A day in the LEAF

LEAFAsheville, a center for arts and culture in the Southeast, has no shortage of events that enrich the soul. Fortunately, the local arts councils are also generous with these events, providing free tickets to those who could not otherwise afford them. Little Miss and I were lucky enough to score day tickets to the Lake Eden Arts Festival, or LEAF.

The clouds had burst the night before, and some rain lingered into Saturday morning, but it certainly didn’t extinguish the spirits of those on site. When we arrived, the event was in full swing, concert music spilling into the air outside the tents, a poetry slam tearing words from writers’ hearts, the aromas of hot garlic and smoky grills on the breeze. Brave (foolish?) younguns ziplined down into the lake, now a balmy 50 degrees. One bank of the lake was lined with the tents of those staying for the weekend, the other with the festival venue.

Kids ran everywhere, enjoying being kids, many barefoot, even in the squishy mud left from the rain the night before. Arts and crafts booths lined the perimeter, and soon Little Miss sported her own magenta and lilac African mask on a necklace.

The crowd was a burst of colors, so many dressed in flowing fabrics and “hippie” style. I fell in love immediately with the atmosphere, one which pervades Asheville as a whole, but seemed concentrated at the event in one glorious serving.

The headliner for the music scene was Macy Gray; she’s playing today, so we missed her, but we didn’t miss out. Saturday afternoon, we listened to bluegrass artist Sara Watkins, and as the evening wore on we were treated to a show by Cuban R&B/hiphop artist Danay Suarez.  She’s one of LEAF’s teachers in the visiting artists program at local Erwin High School. Though her concert was in Spanish, even her commentary to the audience, it was easy to decipher her meaning once she began to sing. The reggae and jazz beats reached into the soul and lifted it up.

Such a wild and wonderful combination of folks! We, of course, hunted down our family connections with Lucia and Kevin Barnes from Ultimate Ice Cream (did you know they have a CSA for ice cream???), then moved on. I loved the folks with this sign–good advice was free, and “bad” advice, you paid for. Sounds about right.

I’d had a rough weekend physically, so I had my cane and a folding cart with a camp chair, etc. that I finally set up outside the concert tent. Little Miss announced she wasn’t done exploring, so she spent the next few hours going from booth to booth, talking to vendors, learning about sound healing, swinging on some awesome hanging chairs, smelling incense and candles and much more.  I know it may not sound like much to most folks that a 17 year old worked a crowd, but for those who know the autism spectrum, and Little Miss, this means she overcame the noise of the music and crowd, went on her own, spoke with strangers to gather information, and experienced independence–knowing I was in one place where she could find me if she needed anything. Pretty awesome.

Mid-afternoon, LEAF was treated to a parade with a host of performers like those of Imagine Circus from Raleigh, sparkling and dancing in the sun. 


A glorious day, in the end, though I hadn’t expected it would be.  Something I’ve been working on, my expectations. When you have debilitating conditions, it’s so easy to slip into a niche where you automatically choose not to go out and do things for fear of increased pain or repercussions or inability. I’m trying now to “expect” that yes, there will be difficulties, but the experience is worth it once all is done.

And the lovely Danay Suarez proved my point. The beats of her music got me to my feet, moved me like a hurricane wind from her island. I didn’t look around to see what people were judging this old, fluffy lady, swaying her hips with one hand on her cane and one on her chair. I was simply the music.

We went to LEAF. Little Miss got to be a real teenager. And I danced. 🙂



A drive in the clouds

Driving back this week from Asheville, Little Miss and I experienced a chill, ethereal world that feathered off into the mountains on all sides.

IMGP2138IMGP2141Whether it was the blue hills of the southern Smokies or the pine-lined slopes of West Virginia, the world seemed confined to a narrow band of highway, and not much more.

Granted, we were mostly just trying not to get blown off the road by semis roaring past in the rain; but it was beautiful.

We did stop at the New River Gorge to get her National Parks Passport stamped, and took some pictures of the valley and river far below the visitors’ center.

We have become fast traveling companions, she and I, since we’re on our own now. She reads maps, tells me about the birds of the regions, and on this trip, insisted on using her own money to buy snacks for both of us. It was a delightful observation of her empathy and outlook for others.


At nearly sixteen, she has come a very long way from the time I first began this blog. Then I didn’t even know the extent of the journey that awaited us. Some years we endured forty hours a week or more of therapy. More recently, a constant push to make every moment a teachable one suffices. She’s become a conversationalist, even with her peers. Perhaps she’s not the most stimulating passenger on a long route, but I’ve learned over the years to scale back expectations and appreciate even the small things.

It’s enough.

And that’s all that matters.



Approaching ‘normal’

I realized the other day that this is the first ‘real’ summer the two younger kids have had since they were maybe a year old. (The Captain, of course, has not improved, so he continues in partial hospitalization, and has developed a kleptomaniac streak that’s gotten him in trouble with the law. Fabulous.)

But Little Miss and Dr. Doo-Be-Do have been in autism summer camp, ADHD summer camp, multiple therapies, over and over, at the Barber Center, at the Achievement Center, at the college, even after we finished with the 40 hours a week of ABA and talk therapy. This summer, by contrast, they can sleep in. They can use a pool pass to the city pool whenever they choose, and belong to the summer reading club at the library. They can attend the summer cheapie movies at the theater downtown. They can play their video games and watch Glee Project reruns to their hearts’ content.

They can have a BREAK.

So far we’ve seen no negative consequences. They aren’t slipping back into any of their negative behaviors; instead, they’re warming emotionally, able to interact and share home-y parts of the day with us. Granted in a couple weeks, when we have to start setting the alarm a little earlier and earlier to get used to the school schedule, it might be less exciting. But now we’ve been sewing together, and Little Miss and I made jam from raspberries she picked in the back yard. The Doctor helped his dad drywall our new bath and laundry rooms, and he’s even playing Warcraft one night a week with his dad, too.

Just like “real” kids.

On the Allegheny River across from the new Steelers stadium

Which is so refreshing, after years when we spent a total of 70 hours a week in therapy. Not that they’re “normal”–whatever that is–but they are strong, functional parts of the household team. Little Miss has a streak that makes her use the correct tools for any job and continue it till she’s finished, that is a blessing. The Doctor has a wicked, if sometimes off-base, sense of humor that cracks us up. We like having kids we can trust to do what they’re asked and let them out of our sight for a few minutes, even babysit each other if we need to run to the corner store.

Their brother? Suffice it to say we’re still pursuing other therapies for him, since he can’t be left alone for even five minutes, or trusted to look after himself much less his younger siblings. This one child consumes seventy percent of our attention and worry; we have lost countless hours of sleep trying to figure out how to help him, or at least be able to live with him. Thank heaven for respite care, when we can at least have some time to bond with the other two and remind them how a normal family interacts. Well, a normal family with a passion for science fiction and musicals, all computer geeks and computer creators, who can quote you lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Blazing Saddles or Firefly with equal vigor.  (You know, if the Captain would at least begin one of his rampages with “I aim to misbehave”, we might give him a couple points for effort…)

In the meantime, we continue to expand our family circle with a nice visit to Asheville to see K and her little family–thanks for your hospitality, and can’t wait to see you soon!

Idylls in the south

We took a trip south for a brief respite from the cold. adding in a short visit with the in-laws and a stop in Asheville to see K’s new apartment and to meet the son of her steady girflfriend.

The in-laws, of course, complained about the cold as we stripped to T-shirts and sandals, as we enjoyed a few meals together and a visit to Hollywild Animal Park.    Because it’s still winter, we had limited access to animals, but everyone seemed to enjoy feeding the hooved ones old bread. Thy had longhorn steers, a donkey-zebra mix breed, all sorts of cows and even a white buffalo.

Here’s most of us , Memaw, aunt, cousins by the handfuls. And the Cabana Boy, looking suave. (Special thanks to him for editing these photos so I can post them all. It’s been a nightmare. 🙂  Thanks! )

After the animals, we had a picnic at Cleveland Park, which the folk said was family-friendly during the day, but at night was taken over by assorted people (and women) of the night. Nice to be sitting in the sun! That’s all I was worried about, for sure.

 The  high point of Cleveland Park is usually the train, but it was closed for the 50-degree winter. Ha!


Dr. Doo-Be-Do in particular, took charge of watching over his little cousins, and even flirting a little. He’s definitely girl-oriented. But they didn’t seem to mind.

The next day, K wangled us several surprises, including a free tour of the Biltmore house in Asheville. We had the audio extras–definitely worth it– and enjoyed the whole multi-floor building. I was grateful it wasn’t my house though. No wonder they needed a staff of thirty!

        You couldn’t take pictures

inside, but outside it was gorgeous. No gardens yet, but I understand that in the next several months as the spring flowers, then the summer flowers come in, the gardens and greenhouses will be a thing of beauty indeed.

Our second surprise was a lunch at The Stable restaurant on the grounds. So named because it used to BE the Stable back in the day. Some of the ironwork of the individual stables is still there. The food was fabulous. The butternut squash soup was creamy and smooth, and permanently etched in my mind. The special of the day was a vegetable quiche, which the Cabana Boy ate, since he’s a Real Man. 🙂 

K’s manager and all the staff were delightful to us, stopping by to tell us how proud they were of K (Us, too!) and to make sure we had just everything we needed. Thank you all for making our visit so extra special. AND for the creation of K and her friends shown here to the right– a sampling of the incredible desserts available at the Stable: lemon meringue pie, cherry cobbler, spice cake with homemade caramel ice cream, and best of all, a chocolate fudge pudding that was like PURE chocolate. And a special signature K described as “the kind of sweet tattoo I’d get on my shoulder.”      Right on.

Two moms on the road of life

This was a weekend of women.

I drove, with my younger sister M, to see K and her girlfriends in Asheville. We stayed at their new apartment with their new Labrador and their old cat, and their cupboard that contained rice and microwave popcorn. Two chefs. Rice. Microwave popcorn. Unreal.

The first order of business was to get some food in the house, so M and I hit the local farmer’s market, as we’re both on the sustainable agriculture train. She’s the mother of three, one college age and two in secondary school, so when we went to the grocery next, between the two of us, we bought up all kinds of canned and frozen foods so the girls should be set for some time to come, especially since they both eat at the Biltmore at least one meal a day.

We also toured downtown Asheville, grabbing lots of breakfast sunshine, scones and bagels at the Grove Arcade. One little artsy shop had some adorable accent light crabs about a foot across…we both wanted to take one home! (Though they cost more there than at this website…hmm…tourists, anyone?)

After a rousing confrontation with the Biltmore security staff, we took the girls to dinner (including K’s friend N, who had just come from the emergency room under suspicion of swine flu!) at Thai Basil, then K’s roommate S treated us to ice cream at Kilwin’s. If you’ve been there, you’ll know the degree of yummy satisfaction we had. Fudge. Enough said.

Sunday we took the long trip home again, but we diverged along the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first leg of the journey, a trip neither of us had made before.

“A drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway is slow paced and relaxing,” the website says, and that’s very true. For the majority of the part we traveled in North Carolina, the elevation was between 3,000-5,000 feet and curvy as a sidewinding snake. It was Slow-paced or Die, pretty much.

But slowing down allowed us to see many beautiful fall vistas, as the mid-range was definitely at peak autumn color*:

view with tree

Along the Parkway, we found few places to stop, but we were constantly reminded of the breathtaking nature of…nature. Like the area around Linville Falls:

linville falls

As always, I enjoyed being on the road, though after taking the Parkway, I did gain a solid appreciation of the modern expressway. All the same, there’s something to be said for taking the back roads, waiting to see what awaits beyond the next corner:

windy road

*Thanks to guest photographer M for sharing her photos and a sister-bonding trip. 🙂

Independence day

To celebrate independence this year, we decided to take a trip. What? you say? Didn’t you just get BACK from a trip?

Well, yes.

But this trip was to celebrate K’s independence and her externship at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC.  We’d never been there before, and it gave us an excuse to take the whole family (even the poor Cabana Boy, who missed the whole Wild West adventure) away for a weekend.

After several weeks looking at mountains, one would think we’d seen it all. But no.  The Great Smoky Mountains are very different from  everything we saw out West.

Forested peaks

Forested peaks

Fading into fog

Fading into fog

Deciduous trees are liberally mixed with pines and other vegetation, including the landscape-devouring kudzu.

As we crossed through the tip of Tennessee and continued on into the mountains of North Carolina, we started to see once again the smoky layers of blue-gray peaks in the distance. Beautiful.

We arrived about dark on Friday night, just in time to head downtown to the weekly drum circle held in  Pritchard Park:

Anyone with a drum can join in; I left my set of bongos with K so she can become part of the music any time she’d like.

We were astounded that there was so much life downtown even at 11 p.m. We stopped at Kilwin’s for incredible late night ice cream, and then walked around the Grove Arcade, just window shopping and enjoying music on all sides.

Saturday morning we headed out to the  Biltmore Estate. Even more incredible in person than from the pictures I’d seen, the castle itself is huge. K told us much about it, and we walked through the gardens, the large conservatory, saw the petting farm and ate in K’s current restaurant assignment, The Stable:

Inside the Stable

Inside the Stable

We met her chef, who had nice things to say about her, and we got a look at the loft space where K and her fellow pastry chefs make their magic.

The vistas on all sides held those smoky blue mountain tops. The estate stretches as far as can be seen.  I loved the pergolaed garden walks:

biltmore 020 biltmore 021 biltmore 023 biltmore 028taking a well-deserved rest

taking a well-deserved rest

The flowers and plants were beautiful:

biltmore 017 biltmore 036fantastic...


As the day heated up, so did we and we took an air-conditioned break at the mall before our dinner at Havana in the Grove Arcade, the best Cuban food we’ve had since El Rancho Luna in  Little Havana, Miami. Three thumbs up for ceviche, ropa vieja, empanadas and much more.

Sadly we said good night to K after a wonderful day. She’s got early work tomorrow and we have a long drive. But it was great to explore a whole new area of the country and see how she’s doing in her new grown-up life.