Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Barbaratoboni.com is Open for Business

photo by Patswerk
I’ve decided to update my website. My new web location is barbaratoboni.com. All of the information that you find here at barbarasmirror.com can be found at my new site. By using my name in the address bar, finding me should be easy. 
At barbaratoboni.com there is a blog on the home page. I have posted my first entry. Try out the comment section and let me know if it is easy to use. Your suggestions are appreciated. I’d love to hear from you. Dave, my husband, helped with the graphics on the home page banner. He used a photo of our Japanese maple tree sparkling with dew in the morning light.  What do you think?   
You will still be able to find my articles at http://barbbits.blogspot.com for a while, but eventually I will be using only one blog at the new location. In the next few weeks I will transfer some of my most popular articles over to the new site. I have no idea how long my older work will hang around at BlogSpot. It may never go away, but I like the idea of paring down.
Barbaratoboni.com uses WordPress, and the new program will be easier for me to manage. I’m a little sad about closing down Barbarasmirror.com. It is where I began writing online, but I’m excited about my future.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Face the World

photo by David Toboni

Age sprightly
Flower to bud
I’m only one bottle
of wrinkle repair
Nightly creams
daily potions
tiny jars
keep my cells
free radicals
botox needles
surgical knives
I drape all
Hide under
my bed
Derm doctors
what are you doing?
Creating elasticity
for my face?
This is not
a rubber ball

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


photo by Barbara Toboni. Along the coast near Jenner

In with the new! New ideas, new projects, and for me, makeovers of the old. Just like clearing out a closet, the files in my computer could use some re-organization. I will either throw out words I can no longer make sense of or reuse them in a new way.
Old poems may have new meanings for me now. Or, more importantly, the oldies can be recycled like this poem from a bit of prose I posted in May of 2015.  

Spring Snapshots

The sun’s embrace
triggers shoulders
to unwind

Spotless windows
of hard work

Hummingbird plays
in the spray
of sprinklers

Dazzling view
orange lilies
pink frilled azaleas

Tabby scratches
in pebbled dust
of vegetable garden  

A whiff of clean
sheets fresh
from the clothesline

Juicy mangoes
creamy avocados
Dreams of sun-soaked islands  

First drive to coast
first sight of sea
and its magnificence

Are you dreaming of spring? I am.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Father the Fly

Dad and me
You know how sometimes the holidays can make you feel blue because not everyone is still around? I've thought of a remedy. This year I have started a new tradition. Through the magic of my imagination I have decided to share this season with a creature, a reincarnated member of my family. 

For my first guest, I have conjured up my father as a fly. He died in 1982. Say I'm crazy, but it's true. My father is here as I write this, and he is a fly. I've noticed him before so it makes sense. On his birthday in October a few years ago I wondered how he would celebrate in heaven.  He enjoyed photography, tinkering with cars and boat motors, and he loved sailing. I imagined he'd be doing one of those things.

Later that day, as I worked on my computer, I felt a tickle on my arm. I noticed a fly had landed there. I shooed it away, but it was back seconds later flitting back and forth between me and the computer screen. As we played swat-the-fly, I had the odd sensation that I had seen this fly before. Since I had been thinking so much about him, I had hoped for a sign that Dad was still around in some form or another. Wouldn't it be great if our deceased relatives could connect with us?

Dad had been a teasing sort. He liked to get under my skin on occasion. It's no wonder I recognized him as a fly. 

Fast forward a few years. I'm having lunch last week. A fly appears. Odd that it's December and a fly is on the prowl.

"Dad, is that you?" I ask.

The fly ignores me. He continues to feast on my lunch crumbs. You didn't think he would talk, right?

As I write this, I know he's around me somewhere, and I'm going to include him in all my holiday plans. He can help me decorate the house, wrap gifts and bake cookies. He can lie in wait for me to work on the computer so he can pester me as he sees fit.

"It's so good you're here, Dad." I'll say this when he appears. "Want to help me find sprinkles for these cookies?"

Hope you have a great holiday season and are able to share it with all your friends and relatives--real or imagined.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Celebrating Writer's Week

I just bought a shiny new journal for our 5th wheel trailer. I want to record our travels around the country.The purchase also helps me celebrate Writer's Week, October 16th to October 22nd.
Kathy Thomas, president of the Napa branch of the California Writers Club, was recently awarded a framed certificate in honor of Writers Week by the Napa County Board of Supervisors. Good going Prez! She encouraged everyone in our last newsletter to make life worth reading.

Now all I have to do is get busy recording our recent travels. We bought our trailer in May. In August we spent a weekend at Point Reyes National Seashore where we stayed at Manchester Beach in a KOA campground. Definitely 5th wheel friendly, this spot had all the amenities: outdoor kitchen, fire rings, swimming pool, hook-ups for electricity and water. It was our maiden voyage and my son, Jim, and his wife, Whitney, planned the trip along with her parents, Tim and Dawn, and her Aunt Kristi, Uncle Ralph, and cousin, Jennine. Three RVs in all.

Chase traveled with us. Around dusk the first night he took a jog down to the beach and back and declared to all that he ran five miles. The next morning we all prepared for a long hike to the beach and were pleasantly surprised to find it was only one mile away with a good-for-walking path.

Whitney and Jennine fell in love with a herd of  cows at a pasture along the way. They were beautiful young animals with numbered tags on their ears. They came right up to the fence and greeted us as they posed for pictures. Perhaps they were hoping for treats.

The beachy weather was what we expected for Nornthern California in August. Foggy evenings clearing by noon each day and breezy, but not too cold. Evenings we all shared meals.  

Jim arrived Friday evening in his truck with a trailer carrying 3 kayaks. He's the youngest fishing fanatic in our family. He loves the ocean: the scenery, salty sea breezes, diving, spear-fishing, kayaking, sandy dogs, and all. Toby, his dog, rode up in the motor home with his old friend, Ashley (Whitney's family dog).

Chase and TJ (Whitney's brother) shared kayak #1. Jim and his friend, Daniel, used #2 and #3. Daniel, who had joined us for the day, spear-fished with Jim and he caught a rock fish, the most bright orange. Dave, Tim, and Ralph went fishing from the pier with no luck, so Dave bought fresh crabs from a fisherman and marinated them to go with everyone's dinner. 

The second day, Chase cooked everyone blueberry pancakes served from our trailer--our very first home-cooked meal. Very tasty! We all treated ourselves to one lunch at the pier after the guys went fishing. Great clam chowder!

We had no trouble with the 5th wheel along the way, just a little food spill, because we didn't secure our refrigerator door. Apparently, there's a certain click to listen for when you close the door. It locks the seal. Dawn later showed us our mistake. There had been a small spill, but luckily a Tupperware container saved my rice salad from ending up on the floor.

More trip talk to come. Happy Writers Week!  

Friday, September 16, 2016

News Blast

photo by Mark Morgan

I interrupt this blog post for an important announcement!
Recently my agent, Sandy Fergusen Fuller, of Alp Arts Company, contacted me.
She has sold my picture book, The Bunny Poets to Tannya Derby, publisher at MacLaren-Cochrane. The book will be released in the fall of 2017!
What, you say? I didn’t know she wrote picture books. I was inspired to write the book on a whim after attending a poetry reading at the St. Helena Library. The audience sat facing a podium and a wall of floor to ceiling windows with a vineyard view. While the poet read, I found myself distracted by a bunny wandering among the vines.
This is the only detail I will reveal about the book. More details will come later when we are closer to the release date. And, if I tell you everything now you won’t buy the book will you?
For those of you who did not know, I had tried (unsuccessfully) to sell another picture book on my own before seeking an agent. I found Sandy through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Sandy, an agent who writes picture books herself, helps authors develop their ideas if needed. Luckily, she liked the concept of that first book and helped me by offering to agent it.
In the meantime, I had studied a bit myself about picture books, and am also lucky enough to have a critique group for support. When my bunny book concept came along I sent it to her. So, I’m hopping up and down here with the news.
Thank you Tannya Derby! And thank you Sandy Fuller!
Now back to my regular series programming!
For newcomers to my blog, I’d like to explain what it is about. My husband and I have raised two sons. Our eldest son, Chase, was diagnosed with mild autism. This has affected our family in many ways. My stories reflect our struggles, but also celebrate our successes. Chase is now a sensitive, thoughtful, and kind man. He is honest, hardworking, and physically fit.
My intention is to collect all of these stories and combine them into a book. Ultimately, I am hoping to help parents and caregivers see that once they get through the struggles of raising a child like Chase with a disability they will come to realize its gift.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


photo by Barbara Toboni
My expectations had been high for our first-born son. That’s why I felt overwhelmed when I left the office of our pediatrician with four-year-old Chase. Mild autism? What little I knew about autism, I had seen at the movies or read about in books. While my imagination flipped through frightening images of children rocking, screaming, and flapping their arms, David seemed to consider this a mere blip in his boy’s life. I should have understood. He had always been an optimist.
David came up with his own diagnosis: “That doctor is mildly autistic.”
We both had a lot to learn.
A few years later, after more testing, a psychologist told us that our eight-year-old would never learn to read phonetically.  
I tended to believe her, but David was skeptical. At breakfast the next morning as Chase ate his bowl of Cheerios, David asked our son to read the milk carton. Chase read the simple words first. This milk is from cows. He stopped. Homogenized was the next word.  
“Sound it out,” David said.
Not bad! Maybe David had a point. The doctors didn’t know everything. Why was I so quick to believe them? It was true our boy had problems, but he strived to be like everyone else. He seemed to want to please his father.
When the boys were small, David worked long days as a cement mason. Although his company was based in Napa he often did repairs on existing buildings out of town. Commuting added extra hours he was away from the boys and me. That left mom on duty just about all the time.
Adding to that, I felt isolated. My relatives lived out of state and David’s family lived out of town. Sure, I could pick up the phone and call David’s mom or sister, but I didn’t want to call just to complain. Friends couldn’t relate to my troubles. I shied away from them preferring to be alone rather than having to explain Chase’s odd behaviors.
When David wanted time to pursue his interests—fishing, diving, or wine-making—I reacted by flying into a rage. How dare he want time away from us?  I would never put him in that position. The boys, both under the age of five, needed me. I knew their schedules and I didn’t want to give David my control—no matter how out of control we were. Back then I didn’t understand who I was if I wasn’t their mother. I needed them to make me feel whole.
I wished David could understand my outbursts, my grief. How could he be so casual about Chase’s autism? How could we be so different? It caused friction in our marriage. David didn’t fight me when I suggested marriage counseling.
Our counselor praised us for staying together. She told us many marriages fall apart when there is a disabled child, because each parent adjusts in a different way. You can say that again! I learned most of our trouble stemmed from the fact that we didn’t know each other well enough. It was true; we had dated only six months before David proposed, and Chase was born a year after we were married.
During one visit David and the counselor were talking about his interest in wine. The more he described his new hobby, the more animated he became. I grew anxious watching them. Why couldn’t I get that excited about something new in my life?  I needed to find an interest of my own, something to remind me of who I had once been. I used to do things I enjoyed.
Back then, I had spent too much time feeling sad about Chase. We hid from others rather than go somewhere, like the park, because I didn’t want to associate with “perfect” mothers and their “perfect” children.  I didn’t want to be stared at, or judged, or even worse, be shunned, but I needed to get out of the house. I needed to feel air and see light. I tried to remember the things that brought me joy.
In school I had been a shy girl with few friends. I liked English classes, especially when there had been writing involved, and I had kept a journal for poetry. Writing, I could do alone. Writing engaged my mind, and held my interest for hours while I searched for the right words to express my thoughts.
Every semester the local college sent out a catalogue which offered adult education courses. I usually thumbed through the catalogue and put it aside, but one day I lingered over a writing course. What if I started writing again? I could escape for a little while, get out of the house, get out of my head, and allow myself a sliver of joy.
It occurred to me then that David and I could each bargain for time alone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Smart Cookie

photo from flickr.com by Millie
By the time Chase started middle school my file of paperwork regarding his health and education could create a how-to manual: How to Grow your Child from Seed. It’s an entire volume of clinical studies: doctor records, school reports, and special education plans. I won’t throw them away because our Chase is a fascinating fellow. I’m always looking for ways to understand him.
Now I’m reviewing one document, which summarizes the many evaluations Chase had prior to age 13. One study from second grade brings back difficult memories. Mildly retarded.  Before this study, I believed his delays were due to autism—that autism was his only issue. I was wrong. Along with an intelligence test, a nonverbal test was given. Results confirmed two issues: autism and mental retardation. 
There had been some discussion about middle school, whether or not Chase was ready—physical versus mental age. I had been in denial about my son growing into a man. I tried to ignore the clues, but eventually I had to answer the question, Where did that mustache come from? 

A psychologist had concluded that Chase’s placement in a 7th grade special day class appeared to be appropriate. Fifteen students in all made up his class. I met their teacher, Ms. Hanson. A patient woman with a plan, she had developed a positive reinforcement program that involved cookies for good behavior. Perfect. What kid doesn’t like cookies? 

Chase’s favorite subject had been math. He knew his multiplication tables by heart, but he lost track when it came to problems with two and three place numbers like 146 X 17. We tried division too, a good review for me, but not so much for Chase. The concept was too advanced. I started to realize the extent of his disability when I helped him with homework; he had trouble retaining information. We solved problems one day and he forgot how the next. This was frustrating at times, but we kept at it until his worksheets were complete.
One day I asked Ms. Hanson, “How can this be helping Chase? He doesn’t seem to understand.”
“As long as he’s willing to try, why not? Every day he wants to take home extra worksheets.”
“You mean more than what is required for homework?”
“Yes. He seems to enjoy the practice.”
I didn’t let on how much time I had spent helping him. While we talked, my eyes drifted around the room and settled on a package of cookies left open on a counter. “Ms. Hanson, does Chase earn extra cookies for the work he turns in?”
“Sure. All the kids do.”
I left the classroom feeling duped. My son was one smart cookie. He was using me to help score extra treats.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Focus Pocus

Wish I could wave a magic wand and make my next post appear, but that's not going to happen. Just like everything in life nothing gets done until you sit down and do it. At the beginning of 2016, members of my critique group decided to share their writing goals. My goal was to post a memoir piece once a month on the subject of autism in our family and to bring it to the group for their review. It seemed like an attainable goal. I figured by the end of the year there would be 12 perfectly polished pieces I could combine into a book. Exciting, eh?

Focus pocus! Another deadline bumped me off my mark. Submissions were due for the 2016 Redwood Writers Club anthology. While considering the opportunity to see my words in print, I felt pangs of guilt because I would lose focus on my New Year's goal. How could I justify the delay?

Are you thinking what's the big deal? It's only a few weeks, a month? No. How about forever? I have seen my writing evaporate the second I stop thinking about it. Try to remember a dream after you wake up. The more time that elapses the harder it is.

On the other hand, I knew what a great opportunity this would be. I could work with an editor for free! Editors aren't cheap. It's also a nice feeling to be able to contribute to the club. The anthologies raise funds.

I'm happy to report my piece was accepted. Wonderful. I was not happy to see how much editing the story needed to produce it for a page. But, with great relief, I finished my second draft. I'm hoping there won't be much of a third. We'll see. Maybe I can rescue that fragment of my 2016 dream after all.

In other news, I also belong to our Napa Valley Writers Club and they just celebrated their four-year anniversary. Guess what? They are in the process of planning a maiden edition of their anthology. Should I submit? Of course. Focus Pocus!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Clueless: Part Two

Chase, Jimmy, and Frog
For me to explain the effect of having a sibling with autism, I would have to be that sibling. At times I know it couldn’t have been easy for Jim—now an adult—to have an older brother with autism, but I can only tell you what I observed.  
Because Jimmy had a naturally outgoing personality, I thought it would inspire Chase to come out of his shell, but his autism affected the way he responded to everyone, including his little brother. As far as big brothers go, Jimmy might have felt slighted. For instance, when he found a frog and showed it to his brother, he might have expected a high five. Instead he heard nonsense sounds like AAA or EEE, or silly sentences strung together by random words. One I remember that makes me laugh now—Happy seatbelt day—had been embarrassing at the time. What did this actually mean? I have no clue. Perhaps he was excited about a car ride, but when said randomly like in a supermarket it was total lunacy. I can’t imagine how his little brother felt.     
When Chase started special classes at an elementary school, four-year-old Jimmy seemed lonely. We live in the same rural neighborhood where he grew up, and few friends lived nearby. Occasionally I arranged play dates with other children, or took him to a park, but that wasn’t enough to keep Jimmy busy. As a remedy, we enrolled him in pre-school.
We chose St. Helena Cooperative Nursery School. First built in 1888, it was a sturdy old building with a working chapel bell on top. Over the years it had housed a number of schools, but it became the Co-op in 1966. Because parents helped to run the school it was affordable, and Jimmy attended for two years. His second term was tuition-free, because I was able to work as the school’s treasurer.
 The first morning I looked forward to dropping Jimmy off and waving goodbye. I certainly could use the ME time. Not so fast, Mommy. Kathy, the school’s director and her assistant, Darlene, invited me to join their morning circle. We introduced ourselves, sang songs, and were given the rundown of the day’s activities. Afterward Jimmy and I said our goodbyes. I was a bit miffed at how easy it was for him, but I knew he was excited to get on with the playing.
I always thought a mother shouldn’t make comparisons between her children, but I couldn’t help remembering Chase on his first day of pre-school. His handicapped class scared me. It had been heart-breaking to watch the children try to respond to each other. Some were so limited in their capacity to understand what was happening that I had wondered how it could help them to try. Just to think of my son’s inclusion in that class had been painful, but in my heart I knew he needed to belong there for a time. Giving up was not an option.
By comparison, watching Jimmy adapt so completely, so willingly, was heart-warming. I enjoyed his circle activities as much as he did. Still I was a young mother and had just as much to learn in pre-school as my son.