Monday, January 24, 2011

Marking Time

A couple of months ago, Noel and I went to Seattle to see youngest son, Casey, Kylene and baby Margot.  As we were standing in line waiting for a table at Pike Place Pub, Kylene fingered Casey’s thread bare shirt jacket and frayed collar.  “I could get you a new one,” she offered.  I saw the window shade lower over his eyes, but as usual I charged right in to help Kylene.  I helpfully said, “I could re-work the collar band and cuffs.  It would still be the same comfy shirt…just look a bit more presentable.”  I saw the window shade lower even more.  “Consider it,” I said.  The shade drew completely shut. 
He’s been like this since, well…. always.  Change, new, different were all enemies when he was a child. I flashed back to his grade school years.  He wore the same grey fleece pullover every day for two years.  Often, I had to wash it after he went to bed at night.  Even though we cajoled, plead and finally threatened, he wore it for his school pictures.  At the time I thought it was a travesty.  Now, I look at this blonde child smiling broadly for the camera and realize I wouldn’t have it any other way.  He could smile because that old, grey fleece gave him comfort.  And here he is, nearly thirty years old, still clinging to the familiar, the routine, the known. 
Unfortunately, I know he gets this from me in a condensed and distilled form.  My life is marked with the routine—the same blue coffee mug for my tea, the same meal of egg and toast to start my day; my favorite, very old snow boots.  I’ve always found comfort in the familiar.  Routine is the skeleton of my soul.  It sustains me when I confront challenges, meet new people, or when I am unsure of my direction. 
Noel told me once that when he was growing up the Christmas tree was never the same.  One year it would have all pink ornaments, the next year all blue with no pink ornament to ever be seen again.  Really??  People live like this? He explained that they moved almost every year with his father being in the Air Force and all.  He guesses that things as inconsequential as Christmas ornaments were simply left behind. 
How differently I grew up.  A couple of weeks ago I boxed up the same manger that graced the coffee table when I was six.  The tree was decorated with felt ornaments I made in high school.  Ceramic choir boys from the Woolworths store are displayed every year.  In reality, I count on these routines that have developed into rituals.  As eager as I am every year to put all of this away, I imagine myself pulling it all out again so that we can drink eggnog from the Santa Claus mugs as we do every year.  I’ll smile as I remember the year that Roman, the Rottweiler ate the sheep out of the manger scene and likely I’ll make the same comment I always do, “We’re just grateful he didn’t eat the baby Jesus.”  In fact, I count on these rituals to support me, to soothe me and to mark the passing of time. 
And now, as another New Year is upon us, I realize that I know very little about the coming days.  I can plan for and count on certain events, but really anything could happen.  None of us ever knows with certainty what lies ahead.  But I do know that forming the structure of my days will be the familiar, the old and the comfortable.  And, God willing, we’ll celebrate the births of three new children into our family this year.  We’ll hold them close and cherish their freshness.  They will challenge us to be bigger and better.  But then in turn, we will give them stability by introducing them to the rituals that make our family our own. 
And some day, I will come upon them on their knees, as if in prayer, playing with the wise men and the baby Jesus.  I imagine myself pausing for a moment as I realize that the only real constant in life is that it is constantly moving. 
And also that by any measure, life can be really, really good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ultimate Fish Tacos

Okay, I love fish tacos.  And over the years I have tried many different kinds.  When I lived in Missoula, we had a take out restaurant a few blocks down the street that had wonderful fish tacos.  I was in a funk for weeks when they went out of business and it turned into one of those Payday Loan places.  Where's the justice?  I've tried countless recipes and I order fish tacos whenever I see it on the menu.  For years I've been searching for the perfect recipe. Well, yesterday Noel and I found it. 

A few days ago I tuned into the Food Network right at the end of a half-hour segment of "Aarti's Party".  She had made fish tacos, and I decided I would try her recipe.  Well, when Noel suggested tacos for dinner last night I remembered the recipe and we tried it. 

I'm just sayin' that we reached fish taco nirvana last night.  Just sayin' it that it is the best recipe...a different and excellent take....different spices. But don't be afraid.  You will swoon.  Guaranteed.

 My intent was to take a picture of them as they were cooking, but they smelled so terrific and we just gave into the temptation of folding a couple up.  And then, I was going to take a picture of my second one before I dove in, but geez, it was just so good. 

I think I should get special consideration for being able to stop at this point.  I really considered taking a picture of the empty plate, but I do have some self-control!

Get the recipe by clicking here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saving Mankind with Paper Flowers

The horrific events that played out in Tucson this past Saturday have given us all an opportunity to ponder, reflect and question.  After the initial shock I truly wondered, “What good can come of this?”  As I watched the news and read the papers in the ensuing days, I was saddened by the finger pointing, inflammatory comments and defensive actions.  Again, I wondered how we could turn this tragedy into goodness.  That’s why I made sure I tuned into President Obama’s speech last night that he delivered from the University of Arizona campus.  I think we all needed help understanding and making sense of all of this.  Whether you agree with his policies or not does not matter to me.  What matters is that he is hopeful and eloquent and he gracefully helped me see with new eyes.  For that, I am very grateful.  I was especially touched by his last couple of paragraphs:
“Our task, working together is to constantly widen the circle of our concern and that we bequeath ‘The American Dream’ to future generations.  I believe that we can be better.  Those who died here, those who saved lives here…they help me believe.  We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another…that’s entirely up to us.  And I believe that for all of our imperfections we are full of decency and goodness and that the forces that divide us aren’t as strong as those that unite us.  That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed…..
She saw…through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often take for granted.  I want to live up to her expectations.  I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.  I want America to be as good as she imagined it.  All of us. We should do everything we can to make sure that this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”
Wow.  That seems like a daunting task. I was almost overwhelmed by this charge.  What can I do to make children believe in goodness? 
But, then I remembered a newspaper article that Noel drew my attention to the other day.  It was about a school in Missoula that set out on a little mission.  They dressed their three and four-year-olds in capes adorned with hearts.  And in each child’s hand was a handmade paper flower.  They took them to an assisted living center and gave them away to the residents.  They call their children “Superheroes of Kindness.”  These babies spread good cheer to others. 

Click here to read the article

That’s all. 
That’s everything. 
And instantly, I knew what small thing I will do.  I will help save mankind by sewing more superhero capes so that any child I encounter will have the opportunity to join this special band of kindness makers.  I believe that this could become contagious.  I see children, guided by their parents, spreading cheer and happiness and love the way only a trusting and innocent child can.  And perhaps, through it all, we will not show the next generation how great America is, but instead we will be saved from the cynicism and derision and doubt by our lovely children.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Avery's Colors

Sometimes you receive a gift that is so wonderful and so heartfelt that it brings tears to your eyes.  I received just such a gift this Christmas.  Many of you know that I am an occupational therapist and that I work with children who have special needs.  Well, a couple of days before Christmas I was just finishing up at Avery's house when his mother, Liz presented me with a framed collage and essay about her delightful son.  This piece is truly magic. Liz humbly agreed that I could share it with you.  Our hope is that you may see the world (and autism) from a slightly different perspective after you read it.  So here, without further ado, and with full permission is "Avery's Colors."

I read an article on once while in college that described autism like living in a concrete room.  I don’t see autism that way.  To me autism has a more personal name…my son’s name.  My firstborn’s name.  Avery, a name meaning loyal, noble and bearlike, the most fitting name for such a child.  And though Avery does live in his own world, it is most definitely not made of concrete.  I like to think of it as made of paint, mutable and changeable as water.  Fluid with beauty, fears, desires, ideas, angels.  Made of all the colors imaginable.  He lives here most of the time allowing us glimpses into this beauty he has created bits at a time, gracing us with his dancing eyes and light laughter. 
Avery’s world is impervious to our soft decay.  His is a place of wonder and beauty.  Purity of the highest level.  What I would imagine heaven to be a place of.  It is as if his soul was created too delicately to belong in our harsh reality. 
At times it may see that Avery is floating like a satellite in a lovely sky, no clouds to cover him.  It seems as if he reaches out from up there, from the blue of the sky, and he joins us down in the dullness of our gray.  We live for those moments.  We train for them like Olympic trainers working for medals.  These moments are no less precious.  No less as coveted.  Sometimes they are fleeting, passing by us like the wind.  Not always seen, but always felt, always moving our souls, always filling our hearts with joy.  Always leaving us a bit happier, a bit more enlightened, a bit better off than before.
Our world is far less beautiful than Avery’s, filled with gray skies, the greenness of envy and money, the darkness of death and rage, the redness of war and pain.  A world filled with corruption, crime, poverty and fear.   I realize this as I look about our clutter-filled house.  I know if must be so much more beautiful to be where he is.  That is what makes the moments he chooses to emerge from his Monet-esque universe to share a Beatles song with us or a dance in the snow all the more precious.
I started out this journey of being Avery’s mom thinking I was always travelling down a road always toward some goal:  Avery walking; Avery talking.  But, autism isn’t a road.  It is much more like diving into a painting.  You get a bit messy sometimes.  You wade in.  It is the brown of the food he eats, the orange of his baby blanket, the blue of his eyes, the rainbow colors of a box of Crayolas used to draw on his legs, the pink of his Pez, the black and white checks on his fedora, the turquoise water on a warm summer day perfect for splashing into, the mirror-like silver of the DVD’s he loves to spin, and the purple and red of his beanbags the most prized of his possessions.
Avery, my autist.  My bit of magic.  He has taught me what life and love is all about.  He forgives me everything.  He loves with his whole heart.  He feels things, sees things, senses them somewhere deep in his soul.  Avery has taught me many things.  That joy isn’t always found in faraway places.  Sometimes it is simply in the spinning of a colorful top or in the dipping of a pink strawberry cookie in the red barbeque sauce, that the Beatles are still amazing after all these years, and that some things do not have to be verbalized to be understood, they simply have to be felt with the heart.
Autism—a mysterious world where the unknowns still outnumber the knowns.  A syndrome whose manifestations are many and whose etiology is suspected of being multi-causal.  The word autism still conveys a fixed and dreadful meaning to most people—they visualize a child mute, rocking, screaming inaccessible, cut off from human contact.  But to me, Autism—beauty, grace, joy, laughter, love, challenges, Pez, three piece chicken selects, movie credits, fedoras, Avery and of course, all the colors.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Forces of Nature

We just returned from our timeshare in Blanchard, Idaho.  It’s called Stoneridge and we go every year to take a time out to ski a few of the local areas and to shop in Spokane.  Noel’s been going to Stoneridge for over thirty years, and it’s my eleventh.  It’s something we look forward to every year after the rush of the holidays.

We had plans for the day.  Perfectly fine plans. We got a good night’s sleep and were up early.  I peeked out the window as soon as it was light and saw that the snow was perfect….cold, dry and powdery.  And the sky was clear and although the sun was not yet up, it promised to be a glorious blue-sky day. 
We were almost giggling with excitement because in our pockets were two newly-purchased day passes to ski Schweitzer Mountain at Sandpoint.  We love this ski area and its 110 runs and lightning fast chair lifts.  The runs are long and sweeping, the views of northern Idaho and Lake Pend Oreille make you glad to be alive, and we knew that for once, we wouldn’t have to deal with the fog that often obliterates the top of the mountain.  Oh, this day was going to be just fine.
We were well into a hearty breakfast designed to give us plenty of energy for the slopes and I was already thinking about what I would pack for lunch.   I was also mentally preparing myself because the temperature was forecasted to top out at 17 degrees in Sandpoint.  We could count on the top of the mountain being even colder.  I was mid-bite when Noel sat back in his chair and let out an “Oh No!” that likely our neighbors in the adjoining unit heard.  I waited, but he only stared at me.  Finally I said, “So…..?” 
“I forgot my ski clothes,” he said as he threw up his hands in disbelief. 
I think you can imagine the total silence that followed. 
When he again found his voice he said, “I can do it.  I’ll just layer a whole bunch of long underwear under my jeans and do the same under my down vest. 
“You don’t even have a coat?” I squeaked. 
“No.  I figured I’d just wear my vest over a sweater around town.   My ski clothes were in the other closet and I just got in a hurry when we left and….”  He didn’t need to finish.
“I can do this,” he said with finality.
“No you can’t,” I said with equal finality.  “It would work if it was in the 30’s.  Not today.”
We finished breakfast in silence as I thought about our options.  Although he didn’t say any more, I’m pretty sure Noel was thinking about how many layers he could conceivably put on.  I’m pretty sure that he was thinking about that because his jaw was firmly set and he had that “don’t mess with me or my plans” kind of look.
 But, I dove right in anyway.  “Why don’t we change things around a bit?  Let’s go cross-country skiing today and then see if we can borrow ski clothes from Neil.  We can ski Schweitzer tomorrow.”  Neil and his wife, Pat are our good friends who live in Sandpoint.  I could see that Noel was still working out the seven-layer underwear thing and he was about to reply when I cut him off.  “Just go take your shower and think about it.”  
Fortunately, he came out of the shower and said quietly, with more than a hint of defeat in his voice, “Okay, we can cross country today.”
I’ll admit it.  I was disappointed too.  It’s just that I was all set to go and the sun was shining so brightly and the snow was glistening and I really kind of felt “the need for speed.”  Switching gears is sometimes not so easy when we get so set on our plans.  I read one of those little wooden signs at the home decorating store the other day that said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  I should have bought it and hung it around my neck for days like today. 
But then, almost magically I felt my body relax.  No need to hurry and pack so that we could get up the mountain and get the good out of our very expensive lift tickets.  I could take my time and pack some extra treats to take in the backpack: a little hot chocolate, a few granola bars, a roasted chicken sandwich.  I realized that today would be a perfect day to wear my ridiculous new hat from Eddie Bauer.  (I bought it because I think it’s good to look ridiculous every once in a while, especially when I get caught up in my own importance.) And the more I fiddled around getting ready, doing a bit of this and a bit of that, the more I surrendered to the day.  Sometimes, you just have to realize that the universe has other plans. 
I used to brute force things more that I do now.  I would push and resist and squirm, determined to have my own way…determined to shape things into my mold.  I would try to charge up the mountain, often slipping back two feet for every step forward.  I would have been the first one figuring out how to layer enough underwear to keep warm in frigid temperatures.  It really never worked.  I just ended up frustrated and sometimes even bitter because I expended all this energy and nothing seemed to work out exactly the way I wanted.  I don’t know when I really started to understand that it’s just best to let go.  Even now, my first impulse is often to resist.  But, if I just stop and listen it’s just so much easier.  And in the end, it turns out so much better.  We might as well realize that the forces that propel us down certain paths are so much greater than our resistance. 
So, off we went to Farragut State Park, knowing that we would work up a sweat as we glided around miles of delightfully groomed trails.  No need for multiple layers for a cross country ski.  First, the ridiculous Eddie Bauer hat came off and then the coat.  And Noel stayed warm wearing only one layer of long underwear and his vest. 

There’s something so romantic about cross country skiing.  We saw only a few other folks, so it was just Noel and me and lots of crunchy snow and the deep, blue sky.  And as ice crystals and bits of snow drifted down from the trees above, it glittered like fairy dust in the sun.  

As I glided along on my very old wooden skies I imagined that I had suddenly been transported to the endless winter in the Land of Narnia.   I love snow and the way it highlights the form of the trees and the fence posts and the boulders.  And I love the way it muffles the sounds so that those that you do hear become more important…like the way that a whisper catches your attention better than a shout. 

And the fairy dust worked its magic on both of us as we simply let go of our ideas and opinions and plans and let the day overtake us. 

I was a bit ahead of Noel and was thinking that this day was an excellent start to the New Year when I looked up to see a sign that said “Highpoint Trailhead.”  I started to laugh and said out loud to any angels or spirits that happened to be around, “Alright guys, I get it. This is what I was supposed to do today. You don’t need to hit me over the head.”  And you know, this day really was the high point of our trip. 
And after three hours of playing in the snow we got back into the warm truck and Noel called our friend Neil.  I thought it was quite imaginative when he said into the phone, “So Neil, I’m collecting donations of old ski clothes for the AANRP.  Have you ever heard of that organization?  No?  Well, it’s the Aging Attorneys Not Remembering their own Parkas.  Do you have an extra I could borrow?”  And that led to a delightful time at Neil and Pat’s in front of their fire with their dog Sadie at our feet as we recounted our day and then talked of plans for the New Year.
And yes, we did get our day on the slopes with a warm, borrowed parka and with another blue sky and crisp, dry, powdery snow.  On the lift, Noel dug his camera out of his pocket and turned it to the video feature.  “This is Noel with a ‘woman on the chair lift interview’ at Schweitzer Mountain.  Tell me, miss, what run are you planning on making next?”  I made some remark about trying the Quicksilver Trail or something, but I should have said, “I think this time I’ll ski down the mountain.  It’s much easier that way.”