Autism: A Cause To Stand Up For

What affects more Americans than diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome combined?

Autism.

Over 2 million Americans fall under the umbrella of brain developmental disorders referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders. ASD creates social and behavioral challenges, which often include repetitive mannerisms. Researchers are yet to identify the cause, but attribute it to a combination of genetic make up and environmental factors.

Every spring, since 1970, the U.S. celebrates National Autism Awareness Month, so before April slips away I wanted to get on board. http://www.autism-society.org/

Although the exact cause of ASD remains a mystery, what specialists do know is that the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. The CDC estimates as many as 1 in 88 children or 1 out of every 54 boys and one out of every 252 girls is born with ASD.

Statistics indicate that more than ten million individuals are afflicted worldwide. Five years ago the United Nations declared every April 2nd as World Autism Day. Across the continents, people are encouraging others to stand up for autism to increase awareness and funding for research. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csYs_aSXFcQ

Unfortunately in many parts of the globe, autistic children are institutionalized due to ignorance and lack of early intervention measures and public health programs. The more obvious signs of autism usually emerge between the age of 2 and 3 and behavioral therapies can be most effective the earlier the disorder is diagnosed. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

A career change in my teaching role led to work in my school’s learning support department, which coincided with a time when I became more limited by illness and a medical treatment that required minimal light exposure and maximal eye protection. While walking in the shadows, wearing black glasses and gloves, I bump into obstacles. I am forced to see the environment through different parameters too. Working with special kids is a great fit; I am a quirky adult.

Everyone who has ever worked with ASD individuals knows that every step forward in understanding their universe is a move in the right direction for they may not have the capacity to understand ours. To comprehend the world of autism demands infinite patience and persistence, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Please take time to witness the triumph of an Asperger’s boy and basketball. Stand up and raise the roof for autism!

J Mac Greatest Basketball Story Ever

Trouville Normandy – A Trip Down Memory Lane

When we lived in Paris, we joined the mass exodus leaving the city for weekend get aways to the nearest seaside in Normandy, to visit our French family.  Now the seven-hour jaunt from Geneva-Switzerland is harder to make, so I hadn’t been back for years.

As soon as I rang my French in-laws doorbell in Trouville, I was flooded with memories. The brick-framed, six-story walk-up built into the falaise along the Touques River,  has housed fisherman’s families since the 1700s. Step out the front door on ground level and you are on the quais of the bustling seaport, across the ultra chic twin city Deauville. However, out the backdoor, on the floor above, is Papie and Mamie’s place, which opens onto the winding cobblestone rue de Bonsecours.

Trouville from the bridge leading to Deauville

Trouville from the bridge leading to Deauville

The house echoes with footsteps. If the faded, wooden steps of the spindly, spiral staircase could talk, the stories they would tell! Not long ago, I listened with trepidation as my children giggled, racing up and down flights. Now my heart jumps as I hear the stairs creak with Papie and Mamie’s footfalls, afraid that they will slip. Papie just returned from the hospital after a lung puncture to remove fluid build up from a weakening heart. Mamie slipped on wet cobblestone of mainstreet and broke her wrist. Yet, still they insist laying out a banquet fit for a king, with an artillery of glassware and cutlery.

Mamie, with her left arm immobile in a cast, directs traffic with one hand from the kitchen nook to the dining table. She oversees the steady stream of courses on platters laden with fresh asparagus, green beans, sole fish, Camembert and strawberries dipped in cream, the finest Normandy has to offer from land and sea. Papie, frail after losing 10 pounds, still pops open champagne, serves aperitifs, pouring the wine, and argues about past skiing exploits with his son.

The seaside resort retains a sense of timelessness. Sea gulls swoop and dive above the fishing boats bobbing in the waves under azure skies. Daffodils dance on iron wrought balconies in the briny, spring breeze. Horses clomp down Main Street hauling tourist carts from the bridge connecting Deauville and Trouville, at one end of the road, to the casino at the other end.

horse & buggy in front of Deauville's casino

horse & buggy in front of Deauville's casino

 

As I walk on the beach, lined by 17thcentury mansions, I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. Young couples stroll the boardwalk with their arms intertwined. Parents with toddlers in tow pick up seashells; small children dig castles in the fine, white sand. School age kids race the waves as they crash the shoreline and teenagers kick soccer balls.

Nat & Nic on the beach      circa 2005

Nat & Nic on the beach circa 2005

kids growing up on the sand.

kids growing up on the sand.

 

If I close my eyes, snapshots of my children’s pasts flash by. Nat skipping alongside Mamie to play at the beach; Nic’s his eyes aglow carrying a gaufre, giant waffle covered in chocolate and whipped cream. Nat tugging on a kite string; Nic climbing over the Roches Noires. The two of them playing keep away with their cousins.

The magic of this historic spot by the sea is that throughout time’s passage, nothing changes; Trouville, like memories it holds, just grows older and more beautiful.[meteor_slideshow]

Green A Go Go On St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2012

Shamrocks, leprechauns, fairies, oh my! Gaelic dances, Scottish bagpipes, Irish top hats, knees up,  Guinness guzzling, tall tales about beer drinking,  bar brawling, fiery redheaded, hot tempered, story-tale spinners Irish abound.

Irish pubs around the world, including the 2472 in Continental Europe, will be packed tonight, but the celebration may be even bigger in the  New World!   http://www.st-patricks-day.com/

Like so many Americans, I can trace back  a wee bit of Irish in me Scottish blood and loyally wore green to school on March 17th. 36.9 million Americans reported Irish ancestry, which is 8 times more than the population of Ireland. And another 3.5 million claim Scotch-Irish blood like myself . An estimated 50-100,000 came in the 1600s and another million arrived in 1700s continuing throughout the Potato Famine years.

Bars will spill over into the street with people dressed in green; extremists will eat only green food and hold green dinner parties. Beer, water, and even the Chicago River at Michigan and Wacker flows green on St. Paddy’s. http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2012/03/15/saint-patricks-day-2012-in-chicago

Parades and celebrations proliferate across major cities in the US, especially in places with a large Irish American population like Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. But what are we celebrating?

Uillean or Irish Elbow Bagpipes

Uillean or Irish Elbow Bagpipes

 

St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, who introduced Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century, symbolizes the Irish worldwide, but holds particular significance for Americans. The Irish were the largest contingency, after the Germans, to immigrate. As the first big group of poor refugees to arrive  in the USA, they suffered from the brunt of American resentment.

The predominately working class people settled in cities forming the backbone of communities particularly serving in law enforcement in the Northeast. Though in the past Irish were often negatively stereotyped as drunken, reckless, kick-up-a-row, rabble rousers, they rose to leadership positions. A bit of their so called rebellious spirit helped lead to the making of America. Eight Irishmen signed the declaration of Independence and Presidents from Andrew Jackson to Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama claim Irish ancestry.

Today Irish Americans are no longer the underdogs; they have earned the right to be educated in elite universities and to become CEOs, and civic leaders based on their talents. They paved the way for the waves of immigrants who followed in their footsteps from Europe and other place.

So enjoy St. Paddy’s Day Shamrocks, leprechauns, anything green rites of spring and lively, good of ol’Irish mischievousness.  And if life is a struggle and you are not feeling so frivolous right now,  remember  my favorite Gaelic saying:

Dá fhaid é an lá tiocfaidh an tráthnóna

No matter how long the day, the evening will come.
This too shall pass.

Wherever you are whatever your poison, I raise my fine emerald wine, to your green Guinness or  lime Kool Aid.  To the Irish!

Sláinte –to your health!

101st Anniversary- International Women’s Day-« Connecting Girls Inspiring Futures »

March 8 marks the 101st international women’s day! Bear with me guys, you may be weary about hearing about women`s rights, but when you’ve been the low ” man ” on the totem pole of life for so long you never forget. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world women are still denied equality in education, careers, income and medical care, but in my homeland, we have come a long, long way. So thanks guys for your support. This is not a rant about men, but rather a chest bump for women.

From childhood to motherhood to middle age from the Midwest to the East Coast to Europe, throughout physical relocations and emotional upheavals, each stage of my life has been shaped by women, who helped me make the transition.

I am especially grateful to the grandmothers I admired; even moreso to the mother who gave me life, then offered me to the world. To my sisters who taught me to give and take, forgive and forget, talk and listen, twist and shout !

To my college basketball coach, who dared me to become all that I could be.

I am thankful for female friendships spanning different generations, time zones and continents. From childhood, high school and college pals, part of the past that shaped me and  connect me to my roots, to my French hosts and German teammates, who adopted me into their homes and hearts when I first moved abroad. To my international friends from Africa, Australia, Scandinavia –England, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland and Other Lands I could never place on a map, who shared their stories and an understanding of their culture.                         .

To my noisy friends, quiet friends,
old friends,new friends,
black, white, brown friends.
To my tall friends, short friends,
big friends, small friends,
to my athletic friends, to my intellectual friends
to my coaching friends, my teaching friends, my writing friends.
To my blogging buddies, to my cyber pals.
To my girlfriends here, there and everywhere.

No matter where I settled, women of all sizes, shapes, and colors have befriended me.  They helped me feel a sense of belonging not only to the farm community of Sterling, to the Illinois State college town of Normal-Bloomington, to romantic Paris, to Middle Ages Marburg, to international  Geneva, but to something greater.

Merci mille fois to the women who shaped me, so that one day, I  could become a role model to my nieces and the young girls I have taught and coached.

Special thanks to my daughter, my link to the future, who achieved her goal of becoming a doctor, a dream made possible in part, because of the courageous steps women took in the past to help pave the way.

So on International Women’s Day 2012, I  raise my glass to the ladies ‘round the globe in my ya ya sisterhood!

Cross-Country Skiing in Switzerland Precarious for a Flatlander from the Snow Belt

If you grow up in Switzerland, skiing is a birthright. Like riding a bike, no one forgets how to do it. Forget the thrill of school closing for inclement weather. Here we have the ultimate snow day! We even bus kindergarteners up in the mountains for skiing during regular school days and better yet have a ski week vacation in February.

cross-country skiing in the mountains

cross-country skiing in the mountains

No one here can believe I don’t ski even though I grew up in the Snow Belt.

Maybe if I learned to ski when I was a child, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Where I grew up in the flatlands of Illinois, only the wealthy could afford to fly halfway across the continent to the nearest mountain.

Besides, no American coach in his or her right mind, would ever condone skiing for a star hoopster. A teammate and I broke training one season and attempted to ski on a golf course on campus where the highest elevation was a two-foot bunny hill on the back nine. Heck, I still fell down.

I am not afraid of heights, but I am downright speed phobic. Anytime the velocity picks up, I envision my previous accidents, flying over my bicycle handlebars on a hill in Germany or careening out the window of an air born car off an autoroute in France.

I still might enjoy skiing if my back never cracked, my knees could bend or I had a solid base to stand on. Just try balancing on a two inch by 6 foot slabs with bad feet. With my high arches and ankle pronation, I might remain upright if I skied barefoot and hung on by my claw toes. Strong thigh muscles, able to hold the squat position also help, but I lost those when I quit doing defensive slides back in the seventies.

Ah the great irony of life! In youth, when I was nowhere near a mountain, my greatest dream was to alpine ski; now in middle age I live at the foot of the Alps yet break out in hives just looking at the slopes. However to appease Le Frenchman, an avid skier extraordinaire, I don my skis once a winter. But in the mountains, cross-country skiing is a misnomer. It should be called up and down skiing and the only thing worse than sailing 25 miles an hour on sticks, is flailing at top speed downward on a curve!

Oups !!!

Oups !!!

Luckily on groomed trails in the mountains, they strategically prop bright red, two-inch thick, gym mats against trees at the bottom of curving slopes.

Hey, I learned to drive in Illinois, I am no dummy. As soon as I see the red warning sign in the distance, I stop, remove skis and proceed with caution.  Then I put away my gear for another year.

Ellis Island’s 120th Anniversary Jan. 1, 1892-2012

On January 1, 1892, one hundred years ago today, a small island in New York Harbor called Ellis Island opened its portal as one of thirty US federal government immigration centers.  From that date until 1954, over twelve million immigrants, two thirds of all immigrants, primarily third class passengers, entered the United States through the “Island of Tears.” One of them was my maternal great grandmother.

In 1902 Christiana Norway, at age forty, Eugenie Rosholt, clasped her blond, blue-eyed, four-year-old daughter’s hand and boarded the Oscar II, a 140,000 pound ship with 898 passengers.  They were on route to New York to rejoin her husband, Johan Alfred Rosholt and young son, who unable to subsist in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere, had immigrated to Chicago for work.

My grandma - Martha Olson

My grandma - Martha Olson

Night and day, horizon and sea, merged during their stormy passage. Mother and daughter huddled together. The weight of Eugenie’s unborn child brought warmth, yet stole energy. On a clear, morning September 2, 1902, Eugenie carried Dagny on deck for fresh air. Etched against the shoreline, a giant, golden goddess glistened in sunlight.

They disembarked on a gangplank onto barges carrying them to the Immigration Center on Ellis Island, where the aliens waited in lines, inching forward in a shuffle-step. In the Great Hall (Registry Room), a doctor lifted Eugenie’s chin, poked a knife at her eye pulling down the lower lid and waved her past, nodding at the frail girl by her side. Had he looker closer, he would have noticed the shine of fever in the child’s eyes and turned them away. Mother and daughter, weary from the long voyage, were filled with hope, yet the great dream turned into a tragic nightmare. Dagny died a fortnight after arriving in America. Three and a half months later, Eugenie, pierced by labor pain, was admitted to the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. On January 25, 1903, minutes after Martha (my maternal grandmother) safely entered the new world, her mother left it.

Without a wet nurse for the baby, and unable to cope, a grief stricken Johan sank into depression and returned to Norway with Edward. He never recovered from the loss of Dagny and Eugenie. Martha, placed in the Chicago Children’s Home, became a ward of the state. Four years later, a Norwegian family, Anne and Alric Raymond, adopted my grandma. Martha never knew she had a brother until Edward appeared at her confirmation. She married Gustav Olson, also a Norwegian immigrant, on October 29th 1929, the day the stock market crashed during the Great Depression. Gustav died of cancer at the age of 47 leaving my grandmother alone to put her two older children through college and raise their seven-year-old brother.

My jovial grandmother never complained about her inauspicious debut or hard life, instead she spread good cheer with a welcoming smile and twinkle in her sea blue eyes.

The survival spirit of my ancestors flows through my veins. Like for so many Americans, Ellis Island remains etched in my family history, like a badge of courage.

http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_history.asp