A birthday wish to Dan

You might have noticed a comment now and then on my blog from a person called Driver Dan. He is a real person, and he is a driver for The Red Cross. I am transported twice a week by The Red Cross to swim at a city pool, and often, my driver is Dan. I don’t know his real last name, but I do know that today is his birthday. His pen name is Daniel Boyd, and he has just published a murder mystery. So Dan, since I don’t know a more direct way to wish you a happy birthday, and because this is my blog, and I can say what I want on it, Happy Birthday, and many happy returns.

Cabin Fever

It’s another snow day for much of the country, but it’s too cold to go out and play in it. Moms and dads are breaking out new packs of crayons, teaching their kids new card games, making fudge, baking cookies, letting their kids watch way too much TV,and inventing games to keep the troops occupied. I remember those days, but now, instead of entertaining little kids, I’m having to find ways to entertain my guide dog, Dora. Yes, my dog is bored. I know. Dogs lie around the house all the time when their people are out working all day, That’s what dogs do. But guide dogs are used to havivng a job to do.

I don’t mind walking in winter weather. I walk every day, except when it is so frigid that you can get frostbite in 10 minutes. Dora and I have a daily routine of playing ball in the back yard and then going out for a walk each morning. Lately, we’ve just been doing the ball-playing part of the routine, and today, she had to wait until afternoon, because it didn’t get up above 0 until then. All morning, she moped around. She kept looking at me with those sorrowful eyes. I know, I can’t see her eyes, but I know they were sorrowful. She even climbed into my lap, which is not an easy feat, considering she is more than half my weight. It was time to get creative and find something for her to do.

After we had played with each of her many toys and exhausted their interest for her, I took her favorite 1 and told her to sit and wait in the kitchen. She wasn’t very good at this part, so I put her on tie-down, just for the minute it took me to go upstairs and hide that toy. Then I’d come back and release her and tell her to find the toy. She seemed to be quite proud of herself when she came back to me with it in her mouth. We repeated this game, with the variation of my hiding it in a different room each time. I don’t know whether she thought that was fun or she wondered why I kept taking her toy and putting it someplace goofy. But it took up about 10 minutes of a long and boring day.Tomorrow, we’ll try a version of hide and seek. I’m not sure how she’s going to do the part where she covers her eyes, and I run andhide, but we’ll work it out. Has this weather really reduced me to that?

The Airport Package Dance

You’ve never heard of the airport Package dance? Just ask a blind person who is traveling alone, and she’ll say, “It goes like this.”

AP, (Airport person) approaches and says, “I’ll take you to your gate, assist you onto the plane, take you to baggage claim.” BP (Blind person) says, “May I hold onto your right arm?” AP looks befuddled, tries to figure out which is his right arm, then grabs BP’s left arm. BP repeats, “I’ll hold onto your arm.” AP grabs BP’s left arm again. BP stands still and in an exaggerated patient voice says, “Put your arm down. Good. Now let me take your arm.”

Next dance is when AP leads BP to a chair. Instead of saying, “A chair is directly in front of you, to your left, or to your right,” she puts both hands on BP’s shoulders and turns her around until her back is to the chair. BP says, “Next time, please just tell me where the chair is. You don’t have to put me in the chair.”

Next dance is when AP shows up with a wheelchair. “Right over here ma’am,” he says and gently pulls BP toward the chair. “I don’t need a wheelchair,” BP says. “I’d rather walk.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, I can walk.” AP looks disappointed and somewhat confused. Now he has a much harder task, guiding a BP instead of pushing her.

Another dance is done on the plane. A wellmeaning attendant says, “Here, you can sit in this seat up front. You don’t need to go back to your assigned seat.” Then passenger who has ordered the seat the BP is now sitting in says, “I am supposed to be in that seat.” Then flight attendant says, “Sir, you can sit somewhere else.” BP looks embarrassed, because she is just sitting where she was told.

Final dance happens at the end of the flight. “Just stay seated until all the other 9,476 passengers have exited, and I will assist you.” BP thinks “No way. When there is a break in the line of tromping passengers, BP standds up and walks to the front. Flight attendant, now worried, says, “Just sit here and wait. Someone will come to assist you, sometime in the next 45 minutes or so. BP says, “I can walk up the jetway on my own. My daughter is waiting at the gate.” Flight attendant says in disbelief, “Are you sure?” BP says, “Why would I prefer to sit here while my daughter waits at the top of the jetway, when I’m perfectly capable of walking up there myself?” No, BP doesn’t really say that, just smiles and says, “Yes, I’m sure.”

The reason I call it The Package Dance is that My friend, Deborah Kendrick, one of the savviest travelers I know, says “They want to treat you like a package. I’m not a package. I’m a person.” Deborah has an extra twist to this dance. Flight attendant grabs BP’s carry-on to stow it overhead. BP grabs it back to stow it under the seat in front of her, so she can get to it. Another AP takes her second carry-on and stowes it under the plane, without telling her.

My message in this post is, if you’re an AP, please don’t grab my stuff, or push me, stear me, turn me, or plunk me down like a package. On the other hand, maybe I should be a package. Slap a label on me, and stick me on a UPS truck next time. It would be a lot less stressful.

You Should See the Other Guy

Last Sunday, I appeared at church with a black eye. Most people pretended not to notice, but a few of my friends asked me in a concerned voice what happened. “Did you fall? Did you bump into something?”

“No,” I said, “I hit myself in the face with a ball.” I was standing outside my screened in porch, throwing the kong, a sturdy rubber dog toy, into the back yard for my guide dog. She loves to chase the kong and bring it back to me, over and over, as if her life depended on it. We do this every morning, to help burn off some of her puppy energy, and she loves it. On this particular morning, I heaved that ball as hard as I could, but instead of sailing into the back yard, it hit the corner post of the porch and bounced right back and hit me in the face. It stung a little, but I didn’t think anything of it until people started asking me what happened. After church, a group of us went out for lunch, and one of them said, “Mary, tell them the story of your black eye.” To my delight, at the end of the story, they all laughed, especially after someone cracked, “You can say, “you should see the other guy. Oh wait. I am the other guy.”

Over the River and Through the Woods

Every time I travel, I have bazaar stories to tell. The questions aren’t “How was your flight, any turbulance, smooth landing?” But “How did your connections go?” You see, I can’t get to my daughter’s from here, without making a connection. Changing planes in Philadelphia this year, and also in Washington, D.C. were experiences I hope to never repeat.

Remember when they warned us not to travel on the day before Thanksgiving, because many flight would be delayed or cancelled because of winter storms? Well, they weren’t kidding, but I had a ticket to fly on that day, so I had to go. My flight out of Columbus was only about an hour late, which was fine, because my friend Dan and I just went and got a sandwich. But when I got to Philadelphia, I was hit with the news that I would have a 3-1/2 hour wait for a delayed flight to Syracuse. That was distressing enough, but since I was alone, the inconvenience was magnified and multiplied byond my comfort level. The sky cap who delivered me to the gate summarily plunked me down in a seat and informed me that this is where I was to wait. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten my phone. Suddenly, I was without connection to information or to help. I asked the sky cap if I could borrow her phone, long enough to call my daughter. She said she would have to take me to Customer Service to use the phone. Oh for Heaven’s sake. Someone in the gate area took pitty on me and offered to let me borrow her phone. As I sank into my chair with gratitude for that small favor, I knew I was in for 3 hours of bordum and discomfort. After I called my daughter and returned the phone to the kind lady, I was faced with no one to talk to and nothing to read. When I tried to listen to my book, the attendant at the gate would pick up his microphone to make an announcement, and by the time I could yank out my ear pods, I had missed what he had said. Thanksfully, my guide Dog Dora, was a champion traveler. She hated flying, trembled all the way, but lieing on the floor in the gate area seemed to be a relief for her. She never asked to go out, although disregarding the hassle that would have been, at least it would have been something to do. I was also annoyed that the sky cap, knowing that I had 3-1/2 hours to sit alone, never offered to escort me to the restroom or to a counter to buy some food or a cup of tea. I would have asked, but I hadn’t known what was in store for me. She just said, “Wait here.” I finally arrived at Kara’s at 1:00 in the morning.

On 2 of the 4 flights on this trip, a man sitting next to me asked to be moved, because he did not want to be so close to a dog. And I must admit, it was close. The seats are jammed so close together these days that you have to stand on your head to get the dog shoved under the seat in front of you, and then you have no room for your own feet. So you have to take off your feet and put them in the overhead. Ha ha On the way home from this thanksgiving trip, I made connections in D.C. which was one of the most frightening transfers I’ve ever experienced. Sitting at my assigned gate, I was suddenly told that there was a gate change, and I was to follow this woman, who practically ran through the airport, through crowds of people all shouting to each other over the din of airline workers making announcements over the P.A.. Out the door we went into a din of motors of huge vehicles with backup beepers that terify me, because I can’t tell where they are, engines of planes, and busses and vans,. I was urged to go up a ramp into a strange vehicle without being told what it was. Afgter a short ride, we had to walk about a half mile bacck through another part of the airport to wait at another gate. I couldn’t hear the woman in front of me, so I was never sure Dora was following the right person, but she did a stellar job.

Stay tuned for my Christmas travel adventures.

Dora Learns Her Way To Giant Eagle

At Giant Eagle

At Giant Eagle with Dora

There’s a Giant Eagle grocery store 1 mile from my house. It’s mostly a straight shot, once you get out of my neighborhood, except for the very end of the route. This is where it gets a bit tricky for a dog, and it’s the place where my previous dog never got it. For that reason, I’ve been very careful to introduce this route well after Dora and I had established our relationship. I also prepared myself better this time for success with the training session.

First, I asked my friend Eve to help me with this project. Before we left the house, I engaged Dora in a short clicker session, while Eve observed in amusement. It is pretty funny to watch a dog get so excited about dinging a bell with her nose and then getting a treat, which in this case was just a piece of kibble. But a kibble out of hand is even more exciting than out of a bowl.

Next we drove to a spot about 2/3 of the way, since Dora already knows that part, and we left the car there. The first part of the new route is to cross the interstate on a bridge. It’s terrifying to me, but a wall prevents Dora from seeing the traffic below us, so she marched on fearlessly. We then have to cross 2 side streets, not a problem, but they need to be observed with a full stop and a wait until I give her the command to cross. Now here comes the first really tricky part. When we turn toward the parking lot, we have to cross 2 islands. In order to execute this route to the door of the store, the dog needs to not wander into the parking lot but to stay on course and take me to each island. I have absolutely no vision, so it is essential for the dog to do this right. On our training session yesterday, I came prepared with treats for each success. Before I asked Dora to guide me to each island, I took Eve’s arm, and I heeled Dora and treated her when we got to each island. Then it was her turn to do the guiding. It took a few tries, because she remembered that once upon a time, we had parked in that section of the parking lot, so she probably was looking for the car. Just a guess, but dogs do remember even one occurrence of an event. After mastering the 2 islands, we strode ahead to the door. Again, I took Eve’s arm, and she led us to the customer service desk, which involved making a wide left turn around a display and then another left turn to the counter. Then, I pulled out the clicker gear, and we practiced targeting that counter. Soon, a little group of onlookers had gathered to watch this process with fascination. No problem. Dora was focused on those kibble treats, and she was determined to please me. Finally, it was time to start from the door and find our way to the counter on our own, with Eve trailing behind my right shoulder. I have to congratulate Eve for not interfering with Dora’s learning process. On this final trip, I suspected that she had gotten distracted and was way off base, but I hung in there with her, and Eve never said a word. In a couple of seconds, Dora zoomed around to the left and came to a screeching halt at the counter. As if it had been planned, there was a cart in the way so she had to take a detour, but she got us there.

The last part of this training trip was to navigate back across the parking lot, crossing both of those islands. Because the first one is a little offset from the sidewalk in front of the store, it’s a little trickier. We have to cross at an angle. Here’s where my shoulders have to be exactly in the right position, before I give her the forward command. After we’ve done this a few times, she’ll do it on her own, but for right now, everything has to be just so, for success. After a few more practice runs, I’ll be able to say, “Let’s go shopping,” and I’ll have to hold on for dear life.

Thank You Verdi

“They’re playing our song.” Music has a way of transporting us to a certain time in our lives that was especially happy or especially tragic. Happily, whenever I hear the Grand March from Aida, I have good memories.

I heard it played on the radio just the other day, and a friend of mine just recently mentioned how much he enjoys it, so the irony of hearing it twice in the same week inspired me to write about it. I don’t imagine it’s ever been on the top 40, not in my lifetime anyway, but in opera theatres, it brings down the house.

My introduction to this magnificent piece of music was at the summer series of the Cincinnati Opera, many years ago, held at the Cincinnati zoo. Yes, the zoo. My mother and I attended several operas there. It was one of the many gifts she gave me. It was so amusing when during a beautiful aria, a seal would bark, or an exotic bird would screech, and the audience would suppress a little giggle. At the end of the intermission, a trumpet player would come out where people were milling around and play a few notes of the upcoming music in the next act. It was like a little tease to get us excited to come back and get seated. Then, as the Grand March began, it was thrilling to hear those trumpets announce the beginning of one of the most stirring and absolutely gorgeous creations of all of opera.

Apparently, my daughter was moved by this piece as well, because she chose it for her wedding procession. The grandeur of this music was so appropriate for how I felt, watching my daughter walk down the aisle on the arm of her father.

2 wonderful memories come to mind each time I hear it or think of it. 15 years ago this month, my daughter glided down the aisle in her splendor. 50 years ago, I heard it for the first time in the summer air of an outdoor pavilion. These memories swell in my heart and make me so thankful for the gift of great music.