Thursday, November 19, 2015


Chase, age 16
Chase loves the snow. He learned to snowboard as a teenager on a trip to Lake Tahoe with his brother, Jim, and cousins, Kyle, and Kevin. Dave’s sister, Vickie, and her family rented a cabin with us in the snowy village of Homewood. Vickie and I rented skis and snowboards and signed up for lessons with our sons at the mountain resort nearby. David didn’t need instruction, and Kirk chose not to ski, but he drove us to and from the resort in his minivan. That was scary enough! Especially, the one night when we ran into black ice on the way back to our cabin. 

I should admit my skills at the end of my lesson were not much better than when I began. A few sweeps down the bunny slopes and I discovered I had another skill, falling without breaking bones! Vickie fared much better. She had some prior experience, but our skills are not what this post is about. The point of this post is that we found out Chase was fearless with a snowboard, more so than his cousins. Very more so! And this was worrisome to us because we knew Chase, an autistic fellow, wasn’t always alert to his surroundings. David and I had tried, for the most part, to keep him out of danger, but we wanted him to have fun too.  

After Chase’s lesson we checked in with his instructor and he told us that Chase had done well. He had demonstrated two basic skills necessary for boarding, steering, and slowing down to a stop. Our boy was ready to fly, but I wondered how fast he could use those skills when speeding down a mountain. Being the oldest of his three cousins, he wanted to lead the pack. I recall one long discussion about staying off slopes designed for the pros with black diamond markers, but Chase seemed to think he was an expert. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the knowledge of an expert.

I will admit all of the boys possessed an amazing agility for snowboarding, but the grown-ups decided that to be safe they should stick together, and, if necessary, Kyle and Jim should act as bodyguards to rein Chase in. “Stay away from black diamonds,” we called to them as they marched off to the trails. That left Dave, Kirk, Vickie, and me with some freedom to relax in the lodge, and stay warm while we prayed.

As we sipped hot drinks on the sidelines, six-year-old Kevin, a quick study from his own beginners class, kept us entertained with his new moves. Outside the giant windows our boys blended in with the crowd, a blur of bright parkas and knit caps. Their antics reminded me of a pack of penguins dressed in fancy costumes instead of their usual tuxedos.  

I recall it was a week of bliss surrounded by stunning views of snow covered mountains studded with glistening pines, glowing fires, and lopsided snowmen. And sledding, my new thrill. Easier than skiing!  I'll never forget the boys’ ruddy faces when they came in from the cold, their eyes shining with excitement as they described their adventures. They told tales of Chase as though he was their hero, the way he flew the fastest and arrived at the bottom of the mountain first.

Although the controls we, as parents, placed on Chase were crucial for him to live in society, snowboarding allowed him some freedom to be himself, to be in control of his own body on the board. There were many tumbles for Chase on that trip, but after each one he emerged smiling and fearless, ready to fly again.

It’s an entire family, uncles, aunts, and cousins that help raise an autistic child.  

Uncle Kirk and Chase shoveling snow.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Friends

Greg, Chase, Jim, and Sean on Halloween

One year my sons dressed up as their favorite video game characters, Mario and Luigi, for Halloween. Chase, my oldest son is autistic and had become obsessed with the game developed in 1985. Two heroes, Mario and his younger brother Luigi, try to defeat creatures popping out of the sewers below New York City. What’s not to love?

My husband, Dave, known for his infinite patience, had spent hours teaching Chase to play the game, and Chase, like his younger brother Jim, conquered one level after another to win points. But this post is about the boys and their good friends in the picture. Chase, age nine, and Jim, five, wore white painter’s caps with the letters, M for Mario and L for Luigi, marked on the front. Knight, Greg Felten, and Dinosaur, Sean Felten, set out that night to hunt for treats.  

Dave and I had joined a support group for children with disabilities, and once a week we met in the evening at a nearby school. There were 5 families that attended the sessions on a regular basis. Steve and Mary Ellen Felten became our close friends. Their son, Sean, had Down’s syndrome. While parents met in one room, the children played in a classroom nearby with supervision. A volunteer facilitator led our group and it didn’t take long for us all to open up about our stressful lives.

In one instance I told the group that I felt burdened, having to explain Chase’s odd behaviors. I didn’t know what to tell people. Should I explain how my son was affected by autism? Should I apologize when his disruptive behavior was out of control? One solution that stuck with me and, if needed, I still use today, Just say simply, Chase has problems. That’s what we do. You don’t need to apologize for your child or explain anything. It was a simple solution, one I needed to hear from a parent who had been there. Over the course of about a year we attended meetings and learned a lot from each other. 

So I’m thinking this Halloween I will give Mary Ellen a call. Although her family moved down to Paso Robles, we remain friends. I feel like our families bonded like pieces in a puzzle. All of us had much in common. Steve, a winemaker, enjoyed working with Dave on his homemade wine. Mary Ellen, who went back to college to finish her degree late in life, inspired me to do the same. We shared many Halloweens and family birthday parties, football Sundays and summer barbecues. We often talk on the phone and still share the challenges and successes in our childrens’ lives. Raising a child with a disability was not something I could do alone.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Seeing Elephants

photo by Kesara Rathnayake

I don’t usually remember my dreams, but a recent dream was so absurd that I woke up and recorded it in my journal:
I saw a man and his wife in my neighborhood out walking with their baby in a stroller. A baby elephant walked alongside them. Very odd. I asked him why there was an elephant with him, and we had a discussion about why I thought it was a bad idea. Can’t remember the exact conversation, but I thought it might make a good writing prompt.

Me: I see you are walking with an elephant.

Man: Yes.

Where did it come from?

I really don’t know. It showed up on my doorstep.  

 I see. Well, we have something in common. I am having a dream of this exact elephant. Are you going to keep him?

It is not a question of keeping him. I will take care of him as long as he continues to follow us. He seems to have chosen us.

Wouldn’t it be wise if you called an authority like a zookeeper? Maybe you could see if a zoo nearby is missing an elephant. I mean are you willing to bear the expense of caring for such a large animal?

It is my duty to bear the expense.

If it was me, I’d call the zoo. Do you know anything about the needs of an elephant? You should call an authority.

Elephants are wise. He has chosen me for a reason. You are very worried about a problem that does not concern you. You must leave this dream at once.

Hey, buddy, this dream chose me just as the elephant chose you. As a dream symbol this elephant may represent something important. I’m staying in this dream until it makes sense to me. Step aside and let me talk to the elephant. I’ll see if he knows why we are here.

The man stands back, and the baby elephant speaks! (That’s right. The elephant talks now. Writing prompts are even sillier than dreams.)

Me: Excuse me, Elephant Baby, Do you represent an obstacle in my life that I need to address?

Elephant: Yes. Anything is possible.

Okay. Why do you say that?

Anything is possible.

 Again. Please explain.

You are having a dream in which anything is possible. And you are having a hard time believing that anything is possible. You tell me why I’m here.

You are not real. I will wake up. You’ll be gone.

Anything is possible.

You mean if I allow myself to dream, anything is possible?


For comment, do you ever dream about elephants?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hidden Muse

Wall art by Chase Toboni
If you’re in need of inspiration clean out a closet. Recently we installed carpeting in our house and that meant clearing the floor in our closets. Years ago, one wall we never had the heart to paint over was in my son’s room. Chase, at age four, had a passion for scribbling, and we decided to give him the inside of a closet wall for his doodles. While he doodled he seemed to be at peace.      

Chase has a mild form of autism and repetitious activities are the norm. Coloring seemed something he could do. Rainbows, in particular, appealed to him. He drew them religiously, and who could not be pleased when viewing a child’s rendition of a rainbow? Birthdays, holidays, and gifts for no other seeming reason than to announce to the world that he was among us. What a simple thing to give someone, an upside-down smile of happiness.

Years later, in high school, a teacher suggested he join a ceramics class. Chase seemed to have an interest in art, and his teacher had caught on. Art calmed him down. It was one way he could be included in a normal classroom. He seemed to enjoy clay and he produced these ornamental objects. They may look a bit ungainly but they are expressions of the soul, just like any creation.

I proudly displayed these objects for a time, but later wrapped them in newspaper and stashed them away in a paper bag marked Chase’s sculptures. These few forays into the art world also produced a brown mask-like sculpture of me, which I put outside in a planter box, but it later broke. According to my son, it was me in the morning, my hair all scraggly coming out the sides of my face like short ribbons of mud. He called the piece, “Mom’s Hair.” Good subject, bad look for me. That’s how it ended up outside. Wish I had stashed it in the closet too for safe-keeping.   

Chase in 10th grade with his ceramic pieces.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Toast to our Future

Now that it's in black and white it feels real. Today's Napa Valley Register headline reads, Computer Business Owners to Retire. Below is our letter to the editor.

Dear Editor:

In 1995 David Toboni started our business, Able Computers. His motivation was a new computer we had just purchased. In no time David had created an “irreversible error terminate” message on the new pc's screen. 

Our neighbor then, Dr. John Hazlet, said, “All you have to do is sys the boot drive.”

Booting to a floppy drive and sys the c drive did work. Success! After that David was hooked knowing he could experiment, and if he failed he could get the computer running again.

More and more curious, David expanded his knowledge in building computers, networking systems, and helping friends. He took training in 1993 with Clarity Technologies, for two years. He also took classes at Diversified Office Training in Rutherford and worked at Computers Online in Santa Rosa.

            Now, after 20 years in business we are announcing our retirement. Prior to David’s years in the computer business, he had worked in construction along with a handful of other jobs, forty-five years in all.

It’s time to slow down. David and I want to thank everyone that has come to him for help for the past twenty years. We’ve met so many folks that will remain friends. David has always said, “I can’t think of a better place to work and raise a family.” I agree. I have worked alongside David managing our office and keeping the books. We have two grown sons that are also employed in Napa.

It’s a little sad to say goodbye, but we feel the community will be in good hands. Computer Engineering Group has purchased Able Computers. Jorge Zetina, the owner, has just celebrated his tenth year in business, and we feel Jorge and his team are a good fit for our clients.

David and Barbara Toboni
Able Computers



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spring Snapshots

Photo by Barbara Toboni

The sun’s embrace triggering one’s shoulders to unwind

Windows so clean I can’t tell if I am standing inside or outside

Hummingbird playing in the spray of my sprinklers

Dazzling orange lilies and pink frilled azaleas blooming on my back porch

Tabby cat scratching her back in the pebbled dust of the vegetable garden  

A fragrant fusion of rose, lavender, and jasmine while out for a stroll 

The remembered scent of Grandma’s towels washed in Sweetheart Soap
and hung out on a line to dry

Snacking on a ripe, creamy, avocado

Tasting a ripe mango and dreaming of a sunny locale far away

First drive of the season out to the coast along with the first sighting
of the sea and its magnificence


Sunday, April 12, 2015

We're All In

photo by Pete Prodoehl

"Thank you for submitting "Chase at Bat." We are happy to tell you that we have selected your piece for potential inclusion in the 2015 Redwood Writers Anthology."

Yay! This is the first sentence of an email I received from the editors of the current California Writers Club anthology project, Journeys. I'm excited for a couple of reasons. First, this is the 10th anniversary edition. Second, this is the first time all of the members of my critique group will have pieces included in a Redwood Writers Anthology. Amber Lee Starfire is the overall editor, and Marilyn Campbell, Patsy Ann Taylor, and I are authors of short stories. We're all in!

My story, Chase at Bat, has been revised, rejected, and revised again at least four times now, and it's ready for a new editor to help me shine it up once more. Originally, I had thought I would include the story in a collection of stories about raising Chase, and that is still a future possibility. 

"Chase at Bat" is a story about my autistic son, Chase, and his first introduction to sports. At age eight my son surprised me by his ability to take part in a team sport. It was the beginning of a journey for both of us.

I will be assigned an editor by May 1st. Stay tuned for the launch date of our new anthology and order your own copy, or click if you would like more information about the Redwood Writers

Since joining the club in 2010, other Redwood anthologies that my work has appeared in are, The Sound of a Thousand Leaves in 2011 and Water in 2014.

Thanks to Patsy. She wanted me to attach this note to my post.
("It should be noted that all of the anthology submissions were blind (no names attached) and Amber had no idea who the accepted authors were.
In fact, when we had our critique group meetings, we couldn't share anything about what we were submitting. Amber didn't want to know anything about our work. And we didn't tell.")

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Go Slammers

Chase and Jim

My two sons are on the same men's basketball team called the Slammers. Last week they won their first game. It was fun watching the two of them play, but their games weren't always enjoyable to watch. When they were teenagers they fought so much that I gave their basketball a new name-- "cannon ball" as in Go play cannon ball. I have to make dinner. 

Chase is four years older than Jim, but he has a mild form of autism. Learning something new is complicated for him and he is often frustrated. He has a competitive nature, and because he is older he feels he should be better than Jim at everything. I remember a lot of shrieking. Jim would try to explain a rule, for example dribbling. "Chase, don't hang on to the ball without dribbling. You have to learn the rules."

"You’re not smarter than me!” Chase did not like to be one-upped by his little brother.

I had no luck at being their referee. Round and round and on and on they'd go until I couldn't ignore them any longer. Did you ever try to get between two angry teenage boys? Hot and sweaty boys?  Little old mom couldn’t do much but yell or hide till it was over.  Sometimes I could distract them. “Anyone want a cold drink?”  Put vodka in mine!

Jim was a good kid, but he didn't have a lot of patience, and Chase needed chill pills. Gradually, we learned to separate them with team sports. Both boys liked baseball so we got them involved with Little League, and when Chase joined Special Olympics he was able to learn game rules.

I don’t know what I expected from them when I sent them out the door with a basketball—I mean all siblings fight—but our fights were made worse by the autism. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to see them play on the same team. 


Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Christmas Guest

Grandpa's fishing lure.
            It's a week before Christmas and our two boys are decorating the tree when I notice a fishing lure has mysteriously appeared on our coffee table. ""It's made from a spoon of steel," Dave says when I ask, “for catching big stripers. This one my father made.  I found it in the garage in my old tackle box.”
Dave describes how his father, dead for many years now, liked to make his own lures. He'd buy a lure at the store that he liked and then copy it down at the steel shop, where he had been a stainless steelworker. 
            My youngest son, James, was named after him. Our sons had never known him, only knew that he had liked the outdoors and had died suddenly from a heart attack at Trinity Lake on a hunting trip. There had been three children in all─ three children who would grow up missing their father.
            I bring out a photo album and show the kids pictures. A young Grandpa dressed in khakis sitting on a rock wall, a bit of scenery behind him, one of him kneeling by an old camp tent, and one sitting on an old Chevy with his hunting rifle. I liked the photo dated October 1962 with all three young children and Dave's mother, but my favorite is an old black and white close-up of his handsome face peering down at my Dave, his first-born son. 
            The boys wanted to know more about their grandfather so Dave shared a story. “My father liked to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to go fishing, and he would invite me to go along. He’d set the alarm and tell me to be ready when it was time to go. One morning when the alarm rang I was so tired I fell back asleep. When I finally woke up I found that he had gone fishing without me. That was how my father taught me the importance of being punctual. After that I didn’t miss any more fishing trips. I jumped right out of bed all set to go.”
Dave wipes the shiny surface of the fishing lure with a wet towel until it gleams. "Looks like a Christmas ornament," he says.
"Yes, this is perfect," I say, "to have him back again with us as a guest for Christmas."