Monday, February 28, 2011

Great things about being blind. Born that way.

I've been totally blind since birth. Well, I have a little light perception in one eye but I've never seen any more or less than I see now. The other day, a woman said that it was so sad that I've never seen. How awful! But I assured her that it isn't. And I'm not trying to be saintly. I've never seen. That's normal to me. Kids are adaptable. I grew up figuring out how to do things as a person who is blind. That is what was normal. I rode my bike by listening to the sounds of other tricycles. I learned to tell clothes by feel. To cook by feel. To read and write braille. To get around with a cane and then a guide dog. If I suddenly could see, I would have no idea what anything was until I touched it. I picutre people by their voices, their laughs, their walk. I lead a full and active and interesting life. Sure, I'm curious about what things might look like. But I don't feel that I have a sad life. Sure sometimes I get frustrated but mostly that is about the barriers put in front of me by society. We all have things to overcome. Things that are difficult. My blindness is a part of who I am. Sometimes a hard part. but most times, a great part. So, don't feel sad for me. Life is an amazing adventure.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great things about being blind. Experiencing history.

A friend of mine wrote a blog post yesterday from Jordan where she is living. It was all about visiting Roman ruins. I love history and visiting historic places too. There is something amazing and humbling about thinking that you are standing on the ground people have stood on for thousands of years. That you are where a very important historic event took place. Sometimes, I have had very good luck with historic sites and places. At other times, it has been dull if I can't touch things or have them well described to me. I had a very great experience a few years back at Stone Henge in England. People used to be allowed to spend time on the stones freely. But, this access was restricted to protect the stones I think. People are allowed near them on certain days. When we visited there, I was prepared to stand several meters away, listening to my audio guide. Good audio guides have really helped with museums and historic sites. I was standing there listening when a woman who worked there approached and asked if I would like her to take me to the stones. this was amazing. Those mysterious stones. The ones no one could touch. She took me across the grass and described the stones to me. She let me touch them and told me all about the history. People were looking longingly at us. She told me to turn and stick my tongue out at them. I did not. But turned and smiled and waved. I loved my time with the ancient stones.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Great things about being blind. Storytelling performances and material.

I had a storytelling performance last night. An hour long feature performance. One of the first solo ones like this with all of my own autobiographical material. It was great. The great thing about being blind is you get lots of unique material but although it is unique it also has a universal appeal. Who hasn't thought they need to be like everyone else? Had interesting family relationships? Had barriers placed in their paths? I loved storytelling last night as usual. Also, I love to hear my audience. Sometimes I hear a certain laugh and know who it is. Or an indignant exclamation. I can't look out into the crowd but I hear people and it makes me glad. Also, I can't see if anyone is bored, texting their friends, falling asleep. So, this can be an advantage too. But I get a feeling about whether or not the crowd is with me. And I had the feeling they were last night. I love my storytelling and am so glad I am doing it. I love this blogging too.
If anyone wants to hire me as a storyteller, disability awareness presenter or trainer, workshop leader, please contact me at
Thanks to my friends who support me so loyally always.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Great things about being blind. Saving the environment.

I read a very interesting post on the bbc ouch web site.
I love their podcast, blog, and material.
It is all about and created by people with disabilities.
It seems that in Norway, an organization for blind people has put up some interesting ads trying to get more people who are blind employed.
Some people say that here in Canada as much as 70 percent of blind people are not employed. It is a scary statistic.
One of the ads I read from Norway, said something like,
"Employ a blind person. Save electricity."
It really made me laugh out loud.
Often, when I am home alone, I don't think to turn on lights. I don't need them.
I try to remember to put them on for my guide dog if I think of it.
But if someone else has left a light on, it stays on and I don't know either.
Anyway, yes blind people save electricity. They don't need their computer monitors on. They don't need lights on. And they don't drive so they save the environment by walking or taking public transit.
I feel very virtuous now.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Great things about being blind. Saving someone from a terrible first date.

I wrote the other day about going to the movies. As I said then, I have been going to movies, plays, concerts, and other performances for as long as I can remember. Whoever is there with me sometimes has to describe things to me.
The stage set at a play.
The action in a movie.
My family has gotten quite used to doing this and become very good at it. Some of my friends are also expert at this too especially my storyteller and writer friends.
Several years ago, a new friend of mine (who is now an old friend of mine) and I wanted to go to see the movie "Children of a lesser God" For anyone who doesn't know this movie, it is a movie about a woman who is deaf. So definitely a movie about disabilities. My friend asked me what I would need her to do during the movie. I said that in places where the movie was visual, she would need to describe the action to me. She asked if I'd ever had any people get upset at the movies when someone was whispering to me. I said no. Famous last words.
We went to the movie and sat down. The movie theatre was by no means full. The movie started. It has long stretches of dialogue but there are some visual parts as well. Near the beginning, my friend was whispering discretely to me during an action segment. There was a couple sitting in front of us. A man and a woman. The man turned around, glared at us, and said, "Be quiet."
I said, "I'm sorry but I'm totally blind and my friend is just describing the action to me."
He said, "I don't care. Shut up or I will get the manager."
I said, "Fine. Get the manager."
The woman with this man had turned a bright red.
The man got up and stormed out and got the manager. He returned with the manager.
"These people are disturbing me." he said loudly.
The manager asked what was going on. I pointed out that I was blind, that my friend was only describing action sequences to me when necessary.
The manager said to the man, "Dude you're not serious. You want me to kick these people out."
"they need to move away from me and shut up."
"Well dude. They have every right to be here and she has every right to have the movie described to her. If you don't like it, there are plenty of empty seats in here so you should move."
The man glared at us again. Then he said to the woman, "Come on. We have to move."
She said, "No."
So he got up and stormed off and sat by himself.
The movie proceeded on uneventfully. At the end, the woman came up to us and said she was sorry. It wasn't her fault. I assured her all was okay. The man came over to her and said, "Come on. Let's go to dinner."
She said, "You can go to dinner by yourself." And she strolled off and left him there.
My friend and I took off too. We still laugh at the fact that the only time I had big problems at the movies was for a disability movie and also that we unmasked an unsavory character at what we imagine was his first and last date with that woman. I guess I did her a good service.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Great things about being blind. TV and film watching.

A friend told me something very interesting the other day that I didn't know. She said she went to a movie but the movie had been played so many times that the picture was not perfect. I never knew that. Ah ha, I thought. Great thing about being blind? You don't need to see the picture. I've gone to movies and watched tv, attended plays and other performances for as long as I can remember. Family members grew adept at describing action to me. Since the inception of descriptive video services (DVS) where a track announces the action for people who are blind, I have loved this best. The first time I entered a theatre, asked for head phones, and listened to the audeo description of a movie, it was wonderful. I didn't have to ask anyone else what was going on. Tomorrow, I'll tell a crazy story about the movies before DVS. But for today, here's a funny tv story. One time I had people over for new year's eve. I said, "I got videos. Let's watch them." I put the video in, turned on the tv, and began listening to the movies. My friends were puzzled. They said there was no picture. The picture tube or whatever had broken. I'm not sure how long it had been that way. I thought, well this is a perfect tv for me. You should all just listen to the movies along with me. They weren't inclined to do so for some reason. Smile.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Great things about being blind. Getting great help with shopping.

With the internet and on-line shopping, shopping has become easier for me in many ways. I can browse products on-line, read descriptions of them, order them if I want to. I remember the first time I ever saw on-line grocery shopping. I went through all of the aisles and read about each product. It was amazing. Shopping in a conventional way means I need some kind of assistance. Sometimes, I go with friends or family. this is particularly useful when shopping for clothes. Sometimes I go on my own and ask for help from employees. You can get very interesting help. People who don't know what certain fruits or vegetables are. People who have different senses of humour than you when picking out cards. But, yesterday, I went for some groceries and had a wonderful shopping experience. The woman who helped me asked the right questions. Did I want very ripe or not so ripe bananas, read me packages, let me touch the amount of almonds she found for me in bulk to see if it was the amount I wanted. She talked about which fruits and vegetables looked better than others and was generally helpful, informative, natural, and fun to be around. This kind of experience makes shopping a pleasure rather than a mystery. When I was in the store, a fellow shopper came to tell me that her large dog was tied up outside. That the dog was a bit rambunctious and that she was going to leave before I did and move her dog so I wouldn't be disturbed by it. Very considerate too. So, even though it was freezing here yesterday, it was a pleasure to have a great shopping experience and to have just the right kind of help.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Great things about being blind. Hearing happy dog noises.

this set of happy memories started with a sad one. I realized last night that I would never again hear Gia's happy squeaking noise. It got me to thinking about my dogs and their happy noises. I always mean to record them and don't. This time with Tulia I will. My first guide dog (black lab Gwenny) did something I've never heard from a retreiver before or since. And she only started doing it after I'd had her for several months. She howled when she was happy. Tipped her head back, nose pointing skywards, pranced her little front paws (I heard the tap tap tap) and howled.
If you said, "Would you like a biscuit?" she howled.
If you said, "Would you like to go to the park?" she howled.
If you said, "Christmas presents." she howled.
It did get us into an embarrassing situation once. I was being paid to work for a friend of mine at her receptionist job while she was on vacation. I was telling someone on the phone where we were located. I mentioned parking lot (yes it had the word park in it) and Gwenny got up and howled right there in the office. The person on the phone was curious about that noise that sounded kind of like a wolf. Wish I had recorded it.
She did another happy thing. She knew she wasn't supposed to jump on people, but she loved it when people came over so she would go to the door and then start jumping near them but not touching. I loved to hear that little jumping motion.
Gia squeaked. She squeaked when she got excited to see you. When she was carrying a favourite toy. when you came home after leaving her in the house. It was a very high, quiet, soft squeak.
Gia also made very happy low noises when you scratched her chin.
And Gia drank water with a lapping motion faster than I've ever heard. She sure seemed to be enjoying it.
Tulia makes happy little grumbling noises when you pat her sometimes, or when she's settling down for a nap.
She also makes a very interesting sliding notes from high to low when she stretches when she gets up.
She snorts with happiness too.
And there's something about her walk when she's going towards toys she kind of struts I think as I hear her feet shuffling along. Never heard a dog walk like that before.
Her collar tags also make a very happy jingling noise as she bounces along.
Tulia dreams a lot with those little puppy barks and wags her tail a great deal in her dreams.
And there is never a happier sound than a retriever inhaling their food and cleaning up the dog bowl.
Listen to your animals sometimes and see what kinds of happy noises they make.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Great things about being blind. Finding surprises.

When putting away groceries or shampoo or lotion or other items, I try to put them away in order, label them, or keep them on a certain shelf. this helps me to keep track of what things are. Of course, there are mistakes. If I have a cold for example, it is tougher to smell spices and sometimes the wrong spice goes into something. Once I didn't sniff what I thought was the milk in a carton and poured lots of egg nog on my cereal. Not something I'd try again. I once washed my hair with lotion which didn't lather and left my hair very greasy. Sometimes shaking a box or bag can help you figure out what something is. Cans of course are tricky. My grandfather was the manager of a grocery store. He did not like to waste anything and liked bargains so he used to bring home the cans that were unlabeled. He always claimed he knew what they were by shaking them. He would say it was canned pineappple and we would have it after dinner. Sometimes he was right. But, sometimes we would open the can to find say cat food. As kids, this made us laugh a lot. The other day, I found a bag on the shelf. I shook it. Not sure what it was. I sniffed it but the bag was sealed. I could have waited for someone with sight to get home but for some reason, I was consumed with wondering what was in that bag. So, I opened it. This time I was wonderfully surprised. A bag of dark chocolate. I had to sample it of course. And it was very good. So, here's to surprises.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Great things about being blind. Yoga class.

I went back to my yoga class this morning for the first time in a few weeks. It was so wonderful despite the howling freezing wind on the way there. This is a yoga class for blind people. There is a great instructor, several blind participants, and some sighted volunteers to assist when needed. I've taken yoga a few times over the years. One place would let me in but not let my guide dog in the yoga studio asking if I could, "Let her stay in the hallway." "No." They said her presence would change the atmosphere of the class. Any yoga class any of my guides has taken has changed the class atmosphere but always for the better. My guides would lie beside me and watch and occasionally put a paw or face on me but never bothered others in class. I have had good experiences in other classes too, but this one is the best. At the beginning or end of each class, we close the doors to the room and the guide dogs (there are usually at least two and sometimes four or five) play and run around and wrestle. So they get their social time in too. The instructor is great at explaining moves and everyone is supportive and friendly. As the classes have progressed, volunteers need to help us less and just take the class with us. When new people come, the volunteers help them. Today we did a lot of very slow moves and stretching which was great on a cold day. Near the end, I was lying on my back and thinking about Gia. Suddenly from my right where Tulia was lying on her mat, a little black paw was slipped into my hand. Just like Gia would have done. She left it there for several minutes. I love my yoga time. And I loved hearing Tulia and the other dog play today. They snorted, and ran, and jumped, and rolled about. Such a joyous sound.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Great things about being blind. People giving you food for your dog.

When you have a guide dog, you take that dog everywhere in public. People ask me that. Yes, everywhere. It is the law. Hotels, trains, planes, buses, taxis, restaurants, grocery stores, other stores, camping, parks, museums, everywhere you go, they go. This means that guide dogs end up being around a lot of food. The grocery store, the restaurant, the coffee shop. all of my dogs have been pretty good around food. There is the odd slip up, (they are dogs not machines) but they are really very good. I never feed my dogs people food or if I do, it goes in the bowl. Gia loved carrots and got them. Tulia hasn't really had our food yet. I gave her one carrot and she nibbled it (she's a lab) but not sure she really loved it that much. One reason I don't feed my dogs a lot of food that is bad for them as it can make them sick. Another is that it can make them overweight which is bad for dogs. A third is that it can make them swipe food in public. Imagine a guide dog walking past you in a restaurant and stealing from your plate? Or grabbing things from grocery shelves. Many times, I've been in delis or restaurants and people want to offer food to my dog. I explain but once in a while they insist. They package something up. Once a huge piece of roast beef. guess who got a roast beef sandwich the next day? It sure wasn't my dog. It is kind of people to think of them but really it is important not to feed my dog. If you really can't resist giving my dog something, give it to me and I'll decide whether or not she gets it. Once a guy gave me a whole box of doughnuts. Wonder how heavy his dog was? I once had a server who kept wanting to give my dog chicken. She was very clumsy by the table (on purpose I think) and dropped food like crazy. All that happened was that my dog was covered in barbecue sauce and ended up getting a bath. Something she hated. Tomorrow I'll tell you about Gia eating my colleague's muffin. Just so you know these dogs aren't perfect! I'm hungry. Maybe we'll go out and see what food we can find. Big smile!
To find out more about my guide dog school and training and etiquette go to

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great things about being blind. A great bakery story.

As memories keep pouring in from my beloved, retired, and now departed guide dog, I came across this one in a long ago written journal the other day and it made me laugh so hard. It still does. Soon after getting home with Gia I started sometimes dropping into a local bakery. I don't actually think it exists anymore but should probably go searching for it just out of curiosity. At that time, there was a woman working in there. She talked animatedly to everyone. She was full of life, jokes, and energy. Although the baked goods weren't phenomenal there, I used to love to go in just to chat with her and hear some of her stories. One day, we had gone in, I had bought something, and we left. As I was putting my purchase away, just outside the door, a man came up and said, "She's crazy isn't she?" I immediately thought for some reason that he was talking about my guide dog. As every guide dog handler knows, whenever you are out, it's all about the dog. I thought, "Well she's being pretty well behaved." But then I wondered if she'd stolen something off the bakery shelf. I put my hand near her mouth. It was empty. She was just sitting calmly beside me. So, I thought I should stick up for her. I said a little haughtily, "Actually. My dog is very well behaved." "Your dog?" he said sounding puzzled, "I don't know anything about your dog? I was talking about that lady in the bakery. And I meant crazy in a good way." I started laughing so hard. It still really strikes me as funny. Even I thought every conversation was about the dog. My guides would probably say if they could talk, "All about the guide dog. That's just as it should be." but that time, it was all about the bakery. Maybe that's as it should be too. I'm craving baked goods right now.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Great things about being blind. The kindness of sighted people who take the time to do just the right thing.

That is a very long and cumbersome title I know. I was touched to the heart yesterday by the kindness and thoughtfulness of the people at my vet's office. The manner in which they thought of something I would like and something that would be meaningful to me. I took that tough journey to pick up the ashes of my beloved retired guide Gia and bring them home. A terrible journey and a great one too in many ways. When I got there, they explained that they had also made a paw print of her paw for me in plaster. They showed it to me. They had written Gia on the bottom and I can feel the toes, the pads and the shape of her paw. It is flat, not three dimensional but still a wonderful memory of her. They said yesterday that they knew I would probably want something of her that I could touch and feel. And yes that's right. It touched me to think that they had been thinking. Truly thinking. Not of someone who lost a beloved retired guide dog. But of someone who happens to be blind who lost a beloved retired guide dog. And how can we give her something meaningful. It got me to thinking. Some of the things we find meaningful in general at memorial services, I don't really find that meaningful at all. The way the person looks in the casket? The pictures of them scattered around? I remember when my grandfather died. The first real family death. I remember being afraid to touch him and then holding his hand. It was wonderful to feel the shape of his hand. The size of it. Then I touched his head. Some of my relatives were horrified. Most people just look I guess. What I remember still to this day is how much hair that 97 year old man still had and how curly it was. He always had had it so slicked back, you might not know. But it still makes me smile to think of that hair. I am going to start to make recordings of Tulia. While she eats and drinks, plays, snores, and moves around. These are the senses that give me comfort. Hearing the animals move around. Wish I'd recorded Gia. Touching them. So, yes having the paw print is a wonderful gift. Thanks to those who took the time to really think of a meaningful gift and for giving it to me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Great things about being blind. causing smiles.

I was out with a friend yesterday and as we walked along, she commented that almost everyone looks at the dog and smiles. It is like seeing a dog on a freezing and windy February day, in public where you don't normally see a dog, makes you smile. Seeing a well behaved, happy dog, doing her job, makes people smile. This isn't the first time I've been told this by sighted friends. I'm not surprised. Having a dog with me, makes me smile most of the time. And it's great to have them with you in times of stress. At job interviews, you can reach down and pat a being that loves you no matter what. Even if you just said something stupid and lost all chances of that employment opportunity. At the dentist, if you reach down, there is the furry dog. So no matter what is going on in your mouth, they're there. Today will be a tough day as I need to go and pick up my Gia's ashes from the vet. But there, as I wait for them, as I hold them, as I touch the paw print they made for me of her paw, there will be a dog beside me. Always there. Calm, happy, dignified, making me and others feel peaceful and smile. How lucky I am. And how lucky the people are that get a boost in their day, because they saw my dog.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Great things about being blind. Brailling valentines

Happy Valentine's day to all. One great time to be blind was Valentine's day. I would braille Valentine's cards. I could put whatever messages in them I wanted. People wanted to get them. They were unique. Of course, there was another advantage. Say if I really liked someone and wrote it on the Valentine, then they came and asked me to read it, if I didn't have the courage, I could make up something else. The chances of people finding someone else to read the cards was very low. Of course, at school for the blind, we all brailled cards so my advantage was lessened.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Great things about being blind. Having dogs locate chairs.

The other day, tulia found me a seat in a food court. Finding a seat does not sound like a huge feat really. When you think of all of the things guide dogs do. Guiding you around obstacles, working through traffic, negotiating crowds, all weather conditions, finding a seat sounds quite simple. But, it got me thinking about how each of my dogs has worked so differently. And, as in people, their personalities shone through in their work. I do not remember so much about my second guide Margaret's work as I had her the shortest time. but, it was fascinating to see how Tulia's mind and her personality worked the other day. I walked through the food court and then picked up a sandwich and drink from a place we've been to a few times. The last time we were there, we sat at a table closest to the food counter. This time, with food in hand, I directed Tulia to, "Find a chair." She took me confidently right up to that table wagging her whole body. I put my hand out to encounter the arm of a gentlman sitting at that table. Tulia, sat down, tilted her head back (I imagine looking up at him with her incredibly cute face) and wagged her whole self as she sat there. I said, "Okay tulia. Let's find a chair with no one sitting in it." Tulia continued to sit and wag. The man said, "You're dog is awfully cute." I thanked him. He offered to move so we could sit there. He said, "I think your dog is really wanting you to sit here." I said that it was okay and we would find another empty chair. Tulia got up, shook herself. I said, "Forward find the chair." And she did take me to an empty one and was quite proud of herself. But it made me think. My first guide black lab Gwenny and my golden Gia, also would find the chairs they thought I should sit in. The seat on the bus we always used. A seat in class we tended to sit in. Both of them would stand there in front of the seat and give a look. "You should move. This is Kim's seat and we sit here." Not a mean look but a steady one. Gia was so dignified and calm she would just look and stand there. If I insisted, she would find another seat but not before letting people know that the seat they were in really was hers. Tulia is such a happy, charming, cute little dog, she tends to use her happy cuteness as she seemed to be doing the other day. "Please please please that's the seat we want. I know it is I know it is. Don't you think you might want to move out of the way. Please please please. Aren't I cute? Aren't I the cutest dog ever? And so smart?" I think either style can work. It always fascinates me as I get to know each of my new guides and start to figure out how they think and how they work through situations. Tulia sure can turn on the charm. She's the kind of dog everyone wants to be around. Her self possession also impresses me. She knows what she wants and is confident as she wags towards it. Finding chairs was never so interesting with a cane.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great things about being blind. Walking through crowds

Somehow when you travel with a white cane or especially with a guide dog, it is much easier to find your way through crowds. I remember once a friend of mine was on crutches and she was having a hard time getting people to move out of the way for her. My guide dog and I went ahead of her and the crowds just parted for us. As a cane traveler, people would see me coming swinging that cane back and forth and literally leap out of the way as if the cane was a poisonous snake or sharp sword. I don't know why the cane worked better than the crutches. I would imagine that working through crowds is tough for guide dogs. All they see is a sea of legs. They seem to like it though. My first guide dog (black lab Gwenny) worked crowds like a football player. Her whole purpose was to get to the front of the crowd as quickly as she could. And she was purposeful about it. She would whack people's legs with her little black lab head. She loved it. We would fly through crowds with barely a bump. My others have been a little more polite in crowds, tending to hang back until they see a clear path. But it is nice to move through crowds fairly easily and with dignity.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Great things about being blind. Dogs in the mall.

I am sure I am not the only one who gets lost in malls. I find them hard to navigate sometimes. My dogs make mall traveling easier for sure. But, they also make it interesting. There used to be a pet store in the mall nearest me. It is no longer there. but, any time we walked through that mall, my dogs would always find their way there and take me in wagging. "I know I need something here right?" Negotiating the mall crowds is easier and more fun with a guide. My favourite mall story took place last year. I met a friend of mine for lunch and shopping. I had my golden Gia with me at that time. I love all of that golden retreiver fur but really there always was a lot of it. No matter how much I brushed, it was everywhere all of the time. My current lab guide hardly sheds at all which is very nice. My friend and I had had lunch and were walking down the mall talking and shopping. Suddenly, behind us, we heard a tap tap of a support cane and a older woman walking as fast as she could and calling, "Excuse me. Excuse me." We stopped. I thought maybe we had dropped something. She came up to us and said, "I just thought you should know that your dog is shedding. I feel so sorry for her. You should get someone to brush her." We thanked her but after she left burst into laughter. She felt sorry for the shedding dog. Gia had no problems losing fur. She didn't mind it. And that I should get someone else to brush her. That was funny. We have an inside joke where we would say to each other, "Excuse me. Excuse me. I just thought you should know that your dog is shedding."
When I think of Gia, I often think of that story.
Happy mall traveling to all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Great things about being blind. The fund raising dog

The memories about my recently departed retired guide dog Gia keep flooding in. I am so grateful for them. Little wonderful gems that keep me warm and touch my heart as we work our way through her loss. And a little black guide dog with a wagging whole body and a kind wonderful nature who also is helping me through this. A memory came theother day which I had forgotten. Gia accompanied me to many storytelling events.
I am a member of Ottawa Storytellers.
An artist with masc
And a member of storytellers of Canada
At a national storytelling conference a few years ago, we were raising money for a project called storysave which records a CD each year of a storyteller so that their voices and stories do not get lost.
Just as a joke, before one of our breaks, I said, "Well, if anyone wants to pat Gia when she isn't wearing her guiding harness, you will have to pay me a dollar."
That was just before a break.
At break, I was very popular. No, Gia was very popular.
In her regal fashion, she lay or sat and wagged, offered a paw, and let her adoring public pat her.
I was a bit surprised when the money started getting passed to me.
Then people said, if they paid me two dollars, or five dollars, could they pat her for longer?
I wasn't sure what to say.
I know we aren't supposed to use our dogs for fund raising but this was a good cause.
In about a half hour, Gia raised more than 40 dollars for the storysave project.
The money kept coming in too.
My fellow storytellers were very respectful about not patting Gia when she was wearing her harness and working.
It is important not to pat a guide dog who is working.
Thanks to my guide dog school, guide dogs for the blind
for all they do and for all four of my wonderful guides.
Thanks to my friends for the Gia memories that are keeping me warm.
Thanks to Gia for her wonderful spirit and for Tulia for her happy and steady self at this time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Great things about being blind. Taking your dog out with your eyes closed.

I am sick with a cold. I'm coughing and achy but none the less, tulia had to eat and go out. I kept my eyes closed the whole time I took her and even kept my scarf totally over my face.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Great things about being blind. Having a dog with you when you are lost

I have always had very good sense of direction and good mobility skills. However, we all get lost. Before I had my guide dog, getting lost was much more scary. There was no one to share that experience with. The expression, "two heads are better than one" applies here. Two heads, six legs, one wagging tail, are better than one head, two legs for sure. All of my guides and I have been turned around or lost at one time or another. And we've always made it back to where we wanted to be. With a dog, people stop to tell you how beautiful they are. You can then ask for directions. No one ever stops to admire a white cane. With a dog, you can stop, take a breath, pat them, and feel the calmness a dog brings you. You can then think clearly. Often too, our dogs just know where we should go. You can listen and head towards where you hear traffic, people talking or moving etc. I wouldn't say being lost is fun at any time. It is more fun with a dog though. Someone in sending kind words about my guide Gia who just died, talked about her guiding our whole volunteer management class out of a building. soon after I got home with Gia, I was taking a certificate in volunteer management. We had some courses in the most confusing building ever. The building was like a circle and so you could wander around and around looking for the right class and looking for the way out. Blind or sighted, no one liked that building. We started a class in there one night. Somehow we found our way to class and at the end, Gia bounced up and started guiding me confidently down the hall. Classmates asked if I knew where I was going and how to find the walkway to the next building and the way to get ouside? I said I didn't know where I was at all but Gia seemed to know where she wanted to go. The whole class was following us in a line. Gia started to really wag and strut. She would turn her head to look back and wag even more proudly. She walked for quite some time. I started to think she didn't know where we were either but then she made a quick turn and there we were on the walk way between buildings and headed for the entrance. At the end of each class, Miss Gia led the group out. She was so proud and I was so proud of her. Without her, I might still be wandering around in that crazy building. Thank you Gia.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Great things about being blind. Listening to dog tags.

I just called my guide dog and she came bounding up the stairs, wagging all over, so happy to be in the same room with me. I heard the happy jingle of her dog tags. I love that sound. It is so happy and bright. I've usually kept my dogs' tags on in the house. I can more easily hear what they're doing and like to know where they are. Even with similar tags on their collars, the dogs sound different. They move differently, walk differently. Tulia bounces when she walks so her tags have a particular spritely jingle. Gia's tags jingled with a slower more methodic noise especially as she got older. I still think I hear them sometimes. Yesterday, while out and digging through my purse, I found Gia's collar with her tags. I had taken it off at the vet before she died and left it in my purse. It is still there. Like a part of her is still with me. I won't remove it any time soon. When my first dog died of cancer, I kept her collar in my pocket for a long time. Her collar is in a box with her favourite toy. When I am ready, Gia's collar, and her quacking duck, will go into a special box for her. Tulia just bounced up to kiss me and her tags made that happpy sound that makes me smile when I hear it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Great things about being blind. Having a guide dog in your guitar case.

I am very sad about losing my retired guide dog. But, as sad as I am, when I think of her, the fun memories are at the front of my mind. I hadn't thought of this one in ages. I am a Music Therapist and worked for many years in a long-term care facility with people with dementia. I also did a lot of palliative care work. All of my guides worked with me there. I don't do this often anymore so Tulia hasn't had that chance but she too would be very good at it. I play piano and guitar. I used to carry my guitar around to the rooms of residents and also to groups. The guitar case I had at that time had fur inside it. One time, I was visiting with a woman who was very depressed and stuck in bed. I pulled out my guitar to play for her. She wasn't sure if she wanted any music. I laid the open case on the floor and Gia jumped right in. Her head and front legs were in the narrow part where the guitar neck is. Her hind end and body were in the large part. The woman and I laughed and laughed.
Forever after, if given a chance, Gia would climb into the case and stay there all comfortable and off the hard floor while I played.
It became quite a regular sight.
Sometimes if I closed it she would tap the outside to get me to open it so she could climb in.
I touched that case last night as I moved through our spare room. As soon as I felt it's hard sides, I remembered Gia in there. I opened it, touched the fur, and smiled. When her ashes come home, I'll place the ern in the case for a few minutes I think.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Great things about being blind. Having dogs that give you flowers.

yesterday I wrote about my former guide dog giving me candy. Se previous post. All I can think about lately is her. What she did. How she did it. What her fur felt like. Losing her has been so hard. but, as I was thinking about the smarties, I began thinking about the fact that she also gave me flowers. She loved flowers. She had a romantic heart of gold I guess. She always liked to smell flowers. Her first spring with me, she saw dandelions for the first time. She grew up in the Arizona dessert and had never seen them I suspect. She got all excited and started prancing around and then (she wasn't in harness) started biting all of the heads off of the dandelions and watching the fluff fly! It was the funniest sound I ever heard. Chomp chomp chomp and then spinning around to do more of it. We went to a funeral one time. Gia was working. All dignity and calmness. As we passed the flower displays around the casket, Gia took one and passed it to me. It was kind of emebarrassing and sweet also. I didn't quite know what to do with it. A couple of summers ago, Gia was swimming at my mom's cottage. Gia loved swimming. She loved it so much! She swam way out for no reason and started swimming back with a water lilly in her mouth. Mom and I were saying, "Oh how cute! How sweet! Gia is bringing us a flower." She swam to shore with the flower in her mouth but did not give it to us. She wripped it to shreds with great glee. As if to say, "Swim out and get your own damn flower. This is mine!" Gia loved carrots. I've eaten a few for her over the past couple of days. She gave me candy. I ate some m and m's eysterday. And flowers. She was a classy girl. I am sure she has some great flowers where she is now.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Great things about being blind. Having dogs give you candy

I lost my wonderful retired guide dog yesterday. I keep saying that. I can't stop thinking about it. I woke up this morning at four and couldn't get back to sleep. I thought I would be filled with sadness over this and I am very sad. But this morning as I lay there, I kept thinking about the fun and amazing things Gia did for over nine years. Not the last few days when she wasn't herself. One of my favourite stories follows. Gia was a lovely golden retreiver. One of the kindest, nicest dogs ever. Soon after I started working with her, we were on our way home from the bus stop. It was just after halloween. I started to hear this noise. Rattle rattle rattle rattle. I stopped. The noise stopped. I thought it might be something in her harness. I checked the harness. It felt fine. I started walking again. Rattle rattle rattle rattle. I stopped. The noise stopped. I looked all through my backpack. I started walking. It started. We got to our door. I leaned down to pat Gia under her chin where she had all of this curly fur. And it was then that she presented me with a tiny carboard box of smarties. For you Americans, they are like M and M's. The cardboard was not dented. The chocolate was not eaten. She gave it to me. I enjoyed eating them. They were very good. So how many people can say they've ever had a dog give them candy? Not many. I miss you so much Gia. Tulia does too. She was looking out our window for ages this morning. Thanks so much for the smarties. And for everything else.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Great things about being blind. Sharing a life with guide dogs

I lost my beloved retired guide dog today. It wasn't a great day to be blind. It wasn't a great day at all. But the great thing about it was that I got to share my life with a wonderful dog for nine plus years. And that I got to share so much of it with her. She went with me gladly on trains, planes, buses, in cars, in canoes, camping, to hotels, she laid quietly in restaurants and coffee shops, she lay through meetings, behind my desk, at storytelling workshops and conferences and performances. She was with me practically all of the time. And when a new younger guide took over the work part, she was still there. Welcoming us home. Wagging her long golden tail. Offering a golden paw. And as I write this and cry, another smaller, younger dog is with me all of the time. She was with me today at the vet when I took those final steps on that journey. She is now lying right on my feet. Shiny black soft fur, wagging short broader tail, soft ears. On the path with me. I love you forever Gia. You enriched my life. What a journey we had. I'm grateful to you Tulia. For taking these tough steps with me. And for doing it with grace.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Great things about being blind. Making tea.

I have a sick dog here so may not be too coherent. But I promised to write every day and so here goes. Great things about being blind. Making tea. My irish gran taught me how to make tea. How to heat the pot, steep for a certain period of time, etc. I first fill the teapot with water. I use one funnel to pour that water into my kettle. I boil the kettle. It whistles when it is done. I love that sound. And then I use a fatter wider funnel to put over my teapot to pour the boiling water in. With the tea bag already in of course. I love the sound of the water filling the pot. The pitch gets higher as you get closer to the top. I love the smell of the steeped tea and love pouring it into a mug. Holding the mug and feeling the warmth in it. Gotta go make some tea now.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Great things about being blind. Having a wonderful bus travel story.

I took a bus this morning at the tail end of rush hour. Sometimes when waiting at the bus stop, there are many buses that pull up to the same location. This can be stressful as you don't know which bus might be yours. Our transit company here has a kit called bus haler kit. It has brailled numbers which are also large print. You slide the numbers of your bus into a plastic sleeve and hold it up. I don't use this always but will use it in busy areas at rush hour.
This bus haler has led to a few very interesting happenings. One time I was at work and someone came in to say that they were having a debate down the hall. "You know those sleeves with the numbers in them that you hold up?" "Yes." "Someone thinks that is to teach your dog the number of the bus you want." I laughed so hard. My gide dogs are smart but reading bus numbers does not fall into their job descriptions. Another time not too long ago, I was waiting for the bus holding up the numbers. A woman came up and said, "Your dog isn't very good. The bus you want is right there and she isn't taking you to it." Poor tulia. Insulted for no good reason. I didn't use the haler kit today but found it in my bag and it brought back very amusing memories and a good post for the blog.