Friday, March 31, 2017

Shining a Light onto Autism

Thought for the day: We need to embrace those who are different, and the bullies need to be the ones who get off the bus. [Caren Zucker]

[wikipedia]
April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, and in the U.S., the entire month of April is National Autism Awareness month. Since I'll be taking my customary month-long break from blogging in April, now's my best opportunity to post about this important issue.

I think, as a whole, most of us are much more aware of autism today than we used to be, and many of us know someone personally who is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Autistic people are... different. They view the world differently, and they are also different from each other. There's a wide range of behavior and perceptions within the spectrum, and above all, what autistic people crave is to be accepted just as they are. 

The following post is an update of one that first appeared on April 8, 2011, with the title Understanding Autism: A Long Way to Go. At the end of the post, you'll find information about a book I read recently. Why am I telling you about it now? All proceeds from book sales will be donated to autism research.

                                                           *     *     *     *    *   *    *


Thought for the dayI've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.  Maya Angelou

Today's blog is going to be a little different. It's going to be about some people who are different, and I hope to help you gain a better understanding of them.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and with statistics showing that autism currently affects anywhere from one in 120 to one in 150 of the babies born in the US, you may already know one of these children ... or adults ... personally. In any case, in honor of autism awareness, I'd like to share a few things about this brain disorder with you, based solely on what I've learned from books and personal observations.

When I was growing up, I don't remember hearing anything about autism. In those days, children with special needs were lumped together in a special education classroom at school, or relegated to the mercies of a state facility.

In the late 60s, I briefly volunteered at one of those state facilities. Caroline, a co-worker and fellow do-gooder, and I were closed into a medium-sized room with 35-40 children. The only furniture in that room was a TV set, which sat on a shelf mounted high up on the wall beyond the reach of little fingers; and the only toys, rubber balls. Lots and lots of rubber balls. All colors, all sizes. And those balls were in constant motion. Rolling around the floor, bouncing off the walls, smacking into the children, smacking into us. Four or five children screamed non-stop. Two spun in circles until they fell to the floor. Then, they'd get up and spin some more. Two others curled on the floor at opposite sides of the room, either in drug-induced stupors, or near-catatonic states brought on by their conditions. Another child banged his head against the wall. Some children, who were incredibly strong, reached for us, and in their enthusiasm, pulled us to the floor.

 In retrospect, it's very likely that some of those children were autistic, but at that time, from what I saw, those children, as wards of the state, were simply being warehoused. All thrown together, regardless of diagnosis, if there even was a diagnosis. From what I learned later, the spinning behavior and general disconnect we observed at that institution are typical manifestations of autism. And all of those balls flying around the room must have been sheer hell for them.

Fast forward ...

During the eighties, I volunteered at our church's respite care program. This was a two-Saturdays-a-month venture, in which parents could get a much-needed respite by leaving their special needs children in our care for the day. Many of these children were autistic, enrolled in a special school, and receiving the best help available. Some of them also had severe physical challenges. But, all in all, they were amazing children, and they taught me a lot about the human spirit.

Autism strikes four times as many boys as girls, so that may explain why we had more boys than girls in our care. I'd like to tell you about one of these boys. His name was Steven.



Steven's body was painfully thin and twisted, and his spindly legs were strapped to a wheelchair. Leather straps buckled around his chest, pinning him in place, and a tray was clamped in front of him.

Unable to speak, he'd make loud guttural noises, shake his head back and forth, and flail his arms. We'd wipe the spittle from his chin, but tears would fill his eyes.

Then, he got an amazing electronic keyboard fitted to the tray of his wheelchair. Teachers showed him how to use it, and boyohboy, he was an amazingly fast learner. And know what? He became calmer. For the first time in his life, he could press a button, and a computer would say, "I'm thirsty!"  or, "I'm hungry!" or simply, "I'm mad!"

And to everyone's delight, we discovered that he had a terrific sense of humor.

Steven taught me, taught all of us, to always look for and remember the person inside. No wonder he was angry! He was trapped inside of a body that didn't work, but his spirit proved to be strong, once he was given a way to express himself.

I recently read a book called The Tell-Tale Brain, by V.S. Ramachandran, which he describes as "a neuroscientist's quest for what makes us human." He accomplishes that by exploring the workings of the human brain, and he also does an excellent job of explaining some of the differences in the autistic brain.

There are specialized neurons in the human brain called mirror-neurons. Say you're watching someone scratch his nose. These mirror-neurons will trigger activity within your brain that's identical to the activity that would be triggered if you were scratching your own nose. You don't actually move your hand to your nose, but at a basic level, you can relate. As you can imagine, these neurons are essential in the development of empathy, and in the formation of connections to the people around us. And there is a stark deficiency of these cells in the autistic brain.

So, without an innate sense of connection, these children, these people, find it very difficult to connect. Often can't look another person in the eyes. Don't want to be touched. Have a sense of isolation. It's been theorized that because of this sense of disconnect and isolation, some of these children inflict wounds upon themselves just to reassure themselves that they're alive. Sensory overload is a major issue. Too much light, too much noise, too much activity are all maddening to an autistic person. Strict routines and a reliably non-changing environment are important. The spectrum of autism is wide, and the degree of functionality and integration into society vary greatly. Great strides have been made in understanding and treating autism, but there is still a long long way to go.

And each of us can help. The more we try to understand, the more empathy we have, and the more acceptance we show for those who are different, the better this world of ours can be. In this, Autism Awareness Month, let us all be more aware of these struggling children, of their parents, often divorced and/or isolated themselves, who care for them, and who know that no matter how different their children may appear to the rest of society, they are also brilliant, creative human beings and a source of great joy.

Every person deserves the chance to reach for their highest hopes and fulfill their greatest potential. [Barack Obama, on World Autism Awareness Day, 2015]

                                                      *     *     *     *

At right is a cover pic of the book I mentioned earlier in this post. Fifteen authors, who write in a wide range of genres, combined their talents to create this anthology in loving support of autism research. This is a book you can enjoy in bits and pieces, or as a forget-it-I'm-not-moving-until-I-finish-reading-the-whole-darned-book manner. (Closer to my particular style.)

In the U.S., you can purchase this book
here, and it is also available through Amazon in other countries, as well.




Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.





Friday, March 24, 2017

Entering Uncharted Territory

Thought for the day:  You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake. 


I clearly remember reading a book as a young girl in which the main character was a sixth grade paperboy named Henry, and I, all six or seven wide-eyed years of me, thought Henry was... really old. Isn't it funny how our perspective changes? Hell, look at me now... now I have the chutzpah to pretend I'm not old.

We're only young once, but with humor, we can be immature forever. [Art Gliner]



When Karen Walker asked if I'd like to submit an essay for an anthology about aging, I jumped at the opportunity. (Okay... I hobbled... let's not split hairs here, people.) Why would I want to do such a thing, you ask? The way I see it, even though bazillions of people have already ventured into the murky seas of old age, it's still uncharted mysterious territory for each of us as individuals, which can make the transition much scarier than it has to be. So... wouldn't it be great if some of the folks who've already taken the plunge provided a road map of sorts for those who are about to enter those uncharted territories? How? By sharing some of their words of wisdom.

With old age comes wisdom, but sometimes, age comes alone. [Oscar Wilde]

Okay, I'm not saying I'm to be counted as one of the wise folks who contributed to this book, but I am a wise-ass, which is almost as good, right? The question of the day is: Who are we? Are you the person the world sees when it looks at you... or is the real you the ageless person you are inside? No matter how old I am, I am still me. Sometimes the world forgets that, but this book does a beautiful job of reminding us. Whether you're curious about what may lie ahead of you in your golden years, or whether you're already knee-deep in them, this is a book everyone can enjoy.

When you come to the edge of the light that you know, and you are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. There will be something to land on, or you will learn to fly. [anonymous]

This book will help make the unknown more... known. Less scary. And for those of you who are already dealing with some of the issues described in this book, you'll be reassured to know... you ain't alone, baby.  And let us all remember, when we look at another person, no matter what their age, there's always much more to that person than meets the eye.

If you close your eyes and take a deep breath, how old do YOU feel inside? With me, it varies. Sometimes Smarticus tells me I act like a two-year old, but I think that's the exception.

Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art. [Stanislaw Jerzy Lec]

                                          (Too bad my artist is Picasso...)

                     Read on to see how you can win a FREE copy of this book.

                           Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

P.S. This old broad will be hanging out with four of her grandchildren for a while, so it'll take longer than usual for me to respond to your comments and visit your blogs. But fear not...I'll be Bach.



It’s a pleasure to be participating in the Blog Tour for STILL ME … AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: 24 Authors Reflect on Aging by Karen Helene Walker through MC Book Tours.

This is a charming, funny, and enlightening collection of essays about aging. In addition, Karen is offering a tour-wide giveaway featuring two (2) print copies (U.S. entries only) of STILL ME and two (2) eBook copies of STILL ME (International entries). See how you can enter to win below.

STILL ME…AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: 24 Authors Reflect on Aging
◊ By Karen Helene Walker
◊ Kindle: 2000 KB, 102 pages
◊ Genre: Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction
◊ Publication Date: April 4, 2017
◊ Language: English
◊ ASIN: BO6WWRK82K

Poignant...Humorous...Brutally Honest!



A collection of personal reflections guaranteed to keep you inspired and entertained on that journey we all travel together: The Journey of Aging.
With a blend of grace, dignity, warmth and humor, women and men from 60 to 90 and from all walks of life candidly share the blessings and pitfalls of aging – from keeping dreams alive and keeping sex lives active to dealing with retirement, loss of independence and a growing sense of mortality.

A BOOK ABOUT LIVING EVERY MOMENT OF LIFE!

STILL ME is available at the following sites: Amazon (print and Kindle), Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. Be sure to add it to your shelf on Goodreads.


Rev. Clara Alexander is an ordained New Thought minister who creates and performs sacred ceremonies, including unique weddings, funerals, memorial services, baby blessings and house blessings. She is also a popular speaker, inspiring groups with her talks on how we cling to our grudges, how we overuse the phrase “I’m sorry” and how we can live the life we love.
Wendy Brown recently retired from a career in wildlife biology, where she studied sandhill cranes and whooping cranes as they migrated from Idaho to New Mexico. Wendy eventually found a permanent home in Albuquerque, where she and her husband enjoy the sounds of sandhill cranes from their deck. Since retiring from state government in 2014. 


Valerie Capps has bypassed the porch rocking chair to pursue her life-long passion for writing, thereby proving that in today’s world, life can begin again at 65! Valerie lives in Nashville with her husband and their spoiled-rotten Welsh Corgi. www.amazon.com/Valerie-Capps/e/B016VD9V72
Mary W. Clark retired from her law practice in 2007 and transferred her observation and composition skills to travel writing. She is currently working on a book about her father’s World War II experience flying “the Hump” from India to China over the Himalayas. Mary lives in Paris, Texas. www.maryclarktraveler.com
Fran Fischer: “I was born at a very young age and that happened 82 years ago, so I don’t remember much about it. I’ve crammed as much living into my life as possible, and I’m not through yet. I’ve traveled extensively and I even flew in the same zero-gravity plane that the astronauts trained in. I live in California with my first (and only) husband, and we celebrated our 62nd anniversary this year.”
Pat Garcia (Patricia Anne Pierce-Garcia Schaack) is an American expatriate living in Europe. An accomplished musician as well as a writer, she has been writing (and reading) since childhood.
Mark David Gerson is the author of more than a dozen books, including critically acclaimed titles for writers, award-winning fiction, and compelling memoirs. Known as “The Birthing Your Book Guru,” Mark David works with an international roster of clients as coach and consultant, helping them get their stories onto the page and into the world with ease. www.markdavidgerson.com
Holly Deuel Gilster plays “make believe” for a living. In other words, she is a professional actress and musician. Holly also loves painting with words as an accomplished poet, an award-winning short-story writer and a book reviewer for The Or Echo.
Aaron Gordon is a retired social sciences community college professor. He and his wife, Ellie, have been married for 65 years and have three children and grandchildren.
Ellie Gordon is a retired public school teacher who spent the best 20 years of her life in the classroom. A Chicago native, she now lives in New Mexico.
Karla “Rosie” Harper recently retired from teaching elementary school, freeing her to return to her early love of dancing. Today, when not helping out with her grandchildren, Rosie is taking dance lessons, spinning on a dance floor or performing in senior centers and retirement communities with Albuquerque’s Sugartime, as a singer as well as a dancer.
Linda Hoye is the author of Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, available through major online retailers. A native of Saskatchewan, Linda currently lives in British Columbia (by way of Washington State) with her husband and doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier. www.lindahoye.com
E.V. Legters hasn’t so much retired as she has exchanged one life for another — from rewarding years with career and children (while pursuing the arts on the fly) to a life with the arts at its center. She is the author of Vanishing Point and Connected Underneath and is currently hard at work on her third novel. www.evlegters.com
LD Masterson lived on both coasts before becoming landlocked in Ohio. After twenty years managing computers for the American Red Cross, she now divides her time between writing, volunteer work and enjoying her grandchildren. Her short stories have been published in several magazines and anthologies, and she is currently working on a new novel. www.ldmasterson.com
Kathleen Messmer not only runs a film production company with offices in the UK and the US, she is an avid photographer and wildlife advocate. In the unlikely event that she ever retires, Kathleen plans to live on a ranch with draft horses and pygmy goats and vineyards and fruit orchards, somewhere near the water. Oh, and a cowboy...maybe. www.kathleenmessmer.com
Karen Norstad has worked as cashier/gift wrapper, secretary, boutique seamstress, administrative assistant, manager of employee stock options, executive assistant, and budget analyst. Now retired, Karen’s life revolves around lounging about, wearing PJs until four in the afternoon, obsessing over the news, reading, fusing and slumping glass, practicing piano, keeping a small balcony garden and cooking.
Matt Nyman’s nonlinear career path has included working in the geological sciences, teaching high school, stay-at-home parenting and, currently, training tomorrow’s teachers. Poetry equently resides near the surface of his existence, occasionally erupting onto paper.
Jill Plaman was born and began aging in Milwaukee, but she has lived and worked in Albuquerque since 1977. She holds a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MSW from the University of Minnesota. Her special interests are travel, international folk dancing, reading, hiking and spending time with family and friends.
Maureen Polikoff is a clinical social worker/ therapist who has always pursued many other creative endeavors, including painting, playing music and, now, writing. A Connecticut native, she lives in New Mexico with her husband, Michael.
MaryFrank Sanborn left Boston 33 years ago, to apprentice with photographer Walter Chappell in Santa Fe. Still in love with the beauty of the Southwest, MaryFrank photographs, writes, hikes, travels, teaches yoga and meditation, makes soups on Sundays, and dreams of the ocean and whales.
Patricia Stoltey is the author of four mystery novels. The most recent is Wishing Caswell Dead. She lives in Northern Colorado with Sassy Dog, Katie Cat and her husband, Bill. www.patriciastolteybooks.com
Susan Swiderski grew up in Dundalk, Maryland, where everybody calls everybody hon and eating steamed crabs is a sacrament. Although she’s happy in her adopted Georgia, part of her heart still lingers on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, explaining the setting for her novel, Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade. Susan is currently working on a trilogy, proof that this old gal is still a pathological optimist. www.susan-swiderski.blogspot.com
Jan Castle Walker is a retired teacher and an active artist. She lives in Davis, California with her husband, Mack. www.jancastlewalker.com
Karen Helene Walker is a novelist, memoirist and essayist and the author of The Wishing Steps and Following the Whispers. When not writing, Karen is tap dancing, folk dancing or performing with the musical group Sugartime at retirement communities. Karen is currently working on her second memoir. www.karenfollowingthewhispers.blogspot.com 

You can follow Karen and the other authors along on their tour by checking out the schedule HERE.




This tour-wide giveaway is for two (2) print copies (U.S. entries only) and two (2) eBook copies of STILL ME … AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: 24 Authors Reflect on Aging. The giveaway will end at 12 a.m. (EST) on Tuesday, April 4.

To enter, click on the Rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load so please be patient.

Thanks for stopping by today. Be sure to check out this charming book.



a Rafflecopter giveaway






Friday, March 17, 2017

The Wearing of the Green

Thought for the day: It's fine to pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's day; we pretend to be good on Christmas, don't we?


Yep, today's the day even folks with a last name like Swiderski can celebrate the Irish. Why not? I'm all for wearing a bit o' the green and talking a bit o' blarney, no matter what day of the year it is. As for today... just call me O'Swiderski.

What follows is a St. Patrick's Day post from three years ago. Seeing's as today is St. Patrick's Day AND my usual day to post, I thought it's be a foin idea to run it again. Then I'll have more free time to do the jig or something.

Care to join me... and a one and a two and a...(pant, pant, pant)

Never mind. You dance. I'll watch.







***********

Thought for the day Never borrow money from a leprechaun. They're always a little short.

[Wikipedia]
Yep, it seems like everybody wants to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day, doesn't it? Doesn't matter a shillelagh what your actual lineage is, either, for 'tis a grand day for dusting off that "Kiss me; I'm Irish" button, and pinning it to your shirt.

Know what's kinda funny about that? (shhhh) St. Patrick... wasn't Irish!








[Wikipedia]


Aye, and that's the truth, it is. St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, wasn't born in Ireland at all... and neither were his ancestors. However, he is credited with introducing Christianity to the Emerald Isle, where he evangelized for thirty years.



[Wikipedia]










He used the shamrock... the three-leaf clover... as a visual prop to teach the concept of the Trinity. We talk about the luck o' the Irish, and associate the shamrock with the Irish, but it's the four-leaf clover that's considered the lucky pick, simply because of its rarity.

[seniorark]


Even though many people use St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to guzzle even more beer than usual these days, from 1903 until 1970, it was a religious holiday in Ireland, and thus...a dry day. No booze. It converted to a national holiday in 1970, and the taps have been flowing freely ever since. (Obviously, the guy in that picture is a purist... his beer isn't green.)

[Wikipedia]


St. Patrick's Day, as celebrated worldwide, is marked with parades, festivals, shamrocks, wearing o' the green, drinking Irish whiskey and green beer, and sometimes... eating corned beef and cabbage. Many buildings of the world use decorative green lighting, and rivers, lakes, and ponds galore are dyed green. Even the fountain in front of the White House glistens emerald.

[Wikipedia]

Heck, what am I saying? The celebration of St. Patrick's Day is even outta this world. Dare ye to doubt me? Check out this picture of astronaut Chris Hadfield in the International Space Station, wearing his spiffy green bow tie while orbiting the planet on St. Patrick's Day, 2013. (Kinda looks like he's doing an Irish dance, too, doesn't it?)


Talking about Irish dances, have you seen this video?




                                                      See? Even chimps wanta be Irish.

[one of my favorite pins]

* Think there's any truth to the theory that the Irish dance was born because there weren't enough urinals in the pub? (Think about it...)

* Know why you should never iron a four-leaf clover? It's never a good idea to press your luck.

*  Know how to tell if an Irishman is having a good time? Easy. He's Dublin over with laughter.


Okay, I'll stop.


Since St. Patrick's Day is already here, it's too late to try this corned beef  recipe this time around, but you might want to give it a whirl next year. It isn't that much work, and I guarantee you, it'll be the best corned beef you ever ate. There are no nitrites in it, so the meat doesn't turn that unnatural red color, but it is gooooooooood.


For the salt and spice mix, you'll need 1 1/3 cups of Kosher (or coarse) salt, 3 T sugar, 1 T cracked peppercorns, 2 t allspice, 2 t thyme, 1 t sage, 1 t paprika, 1 large bay leaf, and 2 large cloves of garlic, minced.
Cut of meat - brisket, chuck, eye round roast, or bottom round, about 4-5 pounds

To Cure- Trim excess fat. Blend salt and spices, and rub the mixture into the meat. Liberally. Place meat into a large plastic bag and toss in the remaining salt/spice mixture. If you'd like, you can add a sliced onion and sliced carrot, too. Squeeze out as much air as you can, and then seal the bag. Put it into a a large bowl, cover it with a plate or pan, and weigh it down. (Put something on top of it that's heavy enough to keep the plate firmly pressed against the meat.) Place in the bottom of your fridge. Turn and knead the bag at least once a day until the curing process is completed. You should cure for at least two weeks, and up to a full month.

After curing: Wash the meat in cold water, and then soak it in a large bowl of cold water for about 24 hours to get rid of excess salt. If you'd like, you can tie it with butcher's twine, but it isn't necessary.

To Cook: Put meat in a large pot, and cover with water. Add an onion stuck with four cloves, a large carrot, and two celery stalks. Bring to a simmer, and skim off the scum for several minutes. (And I mean "scum" in the nicest way ...) Cover, leaving lid askew to allow for circulation, and simmer for 3- 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is deliciously fork tender. Enjoy!
****************



 Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other. 
Bless your little Irish heart, and every other Irish part.



May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head always be strong. And may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead.