Autism awareness can lower a few raised eyebrows

I knew very little about the autism spectrum back in 2006, when I met the young boy who would become my son. My wife and I had been dating for several months when we decided it was time to introduce each other to our children. She explained that he had Asperger’s Syndrome and likely wouldn’t make eye contact — and to not take it personally if he avoided any physical contact like a firm handshake.

“And whatever you do, don’t tousle his hair,” she instructed with a squeeze of my hand. “He really doesn’t like that.”

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with symptoms generally appearing before age 3, impacting the development of the brain in areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function.  Continue reading

Special Delivery: A cautionary Christmas tale

A blogger friend named Randall Willis once posted a beautiful poem that I’m always reminded of this time of year. In his poem, he used snow as an analogy for the magic that is constantly swirling around us — and how, like snow, it can quickly melt away and go unnoticed unless we make an effort to see it. What follows is a Christmas tale based on a true-life experience that I tell each year around Christmas. It’s a mixture of fact, whimsy, hope and my belief that a heartfelt wish is the cornerstone of life’s most important magical moments.

That said, my sincere thanks to all of you for sharing the magic in your own way, every day…
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imageHe looked very out of place sitting alone in the flight terminal, his arms folded over a Superman backpack, and large brown eyes peering out from beneath his baseball cap. A few seats away, a keyboard recital was being performed by a businessman wearing Bluetooth headphones and chastising someone at “headquarters” about overspending.

“I said gifts for the immediate staff only. That means Carl, Jody, Jessica and what’s-her-name — the gal we hired last month,” he instructed, keyboard clattering continuously. “Yeah, her — Loni. But that’s it. I never said anything about the sales department. What? Of course you’re included with the immediate staff. Get yourself something.”

The boy shifted, causing his plastic chair to squeak a bit as he leaned toward the businessman. “Hey, Dad…”

For the first time, the man’s fingers left the keyboard, just long enough to wave his son to silence.  Continue reading

When it comes to strange packages from Canada, you can’t be too safe

(As part of the second round of competition for The Public Blogger’s Performance of the Year award, we have been asked to submit a piece on “Community” or “Family” to be voted on this Sunday at 7 p.m. I’ll be posting about my firefighting family. We also must post two additional pieces on the Public Blogger’s Facebook page between now and Sunday. In keeping with my theme, I’ve chosen this post inspired by a package sent a while back by my friend Ross Murray. You probably remember when it happened. It was the first time the Terrorist Threat Level was raised to “Keylime.”)
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I was taking no chances; as far as I knew, Canada may have stopped being our ally during my walk home...

I was taking no chances; as far as I knew, Canada may have stopped being our ally during my walk home…

The afternoon started out like any other: leave the office, walk two blocks home, pass through our white picket gate toward the front steps, then holler “EVERYBODY STAY IN THE HOUSE” while dropping into an army crawl. Naturally, no one at home had any interest in coming outside until I yelled for them NOT to — at which point three of our children and both dogs attempted to squeeze through the doorway simultaneously, closely resembling a horde of diarrhea sufferers trying to de-board a subway car for the last working restroom.

“STOP!” I commanded, freezing them all — yes, even the dogs — on the porch, just inches away from a small white package with the word Liquid written in several places in black marker. The name on the return address wasn’t one I immediately recognized. The fact that it was from a foreign country (Canada) made it even more suspicious. Continue reading

Call off the search party! Or maybe keep the party, not the search

Yes, those are my legs. Sorry about that...

Yes, those are my legs. Sorry about that…

You may have noticed I’ve been “missing” from the blog-o-sphere since last Friday. Then again, you may have noticed a weird spot on the kitchen ceiling that could be either maranara sauce or cranberry chutney from Thanksgiving, and therefore completely oblivious to my absence.

And who could blame you?

I had every intention of writing a short post for Friday morning, explaining how I would be off the grid and away for a family reunion (Mine, not just some random family), and how when I got back it would be on a deadline day (today) — which is like walking into the middle of a circus fire.

But I didn’t get the chance to write that post. Instead, I just disappeared without a word and left everyone in state of panic, wondering: My GOD! Will cranberry chutney leave a permanent stain?!?

So, I’d like to offer a sincere apology to everyone for what may have appeared to be a thoughtless act of self indulgence. The truth is, I put a lot of thought into indulging myself. So much so, that I ran out of time to write a post before I left. But I did bring you back a few photos and a short video. There’s also a T-shirt in the mail to all of you from Sun River, Ore.

And by that I mean one T-shirt, so you’ll have to share… Continue reading

Not all who wander are lost — they might be looking for their car

image As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, I’m severely directionally challenged. I have admitted this openly, without shame, in hopes that I might be an inspiration to those out there who, at this very moment, might be looking up at the Seattle Space Needle and wondering:

When was this thing moved to Atlanta?

I specifically mention the Space Needle because experts suggest that people who are easily lost should use landmarks as a way of maintaining a sense of direction in unfamiliar territory. For me, this means staying keenly aware of my surroundings while, at the same time, avoiding eye contact with anyone who might actually be willing to offer directions. Though some think this stems from my stubborn streak, it’s really more about avoiding a conversation that begins something like this:

Hi there. I seem to be lost. Can you tell me the easiest way out of the parking lot?

This is no exaggeration; I actually did get turned around in an unfamiliar parking lot this week. That’s because I made the mistake of not retracing my exact steps back to the car. Instead, I took the nearest exit leading from the building and proceeded directly outside which, for me, was like walking into the “Upside-Down Room” at the House of Mystery. I eventually discovered that I was at the complete opposite end of the parking lot from where I came in — but not before my wandering caught the attention of at least three people who stopped to ask if my car had been stolen. Continue reading

Create lasting memories with traumatic family portraits

image Welcome to Post Traumatic Sundays, which are posts written during my first marriage. None have appeared on this blog before, and only a couple were included in my book. What these posts aren’t about is venting or vindictiveness.

So what’s the point, you ask? Simply to offer reflections from someone dealing with an unhappy marriage in the best way he knew how:

With humor.

Eight years later, I am happily re-married to someone who inspires me each and every day to laugh for the right reasons. It’s good to laugh with you for the right reasons as well…

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Every year around this time, we have our family photo taken. This used to mean packing up the kids and going to a portrait studio, where we could always count on a trained professional to eventually hurl a stuffed animal at us and demand we leave — but not before making us look through our entire package of portrait options. We, of course, never actually purchased any of those packages because they all had the same sequence of photos:

My daughter sticking her tongue out.
My son picking his nose.
Me putting both kids in a Vulcan death grip.
My wife yelling into my ear.

All of this captured in front of a snowy backdrop and available in 8×10, 5×7 and wallet-sized prints. Continue reading

Remembering a writing mentor who probably never knew it

A mentor every writer should've been lucky enough to have.

A mentor every writer should’ve been lucky enough to have.

Anyone who follows my weekly Nickel’s Worth on Writing knows Publisher’s Digest and The Master of Horror® Stephen King are frequently among those offering accolades touting the value and importance of this weekly writing feature.

JK Rowling, E.L. James and many other famous writers with initials for first names have also offered their condolences kudos for writing tips that have been called “…Hemmingway-like, at least in terms of questionable sobriety.”

But long before literary giants and their lawyers began using court-appointed messengers to send accolades requiring my signature, there was someone whose kudos and opinion meant more than any other — and still would if she were alive today. I’m talking, of course, about Barbara Walters.

Ha! Of course I’m not actually talking about Barbara Walters who, as we all know, once called my writing tips “Kwap.” Plus, I’m pretty sure she’s still alive.

No, the person whose opinion and laughter always meant the most was my grandmother, who would’ve celebrated her 102nd birthday today. That photo of her was taken on Mother’s Day in 2008, one day after turning 96, and three days before she passed away. As I sat down to write this week’s NWOW, I thought of how I’ve written about finding your muse, the importance of establishing your voice as a writer, and how being a writer really comes down to believing in and accepting yourself as one. And while the examples I offered in those posts were purposely general enough to be accessible and relatable to everyone, in my own life it was my grandmother’s encouragement and example that set me on an early path to finding those things as a writer. Continue reading

More often than not, the Easter Bunny wears boxer shorts

(With it being Easter, I thought I’d skip this week’s edition of Post Traumatic Sunday and run a different kind of flashback, reminiscent of when my children were small and the Easter stakes were always high. Whether this day is observed in your family or not, we can all agree any day that you can be together is worth celebrating…)

Easter dad in boxers In the wee hours this morning, something magical happened in backyards all across America as, one by one, each of them was visited by …

You guessed it! A half-naked father hiding Easter eggs.

That’s right, the same fathers who were stomping on the roof with sleigh bells Christmas Eve were out in the yard in their boxer shorts with an arm load of colorful eggs not long after sunrise.

Their mission?

Keep this tradition alive while trying not to step in anything that could elicit a response deemed inappropriate for Easter morning. Continue reading

Apparently, the laws of physics don’t apply to our family’s laundry basket

image My wife and I have been trying to come up with an explanation for the volume of dirty clothes that accumulates in our laundry basket on a daily basis.

In an attempt to explain this phenomena by utilizing mathematic principles, we went through the laundry, separated the clothes, subtracted how many days since the basket was empty, and then divided it by the number of children in our home — which lead to an important discovery:

We had become trapped in the bathroom after our pile of clothes fell against the door.

While it’s true we have four children between us, according to my calculations they are changing their clothes every 18 minutes. This includes through the night, when they apparently take turns changing EACH OTHER while sleeping in shifts. This would explain how they can have a closet full of clothes at bedtime, then wake up and have nothing to wear. It would also explain why their bed sheets are always untucked and strewn on the floor by morning; they are using the sheets to drag each other’s sleeping bodies back and forth to the closet. Continue reading

Insurance premium up? You can thank my clumsy dog

Sundays always include sleeping in late, breakfast in bed and a deep tissue massage — as long as we keep in mind this only applies to the new royal baby. Which isn’t to say Sunday mornings around here aren’t just as glamorous, depending on the kind of T-shirt and underwear I have on while standing at the coffee maker counting the drips. However, the one thing the Royals DON’T have are Sunday Flashbacks (Not counting Prince Harry). This week, we are again digging deep into the archives, back to 2003, when I still thought blogging was yet another intimate activity that raised more questions than answers. So pull up a chair, grab some coffee and let’s agree to move on from that image of me in my underwear…

This is the face of rising homeowner’s insurance.

Each year, we gather as a family to have our pets blessed on St. Francis Day. We do this because we want to give our pets every advantage, particularly if there’s a chance — through divine intervention — that our Chocolate Labrador’s IQ could be raised above that of a standard carrot. I know this is supposed to be a general blessing situation, but I think God would agree there was a serious oversight during Stanley’s creation process.

I know He is very busy.

I know He sees all.

But maybe He was also trying to catch the season finale of “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Whatever the reason, somewhere in the world there’s a dog with two brains. Undoubtedly, its owners are very happy. They don’t care that their dog’s enormous cranium causes people and other dogs to stare. That’s because their dog is smart. Their dog has an instinctive understanding of things like gravity. These owners give thanks to St. Francis each day because their dog, in spite of its bulbous cranium, would never high-center itself on a coffee table in front of company. Continue reading