Thursday, November 29, 2018

"I Like Mondays" - A Short Story

Last year I took a creative writing class at college. Though the story is fictional, it is  based on several occassions which may be all too familiar to many of you.

I hope you like the story. Please share the story or this blog with your friends.
William stands beside his guide dog Leif, a black Labrador retriever. William wears a yellow hat, t shirt and jeans. They stand beside a wooden cabin coffee shop in Parkfield California.
Add caption

I Like Mondays

I like Monday mornings. This Monday was one of the best. A warm Fall morning made for a comfortable walk to my local coffee shop. Beside me my guide dog plods along. We keep a nice easy pace. My fingers feeling the handle on his harness tells me when he is moving up or down on the sidewalk just in front of me. My dog knows this route well so there is little need of me to give directions. I can listen for clues as to where we are. A fading echo here lets me know that buildings are dropping back from the side walk, the scent of eucalyptus there tells me the main street crossing is coming up soon. The fading sound of traffic tells me that the lights are changing and it is almost time to cross the street.
As the warm sulpherous aroma of coffee begins to fill the air I know we are near the coffee shop.
"Find the door. Find." I tell my dog as his pace picks up. He knows this part of the walk is nearly done and he will soon lie beneath a table, or warm himself in a beam of morning sunlight.
Going inside I order and pay for my coffee. I slip my dog a treat as we wait for my drink to be made. Taking up my cup as it is passed over the bar, I tell my dog to find the door again so we can sit at a table outside on the sidewalk.
We find our way to a vacant table and chair. Setting down my coffee on the table I arrange my dogs leash so he can lay comfortably and sit myself down to enjoy the beautiful morning.
"Hello. That's a nice dog." A woman's voice says.
I turn to the sound of the voice.
"Thank you. He is."
"Are you training him, or are you visually impaired?"
"I'm blind."
"I'm sorry. It must be difficult for you."
"You get used to things."
"Your dog is just watching you all the time."
I smile and reach down to stroke his head. "I like to think that he loves me but it's more about the treats that I carry in my pocket."
I hear her laugh a little nervously. "Yes love is a very important thing."
I hear the sound of a chair scrape on the floor, then the woman's voice is close beside me.
"Speaking of love, do you know the word of Christ?"
I reach out for my coffee cup. Beginning to feel anxious. I take a sip of coffee.
"Knowing Christ in your life will allow you to see again."
I wonder if she can see me rolling my eyes behind my dark sunglasses.
"I'm sure."
"Christ cured the blind. It's here in his gospel."
I nod slowly. Where the hell do I find them? I think to myself. They must crawl out of the woodwork when they see me coming.
"Would you take this wonderful dog from me?
She stutters a moment.
"No, no. But you could see how beautiful the world is. See your beautiful dog."
I shake my head slowly.
"He is a guide dog. A dog trained to guide a blind person. If I could see. I would not be blind. So he would not be here with me."
"God would make a way for you to be together."
"He did. He made me blind."
I know this hits a mark and I feel her interest in the conversation wane. Perhaps she is thinking I am a lost soul or maybe not worth her efforts to save me.
She coughs awkwardly. As I pick up my coffee again, I hear her footsteps walk away from my table followed by the scrape of a chair on the concrete sidewalk.
I reach down again and stroke the soft ear of my guide dog. Now feeling awkward, I continue to sit. The conversation is still irritating me but I cannot leave my seat feeling that to do so would give her a victory.
I begin to feel the warm sun on my hand as it rests on the woven wire table. Above my head the parasol snaps in a slight breeze. Cars continue to deposit customers at the coffee shop. Someone walks by with what smells like a toasted bagel. I feel my dog lift his head to take in the delicious aroma. My coffee is still warm and bitter and as I drink the last drop my thoughts drift away from the conversation.
 I think that she must have left by now so taking up my dog's leash we begin to leave. Tony, one of the baristas, is cleaning the outside tables and says,
"Thank you Mike" and wishes me a good day.
I wave goodbye,
"See you next week Tony. I do love my Mondays here".


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Where Have I Been?

Well everyone it has been about six months since I have posted to this blog. Six months? So where the hell have I been?

Members of the public stroke guide dog puppies at a public speaking event.
Where Guide Dog Puppies and Public Speaking Meet

Well Junesaw me working hard to be Secretary of my local branch of the California Council of the Blind. That did not go well as it took up a lot of time when I needed to get myself organized becoming a director on the board of Golden State Guide Dog Handlers Inc. (GSGDHI) That role is much more fulfilling from my point of view and I am also continuing in the role of the editor of the groups magazine, 'Forward!"

July saw me out and about at the beach. A long hot valley Summer is not for the faint hearted and the many  fires that have plagued this year here in California has made the Valley very difficult to live in. Fire smoke plus heat plus traffic pollution are not the healthiest of mixes.

August saw  me return to Fresno City College for the Fall semester. I have taken Communication 1 classes, that is Public Speaking. I am quite comfortable speaking in public, blindness certainly helps me stand before a crowd and talk. I don't get to see the yawns or picking of noses after all, as the audience drift into a boredom coma.

As part of my continuing studies I had to choose a major, the school need a major from us students so they can prove how many students actually achieve something.

With me already having an Associates degree in Social Science and a Bachelors in History and Political science I opted to go the route of a certification. So I am now officially working on a certificate in Social Work. Next Spring I take two of the six classes I need for certification, those will be Welfare Studies and Interviewing Techniques. That should be fun.

My current class ends on 13th December officially. I have already given all my speeches including my final. For that I chose to argue that Americans need to have a law providing mandatory vacation time for all workers rather than the no vacation days mandated for private sector workers. If my current grade continues for that speech I am looking at an 'A' for the class and a 4.0 Grade Point Average for all my time at Fresno City College  so far.

So with all that going on my wife has also decided to help volunteer with our local puppy raising group. She is hoping to become a puppy sitter for the group. A puppy sitter takes care of guide dog puppies for a short term. Say a puppy raiser needs to leave town for a few days and is unable to take their puppy with them, the puppy sitter steps in to care for the puppy while they are out of town. In order to become a puppy sitter though you must be trained as a puppy raiser and also must pass all the conditions of a puppy raiser. I am so glad my wife has taken up this challenge. Being part of the guide dog family is such a noble act.

 Support this blog: This great Over the shoulder tote bag leaves you with both hands free to manouvre with a cane or a guide dog.  The Yellow background means added safety for you if  you are walking out at night. My guide 'Leif' also looks at his best against the Stars and Stripes, of the flag of the United States.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gentle Leader: A Guide Dog Story

Working with a guide dog takes a lot of work on both sides. I have become a little lazy with Leif, my black male Labrador. He has taken every opportunity to become his own boss rather than my partner in the team. I let him do that I admit guilt.

Leif a black labrador retriever looks into the camera as he sits in a light airy room.
Leif, Six Year old Black Lab

On Sunday we had a visit from Guide Dogs for the Blind. As graduates we can choose a telephone chat or a visit. Since it has been three years since our last in person visit and I know a lot of the problems were coming from me. Well I thought, get in the experts and knock myself back in shape to redress the balance in the team.

The visit went well. Analysis showed my surrender of the gentle leader in recent months had given Leif an edge.

What is a gentle leader? 

A Gentle leader is a light head collar for the dog, instead of attaching the leash to his neck the gentle leader allows the leash to attach under the muzzle so you as the handler know where in space your dogs nose is at all times. Useful if your dog is a sniffer like my Leif.

Well yesterday, I decided to go to the gamestore just about half a mile away. I harnessed Leif, put on his gentle leader and walked down to the store. I have to admit, Leif worked like a dream. No stops to sniff. No hearing the sudden crunch of jaws as he picked up some morsel of junk food from the sidewalk. He plodded along by my side, stopping right on the button at crossings. He took every treat politely and with gracious licks of my hand. A dream walk.

We even had to walk around a half dozen open doors in the strip mall where the game store is located. A reward was given for each.

When we got into the gamestore, we were greeted by one of the young women who works there. I felt a tug on the leash. Leif had seized the opportunity. An audience. Better a captive audience. His muzzle was now buried into the carpetted floor His head rubbing from side to side as I tried to lift his nose. He whinned a little and put all his weight against his shoulders pushing his face along the floor.

"Is he ok?" the young woman asked.

"Oh Yes!" I said. "He's protesting at his head collar. He was fine until he saw that he had an audience. He'll be fine. Just wants to show how cruel I am."

"I know you are not cruel with him." She said. "What can we do for you?"

I went on to buy my shopping list of items. As we chatted Leif began to ease up on his rolling and whimpers. Until we had finished and started to make our way to the door. Leif did a final dive into the carpet. With no-one taking any notice. He got up shook himself with a snort and lead  me all the way home.

On the walk home he was his usual plodding self. Conciencious and deliberate with his kerbside drill. I treated him often.

It just shows these dogs are intelligent. They reall7y know how to train us hummans.

Do you have a guide dog story to share? Tell us in the comments below.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Why I Think Light Seekers Trading Card Game is a Good Game for the Visually Impaired

Recently I was introduced to the Light Seekers Trading Card Game at my local gamestore.

Being visually impaired it is often difficult to find new games to play with friends and family. We are bored by chess, checkers, the same old game of Trivial Pursuit. So the other week I heard of Light Seekers TCG. and gave it a try.

Light seekers trading card game in progress, playmat and cards I use an electronic magnifier to see written portions of cards.
Light Seekers Trading Card Game

At first it may seem impossible for a blind person to play. The cards have writing on them that describes the way the card can be used. There are cards to attack, cards to defend, cards with heroes and cards that you use to adapt abilities.

Being the person I am. Not willing to let a mere card game beat me. I decided to see if I could compete on a moderately level playing field with members of my local gamestore league.

The answer is a resounding YES!

I have played in a couple of varieties of tournements now. A Draft where you draw cards from packs at the game table and a construction game where you build your deck before the game and play against several other players over an afternoon.

I have achieved about 45% wins. OK so I lose more time than I win but I have only been playing the game for about a month now, and I am also visually impaired.

The thing that I thinks helps me with the game is that players read their cards out loud for their opponent. Wow a card game that comes in with built in audio description.  I know exactly what the other players have played. I am also able to use a good magnifier to be able to read my cards. That helps, but maybe in a family game a blind person could have their hand described by a non-playing member of the family.

Light Seekers is fun. Basically you have a Hero card which comes with a certain health score. The aim is for each playrr to take turns and the first to reduce their opponents score to zero wins. This is achieved by playing  a series of attack, defense and combination cards that heal a hero or inflict damage on them.

Games can be pretty quick, it can all be over in five minutes or two opponents can slog out an hour long epic battle.

As you go deeper into the game you collect cards, build new decks to add strengths and employ various strategies. There are six starter decks available, each has a specific strength and you discover weaknesses as you play. One faction is good at healing, another good at throwing out damage yet another good at building items that either heal their hero or destroy opponents.

I have played a mountain deck in my  first tournament. Mountain can be good at dealing out damage but for me the cards did not come out well as I searched in vain for just the right card to let me deliver the killer blow. But the games were fun and now I am on the lookout for the opportunity to build up my strength in those weak spots, which I discovered this weekend.

With just one month to go until my gamestores  next tournament I have time to hit the booster packs to loo for that killer card.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Planning for Summer Color

Today is the last day of February. Most of the Northern Hemisphere is in the grips of a freeze; Europe is looking into the mouth of a storm from the East, The Midwest and Eastern United States is looking for snow and a Nor-Easter. Here in California, we had some rain yesterday and some snow even fell on the Sierra Nevada, up to three feet should even fall there by the week-end. That is a whole lot less than the thirty odd feet that fell in the Winter of 2016-17, but hec we need as much as we can get.
A pack of nine segment plug pot seed trays and two packs of French Marigold Seeds. One Pack of seeds shows bright Lemon Yellow Flowers the othe mixed Orange, Yellow and Red Flowers.
Plug Pots and Marigold Seed Packets

But here in my valley home. I have launched myself into preparing for Summer color. Flowers. Bedding plants. Well folks I have planted some seeds in little seed pots.

Having some of my color vision back following my cataract surgery in January, I am feeling a little starved of color in my life. So over the week-end I asked my wife to take me to our local Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) store. Though the name suggests they are for mostly fruit growers, OSH is just a normal hardware chain store. But they are great for gardening equipment and seeds.

This is the first  time in several years that I have wanted to plant flower seeds. Well with the greying of my vision over recent years what was the use.

I had to buy some  seed trays. I went for the type that you can push out the individual plug of soil with the little plant growing in it. You can then plant this plug of soil in a border or larger pot to make an attractive bedding display.

I filled my little plug pots with some seed compost and then planted a couple of varieties of French Marigolds. A double flowered variety. These will give bright, highly visible flowers for a long period over the Summer and here in California possibly well into the Fall too.

I chose French Marigolds for two reasons, the bright flowers and secondly they have reasonably large seeds, so are very easy for a person with low vision to sow thinly. You can pick up individual seeds and place them in the potting mediium very easily.

I sowed several seeds in each set of plugs, one seed to each plug. Then I brought some of the plug pots inside where it is warm and left some outside in the cooler air.

Hopefully the seeds brought inside will germinate in a week or so those outside in a couple of weeks. The plants from inside might bloom a few weeks earlier than those outside. In a couple of weeks I will sow some more seeds to give a little more continuity.