Friday, October 31, 2008

What Do You Think? -Nov. 2008

Have you noticed that many of the fall trees are overloaded with fruit? The extra heavy bounty on many of my trees, including this Chinese "Milky Way" Dogwood (which my friend Holly loves!) has me asking one big question: 

Do you think heavy fruit equals a rougher winter ahead?

Hmmmmmmmm......just wondering.  Better get the snow blower ready,  just in case. I mean, I better encourage my husband to get the snow blower ready. I prefer to ignore snow in the driveway and just hide out 'til spring. 

No doubt, I'll get stuck at least once.

Picture This! Faces of Ability-Nov. 08: Presenting Grace Simon & Cerebral Palsy

Presenting one of my favorite people in the world, Grace Simon! (Photos: Follow Grace as she gets off the school bus, travels down the school hallways and begins working independently on her computer).

Grace is a spirited, charming, smart and incredibly cute 8-year-old with cerebral palsy who loves the color pink (me, too!). I first met Grace and her remarkable grandmother, Pat Simon, when they attended RicStar's Camp a few years ago, a birthday gift to Grace from her adoring grandma. Lucky for us, RicStar's Camp attendance has become an annual summer tradition in the Simon household. Watching this young lady blossom has been rewarding for all involved.

Pat is one terrific grandmother who shares a few words about the granddaughter she adores, along with some valuable words of wisdom for other families. (Photos & tips used with permission). The role grandparents and other family members play in the lives of these children is priceless. Thank you, all!

"Grace Elizabeth Simon is an 8-year-old first grader included in her neighborhood school. She's the daughter of Eric and Jenni Simon and the oldest of four siblings. In the photos, you can see Grace working on her computer on a program called "Clicker 5". All of her school work is scanned into the computer, Using the roller joystick, she's able to do the same work as her classmates. School has been a wonderful experience for her. Her warm personality and friendly smile have caused the entire school to embrace her. Grace's determination to achieve is amazing, and when she enters a room, her presence is immediately felt by everyone. (Only a Grandma would say that!).  During the summer months, Grace enjoys horseback riding and attending RicStar's Camp. This year, Grace also joined 4-H, where her projects included baking and vegetable gardening."

Grandma Pat's Wisdom:
  • Give the child with special needs the same things other grandchildren need; love, laughter, and acceptance.
  • Be present for each moment. Spending one-on-one time is so rewarding,
  • Let the child know what a blessing he/she is to you. Your love and assurance will give him/her the confidence necessary to meet all those daily challenges.
  • Give the gift of your time to the parents. (AMEN!!) Be willing to help out and be supportive of your children's parenting decisions.
  • Having Grace as a Granddaughter has given me a stronger faith and a richer love.
Allow me to add one more:  Encourage other family members to get involved in your grandchild's life, too. Become a powerful example and speak up. It does make a difference.

Thanks, Pat, for sharing some of Grace's abilities with us!  Hugs to you both!

You go, Grace!!

For more on cerebral palsy, visit:

If you would like to see your child featured as one of the monthly Faces of Ability, please email me: Include info on your child and a few fav photos in the body of your email. No attachments, please!

Minute Vacations-November 2008

Judy's Minute Vacation-November 2008
Sailing the Straights of Mackinac/Mackinac Bridge
Shot from Mackinac Island, Michigan
Judy Winter 2008. All rights reserved

I can't let summer 2008 go quite yet....can you?
...and no, it's not my boat.  I wish!!!

For more escapes, visit:

Words of Wisdom from Geoffrey Chaucer -Nov. 2008

Words of Wisdom-November 2008

"Many small make a great."
-Geoffrey Chaucer

Please, VOTE!!

After all, it's your future, too.

(Michigan's Capitol Building. Photo by Judy Winter 2008. All rights reserved).

Halloween Cutie! -Granddoggy Griff

Griff is not exactly diggin his Halloween costume....he's such a proud little Welsh Corgi.

It will all be over soon, Griffy!

(Photo by Jenna Winter 2008. Used with permission. All rights reserved).

BOO! to All & Happy Halloween 2008

Happy Halloween!! 

Please, party responsibly, watch out for all those wild sugar rushes, and keep those precious little goblins safe! 

P.S. It's probably not the best day to start a diet...bring on the Tootstie Rolls!!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yes, Virginia, You CAN Become President! The White House Project Announces the 'Take Our Daughters to the Polls!' Campaign

I know, I just gave big props to The White House Project, ('tis the season), but with only a week left before this incredibly important election is history, WHP deserves all the press/blog for the great work they do.  

That now includes a clever new campaign effort: Take Our Daughters to the Polls!  As Oprah would say. "Love that!" Marie Wilson, head of The White House Project, is also one of the women responsible for the birth of National Take Our Daughter's to Work Day, making this an especially natural fit, and not all that surprising. Read the stats provided; then get busy.

You can help combat future political gender inequity and help put more women in office.  It all starts with helping our girls understand that it is indeed possible. Take your daughters, including those with special needs, to the polls on Tuesday! Your example is more powerful than words.

My baby can vote all on her own; and yes, she knows how important it is that she head to the polls. (photo by Erik Taylor Photography 2007.  Used with permission. All rights reserved).

Empower our daughters. Change everything.
Check it out!

Media Alert! Watch for Kym Johnson of Dancing with the Stars and DSALA Dance Class Tonight on Access Hollywood

UPDATE: Watch for show to air now on Monday, Nov. 3rd (always subject to change!).
Kym Johnson of "Dancing with the Stars" is tentatively scheduled to appear on tonight's Access Hollywood, along with the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles (DSALA) dance class she's currently teaching. More than fifty students from ages two to fifty two are taking part in the class. Johnson also teaches dance classes for those with special needs when home in Australia.

According to Gail Williamson, exc. director of the DSALA, the U.S. effort began after Johnson asked if she could teach a class while in Los Angeles filming the current 2008 season of the popular show. Johnson, and her partner, Warren Sapp, are still in the running for the coveted 2008 Dancing with the Stars title.

Access Hollywood airs on NBC; check local listings for times. Note: Gail says the segment could be bumped by another late-breaking story, so if it doesn't air tonight, watch for it later this week.  Johnson and her dancers will also perform during the annual DSALA Buddy Walk at Santa Anita Park this Sunday, Nov. 2nd.  

Tune in to see this great example of focusing on ability in action. You've got my vote, Kym!!

For more information, visit:
For more information on nationwide walks, visit:

(Photo of Gail Williamson, and son, Blair, (taking part in the dance class), used with permission).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend Bliss & Nature's Beauty

My husband and I have made each other a promise to take Sundays off from technology and hectic schedules and reconnect. 

Yesterday, we took a road trip in our bold attempt to lay claim to some of that quickly fading fall beauty. While we came up a bit short on colorful leaves in our neck of the woods, we did enjoy a spectacular cloud show, courtesy of Mother Nature strutting out her fall finest, while also blowing in a cold front with the threat of snow flurries.

Say it isn't so!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

National Make a Difference Day 2008

Today is 2008 National Make a Difference Day!

Will you?

It doesn't take nearly as much effort as you might first believe to impact someone else's life in a positive way. It's amazing how one person's vision and spirited actions can snowball, and what you gain when you get outside of yourself and give from the heart to those in greater need is absolutely priceless.

Whatever you do today, make it count! 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jon Thomas Robertson Honors Make a Difference Day 2008 with Support of the Extreme Makeover-Home Edition Team, and His Proud Momma-Part Three

I need to give a well-deserved shout out to Monica Simons, the high-energy mom of Jon Thomas Robertson, the terrific seventh grader and 2007 National Make a Difference Honoree Day I've been posting about recently. 

That's Monica at left with JT waiting to shoot their 'Good Morning America' interview.

I've interviewed lots of parents raising responsible kids in light of significant personal challenges, including special needs. I'm convinced that behind every great kid, there's a terrific parent(s) guiding them and sharing priceless lessons in humility, civility, compassion and the value of hard work and keeping your word. These are stellar parenting efforts delivered complete with tough love and lots big hugs. In the case of Jon Thomas, that again appears to be the case.

Monica Simons is a gutsy, single mom of meager means, trying hard to raise her spirited, activist son in one of the poorest counties in New York, and in light of some pretty scary stats for Cuba teens. She's determined to buck those statistics and see JT graduate high school, go on to college and make something extraordinary of his life. Her determination is clear in her passionate words and actions. It's hard not to believe this mom will realize her big parenting dreams. 

I'm rooting for both mother and son.

Simons returned to her childhood hometown of Cuba, New York from Florida after a difficult divorce because she wanted her son to experience the benefits of extended family and social diversity. As a preschooler, JT attended a Head Start program that included children with disabilities and diverse ethnic cultures. Those experiences and friendships have deeply impacted his young life and fueled JT's on-going yearly October mission to to make a difference for his peers. 

JT's mom is a proud woman, easily moved to emotion when talking about her son. She shares some good parenting insight and powerful antidotes for combatting those tough county stats:
  • "I have no cable, no land-line phone, and no car," says Simons who is a part-time school employee in Cuba. "We have family game nights and we walk everywhere.  We are closer as a result."
  • "I've allowed JT to be a kid, while also seeing how much a child can impact a community," Simons explains. "We forget what it's like to see the world from a child's perspective.  I try hard not to say no to JT's ideas.  I always ask him why it is important to him. When JT came to me with his big idea, I didn't say no," she stresses. "I said I think that's a great idea, now how are you going to do that? I also taught JT that when you give a promise, you are giving your word.  That is your honor, your character and your integrity."
  • "Encourage your children to ask questions and have an opinion.  If you child has a passion, what's the harm in letting him/her explore it?  It's all about using all those teachable moments, but too many parents today don't take the time.  They are too busy trying to keep up with the Joneses to really talk to their kids."
  • "I try hard to instill good values in JT that will last a lifetime, because I'm not always going to be here. I have only a few precious years to teach him the basics and ingrain them in him so he will be successful in life no matter what."
  • The lessons in diversity this mom sought for her son have returned to her. "JT keeps me honest and true to myself as a parent.  He's taught me how to look at other people in less fortunate circumstances differently. He continues to surprise me," Simons admits. "JT hates the limelight and he doesn't think he's a hero.  So I told him that he's an inspiration to others, and for people who care and hold basic good values close, he represents hope." 
  • "JT is surrounded by a great extended family with solid values and morals.  He's not the train kid with us.  We allow him to be himself."
For several years, her preteen son has been determined to make a difference in the lives of others.  Monica Simons is determined to make a big difference in his. "My grandmother always said you should treat everyone like family because you never know who you are standing next to. It doesn't take much to make a difference in someone's life.  Give people a smile and a kind word," Simons adds. "Seeing the large crowd of people who attended her funeral had a profound effect on me." 

It's a valuable lesson in humanity Simons has passed on to her son.

This Saturday, on National Make a Difference Day 2008, Jon Thomas Robertson will again be part of the action, sharing candy bags and big grins with nearly 1,000 passengers of the newly accessible Arcade and Attica Historic Railroad. It's the realization of a big dream years in the making, one fueled by the grit, determination and huge heart of one special young man and a single mother devoted to the doctrine of good parenting, and to her terrific young son.

So far, Monica Simons parenting commitment appears to be paying off in spades.

For more information, visit: or

(Photos courtesy of Matt Williamson/Matt Williamson Photography 2008. Used with permission. All rights reserved).

Food Allergies on the Rise in Children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 1 in 26 children had food allergies last year, up 18 percent from 1997. It's estimated that nearly 3 million U.S. kids now have such allergies, including double the number of children with peanut allergies.

With Halloween and other big-treat holidays rapidly approaching, not to mention all the current buzz about the possible role food allergies may play in a diagnosis like autism or ADHD, now is the perfect time to educate yourself about this important subject. Remember, some food allergies are life threatening.

For more information, visit: 
-Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: foodallergy.orgNote: Good free info on site, but membership fee for additional information.

Source: Associated Press/ 'Food Allergies on Rise in U.S. Kids' by Mike Stobbe/Oct. 23, 2008 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Did You KNOW? -More Women Need to Rock the Vote

According to The White House Project (LOVE them!): 'In the 2004 elections 70 percent of Asian-American, 69 percent of Latina and 40 percent of African-American registered women voters failed to vote.'

I'm stunned and a bit disturbed by that information, especially since the WHP also reports that the 2000 presidential election was decided by less than 600 votes! Can you imagine how we could change the world if every woman who was eligible to vote went to the polls? 

Please don't give away your power or silence your valuable voice or gamble away your children's futures any longer. VOTE intelligently on November 4th!  

It's your future we're deciding.

To further empower yourself, visit:
(WHP Logo used with permission.  Photo of the Michigan State Capitol Building by Judy Winter 2008.  All rights reserved).

More Granddoggies to Make You Smile!

During these testy times, I feel the urge to provide content that makes people smile (myself included). That said, here's another shot of my granddoggies Griff & Zelda being naughty (they are resting their weary little furry heads on my daughter's pillow!!!!), but oh, they are so cute.  I just had to share. Now, get down!!

('Pals' by Jenna Winter 2008. Used with permission. All rights reserved)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jon Thomas Robertson Honors Make a Difference Day 2008 with Support of the Extreme Makeover-Home Edition Team-Part Two

Are you ready for some good news? 

At the age of twelve, Jon Thomas Robertson (aka JT) has appeared on the April 2007 cover of USA Weekend as a 2006 Make a Difference Day (MAD) honoree, complete with a $10,000 Paul Newman MAD award, one of just ten gifts given each year.

Then, while appearing on Good Morning America, JT was surprised by his hero, Ty Pennington, plus Paige Hennis and Michael Moloney from Extreme Makeover-Home Edition, all there to help him realize a big 2008 dream. 

Finally, the preteen has managed to pull off a feat some believed nearly impossible- make the historic Arcade & Attica Railroad train station and arcade in New York wheelchair accessible while maintaining its historic essence and accreditation.

...and Jay Leno is still waiting for his call back.

Whew! That's pretty heady stuff for a twelve year old. JT may be a seventh grader, but he's got the spirit, determination, wisdom and heart of a seasoned sage. This determined young man reminds us what's possible when you act from your heart and believe you can do almost anything you set your mind to, anything. Having the Extreme Makeover team and his mom solidly in his corner hasn't hurt either.

It was the heartfelt letter and video his mom sent to the popular ABC program that finally took JT's life-long dream of taking peers on a train ride to a whole new level, capturing the attention and admiration of the nation and offering brief reprieve from recent tough economic news and unsettling election coverage. This enterprising young man knows all about living frugally, and he's no overnight success. JT's dreams have been years in the making and have survived more than one disappointing setback.

His involvement with the Stone's Buddies Program at Women's & Children's Hospital of Buffalo has helped inspire JT's work. Stone was a young boy who passed away from cancer at age four, but not before using his voice to help raise money to help other kids and teens facing life-threatening illness. After his death, Stone's parents expanded their son's dream and began a free, on-going support program in his honor. Thousands of kids have since benefited from Stone's Buddies, and its impact on JT's life and advocacy has been powerful and long lasting.

Jon Thomas Robertson was born in Florida. His mom returned to her childhood home town of Cuba, New York nine years ago after a tough divorce to raise her son in what she calls the most impoverished town in New York. Monica Simons admits they live simply, with no money for extras, including all those technological gizmos so many of kids today take for granted. She works part time, has no car and worries about how she'll be able to afford to send her son to college. It hasn't been easy for either of them.

Simons finds purpose in helping her only child become the best person he can be, minus all the trappings and with the invaluable support of extended family. Her son has found solace and true calling in his commitment to improving the lives of other kids, while understanding some of their pain. One thing JT has always been sure of is his love for trains, which began years ago with a gift from one of his grandpas. "My mom says I watched that train go around for hours and hours," Jon Thomas says. That fascination never wavered. As he got older, JT wanted his friends to experience a bit of train magic, too. "I thought it would be a cool way to share something I love with them," he explains.

That intense desire to share began when JT was a 4-year-old preschooler. He promised to take his classmates on a ride on the town's Attica and Arcade Railroad. "But I had to turn them down because my mom didn't have a job at the time and we couldn't afford the tickets," he recalls of the humbling lesson about keeping your word. JT refused to let his dream die. It just took a bit longer than he'd planned. With help from his mom, he had to figure out how to raise money. " I was saving pop cans to pay for a visit to see my relatives in Michigan and I thought why not use that money to take kids on the train. What kid doesn't want to ride a train?" he asks. JT was just seven. "When I had finally had saved enough, all my friends had moved away."

It was on national Make a Difference Day 2005 that JT finally realized his dream of sharing the train, but with a twist. Two school buses were already prepared to transport classmates. But just three weeks before the event, New York passed a law requiring seat belts on buses. The buses didn't have them and the trip was cancelled. Most would have given up the dream right then. But JT's not like most people. He and his mom took the money to the train station and bought tickets for twenty one children- total strangers. JT was running a 103 degree fever and too sick to ride with them. "But it was a good dose of medicine for me and made me feel a little better," he says of realizing a dream for others.

In 2006, JT and his 8-year-old friend, Joshua Tsujmoto (aka Josh), who JT's mom calls the "unsung hero" of this effort, raised enough pop-can money to provide tickets for 84 kids and 44 adults. In 2007, 422 kids and adults took rides. But when those using wheelchairs couldn't ride due to accessibility issues with the 100-year-old cars, JT was devastated. He got angry, and then he got busy expanding his mission. Jon Thomas raised his goals and set sites on MAD Day, October 25th, 2008, complete with realizing rides for for all. His mother had already sent a letter and video to Ty Pennington asking for help in making her son's dream come true.

Months later, Good Morning America had one big surprise for a small-town boy with a huge heart, an on-air interview that included a surprise meeting with Ty Pennington, Paige Hennis and Michael Moloney, key members of the Extreme Makeover-Home Edition team. They answered Monica Simons' call on behalf of her son to address train accessibility. "I was completely shocked, speechless and awestruck," JT recalls of the surprise meeting with Ty Pennington. "I thought it was a dream."

But it was real. Hennis and Moloney had just three days in their hectic schedules to repaint the station, hang new signs, and make two baggage cars handicapped accessible for sixteen wheelchairs. JT wasn't allowed to see any of the progress until the final reveal on September 26th, which he says won't be shown on television. When he saw the changes, Jon Thomas says he was overjoyed, especially when he realized that his good friend from Stone's Buddies, Ian Cameron, and others using wheelchairs, could take their first ride in the newly accessible Arcade & Attica Railroad baggage cars.

Ian is a cancer survivor and uses a wheelchair. JT met him on a photo shoot when Ian was ten months old. "He was throwing a tantrum," JT says, "but when Ian saw the train, he looked like a while different kid and calmed down." It's something JT has never forgotten, and it's fueled his quest for accessibility for other kids. Three years later, the two are best friends.

The power and meaning of Ian's first ride goes beyond words.

This Saturday, two of the three scheduled train rides on the Arcade & Attica Railroad will be full, while a generous donation from a California company is helping buy out a third scheduled ride. That's 984 kids and adults riders, including those using wheelchairs. "I'm pumped," JT admits. "I'm ready to ride all three trains, armed with candy bags and lots of grins. It's eye opening and heart opening," he adds. "We're raking in the smiles."

No doubt on October 26th, Jon Thomas will get busy realizing dreams for Make a Difference Day 2009. Next year's goal? East Coast to West Coast train rides. Asked to sum up all the attention his efforts have received, JT calls it eye opening. "It's shown me what the world is really like and all the different opportunities that I have to give back," the unselfish preteen adds. "It's made me want to be a better person."

Out of the mouths of babes...

Just don't forget to return Jay Leno's call, JT.

Now, it's your turn. Jon Thomas and I share a few simple ways you can make a difference in the lives of others on Oct. 25th and beyond. Do it honor of this remarkable young man. " Start anywhere you think is best," JT says. "A little effort goes a long way. Our project motto is 'you gain a lot with a little'," he adds. "A pop or soda can CAN make a difference." Can it ever!
  • Don't park in handicapped parking spots unless you have a valid permit. Respect someone's freedom to move about more easily in this world. It does matter.
  • Offer to rake or mow your neighbor's lawn, or shovel driveways, especially for seniors.
  • Send a card to a friend who's having a rough time or who recently experienced a loss.
  • Visit someone who is home bound and listen attentively to their life stories.
  • Practice forgiveness, especially with challenging family members during the holidays. Be the first to extend an olive branch.
  • Offer to babysit for parents of children with special needs so they can have some time off. 
  • Offer to cook a full dinner one night for a close neighbor or friend. Or do their laundry.
  • Volunteer for agencies like Meals on Wheels and help others counter deadly isolation.
  • Give what you can to your local food bank and help feed the hungry.
  • Share a smile, say please and thank you, and teach these simple manners to your children. In these tough times, civility is needed now more than ever.
  • Donate gently used clothing, coats, shoes and blankets to children and adults in need.
  • Do something good for someone else with no expectation of anything in return. Encourage them to pay it forward.
  • Send a written thank you and card to someone who's made a difference in your life.
  • Support the troops through established efforts or come up with one of your own.
  • When you make a new purchase, donate a similar item in good shape to a cause in need.
  • Teach your children to be charitable and to share. Let them donate their extra toys. Support their ideas for giving and assist them only where needed.
  • Give up the morning lattes for one week (or longer) and donate the money to charity.
  • Tell your children and your spouse what they do well. Put away technology and connect.
  • Barter services with others to save money. Donate that savings.
  • Adopt a family in need and help support them year round, not just during the holidays.
-To learn more about supporting JT's efforts, visit:
-To learn more about Stone's Buddies, visit:
-To learn more about National Make a Difference Day (MAD),
-To learn more about Extreme Makeover-Home Edition, visit:
-To learn more about Mattie Stepanek & Muscular Dystrophy, visit:

(Photos courtesy of Matt Williamson of Matt Williamson Photography 2008. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Photos from top left to right: Jon Thomas and friend Josh on reveal day, Sept. 26th, 2008/Michael Moloney showing JT the station changes/Crowd of kids yelling 'move that train!"/Paige Hennis and Michael Moloney on the job/Paige hanging new station signs/Michael greeting the crowd/JT's buddy, Ian Cameron, getting ready to board the train/JT riding in the conductor's car.

Be sure to come back to read part of my interview with Monica Simons, and check--and back next week for an update on JT and Saturday's Make a Difference Day Express train ride.

JT and Josh, you guys rock, and what a difference you make!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jon Thomas Robertson Honors Make a Difference Day 2008 with Support of the Extreme Makeover-Home Edition Team-Part One

After a wonderful, long weekend in Chicago with my lovely daughter, I'm now playing catch up, big time. More about that trip later in the week. 

Right now, I want to remind you that this Saturday, October 25th, is National 2008 Make a Difference Day, and I've got just the story to motivate you to get involved.

Before I left for Chitown, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Thomas Robertson, a terrific 12-year-old young man from Cuba, New York, who's making a big difference in the lives of those with special needs through his relentless pursuit of wheelchair accessibility on New York's historic Arcade & Attica Railroad. I first blogged about Jon's impressive efforts on October 1st (Real-Life Hero Alert!).

As a writer, I've been fortunate to interview countless individuals from all walks of life, including celebrities like Mattie Stepanek, the young poet and peacemaker with Muscular Dystrophy, who captured Oprah's heart (and millions of others) on live television, then went on to become a New York Times best-selling author before passing away in 2004, just weeks before his fourteenth birthday. 

Every so often, a really exceptional young person comes along and renews my hope for the world and reminds me why I love being a non-fiction writer able to share their stories. Mattie Stepanek was one such individual, and so is Jon Thomas Robertson.  

My interviews with Jon Thomas (aka 'JT') and his devoted mom, Monica Simons, were surprisingly similar to those I conducted with Mattie and Jenny Stepanek. Both young men were/are unselfishly committed to changing the world at a young age, while still managing to enjoy regular childhood activities and family, thanks in large part to the love and great parenting of their gutsy, single moms. Both kids prefer(red) to stay out of the spotlight, but embrace(d) it anyway to bring attention to their deserving causes.  Each face(d) big challenges in their own lives, and both are two of the nicest young men with whom I've ever had the pleasure to speak.

The next post is from my talk with JT about his 2008 Make a Difference Day Express train ride, an effort that first took root in early on with the simple gift of a model train and has since blossomed into impressive advocacy. This remarkable preteen reminds us that one person can indeed make a difference in the world.  I hope you take something of value from JT's humbling example and then ask yourself this question: What can I do this Saturday, and beyond to soothe a weary world sorely in need?  As JT explains, you don't have to do much to impact others in positive ways. Well said, JT. 

My interview with Monica Simons will follow in the next couple of days. We can learn from her insightful parenting example, too.

(Photos courtesy of  Matt Williamson/ Matt Williamson Photography 2008. Used with permission. All rights reserved).

All Aboard!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures-Day Seven

I have saved my best simple pleasure for last.

Day Seven is all about the time I spend enjoying the photography of my multi-talented daughter, Jenna. 

Parenting is the most challenging role anyone will ever take on, and few of us escape the journey mistake free. Add special needs to the equation and the challenges and rewards of that dicey walk become increasingly heightened. Special needs parenting is not for the fainthearted.

I believe strongly that no one faces the challenges presented these families with more love, loyalty, determination and spirit than do all those remarkable siblings. How they turn out as adults is, in large part, our fragile responsibility, one all parents should take seriously. I find the sibling voice so important that I included a entire chapter on addressing their needs in my book Breakthrough Parenting (click on book image on far left to order). Jenna made valuable contributions to the book, including the book's cover photo.

Our family faced the daily demands presented by our son with great love and determination and also provided him with exciting life opportunities. We worked hard to make sure we nurtured all Jenna's dreams, too, an effort that was easier to realize on some days than others. There were many rough moments, but we always took time to check in and make sure our firstborn was okay, and then kept our parenting fingers crossed tightly.

To see Jen become the beautiful, productive and talented young adult she is today, has offered us healing in more ways than one. It's helped validate our hard work and solid commitment to parenting both of our children well. It's made sleepless nights, frantic schedules, crazy juggling, many tears and yes, laughter, all the more worthwhile.

As a mother, being able to enjoy my daughter's amazing talent and life today has been incredibly rewarding, and such fun. I marvel at her many gifts, and I'm so proud to share just a bit of her talent with you. I hope it's an inspiration and example for your own life. This much I know. I'm still learning much from my daughter, and loving every single moment.

Be sure to spend time with all the kids in your family. They're all special.

(Photos copyright by Jenna Winter 2008. Used with permission. All rights reserved).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures-Day Six

What a gift it is to become totally mesmerized by the flame of a candle and think about absolutely nothing!

The world will still turn during our brief absence.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures-Day Five

Day five of simple pleasure is all about savoring a few pages from a good book.  I can't imagine my life without them. Can you?

Today's choice:  In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits, which suits my photojournalism self just fine. Free escapes at your local library.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations

Monday, October 13, 2008

Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures-Day Four

I am incredibly grateful for the spectacular fall images and blessings provided me by nature right outside my front door. Fall is my favorite season for many reasons.

Show admission is free.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations

Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures-Day Three

I love the near-daily visits from my neighborhood feline friend, Pirate.  

She grants me some of the joys of pet ownership without the 24/7 demands and serves as a healthy antidote to freelancer isolation.  Thanks, Pirate! Your well-deserved treat is waiting.

Wish I was that flexible...
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures-Day Two

Don't you just love burrowing your nose into clothing that has just been dried outdoors in the warm fall sun and breathing in deeply?

Ahhhh... life's simple pleasures, and eco friendly, too.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations

Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures-Day One

The world seems like it's spinning dangerously out of control these days, making it especially important that we breathe deeply and look for the grace and stability provided by the smallest blessings in our daily lives. 

That said, here is day one of my Seven Days of Life's Simple Pleasures.  (Feel free to join in this effort on your own blog).

Spending time with my granddoggies Zelda & Griff always puts my life into perspective. They make me laugh, play with silly toys, and take brisk, healthy walks. They're good for ails me, and they don't care about Sarah Palin.

What rocks your world?
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations

You Go Girl! The White House Project Featured in Nov. issue of O, the Oprah Magazine

I'm thrilled to report that the November 08 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine features The White House Project!  If you've been reading my blog, you know that I've taken part in two terrific WHP political training events in Michigan this past year (see posts from Sept. 10 & June 6th, 2008).

I love their mission statement:

"The White House Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that aims to advance women’s leadership in all communities and sectors—up to the U.S. presidency—by filling the leadership pipeline with a richly diverse, critical mass of women."

I was fortunate to meet some of the talented and energetic women who make up this tremendous effort, including its founder Marie Wilson. I came away from both of my experiences better trained for my work as a writer, speaker and activist on special needs issues. I will most likely take advantage of more such training with this great group in the future. It was worth every second of my valuable time.

Our nation needs sharp, talented, prepared women to be involved in leadership and critical decision making, including at the highest levels, more now than ever before. The White House Project is working hard to make sure that happens.

"Add Women. Change Everything."

For more on O, the Oprah Magazine, visit:
To learn more about WHP, visit:

Congratulations Marie Wilson and team for this well-deserved attention!

Women Rule! 

Now, vote intelligently on November 4th!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Stop Using the R-Word

Words DO hurt...Please take a moment to add your support to this important campaign.
Author. Speaker. Advocate: Special Needs Issues
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations

Picture This! Faces of Ability-Oct. 08: Presenting Andrew Mulholland & Cerebral Palsy

Presenting Andrew Mulholland, a 14-year-old budding chef with cerebral palsy, and his cool dog, Petey, a Portuguese Water Dog. 

I'll let Andrew's mom, Linda, tell you a bit more about her son and his culinary talent. (Photos & recipe below used with permission).

"Above is a photo of Andrew cooking his chili. Andrew loves to create his own
recipes and help me cook. He began by coming up with new kinds of simple
appetizers for my dinner parties, but quickly grew tired of me reading the
recipes to him. Andrew has a vision disability and most of his textbooks and leisure books are on cd. Andrew decided to become more independent in the kitchen and began creating his own recipes."

Today, with nearly 30 recipes on his plate, Andrew is now working on publication of a family cookbook. Congratulations, Andrew, and big kudos to you and your mom for focusing on your abilities!

Here's one of Andrew Mulholland's tasty recipes:

Cheesy Mexican Chili Topped Baked Potatoes

• 1lb. Extra Lean Ground Beef
• ½ pound Mexican Chorizo Sausage
• ½ pound Ground Turkey Breast
• 1 large onion. chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 package 2-Alarm Chili Kit
• ½ cup prepared enchilada sauce
• 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
• 1 15 oz. can of black beans
• 1-2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
• ½ cup chopped cilantro
• 4 large Idaho baking potatoes, scrubbed
• olive oil spray

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray potatoes with olive oil spray and salt. Poke each potato a few times on each side evenly with a fork. Place directly on the rack in the oven. Bake for 1 and ½ hours.

Brown ground beef, chorizo and ground turkey together in large pot. Add chopped onion and garlic to the meat as it is browning. Drain the fat from the meat after it is browned. Follow the directions on the 2- Alarm Chili Kit for the chili. Replace ½ cup of the water called for in the chili kit with ½ cup of prepared enchilada sauce. Add black beans last.

When potatoes are done, let cool for five minutes. Slice each potato in half length-wise. Top with chili, cheddar cheese and sprinkle with cilantro. Enjoy!

  • For more information on cerebral palsy, visit:
  • To stay updated on Andrew's cookbook, visit Linda Mulholland's blog:
  • To submit your child's photo for the monthly Picture This! email: with photo in the body of the email.
All this talk about food is making me hungry...
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations