Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Words of Wisdom from Lauren Potter-December 2011 & Lives Worth Living-Day 14

For the final monthly quote of 2011, I've chosen words from an actress who's had one terrific year. Lauren Potter has found fame on the popular FOX program, Glee. But it's what she's done since by adding her name to such important causes as ending bullying and use of the r-word, that makes her a special needs advocate to watch, and my choice for Lives Worth Living-Day 14.

The actress, who has Down syndrome, is making waves in all the ways that count. Responsible use of celebrity, and focused on ability.

According to news on Disability Scoop, actress Lauren Potter has also been tapped by President Obama to be part of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

I like Lauren Potter, a lot.

"I want to encourage kids to speak up, to tell their stories." -Lauren Potter

Image courtesy of IMDb

Judy Winter

Playing Photog- Big Winter Storm 2011

Media Alert! People Magazine-Jaime Foxx Celebrates His Sister with Down Syndrome

Did you know Jamie Foxx has a sister with Down syndrome? It's true. Her name is DeOndra Dixon and she's the 2011 Ambassador for the
Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

I love the fact that so many people today, including celebs, are talking about and celebrating special needs siblings instead of pretending they don't exist.

Shame be gone.

Read the People magazine article here.

Photo RicStar's Camp Judy Winter 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Compassionate Friends 2011 Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting

The Compassionate Friends Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting honors and remembers children who have died. This year's event will be held on Sunday, December 11th at 7 p.m. local time. Please share this post with those you believe could benefit from the healing act of remembering a child who has died. I love selecting a special candle for my son for this special evening of reflection.

For more information on this organization that supports bereaved parents, and about this beautiful holiday tradition born in 1997, click here.

As always, my candle remembering my son, Eric, will be burning brightly, too.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Worth Repeating- Best Buddies International

"Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization... that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)."

Find out how you can get involved in this terrific organization and mission, here.

True inclusion happens peer to peer.

Photo courtesy of Best Buddies.

Worth Repeating: 2011 Toys R Us Differently Abled Toy Guide w/Eva Longoria Cover

Find the post/links here.

Creating Holiday Magic for Kids with Special Needs 2011

Reminder: My tips for Creating Holiday Magic for Kids with Special Needs can be found here.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Lives Worth Living- Day 13-Johnnie Tuitel

Children's book author, motivational speaker, and loving dad, Johnnie Tuitel, lives life full out. Johnnie has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to travel from one adventure to the next. He's the popular annual emcee/mentor at RicStar's Camp, where all three of his terrific sons volunteer.

He's a funny dude, too.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Former American Idol Contestant James Durbin A Role Model for Kids Who Are Bullied

Former American Idol frontrunner, James Durbin, has become a role model for kids who are bullied. In the video link below, Durbin helps educate others by talking with Dr. Drew about living with Asperger and Tourette syndromes. He also surprises a young fan living with the challenges of Tourettes.

Responsible use of celebrity. I like James even more now.

Watch it here.

Focused on ability.

Photo Judy Winter 2011/Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade

Lives Worth Living- Day 12-Daniel J. Svoboda

My friend, Daniel J. Svoboda, is a very talented artist who happens to have autism. Check out his whimsical, creative drawings and holiday cards called Imagifriends here.

Photo Courtesy of DJ Svoboda

Monday, November 21, 2011


My goal this week is to spend less time on work and technology and more time with friends and family. That said, here's my Thanksgiving post a bit early. It's all about reflecting on my blessings from this past year. While I know that such a positive focus can sometimes be tough to celebrate when you're facing big challenges of special needs and tough life trials, I hope my words will move you to try.

This year, I'm thankful for my daughter and son in law and the fact that I was well in time for their beautiful wedding. I'm thankful for the friends and family who love them and us enough to have joined us for the magical September ride on Lake Michigan. I'm thankful that my creativity and passion for my special needs work/advocacy has returned in full measure and then some (sometimes bordering on manic). I'm thankful for my surgeon who helped ensure that these good things happened and for all the friends and family who saw me all the way through a long, challenging recovery. I'm thankful I can bless/forgive those who, for whatever reason, chose not to. I'm thankful that I still hate math and love fashion and have experienced a full recovery. I'm thankful my loud laughing fits have returned. I'm thankful my beloved dog, Jack, could play in drifts of crunchy fall leaves instead of snow on this morning's walk and that I still haven't had to put Trax on my shoes. I'm thankful that I live in a community that has relatively little crime and residents willing and able to pay the salaries of those who keep us safe and answer our cries for help.

I'm thankful that Jack and I get to volunteer our time to work with kids and just maybe, make a difference in their lives. I'm thankful for their blessings and hugs and deeply moved each time I see their hands stroking his fur and the smiles on their faces and their joyous cries of "Jack's here!" when they see us coming down the hallways. I'm thankful for all the amazing people who've come into my life this year and shared their talents with me as I worked really hard to reclaim my life and creative self and figure out my future, including one terrific photography teacher. I'm thankful to my local newspaper for all the photo publishing opportunities they've given me this year, including two covers, and to media nationwide that stills see the value in spreading my timeless story. I'm thankful my desire to write has returned.

I'm thankful I chose to focus on possibilities, not limitations or self pity, even when it was tough. I'm thankful for women like Summer and Aura who feed my passion for fashion/design locally so I don't have to travel so far to indulge in creative fixes. I'm thankful for Summer's beautiful smiling face and her amazingly generous ways and the beautiful Pashminas that kept me looking/feeling good in the hospital and after. I'm thankful for enough food to eat and abundant choices, knowing not everyone is as fortunate. I'm thankful my husband and I agree on how important and necessary it is to share our many riches with others in need as often as possible and how good we feel when we do so. I'm thankful we've survived 35 years of marriage and the death of a child and still want to take road trips together. I'm thankful he was my rock during recovery. I'm thankful that when I look into my closet and see how overstuffed it is, I know I need to share with others less fortunate.

I'm thankful I have a solid sense of right and wrong and choose not to compromise my morals or ethics for greed or self gratification. I'm thankful that my age and tough life experiences over the years have helped me keep my professional success in healthy perspective. I'm thankful for my voice and communication gifts and my willingness to use that voice when others choose to remain silent. I'm thankful for those who support my work and me, and bless those who choose not to, for whatever reason, knowing there is a lesson in that, too.

I'm thankful for each day's encounters knowing everyone has a story to tell and a lesson to share if we only stop talking and listen. Did I say I'm thankful for the wedding and our wonderful new son in law? I'm thankful for Facebook and blogs and the ways in which they allow us to connect with others and reconnect with those with whom we might otherwise lose touch. I'm thankful for Jack, my own personal therapy dog/protector and the way he cuddles in the morning.

I'm incredibly thankful that RicStar's Camp, the wonderful music haven we created to honor our son's life and legacy nearly ten summers ago, is still changing lives. I'm thankful I don't have to cook dinner on Thursday. I'm thankful you took time to read these words. I'm so, so thankful, I could burst. Hope you are, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, and out.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lives Worth Living- Day 11-Michelle/RicStar's Camper

Michelle composes beautiful music.

Kudos Diane Sawyer/ABC for that Remarkable Gabby Giffords/Mark Kelly Interview

Did anyone else watch the remarkable Gabby Giffords/Mark Kelly interview with the ageless Diane Sawyer on ABC last night? Talk about determination, teamwork and a true commitment to marriage vows. If you didn't see the piece, do yourself a favor and take the time. It will inspire you, touch your heart and make you reassess your own life challenges and goals.

I hope that Gabby Giffords continues to make great gains in her recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I think she and her terrific spouse, Mark Kelly (and I do mean terrific), would make a great future First Couple.

I was also thrilled to see the role played by music therapy in Gabby Giffords' recovery recognized. We witness the magic of that remarkable, life-changing profession at RicStar's Camp each year. I'm a big believer in the power of music therapy to change the lives of those with special needs.

All in all, viewing time well spent.

Watch the episode here.

Order their book, A Story of Courage and Hope, here.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Proud to be a Spartan

Okay, the Michigan State University Spartans didn't win the first-ever Carrier Classic against the North Carolina Tar Heels last Friday night. But as a Spartan fan, could you have felt any prouder being Green than while seeing Coach Izzo right in the center frame with the President and Mrs. Obama standing in front of him, and then hearing the Pres. call both Izzo and our team one of the best in the country?

And how about seeing that great Spartan Magic Johnson right in the thick of it (and giving $1 million to MSU!!!), or knowing that Spartan leader Mark Hollis started it all in motion? And what about seeing the troops and all the terrific program production that captured the reason for the evening so dramatically, and then watching our team give their jerseys to the troops at the evening's end?

What a wonderful night to be a Spartan, and a much-needed example for a weary world. Class Act.

Sometimes, it's easy being Green.

Photos Judy Winter 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lives Worth Living- Day 10

Lashawna raises her voice in song, and RicStar's Camp gives her that well-deserved opportunity.

The Marmalade Gypsy & Lessons from a Chronic Disease

Jeanie Croope and I have been best buddies for nearly three decades. My friend, who's more like a sister, is incredibly smart, funny, caring, generous and talented.

Jeanie also has a chronic disease that proves challenging to her on a daily basis, and to those around her, including those who love her most. She's just posted some honest, emotional words about her medical challenges on her popular blog the The Marmalade Gypsy in the hope it will help others better understand chronic illness and those who live with it daily. I'm sharing the link here because I believe her words can also help families with special needs, challenged 24/7 by a variety of tough moments.

Read Lessons from a Chronic Disease here, and then consider passing it on to those you believe could benefit.

Thanks, Jeanie, for starting an important conversation.

I've got your back.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Media Alert! -NY TImes & Bound by Love and Disability

A beautiful love story about a couple first brought together by disability.

Read Bound by Love and Disability, and Keeping a Vow Until the End,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Breakthrough Parenting Sales Hopping on

I love it when my book, and other parenting books, are best sellers in Home Repair on I never quite understand it, but I'll take it and thank the publishing gods.

Judy Winter

Therapy Dog Jack Makes Lots of New Friends

Jack now has 400+ new school buddies, and they have a new best friend and claim to their own school dog. The therapy dog magic has already begun.

Who said education can't be fun.

Amazing animals.

Photo of TDI dog, Jack, by Judy Winter 2011

Worth Repeating-Join the Anti Bullying Campaign

A few years back, I wrote a major feature on bullying for the Lansing State Journal before it became a hot topic. What amazed me then, maybe even more than the courage of the students who spoke out honestly for the article, were the adults who said to me after reading the piece, 'these kids need to get a thicker skin.' I've never forgotten that.

Today, bullying is still a subject dear to my heart, in large part because kids with special needs are at increased risk for such unwelcome comments and actions because of their differences. We can and must change this mean-spirited, ugly and deadly culture. It takes all of our voices to impact the needed change. No child should be subjected to such treatment in our school hallways, online or at home.

Please, take a moment and add your voice here and helps change a child's life. Talk to your children and let them know in no uncertain terms that bullying is not okay. Peer behavior and leadership is huge part of the solution to this problem, but adults must set the example.

I repeat what I wrote in an earlier post today. Silence changes nothing.

Let's get loud.

Courtesy logo

Winter Ramblings Blog a Favorite of CVS Caremark- All Kids Can

Thanks for including me as one of your favorite special needs blogs, CVS Caremark! That's in addition to already including me as one of your expert voices for the CVS Caremark All Kids Can initiative on Facebook, part of a five-year, $25 million commitment to making life easier for children with disabilities. Kudos to CVS for their strong commitment to this often underserved population and for their invaluable mission of "creating opportunities for children of all abilities."

You like me, and I like what you're doing, too.

You can find my Tips for Professionals Working with Special Needs Families, here.

Keep checking back. More CVS posts to come.

Lives Worth Living- Day 9

Good News! -The X Factor's Rachel Crow's Got My Vote

I'm a sucker for any story about a child overcoming the odds, especially when they are huge with talent and personality like Rachel Crow. The adorable, and she is adorable, 13-year-old X Factor contestant reportedly had a tough start to life, including as a crack baby. Fortunately, Rachel was adopted out of a bad situation into a better life while still an infant. The young teen is a little spitfire, in a really good way. I love her.

She's got my vote.

Read the story and watch Rachel in action here.

Photo Jenna Winter 2011

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Dr. Weil Talks His Own Depression on Dr. Oz Show

This is worth sharing. For those of you challenged by depression, or those who care about someone who is, this is for you. Dr. Andrew Weil was on the Dr. Oz Show today speaking for the first time about his own life-long challenges with depression. Weil shared a 4-Week Happiness Plan that included what many people can do with diet, supplements, and nature's antidepressants to improve their mood (for mild to moderate depression), sometimes dramatically. The information is part of his new book Spontaneous Happiness.

Weil cites that the numbers of people with depression and on medication, including children, are staggering and continue to grow. Yet, as a society, we often aren't comfortable talking about mental health issues in part, because of shame and misinformation. That's why I'm sharing this post with you today.

Here's hoping Dr. Weil's discussion helps create greater awareness of this important subject that impacts so many people. Kudos to Dr. Weil and Dr. Oz for putting the discussion center stage, where it belongs.

That will help change lives.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Book Review -Come to the Edge by Christina Haag

Most of us have read books that leave us wanting more when we've turned the last page. 'Come to the Edge' by Christina Haag is such a book. Throughout its pages, the actress skillfully chronicles her life, which includes a passionate five-year love affair with John F. Kennedy, Jr., and a diagnosis of breast cancer at age forty four.

I agree with some reviewers that have taken the author to task for jumping around a bit too much, making it challenging at times to follow the storyline. But the writing is stellar and Haag offers the curious a fascinating, always respectful glimpse into the Kennedy's privileged world without turning tabloid. She captures 'John John's' unending, contagious and sometimes dangerous zest for life, and the excruciating pain of her own great loss. The result is a beautiful, haunting and tragic love story, and a great read.

One only the author could tell.

Creating Holiday Magic for Kids with Special Needs 2011

Since all those festive commercials seem to be in full force already, I've decided to post my annual holiday tips early, too. My hope is that the tips that are part of Creating Holiday Magic for Kids with Special Needs help make your celebrations a bit more joyful, no matter what traditions you honor. Feel free to share these tips, but please credit All rights reserved.

Creating Holiday Magic for Kids with Special Needs 2011:

-Interact with family members with special needs, and encourage others to do the same. If the child uses a wheelchair, kneel to eye level and address the child directly. Allow other kids in the family to buddy up and assist the child with special needs in hanging ornaments, frosting cookies, setting the table, or passing out presents. Help that child participate whenever possible, while teaching other kids in the family valuable, lasting life lessons.

-Practice forgiveness whenever possible. Most family members don’t intentionally set out to exclude children with special needs. They often require education, support and positive examples to bring them up to speed. By focusing on creative solutions, families can help realize holiday magic for kids with special needs, too— and that’s in keeping with the spirit of the season.

-Buy age/skill-level appropriate gifts for the child with special needs. Regardless of how well intentioned, inappropriate gift selection for children with special needs hurts. When in doubt, ask parents for gift ideas, or obtain a copy of the child’s holiday wish list. Reserve baby toys (and baby talk) for babies! Key Note: Toys 'r Us offers an annual Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, 'a toy selection guide 'for parents and friends of children with disabilities,’ to ensure the holiday toy wishes of kids with special needs come true, too. The 2011 guide with Eva Longoria on the cover can be downloaded here: Toys R Us.

-Communicate! Don't assume others can read your mind. They can't. Instead, arrange family meetings to discuss your child’s needs and how to best address them. Provide needed training and brainstorm ways to include the child with special needs in family activities. For example, if a he/she uses a wheelchair, address accessibility issues and plan activities in locations that don’t involve stairs. Speak up now to help prevent bigger misunderstandings and hurt feelings later on. Family members, you can reach out and initiate problem solving, too. Our children are always worth our best efforts, and your support to these families is priceless.

-Redefine your expectations. Throw all those visions of a perfect Hallmark family holiday right out the garland-draped window! Instead, ask what memories you want to create for all of your children. Having a child with special needs does not mean you must forgo memorable and fun holiday moments and traditions. Think creatively! It's worth the effort.

-Inclusion is the name of the game! Kids with special needs are children first, with big dreams and long holiday wish lists, just like other kids. Whenever possible, include the child in holiday festivities and activities like tree trimming, baking cookies, shopping for gifts, and attending church services (use the cry room if needed). Include that child in family holiday photos and videos, too.

-Address food allergies and noise/touch sensitivities and make allowances for them. The seasonal bounty this time of year can result in overload for many children, especially those with sensory, auditory and food issues. Kids with food allergies may not be able to eat all the traditional goodies most of us eagerly gobble up. Discuss alternative choices and inform family members about any life-threatening food allergies so they don’t offer the offending food to the child.

Wishing you the happiest of Holidays!

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Lives Worth Living- Day 8

The always enthusiastic Jenna, with RicStar's Camp volunteer, Emily.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Vote for J.R. Martinez on Dancing with the Stars!

From my friend, Gail Williamson of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles (DSALA) and Heart and Halo Talent:

"I attended the Tri Union (SAG, AFTRA, Equity) Diversity Awards last night at the Nate Holden Theatre. J.R. Martinez was one of the honorees. A lovely man who came right over to accept his award after getting a perfect score for his dance on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. J.R. has the stuff, but not the fan base to vote for him like some of the better known dancers who aren't as good. It's time for those of us who support diversity in the media to step up and help a guy out. Next Monday night, vote on every phone you have for him. Tell your friends to vote for him."

My words: I don't believe you should vote in diversity in a contest or life where it is not earned or deserved. But in this case, not only is J.R. Martinez an amazing, spirited and gifted man and a great example of ability to others, but I think he's the best dancer, too. And wasn't that the initial premise of this show anyway?????

Read J.R.'s inspiring story here.

Then please, vote.

Courtesy photo.

Jack's New Therapy Dog Gig

Today is Jack's first day of elementary school as a Therapy Dog. I know this former shelter dog is going to generate lots of smiles and giggles in the classrooms and hallways, and petting is absolutely guaranteed.

Hopefully, this gentle and charming canine will have positive impact on student behavior, self esteem and their reading, writing and arithmetic. No doubt, at least one student will ask 'what happened to his tail?' (It's the breed). Lucky me, I get to go with him and join in all the magic.

Who said school isn't fun? Wish us luck!

You, too, can change someone's life by volunteering. There's no shortage of need.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

Media Alert! -Pres. Obama Names Lauren Potter of Glee to President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities

According to news on Disability Scoop, actress Lauren Potter has been tapped by President Obama to be part of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Potter, 21, is one of the stars of the hit FOX program Glee. She has also added her voice to the campaign to end use of the word retarded in everyday language. The talented young actress and activist has Down syndrome.

Read the news here, and cheer along with me.

Focused on ability.

Image courtesy of IMDb

Lives Worth Living- Day 7

My good buddy, Dan Saur, and his terrific family, Chuck, Sue and Nick.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Street Art-Detroit's Eastern Market

After my last post, I feel the need to post something of beauty. I think this street art I discovered yesterday at Detroit's Eastern Market fits the bill nicely.

Media Alert -New York Times Addresses Questionable Deaths of Those with Disabilities in State Care

Some stories are very difficult to read and share, as is the case with today's New York Times piece about the questionable deaths of 1,200 individuals with disabilities in state care in New York. For those who have children of all ages with special needs, this is the kind of story that reinforces their worst parenting nightmares about the horrors of possible outside placement for their loved ones, even when a placement is needed and the groundwork must be done to find a good one. It's also another reason so many families are today taking part in building/running group homes their children live in.

Hard to read,? Absolutely. But at least, we are no longer hiding these atrocities. That will help create needed change, including how we train and pay those entrusted with the care of such individuals. We need to see this population as 'people first,' with value, not as the unnamed and easily dismissed disabled, as has been the case in this country, and the world for far too long.

My heart broke reading this story, both for families who are part of this tragedy, and because I know that for the grace of God, this could easily be any parent's story.

Shameful. We must do better.

Read In State Care, 1,200 Deaths and Few Answers, here.

Photo Judy Winter 2011

Judy Winter