Celebrating Five Years

With the cool evening air wafting in through the screen door, along with golden birdsong and the smoke of summer fires, I am swept into years past, happy childhood years, filled with summer evenings of s’mores and sparklers. Today has been a day of reflecting on memories. That’s because today marks 15 states, 4 countries, 5 languages, five years, and countless memories since Oleta, my beautiful guide dog, and I became a team.
Contrary to many people’s assumptions, I don’t NEED a guide dog to travel independently. I can (and do upon occasion) use a white cane to travel just as effectively. I don’t NEED a guide dog to pursue my professional goals. I know lots of blind professionals who are strictly white cane users. I chose to work with a guide dog because I loved dogs, I imagined working a guide dog to be infinitely more pleasurable than using a cane, and it was, after all, my dream to have a guide dog from the age of eight.
Those reasons still stand. Working a guide dog is, in my opinion, infinitely more pleasurable than using a cane. A guide dog allows one to walk much more fluidly and quickly without having to stop every 20 feet to unstick one’s stubborn cane from the side walk, or the grass, or some unidentifiable metal thing in the middle of the path, or, heaven forbid, someone’s legs, or to recover from getting one’s cane stuck in one of these various and sundry obstacles, not stopping fast enough, and promptly being rewarded with a sharp jab to the stomach. Yep, don’t miss those days. Having a guide dog also means that I didn’t get hit by that one insane bus driver who suddenly decided to drive on the side walk right where I was standing, it’s a heck of a lot easier to find doors, stairs, curbs, escalators (Oleta LOVES escalators), benches, etc, and sometimes even one of my best friends. Yes, these, among others, are all awesome benefits of having a guide dog, but now a days, the reason I work a guide dog is because of Oleta.
Oleta, who loves unconditionally as easily as she licks, who takes work breaks to wriggle on her back in the grass and the snow and the sand just for the pure joy of it, who actually whines when she sees children on playgrounds because she wants to play with them, who lives out the meaning of her name “Little one with wings” every time we find ourselves flying alone along some sidewalk or other.
Dear Oleta, I love how you love life, and I love living life with you. Happy five years of memories made! I look forward to many more together.

Review: GDUI Guide Dog Harness sign and audio Unboxing

Oleta has a sign on her harness that reads, “Please do not pet.”
Judging from the message on the sign, you might assume that it is designed to prevent people from petting Oleta while in harness, but it is actually utilized as a tool for assessing literacy skills in the general public. I am ashamed to report that they are abysmal, even among professors and university students! In fact, surprisingly, children seem to score much higher on these impromptu literacy exams than any other demographic! (That’s true by the way. Children that I have encountered in schools, malls, and other public venues have been much more respectful of the harness. Adults are the ones who tend toward illiteracy and deviousness.)
To facilitate further study of the rampant illiteracy in modern adults, I recently ordered a new harness sign from guide Dog Users Inc. (GDUI), which is an advocacy oriented organization affiliated with the American Council of the Blind (ACB). You can find their website, and an official description of my new harness sign
here.
I am so excited about this sign! Not only does it feature the lettered message, “PLEASE DON’T PET WORKING DOG”, in yellow print against a black background, it also includes a picture of a person going to pet a dog, with the universal no sign over it. I am interested to see how this influences our results in the study.
I know I should say I’m kidding about the literacy thing, but I’m so close to not kidding I’m not sure it’s worth it haha. People do constantly ignore Oleta’s harness sign and it does more than drives me crazy; it places us (Oleta and I) in danger as a team. More on that in another post.
Anyway, this new harness sign is quite an improvement, I think, from my old, not very well-designed version… I designed it, so I can say that. 🙂
For an audio version of the unboxing and description, visit
this link.
The sign is rectangular, with the printed message and two reflective strips on the front, a zipper into the pouch on the top, and straps on the back. There are two horizontal straps with back-pack style adjustable buckles, and one vertical strap that runs over the horizontal ones to keep the sign from sliding off the end of the harness. There are also panels of grippy material on either side of the back of the sign, to prevent it from sliding on the harness handle. I think all of these features will be so useful, and I am very pleased to have finally purchased it.
Thank you GDUI!

Scotland Trip: The First Week

If you think I fell off the face of the Earth, you would be right, because Scotland is out of this world!

Okay, so bad joke aside, it really is lovely here—I have met so, so many great people, and been some really beautiful and fascinating places.  Still, contrary to my assertion in my opening statement, Scotland is a REAL place, with REAL problems, especially spiritual ones.  When you’re tucked away in normal life in semi-rural America, it’s easy to think of foreign countries like Scotland as somehow separate from the everyday human experience, a far away land of music, legends and fairy tails: bagpipes, harps, fiddles, and selkies.  Of course, it isn’t.  The reality is that Scotland, like us in America, and like the rest of the world, is full of broken, God-Hating individuals that need reconciliation with their creator, which can only be found in Jesus Christ.  So, that said…

Our first Monday and Tuesday here were designated to our reformation tour through Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, getting to know the sights and history of the Scottish protestant reformation.  Until I can get all the details, suffice it to say that it was a dark and bloody time, and nearly all of the stories we heard involved imprisonment, torture, hanging, shooting, decapitating, disemboweling, burning at the stake, etc, on some level.  I liked both cities greatly, though they are very different.  Saint Andrews, with a population of only around 18,000, is really more of a town, especially when university students are on break for the summer.  It is known to many as the home of golf, and is famous for a movie, “Chariots of Fire”, that filmed a race on a stretch of it’s sandy seashore.  In classic touristy fashion, a couple members of our group ran the beech, singing the theme all the way.  In classic Shea fashion, I knew nothing about this movie, and so spent the time restraining Oleta from going after other dogs on the beech, or rolling in the sand, or dashing into the ocean and dragging me with her.  It was a delightful day to be on the beech.  Despite the chilly breeze that came off the water, the sun was bright and warm, and I didn’t exactly blame Oleta for wanting to go for a swim.

Edinburgh, on the other hand, is a thriving metropolis of nearly 500 thousand.  It feels much more like New York or Nashville, always bustling with plenty pedestrians and vehicles, full of shops and restaurants and tourist traps, and complete even with street performers, from drummers to fiddlers to bagpipers in kilts.  Edinburgh is actually built on and around several dormant volcanoes, which we were able to see quite clearly from the top of the Edinburgh castle, which I will detail in a later post. 

So, needless to say, those two days were awesome—a wonderful opportunity to get to know Scotland a bit better, and to get acquainted with our new family here in Airdrie.  We also got to taste two of Scotland’s most famous, or possibly infamous, foods: haggis and IRN – Bru.  The latter we tasted on the beech in Saint Andrews, curtesy of one of our newfound friends, who will remain nameless for curtesy’s sake.  Anyway, it is an orange, or so I am told, fizzy drink, soda rather, that to my American taste buds tastes just like bubble gum in liquid form, which is why I’m also convinced that it’s pink, not orange.  Either way, it’s basically pure sugar.  I think an entire bottle might kill me, but maybe I’ll try it before I leave.  What’s life without a little risk?

We tried haggis at a restaurant in Edinburgh Tuesday afternoon.  I wasn’t too sure I wanted to try it, but Patrick was already passing over a fork full before I could decline.  Much to my surprise, it was actually quite good, sort of like a sausage, but mushier.  I’m not sure if that made it sound appetizing, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Tuesday night we attended our first MET (mutual encouragement time), which is essentially a bible study.  They have been studying Esther, and were on the middle section where Haman is planning for Mordecai, and the Jews’, demise, and his plans are foiled when the King, seemingly by chance, recognizes that Mordecai once saved the King’s life, and deserves to be honored.  It was a fascinating discussion, and a true testament to the way God can use even the littlest things in our lives to carry out his plans.

We spent Wednesday mostly at the church, discussing the upcoming schedule, starting preparations for school presentations the following week, reading a book by Donald Whitney called, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, which has proved incredibly edifying, and attending a second MET.  Thursday and Friday followed in much the same fashion, with a third MET on Thursday.   Friday evening we participated in Kids club, ages 3-10.  The children played games, had a snack, and I read them a story about Jesus, and his interaction with children, the point being that Jesus desires a relationship with all of us, whether young or old, and that we are to depend on God like children depend on their parents.  We had a short discussion, then they cut out and colored paper dolls, that represented the children listening to Jesus.  The kids were rowdy, but adorable, and for the most part LOVED Oleta.  I think they may be asking their poor parents for a dog for weeks to come.  Last night, at one of the METs, someone from the congregation told me that a little boy said to her the other day, “Is the lady with the dog ever coming back to the church?”

“I don’t know.” she answered, “Why? Did you like her?  Do you want to see her again?”

“No.” he replied, “I just want to see the dog.”

The nature of being a guide dog user I’m afraid… constantly overlooked in favor of the dog.  Ah well… keeps me humble.  Haha.

Friday night we also attended the CY (covenant youth) meeting, where we gave our testimonies and hung out with the young people for a while.  Thankfully no one got injured this time, and by that I mean, no one threw mobile phones at my head. 🙂

Saturday began leaflet distribution in Edinburgh.  That is an entire adventure unto itself, so I will pick up there in the next post.  I am glad to have finally caught somewhat up with y’all!  There is still last week to recount, but here’s to more frequent updates in the future!