Alex and Miranda share a rare moment of cooperation and proximity. Yes, despite their similarity in size, Alex (6) is twice as old as Miranda (3). She's a BIG girl. - August 2009

"Coarsening of the Fibers"

“Does it not indicate a certain coarsening of the fibres?” asked Lord Peter Wimsey.
“At the moment,” said Harriet, “My fibres resemble coconut matting.”
--“Have His Carcase”, Dorothy L. Sayers, 1932

Hello from New Jersey.

To open with anything but the Truth would be a dis-service to the holiday: It has been a true “hell” of year for us. We’re glad to see it go, but we wanted to reflect on it in a rare moment of clarity.

Many friends have wondered about my employment, since my company (SIG) is a market trading firm. I'm not only fine, I'm as safe in this economy as it is possible to be. SIG never entered the market segments that imploded last year, so while salaries are frozen and there haven't been any hiring, there haven't been any layoffs in technology departments either. SIG is so dependent on their computer systems that half the employees of the company, on three continents, are technologists.

So instead of pounding the pavement looking for work, I'm teaching technology classes, testing new technologies and writing 'best practice' papers and giving presentations. It sure beats unemployment. While it is frustrating, fiddly work, it is also a welcome distraction from home life because at work there are times when I actually get to finish something and move on to something new.

Miranda Elena Webber pauses before hurling herself down the slide on the playset - June 2009.

At home, I completed a much delayed master bedroom renovation project that I was performing by myself. Much delayed because in the attempt hurry, hurry, hurry to return Sarah's only retreat from the children to habitability, I managed to inflame both rotator cuffs in my shoulders. So it took another 10 months to complete the final week's worth of work. It's now a beautiful room that is like a cocoon of peacefulness. But as I said last year, every project is a snowball. We've found that the beautiful (and heavy!) 1938 Waterfall Art Deco bedroom set is too much for the poorly constructed floor of the addition that contains our living room and master bedroom. So when my arms work again, I'll be taking a trip in to the crawl space (eww!) to jack up the partition wall and reinforce the joists. At some point we desperately need to find a larger house, because this one is really failing to keep up with Alex and Miranda's needs. These digs were fine when it was just Sarah and I and a big dog. Now that it is she and I and two berserk children, we're at gridlock.

Beginning in May, I took the Beetle on a competition tour of shows on the East Coast. The car continues to rack up first-in-class trophies in multiple competitions from Connecticut to New Jersey over the summer, and took its class for the second year running at the huge Englishtown Classic. At one event, I found myself in the peculiar position of having two judges (from two different car clubs) politely arguing over which one of their clubs I should join because they both wanted me to teach the techniques I had used to restore my Beetle to their membership. (I politely declined both; I'm not a 'joiner' and since my restoration is now finished, I don't have any 'free time' away from home to talk tips with clubbers. Unless they want me to bring my kids to the meeting. That would be interesting.)

The Beetle puts in its final appearance for the season at 'VWs on the Boards' in Wildwood, NJ. - October 2009.

So what is in store for the Beetle, now that the project is finished? How many first place trophies do I need to win? Well, a stripdown of the engine for cosmetic restoration is currently in process, and having completed what I consider to be the 'final frontier' on this period correct restoration, I'm not sure what else there is to do other than enlarging a trophy collection. But it has occurred to Sarah and I that the assumptions we had when we bought the car to restore 11 years ago (young, newly married, no kids) no longer hold true. Putting all of us in the Beetle for a ride is 'cozy' and neither Alex nor Miranda care a wit about gouging things up inside a show car. So in the Fall of 2010, it will be time to sell off this beautiful jewel in deference to the realities of our 'new normal.' I've proved to myself that I can, by myself, build a show winner and that feat won't be forgotten, even if the car itself needs to go.

We took a double hit on transportation this year, having to replace both my Celica Convertible (which was getting beat to slag and clinker by the Philadelphia pot-holes) and Sarah's Previa Van, which was approaching 200,000 miles and starting to make expensive noises. For Sarah, we dug deep and got a new Scion XB with the hope that we'll be able to take it all the way to 200,000 as well.

I managed to buy a Corolla off of a friend at work who was reluctant to sell it because it looked (his words) like, "Someone beat the crap out of it with a baseball bat." I spent a week convincing him that I didn't care what it looked like and got it for $500. I put another $500 in parts in to it, performing the labor myself (including a lot of accident damage, pulling out the caved in front end, replacing bumpers and hood) and wound up with a car that looks...tired. Which is fine. Mechanically, it is rock solid and will hopefully allow us to retire some debt before I have to decide what newer car I will sacrifice to the fangs of the Philadelphia pot-holes.

Late this summer, my sister’s family moved from Berlin, NJ, (about 35 minutes from us) to Moorestown (about 12 minutes from us) and have taken up residence in an old parsonage on historic Main Street there. My brother-in-law is now working part time as the director of children’s ministries at the church next door and is preaching periodically. While we don’t see them any more than we did before (infrequently) we’re hoping that as the dust settles from their move, we'll see more of them here.

Alex and Marshall slowly wake up while on vacation in the Poconos with Tom and Lortia Boyle - July 2009

Tom and Lorita Boyle (Sarah's parents) have been an absolute Godsend this year, having come out from Madison, Wisconsin four times to help us with the kids and take some of the load off us to keep us from crumbling completely, but also to send the two of us on marital respite and recovery time alone, something we haven't had the luxury (or funds) to do in the six years since Alex was born. In July, they sent us up to a lakeside condo in the Poconos and then brought the kids up for a few days where we ALL were on vacation together. Around Thanksgiving, they did so again, sending us to Brigantine, NJ, in the off-season (perfect for those who need solitude and s-i-l-e-n-c-e) while they took the kids; a brave duty. These respites have allowed Sarah and I to reconnect as a couple and not merely as 'co-parents' of two high-maintenance children. It also allowed us to reluctantly conclude that, to survive with Miranda and Alex, we both need to be back on anti-depressants. So our relationship is healthier than ever, and it’s all thanks to respite and mood altering medications.

Alex continues to have an interesting year at school. Academics aren't his problem: he learned to read at age 4 and now at age 6, can conceptualize numbers in to the thousands, and recently started printing out pictures of the planets and arranging them in order. His kindergarten teacher (He's in a self-contained Autism class) at school continues to push him harder academically because he keeps rising to the challenge; her reward system for him is that when he does the work that is hard for him, he get's to hole up in a corner, relax and READ. All of this great progress with academics has been largely offset by increased social and emotional fragility (anxiety and almost non-existent impulse control and a return to biting those who cross him), and the speed at which he can go in to a meltdown. (You don't really talk him down; it is more like clearing furniture away until he's done.) We've added mood stabilizers to his prescription regimen in an attempt to control the Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors, but it hasn't helped much. In August he badly sprained a toe while running, but would not stop running. (It was obvious when he continued to run with a pronounced limp.) He admitted that it hurt, but that he 'has to run'. We hope that recent changes to his mood stabilizers will help him get a handle on making choices without panicking and playing with other children without biting, but as of this writing we’re still getting all of the side effects and none of the benefits. Alex is quite clever intellectually, but is about on the level of emotional and social maturity of a 3 year old.

Miranda parades in to her first day of a 7 week stay in pre-school at Hope UMC before transitioning to special-ed preschool in the Municipal system. - September 2009

Yet more headachey news is that Alex has been diagnosed with an egg allergy that causes virulent eczema flareups on his knees and elbows that itch to distraction. It is difficult to modify a diet to exclude egg when his diet consists of only 7-10 items to begin with, but we're finding ways because we must. There is even the possibility that supressing the distraction of that burning itch may lengthen his fuse and allow him to make the best use of what little focus he can muster. He was SO glad to go back to the structure of school in September, and we were SO glad to see him go back to the routine he prefers.

Miranda's sensory processing disorder has some new friends: a psych evaluation by the state, preparatory to her inclusion in our township's school system showed attributes of Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. That doesn't mean that she HAS all of these disorders, merely that she has a mixed bag of some of the attributes that define those disorders. (Sort of a Chinese Menu entree: 'one from column A, three from column B, two from column C'.) Miranda is a firecracker: a curious combination of body-checking jock, cuddly girley-girl and howling drama queen, all wrapped up in a muscle-bound frame suited for carrying the big chip she carts around on her shoulder. When she and Alex come to loggerheads over something and neither one will yield, the event is rightly referred to as Clash of the Titans.

Alex and Miranda do Halloween in the neighborhood accompanied by Grandmother ("Mimi") MaryLee Webber. They wouldn't take off their costumes for a week and, two months later, Miranda is still asking to go 'twik-o-tweet' daily. - October 2009

So it was with considerable relief that we got word from the school district that she was to be included in the mixed-disability class with a teacher who has been doing special ed preschool for at least 20 years, and has seen and dealt with everything. Because of Miranda's late birthday (Oct 30th) she wasn't qualified to go to the township special ed pre-school until November, so we put her in our church's preschool where she terrorized the other little kids (and only got sent home once) for seven weeks until she joined the township's class on November 1.

So at present, both of our kids are in the special ed system of the township, board the same door-to-door bus service, and (thankfully) are both at the same school for this year. Alex will probably have to change schools next year, either to our local elementary school (which has no special ed program and would require him to have an full time aide in a mainstream class) or to a different school that continues to specialize in developmental delays and disabilities. We're hoping for the former, but expecting the latter.
Alex and Miranda in our now annual formal family pictures - July 2009

Finally, I'm making some big changes at church: I've finally hung up my spurs as an audio engineer after running sound at one church or another for the last 35 years (Yes, I started when I was six, with my Dad, Rick Webber, coaching me.) Instead, I've been asked to join the Leadership team at Hope UMC. The purpose of the group is to provide guidance, support and strategic 'vision casting' for the long term mission of the church. Call it a 'Board of Elders' without the necessity of being either Elderly or micro-managing. As per usual, no one was more surprised than I when our pastor asked me to put my gifts of articulation and synthesis to work for the church. But then I've discovered at our church that there are no jobs that are 'more important' than others, whether it is teaching or, swabbing toilets, or running sound or providing strategic thinking; it's all for the same purpose, and to Glory of God, so it doesn't have 'tiers' of value.

This year, I decided to gear up for a fund raising event, and raised approximately $3,500.00 for the Good Looking Foundation, a regional non-profit that helps support parents of children with Autism (including us) by providing respite support so that we don't completely crack up. So, starting in May, I started walking 2-3 miles every other night to prepare for the 5K event in October. You can read about that and many of our other adventures on my blog, Passing for Normal (

Alex reclines with Grandpa Tom Boyle during one of their many respite trips to New Jersey from Wisconsin (The respite was for US. Miranda and Alex can be fun in a 'carnival ride' sense, but they are not relaxing to be around.) - November 2009.

The summer between mid-May and September was the most difficult time at home this year. Miranda’s temper tantrums went from merely bad all the way to terrifyingly violent in their intensity and duration, such that State Early Intervention granted us an additional therapist, a Behaviorist named Tina, in addition to our awesome speech therapist, Cathy. “Tough” doesn’t begin to describe it. The theme song for my summer was "Work" by Jars of Clay from their Good Monsters album, the refrain: "I have no fear of drowning / It's the breathing that's taking all this work." I knew I would survive, somehow, until September, and with the help of friends and family, I did.

When the fall came, Alex went back to his school and we started Miranda on her school adventure. I think she has adjusted to the changes better than I have. Keeping the household running and two kids progressing at school gets more difficult every week and I am looking forward to January when we can finally (finally!) settle into a regular schedule. I knew I was starting to feel better when I was able to start a new cross stitch project 4 weeks ago and am already making good progress. Special thanks to my father-in-law for scanning and reprinting the pattern in 200% so I could actually read it. Look for progress pictures soon on my blog. And remember, you can always see regularly updated photos of us on our web album:

We're still here. Barely. - July 2009

It seems appropriate to reflect on the decade by reviewing our blessings. In this mere decade, I’ve lost my job (January 2000, and believe me, it was a blessing) changed jobs twice more, secured top-drawer work in my field of Systems Engineering, bought a house, re-evaluated my faith and changed churches as a result, spent eight years restoring a car ‘right’, learned thousands of new skills, learned to love my wife more each day, and brought two beautiful, berserk children in to the world. And best of all, I’ve finally started to see Grace and Mercy as everyday companions, rather than rare, transient house-guests. No one’s life ever ends up being like they think it will be. Mine hasn’t, and I’ll bet yours hasn’t, either. Charting in to the unknown one day at a time is a blessing and a mercy, or we would be swept under by cares and fears that may never come to pass.
In that Spirit…

Have a Blessed 2010.

Marshall & Sarah Webber
Alex and Miranda