Archive for October, 2011

“Today, give a stranger one of your smiles.  It might be the only sunshine he sees all day.”   ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

To update my readers – Nava’s surgery went well; she had it done laparoscopically and went home the same day.  She’s doing well, walking around to get rid of the gas and in a good mood.  She’s raring to go back to her life at the group home. 

My homework assignment to myself is to write a letter to the hospital commending them on absolutely wonderful service all around. 

Here’s to St. Francis (in Port Washington, NY), a hospital which truly practices compassionate service to those in a most vulnerable state.

From the security guard in the parking lot, to the volunteer at the information desk, to each and  every nurse and aide we came in contact with, to the woman at the cashier in the café, to the aide who wheeled Navi out to the parking lot,  there were only smiles, friendliness, helpfulness, and sheer pleasantness. 

Actually all this ‘niceness’ started last week when we went for her pre-op tests and exam. 

Not an ounce of grumpiness, curtness or anything even resembling a negative attitude was displayed by anyone.  Where do you find that nowadays?  I know – at Trader Joe’s. I already wrote Dan Bane, CEO,  a letter of compliments.   

I must assume that part of the job description in these two places is: ‘smiles and a compassionate interest in helping others.  Anyone with an attitude will be let go immediately.’

There is never room for any ‘attitude’, nastiness, curtness, sharpness in tone or negativity in a place of service, or for that matter any place that caters to people.

The hospital was also efficient, organized, calm and attractive, which naturally adds to a most positive experience.  But I’m focusing here on the people aspect because in the end they set the tone.

I almost forget to say what a mensch the doctor was.  He had the combination of experience, skill and great bedside manner.    

I’m not saying any of this because the surgery went well.  I said this all along the way before we knew the outcome. 

So what are these positive humanistic qualities that contribute to a sense of well-being, especially when you’re in an anxious, nervous, scared, insecure state:

Smiles, smiles and more smiles





Listening skills

That little extra touch

Sincere interest


Every ‘worker’ counts and contributes to the overall ambiance of an organization/agency/work place. 

Remember, that friendly toll booth person can make your day. 


Time for you to join in:  Share an experience you’ve had in a work place or place of service that was  delightful  {or aggravating if you want to vent}.    What are the qualities you feel make that positive difference?


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Time to gear up those mental and psychological  muscles.  My daughter, Nava, is going in for surgery tomorrow.  Something else is coming out – 9 years ago it was the colon, now it’s the gallbladder.  A very common surgery as we all know.  But surgery is surgery and going under both the knife and anesthesia is a bit nerve-wracking.  They’re hoping to do it laparoscopically  but don’t know what sort of scarring they’ll find inside from her last surgeries. 

Nava’s been expressing her anxiety about this surgery and my response has been what I ‘preach’ against -“don’t worry, you’ve been through so much worse, this is no big deal.”  Wrong, wrong and wrong.  This is not what to say.  Of course it’s scary and a big deal to the one going through it.  Where’s my acknowledgement of her normal feelings of concern?  At lease I’ll have another chance when she comes home tonight for her favorite requested dinner of chicken cacciatore.

I’ve been having my own silent worries during sleep time, waking up the last few nights with that jittery feeling in my gut.  Otherwise I’ve been playing it down for myself.  After all I do know the life-threatening crisis she went through and this is no big deal, as long as it all goes well. 

And that’s the key – not to let myself go to the worry of where it doesn’t go well, and start to conjure up the ‘bad what-if’ scenerios.  I work hard at stopping myself from going there.  It’s a waste of energy needed for what’s real at the moment and more important to me is it puts me in a ‘bad’ place mentally. Thinking negatively saps my strength.   

How to stay in a relatively ‘good’ place before an anxiety-provoking event:

  • Once a decision is made, it goes into the hands of a higher power; for me that’s G-d. 
  • Let go of what you have no control over.
  • Lots of long deep breaths.  In to a count of 5 and out to a count of 8.  Exhales are generally longer to release the body of its tight hold.
  • Prayers, meditations
  • For a cognitive exercise, put up a mental Stop sign when your mind starts racing with those ‘bad’ scenerios.  Consciously reign yourself in and say ‘whoa, we don’t need to go there; that’s not reality now.’
  • Acknowledge the anxious and scary feelings.  Go with them and then go on. 
  • Engage in things you have control over; it’s a good way to feel strong and productive.  And it’s a good distraction.  (I’ve been cleaning out my basement for my new tiger-print carpet soon to be put down – like today.)
  • Tell yourself helpful statements.  (For me it’s, thank G-d she’s not sick and we’re doing this electively to avoid a future emergency  situation.)

The carpet people are calling to me to come downstairs and have a peek at this wild thing I picked out.  (that’s why it’s for the basement)

And tonight I will be telling Navi over dinner, “I know you’re nervous.  Surgery is scary.  Hopefully all will go well.”     

Please share a tip (in the Comment section) which helps you stay positive, strong and O.K.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post.  Now please subscribe.

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I am pleased to share my guest post on Lori Deschene’s inspirational blog, Tiny Buddha.

“In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”  Eleanor Roosevelt   

‘They’ say things happen at the ‘right’ time.  For me hearing a presentation, live, by Jack Canfield, came at the perfect time.

I was in San Diego, the traveling babysitter for my precious 5-month old granddaughter, while my daughter attended a nutrition conference.  It was an all around win-win situation – a new place to sightsee and of course spend quality (alone) time with baby Rachel and daughter Penina.

When I found out Jack Canfield was the final key speaker, I jumped at the chance to attend.  And the topic certainly resonated with me – “getting from where you are to where you want to be.”  Now how’s that for someone in transition working to carve out a new path!

Click here to continue reading the article.


Thank you for stopping by.  Hope there’s some take-away here for you.

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As we see with Temple Grandin’s success, one of the most important things we can do is help people feel good about themselves. 

We  don’t have to be the doctor or lawyer or rich business person. 

But we do need to feel competent and good about who we are as a person. 

Happiness comes from how we feel inside about ourselves. 

It’s not what we do as a profession; it’s who we are as a human being. 

This attitude and way of thinking has taken shape and evolved through raising my daughter with special needs. 

When Nava was a baby and we lived in the Chicago area, we used to visit a farm community for adults with disabilities during their weekend crafts fair.  I loved the land and the environment but I used to leave feeling sad;  sad that Joe was just making popcorn and Mary was just bagging at the cashier.  That’s what they did in life?  How can they be happy with just that?  I can still feel the pit in my stomach as I drove home from the farm.    

I realized I was looking at these people’s jobs and happiness through my own lens.  No, I would not be too thrilled {just} making popcorn all day or packaging people’s purchases. 

But that’s the content, the product.  Perhaps the process, the inner workings of the person, was relaying a completely different message – one of joy and gratitude, of appreciation and feelings of competence and pride. 

The ‘farm people’ certainly radiated joy and showed such pride in what they did. 

And so my focus  became helping Navi  feel good about whatever it was she was doing and  attempting, however small a feat it was. I didn’t know what she would be capable of doing when she grew up.  But I wanted her to be armed with as much positive feelings and high self- esteem as possible.   

It was about instilling in her feelings of self pride, competence, success  and overall good feelings about herself.    (Truth be told, we know  each and every person needs these core and fundamental traits of the soul in order to lead a good life and be able to withstand challenges and troubles along the way.) 

Navi has stuttered since she’s 5 years old.  Besides the obvious speech therapy she received for years, the important factor was in trying to not have her stuttering interfere or take away from her wonderful people-person personality.   

It hasn’t.  She appears quite comfortable with her {stuttering} self.  Perhaps if she’d be more bothered by it, she’d work harder at controlling it, as she does have some techniques to use.  But I let it go.  Again, the most important thing is for her to be at ease with herself.   

Nava has been working at Trader Joe’s (a unique food market) for the past 8 years, where she bags people’s purchases (sound familiar?), helps customers, shelves food products;  basically everything except check out/cashier.  And she is thrilled.  She gets her highest ratings for friendliness, helpfulness and cooperation (although she occasionally gets reprimanded for schmoozing too much).   She is eager to learn new things and is proud of herself when she gets it and can do it.  She recently stood up on a low ladder (for the first time) to shelf something, with a supervisor near her.  She was tickled pink that she was able to do it.

So let’s tickle each other pink as we help bring out the good in one another and foster those feelings of worth and competence.   We must meet each other where we’re at and promote a sense of pride and joy in our efforts and accomplishments.  For this is what carries us forth in life and gives us incentive to continue on.

Thank you for coming by and reading this post.   If it moves you in any way, please comment and share.  And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to receive posts automatically in your email. 

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In my interview with Temple Grandin, she brought up a few key points that really seemed to resonate with people.  ‘Building strengths’ was a biggie.

I worked in the school system for years.  I won’t go into a tirade of how this concept of building upon the student’s strengths is not done; rather quite the opposite – everyone is made to fit into the box of test score production, or else…. failure, misfit, special ed labels set in.  So I will leave it at this.

And yes, in all fairness there are individual teachers who most definitely do hone in on a child’s area of strength and look to build on it.  They bring in books on the specific area of interest, create projects around it and try to teach skills by utilizing their strength as a springboard.

In my workshops with parents (parents classes) I stress that not every child is good at everything, just like we’re not ‘abled’ in every area.   We need to see what each child is good at, what his/her interests are and hone in on that, bring that out, help each bud sprout in his/her unique way.  Not everyone is academically oriented and that needs to be O.K.  (I know this is a tough one since our world is so academically pressured and competition in this area is ridiculously and dangerously high.)   We have to value strength in whatever area it manifests and then build around that.

I once had a parent talk about her child’s interest in snakes.  Although she was disgusted by them, she went out and bought her 10 year old son a pet snake.  The other parents jumped in with, ‘oh, how could you, I can’t even look at them.’  Her wonderful response was, ‘I want to encourage his interest.  It doesn’t have to be mine; maybe he’ll grow up and be a scientist or zoologist.’  Now that’s an enlightened parent.  It’s about her recognizing and encouraging his interests, separate (and different) from hers, not her agenda for him.  Bravo to her.  The last I heard, he was in high school doing great in science. 

I was not good at computers.  As an adult I took computer classes and hated them.  I was bored and felt I could not grasp a lot of the techy stuff.  It took me longer than others.  But now that I have a specific interest –  blogging and building my site through social media means-  I am forging ahead in my computer skills.  Well maybe not forging, but certainly progressing, slow and steady.  So learning computer for computer sake didn’t cut it for me; but learning it for another purpose that was important to my interest, is what has done it for me.  My area of strength doesn’t lie in technology but I learn it as a means to my endeavors.     

I worked with an assistant teacher who has tremendous artistic ability.  I felt she could really spread her art beyond the school auditorium plays and classroom decorations and projects.  Here was a woman in her 60’s who used and sincerely felt  every excuse in the book as to why she couldn’t do more with her talent – ‘I’m too old, who would want my work now, there’s so much better talent out there than me.’ She told me nobody ever encouraged her when she was young to pursue art.  So she just did her  paintings and pastel work for herself and friends. 

The PS to this story is that she has written and illustrated a children’s book and had it self-published.   Hopefully she will be taking a course at FIT in New York.  And who knows from there.  She has to push beyond those internal negatives and fight against all those excuses.   Not an easy task but certainly doable.

The most important thing is to build good and positive feelings around what someone Can do rather than what they can’t do.  Is it that they’re always spilling the milk because they’re clumsy and unfocused or that when it spills, they’ve learned and been allowed (where we parents are Not running behind them cleaning it up for them because we do a better job) to clean it up after themselves?  And for that demonstration of responsibility they get an A.  It’s those positive feelings that are crucial to carrying us into success. 

When we do what we feel good at, we succeed.   It’s up to us all to shine the light on one another’s strengths.  We will then magnify and grow brighter. 

How do we build on strengths? How do we help each other blossom? 

First and foremost, EVERY single person has strengths. 

  1.  Take sincere notice and interest in another so that you begin to hear and see what excites them, what unfolds.  Ask questions.  See beneath the surface area of content.  Maybe it’s not a specific thing like music or numbers; perhaps it’s more process oriented like planning, organizational skills, being highly responsible.
  2. Acknowledge the strength, the interest, the attribute.  “I see you love drawing.”  “I hear how you talk about fixing things – your eyes light up.”
  3.  Encourage the pursuit of the area of strength. 
  4. Support their engagement in it and with it. 
  5. Help them expand their vision. As Temple Grandin says, ‘stretch them.’ What else can they do with it? 

There is so much potential out there waiting to be tapped into.  There would be so much more satisfaction amongst us all if we felt good within ourselves and felt our most authentic self was being realized and actualized. 

We can all be a coach to one another helping to bring out and maximize our strengths and talents.

Care to share some of your areas of strengths? Who has helped support you in those areas?


Thanks for reading.  I hope you enjoy and take away  something positive from some of these posts.  Please share in the Comment section; it’s easy.    


3 pastel art giraffes made by Sheila, assistant teacher, given to me for my retirement/birthday.  (A most meaningful gift, being a lover of giraffees.)

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Tracey Jackson wrote in her comment to the Temple Grandin interview, “The lesson is in the fact you asked her.  .. To quote one of my favorite quotes, ‘If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.’”

To further this idea, if you ask and get turned down, you’re no worse off than before you asked. 

I developed this ‘habit’ at my job as a school social worker.  It’s called asking for what you want.  I don’t take full credit for it.  This idea really grabbed me when I read in the book, “Kabul Beauty School”(for my parent book clubs which I facilitated) that the author, Deborah Rodriguez,  asked the Paul Mitchell hair product company  if they  would donate hair products for a beauty school teaching program she was trying to start in Afganistan, in an attempt to empower and train women.  Sure enough she was sent box loads of hair products. 

I was so taken with this seemingly simple thing Ms. Rodriquez did, that I decided to try it with some of my school projects.   I wanted to take my (immigrant) parent groups to experience a Broadway show in the city; and so I contacted theatre companies explaining my purpose and asking for tickets.  Guess what, we got 20 tickets for Mary Poppins and Hairspray. 

When my colleague and I were doing a presentation (on facilitating book clubs) at the Marriott and wanted to do an ‘Oprah book give-a-way’, I contacted publishing companies explaining and asking for books for our participants.  Guess what, I got 50 copies of a wonderful book that was waiting for them at their seat when they came in.

I’m not saying this to brag but rather to show how important a skill this is in trying to create the life we want. 

Hearing, seeing, speaking to inspirational people who have created good lives despite their difficulties is a deep interest and passion of mine.  Conducting these blog interviews once-a-month is a highlight for me.  It’s putting out there what speaks to me on the deepest core level and hoping to inspire readers with the interviewee’s words, ideas and ways in which they build meaningful lives beyond their challenges. 

I must seek out and ask people.  And so I take the skill of asking, which got sharply developed at my school job, and utilize it now in creating my own thing.

Now in all honesty, of course the ‘no s’ do come in.  To every yes, there could be 5 ‘no s’.  It’s obviously about persevering and giving it your best shot, if you believe in it. 

The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series got 144 ‘no s’ before that one ‘yes’ took it to the best seller charts.     

I must admit I threw the towel in on my book proposal a few years ago (on my daughter’s medical and miraculous story) after 68 rejections.  My agent then said, “put it to rest for now”.  I did.  And I was proud of the attempts.

Maybe my next goal will be a book of interviews.  ‘They’ say if you put out your vision it becomes more real.  So here it is – my future vision and goal.       

What will  you ask for?  What steps are you taking to get more of what you want?        


Thanks for stopping by to read.  Share your thoughts by commenting.  If you haven’t already subscribed, please do.

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I am very excited to present Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science and professor at Colorado State University.  Dr. Grandin has pursued her passions, interests and talents and has succeeded in actualizing her tremendous potential despite having {high-functioning} autism. She is also an author, inspirational speaker and advocate for autism.  Dr. Grandin has been listed in the 2010 Time list of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

I was so inspired after watching the HBO movie made about Temple Grandin’s life that I reached out to her.  I was blown away when she basically agreed the same day to do the interview on the phone.  Wow!  I quickly got my tape recorder set up and within a few minutes we were chatting from her hotel room.  Moral of the story:  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, you just might get it. 

Now on to the interview:

What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

Well one thing is just to have really good motivation.  People with autism tend to get fixated on things;  and I took my fixation and turned it into a career.  My fixations were things like cattle shoots, optical illusions, kites, and building things.

 I had some very good mentors.  As a teenager I had a great science teacher who got me motivated to become a scientist.  Also, Ann, my aunt out at the ranch and Jim, the contractor – these were really important people in helping me develop.  And then of course there’s my mother.  If I hadn’t had her, I would’ve probably ended up in an institution. 

What I see with people who have problems who succeed, is that motivation is a really important thing.  In my work at the university, I’ve had a number of students who received masters and Ph.D’s with me and I held the back door open for some promising students who didn’t quite have the good enough grades to go in the front door.  The ones who make it have motivation. 

Sometimes you have to push a little bit.  You take someone with autism, you have to stretch them.  No surprises; surprises scare.  But you have to stretch them because if you don’t, then there won’t be any progress.  I’m seeing too many kids who are very capable of doing a lot of things, yet they don’t even know how to do laundry or shop or know how to shake hands. 

Stretch them, otherwise they won’t advance.

Another thing is build up on the area of strength.  My ability in art was always encouraged.  When I was a young kid, all I wanted to do was draw pictures of horse heads and mother would encourage me, ‘why don’t you do the whole horse’.  You want to broaden it out. You’ve got to learn how to use your ability to do stuff that other people want.  People are not interested in just having me talk about cattle shoots; they want me designing cattle shoots.  You have to learn how to do tasks that other people would want and appreciate. 

I’m a big believer in developing your area of strength.  If you’re good with art things, let’s work on art.  Some kids are good in math; others are good with words; some are good with music.  Let’s expand on that.  Whatever strength a kid has, work on building up that area.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

We want to work on building strengths.

My strengths are visual thinking and art. 


Did you go a period of self-pity or any other specifically difficult period, and if so what helped lift you out?

I had times that were  really hard.  In my 20’s I had a horrible problem with panic attacks and anxiety that got worse.  That finally had to be controlled with anti-depressant medication.  There’s a lot of controversy with anti-depressants.  But where they really work is in controlling anxiety and panic attacks.  Getting my Ph.D was really hard. 


 How do you see yourself?

People ask me if I could snap my fingers would I not want to be autistic.  Well, I like the way I think.  Autism is secondary for me.  I look at myself as a professor, a designer first.  I define myself by what I do.  I don’t think it’s good when a 9 year old boy walks up to me and all he wants to do is talk about autism. I’d rather him tell about the fact that he likes medieval times, dinosaurs, geology or Disney characters. 

One of the things that concerns me now is that I’m seeing too many kids on the autism spectrum where autism is becoming their main fixation.  I don’t think that’s good. 


Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally and psychologically or did it evolve?

People are always looking for that single magic turning point and there really isn’t one.  It’s a much more  gradual learning.  You learn more and more things every day. 


Social skills is a big issue for people on the spectrum.  What is your advice on how to help remediate in this area?

Social skills – you gotta learn that, like being in a play.  One advantage of being raised in the ‘50’s is social skills were just taught to all kids.  You were taught to shake hands, you were taught table manners.  You were taught to say ‘please and thank-you’.  That was normal upbringing then. 

The thing about being autistic is you have to learn these skills like being in a play, where you’re not going to learn them unless someone teaches them to you.  That’s the problem (nowadays it’s not taught well) and I think it hurts some of the younger Asperger kids because they haven’t been taught simple things like how to shake hands – how hard to squeeze, not too hard or soft, not too long. 

The normal kids can kind of muddle through it; but the Asperger/autistic kids have to be taught.  Like if I didn’t say thank you, my mother would say, ‘you forgot to say….’ She’d cue me.  She’d give the instruction.  And if stuck out my tongue at the post office, she’d say, ‘that’s rude to do that’. 

I’m seeing a lot of older high functioning people on the autism spectrum who have good jobs and have  been employed all their life.  Then I’m seeing  ‘junior’ having a much more difficult time getting a job because he has to learn things like, being on time.  This was drilled into me as a child. 

And you can’t just tell people off.  Sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t really want to do.


Do you have any thoughts or mantras that propel you forward? 

I had some things back in the ‘70’s.  I remember the plant superintendent said to me, ‘you always have to keep persevering.’  And a cattle buyer told me, ‘trouble was opportunity in work clothes.’  When I was getting my master’s degree I found this poster by Alan Ashley-Pitt on creativity.  This has been on my wall since the early 70’s. 

On Creativity

“The person who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd.  The one who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.

Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt.  And the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they’ll say it was obvious all along.

You have two choices in your life; you can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct.  To be distinct, you must be different, to be different, you must strive to be what no one else but you can be.”    Alan Ashley-Pitt


What are your educational recommendations to best serve this population?    

Well, I think it’s really bad that many schools have taken out the hands-on classes.  Music, art, woodshop, home ec, cooking, sewing, steel shop classes.  These are the classes where a lot of these kids who are different, whether they’re dyslexic, ADHD, autistic, can excel.  And we’ve taken these classes out. It’s terrible.  I speak on this a lot.  These hands-on classes teach problem-solving ability.  They take these classes out because of the tests.  We need to be working the math and reading into those classes.  Take a cooking class for example – look at the measuring you have to do. 

You take that Mythbuster show smashing cars together.  You can take that whole show and turn it into a physics class and have the kids do all the math on it.  They may even do better on those standard tests.

Motivate       Stretch        Build upon Strengths


These are just  two of  Dr. Grandin’s books, and her movie.  Also, she’s got a great Ted Talks utube.


Thank you for reading.  I hope you’ll be inspired to share this.  Comments are most welcome. 

What a great reminder that we all have strenghts to be tapped into and encouraged.  We all need to reach for our potential.  There’s more in all of us than meets the eye.

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