Friday, August 6, 2010

Out with a Bang

Today is my graduation day. Isn’t it just like me to graduate during a thunder storm? Guess I will go out with a bang.

I am graduating at 11 this morning. I can’t believe the journey here is almost over.


The last few weeks have been quiet. I did my “out-of-town” route on Monday. I went to Monroe on the Greyhound and took the city bus to the mall. I returned in the evening.


In my last update, I said I would talk about my drop routes.

I finished these graduation routes a few weeks ago. On one of them I miscalculated. I thought I was on a different road than I was actually on, so I went the wrong way and ended up near the interstate. I realized my mistake. I was confused, as I hadn’t been up that way on that particular road.

I walked around for three hours, and eventually called for a ride home. I wasn’t disappointed because I was confident in my travel skills. I was safe and doing fine. I just couldn’t figure out exactly where I was and the best way to get back. I called for a ride. In retrospect, I think I could have made it back. I was tired and hot and needed a break.


The next day, I did another drop route and found my way to the school within 30 minutes.


My Braille speed is averaging 50 words a minute. I get nervous when the teacher times me. But the important thing is that I will continue to read when I go home. I achieved what I set out to do.


I completed my final computer assignment. I created Braille versions of the menu at the restaurant back home where the Federation meets. The hardest part was cutting the vinyl covers and binding the menus.


My journey here has been long and life-changing. I am excited to be going home, but also filled with grief to leave my life here.

This is a place both in time and outside time, both in this world and other-worldly.

I am the same person I was when I started. Yet forever changed.

I will go off soon to the library to receive my “freedom bell.”


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Did my 10 K Today!

I completed my second to last graduation requirement in travel today. It
was a 10 KM walk around Ruston. My teacher gave me a preset route in
Braille; it involved combinations of all the routes I've been doing
throughout my time at LCB, all together in one long travel session.
Part of it involved crossing the interstate, then going back to the other
side of town: East, West, North, South, and everywhere in between.
I was lucky because the weather was cooler today – we've had some rain, -
and I started the route at 7 in the morning when it was a perfect
temperature for walking about 76 degrees.
I am proud of myself for completing this route. I did it well and managed
to stay focused.
I fell once on a curb and landed on my behind. But my pride hurt worse
than anything else. I bounced back up and continued on my way.
I lost concentration only a few times near the end and got disoriented,
but I used my skills to figure out where I was and got back on track.
An angel must have been watching over me because it didn't rain until I
finished my route. If I hadn't stopped for coffee, I would not have gotten
wet at all. Now I am sitting here at school in brightly—coloured sweat
pants that look like "clown" pants and wet feet.
Oh well, it's all part of the experience.
I will write more later about my final drop routes, which I completed last
week. .
I will be going on my "out of town," travel on Monday. This is another
requirement. I will take the Greyhound to Munroe, hang out in the city, go
for lunch, do some shopping etc. and return in the evening.
Another wonderful thing is that I timed at 57 words a minute in Braille
the other day. My goal before leaving here is 60. I am only four words
away. This is a huge accomplishment for me. I can read and enjoy reading.
I was able to read my 10 K route today in Braille and I read it fast and
without difficulty.
Love to all.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lost in a backyard

I timed 42 words a minute last week in Braille. I am definitely reading in
the forties now. It is nice to feel my fingers slide more quickly and
smoothly across the dots and to hear my own voice reading the story out
loud with emphasis and expression-- the ability to read with ease for the
first time in my life.
My goal is to reach 60 words by the time I graduate from LCB.

I am working hard in travel class. I now have two extra cane travel
classes a week, which means that two days a week I have four hours of
travel, two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. I also
walk to school every morning with my shades on to get as much practice as

I did a repeat route on Tuesday on West California Street. The first time
doing this route I wasn't able to find the address, but this time I found
it. It was a doughnut shop. I treated myself to a cinomyn twist and a cup
of coffee. The man who worked there asked me where I was from. My Canadian
accent gave me away. They tease me here about how I say words like "out"
and "been" and "again." This man told me about a man who frequently comes
to the doughnut shop who lived on Vancouver Island for 25 years and worked
as a mechanic. He called this man on the phone. I spoke to him. He is 72
years old and he knew about the Empress, Warf Street and even Campbell
River." I must be getting nostalgic for home.
That same afternoon I went on another travel route and searched up and
down the same block for 45 minutes, but could not find the address.
Finally, frustrated, hot and exhausted and lost in a backyard, somebody
found me and helped me back to the sidewalk. He said " I know we aren't
supposed to help you, but I saw you looking around for so long..." I
thanked him profusely. It turned out I had accidentally been given the
wrong address. Oh well, I sure know that block well now.

I went on bus travel yesterday to Monrow. We took a bus to the mall and I
practiced finding my way around the mall looking for specific shops. My
teacher asked me to find "Pay less Shoes," Radio Shack," and "Yankee
Candles." After some searching and requesting some assistance I found all
three stores. I need more work in malls. Traveling in open indoor spaces
takes a different skill. You listen for openings and must stay by the
perimeter of the store as you walk. One important thing I learned that I
wished I'd learned years ago is when you ask a sighted person for
directions and they say left or right.., it helps to point in the
direction they are saying. Often the direction they have told you isn't
the one they really meant, and when they see you pointing it helps them
get it right.
"It was an adventure and of course gave me an excuse to buy some things.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The pool is open

I finished my meal for forty on Wednesday. Can't believe it is over. My
adrenalin was pumping until the meal ended. Then when it came time to
clean up, exhaustion consumed me, and I pushed myself to get everything

One of my good friends here graduated this week. The ceremony was
yesterday. The graduations take place in the library at the centre. This
particular young woman is smart and much-loved by everyone.
Students and staff talked about the graduate and each said something
special about her. Family and friends called in to offer well-wishes.

Graduations are intense and emotional events.
After the graduation, we went to dinner at a Louisiana-style restaurant,
where people dined on crawfish, blackened cat fish and shrimp.

I took my sons swimming today. The municipal pool opened last week. It is
a nice pool, so good to cool down in this heat. The little one clung to
me, but as he got used to the water, he grew braver, and let me hold him
as he floated and kicked his feet. My older son loves the water.
They were tired after the swim, so I pulled them both back in the
stroller. Good exercise for me as it is uphill from the pool to the

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pickle Juice

Did all my shopping for my meal for 40 yesterday, so much to buy. I had to
quadruple all my recipes. I am making chili, rice, tossed salad, baking
powder biscuits and "Dirt Cake." Oh and pink lemon aid. I cooked all day
today and accomplished a lot. The only mishaps were when I broke a jar of
pickles, which fell out of the fridge and shattered into a hundred pieces
of glass drenched in pickle juice. I uttered a few unrepeatable words and
spent 20 minutes cleaning it up. I also put baking soda instead of baking
powder in my biscuits and had to re-do the whole mixture. Anyway, most of
my food is prepared and tomorrow I have to heat up the chilee bake the
biscuits, make the drink and the salad. Then do all the dishes. I can't
wait till it is over! Wow!
It was 91 degrees today, but with the humidity it is over 100, so hot! The
June bugs sing at night, and the outdoor pools are open.
Yesterday was Memorial day in the States. Our school went to the lake and
had a "craw fish boil." Craw fish are mud dwellers with exoskeletons; they
look much like lobsters. They are a delicacy here. People eat them with
corn and sausage and potato. I was unadventurous and ate a hamburger.

My oldest son starts summer school tomorrow.
Love to you all!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sweat and Tears

Hello everyone,
I am still here in Ruston, Louisiana. I am at the peak of my training; it
is not called intensive training for nothing.

I have now finished the home economics part of the program except for my
meal for 40, which is this Wednesday. I had my meal for 8 when my mom was
here a few weeks ago. I cooked chicken and mushroom soup casserole, fresh
biscuits, salad and lemon mousse for dessert. I also made hot tea for some
Canadian flair. Americans don't often drink hot tea. Down south they
drink sweet tea, which is ice tea. Do you know how hard it was to find a tea
pot around here?

The meal for 8 is more challenging than the meal for 40 because it
is more formal; you have to set the table and serve everyone. I did it,
but became frazzled near the end. It is stressful doing all the last
minute things while your guests are sitting and waiting in the next room.

I placed the plates on the cart and pulled it into the dining room. Rhys
got up to help momma. It was
cute because you are supposed to do the whole thing without help. But I
got away with getting some help from my wonderful son, such a

The meal turned out and tasted good. I finished the other requirements in
kitchen, such as: using a food
processor; cutting up a whole chicken and deep frying it; grilling a burger
on the charcoal grill (that took me forever because I had to clean it
first); shining shoes with the old fashioned shoe polish. I also used an
"ID Mate," bar code reader, and made Braille labels on my slate to put on
the cans with an elastic band; this was a great exercise
because I want to label items at home, such as canngoods, medicines,
cd's..., so I don't get frustrated not knowing what things are. I would
like a barcode reader, but they cost $1500.

I completed the sewing portion of the class. I learned how to do different
stitches, such as the buttonhole stitch, the gathering stitch and the hem
stitch. I struggled with sewing, but once I finally learned the steps
involved, I enjoyed it.

I finished shop class yesterday. I made two memory boxes for the boys. One
is stained walnut and one cherry. Ronyn gets the cherry box because he has
red hair. Rhys gets the walnut for his brown hair. Maralyn, one of the
instructors here is going to wood burn their names into the boxes.

I am happy to be finished with this class. I struggled in shop. Math has
always been hard for me, both because my mind
isn't mathematical, and because I didn't receive a solid foundation in
math, as I
used large print, which was near impossible with my limited vision.

 The shop teacher here is intelligent, mechanical and analytical
and he expects his students to think . I shut down in these kinds of
situations and freeze and my ability to think stops. Anyway, with much
help from the instructor, I made it through the process.
I designed the project, cut the sides, fronts, backs, bottoms and lids,
cut the "rabids and dadoes,"
indentations in the wood to enable the pieces to fit together, glued the
pieces, sanded, stained and waxed the boxes. Now I have something special
for the boys to keep forever.

For the rest of my training, I will focus on my Braille, computers and
In computers, I am learning the Duxbury Braille translation program. This
is a program that translates print documents into contracted Braille to be
printed, or embossed, on a Braillle printer.

Now I will be able to create documents to be embossed for Federation
I am making progress in Braille. But it is slow. I am still reading
30 to 40 words per minute. Sometimes I will be reading
along smoothly and quickly, and then I get hung up on a word or a
punctuation mark and lose time; this is frustrating. The more I read, the
less I get stuck and the more easily I can decipher words.

   The only way to improve my speed is to read as much as possible. Now
that I
have double Braille class every day, this will be easier. I am reading a
book called "Black Mountain Breakdown."
I am trying to slate everyday to pick up my speed and accuracy. I slate
notes during seminar, which forces me to improve on this skill.

I am continuing to progress in travel. My teacher laughs because I have good
problem-solving abilities, meaning I can get myself out of situations that I
find myself in. The challenge is how not to get into these
situations in the first place. It is great to figure things out
because that is what we learn here- how to problem-solve-, but obviously
avoiding difficult situations in the first place is ultimately the best
strategy. For example, I was walking along a busy road a few weeks ago, and
veered away from the road and started traveling down a side
street. I didn't realize my mistake until I had gone down this road for two
blocks. I should have known because the traffic sounds on the busy road had
disappeared and the direction of the sun had changed. I corrected myself,
figured out what was wrong, but I could have saved myself a lot of extra
steps if I had kept my focus.

Focus is vital during training. It is important to concentrate and avoid
distractions as much as possible. This is a struggle for me. Being a mom,
running a household
and being CFB president has taught me to multi-task. Multitasking is not a
virtue here. Or it isn't, unless you can stay 100 per cent focused on all
tasks at once.
I went on one long route a few weeks ago down a busy street called
California, This street has few sidewalks, so you must shoreline the
street along side busy traffic. The sun was hot that day and the cars seemed
extra loud. I walked and walked for about eight blocks. When I reached the
spot I was supposed to be at, I realized I had once again turned down the
wrong street. I walked back, but didn't find the address I was looking for.
The students did a 10 K walk last month. This is called the walk to
"Grambling," and all the students look forward to it with anticipation and
anxiousness. We were divided into groups of five students with an
instructor. We brought water as the day was hot and we shorelined much of
the way, even along the highway. It sounds difficult, but actually it went
well; it was a great traveling experience.
 I did my first supported drop route a few weeks ago. On a drop route, a
driver takes the student to an undisclosed location in Ruston. The student
does not know where they are being dropped off. The student must find their
way back to the centre without asking any questions. They must navigate
using the skills they have been learning at the centre, such as audible and
tactile cues, traffic, the sun and recognizable landmarks. A supported
drop route is one in which a travel instructor accompanies the student. The
instructor does not know the location.

I was excited. First step, I determined the cardinal directions: north,
south East and West. Then I
listened for clues. All was quiet except for a busy street in the
distance to the south. I walked toward the traffic sounds. When we
reached the
street, I heard the distinctive clink, clink sound of the cars running on
concrete. This clue told me I was most likely on Alabama. Alabama is one
of the only streets in Ruston with this distinctive sound.
Then I listened and heard cars to my left to the west on the parallel
road. There weren't many cars and the cars I did hear were coming from
directions, north to south and south to north.
. I determined, since I was most likely on Alabama, the street to the west
could only be Bonner, Trenton, Vienna, Munro, Minden, Homer, or
Everett. I ruled out several of these streets right away. Trenton is a
busy one way street, where the cars only go South. Munro is a fairly busy
road. Bonner is also busy. I decided it must be either Homer or Everett. I
went on this assumption and walked east. If wrong I could
always go back to my starting place and come up with another theory.
As I walked, I realized that I was right about my location.
When I heard the one-way traffic of Trenton, I breathed a sigh and
relaxed. When I crossed Trenton , and turned south towards the center, I
I had done it.
 In seminar we have watched some movies about blindness, such as "Butterflies
are Free," and "At First Sight, and the "Extreme home makeover episode that
featured a blind man and his family. We watched these movies and then
discussed them. We often talk about issues such as how we interact with
our families
and how they respond to our blindness, how to positively educate the public
about the abilities of blind people; and our own feelings and concerns about
our blindness and people's perceptions of it.
Every Monday after school, I take horseback riding lessons. So far we have
been learning to groom the horses and lead them in the ring. Next session, I
will get to ride the horse. I have taken horseback riding lessons before,
but it is nice to once again have this experience, particularly on a hot
humid, green Louisiana ranch.
 I sprained my ankle last week. I was walking back to the apartments after
dropping off the boys. It wasn't a hard fall, but my ankle turned the wrong
way and boy did it hurt. Luckily a man and woman saw me and stopped their
car. They drove me home. I kept ice on it and limped for a few days. It is
better now. Interestingly, when I sprained my ankle, I wasn't wearing my
sleepshades. If I had been, I
probably would have payed better attention to where I was walking and used
my cane properly. I was just pushing it along in an inefficient manner
and didn't detect the uneven spot on the sidewalk until it was too late.

We say here that our sleepshades are precious to us because they
represent our hard work and determination to get through this training and
to improve on our skills. Many times my shades have hidden sweat that drips
down my face, or tears that fall from my eyes.

Many students who have become close friends are graduating, and new
students are starting the journey of training.

I miss those who have left. I will be graduating in August. It is hard
to believe how fast my time here has gone. In other ways though, it seems
as if I have been here for a lifetime.

Lots of love to all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


My life is a whirlwind.  Home seems so far away, and it feels as though I have been living in Ruston Louisiana forever.  What a different world.


I have been training for five months now.  I don’t know where the time has gone.  It flies by.  I am steadily progressing in all my classes.  The progression isn’t as drastic as it was in the beginning;  it is more of a continuous evolution of skills and confidence.  Though my travel instructor still accompanies me on routes, I walk the majority of my routes independently.  He gives me an address and I travel to it and return with a business card to show I successfully found the location.


The other day I travelled 20 blocks, 10 blocks each way.  I did this in approximately one hour.  My speed and accuracy is increasing.  But occasionally I still make big mistakes.  It’s funny because when I make a mistake, I really make one.  Reminds me of an eraser I had as a child; it was six inches long and bright pink, with giant letters that read “for big mistakes.” 


Last week I was traveling with confidence until I discovered I had walked in the wrong direction and down the wrong road.  If it hadn’t been for the construction workers who notified me where I was, I might have walked to Canada before figuring out my mistake.


On Monday, I traveled down a busy street called “California.”  To get down this road, you have to shoreline the whole way because there are no sidewalks.  The street is lined with parking lots, which can be the Bermuda Triangle for the blind.  I did well until suddenly the cars on my right jumped to my left.  That’s when I realized, either the cars were driving off road, or I had veered to the other side of the street without knowing it.  Of course the latter was the accurate explanation.


The “big mistakes” are happening less often than before.  I am learning to focus and to concentrate on the parallel traffic to keep me in line and out of the parking lots.  I have to avoid distractions as much as possible.  If my mind wanders, my feet will follow.


In shop class I am progressing to the end of the requirements prior to starting my final project.  I spent at least two weeks learning to use a tool called a router.  The router and I don’t have the best relationship, but we are managing to work together.  The first task was to learn to tighten and loosen the bit with two wrenches at the same time.  This improves coordination and dexterity.  It also significantly improves one’s ability to bite one’s tongue and stamp ones foot in frustration.

You have to tighten and loosen the bit ten times without help before progressing onto actually using the tool.  For me, routing wasn’t much easier than dealing with the bit.  After much practice, I am now able to use the router to smooth the sides and corners of my Braille blocks. 


This week I learned my last tool of the series, the sander.  The sander is beautiful in its simplicity.  I have two more Braille blocks to make using all the tools, including the sander.  Then I must make three perfect Braille blocks with out asking questions or getting assistance.


I’ve decided to make a memory box for my sons for my final project in shop.  I will also spend a few weeks learning home maintenance, which includes learning to unclog a toilet, handle electric circuit panels, change a door knob etc.


My Braille is steadily improving.  I am reading on average 30 words a minute, sometimes reaching 40.  The challenge is finding the time without distractions to read.  I am unable to read much on the weekends because of my children, but being a mother of small children while training has its challenges 


Jeff is an amazing fulltime father. I certainly couldn’t do this training and take care of the children on my own.  


I still have a few more dishes to make in cooking.  Recently I made pasta from scratch, including the dough and running the dough through a pasta maker and making Alfredo sauce with chicken; the best part was eating it.  There is usually much to eat at school, as everyone cooks and shares there creations. 


I also made waffles from scratch, which involved separating egg whites twice.  I had to separate them twice because another student accidently knocked my first bowl of egg whites over in the fridge.  Patience is a virtue around this place.


I also made a blackberry pie with a bottom and top crust (this took me a week to complete); a vanilla cake with white icing (this also involved separating egg whites); fried a hamburger paddy on a skillet; made beef stew in a Crockpot; and as I write this blog my roast is in the oven.


In life skills, I changed a florescent light bulb in the ceiling, and failed.  I found the light on the ceiling with my cane, (yes canes have more uses than you could imagine.)  I climbed the latter and attempted to connect the new light.  I must have jammed it because the light did not come on.  I will have to do this again before I can finish this class.  Yesterday, I answered a set of questions using the talking calculator.  I found the calculations much easier than changing the florescent bulb, which says a lot because math was never my favourite subject.


Computers has been fun as I am doing searches on google, doing research, writing small essays and downloading music and learning to burn cds.  Computer word processing, the Internet and Jaws, come easily to me, as I have been doing this for so long and I excel in this area. 


All the students have classes in which they excel and those in which they have to work harder to keep up.  There are 25 students here now. The school is getting crowded. 


When a student walks into a room, people say “hello.”  If there are several people in the room, the person is greeted with a chorus of hellos.  It is a centre joke now and throughout the day, the “hello” chant reverberates down the halls.


Seminar is usually lively.  It is difficult sometimes for everyone to get a chance to speak.  There are always some people who speak more than others.  On Tuesday, Dr. Schroeder, NFB first vice-president and LCB board member, spoke to us. I always enjoy listening to Dr. Schroder.


I am taking a Swing dance class with some of the students from LCB.  We had our first class last night.


I took the kids to a flea market on the weekend.  Rhys went on a bungee jumper.  He was attached to a harness and jumped at least eight feet in the air.  He was so brave and did so well.

Rhys is so athletic.  My travel instructor plays basket ball with him in the apartment parking lot, and he is learning all the moves.  Ronyn likes to do everything his big brother does.  He runs after Rhys yelling “my turn,” in a sharp, high-pitched voice that means business. They are the best of brothers.


Love to you all back home.  I think of you often.