Monday, December 31, 2012

Here we are again, kid lets! Another year-- and another list of favorite books for the year. I read a total of 133 books this year-- down from my previous all-time low of 153. This is due, in large part-- to my grueling work schedule while in New York! The books I read this year were mostly fantasy (which just proves that I haven't changed all that much since last year)! My top 15 books are in no particular order! The books followed by a star are part of a series. 1. 11/22/63 by Stephen King 2. The Poison Wood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 3. White Tiger by Kylie Chan * 4. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson* 5. Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay* 6. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See* 7. Blackveil by Kristen Britain* 8. Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland* 9. The Red Tent by Anita Diamond 10. The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey* 11. Sword Dancer by Jennifer Roberson* 12. The Magician's Apprentice by Trudy Canavan* 13. Sword of the Deceiver by Sarah Zettel* 14. Honeymoon by James Patterson 15 Changes by Mercedes Lackey*

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In the kitchen with the Bitches!

It's been a while, but things have been busy around here. What passes for fall is arriving in the swamp. During this time of year, my thoughts turn inward and I am usually found in my kitchen baking, making soups, or herbal medicine. I've been doing quite a bit of that lately. I made pumpkin bread for the first time, and it was such a hit among friends and coworkers that I think I'll be making it again this weekend. This afternoon, I plan on making some banana bread because I have some bananas which are on the funky side of eatable, but which will work fine for bread. I'm also thinking of making ginger bread soon; I get great fresh ginger roots from the Asian market across the river, and while some of it goes into stir-fry, or curry, I can't go wrong with ginger bread. I'm really not a recipe kind of lady, preferring loosely-based cooking instructions. But because I know someone will ask, here is my recipe for pumpkin bread! Remembering my number one kitchen rule-- Exactitude is over rated! Pumpkin bread Ingredients: 3 cups sugar 3 cups flour 3 eggs 1 dash thing of baking soda 1/2 dash thing of salt 1/2-ish cup of orange juice a couple cups of pumpkin, if you are lazy, you can buy it in the can, don't buy pie filling... Spices-- I used nutmeg, Allspice Berries, Cinnamon, Cloves, and a splash of vanilla extract. If you are lazy, you can buy pumpkin pie spice, but that takes all the fun out of it... Method: Mix your sugar, flour, spices, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl. In another bowl, mix the eggs, OJ, pumpkin, and vanilla extract. Combine the two, mixing thoroughly. If you want to add anything, like nuts or raisins, this is where you do it. I'm kind of boring, though and just like pumpkin in my pumpkin bread. Take out a couple loaf pans and flour/grease them. I used olive oil. Set your oven to 375-ish and once your two pans are loaded with the batter (stopping about an inch or more from the top) slap those babies into the oven and bake them for 50 minutes to an hour. If you aren't sure if they're done, stick a fork into the center. If it comes out clean, they're done, if it comes out goopy, they aren't done. Once you've decided they're done, take pans out of oven, allow to cool. Then remove from pan on to wire rack, or if you are a peckerwood like me, on to a plate and hope someone buys you wire racks for some holiday or other. Eat, best in the morning with coffee, or tea. I also made chili and honey jalapeno corn bread. I did not bring it to work to share, because I'm a selfish Kitchen Bitch. This weekend I am going to make a corn silk glycerite for Laveau. It will probably take most of Sunday to make. I also plan to make an Astragalus tincture, which will probably be done around Thanksgiving. Just in time for cold season. I'm enjoying this start to the colder season, and hope y'all are too!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Isaac's tale

The Sunday before the hurricane was when I realized that it would probably hit us. My biggest and most pressing worry was for Bristol as she is almost 15 years old and would not do well in our home without power to cool the place down. I was also worried about her ability to toilet independently in a hurricane. My backyard is sheltered, but I needed her to be able to move quickly and I was worried that she'd not see where she was going. Because of these worries, I called a local friend who usually watches her if I'm out of town. She had just brought her back to me when I returned from New York. And she very kindly drove back over and picked her up. Her, her family, Bristol, and Gracy who is now her pet dog, and who was my retired guide, drove to Arkansas to ride out the storm.

Now it was me, Mill'E-Max, and Laveau. My first order of business was to get my supplies ready. I filled every container I could find which could be completely closed with water, and stuck it in my freezer. I bought things like crackers and peanut butter and some fruits or veggies which did not need refrigeration. I took all of my chairs and table off of my porch, and I charged up all of my electronics.

My power went out for the first time around 6 that Tuesday night. I was frustrated because I had just put my last frozen pizza in to bake. However it came right back on and lasted until around 10 that night.

The rain really started to pour, and the wind picked up. I could feel my house vibrating. I walked through my house, making sure everything was ok, when I felt a drop of water on my head. I thought I was imagining it, so I stood in the same place, and a few seconds later felt another drop of water. I then said a whole bunch of very bad words and went to find a large pot to catch the water from the leak in my roof.

Since I really couldn't do anything else, I mean, I can't really see or hear the hurricane, and I surely do not want a tactile hurricane experience! I curled up with my book (it was "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamond and will officially be known in my head as "the Hurricane Isaac book."), and went to sleep. Yes, I'm so deaf that I can sleep through a hurricane.

Mill'E-Max curled up to my back, and Laveau lay on my legs. Eventually I fell asleep, but was awakened by the dogs alerting me to a sound. They lead me to it and it was part of my ceiling in the room with the leaky roof. It had now become part of my floor, and there was soggy sheetrock, dust, and paint chips everywhere. I said some more bad words, and drug a chair to block that area off, so the dogs couldn't get into that mess.

I then huddled up with the dogs and used my iPhone and braille display to talk to my parents, to friends, and to check the alerts. My connection with the world narrowed down to a phone, and the fragile pins which make up my display. These things alone made it possible for me to know what was happening beyond my shaking house.

And that is basically the way things went for a day or so. This storm was like that unwanted houseguest... it just! would! not! go! away!
When I went to take the girls out, I felt more water hit my face. I was worried that there was yet another leak in my roof, but it was only the wind, driving the rain in sideways through the gap between door, and jam.

I got out a 30 ft. leash, tied one end to my fridge, which was the strongest thing I could think of, and clipped the other end to Mill'E-Max's collar. I was worried how'd she'd manage out there and was ready to help her if she needed it. Both she and Laveau were troopers, though and went out, took care of their business and came back in. Laveau was patient and waited her turn until Mill'E was done. After that, I gave them some pig tails to chew on, and did some more texting/checking of weather reports.
It was a very long 24 hours. But we made it through and I went on my first post-hurricane walk on Thursday morning.

A neighbor said that there were no down power lines in this area, so I felt safe in taking the girls and hitting the streets. Laveau gets a gold star for guiding me around all of the debris on the sidewalks. There was a man working on removing a tree which had fallen across his yard, and so many people out, looking around and assessing the damage.

The first two days or so were not too bad, temperature-wise. But Thursday afternoon, things got pretty nasty, and by Friday, I had made up my mind to go to a hotel after having a very vivid dream in which my dogs died of heatstroke.

Before I left, I cleaned all of the freezers and my fridge, as well as picked up all of the large chunks of drywall from my ceiling. My parents found me a hotel in the central business district and Laveau, Mill'E-Max and I were off on Friday afternoon.

Let me tell you, that air conditioning felt sooooo good! I took a shower and got ready for a nap, when Mill'E-Max told me she needed to use the bathroom. The CBD doesn't have much grass, so we wandered around for a while until we found some. By then, I was very confused as to where I was. I didn't wear my hearing aid and I had forgotten to bring my iPhone so I couldn't ask for directions back to the hotel. Yes, I'm aware that this was not one of my brightest moments, but my brain was pretty well fried by that point.

Thankfully, Mill'E-Max remembered where to go, and we arrived at our hotel room in no time. I touched the braille to make sure, and the sign said room 323. I said yet more bad words and stomped off to the elevator. The whole time Mill'E-Max protesting that the room was right. I looked at the little braille placard on the outside of the elevator and it said floor 2.... I was confused. Mill'E-Max guided me back to the same room and nudged the door handle with her nose. I looked at the braille again, and it still! said room 323. I then felt a little higher, and noticed that there were raised print numbers. I read them by touch and it said room 215 which was my correct room. So the dog was right and I should have listened to her. If she were human, she'd have never let me live this down!

I talked to the lady at the front desk about this issue, a few days later, and she said "Well just read the print, it's right..." I made a bad face at her and explained, using small words, about braille. Then I explained to another worker just because I wanted to be sure the hotel got the message and I did not trust the first lady to deliver the message.

I enjoyed my time at the hotel. I basically slept for the first day I was there, only waking up to take dogs out, to drink water, and eat a bit. I came home on Labor day, and some friends helped me vacuum the rest of the sheetrock dust and paint flakes.

Now pretty much everything is back to normal and Bristol came home, so we are together once again!
I'm crossing my fingers for a hurricane-free rest of the season.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

New York, New York!

After some crazy hurricane-related delays, I'm here with the rest of my New York story. Then the hurricane story! I'd best get writing!

We arrived in New York around noon. I did not wear my hearing aid, and so the ways I experienced the city are different from many people. I noticed first of all that the steps going to and from the subway are super steep. Immediately I wondered how people who use wheelchairs, scooters or walkers use the subway. Do they just not ride it?

We stopped quick for some Star Bucks and then started walking toward the theater. A Deaf man saw my SSP and me signing to each other and came up to say "hi." I thought that was really neat. We took another subway and arrived at the theater district. The aromas of the nearby hotdog stand encouraged me to buy my first New York hotdog. It was delicious, with ketchup and mustard. Once we were done eating, we went into the Majestic Theater for Phantom of the Opera. We had to climb a bunch of narrow, twisting steps to get to our private box. The handrails were made of carved iron, and the whole place seemed very old and full of history. I arrived at our box to find cushy chairs and a pillow atop a table upon which we rested our arms during the performance.

When the play was over, we went to Times Square. The first store was Toys R Us. The store has giant models of the buildings which make up the New York skyline, and they are all made of legos. When I walked into the store, I was amazed at the size. I could feel the excitement of everyone brushing against my skin, and nobody needed to tell me that this place would be really loud, if I could hear. I touched several building models and enjoyed the many different styles of architecture. Sometimes I forget that buildings do not look all the same. Frequently, the different styles of architecture are lost on me. By touching the different buildings, I got a better sense of what things looked like. And the whole time, I felt it, on my skin, the bustling, loud excitement of the place.

We eft Toys R Us and walked through Times Square. I could smell meat cooking, onions, people all around, and cars. All of that formed a sort of mix of smells. My SSP described the many different things going on. There were people dressed up as different characters. There were Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Elmo from Sesame Street, Sponge Bob, and Shrek, the green ogre. There were so many people. It was like Mardi Gras, and Super Bowl Sunday in the French Quarter when the Saints played all rolled together. Laveau did a great job at following and keeping me on the right path.

We got on yet another subway to go to Central park. This train had something sticky spilled all over the floor and I remember being worried that Laveau would get her coat all nasty. We got out, and walked to Central park. The smells were different here-- of grass, and dirt, and horses. My SSP described to me all of the people and dogs going about different activities. Some were walking, others playing frisbee, or just sitting on the grass, enjoying the afternoon. We sat on the grass for a while and enjoyed the beautiful day. We eventually got up and bought some water from a vender on the street. I was so thirsty that I drank my bottle all down in one go.

Next, we were off to China Town for dinner. More subways, and this time we emerged upon a world which smelled of spices, and fish. We walked around and eventually found a place to eat. I had wonderful steamed veggies in a delicious sauce. I also had some hot tea. The food was amazing. I would love to go back there again.

Once we had finished eating, we got on another subway and went back to Times Square. By this time, it was dark, outside. All of the buildings were lit up. Because I can see contrast, I could sort of see the buildings. It reminded me of Christmas, with all of the many-colored lights. I couldn't see the buildings the same way a sighted person could-- with all of the detail. I mostly saw tall colorful blobs.
By that point, we were super tired. I needed to run into a Walgreens and find some canned tuna or something for Laveau to eat. Times Square has to have the biggest WalGreens ever. It was three levels and is just huge. I thought we'd never find our way out of there. But eventually we did, and it was more subway riding, and then connecting to the Long Island Railroad to go back to HKNC!

I really loved my time in New York City, but I feel like I hadn't even scratched its surface, and am eager to spend more time there!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New York State of Mind

This is going to be super, super long. It will also be posted in multiple places, so I'm just warning y'all. If you are interested in the trip, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and a snack and relax, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

My SSP and I left MSY an hour and a half late. This meant that we arrived at LGA an hour and a half late. We found our driver waiting, and threw our suitcases into the back of his car. After some words about the dog (no, she doesn't bite), we headed to HKNC. New York was a lot greener than I Imagined it to be. It was about a 45 minute drive to the center.

We arrived and were shown to our room. My SSP, Laveau and I all shared a room. We quick freshened up and then ran to the pre-conference meeting.

First order of business was for Laveau, and the other guide dog, Walter to say hello. The other instructors were Bapin, and Scott Davert from HKNC and Bruce Visser from Seattle. We all chatted for a while and then got down to business, planning out the week and dividing up responsibilities.

I taught the Apple Mac portions of the program, and shared the Apple IOS section with Scott who, I might add, was a joy to work with. We got the interpreter situation mostly straightened out (so we thought) and broke up for the evening. I went and got dinner with my SSP, then it was back to the room where I fell into bed.

Monday started with more interpreter issues. We had five student trainers at this seminar, two were blind/hearing, one was sighted/hearing and two were Deafblind, in addition to the 4 Deafblind instructors using ASL either tactually or with close up tracking. Once we settled the interpreter situation, some people from HKNC talked about various things.

That afternoon, I worked with students, describing the keyboard layout of an Apple Mac, and using Apple mail. Once the classes were finished, we had a quick staff meeting where it was decided that we'd offer night labs for the rest of the week. After the meeting, Scott and I met in his office for a while and planned out the next day's sessions. And where I banged my head on his desk repeatedly and bemoaned my failure as a teacher.

Tuesday morning, I gave a presentation on the basics of using Apple Mac with the built-in screen reader, Voiceover, and braille support. I also talked about the differences between a screen reader for a PC and the Apple Voiceover. I introduced the finder, and screen layout, as well as the Voiceover keys and the Trackpad commander. I came away wanting a newer Mac, because mine doesn't have one of those nifty trackpad thingies.
That afternoon, I did more hands-on instruction-- watching as my student explored the finder.

That night, a few of us decided that all of the wholesome HKNC country living was making us crazy. We left the lab in the capable hands of Bapin and Bruce and went to a bar where we drank too much, laughed too much, and generally had a wonderful time, although we stayed out too late!

Wednesday morning, Scott and I presented on using Apple's iDevices with braille. I also did a demo of using IP Relay on an iPhone to make a phone call. We demonstrated other iOS apps such as Messages and Safari. Scott and I have the same sense of humor so made a good team.
That afternoon, I worked with students on using the rotor to change ways of navigating iDevices. That night I helped a student in the lab send her first email with a braille display and an iPod Touch. It is always my favorite part of teaching when my students accomplish a goal, which my student did, after some struggle. I also got to look at her Focus 40 Blue braille display. It was the newer model and I liked it.
Thursday was the Bruce Visser show, where he taught us all about screen magnification solutions for both Mac and PC. Bapin also showed us how to work with Window Eyes and Non Visual Desktop Access NVDA, which is a free screen reader for Windows machines.

By Thursday afternoon I was really dragging. I spent that time, working with hearing students. They each got to make a relay call, which was wonderful. It was also quite a bit of fun, as we kept finding things to laugh about during the session.

That evening, between afternoon and evening sessions, Scott, my SSP and I went into Port Washington where we met my friend Kerri for pizza. We had fun talking/texting across the table, and I got to try New York Pizza which was delicious. I was a good girl, and only had Coke.
That night's lab was more of the same working on making relay calls. After the lab was over, we had a bit of a gathering in my room which didn't break up until the early hours of the next day.

Friday was a killer day. I was really dragging. That morning, we learned more about NVDA and news apps for the iOS platform. I skipped lunch and instead went to my room and lay on my bed and tried not to fall into a deep sleep.

That afternoon was final tests, evaluations, and a funny incident involving another guide dog chewing on my chair and making it vibrate which startled me and made me laugh. It was probably made more humorous because I was very sleep deprived by that point.

That night turned into a big party. A bunch of us met at a bar in Port Washington. I decided that since I was on Long Island that I'd drink Long Island iced tea. I had about three of those, and then switched to a drink called the Motherfucker which had about seven different kinds of alcohol in it. I shared about five of those.

Now, since what happens in New York, stays in New York, I won't get into specifics. But I will say this. Some Deaf/Deafblind people may have gotten up and danced. And some Deaf/Deafblind people may have even sung kerioke. And some Deaf/Deafblind people may have even gotten pictures of them singing kerioke posted to Facebook. It was a very fun night, bruises and all! I wanted to be the designated driver, because alcohol improves my driving skill! However nobody believed me, and so I was bundled into a cab, and I staggered in around 2 ish.

The next day we went into New York City. My SSP and I had all of these plans about when we'd leave, and lets just say that we missed that 7:30 AM train. However we were on the rode by 11. We arrived in Penn Station, and after fortifying ourselves with the universal hangover cure of Star bucks, we took a subway to the Majestic Theater for Phantom of the Opera. While in the subway, I tried to walk off of a train platform, but thankfully, Laveau put herself in front of me and shoved me backward. Good dog, I guess I'll keep her!

I had originally called the Majestic in late June, to ask about ASL interpreters for Phantom. Their reply was that Deafblind people didn't go to the theater so I'd have to bring my own. So I talked to my SSP who happens to also be a law intern, and she worked her way up the chain of command. Nobody wanted to give me interpreters. They wanted to give me the script, and they wanted to do braille CART, but finally! PAH! A demand letter was written, and signed by a lawyer, explaining the law and requesting that they comply. And they did, four days before we were scheduled to see the play, we got word that I'd have interpreters.

I ate a New York hotdog, and showed up to the theater. It was old and beautiful, with intricate ironwork. I walked up a long and winding flight of steps to find that we had gotten our own private box.

It was so cool! So, so sosososososo! neat! There were comfortable chairs, and a table, complete with pillow, for me to rest my arms upon.

The play was amazing! I really enjoyed it, and loved the difference between everyday signing and this which was much more stylized and just, expressive in a totally unique way.

And since you are all probably falling asleep, I'll end this entry here and write another one all about my day in Manhattan!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Start Spreadin' the News

This has been a crazy whirlwind few weeks. In May, I was asked to teach at a Train the Trainers seminar at the
<"Helen Keller National Center for Deafblind Youth and Adults">
I said yes, and the training starts Monday. This means that tomorrow, bright and way too early for any human being to be awake I will be on a plane flying to New York.

Today my SSP and I dropped Mill'E-Max off at my vets, and went to get some few last-minute things. I am home, trying to pack and not forget anything. Bristol is staying with a friend who is coming to get her tonight. Mister Pawpower left for Denver on Thursday with Baylee, so this house seems very quiet, even for me!

Now I have to put books on my iPhones and Braille note, finish packing and wait. I'm very excited to spend time in New York and will update as I have time!
Stay cool, y'all!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Urban Tug-of-War

If you ask any assistance dog handler, they will tell you that interference by the general public can be a huge problem. One of the biggest forms of interference is petting the dog while it is working. But for me, one of the biggest problems is when people touch me. I've noticed that most people seem to think that the accepted rules of personal contact don't seem to apply to people with disabilities. I have been grabbed, hugged, kissed, stroked, pushed from behind, pushed from the front, and toed along like luggage by people who don't bat an eyelash when they do these things to me. They would never tolerate this kind of treatment themselves, and they would never dream of doing this to someone if they didn't have a disability.
But because the person "means well" and is "only trying to help" I'm supposed to just suck it up and take it. But there is a problem, because in addition to being inappropriate, uncomfortable and demeaning, this kind of treatment is dangerous.

The inner ear disease which causes my deafness also causes vertigo and dizziness. Basically I have really horrible balance. I would probably be using a walker full-time if I didn't have an awesome dog who provided, amongst other things, mobility support. Laveau and I have developed a very particular way of walking. She knows what to do to keep me from doing an undignified face-plant on the sidewalk.

On Monday, I woke up and discovered that the "vertigo elves" had been hard at work during the night. The results were that I couldn't walk without holding on to a wall. I also didn't know where my body was in space. Upon discovering that I couldn't tell the ceiling from the floor, I promptly called in sick to work and took the "funny pills" which worked, pretty well, although they turned me into a drooling idiot for a day or so. The last two days have been spent recovering from this latest bout with the vertigo elves. I can walk and stand now, with the help of my dog. I am going to work, and doing all of the usual things, although more slowly and with long naps afterward.

Today, I went to the store with my husband. They are doing construction in my neighborhood, and the corner in front of the store was getting torn up. We found our way into the store, but when we left, a guy decided that he needed to "help" us. I was near the curb when the person grabbed my right arm, and with great force started yanking me behind him as he set off toward the corner. I started to fall into the busy road. Laveau, realizing that I was about to become road pizza, pulled left and got me upright once again. The "helpful" man, kept pulling. I told him, several times to let me go, and that I had balance problems and would fall if he didn't let me go. He either didn't speak English or he chose not to follow my instructions. He kept pulling me forward and to the right. Laveau pulled me back, and to the left so that I wouldn't fall. It was like urban tug-of-war, and I was the rope. Laveau really had no choice, if she had stopped pulling, I'd have ended up in the road. The man in question should be grateful for my need to hold tightly to Laveau's harness or I'd have punched him just so he'd let me go. I'm not usually prone to violence, but this was honestly terrifying.

Finally, my husband turned around and got the man to let me go. Laveau came up next to me and helped me get steady. We were finally able to cross the road in question and make it home safely.

I know many assistance dogs wear a patch on cape or harness which says something like "Do not pet me, I'm working." I want one for my shirt which says "Do not grab me, I'm walking." But just like most people don't respect the patches on the dog, they probably wouldn't respect mine, and while reading it, they'd grab on and start yanking away. Good thing I have a dog who can yank back.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

State of the Pack

It has been a busy week here at the Pawpower Palace. Yesterday, Bristol my fourteen year young retired guide went for her quarterly trip to see her eye specialist.
<"Dr da Costa">
told me that Bristol's cataracts have gotten much worse. She had several tests, and got her tear ducts flushed. She has lost a great deal of her sight and may be totally blind within the year. She has been deaf for a year now, so we are now focusing on techniques which will allow her to live as active and independent of a life as she can. And who better to teach her these things than a deafblind owner. People joke that Bristol just wanted to be like me, since being deafblind is so fun! :)

We are teaching her new tactile cues and I am going to get her a vibrating collar. I also plan to get embroidery on the collar which states that she is deafblind. This way, if she ever gets lost, the person who finds her will understand that she can't hear or see them.

Baylee went with Bristol to the eye vets and got her CERF exam. Her eyes are totally healthy and she is free to keep on training as Mister Pawpower's guide dog! Whew! Three cheers for healthy eyes! :)

In other news, Brooke from the <"Ruled By Paws Gang">
and I are working through Sue Ailsby's
<"Training Levels">

This has been a great deal of fun, and has taught me an awful lot. I also found an awesome iPhone app called See Spot Sit which has a really fabulous training log feature, plus tons of distraction sounds. I'm using these levels to help re-teach Bristol tactile cues.

So far, we are only on level 1. Today I was working on Zen with Mill'E-Max. Zen is the practice of ignoring what you want to get what you want. An example, dog ignores a treat on the ground and gets a click and treat. Keep in mind that this example is the finished behavior and we start much simpler than that.

So this morning I was practicing Zen with Mill'E-Max. I held out a treat, and was counting off five seconds before giving the treat (building duration). Mill'E-Max did a "down" right as I clicked for ignoring the treat. So Mill'E-Max, being the very clicker-savvy dog that she is, decided that I was clicking for ignoring food and laying down. Yikes! this dog out-thinks me! Therefore, I spent the next five minutes trying to click after she ignored the treat but before she went into the "down" so she would understand that I wasn't looking for any other behavior than "zen." Eventually she got it and I learned that dogs have awesome brain skills and that I need to keep on my toes. Dog training sure is fun.

Lastly Laveau has learned a new trick. We keep all of the dog gear-- leashes, harnesses, service vests and the like, in a big wooden cupboard. It is designed to be one of those cupboards in which normal people keep their televisions. It has a big open space where the television would sit. But since we aren't normal people, who don't own a television, we use the cupboard for our dog stuff, since it's right by our front door. Last week, I had taken Baylee to work with me for the day. I was on the way home with a friend and we decided to go for coffee. I texted Mister Pawpower and asked him to bring Laveau out to the car, and I'd swap her for Baylee. That way, Laveau would get to work a bit and Baylee could rest up. I wanted to focus on relaxing at the coffee shop and step out of dog trainer mode for a bit. Mister Pawpower went into the front room with Laveau and reached for her gear. Laveau was so excited to be going out that she leapt from the floor, into the open area of the cupboard, and stood there for Mister Pawpower to put on her gear. He thought that Laveau was so funny that he laughed and laughed. This was enough reinforcement for Laveau so she has now made this little leap a regular part of her day. Just yesterday, I came home from the eye vets, and was swapping Bristol for Laveau for yet another jaunt to the coffee shop. Again, Laveau launched herself from the floor to the cupboard and waited for me to dress her for work. I need to get this on camera, it is so funny. I love working with operant dogs who aren't afraid to do crazy stunts like that! I promise a picture soon

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Can't is a four-letter word

This post is for the
<"eighth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival">
The topic is:
Marching To Your Own drum.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference."
-- Robert Frost
Throughout my entire life, one of the words I've heard most often is "can't." Mostly it's strangers who say the word, but sadly, at other times it's family, friends, coworkers, trainers, or others with whom I have consistent interaction. When someone tells me that I "can't do" this or that, I'm more than likely to see it as a challenge, and not as the warning or the limitation the person has intended it to be. This also holds true for the word "shouldn't" or similar words. I don't want to be told what to do! Even if someone says "can't" and I try and fail, and they are proven right, at least I had the satisfaction of trying and knowing for myself(the hard way) that I really can't do something. And besides, if I'd listened to all of the can't's and shouldn't's I'd never be where I am today.

I am a Deafblind dog trainer with balance problems. My dogs are owner trained, gotten from an animal shelter or rescue, raw fed, minimally vaccinated, and clicker trained. I have been accused by some, of just "needing to be different." But as strange as it may seem, I'm not really like that at all.

Sometimes, life forces us to be different, to take a chance, to try something unheard of because it is the only thing left to try. This is how I came to clicker training. After my in-home hearing/fetchNcarry® dog, Mill'E-Max was attacked by three dogs in under a year, clicker training was the only thing that helped us make any progress. People said that it wouldn't work, they made fun of my use of treats, and said that it would lead to a dog who's only interest was her belly. Thankfully, they were wrong. Clicker training was such a wonderful discovery that I use it with all of my dogs. It works for us, and so I'll keep doing it.

Sometimes, the lesser-known path is chosen because it is the thing that literally makes the difference between illness and health. My now-retired guide Bristol was very ill in her younger days. She was plagued with chronic ear and skin infections, stomach and bowel problems, and inability to maintain a healthy weight. I switched to a natural-rearing approach-- including a raw diet in hopes of prolonging her life and in the hope that it would be able to let her continue working for me. I did it back in the day when most everyone was still feeding feed-grade kibble. I got many questions, and a lot of dyer warnings from people who were just sure that either my dog would be dead from salmonella within the week, or from people who declared that my dog's work would suffer and she would become a scrounger because she was being fed "people food." Yet again, they were wrong. Bristol started eating a grain free raw diet and within a month, she was a different dog entirely. Twelve years, and thousands of pounds of raw meaty bones later, Bristol is 14.5 years young and still waits eagerly for her allotment of animal parts every morning. Even when she leaves us for the great dog-park which lies beyond, I will still feed this way. I will do it because it works for my dogs!

If I had listened to the "can't's" and the "shouldn't's" nothing would have changed. I would not now, be enjoying the rewards which come with taking chances. The assistance dog community can, at times, be a very harsh and judgmental place. If you are different-- if you take a different road-- you are probably going to get your fair share of unpleasantness over it. You will get more questions and sideways looks than if you had gone to a program, gotten a lab, come home, used approved methods, and fed approved food. For me, what is more important than anything is the success and happiness of the team-- my dog, and me! Sometimes this happiness lies in doing what works for most people. At other times, however, much can be gain by taking the chance and doing things a different way.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

When I first started losing my hearing, one of my biggest fears was that of losing my ability to travel independently. Whether it be across town or across the country, I've always loved being able to go where ever I wanted by myself. I decided early on that I was not going to let anything keep me from continuing to travel like this. And thanks to technology, and my fabulous dog, I am still traveling today. Here is just a small sample of one of our adventures
Yesterday after I came home from work, I realized I was out of some necessary items for cleaning. I would have let this wait until Friday, but you know the rule-- the moment you run out of paper towels and floor cleaner, that's when a dog gets sick. There was nothing for it but to venture to the Whole Foods for some needed items and maybe a treat or two. I harnessed up Laveau, grabbed my iPhone and braille display, and we set off.

I had checked Google Maps for the bus schedule, and gave myself plenty of time to walk the seven blocks to the stop. While crossing the road by my house we got a traffic check. This intersection is not controlled at all, and sometimes can look safe, but cars can come out of nowhere. We got about half way across the road, when I felt Laveau slam on the breaks, and stand in front of me. Seconds later, I felt the brush of air as a car drove passed. Thankfully there were only little roads left to cross until we got to the bus stop.

As we walked, I could smell the different aromas from the many restaurants in the area. My neighborhood has become rather famous for its many and varied restaurants. I noticed that the spider plants which grow outside of the juice bar were getting very long. I felt them brush my cheek as Laveau took me out and around them. She was very curious as to our destination, and every time we passed a familiar landmark, she would turn her head and pause, to let me know we were in front of a favorite place. The Mini-Mart, the doughnut shop, the juice bar, and the kennel where Baylee goes for day care all were pointed out to me. I think I could hire Laveau out as a tour guide!

Finally we got to the corner. Laveau lay in the grass, and I told her to "watch" which." She did. Lounging in the grass, only getting up when she saw the bus. She touched the harness handle to my leg-- my cue that the bus had arrived. I waited for the driver to deploy the ramp, and then we got on the bus. As I stopped to show the driver my ID which allows me to ride fixed-route buses for free, I told him I was deafblind and could he tap me on the shoulder when we got to the stop. Then I asked Laveau to find me a seat.

Once seated, I turned on my iPhone and braille display. I opened
<"Ariadne GPS">

This is a very inexpensive app which simply flashes the addresses and names of streets as you pass them. I especially like it while traveling by bus because it allows me to know where I am, and lets me know when I might be getting close to my stop. That way, if I think the driver has forgotten to tap me when I have arrived at the correct stop, I can remind him or her to do this when we are close.

This time, though the driver remembers. I get off the bus, walk to the corner, cross another street and wait for another bus. Rinse, repeat. Laveau is happiest when we are on the bus because it is nice and cool in there.

We arrive at the Whole Foods and the second bus driver helps me cross the busy street in front of the store. Then he leads me to a door, and leaves. I walk inside with Laveau, and something doesn't feel quite right. I know I'm in the right place-- the smell is right and the feeling under my feet and in the air is right. Laveau knows where we are going though and I feel her excitedly pull into the harness. We walk for a bit, and then I realize that Laveau is headed out to the parking garage. While this is not where I wanted to be, it is in a sense good that she did this, because now I know where I am for sure. I think Laveau was disappointed though, because we usually go to this store with friends or my SSP. I think she thought she'd find herself a nice comfy ride home in a car if she went to the parking garage.
At last, our shopping was done. I even got an ice mocha out of the deal. Since I bought several big and unwieldy items, like paper towels and the like which do not fit well into a backpack, I used IP relay on my iPhone to call a cab home. Laveau got the car ride after all.

Happy Independence Day, Y'all!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Law-firm of Anderson Cooper

Sometimes, as a deafblind person, I feel pretty out of touch with popular culture and the like. I try to stay up to date with news-- local, national and world-wide, but I tend to miss quite a bit. This is mostly because there are only so many hours in the day, and because, lets face it, I don't really care about television or movie stars for the simple reason that I can't see or hear their work. This can sometimes land me in situations where I am obviously out of my depth. Something like this happened today.

Up until about two hours ago, I thought
<"Anderson Cooper">
was the name of the law firm which was so involved with the <"Enron Scandal">
And then I found out I was wrong!
I know all about
<"Corporate Personhood">
This would be taking it a little far, no?
So the joke's on me! Good thing I learned to laugh at myself a long time ago.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Swamp Zebra Crossing

Welcome to summer in the swamp. My refrigerator has died. This is not ideal and has caused not a little bit of drama here in the land of Pawpower. Next up-- refrigerator shopping!

On a more amusing note, I have some Baylee tails for everyone. She is now 14 months old and has started her "for serious" grown up guide dog training. She thinks this is fabulous. She loves working, being out in public, and getting praise and treats for being a good guide swamp zebra. There is just one little thing that may drive us all to drink. The dog cannot understand that J-walking is not ok, no really, for serious, not ever.
When we go to the mini mart, we need to cross the street directly in front of us and then the one to the right. We get to the curb, and I can read her mind as she says to herself:
"The shortest distance between point A and point B is a straight line! I know this!"
And I try to demonstrate that although this may be the case, it is not the best and safest option. But she doesn't care, because she must have gotten an A+ in that secret canine geometry class she took on the internetz. Nothing will do but a straight line from our corner to the one forward and to the right.

But I am not a clicker trainer for nothing, right? And my mad clicker training skillz are telling me to treat the weakest link in the behavior chain. The weakest link is that darned corner which she finds superfluous. This is going to require a lot of back-chaining of this crossing, and a pretty high reinforcement schedule for the corner she wants to miss. But I think I'll do it at night, when it's cooler.

Someone please tell me why it is my destiny to train guide dogs in the middle of a New Orleans summer? This will be the 3rd one in 4 years. In a thousand years, when Laveau retires, she can do it around the end of August. That way I'll have until June to get this stuff done, when the weather is a bit more civilized.

Stay cool, Y'all!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Deafblind Journey

June is Deafblind Awareness Month, and this week is Deafblind Awareness Week. Today is also the birthday of
<"Helen Keller">

Even when I was blind and hearing, I've always had an interest in Helen Keller, and her life.

We all know that she was truly a pioneer of her time. But rarely, do we stop to think about what her time was like. Things were different, then. Attitudes about disability were radically different, and Helen Keller never had the opportunities that we-- as Deafblind people have today. She is often portrayed as an amazing woman, an angelic figure-- admired for her strength of will, and ever-hungering mind. But how did Helen Keller feel about her own situation? How did she feel about her own deafblindness.

In 1906, Helen Keller asked the author Mark Twain to give a speech at the association of promoting the interests of the blind. She was unable to preside herself, and sent her good friend to speak to them. She also sent him with a letter to read at the meeting. It gives us a very clear look into her feelings about blindness.
"To know what the blind man needs, you who can see must imagine what it would be not to see, and you can imagine it more vividly if you remember that before your journey's end you may have to go the dark way yourself. Try to realize what blindness means to those whose joyous activity is stricken to inaction. It is to live long, long days, and life is made up of days. It is to live immured, baffled, impotent, all God's world shut out. It is to sit helpless, defrauded, while your spirit strains and tugs at its fetters, and your shoulders ache for the burden they are denied, the rightful burden of labor. The seeing man goes about his business confident and self-dependent. He does his share of the work of the world in mine, in quarry, in factory, in counting room, asking of others no boon, save the opportunity to do a man's part and to receive the laborer's guerdon. In an instant accident blinds him. The day is blotted out. Night envelops all the visible world. The feet which once bore him to his task with firm and confident stride stumble and halt and fear the forward step. He is forced to a new habit of idleness, which like a canker consumes the mind and destroys its beautiful faculties. Memory confronts him with his lighted past. Amid the tangible ruins of his life as it promised to be he gropes his pitiful way. You have met him on your busy thoroughfares with faltering feet and outstretched hands, patiently "dredging" the universal dark, holding out for sale his petty wares, or his cap for your pennies; and this was a man with ambitions and capabilities."

When I read this for the first time, my heart broke. I can't imagine how a person could carry on, believing such things about themselves. But it is because she did carry on that deafblind people have the lives we do today.

We can work, we are enjoying life, we travel proudly with confidence. I myself have work which is wonderful and satisfying. I have encouraging friends and family, and meaningful social activities. I have the ability to travel independently, where ever, and when ever I wish-- only limited by finances and time, and responsibility. And the fact that my travel can, at times, be curtailed because of my responsibilities is indeed a blessing. People rely on me, they need me to do various things. I am important, and as much as traveling is a pleasure and a blessing, returning home is an even bigger one.

In the beginning of her letter, Helen Keller states:
"It is a great disappointment to me not to be with you and the other friends who have joined their strength to uplift the blind. The meeting in New York will be the greatest occasion in the movement which has so long engaged my heart: and I regret keenly not to be present and feel the inspiration of living contact with such an assembly of wit, wisdom and philanthropy. I shall be happy if I could have spelled into my hand the words as they fall from your lips, and receive, even as it is uttered, the eloquence of our Newest Ambassador to the blind. We have not had such advocates before. My disappointment is softened by the thought that never at any meeting was the right word so sure to be spoken. But, superfluous as all other appeals must seem after you and Mr. Choate have spoken, nevertheless, as I am a woman, I cannot be silent, and I ask you to read this letter, knowing that it will be lifted to eloquence by your kindly voice.."
These things are now possible. Through the use of relay Services, Captioning, and Transcripts, as well as VRS, SSP's and Interpreters, we are far more able to be a part of our own world. I have instant access to books, to information, to things which never have been even dreamed back in Miss Keller's day.

I have never been ashamed to be Deafblind. I have had the blessing of a loving family, with high standards, good and patient teachers, fabulous role-models, and supportive friends. If I want to do something badly enough-- I will do it, and nothing can stop me.

At the closing of her letter, she says:
"It is because we know that these ambitions and capabilities can be fulfilled that we are working to improve the condition of the adult blind. You cannot bring back the light of the vacant eyes; but you can give a helping hand to the sightless along their dark pilgrimage. You can teach them new skill. For work they once did with the aid of their eyes you can substitute work that they can do with their hands. They ask only opportunity, and opportunity is a torch in the darkness. They crave no charity, no pension, but the satisfaction that comes from lucrative toil, and this satisfaction is the right of every human being."

It is because of people like Helen Keller that we have the freedoms and opportunities we do today. My most profound thanks go out to Ms. Keller, and every other person who has worked to make a better tomorrow. It is now, our responsibility as people who are deafblind, to continue the fight for improvement. If we are hoping to go forward, we must fight, every day. It means writing to Congress Men and Women, it means going to meetings and letting your voice be herd. It means teaching and it is about learning. Most of all, it is about never accepting second best-- standing up,being proud, and knowing that we are making a better future.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Deafblind Awareness week: Fun with Pronouns and other randomness

Many people who have never spoken to a deafblind person through the use of relay service or an interpreter may feel rather flustered when they have a conversation ith someone who is deafblind. They want to have a conversation, but it seems intimidating and they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. This is actually a simple process and if you keep these simple rules in mind, you should do fine.
The first thing to remember is that the interpreter or relay communications operator is there for one purpose-- to facilitate communication for a person who is deaf blind. Just pretend they aren't there. This means using the correct pronouns. If you say "Does she want a morning or afternoon appointment?" the operator or interpreter will say exactly that, and I will look at you funny. Talk directly to the deafblind person, just like you would anybody else. "Do you want a morning, or afternoon appointment?"

Talk at a normal speed, at normal volume. The communication facilitator will tell you if they need you to slow down, or speak louder. Look at the deafblind person when you talk to them. Understand that there may be a slight delay while the message is being relayed.

Understand that the interpreter or relay operator will relay *everything*. This means, if you get a phone call from a person who is deafblind, and you turn to your coworker and say: "It's one of those stupid deaf people, can you take this call? I hate this sh*t." This conversation will be relayed to the deafblind person and you will look like a rude jackass. Same thing with an interpreter. If you whisper behind your hands and point at me, I will know about it. If you try to sneak pets of my service dog, when I have asked you to ignore her, I will know about that, too. If you sound pissed off that you have to talk to me, the communication facilitator will tell me. Treat me just like you would a sighted/hearing person. Maybe you are just consistently rude to everyone, but that has not been my experience. People say things about me, or too me, that they would never say if I were hearing. They make gestures at me, or try to do things that they'd never do if I could see. Then when I call them on it, they feel really stupid, angry and embarrassed.

If you are a business owner, you are required by law to take relay calls. There is no excuse valid enough to exempt you from the law. People have gone to court and have won against businesses who will not take relay calls. If you are a business owner, train your employees to be educated about this. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

If a deafblind person is using an interpreter, everything the interpreter hears while working is privileged and will be kept confidential. Even if you are a family member or spouse of a person who is deafblind, the interpreter cannot share information with you about their client.

Ever since I started using the various kinds of communication facilitators, I have had some very interesting experiences. If I want to call and order a pizza, a task which takes hearing people two minutes takes me ten minutes-- if I'm super lucky. Sometimes it won't happen at all. I'm surprised at the number of people who will just stair at me in public if I use ASL. Many people have no compunction about telling me they are staring. My favorite was a lady, who was taking an ASL class. She was watching my conversation as some kind of self-test. Then she had to come up to me and tell me that she understood all of our conversation. And she acted like I should be proud of her. I said: "So... You get an A in eavesdropping on conversations which don't involve you, then?" The woman was mortified, and tried to make all kinds of excuses. I do admit to feeling a juvenile glee in her discomfort.

If you have stuck with me through this long entry, you deserve a cookie!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How Many Retrievers could a Retriever Retrieve, if a Retriever Retrieved Retrievers?

For some time now, I've been realizing just how many things Mill'E-Max does for me through out the day. As she ages, I know that eventually she will get tired of being the house elf, at my every beck and call. After thinking about this, I started realizing all of the every day things she does for me, that I don't even really think about while she's doing them. And then I think about teaching all of this stuff to the next service dog, and my mind just boggles at the mir thought of this monumental task.

All in all, Mill'E-Max does six kinds of retrieving at different times through out the day. It's an awful lot once you break it down like this.
The first kind of retrieve is the Regular Working Retrieve. An example of this is when I drop something, and she gets it with a "take it" cue.
Second kind is the Named Retrieve. This is when she retrieves something by name. Some examples are shoes, Coke, leash, hearing aid, water bottle, phone, or her dish. (water bottle means my metal water bottle. Coke means any plastic bottle). She may have to search the house for the named objects in question before retrieving them.
The third kind of retrieve is the Matching Retrieve. Sometimes I want her to retrieve a specific item which has not been formally named. If I get a similar looking item and show her, she will search the house and find the thing that looks closest to the thing I showed her. This is helpful if Gracy has stolen an item of clothing to sleep with, and I can't find it. Gracy is actually the reason I trained this retrieve to begin with. I have used this retrieve to find everything from a medicine bottle to a laptop bag.

The next retrieve is the repeated retrieve. This is used if I need her to do something multiple times. This is used for things like unpacking suitcases, emptying the dryer, or helping me to unload groceries. It is not a one shot deal; several things need to be retrieved, usually not from the floor but "out of" something. She will either bring this to me, or put the item somewhere else.

One of the most useful retrieves is the Thinking Retrieve. All retrieving requires some thought but this relies upon the dogs observation and problem solving skills. Sometimes I will drop something which does not have a name, and which does not have a matching item. If I do this out of her sight, I still need her to get it. She needs to come into the room or area where I dropped said item, and search the room for the thing that doesn't belong. If something is in the wrong place, she will bring it to me if I ask.

The final kind of retrieve is the Retriever Retrieve. Bristol, my retired goddess has lost all of her hearing. when she is off leash somewhere, or in the back yard, Bristol may not see me sign to her, and can't feel the vibrations of me stomping to recall her. She wears a short traffic leash, and I can send Mill'E-Max out to grab Bristol's leash, and bring her back to me. This took a lot of training-- for both Mill'E-Max, who needed to learn to walk slowly, and pause before going up the steps, before bringing me the leash. Bristol needed to learn to trust Mill'E and how to walk with her.

Mill'E-Max performs between 20-30 retrieves a day. She has retrieved a dime from a hardwood floor, and has carried a gallon of laundry soap to the laundry shed. She used to love going to the mini-mart because I would let her carry one of the items the two blocks home. One time someone saw Mill'E-Max leave the store with a bag of chips in her mouth. The person went to store management, offering to pay for the chips. She assumed that Mill'E-Max had stolen them while I wasn't aware.

Mill'E-Max can have a sense of humor about retrieving. She likes to cary wrapping paper tubes in her mouth. She holds it by the end, and enjoys walking around the house making a ggrrr sound into the tube. She looks like a dog smoking the worlds biggest cigar. Also it is very hard not to collapse, helpless with laughter while she is walking around the house, tail furiously wagging, with this tube sticking about 2 feet out in front of her. I need to get video of this!

And that, my friends, is probably more than you ever wanted to know about the retriever who retrieves retrievers!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Morning Chaos

This morning, things were going along rather smoothly, for a morning, that is. I'm not really a morning person. Because of this fact, I tend to do everything the night before so I don't have to do any thinking before I have my tea. Since I don't get my tea until I get to work, I am basically on autopilot until around 8 am.

This fine morning, I woke up, toileted the girls, fed them, got ready to go, packed all of my gizmos-- Braille Note, iPhone and its accompanying display, meds, lunch, etc. etc. My bus usually comes around 7:30. I finished getting ready around 7:20, and went to put on my hearing aid... only it wasn't in its usual spot in my top drawer.

Thus began the mad search. I first tried a sort of half-assed search, hoping it just got jostled a bit and I could find it quickly. I soon realized that this was not going to happen. Around 7:22, Mill'E came up to me and alerted to the arrival of my bus. She was quickly followed by Laveau alerting to the same, then Gracy who is here for a visit, but who obviously still remembered how to alert. And I ask you, how the heck am I supposed to find anything if I have three dogs telling me the same thing over and over again?
Part of it was the driver who seems to have an unnatural love of his horn-- he loves to honk it. Several hearing people have noticed this and commented upon it to me.

So the whole thing went something like this.
Me: *starts taking things out of drawers*
Driver: *honks horn*
Mill'E-Max: *nudge nudge!* "Bus is here!"
Me: *acknowledges Mill'E-Max and begins sorting through contents of drawer, removing various items.*
Laveau: *nudge nudge!* "Bus is here!"
Me: *acknowledges her, and begins removing more drawer contents... lip balms (why do I have four tubes of the stuff?) lotion, allergy meds etc.*
Gracy: *nudge nudge!* "Bus is here!"
Me: *acknowledges Gracy, grits teeth, thinks fluffy bunny positive trainer thoughts. Searches through more stuff-- puts Bristol's eye drops in pocket so as not to forget to do them before leaving*
Driver: *honk! honk!*
Mill'E-Max: *nudge nudge!*

Eventually, I found the damned hearing aid, got my dog harnessed, and my iPod set to play music for my dogs while I'm at work. While I was plugging the iPod into the speaker thingy which is on Baylee's crate, I managed to lock Gracy in there, some how! I only realized this upon my arrival home and not finding her anywhere, which freaked me out and caused me to think she had died, or something.

I also forgot to give Bristol her eye drops because I got so flustered from all of the honking and searching, and nudging.

So now I'm home early to give Bristol eye drops and to let Gracy out of the crate.

Woo! What a morning!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Doggie Drivel; What's in a Name?

So dog/cat owners, I have a question for you. I've kind of been wondering this for a while, and decided to ask. It seems, Some of my dogs will end up with a nickname which doesn't faintly resemble their given name. But I say it so often that they respond to that name also. It hasn't happened with all of the dogs, but the two best examples are Gracy and Baylee.

Gracy is also known as "The Cheez" or "Cheez Wizard." There are millions of adaptations of "Cheez" but where did I get Cheese to begin with? Gracy some how got stuck with an additional name after I adopted her, and became Gracy Louise. I was living near to a Baskin Robins' store at the time, and got their Cheese Louise ice-cream, and liked it, so then Gracy Louise Became Gracy Cheese Louise. And there you go.

With a name like Baylee, you knew the Herbalist would call her dog things like Bay Leaf, Sweet Bay, and Bay Laurel, but the most frequent name was Bay Rum. Bay Rum became Rum Punch, and is now Rummy Rum Punch.

Last week, I was sitting on the porch with my friend and without thinking, I said: "RummY Rum Punch, sit!" And my friend looked at me like I was crazy! Who, exactly was I talking to? So I had to explain about the nicknames thing, and he thought that was weird. But I don't think I'm alone in making crazy nicknames with these huge long stories and meanings behind them, am I? Help me out here, Blogville!

I mean, not all of my dogs have these long Nicknames. Laveau has the least of them with "Veau Head" being her only Nickname. Which doesn't count for things like "Sister," "Girl," or "Chica." Which I call all of them. Am I just crazy? Do I want you to answer that? I think I'm becoming "That crazy dog lady."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Deafblind Awareness Week: Communication, baby!

June is National Deafblind Awareness Month. I had all of these plans about different things I could do in my blog to bring attention to Deafblindness and ASL.
And then life happened and I have been busy. But I'm trying.

Thursday I'm attending the 4th annual
<"Helen Keller Deafblind Awareness Day">

We are doing a tour of where I work, and then having a lunch and going to the French Quarter.

People may be thinking how something like this works-- a huge gathering of Deafblind people, who by nature of their condition must only have communication with one person at a time.

So the way this works is that ideally, each Deafblind person would have an SSP or interpreter or two. Two is the best so they can switch out and take breaks. These interpreters or SSPs do several things. They interpret the speaker's words. Even if the speaker, themselves is Deaf or Deafblind, and using ASL, we can't see it, so we need an interpreter to interpret what is being signed. People use ASL tactually, where we actually touch the hands of our interpreters. This is some of the most exhausting work for an interpreter. They usually have a partner so they can give each other breaks. It is just as exhausting for the Deafblind person, because there is only one of us. I am using muscles I didn't even know I had until I became Deaf!
Some deafblind people are hard of hearing and can use speech for communication. They might use a Cochlear implant or hearing aid paired with a sound loop or an FM system, to wirelessly hear the words. If the person who is presenting is voicing for themselves, they will talk into a microphone so everyone can hear, but if the presenter is Deaf using ASL, the person who is hard of hearing will have the words interpreted back into English and spoken into the microphone of their FM System.
Some Deafblind people can see well enough to read ASL visually. Their interpreters use close space signing, where they sign in a smaller area and may need certain lighting accommodations so that the Deafblind person can best make use of their remaining sight. Tracking is where a Deafblind person places their hands atop the signer's wrists. It's kind of like the bridge between close space signing and tactual signing.

Then again, some Deafblind people can see well enough to see the platform interpreter on the stage. It is also there for the people who are Deaf and sighted. So there are a lot of people, requiring all kind of communication styles. It is always so neat to see how it all works. The SSPs also help with things like getting the plates for people, orienting a person to their food on the plate, interpreting any spoken conversation at the table.

Usually when I go to events like this, everyone at the lunch table says who they are, where from, and if they are Deafblind, Hearing/interpreter, SSP, Deaf, or blind and hearing, etc.

I really like eating lunch with Deafblind people because I don't feel like eating is this huge stressful thing to accomplish before I have to stop so I can participate with hearing people.

After the lunch, we are all going to the French Quarter. I love playing tourist there! It is so much fun. I hope I can get lots of pictures taken.
I will try and post something about Deafblindness every few days. If you have any questions, nows the time to ask 'em. I don't want to write about things that people have heard before.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Lets face it, for many of us, Memorial Day isn't really about Memorials. It's about barbecues, swimming, and welcoming in the summer season. I'm no exception to this. Although I try to spend a little bit of time during the day reflecting on the sacrifices of our troops, I don't really do as much as I could.

This Memorial Day is a bit different for me. It is the first one without my Grandpa. He passed away from complications of cancer last month. I flew to Montana to attend his funeral and to be with my family. My Grandpa was many things to many people, but he took pride in his service in the Army during WWII. If you'd like to read more about his life, you can read his
The active Military part of his life was long over by the time I came along. I remember him best in his boat. When we would come to visit, he'd take us fishing. We'd get up at the crack of dawn and My sisters and I would climb into my Grandpa's old truck, smashed in the middle between my Grandpa and my Dad. My Grandpa always brought his thermos of coffee, and we'd stop at the gas station for juice and Oreo Cookies to take with us before heading on to the lake.

We would pull up to the dock and my sisters and I would wait, for what seemed like an eternity for my Dad and Grandpa to unhitch the boat from the back of the truck and get it into the water. Then we'd all climb aboard and watch the shoreline recede as my Grandpa drove us out into the middle of the lake.

One of my favorite memories of my Grandpa was the time he let me drive his boat. I remember my hand on the wheel, and my Grandpa standing over me, giving me direction. It was one of the only times I've ever gotten to drive. We didn't catch fish every time, but we always had fun.

It was hard for me to communicate with my family at some of the big dinners before the funeral. My Dad got me an interpreter for the service, for which I'm very thankful.

After the service, we drove to the Fort Harrison Cemetery where my Grandpa was buried with Military Honors.

The grass was brown, and it seemed to stretch on forever. The Montana big sky was cloudy and gray. The wind blew, and it really struck me-- when we left, we would be leaving him here, in this barren wintry place. He would not be waiting at his house, he would not be waiting around the next corner, or through another door. He was gone.

After the guns finished firing, the bugler played Taps. It is a very simple song, one most people probably don't appreciate much. But as I stood there, in the cold of our communal loss, I heard the bugle call across the lonely Montana land. I heard him play the song. And the lyrics sprung to my mind.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.
--Horace Lorenzo Trim

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Confessions of a Dewclaw Killer

My porch looks like a crime scene, and if you were to ask Laveau, she'd tell you that this is exactly what it is. Laveau was growing herself some funktastic nail action. I mean she had some serious Drucilla nails. I had been meaning to cut them, but it seems like lately the moment I'd decide to cut them something else would need to be done and it would get pushed aside.

So today I decided that it had to be done and after lunch, I adjourned to the front porch. We started into reducing the nail-funk quotient by half. Everything was going along just fine. I had my nail clippers, and my styptic stuff, and the clicker with a big bag of treats. See, I'm a good trainer, or I'm mainly just imitating one and hope it rubs off on me!

It was going really well, until I got to her left dewclaw. I had done all her other nails by this point and was almost done. I put the nail through the hole, bent down to click and Laveau jumped, and then I cut.

What followed afterward was just repeated bouts of bleeding and stypticing (Laveau did the bleeding and I stypticed). And I swore a lot and felt really terrible and wanted to fall through the porch into the scary place under the house where the feral cats live. Ugh! I suck!

Eventually (PAH!) she stopped bleeding and then I let her go inside. I brought out Bristol, and out her clipped without issue. (Huge sigh of relief)!

It's thundering out and since Mill'E-Max has gotten kind of thunderphobic in her olden golden years, I really don't want to pick this time to clip her nails. Mister Pawpower has decided Baylee's claws are fine for now and that he and I would benefit from the judicious application of beverages which contain fermented grain products.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I'm trying to get used to this new commenting system for Blogspot, and I think I accidentally deleted some of y'all's comments. I think I've figured the commenting system out, but I don't know how to restore the deleted comments. My humble apologies to my readers! It's not you-- it's me! Promise! :D

You're doing it wrong!

I really am beginning to think that the average American has watched far too many specials on Animal Planet or PBS about service dogs. People seem to think that they are now equipped with the knowledge of how service dogs work, how they should be acting, what they can or cannot do, and how the dog must think or feel. And they just can't wait to educate me, because obviously... I'M DOING IT WRONG!

The other day, I was in an outdoor mall with Laveau. We were going at a pretty good clip when my arm brushed against a pipe at shoulder level. It was really a light brush which I hardly felt, however I guess it made quite a bit of noise. Upon hearing the sound, Laveau stopped and saw what had happened. I didn't say anything-- rather I chose to go back about six feet and let her have another go passed the pipe. I told her "forward" and the second time she walked by it and made sure I cleared it.

A man stopped us, and proceeded to tell me how I was too easy on my dog, and how if I don't "show her who's alpha" and "punish her mistakes" that she would "take the boss role in our relationship." and how "she must not be fully trained if she's still making mistakes like that."

I really and truly wanted to scream at this person and start hitting him about the head and neck with the very pipe on the wall. First of all, dogs are dogs. No matter how much training they have, no matter how hard a person works with them, they are still dogs and they make mistakes. Yes, even service dogs with a huge vocabulary and who perform complex behavior chains are still dogs and they have bad days sometimes. Expecting them to be perfect is unfair to the dog and is just completely unreasonable. Is anything else in this world perfect? I didn't think so. Why then is a service dog expected to be the exemption to that law of the universe?

Secondly, my dog, being a dog, made an honest mistake. She knew she made an honest mistake right after she made it. She did better the second time and she remembers about the pipe every time we pass that area and has never run me into it again. Bossing her around and tearing her down just because she made a mistake is cruel and unnecessary. I don't show leadership by being an asshole; I show leadership through compassionate understanding and through faith and pride in her work.

Then, on the other side of the spectrum, we have the lady I ran into last week. Laveau and I were walking to the store. Laveau works this rout frequently and was bored. She wasn't paying attention and was repeatedly making a lot of stupid little mistakes. Finally she brushed me off on one planter box too many and I stopped. I tapped the box, and asked her for targeting behaviors, and some obedience. I made her rework it and I stopped again and asked for more cued behaviors. The lady coming down the street thought I was "mean to make her do the same thing with her again" and that it was "only a little scratch," from running into the planter.

Dogs, like people, will never grow to improve if someone does not hold us accountable for our mistakes. She can do the work and if she is not working, I will find out why, and if it is simply out of boredom, well that's too bad. Life isn't always exciting, and while I try to keep work fun for her, sometimes it just isn't and she will be expected to put on her metaphorical big dog underpants and work anyway.

Then we have the fine example of the human idiot whom we met in the coffee shop this morning. Mister Pawpower and I, along with Baylee and Laveau, walked to the coffee shop for some tea. We were standing in line, when a lady started asking why our dogs weren't wagging their tails. She kept wanting to know why they weren't happy and what was wrong with them and was frankly, rather obnoxious about it.

I don't know about you all, but I hardly find waiting in lines to be the most exciting way to spend my time. My dog feels the same way, I'm sure. I don't know where people get these crazy ideas about the way dogs feel. No, service dogs don't wag their tails night and day. They are dogs and they wag about as much as the average dog. If this lady thought being in a coffee shop was that exciting, then she should wag her own tail!

By and large, my interactions with the public aren't this stressful and negative. I just really wish that people would realize that watching a program on television, doesn't make them an expert on service dogs. Just because you know someone with a service dog, and spend time with them, that does not make you an expert on service dogs. Volunteering your time as a puppy raiser for a program does not make you an expert on my service dog. The only expert on my relationship with my service dog is me. If I need assistance or if I want an opinion about a training issue, I will ask for it from someone I trust. The average person on the street should mind their own business.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Randomness on the half-shell

I wanted to mention that by popular demand I signed up for this service called Audio Boo. It's like... audio blogging! I know, strange thing to do if one is deaf, but no more strange than being blind and having a FlickR page! There are three entries up right now-- all dog related. To listen, go

I also wanted to remind my readers that Bayou Baylee, the youngest, and by far the sassiest, member of the Pawpower pack has her own blog. If you want to check it out she is
<"Over Here">

An essay from my blog has also been featured over at
<"The Vision Through Words Blog">
Go and enjoy all of the informative and wonderful articles on the blog, if you have a moment.

On a totally random note, I got a wand blender from Amazon. It is this long skinny stick with a blade at the end and you can use it to make all kinds of things like pie fillings, or smoothies or whatever. I have been making tea smoothies! I take a 12 ounce container, fill it half way with iced tea and half way with fruit, and give it a spin. I use Ceylon tea brewed with herbs from my little plant garden. I also add the juice of a lemon or lime.

It is very yummy and healthy. I don't add any extra sugar, although Mister Pawpower has been known to add some. I'm searching for another excuse to use my new toy, so any recipe ideas will be much appreciated.

As you know from reading the paragraph above, you see that my plants are still alive and kicking. Well they have not started to kick as of yet and truthfully I hope they don't! But they have grown and spread and I have used the mints and the lemon balm in teas. I am also thinking of adding to my collection-- my next purchases will be a dill weed, some cilantro, and oregano. See, you can teach an old dog new tricks after all!

Don't Panic!

I think every deafblind person needs a manual. A sort of "how to" of deafblind life. I'd call it the Hitchhiker's Guide to your crazy new DEAFBLIND Adventure! And it would have all kinds of helpful sections in it, explaining everything from how to make a relay call to the best way to find an interpreter at an event in another state. This book would be overflowing with informational tidbits, and it would come with a bonus section for deafblind professionals and our particular situations. Don't Panic!

I really could have used this book today when I was asked to attend a lunch meeting. The concept of a lunch meeting is pretty smart-- if you're hearing, or sighted and can gather the information being presented with either eyes or ears, and can use your hands to eat. Since I have yet to grow the additional pair of arms I have been requesting, I don't do lunch meetings very well. I've found my best strategy is to arrive early, try to be first for food, go off to my corner and eat as much as I can before it starts. Even better than that would be to eat ahead of time, but usually the mornings on the days of lunch meetings are jam packed and I don't have time to eat. Such was the case for today.

I arrived early, get in line and grab my plate. Lunch for today is salad, chicken breast, and fruit. This is not good because meals where I have to use my fork and knife like a civilized adult take longer to eat than a sandwich which is also easier to save should I be unable to have any before the meeting starts. My interpreter finds me a corner where I sit down and begin to eat. I get about half way done with my salad, and am about two bites into my chicken which is actually good-- unlike most of the stuff that is served at meetings of this nature, no matter your location. I go to take another bite when my interpreter taps me on the arm, indicating we are about to start. No more eating for me, my 2.5 minutes are up and it's time to participate in the meeting and secretly regret that Santa did not see fit to bless me with even one more arm because I did not eat breakfast and would like to have some fruit.

But business waits for no man, or woman and so we are off! ... until my interpreter-- in an over-exuberant use of elbows- knocks my glass of tea into my chicken and in one swift motion, unites the two, in a fit of tea-flavored chicken goodness. The interpreters switch out, and another one takes the place of the one I had while he runs for napkins to clean up the mess. There went my lunch! Oh well, I didn't have time to eat it anyway! And at least this time it wasn't me who did it!

I was really hungry when I finally arrived home! Good thing Mister Pawpower made me pork enchiladas! They were better than chicken any old day!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

To Read

When I was in first grade, my class took a field trip to the Public Library. I remember that library smell-- dust, and paper, mixed with the aroma of focused silence. We trooped around, looking at the brightly colored books. I don't remember anything of what the teacher or the librarian said, but I do remember how I felt. After the talk, explaining the library and probably the Dewey Decimal System (something I still do not understand to this day), all of my classmates broke up into small groups to explore. I sat, on a hard wooden chair and waited to go home. It's the only time in my life I've ever wished to be sighted.

I could read using a closed-circuit television (CCTV) which magnified the text of a book onto a screen. While I managed to get my school work done using this device, it left little time, nor inclination, to read for pleasure, so I didn't. But I always wanted to read, just like the other kids in my class, I wanted to look at the different books, pick out a few, and take them home.

The reading opportunities for people with print-related disabilities have expanded a great deal in the last twenty years. We have
<"The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped">
<"Book Share">
As well as other options.

We can get books on tape or CD, in Daisy format, either audio or print, in specially formatted files for braille displays, and in MP3 format to put on an iPod or one of the small special-made reading devices for hearing blind people. We could even buy a regular print book, and scan it with a flat-bed scanner if we had one, or had the time to do that.

It's only been very recently that we have had truly instant access to books equal with our sighted peers.

A few months ago, I started a series of fiction books. I read about ten in this series before I got to a stopping point. The next book in the series was not available. I searched, I asked friends if they knew where I could get this particular book. I have more than enough books to stop reading this series and wait for the book, and read something else in the meantime. But I wanted this particular book and I wanted it right then! In the old days I wouldn't have had a choice. I'd just have had to wait until someone scanned a copy or until the Library for the Blind got a braille copy. I would have been waiting a while because this book was of a subject matter not of mainstream interest.
Thank goodness for technology! Since nobody had this book, I went to the store, got the book, and read it. It was the first time in my whole life, I've ever been able to do that. The store was the iBookstore run by Apple, and the book was some kind of text file. I used my iPhone and braille display to read it. Because of Apple's commitment across the board to people with disabilities, I was able to do something I've wanted to do since I was six years old.

The book won't find itself on to my annual list of "Top Fifteen Best Reads" for the year. But it will always stand out in my mind as the first book I've ever bought to read just like anybody else. Now that I've had that experience, there is no stopping me!

Happy reading, y'all!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Catchup post #1: Jazzfest 2012!

I've been a busy Zebra these last weeks so here come a bunch of "catch up posts!

Last weekend was the second week of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or as we call it-- Jazzfest. Yes, I'm deaf and blind, and yes, I look forward to this festival every year. You can read about some of reasons Many PWD enjoy attending the fest, and you might see a familiar face in the article
People always ask me, why a person who is both deaf and blind wants to go to a music festival? And it's really hard to explain.

First of all, I do get tactual ASL interpreters for the performances I attend. And even if I didn't, I'd probably still go. I love walking around the race track with my friends, scoping out all of the food options, visiting with other friends in the access tent and just taking it all in. Oh and watching my dog work it all! I mean, literally thousands of people-- traveling the pathways, standing in groups talking, standing in lines, or just dancing. She guides me around them all, and then takes a nap during the concerts or when I stop to eat. I am amazed by her flawless work at this festival every year.

This year was no exception. I started picking the acts I wanted to see in January and only came to a decision in early April. In the morning, I saw Big Sam's funky nation. It was a great deal of fun. They are a local band, but I try to see one local group every year since I never usually get to see them with an interpreter.

The second group I saw was the Eagles. Yes, those Eagles, and yes, they are old but still rocking their guitars, even Joe Walsh, who has no teeth, by now. When they came on stage, my interpreter told me how old they looked, but that they were sounding great. You can go to Youtube and see some of the songs they did, such as
<"Life In The Fast Lane">
<"Hotel California">


<"Peaceful Easy Feeling">

I sat right next to the stage, and Laveau *slept* or at least laid down and chilled in the wooden box which is set up for the platform interpreters who sign for the sighted deaf during the performance. One of the sides of this box is open and Laveau spent this performance-- as she has the past four years of performances-- chillin in the box. As one Jazz Fest worker put it: "Oh, there's the dog who sleeps through rock concerts!"

This was an amazing show, brought to life for me through the combined talents of the band and of my interpreters! The weather was beautiful, with enough sun to keep it from raining, enough wind to keep the air moving, and enough clouds, to keep from baking.

Now I have to wait a whole year until my next Jazzfest! I think my arms will be rested by then!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Staying put!

Wow, two entries from me in one day?!
It turns out that I can fix the interface so it works with my screen reader once again. I'll outline the steps for any of my readers with this problem!
1. On the main blogger screen, go to blogger options. Note that it is a button, not a link. Press that, and the fifth item will be the link that changes you back to the old Blogger layout.

I use Voiceover on my Mac, so I tabbed to the Blogger Options button, and then was placed in a list. I interacted with the list and used VO down arrow to get to the option I wanted. Then with quicknav on, I hit shift space to activate my mouse. And it worked! Which is good news for me since I love this blog!
There may be a third post tonight detailing my recent adventures.
I have missed y'all!

Moving House

Recently, Blogger has made changes to its interface which are not compatible with my Screenreader. I have not taken action because I hoped that Blogger would fix these problems and I could go back to posting regularly. However, Blogger has not addressed these issues and in order to keep blogging, I'll need to move my blog to a better service. I am researching my options, and when The Doghouse moves, I will post the new address here. Stay tuned for more updates!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Turning Over A New Leaf

In 2006, while waiting in the limbo which was my exile in Memphis after the failure of the federal levees, I went to herbalist school. I had always been interested in herbs, and loved to experience them in all of their many forms. Since I had the time, it made sense to finally make a dream a reality.

I signed up for a course. I read about teas, tinctures and poultices. I learned the history of the different ways of practicing herbal medicine. I started my own little herb collection. At first, it was contained in a three-drawer plastic cabinet. Now my collection resides in a six-foot tall cupboard of solid oak, made for me by the husband of a client.

If you give me an herb, I can tell you about it. Where it grows, how it was used in ancient times, and what function it performs. I can tell you the best way to prepare it. I can do it all, but I have a secret herbalist shame.

I have a black thumb. Yes, you read right. I cannot keep plants alive to save my life. Growing up, I spent summers in my mother's large garden. I helped to plant and care for the various vegetables and fruits. In the summer months, I was sent out to pick raspberries or rhubarb. You'd think that this background, and my interest in herbs would combine to make me a wonderful gardener. But you would be wrong, dead wrong. And dead is usually where my plants end up.

I have decided to try once again to cultivate some skill in this area. To that end, I went to the nursery with my SSP on Friday.

The nursery in question is famous for the green parrots which fly around outside, and even enter into the store itself. You can frequently see store workers walking around with beautiful green parrots on their shoulders. Even though I don't have a green thumb, I have always liked going to the Green Parrot Nursery.

My SSP and I arrive. We begin touching and sniffing the different herbs. Oregano, thyme, and shallots. Orange Mint, Pepper Mint, and Mojito Mint. Several different kinds of Lavender, Rosemary and Lemon Balm. I touched and sniffed them all. Then I tasted some.

We had a great deal of fun walking amongst the tiny pots with their contents bursting forth. I picked out four plants to start. Mojito Mint, Apple Mint, Lemon Balm, and Rosemary. I went in to pay, and my SSP was describing the parrots to me. One of them was enjoying a snack with one of the workers at the shop. The man had a hamburger, and he took little bites off of his sandwich, and placed them upon his knee. The bird would fly down, pick up the bite, and return to the man's shoulder. I didn't know that green parrots had blue and other colors on them as well. This is one of the reasons I love going places with my SSP-- I have my very own describer.

We loaded the herbs into the car and drove to Walmart to look at flower pots. Unfortunately, the only ones that would work for my herbs were a horrible beige color. This would not do, not at all. However, there wasn't really any other choice, and I still had to make groceries, and my SSP time would be running out. Finally I decided to get the ugly pots and then we went to the children's section and got some finger paints. They are bright, primary colors and will work to make my pots less boring.

Today, my project is to paint the pots. Once they dry, I will let the baby herbs move into their newly painted homes.

Now, if someone can just remind me to water them, I'll be set.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adventures with my Babelfish

I've had this hearing aid now for almost three years. It is my second aid and was, at the time of purchase, the best of the best as far as power. I have named all of my hearing aids Babelfish. If you don't know what a Babelfish is, you need to read

So this Babelfish has been limping along for some time now. First it was my mould that stop working, and then it got too quiet. I have been practicing the technique of avoidance-- hearing aid adjustments mess up my vertigo so much!
On Tuesday, the ear hook which holds the mould on to the processor broke and that meant a trip to the Audis.

She was able to fix the hook, and then she said that I'm now at the point in this whole long slow death of ear function where it begins to be more about clarity, rather than volume. They can continue turning things up and up and up. I may be able to hear them, but my understanding will get less and less because everything will start sounding like the teacher in the Peanuts with Charlie Brown. I have noticed this happening more and more. It's very hard to explain to hearing people because it is automatically assumed that volume is the problem, when it's clarity.

Basically this means that I need another new Babelfish. Because I am not rich, and my insurance is crappy, I rely on grants to help purchase my aid. I'm just glad I only hear out of one ear, so we don't have to double the cost to buy one for my right side. Lol!

So to qualify for this grant, I had to take yet another... audiogram, which I did, and boy those tests are short when you can't hear! Lol! I remember when I first started losing my hearing and I'd be in there for 20-30 minutes. This last one took maybe seven minutes tops, including all of the hooking, and unhooking of wires. So I did crappy enough on the test, and my Audi is going to submit the grant which will get me a newer and probably clearer Babelfish. I've been growing out of these hearing aids at the rate of one every three years. This came right on schedule. My Audi did bring up the topic of cochlear implants with me and this is tricky for several reasons. Both physical and cultural. She suggested doing the right ear since it's useless anyway. But the possible Meniere's side-effects make this undesirable. Like I said to a friend-- I can live as a deaf person, but I can't really live as a dizzy person who can't even feed herself.

I lived through the whole experience and now I am home, the Babelfish is out and I get quiet once again.

I think I hear a book calling and need to do some laundry now that the puppy is actually, y'know, asleep.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Spring time in New Orleans. Fresh strawberries and that Strawberry Abita beer I love so much. Flowers and shrubs blooming everywhere. Those nasty stinging caterpillars dropping out of nowhere to leave you with a souvenir of their passing which will last for days. This time of year is the same time six years ago when I made my way out of exile in Memphis, TN. back home after the failure of the federal levees.
There is a section of "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran which sums up my leaving of Memphis well.

"Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands."

On the 26th of March, I packed my worldly goods into a U-Haul and drove back home. I was coming home to much welcome, but also to much work.

I remember getting out of the car once we had arrived at my new temporary home. The city still had that smell. It's an undefinable smell, mixed of equal parts decay, death, and desolation. And the mold... we must not forget the mold.

That night, friends had come to help us move our things. After unloading the truck, we trooped over to Franky and Johnny's for some soul food.

Those first few weeks were a blur. I saw clients every day with stories of being pulled from rooftops, watching their children die, and floating on kitchen appliances in filthy waters. I listened. I helped where I could.

Things started getting quieter and quieter in my world. I couldn't hear the phone. I couldn't hear my clients or coworkers. In six weeks my hearing was gone, and I didn't know what I would do. I was in a city with very limited medical services. The wait to see an audiologist is long. He is so shocked by the sudden loss, and he fears I may have some obscure form of inner ear cancer.

I wait some more, finally get an MRI, and wait some more only to find out that I do not have obscure and deadly ear tumors. But I'm still deaf, and navigating a city full of crime and debris which would easily fall into the category of biohazardous totally deaf and almost totally blind. I was more alone and afraid than I can ever remember being.

The doctors tell me that it's the mold in the city which has caused my inner ear disease to flair up and take my hearing. It's like a bad country-western song. "Katrina done took my house and my hearing and my city." The only thing missing is a part about trains and betrayed love.

People ask me if I regret coming back. If I knew what would happen to me, would I have gone back? And my answer will always be hell yes! Because I would rather be deaf in New Orleans than hearing and live anywhere else.
The New Orleans native and author Poppy Z. Brite once said:
"If you belong somewhere, if a place takes you in and you take it into yourself, you don't desert it because it can kill you."

I have known from the very moment I first arrived here. On that gray and rainy day nine years ago. I knew that this is where I wanted to live for the rest of my life. I want to work here, and be in love here, and train dogs here. When I am old, I want to sit on my porch here, and drink whisky in my lemonade on muggy July afternoons. And I want to die here, and I want this place to be better for me having been a part of it. I am certainly better for it being a part of me.

This whole time, when I struggled every day for simple communication, I took strength from my clients. They would tell me how I gave them hope for the future. But what they would never know is that really, it was the other way around.

And so it's spring again-- a time which makes me think about great love, and great inspiration. It makes me think of renewal and redemption and hope.

And I pass one more season under a sky of vibrant blue, sitting on my porch drinking Strawberry Abita beer and knowing that I am truly blessed.