Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Spark

You may have noticed my "reviews" are not really critical.  Lots of books are read that didn't quite catch my fancy or even in some cases left a poor impression.   The idea is to only blog about books or movies that at least some of you might enjoy or find something worthwhile.

"The Spark" is a true story that may be unique, but should be inspiring to all us.  We take a lot for granted.  Autism is a term I have only a distant relationship to, but am aware that it is a big concern.  My understanding of autism boils down to a communication and social breakdown.  Autistic people don't relate to the rest of us in a way we are comfortable with (to our mutual disadvantage).  Although by definition they have much in common, they also are individuals.

This book is just as much about the author, Kristine Barnett as about her now famous son, Jake.  Her background is unique and contributed to her understanding.  She comes from an Amish family (modern) and an inventive Grandfather, a very understanding mother and a talented sister that all play a role.  She met her husband, Michael under very unusual circumstances manipulated by her sister.  Michael's background was from a rougher part of Chicago and they married very soon after first meeting.

Another contributing factor in Kristine"e background was the fact that she ran a daycare centre.  She was exposed to a wide variety of youngsters and helped develop her sensitivity to individuals.

Jake, her first child was born after a difficult pregnancy, but for the first year or so seemed pretty normal, but then started to regress to the point he was diagnosed as autistic.  Kristine was told that he would likely never read or even be able to tie his shoelaces.  He was put into some programs to deal with his disabilities.  A while later Kristine rebelled against the therapy that was totally dealing with disabilities and not responding to what interested her child. She pulled Jake out of the program without the support of her husband.

Kristine really at this point was looking for something to set a "spark" that would let her reclaim her son.  Eventually she did discover a spark that revealed Jake has a super memory and high level thinking.  One incident was how he arranged coloured crayons in the spectral sequence that we know from the rainbow. As time went on his abilities and even more his drive to learn was given opportunities to express itself.   At age three Kristine took Jake to an astronomy lecture and at one point Jake asked a question (using more words than his mother had heard him speak before) and then with the answer was able to provide an answer to an even earlier question that no one else was able to provide.

He is now well known for being in the super genius class and we can now get better insight into the autistic mind.  In his case while being non communicative he was absorbing information and trying to make sense of it.

Kristine was really motivated by wanting Jake to be able to relate to other people.  Back when he was about three she tried to prepare Jake for kindergarten.   A key thing was for him to sit still long enough and not to disrupt the class.  With every youngster there is some interest that needs to have an outlet and we all are happy and willing to co-operate.

As the story unfolds, Kristine has two other children.  Her second childbirth was also very difficult and Wes has severe health concerns threatening death.  She and her husband stretched themselves and Wes overcame his difficulties.  A bit later a third child, Ethan was born and was normal.  The three children became supportive of one another.

Kristine was concerned that other autistic children were being shunted to the side.  She knew they were not all hidden geniuses, but they all had something that just needed a spark.  She offered evening get to-gethers (partly to allow regular daytime therapies).  She did not charge for this service, but found that parents were so grateful they wanted to contribute in different ways.  She eventually built a sports centre for autistic children to help develop their social skills.

All this activity kept her and Mike busy and she learned she had some serious health issues herselt. Lupus was underlying other problems, one of which was a stroke.   In 2008, the financial breakdown hurt them and their Indiana community.  Her husband lost a job and was awhile getting back on his feet.  Their neighbors and daycare customers were also stressed.

They got through all this stress with Jake and his brothers prospering.

What I got out of the book, was not just an interesting story about an autistic child becoming a child prodigy, but that there is hidden potential in many people (in a sense everyone).  Kristine tried to emphasize what a youngster was interested in, rather than their limitations and the burden of accommodating them.

In Jake's case his contributions have already been significant and promise to be game changers. When I say that I am not just referring to scientific breakthroughs, but also his efforts to help others overcome "math phobia."  Other contributions from people we currently ignore may not be as spectacular, but will enrich human knowledge and just as important human relations.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Gift of Adversity

Adversity is often disguised as an excuse, but Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. explains that really responding to adversity is a necessary learning experience.  He quotes Aeschylus, "he who learns must suffer."

A successful psychiatrist, Norman recounts his life and of others who learned by suffering some sort of adversity.  He suffered being stabbed (also with consequences many years later), emigrating from South Africa to America, and the usual growing up problems.  As a Jew he was conscious of the Holocaust and as a South African he was acutely aware of apartheid injustices.

We learn through adversity.  It is one thing to read about adversity, but in fact most of us learn how to deal with it as we encounter it.  Still there are many ideas that can help understand and benefit from it.  Dr Rosenthal sees as one anchor, friends that we need to treasure.

One of his accomplishments came about from studying SAD, seasonal affective disorder which he and his wife experienced after moving from South Africa to Brooklyn, New York.  He noticed other people had similar problems and researched and experimented to find better ways of coping with it. He pioneered light therapy. He encouraged the use transcendental meditation as a way of dealing with PSTD  He has also written about jet lag.

He has used numerous quotations to make his points and here are two.  "We see the world not as it is, but as we are"  Anais Nin.  "Be yourself, everyone else is taken."   Oscar Wilde

A few lessons include:

Most things do not have to be perfect.  So cut corners if you must, so long as you don't sacrifice the essence or core. It is sometimes wise to remain silent even in the face of injustice

Rosenthal has rediscovered meditation and like Charles Duhigg feels it can be a keystone habit, that is one that helps over ride all other habits.

Each reader brings their own history to the book.  Most of us will find a few words that hit home--I did.

To find out more about Dr Rosenthal's work click on:

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Information is endless and often deliberately confusing.  All of us are basically ignorant about most of the universe and rely on supposed experts to help us make important decisions which often translates to letting things ride.

I wish I could pretend to be an expert on climate change, but while my own personal experience (65 years worth mostly around a small part of Ontario) creates a bias I do rely on others to form an opinion.  Most opinions come with their own biases.  Some people have a vested financial interest in prolonging a dependence on fossil fuels (to some degree I am one of them).  Others feel that packaged troop alliances (politics or religion) dictate their loyalties.  Most of us are basically lazy and don't want to rock the boat.  Some just don't like to admit there are reasons to change their mind.

Scientists are accused of having a political agenda as well as individual personal ambitions.  That surely is true as everybody else does.  Why we trust politicians who want our vote or businesses who want our money more than scientists is a big problem.  Information can be twisted to prove almost anything and credibility can be very difficult to determine.

My personal experience tells me there have been significant changes in weather over the past few decades.  One difference seems to be more ice where there used to be snow.  I have noticed slightly warmer weather in both the summer and winter.  The past few years at the end of Lake Ontario I have felt very fortunate to escape weather extremes suffered in other parts of Ontario and more so with other parts of the world.

Part of my feelings can be dismissed  as limited.  On my own experience I would not have raised my consciousness to a global issue demanding international government intervention, but it ties into what I read and watch on a bigger scale.  You cannot avoid climate skepticism, but if you research into the matter with some critical judgment it is impossible to escape an awareness of a problem.

Insurance companies have a vested interest in understanding climate change and many of them are adjusting rates.  Some in the  American military have decided that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism.  A nephew, in the auto body business likes icy, snowy road conditions.

The big battle seems to be in the United States, although the rest of the world is not 100% settled on the issue either.  The recent extremely cold weather has prompted some to ridicule those advocating climate change as something demanding more attention.  It hit me too this past week as one of the coldest days I can recall in decades, but already I notice the trend to ice where there used to be snow is just as real.  I notice that Australia is having a heat wave and that Sochi where we expect to see the top skiers of the world in a few weeks has no snow.  We are told to expect a "January thaw" within days.

China illustrates a dilemma.  They are now recognized as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. On one hand they maintain their right to industrialize as first world countries already have and on the other they recognize a pollution and global warming problem and are now the world's largest wind power nation and likely will lead to significant clean energy improvements.

The popular cry of "Global Warming" has been replaced with "Climate Change" and it does seem more realistic.  Temperature is only one factor involved and although it affects everything else, we have to be concerned about winds and precipitation (or lack of).  It seems there are more floods, more droughts and more big storms than ever before and more messiness with snow and ice.

It is not all bad news.  For Canada it means that both the Northwest Passage and petroleum resources in the Far North are much more accessible.  Our growing season is slightly longer and some outdoor activities have a longer season (though not skiing without artificial help).  We have a huge resource of (dirty) fossil fuel and can benefit as the price rises.  So all Canadians have some vested interest in maintaining the status quo, although we also could be big losers.

We all need to take a long term view and at the same time remind ourselves of similar historical questions.  When I was much younger there was a battle over the harm caused by tobacco.  As a non smoker at one time I felt less sophisticated and even less masculine, but saw a glimmer of justification when more voices were raised about tobacco causing cancer.  Strong economic and political forces came to bear and it was a long time before the logic was accepted and action was taken to deal with the problem, and tobacco still has a strong presence.  Scientists were belittled while people died.   You can read about "Merchants of Doubt" at

Who really has more credibility--scientists or politicians (with their big money supporters)?  The evidence is pretty convincing on the one side, but the platform does not have a very loud voice.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Resolutions for 2014

Janus, the god who looked both backward and forward inspires us to do better in the future, reflecting both on what we liked about the past and thinking how we could enjoy life more in the future.  Two key factors are to keep it simple and make it public.

First the measurable goals.

1.  Get the elliptical reading up 2000 km (to 3165) {+1000 for a new reading of  4165} along with doing 50 pushups and 50 situps each day.

2.  Read 70 books (20,000 pages) and watch 250 movies.

3.  For blogging I would like to average over 2 page views per hour ie.  get total views up to 39,600.

For the important goals that are hard to measure

1.  Get more into mindfulness which can also include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi.

2.  More music in my life.  More enjoyment--giving and taking.

3.  Arrange my affairs to make another trip to New Zealand and to help Heather also make a trip.

These are all habits and are mostly to replace habits that haven't been so helpful.  As a guide for myself and anyone else who might be interested I recommend you read "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg and you can read my review at

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


For a change I did not wait for the new year to begin sorting out what I remember of the previous year.  You can skim through it, even just look at the photos or you can link up to get more details of whatever strikes your fancy.  As usual there is a mix of good and bad.  I will not dwell too much on the bad.  While you read through the obituaries you can look to the left for my favorite highlight.  Starting off with our losses might seem depressing, but we can then better appreciate how much we can be grateful for.

It is sad to think of the people who affected our lives who died.  We lost a number of people important to us.  I would like to remember how they added to our lives.

Ellen "Nel" Drake, mother to good friends Barb and Josie.  I am reminded of her when washing dishes as she knitted some unique dish cloths, but she left much more than that.  At a memorial ceremony where relatives came up from South Carolina I learned a few more things.

Audrey Linke, mother of good friend Debbie and hostess to a few events I remember

Ron Graham, married to Judy Graham (maid of honour at our wedding) and father to two terrific women.

Steve Skerrett, married to Debbie, both of whom were friends since elementary grades of Sharon
Eugene Fedak, a retired judge married to Grace, the sister of my late father in law, Boris Olynyk. He was host to a number of Ukrainian Christmases and family functions I enjoyed.  Also very importantly was father to Mark and Catherine.  One other thing I remember is that with some of his brothers in law he was a versatile musician.

Peter Worthington at one time was a hero of mine.  As a newspaper carrier for the Toronto Telegram I often read headline stories following him around the world.

Film critic,  Roger Ebert was someone I read every week and valued his judgments.  You can read more at
Nelson Mandela, definitely one of the greatest leaders of the past century and a model for all of us.
If you have never had a pet you might not appreciate what a blow it can be to lose one.  You develop an intimate relationship that outsiders can never really appreciate.  Maggie gave us joy every day.

These are all losses, but also occasions to reflect on what is most important in life and what some people and animals have given us.  It is not possible to do full justice to every person or event and my failings can be at least partially attributed to my poor memory.

Early in the year I discovered the Human Library.  We go to the library to learn things and to be entertained, but really most of it is second hand.  With the Human Library you get a first hand experience meeting with real people who are illuminating role models.  The Hamilton Public Library was one of the participants.  I met a famous author (a Canada Reads winner) and a woman who helped found a horse rehabilitation association.

Cuba had provided us with an enjoyable holiday experiences three times previous and although we are always looking for new experiences we went for a 4th time.   We were surprised to be given silver wristbands in recognition of our loyalty.  There are always new experiences.  I discovered some caves with a guided tour.  Hop on buses made going into town a lot easier.  I went sailing for the first time.  Visited Josone Park for the second time, but discovered a few new features.  We had a small problem and ended up with a credit that led to our 2nd vacation would recommend Cuba to anyone and although the beaches are great, get out of the resorts to see the real Cuba--Havana is a very positive experience.

Can-Am in new location Orangeville.  They actually underestimated the crowds and had problems the first day providing food and other services.  Most visitors were impressed with the seminars, shows and even us exhibitors.  Met some of my advertisers and a few new prospects.

In March enjoyed Burlington Eagles Gala where they show their appreciation for volunteers and sponsors.  I am pleased to have played a small role in another of their record setting (273,000 pounds) food drive, they call the Gift of Giving Back.

Through my daughter I was aware of Moxie Fruvous and later as a regular CBC listener I was aware of Jian Ghomeshi.   The Hamilton Public Library was able invite Jian for a book promotion.   A wonderful nite out for my wife and me. of my most popular blog posts.

Doors Open Hamilton has become an annual tradition.  This year just walked, but saw a lot of buildings with interesting histories.

David, a nephew married Krista who we had met a few years prior.   The bride and her mother are both wedding planners, so you expect a good time and it was delivered--met a few relatives not seen for awhile.   David surprised Krista with a song--he doesn't have a musical background, but did have a friend who agreed to help him do a particular song.  I work only a few doors away so got to hear the secret rehearsals.  From crude beginnings I could hear it shape up better and better all the time.  His ushers took part in the  presentation.
New Zealand was not a place I ever fantasized about, but my son Michael had a fascination with it and when between teaching jobs really took a chance and without knowing anyone he traveled there and applied for a job.  I can now appreciate that he made a very good choice.  For Sharon and I it was literally a trip of a lifetime, not just because of what we saw, but because of the family nature of it.  It has been many years since we dragged Michael and his sister Heather on our idea of a vacation, but this time we shared in Michael's idea.  Not that we didn't have a lot of freedom to pursue our own fancies, but that once he understood our interests he helped direct us and very often took us.  We met Laura his girl friend and she was very supportive of our vacation, driving us on her own to several locations while Michael worked.  On our second week, the four of us took a 1600 kilometer trip around the North Island that has left a lot of memories.

I have written a lot about many aspects of the trip and would like to point to my blogs for those who like reading about far away places and how they connect to what they are familiar with.  Our time in Auckland at  our 1600 kilometer trip around the North Island and for my most popular blog of the year, with a summary and comparisons with Canada

Peter married my mother in law, Florence some 15 years ago and has really added something to the family.  We celebrated his 90th birthday with friends and relatives.  More about Peter:

I was familiar with the Fringe Festival, but had never attended one. This year Heather got involved with her friend Stephanie Lampman.  For me a weird topic -Zombies.  When we handed in our tickets we bought a plastic rain coat.  We had been warned that blood would be spurting into the audience.  The play actually won an award.  --after this I became aware I had met with Heather's friend, Stephanie years ago at a networking meeting.

The Art Crawl held the second Friday of each month is an event I managed to attend most months.  It is expanding in exhibitors, music and restaurants.

The Supercrawl has been getting better and better every year.  Within easy walking distance.  --each year progresses in one way or another

I spend a lot of time reading.  This year I shifted to a greater emphasis on fiction books  I love finding a book that really engages me.  That is a very personal process, but you might enjoy going over my list of favorites to explore some possibilities.  Many of my choices came from investigating various lists and listening to suggestions by others.

Movies are condensed stories with special effects.  We are all a little different in what we enjoy, but often are limited by what we are aware of.  Again I have benefited from the ideas of others and offer my experience for you to consider for your own pursuit of enjoyment.  From over 246 movies here is my year end review,

As I get older I appreciate the arts more and consider food as art.  Some satisfying and memoroable restaurant visits were to Sokratis, 2 picks by Heather,  Rapscallion and Memphis Fire BBQ, Wild Orchid, Acclamation, Jack and Lois, Culantro Peruvian Cookery, Ben Thanh.   In New Zealand Beijing Duck and Delicious in Auckland, Thai Restaurant in Rotorua, Kristi's Cafe in Whanganui, in Shannon.  In Cuba restaurants, a few of the fixed menu restaurants were noteworthy, Natura and La Galena.  A few new discoveries were Kiwi meat pies, Turkish, Maylaysian,  and lamb on our trip to New Zealand.

Christmas holidays were special as Michael came from New Zealand.  Went to a Raptor game and they won scoring over 100 points (i.e. free pizza slice).  We went to Wayne Gretzky's restaurant, one of the few restaurants where you can order perogies and curried lamb burger (both were delicious).

OKD had another good year.   The Rider made progress and appears to be getting set for the inter net future.

I finished my high school education in Haliburton, a cottage area. Heather discovered cottages as did Lexie.

I posted 70 blogs, got a few comments from all over the world.  Plan to do better this year.

All in all lots of wonderful memories.  Looking forward to 2014.

going back to 2012 with a spectacular photo at the top: