Archive for August, 2011

Exciting News on the Writing Front

Well readers, remember how last week in my blog post about getting back to daily obedience with Gilbert, I mentioned that I hadn’t spent enough quality time with him between my internship and pursuing my dream of being a writer? Well for this entry, I thought I would share with you some exciting writing opportunities that have transpired this summer because this blog hasn’t been the only writing I have been doing. Of course, writing for this blog is what I enjoy most as I think I mentioned in a post last summer. With my blog, there are no editors except me, and sometimes my standards are pretty low. Although web sites with advice on how to increase traffic to your blog say you should discipline yourself and write regularly, I am more interested in writing from the heart and having fun than increasing traffic. So my blog has no deadlines. I can write when I want, about whatever I want and it is published instantly. What could be better!

Well, as much as I enjoy this blog and say I don’t care about traffic, the truth is that this summer, I have had an itch to expand my writing to a larger audience. But rather than ruining the casual freedom of this blog, it occurred to me that I ought to look in to writing for other publications or well-known blogs. To my amazement, just after the 4th of July, I got this opportunity.

Shortly after discovering the fun of blogging, I also discovered a passion for reading other blogs. Last May, I was reading Reader’s Digest and every May, Reader’s Digest runs a special “America’s Best” feature where they have featured everything from the best airport (I forget which airport it was but it had an amusement park to play in during layovers), to best cookie recipe which was a recipe for cookies without eggs since many children have allergies to eggs. Well last year, there was a best blogs section. I think there were three or four blogs featured in this section but the one that caught my attention was Free-Range Kids, described as a humorous blog about overprotective parents these days. The blog is written by Lenore Skenazy. She is the New York City mother who made news a few years ago after letting her 9-year-old son ride the subway by himself to the outrage of many parents. I am not a parent yet of course, but for some reason this blog sounded interesting to me so I started following it. The philosophy of this blog is that while safety is good, there is such a thing as being too safe, robbing today’s children of the joy of childhood just a generation ago. The blog has featured everything from satirical articles in The Onion, to ridiculous safety tips put out by companies, like one recently that suggested buying children green notebooks for school as white notebook paper is hard on the eyes (seriously?), to letters sent in by readers which are often about situations where they got yelled at by another parent or police officer for doing innocent things like letting their children walk to a friend’s house alone. Well this summer, I was inspired to contribute my own story to this blog. On a whim, I found Lenore Skenazy’s e-mail address and sent a letter, figuring that since she has been voted most controversial blogger, she probably gets inundated with mail and wouldn’t read my letter, but why not try? To my amazement, she did read it, and published it on her blog the next day! Here is how the story was presented on her blog.

Hi Readers – Just got this poignant note from a young woman who sees life, risk and joy pretty clearly!

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am fortunate to live in a community with several wonderful county parks and, growing up, swimming in the lakes there was a regular part of summer. But then life got hectic and I hadn’t been to the lakes in years, so to celebrate the 4th of July, my parents and I decided it was time to revisit one.

As a child, I never wore my swim shoes in to the water. My siblings and I would stake our claim at a picnic table or lounge chair where we would drop our shoes, run across boiling hot pavement, sink our toes into warm sand and then bounce joyously in the water all afternoon. I could hardly wait to re-live those memories.

Unfortunately, since those days, Mom has heard stories of shards of glass, even needles, piercing children’s feet at the lake, so she did not want me to take off my swim shoes this time. I am 21 years old, so I could have refused to listen, but I decided maybe she had a point. Maybe we DO have to be more careful these days. I kept them on. But then–something just wasn’t right. I couldn’t bounce around the way I remembered or kick my feet to swim, because the shoes weighed me down. I found myself standing sullenly in the water thinking I might as well have just stayed on land.

“Can I please, please PLEASE take off my shoes?”

“Okay, but if you hurt yourself—

“I will take full responsibility for it,” I promised.
Instantly, my shoes were off, my day was transformed and my feet were never even scratched. But after that experience, this blog came to mind.     I would say my mom was a Free-Range parent when my three older siblings and I were growing up. When the weather was beautiful, she would not allow us to sit inside, watching television. And although it wasn’t safe for me to do so, being totally blind in a community with no sidewalks, my siblings would frequently bike to the grocery store or walk to a friend’s house. So to learn that even my own mother had become consumed by fear surprised me.     Of course, those stories of children contracting diseases after stepping on a needle at the beach are horrible. [NOTE FROM LENORE: And rarer than shark attacks!] But while I don’t have statistics about this, the fact that this never happened to me or my siblings or anyone I know makes me think that, in the same way kidnapping is so unlikely that it is not worth staying locked in the house, the likelihood of stepping on a needle at the beach is not strong enough to justify missing out on the incredible joy of swimming barefoot. I hope today’s kids don’t.– Allison Nastoff     Well, I had sure found a larger audience. While my blog posts may get one or two comments, this post got 87 comments which were very interesting to read. Some were critical of me which is good because given that I will graduate college in May with a major in journalism and a minor in politics with the hope of combining the two, this letter to Free-Range Kids certainly won’t be the last controversial piece I will write in my life. One of these comments for example criticized the fact that I was 21 years old and yet still asked if I could take off my shoes. I can see where this person was coming from. Generally, 21-year-olds are beyond asking their parents’ permission for anything and maybe I shouldn’t have included that in the letter. I decided I didn’t want to reply to these comments directly, but the point I was trying to make and maybe didn’t make very clearly was that I am the type of kid who tries to be a good kid and respect my parents instead of just blatantly disregarding their well-meaning efforts to keep me safe. But I also got a lot of interesting and rewarding comments as well. My favorite was from a person who said “This is a really poetic post and I can’t thank the writer enough for sharing it with us.” He went on to say how it is easy for sighted people to say wearing shoes doesn’t detract from the experience of the beach, but by wearing shoes, you are essentially binding one of your senses. So well said and so true for me. I read all 87 comments because as the writer of the piece I couldn’t resist. I don’t expect you to do that, but if you want to, the link is

But the writing excitement didn’t stop there. Just a few days after my Free-Range Kids piece was published, I noticed one of you readers had posted a comment about the first post on my internship application saga and said I should think about submitting it to a blindness related publication like the Braille Monitor or Braille Forum. Given my low standards for this blog, I never imagined anyone would suggest that, so I was elated and thought “You know, it cannot hurt to try.” I couldn’t find any information about how to submit to the Braille Forum or Braille Monitor, but I did find information on submitting to Dialogue Magazine which is published out of Oregon by Blindskills Inc. and is dedicated to people who are blind or loosing their vision and their friends and family. For some reason, I had never heard of this magazine until doing this internet search but was very impressed with a couple of sample articles I read. I was even more impressed when upon closer examination of the submission guidelines, I found that writers whose pieces are accepted to the magazine are paid between $15 and $35!

When I did my mentorship experience with the Waukesha Freeman my junior year of high school, the editor who mentored me published an article I had written about the controversy surrounding a referendum to renovate my high school, even giving me my own byline. When I boasted to my brother who also wants to be a writer that this byline officially made me a published writer, he asked “did you get paid?” “Well no,” I said. “Then it doesn’t count,” he said teasingly. So if I get paid for my writing by Dialogue Magazine, what a huge boost that could be for the cause of sibling rivalry! Oh, and it would be good for my resume too.

So on August 19, I sent a query to Dialogue Magazine, asking whether my frustrating experience would be of interest to readers of the magazine. To my delight, I received a reply on Monday from the editor who said it indeed would be of interest and would fit well in their Education Makes a Difference column. And, while the writing guidelines generally preferred articles in the range of 600-800 words, the editor told me I could shoot for 1,200 words! Not bad for my first foray in to the world of paid writing I would say! So I wrote a shortened recount of the saga posted on this blog and sent it off, along with a cover letter (I got advice on writing a cover letter from Stylist, the listserve of the National Federation of the Blind Writer’s Division) Sunday evening.

I shouldn’t get too arrogant because although the editor expressed interest in the topic of my article, I won’t know for awhile whether it will officially be accepted. But the ball is rolling and there is a chance that I will be able to call myself a paid writer soon. I cannot post the article I submitted yet because if it is published, Dialogue has exclusive electronic rights to it for one year. But I will let you know as soon as I find out whether or not it will be accepted and will post a link to it if it is used as a sample article on their web site.

But if this article is published, it may just be the springboard for a writing career that will allow Gilbert and I to live in luxury, hire servants and take leisurely walks along a beach every morning instead of walking to a bus stop in all kinds of weather for an office job! Well most likely, I will still have to have an office job because I’m no J.K. Rowling. But maybe I could become a regular contributor to Dialogue Magazine which could be the first step in earning the respect of editors of other publications and at least have writing as a fun side job. So this summer, between my internship experience and my writing, I have discovered that the world is full of exciting opportunities. I cannot thank the politics professor who recommended the internship and the reader of this blog who encouraged me to submit to a publication, for inspiring me to seek and pursue them.


Discipline Returns

(I intended on posting this yesterday, but LiveJournal wasnt working again. I didn’t want to change anything in this post though, so just keep in mind that it was intended for yesterday when you read it).

     Well readers, remember back in January when I wrote an entry for an assistance dog blog carnival on the theme of Decisions? One thing I mentioned in this post was how I could totally relate to those new mothers and their utopian determination that they are going to be perfect and do everything the experts say you are supposed to do, only to discover after a couple days or weeks that perfection is unrealistic. Well, in the midst of my fury about being criticized for not walking Gilbert when the weather was bad, having him sleep in a separate room and forbidding any and all treats and table scraps, I neglected to mention perhaps my most serious deviation from the perfection I was so determined to maintain in my early days with Gilbert. I am speaking of the daily obedience ritual, which so many dog trainers and guide dog handlers say is crucial for bonding between dog and handler, and for preserving the good behavior of the dog in public. I’m not going to make any excuses. Unlike the expectation that I walk Gilbert when the ground is covered in ice, daily discipline is not an unrealistic expectation. It only takes a couple minutes which could have easily been worked in even on the days when I was swamped with homework. But a week after the dog trainer graduated Gilbert and me, I just fell off the wagon.

     My parents tried to help me get back on. My dad would ask “did you do discipline today?” or say “you need to do some discipline with him” whenever he was the slightest bit naughty. But I never could get back on. I would do discipline sporadically over school breaks, or a few days leading up to an outing where Gilbert would see other guide dogs and I would be unofficially judged on my competence based on his behavior. I even tried to make it a new year’s resolution! But like a lot of new year’s resolutions, it collapsed by January 3.

     When I started feeling guilty, I would rationalize with myself. “He doesn’t need discipline. When we are in public and I ask him to sit, he obeys me perfectly!” Or “discipline doesn’t have anything to do with behavior. When we are out in public, I am constantly showered with complements by strangers about how calm and well-behaved he is, just lying at my feet.” Or “even when I was doing discipline, he would still go crazy at the sight of another dog, so daily discipline wouldn’t help this behavior.”

     But what better time is there than the start of a new school year, and my final school year at that (I will graduate college in May with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science), to try and turn over a new leaf and do daily obedience again?

     A couple other factors played a role in this decision as well. Last week, I took Gilbert to our state fair, thinking that since he is approaching midlife (he will be five in January), that maybe he would have an easier time keeping a cool head while walking me slowly and carefully through the large crowds. Well, I was wrong. My parents ended up having to do sighted guide most of the time because he got so overwhelmed by the crowds, walking too fast for conditions and bumping me in to people. And then when we walked past a toy mechanical cat in the exposition hall and when he saw another dog in an exhibit outside, you would have thought he was a puppy! I mentioned that even when I did daily discipline, he would still go crazy when he saw another dog. But I got to thinking maybe that was because we were such a new team at that time that we hadn’t bonded enough to apply the philosophy behind this daily obedience ritual, the fact that I am the boss, the leader of the pack, to the rest of the day. But now that we have been together three years, maybe this discipline will be more effective and we will both remember the purpose of this ritual when faced with high-distraction environments.

     But another reason that I have been motivated to return discipline to our routine is that I have noticed that this summer, I have been so wrapped up in my internship and my dreams of being a writer that I haven’t spent enough quality time with him. I do take him on walks of course, but my parents don’t feel comfortable with me going by myself because our neighborhood has no sidewalks, and with them following close behind me, these walks are not the private bonding affairs I had dreamed of when applying for a guide dog. The same story is true when working him in places other than my college campus.

     Just before Memorial Day, my parents, Gilbert and I went to Indiana to visit my grandma and watch a parade at my aunt’s house. The fact that I felt a cold coming on that weekend and was tired from a long car ride combined to make me irritable that night by the time we got to Grandma’s house. But after dinner at the American Legion, my grandma wanted to visit the cemetery to decorate my grandpa’s grave and look at the Memorial Day decorations. My mom told me this cemetery has a nice paved trail where Gilbert and I could walk, so while my parents and grandma were decorating the grave, Gilbert and I struck out on our own. My irritability melted away almost instantly. It was just getting dark out so it was cool and quiet with the most wonderful breeze and the air smelled fresh. When I realized there were no voices yapping along behind us, I found myself talking to Gilbert, not just praising and encouraging him like the dog trainer said to do, but actually having a one-sided conversation with him, kind of like Mr. Rogers talking to his neighbor. “How are you doing Buddy? Isn’t it the most gorgeous night? I just love the smell of flowers! Can you smell them? I love the peace and quiet of this place.” Just like Mr. Rogers’ interaction with his neighbor, which was anyone watching the show, it didn’t matter that Gilbert couldn’t talk back to me. Though he wasn’t wagging his tail, I could just tell that he was content, so I bet he would agree that when so much of life is loud and busy, resembling the singing dinosaurs and talking moppets that are the mainstay of so many shows, a few moments resembling Mr. Rogers’ more subdued approach and soothing one-way conversational voice is a wonderful treat. And when Gilbert had a brief moment of naughtiness and wanted to veer off the paved trail and explore the grass, I loved having the chance to notice this and correct him all by myself. My parents try not to interfere on walks, but sometimes, they just cannot help themselves, so I never get the full experience of working him on my own and bonding with him that I got to do in this cemetery.

     Gilbert is a difficult dog to play with because generally, unless another dog comes to visit, he is not a playful dog. I have tried playing fetch, but have to do a tun of coaxing to get him to bring the ball back to me, not go hide somewhere to chew on it. So between his laziness and disinterest in bringing the ball back and my lack of patience trying to train him to bring it back, it is a game we both tire of quickly.

     On a hilarious side note though, there is one toy that I discovered fascinates him. Gilbert loves the slinky! One day back in March while I was on spring break, my dad was cleaning and uncovered a slinky I hadn’t seen in years. He had been absently rolling it in his hands while watching television the night before, and the next day when I happened to be home alone, I was looking for something else and discovered the slinky lying on the coffee table. As soon as I felt it, I was overcome by the urge to be a kid again and try to get the slinky to walk down the stairs. (Important practical life skills like getting a slinky to walk down stairs have never been my strong suit, so I ended up cheating a lot, putting one end of the slinky on the top step and the other end three steps down when I’m pretty sure you are supposed to put the whole slinky on one step. But hey, it still made a sound that resembled walking, and I had fun which is all that really matters right?)

     Anyway, as soon as I picked up the slinky and headed for the wooden stairs leading to the basement, Gilbert woke up from his nap and followed me. When I sat down on the first step, he sat behind me watching curiously. He just sat there while I positioned the slinky and gave it a push, but when I heard it reach the basement floor, a rare feat when I was a child as the slinky would never quite make it to the bottom back then, I cheered and clapped! As if that cheer were the sound of a take-off bell for a race, Gilbert was off, almost knocking me down as he shot past me tail smacking me in the face as he passed, ran downstairs, grabbed the slinky in his mouth and brought it back! I was so amazed I had to do it a few more times and show my parents when they got home. But then it occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t let him play with the slinky anymore for fear that since it wasn’t intended to be a dog toy, he could choke on it. But as of yet, it is the only toy he has ever shown that much interest in. So until I find a more dog safe toy that excites him as much as the slinky did, I am not sure how to get him interested in playing.

     Despite the absence of play and discipline, Gilbert hasn’t been ignored by any means. I still bond with him through his daily care and he gets plenty of belly rubs and scratches behind the ears. I work him every chance I get when on errands or vacations with my family. But I want to do something more, something fun in addition to just his physical care for just the two of us with no sighted supervision. Returning daily discipline to the routine, it occurred to me, would be the perfect solution.

     The good news for Gilbert though is that in addition to returning discipline, I have also decided to try returning the daily dog treat as well so that discipline can be something we both look forward to. He looks forward to eating the treat, and I look forward to the adorable way he sniffs my pocket, as if to say, “you cannot fool me. Hand it over!”

     It so happened that on Friday, the day I came to this resolution, Mom and I had to go to my college to pay my tuition, and my college is located near Pet Supplies Plus, the only store in our area that carries Nutrisource, the dog food recommended by the dog trainer. So we decided to run in to the store and buy another bag on the way home. As we were walking past the dog treats, Mom said “remember those treats we used to give him? Would you like to get some of them again?” “You know, why not,” I decided. As I said, it would make discipline more fun and rewarding, and now that the oppressive heat and humidity has released its grip on our area, he is getting regular walks again so I didn’t have to worry as much about him gaining weight.

     We couldn’t find the treats we used to get, but settled on Natural Choice dog biscuits. I don’t like the fact that they are kind of big, probably the size of two milk bones put together. (I wish, for the benefit of blind people, that products could have a tactile picture of the product so I could have a better idea of what I was getting before I had already paid for it, brought it home and opened the box.) If he appears to be gaining weight, I will definitely start breaking them in half. But the package claims they are an all-natural chicken and rice formula so it sounds high quality and reasonably healthy.

     The dog trainer told me he didn’t give Gilbert any treats during training or discipline because he likes dogs to work for praise not food. Instead, he liked to give the dogs their treat as a bedtime snack. I like the philosophy of working for praise, so I don’t give him pieces of the treat during the discipline session. But as a person who finds a treat like a scoop of ice cram especially meaningful if I have earned it after a hard college exam or something, I like the idea of treating Gilbert at the end of every session for a job well done. I am proud to say that I have stuck to the routine for three days now. We haven’t done the discipline session for today yet, but I have no intentions of falling off the wagon now because this new routine has lived up to the fun and rewarding experience I had anticipated.

     So here’s the routine for our discipline sessions these days. I haven’t established a set time of day for discipline. I have heard some people say the best time to do it is first thing in the morning, but I have no ambition first thing in the morning. While some say that designating a set time of the day to do it helps them stick with something, I have found that as soon as something comes up like a new class schedule that interferes with the time I had set, I cannot re-adjust the routine accordingly and my good intentions collapse. So I am going to use the same policy I use to stick to my exercise routine. It doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as it gets done once a day.

     Since we haven’t done discipline in so long, I am starting simple and keeping him on leash, but once we have discipline well mastered again, I am excited about incorporating distractions, like making him sit and stay by me when the doorbell rings, when the car horn honks to announce my dad’s arrival home from work, while I am preparing his food and ultimately my goal is to ask a neighbor to bring their dog to visit and make him sit and stay until I give the command that he can play. But for now, we start by practicing sit and down on leash. He doesn’t ever disobey the command like he did occasionally in the early days of training, but now during discipline, he will anticipate the next command before it is given. So after I have said “Gilbert!” but before I have said “sit!” he is already sitting. So every day, I have had to correct him for this until we have done it three times without anticipation. (He will still twitch a little every time, but as long as he catches himself, I count it as a success). Then I lengthen the leash, walk out in front of him telling him to stay until I call him. Then I call him and once he is sitting in front of me and I have praised him, I tell him to heel and he sits at my heel. And then comes the hardest but most rewarding part of all. I tell him to stay and then I walk further away, his treat still in my pocket. I have decided to do discipline in the downstairs family room of our house and walk upstairs to the foyer with his treat. (Friday and Saturday, I asked my parents to peak downstairs and verify that he wasn’t doing anything sneaky, but when they told me both times he wasn’t, I decided to start trusting him with this exercise yesterday.

     After humming a song, making him wait a short but for him torturous amount of time as I later noticed drool on the carpet where I left him, I say “Gilbert come!” And with absolutely no hesitation, I hear happy paws dashing up the stairs and Gilbert comes to sit in front of me. He has earned his treat!

     I have already noticed small changes in him after just three days of discipline. Most notably, I have noticed that when I call him to me, his obedience is more instant. He would always come, but a lot of times, I would hear him stretching and dragging his feet a bit. Already, our bond is improving, a beautiful realization, especially because it occurred to me that today is the three year anniversary of our graduation and the official start of our life together. If I keep doing discipline every day, just imagine how much stronger our bond will grow in the years to come.

Internship Duties and New Perspectives


“So what have you been doing this summer?” I get this question every year from friends and relatives, and usually, my response is a lazy “Nothing really. I’ve pretty much just been reading and relaxing.” This summer as you readers know has been different, as I had finally accrued enough wisdom to be eligible for an internship. When I tell them I am doing an internship, their next question of course is “That’s cool! Where are you doing your internship?” As you readers already know, I am doing my internship in the Milwaukee office of my state’s governor. Then the next thing friends say, and the thing you are probably saying too is “Wow! So what are your duties in this internship?” That is what I am finally ready to reveal in this entry. I had this entry all ready to post August 1, but instead of getting the usual “update successful” message when I clicked the post button, LiveJournal gave me an “internal server error” message. I would have tried posting again later, but had just enough time to post the entry once before heading to choir rehearsal from 7:00 to 10:00 that night. Then after choir, I needed to get to bed right away because I needed to be up by 5:30 in the morning to exercise, get dressed for my internship and do some last minute packing for a week-long trip to Cincinnati for my grandma’s 80th birthday party. My mom was going to do her last minute packing and load the car while I was working, pick me up from work and hit the road from there.


     To my delight, I didn’t have to go a whole week without internet access because the Holiday Inn Express where we were staying had internet cables available at the front desk so I could connect to the internet with my Braille notetaker! But my Braille notetaker doesn’t allow me to post lengthy blog posts. I don’t have a laptop, and as my fellow blind readers would know since we are a rare breed, you don’t find desktop computers equipped with JAWS around every corner. Maybe I could have looked in to the possibility of finding one, but decided it would be easier to just wait until I got home. Then when I got home, it occurred to me that my supervisor said my last day could be August 11. I enjoyed this internship so much I would have worked until August 31 and gone right back to school September 1, but my supervisor said that since I had already exceeded my required number of hours, I should take some time off to relax and prepare for school. That meant I only had three days of work left when we returned from the trip, so I decided I might as well just wait until the internship was finished to post. That way, I could update a few details and make it more reflective in nature. So without further ado, here is the entry you have been waiting for all summer.


     To earn college credit for this internship, I had to keep a daily journal of my duties. I thought about posting that but thought you readers might find this approach boring. So instead, I thought I would give a general overview of a typical day.


     I typically worked from 8:00 until noon four days a week. On the application for this internship, one of the requirements was that students be available to work a minimum of fifteen hours each week. Since my summer schedule was wide open, I told my supervisor I could work forty hours a week if she wanted me to, but she said it wasn’t necessary to work more than fifteen hours. By working four hours a day four days a week for a total of sixteen hours, I am essentially working the minimum, but can tell myself I’ve gone above the minimum!


     Anyway, I generally worked Monday through Thursday, although sometimes, my supervisor had to attend events with the governor and since she was the only one running the office and didn’t like to leave interns in the office by themselves, I stayed home those days and made up for it by working Fridays those weeks. There were three other interns who attended several of these events with her, but many of them required the interns to assist with security or help direct people, tasks which would not have been feasible for me, at least not in an unfamiliar setting. But on August 9, the day I returned to work after the trip to Cincinnati, my supervisor took me to a groundbreaking ceremony where the governor planned to speak. The ceremony was for Innovation Park, a field purchased by a local college that is going to be used for research buildings. No security assistance or directing of people was needed at this event, so my supervisor found a spot for Gilbert and me to sit and listen. I had been to a dedication ceremony. It was in fourth grade when part of the school playground had to be rebuilt after some bratty high school boys burned it down. But I had never been to a groundbreaking ceremony before. The speeches were similar to my memories of the dedication ceremony, with lots of people thanking everyone that made the project possible. But instead of cutting a ribbon, each of the aldermen symbolically dug shovels in to a mound of dirt.


     The only reason I was slightly disappointed about not going to events in the early days of the internship was because I wanted to get the opportunity to meet the governor. But I had no reason to worry about missing out on that opportunity because he came to do work out of the Milwaukee office several times. The first time was the morning of June 27. I could hear him working in a back office for about an hour and a half. Just before it was time for him to leave, he shook my hand, thanked me for helping out in the governor’s office, and then my supervisor took a picture of me standing with him. My parents and sister all said it is a very good picture. My parents printed several copies to hand out to relatives and of course, one copy to hang on the fridge. My sister also helped me upload it to Facebook. Usually I hate it when my family makes a fuss over pictures. But even I recognized what an honor it was to have my picture taken with the governor, even if I couldn’t see it.


     Due to allergies, the governor didn’t pet Gilbert and to my relief, Gilbert seemed to sense this because often when he sees me stand up, talk excitedly and shake someone’s hand, he picks up on that, standing up and getting excited himself. But when I stood up to shake the governor’s hand both times he visited the office, Gilbert remained lying down. But he also got some additional excitement that day as the security guys showered him with belly rubs and attention!


     But the typical quiet days have been full of exciting experiences too. Here is what the typical day looks like.


     I generally left the house between 7:30 and 7:35 each morning which is nice because last summer when I worked the morning shift at my college’s switchboard, I had to be there by 7:30, which was very difficult as I am always a little sluggish early in the morning. But I prefer getting my work done early and having the rest of the day off, so although I could have scheduled my internship hours for the afternoon, I chose the morning shift. (If I had to do my internship in Madison though, I probably would have chosen the afternoon shift.) What’s also really nice about this internship is that my supervisor is very casual when it comes to promptness. She even told me during the interview, “Don’t come before 8:00 because I never get here before 8:00. In fact, if you arrive at 8:10, that’s fine.” Although I am trying to improve my efficiency in the morning since I have heard that other bosses in the adult world aren’t as casual, the truth is, I did often arrive at 8:10.


     Just like when I worked at the switchboard, my parents parked the car in front of the building where Gilbert and I could get to the office on our own. Even when my dad took me to this building the first time for my interview, I could tell it would be a super easy route to learn, and it was. My parents were almost always able to park right in front of the six steps that lead up to the building and then it was a straight shot to the door. Once through the two sets of doors, Gilbert knew to veer right and find the elevator. The only tricky part of the route was using the elevator. In the school traveling that I was accustomed to, there is only one elevator in the building and the building is only two or three floors making the button easy to find once inside the elevator. This building had four elevators, so when you pushed the button to call the elevator, you could get any one of the four. Then, since the building had nine floors, there were two columns of buttons on the elevator panel which I never did get used to. But fortunately, 95 percent of the time, there were nice people who would tell me, “this elevator is open”, hold the door open so I could get to it calmly and push the button of the fifth floor for me. Once off the elevator, Gilbert knew to simply walk straight until we came to carpet, turn left and you couldn’t miss the office door! (The last three days of the internship weren’t as smooth because the entrance I had been using all summer was getting renovated and at the other entrance to the building, there was no room to park in front of the building, so Mom had to park on the street and walk to the door with me. They couldn’t wait just one more week to start renovating that entrance! But I got to be independent for most of the internship anyway).


     My desk was the first desk you come to inside the door. I would take my place at this desk and log in to my computer which was equipped with JAWS when I walked in on the first day. Meanwhile, Gilbert would settle on to the floor between my desk and the door, where my supervisor said people would walk by and smile at him through the glass window in the door as if he is in a zoo exhibit! I know proper guide dog etiquette dictates making Gilbert lay under the desk, and at the switchboard where there isn’t a lot of floor space, he does. But this office was so spacious that he could get away with lying out in the open without tripping visitors.


     My duties mostly consisted of answering the phone and assisting constituents, which I loved to tell people was more interesting than it sounded. Let’s just say that while I listed my switchboard experience on my resume for this internship, the phone calls that came to the governor’s office were much different. At the switchboard it was, “could I have the bookstore please?” “Sure, I’ll transfer you right now.” At the switchboard, it was rare to get a caller who was upset about something, and the few times I did, whatever they were upset about was easily rectified as it was usually something straightforward like a misplaced ID or something. But consoling people who are upset about the governor’s policies was not nearly as easy, and given the angry political climate all over the country these days, getting a caller who was upset about the governor’s policies was quite common. When I would get a caller who was so upset they were yelling or occasionally crying, I would find myself sitting stunned, my mouth hanging open speechless, wishing I could give them a simple answer or transfer them to someone who could. But all I could say was “I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ll pass that along to the governor.” On the second day of the internship, I asked my supervisor to show me how to put callers on speaker phone so that when they had a message for the governor, I could copy their name, phone number and a paraphrase of their message on to my braille notetaker. When the call was finished, I would re-type this message on the computer to be printed out at the end of my shift and given to my supervisor. I would also get calls reminiscent of the switchboard, with people looking to contact their representatives in the assembly or senate, or people who needed to speak to someone in a particular department like welfare. Unlike the switchboard, I couldn’t transfer them directly, but I would give them the phone number so they could call. Though I felt a little inept at times and although my heart always pounded a little nervously every time the phone rang, my supervisor complemented my professional demeanor on the phone, even saying I was personable and put callers at ease! But more exciting than her complements was just the fact that this experience handling more difficult calls will most certainly make me more confident in my switchboard job and in life after college.


     In addition to answering the phone, I also helped draft award certificates. For these certificates, my supervisor e-mailed me a pre-formatted template. It took me awhile to get used to the format because I had never written certificates before. At the top of each certificate was the name of the recipient and directly under that, the award they were being recognized for. This part of the certificate was always filled in for me. This was followed by four sentences, the first giving a brief summary of the criteria for winning the award and the other three giving biographical information about the recipient and his or her accomplishments. But each sentence would begin with “whereas;”, end in a semicolon and be followed by “and.” For example, a certificate might say:


WHEREAS; the Most Adored Dog award will be presented to Gilbert on August 4, 2011, when I subjectively reward a dog each year for characteristics like joyful disposition, handsome physical features and love of people; and


WHEREAS; Gilbert has been a loyal guide dog to his blind partner for three years, but also has gone above and beyond this duty by bringing smiles to the faces of everyone he meets; and…


(Hey, that was fun! I ought to complete that certificate someday and present it to Gilbert, maybe when it’s time for him to retire.) Anyway, this biographical information was followed by a statement of congratulations and the governor’s signature. I have received certificates myself but never really paid attention to how they were formatted. Writing these certificates was tedious as the biographical information on the certificate was supposed to be brief, requiring me to pick out the most important points from the long biographical overviews e-mailed to me which I never felt was my strong suit. Also, since the same template was used for all certificates, I had to erase the biographical information of old certificates before writing the new ones. But this tedium was always overshadowed by the joy of taking on a new writing challenge. I also loved just reading the biographical information which was often quite interesting and impressive and having inside knowledge of some of the awards the governor presents. My supervisor complemented me on these certificates too, saying they only required minimal editing.


     I also had the duty of greeting and assisting the occasional visitor to the office who had a question or needed to pick up forms. When the door opened and the person did not announce themselves as one of the other interns or capitol police, I was supposed to say “can I help you?” If they asked for a clemency packet to have a felony expunged from their record which was a relatively common request, my supervisor put a stack of envelopes with these packets within easy reach to the left of my computer. I was supposed to ask the person if it had been at least five years since the felony was committed and if the sentence had been completely served as these are the requirements before a clemency packet is accepted. If they answered yes to these questions, I asked them to sign in to a notebook that is set out on the desk and then I would give them a packet. For any other requests, I had to ask my supervisor for help, but I was still the first person they would speak to when they entered the office. Since in-person visits were rare in this quiet office, I almost always felt caught off guard, stumbling over my words occasionally, but it has been an excellent confidence booster that I know will serve me well in any receptionist duties I may have in a career after college.


     But as I said, unlike Madison, this office was a very quiet office. I would say the phone rang an average of three times during my shifts, although I had a couple days where I only fielded one call, and one day when there were no calls at all. In-person visits probably happened once or twice a week and there were no events to write certificates for in July. Thus, there were long stretches of time where I had nothing to do, but this time wasn’t wasted. Sure, there was time for my supervisor and I to chat about our dogs or our favorite restaurants and I had plenty of time for pleasure reading. But much of my downtime was extremely educational. As I mentioned in the entry about my interview, I told the interviewer that I voted for Barack Obama but that I am not a registered Democrat and vote based on the issues not politics. In essence, I hoped this answer would convey that although I voted Democratic, I am open-minded to other views, which I thought was the truth. But until this internship, I never realized how much my liberal family and friends influenced me and how liberal leaning much of the news I listened to was. For example, when my supervisor was talking about how the new budget repair bill would be good for education, I couldn’t help recalling conversations with friends who said that the elimination of collective bargaining would mean increased class sizes which would have a negative impact on education. The journalist in me couldn’t resist asking “what do you say to people who make these arguments?” She responded that the elimination of collective bargaining wouldn’t have to result in any layoffs or increased class sizes. The purpose of that part of the bill was to give school districts the freedom to cut costs by doing things like switching to less expensive insurance plans. Teachers would have to contribute a little more, but it wouldn’t send them in to poverty, the coverage would be comparable to the coverage they have now and the cost of the increased contribution would be offset by the fact that paying union dues, which used to be mandatory, would be optional under the new plan. She even cited one district where this move alone could save something like 300 jobs! The reason teachers were being laid off was because union leaders in some districts were unwilling to make these necessary concessions, leaving school districts no other choice but to lay teachers off. A few weeks later, she encouraged me to read a newspaper article that confirmed this very argument.


     On another day, we listened to Barack Obama give a press conference about his plan for reducing the federal deficit. When it was over, I asked her what she thought of it. “Well, what did you think?” she replied. I didn’t know what to say. His plan sounded good to me. Then she pointed out how he would agree to a spending freeze, which she said is not the same as a spending cut. A spending freeze merely meant he wouldn’t increase current spending levels, but he wouldn’t decrease spending either, and only spending cuts can reduce the deficit. These instances among others over the course of this internship have forced me to come to terms with the fact that I am not the well-rounded news consumer I always thought I was. My views are very much influenced by the views of people in my social circles and I fall for a good speech without being a critical listener. At first, I was reluctant to ask challenging questions like this fearing she would take offense to these indications of my liberal views, but I had no reason to worry. She was a wonderful mentor and said she encourages people to read literature from both sides of the aisle. We may disagree on issues, but when you get right down to it, we all want the same thing: a prosperous country, a bright future for our children. After examining all sides of an issue, if I come to a different conclusion than she does, that doesn’t make me a bad person. After the new perspectives this internship has given me, I don’t know how I will vote in the next election yet. But I do know that I won’t just talk the talk of a well-rounded, independent voter. I will walk the walk and be a critical reader and listener to both sides of every issue.


     And at the end of each of these wonderful days, my supervisor accompanies me out to the front of the building where my parents pick me up. For the first couple days, my dad would park a couple blocks away, feed a meter and come in to the lobby and wait for me. This was kind of a nice routine as it felt good to take a little walk after sitting all morning and it’s always good practice for Gilbert to cross busy city streets since our house is surrounded by country roads. But my supervisor thought it was silly for my dad to have to pay to park for such a short time, so after the first week, he would pull right up to the building just like he did in the morning. I told my supervisor that I could get down the elevator and out to the car on my own, but she said she liked to get out of the office for some fresh air anyway and since there wasn’t the rush of people that I could count on for elevator help like there was in the morning, I didn’t argue with her. (I think she also got a kick out of watching Gilbert who had to pass a hot dog cart that was almost always stationed in front of the building to get to the car. He wouldn’t pull me toward it, but I would always feel his head turn to look at it longingly as we passed!)


     Once home, the wonderful morning was always topped off with a delicious lunch which usually consisted of a wrap filled to bursting with turkey and summer vegetables, a bowl of soup and ice cream. And even on days when there were difficult calls, days when I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, I came home every day feeling contented and blessed, perhaps still in disbelief that I was excelling in an internship that I thought could only be a dream.


     As I got older, I no longer brought gifts for my teachers at the end of the school year, but my supervisor was such a wonderful mentor that I decided to resurrect the tradition. I bought her a Carroll University coffee mug, and my mom bought a pound of Starbucks coffee and a package of biscotti to include with it in a pretty gift bag. Over a cup of soup and half a sandwich at Panera Bread where my supervisor took me out to lunch on my last day, a tradition she has for all the interns, it occurred to me that I was going to miss working with her. But I asked her if I could use her as a reference when applying to jobs after college. “Absolutely!” she said. “Just let me know. And, if you are in the area, come back to the office and visit!” I told her I definitely would, and if the state ever posted jobs for additional staff in the office, I would definitely apply so that we could work together again.