Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Trail Ride

The longer we have Blaze the more connected he and R become... It's been really wonderful to watch the two of them becoming closer and more in-sync with each other each time she rides.

She's started taking him out of the pasture for some trail rides lately, something that's fun for him and more challenging (and fun!) for her. I decided to record the last trail ride in pictures...

Before she left the pasture she decided to try rounding up the donkeys just for fun. It's something she's done before on Blaze, but it's a bit of a challenge...

The donkeys weren't in the mood to cooperate this time though, and were getting ornery, and she was anxious to get going so she let them go and headed for the gate out to the pasture.

A new trick she and Blaze have figured out is opening the pasture gate without her dismounting. It's obviously something Blaze was trained to do at some point before we got him, but it's still pretty amazing to me to watch them working together so beautifully.

She's heading over to the gate, and getting him lined up just right...

...then Blaze side-steps, getting close enough to the gate...

...for R to reach down, unlatch it, and start swinging it open.

Little by little she swings it open, as he takes small steps forwards, sideways and sometimes backwards... to allow the gate to open.

Out they go! (While I quickly shut the gate again to keep Tilly and Tucker in...)

I love watching them wander through the big pasture...

She dismounted to lead him down the deer trail into the gully.

 Once she got down there and needed to get back on him, she was wildly excited to discover that she's finally grown tall enough to get her foot into the stirrup without needing a leg up or having to stand on a bucket. For the first time ever she was able to mount her horse with no help at all!

 They wandered through the gully for awhile...

...then back up the hill again.

Time to turn around and head for home...

LOL, she's not having fun or anything!

It's amazing to me that just a few months ago she was thrown so hard from a horse that she suffered a severe concussion, lost months of memory (most of it eventually came back), and insisted she would never ride again.

Little by little Blaze has taught her how to trust again, and I think... little by little... she's teaching Blaze, who hasn't had the easiest life, to trust again too.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Things are still very tricky here... M is having some good, calm days, but he's also having lots of difficult, unsettled days. I've been trying to find a balance between keeping him connected to the community during this rough time, and keeping him close to home because he's so unpredictable right now. It's been a hard balance to find...

 I've turned the blog I started for the pdoc into a place more for me... a place to write more openly then I can here about the ups and downs of parenting M. It's a good thing I think, especially during these rough days, and I've been writing a lot there. (Note to Loren, No I doubt I'll ever write a book about my experiences raising M... I'm not a very good writer, and have almost no attention span, both are things that are probably prerequisites for writing a book. Hmm... maybe Steve will ghost write it for me?!)

 I've also been working on a project that my friend L and I came up with. L also has "complicated" kids and totally gets it in terms of how difficult even everyday things can be sometimes... everyday things like money.

M perseverates on money. He gets totally stuck asking for money, wanting to buy things, wanting to sell his things so he can buy other things... it's been a loooooong term problem and one that has gotten extremely old.

Because of this intense perseveration on money he's had much less experience with money than he should have... it's been such a trigger for him that I often just avoid it completely.

So.... L (who has similar issues with her kids) and I worked together and came up with some very cool ideas for an allowance/money management kind of program, designed to teach not only some money skills, but also work on some daily living skills.  We used a lapbook type format to organize everything and it came together really nicely (if I do say so myself!).

Here's how we did it... We made job cards and assigned each job a value (tokens that correspond to quarters), the tokens are collected through the week and traded for real money at the end of the week. The job cards  include a range of jobs, easy to hard, some physical, some academic, and on the back of each card is a step by step list for how to do each job (daily living skills!). We also included an "attitude" section where the kids can collect different tokens for attitude... helping without being asked, noticing things that need to be done and doing them, finishing what they start, etc. The attitude tokens can be used to buy the opportunity to pick a dessert for the family and make it themselves.  I stocked up on cake, pudding and brownie mixes, etc, easy things the kids can make pretty much on their own.  They are very excited about making dessert for everyone!

We put the whole works into a lapbook, here's what it looks like...

These are the front pages where they'll collect their tokens, on the inside front cover is a short paragraph about what a "good attitude" is. M has already earned one .75 (blue) token.

Here are the back pages with some "Rules for Wise Shopping" and "Money Waster" tips. I'm also putting their back statements back there...

... and the job chart (each pocket has a laminated card with the name of the job on one side, and directions for how to do it on the other side).

And here's what my house looks like... it's an absolute beehive of activity, kids doing jobs trying to make money.

R vacuuming...

M cleaning out the car...

They've already turned it into a competition of course, but they are limited to only a certain amount of money that can be earned each week so I guess the only real competition will be who fills up their money chart first.

 I wasn't excited at first about using tokens... it's something I've tried to stay away from after being burned in the past with M getting more and more focused on getting tokens until he was falling apart over some stupid little token thing I made up. I'm hoping that he's old enough now to manage this kind of system better (and even if it only works for a couple of weeks, he will have learned to do some jobs he didn't know how to do before).

I really like that it gives the control back to the kids... When M starts insisting he has to have money, there are plenty of ways for him to earn some... and the decision of what he's going to do (and how much he's going to earn) are up to him.


We finally had our hay delivered the other day, so all the heavy work in the barn is done for awhile, thank goodness!

That's me, one last sweep before the hay arrives... (the hay behind me is the last few bales of last year's hay)

One side of the barn is empty, ready to be filled up...

It's full now! I love having a barn full of hay, it's such a very good feeling...

That's all for now... it's getting late and I've got lots to do before the kids get up!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's been awhile since I posted... I've been writing a lot lately, even waking up early with so many thoughts rushing around in my head that I just have to get up and write them down... to get them out.

But I haven't written anything I felt like I could post here.

Most of my writing has to do with M's illness, and it feels like a betrayal of his privacy to write so intimately about the details of his life, here... in such a public place.

So I write, but I don't post.

He's doing ok right now... Ok as in mostly manageable, some days are pretty decent, some days we just kind of stumble through. No emergencies though, which is good.

 My early morning (and late night!) writing has been connected to somehow finding a way to come to terms with this being as good as it's going to get for M, and that the pdoc has given up. For years I held onto the hope and support she brought with her. Things have changed now though, and circumstances recently have forced me to accept that she's given up on M being any more stable than he is now, she's moved on, and I'm on my own. That's a tough one for me, since she's been there for us since the beginning (I know, we've been very blessed by that) and he's still very unstable right now.  But I can't change things, so I write...

 ... and I work.

I got the barn cleaned out, we have a load of hay being delivered tomorrow. Six tons of it. So I cleaned out the old pallets that last year's hay sat on, they are broken now because Blaze, who is too smart for his own good, figured out how to open the outside door to the feed room and had a party in the barn the other day with Tucker. (I guess I shouldn't be surprised, Blaze is 13 now and you know how teenagers are...) Bales were torn open and scattered, and the pallets he tried to stand on broke of course...

Anyway... I moved the old pallets out, raked up all the dirty hay that was on the floor (and freecycled it!) then swept real good and laid down new (old) pallets. I also laid sheets of plywood on top of the pallets, making a "floor" of sorts for the hay to sit on, but have decided to move those. I want the hay to be able to breathe, I don't want to take a chance with it getting moldy...

By the time I was finished my joints and muscles ached, and I was filthy from head to toe, but the barn looked great and is ready for hay.

The kids had a softball tournament through Special Olympics last weekend and their team came in first! M was so excited... He's been telling everyone (friend and stranger) how well they played. No pictures, I'm afraid...but trust me, it was a great looking team.

We (dh and I) also built a new fence around the front garden. The deer were eating my cucumbers and pumpkin plants down to the ground (evidently, eating all the blooms off my geraniums didn't fill them up!)... we put up a 5+ foot fence all the way around the garden, and dh made me a nice new gate. When we were done we set some paving stone around the perimeter of the garden. It looks so much better now, and so far the deer are leaving it alone.

The other big news this week is that we finally got some rain! After being bone dry for weeks and weeks, this is what we got...

Check out the lake in the pasture, isn't it wonderful? Maybe now the prairie grass will green up a little bit...

Well, the donkeys and Blaze are throwing a fit outside, they think I've forgotten their breakfast... so I'd better run.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My hand is not an apple.

...although Tilly mistook it for one the other day.

It's amazing how hard a donkey can bite when they think they are biting an apple.

It's also pretty amazing how stupid I can be. 

It's a good thing our animals are good natured and very forgiving of my barnyard cluelessness.

Here's what happened...

I'd gone out to the pasture with a leftover apple of M's. He'd taken maybe 4 bites out of it and decided he didn't want it anymore. Rather than waste it I took it out to the animals.

Blaze and both donkeys were up at the barn, so I just walked into the pasture, held out the apple, and said "First one here gets it.". Not they understood what I was saying of course, I just like to talk to them. (Honestly, after a full day of M's disconnected conversations, and R's compulsive question asking, I LOVE talking to to creatures who can't talk!)

There was no mad dash for the apple, but the animals did start meandering down to see what I had, and Tucker, my little wild man, was the first one to get to me.

An important part of this story is that there is a definite barnyard pecking order. 

Blaze is on top... He can, and will, take food from the donkeys, and they get out of his way when he lays his ears back and gives them the "Look". Tilly is next in line, and Tucker is on the bottom. Everybody takes food away from Tucker.

I wasn't thinking about the pecking order though, I was thinking how nice it was that Tucker got there first, and that this would be a good opportunity to build a little more trust with him.

Since I hadn't taken the time to cut the apple first, I just held it out to him the way we do with the horses... letting him grab it and bite a chunk off so he wouldn't try to eat it whole. 

That was the stupidity part... donkeys are not horses, and no one told Tucker to just take a bite. 

So Tucker bit into the apple and tried to walk away with it. Unfortunately, Tilly got there at about that same time and also reached out to bite the apple. But since it was already in Tucker's mouth  she bit my hand instead. 

It was an honest mistake... my hand was all wet with apple juice, and tasted and smelled like apple, so poor Tilly held onto her prize. 

But that left me standing out in the pasture still holding the apple that is being tightly held in Tucker's mouth, while Tilly is holding on just as tightly to my hand, and both donkeys are pulling away, trying to keep their treat.

Ohhh, Tilly has a nasty bite to her!

I was able to drop the apple, but Tilly still thought my hand was the treat and kept biting down and pulling away. I had to resort to kicking her in the shoulder to get her to let loose. It took two kicks but she finally let me have my now slightly mangled hand back.

My hand still works, nothing is broken, thank goodness... My thumb looked pretty rough the first day, it was dented in and shaped funny, but now it's just a little swollen and bruised.

Tilly was nice and hasn't held a grudge about getting kicked... but she must have wondered about these strange humans. They make a big deal about offering you a treat, but when you try to eat it they take it back and even kick you to get it!  

So anyway, that's the story of my hand being mistaken for an apple.

Stay tuned for Sweet Pea's Tips for Staying Cool on a Hot Day!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


... we finally did something we've been meaning to do since we moved here. We hiked up to Castle Rock

Castle Rock is a landmark around here, and the town that surrounds the rock is named after it. It's a bit of high bluff, a ancient remnant of the high plains that covered this part of the country eons ago.


 We're only about 20 minutes away from "the rock" and have talked about hiking up it ever since we discovered it was open to the public. 

 Castle Rock is huge and sits up on a hill. You can hike up to the base of the rock, but not climb up the rock itself. Here is the base of the trail up to the rock. We went up the summit trail and back down the perimeter trail. Both were beautiful...


 Both kids were excited at first and I had to remind them not to run. They slowed down some once the trail started to get steep, but they both kept going with no complaints.


 There are massive rocks along the trail, R liked this one and wanted a picture of it.  


 M saw several lizards out sunning themselves. They are VERY quick, but I did get this picture of one...  

Can you see it? It's sitting in the shady part of the rock, about in the center of the picture.


 There were only a few wildflowers left along the trail... It's been so dry that most of them are already dried up.


 Finally we made it up to the base of the rock. R liked the way this part of the rock felt...


 The view...


 ... with the town of Castle Rock down below.


 Heading back down, the kids were in a hurry to get back to the car...


 It was a nice afternoon. M had a very rough morning yesterday, so it was especially nice to spend fun time together after struggling our way through his rough spell. Both kids enjoyed our little hike (and both were proud of themselves for continuing on even when the trail got steep and they started feeling anxious), so I told them we hike again soon. 

I'd like to hike at Castlewood Canyon next... We hiked there a couple of years ago, and it was beautiful.... I'd love to go again.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday morning....

I finally heard back from the pdoc who did the consult a few weeks ago with M. 

Unfortunately, she didn't have much in the way of suggestions. She thought of a couple of long-shot meds that might help with mood, but had no ideas for anything to try for the psychosis. She asked how M was doing, and I said he was having good days and bad days. She replied by saying, "You know, he's always going to have some symptoms..."  

 Yes, I know that M's schizophrenia is never going to go away. He'll always need to take medication, and will always have bad spells. But I'd been holding on to the hope that he'd be more stable, at his "baseline", then he is now...  

 There is no sense going into the details, but, for many reasons, her comment was hard for me to hear... especially coming from someone I barely knew. It seems like M's regular pdoc should have been the one to initiate that kind of conversation. But she isn't good at things like that... She is great at medications, side effects, etc. and she is very kind and personable, but over the years I've gotten the message that she'd really rather not talk about the really tough stuff. Things like what the future is likely to look like, how can we as a family live with this level of instability, how can we help him to grow and be as successful as possible, given the continuing symptoms... 

 I suppose the pdoc's call just came at a bad time. It was a difficult week, knowing that Christiana was holding onto life by the slimmest of threads, dreading being told that she was gone and yet, at the same time, knowing her release from life would mean healing and peace for her. 

 Ah, well, it's time to shift gears... there have been good things going on here too. We visited Longhopes, the donkey rescue, the other day and had a wonderful time!


We spend several hours out in the HOT sun, watching the director of the rescue working with the baby donkeys.


 This woman is just amazing...  I learned so much from watching her, and came home energized and feeling hopeful about gentling our little wild man, Tucker. 

Here are some pictures of M and R at Longhopes.


 Since our visit, I've been working with Tucker for a little while every day... I've made some progress, he will allow me (when he has absolutely no other choice!) to "pet" him with a towel attached to a broomstick. (This enables me to get close enough to touch him without being close enough to be kicked.) 

Unfortunately, he's also threatening to kick me fairly regularly... so I'm not sure how far I'll be able to go with this on my own. Longhopes has a trainer that will also work with Tucker if I need him to... 

 Tucker and Blaze are getting to be great friends, which is wonderful to see... Yesterday, for the first time, I saw them grooming each other. 

Blaze is a wonderful horse, I'm glad he's found a friend.