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!


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

Jorge’s Book

On December 6, 2020, Jorge Almeida will be 50 years of age!  I am very happy to celebrate his birthday by giving you the link to his life story, published by the Inclusive Design Institute,  OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) University!

I met Jorge many years ago when I used to visit Computer Wise in Ottawa and learned about all the great work being accomplished there by several Bliss alumni and their colleagues. You will be able to read about Jorge’s experiences at Computer Wise in the “Jobs’ section of his book. I hope you enjoy Jorge’s story. He shares his many interesting ideas, experiences, and dreams. He tells about his girlfriend Chantal Bedard whom many of us knew in our Ontario Bliss community. You can learn about how Jorge uses his left foot to control five switches that work his electric wheelchair and his Liberator computer. If you wish to send your greetings to Jorge or ask a question, leave a comment and Jorge will see it.

Here is the link to Jorge’s book:


Happy reading!

“It’s Complicated”

Julie Millar describes Samantha’s covid adaptations

“It’s complicated” is not something that is unusual for AAC users to hear but in this new age of social distancing and computer video calls it takes on a new meaning. Samantha uses the program Tobi Communicator on a Toughbook Windows computer as her face to face communication device. As with most AAC users, it takes time for Samantha to decide what she wants to say and then to compose her message on the Toughbook.  Pre-COVID days, Samantha relied on her communication partner to give her time and patience to say what she wanted. Her partner could watch as she composed her message and begin to understand the time consuming process it takes to say what comes easily to the verbal population. But these pandemic times have made communication difficult for many of us; with the additional technology involved for Samantha to talk to people, it really has become more complicated.

Samantha began by adding an external camera to her Toughbook to use Google Meet for her video calls. This worked but, as she was composing her message, the computer screen was taken up with Communicator (the speech output program) so she could not see the other person as she was writing her message. This left the communication partner looking at her but not sure what she was doing, so they often jumped in, not giving Samantha time to complete her message. We had to be creative to come up with solutions to facilitate good communication practices. Samantha now uses two devices, an iPad and her computer to communicate on a video call. The iPad is connected to the call (with the microphone blocked to prevent feedback) to act as a second screen so Samantha can see the person she is talking to even whilst writing. Samantha’s screen is shared with the communication partner so they can see what she is doing as she is writing. 

As everyone is trying to find ways during these troubling times to stay connected, I am glad we were able to help Samantha work through some of the issues so she too can connect with family and friends.

Samantha having a Google Meet meeting with her sister Jayme. 

Blissymbols in Title

it + is [present tense of verb “to be”] + complicated [combine indicator + difficult + many + part(s) + adjective indicator + combine indicator]

The symbol for “complicated” in the title is enclosed with combine indicators to denote that this Bliss-word does not  appear in the BCI Authorized Vocabulary (AV)technology. It has been created through the collaboration of Shirley McNaughton, Margareta Jennische and Julie Millar and will be submitted to the Blissymbolics Approval Committee for consideration for inclusion in the BCI AV. 

Favourite Vacation Part 3

Carolyn’s Trip to Paralympics in London

One of my favourite vacations was going to Paralympics in London in 2012. London is my favourite city to visit.  I was amazed at the blind people in the long jump. Everyone has to be quiet when a helper would stand at the jump line and clap so the jumper would know where to jump.  Also we watched a marathon from in front of Buckingham palace. 

Blissymbolics Archive Treasure #1

The beginning stage of developing the Blissymbolics Archival Collection has been underway since the fall of 2019. This project has been made possible through a generous donation to Blissymbolics Communication Institute – Canada (BCIC) by Margaret (Peg) Rooks, following the death of her husband, Rob Rooks, April 23, 2019. Both Peg and Rob have been supporters of our Bliss program through many years! Upon completion, the Blissymbolics Archive Collection will be housed in the University of Toronto Archives Library. Below you see the U of T storage facility where Russell Galvin, BCI Board Member arranged a visit for Margareta Jennische, BCI president, and me last November.

At this time (August, 2020), the materials stored in my storage unit are being sorted, organized and placed in bankers boxes for delivery to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). There they will be prepared for storage in the University of Toronto Archives Library. This work is being done with the help of Rebecca Chan, who helps BCIC projects in a myriad of ways – as technical coordinator for Bliss i-Band, as assistant in Bliss Study Group and Board of Directors meetings, as helper to Bliss users, as our resident videographer.

Rebecca showing the first completed 12 boxes in the storage unit.

Currently, Rebecca and I are working at my home, sorting through those famous shopping bags and cartons, and entering the documents into a data base prior to putting them into more OISE boxes.

As we worked away yesterday, and continued discovering materials that reminded me of memorable happenings in our Bliss history, we thought of sharing our enjoyment in Blissful Thoughts. So from time to time, we will be making short videos and I will be making an entry about a “finding”!

Here is the first Archive Treasure for Blissful Thoughts!

Autocom- made- Blisscom, in the 70’s – 80’s

Most fortuitously, Penny Parnes, who was Director of the Augmentative Communication Service (ACS), 1979-1990, at what is now called the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, , came across a picture of the autocom during her COVID-19 ‘sorting pictures’ time in March, 2020. In the above picture, Penny is demonstrating the device for her daughter Sarah and a friend. You can see the control mechanism in Penny’s hand. It is shaped like a flat iron. It was a perfect shape for users like Sue Odell, to maintain a firm grip. To date, this is the only picture we have found of the device.

In the short video that follows, I describe how the autocom worked and share a little of its history. We called the version of the autocom produced with Blissymbols by the TRACE Centre, the Blisscom.

Below you see Sue Odell working with Shirley, using her manual communication board. There will be another Blissful Thought telling about another device Sue helped design in the nineties. Watch for the entry about BMW!

Shirley working with Sue Odell .
More than likely Sue was giving some directions for a project! Sue was very good at telling us what she thought we should be doing!