July is Disability Pride Month and  Is There Pride in Being Blind?

The Disability Pride Flag. There are Five Colors representing the diversity within disability and our experiences. The colors stand for: Red for physical, Yellow for cognitive and intellectual, White for invisible and undiagnosed, Blue for mental illness, and Green for sensory perception.
The Disability Pride Flag. There are Five Colors representing the diversity within disability and our experiences. The colors stand for: Red for physical, Yellow for cognitive and intellectual, White for invisible and undiagnosed, Blue for mental illness, and Green for sensory perception.

A Response on Becoming Disabled

Back in August 2016 I read a very interesting article in the opinion section of the New York Times. It was titled, “Becoming Disabled” by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. It asked the question, Where is our disability pride movement?” Afterward I wrote my own thoughts  and personal reflections. In honor of Disability Pride  this month I am dusting off  my piece  and reprinting  it here. It is still relevant as we in the disability community continue to work, advocate, teach, communicate  and find  pride in ourselves.

Empish standing near President Roosevelt statue in Washington, DC

In the beginning of the article, Garland-Thomson noted unlike other marginalized and minority groups the disability movement hasn’t gotten the same level of attention. She reasoned it is because we have a clearer idea of race, gender and sexual orientation; but when it comes to being disabled maybe not. I agree. In my 20+ years of disability, there has been a lot of work I have had to do to educate people about what that really means. Whereas it has not been the same for being female and Black.

People make assumptions about my abilities in thinking I can’t work, go to college, travel safely, cook in my kitchen, own my own home, enjoy a movie or date and the list goes on and on. I find myself constantly having to explain to people that I can do all these things and much more. Sometimes people are not convinced until they “actually see it” and then not even then.

Empish at gas stove

A deeper issue is the varying degrees of vision impairment, most people are not totally blind or totally sighted. Some might have light perception, no center or peripheral vision. Their vision might be blurry or they might have floaters in their eyes.

Learning New Skills and How to Communicate

Garland-Thomson went on to say that disability is everywhere once you pay attention and the numbers are growing. She said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five adults in the United States is living with a disability. The National Organization on Disability says there are 56 million disabled people. Indeed, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States.” But even with that the average person does not wake up “knowing how to be disabled.” This is also very true. When I lost my vision I didn’t know automatically how to be blind. It was actually the opposite. I had to be taught. I had to go through a vision rehabilitation program where I learned braille, mobility and assistive technology skills. There was a big learning curve and a huge life adjustment going from being a fully sighted person to low vision and later total blindness.

Garland-Thomson went on to say that disability is everywhere once you pay attention and the numbers are growing. She said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five adults in the United States is living with a disability. The National Organization on Disability says there are 56 million disabled people. Indeed, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States.” But even with that the average person does not wake up “knowing how to be disabled.” This is also very true. When I lost my vision I didn’t know automatically how to be blind. It was actually the opposite. I had to be taught. I had to go through a vision rehabilitation program where I learned braille, mobility and assistive technology skills. There was a big learning curve and a huge life adjustment going from being a fully sighted person to low vision and later total blindness.

Not only did I have to learn these new skills but communication and language had to be worked out. Understanding “I am visually impaired or blind now” is a hard pill to swallow. Then trying to communicate that concept to others can be overwhelming. Even though I got a degree in journalism and thought I was fairly good at written and oral communication, I had to work very hard on getting my point across after I went blind. People misunderstood what I wanted and vice versa. I had to learn patience and understanding. Sometimes I would have to rephrase the question or statement and try again to explain. People thought they knew better what I needed neglecting even to ask me and I would have to find a gracious way to correct them on that point. Also, in conversation people would be naturally curious, asking questions that were not always appropriate about my vision impairment leaving me to try and find a polite way to tell them that it was none of their business.

Identifying  Yourself

Another point that impacts  our pride movement is what we call ourselves. Are you calling yourself blind? Are you calling yourself visually impaired? What about partially sighted or legally blind? Do you use people first language where you focus on the person and not the disability; or name the disability upfront? Trying to make this decision all plays a role too.

I personally use the word blind because that is truly what I am. It is clear and straight to the point. But there are times in some social settings where I do use the word visually impaired to help make people feel more comfortable and at ease. This way they don’t feel so awkward or uncomfortable being around a person with vision loss. But should I try and do that? Maybe or maybe not.

Positive Role Models and Images

Photo of Helen Keller

This leads to my last point. We may fail to see or read about positive images of blind and visually impaired people accomplishing great things in society letting our minds take on a negative viewpoint. Sometimes it is hard for us to relate to situations and circumstances unless we have had direct exposure to it or unless we know someone personally who has. Growing up I don’t remember reading or hearing much about people with disabilities or people that were blind. I did read a book about Helen Keller when I was in middle school; and I did listen to music by Stevie Wonder and ray Charles but that was about the extent of it. Still that exposure didn’t tell me much about their personal lives and how they really dealt with their disability. So, when I went blind I was not able to really use those people as role models.

But I was fortunate to have had a blind co-worker when I was a teen in a federal government summer job program. She was an older woman and used a white cane and assistive devices I would later use too. I remember her independence and how she was able to work and do her job effectively; telling me I could do the same.

When I look at the beginning of my journey, I can’t say there was pride in being blind because of the huge adjustments to vision loss. But today, I can say that I am proud to be blind. I have accomplished much in my years and don’t look at it in a negative way. I see how my life has added value to society. I also see how I have been able to help so many people through my own personal journey of disability. I can relate and understand people’s pain and problems a lot more than before. I am not ashamed to be blind because it is just a part of who I am not all of who I am.

Deaf Culture Facts I Learned from Reading True Biz

Two people having a sign language conversation over the computer. One person is at a table and the other is on the computer.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I recently joined Book Nation for another virtual discussion about the book  True Biz by Sara Novic. The conversation with the author, who is deaf, was noteworthy because she shared about her life and the writing process for the book. But reading The audiobook was such an educational and intriguing read. First, she recorded the sound of ASL dialogue to differentiate from spoken dialogue. Before  this I had never read an audiobook  about deafness where I could hear the  sound of sign language. It made the experience more realistic.

Second, I learned so much about deaf culture  and the deaf community I didn’t know . Although, I am blind, I don’t take for granted I know everything about other types of disabilities. I took this reading as an opportunity to be entertained and learn.

Book Summary

True Biz focuses on three main characters. Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who wears cochlear implants and has never met another deaf person before. As a result, she struggles with communication with the limited sign language she knows. Next is Austin, the school’s most popular kid because of his family lineage  of deafness, but his world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing. Last is February, the hearing headmistress, a child of deaf  adults (CODA) who is struggling to keep her school open and her marriage intact, yet unsuccessful at both.

The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf are typical kids. They just want to hang out, pass their finals, and have adults stop telling them what to do with their bodies. True Biz is a  story about sign language and lip-reading, disability and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss. This is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection.

Chapters were separated by the voices of the three main characters with sections on deafness inserted. These sections I found the most interesting as they educated me on deaf culture. Novic was initially resistant to adding these sections to a novel but later reasoned that the hearing community  would  likely have no working knowledge of deaf culture and without  information would lack understanding and empathy. She was right. Here are some of the facts I learned from reading this book:

Finger Spelling Doesn’t Count

1. Use finger spelling only for proper nouns and names. You should look at the shape of the word not the individual letters. This technique is very similar to learning braille. Although my braille skills are limited when I was learning it I was encouraged to not touch letter by letter but get the feel of  the whole word. This would increase my speed and reading comprehension.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Here’s a fascinating bonus fact I learned about myself. I was a sight speller before I went blind. If the word looked correct then it was correct. Over the years my visual memory  has decreased impacting my spelling. As I was reading this book, I struggled a bit with Charlie. Since she was a finger speller  and her sign language  skills were not sharp. She spelled out everything and I would sometimes get lost in what she was trying to communicate. I would have to rewind  portions to hear exactly what she said.

Meaning of True Biz

2. True Biz is an idiom in ASL. Meaning, in context it is something different than the denotation of the constructed signs and hand shapes. It means true business, seriously, literally, no kidding and real talk.

Deaf Cures

3. The variety of cures for deafness were just as broad  and creative as those I have heard for blindness. One was to insert olive oil, red led, bat wings  ant eggs and goat urine into the ear. Then you have faith healings like the time Jesus healed a deaf man in the Bible. Harsh chemicals like mercury were used. One particular healing technique was to fly the deaf person upside down to correct pressure on the ears. Lastly, we have hearing aids, cochlear implants and stem cells. Early models of cochlear implants actually destroyed residual hearing, and  success could vary  widely. When it comes to stem cells the questions of ethics   and consent arise. Who gets to decide if stem cells should be used or  not for deaf children?

ASL Influenced by France

4. The usage  of what would be later called American Sign Language  (ASL)  was greatly influenced by a sign language teacher named Laurent Clerc  from France. Deaf Schools there were using sign language and when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who later founded America’s first school for the deaf, came to learn and observe  he brought  those techniques back to the United States. I thought this fact was interesting because braille came from France too.

Manual Verses Oral Communication

5. Late 19th Century manual language verses oral communication for deaf children was a hot button topic. The thought was if a deaf person could learn how to speak they could better assimilate into  the dominant hearing society. Also, there were strong beliefs around eugenics, championed by Alexander Graham Bell, who had a deaf wife and mother. It was used to forcefully sterilize disabled people. Bell was not a proponent of sterilization. Instead, he believed if deaf people talked  rather than sign they would be more likely to not marry each other and produce more deaf children.

Banning Sign Language

6. In 1880 educators gathered  in Italy to determine deaf education. It was decided to ban sign language worldwide. This ban would be in place for the next 80 years. Some schools like Gallaudet, pushed back and resisted but many others stop the usage of sign language. The history of braille has some striking similarities. Initially blind children  learned how to read by touching raised embossed letters. This process was painstakingly slow. When Louis Braille invented his code it was initially rejected partly because sighted people  couldn’t read and understand  the formation of the raised dots on the paper.

Interesting, how abled body people assume they know best when it comes to people with disabilities. This of course is ableism and can cause great harm.

Punishment for Deaf Children

7. Deaf children were forbidden to sign. If they did, there was severe punishment. Hands were tide, tapped with rulers  or slammed in desk drawers. This decision resulted in fewer deaf teachers, role models or professionals for deaf children to emulate. Further stigmatizing deafness in society.

Black Deaf People Communicated Better

8. I knew that Black deaf people had their own version  of sign language, called BASL. But  one fact I didn’t know  was during the oralist period  they were better communicators. White deaf people were forbidden to use sign language and to speak only. So, sign language teachers  went to segregated Black deaf schools and taught them sign. This resulted in them learning how to communicate better.

These are just a few of the facts I learned from reading True Biz. Learning something while being entertained   was enjoyable. If you are curious about deaf culture  and love a good story, I highly recommend  this read.

Why Do  the Blind Wear Sunglasses? It’s Not Totally Why You Think.

a blind woman wearing sunglasses and holding a white cane

Many of us have seen that stereotypical image of a blind person wearing sunglasses and carrying a white cane. For years I wrongly assumed that wearing sunglasses  was because the person either had no vision or their eyes  didn’t look natural. It wasn’t until I lost my own vision that I learned otherwise.

Now blind people wear sunglasses for a host of reasons. Some might be because of total blindness  or appearance of their eyes. Or it could be they have trouble making continuous eye contact.

National Sunglasses Day

A Black woman smiling, wearing sunglasses and a yellow shirt. In the upper lefthand corner reads National Sunglasses Day/Vision Council. Below there is a yellow circle and inside it reads celebrate your shades. June 27.

Since June 27,  is National Sunglasses Day   it’s perfect  timing to talk about this topic. The Vision Council  started this day in 2014. The idea was to encourage people to wear sunglasses in order to protect their eyes from harmful UVA and UVB rays. But let’s explore other reasons why the blind wear sunglasses.

Sunglasses Help Improve Vision

1. Again, not all blind people are totally blind. Actually, the majority have some level of vision. They might see light, shadows, shapes, or  objects with magnification. Sunglasses reduce glare  and help improve vision. A glare that only takes up a small portion of a seeing person’s visual field may take up nearly all of our visual field.

People with vision loss commonly experience photophobia, also known as light sensitivity. Sunglasses can decrease discomfort or further vision loss from bright lights. When I went blind I experience photophobia. Actually, it was what prompted me to seek medical attention. I couldn’t stand light of any kind; indoor or out. My eyes burned and I had severe migraines.

Sunglasses Protect From the Sun

2. When outside we all need to wear sunglasses whether sighted or blind because of the sun’s harsh UV rays. The blind are just as vulnerable as the sighted. Exposure to these rays can cause eye damage. UV rays increases the risk of developing conditions like cataracts or macular degeneration.

Sunglasses Provide Protection

3. All kinds of foreign objects can enter the eye and sunglasses provide a protective shield. Damage  to the eye can be caused by dust, dirt, pollen and debris. Then there is possible eye injury from open cupboard doors, things flying around outside, or tree branches. Ouch!

Sunglasses Communicate Blindness

4. As I mentioned earlier, seeing a person wearing sunglasses and carrying a white cane is often recognized as a sign of blindness. Yet, some people  who are not totally blind may choose to wear sunglasses to easily communicate blindness in certain situations. This encourages people to adopt helpful responses. For example, keeping a safe distance  to not cause injury or harm, or to extend help when offered.

Bonus  fact. We are fashionable and look for trendy sunglasses  not just the typical black wrap around styles. For years I wore red trimmed sunglasses  and alternated with ones with rhinestones.

Learn something? I sure hope so. Now you know why the blind wear sunglasses  and it’s not just because we are blind.

Celebrating My Birthday With 7 Writing Gifts to Myself

Red and white gift boxes. Some decorated with stripes and others with patterns.

Tuesday, June 21 is my birthday and I am breaking tradition. I am celebrating by writing gifts to myself. I know you are supposed to receive gifts from others and I will happily take them. I just wanted to do  something a little different this year. After all the birthdays I have had, and there has been plenty. You got to spruce things up a bit  and get a little more creative.

Now you may be asking, “What is  a writing gift?” I am not talking about physical gifts like fancy or expensive writing pens or decorative  writing paper. Not even cute little paperweights with witty writing sayings or slogans. Or a writer T-shirt with matching tote bag or coffee mug. What I am talking about are gifts  that bring sparkle and joy to my creative process as a writer. These gifts are not covered in shiny paper  and bows. Rather they are internal  and part of the process  of a writing life and routine.

1.  Gift of calling myself a writer

No imposter syndrome here! Although I am currently not on the writing payroll, I do consider myself a writer. I am writing this post, aren’t I?

Publication  and payment are not sole determinations of a true writer. Writing takes work, energy and perseverance but it is also fun and exciting.

Whether I get paid or see my byline writing is a gift. Not everyone can do it. Coming up with creative and interesting content, and writing compelling prose is a real talent. Nothing to sneeze at! The actual acknowledgement it matters is Honoring the time and talent to my craft.

A pink birthday cake with a shiny gold #1 candle on top

Thinking of myself as a writer is a gift because half of the writing process is mental. I am the first person to make my work legit. If I don’t believe  I am a writer then I can’t expect anyone else to believe it either.

2.  Gift of time to write

My lifestyle affords me the time to write. I don’t have to squeeze it in between work and family. I don’t have to get up early before the kids wake up. I don’t have to leave my home for a quiet place to concentrate. I can write at any time I want. Morning, noon or night. I have even gotten spirts of writing inspiration in the wee hours of the morning. Booted up my computer and got to typing.

And because I am very organized I can plan and prepare in advance. Well, you know, as much as humanly possible. Things can come up unexpectedly. I can schedule my time, giving space for life, friends and social activities  along with moments to write.

3.  Gift of letting go

I am a perfectionist by nature and it comes out in my writing. I will ruminate over a piece of work, nick picking before pressing the submit or publish button. I am learning to let go and that  this is a gift to myself. I don’t have control over how my work is received  by others. I don’t have control if an editor will publish it or not. I don’t have control of  reactions from a social media post. I can just control what I write on the page.

The ability to release  and let go reduces stress and anxiety I didn’t even know I had. When I let go I can focus on the pure joy of writing.

4.  Gift of boredom

Empish Yawning

Taking time away from writing  to just sit  and think about nothing is a gift. I do this in the A.M. while listening to the bird’s chirp outside   or rain pelting across my windowpane. I just lay in the bed and do nothing. Letting my mind scatter, thinking of nothing in particular.

We all know, children get scolded for letting their minds wander, not paying attention or listening. But actually, in this situation, being a kid is a good thing. Mental musing is a gift . It allows the brain to recharge  and helps  creative ideas to flow naturally.

5. Gift of community

The writing life is typically solitary. Yet having a community of fellow writers is  not competition but friendships that feed and nourish creativity.

Having others to “talk shop” builds connection  and a sense of belonging. I am not alone and having others to converse with is a wonderful gift to myself. Every writer needs a friend who truly gets it without having to explain. Support one another  through this writing life because we are all in it together.

6. Gift of saying no

Saying no is a powerful gift to myself. I have to prioritize what writing I am going to do. Do I have the time? The energy? The head space? The knowledge? Sometimes I want to be Super Woman and do it all. I don’t have to feel guilty or obligated  to write a piece or take an assignment that doesn’t fit. Can you relate? I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have looked over writing opportunities  trying to decide if I should take the gig or not. Sometimes you find yourself compromising  for the money, the opportunity, the prestige. Or fill in the blank. This is the time to weigh the cost and use the gift of saying no. It will free you for that yes coming around the corner.

7. Gift of saying yes

Understanding the powerful gift of saying no, leads to the time to say yes. I am imagining  that moment when this amazing  writing assignment comes to me out of nowhere. The one I have been waiting for and didn’t even realize it. The one I was a little shy and afraid of. This is when I will use my gift of saying yes.

What Are Your Writing Gifts?

These seven writing gifts are included in my self care regiment and writing toolkit. They are great reminders of who I am  and  motivate me to keep going. Now, that you know my writing gifts, what are yours? Share in the comments  and let’s  celebrate the power of gift giving.

Mamma Always Said Eat Your Veggies. Here’s How to Fill Your Plate and Make Her Proud

vegetable salad on plate with other veggies on table.

Do you remember as a child when mama told you to eat your vegetables? Perhaps it was broccoli, green beans, cabbage, spinach, Brussels sprouts. Or in my case those horrible canned red beets and raw  radishes! Yuck! Maybe you would dutifully eat them, as mama said, wanting to be the good little child. Hoping later for dessert or some kind of reward. Or maybe you would feed them to the dog  when mama wasn’t looking. Regardless, mamma had it right. We needed to eat our veggies. Not only as children but now as adults.

We Aren’t Eating Enough Veggies

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2019, 1 out of 10 adults  met the daily recommendations of eating fruits and vegetables. And it has only worsened with the pandemic  and supply chain disruptions. Now, for those  eating vegetables the amount  has decreased to about one per day. The State of the Plate: America’s Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Trends, from the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), explains despite decades of industry and public health efforts, America’s fruit and vegetable consumption continues to decline. The research shows people are eating fruits and vegetables less frequently.

This is not good news because eating fresh vegetables has incredible benefits to our overall  mental and physical health. I can attest to this very fact. When  I was growing up vegetables were a  big part of my family’s diet. We ate all kinds of leafy green veggies. Collard and mustard greens with blackeye peas were served on a regular basis. Even  grew a vegetable garden one summer. A green salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber  and those nasty radishes were on the table daily. To this day my family eats their veggies just like mamma said.

Changed to Plant-based Diet

As an adult I still maintain  this habit of vegetables on my plate. About a year ago I  moved to a more plant base diet  which I shared in a previous post. This decision  has had wonderful affects for me. First, I just feel better. Second, my struggle with migraines  are virtually gone. I do eat some poultry and fish but most of my meals are plant based. I even changed my smoothies to plant-based protein powder and almond milk.

National Eat Your Vegetables Day

Friday, June 17, is National Eat Your Vegetables Day  and an important reminder to continue  and/or add veggies as a part of a healthy diet. The goal is to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Empish eating a bowl of watermelon chunks

What is a Serving?

As I mentioned above we are only getting about one serving daily. This is a major difference. But what is exactly  a serving? Use  this list as a guide.

One serving is equal to:

  • 1 cup of raw carrots
  • 1 cup of raw spinach
  • 1 cup of cucumber
  • 1 cup of raw bell peppers
  • ½ cup cooked broccoli
  • ½ cup cooked cauliflower
  • ½ cup cooked green beans

Now that you’ve got an idea of a serving of vegetables, it will be  easier to add them to your daily eating habits. If you’ve been slacking on consuming your veggies, use this special day to reorganize your diet and start adding more veggies to the menu.

Ways to Fill Your Plate

How do we get those servings of crunchy and leafy plants into our daily meals? Here’s some ways to fill your plate and make your mamma proud.

Empish at gas stove

1. Prepare all your favorite veggies for all your meals. This could be a vegetable omelet for breakfast. Vegetarian soup, sandwich or salad for lunch. Then top off dinner  with a vegetarian casserole. Or one of my favorites, vegetable lasagna. Too many vegetables for one day? Then pick one or two meals  to be all vegetables.

2. Not in the mood to cook. Visit a local restaurant and go vegetarian. Many  eateries  offer meatless entrees on their menu. You don’t have to be a serious vegetarian. Try a new dish and explore the possibilities.

3. Visit your local farmer’s market and purchase some locally grown produce. You not only support local farmers and businesses  but get fresh veggies too. This is a win-win situation.

4. Make your desserts using veggies. And I’m not just talking about carrot cake or pumpkin pie! Veggies like zucchini, peppers, butternut squash and sweet potatoes provide a great addition to sweets . Check out vegetable dessert recipes online for some inspiration.

5. If you are feeling industrious or have a green thumb, plant a vegetable garden. No need to worry about supply chain problems or expensive grocery store produce. Grow your own. Many vegetables like green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, squash, peppers, zucchini, onions and spinach can be grown  at home.,

For my last veggie tip. Did You Know onions are the world’s most widely used vegetable? If you love onions like me, squeeze a little lemon juice or vinegar  on raw cut onions to eliminate the strong sharp smell and taste while adding flavor. Or try sweet Vidalia onions. They are grown in Vidalia, Georgia, not far from my home.

Ready to Make Mamma Proud?

Are you ready to do what mamma said and eat your veggies? Share with me some creative ways to get in your daily servings.

After 20 Years of Ownership My House is Still a Home Sweet Home

man and woman standing in front of a sold sign.

Twenty Years Owning a Home

Last month I contacted the courthouse  to request a copy of my deed. For some reason I misplaced my original  and  needed to replace it. As I was reading the copy they sent, it dawned on me that it has been about 20 years since I purchased my house. Where has all the time gone? As they say, time moves fast when you’re having fun.

Reflections on Purchasing Decision

I  reflected on the past. When  and why, I made the decision in the first place. What was happening  in my life at the time. The steps I took to finally get the house. The challenges  and rewards along the way. And today, how happy I am now for my simple yet cute piece of real estate, which is truly a home sweet home.

Next to my college degree, home ownership is another thing I am the proudest. The ability to have a place to call your own and have total control over is powerful and self-gratifying. When I made the huge step  to purchase property, rental rates were continuously increasing while mortgages  were not.

Benefits and Challenges of Homeownership

I reasoned why not look more seriously at home ownership. I thought about all the possibilities and positive outcomes. Things like a stable monthly payment. No more surprises when the landlord increases the rent  when time to renew the lease. The sense of permanence . The idea of something to call my own that was solely mine.

Then I also weighed the challenges. No more calling the landlord when  the toilet needed fixing or to service the air conditioning system in the summer. I would have to handle those tasks.

Of course, my disability played a major role in the decision but it was not a deterrent. I already knew people with vision loss who were homeowners and doing well. So, I knew it was possible. It was just a matter of educating myself, getting my ducks in a row and going for it.

Planning and Preparation to Purchase

I did just that with taking home ownership classes, reading audiobooks from the library  and talking to friends who were long time homeowners. Also, I got advice from my family because I grew up in a house. My family up to my great grandparents  were all homeowners so this was not totally unfamiliar  territory. I just needed to learn the nuts and bolts of home ownership. I needed to weigh the cost because once I signed  the mortgage contract it would be over. Unlike a rental lease, you can more easily  walk away.

More Challenges of Homeownership

There have been ups and downs over these 2 decades. Dealing with the housing and economic crash in 2008. That was pretty tuff with homes  foreclosing all around me. At one time I was one of two owners on my short street in my subdivision. It took time but over the next few years things improved.

Then it was dealing with noisy neighbors  which ended when they finally moved out.

Empish Working in Home Office

Next it was the pandemic. I had already been working from home however others in my community  were now as well. At first, this meant  constant slow  neighborhood internet and power outages   which improved over time as we all adjusted to  this medical crisis. But because I was working in my home office, I was able to keep plugging away   with no more disruption to my life.

I also had to replace and purchase new appliances. First it was the dishwasher  . Next some years later it was my gas stove that died during the holiday season. Cooking my Christmas dinner   was a bit creative  because I had no working oven and had to use my microwave  more than usual. Recently it was my washer and dryer that I brought with me from my old apartment days.

Empish touching dials on washing machine

Today, I am happy and at peace in my home sweet home. My little town house has served me well. I am proud of the decision I made to become a homeowner and I have no regrets.

National Homeownership Month

June is National Home Ownership Month and was created to celebrate the value  and joy of owning property. Do you own a home? If so, how has the experience  been for you? Would you encourage others to also become homeowners?

New York Times Columnist Shares Insights on Vision Loss and Found

Books on desk with cup of tea

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I came across another excellent audiobook read from the library by  New York Times columnist and bestselling author, Frank Bruni. “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found” is a wise and moving memoir about aging, affliction, and optimism after partially losing eyesight.

The first time I heard about Frank was listening to his interview  with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Print Impaired. Then again  with Oprah as he was discussing this book. I knew, when the book was available in audio, I had to read  about his vision loss journey  .

Book Summary

Display of NLS Talking Book Player, Cartridges and Earbuds

The book Summary from Bookshare. One morning in late 2017, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni woke up with strangely blurred vision. He wondered at first if some goo or gunk had worked its way into his right eye. But this was no fleeting annoyance, no fixable inconvenience. Overnight, a rare stroke had cut off blood to one of his optic nerves, rendering him functionally blind in that eye—forever. And he soon learned from doctors that the same disorder could ravage his left eye, too. He could lose his sight altogether.

In The Beauty of Dusk, Bruni hauntingly recounts his adjustment to this daunting reality, a medical and spiritual odyssey that involved not only reappraising his own priorities but also reaching out to, and gathering wisdom from, longtime friends and new acquaintances who had navigated their own traumas and afflictions. The result is a poignant, probing, and ultimately uplifting examination of the limits that all of us inevitably encounter, the lenses through which we choose to evaluate them and the tools we have for perseverance.

Bruni’s world blurred in one sense, as he experienced his first real inklings that the day isn’t forever and that light inexorably fades but sharpened in another. Confronting unexpected hardship, he felt more blessed than ever before. There was vision lost. There was also vision found.

Initial diagnosis  and Advocacy

His story was very relatable, especially in the beginning. The first doctor was reluctant to give a proper diagnosis of his sudden vision loss. It was all maybes  and guessing which can send you down the rabbit hole of possibilities. He was referred to a specialist who gave the final diagnosis  of a stroke and no cure. I recalled some of the same experiences talking to multiple eye doctors. Taking numerous tests  and also  telling me there was no cure.

A Black male patient is sitting in a chair, facing his white doctor who is doing an exam/refraction with a phoropter.
Image courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Frank stresses  the importance of being your own advocate when it comes to medical care. Doctors are busy and you are one of many patients. Be prepared to ask questions and do your own research. Also, bringing a friend or family member to appointments to help is useful as long as they understand their role and let you take the lead.

For example, Frank mentions not knowing about low vision services or opportunities for clinical trials. Or the doctor not asking questions about mental and emotional health. I can definitely relate. The same thing happened to me too. I had to find out about those resources from other people, and once Did, I chastise my eye doctor for not informing me. Fortunately, he took the constructive criticism well and promised to do better.

Why Not Me?

Frank poses the questions, “Why me?” Yet, there is a better question, “Why not me?” Why should any of us be spared struggle when it is a universal condition? Comfort and happiness are not automatic; we should expect some kind of difficulty to come into our lives. Having this mindset leaves us unprepared for pain and struggle. I have always been told just live long enough and pain and suffering will ultimately come into your life. I have also come to believe that perfect or even excellent health is not a guarantee until death. At some point  something on our bodies will break down.

Millions of Americans have some form of vision loss and that doesn’t include hearing loss or other bodily functions especially as we get older. Frank’s viewpoint is not that he overcame an obstacle but lives a condition. I appreciate this statement in the sense that being disabled is not something that I have overcome but what I live every day. It is a part of who and what I am. Yes, there are difficult moments but sometimes an ending is a new beginning. Sometimes a limit or a loss is a gateway to a new encounter. Skills you wouldn’t have acquired, insights you wouldn’t have gleaned come to live during this time.

Career as a Journalist

Frank talks about his career as a journalist  and his ability to write well. When he lost his vision  he made tons of errors in his writing. This of course  was devastating. But he began to focus on the ability and the gains. The fact he could still write in the first place. Editors who still wanted to work with him and readers who still wanted to read his work. I can identify. I too  am a writer  and lost vision immediately after receiving my journalism degree. I wondered what kind of career could I have as a blind writer? How would that work? I knew how to do the work as it was all in my head from my education  and training (I graduated with 7 journalism internships under my belt). The access to assistive technology  as allowed me to pursue this not only as a career but as a passion.

Growing Old and Being Disabled

Privileges and blessings were so much greater than what was loss. It was eye-opening in Frank’s perception of the world around him. How he saw other people with disabilities and  those who were elderly. These people were out here living their lives.

To grow old is to let things go. I see this more and more as I get older. But it first started when I went blind. My disability forced me to  release the reins. I had to shift my focus and prioritize  the things that really mattered. I pick and choose my battles because I want to live for another day. It takes energy  to pay attention and/or push the envelope on everything.

Frank points out we are a country that focuses on youth. As a result, we miss the greatness  of the accomplishments  that people make later in life. People are still doing phenomenal things in the later stages of life. With aging comes wisdom and maturity. You feel more comfortable in your own skin. What determines people’s happiness is not their physical conditions but what they pay attention to. When it comes to being disabled  you are not focused on that all day long. You are living your life, working, going to school, spending time with friends and family, etc. Frank finally muses  there is beauty in every stage of the day, from dawn to dust

Making Accessible Origamis: How Folding Paper Stimulated My Brain

White origami crane

Accessible Origami Class Offered

For some years now I have been interested in taking an origami class. I would see them advertised  all the time at my local library. But thinking they were probably not accessible I didn’t  pursue it until recently. The American Printing House for the Blind offered a virtual weekend origami class  via Zoom. When I saw this opportunity I knew it was time  to satisfy my curiosity and learn something new.

Surprise by Mental Benefits

Well, I was not disappointed. Not only  did I learn how to make origamis but how to stimulate my brain in the process. And what a surprise! I had no idea that taking an art class  would do so much to energize my cerebrum. It has been documented, tasks that challenge our minds strengthen our brains. Now, before I get to all the wonderful mental benefits I acquired let me pause  and explain  what an origami is  and how things work.

What is an Origami

An origami is the Japanese art form of folding paper. When the paper is folded it creates either one- or two-dimensional objects. These  objects can go from simple to the most complex depending on the numbers of folds. Typical origami objects are cranes, flowers, boxes,  airplanes, boats, fish, rabbits and dogs.

Woman folding colorful paper with her hands to make an origami object

Since I was taking a beginner class the instructor kept it simple. In other words, no complicated  animals or other objects. During the 90-minute class I made two origamis. The first was a corner bookmark and second was a snack cup/pocket similar to the containers for fries at fast food restaurants. As I was creasing and folding my square piece of printer paper, it  slowly dawned on me the mental benefits I was gaining from this class.

1. Mental Concentration

First was mental concentration. As I listened to the instructor, I had to pay close attention  and focus on what I was doing. Making origamis are  not to be done while multi-tasking. You have to focus on the direction of your fold, when to tuck or pull,  when to crease or rip. You can’t be checking your social media or email, talking on the phone, or doing some other mind-numbing task. You need all hands-on deck. Literally and figuratively.

2. Persistence and Patience

Second was persistence and patience. Like two peas in a pod,  these two traits  are needed for successful  origami creation. I quickly noticed the need to pace myself  and breathe. I could feel some slight frustration creeping in as I was making my corner bookmark. I struggled with visualizing  what the instructor was saying causing me to not understand her instructions. Then I fell behind  and needed her to repeat the directions. fortunately, she was very encouraging, stopping to be sure everyone  was understanding and not wanting anyone left behind. I  was comforted by  that gesture and it motivated me to keep going.

3. Problem Solving

Third was problem solving. Making origamis are similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. You got to figure out where the pieces go. As you fold and tuck  the paper; the  pieces slowly slide together producing  recognizable artwork.

4. Perfectionist by Nature

Forth was the wild card. I am a perfectionist by nature and this class exposed it. Yet it supported my creativity. It  challenged me to aim for excellence not perfection. See, I wanted my design to be exact. I wanted it to be perfect but it wasn’t. The instructor told us to crease the paper and bend it back and forth  to make it easy to rip off. This was excess paper we didn’t need. I followed her directions but when I ripped off the extra paper it was not smooth. The edge was jagged, not perfect.

I realized what was happening. This was my first attempt at making origamis. I needed to relax and just enjoy the process. I told myself this is an art class and remember to have fun.

Ready for a Brain Boost?

Need  a brain boost? Looking for a mental challenge? Want to learn a new  artistic craft? Consider creating origamis. It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month  and why not explore this historical and cultural activity. You can learn more about accessible origamis  by reading this blog post written by my instructor. Also , if you are a Facebook fan  check out the group called Accessible Origami Project.

First Paralyzed Athlete Competes in Archery at the Olympics

woman sitting on a chair helping her young son shoot a bow and arrow

Even though archery is one of the oldest sports in existence, it is still practiced  and played today. In recent years it has increased in popularity  and  is observed on May 14, the second Saturday in May-National Archery Day . In honor, I’m sharing about a woman who was disabled and very talented in archery. Her name was Neroli Fairhall and she was the first paraplegic athlete to compete in the Olympics. I initially heard about her listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Womannica. I was so intrigued I’m retelling her story. Hopefully  after reading this post, you will feel the same. So, let’s get started.

Riding Horses and Accident

Neroli was born in 1944 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Since childhood, she was very physically active   and rode horses Even competing in local horse-riding events. But that all changed in 1969 when she was in a motorcycle accident. As a result, she  was paralyzed from the waist down. She was 25 years old and it seemed her life and career was over. I could definitely relate to this experience because I lost my vision at 25 as well. When you go through a traumatic experience  it can definitely appear that  things are over for you. That all you knew and understood  comes to a crashing halt. But this is not the end of the story.

Archery Becomes New Sport

Neroli reinvented  herself and tried a new form of athletics. She got with Eve Rimmer, who was at the time New Zealand’s most famous disabled athlete. Eve was paraplegic too and encouraged her to try shot put. Neroli realized she could still participate in sports. She discovered she had the aptitude and personality for archery. In order to participate one must be focused and calm under pressure, have a good eye, And  a competitive spirit. She had all the above.

First National Championship

In 1976, Neroli competed in her first national archery championship and placed third. Three years later,  she was on the New Zealand national team. Just one year after that, she was at the Olympics, winning her first national title.

Although a historic accomplishment Neroli never made it to the archery range. No one from her team did. Led by the United States, 66 countries, plus New Zealand, boycotted the Moscow-hosted Olympics in protest of the Soviet-Afghan War. Neroli was heartbroken. But she quickly regrouped  and  went to the 1980 Paralympics in Holland. She won a gold medal and set a world record in the double FITA rounds, an intensive form of target shooting.

Competing at Brisbane

In 1981, Neroli won her second national title, and was named to the New Zealand team for the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. It was the first and only time that archery was included in these Games. And Neroli was the first disabled athlete to have ever competed in any event. She competed in the double FITA. The four-day event begins with each archer shooting 144 arrows. This means 36 each at four different distances. The top 24 competitors then enter a grand round. Nine arrows, at each distance. Winner takes all.

Older man in wheelchair practicing archery
Older paraplegic man in wheelchair aiming with bow and arrow on archery training

On Neroli’s first day at Brisbane, she fought with the wind, finishing twelfth. But she persisted, and the next day, pulled herself up to fourth. The third day, she was third. The final day there was a standoff between Neroli and Janet Yates, a teenager from Northern Ireland and the favorite.

Janet Yates led. most of the day but  began to crack under pressure during her final 3 shots. Neroli stayed calm. After much deliberation  and a recount, It was determined by officials Neroli won the gold medal.

Made the Olympic Team with Challenges

In 1984, Neroli’s Olympic dreams finally came true. She made the archery team. But being the Games’ first paraplegic athlete proved hugely difficult. First, her steel wheelchair set off multiple alarms at airports and competition venues. Resulting in an inspection of every part of her chair even the air-filled cushion she sat on. Second, reporters circled her , each trying to get the scoop on her historic appearance. Finally, her execution was lacking. Neroli finished 35th in a field of 47. Perhaps  this less than stellar performance  was partly due to the little support for disabled athletes  competing internationally.

More Olympic Competitions and Final Years

Still, Neroli would go on to compete in four Paralympics, five world championships, and win a total of five national titles. A shoulder injury halted her final Olympic attempt in 1996. During the final years of her career, Neroli coached elite New Zealand archers, and served as an administrator for disabled sports. Neroli died in 2006, at the age of 61.

Growing  a Writing Green Thumb:  6 Ways Spring Can Nurture Your Craft

Colorful spring flowers in a field with the sky in the background

Writing About Spring

I’ve  never been great at growing vegetation. Plants and flowers  don’t seem to flourish around me. The idea of getting outside in the heat. Dealing with bugs of all kinds. Tilling soil  and getting dirty. None of these are my thoughts of a fun  and enjoyable activity. Then add my visual disability to the mix  and my interest quickly wilts like leaves on an unwatered plant. Although there are blind gardeners they must have a passion I don’t possess. But what I have found fruitful is writing about the topic. Now, that is something I can do.

I have been reading a lot about spring and it has inspired me to write about the season as it relates to the writing craft. I can’t grow an actual green thumb but I can do it with words. Here  is how I do it.

1. Start New Writing Habit

Spring is the time to rejuvenate. The time for rebirth. The time to try something new. With that in mind, start a new writing habit or ritual. I tried something new  with writing this blog post. Before writing anything down or doing any research I wrote a list of keywords that  communicated spring and growth. Words such as: nature, nurture, flourish, blooming, blossoming, petals, plants, leaves, stems, root, ground, dirt, soil and germinate. This writing exercise helped to get the creative juices flowing. It boosted my excitement about writing this piece. I felt energized  . Also, it helped eliminate using the same standard, old words and phrases  multiple times.

2. Writing in a Different Genre

Empish holds the anthology titled “Strengths, Courage and Inspiration During the coronavirus.”

Another new habit worth trying is writing in a different genre. If you are a nonfiction writer try fiction. If you are an author enter a writing contest or pen an article for a newspaper or magazine. Just like growing the same crop every time the soil  will lose nourishment, your writing can go stale. Your creativity can suffer. I have tried a new writing assignment. A  submission  I wrote was recently published in my local library’s anthology. it has motivated me to continue in this direction and I am working on another anthology submission for Black female writers.

3. Interact in Person

Spring is also the time to come out of the winter cave. During those cold months we stay at home and hibernate. Plus, the pandemic  has made many of us hesitant to physically interact with each other. But this is the prime time to get out of the house. Slow down those numerous Zoom calls. Renew old friendships and meet new people. Whether it is a writing group, book club meeting, or just hanging out, these interactions  boost positive energy  perfect for growing creativity.

I am an introvert but love interaction. This spring  I started attending live theatre again. I went to my first production  last month and it was a wonderful experience. I will share more in a future post. Later this month, I will be meeting with my dinner book club in person for the first time since the pandemic started.

4. Write Down Ideas and Thoughts

Now, for the real dirty work. You must plant seeds in order for your writing green thumb to grow. Just like in a real garden, seeds must be sown in order for flowers, fruits or veggies  to materialize. Something I do regularly is write down blogging ideas whether they turn into a published piece or not. This  boosts my creativity  and gets those little writing shoots growing. When you write a list of ideas you  can refer back  and it keeps your creative brain fertilize. You are giving your thoughts and ideas a safe place to grow and germinate.

The seeding stage is the most important of phases of a plant’s growth  and can’t be rushed. In other words, you can’t speed up creativity. it has to sprout over time, and with water, sunlight and nurturing creative ideas will soon emerge through the soil.

5. Remember the Writing Process

Seeds are resilient to weather changes, fighting their way through the ground. You will see little spurts of green sprouts inching their way up. As a writer it is easy to focus on the victories and successes of our craft. The published article, blog or even book, without properly acknowledging  the hard work it took to get there. There is real time and struggle in accomplishing any objective  or success story. Remember the experience and don’t forget the writing process as you work toward your goals. Enjoy the journey  not just the fruits of your labor.

6. Stop Writing If Burned Out

Are your writing seedlings not growing? Don’t see any shoots sprouting up? Experiencing creative burnout? Yes, I can relate. If you are Stuck on the next section of a story, unclear on a headline,  struggling with a character. Then stop. Do something totally different than writing. Do something you enjoy but doesn’t require a lot of mental gymnastics. This gives your brain a break allowing creative ideas to blossom. For me exercise is my thing. Turning up the music loud and walking on my treadmill not only is good exercise  but I can relax and enjoy the moment. usually by the time I am done I can get back to writing. Other times, I will sit on the piece and sleep on it. Then come back the next day and continue to write.

Empish on Treadmill

Spring is here and full of writing possibilities. Use my ideas to inspire and refresh   your work. I am sure that one, two  or maybe even all of them will help you grow that writing green thumb.