Banquet Speaker

This story started in October of 2004, when I took third place in the toastmasters District Humorous Speech Contest. My friends still say I should have won first place, and I would say theyre just biased, but every time Im in a group of toastmasters from other clubs, I hear, I remember you. You did the speech about the chickens. Actually, the speech was about the hen Hike, the name our group of women who hike together each October decided on during our first hike in Vermont. Over the years, we had hilarious experiences as well as touching moments. It occurred to me that sharing the stories from our hen Hikes could turn into a great speech. Apparently it did.

The speech was to be no longer than 7 minutes, but I had about 15 minutes worth of

material. I had to cut whole paragraphs here and there, but luckily, I saved the trimmings, just in case Id need them someday.

Last week, I was asked to be the banquet speaker for the national conference and convention of the American Council of the Blind on July 11. I had to send in what my speech would be about and the title, within about 48 hours. Obviously, because of the immediate deadline, I had not been their first choice, and they were getting desperate, but I didnt care. I was thrilled to be asked. Ive been a member of ACB for about 25 years, and for 5 years, I was the executive director of the Ohio affiliate. Although this will not be a paying gig, Im excited and eager to perform for my ACB friends. It took me about 5 minutes to decide on my topic. Id do the Hen Hike speech, complete with all the parts I had had to cut. This is the kick in the pants Ive needed to put together an after dinner entertaining speech.

Last night, I sat down with the speech and rearranged paragraphs and put back in the parts that wouldnt fit before. Its going to be fun. Right now, its work, because I have to revise and memorize a speech I wrote 9 years ago, but I recently gave a winning speech on pursuing your passion and finding a way to make it happen. I Urged my audience to visualize their success in attaining their goals, and I was so inspiring that I inspired myself to pursue my own passion of public speaking. And now heres my golden opportunity. It fell into my lap. I could have brushed it off, claiming too much stuff going on in my life, training with a new guide dog, dealing with an elderly mother in assisted living, recovering from back surgery, etc. But I embrace the opportunity to stretch, to grow, to grab that mike,, and give it a go.

One more Month

In one month, my world will be completely changed. Ill have a new love of my life, but thats not to say that my love for Pippen will be over. Unlike the tragic endings of my relationships with my former Seeing eye dogs, my time with Pippen will have a happy ending. Unlike her predecessors, Pippen will go to live with a family where she will be free to be just a dog, enjoying the sunshine, the grass, children, and a life of leisure.

I tear up every time I think of the moment I say goodbye to her, but Im over trying to decide whether or not to keep her here for a pet. The kindest resolution of this dilemma is to let her retire while she is healthy. It would be selfish of me to keep her here to watch me go out the door with some other dog every day, leaving her behind in a lonely house. Where she is going, she will have many distractions to take her mind off our separation. Because she is a dog after all, in time, she will forget about me. Shell be enjoying a new chapter in her life. Ive been offered visits to her at her new home, but Im going to decline. It would be hard on her to be reunited with me, only to have me go away again, to say nothing of the heartbreak for me. No use in reopening a wound. The life of a guide dog is filled with change. First, theres the separation from its mother and then the separation from the puppy-raiser and return to be trained as a guide dog. Next comes the strange new place to live with a stranger who has come to take her away. And now comes the time when her work is over, and she can retire. Knowing that our days are numbered, and there is an exact date when I must let her go makes every moment with her a treasure. One of my friends says, I could never do that. I would keep her. But Pippen had a job to do, a purpose for being with me, and now that shes not able to do that job because of her advanced age, she deserves a happy ending to her life.

While Pippen goes off to her country home, Ill be in training with a new Seeing eye ® dog. Although I dont know what breed or gender it will be, I know it will be a wonderful dog, and I will love it to death. Ill have to remind myself that its not Pippen, and it has its own personality, just like I did with Pippen, and sherry before her. When our training is over, well begin a life together, making new memories, bringing new smiles, and enjoying new adventures. Ill probably be pretty tired, as well start our day at 5:30 in the morning. Well walk at a fast pace and for miles a day. Once upon a time, Pippen and I did that. Now, she gets to slow down and take it easy, while I jump back into a new relationship, and while its not exactly a jump for joy, as it was with my first dog Mindy, its the promise of a fresh new start.

Second Place

Its the annual Toastmasters International Speech Contest, and Im one of the contestants. I can hardly believe Im among the best speakers in District 40, which includes all of Ohio and parts of other states. Ive won the contest held at my club level, the area level, and the division level. Everyone else this day has done the same. Each time Ive delivered my speech, Ive tweaked it a bit, taking out a sentence here, adding a word there, adjusting my gestures, and concentrating on all the coaching I had received over the past months.

The most valuable coaching came from my high school best friend, Lynda. 2 weeks ago, I had visited her at her snowbird home in Florida, and one of the highlights of my visit was performing the speech for her. Lynda listened and watched and took notes, not as a long time friend, but as a former speech coach. She corrected some of my gestures, making them more effective, and boosted my confidence by approving of everything else. Now the moment had come when The hours of preparation would be put to the test. Normally, Im not nervous when speaking in front of a crowd, but on this day, I have much to worry about. Im to speak on a stage with a lapel mike, which might or might not work. I had walked the stage to get a feel of how much room I had to move around in before falling off the edge. I had been advised that the room was divided with a large empty space in the middle, so I shouldnt speak to the space directly in front of me, because there would be nobody sitting there. How much of my speech was directed straight in front of me? And what if I get a coughing attack right before I go on?

Finally, its my turn, and theres a bit of a scramble to weave my way through the crowded tables and chairs, get the microphone attached to my belt and the front of my dress and then get up to the stage as the master of ceremonies is announcing my name and the name of my speech even before Ive reached the stage. A few seconds later, the stage is mine. My voice shakes. Whats the matter with me? I love public speaking. Stop it, I tell myself. Relax and enjoy this. Theyre listening. They even laugh where I expect them to and in some places where I didnt expect them to. I think they like this. Look to the right side of the room. Look at the left. Now its over, and I hear my friends from my club cheering. Theres lots of applause, not just polite clapping, but hearty applause. I smile. I did it. If I win, Ill go on to the semi-finals where the competition will really be steep. Do I really want to put myself through that? Of course I do.

After the 8th contestant has left the stage, the judges huddle and Talley their ballots. The contestants weigh their speeches against the others. Mine is better than at least 1, Im sure, maybe 2, but Ive got the winner picked, and its not me. Now its time for the presentation of the trophies. The third place winner is announced. Its not me. Then the second place winner is announced. Its me. I feel a mix of disappointment, pleasure and relief, in that order. It takes a long time for me to make my way again through the crowded dining room, and my fellow toastmasters are applauding and some say Congratulations as I pass by. Second place will not take me to the semi-finals or get me paying speaking jobs, but at least I was better than 6 other speakers. Should I try again next year for first place? The theme of my speech is to rediscover your passion and go for the prize. Should I take my own advice? Did I inspire myself to try again for the prize? You bet.

Learning Patience

It was a frustrating experience, but I like that, because it helps me learn to be more patient. I wish I could claim that I said that, but in fact, it was my friend Dan who said those admirable words. He had been to the BMV to get his Ohio drivers license, and he thought he had all of his documentation in hand, but there was one piece he hadnt brought wit him. That required him to go to the Social Security office, and when he got there, he discovered that they close on Wednesdays at noon. Who knew?

This kind of dead-end failure to achieve a task, that ordinarily would take just a few minutes, would send me into orbit. I guess its because I have had to go through so much of this kind of never-ending run-arounds lately. Still, I admire his attitude. To see a frustrating experience as a positive teaching moment is what I need to strive for.

I spoke at length yesterday on the phone with the Cincinnati Inquirer. It was the fifth time I had called in 2 weeks, trying to set up a subscription for my mother, who no longer lives in Cincinnati, but would like to have the paper mailed to her. People all over the world get out-of-town newspapers mailed to them, but not so, it seems, for my mother. They keep telling me that their computers will not accept her address, nor will they accept mine, and that they will send a message to the routing department, and somebody will call me back. Of course, nobody has called me back, after 5 requests with the same non results. Am I frustrated and irritated? Yes. Can I turn this into a teachable moment for learning patience? Ill try.

Pippen’s Vacation

Last week, my Seeing Eye ® dog, Pippen, went on vacation. Shes 11 now and is semi-retired. This past week, she got a preview of her life as a retired guide dog.

While I visited my friend in Florida, Pippen visited the family who will adopt her, once she is fully retired. Her week started by going to a baby shower with Jessie, her new person, as of the end of May. If I had gone to the shower, Pippen would have been restricted to a seat under the table, but with Jessie, Pippen was allowed to roam around the room on her own, stopping to visit with each lady, and no doubt, getting a little bite of something tasty here and there. I can just imagine them saying, Mary isnt here to slap our hands, so we can give Pippen a cookie or a piece of cake. When I returned from my trip, I asked Jessie if she thought Pippen was looking for me at the shower. No, she said, I think she was enjoying her little buffet.

After the shower, Pippen went home with Jessie to a dogs dream retirement home. Five acres of pasture, woods, garden, yard, 2 kids, a cat and a dog, and a big farm house seemed to delight her. So many smells. So much to discover. So much activity to distract her. One sunny afternoon, Jessie went out to work in her garden, while Pippen surveyed the property, fascinated with all the wonders of country living. In time though, she tired of whatever it is that dogs do in a pasture and settled down in the grass beside the garden. Time to supervise what jessie was doing.

When Pippen returns for good in about 6 weeks or so, she will probably be so comfortable with her surroundings that shell feel like shes come home. At least thats my fervent hope.

This is the first time Ive had to give up a guide dog who is still healthy. My 2 previous girls, Mindy and sherry, each died. I wrestled for months with the decision of whether to keep Pippen as a pet or let someone adopt her. If I kept her with me, she might die of a broken heart, seeing the new dog go with me all the time and leaving her behind. But giving her away seemed like I was just trading her in for a new model. In the end, I felt it was in Pippens best interest to have a chance for freedom to just be a dog and enjoy her golden years with a family who will love her, maybe not as much as I do, but love her just the same. Shell get to chase rabbits, in real life, not just in her dreams, and go with the family to Little league games. Shell be the center of attention, not the old dog that has to stay home, while the new dog gets all the attention and gets to put on the harness and do important things. Actually, Pippen always hated that harness, so its one thing that wont b going to the farm with her. In other words, this whole transition is an emotional one for me, but for Pippen? Not so much. She loves people, especially people who love her and let her have cookies and little bites of cake now and then. Not that I havent spoiled her over the last few months. She and I enjoy sun chips at night while watching TV, and then she curls up next to me on the couch for some cuddle time while I write. Shes been more of a pet lately than a working dog, which has been enjoyable for us both, but the harsh reality is that I need a working dog. If I am to maintain my independent and active lifestyle, I have to let Pippen retire, and to tell you the truth, thanks to Jessie and her family, I dont think shell look back.

Window Seat

Ive moved you to an aisle seat, said the ticket agent at the airline counter last week. No, I dont want an aisle seat, I replied in my studied patient tone. If I had wanted an aisle seat, thats what I would have reserved. I reserved a window seat, I said. But it will be in row 23. I can get you an aisle seat in row 7. No, I dont care where it is. I just want a window seat. Can you see a little? the ticket man asked. No, but I have a lot of reasons why I want a window seat, I barely got out without a growl.

I didnt want to get into the reasons with this guy, but Ill share them with you. I prefer a window seat on a plane for several reasons. First, its the one seat where you dont have a person wedged in with you on both sides. Secondly, I had a terrible cold, and I wanted to keep my germs to myself, and the only place I had a shot at that was a window seat, so I could turn my head and cough into a handkerchief toward the window. Then, another reason why I dont like the aisle seat is that it seems so right there in the middle of everybody, especially if youre traveling with a guide dog. I didnt have Pippen with me this time, and its a good thing, because that would have added another layer of frustration at the ticket counter. When they see the dog, they immediately move you to the bulkhead seats, assuming that there is more room for the dog there. On some planes, this is true, but in my experience, its usually not. In fact, there is less room. You cant tuc the dog under the seat in front of you, because there is a wall, the bulkhead, there. In addition, you dont have access to your stuff, because it has to go in the overhead compartment. Ive had the ticket agent move me to a bulkhead seat, even when I dont have a dog with me, without consulting me first. They see a blind woman standing there and assume she needs the bulkhead, just like so many people assume a person with vision impairment needs a bathroom stall that is built for people with disabilities. I dont need a big stall, when its just me.

The biggest reason I dont like the aisle seat is that its very awkward when the person who has the seat next to me arrives at the row and stands there, staring at me, and wondering why I dont get up and let him in. He doesnt know Im blind, and I dont know hes wanting to get into my row, because of course it wouldnt occur to him to say something out loud, like, Excuse me, I need to get into your row. So to just avoid all this, just give me a window seat, the one I reserved when I reserved my ticket. Do we really have to make a federal case out of this? Can everybody just quit assuming they know what I need? I know they are just trying to help, but its always better to ask the person herself which she would prefer.

This story does have a happy ending. It seems that the ticket guy just couldnt give up. He was determined to not let me sit in the back of the plane, so I wound up in first class. What a pleasant surprise. I had my window seat, oodles of footroom, a nice roomy seat, and a cup of coffee even before we left the gate.

Hockey Game

How I wish I could be in Syracuse tonight, at the hockey game. I bet youd never dream that Id be a hockey fan. Actually, I havent been to an ice hockey game since Steve was a little boy, but I used to love to go to the Mohawk games when I was in junior high in Cincinnati. I was fascinated by the skating skills of the players. Having just learned to skate myself, I thought it was awesome that they could skate so fast and nimbly while hitting a little puck all over the ice. My dad was a huge hockey fan. He got so wrapped up in the game that sometimes the referee threatened to throw him into the penalty box, just for being an obnoxious fan. He always wore a hat, and hed be constantly shoving it forward and backward on his head, which was his version of nail-biting I guess. Meanwhile, My friend and I would be running up and down the stands and doing football cheers at the very top of the rink, thinking we were ever so cool and cute. Aside from having minor crushes on the players, we were fans mostly of the refreshments. We planned our whole evening around our junk food. First period was popcorn. Second period was a hot dog. Third period would no doubt be ice cream.

Tonight, however, Id be there for the national anthem, because my very own granddaughter, Brianna, was singing it with the Home School Choir. What a thrill it must have been for her. What a thrill it would have been for me. Youd be able to recognize me, because Id be the grandmother standing and listening with tears streaming down my face. I get emotional anyway when I hear the National Anthem sung in a venue like that, but put my Brianna up there behind the mike, and that would outshine all the popcorn, hot dogs, and ice cream put together. And maybe my dad was smiling down on her, this time with his hat in his hand