New Book, New Computer and Marketing During COVID; Oh My!

            It’s finally published after seven years of blogging and a year of revising! Hope of the Crow: Tales of Occupying Aging has flown the nest.  The blogs are grouped into four sections: work, play, love and pray.  They range from the practical, like tips for sighted people in general when around a blind person, and medical professionals in particular, to the humorous like “Mercury and I are in Retrograde” and “Sighted People are Strange”.

            In case you’re wondering why the title, Hope of the Crow, crows fascinate me.  They’re smart—the females make and use tools.  They survive and thrive in many environments, which gives me hope in these turbulent times. They can’t sing (neither can I), but we still try to caw out our hope somehow.

            I wrote the kind of book I like to read—full of glimpses into life (the ups and downs of the life of a disabled elder activist), in this case. Half the people over sixty-five will develop a disability, so I want to share a few tricks of the trade and give some realistic hope about the good life still being achievable. Of course, there are dog stories about my Seeing Eye dogs and stories like “Breaking Bubbles” about the remarkable humans that surround us all.  I even included two poems I wrote, “An Anthem for the Americans with Disabilities Act” and “Hope of the Crow”.

            I published the book this year, which is the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, on purpose. This book is the living out of the ADA. The one out of five Americans with a disability still has to seek access, but there are gains to savor.  The fact that I survived two days without a computer (gasp!) while my new one was being built by using my talking iPhone is a good example of both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.  The professional who sold me the new computer and set it up couldn’t just give me a loaner while he was working on it because it wouldn’t have talked like I need. 

            Between computers I whiled away my time on Facebook and noticed that many of my Friends describe their pictures instead of just posting them, so I can enjoy them too.  A great example of ADA done right by individuals quickly and cheaply.

            Now it’s on to marketing! I can’t do the usual book signings because of COVID, so am looking for new ways to market. I did an initial salvo of e-mails and a Facebook post.  This netted me many wonderful warm wishes for the success of the book and one solicitation for big bucks for a worthy local cause.  Clearly at least one person believes Hope of the Crow will have me rolling in money and cawing a sweet victory song! May it be so!

               

“I don’t know Joan Chittister, but she knows my soul.  Read this quote from For Everything A Season, by Joan Chittister and see if it describes you too:The function of each succeeding generation is not to demand change; it is to prepare for it. Even in the face of the impossible, we must act as if the miracle will come tomorrow.  That’s what sowing is about. It requires trying when hope is thin and faith is stretched and opposition is keen. Sowing is a tedious task whose enemy is the need to succeed. Tedium exhausts the person of ideas. Telling and retelling the idea to hostile audiences and skeptical friends and outraged neighbors and traditionalist congregations and heartsick families takes its toll on the spirit. The spirituality of the sower, then, is the spirituality of urgent patience.   They demand for now what others do not even know is lacking.”

                This week both my patience and my perseverance were rewarded: my book of blogs Hope of the Crow: Tales of Occupying Aging was published in paperback and Kindle formats.  Through a lot of work, it was added to Bookshare, a downloadable source of e-books for the blind and print disabled the same week.  The researching and writing were fun; the editing and getting ready for publication—not so much. 

                But the moral of the story, at least today is patience and persistence pay off, at least sometimes! 

                Here’s the promo in case you want to ask your library to buy a copy (hint, hint). Drop me a line and tell me what you think. 

PRESS RELEASE

September 1, 2020 _________________________________________________________


                        Hope of the Crow: Tales of Occupying Aging

Eau Claire, WI – Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, author Katherine Schneider offers an honest, instructive, hilarious memoir of seven years of aging and advocating told in blogs. Chapters cover loving, working, praying and playing and include subjects like: “What If Wonder Woman had a Disability”, “Breaking Bubbles” and “Sighted People Are Strange”.

Read Hope of the Crow and you can dig deep within yourself and retrieve your own power and sing your own victory song.

            Hope of the Crow is available from www.wheatmark.com and online outlets. It is  available in accessible format from www.bookshare.org

Luna: a Life of Service Has Ended

The Facts:

Breed: yellow Lab

Born: Seeing Eye, Morristown, NJ February 2, 2010

 graduated from Seeing Eye in August of 2012

Retired January 5, 2020

Died August 17, 2020

                The Life

            In addition to her guide work, Luna loved people of all ages, from giving programs at daycare centers, to being part of the reduce finals week stress by petting a dog programs at the University’s library. She snuggled up to the bedsides of several frail elderly friends so they could pet her soft coat. She was the mascot for our team at Scrabble Bees for Literacy and helped me tell fortunes for the Memorial High School graduation party.  She accompanied volunteers and me for years on our monthly pet food deliveries and even acted nice to most of the cats. She loved car rides and treats of my last bite of popcorn, pizza or banana.

            Her personality was smart, intuitive and quiet. She judged if I was sick by smelling my mouth and my rear.  When she decided I was better she went back to occasional gentle teasing. She was deep and warm but not slobbery about it.

                            Last week Luna unexpectedly crossed the Rainbow Bridge. She had a silent heart tumor that burst. After a good long working life, she was enjoying a wonderful retirement with Karen and Marty Voss.  We had all hoped for a much longer retirement for her.  She was buried on their land with other beloved pets. When COVID permits, I’ll go pay my respects.   

            Because of COVID I only saw her once during the last seven months.  I am heartbroken that she is no longer on this earth.  I so appreciate the fabulous retirement the Vosses gave her, even letting her lick out the sugaring buckets after they’d finished maple sugaring this spring.

 Calvin (my current Seeing Eye dog) stuck to me like glue at first and did his best to give comfort, even bringing me his blanket. Friends showed up, brought food and sent wonderful memories by email.

            Part of a blessing I wrote for Pastor Jerry Morris of Lake Street Methodist Church to read at her retirement service at Inclusive Ministry Church could be her epitaph:


 Blessing for Luna


“Luna, you have blessed Kathie by guiding her safely across streets and

 through life. You have loved her and reminded her she is lovable

even when she’s having a bad day. You remind her of God’s love.

You make her laugh and show her how to appreciate the little things

 like a kind touch and the last bite of pizza. You have blessed

 IM church with your cheerful presence at the door greeting.”

            Rest in peace, Luna, until you see me coming through those pearly gates!

Celebrating ADA30

Every year I celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but for ADA30 this year I went all out! I got both the city and county to issue proclamations and the university to help me create an online exhibit about the thirty years of the ADA in the Chippewa Valley:

https://lib02.uwec.edu/Omeka/s/ada30/page/ada30

Then I wrote an anthem for the ADA:

An Anthem for the ADA Anniversary (with homage to Maya Angelou)

You can talk about me instead of to me.
You can question my right to be.
You can pity and disrespect me
And ignore my needs—“I didn’t see.”
And still I’ll rise.
I’m your grandmother who doesn’t hear.
I’m your friend living with anxiety and fear.
I’m your grandpa who has “lost his mind”
Or his wife who is going blind.
And still we’ll rise.
We’re one out of five
Not Dead Yet—still alive!
Our needs aren’t special—they just are.
A parking space that’s not too far,
A friend who listens even if it takes longer,
And fights for access with us—together we’re stronger.
And still we’ll rise.
We won’t stop until all can play,
Work, love and pray in whatever way.
So celebrate with us. Because of the ADA
And caring people, we can say
Together we’ll all rise!

On July 26 I’ll take a celebratory walk with my guide dog (who can travel freely with me because of the ADA). Maybe we’ll walk over to the ATM (which has Braille markings and audio output) and get some money. Then I’ll join some friends with other disabilities and share a pizza to celebrate that life is better with the ADA, by far.


                                By Katherine Schneider  schneiks@uwec.edu

                When I brought my tenth Seeing Eye dog home from training at the end of January, I knew I had lots of work ahead of me. Calvin (a two and a half year-old black Lab) and I had trained intensely for nineteen days at The Seeing Eye in New Jersey.  We were well bonded and a great team.  He trusted me to feed and take care of him and I trusted him to lead me across busy streets, on and off buses, around obstacles and to lie quietly in meetings, restaurants, church services, etc.  At home we’d begin to hone our skills in navigating in snow and ice and learn my neighborhood and town.

                Then COVID-19 hit. Public buildings, churches and restaurants closed. Meetings happened online instead of in-person.  People stopped visiting and kept their distance when we passed them on the sidewalk.

                I can’t do social distancing like sighted people do in every respect. I can’t know if I’m six feet from you and if I’m standing on the X to be in line.  When I’m in an unfamiliar situation, I need to hear a verbal greeting like, “Hello, I’m across the street with my dog,” instead of getting a smile or a wave. I may need to touch things or take an elbow. Unfortunately, people wearing masks are even quieter than the usual northern Midwestern quiet politeness. 

                But I encounter the frustrations with a new guide and friend by my side.  He’s his friendly self and seems to feel if people keep their distance, it’s their loss!  If he doesn’t have a routine, he gets crazy, so we stick to a schedule, take at least one walk a day and work on our relationship.

                He’s 99% calm and eager to please but there’s 1% wildness that comes out at home in a game he’s invented.  He’ll grab something he shouldn’t have, like a half full carton of eggs that I’d put on the floor by the fridge for just a second and then torment me with it.  Picture the carton of eggs with the lid closed sticking out of his jaws on both sides as he runs to me and bumps my hand with it.  Then the game is on as I chase him around the house to get it back, ideally with some eggs still intact.  Since some of his grabs have been things that could have made him sick if ingested, I’ve worked hard on the concept of trading what he has for a luscious treat.  He’s orbiting around the dining table with egg carton in jaws and I’m chasing him with my trade in hand. I have to move calmly or he’ll get excited and chomp down on the carton.  Eventually the trade is made and I take the mauled carton into the kitchen. Two eggs are fine, exactly what I needed for the brunch I was preparing and the rest of the gooey mess goes into the trash. Calvin is busy cleaning spots on the floor that have some egg overflow on them. Eventually he’s done and I tell him in no uncertain terms that he’d better apologize.

                He comes and licks my hand and transmits a look that says “I’ll apologize if you need me to, but put an egg carton on the floor and I’ll do it again!”

                My hopes are: Calvin will gradually mature and the crazy chase games will tone down a little—I’m seventy plus and soon he’ll be three.

Our working relationship will continue to strengthen as things open up and I can work with him in more situations.

As with each of his predecessors, he’ll be my best friend, my eyes and my favorite mode of transportation for several years.  His sweetness, intelligence, stubbornness and hobby of teasing make each day a new joy-filled adventure.  What new will we encounter and how will we do it as a team?

                My hope has a cold nose.

         

With COVID-19 in full force, and the necessities of social distancing being widely broadcast, I’m trying to figure out what that means for those of us who are blind. So far I’ve come up with the following ideas:

  1. I can’t do social distancing like sighted people do it in every respect and that’s going to have to be okay. When I’m in an unfamiliar situation, I need to hear a verbal greeting like, “hello, I’m across the street with my dog,” instead of getting a smile or a wave. I may need to touch things or take an elbow.
  2. I have to touch elevator numbers, etc. to know what button to push. When I get home, you bet I wash my hands!
  3. I ask people if I can take their arm and tell them as far as I know I’m negative on corona but haven’t been tested.
  4. When people make kind offers to pick up something for me, drop off some food or whatever, I’m giving myself permission to accept a few more offers than I usually would. If I don’t need it or want it, I turn it down but say I may well want it in two weeks, so please offer again. Then I ask if I can put them on my ask list and if so for what kind of asks.
  5. I’m looking for ways to contribute; e.g. Facebooking funny stuff, links to concerts, etc., calling acquaintances in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, etc. I’ve made deals with some other singles to contact each other every day just so someone would know if a bad thing happened.
  6. I’ve arranged with a neighbor to take care of my guide dog if I fall sick and am thinking ahead even more than usual about when I’ll need groceries, medicines, etc. and ordering a little early in case they’re out or have a backlog.
  7. For the sighted assistance I need, I’m thinking about who I could ask if my regular reader or shopping helper is ill.
  8. I’m trying to use my better coping skills to deal with my mad, sad and scared feelings about needing to ask for more help, dealing with sub-optimal or vanishing services and anxiety about the future. Reading, listening to music, talking to friends, walking the dog, prayer and chocolate help.
  9. I’m looking for the positives. So far I’ve noticed: more time to read, less meetings to attend, a guide dog who likes routine so I can’t lounge around all day, etc. Sighted people are using delivery options which will make that infrastructure stronger in the long run. Same thing with virtual meetings. We as blind people have been pioneers and will continue to be long after COVID-19 is a memory.

I’ve started a three times a week column “Corona Chronicle: Dispatches from the Sidelines” at a community-supported journalism site www.cvpost.org Because of “technical difficulties” it’s easier for me to share my strength, hope and experience there.  Here’s a couple dispatches, so you can see if it’s worth clicking on that www.cvpost.org link!  Don’t be a stranger and do take good care of you and yours.  Kathie

  1. The Good Stuff

A wise Jesuit priest responded to my email saying “Be sure you don’t miss the good stuff” in these days of COVID-19. These dispatches will focus on the good stuff and what I as a seventy year-old blind person, living in Eau Claire, WI can do to help my community in the time of Corona. Please email me story ideas and your thoughts at schneiks@uwec.edu

Here’s some good stuff I’ve gleaned from Facebook:

Parent comments after one day of home schooling: “Can I transfer this student out of my class?” and “Maybe the teacher wasn’t all wrong about my child’s behavior.”

Comment on handwashing: “I’ve washed my hands so many times I’m seeing the notes I wrote on them for that history test in 1995.”

“I can face self-quarantine I have wine.”

“Now that we have people washing hands correctly next let’s work on turn signaling when driving.”

Pro tip for couples working from home together…get yourself an imaginary coworker….someone you can blame things on. We have Cheryl, who keeps leaving her dirty dishes all over the place. We don’t know what we are going to do about her.

  1. What About Us Singles

Much of the advice about doing social distancing is for couples and families. Wrestling with who would notice if a single person got sick or had an accident, I came up with the following template for singles to make a deal with each other. The people I’ve made this deal with are Calvin’s Tribe (in honor of my new guide dog.  You may hear more from them (anonymously of course) as they respond to my daily contacts.

Info

Name:

Address:

Phone:

Email:

Contact person:

Contact person’s email or phone:

Local Contact person (if different)

Local contact person’s info:

Instructions for gaining entry to house:

Preferred hospital:

Preferred method for check in, e.g. phone or email:

 

I will contact you every morning and if I don’t hear back within 24 hours I will call and if there’s no answer I will send a trusted person to enter your home or call 911.

 

 

I queried the head of our local health department as follows:

“A friend and I lead an inclusive ministry church and fellowship supper once a month for people with significant cognitive disabilities. Your webpage on corona has great general guidelines, but we’re wondering about the following specifics for our group:
We know our group will not adhere to guidelines about keeping at a distance, sneezing into Kleenex, not putting rhythm instruments etc. in their mouths etc. At what threat level (e.g. a case in our county or what) do we cancel the service? Other than insisting on using hand sanitizer before eating, are there other specific guidelines you can give us or refer us to for our kind of a group?”

The core team discussed it and ultimately decided to cancel both March and April’s services, feeling it would be better to be cautious than have something bad happen.

Bridge group decided to do potluck instead of going to a fish boil before slugging it out at the bridge table.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a list of pandemic novels to read. Maybe I’ll try one to compare with the reality as it unfolds. The article points out that this is like practicing being afraid to inoculate oneself. The article quotes Stephen King that the pandemic in his novel The Stand is nothing like the corona virus, but I’ll guess he’ll enjoy the increased sales anyway.

Celeste Headlee in her new book Do Nothing explains we’re “overdoing and underliving.” Maybe it’s time to catch up on Lenten reading and praying.

Maybe instead of becoming a part of a zombie apocalypse, binging on news or horror novels, I’ll try to emulate the good doctor in The Plague by Camus and figure out what I can do to help.

I’m trying to figure out what I can do to support folks in assisted living and nursing home facilities who will be getting fewer visitors; so far all I’ve come up with is more frequent phone calls.

Quarantine with its consequent isolations and fears have been around since Leviticus at least. But the necessary social distancing needs to be done in a way that doesn’t add unnecessary emotional isolation. For example if a church wants to eliminate passing the peace with handshakes and hugs, they could keep verbal greetings.  Remember blind folks can’t see smiles!

So, give yourself a hug from me and carry on!

The day before I traveled to New Jersey in addition to retiring Luna and packing I needed to arrange and be at the euthanasia of my 13.5 year-old retired guide dog Fran. Her people weren’t sure she could or should wait until I get back to cross the Rainbow Bridge. After complaining to a friend about the unfairness of it all, I settled down and did what I needed to to be present for Fran and her retirement people. Fran was well loved and gave much love—a good soul.   A line in the Writer’s Almanac poem for that day “Earl” by Jenkins described what I needed to do to make it through the day:

“Well, how else are you to live except by denial, by some palatable fiction,
some little song to sing while the inevitable, the black
and white blindsiding fact, comes hurtling toward you
out of the deep?”

I pack taking three non-essential objects to ground me:  one of the NYPL lions (probably need Patience more than Fortitude), a black onyx crow and a cross.  Those and M and Ms should get me through.

Goals for the pilgrimage: bond with new dog; see God in the other people on the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage to Seeing Eye began in earnest with a kind neighbor dropping me and my suitcase off before daybreak at the Eau Claire airport.  I was picked up from the Newark airport by a staff member from the Seeing Eye and taken in a van with other pilgrims to the campus.

There were twenty students and five trainers who spent seventeen intense days together. Wake up was at 5:30, breakfast at seven, first walk with the new dog at nine, lunch at noon, second walk in the afternoon, supper at five and last potty break for the dogs at 8:30. Usually there were one or two lectures squeezed in each day on traffic, veterinary issues, handling the public and access issues, dog grooming, etc.  It was challenging for me to spend fifteen hours a day around chatty people and remain positive and kind.

After orientation to the main building, including single dorm rooms (complete with refrigerators and Alexa), a restaurant style dining room, administrative offices, a laundry, library with computers and an exercise room, instructors walked with each student to gauge their speed and strength to help match them with the right dog. I was matched with Calvin, a two and a half year-old black Lab.  From the beginning he was an excellent worker, calm, steady and smart.  I quickly felt at ease with his walking style and we became a fine team quickly.  The last week of training involved going places like grocery stores, a courthouse, on elevators, escalators, a bus, a train church and on a paved trail like I will encounter at home. Calvin took each in stride and even showed me the particular counter we’d gone to when we went back to the grocery store a few days later. The trainers worked hard to make the lessons fun as well as educational.  For example in the big grocery store we visited, I got to go to the juice bar and ordered a beverage of my choice. Just because of the name, I got a “drunken sailor” which was citrus juices mixed with beet juice. Interesting cultural experience but not necessarily one I’ll repeat.  For church I went to a nondenominational church with a gal who didn’t want to go alone.  I’d never been to a rock music church service with music loud enough to feel the drums through your feet—another cultural experience that Calvin was calm and silent through. He also ignored geese my instructor stirred up so I suspect he’ll do well with the ducks and geese that sometimes inhabit parts of the campus.

My fellow pilgrims were amazing folks ranging in age from twenty-something to another seventy year-old. They were authors, teachers, moms, a Paralympian and government workers.  There were a few cliques but in general people gave the training 110% effort and were supportive of each other.  One gal had to leave without the dog because of some medical issues, but when they are resolved a trainer will bring her dog to her and finish the training in her home town. The team of trainers, the waitresses and cleaning staff, the volunteers who served coffee at the lounge where we waited for our turns to go on walks, etc. were dedicated and caring individuals who gave fabulous customer service to each of us.  Amenities of a high class vacation combined with working like a dog to learn to form a partnership with a new Seeing Eye dog.

In addition to the training being physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, it also grew me spiritually.  Calvin had a bowel issue throughout training and I had to work on balancing trusting the experts that it was probably just stress and would resolve with time with advocating for my need to know more specifics and what to do if it doesn’t resolve.  Ultimately I have to trust God that it will work out as it is meant to and I need to take one day at a time.  My worries are balanced with gratitude for the wonderful people I met and the privilege of getting a tenth wonderful guide dog from the Seeing Eye.

Now that we’re home and settling Calvin in to his new home, I’m led to take things a little slower and accept the many kindnesses of friends stopping by with casseroles and offers of rides and training walks with me. I’ve changed my phone message to include Calvin and am letting it take messages when I need extra naps!  I’m enjoying snuggling with and getting to know the wonderful creature that is Calvin. I’m in love.

 

After seven and a half years of work, it was time for Luna, my ninth Seeing Eye dog to hang up her harness.  She was almost ten and feeling less confident about jumping into cars for rides and over snow piles to get us through Midwest winters.  I’ve had Seeing Eye dogs for 46 years (over half the school’s 90 year history) and plan to make the fifty year club.

I went through the application process, including a medical exam and a tuberculosis test and took a walk with a roving instructor to determine my needs.  I’m slower than eight years ago, but still able to work a dog.

I was lucky enough to find the perfect retirement home for Luna, a retired couple south of town with a black Lab and years of raising guide dog pups in their history and two acres of fenced area for Luna to explore.

As I begin to pack and get ready to spend nineteen days in New Jersey, friends stop by to wish Luna and me well on our journeys. They bring treats for Luna and M&Ms and puzzles to fortify me and occupy my mind while traveling.  Luna is blessed at her last Inclusive Ministry Church to help the participants understand that she is retiring and not dying even though I’ll be appearing with a new dog in a couple months.  My retirement wishes for Luna are Facebooked as follows:

Happy Retirement Luna!

Thank you for leading me through seven and a half years of public speaking, community service and the fun of life in retirement. You’ve been a scamp—remember trying to pick the pocket of beloved Fr. Klemick! You are an astute diagnostician, smelling my front end and back end when I’m sick to determine how much cuddling I need.  You’ve made me laugh and remember to appreciate the little things in life like lying in the sun and the last bite of pizza crust.

Bless your new family with your love, humor empathy and intelligence.

By guiding them in knowing they and you are beloved creatures.  Enjoy your new adventures and don’t forget to be in touch!

Love,

Kathie

Because each Seeing Eye dog has taught me so much about life, as well as guiding me safely, this trip seems like a pilgrimage to get a new guide for the next few years of my life in both the concrete and the spiritual senses of the word guide. It’s sad because of the goodbye to the close relationship with Luna, and scary and exciting to see who I meet.  I’ve downloaded several pilgrimage books so I can compare mine with theirs.  Let the journey begin!