Whats that dark spot on your arm? my cousin Carolyn said. Oh, its probably a bruise, I answered. I get them all the time. Its no big deal. But it wasnt bruise, and Carolyn knew it. As a nurse, she recognized that dark spot as a possible melanoma.

I want you to make an appointment with your dermatologist right away, she said. I mean it. Without wanting to alarm me with her observation, she didnt say the words melanoma or deadly cancer. So mostly to appease her, I went to see the dermatologist. She removed that dark spot, but the next day, she called to order me to come in to have more tissue removed, immediately. I should have guessed by the expedience of the procedure, that this was no ordinary removal of a mole. It was melanoma. Because of Carolyns keen observation and insistence that I see the doctor, Im alive today. At the time, I had no idea that melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers, because it spreads rapidly. I was very lucky.

Now, knowing that exposure to sun can cause skin cancer, Im very careful to not get a tan. Years of lying out in the sun, turning myself like meat on a grill, proved to be a life-threatening activity. I plea ignorance, because back then, we were encouraged to use baby oil, not sun screen. As kids, we never gave wrinkles a second thought, much less skin cancer. I was given a reprieve, and to show my gratitude, I now pay attention to protecting my skin.

The amazing part of the story of Carolyns discovery of my melanoma was that it was just by chance that she was here to see it. Although she lived only 100 miles away, we rarely visited each other, but for some reason, she decided to come for the weekend. This was about 8 years ago. We were getting dressed for going out to a swanky place for dinner, and we were running back and forth between bathroom and bedrooms in our underwear. Thats when she stopped me in the hallway and touched my arm. If I could have seen her face, I would have seen the concern. Now I look back at that weekend visit with wonder at the Grace of God. I believe that He had sent Carolyn to me, for the specific purpose of noticing that spot. Not only that, He spoke to her in the car as she drove home. Make sure you tell Mary that its important to go to the dermatologist. She identified that voice as that of our Uncle Herman, who was her hero, when we were little girls, but I know it was the voice of God.

made up exercises

When you were a kid, did your mom go to the gym to get in shape? Did she have an exercise ball, free weights, and resistance bands at home to use between running on the tread mill and working out on the stair stepper? Of course not. Back in those days, exercise came with the business of living.

Every time I push a weight down into the water at the pool, I reminded of how my grandmother pushed the wooden paddle up and down in the butter churn. As I twist my upper body with resistance bands, I picture her wielding a scythe on the weeds in the back yard. Her upper arms got a workout as she scrubbed our clothes on a washboard and then hung them on a clothes line to dry. She needed no artificial weights, because she had to lift the heavy irons on and off the stove to press our dresses. She walked everywhere she needed to go, so no need for a tread mill. She had to have a strong back too, to tote all those buckets of water from the well to the house. No squatting exercises were required to keep her thighs in shape. She did her squats early in the morning as she dug up new potatoes and picked vegetables from the garden.

Now that life is a whole lot easier, we create artificial tasks to do. And we pay lots of money for the coaching and the equipment. We buy outfits to go with the activity and special shoes too. Counting my 2 sets of weights and my skis and bike, I have 10 pieces of equipment in my home to keep me healthy. Then I walk afew miles a day around the neighborhood with Cisco and swim once or twice a week to punish any muscles that I might have missed. After I do all this, I dont have time to iron or bake or garden. How on earth did Grandma do it?

New Baby in the House

If youre a parent, you might recall those first few weeks when your baby came home from the hospital. Your whole life revolved around his naps, his feedings, his diaper changes, making him comfortable, keeping him from crying, keeping the relatives at bay, trying to catch some sleep yourself, grabbing food and eating it standing at the sink, and trying to keep your sanity. You were tired all the time. You couldnt concentrate on anything other than that precious bundle in the crib. Ah, those were the days.

Im going through something similar with a brand new dog guide. Youve probably noticed that all I can talk about these days is cisco. Thats because right now, my whole life is devoted to helping him make a dramatic transition in his young life. At 6 weeks, he was whisked away from his mama and taken to a 15-year-old young lady, who taught him house manners, took him with her to public places, played with him, and loved him. Then after about a year or so, he was taken back to the seeing eye. This is the way it goes for puppy-raisers. They foster a puppy, destined for work as a Seeing eye dog, give it love and discipline, and then brace themselves for the inevitable return of the puppy to the school. No matter how many puppies they raise for the Seeing eye, it is never easy, but just imagine what its like for the dog. Now, all of a sudden, hes in a kennel, with 40 dogs, and is now cared for by a team of kennel technicians and trainers. Eventually, he becomes part of a group of 8 dogs under the supervision of one trainer. Once a day, this trainer lavishes attention on him and teaches him how to do amazing tasks, like walking on the sidewalks only, stopping at corners, avoiding obstacles, learning his right from his left, and all with a leather harness that is fitted around his back and chest. Wheres the young lady who took care of him while he grew up? Who is this woman who is now in charge?

Then, in a few months, his world is changed again. Now, hes in a big house with only 20 dogs and 20 people, and hes expected to do all these amazing tasks with yet another person. He is literally connected to her by a leash. Wherever she goes, he goes too, 24 hours a day. What happened to that woman in the kennel who loved him so much? Who is this person he is now supposed to work for? And now, here he is in a completely different setting, a house with this new person, with no trainers and no other dogs or people. His world is turned upside down yet again. He is expected to guide her on streets he has never seen before. He is meeting all sorts of new people and learning a whole new set of rules, for us both. Thats why I need to be particularly sensitive to the transitions that he is going through. This means observing strict food portions, no treats except for training, regular trips outside to empty on leash, no barking at the doorbell, no sleeping on the bed, no running around the yard freely, no socializing with other people or dogs, and dozens of other restrictions. I got really lazy with Pippen, and thus, she got sloppy in her work. Im starting over with this new dog, resolving to discipline myself to stick to the right way to make this relationship work. Just as a baby needs to learn the difference between daytime and nighttime, that you are to put food in your mouth and not in your hair, and that when your mom says no, she really means it. A child who learns to live by the rules is a happier child and more likeable. So too is a dog.

The Seeing eye Culture

If you were to be a fly on the wall at the Seeing eye in Morristown, NJ,

youd see some pretty unusual behavior, and you might wonder if the students had either lost their minds or forgotten their manners or both. Where else do people praise their dogs for finding their assigned chair in the dining room? Youd see me patting the back of the chair and exclaiming, Good boy Cisco. 4 times a day, youd see 20 blind people standing out on a paved area, encouraging their dogs to circle around them on long leashes and get inspired to empty. We chant to our dogs, Park time. Park time. And then we praise and even cheer when our dogs perform their eliminations. Youd think we were parents cheering for our babies to Go potty for mommy. Where else would you see people deliberately letting a door close behind them, even when it closes in the face of a fellow student? You wouldnt know that that is the best way to prevent injuries. Its much easier to find the handle of a closed door than to guess how wide open the door is and how long it will be open. Better to hear it close, so you can tell exactly where it is. On the dining room tables, you might not notice it, but the real sugar packets are always in the sugar bowls with 2 handles, and the artificial sweeteners are always in the one with no handles. The salt shaker is tall and pointy, while the peppers are shorter. The servers for the meals say Heres your salad, or heres your coffee, instead of just plunking it down and leaving you to discover it eventually. Want seconds? Dont care for the entrée? No problem. You can have something else, and it is delivered to you with genuine friendliness. Where else does this happen other than at your Grandmas house? Youd see people praising door handles and the tops of stairways, elevator buttons, and the doors leading to the outside or the inside.

Most notably, youd hear people speaking to each other as they pass by in the hallway. What a novel idea. You would also hear people talking to their dogs, not only giving them commands, but also giving them praises or verbal corrections. Often, one student would realize that the person they wanted to talk to was in the room, because he recognized the dogs name, and thus identified the person. You might wonder why there is carpet on some parts of the hallway and not on other parts. Breaks in the carpet mark certain locations, tactilely, so the blind students can tell if they are approaching the front door, the dining room, or a seating area. Nowhere else in my experience do I feel less blind than at The Seeing eye, unless it would be at Ski For Light.

Both organizations exist for people who are blind, but the people within these organizations know how to enable folks with vision problems to function as independently as possible. There is a Ski for Light culture too, but Ill save that subject for another day. I have a friend who literally lives for the next time he can go to the Seeing Eye, not that he wishes for a short life for his current dog, but that he loves being around other blind people, in an environment that doesnt make him feel like an outsider. In other words, at the Seeing eye, its perfectly normal to see 4 or 5 dogs under each dining table and to see each handler sitting with one foot firmly placed on his or her dogs leash to keep track of where that dogs head is and to make sure it doesnt get into trouble. Nobody thinks it odd if you enter a room and say Is there an empty chair? and its perfectly normal to pat adoor handle and say, Good boy.

His name is Cisco

Mary, heres your golden. Said my trainer, as she handed me the leash of a most majestic-looking creature. His name is Cisco. What an odd name for a Golden Retriever, I thought, but I was in love the moment I put both hands around his sweet face. Maybe I could change his name later, if I could think of something that sounded like Cisco, so he would still respond to me. But his name is Cisco, and it will be for as long as he lives. I had no idea how significant that name would be until I called my friends, John and Judy to tell them about my new Seeing Eye dog.

For you to understand the background of this story, I need to tell you that the Seeing Eye now has a policy that anyone donating at least $5,000 gets to name a puppy. When I heard about this, I thought, Well thats nice, but then I put it out of my mind, because Ill likely never be in the position to do that. Back to my story.

I had met John at The Seeing eye in 2004, when we were both students getting replacement dogs. I encouraged John to come to ski for Light, and he did, and he brought his wife Judy too. Weve kept in touch over the years, and in the meantime, John became a board member for the Seeing eye. We tried to arrange for them to come and see me while I was there, but it didnt work out. John sent me an email and asked me to call them and tell them all about my new dog. They were each on an extension, so I could talk to them both. Hes a beautiful Golden Retriever, I said, and his name is Cisco.

Cisco! they both exclaimed. Cisco? they both asked to be sure. Oh my gosh. We named him!

What a happy surprise for all 3 of us. I feel like part of their family now, since Im the new person in their adopted puppys life. The puppy is now over 60 pounds and almost 25 inches tall. Ive promised to send pictures and stories of his progress. They are delighted that they know and like the person who will take cisco home.

How did you come up with the name Cisco? I asked. He was named after a dog they had before Johns first Seeing Eye, and they loved that dog. They chose the name Cisco, in the first place, because it means best friend.

The Cisco Kid

It was Dog Day at The Seeing Eye on May 29. That was the day that the dogs were handed over to the students in the May 27th class. It was a Wednesday morning, and we had been in class for a day and a half. The anticipation was much like that of brand new parents, eagerly awaiting the appearance of their babies. I had told my instructor that I preferred a small female Golden Retriever, but if she had the perfect dog that was on the big side, a male, or not a Golden, I could love anybody, as long as the dog was affectionate and was a good worker. In other words, I wanted the perfect dog. Hes not exactly what I asked for, but after a rocky start, Im confident that this will be the best dog for me.

Cisco is 20 months old, about 25 inches tall at the shoulders, weighs about 60 pounds, and is a gorgeous reddish color. I have to admit that after 9 years with my little gal, Pippen, I was worried how I would manage such a tall and long, very long dog. My concerns were affirmed on the first day of training, and by the end of the day, I was so miserable that I questioned why I had even come to get a replacement dog guide. All day, I struggled to make him sit and lie down between our walks. His size would not have been a problem if he had been responsive to my verbal commands, but because he was so attached to his trainer, who also was my instructor, he kept popping up and refusing to stay down, just because he was expecting her to return any moment. When she was in the room, he was completely obnoxious, whining and pulling toward her. When my words wouldnt control him, I had to resort to physically pushing his big body into a sitting position or lying down. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and depressed, and my back was killing me. If it hadnt been for the pain, I believe I would have been able to handle it better, but I had serious doubts about this match. Maybe I just couldnt handle a dog guide anymore. Maybe I had tried to come too soon after back surgery. Maybe, emotionally, I wasnt ready to accept a new dog.

Then my trainer, in her brusk New York style, chewed me out for dwelling on the negatives and forgetting about the positives. Think about all he has done for you so far, She said. He has guided you around obstacles. He has gotten you across the street safely. He did a traffic check this morning beautifully. Easy for her to say. She hadnt just had back surgery. She hadnt wrestled all day with a 60-pound animal that did not want to behave. But that gave me pause. She was right. It made me reflect on all the relationships in my life. Dwelling on the negatives ruins a relationship that might not be perfect, but is, nevertheless, good.

Finally, on the third day, after some severe leash corrections, he began to get it that I was not going to go away and leave him with our trainer, the love of his life. I loved him immediately, even though he pined for her. Slowly and gradually, he turned to me for comfort. He would lay his big sweet head in my lap and bring me his toy. He would lie down when I told him to. He even tried to get in my lap when Id sit on the floor beside him. If he couldnt have her, he guessed Id do. As one of my classmates said, As soon as you get that other woman out of your mans life, youll be fine. And sure enough, as the days have flown by, he has become my big handsome best friend. I think Once Im home with him, and his devotion is transferred to me, our lives will be Golden.

I’m back!

Did you miss me? Ive been to The Seeing eye in Morristown, NJ,

and now Im back, with my new guide, Cisco, a big male Golden Retriever. I loved him the moment I put my hands on each side of his sweet face and felt the warmth of his breath as he panted with excitement.

I didnt have time to write posts for this blog, but I did keep a journal, hurriedly typed each night after a 15-hour day of training, for 17 days. Over the next few posts, Ill be sending some excerpts from that journal. I hope youll enjoy being part of the journey to a new partnership with a new Seeing eye dog.