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

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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?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

How many times have you heard me say, “She’s a working dog, so please don’t pet her. You’d be amazed at how many people have never heard it from anyone else. But there’s one little person who has, and she is not shy about telling you.

Several years ago, I gave a big plush golden retriever dog to one of my granddaughters. Because I had a Seeing Eye Dog ® named Sherry at the time, the child named her Sherry. As it happens with families with more than one shild, the good toys get passed along. Now Sherry belongs to 2—1/2 year old Bethany, but the dog’s name is now Dora. Bethany has met the real Dora several times in her young life, and while we encourage her to pet her “nicely,” I don’t recall saying in public in her presence, “Please don’t pet the dog.” But little kids are listening even when you think they aren’t, and she made note in that cute little head of hers.

Now she carries the plush version of Dora around and says to her sisters and her sisters’ friends, “This is Dora, but you can’t pet her, because she is a working dog.”

Bethany, you make me proud. You are my best little advocate.

Hen Hike 2016

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You know how when you get back from a vacation you say you’re so tired that you need a vacation? I’ve been back for a week, and I’m just now coming up for air. It wasn’t the rigorous exercise of hiking up through woods to the top of a ski mountain. It wasn’t the five –7 or so miles we walked each day. It wasn’t the stress of traveling to Canada with having to deal with getting to the airport 2 hours early and fiddling with customs. It wasn’t the yackity yack of 12 women all talking at once all day long, but a combination of all this, plus the sheer joy in doing it.

I have written about our famous Hen Hikes before. Search for Hen Hike 1 in this blog to catch up. I have even created a 22-minute speech about this unique group of women, most of whom are seniors, and half of whom are blind, and I’ve presented it at various retirement meetings and blindness conventions. My Toastmasters training has taught me to love it. (Shameless plug. Call me if you need a speaker for your club.) But let me tell you about some highlights of this year’s hike. First, we hiked near Collingwood in Ontario Canada, a first venture outside the country. My dream is to hike in England, maybe for our 20th anniversary, but this was only our 18th. Imagine. I was only 53 when I started this group with a Ski for Light friend, Julie. We’ve hiked in New England, Minnesota, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and New York. When we get too old to negotiate the rocks and roots on the muddy trails, we might hike through the shops in New York City or on a cruise ship.

On our first day, we had our picnic lunch by Lake Huron, enjoying the sound of the waves as they greeted the shore. Our sighted guides spotted a large creature in the water, and there was much discussion about whether it was some kind of odd fish or turtle or some other native animal. A local man walking by informed us that it was a rock. Boy, did we feel like foolish tourists. On the second day, we hiked up hills to thrilling views of the lake and the valleys below. On the third day, we hiked up a trail to the top of a ski run, and then we took the gondola down the mountain side. Even for those of us who couldn’t enjoy the vistas as we sailed over the tree tops, it was a delightful ride. The man operating the gondola was so taken by our charm that he offered to let us ride up and back again for free. We had walked up, but since the ride down was free, and trying to walk back down that steep and rocky slope was not appealing, we hopped on. If you ride up, it costs$16 apiece, unless you’re a group of women who act like they’re having the time of their lives. On the next day, we discovered a memorial garden in the woods. Only The markers were tall stemmed flowers made of concrete with names engraved on the petals. It was a peaceful place to stop and rest, as we had done 7 miles that day. Each day had its unique experience and joy. Each night, my legs, hips, and back were killing me, but a soak in the hot tub was a huge help. For the next several days after my return, I had to drag myself through the day. Funny how that works. If I had had 11 other women with me, and we were hiking, I don’t think I’d be tired at all.

On My Way to Being Famous

Did you know that I wrote a book? Did you know I’m now writing a second book, which is the first book revised? That’s why I haven’t done much lately for this blog. Since last February, I’ve been working on a book about moving my mother into assisted living. It was 391 pages long, and I thought it was fabulous. I sent it to 9 agents, with no response from any of them, and then to 1 editor, who replied almost immediately. She liked my query letter and asked to see the whole manuscript. I was thrilled. Then after a week, she wrote a very nice letter saying what an amazing person I was, blab la bla, and then the second paragraph said unfortunately blab la bla. Surprisingly, I was not upset at all. I know that many famous authors claimed that they had sent their manuscripts to hundreds of editors before 1 finally said they liked it, and then it became a best seller. So I figure I’m on my way to becoming a best seller author. I just have some work to do in the meantime.

The first thing I did was ask that editor why the heck she didn’t like my book. No, I really didn’t say that. I asked her for suggestions for improving it. I was so grateful for her reply, because she spelled it out and now I understand why it would never sell the way it was. I’m not going to go into detail about my failed attempt. I’ll just let you know when my newly revised book gets accepted by some publisher, and then I’ll be rich and famous. ha ha

A Bubble of Americana

Here’s an idea for the perfect getaway vacation. Imagine walking down a street made of bricks, where no cars are allowed. You hear piano music floating from the windows of more than one charming old house. Here comes a man whistling as he walks, and you recognize it as a Chopin waltz. You stop and wait for a group of little kids on bikes with no parent in sight. They ride wherever they please, just like we did as kids. No need for a play date. these kids are just out for the day. As you walk along, you hear people laughing and talking on their front porches, and if they look your way, they wave. Everybody you encounter is smiling. People you sit next to on a bench engage you in conversation. When you go into a store, the girl at the counter smiles and seems genuinely interested in your having a good time. She actually likes her job, and when she’s not serving a customer, she’s reading a book. Many people are walking their dogs, but they’re all under control, and no little kid yells, “Look! It’s a dog.” Everything is kept sparkling clean, from the front porch steps to the red brick walkway to the amphitheater. there will be no dust on the seats or even under your feet when you attend the next lecture. Everyone you meet is interested in learning and has a sense of humor. Every other person seems to be a musician, a writer, a scholar, or at least a reader. You look around at the audience before a lecture, and you discover that someone like Stephen Spielberg is sitting 2 rows behind you. You see a lot of little old ladies with their canes and walkers, but they are just as eager to keep their minds and bodies active and healthy. Teenagers hawk daily newspapers in the square, as in olden days. You leave your door unlocked, even at night, because this is Chautauqua.

Last year, I checked off an item from my bucket list, to go to Chautauqua, CHQ. Then I told you that next on my bucket list was to go again, and I did. See my post on 8/11/2015. I just returned from a week of physical and mental exercise with my friend, Dan. Yu know him as Driver Dan.

Each morning, we walked a mile to the aquatic center for 10 laps of swimming and then walked back to our respective rooms at our rooming house, so there were 2 miles and 500 meters before breakfast every day. The rest of the day, we attended fascinating lectures and discussions with such notables as Roger Rosenblatt, Jane Pauley, Gary Trudeau, Alan Alda, and Bishop John Spong. We managed to squeeze in a little plain old fun by renting a pedal boat, even with Dora along. Don’t we all look charming in our May Wests?

In the evenings we enjoyed music from the Army Brass Band, the CHQ Symphony Orchestra, and a variety of other entertainment.

One of the highlights for me was to have one of the teachers of prose give a quick critique of the book I’m writing. He was very encouraging, and I was thrilled to hear him say it looked quite promising.

As we drove out of the gates on the last day, we felt like we were leaving a bubble of pure Americana—Americana with the ambiance of the fifties but the search for knowledge and truth of today.