Autism Cooks: More Than Cookies

When I walked into Autism Cooks Thursday night, the first person I spoke with was Joy Moore from the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. Any time I speak with someone from CARD, and any time I go to an autism-related event at all, my mind flashes back to me, sitting in an observation room, watching my 13-month-old be assessed for signs of autism. I picture the staff person pointing to an object on the wall, trying loudly and animatedly to get his attention as he just looks at her, utterly nonresponsive to her efforts. (Responsiveness to cues is one indicator researchers look for in children who can’t speak yet to assess their receptive language skills.)

There would be other moments just like that over the year when he participated in the First Words project. More videotaped assessments (I’m sure the video still exists somewhere!), a therapeutic playgroup, months when my mind was preoccupied by the “what ifs” regarding whether or not my son was on the autism spectrum.

By his second birthday, the conclusion was that he was not on the spectrum, and that developmentally he was age-appropriate and a “slow talker” (which is hilarious in the light of his verbosity now). He stayed involved in CARD through his fifth birthday, participating in annual assessments for a longitudinal study they were conducting. I am sure that helped them research-wise but it also helped me as a parent have a sense of how he was doing developmentally.

All of that – the research, the early exposure for me as a parent to the signs of autism, the compassion and professionalism shown to me by the staff members at CARD – contributed to the fact that I am a passionate supporter of autism-related causes. I know that a growing issue, as autism becomes more prevalent, is how adults with autism will have a way to make a living, to have shelter and food, and to be supported by their communities.

That is why the Autism Cooks event Thursday night, and the potential for Autism Cooks to become a full-time location where people can come together with friends who have autism as well as friends who don’t and feel at ease while learning life skills, captured my heart and my imagination. There’s no reason our community can’t be a place where that happens.

At Autism Cooks, Kevin Graham and Kiersten Lee, of Paisley Cafe, along with Chef Arturo, demonstrated how to bake sugar cookies, distributed delicious fresh cookies and milk, and sent everyone home with take-home bags! In addition, the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities was present to distribute information, promote its upcoming 5K, and accept voluntary donations.

Here are some pictures of the event:

Autism Cooking Project

Kiersten explains the baking process.

Autism Cooking Project

A rapt audience watches Kevin, Chef Arturo, and Kiersten prepare the dough.

Autism Cooking Project

The finished product!

I’m most excited to hand everyone their cookies. I know they will like them. – Kevin Graham

Autism Cooking Project

Kiersten reads the Autism Cooks brochure – the first time Kevin has seen it!

He came into my life at just the right moment. I could tell he needed some Kiki, but what he didn’t know is that I needed a friend like him more. He’s the best present Paisley’s given me. – Kiersten Lee

Autism Cooking Project

Who needs Gordon Ramsay (no offense, Gordon); I’ve met Kevin Graham!

A few comments from the Autism Cooks Brochure:

Autism cooks is an original Tallahassee project spearheaded by restauranteur and entrepreneur Kiersten Lee and her forever friend, Kevin Graham.

The pair met the way Kiersten meets a lot of people — at Paisley Cafe over a bowl of grits. Kevin, a Lively Tech. culinary student, was an employee of then neighbor Lucy & Leo’s Cupcakery. He’d spend the early morning hours before his shift quietly hanging out at Paisley.

“You should have seen his smile when I handed him that bowl of grits,” laughed Kiersten. “He looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you, Kiki.’ He had known my name all along.”

The future of Autism Cooks is an evolving concept. The dream (to reiterate from above): A full-time location where people with autism can come together with friends like Kevin and Kiersten and feel at ease while learning life skills.

For more information:

About Paisley Cafe: Website, Facebook, Twitter

About the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD): Website

About CARD’s April 9 Superhero 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run (hint please sign up!!!!!): Details

Autism Cooking Project

 

Fantasies Fulfilled: A $500 Disney Giveaway!

I have been to Disney more in the past two months than the last ten years.

Tenley invited me to attend the Candlelight Processional at EPCOT in November as part of my birthday gift, then she was there at Christmas (which I realize is not the same as ME being there, but when your child is at Disney at Christmas without you, isn’t that the same as a part of your heart being there?). Lastly, I was at Disney January 17-19 as Tenley moved in to start her Disney College Program. First time at Animal Kingdom? Check! First time at Pop Century? Check! Coming to the realization that staying on property (which I had never done until the November visit) is the bomb diggity? Check! Check! Check!

So many ways to fantasize about what I would do if the gift card fairy plopped a $500 gift card into my hand!

Well, it takes a little more than a fairy – you DO have to do some clicking and following, but this Rafflecopter giveaway could magically land a $500 gift card in your hands. I call that a fantasy come true!

Disney Giveaway

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

Prize: $500 Disney Gift Card (can be used at any Disney park or store)

Co-hosts: Coupons and Freebies Mom // Sunny Sweet Days // Lipgloss & Crayons // Jenns Blah Blah Blog // Yes We Disney // Style On The Side // Peyton’s Momma // The Bewitchin’ Kitchen // Juggling Act Mama // Casey At // Peanut Butter and Whine // City Of Creative Dreams

Giveaway organized by: Oh My Gosh Beck!

Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter daily. Giveaway ends 2/29 and is open worldwide. Winner will be notified via email.

Are you a blogger who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your blog? Click here to find out how you can join a totally awesome group of bloggers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disney Giveaway

A memory from my last visit.

The Magic of Malala

Did you see Malala Yousafzai on Colbert? Take the 3:06; I’ll wait!

In this brief clip, Malala and Colbert share laughs over card tricks. I remember watching this interview last September and thinking, “if I didn’t know she had changed the world in a breathtakingly courageous and daring way, I would almost think she’s pretty much any other young adult chatting it up with a comedian.”

The thing is: Malala is not just “any other young adult.” She is the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner. As explained via her website:

On 9 October 2012, as Malala and her friends were travelling home from school, a masked gunman entered their school bus and asked for Malala by name. She was shot with a single bullet which went through her head, neck and shoulder. Two of her friends were also injured in the attack.

Malala survived the initial attack, but was in a critical condition. She was moved to Birmingham in the United Kingdom for treatment at a hospital that specialises in military injuries. She was not discharged until January, 2013 by which time she had been joined by her family in the UK.

The Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala received worldwide condemnation and led to protests across Pakistan. In the weeks after the attack, over 2 million people signed a right to education petition, and the National Assembly swiftly ratified Pakistan’s first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill.

This February 29, 2016, we all have an opportunity to learn more about Malala and celebrate her contributions when He Named Me Malala, Davis Guggenheim’s acclaimed film, has its commercial-free television premiere on the National Geographic channel at 8:00 pm ET/7:00 pm CT.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

If you are on Twitter, you can help spread the word with the following tweets!

#HeNamedMeMalala premieres commercial free on @natgeochannel 2/29 @ 8/7c! Stand #withMalala + watch with your family on.natgeo.com/1VbVWaJ 

#HeNamedMeMalala premiers on @natgeochannel 2/29 at 8/7c. See it and stand #withMalala! on.natgeo.com/1VbVWaJ

Mark your calendar to stand #withMalala for girls’ ed. #HeNamedMeMalala premiering on @natgeochannel on.natgeo.com/1VbVWaJ

Having a daughter who is close in age to Malala, I marvel at the opportunities my daughter has had to learn, work, and grow free of oppression. It is unthinkable that any young woman in our world has to risk death in order to get the education all children deserve, and I commend Malala for her courage, her passion, and her articulate and motivational ways.

Educating Girls

Her card tricks aren’t bad either!

Educating Girls

For more information:

About the commercial-free showing of He Named Me Malala on the National Geographic Channel, click here.

Follow The Malala Fund on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow The Malala Fund on Twitter by clicking here.

Take action to stand #WithMalala by clicking here.

Donate to The Malala Fund by clicking here.

Educating Girls

Finding My Word of the Year at Wendy’s

I had not planned on doing a word of the year for 2016, but at a Wendy’s restaurant on Friday, I found my theme.

I went through the drive-through of a Wendy’s which I frequent often, and ordered a full spicy chicken caesar salad. I order a full spicy chicken caesar salad at Wendy’s (and at THIS Wendy’s) often, and I always take care to articulate the “full” part (because it’s very disappointing to arrive home with a half instead of a full!).

When the service person handed me my order, the bag felt a little light but I was aware of cars behind me so I pulled forward a bit. Upon checking the order, I realized I had been given a half salad.

The parking lot is configured in such a way that I couldn’t easily get back in the drive-through line to rectify the problem. I didn’t really want to go in, because a) I was in my workout clothes and b) I was already worried about the length of time I had left my father-in-law alone. It was pretty much my only option, though, so in I went.

The staff person from the drive-through came out to the restaurant dining area to meet me, which felt like a good sign. I said, I received a half salad instead of a full and [this part is important] “I probably didn’t speak clearly enough.” She said she would fix it. I asked how much more it would cost, she told me $2.15, and I handed her the money.

When she went to the back to change out the salad, she said to her co-worker, “she needs a whole salad, It was her fault.”

WELL, folks, welcome to the birth of the theme of 2016 because at that moment, it took every ounce of discretion and discipline I had not to stalk back there, grab that woman (who is a staff person I deal with frequently, has always been professional, and honestly I’ve almost tweeted her praise before), and confront her because it actually was not my fault.

The problem is, by being deferential, trying to ease the conflict of the situation, and please everyone, I had accepted blame for a situation in which I was completely and utterly blameless.

I think the woman was (in some reverse co-worker support way) trying to support her co-worker as in “you didn’t do anything wrong. Mistakes happen.” But why on earth would you say within earshot of a compliant, diplomatic, patient customer “it was her fault?”

This tendency of mine does me no favors, in everyday life with strangers, doing business, as I interact with coworkers, as I parent, and in my marriage and it’s time for it to stop.

As I was driving today, I narrowed it down to two candidates.

SILENT (Because in situations where I am tempted to “fix” things by interjecting an unnecessary apology, silence is power.)

CONFIDENCE (Because it is my lack of confidence in these situations that leads me to break the silence.)

Maybe the thing is “silent” and “confidence” by themselves are each only half of an incomplete whole:

SILENT CONFIDENCE

Finding My Word of the Year at Wendy's

In an interesting counterpoint to that day, my son and I ate at Mr. Roboto Tokyo Grill that evening. Quite a few minutes elapsed after my dinner was delivered to our table. We saw what we thought was my son’s food in the hands of a server, but the server didn’t come to our table so we assumed it was not his. I finally went up to the cashier to inquire. The staff said “oh, you didn’t have a number on your table so we couldn’t figure out where to deliver his food (they had taken the number when they delivered my food). We reassured them it was fine and they delivered his food. Several minutes later, the manager approached me, asked my name, and assured me that our next meal would be free, and he apologized for the problem. What a lovely counterpoint to the lunchtime “faulting.” Thanks, Mr. Roboto Tokyo Grill!

Creative K Kids

$200 Starbucks Gift Card Giveaway!

By the time I was holding this cup of awesome in my cold hands this morning, I had done some work, checked out of a hotel, and been on a safari! My hotel room didn’t have a coffee maker, it was too cold to venture over to the restaurant just for coffee, and I had a Disney Fastpass for the Kilimajaro Safari which was coming close to expiring.

 Starbucks Giveaway

Now, making coffee is usually among the VERY FIRST things I do every day, so the fact that I was almost three hours into the day and had not managed to get coffee was highly unusual. It sure did make me appreciate finally getting my morning fix!

Enter this giveaway and you can get your morning fixes to the tune of $200 from Starbucks in the form of a gift card!

Starbucks Giveaway

I’ve teamed up with some blogger friends to give you the chance to win a prize you’re going to love — a $200 Starbucks Gift Card!

Are you a blogger who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your blog? Click here to join the VIP Email List for details on how to be included in the next giveaway opportunity!

Prize: $200 Starbucks Gift Card

Giveaway organized by: Oh My Gosh Beck! (Please email becky@ohmygoshbeck.com with any questions.)

Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter daily. Giveaway ends 2/1 and is open worldwide. Winner will be notified via email.

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GOOD LUCK!

Here’s To New Dreams!

I’m keeping it brief tonight.

Tenley starts the Disney College Program tomorrow.

Disney College Program

Disney College Program

And me? I’m desperately trying to get the attention of an Instagram account for GRASS.

Disney College Program

To be fair, however, it’s not just ANY grass. It’s HubGrass (the very same grass Tenley is sitting on in the top picture). You can check in to The Hub on FourSquare, follow it on Twitter at @therealhubgrass, or like it on Instagram at @hubgrass.

Can you remember the excitement of a new beginning like Tenley’s? (If not, have you ever messaged vegetation via Instagram?) I’d love to hear about either one!

Five Magical Motivations to RUN

So many conversations I have had about running over the past few months as I have made modifications to deal with my tachycardia issues have ended (on my part) with some variation of “but I am still grateful.”

My goal of running a 5K in less than 30 minutes is almost certainly not attainable at this point. Maybe if I checked in to a fitness retreat, ate 100% clean for an extended period of time, trained intensively, put my life on hold and went without the medication that slows my heart rate down and makes it feel like I’m running through mud long enough to pull it off it would happen. It’s not realistic, though, time-wise or budget-wise to put my life on hold. I’m doubtful it would be a good choice for my overall health, and the mere fact that cupcakes exist in this world is some type of evidence that it is possible to deny yourself too much!

Motivations For Running

Enjoying Baked by Melissa “Snowstorm” cupcakes after a run!

Jane Mahoney, a runner in the Kerri On: I Run for Remembrance group, a companion group to I Run for Michael in which members run in memory of people’s loved ones, said this today, after describing a run she and some friends had done in memory of a fellow runner and friend who had died of cancer:

Running is a magical thing, giving solitude, peace, friendship, honor and joy to life. ~ Jane Mahoney

In that one sentence, Jane captured the assets of running which have enabled me, one by one, to put a knot in the rope and hang on when I was almost at the end of my rope with running the last few months.

The Solitude of Running

I won’t lie. Despite the social benefits (discussed below), I still love running by myself. Especially since I am a primary caregiver for my father-in-law and almost never have the house to myself, I love being alone. The repetitive footsteps are like meditation for me; my thoughts have a chance to unfurl and wander, and the fresh air is rejuvenating. I also have the pleasure of listening to various Rock My Run mixes (read here for how you can benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by downloading this free app!).

Peace

We have a number of scenic running trails here in Tallahassee. A few weeks ago, I went out by myself and ran the Swamp Forest trail in preparation for last weekend’s Swamp Forest Quarter Marathon. It was just me, the trees, gorgeous views of streams, streaming sunlight; and a few animals skittering and fro. No screens to be stared at, no one who needed anything, just peace.

Motivations For Running

The Swamp Forest Trail. Photo courtesy of Robin Bennett.

Friendship

Everyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for working toward a measurable goal. Even though I had heard about groups running from a local running store every Monday and Thursday night, I had declined to join for several reasons. Once a member told me the group was trying to get to 2016 miles in 2016, though, I was in! I joined them this past Thursday night, and Chris (the leader) said “I’ll stay with you.” Now, I have been told “I’ll stay with you” before and many times that commitment, which was sincerely meant at the time, goes out the window when the individual realizes how slow I am relative to them. Not this time. Chris stayed with me every step of the way, and the miles flew by. Three miles later I had a friend and a reminder of why the running community is second to none.

Motivations For Running

The Capital City Runners 2016 or Bust Group.

Honor

I didn’t attend the Gulf Winds Track Club awards ceremony last night, but as the names of the awardees (which are kept a secret until the ceremony) started rolling in on social media, I was thrilled for so many runners I respect who were recognized for their achievements. Although I am happy for everyone, I am exceedingly happy for my friend Maria Matheu, 2015 Female Runner of the Year. Maria worked so hard this year as she ran every race in the Gulf Winds Track Club Extreme Challenge series. Six of the hard miles were the ones she ran for me smack in the middle of a scorchingly hot Tallahassee summer when we ran from Madison Social to Capital City Runners and back, all for a free beer (okay, it was for more than a free beer but still….). She’s another one who said, “I’ll stay with you” and actually did stay with me. She had already run 8 miles that day, and only someone with a bit of a crazy streak would have headed out in the 100 degree heat index day, much less with someone who is going to take FOREVER to get it done. Maria proved (to me) who she was that day. She was (is) a friend. She honored her commitment. No one in our club deserves this award more than she does.

Motivations For Running

2015 Gulf Winds Track Club Female Runner of the Year, Maria Matheu

Joy

So much of 2015  has been spent staring at the screen of my Garmin, trying to figure out if my heart rate was going to behave or not. Over the past two months, it was reading exceptionally high. Skipping past the frantic calls I made to the pharmacist (is this batch of beta blockers bad?) and my electrophysiologist (WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!), it turns out my Garmin sensor needed to be replaced. Everything is still not perfect, but the malfunctioning electronics had me in a misguided  mental (and emotional) spiral of “this is never going to get resolved.” I have a new strap/sensor which seems to be recording correctly. When I ran with Chris Thursday night, I didn’t look at my Garmin for the whole run. Not fixating on my HR allowed me to be more open to the whole reason we do this: JOY.

Lastly, in addition to those five reasons, my son has started joining me at running events again. This may be pushing me even farther away from a sub-30 finish than my medical issues have, but it has me speeding toward something much more important: miles, memories, and, like Jane, a magical thing.

Motivations For Running

Billy Bowlegs 5K. Photo courtesy of Fred Deckert.

Inspire-Me-Monday-2-graphic

Geneva’s Train

I have the good fortune of participating in an incredible group of bloggers via Midlife Boulevard. In addition to the online magazine focusing on women over 40, we have a Facebook group for support, content sharing, and the occasional joke or two! In 2016, we are spending January adding a blog maintenance tip per day. When we started the series, one of the first tasks was to define our goals.

My four-part goal included “write once in a while just for the sake of writing……not for anyone else’s message but my own.” Point being: I love writing about causes and am really enjoying writing sponsored posts, but I truly believe good writing springs from writing for the sake of writing. Therefore, I am going to plan to write once a month (at least) just to write, not from anyone else’s talking points or guidelines. My writing has started feeling so uninspired to me; I am afraid I have forgotten how to paint pictures with my words, and that would be a loss.

Keeping that goal in mind, I am using an inspiration from the SITS Girls 31 Days of January Writing Prompts (I may want to write for the sake of writing but I still needed a little starter spark!). Finish this story: A girl, sitting alone on a rock at the edge of the woods, jumps when she hears…

Geneva’s Train

A girl, sitting alone on a rock at the edge of the woods, jumps when she hears the spurt of air explode out of a can of carbonated beverage as its top is popped. The owner of the can could be her brother (opening a Pepsi), her mother (opening a Diet Coke), her father (opening a beer), or her grandfather (opening a beer).

No matter who it is, they are interrupting Geneva’s reverie. Her mind, along with every iota of her imagination, was deeply involved in the book in her hands and now the flow has been disrupted.

“Whoever it is, how can I get them to go away so I can get back to my book?” she wondered. Her brother would be a temporary irritant; if she would refuse to engage, he would probably seek an easier target elsewhere (the kittens came to mind). Her mother would want her to do something (emptying the dishwasher came to mind). Her dad would want to probe her agenda for the upcoming week (committing the stories she had written to a flash drive came to mind). Her grandfather, who had short-term memory issues, would want to know (for the 50th time) if she had seen the postcard his granddaughter (her cousin) had sent from Paris.

WHY was it so hard for the people in her life to give her train of thought its due? Trains of thought did not always stay on track.

Sometimes, trains of thought stayed parked at the depot, unable to depart because there just wasn’t enough fuel to send them on a trip.

Sometimes, trains of thought became so overburdened with the weight of their heavy cargo that they lumbered along, clogging up the track for the other trains carrying lighter, more streamlined loads … the trains with logical agendas and contents that others were expecting.

Sometimes, trains of thought flew along the track, light as air, having been dispatched to someplace new to Geneva, awaiting a load of ideas, fantasies, or outlandish plans.

This time, her train of thought faced a split track. The track of her book placed her within an arm’s reach of a protagonist named George, feeling a new and exhilarating lightheaded magic. In the book, he had already planted a garden, tamed a bucking bronco, and headed off a confrontation between two enemies. Wasn’t it her turn yet?

The other track led back to chores, an inquisition, or a boomerang into the old routine. Back to her regular life, and that stop was growing more mundane by the day.

Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, she sighed, shut the book, and turned.

What she had not guessed was that the can was being opened for HER.

“Sparkling water with essence of mint?” asked George.

And with George’s arrival, the train bellowed with the beauty of imagination and Geneva gave in to a flurry of delight, realizing that her dream had not been derailed.

Geneva's Train

December 2015 #RunChatHunt

You know what #RunChatHunt does?

It gets under your skin and into your head … permanently … that’s what!

Even though this item was several RunChatHunts ago, I don’t ever pass the pay phone at Tom Brown Park without thinking of RunChatHunt. The same is true for road kill, but I don’t think I am ever supposed to talk about road kill again or I may get kicked out of future hunts!

This year’s list was fun! The most challenging item (to me) was the leftover Halloween decorations.

Running Scavenger Hunt

The goal is to find the items listed then Tweet them with the #RunChatHunt tag. Each tweet (that complies with the rules of course!) qualifies the participant for a prize. The prize list  this year is one of the most prolific I have ever seen! Visit the link and check them out!

Here are my finds:

Running Scavenger Hunt

The hunt lasts through January 1, 2016, so there’s still time if you want to participate!

In addition, there’s a separate yet equally awesome (and someone easier to pull off) hunt underway on Facebook.  Click here to join.

While it is totally fun hunting for the various scavenger hunt items, I have to say the thing about running that has sustained my year the most has been my running friends. In our town, with these people, you don’t have to “hunt” too far to find the very best. And the prize is in the time, the sweat, and the shared miles.

Running Scavenger Hunt

Sharing Christmas Lights and Cupcakes With Running Friends December 2015

Hung By the Chimney with Care

When my daughter, Tenley, helped decorate for Christmas this year, she hung the stockings up on the mantel.

Because we never seem to have a full inventory of stocking hangers, there were only three hangers available in our Christmas supplies box. We needed six (my husband, me, her, my son, my father-in-law (who lives with us) and the cats (who share one stocking)). When she completed hanging stockings, the three she had put up were my husband’s, mine, and my son’s.

When I said, “we need to get yours up there,” she said “it’s okay. I’m not going to be here anyway.” While it is true that she was not home for Christmas (because she is at Disney World with a friend, has been there since 12/23/15 and will be there till 1/3/16), it’s not true that her stocking does not need to be there.

I should give her kudos for putting her brother first. There have been times in the family history where I might have predicted she would put her stocking up and let him fend for himself.

That one visual of the mantel without her stocking has stirred up so many thoughts. Forget those creatures not stirring (not even that mouse); my thoughts and feelings were stirring.

I am thinking of the time Wayne and I went to Lake Butler for a wedding when we had first started dating and refused to stay with my parents, in an attempt on my part to make some kind of statement of independence.

I am thinking of numerous friends who feel distant from their adult children, like everything they say is misunderstood, ridiculed, rebuffed, or minimized.

I am thinking especially of one friend, a fantastic and devoted mother, whose only child has broken off all communication with her. I simply don’t understand.

I am thinking of the pros and cons of how I have handled being a parent, of the times when for various reasons Wayne and I have both walked on eggshells around our daughter, thinking of that extremely unrealistic filter that is Facebook which makes almost every other family look happier, more relaxed, more whole.

I am grateful that, on balance, I have what I consider to be a solid, honest relationship with my daughter, and for the fact that she is a lot nicer to me at 19 than I was to my parents at the same age.

I am acknowledging that I still desperately want to matter, that I can’t help myself insecurity-wise when she is leaving after a visit from saying, “you’re going to come back and give me a hug before you go, right?”

I was okay (mostly) with her being gone over Christmas because a) Disney is her happy place b) our home with all the eldercare issues is not all that relaxing a place to be and c) making her stay would have only led to having a resentful teenager around over Christmas and who wants that?

What I’m not okay with is the idea that this mantel is complete without her. Therefore, while I didn’t get a picture of the original setup, the one that matters is this one, with its full complement of family members.

Mother Daughter Relationships