Swan Song at Toastmasters

It occurred to me when I mentioned in my last post about leaving Toastmasters, ™that I hadn’t told you about my swan song night.

Sometime last spring, I made a decision not to renew my membership in Toastmasters this fall, but not make a big deal of it. I had helped start the Gahanna club in 2001, was its first president, served as a few other officers, won contests, and helped plan special events. I had even opened my house to a TM meeting on 2 occasions when our regular meeting place was suddenly not available. Yes, I had certainly been involved. TM did for me what it does for so many, helped me overcome the fear of public speaking, increased my self-esteem, and improved the effectiveness of my words, both spoken and written. I made several friends, perhaps most significantly, Eric, who offered to be my webmaster for this blog for free. Everyone was supportive and respectful. I loved every minute, until last spring. Memorizing speeches was becoming more difficult. Remembering names and the points I wanted to make when it was my turn to evaluate speeches extemporaneously, and Approaching the lectern gracefully, which never had been easy for a person who is totally blind, was becoming increasingly awkward. Even though I was close to attaining the highest level of distinction in TM, that of Distinguished Toastmaster, DTM, I felt it was the right time to move on, but it was a struggle to come to that decision when I had come so close. . But silently slinking away was just not going to happen if Eric’s wife Ashlee had anything to do with it. Secretly, Ashlee planned a presentation at our annual banquet in August of our first ever Lifetime Achievement Award, and I was to be the recipient. Only I had an opportunity to visit my daughter and granddaughters that weekend, and thus, the surprise was spoiled, and so was the program for the evening. I never did find out what they did instead of presenting me with that award. The solution was to make the presentation at a later meeting. By this time, I knew about the plans and suspected there would be more than a 5-minute speech and a handoff of the plaque and a photo op, (Toastmasters love their presentations.) so I invited my son and his 2 daughters to attend. I wanted at least some of my family to be there for my big moment. Was I ever surprised to see that the entire meeting was devoted to me. Alan, ever the entertaining and creative master of ceremonies, told some stories, made some jokes, and called on 3 different people to talk about the guest of honor, me. When Eric got up to speak, I expected a roast, because he has such a wonderful sense of humor, but his speech was heartfelt and touching, and brought tears to the eyes of my family. To my amazement, at the end of his speech, everyone stood up and applauded. Applauding is common at TM meetings, but rarely a standing O. At the end, Ashlee presented me with a plaque that had braille words that said, Gahanna Toastmasters Lifetime Achievement Award Mary Hiland For Excellence in Leadership and Continued Inspiration 2015.” Since all this, except the wording on the plack, was not a surprise, I had a chance to pull together some words of thanks. I did not prepare a speech, but always the TM, I did stand up and give an extemporaneous acceptance speech of such a prestigious award. If you come to my house, you will see this award proudly displayed on my piano. All the other trophies and placks I have accumulated over the years are tucked away in my office, but this one holds a place of honor in my house and in my heart.

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Hen Hike in the Smokies

For 17 years, a group of women called The Hen Hike, have invaded one B&B or another around the country. 6 of us are sighted, and 6 are blind. We come from Minnesota, Georgia, Canada, Mass., NJ, New York, Ohio, and other states, depending on who is able to join us. There are only 12 of us, and the hiking trip is by invitation only. If you want to see me bristle, ask about our “program.” It is not a program. It’s a dozen women who have become friends over the years, and 6 of us happen to be blind. We know most of the women from having been at Ski for Light, a week long program of cross country skiing, so we are sure our fellow hikers are active and in good athletic condition.

Some of our hikes have been rather vigorous, almost too rugged and a little dangerous for our tastes, but at the end of each day of that kind of hiking in New England, we were proud of having accomplished it. Some of our hikes have been pretty tame, which have been more like walks in the woods than true hiking over rugged trails with roots and rocks to negotiate. But it really doesn’t matter what the hiking day is like. At 5:00, we’re back at our B&B for Happy Hour. Nope, these chicks don’t camp.

Recently, the Hen Hike was held in the Smokies, near Sevierville, and we stayed at the Blue Mountain Mist, whose staff treated us like royalty. The hikes took us along rushing rivers, over an abandoned railroad trestle, through an ancient cemetery, and most delightedly, to the home of one of our gals, who, with her husband, owns a business of making and selling hand made purses. Because we are women who not only like to hike but also love to shop, it was like a feeding frenzy at the shop. Hand bags of all shapes and sizes, made of all colors of leather were ordered and will be delivered in time for Christmas. Usually, we don’t have such an opportunity, although one year, a few of us took a day off from hiking, because we were just too close to an outlet mall to let the chance to shop til we dropped go buy. Well, you could say that we did hike from store to store.

As you might expect, in Tennessee, the weather was warm enough for hiking in short sleeves, a little too warm for my taste, but I enjoyed the variety. We haven’t discussed where we’ll be next year, but some suggestions have ranged from Ohio to Canada to North Carolina. You just never know where 12 happy healthy women will show up.

Because this is such a unique group and a unique experience, I’ve written a speech about it, which I’ve presented to 3 different clubs so far. I’ll be doing it for my church circle in November. Even though I have resigned from Toastmasters, I’m glad to have the opportunities to keep those skills in practice. If you know of a group who would like to hear an amusing story with humor and inspiration, just let me know.

For 17 years, a group of women called The Hen Hike, have invaded one B&B or another around the country. 6 of us are sighted, and 6 are blind. We come from Minnesota, Georgia, Canada, Mass., NJ, New York, Ohio, and other states, depending on who is able to join us. There are only 12 of us, and the hiking trip is by invitation only. If you want to see me bristle, ask about our “program.” It is not a program. It’s a dozen women who have become friends over the years, and 6 of us happen to be blind. We know most of the women from having been at Ski for Light, a week long program of cross country skiing, so we are sure our fellow hikers are active and in good athletic condition.

Some of our hikes have been rather vigorous, almost too rugged and a little dangerous for our tastes, but at the end of each day of that kind of hiking in New England, we were proud of having accomplished it. Some of our hikes have been pretty tame, which have been more like walks in the woods than true hiking over rugged trails with roots and rocks to negotiate. But it really doesn’t matter what the hiking day is like. At 5:00, we’re back at our B&B for Happy Hour. Nope, these chicks don’t camp.

Recently, the Hen Hike was held in the Smokies, near Sevierville, and we stayed at the Blue Mountain Mist, whose staff treated us like royalty. The hikes took us along rushing rivers, over an abandoned railroad trestle, through an ancient cemetery, and most delightedly, to the home of one of our gals, who, with her husband, owns a business of making and selling hand made purses. Because we are women who not only like to hike but also love to shop, it was like a feeding frenzy at the shop. Hand bags of all shapes and sizes, made of all colors of leather were ordered and will be delivered in time for Christmas. Usually, we don’t have such an opportunity, although one year, a few of us took a day off from hiking, because we were just too close to an outlet mall to let the chance to shop til we dropped go buy. Well, you could say that we did hike from store to store.

As you might expect, in Tennessee, the weather was warm enough for hiking in short sleeves, a little too warm for my taste, but I enjoyed the variety. We haven’t discussed where we’ll be next year, but some suggestions have ranged from Ohio to Canada to North Carolina. You just never know where 12 happy healthy women will show up.

Sorry I don’t have the photos yet to go with this post, but when the other hikers get around to sending them to me, I’ll ask Eric to put them up here.

Because this is such a unique group and a unique experience, I’ve written a speech about it, which I’ve presented to 3 different clubs so far. I’ll be doing it for my church circle in November. Even though I have resigned from Toastmasters, I’m glad to have the opportunities to keep those skills in practice. If you know of a group who would like to hear an amusing story with humor and inspiration, just let me know.