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Monthly Archives: March 2019

My Autistic Super Hero and a Crunchy Granola Recipe

My Autistic Super Hero and a Crunchy Granola Recipe
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Ken and Andrew at Speaker Meeting for the Serra Center

Today I’m inspired to write about our families struggles with #Autism. Last week, my husband Ken and son Andrew spoke at the City of Fremont’s Youth and Family Services Bldg to support the Serra Center a non profit located in Union City. Ken’s cousin Leslie Mc Gary asked if they would speak to the community to bring #AutismAwareness since March is #IntellectualDisabilityMonth.

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Curtis and Andrew sitting together during special night out at Mua Restaurant celebrating Curtis’ 34th birthday

Let me start by saying that both my boys Curtis and Andrew are my everything. I’m very proud of the men they have become. This blog is about Andrew’s disability even though Curtis struggles with ADHD. They are both remarkable and have achieved a lot.

Andrew is particular has achieved unbelieveable feats in his 26 years and he’s like my super hero. He is a 4th degree Master of Taekwondo and currently teaches part time. He’s an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America which says a lot about his leadership skills. Andrew recently earned a Performing Arts Degree in music from St. Mary’s College in Moraga California, and occasionally sings as a Tenor at Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco.  But there are still struggles that get in his way on a daily basis, even though he has overcome a lot. He accepts himself and who he is and isn’t afraid to share his message about autism. He’s passionate about giving back and educating what he has learned throughout his life.

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Levels of Severity for Autism Spectrum Disorder

 

Here’s a little bit of back history to our story. When Andrew was three and a half he was diagnosed with Autism. At his check up he began swinging his socks in front of his face (called stemming). Dr. Randall Bergen his doctor suggested he might have pervasive development disorder, but because Andrew’s language was good he didn’t think so. Then two weeks later, I began to worry that Andrew had a hearing problem because he didn’t respond to my questions. It was that day that I decided to take him back to Kaiser and have him seen again. Our pediatrician referred us to a neurologist Dr. Candida Brown and to an audiologist. Dr. Brown did a variety of tests and Ken and I had to fill out  questionnaires. Andrew’s hearing was fine. He passed the test with flying colors.

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Levels describing Autism Disorder

 

We learned that Andrew barely fit the criteria for autism, his symptoms were mild and were more similar to Asperger’s but the doctor would give us the autism diagnosis so we could qualify for services. Eventually, we moved to the San Ramon Valley School District since Concord schools didn’t offer the services we needed. Andrew would need speech, since he repeated sayings over and over again (called echolalia). He would need to go to preschool that had teachers that were equipped to deal with kids on the autistic spectrum. At three and a half, he got on a little yellow bus every weekday morning to San Ramon where he attended Twin Creeks Elementary. It was so hard to see my little guy get on a bus and leave his mama. But I knew that Alyse his teacher and also a speech pathologist would help Andrew communicate better, and I got a well deserved break.

 

Andrew also had behavioral therapy services paid through the Regional Center which helped him with potty training and outbursts. You see, he had a difficult time transitioning from one activity to another and would have meltdowns. At four Andrew would go poop in his diaper/pants after walking up the tree in the backyard on the hill. The behaviorist taught him to go poop in the toilet, which helped tremendously. Regional Center also paid for a babysitter so Ken and I could get a night out. We were lucky that Andrew’s grandma Nilda wanted to watch him on Friday night’s and that money that we would have spent on a caregiver went into a special account for Andrew. For this we are eternally grateful because it saved our marriage.

 

Of course there is so much more to this story and you can access that if you want to read Ken’s book that he self published “Andrewtism- a Personal Transformation While Parenting an Autistic Child”. Ken wrote this when Andrew was fourteen, hoping to help other parents raise their kids on the spectrum. Or you could read my previous blog from a few years back.

During the talk last Tuesday Andrew sang Louie Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world” which surprised us all. He described his autism journey and how music influenced him. “He found his voice” he said and even wrote about his journey in his essay when applying to St. Mary’s College. Many of the guests that attended the meeting thanked Andrew and Ken for sharing their story. Ken spoke about how raising a son with autism changed him, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew told stories about the bullies that he encountered, how he was mistakenly left at a swimming pool for hours unattended at the age of 8 by a neighbor, and how he survived his 1st degree black belt testing. He answered questions eloquently trying to stick to the hour allowed for the meeting.

Over the years Andrew has collected Superman memorabilia, I think because it resonates with him. He has Superman posters, coffee mugs (although he only likes hot water), slippers and more. He and his old girlfriend Mary even dressed up like Clark Kent and Lois Lane one Halloween.

Leslie continues to share the thank you emails that she has received from many of the parents who related to and were inspired by our story.

An attendee named Renee commented “I am so intrigued by that young man, and he left me with so much positivity and information to help two of my nephews who also are on the autism spectrum.”

Here’s a YouTube Video of Andrew Smyth of one of Andrew’s vocal performances at St. Mary’s College a few years ago. And here is his singing the Star Spangled Banner at his Taekwondo studio where he works.

Side note: Andrew asked his long time friend Josh who is also afflicted with autism about his thoughts about living with Autism.  Here is what Josh eloquently wrote:

“I guess, if it comes down to it, the most important thing I had to learn when dealing with being on the Spectrum is how to accept that I am still OK as person. I had to learn, and had to become confident, in that fact that I am who I am, and that if anyone should be happy with who I am, it should be myself. Autism (especially high functioning autism) is not a weakness, it is just an aspect of who I am. I am the one who decides how people define me, not my diagnosis.”
– Josh Downes

I guess I’m still trying to help Andrew in any way I can. I communicate with buisnesses like SAP on Linked In and Twitter that hire individuals with intellectual disabilities (or abilities) and I’m hoping he will get noticed. Maybe someone out there is interested in hearing us speak again. Ultimately, I know things will work out in the long run for Andrew and our family. Maybe it’s time for him to put on his super hero cape!

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Andrew Smyth and me his Mom after he obtained his 4th Degree Master’s Belt in Taekwondo

Thank you for reading my blog. It means the world to me. Commenting helps Google believe this is an actual legitimate site, so if you feel inclined, I would be ever so grateful.

Here is my recipe for Maple Nut Granola that my niece Keri has been asking for which you won’t want to live without. Serve with your favorite organic yogurt and berries. And if you like coffee, I wrote a blog on Kanen Coffee in Berkeley who so graciously repaired my espresso machine.

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Teri’s Maple Nut Granola: The most delicious granola you’ve ever eaten

Teri’s Maple Nut Granola

Ingredients:

3 Cups Organic Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

1 C Shredded or Flaked Bakers Coconut

½ C Grapeseed, Canola or Avocado Oil

⅛ C Unprocessed Raw Honey

¼ C Maple Syrup

3 T Light Brown Sugar

1/2 C Raw Pumpkin Seeds (Shelled)

1/4 C Chopped Raw Walnuts

½ C Whole Toasted Almonds

1/2 t Penzey’s Ground Cinnamon

1/2 t Penzey’s Ground Ginger

1/2 t Penzey’s Ground Clovestir

1 t Kosher Salt

 

½ C Dried Cherries

½ C Dried chopped Apricot

1/4 C Dried Cranberries

1/4C Candied Ginger Chopped

1/8 C Chia Seeds

Instructions:

Preheat Oven to 250 degrees and place rack from oven in middle of oven. In a large mixing bowl put everything from the above list in the bowl, except dried fruit. Mix thoroughly.

 

Spread mixture onto two sheet pans lined with parchment paper or silpat baking mats. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes or more depending on your oven. Remove pans from oven and cool. Mix in dried fruit and chia seeds. Place in airtight container for 1 month or freeze. Makes  9 1/2 Cups

 

 

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Biking in Napa for Calamari and Hazelnut Dacquoise

Biking in Napa for Calamari and Hazelnut Dacquoise

Spent the day in Yountville and Napa with my friend Ana bike riding and eating at some of my favorite restaurants. The rain in Northern California has been non stop, but we had a break in the weather that day and biked until our hearts were content. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at Bistro don Giovanni, dessert and beverages at Auberge du Soleil, then a quick stop at the Cia Copia and OxBow Public Market to complete the perfect day.

 

Ana and I were originally going to ride bikes to Danville for lunch at SideBoard a neighborhood cafe. When I heard they closed, I shifted our bike ride to the Napa Valley so I could check out Farmstead Restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena.

 

We set out North on our bikes after parking in the town of Yountville. We brought our own bikes even though you can easily rent them. I stopped to ask for directions at a bed and breakfast in town and the clerk Googled and even printed me a map towards our destination.

Unfortunately, after several attempts and ending up off the beaten path on to rocky surfaces, we decided to ride South towards Napa instead on the designated Napa Valley Vine Trail. It was refreshing to finally be on a flat safe surface in a clear direction.

IMG_9692

 

We had been riding for over an hour and a half and we needed food in our bellies. Luckily, Bistro Don Giovanni was nearby, so we rode our bikes there. Well, not directly there, since I thought we could sneak in through a vineyard. That wasn’t going to happen since there were barbed wires surrounding the property. Through the mud we rode, until we finally found a newer property that had a paved road. Phew! Boy were we glad to see that.

 

Eventually we drove through a quaint older Napa neighborhood and onto Hwy 29 for a block to get to the restaurant. Ana and I were fortunate that they still had an available table to seat us. The food was exceptional as usual. We shared their short rib, cipollini onion, asparagus pappardelle special and fried calamari with green beans, fennel and onions. So tasty. Ana had a merlot from Whitehall to drink and I ordered a cabernet from Frank Vineyards. Food always tastes better after a long bike ride and Ana had never had fresh pasta from California before.

 

Obviously, we took a shortcut back to the bike path on the way back to Yountville, but had a good laugh about our earlier excursion through the vineyards.

 

Next was a quick ride through the small town since we weren’t quite ready to abandon the bikes. We saw the brand spanking new Villagio Hotel  conference/wedding venue which is spacious and gorgeous. Atelier Fine Foods was catering a Yountville Chamber of Commerce networking mixer at JCB Salon Prive’ with focaccia and a huge platter of cheese, olives, charcuterie and of course wine. We didn’t stick around long enough to embibe.

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Outstanding cheese and charcuterie platter on its way to a Yountville Chamber of Commerce Mixer. I want to be a member !

 

Back to the car with the bikes we went, and headed for our Farmstead Restaurant. The only problem I have with taking friends to Napa is getting side tracked by all of the other phenomenal choices to experience. This time I stopped at Auberge du Soleil off the Silverado trail which is a part of Relais & Chateaux. This property sits high on a hill and looks over the Napa Valley. The view is spectacular and the restaurant is Michelin rated.

 

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Anna and me standing in the entry way to Auburge du Soleil

Since we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on food, we took a seat at the bar. They have a wide selection of fancy cocktails, beer on tap, and wines of course, but we ordered the non-alcoholic Ipanema: A refreshing drink consisting of ginger ale, fresh muddled lime and sugar. Since we weren’t hungry, we settled on their famous Auberge Torte au Chocolat : A hazelnut dacquoise (a fancy name for a almond hazelnut and meringue cake), gianduja mousse and vanilla gelato. I’m pretty sure it was the BEST dessert I’ve ever had. The good news is they sell them and will ship this chocolatey decadence all over the world. And one piece cost $17.00 which we shared, but it was worth every penny. Pastry chef Paul Lemieux has a lot to be proud of and I will happily follow him on Instagram.

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The mouthwatering chocolate hazelnut cake at Auberge du Soleil

 

Feeling generous, Ana bought 9 of their freshly made cookies so we could bring my Mother and Step Father some goodies. I have to say, the oatmeal cherry were my favorite, but the peanut butter and chocolate chip ones were delicious too. Yes, we ate most of them before we got to the car!

Losing our appetite for Farmstead, we headed home. Again I took a detour and stopped at the Culinary Institute of America Napa. I took Ana upstairs to the cooking school where there was a class that was assembling dumplings.We also walked through the fascinating Chuck Williams Culinary Art Exhibit featuring over 4000 artifacts of specialty cookware used by great chefs in Europe.

 

Next to the Cia Copia is OxBow Public Market where there is practically every kind of food and drink available to consume. We walked around Whole Spice Company, Napa Valley Distillery, Fieldwork Brewery, Anette’s Chocolates and many more foodie destinations. At least Ana will know where to go when she entertains her out of town guests in a few weeks.

 

Let’s just say, Napa Valley has captured my heart. I’m never disappointed by the hospitality and generosity they offer their tourists and people like me. Sometimes the wine country is calling me and I have to escape the Bay Area. Is it calling you? You will come back feeling rejuvenated from all of the good food, great wine and clean country like charm it offers. Can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time I will actually make it to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.

 

If you enjoyed my blog, please share on Facebook, Twitter or email a friend. Maybe they will be ready for a change of pace and join you for a special day in the Napa Valley Wine Country.

 

 

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