Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year End

Here we are. The last week-end of 2013.

I am very hopeful for the future, my online book store is doing well, I have some public appearances planned for Leif and I; we are publicly paying back Guide Dogs with talks for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Speakers Bureau.  I have also done pretty well in 2013 investing  and there is lots of exciting anniversaries coming up in 2014, including my tenth wedding anniversary in June.

Looking back, I will remember 2013 as the year I waited for a Guide Dog. It was well worth the wait to meet some great people and one amazing and funny black Labrador named Leif.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Leif Says Hello and Asks Santa for his Presents.

This time of year is full of excitement at work, a great treat for the children of our library district was a visit from "Father Christmas".
Even Leif himself got to star in the show, starring alongside Snoopy the Beagle from Peanuts. O.K. Snoopy was his cartoon self on our library backdrop. The backdrop of a winter scene of Snoopy slleping on his kennel beside a Christmas tree was made by aids and children at a local school. It was great and added something extra special to the Christmas feeling.
Father Christmas had Leif beside him, as one child asked  "Why the dog? Where are the reindeer?" The reindeer were of course resting at home preparing for their busy night on the 24th. Leif was there to assist Santa and make notes for the good list, striking off any bad behavior from the naughty list for any child who said he was cute.
Leif's gift request included, tug toys, kibble, treats, lots of belly rubs and of course more food.
Leif loved meeting all the children. Taking all of the fuss in his stride, not bad for a twenty-two month old. For Santa, well it was a relief to end the day, hot and stuffy under all that hair and fleece.
The most memorable thing for me though will be the small boy, about five years old who was so fascinated with Santa that he kept tapping him on the end of the nose with a huge onange balloon made into a sword. All the time he was telling Santa how good he had been all year, his balloon sword was going tap, tap, tap on the end of Santa's nose.  LOL

Monday, December 16, 2013

What does Your Guide Dog do When He's Not Working?

guide dog, leif the guide dog, rests during his downtime on a warm winter day

Leif, my Black Labrador
rests in the late December morning sun.

I have been asked several times over the last few weeks if Leif is always at work, working as my guide dog would not really fill many hours of Leif's day.

My answer is. No, he gets to be a dog too. Often he plays, tug rope is a bit favorite as is chewing his Nylabone Chew bone.

But a big bonus for Leif is living in a house with a yard, in Central California the yard means that he can go out and play or walk in private. Then living in Central California means even warm sunny days in the middle of December. A what does this top rank Guide Dog love more than food and tugging ropes. Yes you have probably guessed it, the warm sun on his black shining coat as he snoozes the day away.

You have to love this dog. LOL

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Doctor Visits Will Never Be the Same Again

Leif the Guide Dog
Going to the doctor used to be so, well, shall we say under-whelming.
I would go, sign in, see a nurse or assistant then a doctor for a minute or two then make a new appointment and leave.
Now going to the doctor's with Leif brings about a whole new experience.
As we walk into the doctors waiting room, there are often gasps  "A dog is in the room!" Other patients often stop me to compliment me on this handsome dog. Receptionists stand on chairs to look over the counter to see Leif, often standing like a sad school boy, his head up against the counter as if he is being wickedly punished for some misdemeanor.
Often in recent weeks just getting in to see the doctor has meant a whole retinue of Leif fans among nurses and medical assistants, patting him on the head or even offering an occasional tummy rub, to the most handsome guide dog in the building.
Doctors are not immune to the Leif effect either, those big brown eyes solefully looking pitifully up at them leave them cooing and patting him under the chin.
Going to the doctor is definitely coming to be a big event in our lives.  I am glad to say everyone seems to fall in love with this slight, handsome black lab.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"I Want a Doggy With a Handle!"

Leif in Harness
and Ready for Work.
In the past I have often quited small children and their comments in my presence on blindness.
One thing to guarantee the attention of any young child is a good looking dog in an unexpected place. The other week-end my wife and I were doing some Christmas shopping and we stopped for lunch in a Mimi's Restaurant. We were preparing to leave and I called Leif from under the table where he had been laying throughout lunch.
At the next table was a young couple with their daughter, whom I would say was about three years old. She squealed with excitement. "Ooooh! Doggy."
I smiled over to them and nodded and the little girl's mother told her that Leif was a working dog. My wife asked if the little girl wanted to say Hello to Leif, as her mother brought her over.
Leif sat quietly as the little girl stroked his head andgiggled at his soft floppy ears.
After a few moments the little girl full of excitement, ran back to their table to tell her father of the exciting news. Meeting a guide dog.
Then with great delivery she finished her story of meeting Leif with the cry. "Daddy. I want a doggy with a handle."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ceasing Avastin Injections Now Means Eye Surgery

In July 2013, my retinologist and I agreed that the Avastin injections every four weeks no longer proved useful in maintaining any vision in my left eye.

At the time we just agreed to cease the monthly injections and see what happened.

In the intervening four months blood vessels have proliferated across my left retina, causing some discomfort and adding complications to the Central Retinal Verin Oclusion (CRVO ) condition.

One of the advantages of the Avastin was to limit the growth of new blood vessels within they eye. Now that the drug is no longer present my body has reacted rapidly to re-supply the damaged retina with a new blood supply. Unfortunately these areas of retina are now dead and the blood vessels are poorly formed and risk further clots.

They must be removed.

My retinologist decided that she will perform laser surgery to excise the new blood vessels on the 10th December.

The process is simple. Several thousand laser shots are made across the back of the eye, these burn off the blood vessels destroying them immediately. The procedure is performed under a local anaestetic, which reduces some of the pain.

I had the procedure over several months in England when my right eye was lost to a clot in 2001-2.

There is no recovery of sight, they eye is after all technically dead, it is merely to prevent further problems such as glaucoma and possible blood clot threats so close to the brain.

Not the best news to get on Thanksgiving week. But At least I have been here before.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Working with Animals is Not Easy

Looking back to one month ago, I can see the innocence that I had when approaching Guide Dog work.

It seemed so easy, tell a dog where to go and follow. Easy.

Wait a minute!

Not quite like that is it?

Well for a start, both human and dog are fallable and moody creatures. We have on days and off days. I want to go places, my dog wants to sniff places. I have fearful memories of particular places and he is very, very sensitive to my apprehension.

Several weeks ago I posted about a Prius driver driving over my cane as I crossed an intersection. That incident scared me, and in the past couple of weeks it has haunted the lives of both Leif ( my new guide dog ) and my lives.

The cause of all our troubles on that one particular intersection has been my memory of that Prius incident.

Leif had begun confidently at the crossing, then a driver took the turn on red and passed close by us. Leif did his job of stopping, but I was rattled. After that Leif became ever more tentative at crossing at the intersection and I became even more nervous at his hesitation.

We had joined a loop of ever increasing fear.

The good part of being an alumni of Guide Dogs for the Blind is that they back up their training in school with a helpline and if necessary a home visit.

We tried the helpline, the advice was spot on, not to obsess about the problem intersection use alternates for a while, make the work fun and interesting and they would arrange a home visit in a few days.

The home visit was yesterday and we worked our way to the problem intersection.  First part of the problem is that due to bad planning there is not time to delay after pressing the button on the light for the crossing. The light changed before I turned, adding to the anxiety for me. Then after crossing the first time, Leif stalled in confussion. My anxiety levels were high and he was picking up on that. The main focus then needed to be one reducing anxiety rather than Leif being a problem, I knew he was never the problem, Leif soon picked up the idea that crossing the second part of the crossing was not an option but a necessity.

With bumper hand outs of kibble from me and lots of praise and neck rubs we got to working the crossing perfectly in about an hour.

A problem was solved and Leeif and I are now both happy with the intersection. And very happy with the help give to alumni of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Guide Dog Leif. My First Guide Dog

Guide Dog Leif
Well Folks. The two weeks of training at Guide Dogs for the Blind are over and yesterday, my guide "Leif" and I graduated. The picture above is of Leif, he is a handsome black Labrador, about 64 pounds in weight and twenty five inches tall at the shoulder.

Leif loves working and also his downtime. much of which he spends sleeping. He is definitely in the California surfer dude mould, just loves to chill out with his friends and lay in the sun.

I had planned to blog most evenings about the training as it went along but there was very little time after a hard working day which began at 6:30am and ended at 8:30 pm. I would be glad to answer any questions that you may have about Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, but one thing I can assure you of that all the hard work was made fun by a great group of trainers and other staff. And the dog, well he is just magnificent, a great guide and a fun companion.

Leif and I before Graduation

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Final Interview Call from Guide Dogs for the Blind

The final call of the interview process before going to Guide Dogs for the Blind for training came late yesterday afternoon.

It was a very pleasant conversation with two of the staff who will be my trainers for the next couple of weeks.

The main part of the conversation revolved around my expectations for the training, what I feel I need and particular concerns as to the kind of work that my new dog and I will be doing when we return home.

Being able to see a little caused me some problems during my home visit. I tried to follow my own lines instead of being guided by the instructor and "Juno" ( the harness with no dog". The answer then was to close my eyes, but it was great to find out that guide dogs for the blind have a training program geared to my particular needs as a partially sighted user. That will certainly help in my training.

During the interview I was also given details of the daily routine for both weeks. Week one is geared to more general training with week two aimed at providing training in areas where students feel a need. So for instance if you regularly travel by subway train, instruction is geared towards using a subway system with a guide dog.

Class begins after breakfast on Monday, my instructors provided me with a list of study questions, all of the answers are in the MP3 files which are accessed from the GDB website homepage. So having listened to those MP3's several times now I am fairly confident that I know the first days class work.

We will meet our dogs shortly after lunch, about 1pm and have some time to become a littl acqainted, before doing some more classwork in the afternoon. There are also some evenings when we have classwork too but as of the writing of this blog I don't know the exact details.

So now it is just a little more waiting. That is the hard part right now. I know the really hard work begins Monday, building a new guide dog team will not be an overnight process, nor will it be easy.

It is a little like an arranged wedding where neither bride nor groom have ever met, spoken or even know if they are even the same gender. Fun eh?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Day and Just Seven Days till Dog Day

Ah. A nice relaxing Monday.

Today so far I have revised the MP3 files for guide dog training. This is probably my final run through all the MP3 files because I have to work the rest of the week and the files take several hours to listen too in their entirety.

I have also cleaned some books in breaks from the class lectures. I have a good assortment of books to send off to Amazon for my online bookstore. Hopefully these will arrive in the middle of next week and go onto my storefront and be available in the Amazon marketplace a day or two later.

I also managed to give myself an irritating paper cut on my finger as I assembled some mailing boxes for my book consignment.

All the time though I have had one ear out for the telephone. I am expecting a call for someone in the guide dog instructors program to call me for a final interview/assessment prior to next week. Today would be a great day to get that call. But all I know is that it should be sometime this week.

So for all of you out there. Have a good Columbus Day, and to Canadian readers, Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Nine Days till Dog Day

Here it is, The last weekend before I leave for guide dog training at San Rafael.

My wife and I spent Saturday shopping for last minute items to pack. A couple of shirts that I want to take need new buttins which we needed to buy. I needed some bathroom supplies, like cleaning solution for my electric razor and socks. I found one of my new shoes might leak a little from the tongue of the sohoe when I walked through a stream from a garden sprinkler the other evening. A sprinkler is not nearly as severe as a rain shower, but as the top of my foot got quite uncomfortably wet, my wife insisted new socks were an urgent requirement. Now I have at least two pairs of socks per day. Hope we don't get that much rain.

We also went for lunch at a favorite tempanyaki restaurant. I was not certain if there may be restrictions on a guide dog being able to go to tempanyaki, as they are after all food preparation places as well as restaurants. My wife asked about the allowing of guide dogs into the tempanyaki restaurant as opposed to the normal restaurant. The manager told her, guide dogs go there all of the time with no problem. So sounds good for tempanyaki after I get my dog too.

We also went to see the movie "Rush". I used to love watching motor racing in England, especially formula one. The movie tells of the battle between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda in the 1976 Formula One season championship. Being a Ron Howard directed movie it also sparked my interest, I loved Apollo 13. According to my wife there were rather a lot of grpaphic sex scemes, Hunt was a playboy type after all. Funny enough I hardly saw a thing, but loved the roar of those thundering formula one engines. 

A long day shopping and dinner with a movie, set the tone nicely for the weekend. Now only eight days to dog day and we just have to finish packing.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

18 Days till Dog Day

The days are now quickly counting down.

On Monday afternoon I received a call from the admissions office at Guide Dogs. The call was to arrange travel to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus on October 20.

I live only three or four hours drive from the campus and have long planned to have my wife drive me to San Rafael.

Monday's call could have arranged flights to San Francisco or travel by train or other ground transport, too. Bear in mind all travel, except getting there in ones own car is paid for by Guide Dogs. You do not need to worry about costs of getting there.

Late yesterday afternoon I received a confirmation e-mail, regarding my travel plans.

They also informed me to arrive between 2 and 4pm on the Sunday. My room will be assigned to me on Friday October 18 so I can pass on any details to relatives who may want my room number or phone number.

I have also started to prepare my packing list. As laundry facilities are provided, I don't need to take two weeks supply of clothing, but I need to plan for a variety of weather conditions including rain, which I am not really used to anymore after living seven years in near desert conditions here in the San Joaqin Valley.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Call from Guide Dogs for the Blind

I spent Saturday quietly at home. My wife was out of town helping to look after a friends young son. I elected to just stay home as handling both a nine year old and me is a little too much to expect for anyone.

As Saturday afternoon slowly ticked by the telephone rang. I expected it to be my wife, but was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a member of the nursing staff at Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The nurse was very pleasant. Asked me if it was ok to discuss my medical requirements at that time. It was and so I drew up a chair and we proceeded to go over the doctors reports from earlier in the year.

Of course some of the data was out of date as various new test results have surpassed the old results given in the doctors notes, some are still pending as I see a couple of my doctors over the next week.

All in all the interview lasted about ninety minutes, so as you can tell pretty comprehensive. We also discussed my activity on a day to day basis. I have been preparing with a regime of regular walking and also treadmill work to increase my general stamina. Walking about five miles per day.

All of this work seemed to be just what Guide Dogs require. The nurse seemed quite happy with the information and also took the opportunity to tell me about clothing requirements for my scheduled training period.

Dress for temperatures between the mid 60's F. and 90 F.  Take at least two pairs of worn in shoes, you don't want to walk with a guide dog for a prolonged period in brand new shoes. Also take a more dressy shirt and trousers for graduation day. Tennis shoes are ok, but many graduates often take a more dressy pair of shoes too, I think I will do just that too.

Next I expect a call from a trainer. That I think will come in the final week before training.

Now as I prepare to pack and the days tick down to hours, I am starting to feel that I am really on my way.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reconaisance to San Rafael

What better way to spend a week-end than to travel to a really beautiful part of California. Last week-end in part as a birthday treat and in part as a recon of the Guide Dogs for the Blind facilities, my wife and I drove the three hours up to the San Francisco Bay area.

One thing that makes me realize that I have lived in Central California too long is that I now believe the weather forecast on TV or the internet. Hot and sunny, generally means it is guaranteed to be hot and sunny here, but bright and sunny in the Bay area means it may rain.

When we arrived in San Rafael on Saturday morning, at a little after 9:30am it was pouring with rain and I had not packed a coat or hat.

Never mind Guide Dogs gift shop to the rescue and they soon had me kitted out in a great sweatshirt and baseball cap.

At Guide Dogs for the Blind Campus
San Rafael California.

My wife and I joined the 10am guided visit, led by Marcia, a great docent who took us all around the campus for a couple of hours. Some areas of the campus were not accessible because it was graduation day for class 771, but we were later allowed to attend the graduation ceremony at 2pm. That was a very moving and positive experience. I learned what might be expected of me in terms of speaking in just a few weeks, as I graduate with class 774.

During our tour we visited the kennels, saw some training by a few instructors and their dogs. We also got to see some of the latest puppies, born just a few hours earlier mother and puppies were monitored on a closed circuit camera. Outside the monitor room we saw some of the older puppies. Two lovely fat little eight week old pups being prepared for going out to their puppy walkers in the next few days.

Along the way we also met a large guide dog, named Henry, he was being walked for exercise and is yet to be allocated to a blind person. Maybe me? We will have to wait another twenty-seven days to see.

After the tour we went for lunch in the Mall across the street. I had chicken parmesan at a really good restaurant. The staff there seemed very aware as to how to treat blind customers. It was great having a waiter actually speak to me and make recommendations to me rather than through my wife. Great service means I will definitely be going back sometime during my stay in San Rafael.

Back at the campus we went to watch the graduation ceremony. Three Americans and three Canadians were graduating with new dogs. There was also a new dog taken in to the breeding program.

At the ceremony each graduate gets to speak. Saying thanks to the dogs trainers and puppy walkers. As you might imagine there were lots of moving stories on both sides.

After the ceremony we also got to speak to KellyMartin ,, the head of training classes at the school. He was very nice to us, talking about how unusual it was to have so many black dogs graduate on one day, five of the six Labradors were black. He also said he was happy that we had made a visit to look around, it was not a common event to have people visit a few weeks before they joined a class, but they appreciated that people did make a special trip when they could.

I had a great time. Now I just have to wait a little longer.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Year of Ups and Downs

It's hard to believe, but next week sees the one year anniversary of my stroke.

It will be one year on the 26th September since I collapsed at home and was flown by helicopter to hospital in Fresno. The really bad thing about that helicopter flight is that I don't remember one minute of it.

I was in hospital and rehabilitation for nearly four weeks. In the first few days I could not really eat because I could not swallow properly. Then as my swallow response came back I was only allowed pureed food for a few days. Awful stuff.

Though I never lost my speech, I did lose my ability to balance and had to learn to walk again, but luckily I soon picked up the ability to walk again. I even spent some time while in the rehabilitation ward teaching the physical therapists about blindness, how to use a cane as a mobility tool and similar things about which they had no real world knowledge.

After coming out of hospital it was another three months before I got back to work, and in the meantime I got to vote in my first Presidential Election and also began my application for a Guide Dog.

I also used the time off work to set up some new projects, an ebay account which has given me a few good sales over the year, a zazzle account where I have  sold tee-shirts and greetings cards steadily all summer, even selling internationally. I also set up a used book store on, that didn't really take off very well until in July I moved some of my stock from being shipped from my home to being shipped from amazon fulfilment centers across the U.s. at that point sales went through the roof, items which had been advertised for months sold  within hours of reaching the fulfilment center.  I had been on the point of giving up on the amazon project, now I am considering it as a possible full time occupation, we'll see after I get home with my Guide Dog in November.

So as this last year of a lot of deep downas and a few highs comes to an end. Things are definitely on an up trend.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thirty-Five Days to Dog Day

It never seems to get any shorter.

I spent Monday, the five week or thirty-five days to Dog Day travelling to and from Fresno for a blood test. Seven hours on a bus with a total of eleven and a half hours away from home, for a blood test that takes all of five minutes to draw.

I hate that trip, the blood draw trip, I have to make it every three months or so. Back in the days when I had to see my retinologist more often it was an easy stop to go and do the blood draw while I was across the street. Now with less visits to my retinologist, I guess I am just going to have to get used to this long day.

The funny thing is I also have a similar blood draw for my general practitioner every month, here in town att his office. The doctor I have to see in a few weeks time, an endochrinologist, insists that I have to travel to their office to do a blood draw for them too, "the results of my own doctors blood draw are not quite compatable with their requirements."

Aaaaarrrrrrggggh! What they really mean is they want to claim the cash for the blood work for themselves. It does not matter to them that I have to spend a day travelling, "It doesn't really take seven hours to travel from there?" Well it does when you have to get a bus which to be viable has to drive over 150 miles to mak a 60 mile journey. I would have a great view of the Central Valley's grape crop, if I could see. I pass every grape vine and see the bare branches transform over the year to dark heavily leafed fruit laden vines by the beginning of October, when the harvest comes to full swing around here.

Now despite being desperately tired from the journey, my head throbbing with the noise of a creaking, groaning bus. I cannot sleep.

Well at least. We are now thirty-four days to dog day.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Should a Blind Person Have a Right to Carry a Gun

In my newsfeed I saw this story about Michael Barber, a resident of Iowa and also a senior officer of the National Federation of the Blind in Iowa.

The story discusses Barber's recent purchase of a gun and his successful application to carry a firearm

In the past I have handled firearms. In England I was a regular shooter at several clay pigeon shooting grounds and quite a proficient shot with a shotgun, on one occasion I achieved a perfect 100 score on a skeet shooting round. Of course at that time I had perfect vision.

Since coming to the United States I have visited a local shooting range for instruction in shooting a handgun and did some target practice achieving a score of 90/100 and that only using the guidance of my instructor to aim and fire as the target, though visible to me was a dark blurr.

I do not however carry a gun. For me it is merely a matter of personal choice. I would not know how to maintain a gun safely, with a myriad of small parts it would be a  nightmare just trying to keep it in good working order.

I do however feel that Mr. Barber is doing a good thing in that he is publicizing a positive aspect of blindness. That is blindness does not mean that we are unable to enjoy the rights granted to us in the United States.

Mr. Barber also comments in the report that he is waiting for a car that will allow the blind to drive. I too am eagerly awaiting that piece of hardware too. I would love to drive again. The motor industry is very close to creating  the vehicle, but it is legislation that insists that a licensed and sighted person be behind the wheel when the vehicle is in operation.

Do you think that our legislators of today might be as far seeing as the Founding Fathers and allow the blind driver to drive assistive technology equipped cars on the public road. The Founding Fathers never said "All except the blind can carry arms."

You can read the full story at The Des Moines Register Website.

It's Going to be a Long Night

You know those nights? You have felt a little iffy all day. Nothing specific, just feeling off color. Then late in the evening everything blows up.

That's how it is for me right now. I did a full days work, was not really comfortable getting heartburn and nauseous.

I pressed on through it though as I had a US Citizenship Preparation class to teach.

The class finished about 7:30pm and after packing everything up, I came home hoping that a little dinner may make me feel better.

As I got home though the stomach cramps began and dinner went out of the window as I couldn't keep anything down.

Right now I am about four hours into the feeling pretty awful stage of whatever this bug or food poisoning episode is.

I am wondering if it may have something to do with the influenza inoculation I had yesterday. That made my arm sore all day too. Well at this point, I am looking into the maw of a long night of very interrupted sleep.

Just marking time writing until my next bathroom break comes along in a minute or two.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Football Is Back!

Wow what a week-end. Football is back for a new season.

OK. For all the folks in the rest of the world, I am talking American football. Folks back home in England may take me out and flog me. But I have become American enough to call football, football and the roundball game, soccer.

Two of my favorite teams were playing on our TV channels, Green Bay and Indianapolis. Don't ask me why a fellow from California likes teams from the mid-west. It is an official secret and to reveal the truth would mean instant death. Suffice it to say, I don't get to see many games with my favorite teams except in the instance of yesterday Green Bay were at the San Francisco Fort-niners, the local must support team, unless you are a Raiders fan from across the Bay.

One of the delights of owning a 60" (sixty inch) TV is I can just about make out the players helmets, for color and so know roughly which team is playing which way.

By the end of Sunday, I was absolutely worn out. Football is just so exciting and the season is so very short, in a little over three months it'll all be over and we will be looking to the Superbowl final games. Then a long wait through another summer.

No, won't run on with that. I'll just sit back enjoy the season we have now. What's for TV tonight? Monday Night football of course.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Stepping Out Alone

While it is nice to walk in the morning, just to go around the block seemed a little boring today.

In the end I decided to take a little bit of a hike across town to the local diner. It has been several months since I did this walk and this morning, as the sun peeped over the Sierra Nevada. I headed off across town to gget some breakfast.

The streets were very quiet at 6:30am. If you ever go out when the streets are quieter than you usually experience you will know that it is actually very disorienting. You have no real cues as to direction and position of streets.  The occassional car or truck passing by helps keep you on some sort of a track.

As the direction from my home to the diner is more or less South, one trick /I am able to use is keeping the light of the sun on my left in the morning. Though blind I can see enough light to enable me to determine which direction the light comes from.

So with the hunger in my belly growing, I marched across town, my mouth watering as I imagined steak and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Even better is the fact that the food actually tasted mucgh better than I had imagined.

I will have to do that walk more often.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day and 49 Days to Dog Day

So passes Labor Day, the last day of Summer for American Tourists.

Working Hard on Labor Day 2013

Well I believe that in the Northeast United States things now ramp up for leaf peeping season. That is going to see all the beautiful colors of the leaves before they fall in the next couple of months, then Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Here in the valley, Central California we usually still have a couple more months of quite high temperatures. 80 or 90 is not unusual into November.

Anyway, How did I spend Labor Day? Busy working. I had a couple of orders for eBay sales to process and a box load of books to prepare for shipment to

With only 49 days to go to Dog Day I am building a stockpile of books on my Amazon seller account because I will not be able to process items from home as I have done for part of this year.

Going to the Guide Dogs training school at the end of October means I have to take two weeks unpaid leave from my usual day job, so as two weeks without any wages is pretty painful to the wallet region. Amazon and eBay will have to step up to the plate and pull -in some extra cash for me I hope.

When we are back we will have to look at maintaining the business as in the past few months Amazon in particular has been quite a good source of extra income, eBay is a bit erratic.

As for the preparation homework for Guide Dogs, I have read and re-read the instruction manuals four times , with some of what I think of as major points of interest being read several more times, just so I can quite it chapter and verse.

So passed Labor Day. 49th Day till Dog Day. It is nice to think that I can sethe end of the tunnel. Or maybe its an express freight train coming down the tunnel. LOL


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to cross a street at a Busy Intersection

One of the most frightening aspects of being blind or visually impaired is crossing the street.

Intersections can be very confusing and dangerous places. One of the portions of Orientation and Mobility (O & M ) training is How a blind person can safely negotiate crossing the street at a busy intersection. I recently found this informative video from the Tyler Lighthouse in Texas describing the best technique to employ as you get out and about.

Bear in mind this video was made in the U.S.A. where vehicles are allowed to turn right on a red  light. Though they should not enter the intersection while you are crossing, they do and I have personally had several near misses when crossing a street using these very same techniques and a car driver chose to ignore the rules of the road.

The main idea is to be patient.

Wait at the side of the intersection for at least ONE full traffic cycle to analyze the times allowed for changing traffic patterns.

When you feel comfortable move to the edge of the sidewalk  and/or press the light button to tell the light that a pedestrian is waiting to cross.

As the traffic to your left moves forward move your cane out into the street to indicate that you are about to move into the crossing.

Count to two and then if all is clear move across the street keeping the line of moving traffic to your left.

Bear in mind that the line of moving traffic may be on your left depending on your direction of travel. I only used the direction to maintain consistency with the video.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Silence means I am Updating!

Walking is great exercise.  Walking in company is even better.

My wife was getting a little bored just watching me on the treadmill for the last three weeks. So last Saturday she suggested we did some real walking before we go to work, beginning last Monday.

I agreed even though it meant we start a 5:15am, in the darkest part of night before the dawn. Night vision for me was never good, but the dark of this part of night  makes for complete blackness for me.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were ok for me. Whenever I leave home I always turn left. I could walk and talk at the same tme.

This morning, my wife suggested we turn right instead.

"Er, Right. O.K." I muttered and then descended into complete silence. After about twenty minutes I heard a rather upset voice.

"So, are you not speaking to me?"

"No, I mean Yes, I am speaking," I said.

"No you're not." Came the reply.

We then continued on for another thirty minutes in near silence.

My wife knows me. But at times I think she doesn't always understand what is happening. Possibly you know sighted people too, who read the wrong signals from you.

This morning for instance, it wasn't anger at my wife that lead to the silent walk. It was merely the need to concentrate. I could not work with my already familiar map. Our  turning right instead of left outside of the house left me in total confusion, the world I move through with ease was in the other direction. The world ahead was unfamiliar and sometimes scary.

All the concentration in the world was needed at that time to move me along our walk.

Silence does not always means displeasure. Silence may just mean I am updating a whole new world map and it may  take me sometime to reply.

Tell your friends to picture the little hour glass on your face. Active but busy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Going Blind: Today is Grey, We'll save black for tomorrow

It is a fact that blindness is an individual disability.

Some are born blind, some are blinded by accidents, war injuries and some like me are blinded by chronic  illness.

I can remember the immediate moments when my blindness started, when I lost my right eye I was in a supermarket, pucking up a can of baked beans. When my left eye was hit by a cblood clot I  was painting a bathroom.

Both were a flash and sudden pain, a head ache in the first case. Pain in the eye itself in the second.

Since  those specific moments though I cannot remember actually going blind. There was no specific moment that I had to admit to going blind. It just seemed to happen.

There were moments I recognised difficulty. The first blurred vision. Then not being able to see the wall let alone the eye chart when I first told my doctor back in England.

He was not a man to panic, but the urgency in his voice telling me to be at the eye hospital in Liverpool NOW! was pretty compelling evidence.

I still adapted and lived normally, could drive walk without a cane see a movie or even a typewriter keyboard.

The second clot even took three years to do it's worest for me. It happened in May 2007 and only in 2010 did I need a white cane. Injections of steroids and later Avastin and Lucentis preserved much of my vision, but caused some side effects. For instance the steroid injections caused a cataract to form in just over twelve months. That needed surgery itself in December 2008.

I do rember going to Fresno one day on the bus. The bus as its last stop out of one town picks up prisoners going home after release from a nearby state prison. About thirty miles later we stop at a small service station so passengers can have a bathroom break and smoke a few cigarettes. I got off the bus to go and buy a Milky Way chocolate bar and a diet Coke.  Walking back to the bus I missed my footing, falling head first into one of the side panels of the bus and shaking myself up.

A group of the ex-prisoners were smoking in front of the bus and burst out laughing.

:Hey!" ine shouted to the driver, "This guys on some strong shit. We could take care of him so you get no trouble."

The driver just said "He's o.k.""

That was a pretty bad day for me. The swelling in my eye had been pretty serious, making me as blind as I am today. But then I was not used to it, and that was the day I decided to ask about getting a cane.

The grey haze of my current blindness drifted in over the past three years. Some days were better than others. But the worse grew worse and the better has grown less and less often. So now all is pretty much a grey fog with black  shadows.

When it first started I am not certain, there waas no single moment as at the other times.

Now on the brink of a lot of important changes. I am not sure if the greyness itself will fade to black. Today grey is still grey. We'll leave black for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Insomniac's Delight: What to do now I Cannot Sleep

It is the very early morning of Sunday August 18. Three o'clock in the morning to be exact.

I have talked about insomnia caused by blindness in the past.

I am now quite comfortable in my pattern of insomnia. It is possible to have a good guess as to when my sleep pattern will flip from almost normal to getting little sleep at night and being tired in the day. For me it seems to occur every six to seven weeks, 42 to 49 days.

Tonight is a flip over night and the cycle will begin again.

Going to bed very early later today and then struggling to sleep past two in the morning.

In a couple of months I should be back to sleeping well at night and being able to concentrate in the day. Good thing really as that puts me in guide dog school at just the right time.

So has tonight been a waste of time?

No. I took the opportunity to write this blog, put an item on eBay and made some investigations to price some old textbooks on Turns out that though most of these textbooks are now updated by a new edition they are still being sold as new books by amazon itself and used booksellers, so I'll give it a go if only to clear my bookshelves of some old books from my college days.

My college days by the way are just six years ago. I went to school again in 2007 at the age of forty-five, at about the same time as I started to lose my sight in my left eye.

It took me just four years to get my Bachelor's  degree with honors (Suma cum laude) in History and political science. So any of you out there who want to take a degree and feel it is something you cannot achieve, believe me you can.

I not only had to overcome the blindness problem. At 45 I was definitely the oldest person in most of my community college classes, even some of the teachers were younger than me. Also I did not know how the U.S. education system worked, very differently from my experience back home in England. But with the help of my wife, I got through all the hoops.

Then of course I used my insomnia times to study, listen to my textbooks, scan my books and prepare my essays.

Insomnia, like blindness does have some positive sides to it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Five Questions Asked of Me by Strangers

In the course of going blind I have been asked many questions. People mostly ask sensible questions of me as a blindman. Here are five of the most often asked questions from the sensible questions:

1. What can you see?   This is probably the most obvious question to ask of a blind person. Describing what I see however is pretty hard. How do I even start to describe my blindness too you. " A bright white light." "Shadows." "Blurred images." If you ask this one be prepared for a very short or very long answer.

2. "Are you looking for something?"  Most often question asked by children as they see me rolling my cane across the ground. One boy did tell me his grandfather had a metal detector which he swept over the ground looking for gold. So naaturally he thought that my cane was some sort of metal detector. If I hear the child I often say, "Yes. I need to look for holes in the ground with the stick." Sadly I have also heard a parent sternly rebuke the child for asking such a question, "That man is blind and doesn't want you asking stupid questions." Oh! On the contrary I welcome such wonderful and insightful questions from adults as well as children.

3. What color {s} do you see?  Most people think blind people see black and only black. I see grey mostly, a bright ligh grey that often can be painful. Otherwise I can see the black of deep shadow or blackness in the night.

4. How do you get dressed?  This one is common. I guess my dress sense was never much good, but the answer is very boring. "I go to the closet and take my clothes off the hangers." I do dress myself. My wife though does checck me for dressing disasters, miss aligned buttons, open fly, wrong socks, socks with sandals etc.

5. How do you eat? This one made me laugh the first time I was asked. I wanted to say "I open my mouth and then chew." What they meant though was how do I know where food is on a plate or table. The answer is I ask my wife or someone else to tell me relative positions of food items so on a plate, meat at nine o'clock, beans at six o'clock, potatoes at noon.

On a dining table I might just ask "Can I have the ..." or feel out for a serving spoon and ask "What is this?" my wife knows I mean the food and not to answer "a spoon."

So these are just some of the questions I have been asked by strangers over the past five years since going blind. I left out the silly questions for another day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Accompanying my Wife to the Doctor

Over the Summer my wife had to have a biopsy on some growths on her thyroid. The biopsy procedure was pretty uncomfortable, but even worse was the waiting to hear the results from the doctor as to whether the growths are benign or cancerous.

As she had made her appointment to see the doctor for the results on a Monday I was able to go along with her. I am not one who usually goes into the doctor with her. But on this occasion I asked if it was alright. Just in case of bad news.

Going into the doctor there was a long flight of staire, about twenty steps, alongside was a ramp, but I am happy going up the stairs, coming down is a bit more difficult so we decided to save the ramp until later.

I took up my usual method of climbing stairs, find the top of the second step and let the cane swing loosely in between my thumb and forefinger to let the cane tap the back of each step. When you reach the top of the stairs you don't feel or hear the tap. Simple.

About half way up the flight of stairs I hear my wife talking to someone. An old woman.

"Is your father ok climbing stairs?" I hear the old woman ask.

"My Husband is fine." My wife answer's.

"Husband? I thought he was your father." The other woman answered.

"I married young." My wife replied.

By this time I could hear her stifling a giggle. She was loving it. She doesn't look her age anyway. She hasn't aged a bit since we married. Bear in mind the source here. LOL.

Anyway of course "Dad" has become her favorite word. "This way, Dad!", "One more step. DAD!" Haha very funny.

Of course the benefit of having a nice looking wife who looks half my age makes me look like some old Hollywood Tycoon. Yeah. Right.

The really great news though was the growths are benign. Nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Can Blindness Be a Positive Thing?

Going blind? Can there be something positive in going blind?

When I could see, you would have been hard pressed to name any positive things about going blind.

What sort or idiot might see blindness as a positive disability?

I now see the other side of the matter though. Please pardon the expression "see" in this context. I know some sighted people see the word see as a no, no when used in the presence of blind people. But I will use it freely and blow the politically correct.

In personal twerms going blind has taken a lot of pleasures away from me. I don't really see the sunset anymore, its just goes from very bright to black in a few minutes. I used to love to look at the stars at night. It is now about five years since I saw even the brightest star. I see the moon sometimes, when near full but not less than that. I don't see much of my wife these days, just a shadow, that bit is hard, but  she sounds the same when she speaks so it's easy to remember her.

So much for the bad. Let's get to the good.

I find peiople are generally helpful to the blind. Walking down the street with my cane I often find people more than eager to help. It's nice to have help offered even though most of the time it is unnecessary.

I get tio use lots of cool technical equipment. Computer voice synthesis is wonderful these days so screen readers such as Jaws and Non Visual Windows Applicartion (NVDA) make my working life easier as does Dragon Naturally Speaking Software which allows me to dictate directly into a wide variety of computer applications.

Smart phones these days will talk to me and allow me to talk to them. Talking to mty phone is sometimes frustrating living in the United States with a Northern English accent, my phone seems to understand my wife perfectly (American Accent) but me? It can take several attempts to get it to do what I want. Still some of the mistakes are funnier than the frustration.

Often a trip to Starbucks will lead to a complete stranger asking me a question about blindness. I love that to happen. It seems many people are very curious about my experience andthough I do get some strange questions, the chance to educate people is most exciting to me.

A major portion of how we deal with blindness is an internal matter.

If you are inclined to brood and draw away from society then blindness is only going to make things worse.  For me the more blind that I have become the more open to people I have become. I do not concentrate on my own or others image, I can't really tell another persons color or demeanour expect from the tone of a voice, accents tell me a lot but I tend to like what I hear for the main part so I am much more approachable, I think. That is an important part of enjoying life  for everyone, look for the positive, don't trust like a fool but be open.

If you were to ask me qwhat is the best thing about going blind it is people. Not neccessarily doctors or professionals, ordinary people too.

People who want to help, people who ask questions, people who actually speak to me as an individual.

I just love people I guess.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Seventy Days Till Dog Day

So here we are just ten weeks, seventy Days until Dog Day. The day when I will meet my guide dog for the very first time.

So how am I coping with the very real expectation of getting a guide dog?

Well to be honest, if my wife had told me she was expecting a baby I could not be more excited.

Yesterday for instance, my wife and I went for a drive to the coast. Going through Paso Robles I knew we would pass a PetCo store. So as calmly as I could I suggested we go in to just look around, price food and stuff.

She humored me. I bet she saw straight through the cute smile that I tried to pull and the pleading eyes. Just need to price stuff. Oh! Yes really?

So nearly two hours later we had looked at beds for the dog, food, toys, grooming kits, toothpaste (for the dog). " I don't want to be kissed by a dog  who's breath smells of liver!" she  squeeled. We wandered, "Look at this", "Isn't this cute?" "Can I get him or her ...?"

In the end I broke. My hands full of  dog toys and books.

Books! "You can't even read them!" "No. But they have all sorts of stuff 'YOU' can read about and tell me." I say as cutely as I can.Slowly putting all but one tug toy and book back on the shelf. {sigh}

Today I also called the city council offices to check bus fares for the bus into Fresno. I use the bus to get to many of my doctor appointments and wondered if there is a charge for taking my guide dog with me. The good news is that there is NO charge for a guide dog. I still pay a full fare on a inter-city transit bus but travel free on the local dial -a-ride bus.

There it is we are now in the last week of double digits in my countdown, not that I am really counting. Oooops! a pig just crashed from the sky. LOL

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Guide Dog Training Team Narrowly Escape Death

So training guide dogs sounds a nice safe job doesn't it?

Lovely fuzzy puppies and lovable fuzzy faces of all those young Labrador retrievers. Yes the dogs are safe but take a look at this news report from the local station in San Rafael California.

A motorist loses concentration for a moment and narrowly misses a guide dog under training and the two instructors training the dog.

Quick thinking and speedy reactions were all that save the day.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Blonde Leading the Blind - Book Review

Recently I have been trawling the book shelves for books on Guide Dogs.

 As some of you may have read, I am currently waiting to go for training with a guide dog at San Rafael, California in October. So it was with some interest that I picked up this book  "Confessions of a Guide Dog: The Blonde Leading the Blind" by Mark Carlson

Mark Carlson and his Guide Dog "Musket" are residents of San Diego, CA. They are also alumni of San Rafael. Mark received Musket in 2004 and they have enjoyed a remarkable life together and have gathered many friends and fans, including astronauts, war heroes and everyday folks.
Mark writes the book from his own perspective and also uses the voice of Musket to counterpoint their relationship.
Together Mark and Musket describe their lives together and daily work life, the troubles they encounter and also the benefits that a guide dog brings to the life of a blind person.
Parts of the book brought tears to my eyes, the poignant death of Mark's father in law, "Pop-pop" to Musket. But many of the daily encounters will be familiar to the blind who encounter the general public in day to day life. Most of the book is full of information, I learned a lot about the care and instruction of a guide dog from this book. Mark reinforces what I have already read in my study papers from Guide Dogs for the Blind with solid practical real life examples.
The book is also very funny in parts, the previously mentioned tears of sadness were often followed immediately with tears of laughter especially the story of the United Airlines pilot coming to the rescue when Musket required relieving at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on a long trans continental flight.
Confessions of a Guide Dog is available at my Amazon Store or from your local bookstore and libraries everywhere. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

How are the Exercises Going?

A few weeks back I told you of a new exercise regime to build up my stamina for going to guide dog training in October.

I was doing pretty well with my walking up until the third week in July. My too close of an encounter with a storm drain took me out of walking much for ten days. Because of a lower back sprain I am now scheduled for some physical therapy starting next week.

But I also sort of jumped the gun a little with training. I hopped onto my treadmill ten days ago. I could barely make two miles per hour for ten minutes at the beginning of August. Thatt was tough going for a couple of days.I did three sessions of ten minutes over the space of the day. Before breakfast, after getting home from work and last thing before going to bed at night.

I increased the times after a few days, measured on a $5 kitchen timer from Target stores. I increased the time about two minutes after three days then a further three minutes last Tuesday to fifteen minutes per session. Now I do fifteen minutes before breakfast and two twenty minute sessions later in the day.

I have also increased my speeds a good portion. Now my warm up speeds are 2.4 miles per hour and five or ten minutes at 3.0 miles per hour with a 2.5 amd 2 miles per hour cool down.

My goal is to increase endurance times on the second and third exercise periods to forty-five minutes each with at least twenty minutes at 3.5 miles per hour by mid October when I go to San Rafael.

With a bad back pulling a little still but recovering quickly I think that is manageable in ten weeks.

Will have to see what the physical-therapists say on Monday.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Scent of Home

It is amazing what the sense of smell can do.

When I could see I didn't pay much attention to my sense of smell. Oh the odd stink of petrol from the oil refinery or odour of chlorine from the swimming baths in town. But not much else caught the attention on a day to day basis.

The other day though I was at the coast, a place called Elkhorn Slew. A broad salt marsh on the Pacific Coast of California. But the scents that filled the air transported me thousands of miles back to England. Back to walks along the banks of the River Mersey. Back to Runcorn and the neighboring towns of Widnes and Warrington.

I used to walk along the bank of the Mersey on my way to college in the early 1980's across the West Bank area of Widnes.

The air was often filled with the smell of the brackish salty sands when the river had thinned to a  stream. The Mersey is very tidal there. In Liverpool one might notice the up and down of the river but between Rubncorn and Widnes there are wide sands, treacherous because the river can flood in seconds as the Mersey Boar floods over the sands faster than a man can run/

But on Sunday, standing beside Elkhorn Slew, I could have been looking over the Mersey. A gentle lapping of small waves over the mud which popped and slurped as worms fed.

But the air was full of the scents which brought back memories of years ago, standing by a river so far away. Memoies of home.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Treatment Ends

You know the way people sometimes disguise bad news as good news?

Well that is the sort of thing that happened to me at the retinologists office yesterday. As I have mentioned for several months now, my left eye, which was my better eye and the one which the retinologist has been trying to save for thre past six years was deteriorating badly. A while ago it failed to respond to the more irregular treatments with  Avastin or Lucentis so we moved to a more regular treatment period of four weeks between injections.

Last month my retinologist gave me one last injection. No visible improvement over the month and we woluld cease treatment.  That was an acceptable decision for me. Frequent injections run a risk of an eye infection, plus there is the discomfort of the injection itself.

The injection doesn't cause pain, so if you are looking at a first injection into the eye, don't worry. The doctor will apply numbing drops to the eye a few minutes before the injection. The discomfort is more pronounced later, A dull ache and maybe a feeling that there is a piece of sand in the eye. This used to wear off for me after a good nap or a long nights sleep.

Well of course the good news is that I don't have to have any more injections. That is good.

There is also a little tinge of sadness in the news. I had known that the eye was blind, in my heart though I hoped for the miracle that, one more, just one more injection would kick start the eye into working again.

Now it is confirmed that the eye is not going to get any better.

The problem is not in the eye itself. My retinologist had been talking of the optic nerve looking pale on her monthly inspections. Palour in the optic nerve it seems pointed in my case to the nerve being starved of a blood supply. Sometime possibly as part of an earlier stroke, the blood supply had been interrupted and the optic nerve had died.

Now as well it means that I also don't need to go to the eye doctor each month. Less time travelling on the bus each month. That is also a good thing.

All other things taken into consideration, I don't suppose that losing the eye is such a bad thing. Many people yesterday received much worse news than they were going  to be blind. Thinking of those who have lost loved ones, someone who has lost a child, a husband or wife or parent. They have more pain to bear than I.

I do get to keep up my relationship with my retinologist, she agreed to monitor my right eye, that will be done with quarterly visits to her office, the residual vision I have in that eye is even more precious these days so I want to keep that eye working at least at its present level.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

89 Days to Dog Day

It is now 89 Days to Dog Day. The day I get to meet my first Guide Dog. I was doing pretty well with the walking until last Friday afternoon.

On Friday I decided to try a variation on my route home. this variation took me by a storm drain. For those unfamiliar with the storm drain, they are drains placed in the side of the road and there is a steep ledge around them to drive the rainwater off the road and into the ground.

I knew this drain was there but on my home visit I was told to use the route sometimes as it would be safer than my previous walking route.

Anyway I was walking quite briskly along the side of the street as there was no sidewalk I was in the road.

My cane must have landed just short of the lip into the storm drain because as my right foot came down, I felt my ankle twist over and I almost went down to my knees. In the process, I sort of counter balanced to the left and twisted.

I settled myself, after the stumble and made my way home, with a aching ankle.

Saturday morning however, I could not move. My back muscles had seized up completely and any movement was absolute agony.

I spent the week-end shuffling about the house. Then Monday went to see my doctor. After x-rays to look for possible fractures, at 51 I am old in my doctors terms and bones break more easily. Cheeky puppy!

Diagnosis, muscular spasms caused by the twisting trauma. The body over reacting to the counter balancing.  as he said much more painful than the actual injury. So now I am home for a week, no walking and on muscle relaxants to relieve the muscle spasms.

Not the way I wanted to spend this week at all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Avastin or Lucentis?

I recently read an article in Pharma Times which talked about the possible saving to the National Health Service in Britain if Avastin, a cancer drug, were licensed to also treat Wet Macular Degeneration. Saving of using Avastin over Lucentis could amount to 84 Million Pounds. (GBP).

For the past four years I was treated with both drugs, regular monthly injections of either drug were administered by my retinologist.

At times when I had swelling to the retina both drugs usually decreased the swelling within forty-eight hours. I did not generally experience any difference in after treatment results, there was little eye discomfort for about twenty-four hours after the injection. This was a little like the sensation that you ge if you get soap in your eyes.

I generally could see clearly for about five or six weeks though in the past year my retinologist made treatment a four weekly regime in order to prevent the need for emergency treatment.

Because of damage to the optic nerve in my left eye, my retinologist, is now ceasing treatment with these two drugs.

If it comes down to cost I think one can safely use Avastin in place of Lucentis. At a tenth of the cost, according to Pharma Times,  , The less expensive drug works as well as the more expensive one.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ding, Dong, Dell ...

Being in the home of a blind man can be dangerous for a little cat.

My two regular visiting cats, Gavroche ( Orange ) and Eponine ( Jet Black ) are quite visible to me, but over the last few weeks they have been bringing a little kitten with them to the house. She is white and grey, a pretty little thing whom I call Courgette, in part to remind me of the Musical film version of Les Miserable where Sacha Baron Cohen can never remember Collette's name, calling her Courgette on more than one occasion.

The joke often misses with Americans, unless they know that a Courgette is a Zucchini by its French name. The name we use in England.

Anyway, the three cats visit for breakfast daily and this morning was no exception. I made myself some hot tea and put the milk bottle back into the fridge.

I closed the fridge and let the two older cats finish their breakfast. They made their way out onto the porch and I closed the door after them. Supposing the kitten had already left. A few moments later, the air was filled with the sound of a terrified wail. I went to the porch, the two cats had left, and I could still hear the wail from inside the house. I came back in. Looked up and down the hallway. Nothing but the wailing continued. Making my way across the kitchen the wailing grew louder as I passed the fridge.

No. I hadn't. I couldn't have. Another wail.

I opened the fridge door to see courgette sat on the shelf next to the milk.

She must have jumped into the fridge as I closed the door.

She jumped down and calmly walked to the door,

In these days of 100+ degree temperatures, she was now the coolest cat on the block.

Anew thing that I need to watch for. Kittens in the fridge.

Oh Well! Could be wors. Ding, Dong Dell, Pussey's in the well.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Plans for the Rest of the Year

We are now rapidly moving into the middle of Summer, here in the Northern Hamisphere anyway.

The years now just fly by, I am looking at a fifty-second birthday this coming September. Almost twelve years since I began to go blind.

This Summer I have helped with several adult reading programs at my local library. It is a community project for the sighted mostly, I doubt if most people who are taking part in the Summer Reading program even know that some of the side programs, a talk on coffee tasting by the manager of our local Starbucks, book club or Summer movies were partly arranged by a blind man.

By the way, if you can get a group of friends together, see if you can get a lesson on coffee tasting at your local Starbucks from one of their managers or baristas. I was surprised by how many things affect the taste of coffee in your cup. Also learned a portion of what all that jargon of ordering coffee really means.

The Summer reading program ends on August 1, with a prize draw for a Kindle Fire and a movie. As the theme was food and drink for the Summer Reading Programs our movie will be Tortilla Soup. A good movie I believe.

At the end of August I will teach an Immigration and Citizenship class again. That runs for six weeks. Also I continue leading the Library Book Club and we will see a classic movie too. The Seven Year Itch with Marilyn Monroe. The movie which contains the scene where her skirt blows up in a subway draft.

September has more classes and movie and book club features.

October sees me away for two weeks training at San Rafael with my new Guide Dog. Really looking forward to that.

November sees me looking to train my new dog to learn the routes to work, then meeting everyone at home, my wife, her parents and her Uncle's family. My wife's uncle will also be my dogs new veterinarian.

December is exciting, the library does a small show for the children of the town, an entertainer followed by a visit from Santa Claus. Guess who is hoping to return as Santa again this year.

I was Santa in 2011, and was scheduled to be Santa last year but because of my stroke the doctor wouldn't release me as fit enough. Hopefully this year, I get to play my part again.

The year is flying. But it is full of lots of exciting prospects. I am looking forward to all of it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Preserve Us From Prius'

Walking is good for you. Even walking across town in mid ninety degree heat is ok after one hundred and ten degrees. I am building stamina for guide dog training in October. Walking the mile and half from work to home now takes me just twentry-eight minutes with a cane.

When I learned to use my cane, my instructor told me not to worry about hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. "They still make road noise, with the tyres." he said happily.

OK. So walking home yesterday I crossed a street outside our local college. Crossing with traffic noise of passing trucks and heavy semi's passing.

My cane clicked and rolled over the roadway, then the cane suddenly became heavy. Three feet in front of me rolling onto the crossing in front of me was a Prius.

The driver was turning right on red as is legal at the junction. Obviously in a hurry they ignored the prospect of a collision with a blind man crossing. Silent and shark like the Prius rolled over my cane tip, I had caught the front of the tyre as I felt my way over the crossing. The driver left me standing mid crossing as the traffic control counted down to "Don't Cross."

So in our prayers maybe we should ask to be preserved from silent, electric hybrids. God bless lovely noisy diesels.  LOL

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Favorite Meal

For our Independence Day outing my wife and I took a trip to the coast. OK in part to escape the 104 degree heat of this California summer.

On the way we stopped at a nice diner to eat lunch. It was a pleasant stop and I was feeling a bit rebellious, given the day and chose a meatloaf sandwich for my lunch.

In itself a meatloaf sandwich is not rebellious, Is it? May be the question you are asking yourself. Well in itself not really but I had plans.

Upon the arrival of my sandwich and fries. An important part of my plan. I scraped the meatlof from the bread and ate the meatloaf separately. Then much to the horror of my wife I placed a handful of the fries on the bread and topped that off with the second slice of bread.

Yippee I made a "chip butty".

The chip butty also known as the chip sandwich in less polite circles is possibly one of  the greatest creations of the British culinary school. Fresh hot chips. aka fries, dripping with melting butter between two slices of bread. Can't imagine why Americans and my wife in particular are so disgusted by the very idea. But given our day of celebrating independent living was upon us, what the ... why not enjoy a great meal. A chip butty and dream of home.

Try a chip butty sometime. it's so good. But use thick cut fries not the stick like things from McDonalds, they don't work as well.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence on Independence Day

Hello Everyone, to all my readers in the U.S.A. Happy Independence Day, for everyone else hope you are having a great July 4.

Being blind we know what it is like to in many ways become dependent. Need to go somewhere out of town, often we need to ask someone to drive us, need to buy a specific item in a store then you need to ask an assistant to help, tried that lately? Go to an unfamiliar restaurant for a meal, then you need someone to tell you what is on the menu, unless you read Braille and they are thoughtful enough to provide a Braille menu.

I dream of the days when I could drive. I loved driving, I even worked as a driver for several years. Going where I liked, choosing a route to suit me, I loved the independence.

I can do many things for my self, walk, wash, even work. So I am not totally dependent. Not all the time.

I cannot always travel where I want. Living in a small town, we only have one bus to the nearest city per day and that doesn't run today even the bus driver needs a break for the day.

With the recent news that I will be getting a Guide Dog in the Fall, the commonest term used to describe that event is the giving of independence. I can see that it will be a major change.

I will gain the independence to go some new places. The dog gives up some independence in order to help me and be fed and housed.

Independence is a nice thing, if you can enjoy it. I did enjoy it once, now I can't be as independent as I would like, but there again can anyone?

Work, family, just life itself makes for dependence.

Enjoy life whatever it brings.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Week-End Break

As botha week-end break and as an escape from the heat in the valley (110+ Fahrenheit), my wife and I took a trip to Santa Cruz, CA.

The breezes over there still had a cooling effect at just about 80 degrees Fahrenheit but nighttime temperatures below 60 degrees made for a good nights sleep.

The beaches were full of people who had taken upon the same idea of a trip to the coast to escape the extreme heat inland. Normally a pleasant stroll along a relatively quiet beach was more like a walk through a heaving mass of humanity, so for most of the week-end we stayed off the beach itself.

On our one trip to the beach, my cane became an absolute wonder to dozens of small children.

Small children are not bashful as to expressing wonder at that man, poking the ground with a stick. "Is he looking for something?" "Can I do that?

One little girl about two years old was so fascinated that she walked over to my cane and with both hands grabbed at the tip. She picked it up and then banged it on the floor to see what it was.  I just let go of the handle and watched in amazement. For all off two minutes The little girl examined my cane before my wife distracted her back to the little girls own toy ball.

It appears a ball attached to a cane is far more fascinating than a boring old beach ball.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Cold Brings a Random Thought

One of the things I wish is that being blind was a bad enough disorder to mean you never get other forms of sickness like a cold or flu.

Darn it though, I cough up my lungs for the thirteenth time this morning, colds still hit me. Not as often as they did back in England were they were almost as regular a monthly event as the phases of the moon.

For three weeks now I have had a cold which has now settled on my chest. Conversation is nigh on impossible and going to the cinema is met by a hail of hisses from the surrounding audience as I sit and cough and cough until it feels like my lungs have been scrubbed out with steel wool.

On top of the misery of my cold is the promise of looming heat. 107 Degrees Fahrenheit or more for the next week, and worse than those daytime temperatures are the nighttime lows of 75 Degrees plus. A cold and sleepless nights. Yuck!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Accepted for Guide Dog Training

Tuesday June 25, was quite a red letter day for me. Mid morning my cell phone rang and I answered. It was a call from Guide Dogs for the Blind.

It turned out to be the call that I have been waiting for since I started the journey of applying for a Guide Dog last December.

"Mr Elliott, we are pleased to accept you into the Guide Dogs for the Blind Family."

I am still a little stunned by the swiftness of the change in status. A few hours ago I was wondering if my application was prceeding, now I have been accepted, have a start date for training at the end of October and a file on my computer with all the documentation that I require to begin studying for class.

I have looked over the study documents, there is a lot of information in there. Quite a bit of the information follows what I learned on the home visit, back on Memorial Day,  some of it is new.

Much of the work appears common sense, behavior policies, helping your dog transition to a working relationship and care of your dog. All of thr information is clear and I am excited to be embarking on this new course.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Last Avastin Injection

At my last retinologist visit, Monday June 24, there was a pretty serious matter to discuss.

Over the past year the Avastin and Lucentis shots in my eye have been getting less and less effective. The injections used to work for several weeks, now there is no improved vision at anytime, in fact the eye is actually now categorized as clinically blind rather than the lesser designation of legally blind.

As a reminder clinically blind refers to a state of total inability to see or detect light.

My retinologist pointed out that now she is questioning the value of giving injections to help my vision.  I knew that this was coming, it has been on my mind for many months now. It just came as a shock that my retinologist was thinking the same way.

I|n the past she has been much more hopeful of treatments, so I take this as a sign she is seeing the condition of my left eye never improving. My right eye I only have partial periferral vision so am still legally blind in that eye. Massive doses of laser treatment in the right eye in 2001-2 has destroyed the macular but it has in part saved the sight on that side. I am able to use some of the periferral vision to look around me but can see little detail.

As the plan now stands my retinologist is stopping monthly injections of Avastin or Lucentis. The condition of my vision will still require monitoring though and  so we could begin with another treatment should one become available.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Almost Midway Through the Year

2013 is really flying. Here we are a blink of the  eye ago and it was Christmas.

After today, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, days will grow shorter and nights longer in the slow down towards winter.

Now I live in California, I miss the very short nights of this time of year that I knew in England. In those latitudes I could look to the North and see a thin bright line of light on the horizon at this time of year. I was looking into the far distant land of the Midnight Sun. I miss that, though I don't miss as much the darkness at 9am in the morning or four in the afternoon of mid winter though.

Summer is here and is but a short respite before Fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Don't blink. We may miss the rest of the year too.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Keep in Touch. It can be VERY Important

Over the last six months I have been applying for a Guide Dog. The progress of the last few months that we had made came to a thundering halt at the end of last week.

I had gone through the preliminary interviews and home visit, see my earlier blogs.

All looked set to go ahead until last Thursday, an important document from my mobility instructor had either gone missing or got misplaced. All this really meant was, to me, my application was stalled .

Luckily however my wife was able to get in touch with my mobility instructor while I was out at work and a copy of the required document is even as I wirte, possibly flying through the airwaves to the Guide Dogs office. This completes the application and hopefully all documents are now in place in order to move the application onwards.

All this goes to show the importance of keeping records of people whom you meet and work with you as a blind person.

Being able to contact my mobility instructor directly is much better than having to go through the ranks of the bureaucracy that makes up State Rehabilitation here in California. Ranks of people who only add to time and to the risk that your message will get lost in the meat grinder of information that is government.

Keep all contact addresses of anyone that you may meet along the way. Keep in touch and keep open the lines of communication. Occassions like this missing paper are common and it is much easier to deal with directly than via a myriad of strangers putting in their two cents worth.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Are the Blind More Relaxed About Their Disability?

Almost daily we can read in newspapers or hear on the news about various efforts to cure blindness. As a community the blind seem to have little to say on the matter.  I wonder then are the blind generally more at ease with scientific attempts to cure blindness?

Several years ago, when I lived in England the deaf community took up in force to fight plans to allow children to undergo cochlea implants to help them hear. Many in the deaf community used very emotive language to express their distaste at what they said was a hearing world plan to destroy their lives and calling the plans a "genocide against deafness."

I for one never understood their desire to save their deafness. Both for themselves and children. Hearing parents of deaf children were pilloried for seeking the cochlea implants for their children. It all got a little hysterical in the end.

Now with news of stem cell success and silicon chip implants into blind peoples eyes, we hear little protest from the blind community. Does this mean we silently seek to see the end to our disability and our way of life or does it just mean we are more sensible than hysterical deaf people?

For me. I hope one day that I might obtain a treatment that will let me see again. It will be a long way off if it happens but it may happen someday.

I do hate the disability of blindness. I wish I knew who people were by sight, rather than hoping that they speak so I can recognize a voice.

I hate that I can't read a book without the aid of a machine.

I hate that I cannot drive across town, let alone across the country. Though will new car technology let me get back behind the wheel of a car? Blind. I doubt that.

It is nice that I get a blue card to park anywhere there is disabled parking, but still I'd rather have those few extra yards walk if I had my sight.

Ok I get priority  boarding at the airport, but again priority boarding is not much compensation for sight.

If some in the blind community did say I was a traitor to my disabled bretheren, I'd have to agree if it meant I could have sight. Give me sight over blindness any day.

In the meantime I am blind. I will be blind for some time maybe twenty years until my seventieth birthday.  Blindness is teaching me many lessons. The first aappreciate what you have while you have it.
From that I glean yes the blind are just more relaxed about blindness.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blind Ref

I suppose we all know a variation of "Referee! Are you blind?" It seems to be the universal cry when the wrong team score a goal or your favorite player is sent sprawling to the ground in a clash of boots.

Well Will Smith takes the cry to the extreme in this comic screen trailer skit. "Blind Ref"

I laughed at it. Is an actor playing a blind ref funny? Is it funny to see a man unable to see high five a clothes locker? For me and my warped sense of humor, yes it is. I have talked to empty air after a person has walked away. I have thought objects were people and I have gone to shake hands with a clothes rack. So been there done that and laughed at Will Smith doing the same.

Hope you like this spoof trailer too.

Click the clip to view from