Archive for the ‘inspirational’ Category

The Original Tiny House

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When our children were young, it was evident that we could not take Steven, with his autistic tendencies and severe sensory integration issues, on vacations to touristy hotels in unfamiliar areas. It only took us one trip to New Hampshire when he was a toddler to learn that his disability might be a hindrance for family fun and relaxation.

Never one to back down from a lifetime of vacations, hubby and I went up to NH a few weeks later to search for a home away from home in which Steven could be comfortable. We purchased a small cabin, one which would qualify to be a tiny house on Tiny House Hunters. It is cleverly designed, having 2 bedrooms. The “master” bedroom consists of a double bed inside 4 walls where one has to open the door outwards to crawl onto the bed. The second bedroom had 3 fashionable twin beds in bunked style, again accessed in the doorway. There is a tiny ladder to reach the 2nd and 3rd bunks. The tiny kitchen doesn’t matter because we usually grilled our food, and the tiny bathroom may have a bathtub in which I can’t sit up, but it is better than no bath at all.

This cabin has served our family well throughout the years with swimming, canoeing, fishing, frog catching, game playing and lots of family fun. It has never been as valuable as it has the past few years when hubby and I try to go up for monthly respite weekends. Life is so hectic and busy and often problematic having children with difficult issues that we literally count the days until we can once again relax in the woods; no cable tv, no wi fi, no telephone coverage, completely cut off from the outside world.

So it was that I relaxed this past weekend. Sitting on the deck, I sipped my tea and listened to the quietness. Every so often a bird would chirp, different birds, different chirps. I had never been interested in bird watching, but hearing the variety of peeps and tweets piqued my interest.

The snake that lived under the house was sunning itself on a nearby rock. Because Steven was a snake expert, I learned that it was not a dangerous snake, and would eat field mice that might otherwise invade our tiny house. I might prefer a cat, but a snake would do in a pinch.

The silence of the woods reminded me of meditation. My mind was calm and relaxed, free floating and super observant. The trees were all blanketed in dew, and thefat dewdrops hung from each leaf, defying gravity. I further noticed that on the end of each pine tree branch was new growth, poking out gently in a light green extension, a half inch or so long. Somehow I had never thought of trees growing, much less be able to witness it in action. The same flowers that we had planted at home without much success were growing like wild flowers at our retreat; large leaves everywhere, bright, vibrant flowers so tall and large that their stems were bent over with the weight.

It seemed like eternity, no thought of time or place, as I sat there and all my anxiety fell away and contentment filled its space. I was ready! I would “put my big girl panties on” and face the stress of the week ahead with courage, knowing that in another 29 days I could return to this place of peace.

 

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If you would like to read more about our family adventures, please purchase my book The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Termites Aren’t so Bad

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My oldest son, Francis, was born “legally blind”. His visual acuity stabilized at 20/400. (In layman’s terms, what a fully sighted person could see 400 feet away, Francis could only see blurrily at 20 feet.) He used his hearing so well that it was easy to forget that he had impaired vision, but every now and then something humorous would happen to remind us!

One Friday night when he was about three years old, he entered the living room as my friend and I quietly sat amongst the pillows on the couch, munching away on buttered popcorn, and watching “Dallas” on television, (our ridiculously favorite TV show at the time.) He toddled toward where we sat and without hesitation climbed onto my friend’s lap.

“Why, HELLO there!” she exclaimed excitedly, since Francis had previously been very shy with her. He looked startled and then began to cry hysterically. He thought that he had crawled onto my lap! He could see well enough to distinguish that there were 2 figures on the couch, but was unable to focus on the differences of our faces. From that moment on, when he entered a room, he would say “Hi, mom!” and I would respond, “Hi, sweetie!” so he could tell from afar which figure I was. At the age of three he had already learned to make accommodations for his vision loss.

He made similar accommodations when he started. He loved going and had many playmates but seemed to develop a deep friendship with a little boy named Eddy, whom I had not yet met because his mom dropped him off at a later time. Francis would come home and tell me that he and Eddy played with blocks or outside in the playground or cleaned the hamster cage together. I was not only excited that he was actually telling me about his day at “school” but relieved that he was able to socialize and make friends.

One morning my lazy body did not want to get out of the comfy bed on time, so he was driven to school much later than usual. I accompanied him into the building and saw the entire class sitting on the floor listening to their teacher read a book. At first glance, the sea of toddlers looked like a blur of Caucasian, light haired children. Francis scanned the room with his limited vision, spotted Eddy, and walked over to sit down next to the only African-American child in the class. Francis was one smart kid…for his best friend he chose the classmate who was easiest to pick out!

Francis had a wonderful, normal nursery school experience, with one notable exception. The school invited an exterminator as a guest speaker who regaled the class about the abundance and peril of termites munching on the wood of houses. Francis came home terrified at the possibility of having them in our basement. I had never seen him so anxiety ridden and he developed problems falling asleep and nightmares. After about a week of this, I finally asked, “WHY are you so afraid of such tiny bugs?” He burst into fearful, explosive tears. “TINY????” he replied. “THEY ARE HUGE!”

Driving through Providence, RI, Francis had previously seen the only termite of his young life, the famous “Big Blue Bug” atop a building on Route 95, which is 928 times the size of a regular termite. No wonder he was so petrified! His understanding was that termites that large roamed throughout his basement and were eating his house! After I stopped laughing, it was explained to him that the Big Blue Bug by the side of the road was a joke and that termites are tiny. Then his dad and I took him downstairs, searched and confirmed that our house was, in fact, termite free. Happy dreams were his again.

 

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If you want to read about Francis’ hugely successful life, including skiing, captaining a sailboat, obtaining a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and eventual career as a high level manager at a famous Silicon Valley computer company, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Regrets…I’ve Had a Few

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As we age, it is common to have a few regrets of things we have or haven’t done along the way. When I was a child, (and traveled cross-country with my family,) I never got out of the car to see the Grand Canyon. Always on the move, I was used to short stops at tourist attractions, the Grand Canyon being no exception. I regret my choice stay in the car because of crabbiness, carsickness, stubbornness or what have you. I simply went back to sleep with a pillow over my head to block out the beautiful colors of the sunset. Also during childhood, I did not have the joy of playing in our ocean state waves. Living on a lake, my parents never felt the need to visit the ocean, and the only ocean I saw was near my public school, Oakland Beach. Nice beach, but not so exciting on the wave front. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old and able to drive with my friends to the beach that I realized RI had waves that were unbelievable! All those youthful waveless years wasted…

I regret never telling my dad of my love for him. As a sensitive child, I misunderstood his detachment from me, seeing it as a sign of my un-worthiness of his love instead of the mental illness he suffered. Only when I aged and he was gone did the truth become clear, and by then it was too late.

I regret the Christmas when I hid 5-year-old Dinora’s Littlest Mermaid bedspread under her bed. Pointing out that Santa had left a gift under her bed, she looked at me in shock and started crying hysterically. Was I telling her a BIG FAT MAN had been in her bedroom when she was sleeping? Seeing how upset she was, I quickly reassured her that really was no Santa Claus, causing an even bigger burst of tears. Strike one against me for prematurely destroying a little girl’s fantasy!

My latest regret came this week. Against the advice of others, an older family friend had chosen to keep her terminally ill husband at home rather than send him to a Hospice nursing home even though his physical care would be a challenge for her own aging body. A month ago I combed through the card store, finally finding the perfect card to express my support for her and to provide encouragement. I was too late in sending it. Her husband passed away this week, relegating my card to join the flow of regular sympathy well wishes, not special at all.

From now on, I will welcome Mother Nature and keep little girl’s dreams alive. People whom I admire will be lavished with praise, and people whom I love will be told, often and heartfelt, that they are loved, the same way I wanted to tell my dad so many years ago.

 

 

I Know Why My Dad Had To Drive

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I had always hated driving, which may have something to do with the fact that I traveled cross-country for most of my childhood years.  My life lately includes a lot of it, with a granddaughter in Northern Massachusetts and a daughter attending school in Hartford. Surprisingly, I have learned to enjoy it!  I find myself bopping away to music, using my right arm as a conductor’s baton, (one, two, three, four; the movements from music class carefully ingrained into me.) Worse yet, one can find me huskily singing along with great enthusiasm.

Taking non-highway routes as my father always did, the variations of scenery are fascinating. Children play on swings, grandmother sitting nearby, and clothes swing on a clothesline; do they use an old wood stove for cooking?  Do they have an “icebox” instead of a refrigerator? Have I crossed over into the Twilight Zone? I remember driving through the same scenes as a child.

Many of the houses are memorable.  One with natural wood and white shutters has a toddler standing in the window, waving, green curtains framing her. It is only after a few trips that I realize that that same child is always in the same position, waving, but wearing different clothing. It is not a child at all, but a doll that is lovingly cared for and placed in a prominent spot for all to see. Another red shuttered house has a flag waving on the front porch, a decoration to herald in the seasons and special occasions. With Valentine’s Day done and over, a St. Patrick’s Day shamrock now blows in the wind.  Driving, I take stock of such silly things as how much wood is piled in front of the lumber factory.  (During the winter, the pile has diminished.) I await the spring when the nursery, which had Christmas Trees and wreaths, blossoms in beautiful colors of the multitude of flowers, but now a stark and unwelcome place sits in its spot.  (The owners are probably enjoying sunny Florida.)

It was only as an adult that I realized that my dad and our family traveled so much because of his severe posttraumatic stress from the war. We criss-crossed the country, driving on the back roads. Driving hypnotized him into peace, keeping the awful memories at bay while experiencing the delightful ones of finding new places and exploring the many geographical areas of the country.

Driving the back roads has become more important to me now.  No flash of highway exits and speeding cars, but leisurely driving through the countryside, relaxing my thoughts.  Often, when observing the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds, the bright yellow sun will make its way down as a brilliant stream of light, and tears will inexplicably sting my eyes.  Pure peace and joy. I have finally been able to fully understand the importance of traveling.

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, please, read my book. Here is a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

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I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

A Christmas Gift from Above Retold…

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Our family went last night to visit a shrine. as we do every Christmas. The lights were magnificent! The live manger was awe inspiring as the choir sang nearby. Of course, over the years it has become more commercialized…Merry Go Round ride for $3. Ride in the trolley, $5. $4 dollar popcorn and $5 dollar cotton candy. $12 for a small book about the nativity, and $25 for the accompanying small stuffed sheep. $9.95 for a children’s chicken nugget meal. Of course, with more and more lights, the expenses increase, and they have to fund it somehow. But I digress… The money making aspects of the shrine in no way minimizes the true spirituality and healing nature of the location, which is worth all of the money in the world.


We adopted Dinora from Guatemala at the age of 6 weeks, and I was so thrilled to have a daughter!!!  She came with a variety of diseases common in s 3
rd World Country, scabies, intestinal parasites and malnutrition.  But we loved her and fed her and she blossomed into an adorable baby with big black eyes and shiny black hair.

At the age of six months, it became apparent that Dinora was deaf.  She had not yet started to babble like other babies her age, but she also did not turn to her name, or looked at the dog when she barked, or seem to notice the footsteps of me coming into her bedroom.  She would be laying there awake when I walked in, (and, believe me, I am not light on my fight.)  When she finally would see me, she would startle.  She had not heard me.  The day I knew it for sure was a day she was sitting next to me on the floor while I was doing the dishes.  I accidentally dropped a huge lobster pot I was cleaning and it made a horrendous clang on the floor.  Dinora happily sat there playing, her back to the pan.  She did not startle.  She did not cry.  She did not hear it.

We then made the rounds of the doctors.  She flunked regular hearing tests, and had a brain stem evoked response test.  Her brain did not respond up to 90 decibels.  The doctor informed me that she was severely hearing impaired and that we would try hearing aids to maximize her hearing, although they would not be strong enough for her to hear normally.  They took the impressions for her ear molds.

That evening, our family went for a pre-Christmas visit to a shrine beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I had a two year old son who was legally blind, and now I had an infant daughter who was deaf.

There was a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes surrounded by prayer water and many large candles.  There was also a large display of crutches and wheelchairs of people who had been healed by her.  I helped my son, Francis, who was 2 1/2 years old, light a candle. Because it was almost Christmas, and the only candles he had seen were on a birthday cake, he merrily sang “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus”.  I remember saying a non-de-script prayer, still upset that Dinora was deaf.  I still thanked God,  but was not quite as enthusiastic as usual.

The next morning, the dog barked and Dinora woke up!  I thought it was a coincidence until I started to walk into her room and she turned to smile at me. She had heard my footsteps!  I started talking to her and she started babbling back.  Only a day earlier she had been fitted with ear molds for hearing aids!  I excitedly called the doctor, who agreed to see her that day.  Her hearing was tested and it was normal!  Neither I nor the doctor could believe it.  He said in his 29 years as an ear doctor he had never seen anything like it.  He told me that it had to be an “Christmas miracle from Above”.  The visit the night before to the shrine came to mind.  A miracle HAD occurred, and I was  embarrassed because I had not thanked God more enthusiastically the night before. He had granted me a miracle even though I did not ask for one.

Dinora is now 28 years old and has had perfect hearing ever since that day! And I have lived life with a peaceful,generous heart because I know, without any doubt, that God is with me.

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To read more about our life as a family, please read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

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