Blue Moon

“Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.” Did you know that tonight we have a blue moon? Maybe I should stand outside and sing to it. I didn’t know how the expression, “once in a blue moon” came about, until my friend Deirdre called me last night to invite me to go have a burger and a beer, a Blue Moon of course tonight with her and her husband Charlie. It’s when there is a full moon twice in a month. Why it’s called a blue moon, we don’t know, but I will share this thought.

I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that Deirdre called me to invite me for this particular night.

Deirdre was the housekeeping aid for my mother when she lived at Chestnut Hill. Deirdre was my favorite there. She would always fluff up my mother’s hair before she went to the dining room. She found things in my mother’s closet that Mom insisted had been stolen. She made sure that any of Mom’s laundry that was done there was never lost or sent back to someone else’s room. She always made up the bed with my mother’s precise instructions. She would heat up the rice pack in the microwave to make Mom’s back feel better. In other words, she treated my mother as if she were her own grandmother. For that reason, we became friends and would occasionally go shopping together or, as in the case of tonight, go out for a burger and a beer. But I hadn’t heard from Deirdre in a blue moon. It was because of my mother that Deirdre and I became friends. So, I wasn’t too surprised when Deirdre called me last night, because it happened to be exactly one year ago tonight that my mother passed away. Here’s to you Mom. Cheers.

Chautauqua part 2

See part 1 at the next heading down.

Not everything at Chautauqua, CHQ, was rosy. There were 2 disappointments. There are always disappointments when you anticipate perfection on a vacation that you’ve been planning for months. First, because there are no cars allowed, there were no sidewalks. Thus, I couldn’t go anywhere outside the house on my own. Sidewalks give me linear directions, much like tracks in the snow do for cross country skiing. With open pedestrian areas with no sidewalk boundaries, I couldn’t really tell Dora how to take me to the various venues. I had envisioned getting up early and walking around town, getting a coffee, and maybe taking it down to the lake to listen to the sea gulls and the waves. But for that to happen, I would have had to have a sighted friend who gets up early like me and could walk at Dora’s pace.

The other disappointment was in the lack of accessibility for people with vision impairments. There was not 1 thing printed in braille, and what’s worse, they had no plans to get it done. So much for the ADA. That was the down side of the ‘50’s ambiance. They had an interesting play scheduled for the Friday night, but they had never heard of audio description, and again, had no idea how to make that happen. They will, once I get to talk to the right people. They are very proud of their wheelchair accessible restrooms and their enhanced listening devices, but as I said to one of the volunteers who greeted us at the Visitors Center, “That doesn’t impress me. I want to know what they have for me.” I had been told when I had called earlier about audio description and braille that in their 142 years, they had never had that request. I can’t believe that I’m the only blind person to attend CHQ events. Maybe I’m the only blind person who hoped for reasonable accommodations. I guess I’ll have to be a 1-woman campaign for equal access too one of the best vacation spots in America.

Chautauqua

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It’s been on my bucket list for years to go to the Chautauqua Institution, CHQ, in New York. Last week, I not only checked it off my list, but I added another item. Go back to CHQ. I fell head-over-heels in love with this charming and unique community of active thinkers, music lovers, and brilliant speakers. Rather than quote the website, which will give you facts, but not the flavor, I’ll describe it as a combination of church camp for adults, a college course condensed, TED Talks, and a whole season of concerts squeezed into 1 week. Add a scenic lake, complete with beaches, a ferry and sailboats docked by gorgeous historic homes, and hundreds of people eager to learn and to share their knowledge. Nowhere have I found such a collection of knowledgeable, musically savvy, literate, educated, polite, kind, and happy people. One of the speakers noted that on most vacations, we try to separate ourselves from the real world. On this one, we try to get more in touch.

Imagine stepping out of your house in the morning, and instead of seeing your neighbor climb into his car, you see dozens of people walking on a red brick path that serves as the main highway to all the classes and events. They stop and chat with friends and call out greetings to acquaintances along the way. No cars are allowed on the grounds, so everybody is on foot.

My friend Janet and I stayed at the Baptist House, although we are Methodists, but the Baptist House was the budget way to go. We got our workouts by climbing the 3 flights of stairs to our rooms several times a day, and we learned to appreciate air conditioning, since we had none. We had to share bathrooms down the hall, and there were no locks on the doors. When we looked surprised at this news, our hosts said, “You don’t need a key. It’s Chautauqua!” We soon learned what he meant. CHQ has its own culture that is reminiscent of the ‘50’s. People ride their bikes to classes and leave them outside with no locks. You might find a book propped open on a bench, where someone had left it and would return eventually to resume reading. Someone actually said “good-day” to me one morning. Good day? When have you ever heard that outside of a movie?

We arrived last Saturday, and the first evening’s entertainment was selections from various operas. I had to pinch myself to believe that here I was, at CHQ, listening to beautifully performed music, among classical music-lovers. This was just the beginning of a week filled with new experiences and new friends.

Dora was a star of course. Everyone smiled when they saw us coming, and they loved watching her play ball on the plaza green. Each morning before it got crowded with kids and dogs, we’d take off her harness and throw the ball for her. It was a great way to relieve her stress and give her some exercise. Soon, one by one, people would stop and admire her grace as she tore after the ball. One man with fancy photography equipment took videos of her. Others would line up taking a turn at throwing the ball. She’s probably going to appear in next year’s brochure. Stay tuned for part 2.

ADA Essay Contest

Some of you already know that I shared the Essay Contest winners’ spotlight with Elizabeth Sammons. Our essays were featured at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA last Wednesday in Columbus. I was out of town and could not attend the reception, so Vicky Prahin read my essay in my place. Here’s my essay.

Crosswalks to Civil Rights

In 1963, Crossing the street was a terrifying event. Unsure if the light had changed, as a blind student, I waited on the curb, drew a deep breath, and took my chances. Audible pedestrian signals had not been invented, and paratransit was unheard of. The concept of services for students with disabilities would evolve long after I had graduated. Life as a blind student was a constant challenge.

Now I ponder the impact that the Americans with Disabilities Act has had on my life as I wait for the light to change and cross the street into my present life.

I’m on my way to work. I use a computer with a screen-reader that allows me to perform my tasks as efficiently as my sighted co-workers. The elevators in my building are marked with braille. Our restrooms have accessible stalls. Parking spots near the front door of the building are designated for use by those whose disabilities prevent their walking any distance.

On my lunch hour, I use an ATM to get some cash. Now, because all ATM’s are fully accessible with audio output, nobody else has to know my business. When we get to the restaurant, I’m offered a braille menu. These days, I am never refused entrance to a restaurant with my guide dog. This was not always the case, before the passage of the ADA. Sadly, many cab drivers deny potential passengers with guide dogs. But the ADA puts teeth into the law that anywhere the public is allowed, so also are service animals.

Tonight, after paying some bills, using the brailed utility and credit card statements, I’m going to see a movie. Many theaters are now equipped with technology for bringing audio description to movie patrons who are blind, and closed caption for those who are deaf. The ADA has brought empowerment for the civil rights of Americans with disabilities, from being able to cross a street safely to being able to fully participate in social activities.

The ADA sets a standard for assuring civil rights that once were considered a dream. Making accessible everything from restrooms to text books to TV programs is now a reality. What once were considered special services are now our civil rights.

Today, crossing the street is no longer a terrifying event. I push a button on a pole which houses the audible pedestrian signal. Then my dog guide and I head to the edge of the street that no longer has a curb. Tactile warning bumps in the pavement tell me that I am lined up for the crosswalk. Thanks to the ADA, this corner can now be crossed easily by a person in a wheelchair. More importantly to me as a blind person, I am confident I’m standing in the right spot. Now a clear and loud voice announces, “Walk sign is on,” and I give my dog the command to go forward into an even brighter future.

Facetime

I’m still plugging away at learning to use my iPhone, and so is my friend Jane. About once a month, we call each other to chat. Neither of us is very proficient, and we proved it when one day, she accidentally used the face time feature, instead of just calling me. It was completely ridiculous for 2 totally blind people to use face time, but oh well. We laughed and chatted for a while, and then we thought we had ended the call. I started to say hung up, but we don’t hang up anymore. We ended the call, or so we thought. We said goodbye, and then I turned back to writing my blog. I was happily typing away, when several minutes later, I heard this little voice from the couch beside me say, “Mary, I’m still here.” What? I thought I was alone. Good thing I didn’t talk to myself. We tried every which way to end that call, and still, we couldn’t get rid of each other. More laughter. This was getting goofy. There she was, in that little square on my couch, telling me she still hadn’t gone away. Finally, I told her that I had to get my writing done, so I was taking her into the kitchen and leaving her on the counter. I checked back in about a half hour, and she was finally gone. I have never used face time since.

This story, along with others, is posted on the Vision Aware blog Visually Impaired, Now What, in the technology humor section, under “When Your Technology Talks Back to You.”.

www.visionaware.org

Strolling in the Park

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I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but Dora does not have a stroll mode. Last Saturday, some ladies from my TTN wellness group, walked together at Innis Woods Park. It’s a lovely setting for strolling and enjoying the beautiful landscaping and flowers.

Unlike our regular daily walks, I did not allow Dora to forge ahead at her normal breakneck speed. I got quite an isometric workout, holding her back with the harness in my left hand and the leash in my right. While we weren’t exactly hiking, we were walking at a normal speed for normal people. That meant holding Dora back too walk like normal people. We are used to charging down the sidewalk. All my dogs, except for Cisco, who didn’t last with me because of it, have walked at a very brisk pace. I’ll never forget the time that my friend Mar Sue and I went downtown to introduce my first Seeing Eye dog Mindy to her new office. Although it was a Sunday afternoon, there were people on the street, and Mar Sue got a kick out of how people would “snatch up their babies and flatten themselves against the wall,” when they saw us coming. My friend Janet says basically the same thing when we are walking together at Easton Town Center. I don’t mean to bulldoze our way through crowds, but that’s kind of what we do. My daughter would get embarrassed when my second dog Sherry would find a space between the 2 people walking ahead of us in the mall, and I’d realize we were plowing through, rudely separating them. Dogs don’t care. They just know they’ve got a job to do, and it’s full steam ahead. I know that my stride is shorter these days, and we don’t go as fast or as far as I once did, but Dora is better than any treadmill could possibly be.

Daddy’s Little Girl

As I walked this morning, on this Father’s Day, it was easy to reminisce about the sweet moments I had with my dad, when I was a little girl. As the song goes, I was “the Easter bunny, the star on the tree,” to him. To say it simply, he adored me. I remember being a little frightened of my dad, because he did have a temper, but I can recall only 1 actual spanking, and that was probably because I had been caught in a lie or some other unacceptable act of disobedience. My dad was not a singer, but most of my memories are tied to songs. Often, we would walk together to the corner grocery or the drug store up the street. He’d hold my hand, and he’d start in with an old Army marching song. “Sound off,” he’d call, as our strides fell together, I’d echo, “Sound off.” Then it would be “I had a good home but I left, left, left right left. Sound off 1 2. 3 4!” It’s not the same when you try to type it, but you get the idea.

I can never hear the song, “Me and My Shadow” without getting a little weepy. Sometimes, when we’d walk together, he’d sing it, because he felt like I was his little shadow. It’s a sad song, but for me, it holds tender memories. “And when it’s 12:00, we climb the stair, we never knock, for nobody’s there. Just me and my shadow, strolling down the avenue.” It was our special time together, walking to the store to get a loaf of bread or a bottle of cough medicine, but there was usually a candy bar in it for me as well. Walking to the UDF, known as United Dairy Farmers back in those days, meant one of those giant milk shakes they made in the blender right before your eyes.

My dad was a fisherman, so just before a fishing trip, he’d take me with him to the local park, where in the dark of night, armed with flashlights, we’d secretly dig up nightcrawleres. Ever the prissy little girl, I wore finger gloves to help him with this task, but I did it, just for the excitement of the adventure.

My dad was a gardener, and on Sunday afternoons, he’d set me up on the stone garden wall, where I could watch him, and as the family story goes, sneak a sip out of his bottle of beer. One afternoon, I drained the bottle and then declared , “Daddy, you’re drunk.”

As I grew into a young teen, he taught me how to ride a bike, to hit a wiffle ball and to shoot baskets into the hoop on our garage. He taught me how to play ping pong, but then I began to lose my vision, while at the same time, beginning my passion for dance. Daddy suffered through a lot of dance recitals, but he eagerly constructed a ballet bar for me in the basement and hung a wall mirror. I had my own dance studio down there. When he was working a day shift for a laundry company, he would pick me up after school in the laundry truck he was driving, and I have this glorious memory of getting to ride shotgun, sitting on a bag of laundry. Sometimes he’d pick me up from school with the dogs in the back seat, hanging their beautiful Dalmatian heads out the window with tails whacking the front seat in happy greeting. My dad was the one who instilled my love of dogs.

Do you hear that song? “You’re sugar, you’re spice. You’re everything nice. And you’re Daddy’s little girl.”