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

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

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

Chautauqua Number 4


Recently, I attended my 4th experience at the Chautauqua Institution in NY. If you’ve read any of my 3 previous descriptions in past years of this unique and charming village, built on learning and the arts, you know that it’s become an annual mecca for feeding my love of classical music and broadening my knowledge of our culture with its problems, its qualities, and its possibilities. Located about an hour’s drive east of Erie, PA, Chautauqua, CHQ, offers opportunities to absorb as much beauty of a historic town, the history of the area, and extraordinary visual and musical arts as you wish.

This year, I made a dream come true of staying for 2 weeks instead of just 1. I rode over with 2 of my friends from The Transition Network, Anna and Jeannette, and then they left at the end of the first week.On the Saturday that marked the midpoint of my stay, my friend from church, Janet drove over to join me, and we came home together at the end of my second week. On that Saturday, when I would be alone for a few hours, I had planned to take a walk around Lake CHQ using a new technology , AIRA, where in a person called an agent could see through my glasses what I could see, via a specially designed phone app. I pictured myself sitting on a park bench and listening to the relaxing sounds of boats puttering by and waves caressing the shore. However, as I sat on the front porch of the Baptist House where we stayed, in the quiet of a place where most people had vanished for a few hours, I decided that my body needed to rest and reboot. You might have guessed that if you could see the photo of me getting my first ever foot massage at the spa, that I never knew was there until this year. Whenever you go to the same place repeatedly, but with different people, you find different treasures. During that first week, Anna said she wanted to go inside the clock tower, one of the iconic structures on the edge of the lake. We chatted with the woman who played the carillon at certain times during the day, every day throughout the 9-week season. “This is the best job in the world,” she cheerfully told us, as she continued playing a keyboard withonly an octave and a half at the same time she carried on a conversation with us.

She even took requests.

The first year I went, everything was new and wondrous, from staying in a rooming house-like situation to crowding into a huge shelter house for afternoon interfaith speeches to soaking in opera music in the enormous amphitheater. The second year, when I went with my friend Dan, we walked about a mile every morning to the aquatic center, swam for a half hour and walked back, all before breakfast and still made it in time for the morning lecture. The third year, when I went with friends from Ski for light, we went to the worship service every morning throughout the week, and we rented a whole house with a large porch, where we had adult beverages each night before dinner.

During my first week this year, I took a course that cost extra, a whole lot extra, and I was deeply disappointed, my first negative experience in this wonderful place. I had misunderstood the course description. I will probably tell you more about that in another post. During the second week, with Janet, I took part in a comment session, something I had never done before. We were asked to talk about how CHQ could improve its inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility. I jumped at the chance to express my outrage with the lack of regard for people who are blind or visually impaired. I went into that meeting loaded for bear. I’m out of space for today, but stay tuned. There’s more, much much more.

Mary Hiland

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

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

Pictures on the Fridge

Kirby Ave Mary & Dogs Babe & Candy

We’ve all posted our children’s artwork on the fridge, and many of us have magnetic memorabilia that make us smile each time we open the fridge door. My daughter Kara has taken that idea to a new level.

Recently, we sorted through ancient photo albums that had belonged to my late mother, throwing out the ones that meant nothing to me or to her—photos of long-ago friends of my mother whom I never knew, because I wasn’t born yet. Some of them I have saved to go into my next book, “Insight out One Blind woman’s View of her Life,” and some Kara kept for her own collection.

Knowing it might be years before she would find the time to put them in albums or hang them on the wall, she came up with a creative idea to introduce her daughters to the people in our family who came before her.

Each day, she tapes a different picture to the fridge. It might be my grandmother. It might be me as a little girl or of Kara when she herself was a baby. When the older girls come home from school, they say, “Let’s see who’s featured on the fridge today. Who is that?”

To me, this sounds like a much better way to display those old photos. Here’s one I especially like and had forgotten. Maybe I’ll do that myself if I can get somebody to help me so I don’t hang them upside down. LOL

If you are getting this post in your inbox, the photo will not come with it, so you’ll need to go to my website to “admire” it. It’s me as a little girl posing with my two Dalmatians, Babe and Candy. Babe was Candy’s mom, and Candy was our pick of the litter. Weren’t we adorable?


Mary Hiland

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

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

Proof on the Roof

Bumping and thumping and scrambling around noises woke me at 3:30 in the morning. My heart started bumping and thumping as well. Someone or something had got into my attic and threatened to break into my house from the ceiling, or so I feared. I slipped out of bed and in my barefeet padded into the hallway to listen more carefully. The sounds continued for several minutes, causing me to wonder in terror what I should do. Blind and living alone, I believed the time had come to get help. Reasoning that I pay taxes for this service, I dialed 911. The female dispatcher pleasantly and without complaint for such an insignificant request for someone to come to help me, kept me on the phone until the officer had arrived, looked around my yard and rung the doorbell. We chatted briefly through the screen door, because by then, the noises had gone away and my heart had returned to a normal beat. He asked me kindly if I wanted the squad, but I told him no thanks. He left, and of course then all thumps and bumps disappeared for the rest of the night.

But the whole noises-in-the-attic episode returned the next night, only this time at about 10:30, early enough for my screams directed at the hallway ceiling would probably only affect whatever or whoever had decided to play, fight, or mate in my attic. “Get off my roof!” I yelled with as much force as I could muster from the depth of my diaphragm. I repeated my big bad voice several times, and sure enough, the noises stopped. But I had had it.

My son Steve may not visit me regularly or call to chat, but when I call him with a request for help like this, he responds immediately. The next night, he climbed up onto the roof and discovered about 20 piles of skat, confirming my suspicion of uninvited night visitors. He walked around on the roof and noted that the torrential rains or some animal created an eight-inch hole in the roof, thus a convenient entry to the attic. Steve came in and pronounced, “you’ve got good news and bad news.” His interpretation of good news boiled down to my imagination’s not having run away with me. The bad news consisted of serious damage to my roof.

Now here comes the best part of this story. Steve stepped up and completely took over. He called my insurance company and actually talked to a real person. He called Varmint Guard and made an appointment for an inspection. I suspect and yes, hope, that he and the inspector can meet here, so he can show her what he has found.

I have had to deal with so many home-owner woes on my own, everything from fruit flies to water in the basement every time it rained to trees that needed trimming to overgrown arborvitae to dead grass to gutters that needed repair to a bowing retaining wall that threatens to collapse that on more than one occasion, I have considered moving to a condo. You can be sure those thoughts of condos danced in my dreams that second night of terrorizing guests in the attic, but I like my house, and I love my son , especially for coming through when I really need him. I feel taken care of at these times, and it feels good.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story in another post.

Mary Hiland

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

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

Mother/Daughter Memories

image1Today, I want to share with you an update on my redecorating in the form of a writing exercise I incorporated into the prompt for our writing group within The Transition Network, TTN. We were to describe a room. I’ve always been a little fearful of writing dialog, but here goes.

Standing in my newly redecorated kitchen, my daughter Kara gazed around with approval. “It’s beautiful,” she exclaimed. “It looks so clean and bright without the wall paper. The modern flooring and the white painted walls make it a whole new kitchen.”

“I’m told the laminated floor actually looks like wood, “I said, “and I adore walking across this carpet in the dining area in my bare feet–It’s so lush.”

Kara agreed. “It’s a great color, a warm brown mixed with a bit of gray, very ‘in’.”

“Did you see what I have on the wall over the table?” I asked, sweeping my arm in presentation. “It’s a photo of a cardinal, taken by Roberta who is a professional photographer.”

Kara walked over and leaned forward to get a better look. “I love it. It’s so cheerful, with his bright red against that snowy branch. And I see you found place mats with a male cardinal that looks just like him, and darling cardinal salt and pepper shakers, too. Is this going to be your new kitchen theme? No more teapots and blue willow dishes?”

“Oh no,” I said,” turning to face the cabinets over the sink. “Look up there. Mom’s teapots are still marching along, and I will never take down Grandma’s Blue Willow.”

Kara sniffed the air significantly. “Are you baking something? It smells delicious.”

“Oh my gosh,” I said as I whirled around to the stove. “It’s the bran muffins.” Just then, Alexa chimed in with, “Your muffins are done. Your muffins are done.”

Still taking in the new look, as I pulled the muffins out of the oven, Kara said, “I just noticed that the color of your laminate is the same as your cabinets, that light honey brown. It feels warm and inviting. M…M…M…those muffins look yummy.”

“After we let them cool enough to take out of the pan, we’ll have one,” I promised as I tapped the top of each muffin, testing for doneness.

As we bit into the buttery muffins and sipped our tea, Kara noticed that the table had been refinished. “I like this new look on your table.”

“It feels different, rough and rustic, since I had it refinished, but I guess it looks nice. I will never get rid of this table. You bought it for me that Christmas while you were living with me, getting your masters at OSU.” We sipped our tea in companionable silence as we thought about how wonderful it was to be together again. This kitchen is full of memories, and we were making new mother/daughter ones today.

If you’d like to see the cardinal photo up close, please visit

Mary Hiland

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

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

The Ice Cream Man

I was walking along in my neighborhood one Sunday afternoon when I heard that unmistakable sound of a happy tune floating over the area from the original version of a food truck. If I’d had little kids with me, they’d be jumping up and down clamoring for money for the ice cream man. when my kids were little, all they needed was a quarter or two, but they would come running from wherever they were, bolting into the house and scrambling for their piggy banks. The urgency for this dramatic event always baffled me. We had plenty of ice cream treats in the freezer, but treats from the ice cream man were worth even scraped knees and elbows as they flew out the door and out to the street in order to catch him before he drove off. Every summer, as I heard the song, “Turkey in the Straw,” I knew the season had begun. But on this day, the tune was a little different. It started of with a cheery “Hello!” in a female voice. I was fooled at first in thinking it was a real live young woman, so I turned and waved. But I realized my error as I kept hearing her call out “Hello!” over and over as the truck drove slowly down the street and turned the corner. I wondered what they were selling these days. When my kids were a little older, the big sellers were Bomb Pops and Pushups, which by that time were more like a dollar apiece. There was no real ice cream, like when I was a kid.

When I was very small, the ice cream man walked down the center of the street pushing a freezer on wheels, and he called out with his own voice, “Eskimo Pies…Eskimo Pies.” Now that was a real treat. Later, as a teen, the ice cream man sold soft serve ice cream in cones, and when I heard that jaunty little tune, it was my dad who walked out to the street, digging his wallet out of his pocket. He bought 4 cones, one for each of us, and one for each of the 2 Dalmatians we had at the time. It was so darling to see them holding their ice cream cones between their crossed paws, licking as fast as they could, and then holding a paw up to their foreheads with an ice cream headache. I wish I had a picture to show you, but you probably have your own memories of the ice cream man in your neighborhood.

Mary Hiland

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

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261

A Few Words Are Worth a Thousand Pictures

My late mother has been gone for almost 5 years, but most of her keepsakes wound up at my house. I have dealt with most of them, the ones that I could identify by touch, but the hundreds of photographs were my nemesis. She had mounted them neatly in dozens of albums, and some actually had names and dates written on the back, although many were in pencil and barely legible. There were also duplicates of duplicates. Others had puzzling captions like “He was 4 in this picture.” Who? When? It was a mystery to my daughter and me as we poured over the mountain of albums together last week. Kara was here for a conference for parents who home-school, and I had the privilege of attending with her, but when we were not downtown at the conference, we were working our way through many tasks that I had been saving up for her. My son was lucky enough to be out of town those days, or he would have been recruited to help. It was up to Kara to determine if this picture or that should be saved. I advised that if she did not recognize the people and there was no label, it just had to be pitched. No use saving a photo of someone she does not know. Certainly her children and future grandchildren will not value them either. Some decisions were easier than others, like when the photo was of a car or a river or an unknown house. People liked to take pictures of their cars back then, and most of the men had a cigarette in their mouths. It seemed heartless to throw away these images, but we had to remind ourselves that we were not throwing away the people themselves.

It was the same with the stacks of old school papers and letters from friends. In some cases, like the letters from my dad to my mother when he was in the Army, there was historical value. I enjoyed hearing some of the stories and essays I had written as a young child, but we had to discipline ourselves and not read every one, especially the letters from old boyfriends, or we would never get done. We’ll save those for a rainy day when the grandkids are here and might enjoy reading what Grandma had to say when she was their age. Maybe not.

I am happy to report that the albums have been cleared, and I must say I’m sorry to the garbage man who probably got a hernia carrying out my garbage and recycling today. But I feel so much lighter, knowing that those photos and papers have finally been organized or removed from my guest room. I was also delighted to find some photos that I plan to use in my next book, Insight Out, One Blind Woman’s View of her Life, which should come out this coming fall. I was afraid I didn’t have pictures of my children when they were babies or pictures of the Seeing Eye (r) dogs I had back in the 80’s and 90’s, but now I have them.

The lesson we learned and the one I want to pass on to you is, if you’re going to save that photo, for Goodness sake, attach labels, names, dates, places, and events. Your grandchildren will not have a clue what that is and will either agonize over what to do with it or just pitch it with all your other stuff that means nothing to them. Make those photos meaningful for the sake of your family history.

Mary Hiland

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

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261