Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Our Guardian & Thoughts on Avonte's Law

Every child with autism needs a guardian - we are blessed to have one furry guardian and one plastic transmitter "guardian."  Here is one of our stories about the wandering we deal with and think about every day. 

I don't know if I have posted before about Mr. O's tracking bracelet from Project Lifesaver, but I have been thinking a lot about it lately.  Mainly for two reasons.  

First of all, and mainly because of the Avonte story.  If you don't know about Avonte, he was a 14 year old boy with autism who went missing and died - they found his remains months later.  Poor sweet baby boy.  The other reason is because my boy broke his tracking bracelet and so he hasn't  been wearing it.  His running has been limited lately,  but since he is the master of surprises, this is not the best situation.  We've been waiting to hear about getting it fixed, but tick tock, the clock is ticking.

This past weekend, my anxieties were realized when Mr. O took off.  He went out in the snow to play with his siblings, and they all came in after a bit - but he tricked me and ran right back out the door and headed for the woods.  These are the woods, and while we are not talking about a deep, scary forest, there's still the water to worry about, and the fact that it was freezing and snowing added to the fun.

Of course I grabbed my coat, had my boots on already (moms with runners know that shoes should be on at all times, just in case) and ran out the door after him, but he was out of sight by the time I got out the door.  I didn't even take time to grab hat and mittens, but he is 12 years old and just that fast, stinker.

My awesome middle son and I headed into the woods and saw that since it was snowing, Mr. O left fresh tracks for us to follow.  Thank goodness, at least we knew which way to run.  As we got out of our yard and away from the hodge podge of other footprints, I noticed another set of footprints next to Mr. O's tracks.  Paw prints.  We followed the tracks through the woods, past the park, into the other side of our neighborhood and then right past our own street and into the next neighborhood.  I was FREEZING and snowing hard.  My boy was dressed for the weather, but still, this was not the kind of weather for a kid to be lost in. 

Then my 15 year old took off running - and I saw them.  Sweet relief flooded my senses.  

Our dog had slipped out the door without anyone even noticing.  She stayed by his side the whole way.  As soon as she saw us, she came bounding forward, smiling her dog smile because she knew Mr. O would be safe.  We almost didn't get a dog, because Mr. O had a deathly fear of them (and still does fear other dogs).  On this day, I felt such gratitude for the rescue that shared this wonderful guardian with us, and such gratitude to my good girl who kept the boy safe while he was running away in the snow.

Good dog!

The moral of the story?  There are a few morals of this story, the way I see it.  

1.  Kids with autism often "wander" - which sounds like a peaceful stroll, but can actually be a full speed chase, can happen when you least expect it, and they are not dumb so they will fool you, unlock doors, sneak away when you aren't looking or duck out a window.  Sometimes you do everything right and they still get away.  Tracking bracelets are  MUST.  Avonte's law needs to pass!  Every child who might wander away should have a tracking device available.  I don't understand why this is even a question.

2.  Dogs are great.  Rescue dogs are the best.  If you can find a way for your child with autism to have a pet, I think you should do it.   We opted for a young dog instead of a puppy because she was already trained and we could see her temperament - puppies are adorable but they are too  much work for this autism mama, and with so many older dogs in shelters, why not look there first?  You will hit the jackpot - we did.

3.  I really need to get Mr. O's tracking  bracelet fixed.  I should know by now that just because he hasn't wandered in months, it doesn't mean he won't surprise me a run right out the door.  Yes, we found him quickly and yes he was safe, but what happens next time?  Time to put a little pressure on the people who have promised to fix it for the last few months.  I'm not good at that, but the time has come.

My thoughts continue to be with Avonte's family.   My heart hurts for them, and at the same time my admiration for them grows.  Only twenty four hours after Avonte's funeral, his mother and grandmother stood with Senator Charles Schumer as he proposed the new law that would provide children with autism the tracking bracelets.   They know all too well how important this is.  If Avonte had a bracelet, could they have saved him?  It pains me to think - what a different outcome if Avonte had this device that costs under $100 and then a few dollars a month to maintain.  How much money was spent hunting for him?  How much money is spent looking for other kids with autism who wander away?  Why doesn't every at risk kid (or adult) have a bracelet?  It is time for this to happen.

Not every child is blessed like my son, with teenage brothers to chase him and a furry guardian to follow him through the snow and keep him from harm.  But every child deserves a way to stay safe and be found.  Big thanks to Project Lifesaver for our tracking bracelet, and to Puppies & More Rescue and Angela at The Animal Orphanage of Voorhees, for providing us with an amazing guardian.  I hope Avonte's Law passes and we never lose another child in this way.  What are we waiting for?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The End of a Weird Year

This past year was full of surprises.  Some good, some bad, some just ... surprising.  It has been a year of many changes, lots of growth and a few breakdowns along the way.  I don't have much more to share about the end of this year yet.  My mind is still spinning and when it stops, I might want to just leave this year behind and not revisit it.  Is that wrong?  Anyone else feel that way?  On to 2014 and hopefully it will be better than 2013, right?  

In any case, I have to share that I did finish my 365 project.  I had to fill in with iPhone pictures for part of the time since my camera had to go back to the mother ship to be repaired.  But the best camera is the one you have with you, right?  And I will be honest and say that I may have missed a day here and there and filled in with 2 shots from a better day.  Is that wrong?  Is it wrong that I keep asking if things are wrong and I don't really care about the answer to that question?  I guess we'll leave it up to the blog police to decide.

Here are some shots from the end of my 365.  I don't know if I learned much from the actual project, but having a year's worth of photos is definitely pretty neat, and I can see the progress I made over that time.  Plus it gives me a nice reminder of all that we did last year, good and bad.

Fun in the sun and a visit to the Statue of Liberty!

Lots of time spent at the farm and then back to school  (and then a trip to the beach the weekend after school started - of course).

Photography practice on many beautiful subjects.

Days at the US Open, piles of laundry 
and a visit with Grammy

The loss of Uncle Frank.

Many random photos from fall and winter.

Pictures of the boys.

And a whole bunch of my crazy girl.

And my final favorites:

Signing off with this shot of me, taken by my girl.  It makes me laugh every time, just wondering what that guy is thinking.  Probably something like, "She is crazy!"  And yes, that I am.  Looking forward to posting more in 2014, and I expect things will be as crazy as ever around here.

Peace out!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eight Things I Learned From Uncle Frank

According to legend, Uncle Frank was born and developed normally until around age four when he was hit by a car and spent a month in a coma.  As the story goes, he was never the same after that.  I often wonder if there was more to it, but times were different and in any case, by the time I knew him, he was officially diagnosed as schizophrenic and on permanent disability, living with my grandmother in their apartment in the projects.  I spent a lot of time around Uncle Frank.  Even in the midst of my teenage angst, I recognized that he was teaching me more than I could possibly appreciate.  Here are some of the things I learned from having Uncle Frank in my life.

1.  People with disabilities are people too.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I was so used to being with him, it never occurred to me to treat him any differently than my other aunts and uncles.   I didn't need to talk slowly, or extra loudly.  No need to be afraid of him (except maybe that one time when he went off his meds and threw all the furniture off the fire escape).  No need to be extra nice and sickly sweet.  Just treat him like everyone else.

2.  People with disabilities are smart.  Uncle Frank was pretty famous for calling his doctors and talking to them about his meds, fooling them into thinking he was another doctor.  Eventually he would crack up on the phone and give himself away, but the man was smart about what he knew.  Not everyone "got" that and he was good at taking advantage of those kinds of folks.  Which brings me to my next point ...

3.  People with disabilities are funny.  Uncle Frank's sense of humor was epic.  He would pounce on unsuspecting "regular" people and take them down.  It was always great when someone new came to the house.  They would always be a little nervous and tentative.  One poor guy saw Frank standing near the lake and got all worried that he might jump in.  Of course Frank pretended he was going to jump.  And then laughed at the guy.  He laughed really hard.  We all laughed at him too.  Which was mean, but ya know, he kinda deserved it.  And if Frank laughed, you just kinda had to laugh too.

4.  It doesn't matter if you have the latest, bestest camera gear from Radio Shack.  Your pictures are still going to be crappy if you don't know what you are doing.  But on the other hand, crappy pictures are better than none at all.  Seriously, Uncle Frank had so many cameras.  When I was little, he had Polaroids.  Like, 7 of them.  He had disc cameras.  Fancy film cameras.  More recently he was enjoying video cameras.  Quality of his work?  Not so great.  But ya know what, he enjoyed what he did, and I'll bet he has some memories that the rest of us missed.  

5.  Its good to love animals.  And rescue them if you can.  Uncle Frank always had a cat.  Usually some feral cat that he found outside.  He'd feed the cat, sometimes he'd trap the cat and bring it inside and try to force it to live with him, and I think he named them all "Baby".   Whether the cats were thankful or not, who knows?  But he did his best to give them a nice life and he loved them.  He recognized that some of them needed help and he did what he could to save them.

6.  Sometimes people show love differently than we expect.  Uncle Frank loved his family.  He didn't go around hugging people or blowing kisses.  But when he was younger and having a bad day, he would calm right down when my tiny self would tell him to quit it.  When he was older, he'd watch the news and worry about me.  If he heard of anything bad happening anywhere in the state of New Jersey, he'd start asking if I was ok.  Just last week, my mom told me that he was fretting about the boardwalk fires at Seaside Heights.  I told her to reassure him that I was very far away from the danger, and I appreciated that he was worrying about me.   Because I know that it was his way of showing how much he loved me.  And I know he felt the same way about the rest of his family.

7.  Don't judge a book by its cover.  The man looked like the Uni-Bomber half the time.  And in winter, he looked like the Uni-Bomber ALL the time.  But he was the gentlest soul on the planet.  He'd raise his voice to argue with my mom (his sister) over things like feeding the pets and cleaning up the coffee grinds on the floor, but generally he was just a sweet person.   He was happy to just show you his latest video or tell you about his cat.  He made the world more interesting and we would have missed out on a lot if we let his appearance scare us away.

8.  It doesn't matter how much of a mess you make in the kitchen, as long as you can make me a cup of coffee.  The man could make a mess.  Pretty sure he tracked coffee grinds from one end of the house to another.  But he knew how to make coffee.  And I can forgive pretty much anything if you apologize with a cup of coffee in your hands.

So here I am, a full fledged grown up with kids of my own.  One of them is disabled, and I am thankful every day that I learned how to treat him like a human being and value his intelligence and humor.  Even when he jumps out of our row-boat and into a lake to scare a grownup friend (and yes, he did), I have the ability to just laugh, because I know what's funny. Thanks Uncle Frank.  I am thankful that your love of cameras and technology sparked a love of photography in me.  I am capturing our memories in a way that makes me smile.  Thanks Uncle Frank.  I am thankful that I love animals and work with animal rescue groups when I can find the time.  Thanks Uncle Frank.  I am thankful that I learned to recognize all the ways that people show me love, even the ways that aren't "regular."  It makes the world a warmer and fuzzier place.  Thanks Uncle Frank.  I'm thankful that I am not afraid of people who look a little rough on the outside because I know that there is a good chance they are sweethearts on the inside.  Thanks Uncle Frank.  And I am thankful that I love coffee, and that my husband will probably continue to spill coffee grinds on the counter every single day - because it will make me think of you.  And I will smile and say, "Thank you Uncle Frank."

You left us today.  You got on your bike and went for a ride and you never came back.  The world is forever a less interesting place without you.  Thank you Uncle Frank.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 17th

Here we are with another big update since the months of May, June and half of July have flown by.  I've been working on my 365 project and saving up the photos but just too busy to post here.

The months have been filled with end of school year activities, a recital, tennis banquet, gymnastic classes, doctors appointments, trips to the beach, pool and theme parks.  Here are the photos from the 365 project, officially bringing us up to day 198 today.  And I am not going to promise to post more since that doesn't seem to work out.  But I'll be back eventually, lol.  

Starting out with the super moon!  And some pictures in the park:

Then we had trips to Great Adventure, Fernbrook Farms, Sesame Place (fireworks!) and a really cute princess themed party.

Here we have recital pictures, last day of 6th grade for Mr. O, more farm, Sesame Place and there's Mr. O's new socks!

Dancing in the rain, the Safari at Great Adventure, more from the farm and a rare shot of me reading by the pool.  Sitting in a chair and relaxing?  What is that?  And the last one is the professor with a Horseshoe crab he caught at the Jersey Shore.

Ahhh, summer - another princess party, more farm, photos from a visit with another mama photographer, our Pop Chef watermelon, The Go-Go's concert (!) and my favorite new recipe for chicken.  Oh, and my favorite snail.

We got a new hammock, went to the beach again, had a sad face for the last day of school and hey, look a that cute dog!  I got to photograph dogs for the Animal Orphanage of Voorhees - if you need a pet, check them out, they have awesome dogs and cats available!

And then we spent a lot of time in the pool and more time at the beach and hubby's company had an event to see Kid Rock and we were in the front row! Eeeep.

So there's the 365 update and the next thing I have to discuss is my new "baby."  Yes, I have a new baby, a photography website and hopefully a small business at some point.  

For now I am just building my portfolio and practicing, studying and learning about what I need to be legitimate.  Things like tax number i.d.'s and business licensing, insurance and networking - not sure if I will ever be ready for all of that.  

So for now I have the website and the bulk of my photography posting will eventually migrate over there.  I'll be finishing my 365 here and on Facebook, and saving this blog for talking about the family, kids fashion,  autism, clean eating and all the other things that float through my brain.

If you have the time, check out my new website:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Big Time Flake Out

Yes, I know.  I flaked out.  I have been taking photos but nothing is getting posted here.  Shhhh, it is ok.  I am going to just post some collages from my 365 project and call it a day, ok?  I decided on collages because I am almost exactly 2 months behind and I know you don't want to scroll through 60 full size photos, right?  
I know I'm right.  

The last few months have been a blur, starting with strep throat, continuing on through spring break, my first photography "job", my cousin's wedding, tennis season, a class trip, an autism walk and finally some really bad allergies.  Lots of really great stuff, some not so great stuff, and one brand new baby that I am hoping to spoil terribly.  And no, not MY brand new baby, phew.

I do have a new baby though, sort of.  I'll post about that next time.  Because catching up on two months of photos is enough for one day.  For now, here are my photo project collages.  And we'll just say I am all caught up and starting with day 140 tomorrow, ok? 


Thursday, March 21, 2013

365 ~ 71 to 77

Another round of catch up photos for my 365 project.  I've been so busy and getting lots of things done around here, but never the things I am *supposed* to get done.  This last week I got to do a maternity shoot and take photos for my daughter's yearbook collages.  Great experience and so much fun for me!   It is amazing to go into the school and have random kids hug you - and I felt a bit like the Pied Piper because they all followed me around when they saw the camera.  Quite a change from my own kids who like to hide when they see my Nikon.

Now let's see the photos.  Day 71 ~ Messy.  Perfect theme for me this week since we are putting away some winter clothes, pulling out some spring clothes, and as I mentioned a second ago, I'm not doing much of what I am *supposed to* do, which translates into a messy house.  Here's a pile that is headed for the ebay bin.  And yes, it is still there, a week later.

Day 72 ~ Branches
This one was easy, sunrise over the lake always features a lot of branches.

Day 73 ~ Field of Green

Here's a "field" of green from my maternity shoot.

Day 74 ~ Green

Not a lot of springtime around her (yet) but the onion grass is coming up. 

Day 75 ~ Wearing of the Green
The green thing was getting old, so I went off theme and I am going to share more from my maternity shoot.  Because my model was so cute. 

Day 76 ~ Spots
How about bubbles instead?

Day 77~ Play a Game
Same bubbles, but playing a game with the dog this time.  I think the dog won, she popped them all!

Day 78 ~ Plant Something
Too early to plant anything here, but my magnolia tree is starting to show some buds.  Yay.


And finally - March 21st - day 79 ~ Hiding

Once more, going back to the maternity shoot, since that little baby is "hiding" in there.  We all can't wait to meet her.  I love the look on dad's face here - I think he is excited to meet his baby girl too, ya think?  These guys are just way too cute.

The next few themes will be nurture, texture, a landmark and a pine cone.   A pine cone?  Really?