Rainy days and Roxy

It’s raining today. I’m probably the only person in NJ that is loving this weather. Why? Because we just planted a new perennial garden and moved some shrubs. This deep, slow rain will help establish their roots before the heat of the summer. The rain also means Jess and I can have a day off. Apparently, our resident deer Abbie is staying out of the weather too.

Rainy days are good for resting but they are also great for making plans, especially with our Talkers. Jess asked for new sneakers. She’s been taking her shoes off as soon as she gets home, a sure sign that they are no longer comfortable. She also asked to go to the movies.  Today she will get to do everything that she asked for. Jess doesn’t always get her way but being a rainy day and all, anything can happen.

While we were talking, Roxy ran into the room and sat at my feet. Her ears were perked and her butt was wiggling. This is the sign for “would you let me out please”.  She is always polite. The rain is at a steady drizzle now, so I was surprised she wanted to go out.

No sooner had I opened the door, Roxy bolted towards the tallest tree.

“My dog is so fast.”

“How fast is she?”

“She’s so fast, she caught a squirrel!”

Dogs chase squirrels but I’ve never had a dog ever catch one. Both Roxy and squirrel were surprised. Squirrel was fast but not as fast as Roxy today. Roxy grabbed him, then relaxed her jaw which was all Squirrel need to slip away. He was momentarily dazed yet managed to run up the tree in a circular pattern staying just out of the dog’s reach. For Roxy, the thrill is in the chase, not the kill.

For months, Roxy has been taunted by this squirrel. She stands at the window, resting her paws on the sill, watching him feast at the bird feeder. Litle did I know she was formulating a plan…”If I could just run fast enough, I bet I could catch that varmint!”

What’s the lesson for Jessie in all this? Nothing is impossible if you keep practicing, keep trying you can succeed.  

Yes, rainy days are good, anything can happen.

Till next time.

An AAC social experiment

I’m always game for a new challenge, especially if it will improve AAC skills. The conversations I have with Jess are good when we are on the move, however, our day to day life is rather mundane and predictable. The end result is we look at each other knowing what is to be said next. I’m not saying that we read each other’s minds but I find that I repeat myself:

  • Please wash your hands & then set the table.
  • Please put your things away.
  • Please get ready for bed and then we can watch some TV. 

Hmm, my examples sound so much more polite in print than when I say them.

To be honest, predictable language has more to do with the husband than it does Jessie. After nearly 28 years of marriage, we’ve fallen into the trap of knowing looks.  I hate to admit that as a family unit, we all suffer from “implied conversation”. I think we are in need of a reboot.

Speak for Yourself is doing a social experiment where we maintain a dedicated modeling schedule. We are to carve out 15 minutes a day, for two weeks where we model language on our AAC devices. For us, the best time for uninterrupted modeling is first thing in the morning, from breakfast till Jess’s ride arrives.  The next best time to catch conversation is before, during and after dinner when we are altogether.

What I’m going to share next really doesn’t have much to do with the “social experiment”, but rather an ah-ha moment. There’s a unique feature on the Speak for Yourself app called Hold that Thought. Its purpose is to save the phrase or sentence you were building so you can stop and answer a question. As we all know, conversations aren’t always linear, we all subject hop. Jess uses this feature more for monologuing than for the intended purpose. I, on the other hand, repeat myself every morning. These aren’t necessarily stock phrases that I want to add to the Talker but for the full effect, I want this spoken quickly, with authority.

On second thought, I could add phrases for the husband?

  • How was your day?
  • Anything new happen at work?
  • Honey, would you please pick up a bottle of wine?

Well, maybe the last one should be a preprogrammed phrase, but you get the idea.  There’s more than one way to use Hold that Thought. Actually, it was intended for this use, but I’m realizing it can be handy around the house.

This isn’t modeling language as the experiment intended, but the more I use SFY with Jess, the more she has to say. It’s a matter of finding the right icebreakers. 

We have some uninterrupted time right now. “All I have to do” is find something that is interesting to talk about it. Easier said than done. Jess doesn’t care much about my weeding, doing laundry or running errands, but I did take Roxy on a hike. I think I will show Jess the video of Roxy running as fast as she can to get this conversation started and we will just wing it from there.

Our Great Adventure…

View of Philadephia

along the way

Yesterday was a girls day! The weather was predicted to be hot, which made it ideal to visit the Camden Aquarium. We had planned to take the River LINE, not the Hudson, ha ha, but a light rail diesel train that runs from Trenton to Camden. The wee train is pleasant and has a scenic route, but it’s really only good for the one destination. Jessie’s Auntie had other ideas and offered to drive, so off we went. At the time, we didn’t realize what a good choice this was. Little did we know, we were off on a great adventure.

Jess had been rather quiet. Typically, she is chatty in the car.  I figured she was listening to our catching up and was being shy. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen her Auntie.

Even with traffic, driving had us arrive much earlier than the train. The aquarium is nestled along the Delaware river and there is a boardwalk that runs in between.The water was like glass and there was a great view of the city. The Benjamin Franklin bridge is at one end, and the Battleship NJ is at the other. There was not much activity along the Delaware at this hour except for a small bike patrol and a fisherman who had set out three poles.  It’s Shad season so maybe that’s what’s for dinner?

Jess headed toward the Battleship NJ

When Jess goes to new places, typically we open more vocabulary on her Talker. As I went to add the words battleship and fishing, I realized the Talker had run out of charge during the drive. Crisis! This rarely happens. Turns out, one of the cables at our charging station wasn’t connected (which reminds me I’m stopping to fix that now). Momentarily Jess was frustrated, but she didn’t let it dampen her day. There was a lot to see and she was ready to take it all in, however, this was frustrating for me to lose opportunites to catch conversation.

The smaller exhibits were eye-catching, walking through shark tunnel gave a sense of awe, but walking over the shark bridge tested Jessie’s nerve. There was a time she would not have attempted this. The rope bridge was narrow and had a slight swing to it. Jess hasn’t always been steady on her feet but was able to walk this bridge with confidence. She let out a knowing laugh here and there as if to say “I’ve got this”.

Brave walking over the shark bridge

a family of penguins

Jess enjoyed the penguins the most. I’m pretty sure she would have brought one home if she could. It’s a good thing they check pockets at the door. Fortunately, she wasn’t able to get close enough due to the glass window. Believe me, we thought this out.

Seeing the big animals in small tanks made me sad. Like the movie Finding Dory, I wonder if they think about escape?  Auntie shared the story about Inky, an octopus, who did just that! It’s an example of life imitating art.

The final thrill was experiencing a rainforest rainstorm at the Piranha Falls. We’ve had a bit of rain recently at home, but this reminded us of our upcountry bungalow on Maui, except for the Piranha of course. Feeling a cool breeze and being misted by the gentle rain was soothing, but when the thunder clapped, Jess was ready to leave.

Now, what do we do? It wasn’t even lunch time. Recently Jess had done a historical tour of Philly, so our options were the Zoo or head to Great Adventure. With the NFL draft and the football festival in full swing, Philly was jammed. We decided it would be less frustrating to head to Great Adventure than stay, it was an easy decision to flee the city.

By the middle of the day, it was nearing 90 degrees. Hot, but not humid, a perfect day to be at Six Flags. It was our good fortune that it’s early in the season. Crowds were small and lines were short. Jess loves amusement parks, but me not so much. I admit it. Most of the time I’m not the “fun” mom.

She’s more intimidated by Tweety & Sylvester than by the animals

On this visit, our mission was head to the Safari Off Road Adventure to feed the giraffes. We were transported on large, loud, open trucks that hauled us as fast as they could through the park. Apparently, the main objective was to get people from point A to point B. The guide warned us about animals coming up to the vehicle, but there was no such opportunity. This truck did not stop and the driver made a point of keeping a wide berth.

Phone/cameras were to be used at our own risk. If you dropped it, there was no going back. The guide said that the animals have been known to take the phones and that the park is not responsible for roaming charges…ha ha…however, I think the intention to keep us moving was so there wasn’t the opportunity to lose their phones.

The giraffe park was sparse. Inside the building, there were some reptiles; snakes and lizards. Outside there were cages of parrots. I hate seeing birds caged. They didn’t look too happy. When I said “hello pretty bird”, there was one meek, pitiful reply “hi”. Not very stimulating for smart animals. Behind the birds, there was a small gray pony? He was very fuzzy and cute, but he was the one thing is not like the others. My guess is he’s the last remaining pony from when the park offered rides.

Outside in another pen, there was a giant anteater. Andy was pacing and appeared bored. Did you know that they can eat 65,000 ants a day? They provide him something that meets

his nutritional needs, which somehow doesn’t seem to be the same as foraging for live ants.  Like being offered Lays Kettle potato chips and getting baked Pringles instead, but worse. I’d bring him home too, but we don’t have enough ants to satisfy him either. There was a food truck for people. Out of desperation, I paid $5 for a small coke. Andy might have enjoyed that but he looked like he could use a beer.

Right on schedule, the giraffes meandered up to the balcony. Their presence did not disappoint.  I was impressed how they politely waited their turn for a snack. We fed them raw sweet potato fries held in an ice cream cone.They ate it all.

At the risk of stating the obvious, giraffes are tall. Our platform was tree height. Their tongues are black and can be up to two feet long. Jess was less intimidated by them than she was Sylvester and Tweety, whom she met when we entered the park.

After our giraffe visit, we hopped on another truck and sped back to the amusement park. Along the way, we learned that a lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles away and that a Tiger’s roar only two. We also learned that male ostriches are black and white and the females are gray and white.

Even though Jess’s Talker lost battery when we were at the Aquarium, she kept it with her for the rest of the day (did not leave it in the car) because her Talker is her voice, even if it has lost its charge.

As soon as we walked in the door, Jess got her back-up Talker and started chatting about the day. Over dinner, she told her Dad “roller coaster exciting” and “penguins remarkable”, then talked about the battleship (because I added the word). Jess was relieved to be able to say what she wanted to say, even if it was hours later. When the Talker lost it’s charge she didn’t forget what she wanted to say.  What had been pent up was soon released!

Jess went to Great Adventure and lived to tell about it on her Talker.. and all is well with the world.

Thank you Thora for this GREAT ADVENTURE! You are a GREAT Aunt!

Release the ya-ya’s

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

After being housebound for a few days due to the snow, we had to escape. Husband was under the weather and us girls needed to move.

The problem with the colder months is simple, Jess doesn’t like it. She was born a southern California girl and is definitely a flower child.

The downside to being anti-cold is it means she slows down this time of year and that effects her morning constitutional. Mall walking seems to solve our dilemma and it’s also our go-to place to expend energy. When the footing outside is bad and the wind is up, this is a hospitable place to be. There are other advantages; walking before the Mall opens means there are no crowds, window shopping is good and it’s free.

She tells me where she wants to go.

Jess has two speeds, stop and go. We don’t walk the Mall, we run.  In fact, we have a land speed record there. Not to brag, but we also hold the land speed record at the Baltimore Aquarium. One day we’ll go back and look at the fishes. I’m pretty sure she didn’t notice them the first time.

In a half hour, we can do two laps on the upper level and two on the lower. The other mall walkers are very encouraging and don’t mind when Jess passes them with unbridled enthusiasm.  Running for her is liberating and she is deceivingly fast.

On her wish list

By the end of our “walk”, Jess was ready to talk. She told me what she wanted at the market and then asked about discounts, I knew she had been listening to me when I told her earlier that apples were on sale and that we’d make more applesauce.

Once the ya-ya’s were released, we leisurely ran our errands, made it home before the crowds and all was well with the world.

The mother ship…Jess takes her AAC iPad everywhere

It’s all in the timing

Jessie, Roxy and I were driving home from the market. I know this sounds like the beginning of a joke, but really, I want to share that Jess told her first joke!  We had modeled jokes years ago on her Talker, but they didn’t seem to interest her at the time. Besides, she prefers slapstick humor.

I was surprised, she had good timing.

“Knock Knock”

    “Who’s there?”

“Mama Mia”

     “Mama Mia who?”

“Mama Mia movie”

She looked at me after each sentence and waited for me to answer. Then we laughed. There is always a thread of truth in humor. Humor is a powerful tool to get other people to do things that you want. 

Jess does everything in her own way, in her own time. Her joke today, reminded me of that. 

The sleep sagas

Oh what a beautiful morning, 

Oh what a beautiful day,

I got a full night of sleep,

and it looks like it will snow all day.

IIf your sleep has been disturbed for a couple of months, you’d break into song too.

Inspiration struck when I wasn’t even looking and the answer was right in front of me the whole time.  After watching a video of a therapy dog in action, I turned to Roxy and said   “I could use your services”.

Roxy already plays a support role.  She’s been an integral part of Jessie’s social network and watches over her like a good sister, but now I’m seeing that there are other ways she can help.

Before we adopted Roxy, we considered several different breeds. Mama would have loved a dog that didn’t shed. Goldendoodles are sweet as could be, but we were downsizing from Golden Retrievers and I couldn’t justify spending $2,500 on a designer mutt.  Besides, there’s an abundance of rescue dogs and certainly we could find one that would fit our family.  To make a long story short, Roxy wasn’t what I was looking for.  She was a white-girl, an English Pointer mix, and I wanted a smaller, black & white, Boston Terrier.  When Roxy saw us, she jumped up and down like Donkey in Shrek saying “pick me, pick me”.   She had the I-want-to-please personality and immediately sat in Jessie’s lap and kissed her, which made it a done deal.

Jess is still insisting, DEMANDING that I stay with her when she goes to bed.  Last night I asked her if she would like Roxy to stay with her instead?  Both Jess and Roxy gave me a watcha talkin’ bout look.

As anxious as Jess has been about sleeping alone, Roxy was feeling the same way about changing her routine.  Since this was new to both of them, I was needed to chaperone.

It occurred to me that this was Jessie’s first girl’s sleep over!  There was lots of giggling and wiggling and stories told.  For a moment, I feared this wasn’t going to work, but eventually they settled down and drifted off to sleep.  I made my way back to my room and everyone slept happily ever after. 

The next morning, we woke to kitties in the bed and snow on the ground.  Jess had a lot to talk about over breakfast!  Hopefully, this new arrangement will resolve everyone’s problems… crossing my fingers and praying to God it does.

Making applesauce

It has taken some practice, but Jess is finally getting the hang of peeling apples. 

Her first attempt, she peeled half an apple before walking away.

The second attempt, she’d turn the handle in the right direction, but the middle of the apple there was more resistance and  she’d reverse the direction.  This is a simple tool and going backwards doesn’t work well. 

Today was her third attempt.  By Jove, I think she got it!  Still not perfect, we are going in the right direction. 

Jess carried the pot of apples to the stove and went to town adding the cinnamon.  We are still working on portion control.

The first thing my Mom taught me to cook was applesauce. It was quick, didn’t require a recipe and kept the attention of my seven-year-old self.  The best part was eating the fresh sauce while it was still hot! 

Mom’s method was to cut up the apples, add water, bring to a soft boil, cooking till fork tender.  When the apples finished cooking, she then used a Foley food mill to remove the skin, making the sauce smooth and then would add the rest of the ingredients.  Some people like to leave the peel from red applies because it gives the sauce a blush color.

Instead of using a food mill, we prefer an apple peeler. I like to get the work done up front and it is more fun for Jess to use.  The peeler removes the core and 99% of the peel.  Add a couple of cups of water, a hint of brown sugar, a dusting of cinnamon, a splash of lemon juice and a few grains of salt.  Soft apples like Macintosh don’t take long to cook.  Finish using a potato masher.

Maybe by apple season, when the fruit is plentiful, we will go into production.  Jess just might make her own Christmas gifts for 2017.

Jess needs lots of encouragement to build her confidence.  I love how Jess grabs another apple at the end.  She makes me laugh.

New activities encourage her to use her Talker more.

The best part about cooking together is our conversation. Jess does more talking when we are doing something fun, especially when it involves food!.