Book #1 Of 2012

I’ve observed a lot of people posting summaries and thoughts on books they’re reading, so I thought I’d do the same.

Almost a week ago now, I finished reading my first book of 2012!

I read all of my books in Braille and I am not a fast reader so, I probably won’t get even close to the numbers of books read this year that others do, but I still think it’s a neat idea to keep track and share the good and the bad points of books I’m reading.

In 2011, I read about seven books. This year I’m hoping to try doubling that, but we’ll see how things go.

The first book I read this year was “Birthright” by Nora Roberts.

This is my second book by Nora Roberts, and I really liked “Birthright” as much as I enjoyed her book “Blue Smoke”.

The book starts out with a young mother (Suzanne Cullen) and her two children (3 month old Jessica and 3 year old Douglas) lined up to see Santa. Doug really has to go to the washroom, but also really wants to see Santa so decides to wait until he’s done. As they approach Santa, Doug begins to feel nervous about the jolly man in red, but goes up and allows himself to be picked up and placed on Santa’s lap. Then, Santa lets out a loud, jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho” and Doug tries to get away, falling on the floor and wetting himself. Suzanne runs to comfort her son, leaving Jessica fast asleep in her stroller. Second later, Suzanne begins screaming because Jessica is gone.

The book then moves to a construction site where ancient bones are discovered.

Callie Dunbrooke, a successful, young archeologist is called in to head the excavation with her ex-husband Jacob Graystone, an accomplished anthropologist.

At first it seems as though the book will be similar to one by Kathy Reichs, but then there’s a twist. Callie is approached by Suzanne Cullen, who has seen her on television and believes she is her long-lost daughter, Jessica.

I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of science, mystery and romance, this book offered. I’m not usually one to appreciate romance novels, but felt Nora Roberts did an excellent job at blending the personal lives of each character into the twists and turns of the journey Callie embarks upon to solve the mystery of her past.

I couldn’t help wondering what I’d do if I were in Callie’s position.

Would I have the same burning desire to know the truth, even though it would almost certainly change every relationship I had ever known…?

Would I want to have a relationship with my biological family?

Would I be able to trust again?

The next book I’ve decided to tackle for 2012 is 4th Of July by James Patterson. I’ll post a summary and my thoughts when it’s complete.

A new Semester

On Monday, I started another online course through the University of Guelph. There weren’t too many options for winter semester, so I chose Business & Consumer Law, through the Department of Marketing and Commerce Studies.

From reading the course outline, it looks as though this course will be a little tougher than I had hoped. In addition to my online participation, there will be an assignment, a midterm and final examination. I’m not too worried about the online participation or assignment portions of the course, but am not too excited about the midterm or final because both will be multiple choice.

I’m hoping that as long as I study hard, that maybe I can defy the odds and for once, actually do well on a multiple choice exam.

Please wish me luck!

Birthday

Yesterday, November 29th, was my 32nd birthday.

It’s hard to believe that I’m already two years into my thirties. I don’t really feel like I’m older than 25 to be honest. I remember feeling older when I reached my 26th birthday, but since then I really haven’t felt much different.

When you are a young child, you can’t wait to be a teenager. Then when you are a teenager, you can’t wait to be an adult. Once you hit 25, you are no longer considered to be even a young adult – you’re just an adult.

Adulthood comes with so many responsibilities. So many regrets. And so many dreams for a better life.

When I was a young child, I dreamed of being a veterinarian, with a husband who wanted to stay home with the kids and dogs, in our beautiful, huge home, while I brought home the paycheck. When I was a teenager, I still wanted the husband, kids, dogs and huge home, but I now fantasized about being a successful lawyer.

Now that I am an adult and the world is real, not just a fantasy, my dreams are different. I already have the amazing husband and dogs, but instead of fantasizing about the huge home and high paying job, I think about realistic things.

I no longer dream, I hope.

I hope for a better future. I hope for a time when Huib no longer has to support me. I hope for the opportunity to do more than just take care of the dogs and go through the motions of being a happy stay-at-home wife.

I hope for realistic things.

Gone are the days when I fantasized about the wonderful world out there, that would give me everything I needed, as long as I put in the effort. The fantasies are now replaced with dashed hopes and the sad reality of a world that only rewards those people who are “normal”. A world that closes doors in the faces of people who cannot meet its expectations. A world that places undo hardship on those who choose to open the door for the “different”.

My first 32 years were filled with ups and downs. I would never trade my life for anyone else’s, but I hope the next 32 years will include a few more ups and a little fewer downs.

November 29th, 2011 was a good day though. I woke up beside my smiling soul mate and rambunctious retrievers. I opened my e-mail to find messages upon messages from friends wishing me a happy birthday. The Rogue puppy allowed me to finish off the second last assignment of my course. Then it ended with a delicious spaghetti dinner The promise of new clothes!

Thirty two may no longer be the age of dreams and childish fantasies, but if yesterday was any hint of what is to come, I don’t care…I’m ready for thirty three.

Independent Woman

I’ve never taken part in the Disability Blog Carnival, but after reading this round’s topic, I was inspired.

I lost my sight in the summer of 1993. I had just finished grade 8 and was excited to begin grade 9 at a new school. It was a total shock. My parents weren’t sure where to turn. I spent my summer indoors, trying to adapt to a life without 20/20 vision.

September arrived and students returned to school. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. She kept me home the first day, and called our region’s Board of Education. She talked to a woman in charge of organizing special services and was relieved to learn that there was a department of sorts designed to help visually impaired and blind students.

That afternoon, I met a woman who would forever change my life.

Stephanie Sommer arrived around noon. She sat with my mom and I, at the kitchen table and asked questions. She had come to assess whether I truly required her assistance. The phone rang at some point during our meeting and after watching me reach past the phone, she took my hand and placed it onto the receiver with a smile.

After mom was finished with the call, Stephanie told us she would start working with me the following day.

Over the next five years, Stephanie would teach me not only the usual lessons of Braille and getting around safely with a cane, but she would inspire me to be an independent woman.

Stephanie never once treated me like I had a disability.

She expected me to act appropriately and study just as hard as every other student in my high school.

She always expected me to give eye contact.

She wouldn’t help me unless I said please or thank you.

And if I got frustrated and attempted to give up, she’d walk away and wait for me to get over it.

Stephanie and I developed more than just a student-teacher bond, we became friends. She told me about her own vision problems and told me how she embarked on an educational journey that led her to working with students like me.

I remember the feeling of comfort that would come over me each time I smelled her perfume, and the smile that would sprout on my face, no matter how bad the day, when I heard her voice. Stephanie was my navigator, guiding me through a world I now found scary and full of unknowns.

She taught me how to read Braille and how to fully utilize the vision I still had.

She showed me how to travel safely throughout my community with a cane, and then when I told her I wanted to apply for a guide dog, she challenged me to first move outside of my comfort zone. I learned how to take the bus to a neighbouring town to attend movies and shop alone in their mall. Then, she gave me the biggest test of all, she asked me to learn how to take the bus to Toronto and then learn to take the subway to the largest mall of all (at the time) – the Eatons Centre.

Once I entered my final year of high school, Stephanie was there to help me reach my goal of attending university. She read through university brochures and program descriptions. Then she helped me fill out application, after application because I couldn’t decide on which one to attend. She was there when I received each of my letters of acceptance and then took it upon herself to arrange campus tours so that I could better decide upon the school for me.

After I began university, Stephanie and I talked a couple times a year, but after she attended my wedding in 2006, we sadly lost touch.

I still think about the lessons she taught me. She inspired me how to be the woman I am today, because when no one else did, she believed I could be better.

Is It Me?

I’m frustrated.

I’m discouraged.

And, I’m not sure how to make things better.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been trying to set up a training session with the Border Collie Lady. We haven’t had a chance to continue our agility lessons since the end of May because of various scheduling issues. She competes in agility and conformation with her dogs, so a lot of her weekends were full. Then when Phoenix got sick, I really didn’t want to be away from him more than necessary. Over the past month though, I’ve been trying to set up a couple of sessions with her, but keep getting this excuse and that for why she cannot get together.

I understand that she is probably busy, but I also feel as though she is not truly interested in helping me. During our training sessions, I got the impression that she didn’t feel as though I could truly succeed in agility with limited sight, but I thought I could prove her wrong with time. I really enjoyed our sessions and felt as though she had tons to teach me, if I could only get past her preconceived notions regarding my abilities.

As far as I know, she has a sister who is blind, so I thought it would only take a bit of effort to win her over.

Well….

I’m now feeling as though I was sadly mistaken.

I don’t think she truly wants to help me. And I’m feeling discouraged.

I really, really want to compete in rally obedience and agility with Canyon, Cessna and Rogue, but I feel as though my skills are somewhat limited. I feel as though I need someone to watch me in action with each of them, and offer suggestions and advice regarding the areas we are struggling. I know I can succeed in these dog sports, but am really not sure I can do it without guidance. I find it helpful to have someone providing training structure and suggesting areas for improvement and new ways of overcoming challenges, but there really is no one else in our area except for the Border Collie Lady and a training program which seems to constantly cancel group classes they advertise on the radio.

After my experiences with the Border Collie Lady and previously Sue Alexander, I’m really beginning to wonder if I’m just too much work. I know Sue didn’t ask me to leave her program because of disability related concerns, but having negative experiences with two dog training programs, has really done a number on my self-confidence.

Is it me?

Are there things I need to change about myself?

Is it them?

Am I expecting too much of other people?

Should I just avoid dog training programs all together, and just educate myself?

These are things I need to consider, because the status quo is not working. If I want to achieve my dreams of competing, then I’m going to have to figure out where the problems lie. And, if it is me, then I need to figure out how to stop and change whatever I’m doing to scare off the people who can help.

Or, figure out a way to teach myself the things I need to know.

Any thoughts? Or words of wisdom?

Back To School

In June, I talked about wanting to return to school. I had decided to register as a non-degree student, and am hoping to take a course or two each semester between now and the fall of 2013. I’m tired of doing nothing, other than training with my dogs, reading books and cleaning the house. I know Huib does not hold my inability to get a job against me, but I still feel as though I’m wasting my life, sitting around.

Yesterday was the start of course selection, so Huib logged into my student profile, and registered me for this course.

When I was a student at the University of Guelph from 1999 to 2004, I majored in Criminal Justice & Public Policy, which primarily meant I took courses from the sociology and political sciences departments. I really enjoyed the political sciences, so focused mainly in this area when I had a choice, so there are actually very few courses left for me to take now that I am re-entering student life.

I was attracted by this new course, Governing Criminal Justice, because not only will it focus on areas that interest me, but it is also primarily writing based, and there is no final examination. I haven’t done a final exam in over four years, so I thought it would be best to start off taking a course that was writing based, since this is something I’m quite good at. I am not a creative writer, but give me a topic to research and I have no issues producing a paper that might just knock your socks off.

I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of my ability to find employment, but in the meantime I think I’ll try and better my educational background, so that I might be able to complete a masters when we move back to Southwestern Ontario.

Cane-Free

Exactly 14 years ago, my Mom, Dad and sister dropped me off at the Lions Foundation of Canada training centre, in Oakville Ontario.

I remember being so excited about the upcoming adventure.

I had waited for this day.

When I lost most of my sight at the age of 13, I didn’t know what the future had in store for me.

I remember the day my vision services teacher gave me my first white cane. She gave me general instructions on how to use it, and then left me to get used to the feel of it for a couple of days – at this point, I was just instructed to hold it slightly out, across my body. She then explained on how to do the sweeping motion and then explained when it’s best to tap, versus slide it across the floor.

I remember hating the feel of this “thing”, that was supposed to keep me safe.

It was just so cold and unnatural.

I remember the day I learned about guide dogs.

I remember wanting to get one immediately.

I remember being told I would have to work on my orientation and mobility skills first.

I remember getting a chance to work with my vision services teacher’s German Shepperd in harness. She had briefly worked with Leader Dogs For The Blind while going to Michigan State University, and had taught her own pet dog how to guide so that her students would get a feel for what it would be like before applying.

I LOVED IT!!!

About an hour or so after I had arrived at the LFC, the other students began to arrive as well. There were six of us in total; two guys from Alberta (a 60 year old and a 25 year old), a 49 year old woman from Toronto, a 35 year old man from Kitchener, and a 35 year old man from Newmarket. At dinner, we were split into groups of three, I sat with the man from newmarket and woman from Toronto – we got along really well. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with what our trainers had to tell us. We were told what the schedule would be like for the first couple of days.

And, were told that as of tomorrow, we were no longer allowed to navigate the facility with our canes – they wanted us to get familiar with the place on our own, since we would not be allowed to use them once we got our dogs.

I remember the sense of relief I felt, the moment I put my cane on the shelf.

It felt like I was beginning a new chapter in my life.

This was the moment I had been working so hard for.

It’s hard to believe that this moment was fourteen years ago.

Ever since that day, my cane has remained on a shelf or in a box.

I have never once taken it out.

I have never once had the urge to use it.

It’s a chapter in my life I never want to revisit.

I know that working with a dog isn’t for everyone.

But, it’s definitely for me.

Agility

Cessna and Canyon had their second agility lesson on Tuesday. It was pretty sunny, so both were a little slower.

Cessna seemed to remember almost everything she’d learned on the weekend, so we started teaching her jumps and weaves, as well as, starting to ask her to do two jumps before being sent through a tunnel or shoot. Cessna and I learned jumps while taking lessons with Dogs In the Park, so it was nothing for her to start jumping 18 inches right away. We’ll raise the bar a bit further during her next lesson, but the Border Collie lady (Dawn) thought we’d start lower while we were teaching her what’s needed.

I didn’t need Huib’s help as much this time, so he took some pictures.

Cessna loves the Dog Walk and A-Frame, so even before I asked her to “walk on” or “climb” she was running towards the other end.

Cessna was a little warm by the end of her half hour, so she lazily walked through the tire.

Huib had to help me with the weaves, so didn’t get any pictures. For now, Cessna is just being asked to walk through a channel of poles that are about three or so feet apart. As she gets used to the poles, they’ll be brought in closer to one another. Dawn told me that her two year old female (Ruby) is just now starting to perfect her weaves after an entire summer of working on them four days a week, so she said we’ll take it slow. I think the weaves and teeter will be the main areas where Cessna and Canyon will need time and tons of practice before competing. They were both quite nervous walking along the teeter – I held their collars while they walked along and Dawn and Huib held the other end and slowly lowered it as we reached the other side. Cessna was the only one who didn’t try jumping off at the middle, she decided it was best to just get it over with and walk quickly lol!

Canyon didn’t have as great a session, he was really distracted!

He walked confidently along the A-Frame and Dog Walk. Loved running through the tunnels and shoots. And had no issues going through the tire and weaves, but he refused to go over the jumps and continually got off the teeter around the centre.

I really think I need to start using a leash with him when we’re in the arena though, he would do the piece of equipment I asked him to attempt and then run over to this place or that to “mark” or sniff.

Here are a couple of pictures Huib took of Canyon during his lesson.

Dawn is away for the next two weeks – attending a show in Sudbury with her younger dogs (Ruby and Tay) this weekend and then the agility regionals in Sault Ste Marie next weekend with two of her older ones (Gracie and Echo) – so we won’t have another lesson until the beginning of June. I think I’m going to try and build a makeshift jump for Canyon and Cessna to practice.

Before I go though, Dawn has asked me to come and participate in a demo she is hosting Canada Day weekend!! She thinks it is important for others to see how my disability isn’t deterring me from doing agility with my dogs. I know this could be seen as bad (you can insert whatever word you want here) to others, but I don’t mind being used for education – just weeks ago she didn’t think we could do it and now she wants us to show others we can, so this opportunity means a lot to me. I also found out that her sister is blind (or visually impaired) so I’m wondering if this is where a lot of her understanding and/or beliefs have come from. Maybe her sister isn’t as able or willing to participate in traditionally sight-oriented activities. I’m glad I’ve been given this opportunity to teach her that not all blind/visually impaired people are the same.

Seminar & Other Stuff

This weekend, Huib, Cessna and I attended a breeding seminar with Amy from Me And My Pups. the seminar was being hosted by The Labrador Owners Club so of course their were several lab breeders in attendance, as well as, a table of West Highland White Terrier breeders, a Duck Toller breeder, a couple Wheaten breeders, a man who breeds Old English Sheepdogs, a woman who breeds golden retrievers and some others that I can’t remember.

Dr. Carmen Battaglia, a breeder, lecturer, researcher and author of “Breeding Dogs To Win”, was the presenter for the two day seminar. He taught us an easier way of understanding the pedigree of dogs through the introduction of “stick dog” figures, and a “symbols” pedigree. By using these two methods, breeders are better able to visualize the strengths and weaknesses of their females in order to find a stud that will help alleviate some of their weak traits or compliment their strengths. I found the seminar to be a bit on the more visual side, but also found it educational. Huib and I are not looking at getting a breeding female until Phoenix crosses the rainbow bridge, so have tons of time to collect pedigrees and learn all we can about the “missing” pieces of a traditional pedigree – such as the health concerns and structural traits of the ancestors.

On Sunday we began our journey home and experienced some problems with the truck around Oshawa. Luckily Amy was still with us, so we called CAA and had the truck towed to a dealership near her parent’s place. We stayed the night and had the truck examined the following morning. I was pretty frustrated by the lack of attention the dealership gave us, but was happy when they finally called to say we could pick it up around 5:30pm and head north. Phoenix, Aspen and Canyon had stayed with my step-dad and sister while we were away so I was eager to get home and pick them up. My Dad and sister are great with the dogs, but for some reason Aspen was stressed and having issues with her incontinence so I was pretty worried about her and annoyed that we would be delayed in returning. Aspen has had issues with incontinence since she was young, but for the most part it doesn’t happen often – just when she’s had too much water or when she is feeling stressed. While with my sister, she had about two or three incidents a day, which is unusual, so I really wanted to get back to her. Since we picked them up Monday night, she has not had an issue…

On Sunday I also sent an e-mail to the breeder who owns Canyon’s sire and brother to see how Phoenix’s (brother) clearances had gone. Judi was taking Phoenix to have his clearances done that morning, so I was eager to learn about his eyes. Well, it turns out that Phoenix also has scarring on the retina of his right eye in addition to folds. As far as I know, retinal folds are an issue common in the collie breeds (not so much in golden retrievers), but in Phoenix’s case, Huib is wondering if it might not be related to whatever caused the scarring in the two brothers. He is thinking that maybe Phoenix had the infection or whatever slightly worse in his right eye, causing inflammation that left the folds. I think it would be interesting to find out if their sisters also have the scarring, but since they are most likely just pet dogs, I don’t think we’ll ever know. With this news, Judi has begun the process of finding Phoenix a new home because it is not possible for her to keep a dog who cannot be in her program. I really wish we had known this a few months ago because I know Brandi would have adopted him for sure, but she now has Dawsen and doesn’t think she could handle another dog at this point.

Here’s a picture of Dawsen from one of our many walks in the winter.

Yesterday Canyon and I had our fifth training session with the Border Collie lady and again it went well. Brandi came along to watch so she could see what we were learning and if she would like to do something similar with Dawsen. We did some “lefts” and “rights”, practiced the “heel” position a bit more and worked on his “fronts”. Then, we started teaching him to “go around” so that in the summer he will be ready for Flyball lessons. I thought he would be too big for Flyball, but the Border Collie lady thinks that his obsession with balls will work well in this sport.

As an aside, I’m sort of getting the impression that she isn’t sure I will be able to be successful in agility with my dogs since I won’t be able to run the course with them. I’ve tried to explain that I could stand in the middle and direct them, but I’m not sure she sees how it is possible to be successful…so I guess I’ll just have to show her how it’s done. Does anyone else know of a blind or visually impaired person who has done agility with their dogs?

After the session was over, we talked a bit about the seminar I had attended on the weekend and she really thinks that we should show Canyon even once for the experience. So, Huib has said that if the Temiskaming Kennel Club has their show in new Liskeard this summer, that he would be willing to show Canyon for me – could I be rubbing off on him? Then, just before we were leaving the Border Collie lady asked my sister if she had a dog and Brandi told her about Dawsen. After listening to the concerns Brandi had, she asked if she would be interested in attending some obedience classes and Brandi said she’d love to. So, Dawsen will be starting his classes next Thursday!! Brandi wants me to come along, but Huib and I both told her that we think it would be better for her to do this on her own with Dawsen because part of the issue is that she worries about what others think and relies on us to help her, so it’s time they did some real work together and develop a more respectful relationship. I’ll keep you all posted on how their classes go…

Before I end this post, I thought I’d let you all know that our potential puppy is due on Monday (April 18th). Cheyenne is the dam of this litter and her breeder feels that one of her girls might be a good fit for us. They tend to be a little more independent minded and she finds them a little harder to place in homes because they need more experienced handlers and more stimulation. Our ideal puppy is exactly what she has described, so we’re quite eager to hear about the litter and to find out how well they score on the aptitude test. We’re still waiting for the pedigrees and clearances the breeder was supposed to send us, but are hoping that this delay isn’t a sign that we should be looking elsewhere. I think I’ll e-mail her again and give her my sister’s address in addition to the hospital’s fax number and my e-mail address in the hopes that it’s just our mail service that is the issue.

Advice For Life

This morning, I was reading through blogs I follow, trying to find some inspiration for a post and found it on Rolling Around In My Head. Mr. Hingsburger was writing about a particular book he enjoys writing notes in for presentations or blog entries and how he had come across an old entry from back when he had first learned of his disability. He writes about some of the feelings he had and then ends the post with these three words “live what’s given.”

Tough to do sometimes…

When we’re children, we dream of the amazing life we’ll have as adults. We think about the high paying job. About the big house, expensive car and fancy neighbourhood. We fantasize about the special person we’ll share our fairytale life with an some, will dream of the children they will have.

But…then…we grow up…

We become adults. We quickly realize that achieving that fairytale is impossible. We learn that we were naive to think that if we just followed the rules, our dreams would come true.

Our dreams never included, the road blocks, detours or crashes, that make up real life.

In my fairytale life, I was a successful veterinarian. Living in a large house. With a fancy car and all the possessions I could dream of. I never wanted to have my own children, but thought I would adopt and have a husband willing to be the “stay at home” Dad.

Well at the age of 13, I got my first real life check. I lost most of my vision and could no longer be the veterinarian in my dreams. But, I didn’t want to let this damper my fairytale, so decided on being a lawyer and worked hard in school. I met the man of my dreams while working on my first university degree and thought life was now beginning to work out the way I had dreamed – just a little glitch right? Well, I finished my first degree and after completing the LSAT, decided law school wasn’t really for me, so began applying to various schools for social work. I got into my first choice, McMaster University, and got my next reality check during the search for a field placement. I hadn’t really tried to find work before attending Mac so did not believe friends when they told me it was extremely difficult to find work with a disability. I guess I didn’t want to believe that society could still be discriminatory against people in this day and age. I wanted to believe that having two university degrees would shelter me from this horrible truth and that I would be one of the few who had defied the odds. Well, I was sadly mistaken; I’m still not working after graduating in June of 2007.

When I read Mr. Hingsburger’s post and saw “live what’s given,” I began to think about all the good things in my life that would never have happened if my shunt had not blocked and caused me to lose most of my vision.

I think the first thing I will thank my vision loss for, is Huib. You’re probably wondering why I would give my vision loss the credit for bringing Huib into my life, but if it weren’t for being visually impaired, I’m not sure we would have had the opportunity to meet or become so close. We still would have been at the University of Guelph together, but because of my vision loss I met a lot of different people and learned about many volunteer opportunities via peer helpers who were assigned to help Phoenix and I become accustomed to the campus. It was through these interactions that I found out about the University’s Safe Walk program and later met Huib.

Second, I’d like to thank my vision loss for Gryphon. You’re probably wondering why I’m not giving thanks for Phoenix and the others, but Gryphon was my first dog guide. And, even though him and I did not work for long, he still left an impression on me, that would lead to me never returning to the white cane. In addition to this, Gryphon re-ignited my desire to work with animals. Even though I can no longer be a veterinarian, I have directed my efforts towards learning all I can about training and caring for dogs so that maybe in the future I can begin a breeding program and/or a rescue group.

Finally, I’d like to thank my vision loss for showing me “the humour in life.” Because, without the ability to look back on experiences and smile, I don’t believe I could have become the woman I am today.

I think it’s important to learn how to “live what’s given” because if we spend our whole life thinking about how it could have been, we’ll miss the good things that would not have happened if our childhood fairytales had come true.