Archive for the ‘Review of Places Visited’ Category

“Are you excited about Kauai?”, my sister asked me, as a we chatted on the phone.  My husband Vinh and I were going to Kauai with our three youngest children for Easter break.  I should have been, but I was worried.  One could never predict how Peter would do with new situations and a long plane ride, my high schooler was getting into a moody and defensive stage, and my seven year old was a perennial tester, with a mercurial temper.  As Peter gets anxious in unfamiliar restaurants, we had rented a house, and were planning to cook all our own meals.  Between the planning, rearranging schedules, packing, and prospects of cooking and cleaning while having to keep an eye on Peter at all times, and keeping all the children entertained, emotionally regulated, and safe, I was more bracing myself than looking forward to our adventure in Kauai.

But I needn’t have been concerned.  Peter was so excited about going to Hawaii that he jumped out of bed the morning we left and laughed joyfully.  He patiently waited through the airport lines, and I taught him some foxtrot steps (he likes ballroom dancing) as we waited at the gate.  On the plane, he loved looking through the window as he learned about coastlines, and what farmlands, beach, mountains, ocean, and sky looked like from the air.  He did lots of word problems as we counted, added, and subtracted rice cracker snacks.  Peter read a goofy little book about a boy named Ben who helped a wet hen, and we made pipe cleaner figures of them and acted out the story.  We played modified card games.  Peter loves to learn, so his scholarly proclivities made the 5 1/2 hr. plane ride pass remarkably quickly.

The beaches around Poipu where we stayed were beautiful. Peter was anxious the first day as the surf was loud, but by the second day, he was able to take off his headphones; he started having fun running in and out with the waves, albeit with his fingers in his ears.  The third day on the beach was my birthday, and I was determined to have some fun.  I checked in the other two boys into surfing clinic (they loved surfing!), and told Peter, “Come on, let’s go for a walk!”  After about a mile, I found what I was looking for.  Groups of parents standing tall like signposts, pointing out fish to their children in the shallow waters.  I put on my snorkel and found myself in heaven.  Beautiful tropical fish, all different shapes and colors, weaving in and out and all around the people as we floated above the coral reef.  I coaxed Peter in.  He wasn’t willing to try the snorkel, but finally accepted his familiar swim goggles.  Then the miracle happened.  I pointed out a fish to Peter, he put his head in and caught a glimpse of it, and he was hooked!  He laughed with delight and clapped his hands!  I was so excited, we were looking at the same fish together!  We moved to another spot, and I gestured again for him to look.  Uh-oh.  Problem.  No swim goggles.  Peter must have dropped them in his excitement somewhere along the way.

I am really bad at finding things.  Vinh tells me I have no peripheral vision.  The water was full of coral and fish, and the swim goggles were clear.  I prayed my most frequent ejaculatory prayer, “Holy Spirit, it’s you or nothing!”  I prayed to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost articles, and put on my snorkel on the hopeless quest of finding those goggles.  I just couldn’t believe it- there they were in the sand underwater!  I recovered my heavenly birthday present, put those goggles on Peter, and we spent the rest of the morning delightedly exploring the reef and admiring the amazing, beautiful fish.  Peter was so excited that he forgot his fear of the sea and went swimming off into the deep with that powerful kick of his; thank the Lord, he did look back to check on me, I gestured for him to return, and he did.  We continued our underwater expedition.  Schools of striped tang swarmed around us like escaped convicts.  Brilliantly colored wrasse, royal blue needlefish who looked like living swim trunk cord ties wiggled away in the water.  A queenly, serene opal rose colored female parrotfish swam serenely by, followed by several eager, bright blue, green, and orange suitors.  It was heavenly, and I sighed with contentment and joy. What a birthday present from our Lord- a morning of sharing something so breathtakingly beautiful with my Peter!

But that wasn’t all the Lord had in stall.  I had had a passing thought in the morning- I wish I might see a whale.  But I knew that was not likely- it was the very end of the whale migration, and even the dolphins usually inhabited the shallower coastal waters only much earlier in the day.  But that afternoon, viewing the dramatic, unique cliffs and mountains along the coast of Na’pali, a large pod of dolphins came swimming up and around our catamaran.  Then we saw a mother and baby humpback emerge out of the water and a huge tail splash down on the other side of the boat.  Another beautiful gift!

The last day of our trip, I signed us up for a crazy adventure, kayaking and ziplining.  To my relief, Peter readily got into the kayak, and Papa faithfully as ever paddled him two miles up river.  After a short trek in the jungle, we arrived at the ziplining site.  Peter saw the other eighteen members of our group get into their harness gear, and to my grateful delight, stepped into his gear readily.  He saw Luke and Teddy eagerly zip off the platform, and climbed up the ladder after them.  Though he readily got into position to launch, then he balked and anxiously turned away to exit.  The attendant had me zip away to encourage Peter to follow.  After landing, I turned anxiously on the platform to wait for Peter.  After a long pause, I spied Peter jump off the platform.  And then another beautiful miracle. A roar of  voices cheering spontaneously in unison floated across the canyon from a thousand feet away.  That’s how Peter got off the platform.  It was love.  Loving encouragement from a crowd of people who didn’t even know us, and could have been irritated and impatient, but chose to teach him instead how fun it is to be brave.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit kept pouring out upon us.  Stationed at the end of the second even longer zipline was the most energetic, positive little gal who worked all the equipment, delivered individual landing instructions to all the zipliners, and moved a heavy 11 foot ladder back and forth along the platform.  She was all cheerful encouragement, and truly seemed to love her work.  She was amazing with Peter.  You would never detect a shred of concern or stress, except that we noticed she did something completely different with Peter’s landing and made sure to ascend the ladder herself to catch Peter.  Then on the boat ride back, a guide was playing a game tossing boxes of cookies to the kids who could answer his trivia questions about Hawaii. When he was down to the second to last box, a father sitting near us shouted out the answer and was tossed a box. He then handed the box to Peter! At that point, I was ready to cry- that father wanted to make sure my Peter got a box of cookies like the other kids.

For that father with the cookies and the zipliners who stirred the crowd to start cheering for Peter, I am so grateful.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.”  (Mt 13:33)  I hope my children will learn to take the lead and initiative in loving and serving too someday, just like you.

There are always at least two stories going on in every occasion.  One story is the outside story about a boy and his family who had a lot of fun in Hawaii.  The other story is the inside story, in this case about how the Spirit led the way, made straight the paths, and provided the people, opportunities, and love to create a beautiful memory for a special child and his worried mom who didn’t need to worry.

“I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever.

I will thank thee forever,

because thou hast done it.”  Psalm 52:8,9


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Peter and I went skiing at Big Bear Adaptive on 1/2-4/12.  It was great.  Here are a few tips on teaching your child to ski, from an outstanding adaptive instructor named Tommy.

The basic progression is as follows:

1)  Teach putting on equipment, sliding on one ski, pushing off with the other booted foot.

2) Parallel skiing down a tiny slope a few feet at a time and being caught to stop.

3) Learning the wedge to control speed.

4) Learning the wedge turn, and use of the terrain to stop (turning uphill).

5) Continuous wedge turns.  (Can use the lift at this point.)

6) Wedge Kristies (try to get skis in parallel between turns when skiing diagonally downhill).

7) Advanced Wedge Kristies- getting into parallel immediately after a turn

8) Parallel Skiing-

Do the first part of a turn, not by going into a wedge, but taking a deep breath in and standing up to relieve any pressure on the edges, as a flat ski will automatically turn itself to point directly downhill.

The second part of the turn requires bending at the knee and shifting the weight to the uphill edges by rotating the feet into the hill.

Keep the upper body turned downhill toward your target regardless of the direction the feet are turning in order to store the potential energy in the coiled body for the next turn of the feet in that direction.

Make use of the time you spend on the lifts by practicing the next step in an imitation game format.  For example, you can take turns calling out “french fries,” “parallel,” “pizza,” “wedge” position and have everyone then take that position (at first demonstrate immediately, then pause a moment to see if your child knows without imitating you).  You can have your child point to downhill or uphill, or practice wedge kristies as together you “turn right, ski parallel, turn left, ski parallel, etc.”

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Yesterday, we had another crazy adventure.  My poor Dad is so depressed.  I prayed about it and felt the Holy Spirit gave me an inspiration to take him out on fun outings he could look forward to periodically to keep him going.  So I thought, hmm, what does he really enjoy?  Spectacle of course!  No one appreciates a great show like Dad, whether it be magnificent natural scenery, poetry, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or fireworks.  So I thought, hmm, my kids loved California Adventure’s World of Color, and arranged a time to take Dad.

This soon got complicated.  I conceived of this project in late October when we were still having an Indian Summer.  But by the time I got a date everyone could make plus tickets, reservations for good viewing places (“viewing” is a euphemism Disney marketing came up with as they get a way to make to you pay more to get “viewing,” not “seats” as you stand, unless you’ve got a wheelchair, which we had for Dad), and figured out the labyrinth of rules to get annual passes (yes, I did get marketed into that), the date was set for November.  Unfortunately, the weather was capricious, and though we’d have sunny days most of the time, it always seemed to rain on the days I arranged for the outing, except once when we had a big windstorm instead.  I rearranged all the reservations and everyone’s schedule (poor Vinh cancelled all his afternoon patients three times) to go several times before we finally did  hit a date when everyone could go and there was no rain or wind.  That was yesterday.

As it is now winter, the nighttime temperature are cool.  Yesterday’s prediction was 36 degrees, so I bundled everyone up in ski clothes (everyone, including Dad, therefore was really too hot).  Although we left the house at 3:30 pm for an 8:00 pm show, the traffic was so horrendous that of course, we arrived late, lost our dinner reservations, and Luke got carsick.  Thanks be to Vinh’s terrific guardian angel (and his gift of extraordinary peripheral vision), we got the last half parking space in the handicapped session.  We only had time for a cold picnic outside (but Dad loved the food, surprisingly, which was amazing because he usually can’t find food he likes to eat), and rushed off to the viewing area because you have to get there an hour early even in “preferred viewing” to get a good place to park a wheelchair.  Long suffering Vinh waited with Dad and carsick and fussing Luke (who also had aching teeth from an orthodontic procedure), while Stephen, Peter, and I had a grand time going on the kiddie rides (just my pace, actually).

Peter was so excited.  He loved the rockets, jumping jellyfish, and tornado swings (adorable ride because it follows the theme of one of Stephen and my favorite cartoons about Mickey Mouse tenaciously conducting the William Tell Overture despite a windstorm sweeping his orchestra into a tornado).  He was a great sport as we had to pass up the new Little Mermaid ride he kept pointing to twice as the ride broke down once, and the second time, we ran out of time.  The World of Color show itself was truly spectacular and amazing, but as Peter put it, “Too loud.”  He did however watch, mesmerized, through the whole show.  The coolest part was watching Dad.  Dad enjoyed the show so much, that he got up out of his wheelchair and stood up leaning forward over the railing the whole time so he wouldn’t miss anything.  He absolutely loved it!

Later we managed to catch “Soaring” as we left the park, my favorite ride of all time, that I’ve been dying to take Dad to see to experience flying over California.  He did enjoy it, but said “Too dangerous!”  as we simulated swooping over the waves and went flying with hot air balloons and gliders. (Peter loves this ride and had a delighted grin on his face the whole time.)   When we finally made it back to Dad’s retirement home, Hollenbeck Palms, I asked Dad how he liked the evening, and he said, “Beautiful!  Gorgeous!”  Halleluiah, praise the Lord!

I have to mention one more thing about the evening.  It was a real struggle at the end when everyone was tired to have to get in line again to get the laminations for our annual passes and then to go into Disneyland to find a photographer to activate the passes (procedures that they told us had to be done on the first visit on the passes, though Vinh was so frustrated with Disney crowds, waiting, rules, and procedures at this point, that he never wanted to come back to Disneyland anyway).  Of course, we went to one photographer who told us to go to another who sent us back.  Vinh had really had it by now, and Dad and the kids were pretty tired though still hanging in there.  I made a desperate plea to the long line of people waiting for the photographer.     We stood there with my flapping son with autism and 90 year old dad in his wheelchair, and I asked if anyone would let us cut in front of them in the line?  What happened then was my Christmas miracle.  In that long line of tired people, each of whom had had an entire day of dealing with the crowds and long Disney queues, every single person nodded “Yes, of course.”  So there we were, in the very front of the line, and got our pictures taken, including one of my big little guy struggling bravely to take off his noise cancellation headphones for Disney rules about annual pass photos needing to be taken without any headgear (you could hear the murmur of protest from the crowd, and the photographer did let Peter keep his headphones on).  I waved to those anonymous brothers and sisters and wished them all a Merry Christmas, and they smiled and waved back, despite waiting six photographs later.

So life is good.  There’s so much good in people.  Merry Christmas to you, and God bless us everyone!


Joyce, Vinh, Peter, and all the Trans

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Vinh and I took the two youngest, Peter and Luke, to visit the Florida Trans (Vinh’s little brother’s family) over the last six days in Orlando.  What a terrific trip!  We had an adventure everyday.

On Friday, we went to Disney Animal Kingdom.  The medieval Popes commissioned great works of art in their day, and I guess in our day it’s Disney.  That enormous Tree of Life in the center of the park is amazing, covered with a huge frieze of carved animals.  The animal exhibits are artistically incorporated into the attractions and themes of the park, with a terrific African safari to show off the animals of the serengeti, and the tigers and komodo dragon displayed within the ruins of a maharaja’s beautiful palace.  The park was crowded even in October, but the weather was perfect, and if you remember to get your disabilities pass, the lines will be much less of an obstacle.

On Saturday, we went to Sea World.  Be sure to get your pass straight away when you enter, because this place is spread out and enormous.  I had to jog several miles back from Shamu’s village to the entrance to get our pass from Guest Services and then back again, and prayed the whole time that Peter’s teenage cousin Nicholas would be okay watching him.  Peter was a good sport about watching the Nautilus and Shamu stadium shows, and we ended with the Dinosaur area rides.  He wanted to try a roller coaster, but ran away right as we approached the front of the line.  Lukie did not like that after waiting, especially as Peter wanted to go right back to try the roller coaster again.  But he understood when I explained it was now Lukie’s turn to choose.  So Peter patiently endured the Triceratops spinning ride, and then raced back to try the roller coaster again right before it closed.  We did make it, although Lukie complained the whole time that it would be too scary.  In the end, both kids loved it and agreed it was their favorite ride of the day.  I even got Luke to thank Peter for being brave and having us all try it!

On Sunday, we went to Epcot.  Great Mission to Mars ride.  A rare opportunity to explain to your child what the “earth” is when you see a globe.  Terrific “Use of the Land” boatride viewing creative agricultural methods- another good educational opportunity.  Of course, the “Soaring” ride over California is the best- pure Disney magic!

On Monday, we went to an amazing place called Discovery Cove.  The noisy waterfalls are problematic if your child has hyperacuesis.  Peter tried to hold himself together, as he understand he couldn’t wear his noise cancellation headphones in the water, but finally burst into tears because of the loudness.  But as a credit to his fortitude and will power, when I brought out the headphones in a zip lock bag, he only put them on in the shallow water for a minute, and then determinedly put them back into the ziplock.  He wanted to enjoy the water!  Later, right before our dolphin appointment, a man accidentally shoved Peter with his elbow so that Peter’s snorkel poked his eye, and it hurt so much that Peter dissolved in tears.  However again, he pulled himself together, and ran into the water to meet his dolphin. Peter is so brave.  He loved the dolphin and even gave it a quick kiss!  He let go when the dolphin tried to give him a ride, and that terrific dolphin then turned around to go back to get him!

The last day was arguably the best.  We went on the St. John River Cruise, a 2 hour (quiet) boat ride on the emerald waters of this beautiful river, lined with graceful cypress dressed picturesquely in draping Spanish moss, spying alligators, osprey, ibises, and great blue herons.  Suddenly we came upon two big gray boulders, with a smaller gray boulder next to them.  Then appeared two big pairs of lips and a smaller pair, and down went several clumps of sea lettuce, into the tummies of a pair of manatees and their baby!  These gentle, slow, curious and peaceful big guys get to weigh 3500 lbs, and love the warm waters of St. John because of the natural hot springs at the headwaters.  At the end of the tour, the captain pointed out the direction of downtown Orlando and downtown Disney.  As he put it, “But I want you to realize, that now you have seen the real Florida.”  So true.  Nothing compares with God’s natural creation.  The wetlands of Florida are truly beautiful.

On the plane back to LA, Peter and I talked the whole time about our adventures.  I went through the photos we took on my cell phone, and we wrote little journal stories about each day.  For example, we would put a big picture title like “What I Saw at Disney Animal Kingdom” and Peter would fill in the three animals he like the best on a simple writing template I scribbled in his journaling spiral bound notebook.  He would end by drawing in happy faces, rating the day with the number of them he put down.  We wrote some short social stories about the benefits of having fortitude with the waterfalls, being patient at the roller coaster, and being fair and taking turns at the triceratops ride.  I had him fill in the blanks on a “when, who, what, where, why” table I made of one of our outings.  More details on how these in my book… (see latest post on my publishing woes)

So that’s Orlando for you through the eyes of this family. The best part of course is to see beloved family, doing well, and looking well.  We are so grateful and full of joy that our own Peter manatee was so full of curiosity and had the courage and fortitude to enjoy all the new sights and make it through all the new sounds.  If you go to Florida, October is a great month to visit.


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