Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the tag “It’s Monday: What are you reading?”

Bk Review: Raising Blaze: A Mother and Son’s Long, Strange Journey into Autism

Raising Blaze: A Mother and Son’s Long, Strange Journey into Autism by Debra Ginsberg
Harper Perennial Reprint edition, 2003.REAding
2002 title. Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World by Debra Ginsberg HarperCollins, 2002


001Blaze is not your typical child. In fact, because of his extreme behavioral issues, he is a child in need of great support in a modified educational program. He has a strong family support system: a mother, Debra Ginsberg, a writer who willingly gave up her own job and personal success to ensure that Blaze had at least a fighting chance to get a fair and balanced education of his own. The book details the emotional journal of Blaze, his mother, and his extended family (grandfather, mother’s sisters, and a brother) all of whom pitched in to help when the school system proved to be too much for Blaze.

Ginsberg ran the gamut of regular teachers, special education teachers, aides, psychologists, therapists, principals, meeting them all in and out of classrooms and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings held to determine the course of Blaze’s school life. Multiple attempts at a proper diagnosis and thus a handicapping condition label left school personnel and family members frustrated. Blaze did not fit neatly into a DSM-IV (the catalog of handicapping conditions labels and descriptors), not that the label would have helped anything. After years of frustration and major disappointments with the educational system, Ginsberg threw down the gauntlet and got a legal advocate for her son.

The book covers Blaze’s life from conception, his difficult birth, the years of doctor’s visits and tests, through year after year of educational crises. Fifth and sixth grades provided a measure of relief in the form of an exceptional special education teacher who was even willing to take Blaze on the annual sixth grade camping trip, a potentially traumatic event for an autistic child.  The book ends after an abortive beginning in seventh grade. Ginsberg and her family begin to home-school blaze in a team effort, with the plan for him to eventually return to school.

Ginsberg wrote this book because she could never find one to read herself when she was in the throes of Blaze’s chaotic school years. She says,

It is true that every human story is unique, yet it is also true that there are qualities we all share as humans. Among those qualities are our differences and thus our sameness. My hope for Raising Blaze was that others would find themselves in this perspective and in our story.

I connected with this book in three ways, first as a mother of a special needs child (I remember those IEP meetings well!), as a special education teacher, and as a school administrator. Because I had sat in the parent’s seat at the IEP meetings for my daughter, I felt I had a better understanding of the parents’ feelings and goals when I sat in the educator and administrator’s seats for their children’s IEPs. Each role made me a better fit for the other roles.

Debra’s book does some of that, too. She tells the truth when she relates the discomfort a parent feels in IEP meetings. As a frequent parent volunteer and a special education classroom aide, she realized that she not only has to teach these children, she needed to touch their hearts. These children well know that they are different, and they need teachers who will treat them as the special persons they are. They are not just a collection of behaviors that vary from the norm.

Teachers and parents of all children should read this book for insights into the world of special education. As an administrator (if I were not already retired), I would have my entire faculty and staff read the book, and then share it with the school community. The book has messages for each person who reads it.

Blaze was in seventh grade at the end of Ginsberg’s book. Now he is in his twenties, and he has written a book about his experiences: Episodes: My Life as I See It. I am looking forward to reading this book, too.

NaBloPoMO 11. Orange is the New Black

NaBloPoMo_November_smallREAdingMy friend Karen handed me this New York Times bestseller last week, and I read it in a day. So, I will combine a NaBloPoMo and a It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman.

Piper Kerman, a 1993 Smith graduate with no life plan, no goals, seemed happiest working in restaurants, bars, and 001nightclubs. So after graduation, while her colleagues went off to graduate school, jobs, and suburbia, she chose to hang around with a few colorful, if somewhat unsavory, characters.

She linked up with Nora, a here-again, gone-again lesbian, who threw money around by the fistful, coddling,  cuddling, and pampering Piper in a self-indulgent lifestyle: money, travel, nightclubs, restaurants, clothes, spas. Until one day, Nora, who was getting deeper and deeper into criminal activities, demanded that Piper carry a drug-money filled suitcase on an international flight to Paris. Piper realized then that her bill for all the extravagant living had come due.

The reality of her criminal life and life-style nagged at her conscience, so back in New York City after months abroad, she bailed out and broke all ties with Nora, prevailing on old friends in San Francisco to help her regain normalcy in her life.

With a somewhat unusual job, infomercial production, Piper settled into routines in San Francisco, found new friends, a boyfriend, and started to breathe easier. But with life’s twists and turns, she and Larry ended up back in New York in 1998, where the always anticipated and feared knock on the door came.

Arrested and indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering,  Piper was assisted by her rich daddy’s lawyer through the criminal proceedings. Piper spent six years under federal supervision while the authorities built their case against the leader of their gang, then was sentenced to fifteen months in federal prison to be served at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut.

The rest of the book is about her life in prison (chapter 3 to 18), the friends she made, the coping strategies she used, and practical job skills she learned.

Kerman tells her story in a matter-of-fact sort of way, without heavy emotion, using vignettes of events that occur as she counts out the days and months and seasons of her sentence.

She has roommates, but they are not the ivy-league type she has been used to. Still, she manages to be something of an out-of-place prima donna given that she gets the New York Times delivered to her cell and receives tons of mail, books, and visits from Larry, her family, and friends. Surprisingly, she is not taunted by other inmates, as she otherwise tries to be a good girl, keeping away from troublemakers while serving out her sentence.

Orange is the New Black is a fast, easy-to-read book, without a lot of complexity. While Kerman describes emotional situations, the book is not overwhelmingly emotional. In fact, tense situations blow over quickly, with little or no aftermath. Even the outrageously embarrassing situations, the strip searches for example, seem to be handled with aplomb.

My favorite part of the book is page 150 where she gives the recipe for Prison Cheesecake. I will never eat cheesecake again without remembering this very special recipe. I will never use this recipe, but I will definitely remember it.

Bon appetit! Oh, I mean you’ll like, but not love, the book. It does have some interesting tales to tell. But it ends on the date Kerman gets out of prison. Period. Just like that. The End. I had hoped for a bit more of a reflection on learnings and setting of goals for a new life. Oh well, maybe that will come in another book.

NaBloPoMo 4: The Light Between Oceans: Book Review

NaBloPoMo_November_smallREAding Two challenges with one entry!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

M. L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans

I posted about oceans a bit ago, and that post has gotten a lot of attention: Two Oceans Meet in Gulf of Alaska. Not! So when a friend gave me Stedman’s book recently, and it talks about two oceans meeting in the southern part of our world.

The story’s beginnings…001

A lighthouse keeper and his wife live on a square-mile island, Janus Rock, barely a dot on the map in the shoals a hundred miles off the southwest coast of Western Australia. The nearest land community is the remote Point Partageuse on the coast between Perth and Albany, at a spot where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean.

As far as lighthouse posts go, this one is very unpopular and considered to be a hardship post. It’s only link to Point Partageuse is the Windward Spirit, a store boat that brings provisions four times a year. Otherwise, Janus Rock “dangled off the edge of the cloth like a loose button that might easily plummet to Antarctica,” a day-long boat trip away from the mainland.

“From this side of the island, there was only vastness, all the way to Africa. Here, the Indian Ocean washed into the Great Southern Ocean and together they stretched like an edgeless carpet below the cliffs. On days like this it seemed so solid she had the impression she could walk to Madagascar in a journey of blue upon blue.”

Map of Australia from the book The Light Between Oceans, a novel by M.L. Stedman. Look in the southwest corner for the (fictional) Point Partageuse.

Map of Australia from the book The Light Between Oceans, a novel by M.L. Stedman. Look in the southwest corner for the (fictional) Point Partageuse.

“The other side of the island looked back, fretful, toward the Australian mainland nearly a hundred miles away not quite belonging to the land, yet not quite free of it, the highest of a string of under-sea mountains that rose from the ocean floor like teeth along a jagged jaw bone, waiting to devour any innocent ships in their final dash for harbor.”

“The Southern Ocean is treacherous enough on the surface, let alone having that under-sea ridge.”

Lighthouse at Tasmania

Lighthouse at Tasmania (with an example of the undersea ridge with its jagged teeth waiting to devour innocent ships that wander too close)

It is this ocean setting that forms the stage for M. L. Stedman’s novel, The Light Between Oceans. 

1926. Isabel Sherwood, the grieving lighthouse keeper’s wife, tends the tiny grave of her recently miscarried child. She prays the Lord’s Prayer as she works  “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”   She hears unexpected sounds in the vast emptiness of her rocky island.

“For just a moment, her mind tricked her into hearing an infant’s cry.
She heard the cry again, louder this time on the early-morning breeze. Impossible.”

From the lighthouse, Tom Sherwood sees a dinghy beached in the cove. Both Tom and Isabel race to the cover only to find the dingy, a dead man, and a crying baby wrapped in a lavender sweater sheltered in bow of the boat.

Tom knows his responsibilities and gets ready to send a message to the mainland authorities to report the arrival of the dead man and a baby. But temptation lingers in the air.

“‘Not yet!’ Isabel said as she touched the baby’s fingers.”

What follows is a tragic tale of right and wrong decisions and their long-term consequences.  It’s a tale of human emotional suffering that outweighs a lifetime of moral responsibility. This book is gripping and heartbreaking. Once you start reading it, you will not want to put it down. You will have many questions when you finish, but you will like the book and its author.

You can read comments on The LIght Between Oceans here: Goodreads.com.

About the location… Some reviewers have suggested that the Stedman’s lighthouse in the book, The LIght Between Oceans, is really the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse on the Western Australia mainland coast.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Augusta Margaret River Tourist Association

Tourists who have visited Cape Leeuwin LIghthouse describe the winds and rough oceans, (www.TripAdvisor.com) but no distinguishing marks to actually indicate where the two oceans meet. In reality, they meet at an imaginary line drawn on maps by cartographers.

Stedman says this about the ocean:

“There are times when the ocean is not the ocean, not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most.”

In the end, it is the ocean and the light from the lighthouse that remain constant. The Sherwood’s lives exist only in memory, their story an “unvisited headstone.”

The Last Meow.

Wow, those oceans look a bit rough for me. I’ll just hang out at the beach, if you don’t mind.

Photo credit: Travel Times Magazine

Photo credit: Travel Times Magazine

Meow for now. =<^;^>=

Blimey! Another Blog Challenge? NaBloPoMo. OK, I’m In.

Okay. I am a pushover for blog challenges. For two years running, I have completed the A to Z Blog Challenge in April and will probably jump on the bandwagon again next April. I learned a lot from those challenges, mostly that I like challenges, that they get me to write more, and that I can complete them.


This year I joined the Blog Every Day in May Challenge. Hmm. Maybe two challenges so close together is a bit much.


Photography Challenges

I have climbed aboard on Cee’s Fun Foto express which provides challenges of various types, but mostly related to photography.   I wrote about some of those challenges in a blog post here: Newly Discovered; Cee’s Photo Challenges. I enjoy the photography challenges and take tons of pictures, but they sit on my computer. After all, who wants to see 200 photos taken in one day! Now I have an outlet for these gems. The photography challenges encourage you to think in different ways and to look at things from all angles. You get some surprising results when you do this, and you get new ideas for writing.

WANAFriday Challenges

One last challenge: WANAFriday. 100 bloggers with a range of experience in blogging joined with Kristen Lamb for a blogging experience: WANA112. Kristen’s primary message for all of us was this: We Are Not Alone (WANA). As bloggers, we need to stick together and encourage each other, to give feedback, and to share thoughts and feelings. My WANA112 group is probably most responsible for keeping me going as a blogger.  Now with almost two years at blogging and 225 posts published, I feel much more confident about posting and joining challenges.wana logo

This WANA112 group of 100 friends has largely stayed together now for over a year. Ninety of us joined a closed Facebook group where we post about whatever is on our minds. About six months ago, several members of the group suggested we start our own challenge, and so began our own WANAFriday challenge. One member of the group posts a prompt for the rest of the group, and those who have the time and inclination respond to it. Between five and ten people respond each week.

NaNoWriMo, NaNonFiWriMO, NaPoWriMo

Every year about this time, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) comes around. The goal is to write 50,000 words on a novel in one month.  I am not really a fiction writer, so the idea of writing 1,600 words a day does not grab me at all.

As an alternative, NIna Amir organized WNFIN (Write Nonfiction in November) or NaNonFiWriMo (National Nonfiction Writing Month)  for nonfiction writers. While I do write more nonfiction than fiction, I cannot imagine writing 50,000 in one month. One year, maybe.

Nina Amir sent a note about WNFIN: (Thanks, Nina)

You don’t have to write 50,000 words during the Write Nonfiction in Nov. Challenge…you can write an essay, an article, a report….or a book of any length.

By the way, in April I run National Book Blogging Month (NaBoBloMo) for those who want to blog a book in a month. You can find that on my blog, http://www.howtoblogabook.com. :~)

And we can’t leave the poets out. NaPoWriMo challenges all poets and non poets to write 30 poems in one month. I haven’t tried this challenge yet, but I have it tucked in the back of my brain for future reference.

And Now: NaBloPoMoNaBloPoMo_November_small

But now, we have another choice: NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month). Write a blog post every day in November. That I can do. I have done this with the A to Z Challenges, and I can do that again. Besides, NaBloPoMo provides prompts by the month ahead of time in case I don’t have ideas of my own. (I write on a variety of topics, including cats, but my favorite topic relates to teaching writing to developing and struggling writers.)

If you want to sign up for NaBloPoMo, click here: NaBloPoMo, November 2013, Blogroll. Look for the November writing prompts here.

A Challenge for Everyone

Of course, there are many other challenges on Internet…something for everyone. Starting with the biggie:

The Daily Post at WordPress.Com: Weekly Writing Challenges
The Daily Post at WordPress.Com: Weekly Photo Challenges
Ese’s Weekly Shoot and Quote Challenge
yeah write weekly writing challenge
Velvet Verbosity 100 Word Challenge
Six Word Saturday
Wordless Wednesday
It’s Monday: What Are You Reading?
Where’s My Backpack: Weekly Travel Theme Challenge  New theme on Fridays
Ultimate Blog Challenge: (Blog post a day in January, April, July, October)
Make Something 365
30 Day Gratitude Challenge
Should Be Reading: Friday Finds: Books you have added to your TBR list
Five Sentence Fiction: A new prompt word given each week.
FatMumSlim: November Photo a Day
Lisa Jo Baker: Five Minute Fridays
Saturday in Six Words
The Weekend in Black and White
Weekly Writing Spark — Ignite Your Creativity.net
Michelle’s Weekly Pet Challenge
Festival of Leaves Challenge
Tuesday’s A to Z Challenge
Theme Thursday
Friday Foto Challenge
BEDN Blog Every Day in November
Super Quote Sunday
Thursday Lingering Look at Windows
Festival of Leaves
Friday Fictioneers: 110 word challenge, photo prompt
Insecure Writers Support Group..post 1X a month
Sunday Stills
Trifecta Challenge: two writing prompts a week
Community Storyboard weekly writing prompt

For even more blog challenges check http://dailypost.wordpress.com/blog-events-listing/

(My personal challenge is to find all the writing and photo challenges! If I have missed any, please add it/them in the comments section below. Thanks.)

"Spooky" the Longwood Gardens cat, PA. Photo by Dawn Ellis

“Spooky” the Longwood Gardens cat, PA. Photo by Dawn Ellis

And Now: The Last Meow (Where the cats get the last word)
We really don’t care how many challenges MaMa Jan gets into, just as long as she doesn’t forget to give us kibbles and cuddles and lets us nap whenever and wherever we want!  She knows our motto: “Eat, Play, Nap.” What else is there for cats to do in life?
Meow for now. =<^;^>=

P.S. Please add links to other blog challenges in the comment section. Thanks.

PSS. See you tomorrow on NaBloPoMo.

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