Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Sunday. Advent Week 3: Joy

Advent Week 3. The third candle in the Advent Wreath represents JOY:  The Joy that comes with knowing that God keeps His promises, and especially the promise recorded by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel–God with us. Matthew 1:23 (quoting Isaiah 7:14)


The shepherds were in the fields outside Bethlehem, watching over their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to them and said:

Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy! The Savior has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David. And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snuggly in strips of cloth.  Luke 2:10-12

A host of angels in the heavens sang this message of joy:

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all… (Luke 2:14)


On the children’s advent calendar, the Three Wise Men and their entourage (represented by two camels)  follow a bright star (upper left on the calendar) to find the baby Jesus.

Once again  the star appeared to them, guiding them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!
They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:9

Bethlehem 12-14-13 Photo Credit: Mike of Educational Opportunities Tours

Church of the Nativity (built above the traditional birthplace of Jesus), Bethlehem 12-14-2013 Photo Credit: Mike of Educational Opportunities Tours

We feel great joy as we celebrate the birth of Christ on that cold night in Bethlehem so many years ago. This joy comes with knowing that God keeps His promises.

Our choir sang of that JOY in a Christmas Cantata by John Purifoy during today’s morning service:

Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Joy to the World
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Songs of the Angels
Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

One year ago, I was in Bethlehem in Israel with six friends and Mike, our tour guide from Educational Opportunities.

Janice at the manger scene and Christmas tree in Bethlehem square, December, 2012

Janice at the manger scene and Christmas tree in Bethlehem square, December, 2012

This week, Mike is leading another tour group in Israel, and it is snowing. Look for pictures and a video at https://www.facebook.com/mike.eotours

Joy to the world. Peace on earth.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Community

WordPress Photo Challenge: Community

Here is a community of Lighted Christmas Tree Lovers: a community is any group of people who come together for a specific purpose. In this case to admire the beautiful Christmas tree in New York City.


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Snowy Saturday in New York City

I spent the day in New York City with friends. It was dry when we left home in South Jersey at 7:30 am, but it started snowing midway to the city and snowed the whole time we were in the city. The snowflakes were big enough that you could see their crystal pattern as they landed on our sleeves.


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Final stop: Godiva Chocolates with Connie and Susan.

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A super good day in the city!

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The Best of Family Christmases Past

Over the years I have had many wonderful Christmases. But when I think of Christmases past, I think of one picture in my box of old, yellowed, crinkled family photographs, a picture that brings floods of sweet memories of Mom and Daddy and our family Christmas traditions.

Our Christmas ritual began with cutting our own tree. In the early years, on the day before Christmas, we trudged through the snow through our “back forty” over to a nice stand of evergreens just waiting for our annual visit. We took ever so much time going back and forth between the trees considering the merits of each one. The younger kids, Little Bobby, me, Charley, and Judie just ran around making noise and playing hide-n-seek (with maybe a snowball fight or two) while the bigger kids, Beverley, Bill, Shirley, and Adam did the actual tree hunt. Joyce and Joanne were already off working at their jobs, so they missed this fun.

There was one rule on these tree-hunting expeditions: no bickering. We could voice our opinion, but we couldn’t argue.

Even so, Mom always had the last word on the Christmas tree choice. She was very particular. She didn’t want any old scrawny tree.  Her tree had to be just right, nice and plump and tall and rounded on each side, not too tall, and not too short. If a tree was lopsided, we didn’t cut it. If the spaces between the branches were too wide, we didn’t cut it. If the branches weren’t evenly distributed top to bottom, we didn’t cut it. This was not an easy job, but somehow we always managed the find just the right tree to make Mom happy.

Then when we found the perfect tree, the only one that would do, the older boys or Daddy cut it down. We dragged it through the snow back to the house.  But Mom wasn’t ready for it to come in the house. First, the snow had to melt off the tree, and second, we had to clean the house to make it ready for the festivities to come.

Soon enough, we could decorate the tree with strings of colored lights and brightly colored glass ornaments. We placed those on the tree with great care, under Mom’s supervision, making sure that each section of the tree had the correct proportion of the various colors. Sometimes we strung popcorn or cranberries to drape on the tree.

Then the final step. Hanging the silver tinsel. And mind you, this had to be done to Mom’s specifications. We could not just throw the tinsel at the tree and hope for the best. (Only darling Little Bobby could get away with that!) No. If anyone did that, other than Little Bobby, they couldn’t help trim the tree. We had to hang each strand individually, with only a little overhang of one end of the tinsel, so that the other end could hang down long, all shimmery and delightful. And perfect.

When all was said and done, and the kids finally sent to bed, Mom and Daddy wrapped presents that had been hidden somewhere in the house, basement, or garage until the wee hours of the morning.  They probably only got to bed a few hours before we littlest ones woke up eager to start the festivities. We stumbled down the stairs at dawn’s early light to get our first morning look at our beautiful tree and the mounds of presents under it. But we couldn’t open anything yet. That was the rule. We had to wait until Mom and Daddy came downstairs and got some coffee, and Mom had to put the giant turkey loaded with celery, onion, crusty bread, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in the oven. Ummm, yum.  The smells teased us for hours.

Then we could go at the presents, but only one at a time, mind you. That was the rule.

I remember I wished and wished and wished that I would get a doll for Christmas that year and maybe even a doll cradle or bed.

Christmas Morning

Christmas Morning (Front: Bill, Little Bobby, and Janice; Back Judie, Charley)

And look, I did get that doll (far right in picture) even a dollie bed. I was one happy little girl. All of us kids got things we treasured. (I remember us kids singing “A Frog Went A-Courting,” on and on, um-hmmm, accompanied by Bill’s new ukulele.)

My doll has long been forgotten, but the precious memories of my parents linger on. Christmas becomes a time of remembering the past with nostalgia and even a bit of sadness…missing our parents who loved us and cared for us, and who worked so hard to provide the shelter, clothing, and food we needed to grow up to be responsible, contributing adults. And now, along with our parents, we miss several siblings, Joyce, Joanne, and Little Bobby who have passed in the past few years. Big families bring great joy throughout our lives, but later in life, as family members pass away, our hearts fill with sadness. Our once big family is shrinking.

Now we siblings all have children and grandchildren of our own, but they are spread far and wide throughout the United States, so Christmas is a lonelier time, and we miss the closeness that shared family traditions bring. Even so, we think of each other and remember our wonderful Christmases past.  There’s nothing better than our Christmas memories…except, that is, for making new ones.

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Thursday Lingering Look at Windows…through the Looking Glass

Lingering Vision: Thursday Lingering Look at Windows

How about looking at windows reflected in mirrors?



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Tips for Caregivers of Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs) in Care Settings

Meet my brother, Adam, age 80. He is blind and has been living independently in his own condo until now. With increasing cognitive confusion, balance problems, falls, and general weakness, he can no longer live alone and has moved into an assisted living facility.

Adam on a camping and hiking trip with Ski-for-Light, an organization that assists visually impaired persons (VIPs) in physical activities.

Adam at 70 on a camping and hiking trip with Ski-for-Light, an organization that assists visually impaired persons (VIPs) in physical activities.

Adam has lived a full and active live even after losing his sight at age 53 due to detached retinas. He has managed well for these last 27 years, keeping his positive attitude and generally cheerful nature.

But Adam lives in the big, black box of blindness. Imagine what it must be like to move into a new care setting.

Imagine: You live in a black box.  The door to your box opens. A person comes in, makes some random noises, then leaves. Who is that person? What do they want?

Imagine. A person comes in and starts talking. Who are they talking to? To you? To the person in the next bed? The person pricks your finger and leaves.

Imagine. Someone hoists your feet up onto your wheelchair footrest.  Why? Your wheelchair moves. Who is pushing the wheelchair? Where is this person taking you?

Many people check on you during the day in the course of their duties. Who are all these people? What are their names? What are they doing?


How would these nonverbal interactions make you feel? Confused? Irritated? Frustrated? Hopeless? Helpless? Depressed? All of the above?

Adam experiences all these feelings regularly. VIPs need lots of verbal interaction in order to become oriented to the care environment. Here’s how you can help.

1. Orient the VIP to people he will encounter each day.

Greet Adam. Identify yourself and your reason for being in his box every time you enter.

Hi Adam. I’m Valerie. I’m here to give your meds.
HI Adam. I’m Sarah. I’m going to check your blood sugar level.
Hey Adam. Simon here. I’m going to move your wheelchair away from this doorway so people can come in.

2. Get to know Adam as a person who has a wealth of experiences. Take a few minutes to engage him in conversation.

Our family posted some pictures in his box, and these became conversation starters for people who came in.

Hello. My name is Adam. I am blind. Please tell me your name. You can kid around with me.

Hello. My name is Adam.
I am blind.
Please tell me your name.
You can kid around with me.

The speech therapist saw this next picture and asked about it.



Therapist.  Oh, is that your dog? He’s really cute.
Adam. Yes. Her name was Peaches. She had cancer and died. (Peaches was a big part of his life in his early blindness. Adam still chokes up when he talks about her.)
Therapist. Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. I bet you loved that little dog.

This therapist made a personal, empathetic connection with Adam in this short conversation. She treated Adam like a person with feelings.

Brief interactions with Adam make him feel comfortable in new surroundings, and these new caregivers soon become friends. Personal connections are critical to the successful orientation of VIPs.

3. Wear your name tag every day.

Adam can’t read your nametags, but family and friends can. It’s hard for them to remember all the personnel who interact with Adam every day. Help them out. Wear your name tag. And post your name on a whiteboard in the room. Family members can help Adam remember your name and your role in his care.

Next tip coming soon: Orient the VIP to Place.
moonshineNaBloPoMo_MoreLess - Decnanopoblano1

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Wordless Wednesday: Too Cold in NJ, Heading to Florida

Cold, cold, cold…147

Going to Florida soon. Can’t wait! (I won’t hate Florida then.)hate flrida day


Hey, I’m going too. I hate this winter weather.

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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.

What Every Kid Needs for Christmas!

It used to be, when we were kids, that on cold wintry days we would run outside and play: climb trees, play chase tag, kick the can, build snowmen, have snowball fights, run around in circles, make all kind of noise. We just had a lot of fun with our friends.

It’s different nowadays. Kids sit around with their smart phones and text each other, even when they are sitting next to each other. Well, now they can go outside and text messages with these $3 special Knitted Texting Gloves.

Thumb and index fingers work on touch screens so kids’ little hands will be nice and cozy, and they won’t miss a beat when it is cold.  What kid can afford to be without these?  $3. Such a deal for more peace and quiet around the house.

For texting addicts...

For texting addicts…

 The Last Meow…

Looks good to me!

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Advent Week 2: Peace

Advent Week 2: Light the Peace Candle

Week 2  Peace

Week 2 Peace

This week at Margate Community Church, in preparation for our celebration of the birth of Christ, we decorated the church, and on Sunday morning the congregation and choir sang hymns and carols of praise. A harpist played familiar Christmas music and joined with the choir when they sang. Anticipating the birth of Christ brings hope (Advent, week 1). The second Advent candle adds light in the darkness, and we celebrate the peace that Jesus brings into our lives. (Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6)



As part of each weekly Sunday service, Pastor Fleming has a children’s talk, and today he showed the children an Advent Calendar. While many Christmas calendars count down the days until Christmas and provide small treats for the children each day, the Christian Advent Calendar uses symbols to tell the story of the birth of Christ. Pastor Fleming opened the first eight pouches to help him tell the beginning of the Christmas story.

The first three symbols:

  • Pouches 1, 2, and 3 contained sheep.
  • Pouches 4 and 5 contained shepherds
  • Pouch 6, 7, and 8 contained angels.

All three of these symbols are important in the Christmas story.

The shepherds, as the hymn tells us, watched their flocks at night, all seated on the ground. They did not have comfortable homes because they had to sleep out in the countryside where the best feeding grounds for the sheep were. They were often lonely, with other shepherds and their flocks their only companions. These shepherds were poorest of the poor and were looked down upon by society in general.

But the angels did not appear to the wealthy, happy, and socially prominent people, rather it was to these poor, ragged, and cold shepherds that the angels brought the good news, the announcement of the birth of Christ. In this way, God shows that he accepts everyone regardless of their economic or social status or their race.

Earlier, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, a woman betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of David of the Old Testament, a king of Israel, and a writer of most of the Psalms. The angel told Mary,

Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. (Luke 1: 26-28, 31)

Another angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him,

Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

Next Sunday: Advent Wreath Candle 3 and Advent Calendar Pouches 9 through 15.


If you want to make your own Advent calendar, visit Tricia and read Advent Calendar: Teach The True Story of Christmas.


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