An “aha moment”

 

Scan_20141006I’ve heard Dr. Phil talk about an “aha moment,” one of those times in a person’s life that will always be remembered, because it was at that very moment something life-altering occurred. I had one of those moments in 1979. Kirstin was attending the regular preschool, and her teacher and I were having trouble communicating about her progress.  Flo suggested that we keep a notebook at the preschool. She would write in it each day, and so would I.

Everyday, I wrote about Kirstin’s accomplishments. “Today Kirstin asked a question. Kirstin helped make her bed. Now Kirstin can put on her shoes.”

As I have said, Kirstin’s attendance in the regular preschool pointed out many areas where she fell behind. Every day Flo would write about something Kirstin had trouble with. “Today, Kirstin wouldn’t participate with the other children. Kirstin had trouble using scissors. It is hard for Kirstin to color inside the lines.”

Every day, I read Flo’s comments and felt more and more frustrated. One day after reading all the things that Kirstin couldn’t do that day, I wrote, “Isn’t there anything Kirstin can do?” That was my aha moment. It was at the moment I decided to become a special education teacher. I would focus on what students were able to do and use that to build upon. That way we would focus on the positive not the negative. If you can do one thing, I surmised, you can learn more, and there’s no way to tell how far that can take us. That has stayed my teaching philosophy for twenty-nine years.

It was during my course work in special education I had another experience that contributed to what would later become my teaching philosophy. One of my professors had worked at the Coolidge facility and related this story to us. He was looking in on some of the residents, and while he was there he told a joke to the nurses. They didn’t get the joke, but a woman with cerebral palsy laughed. Her cerebral palsy was so severe that she could not move her arms or legs, nor could she speak. Confined to a bed or wheelchair, she required constant care as if she were a baby.

The fact that she laughed intrigued my professor, so he decided to try a little experiment. Arranging the room so she could not see him, he told another joke. Again she laughed. This was repeated, and in every instance, she laughed at the appropriate time. Certain that her brain activity was much more than anyone knew (people with cerebral palsy can have average intelligence and above), he decided to develop a program so that she would be able to communicate and learn.

Before he could put his plan into effect, the family of the woman took her home for Christmas. While she was there, she developed pneumonia and died. It struck me as so tragic that, for her entire life, she had been unable to express to others the extent of her understanding of what was going on around her. And now that someone had discovered the truth about her, it was too late. That story has stayed with me, and it is the reason why I never give up on a single student. How do I know if the next thing I try will be the answer?

From This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world. Available at amazon

 

The Joy of Reading

Scan_20141009I can still remember the smell of the bookmobile that came to our neighborhood every two weeks when I was growing up. Those well-worn hard cover books have a smell that is distinct from paperbacks–kind of like a pungent cheese. Throughout my teen years, I walked to the corner where the bookmobile would be, my brother and sister in tow. Urging them to quicken their steps, I was eager to get there to find out what new books were waiting within.

Once inside, I would go immediately to the S section and look for Steinbeck, my favorite author at the time. Through his writings, I left my middle class neighborhood and traveled to places like Cannery Row and Tobacco Road. I cheered for the downtrodden, who were being exploited by the unscrupulous. Not really expecting a happy ending, I was always dissatisfied with the outcome.

It was sort of a fluke that I started reading Steinbeck in the first place. I was in advanced junior English when we were assigned to read either Lloyd C. Douglas’s The Robe, or a Steinbeck novel. (I don’t remember which one.) As there was some doubt as to whether I belonged in advanced English, I was strongly urged to read The Robe. (I had a solid B in that class, but as my counselor reminded me regularly I was really a C student in spite of the A’s and B’s I was earning. But that’s another story.) As I was easily intimidated and in awe of teachers I did as she suggested. But I continued to be intrigued by the idea of reading Steinbeck. So I checked out a book and was instantly hooked.

As a young reader I think I did a fair job of devouring everything in my school library. I loved Doctor Dolittle and hoped secretly that I would some day meet up with a pushmi-pullu. I read all the Beverly Cleary novels and spent hours with the March girls in Little Women. I read Little House on the Prairie and Ann of Green Gables. I loved going to places and times I could never really visit and meeting people I could never really know.

For a while, every summer, I would read an Alexander Dumas novel. When I finished The Three Musketeers, I said, “Where is it?” I plowed back through the pages, looking for it. Somehow I had missed the words, “One for all and all for one.” I always intended to read it again and pay better attention.  When I read The Man in the Iron Mask, I was surprised that Philippe was placed back in the mask and returned to the island. Apparently no movie producers could live with the ending as Dumas penned it. In every movie I’ve seen, it was always Louis who ended up in the mask. My favorite Dumas novel was The Count of Monte Cristo–definitely on my re-read list.

I still recall my sadness when I finished the last page of the last Jane Austen novel, knowing there would be no more. The longest book I’ve ever read is Anna Karenina. I would love to read it again, but I have so many more books I haven’t read, that I doubt I’ll have time. (Actually Moby Dick is longer, but I don’t want to read it again. I’ve been looking at lists of 100 must-read books to see what I’ve missed. I’ve already read many of them. I hope I have time to read the rest.

Meet Betty Jenkins

IMG_0426The first senior you will meet in A Rocky Start is Betty Jenkins and you meet her as Amber does on the second page. She is having trouble retrieving her newspaper from the bushes and asks Amber for help. That’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Betty is a retired mail carrier who moved from Kansas to Bluesky with her husband Paul.  When Paul passed away, Betty made the decision to remain in Bluesky. She has three sons. Calvin is a stockbroker in Oakland, California and has three boys. Sam is in the air force, stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Robert, who has two girls and a boy, is a chef in San Francisco.

Amber and Betty quickly develop a strong bond, due partly to their mutual love of art. Betty has a small studio behind her house where she paints landscapes. She sells a few of her paintings, but she gives many of them away. Amber is also drawn to Betty because Betty accepts and supports Amber as she is. While Amber’s family is loving and supportive, they can sometimes be a little overbearing. Betty is more likely to help Amber find her own way through situations.

There are two things Betty is famous for in Bluesky. First is her special chocolate chip cookies. She has a secret ingredient that she never tells to anyone–well, maybe just one person. The other thing Betty is famous for is shuffleboard. She invites Amber to her shuffleboard match at the senior center. Amber brings her friends along to cheer for Betty. Not only do they learn about shuffleboard, but they also discover the opportunity to become junior volunteers.

Betty is the best example of “love your neighbor.” When Doris Duncan hurts her back, Betty is right there to lend a hand. In this way, she is a role model to the Handy Helpers. Mary Snyder’s failed attempts at planting a garden lead her to enlist the help of Betty’s green thumb. Betty is there, hoe in hand, to lead the Snyders toward a bountiful garden.

It is Betty’s sense of humor that draws others–including the Handy Helpers–to her. She has a talent for lightening up any situation. When Amber has a mishap with her spinach salad, Betty tells a funny story on herself to make Amber feel better. Betty is the kind of friend and neighbor everyone would wish to have.

A Rocky Start and all the Handy Helper books are available at amazon

 

This Little Light of Mine

2012-04-08-1134-58_editedFrom This Little Light of Mine, A woman with Down Syndrome shines brightly in the world.

When Kirstin was three years old, her preschool teacher gave me a book to read. It was written by two psychologists who had a child with Down syndrome. They talked about how they placed his crib in just the right spot so that he would receive the most stimulation. Everything about his day was calculated to provide the best environment for him to develop properly. I thought about how we hadn’t done any of those things. When she was a newborn, we didn’t even know we should be doing them. Now she was three years old. Was it too late? When I reached the part about their son starting to walk at age three, I looked up at Kirstin. She was spinning around the driveway on her Big Wheel, happy and engaged in what she was doing. Maybe we hadn’t done everything just right, but we had done okay.

As with all situations we find ourselves in, there are blessings to go along with the challenges. While those with Down syndrome require special help, they also provide their families with special joy. I’ve heard it suggested that instead of Down syndrome, it should be called Up syndrome. Kirstin smiles most of the time and sees the bright side of every situation. She has the ability to spread happiness wherever she goes; it’s contagious. Her concern for others is genuine. There is not a phony, conniving, or distrustful bone in her body. This makes her more vulnerable, but it also makes her a beautiful example of how the rest of us should live.

A doctor can explain exactly how Down syndrome occurs, and I can understand and accept what he tells me. Still I do not believe it is a mistake of nature. God does not make mistakes. Kirstin is as she was intended to be. God has a purpose and plan for her, as He does for all His children. He sees her not as the world sees her but as His perfect creation.

KIRSTIN’S SIDE OF THE STORY: My mom asked me to tell you how I feel about having Down syndrome. I feel like I’m happy about it. I do have a problem with my knee. One good thing is being able to wear glasses, so I can see and do some reading. I feel I am special in my own way. I have some friends with Down syndrome. We do look a lot like each other, as if we are people who are related. Sometimes people call me by the wrong name. They think I am someone else with Down syndrome. I just go along with it, because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. That’s not my style. I would like people to remember that even though we look alike, we are all unique.

This Little Light of Mine is available at amazon

I love hiking in Prescott, Arizona.

IMG_0311 As a native Arizonan, I’ve done plenty of hiking. I’ve been to the top of Picacho Peak and Piestewa Peak. I’ve been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and Havasupai Canyon. But there is no better place to hike than Prescott. With over 80 miles of hiking trails and more being added, I could never run out of places to hike. Except for July and August,  Prescott has the perfect hiking weather. Even in the summer, the monsoon rains can cool things off enough for an early morning hike.

My husband Craig and I were introduced to hiking in 2008, when the Highland Center started the hiking spree. We picked up a flyer and decided to try it. When we finished the hiking spree, we just kept on hiking–all through the winter and the spring. We’ve done the hiking spree every year since and continue to hike year round.

The hike pictured above is the Watson Dam/ Flume Trail in the spectacular Granite Dells. It’s amazing the wonders contained in only one and a half miles of trail. The hike begins with a narrow passage through huge granite boulders. It follows a ledge above a dry creek bed before suddenly plunging down into a small valley. Private property abuts both sides of the trail and homes can be seen through the trees.  Reaching the loop portion of the trail, we usually go to the right, up into the rocks. Here the trail crosses solid granite. It is marked by blotches of white paint. Following the markings sometimes requires walking like a mountain goat up the slanted rock face. Vegetation is sparse consisting only of a few scrawny trees that dare to germinate in the crushed granite within the cracks of the rocks. Continuing over the top the trail goes steeply down where everything suddenly changes.

Now the landscape is lush with greenery. The narrow moss-covered flume is bordered by tall reeds. We follow the flume to the right and cross a narrow metal foot bridge. The roar of a waterfall can be heard. As we continue on, the back side of Watson Dam comes into view.  A huge spray of water is gushing from the dam. The water pools below the dam among the flat granite walkways. Gigantic granite formations, at least three stories high surround the area.

We explore the many pools, watching dragonflies skitter across the water. Then we return to the flume and continue along the trail to the left as it climbs up a steep cliff above the flume. Wooden bridges provide passage across deep narrow gorges. Continuing on we see Granite Creek below us. The water babbles as it rolls over rocks in its path. Both sides of the creek are lined with trees.

As the creek bends to the east, we travel west until we reach the end of the loop. Back across the meadow, we climb up along the dry  creek bed. Soon we are squeezing through the rock entry leaving  behind the magical world it hides.

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Meet the Snyders

Handy Helpers Books are available at amazon

Amber

 

Amber Nicole Snyder is the main character in the first Handy Helper book, A Rocky Start. In fact the entire story is told from her point of view.

Amber is a fourth-grader at Bluesky Elementary School. She just turned ten on March 22.  For her birthday, she received art supplies because she likes to draw. She loves hamburgers and hates spinach–or so she thinks.

There are four members of the Snyder family–John and Mary, the parents; Kyle, the big brother; and of course Amber. John and Mary met when they were in college. Both of them were working at a summer camp for kids with disabilities in Pinetop, Arizona. After college, John moved to Phoenix and they were married. Mary loved living in Phoenix, but John hated it. He missed the cool weather and being outdoors. After Kyle was born, the family moved to Flagstaff, but Mary hated the harsh winters. When John had a chance to become the manager of the Discount Mart in Bluesky, he moved his family there. Like the story of the three bears, Bluesky was just right.

Amber was a bald-headed baby and her father said she looked like Uncle Fred. Amber is now a lovely young lady with thick bronze-colored hair and big brown eyes, but her dad continues to call her Fred.

Kyle is the perfect big brother, which in Amber’s opinion is not a good thing. He’s great at everything–school work, baseball, and playing the guitar. Amber struggles because she has attention deficit disorder, or ADHD. Kyle says it stands for “Amber’s dramas happen daily.” From forgetting to take out the garbage to losing her homework, Amber seems to have lots of dramas. Although she has a very loving and supportive family, they can be somewhat overbearing. For example, Kyle checks Amber’s homework even when she doesn’t need him to.

Judging from the Snyder backyard, Amber isn’t the only one with attention problems. All the members of the Snyder family seem to start projects that they don’t finish. But they do spend time on activities that are important. There are game nights on Fridays, football games in the park, and family bike rides. John and Mary are a very loving couple who hold hands as they walk to church and watch romantic movies together.

The Snyders have a  black Lab puppy named Domino. He manages to cause his share of trouble as well. Amber wanted a Lab because she read they can be hyperactive. She thought their new dog would have something in common with her.

There is a strong mother-daughter bond between Mary and Amber. They enjoy being together, cooking, shopping and going on walks. But Mary does hold Amber accountable for her own behavior. There are consequences when she does something wrong. Mary calls it “Paying your dues for your don’ts.” Amber’s relationship with her father is more laid back. He tells her, “You worry too much.” But when Amber’s impulsiveness lands her in trouble, it is her father who helps her find the answer. He is a steady supportive force in her life.

Sometimes I think of the Snyders as my neighbors. I have enjoyed getting to know them. I hope you will too.

 

 

The miracle of the lost diamond

Scan_20140903Jesus told several parables about the extent someone would go to in order to find something of great value. In each case, once the lost item was recovered, the owner called together friends and family to celebrate. I can relate to this in a very real way.

It was 1981 and my husband Craig and I were at the Jaycee National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. We had attended the week-long convention which culminated in a parade through the streets of downtown Cleveland. We would be driving our new Audi in the parade. Since it had a sunroof, it was decided that the Arizona Jaycee president and his wife would sit on the roof of our car with their feet in the opening of the sun roof. This arrangement upset me greatly and I made it obvious that as the president of the Arizona Jaycee Women I thought I should be riding on the top of the car instead of inside.

I continued to pout and otherwise act like a spoiled child as I got into the car to start the parade. As I sat down in the passenger seat, my husband gasped, “Oh my gosh, your ring!” I looked down at my left hand to see a gaping hole where my diamond should have been. Now instead of being upset about my position in the parade, I could think of nothing else but the missing diamond.

To make matters worse, we had left our children with Craig’s grandparents in Kent. While we were visiting there, his grandmother showed me a diamond she had found and told me how important it was to have your set checked regularly. I had shrugged this off as something I didn’t have time for. Now I was faced with returning to Kent and admitting I had lost my diamond. Shame piled upon shame filled my heart and mind.

As the parade came to an end, I vowed to search every inch of downtown Cleveland until I found the diamond. Obviously this was an impossible task as I had no idea when or where I had lost it. Finding a needle in a haystack would have been an easier task. At least the search would be limited to the haystack.

Craig and I returned to the spot on the street where we had lined up for the parade. Both sides of the street were cluttered with trash. I looked at Craig and said, “It’s hopeless. Even if it’s here I’ll never find it.” Just as I was ready to give up, we looked across the street to where I had stood visiting some friends before the parade began. Craig and I noticed a tiny glint in the pavement under some litter. Certain it couldn’t possibly be the diamond, we raced across the street anyway. I’m not sure how much light a half-carat diamond can reflect, but it was enough. I bent down and brushed away the trash. There in the dirt-filled street lay my diamond.

Just as in the parable, I spent the rest of my time in Cleveland telling everyone I saw about my miracle experience. In the Handy Helpers book, A Rocky Start, Amber’s dad tells her that God’s mercy is what we need most when we deserve it the least. Certainly, there was nothing in my behavior that day that warranted any mercy but I received it anyway–proof that God responds to our needs even when we’re too self-absorbed to ask.

 

Written by Rosemary Heddens