Saturday, October 15, 2016

October 2016 Quick Lit

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. (The word "short" means whatever the reviewer wants it to mean, by the way.) I didn't put up a Quick Lit post in September, so here I'm listing two months' worth of books I read: four nonfiction and two fiction.

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant (nonfiction). I learned a great deal from this excellent book. Prizant encourages us not to focus on eliminating autistic people's "behaviours," but to go deeper and see what these behaviours are trying to communicate. He sees "dysregulation" (inability to maintain a well-regulated emotional state) as a key feature of autism. If we can understand the source of the person's anxiety or distress and help them feel more secure, we can then find strategies that will help them regulate their emotions so that they can communicate and learn in productive ways. I confess I had mixed feelings after reading this book. On one hand, it was discouraging to realize how many times and ways I've failed to do any of the things Prizant talks about, but instead responded out of exhaustion and frustration (I guess I have some dysregulation problems of my own). But I felt hopeful, too, because the book holds parents in such high esteem and gives encouragement to those looking for practical strategies to improve the lives of autistic children they love.

Never Go Back: 10 Things You'll Never Do Again by Dr. Henry Cloud (nonfiction). I've read several of Cloud's previous books (Changes That Heal, God Will Make a Way, Boundaries, etc.) and always appreciate his accessible, practical style. In this book he encourages readers to recognize destructive patterns in their lives and urges them to "never again" do what hasn't worked in the past, "never again" try to change another person, "never again" take their eyes off the big picture, etc. As in prior books, Cloud emphasizes that we need two things to truly change: connection to God and connection to other people. Some Christian readers may find the Christian aspect of his book superficial (little if any reference to Jesus' death/resurrection or the Holy Spirit, for instance) -- yet it's clear that Cloud is trying to reach a broad audience who may be skeptical about him even mentioning God, but who can benefit from the general principles he's discussing here.

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless (memoir). Like many others, I read and was intrigued by Jon Krakauer's fascinating book Into the Wild (published 1996, also made into a movie), about a young American man named Chris McCandless who died in Alaska while on a solo hiking excursion. The book never explicitly conveyed the reasons Chris abruptly left his family behind, and many readers sympathized with the portrayal of his bewildered, grieving parents. Chris's younger sister Carine (whom Krakauer consulted extensively when writing Into the Wild) now fills in the gaps of their family's home life and opens up about the abuse and deception that occurred there. Not a great piece of literature -- Carine McCandless is not a writer anywhere near Krakauer's calibre -- but well worth reading for anyone interested in learning some background to the McCandless story. Krakauer himself supplies the foreword.

Columbine by Dave Cullen (nonfiction). I recently read the memoir A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold, mother of one of the Columbine killers, so I decided also to read Cullen's seminal book about the massacre. It debunks many of the myths around the event and shows that the killers were not the stereotypical bullied loners, but a deadly mix of a psychopath who wanted to kill and a depressive who wanted to die. Very tough, gripping book.

I Am David by Anne Holm (fiction). Danish writer Holm wrote this small novel in 1963. David is a 12-year-old boy imprisoned in a concentration camp; a brusque commandant helps him escape and gives him instructions to head north to Denmark, where he will be free and safe. The book details David's arduous journey, the people he meets, and the lessons he learns about God and humanity. I read this book for an upcoming book club meeting. It's fairly simplistic, and it mostly tells rather than shows; it's probably better suited to a youth/teen audience than an adult one. Still, it's a somewhat interesting story about an innocent's journey.

Sweetland by Michael Crummey (fiction).  When the inhabitants of a remote Newfoundland island are offered a government payout to resettle elsewhere, the one condition of the deal is that every resident must go. Retired fisherman and lighthouse-keeper Moses Sweetland refuses. The novel details his resistance to the government, his relationship with his community (especially his eccentric, and likely autistic, great-nephew), and his increasingly lonely struggle with the ghosts of his past. Crummey's depiction of place and people -- particularly the crusty, enigmatic Sweetland himself -- is masterful from start to finish. It's not a tidy or upbeat novel, but every word rings true.


I'd love to hear what you think of any of these that you've read, or about your own current reading; please comment below!

Friday, October 07, 2016

It's always the right time for thanksgiving

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this coming weekend (here in Canada, at least), I thought it would do me good to post a list of things I'm thankful for right now.

I'm very grateful that Jonathan has gotten off to such a wonderful start at high school. He wakes every morning eager to climb on the bus. He has clicked with his new EA, Matt, and talks of him often. He is having new adventures like going to the Food Bank to volunteer once a week, swimming once a week, and taking interesting field trips (yesterday his class rode the Tour Trolley around town to view various Kingston landmarks, ending with lunch from the hot dog vendor in Confederation Park). The whole transition -- new setting, new teacher, new EA, new routine -- has gone more smoothly than we could ever have hoped. 

I'm thankful for friends. This past year I've had a chance to make new connections with several women, mostly from church. Regardless of whether they're older or younger than me, or at a totally different stage of life from mine, every time the connection has been encouraging and inspiring. Although our circumstances may differ, we all struggle with the same issues: using our time wisely, coping with changes and challenges, finding our own unique identity and calling in the midst of the day-to-day demands of life ... oh, and deciding what to order when you go to a cafe that specializes in chocolate. That's definitely a trial that's best faced with the support of a friend. 

I'm thankful for my neighbourhood. As a family we are truly fortunate to live where we do, with neighbours who look out for one another, who lend a hand, who give generously without hesitation. On the first day of school, our neighbours Kenny and Shelley came out with their coffee cups and sat on their front porch to watch Jonathan get on the bus for the first time. And the bus was a half hour late! They didn't have to do that, but they cared enough to show their support; that's just what it's like here on "the circle." 

As I write this post, people in the southern USA are bracing for a massive hurricane. Lives and homes have already been lost in Haiti, an already suffering nation that didn't need more adversity. I sit here and wonder who am I to be grateful for my blessings when others around the world are suffering.

Ann Voskamp, in her bestselling book One Thousand Gifts, helps answer this question for me:

"I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war.  I have lived pain, and my life can tell:  I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.  Why would the world need more anger, more outrage?  How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? ...

The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world."

When it comes to being grateful for the good things in our lives, there is never a wrong time. Thanksgiving Day is simply a particularly right time.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Writing prompts: an outing with Mommy, and choosing baby names

As I've already said before on this blog, when my writers' group meets every second Monday evening, we often do a freewriting exercise with a short phrase or word to prompt us. We set a timer for ten minutes and just write, going wherever that prompt takes us. Reading our freewrites aloud afterward is the best part, because we inevitably end up marveling at how different our approaches to the same prompt can be. 

In this post I've reproduced a couple of the pieces I've done recently. (I only edited two, uh, choice words -- this is a family blog, after all...) They're not too profound, but they're fun; I hope you enjoy them!

(And if you'd like to read some of my past efforts, you can do so at the following links:
"Empty pockets; park bench" 
"Cats and phones"
"Hardware store; train station" )


The prompt was "It was over in seconds."

I think my mother is lying to me.

She told me we're taking a ride in the car to see a nice lady who might give me a Dora the Explorer sticker. She said there's a place to play with toys and look at books and we can go up in an elevator. "Won't that be fun??!!" she said with an extra cheerful voice.

I'm starting to get very suspicious.

"Here's the elevator, sweetie!" she says. "Look, I'm going to press the number four."

She presses it and the big doors swoop shut. My tummy turns over as we start moving. What is this place? What terrible thing does my mommy have in store for me?

We stop at a desk and talk to a grumpy looking lady behind a glass. Then we go to a room where there is just one dollhouse but no dolls, and a couple of colouring books with ripped pages.

Another lady calls my name. "Kaitlyn?" My mother takes me into a little room and the lady says, "So you're here for a little shot, are you, Kaitlyn?"

WHAT? I think. I realize I have been tricked. I knew it all along. I look at the door, but I can't get to it because my mother is holding me tightly on her lap.

The lady grabs my arm and wipes it with a little wet pad. "This'll be over in just a second," she said.

I have heard those words before:
-  as my mother made me swallow yucky medicine
- as my mother ripped a bandage off my knee

Every instance of these words has had to do with my mother.

The lady sticks in the needle.


The prompt was "phobia."

I'm riding the bus home one night, and the couple across from me is discussing baby names. The woman is using her phone to come up with names online.

"How about Ivy?" the woman says.

"Nah. She'll get called Poison Ivy," says the man.

"Violet?" the woman says.

The man says, "That sounds like somebody's grandmother. I still think Jennifer would be nice."

"But there are a million Jennifers out there," says the woman. "I want something unique -- special."

The man grunts.

The woman says, "How about this?"

The man looks at the screen. "Phobia? Who the heck names a baby Phobia?"

"That's PHOEBE, not Phobia. You know, Phoebe like on Friends."

"What's Friends?" the man says.

"That TV show. One of the women on that show was named Phoebe."

"Was that the one played by Jennifer Aniston?" he asks.

"No, Lisa Kudrow. Lisa Kudrow played Phoebe."

"How about Lisa?" the guy says.

"I hate Lisa," she says. "I used to know a Lisa and I hated her. She was a b---h."

"Do you have a Lisa phobia?" he asks.

I had to reach up and ring the bell for my stop at that point. When I got off, she was no longer speaking to him.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Good--but hard. Hard--but good.

Recently I talked to an acquaintance-becoming-a-friend after church. She is so beautiful and joyful. We talked about getting together sometime, which made me happy because one thing I enjoy most about church is connecting with other women. 

There is a certain "chemistry" involved with this process that I've learned not to overthink or worry excessively about. I no longer look specifically for women who are close to me in age or at the same life stage, or involved in the same activities or ministries I'm involved in; I've come to realize that the circumstantial details don't matter as much as that desire (sometimes unspoken, but hopefully eventually spoken!) to connect.

First we talked about a really profound subject: her glasses.

Then, having seen some of her photos on Facebook, I said, "I hope you had a good summer; it looks like you did some nice traveling."

She said, "My summer was good -- but it was hard." She added, with a smile, "I don't share everything on Facebook, you know." I told her that I'm not always sure what or how much to share, either. 

Then she said it again, but differently: "Well, it was hard -- but it was good."

It was good -- but it was hard.

It was hard -- but it was good. 

That sounds a lot like my life, too.

In the last while I've posted about a lot of milestone events in our family: graduations, birthdays, new school adventures. It's great to share these moments and have others join in celebrating them.

But there have been challenges, as well. Our trip out east was good in many ways (we saw my dad and brother and other relatives; Jonathan attended a day camp that kept him busy for much of the time), but it was difficult, too. Jonathan didn't take well to some of the transitions from place to place and had many meltdowns and screaming sessions as a result. Even when he wasn't around I found it hard to relax: it's like my body was tensed up in fight-or-flight mode, anticipating an outburst. There were lots of people I *could* (and maybe *should*) have gotten in touch with, but it was hard to summon up much energy to organize and plan.

So I feel a bit envious when I see other people's photos of relaxing times sitting around campfires, walking on beaches, taking trips that do not (appear to) involve screaming and stress. 

But then I remind myself that there's probably a lot of "good but hard, hard but good" stuff in everybody's lives, stuff that doesn't always show in the pictures they post.

On any given day, either the hard or the good can predominate. Sometimes I fall into bed amazed that I've survived the day. Other times I'm overwhelmed by the sense of being blessed, cared-for, and carried by God and supported by other people -- like friends at church, wonderful family members, awesome neighbours, dedicated school staff, and so many more.

Life is good but hard, hard but good. Maybe it's best to admit and accept that that's true -- for me and for everybody else I meet today.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Funny, friendly, feisty, fantastic - FOURTEEN!

This is a big week for Jonathan.

Not only did he start high school (including riding the bus to school for the first time ever!), but he also celebrates his 14th birthday today.

Jonathan continues to be a funny, feisty person who tests our patience yet truly makes us laugh every day. What can you say about a boy who, when a neighbour drives by, yells, "Blue box day!" (your friendly neighbourhood recycling reminder)...

... and who, when you yawn, says "Back to bed." 

... and who gets extremely excited when a seagull flies over, often shouting "Macaroni seagull!" (We haven't figured that one out yet.)

His new EA, who has only been working with him for a couple of days, said to me, "He's so lovely." And really, he is.

We have many of Jonathan's favourite things planned for today:

  • Balloons
  • A new ball
  • A new puzzle
  • A new Wiggles DVD
  • Quiche for supper
  • Chocolate cake for dessert

Have a happy birthday, Jonathan, and a great year. We love you.