The Can Opener Challenge

It isn’t always the big battles on the Spectrum; it’s the little ones too.  The little ones are bigger at the time than they are in hindsight.  It is in hindsight I can write about them and have a chuckle or two.  If I can laugh about any battle, it hasn’t defeated me.

A little one started when my Mom interrupted my blog-writing asking me to open a can for her.  I’m not complaining about that.  It just throws me for a bit to pause when I’m creating a masterpiece.  Arthur (arthritis) makes opening a can with a manual can opener a painful proposition.  I figure I better have empathy since Arthur probably already has his eyes set on me in the near future.  I come from a long family tree of Arthur’s victims.

This made me think of a battery-operated can opener I had seen at a store having a 20% off sale the very same day.  Since I was planning on going anyway, barring a large crowd, I made note of it to look for one.  With a small showing of customers at the time I entered the store,  I went ahead and bought a red Handy-Dandy battery-operated can opener, one of those As See on TV products.  Besides my Mom needing one, I am attracted to a battery or electric gadget like a coin is to a magnet.

I took it out of the package in my bedroom to get the gadget up and running without my Mom knowing a thing.  I wanted to surprise her by doing a “show and tell”.  That was a good plan but that’s not how it went down.  After installing two “AA” batteries, I pushed the button and not a sound was heard.  I tried placing it on a can in case the opener wouldn’t work without having something to spin on.  That’ didn’t work.  I was so frustrated!  I don’t give in to defeat easily when it comes to gadgets.  I am the “gadget queen” in my clan.  After numerous efforts, this “queen” eventually came to the conclusion it was a “lemon” can opener.

I didn’t ask for this battle, but it fell in my lap and I saw it as having two choices.  I could toss it and try to forget it; or, I could take it back to the store for an exchange/refund.  My Mom would have taken it back to the store without any hesitation whatsoever.  Me?  Just the opposite.  I have a phobia of customer service desks.  My first inclination was to do to the malfunctioned opener what I do with party invitations:  toss out!

The price receipt, though, kept staring at me.   Guilt is another biggie of mine.  I came up with an idea to ease my guilty conscience.  I’d put it back in the store bag, go back to the store, and if there was a store clerk who seemed friendly enough, I would ask to exchange it.  I didn’t want a refund because I wasn’t ready to give up on presenting my Mom with a can opener that would defy her nemesis, Arthur.

I’m proud to say I got up the nerve to approach the customer service desk and asked for an exchange.  She took the lemon and dropped the exchange item in a bag with a “have a good day”.  I could breathe easy now as I walked out the store after my victory of facing the exchange challenge.  I know such transactions come easy for a lot of folks, but not for me.

It was back to the drawing board.  The only difference was it was black instead of red.  I wish I could say that after the battery installation, the handy-dandy opener came to life.  But that’s not how it went down.  It wasn’t making a sound either.  After repeating what I did hours earlier with the red “lemon” one, I re-dressed it back into its package.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to return to the store or not.  Two customer service interactions in one day — there’s only so much I can take!

It was aggravating I couldn’t get a gadget to work.  I can’t thread a needle, but I know my way around setting up a smart phone, smart watch, etc.  I had to try one more time to save my reputation for gadget-fixing.  I used a can of chili as my guinea pig.  Just as I was about to take my finger off the start button and give in to defeat, the opener came to life.  It started its journey around the can lid while I watched in amazement.

This was supposed to be the end of the story.  Nope!  A few weeks later, the black handy-dandy opener met its fate of a trash can after opening a can of green beans.  It did a spin around the lid of the can.  The problem was it wouldn’t let go of the lid.  They were inseparable!  I did manage to free the green beans but I had to toss the can opener with the can still in its mouth.

Now, most people would have given up by now.  But I don’t give up easily.  I wasn’t about to be outdone by any kind of gadget.  I received a 20% off e-mail from a store and I saw this as a sign to go ahead and purchase No. 3.  I’m thrilled to say the third one was the charm.  As for what my Mom does when she needs a can opener, she still hollers for me and I do the honors.






My Recharging Place

It is a local lake park where I go at least once a week to recharge.  A place where I can step off the merry-go-round of the world around me.  It is a beautiful spot with a lake surrounded by trees with some ducks, squirrels, and geese as its residents.  It has fishing piers and a decorative water fountain in the middle of the lake.  I look forward to these visits where I can take a long walk and reflect upon whatever comes to mind while being amidst God’s creation.

I get a good bargain by going to my recharging place.  Three for one.  My physical body gets exercise, my mental gets some of the cobwebs cleared in my brain, and my spiritual gets prayer time and meditation.  My prayer time is just telling the Lord what He already knows such as the sweet and sour of the past week, the people whose paths I crossed and their stories, and what I can improve on (never a shortage on that).

Since I have been going there once a week for the last year or so, I am familiar at the sight of a few who are park regulars.  One of them is a silver-haired tall gentleman who walks with a cane and is always accompanied by his scottish terrier.  When I go to the park, I keep an eye out for him since he’s as much a familiar sight as the water fountain.

The last time I was there, I heard someone say “hello” and I turned and there he was using his cane to wave hello at me.  I waved and yelled hello back.  I felt warm inside that he had sought my attention.  It was good to see a familiar face in a familiar place.

Later, I saw him sitting on a park bench with his dog.  The urge in my heart was to walk over and speak to him.  My heart rate picked up speed as I weighed the pros and cons.  I came up with excuses such as he probably prefers to be by himself or I wouldn’t know what to say.  Usually, I buy into the excuses but not that day.  I took a chance and slowly made my way over to where he was sitting.

If he hadn’t been a familiar face, I wouldn’t have dared made the effort.  Not in a million years!  Just as I was getting close to his bench, I could hear him talking to his dog about the lack of squirrels wandering the park.  I chuckled inside thinking that talking to a dog was something I would do if I had one.  In fact, if the nice man had ever observed me walking, he knew I mumbled to only myself as I hiked along in the park.

Before I could get a word out, he spoke first which put me more at ease.  The conversation flowed as smoothly as the ripples in the lake.  I learned how he and his scottish terrier first met through his wife and how come he came to give his dog the name of Rudy.  We talked about the nice Texas warm weather and how we both knew what it was to live somewhere else where snow wasn’t unusual.  His cell phone rang and I took that as a signal to end the conversation.  Sometimes it isn’t knowing how to start a conversation that’s so hard; it is knowing how to end one.

I walked away with my batteries EXTRA charged.  I got a “bonus” in the park that day.  I accepted and took on a “social” challenge and achieved my goal.  I know striking up a conversation with a familiar face might be simple to a lot of folks, but not for me who lives on the autism spectrum.  It was more like a climb up Mount Everest.




In a Tough Spot

It was a 5th grade math class.  I am there to help two special education students who are in a regular classroom setting but need help with staying on task.  The teacher asked me to help the two students with the math assignment.  Then she continued her math lesson with all the other students in the classroom.  I walked into this math lesson cold turkey.  I had no preparation or review time.  I didn’t have in my possession the teacher’s answer book.  Not that having the answers would have helped all that much.  It’s one thing to know the answers; it’s another to know the steps of how to arrive at the answers.

A diagram was on the board.  It was a coordinate grid.  I only knew that because that’s what it said on their worksheet.  I had seen one of these grids before in one of my earlier lives.  HA!  Now I only had 15 minutes with them.  Well, that was 14 minutes too long.  I was saved from utter embarrassment only because one of the two students knew more about coordinates than the other one.

A moment etched in my memory was when the one who was more or less clueless about the grid said to me, “Ms…., I need help.”  I didn’t say this since I didn’t want to admit my grid ignorance; I only thought: “You and me both kid!”



Just Do It Like No One’s Watching

A kick about life is that it has its surprises.  I heard someone say once that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.  It is good to make plans, but best to do it with a pencil.  Life does have its surprises, but I think that’s a good thing.  If I knew what was to be, it would rob me of hope.

There are a number of experiences I’ve had that I couldn’t have imagined in a million years I would ever have.  Such as moving halfway across the country to work for the government for a little over two decades.  Another is my current job which is working in the same school district I grew up in.  When I was a kid, I could not have imagined I would return to that same school five decades later as a substitute teacher’s aide.  I sure could not have imagined in a million years that I would sometimes sub for a P.E. aide and hang out in the gym.  Back then, I was one of the painfully shy students who were among those who were last to cross the finish line.

A painful school memory is the coach selecting me to be one of the soccer coaches for a series of games.  My classmates who were put on my team were not happy campers.  How did I know?  During the game, they just stood on the field and conversed with one another.  That is not how you go about playing soccer.  It fell to me to give the team a name.  I called us the “Winners”.  I’ll just say we didn’t live up to our name.

I am still painfully shy.  I don’t hate P.E. as much as I did as a child.  For one thing, I’m not the student but one of the grown-ups.  The coaches are glad to see me since subs can be hard to come by when their sidekick is absent.  I’m an extra set of eyes which can be a big help in a gym filled with children who can get pretty loud at times.

Before my diagnosis last December, I would walk around the sidelines keeping an eye on the kids while they exercised or played the activity of the day.  I was in mortal fear of dribbling a basketball or doing jumping jacks with them.  How would that look at my age to do such things in front of kids who would be my grandchildren’s age if I had grandchildren?  I was lousy at doing such at eight years old; what made me think I could do such at 58?

My baby step off the sidelines was picking up a basketball when I was alone in the gym.  I started dribbling and then went for the hoop.  It took about 10 misses before the ball went through the hoop.  It felt like I had climbed a mountain.  Since then, I haven’t been afraid of shooting baskets anymore, even if I am not alone in the gym.

Just recently the activity in the gym was dancing along with “Just Dance” videos.  Instead of just watching, I danced.  If there were kids laughing at me, I didn’t catch them.  From what I saw, most of the kids were struggling to keep up with Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, and the Ghostbusters.

When I started subbing over two years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever even sub in P.E.  I sure never would have thought I would shoot baskets or dance.  I realize I don’t have to be perfect at it.  I should just go ahead and do it like nobody is watching.




D.C. to Broken Arrow

Half a dozen year ago I was living in the basement of a three story house in Warrenton, Virginia, located in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.  My landlord invited a young lady from work to stay for a few weeks.  It was just until their new home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, was available.  Her husband worked at the White House and she had a government job.  She and her husband were leaving Washington, D.C. and their government jobs behind.  Their escaping the so-called Capitol Beltway wasn’t extraordinary, but going from working for Unlce Sam to serving the Lord and seminary students in Broken Arrow was.

Their reason had nothing to do with a better salary and job benefits.  This couple was taking a big cut.  The cost of living is cheaper in Broken Arrow than D.C., but even with the difference, it still was a big cut!

The only reason they were making this gigantic leap was because they both believed it was God’s will for them.  Logic or common sense had nothing to do with it.  Some of their friends and colleagues were shaking their heads in disbelief.  But my having a personal relationship with Jesus, of having my own experience of moving halfway across the country in the other direction (Texas to D.C.), I understood that it was by faith alone, they were going to Broken Arrow.

This couple had no visible proof they had God’s blessing.  They didn’t have a crystal ball that clearly showed they would have and maintain a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.  Being human, I’m sure they were tempted to second guess.  “What if we fail at the seminary?”, or “What if we can’t pay our bills?”, or the scarier question, “What if this is our own idea and God had nothing to do with it?”

Despite whatever doubts entered their mind, they pressed forward.  I admired them tremendously.  I wish I knew how it worked out for them and how they are doing but I have since moved back myself and lost touch with my former landlord.

When I think about living my faith and what that looks like, I often think of the couple who only went to Broken Arrow on a leap of faith.








The Courier’s Message

Decades before I was diagnozed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I moved halfway across the country to Washington, D.C. to work in the federal government. I was 32 at the time, but I felt more like 12.

In the beginning, I was excited at seeing the sights of D.C. as if I was a child seeing the world for the first time. It was thrilling to visit places I had only seen in pictures or read about in history books. Then, at some point, it dawned on me I wasn’t a tourist. This was my new home and I was a stranger in a foreign land. Every part of my being ached for familiarity.

The tremendous change in routine was rocking my world. I had sleepless nights where my stomach felt as hard as stone. I remember one day when I was having to work on my car so it would be blessed by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s DMV, I looked up at the sky thinking, “What in the world was I thinking coming here?” If someone had offered me a Greyhound one-way ticket back to my hometown, I would have probably taken it.

I was also going through culture shock because even though Washington, D.C. was within the U.S. boundary, just like my home state of Texas, it didn’t feel like it to me. I was the new kid in town and I yearned for the “yesterday” when I was the native instead. Folks informed me right off the bat, for instance, that I had an accent. No one told me that back in Texas.

My first month was spent in training with other newbies. The class was a mix of support personnel. I was hired as a secretary. One of my classmates was a mail courier who had more life experience than I did. Being in the military and also a military wife, she had much more experience than I did of moving and changing jobs. I guess I was drawn to her because of her strength and confidence. Maybe, I thought, some of it might rub off on me. I think she sensed my anxiety and felt compelled to be like a big sister to me. After all, there was a time in her life when she moved for the first time.

One of the things I do to deal with anxiety, besides stemming, is praying. In my prayers, I was telling the Lord I thought I ought to go right back to where I came from. I thought He would agree with me and I’d have his blessing.

Three months after arriving in D.C., my anxiety was at an all-time high. I’d go home and cry and sometimes I’d be teary-eyed at work. I remember a day when I was contemplating turning in my resignation to escape back to where I originally came from.  I was headed for lunch and as soon as I got off the elevator, I ran into the courier. She looked at me and read my face. She knew I needed a hug and she graciously gave me one.

I then offered up a good sob story giving her all the reasons why I should move back. Mostly for my family’s sake, I told her, instead of saying it was really about me and my fear. I thought she would echo what I said, but she didn’t. Instead, she told me what I did not want to hear.

She told me I needed to stay for my own sake. My parents, siblings, and their families had their own lives. I needed to go about living mine. I had some growing up to do and this was as good a time to start as any. She advised that as far as the stressful unfamiliar job, to take it one day at a time. One hour at time if I needed to. Instead of focusing on the days ahead, focus on the task at hand.

Her advice got me through the remainder of the day and in the days and weeks to come. I did not resign until 22 1/2 years later.

I strongly believe our encounter in the hallway that day was no coincidence. It was an answer to my prayer. I heard someone say that if you want the Lord to laugh, tell Him your plans.  I take it on faith He wanted me to stay.  I didn’t like the courier’s message at the time, but looking back at it over 25 years ago, I’m glad I took her advice.

A Double Victory

I was subbing for a P.E. aide at an elementary school. It is the only school I’ve been at that has a tether ball set. I had not played tether ball since I was in maybe elementary school. If so, it’s been, more or less, a half-dollar in years.

Tether ball was one of the few games I had some potential at playing.  P.E. was NOT my favorite subject. A lack of coordination didn’t help. I could roller or iceskate ONLY in my dreams. I did learn how to ride a bike, but like Rome wasn’t built in a day, I didn’t learn to bike in one day or two, etc. I did okay at batting a baseball, but I was terrible in the outfield. I just knew when rubber met wood, the ball would come flying straight towards me and I’d be frozen in a panic.

Eyeing the tether ball set, I wanted soooooooooo much to play the game again, but tether isn’t a “solo” game but a “duet”. I really like playing games, but I just don’t want to play with other people. That’s all.  Back when I was the P.E. student, no one wanted to play with me either since I was so good at being the last one over the finish line.

During the time the 5th graders came in for P.E., some of them were lined up to play tether ball. I wanted to play just a round and even though I was one of two adults (the other being the coach) in the room, I was afraid to ask.

Now having been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s) and with the help of medication, I now sometimes act against my “aspie” nature and do the opposite. I did this time by asking the 5th graders if I could play a round. What were they gonna say “NO”???? I knew on one hand they wouldn’t say no, but that didn’t keep it from being hard to ask.

You may have heard of a game, “Do You Know More Than a 5th Grader?”. I think there was a TV game show with that title. Anyway, I thought of that title when I played tether with the 5th grade boy. I don’t know if I know as much as the 5th grader, but I beat the 5th grader at tether ball!

The students asked me if I wanted to play another round with another player but I said “Oh, no thanks”.  I bowed out gracefully. I didn’t want to risk another round and suffer defeat which would have poured cold water on my victory! Instead, I walked away and SAVORED in my victory.

I told the young coach and he said, “You must still have it then”…”it” being the knack for tether. I reckon I still do.

It was a double victory. I was so tickled I beat the 5th grader, but more than that of my asking to play. The “asking” is so hard, so very hard for me.   I did it that time and had some fun. The fun I seldom had in my younger days.

Having had that victory, I was encouraged to take another step. I’ll be starting off 2017 with a tennis racket and a few tennis balls I got myself for Christmas. I went to the place where I used to hit balls against the wall at a nearby community college. I had not been there in like 30 years. I tell you what … I still got “IT”!!!

My resolution is to visit this place frequently in 2017. I want my racket and I to become close pals.  Now I don’t mean playing tennis in a two or foursome. Oh, no, not me. I dig the sound of “solo”. I am perfectly content to it just being me, my racket and ball, and the wall.

Baby Steps on the Spectrum

I take a variety of assignments as a substitute teaching assistant. Most of them are in special education which was how I came to suspect I was living on the spectrum. But ever so often, I can hang out in the gym subbing for a P.E. aide.

One such day I was alone in the gym for a short time. I saw a basketball on the floor and I got the inkling to see if I could toss it anywhere near the hoop. My expection was not high enough that the ball would go through; just in the ball park of the hoop. Since there were no eyewitnesses, I had nothing to lose. The ball never quite made it through the hoop, but it came awfully close. What surprised me wasn’t so much that my tosses weren’t totally far off from the intended target, but I liked it. I sure never did when I was in school.

Why now? It was something I could do solo! It doesn’t take two to shoot baskets. Now if someone had come in and joined me on the court, it would have poured cold water on my fun. I would have dropped the ball and let the other person have the court. ASD explains why I can enjoy playing games but only those that are very simple if I have to play in a group; or even far better, I can play by myself. I dig the sound of “solo”!

Later in the day, I was with three special education aides and their class for their half-hour of gym time alone. The three other ladies were talking amidst themselves. I eyed a basketball and decided to risk shooting baskets even though there were witnesses. I was emboldened because having tried earlier, I already knew I wasn’t a total klutz at it. After a few attempts, I finally got the ball through the hoop. I was so proud! I lifted my arm in triump, turned and looked back for some reaction, like maybe applause or something. The three aides were immersed in conversation and the kids were occupied playing. I was a little disappointed at having a victory with no cheer, but I didn’t bother with asking them, “Did you see what I did?”

I continued shooting baskets as if I was a natural. I stopped when my upper right arm muscle cried foul.

I know this is a simple everyday kind of risk-taking story. Well, many bumps along the road of living on the autistic spectrum are simple stories. Baby steps.