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Mother introduces her son to community to help promote understanding

For many mothers in the world, nothing is more important than their child’s happiness.

That is why when Sarah Proulx found her son at home crying, her heart began to break — as it has many times in the past.

“All you ever want for your children is for them to be happy,” said Proulx, who relocated to Owatonna in the fall.

Though this particular incident with her son is not unique for Proulx, it may be less common for other families. Proulx’s son, Mason Madvig, 21, is sensitive, and curious. His best friend is his orange tabby, Mufasa. Someday, Mason hopes to be a captain of a ship, perhaps one as large as the Titanic.

Mason also has autism.

“Mason is considered high-functioning and IQ-wise his mind is like that of an 8 year old, though that is mainly in social and emotional aspects,” Proulx said. “When you have a child with special needs, they often are not accepted and life can be harder for them because they don’t have someone to advocate for them. But all everyone really wants to feel accepted, including Mason. He is unique — which I think is a better way to describe him than ‘different.’”

According to the website, Autism Speaks, autism/autism spectrum disorder “refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning each person has unique strengths and challenges.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates 1 in 54 children in the United States today are autistic.

Mason’s diagnosis was one of the reasons Proulx moved to Owatonna, where her father and other family members reside. Prior to her move she had been living in the Twin Cities, where she said life for Mason was just “really hard.” Finally able to move Mason to the smaller community roughly two months ago, Proulx said things were starting to turn around.

“He is a different person since we moved down here,” Proulx said. Because Mason loves to be outdoors, Owatonna seemed to be the perfect match with the expansive parks and trails system throughout the community. Mason quickly picked favorites spots to visit, mainly Mineral Springs Park, River Springs Water Park and Kaplan’s Woods.

The day he came home crying, however, Proulx was worried that history could be repeating itself.

“He had told a girl she was pretty, and in situations like that he is often misunderstood because he is an adult,” Proulx said. “The girls called him creepy and said they were going to call the police, so he came home crying saying it was in his favorite park and that he was afraid that he could never go back again.”

Proulx said she went down to the park and explained to the girls that Mason is autistic and that they were very kind and understanding. About a week later, however, Mason was at the water park and on FaceTime with his father when an officer patrolling the area stopped and asked him for his ID.

“He thought he was in trouble,” Proulx said, noting that Mason does not carry an ID, but instead a card that explains he has autism and Proulx’s name as his legal guardian. “First they spoke with the water park, and luckily Mason has gotten to know the manager there and they visit a lot so he was able to explain to the officer who Mason is.”

Proulx said the officer — Officer Brian Shaw — eventually called her and said he enjoyed talking to Mason and that she had a great son. Still, Proulx felt there was something more she needed to do to help improve Mason’s life in Owatonna as well as help help their new community understand him.

On July 12, Proulx took to the local Owatonna community Facebook pages and wrote a heartfelt introduction on Mason’s behalf. She explained that Mason loves Owatonna, loves to ride his bicycle around town and that more than anything loves people.

“He is very kind and friendly … he loves to say hi and compliment people,” Proulx wrote.

Within one day, Proulx’s post was shared hundreds of times and gained more than 1,000 positive reactions. Proulx said many people reached out to her over Facebook, welcoming her and Mason to town and letting her know that they also have a child with autism. Proulx said many people sent her links and information on different programs available in the area for Mason, some of which she has already started connecting with to get Mason enrolled in various programs, such as in-home therapy.

Most importantly, however, Mason had a wonderful bike ride the following day.

“Everyone said hi to me,” Mason said, grinning ear to ear. “People I had never met before said, ‘Hi Mason!’”

Though there were some negative reactions and comments to Proulx’s post, some of them accusing Mason of making people uncomfortable and not understanding why his mother allows him to bike rides unsupervised around town, Proulx said she took them as additional learning opportunities.

“We’ve had a lot of good conversations about using his phone around people and how people may misinterpret it,” Proulx said, acknowledging that it could look like Mason is taking photos or videos when he is actually on FaceTime with his family. “We’ve talked about being more aware of our surroundings and to maybe find a table to sit at if you’re going to talk on the phone.”

Instead of taking offense or being hurt by the negative comments, Proulx said she only feels more empowered to try to help teach others about autism and what it is like for an adult who has been diagnosed with it.

“It’s hard and I get that — it’s a lot easier to understand someone when you can physically see their special needs,” Proulx said. “You cannot physically see autism and even when you’re talking to someone who is autistic it’s not always obvious.”

Proulx said she has also realized that people seem to be more understanding when it comes to children with autism, but for whatever reason that understanding doesn’t seem to always extend to adults.

“They just seem less understanding and accepting of behavior that they have decided is odd or strange,” Proulx said. “I think if they just could understand that people with autism sometimes are unable to understand social cues or how to socialize it would be easier. Often it’s as simple as just being very specific with your words.”

Overall, Proulx said Mason has never been happier than he has been the last week. More and more people continue to say hello to him, engage him in conversation, or simply smile and wave.

Mason agrees that life has simply been better since he’s been here.

“I love Owatonna,” Mason said. “The people here are the best.”

'Zentangle Method' offers opportunity for relaxing, fun way to draw
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When it comes to Zentangle, founders Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts say “Anything is possible, one stroke at a time.”

Ruth Murray, of Faribault, developed an interest in the Zentangle Method about 15 years ago. She has since began tangling on 3D objects, as pictured. Murray plans to teach a Zentangle class at the Paradise Center for the Arts Aug. 3-4. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

In the early 2000’s the Rhode Island duo developed the Zentangle Method, known as an easy-to-learn, relaxing and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. Faribault resident Ruth Murray picked up on the meditative art form several years ago, officially becoming a certified Zentangle teacher in 2017.

Next month, Murray plans to teach two classes at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Though this will mark her first time teaching a class at the Paradise, in previous years, Murray has taught friends and family members alike. She had high hopes to branch out into offering classes to others last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on that.

During the pandemic, Murray was pleased to be able to go to her room and draw some tangles. The Zentangle website states tangles are made with combinations of dots, lines, simple curves, S-curves and orbs. Those patterns are drawn on small pieces of paper called “tiles” and can be assembled into mosaics once complete.

The ceremony of the Zentangle Method has eight steps, with the first being gratitude. Murray explains taking the time to think of something she is grateful for puts her in a positive state of mind, ready to begin tangling.

Zentangle founders state creators will develop a deeper understanding, get more out of their practice, discover fun new ideas and projects and connect with more of the Zentangle community as they learn more about it. Over the years founds say they’ve created a Zentangle history of ideas and inspiration through their blog, newsletters and videos. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Next, tanglers draw dots in the four corners of the tile, then create a border by connecting the four dots.

A zigzag, wavy or straight-lined design is then drawn on the tile to separate the different tangle sections. The tangling then begins by following patterns developed/provided by Thomas and Roberts.

Each technique has a different name, though the name doesn’t necessarily describe what the end result will look like.

Murray says the idea behind that was to keep tanglers’ minds open and not focus on making the tile look a certain way. Shading is completed with a pencil and tortillon (a paper tool used to blend in pencil into the paper). Once finished tangling, creators move into the seventh step: initialing and signing. The final step asks them to appreciate their work, and if in a class with others, this step also encourages creators to place their tiles next to one another and appreciate them together.

Murray says this also helps build a sense of community, something she feels can be done best in person. That is just one of many benefits Murray has found in her years of tangling. Some other benefits are increased relaxation, a kickstart to creativity, improved confidence, focus, empowerment, inspiration and increased awareness of patterns seen on a daily basis.

She also enjoys the unplugged aspect of the process, as it only requires a pencil, a tortillon, a tile and Zentangle patterns to follow.

The beauty of Zentangle, Murray says is that there is no right or wrong way and no mistakes can be made.

“It is approachable for someone who has never picked up an art tool. Yet Zentangle is still inspiring enough for an advanced artist,” said Murray.

Previously dabbling in the painting world, Murray enjoys the accessibility with Zentangle, since is doesn’t require a lot of supplies and can fill a lot of spare time while doing things like waiting at a doctors appointment or while getting a hair cut.

She’s explored tangling on different colored tiles like white, brown, gray and black. After mastering the techniques, colored markers are introduced, something Murray particular enjoys drawing flowers with. She’s even incorporated some tangles into 3D objects like on plastic, white figurines, Easter eggs and Christmas ornaments.

Enough money left from one court resurfacing to repair others

Pickup ball games are about to become a lot more enjoyable at one Owatonna park. And thanks to a bid lower than anticipated, other parks could also see improvements in the near future.

During the regular meeting for the Owatonna City Council on Tuesday, Parks and Recreation Director Jenna Tuma happily reported that bids to resurface the basketball courts at Minot Brown Park came in well under budget.

“With the bid price coming in much lower than we anticipated we can catch up on a few other courts in town and really stretch those dollars,” Tuma said.

The money approved in the 2021 budget for the project is $20,000. The low bid, Finley Brothers, Inc. out of Hopkins, came in at $8,870. Tuma said it’s unclear when the courts were last resurfaced, but that the industry standard is to resurface them every seven years.

Because there is up to $20,000 available for this project, Tuma said they will prioritize resurfacing additional locations by safety and preventative maintennance needs. Other parks identified as having courts that need repairs include Dartts and Manthey parks, and Sid Kinyon Courts.

In other action, the council:

• Approved the first reading of a proposed ordinance amending what information is provided to the community regarding winter parking restrictions. Public Works Director and City Engineer Kyle Skov said the ordinance currently calls for signs to be placed at the entrances to the community regarding the restrictions and a hotline number that can be called for more information. Skov reported that the hotline is no longer maintained and that the new winter parking app developed by the Owatonna Police Department this past winter has proven to be a better source of information.

The change means signs would no longer required, but in response to council concerns over notification Skov said signs will still be placed on all major entrances to the city. The second reading will take place at the next council meeting before the change becomes effective.

• Approved the application to a Point Source Implementation Grant, which could help secure $7 million in funding through the Public Facilities Authority to go toward the wastewater treatment plan project. Skov said if the grant were to be secured, funds would go directly toward the expansion of the facility.

• The city will advertise for bids for the 2021 Storm Sewer Project, which will replace a “historic” sewer line that runs from the intersection of Maple Avenue NE and Pearl Street E through the 300 block of Rose Street E. Another sewer will be replaced at Condor Place NE.

Skov said the total cost for the project is estimated at $217,007 and that it will be paid for from the operating budget.