Monday, December 31, 2012

Beating winter blahs

Although I am a big fan of winter - I am NOT a fan of sissy winters - those winters where rain predominates and snow is pushed  aside for gusts of rainy misery.

Our yard is going through a period frost and freeze sequence. First we freeze up giving us the illusion of reasonable footing and then we have the big slushy thaw with your feet sliding  around like a walk in a bowl of pudding. Actually the mud does resemble some very creepy mocha or deep chocolate  pudding. We have resorted to putting a bale of hay in place to give traction to our boots and create the ambiance of dry in a world of wet slushy  mud.

The studio is undergoing some minor renovations in the way of new modular units to hold the never ending supply of paper products, tools and equipment.  So the motto of a "place for everything" is the theme for 2013.

Was able to put up a string of little pink hearts this weekend - ready to wish the holiday season good bye in anticipation of spring and Valentines Day.  Will be posting this little garland to the shop in the next day or two.

The flower business is in full swing with new bouquets being readied every day with an emphasis on soft and warm pastels.  A little mini bouquet of pistachio is getting ready for its photographic debut! So pretty.

Muslin ribbons are also getting their spring colors with teals, blues, lilacs,  peach and rose just really lovely to look at and fun to think of uses for all these recyclable ribbons. 

Think spring... Cate  oh and Happy New Year !

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Looks like we made it

Looks like we made it through another Christmas... sometimes the "peaceful" holiday is anything but peaceful with shopping, gift giving, wrapping and cooking at the top of the list and relaxing and enjoying at the bottom.

I often wish and I still hope that I could have the luxury of going away for Christmas to a quaint (but warm and cozy) cabin in the woods with a few close friends/family and just being. Not worrying, not rushing, not overwhelmed, just being in the  moment with the woods, the quiet, nature, and serenity.

I have never done this, but it is a life long wish. Where the cabin would be exactly I am not sure, but I can picture it in my mind's eye and I long to fulfill that wish. 

I believe nothing can happen unless one wills it to happen and then takes the steps to activate that dream, so to that end I have  no excuses other than I allow life to get in the way of dreams.

 Dreams are so important - they are the fiber of life - not work - not success - not financial gain - not a big house or the latest must have gadgets - dreams ARE the fabric  and the foundation  of your mind's happiness. Without dreams, without aha moments  - life is quite flat.

I think we all know when we have reach the flat zones, and it is what we do to shake it up and climb out that will forever influence the way we live our lives.

And now we wait for the new year - with some hope but also trepidation ...what will it bring? I will live it by being present in the moment ...maybe tentatively laying down some longer range plans.

The shop continues by the grace of God and grit. It is not without a lot of work but it is all "good work"  creative, mind happy work.  We will look to add new products, change products and perhaps  move in different directions. I think our path is clear now - what we are and what we will be as a shop.

We have many challenges with Andrew, many many challenges. He challenges us just to keep him moving forward on some days and on some days moving in baby steps is the best that we can do - but I live encapsulated in the belief that hope and faith and love are powerful motivators.   I believe that what will be will be and I will do everything in my power to make the very best situation for andrew as I possibly can and fulfill my own dream of selling quality, hand made products with the help of my friends with autism.

My goal is to add another young man with autism this year and begin the process of  integrating another individual to the shop to learn the tasks that make a shop run successfully. With autism it is always one step forward and 3 or 4 back - but it is the nature of the game, and we play by their rules not ours... 



Monday, December 24, 2012

Twas the night before Christmas

New Year is looming - Christmas Eve is an eve of eating - relaxing - and eating some more.

Our tree is a balled Noble fir decorated completely with paper products from our shop! 

We have a nice bonfire flaming  - it feels wonderful  and looks wonderful - very festive.

We had a light snow tonight, but I think it will melt  by the a.m. so we need to enjoy our pre White Christmas now  with our little bonfire.

Pandora Radio is a good substitute for carolers - as Nat King Cole sings a happy, merry tune and Bing Crosby croons a vintage tune.

Happy and merry!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Learning the language -autism speak

Recently, we have come to the conclusion that Andrew can understand much more than we had realized and in fact tunes in to our conversations regularly. His eye contact tells us that he IS listening and tuning in. This is a new event, since in the past he did not make eye contact,  nor did he appear to tune in, but instead seemed to shut everything out.

We see this need for shutting people, noises and the world out by the use of planned "eye closing."  He will purposely shut his eyes to block out those things that are stressful to him or overwhelming.  He will then peek out when he feels ready to accept the challenge offered.

I have felt that way myself at an extremely noisy event or over stimulating colors, noises and just plain masses of sounds and sights.  I feel the need to step back a bit and observe from a distance before I plunge right in.  I eventually get there, but I usually do not dive in but take a leisurely stroll instead... maybe that helps me understand his need for eye shutting as a blocker.  

This intentional "eye shutting" is an effective way to shut down stimuli or just decrease and stay present in the task or place.

We have also noted that the introduction of new, interesting tasks brings about "eye opening" and attentiveness which leads us to believe the simple theory that interesting things, stimulating tasks bring about an ability to get past the desire to block out stimuli and to engage.

The reality being that stimulating, interesting activities can block the need to escape. and in fact cross out the escape and cause attentiveness.

We introduced days of the week into the calendar to allow him more choice in the jobs he does and on what days he does them, allowing him, like a regular worker to have a sense of what lies ahead.

We are going to introduce soon a  more complex calendar that will allow more choice and flexibility. We learn, he teaches us - we listen - he speaks sometimes not in words but surely in his actions and reactions - he lets us know what works for him and what does not with an ever changing challenge of keeping up with not only a complex person with autism, but a complex person with autism and who is also a perplexing teenager!  Two strikes against us grown up humans...

We are evolving!  We are learning!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Thomas & Tabitha - furry sunshine

Last year was a difficult pet year - we have a menagerie of pets and when we lose we lose big as sometimes we will lose two pets at a time.    Last year was one of those horrible years - our shop's avatar and our faithful cat companion, Jack, was lost to us last year in February.  After 16 years it was time for him to go but we had such a hard time letting go it was palpably painful.

Thinking it could get no worse than that, we went on to lose Lilly and Obi to cancer. Lilly was our Maine coon who was only 10 and Obi our black lab also 10.  How did this happen - we kept shaking our heads - three pets in 6 months.

We held onto Obi as long as we could until we knew it was time to let him go.. and we did so, with great sorrow and lots of tears. He was a faithful wonderful companion.

True to our usual fashion, we began the search for new  furry family members  - special friends that accept us through all of our worries, troubles, dust bunnies, and poor clothing choices.  There is never a dog or cat for that matter, who will give you a sidelong glance of disapproval as you strut out the door looking ridiculous. I wish I could say that for human companions, but they will give you the raised eyebrow sending you scurrying to change! Not so with the furry friends... no disapproval there.

I have been known to walk out the door with two different shoes ... I usually catch myself, but were I not to do so, our dog would not miss a beat. As long as we move forward dogs will accept whatever your fashion taste dictates. 

So with that in mind last year Thomas Kitten (from Beatrix Potter fame), joined us in February. 

Not a week later we returned for his sister, Tabitha Twitchell.  He was such a super kitten, such a great guy we felt two might be even better. We were right. They are a delightful duo. We love them dearly and treasure every day with them. They have fulfilled their cat promise - to love, cherish, purr a lot and just plain like us a lot, and we  love them back with the same fervor. 

Both Thomas & Tabitha were willing, (albeit reluctantly) to pose for their birthday pictures - this month is their 1st birthday.   We are happy to have them in the family!

Happy Birthday Thomas and Tabitha.    

Thomas dressed in his holiday ribbon.

Sister Tabitha  looking so dignified and self possessed. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Working in the gloom

Today was one of those days that hangs overhead with a large grey gloomy looming foggy sky.  The fog and mist and rain set in,  and with a little bit of luck you might find something to cheer you from the gloom.

The misty, rainy, gloomy days can be good for the soul if you allow their grayness to feel kindly enveloping rather than suffocating. I tend to like rain, the sound of rain and the feeling of a gloomy day. I like to think it is a time to make soup, nesting day. 

I might go to Barnes & Noble and people watch for awhile while sipping a grande tea latte. I did that today and pondered the direction of our little studio shop.

We would like to add jobs for Andrew - label making, typing an entry into Facebook - always we move slowly and determinedly - never knowing what jobs will make the cut and what jobs will not - those jobs remain ours while we push him to do more.

So today was a day of contemplation, reorganizing, and settling in for the long fog.

I made a wreath today for the barn door. Long overdue - had I waited any longer - Christmas would have passed wreathless! There are worse things, but one should stop and celebrate the season no matter the gloom and hectic rush. 

Gathered natural wreath decorations for the Barn Studio

Our "paper tree" adorned with paper ornaments and garlands. It will be planted for the birds after the holiday.
It is often  hard to understand life - but the best we can do is to continue to try.

Carpe diem  ~  Cate

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sharing simple Holiday Cheer

I wanted to share in the blog a simple ribbon, package and little bird that we had composed as a vignette for our Etsy shop.

It is a simple reminder that hand made and simple often times can warm the heart of the recipient as much as what is contained inside. It is really the thought and kindness that counts...

Simple packaging - Hand distress and dyed muslin ribbon along with a vintage musical bird! Enjoy the season and remember the simple pleasures.

cheers to all,

Gathering of the tree and....

Today we found a tree - a balled tree - so that after the holidays it can go back to mother  nature and be replanted. It will offer the birds a wonderful nesting area, a buffer from the windows and a natural air scrubber - adding its own form of air  cleaning that only  plants and trees can do.

It is a Noble Fir - and it is quite noble - smelling delicious - and fresh dug from a local farm.  It is a lovely tree and will make a great addition to our  landscape. 

Tomorrow it gets to come indoors for a bit of tree  trimming.

Took some time today to regroup, clean up and cleaning out the studio which seems to get cluttered  so quickly.  So to that end the antique buffet has actual counter space again, its warm brown bees waxed surface visible again! Little Christmas trees stand lined up, having been liberated from the clutter that had surrounded them. 

A little garland hangs on the wall surrounded by the upright beams that carpenters had erected in a post and beam fashion back in the 1890's.  Horses were parked here back in those days and the beams shown signs of horse nibbling with some areas that are more worn down others I guess from the busy teeth of antsy horses waiting impatiently for their owners. 

So this barn has taken on new life as a studio for our little business and a warm and nurturing place to be creative, and to reflect on life  gone by -  those simpler times. 

A paper garland adds a little winter sparkle. 

In the 1890's carpenters left their marks with Roman numerals to guide their building. See the three hatch marks scratched in the beams along with the pegs to make sure all was well with the building!

Monday, December 3, 2012

When you come to the end of all that you know....

When you come to the end of all that you know and are about to step off into darkness, FAITH is knowing that you will be given something solid to stand or or you will be taught to fly.........

Letting go is not giving up, changing course is not withdrawing from the fight,  and reinventing the dream is not losing sight of your path.

I say that as much outloud to bolster myself as I would to another parent fighting the relentless fight we fight to keep our son engaged-productive-happy-safe.  At the same time we keep ourselves engaged in the process and try to follow our own advice to be safe, happy and engaged. Not necessarily in the same order!

The battle rages on so many sides that it is often hard to tell the enemies from the good guys and the goals and hopes often get lost in the trenches of the on-the-ground warfare that is waged with all sorts of agencies and providers. The fighting is fierce, and the casualty rates are high.  No one wins when no one listens or cares, and we have found apathy and callousness a major part of our dilemma in working with some individuals who would offer themselves as "experts."

I have learned, not without pain, that providers do not always live up to their name and essentially provide NOTHING. Can one call oneself a "provider" without providing something? But then again the definition of  "providing" is so loosely constructed that one cannot always tell if just showing up is  considered a provision of some sort... not sure about that ...

I recently attended a school meeting wherein I asked about their "providing of services to my son" - he was without educational services for 11 days - their definition of providing services was "showing up" though no services were rendered, they were not even in the same location as my son, and they did not make any contact with him.  What mom or dad sends their child to school with the expectation of their son or daughter never even seeing their teacher or any teacher? When one has autism apparently that can be the "new norm."

So, for those of you who might think "providing" means supporting or guiding or supplying something  - in new age educationalspeak - it may mean something totally different.  I learn something new every single day.

I believe that is a good thing, learning that is.

I attempt to face each road block with determination, not for myself, but for my son who is voiceless in this abyss.  It gives me strength, determination and sometimes anger to see anyone who would deny services to my son or ANY CHILD who might need them in such a callous manner.

But then I always thank andrew for showing me and continuing to show me how to manage to go on...what motivates him, what is meaningful for him.. and I listen and I learn and I am blessed to have some small options.

We have found a peace of sorts, our own peaceful spot in our creative studio. There he thrives, laughs and engages. He tells us by his smiles that we are on the right track... and so we are now the followers and he is our leader....


Sunday, December 2, 2012

New Year's Wishes

I guess I am early with my new year's wishes, but I hope that with good planning, hope, love and devotion my little shop can grow and employ and engage more people with autism. 

I feel so certain that Andrew's birth was not in vain, his suffering, his disability has to mean something...has to count.  For that I dream of a shop that will employ others with autism to  give  hope to other parents who have suffered through the ups and downs of autism - it's many cycles of despair and hope.

Having spent the weekend meeting lovely people in a determined city dedicated to rebuilding and regrouping after hurricane Sandy I have a new and renewed sense of urgency that we need to "do this"-- create this employment, create a legacy for Andrew that will live past me and provide hope and employment for others into the future.  To see the sadness on the faces of other parents with children like mine - the shattered dreams - the forgotten kids that reach 18 and 21 and basically fall off statistics and into the abyss of homebound and hopeless.  In some ways NOTHING has changed from years past. Instead of  institutions we instead have forced imprisonment in their homes with aging parents, unable to buck a system that has run out of ideas, out of passion and out of time.

I have no false ego  or pride, but merely a sense of self determination and a burgeoning sense of pride in all that Andrew can do when given the opportunity and guidance. He is one of the "lucky" ones who has found a little niche, an island of hope in a sea of despair.

I pray for strength, determination and maybe a bit of luck to get us to the next step.

Thank you Hoboken for having our little shop this weekend,  and God speed the rebuild!


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hats off to Hoboken

Spent the day in Hoboken at a Craft Fair in an old, historic styled Town Hall.  Interesting city and fascinating to see Manhattan looming in the near distance.

Hoboken was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy and still reeling from the flooding, but rearing its head and fighting back. Lovely little city, enjoyed walking Washington Stree and I found a Starbucks right near by! Yay...

Met some wonderful people Laura and Allison - both touched by our endeavors and sparked by an interest to help.

Also saw the Cake Boss at his home base at Carlo's Bakery! Kind of cool to see the place of TV fame! I bet Buddy was home though maybe counting his money or his cookies!

Back to Hoboken for one more day!

For now though happy Saturday to all and to all a good night!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

When your CEO has autism

When I first started this little venture it was for the sole purpose of saving my son's life.  Coming from a place of deep despair it was necessary to think outside the box and reinvent a reason for him to get up - to engage in the world - and to want to live in a world that for him is astoundingly confusing, loud, and frustrating. He is nonverbal and severely autistic.  There is no really nice way to say it, except to say he is one of those hard hit kids from the beginning of this epidemic who has struggled through every phase of his life.

This phase has proven to be the most difficult. Whatever came before at ages 8 or 9 or 10 pale in comparison. 

So to say the business has been successful in pulling him up and out of a very dark place would be accurate, and I think for many people with autism being meaningfully engaged is the key to getting through the day.

The idiosyncracies that accompany autism make it nearly impossible to hold down a job of any kind or to interact with the typical features of the world we live in,.

Noises, lights, demands are too much for many and Andrew is no exception.

We reinvent the wheel daily sometimes, creating jobs, refining jobs and modifying jobs. He has proven that he is pretty good at most that is presented despite his level of disability. Creative arts are interesting to him and because they are he stays engaged for the time he is devoting himself to his job.

But having a CEO with autism presenets its challenges.  At one point we made a bunch of pretty cool paperclips, complete with an autism puzzle piece on the back - hand stamped by Andrew. He willingly placed them in envelopes and assisted with the packaging ---- until one day all of the decorations needed to come off and they needed to be returned to their naked metal selves.  So much for that endeavor. So that job is not his anymore we found him a new one...

So here's to coloring outside the lines and a bravo to those who do!

cate : )

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas birds & Penny the Chicken

Today in the barn we decided to work on birds, birds and more birds.

Tiny hand cut paper birds adorned with gold and silver strings. 

Fun to make and Andrew is learning to cut his own birds for his own brand of festive cheer!

At the same time we worked on birds in the barn outside the barn in the coop one of our sweet little hens had escaped into the rain and cold.

I found her outside and shivering and soaked to the bone. Little fluffy black hen was a drenched, cold, flattened chicken.  She ran to me, and I picked her up and put her inside under the heat lamp.

I decided that was not enough so in she came into the studio for a bit sitting embarrassingly in a dog crate.

She made the best of it though clicking and talking and complaining temporarily about her small quarters.

She got a treat of warm bread and the time flew by :) and soon enough she was refluffed, and rejoined her friends in the coop. 

So for tonight she is basking in the glow of the heat lamp and I hope no ill effects from her chill!

Yay for Penny !


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Andrew learns to make flowers - YAY

We have turned a lot of our attention to making flowers. We have had some success with our little floral arrangements and bouquets so we continue to push the envelope as to what kids with autism can do and might learn to do.

So.... we thought perhaps Andrew could make the flowers as well, assembling them one petal at a time on their stems.

To our suprise he did  it, and he seemed intent on doing it well.  So we will continue to push that envelope and see if he can choose his own color combinations and make some real "autism" flowers of his own color combinations. 

threading the wire through a very small hole!

Andrew handing off his finished flower to Amanda

the finished flowers

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Going to Hoboken - We hope

Hurricane Sandy did a job on our coastline, and Hoboken was hard hit with flooding.  The Hudson had no end to its fury. We had intended to attend the Hoboken Craft Fair for the Holidays and feared it was a wash out.

We found out yesterday it is a go. So perhaps we will go!

Pictures sent - check in the mail - so we will see. Apparently our paper flowers are a bit "different" and a welcome surprise from the usual craft fair fare, soaps, jewelry and toilet paper holders shaped liked Santa... ho ho ho.

We are woking on roses, flowers, Holiday bunches and bouquets.  A little tempest in a teapot with a cobalt tea pot overflowing with flowers of silver, reds, and blues. Quite a little show stopper.

Tea roses are coming together in elegant shades and will soon be ready for the vase. 

We are growing our flower business bloom by bloom by bloom, and we hope you enjoy what we have to offer. The flowers have been popular at our shows and it gives us confidence to create more  flowers in every changing colors and patterns. 

Andrew has been busy shredding muslin for our home made ribbons and we have holdiay stamped ribbons ready for package wrapping! Add your own special touch to each present!

Cate  and the Papercatz gang

Friday, October 26, 2012

Staying the course... always...

We  learn from everywhere and everyone.

Andrew is the heart of this business and we so enjoy seeing him smile.

We will be working on our mailing list and getting Andrew out to the post office and moving him forward.

We appeciate all the efforts from our little team of 3.

So onward and upward and making some new sweet things for Christmas. 

check it out! We are working on hand stamped muslin ribbons, and little clothespins all decorated for your holiday packaging.

We try to engage Andrew in the muslin shredding (something he genuinely loves) so muslin ribbons are a big part of the shop - we hope you like them.

Check out our flowers and one of our chief flower lovers and makers, Amanda, Andrew's  main helper and support for his jobs!

Yay Amanda..

Amanda hard at work antiquing flowers!

Christmas flowers with our special birdie friend

Monday, October 22, 2012

Moving forward when backwards is our primary mode of locomotion

For the last two months we have seen the beginnings of obsessive and repetitive behavior. It has reared its head and continues to be the focus of each and every day.

We have a comittment on a daily basis to keep Andrew going forward - no matter how much his brain wishes to take him backward-forward-and backward again. That is the nature of OCD - something we have seen to a minor degree in the past, but something that now has become a part of every waking hour and threatens to grind our progress to a halt.

Working in his own business has been a primary focus of our little company and continues as  part of our sole purpose of existing.  Creating a business for somone who is severely autistic and nonverbal has been a labor of love from the outset and began when Andrew was at another low point in his life.

We are now faced with another giant hurdle, and it feels like we are moving a mountain most days.

We click off the repetitions, tally them up at the end of the day, (for whom we collect this data I am not quite sure), since there appears to be no experts waiting in the wings to help us move him through it and out of it) but collect data we do in the hopes that we will see a decrease in the oncoming weeks.

We have andrew engaged in his jobs for the business, labeling and stamping and we are getting ready for a big mailing to all of our customers and friends who have supported our little shop.

We have donated $200.00 to the SJ Kids Trust and will be donating another check in the next few weeks.

We are committed to  making a difference even if it is a tiny drop in an ocean - we continue to do our very best to help.

We are launching a new flower line - fun for us to do, engaging for andrew and we hope sellable and enjoyable for those who purchase our little blooms.

Each one is hand made from paper from shapes andrew or myself or amanda, (Andrew's  job,  coach and indispensable partner in crime does each day). She is Andrew's organizer and chief work supervisor and she does it very well. Without her I don't think we could keep him going as much as we have been able to do. She is an integral part of all that Andrew does and she makes a big difference in his life. Yay, Amanda!

So our flowers will be the focus of a lot of our energy in these next few months and I hope that they bring a smile to  our customers when they see the happy blooms!

We have flowers for autumn and winter as well as flowers for all occasions, including weddings, parties and babies!  Please browse our Etsy shop and stop in and say hello!  We enjoy visitors to our virtual shop and we appreciate your comments and your interest.

Keep the faith and never ever never give up your dreams!

Cate, Andrew & Amanda

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New products - new purpose - Welcome to our paper flower line

 Old year coming to an end - new year looming- we have developed in the past few months a wonderful line of paper products - paper flowers - uniquely hand made for you.

Andrew takes part in the punching of our paper products as well as the making of muslin cotton ribbon wraps for our bouquets. 

We will be streamling the store to include those products we most want to promote but will still carry some of the old favorites.

We have a new focus and a new product line. I hope you will take a look!  Shown above a bouquet in cream and brown, secured with burlap and tied in our own muslin hand stamped bow! perfect for the flower girl or bridesmaids... or any time you want to send a gift that is truly unique and special.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Streamlining the products - maximizing the effort

Creating a small business aimed at developing the talents of a teen with autism is fraught with change, modifications, and derailments.

The rising and falling of cycles of obsession lead us to change our expectations and to modify our work load with deference to his abilities on any given day.

A project expectantly hopeful that Andrew will participate fully will, at times, have to be modified to a much simpler format due to an obsession with a tag, a string or a bit of accessory that catches his eye and demands he remove it.  We fully accept these limitations and accept also that the business is being developed and run by and for an individual with autism, and we adapt ourselves to his particular needs on any given day.

There is often an audible sigh as we watch Andrew take apart a project we had hoped to package and sell. But, the dismay passes quickly and we regroup to try again in a different way to keep him engaged in the process.

This is a journey, unmapped and untried so we soldier on!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Getting ready for fall - some new products for the shop

We have been working on some new products for the fall - some very deliciously scented soaps - Pumpkin cheesecake - in little pumpkin shapes - with organic cinnamon and nutmeg.

Exfoliating when you scrub since the cinnamon acts  as a natural little scrubber! They smell fabulous.

We also added a few skull and cross bones pumpin cheesecake scented soaps for Halloween Fun.

Surviving the storm - when your CEO has autism

When this little grass roots company was established and formalized  it's primary purpose was and is to create "creative employment" for individuals with autism. 

For the most part,  people with severe autism are overlooked, under utilized and disenfranchised from the gainfully employed/happily employed working population. I have to sort this out by saying that in my own personal opinion - being relegated to do jobs that you detest or have no skill  set for - is not employment but busy work - intended to keep individuals out of trouble, and engaged (and not the worst case scenario by far), but don't our individuals with autism deserve free choice, fair options, diverse opportunities?

I pondered that question in my own mind many times. Could we as humans do the same job every day without some sort of burnout/fallout/stress induced illness, mental deterioration or a loss of joy?

I believe all of us verbally driven and socially appropriate individuals would answer with a resounding NO - we cannot.  However, we differ from our counterparts with autism - we have choice - they do not.

Have studies been done correlating  mental distress/illness or behavioral dysfunction associated with high stress jobs  - I believe more than likely,  and most probably funded by drug companies,  all would agree - job dissatisfaction and stress have a clearly circumscribed set of symptoms that accompany such daily dissatisfaction and mental fatigue.

So many individuals are on anti depressants and anti anxiety medications one has to assume there is a high level of dissatisfaction in many people's lives and a high degree of frustration, stress, boredom and irritation when subjected to  a less ideal than ideal job or work environment.  Couple that with lack of jobs in general and life becomes more difficult.

When we factor in the individuals with autism who are now turning 18-21 - high functioning - lower functioning with no jobs or limited jobs or jobs that they either have no skill for or interest in - I would believe studies would reflect a high degree of behavioral aberration in response to an unhappy, understimulating work environment.  But.... since they are now out of the school environment and have aged out of those sets of circumstances - no one tracks them and their response to  the employment situation/environment and stressors. Nor does anyone track the total lack of employment  and its stress factors on the young adult and/or the family caregivers. 

There is a learned sense of hopelessness and despair that I believe sets in with many individuals on the spectrum as they exit school - routines disintegrate, activities stop - life stops.

Despite being disabled many individuals with autism do understand what lack of  purpose feels like, lack of respect from familiar adults/teachers/job coaches   and/or lack of recognition of their unique abilities. They DO respond negatively to being unengaged/underemployed and most especiallly to not being given a chance to test their wings/try  new things and be praised for their work.  

Essentially young adults and adults with developmental disabilities exist in a vacuum. On a good day they may hear something positive from a caregiver or assistant, but for the most part it is a drudge to get through the day, they become overweight and understimulated in a very short period of time. They are rewarded with food, as it is the easiest and most portable reward and in no time they become more and more sedentary and bored. Boredom turns to destruction and destruction turns to institutionalization  and eventually the removal from their homes.

And so we come to our business, created for Andrew - an 18 year old with autism- with Andrew's interests and skill sets clearly in our minds.  We did it to save his life and we did it with no thought initially but to save his life.

Has this business made a difference in his life? YES.
Has he decreased his most difficult behaviors (self injury) in response to working in this company? YES
Has he become happier and eager to participate? YES.

This business is a tiny drop in an ocean of need - but it is a drop - and it is important.

We modify our expecations based on his demeanor on certain days, much like a real job environment - some days are more complicated and some days easier. We do use primary rewards at the end of his "shift" to reward a job well done, paired with social praise and his own internal motivation (he likes to complete tasks).

His smiles tell us we are on the right track, but we constantly adjust for this CEO with autism. Though he receives no pay check - he does receive in its place -  satisfaction, praise, interaction, and engagement. Our CEO calls the shots and we are more than happy to "listen."


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Working with a young adult with autism in their own business

Anyone, either parent or educator, clinician or therapist knows that working with an individual with autism can be a challenge and an ongoing effort in out thinking the complicated mind system that is autism itself.

The very core of autism IS to be different, act different, react differently to stimuli and to resist following along with that the rest of the world views as routine activities. A slight nuance and change in circumstances or location can create a whole new teaching experience.

This company was founded with a mission and two purposes actually: 1.  Create employment where none existed before in the creative arts for a young adult with autism, AND who is severely autistic, and 2. Create a company founded for and powered by a severely disabled individual with autism.

Could it be accomplished? I had no idea, I just knew I HAD to try.  There is a saying about envisioning something and then making it happen, and that believe in yourself and your endeavor is the most important ingredient in your quest for success.

I had the belief I could try, I had the belief I needed to try...  more than that I did not have... only hope and faith and love.

Andrew has been officially working in his company now for about a year give or take - it started out pretty rough, just hole punching shapes, putting a few labels together, gluing etc. (Painting turned out to be a bust, he is no Rembrandt, and we are not blessed with "savant skills" that the movies seem to showcase as "typical" for those with autism. He cannot crack a safe, he cannot predict roulette moves in Vegas nor can he bluff you in poker.  He is just a kid with autism and all that that entails.

With that being said, we had our work cut out for us. We knew, however, that on our first visit to the barn t (our make shift "headquarters) that we were onto something because of one reason alone: He smiled for the first time in  6 months.  He smiled and that was a red letter day.  We took that as a positive sign that we were on the right track.

This initial micro start gave way to a new activity and then another until we began to actually have some sort of process and flow to what we did, albeit scattered, based on the Andrew mood of the day. This was surelly not Google where employees have fun while they work. This was a trial by error, fly by the seat of your pants adventure. We continue to fly along on this magic carpet with good days and bad.

We can have a fabulous week of putting paper clips in envelopes, (all decorated  for autism awareness with layers of brightly colored paper meticulously glued in place), only to find that this is, for reasons we cannot fathom, NOT going to fly past Andrew (our chief executive), though he has packaged them 50X before, and he promptly pulls all the meticulously glued and layered papers unceremoniously off the clip and into the special "floor file." (The space on the floor next to his chair."  He does not blink, waiver nor is he deterred from undoing everything I had worked on for the past 5 days... It is only with quick thinking that we rescue these decorated clips from the "floor file" with a quick flick of the wrist as we quickly remove them from his eyesight and grasped.

So... to say we go backward on some days is really to say we go backward on some days. We have to out think him and he often gets ahead of us.

I think of my current life in the autism highway as my own mini survivor challenge, outthinking, outlasting and outwitting  a mind that I still cannot decipher and probably never will.

It has come to that now, with his young adult mind, comes new challenges and new ways to circumfent autism's destructive forces. But I also believe, like Survivor, I will never ever never give up... The win is always in my sights and loss is not an option.

Never give up!  One of our signature items from the shop and one that so far he is happy to package. Perhaps next week those darn strings will need to be removed... we'll be ready.

Cate for Andrew

Saturday, July 14, 2012

taking a break

Taking a break from stress and from work should be everyone's goal. Even if only 5 minutes at a time, we need to sit back, look up and relax and let go of those stressors that turn life into a juggling act.

My dogs are able to enjoy life fully, just digging in and letting go - they remind me that is what is all about - live for the moment - the next step will take care of itself.

When was the last time you had fun in 6 inches of water? I took off my sandals and got in with them and it felt sooooooo good. They are onto something.


Sharing creative activities for people with autism

Wanted to share a picture of Joe - a young man with autism - who seems to have a knack for die cutting. His mom is super creative and it is only natural that he would follow in her foosteps.  I am sure we can all stretch our imaginations a little bit and realize that crushing soda cans, emptying garbage cans and cleaning up tables, (which has been the status quo ) for so long  - is something of a stuck-in-the-past idea.

We can do better and we should do better. It is the purpose of this blog to show we ARE doing new things and breaking new barriers. Open minds   open possibilities...

What a beautiful and perfectly organized activity area for Joe - I  think lots of good things could happen in this studio!

Here we have Joe using a die cut machine.   Wonder what he was making?


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Living the "inside" life OR coloring within the lines in an outside the lines world

Having dedicated this blog to autism, autism endeavors, creating a business for a teen with autism where few have dared to tread before, I would be remiss if I did not, from time to time, comment on those areas of life with a teen or adult with autism that sets our lives apart from the "color outside the lines" world that we all live in.

I realize more and more as Andrew turns 18 and looking beyond that (if I dare) that life with autism becomes, at least for our family, MORE reclusive not less, and that being able to live an "outside" life is a lofty and often unattainable goal.  What does an "outside" life look like? Well it looks the same as a "color outside the lines life."

Let me explain... living the autistic life or la vida loca entails many details and planning maneuvers that the typical population would not even dream of (unless they had infant triplets or quadruplets under 1 year of age) and even then it pales in comparison.  Coloring outside the lines and for those who do so to me means a life where an event can be planned in an hour, where a day trip is decided upon at breakfast, and a late night bonfire on the beach is not out the realm of reality. Actually sitting down in front of a bonfire would be a wish just in and of itself. Were andrew to be with us, it would not be feasible or desirable. Unless running down the beach is part of the "fun" of the event. (Did I mention running down the beach in the dark?)

Can we attend an event? Will it be noisy/crowded/hot/far from home/of a long duration? Usually the answer is NO. 

Can we attend as a family an event, birthday, anniversary, barbecue - the answer also is resoundingly "no" there is no one willing, eager or available to stay with an 18 year old 3 year old who has behaviors that challenge, on any given day,  your patience, resolve and endurance. 

And so without realizing it your "outside" life becomes an "inside life" living within the restrictions, gates, fences (imaginary or real ) that you are forced to construct to support the life that you have devoted yourself to defend and support, albeit unintentionally and without forethought.

It is a shoot from the hip world, spontaneity has been shelved along with inconsistency or free spirited activities. Activities must be planned, orchestrated, planned again, double checked and then even then with all this planning, oftentimes events run amuck. Respite workers don't show, come late or have other intefering plans, (afterall they are from the "color outside the lines" world where the same rules don't apply.

I am not angry or bitter about leading this "inside" life but there are days that I truly would like just a bite, a nibble at the "outside the lines world" even if only for a day - that world where spontaneity rules, and consistency is thrown to the wind.

Having said all of this - it now is time for me to prepare activities for andrew's day and to once again engage in the rules of my "inside" life - I chuckle at Cesar Milan's (dog whisperer) admonitions to each client when working with their unruly pet  - "no touch, no talk, no eye contact" that is often the mantra of my day...

A sense of  humor helps a lot and a sense of a bigger purpose buoys me on the tough days. I am thankful  for my stubborn tenacious nature, it has served me well these last years.

My next blog posting will return to life in the shop! but I digressed to   share the lifestyle of the family truly living with severe autism.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Our little studio in the carriage barn has a very long history. Constructed in the 1890's it was built to house the horse and buggies that would travel far and wide to attend dances at the local Grange. Built mainly in a rich agricultural region of central New Jersey it has a rich history of ties to the Revolutionary War and the Delaware River freight businesses.

Surrounded by a plethora of towns boasting ties to Molly Pitcher, George Washington and Revolutionary War battlefields, this area served as a meeting place and a trading post as far back as anyone can remember and history can account for.

With this rich history this barn sat vacant over the years and/or stored car parts and miscellaneous bits of this and that that overflowed from the house.

During the time that Andrew became more effected  by autism and required more stimulation and engagement, the barn served to provide a source of positive interactions with arts and crafts etc.  It now serves as his studio and craft room to explore new and different ways to engage him in his own little endeavor to produce products to help others with developmental disabilities procure the items they need to be successful. 

So eventually, we will get moved and relocated into a nice airy space to continue with our endeavors to make products that people will enjoy having and whose proceeds will benefit  other individuals with disabilities.

Our charity is SJ Kids Trust - you can visit them on line.

Cate for Andrew

Monday, July 2, 2012

Independence day

What do you think when you approach the 4th of July - what are we celebrating independence from? work for the day? 

I'd like to think of 4th of July as  high summer - a time to enjoy the summer breezes - but it has been so hot as of late, not too much to enjoy other than turning up the A/C.

We have been busy though and we never stop.

Getting ready for two shows in Sept and October and trying to get an inventory on board to be able to support our shows and also to be able to make another donation to SJ Kids Trust.

andrew has proven himself to be a diligent worker and we hope and pray for some good karma to send us to our next destination - whatever that might be - we are open to change, hope and optimism.

Working on some new ideas, new party favors and hoping for success to carry us through next year. We always make items that Andrew can participate in assembling or producing and our long term goal would be to add another individual to help work in the shop with us.

We have been getting a lot of support in our efforts to keep Andrew busy from his great behavioral specialist, Amanda.  She has taken a lot of new pictures and we will be posting them to Facebook as they evolve...

Wishing and hoping for everyone's summer to be peaceful..


Saturday, June 2, 2012

DONATION MADE - Shop continues to work toward success

A donation was made to the SJ Kids Trust from Papercatz and Pizzacatz both at

I hope to continue to be able to make more donations and to push this little business to a place of ongoing contributions.

Andrew continues to work also toward becoming more independent in the shop and we are totally reorganizing his chores to make him an independent guy and make him feel like a real employee of his own business.

We will be moving and renovating the other side of our old barn to become a more streamlined place of business to hopefully welcome more business in the next year to enable us to donate more and more to charities directed towards individuals with autism and developmental disabilities.

thank you to everyone who has donated, and hope for the future to donate  in a bigger way to break this cycle of apathy and hoplessness.

Everyone has the ability to do good things, it simply depends on your point of view. Do you believe you can?If you believe then indeed you CAN.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Quiet whispers

Just last week our dog died - our friend, companion, and helper.  He was 10.  He was chasing a frisbee last week and going fishing with our oldest son, and this week he is gone, taken by cancer.  We thought he had a lot more time but we were wrong. 

At night  I would often work in the barn on my little crafts and business - I would sneak out sometimes in the early hours of the morning, working till my eyes could not see anymore, and he would somehow know and be waiting for me in the yard, as if to guide me back inside. I KNEW he was there more than I saw him. He was jet black and blended into the night. Ocassionally I would catch the swish of his big tail as he greeted me.  He was never too tired to greet me and we always would exchange a few whispered words. I would lean down into his soft velvet ear and say "go to bed."  He would silently look up as if to say "you too." 

He was with us in the good times and bad, the rocky autism days and the smooth days, and he never faltered, staying steady and interested in anything Andrew did. Though andrew never paid any attention to him, Obi always was interested in Andrew's comings and goings, never judging, just silently watching with the unmistakable beat of his tail on the grass, or wall whenever Andrew walked by.

He will be missed. He is missed. He was a heartbeat at our feet when he lay with us and a steady, loving soul through all the storms of these last 10 years.

If there are places in heaven for good dogs, I pray he is up there looking down and wishing us well. He will be forever missed and forever in our hearts and minds.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who do we trust

When raising a child on the autism spectrum, it is an ongoing battle to understand how best to help and who to trust  in the process.

I have learned nothing and learned a lot all at the same time, and I have no answers.

What I know (quoting Oprah) is that you have to trust yourself first, your gut, your spirit and your determination to steer a direction that feels right...

There are many many times that I want to give up, give in and throw in the towel, but I never do because to do so would be to quit not only on my dreams but on Andrew's as well.  Without me/us steering, holding tight and caring, his stormy seas would quickly turn to an endless tsunami. 

Riding crest after crest to nowhere.  So I hang tight to those things I believe in, attempt to steer straight and true, and learn to turn off the noise around me that serves no purpose but to distract.

Bless us all  surfers of these uncertain seas!

Andrew continues to work in his shop and I continue to hope and pray for a better future not only for him but for all. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Making new things and keeping busy

This past month we have been getting ready for a May craft show.  We have some nice new things, yummy Citrus soaps, all  hand made, and fresh and pure.  Hand made by a local craftsperson it is fresh made and delicious to smell. 
Two new soaps, citrus orange and grapefruit with fresh orange peel, and lemon poppyseed.

Andrew is making some new things for spring and summer, uplifting and  fun, simple flower gift tags, each  hand cut and hand made, cheerful and happy they will light up your package or gift.

Andrew hand cuts each shape and I help with the hot glue.. I hope you enjoy our new  products. Each and every product is made with love and care. Each sale includes two paper flowers and two color coordinated gift tags!  Sure to lift your spirits with their cheerful colors and happy spirit.



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Help me, Please

This past 18 months has been a long hard climb for us as an autism family. Filled with joy, hope, despair, frustration and determination.

Today for the first time in many many long months, my son said to his teacher, "Help me please"  as he stood in front of a closed door.

I was very taken back by that comment since he has not spoken in this last year and  a half and I sensed in a truly  heartfelt way that he was asking her more than help with the door. His doors have been closed for a long time, and this new teacher has opened his eyes and his heart to new possibilities.

I think "help me" is the anthem for the majority of teens with autism .. I wondered how many people are listening to this world of quiet thoughtful  autism whispers.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Broken pieces - new life

It is often diffficult to make sense of senseless things and/or see the beauty in destructive acts, but when living with an individual with autism you have to make sense where often there is no sense.  Andrew has cycles of breaking things, mugs, cups and plates  - indiscriminate items that have a large shatter effect - pieces flying everywhere. 

I recently took some of those broken pieces and turned them into garden ornaments. A terracotta pot now holds court in a flower bed, stenciled with hopeful sayings and optimism.

Life is not a clear cut road, there are many detours.  One can drown in the pessimissim or try and attempt to rise above ...making lemonade out of lemons is a theme  especially with a disability that oftentimes makes absolutely no sense..


broken pieces - hope springs

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Autism awareness month - Our next donation

Things have been busy in the little shop here in the barn. We have labeled our soy candles and gotten them ready. Looking into some craft fairs to attend to spread awareness and continuing to look for ways to engage Andrew in a positive way.

This month we will be donating money from the shop to the SJ Children's Trust -  I spoke with the representative there and that will be our directed donation.

Many thanks as well to one of the members of our listserv for being so generous.  In her honor we will be donating the money in honor of Jackie P!   Giving in the most positive way from one autism family to another.

God bless and Happy Easter


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How do we engage a teen with autism?

We are not alone in facing some incredibly challenging times this past   year and one of the biggest has been engagement  for a teen with autism. How does a parent or a professional turn downtime, nonengaged time, destructive time into positive engagement and positive activities.

Many individuals with autism struggle as they reach this new mountaintop. They have climbed the educational ladder only to find that once at the top they don't know what to do with their skills..

It is with that intention in mind that we began this business - both as a means to engage Andrew, who is 17, but also to engage him in useful creative areas that would lead to employment for him and also raise money and awareness of the difficulties faced by teens with autism.

Our shop provides engagment for andrew while also raising money to buy communication devices for teens and adults with autism.   Our missions are simple, creative employment, fund raising, and donations of communication devices, either IPADS or IPODS with communication software.

Depending on our funds ( which is completely tied to in-store sales), we   donate at least 20%,  usually more,  toward our goal of funding the next communication device.

getting candles labeled

To put Andrew to work, he is now shredding and using his shredding skills to make custom ribbons.

It is a job that he LOVES and uses his superior shredding skills.   He is also in the candle selling business now and has a very good time putting labels on candle jars, and getting them ready for sale. 

Putting on the labels

shredding finally  has a purpose!

Jeremy's climb

I received a picture from a young man. His mom sent it to me, and it shows a beautiful kid with a giant smile on his face.

His mom entitled it "Jeremy's climb" - she was referring to his rope climbing adventures.

However, I think Jeremy's climb refers to much more - his climb through life is precarious  - lots of traps, and craters, pitfalls, and mountains to climb just to do what other young boys his age can do easily and without assistance.

He is hanging onto ropes in this picture with a harness and has two spotters on the ground. 

It is symbolic to me how many people are needed to help a person with autism "climb."  We need teachers, and doctors, behaviorists, support personnel - these people are our daily "ropes" just to get us to the next steps.

I hope that we can all celebrate Jeremy's climb and pray for his climb to continue and that he gets the assistance he needs from all those people that  he and all our kids need to make each day successful. 

With love to Jeremy and his mom Barbara - who is his daily climb "instructor." 


Friday, March 30, 2012

Clothes shredding goes mainstream

Our newest project in the store has been making hand made muslin ribbons - to try to find something Andrew likes to do,is good at and can be turned into a product is a never ending quest.

He is absolutely fabulous at shredding - that is a well honed skill -  jeans, shirts, sweatshirts, removing hoods from sweatshirts, sleeves from same, and/or removing the toe ends of socks are all highly enjoyable "hobbies."  Perhaps the clothes are autistically restyled, retro or shabby chic?

Is he onto something the rest of the world is not?  A hoodieless sweat shirt that still bares the raw threads from its recent revision gives it a bohemian sort of look I suppose.  Toeless socks might be nice with sandals... who  makes the rules anyway, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

He has recently taken to removing belt loops from clothing, everyones clothing, we all walk around this house belt loopless - jeans, pants, anything with belt loops. When he can find a scissor the loops are neatly removed, When he cannot it is a random ripping sort of affair, and leaves jagged holes, artfully  placed around the waist band. Should you choose colorful underwear all the better for a more avant garde effect.

So do we have a budding designer? Ready for the runway? maybe not.  He'd need an agent to represent him for sure.

So it was with some tongue in cheek humor that shredding has now gone mainstream... he is now shredding 100% cotton into strips which are then dyed, ironed and turned into colorful homespun ribbons.

So I guess there is some sort of silver lining to even the most awkard and seemingly destructive behaviors.


Andrew's shredding takes on a new flair!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Andrew at work

I have seen great strides since Andrew has been working in our shop.  Our  logo is  "Creative employment for people with autism."

I would like to hope and think that our sons and daughters can do  more than put bolts in a box or some other mundane task that society deems they can or should do.  What can we do to change this perception?
I would like to hope and think that if given the opportunity our kids can do many many things, it is on our shoulders to think up those tasks that are respectful and interesting to them and then make it happen....

Maybe that should be the store's logo: MAKE IT HAPPEN  

Andrew was hard at work this day putting labels on little soap samples!  He seemed to really like it and I think on some level he knows it is something different and something more tuned in to independence and growing up.... He labeled quite a few soaps that day, and he was quite fast at it... His only reward was a bag of chips! 


Working hard

Today we tried something new, putting labels on candle jars. Shown once, Andrew was ready to do them all. Had I had 100 candles, he probably would have done them all...  He seems to enjoy new jobs and likes a little twist and challenge.

I wish I had more work for him and each day I try to dream up something new!

Keep the challenges coming, keep things diverse and at the same time consistent to their schedules and you have a happy mix.  I know this was a week where planets must have been in alignment because we had a "smiley" week.

I tried to post a picture but somehow or another I lost the pictures in cyber space. Will try again tomorrow...


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Silence is NOT golden

Recently someone said to me that it's hard to delineate and determine what  deficits or lack of progress a person with autism might have due to many individuals with autism's inability to speak.

I would fancy a guess that if you look closely at a person with autism, even the nonverbal ones, they WILL tell you how they are doing if you care to take the time and attention to observe them,  interact with them, and care about them.

For them silence is NOT golden since they become the  silent society that does not get the attention or rewards that speaking individuals can demand.

It makes me angry and it makes me determined to keep fighting to keep speaking up for people with autism who cannot. 

Don't let silence be the last "word." 


Monday, March 26, 2012

Hope & love autism hearts

For the last month I have been working on little stoneware autism puzzle  heart charms. They are hand made, and fired in a kiln, glazed and fired again. 

A labor of love truly.  Many of the hearts have love and hope inscribed on the back. 

A little necklace was created  and I hope to honor Autism awareness month in a special way.

Our candles are up and running, (albeit slowly, I  need a few more arms and definitely a second set of fingers to finish all I would like to do)...

I hope they are successful in raising some awareness and some money toward our goal of donating more IPODS and IPADS to individuals with autism...

A delicate hemp, bamboo or leather cord was added to allow them to be worn as a necklace or dangled in your car as a reminder to never let hope and love slip away... No matter what, keep those things close to your heart.



Sunday, March 25, 2012

sharing some pictures of those things that lift me up

A couple of photos of some scenes from the barn where Andrew and I work  in relative peace.  Photography is something I gave up years ago and am trying to get back into my life.  It is easy to get derailed when you have a child with a disability, but finding yourself again in something you love, whatever that is is a way to reconnect to the person you are- I often lose my way in my need to support and direct my son, and I know most of us do the same - so every once in a while I guess we need to come back to the road we left many years ago.