would all be good)

Put a chicken in an oven safe stock pot, and add vegetables, onion and garlic.   Cook in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes until the skin on the chicken browns a little bit and the veggies wilt some.

Remove from oven and cover contents of the pot with water.  Add herbs and simmer for 2-3 hours skimming occasionally.

I haven’t made this particular stock in years, as I usually just use leftover bones or the leftovers from a roast chicken when I make stock rather than use up a bunch of fresh ingredients.  I was thinking about it recently, though because it’s a really rich and flavorful stock with a lovely dark color.  The problem is that it’s a bit of waste of veggies.  The chicken is actually great for chicken sandwiches or just about anything you’d want to use chicken meat for.

Does anyone else remember this, or am I just dreaming?  I know I made it, and I am pretty sure I saw it on a Martha Stewart show.