A Farm Family Reunion

The dairy herd on Demmitt Dairy Farm

The dairy herd on Demmitt Dairy Farm

Our family is flung far and wide. From Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia we came. Thirty two of us from four generations, gathered for a wedding recently on the family farm in Ohio. It was a breezy, sunny Midwest weekend as we congregated at Grandma’s house, filling the rooms, beds and every available chair. She had been in the kitchen for days before our arrival baking homemade cinnamon rolls, brownies and cookies, canning pickles and beets, picking all manner of produce in the garden, and chopping veggies for casseroles and salads. Every meal was a veritable feast of organic, fresh, wholesome farm fare. Sweet corn was in season and came freshly picked from the neighbor’s farm market. Grandma’s zucchini was featured in a casserole and zucchini bread. We had lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers fresh from the garden and hamburgers from locally raised beef. The cheese came from a near-by Amish farm and the milk came from our own family dairy. Down on the farm, it is all about faith, family, food and fun!

This family farm has been tilled for three generations. Originally a cattle and beef operation, it is now an organic dairy farm owned by one of five brothers who grew up on this land. He in turn, has five children who help with daily chores and the business of farming. They grow hay, wheat, corn, soy, and spelt right now, though the crops rotate. Twice a day, they milk 80 dairy cows which produce about 450 gallons of organic milk per day. The herd consists of Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss cattle. The rich milk makes delicious ice cream, which we always hand crank in White Mountain Ice Cream makers for every family event. Grandma has perfected the recipe and everyone else takes turns cranking it into the heavenly frozen treat. We use a favorite chocolate-walnut recipe that has been handed down for generations called Mopeka. The eggs and walnuts often came from the farm along with the milk. Great Grandpa used to peddle Mike-sell’s potato chips as a young man and so these chips are always served with the Mopeka. It is one of many family traditions observed by this tribe.

We have made this pilgrimage every summer since our children were little. The now grown grandkids love to tell “remember when” stories from all the memories they have made with their cousins on Grandma’s farm. Some years Grandma had the grandkids by themselves. They learned to cook, sew, garden, milk cows, feed calves, gather eggs, bale hay, make hay forts, and round up the cows for milking on four-wheelers. Grandma always took them to Vacation Bible School and the county fair where she was a food judge and their daddy had entered livestock as a child in 4-H club. With grubby, happy faces they ran in the fields, climbed trees, and played in the barns all day long, working up voracious appetites. We ate heartily at Grandma’s table; always dressed in colorful, home-made tablecloths and laden with the season’s harvest. This year, a wedding brought us together to catch up, reminisce, and celebrate the blessings of family. On the farm, my children have learned about love, faithfulness, respect for the land and hard-work.

The wedding of our niece was lovely. She was married in a small country church attended by our family for generations. My husband’s grandparents were married there and are now buried in the cemetery on the grounds. The bride’s uncle, a pastor for 35 years, conducted the ceremony. Her grandparents, aunt and uncle sang in the wedding and cousins served as photographers. The happy couple left the quaint church in a sleek, white limousine sipping champagne; headed to the reception venue in the city; the 29th floor of the Racquet Club and a world away. It was a grand party with many friends and extended family members on the guest list. There were elegant hors d’oeuvres, another lovely meal, libations, music and dancing. The twenty-something cousins surprised us all with their lively dance moves while the older crowd marveled at their energy. Photos captured the moments as memories were made.

The weekend came to a close after attending church and eating one last meal together. It was a joint effort with many hands in the kitchen. The meal was tasty but the highlight was the dessert; Mopeka ice cream hand cranked that morning. Everyone excitedly awaited the creamy treat as it was reverently dipped out of the old wooden bucket. And the Mike-sell’s chips were passed at the same time. We were filled to the brim with fresh air, fresh food, Grandma’s love, and farm fun. After the cars were packed and the plates cleared away, we began our good-byes with hugs all around. We realize this is a special place; sacred ground. We are grateful for the legacy and heritage of farm life and for a family that lives ‘in unity” as Uncle Greg preached at church that day. We always leave the farm with some goodies from Grandma. This trip, it was canned pickles-a little bit of love and the farm in a jar.

Organic Dairy Sign

Organic Dairy Sign

Taking Turns Cranking Ice Cream

Taking Turns Cranking Ice Cream

 

 

 

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The Summer Camp Experience for the Blind and Visually Impaired

When I was ten years old, I went to summer camp with my best friend. To this day, that week is memorialized as one of the best weeks of my life. The camp offered a variety of sports, games, talent shows, arts and crafts, swimming lessons and wilderness experiences. There was so much to try for the first time. I was beyond myself with excitement and enthusiasm. Besides the fun activities, every meal in the mess hall and bedtime in the bunks was a time of laughter, songs, pranks and socializing with new friends. Oh and let’s not forget the “cool” counselors who shepherded us through the week’s program; we watched them and wanted to be like them! The summer camp experience can be life-changing.

Some years ago, I was the camp nurse for Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind. I was struggling with my own vision loss at the time, but still working as a school nurse. I spent 7 weeks caring for campers of all ages from preschoolers to seniors. It was an inspiring and empowering experience not only for the campers, but for me. I learned so much from observing the campers and playing alongside of them. They had such exuberance and eagerness to try new things like climbing the rock wall and horseback riding. One six year old boy who was totally blind since birth conquered the climbing wall while his mother and camp staff looked on through misty eyes. When he reached the top and rang the bell, he was giddy with accomplishment and exclaimed “Look at me! I’m so high up!” For many campers, it is their first time to be away from home and the watchful eyes of parents. It is the first exposure to many new experiences like canoeing, camp-outs, adapted sports like beep ball and goalball, and tactile arts and crafts. They quickly become a part of “the group” and feel included and accepted, while learning from each other. It is a place where their disability does not make them different. The growth and learning that takes place in a camp setting is invaluable and cannot be replicated. There is often a sort of magical transformation that takes place in a camper. And they leave with powerful memories of being included, succeeding at new activities, tasting independence, and making new friends which can change them forever.

Camps that are designed for special needs can accommodate campers in unique ways. The Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind is a visually impaired friendly environment. They use rope lines to help guide the campers to different areas. In the buildings, the wood work is painted in high contrast for better visibility. The pathways are straight, flat and uncluttered. The staff receives training in vision rehabilitation techniques and many are interns or professionals in the field of vision rehabilitation therapy. The program integrates recreation, education, rehabilitation and social development, with a hefty component of play therapy. Have you ever played in a huge mountain of bubbles spewed from a bubble making machine? It was a highlight at camp. In other words, the environment is safe and the staff is trained and knowledgeable. It is an ideal opportunity and atmosphere for campers to explore interests, discover special talents, and stretch personal limits in a physically and emotionally safe environment.

So, what did I learn from my experience at the Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind? Well, I came away with a new “can do” attitude after watching campers conquer new tasks. I learned to try to do things in a new way. I enjoyed being part of the community of visually impaired, realizing I was one of them for the first time which helped me accept my disability. I came away empowered to learn new skills to live with my blindness. Somehow, the kids instilled in me a new-found courage to move forward by watching their fearless approach to activities. I learned to play again and have fun in bubbles, water and mud. I played beep ball (adapted baseball for the blind) and loved it. I learned at the talent show that we ALL have talents. We celebrated and shared our unique talents and “abilities,” while our disability faded into the background. I was truly inspired by campers’ attitudes and accomplishments as well as the staff’s dedication to serve this population. My time at the Lions camp rivals my summer camp experience as a child. It was most memorable and life-changing.

There are summer camp programs for the blind and visually impaired of all ages. Many schools of the blind have summer camps such as Perkins and Colorado School for the Blind. Leader Dogs for the Blind offers a summer camp program for teens which is free, including airfare. Lions Clubs International has special needs camps throughout the world. Everyone should experience summer camp at least once in their life. And you are never too old to go to camp. Who knows, you may come away with new confidence, courage, independence, playfulness, friendships and a spirit of adventure.

For more information go to:

http://www.blindcamp.com/   National Camps for the Blind

http://www.lionsclubs.org/EN/our-work/sight-programs/sight-services/camps-for-the-blind-and-visually-impaired.php    Lions Camps for the Blind/Visually Impaired

http://www.perkins.org/resources/scout/recreation/summer-camps.html  Perkins School Summer Camps

http://www.leaderdog.org/clients/programs/summer-experience-camp   Summer Experience Camp

 

smiling camp staff

Nurse Audrey with girls’ counselors

group of people dancing in a mountain of bubbles

Bubble Fun at Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind

The White Cane: A Useful Tool

There comes a time when it just makes sense to use a white cane when you are losing your vision. Most of us resist this rite of passage, fearing the stigmas, myths, and images associated with the “dreaded white cane.” In my case, something awful had to happen to wake me up to the reality that I was no longer a safe traveler. I had many falls and sprained ankles which I attributed to clumsiness. As my vision worsened, the falls became more frequent and I was forced to admit it was not just clumsiness. While at work, I took a series of falls which raised concerns with my employer. Then I fell at home and ended up having ankle reconstruction surgery. I knew it was time to consider using a cane.

I called various vision rehabilitation services to inquire how to get training. They pointed me to the state vocational rehabilitation agency where I applied for services, to include what is called Orientation and Mobility (O+M) training. Unfortunately, in my state there is a long waiting list and a shortage of funds to serve the disabled. After waiting a year with no word from the state agency, I tried to find private instructors to teach me O+M and was told there were none available and it would be cost prohibitive. So, I turned to the internet and found the Accelerated Orientation and Mobility (AOM) program offered by Leader Dogs for the Blind (LDB). This is a seven day, one-on-one, intensive course taught by certified O+M specialists at the training center in Rochester Hills, Michigan. The cost to the client: FREE.

I always thought I would eventually get a guide dog and when I researched this option I learned good O+M skills were a prerequisite to using a dog for mobility. However, the AOM program is for anyone who wants to learn to use a white cane, whether or not there is interest in using a guide dog in the future. With great anticipation and a bit of trepidation, I applied for the AOM program. LDB walked me through the process, made all the travel arrangements, and paid all the expenses. All I had to do was show up at the airport and be ready to learn. The flight to Michigan was easy with assistance from the airline escort service. When I arrived in Michigan, LDB staff was there to greet me.

My week at LDB was an incredible experience. The accommodations were very comfortable and visually impaired friendly. The staff was welcoming and professional. On the first morning, I was fitted with my new cane and the teaching began. It felt awkward in my hands, but I was eager to learn. The days’ lessons built on each other as my skills developed. There is so much more to Orientation and Mobility than I ever imagined. It is not just about thwacking a cane around. It involves cane techniques such as the grip, the swing, and two-point touch. There is shore-lining, stairs, and street crossings to master. I was struck with the difference the cane made immediately. I was able to walk with my head up and with a normal gait as I learned to use the information my cane gave me. No more staring at the ground and shuffling like a grandma! It felt wonderful to stand tall and take in the surrounding environment. I learned to plan a route, use environmental cues to orient myself, and get from point A to point B safely. It was so exhilarating to realize I could once again get myself to where I wanted to go. I will be forever grateful for the gift of this training from Leader Dogs for the Blind as it was the beginning of regaining my independence.

I like how the cane identifies me as visually impaired so I do not have to explain this. At first, I thought it would make me appear “disabled”, but on the contrary, I think I appear more “able”, traveling on my own with confidence. And so, I embraced my cane. Before long, instead of feeling awkward with it, I felt awkward without it. If your cane is stashed away in a closet, aging like fine wine, I encourage you to get it out and use it. If you have been putting off learning to use a white cane, consider the AOM program at LDB as a great place to start. Don’t wait until a serious injury happens. In the end, I learned the white cane is simply a useful mobility tool that helps keep me safe and independent.