Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Welcome, welcome 2014

The Juncos are here in good numbers, and winter is in full swing.  No snow yet this season, but the image above from a couple of years ago makes me smile. I can't even believe another year has come and gone.  It literally seems like only yesterday that we watched the ball drop in Times Square on 2013.  We have a superstition in this house that our best years are "even years."  Not that odd years are really bad, but for some reason, really good things happen in even years.  I love the number 14.  Such a happy and rounded number.  I'm quickly headed towards the anniversary of my 52nd year, and have been giving though to what I'd like to accomplish this coming year.  Each year slips by, and we tell ourselves we need to "live more" and "worry less" and yet, do we?

This will be a big year of transition for Sam as he will "age out" of the public school system and can no longer attend the program he's been in for the past three years post high school.  I will need to see that we get on the "short term list" for the Medicaid NOW Waiver we were approved for this past year, so that he'll have access to other services for adults with disabilities.  I'd like to hope that we can find regular employment of some sort for him by mid-year and I will work hard to that end to see that he has something to do which engages him and gives him a sense of pride and purpose.  Don't we all want that?

As for me, there are two things I'd really like to accomplish this year.  I'm attempting to enroll in a Master Gardener class (the deadline for enrollment was Dec 21...oops) and hope that I'll hear from the person in charge within a day or so that there is an opening for me in a Tuesday morning class starting January 7th.  It's 15 weeks of meeting weekly on Tuesday mornings from 9-12, and covers a plethora of all things in nature and gardening.  There is so much I don't know and I think I'd really love to be with a group of people who share my passion for growing and nature.

Secondly, I finally want to learn to play an instrument.  I've been enamored with the Mountain Dulcimer for some time, and think it would be an easier instrument to learn.  I've found an instructor who seems to be a kind, gentle soul, and who teaches for the love of the music.  He charges $15/hr session, and prefers beginners.  I will be honest enough to say that this intimidates me mightily as I don't have faith many times in my own abilities, but hey, it *is* 2014 and all good things happen in even numbered years.  Wish me luck. Who knows... with enough diligence I may be able to share some music here and there on this blog.

Best wishes to all of you as you contemplate what you want this new year to be for you.  Embrace each day, breathe in the beauty, and take steps to really feel alive.  Now, enjoy Auld Lang Syne on this beautiful mountain dulcimer...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Finding his voice

Finding his voice: Autistic young man loves reading to children

Sam Trapnell reads “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” as Ann White holds a second book to show the illustrations, to
children gathered at the Hamilton Place Barnes & Noble. He has been reading to kids since September.
Sam T reads “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” as Ann White holds a second book to show the illustrations, to children gathered at the Hamilton Place Barnes & Noble. He has been reading to kids since September.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
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Advice on autistic children

Jayne T, a nurse, offers advice to parents who are just learning that their child is autistic.
“Take the time to grieve what you thought might be,” she says. “Then, roll up your sleeves and go about living your life and helping your child to be the best they can be.
“Early intervention is crucial. You are not going to cure your child or make this go away. Don’t listen to people telling you that you can ‘recover’ your child and make the autism go away. You can’t. What you can do is focus on getting them the best early intervention you can get, and learning to accept that they are who they are.”
She says she is encouraged by research.
“There is so much more out there in terms of awareness and options for treatment that are mainstream,” she says. “When Sam was diagnosed, I knew no one who had a child or even knew someone with a child who had autism. The incidence then was about 1 in every 1,250 kids. Now it’s like 1 in every 50 kids. It’s crazy. Autism is in the news all the time now.”
Jayne says her son has changed her life for the better.
“The journey with Sam has given me a positive attitude, even when I’m feeling discouraged,” she says. “You just learn to deal with whatever comes your way. Having him has made me an infinitely better person. Having him has made me understand that I can’t control what life will throw at me. All I can control is how I respond. I use that in every aspect of my life now because nothing is going to knock me down.”
Sam T hopes to be gainfully employed one day but, as of now, there are no offers.
At 21, Sam is autistic and, while there are things he will likely never be able to accomplish, such as drive a car, earn a college degree or live independently, there are many things he can do.
One is reading. Sam’s love of reading and his skills at reading to others have landed him in volunteer “reading” positions at Catoosa County Library in Ringgold, Ga., and Barnes & Noble at Hamilton Place. At both places, Sam reads to children.
He has a keen interest in children’s books, says his mom, Jayne T. And when Sam reads, everyone listens — not just the kids, but their parents as well.
Though he can be very shy when meeting someone for the first time, Sam is anything but when he starts reading aloud to a live audience. His typical inhibitions and discomforts of being in a social situation immediately disappear. Sam is in his element.
He springs into action as soon as he reads the name of the book and its author. As he reads “Miss Nelson is Missing” by James Marshall, Sam’s quiet personality quickly morphs into one that emulates each character’s emotions in the book, whether it’s excitement, anger, fear or happiness. Sam masters each one.
He also throws in unexpected sound effects — tapping his knuckles on a table to emulate knocking on a door, raising his voice to imitate rowdy children, adding a touch of femininity when reading the lines of a female teacher. His audience is hooked, closely following every word.
Mary Anne Hendricks, Catoosa County Library System youth services coordinator, says Sam’s involvement at the library began last spring as a volunteer, and he moved into the children’s area over the summer. Since he spent a lot of time reading children’s books, “his mother asked if Sam might read a story at our regular storytime hour,” Hendricks says.
At first, Sam was uncomfortable connecting with the “listeners,” she says, “but with practice each week, he started to develop his own dynamic way of making the stories come alive. He was great at changing his voice and making animal sounds.”
And, if he’s familiar with the book, he can recite it completely without looking at the pages, she says.
“He began to try to interact with the young children, often asking their names and sharing his craft-making time with them,” Hendricks says. “I believe working with this age group has opened up Sam to new ways to express himself. And the children love it. It has been a great experience for me, as a children’s librarian, to see his enthusiasm and motivation grow each week.”
While working with Sam has, at times, been a little challenging, Hendricks says it also has been rewarding. “We all look forward to Sam’s visit with us each week.”
Though Sam, an only child, is articulate and can carry on a conversation, like many people with autism, he’s uncomfortable talking to people he doesn’t know well. Nor does he like changes to his daily routine, another common trait of those with autism.
When asked a question, he relies on his mom to help him respond, even though he may know the answer. He does, though, like to talk about his favorite TV show, “Sesame Street.”
“I love Sesame Street,” he says. “I’ve watched every episode.”
Mrs. T, who is accustomed to speaking in behalf of her son, says he is more comfortable with children than adults.
Kelly Flemings, community relations manager at Barnes & Noble Hamilton Place, where Sam read at least once a month, says he has set up special reading opportunities to showcase Sam’s talent for reading children’s books.
“Sam is one of the best storytellers I have ever been fortunate to hear read,” Flemings says. “When we invited him to read ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas,’ it was extraordinary. He had a special Grinch voice as well as Cindy Lou Who. He impresses me even more every time I hear him read. He’s phenomenal.”
The children think so, too, Flemings says.
“[They’re] absolutely mesmerized” — and so are the parents, he adds.
Mrs T, while crediting much of her son’s accomplishments to the opportunities made possible by Hendricks and Flemings, says Bill Byron, Sam’s special education teacher at Heritage High School in Ringgold, Ga., has made a significant contribution to Sam’s intellectual and social maturity.
“My job is working with special needs students who are age 18 to 22,” says Byron. Sam, even though he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in 2011, by law he qualifies to participate in the program at Heritage until he turns 22.
“The training I provide is in the area of job training, independent living skills, social skills, communication skills and functional academics,” Byron says.
For Sam, “the most noticeable improvement is in his social skills. Sam has become able to interact with people so much easier than he used to. He is appropriate with his interactions with everyone, including strangers. His maturation is obvious to those who know him.
“He has a wonderful talent that kids love,” Byron says. “He loves doing it, and his mother is a great advocate. He will be successful.”
Still, Mrs. T is concerned that her son won’t find employment, which is one of her goals for Sam. It’s something she has worked toward since a doctor told her that Sam, 2, was likely autistic.
Bryon says employers are starting to “get it” about young autistic adults being employable.
“Ingles Grocery in Ringgold has several of my students employed,” Byron says. “Bi-Lo, Pizza Hut and Catoosa County Schools currently employ former students. … I am more encouraged than frustrated because I believe in the product. It is my passion to make sure others ‘get it.’ Employers have to know the value of hiring people with autism. Unique personalities, loyal workers, and very capable.”
And those who have worked with Sam say employers shouldn’t turn away just because he’s autistic.
“I don’t look at Sam as having a disability,” Flemings says. “He’s an incredibly talented young man and any business who doesn’t explore people with varying talents definitely should. We all have things to offer the world and I would love to see other businesses open their minds to anyone willing to share their talents.”

Celebrity Sam

Since I don't connect with many of you on Facebook, I wanted to do an update to share what's been going on with Sam.  Back in July, my mom took him to Barnes and Noble.  While there, she talked with the Community Relations Manager about what a good storyteller Sam is and asked if there might be an opportunity for him to read there.  He'd been getting better and better since he'd been reading at the weekly Storytime at our local library since the summer.  Well, we went for the first time in September to read Curious George, and have been back monthly since.  Sam is really in his element when he is in the middle of a story, and captivates both children and adults alike.

On Thursday, our local paper ran an article about Sam and his reading.  I thought that the header, "Finding his voice," was simply perfect.  It's created a good bit of buzz and will hopefully lead to someone seeing this as a career path for Sam with their organization.  On December 6th, he read The Polar Express, and as you can see, from these photos, it was enjoyed by all.  I am so very proud of my sweet boy, and so hope he can do this for a long time to come.

(I've copied/pasted the article in the post above this one as the link I initially posted required that you register for the newspaper's web page before viewing.)

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Thoughts on Saturday

I slept in late today.  Yep, didn't crawl out of my warm bed until 7:20am.  And, it felt delicious.  It's Saturday. A day to unwind, relax, and reflect on the week.  I headed into the kitchen to find husband on his iPad with coffee in hand.  I went into the laundry room, sorted clothes, and started my first of four loads today.  Then, heading back into the kitchen, I started making biscuits for my boys.  A Saturday morning routine now.  Biscuits in the oven, I made me a cup of coffee and sat down with the paper.  Turned on some light jazz and soaked in the happiness of the day. Opening the blinds in the kitchen revealed the photo to the left.  The tree line is ablaze with the colors of fall, and I had to get up to capture it on my iPad.  Living in the moment.  That's what October was about.  Learning to stop and appreciate those moments in the day that get your attention.  Maybe I've adopted that discipline more than I realized.

The past month has been one of transition for me.  Transition is hard, and learning to live with what is in your head and heart that may be a complete change from how you've always done your life can be even harder.  I think I am finally getting Brene Brown's premise that with vulnerability comes great growth and a sense of authenticity.  There have been times that I felt sheer and utter fear and unsettledness.  So much so that I almost felt impending doom.  But, I worked through that and can say that today I feel such peace and contentment, the likes of which I've not felt in a long while.  I am a work in progress, no doubt, but just knowing I can walk this new path with the knowledge that I am headed in the right direction has been so amazing.

So today, take some deep breaths, look at the scenery around you, count your many blessings, know that you are enough (you always were), and that life is yours to inhale.  Choose to be joyful, choose to be amazed, and choose to walk in peace.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

31 days: October 31

Well, here it is. The last day of this month long project to document moments noticed each day.  It's been a fast month for sure.  I've really enjoyed getting back into the habit of using my words, and making time to reflect on my day so that I knew what I wanted to share here.  It's still a wonderment to me that I did this every single day for over five years.  It is a commitment, and one that takes effort.

I'm not sure what form this blog will take at this point.  I'd like to think I could come up with a schedule of posting that would be doable for me so that I don't let it go by the wayside again for too long. I've appreciated all those who have read each day and left comments of encouragement and validation. It matters.

On our lovely weekend away this past weekend, I reflected on how important it is to do things that feed your spirit.  Writing is one of those things for me I think.  Taking the time to compose something feeds a creative side of me that can lie dormant for too long if I don't.  Just as I've gotten into the discipline of daily meditation, I would like to find a discipline for writing here as well.

Find things that make you feel alive.  Engage in things that make you smile.  Seek out people and circumstances that challenge you to be a better person.  We only get to do this life once.  Don't slog through it.  Find those moments each day.  Make it count.

Enjoying a swing this past weekend... how can you swing and not smile?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

31 days: October 30

Yesterday, as I was driving home with Sam from school, we noticed that there were things continually hitting the windshield.  He kept looking up and saying, "What is that flying around in the air?" I told him I had no clue, but maybe it was something coming from the trees down this particular road we traveled.

As we drove along, I could hear him doing his "self-talk" which comforts him, and knew he was probably thinking about an episode of Sesame Street or something.  You know... replaying every line of dialogue in his head... because he can... and because it makes him happy.  Sure enough, I looked over and he was smiling as he was quietly talking to himself.

Once we got home, I started dinner and as I was standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window, I noticed something.  There were ladybugs crawling all over the porch.  I smiled.  Then, I knew.  I yelled for Sam to come downstairs.  "I figured out what was flying through the air and hitting the windshield on the way home. Look outside on the porch Sam.  What do you see?"  He looked outside and said, "I see a wasp." "Look harder," I said with a smile.  "OH!" he said, "I see ladybugs!"  And, then he made me smile even more when he said, "Mom, I bet there are more than twelve."  And, of course,  I knew exactly what he meant.  "Yep, I bet there are Sam," I said, as he walked away humming...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

31 days: October 29

My husband is a logical, predictable soul. Those are traits I love well about him as it balances my more emotional and reactive personality.  I love to be surprised, but he hates surprises.  He likes to know ahead of time how things will be so there are no surprises.  That's why I am always giddy at the prospect of really surprising him.  When it comes time for his birthday or Father's Day, or whatever, he'll tell me what he'd like to have, and I typically get him what he asks for his gift.

His birthday is coming up on the 6th and he's mentioned wanting to get a new iPad Air.  His iPad is three years old, and is now so sluggish that it tends to kick him out anytime he tries to view any site that is graphics heavy.  He was so very thrilled with this first generation iPad and he still uses it daily.  But, the older generation iPads can no longer keep up with the demands on many web sites, and of course, video is really slow to load and play, if it will.  Last night, as we were finishing dinner, I asked him, "So, what do you want for your birthday?"  He sighed and said, "Well, you know I would have loved to have a new iPad, but we can just make our weekend trip we took be my birthday for this year."  He had wanted to get away, and I wanted him to be able to get away for the weekend.  Mentally, he really needed it worse than me.  "OK," I said, "that's fine.  Once we pay everything off (property taxes are due, ad valorem taxes are due, our car insurance is due, plus paying for the glorious weekend we had), we'll look at getting you one sometime next year."

That was the moment I inwardly smiled with a straight, solemn face.  Yay!  I can surprise him!!!  So, you know where I'll be sometime this weekend... at the Apple Store in the mall!  He will be so flabbergasted that I went ahead and got an iPad for him, and I'll get to crow that I surprised him.  Shhhhhh!  Don't worry, he won't read this, and it will be even more fun that all of you are in on it. Weeeee!

Then again, it could turn out like the first iPad purchase... nah... what are the odds?

Monday, October 28, 2013

31 days: October 28

As you might have been able to tell, the past two days entries were created in advance and scheduled to post.  On Friday, husband and I took off for a weekend getaway, but I've been so faithful here posting my "moments" each day, that I simply could not miss two full days, hence the more general posts on Saturday and Sunday.  I've really enjoyed this month long project and want to send a shout out to my sweet friend, Beth, whose challenge precipitated my doing this at all. As I told her, I'm sort of feeling bereft about Thursday coming and it being the end of our 31 days of Moments.  And so... for my moment yesterday...

My father had many wise tidbits of wisdom to offer during my growing up years, but one of his nuggets was brought to the forefront this weekend.  He'd tell me, "Life is like a card catalog you find at the library, Jayne.  You need to find your slot in the drawer, and live there happily.  You don't need to struggle to live in the drawer above, nor live in the drawer below, but just find your comfortable place in the catalog, and be happy."  For our weekend getaway, we splurged to stay in a beautiful resort hotel.  Yes, it was pricey, but we so rarely get to go away as a couple, that we wanted something special for our two nights away.  And, special it was.  It was a Ritz Carlton property. It was so beautiful there, and the service and food was beyond superb.  We were enchanted with the furnishings, the beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds, and it felt special just being there.  We soaked it all in, every nuanced thing.  We'd grin and point out things to one another that we found impressive.  It was everything we wanted it to be.  Why? Because we know, it's not our normal place.  And, here's what I noticed...

I watched the people who were staying there, listened to snippets of their conversations, and came to realize that this place was no big deal for them.  This sort of accommodation was normal to them, and they were sometimes short and rude with the hotel staff members.  They had expectations way beyond mine.  They were used to all of this sort of finery and service and were impatient.  They live way up in the top of the card catalog drawer, and seemed rather difficult to impress. In one particular moment of watching an impatient woman in the gift shop, I smiled with the knowledge that I can occasionally indulge in places like this and feel like a kid in a candy shop.  I have wide-eyed wonderment because I can appreciate the beauty and the attention to detail. But, my home is tucked further down in the card catalog, and I like it there because it makes me such a more content and appreciative soul. Yes, it's my slot in the drawer.

The beautiful lobby area at the lodge. Just so warm and lovely.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

31 days: October 27

Along with autism comes perseveration.  I'd say this one trait is probably shared by the majority of people affected by the disorder.

per·sev·er·a·tion  (pr-sv-rshn)
1. Psychology
a. Uncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture, despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus, usually caused by brain injury or other organic disorder.
b. The tendency to continue or repeat an act or activity after the cessation of the original stimulus.
2. The act or an instance of persevering; perseverance.

At any given time, Sam will be "stuck" on something that occupies his mind a good bit. Sometimes those things are subtle, and may even be just in his mind, but other times, he talks about them incessantly.  In the past few years, we've gone through several topics, but the ones that impacted me the most were issues with the weather and then, death.  When he is obsessing about weather, he'll look outside several times a day and comment that it's cloudy...which must mean rain, which means lightning, which means the power will go out and he'll be without his computer, videos, and DVD's (Oh, my!)... and that's exactly the path his brain takes him on.  It can be all consuming at times, and no matter how many times I'll tell him that weather is always moving, and the power only goes out rarely, his mind will always complete the scenario he fears the most, being without power. 

The weather then took a back seat to death.  He just all of a sudden started asking me about dying.  I tried to explain it as well as I could, but no explaining could take the fear away of his own death, and then the death of people he loves.  We'd hear him upstairs wailing into his pillow about losing everyone.  I could not assure him that we won't die some day, as that would be untruthful, so what we tried to do was to make it less scary.  I told him that everything he loves would be a part of his life after he's no longer here.  I told him that as happy as he can imagine being on earth, he'd be doubly that happy as a free spirit.  It was a long process, fraught with worry and tears often, and dyspepsia for me, but he finally let it go. 

Now, our focus is something actually wonderful.  He is obsessed now with being "young at heart."  He knows that he's 21 and that people his age don't watch Sesame Street and other shows he adores, so he's decided that he can love them because he's decided to be "young at heart."  I smile and tell him he's unique and special and that not everyone gets the joy of being able to be young at heart like him.  I smile at these moments when he beams, and reminds me several times a day about how he does not have to like "grown up" things because he's "young at heart."  Me?  I'm praying we stay stuck on this one for a long, long time.  A really, really, really long time. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 days: October 26

"Love touches something external. When we enter love, we find ourselves caught up in its power.  Love lifts us beyond our quest for survival. Love enables us to transcend our limits. Love frees us to give ourselves away. What human life needs is not a divine rescue.  What we need is rather a life so open, so free, so whole, and so loving that when we experience that life, we are called into the reality of love.  We are opened to the source of love and enter the empowering presence of love. Such a life then becomes our doorway into the infinite and inexhaustible power of love.  I call that love God.  I see it in Jesus of Nazareth, and I find myself called into a new being, a boundary-free humanity, and made whole in its presence.  So God was in Christ, I say.  Jesus thus reveals the source of love, and then he calls us to enter it."   -- John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

I recently finished this remarkable little book, and highlighted many quotes I read so that I could go back to them and digest them further.  This was one that really spoke to me.  The moment I read it in the book, I went back and read it again.  When we choose to act from a place of love, and not of fear, that is God.  

We insist that people believe as we believe to be a part of our group.  We do all we can to protect our survival.  We pass judgment, we exclude people as unworthy. Love frees us to give ourselves away. What would happen if we really could be so open, so free, so whole, and so loving.... might we actually see The Kingdom of God on earth?   

Friday, October 25, 2013

31 days: October 25

At work on Wednesday, one of our physicians shared with me that a former patient had passed away unexpectedly.  He was only 45 years old, but the ravages of diabetes had taken its toll on him.  We followed him for extensive wounds of his right foot and ankle, which was a battle we eventually lost.  He had to have an amputation in the first of this year.  But, he was determined to get a prosthesis and get back up.  In the midst of all of this, his kidney function was also starting to fail, requiring he start dialysis.  So young... but that is what diabetes does to a body.

I got to know him fairly well as I treated him a good bit in our hyperbaric unit.  I never saw him that he did not smile and say, "So, how's your boy doing?"  He would ask about Sam often and wanted to hear what he was up to.  Many times, he was really down, and I'd try to find a way to brighten his mood and let him know we were in his corner.  His niece faithfully brought him to his appointments, and I got to know her too.  He ended up with a wound to the left foot, but with diligent care, we got that wound healed and we had not seen him since June.  He was up on his prosthesis using a walker, and we'd heard he was going to be put on a transplant list.

I went to the funeral home yesterday to pay my respects.  As I walked into the chapel, the family was seated facing his casket, and everyone had their heads bowed.  I saw shoulders shake and tissues dabbing cheeks as instrumental hymns played overhead.  There he was, in the company of all those who loved him, mourning his passing.  I closed my eyes, hearing the grief in the room, and all I could do was ask that I might absorb some of their pain and sadness and carry it for them as they get through the next days and weeks.  So young, and such a kind spirit.  God speed Joe...

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, 
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, 
for the former things have passed away."