Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Behaviour is communication"

Carol, who used to be the "Itinerant Teacher" at Jonathan's school and would visit him a couple of times a week to assess his needs, goals, and achievements, used the words with which I've titled this post:

"Behaviour is communication."

She said this at a meeting when we were talking about some of our challenges at home with Jonathan a couple of years ago.  It might seem like a very obvious maxim to everyone else, and I don't know if it really changed anything at the time, but it stuck with me.  And every time I think of it, I'm reminded that not just Jonathan, but all of us, are expressing how we feel through what we do.

It's interesting, and fairly encouraging, to look back and see how some of the behaviours Jonathan had that used to drive us around the bend (constant repetition, screaming and fussing while walking to/from school) have eased.  But there are still challenges.

This summer on the last Sunday of each month our church has a picnic in the park:  people bring their lunch to church (or run out and buy something afterward) and gather in City Park near the splash pad.  We went at the end of June and it was really enjoyable.  When we told Jonathan we'd be doing that again this past Sunday, he was excited about it.

Unfortunately, though, Sunday was overcast and rainy, so Plan B was to have lunch in the gym.  We told Jonathan about this change and he said "OK," but when we tried to take him into the gym it was a different story.  For the last couple of years he's been very nervous and anxious in the school and church gyms; we don't know if it's the echoey sound, the wide-open space, the high ceilings, or what.  At school they've tried headphones, a weighted vest, and various other techniques, with some success, to alleviate his anxiety.  But in the gym at church -- if he goes in at all -- he clings to us with both hands as if he's going to fall off a cliff, and makes his exit as soon as he possibly can.

On Sunday when we tried to take him in, he would venture a little way and then retreat, screaming.  We thought sitting on the floor on our picnic blanket, rather than at a table, would help.  But instead he had a complete meltdown:  he collapsed on the blanket, yelling, and grabbed it as if he was trying to hold onto it to keep from falling.

So I took him out of the gym and decided just to take him home rather than forcing something he was clearly finding stressful.  He was very happy when I suggested going home, and he wanted to hold my hand the whole way as we walked.

"You didn't want to stay for lunch, huh?" I said.

And he replied succinctly:  "Saw gym -- scared."

I wish we knew what he finds scary about the gym.  He doesn't seem to have had any particular bad experience that triggered his phobia, and he used to love to spend time there, running around and practicing his basketball shots.  Considering his passion for all things ball-related, being afraid to go into a gym is a big restriction on his enjoyment of life.  But I had to commend him for being able to communicate his feelings not only with his behaviour but with his words.  A couple of years ago he couldn't have expressed that verbally; now he can.  He might not be able to explain the why, but he could explain the what in simple terms.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

best books and movie (I hope) you've never heard of

Today Modern Mrs. Darcy is doing a "best book you've never heard of" linkup, so I thought I'd join in.  In fact, I've decided to include two books and a movie ... just because.  So there.

Yet I wonder:  does everyone else who is posting today think, "Uh-oh, what if ten people say 'Pshaw, I read that book/saw that movie long ago!'?" Or am I the only one who's thinking that?  (And do people really say "Pshaw"?)  Anyhoo, here goes.

Two best novels you've never heard of:

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding

When a young deaf-mute man, Augustin, is found collapsed on the steps of a Romanian hospital, a nurse recognizes him as her childhood friend, the son of a servant on her family's estate.  This haunting novel explores their youthful relationship, their separation during WWII, and their journey to new lives after they meet again.  The book has a very simple and subtle style, and the descriptions of how Augustin communicates through painting are beautiful.  It ends abruptly -- I turned the page thinking, "Is it really over?" -- but ultimately the conclusion is satisfying and hopeful.  This is not a page-turner, but if you like beautiful writing and a moving story, you'll like this.

(Thanks to my friend Mieke for thinking I'd like this book; I did!)


The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

Young Evelyn sees the world as black-and-white: she accepts her religious grandmother’s view of life and scorns the foibles of her struggling single mom. But as she matures and gains more life experience (first love, friendship, a handicapped brother), she realizes that the world is much more complicated than she thought – and that her mother may in fact know a bit more about right and wrong than Evelyn gave her credit for.  This was Moriarty's first novel; I discovered it on our local library's reading list and loved it so much that I've devoured everything she's written since.


Best movie you've never heard of:

Secondhand Lions

A young boy is forced by his irresponsible mother to spend the summer at a farm owned by his two eccentric great-uncles (played by Michael Caine and Robert Duvall).  The uncles regale him with stories about their exploits in the war and the love affair one of them had with an African princess.  Are the stories true -- or does that even matter?  And should you really buy a lion sight unseen, anyway? This is a funny, touching movie about family, love, and truth -- with a delightful and surprising ending.

(Thanks, Brenda G., for the recommendation:  loved this movie!)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday morsel: moving the world's wheels

I realized that with all the Monday morsels I've shared so far, I have not yet included my favourite quotation of all.  

There are many, many people out there in the world doing quiet, essential work behind the scenes -- work that makes this world a better place even if it's rarely seen or noticed.  So while this actual quotation from The Fellowship of the Ring refers to Frodo's quest to return the Ring to Mount Doom so that it can be destroyed, I think it has a far broader application.  

So if you're working away faithfully in the background today and wondering what your efforts amount to, remember this:

"Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world:  small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I spam what I spam

I find that lately I'm getting more spam comments on my blog.  I'm not sure why; maybe it's because my readership is a bit higher than it used to be.  Most of the spam I get ends up in the spam folder and doesn't actually make it into the blog's comments section, but I can still see it.  And so far -- maybe because it's still happening fairly infrequently and hasn't become a huge annoyance yet -- I get a kick out of these comments.  

This one appeared yesterday:

"They can plant a particular amount of green potting to adjust the humidity and temperature of space. 'Design Consultants' are permitted to operate when and just how they please. Many them have glitter utilized on the floor of one's image which, if not utilized especially appropriately, can consequence within the permanently glittery little one."

I've never seen "potting" used as a noun or "consequence" used as a verb before, so that's interesting.  I'm not sure what the writer means by adjusting the temperature of space -- sounds like a Star Trek episode to me.  And I wonder what "glitter utilized on the floor of one's image" involves, and how exactly it leads to a "permanently glittery little one"?  (Little what?)  

I know I'll be pondering that statement for some time to come.

By contrast, this recent comment made a lot more sense:

"It's hard to find knowledgeable people about this subject, however, you seem like you know what you're talking about! Thаnks."

Although the comma splice made me cringe a little bit, it's awfully nice to be seen as an expert in one's field.  People rarely contact me for the sole purpose of telling me that I seem to know what I'm talking about, so I appreciate it.  

Thank you, Anonymous.  Come back soon.  Don't be a stranger!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday morsel: family

I've been reading Elizabeth Strout's new novel The Burgess Boys lately (Strout is one of my favourite novelists; she wrote Abide With Me, Amy and Isabelle, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge).

I liked the simple wisdom in this scene where two brothers, one divorced and one recently separated, are driving to their hometown in Maine.  The recently separated brother laments,

"What am I going to do, Bob? I have no family."

"You have family," Bob said. "You have a wife who hates you. Kids who are furious with you. A brother and sister who make you insane. And a nephew who used to be kind of a drip but apparently is not so much of a drip now. That's called family."

Monday, July 15, 2013

summer reading

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's July "Twitterature" post 
to share what I've been reading.


I've just finished Purple Hibiscus, a novel by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her brother and mother are rigidly controlled by her wealthy, zealously religious Catholic father.  When Kambili and her brother go to visit their Aunty Ifeoma, they enter a world completely different from their own -- one where people speak freely about religion, politics, and love -- and they can't go back home unchanged.  This is a beautifully written book that pulls you in from the first sentence; it's about coming of age and finding true freedom.


You've seen every Downton Abbey episode more than once ... you've watched all of the extra DVD features ... you're counting down the minutes until Season Four starts ... what to do now????  Why, read the companion books, of course!  I read The World of Downton Abbey a while back (it's mostly about the historical background and the reality of people's lives in the 1912-18 period); now I'm enjoying The Chronicles of Downton Abbey:  A New Era (which is more about the actual DA characters and the actors who play them).  It contains tons of sumptuous pictures and interesting details; it'll ease your Crawley cravings for a while at least!


Monday morsel: the meaning of life

I read this quotation from Paul Tournier several years ago in Brian MacLaren's A New Kind of Christian and it has meant a great deal to me since.  I love it because of the unique way it depicts obedience:  as discovering and being who and what we are meant to be.

 The meaning of life, its total meaning, which imparts to it its unity despite the diversity of its various stages, is obedience to God. In growing up and developing, the child is obeying God, who gave him life and its wonderful power of growth.  In making his choices, the adolescent is obeying God, who granted him the liberty to choose and the responsibility of choice.  In throwing himself passionately into all his creative adventures, the adult is obeying God, who has made him in His own image.  And in detaching himself from particular things and ephemeral actions, and attaching himself instead to transcendent values, in accepting his human condition, necessarily fragile, temporary, limited, and incomplete, the aged person is still obeying God, who made men "strangers and exiles on the earth."

Friday, July 12, 2013

waterfalls, herons, and Nanaimo bars

This week both kids are at day camp, so on Wednesday Richard and I made a little half-day trip to Napanee.  We parked at Springside Park and walked along the river to the Coffee Cravings café downtown.

The waterfall at Springside Park is small by some standards -- but waterfalls, no matter their size, are certainly awesome phenomena.  At the top of the falls, the water hardly seemed to be moving; if you didn't hear the roar, you might  never know there were falls just a few steps further down the path.  The water was dark grayish-brown where it poured smoothly over the edge of each layer of rock, then foamy and yellowish below.  It made me think of a plateful of Nanaimo bars with smooth dark tops and soft, creamy yellow middles.  At the bottom of the falls the water funneled into a V shape, and on either side of the V was a huge pad of foam covered with blobs, as if a giant can of whipping cream had been deployed by an enthusiastic cake decorator.

We saw a heron standing on a rock in mid-stream and stopped to observe it.  Watching a heron can be a bit like watching paint dry:  there's not much action.  But it was fascinating to see this bird with its spindly-looking legs, standing firmly and immovably in rushing water that would likely have knocked a grown man off his feet.  Probably it was looking for fish; if the right moment had come, we might have seen it dive swiftly to snatch its prey.  But the whole time we watched, it remained motionless.  An hour later when we came back from our coffee outing, it had moved to a lower rock but was still standing statue-like in the water.

I commented to Richard, "I think there are some life lessons there."  Later I thought more about what those might be:

  • Achieving your goals can take a great deal of both patience and solitude.

  • Staying focused in the midst of chaos is difficult but essential.

  • Sometimes those who look weakest (with the most spindly legs) are actually the strongest and most steadfast.

  • From the outside of a situation, it may look like nothing is happening, but in fact there may be a great deal of attention and watchfulness and purpose, all being harnessed for the right moment to step out and act.

  • "They also serve who only stand and wait."  (from John Milton's "On His Blindness")

  • The definition of a person with a sweet tooth is "someone who can see Nanaimo bars and whipped cream in a waterfall."


(Just for fun, I googled "Springside Park" and found this video on Youtube.  I presume this is a German tourist; I have no idea what he's saying, but if he's using bad words, I apologize in advance to anybody who speaks German and might be offended.  :-)

At 1:50 and 3:00 of the video you'll see the waterfall most clearly. At 3:00 you'll even see the aforementioned heron!

Well, okay, considering the video was made in 2008, it could just be its close friend or relative.  But I like to think it's the same bird we saw:  still standing, still waiting, still patient and steady.)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Ya gotta have RESOLVE!

Last week I wrote about Jonathan pouring chocolate syrup all over the coffee table and carpet.  I had tried to clean the carpet, but it still looked horrible; so I just put a mat over the spot until we could decide whether to

(1) have the carpet professionally cleaned

(2) remove the carpet altogether -- something we've already been thinking about, given that this carpet has seen better, uh, decades

(3) move the couch so that it hides the stain (Why do I find this option so appealing, I wonder?  "Spot?  What spot?  I don't see any spot!")

Then last Friday we were hanging out at home -- I had just come home from picking Jonathan up at camp and was giving him a snack -- when a van pulled up and out jumped our friend Maureen from church, armed with a sponge and a bottle of

"I was thinking of you," she said, "and I knew I had this spray that works really well ... and I had an appointment downtown, so I just thought I'd come by."  Then she got down on her hands and knees and attacked the stain, soaking and scrubbing it for about fifteen minutes.

Resolve is a pretty effective product:  I'd say the stain is about 90% removed, so it's a huge improvement.  (Disclaimer:  The author of this blog post received no compensation from product maker Beckitt Benckiser LLC in exchange for this testimonial.)

But I think Maureen was even more amazing.  She saw a need and just made herself, and her cleaning supplies, available to try to meet it.  She was actually a bit of a Superhero to me at that moment (minus the cape), especially when she was down on her knees doing the dirty work.

Thanks, Maureen.  Whatever we end up doing with the carpet -- replacing it, cleaning it, hiding the evidence -- doesn't really matter in the end ... but you showed me again that you've got a great heart.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Monday morsel: faith and doubt

This is one of my favourite quotations, from Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  The main character, a young boy named Piscine (Pi) Patel, is in pursuit of God and is checking out the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, much to the consternation of his parents and of the priest, rabbi, and imam.  Here are Pi's thoughts on faith and doubt:

"...atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith.  Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them -- and then they leap.

 I'll be honest about it.  It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics.  Doubt is useful for a while.  We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane.  If Christ played with doubt, so must we.  If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' then surely we are also permitted doubt.  But we must move on.  To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."

Friday, July 05, 2013

"human flourishing": or enjoying life, appreciating the little things, and being together

This week I read an interesting article by Karen Swallow Prior; I've mentioned her memoir Booked:  Literature in the Soul of Me a couple of times on this blog already (see here and here).  Her article, "How Reading Makes Us More Human," emphasizes that reading is more than just an intellectual activity:  "there is something profoundly spiritual -- however one understands that word -- about the human ability, and impulse, to read." 

Then, in an interview on Amy Julia Becker's "Thin Places" blog, Swallow Prior expands on this relationship between reading and being human.  She emphasizes that she isn't suggesting that the ability to read is a requirement for full humanness (after all, millions of people around the world cannot read), but that it is one means of enhancing our humanity.

The part of her interview I appreciated the most was this statement:  "As one reader of my article commented, the distinction is between human dignity and human flourishing. Reading is one means of human flourishing; imago dei [the image of God] is the source of human worth and dignity." 

I found this distinction helpful and reassuring, because I know that Jonathan will probably never experience reading in the way that Swallow Prior is talking about (or in the way Allison, who was reading Beatrix Potter at age 3-1/2 and is now an avid reader and writer, can) -- yet he can still flourish and have a full life on his own terms.

As I thought more about this concept of human flourishing, I realized just how many different aspects of our lives contribute to it.  So I thought I'd provide this little photo essay of some of our recent extended family get-togethers, to show some examples of what this human flourishing can look like in practice.

Megan and Jonathan:  cousins, age 11 and 10, reading Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever.

Cousins enjoying some basketball.  Someone appears
to have an unfair height advantage ... but they won't let that spoil their fun.
Jonathan (10), Levi (12), Josh (23)

Carolyn and I singing worship songs together in harmony:
a little taste of heaven on earth.

Celebrating a cousin's Grade 8 graduation -- a special milestone!
 (Cara and Allison)

 Grandma's (Audrey's) birthday -- another milestone.  
(And the obligatory ice-cream cake makes any occasion more special!)

Corey, Jonathan, and Doug, just ... laughing together.  
What's so funny?  
I don't know -- but does it really matter?


Finally, brothers [and sisters, and cousins, and aunts, and uncles, and grandparents...], 
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, 
whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

extended family

Yesterday was Jonathan's first day at Extend-a-Family day camp; he'll attend every day right up until the August long weekend.  He's been going to EAF summer camp every year since 2009, and it makes a seamless transition for him from school to summertime.  

At 9 a.m. we drop Jonathan off at St. Lawrence College, where the summer camp program is held, and he is greeted by his counselors and the other campers.  (Yesterday his friends crowded around him, welcoming him to camp; he was a little overwhelmed by it all and tried to hide behind a pickup truck in the parking lot!)  Then he spends his day playing games outdoors; doing activities in his classroom like puzzles, crafts, reading, singing, and bingo; and going on outings to places like the splash-pad or swimming pool.  We pick him up at 4 p.m., so it is very much like a school schedule.  And it's become such a familiar routine now that when we told him on Monday, "Tomorrow you're going to camp at the College," his eyes lit up excitedly and he said, "Swimming pool?"  He knew exactly what to expect.

Extend-a-Family is a wonderful organization, providing year-round weekend and school-break programming as well as the summer day camp.  There are dozens of programs in town for kids to attend during summer holidays, March Break, and P.A. days, but very few of those programs are geared to children with special needs, so EAF fills a huge void.  Many of the counselors return year after year and get to know the campers well, so it really does become like a big extended family. We're so thankful for EAF and how it has become like a home-away-from-home for Jonathan during the summer.

 (Jonathan with Sam and Eric, August 2010)

Monday, July 01, 2013

Monday morsel: the times that try moms' souls

This past Saturday morning I got up at 5:45; when Jonathan's up, I'm up, and that's the time he decided to begin his day.  

I got him some breakfast and then put on a DVD for him to watch; then I had my breakfast and coffee.  Then I decided to check email and Facebook.

Several minutes later, I heard a voice from the living room saying, "Wash hands."

That sounded ominous.  Watching a DVD doesn't usually result in dirty hands.

I went into the living room and discovered that he had just poured a full bottle of chocolate-milk syrup over the coffee table.  It was oozing over one of his favourite puzzles and had dripped into a big, gooey puddle on the carpet.

Words were exchanged.

Yellow-blue-red privileges for the day were revoked.

Blood pressure was monitored.  (Mine, not his.)

So even though this is Canada Day, and even though I am not terribly knowledgeable about American history (as evidenced by my consistently lame performance on most Jeopardy! categories related to the historical and political aspects of our southern neighbour), I thought I would share this quotation -- ever so slightly revised -- with apologies to Thomas (a.k.a. "I Feel Your") Paine.


“These are the times that try moms' souls. The babysitter and the camp counsellor will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their carpet; but she that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Chocolate syrup, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the more gooey the spill, the more glorious the eventual cleanup." *


(Or I might just pull the couch out a couple of feet from the wall and cover up the stain.  That could provide consolation, too.)

* Read the original quote here.