My oldest son, Jacob, turns five years old today, September 10.  I remember looking at him while he warmed up in the incubator just minutes after he was born and, while holding his tightly curled fingers, said to him “Happy birthday, Jacob!”

4-color-puzzle-piece-special-needsI knew things would never be quite the same — now I was responsible for some else’s life and welfare, not just my own.  I was excited, scared and emotionally overwhelmed at the presence of this little spirit in my midst.

Little did we know then what we would be dealing with now. That being said, he is as much a joy now as he was then, despite the unexpected challenges we will overcome — they key word being “will.” To paraphrase a famous saying, “failure is not an option.”

In addition to the medical and developmental challenges, another challenge we will overcome is the inability, or at least the reluctance, of our school district (Saugus Union) to provide the most beneficial “free and appropriate” special education services to which he is entitled a person protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Initially we had to fight with the district because they wanted to place him in a special day program kindergarten program with the vague promise of “mainstreaming” him for short periods in the day. “Unacceptable,” we said, “Jacob needs to be in a typical setting with the help of an aide and he definitely is not ready for kindergarten.”

Eventually, after significant wrangling, the district agreed to place Jacob in the quasi-independent “Fun for Fours” pre-school program with the intent of focusing on his social development.  However, we had to compromise on the aid, and instead of him receiving direct assistance from a dedicated aide, he will split one aide with three other students.

Although the environment is a positive one, we are very concerned that he is not getting the personal guidance and attention that he needs to develop. Over the summer he benefited immensely from a one-on-one aide, one of his ABA therapists from CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), who joined him for six weeks of a summer school program. Near the end of the six weeks Jacob was starting to initiate interaction with his peers — something he has never done before.

We now find ourselves at an important crossroads. We feel this is a “make or break” year for Jacob’s social development and are committed to getting him the resources he needs and the opportunities to which he is entitled. After numerous attempts on our own behalf to get the district to give Jacob a one-on-one aide we have realized, regardless of whether they are sincere or not, it won’t happen without a fight.

After initially considering a special education lawyer who, though vastly successful, bills in $5,000 retainer installments, we were referred to an absolutely impressive special education advocate, Melonie T. Matjeka of a group called “Empowered Parents.” Fortunately for us, she is significantly more affordable, but no less effective — we almost literally signed over our entire economic stimulus check to her.

Thanks for helping us help our son, Internal Revenue Service!

On Monday, July 7, 2008, after enjoying a “one-day vacation” with my family in Big Bear Lake, CA I embarked on a 3 hour and 21 minute, 205.5 mile journey to Bakersfield; I was scheduled to start teaching another session at DeVry University that evening.


I am only just now able to share the photos from this trip because the past two months were exceptionally challenging, but rewarding. Adjunct teaching is similar to walking a tight-rope without a net: high risk, but high reward. There is no paid leave, sick leave or traditional benefits.

I taught three classes at DeVry:

  • BUSN-115, Introduction to Business and Technology
  • COMP-100, Computer Applications for Business with Lab
  • ENGL-135, Advanced Composition

I also facilitated four to six concurrent online sessions for Axia College of University of Phoenix of:

  • COM-140, Contemporary Business Communication
  • COM-220, Research Writing

Amidst all that I was juggling some consulting projects and myriad responsibilities as the father of two amazing young boys. Despite the limited amount of free time I have, it was important to have some kind of a vacation with my family, even if doing so involved driving 350 miles in 6.5 hours during a 24 hour period.

Had I been able to spend more time on vacation I would have done so. However, my circumstance did not permit it — so I appreciated the time I did have, not the time I didn’t. Although my time in Big Bear was short, it was priceless. We rented a pontoon boat and spent several hours driving around on the lake just relaxing and taking in the fresh air. I don’t step back and take a break much, especially these days, but it was a wonderful chance to partially recharge my batteries.

After spending the morning of July 7 on the water once more I loaded up my car, filled up the tank (at $4.73 a gallon!) and got what I thought would be a cheap automated car wash (it was $10!). I got on the road at almost exactly noon and was off on my big adventure.

My route included California Highway 18 north (through Apple Valley) to Interstate 15 North (briefly) to Highway 58 West (the starting point is near Hinkley, CA — made famous/infamous in the movie “Erin Brokovich”) and ending on Highway 99.  My stopping point was the Vagabond Inn (North Bakersfield). The photos below document this pleasant and, thankfully, uneventful road trip.

Fueling up in Big Bear Lake ($4.73 a Gallon!)

Leaving Big Bear Lake on Highway 18

Some kind of processing plant at the base of the mountain

Decisions, Decisions…

Apple Valley (where are the apples?)

Getting onto Interstate 15 (it is the overpass in the distance)

Interstate 15 North

Highway 58 to Bakersfield

Highway 58 Near Hinkley, CA (made famous/infamous in “Erin Brokovich”)

Mojave (home of SpaceShipOne)

Leaving Mojave and heading up the mountain on Highway 58 West

Nearing Tehachapi

Nearing Bakersfield

Smoky skies from various wildfires (see YouTube video below)

The video below was shot during the last leg of my journey. The overcast/discolored sky that was the result of soot and smoke in the air from the Piute Fire (near Lake Isabella, CA) and, possibly, the Gap Fire that was burning in Goleta, CA (near Santa Barbara). The music in the background is the theme from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”  For the music buffs out there it is called “Music For A Found Harmonium” and can be found on the album “Irish Times” by Patrick Street. It seems to fit the video quite well. Don’t you agree, Napoleon? Gosh!

The “Bond” in all its glory – actually for $40 it is a great value

Scenic view of Highway 99 South from my luxury suite at the Vagabond Inn

All things considered it was a (thankfully) uneventful, yet interesting adventure. There was something unique and invigorating about seeing parts of California many people overlook. The following day I filmed this video as I drove to the DeVry University Center at 3000 Ming Avenue.

The video below is of me approaching the DeVry campus. The music that accompanies this clip is called “Say Hello” off of the “Centuries Before Love and War” album of the group “Stars of Track and Field.” Notably, I went to elementary school and grew up with one of the members of the band: Dan Orvik.

Despite the often odd adventures I have driving to and from DeVry, one thing is for certain: my commute is never boring!