Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Brand New Universe- Miniature Painting

I originally chose the name of this blog to be aspirational. I sure would like to let my soul stand as "cool and composed" as Uncle Walt would have it. I also liked the fact that the name could represent the scope of my many, many interests. I have a lot. And I have a new one!

I give you RPG miniature painting.

This is a natural progression from our ongoing family interest in playing Dungeons and Dragons. We often use  miniature representations of our player characters during game play. We initially bought a few plastic, pre-painted miniatures, and the boys quite liked them, and each started a collection squirrelled away in their rooms, that mere mortals wouldn't dare to touch for the purposes of gaming or other. Oh, no, my precious. These kids have the collector gene, and their stuff remains mint in box, or else!

These never caught my interest. The paint jobs tend to be poor, and the selection is limited. We looked into unpainted pewter minis briefly trying to find ones that matched our player characters better, but I was really disappointed in the female offeringsT&A, and bikini mail galore, or just not enough to my liking to take on the task of learning to paint them.

Enter Stonehaven. A fledgling miniature company with great art concepts and female minis that have every bit as much character and interest as the males. So far they've done a set of dwarves, and their Kickstarter for a kick ass set of gnomes has just wrapped up. We bought a set of each, to be shared and used, and not to be locked away in air tight, temperature controlled chambers (this took some convincing), and we are learning how to paint them.

These suckers are little. With a quarter for scale:

Painting them requires quite a bit of technique, and a steady hand. We're learning. The boys are taking to it like ducks to water, and because these can always be stripped back to the pewter if you hate your end result, the rampant perfectionism isn't getting the better of them. We've also gotten great help from our local Games Workshop. The owner has taken time to give us advice and demos even though the shop is always bustling.

The above miner dwarf is my first attempt. He is temporarily affixed to a Golden paint jar, but will eventually be glued to a base that we are going to trick out with sculpey stonework and mini jewels. The boys aren't quite ready to display theirs yet, but expect a lot more dwarves to come (we have 20!). I am excited to see how we improve as we practise and learn.

For an example of just about the most skilled miniature painter I have come across in my research -James Wappel. He blows my ever-lovin' mind. Hella talented.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Middle School Middle Earth

But you can come in of course, old friend.

Through the green door...just speak "friend" to enter.

"And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted."
~J.R.R. Tolkien

Last Saturday we had a party of special magnificence to celebrate the 13th birthday of two of my favourite young hobbits. There were 8 uproariously happy guests, and my sister and brother in law were on hand to help with serving all those Hobbit meals, and manning the bar at the Green Dragon. Our menu consisted of mini sausages, cheese pastries, Lembas, roast chicken, crudites, pumpkin bread, cookies, cake and ice cream. All egg, nut and long list of allergies free, made with love by yours truly, and served in six small "meals" as the boys played video games. (I'm not at all convinced that Halo and Minecraft were thematically correct choices...but I guess Hobbits do love games as per canon.) Meanwhile the Green Dragon served up a wide variety of drinks from Rohirrim Meadow Mead (pale green vanilla milk) to The Old Winyards (cranberry/pomegranate/cherry juice combo) to our Gollum Special (root beer, limeade and gummy fish) and many more. It was our longest party yet at 5 hours, and I was a little concerned about everyone being happy and entertained for that long without any structured activities, but the evening went really fast and the boys were groaning at their parents' arrivals before we knew it. 

Bag End Door Cookies


Travelling pouch party favour bags made from craft foam to look like leather, containing a copy of the Hobbit, some  Lord of the Rings Heroclix, and Lembas for the road.
The cake of special magnificence. My first go at painting fondant, as inspired by this marvellous blog - The Groovy Craft Chick. It wasn't perfect, and I had to force myself not to paint a second (no time), but overall I was really happy, and the kiddies were wowed.
Note: I did make a second ring for the other birthday boy, so there would be no tears or severed fingers...

And with that we have now officially hit the teen years! Wow. 


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Withered on The Vine

Not me. My poor damn blog.

I have a half dozen unfinished posts in drafts. They run the gamut from the ubiquitous, but always dramatic, blog shutdown post, to the cheery and superficial ball re-rolling post, to me blogging about shiny object #527. The only thing they all have in common -I couldn't be arsed to finish any of them, and none of them were really saying much of anything.

My own voice has been just about the least interesting thing possible to me for more than a year. A year in which I have lived fully and happily, and thought complexly about the world around me, and read and made stuff and loved the hell out of my people, but haven't really felt the need to write about it and/or have written about it old school, in my journal, just for me.

I haven't quite put my finger on the whys and wherefores of the shift exactly, except to acknowledge that I was beginning to feel overexposed, and overwhelmed by digital pleasures turning into digital chores. Too much.

Most of the things first and foremost on my mind are not mine to share. I have to respect my husband and sons' needs for privacy, which often leaves me at a loss as to how to talk about stuff without actually talking about stuff, y'know? I find myself more and more mystified with all the online over-sharing, particularly certain of the mommy of autistic child bloggers. How is little Timmy going to feel about every detail of every childhood meltdown following him into job interviews when he is 20? So as my boys get older, I am trying to be more sensitive to their privacy needs than ever. Sure I am blogging under a pseudonym, but how hard is it to put 2 and 2 together? Not hard at all, really.

And I am not making art right now, and won't be until I don't know when. (If you see my muse tell her to call. I kinda miss her.)

But I am still proud of this space, and don't feel the need for the big dramatic rage quit. So my poor old blog languishes away here.

No post since Halloween?

Tsk tsk.

I did take photos of Christmas cookies and other odds and ends specifically to post...and they are still on my camera. They were really tasty, and very aesthetically pleasing though -you'll just have to trust me.

The big 13th birthday is coming up. The boys have decided on a Tolkien theme this year (I didn't actually die of joy, but it was a close call there for a few minutes). So there should be pictures of cake forthcoming. I will at least have them stored on an SD card on my camera...how's that for promises?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I am sitting in the quiet of the eye of the storm. The houseful of loud, excited boys are now out trick or treating with the DH (who came directly from the airport after being away three days on business to trick or treating) and another friends dad. The tribe will be back directly for a break to warm up, and to no doubt gloat over their loot, and scarf down goodies, and to be gloriously silly.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fall Comfort Baking

We have had our first couple of chilly, dark, blustery days. Fall is here without a doubt, but I am over of my end of summer denial and remembering that I do love this season too. The leaves are changing, the geese are on the wing, and my thoughts and tastes are turning to pumpkins and apples, and anything fragrant and warm and hearty.

Yesterday was just rainy enough to keep me indoors (lately I have been working doggedly on some exterior maintenance & improvement type things around the old homestead, trying to get finished before it gets too cold), and I baked up a storm. The fruits of my labours turned out so darn well -so gratifyingly homely and delicious, that I just had to share.

I made pumpkin bread!

Oh man, this stuff is good! So soft and light, and just gorgeous. The boys and I had some for breakfast this morning with sunbutter -yum! I didn't use a recipe. I just added pumpkin and spices to my usual white bread  and adjusted accordingly. Here's about what I did:

Pumpkin Yeast Bread
2c. warm water
4.5 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp granulated sugar
200ml pumpkin puree
½ c brown sugar
2 tbsp oil
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp each allspice & ginger
¼ tsp each ground cloves & nutmeg
5-7 c all purpose flour

Proof the yeast with the 2 tbsp white sugar in the warm water. Add pumpkin, brown sugar, oil, salt & spices and 2 c of flour, and mix well. Continue adding enough white flour to make bread dough (approx 5-7 cups total), and knead.
Let rise twice in a large bowl, then shape as desired and rise again in well oiled loaf pans or other. Bake 375F for approx. 30 minutes for loaves. Makes a very light springy, soft bread. 

Pumpkin buns rolled in brown sugar & cinnamon before baking, for the boys' Wednesday night DnD crew.
Note: I used canned pumpkin. If I was using fresh pumpkin (roasted/steamed and pureed) I would be tempted to reduce the water to 1 or 1 1/2 cups and to add more pumpkin accordingly.

Also produced in yesterday's bake-a-thon -Pumpkin Pasties and Apple Cheese Hand-pies (pictured below). I tried this pastry recipe from a blog called Completely Delicious. I am no great hand at pastry, which is OK, because my mom is excellent at it, so she gets pie duty for family gatherings. But this recipe was non-annoying and the results were pretty good. I think I may have to start mucking about with more pies in the near future.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

One More Day of Summer

I just dropped my boys off for the first day of grade 7. *gulp* I think they are well prepared. New clothes, backpacks, binders, meetings with teachers, a bevy of emails and phone calls, arranged a tour of the high school where they'll take practical arts, a summer of helping them weave those fragile strands of pubescent friendship a little tighter, 2 months immersion in family, leisure and ease. But still...The Worry. It is grey and raining, and I am a tangle of emotions. The house is too quiet.

I had promised a follow up tiki drink post with some recipes, and today seems a fitting time to do it. A little sunshine would do me good, even if it is only in a glass. Not that I am about to start drinking at 8:38am (we haven't quite gotten to that point yet), but the weatherman says that some September sunshine is coming our way next week, so this is a perfect reminder that we're not quite done with summer yet.

I have had a hard time choosing which recipes to share here. Some of the best of these drinks are almost absurdly complicated, and I don't want to scare anyone away, so I am going to share a few different recipes with low degrees of difficulty. Please note:

1. All recipes presented here are slightly bastardized versions of the original recipes, all of which can be found on Beachbum Berry's excellent Tiki + app, which for only $3.99 is one helluva bargain and highly recommended. Over a summer of sampling we've tweaked our favourite recipes to our own tastes, based on the ingredients readily available in our neck o' the woods. Please feel free to prefer the originals.

2. All juices mentioned are freshly squeezed. Yes, even the pineapple. It does take extra effort, but the finished product is sooo worth it.

3. Obviously rums are very important here. We try to keep our expenditure per bottle below $30 per 750ml (not so easy in Canada), so we are not using the really good stuff. However we have found some absolutely delicious mixing rums in our price range that blow the ubiquitous Bacardi out of the water. It is amazing the difference between various rums from different countries and distilleries. We've had some fun this summer getting a bit of rum education, and we've only barely scratched the surface. I've listed names below where we've settled on a "house brand". Use whatever you like in the category.

difficulty: easy peasy (pictured above)

*1/2 oz gold rum (we used Mount Gay Eclipse)
*1/2oz Demerara rum (we used Lemon Hart)
*1 oz dark Jamaican  (we used Coruba)
*1 oz cream of coconut (not coconut milk, more like a thick, sweet coconut syrup, comes in a can with brand names like Coco Lopez & Coco Colada)
*3 oz pineapple juice
*2 oz orange juice

Blend all ingredients in a blender with a bit of ice until nice and frothy. Pour over crushed ice in a Tiki mug or Collins glass and garnish with a chunk of fresh pineapple. Grate a generous sprinkle of fresh nutmeg on top.

Navy Grog
(aka Trader Vic’s Navy Grog or Ancient Mariner, this one is rich and spicy and one of my favs) 
difficulty: intermediate

* ¾ ounce lime juice
* ¾ ounce pink grapefruit juice or 1/2 ounce white grapefruit juice (white is preferable to pink, but so hard to find nowadays)
* 1 ounce allspice syrup (see below)
* 1 ounce Gold rum (used Mount Gay Eclipse or Appleton v/x)
* 1 ounce Demerara rum (used Lemon Hart)

Put ingredients into cocktail shaker and shake well with lots of crushed ice. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass and top with more ice.  Garnish with lime wheel.

Allspice Syrup: Grind enough whole dried allspice berries to make 6 level tablespoons. Place the ground allspice in a saucepan with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring it all to a boil, then cover and simmer for two minutes. Remove the saucepan from heat and — keeping it covered — let steep for two to three hours, then strain into a bottle and refrigerate. Will keep in refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Potted Parrot
This drink is named for the garnish that Trader Vic's used to use; a ceramic parrot on a stick. It's like a rum Mimosa, very refreshing!
difficulty: easy (unless you make your own Orgeat)

*2 ounces white/light rum (used Havana Club 3yr)
*1/2 ounce Cointreau or Triple Sec
*3 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice, strained
*1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
*1/4 ounce orgeat syrup (see below)
*1/4 ounce simple syrup (2:1 sugar to water, heat gently or shake vigorously to dissolve sugar)

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the rum, Cointreau, orange and lemon juices, orgeat syrup and simple syrup. Shake well.
Fill a Collins glass with crushed ice. Strain the drink into the glass, then garnish with orange wheel and cherry.

Orgeat is an almond syrup. You can find it produced commercially with brand names like Monin, Torani, Trader Vic's, Finest Call, Routin etc. They vary greatly in flavour, quality and ingredients. Right now we have Torani Orgeat, which I wouldn't necessarily recommend. I find it rather overpowering (think almond extract).  With a better quality orgeat or homemade, I would be tempted to add 1/2oz and skip the simple syrup. If you have trouble sourcing orgeat and don't want to make homemade, you could  substitute 1/2oz Amaretto.

So there you have three extremely different cocktails, but all delicious. My absolute favourite tiki drink, the Jet Pilot, would rank as "involved" on the difficulty scale, so I have decided to save it for a post all on its own. At this rate I think I can get quite a few "one more days" out of this summer...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Living Like Kings

It is summer, and we are meandering through green and golden days saturated in abundance -pleasures and possibilities like fat, low hanging fruits ripe for the plucking. I am awash with gratitude these days. I wake with my heart resonating richly-harmonious, and fall asleep with a prayer of thanks on my lips. I am quietly and deeply glad, and oh, so appreciative of things great and small -my husband, my boys, my sisters, my friends, warm weather, long days, strong rum, bright skies, good food, my home.

It could possibly be the "best summer ever" (are people over the age of 14 allowed to say things like that?), and not for any particularly grand reason. We are mostly just hanging at home.

We put an above ground pool in the backyard for the boys, and they swim for hours every day, emerging from the pool hungry and happy and marijuana-mellow (not that I would know about such things); limbs strong and tan, and long hair bleached extra blonde from all the sun. It is the very best kind of therapy for them.

I have developed a burgeoning interest in tiki drinks. I couldn't even begin to explain why or how that one sparked, but it is without a doubt the DH's favourite of my obsessions so far. I've been learning terms like "rhum agricole" and "pimento dram", making my own homemade falernum, developing a half a crush on "Beachbum Berry", and enthusiastically concocting libations with such names as Zombie, Painkiller and Jet Pilot. I love the idea of these complicated, carefully balanced cocktails with an emphasis on fresh, premium ingredients and craftsmanship. These are something special. The exotic represented in a glass full of spice and sunshine.

I'll come back and post a recipe or two...another day I think. Right now I have to put my house in order, after a marvellous weekend with my next eldest sister, in preparation for the DQ's arrival (yay!).

P.S. We went to a local gallery yesterday, and were lucky enough to see "The Long Awaited" and other works by Patricia Piccini. My mind was all kinds of blown. They were such powerful, beautiful pieces, and completely took me by surprise. If you have the opportunity to see any of her works, I say run, don't walk, and go, go, go. Truly astounding, perspective expanding stuff.

Happy summer!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

10 Tips for Tackling Walt Disney World with Autism

Brenda over at Mama Be Good recently posted a description of her not so magical day at Disney World with her son Jack. I was saddened by her & Jack’s experience, but not terribly surprised. Although Disney does an excellent job in many ways when it comes to disabilities and allergies, there are some gaps in staff training and accommodations, particularly when it comes to non-apparent disabilities. I am not going to get into the whys and wherefores of those gaps here, but what I’d like to do is make a list of things that people with autism or with kids with autism can do to make a Disney trip successful without being completely at the mercy of accommodations that may not be adequate. Walt Disney World and Universal Studios were incredible experiences for our family (so much so that we are going again this year! Yay!), and I would hate for anyone to miss out or to have a negative experience when having certain strategies available may have made it possible or successful.

First of all, it is optimum to start planning your trip upwards of 6 months in advance, and to do as much research as possible. For useful, but non-autism-specific planning advice, I would highly recommend the book “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World”.*

10 Tips for Tackling Disney World with Autism

Note: the first three tips are crucial, and the rest are dependent on your own particular needs.

1. Choose the time of year for your visit carefully. For our sons, we have to avoid heat and crowds. This means summer time and other holidays are absolutely out, no matter how convenient that would be.

2. Get to the parks before rope drop (opening). For the first couple hours of the day, especially on a week without heavy crowds (see #1) and if you tackle them in the “right” order (see #3), the rides are virtually a walk on –no GAC required. This is so very important if your child struggles with crowds and waiting in line! Also a GAC may shorten your waits (although it is not intended to do so) or give you a quieter area to wait in for rides, but it does nothing to mitigate the stress of crowded walkways, shows, restaurants and shops. You need to beat those crowds!

3. Follow a touring plan. This will minimize waits and pointless walking, and give your child structure. My absolute favourite is Ridemax.
It is software that allows you to plug in which rides you want to do, then creates a detailed plan for minimizing waiting and walking. My sons love the detailed plan, but we did have to do some flexibility work before we went (as in we may ride Peter Pan’s Flight at 8:52am instead of 8:47am and that will be OK).
Other popular touring plans:
http://www.easywdw.com (this one is free)
The last two also have crowd predictions for choosing the least crowded park for the day from among the 4 WDW parks, and info about whether or not to avoid Extra Magic Hours, which is also important.  I used a combination of all three to plan our last trip, we rode everything the boys wanted to (favourites multiple times), and never waited more than a few minutes.

Just outside of Pirates of the Caribbean and having fun. These are the crowd levels you want!

4. Know where the quiet places are. This way you can get away from the stimulation without necessarily having to leave the park.
There are also first aid stations in each park that are air conditioned, and have private rooms available.

5. Take a midday break outside the park. The parks are the most crowded during the afternoons. This is a great time for swimming, napping, therapies etc. Then you can return to the park when it is cooler & quieter in the evening if your crew is up for it.

6. Bring ear protection. The parks are sooooo LOUD! (as well as any other fidgets, stuff for chewing etc. that you would normally use.) 

7. Create space in the herd. Many people use a wheelchair or stroller with a blanket to create a safe space for their ASD child while in line (you have to stop by Guest Services to get a “stroller as a wheelchair” tag in order to be able to take a stroller in line). For older or more active kids, two or more adults can create some space using their bodies.

8. Stick with the familiar. Bring familiar foods. Guests are allowed to bring food items, such as snacks or foods that do not require heating, into any Walt Disney World Theme Park (no glass bottles). Stick with usual bedtimes and sleeping arrangements. For our family we have to rent an offsite villa so that each of our sons can have their own beds & bedrooms, and so we have access to a full kitchen where I can prepare familiar foods, and we can eat some quiet, non-challenging meals as a break from the restaurants.

9. Do your homework. There are holidays where you can just kind of show up and go with the flow (or so I've heard?), but WDW isn't one of them. Even for families with neurotypical kids, this is a holiday that requires some work and research to make it the best it can be. Find out as much as you can about each show, attraction and restaurant before you attempt it (pre trip). Some rides and their queues are a lot more over stimulating and claustrophobic than others, some are more difficult to board or exit with mobility issues like hypotonia and dyspraxia. Some restaurants have live entertainment, “antics”, shared tables and character interaction- all big no no’s for our sons.
Detailed info on each park:
Disability related info on various rides (posts 18-28):
There are also many ride videos on youtube such these:
Restaurants & menus:

And don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions while you are there about things you may have missed or forgotten. My son grilled the CM outside of Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom at length when he just wasn’t sure about riding. He needed to know as much as possible before deciding, even after watching videos and reading descriptions online multiple times.

10. Consider a GAC. Go to guest services and state your child’s needs, and diagnoses. Tell them what you think your child will struggle with in the park. If you’ve had a GAC before and it met your needs, bring the old one with you to show. Your child needs to be with you for this. If there is a problem, ask for a manager. Show the GAC to the CM’s as you enter attractions, be prepared to restate your needs and concerns. If the GAC isn’t meeting your needs, return to guest services with your concerns and questions.
Accurate GAC info:

Please note how the GAC was the very last tip in order of importance; it is nice to have as an insurance policy, a back up if plans go awry and lines are longer than expected, but it is in no way as useful for ASD needs as having a good touring plan and going on a day with low to moderate crowds, in combination with the other tips. 

There are other tips that I could have included. Stuff like using social stories and other learning tools to prepare for all unfamiliar aspects of the trip, and to slow down and go at the pace of the ASD person(s) in the group (or to speed up as the case may be!), but I always find those kind of tips a little redundant and condescending. We already do those things every single day don't we?

The bottom line is that although Disney World is an incredible place that does often work hard to create magic for their autistic and other differently abled guests, the onus is on us to make the choices and find the tools that will make it a truly wonderful experience for our kids. I like knowing that the success of my precious & expensive day of theme park-ing isn't utterly dependent on a limited accommodation system, or a poorly trained staff member having a bad day, or even a well-trained staff member who has seen one too many disability fakers and is put in the position of having to gauge the non-apparent disabilities and needs of complete strangers at a glance.

*The fastpass related information and touring plans in the 2012 edition may be out of date due to some policy changes at WDW. Check the websites listed under #3 for current touring plans & fastpass info.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Lone Turtle

Wow. I just hit the "new post" button and then proceeded to sit here mesmerized by the blinking cursor in the blank text box for several minutes. So out of the habit of this anymore! Bear with me as I lurch and stumble my way through this post.

Hallo. It's springtime out there. A chilly and wavering sort of spring so far, but springtime nonetheless. And the boys' allergies are not so bad this year, and they aren't hating school right now, which is nice. We've been working so hard on that social piece for them in the last few months, and there is now a small herd of boys constantly calling and lolloping about the house. This is great for both of them...maybe not so much for me who has to clean up after the lolloping herd, but I am happy/relieved/hopeful that they won't end up painfully isolated in those fast approaching teen years.

Interesting thing about 12 year old boys though, they are as catty and gossipy as the nosiest old biddies that stereotype can conjure in the mind's eye. This came as a surprise. Being of the girl-human sort, I always figured that we were the socially dramatic ones and that the boy variety was all "cool as cucumber, let's settle our differences by wrasslin' and then hug it out and we're cool again". Not so much so. At least not at this age. The drama. O lordy, the drama.

Or maybe it's just this particular group. The kid at the hub of the social wheel is a definite drama king, the star of his own nerdy little soap opera, and I think he draws the other boys into his webs and stories. There's always a tale of tragic wrongs committed ("and then he totally griefed my minecraft server"), and vengeful acts taken ("so I spawned a bunch of creepers in his home base"), and exclusions from the herd ("so don't invite him to DnD on Wednesday, K?"). Needless to say, my two with their social metres naturally set at "blunder", are not so good at navigating all these complexities, and I've been concerned. We've had many talks about how to handle all of this gracefully, and because E&L have trouble generalizing, as each new situation comes up we keep talking and talking again.

The other day we were having yet another one of these talks in the car on the way to school. About how the Drama King was campaigning against one of the other boys in the herd, and how most of the other boys were following along, and suddenly now everyone is down on this one boy, and how is this fair?
I say, "The other boys are being a bunch of..."
"Sheep!" L finishes enthusiastically.
"Yes, exactly sheep. But you guys shouldn't be following along with what [Drama King] says, especially you E." (E is the Drama King's particular BEST FRIEND and more apt to get dragged into the drama than L)
"Yes," shouts L from the backseat in a loud, commanding voice, "You are a Mighty Turtle and can think for yourself!"

What's the opposite of a sheep? Why a mighty, independent minded turtle! I laughed, and both boys were completely annoyed with me...because he was serious, not joking, of course.

So next time you are being swayed by the vagaries of life, think ye of the mighty turtle and choose your own current to swim in.

BTW L had no idea that he was even using "sheep" in the correct context, as we found out later in the conversation. He just thinks sheep are weird...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Critical Hit

This year we had a loosely themed party around gaming (choices of different games and consoles, along with tabletop RPG-ing). Above is the Creeper Cake (from Minecraft in case you're not up on such things), and below is the party gathered around the table doing a little adventuring, Dungeons and Dragons style.

I was more nervous about this one than I have been since they were kindergartners and we were throwing our first big Harry Potter bash. DMing for a group of 11 & 12 year olds, most of whom had never played D&D before, was no small feat! But with the DH's help keeping order, and my lovely sister Elizabeth holding down the kitchen side of things, we made it all work (+500xp for each of us!). The boys had an "AWESOME" time. E was so thrilled and hyped up on sugar he was gushing like a drunken prospector who'd just found gold, and L was so happy he took the sensory stuff in stride beautifully (12 year old boys are at least 1 year louder than 11 year old boys!).

So all the work (I'd be loathe to add up the hours and hours...) was well worth it. I can't go to school with them and point out which kids look friendly, and which aren't. I can't stand behind them when they're talking to a peer, and act as interpreter for tone of voice and facial expressions. I can't keep them from social blunders, like you would keep a toddler from a hot stove. I can't wipe away all the stress and hurt of day after day of facing a world that feels so alien and hostile to them.  But what I can do is plan a Kick Ass Birthday Party once a year that kids are practically lining up to come to, that shows my sons and their skills and interests in the best possible light, and that greases those social wheels. L has been struggling so hard with the friend thing lately, or rather the absence of, but The Kick Ass Party has given him conversation fodder and confidence. He has been able to reconnect with a couple of kids who were open to friendship before, but L couldn't see it, he needed something concrete like them coming to his party for him to feel comfortable approaching them, and being approached. Yesterday at school he was invited to be part of a group of boys (the ones he had invited to his party) for a project, instead of the teacher having to place him in a group, and he was willing to join (he often isn't). Yay!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Caught Voice

Who I am has been caught in my throat. Like a choked back sob that sticks there with a pang.

Has it been a whole year? (holy crap time is becoming a scary, unbridled sort of thing!)

It's been about a year since The Nothing descended (Neverending Story, anyone?), since the winter cold crept way deep into my bones and refused to melt even with the summer sun. But now I am not depressed anymore. I haven't been for a while now. I have been enjoying life. Enjoying my sons most of all. I am actually on sort of a delightful mom roll...being responsive and checked in, and even dare I say, fun? Stuff is good (even though challenges abound as per usual). The cogs and wheels of everyday life are running fairly smoothly, and intellectually and philosophically I am ticking along too. I am feeling steady, hopeful...OK.

But (and you knew there had to be a "but" coming right, or else what the eff's the point of this post?), my creative self is stuck in my throat like a choked back sob.  I can't seem to let it out, and day by day, week by week the pressure builds, and it's starting to hurt.

The word visceral is stuck in my brain.


Something is lodged deep inside under all the layers of feeling better and being OK. Choked back, like that hard sob, that knots in your throat and makes it impossible to speak normally, even though your face is impassive and by all appearances you are just fine (thank you very much), if it wasn't for the betraying truth of that crack in your voice.


That's how it is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On the Wings of Evil 2 (otherwise entitled: A Meltdown Every Game and We're Still Playing)

As some may recall, approximately a year ago me and mine started playing Dungeons and Dragons. O the adventures we've had! We've saved entire towns from invasions of the undead, freed downtrodden slaves, discovered an Elven city that had been lost for 100 years, made friends with gnomes, dragonborns and tieflings, tamed a griffon, killed tonnes o' monsters, brought loads of baddies to justice, found secret rooms, explored ruins, caves and strongholds chock full of treasure, and eaten many delicious wolf burgers, the specialty of Borgon, our dwarven rogue and camp cook. Now that's what I call family game night.

It has been fun and sometimes rather awful, but much, much more fun than awful. The "awful" has been mainly comprised of the sssssuper steep learning curve. There are a lot of rules, and lots to remember as you go. There were times when it felt more like work than play, I must admit. The other part of the "awful", is precipitated by the inherent rigidity present to varying degrees in all members of our group (who me?), and particularly in the younger two, making for some tricky times as we all got used to our individual gaming styles and how they work together. The boys really struggled with compromising on their creative visions, whether as players or DMs (dungeon masters), and since DnD is primarily and thoroughly collaborative this was a problem. They also had that good old fashioned, age old problem of getting good and mad whenever the dice would not roll their way. It feels a helluva lot more intense when you are down to your last HP (hit points), and you keep swinging at the troll with your great-axe and missing, than say, getting no card pairs in Go Fish. It is extremely challenging to keep up the facade of sportsmanship when you are ABOUT TO DIE!  For many moons we could not get through a gaming session without at least one meltdown...and yet, we all very much wanted to keep playing, and so we did.

And here we are, a little over one year later, re-immersing ourselves in the game after a summer/fall hiatus when L got stuck and stalled out as DM, and we are more into it than ever. I've been planning an adventure that will take us from level 6 to 7. (Anyone familiar with the game will notice that we really haven't progressed that far in a year. We generally had to limit our gaming to short sessions. That was all the boys could handle...mostly gracefully. And I've been purposefully stingy with the XP, not wanting us to level up too fast since the game grows even more complex with advancement!) Over the last couple of weeks, the boys and I have been doing some world building together, and this has been really satisfying. Since we share DM duties (they each "guest DM" for about half of every second level), we decided that the boys should each have their own province to weave stories in. They are very proprietary of their places and NPCs (non player characters) and we had some initial toe steppage or rather more like landmine steppage. (did I mention meltdowns? oh dear) We added these provinces to the Nentir Vale, the DnD pre-created land that we started playing in and then thoroughly and joyfully bastardized for our own nefarious purposes, and added a few more provinces for more space to explore as we reach higher levels. This is our land:

E's province is Trefrostovol in the northwest, and L's is Pyrok Valley in the mid-south.

Lookit that! Don't you just want to strap on your longbow and dagger and go exploring? We've also written histories (concerning dragons and kings!), and decided on mythology, religions, political systems, exports, climate etc. It has been really fun and really challenging (remember creative collaboration is a WiP around here), and now my brain is teeming with stories! Did you know that Silver Dale is thus named because the people there once worshipped a silver dragon named Sulvidus? Or that there is a halfling village in The Bower that makes a vintage so wondrous to even smell it is practically enchantment? Or that there is something horrible (HORRIBLE) lurking in the Southern Wastes? Right now, there is something going down in the town of Dragmiston on the Hull Coast that is about to change our land forever, to reveal secrets and plots hidden for centuries! That is if our band of adventurers make the kind of choices I think they might...

And that "if" is both the most poignant pleasure and potential biggest frustration of playing DnD. It is a collaborative story that unfolds in game, everyone's choices contribute to it, and no one knows exactly where it will take you.

I am happy to report that we've been non-melty for several sessions. The boys are maturing and more able to handle the challenges the game throws at them, especially now that we're over the worst of the learning curve, and DH and I are becoming more competent and relaxed too (because it's never just the kids is it?). We are having such a good time, and I am excited to see what and who our PC's (player characters), the emerging heroes of Harkenland, become...

E's character, Onlok, an Elven wizard with a tragic past involving dragons. E is a slayer type player, with a bit of explorer thrown in too (link to player type explanations), and so Onlok loves to rain fire and brimstone down on the battlefield!

L's character, Trestkam, a human fighter who has a great deal of thoughtfulness and gentleness for being a death-dealing, axe-wielding juggernaut, and always tries to do the right thing. L is an explorer type player, with more than a dash of storyteller too.

Our beloved dwarven rogue, and comic relief, DH's character, Borgon. DH is a "thinker" player, and can solve the hardest puzzle and/or grind the action to a squealing halt...if you let him. ;)

Moi, although I don't get to play her that often. Morgana, a lawful good human knight. She's more than a bit bossy, and a leetle bloodthirsty for being lawful good and all... I am definitely a storyteller player, with a bit of actor thrown in there too, so I guess it's a good thing that I'm usually behind the DM screen.
Character artwork by my uber talented friend Mr. CH, who whipped these drawings up with the greatest of ease. He draws straight from ink to paper. Can you believe it? No pesky pencils and erasers and rough copies for him. Talent and cohones. If he was playing DnD, I would bet he'd be an "instigator"... You can check out more of his work at http://cannibalpriest.tumblr.com/ (please note: Cannibal Priest is not meant for the kiddies)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Nerdmas!

Since we got back from our holiday (which was fantastic, BTW!), we've been decompressing with quiet pursuits. Watching Big Bang Theory (the boys love this show! And no wonder...we find Sheldon very easy to relate to around here...), playing Minecraft, reading Lord of the Rings -y'know, nerd stuff.

I have never approached the Christmas season less involved, less prepared or more relaxed. It has been kind of lovely to do everything a bit backwards this year, and to forgo anything and everything that we aren't in the mood for. For example the tree got a resounding "yes", but the other decorations...meh, not this year. Watching holiday shows also got a big fat "meh", exception being the Doctor Who Christmas Special! (like I said in the title, it's a nerdmas.) Baking treats...natch. Mailing X-mas cards...nein. We will forgo the Christmas Tree Festival, but still plan on our pilgrimage to the food bank (of course). Buying presents for each other -not so much so, but we got some cool stuff in Florida for teachers, helpers etc.

We aren't travelling to spend Christmas with sisters & parents this year either, and this is bittersweet. I love spending time with them, and I wouldn't want to do it this way every year, but for one year? A quiet Christmas with just the four of us sounds like heaven. We have big plans involving food, video games and more food. The boys want all the traditional Christmas fare, and I'm happy to oblige, and they don't know it yet, but we got them a new game system. Shhhhhh. We weren't supposed to buy anything, Florida being our present this year. They are such good, non stuff-oriented kids. They didn't even flinch when a visiting kid exclaimed with horror, "Is that all you have under your tree?! Where are your presents?!" (this kid went to Florida twice last year, and had a bigger Christmas than our kids have/will ever see...oh the joys of wealthy, divorced parents!). The grandparents who didn't go on the trip with us wanted to go in on something, and we found we didn't want to say no. We wanted to say "YES", and so we did, and I am excited. I think gift giving is the most fun when there is absolutely no expectations of receiving.

Anyhoo, we are well, and happily relishing home and hearth after being away. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas...or nerdmas if you will.

Nerd-gerbread Cookies, a gift for E&L's nerdy cool EA.
From left to right: Howard, Leonard (top), Sheldon & Raj


Friday, November 18, 2011

Happiness is a Box of Crackers

I am in a blisteringly good mood today.

And why shouldn't I be? So much to look forward to. So much to be thankful for.

It is 8 short days until our family trip to Florida. The i's have been dotted and the t's have been crossed. I've turned this trip all around in my hands to look at from every angle, dismantled and put it back together countless times, polishing every piece as I go -it should work. Better than that, it should run well, fast and smooth like the meticulously tuned engine it is.

My boys have had so many ups and downs this fall. High highs and low lows. Every week it's been something new. Thank goodness for excellent therapists and the choice which allows me to be at home full time. They've needed 100% effort and attention. I can happily say they are thriving.

On our kitchen table right now is a small tower of boxes and packages. Allergy safe, prepackaged foods for the boys own private trip stash. It is strange to say how happy that stack of cookies and crackers, pretzels and craisins is making the boys and I. I think partly because it is tangible evidence that we are really going -nothing so abstract as plans and bookings, or even tickets, but real, solid foodstuffs to eat then and there in Florida. But the main reason it is happy and excitement-making is because it represents safety and comfort. Tactile proof that the boys needs will be taken care of on this trip. They will be safe. There will be enough familiarity to be comfortable with the unfamiliar. They will have fun.

8 more days!
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