Traveling Blind: A Sensory Experience

 

Yosemite National Park-El Capitan

Yosemite National Park-El Capitan

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

Saint Augustine

My husband and I just returned from a trip to California. We visited Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Muir Woods, Carmel, and Sonoma Valley. He is an excellent vacation planner and travel companion! This was one of my favorite trips with such a variety of experiences and adventures: hiking among the giant Sequoia, picnicking and wine-tasting in lush wine country, riding the rickety trolley car, shopping in the “hippie” district in the city, lunching on dim sum in colorful China Town, sipping tea in the peaceful Japanese gardens, meandering in the serenity of Cathedral Grove among the regal Redwoods, walking the dog-friendly beaches with my guide dog Sophie, breathing in the fresh, crisp air on the Coastal Trail, feasting on local seafood and wines…ahhh…I am still basking in the glow of the sweet sensory memories of it all!                                                                                                                        

Matanzas Creek Winery-Sonoma Valley

Matanzas Creek Winery-Sonoma Valley

                                                         

A couple and guide dog at the base of a giant Sequoia tree

The Mighty Sequoia Tree

 

Where ever you go, go with all your heart.

Confucius

As I was packing, I marveled at how little I needed in my suitcase. A mere 46 lbs. of worldly trappings and accoutrements to survive a twelve day trip was all I required. I have learned to keep it simple. That way, there is less to organize, keep track of, and haul around! I love this sense of freedom from material things and it creates room in my soul to take in the new experiences. It is enlightening to consider what we can live without and how freeing it can be to shed extra baggage.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the past when I have traveled as a visually impaired person, I often experienced overwhelming fatigue, anxiety, and even irritability while trying to adjust to new surroundings. This would cause stress  which took away from the ability to enjoy the adventure. This trip was different somehow. I have learned to relax and accept my limitations. I try to pace myself, yet challenge myself at the same time so as not to miss a worthwhile attraction. For instance, we chose to take a two-mile “moderate” hike to Glacier Point in Yosemite. It took us a few hours to painstakingly navigate a rocky course to reach a spectacular summit view. My guide dog was an amazing and attentive partner as she moved me through the obstacles of rocks, logs, and roots. My husband patiently gave me verbal instructions and a steady arm when needed. It took teamwork and concentration as the three of us plugged along the path. The payoff was arriving at the highest point in Yosemite, surrounded by unmatched grandeur; sparkling granite cliffs, terraced waterfalls, and a feeling of infinite openness and space. It was exhilarating and energizing! And the satisfaction of accomplishment spurred me onward. As visually impaired people, we sometimes have to find a different way to do things and take our time-but what joy there is in success and the experience.   

Ft. Funston Beach

Ft. Funston Beach

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Mary Ritter Beard

From the moment we arrived in California, I sensed the differences. The air was cool and crisp with a woodsy herbal scent. The birds sang different songs. Trees have unique silhouettes and shades of color. The sky was bigger and bluer than in Georgia. Flowers seem to be more bold and varied. There are ever-present views and briny smells of the ocean. Foods and people from all parts of the world abound. Travel is about appreciating the differences and variety which the world has to offer. I may not “see” all the sights, but I can employ all of my senses to enrich my experience and celebrate the joys of travel. It is about being there and “being present.”

Pleasure is the flower that passes; remembrance, the lasting perfume.

Jean de Boufflers

A special benefit of this trip was the opportunity to truly enjoy the company of my husband. With the distractions of home, work, and other responsibilities left behind, we were able to tune in to each other fully and refresh ourselves together. Long walks and talks on beautiful beaches can rejuvenate the mind, body and soul. I discovered that each day I could not wait to get up and going, as it meant more time with Kevin. His undivided attention was luxurious and the lazy days together felt extravagant. I wanted to make the most of “him and me” time. So travel is also about the joy of being with your loved ones. All the adventures, sights and experiences are richer when shared and the memories sweeter when made together.

Advertisements

Why I LOVE My iPhone!

I was the last one in my family to have an iPhone. I resisted it for some time, feeling intimidated by the technology. Eventually, I got one for Christmas at my husband’s prodding. My adult kids were all home and spent time teaching me how to use it, setting the accessibility features and downloading helpful apps. They encouraged me to “just start looking around and using it and you will learn what it can do.” Every day, I learned new functions and began to enjoy this wonder of technology. There are user manuals and tutorials that also helped me learn the iPhone. To my surprise and delight, it did not blow up in my hands or anything!
I have Retinitis Pigmentosa and am able to see a little in a narrow field. I use my magnification eyeglasses to read the screen and also use the vision accessibility features. I have inverted the color scheme, white bold letters on a black background for increased contrast and decreased glare. I enlarge the font and can zoom in when needed. As I lose more vision, I will be able to transition to the voiceover option, where the screen is read out loud to me.
It was important to me to be able to maintain communication with my children and family. Now I am able to text, email, message on Facebook, and take photos and send them to stay connected. I use the Siri feature and dictate texts, emails and messages so I do not have to struggle to type them on a small keyboard. Siri works beautifully and there is auto correct spelling too. I can even ask Siri, the personal assistant questions and she can answer them.

 

The iPhone has so many built-in features and apps that it eliminates the need for many other devices. It has GPS, stores your personal music like an iPod, radio, timer and alarm clock, and voice recorder to take down information. It has a high quality camera and stores and organizes your photos. The calendar can keep your schedule straight for you. There are many apps for the visually impaired such as a flashlight, video magnifier, money reader, color ID and descriptive video reader for movies. Kindle and Nook apps can be used for electronic book downloads. My favorite app is the BARD app from the NLS, which allows me to instantly choose a book from the library, download it and begin to listen immediately. There are even some fun and educational games like Words with Friends and Scramble that I can access. Most of the apps I use are free and I have everything I need in one handy, amazing device.

 

My iPhone has truly allowed me to be more independent with communications, web searches, finding businesses and services, and managing my time and schedule. I am still discovering new capabilities and having fun with it. Once you get over the intimidation of the technology and begin to use it, it becomes more intuitive and you will wonder how you ever lived without an iPhone.

Musings of a Visually Impaired Mother

I come from a long line of mothers. Women have been birthing babies since the beginning of time. You know that excruciating moment during childbirth when you are screaming “I can’t do this!” and then you dig deep and discover you can after all? I told myself in that moment “If my mom could do this seven times (yes, seven!), then I can too!” And then when the nurse placed my squalling, slimy, bundle of joy in my arms for the first time, I suddenly realized the labor was not even the hard part of being a mother.

I learned that I was expecting my first child from a neurologist, who was working me up for some unknown vision problem. The news was dulled by the uncertainty of my diagnosis. But I decided in the end that it was indeed good news and worth celebrating. Like every other expectant mother, I began to plan and dream of the days to come with my first baby. Before I knew it, my husband and I had two more babies, each two years apart; two boys and a girl in between. When I told my mother I was pregnant with my third she asked me “How did that happen?” and I replied “Oh, the usual way, Mom.”

The baby years are largely a blur, especially after the third one. It was a time of sleepless nights and exhausted days; the tired years. Someone always needed something from me. I remember feeling like a 24- hour Dairy Queen. I constantly “wore’ a baby around my neck or on my hip and my clothes were often adorned with baby body fluids. My body was no longer my own. But I remember those years with a special sweetness and wonder at what my husband and I had created together. There was sheer joy in cuddling my precious babies, taking in their milky breath, sleepy grins, and clutching fingers. During that time, I still did not know what was wrong with my vision and I didn’t think about it much.

Life got a bit busier during the toddler years. I call them the “sticky” years; Cheerios stuck to the kitchen table, gooey jelly fingers and tacky walls and windows. I had trouble conjuring up my inner June Cleaver. I was probably somewhere between Carol Brady and Roseanne on the mother spectrum. I much preferred playing with my children to cleaning up after them. I learned that children are incredibly resilient and durable. Eating a little dirt and even an occasional dead fly off the window sill, did not make them sick. In fact, it may have even boosted their immune systems. Most days, my lunch consisted of half-eaten PB and J crusts gleaned from the kids’ plates as they hurried away from the table. At that time, I finally got a diagnosis: Retinitis Pigmentosa. I began to have a few issues like tripping and bumping into things. One day, while running after my youngest son who was headed for the street, I fell into a hole and broke my ankle. It was also during these years that I lost my driver’s license due to vision loss. This put a huge cramp in my style and an extra burden on my husband. Gone were the days when I could just run up to the store for diapers and milk.

Birthday at the beach-happy and tanned!

Celebrating my birthday at the beach-1995

The school-aged years are remembered as “controlled chaos.” We were in the thick of raising our children while balancing our careers. It took team work and creativity to meet the demands of our busy household. The kids needed rides to baseball practice, ballet, and piano lessons. I needed rides everywhere; to the grocery store, haircut and doctor appointments, and to work. Transportation was the biggest challenge for our family. We were fortunate enough to have friends and neighbors who were supportive. I offered services like after-school care or baked muffins in exchange for rides for my family. It required careful orchestration, but we got where we needed to go and survived those busy years. As my vision deteriorated my children learned to pitch in and help. They learned to guide me and give me descriptive narration at ball games and movies.    

During the teenaged years, when aliens take over kids bodies, it’s difficult to have a visually impaired mother. Now adults, my children admit it was sometimes painful and embarrassing for them. One year on Mother’s Day, we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant. We were escorted to the table and I began to sit down on what I thought was a bench and went crashing to the floor. I looked like a bug on the rug, my dress crumpled to my waist and arms and legs flailing. I began to laugh so hard that I could not get up. My three teenagers were mortified and asked to leave the restaurant. We stayed. For them, my vision loss was an aggravation and an inconvenience. They had to take turns driving me on errands, much to their chagrin. For me, it was becoming an all-consuming struggle to keep up at home and work. By now, reading print and mobility were my biggest issues and I needed to learn new ways of doing things. I needed to embrace technology and my earliest computer lessons came from my kids.

Before long, my sweet little babies were grown and off to college. Our house became empty and quiet. All too soon, the years flew by, leaving me with the echoes and trappings of child rearing. My role as a mother has changed from caregiver to counselor, confidante, cheerleader, and consultant. As I look back, I can honestly say I relished each phase of motherhood. My children and my husband made it easy for me to be a “good mother” and I have often joked that “they were so easy, they practically raised themselves.” Despite my anxieties and limitations as a visually impaired mom, my kids have said they feel they had a very “normal” childhood. And I can see many wonderful qualities in them which resulted from growing up with a visually impaired mother. Compassion, empathy, cooperation, advocacy, problem-solving skills, resourcefulness and patience are among them. My adult children are truly my favorite people in the whole world.

In truth, motherhood is hard work and it requires intentionality, resilience, and patience. Fortunately, we are naturally endowed with a certain measure of courage and grace to be mothers. The other necessary things, we find amidst the love and laughter of our children. Even vision loss cannot suppress the joys or dampen the pride of being a mother. My humble advice to other visually impaired mothers: don’t sweat the small stuff, keep it simple, live in the moment, and don’t aim for perfection because you will miss every time

Rags to Rugs: a Homespun Art Form

When I retired, I began a mission to fill my time and avoid boredom. I was not really ready to retire and actually feared it immensely. Now in my sixth month of retired life, I cannot even imagine how I ever had the time to work! It has been so enjoyable exploring new interests and establishing a new kind of “busy-ness.” What do I do all day? Well, I do many things that I never had the time for when I was working. I have always been a crafty type. In the past, I have dabbled with quilting, cross-stitching, lace net darning, basket weaving, paper making, stamping, and scrap-booking. Over the years as I lost vision, I gave some of these activities up. But I have never given up on my need to have a creative outlet and am always in pursuit of the next craft I can do with limited vision.

 
I discovered making rag rugs out of old sheets. I taught myself by watching YouTube videos. There are several ways to make rag rugs. I settled on learning how to make Amish Knot, or toothbrush rugs and crocheted rugs. It is a large and tactile craft, so I can do it with very little visual input. I set about collecting bed sheets from the thrift stores in all colors and patterns. My husband helps me tear them into strips, using a technique from Aunt Philly’s YouTube video in which the whole sheet can be torn in just minutes. I use Aunt Philly’s toothbrush tool which I bought from amazon.com for the Amish Knot rugs and a Q hook, available at Walmart, to crochet rugs.

 
At Christmas, I made rugs for all of my family and friends. I made round, oval, rectangle and half-circle rugs of all colors. For my son’s rug, I used an old Ninja Turtle sheet he used as a child for a special touch of nostalgia. I am obsessed with this new endeavor and am perfecting the art of mixing the colors and learning new techniques and designs. I love the homespun charm of this eco-friendly craft. The slubs and imperfections give character to each rug. There is no pressure to create a perfect rug…at the end of the day, it is a rug and will be walked on.

 
Recently, I attended a bluegrass festival called “Bear-On-the-Square” in Dahlonega Georgia. All the vendors had to display handcrafted and locally made products. I came upon a booth named Rena’s Treasured Gifts and to my great excitement, met a fellow rug maker! Her rugs were beautiful and there she was, working on another one in her lap. We chatted like old friends and swapped tips and ideas. Rena helped me with a few problems I was having and demonstrated how to fix them. I returned home, inspired to make more rugs. Maybe I too will sell them one day.

Rena's booth at "Bear-on-the-Square Festival

Rena’s booth at “Bear-on-the-Square Festival

 

women and her handmade rag rugs

Look at those beautiful rugs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

handmade colorful rag rugs

A few of my own rugs

 

 

  When my kids complained they were “bored,” I always said “Boredom” is a choice. Find something to do or I will give you something to do.” It seems I have no problem finding things to do in my retirement. Between exercising, cooking, crafting, volunteering, yoga, reading, spending time with friends, writing, blogging, walking and playing with my dogs, the days fly by! (Notice I did not include cleaning in the list-I do as little of that as possible). Life is GOOD…

                                                                    

            “Busy Hands Make Happy Hearts”