Allegiant Redeemed

Or, more appropriately, completely rewritten.

In October of last year, Allegiant – the third book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth- was released. This was my review. As you can see, I was VERY MUCH NOT PLEASED. As I sat with the book a little longer, many other glaring problems with it began to seep in. The best summation I can give would be for you to read this (very long) Amazon review. That basically hits all the points I would, minus the killing of the main, first person character.

At the time, I wished someone would come along, tell me it was all a lie and then hand me the REAL third book. What I read couldn’t possibly be any more than a very rough draft, right?

Well, today I found that book.

Over the last couple of days I reread Divergent and Insurgent because I like them and I like Tris and Tobias and I missed the characters. Then, on something of a wild hare, I searched for Divergent FanFic.

Let me be clear: I generally don’t read or search out Fanfic. The little I have been exposed to has mostly been a vehicle for making beloved characters fuck each other’s brains out. (Dear World, I do not care for Hermione, Harry, and SNAPE threesomes.) So, I was a little dubious to say the least.

One of the first google hits was Determinant: One Choice Will Change Everything by a user named Windchimed. I clicked over to the story and saw that it was an entire BOOK. In fact, it was an entire book meant to completely replace Allegiant. It picks up exactly at the end of Insurgent and takes the story from there. I looked at the reviews posted and they were almost universally raves. People loved it. So I thought I’d give it a chance.

I just spent the majority of my day reading the whole damn thing and I am FLOORED. This author needs to be given many, many dollars for her writing and STAT. She is GOOD. I also suspect she lives in Pittsburgh or did at one point. She knows the city too well not to be a Burgher.

Anyway, this book was everything I wanted out of Allegiant and more. She keeps the switching perspectives of Allegiant but gives Tobias a distinct voice. And those switches of perspective have a purpose. They drive the narrative forward. Each of the characters introduced by Roth are flawlessly executed by Windchimed. Christina. Uriah. Peter. Evelyn. Tori. They all come alive. Any deaths that occur (and there are some) are necessary to the story; they don’t feel contrived or retconned into place.

You guys, I cried at this book.

I won’t give away plot or the ending or anything else. But as far as I am concerned, this trilogy is Divergent, Insurgent, Determinant. Allegiant was just a bad simulation; a fear we had to face in the fear landscape.

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Continued Forward Motion

This morning I had my meeting with the new principal at our elementary school so that I could discuss Jamie and his issues with her.

Short story: it went really, really well.

Long story: we talked about his anxiety and how it manifests in the classroom. We discussed strategies to help him and she asked really intelligent questions. She told me who his teacher would be and was very open to having Jamie come in to meet her and see the classroom prior to the first day of school. The principal will be discussing all of this with the teacher and will let me know when the teacher has some time in the schedule to let us come in. We also talked about Jamie being in therapy and what the school can do to work with that. It was everything I hoped the meeting would be.

While I was there I also brought up a couple of problems we ran into in terms of Liam and his academics last year. First, this year we will be opting Liam out of all standardized testing, including the three week long PSSAs in the spring. It’s just too much for him and tells them nothing they can’t learn about him in the classroom. Last year, he broke down into tears at dinner two days before the tests started because he was so worked up about them. The teachers say that there’s no pressure and that the tests don’t count for their grades but then they spend six weeks prepping the students to take the tests. My sensitive kid takes all that in and realizes that “hey, wait a minute, they ARE important and this stresses me out.”

She was completely understanding about this and I said I would give her whatever the state wants for us to opt him out. So. No standardized tests for Liam this year.

Second, I brought up the issue of study habits. Last year, the teachers would say “You have X test on Y day in two weeks. Make sure you study.” And then leave it at that. These kids were 10 and had never been taught how to study for anything. They were baffled by how to prep. I took Liam in hand and began to teach him ways to study for exams he was taking but I was really angry that the teachers handled it this way. You simply can’t expect 10 year olds to have this set of skills if they’ve never been TAUGHT them.

The new principal immediately saw the disconnect. I told her that, of course, we would continue to work with Liam this year because we knew that there were increased expectations. I also said that I know that there are things that parents are going to need to work on with their kids and I’m happy to do that but they need to be covering it in the classroom, too. My hope is that by the time I have a fourth grader again they will have gotten their act together a bit more.

I’m feeling more optimistic about this year than I was. Two more weeks and we’ll find out how misplaced that optimism might be. 😉

New World Order

Closing in on 3 years ago, I blogged about needing help around the house and asking for it. That lasted for a a solid two weeks. Maybe. And then something happened, I have no idea what, and we all reverted to our old ways: Mom does it all, everyone else lives the life of Riley.

(By the way, I was astonished to see that post was dated 2012. Good gravy.)

So here we are, all this time later and things have changed even further. I’m in school, I have a job, the kids have full time school soon, Scot still works. And our house is a PIT. Worse, the slightest request for help resulted in tantrums from the 6 year old and sullen attitude from the 10 year old. It was so bad that we often just didn’t ask because we didn’t want to fight the battle with them. This is the wrong parenting choice. VERY, VERY WRONG CHOICE.

Scot and I just utterly lost our minds about it. Liam’s room is 12 layers deep in filth, the family room is usually not appreciably better and our kids are LAZY. I sat down and wrote out new house rules and chore lists for Liam and Jamie. Scot was on board so we sat down and had a family meeting. I laid down the law.

Welcome to the new world order, kids.

Then, I gave each of them the set of chores they would be expected to do on a regular basis. I knew that I would have to nag and ask constantly but I told them I didn’t want tantrums or sullenness about it. They were now officially on notice as to what their responsibilities are.

Earning their keep.

(NB: Yes, I know that at 6.5 Jamie should be brushing and dressing on his own without trouble. And he CAN do this but he doesn’t regularly. It goes back to his stubbornness and the need to JUST GET IT DONE.)

So, we’ve been working at it. Week One went very well. The house is in better shape (though still trashed some places, AHEM, LIAM’S ROOM) but they both did their chores when asked without complaint.

I mentioned in my last post that Jamie seems to better when we has prior knowledge of the expectations. This whole endeavor was a huge lesson in that. Two nights before the family meeting, I asked Jamie to take 2 minutes and feed the dogs before he got his dessert after dinner. This resulted in a 20 minute tantrum and a screaming match with him that was an utterly worthless parent/child interaction.

But the night after the meeting, when I asked him to feed the dogs, he said “ok, Mom!” Then he did it. With no issues or complaints. And he has continued to do so every night since. The same has been true of asking him to clean up the family room or work on cleaning his own room with me. Ask him to get dressed prior to last week and you’d get an argument about it. Now? “OK!” Off he goes for clothes.

Liam, too, has been much better. Ask him to empty the dishwasher and he does it. Ask him to clean the family room with Jamie and he does it. Ask him to clean the powder room and he does it. The only issue is his bedroom. That is largely because it was 12 layers deep in filth so digging it out requires my archaeology degree. We’re working on it.

I’m hoping that by the time school starts on the 27th we will have established some new routines and habits.

As Mad-Eye Moody says, “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”

Forward Motion

Back in May, I posted about Jamie’s problems during his kindergarten year and the teacher’s recommendation that we have him evaluated for possible spectrum issues. That process turned out to be more convoluted than we originally thought. I should have known that, having been through the speech therapy merry-go-round.

Anyway, after numerous calls and getting shoved from one office to the next, I took him in for an evaluation for sensory processing issues with Occupational Therapy at Children’s. The short of it is that this appointment was largely a waste of time. His issues are more of a behavioral nature and OT couldn’t really help with that.

I left that appointment with a list of people I could call to try to get him a behavioral evaluation. SEPTEMBER was the earliest appointment I could get. I called in JUNE. I felt adrift and like I was talking in circles with these people. So I called our regular pediatrician and asked for an appointment to discuss the whole thing with him so that I could figure out the way forward.

I love our pediatrician and this appointment was no exception. He had us come in late in the day – we were the last appointment – and he stayed late to talk the whole thing through with us. We poured out the whole story and he gave us direction on who exactly to call, what to say, what to do, etc.

In the end, after more phone calls and more hideous wait times, I finally got an appointment with a private therapist for Jamie in July. We’ve seen her three times now and it seems like a picture is beginning to emerge of what we’re dealing with and how to help Jamie.

The root of his issues is anxiety. That anxiety can look like defiance and behavioral problems but it’s not. It’s anxiety. He is a massively observant kid and intelligent to boot so he soaks up EVERYTHING. Academically, he’s doing great. From an emotional maturity standpoint, not so much.

She said that she has seen a number of kids like Jamie – smart, observant, significant speech delay – who exhibit these same problems. Part of it is that speech therapy focuses solely on the mechanics of speech. The kids concentrate so hard on being able to physically SAY words correctly that they miss the part about learning to put words together to express complex thought and emotion.

With Jamie, he KNOWS he’s different from other kids. He knows that he doesn’t have the facility with language that they have; that causes him anxiety. He would rather shut down than make a mistake and put a spotlight on those differences. He hates repeating himself for the same reason. This causes the refusal to do things in class, the avoidance of eye contact with the teacher, etc.

Over the summer I’ve tried hard to alter how I react to Jamie’s mood swings and difficult behavior. I’ve been doing my best to be as patient as I can with him. I try never to rush him when he has something to tell me and just let him get the words out however he can. When he is clearly nervous or anxious about something, I’ve been working to acknowledge that feeling he has before trying to tackle the problem. “Yes, that is scary. That makes me anxious, too. I remember feeling like that about X at your age, too.” Then, I try to help him come up with ways to deal with it. “How about we make a plan to deal with that?” If he perseveres and does something I know he doesn’t like (ex: going off the diving board during swim lessons) I tell him how proud I am of him for doing it in spite of his anxiety.

He also does better with rules and regulations that are laid out prior to his being required to follow them. More on that in another post.

I have a meeting with the new principal at school in a few days to discuss all this with her. Concretely, I want to walk out of that meeting with a plan to have Jamie meet his new teacher and see his new classroom before the first day of school. I also have a number of things to share with her about Jamie’s personality and the ways we can help him excel in school. Some of it is as simple as instead of asking him to repeat himself, ask a similar question to get at the same answer. Other things are more complicated and it’s going to take a very special teacher to work with him. I’m praying for good luck on that front.

So, for the moment, I’m feeling better equipped to help Jamie. If we can find ways for him to cope with and manage his anxiety we’ll be miles ahead of where we were in the spring.

A Gallery of Nail Designs

It’s been quite a while since I posted what I’ve been doing on my nails lately so I thought I would post a gallery of designs I’ve done over the last 9-ish months. I hope you find something you’d like to recreate on your nails!

Dark red with black swirls/dots. I was going for something that looked like henna designs.

Dark red with black swirls/dots. I was going for something that looked like henna designs.

Another, perhaps less successful, attempt.

Another, perhaps less successful, attempt.

Halloween! Frankie came out to play.

Halloween! Frankie came out to play.

A frequent design of mine which cane me done in a multitude of color variations.

A frequent design of mine which can be done in a multitude of color variations.

Moving into the Christmas season, these next three were festive.

Moving into the Christmas season, these next three were festive.

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Dark teal/sparkle chevrons.

Dark teal/sparkle chevrons (and also messy).

A new design I tried this spring. I really love it and have done it in a number of color combinations.

A new design I tried this spring. I really love it and have done it in a number of color combinations.

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I wasn't sure about this one when I was wearing it, but I like the pic now.

I wasn’t sure about this one when I was wearing it, but I like the pic now.

An attempt at something decorated, but simple.

An attempt at something decorated, but simple.

close-up

close-up

spring green/sparkle stripes

spring green/sparkle stripes

The tradition 4th of July patriotic nails

The traditional 4th of July patriotic nails

These were fun! I painted a white base then used strips of painter's tape to give me stripes and painted over them with green sparkles.

These were fun! I painted a white base then used strips of painter’s tape to give me stripes and painted over them with green sparkles. Pull off the tape, and VOILA!

This one was fun and summery. Coral fingernails with coordinating turquoise toes.

This one was fun and summery. Coral fingernails with coordinating turquoise toes.

The Yearly Pilgrimage To The Homestead

A few weeks back, the kids and I packed up the car and drove up to Michigan to spend some time with my parents. Over the last several years, this trip has been what amounted to a “vacation” for the family and the kids were super excited about it. They look forward to it every year.

They really are MUCH easier to travel with than they used to be. They handle the 6 hour car ride with aplomb. They’re experienced road warriors at this point, having been doing this trip since they were infants. But their level of self-sufficiency now is such that the trip is much more enjoyable for all.

Anyway, my Dad has finally retired (yay, Dad!) so for the first time we had the ability to do what we want when we wanted to without regard for his work schedule. Frankly, this rocked.

Our first full day there, we went to The Detroit Zoo. I love this zoo. It’s actually pretty big, the enclosures are well kept, the animals are healthy. There’s actually more there to see than can really be done in a single day. We didn’t see everything – we never do – but we had a good time.

Liam on the train!

Liam on the train!

Jamie on the train!

Jamie on the train!

At a stop in the butterfly house, I got a living boob badge.

At a stop in the butterfly house, I got a living boob badge.

We got really lucky that day and the polar bear was pretty active. So cool!

HELLOOOOO, TASTY PEOPLE!!!

HELLOOOOO, TASTY PEOPLE!!!

Having a snack after his swim.

Having a snack after his swim.

My parents and the kids.

My parents and the kids.

As always, the peacocks roam wherever they damn well please. Wandering Cock is my Aerosmith cover band.

As always, the peacocks roam wherever they damn well please. Wandering Cock is my Aerosmith cover band, by the way.

Prairie Dog! Exceeellllleeeent.

Prairie Dog! Exceeellllleeeent.

The iconic bear fountain.

The iconic bear fountain.

They had the animatronic dinosaurs exhibit there again this year. The kids and I went through it and they loved it. As usual it was SUPER COOL. Roaring dinos! Baby dinos! Spitting dinos! At the end, there was a dinosaur you could take your picture with.

Dino boys

Dino boys

Turtle Boys

Turtle Boys

The sign of a successful zoo trip.

The sign of a successful zoo trip.

The next day we decided to take it a bit easier since we were all still worn out from our tromp around the zoo. So we took the kids to see the Minions movie. It was hilarious and I enjoyed it a great deal. My favorite quote is as follows:

Scarlet: Do you know who this is? [gestures to painting of Queen Elizabeth II]

Minion: La Cucaracha?

The next morning, the boys went for a walk with my Dad.

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Later that afternoon, we were beach bound. Living where my parents do, there are actually a number of beaches to choose from. But there is a lovely one just 10 min from their house that we usually go to. The lake is clear, the sand is clean, and it usually isn’t crowded.

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It was a really great trip. The kids had a fantastic time, my parents enjoyed spending time with the kids, and I got a chance to relax a bit. A+!

A Heaping Load Of GOOD News

To set the stage, I have to go back to the very beginning of my relationship with Scot. When he and I first met and started dating he was working for IBM Transarc. Transarc was a startup here in Pittsburgh that was begun with IBM seed money. It was eventually absorbed into Big Blue along with all of its employees, one of which was Scot.

This was the first job Scot ever had as a Technical Writer. He worked with people we still call call friends to this day and had many wonderful colleagues from whom he learned a great deal. When IBM closed its Pittsburgh lab back in 2002, it was a huge blow, for us and for everyone there.

Fast forward to last month when Scot received an email from one of those old colleagues. This is someone that Scot has a great deal of respect for and would work with again in a heartbeat. The basic gist of the email was, “Hey, hope you’re well; I have a job you might be interested in.”

It turns out that not only was Scot interested, he was being courted for what amounts to his dream job. His old boss from his Transarc days – another person he respects enormously – is working there as well and recommended him. It would be going back to Technical Writing for emerging and exciting technology. (He is currently working as a UNIX Systems Administrator.)

So, after chatting about the position and his interest in it, he was brought in for interviews. Those went well and he was asked to have a phone interview with the second level manager. That also went well. The further Scot got into the process, the more he desperately wanted the job.  We were waiting on tenterhooks to find out if an offer would be forthcoming.

Finally, this week, he received an offer and it MORE than fulfilled our expectations. In addition to going back to work in a field that he has missed with people he likes, he will have work-from-home flexibility, a good benefits package, and a substantial raise.

In a couple of weeks, Scot will be an employee with the IBM Watson Group.