A Saturday Stroll Through the Cemetery

Yesterday was “get out of the house day.” My husband and I laid aside our Saturday chores and opted for a trip to Atlanta. We had a full day of activities planned. We wanted to do some walking, check out a new restaurant, and shop at a store I have never been to before. I packed for the adventure, including food and water for my Sophie girl. She was just as excited as I was to “get out of Dodge” and get some exercise.

First stop was historic Oakland Cemetery. I love walking around old cemeteries and reading the gravestones. This garden sanctuary dates back to 1850 and is full of Atlanta stories and history. There are beautiful old live oaks and magnolias that cool off the brick paths. The ornate monuments and wrought iron gates are stately and showy. There is unique sculpture and architecture marking the final resting places of Atlanta’s dignitaries. We strolled peacefully among the headstones and my husband read them to me. There were soldiers’ graves from the Civil War and tiny crooked markers of infants who died prematurely. One of my favorites today was a husband’s stone which read, “All I ask of you is forever remember me as loving you.” Such a touching testament to eternal love…the words stayed with me all day.

We moseyed on and came upon the gravesite of Margaret Mitchell Marsh, the author of the Pulitzer Prize novel Gone with the Wind. It was published in 1936 and is said to be the second most read book in the world, after the Bible.  Yet she lies next to her husband with a simple headstone without powerfully penned words. Just an observation… 

Despite the shade and coolness among the trees, the day was heating up. Sophie was panting but being a trooper. She did a great job guiding me around broken concrete paths and low hanging tree branches. We made our way back to the entrance gate. Sophie appreciated a long swig of cool water at the car and a relief break. Then just across the street, we walked to a pub called “Six Feet Under” which had great reviews and the promise of cold beer. We refreshed ourselves with some suds and seafood gazpacho…de-lish! Then we shared a lovely baked basa on a bed of spinach and some scallops and asparagus. The day was shaping up to be a real treat!

We headed into Atlanta and found the REI store. I was eager to peruse this sports enthusiast’s super-store. I think like many customers, I fancy myself to be way more sporty than I am. Ha-I am more like a wanna-be! But I am planning a hiking trip in October so one of my objectives was to look for hiking pants. I never knew such an item existed before and I have done my fair share of hiking. But this trip is special and I want to dress for success! So I tried on several items and found just the right pair. I could have spent all day in this store fingering the yoga attire, the fashionable trail outfits and the soft and cozy long underwear. But alas, the budget and my husband couldn’t tolerate that! True to his gender, his shopping motto is always “seek-find-buy-then leave as soon as possible.”

It was a wonderful day trip and perfect antidote for cabin fever. It left me thinking about the age-old existential question: “What do you want to be known for when you die?” and “What do you want as an epitaph on your gravestone?”

The Transportation Problem

Finding Rides When You Can’t Drive

Audrey on the side of the road with her thumb out and a sign that reads "Going My Way?"

Hitch Hiking is Always an Option!

One of the most difficult challenges for people with vision loss is finding reliable and affordable transportation. Whether you have had to give up your driver’s license or never had the chance to drive, it is an adjustment fraught with emotion and a sense of loss of independence. In this mobile, fast paced, car-loving society, who among us has not longed to get into a car and drive? Oh the joy of running errands on your own schedule or simply being able to spontaneously meet a friend for lunch. Those days are long gone for me; I lost my driver’s license 24 years ago due to vision loss. It was a real game-changer to be sure. However, life can be lived even after this happens. Life without a license to drive calls for innovation, networking, and advocating for yourself especially if you live in a community that does not offer public transportation.

Relocation For Greater Independence

At the time I lost my license, we lived in the cornfields of rural Indiana. My husband and I quickly realized this location was not going to work for us; we had three young children to raise and I had a career I wanted to pursue. So, we relocated to Georgia. We discovered Peachtree City which is in a rural county south of Atlanta. While it does not offer any forms of public transportation, it has 100 miles of golf cart paths and walking trails that connect the whole city. For years, I drove a golf cart to work, school, shopping, piano lessons, ball games and anywhere my busy life required. As my vision declined, my children were old enough to drive me and we survived a few more years on the golf cart paths. Then my kids got their drivers’ licenses and we bought a second car. They each took turns being my chauffer. Before long, they all left for college and I found myself looking for new transportation options. I got my first guide dog and began to walk to work and to the closest stores. But there are many places I cannot get to on foot and there are still no buses in town. So I had to get creative and assertive about finding rides.

Meeting The Challenge

I rode to work for a while with a neighbor who worked at the same place I did. Then her job changed and she moved. I then recruited college students from a local campus and several individuals as drivers for pay. We would discuss the price up front, which I based on mileage reimbursement plus an hourly wage. To find drivers or rides, I advertised my need for transportation in the neighborhood newsletter. Also, I contacted the local Lion’s Club to explore options with their volunteers. Often, I can get errands done with friends who do not accept payment and I buy their lunch in return. When my children were young, I arranged carpools and rides for them in exchange for my babysitting services. It is important to plan your rides in advance, communicate clearly with your drivers, and organize your outings to make the most of the trip.

Tips on Getting Around

Here are a few more tips to address the transportation dilemma:

  1. Some people keep their vehicle and hire a personal driver. You may want to advertise locally, interview candidates carefully, do a background check, ask about their driving record, negotiate fees, and secure appropriate insurance coverage. This option involves other expenses such as car maintenance, registration and tags, insurance, and gas.
  2. If relocation is an option, consider areas where there is public transportation; fixed route buses, paratransit, and public transit. Look up the Walk Score (www.walkscore.com) of areas that may interest you to find the “walkability” of the community. Consult a realtor about the rising number of “live- work-play” communities (http://plannersweb.com/2013/09/a-place-to-live-work-and-play/)   that offer the conveniences of city life with less stress, decreased need for driving, and a healthier walking lifestyle.
  3. Some communities offer a “voucher transportation program” through the senior services or community services center. These programs are subsidized by federal and local agencies to provide transportation for seniors and disabled adults. The rider buys a book of vouchers at a low cost and exchanges them with a certified driver at the time of service. The driver then cashes in the vouchers for a subsidized amount.
  4. Some local churches or community groups may have “volunteer” transportation programs that provide rides free of charge to qualified people.
  5. Local taxi companies may be willing to negotiate discounts for disabled passengers who frequently use their services.
  6. There are new “rideshare” services cropping up such as Uber (www.uber.com) and Lyft (www.lyft.com) in most major cities nationally. These services offer rides on demand within minutes in private vehicles, as taxi alternatives. They have mobile apps used to request the ride and handle fees electronically.
  7. Expect to pay for rides and budget accordingly. If you owned a car and drove, you would have a myriad of expenses to maintain your own transportation.

Accessible and affordable transportation is in short supply in many communities. Federal and local governments struggle to maintain programs and find resources to meet the needs of low income, senior, and disabled citizens. Shortfalls in funding have resulted in cutbacks in services and routes, and even the folding of paratransit programs in some communities. People need rides to maintain employment, good health and quality of life, and engagement in the community. It is imperative for the visually impaired community to be pro-active in managing their transportation needs. Lack of transportation can lead to isolation, unemployment, loss of independence and even depression. We must take charge, self-advocate and be creative when it comes to addressing this area of our life.

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

 

 

 

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.

Wise Old Trees

A sign which reads "Cathedral Grove-enter quietly"

Muir Woods, a sacred place

As a cellular and developmental biology major, I was fascinated by the diversity of life on this planet Earth. My fascination began in childhood as I roamed the fields and played in the creeks on our farm in Michigan. I loved to collect leaves and bugs, climb trees, watch ants, catch frogs and study flowers. I spent hours outdoors, communing with nature and it was always a spiritual experience for me. I am in awe of the variety of shapes and colors; species and phyla found in the plant and animal kingdoms. And beyond that, the fierce determination to survive and the ability to adapt are impressive. Take the majestic sequoias in Yosemite and their cousins the coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, where these ancient trees are protected.

It was a privilege to visit these special places. Even with my diminished vision, I was able to sense the grandeur as I entered Mariposa Grove and Cathedral Grove. I walked among trees that were as old as 2000 years, as tall as 379 feet, and as wide as 40 feet. Talk about behemoths! I felt very small and inconsequential; my life but a momentary breath in comparison. The forest’s gauzy shafts of light, swirls of purple shadows, melodious songs of birds, earthy herbal fragrances, and gurgling sounds of streams all intermingled to create an ethereal effect. Indeed, this is a natural cathedral, serene and solemn, commanding a hushed respect. These redwoods have stood for eons of time, against the forces of natural disasters, man and change. Sadly, they are the lone survivors of their species, now protected from the chaos and clamor of the outside world. I gratefully received the gifts of peace and tranquility they offered. And I came away with a few lessons from these wise old trees.

Ranger Lucy in uniform standing with me and my guide dog

Ranger Lucy, Muir Woods

Ranger Lucy from the Muir Woods park service gave a tree talk to visitors. She had 5 lessons we can learn from the redwoods:

  1. Stand Tall and Proud– redwoods are the tallest living thing on earth. They have survived fires, droughts and other hardships. They bear scars and cracks which testify to their struggle to live. Wear your scars of survivorship proudly and stand with dignity.
  2. Live in a “Cool” Place-redwoods grow best in the cool temperatures of the fog belt in California. They flourish in this moist environment. Find your special place in the world where you can thrive.
  3. Support Your Community-redwoods have a disproportionately shallow root system for their size. Their roots extend widely to tangle with other near-by trees in order to anchor themselves securely. Reach out to your community to establish connections with others.
  4. Grow a Thick Skin-redwoods have very thick, spongy and fibrous bark, rich in tannic acid which makes it resistant to fire, insects, and fungi. Allow your skin to thicken so you can resist the assaults of life.
  5. Surround Yourself with Family-redwoods have the ability to reproduce by sprouting burls and forming tightly grouped “family circles,” giving them a survival advantage. Stay close to family so they can fortify and strengthen you.

I am always looking for what nature can teach me. We live in such an exquisitely designed and spectacularly intelligent world. When we stop to observe and listen, we learn great secrets and truths. These sacred experiences teach us to respect and appreciate the beauty and gifts of the Earth.

A group of trees forming a family circle

Cathedral Grove, a family circle of redwoods

            

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir

 

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”

 

 

 

More Women Than Men Have Vision Loss

We all know men are from Mars and women are from Venus. But you may be surprised to learn there are gender differences when it comes to eye health. As a nurse and a woman with a visual impairment, I was surprised to learn there are more women than men who are blind or visually impaired. I have a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa and have been legally blind since 1994. Though this condition is genetic and untreatable, there are many steps I take to preserve and protect my remaining vision. And I want to urge other women to take good care of their eyes so they will last a lifetime.

 
Women’s Eye Health Task Force reports that nearly two-thirds of all visually impaired and blind people in the world are women. More women than men suffer from eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Research has shown there are gender specific symptoms, conditions and risks associated with vision loss. April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month. It is a good time to learn about women’s eye health issues.

 
Prevent Blindness America or PBA, reports similar figures for the U.S.; 66 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired are women. Women have more risk factors and thus, higher rates of vision loss than men. To make matters worse, a recent survey done by PBA revealed that only 9 percent of women realize these troubling facts. Many blinding eye diseases can be treated to prevent blindness and almost all eye injuries can be prevented. Therefore, women need to know what their risks are and learn ways to preserve their vision. PBA launched a new program called See Jane See: Women’s Healthy Eyes Now to educate women on their unique eye health needs.

 
Women are more likely to lose their vision for several reasons:
1. They live longer than men. Many eye diseases are age-related. As women live longer than men, they are more likely to be affected by conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. The rates of these diseases are increasing as the population ages, especially among women.
2. Some eye diseases are intrinsically more prevalent among women. For instance, dry eye syndrome which is believed to be linked to hormones is two to three times more common in women than men. Hormonal changes across the life span of a woman, from pregnancy to post-menopause, can influence vision changes. Women also have higher rates of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. These conditions often have serious effects on the eyes, causing vision loss.
3. Social and economic factors can limit the frequency, quality and availability of health care for women. Since blindness and vision impairment can be prevented through early detection and treatment in some eye conditions, access to proper eye health care is believed to influence the greater rates of vision loss among women.
4. There are behavioral and environmental factors that can increase the risk of eye problems, though they are not specific to women. Among them are poor nutrition and obesity which can cause diabetes and subsequent diabetic retinopathy,a leading cause of vision loss. Smoking is also a proven risk factor for eye diseases, including cataracts and macular degeneration.

 
Women can help themselves and their families to lower the risks of vision loss by educating themselves on eye health and following these guidelines:
1. Get a comprehensive, dilated eye exam at age 40 and continue these exams every two years. If you have a family history of an eye condition or have been diagnosed with an eye disease, follow the recommended schedule of your eye doctor. If you experience any vision changes, eye pain, signs of infection, or eye injuries, see an eye doctor right away.
2. Quit smoking! Smoking affects many organs in the body and the damage is irreparable. Heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and other vascular problems have long been known as good reasons to quit smoking. Now you have another: blindness. Talk to your doctor about ways to “kick the habit.”
3. Maintain a healthy body weight. Start a weight loss or management plan to accomplish this goal. A healthy body weight lowers your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes which can all cause loss of vision. Be sure to include daily activity in your plan as this has many health benefits that can protect your vision. Begin with 30 minutes of walking at least three times a week.
4. Eat an eye healthy diet, rich in colorful fruits and vegetables. Foods containing carotenoids and anti-oxidants such as green leafy vegetables, and fruits high in vitamin C, like oranges, strawberries and melons, may protect eye health. Also include foods rich in omega 3s such as nuts, salmon and egg yolks in your diet. There are supplements available to maintain eye health which contain these micro-nutrients, but it is best to eat fresh, whole foods in a variety of colors to get the best nutrition from your diet.
5. Protect your eyes from harmful sun rays. Invest in good quality sunglasses that have full UV-a and UV-b protection. In beach and snow conditions, darker tints are needed to filter out the harmful rays. Wear ball caps or hats with a wide brim for additional protection from scattered rays that reflect off of surfaces. Avoid prolonged periods in the sun without eye protection.
6. Use cosmetics and contact lenses safely. Wash hands and face thoroughly before applying contacts and cosmetics. Keep contact cases, make-up brushes and applicators clean. Throw away eye shadows, eye liners, and mascaras after three months. They expire and can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Do not share makeup. Follow the recommended wearing and cleansing schedules for your type of contacts.
7. Learn proper eye safety and first aid for home, work, and recreational environments. Wear protective eye gear such as goggles when using chemicals, tools, and machinery. It is important to protect the eyes from burns, cuts, and foreign objects that can damage the corneas and other structures of the eye.

Note the sunglasses and ball cap..who cares about "hat-hair??"

Note the sunglasses and ball cap..who cares about “hat-hair??”

My sister Adrianne and I, taking a morning walk in the beautiful Arizona desert

My sister Adrianne and I, taking a morning walk in the beautiful Arizona desert

 

 
Women live very busy lives juggling the demands of jobs, children, their households, and aging parents. We often play the caregiver role, but sometimes neglect our own self-care. You may take your child for eye screenings or an aging parent to the eye doctor, but when did you last have an eye exam yourself? The power to prevent vision loss is in your hands. Awareness and knowledge are the tools you need. Your sight is precious-save it! Treat yourself to an eye exam today.

 
Learn more at:
http://www.visionproblemsus.org
http://www.lighthouse.org/eye-health/womens-eye-health