April 25, 2007

Celine, Elvis, and Elton, oh my!

Let's just get this out of the way, I'm not a Celine Dion fan. Don't hate her, she's got the pipes, just not my style of singer. She's from the screamer gals crowd like Whitney Houston (before she hit the crack pipe) and Mariah Carey that have a tendency to just kill a song, if you ask me. That being said, the Celine/Elvis virtual duet on last night's "American Idol" was pretty darn cool, I must admit.

And the "Stayin' Alive" celeb-packed video was fun:

The duet reminded me of how powerful Elvis was in his prime. Here's his original version of "If I Can Dream" to prove my point:

Man, oh man, that boy could sing. Just like John Lennon, I never really appreciated Elvis 'till he died (I was 13 at the time, well caught up in Elton's web by then, and had missed his heyday), but my George is a huge fan. In the five years we've been together, I've seen every Elvis movie at least twice and any Elvis related TV special has to be taped or watched (as long as it's not up against "CSI"). But,
I do get a kick out of his karaoke version of "Teddy Bear", so there's a bonus. He has stacks of original label Elvis records we could probably retire on if we auctioned 'em off on eBay, but they're his babies and will probably be left to me in his will.

My own record collection was defiled years ago by burglars. I had about 10 milk crates full of classic lps, most in double doses of plastic sleeves, the whole nine yards of an obsessive collector. But we lived in a rooming house at the time in a pretty scary part of town (this was BR, Before Riel, how I dissect my life, so more than 20 years back) and, after a terrifying evening that ended with our door destroyed by a baseball bat, a neighbour in jail and us out of our room for the night, the vultures descended on my albums and picked them clean.

Everything except my precious Elton collection. I've always considered that a rather bittersweet moment. Thrilled to find them all safe and sound, but insulted they left him behind. Couple of years later, I had to sell quite a few of them, which broke my heart, but that's another story along the riverbank (Hammy Hamster ref). If anyone in Toronto has a copy of "Rock Of The Westies" with a heart drawn on Elton's hand, my initials and his scrawled inside of it, please get in touch!

The big hit from this album was "Island Girl":

He had a smaller hit with "Grow Some Funk Of Your Own":

Not the professional concert vids we're used to seeing now, but the audio for 30 yr old clips is pretty good. Just a taste of Elton from his own prime, cocaine and alcohol induced as it may have been.

I didn't get a chance to see him in concert until 1979's "A Single Man" tour. It wasn't the same as seeing his early to mid-70s sequin-drenched
spectaculars with the piano handstands and all that wonderful nonsense, this concert was a much more sedate (no glasses!) solo tour with the way cool Ray Cooper joining him for half of the night. I loved seeing just him and his piano, though. Made me appreciate his talent that much more.

Only clip I could find from the tour, just to give you an idea, for the hit "Part Time Love." Gotta love the between hair transplants jaunty cap:

He's been through so many changes, haven't we all? But the pure talent in those pudgy little fingers continues to astound me.

In completely unrelated news I simply must pass on for fellow "CSI" fans, keep an eye out for a doll icon on tonight's CTV broadcast for the start of this great corpse contest they're running in conjunction with the current big storyline (info below). Just a promo on the MiniatureKiller.ca site right now, and there's no info on the CTV Contest Page yet, so I'm assuming the number is correct.

From Jim Bawden's column in today's Toronto Star:

Deadbeats: One viewer tonight may get to play a corpse on CSI after winning the "CSI Miniature Killer Contest." Inspired by the current storyline about a killer who delivers freakish miniature replicas of the crime scenes, viewers have to look for a doll icon and call 1-866-4730-CSI or visit MiniatureKiller.ca. Phone lines are open each Thursday (tonight, May 3, May 10) and the contest closes May 11 at noon. The winner gets airfare for two to L.A. and a tour of the CSI set, plus a "lie-down" role.

April 24, 2007

Now let's tackle autism

Living with my autistic son, Riel, has been an education. To put it rather mildly. He'll be 20 in September and for the first 15 years of his life, I was pretty much on my own. If it weren't for my sainted mother, I'd be a basketcase by now.

It all started innocently enough (after a normal pregnancy). He didn't flinch at my touch or avoid my eyes or any of the so-called warning signs. The only thing that worried his doctor was his lack of babbling. By the time he was 2, he hadn't made a peep (other than crying). No "mama", no "dada", none of the usual baby cooing.

So, we tested his hearing. Normal. And we made an appointment to see another doctor for a full range of tests (putting blocks in holes, lining up pictures, etc.). When she said the words, "Your son appears to have autistic tendencies." you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. Autism, what's that? And what kind of future will he have now?

Like many of you, my only contact with autism wa
s the movie "Rain Man" with Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant. The character was based on a real person, Kim Peek, and here's the beginning of a fascinating documentary on him from YouTube:

Click on the YouTube logo in the lower right corner to go to the site which links to the rest of the documentary.

Now, let's get something straight. This is not my son's life. He's not a savant that can count toothpicks in bundles or rattle off complicated math problems. He's autistic, plain and simple and endlessly frustrating.

But, when we've had one of those days, I try to remember how far we've come. Back when he was about 3, we had a full day's testing at a local hospital which shall remain nameless. Hours of tests, EKGs and whatnot, ended with a doctor actually looking me in the eye and saying, "He will never get better than this. He'll never talk and he'll never show affection. It's probably best if someone more qualified were to raise him." After lifting my jaw from my chin, I asked if he meant an institution. He did. Unbelievable. I scooped my son into my arms, thanked him for his time, and said, "I have a little more faith in him than you do, Doc. He's coming home with me." And thus our journey began.

From Day 1, I talked to my son as if he could hear and understand every word, even though he rarely reacted the right way. The first breakthrough came one day when he was getting dressed. I always gave him a choice such as the blue pants or the red pants, just in case he'd give me feedback either way. After months of doing this with no indication from him that he knew what the heck I was on about, I said we'd be putting on the red pants today ... and he reached out and grabbed them from the pile on the bed. Happy tears that day, let me tell you, he finally understood me!

It took a hell of a long time from there, but just after his sixth birthday, he finally started to speak, or babble like he was supposed to have done years before. Magic, it was, pure magic.

I'm not going to go through all the milestones here. Suffice it to say that doctor was full of crap! He speaks in full sentences now, plays on the computer, tells jokes, draws endless pictures of Nintendo scenes, sings (got that talent from his Nana, you'll meet her soon), and still loves good old "Sesame Street."

Where it gets frustrating is when he repeats himself over and over again. And it's hard talking to him about any kind of abstract concept, he just doesn't get it. He had to get dressed up yesterday as he had a job interview with a co-op program through his school. His shirt was a tad tight, but looked great when he stood up straight. I tried explaining the difference in how the shirt looked when he stands like he usually does, a little stooped, and how nice it looked when he stood up straight. No go, he just didn't get it.

He must have done something right, though, 'cause I'm thrilled to say he starts work at Sobey's (local grocery chain) on May 4th. That's my boy!

I have high hopes for this program as we really don't know where he'll end up after he finishes school. It's been an awfully hard decision to make, but I've resigned myself to the fact that he'll probably end up in a group home. I don't want to sound cruel here, but I just can't imagine taking care of him for the rest of my life. Whatever hopes and dreams I may have had 20 years ago for my own life were put on hold. That's what mothers do. I'm nearly 43 now and I'd like to think I have some kind of a future too.

When I started my website 11 years ago I avoided putting any pictures of my son online. As a single mother I was just too paranoid. I also avoided putting my own mug out there as I've battled with weight all my life and am not pleased with how I look. But, in the spirit of how proud I am of my son, here's a peek at my boys and I this past New Year's Eve, the first time he's celebrated with us.

That's Riel on the right. George, on the left, is six feet tall and, when Riel stands up, they're chin to chin. Big boy, eh? I'm pretty damn proud of him. He's come so far and the future is still wide open.

If you're curious about autism, CBC News has a nice list of links.

And there are some pictures Riel drew on our old computer right here.

And so it begins

Let's get this thing started with an intro. I'm Tiny Dancer (aka Rhonda), a soon-to-be 43 yr old (May 29th, mark those calendars!) with a 19 yr old autistic son, Riel, and a soon-to-be 45 yr old (May 29th, cosmic, eh?) fiance, George. We live in Toronto, Ontario, in an area known as Upper Beach. Which means we can't afford to live in the actual Beach, but we're within walking distance of Lake Ontario and the Boardwalk.

George is the Production Supervisor for a big printing company, I basically take care of my son and noodle around on the web. Since 1996, I've been running The Sesame Street Lyrics Archive, so I do know my way around the net, but this is my first attempt at a blog, please be gentle with me 'till I get my bearings.

What I'd like to do is have a place to vent when need be, or share some pics of whatever nonsense we got up to on the weekend, and also offer up some YouTube goodies I find. They'll be mostly Sesame Street, Muppet, or Jim Henson related, naturally, with some Elton John tossed in for good measure. Like this one from 1971 of Elton singing "my" song:

How's that for an intro? Such a gorgeous version, don't you think? To even things out, here's a Muppet video from 1969 featuring the first appearance of the muppet that would become Grover:

Thank God they changed him! Hard to believe such a lovable character started out so snarly. Just proves how far we can all go if we just smooth out our fur a bit, huh?

I'll wrap up my intro with a couple of pics we took this weekend. It was a beautiful day here on Sunday, Earth Day, so we took a stroll on the aforementioned Boardwalk. As did a ton of other folks:

I was quite taken with a mass of small Inuksuit (which is the plural form of Inuksuk) on this one section of the beach. Not sure if this was a special Earth Day display or whether it goes on every weekend, but it made me smile to see so many people digging the Inuksuit:

Hope the pics do them justice! Still learning on my snazzy new digital camera, I'm sure they'll get better as time goes by.

On the other hand, Riel was happier throwing his rocks into Lake Ontario:

That's about it for today. Thanks for reading and hopefully we'll get to be old chums.

BTW, the blog title comes from my first review in 1996 (from the magazine Yahoo! Internet Life and their column "Touched By The Net") where they talked about me "doing figurative pirouettes" with my computer. Trust me, I can't pirouette like I used to back in the day, but I can still cut a mean rug!