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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, Apr. 25, is National Telephone Day and I am feeling somewhat nostalgic. I am reflecting on my usage of this important communication device invented by Alexander Graham Bell. I remember my first telephone. It was a white Princess model purchased from Bellsouth. It sat on my nightstand next to my bed. I remember my parents and I going to our local shopping center where there was a Bellsouth store. In the store were a variety of makes and models of phones much like the cell phone stores of today.
In my hone, there was one in my parents’ bedroom and one more in the kitchen. The kitchen phone was a wall mounted version with a rotary dial. For those too young to remember or those who have forgotten a rotary dial was a type of phone where you had to place your finger in an open metal circle and turn to the corresponding number you wanted. You had to do this one digit at a time and it was a slow process but that is how we dial numbers back then. Also, there wasn’t a need for area codes unless you were calling long distance.
Now getting back to my Princess model. I can’t remember if it was a rotary dial or push button because it was so long ago. All I remember is that as a teenager I had my own phone and that is what counted.
But having my own phone quickly ended when I started college and lived in the dorms. It was the phone in the hall mounted on the wall . Someone would yell loudly, “Empish, you got a phone call!” Then later it was housemates in an apartment. Depending on the situation maybe I had a phone in my room or not.
Blindness and Using a Landline
When I went blind the importance of the telephone and my ability to use it really became critical. I didn’t realize how vital vision was until I couldn’t dial a number on my landline phone. Back then cell phones were not really happening quite yet. This was back in the mid-90s. People were still using landlines. But my vision loss kept me from seeing the small numbers on the keypad. Initially I got a large print phone with high contrast. The numbers were big and pronounced. The colors were black on white for better visibility. But as I lost more vision those features were not as helpful anymore. I began to totally rely on the small, raised dot on the number 5, slowly navigating around the keypad. I started memorizing the sequence and order of the numbers to know which one to press. I also began to be more particular about my phone purchases. Touching carefully the display models in the store before walking out with one. I duplicated this same method when cell phones became popular. Carefully touching the display models to be sure I could access the buttons.
Today I am a master at my landline phone. Yes, I still use one . It has a large size keypad. A dot on the number 5. I can quickly dial numbers without even thinking much about it. I also have several cordless phones throughout my hone. All with distinctive keypads for easy dialing. I have these phones in case of an emergency because you never know when you need to quickly grab your phone. If you have a cell phone it could be anywhere in the house while you are someplace else.
Also Using a Smartphone
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone too. Unlike older cell phone models my iPhone is totally accessible with voiceover command. I just don’t make calls much on it. The shape and design is not made for holding up to my ear. Yes, I know I can get earbuds but for some reason I have been slow to get on that train. So, I use my smartphone for other things like reading my audiobooks, listening to podcasts and watching movies. I do some text messaging and store my contacts as a digital address book. I also find it helpful as a quick and handy dictionary and spellchecker.
The evolution of the telephone has come a long way. Who would have known that our phones would become minicomputers in our pockets or purses? The advancement of technology and what we can do with it is amazing. I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would say if he could see how far his invention has come. I know he would say more to Mr. Watson than, “can you hear me now?”
Alexander Graham Bell and his helper, Thomas Watson, made the first phone call.
The first phone book only had 20 pages.
Mark Twain was the first person to own a phone.
In the United States, telephones expanded rapidly, from one phone in 1876 to 11 million phones countrywide by 1915.
By 1910, New York Telephone had 6,000 female telephone operators.
When Bell handed Watson the phone and said, “here, hold this,” the phrase “to put someone on hold” was named after them.
When Alexander Graham Bell died in 1922, all telephones were silenced for one minute with respect to the inventor.
In 1956, the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid. A telephone cable was laid across the ocean floor, reaching depths of 12,000 feet. The cable connects Canada and Scotland across the Atlantic Ocean.
There are around 150 million telephone lines in the world, with the number growing by thousands every day.
Suggestions for Celebrating National Telephone Day
Whether you still use a landline phone or only use a smartphone, or like me use both, celebrate National Telephone Day with these suggestions:
1. Call someone today you either rarely speak to or normally communicate with via text.
2. Who is your favorite person to talk on the phone with? Give them a call today and check-in to see how they are doing.
3. Feeling nostalgic? Inquire with your grandparents about the amount of energy required to “dial” a phone — and why they disliked numbers with a lot of zeroes.
4. And if you are really feeling musically inspired and bold call a friend or loved one and sing Stevie Wonder’s iconic song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”
Although this year’s tax filing deadline is right around the corner on April 18, I traditionally file my taxes in February or March. I figure the sooner the better and to just get the whole maddening business out of the way quickly. But more importantly I file early because things get pretty busy and hectic. This way I avoid the stress and anxiety as much as possible.
Before losing my vision I prepared my taxes myself. It was fairly simple and straightforward. But afterward, I lacked the confidence to do it on my own and some tax preparation products and tools were not very accessible or complicated. Even though tax filing has become more accessible over the years I still prefer to have a professional handle the paperwork. So, when I was recently in my tax guy’s office he was telling me once again how organized my paperwork was and how easy it was to file for me. He tells me this year after year, marveling at how I do this with vision loss. I just smile and say, “Thank you for the compliment.” But it got me thinking and led me to share some of my tax filing tips. The things that keep me stress-free and organized each tax year. Hopefully, you will feel the same after reading.
Make Excel Your Friend
The biggest tool I use to stay calm during tax filing is Excel. This software program is my friend. I use it daily for all kinds of things. To track my grocery spending. To track my Uber/Lyft ride amounts. To track my credit card payments. To track my out-of-pocket medical cost. Do you get my drift? Excel is a great way to track numbers for nearly anything you want. So, each year I track my freelance income and expenses. For example, on my freelance expense spreadsheet I create rows and columns for the date, company, expense description and amount. On a spreadsheet everything is laid out and easy to read. You can also sort and reorganize the columns and rows to crunch the numbers in different ways which my accountant loves.
Each year I create new spreadsheets with the year in the title so I know the difference. I usually will do a save as in Excel and just update the new one. I find this easier because the formula I use to calculate my totals stays the same each time. Then when I meet with my accountant I just hand him the thumb drive and he can clearly read and review the spreadsheets he needs for tax filing.
Create Email Receipt Folders
Now, how to deal with all those paper receipts. And no, I am not talking about stuffing them in a folder or shoebox. I have noticed nowadays most receipts are provided electronically. I can even get my grocery receipts sent via email. Now what I do is create folders in my email provider for receipts. I label the folder in accordance with what is in the folder. I use Outlook for this process. I have a folder for all my Amazon orders. Another one for house-related things. Another for medical. I refer back to these receipts for taxes when I need to. I can simply punch all the info into my spreadsheets and/or print out the receipt for verification if needed.
For receipts that are not electronic I store in a paper file folder for tax filing only. I have a dedicated folder strictly for this purpose. Throughout the year, as I get receipts, donation letters, home ownership tax statements and other documents, I place in this folder. Although the amount is minimal this step keeps me from getting stressed out later because everything is in one place and ready to go during tax time.
These paper receipts I store with a copy of my tax return and place in my water and fireproof safe. There I keep copies of previous tax returns for the future just in case the IRS comes calling.
There you go. My two biggest organizing tips for stress free tax filing. Some might be looking for a long laundry list of tips and tricks but for me it is really this simple. I have been doing this for years and it actually works. Hopefully, if tax season is stressing you out, my tips helped you feel better. With some organization and preparation this year’s filing could be your calmest ever.
When I think of veterans November comes immediately to mind because of Veteran’s Day. Or Memorial Day coming up soon in May. But I was surprised to see a national observation for veterans on my calendar. March 29 was National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
After I saw this commemoration pop up, it immediately made me think of two things. First was my father who was a Vietnam War veteran. He was not a fan of this war and rarely spoke about it. He passed away some years ago and I wonder his thoughts on such an observation. Second Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam War veteran and Georgia politician. He died in Nov. 2021. His book, “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove,” has been on my list to read. I thought there is no time like the present. This national day of observance was the push I needed to read and review his book.
Reading with My Ears Book Review
In the forward Cleland speaks directly to brothers and sisters of war. Those who are trapped in the memories. To those overwhelmed, coping on their own and struggling with what we have done and what has happened to us. To those left hopeless and confused about our lives. He says, “It does not make us victims, it makes us veterans.”
Cleland was born and raised in Georgia. He lived in the same town I reside in today. There is even a street named after him in the downtown district of the city. His father was in the navy during WW2 and he had other family members who served in the military. He was a captain during the war. He signed up for more time in the war because he felt he had to do his part.
War Injury and Rehabilitation
The day he was wounded by a grenade explosion was April 8, 1968. Eight days after President Johnson called for an end to the war. He came back from Vietnam missing three limbs (right arm and both legs) and was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors were not optimistic about his future, but through the bonds he formed with other wounded soldiers, and through his own self-determination, he learned how to be mobile and overcome his despair.
As I read about his rehabilitation journey, I learned some new things about amputation such as the importance of knees. When he first tried to get artificial legs there was resistance because he had no knees and you need them to bend for walking and climbing stairs. They are the key to balance and mobility. During that time, they were made of wood and very heavy.
The doctors told him he would need crutches to use the wooden legs. But with one arm that would be nearly impossible. Yet, Cleland was determined to walk again and did everything required to do so. He did walk with those wooden legs until he was upgraded to plastic ones with knee support. Later on, the stress and exhaustion, especially during the beginning of his political career, caused him to go back to using a wheelchair.
He shares openly and honestly about his rehabilitation. For example, trying to get dressed using only one arm. He struggled with buttons on his shirt and putting on pants. It made me think about a recent episode of The Shark Tank where a contestant pitched her business of accessible clothing for people with disabilities, specifically amputees.
He shared about the differences in treatment between Walter Reed and the Veterans Hospital. He was released from Walter Reed and had to continue at the VA Hospital. At that time, they were not prepared to deal with Vietnam veterans as most patients were from the Korean War or WW2. Additionally, he says that 80% of patients were there for health problems unrelated to war . As a result, he felt lonely because he couldn’t connect to the other men as many of them were veterans from a different generation and also heavily medicated.
Reading his story, I could relate to the feeling of loss. Cleland talked about how his feelings of safety, security and sense of self were gone in a heartbeat. Although I didn’t become disabled because of war it did happen pretty quickly and traumatically. My life was turned upside down.
Leads VA and PSD Revealed
Cleland takes his artificial legs and goes home to become the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the Georgia state senate. Next, President Jimmy Carter appoints him head of the Veterans Administration. He believed his mission was “to care for those who have born the battle.”
He recognized the lack of funding for veterans yet always plenty for war. Nine million served in Vietnam, from Aug. 4, 1964, to May 1975, with millions of them wounded and injured. There was a push to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PSD) not just physical injuries. Living on hyper alert takes a toll, seeing death firsthand takes a toll, and killing takes a toll. In 1978VA psychiatrists finally admitted that PSD existed. and became an official psychiatric diagnosis. Meaning that veterans could get treatment and financial benefits. Years later he would benefit from this decision as he too delt with PSD.
At 40, he became Georgia’s youngest secretary of state. During his time in office, he appointed the first Black assistant secretary of state. He opened the process and registered 1 million voters. He was secretary of state for 12 years but was not fulfilled politically.
It wasn’t until he became U.S. Senator. that he accomplished his dream. Battling a smear tactic causing him to lose his seat and 9/11 by the invasion of Iraq, Cleland was pushed to the edge. Depression and PSD surfaced during this time. He was dealing with deep depression and seeking therapy and better medications. He went back to Walter Reed for help.
Seeks Therapist and Help for Depression
At Walter Reed he was thrown back into Vietnam as he saw wounded veterans coming back from the battlefield. He was deeply distressed and moved by what he was seeing as the signs were so similar to what he had also experienced many years before.
Despite all of that, he was able to get help for his depression and PSD. He found a great therapist and medication that actually worked effectively. He learned how to reconcile his past with his present. To remember who and what he was before he went to Vietnam and became disabled. Reclaiming that part of himself was a big part of his healing. He learned to find a new sense of himself at last.
I got quite emotional as I read Cleland’s memoir. I thought about all he went through. All Vietnam veterans went through and probably still do. All my dad went through. Even in some ways how much things haven’t change since then. But also, how much it has changed. I realize the goal is to keep going. To not forget the past but to look forward to the future.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I contacted the Blind History lady, Peggy Chong, to share the story of Emily Raspberry, a Black blind woman who became a teacher for the blind and visually impaired. This blog post is a reprint from the February 2022 issue of the Blind History lady monthly email. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Vision Loss and Early Schooling
Emily Raspberry was born December 12, 1915, in Alabama. Emily came down with the flu at age four. When Emily recovered, she was totally blind.
Her mother sent her to public school with her older brother. However, no accommodations for a blind and Black child were possible. So, Emily listened and participated in class orally, not learning to read or write. Finally, Emily was sent to and enrolled at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind in the fall of 1926. Although Emily was homesick, there was so much to learn. In only two weeks she mastered the braille code and read all 130 books the school owned. A new world opened to Emily. She had a glimpse of the sighted world and she wanted to be a part of it. Emily’s teachers were impressed with her quick accomplishment of the braille code and placed her in the upper class. She studied hard to cram in several years of learning into her first year.
Death and Separation From Family
Emily returned home on May 22, 1927, finding her mother gravely ill. She was home only a few hours before her mother died. A funeral was planned in days. After the funeral, Emily was told she would live with her half-sister, in West Virginia. During this time, Emily experienced a range of emotions. She felt the joy of returning home to show how well she could learn and be successful as a blind child. To the shock of her mother’s death. To the heart-wrenching separation from her family.
Education and Decision to Teach the Blind
Emily was enrolled in the West Virginia School for The Colored Blind almost immediately. She found they had twice the braille books in their library and magazines in braille. Emily threw herself into her studies. She found her classes were harder than in Alabama. Unlike other schools, West Virginia held unsegregated classes including both for the deaf and the blind students. The boys had one dorm and the girls the other. There were no separate dorms for the blind and deaf students. Rooms were crowded, sometimes three or four boys shared a room that would have been considered small for two.
There is no record of when Emily graduated, but it is believed to be either 1932 or 1933. She went to college afterward and enrolled at the West Virginia State College for Negro’s in Dunbar. At the end of her first year of college in 1935, she knew she wanted to be a teacher in a school for the blind. Her hope was to share her love of reading and literature to open the world for other blind and colored students to the possibilities of the outside world. She graduated in 1938 and continued classes through the West Virginia State College, enabling her to become a certified teacher of the blind. She received her master’s degree from Hampton University.
Emily started as an academic teacher in the primary grades at the West Virginia School for the Colored Blind in 1940 in Institute (Clarksburg), West Virginia. She taught reading and writing for the blind kids and deaf children in her classes. When the school for the white, in Romney, and the school for the colored combined in 1955, she was one of only three teachers from the colored school that made the transfer. Not all the colored students from Clarksville transitioned to Romney. The staff at Romney were friendly but Emily did not mix socially. For at least the first year, Emily took a room in the student dorms as did the other single teachers. As a single woman, and the only Black faculty in the blind department, she may have felt out of place.
Innovative Teaching Style
Emily was innovative in her teaching style. When she recognized a spark, she assigned a poetry lesson for spelling class to bring out the creativity of the students. The children were encouraged to write a poem including all of the spelling words for the week. In her braille classes, she taught the students to work with a slate and stylus, while other teachers used the Perkins Braille Writer. She incorporated listening to the radio into her classes to ensure student’s interest. Lessons were assigned to write about what they heard on the radio. The eighth-grade class in 1956, wrote a quiz show based on the show, “The Big Surprise.”
Emily supervised school trips to watch plays or listen to concerts. For years, Emily had season tickets to the Cumberland Classical Musical Series. Each year, she paid season passes for four students who had an interest in music. She took the students to the concerts by bus or driver. When an interesting movie, mostly historical films such as “Man of All Seasons,” was premiering she would ask students to accompany her. She paid for their tickets and treated the kids to their own box of popcorn.
A memorable year was 1967 when she was chosen to supervise a student teacher. Emily was honored and proud as the student teacher was a former blind student. In 1969, Emily taught health. Most likely not her favorite subject, but she entered the class with the same enthusiasm as her English classes, even though textbooks were more than twenty years old. One assignment was to make up word puzzles relating to their health lessons. When the project was over, the best questions were put into an article for the school newspaper, “The Tablet,” to show how much her students learned that semester.
Travels and Experiences on Vacation
Emily frequently took the Greyhound bus to Washington, DC for vacation. When a student of hers also rode the bus, she would talk to them about their schoolwork or family. In class, Emily mentioned her travels to DC commenting on the friendliness of the hotel staff and sadness that the maids were paid so little. Other summer vacations were never wasted. She took classes at Harvard. In 1961 she worked as a proofreader for Perkins Braille Press. Vacations meant visiting exhibits at the planetarium, museums, or attending concerts usually in Boston. At one concert, she spoke briefly to Senator Edward Kennedy, who was also attending. Their meeting was exciting for Emily, and she shared the news with her students about her encounter with a man who would make history. There were also trips to attend conventions of the AAWB of which she was a member.
Retirement and Death
She retired at the end of the 1977 school term and moved to Boston. Emily kept in touch with some of the Romney residents. They wrote to her in print, and she answered them in print. She died September 12, 1988, in Vermont.
About the History lady
Peggy Chong is the author of more than a dozen books about “Blind Ancestors” who have made a difference. Her monthly email list to her followers highlights another “Blind Ancestor.” She wrote the history column for Dialogue Magazine, “The Way We Were”.
In 2016, Peggy launched “The Blind History Lady” project. This project has to date published thirteen books, detailing the lives of what she calls her “blind ancestors” who quietly made a difference in the lives of the blind men and women of today. Each book highlights their struggles and triumphs as blind people and highlights the normality of their lives and how each person was an integral part of his/her community as a normal citizen.
Peggy’s goal is to have the history of the average blind and disabled person taught—not just to the blind and disabled themselves, but to those entering into professional fields where their jobs will impact people with disabilities. Blind people historically held regular jobs and pursued professions that are the same as professions occupied by people without disabilities. These blind individuals performed exceptionally well, setting examples for others. By understanding what the blind and disabled have achieved in the past and knowing the history of the contributions made by people with disabilities to our country, our society will be much more willing and accepting of the disabled.