June Birthdays!

Thanks to Samantha and Carolyn for sharing the June birthdays of Bliss i-Band member (Fran), music director (Aaron), and new helper (Elaine). We are celebrating all their birthdays with the i-Band’s special version of “Happy Birthday” on June 16 !

By Samantha Millar and Carolyn Henry

with assistance from Julie Millar and Glynis Henry

Comments in red are by Samantha and Carolyn

In June we are celebrating three birthdays:

Fran on June 5th, Aaron and Elaine W. on June 15th.

Fran’s Birthday

“My birthday is on Saturday June 5th. If it was a normal year Chris Rowntree, Donna Symington & one of my former pastors would be going to a Blue Jay game at the Rogers Centre. The year I was 70 there were about 20 of us who did that.”  Even though you couldn’t go to the game, at least they won for you. Maybe you could arrange a zoom meeting with everyone so that you can watch the game together.

Aaron’s Birthday

Aaron hasn’t thought about celebrating his birthday this year but he has shared a memory from a previous year.

“When I turned 40 my parents and siblings organized a Limo to take me and my family to the Sunday AM Bluegrass Brunch at the Dakota tavern, and they also knew I wanted a fancy resophonic guitar so they all pitched in toward that gift that I bought myself a few months later.” Have we heard you play this guitar? Is it still your favourite? 

Elaine’s Birthday

“I usually celebrate my birthday by having dinner out with friends or invite a larger group of friends over for a get together if it’s a significant one. Last year I turned 70 and had a couple of major travel plans to celebrate, including an Antarctica cruise in February and a trip to Newfoundland in July with my girlfriend from England,  who is 3 days older than me. Of course due to the pandemic none of this happened so I guess I’m still 69! I moved to a new home just before my birthday last year so I wanted to have a small birthday and housewarming party the same weekend. We had a come and go on my deck, just going indoors for apps and desserts. Luckily Doug Ford increased the maximum gathering size from 5 to 10 people a few days before the party. I had visions of drawing chalk lines on the sidewalk 6 feet apart and limiting people’s visiting time. And I had a birthday cake but wasn’t allowed to blow out the candles, had to wave them out due to COVID!  

With regard to celebrating this year it will depend on what is allowed, maybe take out food at a picnic table?” It looks like you will be lucky again this year to have 10 people to celebrate with you.

It’s Carolyn’s Birthday !

Carolyn’s Birthday is May 28th. She has shared her birthday memory with us: 

“One birthday I really remember was when I was quarantined in my room for ten days because I went to North York Hospital at the beginning of the SARS outbreak in 2003.   I stayed in my room for ten days, it got boring sometimes.  People used to wave at me in the window in my door. A birthday memory is when I turned 40 and 50. I had 2 parties when I turned 50, one with my family in Cornwall and one with my friends in Toronto.  It was special for me because I saw friends and family that I hadn’t seen for a long time.  We played games, visited and ate cake.”  I guess you will probably be celebrating in your room again so you will have to zoom with your family and friends. I will be thinking of you on that day! 

Let’s all wish Carolyn a very happy birthday and if you can, send her a birthday email wish!! 

Me & My Mom

Mother’s Day

May is Mother’s Day month and we wish our mothers, and those who are like mothers to us, a very Happy Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day is special to Samantha because she has both her mother and grandmother living with her! Carolyn is very lucky to have a sister, who is like a second mother to her. Let’s be creative when celebrating the day with all of our “mothers” this month!

Victoria Day

Victoria Day is a federal holiday which falls on the Monday before May 25th. It  was established to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday and now to celebrate the current sovereign’s birthday.  It is unofficially  the beginning of the summer season.  It is a long weekend, also called May Two Four weekend.  May 24th weekend is Jayme’s birthday (Samantha’s younger sister)! As with many people it is the weekend we open our cottage. It is usually celebrated with summer activities such as having barbeques.  We have to find a different way to celebrate the day again this year. We can be outside with our families but probably with no fireworks to watch.

Jayme and Queen Victoria share the fireworks!

Written by Samantha Millar and Carolyn Henry, with assistance from Julie Millar and Glynis Henry. Comments in red are by Samantha.

April Birthday and a Special Invention

April is the first full month of spring and Christine’s Birthday is on April 28th.

Christine has shared her special birthday memory with us.

“A special memory from my birthday was when I was at my Mom’s house several years ago.  A lot of my family and friends came to celebrate, and we were outside, listening to music, and I had a birthday cake.  Because of the pandemic, I am not able to have a birthday party with all of my friends and family.” 

Your friends are wishing you a socially distanced Happy Birthday, Christine!!

April also saw a Breaking the Ice Town Hall on Saturday April 10th. They had a special presentation by Joseph, who shared his invention with us. There was a general discussion about what other AAC users have invented to help them in their daily lives. Both Carolyn and Samantha found it very interesting and how people are able to be so creative. 

We have a new way to put on lip gloss now!!

See Nola’s message below

It was interesting to hear how people learned to adapt and maintain their communication and relationships during the pandemic. People have had birthday parties, had a virtual summer camp, and had learning sessions on different topics. We can’t wait for the next Town Hall.

by

Carolyn Henry and Samantha Millar,

assisted by Julie Millar and Glynis Henry

A special invention from Breaking the Ice Town Hall submitted by Nola Millin

My invention is a block of wood with a hole drilled in the top. The hole is big enough to hold a tube of lip balm (or chap stick) standing. I can then bend over and apply it to my lips whenever I need to..

Here are 2 pictures.

Thanks Nola for sharing with our readers!

What a Gift We are Given

When We Take the Time to Know Them!

In learning of the deaths of two members of our Bliss family/community this month, I could not help but reflect on the huge impression these two men have made in their respective communities. Justin touched the lives of  persons across Canada and in his home city of Ottawa. Chico made his impact in his home city of  Sault Ste. Marie. They both enriched the lives of those who knew them.

We are so fortunate – we who have the opportunity to know persons like Chico and Justin, who are unable to communicate through speech and who must work endlessly to share their ideas and feelings in some form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). From them, we learn about perseverance, bravery, drive, trust in the caring of others, humour, the inner strength of the human spirit. As AAC users, they tirelessly, and often relentlessly, persist on getting their message to us. 

I have witnessed this in so many of my friends who rely on AAC to communicate. What a wonderful bond is possible for those of us who learn to watch, wait and listen! 

As AAC professionals, WE shared the language of Blissymbolics with those who were nonspeaking, as they were developing their language. Later, THEY learned print and mastered voice output devices. THEY learned and effectively USED the AAC methods we gave them. THEY showed us their strengths and their individuality and shared with us their dreams and aspirations.  We are the fortunate recipients!

Remembering Dwayne Houle, (Chico)

By Elaine Windus

In the following tribute to Dwayne Houle (Chico), Elaine Windus recounts the determination and humour Chico displayed, and the joy she and others experienced in knowing him.

When I first met Chico he had no speech but he proudly showed me the most enormous communication system I had ever seen, attached to his wheelchair tray. Part of it was a Blissymbol display, with many large pages to flip over, but the other part had just as many pages with names of pop singers and bands, which he could read and find easily as needed. Yes, Chico’s ambition was to become a disc jockey. I remember one day when we spent our whole therapy session on adding one name (Sammy Hagar) as his spelling was not the best and I had to rely on guesswork and clues. But he was determined to have that name on his display and stuck to his guns.

At that time (1986) Chico was still in high school and I had just moved to Canada at the age of 35. Over the years we managed to reduce his display to a more manageable size by using different short cuts and techniques to access his symbols. He also embraced new technology as it was developed, mainly in the form of voice output devices. When he got his first one he informed me that he could now speak French and demonstrated this by selecting the symbol for “we”. Furthermore Chico was the first client I worked with who learned to use a computer, long before these became permanent fixtures in the administration department offices.

Chico was a client of the Algoma District Mental Retardation Service (now Community Living Algoma) where I worked as a Speech Language Pathologist, though he had no intellectual disability that I could determine. From the very beginning I was impressed with his positivity and his wicked sense of humour. I always looked forward to our sessions as I knew that he would always brighten my day, even when I was having a bad one. My predecessor Marquise reminded me of the time that she was working with him when he asked to have the f-word added to his display. The staff at his group home were outraged and did not want it put on, but Marquise told them that he too needed to learn when it was appropriate to use, just as a verbal person would, and complied with his request.

Chico was able to access his display with the hand that he had control over, but he had no control over his other arm, which was subject to wide ranging involuntary movements, and as he described it, had a mind of its own. He frequently told us he wanted this arm amputated, as it was no use to him. Failing that he wanted it put in a coffin. When he moved into a family home, his caregiver made him a black shiny hard case to cover it and attached it to his wheelchair tray. It served the purpose for a while, but was eventually removed as it caused chafing on his skin. But at least he tried it out.

Chico was a huge Soo Greyhounds fan for his entire life and held seasons tickets for all their games every year. He was a familiar and beloved figure, always seated close to the ice, and made many friends this way. He even got to meet Wayne Gretzky, his hero, on one occasion. Knowing nothing about hockey, this topic was one where I was not the best conversation partner, but he was very patient with me. 

Before Marquise handed Chico’s communication needs over to me, she mentioned in passing that Apple Computers was donating free computers to deserving individuals who were unable to afford them; you just had to write and ask for one. So Chico and I composed a letter telling the company a little about himself. He talked about how his physical disabilities were the result of a car accident when he was a young child. I asked him what he missed most since that time, thinking he would mention being unable to walk or speak, but no, Chico missed being able to make snowballs.

Apple Computers did donate a computer to Chico, an Apple II e. At that time there was only one computer store in town where it could be sent and they would not deliver or install it. So I picked up 3 large boxes (CPU, monitor and printer) in my car and took them back to his apartment to assemble. There I sat on the floor, screwdriver in hand, thinking that this was the last thing I expected to be doing as an SLP, but I would have a go at it anyway as he was relying on me. At that time you had to open up the computer and flip little switches inside it, following the instructions and diagrams provided. Anyway, both Chico and I finally got the knack of how everything worked, but we felt like true pioneers. While the computer was processing something we were waiting for, unlike the small icons used today, the words “THINKING” flashed on the screen in large letters. Chico thought this was a huge joke and kept asking me who was inside it. 

In his later years Chico preferred to be called Dwayne, which he regarded as his adult name. He developed a talent for abstract painting and enjoyed this activity immensely. He was generous with the finished works of art and donated them to all his friends as well as to fundraisers he wanted to support.

After I left Community Living Algoma in 2009 I did not see as much of Dwayne as I would have liked, but still kept in touch, asked how he was doing and visited him once in a while. Although his health had deteriorated in recent years and his mobility was considerably reduced as a result, he still maintained the same positive attitude to life and the same wry sense of humour. When I last saw him he proudly showed me his 50th birthday cards and we joked about him getting old.

So it was with sadness that I learned from a former colleague that she believed he had passed away at the age of 55, and this was then confirmed when I saw his obituary. Although he had a hard life with many challenges, Dwayne won the hearts of all who knew and cared for him, in both senses of that word. Dwayne made our lives so much richer for having known him, and I feel privileged to have been both his therapist and his friend.

In closing I would like to acknowledge the role that Blissymbols played in Dwayne’s life. He was a man with a lot to say and Blissymbols allowed him to express himself freely on a wide range of subjects. He used them in many inventive ways to get his message across and he was the most proficient Bliss user I have ever met. His life would have been very different without them.

Elaine Windus

Remembering Justin Clark

by Shirley McNaughton

In the video recording of my last interaction with Justin at my zoom birthday party, I could have edited out the many repetitions of a phrase that his body kept forcing him to activate. It would have been simple to edit out the repetitions in this short clip. But I want to remember, how this challenge was a part of Justin’s life. And he never gave up in delivering his message! He always persisted until his objective was achieved. For my party, Justin had prepared three sentences to transmit. He persevered until they were delivered!

Looking back…

Justin was praised by Michele Landsberg in The Toronto Star, in December, 1981, with the following statement:

“There are human strengths – of courage, of decency – that amount to giftedness. In these last months of the Year of the Disabled, able people like Justin Clark and Sue O’Dell have helped me grow a bit, and to recognize those gifts.”

Justin was described by Judge Matheson, who presided  at the court hearing in Perth in November, 1982, “We have recognized a gentle, trusting, believing spirit and very much a thinking human being who has a unique part to play in our compassionate interdependent society”.

Justin’s thick binder, containing the many articles written about him through the years, will be treasured within the Blissymbolics Archival Collection at the University of Toronto. It was a valued gift from Justin to BCIC.

After the court hearing in 1983, I wrote a tribute to Justin in our magazine, Communicating Together. In the 38 years since then, my warm and high regard for Justin has only increased. He demonstrated his “gentle, trusting, believing spirit” every time we were together. I wish it could have been more often! My memories of Justin’s times with us at the Bliss Learning Centre in Bala will always be savoured by me. He sang a rousing grace every night at dinner! He brightened the lives of all who knew him!

‘Justin Gives to us All’, published in Communicating Together , Winter, 1983, is online at https://www.cdacanada.com/resources/communication-supports-in-exercising-capacity-and-autonomy/about/experiences/, as a resource from CDAC, Communication Disabilities Access Canada www.cdacanada.com

Justin and Chico, each in their own way, gave much to those in their worlds. We who knew them will always treasure their lives, and we will always be grateful to have shared our lives with them! They each gave us a treasured gift!

Happy Birthday, Rebecca!

by Samantha Millar, Carolyn Henry, Glynis Henry, Julie Millar

Lets wish Rebecca a Happy Birthday on March 15th!! Rebecca’s birthday memories help us learn about different ways to celebrate birthdays.The following is from Rebecca with our comments.

Okay….people who don’t share my background always find this a little strange, but my very first birthday present didn’t come until the birthday I turned 9. 

You see, it is customary for us to really go all out for the birthdays of our elders- so twice a year, we had to dress up and we’d fill the entire restaurant where my 2 grandparents each got elaborate 10-course banquets and be given money from their guests. These were big, big deals that took up the whole day, and we’d do family portraits in the restaurant. 

 In contrast, children’s birthdays were never considered- no, you had to wait until you got old!! [Carolyn: Gee, I am glad I am not from your background.]

 What changed is that when I turned 9, an aunt who was more modern decided it was high time I received a present. Pretty sure no other kid in history was as thrilled as I to get a shirt for their birthday! I think it was my first exposure to a present meant specifically for me and only me. I hung on to that shirt well past the time I could still wear it- wish I’d kept it for Iris Hannah because by the time she’s old enough, that late 70’s style is sure to be fashionable again! [Samantha: I would never get rid of that shirt]

Yes, we had toys, and books, and board games, but they were “family gifts”- no one kid could lay claim to it; it was meant for all. And being the last of 5 kids, (not to mention the 3rd youngest of 15 cousins), pretty much everything that eventually made its way to me had first filtered through many others. [Samantha: I knew there was a reason I was glad to be the oldest]

 And yeah, I’d been to my classmates’ birthdays for which I brought gifts, but birthday presents were for other kids, not us, and it seemed perfectly normal to me that we didn’t do birthdays. Consequently, I have a tendency to let birthdays slip by unremarked, which is not good, because people think you don’t care.   [Carolyn: We know you care Rebecca.]

When Caitlyn was growing up, we followed the custom and threw annual birthday parties for her with her friends- nothing elaborate, but still my mother used to look askance and remark, “In MY day, we didn’t….”. It was hilarious to think what my mother would have made of the fancier children’s parties with hired clowns and bouncy castles. 

Last year, during my birthday week in mid-March, stores, theaters, and coffee shops were shutting their doors and people were not allowed to gather. In that regard, almost a year later, nothing has changed. [Carolyn: Sigh.]  Last Wednesday was Iris’ first birthday, and I saw pictures of her digging into a cupcake, wearing frosting on her nose and cheeks…, for my birthday, maybe I’ll re-create that picture- smeared frosting and all!   [Carolyn & Samantha:  We would love to see that.]

Here is what grand-daughter and grandmother looked like on their birthdays….

February Holidays

by Carolyn Henry, Samantha Millar, Glynis Henry, Julie Millar

Groundhog Day

February 2 Groundhog Day – The story goes that watching a groundhog come out of its hole can determine the weather forecast for the coming weeks. If it is a sunny day and the groundhog sees its shadow, it supposedly is afraid and it goes back to its hole to sleep for six more weeks of winter. If the weather is cloudy and the groundhog does not see its shadow, it stays outside, which people believe means that the worst of winter is over and spring will come soon. About 10 communities in Canada have this tradition today, attracting the attention of tourists and media alike.  Wiarton Willie, from Wiarton, Ontario is the most famous groundhog in Canada ­and has been predicting the weather since 1956.

Groundhog Day is based on the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas, which was halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.  It was when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this practice and selected an animal–the hedgehog–as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they changed from hedgehogs to groundhogs.  The first Groundhog Day was February 2, 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. 

The true story is not quite as exciting. Groundhogs go into hibernation in the late fall; during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their holes to look for a mate (and not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March.  Also they aren’t very accurate.  Data from 13 Canadian cities over the last 30 to 40 years indicates the groundhogs’ predictions were correct only 37% of the time.

Valentine’s Day Celebration 

Valentine’s day is celebrated on February 14th. It started in the Roman times when Roman Emperor Claudius II imprisoned and killed Valentine who was made a saint after his death. 

Throughout time and all over the world there have been many Valentine day traditions. In Wales wooden spoons carved with keys, keyholes, hearts were given as gifts. In the past unmarried girls believed the first man they saw on Valentine’s Day would marry them within the year. In other places unmarried girls would write men’s names on paper and put them on clay balls then drop them in the water; whichever paper floated up first would be their future husband.  Today, in Canada candies, chocolates and cards are given to celebrate love, not just romantic love. 

There are many symbols of Valentine’s Day like hearts, cupid, roses, doves and love knots but whatever you choose, it is a way to say you care. 


Beating the February Blahs!!

by Samantha Millar, Carolyn Henry, Julie Millar, Glynis Henry

Success over the Blahs

We think the best way to beat the February Blahs is spending time with friends and family, so let’s wish Audrey and Silvano a Happy Birthday wish. 

Audrey’s Birthday is on February 15, born one hour after Valentine’s Day ❤️. Audrey says that, “this year I am doing nothing “special” because of Covid 19.  Just saying home with my cat Oliver.  ( I wonder if he can “meow” Happy Birthday? “ )

There are many February birthdays in my family.  We used to always get together and celebrate them with a family February party.  One time when I was working  at the Hugh MacMillan Centre I was eating lunch in the big cafeteria and a man came in with 50 balloons and everyone in the cafeteria started to sing Happy Birthday along with him. That was a very special memory!!

Silvano’s Birthday is February 18th. Silvano says that this year he isn’t having a celebration  either, because of COVID. He remembers his  “best birthday was my 50th. I celebrated with a lot of my relatives and friends in a big restaurant.”

Monthly Special Connections

Special Connections

January, 2021

with Samantha & Carolyn

We are looking forward to connecting with you about all the special things in our lives. In January there are several special birthdays. COVID has made January Birthday celebrations different this year. Here is what the Birthday folks shared with us.

Shirley’s Special Day

Shirley celebrated her 90th birthday on January 3rd. Last year, she teased her friends that she wanted a big party. She got her wish – just differently!  Her sons and some close friends arranged a surprise Zoom party with well over 70 people from around the world. There were friends and colleagues from the 50 years that she had met as the first teacher of Bliss. Everyone had wonderful comments and thanks for Shirley’s leadership, guidance and friendship. It was so interesting to hear about Shirley’s work from so many of the people whose lives she touched.

Kari Wrote:

 January happens to be full of birthdays in my family. Mine is on January the sixth, so I just had it a week and five days ago. I turned 56.

I must say that I was a lucky one because a lot of the residents at my home had to celebrate their birthday in their room due to the lockdowns we had during COVID 19. We just got out of our third lockdown just before my birthday. This is the biggest change from my birthdays in the past. Having it during COVID 19. Usually, I go to a restaurant to celebrate my birthday.

This year I got flowers from my brother and his family, cards, and even presents that the supervisor had ordered from Amazon and a friend gave me an iTunes card. I felt like having dinner with shrimp, so the supervisor had ordered a shrimp chive dinner, which lasted me three more suppers. It tasted delicious. Instead of a birthday cake, I had a Tim Horton’s carrot muffin.

        I have to say that my most memorable birthday was when I turned 23. I had Ann Running and her parents at my parents’ house. It was so much fun for the best friends and fans of Anne Murray!

Carolyn would like to reminisce sometime with Kari about both Ann and Anne. 

Irene Wrote:

My birthday is on January 25. Last year my aunts, uncles, cousins, sister in law, my three brothers and my favourite niece came for my birthday. My grandmother who was 97 year old also came. I got lots of gifts but one gift I remember was a bottle of ice wine from Niagara. I think this year will be different. My grandmother won’t be able to come because of Covid. Maybe some people will come for a porch visit. This year I will have a birthday cake with mom and dad, my brothers and the cat Belle.

Samantha wonders if you could take pictures to share with your grandmother.

Joe’s Birthday was January 28th.

.Joe Wrote:

Miss those days of my birthday parties @ lots places and friends planned them.

Carolyn remembers some of those parties at The Granite Brewery in Toronto and misses those noisy, crowded, fun nights now that Joe lives in Orillia!

Valentine’s Day will be different this year. We would love to hear how you are going to celebrate it. Please send us your ideas to SpecialConnections@blissymbolics.org

See you next month!

Blog Editor’s Note:

SpecialConnections will be a regular monthly feature in 2021.

Its authors are Carolyn Henry and Samantha Millar, assisted by Carolyn’s sister, Glynis, and Samantha’s mother, Julie.

There will be entries that are written collaboratively or with light editing applied.

When content is included that has been written by a contributor solely, this will be acknowledged, by printing his/her name. 

Thanks for a great party!!!

Blissful Thoughts’ 

seems the best way

 for me to thank 

all those 

who made my 90th birthday

such a joyous and memorable event! 

 Thanks to the three Toronto conspirators – Penny, Lynnette and Nora – who planned and achieved the day!

 Thanks to my family for abetting the conspirators – Kevin, Litsa, David, Janice, Christopher, Kathryn and Matthew!

 Thanks to Bob and my mother, who, through different periods of my life, believed in me and supported me in what I did!

And looking back and remembering others who are no longer with us, I  have to say a quiet thank-you to Jinny and Dick Storr, Jane Green, Els Koerselman, Maurice Izzard, Anna Greta Malstrom-Groth, Sue Odell, Paul Marshall, Ann and Miriam Running, Val Cruse, Andrew and Mark  Murphy, Clarence Meyers, Anne  Warrick, and so many many more!  And I must say ‘thanks’ to Charles K. Bliss who gave us his seminal language, and ensured we would have a memorable beginning to our experiences using his language with our special communicators.

 Thanks to all those who spread the word about the party – Katherine, Audrey, Judy, Claudia, Rebecca and Margareta are the ones I learned about!

Thanks to all those who spoke such kind words at the zoom party!

 Thanks to all those who attended – too many to see all at one time, needing  four zoom screens!

Thanks to those who sent chat messages during the party, or emailed and phoned the following week!

Thanks to everyone who had me in their thoughts on Jan.3 !!

Thanks to everyone for including me in your life !!!

I was privileged

 to travel the Bliss and AAC road

amongst the pioneers.

 I continue to be privileged

 to share the journeys 

of those who have travelled 

and are travelling their unique paths,

through five decades!

Shirley

If you would like to view the recording of my Birthday Party, email me at shirley@blissymbolics.org