Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great things about being blind. Swimming dogs continued.

My second guide dog was a little female yellow labrador retriever named Margaret. She did not like to swim or like the water at all. She did not like to get dirty. Years would go by before she learned to swim. One summer, Margaret and I were with a friend at a lake. I was swimming and was several meters from shore. My friend said that Margaret was watching me closely. I said that she would never swim. She didn't like to do it. My friend suggested I call her. I did. Tentatively at first, she came in. The first bit of swimming she did, she flung her head way back. My friend told me this. she swallowed some water and went back to shoree coughing. I thought that would be it. She would never enter the water again. But in she came very excited. She learned to swim that day and loved it forever. The friends who took her when she retired let her swim regularly and she loved it very much.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Swimming dogs continued.

My first guide dog, (black lab Gwenny) hadn't been swimming before I got her.  Since she really really hated the rain (another story for another day) I figured she would not like it.  I had gone out in  a boat on a lake and since the other people in the boat wanted to fish, I left Gwenny on shore with some relatives.  When I came back in the boat, Gwenny was eager to be reunited with me.  The let her loose and she came bouncing through the shallw water towards the boat as we coasted in.  She bounced and then suddenly, it was too deep to bounce and she just started swimming.  She loved it very very much.  she would swim whenever and wherever I would let her.  She was a fast swimmer and good retreiver.  And as most retreivers do when they swim, she would get out and shake all over me if I wasn't swimming with her, to ensure that I too got the joy of being all wet.
Tomorrow, the swimming adventures of my second guide dog.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Great things about being blind. Preparing for a show.

I'm getting ready for my hour-long guide dog stories, storytelling show tonight.  I know other storytellers do this too but this may be a bit easier for me.  I can prepare for my shows and go over material in the dark, when I am brushing the dog, eating breakfast, exercising.  Not while walking as I have to concentrate on traffic, directing my dog, etc.  I create material.  Partly by writing it out.  Partly by recording it.  Then, when I have a format and material I like, I record it.  Take a break.  Then listen with fresh ears.  Then, I write from my recording.  Putting in words and concepts that are missing.  Then, record again.  At first when I record, I am reading my braille material.  Then, I go off book as storytelling is more improvisational than a play is for me.  But still, I need the structure of the material and certain phrases and language I like.  I listen for timing also.  For the timbre of my voice.  Sometimes, I listen to just the text read to me on my ipod in the wonderful british accented voice I chose.  If I want to go over material quickly I speed it up and just listen to the text I've created.
This is like speed reading I guess.
Then at other times, I listen to myself.
Get my voice in my head.
So, I think in many ways being blind as a storyteller has advantages for preparing material, for listening, and besides being blind gives me great story material.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Great things about being blind. Paralympic experiences.

Some of you probably don't know that I was a competitive swimmer from about age 11 or 12 to 18.  I was honoured to represent canada at six national and two paralympic games.
I learned so much from this.  I am so grateful for the experiences I had.
Looking back, I realize how much I learned and how much these things have shaped me.
First, the dedication of competitive swimming, of getting  up many mornings at 5 AM, of being in the water before class, after class, having to have good time management and dedication has assisted me with many aspects of life.
Being in good shape is and always has been important.
I learned from meeting many people with many different physical disabilities, how people adapt.  How people thrive.  I leanred about people with disabilities in different countries and how they have had fewer resources than we have in Canada and in the developed world. 
I think meeting these wonderful role models at a young age, (I was 14 at my first paralympic games) helped me to learn to advocate for people with disabilities and to find my own style and way of advocacy.
I use a lot of humour.  I use the arts writing, blogging, storytelling.
I try to speak up for myself when necessary.
Today June 27 is the anniversary of the day I won my paralympic gold medal.
It is the only one I have although I have two silver medals too.
I cherish it!
Because I won it yes but also because of all that I learned on the journey.
I do tell olympic and paralympic tales if anyone wants to book me as a storyteller.
It's going to be hot here today.  Perhaps I should go for a swim?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great things about being blind. The words our guide dogs know.

I interrupt the tales of swimming dogs, (or should that be tails of swimming dogs) to talk about something that happened yesterday and to answer a question someone asked me about that.  What words do your guide dogs know?  I don't mean the words they were taught in training.  Forward, left, right, halt, sit, down, stay, come, heel.  I mean other things.  Yesterday, while walking home from yoga class, Tulia gave me a gift which I picked up, bagged, and then I needed to find a garbage can.  I knew there was one at the next corner if I turned left and found the bus stop about half a block away.  I reached the corner and said, Find the garbage can.  Left."  Well, Tulia spun to the right, ranced up and down a couple of times, I put my hand out, and there was a garbage can.
I use the find the command a lot.
You have to make sure you use the same words consistently.
You an't say, find the chair, find the bench, find the couch, find the seat."  You have to pick one.
I say find the seat as find the chair is too similar to find the stairs which I also use.
Find the garbage can is another handy one.
Find the pole for crossing poles.
Find the bus stop.
I'm not always sure whether or not my dogs know them all of the time but Tulia sure did yesterday.
Oh yes find the curb if we seem to be wandering in the street a little.
They seem to know, do you want supper?
Do you want a treat?
Find a toy.
Leve it.
Let's go.
On your bed.
And man other phrases.
It amazes me how much they know sometimes.
Tomorrow back to swimming dogs.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great things about being blind. Hearing dogs swim.

I have always loved listening to dogs swim.  They go so fast and so smoothly.
I grew up with a lab mix and she loved to swim from a very early age.  We spent summers at our cottage and that dog was never out of the water.  She loved to retreive rocks from the bottom.  She would stick her head in, blow bubbles, and haul the rocks out and want you to throw them for her.  If you didn't, she would drop them on your foot or hand and they could be quite large.  So you pretty much had to pay attention to her and throw them for her!
She also would swim out with us.  When we swam the river (about half a mile or so) she came along.  Swimming ahead of us, then back to us, around us, and forward again.  She must have gone twice or three times the distances we did and was ready to swim back.  And what can I hear when a dog swims?  The breathing.  Not usually the paws moving.  But the exuberant jump into water and that breathing as they move.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you about my first guide dog Gwenny and her swimming.
Happy summer!

Friday, June 24, 2011

great things about being blind. The sound of water.

When I was about six or seven, I announced that when I grew up and had my own place that I would have a fountain in my livingroom.  I always have loved the sound of running water.  There is nothing like the sound of the ocean waves flowing in and crashing and then the sound and hiss as they are sucked back out.  I'm sure the look of them can't be any more beautiful.  There is nothing quite like the sound of a water fall.  Even small ones can sound big to me.  I can be impressed with a small falls that sounds big.  I love to cross a bridge over a flowing stream and hear that water.  The little waves of a river or lake lapping against the shore.  The falling pouring rain or the gentle rain sounds especially if you are inside.  I am sure water does not look as beautiful as it sounds.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Great things about being blind. Reading when you are sick.

Okay!   Don't panic!  I'm not sick.  I feel fine.  I actually just finished a wonderful visit with my last guide dog's wonderful first family!  I did  have a headache last week and I seldom get them.  So, as I lay on the bed with my audio books and braille and read away in the dark with my eyes closed, I was glad I was blind when I was sick.  When I was in my last year of high school, I had terrible glaucoma pain in my eye.  The slightest exposure to light would make me throw up.  The problem was that I was close to christmas exams.  If I was in the dark, I was all right.
So, I placed myself in a totally dark room and studied for my exams.
The trouble was writing them though.
I had to wear very dark glasses and because I wrote in a separate room, I turned the lights off and brailled and typed away.
If I have a bad cold, again, I don't have to have lights on.
can lie in bed with book under the covers and read away.
Not that I like to be sick, but when I am, thank goodness I"m blind too.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Great things about being blind. Wonderful families who raise future guide dogs.

My last dog Gia's puppy raisers are visiting us right now. It is so wonderful to have them here all of the way from Arizona. Puppy raisers are remarkable people. They voluntarily take puppies for the first year plus of their lives. They train them to be good in the house. They take them to all kinds of environments and expose them to as many things as they can. They love these dogs and spend lots of time with them helping to make them the wonderful well-behaved dogs they are. Then, they give them back to the guide dog school to train formally in guidework.
Without these wonderful people, guide dog programs would not operate.
My first puppy raising family I met at graduation in 1992 with my first guide dog Gwenny.
I actually did not meet Janis as she couldn't come. But, I met Michael who was then about 17 and his dad. Over the years though, it is Janis and I who have developed an e-mail friendship. We have never met but correspond regularly.
When Gwenny died suddenly of cancer while still working, the hardest thing I had to do was to tell them.
Janis said she felt like she had lost a child.
Then, I tentatively asked if they still wanted me to stay in touch since I didn't have their dog anymore. Their answer was a resounding yes. They wanted to know about my future dogs.
Janis lives in southern California.
When I got my next dog Margaret, I met Connie and Larry and one of their three kids.
Again, we stayed in touch regularly and still do. When I went back to the oregon campus of guide dogs for the blind,
to get Gia and then Tulia, Connie came and visited and took me out for lunch both times.
When Margaret had to retire, I called Connie and told her and offered Margaret to her.
She couldn't take her back and so I tried to keep her and then when I couldn't, I placed her with a friend.
Next, came Gia's wonderful raisers from Arizona.
Debbie and Scott and their daughter Jenny came.
And we've stayed in touch ever since on a very regular basis.
They came and visited several years ago and Gia went crazy to see them and be with them.
SShe would wander around the living room.
"I love you and I love you and I love you!"
She was in heaven.
They wanted to visit this summer partly to see Gia again.
After she died, I asked if they still wanted to come and their answer was a resounding yes. They wanted to meet Tulia.
And so, here they are.
And of course, Tulia loved them and I think they love Tulia.
When Gia retired, I told them that I would try to have her here.
If I couldn't, I would bring her to them in Arizona myself.
I wouldn't want her traveling under a plane or on a plane without me.
And when Tulia graduated, I met Karen and Eric and their two girls.
And once again, I've started another e-mail correspondence with a wonderful family.
For any guide dog users who don't stay in touch with raisers, it is of course your choice but can be a wonderful experience.
For any raisers who do not stay in touch with graduates, again it can be wonderful and each side can learn so much.
Last night we were talking about what the raisers teach our future guides and how they do it.
And what working guides do in certain situations.
I am so honoured to have all of these wonderful people in my life.
II love to hear about their puppies.
Debbie and Scott are on pup 14.
Karen and Eric are on pup three (Tulia was their first).
Thank you for all of the work and time you give the pups.
Thank you for giving them back so they can come to work with me.
I know you love them and always will.
I love them and always will.
So thank you for joining my ever growing guide dog family.
You are awesome.
If I weren't blind, I wouldn't have met all of you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Great things about being blind. The guide dog who taught me the most.

Today is the birthday of my second guide dog yellow lab Margaret.  She is no longer with us.
She is the guide dog who was the hardest to work with but probably taught me more than all of the others.
I received her six weeks after losing my first guide to cancer.
In class, she started going crazy for other creatures.  Dragged me out across the floor to see a dog.  Interested in squirrels, dogs, a chicken.  Any creature that moved.
I was offered a dog switch but said I wanted to try working with her.
Even though we only worked together for 3.5 years, I'm glad I did it.
As a dog, Margaret was a real one person dog.  She stuck right beside me all of the time and was very loving and effectionate.
She had excellent house manners and was generally calm and quiet except when she saw other creatures.
Then, she would jump at them to play.
Once she got in one sniff and got them excited, she would stop and pretend she had nothing to do with the situation.
I worked and worked to minimize the animal distractedness of her.
It did improve somewhat but never went away but I learned so much about training methods and obedience and my guide dog school was so supportive and helpful.
Margaret had chronic ear infections.  We found out they were caused by food allergies.  Through this, I learned what is in dog foods.  How to analyse good ones from not so good ones.  A lot about allergies.
Margaret was a worryer.  If she bumped you into something one day, she wouldn't want to walk past that place the next day.
So, that needed some work too.
She started showing me in no uncertain terms, that it was time to retire.
She didn't want to get on the bus.
She didn't want to cross certain streets.
After retirement, I tried keeping her but it didn't work out so I gave her to a friend and she had a wonderful life as a very spoiled pet.
I thank her for all she taught me that has made me a much better dog handler.
Happy birthday Margaret.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Great things about being blind. Guide dog initiative.

I like my guide dogs to have lots of initiative.  I like them to be able to make decisions and let me know what they think of decisions I make.  I had one guide dog who was very non-confident in this way and it made me feel less confident too.  I know that guide dogs with very high initiative can also be stubborn.  It is part of the package.  The three guides I've had with high initiative, Gwenny, Gia, and now Tulia have all been stubborn and showed it in different ways.  I remember Gwenny's stubbornness but not always how she showed it.  Gia would sit herself down and bump me with her head.  "No.  I don't want to turn left.  We always turn right here."  Or
"No.  I hate the heat we are going to that air conditioned store not up the sidewalk."
Yesterday, my friend and her guide dog and Tulia and I went to this enclosed park so the dogs could run and boy did they run and play.  They love playing with each other.  When we left the park, Tulia did not want to go.  She wouldn't guide me at all.  Standing with feet planted, tail tucked in, or trying to turn me back to the park gate.
So, I took out my white cane.  I figured I would heel her to the sidewalk and then do obedience and show her that when it was time to leave, it was time to leave.  As soon as she saw the cane in my other hand, she worked away from the park.
"Oh how embarrassing.  You're not using that white cane are you?  Okay okay I'll work."
Later in the day, we reached a street corner where we almost always turnleft.  I wanted to go straight.  Tulia did not.  She stood her ground.  She was firm.  I got her to sit and then told her forward.  She slowly went forward and then more confidently but about ten feet later, we found the sidewalk was all full of construction.
Tulia stopped.  I could almost hear her say,
"Ah.  At the park you were right but right here I am right!"
ha ha ha!
I laughed, Turned us around, and went back to the corner and turned left as we usually did.
So we were both stubborn twice yesterday and once each of us was right in her decission.
I do love my high initiative girl even though it means lots of creative thinking from time to time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Great things about being blind. Post for my dad on father's day.

IIt is Father's day and so I wanted to write about my dad. Thanks dad for being such a wonderful, supportive dad through the years. Thanks for giving me my love of words, of writing, of learning. Thanks for never talking down to me. For never saying I couldn't do something because I am blind. For introducing me to many sports. For finding ways to adapt those sports with me. You invented the tapper for telling me when the wall was approaching in my competitive swimming days. You found a ball big enough for me to kick and showed me how. You guided me when running and skating. Thanks for your calmness, your intelligence, your steadiness, your humour.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Great things about being blind. Meeting all kinds of dogs!

This morning on our way to yoga class, tulia and I were strolling along a fairly empty sidewalk when we heard a dog howling pitifully up ahead. It turns out, she is a fairly young lab poodle cross. She was very tall and very cute. She was howling because she wanted to see Tulia I think. Her owner had her well controlled though. Her howl was quite cute. Her fur was more curly than a lab coat and her ears were longer. Her name is Morley after the character in Stewart Maclean's vinal cafe.
I thought that was great! It occurred to me as we continued our walk that I have met so many different dogs and learned so much about different dog breeds since I got a guide dog. They are all fascinating. I'm grateful to have met so many four-legged furry canine friends and had many wonderful discussions with dog owners. Thank you to the responsible dog owners out there who keep there dogs well under control and don't start grabbing at my guides and patting them without asking first. You are wonderful to meet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Great things about being blind. The readers from the drama department.

The other day, I wrote about a particularly good reader for one of my audio books.  When I was in University, we didn't have as much helpful technology as we do now.  I couldn't access on line books or electronic books.  I didn't have a scanner and software that would allow me to scan a document and have it read back to me.  So, I had to find readers.  After much searching, I found one of the best places to get readers was the drama department of my university.  They loved reading out loud.  To them, it was fun and gave them a chance to practice their vocal skills.  I loved it too.  The only problem with them was that they often wanted to repeat scenes over and over.  They wanted to perfect accents and voices for characters.  They wanted to read with just that perfect dramatic flare.  Generally, this is entertaining for me.   But, when you need something read within the next day or two, when you need them to remember to spell names and say page numbers, you don't want them to perfect a scene.  You just want them to read and keep reading.  Despite some differences of opinion from time to time, they were always most excellent readers.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Great things about being blind. Getting me a hockey souvenir.

Last night, the Vancouver Canucks NHL hockey tam lost in game 7 to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley cup finals. It took me back to a wonderful memory. The last time the canucks went to the finals was in 1994. I was living in Vancouver then myself and got caught up in the high spirits and wonderful feeling of the city. Vancouver won game 6 at home to force a game 7 in New York. The city went crazy in a good way. Everyone out honking horns, walking in the streets, cheering, waving, talking to others. I decided to take my guide dog out on the street and join in the celebrations. Richard and I and my guide Gwenny set forth. At that time, they had these souvenir towels that people could buy. They were very expensive and I didn't have one. As we walked along the sidewalk, the cars were just crawling along. We could walk faster ourselves. Gwenny was prancing along looking at everything. She was a wonderful and very smart and initiative driven black lab. People were hanging out of their car windows waving these towels. To a dog who liked to play, they looked like tug toys and opportunities to tug. So, Gwenny jumped up and grabbed one of them. And began pulling on it. Maybe she thought I needed a souvenir myself? Anyway, I did give it back. That night, it was so fun and peaceful, I couldn't believe it when riots broke out after Vancouver lost game 7. The same thing happened last night. This sadens me. I don't like my country to be thought of like that and I think 99.999 percent of Canadians would agree with me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

great things about being blind. Irresistably sweet blog award.

My friend Lisa writes a blog called fifty good deeds.
It is a wonderful blog at
She passed along to me the irresistably sweet blog award.
We don't mean sicky sweet or soppy sweet or cute cute cute sweet.
We mean, nice, fun, that kind of sweet.
I need to pass it along to others and will pull those blogs together soon.
But, for now, I will just say thanks to Lisa for reading and reccommending my blog to others.
Thanks to guide dogs for the blind.
for connecting my blog to theirs.
Thanks to all readers new friends and old for their support and their omments.
You all inspire me.

I thought it might be tough to keep writing every day but it isn't.
It's fun.
And gives me great story material too.
For the blog award, I must tell you seven things about myself.
So, here goes.
1.  I love to read and write and tell stories.
2.  I am a former paralympic athlete.
3.  I love being with people but also love time to myself.
4.  I love dark chocolate.
5.  I love delivering workshops and disability awareness presentations.
6.  I love being physically active and outside.
7.  I am a lover of learning new things.
Kind of boring I know but hey best I could do.
One great thing about being blind is writing this blog.
Thank you all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Great things about being blind. Being read to by great readers.

I love reading braille books.  But, I also use audio books.  I read them as I fall asleep, when I'm brushing the dog, exercising, cooking, doing dishes, etc.
I have a very good reader at the moment.  Having a good reader is such a pleasure.  Someone who reads naturally and does not over dramatize.  Someone who does not stumble over words.  Someone who seems and sounds interested in the book.  It used to be I think that people read to each other out loud.  That doesn't seem to happen so much anymore.  Maybe reading aloud is a lost skill.  Tomorrow, I will tell you about the search for good readers when I was in University.  Happy summer reading to all.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Great things about being blind. Nice working dogs conversation.

The other day after our yoga class for blind people, three of us were at the nearby coffee shop having beverages and snakcs.  Yes, and our three guide dogs were there too all quietly lying under our table as we talked.  A gentleman approached and said what a pleasure it was to see such happy, well-behaved, well-taken-care-of, working dogs.
He said that he is a dog trainer and trains dogs for himself and others and that his dogs love working.
He talked about how much dogs love to have jobs to do and what great workers they are in all kinds of areas.
It was such a refreshing conversation.
Many people think guide dogs are sad and hate what they do or never get a chance to play and relax.
If a guide dog shows you they really don't want to work, then they retire.
This happened with my second guide.
She gave me clear signals.
She did not want to get on the bus.
She did not want to walk past construction zones.
She did not want to cross certain streets.
When I picked up her harness, she did not come to get into it.
So, believe me.
My dog likes her job and her life.
She is busy, active, and experiences many interesting things.
She also gets to play, sleep, eat, and relax.
Thanks to that man wherever you are for a great conversation and your understanding.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Great things about being blind. That dog is working.

The public continued to amuse me yesterday.  A little bit of our interactions were infuriating but mostly amusing.  I can't believe this happened three times in one day.  Since it did, I figured it worthy of a blog post.  Tulia and I were walking along the sidewalk when a dog on our right (not too close to the sidewalk) started barking excitedly and jumping.  I could hear the nails clicking and the collar rattling.  Tulia looked over.  I told her to continue and she did.  All the time, the man is saying, "Now Jasper.  That dog is working.  You can't go up to that dog."
I always wonder in these cases, how does you dog understand you telling him/her that the dog is working?
And how does the dog know what to do when encountering a working dog?
Not sure why people say this.
Maybe to tell me there's a dog there.
Anyway, Jasper didn't get the concept.  He strained on his leash, made choking noises, barked and bounced.  We were carrying on getting further from him.  The man kept saying,  "Now Jasper.  That dog is working.  You need to stay here."
Okay.  He did stay there but didn't seem happy about it.
Next, there was a dog tied to a post.  It jumped forward and barked at Tulia.  A more aggressive bark.  The man with the dog said,  "Don't bark like that.  That dog has an important job to do."  The dog was running forward and was about a foot away.  Tulia was distracted.
She too is a dog by the way.
I stopped her and got her to sit.   Then I asked if the man could hold onto his dog and maybe get it to sit.
"I'll try," he said sounding a bit doubtful.
Then, he proceeded to explain to his still barking dog, that my dog was special and working and not to be bothered.
A simple, "No.  Quiet.  Sit." or something would have done better I think.
I decided Tulia was focused and we proceeded on.  She looked at the dog a little but was good.
Then, last night, just as it was starting to rain and when we were coming back from our last walk, this man approached with a dog.
He says to me.
"Now I have a dog here."
I knew he did.  You could hear it huffing and pulling and bouncing.
"I have a dog here and my dog doesn't know a seeing eye dog from a hole in the ground.  Can they say hi."
I explained not when my dog was working in  her harness.
So then he says to his dog,
"That dog is working.  Be good.  That dog is working.  We are going to walk past that dog."
Again, the dog had not read the memo on how to deal with working dogs.
The man had to pull his dog up the street.
Tulia does not like rain and was more focused on getting us home all dry than on the last dog we met.
So, any thoughts as to why these people tell their dogs, "That's a working dog?"
Maybe I should start saying to Tulia, "Oh Tulia that's a non-working dog.  It isn't as well behaved as you?"
Bet that would earn me a few enemies.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Great things about being blind. Are you reading?

Yesterday, June 10, would have been the birthday of my grandfather on my mom's side.  He was a wonderful man who was full of life and energy.
He liked to build things.
He tried to teach me to hammer nails and I wasn't too good at it at first.
He loved fishing.  He took me out fishing a few times.
The first time, he told me I had to be quiet in the boat so as not to scare the fish.
Anyone who knows me, knows that not talking is not at all easy!
I found that fishing trip quite boring.
He loved to garden and to talk with people.
He managed a grocery store all of his life.
I miss him still.
In honour of him, I tell this story.
I've said before that a great thing about being blind is being able to read in bed an night with the lights off.
When I babysat kids, I could read to them with their lights off.
Made me a popular babysitter.
they would tell other babysitters to turn the lights off and read them a book.
One time, I was staying with my grandparents at their cottage.
At night, I went and climbed into bed.
My grandfather came and knocked.
The conversation went like this.
"Are you okay Kim?"
"Yes thanks papa."
"What are you doing?"
"Oh just reading."
"Do you want me to come in and turn the light on?"
"No thanks."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes I don't need the light."
Then a big laugh.
He had forgotten I was blind.
I always like it when people forget that.
It means that they think of me as a person who is blind and not just a blind woman.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Great things about being blind. Sounds of chilhood

I spent a little time this week at the cottage we have had since I was not even born.  For several years recently, my mom had been renting it out but a couple of years ago she took it back and now we have it again.  Going there is so wonderful and peaceful.  The sounds are so familiar.  The snap of the closing screen door.  The squirrels chattering.  The crows.  The other birds.  Cardinals and jays and some I don't know.  The smell is the same.  The feel of the floor boards under foot in the morning cool and solid.  Walking through the grass.  The slope of the hill underfoot.  The gravel driveway.  It all comes back to me.  It's still a little cool for swimming so I didn't go in even though it was extremely hot here.  Growing up there, we had a pet black lab mix.  And this week, another little black lab was there with me.  The sounds are so rich there.  So familiar.  So full of variety and nature.  A great place to write and recharge my batteries.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Great things about being blind. Which dog is best?

Over the past couple of days, two people, both total strangers, talked about my guide dogs.  They have both seen my last two guides in action.  Tulia (my current guide who is a tiny black lab) and Gia (my retired golden retriever guide who lived with us after her retirement last fall until  she died of cancer this past winter).
One woman came up to us on the street.  There was a lot of construction.  It was hot.  Tulia was having some difficulty figuring out the way.  So was I.
Tulia does not always like strange surfaces under foot and was hesitant to cross this surface of bricks and go past the machines.
I had stopped to listen and figure things out.
This woman came up and said, "Your new dog isn't very good.  Not as good as your old one is it?"
I was incensed.
I hate when people ask me to compare guides.
All of my guides have been different and similar in some ways.
It is like people comparing kids.
Besides, it was a complex siutation and I was trying to figure it out too.
I said very nastily to her that all of my guides have been wonderful.  They've all had quirks and personalities and which of us people also hasn't made a mistake or had a rough day?
She thought about it and said, "I never thought of that.  I just thought they were perfect all of the time."
I said, "They're dogs.  They're not robots.  NOne of us is perfect."
"That's true," she said, and then she said,  "I like goldens better than labs.  YOur other dog was so beautiful but I guess this one is good too."
Okay!  Now we get to the bottom of it.  She prefers long golden fur.
The next day, Tulia was guiding me through a crowded local building.  She slowed down, was very careful, and found the door outside without hesitation.
A man came up and said, "That dog is so much smarter than you're other one isn't she?"
"No." I said and then asked if he had a lab preference.
Turns out he did.
I gave him the same speech I gave her.
He seemed happy to converse about it.
He too thoughts guides were always perfect.
I smiled as we left the building.
I'm so glad to have met and worked with these four wonderful doggy souls who each give me so much and teach me a lot.
Each one has been different and unique with strengths and weaknesses and it has been and continues to be a pleasure getting to figure these out and work together.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Great things about being blind. Hepful construction workers.

Once we get rid of the snow here, we get into construction season.
Yes, just when you think it would be wonderful to go for a nice long walk on ice free sidewalks, the construction crews are out.
Sometimes I think they follow me around and end up where I end up.
Not fun except that I find the construction workers here are extremely helpful and good at passing on directions to me.
They must have had some disability awareness training.
But, maybe they haven't and just have good description skills from doing construction work.  After all, you would not want to tell someone to move slightly to their left on a roof when you meant right would you?
I've met some very nice and helpful people in my travels thus far during this construction season.  Thank you to them for giving good directions, shutting off equipment as I walk by, offering a guiding arm at times, and just being nice and respectful.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Great things about being blind. Working dogs in the heat.

One thing I love about having a relatively new guide dog is finding out their quirks and preferences.
Tulia loves the heat.
She loves to lie in the sun.
She hardly pants.  She drinks lots of water which is good.
Given the choice, she will walk more slowly through sunny patches and speed up in the shade.  If we are in a meeting or waiting somewhere, she will shift herself over in order to lie in the sun.
This is completely opposite to my last guide dog Gia who hated the heat.
She would slow way down in the shade and speed up in the sun and avoid the heat whenever possible.  She would try to take me into air conditioned buses or buildings instead of walking along the sidewalk at times.
She was a golden with much more fur.
She did love swimming in the cold atlantic ocean or in a lake when it was hot.
I hear we're in for a hot summer.  Probably, Tulia approves.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Great things about being blind. Free coffee and treats.

This morning, Tulia and I went for a walk before it gets too hot. She is a lover of the sun and heat but I have a full day's work of writing and creating stories for an upcoming storytelling show all about guide dogs. So, I went out early. We walked for a while and then on the way home, I stopped at a local coffee shop. When I came in, it was still pretty quiet there being around 7 am. All workers in the shop said how much they loved my dog. One thought she was still a puppy as she is so small. One asked if they could keep her in the store all day. I said we could consider that if icould work in the store all day andd we could get free beverages and snacks. They seemed to think that that would be a good exchange. So, one good thing about being blind is that my dog could get me free coffee and food. Just kidding of course.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Great things about being blind. Interesting storytelling gigs.

Because I have a disability, because I am blind, I get some very interesting storytelling gig opportunities. The other night, I was honoured to perform for a group of youth with disabilities. It was a fun crowd and they did seem to enjoy my storytelling. I've also gotten offers from community living organizations, dining in the dark experiences, and more. So, being blind helps me get some interesting work as a storyteller. If anyone works with people with disabilities or runs a group of people with disabilities, if you want an interesting disability awareness session for staff, volunteers, etc, consider hiring me. Contact me at
if you want to know more.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Great things about being blind. Sad looking guide dogs.

Every few days, some new people join and read and comment on the blog.  Thank you to you all for saying such nice things about the blog.  I am quite adicted to blogging now.
Someone yesterday while I was out said that Tulia looked so sad.
She was working and concentrating.   She doesn't always wag when working.  She does sometimes.
I've been told many many times over the years that people feel sorry for my guides.  They seem so sad.
They aren't sad generally.  Very happy and calm and focused.
So, after that comment yesterday, I started thinking about it.
When we are busy working, we concentrate.  We may smile but often have a serious or thoughtful mood.
When I'm concentrating, I'm concentrating.
I would imagine that this is the same with our guides.
It isn't that they don't like working, they do or they wouldn't do it.
no one makes them choose this career path.  They choose it because they love it, they love us, and they love being so smart and having a job to do.
When I take the harness off and my dog gets all wiggly and wags and rolls around, people say, "That is a totally different dog!"
Well yes, that is another side of them.
Just like us.  We are different when we're working or studying and different when we're relaxing.
So, next time you see a guide dog that you think looks sad, probably they are just in work mode.
Mind you, Tulia wags while working sometimes but sometimes not.
Thanks again to all of you out there!  YOu are the best and send such great comments!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Great things about being blind. The dog on the bus seat.

I'm pretty much a person who sticks to most of the guide dog rules.  Although the dogs aren't working while at home, I don't let them on furniture or give them our food etc.  Someone was looking after my first guide for a weekend.  I'm not quite sure why she wasn't with me, but she wasn't.  On the Monday after getting her back, I got on the bus to go to work.  I said, "Gwenny sit." and the next thing I knew, she was sitting, on the seat, right beside me, with her head on my shoulder.  The driver laughed so hard he had to stop the bus.  When I got to work, I called the person and asked,  "Did you let Gwenny on your furniture?"  There was a long silence and then they admitted that they had.  They asked how I knew and I told the bus story.  I do know some guide dog handlers let their dogs on the bed, on the couch etc.  It's just my preference not to.  Poor deprived tulia who is now sound asleep and snoring on her large and comfortable bean bag bed.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Great things about being blind. The dog on the bus.

Yesterday, I wrote about the bus driver I liked.  It reminded me of a story about a bus driver and a dog.  My first guide dog and I were waiting for the bus one time.  There was a loose dog there.  A very well behaved loose dog just standing beside us.  The bus pulled up and Gwenny and I boarded the bus.  The loose dog trotted on behind us.  The driver said, "Is that your dog following you?"  I told him no and that I had no idea whose dog it was.  The dog got on, I sat down, Gwenny sat down under my seat.  The dog sat down beside us.  The driver was laughing so hard.  I was laughing.  So were many other passengers.  He wasn't sure what to do but then someone came running up and the dog was his dog.  Had wandered out of his yard to the bus stop.  He took him or her away.  It really was so funny though!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Great things about being blind. The pit bull in disguise and the bus driver.

As promised, here is a story about my first guide and a very nice bus driver. I ended up having this bus driver quite regularly for several years. The first time he saw my first guide dog Gwenny, (a beautiful, calm, little, female black labrador retriever) he said, "I can't have that dog on my bus. That is a pit bull in disguise." I laughed and got on his bus. Every day, he would say something like, "Excuse me no vicious dogs allowed on my bus." Etc. I would just laugh and get on. We always chatted and he really loved my dog and found her very well behaved.
One day, I waited at the stop as usual, he pulled up as usual, and said, "I'm very sorry young lady but I don't allow dogs on my bus especially not vicious dogs like that." Someone standing beside me said, "You can't do that. You can't do that." He seemed very agitated.
As it turned out, he was a transit supervisor. both the driver and I explained about our inside joke and all was okay.
I thought that supervisor was going to pass out when he heard what the driver said.
Whenever someone mentions pit bulls to me, I think of that story.
I'm not trying to discredit pit bulls either. Smile!