What I Want You To Know: Having a child with Asperger’s Syndrome is a joy

I wrote this note because I am not comfortable talking about this topic– but I talk around it all the time. I go back and forth between thinking it is best to let my son “fly under the radar” or “label” him or just turn back the clock 30 years to when he would be ‘quirky’ and let it at that. I submitted this to “Rage Against the Minivan“. “What I Want You to Know ;is a series ;of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face.” 

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What I want you to know: Having a child with Asperger’s Syndrome is a joy

We spend lots of time building tracks and towers.

I want you to know that sometimes I wish my other child had Asperger’s too. Even as a newborn, he had the same personality he has now. It is not easy to be a toddler that does not like change or transitions. The world is new.

I expected my son to enjoy preschool, play dates and birthday parties. I had friends that were pregnant when I was and we had play dates together. I thought that our children would be best friends.

My boys call their my mom “Butterfly” instead of Grandmother. She is a math whiz and a bridge champion. She is forever telling me my son is normal. I guess it’s all relative. (pun intended)

I learned the hard way that groups, surprises and new experiences meant meltdowns. Outings with friends were a disaster. He would cling to me, he would fall apart, and we would leave early. I watched other children playing together while my son would not get off my lap. I gave up on play dates. I did not have mom friends I could relate to. My son could tell you the 50 states in order (and their borders) when he was 2, but he hated birthday parties. For a time it was lonely for us. I think every parent comes to that place where you have to let go of your expectation of what you child is going to be like, in my case, autism led me there.

We spent a lot of time at museums and parks. I learned what made my son feel comfortable. I sat up at night and googled autism. I did not know if he had “it” or not. I did not know anything. It took a long time for me to understand that rigidity was not something that he could help. I lost my temper about things were because of his Asperger’s. I feel guilty about that; again, I’m not sure if it was avoidable.

I’ve learned to be patient with my son. I learned to see things from his point of view. This year when he was six, we had a play date where he left my side and played with his friend.

My son floated on a cloud of happiness about his new friend.

I want you to know that my child can make friends. My child makes connections with gregarious kids, the ones that love to play and let it go that my son is awkward. I love these kids because he blossoms when he is with them. I get to see a side of my son that is otherwise not possible. If you have a friendly little boy or girl that disregards the fact that sometimes my son won’t answer or look ;you in the eye, but finds a way to play with him anyhow you would know that a child with Asperger’s has feelings. He has as many feelings as you do, it is just that his feelings are in a maze and they have to wend their way through his anxieties and his need for order to get out. Sometimes he is so concerned about order and rules that he can’t make space for being a child.

Always making something beautiful

When people communicate online, feelings are easily hurt because text lacks nuance and inflection. My son has that same challenge face to face. He can’t read your body language or tone of voice, or if he can he does it so poorly that you are left feeling misunderstood. For the first six years of his life, while kids were soaking up expression, inflection and mingling with each other my son was oblivious. It’s obvious that groups of people overwhelm him, he chooses to stay silent or else if confronted he is awkward at best. He said that when people talk to him at school he “doesn’t expect that” or he feels “stunned”. The more people he is with, the more lost he gets. I understand how offense is taken. As I watched him change into a silent boy I knew we needed to get him tested. I am glad we did. The diagnosis of Asperger’s has connected me with real help.

What does that mean for him in grade school? Over the course of a school day, numerous unanticipated contacts build up and create stress. Now my son works on “managing his ball of energy” so that that stress comes out in swimming or swinging at the park instead of shouting and shoving. In small groups with time to react, it is much easier. He’s just like other kids in that regard, when he feels overwhelmed, he acts out. His teachers have insight, he has speech therapy to help him with open-ended communication and an IEP that sets him up for success in the classroom. I am incredibly grateful for these services. The school recognizes his challenges and specs out the work he has to do to be successful. He is held to a high standard.

I want you to know that autism is not a tragedy. We need people that see things differently.

Sunset with Saguaro Silhouettes kindergarten art project

My is a warm and friendly person. Yes it is more work to communicate with him–he is not a socially conforming person. As a school librarian I see all the kids developing on their own pace. Some are conforming, they form power blocs and band together watching each other for steps outside of expected behavior. Like “pink is for girls.” Other kids are sensitive and caught up in their own feelings. They like to play alone or with a few friends. They are sensitive to nature or fascinated by art. Some kids are logical. Some kids are attention seeking. Some so active they can’t settle. Most kids are a combination of it all, depending on the day. Autism is just one more way of looking at the world. My child plays best with kids that don’t expect him to follow a script and in small groups. The kids that are very verbal and looking for social conformity find my child frustrating. That’s okay. Those kids are socially adept. They daunt more than just the autistic kids. I want you to know that kids have many dimensions and they are all telling you the truth about themselves. Once I relented on what I expected my son to be and got to know who he was actually things are so much better.

I don’t like it when people say that someone with Asperger’s doesn’t have feelings, doesn’t need friends, is a super genius. I understand why you think that, but it isn’t true. He is not a robot. He feels things so intensely that he is overwhelmed. He can understand how you feel too. He’s been raised with as much respect and care as your child. But we fight a different battle than you do. His homework is social exchange and his playtime is math worksheets. Every year it gets easier as I work with him to support him instead of trying to change him.

I wanted to excuse my son from P.E. I “knew” it would be a nightmare. I held my tongue and gave my son’s growing maturity and his teacher a chance. It turns out his P.E. teacher is scheduled oriented, has high expectations and is a clear communicator. My son loves dodge ball and loves P.E. Lesson learned. Public school has been good for my son. I had the same fear about team sports. My son uses his ability to focus to make him a pleasure to coach. I watch him doing drills in the backyard and I think, look at you, loving sports. Maybe it is because he has been lucky with coaches that are very clear and fair when they speak. I learned that when he understands and feels confident, he moves mountains. After 1st grade, I learned not to pigeon hole him.

Both boys are overjoyed to reunite with their dad. We had been on the East Coast for two weeks before he joined us. This picture was taken at the airport.

Autism uses the symbol of the rainbow jigsaw in its awareness campaign. Before I knew my son was autistic, I knew he loved rainbows because they followed an order. I learned how important order and rules are to my son to help prevent surprises. I see the world in a new way because of my son. We talk about ocean currents, recycling and crop irrigation. We talk about Jesus. I think he is going to change the world, because if anyone is going to decode the language of dolphins or see a glimpse into the mystery of the weather it is my son with his love of patterns.

My friend Mandy made him a gorgeous cake for his 5th birthday.

Sometimes I think that Asperger’s should not be called a “disorder” because it is the insistence on order that makes my son who he is. I want you to know that Asperger’s is cool and sometimes, I think my son is on to something with the way he is oriented. If my son is in your child’s class, I want other kids to enjoy his unique gifts and reach out to him. They will find a loyal friend with a pure heart.

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Books: I read the Hunger Games, now what? (no spoilers)

Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses

–Juvenal

Dear Students,

I love that YA books are driving popular culture. I love that kids share books at school and eagerly look forward to a new book. I love watching parents falling in love with a character that their child cares about. I know that some folks are going to hate and say that they don’t like it or they don’t get it, that’s okay. If you found your way to my page, welcome. Don’t hate. Unconditional love, that’s we are all about here when it comes to books.

I think he is talking to me

Like a lemming, I saw Hunger Games last week, enjoyed the movie even more because I saw it with my girlfriends. I love the scene around these books. I love the creativity of the fans, I love Hunger Games Mania on Pinterest + If Katniss had a pinterest board. Funny.

Tempe Marketplace is the only theatre in the country where you can see the actual bow and arrow that Katniss used in The Hunger Games and Effie Trinket’s dress! Stop by and check them out before you see The Hunger Games! http://ow.ly/9R9Mo

Our book club picked the Hunger Games trilogy last August, I fell in love with Katniss Everdeen–so strong and fierce. After I finished Mockinjay, I looked around and said “What next?”

I googled it on the computer I read Hunger Games, “now what?” and 10,600,000 results came back.

Looking at all those responses made me feel sleepy. I want one of my friends to say “here, read this, this will get you by until the movie comes out

Where would we be without our girlfriends? My friend Emiliee’s family owns A+ Book Fairs. I met her when I started working with her small family-owned company to contract out our school book fair. She gave a book talk on her favorite YA reads for my volunteers. I scribbled down her recommendations on my Amazon listmania page. This year I’ve happily worked my way through her list.

My favorite (so far) on her list is the Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan. It is the first of a ten books Ranger series (and it has a movie deal, fun!). I admit, I looked at the book and thought “boy book, ten book series? Not for me.” I already had my Piers Anthony time and when I reread the Adept series as an adult they were not as good as I remembered them. However, I’m a librarian and a mom to boys. I gave it a chance. Emilie raved about the books. That’s all I needed.

Emilie’s family is addicted to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. Her mom reads it out loud to her father.  My husband and I are reading it together now, it’s fantastic. I think what makes a great trilogy is not the setting, but the relationships and the character development over the course of the story. The characters were complicated, the teens acted their age and the bullying subplot in the first book broke my heart.

On my I have no idea but I heard it was good list, my friend Lara texted me about this book, Life as We Know It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It had a reassuring mass of rave reviews on Good Reads and Amazon. Life As We Know was one of the American Library Association’s Best Books For Young Adults Readers in 2007. It is the first book in a series of three. It is my pick for what to read next.

May the odds be ever in  your favor,
Mrs. Kenney



Phoenix Art Museum: Land Art by Matthew Moore

“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important that television.”
Aldo Leopold

Downtown Gilbert Water Tower

Dear Students,

Gilbert is one of the most rapidly growing cities in the country. Six years ago, we sold our house in another fast growing part of the country, Loudoun county. I think that the Gilbert you see today on your way to school and around town is turning into something new. The farms and green spaces are yielding to developments and strip malls.

In May of 2012, Gilbert subdivision Morrison Ranch converted the last square mile of farm land in Gilbert to developed land. The Phoenix Art Museum has an exhibit that explores the changing face of Gilbert. Matthew Moore’s exhibit in the Marshall and Hendler galleries is featured from February 11 – June 10, 2012. The art museum offers a free or voluntary donation on Wednesdays from 3 to 9PM.

Moore Estates West by Matthew Moore.

Matthew Moore “Land Estates” (detail)

I read Matthew Moore, a 4th generation farmer in the Phoenix area, in my paper. He turned his fields into statements about development, I’ll let you read it in his words, I copied the text from the Arizona Republic:

“I’m always on both sides of this,” he says. “I hate to lose the land, but at the same time, 253 homes get plopped on that land, and I realized these are homes and these are families that are moving in here and living on property that we’ve had to ourselves for 70 years. But how can that be a bad thing?

“Yeah, the model is bad, and the sense of place is wrong. But those are different questions than just saying suburbia is bad.

“Just stopping the development isn’t going to solve the human condition.”

His art is about this long look. It contrasts the need to feed people with the need to house them.

“Suburbia sucks,” he says. “But you don’t just stop it. You have to come up with a model that makes sense for the transition.”

Transition to what?

“Something more sustainable, maybe.”

Have human beings ever done anything sustainable?

“Good point,” he says. “We’re not really great at it.”

Moore is best known for the art he made on his farm. Actually, art he made from his farm.

In 2005, he took a 35-acre chunk of his land and planted wheat and sorghum in alternating areas in a design that echoed the street plans of the surrounding housing development. From the air, it looked very like the tract housing.

In an earlier piece, he created a giant floor plan of a tract home by weeding lines out of a wheat field.

Matthew Moore Catalog from show “And the Land Grew Quiet” available for pre-order.

So how does this make me feel, writing from my home in a development? I look out my window and there is another house, or six. I enjoy nature and the change of seasons by bobbing and weaving between encroachment to find the washes and the wildflowers. I know folks like the Morrison Ranch family and Johnston Family (Joe’s Farm Grill) love Gilbert.  I hope other builders who expand and leave their mark on Gilbert are careful to integrate our past into our future.

Gilbert Heritage District

What parts of your hometown do you love? What landmarks make you feel at home?

From next door,
Mrs. Kenney

Movie Review: Pistol Packin’ Mama

Dear Students,

I picked up the documentary Pistol Packin’ Mama at the 390th Memorial Museum in Tucson, AZ.  This movie weaves the oral histories of men who served together on a B-17 bombing crew with combat footage and personal photographs from the war. Ken Burns could not have made a better movie.

The magic of the film is that the men are friends with one another and their voices and memories overlap and amplify the sadness and the dark humor of the war.

You can buy the movie from American Hero Films or from the 390th Memorial Museum online store. If you excuse my copy/paste from another review of this film from the American Hero Film website:

Air Progress writes, “There’s a very distinct reason this video was voted the Best 1991 Documentary at the New York and Houston film festivals. Putting it simply, it’s a profound bit of moviemaking that draws the viewer directly into the very soul of a wartime B-17 bomber crew.” And “more than just a vivid documentary, Pistol Packin’ Mama is a true emotional experience that ranks in dramatic impact with feature films like 12 O’Clock High and All Quiet on the Western Front.” Pistol Packin’ Mama is the third film in the American Hero World War 2 documentary series, the critically acclaimed winner of over 10 prestigious awards. The Star Tribune calls the interviews “powerful” and says, “there is nothing sanitized about these documentaries.” The Pioneer Press says, “Impressively produced and edited. [The results are] totally unlike the routine ‘I was there documentary.’”

My husband did not visit the museum with me and when I came home that night I popped the DVD in. He was reading a book at the time and before he knew it, the book was down in his lap and he was alternately laughing and drawn in by the memories of these brave men. I recommend this movie if you want to learn more about WWII history.

Warm Regards,
Mrs. Kenney

Spring Break: Taking a trip through time in Casa Grande

Dear Students,

On our way home from Tucson yesterday, the afternoon lay ahead with no plans. I took the chance and drove through the towns of Eloy and Casa Grande on the way home to have a look around. Eloy is famous as a mecca for skydivers so we kept our eyes peeled for parachutes and were rewarded when we saw three wee chutes tick-tocking down from the blue sky.  I relied on my GPS to point out a destination for me, spinning through the options presented in the “Historical Attractions” feature, landing on the Casa Grande Historical Society.

Downtown Casa Grande improved the outlook for the afternoon considerably. We parked at the Art Museum (closed that day) and enjoyed the beautiful bougainvillea that rioted along the wall. We walked across the street to the Casa Grande Historical Society and found it open and staffed with friendly faces.

Number two child cooperates happily for the picture. Number one child was refusing to cooperate.

The Casa Grande Historical society has rooms that display old fashioned kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, farm equipment and school rooms. It has ample signage and displays characterizing different aspects of the collection. It was a large, clean, well lit and attractively arranged museum. I was not surprised by the collection but I was impressed by the setting and the grounds–the fact that the museum is as lovely as it is speaks volumes about the regard Casa Grande has for it’s community, past and present. I encourage you to visit your own historical society so that your children can get a view into how technology and our way of living has altered as time goes by. Admission for the boys was free and my admission was $5.00. A docent toured with us inviting my boys to use a telegraph to transmit a Morse code and turned on the model train for my little one. The morse code was a big hit with both boys as it was attached to a speaker and had laminated examples of the code at the ready so they could tap out messages. We’ve used a telegraph at the Wells Fargo museum in downtown Phoenix, but this is the first time I’ve seen one attached to a speaker. Neat-o.

The Telegraph display allowed the kids to transmit messages. Very nicely done.

Outside we found the Rebecca Dallis schoolhouse open for touring. My boys sat in the desks and wrote on the chalkboard. We talked a bit about how this narrow room held all eight grades. When no high school was available, high school students took lessons on the porch (imagine the heat) from her husband.Later when the boys tackle Brown v. The Board of Education, I know right where I want to take the boys for a visit.

The caption by Dorothea Lange reads: Eloy, Pinal County, Arizona. Truckload of cotton pickers just pulled into town in the late afternoon. Fresh from Arkansas, “We come over to help folks pick their cotton.”

My favorite part of the museum was the farm implements–because that is where I made a wonderful discovery. This display was artfully arranged to elevate the confusing array of lethal looking instruments against a backdrop of photographs. It astonished me that iconic American photographer Dorothea Lange visited the Eloy/ Casa Grande in the 30’s as part of her work documenting the Dustbowl and the plight of migrant farmers. After my desolate drive through Eloy on the way to Casa Gradne, it was great to see it through her eyes. When I came home I pored over articles about the dustbowl and looked for more Dorothea Lange photos from Arizona. This  student essay ties together the farm equipment I saw at the museum with reality of the dust bowl. If you admire Dorothea Lange and want to learn more about her work from her voice, this interview is invaluable.

I’ll close with a series of photos from Dorothea Lange, taken in the Casa Grande area.  All captions are Dorothea Lange’s original remarks.

From inside a DeLorean,
Mrs. Kenney

South of Eloy, Pinal County, Arizona. Ten-year-old migratory Mexican cotton picker. He was born in Tucson. He is fixing the family car. He does not go to school now, but when he did go was in grade 1-A. Says (in Spanish) “I do not go to school because my father wishes my aid in picking cotton.” On preceding day he picked 25 pounds of Pima cotton.

Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Water supply for migratory cotton pickers in FSA mobile camp just established in Eloy District.

Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Cotton pickers, Mexican children, in ditch bank at the edge of grower’s camp. Boy at left picked 50 pounds of short-staple on preceding day.

Near Coolidge on Highway 87, Pinal County, Arizona. Migratory white cotton pickers stopped by engine trouble alongside the road. Related family groups frequently travel like this, in pairs or in caravans of three or four.

On Arizona Highway 87, south of Chandler, Arizona. Grandmother and sick baby of migratory family camped in a trailer in an open field. They came from Amarillo, Texas, to pick cotton in Arizona.

Near Coolidge, Arizona. These families are picking their own cotton. Mainly they are members of the Casa Grande cooperative farm.

Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Mexican irrigator on duty preparing field for flax cultivation.

On Arizona Highway 87, south of Chandler, Maricopa County, Arizona. Children in a democracy. A migratory family living in a trailer in an open field. No sanitation, no water. They came from Amarillo, Texas. Pulled bolls near Amarillo, picked cotton near Roswell, New Mexico, and in Arizona. Plan to return to Amarillo at close of cotton picking season for work on WPA.

Near Coolidge, Maricopa County, Arizona. Young girl works in cotton field on Saturday morning. Her father is member of the Casa Grande cooperative farms.

Spring Break: History comes alive at the 390th Memorial Museum

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Kipling

Dear Students,

On the grounds of the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona is the home of the 390th Memorial Museum. The museum is a labor of love on the part of a collection of World War II veterans who wanted to honor their comrades. I’ve heard some folks complain about the quality of our public schools. For those that feel that history is not being taught well in our communities, I urge you to visit your local museums–our schools may not change fast enough to keep up with the times, but I have no complaint about the work our museums are doing to educate, inspire and connect with the community.

I was not familiar with the 390th, so I didn’t know what to expect before I walked in the doors. From popular culture, I’ve learned about Flying Fortresses, the B-17’s that carried 10 men crews. The museum features a gleaming B-17 bomber with “I’ll be Around” emblazoned on it’s side.  A film titled “Pistol Packin’ Mama” is looped for viewing in an antechamber. Behind the film is a map of anti-aircraft installations over Germany. Another display includes a sample mission map. Watching the film will acquaint even the novice student of history with enough context to appreciate the exhibits. A mainstream film about B-17 bombers is Memphis Belle. (The real Memphis Belle is undergoing a restoration that started in 2005 and is expected to last 10 years. You can visit the Memphis Belle for free during the restoration as part of a behind the scenes tour offered by National Museum of the US Air Force (free), in Dayton, Ohio.)

When I visited with my son, I promised him a trip on the tram through the boneyard. Turns out the tram rides sold out before noon, fortunately for us. What I should have done was inquired at the desk if any of the docents were speaking that day. As we entered the museum I noticed a crowd of people listening to a docent who was seated on a stool in front of the B-17.

It seemed as if every one in the museum was collected in one area. I went over to investigate.

My boys are 6 and 4. I grew up visiting with my great uncles Ray, Tom and Bud who were all WWII vets. I think it was easier for me to learn about World War II because I had a personal connection with the Greatest Generation. I wanted my boys to hear a vet speak and make that connection as well.

Colonel Richard Bushong USAF, retired speaks on Thursdays at the 390th Memorial Museum. Come to meet him.

I typed up the portion of Colonel Bushong’s remarks that I was privy to while we visited–he was a B-17 pilot in the 390th. He completed his 25 missions before he turned 21. They might give you an idea of how extraordinary these oral histories are. Any errors in the notes are based on my memory, not the talk as I took notes when I went home that night. Later that night I read his memoir, My Wars by Richard Bushong. My notes are below:

“Regarding parachutes. We wore two o-rings on the front of our flight suits so that we could fasten the chutes if we needed too. We kept our harnesses cinched tight. I never had to bail out, which is good. When you deployed the chute sometimes it would hit you in the face which is not nice. Our ball turret gunner had to leave his parachute outside the ball turret. The way he got in was from a door that opened with a hand crank. He would fold himself inside for about 8 hours. You did not want to be claustrophobic. If your plane was struck in the fuel line (which was in the wing?–KK) this would create an explosion that would blow the wing off. This would make the plane spiral. You did not see many chutes come out of a plane like that because of centrifugal force. If we had to bail out, it was my job to hold the door open (gestures with red light pointer to escape hatch) I would be the last to go, so no one to hold the door for me. I didn’t really figure that out at the time or else I would have been more scared and I was already pretty scared.

To give you an idea of the casualty rates (this is where my transcription may have errors), in July of 1942 a squadron of 25 B-17 crews were sent overseas. In August they went into service. Of those 24 planes, only one survived. Now every plane destroyed is a lost crew of ten men. Not every plane lost all crew members, some bailed out. For every 100 crew members that bailed out 47 were killed and 53 were imprisoned. 

Regarding the climate of the B-17. The temperature of the plane was the same inside as outside. The plane was a thin metal shell. We flew 25,00o to 30,000 feet. My flying was done in the wintertime over Germany. Our plane was between 20 and 40 degrees below zero. Now our cockpit was a little bit warmer as we had the number 2 engine blowing a bit of warm air into the cockpit to keep the windows defrosted unless it was shot out. On three occasions my number 2 engine was shot out, but every time that happened we were already heading home. Now our crew dressed a little differently than we did. They wore what amounted to blue underwear with electric wires running through it under their sheepskin flight suits. These plugged directly into the plane’s electrical system. They worked all right. After the war someone took a look at them (we have one on display here) and said that would make a nice blanket. So that was the beginning of the electric blanket.

Now when I started out I was a co-pilot. When we flew our bombing runs we would spell each other every 15 or 20 minutes. We flew in such tight formation that it was hard work to maintain and we had to spell off frequently. When I flew I always looked at the same spot in front of me. I just tried to keep exactly in formation. I was not afraid when I was flying. When I was not flying, I had time to look al around at all the other planes, and the flak coming at us, the planes falling out of the sky. At times like that I was scared.

I did not talk very much about my service or what I did after the war. My son asked me for the tail numbers of the planes I flew. I researched the planes here. I flew 7 different B-17’s. He made of list of when they were built, the dates when I flew them and when the planes were destroyed. It was astonishing. I did not know what happened to these planes. (gestures with laser pen at wall of B-17 photos showing nose art and indicating his planes) One plane I flew, the Belle, the crew flew for 7 missions. We went on leave. When we came back, the Belle was destroyed. I learned that from this list. (gestures with pointer) this plane, the Royal Flush, was shot down with my crew but I wasn’t with them. I was in the hospital. Does anyone want me to buy them a lottery ticket (laughs). I guess sometimes it’s good to be in the hospital. Of the 7 planes that I flew 6 were destroyed in battle. The only plane that survived was named Johnny Walker. (Laughs) I guess that makes me a scotch man, but I’ve got a good reason I guess. I flew my 25 missions but I guess that was not enough.  My last mission was in 1971 in Vietnam. I’m the only 390th pilot that is a member of this museum. I’m grateful to talk to you today and I’m happen to answer your questions. Thank you for coming.”

Colonel Bushong will celebrate his birthday on March 26, 2012. Happy Birthday Colonel and God Bless You.

Richard Bushong, B-17 WWII Pilot

 The community surrounding our museums are extraordinary. I took both my children to this museum, on different days last week. I have an annual membership. ($40.00 and good for the Pima Air Space Museum and nearby Titan Missile Musem). Children 6 and under are free. My experience is that most local museums are humbly priced to make them accessible to families. For non-locals that read this post, look around your community for the historical societies and museums and make history come to life. Tell me, what museums do you support in your community?

Blue Skies,
Mrs. Kenney

I am grateful that we were able to spend some time with Colonel Bushong over spring break. He autographed the book for my sons.

Spring Break: Random Acts of Kindness

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers

Dear Students,

During my fist visits to Tucson, ten years ago I read the stories about Ben’s Bells that appear like magic twice a year, hanging by the hundreds around the city in trees and parks, near libraries and hospitals. Every week I read in the paper about a new volunteer “belled” by the community. And after Safeway tragedy struck in January 2011, Ben’s Bells replaced the fear and sadness that held Tucson in it’s thrall with bells. As a parent and as a school librarian, I want to temper the sad topics that the library presents like slavery, prejudice or war and I use Mr. Roger’s tenent “Look for the helpers.” To me, that is what Ben’s Bells is, a movement to spread kindness in our world.

You can’t find a bell, it has to find you. The note of serendipity and the message of the bell is the legacy of a little boy named Ben Packard who is gone too soon. His family relied on the kindness of others to get through their grief. The bells are very human and speak to everyone that finds one or is given one.

This Spring break we visited Tucson for a few days and on the top of my list was taking the boys downtown to the Ben’s Bells studio to paint. I’m not sure what I expected but if I imagined a fantasy workshop of kindness, Ben’s Bells matched my imagination. We sat in a garden that smelled like orange blossoms. A volunteer greeted us and in five minutes we were seated outside to paint. In the warm spring sun we sat at picnic tables with brushes, paint and scores of kindness coins waiting for a design. There is no fee to paint. At the counter I picked up a bumper sticker for my car and bought teachers gifts of smaller painted bells with the message “Be Kind”. The iconic Ben’s Bell I was told, is not for sale. I like it better than way don’t you?

Ben’s Bells studio is open to the public in two locations in Tucson. They hope to open a studio in Phoenix 2012. You can follow them on Facebook, where they have an active calendar.

I learned about the Ben’s Bells studio from my friend Becca. She visited the studio with a group of friends as part of the Mom it Forward movement and went back again with an out of town friend. Where would we be without our mom friends to get ideas from? I can’t think of a nicer way to spend spring break. Thanks to Ben’s Bells studios for making community service and the message of kindness tangible for my kids. We will be back again.

Look at that barrel crammed with hand painted beads for future bells. I love it!

If you want to learn more about Ben’s Bells I encourage you to visit their website, visit their studio, or follow them on Facebook. You don’t need to be local to remember to Be Kind.

Pass it on,
Mrs. Kenney