Mainstreaming, Fitting In

Im often asked, Did you go to the school for the blind? And I always reply, No, I didnt even realize I was blind until I was 18. My parents didnt know it either, and they had never heard of mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is the term used when a visually impaired child attends public school, rather than a school for the blind.

I attended public school for 2 reasons. First, I wasnt declared legally blind until I was 18, and secondly, even if my prognosis had been made earlier, Im sure my parents would not have considered sending me away to a school for the blind. Im very glad I was mainstreamed, but it might have been rough, had it not been for my best friend and next-door neighbor, Lynda.

At the time, I didnt give it much thought, but looking back, I see that it was pretty amazing that my parents built a house on a lot that happened to be next door to a family with a girl exactly my age. Im sure they chose the property because it was within an easy walking distance of the high school, but could they have actually sought out a friend to be next door?No, but it sure was lucky. I believe that Lynda was just as excited as I to learn that her new neighbors came with a girl her age, but how did she feel when she found out that girl couldnt see very well? To Lyndas credit, even at the age of 14, it didnt seem to be an issue. We spent hours together every day after school, talking about boys we liked, sharing dreams, complaining about our parents, and doing homework together, just as any 2 girls our age would do. Lynda read our literature assignments aloud, which not only got the job done for me, but also for her, and with her flare for drama, it was fun for us both. Doing math homework was a little trickier, but I remember feeling good about being able to help Lynda with the concepts of plain geometry, which I loved. (There was something just so satisfying about writing Q.E.D. at the bottom of the page.) On the other hand, I never did understand algebra, so it was Lynda who got me through that course too. These days, children who are mainstreamed have resource teachers, who provide brailled and recorded materials, and help the student with mobility and orientation. When I was a freshman in high school, we didnt know to ask for such services, but I got a better deal anyway. I had Lynda.

It was also Lynda who took me under her wing and guided me through the perils of our high school social life. She invited me to my first boy/girl party, so I could meet some of the kids Id be going to school with. When I danced with a boy she had her cap set for, she discretely pulled me aside and explained a few rules, which basically boiled down to, Not that one. Hes mine.

I was on the drill team, and Lynda was in the band so I always had someone to walk to the games with.

Other than never having a date in high school, I dont recall anyone making fun of me or giving me a hard time about not being able to see. I asked Lynda, not too long ago, if she thought the kids treated me differently from other kids. Had I not noticed? Had I just forgotten? She confessed that there were times that I was not included in party plans or special events, but she would see to it that I eventually got an invitation. For 4 years, Lynda was my guardian angel, and I didnt even know it. How naive I was. What a true friend she was. I believe that if you asked her today why she was so helpful to me, she would deny that it was out of kindness to the new blind girl. It was because we were best friends.

Raking Leaves

One of my favorite joys of autumn used to be raking leaves. It was one of the few household chores I did where I could see the results, unlike dusting or vacuuming. When youre raking leaves, you can tell when youre down to the grass by the feel of the tines of the rake against the grass and by the sound. It was also my grown-up way to play in the leaves and enjoy a brisk fall evening. Yes, Id prefer to go for a walk in the afternoon sun and then rake leaves after dark. Someone driving down my street who didnt know me might have thought it rather odd to see a woman out in her front yard, raking leaves without even having a light on. I liked it that way, because I hate being a spectacle. I dont like the idea of having people watch me, whether its dragging my garbage out to the curb, pulling weeds, shoveling snow, or raking leaves. But just in case they were, Id make sure they got their moneys worth. I always bought paper leaf bags, but because Im thrifty, Id start by filling two empty garbage cans. As the leaves began to fill the can, Id tamp them down by climbing in and tromping on them with my feet. It was quite effective, because I had more strength in my legs than in my upper body. Id swing one leg over the top and climb in, no easy accomplishment by a shorty like me. Then Id lift the other leg, ballet-style up and over and begin the tromping. Who knew that all those years in ballet lessons would lead to this? Id repeat this exercise until I got as many leaves as I could in each can. Because my front yard is not perfectly smooth, and there was a slight chance that the can could tip over, Id set the can under the maple tree in the middle of the yard and hold onto its trunk for balance. Then of course the challenge was to find my way back to the front door without any sound cues to guide me. Aha! A sound cue was what I needed. I would place a radio just outside my front door, with the volume set just high enough for me to hear it. It kept me entertained as well. The neighbors didnt need it. They had entertainment enough watching that crazy blind lady climbing into her garbage can and dancing on her leaves.

Last Sunday, I had the most pleasant of surprises. I had been putting off the leaf-raking project because of my sciatic pain, and procrastination proved to work out for me. When I came home from church, not only were all my leaves raked, but also bagged too and out by the curb. My maple tree has finally thrown off all its leaves, and the ground is covered again. Dear kind neighbor, whoever you are, I promise to bake you a cake if youd just do that one more time.

Voting Early

Vote early and often. Ha ha ha. That used to be the big joke about this time of year. Not so these days, at least not the vote early part. For those of you who like to send me articles about the candidates, I voted yesterday. For those of you who are calling me to find out how I’m going to vote, I’ve already done it. For you tv stations, too late. I voted already.

I love going to my local polls to vote, especially now that there are audible voting machines. Gone are the days when I had to have two extra people in the voting booth with me, one Republican and one Democrat. It got a little crowded in there, with my Seeing Eye dog too, to say nothing of the lack of privacy. Gone are the days when I had to have a trusted friend or relative read the ballot to me and mark it for me. I just put on a pair of headphones and listen to a very pleasant female voice read the names of each candidate in each race, and I press a diamond-shaped button to select my choice. Then I press the triangular-shape button to arrow down to the next candidate, race, or issue. It takes longer for me to vote than my sighted friends, because I can’t skim the ballot for just the races I want to vote in, so I’m not limited to 5 minutes in front of the machine. In addition to the exhilarating sense of independence I feel at my voting place, I enjoy chatting with neighbors and friends I haven’t seen in years.

When I went to vote yesterday in what was previously a department store, there wasn’t the intimate feeling of gathering with neighbors, but because the workers were well prepared and knowledgeable about the audible machine, it was a smooth and efficient experience. It was okay with me to trade the small town atmosphere for getting the job done.

I’m wearing my I voted button everywhere. I wish everybody in Ohio could vote early, so the advertisements would cease, the robo calls would be silenced, and the candidates would leave us alone.

A Great Big Brownie Smile

Were you in Brownies? Girl Scouts? Boy Scouts? Remember any of the songs we sang around the campfire? How about this one. Ive got something in my pocket a great big Brownie Smile! Or this one? Make new friends, and keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold. I was reminded of those sweet little songs in the oddest place yesterday. I was visiting at the assisted living home where my mother lives.

Theres a wonderful volunteer there, named Sandy. When shes there, it makes my day. If you can imagine sunshine personified, thats Sandy. Ive mentioned Sandy before, specifically in my post called Happy Hour. When I walked in yesterday morning, I heard Sandy leading the chair exercises at 10:30. My mother was not among the exercisers, which is really too bad. Shes missing out on a good way to socialize and another opportunity to be blessed by Sandys enthusiasm and cheerfulness. But Mom has always hated exercising, so theres no reason for me to expect her to start at the age of 96. She did go with me to the Bible study at 11:00 though, and then to lunch in the dining room.

Above the hum of conversation and the clinking of forks against plates, I heard the cheery voice of Sandy, working the room. What a perfect volunteer job for this gregarious woman. With a slight southern accent and a huge smile, she made her way from table to table, greeting residents by name.

At 1:00, about 10 residents gathered in the chapel room for Inspiring Words with Sandy, a weekly activity. For yesterdays session, she had brought in an old Brownie handbook, published in 1963. She read portions of it aloud, and those of us who had been Brownies, girl Scouts, or Campfire Girls shared some fond memories of our girlhoods. We even broke into song a couple of times, pulling the words out from the distant past. As Sandy read from the handbook some of the projects suggested for meetings, we were reminded of how instrumental the Girl Scouts were in teaching basic manners and decorum for young ladies. Back in those days, it was important to learn how to set the table in an attractive way, how to start a conversation with a new friend, and how to behave at meetings. Are these things being taught anywhere today? Or is it up to Grandmothers to do it? If so, weve got to figure out how to do it in 144 characters or fewer, so the lessons will fit into a tweet. Will my granddaughters think its dumb to learn a song about making new friends and keeping the old? Would that even make sense to them in a world where making a friend means adding them to your face book? And can you give someone a great big Brownie smile with a pair of parentheses, a colon, and a hyphen? Indeed, my mother, the other ladies in the group, Sandy, and I were blessed to have grown up in a time when doing our best for God and our country, especially at home was truly valued.

Making Dinner for Mom

If you read my post called A Chocolate Mess in the Kitchen, you may recall that I love recipes that are extremely simple and/or start with a mix and have very few ingredients. Because my mother, who lives in assisted living, complains daily about the horrible food, I try to provide her with at least one meal a week that comes either from my kitchen or a restaurant she enjoys. Most of the time, Im the one who cooks the meal, because I usually take the para-transit, so its impossible to stop by a restaurant to pick up meals.

Often, Im tired, or my schedule is really hectic, but I dont mind cooking for her, because she is so appreciative. I try to make casseroles or something that is easy to transport. Pippen likes it when I bring food too. One time, I was dishing out some beef and noodles, when I accidentally got the serving dish too close to the edge of the table and dumped it out onto the floor. Before I realized what I had done, Pippen was on it like a flash, gobbling as fast as she could. Fortunately, there was enough on our plates already for a good-sized meal.

Last night, I brought over a dish I had never made before, but thats typical of me. I often try out recipes on my mother. Even if its dreadful, she loves it, because she loves me. I have a cookbook of one-pot recipes that I adore, called Glorious One-Pot Meals. One of the reasons I love this book is that every recipe ends the same way, with an exact baking time. None of this Bake until golden, or bake until browned on the edges. That doesnt quite work for me. The thing that is amazing is that the recipe says to bake it for 45 minutes or until 3 minutes after the aroma of a fully cooked meal escapes the oven. Its true! Just about the time you think, hey thats starting to smell done, in about 3 minutes, the timer goes off. Its really fun to use the recipes for company, not only because theyre good, but also because nobody believes it until they experience it themselves.

Now I could just leave you hanging and tell you to go get the book out of the library and look up the recipe, but here it is with my notations at the end.

Pasta With Meatballs

2 cups rotini, ½ tsp. olive oil, ¾ lb. ground meat, such as beef or turkey, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, ¼ cup bread crumbs, ¼ tsp. sea salt, 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, 1 12-oz. jar marinara sauce, 2 carrots, sliced into coins, half a zucchini, sliced lengthwise and cut into half inch slices, half a yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced.

Preheat oven to 450. Spray inside and lid of a cast-iron dutch oven with olive oil. Scatter pasta in pot. Add 2/3 cup water and olive oil, and stir to make an even layer. Make the meatballs with meat, egg, bread crumbs, salt, and parsley. Add the number of meatballs you need per person onto the pasta. Freeze the rest for another day. Pour in half the sauce. Layer in the vegetables. Lightly season with salt. Pour on the rest of the sauce. Cover and bake for 45 minutes or until about 3 minutes after the aroma of a fully cooked meal escapes the oven.

Heres what Id say if I were reading this recipe to you. First, you dont really need fresh parsley. The meatballs are good without it. When I made this meal for my mother and me, I put in just 6 meatballs. I used lean ground beef. I also used prepared bread crumbs, and I added a little pepper. Okay, I also added a little seasoned salt. I dont like carrots, so I left them out but used a whole zucchini.

For those of you who dont read print, this book is available from the BARD site. I keep it on my Victor Reader Stream, with bookmarks on my favorite recipes. Bon appetit.

In the Work Force

It was the summer quarter of 1965 at the Ohio State University. I was striding down High Street, in my neatly ironed skirt and blouse, my low heeled pumps, and nylon hose. I was carrying my sack lunch and my white cane. The early morning sunshine affirmed my feeling of well-being, and the High Street traffic stirred excitement in me. Like the people in the cars, I was on my way to work. I had a purpose, to be part of the work force, to be employed.

I thought of my mother, as I bustled down the sidewalk, because many years ago, before she learned to drive, she too walked to work, as a typist at the Chevrolet plant in Norwood, Ohio. On this sunny day in June, 1965, I was not going to be typing, or counseling or teaching or any of the other things I was considering in my college education. I was going to work in the sheltered workshop at the Vision Center of Central Ohio. No, it wasn’t going to be a career, just a summer job to fill in my many hours of free time. I felt it was comparable to any other college students working at a hamburger joint for a summer job.

The reason I had so much free time was that I had no text books from which to study. I had sent them off to be recorded on tape, and the organization that offered that service was 5 weeks late in getting them back to me. That was half the quarter. Needless to say, I had a whole lot of reading to do when the tapes finally arrived. Meanwhile, I wanted to fill those empty hours with something meaningful.

My assignment at the workshop was to attach some little part to some other little part that would eventually be something useful. The people who worked around me were not college students. This was their career, but they were productive, skilled, and happy. I felt a little like Lucy, in the I Love Lucy Show, when she and Ethel worked on the candy assembly line. Not only was I slow, but at the end of the day, my hands were sore and blistered. Still, the next day, I set off again for my job, just as eager to be part of the work force, but not so eager to be using my hands that day. My supervisor took one look at my blistered palms and wrapped them in gauze, so I could get through the day with less pain. That was the last day of my summer job. If nothing else, it inspired me to get an education and learn to work with my head.

Want a Ride

The Red Cross comes to my aid every week. What? Am I in danger of bleeding to death? Is my house flooded every week? Do I need shelter and clothing after a disaster? No, I just need a ride.

Did you know that the Red Cross offers transportation services?

In a previous post, I talked about using the para-transit system in my town, which is the main way I get around. However, once a week, I get a ride with the Red Cross. It’s a free service, and I’m allowed to use it once a week, but just for doctors appointments, physical therapy, and the like. In other words, I couldn’t ask them to take me to the mall although I do consider that a kind of therapy. I go swimming twice a week, and it’s wonderful to know that I don’t have to make arrangements for one of the rides to the aquatic center. They’ve set it up so each week at a certain time, they pick me up, and at another time, they bring me home. Their drivers are polite and friendly, and most of them are volunteers. The nicest part is that they are almost always on time, and I don’t have to share a ride with anyone. I go from point A to point B in a car, not a huge noisy van, just like a regular human being. You dont have to be in a certain income level, show proof of need, or pay them buckets of money. They do like it when I hand them a donation once a month though, but it’s not a requirement. I’ve signed my mother up for it, so we’re all set if she ever needs to go see a doctor or have tests done somewhere outside the assisted living home. The one catch, (Isn’t there always a catch?) is that you do need to make your reservation way in advance. They also won’t take you to an 8:00 a.m. appointment, because that’s asking volunteers to get started too early in the morning. Still, it was a happy discovery for me, and it has been a blessing for two years.

We did have a serious altercation when I first tried to use this service. The driver was very nice, showed up on time, but refused to let my guide dog in the car. Even after explaining to him that she is allowed to go anywhere the public is, he was afraid of breaking rules. He called his supervisor, who said that my dog could not ride, because other passengers might be allergic to dogs. He said he could take me, but not my dog. I was incredulous, to say nothing of furious. Of course, I said, then I’m not going either, and immediately got on the phone. I contacted the Seeing Eye, and the director of community relations called the supervisor. She told him that one disability cannot trump the rights of another. She sent him documentation to support this statement, and in the end, I received a genuine apology from the top guy at my local Red Cross chapter. I never would have expected this ignorance from an international organization. After we cleared that up, our relationship improved significantly, even to the point where I am encouraging anyone with transportation issues to take advantage of this wonderful service.

I hope they never run out of funding for this service. Maybe the people who have donated 350 million dollars to the presidential campaigns could send their next 350 million dollars to some non profit organizations such as the American Red Cross, the American Council of the Blind, The Foundation Fighting Blindness, or a hundred other entities that don’t waste their money on negative slurs about the other guy, but thats a subject for a whole other post.

Birthday Wish

Happy birthday dear Molly, happy birthday to you, we sang this afternoon, although her birthday was actually 2 days ago. She turned 14, and like most people my age, I was reminded of the time when I was her age.

I remember it so specifically, because it was a time of some significant changes in my life.

Aside from changes in my body and the discovery that boys werent icky after all, it was the beginning of an arduous journey in trying to find the cause of my blindness. We didnt know I was legally blind then, just that something was wrong with my vision. Wed known that for 6 years, but by this time, my parents must have realized the problem was not going to be outgrown.

On a happier note, and this is really the point of this post, I began to develop my passion for dance. My Aunt Lynn had heard of a very prominent dance teacher in Cincinnati named Jack Louiso, and she arranged for me to be enrolled in classes at one of his many studios. That was the beginning of the happiest time in my life. As I tried to explain to Molly, (not her real name) that was a life-changing experience for me. I knew I loved to dance, and I knew I had talent, but I didnt expect to be a star the moment I walked into class. I took several classes a week with other girls my age, and we all progressed so well that Jack formed a dance group he called The Jackettes, you know, like the rockettes. We performed at all his recitals and on local tv. Like some of the other girls in the Jackettes, I took private lessons as well. That was the foundation for my poise on stage and my self esteem. While my world of vision was falling apart, I had dancing to cling to as my affirmation of having something special about me other than being blind. throughout my high school years, I couldnt see very well, and I didnt have a boyfriend or even any dates, but I had something I was good at. When I went to my 45th high school reunion, I was amazed and delighted to discover that my classmates remembered more about my dancing than about my poor vision.

My birthday wish for Molly is that she finds something to get good at., not something that shes good at already. Shell have to try out different pursuits until she discovers her passion. Then I pray that she really digs in and pursues that passion. As an old song says, If you dont have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true.

14 is a little young for deciding your lifes work, but its a great time for dreaming. A dream is the dawning of a new day.

Return to the Real World

When you come home from a vacation, you often have mixed emotions. The get-away was great, but there’s nothing like home sweet home. Right? For those of us who are visually impaired, however, there’s another layer of emotions. At the end of a vacation, such as the hen Hike or Ski for Light, it’s a return to the real world.

For 6 days, I’ve been in the company of 10 like-minded women, 5 of whom were fully sighted. These 5 women were extraordinary in that even though they were in the company of 5 blind women as well, they regarded us as like-minded women, period. Even though we may have needed an arm to hold onto as we made our way to the dining room, a description of what was on our plates, a backpack to hold onto as we hiked down the trail, and someone else to do the driving to the trail head, we had too many things in common to be divided into two separate groups.

One thing I love about this group of friends is that each and every one is an avid reader. We have similar values and varying tastes, so for one evening each Hen Hike week, we gather for what we call our book club. Each of us tells about 3 of our favorite books that we’ve read during the past year. Although we all have read many more books than 3, we limit ourselves, so we don’t keep going until 2:00 in the morning. Sometimes, we have our book club on a rainy morning, but this year the weather was perfect the whole week.

Several of the gals knit, so each time we gathered for wine and conversation, the knitting needles would come out. Bjorg, one of the original hens, is from Norway and is a consummate knitter. She didn’t bring her knitting this year but kept busy helping the newer knitters when they dropped a stitch or had to rip out a row. When one knitter started to rip out a bunch of rows, Bjorg exclaimed, You don’t have to kill it! You can just. I wont say which knitters were sighted and which were not, because frankly, it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t add anything to this story.

All the other women are outdoorsy active types, like me, and that’s only one of many reasons why we have so much to talk about. Betty told us that one of her friends at home said, You mean you’re going to be together for a whole week? Don’t you run out of things to talk about? Are you kidding? Even as we gathered in the lobby to say goodbye, we were still yakking and cackling, like a bunch of happy hens.

I had a perfect travel day yesterday, because for the first time since I’ve been an adult traveling alone, nobody insisted that I ride in a wheelchair. Were finally making progress. I recall with a laugh the time that my sky cap assisting me to the next gate couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to use his wheelchair. I guess he thought I was carrying those hiking boots tied to my back pak for decoration. No, the truth is, he didn’t think at all. For my souvenir for this trip, I bought a Life Is Good Shirt that says, These boots were meant for walkin. I have many funny travel stories, but yesterday went so smoothly that its not worth writing about.

My reunion with my dear little Pippen was tender and joyous. My friend Tricia picked me up at the airport with Pippen in the car. Did I ever get a face-washing from a loving little lab. It was the perfect ending to a fabulous week.

Hen Hike 2012 Part 2

Sometimes the Hen Hike is not about the hiking. Although we spend many hours walking through woods, trudging up hills, and picking our way across little streams by stepping from one stone to another, we spend many hours talking, laughing, and opening our hearts to one another. However, some hours are spent hiking through the gift shops. Yesterday, it was cold and raining in the morning, so my roommate Mary and I opted not to go hiking with the group, but to do a little shopping in the town of Stillwater, which was the first town settled in Minnesota in 1885. Of course, now its a tourist town on the St. Croix River, but the shopkeepers were all welcoming and helpful. Normally, I would prefer to hike than to shop, but this year, because of my sciatica, I was advised by my doctor to take one day off from hiking. That was a good enough excuse for me to play tourist. Besides, I had a ready and willing shopping guide, and thats a treat I dont pass up lightly. I bought Christmas gifts for my granddaughters and gourmet chocolates for my mother.

In the evenings at the Hen Hike, we take turns telling the group about what we did over the past year since we last were together. The stories we hear are always fascinating and exciting. Pat told us about hiking in the Grand Canyon, and of course, we all had a million questions, the most prominent one being, could we blind hikers do it? The answer from Pat was Absolutely. Could that be our next Hen Hike? Well, probably not next year, because you have to make reservations for a guide and to stay at Fantom Ranch way in advance, and I dont think this group could make that decision quickly enough. It takes us a half hour to decide which trail were going to take for the day.

Just kidding.

Today, it was the quintessential fall day, and I was thankful that I could ignore my aching leg and enjoy the 6-mile walk through another state park. This trail was quite a bit hillier than the one we did on Monday, but back in New England, we would have called this trail a nice break from our normally challenging hike.

One of my favorite parts of the day was when we stopped by a little babbling brook for our traditional 5 minutes of silent reflection, prayer, or just immersing ourselves in the beauty of our surroundings and the moment. Yes, it is possible to get 10 women to keep quiet for 5 minutes.

We ended the day with a cup of hot cider at an apple orchard. Theres a saying in Norway that describes perfectly how I felt today. It translates to We rich have it good.