It’s all about the Guides


Once again, I have returned from a magical week of cross country skiing in Colorado called Ski for Light. If you are interested in my other experiences at Ski for Light, SFL, you can do a search and find about 5 other stories. When I told my local granddaughters that I would be skiing the next week, the 16-year-old asked if I would be snow-boarding. Well, I might be a pretty hip Grandma, but that’s a little too wild for even me. In fact, I tried downhill skiing once and successfully got to the bottom of the bunny hill, still vertical, and still breathing, but that was enough terror to last me a lifetime. Cross country skiing is work, which is the reason a lot of people don’t like it, but I love the feeling of gliding over the trails, pushing myself to get to the top of a rise, and then hearing my skis sing as I accelerate going down the other side. No, that’s a lie. Going downhill still scares me, but when I have a competent guide by my side, encouraging me with affirmations that I’m doing fine and keeping me informed about how much curve there is to come and how much farther to the bottom, and when we’ve come to the flat, and then when we are starting up again, it’s actually fun.

I’ve been to SFL almost every year since 1986, and I’ve had some pretty terrific guides, and John, pictured here with me, is one of my favorites. When I’m just about to run out of gas toward the top of a hill, John tells me jokes and sings silly songs to keep me going, although sometimes it’s hard to laugh and ski at the same time. John also has a talent for making sure I’m still in the tracks and prepared for turns while describing some interesting sights along the way. On one trail, he told me about 2 trees that had separate trunks, then grew together and then apart again. It would have been a great photo op, but I’m afraid all we have today is a picture of 2 happy skiers. John and I were guide trainers together for 9 years, teaching new guides how to guide blind skiers. Over the years, we have developed a vocabulary that makes our skiing together smooth and efficient. If the curve in the tracks is a gradual one, he’ll say “long right” or if the tracks turn sharply to the left, he’ll say “sharp left, starting now.” When he says, “half track right,” I know to sidestep once, and I’ll be back in my tracks. It saves a lot of words, so there’s more time to ski.

This year’s skiing was a little more challenging than in other years, because of strong winds and blowing snow, not to mention altitude issues and the old sciatica returning. But sharing stories over dinner with another 100 visually impaired skiers and 100 guides makes us forget about the huffing and puffing up the hills. We greet old friends, make new ones, and share in the glow of overcoming the challenges we met that day. As the SFL motto goes, “If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything.” But I’m not quite ready for the snowboard.

Face Lift

My house has just received a face lift. When we as middle-class home-owners think of all the appliances and gadgets we take for granted, we wonder how we ever got along without them. Take doorbells for instance. I have never lived in a house without one. Garbage disposals, dishwashers, laundry appliances right in our homes, screens on our windows, sump pumps, and air conditioning are just a few to mention. But did you ever think about your garage door opener?

Yesterday, I received a Christmas present from a very generous and dear friend. He installed my very first garage door opener, and I’ve lived here since 1971. When someone would come over to ride my tandem or do some work on the house, he’d say, “Where’s your garage door opener?” then I’d oh so cleverly reply, “At the end of your arm. Ha ha”

A friend asked me, “Why would you want one? You don’t have a car.” But once a week, I struggle with lifting that door to set out my garbage and recycling, then use my whole body weight to throw the metal bar across to lock it, and then go through the same thing the next day to put the bins away. Whenever my cycling friend would put the bike back in its place, I’d have to ask him or her to pull down the garage door, because I’m not tall enough to reach it.

Now, with this wonderful equalizing appliance, I can feel the power of the average homeowner. I bet I was the only person in my neighborhood, maybe my whole city, who used her hand to open and close her garage instead of a handy button outside her kitchen door. It was such fun that I wanted to raise it and lower it just for the fun of exercising my newfound strength.

Will anyone notice? Of course not. It’s so much a part of middle-class living, that it would be like expecting people to notice that my grass has been cut.

Now, my dear cycling buddies, you will notice, and rejoice! Well rejoice may be a bit of a hyperbole, but for me, and I know you’ll think this is crazy, it’s one of the best Christmas presents ever.

Thank you Dear Friend.

The Silent Treatment

For my recent trip to my daughter’s for Christmas, I had to take 4 planes, making connections in Philadelphia, going and coming home. For 3 of those flights, I had a seatmate, but not one word was spoken between us. I always reserve a window seat, so I don’t have the awkward situation of sitting in an aisle seat and then have my seatmate appear and then stand there staring at me and wondering why I don’t get up to let him in. I don’t stand up, because I can’t see him, and it is completely unrealistic to expect him to say something like, “Excuse me. I need to get into this row.” No, we don’t talk to strangers on airplanes. You might be trapped in an annoying conversation, especially when your seatmate is an older woman. She is bound to ask you where you are going and then whip out pictures of her grandchildren. Then she will talk the whole way about those grandchildren and about her aches and pains. Best to exhibit your ear pods with extravagance or immediately put your nose in a book. Pardon my sarcasm. Well maybe you’ve had this experience, but it never happens to me. People are so paranoid about it that they don’t even say hello as they take their seat 5 inches away from me. I think it’s only polite to acknowledge one another, since we’re going to be breathing the same air and possibly touching elbows as we vie for the armrest, but far be it from me to put terror into the hearts of fellow passengers.

On the first leg, I think someone sat Next to me, but since I was given the silent treatment, I held up my end of the silence and never knew whether this passenger was male or female, young or old, going home or going to visit a daughter like me. Not that I needed to know, but it just seems awkward to pretend that the other person doesn’t exist, as if we were on an elevator. Ever notice how nobody speaks on an elevator, except when you’re at a convention?

On the second leg, I knew that my seatmate was a man, because I heard him complain to the flight attendant that he had no leg room, on account of my dog. Even though we were in bulkhead seats, Dora’s size precludes any footroom, even for me. I had to sit with one leg propped against the side wall and the other foot over Dora’s body against the bulkhead. He had a reasonable complaint. the flight attendant resolved the problem by asking a small woman, sitting in the last row to come and trade places with him. She, on the other hand, was not afraid to speak to me, so we exchanged a few pleasantries and then kept to ourselves for the rest of the journey. See? It can be done. For the trip home, the first leg was like the first, silence between my seatmate and me. But the last leg was wonderful. The best was saved for the last. I had no seatmate, and there was plenty of room for Dora and for my feet and even my back pack. What a joy. It’s hard enough to be packed in like sardines, but really people, can’t we at least be friendly? I promise not to show you pictures or talk about my grandchildren. But if you want to know about Seeing Eye ® dogs, well, that’s a whole other story.

Bathing a Big Dog


A soaking wet golden retriever looks like a pathetic drowned rat, but I suspect she enjoys the attention. Does being a water-loving dog include a bath at a pet store? I’m sure she’d rather frolic around in a dirty creek, but this lucky girl gets a shampoo and set about twice a year.

Some guide dog users I know never bathe their dogs, which might seem shocking. But they groom them every day, combing out loose hair and dirt, thus preventing that doggy smell. Another one uses a mobile dog groomer who comes to her house once a month for an outrageous price and bathes her dog in a decked out van for this purpose.

I prefer to bathe my own dog, especially after a couple of bad experiences at a dog-groomer’s shop. Once, Dora came out with a bleeding toenail, and I was furious. I had not told them to trim her nails, but they did anyway. She gets them filed down by walking miles on concrete sidewalks. Another time, she came out with little sores all over her body, which I did not notice until they scabbed over, and I was appalled and sad for her pain. I suspect they used one of those sharp instruments called a furminator, which again, I had not asked for, and they pressed down too hard. It’s a wonderful tool for removing the undercoat, but it costs extra to have them use it, and if it’s not used properly, it can cause cuts in the skin.

When I had Pippen, I just got in the shower with her at home, because she was a little squirt, but Dora is too big for my little bathtub.

Last week, I took her to Mutts and Co, where I was given a huge rubber apron, shampoo for sensitive skin, a special elevated tub, a hose for dispensing the shampoo and warm water, and another one for the dryer. With my friend Kathy’s help, we spent what seemed like hours getting her dry, but it was a frigid day, and I wanted her to not go out wet. Best of all, I had been told by someone that they gave discounts for service dogs, but the gal at the checkout didn’t know how much to discount, so she said it was free and handed me a coupon for the next bath.

Now my precious girl is clean as a whistle and ready for Christmas. She even gets to wear a Christmas bandana, which makes her feel even more special than she already is.

Woman in the Hot tub

The jets of water massaging my back were my reward for an hour and a half of working out with weights and swimming at the Y. I looked forward to it as I lifted, strained, crunched, and finally stroked my way back and forth, back and forth through the cool refreshing water of the lap pool. Dora had waited for me, first by my side in the gym and then tethered to a bench by the pool, never taking her eyes away from me. At last, it was time for me to haul myself out of the pool and let Dora guide me to the hot tub. “Hot tub,” I commanded, and in a minute or so, she’d be tethered once again to the railing of the tub, while I slipped down into the hot roiling water. Sometimes, if I knew I was alone, I would stretch out so my toes touched the seat opposite me, so my upper back and neck could be massaged by the water too.

Then in the midst of my pure and hedonistic joy, I heard a woman’s voice asking me, “How many steps are there?” She was grasping the railing and taking her first tentative step into the water. “Um, I don’t know,” was my unhelpful reply. I had never counted them. I just took one step, and then another, until I reached the bottom, and then turned to one side or another and sank down onto the bench, submerging my tired and grateful body. But this woman was afraid to step down into the water, because she could not see the next step. It did not occur to her to feel for the edge of the step with her foot and then step down. How could she be afraid she would drown or something, when I was sitting right there, not 3 feet from her? The roiling waters made it impossible to see past the first step, so she asked me, a blind woman how many steps she should expect. I never count steps. I step down until I can’t step down anymore, and that’s it.

It was in that moment that I imagined what it would be like to suddenly be blinded, say, overnight, or from a tragic accident. All at once, every step is a threat of a fall or worse. I lost my vision over about 40 years, so the natural progression of my eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, made the progression of finding new ways of handling every situation in life just as natural. For those first few moments, that woman was experiencing blindness, and it was frightening. So I tried to be a little more helpful. “Maybe 3 or 4? I’m not sure.” As I climbed out of the hot tub, using the railing as my guide and stability, I made a point of counting the steps. I was tempted to tell her, “there are 4,” but maybe she figured out that all she had to do was follow the railing, or follow the woman who had been lounging in the water and now was collecting her Seeing Eye ® dog, walking down the 2 steps away from the hot tub area, and marching off to the locker room.

New Trend in Swimwear

I swim twice a week at my local YMCA. Once someone assists me in finding a lane that isn’t being used, I’m on my own for the rest of my time there. Ropes strung along the lane lines give me boundaries, so I can swim laps with confidence. I keep a talking clock at the end of the lane, double-wrapped in freezer baggies, so I can keep track of the time, on account of my transportation. My guide dog Dora waits patiently and watches me as I swim up and back, up and back. I just love the feeling of strenuous exercise that is also relaxing.

One morning, as I hauled myself out of the pool and walked over to collect Dora, who was tethered to a bench, a woman came up to me very tentatively. “Excuse me,” she said. “I don’t know how to say this but, um, the back of your bathing suit is worn out. It’s the chlorine.” I reached around and felt nothing unusual, no skin peeking through a seam, no hole in the fabric. I was puzzled. Apparently, when you swim a lot in an indoor pool, the chlorine eats out the color in your suit, no matter how careful you are in rinsing it out when you get home. But she insisted that she could see right through the fabric. I was mortified. There I had been, walking around the pool for who knows how many weeks with my behind exposed. Another lady offered to walk very closely behind me as I made my way to the lockerroom. You can be assured that I got on line and ordered a new suit that very afternoon. The sense of touch just wasn’t enough this time. It’s just like telling someone about a spot on their shirt. We can’t feel it, but you can see it, so please tell us. I had no idea I was walking around with a transparent suit. Remember the story of the king’s new clothes? There will be no picture accompanying this story.

Vote Early and Often


Yesterday, I voted, and it gave me a kind of high. I did it. I got it done. No more indecision, although there was none for me, where the presidency is concerned. But now I can skip any newspaper articles suggesting to me which way I should vote. I no longer have to sit through televised arguments. I don’t care what they are saying about any of the candidates. It’s a done deal, so leave me alone.

I wrote a similar story about independent voting on this blog called “Voting Independently,” which explains how a blind person can use a machine that is set up with an audio program that reads aloud all the candidates and issues. Differently shaped buttons help you navigate through the ballot. You wear a headset, and the screen goes dark when the headsets are plugged in. It’s the greatest breakthrough for blind voters.

When we arrived at a former department store which has been the venue for early voting for several years, the parking lot was full, and we were afraid we would have to stand in a long line anyway. The place was packed, but the workers were so efficient that there was no wait at all. Of course I had the usual moments of irritation when they wanted to speak with my friend instead of me, but a quiet reminder to them that if they were talking about me, they should talk to me seemed to do the job. And there was some confusion on how to set the machine for audio use, but it only took 2 workers and a couple of minutes, and I was in business. After several minutes at the machine, one of the workers asked my friend if she thought I was having problems, but she explained to them that it takes me longer than the typical voter, because every word is read aloud, and you have to sit through it all before you can vote. Then it makes you review all the choices of candidates and issues, whether you want to or not. But I’ve learned that I can speed through that process by just pushing the down arrow quickly through the ones I had no opinion on. I don’t vote for people I have never heard of.

It was a happy feeling to push that “vote” button at the top and here the little beep. I did it, and I was done with this year’s election. Now I just have to plan my victory party when the results are confirmed.

Actually, the real reason I wrote this post was that I wanted you to see the darling picture of Dora, waiting patiently for me while I voted. Isn’t she adorable?