book review, The Mercy of the Sky

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The Mercy of the sky
By Holly Bailey

Journalist and native of Moore, Oklahoma, chronicles the May 20, 2013, EF-5 tornado that killed twenty-five people, including ten children. Discusses the path of the storm, which hit two elementary schools and a hospital among other sites, reactions on the ground, and the aftermath. 2015

I wonder if you, like me, found yourself glued to your TV, watching CNN or some other news channel, on May 20, 2013, unable to tear yourself away from the coverage of the disastrous tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma that day. I work from home, and I remember turning off my work computer and turning on my TV to hear about the storm, already in progress. It was a night of tragedy. Twenty-four people lost their lives, ten of whom were children, and seven of those children, third-graders at a local elementary school. The tornado demolished two elementary schools that day. In one, all the children and staff survived, but in the other, seven children died.

This book follows a group of characters, Oklahoma’s famous meteorologist, Gary English, a few families, the principals of the two schools, city officials, and here and there a random person, whose stories must have touched her heart as they did mine while I read. She doesn’t go much into the nature or history of tornados, but she goes into great depth into the history and lives of the people of Moore. She grew up in the area, so this book was deeply personal to her.

It seems that Moore Oklahoma has a weird history of being more often slammed by monster tornadoes than any other city in the state. They used to talk about what they call, May 3rd, like the rest of the country talks about September 11. May 3, 1999 was the date of another killer tornado that struck the area, and after surviving that, the town was hit multiple times over the next fourteen years, culminating in the horrific events of May 20 2013. Bailey brings this to life in such a strong and personal way, that you almost feel as if you could have experienced it. Not quite, unless you’ve lived through a tornado, but she makes you know the people, the town, the spirit, and the strength to pick up and go on after disaster.

As I read, I often felt amazed that people experienced tornado after tornado, lost everything, lost loved ones, and yet, they still continue to rebuild, right in the same place. Why don’t they leave, move away, I found myself asking, over and over. Then I had to remind myself that I grew up in California, and there’s a whole state full of people who haven’t run away from earthquakes either. Shaking my head, I’d think, well, guess there’s no place completely safe when Mother Nature decides to get tough.

I was in awe of the spirit of the residents of Moore during the storm. One weatherman, who knew the tornado was heading right toward his own home, continued to do his job, staying on air, trying to get people to get into shelters, get underground, get off the roads and be safe. He didn’t know if his wife and their two dogs would survive, but he stuck by his post. Then there were the teachers at the elementary schools. Time after time, Bailey told how teachers threw their bodies over those of the children in their care, desperate to protect their charges, not thinking of their own danger. One of those teachers was in the area where the children died, but the three children she was able to cover with her body survived. And yet, after it was over, months later, she still felt she had failed. I wondered, would I be that brave and unselfish. Would I throw my body across a child to protect it? I hope I would, but here were examples of real people, not actors in a movie, who did this. Not just one teacher but all the teachers. They deserve medals of Honor.

There was even some fun trivia, such as the fact that Gary English was quoted in the movie twister, and he and other meteorologists from the area had bit parts in the movie. I need to get hold of that movie I think. It was fascinating to me, how some people develop such a passion for storms, like English, who grew up wildly interested in storms and doing everything he could to get into the field, to the point of practically obsession. And I know storm chasers have provided valuable information about tornados, but I kept thinking to myself that they were just plain idiots. But then, some people are obsessed with earthquakes! But I ran away from California rather than live through any more of them. There’s no accounting for taste.

This was an amazing book, riveting, exciting, tragic, victorious and absolutely fascinating. With all the tragedy and sorrow of this book, it was a story of triumph in many ways. Yes, it was heartbreaking. I wept for the children, terrified, crouching in hallways that gave pitifully little protection. I ached for the people who didn’t have shelters so crawled into their bathtubs and still were blown away by the storm and lost everything, some losing their lives or their children’s lives. My heart broke over the animals that died, on one Horse farm, dozens of beautiful horses in the area for some kind of show.

But the people of Oklahoma don’t sit around and dwell on it all. Yes, they grieve, but they get up, brush themselves off and start putting their town and their individual lives back together. I’d like to go hug them all, shake their hands, bring them cookies. but I never want to go near Moore, Oklahoma, just in case, you know.

book review, Wedding Cake Murder

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Book review

Wedding Cake Murder, by Joanne Fluke
Hannah Swensen #19

Warning, spoilers ahead perhaps

If you’ve been following this series, you might know that this book is the one in which Hannah gets married. However, as I know people reading the series who have not reached the getting engaged part yet, I’ll try not to mention the name of the groom.

Ever since I read the very last sentence of Double Fudge Brownie Murder last year, the moment when Hannah tells her sister she is going to marry someone, I’ve been anticipating this newest book in the Hannah Swensen series. I preordered it from Audible and read it in a day from the moment I got it downloaded yesterday. I went to bed Monday night thinking, when I get up tomorrow, the book will be in my audible library! I loved it in many ways, but I was also disappointed in many ways.

The book opens with Hannah talking to someone about her upcoming wedding plans. We had learned in the previous book, that Hannah’s youngest sister, Michelle, had entered Hannah into a cooking contest with a fictional food channel, and Hannah had won and been invited to participate in a televised cooking show contest. At the beginning of this new book, Hannah is getting ready, planning to get married, and then spend her honeymoon in New York participating in the contest. All her plans fall apart, when a rep from the contest calls to tell her they are moving up the dates of the contest, and whichever contestant wins the first round in the competition will have the home advantage, because the contest will be moved to their home town. But this also means that it might affect Hannah’s wedding plans. She tells the producer about the wedding, and he assures her the contest will end before that date, and the food channel will stick around and film her wedding.

All this to set the scene, so most of the book can take place back in Lake Eden and around the friends and townspeople we’ve all come to know and love.

I enjoyed the parts of the book about the cooking contest very much. Michelle is Hannah’s assistant, and I always enjoy their interaction as sisters. The recipes, the judges, the other contestants, it was all fun and interesting. My only negative thought on that part of the book was that for one of Hannah’s desserts she made apple pie, and I happen to hate apple pie. Good thing I wasn’t her judge, isn’t it?

Hannah wins the first round and the contest moves to Lake Eden and continues on. In the midst of that, Hannah is still preparing for her wedding, but it seems to be the least important thing on her list of too many things to do. In the midst of the contest, one of the judges is murdered, and of course Hannah adds sleuthing and solving mysteries to her already too full agenda. Okay, it’s Hannah Swensen, and there has to be a murder and Hannah has to try to solve it. But this is where the book started breaking down for me.

Hannah is so focused on trying to solve the mystery that her excitement over her wedding seems so far back in her mind and heart that it might as well not be there. I’ve always loved that these books are not heavy on the romance, but it would have been nice to see more of Hannah and her intended. It seemed she saw more of one of the people she didn’t marry than she does of her fiancé.

There’s a scene where Hannah is asked to go next door to Clair’s dress shop to pick out her wedding dress, and Hannah balks and tries to get out of it. She has no interest, excitement or concern about what she’ll wear to her wedding. This was extremely off-putting to me. I know plenty of women like Hannah who aren’t much interested in fashion and clothes, makeup and the whole bit, but I’ve never known any woman who wasn’t the least bit interested in getting her wedding dress. That scene fell flat and I wanted to give her a good shake and say, “don’t you want to make his eyes pop when he sees you come down the aisle?”

But here’s the clincher, the worst moment for me, the most unrealistic thing I’ve ever read in one of these novels, a moment that might have been meant to be funny or humorous in some way but came off to me as slapstick. It’s Hannah’s wedding day. She’s alone. Her mother and sisters are already at the church, and she’s going to drive herself to the church to get ready. On the way, she stops into the Lake Eden Inn to arrange for a special bottle of wine for her groom, and through conversation with one of the owners, she realizes who the murderer is. Cool. Sure, this is what Hannah does. But it’s getting late, and she barely has enough time to get to the church to get dressed and marry her sweetheart, but what does she do? She goes off to the inn’s kitchen, where the contest cooking happened, and waits to confront the killer. Now, if you’ve read earlier books, you know, Hannah knows at least four or five men in the sheriff’s office. Under those circumstances, if it was my wedding day and I was already nearly late, I’d be making a quick call with my handy cell phone, letting one of those nice sheriff guys know the scoop and off to my wedding I’d go. I wouldn’t be hanging around waiting to confront the murderer when I was supposed to be getting married!

Of course, there’s a big confrontation scene, Hannah is nearly killed and has to do something extreme and crazy to save herself. She jumps into the Inn’s dumpster and is carted off by the garbage guy who handles the dumpsters! Of course her cell phone battery is dead and she can only, finally get off part of a message to one of the sheriff guys in order to get rescued. She’s nearly an hour late to her own wedding, rushes into the church screaming “I’m here” all while being covered head to toe in gunk, gross nasty food garbage from the dumpster! I didn’t find it funny or entertaining at all.

There’s a scene nearly an hour into the book, when Hannah meets individually with people she needs to clear the air with. I can’t say who because it will reveal who isn’t her groom. But in these scenes, it seems Hannah cares more for their feelings than for the feelings of her groom. And this brings up other issues I had with the story that I can’t say because of trying not to reveal the groom. But it felt as if everyone else was more important to her than the man she was planning to marry.

Other things I didn’t like were:
Not enough Moisha, and no particular funny Moisha mischief.
No Tracy, Hannah’s sweet and too adult seven-year-old niece. She’s mentioned but has no air time.
Hardly any Lisa and hardly any time in the Cookie Jar, Hannah’s bakery.
Not enough time, as I said earlier, with Hannah and her groom.

Things I loved:
I loved the overall contest.
I enjoyed the interaction with Hannah and Michelle, and with the three sisters, when it happened. There were some lovely moving scenes between Hannah’s mother, Dolores, and the three sisters, Hannah, Andrea and Michelle.
Loved what time we had between Hannah and what’s his name.
The mystery was fun as always and took me time to figure out who and why.
And I loved that Hannah finally did get married to the one I’d been hoping she would for several books.

I’d give this book four out of five stars. It wasn’t what I was hoping for in many ways. I was wanting to see the reactions of everyone when Hannah announced her engagement: how did her sisters react after her big reveal at the end of the last book? How did Dolores? What about the ones not chosen? What about Lisa and the rest of the town? Did Lisa “tell the story” of how Hannah got engaged to the wide-eyed audience in the coffee shop?

But the book was also full of much of what I enjoy in this series. Hannah is entertaining. I love Lake Eden and wish I could visit, have cookie and coffee at the Cookie Jar and meet the colorful characters I’ve come to know after nineteen books. I thoroughly enjoyed what time we did have with Hannah and her groom. He’s always been the most supportive of her, accepting her for who she is. There were the recipes, the mystery, a fun contest, great sisterly interaction and a wedding. So of course, I loved it. I just wanted more of some things and less of others. I’m already waiting for the next book! And though Wedding Cake murder might not be my favorite in the series, it certainly is not my least favorite. It was fun, and that’s a pretty good thing to find in a book.

1375 words

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Okay, so it’s not a great start. I did 1375 words yesterday. and I forgot to update my stats on http://www.nanowrimo.org. boo. I just did it. To be fair to myself, I did a lot of editing yesterday of previously written material for this story. man, once upon a time, I really thought I was a great writer, but when I read what I’d done on this six years ago, I cringe. The story was great, but in the technical sense, I’ve improved a hell of a lot since then. Thank the Lord for fan fiction and learning my craft in that environment. And for writing Haven which is still my labor of love. So, it’s all good. If I finish the editing today, I’ll count those words in my word count because it’s like rewriting everything, from a complete change in character names, to all the dialog and narrative. Yikes. Damn this is fun!

NaNoWriMo 2015!

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Sunday, 1 November 2015

Yes, I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. I tried this two years ago, and though I did write a lot, I was so burned out and trying this only made it worse. But I’m in a fairly good place this year and excited to get started today.
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is national novel writing month. The idea is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It feels overwhelming when you think of it that way, fifty thousand, yeah fifty thousand words in one month. But I went to the trusty windows calculator and determined that breaks down to approximately 1667 words a day. I can do that! In fact, knowing how I usually write for hours without stopping, on weekends I can do much more and get ahead, for those days when it’s hard to write 100 words, let alone over ten times that much in one day.
My story this year will be loosely based on the journal I kept during the first time I went to GDB to get my first guide dog in August 1975. I’ve hesitated about this for many years, even though I think I have a great story to tell. I don’t want to write for a limited market. Books about guide dogs are pretty common and generally appeal to only a limited few. But my first time through training ended up being about so much more than getting a guide dog. I was seventeen, just out of high school. I was shy, so terribly shy that I was nearly helpless around strangers and afraid of the sound of my own voice. Other than camp or an overnight at a friend’s, I’d never been away from home for such a long period of time, twenty-eight days. I would be in a class with fifteen other people, of all ages, walks of life, experience. My roommate was eight years older than me, and to me, she was wise in ways that awed me. She smoked pot, was sexually experienced and was unlike anyone I had ever known. I took my first steps in learning how to break out of my debilitating shyness. I gained confidence in myself in ways I had not expected. I developed a huge crush and found myself experiencing the first fumblings into sexuality. In short, I began to come of age, to move from that little girl into the woman I so desperately wanted to be. Of course, it was only the beginning of that journey, but that first time through guide dog training was when it began.
And this, I think, is the hook for the story, the thing that can make the story reach out to far more people than the limited disability or service dog market. Hasn’t every adult had those moments, those first times, those exciting and terrifying times, when we step into the first phase of adulthood? Wasn’t it glorious to meet people outside our bubble, to begin to discover sex, to feel that confusion about it? Didn’t we all have to come of age?
I think, and I hope, this story can touch hearts of people who’ve been through it, who are going through it and help people see that in all the way that matter, we are so very much alike. People with disabilities are not really that different at all. I know that at age seventeen, when I walked into that dorm for the first time, ready to get the dog I’d been dreaming of and waiting for ten long years, I never imagined I’d experience all the other things that came my way. It was an adventure, a romp, a thrill every minute. Well, for the most part.
I’ll be researching music of the era, movies, TV, slang and fashion. I remember the music well. I had a piece of luggage full of cassettes, many of which had been recorded by me putting my tape recorder up to the radio. I had a Perkins brailer and a binder of paper to keep my journal. I was not much into TV so can’t remember what we watched, but I well remember rushing to the theater to see Jaws several times that summer. I don’t remember what clothes I wore, but I was always nuts about clothes, so I’m sure I was wearing whatever teenage girls were wearing. The research will be fun, though I usually don’t enjoy research too much. It will be like stepping into a time machine. I wonder what I’ll find when I get there.
If anyone reading this is doing NaNo this year, feel free to buddy me on their site. My name there is sherriola. It’s going to be a fabulous month! Check back here for progress reports. It’s going to be a blast, or should I say, in keeping with the era, it’s gonna be Far Out!

Woo hoo, and according to the word count, I’ve already written 818 words, just writing this. I’m halfway to my goal for today! Can you dig it?

An Event, If/Then with Idina Menzel

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AN EVENT!
IF/THEN, starring Idina Menzel

Last Saturday, October 17th, I experienced a truly amazing event. My friend Sandie took me to see the musical If/Then. And joy of joys, the stars who performed in this show on Broadway decided to open the national tour, performing in six cities I think. I’ve never gotten to Broadway yet, so there I was, sitting in the Buell Theater in Denver and listening to the great Idina Menzel sing her heart and soul out! If you’re not familiar with Idina, she was Elphaba in the original cast of Wicked, and she sings the song Letting Go from Frozen, among other things. The woman has a voice that can move you to tears or to joy and laughter. I was blown away and so thrilled to be there.

Sandie picked us up a little before noon, and we drove down to Denver, just like the day we went to Wicked back in June. Again, we had lunch at the Limelight restaurant, across from the theater. I had the hamburger and a mimosa. We were a little late, so we didn’t have time to finish our lunches, but you can bet I finished the mimosa! For the record, the burger was every bit as delicious as last time.

Sandie had ordered a braille program for me, and we got settled in our seats, and I began to read the program aloud. That’s when I discovered that the three other main cast members had Joined Idina in the national tour, so now we had not one but four Broadway stars performing right here!!

I don’t know what to say about the show. How can I express the humor, the tears, the way it moved me deep down? If you haven’t heard of it, If/Then tells the story of a woman, Elizabeth, who arrives in New York, meets a new friend right away and is reunited with an old friend. In the park, she thinks about two different paths her life could take. In one, she is Liz, and in another, she is Beth. At the end, we meet her back at the beginning in the park, and she takes the path, I at least, hoped she would. The changes from Liz to Beth happened so quickly, jumping from one life to another in the blink of an eye. But I found it easy to follow. Once I got to know the characters, and how Elizabeth’s life was going in each path, it was simple to follow. There is heartbreak and triumph in each path. And Idina told the story in song with so much passion I ached for the character and just wanted her to find happiness and peace. It was beautiful; it was moving; it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

After the show, we drove partway home and met Keven at an Italian restaurant called Caraba’s. I had a dish with corkscrew pasta and tons of different cheeses, plus a bowl of the best minestrone soup I’ve ever put in my mouth. It was just this side of almost too peppery, but it was so delicious I just wanted to keep on eating.

And then we came home. I had a thoroughly wonderful time. I still sometimes just sit and think about the show and ponder the different choices Liz and Beth made and the way those choices affected her and those around her. How many times have we all thought, if only I’d known I might have made different choices? And that’s what the story was all about. If you ever have the chance to see If/Then, don’t hesitate. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget. I know I won’t.

You Just have to Understand

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You Just Have to Understand

Today, some friends and I had a discussion about whether or not to self-identify as a person with a service dog, when making arrangements for rides in taxis or services like Uber. Transportation companies in particular have a long history of illegally refusing rides to people accompanied by a service animal. For the purposes of this journal entry, it’s important to know, that under the Americans with disabilities act, ADA, a service animal is a tool, used to mitigate a disability. In my case, a guide dog. Now, of course, I don’t think of my dog as a tool, but under the law, that is what she is. My dog has no legal rights beyond the right of any dog, but *I* have the right to be accompanied by my mobility tool in any public accommodation—provided my mobility tool is under control and behaves properly. Yes, shocking maybe, because few people seem to know this, but a person with a service dog can be asked to leave with the dog, if the dog is not under control. But for the law, the dog is the same as a cane or wheel chair.

In the course of the discussion, some friends said they always let taxis or other services know they are accompanied by a dog, as it will save possible hassle and or because it’s “the polite thing to do”. I am on the other side of the fence, as any who read this might guess. I will not give advance warning. The ADA has been in existence for twenty-five years now, and there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to disobey that law or to expect me to tolerate their breaking it. Oh, did I forget to mention that the ADA specifically states that a person with a disability may not be forced to self-identify? This is why those of us who use service animals are not required to carry identification or certification for the dog, and it is why it is expressly forbidden for places or business of public accommodation to require that we give advance notice. Just as it’s illegal to expect a person of a different race or gender to self-identify. So why do so many people with disabilities still think they have to do it? I’ve been thinking about this all day, and here’s what I think. Besides the fact that most people still don’t think of disability as a minority but rather a medical or charitable situation that is?

If we are born with a disability or become disabled very young, we are taught from our earliest age that we should not make waves.

“Oh, Honey, I know it’s upsetting that they treated you this way, but you’ve just got to understand. They don’t know any better. They’ve never been around anyone who is blind, deaf, in a wheel chair, … Be patient, give them time. They just have to get used to you. You just have to understand.”

Bullshit!

Why are people with disabilities the only minority group who has to just understand and be patient? For the rest of this article, I’ll just refer to my blindness, but this applies to any group with disabilities.

Let’s try a few similar scenarios as the one I just wrote. How would these go over?

“Oh dear, you’re African American, and you’re upset that the white employer over there wouldn’t give you a job? Oh Honey, you just have to understand. That white guy just isn’t used to being around people with dark skin. You’ve got to be patient. Just let them get used to you. Don’t get upset. You’ve just got to understand.”

Um, sure, and we all know our history, and we know how long our African American brothers and sisters had to fight attitudes like that! What would happen today if they were given that load of bull? What happens anytime a public official makes a boneheaded bigoted remark like that? Headlines scream. Why don’t the headlines scream for people with disabilities?

How about this situation.

“Oh Sweetie. You’re a woman, and I know you’re frustrated that men get paid more than you for the same work. And you’re so tired of beating your head against that glass ceiling, trying to get that promotion you so richly deserve. Oh Honey, I know it’s frustrating, but you just have to understand. Men just aren’t used to women’s equality yet. Be patient. Let them get used to you. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t fight it, don’t make noise, don’t raise bloody hell. You just have to understand.”

Yeah, right, sure. How well would today’s women tolerate that sort of attitude if it was stated baldly and publicly? Would the headlines scream again?

What about the headlines recently, when owners of Christian businesses refused to serve customers who are gay? Oh my how the headlines screamed! And yet, where is the screaming when day after day after day after day, people with service dogs are routinely refused rides from Taxi drivers or drivers of services like Uber, because it’s supposedly against their religion to be around a dog? Why is one of those situations wrong but the other is acceptable? Nope, no screaming headlines here.

Why do we hear those running for President, both Democrat and Republican, constantly reaching out to try to get the African American vote and the women’s vote, but they never vehemently proclaim their need for the disability vote. And even if they pay lip service to it, other than President Bush the first signing the ADA into law, what do they do, publicly? What do they do, what laws or bills do they help get passed, what media coverage do they get for the needs of the disabled? Ha! Do they even know or care that seventy percent and more of all working age people who are blind are unemployed? Do they care or know that of those who are employed, a huge percentage are under-employed in sheltered workshop type environments, receiving ridiculously below minimum wage salaries?

Where is the media? Where are the screaming headlines? I get news alerts from CNN every time the unemployment rate goes up and down, but is there ever coverage of the appalling rate of unemployment among people with disabilities? Nope. Do they think, like the general public, that people who are blind can’t possibly be productive employees, that maybe their disability will cause excessive absenteeism, that it would be dangerous for the workplace or the blind person to work, do they think we can’t find the bathroom or dress ourselves so how could we possibly do a job? Would it surprise them to know I have been consistently employed for twenty-five years? And yes, in a job interview once, I was asked how I would find the bathroom. And another friend who talked to a colleague of his about a possible job for me was asked if I would be able to dress appropriately. Oh boy. We have a hell of a long way to go, don’t we?

So, I think upbringing, societal pressure, and sheer exhaustion over fighting the same old thing over and over for a lifetime, constantly having to stick up for our rights and getting tired of it, I think that all plays into the attitudes. It gets so old having to beat our heads against the walls and remind the world that we are equal citizens. We’re not beggars at the feast. We don’t want to be objects of charity. We want our piece of the dream. And so some of us give up fighting. And I understand that, even if it isn’t my way. And may I be fighting till my last breath!

But honestly, after a lifetime of being told, “You just have to understand” I think it’s everyone else’s turn. For those who read this and shake their heads, thinking I just don’t get it, okay, it’s your turn, step forward, take a chance. You just have to understand!

If you’d like to read more on this topic, I highly recommend the following book.

MAKE THEM GO AWAY: CLINT EASTWOOD, CHRISTOPHER REEVE AND THE CASE AGAINST DISABILITY RIGHTS
By Mary Johnson

This book was published in 2003. Sadly, it was relevant and true then, and even more sadly, it is still relevant and true today.

Bianca Memories

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Bianca Memories

A year ago, when I let Bianca leave this world and go on to whatever her next adventure would be, I couldn’t write about her or talk about her or even think about her too much. It hurt so damn much to say goodbye, and in my usual way, when something hurts like hell, I need to shove it away, lock it up in a secret hiding place and throw away the key for a while. But today, one year later, I can think of the good things and bad things and feel so much thankfulness that with all her foibles, with all her joy, with all her being, Bianca was mine. In a sort of written snapshot form, here are some memories of Bianca.
How could I ever forget the moment I met her? She danced to me, and put her head in my lap and wiggled and wiggled and wagged that crazy tail and flung herself into my heart and soul forever, from the first moment.
What about all that incredible safe confident guide work? I crossed intersections with Bianca I would never have done before. Ah, yes, the not so joys of Las Gallinas and Los Ranchitos, in San Rafael, when I worked at GDB. That crossing terrified me. Huge, busy, between a mall and a strip mall, with delivery trucks going through the intersection at all hours. And an island in the middle. What was that island you might ask? It was a pole, in the middle of the intersection, with cars, buses and trucks whizzing around me in every direction. When I would gesture and tell Bianca forward, my heart would be pounding with extreme nerves, but my voice and expression were calm and confident. And because I exuded calm and confident, Bianca would take off and tail wagging, face smiling in her way, she’d take me right to that pole, then swing right and cross the turn lane, at last at the sidewalk. And she knew, she knew she’d done a great thing. Always after that crossing, she’d prance up to the sidewalk, knowing the praise and kibble reward was coming, and she’d continue to dance down the street, knowing she was a great guide dog.
I remember how we went to starbucks every morning during training, and so forever after, whenever we passed a Starbucks, even ones we’d never visited before, she’d slow down, hesitate and turn her head, glancing at the door and then glancing up at me, asking, well, do we go in here. Aren’t I something?
Then there were the times when I wept with heartbreak, and Bianca would snuggle up so close to me, letting me bury my face on her side and cry and cry and cry, soaking her coat with my tears.
Or how about the times, the exuberant little black lab would sit, perfectly still, not twitching even an ear, so that a colleague who was terrified of dogs, could take a chance and meet Bianca?
Oh, and the mischief! The times she ate the butter softening on the counter. The time she just had to taste a chocolate chip cookie to see if it had turned out right.
Then the time she ate a whole pound of Sees Candy soft centers, wrappers and all, and had to be rushed to the vet?
Or the time she ate snail bait at Brenda’s? and had to be rushed to the vet
Or the time she ate the paintballs at Karen’s? And had to be rushed to the vet.
And the time she stole the dozen or more ibuprofen from Joylene’s purse? And ended up spending a day and night at the vet.
The paper towels she shredded. The way she tried nesting by getting on my bed and pulling all the blankets and sheets into a perfect sleeping place for a black Labrador. The squeaky toys she loved. The Kong she tried to play tug with. But Bianca, Kongs are not meant to be tug toys! The way she could lie quietly under my desk, or a table in a restaurant, shocking the people who only saw her energy or mischief.
She had a billion sides, a billion qualities, smarts to rival anything I’ve ever known, and endless all-encompassing love and affection for everyone. Especially me.
Now, I reach over and hug Petunia, another incredible guide and companion. I think at her, don’t feel jealous when you hear the name Bianca. Sure, you’ve got some damn big paws to fill, but you are a beautiful funny, sweet girl all on your own, with a fantastic work ethic, a great guide, a loving companion. And best of all, you’re not eating candy, snail bait, paintballs or ibuprofen. You’re not shredding paper towels or trying to play tug with the Kong. You’re just you Petunia, and girl do I ever love the heck out of you!
Thank you Bianca for all the years of great work, headaches from the mischief, loving and joyful companionship. I’ll never forget. But there’s no doubt, I’m really happy to have the well-behaved dog I have now!

HER NAME IS

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HER NAME IS

I meant to post this yesterday but I forgot. A little story of the moments before I met my first guide dog.

August 20, 1975. Wednesday
I sit waiting, not patiently, eagerly, anxiously, but definitely not patiently. My classmates surround me, and I wonder briefly if any of them are as eager and anxious as I. They must be, but have any of them been waiting ten years for this very day? I don’t think of my classmates long; my concentration is on what will happen to me in the next minutes and hours.
We sit in a room the staff calls the loading lounge. It’s directly across from the instructors’ room, and I can hear their hushed voices.
Come on, come on! The thought spins and twirls in my brain. It’s time, surely it’s time. Come on!
I hear the instructors come out of their room. They join us and find seats, papers shuffling. I focus on the sound of those papers. Is that it? Is that the list? They give me my answer. It’s not the list yet. It’s a lecture. They tell us how the afternoon will progress, what the procedure will be.
Yes, yes. After this meeting, we return to our rooms. We wait. (I know that waiting will mean pacing the floor for me.) When they call us, we bring our leashes to the instructors’ room, and there we will meet our partner. We will spend the afternoon getting acquainted, then feed, then let the dogs out on the run. And then? Oh goody, more lectures.
I’m listening to their words, but in another part of my mind, a frantic desperate refrain plays over and over again. Will the dog like me? What if the dog doesn’t like me? How long will this take? I want my dog. But what if the dog doesn’t like me? Of course the dog will like me. This is my dream, my goal, the first important goal I have accomplished in my life, a whole seventeen years now. I’ve waited and worked for this so long, and I just know the dog will like me. But—but, what if it doesn’t? What if I can’t keep up? What if I do something wrong? Oh, will the dog like me?
I’m quiet. I don’t speak up much in groups. I listen. I fidget. Cross my legs, uncross them. My hands are constantly moving. I can never keep them still when I’m nervous. Now, my fingers twine and untwine. I fiddle with my fingernails. I twist my fingers together. I rub one hand over the other. I force myself to fold my hands and try to keep them still. It doesn’t work. In seconds, the fidgeting starts again.
Oh, when will this lecture be over? Will the dog like me?
At last, it’s over. Is it time? Are they going to read the list? Damn! People start asking questions, and I just want to scream for them all to shut up!
Please, please, please. Can’t they ask their questions later? The questions have gone on for at least fifteen minutes. Oh, please, I just want to hear the name! Does anything else matter at this moment? No!
Finally! Finally people become quiet; the questions stop, and now we are waiting. Everyone knows what comes next. The instructor shuffles papers again and clears his throat.
Now my brain goes on a new track. Will they read the list in alphabetical order? By last name? Or maybe first name? Maybe by dog name? Perhaps by room number? Birthday? Application date? Oh no, what if I don’t like the name? Could that be possible? No way, I’ll love the name. But what if I don’t? What if it’s a dumb name? Oh, never mind, I’ll love it. But, but, what if the dog doesn’t like me? And the frantic moving of my hands begins again.
Suddenly, the instructor begins to read. I freeze; even my restless fingers are still. I catch my breath. I feel my smile grow with each name he reads. Soon, soon, it will be my turn. I’ll hear the words I’ve been waiting so long to hear. Well, just one word, that name, that all-important name!
I listen as he reads one person’s info, and then the next. And the next. When will it be my turn!
And then, at last, he says:
“Miss Gomes, you are receiving a female black labrador retriever named Quincy. Q u I n c y, Quincy.”
Quincy! Cute. It’s cute. I beam. I think if my smile muscles stretched anymore they might just break right out of my face! I’m so happy, so happy.
They tell us to go to our rooms and wait to be called. We will meet our dogs one at a time. Did I think waiting for the name was too much? It was nothing like waiting to be called to meet my dog. Pace, pace, sit at the desk, write in my journal, pace more. Don’t want to write too much because the braille writer is noisy and what if I miss them calling me? Flip up the face of my watch to feel the hands. How long, how long? Pace, pace. I hear others go down the hall; hear them come back, the sound of doggy toenails clicking on the floor, tags and leash jingling.
Are they ever going to call me? Did they forget me? Did something happen to my dog? What if the dog doesn’t like me?
“Miss Gomes, it’s your turn. Grab your leash and come down to the instructors’ room.”
I answer calmly. I don’t scream out the things hiding behind my lips. “Finally! Far-out!” And all the rest of the joyful exuberant words pushing to be screeched at the top of my voice. But I don’t act like that. So, I feel that smile break out. I take the leash and not calmly at all, I go down to the instructors’ room, ready, oh so ready, to meet my destiny.

Forty Years ago

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FORTY YEARS AGO

On august 17, 1975, I took my first steps to true independence, my first steps to a new life. I walked into the San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, and I was never the same again.
I was young and innocent, just out of high school, two months from my eighteenth birthday. I’d never been away from home more than an overnight at a friend’s house, and there I was planning to be away for a whole month. I was shy. I was nervous, but oh was I ever excited. This was my dream, had been my dream for ten years. I was finally there, finally getting my first guide dog after waiting so very long.
When I was seven, I read a book about a guide dog. I didn’t understand mobility for blind people then, but I did understand that there were dogs just for blind people. I vowed right then and there that someday I would get one of those guide dogs, no matter how long it took. I loved dogs, and I wanted my own dog. Dad had hunting dogs, but they weren’t my dogs, and I so wanted my own. I wanted a dog that would sleep by my bed, cuddle with me, share my life, be my companion. When I got old enough to understand about mobility,then I wanted a dog for all those other reasons, but also for excellent and safe mobility.
Over the next ten years, I had to fight a lot of battles to achieve my dream, but then, should a dream be an easy conquest. Shouldn’t we have to work for it a bit? During high school, a person in authority, tried all he could to talk first me out of getting a dog, and when that didn’t work, tried talking my parents out of letting me get a dog. Just before high school graduation I broke my leg and had to put off training. I did everything the doctors said to get my strength back after the break. Nothing was going to keep me from getting my dog.
Finally I was there, settled in my room. Long before the era of computers and cell phones, I had my Perkins brailler, a binder full of blank paper, about a hundred cassettes with all my favorite music, taped off the radio of course. I had a ton of cute clothes and comfortable shoes. I was ready, so ready to meet my dog. I was nervous about the other students. I was one of sixteen students in that class, and my shyness threatened to choke me that first day. But it would be worth it all in three days when I would finally meet my dog!
I did get over the shyness, and I made friends. I fell in love with my dog, and I fell in love with a boy. Neither the boy nor the dog were part of my life forever, but the dog set me on a new path of freedom, first of seven, and special for being the first. I learned many things, not all related to interacting with and caring for a dog.
Was it all worth it? The ups and downs, the hard lessons and the good lessons? Today, as I look back forty years, and as I no longer feel that young innocent girl inside me, yeah, I know without a doubt, yes, it was worth every bit of it!

book review, Freud’s Revenge, by PJ Adams

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Freud’s Revenge
By PJ Adams

Two knife wounds–one to the groin, one to the hand impaling him to the desk–suggested somebody definitely wanted the guy dead. In this Amanda Carlisle
Mystery set in posh Del Mar, California, empath Amanda Carlisle and detective Nick Caswell find themselves in a race with a nearly invisible psychopath.
When Amanda mind-walks the killer, she discovers a complex Freudian psychosis that may be the key to the crime. Unbeknownst to her, that psychotic mind
has decided Amanda will be next. It will take Nick’s hardboiled sleuthing and Amanda’s deciphering the victim’s cryptic clues to catch the killer in gorgeous
surf-meets-turf Del Mar–where the ponies race and a psychopath is on the run.

I got this book on kindle a couple years ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I finally started it two days ago, and I literally couldn’t stop reading it. Amanda, the therapist with a unique gift of empathy, Nick the tough detective who won’t stop till he uncovers the truth. Together, they are a fantastic duo. Amanda has the understanding of the psychological elements and people in the counseling practice, and Nick knows how to read the clues. There’s enough delving into psychology theory and practice to keep it interesting but not so much as to overwhelm the average reader.
I began to guess who the killer was about halfway through the story, but I didn’t guess the complete reason why and I didn’t put together all the aspects of who and why. There were good guys and bad guys and not-so-nice guys, a great blend of real humanity. The danger Amanda experiences was well done without being so constant and edge of your seat, which would have made me enjoy the book less. I liked the blend of the intellectual process of figuring it out for both main characters with the danger element keeping me and the heroes on our toes, not letting us relax or become too complacent.
Nick and Amanda are likable characters. There is attraction between them, but that isn’t the focus of the story and they don’t fall into bed together every time you turn around. They are committed to figuring out the mystery, and their attraction will have to wait for another day. I liked that about this book very much. And I liked these characters very much.
The setting is the San Diego area. I lived in San Diego for most of the nineties, and reading about places and sites with which I am familiar brought back fond memories and made me smile. Horton Plaza, La Jolla, Del Mar, UC mall, all of it here and more, making me want to take a trip back and visit some old haunts.
There isn’t too much excessive violence. The murder is gruesome and some of the details can be a bit disturbing, but other than that, it was a comfortable read for me, not overly violent, not loaded with sex scene after sex scene—though there is a sexual element to the plot which I can’t describe without spoiling the story. Two great characters, a great setting and an engrossing mystery. How much better can it get?
I looked on amazon for more books featuring Amanda and Nick, hoping this was the first book in a series, but it doesn’t seem to be. If there should be a sequel, I would definitely read the next one. I would give this four out of five stars, mostly because I started to figure out the culprit too soon and because I would have liked more explanation of what might have caused the situation with the killer and why that person became what they became. Other than that, I loved it.