Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Lessons Learned: Humility

One weekend when I was in high school, my dad and I went to our state’s convention of the National Federation of the Blind. I enjoyed seeing some friends and chatting with vendors selling the latest technology to assist the blind. But Dad and I were both turned off by the pride exhibited by some of the blind people there. Now I am all for independence. I think people with any disability should strive to be as independent as they can be, and parents and teachers should set realistic, yet high expectations for children with disabilities. But at the convention, I realized that it is a slippery slope from reasonable independence to pride. At the time, my Christian faith was not as developed, so I didn’t give any thought to the sinful nature of pride, but I remember thinking how the pride of these blind people added unnecessary difficulty to their lives.


For example, people would be wandering around the hotel, tripping people with their canes, clearly lost, but when someone offered to help them, they would get upset. Blind people can, and should travel independently in their everyday lives. In addition to being blind, I am also directionally challenged, which my mom says is genetic, so I need a little more instruction and practice even compared to other totally blind people. But eventually, I learned every new school that came my way, and I can confidently navigate my office with a dog or a cane. But for a convention where it is extremely crowded, and you have never been in that particular hotel before, and likely won’t visit again, at least not for a long time, there should be no shame in accepting offers of assistance. No reasonable person would doubt your capability as a blind person if you sought help in this unusual circumstance.


One of the speakers was a blind parent who proudly stated that she travels with her children on the city bus and declines offers of a ride home from sighted friends, even if it is pouring rain. I live in a suburban area where there is no bus service, but if I lived in an urban environment, I would make every effort to learn the bus system. Blind people in urban environments use city buses and even subways successfully every day. If I lived in an urban environment, I think I would strive to use public transportation as often as possible so as not to impose on people, but also because I am the type of person that needs to practice routes regularly or I will forget what I need to do. But every now and then if it is especially cold, or the rain is coming down in buckets, I would absolutely accept a ride from a sighted friend, and again, no reasonable person should doubt my capability as a blind person for doing so. My dad and I discussed these events on the drive home, and we both laughed about the ridiculousness of such attitudes. Little did I know back then that when I got a little older, I would fall into prideful attitudes myself.


In hindsight, I think much unnecessary emotional suffering could have been avoided had I not been so prideful. My boss is a kind and fair person. I am sure that had I possessed the humility to sit down with her months sooner and been more forthright about how much anxiety the job was causing me, and how it wasn’t feasible for a blind person, I might have started my current position much sooner. But I knew of blind people in far more demanding positions. I personally know blind teachers and social workers and have heard of blind people being successful in law and medicine. So I thought my inability to handle this job was due to a problem with me. I was a loser, a failure. When I was rejected for every state government job I applied for, it only re-enforced these feelings. It seemed as if God had given everyone talents and callings for their lives except me. Everyone in my family had experienced challenges in their jobs too, so the fact that I really wanted to give up and quit made me feel like even more of a loser because I couldn’t handle the realities of being an adult. But quitting and telling the boss I wanted to “pursue other opportunities” sounded better at the time than showing weakness by telling the boss I couldn’t handle my current position.


But now I realize that just like impatience, pride impedes rational thought. If I ever find myself in a similar situation again, I pray that I will remember this experience and show humility by not being afraid to express what I need. I also pray that anyone else who may stumble on this blog who is going through a similar situation will do the same. From bible studies I have done, I know there are verses in the bible warning against comparing oneself to others, and now I have a first-hand understanding and appreciation for these verses. Blindness is only one of many factors in someone’s identity, and the blind community is comprised of people with varying degrees of blindness. I am totally blind, but some people are considered legally blind but have some vision. This doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges compared to a fully sighted person, but even a little bit of vision goes a long way sometimes, as well as when someone lost their sight. For example, someone who loses their sight later in life has more difficulty learning braille. But these people often have an easier time grasping orientation and mobility skills like crossing streets and navigating sidewalks because they have seen, and therefore have a better conceptual understanding of what an intersection is than someone like me. There are also other factors having nothing to do with blindness such as personality, educational opportunities, genetics which my parents say has more to do with how directionally challenged I am than my blindness, or other medical issues and disabilities. All this is to say that Jesus is right in saying we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others because every person and situation is unique and where God may have limited me in some areas, I know he has gifted me in others. If we live our lives stuck in pride and seeking to prove ourselves in situations that aren’t appropriate for us, we may be missing out on the unique life God wants for us.


Once God had developed in me the wisdom to fully understand this, I also had an easier time accepting the fact that by switching to part-time employment, it would not be financially feasible for me to live on my own. I had dreamed of living on my own since college because as is the case with all young adults, my parents were starting to drive me crazy. But it would be a lie to say there wasn’t also an ulterior motive of wanting to prove to others in the blind community that I could figure things out on my own. Most of my life, I have felt judged by teachers of the visually impaired and other blind people because I wasn’t as proficient in orientation and mobility or daily living skills like cooking. I was comparing myself to others as I only recently became secure in myself enough to realize that my situation is unique. I am totally blind, have other medical issues and grew up in a suburban environment where I didn’t have as many opportunities to practice orientation and mobility because there is no bus service or access to sidewalks.


But if I had put the goal of living on my own above all else, I would have no choice but to forego work/life balance to pay for it. I would not have had the time, nor the space that I have living with my parents to host a bible study group on Monday nights which is now the highlight of the week for me and several other members going through difficult circumstances. It so happened that when I volunteered to host a group in September, I was told that the church had been looking for a house in my area because until I came along, there were no bible study groups in my particular neighborhood. If I had insisted on living on my own, I would be preparing my own dinner, which would have been a frozen dinner after a long day of work rather than the wonderful casseroles my mom puts in the oven before leaving to pick me up, and I would have been eating this dinner alone rather than the conversation and laughter I enjoy with my parents every night. If I had insisted on living on my own, I would not be back to singing in choir again because in addition to being exhausted from full-time work, it would have been a tremendous expense to get transportation from my apartment to the site where the choir rehearses.


In college I felt like a failure when due to many circumstances, I could not handle living in the dorm and became a commuter student. But then, I would meet fully sighted students who told me they lived with their parents as this worked better for them too, and saved them a lot of money. When I recently confided feeling like a failure to one of my friends in bible study because I still lived with my parents, she said she still lives with her parents and has felt the same way too. From there we had a beautiful conversation about the importance of doing what was right for our unique circumstances despite contrary social pressure, after which I think we both felt less alone. A lot of my co-workers tell me I am lucky as they wish they could still live with their parents. I am still a work in progress, but I think I am gradually developing the maturity and confidence of these amazing friends from college and bible study as I realize that by living a humble life accepting my unique circumstances rather than trying to fight them and prove myself in situations that aren’t appropriate for me, I am in a better position to use the many gifts God has given me, and embrace a far more rewarding life than I would have had if I had given into pride.


Lessons Learned: Patience

When I was in college and my mom and I started attending a new nondenominational church, which I talked about in this post, I noticed that the sermons regularly emphasized how God uses our experiences to shape us and grow us. But until recently, I hadn’t fully appreciated how this applied to my own life. Looking back on the events of the last five years however, I am now realizing how God has used these experiences to develop in me two important virtues, also called fruits of the spirit, that had been sorely lacking in my personality: patience and humility. In this post, I will talk about patience, and in the next, I will talk about humility.


Patience was required from 2012 to 2015 in which time I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, was unsuccessful in landing a permanent job so resigned myself to the fact that I would have to go back to school and study something else. When I earned my Paralegal certificate and had a job just three months later, I was glowing with joy. At last I felt like there was a purpose for my life, and a reason to get up in the morning. And of course, I was also looking forward to getting a paycheck! My mom even commented to me a couple weeks after I started this job that she noticed I held my head a little higher and had a happy glow about me.


For a few months, there was a honeymoon phase. Right away I knew there would be some accessibility challenges, but I think at the time, I was just so delighted to have a permanent job that I didn’t think about the logistical problems these accessibility challenges would cause later. In addition, while my co-workers were, and still are extremely kind and helpful, I felt guilty asking them for help, especially after some restructuring took place which meant case managers had additional responsibilities. Now for example, case managers file appeals over the phone with their clients, and helping case managers with appeals is my exclusive job, but when I started, appeals and hearing requests were filed in a different department, and all case managers had to do was schedule the appointments.


On top of that, I found out a few months into the job that there were things I was supposed to follow up on that I wasn’t aware needed to be done. The other case managers had task management software to help them keep track of these things, but it wasn’t fully accessible with my screen reader. I tried to improvise my own organization system, and the other case managers and my boss were kind and would remind me of things, but even so, things would be missed, and it wasn’t long before anxiety about this took over my life. In January 2016 after a particularly overwhelming staff meeting where I realized there were even more responsibilities of my position that I had overlooked, I made the decision that this job was not blind-friendly and decided to start looking for something different. I decided a job with the state of Wisconsin would be best because benefits would be great, and I remembered from when I did an internship with the governor’s office that the state is on top of their game when it comes to providing accessibility.


Most job postings were discouraging as they required someone with a lot of experience, but there were several with no such requirements that seemed promising. One job especially, a job with the title Equal Rights Officer sounded really exciting. I was invited to Madison for three interviews, including one for the Equal Rights Officer position, but things never went further. To add insult to injury, I got the rejection letter for the position I wanted most, the Equal Rights Officer position, on Memorial Day weekend, which is usually my favorite weekend of the whole year, but Memorial Day weekend that year was spent crying.


When Thanksgiving came and I still had not found anything, I really felt as though God had abandoned me. I still prayed, and tried to think positive thoughts and thank God for the blessings I did have, but it was getting more and more difficult. I seriously considered just quitting, but my family urged me to think long and hard before doing that because that doesn’t look good when interviewing for future jobs. I was also overcome with guilt about quitting after all the effort from the state and the job developer to help me land this job.


Then, just before Christmas, my boss approached me and proposed changing my position so that instead of having a caseload, I would file appeals for other case managers. I agreed to give this a try, but in my mind, I was dreading the prospect of doing appeals all day because although the Social Security website where appeals are filed is fully accessible, the form was so involved that after just one appeal, my brain would be fried and sometimes I would have a headache. But after just one week in this new position, it occurred to me that this change in position was the answer to my prayers! My anxiety disappeared as I knew exactly what I was supposed to do when I clocked in each morning. I had an accessible spreadsheet with my appointment schedule each day on Google Docs, and the more appeals I did, the less intimidating they became. The form is overwhelming when you are new to it, but like many things, it becomes second-nature with practice, and now I could fill it out in my sleep. I have also figured out ways to be more efficient with this form, so much so that when I started, I was only comfortable scheduling four appeals per day, but now I can easily do six appeals a day.


Then in February, my prayer for work-life balance was also answered when it occurred to me to ask about working part-time. Since these changes took place, I have enjoyed a wonderful sense of peace and contentment in my life that I may have missed out on if I had fully given into my impatience and quit this job. By forcing me to practice patience, God also showed me that what I thought I wanted wasn’t really what I wanted. When you are gripped by impatience, you don’t think rationally. I believe this is why people do dangerous things like drive too fast in snow or run red lights. They become so consumed by the short-term goal of getting somewhere on time that they don’t stop to consider the devastating long-term consequences their decision could have. In my case, I just wanted my current anxiety to end so bad that I was wooed by job titles that sounded different and exciting like Equal Rights Officer, never stopping to think about the fact that if I got that position, I may have merely traded one set of anxieties for another.


Another byproduct of being inpatient and not thinking rationally, I now realize is that I had inaccurately ranked my priorities. When it occurred to me a few months into the job that except for major holidays, I, like most full-time adults had not really had a week day to myself since I started working, I remember thinking that if I just had that perfect job that I loved and that fit me perfectly, the lack of work-life balance would no longer matter. But the indescribable joy I felt that weekend after asking to be part-time and the peace and contentment I have felt ever since has shown me that I needed this balance more than I realized when in the grip of impatience.


Through this experience, I truly appreciate now the significance of that saying, “Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.” We wouldn’t truly appreciate the sweetness of the fruit if it was just handed to us without practicing patience. My prayer is that this experience might help someone who may stumble on this blog who may be struggling to be patient and trust God. I also pray that if I face hardship in the future that causes impatience to well up in me, that I will think back on this season of life and remember the rewarding outcome I ultimately enjoyed by not making irrational decisions out of impatience, so that hopefully I will trust God even more than before, and practice patience again.

A Small Taste of Life as an Author

My elementary school had a “publishing center” where teachers would take stories that we had written and put a glossy cardboard cover on them so they looked like real books. Ever since I held that first “book” that I wrote, I wondered what it would be like to be a real published author. That was a possibility for a profession. Every year, the school also brought in a children’s book author to speak to the whole school, something I always looked forward to.


When I was really young, I loved holding the finished book, but hated the writing itself because as a blind person, I had to use a manual braille typewriter where it was very difficult to correct mistakes. If I wanted my work to look nice, I would have to start the page over if I made a mistake. But as I got older and technology for the blind improved, I started to love writing, and took creative writing courses all through school. But in college, I decided being a professional author wasn’t the career for me as one of my professors who was working on publishing a book at the time told us about the business side of publishing. For a book to be taken seriously by a publisher, an author has to work through an agent, and authors often have to sacrifice some of their creative freedom to make the book “marketable.” I remember my professor being furious when she came to class one day because they insisted on using a different title for her book that would be easily searchable using computer algorithms, but she hated it. So I decided right then and there that I just wanted to write for my own personal enjoyment and not get involved in all that business stuff. But I also still had a little bit of a longing to have at least one published book.


Then one day, I was shopping for something on Amazon when I noticed that Amazon was affiliated with a self-publishing company called CreateSpace. I investigated and found that you could pay for services like editing and cover design, but you could also do everything yourself and get published for free.


I had been thinking for awhile that it would be neat to take some blog posts I wrote about my training with Gilbert, edit them and expand on some of them, and compile them into a keepsake book that I could share with friends and family. So in the summer of 2014, which I thought might be my last summer of complete freedom before having a job the rest of my life, I embarked on this project. It was an all-consuming project, one of those projects where you barely want to leave your room for meals. But I loved it, not only because it was fun to re-live my dog training experience and polish up my blog posts, but also because it distracted me from the frustration I had been feeling up until that point at still being in school and not finding a job, and thus a purpose for my life.


I spent about a month putting this book together, and then on a Saturday at the end of June, I downloaded a free template and uploaded my book to CreateSpace. The only thing my mom had to help me with was picking out a free cover design because this was the only thing that wasn’t accessible for me. Then my parents agreed to pay for a proof of my book, which is basically just a copy of the book to look at and make sure I was happy with the way it looked before I published it. The proof only cost $2.15. Just holding the proof was exciting. It didn’t sink in until then that I was going to be the author of a real paper-back book that friends and family could buy on Amazon.


On the proof however, my mom noticed something I had not noticed on the computer. When I uploaded the book, it came in at a perfect, even 100 pages, but it turned out that the computer would make a new page if there was not enough room for a paragraph to fit on the page, leading to a lot of wasted space. In frustration, I went back to the drawing board, but when I figured out how to fix the problem, I found renewed determination not to let this little formatting issue discourage me. Going through the manuscript and correcting every page was another tedious project in which I barely left my room long enough for meals, but 2 days later, I was finished. But after correcting this formatting, the book was a lot shorter. So I found some additional blog posts to polish up and add to the manuscript, and I also wrote a closing chapter from scratch about service dog etiquette. Ultimately, I thought this formatting issue turned out to be a blessing in disguise because these additional blog posts and the closing chapter were not just filler after all. I thought they really enhanced the book, and I never would have thought to include them if I hadn’t had this formatting issue.


I spent about two weeks on these corrections, and then on July 11, 2014, Paws That Changed My Life was officially published! I only charge $6 for it, but family and friends who loved reading it said I could have charged more. But I wanted it to be affordable, since my career goal after all was just to write for personal enjoyment. Around that time, Hillary Clinton had just released a book and she was charging $21 on Amazon, and I remember thinking “who would pay that much to read that book?” and I even like Hillary Clinton. I used a royalty calculator CreateSpace had and charged just enough that I would get the thrill of making a few dollars in royalties, while keeping the price reasonable.


The rest of that summer was a lot of fun as I did get a small taste of what it would be like to be an author, even though the book wasn’t published in the truest sense like my professor’s book was. I gave free copies of my book to Gilbert’s veterinarian, and his groomer, as well as one of my teachers whom I wrote about in the book. My mom bought books for all the relatives, and Grandma on my dad’s side was an amazing marketer, asking me to order copies for all of her senior friends at church and the barbershop. I even had a speaking engagement at the monthly senior get-together at church. In May of 2015, I ordered a bunch of books from CreateSpace at the author discount of $2.15 and sold them for $6 at Puppies on Parmenter, a fundraiser for Occupaws Guide Dog Association, the program that trained Gilbert, and gave them the proceeds.


I think if I had to write and sell books with the pressure of needing to make a living, and if I had to sacrifice my creative license for computer algorithms, I would no longer enjoy writing, but with this self-publishing experience, I got a small taste of what it would be like to write and market a book, and made my first grade dream come true.

An Update that is Years Overdue

I cannot believe I have not blogged since May 2013! So much has happened in the past 5 years that I guess writing just took a back seat. But due to changes in life circumstances, and a new perspective, I want to write again. I will go indepth on everything in the coming days, but for now, I will ease myself, and my readers back into things by just giving a quick overview of what I have been doing.


In the summer of 2013, my DVR counselor (a state-funded service that helps people with disabilities find employment) put me in contact with a job developer. This job developer arranged a temporary work experience for me in which I assisted the braille department at Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement, a local agency based out of the Milwaukee Public Library which transcribes print materials into braille for school-age children, and adults in the community. The state paid me $10 an hour, and I worked there 3 days a week for about 3 months. The executive director who is also blind, had met me before at other events and liked me, and I liked her, which eased my nerves considerably the first day. Although I took the job seriously, doing my best to act and dress professionally, the boss felt more like a good friend than a boss in the traditional sense of the word.


My primary responsibility in this position was proofreading materials like restaurant menus and books after they were embossed into braille to ensure that everything was correct. I also spent a couple days answering the phone at the front desk, or separating the pages when they came off the embosser, as the embossers use tractor-feed paper that comes on a long roll of pages. I even got to gain journalism experience by helping the executive director interview people, and write articles for a monthly newsletter. I enjoyed this experience, and would have loved to launch my career there and work there for several years. I enjoyed the tasks assigned to me, and the casual work environment where we worked hard but also had time to socialize. But unfortunately, this agency did not have the funding to hire me, so while I was welcome to volunteer there any time, I would need to explore other options for my permanent career.


Shortly before my job at ABLE ended, I was speaking to an older blind woman who also volunteered there, and she was telling me that she took some Paralegal coursework at the local technical college years ago and although she decided not to pursue this as a career, she really enjoyed the classes. I had thought about law school, especially after my parents read some of my college writing and told me I would make an excellent lawyer. I even took the LSAT in December 2012, but didn’t know if I actually wanted to be a lawyer badly enough to embark on the daunting task of going to law school. My decision was finalized when I heard that law school graduates have difficulty finding jobs, so I could spend three years working my tail off in law school, but then find myself right back where I started.


But that very day when I got home from ABLE, I read about the paralegal program this blind friend told me about, and it occurred to me that this might be perfect for me. I could earn a certificate in just one year, for a fraction of the cost of law school, and since I already had a bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t need to take some of the required courses. When I graduated, I would not be authorized to practice law, but I would be prepared to assist lawyers in a law firm. My parents thought this was an excellent plan too. So I applied and was accepted into the paralegal program, and started in January 2014.


I am ashamed to admit this, but while I knew this was a great plan, when school actually started, I didn’t have the most positive attitude about things. I think I was just antsy. I wanted a job, and by extension, some income, and I wanted it now! I thought that on that glorious day when Gilbert and I accepted our diplomas at Carroll University that I was done with the childish school nonsense of buying books and doing homework and all that. It didn’t help that we had a particularly brutal winter that first semester, and I dreaded the cold icy walks to and from the parking structure each day. But I persevered, and my attitude gradually improved as the weather got nicer, and I realized that some of the classes, especially two of them which were taught by a very karismatic professor and former lawyer, were extremely interesting.


I finished the program in December 2014, and then in January 2015, I worked again with the same job developer who helped me land my job at ABLE, to find a paralegal position. I met with the job developer weekly to practice things like resume writing and interview skills, and to compare notes. He called a few places to try and talk up my credentials and positive personality to potential employers, and would also tell them that the state could pay my wages for a trial period of three months. But he also asked me to apply for jobs on my own, and if I got invited for an interview, to let him know and he would accompany me.


So I applied to several jobs each week, mostly through Wisconsin TechConnect, a job board for people with degrees or certificates from technical colleges. In Mid-March, all of this persistence paid off when a Social Security disability firm invited me for an interview! The manager really liked me, and when the job developer sweetened the deal by explaining the trial period, I was hired on the spot. I couldn’t start right away because some state paperwork needed to be processed, and I needed to order some technology to help me with the job, but I officially started as a full-time case manager for this firm on April 6, 2015.


I will go more indepth talking about this job in future posts, but to make a long story short, I worked as a case manager from April 2015 to Christmas of 2016. But the task management software my coworkers used to manage their caseloads wasn’t fully accessible with my screen reader, and while I tried to improvise and keep things organized on my own, it was difficult to stay organized. So my boss asked how I would feel about no longer having a caseload, and my sole responsibility would be filing appeals over the phone with clients when they were denied. This has turned out to be a perfect fit for me, as the Social Security web site, and the Google spreadsheets used to schedule appeals are fully accessible. And since I noticed that I had a lot of idle time with this position if clients did not answer the phone, or case managers just did not have any appeals for me to do, I approached my boss one year ago today and asked if I could work part-time. I will elaborate more on this later too, but I just missed having time during the week to go to bible study at our church, handle doctor appointments or just rest. Around that time, I had also been in contact with the Occupaws guide dog trainer because Gilbert was really struggling with arthritis, and we discussed the possibility of retiring Gilbert and training with a new dog last summer. Ultumately, we decided to have Gilbert go to work with me one more year because he could still handle it most days, and my office environment would not provide enough physical activity for a young dog. But we may re-visit things this year as he is starting to have other health concerns as well. At any rate, I don’t think I would have had the time or energy for dog training if I worked full-time.


To my delight, the boss said yes when I asked to go part-time! So now I work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Business has increased a little bit this year so my schedule is always full now, but the longer I have been filing these appeals, I have found ways to be more efficient, so while I was only comfortable filing four appeals a day one year ago, I now schedule six appeals per day. Although life hasn’t turned out the way I imagined when I was younger—I dreamed of an exciting career in journalism and thought maybe by now, I would be a reporter in Washington D.C. covering all the drama there.—I feel a sense of peace and contentment. No one knows what the future holds, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I feel like this is where I am supposed to be.

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2013: Stop Doing More with Less

Last year on May 13, I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in communication with a journalism emphasis. Today, May 1, 2013, almost a year later, I still do not have a job. My parents constantly remind me this is nothing to be ashamed of. There is a good chance that I wouldn’t have found a job by now even if I wasn’t blind. The recession is technically behind us according to economic experts, but companies are still slow to hire, fearing what our dysfunctional Congress might do next. The unemployment rate is dropping, but this is largely because a lot of people have become so discouraged they gave up looking for work altogether and these people aren’t counted in the unemployment figure. My brother-in-law earned a PhD six months ago in Microbiology, and he hasn’t had any luck finding a job either. Even so, I cannot help feeling like my blindness stacks the deck against me in ways that it shouldn’t in the 21st century, in the United States, a country founded on ideals of fairness and equality.

     I blame this on corporate CEO’s. Every time I listen to an interview with a company CEO on a news program and they mention phrases like “efficiency” or “doing more with less” a wave of frustration surges through me because while I am not an expert on anything, I have the sneaking suspicion these phrases are part of the reason why 70 percent of the blind population is unemployed.

     It seems as if all industries put these phrases in to practice to some extent, from government, to manufacturing, to medical care and education, but especially journalism. Print journalism could be, should be, and I think used to be a very blind friendly field. With all of the screen reading software, or even a notetaker with a refreshable braille display, writing stories or taking notes during interviews is no problem. If a story requires interviewing someone at a different location, all that is needed is someone–like the photographer who had to accompany the reporter to take photos of the interview subjects or a scene anyway–to drive the blind person to the site and assist him/her in finding the location where the interview will take place if it is a site the person has never been to before. The actual interview requires no vision at all to yield excellent results. My junior year of college when I inquired about an internship opportunity, a person told me that I couldn’t interview people, a major component of that internship, because looking at an interviewee’s body language is an essential part of interviewing. I did not end up applying for the internship because I wasn’t in the mood to waste time and energy fighting this narrow-minded person’s misconceptions, and I ended up finding another excellent internship with a wonderful, open-minded supervisor. But the fact is, while it is true that blind people cannot watch someone’s body language, we are very attuned to a person’s tone of voice, and tone of voice almost always betrays the same things as body language. So interviewing is a very blind friendly task as well. At one time, this was all that journalism used to entail: researching a story through interviews with primary sources that witnessed or were involved in a news event and writing short articles about these events. Photographing an event was a separate job for the photographer, and broadcast journalism was a separate field. But while I was in college, the combined effects of the recession and the exponential growth of social media and free smartphone apps ravaged the journalism industry. By the time I graduated, newspaper staff was dramatically reduced, and just as professors had warned, newspapers were now looking for multitalented reporters who could write well but also produce photos and videos. After all, the biggest expense incurred by businesses is paying employees, so if technology allows for one person to do a job that used to be done by two or three people, the business saves money.

     I wouldn’t mind having both writing and photography duties if technology made this possible for me, but as far as I know, technological advances related to photography have been about making cameras smaller or allowing synchronization to other devices or live streaming to an internet site. There has not been any advancement with regard to helping a totally blind person know where the camera is pointing. I have tried shooting photos and videos of my face and my pets on my iPad for posting to youTube or Facebook just for fun out of curiosity over what it might feel like to be a sighted person with a camera. But despite my sighted parents’ best efforts to explain how the camera needs to face the image I want to capture and be held a couple feet away from it to capture the whole image,  only a couple of the several attempts made were deemed acceptable for public viewing by my parents. Often times, I thought I had the camera facing where I wanted it to be, but the image couldn’t be discerned at all, and on a couple of occasions, I inadvertently captured some, well, inappropriate images if you know what I mean!

     Anyway, my point is that because of my disability, I cannot shoot photos or videos, but I could be an excellent interviewer and writer. Yet when I peruse job postings online, I hardly ever come across jobs that don’t have at least one or two responsibilities that would be iffy if not impossible given the fact that I am totally blind. It’s not just newspapers that are guilty. As I came to appreciate the fact that journalism is a very competitive field and even people without disabilities have a difficult time nabbing a journalism job, I decided to look at Public Relations jobs instead since journalism and public relations skills overlap. But even with these job postings, hiding somewhere in every list are phrases like, “participation in the selection, production and coordinated use of still images and videos,” or “exceptional attention to detail and a keen sense of design,” which to me insinuate in a subtle but firm way, “blind people need not apply.” In my idealized childhood mind, I remember thinking that if I just advocate for myself and all the things I can do assertively enough, or impress an interviewer enough with how well-spoken and educated I am, I could get hired for any job I wanted and my coworkers would like me enough that they wouldn’t mind pulling a little extra weight by handling the visual stuff. But then I gradually became aware that the corporate world is different than the warm, friendly and accommodating school atmosphere. Corporations are not about friendliness, warmth or accommodation. They are about turning a profit. There are laws, most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act that try to force employers to hire and provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, but with a simple form letter, an employer can just pretend they found a better qualified candidate. If a person with a disability gets this letter after attending an interview and suspects that the company really just found a candidate without a disability so they wouldn’t have to go to the extra expense and effort to accommodate a disability, you cannot prove this intention with absolute certainty in court, especially since as I said earlier, lots of people without disabilities are also unemployed.

     I am careful not to mention the fact that I am blind in my application materials unless I am applying for a job with an organization that serves the blind, so I am confident that the fact that I haven’t been called for an interview is due to nothing more than the competitive nature of the job market for everyone and my resume just didn’t stand out. I haven’t applied to any jobs since March because of the very few job postings I find in my field, none of them appealed to me so I am considering giving up the job search and maybe going to graduate school to see if more education opens up better opportunities.

     But when I was looking for jobs, I would apply for ones that looked like they only had one or two visual responsibilities: Jobs with multiple visual responsibilities intermingled with the writing duties scared me away. And then I would await the form letter, half hoping for an interview but also half scared about how I would tout all that I could do and convince an ignorant HR person that my skills were worth the extra effort and expense of accommodating my disability, even if that meant hiring another person to handle visual stuff when the company only planned on hiring one person to do it all. I hate to be cynical, but I would almost be glad to see the form letter of rejection before the company could meet me and find out I am blind because as greedy and profit centered as corporations seem to be, I am convinced they would pull this dirty tactic on me, showering me with fake kindness when they see me walk in with a guide dog and pretend to interview me when they have already made up their mind that hiring me would be too much of an imposition.

     I don’t think more laws are the answer to this problem. If new laws are passed, some people will only find new loopholes to avoid complying with them. Besides, I don’t want to be hired just to meet a company’s quota in compliance with the law, especially if I can pick up a vibe of resentment. I also don’t want to be taken advantage of, hired as a charity case by a company and then paid a lower wage then someone without a disability doing the same work. Sadly, even what I thought were upstanding nonprofit organizations like Goodwill are guilty of this practice, and I think it is wrong. In other words, like most people with disabilities I have met, I don’t want to be treated any different than everyone else.

     With that in mind, in my opinion what is needed is not more laws, but an overhaul of the whole corporate mindset of doing more with less. I have noticed that even people I know who do not have a disability hate this mindset because when companies try to do more with less, the quality of their services and the health of employees often suffer. For example, I am friends with former nurses who noticed that gradually more and more responsibilities were being heaped on to them. When nurses would retire or quit, they sometimes were not replaced and if they were, they were replaced with young nurses right out of college that the company could pay way less. Of course, all young people in any field need to start somewhere, but when a company opts to hire a disproportionate number of inexperienced people rather than a nice balance of experience and youth, mistakes are inevitable. In terms of my own field of journalism, because I read newspaper articles on NFB Newsline, a free service blind people can sign up for to access newspaper content more easily, I am not aware of the proportion of advertisements to articles in a newspaper. But my parents have said that the Sunday paper which used to be fat and full of articles, is now thinner and has a lot more advertisements. I have no doubt this is because when a reporter has to take on more stories due to staff cutbacks, and be a writer, photographer and videographer rolled in to one, of course they cannot produce as much content as they used to. And instead of being just pleasantly tired but satisfied at the end of a hard day’s work, I know people from all fields who come home exhausted from burning the candle at both ends all day.

     The journalism industry really is struggling as people shift toward free web content for their news, so I understand why newspapers would need to cut costs, although on a side note, people need to get used to the idea of paying, even for web content from a newspaper. People have always payed for other forms of information like books and we will pay for intellectual services like legal advice. So paying for high quality journalism from a respected newspaper that has professional standards and rapport in the community shouldn’t be viewed any differently. But aside from that, at the same time many corporations said the recession forced them to “do more with less,” and even plead for government bailouts, they continued paying their CEO’s ungodly salaries, and when the recession was technically over and they were found to be making record profits, many did not hire back the people they had laid off. Yes, the reality is companies do need to be financially cautious because Congress has been gridlocked and useless lately. But if a corporation is making any profit, especially “record profits” they could hire more people. I think some corporations are just using the uncertainty in Washington as a convenient excuse and justification to continue being greedy.

     So forgive me if this sounds like a socialist statement, but I really think the only way we will improve employment prospects for everyone, including people with disabilities is to get the corporate mindset away from the whole idea of turning a profit as the primary goal. If a company wants profit that they can invest back in to the company to expand it, at some point that is unsustainable. I know someone who was laid off from the company he worked for precisely because they expanded too much and went almost bankrupt because they expanded beyond the level of demand for their services in the market. If a company wants to turn a great profit so that the owners can retire early and live lavishly, that is just immoral when so many people, even in the United States, can barely make ends meet. And it could ultimately be unsustainable too if there comes a point when these practices put so many people out of work that nobody has money to buy a company’s product or service anymore. So it is time for companies to put less emphasis on profit and more emphasis on social responsibility.

     When corporations talk about social responsibility, this usually means donating a little bit of their proceeds to local schools or assuring consumers that they only buy from fair trade producers if they sell things like chocolate, coffee or clothing. This is great and corporations should continue these practices. But companies also need to think more about how they can apply social responsibility “at home” so to speak. Company CEO’s need to start asking, “has the quality of the company’s product or service deteriorated at all since we rolled what used to be two or three jobs in to one?” If the answer is yes, and if the company has enough money to separate these jobs again, they could practice social responsibility by not sitting on so much of this money and hiring back some people. If a company has enough money to hire people, there is no excuse for the current situation where people lucky enough to have jobs are worked to the point of exhaustion while so many people cannot find work at all. But this kind of social responsibility could benefit the company as well because if the burden on each employee could be lightened by hiring more employees, and if each employee could focus on their unique talent and perform that talent well, rather than frantically trying to do it all on an inevitably mediocre level, employee morale and the quality of products and services could be improved, and maybe consumers who stopped buying products from a company when they noticed a decline in quality would decide to return and the company could make more money! Maybe it wouldn’t be the record profits they used to make when they rolled multiple jobs in to one, but I bet it would be enough.

     A lot of people don’t like well-intentioned but ineffective laws that try to address diversity problems with quotas and I don’t blame them. Perhaps I am among them because I don’t want to be hired by a company just to satisfy a quota either, nor do I want companies to view accommodating my disability as an imposition or treat me as a charity case. But the “doing more with less” philosophy hasn’t been good for anyone except maybe the CEO’s, so while you could call my thoughts naive and unrealistic, I truly believe that a change in mindset, not laws would be a much more effective solution that would indirectly improve the employment prospects for people with disabilities, while generally improving the quality of life for everyone.

Soul Searching

When I was in third grade, I had an inexplicable fascination with the Iditarod Dogsled race held every year in Alaska. The race retraces the journey from Anchorage to Nome, made by a brave dog named Balto to get medicine for children suffering from diphtheria in 1925. While most of the topics covered in third grade Social Studies put me to sleep, I couldn’t get enough reading about the Iditarod, and long after the Iditarod unit was over, I would daydream about being a “musher” when I grew up. Nowadays, I have no desire to be a “musher” and when you get right down to it, if someone actually offered me the chance to race sled dogs, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it then either. After all, I could barely keep my balance walking through snow, so standing on a sled while being pulled by dogs would have been out of the question. Also, the potential perilous situations that can occur in the Iditarod like thin ice wouldn’t have appealed to me then and don’t appeal to me now. So why I daydreamed about being a “musher” was for a long time a mystery to me.

     Then in fourth grade, the combined effects of a vacation to a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin over Labor Day weekend and a whole curriculum based on pioneers like Laura Ingalls Wilder had me dreaming about being a modernday pioneer, abandoning the modern life of hurried mornings, long days away from home and annoying television programs in the evening and raising kids in the north woods. But as I matured I realized I was making that kind of life sound more glamorous than it really was. Using an outhouse? No thank you! Cooking meals over an open fire? As it is, I am still afraid of burning myself while cooking on an electric stove. And we haven’t even gotten to my fear of bugs and my disdain for rugged trails. I still love the smell of the air when we occasionally make it up to the north woods, and could maybe see myself renting a cabin to retreat to once a year (in early spring or autumn to avoid the bugs of course) when I am older. But to live as a pioneer isn’t my calling after all.

     Around the end of fifth grade through seventh grade or so it occurred to me that I really enjoyed writing and so I started dreaming of being an author. Even though I cannot read print books, I have always found beauty in the glossy covers and pages of books. Even now if there is an idle moment, I will sometimes pick up a print book lying on a coffee table and just savor the texture of it. I used to think about how thrilling it might be to be the writer of a real, glossy published book sold in bookstores all over the world, and more importantly about what a peaceful life the life of an author might be, just sitting in a quiet office with no time clock or boss, escaping to a fictional world created by your imagination and writing from the heart. But when I learned that most authors also must still work a day job, that even if a publisher does accept your book, royalties made on the book usually don’t exceed the cost of publishing the book and that authors often have to cave to writing what sells, not necessarily what inspires them, I decided that wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to live either. Believe me. Since I cannot even wrap my head around how J.K. Rowling came up with such an elaborate plot and created such well-developed characters, I don’t think I have the talent to make it in the author business.

     Then in eighth grade as a community choir I was involved in prepared to tour Italy, I started romanticising about making my living singing in a choir and touring the world. But again, I discovered that world travel isn’t as glamorous as it is cracked up to be, what with jet lag, fears of pick-pockets, bumpy roads that are very difficult to walk on and the constant fear of my medicine getting lost or stolen since I think Walgreens pharmacies can only be found in the United States. Besides, choirs don’t pay wages, so between choir tours, I would still have to work a day job.

     By high school, I was finally starting to grow in to myself and form a more realistic dream. When teachers started praising essays I wrote and I had a wonderful experience in a career exploration program offered by my school that gave me the opportunity to work with the news editor for a local newspaper, it occurred to me that I would enjoy a career in journalism. It would be an exciting career that would take me somewhere different each day. I enjoy participating in discussions on news and politics and was starting to notice and get frustrated about all the injustice in the world which I might be able to expose and change with the “power of the pen.” So I thought interviewing people and writing about news and politics would be a perfect fit for me. I was disappointed when I got to college and learned from professors and guest speakers that reporter positions were hard to come by since the shift toward online sources for news forced some newspapers to fold, and all newspapers, including our local newspapers to cut back. But I chose to stay the course, reasoning that maybe I would be one of the lucky ones who would land a job as a reporter. If not, I could settle for a public relations position with a company as the demand for Public Relations is growing and journalists commonly carry over to public relations positions because there are many parallels between these fields. For example, both fields value high-quality journalistic writing that keeps in mind concepts like the inverted pyramid (most important information first, least important last). The difference is that the goal of the journalist is to be objective whereas the goal of someone writing a press release for a Public Relations position is to spin the story as ethically as possible to favor the company. I wasn’t as passionate about Public Relations as I was about journalism but as I began my senior year of college, my mindset was, “hey, a job is a job. I could take a public relations position to pay the bills and then write freelance articles about politics or something as a hobby.”

     But then I read In to The Wild by John Krakauer. It was a book assigned for a Creative Nonfiction course I took in the fall semester of my senior year, and it was one of the rare books assigned for school that I didn’t want to put down. It absolutely captivated me!

     The book retraces the story of a young man named Christopher McCandless who had a seemingly normal upbringing in an affluent suburb near Washington D.C. But after graduating college, he cut off all contact with his family and hitchhiked all across the country. His ultimate dream was an Alaskan odyssey where he wanted to hike to the remote wilderness of Alaska with minimal supplies and live off the land. In 1992, he embarked on this dream with only a light backpack, set up camp in an abandoned bus used by hunters, hunted game and used a book on Alaskan plants to find edible flora. But the dream did not end well for him. In the summer when he was ready to end his voyage, he discovered that a stream which had been calm and shallow when he first crossed it had turned in to a raging river that he knew he could not swim across, so he returned to the bus where he eventually died from eating damp seeds which had developed toxic mold. I agreed with my classmates that what he did was foolish, even a little selfish. Perhaps he also had some degree of mental illness too that was exacerbated when he found out that his father was living a double life, secretly seeing someone else when Chris was little. But when the rest of my class had probably long forgotten about him and relegated his story to the mental file of “just another book assigned for a class”, something about him stuck with me. It was a feeling on the order of “wow! I wonder what it would be like to do that!”

     But why? Was it the fact that it mentioned the beautiful-sounding wilderness of Alaska, re-awakening my silly Iditarod or pioneer fantasies from when I was younger? Was it God’s way of telling me I was meant to have an Alaskan odyssey too, or live as a modernday pioneer after all? “No,” I realized. I am still not fond of wilderness that is too rugged and I have absolutely no desire to break ties with my family, become a hitchhiker or die alone in a bus out in the wilderness! I suppose all children have wild ideas at some point during their childhood. But I was now an educated and thus supposedly mature woman in my twenties. Why, when all my classmates and my parents focused on how foolish Christopher’s actions were, was I still enamored by him?

     I didn’t have much time to think about this book as I raced to the finish line of my college career, got caught up in the excitement of graduation and then had to deal with health problems last summer. But around October when I was adjusting well to Celiac Disease and feeling much better, I started to get a restless feeling in my soul and a yearning for a purpose. This was a good sign, my parents said. It meant that I was feeling better now and ready to think about my future. So for one week in Mid October, I dove headlong in to the task of applying for jobs. If I were collecting unemployment benefits, I would need to apply for two jobs a week, but I could do better than that! Every day that week, I woke up determined to apply for at least one job a day. So on Monday, I applied for a social media representative position with a retail store. On Tuesday I applied for a public relations position with a healthcare company, and so on. At the beginning of the week, I was actually a little upset because as luck would have it, the week I was finally motivated to apply for jobs was a short week. On Friday morning of that week, I had promised Mom I would go with her to Indiana for a family reunion and a long weekend at my grandma’s house where I would not have internet access to apply for jobs or check my e-mail for interview offers on the ones I had applied for.

     But sitting in the car singing along to the radio with Mom that Friday morning, it occurred to me that I wasn’t as eager to keep applying to jobs as I thought I would be, and rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment over the jobs I had applied for already, something troubled me. A few hours in to the car ride, I felt like reading, but as I scrolled through the list of books I had downloaded on to my braille notetaker and saved in my pleasure reading folder, none of them peaked my interest at that moment. Then I remembered In to The Wild. I still had it saved in my college books folder. Although I loved the book, unfortunately that semester was so demanding due in large part to my senior capstone seminar I had to take that semester that I couldn’t really savor the book. In fact, when it occurred to me that I was spending so much time on this book that I was neglecting my responsibilities for other courses, I had to resort to skimming through the second half of the book. In the car that day, I decided that it didn’t matter that the course was over. A book that captivated me that much was worth finishing and savoring. Over the following week as I savored that book, I still couldn’t put my finger on why this book captivated me so much, but I noticed that particular quotes jumped out at me in both readings. My favorite of these quotes was in a letter McCandless wrote to Ronald Franz, an old man he had befriended in Arizona. Toward the end of the letter, McCandless says, “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future” (57).

     Maybe all young people upon college graduation need some sort of retreat to search their souls and adjust to a new chapter of life because when you are really small and life is easy, the idea of soul searching isn’t even on your radar, and when it is, the demands of childhood from homework, to fitting in and participating in after-school activities leave little time for soul searching. Several of my college friends took vacations to Europe after graduation, perhaps to fulfill this need. Maybe given Christopher McCandless’s troubled mind, he just took it to the extreme. Was it possible that maybe all I yearned for was a smaller-scale version of a retreat? What if I invited one member of the family (Mom or Dad) to accompany me, and we rented a little cabin way out in the middle of nowhere for a month, bringing with us nothing but food from the nearest grocery store and books from home? When I thought about it, I pretty much went right from the joy of graduation to the worry and uncertainty of addressing my health problems. After my health improved, maybe I jumped in to the next step in the sequence of life that society expects of a college graduate who elects not to go to graduate school, at least not right away–looking for a job–too quickly without really stopping to honestly contemplate what I want the rest of my life to look like. Maybe a retreat in which I couldn’t log on to Facebook to compare my job searching progress with that of my friends, in which the peace and serenity wasn’t constantly being interrupted by the telephone, where I could cut myself off from the world and its commercialism and negativity, would give me the space I needed to think. Mom wasn’t too keen on this idea. She liked the vacation to nature part, but not the part about leaving all phones at home. It is important to be there if people need us, and these days, it is foolish to be without a phone in the event of an emergency. At first I was frustrated and about to give her the same lecture Christopher McCandless gave Ronald Franz about being too attached to security and conservatism. But after settling down for a few hours and thinking about it more carefully, I realized she was right, especially given my medical issues. And when I got really honest, I like my security too. In fact, I had no idea why I even suggested a retreat because I hate the uncertainty that comes with traveling. What if we found a wonderful cabin, only to discover that the grocery store in town only carried cheap processed stuff full of gluten and I was stuck eating nothing but raw wilted lettuce for a month or something? In fact, I have had moments in the past where I longed for serenity and had no problem finding it on our patio in the summer or in the peaceful sanctuary of my bedroom. If I needed a break from the social pressure of Facebook, I could find the willpower not to log on. Realizing that I really had no idea what I was looking for and was doing nothing more than frantically grasping at straws, I resolved to just clear my mind for a few days, read other books and trust that life would work out.

     Then the following Sunday, Mom and I went to church which holds an event every year called Harvest Fest, an event in which some of the missionaries the church supports come home and speak to the congregation about the work they are doing all over the world. Monday through Thursday of the previous week, the missionaries spoke at evening events, but since we didn’t return home from Indiana until Tuesday evening and were actually leaving on another trip the following Monday, we were unable to attend these events, but a couple of the missionaries spoke to the congregation that Sunday. I couldn’t see the rest of the congregation but I was on the edge of my seat. They were so inspiring! And, again I felt that same “Wow! I wish I could do that!” feeling. But as usual, on closer examination, I realized I wouldn’t really want to live in the rough conditions they described, and given my medical conditions, serving in a third world country would be foolish. As admirable as their work was, it wasn’t the life for me.

     But maybe these long hours in the car was God’s way of giving me the retreat I wanted earlier because on the second trip, I started doing some analyzing. It was during this trip that I thought about everything mentioned in this entry, all my dreams I fantasized about as a child from being a musher in the Iditarod, to a journalist, as well as Christopher McCandless and the missionaries and realized that all these ideas, as unrelated as they may seem on the surface had one thing in common. They all indicated that as far back as I can remember and still to this day, I admire people who dare to be different.

     I admire people who have found something that they are passionate about, and weren’t afraid to pursue it. I admire people whose demeanor seems to suggests they will never be one of those people who look back on their life with regret and say “I always wanted to…” because they are doing what they have always wanted to do. I admire people who don’t feel like they have to be good little soldiers, resigning themselves to a job they don’t find passion in but pays well. I admire people who appear to have jobs where they aren’t spending their lives counting the hours until the work day is over, the days until the weekend when they can take a vacation or something and the years until they can retire, because their job brings them such a sense of joy and fulfillment that they look forward to their job every day. And, in the case of the missionaries and Christopher McCandless especially, I admire people who truly believe and practice a life that has a higher purpose than accumulating wealth and saving for retirement. I still haven’t figured out how this revelation can be translated in to a path that is suitable for me. I have some ideas which I will elaborate on in the next entry, but what I did figure out was the answer to my troubled thoughts after my week of applying for traditional public relations jobs. I was troubled because I realized that I was falling in to line with society’s expectations like a good little soldier. After completing each application, I was full of excitement and hope at the time, but realized on the trip/retreat that I was not excited about the jobs themselves. I was actually dreading the thought of having to put on a happy face and spend my days announcing doorbuster clothing sales on social media or write about the features of heating and cooling systems for buildings if I got one of these jobs. So meaningless in the grand scheme of things! That was how it came to me that the reason I was troubled was because I was letting myself become someone who was only excited about the paycheck, and all of my childhood dreams and the kind of people I admire prove this is not the kind of person I was meant to be, so I pray every day that I won’t cave in to synicism and let myself become someone I wasn’t meant to be.

My First Gluten Free Birthday

Want to know how shallow I can be? Well, when I should have been excited/relieved to find out I had Celiac Disease, the answer to my fatigue and frequent migraines, I was instead heartbroken. I admit one of my first thoughts was “oh no! What about my birthday cake?” All year, I looked so forward to the chocolate cake with chocolate frosting that Mom always made from scratch. My only exposure to gluten free products had been several years ago at my aunt’s house where I tried a gluten free muffin and it was pretty dense and dry, not what I wanted my birthday cakes to be for the rest of my life.

     “Never fear!” said my mom. I was diagnosed in July and my birthday wasn’t until March, plenty of time to experiment in the kitchen with all kinds of flour substitutes and perfect a gluten free birthday cake. Well, Mom was right. I celebrated my birthday a couple days ago and it was a delicious success!

     Before my birthday, my family celebrated three other birthdays with gluten free cake. Just to get her feet wet, about a month before Dad’s birthday, Mom made a basic single layer chocolate cake using a gluten free Betty Crocker cake mix. The gluten free brownie mix from Betty Crocker is so fudgy and spectacular you wouldn’t know it was gluten free unless I told you. But the cake? Not so much. It tasted good, but it was dense and dry as I feared. We all came to the consensus that maybe it just needed some kind of filling like custard or something to moisten it. So in a Betty Crocker cookbook, Mom found a recipe for a yellow cake with a lemon filling. My dad loves the flavor of lemon, especially the Glutino lemon cookies, so we thought this cake would be right up his alley for his birthday. We all agreed it was a recipe worth bookmarking because it was very moist and flavorful, but I’m not as crazy about lemon, so that cake wasn’t going to work for my birthday.

     A few weeks later, we celebrated Mom’s birthday with another Betty Crocker recipe, this one a chocolate cake where you poke holes in the cake while it is still hot and pour a caramel sauce through these holes in to the inner layer of the cake. Unfortunately, the caramel didn’t infuse itself in to the whole cake like Mom had hoped. Some bites would have a wonderful caramel flavor, but others wouldn’t. In the future, Mom wants to try just cutting the cake in half and filling it with caramel rather than the hole method. Despite the uneven distribution of caramel, it was still a good cake, but I’m not as passionate about caramel either. For my birthday, I wanted pure, unaltered chocolate cake!

     Shortly before Mom’s birthday, she had received in the mail a course catalog from a local technical college, in which she happened to spot a class on flourless baking! It was billed as a class to learn how to bake in a healthier way, but it occurred to us that it would be very useful for our newly gluten free household too, so Mom signed up. The class met for two Thursday night sessions and to my delight, after every session she was able to bring home samples of the items she and the other people in her class had baked. Some of the recipes have become family favorites and are now part of our repertoire. Just a couple weeks ago, Mom made another batch of muffins that include pineapple and coconut flour, and we recently made chocolate chip cookies using almond butter too. But my absolute favorite recipe that I have requested the most is this flourless bourbon chocolate cake topped with orange marmalade. Basically I think you just boil bittersweet baking chocolate, butter, sugar and just a tablespoon of bourbon and then bake it in a cake pan. Man, is it melt in your mouth delicious! I am not kidding! It was light and moist in the mouth and really hit the chocolate tooth because it is dark, rich chocolate. I didn’t think I would like the orange marmalade on top because I usually don’t like stuff like that, but it was the perfect flavor complement. Eating this cake, Mom and I realized that maybe the problem with traditional cakes is the idea of trying to modify something designed to be made with wheat flour, whereas this flourless bourbon cake was naturally gluten free.

     Then about a week and a half before my birthday, we celebrated my brother’s birthday. Here I want to pause for a moment and complement my brother. He hasn’t been wild about any of our gluten free recipes, and adamantly refuses to get tested for Celiac Disease, so I told myself not to be surprised if he insisted on a gluten cake. I would have been fine with that. On your birthday, you should get to have what you like, so I would have been happy to just eat the ice cream or something if he wanted a gluten cake, but he said he would be willing to eat a gluten free cake! Like all brothers, he gives me a hard time sometimes, but in this act, I realized that he really does love me and empathize with me.

     Mom couldn’t find any ideas for jazzing up white cake in our gluten free cook books. (I guess they were all written by chocohalics like me because all she could find were chocolate cake recipes. But she found a mix and just cut the cake in half and filled it with extra frosting to moisten it. It was pretty good, but still not up to the birthday cake standards of the old days, so after that party, I officially declared that for my birthday, I would have to go with the flourless bourbon chocolate cake. The only problem was that the way this cake is made, the consistency is really more like that of a thick cookie, which would have made birthday candles difficult if not unfeasible. But I decided I was willing to sacrifice this tradition for a better cake. I am no longer a little kid who needs to make a wish anymore, and besides, since I have always had a fear of bringing my face too close to the candles and catching my hair on fire or something, blowing out my candles in past years has been a comical endeavor that took forever it seemed. I think when I turned twenty, I was having such a hard time that the family started a tradition of assisting me and blowing out a few for me that I just couldn’t reach. So maybe I was getting too old to continue this tradition anyway, I reasoned. But deep down, I kind of still wanted to be a little kid and try to blow out candles again, and Mom hated to end this tradition too. So Sunday morning, she said, “Let’s sit down and look at cake recipes.” It actually didn’t take long to find the perfect recipe. Rather than a box mix, it called for three separate kinds of flour; rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch. It was also different from our previous cakes because in addition to the typical cake batter ingredients like flour, oil, eggs and sugar, this recipe had you melt chocolate chips and milk on the stove and stir this mixture in to the batter. The introduction to the recipe said it would be moist, and any remaining apprehension about my first gluten free birthday cake melted away with the first bite. It was fantastic!

     Two days after I was officially diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I had an appointment with a job coach and my Celiac Disease came up in conversation as I waited for Mom to pick me up. As is common unfortunately with a large segment of the public, she was ignorant about Celiac Disease, so I explained to her that it meant I had to follow a strict gluten free diet. Mom arrived just in time to hear the job coach say, “well, on your birthday, have all the cake you want.” What she didn’t realize was that on my birthday, I would, and did, have all the cake I wanted. It was just made with gluten free flour. It wasn’t healthy by any means, another misconception people have about gluten free food. In fact if anything, it was even more unhealthy than gluten cake because it called for more sugar than Mom’s old cake recipes. But with all that sugar, chocolate and milk to moisten the batter, I doubt the average person would have even realized it was gluten free. Even if we hadn’t found a cake that was just as fabulous as the old days, it would have been worth the sacrifice knowing that even if it wasn’t as good, at least it wouldn’t damage my insides and plague me with migraines and fatigue later. But in addition to everything else–the happy conversation with family, the gifts, the fantastic gluten free lasagna (with extra cheese and sauce to compensate for the heavier gluten free pasta),– the fact that we found such a fabulous cake, one that I asked Mom to mark as a keeper for my birthday next year, was the icing on the cake of an all-around happy birthday!