About Mary Hiland

Need a keynote speaker? Want a workshop that will wow your conference attendees? Been looking for just the right person to present a sensational sensitivity session? Mary Hiland is an “Advanced Communicator” in toastmasters International, a member of World Champion’s Edge, and is an experienced public speaker.

Alexa is listening

As I cuddled up with Dora this afternoon for a rest after a workout at the y, a sound from my Echo Dot made me sit up in alarm. Then I remembered that this sound is a notification that an Amazon package had been delivered. Of all the uses for this wonderful tool, this is probably the most practical. Hearing what weather will greet me as I take Dora out for the first time in the morning is a strong contender for first place in the usefulness category. Come to think of it, Alexa’s many talents enrich my life on a daily, even hourly basis.

I am a terrible speller as you no doubt have noticed, but my spelling should have improved over the last couple of years, because I am constantly asking her how to spell this or that. When I can’t think of just the right word, she supplies me with synonyms. When I am reading a book that introduces me to unfamiliar words, I just ask Alexa what they mean. What a complex and fascinating piece of technology. I love this little assistant so much that I have set her up in each of 5 rooms in my house, thanks to special deals on Amazon. I must admit that every morning, I ask her what her deals are, just to keep up with what things cost in our society today. OK. That’s a lie. Sometimes I actually buy something, like an extremely marked down Echo Dot. I have also ordered gifts and inexpensive items just for fun. It’s so easy. All I have to do is tell her to order it, and it appears on my doorstep the next day. I never buy paper towels or dog food or coffee or any number of staples at the store anymore. When I’m getting close to being out of dog food, I just say, “Alexa, I need dog food,” and she confirms which brand I normally buy, and voila. Done.

Each morning, I say good morning to Alexa, and she gives me a fun fact. Next, I ask her for the “question of the day.” She gives me a multiple choice question that either proves what a genius I am or what a loser I am when it comes to sports or movies. But having some years on me has helped when the category is general knowledge. I also enjoy word games and Jeopardy on an occasional evening. And NPR is immediately available just for the asking. Podcasts and music fill my kitchen when I’m doing the dishes. Shall I go on?

But here’s where the story gets a little weird. One morning, as I settled down with my tea to listen to the newspaper on the phone, via Newsline, a service from the National Federation of the Blind, I forgot to turn my radio on to a classical music station. I like to have some music in the background, and when I hear a familiar piece, I put the newspaper on pause and just enjoy the music for a minute or 2. On this particular morning, I said out loud, as if to Dora, “Oh I forgot my music.” And without missing a beat, so to speak, Alexa piped up and said, “Here’s some music I think you will enjoy.” Not only that, but she played a piece by one of my favorite composers—all this without my asking her for it. I wanted to say, “I wasn’t talking to you,” which I wasn’t . It was a little unsettling, but I’ve heard that she can be listening. So you better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Alexa’s listening all of the time.

Mary Hiland

Mary.hiland@wowway.com

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

Hiking, Shopping, and Editing

The last month has taken me to everything but writing for this blog. Today I hope to fill you in, and then you will have all the news until I get inspired, or I have an afternoon free.

My annual Hen Hike, a week-long hiking trip with 9 other women, half of whom are blind, was organized by my good friend Eve in the most unlikely place for a hike—Tucson. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was the desert. And yes, we had a wonderful time learning about the desert. And no, we did not camp. We stayed in a fabulous house with 7 bedrooms, a million pillows, giant furniture in giant rooms, with 3 seating areas outside, a hot tub, and a resident giant turtle. This year’s Hen Hike was unique to say the least. We celebrated our 20th anniversary by making plans for next year’s hike. It might be Georgia or maybe Kentucky, 2 places we have not hiked yet. The world has not seen the last of us.

The week after I returned, my daughter Kara came for a visit with the express purpose of helping me get through an extensive to-do list that included an extensive shopping list and finally, the end of dealing with papers from my mother’s long and studious life. Kara and I literally shopped til we dropped when we ran around from store to store to complete my Christmas shopping. But it was most satisfying to shop on line from my couch for many odds and ends that I needed for my everyday life. Kara put in a nonstop weekend, but she says she felt good about getting so much done, and she enjoyed a little break from her duties at home. We even had lunch one day with my son Steve, just the 3 of us. I can’t remember the last time we did that.

One of the most productive activities of the weekend, aside from finishing my Christmas shopping was revising my manuscript for my next book. Kara had read it thoroughly and meticulously, making notes for questioning me when she got here. Because I value her opinion more than anyone’s, I took her suggestions to heart, and the day after she left, I spent the next week reading and revising and sending my corrections to my editor. Thanks to Kara’s questioning comments and detailed criticisms, it’s a much better book. I hope it can be launched by Christmas. It’s titled “Insight Out, One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life.” My editor is currently sifting through the photos I sent her to include, and together, we’re choosing just the right ones to tell my story.

On this first day of December, I now have time to write, to reflect on the season, to plan my dinner with Steve’s family, to get my gifts wrapped with the help of my good friend sherri, to daydream about spending Christmas with Kara’s family, to attend several concerts, all because most of the editing is behind me, and so is most of my shopping. Did I mention that Kara helped me with that monumental task? And that, dear Friends, is the best gift of all.

For too many years, I’ve run myself ragged trying to get shopping and wrapping done, meal planning and entertaining. Celebrating the birth of Christ had to be put off until Christmas Eve, and then I was exhausted. This year, I will have time and energy, thanks to my daughter and some wonderful friends who have helped make that happen. Stay tuned as I share my anticipated joy.

Mary Hiland

Mary.hiland@wowway.com

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

Autumn Sun

In yesterday’s paper, the First Person column was written by me. In case you don’t live where I do, I’m sharing it with you here. Enjoy.

I lay on my back in the grass with an Irish Setter puppy on my chest. I stroked her head and back, breathed in the turnip fragrance of her puppy nose, and felt the warmth of the sun on her coppery puppy fur. Together, we soaked up the peace of a sleepy October afternoon. I gazed up at the bluest of skies and declared to this precious little being that autumn is the best season of all. I was a young teen then, but over the years, many happy memories made in the fall have colored my life with the brilliance of that perfect blue sky.

My dad enjoyed hunting, and every fall, he and my mother and I would travel to what was called a sportsman’s club somewhere in rural Ohio. Skeet shooting was the featured activity of the morning for the men, as their wives prepared an enormous pot luck dinner. While the other women stirred the beans and set the tables, my mother and I took long walks in the woods and along the pond. We gathered cat tails, bittersweet, and other plants to make our annual fall bouquet. We hunted for buckeyes and added them to our treasures.

Those long walks in the woods created in me a love of hiking, especially in the fall. Twenty years ago, I contacted a friend who lives on the East Coast, and together we formed a group of twelve women, half of whom are blind, for a week of hiking in New England, and we called it “The Hen Hike.” We stayed in bed and breakfasts and hiked about four hours a day for a week. Every morning we’d pair up—each woman who is blind holding an arm or a strap from the back pack of her sighted guide, and two by two, we’d set off down the trail. We packed lunches in the morning and devoured them somewhere in the woods, sitting on a log or a group of rocks by a babbling stream. We tipped our faces up to the sun, touched the carpet of moss, climbed over fallen logs, stepped from one wobbly rock to another over little brooks, and marveled at the quiet of the forests. Sometimes the only sounds we heard were our own voices, raised in laughter and chatter as we walked along on leaf-covered paths. Once a day, we would stop at a particularly beautiful spot for five minutes of absolute silence. We would pray, or meditate, or do nothing at all but enjoy the serenity that surrounded us. Five minutes of silence is about all you can ask of a dozen happy hikers, but we looked forward to that healing time each day. Rather than camp fires at night, we enjoyed wine and cheese back at the B&B followed by a gourmet dinner. Bedtime came early after hiking in the splendor of a New England fall day.

Since those first few years, we’ve hiked in many different states, from Minnesota to Tennessee, and last year, we stayed at Punderson State Park, right here in Ohio. For our twentieth anniversary next month, we’re hiking in Tucson. We’re swapping heavy jackets and gloves for sun screen and hats. Our guides will have a different kind of challenge as we thread our way between cacti and boulders, but we are all up to the adventure. We might not be tipping our faces to the sun, but we’ll be toasting ourselves at Happy Hour for 20 years of celebrating the joy of hiking and the power of friendship.

Mary Hiland

Mary.hiland@wowway.com

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

5K for K9s

Last year, right about this time, my friend Dan and I participated in a 5-K walk/run to benefit FOTS, Friends of the Shelter. The cause appealed to us as dog lovers, and we enjoyed it so much, that we returned, along with about 400 other people and their dogs. You might recall my story about the pig who walked last year, named Kevin Bacon. We looked for him, but he was not there. The announcer for the event mentioned his name, but so many dogs were barking in their eagerness to get started that we couldn’t hear why Kevin was missing. 400 dogs all in one place, made for an exciting start, although it was a bit overwhelming to Dora, and she, not a barker in harness, tried to hide between Dan and me as we waited for the runners to go by before we started our walk. Not all the dogs were eager to run or walk. A little dog named Spike, whom Dan had been baby-sitting, had to come with us, and although he was really cute, he was much more interested in sniffing and trying his darnedest to mark every blade of grass along the way than keeping up with Dora. Dan finally picked him up and carried him most of the time. Carrying 20 pounds of dog for 3 miles proved to be quite a workout for my friend, who has undergone 3 major surgeries in the past few months, but Dan is a terrifically good sport, and he is no stranger to physical fitness.

I like this trail, because there are about 4 different surfaces that we walk on, making the course interesting and enabling me to keep track of where we are, particularly on the way back. “Oh good. Here’s the little woods we went through with the uphill, and we get rewarded with a little downhill on the way back, and we’re about halfway through the second half. Oh good. Here’s the stretch of grass near the lake, and now we’re back on the concrete, so I know the end is in sight.” And “Here’s the little rise in the surface that tells me we’re crossing the finish line.” My biggest problem was not the heat or the distance but a persistent bee or maybe several persistent bees that made my head their target. Note to self for next year. Don’t use the strawberry shampoo that morning.

Some of the experienced walkers with dogs who couldn’t manage a walk like this, due to hip problems or short legs, used special doggy strollers or back packs for their pups. If we do this again next year, and if we let Spiky come with us, we might have to invest in one of those carriers. My running days are over, but I can still keep up a pretty good pace with my energetic Dora.

Dora is 7, about middle-age for her breed, but she and I are still a good team, especially when we have “Uncle Dan” walking just behind my right shoulder, giving me a heads up when a change in terrain might trip me or when slower walkers might make me wonder why Dora is slowing down. He’s great at keeping me informed, like when runners came toward us on our left on their return to the start and when a guy was returning with his dog draped over his shoulders and when we were approaching a water stop. Of course Dora wouldn’t drink from the common bowl. ”What? Drink after those other dogs? You can’t be serious.” I had to give her a drink from my cup. I tried to ignore Dan when he’d say, “Oh my gosh. You 2 are so amazing. She is so smart. I’m so impressed.” I used to be uncomfortable with his effusive praise, but now I just accept it and keep moving. What’s impressive is Dora’s professional behavior in this setting. And I’m so thankful for my friend’s dedication to our being able to participate and to our safety. Thanks Dan. Same time next year?

Mary Hiland

Mary.hiland@wowway.com

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

Chigga chigga chigga

When I had my patio enclosed with a roof and screening all around, complete with two doors that opened to the yard, I had visions of sitting out there in the evenings with a friend and a cocktail or 2 in the quiet of the night. But the truth is, I rarely sat out there, except for an occasional rest from daily routines inside. I might write or read, but never for very long. It isn’t very much fun to sit out in the evening by yourself, so I would opt for my recliner in the living room for my end-of-day wind-down, especially since this summer has been way too hot for me to give up my blessed air conditioning.

But suddenly the promise of fall came at the beginning of August, as announced by the trillions of locusts in the trees in my neighborhood. I first heard them as I stepped out of the car after making the 4-hour trip from Chautauqua. I mean, as I opened the car door, the unmistakeable din of locusts announced that I was back in central Ohio. Every night, when I take Dora out for her last visit to the yard, I dress in long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirt to avoid mosquito bites.

However, a few nights ago when the night air was cooler than the air in the house, and the neighborhood kids had stopped shouting, their parents had stopped partying on their decks, and the dogs had apparently gone to sleep, I found myself strongly attracted to the patio to listen to the locusts and katy-dids. It reminded me of summers at Grandma’s long ago in the country. I grabbed my knitting to finish a small project. Dora flopped down on the cool concrete floor and I felt the peace of the end of the day surround me. the noise of the bugs surrounded me too, but I knew I was protected by the screens. Knit 1 row. Turn it around and knit the next row, without another sound to interfere with my task or my thoughts. I might not have thought much of anything but finishing a row and starting the next in the silence of that little space surrounded by screens that protected me from the critters of the night. In time, I was down to the last stitch, and I held that little scrap of knitting in my lap and just sat and listened to the concert out there, all those bugs that would be disgusting to me if one of them got on me. But the thrum of their endless love-songs was somehow soothing. All that was missing was the call of the Whippoorwill that you only hear in the depth of the woods. But we live in the suburbs where only the locusts and katy-dids tell you it’s time to go to bed. So Dora and I reluctantly pulled close the patio doors, and returned to our oasis of quiet, carpets, and fresh clean sheets. We had already had our lullaby, so sleep came softly and easily, and I could only reminisce about that lonely whippoorwill calling out his incessant and persistent song. I used to wait all evening to hear it, back then at Grandma’s, and only when I heard that clear and repetitive song could I fall asleep. But on this night, I kept hearing in my head, “Katy did. Katy didn’t. Chigga chigga. Chigga chigga chigga.”

Mary Hiland

Mary.hiland@wowway.com

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

CHQ 2019 final post

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This year, when I went to Chautauqua, I took the plunge and enrolled in a special interest course. These courses are not included in the price of your gate pass, so if you want to take one of the many offerings, be prepared to pay an extra $95. When I heard that a 3-day course called “Living Your Best Life through Narrative, I took a deep breath and signed up. Because the title included the words life and narrative, I assumed it would help me with writing memoir pieces. I should have done more research into this course, because that’s way too much money to throw away on an assumption. This course was nothing more than writing short pieces on the spot called prompts. We do this in our TTN writers group for free. In fact, I felt like I was back in Columbus writing prompts. I learned nothing. I was even more depressed about the writings I heard than the money I wasted. This was nothing more than group therapy through writing. I don’t need group therapy. When some of the participants stood to read, they dissolved into tears as they told how they had lost their husbands and didn’t know how they were going to go on. The instructor encouraged these dark and sad writings by giving us prompts such as “What do you fear most and why?” and “When in your life have you said yes when you should have said no.” I believe that he was working through his own problems of dealing with a romantic breakup. He said as much, which was inappropriate. After hearing all these woeful stories, I decided to make mine lighter and even a little humorous. I didn’t read it to the class, but here it is for you.

When I said yes but should have said no:

“Yes please, I’d love a piece of cake. Sure, and ice cream would be great. A sandwich would be much more satisfying than a salad. “Seconds anyone?” Yes please. I used to keep my wedding dress hanging in my guest room closet, and now and then I’d try it on to see if I could still fit into a size 5. When the size 5 became a little too snug, I had it sealed up and stored, for maybe a petite granddaughter. Many years later, when my daughter was married, I searched and searched for the perfect dress, one appropriate for the mother of the bride but not one that looked like a nightgown. I looked stunning in it as I walked proudly down the aisle on the arm of my handsome son. And about once a year for many years, I would slip into that fabulous dress just to make sure I could still zip up the back. The last time I tried, the zipper would not meet, and the dress looked way too tight. Now it too is sealed up and stored for maybe one day I can wear it for my granddaughter’s wedding, but it will take a lot of saying “No thanks.”.”

I’ll close with a caption for the photo summing up my 4th year at CHQ. On the Friday night of the first week, Jeannette, Anna, and I joined our TTN friend Pat for a celebratory drink at the big fancy hotel, the Athenaeum on the porch overlooking the lake. Here’s a photo of us toasting our friendship and CHQ.Here’s to you, CHQ.

Mary Hiland

Mary.hiland@wowway.com

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

CHQ Continued

In my last post, I told you that I recently returned from Chautauqua Institution, CHQ, after spending 2 weeks there with a combination of friends. In addition to hearing extremely intelligent and well known speakers on the themes of “The Power of the Spoken word,” and “the Power of Humor,” I discovered even more ways to enjoy this unique and enriching vacation. One afternoon, we sat in on a piano competition with our jaws hanging open at the talent of musically gifted young people. One morning, we were treated to an interview with the smothers Brothers and another with the manager of Robin Williams. We heard how a Quaker preacher does not believe the story of Adam and Eve, and we heard the well-known columnist/preacher/standup comedian, Susan Sparks.

For the first time, I participated in a talk-back session open to any Chautauquans interested in expressing concerns about anything they think needs improvement at CHQ. The IDEA was not about education, as you might think by the acronym, IDEA, but inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility. Of course I was thrilled to have the opportunity to express my extreme disappointment in the lack of accessibility for people who are blind or have low vision. The gathering was small, about 12 of us, and I was the first to raise my hand to speak. I was darned if I was going to sit through this session, only to have them say, “So sorry we’re out of time.” I began by telling them that 4 years ago, when I first signed up to come to CHQ, I was told that there were no braille daily schedules of activities and no plans to provide them. they said that I was the first person in 140 years to ask for braille. then I asked about audio description for a play that would be presented that year, and I was connected to the drama department. They had never heard of audio description. I let it go until this year, when during the first morning announcements, they proudly told us that there were headsets for enhanced listening, and now there was an app we could download that provided closed captioning. Well isn’t that terrific? I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but what had they done for people who are blind? A big fat nothing is the answer. And that’s why I went to that meeting. Others present had other issues. One elderly woman who used a walker complained that it’s extremely difficult to navigate on the rough walkways that even have pot holes in them. While the famous Red Brick Road runs through the center of town and is meant only for walkers, it is treacherous in spots, but to do away with it would take away the charm of the place. Still, I believe that it wouldn’t hurt to create a narrow paved walkway for the use of walkers and wheelchairs. It could even be helpful for dog guides to use to keep them on track instead of having to zigzag through the river of pedestrians streaming to a lecture at one end or the other of the Red Brick Road. One man pointed out that the leadership roles of CHQ are all held by people who are white. The highly educated and talented African American speakers looked out too an almost 99% lily white audience. There was also discussion about making CHQ more affordable for families. It’s true that the restaurants are all overpriced, and so is housing, except for the denominational houses such as the Baptist House, which is the best deal of all. It’s only $200 for a week, and it’s right on the Red Brick Road centrally located to both the amphitheater and the Hall of Philosophy, where the big lectures are held. Then one day last week, a friend told me he was going to Las Vegas and his hotel will be $300 for a week. Now there’s an idea for CHQ. A modern modest hotel might not have the charm, but I’d trade the “charm” of a shared bathroom with an air conditioned hotel. On the other hand, I’d hate to see it so family-friendly that we’d see zip lines across the lake and video arcades in the Athenaeum Hotel.

I have one more story to tell you about CHQ, but “So sorry, we’re out of time.” Stay tuned.

Mary Hiland

Mary.hiland@wowway.com

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261