"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum

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Devil’s Kettle

We need the tonic of wildness. ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Four times a year I slip out over my lunch hour to have my hair cut. This may not sound like much, but for me it is a wonderful indulgence. I go to Urban Village SalonSpa, which is nestled in the heart of Cathedral Hill. My hairdresser and I have been together for seven years, and she is the only person in the entire world who is capable of taming my fine, frizzy hair into layers of manageable waves.

Over the course of our relationship, my hairdresser and I have discussed several subjects, ranging from our mutual love of cats to new recipes we tried to how both of us grew up near farmland in the Midwestern United States. One topic she mentioned that I found particularly intriguing is a geological mystery tucked away near the northernmost part of Minnesota’s North Shore: Devil’s Kettle. In addition to seeing an amazing natural phenomenon, my hairdresser recommended this as a must-do on my next trip Up North due to rumors that this remote area was a gangster hideout in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Devil’s Kettle is a gigantic sinkhole located in Judge C.R. Magney State Park, Minnesota. Judge C.R. Magney State Park, located 14 miles northeast of Grand Marais on Highway 61, has the Brule River flowing through the middle of it. Over the course of 8 miles, the Brule River drops 800 feet, creating several waterfalls. At Devil’s Kettle, the Brule River forks at a rocky outcrop of rhyolite, creating side-by-side waterfalls. One half of the Brule empties into nearby Lake Superior. The other waterfall is where the intrigue begins – the river pours into the kettle but we have yet to determine where it comes out.

As curiosity is part of human nature, we like to try to explain what we do not understand. An abundant number of theories exist about Devil’s Kettle, including underground caves, rivers, fault lines, and hollow lava tubes. Each theory, however, fails the test of reason due to both lack of evidence and the geology of the area. Rather than copy what others have written before, I included some websites at the bottom of this post for additional reading about the how and why of this phenomenon.

Tim and I decided to have an adventure last August during our annual trip to Grand Marais, and we checked out Devil’s Kettle. Devil’s Kettle is about a 1.5 mile hike from the parking area at the park entrance, and there are signs along the path and places to rest. While the hike is not a long one, and the path is well-maintained, there are a couple of staircases along the way. Recommended items for the hike include trail shoes, mosquito repellent, a wide-brim hat, water, and sunscreen. We also do a tick check each time we finish hiking through the woods.

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When we were half a mile from Devil’s Kettle, we arrived at the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls is easily accessible from the hiking trail, and you can walk down on the rocks by the Brule River. Tim and I took video of the Upper Falls, several photographs, and climbed around on the rocks for a while. You can pull up the videos we took by clicking on each of the following three pictures.

Upper Falls

Click on the picture to see video of the Upper Falls.

When Tim and I hiked the last half mile to Devil’s Kettle, my favorite part was hearing the waterfalls before actually being able to see them. Devil’s Kettle can be viewed only from a lookout point at a distance from the waterfall, probably to prevent visitors from throwing objects into the sinkhole or falling in themselves. Devil’s Kettle was beautiful, mesmerizing, and large. How often in our lives do we have two waterfalls in a single line of vision? The water was flowing so quickly and with such force that I did find myself wondering where all of it goes.

Devil's Kettle

Click on the picture to see video of Devil’s Kettle.

We also took a close-up video of the double waterfall to see the split more clearly.

Devil's Kettle close up

Click on the picture to see Devil’s Kettle close-up.

Can’t get enough waterfalls? Mother Nature Network has a must-see list of 14 amazing waterfalls located all over the world. If you are in the northeast United States, Niagara Falls is definitely one to visit. Having been on both the Canadian and American sides of Niagara, while both are breathtaking, I tend to agree with the common opinion that the Canadian falls are the better ones to visit. Next on my list are Havasu Falls located in Grand Canyon National Park. My boyfriend suggested we go as part of a romantic Western getaway, and I can hardly wait. However, while he lived in Grand Marais for a few years after graduating from college, he has never explored north of the town. When I found this out I told him that we should put Devil’s Kettle on our list of places to go and have an adventure in our own backyard.

Here is additional reading for more information on the mystery of Devil’s Kettle:

I hope you have yourself a happy exploration!



The Two Tests

The starting point of all achievement is desire. ~Napoleon Hill

My son Tim and I each passed a test last week. Each of our tests required months of preparation, learning bit by bit, with a large amount of practicing over and over again. The consequences of either of us passing either of our tests and making a mistake are potentially life threatening, and I told Tim repeatedly that if he does not pass the first time there is a good reason behind it. His test administrator wants to make sure he is safe and knowledgeable about the subject matter.

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Tim passed his driving test on the first try and received his Minnesota Driver’s License this week. Rock on, Tim! Many of my friends who remember when he was three years old and I would bring him to lab could not believe that he is Almost All Grown Up. I breathed a sigh of relief because our area is scheduled out for months for licensing exams, and if Tim didn’t pass this time he would be taking his driving test during the winter. When I mentioned that to the staff at the counter who helped Tim fill out his paperwork her response was, “Oh, no worries. We’ve tested people during snowstorms before and they did fine.” One of my technicians, who openly admits to being a terrible driver, also mentioned to me that she did not pass her licensing exam the first time yet the State of Minnesota sent her a driver’s license anyway. Not passing, however, simply meant that Tim would retake the test another time.

My test was not as big a deal yet opened up an entirely new world for me.


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Neither my friend nor I passed our lead belay test the first time, but we did pass on the second try. My boyfriend, who has been lead certified for Idon’tknowhowlong, was there both times, fully supportive, a little bit nervous, and trying to stay out of the way. My friend was devastated when she failed the first time. Me, not so much. One of our administrative assistants for the lab I work in mentioned a number of years ago that 99% of the experiments we as scientists set up fail, which is actually true. She admitted that she could never live with that much failure, which probably is for the best that she never went into science, because the bulk of it is about failing, and adapting, and retesting, and failing again.

I told my friend who took her failure so hard that she will not pass her test until the staff are confident that she knows what she is doing and is safe. I also prefer to make the bulk of my mistakes before anything becomes serious, and I mentioned that the more mistakes we make while preparing for our test, the better we will be for it. I would rather make a mistake before or during our test rather than halfway up an 50 foot cliff, for example.

I was prepared to give Tim the same advice when I took him for his driving test. This is actually a difficult exam in Minnesota, and many people do not pass it the first time. I knew he was a good driver, but I did not want him to get his hopes up. Instead, I told him to do his best and reminded him that if he does not pass, it’s no problem – we will simply sign him up again and practice what he needs to work on. I was nervous for him while waiting, and the butterflies in my stomach made me realize how much I want him to succeed in everything he works toward. I was so happy for him when he passed, and he even let me give him a big hug in the middle of the hallway before we went in to fill out his paperwork.

Tim has been successful in so many small ways in his life. These are events that often go unnoticed, and for some people, are expected to happen as part of daily life. When Tim was smaller and went through weeks of not being able to control himself, a success was getting through an entire school day without the principal calling me at work. Last year Tim worked a part-time job in his school’s store, and we celebrated his first paycheck. Now that he has his driver’s license he will apply for another part-time job at the teeny tiny family-owned grocery store down the road from our house. The sign on their door reads “Stock boy wanted…no grouches!” which indicates that, if Tim gets the job, a cheerful and enthusiastic attitude will be a must-have. A month ago Tim took the ACT exam in preparation for college. As the nervous parent who waited in the chilly car for a full 15 minutes AFTER the exam starts Just In Case something happened and Tim needed to come back out, I was nearly in tears because I was so happy that the world of a college education is an attainable goal for my son.

The driver’s license was a publicly known success for Tim, which made me very happy for him. He was proud of himself, he knew he had worked hard for it, and he watched how his efforts paid off. For 16-year-old Tim, this privilege indicates independence, self-sufficiency, and now, finally, a fully justified need for a cell phone.



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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~ Albert Camus

The Boyfriend and I made plans to sneak away on a Friday afternoon for a romantic adventure. Between his two children, my teenager, him traveling for work, me simply working long hours this month, and him caught up in evening meetings organizing one of our area’s largest fall running races ever, we had gone for several days without spending time together as Just The Two Of Us. Group activities with friends are great, but we were really feeling the need for some time alone.

Beware: Our idea of romance may not appeal to everyone, especially my closest girlfriends. He suggested hiking at one of our state parks and supper afterward. While hiking through the woods makes some of my girlfriends cringe, I thought it was a wonderful idea. For supper I decided to put something in the Crock-Pot, and we built a fire in my backyard and ate outdoors by candlelight (again, the cringing by my girlfriends) since the sun sets oh so early now this far up north. Everything put together made for an intimate, lovely evening.

The site of our hike was Afton State Park, which is full of beautiful trails overlooking the St. Croix River. Afton has woods, ravines, prairies, beaches, and natural rock formations. A hike-in campground which is perfect for those who wish to practice backpacking with small children before doing the real thing. There are also four cabins located near the campsites which are available year-round.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some photographs of Afton. If you live in the Twin Cities area, hurry – the colors are nearly gone! Several of us have commented on how fortunate we are to have had a long, warm, sunny fall this year. Enjoy🙂 .


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The Light Rail

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. ~ Martin Buber

This past Saturday morning started bright and beautiful, he with tea and me with coffee, sitting on the top floor deck worshiping what brief summer sun Minnesota still has to offer. For the first time in two months, there were no small or large children present, no parents, no chores, no groceries to be shopped for, and no schedule. Then he looked at me and posed the question:

What should we do today?


I voted for an afternoon adventure on the newly built light rail. And off we went.

Metro Transit now has a Green Line light rail connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis. In addition to connecting the Twin Cities by public transit, other goals included 1) providing college students an easy way to travel to the University of Minnesota, 2) revitalizing St. Paul’s University Avenue, 3) providing people living in the area who do not own cars a means of travel to and from shops, and 4) working toward a greener forms of public transportation.

Our trip from St. Paul to Minneapolis took approximately 45 minutes on the light rail. Traveling the entire length of the Green Line takes approximately an hour. The stations are clean, easy to find, and have heat lamps for the winter months. You can pay by cash or credit card, and while tickets are usually not checked, every now and then security monitors passengers to ensure everyone has paid.

The Green Line traveling east along University Avenue.

The Green Line traveling east along University Avenue.

On our way to Minneapolis, I noticed that a lot of the stores along University Avenue are vacant. I also saw some of my favorite places to eat, shop, and play, which rolled by every few minutes. Before we dive into my personal best of the best locally-owned locales, major stops along the light rail include

I noticed several passengers on the rail with shopping bags, books, and other assorted items that one would find at a larger store. The light rail already appears to be extremely useful for people who may not want to drive or who may not own a car yet need to get their week to week shopping done. There were also several bicycles, wheelchairs, and strollers present, which again convinced me that this is definitely becoming a convenient and hopefully preferred form of transportation around the Twin Cities.

Now time for the list of my must-see, must-do loves along University Avenue…next time you are on the Green Line, consider stopping to check some of these out.

Bangkok Cuisine

Bangkok Cuisine…mmmmm.

Bangkok Cuisine Thai Food (432 University Ave W, St. Paul) – Words do not exist to describe how delicious this food is. Bangkok Cuisine is easy to miss, so I included a photo. A large lot behind offers free parking, and a bakery is also immediately adjacent to the restaurant. While everything on the menu is delicious, our favorites include the Green Curry, the Garlic Dinner with beef, Pad Prik with chicken, and their Pho.

Shuang-Hur Oriental Market (654 University Avenue W, St. Paul) – Shuang-Hur is my favorite grocery in St. Paul. The produce section is enormous with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are well-priced. The selection of meat changes frequently, and over the years I have found everything ranging from whole shrimp to pork steak to goat to chicken breasts that cost half of what the neighboring groceries charge. The frozen section is well stocked with spring rolls and dumplings of all sorts, and we also purchase our rice here.

Midway Used and Rare Books (1579 University Ave, St. Paul) – This is a dangerous store for me to step into because I tend to lose myself. For hours. The book selection is enormous with over 50,000 titles and contains almost anything you can imagine. I dare you to go and try to set a 15-minute time limit on your browsing.

Ax-Man Surplus Store (1639 University Ave, St. Paul) – The sky is the limit for what you can find here. This store sells surplus merchandise from other retailers and odds ‘n’ ends of all sorts. The inventory changes, so of course you need to go on a regular basis. One of my girlfriend’s most recent find was a piece of $0.88 of open-cell foam that she is going to turn into a backpacking pillow and a $1.95 table map to turn into wrist wraps.

Espresso Expose (600 Washington Ave SE, Minneapolis) – I have been going to this Stadium Village coffee shop ever since I moved to the Twin Cities in 1997. Located on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota, Espresso Expose is across the street from the Fairview medical complex, which includes the hospital, dental school, research laboratories, and classrooms. While the decor has changed over the years and sandwiches have been added to the menu, what keeps me coming back are the unique coffee creations. Try a Roadrunner for a quick pick-me-up or a Rocket Fuel if a dire need for a shot of caffeine arises.

Weisman Art Museum (333 East River Road, Minneapolis) – The Weisman Art Museum, which opened in 1993, has a wide diversity of exhibitions. Permanent collections include Modernism, Korean Furniture, Ceramics, and Mimbres Pottery. There is also a program for Public Art on Campus, which can be found at over 30 locations around the University of Minnesota. The museum also offers internship opportunities and student job positions throughout the year.

Midwest Mountaineering (309 Cedar Ave South, Minneapolis) – Immediately west of the West Bank of the University of Minnesota, Midwest Mountaineering is your store for the outdoors. The calendar of events includes yoga, educational classes, bouldering, and much more. Sign up on the store’s mailing list to receive promotions for sales and specials which happen throughout the year. My favorite coupons are the ones for a free pair of SmartWool socks with an additional purchase.

Brit's Pub, Minneapolis

Brit’s Pub, Minneapolis

So where was our final destination on that sunny Saturday afternoon? It was Nicollet Mall in Minnepolis. After arriving at our stop, we walked six blocks southeast down Nicollet Avenue to Brit’s Pub, where we enjoyed a Strongbow Cider and a Fuller’s ESB on the rooftop patio. This was the first time we had been to Brit’s in four years. What had prevented us from going was the idea of driving from one Twin Cities downtown to another, then finding and paying for parking, then walking, then doing it all over again on the way home. The light rail provided us with a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to travel from St. Paul to Minneapolis and home again all in an afternoon.

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The Explorers

A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things. ~ Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Lake Superior, Minnesota side

Lake Superior, Grand Marais, Minnesota

Last week I spent my lunch hour and beyond discussing my career path with the sweetest fourteen-year-old I have ever met. She will be starting high school this fall and is interested in a career in biomedical engineering. One of my coworkers had her tour our company for a day, meeting with people from different functions, to help her see what The Real World is like and hopefully glean some advice and guidance.

One question curious minds frequently ask me is how I got to where I am today in my career. The general assumption always seems to be that I made some kind of conscious effort or decision to move in a certain direction. I have moved, but not in a deliberate, well-planned-out-kind-of-way. Rather, during my time working in industry, I have gravitated toward where I am most comfortable. Here is a biology analogy to help explain:

No energy expenditure for me so far.

The sciencey explanation of my career path.

The cells of your body have different transport mechanisms to move molecules in and out. Active transport requires energy, which is ATP (thus the lightening bolt). Passive transport does not require energy, and molecules tend to move from higher to lower areas of concentration. If you think of a crowded party, active transport could be the host or hostess packing everyone into one corner like sardines. The diffusion form of passive transport is where people disperse themselves more evenly depending on where the food or music is. Facilitated diffusion would be where the host takes one or two people and moves them to another part of the room.

Diffusion allows molecules to go where they are most comfortable, where they would naturally be found in an environment. They stop moving when they reach an equilibrium, which is a state of balance. While all forms of transport in and out of a cell require movement, some expend more energy than others. There is also only so much energy to go around.

My energy for the past almost sixteen years has been used up exclusively in raising my son. While I enjoy my job and do my best every day, I have not performed extraordinary feats of energy expenditure to move up in the company. If I did, I would be exhausted, burned out, and not a good parent or role model. I do not tell people this, especially fourteen-year-old children who are just starting their careers, when I first meet them and they ask about my career path. I actually don’t mention this to my best friends. The only way people notice is by paying close attention to where my own attentions lie.

So if I don’t tell people that actively pushing myself forward in my career would have resulted in my becoming a perpetual Medusa day in and day out, what do I tell them?

Here it is.

I went to graduate school for cancer biology. When I had permission from my thesis committee to begin writing my thesis and look for jobs, here were my options:

1) Stay in academia. No way Jose. At the time, the NIH funding rate for grants was at a low of approximately 10%. That means that for every 1000 grants submitted, only 10 were being funded. As a single parent, there was no way I was going to take a chance on an academic career. Tenure at an academic institution is based largely on how many grants you have funded and how many publications you have in scientific journals, and the first five years can be rough. I knew if I went into academia I would have no time left over for my home life.

2) Teach at a liberal arts institution. This was a definite possibility, except that jobs are highly competitive and few and hard to find due to the fact that they are really good jobs. A liberal arts college or university usually has smaller class sizes, and as an instructor you have the opportunity to become closely involved with your students and in campus life. My last year of graduate school I taught Advanced Microbiology at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and loved it. Several years later, I am still in touch with several of the students who were in my class. Since we were close in age when I taught them, they are now my friends.

3) Do a post-doctoral fellowship for the government. I interviewed for several NIH positions in several parts of the United States. If you want a post-doctoral fellowship that offers you a lot of career options upon finishing, I would highly recommend looking at the NIH. The military also has post-doctoral fellowships, and one of the perks about working on a base is that, as an employee, you may enjoy the same benefits the soldiers do. I almost went to work for the NIH, but then this happened….

4) Go into industry, which is what I did. My graduate school advisor told me repeatedly that this was a definite yes based on my personality and the way I worked in lab, but being who I am I didn’t listen to him. The way I got my industry position is also kind of a fluke, which has started to make me feel a bit guilty when trying to give other scientists advice on how to get into industry. One afternoon while filling out NIH applications, an email popped up in my inbox from my advisor. He had forwarded me a note from the chair of the department with a job opening in a local industrial corporation. On a whim I submitted my resume, and thank goodness the hiring manager couldn’t open it the first time because when I showed it to my advisor he freaked out and made me revise and resend it. When the hiring manager opened it the second time, he called me the next day to come interview for the position. I was one of four applicants, and I ended up being the person who got the job.

I didn’t get my industry job based on my scientific skill set. I was offered the job for two reasons:

  • First, I interviewed very well. Social skills, as I told my fourteen-year-old lunch companion, are critical to having a successful scientific career. You can be the most brilliant scientific mind in your field, but if you are unable to communicate both verbally and through writing and / or get along with your coworkers and / or represent your company in a professional manner and /or resolve conflict when it arises, and I promise you it will, forget the job offer.
  • Second, I was my advisor’s first graduate student. As the first graduate student, I had my choice of projects, which was wonderful. I also spent an inordinate amount of time helping get the lab set up and running. I trained most of the undergraduates, ran our facilities and ordered supplies when we were between technicians, and actually had a large say in the research direction the lab took based on how my thesis project shook out.

Now we are at the point where I am a cancer biologist working at an adhesives company. I have been at this company for almost a decade, and I have never once been in danger of losing my job, or if I have, no one told me about it. I always have more than enough projects to work on, and three of those have turned into actual products that our company sells. If I do happen to have a few slow weeks, the curious cat part of me starts noodling around with my coworkers to come up with new ideas. Sometimes I have a specific project to work on, but usually it’s more of a concept, a vision that someone has in his or her head. My job is to make it happen and dictate size, shape, color, smell, and so on. The best part of my job is that I learn something new every day.

I spent the first four years of my industrial career in lab, all the time, every day. I love working in lab. Cell culture is meditative to me, with all of the repetition and routine. Trying new procedures and tweaking old ones, such as ELISAs, are always fun. If you need things to work the first time, every time, lab may not be the right place for you to be. For me, however, a failed experiment meant one option crossed off the list and new avenues to explore. The best part is when you get a result and think to yourself, “Hmmm…this is…interesting.” And then the next experiment blossoms up in your mind.

The way I left lab was very circuitous and not something I planned. It was passive, not active. I was assigned as the technical lead on a major program for our group, and in addition to the lab work, I started organizing our weekly meetings. I also became the person who wrote the technical updates, made update slides in Powerpoint when our manager needed them, and putting together our project reviews. I made sure the team stayed on task, kept to our timeline, and maintained good communication with the product development part of our company. If this is sounding less and less like a techie position and more like Project Management, you are spot on. The best part was that I was unwittingly evolving into a Project Manager. A part of myself that I never knew existed had emerged.

After our team finished that project, I started looking around for something new to do and went back into lab. That lasted all of three months until my technical manager asked me to initiate a new platform. A platform consists of several inter-related products, so by saying yes to the request, I knew that I would be unofficially stepping out of my technical role and into a full time Project Management position. The caveat, however, is that the part of the company I was in rated the employees on technical accomplishments. There was no Project Management career path, only technical or supervisory. I believe in bringing my genuine, true, and honest self to every situation, however, so I began managing our platform. The best part was helping advance the careers of the scientists on my team and watching the project progress.

It all paid off because I was offered the job I have now for two reasons:

  • First, I have an excellent track record as a Project Manager, previously unrecognized as it may have been. My teams function well together. We communicate at all levels, from our summer interns up to our most important stakeholders. I figure out what my assigned scientists excel at and help them succeed in their own careers. The projects I manage stay organized, on schedule, and we deliver sound technologies that are able to be commercialized. I also do not fear conflict and try to use it to strengthen our team instead of letting it tear us apart.
  • Second, I am a risk taker. I do not always do what everyone else does, and often I go on my own way, about my own business, and keep time to my own music. This is not hostile, rebellious, or disrespectful on my part. It is simply part of who I am. I started performing a Project Management function because that is where I was able to offer the most support to my team. I have gone against the grain like this multiple times in my career, often in small ways. Sometimes it is noticed, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it does not. When taking a risk works in your favor, however, the results can be significantly life changing.

Now after over half a decade of Project Management under my belt, I am considering yet another transition into Technical Management. After being at my company for only two years, my supervisor at the time strongly encouraging me to go into Technical Management. I did not actively pursue that career path at the time because it felt like a forced fit. I wanted more time to be in the laboratory running experiments and figuring out where I fit in and what I wanted to do with my career. Now, years later, the opportunity for Technical Management has been offered to me again, and this time I am strongly considering taking it. The position is not something I sought out. It came to me because I have a strong network of coworkers throughout the company. Networking is a critical component of career success in any organization, and it isn’t always the quantity of people you know. Sometimes a few excellent connections is all it takes.

My fourteen-year-old left with a big smile on her face and shining eyes after we walked up from my building’s cafeteria through some of the labs on my floor. She saw her future unfolding before her, knowing that she had a lot of work and dedication to do to reach her goals. This is where all of the best parts of all of the bits and pieces of my career add up to one Big Beautiful Best Of Everything – watching a fledgling scientist dip her toes in the water and wonder what lies on the other side of the shore.



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The Beautiful Surprise

She discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them. ~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera 

Parenting has no road map because it is a unique experience for everyone involved. No two relationships are the same, and what works for one child may not work for the other. As we go through life, each of us continually becomes reshaped and redefined based on our environment and our experiences. To have an end goal for raising a child often feels like a moving target to me. When all is said and done, this is what I want for my son Tim:

I want my son

To become a responsible adult

Who is capable of holding a job and living independently

And enjoys life to its fullest

Surrounding himself with people who love him.

As Tim’s mother, I by default am one of those people who love him, and I certainly hope he wants me to be around him. Tim and I have fun together, for example

Tim and me on the way to my youngest brother's wedding.

Tim and me on the way to my youngest brother’s wedding.

We were just getting started on that afternoon. What I love most about being with Tim is that he and I share a special connection. We understand each other’s jokes, moods, body language, and communicate both verbally and nonverbally. We are in sync. We get each other. One afternoon, when I walked through the front door after a long day at work, Tim took one look at me and said, “Mom, you need a hug.” Then this teenager who has a personal space bubble the width of the Grand Canyon proceeded to walk over, put his arms around me, and squeeze. I looked up at him, my son, who is now inches taller than I am, and said, “How did you know I needed that?” He just knew.

Tim and I no longer have a parent-child relationship the way we used to when he was younger. He is the most well behaved teenager I have ever met. When I was fifteen years old my parents probably thought my primary objective was giving them heads full of gray hair and worry lines across their brow. Not the case with Tim. As a result, the relationship he and I share is evolving into something quite unexpected. We are becoming friends.

Being my son’s friend is a strange concept to me. I have always approached our relationship as his parent, which means that I am his

“Friend” was never part of the relationship until recently. Many of the words that I used to define my role as Tim’s parent also overlap with synonyms for friend, such as





While I will always be Tim’s parent, the added dimension of friendship provides a depth and roundness to the love that already exists between us. Seeing the first buds of friendship in the relationship that Tim and I share is a most wonderful, delightful, delicious surprise. One of the best that life has offered so far.


The Big Push

I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air
So there
We’re on each other’s team
~ Lorde, Team

Screws in shoes

Screws in shoes

Spring is coming very slowly to Minnesota, in drips and drags, which means that soon I can begin running outdoors again. In anticipation of still snowy paths and icy patches, I modified an old pair of shoes to prevent me from slipping. To make your own, predrill holes in the soles and then insert small screws until they are about ¼” from being completely screwed into the shoe. I have found that this modification works better than boots or Yaktrax for gripping slippery places of the trail.

Last fall I promised my boyfriend that I would stop running half marathons. When I returned to his house in ice cube form after my late October one, he took me in with one glance and said, “You don’t look good.”  I told him, “I tore the bottoms of my feet on the big hill after Mile 11,” to which he grimaced and replied, “I don’t think you should run any more long races.” Upstairs in the shower, sitting with my head between my knees while the hot water warmed me up, I told myself that he was right. Why do I do things like this? Why race? Why compete? What am I trying to prove?

The point is not to compete or prove anything. I run because I love the combined mental and physical challenge. I knew the hill was coming after Mile 11, and, having run it in previous races, I knew what I was in for. The elevation increases by 100 feet within half a mile, and most of us choose to run it. I pushed myself because I knew after the hill I had less than two miles to the finish. At that point it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until the end. So close, and so tired, but nothing compares to crossing the finish line and knowing that I had accomplished my goal despite the voices in my head and the physical ache. Now spring is coming, fall is far behind me, and I am once again ready and eager to begin training.

“I’ve never had anyone do this that quickly.”

Our clinical study site.

Our clinical study site.

That statement was not made in response to my running. I’m a middle-of-the-pack kind of girl, each and every race. My son Tim recently participated in a clinical study on memory. This study is part of an ongoing research program by a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who studies the relationship between attention and autism. For an hour of Tim’s time once or twice a year, he earns $10 each session and enjoys being the center of attention. He does computer simulations, looks through diagrams, adds and subtracts, and recalls images and patterns. Everything is timed which helps provide statistical information. In his most recent clinical study, I overheard the doctor make the above comment when Tim was doing a number puzzle.

The clinical studies are usually done at our home or at the University. We tend to flip flop depending on our schedules. The first time our doctor came to our home for a study was approximately three years ago when Tim was in seventh grade. At the end of the study, she took a few minutes to talk to me with her recommendations. Her advice was that Tim should be taking college courses, not withering away in a middle school classroom. She stressed that intellectually he was ready for college and keeping him where he was would not be beneficial to him. I agreed but didn’t know how to start the conversation with the staff at the public school he attended.

This is an example of one of the patterns Tim had to copy using blocks.

An example of a pattern Tim copied during his clinical study using blocks. You can purchase this and other puzzles at Marbles located at the Mall of America.

Now Tim is in tenth grade and will begin taking college courses next fall in Animal Science as part of his regular school day. At our most recent IEP meeting, his teacher, staff, father, and I discussed him starting college early. We were all in agreement, and this would not be happening if we were not all on the same team. Tim’s teacher commented that she is reaching the point where she has nothing left to teach him, and it is time for him to begin transitioning to college. Tim will be taking one college course each semester, and by the time he graduates from high school he will already have four college courses in Animal Science on his transcript.

I wasn’t sure any of this would ever happen. When Tim started middle school three years ago, I participated in some workshops for parents of special needs children that his school generously set up. One moderator made this remark to our group that has since tumbled around in my head:

“Your child is not entitled to the best education possible. Rather, he or she is entitled to an education that is appropriate for his or her needs.”

As difficult as this is to hear, it is true. Reading it in writing makes me cringe. Not every person is meant to go to college, just as not every person is meant to get married, have children, travel the world, be an athlete, raise chickens, you get the point. I started to hold the thought in my heart that Tim may not go to college. Mentally I was Mile 7-8 of 13 miles, where you’ve come a long way, but you’re starting to feel tired, your feet are starting to ache, and you are well aware you still have a long way to go toward your goal.

Now we’re at Mile 11 with Tim regarding his childhood. The final part is one last push toward college, and then he enters the next phase of his life as an adult. The hill I had been fearing for years is no longer insurmountable. We just have to dig deep and run up it. Tim has come so far, and both his teacher and I have seen enormous mental and emotional maturity in him this past year. Even though Tim is nearly good to go, this is no time to rest. We have SATs and ACTs to prepare for, colleges to visit, applications to write, and choices to make. And what an exciting and delightful time it will be.

Here are some websites that may be helpful in researching colleges for students who fall on the autism spectrum:

  • AHEADD – Achieving In Higher Education (http://www.aheadd.org/): Provides coaching, mentoring, and self-advocacy for students with special needs.)
  • USCAP – US College Autism Project (http://www.usautism.org/uscap/): Provides support for students on the autism spectrum to help ensure they have both a successful college experience and a successful transition to the working world after graduation.
  • ISER – Internet Special Education Resources (www.iser.com): List of college programs to help students with the transition to college, independent living, college planning, and much more.
  • College Lists (http://collegelists.pbworks.com/): Nationwide list of colleges that have support programs for students with a former diagnosis of Asperger’s. Augsburg College (http://www.augsburg.edu/) is one of them if you live in the Twin Cities.