"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


2 Comments

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.

 

 


1 Comment

Why I Run

I tried carrying the weight of the world. But I only have two hands. ~ Wake Me Up, Avicii

This is the last hill!

You’re almost there!

Keep going!

View of the finish line from the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota (http://www.flickr.com/photos/stonebridgedapper/5073429919/ )

2010 photo of the finish line as viewed from the Minnesota State Capitol. The Cathedral of St. Paul is in the background. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ stonebridgedapper/5073429919/

Those were the last words I heard from the spectators before turning onto John Ireland Boulevard and seeing the finish line in front of the Minnesota State Capitol. I ran down the road, waved to my parents at the TV cameras, and stepped on the pad that marked my time. Ten miles had passed by in what seemed like no time at all as I ran with 8500 other people from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul as part of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend.

My morning started at 5am. I rolled out of bed, put my running clothes on, and drove to my girlfriend’s house in Minneapolis. We walked two blocks from her house to catch the city bus to the light rail station. When we arrived at the light rail, we stood waiting with other runners who were still groggy with sleep and huddled under the heat lamps. The light rail dropped us off in front of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis at 6:20am, where the Medtronic TC 10 Mile race began. We were all divided into corrals based on our estimated pace time. As we sorted ourselves out, most of us were jumping up and down to ward off the morning chill.

My girlfriend was worried about the race. She had given birth three months before and was still recovering. We both knew I would finish before her, so we chose a meeting spot in front of the State Capitol Building in downtown St. Paul. As our corral was told to approach the starting line a few minutes after 7am, my final words to her before breaking into a run were “This is going to be an awesome race. I can feel it.”

I was right. The race was absolutely beautiful. After the first few miles our course followed the last six to seven miles of the marathon, which started an hour behind us at 8am. During my run I saw downtown Minneapolis still slumbering (if that’s possible!), I ran along the Mississippi River on both the west and east banks, I saw the sky change from dark to dawn over the Stone Arch Bridge, and when we turned onto Summit Avenue in St. Paul, I was greeted with a face full of bright morning sun. Summit Avenue, a pristinely tree-lined avenue of Victorian homes, was a steady uphill for five miles until half a mile before the finish. There were spectators along the entire course, and their cheers and continual words of encouragement made me feel like I was doing something phenomenal.

The finish line with the Minnesota State Capitol in the background. https://www.tcmevents.org/blog/2013/08/30/259/the_road_to_the_starting_line

The finish line with the Minnesota State Capitol in the background. https://www.tcmevents.org/blog/2013/08/30/259/ the_road_to_the_starting_line

The best part about running that morning was that before I started I had made a decision. My decision was to let things go. This was my day to trade mental baggage, remorse, grudges and resentment for the physical bumps and aches that come with distance running. After this run, there was no more carrying the world on my back. No more continuously pushing mental boulders uphill like Sisyphus. No more negativity. No more blaming other people for my misfortunes or unhappiness.

Between Miles 4-8 I ran every bit of mental clutter into the ground. When it was gone, my feet were getting sore they way they always do around Mile 7, and I had soaked my clothes with sweat despite the cool morning, but mentally I was light as a bird and felt part of myself take flight. I waved to my girlfriend’s husband who was watching with their baby at the Lexington Parkway and Summit Avenue intersection and told him that she was back there somewhere but doing great. I watched out for one of my other girlfriends who was at the last mile marker with a cowbell.

Then there was the last hill. And the turn. And the finish line with the State Capitol spread behind it. And as I crossed the finish line with a newly clean mind and heart I thought to myself, “This is why I run.”

  • The annual Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon has been named the Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America. The 10 Mile Race isn’t too shabby, either. For more information on the marathon weekend, which drew approximately 28,000 runners total, click on on https://www.tcmevents.org/events/medtronic_twin_cities_marathon_weekend/. In addition to the Marathon and the 10 Mile Race, the weekend also has a 10K and a 5K Run/Walk. Family Events include a Mile, Half Mile, Diaper Dash, Toddler Trot, and Mascot Invitational.
  • Kare11 (NBC) streamed the finish line for the 10 Mile and Marathon live on race day on their website (www.kare11.com). You can  still watch the finishers by clicking on their video archive at http://www.kare11.com/news/article/1041585/396/Find-your-finish-at-the-TC-Marathon.
  • YouTube also has video footage for races of all sorts sponsored by Twin Cities In Motion at http://www.youtube.com/TCMRuns.
  • Twin Cities In Motion has events year-round for people of all athletic abilities and ages. Check them out at https://www.tcmevents.org/.


Leave a comment

The Wash

I felt as if I had washed a tub full of sheets but not got them clean. ~ Girl With A Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier

This describes how I feel raising a child with special needs. You do everything properly, based on a combination of experience, instinct, and advice, only to discover that nothing is as it should be. Then you do everything again, expecting a different result, only to find the same challenges waiting for you. Ultimately, you exhaust yourself with the effort of trying to produce the wanted result in an environment where what you want to do is not possible. Adjustments on your part as the parent become necessary.

While autism doesn’t wash off, as Tim grows older, life becomes more manageable for him (and me). The key is to leverage his strengths instead of trying to change his nature. We had a meeting with his teacher and special education support staff at his school last week, and for once I had nothing to say. This is a good thing because if I go into one of these meetings with questions and concerns, and those go unanswered or pushed aside, the ugly, harsh, protective momma bird side of me that is tucked well away 99.9% of the time flares out in a split second, scorching everyone in its path. However, our most recent meeting was entirely unlike that. Tim has made so much progress this school year that I sat, flabbergasted, as his school staff had nothing but positive remarks to make.

Tim’s teacher mentioned that Tim becomes short when some of his classmates don’t understand or follow her directions. She said that sometimes she will be in a huddle with Tim’s classmates, explaining something to them over and over again, and finally Tim will have had enough, stick his head into the huddle, and tell his classmates what to do, how to do it, and how ignorant they are behaving. His teacher was laughing as she told us this incident. Working full-time with special needs teenagers requires the ability to emotionally bounce, and this often means good-naturedly keeping the day-to-day classroom situations as light as possible.

*Deep breath on my part because I know that Tim knows better than to speak to other people this way.*

Here’s what we decided to do. I knew that we needed to leverage rather than force Tim to change, because he ain’t changing. He is who he is. I suggested that what I see is a feature of Tim that can be used as a strength. He definitely had leadership abilities, and his classmates listen to him. What we, as the adults in his life, need to do is help him develop these abilities as positive parts of his personality. Not everyone is meant to lead. You need followers, too, but Tim has never been a follower. He, like a lot of people with Asperger’s, takes in an entire situation instantanously, which means that he is ready to go in the blink of an eye. He doesn’t need time to digest instructions or decide what to do. He knows it immediately. As a team we decided that next school year Tim will be ready for one of the many jobs his school offers. For example, he could work in the cafeteria, help with janitorial tasks, or assist in the school store. Starting him out on small tasks will help boost his self-confidence and hopefully start to develop his leadership traits positively.

The evening after our meeting at school I stopped by Daniel’s house for a few hours to help him set up for Peanut’s seventh birthday party. Yes, Peanut is seven years old. I came into his life when he was 2½, and how time does fly. This year Peanut wanted a Lego-themed birthday party, so we had Lego birthday decorations, Lego presents, and a Lego cake. If your little one wants a Lego birthday party like Peanut did, you can purchase a Lego party kit through Target’s website (www.target.com). The options include Lego Star Wars and Lego City. Anyway, the first task I tackled when I arrived at Daniel’s house was assembling Peanut’s Lego birthday cake.

Lego cake.

Lego cake.

After mixing up the frosting colors, I started smiling as I began icing the bricks. I knew the dark colors would temporarily stain all the children’s teeth, which always makes for a fun event. It made me of the quote I read in Tracy Chevalier’s book and how some things in life are easier to tackle than others. Since Tim and I had the weekend together, I wasn’t able to actually attend Peanut’s party the next day, which left Daniel in a tizzy because he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with six hyperactive first grade boys for two hours. Before I left, we put together a couple of Lego-themed games and I told him if all else fails wing it and let them do free play. When I saw him Sunday afternoon and asked him how Peanut’s party went, he told me that the cake frosting stained all the boys’ teeth, and they kept smiling at each other to show off their blue, green, and red grins. No one chose the brick frosted with white for some reason 🙂 . I told Daniel how happy I was that Peanut had a wonderful birthday party, and that the frosting colors would wash off the boys’ teeth.

As Autism Awareness Month is drawing to a close, I wish to give encouragement to all parents, siblings, friends, and caregivers of people with autism or an autism spectrum disorder. Sometimes there are no easy solutions for the challenges that our loved ones face. The situations that arise from having special needs don’t wash away, and I don’t think they should be expected to. People come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and functionalities, much like Lego bricks, so why would we want to change that? Tim likes himself just as he is, as do I, and I am excited about helping him develop his strengths as he is becomes a young adult.


Leave a comment

The Windy City

Jump start my heart. ~ Natalie Cole

I forgot how much I love Chicago. Growing up a mere three hour drive away from the Windy City meant school trips to places like the Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry. When I moved to northwest Indiana for college, we would to go Chinatown for the day which included eating at the House of Fortune and purchasing large quantities of tea and rice for next to nothing.

This past weekend I was in Chicago for a wound healing conference. This was a smaller meeting, maybe 1000 people at the most, and it was an interesting combination of scientists (like me), physicians, students, and nurses. As I sat through the symposia, which ran from about 8 am – 6 pm each day, I started to realize that wound healing research is about 20 years behind cancer research. The main problem with treating wounds appears to be a lack of knowledge behind what goes wrong when a wound doesn’t heal. While researchers are working as quickly as they can to find biomarkers for wound diagnostics, there are only so many hours in a day and days in a week.

One speaker posted the following quote in his talk:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. ~ Charles Darwin

My mind immediately jumped from wound biology to my son Tim. How appropriate for him, I thought. I wonder if this is why autism is on the rise – in today’s world people with this diagnosis need to be adaptable. They need to learn to blend in with the rest of us in order to do everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, driving a car, and having a conversation with someone they just met. This adaptability is key for survival, and if those of us classified as neurotypical have no need to adapt, according to Charles Darwin we will eventually be weeded out of the general population.

In addition to mental bendability, people need physical flexibility as well. This was a common theme throughout the sessions…people learning to live with limitations after enduring a trauma or a disease. As part of the conference one morning about a dozen of us hopped on a shuttle to the University of Chicago Medical Center to see the da Vinci Surgical System. The da Vinci robot is capable of performing minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, and it is used to treat conditions such as cancer, obesity, and heart disease. I had surgery done using this system last fall, and while I had healed up physically, there were still some mental cobwebs lurking in my mind. My problem was that during surgery my doctor cut an artery which resulted in a lot of blood loss. I had nightmares from this for months, where I would dream about blurry shadows suddenly moving around me very quickly and talking very loudly while I laid immobilized and unable to communicate.

The University of Chicago has two da Vinci robots, one for training and one for surgeries. We saw the robot used for training, and when I walked in I first noticed the really cool looking rubber gadgets on the operating table. After the doctor giving the tour explained how the robot works, we each took a turn sitting at the console and moving the arms. Surprisingly operating the robot feels like using your own two hands. Once we got used to the controls pads, we picked up rings, threaded needles and tied sutures. As I picked up rings and stacked them on a little rubber pillar, I felt something heal up in my mind. I was able to fully appreciate how skilled my surgeon is and how fortunate I was to have my tumor removed using this system.

The last morning of the conference one of the speakers organized a run to raise money for wound healing research. A group of us met in the hotel lobby at 6 am and walked together down to Navy Pier, where we had a quick 5K out and back along the Lakefront Trail. The weather was perfect, and the sun had just risen as we started our race at 6:30 am. I ran on the boardwalk by Lake Michigan, and due to how the trail curves, I had a view of the water the entire way out. At our turnaround point, we were greeted by a sleepy 18-year-old with water, and then it was back to Navy Pier.

I finished in almost exactly 26 minutes, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had won an award. I haven’t won an award for anything remotely athletic since third grade. It turns out that I came in second for the female finishers, and the woman who finished before me was the organizer who runs marathons. She gave me a certificate that I have posted in my office at work to remind myself that everyone is capable of achieving more than he or she thinks they are able to. Sometimes you also need to push yourself, and you may need to adapt. I usually run longer distances at a slower pace, but for this race I thought I would see how fast I could go.

Chicago – I have been away from you for far too long. I promise I will come visit again soon, when I have ample time to walk the Magnificent Mile, tour numerous museums, hang out along Lake Michigan, and see everything I want to see. I promise you, I will be back.


Leave a comment

Fusion Cuisine

Don’t keep searching for the truth, just let go of your opinions. ~ The Buddha

Daniel and I have an ongoing controversy with no clear resolution in sight. It is about the Food Network television show Chopped, where chefs compete to create an edible meal out of a basket of mystery ingredients. The premise is more challenging than it sounds since, for example, you may be asked to create a dessert using spaghetti or a main course containing fiddlehead ferns. Daniel introduced me to the show when we were first dating. I came over to his house one evening to discover that he had a limited food supply with which to cook supper. He asked me if I had ever watched Chopped, and I said um, no, and he told me that he had literally four ingredients in his entire house with which to make a meal, so I could pretend like I was practicing for the show. At this point I was thinking, “Weirdo……” but I acquiesced and managed to eke out something edible.

Over the years Daniel and I have had the discussion several times about whether the ingredients the chefs are given on Chopped are actually from a recipe or just a random assortment chosen willy nilly. I claim that the ingredients have to be from a real recipe, and that is the true test – does anyone know the recipe. Daniel claims that the ingredients are chosen at random, and that the true test is creativity. Fact versus fiction. Memorization versus innovation.

One night we were watching Chopped and the mystery basket of ingredients came on for the main course round. As the contestants pulled the ingredients out of their baskets, I gasped and started yelling. If I was on the show, I knew exactly what I would make. All of the ingredients were there in perfect order, and all I needed to add were a few extras. I told Daniel that I would make Kedgeree and sweep the round. Then I told him (AGAIN) that I think each set of ingredients can be made into an actual recipe. The recipe may be an obscure one from another country, or an old one that no one has made for hundreds of years, but it has to exist. Daniel was still not convinced, but he did recommend that I make Kedgeree sometime soon.

Yummilicious Kedgeree

I was thinking about this when I made Kedgeree for our lunch this past weekend. This is traditionally a breakfast dish, but neither Daniel nor I eat a lot for breakfast, so we usually have this for a different meal. I will include the recipe because I know by now that all of you are absolutely salivating and curious as to what this is. Kedgeree, simply put, is fusion cuisine at its finest. It is a combination of British, Indian, Italian,  and French cooking, and it is delicious.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Kedgeree 

This serves up to four. Two if you are extra hungry and your boyfriend really enjoys this meal and has not yet eaten anything that day. There are not a lot of measurements because making Kedgeree is not an exact science. You know it when you taste it.

  • Smoked haddock*
  • Bay leaf
  • Milk
  • Olive oil
  • Uncooked rice (basmati works the best)
  • Chopped onions
  • Spices: Blend together or add to taste – your call**
    • Curry powder
    • Garam masala
    • Ground cayenne pepper
    • Turmeric
    • Cumin
    • Thyme
  • Butter
  • Fresh parsley
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Lemon slices

*You can purchase smoked haddock at Coastal Seafoods. If you do not wish to use haddock, you can also use smoked salmon which is friendlier on the pocketbook and provides similar results. I buy my smoked salmon at Ikea.

**The best place I have found to purchase these types of spices is India Grocers in Woodbury. If you hit the store at the right time they may also have freshly made samosas to sell by the cash register.

Put the smoked fish in a skillet, add the bay leaf, and cover the fish with milk. Gently simmer until the fish flakes, probably for around 15 minutes. When the fish is cooked, remove it to a plate. Discard the bay leaf and transfer the cooking liquid to a measuring cup. You want to have around 2 cups of liquid. Make up any extra volume with water. Wipe the skillet down and reuse it for the rest of the recipe.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the chopped onion. Saute the onion for a few minutes. Then add 1 cup of the uncooked rice and give everything a good stir. When the rice begins to look translucent, add your spices except for the parsley, stir, and then slowly add your cooking liquid. I usually add about  ¼ cup of liquid at a time, wait a few minutes, and then add more. At this point your boyfriend will come into the kitchen, peer over your shoulder, and tell you that something smells delicious. After you fend him off, you want to keep adding liquid until your rice is done. If you add the entire 2 cups and your rice isn’t tender yet, add more water to the skillet.

When the rice tastes done, flake the fish and stir it into the rice. Then stir in 2 tablespoons of butter until it melts into the rice. Plate your Kedgeree and top it with fresh parsley, chopped hard-boiled egg, and lemon slices. Eat and enjoy!

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

I want to make this for one of Daniel’s friends sometime. His friend’s name is also Daniel, so we differentiate between them by calling his friend American Daniel. American Daniel thinks that food from my Daniel’s home country tastes horrible. Never mind that he has never traveled to Daniel’s country, never tried to cook the food himself, and the few restaurants that serve this food in the Twin Cities don’t do it justice. My Daniel is upset that our friend is so closeminded and unwilling to change his opinion, and I have told him on numerous occasions that we should simply invite him over for a meal so he can taste delicious food and see what he is missing.

My Daniel’s friend American Daniel, however, is an exception compared to rest of our friends. When we had a dinner party over a year ago, I fed a tablefull of people foods they had never tasted before, and they dug in with more enthusiasm than I had expected. It’s funny how people’s minds open up when their stomachs are growling. I simply served them what we eat at Daniel’s on a regular basis, with a few extra special treats thrown in.

This part is the hard part to write because I want people to be as accepting of each other’s differences as they are of food. Food also has its boundaries, for dietary, religious, or lifestyle reasons, which can be difficult to overcome. I don’t know what to say except that I wish people would see those who have special needs, such as Tim, and not be afraid to get to know him. His basket of ingredients is different than a lot of people’s, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything that can be done with him, that he won’t end up being a successful person. He is already. Very rarely do I find someone who is opposed to the idea of my son, who doesn’t believe that autism is a real disorder. It is. What I see more frequently is people passing him up. Acknowledging that he is there, like a bowl of mushy peas, but being unwilling to try him out because he looks different, acts different, or is simply not what they were expecting from a 13-year-old boy.

Kedgeree happened because people from different cultures started living together. It is a physical manifestation of the integration that occurred between two main groups of people. I want to say that I am seeing the same thing happening with incorporating people with autism into public schools, our workforce, and the community, but we’re not there yet. I don’t know if we will get there in my lifetime, but I hope to see more positive changes occurring as time moves forward. A lot of this may be overcoming the initial hurdle of unfamiliarity and taking that first step (or first bite) into something new and unknown. Change will only happen when people let go of preconceived notions and open their minds to what lies in front of them.

Progress often happens when people have a personal experience. I would have never learned to make Kedgeree, or even thought of trying it out, or even heard of it, if I did not have Daniel in my life. He has introduced me to a lot of new concepts in addition to food, including How To Approach Relationships (in general, not just us), What Is Fashionable (we still don’t always see eye to eye on what is cool to wear), and Raising Your Child (Daniel thinks I am too protective of Tim, which I probably am). People also tend to become involved in autism advocacy and/or research when they know someone who is affected, whether it is a child, sibling, or friend. The key, however, is to figure out a way to draw in a larger venue of support. I hope it is happening with events such as Autism Awareness Month, autism conferences, and exposure to the general population. All I can say for myself is, approach life with a clear mind, an open heart, and on occasion an empty stomach.


Leave a comment

Recalibration

A vacation frequently means that the family goes away for a rest, accompanied by a mother who sees that the others get it. ~ Marcelene Cox

Tim is upset because he is staying at his father’s for part of his Spring Break, which started this week. It’s not that he misses me. He misses the cable TV, the internet, the snacks, and our cats Smokey and Amber. I am low on his list of loves, mostly there to tend to his basic needs of being fed and having someone to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 with. I told him that Daniel and I are taking advice from his mum who thinks we need to spend a bit of time away from the boys. By ourselves. To work on our relationship.

Daniel doesn’t seem to feel as guilty about this as I do. He desperately needs a break from work, and doing a Staycation in St. Paul won’t do him any good because he will end up going in to lab. In all the time we have been together we have also never done an actual vacation where we got on a plane and went somewhere, so I suppose it’s about time. I still think it would be more fun with the boys, and suggested that we could take Tim and Peanut someplace, but I was overruled this time. Our destination for the week is Jamaica, where there will be endless amounts of food, drinks with little umbrellas, and an expanse of private beach. No computer, which means no checking of email, no working on project updates, and no blogging 🙂 .

I don’t think I need a vacation, but I do. The vacation that Tim and I take every year regardless is our trip to Indiana to visit my parents. While I loved growing up in Indiana, it isn’t exactly the hotspot of tourism unless you have some strange fascination with the Amish. This type of vacation also tends to be nonstop activity, where my family and I try to squeeze time out of every second we have together. Then when we get home I go right back to work, often feeling like I never really had time to rest.

Who can resist chainmail jewelry? I have yet to see someone else in the Twin Cities wearing this stuff.

I know I need a vacation based on my Wardrobe Choices of Silent Rebellion Including Stuff I Wear To Work But Shouldn’t of the past couple of years. If I don’t watch myself I tend to trend toward Goth which isn’t always the most appropriate workplace attire. I am also supposed to be an example for some of our college-aged students, and me walking around in mostly black, gray, red, and dark blue probably doesn’t give the most positive image. Then there is the chainmail jewelry I bought on EBay from a seller named Master Malachi, who sent me the most lovely handwritten thank you note with my order. He makes all of his jewelry by hand and I thought it would be a great addition to my wardrobe.

Daniel does not completely approve of my attire, and Tim has informed me that black nail polish, or dark shades of purple, blue, or green is no longer in vogue. One night last summer I went out as Emo and stopped by Daniel’s house on the way to my final destination. He gave me a hug, pulled back, and had a concerned look on his face but didn’t say anything. He knows when to choose his battles, and what I wear is not one of them. Criticizing your girlfriend’s clothing choices can open up a whole can of previously undiscovered ugly. However, when he draws the line at no tattoos or additional body piercings, I turn cheeky and tell him *fine* I will get ear lobe plugs instead, which I know he detests. And I don’t do any of that because he is my partner and I respect his say.

I have spent the past six months or so cleaning up my act. Or at least my wardrobe. Tim doesn’t want to be embarrassed when we’re out, and he claims that anyone over the age of 25 who is all pierced up, tattooed, or wearing freaky clothing is   “trying too hard”. When I ask Tim what said person is trying too hard to do, Tim says “to be different”. That is interesting coming from a 13-year-old, where fashion is a big deal. It started to occur to me, dense as I am, that all Tim and Daniel want from me is, well, me. What you wear on the outside tends to say a lot about how you are feeling on the inside, and I began to do a self-check to see how things were matching up.

Vacation attire. Oh, wait. This is still black.

Once I started looking inward at my life, I ended up looking outward at the people around me, and I started learning things about them that I hadn’t noticed before. I experimented on Daniel because he’s pretty easy to experiment on, and I have previously performed several harmless experiments on him which he has yet to find out about. It turns out that Daniel responds well when I wear soft, gauzy, flowy clothing. That gave me a lot of insight into how he views me. It appears that he considers me delicate, someone he wants to protect. Instead of letting him live the lie I actually changed my wardrobe to suit him, and I felt better. I started letting him protect me, and my trust in him grew. For vacation I bought a couple of fluttery dresses not so much for me but for him. Daniel’s vacation needs to be stress-free, and my job is not to go messing with that.

Here we are. This one screams nothing but sunshine. And ponies. And fairy princesses. See there I go again...

Tim, only being 13, doesn’t understand that adults need time to reset. Our lives look good to him because there is always money (from the money tree in the front yard, of course) and we can eat the entire box of cookies in one sitting if we want to. No rations for us adults. I don’t know how to explain to him that I need to take a break. My parents never did with any of us. Daniel’s parents, however, did take vacations without him, so he has a different perspective than I do. The real problem for me is that I am not going to know what to do with myself. What will I do without any stress, or angst, or people coming at me from all directions telling me they need something done right now?

I am sure I will figure out something, and come back a better, and more rested, parent. Ready to once again take on the world with Tim.