Political Savvy

When you think of a political cartoon, any number of odd people, preposterous situations, and injustices could come to mind. Recently, the New York Times ran a contest for anyone to enter a political cartoon. To say that my granddaughter Mika entered such a contest was surprising would be an understatement, but to say that she made “honorable mention” is a proclamation from a very proud grandmother.

And what did she choose for her subject? Here’s the link to her creation, which, BTW, was completely her own idea.


I couldn’t be prouder of this 16-year-old young lady, who has proved in her work here that she is sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities. Yes, her mother, my daughter, has taught her how to be natural and at ease around a person who is blind, but Mika has demonstrated that she understands what many adults do not. I wish you could see the buttons popping off my chest as I tell this story. Keep an eye out for more good things from this talented artist named Mika Fay.


Memory of a Perfect New Year’s Day

We could see our breath in little puffs of freezing air as we spoke, climbing out of the car and feeling that little catch in our throats when our lungs weren’t quite ready for that unwarmed air. In the city, the streets had been cleared, but down here in the Hocking Hills, the snow lay clean and undisturbed, except for the occasional animal tracks. The sky was a solid grey, but in the east, a promise of winter sun crept into the icy air and painted the baron branches with glittering icicles.

Soon, other cars crunched over the icy gravel, and more happy hikers emerged. They blew out their own little puffs of freezing air from smiling lips that called out joyful greetings to other winter-lovers, who had forsaken their warm beds to celebrate this winter day.

I opened the back seat of the car, and my Seeing Eye Golden Retriever, sherry, bounded out with gleeful expectation. She snorted and sniffed the air, sensing the excitement that would be hers today. It was New Year’s Day, and we were all there to start off the new year with a 7-mile hike and a picnic in the meadow—perfect for the first day of January.

When 8:00 arrived, and it appeared we all were there, we began our trek down the snowy path, 2 by 2, 2 by 3, 1 by 1, and with Sherry in the lead. Guide dogs always like to be first. We stepped over snowy roots and icy rocks, climbed over fallen tree trunks and ducked under brittle branches, heavy with snow and ice. We stopped to listen to a growning tree as it swayed ever so slightly in the breeze and the cry of a hawk as it split the sky.

Now, we were warming up, pausing to take a swig of water from our half-frozen bottles, or to much on a granola bar, kept chewy in a warm inside pocket. The path wandered up and down the hillside and occasionally along a creek. We slipped as we struggled to keep from falling to our knees going up, and we just slid on our behinds as we made the steep descents. A recent flood had washed away the bridge over the creek, but a good-sized log had been thoughtfully place there for a crossing. All the other hikers stepped onto the log and confidently walked across, but I held Sherry back. This was not going to work for a blind hiker with a guide dog. She probably would have felt it would be easier to just wade across, and I would have wanted to stay on the log. Just as I was weighing my options, one of the guys came to my rescue. He cheerfully and easily scooped sherry up, threw her over his shoulder, and marched across the log. I followed behind, holding onto his backpack. Sherry was embarrassed to be carried, but I was afraid her paws would get frostbitten in the half frozen creek if I allowed her to make her own way. then, as dogs do, when they know a joke has been played on them, she jumped around and acted like this was the most fun of all. But the most fun was yet to come.

By lunchtime, we had arrived at a clearing for our picnic lunch. One experienced hiker had brought a camp stove and offered hot soup or hot chocolate to everybody. Life seemed pretty perfect, sipping hot chocolate in the winter sun among new friends. The meadow was bordered by a stand of trees, so I took Sherry’s harness off, and she was off like a shot into the woods. In a few minutes, just as I was beginning to worry, she raced back to me with a big goofy grin on her beautiful Golden face. She was having the time of her life. But as always, she was ready to get back into her harness for our trek back along the path. We fell behind for a minute, as my friend and I noticed Sherry’s limp and discovered little icy balls that had clung to her toes. Once they were removed, she returned to her joyful self, charging ahead, regaining her status as leader of the pack.

Back at the cars, we all sang out “Happy New Year,” kicked the snow off our boots, climbed into our cars, and breathed a sigh of contentment of one of the happiest New Year’s Days ever, even for Sherry, who was asleep in minutes.

Hen Hike 18


My annual hiking trip with 11 other women has been the subject of a winning Toastmasters speech and many stories I’ve shared with friends and family over the past 18 years. And here it comes again, only with different characters and new experiences. Each year in October, we gather at a B&B in some part of the country or Canada for a jam-packed 5 days of laughing, sharing, encouraging, hiking, eating, drinking, and discovering, and not necessarily in that order. The one activity we shun is camping. You may also be surprised to learn that we do not engage in gossip or discussion of religion or politics, amazing as that may seem.

We began with a nonstop flight to Boston, a 2-hour and 45-minute shuttle ride to Lebanon, NH, and then about a 20-minute drive to Pearse’s Inn, a rambling rustic lodge. Bunk beds, single beds, and double beds were stuffed into multiple rooms on multiple levels, and random steps appeared out of nowhere, so just navigating the place was an adventure in itself.

Each morning, after a hearty breakfast, cooked to the specific tastes of each of 12 of us, we piled into 2 cars and set off for a trail head in the area. Our hikes took us over leaf-covered trails with rocks and roots to negotiate, made even more challenging because 6 of us are blind. The challenge is not just for the blind hikers, but also for the sighted guides whoo skillfully kept us from turning ankles over wobbly rocks or tripping over protruding roots. Aside from keeping us safe, they describe scenery, shapes of leaves, bark on trees, mosses on rocks, and of course, the autumn colors. Other features this year included roaring water falls, a dramatic escarpment, a grassy ski hill, an ancient cemetery, and rushing creeks under wooden bridges. One of my favorite sights was a man with a great sense of humor, who, on seeing a group of 12 chatty women walking toward him said, “Oh boy, there goes my nice peaceful walk in the woods.”

We walk in pairs with each blind woman walking with a sighted partner, holding onto an arm, a loop on a back pack, or one end of a hiking stick while the other holds onto the other end. We switch partners after lunch, so we have a chance to get to know someone else a little better or catch up on what she’s been doing since last year.

This year’s Hen Hike featured a couple of events that we normally don’t do. One rainy afternoon, we toured a Shaker Museum, which was fascinating. That evening, we had a delicious chilli supper at the home of Joan, one of our guides, and her partner Bob, who did the cooking. what a treat. Earlier that day, we stopped at a country store, unique to the New England area for some shopping for unique gifts. The day before, we had finished our hiking early, so we all agreed to see how we could spend some money at the LL Bean store and the EMs, always popular with hikers and skiers. Even with all this shopping and touring, we managed to walk between 5 and 8 miles a day. Well, we only walked 8 miles one day, but doesn’t that sound impressive?

It was especially impressive to me, since I’ve been struggling with back pain and wondered if I was going to make it. But this year, my doctor treated me to a round of Prednisone, which worked like magic. In addition, I took every opportunity I could to stretch, to sit down, to rest in the car while the others walked an extra hour, and used my ice pack every nighgt. You do what you have to do when you want to do something badly enough. Next year, they’re all coming to Ohio! We don’t have mountains, but we have some great hiking, and I can’t wait to show it off.

Columbus Dispatch Columnist Joe Blundo Comes Through for Me

Blind author explains how she cared for aging mom Joe Blundo The Columbus Dispatch @joeblundo Mary Hiland is not accustomed to feeling helpless. But when her 98-year-old mother broke a hip and was lying cold, hungry and unattended for hours in an emergency room, she had reached a low point, she said. "I felt more blind than usual. Hiland, in fact, is blind. She lost her sight to a genetic retinal disorder as a young adult. It made helping her fiercely independent mother make the transition to assisted living more challenging, but Hiland persevered and learned a lot in the process. The Gahanna resident tells the story in a self-published book, "The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter’s Memoir" (available at amazon.com), that offers advice to people on helping an aging parent at the end of life. Hiland, in an interview, said she was late recognizing the signs of dementia in her mother. Once she understood that she could not argue her mother out of her forgetfulness, confusion and depression, she found it easier to accept the situation. "Be open to the possibility of dementia," advised Hiland, 72. Her mother, Regina Wilson of French Lick, Indiana, was a take-charge woman determined to live on her own. When Wilson’s friends began calling Hiland to alert her of Wilson’s decline, she realized that she had to move her to central Ohio. (Hiland’s only sibling, a brother, had died years earlier.) Her mother insisted on moving many more things than she could possibly use in assisted-living unit: martini glasses, cocktail dresses, gardening tools. "I think it’s part of holding onto the past," Hiland said. "I think owning things gave her a little more feeling of power. The two had always enjoyed a close relationship, Hiland said. Wilson didn’t shelter her daughter, despite her eye condition, which left her legally blind by age 18. "She was very, very supportive of anything I wanted to do," said Hiland, who until her retirement served as executive director of the American Council of the Blind in Ohio. Their close relationship kept Hiland from taking things personally when her mother became combative. Enlisting her adult children and some close friends to help her manage was vital, she said. Her daughter worked persistently on organizing Wilson’s belongings. Her son went to the hospital that desperate night to help his grandmother get dressed. "There we were, my son and me, putting a bra on his 98-year-old grandmother," she writes. She ends the book with a journey back to French Lick, a 12-hour round trip by car, to put flowers on her mother’s grave after her death in 2014. The logistics weren’t easy for a blind person, but she had a good reason for doing it. "I had the gift of a loving mother," Hiland said. "A gift I cherish. Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist. jblundo@dispatch.com @joeblundo

Safe Roundabouts, an Oxymoron

Last Friday, my friend Tricia and I met a colleague of hers at a roundabout in gahanna. Tricia, an advocate for visually impaired pedestrians, had been to a conference on pedestrian safety that day, and she wanted to demonstrate to the presenter how roundabouts can be deadly for blind pedestrians. I agreed to participate in this exercise only if she could promise to not let me get mown down by motorists.

This particular roundabout had been designed for a T intersection. As we approached the intersection on foot, I immediately determined the first obstacle for a blind pedestrian using a dog guide, who is trained to avoid obstacles like poles. The solution would be to mount a locator sound on the pole, which Tricia and I were most happy to suggest.

Once we located the pole and pushed the button, we listened for a break in the flow of traffic and set out on the crosswalk to reach the island in the middle of this busy road. We had almost reached the island when an irritated driver blasted his or her horn, for what reason I am still trying to discern. But it scared the bejeebers out of me. The next 2 crossings were not as harrowing, but another problem was abundantly clear. Even though lights are flashing, it doesn’t mean that the cars will stop. It only signals to them that a pedestrian is waiting to cross, so please would they mind not running over those pedestrians? The most significant problem is that listening for a break in the flow of traffic is becoming more and more impractical as cars are getting quieter and quieter. Having an audible signal to go with the yellow flashing lights would be of no help, because the cars are not required to stop. that’s the whole idea of a roundabout, to keep the traffic flowing and to avoid t-bone crashes at intersections. But what about running over pedestrians that didn’t hear them coming? I was told that some crosswalks are raised, about the height of a serious speed bump, which could help the visually impaired pedestrian to keep from veering off the crosswalk path, and it might remind drivers that they are indeed crosswalks.

It also helps that the crosswalks are set on the side streets away from the roundabout itself, so that cars coming off the roundabout have a short distance to slow down or even stop for a pedestrian. but then will there be rear-end crashes because of a car stopping just beyond the roundabout? Unfortunately, Tricia and I did not have answers to these important concerns.

It seems to me that the engineers need to put their heads together and come up with a safer way for visually impaired pedestrians to get from one side of the street to the other safely. Come on guys. You are very smart people. You can do this. Lucky for me, I don’t have to deal with roundabouts in my own neighborhood, but the day is coming. Yikes.

First Stop on my Book-Signing Tour

24C01651-5D40-4585-8BC1-6F802BB23D84Writing your book is the easy part; Editing your book takes time and patience; But marketing your book means putting yourself out there and not being bashful about your achievement. When you self-publish a book, one of the advantages, or disadvantages, is that you must do all your own marketing. The advantage is that you get to make your own choices in everything from the design of the cover to where you market the book. As you might be able to see in the photo accompanying this post, I recently spoke to a group of women in the Centerville, Ohio, Red Hat society about “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living, a Daughter’s Memoir.”. Lynda, my life-long friend, sweetened the deal, as she put forth the invitation, came and got me and brought me home the next day, and hosted me at her house. Not only that, but she also assisted me in the presentation by reading 2 selections from the book in my place. This was my first book-reading-and-signing event. Even though I had practiced for days, I was nervous right up until the moment we stood up to take our places. Then the old Toastmasters spirit, for me, and the English teacher mode, for Lynda, kicked in, and away we went. Lynda read with the perfect inflection and cadence, and I felt my delivery was smooth and animated. I guess we did all right, because 10 copies of my book were sold that day. I wish I could sell 10 books every day, but I’m glad I didn’t put myself on a whirlwind book tour. I have 5 over the next month, and that’s enough for me. But if you need a speaker for your club or organization, I will speak to my agent, i.e. me, and we’ll see what we can do.