Friday, July 23, 2010

Dinner in the Dark, Day Without Sight

In the last two weeks, I've had two experiences with simulated blindness. First was a Dinner in the Dark, an event hosted by a church that's getting ready to open a Blind Mission outreach center in Portland. The second opportunity came when a home school family visited my library during their "special needs week" and happened to check out a Braille item.

See? There I am, in the background, in the spaghetti-colored blouse. (Rufus would have had a heyday cleaning up the floor!) The purpose of a Dinner in the Dark is to show sighted people how inept we can be without sight. It's effective, lemme tell you. Dishing noodles was no fun, but I finally realized that no one could see me so I might as well use my fingers to help.

Actually, eating wasn't the biggest challenge I felt. Rather, it was the disorientation of conversation. All of a sudden, a man's voice right above my shoulder said, "I'm going to take your plate to put the sauce on for you." Oh! Chatting with my neighbor was okay, but I made sure to point my head in her direction so maybe she'd know I was talking to her and not Mr. Deep Voice.

Thinking back, I guess it felt like I was in a bubble. I knew there were lots of people in the room, but I didn't have a sense of where they were. The sighted helpers' footsteps were silent, allowing them to appear and disappear without warning. (Also, the blindfold was over my ears, muffling the sound just a little.) It was kind of spooky. If I'd had more time, I would have been more careful of what I said and when, not knowing if there were other ears listening.

I've had one other dining in the dark experience. Several years ago, during my second conference with Lutheran Blind Mission, I put on a blindfold to go to dinner. Someone loaned me a white cane, and another person guided me through the food line. Again, eating was okay, but conversation was difficult. I could concentrate on my dinner or I could really listen to what was happening. Navigating with the cane was fine, because I knew the hallway well. When a blind friend offered to guide me back to the conference room, I relaxed and let him lead the way. I even trusted him not to walk me into a doorpost!

Back to the present. The mom and three elementary-age kids said no, they didn't have any Braille besides the library book, and no one to help them with it. Thanks to my friend's quick thinking, we came up with a plan for them to come to the library when I got off work on Thursday. I subscribe to a monthly magazine in Braille, and have lots of old copies sitting around the house. I brought one for each of them to use.

We talked about their one-day taste of blindness, and it was interesting to hear their perspectives on this experiment. These kids are confident, self-assured folks, and they approached each day of their "special needs week" with a can-do attitude. One day was spent being mute, another day in wheelchairs, yet another day on crutches or wheelchair, and then came the eye patches and sunglasses. Oh... a funny aside. One of my coworkers offered the family a tour of the library. It didn't dawn on me until much later that the librarian couldn't see their eye bandages because the sunglasses covered them! I'm sure she was not the only person that day who thought they really were blind!

One of the girls realized that she had never seen the room we were using. "I wish I could take my patches off just for a minute so I could see where we are!" That reminded me of when I lost my sense of smell. I said much the same thing, many times, wishing for just one more chance to get a whiff of my sons' heads or a new recipe or a wild rose. In my case, memory will have to serve.

There wasn't time for a full-blown Braille lesson (as if I could teach one anyway), but I had them search in their magazines for a full cell of six dots. That represents the word "for" and is, obviously, pretty common. A page of Braille is about equal to a third of a page of print, and that gave them a better understanding of why their magazines are so bulky. I read a sentence or two for them, using touch only, and did not wow them with my speed.

We discussed some statistics about the blindness community -- 70% unemployment, 18% Braille literacy rate, 60% unmarried, 95% unchurched. Isolation is very common. Towards the end of our time, one of the kids sank into a very deep state of (ahem) contemplation. His breathing slowed enough that one of his sisters noticed and asked him if he was sleeping. "No," he mumbled, sitting up straighter. "Just thinking a thought that needed thinking," or something like that. Hahahaha! The hidden danger of wearing eye patches!

Good opportunities for learning, for thinking outside of our own boxes, for trying new things.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quiet Day

Maybe a little headache is a good thing.

Busy day yesterday. Went into the city for a wedding. Traffic was icky, but the wedding and reception were wonderful. Weather was perfect. Came home to do some prep for tomorrow's painting/flooring project. Took a two mile walk with Rufus. Spent time with a son, including a trip to the hardware store for a tool... and a jacket for him, and a good colander for me, and browsing new light fixtures.

Today, I woke up with a niggling little headache. Coffee helped some, an after-church nap helped some, but it's still there. I had a good chat with my sponsor (that's 12-step talk for a mentor), stopped at the store for a new computer mouse and some much needed glassware. Sigh. Still that little headache. Came home and stretched out on the couch next to an open window with sudoku and bird songs. Nice.

I am an extroverted introvert. I love being with people, and it energizes me to be with a variety of folks. But I also need distinct alone time. Quiet, unencumbered time to ponder and listen and rest. Time to listen to God and maybe talk to Him a bit. Nice. Very nice.

May you have an afternoon of rest and relaxation, or an invigorating time with friends, to restore your energy and bring a song to your heart.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Kingdom of Rufus!

King Rufus is lord of all he surveys, as long as it lies within the bounds of our new fence. Finally, finally, we were able to complete the fence around our back yard, and Ruf isn't the only one who's happy enough to roll in the grass!

Two years ago, Rufus had an unfortunate encounter with the neighbor's cat. Since then, he's been nearly banished from chasing his beloved Preciousss-es (aka tennis balls). We couldn't trust him to stay with us, in our yard, if temptation came mincing by on cat paws. It took longer than we hoped, but now there's a good fence to keep Rufie in and other dogs or coyotes out. If a cat hops over, it had better be able to run.

It's a beautiful sunny day, so I've got the kitchen door wide open. For the first time in Rufie's life, he can go outside at will. Amazing! Of course, he's on the floor at my feet right now. But he has gone out a few times, and loves the freedom.

What's a little surprising to me is how this fence gives me a sense of freedom. Now that I know exactly where the line is between our yard and the neighbors, I can boldly go right up to it and stand there. Amazing! Now that there is a tangible boundary, I see that for years I have stayed well away from any appearance of touching their property. It's been a respect thing, but maybe there's a little fear in the mix. I wouldn't want them ever to think that I was presuming to encroach on their lives, so I shrunk back. Our yard is much wider than I had let myself imagine!

Next time you see me, if there are grass stains on my clothes, you'll know I was reveling again in the vast expanse of green that is ours!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dismal Nitch (sic)

"About 3 oClock the wind lulled and the river became calm, I had the canoes loaded in great haste and Set Out, from this dismal nitich where we have been confined for 6 days…"
--William Clark

The husband and I had a terrific road trip this past weekend. The main purpose was participation in a "dinner in the dark" for Lutheran Blind Mission. However, since it was our 28th wedding anniversary, we added a few extras to this trip and revisited one of the historic sites from our very memorable honeymoon. (That's a great story in itself, but I'm not telling it now. It would scare Rufus to hear of our perils.)

Just before we crossed the Great and Marvelous Bridge to Astoria, we found this wayside rest area with a name too good to pass by. In 1805 as Lewis and Clark made their way westward along the Columbia, they reached this memorable place on a stormy November day.

Please refrain from cleaning fish in the restroom, and another sign requests that you limit your stay here to less than eight hours.

No problem!

I couldn't get over the name. Dismal Nitch. If you've ever found yourself in a dismal niche, I'm sure you did not choose to stay there long. This is a place to wait out the storm and move ahead as soon as possible.

But then, in the restroom, I found this not-so-dismal piece:

Just for you, Diane! Flowers to soothe the soul in a dismal place.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Practical Tips for Practical Jokes

I pulled a good one on a thirsty coworker today. She's marshaling four -- FOUR! -- family members to devise a reciprocation. I wonder...

Although I enjoy playing practical jokes very much, I have my own code of conduct in this matter. After all, I want to ensure that the jokes are harmless enough that I can continue to play them 364 days a year. Therefore, here are a few of the guidelines that I use to design and execute a funny prank. Take what you like, leave the rest.

First, do no harm. Ever since that time in junior high PE when another girl pulled my shorts down to my knees, I have had no desire to do anything that would cause serious embarrassment or injury.

Second, who's gonna clean it up? Consider the end result. If you prop a cup on the top of a door, what will you have to pick up off the floor later? Marbles would make an amazing noise, but they'll roll away and perhaps pose a hazard to someone else. Either use a single tennis ball or find small lightweight objects that won't roll away.

Third, leave no marks. Need I say more?

Fourth, subtlety is most efficient. Elaborate set-ups are fine for special occasions, but most of my stuff is done on the fly. Time is of the essence if a person wants to remain in good standing with her supervisors. Initiate a casual conversation about rabid squirrels, right before you know someone is going to turn around and to find a stuffed animal staring them in the face.

Finally, weigh your options. Is this a "good" day to prank this particular person? How will he/she ultimately respond? Does the victim possess adequate maturity to refrain from whacking you over the head with the nearest baseball bat?

After running through all these rules of prankster etiquette, I knew how to *help* my coworker today. She was helping a family get library cards, and had a frog in her throat. We are not in the habit of having unsecured beverage containers in the library, but she didn't blink an eye when I showed up with a paper cup. In the back room, I had found a few little strips of clean paper. (Strips are easier to pick up than tiny confetti!) Coming around the side of her desk, in full view of her patrons, I tripped and spilled the "water" all over her lap. Riotous laughter ensued, witnesses provided safety against immediate retaliation, and a good time was had by almost all... But go back and read my opening paragraph again. If I suddenly sprout green feathers and squawk like a chicken, you'll know that my friend fixed me!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Another Picnic, Another Adventure

Almost a year ago, I wrote about an interesting experience that happened at a picnic. That was then, this is now. New year, new thrills.

This year, I was thrilled to be allowed to borrow my church's big van to help transport friends up to the park. That was exciting, because at least eight of us (and one wheelchair) would be able to ride together instead of several of them taking separate public transport vans. This would give us time to talk and make each other laugh. In addition to this, I was also asked to help transport city bus riders to and from a bus stop at the bottom of the hill. Great! I've got a whole van full of seats!

Here's a photo of me driving the van. (I took this while alone, so no riders were in any way endangered by this photograph.)

I picked up six friends here in the suburbs, and we drove without incident to the park. Shortly after arriving and disembarking, I went with another lady to see exactly where the coming and going bus stops were located. Fine and dandy.

The neighborhood near this park is old, expensive without being pretentious, and beautiful. As I waited for incoming Metro buses, I enjoyed the streetside gardens.

A large group of picnickers got off the next bus, and I happily drove them up the hill. One more bunch came on the bus after that, and included was a man who didn't know exactly what the ACB does, but he heard there would be fellow blind and visually impaired people here so he came to check it out. As we went up the hill, I talked a little about the ACB and about Lutheran Blind Mission so he'd get a taste of what each group is about.

Once at the picnic to stay, I ate too much (same as last year), watched a game of tug-of-war (didn't participate this time), and escorted a few folks to the antiquated comfort stations. Yep, it's that park. While waiting outside, I enjoyed the flowers and the sunshine:

All in all, it was a lovely day. But what, you may ask, was the adventure? What was the one fly in the ointment, the ants at the picnic, the rain on your parade? The van, my friends, the van. Although my church uses this van to take children and teens and the occasional adult to various activities, I don't think it usually takes only adults anywhere. The step to get up into it is quite high, and the seats are very close together and run just a few inches short of the side door. Getting into and moving inside of this vehicle should not be attempted by the faint of heart. Not only that, but anyone with a mobility issue is going to have a heck of a time of it.


It seemed like such a good idea.

In spite of that, I had a lot of fun, and I hope my friends did, too.