Posts Tagged 'fun'

Incense Woman

There are several more light-hearted posts (said facetiously) about religion and politics lined up in my head that I look forward to writing, but today I thought I would give you readers a break and write about the wonderfulness of wax melts which I bought with a couple Amazon gift cards I got for Christmas this year and have thoroughly enjoyed this winter.

Sighted people tell me that a fresh coat of paint, or pretty decorations or large windows that let lots of sunshine in really brighten up a room. For me, rooms that smell wonderful make me smile. My favorite work day is Wednesday because on Mondays and Fridays, I work until 4:30, so Mom usually cooks dinner after we get home. But on Wednesdays, I work until 6:00 in the evening, so on Wednesdays, Mom usually puts a casserole in the oven just before leaving to pick me up from work. (This week, she made a new recipe of pork chops, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, Dijon mustard, vegetables and spices that she put in the Crock-pot. The smell of dinner cooking is wonderful any day of the week, but there is something about walking into a house that already smells wonderful that makes me smile after a long work day. Once a week, usually on Tuesday or Thursday, I make a bean soup in the crock-pot—which I will tell you more about in a future post—and this soup also makes the house smell wonderful and inviting.

Growing up, I also associated smells with people and memories. My vision teacher always wore a certain kind of perfume, so even before she had said a word, I knew when she had walked into the room. I had a couple of English teachers in school whose classrooms always smelled wonderful, so even though I don’t remember much of what I learned in their classes, I smile when I think back on how inviting their classrooms were. By contrast, in middle school, there was a weight room that had a rubber mat on the floor, and maybe because of the rubber smell, mingled with the smell of sweaty hormonal teenagers, that room smelled nasty to me and I hated having to go in there for gym classes.

But I have always wanted to do something to make my bedroom smell better in the winter. In the summer, I have two windows I can open letting in lots of fresh air, but in the winter, my room starts to get a kind of stale, musty smell. It didn’t help that last Spring after a rash of bad headaches that Mom thought could be allergy-induced from the cat sleeping on my bed all day, we decided to keep my bedroom door closed. My mom lights candles in the dining room and kitchen in the winter, but since I am blind, I didn’t think it would be smart for me to have an open flame in my room. Then in the winter of 2016 after a rash of stinky incidents at work–people cooking sardines for lunch and burning popcorn—the company decided to buy a couple wax burners. I loved it, and in fact, even though I was in the thick of anxiety during that time, walking into an office that smelled so cozy and inviting brightened my mood a tiny bit. My favorite wax melt they bought for the wax burner was lily of the valley, but a lot of my co-workers didn’t like it because they thought it was too strong. But one of the receptionists shared my affection for this fragrance, and we had fun quietly conspiring a couple times to sneak it in and enjoy it until someone complained. Our office does not use the wax melts as much anymore because the fragrances bothered a lot of people, and people have become a little more mindful about what they make for lunch. But it occurred to me in 2016 that this would be the perfect solution for my room.

I didn’t get any Amazon gift cards for Christmas in 2016, and a wax burner just seemed like a frivolous expense I wasn’t sure I should incur at the time. But this year since I got Amazon gift cards, I decided to go for it. I couldn’t find lily of the valley, but I did find lilac, another favorite flower of mine. I love taking walks in May and June and smelling the neighbors’ lilac bushes, and there is a restaurant near our house behind which my dad noticed a beautiful lilac bush. So one Friday in the spring of 2016, my dad and I decided to be crazy and drive to this restaurant after dinner, just to loiter behind the restaurant and sniff the lilac bush. I wonder if anyone noticed us, but in any case, no one reprimanded us or called the police. (smile). My boss’s dad is an excellent gardener and last year, he gave her some lilac flowers in a vase which she brought to work, and my desk is right by hers so I was in heaven! If there is an appropriate opportunity in the next couple weeks as we approach May, I look forward to reminding her of this and will tell her to tell her dad he made one employee very happy and he should feel free to continue the trend this year! We tried to grow a lilac bush ourselves but haven’t had good luck. It seems like they either don’t do well after transplanting, or animals eat them. So I was so excited to find a lilac scented wax melt. Unfortunately, the lilac wax melt I bought didn’t smell as nice as real lilacs to me. Maybe that scent is too potent for small spaces like my bedroom, but to me it smelled more like strong soap than lilac. A boy in my young adult bible study group gave me a lilac wax melt from a different company for my birthday and this one did smell closer to lilac, but still is no substitute for the real thing.

Yankee Candle is the company everyone has heard of, but I went with a different company, Hat Creek Candle Company because I saw they were based in Wisconsin and their scents overall seemed to have better customer reviews. I bought one sampler pack of three cubes to see if I would like it, and loved it so much that a few weeks later, I bought three more packs. (The lilac melt I didn’t like as much came from a different company). I have loved all the scents from this company, as they are very strong, but pleasant to me. My absolute favorite scent so far has been the second cube I burned from my first sampler called Log Cabin. I think I loved it so much because it brought back happy memories of going to Granny and Papaw’s house in Indiana. It was an old house built over 100 years ago. My mom was ten years old when her family moved into that house, and her dad (my papaw) who loved do-it-yourself projects renovated it a lot, but it never lost its certain smell that my mom thought came from all the old wood in it. Papaw passed away in January 2008, and after a car accident in November 2016, my Granny was no longer able to live independently and manage this house, so she sold it to my cousin just last month. My cousin is the type who is embarrassed to have people over to her house, so sadly, I may never set foot in this old house again, but maybe I will order more of the Log Cabin cubes to keep the memory of Granny and Papaw’s house alive.

So far, I have enjoyed the Cabin Retreat sampler and the Holiday Classics sampler. Last weekend, I started on the Deep Thoughts sampler, and by the time I get through Mountain Sensations, hopefully I will be able to open my window and experience the fragrance of real nature again. But having these wax cubes burning has made my room more inviting than ever before, and I honestly think these scents have helped to relax me and make me more contemplative because this winter, I have been inspired to write more than I am most winters. To my delight, I have also come to notice that the scents I burn permeate my clothing, so at work when I raise my arm or move just right, I will get a faint whif of whatever scent is burning in my room which makes me smile. My dad has also noticed the scents on my clothes, and has taken to calling me “incense woman” because he will get a delightful wave of fragrance every time I walk by. I laugh though when I think about how my sister would hate me if she lived here because she is very sensitive to fragrance. Fortunately for her, she is not coming home until summer, by which time I will hopefully be able to have my windows open, so I will no longer be using these wax cubes. But if she comes home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we may have some conflict. (smile)

In January, my parents, Grandma and I went to the Fireside Theater, an old-fashion dinner theater about an hour from our house and saw Phantom of the Opera. I was at first disappointed because it wasn’t the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber version I was expecting, but the original version, so I couldn’t sing along, but this disappointment quickly faded as it was an excellent show. But there was time after dinner before the show to peruse the gift shop, and this is where my dad found a wood wick patchouli candle. I had never heard of this scent, but my parents were excited because this scent reminded them of the hippy days in the college dorm. I think there is a little hippy in me too because I love music from that era, and natural healthy food. I came to love this scent as well when my mom burned it in the dining room. So I was thrilled to find this scent included in the Deep Thoughts sampler pack. Speaking of which, I have been burning the eucalyptus cube from the Deep Thoughts pack for a few days now and it is starting to lose its scent. So I think it is time to put in the patchouli cube right now. It is going to start smelling groovy around here!


Back in the Game

Well hello readers! Long time no see, I know! But it has been an eventful three months. First, there were the Christmas festivities, and the gift of an iPhone. It was such a thrill to be able to send my first text messages and give Siri voice commands that I forgot all about blogging. Then on New Year’s Day, I came down with a nasty virus that required my parents to call 911 because of underlying medical issues. It knocked me down for almost a week. But as soon as I was well, Mom caught it too. She didn’t have to go to the hospital since she doesn’t have other medical issues like me, but it still packed a punch for her too, so I did the dishes and nursed to her. But the largest contributor to the delay was my braille notetaker. Ever since the cable company came out to our house and installed an updated modem so we would have more reliable internet access with our iPhones, my braille notetaker wouldn’t connect to the internet. The network was detected when I scanned for it, and I triple checked to make sure I typed the password correctly and in the right field, but when I would try to connect to the internet, it would say “not connected.” So I contacted my local vendor and when I mentioned that I had never successfully upgraded the computer, (see Trusty Rusty post about that frustration), I was told that I needed the upgraded version to connect to the internet. So I hung up the phone, got brave and figured out how to download the upgrade installation files on my desktop computer and transfer them to a thumb drive which is compatible with the braille notetaker, as the vendor suspected that my braille notetaker couldn’t handle downloading such large files. Nope, still didn’t work! So I called the vendor back and he suggested getting the files from a different site as they could be corrupted. When this didn’t work either, I was so frustrated I threw in the towel and on January 17, shipped the braille notetaker back to the vendor via the UPS store. I figured it was probably a simple procedural thing I was doing wrong, and the vendor would install the upgrade in a snap with an exasperated sigh and mail it back before I even missed it. The good news was I wasn’t incompetent after all! Somehow my flash disk had become corrupted and he couldn’t install the upgrade either. It was shipped off to Humanware headquarters right away for more extensive repairs, but because my DVR counselor was swamped with cases, it took two weeks for the purchase order to be authorized. I admit I was getting pretty restless and bored toward the end of this time, but I actually coped with the absence of my favorite piece of technology better than I thought I would. Working in my favor was the fact that I am no longer in school. If I had to read textbooks using synthetic speech or haul a Perkins brailler to class for notetaking, I probably would have lost my mind. But in this current transitional time of my life, the braillenote is more of a luxury than a necessity. In fact, my vendor offered to loan me another notetaker until mine was fixed, and I almost accepted the offer. But a second later, my conscience prevailed as it occurred to me that the vendor probably only had a limited number of units, and I think he serves the whole state. It would be unethical for me to take a unit just to goof off when someone who is actually contributing to society through their job, or pursuing an education may need their unit repaired and would need the loaned unit more. So I decided I could do without, especially given that I had plenty of other technology alternatives to keep me occupied.

     So how did I stay occupied in the absence of my best friend, technology speaking? Well, I guess you could say I got better acquainted with other friends, figuratively and literally. Early on, I entertained myself by listening to audio books. In October, I met with a friend from middle school who said she listens to books on tape while she drives, and she gave me a book she had finished listening to called Forgive Me. It was a really good book about a journalist who couldn’t wait to leave her boring hometown near Nan Tucket and tragic childhood behind. Her mother died of cancer when she was six years old and her father coped by burying himself in his job. She thought she loved traveling the world and covering horrible stories like apartheid in South Africa, but as she grew older, she realized she longed to spend the rest of her life with a doctor she fell in love with and live a simple life back in Nan Tucket. I had forgotten about this book since I usually just default to downloading books from Bookshare. Before Bookshare, I had listened to books on tape frequently, but since then I have forgotten about the power a good reader has to bring a story to life. I also listened to Monday Mornings, a novel written by Dr. Sanje Gupta about the lives of doctors and nurses, and coping with medical mistakes.

     Each day, I also enjoyed keeping up with friends on Facebook using my iPhone, although I don’t miss the iPhone Facebook app at all! Voiceover would sometimes pronounce words really weird, so I would have to use the arrows to read statuses letter by letter. I also had to think carefully before writing anything, be it a Facebook status, a comment or an e-mail because without cursor buttons, it was very tedious to go back and change a word or sentence! And as if that weren’t enough, an “upgrade” to the app ended up being a downgrade for the blind because instead of the traditional text box to write what’s on your mind, they changed it to a system that voiceover doesn’t interact as well with. I could read what I wrote as a whole, but not letter by letter as I typed. After typing very carefully for a few days, it occurred to me that I could e-mail my status to Facebook, which I did for the duration of my braillenote’s absence. But all of this tedium and frustration renewed my appreciation of how beautiful braille really is, and I said as much on Facebook as soon as my braillenote arrived!

     But best (or maybe worst) of all, I became addicted to Hanging with Friends, a delightfully accessible virtual version of the classic Hangman, with really cute sound effects. When I get a word right, there is happy music, and when I have used up all my strikes and get a word wrong, there is what I think of as “aw, bummer!” music which is followed by the sound of one of my balloons being popped. These sound effects are built in to the game, so they are the same ones sighted people hear. The iPhone’s voiceover reads blank spaces in my opponent’s word as question marks and when I select a letter by scrolling to it on my keyboard and then double tapping the phone, voiceover will say “strike” meaning it’s wrong, or “played” meaning it’s right. The game also makes a happy “ding” when a letter is played, and does a faint drum roll when I only need one more letter to solve the word. When it is my turn to make a word, voiceover reads all the letters randomly assigned to me, tells me how many points each letter is worth, and indicates clearly which slot is a double letter, triple letter, double word or triple word. Unlike Words with Friends which is not accessible to totally blind folks like me because you have to drag the letter to the appropriate square with your finger, Hanging with Friends automatically puts the first letter I tap in the first slot, the second letter in the second slot and so on. I apologize if I am boring blind readers who are familiar with this game, but I wanted sighted readers who stumbled on this blog to understand it.

     Each player starts out with five balloons and the objective is to pop all of your opponent’s balloons by stumping them with tricky words. When I got my first braillenote in high school and discovered it had text adventure games, I was thrilled. I had always wondered what it was like to play a computer game, and I guess it was kind of fun navigating fictional worlds and encountering virtual danger. But despite hours of effort, I never fully figured out how to play these games because the objective often wasn’t clear, at least not to me. Maybe it was crystal clear to people whose minds like adventure and I was meant to be a wordsmith instead. I think Hanging with Friends is also more fun because it is a mainstream game I can play with sighted friends, whereas Text Adventure games are designed to be single player games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if only blind people have heard of them. Anyway, the point is, I quickly fell in love with this game and six weeks later, the addiction is still strong! In fact, even with my braillenote back, I find myself playing that game more than I am using my braillenote!

I’ve gotten good too! In the beginning, I was getting every word an opponent threw my way wrong, but with practice, I have figured out a strategy and use logic to my advantage! I probably shouldn’t reveal trade secrets, but I guess if readers want to use them to fool me, that’s alright because then I can develop new strategies, sharpen my brain and become even better! So when I get a word, I first see how long it is, and see which vowel is already filled in for me. Then, you know how at the end of Wheel of Fortune when there is a bonus round and the host reminds contestants of “r, s, t, l, n and e” the most commonly used letters in words? Well I would use up all my strikes if I tested all those letters, but through experience, I figured out that the words opponents send me almost always have an r, an s or a t, or occasionally all three! So I always test those letters right off the bat. After that, I just carefully analyze the length of the word, which letters are filled in, which spaces are still blank, and sift through my brain and think about letter sequences that would make sense. For example, if an e is in the second slot, I always test A next because there are a tun of ea words in the english language. If e is the second to last slot and the last slot is blank, there is a strong chance that the last slot will be a d because there are a tun of ed words. In this way, I gradually piece together the word. Of course, I get words wrong, especially when tricky opponents send me words I have never heard of before. I have lost games, but I have won a lot too! I have also gotten more creative about making sure to utilize the double and triple word and letter slots to accumulate points faster too. For every 200 points you score by creating words, you earn 20 coins which can be spent on lifelines or items in the virtual shop like fancier balloons for your character, or they can be saved. When I reached 400 coins, I bought or should I say “unlocked” fancier balloons, but I started over after that and plan to save them because I think once you reach 5,000 coins, you advance to a more challenging level, which sounds exciting! Wow, I really need a job, don’t I!

     Anyway, while I was getting addicted to this game, Humanware made my old braillenote seem shiny and new again. When Humanware received my braillenote, they also discovered that the braille display and keys were dirty. In fact the braille display was so dirty according to the report from my vendor, that it had to be cleaned twice! I couldn’t tell from his tone of voice whether he was just stating the facts like an objective reporter, or if he thinks I’m a slob, but that’s alright. However my mom, who knows I’m a slob in other areas (like my blanket that I always find neatly folded on the couch in the morning when it was tossed aside in a heap on the couch before bed the night before) but loves me anyway, laughed. In my defense, I tried cleaning the braille display with what I thought was a soft damp cloth once as the manual instructs, but the cloth was either too rough or too damp and one of the braille dots never worked again, so I decided from then on that cleaning such an expensive unit is better left to the professionals! At the time I attempted to clean the display, Mom had a very demanding job, so Dad and I tried as much as possible not to trouble her with trivial matters like the most appropriate cloth to use in cleaning braille displays and since this happened during my internship in the governor’s office, I couldn’t afford to be without my braillenote. Since the damage to the braille cell was caused by my own hand, I decided I could live with the consequences. When I was reading and a word didn’t make sense, I was able to just fill in the missing dot in my mind and eventually pretty much forgot it was missing at all, so I could have accepted it if Humanware only fixed the corrupt flash drive, which I don’t think I caused, and left my braille display as is. But it is such a joy to have all the dots crisp and clear and in working order that I am treating the braille display like a baby, being extra diligent about making sure my hands are clean and sliding my fingers as lightly as possible. But when I told Mom about the mishap just recently, she informed me that there are special cloths designed specifically for cleaning electronic equipment, so when the braille display needs to be cleaned, I should not be afraid!

     A couple of other exciting events took place in my braillenote’s absence, but this entry is getting long, and since they relate to a different subject entirely, I should talk about them in a future entry. So for now I just want to say that while I didn’t mind listening to audio books or learning a new game, it feels good to be back in the braille reading and blogging game again.

I Won! I Won!

Well readers, several years ago, Mom told me about a newspaper article she read about a couple women who have a hobby of simply entering contests. I don’t remember the details of this article anymore, but I am guessing they didn’t win often enough to make a living out of this hobby, but I seem to remember that they won a fair amount of the time. This article has stuck with me, and rubbed off on me. I love entering contests! I have entered the adult Braille Readers are Leaders contest my sophomore and junior year, and plan to enter again despite the fact that it falls during the school year when I don’t have the time to read and thus never win. (I do plenty of school reading, but according to the contest rules, only pleasure reading can be counted). In high school, I entered a couple of writing contests, including one sponsored by Scholastic where you sent an essay on why you love the Harry Potter books, and the writer of the best essay won a trip to London for the release of a Harry Potter book that summer! (I think it was the fifth book that year). I didn’t win that contest, but a couple years later, I took third place in a contest hosted by the American Printing House for the Blind to celebrate their 150th anniversary, which won me a T-shirt. And of course, I buy lottery tickets every now and then. I know you have better odds of getting struck by lightning than winning the lottery, but somebody has to win! That person could be me someday!

     This summer, I got wind of two contests to enter. The first was hosted by Humanware, the maker of my BrailleNote. All I had to do was write a story about how the brailleNote has made a difference in my life, an easy task since I love it so much and spend many of my waking hours using it. The top stories would be used on their web site to promote the product and the writer of the winning story could win a Trekker Breeze, a GPS device that I have heard other blind people rave about. I was hoping to win one to try it out. If I liked it, it would be an awesome thing to have to keep this self-confessed geographically challenged person from getting lost when I am living on my own, and I could buy a replacement when it wore out. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be out any money. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, and I haven’t even seen the winning story on their web site yet. But in my objective opinion, I wrote an awesome and I think creative story, so even though it didn’t win, I thought I would share it here.

     Way back in the day when I started school, I had to do all of my assignments and take all the notes in class on a manual Perkins brailler. If you made a mistake, you either scratched it out with your fingernail and typed over it, or crossed it out by punching out full braille cells over the top of the mistake. Both of these options looked so sloppy to me that often I would just take out the paper and start over. Then when I was done with each assignment, my teacher’s aid had to transcribe what I had written in to print for the teacher. In addition, you had to punch the keys hard and as a result, it was loud! I will never forget how one day when I was in first or second grade, my teacher’s aid decided to take it in to the cafeteria to braille a worksheet for me during the lunch hour, and even over the deafening din of 200 chattering kids, I could hear her typing on it. While it was good for weight lifting and building arm strength, the heaviness of this machine wasn’t appealing either when I had to carry it to another room.

     I dreaded the occasions when I would have to use a regular computer to type papers or do research. I learned how to type using a computer, but couldn’t type nearly as fast as I could with the braille code. Editing what I had written using the arrow keys or finding the information I needed on a web page was tedious. And don’t get me started on how annoying the screen reader voice was or how difficult it was to understand sometimes!

     All of the handouts the teachers used in class had to be brailled for me, and since braille is embossed on thicker paper and takes up more space than print, I had to have a larger desk with shelves that could store thick binders while the other kids had light paper folders. By fourth grade, a normal backpack no longer fit all the homework I had to take home, so my teacher got me a suitcase on wheels. When I got to middle school and all of my classes were in different rooms, I had so much gear to carry between binders, the braillewriter and any textbooks I needed that I was given a cart to pull behind me through the halls.

     To hear me talk about these primitive conditions, I probably sound like an old person, but actually, I am only 21 years old. Yet I feel as though I went from the dinosaur age to the modern age in an instant when I received my first BrailleNote my freshman year of high school. All at once, I was able to type a paper just as fast as a sighted person, erase a character with a simple backspace, even go back and quickly change a word or even delete a whole sentence with the cursor edit buttons above the braille display. I could sit in a regular desk and take notes in class typing no louder than a sighted person typing on a regular computer, and (shhh, don’t tell my teachers this, but if it was a boring class, the braillenote also made it a lot easier to be naughty and “stare at the clock” on my braille display without anyone noticing.) When class was over, I could put all of my things in to a normal backpack and hoist it effortlessly on to my back because all those handouts that once had to be on paper could be sent to me electronically and most of the books I needed could be downloaded from or scanned and sent to me via e-mail. Often times, I could turn in assignments via e-mail too or else simply hook the braillenote up to a regular printer and print them.

     On the internet, I could find things just as quickly and efficiently as a sighted person with the braillenote’s more straight-forward key commands and read articles in peaceful silence.

     Even my sighted parents noticed how quickly I took to the braillenote and loved it. I will be entering my senior year of college in the fall, and I still love it and have never attempted a day of class or an evening of homework without it.

     I loved the Braillenote Classic that I had through my senior year of high school and the Mpower I had my first two years of college. But I have to say, the braillenote Apex I have now is the best yet with its light weight and built-in wireless internet connection so that I can access the internet from anywhere.

     I plan to be a loyal life-long braillenote user because given how much this invention has changed my life in just the past eight years, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for this technology, technology that in my opinion is the best technology ever invented for the blind.

     The other contest I entered was the Bookshare Everywhere Summer Contest, hosted by, you guessed it, The grand prize was an iPad, another product I have been wanting to play with, but don’t want to pay for in case I don’t like it. This grand prize went to the person who could guess the total number of books that would be downloaded from Bookshare over the course of the contest without going over. I just want to kick myself for missing this prize by a mere three books! Would you believe that my guess was 1,000, the official total was 1,007 and the winner guessed 1,002! But there were ways to win other smaller but still nice prizes.

     Another way to win was to have the most creative entry for how each book made your summer fun. I only submitted two of these entries. I read a total of four books during the contest period. One of these books was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I wanted to re-read after seeing the movie with my dad because I forgot what happened in the book. This book is available on bookshare, but I felt like reading the old fashioned paper version, so I couldn’t count it. The other book was Jaycee Dugard’s book “A Stolen Life”, and given the disturbing things she went through, I felt like it would have been disrespectful to use it for this kind of a silly contest. And of course, it did not make my summer fun. It gave me chills and nightmares.

     The books I submitted entries for were the last two books in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and my entries were not very creative. I forget what I wrote for the first book, but for the second book I wrote that it made my summer fun by giving me a deeper appreciation for how fortunate I am. At the time I read this book, I was doing my internship, which involved sitting in an air conditioned office for just four hours a day. When I got home, I had a huge lunch prepared with food bought at the grocery store and then could spend the rest of the afternoon on pleasure, quite the contrast to the hard work of the farm life Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts.

     The final category was the most interesting place you took your bookshare book, and I couldn’t believe my fingers when I read the announcement of the contest winners yesterday and discovered I took the prize for this category! The first book I submitted, I had read during breaks at the governor’s office where I did my internship! For taking the prize in this category, I won an MP3 player, which will be mailed to me soon!

     My dad likes to joke that we are destined to be losers because when we buy lottery tickets, it is rare that we have even one matching number. To win any money, I think you have to have three matching numbers. But when I told my mom that I had won this prize in the Bookshare contest, we both agreed that we have to buy a lottery ticket today!

An Eventful Week of Family, Fairs and Flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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