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What I Do Here

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I write about whatever I am thinking about. It helps me think about it and remember it later. Because I live far away from many of my longest term friends, we don't always get to participate in each other's daily life; sharing my blog is a second-best.

My interests change over time, but at any given time, I am usually very intensely interested in a few things. This might look more organized and logical than it really is. I have two children with autism spectrum diagnoses, and they seem completely normal for my extended family; if I were a kid growing up today, I'd have a diagnosis, too. Try to keep that in mind, if you're trying to figure out what kind of person would write the kinds of things I write.

_Reunited_, Pamela Slaton

Subtitled: An Investigative Genealogist Unlocks Some of Life's Greatest Family Mysteries

She apparently has/had a series over on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Even more exciting, apparently the guy she sort-of identified as maybe being her bio-dad (it is a little vague in the book and he isn't identified with a last name, at least not in the version I read) sued her for doing so on a documentary.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2308052/Long-lost-father-sues-genealogist-claiming-shes-biological-daughter-Oprah.html

I have not been able to figure out how that all turned out; maybe it is still winding its way through court.

I ran across this when I was looking for genealogy memoirs. I think a lot about writing about my genealogical research (because unusual religions! For the win! Also, maternal grandmother child of first cousin marriage. And tons of divorces. Husband of cousin I didn't know I even had getting in touch with me through a mediator. Visiting overseas relatives. Mental illness. There's some great stuff to work with here. Also, a whole lot of people who could hate me forever, if they don't already. So, some risk.) and read other genealogy memoirs to get a better sense of how people approach touchy subjects and what kinds of stories work well even if you aren't personally connected and similar.

Slaton's angle is adoption: she is an adoptee with a complicated family: dead adoptive parents, dead adoptive brother, living full sibling, two living half siblings, living highly-problematic mother, living maybe-dad (description of inconclusive DNA results in the book), etc. After the harrowing adventure of her own family, she adopted (har de har har) adoption reunion/searches as a hobby and then career. It's great stuff and she's clearly developed mad skills, especially when it involves births in New York.

She's a good story teller. She is upbeat, altho she is quite religious and that pervades the book. She has chosen her stories carefully to illustrate more general points/problems associated with the adoption triad (birth family, adoptive family, the adoptee): finding mother, finding father, finding siblings and other family, trying to understand the decisions that were made, managing one's own feelings, the feelings of others in the triad, respecting the wishes of those who don't want to have an ongoing relationship. She also talks about activists pushing for open adoptions and open records, mostly sympathetically altho it is clear that she takes a great deal of pride and finds a lot of satisfaction in working around the barriers associated with closed records.

I'm not directly associated with any adoptions, altho they are certainly present in my extended family (and then there was that mystery cousin thing). But some of what she has to say is generically useful to genealogists, and there's a lot of value in better understanding the world we live in. I do believe what she has to say about the gaps experienced by people who were adopted and who are missing all that information about their biological heritage, even when those same people are adamant about not wanting to pursue that information, often out of love of their real parents.

It is not technical; I wouldn't advocate reading this in search of How Tos, but if you are contemplating researching your own adoption or trying to provide support to someone who is, there is a lot of thoughtful advice about the emotional ramifications.
Today, we scootered and rode bikes around the block. T. wanted me to bring Princess Rainbow Sparkles on the Townie's tray. We looked pretty funny riding around, but had a good time.

R. took A. and T. to open gym. They all went in the van and said they didn't need me, so I stayed home and took care of some things that needed to get done. After the open gym, they drove to McDonald's, where they had chicken nuggets, fries, and white milk. T. also had a chocolate shake.

A. has been watching a lot of Phineas & Ferb on iTunes, and they are both still playing Where's My Water, Where's My Perry, etc.

Later, T. went to Julie's Place, where he only ate a little.
Subtitled: Staying well with Manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder

This is a collection of responses to a questionnaire by people diagnosed with manic depression/bipolar disorder. The group is from Australia, so the details about the health care system (and the spelling of some words) will be unfamiliar to a United States audience. Because it takes a "wellness" perspective, the responses are about how do people with this diagnosis live their lives and avoid further episodes of their illness (either by reducing the frequency, intensity or both). Almost, but not all, of the respondents are on medication (mostly some form of lithium, altho there is a range of prescriptions used to manage this illness, including some people who only take lithium or anti-psychotics part of the time, or take anti-depressants part of the time because that works best for them, and other strategies as well). All of the respondents are accepting of their diagnosis, altho some of them downplay the seriousness of it.

Many of the people in the book had one or more hospitalizations before they received the correct diagnosis that led to an appropriate treatment strategy that then helped them avoid further hospitalizations. The most common misdiagnoses were for schizophrenia, altho there were some for unipolar depression and other things. The people who had wrong diagnoses were very relieved to finally receive a diagnosis that led to successful treatment.

Some of the people in the book changed careers. Some retired and receive a disability pension. Some were diagnosed quite young and have held a few jobs but not established a career. Some had partners and/or children. Others did not.

It is striking how many of the people describe the great care they take to maintain daily routines and a rhythm to their lives: consistent times getting up and going to bed, activities like exercise, meditation, yoga, etc. to help them maintain perspective and stable mood, relationships they maintain with people who can tell them when they start to "speed up". Overwhelmingly, they have reduced or eliminated their consumption of alcohol and other recreational drugs, and many of them carefully limit caffeine as well. They are cautious about travel across time zones, and they very carefully manage their response to springtime.

This is a wonderful book in that it goes beyond the take-your-medication-or-else approach, while strongly supporting effective medication strategies. It's a rare and useful combination. While some reviewers on Amazon seem to think this book only includes people whose lives were not that disrupted by this illness, a careful reader can clearly see otherwise. Any reader -- whether they have bipolar, know someone who has bipolar, or has an interest in better understanding neurodiversity -- can learn a lot about the importance of self-insight, and developing compensating habits in life to become aware of and effectively deal with stresses before they overwhelm one.
A. did not have school today. T. had a full day. Today at school, T. had outdoor recess. He says he played by himself. He did not eat his orange for snack (we forgot carrots). He had pizza for lunch. When he got home, he went to get his hair cut. He also scootered a little in the driveway. A. and I scootered around the block. Then, we took A. and T. to Planet Gymnastics for Kids/Parents Nite Out. They got to play for 3 hours and watch Frozen projected on the ceiling. They had a good time. R. and I went to Red Raven where we had a pleasant dinner.

Now we are home, and it is past their bed times, but it was a special night and we all had fun.
Subtitled: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward

It's not clear exactly when the last substantive revision of this kindle edition occurred. No OCR problems, typos, grammar issues, wtf were apparent in the course of a single read-through. Because the original book dated from the 1990s, the contents are somewhat, er, dated. For example, we have made much more progress towards what they call "social liberation" with respect to smoking, and to a lesser degree with respect to drinking. For example, most indoor and some outdoor public places in the US and many other developed nations are now, by law, smoke-free. Far more people have quit smoking since this book was written, and the phenomenon they describe (of smoking becoming increasingly covert, hidden even from family members) has progressed even further, albeit electronic cigarettes have produced a new wrinkle. Because I've been paying a lot of attention to alcohol portion sizes, the text has a single-alcoholic-serving as 12 oz beer, shot (1.5 oz) serving of spirits (both the same as now) or a 4 oz glass of wine.

Before anyone goes, OMG, do you drink/smoke/have a whatever problem, the answer is, of course I have a whatever problem. Almost everyone has a whatever problem. And this is a systematic way of thinking about whatever problems and what people do about them without involving professional assistance and when that works and, when it doesn't, why. Their theory, the TransTheoretical Model of Change (TTM) is a very 90s, pre-CBT approach to Helping People Help Themselves. Starting from then-current research that indicated that virtually all theoretical approaches in the helping professions (he calls them psychoanalytical theories, and quotes Freud without apology, altho fortunately not often) were roughly equally efficacious. Not too long after the TTM model was devised as a way to map approach to "stage" in the progression of change, the helping professions in general explored and adopted a bunch of Brief/Quick/client-centered approaches to helping -- they are now more or less lumped together as cognitive-behavioral therapies.

In any event, a bunch of people and organizations have adopted TTM as a way to better match therapeutic tools (whether that is consciousness raising or putting together a plan of what to do instead of whatever, or rallying one’s social network to provide support or any number of other things) to where in the change process the complainant/client/patient/addict/etc. is. In general, matching the appropriate tool to the person is a Good Thing; one of the major complaints about TTM is that 6 months out, a lot of people need a fairly significant Readjustment (whether that’s a relapse, or a secondary problem that was why the person had the bad habit in the first place, or one of their coping strategies has gotten out of hand, etc.). TTM is pretty much just like everything else in that respect, offering little more than platitudes about Hey, Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Many brief, quick, CBT type therapies, however, address the readiness for action problem very differently. If someone is sitting in front of a professional, they are ready for _some_ kind of action; these therapies are much more rigorous about having the client define the goal state. Prochaska et al are here to tell you what your goal state should be, and thus they generate a lot more classic therapeutic resistance. They are _smarter_ about responding to that resistance, but they still generate resistance.

Prochaska et al also stumbled across some perceptual things (like how bad punishment is, how good praise is, ratios of positive to negative statements to be perceived as balancing out as positive, the importance of making a goal more attractive vs. the current state of being less attractive, and having some numbers on that) that are pretty widely recognized by NLP types. In good news, this group of authors is considerably less cult-y than some NLP outfits. In bad news, their therapeutic tricks are a lot sloppier and thus take longer and don’t necessarily “stick” as well.

But if you are looking for a theory of habit change, this is a good one. While the primary focus is on smoking, drinking problems, anger management, exercise/diet/weight control and other health interventions and so forth, you could kind of use it for almost anything. One of the most consistently wonderful things about this book is its honesty about the crankiness of people who are in the process of major self-change, and how a lot of bad habits are the result of people trying to suppress negative emotions or avoid enforcing boundaries, and other things that cause social conflict. They emphasize the importance of developing assertiveness, and recognize that some relationships may need to end (temporarily or permanently) if they are getting in the way of necessary changes.

They do devote a chapter to exploring how to tell when it is time to involve a professional in the change process.

However, I’m going to look around and see if there is anything better out there.
Today, T. had a full day of school. A. had a half day. Her swimming lesson was canceled. She was a few minutes late to school, because she was watching Frozen and wanted to hear the rest of Let It Go. No one else can walk away from that song, so it is unreasonable to ask her to do so.

Today at school, T. refused to eat his apple for snack. It turns out he has been doing this for a few days. We will try carrots tomorrow. No more apples for a while. He had a cheese sandwich for lunch with R. in the cafeteria. He had speech with C. He had outdoor recess. He played with C. (different C.). They played on the slide.

After school, we were supposed to have a visit from S., which they were both excited about. Alas, S. failed to arrive and calls to her went straight to voice mail. We hope she is okay, and just forgot about us or thought she had already canceled to go out of town or something similar. If someone is sick, we hope they recover promptly and completely.

After R. got home, R. and T. went to Julie's Place (where I already had lunch) for dinner. I took A. to Johnny Rockets. Of course, the kids both had chicken tenders and fries, altho I understand T. had juice and R. ordered chocolate milk which she then mostly ignored and T. drank when we brought it home. I had a salad, and some of A.'s chicken.

A. does not have school tomorrow, but T. does. In the evening, they will go to open gym and watch Frozen and eat pizza and popsicles while R. and I go out to dinner. It's a Parents' Night Out thing and we've never been brave enough to try this before so wish us luck.
Today, T. had half day. A. had a full day. I went for a walk. There was snow on the ground from last night. M.'s dog P. had so much fun rolling around in the snow; it was hilarious.

T. came home and we went to the swimming pool where he had his lesson. He is doing really well. He played for a little while after. B. met A. when she came home from school; we drove into the driveway while the van was still there. Then B. took T. to Julie's Place for an early dinner and a hoodsie cup with whipped cream for dessert; he ate everything.

At school today, T. had speech with C. He had Reading Mastery with E. He had indoor recess. He had lunch in the classroom. He says tomorrow he has P.E. with a Mrs. K. who is not E.

A. and T. are both playing Where's My Water 1 or 2. They are having a lot of fun, altho A. keeps making other people play her levels for her.
Today, A. and T. went to school. I went to the post office to ship some things off to a friend of mine. Then I drove to my Dutch lesson. After that, I came home, to meet two friends for lunch at Benjarong. It was really good, and wasn't raining too hard, so we walked. Fortunately, we all had hoods because it was raining harder on the way back. I got to show them all the things (painting, new furniture, etc.) that I have been blogging about for months.

After school, A. and T. scootered with umbrellas in the rain. This was pretty cool, but didn't last very long. Then we played Where's My Water on the devices.

When R. got home, M. came with him (friend, not my walking partner). They went with T. to Julie's Place for dinner. Then we all hung out for a while.

At school today, T. had OT group with J., C. and A. He did Touch Math with K. He had indoor recess because it was rainy. He had a cheese sandwich for lunch with R. in the cafeteria. He had an apple for snack in the classroom.

Speaking of habits: food

I've been attempting to re-start some old habits that worked well for me in the past; they were deprecated in the name of I Don't Have the Time or Energy for This Right Now (which was true, but isn't true any more). So I've been doing things like increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables I eat (cooking more/eating at home, making sure I keep fresh fruit salad and green salad in the fridge and include one or the other at each meal, and then try to also get some other veg in somewhere), reducing sodium (same batch of ideas), portion control (hey, don't free pour the salad dressing! type of thing, along with a certain amount of, no, you really don't need another waffle, even if it is home made and whole grain. Put it in the freezer), increasing exercise (slowly! Because if there is one thing I can be predicted to do nearly every spring, it's to cause some kind of RSI by doing a whole bunch of stuff I haven't done in 6 months).

Anyway. A while back I debugged Why My Husband's Drinks Are So Strong, so when I opened a bottle of wine, I said to my self, Self, let your Inner Geek Shine. Get that scale out, zero it with the wineglass on it and pour 5 oz. Let's see what that looks like.

Looks like what I thought it should look like, which is about 2/3rds what it looks like when any of my husband's extended family pours a glass of wine (and their glasses are usually larger in volume than ours).

Now Self is saying, hey, let's bring that scale with us next T-weekend/Xmas at the fam's, and show everyone else what 5 oz of wine looks like. I'm trying to cram Self back into a box.

This is what happens when the Inner Geek comes out to play. She doesn't want to stop.

In complete violation of the reducing sodium rule, and partial violation of cooking at home rule, but absolutely aligned with hey, there are leftovers! I took yet another batch of leftover chicken tenders (these two were from Johnny Rockets) and rather than eating them on salad (my usual strategy), I heated them, chopped them up, and cooked them in a pan with some sauteed mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and summer squash, penne pasta (already cooked from a few days ago) and Trader Joe's No Salt Added Tomato Sauce. The breading came off somewhat and thickened up the sauce in a super delicious way that doesn't ever happen when I cook chicken myself (duh, I don't batter and fry my chicken, because if I'm going to do that, I go out to a restaurant and let the people with the fryer do it for me. And I don't own a fryer because I have marginally more sense than self control). R. said it tasted like chicken parm without the parm. Which I wouldn't know about, because milk allergy.

Johnny Rockets nutrition calculator suggests that each piece of chicken (there were two, and I split this with R.) added 420 mg. of sodium. Ouch. OTOH, there wasn't any other sodium added, so right up until I added the garlic bread, I was doing basically okay.
Subtitled: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Don't read it. Don't buy it. Don't borrow it. Don't waste your time.

There are a bunch of really weird and disturbing things about this book, like the chapter about Rosa Parks that focuses on loose ties and doesn't really correctly frame Parks as the activist that she consciously was -- and then interleaves it with stuff about Warren and Saddleback (so, so, so wrong!!!) that ignore the multi-generational preacher aspects of the Warren family. There's a bit about gay rights:

"For example, when gay rights organizations started campaigning against homophobia in the late 1960s, their initial efforts yielded only a string of failures. They pushed to repeal laws used to prosecute gays and were roundly defeated in state legislatures." Conveniently failing to note the successes in municipalities in California that inspired Stonewall, and a variety of legal victories around the same time. "Then, in the early 1970s, the American Library Associations Task Force on Gay Liberation decided to focus on one modest goal: convincing the Library of Congress to reclassify books about the gay liberation movement... the Library of Congress agreed ... the effect was electrifying ... Within a few years, openly gay politicians were running for political office in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon".

So, yay, ALA, but this misrepresents the timeline in so many ways it is hard to know where to begin, much less end.

Like many business writers, Duhigg is a lot more attached to "good stories" than he is to accurately describing reality, which is unfortunate, because we usually learn the most from those points where reality fails to follow the well-trod path of a "good story". Also as is typical of business writers, he tends to find "successes" and then go back and ask them what they did, and then (a) assume their recollections are accurate and (b) because success happened after what they claimed they did, the success was the result of what they did. Two problems there: people often remember the past somewhat if not entirely inaccurately (yes, I always turned my homework in and on time and done carefully!) and are there people who started out the same way but wound up in a much less good place? Un-confirmed anecdotes plus a logical fallacy leads one directly into the self-reinforcing land of We Must Be Good and Moral and Chosen Because We Are Rich and Famous error, a classic of the smugly self-satisfied who firmly implant their fingers in their ears and shout I Can't Hear You! whenever someone tries to say, but I did everything right, how come I'm unemployed and losing my home? Etc.

Also, his advice on habit modification is soooooo bad -- he seems to think AA is really effective. *sigh*

Habits are important. Everything we do, we do on autopilot -- including a lot of how we (re)program our autopilots, which is sort of a problem for people who could use a meta-level habit tune-up. I was really hoping to read a book that developed and expanded upon that idea. This is not that book.

In an ongoing effort to find that book, I am now reading Prochaska et al's _Changing for Good_, mentioned by writers like Miriam Nelson (I like Miriam Nelson's work. It is the good kind of simple.). It has its own problems, but it's way better than Duhigg.

Weirdly, along the way I've stumbled across a bunch of stuff about managing bipolar disorder by stabilizing life routines (mostly Ellen Frank's work developing IPSRT, if you want something to google -- she writes books for clinicians and I'm not necessarily interested enough to read http://www.amazon.com/Treating-Bipolar-Disorder-Individualized-Evidence-Based-ebook/dp/B003TXT08I, but maybe you are). This isn't _instead_ of medication, it's complementary treatment (generally speaking, anyway).

I also picked up Cohen and deBenedet's _The Art of Roughhousing_, which is really great. I mean, _really_ great. Nothing quite like reading a parenting book with lists of What To Do and What Not To Do and nodding as you go along, because everything is familiar -- except, oooh, cool new idea! I'm not done with it yet, and am sort of hoping they get around to talking about kids and martial arts at some point, because the connections are really obvious, at least to me.

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