Living, Loving and Sticking the Finish (Happy Birthday, Mom!)

Today is the birthday of the famous young gymnast, Simone Biles, who was born on March 4, 1997. Another not-so-famous, Great-Depression-era gymnast who also made her entrance onto life’s stage on March 4, 1921, was Anna Violet Adlam.  Her ten other siblings called her Violet. My father called her Ann. I was most blessed of all, because I got to call her “Mom”.  She was diagnosed with (and later died from) a massive brain tumor when I was only twenty-three years old, but her legacy lives to this day, in my life and in my heart.

The “gymnast” portion of my mother’s story was fleeting and uneventful, in large measure because it had been born out of necessity, as opposed to any particular athletic talent.  She had joined the high school gymnastics team because she was issued a school uniform and, therefore, she knew that she would at least have something acceptable to wear to school every day. The uniform was hand-washed in a bathroom sink and hung up to dry, just before retiring to bed at night, in her family’s small row home in Philadelphia, where she slept sideways on a bed, alongside her sisters – my six aunts – three of whom are featured with her in the photo in this blog post.

During my life, Mom shared many recollections of growing up as one of eleven children in daunting, tough, uncertain times. Today, as news reports have continued to unfold about the present stark and unconscionable conditions in Ukraine, I am reminded of my mother’s stories of wartime and economic turmoil. As some of the Ukrainian people and their leaders are interviewed, it would appear that certain people seem almost designed to bear difficulties and strife; in my opinion, my mother was one of those indefatigable people.  Gary’s Armenian ancestors also come to mind in this regard. They also endured unfathomable circumstances with tremendous faith and courage.  For sure, amidst turbulence, tragedy and challenges, it requires more than mere perseverance or a modicum of resolve for people to rise above fear, to manifest personal resourcefulness and to prioritize other people and ideals as being greater than oneself. Circumstances can guide and shape our personal choices but, greatness – as regards our humanity and our legacies – is often revealed by how deftly we navigate the broken glass, potholes and orange cones on our paths, while still choosing kindness, goodness, loyalty, truth, and love for others. In a way, living life well is a different type of gymnastics. The execution is not always flawless. It requires strength and tenacity, and it’s all the more memorable if you can stick the finish.   

Now, I’d be sorely misleading you if I suggested that my mother’s execution for living was always lilting, sophisticated or smooth. Still, I respected her immensely, for everything she overcame and everything she accomplished, especially given the odds against her during certain stages of her life. Her optimism was fortifying, her spiritual faith was unwavering and her selfless energy on behalf of those she loved was immeasurable. My memories of growing up are wonderful ones and I am immensely grateful for her part in creating those.

Of course, there’s more to her story…

She could serve up sarcasm with a smile and cut right to the chase of any issue with a one-liner that would leave you reeling on the hook. In a world of spicy, she could be the whole jar of Tabasco; she didn’t mince words – and she frequently had plenty of them. To this moment, I can still recall some of her more humorous caustic and succinct retorts, none of which I could politely memorialize in this forum.  If a politician or a commentator annoyed her as she watched the morning news, she would, at one moment, hurl a loud and cringeworthy insult at them, and turn to my father in the next moment, to calmly inquire whether he’d like another cup of coffee (service with a smile). She kept up with beltway politics and, if Mom were here today, she would, without doubt, have much to say about the yahoos presently in the White House – as well as those espousing the woke orthodoxy that is ruining America. Mom was authentic, simplistic, honest and blunt. (Let’s go Brandon!)

As it follows with Maggie Smith’s character who portrays Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey, Violet Adlam had little patience for people who lied, who cheated, or who were hypocrites. I can think of a few people, in particular, that she didn’t appreciate when she was alive – as well as some who she would not have enjoyed or tolerated, if she had been alive presently. She wasn’t a game player or a drama queen and had no time for those who were. For the most part, she was warm, welcoming, loving, quick-witted and brutally honest.  Her relationships with others could be as lyrical as Mozart but her interludes with others were more like Mozart interspersed with unexpected stanzas of Led Zeppelin, if she sensed something at a core level that she didn’t trust or respect. 

And, unlike the prim, proper and well-manicured Violet Crawley, Violet Adlam’s chaffed and rough hands were not feminine, pretty or aristocratic looking.  Hers were hands that had spent time saluting as a Sergeant in the Women’s Army Corp, hands experienced from forty years of secretarial duties, and hands that had been worn from washing, wiping runny noses, hugging, rocking babies to sleep and so much more.  With those hands, she worked long, hard days. She single-handedly served up more guests at our dinner table more frequently than the butlers at Downton Abbey did, during all of the years six seasons of episodes comprised. She was always cooking for someone and it was always delicious, even on a budget. Not once did it seem to really matter to anyone, as it turns out, that Mom’s hands were manly and unattractive.  Not once did my father, my siblings or I ever complain that her nails were unmanicured and bitten short from financial worries, or that her hands were dry and cracked.  No one complained or criticized her, when she was using those unpolished hands (often and vigorously) to help each and every one of us with everything we did.  Those were the hands that clapped for hundreds upon hundreds of musical performances she unwaveringly attended, to support us, to applaud us, to cheer each of us on. We were all the beneficiaries of Violet’s hands, unattractive as they were, because those hands were directly connected to her heart.

It’s the lighter, fun, joyous and convivial side of my mother that I try to conjure the most.  The sound of her laugh is burned into my memory, as sure as if she is standing in the room with me.  In spirit, she still cooks with me, offers fashion advice and takes Gary’s side of an issue whenever controversy arises (even when those positions are, quite obviously, entirely mistaken). She never even got to meet the dashing Mr. Beck and, yet, I know with certainty that she adores him from her heavenly realm.  She would have loved him even more here, on earth.

Certain memories about her stand out more than others – such as the (few and far between) family road trips when, with boredom in tow and fights over leg room in the back seat of the car, she would come up with creative ways to pass the time. “Let’s all curse!”, she would suggest. Or, as an alternative, she would bust out some of the more humorous (read: distasteful) jingles she had learned when she was young, while jumping rope with her siblings and friends on the streets of North Philadelphia.  You can let your imagination wander regarding what those particular ditties were like.

Both of my parents were incredibly generous, with the money that neither of them actually had to give. Treasured amongst my memorabilia, are little typed and handwritten notes my mother sent to me in the mail, during my college years. Her notes would be folded neatly around a $10 bill or two and usually say things like, “I wish I could send you more” or, “Here’s a little something to put toward a new pair of shoes”.  The signature lines typically read, “Love, love, love, Mom”. Mind you, my mother’s own closet had scarcely a few pair of her own shoes and she never, at any one time, owned more than a dozen or so outfits to her name.  How I wish she had been here in my adult years, when I could have treated her to some simple luxuries! 

There were also some “mom-moments” that I wish I could erase from the history books, but can’t. Certain boyfriends still probably have a few of these moments uncomfortably burned in their psyches, as well. One occurred during my freshman year at Muhlenberg College.  Believing that she was acting as my dating advocate, she had a brief “heart-to-heart” encounter with my college beau, outside of a fitting room in Hess’s Department store, where I was trying on gowns for a formal dance.  After I had rejected the fit of the first two dresses, I somewhat-dejectedly retreated to the fitting room to try on a third.  Standing before the dressing room mirror (nearly naked and mid-gown change and, therefore, helpless to rescue my boyfriend from my mother’s company), I could hear her lovingly (but unnecessarily) “defending” me to him, by telling him not to pay any attention regarding my disfavor and disappointment with how the first two (rejected) dresses had fit.  She went on with her comments – oh, boy, did she ever. She went on to explain to him that I had lovely breasts… she matter-of-factly described their shape and perkiness… and, further, she summed them up as being “modest, but ample”.  My boyfriend, who was one of the sweetest, most innocent and polite gentlemen quite possibly EVER, recalled being wholly mortified, trapped in a state of suspended animation, and not at all sure how to respond.  He wondered: should he say, “good to know”? Or, should he merely remark “duly noted”, as he feigned complete ignorance?  Or, should he take the bait and respond, enthusiastically, in the affirmative – “I agree!”?  Needless to say, I have never gotten clothed more quickly.  I practically flew out of the fitting room, and declared that I would simply wear something already in my closet.  Away we all went, up to the restaurant, for some of that famous Hess Department Store strawberry shortcake. This memory, and others JUST LIKE IT punctuate my early decades, under the “unfiltered” category.

Regardless of these types of awkward, quirky dating events that were “enhanced” by my mother, both I and every boyfriend I ever brought home, seemed to accept Mom’s “advocacy” as well-intentioned – because it actually was. My mother was someone to laugh with and someone to cry with and, sometimes, you just needed to laugh at, with or about her… until it made you cry. Almost 40 years since her death, she continues to march forth – in my head, in my soul, and in spirit – just as her March 4th birth date had ironically prophesized. A mountain of gratitude could never suffice, to honor her time, love and sacrifices on behalf of me and others.

Just before the tumor in her brain had fully claimed her thought processes and her body functions, she and I were able to share breakfast one morning, at a little restaurant around the corner from Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia (where we had just obtained a second opinion regarding her prognosis). Choking back my tears, I recall barely being able to compose myself, knowing that our time together was running out, even as we were sitting there. She would never be able to know the children I might have. She and my dad would never experience their golden years together; there’d be no time to just enjoy life and stop working so hard.  The months ahead would be filled with pain, radiation, pharmaceutical interventions, and horrible sickness. But, that morning, she just reached across the table, grabbed my hands in hers, and re-assured me that her life had been incredibly meaningful.  She declared, “I had the love of God, a husband and three wonderful children – what more could I have wanted?” Imagine that.

And, it is that vision and those words which bubble up inside me on her birthday, every March 4th. Tonight, as I think about her on the eve of what would have been her 101st year, I decided to spill my thoughts in this little tribute, to reflect on the courage, love, selflessness and devotion she possessed. Despite her own difficult upbringing, despite having not been provided with a fraction of what I was fortunate to have had, she managed to execute life and love and, just as importantly, to stick the finish.  If she could “march forth” with such dignity and strength, then I know I have everything I need to march forth despite any challenges in my path, as well. Just as violets tend to thrive under all kinds of conditions in a garden, so did Violet Adlam weather the storms of life. She did so with an abundance of grace. That’s what she passed on in the process of passing on. It’s what I want to pass on to my children, in turn. 

There are some who, even as adults, cannot move beyond the bondage of petty resentments, jealousy, regret and anger they experienced (or perceived) from their upbringing – and that is sad.  There are some who feel mad or victimized by their family or other life experiences. Fortunately, whether such experiences or perceptions are legitimate or not, there is a way forward – and it’s not to ruminate on the same old cud or to constantly bind oneself to narratives that don’t elevate living or serve a higher purpose.  Learning to live in gratitude for that which is good on the balance beam of life, helps us each march forth (and move beyond) those things (and people) that are bad. My mother’s legacy taught me that, just as with gymnastics, life is not one huge pass/fail event but, rather, a series of the smallest of good elements that, put together, add up to great execution. The collective of those small, good things is more important and meaningful than any bad thing – even the big, bad things. So, today and every day, move beyond, march forth and think about the legacy you, yourself, will be leaving to others.  Give it your all – and remember to stick the finish, for the win. 

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Happy 60th Mr. Beck! (to me, you’re still a 30-year-old – but with 30 years more experience 😉 ❤️)

IMG_5584Today is my wonderful (and dashing) husband’s 60th birthday.  He doesn’t have a Facebook page. He’s not one for a lot of fanfare and he’s a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight. He doesn’t expect a celebration (we’re giving him one anyway, of course). Despite all of that, in honor of this special life milestone, a birthday tribute to him seems fitting (and fun).

Thirty-two years ago, we were married. This makes us officially married for more than half of his entire six decades of adult life (and, *cough, cough* over half of my six decades, too, as I’m even older). For all of those years together – and for so much more – I am incredibly thankful.  There has not been a day, since the day we first met, that I have not believed in him, been cheered on by him and been incredibly attracted to him.  For those who do not know our story of friendship and love, suffice it to say that God stepped into my life, at the right time and in all the right ways, to make sure we found one another. For sure, Gary was an answer to my prayers.   He and God somehow carefully choreographed the entire romance and secured our happily-ever-after.

Mr. Beck would be the first one to tell you that he is neither as smart as a rocket scientist nor as cool as a rock star. But, on the plus side, his shoes are always shined, his hair is always perfect, he always has a smile and a kind word for neighbors and strangers alike and he always makes quality time for me, Jordan and Parker, in the middle of whenever – even if “whenever” is in the dark hours of a tearful night or any other time of day when comfort, friendship, advice or help is needed. In short, he’s a really, really good and decent man. He’s fun, caring and exceedingly hard-working.  I never wanted the rocket scientist or the rock star anyway, so I’m the lucky recipient of the better, grander prizes in our partnership. (Did I mention that he has also cut my hair for twenty-eight of our thirty-two years? Yep… that, too. Granted, I’m a really good tipper, so it works out well for both of us.)

Gary is as generous with his money as he is with his time. There has not been even one situation, when I have suggested a gift or help for a friend or family member in need, that he has pushed back, in the slightest. Helping other people, buying an airline ticket or a trunkful of groceries for someone down on their luck, has never required a second thought or a second ask. Gary is all about paying it forward, picking up the dinner tab, purchasing new tires to make someone’s car roadworthy, or encouraging me to do likewise. For years, he’s been my partner in supporting autism and literacy advocacy in all kinds of ways. The best part? You’d never know or learn about his generosity from him. Gary’s got a big heart… but a humble countenance to go with it.

Now, no one hits the “60” milestone without gathering some lessons and wisdom on the way. Largely, Gary figured out most of life’s challenges on his own, whether it was college tuition, competitive sports, social graces, fatherhood or the secrets to a happy marriage. He’s had a few good mentors during the journey and several others who taught him who he didn’t want to be.  I would like to claim that we have figured out our adult lives as a team but, to say so, I would be doing Gary a disservice; the hill I have had to climb has often been a bit less steep and encumbered than his.  Gary has had some boulders in his backpack, under whose weight, many people would have been defeated – right at the starting line.  Despite those setbacks, he has never positioned himself as a victim.  Instead, Gary is an inspiring victor over some potentially life-altering obstacles – always turning his setbacks into set-ups.  Our two children would attest to how he has gently encouraged  Jordan and Parker to also never give up on hope, focus, principles, truth, and dreams.  I do wish that Gary would have known my father, another fine person of character, because the two of them would have really loved one another. (*added bonus feature inserted in this paragraph: Gary gets extra wisdom points for arriving at 60-years-old as a conservative thinker, who will be voting for Trump again in 2020 :) )

Gary has always been too simple and basic to be… preachy, pompous, pretentious or pontifical (although he tends to like my use of alliteration, so I just sprinkled some in right there, in case you didn’t notice). He’s not imperious or grandiloquent  (and will most likely look at me perplexed for even using those last two adjectives).  On the contrary (and more seriously), if I had to pick one characteristic about him that I love the most, it is his authenticity.  What you see on the surface is what you get, all of the time, every time. Some people don’t care for that… because some people can’t really handle that… but it’s an awesome way to live one’s life.  Within days of first knowing Gary, I knew I could be precisely who I was when I was with him – and could say exactly what I thought, without fear of rejection or judgement.  As we both have grown together over the decades, we greatly value that part of our marriage and have also become similarly focussed on the authenticity of our friends and acquaintances. We don’t make too much space in our day-to-days for game players and toxic relationships, nor do we even pretend to tolerate it anymore.  As we nudge our way into our more senior years, we value simple kindnesses and people who play life straight and real… not because it’s safer, but because it keeps our life meaningful, healthy and whole.  It’s taken us six decades to learn that it hurts too much, in the long run, to settle for less.  

Of course, authenticity isn’t solely about how true one is, to oneself and others, but also how closely aligned one is to the principles one espouses. In the 35 years since I have known him, I have never seen Gary lie, cheat, steal, renege on a contract or go back on his word.  I’ve never seen Gary act differently in the company of highly sophisticated  people than he acts in a room full of average Joes.  His has a sticky and sometimes-penetrating kind of genuineness that can make certain people uncomfortable – politically, morally and personally – as it may pull back the curtain on duplicity. Gary possesses the kind of authenticity that, by comparison, unintentionally brings into view the dissimulation and charades of lesser men and women.  In today’s tiresome environment of fake news, bogus crises, artificial beauty, pseudo intellectuals and Facebook phonies, waking up to a “real deal” every morning is the most refreshing and liberating feeling in the world.  I’ll take that at sixty-years-old, or any age at all (and he’s still pretty cute, too, which never hurts – let’s face it…).  

We are celebrating Gary and Gary’s 60 years in some big and small ways with, appropriately, some big and small gifts.  The kiddos have planned this year’s celebration for quite some time.  “Sixty” might go down as the most drawn out, most creatively organized birthday on record in our household!  But the gifts, big or small, or anywhere in between, aren’t what we most want to remember about this special day. Gary’s birthday will, most of all, be a day for celebrating love, not just years.  Our love for each other has transcended decades of “for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health”. God’s love for us, individually and as a couple, continues to far surpass our comprehension or imagination. The love of our beautiful children is what sustains us and helps to lift us up each day, and the love of our many good friends is what gives us hope about the decency of humanity, into the future. Though cheesy and cliché, LOVE really is what makes life go ’round– at sixty or at any age. Beyond all of the balloons, birthday hats, bags, bows and beautifully wrapped sleeves of golf balls (Gary loses more of them, now that there are alligators in and around Florida’s water) – we will be striving to embrace Mr. Beck with all of the love he deserves today.  HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY GARRRRR!!!!!! We are so grateful for YOU – yesterday, today and all of the tomorrows yet to be!!!!!!!

Victoria xoxo

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A Memorial for Martha Adlam Leary (8.30.1957-7.27.2019)

Dear Adlam Relatives –
As many of you know, a few years ago, I dusted off Grandfather Bert Adlam’s autobiography, to edit it in a (hopefully) engaging and inspiring format that might help transcend not only its purple-inked ditto page medium, but also its readability. My new version of it was posted to my personal blog page ( ), where I shared it with all of the relatives and cousins whose contact information with me was current; I was confident that it would be shared even more widely, from there.

Shortly after that time, Martha Leary reached out to me by email and we corresponded with one another about the autobiography project. I enjoyed learning that my own journey into William Albert Adlam’s past had deeply inspired her, as well. Even more wonderful, was learning that her terrific husband, Jim Leary, offered to help her piece together additional parts of our common Adlam ancestral history. Jim surprised Martha with a generous and true gift of love – a trip to England, where they endeavored to explore, first-hand, some of the places referenced in Grandpop’s autobiographical text.

Somewhat ironic and thought-provoking, as I read back on my exchanges with Martha, were these lines that she wrote in a letter, following her adventures across the pond:

“My father had given each of us Adlam kids a copy of it [the autobiography] long ago. Like a lot of things, I had good intentions of reading about my heritage, but as the saying goes… ‘the best laid plans of mice and Martha’. My life got in the way.”

Martha was a sweet, beautiful and loving person. She was a good soul and humble role model for others. In my view, her “life” didn’t get in the way as much as it probably lighted the way, although I doubt she knew that. Her debilitating illness was, indeed, the thing that “got in the way.” Her illness got in the way, in an awful way… and it did so way too soon for her and for those who loved and cared about her. Heaven acquired a true angel in every sense of the word, when Martha left this earthly realm.

Martha knew that Bert Adlam didn’t put his life story onto paper in the last chapters of his life merely because he wanted everyone to know the logistics and the particulars of where he lived and when he lived there. Had Bert Adlam wanted a soapbox or a scoresheet, his recollections would have, most certainly, taken on a different tone. I think that Martha and I both read a more poignant message: that we are each created to have meaning and to lead uniquely meaningful lives. Meaning is not determined by our relative stations in life, nor is it an outcropping of the individual circumstances by which we are confronted. It is made of our faith and our virtues; our meaning becomes our legacy to one another. It is important that we are honest. It is important that we are grateful. It is important that we don’t make excuses. It is important to act with class and dignity, even when we don’t have two nickels to our name. Think about it. As a boy, Bert Adlam was up close and personal with the people and the places of English royalty. Yet, there is not a hint of resentment about his lot in life as compared to theirs, even though he and his parents were servants to them. That’s because William Albert Adlam knew who he ultimately served with his life – and that is where he found meaning.

I believe that Martha was touched by her grandfather’s life story, for all of the right reasons. As you read Martha’s words from her own trip to England, you can see what priorities filtered up to the surface for her: the church where her Grandfather was christened, the parish where he was confirmed, the site where he said his vows to his first wife (who sadly died, before he later married our grandmother).

We don’t want to know about our ancestors or our relatives simply to know the origins of our physical DNA. We want to know how they lived because such can inspire us, direct our steps and fill up our hearts, regardless of whether it is one hundred years later or one hundred hours ago. A story of love, kindness, courage in the face of adversity, faith in Christ, and being of good character (even when no one else is looking) – these are the themes that were intended to capture our interest and our hearts. These are the kinds of things that breathe meaning into our lives and, in turn, inspiration into the lives of others. It is unfortunate when we become temporarily sideswiped or derailed by the people or the circumstances that try to wedge their way into life as anything other than our Creator intended our lives to be.

To this last point and, in Martha’s memory, we are reminded from Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

There is really no doubt that the God of peace has Martha tightly in His arms. May the light of Martha’s life brighten the way for others, just as the legacy of Grandfather William Albert and our other wonderful Adlam ancestors have done for so many of us, through the ages.

Love and blessings,

Victoria Beck

(A pdf of both the original autobiography and the new, edited version (mine PLUS Martha’s) can be found at the bottom of this post. You can print it in the PDF format provided. As this autobiography is intended to be a fluid document, input like Martha’s and other family information is always welcomed. I will periodically update it, with credits to the various family author(s).
Click the link below, for the new text:

Autobiography with Martha’s Additions


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My Dear Jordan Elizabeth,

Today, you are a quarter of a century old! This, of course, signals something that’s incredibly important: I need to stop telling people that I’m 35.

As you entered the world in 1991, the United States was embroiled in the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas endlessly grilling him about sexual misconduct allegedly perpetrated by him against Anita Hill. In other news, the Berlin Wall had just recently come down, and the stock market had just come up to over 3000 for the first time ever. The “world wide web” had sprung into being in 1991 and revolutionized our way of life… just as you did! … (and, arguably, you have made an even bigger impact than it did).

As your dark, sparkling eyes and magnificent head of gorgeous baby hair graced my hospital room for the first time, you made headlines of a different kind in our life that would never fade like the news of the day and here we are – in the blink of an eye – celebrating the 25th year of that magnificent blessing to us. You originally arrived as the most perfect specimen of life we could have imagined and now you enter the next quarter of life with an abundance of spirit, an unwavering conviction to excel, a generous heart for your family and an abiding love for God and your neighbors that is still perfect in our eyes. Well done. Really, really well done, my dear.

As the lyrics of this beautiful song in the video describe, you had better anticipate that, STILL,

In the morning when you rise,
I bless the sun, I bless the skies.
I bless your lips, I bless your eyes.
My blessing goes with you.


When your weary heart is tired,
If the world would leave you uninspired,
When nothing more of love’s desired,
My blessing goes with you.

In addition to all of the blessings that have always been with you is also a special birthday prayer. Now that you are a 25-year-old adult woman with buckets of your own wisdom, my prayer is that you learn early what your 50-something parents took twice as long to fully grasp: Go forward into the next wonderful quarter-century pursuing only those meaningful things and relationships that your future self will thank you for.

As a stockbroker, you know the importance of making sound financial investments. Protect the rest of your assets in the same way. Love, fidelity, loyalty, kindness, generosity, fun, laughter, beauty of heart, patience, understanding and all of the wonderful traits that make you “YOU” are the blessings you carry to others. Your future self will never regret sowing those seeds, especially among the like-minded. Your future self will prosper greatly if you never take those same blessings in others for granted in any way. That is how to not only count your blessings, but to make all your blessings count.

So, my amazing daughter, let me wish you an equally amazing and happy birthday today and, as the lyrics say:

When the storms of life are strong,
When you’re wounded, when you don’t belong,
When you no longer hear my song,
My blessing goes with you.

This is my prayer for you,
There for you, ever true,
Each, every day for you,
In everything you do.

We love you so much. Dad and I are incredibly proud of you. Twenty-five years after your birth in 1991, Supreme Court judges continue to be nominated, our country is still talking about walls, the stock market has risen five-fold and the “world wide web” now delivers your birthday greeting via Facebook and my personal blog, neither of which any of us imagined, way back when you were born. Events come and go, many things change, but these two things will stay the same forever – and beyond: I bless you and you bless me too.

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Don’t Miss the Train You Truly Want to Take

I’ve had some wonderful conversations this week, with some inspirational people who happen to be going through some particularly tough times.  Words of comfort – especially for those who are usually the comfort-givers – are hard to discern sometimes… but I’m going to try.  This blog is for you….


When it comes to life, you need to take the right ticket and leave your bags at the station. Problem is, that when your bags have finally gotten so heavy that you can’t travel with them anymore, it knocks you to your knees, and you realize that maybe it’s time to travel lightly and to let go of what has been weighing you down and putting a burden on your heart. My sweet husband has been trying to gently and lovingly tell me this for years, in one way or another.

I wonder if the reason this has finally registered in my brain is that I didn’t always carry so much stuff with me or that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just become less tolerant or more aware of the weight. My occasional affair with luggage has, perhaps, been at least a consistently inconsistent one; I was probably shaped by being the youngest child who was always eager to please, who was always concerned about aging parents and, more than not, a fairly deep thinker. Moreover, my belief system has always drawn me to the suitcases labeled “Kindness”, “Loyalty”, “Generosity” and “Care”, without always realizing that those were exactly the ones that also carried the highest degrees of risk. Heaped inside those same suitcases, were surprising amounts of equal and opposite kinds of toxic stuff: stuff such as betrayal, hurt, mean-spiritedness and resentment. If only Isaac Newton could have applied his theory of paradoxical phenomena to matters of the heart we would have each been forewarned…and the fallout to well-intentioned, chronic care-a-holics like me would have been averted. Along life’s way, in a strange combination of masochism and optimism, instead of letting go of my tight grip on my suitcases, and despite the hurt or disloyalty I was semi-conscious of carrying, my fingers hung on. Perhaps I also bought into an illusion that my suitcases doubled as protective gear – being kind would enable me to ignore feeling hurt, that being loyal would allow me to pretend that those I loved would never betray me, and that caring about and caring for others would inspire others in kind. This is, in a word, dumb. Sooner or later, carrying negative stuff around makes daily life too painful to to navigate. In addition, the sad reality is that many times, other people simply don’t care enough to come walk alongside you to hear about the weight of your burden, nor will they acknowledge their toxic contribution to it. Dr. Laura Schlesinger, in her book entitled, Surviving a Shark Attack (on Land), explains that most people seek only ways to justify the stuff they’ve handed you to carry along the way. In Dr. Laura’s perspective (unlike Isaac Newton’s perspective), in the world of real people, the universe does not have a way of equalizing things. According to her, most people just don’t really feel remorse, take responsibility, make sincere efforts to repair brokenness or avoid repeating the hurtful things they do and say to others. She calls these the four “r”s.

Now, we can adopt a simple Christian perspective for the chronic luggage aficionado like me: it is a metaphor of God as the engineer, with sin and pain as the bags we carry and Jesus as the guy we hand them to at the platform.

The story unfolds. The Lord sees you holding on tightly to all of your bags with both hands and, without even opening your luggage, he knows what you’re carrying. Your ticket is clenched (and now mangled) between your teeth. But, just before the train pulls away, you finally let go of your grip, put down the luggage and turn around. Jesus offers a different ticket to you and takes the now-gummy one from the clutches of your pearly whites. In deciding to take his fresh ticket, however, you need the use of your hands, so you lay down your bags and you just leave them there, on the station deck.

New ticket in hand, you board.

There is, of course, an epilogue to the “Leave Your Luggage at the Platform” story and, in it, you learn not to pick up more baggage once you’re on the train. You learn from your past. You don’t allow others to disrespect you or put you down. You don’t confuse being kind and polite to others with allowing people to treat you harshly or try to diminish your sense of self worth.

You continue to embrace your kindness. You continue to be exceedingly generous. You keep your integrity intact and you remain humble. You do “good” – in every way you can, with as many people as you can, as long as you can. But you also don’t pick up the stuff that weighs you down along the way, and you don’t continue to place yourself in hurtful environments. This is particularly important for many of my women friends who are helper-giver-pleaser types, as I am. Oh…and once you’re riding on those new rails, you find a seat in the “Dignity” car. That’s where you’ll have the healthiest view of the landscape, of life and of others for the remainder of your ride. You cannot ride the freight train anymore because the hurt and the baggage you carried are in His grip now, not yours.

Don’t miss the important journey you’re meant to enjoy… and don’t miss the train you truly want to take.

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The Man in the Glass

old pics-456He was born an only child in 1887 but, later, he was a father to eleven of his own, raising them during tough times and in very modest circumstances. From his eleven children, came forth nearly forty more children and I am among the youngest of those. Since his birth, William Albert Adlam’s ancestral tree has grown and, today, it must have well over one hundred leaves growing on its branches. Yet, few are left to convey the “Bert Adlam” tale and so, as time passes on, it risks fading from view (and importance) altogether – quietly and inconspicuously in the winds of the ages.

In my own mother’s dresser drawer lived the purple-stained mimeographed pages of the brief, original autobiography her father crafted shortly before his death. Save for that, much of his memories and life’s story would probably have gone completely untold or would have, by now, withered on the family vine. In my teenage years, I would occasionally stumble upon the folder containing that autobiography when I was rummaging around looking for something else. Once, I remember fanning the 22-page account of his life and thinking that the act of writing it had been a cool thing for my grandfather to do. Beyond that, especially at that time, it made little impact in my mind, let alone on my life. Besides, it was difficult to read, I recall; it contained run-on sentences, awkward grammar and recollections that I believed had little real meaning to me.

But, fast-forward forty-five more years and twelve house moves back and forth, across the country. Throughout the ongoing journey of my own life, that autobiography surfaced every single time I packed and unpacked and, as it did, it found its way into a new drawer or file. Each time it did, I vowed that I would take it out and read it through…sometime. Finally, a few weeks ago, just prior to my 57th birthday, I stuffed it into my purse on the way out of the door for a five-day mini-vacation. It seemed like the perfect poolside companion for my trip, although I never anticipated that it would end up consuming that vacation… as well as the week that followed it.

I will admit that, initially, getting through the rough and somewhat broken nature of the original manuscript was a little challenging. At the same time, however, I found it charming. It was filled with the author’s sometimes disjointed and assorted-yet-authentic human experiences, which had been poured onto the pages, often with vivid descriptions and touching emotions. Naturally, because I was a child when my / our grandfather died, I knew him, but not with any real sense of intimacy. As I began to read his story on the plane ride, his “voice” emerged as my traveling companion, literally from within the text, and his personality oozed through the words on the pages.

That said, I also began t to realize that there was a second story subtly buried within his first one. However, because of the style and the condition of the original text, both stories would likely not live to ever again see the light of day for all of the descendants of William Albert Adlam if it was left as it was. My cousins, and their children, and their children’s children would not likely ever read the original text, much less take the time to decipher some of the original paragraphs – which were rife with misspellings, run-on sentences, fragments of thoughts and, let’s face it… NO PICTURES! In this more modern era of the Internet, there were photos to be found that could make his original story come alive… and there was a writer (me) with a laptop, who would be captive by a pool for five days. I was gradually falling in love with the idea of a 21st century version of a 19th century grandfather’s life. And so, this expanded (yet edited) version of his original story came to life, in my villa overlooking the ocean, just as he started to come to life for me, through his words. Interestingly, as I researched each and every detail he recounted, I was stunned at just how accurate his recollections really were. He, of course, never had the benefit of checking his facts on a computer. But, other than a few names and spellings, his raw memories were essentially spot on. That is impressive, for sure.

The “story within the story” mentioned above, however, was my real motivation. Sure, it is fantastical to read about life in 19th century England. To finally piece together some of the photos of our family’s past with his accounts of Britain’s royalty seems magical. And to realize, in our present era of the hit television drama series Downton Abbey, that our grandfather visited the real Highclere Castle (where the show is filmed) is awe-inspiring. But I wanted to share a less obvious, parallel theme with my husband and children when I arrived home from my trip. That secondary tale is about a man who was fundamentally grateful to others for their impact and generosity in his life. That story within the original story reveals a man who struggled with some philosophical issues of his time, but sought to reconcile matters on sound principles. It is the story of hard work, an abiding faith, duty to one’s country, respect for one’s elders, love for one’s family and hope for one’s future. All of those secondary themes were pleasantly evident in his twenty-two pages. He considered himself very fortunate, even though he had little property, a modest education and his fair share of life challenges and heartaches. All of our modern lives can benefit from taking pause, taking note, or both.

I have tried to keep the new, edited version of The Autobiography of William A. Adlam as close to the original as possible. I’ve cleaned up the grammar, the spelling and a number of minor historical details. Whenever possible, I’ve researched the history he references and have included explanations in shadowed text boxes, alongside his story. Because this is just for our family, I have not gone to the painstaking effort to provide proper credits or footnotes in those text boxes; in some cases, I’ve copied and pasted right from the pages of Wikipedia… so please forgive those instances where I have “borrowed generously.” I spent a considerable amount of time finding photos that matched his journey, in an effort to make an old story new, even more engaging, cogent and descriptive.

Finally, you will see that I’ve included an Appendix of his original autobiography, as well as his original “resume.” If any of you have other documents you think would add value, please pass them on to me and I will add them appropriately. I am thankful for your input, help and feedback in what I consider to be a living project of a past era. Naturally, I dedicate this labor of love to William Albert Adlam, the Adlam family and to God, whose hand has guided us all, protected us all and led us all – each in so many ways, for over one hundred years. We are extraordinarily blessed.

To access, read or print the revised autobiography (110 pages in total), click on the link here:

The Autobiography of William Albert Adlam

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Happy 40th Nora and Richard! Art… in life.

richard and nora

As Richard Nixon was being named co-conspirator in Watergate, Randolph and Catherine Hearst were pleading for Patty’s release – two grueling months after her abduction.  Hank Aaron was rounding his 715th homer, surpassing Babe Ruth’s legendary record.  Chet Huntley died and Golda Meir resigned… (both as mutually exclusive events… lol).  A gasoline shortage coincided with an overabundance of feel-good TV sitcoms – including Happy Days and The Waltons.  Who knew that all of these 1974 events could be trumped by something even more historically significant:  the marriage of Richard W. Berlinger to Nora J. Land!

Now, I was only fifteen years old in 1974.

For several years prior (to which some might refer as my “impressionable years”), I had steadfastly pinned my ear to the heater vent in my bedroom, hoping to hear the physical manifestations from the juicy relationship of my (MUCH) older sister (of eleven years) coming forth from her room which was two floors directly below mine.  She had dated Richard for a number of years – and (YIKES!) he was even OLDER than she was!  As it turned out, I was not influenced at all by what I heard… which is either unfortunate for me or laudable for them (I know, you need to think about that one); Richard and Nora did (or didn’t do) things the “right” way… and then they got married.

This coming April 6th will be their 40th anniversary and, while I didn’t follow in all of their footsteps, I have been around to witness their abiding love and devotion to one another for more than two score (as Abraham Lincoln would say), so I felt it was an appropriate time to point out a few of the observations I’ve enjoyed during that very long stretch of time.  Clearly, this is a risky proposition; by doing so, I reveal my true age (55) which differs from the youthful 30 I know my readers assumed I was.  In addition, I know I run the risk of completely embarrassing their son (my nephew) Eric, who fully believes he was immaculately conceived.  I also risk confessing my humility and my reverence to my sister and her husband; from this day forward Richard will fully leverage his age, experience and intelligence upon me, even more than he does already.   Oh well.  He’s still bald and I’m still thin.  That should even things out, regardless of all else.  Here goes.

Nora and Richard met when Nora was the organist and choir director at the Germantown Presbyterian Church.  Richard was the (OLD) guy with the buzz cut in the choir that she thought was cute (PSHHHH)… just about the same time I was dating guys with long hair and Marlboros in their back pockets.  He was an attorney with a law firm in Philadelphia and, together, they began to discover that they made beautiful music together – quite literally.  Since that time, over the past forty years, however, they have discovered much, much more.  They have discovered that they have a deep devotion to one another and respect for one another to which many people can only aspire.  In forty years, I have never known either to use a foul word toward the other.  Neither have they ever fundamentally lied or deceived one another – or those around them.  What I believed to be stodgy, boring and stuffy about Richard ( in those teenage years), I matured to recognize as tolerant, honest, humble and refreshingly simple (in my adult life).  The sister with whom I once fought over closet space, became the sister I tried to emulate in my own marriage, decades later.  Nora and Richard have something very special: a real partnership.  Their marriage is a model to many.

And, Eric, as your own marriage looms nigh, I am here to be the aunt who reminds you that you would do well to take more than just a page from your mom and dad’s example.  Take their example of fighting fair.  (Notice that I didn’t say not fighting at all.)  When differences of opinion or perspective present themselves, be the gentleman your father has always been to your mother.  Further, anticipate and fully expect that Louisa will love you as Nora has always loved your dad – with fierce loyalty, unyielding forgiveness, and with a deep understanding about the character that always lies below the surface of each and every little thing he does.    You and Louisa are so incredibly blessed to have them in your life.  Never forget that.  Never take that for granted.  I so wish I had had your grandmother and grandfather (my mom and dad) in my married life.  Nora and Richard have given you so many gifts but, most of all, I believe the best gift of all was the one they jointly gave you almost 33 years ago – their trust of you to God and their belief in you as an individual.  I encourage you and Louisa to look to Nora and Richard as two of the finest examples of a married couple, and as parents, there is.  I also know that, as challenges arise, they will continue to always be there for you.

Nora and Richard have also been there as a couple for others.  That is, perhaps, a much-overlooked quality of a great marriage.  They reach out to those who are sick.  Nora always has time to lend a hand, a kind word, to make a meal for someone who is hurting or to lift someone up who needs love.  Despite the fact that he is a LAWYER…. (joke there!), Richard also uses his gift of intellect and deep thinking to be kind and thoughtful; recently, as I was diagnosed with cancer, he offered some wise words of advice, having been through the cancer journey himself.  After I chose to ignore his suggestion that we could be bald, together (through chemo), I actually have heeded his loving invitation to read the 23rd psalm in my moments of anxiety.  Unlike some, Richard does not try and wear religion so all can see it.  He lives it in a deeper, more authentic way that counts for much, much more.

In recent months, Nora and Richard have been challenged by circumstances regarding some personal and professional matters that have deeply impacted and hurt them.  Certainly, we all face troubled waters from time to time.  The mark of great character, however, is how we tread those waters when we are in them.  Life can seem unfair and petty people can act in evil or vindictive ways.  It need not change our spirit, our resolve or our faith.  Nora and Richard’s strength as a couple and love for one another cannot be daunted or dashed by the ill-will of those who are filled with anger, resentment, animosity or hate.  Richard is too good a sailor to get swept up in waves of mediocrity.  Nora is too forgiving and faithful to let her heart be poisoned by a drop of antagonism in a sea of human kindness. Love trumps all of that.  Love conquers all.  Nora and Richard know love.

So, Nora and Richard, as you celebrate your 40th, I am sure you will be toasting to your many blessings… but, as you do, many will be toasting you.  Many will be thanking you for your example, your love as a couple, and the legacy you leave to others.

While I can truly say that I never learned anything of real use by listening through that heater vent from two floors up, I have learned a lot since then.  I learned many things from the two of you that has made my own marriage wonderful and lasting.  I’ve learned about the force that a real marriage can be, each and every day, through better and worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.  I’ve learned that what God puts together, no mere man can ever put asunder.  I’ve learned that the two of you have more home runs to your name than Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth did, combined.  I’ve learned that “Happy Days” was just a show and that the “Fonz” could never have imagined anything cooler than forty years together with someone you truly love, respect and cherish.  I’ve learned that Randolph and Catherine Hearst weren’t half as wealthy as you.

I love you both.

Happy 40th Anniversary!  You are art… in life.  xo



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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Parenthood


For our daughter, Jordan, in honor of her 23rd birthday…

She’s the only survivor from Krypton’s sister planet, ARGO.  She’s got countless gifts – among them, flight, x-ray vision and speed.  And, since the arrival of Supergirl, there’s been nary a human being who’s come close to her… until my daughter arrived on Planet Earth, that is.

A funny thing happened on the way to parenthood… (and then Facebook gave it even another forum): BRAGGING.  Ugh.  Yes, we all know people who brag and, while we may not loathe them (personally), we loathe what they do.   Our fellow parents often dazzle us with constant reports of their children’s achievements – ad nauseam – and sometimes in bad taste.  We are either too polite to let them know what a turn-off the constant clucking is, or secretly delighted to let them carry on; after all, their unsavory habit of seeking attention can become almost entertaining if one is  smart enough to mentally catalogue it all for what it sometimes actually is… transparent, pitifully insecure and a woeful acknowledgment to just how inadequate they, themselves, actually may be.

I’m about to take a hiatus from social networking, but certainly not before I have a little fun in the spirit of such bragging to wish my supermodel daughter the happiest of birthdays, today.  After all, it’s that one day per year that I schedule in an extra six hours to sleep and to write and to take time from the world which is all-consumed with her accomplishments!!!.  Thank goodness Jordan understands this needed break from our extreme exhaustion, which includes taxiing her from runway to runway (especially as we shield her from the Paparazzi who are clearly as impressed with her as we are).  After the expose’ on her ultra-superior I.Q. (featured in TIME Magazine in case you missed it – June, 2013 – page 17), it’s a wonder she even had time to do that cover shot in this month’s Vogue.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised at her do-it-all abilities.  Twenty-one years ago, when she was only two, she shocked the fashion world by designing her own line of toddler clothes (“Bling Baby”), right before her musical debut at Carnegie Hall, in 1995, as she rounded her fourth birthday.  By six, the hard decisions really started mounting:  black belt competitions on the weekends interfered with family bungie jumping outings, and poor Parker had to sit through her world chess tournaments, sacrificing his precious playground time in honor of his older sibling.  By nine-years-old, she had written her second best-selling novel (each in three fluent languages) and was on a speaking tour. By age ten, Jordan had discovered the cure for cancer, using the home microscope we found at the local Toys-R-Us; however, sensing the tension with the boy genius down the street from us, we did a great job keeping it all under wraps, until the prestigious University of Denver found out and offered Jordan a full academic Dean’s scholarship at age 15, having never accepted someone so young into their student body.  By 16, she was a five-time winner in the National Piano Auditions and by 19, she had completed college, with honors.  Now, at 23, she has established her own business and is a consultant to the likes of Warren Buffet, Steve Forbes and Bill Gates.  Of course, the list goes on… but there’s only so much time in the day and, after all, there’s so little time to write as Gary and I try to manage her affairs – in between managing Parker’s psychotherapy – which came, sadly, as a result of our constant, overwhelming awe of his sister……….

Consequently, I’ll stop here.

Now, there are actually six truths in the sarcastically-humorous tale, above, although I’ll let my readers figure out which ones they are.   My tribute to Jordan, as she turns 23, isn’t about what she’s accomplished or how many notches in our parental light post we’ve entered.  It’s not about how she completes us or about how she gives us something to talk to others about.  It’s not about comparing her to anyone… or competing with anyone.  It’s not about waving her accomplishments in order to impress or to brag.  My tribute to Jordan, on her 23rd birthday, is the same as it was on her 5th birthday… or on any birthday.

Jordan, every birthday – and all the days in between them – celebrates life and meaning and goodness of heart.  As we watch you grow – imperfectly at times and perfectly beautifully at others – we are so grateful to be your parents.  We are grateful for your fullness of spirit and generosity of soul.  We are grateful when we watch you being kind to others, especially to your brother.  We are grateful for your gift of laughter and for your deep faith in God.  We are grateful for your humility, even in the light of your admirable and many accomplishments.  Even in light of these things, we need not brag or boast or hold you up, on any given day, to the scrutiny or for the applause of the world… or for purposes of malice… or as a result of misguided, ugly conceit.  Our love is yours, forever, no matter what.

Supergirl has superpowers, for sure… and, her ability to see through walls is, by all accounts, pretty cool.  Jordan, seeing through people is even cooler, and doing so will help you navigate life and avoid pettiness and traps in it – just like, well, avoiding kryptonite!  The adventures of Supergirl still makes for some exciting tall tales and entertainment.  However, as we turn the calendar on your big 23rd today, we’ll be giving endless thanks for the real and more important things in life – who you fundamentally are and who you are yet to be.  We don’t need a flag or a flagpole for that.  We just thank God each and every day that He blessed us with His very best – YOU!

Happy birthday!  We love you!  XOXO

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Autism: The Ultimate Uniter

ConnectionI would not likely have crossed paths with my autism friends had it not been for autism.   As redundant as that statement might seem, it is not without a deeper, more meaningful, significance.  We often have completely opposing political views, have children who are at all places on the spectrum, and have lifestyles that are all over the map; some of us live in double-wides, some of us live in double stories and some of us are doubly blessed, financially, and live in luxurious estates.  No matter our differences and, no matter our perspectives on the “whys” and “wherefores” of life and autism, we find a common denominator in our children, somehow, and I am incredibly grateful for it.  On any lonely night, we are there for each other.  We are not there to judge or to question.  We find a way to rise above gossip and hatred and find a loving place of friendship and acceptance; this, despite the fact the many of us have nary a connection with one another, other than our profile photos on Facebook or an occasional meeting.

For some of us, our blood-relative families have always been there, from the beginning, in our journeys.  For others of us, those relatives could have cared less and, in fact, might even delight in talking behind our backs about our crazy ideas regarding diets, vaccines, doctors and educators.  We learn to ignore, forget, forgive and tolerate… and that – PRECISELY – is what bonds us with one another, no matter what our status or walk in life.  We know one another’s pain, joy, and sleepless nights.  We know one another’s fear of the future, estate planning nightmares, and silent struggles.  We read our fellow parents’ stories and, regardless of our own hardships, we think “there but for the grace of God go I.”  Autism:  the ultimate uniter.

This holiday, I want to give a shout out to my autism community.  I love each of you for the fullness of humanity you instill in me.  I love you for the gift of humility I feel when you reach out to me in kindness (in spite of your own circumstances), and for the depth of love I feel when I contemplate where I would be, absent your presence in my life over these past 18 years.  Parker will be 21 this January.  He was not yet three when many of us connected.  We had no Facebook.  We had limited Internet connection.  We called, we talked, we wrote, and we met at conferences.  We shared what we could… in an effort to help one another.  We put aside petty and insignificant differences, in order to hold hands, figuratively, in a greater cause.  I think we have lost sight of just how special that was… and is… and we should not, for one moment, ever take that for granted.  We are each other’s family and we are often still each other’s fortress.

Statistics in our community get worse.  Services for our children may have inched up… but the struggle and the worry is still ours.  For the Brandons and the Michaels and the Parkers and the Roberts and the Liams… we still worry and hope – and we still share.  Join me – in thankfulness and love – regardless of your politics, regardless of your religion, and  regardless of your personal circumstance, that we will continue to be there for one another.  Let us not abandon our joint determination on behalf of our children.  Let us not become so strong as individuals that we lose sight of how challenging this is… that we not need funding and help and understanding.  Together, I hope we will always seek the greater good that lies beyond our differences and within the community of our autism family.  Our other children, our children on the spectrum, and the one in 88 yet to be born, depend on our strength and our collective determination to find answers.

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Mary, Mary… NOT Contrary :) Happy Birthday!

mom and meThis is a photo of my mother-in-law, Mary Boornazian and me, on a beach in San Francisco in 1990 – when I first told her I was pregnant with my daughter Jordan Elizabeth.  Now, comics throughout history have notoriously massaged the subject of “mothers-in-law” to the delight of their audiences and to the chagrin of those mothers-in-law everywhere.  The cliché of the meddling mom or a spouse’s interfering parent is legend; surely, somewhere, someone provided the very real material from which those tales and jokes were spun.  I am among the very fortunate, I suppose, to have dodged the nightmarish melodrama of mom-in-law moments.  Today is my mother-in-law’s birthday, and not only do I want to wish her a happy one, but I want to take a few moments to celebrate her… sorta publicly, here.

In a few weeks, Gary and I will memorialize our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  When I think, retrospectively, wayyyyy back to the time we were dating, it is a veritable miracle that his mother, Mary, could contain herself from interfering in our relationship, right from the beginning.  I had been in a relationship – married – for seven years, prior to meeting Gary.  The ink was not even dry on my divorce papers when I waltzed into Gary’s home living room for the first time.  Somehow, instead of dissuading him from becoming involved with me (something I, as a mother now, would require duct tape not to do), she managed to see the love between us and never made me feel as though she judged me or my relationship with her son.  That’s not because Mary has a Pollyanna type of personae, because she doesn’t.  There is no doubt that she has been known to see people and situations with a critical eye, and she isn’t naïve about relationships or life.  Now that I am about the same age she was when Gary and I met, however, it makes me take pause and take inventory of myself.  It makes me appreciate who she was then even more… and it inspires me to take a lesson or two from her example in our lives.  How lucky Gary and his four siblings have each been to have had a mom who has encouraged them to find their own paths, choose their own life partners and who has, no doubt, resisted the urge on many, many occasions to interject what she must think…about a lot of things… a lot of the time.

My late parents, had they ever met Mary, would have had great fun with her.  Even today, in her 80s, her mind is sharp, her sense of humor is intact, and she’s an excellent listener.  Over the years, when I have talked to the spirits of my own mother and father, I have told them about my conversations with Gary’s mom.  There’s no question that when they all meet in the afterlife someday,my folks Anna and Bill will welcome Mary with open arms and thank her for being there for the moments in life when they weren’t able.  My father will extole her for her life excellence at things like painting and rational thinking and my mom will praise Mary for her superb skills in the kitchen and for pretty much single-handedly raising five children, even in the face of some challenges, at times. Mostly, they both will just appreciate her for being a good, faithful and loyal person.

This past year, my mother-in-law Mary Boornazian has been more of a saint in my life than ever.  She has been there to lend an ear late into the night, offer good advice when asked and, most of all, to offer love and support.  I’m not sure that those are the kinds of things from which late-night comedians can make lasting material, nor the kinds of things that have tremendous entertainment value.  I am pretty sure, however, that they are the kinds of things that stay in one’s head and heart long after the curtain has dropped on the stage, and the microphone is turned off and the lights go dim.  They are the kinds of things that birthdays should bring to mind… the gifts to which we should, as parents, each aspire to give to own children and their spouses.  Our birthdays – each year we have on this earth – are about our gifts to those around us, so much more than about getting gifts from those around us.  This year, especially, I will be cherishing Mary’s gifts to us undoubtedly more than she will cherish whatever gift we will send in the mail to her.

So, happy birthday, Mom.  I do think you are very funny… just not in the cliché or stereotypical kind of way… and believe you are still young, and still needed, and definitely still loved… EVEN by your daughter-in-law who, by the way, wants you to hang around for a long time to come.  While you celebrate your birthday in Pennsylvania today, I’ll be here in Colorado celebrating you.


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Great Moments are the Tangible Intangibles

great momentsMy friend Susan Hollern called me today.  It was great to hear from her – out of the blue – just calling to say hello and to visit via phone.  She always has some words of faith to share, and for that I am grateful.  As parents, we all feel connected, I believe, by our common experiences, heartaches and joys.  It was a simple moment, but it was a great moment with her, because she left me with the reminder that all of our experiences, good or bad, are actually teaching moments.  Our loves, our tears, our life journeys are all lessons in disguise that shape us and grow us… our entire lives. Our lessons are not always welcomed, but they come nonetheless.  My simple moment with Susan became my great moment for the day and it jogged my memory of something from my voluminous and old stack of ramblings.  Thank you, Susan, for your tangible intangible today.  God must have whispered in your ear before you whispered in mine.

Great Moments are the Tangible Intangibles….

A great moment in someone’s life is like a gift.  Sometimes, it is something that is anticipated, worked for, waited for – that finally arrives.  It’s celebrated, enjoyed in the company of others, savored, joyously shared, remembered always, kept on the shelf in our minds for times when we can take it down and dust it off, pass it around and re-experience the moment – the gift – again and again.  History is filled with these kinds of great moments…moments we can definitely pinpoint and celebrate and wrap up in ribbons.  Great moments are the tangible intangibles:

-Rosa Parks refusing to stand on a bus

-Oskar Schindler creating his list

-Lighting the torch in New York Harbor

-Perceiving an atom as energy or stem cells as life, even in the presence of doubt

We don’t always anticipate our great moments coming.  They aren’t necessarily wrapped very neatly.  Sometimes they present themselves when least expected and sometimes they may not appear as the gifts they are.  The “return-to-sender” option may seem the most viable, at first glance, when the moments are challenging…

But our greatest challenges can become our greatest moments.  Our challenges can be great gifts, in disguise, if we face them and rise to them.  My fellow autism warrior moms – Michelle Guppy, Carol Fruscella, Ricci King, Kathy Voltz and so many others – represent the finest examples of strength in this area. Some of the most tawdry and unseemly situations can teach patience and compassion.  As parents, these can be painful and even heartbreaking.  Some moments can teach about the value of tolerance or, conversely, the abundance of intolerance that exists among others.  Still, some moments lead us to hope and faith and empowerment when things seem bleak. We find the strength to carry on and to carry others, as well. Through pain, we can find strength.  Everything in life has a season and a purpose; in mostly all people, things and events there is some goodness to find. My friend, Colleen Marquez had a journey in infertility that ultimately resulted in the joy of adoption and a life dedicated to helping other parents adopt children.  Sometimes, our moments of greatness come from simply standing up to the self-centeredness, narrowness, dishonesty or evil of either those close to us or those who are perfect strangers – life altering, great moments that ultimately become the greatest gifts of all.  They are the tangible intangibles that intimately teach us or remind us what we stand for, who we are, and of what we are made.

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Feminine Political Rhetoric: Powerful Gift or Oxymoron?


margaretthatcher_ap_8apJumbo shrimp.  Cheap gas.  Comic tragedy. Dry Martini.  The contradictions in these phrases are immediately evident.  There are other oxymoronic concepts that are a bit less obvious and require a moment’s thought:  Abundant poverty.  Casual formality.  Consistent uncertainties.  And still, there are concepts that are only debatably oxymoronic:  God as man.  Masculine communication.  Feminine political rhetoric.  These last three concepts, and others like them, have been an ongoing part of the discussion in the feminist movement for quite some time.

Two articles, Feminine Style and Political Judgment in the Rhetoric of Ann Richards (Bonnie J. Dow and Mari Boor Tonn) and The Discursive Performance of Femininity:  Hating Hillary (Karlyn Kohrs Campbell) examine women’s discourse in politics to determine whether there is an effective feminine style in political rhetoric.  If there is, what does it look like and is it effective?  Two politicians, in particular, are examined in detail.  In the first article, the late and former Governor Ann Richards is evaluated as a case study in her application of feminine style.  Her form and mastery of traditional feminine values as expressed in her political rhetoric, carefully and emotionally compelled and empowered her targeted audiences.  Consequently, she (and her political discourse) was an effective tool for the Democrat agenda and its political machine.  Hillary Rodham Clinton, the main subject of the second article, exhibited few stereotypically feminine traits as an orator, by contrast.  This resulted in an arguably much less compelling rhetorical style.  Campbell suggests that Hillary’s lawyer-like demeanor and no-frills-just-the-facts personae was counterproductive to her own popularity, as well as to the Democrat Party’s objectives.

Feminine discourse in public forums (including politics) is an important topic, because it has the potential to command leadership that is important and inspirational to other women – and men.  Moreover, it is the feminine style of discourse that has been able to penetrate public audiences most effectively, throughout time, whether performed by men or women.  Each of these articles fails to address this critical and pivotal discussion point:  The key to attaining leadership in political and other public arenas is not trying to usurp the MALE potency in these forums that exist today, but to fully embrace the power of the feminine style.

It is the feminine model – the feminine style – that has historically owned the elements and strategies best suited for public and political persuasion.  Dow and Tonn argue that, “public communication, primarily produced by males, has served as the model for ‘good’ speech.” I disagree with them.  Furthermore, they contend that, “women’s communicative patterns are associated with their roles in the private sphere of home and family.”  While women’s private communicative patterns are culturally more familiar to us all, it has consistently been the feminine style of discourse that has actually served as the model for successful rhetorical speech.  Stereotypically-feminine gendered traits are the traits that have defined some of the most powerful public rhetors of all time, and most notably, have defined even the most powerful and persuasive male public rhetors.  Men may have “owned” the political arena due to patriarchal cultural factors; certainly, men have “owned” American corporate life in every arena since the inception of this country.  Men have performed those roles.  However, male potency in the political arena is not due to the absence of feminine style or to the presence of a masculine one.  It is purely an extension of a male-dominated society as a whole.  The authors of these two articles are incorrect in their premise and in many of their assumptions.  Not only is there a feminine style in political rhetoric and public discourse, it has been demonstrated to be exceedingly powerful, over time, and when exhibited in both sexes.  If women (and men) such as Hillary Clinton have fallen short as orators, it is because they lack that style, and the perception that it is necessary to adopt a masculine style of discourse in order to compete in a public venue traditionally occupied by men is misguided.  The power of feminine style is not an oxymoron.

“God as man” (referring, of course, to Jesus), just might be oxymoronic, if “man” is referring to masculine gender (as opposed to purely Jesus’ sex).  In the Bible, Galatians 5:22-23 sums up the “fruits of the spirit” (the essence of Jesus), as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Without going too far afield in this short discussion, Jesus – arguably the most powerful MALE that ever walked the earth – possessed these character traits/gifts – and others – that the authors of these above-mentioned articles rightfully attribute to the feminine gender.  History tells us that Jesus was compassionate, nurturing, loving, wise, engaging, and a good teacher who was wise and focused upon relationship.  History also demonstrates that this male person, (with long hair and while wearing the equivalent of a dress) persuaded throngs of diverse and divided ranks to follow him.  He taught through stories – parables.  He was a model of positive leadership and empowerment.  Simultaneously, he embraced all who were hungry and afraid.  His public presence and political discourse was not only legend; it was much more stereotypically feminine than masculine in style. These types of qualities are those that many would attribute to the private lives of modern women (and specifically mothers).  To do so, is to minimize and even ignore the magnitude of power that has been inherent in these gender-feminine-coded personal qualities for thousands of years.  It is the “feminine style of discourse and rhetoric” that actually owns the power of the public arena.  Women have simply lost their confidence and ability to see it and exercise it, and have diminished its real value.  As advocates for equity and equality with our male counterparts, perhaps women and men have, unfortunately, elevated the masculine model to a position it did not deserve; they have elevated it as something to which women should aspire and, in doing so, have overlooked the intense power of the feminine style.

Ann Richards had this feminine style, understood its power – and she used it effectively.  So did Elizabeth Dole, as author Campbell points out.  Eleanor Roosevelt tapped into her feminine style to propose compassionate changes to the human condition all around her.  Margaret Thatcher exercised it brilliantly, and managed to wield power even with an endearing, matronly nickname – “Maggie”.  In our present political and public arena, one can point to other examples of effective feminine political and public discourse, such as the discourse of Sarah Palin, Suzy Orman, Ann Coulter, Ellen DeGeneres, Laura Ingraham, and Oprah Winfrey.  And there are some very powerful modern-day males who also utilized the feminine style effectively in political discourse, as well.  Ronald Reagon and  John F. Kennedy, are such men.  Effective public and political discourse, even when delivered by someone as outspoken and strong as Winston Churchill, is effective because it possesses, in addition to a litany of other attributes, one of the most powerful elements of the feminine gender:  passion.

Citing feminine traits to be emotional support, nurturance, Dow and Tonn state:

“Attempts to avoid perceptions of masculinity and to be rhetorically effective with public audiences have led these women to synthesize gender expectations by using socially approved rhetorical strategies commonly identified as masculine – formal evidence, deductive structure, and linear modes of reasoning – while simultaneously incorporating concerns and qualities typically considered feminine such as family values or feminine personae.”

Why adapt to those rhetorical strategies “commonly identified as masculine?”  Who have been the effective male rhetors whose followers were transfixed and loyal due to “formal evidence, deductive structure and linear modes of reasoning?”  These (and others like them) are the very traits that author Campbell points to as being Hillary’s Achilles heel in public discourse!  Dow and Tonn quote Campbell regarding the power of the feminine style, citing that “the personal is political, a process which produces group cohesion and transforms audience members into agents of change.”  The personal is far more than political.  It is powerful beyond measure.

Dow and Tonn also quote Ann Richards, who said, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did.  She just did it backwards and in high heels.”  Perhaps that is the condition of the modern woman.  Women have adapted to their male counterparts… as if the leading role was destined to have been a masculine one.  However, the power of the feminine style has been there for the seizing (and the leading) all along!  Perhaps women have oppressed themselves in political and public life as much as men have oppressed them.  Perhaps feminine style and its inherent power is a sort of cultural potential energy long overdue to be unleashed.  Embracing that power, with as much vigor as the feminist movement has combated gender oppression, may be the secret to future progress.

Effective feminine style in political rhetoric.  Feminine power.  God as man.  Oxymorons?  Only in part.   ;-)

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All of Life is a Coming Home


(I wrote this piece a couple of years ago, for a different blog page, but it resonates with me now, with a bit of new life breathed into it.  Having endured the trials of moving and renovations more than we would have cared to these past eighteen months, I’m reminded that “home” is not really a physical place, after all.)

If you have never ridden into the mountains in Silverton, Colorado, on the famed historic Durango-Silverton railroad, treat yourself to it sometime.  Having driven our car from California after Jordan’s graduation, with only minimal space for anything besides the four members of our family, we arrived in Durango with only flip flops for our feet… which made for an interesting day in the surprise snow storm, once in Silverton at the top of the mountain.  With bare feet flopping (and FREEZING) in the windy weather we all managed to attract a lot of attention.   This later paid off in the form of quite a number of Irish coffees from one of the local bartenders as well as the sympathy of a few female conductors on the train who found cozy, inside seating for us, despite the fact that our last-minute tickets were for the cheap seats on the open-sided train car.  It was great being back in Colorado, even if it was cold…and even if it still meant another six hours on the road in my little white convertible, squished unmercifully between suitcases, with the circulation to my legs cut off from sitting cross-legged in my seat.  Colorado, with its surprise May snowfall looked mighty good, even with frosty feet.  We were more than merely on board the train.  We were home.

As the clickety-click of the train rumbled on the old rails, my mind wandered to the silent, often-forgotten recesses of my memories.  It took me back to the days when I was quite young, when my father would treat me to an annual ride on the train to Market Street Station in Philadelphia, for a Daddy-daughter date at Christmas.  My mother would send me off with my wool dress coat, white gloves, Mary Jane patent leather shoes and tights. In the chill of winter, my dad would take me to Wanamaker’s Department Store to have lunch, see “the eagle” (fellow Philly folks will know what this means) and hear the world-famous Wanamaker organ play its Christmas concert while beautiful lights “danced” to a Christmas light show in the lobby of the many-storied department store.

Around the sharp bend of the steep mountain, the antique train’s whistle blew shrilly, jolting me from one memory to another.  Now, in my nostalgic mindset, I recalled our old Lionel trains; I pictured my father’s carefully constructed home train platform, with houses, roadside billboards and heavy toy rail cars.  I closed my eyes and could almost smell the smoke from the little white pills we would plop into the stack of the black locomotive.  I could “feel” the buttons turn beneath my fingers on our old transformer box… not too slowly, or the trains wouldn’t move… not too fast or they’d fly off the track.  Belly-down on the floor next to my brother, I would watch the trains go around that track forever.  That rusted track sits in a box in storage now.  It will never be used again, but I can’t part with it.  It brings me “home”, just looking at it.

In the movie Patch Adams, the main character of the same name begins with a poignant soliloquy.  He narrates:

“All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home. It’s hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow; you don’t even know you’re walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination. And the storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path. Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place.”

With the chug of the engine palpably beneath my feet, and the hiss of the steam blowing by my window, I knew about “coming home”… not because of Colorado, really.  I looked around at my fellow passengers and didn’t need to know them or their names in order to know that we were each restless hearts, trying to find a way home.  They, and the thousands of travelers before us who had ridden these antique rails through the dark wood, had also been through the storms of life… and had weathered them, somehow, in boots or flip flops.

In the middle of some new journeys in my own life, I had, like Patch Adams, indeed, felt as if I had temporarily lost the right path, often feeling my shouts disappearing in the wind.  But, when we find that place on our knees to which God brings us, we know we are “home”.  When we close our eyes and can feel the hand or the hug or the kiss of those who are no longer even here with us on earth, we know we are “home”.  When a smell or a laugh sets up residence in our brain like furniture in a room, we are home.  It is, perhaps, at the moment when we acknowledge that “all of life is a coming home” …that the clouds pass, the sun comes out and we are able to see the billboards that have been there all along, pointing the way to peace for us.  It may seem like the most unlikely place… (and sometimes, we find a place of “home” with – seemingly – the most unlikely people…) but a map was probably there for the following every step, every clickety-click of the way… had we just followed it, or stopped long enough on our own stubborn and prideful trek to ask for intelligent and wise direction…or had we simply been willing to trust.  All of life is a coming home. 


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If You Have a Solution, You Don’t Have a Problem


Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a….         darn.

Clearly, sometimes, only the right words will do. 

After a memorable weekend in Philadelphia with family and friends and… having digested a great Easter sermon or two… this simple thought (above) is my best takeaway from my holiday visit.  Jesus and Humphrey Bogart don’t necessarily have a whole lot in common…  and Casablanca and Jerusalem usually don’t belong in the same blog piece together.  However, allegorically, at the very least, there’s a connection here. I think both Jesus and Bogart knew that CERTAIN words (not just ANY words) were critical to their respective audiences.  Sometimes, only the right words will do.

For that reason, Jesus didn’t use vague words: “either you are for me or against me” doesn’t leave much wiggle room for a luke warm follower, or disciple.  And, such allegiances certainly rise front and center at Eastertime.  One cannot be on the “side” of the Romans and have one foot in Christ’s camp at the same time, right?  Shouts of “Alleluia!” (praise the LORD!) could NOT just as well have been simply “Hooray!” (terrific – that’s awesome!) in the Easter story of the risen Christ in order for the Easter story to have had as much impact. Sometimes only the right words will do… for each of us… even Jesus.  Words have tremendous value.

“It is done.”

“He is risen.”

“I love you.”

“I’m here.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I was wrong.”

“Yes, dear.”

“You’re forgiven.”

“Buy two.”

This Easter, I’m thankful for the power of words.  I’m thankful for the words my brother first heard when he woke up from his surgery: “Brian, you made it.”  I’m more than thankful for just the right words of friendship and advice from my mother-in-law… not luke warm words… but courageous words of allegiance, love and devotion to me during some recent times of difficulty.  I’m thankful for the sage and kind words of my sister Nora and my sister-in-law, Laura. I’m so appreciative for definitive words… from ANYONE… that leave no question marks after they are uttered – especially as regards feelings, friendship and loyalty – most of all, loyalty.

There are also times when “just the right words” aren’t audible words, at all.  There are times when just the right UNSPOKEN (but otherwise conveyed) words do the trick.  As I watched nearly a dozen Armenian women… and a few good men… gather around the kitchen island at Easter, I marveled at how each of them worked with synchronicity; the pilaf was stirred, the asparagus was steamed, the salads were tossed and the signature traditional Armenian side dishes all came together with perfection, on an unspoken cue. Women who don’t see one another – but once or twice a year – knew what to do, while they spoke of children, health, loved ones passed and Easters of yesteryear…

All of this is really to set the stage regarding a heartwarming and deeply moving conversation I had on Easter with one of Gary’s mom’s best friends, Alice Dertadian.  “Aunt” Alice is a woman of 85, who looks 65, and smiles like she is 25. She’s pictured, here, with me and Gary.  As proud as I am of my own ancestral roots, I am increasingly impressed, amazed and inspired by the Armenian women on Gary’s side of our marriage.  They are some of the smartest, strongest and positive women I have ever met.  These women are not women of privilege. They are intelligent, tough, street savvy, warm, funny, quick-witted, engaging… and wise.  Aunt Alice is no exception.  I want to share her story with you.

She’s been widowed for five years (from her late husband, Harry), with whom she had a happy and full life.  Instead of cashing in her happiness upon his death, she preaches even more of it. In fact, Alice clings to vignettes of her late mother’s Armenian sayings, which she loosely translates to English.  Of course, Aunt Alice knows nothing of what I’ve been personally wrestling with recently, and it doesn’t really matter.  Between appetizers and dessert, Alice told us the story of her mother, whose parents had been killed by the Turks, and whose beautiful sister had been taken as property of a Turkish harem.  Alice’s mother had been orphaned in a Turkish orphanage at a very young age.  She had rare blue eyes and blonde hair, which distinguished her greatly from other Armenian children.  One day, friends of Alice’s mother’s family recognized her (while she was playing outside of the orphanage) and hatched a plot to kidnap her in the dark of night. They stole away with her, by rolling her up in a Turkish rug. Later, at 14 years of age, Alice’s mother was sent to Cuba to meet and marry Alice’s father (an older Armenian man whom she had never met, who was an American citizen).  From Cuba, once married, she could enter the U.S. and also become a citizen.  Once in America, she bore one child while fifteen years of age, had three miscarriages after, and then Alice was born, all within a three-year period.  Alice’s mom had witnessed the Armenian genocide, had eaten off no silver spoons in her life and had had limited direct examples of marriage or motherhood.  She didn’t speak the language of her new country.  Yet, here was Alice, this past Easter Day, sharing with us a story of her mother’s HAPPINESS – not hardship.  Here she was, decades later, telling us that her mother was the most happy person she could ever remember!  Alice told us how her mother didn’t “walk”, but “sashayed” across the room…seemingly carrying happiness with her with each step.  She told us many of the Armenian equivalents of her mother’s positive sayings (most of which I cannot recall), which were so beautiful in the moments of our conversation.  This is the one that struck me the most; Alice’s mom used to say (in Armenian):

“If you have a solution, you don’t have a problem.”

Now, you’ll need to trust me; said in the Armenian language, this sounds much more poetic than in English.  But, even in the English translation, I knew upon hearing it that it was one of those times when only the right words will do. These were the right words, at the right time, for me.  In that moment, in the midst of Alice’s life story, these were EXACTLY the right words I needed to hear on Easter.  Few problems that I will ever have can compare to the problems of those who have gone before me… those who have experienced abject poverty, or who have seen the ravages of genocide. That survivors of tragic events can find happiness in the midst of it all and in spite of it all is more than inspiring… it is transforming.  It is not unlike the humbled feeling that overcomes me when I learn about or pray for some of my fellow autism moms who manage to find happiness in the midst of daily crises for which solutions have not been identified. If I am to believe there is a solution to a problem or, better yet, actually know of a solution, who am I to complain that there is a problem?  Who am I if I quit trying to implement a solution?  In that moment with Alice, I became convicted: if Aunt Alice, at 85, could be so obviously happy, if her mother – despite her life’s hardships could be such a model of joy – then so could I… for if you have a solution, you don’t have a problem.  In those moments, I knew I wanted to be an Aunt Alice 30 years from now at the annual Armenian Easter celebration… with a spring in my step and a story to tell… when only the right words will do, on Easter or any other day, for somebody else.

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Easter – at Christmas – or Santa Bunny?

santa-bunny‘Tis the season. I came across this piece in my files in a different version, which I originally contributed, a few years ago, to another venue. A few things have changed since I first wrote the blog entry. My sister has retired from her church job, and each of the important people in my life has grown a bit older. Fortunately they are all still here.

This year, Easter will be a time of new life in a very physical sense for my brother, who is recovering from open-heart surgery and for my brother-in-law who will be receiving a stem cell transplant Easter Monday in his battle against lymphoma. These two things, in particular, make us aware that life on earth is ours for a season and always a gift. It is an opportunity for redemption and new chances, for others of us, who are not dealing with physical illness, as we metaphorically roll away the stone of pride, mistakes and sin in our lives, in exchange for new lives in a less physical sense. Such things make us realize that life eternal can be ours, beyond a mere season, by virtue of our ability to receive. It can be a time of family and love and spiritual awakening…for those of us who choose to make it so.

As Easter looms near, I thought it fitting to edit my writing and post it here. Santa Bunny, here it is…this one’s for you.


Christmas… at Easter?

Yesterday, I went shopping for Easter cards to deliver at Easter dinner. It got me in the spirit of things, and brought back memories of wonderful Easter celebrations with my own family, in years past. My extended family – on my husband’s Armenian side – has incredibly large gatherings, with fabulous Armenian food and dozens of relatives and friends. My sister, Nora, is the minister of music and choir director for a church in Pennsylvania and has elaborate services that include brass quintets, bell choirs and lots of terrific music. We’ve traveled eastward to be with everyone on a number of occasions. Over the years, we’ve also spent Easter in Philadelphia, Boston, New Hampshire, Utah, Colorado and other places we’ve lived. It has always been very special. Last year, we hosted about 50 people at our home in Colorado, including many of Jordan’s friends from DU who needed a family away from home for dinner.

While I was shopping, I actually began thinking about a memory entirely unrelated to Easter… well, in my mind it was entirely unrelated to Easter, until yesterday. I thought about the story that I have always read to my children, WITHOUT FAIL, every Christmas since I can remember. It’s O. Henry’s, Gift of the Magi. Now, for those of you who may not be up to speed on this short story, I’ll give you the short Wikipedia synopsis:

The Gift of the Magi is a short story written by O. Henry about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. As a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift giving, it has been a popular one for adaptation, especially for presentation during the Christmas season.
James [Jim] Dillingham Young and his wife Della are a young couple who are very much in love with each other, but can barely afford their one-room apartment due to their very bad economic situation. For Christmas, Della decides to buy Jim a fob that costs $21.00 for his prized pocket watch given to him by his father’s father. To raise the funds, she has her long, beautiful hair cut off and sold to make a wig. Meanwhile, Jim decides to sell his watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs made out of tortoise shell and jewels for her lovely, knee-length brown hair. Although each is disappointed to find the gift they chose rendered useless, each is pleased with the gift they received, because it represents their love for one another. The story ends with the narrator comparing the pair’s mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi.”

Traditionally, I have always read the story aloud to kick off our twelve days of Christmas celebration, inevitably rising to the end of the last portion of the book with a crescendo of seemingly uncontrollable sobs and tears. I suspect that’s because the two characters in the story probably remind me of Gary and me, who have struggled through some tough life situations but have managed to keep our faith and love very much alive despite our challenges. Gary puts towels out for my shower every morning. After 25 years together, I still put on lip gloss, and brush my hair right before Gary walks in the door from work or golf. I smile and smack Gary’s tush as he walks by, despite the fact that it occasionally makes our children insanely uncomfortable. We still flirt with each other, hold hands like we’re dating and would sacrifice anything personal for each other… which brings me around to the point of this blog (in case you were all wondering where all of this was headed).

Easter is about sacrifice; it is also about God’s love for us, the things He does for us each day to remind us that we are precious, and the price that Jesus paid for us on the cross. It’s about hope and redemption and joy. But, as Christians, it’s also just as much a message about receiving. It’s about receiving the message of Christ and about receiving the sacrifice that’s been given on our behalf. How important the “receiving” really can be! It is often just as important as the giving side of the equation. When we’re in a relationship with someone who is special to us, what is important to us is how what we give, to the other person, is received by them… and whether it is received with care and love and a sense of value and importance. In the Gift of the Magi, the gift exchange holds only momentary importance, but the preparation and receiving/internalizing is the really important part of the allegory. Think about how different the Biblical Magi story would be if, when the wise men presented their gifts, Mary or Joseph had told the wise men that they were too busy, or selfishly consumed with their own situation… if they had said, “hey – leave those gifts over there and we’ll take care of them later, when it’s convenient for us or when we feel like it.” We all want for our sacrifices and our gifts – and ourselves! – to be received with an attitude of gratitude and with an emphasis on value, worth and loving kindness. We all want to be validated for what we offer to another. It made me focus, in a new way, on how I am receiving Christ’s sacrifices in my own life (how God wanted me to receive them) … and frankly, it made me also focus on ALL of my relationships, and how I need to receive the gifts and the messages from others all around me. I need to receive them with more appreciation and care and focus…just as I want others to receive mine. We have all heard that it is more blessed to give than to receive… but that doesn’t really imply that receiving isn’t important, does it? Maybe Christmas is more about giving, and Easter is more about receiving. I choose to believe that, maybe, each is a little bit of both.


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Better Late, Than Never


Emma Argue. I have never met this woman, but today I attended her funeral. Yesterday was to be the day that my brother had open-heart surgery, but his operation was cancelled due to a last minute dental infection. With three now-unscheduled days left in my trip to Philadelphia, I accompanied my musician-sister to a memorial service for which she had been hired to play piano. As an avid “people watcher” person (whose wardrobe just happens to consist of clothing that is ninety-eight percent black), it immediately occurred to me that being a Funeral Crasher (shades of the infamous Wedding Crashers movie should come to mind here, only with a darker twist) might make a perfect avocation for me, as I am a sucker for music, deep and reverent sentimental thoughts, and flowers. Funerals, by definition, eliminate the behind-the-scenes “odds-making” activities that weddings proffer; unlike the prognosis for wedding couples, the outcome for the person at the center of memorials has already been determined. Those in attendance can get right to the business at hand – celebrating the life that has gone before, remembering which aspects of it were illustrative of a well-lived existence and, hopefully, leave with a glass of punch, a cookie, and a grand “take-away” (a.k.a. “the lesson learned”). Today, I discovered that one not even know the decedent in order to feel the impact and beauty (yes, beauty) of the moment… with one caveat noted: no presence of a dead body, please.

Today, there was simply a photo of Emma. Her life of 90+ years had exceeded the Biblical expectation for her of “three score plus ten” (that’s 70 for those of you who cannot do the math). Emma’s life had culminated with the past 25 years in the Masonic home, where this morning’s service for her was being conducted. Emma had been a nurse, a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law and a grandmother. Strikingly, I cannot report how much money Emma made, and there were no photos of her worldly possessions. No one at her memorial spoke of her financial assets, the make and model of the car she had driven, or the size of the diamond she had worn on her hand. Here’s what I can summarize for you about her: by everyone’s accounts, she had lived in covenant with the Lord. She had faithfully dedicated herself to her husband of 70 years and to her children and grandchildren. She had won the loving favor of her daughters-in-law (this is no small feat to do) and had been a blessing to countless others over the course of her life, always living life exuberantly, and in a way that was true to herself and her faith. Many people stood up and spoke about Emma. Even her neighbors at the Masonic home shared awesome stories of how Emma would arrive at their card games with extra nickels in her pocket to share with others, who had (in their senior moments) forgotten their betting money. One person captured Emma’s spirit by describing her as a woman who “not only tried, but was successful… at living a life dedicated to faith, family and friends.” Envy, for those who had known her, was suddenly mine.

Of course, there were the requisite Old Testament and New Testament readings and the singing of Emma’s favorite hymns (which, I will add, especially in case she is reading this, my sister banged out perfectly). Several verses of Amazing Grace and It is Well with My Soul later, I could imagine I had known dear, late, Emma for a long time because I had learned so many nice things about her. But, here’s my point: today I concluded that memorial services don’t serve the dead as much as they serve the living. They serve to make us inspect our own lives and to think about how we live them. They incorporate two very special ingredients: wonderful memories of the past… and dreams for how we might better live out our futures. After all, for those of us left behind, the future on earth is still ours, for a time.

The 23rd Psalm – often the Scriptural centerpiece of memorials – is a whole, poignant life lesson, in and of itself. “The Lord is my shepherd…”, as the pastor pointed out today, served to remind us that Emma had been accepted back into the heavenly fold. And, as he read it aloud, I realized that when one can sit in a memorial service in an non-emotionally connected capacity – as a bystander, per se – it becomes possible to examine one’s own “sheepish – ness”, as well as the ways in which we are called to shepherd others. Accordingly, here are a few of today’s fun facts: sheep are both smart and dumb. They are smart to seek the still water, because going to drink in a creek of rushing water would quickly weigh their wool down and drown them. They are dumb because they eat anything green… and would eat it right down to the roots if they were allowed. This is why shepherds keep them moving; left to their own devices, sheep would turn beautiful, rich pastureland into an empty desert. The shepherd leads his sheep with a staff, using the crooked end to literally catch the fallen sheep and to gently prod them into directions where they will be well fed, safe, and best cared for. That shepherd’s staff becomes the extension of the shepherd’s arm and also helps to stomp out things like bugs and dangerous scorpions along the journey. Shepherds literally lay down their bodies, in certain instances, to protect their flocks, often (in olden days) getting attacked, bloodied or even killed, themselves. Hence, we have an expression today – “over my dead body” – to which many people (especially my fellow parents) can relate and have probably said themselves, at one time or another, to their family flock.

Having suffered the loss of numerous loved ones, I had always associated the 23rd Psalm with death and dying. Today it spoke to me in a fresh, new way. How much we are both sheep and shepherd during our lives, as parents, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, grandparents, friends and mentors! As a parent, I have struggled with shepherding my two lambs – keeping them (to the best of my abilities) from wandering into dangerous places, or from being consumed by the wolves of the world. I have dedicated much of my earthly life trying to feed them in righteous and loving ways, and have endured the pain of them becoming lost or tripping on the path. Like a sheep, myself, I have sought my Heavenly Shepherd, seeking the un-earthly Leadership that turns darkness into daybreak and provides protection from the storms of life. I have actively sought the voice of some earthly shepherds too… sometimes heeding the counsel and direction of my husband, parents and lately, my mother-in-law. I am grateful – beyond words – for the abiding love, guidance, forgiveness and protection of special shepherds in my life.

The character of David – the-shepherd – who is central to the 23rd Psalm, further reminds us that he is both shepherd and sheep, righteous person and personal sinner, boy and king. He reminds us that although we always walk in the shadow of death, we should fear no evil if we live life exuberantly in covenant with Goodness, Truth and Light. Restoration is not always easy, but the promises and the amazing grace of the restorative process “shall follow me all the days of my life.” Emma Argue taught me that today. Emma, you are better “late”, than never.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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We Can’t Move Forward When We’re Standing Still…

It has been almost thirteen years since the late Bernie Rimland wrote the foreword in my 1999 book, Confronting Autism: The Aurora on the Dark Side of Venus. (You can access a free copy of it in the margin of this blog page.)  Thirteen years have come and gone for our children on the autism spectrum, who were so young at that time.  Thirteen years have come and gone for parents who, at that time, had so much hope, that a cause and a cure was in reach and, that the political climate of the medical, psychological, educational and government communities would find common ground on which to stand – to come together to improve the lives and the futures of children with autism and their families.

Parents of autism spectrum children used to find one another in chat rooms, to talk, to commiserate, to share research and to share ideas.  Parents were parents’ best advocates.  Parents were their children’s best advocates.  Parents still are the best source of advocacy for one another and their children.  Today, we meet on Facebook, at conferences and in community groups. But, by and large, not much has changed in thirteen years – except the rate of autism, which continues to climb.

For the next month, I will be featuring various chapters from my book on this blog page, not to profile my book, but to underscore just how little has changed for parents of children with autism.  I hope you will share the link to my blog on your Facebook pages and with your friends.  Surely, since the days of Bernie Rimland and the Autism Research Institute, autism organizations have become larger, more corporate, better funded and even more political.  Parents are being asked – possibly more than ever – to take part in fund raising and awareness campaigns, but the practical, outstretched hand of respite, financial support, educational intervention and medical direction is still obscure and the voice of hope, help and answers can still barely be heard.

We see the headlines about new insurance coverage.  Who among us actually reaps that benefit on a daily basis?  Very few, to be sure. We continue to see the data that bears out the best, most effective intensive early educational interventions.  Who among us actually receives these interventions, proactively, without a fight to the blood in an I.E.P. meeting?

I am one of the luckier parents, without a doubt.  Parker is now 19-years-old, bright, independent, loving and intellectually engaging.  In my heart, however, there is not a day that goes by when I do not think about and pray for some of my dearest friends in this community. As our children reach adulthood, it is unconscionable that there is still a complete dearth of safe facilities and support networks for our now-grown-up children.

Come along and read this 13-year-old tale… as I resurrect my book from the archives.   I would like to recall where we once were, and how little we have traveled since.  You may also find my free e-book in PDF format on the home page of this blog in its entirety, if you prefer to browse through it at your leisure.  When I wrote this, it was a hopeful, forward-seeking message.  As I read it now and look back, it becomes a reminder that we are all still shouting, and so few are listening.  We are still on Venus, in retrograde motion, and we want more than Hollywood stars on red carpets, buildings lighted up in bright blue, walk-a-thons that support researchers who look down their noses at a very educated and intelligent parent community, or educational and medical treatment modalities that financially fracture families who are already emotionally and relationally debilitated by the rigors and the routines of life with autism.

Finally, I would like to say this:  this condition called autism, that has brought so many of us to our knees, has also shown so many of us that we are strong.  There is an almost-spiritual quality to the way in which it sets aside our differences as parents, and the way it enjoins us, still, in a common cause that transcends political, ideological, religious, socioeconomic, cultural and other boundaries. We have been on the dark side of Venus for far too long.

Confronting Autism:  The Aurora on The Dark Side of Venus


Victoria Beck’s book is a treasure – the work of an inspired, and inspiring, highly articulate and remarkably insightful writer. What she says – and says so well – has needed saying for a long time. I fervently hope, and fully expect, that fellow parents of autistic children will pay close heed to Victoria’s heartfelt message.

It has been said that the parents of autistic children are the most severely oppressed minority group in America. As a fellow parent (my son Mark is 37 years older than Victoria’s son Parker) I have for nearly four decades been urging parents to reject the conventional views that little can be done to help autistic children, and that parents must passively accept the harmful drugs that are the mainstay of the medical profession’s approach to autism. I am truly delighted that Victoria is offering parents similar advice and offering them, far more importantly, a practical, step-by-step, easy-to-implement “battle plan” they can use to cut through the red tape, confusion, and politics that stand between their children and real help. Her detailed advice is invaluable – a “crash course” of practical information that most parents spend years learning. Equally important, however, is her inspiring message: that parents possess wisdom and competence, and that they have the right – in fact the obligation – to challenge the fatalistic view of autism held by so many professionals.

Victoria and her husband Gary rejected that view, and, as a result, their son has made remarkable progress toward a normal life. Victoria’s story about how they single-handedly discovered the benefits of secretin, and the challenges they faced from the medical community as a result, may seem more like a TV melodrama than a real-life story, but it is all very real. So is the story of how they persevered and shared their discovery with other parents.

The discovery of the effects of secretin on autism plays a major role in this book. During the past several years I have heard from hundreds of families and physicians, including physicians who are themselves parents of autistic children, about the remarkable effects of secretin upon many autistic children. I have encountered no treatment modality, in my 40 years of experience, which is nearly as promising as secretin. We are just at the beginning of learning what the true potential of this hormone may be, not only in the treatment of autism, but, I am confident, in the treatment of a large number of other neurological and metabolic disorders.

We have come a long way – but not nearly far enough – from the day in 1958 when my wife and I, having ourselves diagnosed our severely affected 2-year-old son Mark as being autistic, learned to our horror and dismay that every textbook on psychiatry proclaimed autism to be a “psychogenic” disorder, a mental illness caused by parents who supposedly harbored feelings of hostility toward their child, who was assumed to be biologically normal. This pernicious idea, which was supported by not one shred of scientific evidence, was not presented as a mere theory, or as a hypothesis, but as an unquestioned fact. My book Infantile Autism, published in 1964, is credited with destroying that evil myth and establishing autism as a biological disorder. But that was only part of the problem.

After completing Infantile Autism, I began a search for effective treatments. I learned about behavior modification (now called “ABA”) from Ivar Lovaas in late 1964. The autism professionals scoffed. Ignoring the fact that it obviously worked, they rejected the idea that a technique that was used to train dogs and seals could help autistic children. They would become mere “robots,” it was argued. I responded by founding, in 1965, the Autism Society of America, a parent group strong enough to insist that the children receive structured special education, and not just drugs and “play therapy.”

In the mid 1960’s I also learned about treatment with high-dose vitamin B6 and magnesium. Between 1966 and 1996, 18 studies were published by researchers in 6 countries, showing the B6/magnesium treatment to be far better and safer than any of the available drugs. Eleven of the studies were double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments. Yet the professionals still scoffed, ignoring the evidence and deceiving the parents by claiming there were no scientific studies, or that there were studies that showed the treatment to be useless or harmful. To this day they continue to tell parents the same nonsense.

All the while some of these autism professionals were administering drugs that were harmful, conducting research aimed at enhancing their professional status rather than helping the children, and ignoring the emerging research on unpopular or politically incorrect topics, such as vaccine damage and the effects of dietary gluten and casein on autism.

But there were – and are – some excellent, open-minded physicians and researchers really interested in helping autistic children. In January, 1995 I convened our first Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) Conference in Dallas. The attendees were 30 hand-picked physicians and researchers from the US and Europe. Things have moved quickly since then.

Victoria Beck was a featured speaker at The Autism Research Institute’s 4th Annual Defeat Autism Now! Conference held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in early October, 1998. Her talk was the first public presentation on the autism/secretin connection. As reported in our newsletter, The Autism Research Review International:

The highlight of the conference was the impassioned address by parent Victoria Beck, whose account of her uphill struggle to establish the autism-secretin connection brought a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,200.

The best, most overwhelming, most articulate talk I’ve ever heard,” said Maureen McDonnell, R.N., coordinator of the conference. Noting that there was hardly a dry eye in the house, McDonnell added, “the next time she speaks, I’ll bring boxes of tissues to hand out to the audience.

Victoria’s book, however, is not just about secretin – which, as she explains, is just one key to the puzzle of autism, and will not be part of the answer for every autistic child. Instead, she charts a path to help parents of autistic children evaluate the various medical and educational options available. If you are the parent of an autistic child, and the deluge of conflicting treatment information has you feeling overwhelmed and confused, Victoria’s book will help you to efficiently and assertively plan the best course of action to maximize your child’s potential.

In addition, you will find strength and courage in the story of the Beck’s successful battle against seemingly overwhelming odds. And successful it has been.

Parker Beck, the first child to respond to secretin, is doing very well. Several months ago, while the Becks were vacationing in San Diego, we invited them to attend a dinner meeting of the Board of Directors of the Autism Research Institute. The restaurant was able to find us a small private dining room, with a separate table where charming 6-year-old Parker and his delightful 8-year-old sister Jordan could be served their dinner while they worked on their coloring books. A few feet away, we adults dined and conducted our Board meeting. After about 20 minutes, little Parker got up from his chair and came over to the adult’s table, where he handed one note to his mother Victoria and another to his father Gary. Victoria and Gary each unfolded their notes and broke into pleased smiles. Parker had handed each of them a carefully folded drawing on which was printed very carefully and neatly the words “I love you mommy” and “I love you daddy.”

I will never forget that incident. It made worthwhile all the years of hard work and all the sacrifice endured by Gary and Victoria, and the others of us at the table. Victoria’s brilliant and dedicated efforts to help other parents will, I’m sure, result in equally heartening scenes being enacted in future years, in many thousand of homes worldwide.

Bernard Rimland, Ph.D.
The Autism Research Institute
San Diego, CA
September, 1999


Chapter One

The Current State of Autism: Astrology for the Modern Culture

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ~ SØren Kierkegaard

Gary and I met in an astronomy class. We were both finishing our last science elective in college. Neither of us had much interest in the class. As the year and our friendship with each other progressed, both of us realized we were not quite as focused on the subject matter being taught as our fellow stargazers were. Looking back, there is no doubt in my mind that during this study of the heavens, the work of angels was subtly taking place. It had been an over-booked course. The professor had made an exception to the rule by allowing Gary to sign up for the late-night class, and in a jam-packed room, the only available seat was next to me. Fate was a friend that day.

I’d like to think that, at the very least, my astronomy class broadened my understanding of the universe and all its properties. Fact is, most of the course material remains a blur. In retrospect, maybe my attention was ever so slightly distracted by Gary’s dazzling smile or the smell of his cologne (it still is). For sure, now 13 years later, almost all of the technical information about the wonders in space has left my brain. Whenever I look up in the night sky, I don’t think about cosmic rays, supernovae, magnetic fields or quasars. I think about what is clearly in front of my eyes. I think about the stars, plain and simple.

The glorious luster of the stars on a clear night are, at the same time, magnificent and humbling. Magnificent in their brilliance; humbling because they remind us all how much there is waiting to be revealed to us about our universe and how great and elusive the heavens are – even to the finest astronomers and scientists in our world. Indeed, whether one is technically oriented or not, the stars are an important connection to the relatively unexplored existence beyond our planet. For the scientists, the stars hold important clues to the properties of the universe. For more ordinary gazers like me, those stars provide perspective on the world and help to validate the presence of phenomena that is beyond our human understanding.

Years after the two-semester astronomical experience, only one topic remains etched in my brain today. The chapter discussing the planet Venus must have permanently stayed in the recesses of my mind because it was named for the Roman goddess of love, who had paid a personal visit to Gary and me that year. I have since come to realize that, in many ways, those recollections have become a kind of defining point, metaphorically, of our journey into the world of autism with our second child, our son Parker.

Venus (named for the great mother goddess) has been the object of intense interest and scrutiny by astronomers for centuries. Its proximity to our own planet, as well as many of its general characteristics, initially made it seem strikingly similar to Earth. Many of the geological features of Venus are features familiar to Earth. It has mountains, volcanoes, canyons and plains. What scientists have come to learn, however, is that at some point in the history of the universe, Earth and Venus took on different forms.[i]

The clouds that completely shroud Venus are, ironically, what make the planet stand out so obviously in the sky. The clouds around Venus reflect the light from the sun. They also hide the planet from the eye of the telescope, and astronomers have had to develop extraordinary methods for penetrating the clouds of Venus in order to learn more about its properties. Special radar techniques have helped scientists to look beyond the exterior cloud cover and unlock the secrets not previously known. In fact, it wasn’t until 1961, hundreds of years after Galileo’s time, that it was discovered that Venus actually slowly rotates in a direction opposite to that of the other orbital and rotational motions in our solar system. The retrograde rotation of Venus is still not understood. However, in the midst of its mysterious and slow retrograde motion, an interesting phenomenon takes place. As the molecules around the planet move to its dark side, they cool down, combine into new molecules with more energy, and begin to emit light. This creates a spectacular sight around the cloud cover. The phenomenon is known in astronomy as the Aurora on the Dark Side of Venus.[ii]

Children suffering from autism parallel typical children, as Venus parallels Earth. Theirs is a world which, at first glance, seems so close to our own. So near, so similar at first glance, yet so different. Their souls reflect the same light as other children, yet their lives are shrouded in a cloud cover we often cannot penetrate without special techniques. Under the cloud cover, despite their sometimes seemingly mysterious and curious actions, are their magical moments of luminescence, when a word or a connection appears to arise from the darkness. These are the signals which, although sometimes irregular, are undeniable and unmistakable to those of us who love and care about these children. They are the outward signs that let us know that typical children are really there, underneath the cloud cover and within our reach.

There are other parallels between astronomy and autism. Historically, astronomy was largely that which we know today as astrology. Even though it was widely popular in its day, astrology was based on myth and irrational preconceived notions; notions that we readily dismiss now, but that in their day were virtually gospel. Astronomy changed dramatically following medieval times. Its entire premise changed, from being a phenomenon worthy of study solely in sociological and psychological circles, into a subject worthy of rational and methodical science. Had the Renaissance not brought with it pioneers such as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, we might all believe that the laws and physical properties of the world are determined by Zeus himself. These pioneers changed the way that modern scientists look at the universe. They introduced a new valid truth to us all.[iii]

For many years, autism had suffered from the myth (promulgated by professionals with impressive credentials) that the condition was caused, among other similar and ridiculous things, by heartless and cold “refrigerator” mothers. It took years before parents (and especially mothers) were able to get beyond the guilt heaped upon them by psychoanalysts like Bruno Bettelheim who promoted these preposterous ideas. We may think we have come far since the days of Bettelheim. Relatively speaking, our modern culture hasn’t yet really emerged from the Dark Ages in our view of autism or our approach to exploring it. Much of what is still accepted today, despite evidence to the contrary, is based on the belief that autism is exclusively an incurable psychological disorder, which automatically and forever destines the child affected by it to a second-class life. This cruel myth, creating de-facto second-class juvenile citizens is only exceeded by the third-rate treatment of these same children by many in the educational, psychological, medical and insurance communities.

The rate of autism is increasing dramatically,[iv] and a large group of the children with autism today (arguably, the vast majority of newly diagnosed cases) involve physiological abnormalities. The physiological nature of our children’s challenges is profoundly obvious to those of us who live with our children on a daily basis. Many of our children have severe gastrointestinal problems. Many are grossly deficient in nutritional elements of one kind or another. They often have symptoms of thyroid disorders, poor muscle tone, abnormal neurological and immunological profiles, and problems with visual perception.

Despite these physiological realities, autism continues to be defined and taught in medical school as a behavioral and mental disorder (according to what I have been told by recent medical school graduates). It is usually attached to the word “lifelong,” and the responsibility to find biomedical treatment options is largely left to the child’s parents. Such physiological problems in our children are either assumed by much of traditional medicine to be of no significance (and therefore unworthy of exploration) or determined to be independent of the developmental and behavioral issues at hand.

This view has preserved a premise about autism that is as archaic as medieval astrology. The “experts” have apparently reasoned that the lack of grounded, scientific, peer-reviewed, conclusive evidence pointing to one specific biomedical cause for our children’s illness, by default preserves the traditional definitions of autism despite the fact that no one has ever proven the traditional views, either. There is one huge fatal flaw in their premise. The lack of evidence proving the underlying biomedical cause or causes of autism does not, by its absence, prove that autism is therefore merely behavior or development gone awry. Nor does it prove a purely genetic cause. It is, simply stated, a lack of evidence, or more correctly, evidence ignored and therefore not yet proved.

On the surface, this may seem like a minor issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our children will never permanently emerge from the dark ages of autism if we do not do everything within our abilities to change the premise currently accepted by the majority of professionals in the medical and psychological communities. Calling them worthless and pointless, many of these same professionals have ranted vociferously and railed adamantly about the supposedly unproven medical treatments and procedures we as parents have sought and even demanded. Steadfastly they cleave, all the while, to a definition and a premise about autism which has so many holes in its logic it could not stand the test of even the most primitive scientific rigor. Where are the clinical trials, which would be able to factor out biochemical involvement in our children, to isolate it as solely a behavioral or developmental disorder? Where are the control groups to prove, beyond a shred of scientific doubt, that the biochemistry of children with autism is identical to that of the norms? Of course, there are no such studies. Nor are there adequate studies to justify the use of psychoactive drugs or high-dose corticosteroids, which carry a fair share of potential and serious adverse side effects. Yet, these kinds of drugs are prescribed daily to our children without hesitation or reservation. Quite a double standard. So why have we, as a parent community, allowed our children to be defined and pigeonholed in such a hopeless, incomplete way? Why have we, as our children’s most ardent advocates, endured with more than a fair degree of complacency, the attempts to thwart biomedical research and interventions for our autistic children? Why have we as parents not stood up more confidently and not spoken out more assuredly about the “other” side of autism – the physiological side – the reality of which is overwhelming?

Many children have dramatically improved, or recovered completely, after dietary or medical interventions of one kind or another. These children refute the old myths, and provide the basis for intense scientific and medical scrutiny, toward the goal of a cure. But efforts and support to explore even the most obvious territory fall victim to the comfort zones of bygone eras in autism history and to close-minded attitudes within the medical, psychological and educational professions. In addition, often the most sincere and interested professionals and doctors become trapped in a medical/political system which hails prestigious research institutions as the only entities capable of charting medical progress. The observations and input of parents and fine practitioners are discounted as being meaningless and anecdotal at best. Consequently, our children become trapped in retrograde motion, like Venus.

Instead of trying to delve into the biological causes of autism, we have allowed the mainstream educational, medical and psychological communities to convince us to be complacent. We have, in our complacency, accepted the notion that these beautiful creations somehow either have abnormal brain function, the sudden etiology of which is not proven, have consciously chosen this mysterious, cloud-covered existence of their own volition, or worse, have been put there through the fault of irresponsible parents.

We, as parents, have held these children, have loved them, and have watched them fall asleep in our arms. We know their touch, the sound of their laugh, the smell of their skin. We know so much more about their everyday behaviors, symptoms and changes than that which can be examined in a physician’s office or a psychologist’s clinic in an hour or a day. We also know that a bright, functioning, loving, beautiful child is underneath all of the untypical behavior. We recognize the little (but very real) breakthroughs that appear spontaneously or after interventions of one kind or another. We know that our children are not hopelessly pre-destined to fail.

Five hundred years ago, forward-looking and open-minded people shed the specter of the kind of pre-destination that astrology proffered its sect of believers. Likewise, for the autism community today, the time is ripe for the transformation of our thinking, of our acting, and of autism itself. We need a new premise. Our gaze needs to be cast upward and our confidence needs to be magnified in great measure if change, and a chance for our children, is to take place.

[i] Snow, Theodore P., The Dynamic Universe, Second Edition. West Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN, 1985. pgs. 159-161.

[ii] Ibid. p. 166.

[iii] Ibid. pgs. 3-4.

[iv] Rate of Autism increasing…

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To my dear friend, Ricci King, on her special day:  a poem, just for her…   I love you, my dear friend.  I am thankful for every year since that first night we talked until three in the morning.  Enjoy your birthday to its fullest.  You deserve all things good and wonderful! XO  Love, Victoria 

Is your thyroid low?

Has your waistline seemed to grow?

Is your face more apt to wrinkle?

(When you laugh, do you now tinkle?)

Has your chin begun to drop?

(Are your boobs named “flip” and “flop”?)

Are those gray roots kinda scary?

(Are your tweezers twice as hairy?)

Has the youth upon your face

Gone and left – without a trace?

Do your hormones wax and wane…

Driving loved ones all insane?

If these answers all are “yes”

Then, we needn’t even guess

That the object of this rhyme

Is your “fifty-something” time…

But, there’s good in spite of truth

Birthdays aren’t just for our youth!!!

And there’s no cause to be snappy…

With that new smile, just CHOOSE HAPPY!

Pull some “SEXY” off your shelf –

Then, indulge your happy self!

Keep NOTHING clean and pure ;)

Get a wax and pedicure!

Cherish love from all your friends

(Dye your grays and trim those ends!)

Drink some well-aged, good red wine

You’ll be stoked and feeling fine!

Most of all, just know it’s true –

I’m so thankful that you’re “YOU” –

And, with each year that goes by,

You’re still beautiful and spry.

That YOU’RE in MY life, I’m blessed

(We’ve been through autism’s test…)

And, I treasure ALLLLLL you are

(And, I wish you weren’t so far.)

So, in lieu of breaking bread,

I wrote this poem here, instead.

Though you’re OLD, try to remember…

On this day in mid-September –

It’s your day, you birthday queen!

You look SO good – it’s obscene!


Shake that bootay… DO YO’ THING!


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All Things Good, Purposeful and Fun

I’ve been particularly inspired by life and by some wonderful people recently.  There is so much going on with us!!!!  For starters, this summer in Colorado has been one of the most beautiful and special ones I can remember. Gary is successfully settled into his fabulous new job and is working from home.  We are loving our new lock-and-leave lifestyle at Tresana.  Parker is maturing into an incredible young man of intellect, kindness and character.  We have enjoyed watching Jordan develop her professional identity and chart new and positive personal directions in several important areas.  We have an incredibly deep love for both of our children and for one another as a couple.  We have gotten together a lot with dynamic, gracious and fun people we are blessed to count among our friends.  And, we are entering an exciting phase in a business we have been slowly building for years.

As many of you know, I am getting ready to launch some projects that have been a long time in development.  It’s still mind-boggling for me to contemplate that I have been stubbornly trying to pursue a particular business model for so long, when the obvious answer was to adapt our project to an online environment.  Jordan is now helping to take our 15-year project to a new, more technical, dimension.

There are many personal and professional thoughts I’d like to share along this journey of life.  As I began to set up the scaffolding for this personal website, my imagination took me to many things I want to write about here.  Stacks of poems, collected over the years, fond mementos I want to share, photographs from generations past and present, articles, opinions and more, were the obvious things that came to mind.  I have diary entries that I hope to open up for discussion – at the risk of bearing some pretty intimate feelings.  My list includes all kinds of things that are near and dear to my heart and scenarios to which other moms may relate.

After a few days of contemplating what to write about first, I unwittingly found my starting block on the Facebook page of a friend-from-long-ago, in the form of a scripture verse that met me right where I was.  It was this:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

It spoke to the place of disappointment and doubt I had foolishly been for a couple of years and also to the wonderful place where I am now – all in one breath.  The admonishment from Isaiah is a reassuring reminder that, even in our times of anxiety, confusion, fear and disillusionment, God is actually trying to strengthen and uphold us.  He is trying to take us to higher places, with better people, for more glorious rewards.  We are being encouraged to be our faithful and positive selves, even if or when we find it hard to find our personal bests.  It is a reminder that our fears take us nowhere.  It is an assurance to us when our dismay with circumstances engulfs our minds with negative thoughts or  cripples our hearts and souls.  It is not unlike the words of a sermon from my twenty-year-old archives which likened our worry to “the interest on a debt we never owed.”  In this passage above, we become reminded not to fear or to worry or to be dismayed.  It is explicit; God strengthens and upholds and helps in the midst of it all.

As I look back, I have known this to be true, from experience.  In the darkest moments of my life – the meningioma diagnosis and rather sudden death of my beloved mother (almost 30 years ago), the passing soon thereafter of my father, the downward spiraling of Parker’s health as a young child or, more recently, the period last year when we thought that Gary might not make it through the night from his mysterious medical crisis, it was not fear that carried the day.  Rather, it was faith that led to restoration and faith that led to understanding – every single time.  Let’s face it, though.  Even the most faithful fall into periods of doubt, weakness and skepticism.  Certainly, for me, these past couple of years have been ones of trying to sort out what I have always wanted to believe about people (and about life), from what I was actually experiencing and seeing, first-hand.

So, as I stared at that powerful snippet from Isaiah, I thought about what those people and experiences had been.  Why should I have allowed my high expectations of others or their own menacing behaviors to bring me to a negative place of disgust, instead of to a posture of faith?  In the words of Ayn Rand, “the evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it.”

Clearly, it is often through difficult moments and our disappointments with others, that we come face-to-face with the humanity of our own judgment versus the divinity of God’s.  We become reminded that some things are beyond our own understanding and that reasonable answers are elusive.  I really should have learned a more profound, over-arching lesson, by now, at 52: neither men, meningiomas, or menacing behaviors should consume our faith, should compromise our standards or should claim our positivity.  Lesser people – especially those with lesser principles and lesser standards – should never make us less, too.  Sometimes, it’s appropriate to simply leave the lesser people to the company of their equals.  Personally, I find a quiet strength and peace in that kind of justice.   (Isaiah probably knew a thing or two about karma – perhaps, especially righteous karma, if there is such a thing….)

Now, I find myself in the heart of winter’s spring.  I have shaken off the snow, shoveled away the slush and found the tulips that have been patiently waiting there for me to put my fear and dismay aside.  I have shifted my energies to the things I was meant to complete, the visions that have been waiting to become realities, and to the ways in which I was destined to live.  The most glorious part of all is that I am enjoying this renewed season with a grateful heart in the company of so many people of integrity I wholeheartedly love, admire and respect.

Therefore, I begin this adventure in blogging from a pretty awesome place.  It was definitely a challenging ride for a while, but insight, clarity of understanding, time and love have bolstered my faith in other people, in other parents, in decent and honest business people and in humanity.  Every day I revel in the miracle we call Parker, who is literally the embodiment of hope and healing.  He is wise beyond his years but still innocent despite his years.  Every day he is the reminder of bridging the gap between the things we think we cannot do, and the ways in which we must find answers to those things we don’t fully understand.  And, as Gary moves onward with his new company, I am awed by him (as always), and reminded of the greatness and sanctuary in our marriage.  What a rare (and authentic) class-act I married.

Sometimes, as it is said,  you need to climb the mountain… so that you can clearly see the view. I believe something a little different.  I think that there is a view not to be missed all along the journey.  And, while forgiveness has its place, there is merit in not forgetting.  There is merit in discernment regarding people or situations that have wronged you or hurt you.  There is even a sense of personal victory when the things that were hazards on the trek up can become the ladders, the bridges and the stepping-stones to the next, even higher zenith.  For me, this blog page is one expression of that zenith.  I would like it to represent things that are integral to the idea of acting on principle, central to being a wife and a mom, and that validate who we are and what we feel.  I’d like to talk about our different perspectives on raising families, dating relationships (for those of us with older kids), and what it actually means to be decent and good human beings to one another.  I’d like to explore what drives us each toward great destinies and full lives and, more simply, the little things that make us tick and bring us joy.

I’ll be sharing lots of thoughts with you in the weeks and months to come.  “not JUST a wife and” will be a place for me to share my passions, passionately, with you.  It will be a place to talk about the blessings and events within and beyond marriage and motherhood.  It will be a place to honor the friends and people in my life I hold most dear.  It will occasionally be a place to look critically at behaviors, people and issues of the day.  Most of all, it will be a place to talk about all things (and people!) that are truly good, purposeful and fun.  Welcome!!!!

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Living in the Moment?

I was regretting the past

and fearing the future.

Suddenly, God was speaking.

“My name is ‘I am.’”

I waited.

God continued,

“When you live in the past,

with its mistakes and regrets,

it is hard.  I am not there.

My name is not, ‘I was.’

When you live in the future,

With its problems and fears,

it is hard.  I am not there.

My name is not ‘I will be.’

When you live in this moment,

it is not hard.  I am here.

My name is ‘I am.’”


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