Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ottawa helps lost/missing autistic children

UPDATE: Here is a link to the Ottawa Police page about the Autism Registry.

A couple of points:

  1. Thursday is World Autism Awareness day
  2. Ottawa is establishing an Autism Registry, to help the police in finding autistic kids who have gone missing. Click here to read the CBC Ottawa article.
It is a terror we have endured too many times: Peter periodically "goes missing." Peter has Asperger Syndrome, a "mild" autistic disorder. While he is intellectually gifted in some areas, in other ways he is scarily "out of it." He misses cues, doesn't follow instructions that everyone else seems to get; he doesn't ask for help; he often comes up with illogical solutions to his problems. Furthermore he looks "normal" so people who would ordinarily help or watch out for someone with special needs, don't think to ask him if he is in trouble. Anyone who has read "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" (a fantastic book, by the way) will recognize this portrait.

One year, (I think he was 10 or 11), he followed a bunch of kids onto a school bus - not realizing that there were several different buses, each with a different route. When he was the last kid on the bus, he told the bus driver how to get to our house. By the time he got home, an hour late, the police were just driving up to our house. I was beside myself with fear over what might have happened to my little boy.

Another time, he got on the wrong bus and ended up in another town, waiting in a public park until we found him. After that, the school board conceded that he was elegible for special busing. Once, he decided to walk home, 2 miles in the dark, in winter, when his driver showed up with a different-colored van than usual. Although we had given him instructions and money for a phone booth, he didn't think to call home: he knew where home was, he just needed to get there. Again, the police were already at our house, ready to help us find him, trying to reassure me that he would be okay.

The fall we first moved here to Colorado Springs, Peter was teased at school and decided to run away back to Canada. I canvassed the neighborhood - no one had seen him. This time, when I called the police they said they wouldn't look for him, even with his disability, because he was able to "dress and feed himself." It was not until I told them I was worried he might be suicidal (he left an alarming note) that they decided to send an officer. (In the end, one of the neighbors I'd spoken to had decided to drive around and look for Peter - a little further afield than I had gone. Miracle: he found Peter. Scary miracle: Peter got in the car with this stranger who immediately brought him home. I can't tell you how much I thank God for that neighbor, whose name I never thought to get! I was just so grateful and stunned.)

As recently as this school year, he has wound up at the far south end of Colorado Springs by getting on the wrong bus. (At least now he has a cell phone and - fortunately - it was charged and working.)

But it is a fear I still live with: that Peter will "go missing" and we will not be able to find him before something tragic happens. We are moving back to Ottawa this summer, and I find it reassuring that we are moving somewhere where the police recognize that autism does present unique challenges when it comes to missing children - or adults for that matter. Just the same, I pray we never need to call on their aid.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday-night Insomnia

Groannn. It happens to me almost every Sunday night: I go upstairs at a reasonable hour (9:30), brush my teeth, get into my jammies and read a book, hoping to feel drowsy at around 10:00. Doesn't happen.

Last night, both Steve and I tossed & turned, fussing with blankets and pillows. I even tried some relaxation exercises, to no avail. After a while, Brian came in and said he was scared, so I went and snuggled him in his bed. Often that will make me sleepy. This time: fail. (Though Steve had finally drifted into the land of slumber.)

So I got up and read a chapter of my new book ("Big Stone Gap" - good book, so far, but not great). I had a glass of wine and a sliver of cheddar. When I found myself feeling head-heavy, I climbed back upstairs and finally fell asleep at about 2:30.

Needless to say, it was brutally hard to get up when the alarm chirped at 06:30 this morning!

I've heard that Sunday-night insomnia is common as people get stressed out thinking about the coming week. What about you? Do you have trouble on Sunday nights? What tricks do you use to deal with it?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whale-less whale-watching

I had hoped to be posting a picture of at least one whale, but unfortunately, we didn't see any whales today. We had a good time nevertheless, and we did see some dolphins, seals, and some obliging pelicans.

The day began early, foggy and cool as we made our way to Balboa Peninsula. It was a good thing we all wore sweatshirts or windbreakers as the wind made it quite chilly out on the water. The sun never really managed to burn off the fog while we were out.

Once on the boat, we made our way to the bow where Brian and I snagged plum spots right out front. First we saw some pelicans, then a very small group of bottle-nose dolphins. We took a short visit to some sea lions on a bell buoy before circling back and seeing a large group of common dolphins, then we made our way back to shore.

Too bad we didn't see any whales, but we did get a coupon for 50% off our next whale-watching trip. Maybe next time!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Looking forward to our week on the ocean

We're packing tonight and heading out to our timeshare in California tomorrow afternoon!

If I were writing this from Ottawa, I'd be saying that I can't wait for the sunshine, but since we're here in Colorado, sunshine is not the big draw. Instead, it's about downtime, spending time with each other, no "musts" on our to-do lists. We're packing board games, cards, beach blanket, and toys.

Well, except we do have one must-do: go whale-watching! I can't wait. I've never been whale-watching before, but I've heard it's wonderful and have been warned that I'll take a kazillion pictures, and that most of them will be taken too late. I promise not to post any truly dull photos.

As a postscript, Katie is doing much better now. She saw the doctor again and was given an anti-spasmodic for her tummy. That seemed to do the trick, though she says her shoulder has started hurting again, so who knows?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My baby needs her mommy

My 21-year-old baby, Katie, is at the hospital and may be having surgery this afternoon, and I am too far away to do anything to help her. But pray.

She called me this morning and told me about feeling nauseated all night (but not actually being sick) and having stomach pains and pain in her shoulder. She said she'd been constipated but had gotten over that. She's been struggling lately with what she thinks might be lactose intolerance. I suspected she was still constipated and suggested she take a laxative, have a hot bath and walk around. And asked her to call me later.

Fortunately for my wise daughter, when she got worse instead of better, she called TeleHealth Ontario, a free service where you can talk to a nurse and get advice on whether to see a doctor or not. The nurse told her to see a doctor, so she did. (Her boyfriend's mother came and drove them. Thank you, Tammy!) The doctor checked her out, including pressing on her where her gallbladder is. Katie screamed in pain! The doctor then told her to go to the hospital for further tests. It could be an inflamed/infected gallbladder, or it could be a gallstone. Surgery might be needed.

The last I heard from Katie she was waiting to be seen at the hospital. She said she'd call me again when she has access to a pay-phone. So I'm waiting and waiting, and feeling guilty that I'm not with my daughter when she really needs her mommy. And feeling guilty that I gave her such bad advice. (I certainly didn't know that shoulder pain was a real symptom; we both thought it was a red herring.)

Nothing to do but wait and pray. And thank God she called TeleHealth.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How much is the stress worth?

Steve likes to say that the extra pay you get with career advancements is for the extra stress that comes with the greater job responsibilities. I'm inclined to agree.

I've been blessed to have a relatively stress-free job for the past four years, for the most part. There have been periods where the work load was heavy or the responsibilities were daunting, but those were sporadic. And, if I'm honest, they were the periods I enjoyed the most! I've found it far more grinding - and harder to get up on Monday mornings - when the days are slow and predictable.

As I've been idly scouring the Ottawa job market for communicators, I've been tossing around the question of how much responsibility (read, "stress") do I want? Part of me likes the idea of applying for "writer" or "communications officer" positions, which are below my qualifications but would be jobs that I could do with little or no stress. Another part of me looks at the more senior positions and thinks, "I could do that!" and relishes the challenge.

Which brings me to the question of "good stress" versus "bad stress." I happen to believe that some kinds of stress are actually productive and can be energizing. A 2004 article at supports this, in terms of your immune system. The article states that short bursts of stress can actually help your immune system.

"But long-term stress such as an injury or trauma that caused permanent or life-changing damage, such as having a long term disability, losing a partner or spouse or being abused as a child, appeared to wear out the immune system, leaving people more prone to infections." Read the article here.
Another site says,
"Positive stress--known as eustress--is what helps you write your best report, ace your tennis game and deepen your relationships." It goes on to say, "You don't have to eliminate stress so much as manage it--to determine the level that's optimal for you."Read the article here.
I guess "eustress" is what I'm looking for. I liken it to "hypomania" - that condition where you aren't truly out-of-control manic, but you're full of energy and enthusiasm. And I think, for me, that means I need a challenge. But I'll also need to learn how to manage that stress.

What are your tips for managing stress? What would you choose: higher stress or lower stress? Will choosing more stress just send me to an early grave? Share your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More real-estate dilemmas

Bad news: the tiny 2-bedroom house we own in Ottawa is worth a mere $30,000 - that's for the building alone. Basically, the house is a very cute, nicely maintained teardown. (Refer to picture at right of our 800 sq ft cottage.)

Good news: the 50' x 157' plot of land it's on is worth significantly more than that. The McMansion across the street is listed at $1.3 million!

Meanwhile we've been scouring the real estate listings for a bigger house in the same general neighbourhood that will meet our needs - with very little luck. Obvious question: should WE tear down the little house and build the one we want? I'm not talking about a McMansion (neither of us wants to pay for or clean the Taj Mahal), just a modest but bigger house. With a garage and a pool.

Part of me loves the idea of custom-building our own home. I'm a control freak and I have a creative bent, so the project suits me. Actually, Steve's a control freak too, so the project would undoubtedly lead to more marital friction as aesthetic and fiscal desires come head-to-head. But together, Steve and I have renovated (or partially renovated) three kitchens, two bathrooms, and two basements, either ourselves or with contractors, so we have an inkling of what we're in for (though I've heard horror stories from friends). We know what we like and what we do and don't want. Often I look at new or expensively renovated houses and wish I could simply erase parts and start over.

On the other hand, I estimate it would take at least two years before we could move in and, in the meantime, we'd be renting and stressing out. Plus, I have the patience of a newborn; I'm all about instant gratification. I would really like to just move into a house in August and have it meet all our needs. If we renovate/build, it means at least one more move of all our worldly goods. Not to mention the likelihood of cost overruns and the unpredictability of what the final cost will be; my guess is that it would cost more in the long run.

What do you think? Should we build or should we buy? Use the buttons at the top of the page to vote. What advice can you give us?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Air head

It's happened, just as I feared: I have nothing to say. I was so excited when I started this blog, thinking that something must happen in every day of my life that is worth sharing with you.

But I have to admit that my life is really rather boring. It's pretty much conflict-free, and everyone knows that conflict is what creates the drama in any story.
  • I was going to write about my diet failure today: I ate 3/4 of a panini for lunch, then had a piece of birthday cake to help celebrate a colleague's special day. (Yeah, right, I ate the cake so he would feel better. As if.) But that's just too depressing.
  • I thought about writing about our breakfast-for-dinner inspired by a friend's Facebook post about bacon. Instead I just posted a reply to his post. More appropriate.
  • Our cat, Elly, is adorable and started licking my arm after she finished her own bath; she almost inspired me to write about her. But that is a little too old-cat-lady-ish. (Won't stop me from posting her picture, though. Isn't she sweet?)
  • I could write about my nascent job-hunt in Ottawa, but that really hasn't started in earnest, although I've actually applied for two government jobs and I check the new listings daily. And I've spread the word to friends and former colleagues that I will be looking for work. But it's still too early to be taken seriously, I think. What do you think? Is it too early? We won't be "up and running" in Ottawa until about mid-August, though I could fly up earlier and let the family join me later, for the right job.
So, from today's meanderings there are four topics you could comment on: diet struggles, bacon as an all-day food, cat-lady tendencies, or timing of the job hunt. Weigh in!

(Sorry about that pun. But I'm leaving it there anyway.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tax anxiety

Ever since I started working outside the home, I've had real anxiety attacks around doing my taxes. I'm talking about heart-pounding, lump-in-the-throat, cold-sweat anxiety.

Partly, this is because when I first started working I was a self-employed contractor, so I didn't have a standard W-2 or T4 upon which to base my income and deductions. I had to pull together my shoebox full of receipts and records, hand it all over to a tax professional and pray to God that everything was on the up & up.

My taxes are still complicated because I file in both the United States and Canada. Double the pleasure, double the fun. And, much as I'm proud of Canada's social system, especially health and education, I am not delighted when my entire U.S. tax return -- and we're talking almost $3,000 -- gets syphoned into the Canadian revenue system. And then some. Sigh. It sure would be nice to just spend some of that "found money."

Instead, I have to scan and mail all my U.S. information to an accountant in Ottawa who charges a hefty sum to calculate how much I owe the Queen.

So, although I get to stay in my wrinkly pyjamas and fluffy slippers today, it doesn't feel much like a day off because I'm doing my taxes. I just keep reminding myself how good I'll feel when the whole thing is filed and done with. Kind of like that joke about banging your head against a wall: why do it? Because it feels so good when you stop.

Done with my break; back to my head-banging now.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Feeling excited about my career

For the past three days I've attended a Public Affairs workshop put on by NORAD and USNORTHCOM. The first day-and-a-half were interesting enough, but it's the last day-and-a-half that have really pumped me up.

Eric Schwartzman led all of us on a "Social Media Boot-Camp." I've learned so much! And I feel reinvigorated in my chosen career field of communication/public relations. This isn't the first workshop or webcast I've attended on the subject, but this is the first one that got into some of the nitty-gritty about how to make these tools really work. In fact, it's the Social Media Boot-Camp that inspired me to get off the fence and actually start writing this blog. (I'm still not sure where this blog is going or whether anyone other than myself will read it, but at least I made a move.)

One message came through loud and clear, and that is the importance of being authentic when using social media. What that means is that if your stuff looks or sounds too much like a polished PR product (without adding any real value or content) or ignores an issue that is a hot topic on the Web, you are dead in the water: your credibility is in the toilet. I believe this applies to all our PR/corporate communications activities. People sense when they're being lied to or when the message doesn't jibe with reality.

He also drove home the point that these are social media -- they are about social exchange, back-and-forth, dialogue. That's why some corporate blogs (ones that are clearly written by the PR or marketing department) fall so flat: they are impersonal, cold, too packaged, and they don't have any give-and-take.

One less prominent point he made is one that I've felt strongly about for a long time, and that is that your internal audience is perhaps your most important one. They are the subject-matter experts who can be quick to debunk misinformation about your company -- if they are empowered to do so. And they are a far more credible source than your "official spokesperson" will ever be.

All in all, the session left me feeling pumped as I haven't felt in a long, long time. Visit his blog at

On a personal note, Steve spent the day at a briefing concerning our move back to Canada - all the things we need to do before we leave. Can't wait to hear his debrief!

House-hunting Stress

We're moving back to Ottawa this summer. Or at least, that's what we've been told, and that's what we're telling everyone. That's what we're planning on. The hitch is we don't have anything on paper yet -- no official "posting message." A posting message is the official document from the Department of National Defence (DND) that permits us to make commitments -- such as carrying out a house-hunting trip or, for that matter, buying a house. (We are fortunate that DND pays certain expenses associated with purchasing a house.)

The upshot of all this is that we can't actually do anything yet. Well, if I'm honest, we can do something: we can browse online real estate listings for houses. Which I've been doing, and it's only serving to exacerbate my impatience.

Ottawa is currently a seller's market, we've been told. And it shows in the listings. Several of the houses we've been interested in have already vanished from the listings. Others have notes in the listings that say things like, "Open house on Saturday; all offers will be presented on Monday at 6 p.m." It also is apparent in the fact that there really aren't very many houses available that fit our bill. This is because Ottawa is a government town and therefore has sailed through the current economic downturn with barely a shudder.

In case you're interested, here's our wish list (with the acknowledgement that "something's going to have to give"):
  • Short drive to downtown (less than 20 minutes)
  • Short bus ride to downtown (less than 45 minutes)
  • 4 bedrooms
  • At least 2 baths
  • Garage
  • Inground pool
  • Ensuite for master bedroom
  • Updated kitchen
  • Good school
  • Low crime
  • And, of course a certain cost threshold

In the "something's going to have to give" category are questions like:

  • Does a short commute outweigh zero crime vs. low crime?
  • Are we willing to give up a pool if the house has everything else?
  • Is a one-car garage enough? Or will we just end up fighting over it?
  • Is this house only for the next 10 years? Or is this our "forever" house (i.e., until we need ramps, ventilators and Depends)?

These are all questions with price-tags attached, of course. And, like most couples, price-tags tend to induce a certain amount of friction. Steve was the kind of kid who saved up all his allowances for years and loaned his parents money for a down-payment on their first house (I'm not exaggerating). I was the kind of kid who searched the coat-pockets in the front-hall closet for loose change and spent it on candy at the corner store (Sorry, Mom). I never, ever had money saved. Neither of us has changed much.

Fortunately, we each love the other enough to realize that this, like so much else in marriage, requires a compromise. Steve knows I won't be happy living in an ugly house. I know he won't be able to sleep with outrageous debt hanging over his head. The bottom line is that there is a very narrow range of houses that will satisfy both of us.

But houses there are. I'm impatiently watching them appear and disappear from the online listings. We've been told that posting messages won't be issued before mid-March. Of course, in my current state, I therefore expect to have document in hand no later than March 16. (I'm being generous.) I'll keep you posted as the saga continues. If nothing else, this blog may help assuage some of my pre-posting turmoil.

Oh, by the way, in the course of my online house-browsing, I came across this interesting tool that tracks crime by address in Ottawa (possibly elsewhere, but I only used it for Ottawa.)

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