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AN UNPLANNED LIFE

What Happens at Camp Arroyo Stays at Camp Arroyo, Year 4
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sleeping-bag-59653_640Last week, my daughter Katie attended Camp Arroyo, which is where the Exceptional Needs Network (ENN) holds its summer camp for special needs children in conjunction with the Taylor Family Foundation. This was her fourth year.

The camp may be a short three days, but ENN really goes all out, providing two bounce houses, a swimming pool, service animals, petting zoo, popcorn and snow cone machines, ping pong, a host of special visitors, and a yurt devoted to art projects. They also had horseback riding, rock climbing, drones, and a zip line. Plus a dance on the final night.

I think the dance might be the best thing as far as Katie is concerned.

Katie had the amazing Ashley Angeles as her aide again. She and Katie really took to each other two years ago, and the two picked up right where they left off last summer.  As we carried Katie’s gear up the hill to her cabin, Ashley asked if anything had changed in the past year. “Not really. She’s still getting a period—obviously—but can handle that pretty independently now,” I said. “I don’t think it will happen at camp, but I said that last year, and I was totally wrong.”

Ashley nodded. “We’ll be fine, whatever happens.”

Katie was in a different cabin this year. She took this change in stride and picked a bunk in a new location. As usual, she climbed up and spread out her sleeping bag and blankets, added her pillow, and flopped down. “Bye, Mommy.”

“No hug?”

“Go bye bye, Mommy.”

Ashley and I laughed. “Enjoy your time off,” she said.

“I will.”

As I walked back to the car, I reflected on how camp stays the same and yet changes every year. This is Katie’s happy place. So much so that I don’t even mind spending a night freezing in the Livermore High School gym in order to sign her up.

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Both Katie and Ashley had a great time. Ashley reported that Katie rode a horse, petted all sorts of animals, did the zip line multiple times, and ate nonstop. She danced so much that she was given the Dancing Queen Award! And yeah, she got her period again too. Sigh.

Once again, my daughter thrived at summer camp.

As for me, I watched a ton of movies on Netflix, wrote, and slept in every morning. Christopher and I went out for dinner. I had hoped to spend more time with him, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Even so, it was good to get a break from the demands of parenting.

As was the case last year, after three days away, Katie didn’t want to come home. This year instead of unpacking her duffle bag or crying, she mostly just repeated, “I don’t want to go.”

She hugged me when I arrived for pick up but didn’t seem homesick as she had last year. We hugged Ashley goodbye. “See you next year,” Ashley said.

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We stopped at a park to swing, then headed home. Katie slept for much of the afternoon. By the following day she had recovered and was asking to return to Camp Arroyo. A year is such a long time to wait….

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Katie’s at Camp Arroyo (Again)
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Camp Arroyo - LogoThis afternoon I drop Katie off at Camp Arroyo. This will be her fourth time at the Exceptional Needs Network’s summer camp for children with special needs. To say she is excited would be an understatement.

I’m pretty excited too. Unlike most single parents, I don’t have an ex-spouse/partner who provides me with free and convenient childcare on a regular basis. As a result, I get very little time off from parenting my autistic child, and when I do, it almost never involves more than a few hours here and a few hours there. Plus it’s not cheap. To have a three-night break is an extraordinary and priceless gift. Even if I had to spend half of one freezing night in the Livermore High School gym waiting in line. (Christopher, being the amazing boyfriend that he is, did the other half.)

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Thank you Exceptional Needs Network and The Taylor Family Foundation. You have made one single mom very, very happy.

I’m off to play….

Until next time,
Cynthia

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A String of Firsts
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23517406_10156013782458699_9137483650859847552_nLast weekend, I coordinated Poetry Day at the Alameda County Fair. (I know, who knew?) in the morning, I hosted an open mic for all the poets whose work was accepted and displayed at the Fair, plus in the afternoon, taught a free poetry workshop called “Playing with Time and Memory.” But before all the fun at the Fair, I also served as one of two poetry judges.

Poetry judging seemed fairly straightforward. First, I needed to conduct the initial online judging during a short window in early May. Then in late May, I had to go to the fairgrounds for in-person judging. But nothing went as smoothly as planned. The new online system had glitches. It crashed. I had to judge the poems twice, and still, it didn’t perform as expected.

I knew about the in-person judging well in advance, so I had plenty of time to find a sitter. One of my last remaining sitters, Miss B, had disappeared without warning early in the year, and two months later, reappeared. I was still searching for additional childcare so I accepted her apology and cut her some slack. Miss B’s fiancé had inoperable, terminal cancer and that had to be tough. I needed the help, and she was great with Katie. So I booked her for the day of in-person judging, plus a date night with Christopher on Saturday night.

On Saturday afternoon, Miss B texted: We’re at the ER. Jason needs blood transfusion. Can’t work tonight, but tomorrow should be okay. I’ll keep you posted. Sorry!

Christopher and I stayed home and cooked dinner with Katie, who was thrilled. As we chopped onion and bell pepper, I said, “I hope her fiancé’s going to be okay.”

Christopher nodded. “What will you do tomorrow if she can’t work?”

“Not sure,” I said. “Emma isn’t free.”

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Miss B didn’t respond t my texts or call. By Sunday morning, I was in a mild state of panic.

“No worries,” Christopher said. “I’ll watch Katie.”

I hadn’t expected this. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. We’ll have fun.”

I pushed aside all the ways he could not have fun and gathered my things. I was going to zip through the judging and hope for the best.

My fellow judge failed to show. The online system hadn’t rejected enough poems. I gulped coffee and struggled to catch up. Christopher texted that he’d taken Katie to Starbucks. What did she like to eat? I sent him her order and worried about what might go wrong. What if Katie got overstimulated? Or wanted different food?

Christopher said they would swing by the fairgrounds and say hi. Maybe have lunch with me.

I started to sweat, thinking of new things that could go wrong. When they didn’t show up, I choked back my panic. Had Katie lost it on the way to Pleasanton? Was Christopher lost?

No, Christopher texted. Everything was fine. When they reached the entrance to the fairgrounds and Katie saw for herself that the carnival rides were gone, she requested a park so she could swing. I found a nearby park, Christopher texted. She’s been swinging for 30 minutes. Having fun.

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I wanted to cry with relief. Not only was Katie managing an unexpected change of plans, but the man in my life was handling whatever she threw at him. With ease.

I felt the knots relax in my shoulders. I breezed through the rest of the poetry judging, filled out the award paperwork, and spoke with the missing judge. Then I headed to the park where Katie and Christopher waited in the shade. Christopher was sun-burned, but otherwise both of them were relaxed and smiling.

I thanked Christopher for bailing me out. “It was fun,” he said. “She’s an amazing kid.”

Katie beamed as we headed for lunch. I probably did too. We had all achieved a first that morning.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Summer Vacation
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IMG_1456It’s June, and my daughter Katie has a one-week break before summer school starts. (Actually Open Mind School operates year-round, so unlike most public school programs, it will be regular school that happens in the summer months.) It might be a short break, but we are packing in as much fun and relaxation as possible.

Following her graduation ceremony last week, Katie immediately headed off to four days of summer camp at ViaWest in the Cupertino Foothills. This gave me several days to spend with my boyfriend Christopher, attend poetry events, watch movies, and hang out with girlfriends.

I picked Katie up from camp Tuesday afternoon, and we had an evening to do piles of laundry. Yesterday we drove up the coast to enjoy warm sand and ocean breezes for a few days.

I’ll be using my time to relax, read, hike, and do some writing. Katie will do as little as possible besides hike and swing. We both need time to unplug and rest. It’s been a busy spring.

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In two weeks I’ll be back, blogging about my unplanned life. Whatever you are doing, relax a bit, feel grateful for what you have, and enjoy the beautiful summer weather. I’ll see you soon!

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Katie Graduates
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graduation-2148715_1920Tomorrow my daughter Katie graduates from 8th grade. I honestly have no idea where the time went. It’s such a cliche, and yet, utterly on point. My brain keeps shouting: How did this happen?  It’s simply not possible. You have made a MISTAKE!

On the one hand, I’m shocked at how quickly the time passed. On the other, it feels as if both Katie and I have struggled and worked incredibly hard for years and years to reach this place.

In our case, both statements are undeniably true.

What’s different this time is the feeling that Katie is actually graduating. That she has earned the right to pass on, to matriculate, as opposed to merely moving from grade to grade due to age or a school district’s convenience. She is graduating. My baby is graduating from middle school.

I think I’m going to cry.

10931724_10153038045125801_5193524999750374991_nWe are roughly 18 months into our journey with the Soma Rapid Prompting Method (Soma-RPM) and Open Mind School (OMS). Despite attending school only three days per week, Katie has gone from a child labeled “unteachable” and doing kindergarten-level academic work (if that), to one who can research and write reports, use PowerPoint, do basic math, comprehend middle school chapter books, and offer opinions on current events:

“David Hogg is smart.”

“Guns are dangerous.”

“Volcanoes are great!”

Her ability to self-advocate and regulate her body has grown tremendously. She is gaining skills and independence. Her communication continues to improve. Her tantrums are fewer and farther between. Yes, she still has her teenage moments, still has meltdowns, still struggles with many tasks that most people take for granted, but on the whole, she is doing incredibly well.

I’m proud of Katie. None of this progress has come easily. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. Yes, we still have a long, long way to go, and yes, it’s taking far longer than I ever anticipated.  But I know that we are on the right path.

I wish almost daily that I discovered Soma-RPM sooner. But it’s senseless to beat myself up over that fact. I did the best I could. Eventually I found it, and it’s working. It’s working better than I ever expected. I found OMS too. And while Katie and I may take a step backward every now and then, overall our movement has been forward. After years of spinning our wheels, we are finally making progress.

When I look back, I realize we have come a long, long way.

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Which is why I believe we have earned this graduation. And tomorrow, I plan to savor it.

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Summer of Love
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golden-gate-bridge-388917_1920As if the month of May had not been crazy enough, I had one last poem to write. Yes, one more. Number Six.

Every year the seniors at Granada High School compete to design and paint a bus shelter mural. The mural for 2018 was inspired by the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love. So yes, I had to write a poem about the Summer of Love, a theme I knew little about. The high school student who asked me to write the poem, however,  considered me an expert. “I thought it would be fun for you to relive you memories of that summer.”

I laughed. “I’m not old enough to remember the Summer of Love.” I wasn’t even entirely sure what year it was. 1967? 1969?

“You aren’t?” she said. “But you’re older than my mom!”

“Umm, that may be, but I’m still not old enough. And definitely not old enough to have been a participant.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly disappointed.

There was an awkward pause. “But I can still write the poem,” I said.

“You can? Oh good!”

So after the four sculpture poems and the civic appreciation poem, I wrote a poem about San Francisco and the Summer of Love. Which is not something I expected as Poet Laureate. I had to do some research, and I learned a lot. So much, that my first draft read more like a research paper than a poem!

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Nate gets credit for the first two lines. He was fooling around, but once I heard them, I couldn’t get that rhyme out of my head. So he gave me permission to use it. And the rest, just fell into place….

 

SUMMER OF LOVE

Man, oh man,
what a groovin’ van!
Said brother, must go—
drove it to Frisco.
We wanted to be
so crazy and free,
a wave in the ocean
of humanity.

In the Haight-Ashbury,
bodies were hairy,
poor, dirty, and drugged.
Man, everyone hugged.
Sit ins and be ins,
a shedding of sins.
Music and chanting,
much self-righteous ranting.

There was poetry
wondrous to see:
Ginsberg, Kerouac
made a fierce attack.
Communal living—
wild, free, and giving—
that was our motto.
“The Man” was the foe.

Yes, it was heaven
in 1967,
the Summer of Love,
peace like a dove.
But ideals can’t feed
a stomach in need.
We left by September,
pleased with our deed.

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I had fun with this one. Can you tell?

Six poems in just over three weeks. I think I earned my pay this month. Oh wait, I’m a volunteer….

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Heroes Among Us
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IMG_0376Earlier this month, I described the process of writing four poems for four sculptures being installed simultaneously downtown and then moving on to a volunteer poem for the City’s annual Civic Appreciation Dinner. Five poems in under three weeks. Here’s the last one.

 

HEROES AMONG US

There are heroes among us.
We may not know their names or their faces,
but they are here, quietly unfurling their brilliance
like a spangled satin cape. The woman who fosters
kittens from the shelter; the man who docents
at the history museum; the parents who champion
the disabled. People like me and you.
Tiny miracles that enrich our community.

There are heroes among us.
They serve on commissions and boards,
committees and groups, sharing their skills
with an abundance of spirit. The men and women
of the Planning Commission, the multi-talented
teens who advise, the amazing Art Commissioners
who I have the privilege to work with and know.
Each a priceless gift to our community.

There are heroes among us.
No one pays them for their work, this labor
of love, but I suspect all would claim
to be well-compensated. Driven by some
inner voice that says: give back. As you do,
in all your wondrous ways, each of you
a match that starts a wildfire of giving.
Your light a thing of beauty, awesome to behold.

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Number 2 was correct. This is nice work. I just might be a poet after all….

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Four Sculptures in Four Seasons
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In my last two posts, I described the process of writing four poems for four sculptures being installed simultaneously downtown. I was under a tight deadline and wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Here’s what I came up with.

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FOUR SCULPTURES IN FOUR SEASONS

Summer

Lizzy’s ghost splashes in the heart
of downtown, unperturbed by endless
chatter. Soap bubbles in the fountain,
cartwheels on the lawn. Bees drone
while redwoods dream of damp, dappled
groves to the north. Dog walkers mingle
with retirees seeking respite from heat.
A pair of tumbling tots join in.

Fall

Windmills march across the Altamont,
a sunflower soars above the sidewalk,
each drinks the west wind from a cup
of endless blue. Pumpkins crowd
buckets and bins; vibrant jewels
decorate a vineyard’s velvet gown.
We toast to health and abundance,
hearts spilling gratitude.

Winter 

Even at solstice, birds worship the sky,
wheeling upward in a tethered spiral
before angling south. A thousand songs
sing on the leafless horizon, whispering
their silvered secrets to the sleeping
earth. Cold wind blows off the ocean.
Gathered like tangled vines, we
shiver and wait for light.

Spring

Peace rises in the east, welcome
as the sun after a fierce storm,
arms aloft, cradling a string of
origami cranes. The doe-eyed dawn,
colored like a blessing, paints each
with a word as they burst into flight:
acceptance, compassion, diversity,
truth, joy, love, and lastly, hope.

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I’m pretty pleased with the results. What do you think?

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Poetry on Demand, Part 2
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notebook-2247352_1920I needed four poems about four diverse sculptures, and I needed them fast. But I now had a structure and a thread to tie them together. I sat myself down and started writing.

Since I wanted to end with Peace, that meant I had to start with Summer. The Lizzy Fountain poem, or at least the initial draft, came together pretty quickly. I moved on to Fall, which also seemed fairly straightforward. Winter stumped me, so I skipped ahead to Spring. I got a few lines written but couldn’t figure out what the person in the sculpture was doing. What was she holding?

While I waited for more photos, I brainstormed about Winter. I kept seeing an image of dark birds circling in an overcast sky, so I went with that.

The photos didn’t help much, but I finally got an answer as to what was being held: origami cranes. I googled and learned this was the Japanese symbol for peace. I jotted down words I associated with peace—acceptance, compassion, serenity, tolerance—and suddenly I had a rough draft of my third poem.

The Winter poem limped along behind.

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By the week of installation, I had four working drafts. They were decent, but not great. I attended the installation of Tropic Birds, and saw all the details I had missed in the photo: vines, roots, hammered steel.

After the sculpture installation, several of the Art Commissioners and I had lunch with the sculptor and his wife, who was also an artist. They were environmentalists, and we hit it off immediately. Toward the end of our meal, Ruth sat down next to me and asked about my poem. I told her about the concept of four poems in four seasons, and she asked which season Tropic Birds was.

“Winter,” I said, feeling a bit bad that their sculpture got the default season.

She nodded. “It feels like winter.”

I was startled by this. “You think so?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “Don’t you?”

I realized that now that I had seen it in person, I couldn’t imagine it being any other season. I knew then that I was on the right path.

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I tweaked and tweaked the poems for a week, right up to the deadline, 36 hours before the dedication. By then I had added the four points of the compass along with the seasons. I felt good about what I’d done.

Forced to let those poems go, I turned my attention to the volunteer appreciation poem. I brainstormed a few ideas and started writing. I soon had a draft.

At the sculpture dedication ceremony, we started with Peace. The Chair of the Commission for the Arts talked about the artist, who had told her that the work was primarily about peace and hope. I looked down at my poem for that sculpture. The first word was peace, and the last word was hope.

This kind of synchronicity continued all morning. I felt like my words had really hit their mark.

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The following night I read my volunteer appreciation poem. When I returned to my seat, the Chair of the Commission for the Arts smiled and said, “That was just beautiful.”

#2, who is now a Commissioner, grinned. “Nice work.”

I had done it. Five poems in under three weeks. I felt something shift inside me. I was now truly a poet, worthy of the title Poet Laureate.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Poetry on Demand, Part 1
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notebook-2247352_1920Back when I was debating whether or not to apply for the Poet Laureate position, the thing that gave me pause—okay, most worried me—was the task of writing poems “on demand” for the City. My three predecessors had been required to write poems about a whale mural on the waste water treatment plant, the downtown flagpole (a total of three times), “sweater trees,” volunteer appreciation, and a host of other civic topics.

How #2 managed to compose fantastic poems not only about whales and sewage, but also the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, both impressed and terrified me. Could I measure up? Or at least not embarrass myself in public?

I wasn’t sure, but once I agreed to take the job, it was only a matter of time before I found out.

I wrote two poems and started a third for my installation on June 26, 2017. Finally, in desperation, I went with poem #2. It was well received, but I will admit the Vice-Mayor looked deeply concerned when I read the first line: “Live-no-more-in-Livermore.” That said, my Staff Liason told me her boss printed out the poem and hung it on his office wall. “He’s never done that before,” she said.

I decided to take it as a good sign.

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Months went by with no poem requests. It wasn’t like I didn’t have plenty to do, so I focused on that instead: hosting a monthly open mic, rebooting the Ravenswood Poetry Series, launching a literary arts newsletter, putting together a poetry workshop, doing readings at the library. When the old library was torn down to make way for the new City Council Chambers, I wrote a eulogy for my first library. I read it to the Council on the night of the ground-breaking ceremony, after delivering my annual Poet Laureate Report. Again, my work was well received, but still no requests.

The library asked me to write a poem in honor of National Library Week. I sweated over this one, but managed a long list poem referencing my favorite books. As a bonus, I wrote another about my daughter at the library because it was also Autism Awareness Month. The librarians were thrilled. And then finally, in late April, I got my first official request: four poems for the four sculptures being installed downtown. Plus another for the annual Civic Appreciation Dinner.

Five poems in less than three weeks. This was pretty much my absolute worst case scenario.

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I stared at the tiny photo of each sculpture and searched for a way in. How best to approach this? I had no clue. Not. One. Idea.

A few days later, while driving my daughter to school in Menlo Park, I noticed the spring rains had finally turned the hillsides green. It looks like winter at last, I thought. Then it hit me: I could do four linked poems. Four sculptures in four seasons. Peace would be Spring. Sunflower would be Fall. Ta-Da II was located at Lizzie’s Fountain where children played in the water on hot summer days. It would be Summer. Which meant Tropic Birds would be Winter by default.

Four sculptures in four seasons. I could do this.

Right?

To be continued…

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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