Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I got to hike my favorite 3.5 mile loop today. I think I'm the luckiest person in the world to get to hike this place every summer.

Today, I hiked alone, and savored every moment. I didn't have anyone pushing me. I could stop and take time to breathe. So many people would call asthma and low vision liabilities, but I've learned to call them blessings. On a hike when I want to push through and conquer the mountain, these two friends of mine make me stop, pause, take in a view, notice a texture. They make me slow down and observe. To take macro photos instead of landscapes. 

That, my friends, is a gift. It's my unique window on the world, and I get to enjoy it and share it here, in my little space.

Adding descriptions to each photo so my blind friends can also enjoy the post is another gift. I get to think closely about each image rather than slapping them up here and clicking the publish button. Maybe the thoughts can bring more depth; maybe not. But there they are.

My hiking stick. A symbol of weakness to many; to me it's a symbol of strength and endurance and hiking in places where some would say I don't belong. Those places are where I feel most at home.

To touch a rock. The feeling of a rock, cool and solid on the side of the trail, a thrusting upward of the miles of solidity under my feet. The touch is the only real thing in a sea of swimming images around me. It's worth stopping beside the trail to lay my fingertips on the rock.

Moss on a log. Textures of the forest, soft and moist, receding away from me up a hill that I might pass and never even see.

Trail. The trail leads me on, compelling me to follow it and peer around every new corner, rising to every new height. The trail becomes everything.

Optical illusion. Does it go up or down? Life. Good or bad? There is only onward and each new hidden bend in the road.

Vista. The camera can capture a faraway beauty that the eye does not see. But the sense of space, the sounds far in the distance make it seem open, as if the trees do not actually hide anything at all. Concealing becomes illusion instead of reality.

Berries by the trail. Clumps of sweetness or poison, unknown which it is. I'll snap a photo of them, and walk on past.

Erosion. The trail is full of logs half-buried. The earth will try to swallow them, and if it succeeds the rain can be free to wash the trail into oblivion. 

Thimbleberry. And a lacy pattern of holes eaten in a leaf by bugs. Layers of leaves seen through damaged salads and a red berry ripe for picking. Seedy sweetness sitting in sunlight and shadow.

Steep drop-off. Memories of coming down this hill in the rainy dark and fear of this unseen steepness that could take hold of my feet and pull me into gravity's romantic descent. Seeing the steepness today in sunlight should make it more safe: to know the peril is to choose another path, to caress the warm bosom of the patient mountainside.

Stumps. Former trees now waiting for time and rain to reduce growing wood to soft powdered rot and discontinue their ageless task of allowing the path to drape along each trunk.

Growth. This spot, a steep rocky step, I fell last year, my right knee bloodied, my denim torn. This spot, I rose to my feet and kept walking. And this year I did not fall.

Sign at the summit. Jarring reminder to dog owners that their manners mustn't jar. Arrows point, and carved letters spell names of trails that probably have their own names deep in the earth's first song.

Sitting on a log. Stick and shoes and a water bottle leftover from one of Bean's forays into the world of Sprite. Sitting with sweat and accomplishment running down the middle of my back, and still eager to rise again and continue on.

Yarrow growing from a rock in the middle of a trail. Why a rock, little plant? Why the middle of the trail where anyone can step on you? Thank you, because you are strong, and I can see you and touch you right there on your rock in the middle of the trail.

And down again without shade, around the end of 3.5 miles where the Ranger was mending fences, and where my noisy family replaced the solitude of refreshment. Ready again for hugs and stories and sharing snacks. Ready to give more, placed in my own trail, growing from my own rock, I'm also strong.

Summer Reading

Around here, reading is the thing to be doing!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Personalities or Just Age?

Each kid had a quadrant of the tactile town. The Little have a town that looks like a post-tornado disaster zone. The Bigs have towns that look like a civil engineer had a hand in the design. 

Typical [low viz] Morning

I was kind of chuckling at us this morning. My life is such a funny mix of using the visual and non-visual. After a very visual post about yesterday where I was painting faces, this morning I was doing a lot of things non-visually. Still, in the long run, being a parent with a vision impairment is exactly like being a parent with perfect vision. 

But with a few twists. 

I mean, starting out with coffee is fairly standard. 

Piles of laundry waiting to be folded. That's pretty much a given, too. Most of us do that. 

But sitting down to read a ministry newsletter... in Braille. Not everyone does that. 

(Usually I read with two hands. I just had the camera in one.)

The kids were playing with a tactile map produced for blind kids. I think they assume every family has cool toys like this.

And in an absurdly typical burst of low-vision absent-mindedness, I set my phone down to help Bean with something, and immediately lost it. With gritted teeth, I searched all over the house, retracing all the places I could think of with no luck. I was reminded again how useless my vision often is. 

(Yes, I know everyone does this. But Hubby can find something with a visual sweep in about 30 seconds. Meanwhile, I'm wandering around peering at different parts of the table top or performing a search pattern on the floor that would make Military Intelligence proud.)

At last, I found it on the arm of the chair. 

Once I found it, I used it to play some music, because it's time to go start shoveling out the schoolroom. 

A friend and I went shopping all morning on Saturday. I was grateful for both the ride and the company. We both bought school supplies. Which means I have to find new homes for all the new stuff. 

In general, it sounds like a pretty standard Monday morning, doesn't it? 

I figure that it doesn't matter whether I do things visually or non-visually, as long as they get done. At the training center, the teachers talked about efficiency. Use whatever works best. For me, that includes thinking non-visually a lot, since vision is unreliable and often painful. Over the years, I've learned to git 'er done in all sorts of non-visual ways. 

For me, it works fine. 

Face Painting in the Rain

This year's church picnic got rain. It was warm, so nobody minded. We sat around and talked and ate too much and got damp. The water balloon fight went down, but everyone was already so wet, it ended up being a little redundant. 

A friend joined me painting faces this year. That was fun because it gave me some company. The kids were a lot more excited about it since they were anticipating it from last year. And like last year, I took a picture of the faces in order to show the kids, since, like last year, I forgot a mirror. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014


There's a Chinese restaurant in town that's been there since the 1970's. They still have the original cafe dishes they started with, and when we go there, a comforting sense of nostalgia accompanies these little details. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

ATC Tour, or how to get totally stressed out and then be stuck in Boise

This week, I flew down to Boise to tour the ATC (Assessment and Training Center) at the Commission for the Blind. I've been visually impaired my whole life, but I've never had any kind of training in non-visual skills. Everything I do has been self-taught as an attempt to cope in a sighted world that never believed that I couldn't see.

Going down there, I had a lot of questions.

Would the staff and other students believe that I have low vision? Or would they be like so many others in my past who say I'm seeking attention or imagining it?

Would the center have high expectations or would they be as frustrating as the school district has been for Abi?

Would I be able to leave all the responsibilities in my "real life" to go down there? Would Matt do okay juggling both work and kids?

Would traveling by myself go okay? I've done it before, but it's always frightening, wondering if I'm going to miss a sign or something.

Would the staff be knowledgeable? Nice? Professional? Would the dormitory be comfortable?

Monday morning, I tried to get everything in order to go down. We had just finished getting hay on Saturday, and some light thundershowers made me aware that I needed to get our hay covered. The piano tuner was scheduled to come, and I left with the kids to get out of his hair, but he ended up not coming, and the kids didn't behave well while we were out. The hay tarp was full of holes. the heat affected my blood sugar. Things were not going smoothly.

I realized how stressful the day was, when a friend texted something that pushed my buttons, and I absolutely blew up at her on Facebook. Classy, Erin. I'd have to apologize, but I didn't have time right then. I barely had time to pack, and I ended up forgetting pajamas.

So I arrived at the airport in less than a calm frame of mind. I wondered if that was a bad sign.

The TSA, always guaranteed to produce additional stress, decided that I would be the target for the random footwear check. The trouble was that they kept asking me for the shoes, which I did not have. They had them. I couldn't see where. They mumbled, and I felt scared and confused about what was happening. So I just waited for them to figure it out, hoping I wouldn't get into trouble for not cooperating.

They held up my bag and shoes asking if they were mine. Luckily, I could see them well enough to ID them and things proceeded. Shoes were scanned and pronounced okay.

I entered the crowded waiting room and sat for nearly an hour and a half as the plane was late. I wanted to meet the other blind guy, Pat, who would be on the flight with me and also headed to the training center, but in the crowd I couldn't find him.

Finally boarding time came, and I found Pat by his cane as we both boarded early. I used my cane too, and getting onto the plane was so much easier, not having to guess where the stairs were or tripping over the fuel hose.

We were off. In Boise, Pat and I joined up in the airport and went to find our. Luckily, Pat had called them, and they came to the pick-up point shortly. We were not supposed to pay them, but the taxi company had misplaced the Commission's authorization, so we just each pulled out a fiver.

I walked up the curving front stairs, grateful to have arrived and curious about the place I was entering.

A delightful lady named Arlene met us at the front door. She said she'd show us our rooms and familiarize us with the building. The Commission building was located in the hospital district, not far from the Capitol. The dormitory and classrooms were all in the same building, which would be convenient.

The first thing I noticed was the absolute pristine condition of the building. Not a speck of dust anywhere. No accumulated grime. Everything was freshly painted and in good repair, although the building itself seemed to be circa 1920's like our house. (I found out later it was built in 1921 and used to house nurses and nuns who worked at the hospital.)

Arlene told is that her husband Alan is the custodian. He is deaf-blind. Totally blind and except for a hearing aid and a cochlear implant, totally deaf. I was impressed at his quality of work, because I used to clean dormitories as a summer job on campus, and ours were never done that well, even though we worked hard. He obviously knew what he was doing.

After we were shown to our rooms, and left on our own by Arlene, Pat and I decided to find some dinner. Following the instructions Arlene had given, we found a pizza place and ordered pasta and salad bar. Dinner was delicious, and I enjoyed Pat's many stories. He and I were a pretty good match for helping each other out, because I could read the print on the menu, but he was better at figuring out what foods were offered on the salad bar.

The next morning, we showed up promptly at 8:20 in the second-floor conference room as instructed. We met the staff and were assigned to a class schedule. Not many students were attending classes at this point, so the group was small. We broke up and four of us headed to the basement wood shop.

Pat, Rachel, Eileen and I sat around a table in the wood shop and introduced ourselves. We all have vision impairments for various reasons, and all of us had some usable vision. Rachel was losing vision after having been sighted, so she was a little different mindset than Pat and I who have had our conditions our whole lives. Eileen was sighted, but was assisting her sister, Rachel.

The shop teacher lectured for an hour, explaining his class and his purpose for teaching power tools under sleep shades. He asked us if anyone would like to try a power tool. Rachel vehemently refused, saying she was scared, and Pat didn't want to put on sleep shades, but I jumped at the chance to try. I figured he'd use a radial arm saw, because those are big and noisy, but also easy to use.

I was right. With the blindfold on, I explored the power tool that was turned off. I found the buttons, the blade, the arm and the handle. I also found the scrap wood that was ready for cutting.

The teacher, Jason, explained the procedure for keeping my left hand away from the blade, and how to safely get my right hand from the on button to the blade handle. It all made sense, so with his permission, I turned on the machine and cut a few inches off the piece of wood, to Rachel's absolute amazement and delight. In fact, she thought it looked so easy she got up the courage to try it herself. She did it, and the tone of empowerment in her voice and look of hope on her face made me grin. The fact that my confidence had helped her made me glow inside. One of the goals in my own life is to teach blind people skills and confidence, and even though I was there as a student, I felt I accomplished that in a small way. Society tells people that blindness is a tragedy and expects blind people to sit in their houses all day. When someone losing their sight finally begins to question this, and discovers that they can still life a great quality of life, the change is overwhelming for them.

Next, we went to ADL (Activities of Daily Living) with Lisa who is also blind. Everyone loved having a blind instructor. The sighted teachers are nice, but they don't "get it" in the way that the blind ones do, and the blind teachers are generally harder on us. The sighted ones seem to be more willing to give us a pass for being blind, which I find annoying. I grew up having to cope on a non level playing field, and learned that I just had to push myself harder than everyone else. The blind teachers seemed to understand this.

A lecture in this class was a little harder to sit through as it was nearly lunch time and I was hungry. I tried to keep my blood sugar up between classes by drinking a protein shake, but I was still ready to go eat. We still had one more class: Discussion Group. There, the teacher led a round-table about blindness philosophy and imagining a hypothetical world where no one had ever had sight. I've written an unfinished novel about that, as such a world appeals to me. It's not that I dislike sight, but the binary of blind versus sighted makes my life a lot more complicated. The cultural bias toward sight is so strong, it affects everything we do and how we think about ourselves. Such a world without that would be significantly different, but also fundamentally the same, as we'd still struggle with greed, with politics and relationships and logistics.

The four of us decided to go to lunch together. We walked several blocks to a little cafe, and got good coffee on the way back.We arrived back at the center late, but the braille teacher accepted our apologies. Pat and I sat in the braille class, and the teacher wanted to know my experience with braille. When he found out that I have a transcriber's certificate and read tactilely faster than he does, he told me there was nothing he could teach me. I asked about Nemeth, and he said I was welcome to study it on my own. I planned to do that by myself anyway. His computer class was equally disappointing. He didn't have many suggestions for the problems I've had with PhotoShop. Apparently there aren't many blind graphic designers. I've already used NVDA and ZoomText, and that was about the extent of his offerings.

During the break before the last class, I got an email from Matt that the friend I'd insulted on Facebook was reacting back even more strongly, escalating the conflict far beyond what I had expected. He seemed really stressed out that the conflict was now involving him and another unrelated person. He was struggling to watch the kids and also keep his work clients happy. I felt terrible for him and the rest of the day, I had trouble concentrating on the classes or instructors as I just wanted to be home sorting things out and helping him.

The last class was O and M (Orientation and Mobility, AKA cane travel). We talked about canes and cane travel, but I remember little of the conversation as I was so worried about Matt and wishing I was there to apologize to the friend and try and resolve the conflict.

At the end of the day, just before we were to catch the taxi back to the airport, we got a call that our flight was canceled. Pat and I spent a harried half hour on the phone rebooking the next flight in the morning which would take us to Seattle and then to Pullman, rather than straight to Lewiston. We had to ask the training center staff if we could stay in the dorm and extra night, and luckily they were accommodating.

Of course, all of that didn't help my frame of mind in the least. To have to call Matt and tell him he'd have the kids for another night was the last thing I wanted to do. Plus, the situation with my friend was likely to sit longer or escalate, and I didn't want that. I was having trouble holding back the tears.

I called Matt, talked to each kid, and then spent a while crying and trying to pray. I called my friend, hoping she'd talk, but she'd requested a face-to-face meeting and she did not answer my call. I left an apology on her voicemail, feeling that it was less than adequate, but was all I could manage at that point.

Pat found me and asked if I wanted to go to dinner. I decided that going out was better than hanging around the empty center. We both googled the bus system on our phones, discovered that the Boise bus system is terrible, and chose to ride the bus to the mall anyway.

The work of figuring out the bus and finding the right one when neither one of us could read the signs took my mind off my troubles, and I felt better. Actually getting to the mall and getting dinner at the food court also helped. I ate TacoTime, which is comfort food, and Pat got McDonald's.

We wandered around the mall for a while, and had to take a taxi as the bus inconveniently stops running at 6:45. A student with a Russian accent asked to share our taxi, and the driver entertained us with stories about an upcoming vacation she was planning to take.

Because I had packed extremely lightly for only one overnight, I was out of clean clothes, and didn't have any shampoo or soap. Three days in the triple digits made me desperate to use the dorm showers, so Pat lent me his bottle of shampoo. A shower felt delightful, and then I talked to Matt for a good long while before turning in early.

The next morning, I woke at 4am, which is 3am my time. I had to be ready to go at 5 anyway to catch the plane, so I just stayed up. We reversed the whole routine: taxi, plane, etc. only this time we had to fly twice. It took all morning to get home. Honestly, it probably would have been shorter to drive.

Pat's wife gave me a ride home from the airport, and I was a tired, tired Tuttle when I finally hugged my kids hello. I got some lunch and taught a flute lesson. By then I was so tired I was dizzy. The kids agreed to watch a movie quietly and let me take a nap. Matt, of course, headed straight back to his office. He is really short on hours this week, and in my thinking that was even more important than my nap.

In pondering whether I want to attend the training center, the obvious roadblock is my responsibility to my family. I need to hire child care so Matt can work. But we don't have hundreds of dollars to pay a nanny to replace me.

I do think I could learn some new skills and techniques there. My self-taught skills were surprisingly up to par, but there are still things I could use and things to teach Abi. An eleven-week term is out of the question, but two weeks down there might be helpful, and they were willing to accommodate that. It just remains to make decisions on when and how.

As far as my friend goes, I'm still trying to get things resolved and figure out the future. Circumstances dictate working together for the rest of the summer, and I'm not sure what that will look like unless we find a way to patch things up.

All things considered, the trip was beneficial, I think, although I think it might have shaved a few years off my life expectancy. Such is life. Seldom do things go as smoothly as I'd like. Onward from here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A few comments about Little Mister

1. He won't let me cut his hair. 
2. We've had a couple of lunch dates lately. We both totally love these. (QT love language FTW!)
3. He built a LEGO thing that involves a button you push that moves some gears and lowers a robotic arm. Seriously dope. 
4. When the waitress asked him how old he was, he told her it would be nine years until he was sixteen. I think in reality he's about forty. 
5. I love this kid so much I almost can't breathe.


Curly and Rogan are getting to know each other. We've been trying to get out there several times each week, although last week she didn't get to ride at all. Tonight we went out there with the sole purpose of relaxed playtime together. I think they both enjoyed it. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On a 99° Day

Hauled hay today. We helped haul 8.5 tons, and B & D have 3.5 more to get. Once I've built and fixed some fence, I think I can start calling myself a horse owner. 

I'd like to note that hauling hay is a really good antidote to the depression I've been fighting lately. I had the best day today that I've had in months.

It was hot. But we wore hats and wet bandannas, and drank lots of water, so we were ok.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Snapshot: Cooling off

On a recent hike, Curly discovered that a flat rock in the shade made an interesting place to get cooled off. 


Yesterday, at our bi-annual visit to the dentist, we had the usual lineup:

Curly: teeth look great. No cavities. 
Mister: teeth look great. No cavities. 
Bean: teeth look great. No cavities. 
Abi: whoa, abscessed tooth here, cavity there, stains, caps, breakage, crooked... Let's set up an extraction in two weeks. 

Early nutrition makes SUCH a huge difference. 


I have to chuckle at the "Maker Movement" that is going around. In order to get creative, people these days need an organized movement and "makers faires" and such. 

I suppose it's a backlash against a generation that is so overscheduled, they never had the time to creatively invent things, nor did they have the unscheduled boredom that drives kids to create on their own. I'm curious to see if scheduling creativity will work. I'm honestly a bit skeptical, since creative invention is not something that can be taught. Sure, you can teach the craft, but the art comes from within. 

Photos of kids making cardboard houses, toy food and self-published books this week. Our own "maker's faire" has overtaken my dining room!