The Great Golf Cart Caper

I live in a unique community that has golf cart paths all throughout the city. We moved here specifically for this reason. After I lost my driver’s license due to my vision impairment, my husband and I discovered Peachtree City, Georgia where there are over 100 miles of scenic cart/biking paths connecting the city. I was able to drive our golf cart to get around town and run family errands for the next ten years. Eventually, our three children learned to drive the golf cart and they became my chauffeurs. It was a perfect solution to our situation and a very enjoyable lifestyle. I no longer have enough vision to drive the golf cart, but it was a blast while it lasted!

Most families own a golf cart to get around town easily and as a fun way to travel. On a recent Saturday, my friend invited me to go to a concert at the local amphitheater. “Let’s take my golf cart, ” I said.

 That night, we packed a small cooler of refreshments and headed down the path. My friend, of course was driving and we were quickly engrossed in deep conversation because we had not seen each other in quite a while. We stopped off and had a quick bite to eat at a sandwich shop. Then back on the golf cart once again, we headed to the concert.

 As we were riding along, I noticed a blanket and a jacket on the cart that didn’t seem familiar. “What’s this?” I asked Suzanne. “Oh, your husband must have put them on the golf cart for us,” she remarked.

 When we arrived at the outdoor concert, Suzanne noticed there were also stadium chairs on the back of the golf cart. “Oh, look,” she said, “your husband thought of everything!” Suddenly, I was very confused…”Suzanne-we don’t have chairs like that! Where did they come from?”  Then, she was off the cart saying “Oh, my gosh! Our cooler isn’t here! It must have fallen off along the way!”

Suzanne and me with my golf cart

Suzanne and me with my golf cart

She lifted another bag from the cart and opened it up. It contained wine coolers on ice…not the refreshment we packed…and then it hit me…we stole someone else’s golf cart!! I began to laugh hysterically and sputtered out my realization. “Suz, we took the wrong golf cart! We have to go back!” And then she also realized what was unfolding and exclaimed “Oh my gosh-we are golf cart thieves! We are going to get arrested!”

Within moments of our discovery, a golf cart full of people who looked vaguely familiar from the sandwich shop, pulled up behind us and said “Ah ha! We found you!” Indeed, they were driving MY golf cart which was very similar to theirs-same make but a slightly darker blue color. Someone at the sandwich shop told them they saw “a blind lady and a blond lady get on their cart and they were talking about going to the concert.” So they all piled on my golf cart and came looking for us. They too were attending the concert. As it turned out, we knew these folks; their kids went to school with our kids and one of them works with my husband. Oh we all had such a great laugh together! Then we took photos and texted our children to tell them what happened. It was a unique set of circumstances which made such an adventure possible. We made jokes about “the blond lady leading the blind lady” and how this could only happen in Peachtree City. We swapped carts and grabbed our coolers, still laughing as we entered the concert. By the way, golf cart keys work interchangeably in carts of the same model! Who knew?

A Spring Chorus of Twitters and Tweets

Ahhh, I welcome the crisp spring air and bright morning sun on a March day. I wander the yard with my guide dog Sophie and we are both feeling the freshness in the breeze and have a renewed spring in our step. Sophie pauses, closes her eyes and lifts her twitching nose high in the air to inhale the kaleidoscope of scents. There is a definite smell to the color green. And rain has a distinct and lingering fragrance. Just as humans see the world in varying shades of color, dogs experience it in layers of exquisite smells.

Image result for daffodils

 

I walk my little plantation to find other signs which tell me winter is over. I know the vegetation in my garden and I take inventory. My daffodils and paper whites are smiling and the forsythia bush is aflame. I can detect these vibrant splashes of color as they dance against the still brown lawn. The azaleas are budding and the camellias are in full bloom. No sign of the hosta yet and I cannot find the lilies of the valley either. A few herbs are pushing through-I ruffle the leaves and smell parsley and lemon balm. I gather my clues through touch and smell. Then I am suddenly aware of another sign of spring that demands my attention.

 

I close my eyes and stand still, like Sophie does. I hear layers of birdsong in the trees: playful twitters and tweets, insistent squawks and squeaks, delicate coos and peeps. My yard is a veritable bird sanctuary! I notice the melodic and frantic sounds like never before and wonder what the birds are saying to each other. “I’m over here!” and “Oh-oh, pick me!”  I imagine, as male and female flirt. The birds call out back and forth, replicating and responding in the ritual of finding a mate. What enthusiasm and energy they have as they play “Marco –Polo” in the tree tops. This adds yet another awareness of beauty this morning for me. Though I cannot see the frisky feathered creatures, I am enthralled with their noisy love songs and playful antics overhead. I suddenly want to learn more about them and their signature voices. I want to not only take time to smell the roses, but stop and listen to the beautiful spring chorus offered by nature.Image result for birds in the spring

 

Perhaps I will take The Hadley School for the Blind course entitled “Enjoying Birdsongs.” Here is the course description:

 

{Enjoying birdsongs helps people reduce stress, improve cognition and memory, interact with nature, and even have spiritual experiences. This course guides students through the many birdsongs presented in John Neville’s audio CD set Beginner’s Guide to Bird Songs of North America. This course helps students become able to appreciate nature and birdsongs, as well as reflect on their experiences with birdsongs}

 

The Hadley School for the Blind offers many distance-learning courses for high-school students and adults. There is a variety of academic, enrichment, technology and recreational courses that are FREE to the blind and visually impaired. Learn more at:

http://www.hadley.edu

 

Reading to Enhance Mental Health: Bibliotherapy

Reading as a Healing Experience

Most of us become readers at an early age and discover the wonders of a good story. We learn to interact with books in order to learn and grow. Characters come alive to us as we relate to their experiences. Sometimes reading is for pleasure or escape and other times it is for the disciplined acquisition of information. No matter what, our engagement with literature and written word has the potential to change us, calm us, inform us, inspire us and heal us. In its most simplistic form, this is known as bibliotherapy. Exposure to books, poetry, writing, and even film and videos can be therapeutic and beneficial in helping us process our own life experiences. In other words, literature can be used to help us figure life out, heal emotional traumas, and change thoughts and behavior. Reading can be a healing experience.

As I was learning to adjust to vision loss, I was drawn to read books about blindness and books written by authors who were blind. I found it very helpful and motivating to enter the narratives of others who were sharing their own stories of vision loss. Some books were informational, some humorous, and others deeply moving. I realized that the cumulative affect was that I understood more about blindness and my feelings about it were changing. Reading books on blindness, memoirs and biographies of blind writers has had a very positive influence on my ability to adjust and cope with vision loss.

Reading Books on Blindness

It has long been understood that literature “heals the soul” and the use of bibliotherapy has evolved to become quite complex in its application to psychiatry and health care. Consider a bit of reading therapy for yourself as a way to deal with vision loss. With the help of the Peer Advisors at VisionAware, I  put together a reading list of books for this purpose. It is not exhaustive by any means but meant to get you started. Most of these titles are available through the National Library Service in audio or braille formats. Newer titles are not yet available through the NLS. Many are available in e-book formats through your favorite booksellers. (Kindle, Nook, etc.) Another way to find such books on blindness is to search the NLS collection using “blindness” as a key word. Whether you are using your eyes, ears or fingers to read, may it be a rewarding and therapeutic experience.

If you are interested in learning more about the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Talking Book Program, go to: hhttp://www.loc.gov/nls/index.html

24 Books on Blindness

  1. Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer- e-book, NLS
  2. Cockeyed: a memoir by Ryan Knighton- e-book, NLS
  3. Blindness: What it is, What it Does, and How to Live with it by Thomas Carroll-NLS
  4. Lessons I Learned in the Dark by Jennifer Rothschild- NLS
  5. Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness by John Hull- NLS
  6. Living on the Edge of Twighlight by Doug Green- e-book
  7. Now I See You: A Memoir by Nicole C. Kear- e-book
  8. Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith by Amy Bovaird- e-book
  9. Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation by Sue Martin- e-book,NLS
  10. The Adversity Advantage by Erik Weihenmayer and Paul G. Stoltz-  e-book,NLS
  11. Thoughts on Blindness: One Spouse’s Perspective on Losing Vision and Living Life by Becky LeBlanc-The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  12. Ordinary Daylight: Portrait of an Artist Going Blind by Andrew Potok- e-book, NLS cassette
  13. A Matter of Dignity: Changing the Lives of the Disabled by Andrew Potok-NLS
  14. ROCKS:The Blind Guy at the Lake by Thomas P. Costello-Amazon print, The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  15. Focus by Ingrid Ricks- e-book
  16. How Do You Kiss a Blind Girl by Sally Wagner-NLS
  17. The Way We See It: A Fresh Look at Vision Loss – anthology from Vision Loss Resource-print, e-book available at http://www.visionlossresources.org
  18. Do You Dream in Color? By Laurie Rubin-NLS
  19. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance by Jacques Lusseyran-NLS
  20. Not Fade Away by Rebecca Alexander
  21. The Unseen Minority: a social history of blindness in America by Frances A. Koestler-NLS
  22. Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness: the process of responding to life’s demands by Dean and Naomi Tuttle-NLS
  23. Shades of Darkness: a black soldier’s journey through Vietnam, blindness and back by George Brummell-NLS
  24. Undaunted by Blindness: concise biographies of 400 people who refused to let visual impairment define them by Clifford Olstrom, Perkins School for the Blind-NLS

Share Your Favorite Therapeutic Book

Is there a book you have read that helped you adjust to vision loss? How did the book help you? Or is there a book about a blind person that was encouraging or motivational? What about books written by a blind or visually impaired author? Share your favorite reads below.

                                                Image result for books

Ski for Light Focuses on Abilities Not Disabilities

I just returned from the 2015 International Ski for Light event in Granby Colorado. It was an amazing week of cross-country skiing under big, blue skies in the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed well-groomed trails, sunny days, beautiful snow, and crisp mountain air.  The  best part though was connecting with a group of inspiring people.

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

A First Time Skier

Ski for Light is a non-profit organization run by all volunteers, which enables visually impaired and mobility impaired individuals to enjoy a week of skiing with a personal guide. There were 100 dis-Abled skiers, 100 sighted guides and a host of other volunteers who make the week go smoothly.  I am so thrilled to have had this opportunity to learn to ski for the first time in my life. I had no idea whether I would be able to do it but as it turns out, I can…even at my age and with the little bit of vision I have left! It was a memorable week which taught me I can do more than I think I can.

A Full-Inclusion Program

I learned about the program from a friend who is also keen on new adventures. She has been attending Ski for Light for many years. In my retirement, I am determined to try new things, learn new skills and get fit. So this opportunity was exciting and I did not hesitate to sign up. It spurred me on to join the gym and exercise regularly so I would not embarrass myself. I arrived in fairly good shape, though there is always room for improvement. I worked hard at learning the basics of cross-country skiing with my experienced guide/instructor Lynn Cox. She has been coming to SFL for many years, volunteering her time and at her own expense, to guide and teach visually impaired skiers. The guides are trained to work with the visually impaired and most are accomplished skiers who can share their expertise. We are treated with respect, dignity, and full inclusion and it is easy to forget you are visually impaired while at SFL. And that is a wonderful thing!

Pushing Past Personal Limits

Well, as it turns out, I have a special talent for falling safely and popping up quickly which I demonstrated over and over. This is an important skill, but it was not the one at which I wanted to excel. All week, I tried to fall less and ski more smoothly. I set goals for myself and worked to do my personal best each day. In the end, I improved every day; skiing farther, faster, and with fewer falls with the support and encouragement from Lynn at my side. That is what it is all about; learning your limits and then pushing past them! I have a lot more to learn and hope to master that darn “snow plow” next year.

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

A Well-Rounded Program

Ski for Light does a fantastic job of not only accommodating all levels of disabilities, but also all levels of skiing ability from the first timer to the serious race competitor. The guides are carefully matched with a skier in order to achieve the skier’s goals for the week. The program offers special interest workshops, evening entertainment and lots of opportunities to make new friends. The cost is subsidized by generous donor funds and scholarships are available for first-timers.

An Inspiring Week

I heard many inspiring stories and witnessed something special at SFL this week.  Harald Vik is 72 years old, deaf-blind and from Norway. He has been coming to SFL for years. Last year he was hit by a car while riding in a tandem bike event and sustained many broken bones. He was determined to be at this year’s event even if he had to use a sit-ski (for the mobility impaired skier). I met him out on the trails making his way on his own two legs after months of rehab and therapy. I call him “Amazing Harald.” And one bright day on the trails, I was passed up by a 93 year old gentleman who is totally blind and has been coming to SFL for more than 20 years. Way to stay young and active, Charlie! Yes, the dis-Abled skiers were inspiring to me…but so were the dedicated guides and volunteers who come back year after year with such a heart of service and passion for this excellent program.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Is Ski for Light For YOU?

Are you looking for a new adventure? Do you like to be active and learn new skills? Ski for Light may just be the thing for you!  Learn more at www.sfl.org  I will be there next year, will you?

[SFL logo]

Grateful for Talking Books

A book is a device to ignite the imagination.

–Alan Bennett

I am always amazed when I download a book on my BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Downloads) Mobile app and can immediately start listening. I browse the expansive BARD library, search for specific book titles or authors, add books to my “Wish List,” and begin reading in minutes. It is like magic, this wonderful bit of technology at my fingertips and I am so grateful to have access to reading material in this format.

 

Recently, I read that The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) played an instrumental role in the development of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), true to their mission to advocate for education and access to information for the visually impaired. This piqued my interest and I discovered a fascinating history of the NLS and the Talking Book Program. It can be found on the AFB website ( http://www.afb.org/info/75-years-of-afb-and-talking-books/2) and in the book “The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States” by Frances A. Koestler (available through the NLS and AFB).

 

AFB and Helen Keller lobbied in the early days when Congress was asked to help provide funds for the production and circulation of braille books for the blind. The Library of Congress was tasked with this important work by the Pratt-Smoot Act passed in March 1931. Thus began decades of research, development, and partnerships which brought the wonders of books to blind people in America. As Helen Keller said when she testified to the House of Representatives,

 

“ …Books are the eyes of the blind. They reveal to us the glories of the light-filled world, they keep us   in touch with what people are thinking and doing, they help us to forget our limitations. With our hands plunged into an interesting book, we feel independent and happy.”

 

This legislation enabled Braille books to be systematically printed and loaned through regional libraries, funded by the government. As the numbers of blind adults grew as a result of war, there was increased need to produce and circulate more reading material efficiently. This coincided with new technologies being developed to record spoken word. AFB partnered with engineers, commercial recording studios, the Library of Congress, Helen Keller, and American Printing House (APH) to bring to fruition the Tallking Book Program in 1934. Through determined effort, recorded books and play back machines were made available through regional libraries to the visually impaired community all over the United States, on free loan. AFB began recording Talking Books for the Library of Congress and among the first were the Four Gospels and the Psalms, the Declaration of Independence, and some works of Shakespeare.

 

AFB continued to participate in the mission of bringing literature, magazines and other reading materials to the blind even as new technologies evolved. In 1936, Talking Books were made on Vinylite LP records played on phonographs built by blind workers in one of Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration (WPA) workshops run by AFB. By the 1950’s, alternative formats were being developed to record books on cassette tapes and reel-to-reel. Talking Books on cassette tapes with the accompanying machines, were the preferred format distributed by the 1980’s. Then in the 1990’s, digital technologies drove the AFB and the Library of Congress to launch a test program to introduce digitally recorded books and digital players. The conversion to a digital Talking Book system began in 2007. From there, we have BARD Mobile today; books downloadable on digital players and i-devices instantly at our fingertips. Isn’t it grand, to be able to enjoy a book with clear digital technology, easy navigation, and available on-demand? It always causes me to pause to consider what an amazing time we live in and to give thanks to all the tireless efforts of those who went before us, advocating for this access to printed word. Thank you AFB and Helen Keller! And now , I must get back to my Talking Book-“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett.

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

A Piano Concert: Pure Joy!

I attended a piano concert at Spivey Hall this weekend. Now I am a total novice when it comes to music of such caliber. But I do love music of all genres and enjoy the way it can influence my mood, inspire my thoughts, and elicit sweet memories all at once. That is indeed the power and magic of music and I have always wished that I could make music and understand it more fully. Though I am no musical connoisseur or musician, I was moved by the pure pleasure of this experience.

keyboard of a Steinway grand piano

keyboard of a Steinway Grand Piano

Richard Goode, a classical American Pianist, was phenomenal. We had 2nd row seats and I could see his outline as he entered the stage in his black suit and snow white hair. He seemed to have a commanding posture and bowed deeply to his audience. Then he got right to the business of stroking and caressing his beloved keys. Immediately, I was in awe and drawn into his music. He played a variety of classical pieces each with its own story, mood and interpretation, for which he is known. He is a true master and it was a privilege to be there.

black Steinwas Grand Piano

Steinway Grand Piano

I found myself closing my eyes so that I could “hear” the music better. And paradoxically, I could “see” the music better too. I got lost in it as each note, each piece rang out crystal clear in the perfect accoustics of this fine hall. I imagined some notes as fairies dancing on moonbeams, lithe and whimsical. Others were complex and booming like a thunderous storm in the night. In my mind’s eye, I followed each story as it unfolded in layers. The music appeared as light and gave me a sense of knowing.  I could hear, see and feel each piece in a way I have never experienced before. Is this part of losing one’s vision? Is it a function of being more attuned to my senses? Was it the sheer pleasure and appreciation of exquisite music? I do not know for sure but I can say with certainty that it was beautiful and haunting and it left me wanting more. 

Music notes with Light in the background

Music is Light…

Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life. ~Ludwig van Beethoven

A Hiking We All Went

 

“Not all those who wander are lost”

                               J.R.R. Tolkien

I recently returned from a wonderful hiking trip. I was invited to join nine other women on their annual hiking adventure which they have taken for the last 16 years together. When I received the invitation, I hardly stopped to think about it. Count me in any time there is hiking, a chance to travel, and an opportunity to make new friends. I had never met these women and this would be my first “Hen Hike.”

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

 The Hens are made up of five visually impaired women and five sighted guides who have been friends for years. They are the kind of women who are “shakers and movers,” impressive in their vivacious spirits and thirst for adventure. Most of them have been involved with Ski For Light, Inc. (which I will write about in another post), where the sighted guides have developed their skill to guide the visually impaired and their selfless sense of service as volunteers. It is a group of physically fit and “aging gracefully” women who know how to have fun! They are world travelers, survivors of some of life’s most difficult challenges, professionals, wise, well-read, kind and gracious ladies. And it was such a privilege to be among them!

 We stayed at the Starlight Inn in northeast Pennsylvania. It is nestled in the country, overlooking a lake and surrounded by scenic trails. Sari the innkeeper, runs the quaint establishment with other family members. Wholesome and homemade meals are served in the cozy dining room where you feel as though you are part of the family. Every day, we were sent off on our hike with made-to-order sack lunches; meaty sandwiches on freshly baked bread, crisp apples and homemade cookies.

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

 

Each morning we hit the trails paired up with our guide for the day. The trees were spectacular in their fall “coats of many colors.” We walked the woodsy paths, side by side, at an easy pace and lost ourselves in companionable conversations. Breathing in the cool fresh air, we merrily trudged along in our broken-in boots,LLBean flannels and brandishing our walking canes. The sun was bright on our faces as we wandered the forest, leaving behind the worries of the world. The hikes were pleasant and we covered quite a bit of ground. We discovered several waterfalls and open meadows which were perfect lunch spots. It was refreshing and relaxing to enjoy the beautiful scenery with new friends who also appreciated nature.

 The hiking was only half the fun. Every day, we gathered in the “parlor” for Happy Hour, sipping wine and nibbling cheese and crackers. We shared stories of our lives and talked about the day’s highlights. Each day, I learned more about the Hens and grew to appreciate their colorful personalities, their vitality, and their fun-loving, adventurous spirits. After our lovely evening meals, we retired to the sun porch to play games. Some of the Hens pulled out their knitting as we played. We cackled and laughed until we cried and our sides hurt! And after much mirth and merriment, we trotted off to bed, full and satisfied with the day’s activities.

Hen Hike 2014

Hen Hike 2014

 This trip was such a joy. Everything went smoothly and the group meshed so well. I am grateful to these special women for welcoming me warmly and sharing their lives with me. I appreciated what the guides did for us VIPs (visually impaired person) and I was inspired by the VIPs. It is always reassuring to me to be with others who are visually impaired and managing life so well…it empowers me to keep on and encourages me to “see the possibilities” for new adventures. Happy Trails!