Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I managed to read a whole book this break.
I have trouble reading in this house due to frequent interruptions. Emma and Rob are not "readers". In fact, we just recently realized that Emma has a reading disability. So does Rob. (So does my younger sister.) This goes a long way toward explaining why Rob ended up getting his degrees in math, and Emma finds her math homework easier than any other class. Reading a math book is very different from reading the text for a history class. While Emma has been successful so far in school, it was largely because so much of the learning from K-8th grade was project-based. She's really been struggling with the reading for her high school classes. When I realized that she saw 7 pages of reading as a veritable mountain of work, I started asking myself (and her) why? I found a website on dyslexia and had her answer some of the questions they suggested for self-diagnosis.

So, I found an online service that offered audio book versions of the high school text for her AP World History class and the book she was reading for her English Lit class. The first time she used the audio book versions, she was so excited --not only was she able to progress through the reading much faster, but she said that she was able to understand and retain the information so much better than when she read it herself.

Even though you have to pay for a yearly membership to this site (Learning Ally), you also have to send them documentation indicating you've been diagnosed as needing the service.  It was quite interesting when we met with the psychiatrist who will eventually evaluate her test results. He talked to me first, by myself, and asked me questions about Emma; then he brought Emma in and asked her many of the same questions. In some cases, her answers were different from mine, and I realized there are other things she's struggled with that none of us ever realized were problems. He asked her if she had trouble with "over" and "under". She thought for a moment, and then laughed and said to me "You know how you and dad call me your blind girl? Sometimes I look for things in the wrong place when you've told me where it is . . . " It's so funny how you go through life just figuring that everyone experiences things the same way you do, until you find out differently. (This happened to me with my anxiety issues.)

I should have realized that no one is just "not a reader". Emma loved it when I read books to her when she was younger, but she could never disappear into a book when she was doing the reading, and she's never been able to read out loud terribly fluently. Rob has some similar issues. For instance, he finds it much easier to read emails and text that has frequent paragraph breaks. All of these things are clues that there is a reading disability getting in the way.

A few years ago, Rob discovered that he loved listening to the audio book versions of the Inspector Rebus mysteries. He first delved into one simply because the narrator had a Scottish accent, but now he tells me how wonderful it is to experience the books vs. the videos that have been created based on the series --the books are so much more complex, the characters so well-developed. The same thing just recently happened with my sister --she has been listening to audio books as well. I mean, who doesn't like a good story?

So, I managed to read a whole book this break. I might even have time to start another, but I have to wait a bit --this one was so wonderful, and the characters always stay with me for a while. I find myself thinking about them at times, as if they were real people I knew but hadn't seen in a while. Does that happen to anyone else, where you have to let the characters fade before you start a new book?

Elizabeth George and her Inspector Lynley books is one of my favorite authors and series, and I saved this book so I could savor it over break. Now I have a choice of new two sci-fi books on my Kindle: one is the second in a trilogy by Greg Bear (Killing Titan, the War Dogs trilogy), and the other is the next (4th, I think) in the Expanse series. I'm leaning toward the Greg Bear.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays!

This holiday season, our celebration has been somewhat compressed, and I've found this to be generally a good thing. Our semester was pushed closer to Christmas by the strike. Emma's semester finished with a week of various exams (in preparation for a week of final exams when she returns to school . . . what the heck is wrong with our school system, anyway?) so we were all done with school at about the same time.

The week was crowded: Rob and Emma took off to finish shopping on Monday, we went out to a tree farm to get our tree on Tuesday (and Emma came down with a cold), Rob managed to get decorations up on the mantle on Wednesday (while I sat and watched because I hadn't slept the night before for no particular reason), and finally on Thursday I put the ornaments on the tree (after getting a good nights sleep and suddenly having enough energy for both of us). By this evening we had stocked up on a few groceries, made an oh-so-traditional Christmas bacon-and-spinach quiche, and finally had a few presents wrapped and placed under the tree. (For the kitties to play with, at least that appears to be their interpretation.)

But this evening, after spending a little time FaceTiming with my family in Ann Arbor, I was struck by how happy I am to be here, in this place, with these people. (And cats. Because, cats.)

I love Christmas. It is a reminder to slow down and appreciate the fact that we all need to help each other in order to survive in the darkest time of the year, and by proxy, the darkest times of our lives. As adults, we express this by making a special effort to be kind and generous, and I've been the recipient of this at places like the grocery store and post office. Honestly, I'm lucky enough in my life to be the recipient of this all year long, but I think it's a good idea to set aside some time each year to be especially conscious of how we treat other humans along our journey. Our interactions with other humans are the one thing that make our lives so rich, so worthwhile.

Whether it's colleagues I never knew and had the chance to talk with while walking the picket line, making new friends while wandering through a local garden, donating money to the Syrian refugees after being touched by the stories I read via HONY, or meeting new people while re-labeling cans at the local food bank, this is most important to me: humanity.

Here's wishing all the humans I interact with are, like me, lucky enough to have other humans in their lives to care about them and make their lives a little brighter.

And cats, of course :-)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Little Like Christmas

We are slowly getting into the Christmas spirit around here. Rob and Emma (plus a friend of Emma's) took off this weekend for one of Emma's Christmas experience-gifts: a two day concert festival in Milwaukee, WI. They stayed overnight in a very cool Art Deco hotel, and enjoyed about six different bands. The two headliners were Of Monsters and Men (very cool video of one of their songs here), and Frank Turner (Very fun video for this guy too :-).

While we probably won't have time to go get a tree until a week or so before Christmas, I did find a cute little tree-like plant with some glitter. Emma has a collection of small ornaments from back when she used to decorate her room, so she hung them on this little guy.

The glitter doesn't show up in this photo. I love glitter around the holidays. Rob, not so much :-)

Emma and I also found a few minutes to make some colored sand and glitter ornaments. They'd be too heavy to hang on a tree, but they were fun to make and can be used in other places.

Emma's ornament in progress.
Her ornament hangs nicely from the basket handle. This is the basket we collect our Christmas cards in. It's sadly empty at the moment. We have received one card (Rob has a friend from high school whose card arrives on the day after Thanksgiving EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Not only is she incredibly efficient, but she always manages to write something funny and sweet inside. I aspire to be her)  but we haven't had time as a family to open it yet.
Emma's ornament hanging, another in the basket. And that little snowman to the left? She made that several years ago from polymer clay and I take it out every year. She finds this embarrassing, I find it endearing. Or maybe enduring?
Over the last few weeks I did manage to make one bracelet, commissioned by Melissa of Green Girl in Wisconsin. I believe it will be going to a friend of hers who likes bats.
I am in the middle of making some other things to send out for Christmas, and I'm hoping to put more time into them after I grade the finals I give this week. I should have worked on them this weekend, while Emma and Rob were gone, but instead I watched about seven episodes of the Amazon series TransParent. Which was fascinating (really excellent acting), and will make anyone feel that they come from the most together, traditional, and successful, family ever.