Archive for July, 2011

Home Alone

You know what readers? I should stop making promises in this journal. The longer I have been blogging, the more I am beginning to realize that my writing inspiration is as unpredictable as my state’s weather, and as cool as my internship experience has been, I feel more inspired to write about a different kind of exciting experience I had recently. If you are a Facebook friend, you know what I’m talking about! Since several Facebook friends have sent me messages mentioning how much they are looking forward to this entry, and since I have found that if I put off writing something I am inspired to write, it isn’t nearly as well-written as it could have been if I had struck while the iron was hot, I am going to have to break my promise. I should be ready to write about my internship experience in the next entry, but I’m not making any promises this time!

     So, my experience home alone didn’t come about because my whole family went to Paris for Christmas and forgot about me. I didn’t have to invent booby traps to hinder robbers. And no, I didn’t attempt to score a free pizza of my own like the kid in the movie who cued up a clip from a scary movie to play when the pizza delivery man came to the door. I don’t remember the quote from the movie clip word for word but it involved a guy saying something like, “I’m going to count from one to ten, and if you aren’t out of my house, I’ll shoot you. One, two, ten!” Ah, that’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie! Generally I am not the type to draw comparisons between my life and movies because I don’t watch that many movies since most are difficult for me to follow. But I found that I could pretty much follow Home Alone when I first saw it, which I think was when I was ten years old, and as you can tell, I love it! (On a funny side note, I’ll never forget how when I was in seventh grade, all of the teachers showed different movies to celebrate the last day of the school year and we could pick the movie we wanted to see. I was thrilled to learn that Home Alone was one of the choices, but slightly embarrassed when the teacher showing the movie took attendance and I was pretty much the only girl who chose this movie!)

     But anyway, this movie came to mind again last weekend when for the first time, my parents allowed me to stay home alone for a whole weekend while they went on a trip. When I was ten years old, my parents started allowing me to stay home alone when they ran errands or to my delight, when my brother had evening school basketball games, as those games were the most common cause of tantrums when I was little. My dad, being a worrying protective father did not want me to stay home alone when in seventh grade, my sister went off to a college about an hour and a half from home and he just had to get season football tickets for this college’s team. With my mom working on the other side of town, my siblings at other activities and him out of town, he feared something terrible would happen. Despite how many times I told him I wouldn’t answer the door, that I knew how to get out of the house if there was a fire, that I was a notoriously slow eater and thus wouldn’t choke, that I knew how to use a telephone if I needed to call 911, that I am the type of kid who would just sit quietly and read or listen to the radio all day, not the type to swing from the chandeliers or play with matches (To this day I still don’t even know how to light a match) and I would continue to be that quiet responsible kid if left home alone all day, and even when Mom tried to assure him I would be alright because I have done just fine staying home alone, he wouldn’t give in. Heck, he wouldn’t have even had to worry about me burning myself cooking lunch because I didn’t own a braille labeler back then so the microwave buttons weren’t even labeled. Thus, I was planning to just make a cold sandwich for lunch!

     I was so angry the whole time I was at these loud, visual games, sitting on hard bleachers in the beating sun, that I was going to forbid him from buying season tickets when I was in eighth grade, but fortunately, that was the year my grandma moved closer to us. I still insisted that I be given my space. Grandma was welcome to call and check on me or come over if she felt like it, but I didn’t want a babysitter. But just having Grandma in town made my dad more comfortable and my home alone privileges extended to these day trips to the football games. The following year, my parents both had schedules that required them to work long weekend days, so again I got to stay home alone. But since that was the year the microwave was labeled, my experience evolved from sandwiches to frozen dinners! And, since my parents often had to work too late to cook dinner, they would sometimes stick a frozen pizza in the oven when they got home, but sometimes, I got to be the one to cook dinner! My parents didn’t want me using the stove or oven alone which was fine with me because while my orientation and mobility teacher taught me how to use them, I didn’t, and still don’t like using them. Even with oven mitts on, it still scares me to have my hands that close to pre-heated metal wracks and sizzling pans. But since crockpots don’t have to be pre-heated, they were a much less scary cooking method for both my parents and me. One day while shopping at the grocery store, Mom noticed these really easy frozen crockpot dinners. Banquet Crockpot Classics, I think they were called. They came in three different flavors. Beef stew was our favorite, but they also had chicken and dumplings and beef stroganoff. There may have been other kinds, but those are the ones my parents bought. Anyway, preparing these meals was so simple even I could do it! First, you dig out the sauce pouch, thaw it under warm water for a minute, tear it open and squeeze it in to the crockpot. Then, you add water and stir the sauce, which was still a mostly frozen lump even after being warmed by the water, until it dissolves in the water. Then, you pour the big bag of meat and vegetables in to the crockpot, stir it all in to the sauce, put the lid on, make sure the crockpot is plugged in (very important), turn it on and enjoy the wonderful aroma as it simmers all day. Half an hour before serving these meals, you were supposed to add the potatoes or noodles and then finish cooking the meal on high. When I would first lift the lid for this last step, the sizzling and steam in my face would make me nervous, but I could just back away for a second, let the sizzling die down and add the last ingredient without fear.

     I loved those couple years of making these dinners every weekend. They smelled wonderful as they cooked and tasted even better. My parents loved coming home to a hot, sort of home-cooked meal after an exhausting day of work. But most importantly, even though I didn’t chop the vegetables or brown the meat myself, I loved the feeling of independence that preparing these dinners for my parents gave me. As much as I love the fact that my parents both have work schedules that allow them to be home more nowadays, I miss the independence I felt in those days. (My mom actually said she doesn’t see those crockpot bag dinners in the grocery store anymore, so it is rare that I make dinner since even a crockpot meal now requires the preparation of ten million ingredients and the browning of meat on an angrily sizzling stove.) But last weekend, that thrilling sense of independence returned, only this time of course, it was a lot more thrilling an opportunity than preparing a bag dinner.

     So my family was invited to a relative’s wedding, but since I don’t know this relative as well, hate getting dressed up for formal events and didn’t want to spend sixteen hours in the car over the course of only two days, I asked my mom if I could stay home. To my joy and amazement, she said “Sure! You are 21 now after all.”

     My dad is still a protective father and thus wasn’t comfortable with the idea at first. This time, he couldn’t shake worries that burglars might get in to the house while I was home alone at night, or that someone might abduct me. I pointed out that Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom with her parents sleeping next door, and my mom pointed out that we live in a safe area and that since the forecast called for hot, humid, air conditioner worthy weather, all the windows and doors would be securely locked and the drapes closed. My siblings who normally tease me and drive me crazy even came to my defense and persuaded Dad that their little sister was an adult now and would be just fine. So as long as I promised to have my cell phone with me at all times, answer that phone when my parents, brother or Grandma called to check on me and make sure all the doors were locked before I went to bed, both parents finally agreed to let me stay home.

     So last Friday night, my parents oriented me to a daily pill box stocked with all the medications I needed to take and the refrigerator stocked with food, then said goodbye to me Saturday morning at about 6:30. I fixed myself my usual breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter crackers, a banana and a glass of milk, only this time, I wasn’t tripping over my dad who is usually also in the kitchen preparing his own breakfast or my mom’s lunch for work. When I finished that and wanted just one more thing to top off the meal, I opened the refrigerator and remembered the left-over container of my dad’s delicious, tomatoes topped with olive oil, basil and mozzarella cheese and helped myself to two slices. Not the typical breakfast fare I know, but who was going to stop me? No one, I realized!

     I didn’t feel like throwing away my banana peel or oatmeal packet, or putting my dishes in the sink. But that was alright! My parents wouldn’t be home for 36 hours. I could do it later!

     After breakfast, I went up to my room and sat in my cozy rocking chair to read and listen to the radio with no interruptions and no one giving me a hard time about being the hermit I like to be. At about 11:00, I checked in with my parents to tell them I was going on the treadmill. After my incident where I passed out after walking on the treadmill last year, they didn’t want me walking on the treadmill unless Grandma or my brother was there. I thought this was so silly as that only happened once in the four years I have been a serious treadmill walker and since that incident, I have become a lot smarter about drinking water beforehand and not going on if I feel sick to my stomach. But since that incident did happen and I may be a worrying parent someday, my parents and I agreed to the compromise that I would call them before I got on and as soon as I got off. If they didn’t hear from me that I had gotten off the treadmill and was safe, they could call me, and if I didn’t answer, they could alert Grandma who could race over to the house and call 911 if need be. But my treadmill walk went off without a hitch as I knew it would.

     Then I made myself a Lean Cuisine fish dinner for lunch and tossed the empty tray on the breakfast pile to clean up later, took Gilbert out and went up to my bedroom for more quiet, uninterrupted reading.

     At about 1:30, I took a shower and got myself dressed for church. I really wanted to have a totally uninterrupted weekend where I could live in my pajamas the whole time, but being the good granddaughter that I am, I accepted Grandma’s offer to take me to church.

     I was kind of looking forward to going to church with her, as this was a weekly tradition in the days when my parents worked on weekends. But what I had forgotten about since those days was the fact that my grandma is one of those people who likes to get to church super early to pray. I don’t want to be late to church of course, and it is nice to maybe get there five minutes early to pray before mass starts. But Grandma would always insist on getting there half an hour early, which was a source of playful arguing between us. But last weekend, Grandma was really worried about not being able to find a place to park because of our parish festival, so she insisted on getting there a full hour early!

     I got used to being half an hour early. When I couldn’t think of any more prayers to say, daydreaming passed the time pretty quickly. But after doing all of the praying and daydreaming I could handle, and finding out from Grandma that there was still twenty minutes to go before mass started, I said a prayer for forgiveness, then found a bible and proceeded to count its pages. This was one of my favorite ways to pass the time when I was too little to sit still for the sermons and I remember it being an excellent time killer because those onion skin pages that are used in bibles stick together, so separating the pages kept me occupied longer than counting pages of a typical book would have. To my embarrassment, Grandma caught on to what I was doing at about page 80, but by that time, church was about ready to start! But she more than made up for that hour of boredom when she took me out to dinner at Perkins after church, where I ordered grilled salmon, herb rice and broccoli.

     When I got home, I fed Gilbert, and then watched an interview with Jaycee Dugard on television with no one pausing the show all the time to get something from the kitchen or interrupting my listening to the show with commentary that could wait until the commercials. This was followed by the 10:00 local news. I was a little aggravated when I dozed off and was jolted awake by my cell phone ringing, but had to laugh when it was my brother who said he was just calling to keep Dad happy and wouldn’t bother me anymore. On Saturdays, my parents and I like to watch the opening skit of Saturday Night Live, as sometimes they are really funny. (My favorite opening skit ever by the way was a spoof they did after Joe Wilson, that congressman from South Carolina, interrupted one of President Obama’s speeches with “you lie!” It is totally worth looking for on YouTube or something if you haven’t seen it!) But that night’s skit was a repeat and not one of their most funny ones at that. I was about to do what my parents do when Saturday Night Live is a repeat, which is turn off the television and go to bed. But I didn’t feel like going to bed. I felt like singing!

     Without even bothering to turn off the television, I found myself in the foyer dancing and singing at the top of my lungs, imitating the happy Broadway ladies. “Haul out the holly! Put up the tree before my, spirit falls again!”

     My parents have seen me dance around the house singing Christmas songs in July and have never given any indication that they were annoyed by it. I’m not sure if they love my happy disposition, or if they have just resigned themselves to the fact that their daughter is odd and silly and there is nothing they can do about it. But even though my parents don’t mind my silliness, there is something thrilling about the freedom to sing at the top of your lungs with total disregard for the time of day and with no one home to hear you.

     After all that singing, I was kind of hungry again. What should I have? That’s when I remembered my sister’s family-famous mashed potatoes she made for dinner the night before, made with butter, sour cream, onions and bacon. I didn’t feel like going to the trouble of getting out a plate and heating them up, but realized I didn’t have to. I pulled out the serving bowl they were in, got a spoon from the drawer, scooped a big bite out with the spoon and ate it right on the spot standing at the counter. I could have double-dipped and eaten several more spoonfuls right out of the bowl, and when I get my own place, I will. But since I wasn’t sure whether spit left on the spoon would change the color of the potatoes or something and get me busted when my parents came home, I only took one bite and then put the spoon in the sink.

     When I finished that, it was about 11:00, so I took Gilbert out and then called my parents to tell them I was locked in for the night as I promised to do, put Gilbert to bed for the night and fed the cat. But I didn’t feel like going to bed myself yet. Instead, I read blogs until 12:30!

     I generally stay up late reading anyway because now that I am an adult, my parents no longer enforce bed time. Mom will sometimes suggest that maybe I should go to bed and get a full night’s sleep, but whether or not I take that suggestion is totally up to me. I never realized how awesome it would be to have no one around to even suggest, directly or indirectly when they got ready for bed and said goodnight to me, that I should go to bed!

     The night was totally uneventful. There was only one time I got a little uneasy when at some point in the night, I heard Gilbert growl from his crate downstairs. But then I remembered he does occasionally growl at animals that get close to the house and went right back to sleep.

     The next morning, with no noise from my parents waking up to disturb my sleep, I slept until 7:30.

     “I guess I better get dressed,” I started to tell myself after taking the dog out, feeding him and the cat and eating another quiet breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter crackers, a banana and the last tomato with mozzarella cheese and basil. “Oh wait! I don’t need to get dressed because there’s nobody here and thus no place I’ll have to go! The whole day is mine!”

     After checking in with my parents, I settled in for another wonderful morning of listening to national public radio and reading. I couldn’t wait for lunch when I planned to heat up some breaded chicken from Trader Joe’s and a big heaping scoop of my sister’s mashed potatoes. But when I opened the freezer, I discovered to my disappointment that my dad had forgotten to bring the bag of chicken up from the deep freezer in the basement storage room. I held a Lean Cuisine dinner in my hand and debated changing my plan and eating that instead, but I really wanted that chicken, so I decided it was time to face my fears and go get it.

     For some reason, that room gives me the creeps. It shouldn’t because my sighted family members go in there casually all the time and they have always come out alive. Maybe it is simply because for so many years, that room was off limits to me as it was so cluttered my parents feared I would get hurt. So although it is cleaned up and safe now, it doesn’t feel like part of my house. Anyway, I think I went down there for the first time last winter and the first thing I noticed was that it seemed to be totally sound proof. Although my parents were both home, I couldn’t hear them moving around upstairs at all like I could in the main part of the basement where I walk on the treadmill. It made me wonder, “if I got lost or an axe murderer jumped out from behind the fridge and I screamed for help, would anyone hear me?” Even though my parent go down there regularly, to me this room just had the aura of a room where you could die and not be found for years. To add to the creepy effect, our dishwasher was running upstairs that first time and it so happened that the water was draining through the pipes that ran through the walls of this room. So with the gritty floors, musty odor and this utter silence accept for the weird loud whoosh as the dishwasher drained, I grabbed that food and re-traced my steps back to the door as quick as I could. So I wasn’t looking forward to going back in to that room when I was home alone, but just like a dog, if there is a food reward to look forward to, I’ll do anything.

     But this time it wasn’t nearly as creepy because the dishwasher wasn’t running, and to my delight, I discovered that unlike winter, this time of year I could hear the dehumidifier humming from the main basement, which eliminated some of the eery silence and which I used as a reference to get me back to the door so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. The fact that I had overcome my mild fear of this room and made it safely back upstairs made my chicken “treat” taste even better. After lunch, I saw my pile of dishes on the table and decided I was going to be better than my older siblings when they stayed home from trips and clean up after myself. I didn’t know how to start the dishwasher and wouldn’t have had enough dishes for a full load anyway, but I piled all the dishes, even a couple glasses that weren’t mine but were used before my parents and sister left, neatly in to the sink. I threw away all banana peels, napkins, wrappers and packages. When I saw that some peanut butter and cat food smudged up the countertops, I found a rag, wet it with warm water and washed the counters too.

     Then, maybe the heat and humidity had effected my brain, but after taking Gilbert out it occurred to me that when no one is home, I don’t even have to call Gilbert by his proper name, so the rest of our time alone, his name became Mr. Woof-woof! My parents wouldn’t mind if I used silly names for him, especially my dad from whom I think I inherited my silliness as he calls Gilbert by hilarious names too. But Mr. Woof-woof took silliness to a whole new level!

     “Come here Mr. Woof-woof!” I called to him from my room after taking him out. He responded exuberantly! Yeah, maybe it’s a good thing my parents got home just a few hours after that. Who knows where my silliness would have taken me if I had another day without human contact!

     The rest of the afternoon was spent quietly reading until 5:30 when I watched the news and part of Dateline which featured the children of poor migrant workers who work in the fields alongside their parents.

     At about 6:45, my parents got home. They said it was a wonderful wedding, but I wasn’t sad about missing it because I had a wonderful time too. And judging by how well my parents said I handled everything, this first weekend home alone most likely won’t be my last.

There’s No Place Like Home!

Well readers, I promise that the next entry will reveal all the duties I perform in my amazing internship. But I thought that since I have at least ended the suspense about where I am doing my internship, that you guys wouldn’t mind a break in the series for the assistance dog blog carnival. I made this decision for two reasons. First, Gilbert has reminded me again that this blog is called “Gilbert and Me.” Thus he would appreciate it if this blog would focus on him every now and then. Second, I thought it would be nice to post my entry in advance for a change, not at the last minute when it is too late for my fellow assistance dog handlers reading this to participate. With that being said, the theme for this carnival is “differences”, and the deadline for submitting entries is July 22. To read the details and submit a link to an entry should you choose, visit http://brilliantmindbrokenbody.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/the-carnival-is-coming-to-town.

     So I learned the theme for this carnival when I got home from a family vacation a couple weeks ago, and realized it was very fitting after this trip because it reminded me once again that away from home, Gilbert is a different dog.

     As I wrote in my reflection on the one-year anniversary of the day Gilbert came to live with me (you can find this entry in the very first Assistance Dog Blog Carnival), I will never forget how although Gilbert hardly knew me, he made himself right at home. When I sat on the kitchen floor to pet him that first day while the trainer talked to my parents and me, he smothered my face with kisses. When I took him around the house on leash so he could sniff everything, he jumped on to my bed! (The following day I learned that this happened because I had forgotten to shorten the leash.) I made him get off my bed right away because I didn’t want to encourage bad habits, but I secretly found it adorable that he already felt comfortable enough to try jumping on my bed and making himself at home.

     I have heard that often times, new guide dogs are so upset about being separated from their trainer and left in a strange environment that they don’t eat. This wasn’t the case for Gilbert who excitedly tried to eat directly out of the food bin! And when the dog trainer left us alone for our first night, Gilbert didn’t cry. Thus, except for some minor issues with barking if I left him alone in his crate the first week, he was clearly happy with his new home.

     Three weeks later was move-in day at the college dorm, but I figured this would be no problem for Gilbert. As is typical for all dogs in a training program, I knew that Gilbert had already transitioned to three different homes: the kennel where he was born, his puppy raisers and the trainer’s home. But this transition would be easier I thought, because he would only have to adjust to a new place, not a new handler. Besides, three weeks isn’t long enough to really get attached to a place, is it?

     As is often the case, I was wrong. Other students may not have noticed it because when there were visitors, he was as friendly and exuberant as ever. But when they left, he preferred to crawl in to his crate instead of following me around the room or lying at my feet when I was sitting at my desk. Eventually it occurred to me that this room didn’t have soft carpet to lay on and thus I couldn’t blame him for preferring the dog bed in his cage to the cold tile floor. So during the daytime, I would pull the bed out of the cage for him. But he still just didn’t seem himself. This may sound strange to some people, but although Gilbert spends most of his time sleeping even at home, somehow I could just tell that in the dorm, his sleep wasn’t the sleep of doggy contentment, but a listless, depressed sleep. (His depression never prevented him from inhaling his food at least!) He never could get comfortable relieving himself as cars drove by since the homes where he was raised, and my home are in rural areas. And most telling of all, he learned which driveway was home in no time flat and to this day, he turns in to it without any prompting when we return from walks. But he rarely if ever stopped at the correct dorm room, requiring me to make a braille label to mark my door. Maybe he honestly wasn’t sure which door was mine as all the doors were identical, but looking back, I wonder if he did know, but in bypassing the door, he was trying to make a statement. “This dorm isn’t home! I want to go home!”

     When my parents could tell I was lonely and invited me home for a burger on Labor Day, Gilbert didn’t seem too phased about being home. But after the first two days of classes, my mom could tell I was exhausted and wanted me to come home and rest for the weekend. This time, the instant Gilbert’s leash was removed, he ran laps through the house! My mom and I both agree it was his way of shouting for joy, “There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!” It was such an incredible, unforgettable display of pure joy that occasionally my mom and I still laugh about it to this day.

     That first week would turn out to be the longest stretch of time I ever stayed in that dorm. When people asked me why the dorm didn’t work out, I blamed it on the stress of getting myself and Gilbert ready for an 8:00 morning class in an unfamiliar dorm and decided it would be better to live at home where I could be more efficient, and maybe try independence again when we were more acclimated to college life and each other. This was true, but another part of it was that Gilbert’s transformation when we came home was too dramatic to ignore.

     I would spend an occasional weekend in the dorm when there was an event I wanted to attend, and would go back to my dorm to study when there was a gap of time between classes, but not enough time to go home. I would try to make these times fun for Gilbert and also to ease my loneliness in that notoriously antisocial dorm by inviting friends to visit my room. A good belly rub, which my friends were always happy to give, cheered Gilbert up in no time. (In the beginning of our partnership, it seemed like he didn’t like my belly rubs as much, probably because as the trainer said, I treated him like he was made of glass. But now he wags his tail as hard as he does for everyone else when I give belly rubs.) Occasionally, my friends would even play ball with him. I left ball throwing to the sighted people as it was a small room and I didn’t want to become a legend told for years to come. “We had a blind student on campus one time who broke a window playing ball with her guide dog!” There were no safe areas near campus that I knew of where Gilbert could run off-leash, and one of my suite mates and I were politely busted by a resident assistant when we let him chase the ball in the much more spacious hallway once. But for all practical purposes, Gilbert and I had decided we were happier at home. I wonder if the reason Gilbert ran through the house with such jubilation at the end of that first week was because he could sense subconsciously that we were essentially home to stay.

     Gilbert loves going to class with me and socializing with my friends, but at the end of the day, he always has his little ways of saying “it’s good to be home!” As a puppy, he would express this by running to the living room and chewing contentedly on his bone. As he has gotten older, he is less interested in bones and will just flop down on his favorite spot, the floor in front of the couch and sigh with contentment. If he were a human, I know he wouldn’t be the type of guy who volunteers in the community after work or goes golfing with his buddies. He would be the guy who crashes on the couch with a beer or something good to eat, passing the evening watching television without a care in the world.

     And that brings me to our trip two weeks ago. Most humans view a vacation as a chance to relax without a care in the world, but I was reminded once again that Gilbert prefers to relax at home. That Saturday morning as I always do before trips, I had to measure out dog food and dump each individual meal in to ziplock bags. At first, Gilbert got excited, thinking he was going to get an extra meal, but when he observed me putting the food in to bags, he laid down at my feet dejected, probably thinking “great. Another trip.” While my parents, sister and I enjoyed sitting on the balcony of our hotel room which my parents told me had a fabulous view, Gilbert spent much of the time pacing and growling at all of the unfamiliar noises. When he would lay down, he remained alert and nervous. This means that while I can leave Gilbert home alone in his crate if I want to go to an event without him, my parents and I agreed we should never leave him alone in a hotel room. It would be too traumatic for him, and he could even potentially get us kicked out of the hotel if he barked too much. So when we wanted to go to the water park that was included in our hotel fee, my parents and I took turns sitting with him at an out-of-the-way lounge chair. I think he might have enjoyed the water park atmosphere more than the hotel because he never barked at anything, but I still don’t think he fully relaxed the way he does at home.

     I have thought about asking other guide dog handlers or Gilbert’s trainer if there is anything I could do to make him more comfortable with new places, but our family is the kind that takes very short trips that usually only involve one night in a hotel. If he had a few more days to get used to the new environment, he would still look forward to getting home, but maybe would relax a little more. But as it is, when he barks I reprimand him, but then try to console him with comforting words like “It’s okay buddy. We’re going home soon!”

     Thanks to the vastness of the resort which required a long walk to the water park, not to mention our walking on the town strip to get a taste of the night life and the added concentration required of him to guide me in these relatively unfamiliar areas, he was finally tired enough to relax when we got back to the room and he slept like a rock all night. But as usual, his tail wagged the next afternoon when we came home.

     You know, now that I think about it, Gilbert probably gets his stress about being away from home from his owner. I have heard so many handlers say that if they are stressed, it transmits to the other end of the leash and the dog is stressed. It could also be that we are just the perfect personality match. But whatever the reason, while the rest of the family enjoys the change of scenery, Gilbert and I look forward to getting home again.

     I have yet to find a hotel or house where the shower was as easy to use as the shower at home, or with furniture as comfortable as ours. At the same time, I am sure Gilbert is thinking “you just cannot get carpet as soft as it is at home, or find such spacious rooms perfect for running circles or playing with cats when I get a burst of energy.” While he is stressing out about the unfamiliar noises, I am stressing out over the unfamiliar hotel room and cursing the fact that hotel rooms cannot have the nice pantry setup we have at home, where his food bin is on the floor when you open the right-hand door, and his dishes are stacked conveniently on top of it. In the hotel room, I must first hunt for the doggy bag amidst all of the other luggage. Then there is the slightly cumbersome task of filling the dish with water from a tiny hotel room sink rather than the big kitchen sink at home, and then finding a place to station the dish where it won’t be a trip hazard. Then the hunt through the luggage begins anew, this time for my toiletries since hotel rooms dont come with toiletries conveniently arranged in drawers. Neither of us can fully relax on the balcony of the hotel room or in the lounge chair area in the water park because both are so much noisier than our peaceful patio, and a stationary lounge chair isn’t nearly as relaxing as our porch swing and its soothing squeak as it rocks back and forth.

     While I don’t like the inconvenience of sharing one tiny bathroom with three other people, I am sure Gilbert wishes he could just step right out the front door with me when it is time for him to relieve himself, instead of having to wear his harness to guide me through a huge hotel and then often for a long ways outside as my dad helps me find a secluded grassy area. We both would rather walk on our familiar country roads or the sidewalks of our college campus, and then only for the purposes of exercise or getting between classes. Neither of us go for large crowds, unfamiliar bumps in the sidewalks, unfamiliar obstacles to get around or the boredom of stopping all the time while the sighted people shop or look at something. When we get home for the day after school or currently, my summer internship, we like to devote one hour to a good aerobic walk and then spend the rest of the day immersed in a good book, or in his case, a good dream. We both enjoyed some aspects of the trip. I loved swimming, even if it was a little cold for swimming that day, the delicious food we ate for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, the fudge we bought at a candy store on the strip that evening and most importantly the $23 I won at a casino now that I am old enough to enter casinos. I think Gilbert enjoyed when a couple little kids came up to admire and pet him at the water park, and he always enjoys licking crumbs off the floor at restaurants! But as the car pulled back in to our driveway Sunday afternoon and we entered the house him with a wagging tail and me with a contented sigh, it was clear we were both saying “there’s no place like home!”

     Next year, I will graduate college and if I find a decent job, I would kind of like to move out of my parents’ house and try my hand at independence again in an apartment or condominium. I would hate the unfamiliarity and lack of comfortable furniture at first, but over time I know I would adjust. And of course, my own home would be a long-term home, so I would not be living out of a suitcase like I do for vacations. Therefore, I would get to arrange Gilbert’s food and my toiletries so that they could be located efficiently, eliminating a lot of the stress I mentioned above. But I will probably never live in another house as spacious and peaceful as this one. For one thing, with the economy going down the drain, nobody in my generation will be able to afford such a nice house. But even if I could afford it, as a blind person, I cannot mow the huge lawns and don’t want to shovel snow off the long driveways that come with spacious rural houses. I don’t think a smaller house would be a big deal for me, and maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal for Gilbert either once he got used to it. Maybe some of his depression in the dorm had to do with the fact that we were such a new team then that the transition to the dorm was just too much for him. Maybe now that we will have been a team for almost four years by the time we would move, he might have an easier time recognizing the truth in the saying that it is the people that make a home, not the place. Even so, a small part of me cannot help but worry that when we move, he won’t be able to call any other place home.

Internship Application Saga (part 2)

(Well readers, finishing up part 2 ended up taking longer than I anticipated, but at last, here it is. Read part 1, the entry below this one for the beginning of the story).

     So OnMilwaukee.com sort of fell through, but I didn’t panic too much yet because I hadn’t heard back from Reader’s Digest. There was still hope. But after submitting my application to Reader’s Digest, I got a follow-up e-mail asking for some additional information about the internship requirements for my school and if there was anything else they should know. That was when I decided it would probably be appropriate to mention that I was blind and explain the accommodations I would need. Shortly thereafter, a woman from Reader’s Digest called and told me that she wasn’t sure this internship would be appropriate for me because all of the content handled in that office was user submitted content involving hand written submissions or photos. Maybe they could find some things for me to do, but she feared I wouldn’t get a quality, robust internship experience. But she was exceptionally nice about it, saying she would forward my application to other people and see if they could find another position for me down the line. I know some of you blind readers are probably thinking I should have been more persistent, but I could tell by the tone of this lady that she was not one of those people who just didn’t want the bother of accommodating a blind person, but honestly believed that I wouldn’t get much out of an internship with them because there were a lot of visual components, and I appreciate honesty. So I have no hard feelings toward Reader’s Digest. But that meant I had to get back to the drawing board with even more determination.

     Another local online publication I found seemed perfect as they were looking for interns familiar with Investigative journalism which is code for “this magazine is about real news, not entertainment”. But then I read further down and discovered the application materials were due by March 31, a date that had passed already. In addition, the magazine would not accept the applications electronically and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of printing my applications and then having to ask a sighted person to make sure my pages were in order or that the printer ink didn’t smear or something, when the vast majority of places these days accept electronic submissions. My dad suggested I apply for an internship with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, our local newspaper where a whole bunch of my professors work, thus offering plenty of people I could use as references, or the Waukesha Freeman, a smaller paper where I did a mentorship program in high school. Well, the information I found about internships with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indicated that applications were due back in December and the Waukesha Freeman wasn’t advertising that they were offering any internship programs. Thus an internship application process that started out as an exciting experience became a hopeless, frustrating and discouraging experience.

     There was one more ray of hope however. Perhaps to set the stage, I should rewind to the beginning of the semester. On the Friday the second week in to the semester, just before noon, I was packing my bags at the end of another very interesting public policy class when the professor came up to me and said, “you really seem to be getting this stuff.”

     I was getting this stuff, and I think I participated more in that class alone than I do for the whole semester in some of my other classes. I told her that ever since high school, I have found politics to be so intriguing.

     “Have you ever volunteered for a political campaign?” she asked.

     “Well no,” I said “I have always wanted to but wasn’t sure how to go about it.”

     “Just call them up,” she said, “I think that would be a great outlet for you.”

     And then she mentioned that every year, the governor’s office offers college internships, and I should consider applying. I told her I definitely would, and I was on top of the world that day walking back to the campus center for lunch, honored and amazed that this professor thought I was capable of pursuing such a prestigious opportunity.

     Of course, this was just before the controversial budget repair bill and the nasty political fighting over it was the lead story on the national news for a while, but that actually made me want the internship even more, to be part of the action. I started the application process: I had written my cover letter and decided which writing samples to include with the application by the beginning of March. (Instead of using the news articles I wrote for the student newspaper, and the feature story about Fashion Xchange, I thought for this internship it would be more appropriate to use the research paper about September 11 that I wrote for a political theory class first semester of last year and posted on this blog in December, as well as a feature story I wrote for a class about the midterm elections.)

     And then the ugly pessimist named Rationality reared its head.

     “Your major is Journalism and your minor is politics, not the other way around,” it said “what if you cannot get credit for it as it may not meet the requirements of the Communication department?”

     “Be realistic. Your grades are good, but you will be competing with thousands of other student from the big leagues of Milwaukee and Madison. You might be crushed if you invest too many eggs in this basket.”

     But after being rejected by Reader’s Digest, I decided it couldn’t hurt to apply. The worst case scenario if I got it would be that I would get politics credit but no journalism credit, and then I would just do another internship during the school year.

     So during another shift at the switchboard, I went to the web site for the office of the governor and tried to fill out the application. The file was a PDF which meant that it could not be edited as it was, so I selected all of the text in the file, copied it to the clipboard and pasted it in to a word file. But when I sent it to my dad to proofread it, he said that pasting it in to a word file totally messed up the format. He tried to figure out if there was a way to write in the file, but had no luck. Sure enough, my computer savvy manager told me the next day that unless it was a writable PDF, it couldn’t be filled out while still preserving the formatting, and she suggested that I contact the internship coordinator because I couldn’t be the only one having problems with this file. So just before my shift ended, I sent him an e-mail explaining my situation, and when I got home, I found a reply from him saying that he would work on a writable version of the application tomorrow. This was the Thursday before Easter. When April turned to May and I still hadn’t heard from him, I figured he must have forgot, and given how busy the office was due to the controversy, I didn’t want to be annoying by sending follow-up messages. So I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would be doing an internship during the school year, but my dad still wanted me to keep trying for a summer internship. He was right that an internship during the school year wouldn’t be ideal because I would have other classes to worry about whereas summer was wide open. But every time I even thought about doing another internet search for an internship, I started to get a headache. Maybe I just needed to get through exams, take a break for a couple weeks and start from scratch. Besides, although my adviser said I could do my internship in the summer, she recommended that I register for the fall semester internship course because when you register for a summer course, even if it is done entirely off campus, you have to pay tuition as if you were taking a summer class, whereas by registering for the internship in the fall, it would be included in my fall semester tuition. Thus, if I completed my internship hours in the fall, this would not require any adjustments at the registrar’s office. When I told him I couldn’t deal with internship searching anymore, he took it upon himself to do some searching for me, inundating me with e-mails about internships I hadn’t found in my own searching. He even found a journalism position with Lake Country News, a subsidiary of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that was still accepting applications!

     The internet is overwhelming to me so I am not the greatest at searching for things. Thus, I really appreciated his help, but my heart just wasn’t in the internship hunt anymore. I applied for the lake country newspaper position, as well as a position with a nonprofit charity to try and show my appreciation of his help, but I did the bare minimum in terms of application requirements, meaning I didn’t bother to draft a cover letter or submit any writing samples. I never heard back from anyone regarding my application for the Lake Country position, and received a rejection letter from the charity. I expected as much since given the competitive nature of the internship market, they chose to hire students that hadn’t become lazy and apathetic like me. But that was alright because the next day, I discovered that the governor’s office hadn’t forgotten about me after all, for in my inbox was a beautiful, easy to follow writable application in microsoft word!

     This was just the inspiration I needed to get over my laziness and apathy. During my final shift for the year at the switchboard, I filled out the application and then on May 4, with all exams complete and thus no more school work hanging over my head, I completed the final piece of the application, an essay about what I could contribute to the governor’s office and what I hoped to get out of the experience. Then, as long as I had my computer on to submit my entry for Blogging Against Disablism Day, I officially submitted my application.

     On Friday, my dad persuaded me to contact the editor of the Waukesha Freeman where I did my high school mentorship and just ask if they might be able to give me an internship, even if internships weren’t being advertised. I hadn’t wanted to do it for fear that I would come off as annoying and because I didn’t want to pull strings. I wanted to come by my internship honestly not through the “I didn’t see any internships advertised, but I’m a sweet blind girl and worked for you in the past, so could you make an exception?” card. But then it occurred to me that all of the career experts, even the lady in the career center who helped me write my resume, strongly encourage assertiveness, so I resigned myself to this necessary evil. To my delight, I got a reply almost immediately from the news editor saying they do offer internships both in the summer and the school year. By Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, I had composed a customized cover letter and sent it off to the Waukesha Freeman along with three writing samples and my resume.

     I never heard back from the Waukesha Freeman. I don’t hold that against them though because newspaper internships are so competitive that they only respond to applications that they want to move forward with, and since my resume indicates that my contributions to my student newspaper were sporadic (Often, I didn’t feel I could do an adequate job with my newspaper assignments on top of my academic responsibilities), and since my writing samples couldn’t compare to other articles I have read in the newspaper written by my classmates, I am sure I wasn’t the most impressive candidate.

     But the following day, my cell phone rang. It was the governor’s office, and they were interested in an interview!

     They offered me the option of doing a phone interview since I live an hour and a half away from the capitol building, but I told them it would be no problem for me to come for an in-person interview. For one thing, my phone will work perfectly for a typical call to my parents or friends, but if it is an important call, which an interview for an internship with the governor’s office would be if anything is, that is when my cell phone signal is bad and the caller cannot hear me. This happened when the lady from Reader’s Digest called and I had to reenact those commercials. “Can you hear me now?” (I was going to put my home landline number on my applications because I have never had issues with that phone, but the person from career services told me it is more professional to list your personal cell phone.) Anyway, I would be nervous enough without the awkwardness of dealing with technical difficulties.

     But more importantly, I wanted to actually get a taste of the environment where I would be working should I get accepted, and I wanted the interviewer to see me. I wanted them to see, lest they have any misconceptions, that despite being blind, I knew how to comb my hair and dress professionally. I wanted them to observe Gilbert and me navigating to their office independently, and show them the technology I use. So I arranged an interview for 10:00 in the morning on June 17.

     I had taken a school field trip to the state capitol in fourth grade, but that was a long time ago so I had forgotten what a huge busy place it was. I think I have mentioned in the past that large, bustling unfamiliar places overwhelm me and I feared this would manifest itself in my interview. Unlike my interview with OnMilwaukee.com, I actually rehearsed to myself how I would respond to common questions like why I want the internship and what I would bring to the table. And when the interviewer caught me off guard with “what political figures do you look up to?” I was proud of my thinking on my feet, something I am usually terrible at. I responded to this question by saying that I voted for Barack Obama (if you haven’t been following the news, our governor is a republican). But I basically told them I am not a hard core registered Democrat and that I am independent, more concerned about the issues than politics which is the truth. I could tell they liked that answer.

     Despite how well prepared I felt, I couldn’t help wondering if I stammered too much or if my nervousness showed, so I decided I better get psychologically prepared for a polite rejection. But the following morning, I got an e-mail from the Milwaukee office of the governor. The interviewer had asked me if I would like to split my time between Madison and Milwaukee, and I had mentioned that this would be wonderful. My dad had said that since I would only have to work fifteen hours a week, he would have no problem driving me to Madison two or three times a week, but the Milwaukee office would be a lot more convenient. So the interviewer said he would forward my information to the Milwaukee office, but didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Anyway, the lady who runs the Milwaukee office also wanted an interview, which we arranged for 11:00 on the morning of May 20.

     The building where this office is located is large (nine stories), but quiet. The office was quiet too. The lady who invited me for the interview turned out to be the only one in the office. One person was all that was needed I would quickly learn. The office was necessary to serve the needs of local constituents, but most of the operations of the governor’s office took place at the capitol building in Madison. Thus, there would be plenty of peace and quiet in this office. In this preferred peace and quiet, I felt a lot more relaxed but still didn’t want to get overly confident.

     But after asking me again why I was interested in the internship and what I would contribute, her next question was “when can you start?” In other words, I had been accepted!

     We arranged to have me start at 8:00 in the morning the day after Memorial Day, which was the day two other interns would be starting, and which would give me time to get approval from my adviser. For this internship, I remembered to mention that I had to work 150 hours for full credit and that she needed to contact my adviser to negotiate a syllabus. I guess the silver lining of every failure like my failure to communicate the requirements clearly enough with OnMilwaukee.com, is that failures teach valuable lessons which increase the chances of success the next time around.

     And I was successful this time around. On Thursday May 26, my adviser told me that a syllabus had been approved and this syllabus was forwarded to me. And, I would get credit toward my major. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t specifically related to journalism which was the area of communication I had chosen to focus on in my studies. All that mattered was that it involve the broad field of Communication, and since my primary duty would be answering the phone and assisting constituents, it certainly did!

     But now that I reflect on this whole experience, it has occurred to me that in addition to learning the importance of proper communication and perseverance, I also learned spiritual lessons. I know I have neglected to mention faith in my recounting of this experience, but that was because I realize now that I was so determined to be independent that I didn’t even pray for help from God, which my mom had always taught me to do when I was feeling frustrated or discouraged. But maybe God insisted on helping me anyway.

     Throughout the course of my internship search, despite the fact that I had majored in journalism and imagined both an internship and a career that involved writing for either a newspaper or online publication, nothing filled me with as much passion and excitement as the idea of an internship with the governor’s office. But between my lack of confidence in my abilities despite my professor’s encouragement and my reluctance to stray from the journalism path, I was hesitant to pursue this amazing opportunity. But when other journalism internships didn’t work out, the opportunity that I thought could only be a dream ended up being reality. Some readers may be skeptical, but I cannot help wonder if this was God’s way of telling me: “have more confidence in yourself. Don’t be afraid to stray from the path and try something new. Don’t let doubt stand in the way of pursuing something you discover a passion for because it may not necessarily turn out to be just a dream.”

Internship Application Saga (part 1)

Well readers, between family commitments and the typical summer heat and humidity that always makes me feel sluggish and uninspired, I haven’t been able to write the internship update I promised over a month ago. I have been picking at it, writing a couple sentences a day, but the inspiring story of our country’s founders must have rubbed off on me because today is the day it is finally coming together.

     So in a nutshell, I landed the coolest internship ever, and I feel like I have learned more in this first month of the internship than I do in a whole semester. But partly to keep you readers in suspense, but mostly because the process of seeking the internship was eventful too and worth sharing, I am going to focus on my application process in a two-part series. Part 2 is almost finished. I will probably finish it while my parents are at the fireworks. (I think I wrote an entry about my disinterest in fireworks in the early days of this journal). I should have it ready to post tomorrow. Then I will focus on the wonderful experiences I have had with this internship.

     I think I mentioned in an entry I wrote last summer how excited I was for next summer (that is, now), when I would be eligible to do an internship. Actually, from the first day of my freshman year of college, I knew that four credits worth of internship experience was required for graduation at my college. But learning about this requirement brought back fond memories of an internship-like experience at a local newspaper arranged for me through my high school junior year, so this was a course requirement I was looking forward to, as internships are “classrooms without walls” where you get to do exciting grown-up stuff, rather than theoretical school work.

     The only difference was that I would have to arrange this internship myself. My college has a career center where you can get help with things like writing a resume and cover letter or preparing for an interview. But as far as actually finding internships, you are on your own.

     But this didn’t bother me for three reasons. First, it makes sense that by college, expectations would be set a little higher than merely writing an essay about why you want an internship and what your interests are, and then having a teacher do the leg work of actually arranging the internship. Second, once I graduate college, it won’t be Mom, Dad or a teacher’s responsibility to find me a job, so it is good to practice now when the stakes are only course credits rather than a roof over my head or food on the table, something I am sure the college recognized. But more importantly, arranging your own job/internship definitely falls under the category of “grown-up stuff” which I find exciting as I mentioned before.

     So I made an appointment with career services to help me write my resume and cover letter, and spent a three hour shift at the switchboard introducing myself to the grown-up world with a profile on linkedin.com and writing a resume. My supervisor at the switchboard taught me how to make some formatting adjustments so that it looked better visually. But I emphasize the phrase “taught me”. She did not do it for me, so for all practical purposes, I formulated a resume all by myself.

     The next shift I devoted to gathering writing samples, as all of the internships I had looked at applying to required at least two writing samples. Although I only had time to write one article for my student newspaper last year, I had written several articles freshman and sophomore years that were published. Unfortunately, I had written the articles on my old braille notetaker and didn’t have or know how to use thumb drives, so when my old notetaker was traded in for the Apex last year, I lost my articles. Fortunately however, the newspaper was archived online. The editor had made a few changes to the articles, but from what I remembered, they had been so minor that I figured it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t have the original pieces.

     Before I continue, I should tell you that I had made a vow to myself that with the exception of driving me to interviews, I was going to do everything independently. Generally I have nothing against asking for help, especially when Gilbert and I are traveling in an unfamiliar area, or even when we are in a familiar area and I have a brain freeze or a change in the environment throws me off course, such as a large crowd in an environment that is usually quiet. But I felt like internships were different. An employer is not going to care so much about whether I can travel independently since most likely, I will have an office job where traveling won’t be necessary. But when there is still a 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people, what would an employer think if they found out I couldn’t navigate their web site independently to submit my application, or if it is apparent that someone else wrote my resume for me? Granted, this was only a temporary summer internship, but I might want to network with those people when I was ready for a permanent job, or I have also heard that sometimes, employers will hire the intern on full-time. Thus, I really wanted to make a good impression and demonstrate that blindness didn’t stop me from being as independent as anyone else. Since I have heard that first impressions are lasting, I wanted to start proving my independence starting with the application process.

     So I went to the web site of the newspaper, found two really well written articles from my freshman and sophomore years, selected the text of each article, then copied and pasted each article in to a microsoft word document. When the articles were published online, I discovered paragraph indentations had been lost, but that was no problem. I didn’t remember how I divided up paragraphs when I originally wrote the articles, but I just re-indented where I thought were the logical places for new paragraphs. For the third sample, I chose an article I wrote for a feature writing class first semester about Fashion Xchange, a consignment shop where people could buy designer brands of clothing used, and thus for a lower price. This article had been written in my new braille notetaker and for once, I was smart and did not delete that article at the start of second semester.

     “Perfect!” I thought to myself, beaming with excitement. “I have my resume done, and my writing samples ready to go. All that is left is going online and submitting everything. That will be a piece of cake!” As usual, I was wrong.

     The first position I wanted to apply for was with Reader’s Digest. I have been receiving Reader’s Digest in braille since eighth grade and absolutely love it. To my excitement, I found out that Reader’s Digest has an office in my area and that they were looking for interns. I didn’t have enough course credits to apply last year, but made a mental note to apply there next year, which was this year before I knew it. I had hoped to submit my resume right after I had finished it and then add my writing samples later, but what would be the fun of an internship application process without technical difficulties, right?

     Composing my resume took the whole shift, but after the shift, I had an hour to kill before an evening class, so I decided to go to the technology center and submit my resume before class. Well despite selecting the option to upload my resume, I still had to fill in edit boxes with my contact information, the type of employment I was seeking, whether or not I wanted course credit, stuff like that. “No problem,” I thought.

     I successfully entered information in to the first form field, but when I hit tab to get to the next one, Jaws didn’t say anything. When I hit the down arrow repeatedly and then hit control home to try to just get to the top of the page and start over, Jaws continued repeating the prompt for the first field which I had already filled in so now I had no idea where I was on the page.

     “Alright fine, I’ll close out and start over!” I decided.

     So I navigated back to the page again and resolved that I would use arrow keys only, since I guess this page didn’t like the tab key for some reason. With this method, I was excited when I successfully completed the first section and clicked the button for the next section. (In all, there were six sections to complete.)

     After clicking this button, I checked my clock and realized it was time to get to my evening class.

     “That’s alright,” I thought. “Since I clicked the button to move to the next step, surely the information I already entered will be automatically saved.” I quickly arrowed through the page to see if there was a save button, and finding none, decided it had to have been automatically saved. But when I got home that night, went to the web site and entered my e-mail to retrieve my resume, I received a message that they had no resume on file with that address. It had not been saved!

     This happened on a Thursday, but I decided I would try again Monday in a free hour I had before an English class after volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. This decision was made partly because my home computer has an old version of JAWS that requires turning the forms mode on to fill in edit boxes, and then turning it off again to use the arrows making the process even more tedious than it already was, but mostly because I was so frustrated I needed to walk away from the whole thing for awhile. With renewed inspiration and confidence, I walked in to the computer lab Monday and successfully completed the first step, only to have the computer kick me off the site and shut down when I tried to proceed to the second step! By the time I got the computer restarted, it was time for class. Strike 2!

     “Surely, the third attempt will be the charm,” I thought to myself as I sat down at the computer at the beginning of another three hour switchboard shift. “To make my odds of success even better, I had three hours if anything went wrong instead of only one!”

     On the first attempt, I successfully got through five steps and was so excited and full of hope. And then it came to the step where I would upload my writing samples, but when I clicked on the button to start this process, it took me to some flash movie thing where I found a button to browse for the files I needed, but when I clicked it, nothing happened! When I typed the names of files in to the edit box and clicked the button again thinking maybe this site wouldn’t let you browse the computer folders, still nothing happened! There was another sighted student worker sitting right next to me whom I could have asked for help, but at that point, I still wanted to hold on to my promise to do everything by myself.

     “Alright fine! I’ll just close out of this step, skip it and finish the rest of the application. Then tomorrow, I will contact Reader’s Digest, tell them I was blind and couldn’t figure out how to submit my writing samples on that site, and ask if maybe there was an alternative method by which I could submit them,” I decided. When I tried to exit that window using backspace and escape, nothing happened, and when I hit alt f4, it closed me out of the entire site, and again, the first five steps had not been saved! Strike 3!

     By now, as you can see, I was furious and almost tempted to cut my losses and not waste any more time on such a frustrating site. And then I heard the voice of that teacher I wrote about last year in my head reminding me to “never never never give up”, and decided I wasn’t going to let this frustration get the better of me. After all, in a world where blind people are a minority, this certainly wouldn’t be the last time I would have to deal with a site that wasn’t friendly to blind people, so giving up was not a habit I wanted to start. So I went back to the web site, and finally submitted everything but the writing samples.

     The next day, I didn’t have classes until the evening, so my dad said “you know, why don’t you e-mail me your writing samples, and I will go on to our computer and just see if I can figure out the problem or see if there was something you missed before you contact the company.” I decided this was acceptable. He wasn’t going to do it for me, just see what the site looks like and whether he had any trouble with it. So I sent him my samples. I was hoping he would not read them, just save them on the computer to see if he could browse for them, but my parents are the type that just cannot help themselves and since the family computer doesn’t have JAWS on it, I didn’t know what he was up to. But it turned out to be a good thing he did read them because he told me that some of the words were underlined with weird orange lines which he couldn’t figure out how to remove and which he said made the files look really sloppy. I had no idea about this because JAWS did not indicate anything like that. So he told me I would have to ask someone else for help removing the lines before submitting them.

     Because I was falling behind on my other school work trying to deal with this fiasco, I actually forgot about Reader’s Digest until a couple weeks later when I received an e-mail thanking me for my interest in Reader’s Digest, but that I was missing the required writing samples. There was still time to submit them. The e-mail was sent on a Wednesday and I think it said they wanted my writing samples by the following Monday.

     Then it occurred to me that no one ever mentioned anything about weird lines on files that came from my braille notetaker, so as silly as this sounds, I decided to try e-mailing the writing samples to the e-mail address I access with my braille notetaker, detach the files, and then e-mail them back to my school e-mail. I also e-mailed them to my dad, who said the lines were gone! Finally, success!

     But the next day at work when I tried again to submit the samples, the web site was still being difficult, so had to resign myself to the fact that this once, I needed to ask for help from a sighted student to upload the files. But at last, the files were successfully uploaded and though it took three weeks longer than it should have, my first internship application was complete!

     My next shift I devoted to creating an account with Milwaukeejobs.com where a lot of local companies post job and internship opportunities, and this site actually worked like a site should! In one shift, I successfully uploaded my resume and applied for another internship with the Wisconsin chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. And to my jubilation, I discovered when I got home that this site was braille notetaker friendly, so I applied for another position that evening with sighted-person efficiency. This position was with OnMilwaukee.com, an online magazine that focuses on special events in Milwaukee, especially summer concerts.

     Alright, now is where the story gets more interesting. I wasn’t sure if I should bother applying to OnMilwaukee.com because for one thing, the application deadline had passed, and for anther, I had read OnMilwaukee stuff in the past and it seemed more entertainment focused, and I was more interested in serious stuff like politics. But since the application process was so quick and easy, I decided it couldn’t hurt to apply. Since the deadline had passed, I would probably receive a polite rejection or nothing at all, so I would have nothing to worry about. I also remembered that my dad and my sister had both advised me to apply for a lot of internships, even if they weren’t exactly what I was interested in because given the bad economy and thus the competitiveness of both jobs and internships, I may have to take what I can get. If I didn’t enjoy it, I should just remember it was only for one summer, and no matter what I did, it would look good on a resume. This happened on Saint Patrick’s Day, and the next day after a public policy class with interesting discussions as usual, lunch at Noodles and Company with my sister who had come home to visit and a pie party in English, the pie being my contribution (a funny story for another entry), it was spring break at long last! As I mentioned in a previous entry, this year, spring break was two weeks later than it was my freshman and sophomore years, and thus although my dad said I should use spring break to apply for a bunch of internships, I decided I needed a real break, doing nothing but blogging, relaxing and celebrating birthdays. (Spring break began with my brother’s birthday and ended with my 21st birthday).

     By the Wednesday of spring break week, I was just starting to feel a little guilty that I wasn’t using my time productively applying for internships when I checked my e-mails and lo and behold, a staff member from OnMilwaukee.com wanted me to come in for an interview! At that point, I forgot all about the fact that I wasn’t as interested in entertainment and was consumed by the thrilling realization that in this competitive job market, someone was actually interested in me! I immediately replied to the message and arranged to meet at their downtown office the following Monday at 11:00 in the morning.

     As long as I already had to get help submitting my writing samples, I accepted Mom’s help choosing professional clothes to wear, but on Monday morning, Dad drove me to the office and Gilbert and I followed his voice to the door of the office and he waited outside as Gilbert and I entered the office, told the receptionist my name and that I was there for an interview at 11:00. We waited for the receptionist to call the person who would be interviewing me. This person came out of his back office and before he had time to be alarmed about my disability (I decided not to mention this on the application), I told him Gilbert and I could follow his voice and get to the room independently.

     Gilbert would have loved to work there, as the guy interviewing me clearly loved him and told me that every Friday, the staff bring their dogs to the office! But when I walked out of the interview, I was sure I wouldn’t get the job. If only I had known I would land an interview so soon, maybe I would have taken advantage of the interview preparation services offered by the career center, but I didn’t and thus thought I sounded like an idiot.

     “So what do you like about Milwaukee?” the interviewer asked first thing.

     Why didn’t I think to prepare for this question when the job description was looking for people who “love everything Milwaukee”? Thinking fast and trying not to show it, I replied something like “I love the happy atmosphere with all the festivals and stuff in the summer.”

     “What’s your favorite thing to do in Milwaukee?”

     Before I could catch myself, I found myself saying “well, I don’t really come to Milwaukee that often. Mostly I stay in mn suburb or go to events at my college.” Then as an afterthought I added, “I do enjoy going to the state fair, and went to a one-man play that was a tribute to Hank Williams Sr., a legendary country music singer a couple months ago.” Then, since I felt I had already totally blown my chance of getting this job, I decided I might as well just be honest and say I followed serious news and politics more than entertainment. Then he asked if I had ever done any online writing, so I told him about this blog. To my surprise, he asked me to give the address of the blog, and while I generally love gushing about this blog to anyone who will listen, I hadn’t intended for it to be viewed by prospective internship employers. This blog is totally clean: there is no adult content and no inappropriate pictures. But as longtime readers know, I sometimes like to be silly and use this blog to get away from the scholarly tone required in my college writing. I warned him of this, and he assured me that they weren’t concerned so much with professional writing: they just wanted to see how I write. Still, when I got back in the car to head to school for my afternoon English class, I was just sure I would get a polite rejection from them and that they would hire someone more like my brother, who lives in and breathes the Milwaukee culture. But then the following Tuesday, I sat down at the computer next to the switchboard expecting another ordinary shift when I saw in my e-mail inbox a message from OnMilwaukee.com. Heart pounding, I opened it up and instead of reading something like “thank you for taking the time to come for an interview at the OnMilwaukee.com office. Unfortunately, we found a candidate with qualifications more suitable for this position, but don’t be discouraged”, the message that my dad, a much more seasoned member of the working world prepared me for, the sentence thanking me for taking the time to come for an interview was followed by “we would like to move forward with your application, and invite you to join us as part of the OnMilwaukee.com team!” The message also went on to say that since I expressed an interest in country music in my interview, I would be blogging at country music events! This didn’t sound like a rejection to me!

     At that point, I forgot all about the fact that I wasn’t as interested in entertainment as I was in news and politics, and was instead totally consumed with the excitement of getting an internship offer after only one interview! I was so excited, my manager even said she would cover the switchboard so I could call my dad on my cell phone and reveal the exciting news. Then I sat back, thinking the rest of the semester would be smooth sailing. I told everyone who asked me what I would be doing over summer that I would be doing an internship with OnMilwaukee.com, and didn’t bother filling out any more applications. I had been accepted to an internship, so everything was in place to fulfill my internship requirement, right? Wrong again!

     To make this story that is getting long short, I didn’t think to mention in the interview that to earn full credit for the internship, I had to work at least 150 hours and the assignments they had in mind for me wouldn’t even come close to that. I could still do the internship in addition to another one for full credit, but I would have to get going on applications again.