“Wednesday Writer” – Jason Eric Mills

I’m kicking off my weekly “Wednesday Writer” series by interviewing not a published author, but a writer (perhaps) in embryo–my eighteen-year-old son.

Given that he was the inspiration behind A NIGHT ON MOON HILL, this won’t be like all my other author interviews (though I will ask him about his own writing at the end). Instead, I thought it would be interesting to get his take on the story he inspired. You see, he was about the age of Eric, the ten-year-old boy in my novel, when I had my first ideas for this tale. At the time, we were finally getting a handle on his Asperger’s in terms of helping him make friends at school. This interview was also my first opportunity to see what he thought about me being a writer.

Me:  Do you remember how old you were when you first became aware that I was writing on a regular basis? And what did you think of that?

Jason:  I’m sorry to say that I don’t exactly remember how old I was when I first became aware that you were writing on a regular basis. I do, however, vaguely remember you being on the computer all the time back in Riverside. (We used to live in Southern California.) But I think I truly became aware when we moved to Richland and you actually let us know that you were writing a novel. As for what I thought, I think I was like, “That sounds pretty cool. Maybe she got inspired by J. K. Rowling.”

(Not really. Don’t misunderstand. I love the Harry Potter series, but Barbara Kingsolver is more my style.) 

Me:  What was your first reaction when you learned I was writing a novel in which there would be a young boy with Asperger’s? Did it make you nervous at all? If so, why? If not, why not?

Jason:  To tell the truth, I was excited that you were writing a novel based on me. I thought it was only natural for you to write about that particular subject matter since you’ve done so much research on Asperger’s. The more I thought about it, I realized that it would be really important for you to write A NIGHT ON MOON HILL because it explains many things about AS, and I think tons of mothers with children who have AS will learn a lot from it. So, to answer your question, no, I wasn’t nervous in the least. (In fact, I was rather flattered!)

Me:  I offered to let you read the finished manuscript more than once but you always refused. Why did you want to wait for the actual physical copy of the book to arrive before reading it? What made you give in and read the Kindle version?

Jason:  I guess I wanted to wait for a physical book because I’m a freak like that. I just think it’s so much more satisfying to actually open a book, turn the pages, and be transported to another world. When you’re reading from an electronic device, I think it’s a little less satisfying because you can’t turn any pages, you don’t physically open anything, etc.

As for the second question, after Dad read it and practically raved about it, I thought to myself, “Well, if Dad really liked it, maybe I should just read it on Mom’s Kindle.” And boy, am I glad I did; otherwise, I wouldn’t have noticed that little mistake in Chapter 18. In fact, I’m surprised Dad didn’t catch it! (A mistake, by the way, which the publisher has thankfully rectified . . . so, unless you read a very early Kindle version, you will never see it!)

Jason finally getting his hands on a physical copy of the book

Me:  What did you think of Daphne, the main character, at first?

Jason:  I definitely noticed some similarities between me and her (e.g., love of swimming, neat freak, slight outdoors hater, etc.), and I also loved how brave she could become if someone she cared about was in danger. She’s practically the textbook definition of an “unlikely heroine.”

Me:  What was it like to read about Eric and the way he interacted with Daphne and others? Did it feel at all familiar or were there enough differences to set him apart from you?

Jason:  I fell in love with Eric the instant he was introduced. The conversations between him and Daphne were brilliant, and I could tell she was impressed with this boy who knew so much about angels and other things. I think there are some differences between us, like how he loves being outside while I don’t like being outside for too long. Some of his quirks felt very familiar (like how he prefers his food done “the right way” and his high soprano voice), and I thought you did a great job on his character. (Aw, thanks. Jason, by the way, had a lovely high soprano voice when he was Eric’s age…now he sings bass beautifully but has a wide range.)

Jason and I when he was about ten or eleven

Me:  Without giving anything away, what did you think of the book? What did you like most and what did you like least?

Jason:  I thought A NIGHT ON MOON HILL was very well-written and the characters were enjoyable, particularly Daphne’s agent, Judy (I thought she was the most hilarious character in the novel). I liked the whole conflict with Morgan and you did a really good job making him . . . (Okay, I don’t think I should include the rest of that sentence . . . spoiler.) I, of course, loved the relationship between Eric and Daphne, but I wish there were more descriptions of Eric’s activities with . . . (Sorry. I can’t print the rest of that sentence either. If you read the book, you’ll probably be able to guess what Jason was about to say.) But, on the whole, A NIGHT ON MOON HILL is, in my very honest opinion, your best novel yet.

(Now that I can print!)

Me:  Finally, I’m aware you’ve written a story or two . . . mainly of the fan fiction variety. Did reading my novel increase your desire to write fiction? If so, what would you like to write a story about next?

Jason:  It’s true I’ve written stories–a Lion King/Alice in Wonderland crossover fanfic, 2 “Gargoyles” fanfics, and a Wile E. Coyote fanfic–but writing an entirely original novel is pretty daunting. I don’t know that I ever could because all the good ideas seem to be taken. I am tempted to take one of my Language Arts assignments back in my freshman year in high school (about “Wicked”) and expand it. So if I do any writing in the near future, that’s probably what I’d focus on.

I’ll be certain to let you know if Jason follows through on that. In the meantime, if you’re interested, beginning next week I’m posting every other Friday about my son’s progress post-high school as he journeys toward independence.

And next week I’ll be featuring an interview with author GG Vandagriff with many of the usual and some not so usual questions.

Originally posted 2012-09-26 22:12:53.

Contest Author Interview – Danyelle Ferguson

(NOTE: If you haven’t yet heard about the contest I’m running through September 24th, go here to see the 50 different prizes and entry details and please think about entering. After all, there’s no limit on number of entries and there are many ways to enter. If you’ve already entered, remember that leaving a comment about this interview earns you yet another entry!)

Not only is Danyelle a talented writer, but she’s a brave organizer. Along with her husband, she founded a non-profit organization (more about that later) and is helping the LDStorymakers group better serve more of its members by taking the lead in instituting a second conference in a week and a half, located in the Midwest in a place called Olathe, Kansas (a place I’ve just finished reading about in one of my thrillers–Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood…as it turns out one of the two real-life killers in the book holed up in Olathe before they committed their crimes). But I’ll give my review of that story in a few weeks once my contest is over. Now, on with my interview!

Me:  Tell us about the first article you had published when you were in 6th grade. Do you still have a copy of it?

Danyelle:  I do have a copy of it! My mom saved it in a manila envelope along with other articles about me from the time I was young until I graduated high school.

I was lucky enough to have an incredible 6th grade teacher–Mrs. Seasholtz–who encouraged my love of reading. One book was about a boy named Charlie, the poor crime-filled neighborhood he grew up in, and his relationship with the city sheriff. Rather than write a book report, my teacher suggested I invite our city sheriff to visit our class. I met with the sheriff, then he came to talk to my class about our city, crime, and how we could help with crime prevention. Afterwards, Mrs. Seasholtz sat me down at her computer and had me write my very first newspaper article. She included a picture of me and the sheriff. It was the neatest thing ever to see my article appear in our city newspaper. It made an even bigger impression on me when lots of people started calling, stopped me at the store or in the school hallways to congratulate me and ask more questions about the book or presentation. It definitely hooked me into not only writing, but being brave enough to share what I wrote with others.

(Now that’s the kind of teacher we all want our kids to have, isn’t it?)

Me:  I see that you’ve written everything from poems to short stories, not to mention your nonfiction. Which form of creative writing do you enjoy the most and why? On the other hand, which is the most challenging?

Danyelle:  Short stories are definitely the most challenging. It’s hard to fit in a beginning, middle, and end, as well as character development, in a small limited amount of words! I admire writers who specialize in short stories.

My poetry is very special to me. I only write poems when I’m dealing with really emotional situations. I started writing them when my mom was first diagnosed with cancer then continued through two more diagnoses. When she passed away just after my high school graduation, I wrote one final poem for her and tucked it into her casket. I’m honestly not the best poet – not even a really good one – but it’s the creative expression that fills my mind when life is swirling around me.

Me:  As my book includes a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome, I’m particularly interested in hearing about your oldest son who is autistic. Could you share briefly the journey you and your husband had in discovering and coming to terms with his autism?

Danyelle:  Oh wow. I don’t know how to briefly describe that. =) Actually, we thought our son just had speech delay. Looking back now, we had a rather typical experience. From birth, our son always tested early in all of his childhood developments. He started walking and talking at seven months old. He laughed, played with our friends’ kids. All the normal things you expect from a baby. Then somewhere between 12-18 months, he gradually stopped talking. We talked to our doctor about it, but he said that just happened sometimes and to wait until he was two years old. We took him back when he turned two – at which time he didn’t speak at all. The doctor said to wait another six months and we said no way. So he referred us to the local early intervention center. The center sent out someone to evaluate our son for speech delay. A few days later, they called to ask if they could come back for another visit with one of their specialists. This time after the observation, the specialist asked us if we had ever heard of autism. Neither my husband nor I knew anything about it. Little did we know that question would lead to a life-changing journey for our whole family. We made an appointment for our son to be evaluated at our local Children’s Hospital. He was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. (Me: That stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified…which really doesn’t tell you much.) All of his results came back in the severe range, except for his motor skills, which were incredibly advanced.

During the first four to six months after our son was diagnosed, I couldn’t handle reading anything about autism. I was so overwhelmed, wondering what kind of future my son would have. Instead, I dived into training sessions with our Early Intervention therapist. I attended a parent/child group therapy class twice a week. The parents in the class were incredible, helped me through those rough beginning months, and are still some of my closest friends today. Meeting families who had older kids with special needs, seeing the progress they made, helped me to have hope for my son, as well. In my opinion, coming to terms with autism–or any other special needs–is a lifelong process. We never know what challenges we will need to face as our kids become older, teens, and eventually adults. It takes patience, a commitment to learning new techniques, a sense of humor, and lots of prayer.

(Amen to all of that!)

Me:  How did that journey help to bring about your recent book, (dis)Abilities and the Gospel, co-written with Lynn Parsons?

Danyelle:  During my son’s preschool years, my husband and I were the head of the school’s parent support group. Families often asked me to help them figure out how to help their child attend church or help their church leaders understand and love their child. As I researched on the Internet, I realized there were very few resources available about disabilities and church. Over the following four years, I spent quite a lot of time working with a variety of individuals, families, specialists, and church leaders to create the resources and information found in (dis)Abilities and the Gospel. Four years is a long time to work on just one project. But my son, my friends’ children, and people I met at conferences were a constant reminder of why the book was needed. It was truly an inspiring project to work on.

Me:  Tell us about the non-profit organization you and your husband founded in relation to autism and how my readers might contribute, if they so choose?

Danyelle:  Our son attended a private autism preschool called GIANT Steps. During our time there, my husband, myself and Karen Fairchild (one of the original founders of the school) created a Friends of GIANT Steps (501c3) to raise funds to supplement the school and its curriculum. We have put on sensory-friendly Christmas concerts, benefit concerts, held auctions, and a variety of other fundraisers. Thus far, we’ve been able to add a Kindermusik program (teacher training, equipment and materials) to help the kids with sensory issues and motor skills, bought playground equipment, sent teachers and paras to specialized trainings, and brought in speakers to help parents learn tips for raising their children and developing strong family relationships. Our goal is for the kids to have the best learning experience available and for families to have the resources they need. You can learn more about FOGS or donate through their website.

Me:  My son has Asperger’s and I know it was difficult, at first, for his older sister to deal with the social ramifications. How have your other children responded to your son’s autism?

Danyelle:  My son is our oldest child. So for a long time, our younger kids didn’t think anything about him being different. Even now, for the most part, they just think of him as Isaac and that’s the way he is. But as they have gotten older (3rd grade and above), they have asked more and more questions. We are very open about Isaac’s abilities and quirks. I’ve talked to the munchkins about how sensory issues or comprehension difficulties can frustrate Isaac and signs to look for so they know when to back off and let him decompress. One thing I want my kids to understand is that it’s okay to sometimes feel embarrassed or frustrated by things their brother says or does. It’s a natural human feeling, but I ask them that when they feel that way to remember he’s their brother and they are his best friends. So it’s okay to need a break, but they should always remember that they love him too.

My oldest daughter is especially empathetic to kids who are different from their peers (no matter if it’s a disability, language difference, etc.). She’s also in our school’s gifted program and pretty analytical–a trait she completely gets from her dad. last year for her big project, she chose to write a book about various disabilities, their causes, and spotlight examples of how people who have those disabilities made an impact on their community (whether through work, service, or challenges they overcame). I was impressed with how she took a personal challenge and turned it into a way to learn, grow, and find positive uplifting outcomes too.

(Sounds like her mother too, right?)

Me:  As I’ve noted before, I’m curious about authors’ writing spaces. How would you describe yours at present as if you were putting it into a novel?

Danyelle:

Danyelle scooted her wooden chair up to her desk, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine streaming through the bay windows. She sighed as she looked over at the pile of dishes that needed to be washed. Should she do them first? She calculated how many plates she needed for dinner that night before finally deciding she could safely ignore the ones in the sink. This was definitely one of the drawbacks of having her writing space in a nook off the kitchen. She quickly stacked her kids’ school papers into a pile and set them off to the side of her desk.

As she waited for the computer to boot up, she looked around at her little office space. She loved the trendy dark green walls with lime and white accents. Her favorite part was the white wall shelves filled with girly stuff – glass purses, Raine designer decorative shoes, and funky picture frames. She pulled out a sticky note and wrote a reminder to re-hang one of the shelves that came loose when the roof was repaired last fall. Maybe she’d actually get it done some time in the next year. She replaced her sticky note and pen back in the sparkly crystal crown that held her business cards, stamps and other office supply odds and ends that only writers loved and obsessed about. A variety of colored paper clips, cute binder clips, and multi-colored pens.

The computer chimed, signaling that it was ready for her to login and begin work. Danyelle nabbed a piece of chocolate out of her clear glass candy dish, popped the delicious treat into her mouth, then got ready to dive back into her current work-in-progress.

(And here’s the picture to show how well she described it!)

Me:  What are you working on at present?

Danyelle:  Right now, I’m working on one of the awesomest projects ever. The very first Storymakers Midwest Writers Conference! It’s Saturday, September 15th and in my backyard (well, almost)–Olathe, KS. Of course, that’s because I’m the one organizing it. We have an incredible line-up of authors coming to present. I’m honored to have Lisa Mangum (Deseret Book Editor & best-selling YA author), as well as Josi Kilpack (award-winning culinary mystery author) as our Keynote Speakers.

Along with the conference, we’re having a huge Authorpalooza. So if you’re in the Kansas City area, please stop by!

Friday, September 14th; 7-9 pm 

Authorpalooza Book Signing (Oak Park Mall Barnes & Noble, 11323 W. 95th Street, Overland Park, KS)

Authors include:  Lisa Mangum, Josi Kilpack, Heather Justesen, Don Carey, Karen Hoover, Traci Hunter Abramson, L.C. Lewis, STeve Westover, Danyelle Ferguson, Lynn Parsons, Tamara Hart Heiner, and more!

Me:  Finally, what are some of your favorite songs to sing while in the kitchen and how do your children react when you start belting them out?

Danyelle:  I have very eclectic musical tastes. I love everything from Natalie Cole to Bon Jovi to Katy Perry, with a healthy mix of my kids’ favorites–Justin Beiber, Hannah Montana, and Taylor Swift. I have a Kitchen Music playlist and sing along with whatever comes on. My favorite moment is when my big band music comes on and my hubby and I teach the kids our favorite swing dancing moves.

What do my kids think? They’re just as nutty as me. They dance around in the nook where my office desk is (also where the music is streaming from) and sing right along with me.

If you want to know more about Danyelle and her writing, take a moment to check out her website or her blog. Right now, she’s donating $5 from every sale of her disabilities book from her website to one of two worthy disability-related causes.

Originally posted 2012-09-05 06:00:35.

Off to the Big Apple!

Just a quick note here to say that those of you who have signed up for my newsletter will have to be patient a little while longer. I figured I’d wait until mid-month to send it out, so that you can be the first to see pictures from NYC…and hear how the book launch is shaping up.

We promised our son, Jason, a trip to New York to see some Broadway shows after he graduated from high school, since he did so well. Besides, it’s our 25th wedding anniversary on September 1st, so we figured we’d combine the celebrations.

I know, you’re thinking, “What? You’re taking your son with you on a wedding anniversary trip?”…But, hey, when you’ve got an Aspie in the family, such considerations are moot. Besides, Jason’s a ton of fun, AND I want him to see the sites Daphne visits in A NIGHT ON MOON HILL. (I want to see them, too. I only researched them from afar.)

I promise to get all the relevant (and some irrelevant) pictures, some of which I’ll only share in my newsletter.

The real questions are: Will Jason survive the crowds? And will he stubbornly survive on bananas, Cheerios, and cinnamon cookies for 5 days straight (with maybe a grilled cheese sandwich here and there), or will he finally succumb to a more varied diet? (Keeping my fingers crossed.)

We’re going to see “Wicked,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and “The Lion King,” as well as the 9/11 Memorial, Central Park, and a few MOON HILL sites.

If you’ve been to New York City, what must we absolutely not miss?

Originally posted 2012-08-30 06:00:13.

Jason is “Slightly Trendy”

Present word count of WIP:  59,347

Okay, my Aspie son may not have a job…yet. And he doesn’t drive…yet. But, according to this terrific article from i09, one of my favorite futuristic websites, Jason is “slightly trendy.” It’s a fascinating read and so in line with my upcoming new novel (the title of which is yet again in limbo…the publishers decided against The Boy in the Pool, so stay tuned).

Meanwhile, Jason is reading on his own and attending Institute class and Mission Prep once a week (and we’re really grateful to the young men that give him rides home when they can). This weekend we’ll probably be shopping for a laptop for him to get used to using for his classes that start in September. He wants a Google Chrome book.

Anyone familiar with those? If so, please comment below, including both pros and cons.

Originally posted 2012-07-27 06:00:41.

Despite Autism, Jason Grows in Independence

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

I think his sister has had something to do with it, and that’s no surprise because siblings play a crucial role when it comes to autism.

Allison left to begin serving her mission this past Wednesday. She’ll be gone for 18 months in the environs of San Bernardino, California, and, even though she was only home for a few weeks to prepare, she’s already had an impact on her brother.

First, he decided to finally do actual baptisms in the temple a couple of weeks ago. If you recall my recounting of his own baptismal experience at age 8, you’ll realize what a huge step this was for him. But he knew this would be his last such outing with the youth in the ward and his distaste for the feeling of wet clothes was overcome by his desire to make his sister proud of him.

Then, this past Tuesday evening when we met as a family with our stake president for Allison’s setting apart as a missionary, Jason got ordained to the higher Melchizedek Priesthood as an elder first. That way, he was able to lay his hands along with those of my husband and the stake president atop Allison’s head as President Meyer set her apart and pronounced a beautiful blessing upon her.

These may seem like small, unimportant steps to those outside the LDS Church, but they are a huge step forward in his progression as a son of God. He’s come a long way since I took this picture of the two of them outside the Twin Falls Temple:

As Allison serves faithfully, I only expect him to grow all the more so that he, too, is prepared to serve a mission come next January.

In mentioning Allison, I thought I’d share the poem I wrote for her the night before she left, for it will apply just as equally to him some day (I need only change “Daughter” to “Son”):

“Called of God”

Come . . .

Come out of the wilderness

Of confusion, doubts, and fears,

And toil in my vineyard for months, even years,

My Daughter,

For I have called you to the work

And in righteousness

You come.

Sow . . .

Sow seeds of faith, hope, and charity

For these, my other children who are lost,

With patient prayer, and led by My Spirit, ignore the cost,

My Daughter,

For their hearts will soften as you testify

Of all you know in verity

And you will sow.

Gather . . .

Gather my sons and daughters to the fold

That they might be enfolded in my arms once more,

And use your time well, seeking and preaching from door to door,

My Daughter,

For now is the time to thrust in with all your might

That you may bring many to behold

As you gather.

Reap . . .

Reap unknown blessings both now

And through eternity for countless souls,

As you proceed through patient daily toil to reach your goals,

My Daughter,

For you are blessing more than self

And multitudes will bow

As they, with you, reap

Eternity.

Originally posted 2012-07-13 14:06:31.

Pathway Accepts Jason

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

Jason got accepted! In this next phase of his ongoing autism story, he’s been admitted to the BYU-Idaho Pathway Program, which is perfect for someone like him with Asperger’s.

According to the letter, as a new Pathway student, he’ll begin his studies in the Academic Start Curriculum. Once he completes three semesters satisfactorily, he’ll be a regular online BYU-Idaho student and able to pursue any of a number of college degrees.

Here’s a short video about the program:

While the program is new and really still only getting started, it’s going to have a tremendous reach all over the world eventually. Here’s a map showing how far it had expanded last year:

I guarantee it has grown since then and it’s exciting to think Jason will be a part of it come September. This will give him the opportunity to continue to live at home and even hold down a job or serve a local service mission while completing his course work.

Now if I can only talk him into learning how to drive. That’s the next big goal.

Originally posted 2012-06-29 09:49:07.

Jason Conquers Grilled Cheese!

After only a few weeks of practice, my son has finally learned how to make his own grilled cheese sandwiches. This is a BIG accomplishment in my book. It means Michael and I can perhaps go away for a weekend without worrying that Jason will have to subsist on Costco rolls and Ritz Bits with cheese.

(How convenient that our anniversary AND my birthday are right around the corner. :D)

Anyway, in case you don’t already know, Jason won’t eat just ANY grilled cheese sandwiches. Due mainly to his Asperger’s, he likes them done a particular way and so I decided to begin teaching him the easy part first–everything but the buttering.

On our recent trip to Utah, I challenged him to take over the placing of the buttered slices on the grill, the placing of the cheese slices, the flipping (more about that in a minute), and the cutting off of the crusts.

He got better the more he did it, though he wasn’t always happy about having to do it. Still, as we all know, practice makes perfect. He’s proven himself to be an accomplished flipper, in particular, as will be demonstrated in a video below.

Once we returned home, I finally made him take up the dreaded knife and begin to learn how to spread butter on a slice of bread without demolishing it. It took some coaching and I even had him place his hand over mine a few times to get the feeling of the knife’s angle, etc. But it worked!

And here are the pictures (and video) to prove it:

IMG_1098(First, the set up: Orowheat Country Buttermilk Bread, Country Crock Spread with Calcium, Kraft American Cheese Slice Singles, one of our blue Tupperware plates, and an unplugged griddle…the knife and spatula aren’t shown here)

IMG_1100

(Jason lays four slices out on the plate to be buttered)

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(He opens up the butter…hey, sometimes it’s not easy!)

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(Now he’s dipping in with the knife)

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(And he begins to butter the first slice)

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(Here’s a closer look…it’s a very meticulous process for him, but that’s fine.)

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(With all four slices buttered, it’s now time to set the top two, upside down, on the griddle.)

IMG_1108

(And then comes a slice of cheese for each)

IMG_1110

(As you may imagine, he’s very careful about placing the cheese slice just so. In fact, he’s a little perturbed that cheese slices aren’t made to fit the bread better.)

IMG_1112

(See how perfectly he’s centered them?)

IMG_1114

(Now it’s time to set the other slices on top…)

IMG_1116

(And finally plug in the griddle, turn it to 325, and start the timer)

NOTE:  After years of experimenting, we discovered that Jason’s preferred grilled cheese sandwiches turn out perfectly when heated at the above temperature for only 2 minutes and 5 seconds for the first batch, and 1 minute and 35 seconds for the second batch. Yes, he eats four grilled cheese sandwiches at a sitting…four for breakfast, and another four for dinner. For lunch, he snacks on a banana and some Ritz Bits or something.

IMG_1118(Now he waits as the timer counts down)

IMG_1119

(A closer look at the sandwiches as they are grilled)

Then comes the flipping:

(Quick and sure)

IMG_1123

(He begins cutting off the crusts after first turning off and unplugging the griddle)

IMG_1124

(Then he moves the crustless sandwiches over to the plate)

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(Like so)

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(And now the cutting into bite-sized squares)

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(First the top sandwich…)

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(And then the bottom before moving to the horizontal cuts)

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(Making 16 small bite-size squares in all)

IMG_1131

(E voilá! Grilled Cheese á la mode de Jason!)*

*I apologize if I mixed my French and Italian a bit there. Can’t recall if it should be “de” or “du”

Originally posted 2013-08-30 06:00:46.

Jason Kills Off Cinderella’s Stepmother, Lady Tremaine

I haven’t posted a Jason update in a long while. To catch you all up, he’s finished all his Pathway courses . . . except the dreaded Math. He’ll be taking that one come January. In the meantime, he’s enjoying some freedom, and the only assignment he has these days is to learn how to make his own grilled cheese sandwiches. He’s halfway there and I’ll be posting about that next Friday, complete with pictures.

(Part of the reason we’re not pushing the driving, the math, or the mission right now is that we’re getting ready to list our house and looking into moving to Southern Utah. We want to downsize, be closer to both our families, and give Jason more opportunities to meet other LDS singles. But more about all of that in future posts.)

As I wrote on Monday, to help pass the time while driving down to Salt Lake City (and then on to St. George), I reviewed Agatha Christie’s writing methodology with Jason and proposed we give it a try. He agreed and so, first, we had to come up with a plausible victim who would have enemies.

JASON:  How about Lady Tremaine?

ME:  Who?

JASON:  You know, the stepmother from Disney’s “Cinderella?”

Lady Tremaine

ME:  Oh, yeah. Okay, she’ll do. Now we need to come up with the murder method.

He thought about that for a minute and shrugged. So I prodded his recollection of her fondness for shopping.

ME:  We could kill her off during a shopping trip in town.

JASON:  Huh? How?

ME:  Let’s see . . . since Agatha Christie was into poison, let’s come up with a really sneaky way to poison her while shopping.

JASON:  (No response)

ME:  Okay, how about this? . . . The killer applies an odorless poison to a dress Lady Tremaine has admired before, counting on the fact that she’ll likely try it on. Once she does, the toxic concoction seeps into her skin and 2-3 days later, she’s dead.

JASON:  Cool!

Now that we had the victim and the method all set, we had to determine the killer.

JASON:  It can’t be Cinderella and it can’t be the Prince. That would just be wrong.

Cinderella and the prince

ME:  Okay, who else wouldn’t like Lady Tremaine? Who else would have a motive and yet probably be overlooked by the reader?

JASON:  Maybe Anastasia would work.

ME:  Who?

JASON:  You know, the younger daughter. The one who was sort of kind to Cinderella . . . at least in the sequels.

Anastasia

ME:  That’s good. People probably wouldn’t suspect her because of that. But what would her motive be? Doesn’t she like her mother?

JASON:  Well, in the sequels, we find out that she doesn’t really like her mother’s iron grip on her life and that she just wants to be free to marry for love, not money. So that could be her motive.

ME:  Perfect! Now we need to figure out the motives for all the rest of the characters (not including the animals).

JASON:  Okay. Drizella, the eldest daughter, could have done it because she wants to inherit the family fortune sooner rather than later after her mother dies naturally.

Drizella

ME:  (Nodding) Good. Go on.

JASON:  Who else is there?

ME:  How about the dress shopkeeper? That’s where the murder takes place. Wouldn’t she naturally be a suspect?

JASON:  I guess, but what would her motive be?

ME:  I know. She could have done it because Lady Tremaine hasn’t been paying her bills on time and the woman is about to lose her shop.

JASON:  Hmm . . . that will do.

Finally, we needed to come up with the right detective to ferret out all the clues, with the help of Cinderella and the Prince, of course. Thinking back on the movie, that left only one possibility. It was apparent to me, but I had to bring Jason around to the realization.

ME:  Okay, Jason, who was the one in the film who went all over the countryside asking questions?

JASON:  Huh?

ME:  You know, he had a glass slipper and . . .

JASON:  Oh, you mean the Grand Duke?

grand duke 2

ME:  Exactly. Even though he’s kind of a bumbling fool, he’s the perfect type to put people off their guard while secretly he’s observing their behavior and asking all kinds of innocent questions.

JASON:  You mean his clumsiness is just an act?

ME:  Precisely. Now all we have to do is sit down and plot it out.

Et voilá. An Agatha Christie-styled murder mystery. Anyone want to write it? (We won’t for fear of being sued by Disney. Although perhaps Jason might give it a go as a piece of fan fiction. I’ll let you know if he does, but I can’t promise to post it here. He keeps his fan fiction private.)

In any case, it was a fun exercise and took a good bit longer in the car than it took you to read about it here. By the way, Jason helped create this post, so give him half the credit, okay?

Originally posted 2013-08-23 06:00:17.

Sometimes I Just Want to Go Waaay Back in Time

By the time Jason gets through college, I think I’m going to feel like I’ve earned a brand new Bachelor of Arts degree . . . in Empowerment. Or at least I’d better feel that way.

This Introduction to Writing class that he’s taking this semester in Pathway is unbelievable! I mean, hey, I’m a writer and even I think it’s challenging. When I read his first assignment, this is how I looked (and felt):

IMG_1363(Yes, I wanted to run . . . either that or attack the teacher)

One thing the class is NOT is an introduction. Jason had to dive right in on his first essay the first week and learn to debate in order to prepare to write an argumentative essay.

Now arguing doesn’t come naturally to my sweet, nonconfrontational son (except in choir when members were not paying attention or getting their notes right…he’s even tough with our ward choir). He tends to believe most anything anyone tells him because he doesn’t expect people to say anything but the truth. So I had to acquaint him with the nuances of political opinion as opposed to fact before he could take a stand one way or the other on gun control–his chosen topic.

By the time he wrote the paper, he seemed to have gotten the hang of it, though. He had argued back and forth with two different online classmates on the message board (and pretty much handed them their hat, in my unbiased opinion) and that helped him solidify his position.

IMG_1340(He always writes his papers on my computer)

Actually, the hardest part about writing his first paper was having to cite sources for EVERYTHING! The paper was supposed to be 2-3 pages long double-spaced. His was 4 and a half, so he emailed the professor and asked if that would be okay. The teacher responded affirmatively, as long as provided a source for every piece of information he brought up that he didn’t know before working on the paper. Jason ended up with 2 pages of sources!

This week’s paper wasn’t quite as demanding. It was supposed to be a problem/solution essay, so Jason wrote about the growing unemployment problem among those with autism and proposed a solution at the end. Only 3 pages long plus 1 page of sources.

He’s learning a lot, but sometimes I wonder if he and I wouldn’t have been happier living in the days before school was invented . . . say, back in the Cretaceous Period with that Dromaeosaurid up there in the first picture.

Originally posted 2013-03-01 06:00:45.

One Thing at a Time

Back before Christmas, Jason was thinking about meeting with our new Stake President (who oversees some ten congregations) some time in January to set in motion his full-time, local service mission. As the holidays came and went, he seemed to get more and more nervous.

Finally, we sat down with him and explained that this was going to be his choice. We weren’t forcing him to do anything. Don’t misunderstand. Jason wants to serve a mission. He was simply nervous about the idea of doing it at the same time as he was focusing on completing the Pathway Program. As with many on the autism spectrum, the idea of multi-tasking is a bit daunting. One thing at a time works best.

IMG_1604

I have to admit now that his reservation may have been inspired, given the challenge of his current online Language Arts class (more about that next time). In any case, he did finally meet with President Powell and, together, they agreed that it would be best for him to complete Pathway first then begin his mission in August.

It looks like he’ll be meeting with President Powell again in May to work out more specifics, but he’ll likely begin at the Family History Library, where the need is apparently greatest. Personally, I think that will be great experience given his academic interest in library science. By serving there, he’ll get a firmer idea of whether he really enjoys library work or not. Of course, an LDS Family History Library isn’t quite like a regular library, but he’ll learn about cataloguing documents and he’ll be working with computers.

Our next goal: Getting him to take Driver’s Ed and get a license by August!

Originally posted 2013-02-15 12:21:22.