Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Hi All,

Where did October go so quickly?! Dave and I hope you're doing great. He's really enjoying his graduate-level courses, and looks forward to finding time to get back to laboratory work.

David has chosen a thesis for his Ph.D. How exciting!

We have much to be thankful for this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


While we mostly remain on a low-budget, homemade-food diet, I sometimes treat myself to letting someone else cook. When on-campus, this normally means "La Crepe", an authentic Alsatian mini-bistro that serves crepes exclusively. Michel and his crew have magically reproduced crepes exactly as my Grand-mere from Alsatian culture made hers. And, like my dear grand-mere, they don't keep the recipes a secret. Here's Michel's website if you want to cook a crepe at home:

This last Friday Dave and I had lunch at Michel's bistro, and were happily joined by one of David's physics classmates, Francesca, who like David, has chosen to continue on at UCD in their fine graduate program after graduating here this last June. She graduated with honors and all have high hopes for her. Also, while Dave passed the first half of the Preliminary Exam (yay!), Francesca told us Friday that she passed the whole thing with her very first try! Kuddos, Francesca! We enjoyed our crepes and our conversation, and all had "un merveilleux temps".

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Riggity Jig & Saint Francis

This weekend, we spent a little time dancing to the music of Riggity Jig, at the Yolo County SPCA Re-Use, Re-Cycle, Re-New Festival

We also crossed the causeway to attend mass at our home parish, Saint Francis of Assisi, where there will be a blessing of the pets on Saturday, October 2nd.

Of course, our parish isn't the only one to celebrate the memory of humble Francis with this tradition. For a listing of churches of all denominations blessing the pets next weekend, see:

Just type in your city to find a pet blessing event near you.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Now That Summer's Over...

Well, Thursday was Dave's first graduate level class, a seminar in condensed matter physics. How exciting for him.

Gone are the days of Dave needing me to remain in the classroom with him to take his notes. Nowadays, I get him there on time, remind him to sit at the front (he's distracted if at the back), open his notebook, sharpen his pencil, etc. After that, he's great at taking his own notes, following the lecture, and even making haltered-but-meaningful contributions to discussions. Meanwhile, I sit outside the classroom in the hallway. I read books and journals, pray my rosary, pay the bills (yes, still writing checks) or other written chores, exercise (I walk up and down the nearby stairwell). After class, I check in with the professor to answer his/her questions about Dave's special needs, etc.

So, when I'm not praying, exercising or writing checks, what do I read while Dave's in class?

Well, of course there's The Aggie, and The Enterprise, chock full of essential breaking news. Also, I received one of those itsy-bitsy Gideon Bible-ettes from a guy outside Shields library, which squishes into my overpacked purse perfectly, between my eyeglasses and Kleenex. Then, I was reading Joan Chittister, but have taken a break to re-enjoy the Willa Cather novels, starting with "My Antonia". The story seems so much richer than when I was "a young lass". Finally, I'm reading Dr. Darold Treffert's "Extraordinary People". So, there you have it-- Dave's and my life in a nutshell. At home, he studies while I cook, clean, plan menus, etc. At school, he's in class while I read. Slowly, but surely, our little system is helping David earn his degrees.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Kim Peek

Amazingly, I learned of Kim Peek's passing only a couple months ago. Way back at the start of this blog, I mention some of my role-model "heroes", one of whom is Fran Peek, who provides me with hope, fortitude, and an example of placing the needs of one's son or daughter first above all else. Although Kim passed away back in December, '09, he and his dad are in my thoughts today. Perhaps this is because this week-- the start of David's doctorate degree program-- commences a new chapter in Dave's and my life together. When I think of the ever-popular Kim, I remember how nervous and shy David was the first time a reporter wanted to interview him. I told David he didn't have to do the interview, but that, if he chose to, he would be helping the autistic sons and daughters of parents reading the article, because he is an example of an autistic scientist who is succeeding in school. Dave summoned his psychological strength for the sake of those unknown readers out there, and did the article, for which I am so very, very proud of him.

Kim showed the same concern for others. Even "neurotypical" people get stressed by social contact, even more so "neuro-atypical" people, but Kim never slowed down, never allowed stage fright or burnout to keep him from scheduled appearances. Kim and Fran helped so many people by tirelessly sharing their story, by providing an example of what family members ought to do for each other, by simply letting us all share in their love for one another. The parent in me doesn't want to imagine how life is for Fran now without Kim (his "shadow") at his side. As autumn, and the holiday season, approaches, Fran is in my prayers.

Graduate School and a Big Change

Oops!! How did I let the summer go by without posting? To quickly sum up the summer-- In June and July, Dave and I took a fun geology trip to Lassen National Park, another to hike up Yosemite Falls and Vernal falls, and then visited people we never have time to see in places like Sonoma County and the Bay Area. We also had some great parties to celebrate Dave's graduation. We are blessed with wonderful friends. Also, it was the first serious slow-down I've had in years, and I loved it!

And now, the BIG NEWS! David has changed from his undergraduate interest of high energy physics to condensed matter physics. He spent August researching with a condensed matter group. The group and Dave enjoyed working with each other, so he is staying with them throughout graduate school. Wow. A lot of us had thought he'd never leave high energy. "Never say never"...

Last week Dave and the other incoming UCD graduate physics majors got to try the preliminary exam (normally taken at the end of the first year classes). We'll see...

This week, the term officially begins, and David is off to a happy start.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Airlines Preparation

So, now it's time for David to prepare for flight travel. As soon as we decide on an airline, we're going to coordinate with them to help assure success on Dave's first flight.

There has been disappointing press regarding autistic flyers. It's a tough time in history, because both caregivers of autistic people, and the airlines themselves, are pioneering in a society that only now is acknowledging the presence of neurological differences in people. And pioneering involves making mistakes. I choose to view the problems of airlines and autism as learning opportunities.

The first lesson I've learned is that there's a lot more involved in preparing neuro-atypical ("autistic") people for their first airline experience than we talk about at autism conferences or in our newsletters. Dave and I are trying to anticipate all that could cause discomfort (noise, nausea, anxiety, itsy-bitsy bathrooms...), and to establish a program of desensitization (as we have done successfully with certain phobias). It's also important to choose our airline carefully, and to inform the airline ahead of time that a neuro-atypical traveller will be on board. For instance, the reason Jet Blue and Southwest can offer cheap fairs is that they cut out the little luxuries-- in other words, they're uncomfortable. After David has gained experience, he'll be able to tolerate this. But, his first flight must be comfortable. A bad first impression could ruin flying forever...

1. So, first comes claustrophobia. David and I will save our pennies to buy first-class seats, on as LARGE a plane as we can. Once he's comfortable flying first class, we will switch to economy.

2. Second, David will start with short flights, and then move to increasingly longer ones. The objective of the first few flights is not the destination, but the flight itself. I'll take notes on how the flight is affecting Dave, so as to assess whether he is ready for a longer flight. There should, however, be a fun reward at the other end. Maybe we'll visit our old buddy, Father Chuck at San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, which would involve an hour-and-half long flight. Then again, Disneyland is less than an hour away.

If Dave's first flight is difficult, we'll keep taking hour-long flights until he's desensitized. When he is, we'll add another hour, then another, then another. When Dave can handle a five-hour flight, he gets his BIG REWARD:

a trip to visit his much-beloved FermiLab! Yay!

3. Third, David will wear ear plugs with silencing headphones to cut down on the engine noise. We were talking with an autistic friend the other day about her headphones and earplugs, and she said flying was still noisy even with those. We'll see...

4. So, what about fear of heights? Dave doesn't really suffer much from this, but I did take him on a couple train trips where we went high on a bridge. He was fine. Of course, 300 feet above the Carquinez Straight is hardly the same as 20,000 feet up on a plane...

5. Also, Dave has never taken artificial pharmaceuticals, because we don't want to risk their affecting his mathematical genius. However, we'll make an exception for the flight. We'll talk to his doctor about prescribing enough anti-anxiety medicine to bring with us on the plane. Maybe, Dave won't need to take it. The news stories never mention whether the autistic people kicked off of airlines had anti-anxiety medicines available. Neuro-typical (non-autistic) people routinely "take the edge off" their flying nervousness with an onboard alcoholic beverage. David is a non-drinker, so we'd better be prepared with an alternative to alcohol.

Dave and I had fun the other day when we drove to our nearby international airport and watched a plane take off. Being a scientist, he was able to explain to me the aerodynamics involved in that seemingly routine event. It isn't, though. It's really amazing that humans invented airplanes and rocket ships. Dave will probably take that first flight at Thanksgiving. We'll keep you posted as to how it goes.


Well, he did it! David Nisson graduated with Highest Honors, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Physics, on June 12, 2010. Yay!!!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Big Honor

Yesterday was the UC Davis Physics Department Picnic, where the staff honored David and three other senior undergraduates with a departmental citation for hard work. Then, Dave and one other graduating senior also received the Saxon-Patten Prize ($$), the department's highest undergraduate honor. Wow.

Dave has come so very, very far from the days when a lot of people told me I was crazy to insist that he would ever attend college and have a career.

Those discouraging days are truly behind us now. The UC Davis physics people don't even bat an eye at including David fully in their common pursuit of science. So what if he "spaces out"? Actually, a certain amount of it is required of all of them in order to think those big, scientific thoughts. So what if he stutters while explaining his ideas? It's worth being patient to see what sort of awesome science finally makes its way out of Dave's amazing brain and onto that chalkboard for all to see and benefit from. I believed the professors yesterday who told me between bites of potato salad and veggie burgers, "We're all really glad that Dave has chosen to remain with us."

It's like a giant, invisible eraser has come along and magically erased all the painful, tough years of tears. Sitting in the oak-dappled sunlight of the UC Davis arboretum, watching some grad students take my autistic son gently under their wings to teach him proper technique for sending a volleyball over the net, it finally, truly settled into the rested and ready marrow of my soul: David, my dear son, you're on a whole new path with a fresh, clean start, and the best of angels to guide you.

Ph.D... here we go!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Big Life-Changing Decisions

Wow, time has really flown by fast, so I haven't posted here in FOREVER.

First and foremost, David has decided to remain at UC Davis. Yay! He won the Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship, which is just great. And, we have excellent resources here to help me help him with his autism issues.

Second, after years of being focused almost exclusively on particle physics (at an unusually young age to decide something so specific), David has enjoyed his senior year condensed matter class so much that he's thinking about switching to that area of research. So, this summer, Dave's going to do a science project with one of the UC Davis condensed matter professors. This will help David clarify his decision-making process. Very exciting!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


So, first, admissions:

Wisconsin rejected him.
Rutgers admitted David with an awesome fellowship for study only (no TA, no research-- just studying his first year while he "gets his feet wet") amounting to a giant truckload of money.
Davis admitted him (yay! yay! yay!) with a tentative offer of a TA-ship, while they decide about a fellowship. Praying, praying...Davis is our first choice, not just because it would be easy on me to stay here (more resources for caretakers than other places) but because of the physics itself. David is really shining here, with this wonderful team.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

GRE and Fall Quarter Grades

So, in spite of having to spend any and all free time studying for the GRE, and completing graduate school applications, Dave earned all A-pluses in fall quarter at UC Davis. Wow!

Here are Dave's GRE scores:

Writing: 4.0
Reading: 460
Math: 700
Physics: 820

Not too terrible on the language stuff, considering Dave received no extra time, so ETS disabled him there. No- studying more couldn't have helped; it has to do with his autism. It takes him twice as long as most other people to read, but when he's done, he understands the material much, much better than most...

Same with his writing-- Dave can't write fast under pressure, but with plenty of time to do so, he is a brilliant writer. I can't just technical writing, but his professors tell me he writes the best science papers and laboratory reports they've ever read. Again, wow.

Here's Dave's current admissions wish list:

UC Davis
Wisconsin -Madison
University of Arizona

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year


I'm feeling frazzled by the process of watching Dave apply for graduate schools and fellowships. The easiest thing for me is to just stay here in Davis. But, is that the best thing for David?