Sunday, December 30, 2012

Still Walking: On the go with Josh in San Miguel

Josh climbing the walla, looking like Spiderman! This is right across  the street from
 our B&B, La Jardin de Don Quijote.
The Parroguia at dusk, and on the horizon from the Instituto,
along with mansions on the hillside (top right).  Besides Josh ordering his Picasso hamburger,
these are a few scenes along our walk on the secret path. 
We’ve been walking nonstop.  Every day to and from the Jardin, and at night to see the Parroguia lit up and the beautiful Christmas lights all about the center of town, mostly blue.  It reminded me of a Christmas I spent with Peace Corps friends Jud and Justin in Istanbul, around the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia's. 

This morning I asked Josh if he needed to do any laundry. "YES! Definitely.  Let's do it."  He put on his new shoes and his leather jacket (he looks so handsome!), and away we went on another little adventure, this time to the lavanderia.  Josh Learned that it's a nice way to get laundry done, by someone else.  Ater we dropped off our big load, I steered Josh along a “secret” path behind the La Aldea neighborhood where our B&B is, strolling past brightly painted houses, murals, and bougainvilla galore. It’s a path less traveled, and therefore more special.

Later, we went to the Saturday market at the Instituto de Allende, the famous art and language school that once brought lots of American expats to San Miguel; it was super-loaded with arts and crafts.  They were beautiful, but as Josh said,  “the stuff’s more expensive here than at the Mercado.”  True! 

"But I have a little surprise for you."  From the backside of the Instituto, behind the great muraled walls, there is a fantastic view of the town, and I guided Josh there for a look. “Awesome!” He took photos of the Parroquia and churches on the horizon, against a crystal clear blue sky, and the mansions on the hillsides.  It’s one of my favorite views of the town.

It’s great to be able to show Josh these kinds of “hidden” treasures behind the beautiful windows, walls and doorways of San Miguel.

On our Saturday walks we also made stops at shoe stores along the way from here to there, this time for me, with Josh very willing. "Your turn," he said thoughtfully. We finally found a pair of black comfy sandals on sale.  Josh was a big help.  We then had a nice lunch at a restaurant up Ancha de San Antonio, but the names of the items on the menu were more interesting than the food itself: named for world-famous artists, musicians and literary icons.  I got a Salvadore Dali and Josh a Picasso, or something like that!

Josh was still ready to keep going but, frankly, my feet and hips were sort of telling me to slow down (hate to admit it).  So I decided to go back to the B&B, and Josh decided to take a walk to the Park (Parque Juarez).  On his own, all by himself! He said he’d be back at the B&B in time to pick up our freshly washed and perfectly folded (which I could never duplicate) laundry.  He did it, and I think was proud of himself for finding his way around on his own.  He had energy to spare this afternoon, and at one point he was literally climbing the walls, like Spiderman. 

By now Josh is familiar with getting from our B&B in La Aldea, between Soledad and Orizaba, into and out of town.  He’s traversed streets named Zacateros, Pila Seca, Umeran, Hildalgo, Mesones, Insurgentes, Relox, Correo and Sollano. 

Tonight, I tell him, we’re going down Zacateros to Canal to Hernandez Marcias. "Why? Where are we going?"  

“Want to see a Beatles tribute band at the Teatre Angela Peralta, if we can get tickets?”  

Josh and I at Tio Lucas before the Beatles tribute concert at the Teatre.
“Yeah that sounds good.”  We had seen a similar concert in Sylvania a year before, the "1964" tribute band, and had fun.
So off we went.  Josh picked up a street dog on the way.  We had no trouble getting tickets, and had time to get a bite to eat at Tio Lucas, a great restaurant across the street from the Teatre.  I think it was one of the best meals we’ve had here.  Josh thought the chicken frajitas were delicious.  So did I.  But I caught Josh wrapping chicken and tortilla in a napkin.

"What are you doing?" 

"Ah, well, I can't help it Nana.  That dog needs food. He's so skinny."  

I understood. Josh went looking for the dog, but it had disappeared.  He finally left the food under a tree, hoping the dog might sniff it and get it. 

Then it was across the street to the Teatre for some Beatles music via what turned out to be a very talented Mexican tribute band calling itself "Sheep Dogs."  The first half was classic Beatles tunes, and the second  featured Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The music was great, and the performers extraordinary.  I loved the Ringo Starr on drums best, but the guitars, bassist and keyboards were amazing, especially for the Sgt. Pepper songs. Josh probably got a bit bored, but he was a good sport.  

We walked home happy campers, under a starry sky with a full moon.   We never saw that dog again.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the way: Shoes and a Leather Jacket

Josh gets new black suede shoes on the way to the Mercado, via Bellas Artes art school.
SMA at night from the B&B rooftop. A full moon! 
What do you want to do today, Josh?  “Let’s go back to the Mercado.  I want to look for a gift for my dad.”  Okey dokey.  So after our huevo rancheros, off we went to the market, after a stop at my favorite wifi place, Café Mesa Grande.  On the way, Josh spotted a shoe store, and this time we had good luck.  Josh got a new pair of black suede shoes!

“On the way,” I told Josh, is one of the best things about traveling.  You may be headed toward a destination, but “on the way” you’ll discover some great places, see lots of shops, and make lots of stops. It’s okay.  It’s good!  “Yep, it’s how I got my shoes!”

We had good luck at the Artisans Mercado, too.  Josh found something for his dad  (I can only hint that’s it’s made of tin), and then spotted something for Kyle and his mom.  We managed to bargain the vendors down to 50 pesos.  What a deal! 

“Is that okay,” Josh asked  “To talk them down like that.”

“Oh yeah for sure,” I answered.  "In fact, you’re supposed to do that.  It's expected!” 

By now 2:00 pm, Josh was ready for lunch, and so was I.  “You got to make the guacamole,” Josh reminded me.  We had bought the ingredients the day before, fresh avocados, tomatoes and onion. 

A kind of “day 3  travel weariness” set in. "That’s what I call it", I said to Josh, and so we both agreed to taxi back to the B&B instead of walk it!  The guacamole awaited us, and a nap!

But wait! Was our day over?  Far from it.  We look at each other. "We can't just hang around," Josh said.  Jusst what I was thinking! Let's go for another walk, first to Cafe Mesa Grande to check email and facebook, then to the park.  Okay, so on the way..... 

Guess what?  Yep, we stopped in the leather shop, and found.....a beautiful leather jacket made for Josh!  He hesitated, checked with his sister, then decided. His first leather jacket on his first trip to Mexico!
We did make it to the park, which is beautiful, and to a classy part of town, higher up in the mountains.  I remember taking my grandchildren Julia and Tony there, many years ago.  Josh loved it, too.  Another great day in paradise! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

In San Miguel with Grandson Josh

Leonardo mural, Biblioteca, top left.  Josh & me at Hecho en Mexico; Josh, in front of a beautiful carved and painted door on Ancho San Antonio, a main street; at Jardin de Don Quijote,, in his room and on his deck, from which you can see the town;, on the balcony surrounded by red bougainvilla;  at the oldest church; and at the Mercado de Artesenia, bottom right corner.

“I woke up this morning and wondered where I was, then it came to me,  oh my god, I’m in San Miguel!”  Josh, my fifteen-year-old grandson, was telling me about how his first day had started as we ate dinner at Hecho En Mexico.

And we are having the best time together.  Josh is a sponge, and he noticed right away, as we traveled from Leon to San Miguel in our shuttle van, that “We aren’t in America anymore.This is definitely Mexico!” he said, as he took in the countryside and the mountains, the towns, the landscape of the dry high desert, the architecture, the roadside stands.   Right away he noticed lots of beat up old cars, still going, a true Mexican talent. What a gift to be traveling with my grandson to a place I know and love!

After a long travel day on Wednesday, 26 December, from Detroit (our flight left at 6am) to Houston to Leon/Guanajuato, Mexico, otherwise uneventful, we got to San Miguel at 5:00 pm, and got settled in our B&B, the Jardin de Don Quijote, as colorful and cheerful as always, the lush garden in full bloom. Josh discovered two cute ducks wandering around the fountain.  We wondered how they got there.  Maria, the owner, and her daughter Alajandria, greeted us warmly, and so did Dona, the revered 90-something nanny and grandma. Josh even managed hola, mucho gusto, and gracias in Spanish.  He charmed the Garcias!

“Want to take a walk into town,” I asked Josh.  He looked at me, eyes half shut. I think he was thinking “Is she serious?” but only said “Sure!”  Tired as he were, Josh decided to stay up a little longer instead of crashing. What a good traveler! 

So we took our first walk into town, to the Jardin, where Josh got his first glimpse of a lively Mexican public square and the famous Parroquia, the beautiful cathedral.  It was a warm and balmy night, with an almost full moon, and the bells of the cathedral tolled as we arrived. We walked around the square and then got a bite to eat at the Café de Jardin, where my sister and I had enjoyed meals and margaritas.  We sat at a table outside where we met Ricardo, an IT worker from southern Mexico on vacation with his wife and two kids. We learned a lot just sitting with him and listening to him talk about Mexico.

Josh is absorbing it all: the language, the culture, the architecture, the cobble-stoned streets, the people, the street life.  He liked his first glimpse of all the little shops where you can buy everything imaginable. We got back to the B&B and crashed.

On day two, after a hearty breakfast served by the Garcia family’s long-time cook Marilou, we took another long walk into and around town.  I decided we’d go to the Biblioteca and the Artisan’s Mercado, to catch more street life, indigenous arts and crafts, and the feeling, sights and sounds of San Miguel’s bustling, joyful daily life. Josh loved it. He liked the David Leonardo mural at the Biblioteca, and especially liked the Mercado, where you can buy everything from Mexican crafted souvenirs, fresh fruits and vegetable, cheese and edible cactus, to homemade toys, and inside, everything from produce to clothes. 

 “Can we go back to the Mercado” he asked at the end of the day.  Sure thing. Anytime. We’re getting into the pace and lifestyle of beautiful San Miguel.  We’re taking it easy, taking it in, and having a ball!      

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Holiday Message: From the Hearts of Friends

My Christmas message comes through dear friends Terry Hunt and Carol Jean  Herring Hunt, wise people who came East from California to Toledo, bearing gifts.

Yahoo image. 
Like many of my dearest friends, they no longer live in Toledo.  They now live in Chico, California, closer to Carol's kids and her birthplace.  One of the blessings of this holiday season has been re-connecting with them, through a "reunion" dinner at Mel and Annette Wicks, followed by a visit to my place for tea and more catching up.  

Terry was a priest at St.Michael's Episcopal Church and then historic Trinity Episcopal in downtown Toledo.  From Trinity, he conceived and ran "My Brother's Place," an urban community restaurant where anyone could come for a meal, and did.  By the hundreds, daily, for some 15 years.  Ever an idea person, Terry founded the FORUM, an innovative way to bring together corporate, political and social leaders of Toledo to envision the city's future, and this led not only to many great projects, like a Riverfront renovation, but  also to the creation of Leadership Toledo, still going to this day.  The Rev.Terry Hunt left a legacy.   

I've always thought he had a unique vision and way of seeing the world ("spiritual seeds," he'd call them), and  a Christmas Letter 2012 (below) shows why.  Terry understands that we are human beings, mere mortals, who experience life in different ways, make mistakes and learn from them as we go.  We are seekers of meaning and purpose.  My brother Loren believed this too (I gave him a copy of an An Asperger Journey).  

So does Terry's wife Carol, a dedicated nurse who performed wonders through the Visiting Nurses Association here in Toledo, and continued in public nursing for many years in California.  She's back "home," and I am glad for her. Carol is a deeply caring person; she brings a special light to our lives, to her children's and extended family's lives, East and West, and to all her friends.  

This Christmas letter is one of them, a message from wise people who came East bearing gifts.  Merry Christmas every one, and a happy and healthy New Year.

                CHRISTMAS LETTER 2012, from Terry and Carol Hunt
         While we wish we could be with each of you to enjoy this special season of the year, we must be in the East. Perhaps you will join us there by imagining we are following the Wise men. Yes, I do mean the ancient ones who followed a large and brilliant nova. In this letter we want to offer you a gift of all that we are learning on our journey east.
         The three Kings are teaching us not to see ourselves as finished products, but to view life on earth as a laboratory in which we can make mistakes, be forgiven and try again; most importantly our mistakes can help us see who or what we love, and how what we love shapes, or misshapes us!
         Strangely these ancient kings have become seekers; not something one would expect on any king. Perhaps it is because they are very old and have learned a startling thing: they were not wise enough to be kings!
         They now seek the real King: one who is the archetype from whom all beings flow. They wish to apprentice themselves to him to learn to love as he loves and to right the wrongs his light reveals.
         Like these ancient ones, we too are discovering we stand before a mystery and we are that mystery! The questions it asks are: Who are you really, and What is worthy of your life and love?
         But the ancient ones tell us not to despair: we are not alone in this universe they say. God sends clues for solving mysteries in unexpected ways, and from unlikely messengers, to those who do such foolish things as follow stars!                           Terry and Carol  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Happenings: Memory Making

The Sylvania AdVantage gang at my place;
below, Roz with Elissa.
Holidays bring lots of great gatherings, parties and visits, and these past weeks have been full. A few nights ago it was the Sylvania Area Historical Society's annual pot-luck dinner (see previous blog).  Another day I hosted the Sylvania AdVantage Christmas party, a wonderful gathering. I provide the place, they bring the food.  It's a great group of women.

A few nights later my daughter Elissa and I went to visit her 97-year-old step-grandmother Roz at an assisted living home called Otterbein.  It's a nice place out in Whiteford, Ohio, about 30 minutes west of Toledo. The living area in the home section where Roz lives was decorated for the holidays, with trees and lights, lots of food and good cheer for residents and their visitors. We sat among them, being sure to chat with those who seemed to be alone for the holidays.  Visitors were open and friendly, walked gingerly over tubes going to and from oxygen tanks, pulled up chairs to be closer to loved ones, and to talk with strangers. Roz seemed alert and happy in this place, showed us her room, her photos, said she liked where she was.  That made us feel good.  Elissa brought her friend Jason Richardson.  Roz was delighted to have a handsome young man visit with her.
Reunion at the Wicks' home..

After this visit Elissa and I traveled a few more miles west to Maumee and the beautiful home of Mel and Annette Wicks.  We had a wonderful reunion with special friends whom I haven't seen in many years, some since I left Toledo in 1985.  We had belonged to the "Brunch Bunch" when I lived on Robinwood Avenue in the Old West End, a smart, thoughtful, articulate, powerful group of people who met monthly around great food and loved talking politics, economics, philosophy, social change, working for peace and justice at home and in the world.  They still do!  Barby Britsch, my dear friend who died last week, was part of our Brunch Bunch and was remembered fondly with lots of stories.  Food for the soul.

Gluten free too.
I shared this with her son David a few nights later at a wonderful dinner at Elements, a new restaurant in Sylvania, with Elissa and Barby's friends Pam, also a storyteller,and Paul, an architect.  The name of the restaurant is symbolic. David had eaten at the well-known young chef's restaurant in NYC, where he lives and works.  The food was fantastic. David's been back in Toledo to do all the things that have to be done for a mom who collected everything, loved books, especially children's literature (by the hundreds and thousands), arts and crafts; saved boxes and boxes of yarn and sewing materials, videos, CDs, DVDs, every ornament and souvenir imaginable; had an apartment full of antiques, family heirlooms, art and memorabilia, all hard to part with, and hard to keep.  David did a fantastic job sorting through all of it; he and brother Marty will keep their favorite things; many items are being donated to great causes; friends have momentos; and we have lots of stories for her memorial service in January.  Elissa is sure David is making Barby happy and that she is at peace and in her "Element," already telling stories!

Today, old friends Terry and Carol Hunt, he an Episcopal priest, she a nurse, came to visit. We were following up on our dinner reunion at the Wicks' home. Terry and Carol left Toledo about when I did, in the mid-1980s, and are here from their home in Chico, California, visiting family in the East. We spent hours over tea, reminiscing, connecting dots and the times our paths crossed; sharing updates on our kids and their large blended family; talking about our unique but universal journeys; embracing Terry's wisdom, which he will share in a forthcoming autobiography (can't wait to read this), and Carol's compassion, sharing memories, comfort and joy.

This is what Christmas means to me.  Being with friends, loved ones and family, in person and in spirit, near and far, here and there, surrounded by memories, remembering Christmases past, facing a new year, grateful for the blessings of the season, making new memories, and celebrating the life we have, the life we were given, the life we make.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Historical Society Holiday Fun

Bob Smith, SAHS president (grey striped shirt, top right)) playing "name that tool," and board members and participants enjoying the beauty of the season and the joys of history, 
The Sylvania Area Historical Society (SAHS) held it's annual holiday pot-luck party last night. The house museum looked beautiful, every room decorated with a glowing Christmas tree and lots of greens, red bows and colorful ornaments.  Over thirty guests of all ages filled the tables set up on the first floor, next to a dining room table laden with all kinds of salads, fruits and vegetables, and a tasty honey-baked ham donated by board member and TOPS (Olander Park) program director Sandy Gratop.  Also enjoying the festivities were Bob Smith, SAHS board president; Pam Rohrbacher, vice- president; loyal members Liz Stover, Polly Cooper, and Mimi Malcolm, and member emeritus Don Painter and his wife. 

Bob Smith provided great entertainment with a box full of antique farm tools from his own family farm, asking us to "name that tool!"  Most folks got at least 3 correct answers, and were rewarded with some great gifts.  I, being a totally urban person, did not know one tool from another.  

A raffle raised enough money to sponsor a program next year featuring "Eleanor Roosevelt," always a favorite subject.  

The SAHS volunteers, a dedicated bunch,  set everything up and made sure everyone had a good time.  They do a lot of "behind the scenes" work that makes the Society's programs possible.  Kudos to every one!

The SAHS makes history come alive, and its holiday party makes history fun, too!    

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Celebrating Wigilia

Celebrating Wigilia at St. Florian's in Hamtramck with Laura Kline and Wayne State U Slavic Program.  Church, greeters, dancers, and Elissa sharing oblatek with friend Natasha
My daughter Elissa and I drove up to Detroit last night, to the historic Polish community of Hamtramck, to attend a Wigilia program at old Saint Florian Church. Wigilia is Christmas Eve in Poland, celebrated with lots of great food, songs and dances.  We were treated to ALL of them, thanks to Elissa’s friend Laura Kline, Russian language and literature professor at Wayne State University.  The program is sponsored annually by the Slavic Studies department ( and has lots of generous local sponsors and enthusiastic participants.  I knew nothing of Wigilia so it was nice to learn about this Catholic Polish tradition.  After the first star is spotted the night before Christmas, families gather and share a thin wafer, Oplatek, which has been blessed by a priest.  Family members wish each other good health, happiness, and fortune.  Lots of noise and rejoicing follow.      

Wigilia reminds us that cultural traditions sustain us, in all places, in all religions, at all times.  Wigilia, Christmas eve, is commemorated around the world in different ways, steeped in a myriad of cultural folkways both universal and unique.  I remember the elaborate fish dinners, an Italian tradition, we had in Rochester when I was growing up, prepared by my mom’s father, then by my mom, and in somewhat modern form by the third and fourth generations. I remember the holiday traditions in Ukraine, and the boisterous and heartfelt toasts. Similar traditions are celebrated throughout Europe and other parts of the world.   

The program for this Wigilia celebration included the lyrics to Silent Night in English, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and German.   Very sweet, very moving.  Here it is in Russian:
Ночь тухаб ночь свята,
Людуб дапь чиста,
Лишь в пещере свеча горит,
Там святая чета не слит,
В яслях дреемлет дитя.

Happy holidays everyone! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Ad for a concert in NYC to benefit storm Sandy victims. This will be fun!
WIsh I were in New York. this 12-12-12.

Magic numbers?  The end of the Mayan calander?  The end of the world?  Or just another Wednesday? An ordinary day?  That’s what it is for me.  It means a doctor’s appointment, a few hours with Chase, taking Josh to driving class, doing some writing and reading, and a holiday dinner with friends. I want to buy some small gifts for them. Good chance to walk around the neighborhood on a sunny but chilly day and “buy local.” I’ll go to Harmony in Life next door, too.   If there’s a deeper meaning than this, it eludes me.  For New Yorkers it's a chance to see a great 12-12-12 concert to benefit storm Sandy victims, with some of our favorites like Bruce Springsteen. Wish I could see that, but for now 12-12-12 is  another chance to take a stroll down memory lane!

“Oh, oh, mom!”  That’s my girls, Elissa and Michelle. “You seem to be doing that a lot lately. How can you remember all those details of the past, but you can’t remember where you put your car keys, or your cell phone?”

“Hmm....think it’s an aging thing.  It’s what numbers mean to me nowadays, and they keep adding up, believe me!”  So thinking about numbers:
8/8/88   In Washington, DC, in a new job, in a great city, living in Dupont Circle.
9/9/99   In Florida, the best thing being nearer to my Mom, brother and sister in Tallahassee. We celebrated the dawn of the 21st century together, 01/01/2000.  She died three years later, on 3/30/2003, another special combination.
10/10/10   In Ukraine, probably meeting with English Club at Starobelsk library.
11/11/11   In Sylvania, with kids and grandkids.  Come full circle.
12/12/12   In Sylvania, surrounded by family, looking forward to another                                  Christmas together and a trip to Mexico with grandson Joshua. 

Red letter days. No end in sight!

There won’t be a 13/13/13, either. Too bad! I’ve always liked that number, being that my birthday is on 3/13.  And I lived in apartments numbered 313 and 1013 in the historic Cairo condo when I lived in DC.  Lots of  thirteens have fallen on Fridays, too, with no adverse effects. In fact, lots of good times. 

So today I’m grateful that we can celebrate the magic numbers 12/12/12.  I hope  it means good luck, good health,  joy for the holidays, and peace on earth at some time in the not too distant future.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Plea on Behalf of Aspies Everywhere: Keep Asperger Syndrome diagnosis in DSM5

The cover of my beloved brother Loren's autobiography, which came out 3 months after his sudden death of a heart attack at 63 years old. A memorial edition.  "If only we had known sooner."  So  many people said  this at his memorial service, where we talked about Loren's life and his forthcoming book, and especially after reading the book.
"We knew Loren was different," a friend from the Florida Trail Association said.
"But we didn't know what it was.  He was loyal, brilliant, a faithful volunteer, cleaned trails and hiked with us, and we just took him in. I wish I had known sooner what I know now."
Loren said the same thing, many times, after discovering a name for the disorder he had battled, alone, all his life.   
“The Asperger community is a big vocal community, a reason in itself to leave the [Asperger's Syndrome] diagnosis in place [in the new DSM5].” Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University animal scientist

My brother Loren was a late-diagnosed Aspie. He lived with “a problem that had no name” all his life, and suffered for it.  

From the time he started school, he was marginalized, misunderstood, teased and bullied unmercifully for being “different.”  No diagnosis, no intervention, no help.  He wrote about it in his autobiography, An Asperger Journey: From Hell to Hope (2010). 

That’s why I join with of thousands of others like my brother, and many state and national Asperger's and Autism organizations, in urging the American Psychiatric Association NOT to eliminate Asperger’s Syndrome, as it has proposed, from the DSM5, the diagnostic bible of the profession, which is being revised in 2013.  

You can help by emailing Dr. Dilip Jeste, president, at The Psychiatric association is soliciting comments.  Feel free to use this column.   I am late in joining this raging debate; you'll find tons of research and information online, and lots of different people to contact.

The American Psychiatric Association argues that Asperger’s belongs under the diagnosis “Autism Spectrum Disorders.”  In a New York Times article, an autism expert at the University of Michigan, Dr. Catherine Lord, said that "Nobody has been able to show consistent differences between what clinicians diagnose as Asperger's syndrome and what they diagnose as mild autistic disorder." (NYT, "A Powerful Identity, A Vanishing Diagnosis," by Claudia Wallis, reprinted November 2012).  

"Nobody" means other researchers and clinicians like her.   

Lord continues: "Asperger's means a lot of different things to different people. It's confusing and not terribly useful."   She believes "mild autism" would be a better diagnosis.  (Dr. Lord, c/o Melanie Cabrera at

I don't believe there are many Aspies in the world, or anyone who knows and loves them, who are buying into this view.  Clinicians talking to clinicians, "experts" talking to a few of their own small circle.  

"Mild autism" is not a diagnosis either. Nor does it cover an Asperger personality's unique social deficits AND assets.  Loren was never diagnosed with it, and never would be. Nor are most people today with the same constellation of symptoms.  Some clinicians and researchers predict that anywhere from 10% to 50% of people now diagnosed with Asperger's or autism would fall off the diagnostic spectrum entirely with the new criteria proposed for the DSM5.  

Sure there are a lot of differences among people with Asperger's, just like those diagnosed with autism, just like humans beings everywhere.  

But Aspies do share many common traits: they exhibit similar social glitches, ways of thinking and seeing the world, ways of absorbing knowledge and talking about it (and they can go on and on about many subjects), distinctive social, intellectual and brain wiring characteristics. 

These characteristics are now, finally, recognized by families, friends, teachers, doctors and therapists. Equally important, the public has  come to recognize them, including schools, state organizations, health insurance companies, and federal social security agencies.  This is a critical aspect of the debate. 

It was a battle to get this far; it would be a tragedy to undo these gains. 

Experts can talk all they want about what they need for their own research agenda and the nature of the "autism spectrum," but frankly it doesn't mean much; it has little practical use. 

Some of us even wonder if Asperger's syndrome should be on the autism spectrum at all.    

My brother Loren wrote about living with Asperger's with painful honesty in An Asperger Journey. There are lots of great books, DVDs and other aides out now, since Tony Attwood published his pioneering book on Asperger's and the OASIS website was created.  

An insightful recent description is journalist Ron Fournier's personal essay about his son Tyler in the National Journal (November 2012).  It's one of the best descriptions of Asperger's I've read (available online or email  Tyler sounds so much like Loren, amazing, bright, different, endearing.  But how lucky for Tyler that his distinctive symptoms were recognized relatively early on, and that he is getting the understanding and intervention he needs, tailored to his particular situation.  

Loren tells what it was like to get an Asperger's diagnosis, after years of struggling alone to understand himself and find a purpose in life:   

" I am 55 years old, and I finally have a name for the disorder that has plagued me from birth.  I have been living in a parallel universe, the conventional world on one side, my Asperger self on the other.  I filled the gap the best I could, stumbling along the way.  In my own world, in a cauldron of invisibility, I tired forging an identity.  After all the therapists and doctors (none of whom ever got it right), putting up with countless cutting and mocking remarks, trying all kinds of jobs, hating myself for over 30 years, I have a name for the disorder that has stalked me all my life.  A 100 pound weight that I carried with me all my life was finally lifted off my back." (Chapter 10, p. 85).  

Eliminating the Asperger's diagnosis will put that 100-pound weight back; it would be too much to bear. It would be harmful.  

"Do no harm," is a doctor's first principle: the Hippocratic Oath.  Please, it took so long to recognize Asperger's. The diagnosis DOES mean something.  It DOES have meaning.  Leave well enough alone. Leave the Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis in the DSM5.  Do no harm.   


Friday, December 7, 2012

Barby and "Tea with Mussolini"

Barby’s on my mind.   When her son David remembered her as a wonderful mom, remembered her art, books, and pie crust, my mind immediately jumped to the movie “Tea with Mussolini.”  God knows why!  That’s the brilliant 1999 partially-autobiographical film by Franco Zeffirelli that takes place in Florence, Italy before and during World War II.  An immediate association buried deep in my unconscious, I guess.  I haven’t thought of the film, which Barby and I loved, for years.

Maybe I was thinking how amazing and special it would be growing up surrounded by such witty, erudite, and talented women as those played by Judi Densch, Maggie Smith, Judy Plowright, Cher, Lily Tomlin, some of Barby’s favorite actresses.   We gushed on and on about the film in a phone call, the Toledo-Washington, DC connection.

Maybe I was thinking of the boy Luca Innocenti , who imbibed the women’s love of the arts, their distinctiveness, their passions.  The Italians called this group of English and American ex-pats the “Scorpioni,.” not very pleasant, but frankly, my dear, the women didn't give a damn!  They were independent, quirky, some acerbic and haughty, others down to earth and compassionate, all passionate about life and art, all passionate about entertaining and being entertained.    

It’s not that there’s a one-to-one relationship here. It’s just that thinking about Barby can take you all over the cultural map across the ages.  Barby’s life triggers memories, some serious, some hilarious.   It’s a great trip.  Lord knows what will pop up next.   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


My past is being obliterated. My friend Barby died on Monday, and now Dave Brubeck, the day before his 92nd birthday.  Damn. 

Hey death! Time out. Take Five. 

The Greatest Generation, the one that survived World War II, is almost gone.  That would be my grandparents’ and my parents’ generation. Well some might consider that two generations, but the last soldier is about to die. Now one of my all-time-favorite jazz musicians is gone. 

The children of the greatest generation, born let’s say between the 1940s and 1960s, my generation, are going next: boomers (1946-1964), hippies, yippies, suburbanites, feminists, Civil Rights pioneers, anti-Vietnam War heroes.  Some of us still sing “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”  Most of us remember where we were when JFK was assassinated and the Beatles came to America.  We came through the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, then went through Watergate and its aftermath.  We remember  Bob Dylan.  Heck, some of us remember when "Time Out"  came out, still have the album.  .

I hate having my past obliterated like this, one person, icon, soulmate, friend and loved one at a time. 

Grandson Chase at piano:
A future Dave Brubeck?
My parents died.  My brother died.  Elizabeth Taylor died.  Ray Bradbury died.  My favorite actors, authors and artists are gone or going. My whole social and cultural fabric is unraveling, thread by thread, day by day.    My past is being obliterated.  

"Fran, hold on a minute!"  That's my brother Loren whispering in my ear.  I hear some jazz music in the background. 

"There's a bright spot.  A new cultural fabric is being woven, by your kids' kids and their kids' kids.  Remember, you're a great-grandmother now.  You have Chase and Philip bringing up the rear, so to speak. They will grow up with new amazing talents.  They will grow up remembering you, and your generation. They will mark time by their favorite artists and musicians, and carry the memories into another century.  They will carry on from where you leave off, extraordinary people and ordinary people who together will create the life we are given, the life we give, the live we leave."

"Okay, Loren.  Great spin on death and dying. I 'll go with it, for now." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our Storytelling Angel: Remembering Barby Britsch

Our Storytelling Angel, our Barby Britsch.

My dear friend Barby Britsch died yesterday afternoon, 3 December 2012, at 85 years old.   Whole chapters of my life have been  ripped out, and it pains me.  Barby and I shared a love of teaching and learning, music, art and theater.  She got her PhD in her 60s, Dr Britsch. Then she taught literature for 15 years at Lourdes College, a dedicated teacher and mentor, an expert in children's literature, a  professional storyteller.  I admired her.  She also volunteered with Arts Unlimited  (among many other cultural activities) for many years. Nothing made her happier than telling stories, with music and great drama, to both students and teachers, in Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota, North  Carolina and Massachusetts. She traveled with stories in her heart and soul, stories that created “a sense of wonder,” that “connected people across cultures,” as she herself put it. It’s what she loved to do. 

In our time, Barby and I went to concerts and plays together; to Stratford, Canada, a few times, for the summer Shakespeare Festival. I remember especially The Mikado we saw, because she loved Gilbert and Sullivan.  The last play we saw together was here at The Rep in Toledo, a lovely production of “The Secret Garden.”   Around this time she also introduced me to the Blair Lithophane collection at Crosby Gardens, and gave me a fantastic guided tour of this historic art form, alive with beauty and light (see blog below).

Way back when, we shared a few summers in Nantucket, when her husband Jim was alive; we walked the beach and the moors, had fresh  fish dinners, ran to the beach to catch the sunset, cocktails in hand, and played memorable games of scrabble. It was a great joke that one of us got away with the word “twink” in one of our joyfully competitive scrabble duels, and didn’t catch it until after we were done with the game and reviewing the board. “Twink?!” Barby asked, increduously.  She had great fun with this super blunder for a long time. "Twink!" she'd say from time to time, with mock dismay.  Her son David remembers Nantucket, too and, sweet as he always was and is, comforted me with the memories.

The Carys and the Britschs also co-hosted an authentic Nantucket Jared Coffin House brunch one Christmas holiday, complete with cold cherry soup, at my home on Robinwood Avenue in the Old West End, down the street from where Jim and Barby had once lived. We were the “Brunch Bunch,” and met once a month for pot-luck meals, always delicious, a feast for the senses, an intellectual feast as well.  Neighbors and friends gathering. Our Nantucket brunch was  fun to prepare together, getting secret recipes and trying them,  and it was really super memorable to serve the  food, display it, savor it. It seems that a special holiday rum  punch was a big hit and added to the festivities.  

Then there were the times Barby and Jim saved our children, Elissa and Michelle.  Once when the kids were “running away,” suitcases in hand, Jim and Barby spied them from their grand front porch and invited them up for hot chocolate.  They girls jumped at the chance.  Jim and Barby took their’suitcases, fed them, and gave us a call.  Our girls were rescued, and not for the first time, or last!  Barby and Jim were such dear friends to all of us, and my girls adored them as special grandparents.   

Barby gathered together and created a fabulous photo album for my 40th birthday, a “This is Your Life, Fran” album, which I cherish to this day.  Full of old photos and funny text, no one could have done it better than Barby.

I also remember some notable Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners hosted by Barby and Jim at their place on North Cove, under a great neon work of art by Phil Hazard, an old family friend and a friend of their son David, both living in New York City at the time.  These were truly the best turkey and rib roast dinners ever, with all the trimmings, served on a beautiful table, with Barby’s special dinnerware, silverware and glasses.  She loved Christmas and her Christmas decorations were beautiful.  I loved her tree, and her collections of  this and that and jumping toys; so did my kids.  And she was always knitting that last minute sweater or scarf for her beloved sons David and Marty.  They were always in her heart, and will always be.

She and Jim visited me in Washington, DC, one year. A memorable time.  We walked the entire city, including an amazing visit to the Washington National Cathedral, which they loved.   Jim died not long thereafter, and Barby and I both wondered how he had kept up with us, sometimes having shortness of breath. He never said anything. Never complained. We just stopped and paused.  Oh, he was missed.  Jim’s great love of life, his wide reading, his compassion, his lovely baritone voice, his dedication to helping those less fortunate, especially in the area of housing, moved us, and it still does. 

Barby carried on: a brave, determined and engaged senior citizen to the end.  She did some of her greatest creative work with children’s literature and storytelling. She rocked!  She poured her heart and soul into it. Her knowledge of hundreds and hundreds of stories, from all time, from all over the world, fascinated.  It was like life-lessons in Joseph Campbell and the great power of myths across the ages, even better. 

No one could tell a story like Barby.   An incomparable spirit came through her as she spoke, a light, a spark of immortality.  

So many memories.  Such a rich fabric. All woven by the incomparable, the talented and special Barby Britsch.   “Tell me your story,” the message on her answering machine says, in her distinctive voice.   There’s no one like Barby to whom I could tell my story.  And no one like Barby who could tell our stories, our universal human stories, the stories that connect all of us, forever.   

Below is a blog I wrote after visiting Barby at the Lithophane Museum at Crosby Gardens, where she volunteered as a docent.  She was not walking well; her knees were a mess and needed replacing; she was in lots of pain, but always the trooper, she took me on a wonderful guided tour.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


A lot of the Lithophanes look like quaint illustrations from 19th century texts (and, Barby says, "may well be!"). 

I went to Toledo Botonical Garden on Saturday, formerly known as Crosby Gardens, which most of us still call it, to visit with my old friend Barby, who is a docent at The Blair Museum of Lithophanes, a museum on the grounds of the Garden.

I had heard of this collection years ago, when Mr. Laurel Blair lived on Robinwood Avenue in the Old West End, near the Art Museum.  We were living a few blocks up the street. He would open his h ome every now and then so people could view his ever-growing collection. I never made it inside, although I told myself a thousand times, every time I passed the old Victorian mansion, that I should do it.

Better late than never. I had a lovely tour of the precious collection, bequeathed to Cosby Gardens upon Mr. Blair’s death. What a gift. As the brochure tells us “Lithophanes are three-dimensional translucent porcelain plaques which when backlit reveal detailed magical images. First created in Europe in the 1820s, the largest collection of this 19th century art form in the world is now on view at the Blair M useum of Lithophanes.”

Right here in Toledo, in our own backyard, like Hines Farm and the Blues. The Blair Museum has a varied collection of lithophanes mounted and framed in stained glass, lamps, daily housewares, and craft and art pieces, mostly made in Europe between the 1820s and 1890s. There’s a rare lithophane portrait of Abraham Lincoln as a young man, created in the late 1860s to commemorate his assassination. The lithophane of Mount Vesuius erupting is beautiful. The lamps shimmer. There is also a special summer exhibit of lithophanes by contemporary artist Hannah Blackwell, who studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and spent time in Hungary perfecting the 19th-century methods, which involves painstakingly cutting wax, making a plaster mold, then casting and firing porcelain lithophanes. A book by Museum curator Dr. Margaret Carney, an excellent and informative art history, is on sale in the gift shop area as you enter the cottage museum. The website is fascinating, too (

Great surprises come in small packages. The Blair Museum of Lithophones is among them. Light, art and imagination come to life in these magical lithophanes, which Mr. Blair had the foresight to collect, preserve, and make available to the public.   

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Forget about it!

Well I didn’t get much sympathy for my patience blog.  In fact I was scolded, sort of, for even trying to help my grandkids with science-related, or any, homework.  

“Why the heck were you helping the kids with their homework, anyway?”

“At our ages, dear, it doesn’t take long to get in over our heads.”

“Эtо не рабоtа бабушка, чtобы помочь с домашним заданием.” (It’s not a grandmother’s job to help with homework).

”For pity’s sake, forget about patience and doing assignments with the boys when it’s past your bedtime!”

“Why were you up so late doing homework?”

"Мы хотим, чtобы вы обраtно в Украину. Мы скучаем по tебе. Мы обещаем, мы будем больше понимания!  (We want you back in Ukraine.  We miss you.  We promise we will be more understanding.)

“Lord, sis, Are you kidding me? Helping with biology? patience? Forget about it!”

“If you don’t have ADHD now, you’ll catch it soon.”

"Thanks, Mom.  I don't know what I'd do without you."

“Why were you on such a long train ride with a broken arm? Geez, you haven’t learned how to ask for help yet?”

“Patience is overrated.”

And from cousin Kathy, who is a retired teacher, school principal, and professional educator par excellence:

“LAW OF PATIENCE:  There is an inverse relationship between a person's capacity for patience and their degree of genetic relatedness with the object of said patience....
LAW OF STUDENT REPORT-WRITING:  It sometimes takes a bad grade and a lecture from a professional educator to convince students that THEY are responsible for their work...”

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