24 May 2014 § 2 Comments

After Michigan’s miles       marked with graves
and Ohio’s highways       hindered by cones,
I landed some lodging       in a lakeside town.
I planned to unpack       and plop on the bed.
But I went to the window       to watch the traffic
and noticed — through noise       and nuisant wires —
sweet-light from the sun      setting over the lake.
Driven, I dashed       down to the lobby
where a man marked       a map to the beach
on Presque Isle (the piece       of peace where my son
waded and watched       the waves last year).
I revved along roads,     racing the sun.
I lost. But the last       liquid red
shone on the shingle.     The shore glowed.
The wave-rhythm washed       away the roar
of a day spent driving       and dodging pot-holes.
The sand massaged       the soles of my feet.
I paced. I took pictures.       My pulse    slowed.
No matter that I missed       the moment of setting.
The fade was fantastic:       a finish worth
extending my trek.     Two days to go —
impossible made possible       by peaceful Lake Erie.

©2014 JS Graustein
Erie, Pennsylvania USA

an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie

an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie


15 May 2014 § Leave a comment

I left home on a journey today: a road trip to visit family in Michigan. I expected my usual travel-adrenaline, the thrill of away. Instead I found dread at crossing the bridge that spans the Connecticut River and signifies the end of New Hampshire. To distract myself, I listened to the journey of Simon Armitage on the car stereo, the narrator’s voice like thunder through the mist on the Pennine Way. Similarly in Vermont, I wound along hairpin curves in cloud so thick I could barely see the hood of my car. Armitage dodged bulls in the fields he crossed; I dodged a family of Canada Geese [a mated pair plus five yellow-green goslings] as they attempted to cross I-90. And like Armitage, I lost my way. But only once. And only because I trusted (rather than overruled) technology. I’m halfway there; tomorrow the reunion begins, and hopefully with it joy. But for now, for tonight, I’ll sleep covered by the same bank of grey that reaches across New York, across Vermont, and blankets my Meredith meadow.

subaru crawls through cloud,
lines and signs all but invisible—
scenic overlook

©2014 JS Graustein
Rochester, New York USA

leaving home under a cloud

leaving home under a cloud

Bare Essentials

24 March 2011 § Leave a comment

Dallas 2011 preparations

I’m leaving for a solo trip to Dallas in an hour. Heading for my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, which is amazing in itself. Equally amazing is that I’m not taking my computer.

(If you know me, then you’re looking out the window now to see if pigs are flying.)

After making the decision NOT to pay $50 round trip for a checked bag, I started thinking minimal. And sure, I could bring my carry on plus a computer bag. But I started asking whether or not I NEEDED to. The answer? Not really.

This way I’ll be sure to actually visit rather than work. And if I feel the urge to work, I can read the stack of submissions that are languishing in my Nook. This is a good thing. My eyes will get a rest from computer screens. My submitters will finally be put out of their misery. And I’ll be able to get by with one small bag that will fit under my seat.

Of course this means my e-mail will pile up while I’m gone. Ah, sacrifices.

How We Get There

7 January 2011 § 4 Comments

Spectrum Travel II

travel = off-kilter

A friend recently asked me for any travel tips I had on traveling with a child on the autism spectrum. Responding to that is tricky—the only constant about ASD is that nothing is constant. Every kiddo is different. But here’s what gets us from A to B and back again:

  1. Accept how much the child will be asked to bend. Bend in equal measure.
  2. Travel in a mode the child can manage. If waiting in line for more than 15 minutes is a problem, drive. If sitting still for more than 30 minutes is a problem, take the  train. With modern security protocols, there are very few accommodations to be had at airports. Fly only if the child is nearing the skill set required.
  3. Electronics, electronics, electronics. Charge ’em up. Plug ’em in. Better to deal with tantrums at the destination rather than in the air, on the road, or along the tracks.
  4. Fidget items, both favorites and new, help when electronics can’t be used. Save for moments that call for happy surprise and distraction.
  5. Pack snacks. Loads of ’em. Especially chewy ones for air travel.
  6. Communicate every little step of the way. Checklists or visual schedules facilitate understanding during stress. Use them during fun outings prior to the trip so they are associated with “happy.”
  7. Medic alert tags (necklace, bracelet, shoe tag, or whatever will stay on) serve three purposes: to reunite the family if the child wanders, to alert security that there may be a reason for disruptive behaviors, and to give parental peace of mind that there is a safety net in both scenarios.
  8. Plan some parental pampering the night before and the day after travel. Then take a deep breath and survive the ride.
  9. Plan, try, do. Then ignore any looks and comments.
  10. Remember: all of us learn by doing. Without doing and failing a little, we’ll never get enough practice to do and succeed. Just do it.

We have traveled cross-country, one way or another, each year since our son was diagnosed. Recent highlights are available on this blog.


Guildford & Home

17 April 2007 § Leave a comment

OK, so I went through 2 days of jet lag and 8 days of denial that I’m in America. I still have to finish the story – don’t I?

Easter Sunday we meant to go Greyfriars Church… but I misplaced the service details and we were uncertain about Ian’s ability to meld into a strange Sunday School. So we read the Easter story in Ian’s comic book Bible in our pajamas before going down to breakfast at the hotel.

After spending our last hour in Quark’s Internet Cafe, we hopped on the train to Guildford. None of us, Megan included, were up to London after our experience at the Tower the day before. All we wanted was a quiet place to walk and look a High Street and some castle ruins. We were not disappointed.

The Guildford train platform was a bit of a puzzle. Unlike every other platform we’ve ever been on, there was no “Way Out” sign. There were signs to other platforms and the university, but in our confusion we tried going down a tunnel only to turn around and go up some stairs – eventually finding the way out. The streets of Guildford were much less confusing. Just outside the station, a giant map of the city let us know where the castle and High Street were. There were plenty of brown directional signs to help us at each intersection as well.

We ate our Easter meal at Yates’s (also spelled Y8’s)…after waiting a half hour for the “chef” to return from his break. We had the entire place to ourselves. Kurt and Megan split a burger, I had the “Sunday Roast” special complete with mini-Yorkshire puddings (they were out of steak & ale pie), and Ian had his cheesy garlic bread. The whole thing was a bit surreal: it’s Easter, we’re sitting in a bar with our kids, smelling stale cigarette smoke, hearing our favorite Brit bands on the muzak, and watching a muted version of “Keeping Up Appearances” on the big screen TV. (We later saw much more appetizing options on our explorations through town, but hunger overrode patience.)

We found the castle ruins smack in the middle of the prettiest garden we’d seen this trip. The tulips and daffodils were HUGE, the grass was GREEN, the sky was BLUE, and the stone paths were so TIDY. Best of all there were NO LINES. The castle was inexpensive and newly restored. They had some interesting displays on the ground floor with plenty of signage on the other floors. Best of all, I could enjoy being on top of the keep (don’t laugh, Sid). There’s always such an anxious mystery to what awaits you at the top of spiral castle stairs. But this time, the whole viewing platform was enclosed in an iron cage that not even my wiggly son could squirm out of. I actually enjoyed the view, took more pictures than usual, and allowed my children and husband more than 5 milimeters away from me!

We walked through a closed shopping district. All the great British and American shops were represented – must be quite an experience during business hours. Ian needed a loo, so we followed the signs and found a clean and serviceable one not connected with any shop. We saw the Guildhall with it’s ancient clock, a statue of George Abbott (one of the Archbishops of Canterbury), and another Quark’s Internet Cafe tucked into a side alley. The historic “hospital” had it’s gate and door open with a sign that read “If the door is open, come in.” We did. Just inside the courtyard was a sign that told us to stop there and just look. Apparently it is now a retirement community. We obeyed the sign, and were then rewarded by one of the staff who took us beyond the sign into another garden at the back. We got to see a huge copper pot that the historical occupants used to wash their clothes and cook festival meals in – now a planter since the bottom rusted through. We also saw the Hershey’s-kiss-shaped niches in the garden wall which used to house bee bowls. As he led us back out with a “please use the path through the center” (not the one that traces the courtyard near the buildings), our gregarious host quickly changed moods. New visitors had not respected the boundaries and were greeted with an icy-yet-formal “Actually visitors are not allowed past this sign unless you are invited to a tour, and I must go. I don’t have time.” Ooooo, glad we obeyed the sign.

We got ice cream from the van parked outside the train station and waited for a non-Virgin train to take us back to Reading. The kids used their own pence to buy sweets at the station shop. (Megan discovered Cadbury Cream Eggs for the first time.) The kids had their last swim and I watched my last proper BBC while packing.

Our trip home was unremarkable, except for a Bank Holiday snag. We arrived at Paddington Station expecting to take the Heathrow Express to the airport. Unfortunately, it was Easter Monday – a holiday that the US does not observe. The Heathrow Express does not run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. A very kind attendant wearing a black jacket over his Heathrow Express purple suit told us our options were: 1. the Tube (been there, done that, no way with kids), 2. the Heathrow Connect which is a train to Hayes and then a bus (20 minutes before the train would arrive & when would we see the bus?), and 3. a cab (which he said would be hard to find since everyone will want them). We walked to the Connect platform and quickly decided we didn’t want to wait. We walked to the taxi stand which was deserted of passangers and chock full of black-cabs (it’s the shape, not the color). The head cab’s driver estimated ₤55 to Heathrow. A quick talley of the pockets and purse yeilded ₤65 – so in we went.

The ride went smoothly, except for Ian’s obsessive reading of the meter. I’ve never been on the M4 before, though I’ve heard it on traffic reports from BBC radio streamed over the internet. There was NO traffic, so we got to Heathrow for a mere ₤49.80 plus tip. We breezed through check-in, thanks to our online boarding passes printed at Quark’s. Security was a piece of cake as well. The kids enjoyed shopping in the international terminal while we waited to board. Our flight was smoother than the trip over – only turbulence over Greenland. We saw an agriculture-sniffing hound catch a woman with an apple in her handbag at the baggage claim (quite exciting, actually). My mom was there to take us home in our car with home-baked pretzels as a bonus.

All in all, I know Kurt is glad to be home. Ian wants to go back to England so he can swim. Megan wants to live in England. And I think I’m STILL in denial that I’m even home.


Quote of the Day:

Ian, to the driver of the ice cream van as we threw our rubbish in his bin, “That was the best 50 pence I’ve ever spent. That ice cream cone was the best one in the universe!”

Megan, after resisting pictures the whole trip, “Ooh, take my picture next to these flowers. No wait, take my picture while I smell the flowers.”

London x 2

8 April 2007 § Leave a comment

We are officially done with London now – except for the flight home on Monday. Ian is definitely glad. He’s tired of hearing the announcers at some of the Tube stations saying “Mind the gap.” At one point, the kids turned it into a joke using the GAP sweatshirt Megan was wearing. We stopped at stations and the kids would say “Mind the…” and point to Megan’s sweatshirt. I guess you had to be there.

Lot’s of rail repairs were taking place this weekend, but we lucked out and got the express into & out of London instead of a local that had to be redirected on the bus. We also needed the Tube lines that were NOT being worked on. Ian has a special fondness for the sound of the Picadilly line. Every time we stopped at a station that connected to it, he would say it over and over for at least a minute.

We made it through the ticket line for the Tower of London. Ian was a real trooper, and the line only got bigger behind us so it put our short wait into perspective. Many portions were under construction, unlike when Kurt and I had gone two years ago. They also “enhanced” the Medieval Palace display, but Kurt and I liked it better the old way. They took out a beautiful metal chandelier in the room with Henry III’s chapel and replaced it with a video projector showing not-quite-relevant historical information. It completely took away from the intimate, sanctuary-like feel that used to be in the room. Some of the other walls have had their ancient stone white washed (except for the tiles that bear 500 year old inscriptions from prisoners). It completely messes with the awesome feeling of antiquity that should be felt in a place that’s nearly 1000 years old.

Kurt and Megan braved the “queue” for the crown jewels while Ian and I did the wall walk. We thought the wait was bad…that is until we looked at the wait after a Richard III re-enactment on the green. The line went from the door of the tower, all along the side, turned 90 degrees, went all the way down by the armory/cafe, turned 180 degrees around a central cannon display, and up the length of the green to the sidewalk that enters the White Tower. Unreal!

Navigating the White Tower was an experience as well. They have rerouted the traffic to see the armor & prisoner inscriptions first, then the Norman chapel and the rest of the tower. You couldn’t move on the “ground floor”, there were so many people. Upstairs it smoothed out a bit until the Guy Fawkes display. Megan wanted to watch the videos, but Ian had had it and it would have taken more than 30 minutes.

We all talked to an employee dressed like Robin Hood (though that wasn’t who he was portraying). Ian told him all about Henry VIII while Kurt and I made some history-related-dry-humor jokes. The man asked where Ian lived, then turned to us and said, “But you’re not from America, are you?” When we said yes we were, he gave me the biggest compliment in the world: “Oh, I just – you’re more well-spoken than most of the Americans that I meet.” Quite funny and well appreciated:-)

After the Tower, we walked across Tower Bridge. We followed the Queen’s Silver Jubilee walk markers along Southwark, saw the Globe Theatre recreation & London Bridge, and then crossed the Millenium Bridge (Ian nearly went through the wires trying to see when I stopped to take a picture – serves me right!) We took a look at St. Paul’s then found the neares Tube station. Megan liked retracing “Daphne’s” steps from the movie “What a Girl Wants.”

We arrived back to Reading just when all the disappointed fans were returning home from the home match against Liverpool. I had to sniffle because we tried for a very long time to get tickets to that match. They lost, so I guess it’s just as well. This was, however, Kurt’s first trip to the UK without a soccer/football match. We finished the evening with Pizza Express, a swim in the pool, and Victoria Sponge Cake from Sainsbury’s. A great way to wind down from all the urban stress:-)

As we have to leave early tomorrow and the internet cafe closes early for Easter, this will be our last post from this side of the pond. I’ll try to fill in the last of the blanks on Tuesday from the comfort of my own chair. Thanks for sticking with us and sending us your well wishes. We miss you all and hope to be seeing you (even our far away friends) very soon.


Quote of the Day:

Ian, after noticing some stations were handicapped accessible and some weren’t: “Is there such a thing as a cat wheelchair? How about a disabled litter box?”

Megan, once the Tower of London came into view & responding to my “Look, there it is!”: “Mmmmm, the ice cream?”
(There was an ice cream van parked next to us on the sidewalk.)

Portchester Picnic

6 April 2007 § 3 Comments

We had no idea (none of Kurt’s friends told us/knew) that Reading was such a party town. Since today – Good Friday – is a national holiday, everyone was treating last night as a Friday night. We tried to eat a late dinner at a pub restaurant we dined at on Sunday, but were turned away by a walkie-talkie loaded security guard who told us kids are only allowed in before 6:00 (18:00). So we walked past clubs, pubs, and fast-food joints from 20:00 to 20:20 until we ran across Chili’s. URGH. But we ate and went to bed and Ian got his pizza (he was getting really angry that we weren’t taking him to the nearby Pizza Hut).

Today another of Kurt’s work mates picked us up at the train station roundabout and whisked us off to meet his family. We split between two vehicles and drove through motorways of all descriptions to Portchester Castle. It’s right on the water near Portsmouth and one of the naval fleets. It’s distinguished history includes Roman occupation, Richard II, and even service as a prison camp during the Napoleonic wars. It also has the distinction of being off the beaten track and very relaxing (except for the locked loos).

We loaded up on audio guides and toured. Ian and Megan had 3 playmates – all girls ranging from 6.99 years to 1.75 years. Yes, the precision is important;-) These ruins were very nice because they still had a bit of the original carved arches & window frames. Upstairs in the keep you could even see a bit of wall mural that survived from the Middle Ages. We all braved the spiral stone steps – more precarious than Warwick Castle – and walked the edge of the entire square keep. I took a few pictures, then squatted down trying to quiet the tornado in my chest before walking back down. Megan, on the other hand, kept leaning up against the wall and hanging her arms over – probably the source of most of my fright.

We ate a lovely picnic lunch in the green surrounded by the outer walls. We heard a neighboring dad shout something to his ball-playing son that you would probably never hear in the States: “Mind that you don’t fall in the moat!” We ate lovely mini meat pies, picnic eggs (breaded meat shells that contain a bit of egg salad in the center), and carmelized-onion-balsamic-vinegar crisps. The English are SO adventurous with their crisp flavors (and they’re really good).

We tried to get Ian to walk around the path outside the castle walls, but he was only interested in GameBoy since he’d eaten a cheddar cheese sandwich against his will. So Ian and I walked through the walls one more time and sat by the car while Kurt, our friends, and all the girls skipped stones in the ocean off the path. Once reunited, we all got ice creams from the van parked in the parking lot. And then we noticed the best sight of the day: the loos had been unlocked!

After that relief we headed to our hosts’ home. The kids enjoyed sliding, building sand castles, and chattering away. We had a lovely tortilla supper out on the patio on newly-varnished IKEA furniture, topped off with our choice of strawberry-rhubarb (mmmmm) or blueberry pie.

All the children enjoyed each others’ company so much they didn’t want it to end. But end it had to – baths were needed all around. We adults hated to say goodbye as well, but we will cherish this memory always since it was a PERFECT day.


Quote of the Day:

Ian, handing one of his new friends a daisy he picked from the grass – “I’ve gone from like to love. Here’s a flower for you.”

Megan, while walking between the two older sisters & holding their hands – “I’m going to separate you two!”

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