Archive for August, 2010

An Address from the Queen

Hello readers. This is Snickers, the adorable feisty cat that Allison hardly ever mentions in this journal. I know this is probably because a large segment of you humans think dogs lead more interesting lives than cats, so she wants to cater to the largest audience possible. But since she and Gilbert have had more of an eventful week than they had hoped to have because they have been asked to work longer hours to help train new employees leaving them too tired to find the inspiration to write, and since Allison felt bad about how much more Gilbert was mentioned in this journal compared to me, especially when she realized that last Friday marked the tenth anniversary of the day I was brought home from the humane society when Gilbert has only lived here two years, she decided it was time I had a chance to write an entry expressing my true feelings. For all you dog lovers and cat haters, if you choose not to read the rest of this entry, fine! But be warned that us cats know who you are, so if you don’t read this entry and acknowledge that we still have feelings even if we are not as cool as dogs, I will be sure to communicate this telepathically with a stray cat, or the cat of the next friend or relative you visit so he can crawl in to your lap and trigger your allergies, or jump on the table and add some spit or hair to your coffee.

     Anyway, since I am getting old and this chance to express my true feelings may not come around again, I am sure not going to waste this opportunity. On that note, I should start by clarifying that I don’t consider Allison my mom like Gilbert does because though she is happy to feed Gilbert every day, she always grumbles about having to feed me because she claims my food is disgusting and gets all over her hands no matter how carefully she tries to open the package. To this I would love to tell her “Fine then! Just let me outside and I will kill a mouse or a bird and make sure to come back and devour it, leaving its guts right where you would step in it, since I already get the same enjoyment from puking up fur balls right in the walking path, or as a nice surprise on your bedspread!” Ah, I just love living with a blind human! Anyway, my point is that the humans who feed me most often are more deserving of my affection.

     Also, although she says she loves me, Gilbert is clearly the favored child since he gets to go places and I am stuck in this boring house all the time. Of course, when I do leave the house once a year to go to the vet, I cry pitifully because I am scared. But have you humans ever considered that if us cats could go out more often, maybe we would get used to it and not be scared, or the fact that we cannot see anything out of those cramped cardboard boxes you make us travel in for our “safety”? Personally, I think this supposed concern for our safety is just a conspiracy started by you humans to imprison us and make our lives miserable because if these boxes were really about safety, you would show this same concern for your dogs and make them travel in boxes too. But Gilbert just struts out of the house every day all happy with no restraint but a thin leash which Allison holds with a loose relaxed grip, and sometimes, he is allowed to play in the yard without even wearing a leash! I have staged several rebellions protesting this inequality where I hide and wait for a human to open a door and then make a run for it. One time, I even climbed twenty feet up in to a pine tree and laughed as Allison’s sister and mom had to set up a ladder and climb up to get me down. But a successful rebellion is disappointingly rare nowadays since those humans have gotten smart over the years and make sure I am not around before opening doors, and if they have to open a door for long periods of time to move furniture or something like that, they even lock me in a bedroom or the basement with my litter box. But make no mistake. Even though I don’t consider Allison my mommy, I still love her, and last week when she picked me up and recalled the Cinderella story about my rescue from the humane society in the sweet baby voice she always uses with me unless I have just bitten her, I purred with delight.

     Before Allison was born, her older sister had a cat named Star whom the whole family loved. But when this cat passed away unexpectedly, Mom and Dad couldn’t bear to adopt another cat. Actually, when Allison was about six years old, they did adopt another cat named Smokey from a neighbor who had a lot of cats, but I heard this cat had to be returned after only three days because while she seemed sweet when the neighbor brought her over, it turned out she was a feral cat with such evil intentions that the whole family was afraid of her and Mom could not go to sleep in peace at night until the cat was found and locked up. Of course, I have done my fair share of evil deeds too, but I do them in a sweet feisty way so the family knows I am just playing with them. But apparently, Smokey’s evil intentions were serious, and the combination of the family’s bad experience with Smokey, which made Allison especially nervous about having a cat since Smokey was her first impression of cats and the fact that four kids and a huge german shepherd in the house with both parents working full-time made life chaotic enough, meant they didn’t know if it would be a good idea to add a cat to the mix. But while the whole family loved Indy, she was so big that Dad was really the only person who could handle her, so she was essentially Dad’s dog. But Allison’s sister desperately wanted a cat, and convinced Mom and Dad by pointing out that the whole family could enjoy a sweet little kitty like me who would find a lap to curl up in every evening when the family sat down to watch television, and I would be much less high maintenance compared to the dog. I am kind of insulted that they talked about me like I was a car before they adopted me, but I guess this kind of talk worked because I was adopted, so I won’t complain.

     Speaking of cars, while convincing Mom and Dad that the family would be more complete with a lap pet helped a little bit, I think ultimately, I ended up being adopted because the summer I was adopted was the first summer Allison’s sister had her drivers license, which allowed her to take her impressionable ten year old sister to the humane society regularly, where she quickly fell in love with all of the cats and realized our species isn’t as evil as Smokey led her to believe we were. Every older sibling learns that once you get the baby of the family on your side, it’s all over.

     The staff at the humane society wouldn’t let my sister fill out the adoption applications, but on Saturday August 19, 200, Mom finally agreed to go to the humane society with Allison and her sister, where they met a whole bunch of us cats in a viewing room, and made comments on our physical appearance and personality. They wanted a cat who was sweet tempered and would cuddle up in their lap, but also a cat with some spunk who would be playful too. At first, Mom wasn’t sure if she wanted a black kitten like me since she grew up with black cats and wanted a different color. For this reason, they debated adopting another kitten named Pebbles, but decided she was too timid. But I am proud to say I am not a scarity cat, and the family decided personality was more important than color. And thus, the decision was made to adopt me.

     I don’t remember how long I stayed at the humane society, or why I was brought there in the first place, but I must have been there a few weeks because the humane society estimated that I was about thirteen weeks old. A couple days after they brought me home, I was taken to the vet who thought I looked more like an eight week old kitten, so the family doesn’t know exactly how old I am and all the days and years blend together for me, so I don’t remember when I was born either. But I say, who cares? However old I was, I was an adorable kitten so tiny I practically fit in the palm of Allison’s hand, and the whole family came to love me.

     Anyway, I did not realize that Saturday night over ten years ago would be the last sleepless night in a tiny cage with rows of other bored, lonely kittens stacked above and below me, and I figured the next day would be yet another day sitting in our cages seeing who could let out the most sweet, pitiful meows that would attract humans to our cages and inspire them to adopt us, or at least take us to a viewing room for some individual attention and a change of scenery from our cages. I am sure I must have felt a little sad when kittens were taken out of cages never to return again. But I also envied them and wondered “What would it be like to have a forever family who gave their love and attention to me alone since they didn’t have hundreds of other cats to care for?” Humans talked to us with such love and joy in their voices that I longed desperately to be adopted, and knew whoever adopted me would give me a wonderful life in a loving home. A couple older cats tried to warn me not to get too excited because they were just as excited to be adopted as I was when they were kittens, only to discover shortly after adoption that the humans they were placed with didn’t want them after all, and abandoned them, or threw them on the street to fend for themselves. Some cats even advised us kittens to act disinterested in humans when they walk past because while life in the shelter might be boring, at least there, we were fed and cared for every day, protected from cars, harsh weather and attacks from wild animals, and though the shelter had too many cats to give a lot of individual attention, we always got a few loving words as the volunteers cared for us, which was more than we would get on the street. A wonderful human home would be awesome they said, but not worth the risk of being abandoned again. But I had also heard that many of these older cats came from pet stores who sell cats to anyone without the application process and background checks that this shelter required. So while there was still the possibility that the shelter could mistakenly place me with a family that could abandon me, I was young and full of optimism, and somehow knew this would not happen to me. And sure enough, in the ten years I have lived with this family, I have never been abandoned, and I can tell from all the love they give me every day that I never will be.

     The first couple days after I was brought home, the family introduced me to the house slowly, limiting my exploration to a couple rooms at a time fearing that the sudden shift from a cage to a whole house would overwhelm me. But it wasn’t long at all before I had free reign, and declared myself queen of the house, a role which I still take very seriously. Of course, to be an affective queen, one must be the leading expert on the territory they occupy, which is why while I do pamper myself by lounging near an open window in summer to sunbathe, or sleeping the days away on a pillow, in a laundry basket full of fluffy towels, or even the cable box on top of the television which isn’t soft, but wonderfully warm in the winter, I also make sure to stay alert to any changes like the delivery of a new piece of furniture, and I am the first to greet people when the doorbell rings. I even stunned the humans two years ago by revealing that I had discovered a secret escape passage.

     I chose to make this revelation on what I sensed was a very eventful, and thus kind of stressful weekend for the humans who thought they could handle hosting a bridal shower and high school graduation party in the same weekend. But helping Allison’s older brother who moved far away the week before (a joyous day for me by the way since he took his dog Mojo, a dissident who did not honor my queen status with him), and an unplanned day in the emergency room left the humans scrambling to buy food and prepare the house for company. With all this stress, the last thing they needed was me jumping on the table and getting hair all over the food and fancy tablecloths. The humans tried everything, even spraying me with water as a kitten to try and train me not to jump on the table. But if I am to uphold my status as queen, I cannot let those humans boss me around, and I make this defiance known every day when a human will find me sprawled out on the table or sitting on it with my head held high, a perfect throne for the queen. And if anyone dares to pick me up thinking their larger size and the superior status they have given themselves means they can unseat me from my throne, I’ll bite them.

     Anyway, knowing that I am especially defiant when the family is hosting a party since parties are the perfect opportunity for me to proclaim myself queen to the extended family as well, the family decided to lock me in the basement right from the start before tables were even decorated. Unfortunately, a major limit to my power is my lack of thumbs to turn doorknobs and escape, although I still make my displeasure at being locked up known to those humans by meowing and pawing at the door, and then running off in a huff, biting anyone who tries to comfort me once I am released. But this particular weekend, instead of giving me the whole basement, which contained a basketball hoop and ping-pong table Mom and Dad thought the cousins would enjoy playing with, they locked me in the side storage room where my litter box is kept, and left the door to the rest of the basement wide open. But as I sat in this room bored and lonely, listening to the commotion of party preparation above me, it occurred to me that there were rafters that I could easily jump up to, and with a little more exploration, I realized if I walked on these rafters, they would go right above the door of the storage room, in to the open basement where I could simply jump down and prance up the stairs!

     After my first escape, it was so chaotic that Mom just put me back in the room thinking maybe she had just forgotten to lock me up in the first place with all the commotion. But just a few minutes later when I appeared again, I heard Mom say “who keeps letting the cat out?” with exasperation in her voice. When all the other humans denied letting me out, Dad launched an investigation, and saw how I was escaping. The jig was over and the door was closed on the whole basement which I haven’t figured out how to escape, at least not yet. But I enjoyed it and felt so clever and proud of myself when Dad regaled a stunned family with the cat escape route they had no idea existed despite living in the house ten years before I came along. But really, they shouldn’t be stunned because since I don’t go to school or work like the humans, the house is my little universe which I have all the time in the world to explore, so it only makes sense that I would know more about the house than they do.

     The other requirement for an affective queen that I take seriously is demanding the subjects of my territory cater to me. This means that if Mom or Dad get up and don’t feed me right away, I start meowing impatiently and rubbing against their legs. If this fails to get their attention, I jump on the table and find some plastic to chew on. If they still aren’t getting the hint that I’m hungry, I will have a drink of their coffee, or better yet, launch an uprising by trying to knock it over. And if they still don’t get the hint, the ultimate punishment is a nip on the ankle. And if they forget to feed me, I make sure to meow and find something obnoxious like a paper grocery bag to play with in their bedroom to keep them awake all night, a very effective punishment that results in the humans being much more diligent about feeding me for awhile.

     Finally, I decided as a kitten that being queen also requires making sure even the 120 pound dog knows whose really in charge. If that german shepherd was all sprawled out in the kitchen looking too comfortable, I would sneak up and bite her, and she would immediately jump up and move somewhere else. Some of the humans called me foolish for doing this since the dog could have swallowed me whole if she wanted, but I have no fear, and was pleased to realize that if I already commanded respect from the big dog as a kitten, think what a powerful reign I would have over the house when I was older, bigger and stronger. Still to this day, I welcome any new dog to the house, by perching on my kitchen table throne and hissing at them, just to make sure there is no confusion about whose in charge around here.

     But while I am a powerful queen who is respected by my human subjects, I am also incredibly sweet, and Allison will say that what she loves most about me is my happy disposition. I do sleep a lot, but unlike a lot of cats my age, sleeping is not all I do. I can still leap gracefully to the top of the refrigerator, and absolutely love chasing Gilbert, or a bug all over the house, so even though I am ten years old, I don’t feel a day over six months. And in the evenings when the family sits down to read the newspaper or watch television, I find a lap to curl up in and purr so loud Allison has told me she can hear me clear across the room. The last two years, the vet has been concerned because I used to weigh around ten pounds, but now only weigh 8 pounds three ounces. Mom and the vet have made all kinds of speculations that Gilbert is stealing my food, or I don’t like the food I am given anymore. Gilbert is kind of sneaky and will steal my food occasionally, but not all the time, and maybe I am getting tired of eating the same food for ten years. But I think part of the reason for my weight loss is that I don’t want to become an old fat cat. I want to stay young and agile, so I can rule over this family with love for years to come.

     But while I have spent all this time talking about how I rule over the family, and though I complained about how Allison favors Gilbert and doesn’t like to feed me, we truly have a special relationship that has evolved through good times and bad, and grows deeper and more mature with every passing year. When I was first adopted, we were essentially both children. We had a blast together, and by the second day, she had trained me to follow a string she trailed behind her as she walked around the house, and I loved to chase the string around in circles until we were both exhausted. She also loved giving me thrill rides in laundry baskets. I didn’t like this so much, but got even by giving her plenty of nasty scratches as I jumped out of the basket. I also went through a phase where I had a blast waiting at the bottom of the stairs and scaring the daylights out of her, when she stepped on me and I would bite her ankles, a special surprise I never gave to anyone else. Did I mention how much I love living with a blind human?!

     But as we both became adults in our own ways over the years, our relationship has matured. Since she doesn’t like thrill rides herself anymore, she does not subject me to them, and string is something I find stupid and silly now. Oh don’t worry. We still love to play. In fact, just a couple days ago, I engaged her in a game of hide and seek, a game I am so skilled in that sometimes, Allison will just surrender and declare me the winner. In our version of the game, when she calls “here kitty kitty!” I enter the room she is in, and either meow, or make tiny slurping noises that only she can hear, so she knows I am there. But I always stay just out of her reach, so she cannot touch me. And if she is getting really warm and is about to touch me, I run! Wow what a fun game that transcends age and species boundaries, and a game which I can tell she loves too because she laughs, a reaction that I have learned is equivalent to purring. We don’t spend as much time together as we used to, partly because I still kind of hold a grudge against her for bringing Gilbert in to the family when I thought I was done dealing with dogs, but also because we both have different interests. She is less in to playing now, and more in to reading or writing on a stupid braille computer that she holds on her lap right where I used to sit, making me feel so unwelcome. But we have still had special memories together. I especially love the few minutes when Allison has put Gilbert to bed, making it safe for me to rub against her legs and beg for attention without Gilbert getting jealous and chasing me away. When she feels me rub on her legs, she will scoop me in to her arms like a baby, rub my soft silky fur against her cheek and talk to me, or carry me to the living room for some lap time before bed, while I purr with contentment the whole time, a clear indication that her love for me is as strong as ever.

     And as for Mom and Dad who weren’t sure if they really wanted me ten years ago, I heard them mention recently that when I pass away, they are not sure they will get another cat because they don’t think they could ever find one that would even come close to my adorable personality, a proclamation that gives me a wonderful feeling of satisfaction because it proves that I have not only lived the life of a queen, but have been guaranteed the legacy of a beloved queen immortal in the hearts of my loving human family.

An Eventful Week of Family, Fairs and Flu

Hello again loyal readers. It has sure been an eventful week since my last entry. Last Sunday, I was woken up at the ridiculously early hour of 5:00 in the morning to shower and do some last minute packing, and by 6:30, my parents and I were in the car for an eight hour drive to Indiana to attend a family reunion. Actually, my mom wanted to be on the road by 4:00 in the morning at the latest because lunch at this reunion was being served at noon which actually meant 11:00 our time because Indiana is on eastern time. But since my mom didn’t get home from work until around 9:00 Saturday evening, she mercifully decided it was more important to get some sleep so we would feel well enough to actually enjoy the reunion once we got there and not be practically falling asleep over our plates which has happened when we have been ambitious and left for Indiana by 4:00 in the morning in past years. The funny thing was that leaving at 6:30 meant we arrived at the reunion at the same time a lot of people were leaving because events for this side of the family break up early. But there were a lot of people still there, and plenty of chicken, casserole, potatoes and dessert saved for us, so we didn’t end up missing the reunion after all. Then to stretch our legs after sitting in the car for eight hours and then sitting at the reunion, my dad invited my grandma and aunt to join us for a walk around Metamora, a quaint historic canal town that has been preserved for tourists. A lot of the historic sites required you to pay admission, and they were closed by the time we got there. But my mom, aunt and grandma enjoyed browsing the little shops, and since my dad and I aren’t wild about shopping, we left the women behind and enjoyed a peaceful walk on sidewalks that were pretty smooth and well maintained, with cicadas, crickets and birds singing summer songs all around us. I think Gilbert enjoyed this walk too, and other than encountering an unusually noisy bird at the beginning of the walk which distracted him, he worked beautifully on this walk. From there we went to a diner where I enjoyed a cup of soup and a turkey dinner. We did eat at the family reunion, but that had been several hours ago by the time we got to the restaurant, and since the food had been sitting out for several hours by the time we arrived, and since we didn’t want to overload our stomachs after sitting in the car so long, we kept our plates small.

     And then we went to my grandma’s house where we would visit with her until Tuesday afternoon. My grandma lives in a little tiny town just outside Indianapolis, one of those towns that seems to take you back to a time when life was simple. The town has a tiny grocery store, hardware store, drugstore, gas station and a couple pizza places, but no Walmart and none of the other sprawling stores like it that seem to dominate the landscape everywhere else. Many of the houses in this town, including my grandma’s house, were built over a hundred years ago. When my grandma and grandpa moved in to the house with my mom and her siblings over forty years ago, the modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity had to be added to the house, but these additions did not do anything to take away from the antique feel of this house. From the creaky wood staircases with old fashioned wood banisters, to the wood floors and a unique fragrance that my mom said is given off by all of this antique wood, I love how entering this house is like stepping back in time.

     I also love how the houses in this town all have quaint little front porches that face the street which fosters a wonderful sense of neighborliness that you will not see if you came to the modernized suburb where I live. In my grandma’s town, it is pretty hard to take an exercise walk because for one thing, the old sidewalks in this town have been preserved so they are really bumpy requiring Gilbert and I to take it slow, but also because one moment you will be walking, and then before you know it, a neighbor will see you and invite you warmly on to their porch for a cup of tea. By contrast, where I live, a neighbor might say hi or chat briefly if they happen to see you walking the dog past their house when they are working in their yard, but our neighborhood is the kind where if people have porches, they are secluded in the back of the house, and people prefer to keep to themselves. In fact, when one neighbor sent out invitations to try and organize a block party a few years ago, it wasn’t long before we got another letter saying the block party had ben cancelled because no one expressed interest in attending it. Don’t get me wrong. Our neighbors are wonderfully nice people when you see them. They are just not the social types like the neighbors where my grandma lives, so visiting her neighborhood is kind of a refreshing change of scenery. And of course, I enjoy spending time with my grandma too because although we have our differences, the most notable one being her passionate love of shopping versus my passionate hatred of squandering a whole day shopping, we also have a lot in common. If only there were no such thing as diabetes, we both wouldn’t mind living on chocolate, and we have had some special memories baking chocolate treats together. We also both enjoy music from the Gaithers, a gospel music band.

     However, I hate to admit this, but now that I am an adult, and the cousin closest to me in age that I had so much fun playing with as a child now has a child of her own, I always kind of feel bored and out of place sitting around the table with my mom and grandma as they look at pictures and talk about distant relatives or friends they knew forty years ago. When my grandma comes to visit us, and the topic of conversation doesn’t interest me, I have no problem going to another room to amuse myself by reading blogs, checking e-mail or hanging out on facebook. With a special adapter, my old braille notetaker could have had a wireless internet connection configured on it, and my mom and Dad already went wireless with their regular computer a couple years ago. But when I read the manual for configuring a wireless connection on the old braille notetaker, I decided it was too complicated to mess with. I think you even had to perform a reset on the machine as part of the process, so I just decided to continue using an ethernet card which connected to a router that went to an internet modem thing provided by the cable company. Back when I had this type of connection, I knew internet access would be out of the question at my grandma’s house because she doesn’t have one of these routers, and besides, she would have no idea what language I was speaking when I asked about proxy servers and infrastructure modes and all that kind of stuff the braille notetaker asks for to configure a connection. She does have internet access, but I think I heard that my mom’s younger brother who lives nearby set it up for her and handled all of the technical stuff. But I won the battle with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and received the Apex, the newest, most fancy version yet for the braille notetaker, which I received at the beginning of July. (You can read all the details about how this battle got started in an entry I wrote back on May 30). One of the fancy new features this braille notetaker has is an internal wireless ethernet system, which the guy who came to deliver this computer and orient me to it said this meant I could access the internet from anywhere in the house since I no longer had to be plugged in to a cable, and I could access countless public wireless networks at places like airports or restaurants, even other people’s private networks if they are not protected by passwords or anything. This was the first trip to Grandma’s house with this new capability, which gave me an exciting glimmer of hope because while my grandma doesn’t have wireless internet, surely one of her neighbors did, so I would no longer have to endure the boredom of being offline for three days! But to my disappointment, when I got to the house and tried to scan for a wireless signal, I was informed by the braille notetaker that there were “no visible networks”, making me realize that although I enjoy some aspects of the simpler life in this town, this lack of wireless makes life a little too simple for my taste nowadays when I visit Grandma’s house. I have heard of special software called sa2go, a temporary screen reader software similar to Jaws that can be downloaded to any computer so that blind people can have internet access when on vacation, but my grandma’s computer is old, and when I thought about the combined hurdles of potentially messing up my grandma’s computer and having to learn how to use this program and when I then recalled past experiences which have taught me that when it comes to computer programs, nothing ever works properly until you have wasted a whole day and given yourself a headache over it, I decided I would rather just suck it up, be bored and come home with a renewed appreciation for how awesome wireless internet access is. I suppose I could have pleaded with my parents to drop me off at a cafe with wireless internet access, but didn’t want to give the impression that I have an internet addiction problem, because I probably do (grin), and I have read stuff from psychologists who say that constant stimulation from electronics, especially the internet is unhealthy for the brain, so this lack of internet access was probably good for me even though the withdrawal drove me crazy. I could have also used this trip as an opportunity to escape with a good old fashioned book, but lately I havent had much luck finding a really good book that kept my attention beyond the first chapter or two.

     But actually, there really wasn’t too much time to get bored this trip because for one thing, my aunt who is a teacher brought my ten year old cousin over to hang out with us since school hadn’t started for him yet, so we had a good time talking to him. As a matter of fact, Gilbert must love him too because both mornings, my cousin arrived before I had woken up to get Gilbert out of his crate, and when he could sense that my cousin had arrived, he would start whining. Thinking he was probably whining because he needed to go outside, I would quickly get up and open the crate for him. But both mornings, I found out that he was not whining to go outside because he would wait patiently until I had found the rail to get downstairs, but then he would bolt past me, and while I was still making my way down the stairs, I could hear him tear through the living room, burst in to the kitchen and run circles around my cousin during which I could hear my Mom yelling “Gilbert, SIT!” But my cousin, grandma and I couldn’t help laughing at this adorably enthusiastic display of love from a dog who is usually so mellow and professionally behaved.

     My dad and I also amused ourselves by going for a workout every morning at the YMCA. At home, I don’t usually go with my dad to the YMCA because the only exercise machine I use religiously is the treadmill which we have at home, along with a stereo and lots of awesome albums that can be played without having to wear annoying headphones. But my grandma doesn’t have a treadmill, and since I always end up being tempted by more treats at Grandma’s house than I typically eat at home, it is even more important to make sure I get my exercise. Additionally, it is also kind of nice to have a break from the chattering women and enjoy some quiet father daughter bonding time. I know it might sound strange to some of you readers when I keep talking about having a break from the women, since I am a woman myself. I don’t know if it is because I am blind and therefore don’t find as much appeal in shopping or looking at pictures, or if I am just young and will find these things more appealing when I am a little older. But whatever the reason, I feel like I can relate better to my dad on these trips.

     Another thing that is kind of fun about going to the YMCA is that even though there is often a six month gap between our trips to Grandma’s house, the receptionist always remembers our names, and on Tuesday, she opened the security gate and let us go ahead and enter without filling out the customary guest paperwork! Then after our workout, my dad and I have a tradition of stopping for lunch at Longjohn Silvers, a fast food chain restaurant that has really good fish. Most of their fish selections are deep fried, so of course we don’t want to defeat the purpose of our workout. But my dad and I don’t feel guilty about eating their fish tacos, because while they have a little bit of fried fish in them, they also have a lot of lettuce and a really delicious sauce in them. The tacos are also very small, and they only cost $0.99! So every time we come to this restaurant, our tradition is to each have one fish taco, split a grilled tilapia dinner which also has a vegetable medley and rice, and finish by splitting a cup of either broccoli cheese or clam chowder soup. But actually, eating this lunch is only half the fun of this tradition. The other half of the fun comes when we get home and my mom always pretends she didn’t know we went out to lunch and invites us to sit down to have a sandwich with them, an invitation we politely turn down with mischievous smiles on our faces that always get my mom and grandma laughing.

     Usually this tradition is the highlight of these trips to Grandma’s house, but for this trip, the highlight for both me and my grandma was going to the Indiana State Fair Monday afternoon. Grandma always loved going to the fair but hadn’t been able to go for years, and my mom told me that I had been to the Indiana State Fair before when I was a baby being pushed in a stroller, an era which of course, I don’t remember so for all practical purposes, this was my first experience at the Indiana State Fair. Part of me dreaded going to this fair at first since the temptation of so much delicious fair food was the last thing I needed exactly a week before I would be weighed at the doctor’s office, and my arteries were probably still trying to recover from all the food I ate at our own state fair just a week and a half earlier. I still ended up eating more than I would have had I not gone to the fair, but I am pleased with myself for not going wild like I did at my own state fair. At this fair, I only ended up eating a small dinner of grilled pork, roasted potatoes and apple sauce, a quarter of a pork tenderloin sandwich and a couple bites of dipped ice cream on a stick. Well, I also had two tiny free samples of fudge, and a chip with a free sample of this really interesting salsa that the demonstrator told us required only a tablespoon of this spice mixture and a can of tomatoes. But my dad assured me that since I walked a lot at the fair, not counting the three and a half miles I walked on the treadmill at the YMCA, I didn’t need to feel guilty about what I had eaten.

     Once again for this fair, my dad and I went off by ourselves most of the time since we could see three barns and exhibit halls in the same amount of time it took the women to get through one! While there was some boring visual stuff in these exhibit halls, there was also a lot of cool nonvisual stuff like an old fashioned drug store where the demonstrator let me feel all the tools and showed me how they were used to make pills by hand. There was also this really cool machine that I got to try out in the products pavilion called the Viva Slimming Machine, where you stood on this vibrating platform which can tone your muscles if used twenty minutes a day because supposedly, the effort required to balance on this machine exercises your muscles. This is probably one of those things where it would be a good idea to do your own research about the validity of these claims before spending $800 for one, but it was still fun to try out anyway. But the most exciting highlight of the fair was still yet to come.

     Before we left for the fair, my dad found an event schedule for the fair on the internet, and that was how we discovered there was a free Josh Thompson concert at 5:30. For those of you who have never heard of Josh Thompson, he is an up and coming country artist who has not achieved the status of a headline act yet, but is nonetheless extremely talented. He even already has a couple really good songs that play a lot on the radio, one where he talks about his country values that starts with the line “our houses are protected by the good lord and a gun. You might meet ’em both if you show up here not welcome son!” My own personal views aren’t quite that country, but I figure you can still love the song even if you disagree with some of the views. His other big hit on the radio is about working hard all week to put beer on the table! It is very rare that I go to concerts since tickets to see most of the stars you hear on the radio cost a fortune. Also, since I am blind, I couldn’t care less about how “cute” they are, which I think is half the reason why a lot of sighted people go to concerts anyway. Additionally, this may sound terrible, but a lot of times it seems to me like singers sound better on the radio than they do live. I don’t know if it is because the sound quality is not the same in a recording studio as it is for a concert, or whether it is because traveling so many miles on a tour bus is exhausting, so the singers don’t sing at their best. But whatever the reason, since I cannot see, their sound is all I care about, so I usually prefer to just listen to them on the radio. But the fact that the concert was free, and we were planning to go to the Indiana State Fair anyway which meant we would be in the perfect place at the perfect time, I had to take advantage of this opportunity. I am so glad I did take this opportunity because it was a lot of fun. I got to hear both of his big radio hits, as well as some new songs that haven’t made it on to the radio yet, and he sounded just as good live. But the excitement didn’t end with the concert because after the concert I got to meet him! My dad and I made the mistake of not realizing how many other fans had the same idea or we would have hurried up and claimed a place in line earlier. As it was, by the time we got in line, there were about a hundred people ahead of us, but it was well worth the wait. My dad forgot about bringing a camera to get a picture of him which a lot of other fans ahead of us had done, and we didn’t have enough money to buy a CD for him to autograph, but that is alright because pictures and print signatures don’t mean anything for me anyway. For me the memory is more important. It is kind of ironic because Josh Thompson and I are both from the same state. In fact, his home town is only about a half hour drive from where I live. But I wasn’t able to go to performances he gave in our state, so I met him in Indiana. When the wait in line was finally over for us and I excitedly introduced myself and told him where I was from, he told me he was familiar with my town too, and as we were leaving he said “Have a safe trip home. It’s God’s country up there!” He also said hello to Gilbert, which was pretty cool even if Gilbert had no idea how famous the person petting him was. I probably talked to him for less than thirty seconds since there were lots of other people behind us in line still waiting to meet him. But this brief meeting with an aspiring country star was a special memory that I can share with my children and grandchildren, by which time my parents and I believe he will be a world famous headline act, and hearing his songs on the radio is even more special now that I can say “I met him!”

     Of course, after that excitement, the rest of the fair and the trip were pretty uneventful. But little did I know that there was one more eventful happening the day after we got home from the trip, this one not so exciting. We got home safely to God’s country at about 9:00 Tuesday evening, where despite all the fun and excitement of the trip, I was ready to relax, and get back to my healthier eating routine and listen to good music with my treadmill workout again. But the treadmill had to wait one more day. Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling a little sick to my stomach, but felt better by the time I had to leave for work so I figured it was just my body adjusting after a long trip. Then in the afternoon, I had a dull headache, which again I didn’t think meant anything, so I just took some medicine and sat down to rest. Pretty soon after taking the medicine though, the headache went away, but I still didn’t feel quite right, and as I ate the fajitas my dad made for dinner, the feeling didn’t go away. I didn’t feel like I was having fever or chills, but I felt kind of weak and dizzy. When I told my mom this, she said my facial color looked fine, and when she took my temperature it was official that I didn’t have a fever. But still, she insisted I lay on the couch and take the evening off, which meant absolutely no treadmill walking. Of course, this was probably a wise decision especially now that we know from this year’s Palm Sunday experience what can happen if I exercise when I am sick, and we sure didn’t want to take a chance of that happening again. Still, in addition to feeling physically sick, I felt mentally sick as I thought about the sour cream and cheese sitting in my stomach from the fajita, calories that wouldn’t be burned for another day. Fortunately though, the dizziness was gone by the next day and I felt absolutely fine, so I must have had a mild case of the flu.

     Fortunately, the rest of the week was uneventful, and though most of last week’s events were fun, I hope this last week and a half of summer will be restful and uneventful since peaceful uneventful summer days that I can devote solely to pleasurable pursuits like writing in this journal, will become a distant memory in no time once school starts. On that note, while I know a lot of you readers are adults in the working world where there is no summer vacation, I hope you all have a wonderful week, and that if it is eventful, it is eventful in good ways.

A Wise College Decision

Last Saturday at my college, there was a preview day for incoming freshmen to register for their classes if they hadn’t already, tour the campus and seek advice for how to be successful in college from older students. My work at the switchboard where I have fielded a lot of calls with questions from incoming freshmen and their parents and observed my coworkers at the information desk as they make all of the logistical arrangements for preview day has brought back so many memories of two years ago when I was one of those nervous freshmen preparing to enter the scary unknown world of college that I thought it would be fun to write an entry reflecting on these memories.

     Ever since I can remember, my parents and teachers encouraged me to dream big because blindness was my only disability, and despite the fact that the unemployment rate is 70 percent for blind people which would mean I would have to work a little harder to get employers to accept me, they were confident that I was capable of being an educated, employed and productive member of society, and that the world was full of opportunities for me. Even for sighted people, college is essential for making big dreams come true, especially with so much competition for jobs here in the United States, and from places like India and China that have industrialized rapidly in recent years. But I think my teachers and parents knew that if it was difficult for even sighted people to find employment, it would be even more difficult for me, making a college education even more essential for me.

     At first, the goal of preparing me for college was the goal of my teachers. When the amount of homework and serious academic learning increased in third grade, an increase I wasn’t prepared for, I earned a C on the first Social Studies test where we learned things like the names and locations of the seven continents and four oceans. Now to me, a C didn’t seem that bad. An F, I had learned was bad because it meant a failing grade, but a C I thought was average. What was wrong with average? Of course back then, the importance of maintaining good grades wasn’t much of a concern to me because it was only third grade. My brother had to earn certain grades in order to pass his final exams in high school, and I had heard that in college, the test basically determined your grade since you didn’t have the daily assignments to balance it out. But high school and college seemed a long way off back then and therefore nothing I needed to worry about or start preparing for. However when my vision teacher saw this grade, I will never forget the lecture I got about how important it is to study harder because tests and subjects will only get harder in the years to come. If that meant staying up late, or leaving a fun family event to lock myself upstairs at my desk and study, then that was what I had to do. When I actually did get to high school, by which time I had matured and was doing my homework consistently and earning excellent grades, the subject of this third grade lecture came up somehow in one of my orientation and mobility lessons with her, and I asked her why she had given me such a lecture when it was only third grade. It was kind of funny because she did actually admit she might have been a little harsh with me considering my age, but said with seriousness in her voice that it was because she had such high hopes for me to go on to college. So many of the students she worked with would never go to college since they also had cognitive disabilities, but I could go to college, have a successful career and be a self sufficient blind woman. But she was concerned that the poor work ethic and study habits I had in third grade would only get worse in the coming years and that I would not be able to handle college. More lectures like these were delivered in subsequent years, but like I said, I gradually started maturing and doing better until by high school, I was making excellent grades and there was no doubt that I would be able to handle college. There was still a trace of my immaturity in eighth grade and the early part of ninth grade, not so much in my grades but in my attitude which required some motivation from my parents. I was doing well in eighth grade but was getting tired of the grind of school year after year, and all of the pressure to perform well on tests and assignments that came with it. The prospect of four more years of this drudgery was depressing, and eight more years was unthinkable. Why did I have to go to college? I was willing to put up with high school because I had to by law for one thing, but also because while it would mean four more years of math concepts I would never use in life, I might also learn some valuable things to make me a more well-rounded mature person. But one of my favorite country singers Loretta Lynn only got an eighth grade education, but still became famous with her wonderful singing, and she is probably doing just fine financially too. But my parents said that this kind of success is the exception, not the rule, but also repeatedly reassured me that college would not be like middle school and high school because I would be in the adult world surrounded by a more mature group of peers and taking more classes related to my interests rather than just general education classes that everyone has to take. By tenth grade when I was finally developing the maturity to realize how competitive the global job market is, I succumbed to the reality that realistically, I would need to go to college. It wasn’t until eleventh grade when the mentorship opportunity I had at a local newspaper helped me to discover a passion for Journalism that I actually got excited for college. But no sooner had the question of whether or not I was going to college been resolved than another more imminent and anxiety provoking question present itself. That question was where I would go to college.

     Deep down, the prospect of going far away to college and living in a dorm scared me to death, which made me no different than any teenager in a way because like any teenager, I had been living at home with my parents all of my life and couldn’t imagine living far away from this comfort and sense of familiarity. But I think I was even more scared about being on my own than the average teenager since being blind meant I would need more accommodations to get through college, and since I would no longer have my vision teacher or aid to turn to, or my parents just steps away if I needed help with homework or comfort when school was stressful, the thought of having to advocate for my own needs and comfort myself in a lonely impersonal dorm room overwhelmed me. At the same time, I wanted to get the full college experience of being on my own since I knew I couldn’t live with my parents forever, and feared employers would think less of me or that I would still feel like I was in high school if I went to a little community college and came home to my parents every day when all of my high school peers with an equal academic standing to mine were talking about going to big name schools and living on their own. In fact, for awhile, I dreamed of going to Saint Olaf’s since a choir from this college came to sing with my school choir at the beginning of my sophomore year, and they were amazing! In addition, going to that school would be the ultimate college experience and chance to display independence since it was about a five hour drive from home. My parents were pretty opposed to me going that far away for the same reasons that I was apprehensive about going that far away deep down, but I found myself being kind of upset with them and feeling like they were holding me back by encouraging me to look at colleges in the area where I feared I wouldn’t get the full college experience. Fortunately however, there was one piece of advice I did agree with my mom about, which was to decide what you are interested in studying and then determine where would be the best fit for your interests rather than focusing on where to go first. Following this advice turned out to benefit all parties involved because after doing some more thorough college research for a career preparation assignment that the guidance counselors led all of the juniors through in the library, I discovered that Saint Olaf’s did not have a Journalism program which was what I really wanted to study. I still think it would have been pretty cool to sing with a Saint Olaf’s choir, especially when I hear their Christmas concert on public television every year. But the choirs at the college I ended up choosing are excellent too even if they are not prestigious enough to have a concert on public television, and it was definitely more important to find a college that offered the Journalism program I was interested in than a college with a prestigious choir that I would sing in as an extracurricular activity. It turned out there were a lot of great colleges in the area that offered Journalism, so many that I was overwhelmed. There was only one way to find out whether colleges I read about on the internet were right for me, and that was to arrange college visits.

     The first college my parents, vision teacher and I visited was a state university about 45 minutes from my house, the same college both my older brothers went to, and my oldest brother majored in Journalism there. Toward the end of my sophomore year, my vision teacher heard about a special visiting day the college had arranged for prospective students, and since she heard this college had a good disability services department, she thought it was worth pulling me out of school for. I wasn’t entirely thrilled about going to the same college both my brothers went to because I wanted to have my own college experience and not just default and go to the same college my brothers went to. Of course, if I had fallen in love with this college and felt like it was the perfect fit for me, I hope I would have had the maturity to choose my college for the right reasons and go to the college that felt right for me even if it was the same college my brothers went to. But it didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t the right college for me. The day began in a huge lecture hall where there must have been hundreds of other students and their parents, where we listened to boring lectures about all the programs this college offered. From there, we could break off and go to separate buildings for more information about a specific program that interested us. Back then, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in Journalism yet, so my vision teacher took me to the music school to learn more about their music program. Maybe I might have had a more positive attitude about this college if I had come back once I had decided I was interested in Journalism to learn more about that program, but I doubt it because instead of using the presentation time to make the group feel welcome and share some general information about the program, it seemed like the presenter of the music program just launched right in to rambling about all of the portfolio, audition and application requirements to be considered for admission in to the music school, and there was too many people and too little time to introduce myself to the presenter and discuss the accommodations I would need to be in this program as a blind person, so that when I left, I felt overwhelmed, not excited at all. I am sure this presentation would have basically been the same for the Journalism program, especially since Journalism is a very competitive field. After lunch while other students were taking a group tour of the campus, we did get to have an individual meeting with the disability services coordinator, and another blind student already attending that college. These people were wonderful and got my parents excited about all of the services that would be available to me. There was even a braille embosser for tests or math materials that I might need to have a hard copy of. In fact, my parents were so excited about all of these services that by the end of the meeting, they were saying things like “We look forward to meeting you again in a couple years!” that made it seem like it had been decided this was the school for me and it was all over but the formality of filling out the application. There would be no need for any more college visits, which I remembered being an exciting process for my older sister. The fact that blindness was my only disability meant that I could go to college, but I hadn’t anticipated blindness to be a disability that would limit where I could go to college. My parents apologized for coming off in a way that made it seem like the decision about where I went to college was being made for me, and my mom explained the reason they were really so excited was that they had no idea how many services were available for blind students and thought that once I got to college, I would be on my own. No matter where I went to college, I would of course be on my own in the sense that I would have to plan ahead and make it my responsibility to inform disability services about upcoming tests or textbooks I needed, but I think what my parents feared was meant by being on my own was that there was no disability services department at all. But when they learned that all colleges offered disability services, the college visits continued. Just after the fourth of July the summer after my junior year, my parents and I visited Northwestern University in Illinois, about three hours from our house. My parents were not wild about me going to this college either, but I think if it was where I really wanted to go, they would have obliged and let me go there because we have relatives near there if I was having problems, and my dad who was helping me with my college research read that they have an excellent Journalism program. But once again, it was crystal clear this was not the right college for me. In fact, when we were sent on a walking tour of their sprawling campus with fifty other students and their parents where the tour guide walked so fast that I couldn’t keep up since it was a hot day and there were a lot of steps to navigate, which meant I always ended up at the very back of the group where I couldn’t really hear what the tour guide was saying, I decided that my experience at Northwestern was even worse than my experience at the first college. This unwelcome feeling was even further confirmed when we met with the disability services coordinator who said they have services like Jaws that can be installed on computers for me, but they have never had any other blind students, so that by the end of this visit, I had a headache, and a nagging feeling that all my parents and teachers had overestimated my capabilities and I would never find a college that didn’t overwhelm me.

     And then came July 27, 2007, and my visit to Carroll College. I think I had gotten some recruitment letters from this college, but disregarded them at first because it seemed too small and close to home that I feared if I wanted to apply for a job at a prestigious newspaper or something, the person reviewing my application would laugh when they saw the name of that college under the education credentials on my application. I had also heard that a lot of other blind students had gone there, and I wanted to have a “real” college experience and not feel like I was going to a “college for the blind”. Of course I realize now that these were pretty stuck up and unfounded misconceptions because I quickly learned that graduates from this college went on to be very successful. One alumnus who came to speak at a welcoming ceremony my freshman year was one of the actors on the broadway version of The Lion King, which toured the country a couple years ago, and this year’s keynote speaker for commencement whom I wrote an article about for a special annual newspaper that comes out before commencement every year, was an alumnus who became the corporate executive of Target Corporation which is pretty prestigious if you ask me! It definitely wasn’t a “college for the blind” either because while there were three other blind students there when I started, there are also 2,500 other sighted students, so I have gotten a real college experience. I am so glad that I rose above these negative attitudes and decided to visit this college because from the moment I walked in to a quiet campus center lobby where my mom saw a sign that said “welcome Allison Nastoff”, I immediately felt a sensation that I belonged at this college, a sense that I had found home. This wonderful feeling was confirmed when a director of admissions greeted us warmly and took us to an inviting office where we had an individual meeting. I think this director even asked us if we wanted anything to drink, another stark contrast from the big colleges where there was not that sense of hospitality. Snacks and drinks were arranged on a table where you waited in line to help yourself. I forget what we talked about at this meeting, but I remember that for the first time, I left a college meeting feeling calm rather than overwhelmed. Then we went to the office of the disability services coordinator for another individual meeting, and although this coordinator mentioned I would still have to advocate my needs, somehow this prospect seemed less overwhelming at this college, which I think was because the fact that she asked me personal questions about my interests in addition to business questions like the accommodations I would need, made me feel like I would be viewed as a real person, not just a number, or worse, a legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Then after that meeting, a campus tour was arranged. “Now is when reality will come back to bite me again,” was my first thought when I found out this tour had been arranged. But to my amazement, this tour did not require me to keep up with hundreds of other people. In fact, the only members of this tour group were myself and my parents! The tour guide, a student who I saw frequently around campus freshman year, walked us slowly around campus, clearly explained everything, and eagerly answered all of our questions. Also, while the campus is located in a city and there is traffic on the streets, it is a peaceful level of traffic, and once you get away from the street, you can enjoy a calming breeze and hear the birds sing. At the end of this tour which marked the formal end of this visit, there was no trace of a headache, and as my parents and I met my brother for lunch at a nearby restaurant, I was overwhelmed, but not by dread of what a stressful change college would be for my life, but excitement for what a positive college experience I sensed I would get from this college. I did not let my parents see this excitement right away because I still had those negative perceptions of small colleges, and we still had one more big college to visit which maybe would be a more positive experience. But deep down, I knew that this college visit was just a formality, and sure enough when I was greeted by another huge lecture hall of people at this college, I knew that God was telling me I belonged at Carroll College. In fact, I was so confident that I belonged at this college that despite the encouragement of my parents and teachers to apply to other places and maybe visit a few more colleges, Carroll was the only college I felt like applying to, since it was the only college that felt right to me. Somehow by the way I was made to feel so welcome, I just knew I would get in. If I didn’t get in to this college, that would be a sign that I wasn’t meant for college, and while I didn’t want to end up living in a van by the river, I decided I would prefer that over attending a college where I would be treated like a number rather than a real person. That comment by the way was not intended to offend any readers who did not go to college. It was from a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit the guidance counselor showed my freshman class before a career exploration activity to motivate us to study hard in school and start thinking about what kind of life we want after high school.

     There was some anxiety about my decision to only apply to this school, and my sister who went to a big college was at first opposed to me attending such a small school since she thought bigger schools have more resources for people with disabilities. But after talking to another blind friend who went to a big school and hearing about how some teachers were not willing to make accommodations for her, I would not waiver in my decision that this small school was the perfect fit for me. There was also admittedly a little fear of what I would do in the chance that I was rejected by this school. But one cold December day, I went to school thinking it would turn out like any other day of coming home to nothing but the monotony of homework. However when I got in to the house, I smelled chocolate chip cookies and was greeted by an excited mother who said “I have a surprise for you” as she handed me a sweatshirt with CARROLL COLLEGE written on it in big raised print letters that I could make out, and that was how I found out that I had been accepted and officially welcomed to be a student at Carroll College! My mom said she couldn’t resist opening the letter, but I wasn’t disappointed that she was the first to know I had been accepted because the letter was in print anyway, but the surprise of the sweatshirt she went and bought from the Carroll bookstore meant that I got to experience the thrill and surprise of officially being accepted to college just like all of my sighted friends, and for the rest of the year, I found myself studying with a renewed sense of purpose.

     From that first preview day with my parents, to the official preview day before becoming a freshman where one of the student orientation leaders said she would be happy to guide me through all the activities so I never felt overwhelmed despite being in a large group, and then through my first two years of college, I still experience that same welcomed feeling every day. Of course there have been difficult times like the rocky start to freshman year when the disability services office didn’t have all of my textbooks scanned, and my fair share of difficult classes that kept me up all hours of the night. But the individualized attention this college facilitates, the small peaceful campus atmosphere and support from my parents has allowed me to take on these difficulties with more grace than I ever could have at a big college. I have heard some pretty harsh criticism of this college’s Journalism program, but my mom said that I should not let this criticism affect my confidence that I had chosen the right college, and interestingly, she also mentioned that the nursing program at the college she attended was also criticized. But she is a wonderful nurse, and I am sure I will be a wonderful Journalist because the more I mature, the more I realize that a prestigious name is just a name, nothing more, and this college has given me the same educational opportunities I would have gotten from a big school. A few people may scoff at the name of my college, or the fact that I didn’t have the confidence to go far away and brave a big college, but with maturity, I have come to realize that I really don’t care what others think, and ultimately, I think choosing the college that is the best fit for me will exude more confidence than trying to impress people with a prestigious name. And on that note, I look forward to starting my junior year, another year that will confirm once again that choosing this college was perhaps the wisest decision I have ever made.