Sunday, December 18, 2011

Family Management And Frugal Luxuries

The holidays are just around the corner. Friday will see the arrival of Karsten and Diana as well as Rebekah and Anton. Which means our house will be filled to overflowing. At the moment that is not the state of our cupboards or fridge, so clearly a trip or five to the grocery store is needed before their arrival.

This year we are doing our annual cook-off on Christmas Day (scroll to the bottom of that link to see last year's cook-off pictures). Instead of cooking in pairs, this year we have divided strictly along gender lines. Each team is supposed to have posted their list of needed ingredients for whatever they have decided to make on our Facebook Hammond Cook-off page before next Tuesday. Failure to deliver by the deadline is punishable by that team having to go buy the ingredients themselves on December 24, as I have made a personal vow not to enter a store after December 22.

We also set up a Facebook page for our annual drawing of names for our gift exchange. I will take credit for this brilliant idea. It was really a matter of self-preservation and sanity maintenance. Every year I pull names out of a hat weeks in advance, only to have people contact me at the last minute asking who they are supposed to get a present for. Hopefully this will be the cure. Of course, it hasn't been without its own set of problems. The first was Diana posting the following on the event page:

"What about Karsten? He doesn't use his Facebook account..."

It was gently pointed out to her that she could just tell him who he got.

The second glitch became apparent with this post from Anita:

" I blind or do I get a lump of coal this year?"

David, the Hammond X-Mas Gift Draw Facebook page designer, apparently left poor Anita off the recipient list. Keep in mind these are all otherwise really bright people. I have a term for this. Low Functioning Genius, which might be the subject of an upcoming blog post in 2012.

For those of you who missed last year's series of posts on a Hammond Christmas that we hope not to repeat this year, here they are.

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 56, and the conclusion.

I am signing off for 2011 with a collection of December Frugal Luxuries.

Birdwatching from my kitchen window
Fresh snow on the trail
Tea and chocolate by the Christmas tree
New socks to wear
New socks to knit
Emily and Jenny enjoying the fire

Merry Christmas!

See you in 2012!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Going Out On A Limb (Part 3)

As unbelievable as this might sound, when I went back down to our home's heart of darkness to look for a box containing pictures I needed for this blog post I stumbled across two more of David's outgrown legs. I decided I better do an updated "growth chart" picture before continuing with the interview.

As soon as you came to Canada you were enrolled in the War Amps CHAMP program. Most Canadians are aware of the War Amps, but readers in other parts of the world might not be familiar with them. Who are the War Amps, and what is the CHAMP program?
The War Amps is a non-profit organization that started after WW1 for the Vets who lost their limbs. The CHAMP program helps kids and teens with amputations get through everyday life by providing limbs.
Can you describe what it is like to go to one of the multiple amputee seminars put on by the War Amps? 
The seminars that are hosted by the War Amps are a fun-filled 3 days. You meet and get to know other kids with amputations, share stories and experiences, and start up friendships that last for a lifetime.
I could write a series of blog posts just about these seminars. In a word they are amazing. The War Amps hold these get-togethers every year and a half for the multiple amputee kids (Super Champs) enrolled in their program. The kids get a chance to be around other amputees, sharing stories and experiences. It is a whole weekend where amputees are in the majority. If you show up at the pool WITH limbs you are going to be the odd one out! 

David and Morgan using their swim arms

One of the favourite times at the seminars, aside from the time spent in the hotle pool, is when the Champs get to go up on stage and demonstrate their different limbs and devices. Here is David with two of his Champ friends, Blaike and Morgan.
Blaike, David and Morgan demonstrating their sports devices

That friendship has continued through the years. This picture was taken a few years ago at a Multiple Amputee Seminar in Ottawa. 

David, Blaike and Morgan - all grown up!

Since this blog interview was prompted by my encounter with the box of limbs in the storage room, let’s discuss prosthetics. Can you list the limbs you currently use?

The limbs I am using currently are my hockey arm, tennis arm, swim leg and sport leg. With ski season coming up I’ll also be using my ski pole arms very soon.

#1 sports limb
Our family skiing at Sun Peaks last winter - David is third from the left 

There have been many other limbs, particularly sports limbs, that you have had over the  years. Can you take a trip down memory lane and list some of your retired limbs for my readers?
Oh, the limbs I’ve retired is an almost endless list. I no longer use my hooks or myoelectric arms, baseball bat or glove adaption, basketball arm, bike arms and swim arms.
Prosthetic limbs are very expensive, and this has been another area where the War Amps have been terrific over the years. They pick up the cost of any limb not covered by our provincial medical plan. 
Can you tell me how much your current leg cost, and also your hockey arm? 
My current leg cost around $7000. The spring in the foot alone is priced at $6000. This year I recently upgraded the spring in my foot because the old spring ($4000) kept on breaking - I went through 3 springs in one year. My hockey arm only costs $900 or so because it has no special pieces to it, just the materials to make it and the labour costs.
Do you have some final thoughts to share?
I was glad to share my side of life with my disabilities, and hopefully you learned something from what was said.

David practicing his stick handling (it always ends up being about hockey when you live North of 49).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Going Out On A Limb (Part 2)

Today is a continuation of my interview with David. I noticed that in answering the questions David forgot to mention that he was born an amputee. I wouldn't want anyone thinking his reply to that little boy was factual.

Here's David with the leg he had when we adopted him. He got a big smile on his face when I pulled it out and asked if he would pose for some pictures. Usually I have to beg to get him to smile in pictures. Not this time - this grin is genuine.

Now on to part 2 of our interview:

I know you have faced challenges in both your sports activities and in the workplace. Let’s start with sports. You have chosen to play able-bodied sports rather than joining disabled teams. As a teenager in Richmond you played on the same soccer team for four years. One year you were the team’s MVP, and another year you were named Richmond’s Disabled Male Athlete of the Year. Tell us a bit about that time.
Yes it is true I got those awards while playing soccer in Richmond. It was such a great team to play with and the guys were supportive. There were things the guys knew I was weak with such as throw ins and when players went by my right side. My teammates always watched my back for me.
When you would play a new team, one that had not seen you before, what was the reaction of the opposing players? 
The new teams I played against always just stared or took it easy on me. They’d learn later during the game I was a threat and start paying more attention to where I was on the field.

Far left: David in his West Richmond United uniform
Top Right: David in his soccer uniform from Nelson
Bottom Right: David at the orphanage in Thailand

Do you have any funny soccer moments you would like to share with my readers?
No I have no funny stories, just kidding! How can I NOT have any funny stories. First time I had a hand ball during  scrimmage with my team in Richmond my team mates yelled, “Handball!” I replied, “ I’ve got no hands, so how is that possible?!?” 
Or the two times my artificial leg come off while playing soccer. The first time I had a leg accident was during a rainy Thanksgiving tournament. I had the ball and was rushing up the left wing and was just outside the 18 yard box when I decided to take my shot. I was unbalanced and running when I fell/slid/rolled on the field. The reason this happened was because my leg strap had come undone while I was running, and when the strap comes undone I’m not secured in and the leg came off. That was probably the most embarrassing thing to happen in front of both teams and those who were watching.
I would like to add that, in what was one of my biggest parenting disappointments ever, I managed to miss this moment. Rebekah and Alexandra were also playing in the tournament and I was at one of their games. I will always be a little sad about this. Most parents anxiously await their child’s first goal. Not me. I had been waiting for the moment that David and his leg parted ways out on the field. Later games provided a repeat performance, but still, to have missed that first time...
Now you are playing in an able-bodied men’s ball hockey league. Did you encounter any difficulties signing up for a team? Do you feel like you are on equal footing (no pun intended) with your teammates?
There was a slight discussion as to whether or not I could play in the league. They were worried that I would get hurt, and also they didn’t know if the equipment would work. So I was told to show up for the tryout and we would go from there. At the tryout I had to prove I was capable of playing and also that I could keep up with everyone else. I easily proved that. 
I’d have to say in certain aspects I’m on equal footing with the guys. I’m as fast or faster then some guys in the league, skill wise I’m good enough to get what needs to be done during games.
In terms of work what would you say your limitations are? 
I find it interesting that David left this question blank. He said he was having trouble with it because he couldn’t think of any limitations, which says a lot about how he views life!
Do you think there is a prejudice against hiring you because of your amputations? And if so, do you think that prejudice is because they perceive you can’t do the job, or because they don’t want a physically disabled person in the workplace? 
I think there is a little bit of prejudice when it comes to hiring me for jobs. Most of it would be due to them thinking I won’t be able to work a certain job. All I ask for employers is to give me a trial run so I can prove that I can adapt and learn certain task requirements.
What things do people do and say around you that make you feel uncomfortable? 
People bother me by saying things such as “I admire you”,  “You’re an inspiration”, or “You put me to shame.” I’m just doing my job and am not some rare specimen you’ve seen for the first time.
What would your suggestions be for how people should react when they encounter a disabled person? Should they say something, or is it better to keep their thoughts to themselves? Let’s say on a scale ranging from, “Oh my gosh, you don’t have any hands” to “That hockey arm is ingenious” what, if anything, is acceptable?
My suggestion for when it comes to encountering a disabled person would be to treat them like any other person. Refrain from staring or being dumbfounded by the fact that a disabled person can do a difficult task. I prefer if people say something instead of just watching and not saying anything. People can ask whatever  questions they like, but the really awkward spotlight questions are hard to deal with. When a person starts the conversation with me by saying “I respect you…” it’s hard for me to really say anything but “thank you” and I get tired of those compliments fast!

The conclusion, in a few days...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Going Out On A Limb (Part 1)

These posts were partially inspired by my recent foray into our home's heart of darkness. The storage room in our basement is to be avoided at all costs. Only the most pressing need could send me foraging amongst the years of accumulated junk treasures that clutter that space. It is a place where order seems to spontaneously combust into disorder. You never know what you might find. Rolls of Christmas wrap with two inches of paper left on them, outgrown coats, puzzles with missing pieces. Or how about this? A cardboard box filled with outgrown limbs.

Parents usually chart their child's growth with lines drawn on the door frame. No need for that when your child is an amputee.

Most parents have saved mementos from their children's early years, things like their baby's first pair of shoes, a much-loved blanket, or a stuffed animal. But what about a leg? Yes, lovingly wrapped up and tucked in amongst other treasures from my children's early years is the leg David was wearing when we adopted him. I am going out on a limb here and claiming I am likely the only mom on the face of the planet whose cedar chest contains a prosthetic body part.

This is David on the flight from Thailand to Canada. The leg he is wearing in the picture is the one safely tucked away in my cedar chest. It is also the leg on the far left of the picture of the legs lined up in a row.

Here is David with his first Canadian leg.

The other inspiration for these posts comes from the stories David was sharing about his first few days at his new job. Mostly these stories were just variations of the kinds of comments and reactions David has been getting his whole life. I must admit that whenever I think I have heard it all, that there is no new ground left in the "interactions with amputees" department, someone inevitably proves me wrong. An example would be a couple years ago when David was volunteering at a summer camp and some lady who was dropping off her granddaughter felt it necessary to tell David that she would be praying for him to grow new limbs. I kid you not.

I decided it would be nice to interview David and let him give his perspective on life as an amputee. If anyone has any specific questions they would like answered please leave them in the comment section and I will make sure he gets back to you. I am able to guarantee his complete cooperation because he is currently living at home and I control the refrigerator. Here is part one. My words are in italics and David's are in bold. (I apologize for the inconsistencies in the text. I wrote out the questions, emailed them to David, he wrote out the answers and then transferred them back to my computer. For some reason it changed the way things look and I don't know how to fix it.)

Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell me where you were born, what your disability is, and how it occurred?
I was born in the country of Thailand. My disabilities would be that I’m missing both my hands, my right leg below the knee and half my left foot
Do you view yourself as disabled? 

Mostly I consider myself a fully capable person with no disabilities but there are some days I notice my disabilities more than other days
Are there any limitations on what you can do?
I don’t think there is anything I can’t do; when there is a new task for me to do for the first time I just have to think about how I’m going to accomplish it.
How common is it for people who don’t know you to underestimate your abilities?
It is very common to meet new people and have them instantly think that I can’t do a certain task at hand (no pun intended).
You have to deal with people staring at you every day of your life. What is that like? 
When people stare at me and I catch them in the act it’s just plain outright awkward!
Even though I know you hate being stared at, do you ever find yourself staring at another disabled person? Be honest!
I do catch myself staring at other disabled people, mostly those in wheel chairs and/or the mentally handicapped. I think to myself that I have it easy and am thankful for not having turned out being that disabled.
I know you have had to deal with people crossing the boundary line of what is acceptable many times in your life. Have you ever found yourself crossing the same line when responding to unwanted attention? (Hint: think Whistler)
Yes I like to tell certain stories depending on the age of the person giving me unwanted attention. For example when I worked at McDonalds and a new crew was just watching me working the grills I’d say something like “Be careful with the grill. I lost my hands under the lever and those burgers got some extra spice.”
Clearly David is avoiding the Whistler hint. When David was about 13 years old he went skiing at Whistler with some friends. There was a little boy who just kept following him around, asking over and over again what had happened to David’s hands. This is actually quite a common scenario. Kids are just curious and David doesn’t mind explaining his disability to them. Once they have answers they are satisfied and that’s the end of it. Well, not with this particular little boy. He would ask what happened to David's hands. David would explain. The boy would ask again. David would explain again. David finally lost his patience, turned to the little boy and said, “I ate them.” The conversation ended there. 
When David got home and told me what had happened all I could think of was there was some poor mom who had no idea why her child had been up all night with nightmares while they were on their family holiday at Whistler. That might have been the end of the discussion between David and the little boy, but it was the beginning of a discussion between my son and me about what is and isn’t an appropriate response to intrusive questions!

More to come in a few days...

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Flip Side

In my last post I mentioned that I am a morning person. When I made the list of things I had accomplished before anyone else was even out of bed in this house it wasn't as impressive as it might have appeared. By lunchtime my pace has slowed considerably. When 3:00 rolls around I find myself desperate for a cup of tea, and the time between tea and dinner is spent with me forcing myself to stay focused. There have been many days when, early in the morning, I make plans for some amazingly complicated meal for dinner, but by the time late afternoon rolls around meatloaf is all I can manage. And what about between dinner and bed? My list of accomplishments for that block of time is very consistent. It looks like this.

  • knit 
  • read

The weird thing is it didn't used to be like this. When my children were very young they seemed to be pre-programmed to wake up before the sun. I would lie in bed bargaining with God. "Please, oh please let them fall back to sleep. Just for an hour." An atheist couldn't have had a worse success rate at getting that prayer answered than I did. Exhausted, I would roll out of bed to be greeted by disgustingly bright smiles and energetic little people ready to face the new day. 

Then an odd thing happened. At the exact moment the switch in my kids' collective brains went from "wake up with the sun" to "sleep until noon" mine did the reverse. I will always feel a little cheated by the timing of this. If ever proof was needed that life isn't fair, this was it. 

This all boils down to there being a very small window of communication opportunity in this house. Everyone knows I am basically toast after 6:00 PM, and don't even think about starting a discussion with me after 9:00. I can't be held accountable for my actions at that late hour. On the other hand, one look at the faces of the other inhabitants of this house when they finally roll out of bed in the morning/early afternoon makes it clear they won't be user-friendly for at least an hour. 

I figure this gives us about six hours to exchange all necessary information in person. Other than that we have to fall back on a haphazard system of post-it notes. For instance, right now there is a post-it note on the kitchen counter asking the People of the Night if they know what has happened to all the dish towels. (The fact that there are missing dish towels is part of an ongoing mystery that I will save for another blog post.)

The one great discovery I made when I unintentionally switched to being a morning person was I have the whole house to myself. The quiet, and the possibilities that quiet held, made getting out of bed so early worthwhile. Our house is not as busy as it used to be when all five kids were in residence. However, I find I still enjoy the peacefulness of the early morning hours, the quiet contemplation of my day as I hold a hot mug of tea in my hands, surrounded by silence. 

I heard Alexander McCall Smith give a talk in Vancouver last year. He is the author of, among other things, The No. 1 ladies' Detective series of books. He said his current writing rhythm was to get up around 3:00 in the morning and write for several hours, then go back to bed for an hour or so. You could hear the collective gasp in the audience, myself excluded. I might be crazy, but this idea appeals to me. There is one problem with this plan, one I am certain Alexander McCall Smith is not faced with. If I got up at that hour I might encounter a Person of the Night.