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!

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.

Beautiful Girl

This picture was taken on Johnston Green, at the University of Guelph. I like it because it shows one of the most historic buildings on the campus – Johnston Hall.

Uninspired

Sorry for the lack of posting this week, but I just haven’t had anything to write about.

Everyone is doing well.

Rogue continues to grow and mature into a wonderful little girl. She is still learning to control herself around food, but we have now started to feed her with everyone else in the kitchen. We have Aspen and Canyon eat together using the bowl table, she used to share with Phoenix, and Cessna eats with Rogue on the other side of the kitchen. Rogue can get really jumpy and overexcited when she sees the food being prepared, so we have started to attach her to a leash that is around one of the couch legs. She seems to calm right down once she has the leash connected to her collar, so I’m hoping that she will learn with time, to just chill out and wait for the bowls to be put down. Other than that, we have been working on loose leash walking and are really hoping to have her ready for a Rally-O competition in November. Of course it will depend upon how much we practice and on whether her CKC paperwork comes in, but we can hope right?

Other than that, I’ve been busy with school reading and assignments. I actually got my first assignment back today and received a stellar grade, so I’m happy about that. The group discussion portion of the course still frustrates me, but the professor is supposed to be reorganizing the groups after she has marked the assignments we handed in today. Today’s assignment was to discuss and reflect on the group discussions and on how we felt our participation could be better. I’m not really sure this one went as well as the first assignment, but there are three other reflection papers to improve upon.

Nothing else is really new here. It has gotten really cold all of a sudden, so I’m sure we’ll have some snow pictures to share in the real near future. I was really hoping to have some more recent pictures of rogue to share with everyone, but it looks as though we have lost our camera. Maybe I’ll see if Huib can take some good ones with my IPhone.

For now, I’ll leave you with a couple pictures Huib took in June of Aspen and Canyon.

Student Woes

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have returned to school. I am taking an online course and am so far finding it interesting. I’m having a bit of trouble getting back into the swing of student life, since I graduated from McMaster in June of 2007, but overall it’s going well.

I forgot how frustrating it can be to work within a group though…

With this course, we do not officially work together, but we do have discussion sections on the course website where we must post our thoughts on each unit’s subject and then reply to others at least twice within that week.

You’d think this was an easy task.

But, it’s not…

The group I have been assigned to, seems to be comprised of worse slackers than myself.

The first unit officially started on the 8th, but no one, including myself, posted their “original” post until late on the 15th. Only one other person posted something along with me, and then nothing else other than my response the following day to that individual, was done until the evening hours of the 18th, and the unit ended at 11:00pm. I had checked the website each day and checked in the afternoon of the 18th, but there was nothing, so I was left without the ability to post my second response.

I went on the site yesterday to see what the topic was for the second unit, and what should I see? Two more people had posted their “original” post around 10:00pm on the 18th, and one of them had posted responses to two people!!!

So frustrating!

I really, really want to do well in this course, but am not sure it will be possible if I don’t have the ability to fulfill my discussion obligations.

I know it is only the first week, but it’s still frustrating because I’m wondering if this week’s performance (or lack of) will be a pattern.

Rant is over.

Where Were You?

Over the past few weeks leading up to the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, the same question has been posed all over the radio, television and internet –

“Where were you?”

I’ve thought about this question for weeks. Where was I? What was I doing? Who was I with?

On September 11th, 2001:

• I was starting my 3rd year at the University of Guelph.
• I was living with Phoenix in residence.
• I had been dating Huib for ten months.
• I was looking forward to a bright future.

I remember that morning. I remember walking down the hall from my residence room. I remember hearing a lot of people crying and talking in the lounge. I remember hearing the television. I remember stopping at the door of the lounge to listen. And, I remember the feeling of shock that came over me.

I had not lost anyone that day. I had no real ties to America. But, I knew this day would change my life forever.

September 11th, 2001 is a day that should never be forgotten.

It is a day when we all learned that no one was safe. A day when the world stopped, and cried together. A day when thousands of people and special dogs were lost.

Please take a moment, to remember and thank all who were lost.

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.

Puppy news & Other Randomness

We got an e-mail from Karen of Red Labrador Retrievers to let us know that she thinks there are two females who might fit our needs. She said that she could be wrong, but from observing the litter, she thinks “ruby” and “pinky” will be a good fit – they name the puppies according to their collar tags. She describes “ruby” and “pinky” as being “very social, happy-go-lucky’s…middle of the road in the hierarchy, brave without being aggressive…they are all (entire litter) quick learners like both their mom and dad…all (entire litter) are happy to please, of course some more than others and they (“rudy” and “pinky”) are middle of the road their also…” We’ll have to wait for the test scores, but at least we know that there is most likely a puppy or two for us to choose from.

Sadly, Karen hasn’t had time to post updated pictures though…

In other news…

We got some very sad news from our friends, the pawpower pack. Mr. Pawpower’s golden companion passed away unexpectedly. Here’s some more details. I haven’t had the experience of losing a beloved companion, but know from losing both my mother and grandmother, that it can be heartbreaking and the wounds will take time to heal. Our thoughts go out to Mr. Pawpower and the rest of the Pawpower Pack. Rest in peace Rudy, you will be sadly missed.

I’ve been doing some research on courses I might want to take through the University of Guelph or McMaster University. I haven’t been able to find work and am tired of sitting around doing nothing, but training with the dogs and housework. I’m thinking that I’ll take a course or two each semester via distance education through one of the above universities and then hopefully re-apply for masters or occupational therapy when we move closer to London (Ontario) in a couple of years. Huib’s contract with the Kirkland & District Hospital is over in a year and if we can get rid of a couple more debts between now and next fall, I think we might look at moving back to southern Ontario, closer to friends and family. It’s been a wonderful experience living here, but it’s just not home.

My sister found out that the woman who owns the house she is renting wants to sell this summer. She doesn’t really like living here and thinks she will try and find work around Orillia or Gravenhurst. She’s going to visit some friends next weekend in Aurora, so has asked me to help her re-design her resume so she can hand some out on her way down. I’m excited to know she will be moving closer to her friends and a place she loves, but am secretly sad that she will be leaving. I know she can be frustrating, but I will really kind of miss having her so close.

I got an e-mail from Judi of Ramblin Goldens this weekend. I had sent her an update on Canyon since she owns his sire and brother. She told me they got their new female golden retriever puppy, Emmie, a couple of weeks ago and are really enjoying her. She hasn’t yet found a new home for Phoenix, Canyon’s brother, but has also not been looking too hard. She wants to work on some of his obedience before sending him off. I really love having Canyon and wish we could invite Phoenix to live with us, but I’m really not sure Huib will go for that lol! He is quite patient with my love of dogs, but has told me that he thinks five is a good number 

Finally, I have been in contact with a woman who runs a program that helps people train their pets to be service dogs. She used to work for the Lions Foundation of Canada as a Special Skills trainer, but has been working on her own program for about five or more years. The program is called Encouraging Paws Service Dogs and their website can be found here. The Director has informed me that her fees are $12,000 for assistance from puppy hood through to certification and follow-up help. This is a little out of our price range, so we have asked her how much she would charge for just help with certification. She said that her price is $5,000 for certification which is ten hours of assessment. To pass, she says that the dog must meet the standards of “the Blind Dog Act Federation” but I think she means the International Guide Dog Federation. She also informed me that her fee for advice and/or consultation is $500 an hour or $8.33 a minute. I’m not sure if we’ll end up going with Encouraging Paws, but at least we know there is someone willing to certify and/or provide consultation during the training process. I have some other contacts who have offered to give me advice and information when needed, so I think we’re finally ready to officially raise and train Cessna’s successor!!

Now What?

When I was in high school and had just recently lost most of my sight I was still naive and thought no matter what, nothing would hold me back from achieving my dreams. When I was picking a university to attend and chose Guelph for their new Criminal Justice and Public Policy program I thought “here’s the program that will start me on my way to becoming a lawyer”. As I was nearing the end of my time at the University of Guelph I still thought I was invincible and that I could do anything I put my mind to. It was that summer (2003( when I realized I was terribly misled 

Just before I finished my degree at Guelph I began studying for the LSAT and applied to potential law schools. I went into the test not knowing how I would do, but left knowing for sure I had failed – my proctor was diabetic and had a low blood episode so incorrectly filled in my score sheet. I decided to take a year off and figure out where to go next and decided on social work.

I got my acceptance letter to McMaster University just before I went to Dog Guides for Cessna – I was so excited!! I got amazing marks throughout my time at Mac and just before the whole placement experience happened I thought, “for sure, social work must be the field for me.” – was I ever wrong!! It took the field placement person over two months to find me my first placement, she talked to over 20 different agencies and each were eager to have me until they learned about my disability… When she finally found an agency willing to take me on the other students had already been working for 2 weeks. My first placement wasn’t the greatest, but I met some interesting people and improve my advocating skills. My second placement was much better, but still I ran into issues – my supervisor was constantly asking me “so, once you’re in the field, how will you do this?” rather than helping me to look for solutions. Don’t get me wrong, she taught me tons and I really enjoyed my time with her, but she also showed me how narrow-minded social workers can be. In addition to all the placement issues I experienced, I was continually running into problems with my fellow students. Not one of my classmates had a visible disability and not one of the instructors looked at issues faced by people with disabilities – they all focused on women, children, poverty and racism. I would constantly raise my hand in class and ask why we were only being taught about these groups and no matter what, I was always brushed aside or made to feel like an outcast for my questions.

In my opinion, social work is based on the belief that people are broken and need to be fixed. I don’t know why we weren’t being taught more about how to work within the systems that hold back society and to help clients achieve their life dreams. If social workers did more of this, rather than just providing bandaid solutions, I think the field would be obsolete and there would be less psychiatric conditions.

Since graduating from Mac in June of 2007 I have applied for several jobs and attempted to attain a masters degree without success. Most social work jobs require a person to either have a driver’s license or masters degree, neither of which I have. All of the job interviews I’ve attended ended in me being told the agency would have loved to hire me, but I just don’t have the experience required – I have tons of volunteer work though… I get the same response from masters programs, you just don’t have the work experience we require for admission – so what now? It’s an endless cycle and no matter what, I can’t seem to get past it!

I got a letter in January telling me I needed to pay my licensing fee before the end of January or I’d have to pay a penalty. I called the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers to explain my situation. Instead of giving me options for remedying the issue, I was told that’s too bad, I guess you’ll just have to pay the penalty – that’s great guys, but I still can’t find work!!!! A month or so ago I got another letter from the College to tell me that I had to pay my fees immediately or I’d be suspended. I called the College again and explained my situation. The woman on the other end told me she wasn’t a social worker, but an administrator and that the College isn’t here to help social workers, but to help the public – if that’s the case, then why does the public need to write a letter explaining their concerns in order to get information on a social worker? You can go to the Ontario College of Nurses website and type in any nurse’s name to find out where they work and if they are actually registered or have any limitations on their job. After hanging up from the useless organization to which I pay too much money to do nothing, I began wondering “do I really want to be a social worker?”

Today I called the Association of Social Workers to ask for their assistance. Guess what? I was told, you aren’t a member, you need to pay $106 and you’ll have access to our social work job bank. Okay, now let me get this straight…. I pay $270 to one organization and get nothing in return, then I have to pay $106 to another organization in order to get access to a job bank and nothing else???? I’m at a loss for words, I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve done everything I was told, I was a good girl and successfully completed 2 degrees at 2 different universities and for what? To live on a government pension? To rely on my husband for everything from toothpaste to a place to live? How does this even close to make sense?

Huib called me this evening from work on his break to see how I was doing and I quickly explained what the Association had told me. He said he was sorry to hear this, but sadly he didn’t have much more time to talk. So I’m at a point where I’m seriously wondering, do I really want to go on with this fight and be a social worker? Do I want to find something else to pursue? Is it too late to start over? I’m a 30 year old woman, with a visual impairment, 2 university degrees and nothing to do each day, but take care of the house and train our dogs – is this right

A Weekend of Change & Fun

Saturday was a pretty lazy day, but Sunday was a little more exciting. A friend’s sister had begun to e-mail me regarding the possibility of fostering Amber. She has never fostered before so mainly wanted to know her responsibilities and whether she was able to take Amber everywhere with her. After a few e-mails back and forth she talked with her parents and they were all for her fostering. Meghan attends the University of Guelph so Amber will get tons of time in classes, as well as, tons of time to be a dog since the student life is not always overly demanding. Sunday afternoon we packed up Amber along with all of her things and headed off to Meghan’s place.

When we first arrived Meghan and her roommate were not home, but a short time after we went back to the car they arrived with bags full of things for Amber. She got her new bowls, a leash, and some toys…what a spoiled little girl! Amber was quite excited to meet Meghan and they seemed to fall in love instantly. Amber almost immediately began to make herself at home, wandering the house and checking out Meghan’s roomate’s dog Jack. After going over some things, we turned to leave, Amber wasn’t so sure about this and ran out the door. We got her back in without too much difficulty and said our good-byes. Meghan’s sister called me that evening to let me know how happy Meghan seemed. She said that she thinks I might have made her year . As I hear more I will update everyone on Amber’s progress.

After leaving we headed out to the University to begin planning our walk route. This coming Sunday morning will be Guelph’s 2nd Annual Purina Walk for Dog Guides so I want to make it as perfect as possible. This year the walk could not take place at the park we had done it at last year because some booking issues had occurred and by the time we had put our request in the space was gone. The University’s V.P. Student Affairs came to our rescue though, offering to pay for the rental fees if we wanted to use their Arboretum Centre. The facility is beautiful, the only problem is no dogs are allowed inside except for working ones and I assume fosters as well. Having no real other option we decided on taking up her offer and began the process of planning the day. The day will begin with a catered sort of breakfast provided by the University’s food services department. Then the walk will commence and afterward there will be raffles and fun dog contests.

In planning the route we decided to first walk down the main driveway and head onto main campus. We walked through various areas of the campus stopping at one spot to take some pictures of Cessna and I. Cessna found the campus to be quite interesting with all the squirrels running about and the fields where she could run. I guess she hasn’t been there enough to get over the excitement yet. Phoenix lived and worked with me on this campus for five years so the novelty of it all sort of wore off after the first year there. After about an hour and a half we were done planning the route. This year the walk will be about an hour and fifteen minutes of walking, a little longer than it is supposed to be, but the walk is pretty scenic in spots so I am sure the community members coming out will enjoy it. I think as a preliminary precaution though we might figure out where the halfway point would be and have volunteers let the walkers know that if they turn around there then once they reach the centre again they will have done half the walk. I don’t want people getting too tired or warm not having the chance to take a shortcut. The route follows the main driveway from the Arboretum Centre and then goes through campus by their new Science Complex and then goes along Gordon Street to College where they will turn and walk by War Memorial Hall (a beautiful building) and by some of the residences such as McDonald Hall, Mills Hall, and Johnston Hall. Once they reach Wineguard Walk they will turn and go past the main cafeteria (Creelman Hall) and then pass by the library and some other older buildings. They will then turn down towards the Athletic Centre and head back towards the Arboretum Centre this time walking along some of the paths rather than the main driveway. I am looking forward to all of this being done, it has been a stressful process, but hopefully it will be all worth it in the end.

Today wasn’t too eventful, we only went out to the school yard near our place to play some fetch. The weather has become quite warm and humid and Aiden is having some trouble adjusting once again.

“Challenges are what makes life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
– Joshua J. Marine