Oops. Forgot to Describe

Remember when I posted “Political Savvy on January 7th about how my granddaughter Mika won honorable mention in a political cartoon contest? Well, a friend pointed out to me that I had made a serious faux pas. “You of all people…,” she said. She was right. For my sighted friends, it was no big deal. You all could just go to the link and see how wonderful it was. For my blind friends, however, I left you in the dark, pun intended. Here’s what you see when you look at this picture carefully, as described to me by my daughter.

A young woman, maybe in her 20’s, with dark curly hair, sits in a pink and red wheelchair. She’s wearing green pants and a mustard yellow shirt. The expression on her face is one of frustration and annoyance. The reason for her annoyance is that she is sitting in front of a store, which has no sidewalk across the grass to a steep flight of steps leading up to the purple front door. The steps are painted royal blue, and the letters of a sign on the brick wall are also painted the same shade of blue. One sign on the door says “OPEN,” and another sign says “CAUTION STEEP STAIRS.” and the sign on the wall says “HELP WANTED.” Now that might be enough for you to get it, why she is frustrated, but Mika made the message crystal clear, as she printed the following words on various bricks on the wall.

Unemployment, Discrimination, Bullying, Medicaid cuts, Misrepresentation, Harassment, Stigma, Abuse, Indifference, Poverty, Hate Crimes, Pre-existing conditions,

In the bubble over her head, it says “Never the less, she persisted.”

I’m sorry I forgot to describe it the first time. And I “of all people” should know better. But I was so eager to send up that post that I was like the sign saying “Steep stairs.” If you can’t get to the steps or up the steps to apply for the job, what good is it? Please forgive a proud grandma, just too excited about the achievements of her talented and politically aware granddaughter.

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Christmas Afterglow

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The decorations have been stowed away, back in the garage; the receipts have been shredded since no returns were required; the house has been cleaned, and the new sweaters and toys have found their new homes in closets and drawers. But one present will remain in full view for me to show off for many years to come.

Each of my 5 granddaughters has her unique talents and charms, but today, I want to show you the gem that Mika, the artist, has created. A year ago, a few weeks before Christmas, I sent Mika a bunch of darling photos of Dora, Dora sleeping, Dora working, Dora catching a ball in midair, Dora with her littermates…. You get the idea. I had bought a tray at a garage sale that had a glass bottom, under which you could slide a favorite picture. Because my family room is all about dogs, with pictures, figurines, statues, throws, pillows, and everything dogs, what I really wanted was a collage of photos of my Seeing Eye ® dogs. My first 3 dogs, Mindy, Sherry, and Pippen lived here before the popularity of iphone cameras invaded my life; so sadly, there aren’t many photos of these precious dogs. But photos of Dora are on multiple cameras, so she would play the leading role in this collage. In fact, it would be all about Dora. Now I could have taken these photos to some professional who would charge a fortune, but instead I sent them away to my favorite artist. I suggested in my not-so-subtle way that this would make a wonderful Christmas present. But nothing happened. I received other presents, all very nice, but no collage. And soon I forgot about the whole idea, except, that is, whenever I came across that tray with no photo in it. Oh well. I guessed it was too time consuming, and I shouldn’t have been so bold as to suggest my own present.

But surprise! surprise! When I opened my present from Mika this Christmas, there was the collage. I was much more thrilled than if I had received it last year, because it was truly a surprise. Later, when all the flurry of Christmas was over, my friend Dan took the time to describe what Mika had done to enhance the effect. Some of the photos were trimmed and placed over the top of others, giving a multi-dimentional effect. In one picture, Mika made it look like Dora is petting the top of my head. It is truly a work of art. I don’t know if you can see such detail, but I thought I’d send it out anyway, because maybe you’ll never get to come to my family room and enjoy it in person. If it doesn’t show up in the post that is delivered directly to your inbox, come back to my website, and take a look. Isn’t it adorable?

Anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78

Kara was 5, and Steve was 8 and it was almost comical to watch them as they trudged to school, struggling up and over the mountains of snow that the snowplows left. Yes, they will have stories to tell their children about having to walk to school after “The Blizzard of ’78. But before they could return to school, we endured days of being trapped in the house where boredom and baking, along with endless TV cartoons were getting on everyone’s last nerve. When the streetes looked fairly passable, we bundled up, piled into the car, and my husband Mike drove us a couple of miles over to the home of a friend of mine, Nikki. She and I were in a volunteer singing and dancing group called The Entertainers. Their home was large and spacious, compared to ours. She had a wonderful playroom in the basement, where the kids could run and shout, jump, and twirl around, until they wore themselves out. After they settled down to a game of Candy Land, Nikki and I took over the play room to practice a dance we were choreographing for our next performance. We danced, laughed, twirled around and wore ourselves out. I have no memory of what the husbands did with their time, but an educated guess would be that they found a football game and a couple of beers to keep them occupied. That afternoon was the highlight of the blizzard for me, an afternoon of fun and friendship, release of pent up energy, and a change of scenery. Years later, I would discover the joys of being outside in the snow with a pair of cross country skis on my feet, but that was a whole different chapter in my life.

This morning, when I stepped out the back door to take Dora out for her morning piddle, I was shocked to feel the snow come up to the top of my boots. I had been warned the night before by a crystalline frosting over everything and a vicious wind, but this deep snow was beyond my expectation. I allowed Dora to pull me out just a few feet from the door, because I couldn’t even tell when we had stepped off the patio. For the next hour, I pondered about how I was going to deal with the next trip out, when it would be necessary to not only trudge through ankle deep snow but also to find and pick up what Dora would drop for me. Then I prayed. “Lord, Help me figure this out,”. then I heard that glorious sound of my next door neighbor’s shovel, as he cleared my front walk and my driveway. I used to take pride in shoveling myself, but even when I didn’t have a bad back, this deep and heavy snow would have been a challenge. I tried to open the front door to thank Ron once again, but I could only get it open a crack, as it was frozen shut. Then I swallowed my pride and accepted his offer to shovel my patio as well. He must have seen me doing it myself before, and he must have noticed the patch of grass that my friend Dan had shoveled the last time. But I was so grateful that he offered, so I didn’t have to ask. I thought I should do it myself. After all, he had already done so much. But considering my age and that I am to have back surgery soon, I felt that once again, my prayer had been answered. Not all of my prayers are answered, but this one will do for today. And BTW, after Dora had done her duty, I unhooked her leash and let her romp in the snow to her heart’s delight, a girl after my own heart.

Political Savvy

When you think of a political cartoon, any number of odd people, preposterous situations, and injustices could come to mind. Recently, the New York Times ran a contest for anyone to enter a political cartoon. To say that my granddaughter Mika entered such a contest was surprising would be an understatement, but to say that she made “honorable mention” is a proclamation from a very proud grandmother.

And what did she choose for her subject? Here’s the link to her creation, which, BTW, was completely her own idea.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/editorial-cartoon-contest-2017/michaela-fay-h6mz?smid=fb-share

I couldn’t be prouder of this 16-year-old young lady, who has proved in her work here that she is sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities. Yes, her mother, my daughter, has taught her how to be natural and at ease around a person who is blind, but Mika has demonstrated that she understands what many adults do not. I wish you could see the buttons popping off my chest as I tell this story. Keep an eye out for more good things from this talented artist named Mika Fay.

Memory of a Perfect New Year’s Day

We could see our breath in little puffs of freezing air as we spoke, climbing out of the car and feeling that little catch in our throats when our lungs weren’t quite ready for that unwarmed air. In the city, the streets had been cleared, but down here in the Hocking Hills, the snow lay clean and undisturbed, except for the occasional animal tracks. The sky was a solid grey, but in the east, a promise of winter sun crept into the icy air and painted the baron branches with glittering icicles.

Soon, other cars crunched over the icy gravel, and more happy hikers emerged. They blew out their own little puffs of freezing air from smiling lips that called out joyful greetings to other winter-lovers, who had forsaken their warm beds to celebrate this winter day.

I opened the back seat of the car, and my Seeing Eye Golden Retriever, sherry, bounded out with gleeful expectation. She snorted and sniffed the air, sensing the excitement that would be hers today. It was New Year’s Day, and we were all there to start off the new year with a 7-mile hike and a picnic in the meadow—perfect for the first day of January.

When 8:00 arrived, and it appeared we all were there, we began our trek down the snowy path, 2 by 2, 2 by 3, 1 by 1, and with Sherry in the lead. Guide dogs always like to be first. We stepped over snowy roots and icy rocks, climbed over fallen tree trunks and ducked under brittle branches, heavy with snow and ice. We stopped to listen to a growning tree as it swayed ever so slightly in the breeze and the cry of a hawk as it split the sky.

Now, we were warming up, pausing to take a swig of water from our half-frozen bottles, or to much on a granola bar, kept chewy in a warm inside pocket. The path wandered up and down the hillside and occasionally along a creek. We slipped as we struggled to keep from falling to our knees going up, and we just slid on our behinds as we made the steep descents. A recent flood had washed away the bridge over the creek, but a good-sized log had been thoughtfully place there for a crossing. All the other hikers stepped onto the log and confidently walked across, but I held Sherry back. This was not going to work for a blind hiker with a guide dog. She probably would have felt it would be easier to just wade across, and I would have wanted to stay on the log. Just as I was weighing my options, one of the guys came to my rescue. He cheerfully and easily scooped sherry up, threw her over his shoulder, and marched across the log. I followed behind, holding onto his backpack. Sherry was embarrassed to be carried, but I was afraid her paws would get frostbitten in the half frozen creek if I allowed her to make her own way. then, as dogs do, when they know a joke has been played on them, she jumped around and acted like this was the most fun of all. But the most fun was yet to come.

By lunchtime, we had arrived at a clearing for our picnic lunch. One experienced hiker had brought a camp stove and offered hot soup or hot chocolate to everybody. Life seemed pretty perfect, sipping hot chocolate in the winter sun among new friends. The meadow was bordered by a stand of trees, so I took Sherry’s harness off, and she was off like a shot into the woods. In a few minutes, just as I was beginning to worry, she raced back to me with a big goofy grin on her beautiful Golden face. She was having the time of her life. But as always, she was ready to get back into her harness for our trek back along the path. We fell behind for a minute, as my friend and I noticed Sherry’s limp and discovered little icy balls that had clung to her toes. Once they were removed, she returned to her joyful self, charging ahead, regaining her status as leader of the pack.

Back at the cars, we all sang out “Happy New Year,” kicked the snow off our boots, climbed into our cars, and breathed a sigh of contentment of one of the happiest New Year’s Days ever, even for Sherry, who was asleep in minutes.

Hen Hike 18

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My annual hiking trip with 11 other women has been the subject of a winning Toastmasters speech and many stories I’ve shared with friends and family over the past 18 years. And here it comes again, only with different characters and new experiences. Each year in October, we gather at a B&B in some part of the country or Canada for a jam-packed 5 days of laughing, sharing, encouraging, hiking, eating, drinking, and discovering, and not necessarily in that order. The one activity we shun is camping. You may also be surprised to learn that we do not engage in gossip or discussion of religion or politics, amazing as that may seem.

We began with a nonstop flight to Boston, a 2-hour and 45-minute shuttle ride to Lebanon, NH, and then about a 20-minute drive to Pearse’s Inn, a rambling rustic lodge. Bunk beds, single beds, and double beds were stuffed into multiple rooms on multiple levels, and random steps appeared out of nowhere, so just navigating the place was an adventure in itself.

Each morning, after a hearty breakfast, cooked to the specific tastes of each of 12 of us, we piled into 2 cars and set off for a trail head in the area. Our hikes took us over leaf-covered trails with rocks and roots to negotiate, made even more challenging because 6 of us are blind. The challenge is not just for the blind hikers, but also for the sighted guides whoo skillfully kept us from turning ankles over wobbly rocks or tripping over protruding roots. Aside from keeping us safe, they describe scenery, shapes of leaves, bark on trees, mosses on rocks, and of course, the autumn colors. Other features this year included roaring water falls, a dramatic escarpment, a grassy ski hill, an ancient cemetery, and rushing creeks under wooden bridges. One of my favorite sights was a man with a great sense of humor, who, on seeing a group of 12 chatty women walking toward him said, “Oh boy, there goes my nice peaceful walk in the woods.”

We walk in pairs with each blind woman walking with a sighted partner, holding onto an arm, a loop on a back pack, or one end of a hiking stick while the other holds onto the other end. We switch partners after lunch, so we have a chance to get to know someone else a little better or catch up on what she’s been doing since last year.

This year’s Hen Hike featured a couple of events that we normally don’t do. One rainy afternoon, we toured a Shaker Museum, which was fascinating. That evening, we had a delicious chilli supper at the home of Joan, one of our guides, and her partner Bob, who did the cooking. what a treat. Earlier that day, we stopped at a country store, unique to the New England area for some shopping for unique gifts. The day before, we had finished our hiking early, so we all agreed to see how we could spend some money at the LL Bean store and the EMs, always popular with hikers and skiers. Even with all this shopping and touring, we managed to walk between 5 and 8 miles a day. Well, we only walked 8 miles one day, but doesn’t that sound impressive?

It was especially impressive to me, since I’ve been struggling with back pain and wondered if I was going to make it. But this year, my doctor treated me to a round of Prednisone, which worked like magic. In addition, I took every opportunity I could to stretch, to sit down, to rest in the car while the others walked an extra hour, and used my ice pack every nighgt. You do what you have to do when you want to do something badly enough. Next year, they’re all coming to Ohio! We don’t have mountains, but we have some great hiking, and I can’t wait to show it off.