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    Jen & Rob write about living life 'Upside Downer'. Follow us through our honest, whimsical, and real observations as we raise two kids (one w/autism)
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The Oregon Coast

Jen and I find happiness in so many things. We strive to make the best of everything. This gets to be challenging for us though because we seem to have so many ‘surprises’ so often.

We find ourselves longing for an escape. If we had more resources we would get away with our family on a regular basis (traveling, camping, etc.). The reality however, is that we cannot.

When we see an opportunity we certainly do the best to take it!

We have been planning a short vacation to the Oregon Coast for a while. We were waiting for all the stars to align and then we would make it happen!

Recently Zoë told us that she wanted to do an extra credit report on tide pools. This was too easy, it was like the perfect opportunity to thrill her. Jen and I responded with “Let’s go to the coast and find some tide pools and better yet, lets go to the Oregon Coast Aquarium!”

Zoë has been fascinated by science for some time now and I’m more than thrilled to foster that inquisitive part of her. She was thrilled beyond belief and helped us with the planning for our little vacation.

To say that it’s not easy for us to get away is an understatement. The planning and preparation is daunting, our resources are limited, and we’ve got to fit the time in to carefully plot out our trip – all of which takes time and we simply don’t have a lot of ‘free time’.

Thankfully, the easy part comes when trying to get Sam on board for a trip to the beach. Simply saying “Lets go to the beach” is a surefire way to get Sam’s attention. In fact, we must be careful when and how we use the word “Beach” or else we’ll hear about his love for the beach for quite some time after mentioning it (anywhere between 3 hours and 3 days…)

The weather has been erratic here lately. We really had our fingers crossed that the weather would cooperate when a few days before our departure we learned that we would be in the midst of the finest weather we’ve had all year! Clear blue skies and 70 – 75°F!

In previous attempts to get away we have been plagued by so many things: Illness, stress, grumpiness, exhaustion, frustration…

This time around, we knew we would be faced with challenges but we were going to conquer them!


Here’s a great example of the surprises that challenge us so often:

  • We had to rent a car to get to the coast (our Golf needs new brakes & an 80k mile service)
  • We found a great deal on a rental car but when Zoë & I picked it up we got less than 5 miles away from the rental car place to find smoke coming out from under the hood. There was no visible fire, but the fumes smelled of electrical wires (toxic). We returned immediately and wound up with a free luxury car upgrade (yay!).
  • I worked the evening before and we hoped to depart by 1pm. We couldn’t get everything together and didn’t depart until 4:30pm!

These things are NOT the end of the world! We just met the challenges and rolled right along with occasional shoulder shrugs, sighs, laughs, and smiles.

We were treated to an absolutely gorgeous drive to the coast! The spring time is so lush and green here that the colors were bursting all around us. The blue sky and warmth in the air made us all have a goofy smile on our faces.
We arrived at the beach house and settled in for a mellow evening of eating together, being in pajamas, and getting plenty of sleep before our first big day of fun!

We took in so many sites and experiences on this trip. Seaside, Gearhart, Pacific City, Lincoln City, and Newport… We had a glorious trip.

We made a video of the tide pool experience we had and are sharing it with you… Enjoy!

Oregon Coast Trip 2012 from Rob Downer on Vimeo.



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water beads on a rainy sunday

The kids and I [Jen] discovered the amazing world of WATER beads this past Sunday! I had seen them mentioned on Pinterest and various creative parenting blogs, so when we found them at Michael’s the other day I picked up a pack to check out.

We watched them grow, felt how they changed in size and texture, we scooped and squished. Admittedly Sam was more interested in the scooping and transferring the beads from one vessel to another than he was in feeling the beads, and eventually we lost him all together! Zoë on the other hands stayed intrigued and had an entire day of water bead fun! She and I both agree that we want to try a foot soak full of these little water wonders.

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May 8, 2012 - 9:15 pm

tara pollard pakosta - wow! very cool!
and I LOVE the pictures!

Joshua Bennet – “Levi”

I really can’t find adequate words to describe how Joshua Bennett has touched my heart with this beautiful piece of art. You’ll have to watch and see for yourself.

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March 15, 2012 - 7:59 pm

Kate Harrington - WOW! This is beautiful.

March 16, 2012 - 5:00 pm

Posy Quarterman - thank you.

May 4, 2012 - 6:36 pm

Tammy Blackwell - Teary eyed…

October 29, 2012 - 6:57 pm

Michele - Touched by his words!

Jen Interviews Rob

1.) You are a man of quiet observation and deep wisdom.  What would you say are the most important lessons you’ve learned so far?
Thank you for the compliments… There’s a never-ending supply of lessons in life (that’s the most important thing I’ve learned so far). Here’s a list of things, some humorous and some sad, some profound, and some not so deep:
– Treat people the way you would like to be treated. If that doesn’t work, walk away.
– Life is fleeting.
– You can suffer through many things (illness, depression, anger, sadness, heartbreak) and still be among the living if you take time to make peace with whatever you’re suffering from.
– Watching a child be born (in my case, both our kids) is the most intensely amazing thing in this world. The power of emotions, exhaustion, joy, fear, excitement, adrenaline all wrapped up into one. I feel honored and lucky to have caught (literally) both of our children as they came into this world!
– Watching someone you love die is the most intensely difficult thing in this world. There are too many aspects of this lesson and I am still processing them a couple of years after watching my Father die. I suppose I will still be processing them for years to come.
– Even if you think you’re a ‘know-it-all’, you’re not.
– Embrace humility, be humble, and OWN who you ARE.
– The keys to a good, long lasting marriage: Humor, My cooking, Therapy, Love, Passion, Joy, Friendship, Trust, My cooking, More Therapy, and FUN.
– Everyone has a story that is all their own. Some stories are less interesting than others, some are filled with unimaginable suffering and pain… but everyone’s story is an important one (good or bad).

2.) What is the one thing you want to accomplish this year?

This is a tough one because I am a Gemini. There’s often two angles of me so I am going to answer from my two different selves.
– From self #1: Finish the landscaping projects I’ve been putting off at our house… This will allow me to spend more time in the yard, to increase the size of our flock of chickens, grow more of everything (from veggies to herbs and MORE hops oh my!) and might even give me the courage to enter the annual ‘Tour de Coop.
– From self #2: Finish the garage. I’ve been pining away for the completion of a nano brewery. This will give me a space that I have been longing for the past 6 years.

3.) How has Autism affected your life?

Autism is simultaneously the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced AND the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It has been a long journey so far and yet, it’s only just the beginning. Autism has ‘tested’ me on so many levels; patience, fear, resolve, compassion, resiliency, hope… it’s very difficult to maintain an equilibrium when it comes to giving both Sam & Zoë what they need, especially since Sam needs more help with so many things. I look forward to growing with Sam, to advocating for him and others with Autism, and to introducing people to Autism. I often ponder whether Autism is an evolutionary change and of course, may never live long enough to see whether my hunch comes true.

4.) What do you see your daughter doing in 10 years? Your son? (what do you think their lifestyle will be like? Their hobbies? Their circle of friends?)

In 10 years Zoë will be turning 19. If I am still alive (having survived the era that will be her ‘early to mid teen years’ I would think that she’ll still be just as quirky / cool / lovely / unique as she is today, but on a more mature level. She’ll likely have moved out of our house or is planning to do so (though I kind of hope not, for me heart’s sake). Zoë has this fierce sense of justice (at almost 9 years old) so I am guessing that her friendships will be strong. She’s nothing like me in that, I had quality relationships with many people and like it that way. Zoë likes small, low-stress, deeper connections and one-on-one time. So that should be interesting to see what her ‘circle of friends’ will look like.

Sam will be turning 17. I foresee him having lots to say, being a good student, and filled with joy. I hope and dream that he develops friendships that are deep and meaningful. I am going to be really honest here and confess that I seldom spend time thinking far ahead into Sam’s future because… Let’s face it… it’s going to be anything but ‘typical’. He will continue to succeed, this I know. He will keep on being Sam. There are as many branches to Sam’s path in life that lead to potentially heartbreaking scenarios as there are paths that lead to greatness. I know that his heart is huge, that he radiates love and light when his eyes get wide and that smile is directed at you. I instead focus on the moment, on just a little bit into the future. Gosh, that response is making me feel bad, but it’s true. I’m not saying that Sam will not be great, on the contrary… I am just so nervous about what will happen when Sam transitions into what is a largely cruel world that seems to be suffering from an erosion of compassion almost daily. I worry about things like: Sam getting teased, bullied, or injured. Whether Sam will know what it is like to have a girlfriend/boyfriend.

The good news is that 10 years is a long way away and perhaps the world will become a more compassionate place?

5.) Would you be willing to share one of your dreams for the future?

I still think that I would love to be living on some land, acreage, and how I could work with the land to find a balance between sustainability and education. Of all the many lifetimes I’ve crammed into this one lifetime, I’ve been most at peace when I am in this setting. I’ve always wanted to have a place where people can come stay and connect with something that they cannot find in the city. Perhaps that might come true? We’ll see what adventures we’ll embark on and whether they lead to this. Another component of the future is that I’m hoping to be growing old with my wife & being present for my children as they become adults.

6.) What inspires you right now (either for work, or in general)?

My wife, Jen McDowner. I am such a huge fan of all the talent Jen has. It makes me want to do more things that make my heart happy (cooking, brewing, gardening) because she is making art for a living by capturing moments in which people are being ‘Real’ and then gives these moments to them to have forever. There is something almost ‘magic’ about that. How could that not inspire me?

7.) If you were to take your wife on a date, where would you go?

To the Tea House Spa in Santa Cruz,CA. where she and I would have simultaneous 90 minute massages followed be 1 hour soak & sauna in their amazingly tranquil and mind tingling hot tub/sauna rooms overlooking the small bamboo grove. Then we’d go to Shogun Sushi for dinner.

8.) What is your biggest challenge that you face this year?

Focus & Health. How about Focusing on Health?

9.) What are you craving right now? (it can be anything; food, tactile, audible, visual)

Something sweet from either VooDoo Doughnuts or Back To Eden Bakery. Damn it – now I’m thinking of how I can fulfill that craving…

10.) If you could have any ‘super power’ what would you choose to have and WHY?

I still stand by invisibility. I would use it for good deeds and justice. Plus… could you imagine what kind of comedy would ensue from being invisible?

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March 21, 2012 - 7:01 pm

Monique - Jen! I love this post! I might have to have you do a guest post on my ADHD blog soon! I am finding some of the challenges parenting an ADHD/SPD child are similar to those who are parenting autistic children! xo

Rob interviews Jen

This week we thought we’d interview each other. In this post I ask Jen 10 questions that I thought of this morning. We’ll follow-up with another post with Jen interviewing me. Then, we will feature a series of video interviews by Zoë. She will be asking Jen, Sam and I questions & we’ll answer them.

Here’s the interview:

Question 1

  • Q: You’re going to be 40 very soon. Looking back on your 4 decades on this planet, what would you say are the most important lessons you’ve learned so far?
  • A: Oh gosh, that’s a BIG question!  I could list so many, but in the interest of keeping people’s interest I’ll keep it to a few:
  1. love big! be certain to tell people you love how you feel about them.
  2. be true to who you are. following your instinct, your passion, and your heart will take you far.
  3. what the world needs more than anything is more compassion, and the best way to make a difference is to practice compassion in your own life every day and model it for your children.
  4. showing someone you’re excited to see them when they walk in the room can change a life.
  5. trying new things, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, looking at things from different perspectives are all elements of a full and adventurous life. Take chances because you will either be delightfully surprised OR you will learn what doesn’t work for you.

Question 2

  • Q: What is the one thing you want to accomplish this year?
  • A: I want to have a fun summer.  I don’t know exactly what that might look like, but I know it will need to look a lot different than the last 2 summers ;o) 

Question 3

  • Q: How has Autism affected your life?
  • A: Geez, these are ALL big questions! Autism has opened my eyes/heart/mind in ways that I never thought possible. It has made my ability to creatively problem solve flourish. It has tested my patience to the very edge and back again. It has made me very present minded, and forced me time and time again to throw all expectations out the window and be open to embracing things as they come. Autism has sparked a fierce desire in me to be an advocate. I am thankful every day for my Autistic child, and for the many ways autism has expanded my world!

Question 4

  • Q: What do you see your daughter doing in 10 years? Your son? (what do you think their lifestyle will be like? Their hobbies? Their circle of friends?).
  • A: I honestly don’t spend a lot of time considering this.  Sure, I wonder sometimes, but I truly try not to impose any expectations of what the future will bring onto the life we are living now.  I try every day to support both of their individuality, and I have no doubt that who they are at their core (she fiercely loving & self-expressive & clever; he tender-hearted & curious & crafty) will shine! And I hope that we teach them well to embrace the people who see & admire them for who they are and lift them higher to invite into their hearts.

Question 5

  • Q: How has living with Autism affected your profession?
  • A: My profession is deeply personal for me. I bring who I am completely authentically to my work. Autism has touched me in every way and grabbed me at my core, so it becomes a huge part of my work. More specifically, Autism has given me the ability to embrace moments for what they intrinsically ARE, not what anyone thinks they *should* be, resulting in me seeing beauty everywhere & everything. Even in the most mundane or unlikely moments. It has also given me patience and empathy for people and situations that I never imagined I could have… I am so thankful for that!

Question 6

  • Q: What inspires you right now (either for work, or in general)?
  • A: Visually I am always inspired by whimsical, modern design and fun color combinations. Right now in my photography work I am inspired by blur.  I guess you could say I’m inspired by those same things in my life in general! I am lit up by play, honesty, exploration & blurring the lines of expectation and assumption. I am also moved deeply by true expression of emotions, whatever they may be, both personally and professionally.

Question 7

  • Q: If you were to take your husband on a date, where would you go?
  • A: Such a mood-dependent question. My fantasy date would be a week or two long. It would involve lots of lounging, lots of exploring in nature, lots of great food and drink, some photography, music, perfect temperatures, swimming, some quiet, and plenty of hand-holding and kissing. I don’t even know where, somewhere beautiful and tropical seems pretty ideal! My realistic fantasy date would be a replay of many of our past dates! Great food, laughter, flirting, photobooths… I always have fun with you!

Question 8

  • Q: What is your biggest challenge that you face this year?
  • A: I chose a word instead of a resolution for New Years this year. The word is CULTIVATE. I have given myself the challenge of cultivating so many of the visions I have for clarity & simplification in my business, my home, & my family. All of this in the name of creating the space and freedom to have more fun and presence in my personal life and with my family.

Question 9

  • Q: What are you craving right now? (it can be anything; food, tactile, audible, visual)
  • A: I am craving a road trip to somewhere warmer. I think everyone needs a reset occasionally, and February in Portland finds me craving just that every year. A break from the usual routines. A break from the rain. A freshening of perspective. I need that right about now. How about you?

Question 10

  • Q: If you could have any ‘super power’ what would you choose to have and WHY?
  • A: I would like to  have the power to communicate with the dead. I would love to be able to talk to my Mom and my Grandparents.


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February 24, 2012 - 4:38 pm

Michele - I adore you. I learn so many things from you and yours. I appreciate you in my cyber life. I would however like to meet up some day. ❤

May 28, 2012 - 9:57 am

lisa - i love these interviews! so happy to get you know more about you.