I think I’m ready, or at least as ready as one can be for an adventure into the unknown.

I’ve done my research. I’ve read May Sarton’s contemplative journal At Seventy and Judith Viorst’s lively book of poems I’m Too Young to Be Seventy and other Delusions. A couple of Viorst’s points: You want time to slow down? Try waiting for the results of a biopsy! Keep trying because the world would be a lot worse if we don’t.

I’ve read about the physical changes of aging: faces becoming more asymmetrical, eye sockets get wider, ears grow longer and wider, nose droops, rib cage rounds, feet get wider, etc. In general gravity rules!

I’ve enjoyed novels about aging characters like The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson and Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. The characters are still kicking and still finding joy in doing so.

Then there are the nonfiction guides. Current favorites are On the Brink of Everything by Parker Palmer and Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher. Their emphasis on saying “enough” and “no” to even good projects is freeing. Then one can concentrate on planting seeds from your tree, not somebody else’s. As Palmer says, “Today you’re the peacock; tomorrow the feather duster”.

My mail is starting to feature AARP, hearing aids and funeral planning seminars.

I’ve got some projects planned:

  • Finish reading the Bible (last time I started I got stuck in Leviticus)
  • Attack the tsunami of Braille magazines in my living room. I must skim them before recycling them.
  • Turn my blogs into a book so I’ll leave a well-marked trail of one woman’s occupying aging process.

Celebrate the occasion as much as possible:

  • Schedule lunches, dinners and bridge playing galore
  • Read some of the poems my friends sent me at a poetry reading at a local nursing home
  • Survived an interview for a local television station for Women’s History month (I didn’t know seventy was that historic!): https://www.weau.com/video?vid=507544612
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It’s below zero and we’ve had about 44 inches of snow this month, so I could be grim! But instead my thoughts turn to some old friends, some of whom are old in years and some of whom I’ve just known quite a while.

I just found out that I may be going back to Phoenix on a yearly basis to help hand out disability journalism awards again. A friend lives there who I’ve known forty-five years. She volunteered to read to me when I was in grad school and she was in undergrad. We went our separate ways but Facebook brought us back together.  Shared interests in ideas, nature and reading keep us in touch.  Next time you volunteer, think of the friend you may meet!

A friend whose office was next to mine for fourteen years at work is bringing over dinner before a book club tonight. How good it will be to eat someone else’s cooking and share news/gossip with her. Another friend we asked to join us is still working so didn’t have time for such foolishness.  Next week we’ll take an hour and a half and go visit another friend who is dying, but still enjoys seeing animals.  Nothing like surviving a stressful work environment together to make a friendship!

Preparing to lead a book club discussion of Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf made me think of the friend who dressed up and brought appropriate props for every book discussion she led.  I’m just reading a Jane Kenyan poem to set the mood.  The book is about the friendship between two elderly small town residents.  Spoiler alert: A sexual relationship doesn’t happen until about 82% into the book, but of course nosy neighbors suspect it long before that. Some friends are made by living near each other and trading snow rakes for cookies!

Warm thoughts of old friends have me warmed up enough to go outdoors with Luna. I’ll leave you with the last stanza of the Kenyon poem, “Let Evening Come”:

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

 

 

 

David Brooks in The Second Mountain talks about the four major commitments in life that lead to a good life. The fourth one is commitment to community. Lately my commitments to projects making Eau Claire more accessible to all have left me weary.

I’ve lived long enough to know that you don’t just ask a bureaucracy to change something and they jump to it. Meetings get set and put off. Committees are set up to see if change is really necessary. People get offended no matter how nicely you ask for change. I’m not being specific because I know this problem is universal. A friend came over this week to get tea and empathy about the same mountain, just a different face of it.

I reminded her about Martin Luther King’s arc bending toward justice and reminded myself “We Shall Overcome” said “someday”; it didn’t say today. Then I pulled up an old favorite, Saul Alinsky and read about his thirteen tactics for realistic radicals from Rules for Radicals.

Some of Alinsky’s points include:

Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have. Go outside the experience of the enemy. The threat is more powerful than the thing itself. Constant pressure sustains action. Have a realistic solution in mind. Keep clear about who’s the target of the action.

This personalizing a target makes sense, but makes me squirm. No leader is all bad and they didn’t create the problem themselves. Can I still win if I don’t fight all out?

Just in time to lift me up, funny about how that happens, I read two books that inspired me in their own ways. Becoming by Michelle Obama showed me a beautiful woman who struggles with some of the same issues I do but remains optimistic about the nation even in 2018. A Gentleman in Moscow by Towels although it’s a novel deals very thoughtfully with how to go deep when circumstances confine you.

Then I happened on NPR’s American anthems selection for inspiration, “This Little Light of Mine” and “The Times They Are A-changin’” call to me most, but you might have other soundtracks that keep you climbing. Jen Hoffmann’s weekly change advocacy newsletter also reminded me

“For it’s in community that we persevere, and together we create a better, brighter future.”

Let’s keep climbing!

 

 

The theme for the February IM Church was friendship. So off Luna and I went for our monthly adventure after bumming a ride to and from with another core team member. Greeting folks went smoothly; both Luna and I know how to do that.  I was pleased that the pastor used the prayer I’d submitted for the volunteers about serving with, not doing, for our guests.

Things got dicey when the craft activity began. The lesson was about the friendship between Jonathan and David. Each pair of people at the table was supposed to tie one wrist to their partner and then do the craft together. At the clay table we opted to each make a symbol of friendship. My partner was another steering team member whom I like but don’t know well, a retired special education teacher. She freely admits she doesn’t know much about working with blind people but is willing to learn.  However she and I are alike in that we’re used to being in charge and getting the job done with as little help from others as possible.  So she tied our wrists together and I began using my one free hand to make my clay creation of two birds on a branch together.  When I was mostly done she rightly pointed out I wasn’t doing the assignment right because she wasn’t involved in the creation. Most of our tablemates had discovered they didn’t like to work tied together and had untied themselves.  We did ask and offer help to each other around the table and came up with handsome hearts, pizzas, faces and my birds to which a gal added a bird feeder.

The pastor strolled by to ask if I’d lead the procession into the church with a tambourine and I said I would if my partner would lead with me.  Picture my left hand on Luna’s harness and my right hand tied to my partner’s left hand and gripping the edge of a tambourine. I needed to shake it but also use it to get bodily cues about terrain changes like going up the ramp. I didn’t have a third hand to take her elbow! So she informed me as we processed that I was holding the tambourine wrong and should put my thumb through it “like this”.

Yes, friends have to communicate to work together and we both were talking but not communicating.  Just to make sure I knew we didn’t have good communication going, at the meal after the service I stuck my finger in a bowl of Jell-O I didn’t know was there.  By that time I could laugh.

As I prayed about the event afterwards, I became aware of two things I could do to make the next adventure in friendship work out better.  I need to spend time with her so we can talk out style differences and I need to stick up for my needs for more information and not just retreat into a resentful “fine, you shake the tambourine” sulk.  Why can’t friendships be easy!

According to a February 9 Wall Street Journal article, nobody likes Valentine’s Day anymore. They cited a study that only 51% of us will celebrate it. I’m proud to be among that 51%.

I like the legend that long ago there was a bishop named Valentine who distributed food baskets to the poor. Fancy cards for your true love only came into fashion within the last couple hundred years.

A few years ago Parks and Recreation had a show about Galentine’s Day, celebrating female friendships.  A social justice organization is trying to #ReclaimLove as a public ethic and force for justice.

I’d like to get back to agape love celebrated by all sorts of acts of kindness.  If I were the kind of person who could start a movement, I’d call it “All-entine’s Day” because all of us could be a little kinder and have some fun doing it.  I know some folks at the university who need some cookies delivered to them, but I’m not telling who.  Luna will be sharing some meat with her 15 year-old predecessor. I’ve sent cards and will do some emails and phone calls to share the love.  What will you do?

Happy All-entine’s Day!

A few years ago I skirmished with Lumosity about the inaccessibility of their brain training games. They ended the subject by telling me they had no plans to make them accessible.  I thought “nuts to you” and kept doing all the other things recommended to slow the slide into mindlessness: exercising, eating a balanced diet, socializing, playing cards, volunteering, reading, etc.

Sure, there are some accessible word and trivia game apps and some designed just for blind people like the Blindfold games.  With my recent acquisition of an Echo Dot 2 (for $20) I’m pleased to report that brain games by ear have gone mainstream!  Trivia games from Holy Bible trivia to Harry Potter trivia, vocabulary building games like difficult word quiz and SAT word of the day, twenty questions, and television games like Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. My personal favorite today (could discover a new one tomorrow) is Train Your Brain’s Odd One Out.  I haven’t found a good math-related puzzle or game, so let me know if you know one. Tyler Treese (another blogger about accessible games) says: “Products like Alexa have been great for the visually impaired. One of the best games on the system is the interactive radio drama Codename Cygnus. In it, players get to use their voice to be a secret agent trying to take down an evil organization called Trident.”

The games are not without their hiccups. For example “flour” was clearly the right answer in a word game, but when I said it, Alexa said “wrong” and I lost a life. So I said it again and got the same result. Then I tried spelling it and Alexa said “great job.” Apparently she had been translating my spoken “flour” into “flower”.  Good brain training to try to outthink her before I lost all my lives!

When mainstream tech provides something accessible to the blind, there are so many more choices than when we have to build it ourselves. Go mainstream!

Quote from St. Augustine: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

As a core team member of our Inclusive Ministry church for people with cognitive and other disabilities, it’s my job and my joy to go to our monthly services. However, I also mildly dread the way some new volunteers relate to me and the other people with disabilities.  These are good Christians volunteering their Sunday afternoon to help us poor unfortunate disabled folks and they’re good bakers and cooks. But each month some of the new church’s volunteers display along with their Christian charity the following attitudes:

  • People with disabilities lack knowledge and even preferences. “Are you sure you didn’t live in such and such a group home? “I’m asked in a loud sugary tone after I’ve said “No, I live by myself” to the same question.
  • We need help. “Here I’ll do that for you” as I was working on the craft project. I’m no crafter but taking the backing off a sticker and putting it on a paper crown; this I can do!
  • We can be touched without notice. As the helper next to me first picked a dog hair off my sweater and then one off my face, I tried to make a joke of it, but felt demeaned and a little scared by a touch coming unexpectedly.

I know I am not alone. In the recent tweet storm about #whatdisabledpeopleknow there were many similar comments about churches. But since we’re creating an inclusive service, the “usual” attitudes bother me a lot.

I keep going because I think I’m the canary in the coalmine since I’m the only person with a disability on the core team. Unlike the canaries that just keeled over from the toxic gases in the mine, I’m there as a crow to squawk and problem-solve.  I model asking before helping, conversing the same with people with and without disabilities and accepting help as well as offering it.

But I’m stuck about what more I can do to change the “us versus them” mentality. I don’t think direct confrontation would work as in “Ask before you pick hairs off me. Would you do that to a sighted stranger?” Interestingly the same person knew not to touch a service animal without asking!

Also I’m stuck about how to go beyond tolerance to showing God’s love to these good people. So far the cranky comments haven’t escaped my mouth, but I can’t seem to move beyond mere tolerance.

For those of you who are bystanders to condescending and other inappropriate comments to disabled folks, please consider saying something. Don’t wait until you have the perfect comment; if you’re like me, that may be weeks after! Butt into the conversation with an ask like “May I help?” or a comment from your viewpoint on the topic. In addition to giving the person with a disability a moment to breathe, it tells them they have an ally.

Gradually a prayer is bubbling up. Maybe I’ll ask the leader if she’d read something like it every month before we start our service.

“Loving God, we’re here today to worship, learn, fellowship and serve each other. Help us meet each other with joy in our uniqueness and not fear in their otherness.  Let us offer and accept help, not do for someone. Help us listen and find common bonds, be they football or cats rather than talking down to anyone. Help us learn from the people we “help” so we recognize You in them and us. Teach us that we all are the church for each other and are each made in Your image. Show us how to love, not pity or resent each other.”

And Lord, give me patience and give it to me now, would you?

 

 

Within twenty-four hours, two acquaintances and my favorite poet, Mary Oliver died.

One acquaintance showed many scars from her life. She was kindly spoken of as a “handful” as the speaker’s eyes rolled. In my better interactions with her I responded to the pain in her comments without letting the barb get through my skin.  She reminds me to watch my mouth (at least a little) when someone steps on me.

The other acquaintance was always gracious even as her needs for help increased. What an example! She also experienced the grit of life, but somehow used it to make her more sensitive to others.

Mary Oliver’s beautiful nature poems help me see the sublime in the ordinary.  This poem is a good example:

The Gift
By Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.

I’m grateful for the gifts I received from each of these women.

 

 

This year in April I turn seventy! Would you be part of the celebration?  Would you email me a poem or song lyrics that you like and/or you think fits me by March 15?  I’ll put them in braille and then do a reading during poetry month (April) in an assisted living or nursing home.

I’ve been taking an informal survey and have found one friend who will celebrate seventy by drinking a huge Moscow mule and another who is planning a weekend getaway with kids and grandkids.

In case you’re curious why I’m doing this crazy thing, here’s my story: There are only a few books of poetry in Braille for a blind person to buy and treasure. I helped National Braille Press produce one 100 Poems to Lift Your Spirits. I’ve also helped put a Braille printer at the local public library. When I gather the poems and lyrics from this solicitation, I’ll put them on a thumb drive and take it to the library for them to run off in Braille.

If this project gives you nightmares of English class, feel free to delete the request or reconnect with that poetry-loving kid who lived in you before that English class. Haiku, limericks, song lyrics and hymns all qualify.

As I look back in gratitude and forward in anticipation, I thank you for your part in my life. I can hardly wait to read what you send! Email: schneiks@uwec.edu (in the body of the email or as an attachment)

Kathie

The Winter solstice is here with the longest night of the year.  Icelanders who know what to do with long nights have a tradition of giving each other books on December 24 and then retiring to bed with a book and some chocolate.

Best book lists for the year are coming out right and left. I decided to ask a dozen friends, a listserve of avid blind readers I’m on, as well as my Facebook friends for their picks.   Of course many folks pointed out the book recommendation depended on the friend, but the following got several votes:

Becoming by Michelle Obama, Educated By Tara Westover and Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.

Here’s a wonderful example of a passionate recommendation of a book I wouldn’t have read before I heard the recommendation “I liked a recent nonfiction book about beavers a lot.  I learned that beavers have 2 sets of lips.  The inner set is fur lined and the beaver closes them so he can carry wood under water without drowning.

The book is called Eager by Goldfarb.  It really is more ecology than natural history as it is about how good beavers can be for the environment if not treated like varmints and eradicated.  They can control water where it is too wet.  They can encourage water where it is too dry. One strange story in the book was about a rancher who wanted to get rid of beavers on his land but didn’t want to kill them.  So he live trapped them, spanked them with a board, released them somewhere else.  Beavers always came back though I don’t think he knew if they were the same beavers.”

I’d add A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles because of the wonderful character descriptions in the novel. If you’re looking for a generalist anthology of poetry to give, as I was, I highly recommend 100 Poems to Lift Your Spirits by Pockell.

If you were to celebrate this tradition, what book(s) would you give this year?