Saturday, January 30, 2010

Faith Aligns Our Treasures

Faith Aligns Our Treasures


For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be. Matthew
6:21 NIV


“Hi, Aunt Amy. Talia and I came to visit you,”


I looked up to find Rachel, and her bubbly daughter.


At two-years-old, Talia already had an eye for beauty.


“Oooh. Babies! Open please,” she’d whisper when she saw the Japanese kokeshi dolls stored behind glass. She longed to touch the brightly-painted collection. That and everything else! My booty from foreign travels delighted her.


This time, Talia stopped at an ornate Indian shelf. This held several teapots from around the world. There, she spied one just her size! A miniature tea set from
England.


“Hey, she’s never looked at that before!” I exclaimed. “When did she become interested in teapots?”


“Her aunt Emily gave her a play set for her birthday last week,”


We admired the tea set with its tiny rosebud pattern. It was, of course, very fragile. “You can’t find this in
America,” I commented.


“no, Tali--.”


“Let her play,” I suggested.


Talia pretended to pour some tea into a cup. Then she added some cream. At last she drank it up. We chatted. She continued to play. A few minutes later, Talia stopped. She scuttled closer to Mama. “What is it, TT?”


One small hand clutched a slender handle. Our eyes traveled to the shelf where the creamer sat.


“I’m sorry, Aunt Amy,” Rachel gasped, “Her fingers are too clumsy to handle this stuff.”


“It’s okay,” I reassured. “It can be fixed. How about we keep this as Talia’s special tea set for when she comes to visit?”


Relief spread over Rachel’s face. “TT, isn’t that nice!”


Application: Realize our earthly treasures pale in comparison to us, God’s children, and what He has for waiting for us.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lord, I Seek Your Voice


In an effort to cut down on my words, I will post some poetry for today's entry. I decided to keep it to 150 words or less, and this is focused on what I'd like my inner spirituality to be. People say that rhyming poetry is out, and that free verse is better. I think this is free verse (no structure) but rhymes, so that's fifty percent of the battle won! Awhile back I wrote "Lord, I seek Your Hand." That was focused on trusting the Lord along my pathway. Tonight I write "Lord, I Seek Your Voice." This is focused on Hearing the Lord in my daily life. Being in a personal relationship with Him. Some call it "abiding in Him." Whatever it is called, I want it for my life...
~~~~

Lord, I Seek Your Voice

Lord, if I can learn to live life reflecting Your smile and radiance on my face,
In times of adversity and in Your grace, then I'll skip to Your embrace.
To gain a calm in times of stress, I need to trust Your words to re-assess,
Let me hear Your voice often when I pray to live ever closely to progress.

It fills me with delight when You speak directly to me through Your Word,
And confirm it with the voice of others; then Lord, I feel so self-assured.
I'm stubborn, Lord, and my timing isn't good. My heart's desire is to obey,
Among friend and family, and other people that You place along my way.

Oh Lord, every day I walk with You, I seek Your Voice...and then Rejoice!










Friday, January 22, 2010




Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dreaded Drop Route Day

Too soon the day arrived for me to prove my nettle and my sleuthing skills. How would I do? My trainer and I would be dropped between the perimeters of four previously-mentioned directional boundaries. Only my father could guess how the email had panicked me. My dad knew best how muddled I got when it came to directions (north/south/east/west).
I pictured my father looking down on me that day, full of interest in seeing how I fared. I guess he would chuckle now and then and shake his head in the habit he had when he was amused by the struggle of something he considered as easy as breathing. Of course, my father would try to point me in the right direction. Like Chet, Dad always had a handle on how to get around town! "OK Dad, help me out down here!"
~~~~
I had my sleep shades on. "Let's head out."

Although I tried to make a mental picture of the streets Chet described to me, I figured my best plan of operation would be to choose a direction and follow that way for awhile. I'd ask my first question soon enough.

"Hey, where's the sun?" I joked, "Isn't its direction supposed to be one of our clues?" Did it rise in the east and set in the west? So, if that's right, will it fall on my right or left shoulder? Be behind me or in front of me? I tilted my face toward the sky. Nope, no sun. The sky must be gray.

I listened for a train. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Was that a whistle? Nooo, no train so far. How many minutes had gone by? That thought tickled me. As children, how many times had we asked that very same question on our way to Grandma Florence's house? Come on, Amy, get serious about this task!

We walked for awhile in silence. Sometimes I had to free my cane from some holes or slats of some kind as I walked.

"Do you notice any landmarks yet? Tap your cane to the right. Shoreline it." He was telling me to see if there was constant barrier to the right, and if so, what was it?

"I don't know, Chet, it seems as if we've been walking along this high barrier for quite awhile. Do you think it's a wall?"

"Feel it with your cane," he suggested. "Is that what it feels like?"

I tapped lightly, first low and worked my cane higher. "Noooo, not a wall, but something. I dunno what."

We kept going. "It's got a hole in Chet, the wall does. It's narrow or something. Sometimes it isn't there. There's like space. Oooh, what could it be?"

"Hmmm," Chet knew, I could tell.

"Stop and feel it with your hand." Chet suggested after some time. So, I did.

"Wow, that's thin and heavy. Che-et! CHET! Is it a cemetery gate?" I had to know!


"I think it iii..sss." though sing-songy, I detected unmistakable triumph in his voice, "So, what does this mean?"

Nothing to me. Where are the cemeteries in Erie? Could we be by the McDonalds on Peninsula Dr? I had a dim recollection of driving past there with my dad on the way home from work one day.

"Which direction do we need to go?" Chet was pushing it.

I shrugged. Bit my bottom lip. I really had no idea. "Let's keep going this way." I doggedly led us on in the same direction until I remembered my "Get-out-of-jail" key. "Let's ask someone!"

Just then the sun came out. It shone on my head. A lot of good that did me! What clue did that provide?

"AMY, STOP! Do you hear that sound in front of you?"

"Hmm, it's a vehicle. But it must not be moving now."

Instead of walking around the vehicle to let it pass, I tapped the window.

A startled woman's voice sounded, "Oh my! What?! May I help you?"

"Maybe this kind woman will help us out," Chet softened my disruption.

"Sorry to scare you. Can you tell me what street we are on and uh, what direction you are heading."

"A-ha!" I heard Chet exclaim. By her answers, Chet knew exactly where we were.

I paid attention then. I picked up on his excitement and took his cues. After that, I always guessed the direction correctly. His voice gave it away. I became confident and very interested in our adventure.

We went below the street level, under a train crossing (like a tunnel). Chet was disappointed there was no train running at that time nor did we hear any trains at any other time to aid me in our orientation. "It's a great tool," he said with regret. "This traffic flow has helped us considerably. Yes, indeed."

In the end, we made it to his office just slightly over the time limit. (My earlier aimlessness slowed us down, I presumed.

But it's strange. Upon arriving there, I felt sooo proud of myself. I completely lost sight of the fact that I'd tuned into Chet's verbal clues and trusted them, more than the true physical landmarks that I encountered along the way with my cane. It was as if I had done this major feat on my own two feet exactly as Chet had planned for me to do! The fact is, at that moment I was walking on air!

"Let's get the elevator. Can you find which is the third floor?" Chet questioned.

I felt for the Braille. I pressed the button.

"Can we talk to Rebecca?" I asked, still in my euphoric state.

"Let me see if she is in the building," Chet aeemed only too glad to fulfill my every wish. He was so proud of me, too! "Luck is with us. Here she is," Chet presented her.

"You're doing so great," my case worker gushed.

I grinned and chattered about the experience, still completely wowed. Then I turned ... and walked directly into the wall. Smack! Rebecca sounded concerned, "Oh Amy, are you okay?"

"Oh, sure." Owwwwwwww. That hurt! Not only my head but my pride.

It also smacked some sense into me. I remembered I still really had little knowledge of directions - but I had an excellent ear for gaging Chet's excitement. Without Chet, I'd be lost. But then, he is my trainer. I was actually trained.Well, it was a combination of voice cues and figuring out the landmarks really. I smiled. Actually, I grinned. My lips stretched as far as they could go. I am sure my teeth were showing. This was a fabulous day in my life. I was not going to rob myself of one iota of joy.


Dad, I may not be familiar yet with directions in Erie, but I found a way to make it to where I needed to go.

I could feel him nod in agreement, and imagined he'd
have shrugged in his easygoing way and said, "That's all she wrote." I reveled in the memory of his favorite expression.

Could life get any better?



Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Dreaded Drop Route, Particulars

This came as an email from my trainer to prepare me for my last training session with him in the summer, the ultimate "test' of my abilities, you might say. Here are Chet's instructions to me:

~~~~
Hi Amy,

Unlike last time, let me give you some pointers as to our planned drop route for Tuesday, August 4.

1. I'll arrive at your home around 1:00 p.m.

2. You will, with your approval and consent, of course, dawn your sleepshades before entering the truck.

3. We will drive east, into Erie.

4. We will be dropped off in Erie within the following parameters:

(A). Southern-most boundary, 26th Street.
(B). Northern-most boundary, 10th street.
(C). Eastern-most boundary, Holland Street.
(D). Western-most boundary, Myrtle street.

5. These boundaries mean that we will be no farther south, north, east or west of these streets.

6. Our goal will be to walk to my office building which is at 153 E. 13th street; so the walk might be very short, very long or of medium length.

7. To the very best of our ability, we will not gather information from any people. Instead, we will use environmental cues such as:

(A). Traffic flow, including possible train traffic.
(B). Particulars of traffic direction. For example, on Peach street, for our purposes, all traffic flows north, the opposite being true of both French and Sassafras streets.
(C). The position of the sun, assuming we have a sunny day.
(D). Familiar nonvisual landmarks; I will help in this area.

8. If, after a minimum of 45 minutes, you choose to gather information by asking either passersby or merchants, you may do so, but you will be limited to three such gatherings which means, of course, that the adventure will not last any more than 135 minutes, 2 hours, 15 minutes, if you use all your "get out of jail" cards. I.E. you may make one inquiry every 45 minutes. The maximum number of inquiries is three, but such may not be made during a time period of less than 45 minute increments.

If you have any questions, feel free to write or call.

Regards,
Chet

Taking on the Bistro


I left you in the heart of downtown Erie in the middle of Roar to the Shore. I was blindfolded and seeking out a specific restaurant to further test my "Acclimation to Blindness" skills by eating a meal when a tough Motorcycle Mama lit into me for tapping her motorbike with my cane. If you remember, our training fell on one of the craziest days of summer. Downtown Erie was holding a Block Party, which meant a lot more clutter on the sidewalks, which turned the task into a much more challenging task for little ol' blindfolded ME!
~~~~

"I don't think the restaurant is very far off, if I remember correctly," Chet warned.

That was my cue to ask for the address. So I stopped and turned to the first voice I heard, "What is the address here?" The speaker dutifully supplied it, and Chet clapped his hands in excitement, "As I figured. We're not far from our destination!" He was delighted. How did he figure these things out? He turned to me, "We need to get to Number 2027. We are on the correct street, right?"

"Yes," I affirmed.

"Will we stay on this side of the street or cross it? And then, which direction will we head?"

"We need to cross the street and go north."

"We'll cross Seventh from the northeast to the northwest corner," he corrected.

"Oh! Yeah!" I had no idea anymore or even that we were at a corner.

"Good!... After you!" Chet sounded very pleased.

I wanted to peek very badly to make sure I was going right because I had to lead us across the street. Chet was on my heels so I had to listen for the traffic and could not cheat! The way sounded clear so I gave Chet the go-ahead. He listened for just a moment to verify, and we were off!

I could feel a wide cement stairway and climbed five steps, felt for a door handle, and pulled. We were inside a building.

I asked for the address. "Yep, this is it! Let's go in!" Was I ready for this?

Entering the restaurant was a breeze. "My name's Dan and I'll be your waiter for the afternoon," he said as he took me by the arm, and gently escorted me to a round table on the left-hand side of the room. What a relief after all the obstacles outdoors! I folded up my cane and took a deep breath while he read the menu to us.

I could tell by the plush carpet, the silence surrounding us and the impeccable manners of the waiter that we had chosen an upscale bistro for our experiment.

Chet seemed put out temporarily that the waiter had escorted me, "Much better for you to have found the seat on your own...but no matter," he resigned himself, plotting for me to find my own way out, no doubt!


"Madame?"

"Ah," I bit my lip, "I'll have a cup of ... expresso," (I am not a coffee drinker but the surroundings called for something more elegant than my usual glass of water).


I chose some messy crepe, ice-creamy, sliced-banana, chocolate-syrupy type dessert. I am going out on a limb here. If I have to be blindfolded, I might as well make it worth my trouble. I’m not going to play it safe with a mere pudding you just have to scoop out with a spoon!


I could hear the waiter pouring water into what I discovered to be long-stemmed glasses a few minutes later. When I felt for the glass with my right hand, my fingers touched the cool condensation on the outside rim. I picked it up and took a sip. Refreshing!


"Madame, here is your turtle crepe. It is directly in front of you. Your fork is to the right of the plate.Your expresso is at 2:00." I had recently learned that the face of a clock is a good way for people to visualize where an object (usually food) is located in relation to them. This waiter knew his stuff!


I picked up the fork in one hand and knife with the other, and proceeded to cut the banana crepe. I unobtrusively snuck a finger to the plate to feel where the rim was. I didn't want it to slide off! Then I proceeded to cut and stab a piece of banana, swish it in the syrup and add the crepe to the fork. I lifted it to my mouth and took the bite. With the cloth napkin, I dabbed at my chin in case I missed my mark at all. We didn't talk much as I focused completely on mastering this task. When I finished, I felt for my cup of expresso. Oh lukewarm! Darn! I took too long to eat! Well, I can't figure out everything at once, now can I? Next time, I'll get it right...


The sunshine fell on my right side from the sunny window next to me. Were my other senses becoming more heightened, I wondered? Well, anyone can feel the sun coming through the window!


Chet and I chatted about the day's outing casually. I began to feel a little giddy from the experience...
or was that the expresso?! I chided myself, "Calm down, girl!"


Now, how would I pay? I asked the waiter to read me the bill. Then I felt for my bills. Which was the ten and which was the one? I asked the waiter, and later had him count back my change.


"Now if you want to be certain about your change, and keep your independence, pay attention to what I'm going to say next."


Chet then explained different ways of folding the various money denominations to distinguis
h them for greater independence. A whole lesson, contextualized. As a teacher, I know this is the very best kind of lesson one can receive.


The bistro was a smashing success! Although Dan had disappeared, I led the way out of the restaurant just fine, fumbling a bit by the door but with my head held high, and my confidence soaring even higher.


"Who was that waitress who helped direct me to the door?" I asked afterwards.


"No, she wasn't a waitress. She was standing outside the door. So I guess she was just attending the block party and making herself useful." Chet observed.

"Oh!" I thought she was a waitress. How did Chet figure out these things? My completely blind trainer was so in tune with people and his surroundings! I felt awed.

But the best thing about my day was the van was located just across the street! I could take my blindfold off!

Thank you, thank you, thank you God for getting me through this afternoon!


Chet's lessons are the key to my future independence.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Street Smarts

This entry is about one of my most challenging cane training sessions in downtown Erie last July. My objective was to get around town and eat out in a restaurant, blindfolded (wearing 'sleep shades'), to simulate the conditions I find myself in at night when I can't see very well. Note: my mobility instructor is completely blind.
I'll post this story in TWO PARTS.

~~~~


"Ready for the challenge? You are going to wear your sleep shades from start to finish.”

I tried to ignore the excitement in my trainer’s voice. What had I gotten myself into? I was already disoriented and we hadn’t even arrived at our drop-off point yet.


In ‘Adjustment to Blindness Training,’ obviously the onus falls on the student to meet the challenges of navigating to pre-designated locations in order to become independent and develop the necessary self-confidence to achieve goals in ways others never have to think about. The more ownership a student takes in his or her own progress, the faster these goals are met. Chet, my trainer, is superb. He steps back to allow me to initiate and follow through with my own decisions, yet stays close enough to ensure that I do not put myself in danger. But let me be clear: he does not mollycoddle me. I am forced to meet the challenges of the tasks before me. In addition, I must take on any unexpected developments that may crop up.


At no time was this clearer to me than during my last training session in the heart of downtown Erie. My target objective was to find a specific restaurant.


Before we left my house, Chet had me put on my sleep shades, circle his driver’s vehicle twice with my cane as was his custom at the start of every lesson.


"Okay, you can get in."


I listened, then saluted in the direction of his voice, felt for the door handle and eased myself in.


“I’m gonna give you some time to warm up. I won’t just throw you in the situation,” he explained.


“Huh! Warming up would be letting me see more bef--"


His voice hardened into a no-nonsense tough guy tone he rarely took with me as he interrupted,
"You already know how to see. You’ve been doing that all your life. You are learning how to get around by not seeing. I will not be happy if you lose your vision before you are sufficiently prepared.”


“I know. I know.”
I’m not going blind tomorrow! Well, that’s lucky because when I handed over my Braille for him to check on the ride in to Erie, that was a disaster.


“I
see what you did. You wrote it all backwards.” Chet felt my sheet carefully. He made a valiant effort to decipher it, and then gave up. “Try again next time. Your first attempt was much better.”


“Uh-oh! I hope today’s training goes better than my Braille.”


“Don’t think like that; you’re gonna do great!”


The van came to a halt. I squared my shoulders, “Let’s do it.”


“We are now facing Thirteenth Street. The parallel street is State. We want to go to the Credit Union on the northeast corner of 12th and State. Its address is 1129 State.
What direction do we need to go?”


“North ... uh, toward the lake I guess...” I started out confident but faltered. These directions downtown always confused me.


"Yes, that's correct."


When we got to the Credit Union, my easiest course of action was to stand and wait, but he insisted I find a bench to sit down.


“Errrr,” I growled but found my way to one, after having squeezed through what seemed to be a very narrow opening but was actually a regular-sized doorway. “Bravo! You did great!” came the voice of a young woman seated near me. “Oh!” I moved my foot and explored the area. It hit upon the steel framework of a baby stroller. Well, the stroller must come with a baby and its mama.
Was she a 'plant'? How did she know if I was doing well? Soon I could hear her on what I guessed to be a cell phone. I gave up on my crazy theory that she'd somehow been 'planted' to cheer me on.


Chet found me and we headed out. I made it out of the bank straightaway (Good job, Amy! I congratulated myself). We then headed downtown. At some point, and I don’t remember which order, I crossed both State Street and Twelfth Street.


“You did that well! Just like a pro.”


Yippee! I crossed these major downtown streets on my own! My face turned into one huge grin. I felt like a jack-o-lantern with my heart a bright candle. If only everyone could see what I had accomplished! The adrenalin kept pumping in.


“Okay, now you wanted to try eating in a restaurant. So I am going to tell you the address and you are going to have to locate it. I’m not sure where it’s at myself so this will be a test for both of us.”


You’re gonna make me do the work here, right?


As I made my way on the sidewalk, the space I had to walk seemed to shrink. What were these odd-shaped steel objects I kept hitting? I took Chet's advice and explored them with my cane.


"Chet, they all seem to be different shapes. I can't really identify them."


“Oh, Amy. Erie is having a block party this weekend,” Chet recalled. “There are tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk and lots more people than usual. That's what we're coming across."


“Oh? Oh! A
block party!” I could feel the panic set in. How would I ever make my way down this crowded sidewalk?


“You’re okay. People will move when they see you. If not, you’ll find them with your cane. Just challenge yourself. Keep going.”


“Ohhh!” I boxed myself into a corner and got tangled up in the legs of some chairs.
Where is the way through?! A-my! Focus! People must be staring at you! “Uh..uh..Chet!”


“I’m here. You’re doin’ great.”


We continued on in this way. I gingerly tapped my way through the tables, chairs, electrical cords, frequently stopping to untangle my way amid the strollers, ad-hoc outdoor grills, cafes and chairs. I could smell smoke, some pungent spicy aromas, grilling meat, beer, and strong coffee all around me. "Mmmm," I took it in. It got really congested around Perry Square. Clomp! Ooops! Oh no! "Excuse me. Sorry." Were we actually making any progress? How much further?


The meat sizzled. I heard voices--some who seemed to man the food, others who sounded relaxed and I guess, ate the food. Children squabbled and laughed. I felt a sudden burst of air and a sweaty body bump my arm as wheels whizzed by. What was that? Skateboard?


Of particular interest to me was a female voice,"Stop staring at them. That isn't nice," Someone laughed. Someone else mumbled. Children? Teenagers? I strained to hear better. Did she mean Chet and me? Of course, everyone can see us. Just because we can't see them doesn't mean they can't see us. How quickly I forget that!


Suddenly I passed through an area of African American music. Rap. I could feel the beat pulsating. I imagined teenagers seated on the ground fiddling with the volume of their boom boxes. It distracted me as I continued along the sidewalk.


"We have to cross one more street,” Chet explained.


“Hey, watch it! That’s a six thousand dollar paint job on my motorcycle!” the tough voice of a woman called out very near me. I turned toward the voice . "Yeah, that's right, chick-o, YOU!"


I recoiled immediately. “Oh sorry,” I held my cane still for a moment, terrified to take another step.


“Did I tell you that this is also the weekend for “Roar to the Shore?” Chet asked me dryly. “8,000 motorcyclists are gathered right here in the heart of downtown for the event.”


I felt faint. “Well, I don’t think I befriended
that one.”


“Come on, keep goin’ The restaurant can’t be far.” Chet's jovial voice spurred me on.

~~~~

Life is full of Motorcycle Mamas along our pathway, isn't it? Guaranteed, we're gonna smash into 'em when we least expect to. I think Chet has learned to sweep away negative criticism as easily as he takes the next sweep of his cane to move forward. I kinda like that approach to life. I'd like to take it up. I wonder how long it takes to learn that technique?!

Tune in tomorrow for the restaurant experience.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Surprise Birthday Mayhem!

Let me tell you: I love birthdays! I think it’s because I don’t look at birthdays as turning a year older; I think of them as confirming our own unique personalities and worth. They are days when anything exciting can unfold, and I expect it to. My attitude towards birthdays carries over to my friends, and I always try to make them feel special..

So, when I got invited to my Facebook friend’s surprise 50th birthday party, I couldn’t turn the invitation down, even though I hadn’t seen my friend in thirty years! I looked at it as an adventure—and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. I anticipated a challenge because this undertaking would first, take place at night, and second, in an unfamiliar venue. How would I handle it when my classmate saw I was now using a blind man's cane?

My best friend, Kathy, stamped her feet to get warm,“Got the card and crying towel?” The crying towel was a gag gift for Birthday Boy.

“Yep.”

"Got your cane?"

“Yep.”

“Ready to rip?”

“R.I.P? You mean I’m takin’ my life in my hands?” I quipped. Then a moment of suspicious--and somewhat nervous--laughter hit me, "Did you say 'trip?' "

“Come on, I'm doing you a favor by going with you, and I'm freezin' while you're making jokes."

Brrrr! It felt like the coldest day of winter. When we spoke, our breath came out in tiny puffs. The wind sliced through my fashionable blue jeans where my jacket stopped. I wasn't wearing my warm cap as "limp flat hair" was not simply not acceptable at such a gathering. My fingers became stiff in the short walk from the parking lot to the building.

We ducked into the restaurant. I stood still for a few moments to let my eyes adjust to the dimly-lit interior. Kathy waited patiently for me to give the go-ahead to move forward.

"How about that table over there?" I tried to follow her chin movement. Over there? To the right? To the left? Across the room? My eyes were still adjusting.

"Oh yeah...the table is right ahead of you. Can you see it?"

"Ummm. Now I can. Okay, let's go."

I swept my cane back and forth. That made me feel like a street cleaner, except instead of cleaning I was spreading snow in wobbly arcs across carpet those first few steps. We reached the table--to the right of the door and a little behind us--and shed our coats.Some other women joined us.

“Let’s get something to drink.” Kathy suggested.

We ordered our beverages and headed back to our table. Where was Birthday Boy? I set my Coke down. When I set it down, I knocked over Kathy's cup. Ah, I didn't see it there! I watched the contents cover the table in record speed. I could definitely see that! People dashed madly about to bring napkins and paper towels. I just stood there watching. "Sorry. Sorry." I apologized as the woman tried to staunch the mess before it dripped onto their clothes. I caught Kathy's eye. She looked amused. I grimaced. What a way to start!

At that moment, Birthday Boy arrived at our table. Oblivious, he gave each of us a big, warm pull-me-close hug, which stretched out into a second one...

“Guess what Amy did? She spilled my drink all over the table. I didn't even get my first sip!"

She was up to something, but what? I glared daggers at her, but this time the darkness was in her favor. Drats! What would Birthday Boy think? She was not cued into any of my "Watch-it-you're-on-dangerous-ground" signals.

Birthday Boy still wore dark glasses but they didn't look as heavy as I remembered. He had a little less hair on top... and a little bit more on his face (a salt and pepper mustache and beard). He seemed inclined to forgive any clumsy misdeed, “You did that?” He smiled benignly and I noticed a tooth missing on the top right-hand side of his mouth. "You're lookin' good, the both of yous," he gestured to Kathy as well.

Ahhh…it's very dark in here,” I muttered to explain both the spill and his compliment, thinking how I would skewer my friend the moment he left.

"It's been a long time since I saw ya last." He looked relaxed as he tugged on the flap of his baseball cap.

"Yeah like thirty years," I reminded him. I hadn't seen him since high school.

"Want ya to meet my wife and doctor-I mean, daughter..." He called out to them, swaying a little, "C'mere..."

I smiled in Birthday Boy's direction where I expected them to show up. I held out my arm and thought they'd take it if they were there. No one did. So I quickly pulled it back.

"Oh daddy, whaddya want?" The blurry figure of an attractive blond, but slightly heavy-set young girl came into my view. He put his arm around her shoulder; his pride was unmistakable. "This is my daughter, Kelsie."

I nodded at her.

"Are ya havin' a good time?"

I wasn't sure if she meant Kathy and I or her dad, Birthday Boy.

He smiled at all of us,"What's more importan' than bein' with family and friends at my big 5-0?"

An older, heavier but less made-up version of the teen girl stepped into my view. Long blond hair and a friendly, wide smile caught my attention. She offered her hand, "So nice to meet you. I've seen your comments on Facebook. My daughter here actually sent out the invitations for the surprise party." She looked approvingly at Kelsie.

"So nice to meet you, Kathy." I didn't risk offering my hand. It was a casual outing, after all.

When they all left, I turned to my friend, "Okay, spill it!" I grinned at my pun, "Why did you tell him I spilled the drink?”

“I thought he might offer to buy me another one.” She made a face.

I rolled my eyes. What could I say? "It didn't work now, did it?"

"Nope," She laughed. "Be right back. I'm gonna get a Coke now. But don't go near it!" she joked.

"Don't worry. I don't think I could stand a repeat performance."

*****

The rest of the night passed by without incident-- if you don't include me knocking two pieces of cake out of Kathy's hand before leaving or drawing the attention of another former classmate with my cane. I'll just have to get used to these "happenstances." Is that the right word? It was noteworthy that I managed to go through the buffet line without dumping any chicken wings ... wasn't sure how I could carry a plateful of food and manage my cane at the same time! But slow and steady makes the grade...

Birthday Boy reveled in the attention of family, close friends and old acquaintances. He was kind, generous and very welcoming. I was so glad that I came to be part of this celebration! I think sometimes as in the case of old - let me change that to "former" classmates meeting up -- where there is no bond due to a lifetime of different experiences, the "lifetime ago" becomes that bond. It's kind of a neat feeling.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The ABC’s of the NBC Class

I've been looking at old photos of my students from the Defense Language Institute. I have had so many excellent students. Even now, thirteen years later, many names and if not their names, then faces come to mind. This class was one called "Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare." I taught them the English for this subject.


I surveyed the class. The Africans surveyed me back. In the back, two young guy dressed in camouflage fatigues sat side by side. Curiosity smiled from their eyes. Another, their compatriot, seated in the right corner of the room stared boldly--insolently--with a cocky grin daring me… what? to teach him? The three were Salvadorian soldiers. Really just young cadets. All eyes focused expectantly on me: the teacher.


For a moment, I quavered: could I supply the knowledge each craved? Suddenly I grinned back: “One great week ahead!” was what we understood by it. Communication without words.


That week the Salvadorians let me in on some adventures--missing the bus and getting stuck in downtown San Antonio overnight. Laughing, I commiserated.


Then, dreams. A favorite topic of mine. Valenzuela sneered, “Yeah, I had a dream last night--” He looked around the room to make sure he had everyone’s undivided attention.“Yeah, I dreamed my father was killed in the war.” His cocky grin returned, his expression smug.“Did you ever wake up from a dream such as that?”(Top that one, his expression challenged). “No,” I sighed, “and I hope you don’t again either.” Silence. How to reach across to soften life’s fears?


Trust. I could feel it growing. Precious minutes at the end of every class period.The Africans shared, mumbled, spoke, laughed and swapped hard field experiences with the Salvadorians who’d trained in swamps and ate uncooked field in the field to avoid being spotted by the enemy.


I saw them raise and lower their barriers in class discussions. I felt them open and close doors to their thoughts.Valenzuela—often the angry one--continued to stymie me. His leadership, when unchallenged, became an eager child. But if it denoted any dare, his insolent grin appeared, and he sounded tough, surly. Even his sitting position appeared different from his Salvadorian compatriots, who seemed gentle, almost innocent in their relaxed postures. He sat, hunched over, wary, alert. Distrustful even in this simple classroom situation. Instinctively, I could feel it was this very distrust that made him such an excellent officer. He was twenty-six, a Lieutenant, and full of bravado forced on him too soon by a war not of his choosing.


This class was studying the terminology of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare. I didn’t want to teach it, but I had to. At first, I taught it as if the words were isolated from their lives. But the pictures these officers imprinted on my mind during the free moments in our class
made me realize WAR is more than terminology taught.The words I teach and they must follow in their combat will mean SURVIVAL to them.


The task ahead suddenly seemed ominous. Frightening. I wanted to save them all from needing such training.These young frightened Salvadorians who’d lost fingers ... the Africans who’d been fighting for thirty years ... the Honduran who spoke of guerilleros. I suddenly hated my job then. It seemed insignificant and hypocritical to touch on terms so close to their lifestyles that they might come to life while we teachers remained in the security of the artificial environment of our classrooms, spouting more war-like words, affecting the lives of yet other students. In spite of my misgivings, the "One great week ahead" grin triumphed.


I wasn’t surprised that our friendship lasted beyond the NBC class. I was their friend, their cheerleader, their game leader... Familiarity with these words took away some of the sting. Valenzuela shouted “BINGO!” with great fanfare at long last.Those army students from around the world taught me to value my life and freedom. I gave them a chance to talk about what they’d experienced. Our friendship was special. No words were necessary. I felt it all.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Buck Steals into the Night

"Woof! Woof! Woof!”


Barking startled me out of my dreams and I shook my head to focus on the time at the clock beside me. 2:35 am
.


“Woof! Woof! Woof!”


I threw the layers of quilted warmth off me and dashed into the next room where Buddy had jumped up, his face pressed closely up against the glass.


"What are you barking at, Boy?"


“Woof! Woof! Woof!”


"Shshsh! Shuush! C’mon! We don’t want to wake up everyone, do we? What do ya see out there?"


As if seriously contemplating my question, Buddy paused.


I flipped on the light to the kitchen, then quickly switched it off. If anyone or any people were out there, I had just alerted them and they would now know that I was on to them.


“Woof! Woof! Grrrrr!” Buddy started up again. He sounded more menacing. His breath steamed up the window.


Out past the garden a movement caught my eye for the briefest of moments. Just there under the streetlight on the adjacent street. Two eyes? The feeling of being watched.


“Grrrrrrr! Woof! Woof! Grrr!”


A form leaped straight into the arc of light. There, silhouetted against a black sky stood an enormous deer – a magestic buck! He remained stationery, seeming to lock eyes with Buddy for a few moments, then in two bounds disappeared off into the darkness.

It felt somehow as if God had orchestrated that inspiring flash of splendor with me in mind.

Thank you, Lord! Let me always appreciate your love songs to me, morning or evening (or in the wee hours of the middle of the night)!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

“Ake-mashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”

Happiness in the Dawn of the New Year.

This year, to be different, let's talk about Japan's New Year!
There are lots of traditions, must-have decorations, witnessing the year's "firsts" , and a variety of auspicious foods that are eaten to celebrate this holiday. The country is veritably shut-down from the 1st - 3rd. The streets are eerily empty because everyone is inside with their families.

People prepare for the most important holiday in Japan around mid-December when they begin sending out traditional New Year’s postcards called Nengajyo. The whole of Japan participates in this, except if there is a death in the family, in which people are to send simple postcards explaining that they cannot send the traditional card due to the death of a loved one. It is considered disrespectful to the dead. These cards contain pre-printed formal phrases wishing happiness, early spring or simply happy New Year. Very much like our Christmas cards, these postcards traditionally arrive on January 1st. It’s a very cool custom, I think, as I love mail-and lots of it arrival at once is even better!

On the 31st of December homes are cleaned from top to bottom to Japanese homes, the old is swept out. Often times there are parties called

To be continued...

A Fresh Look at Winter

Happy New Year, everyone! (2010).

I wanted to share this story with you while I prepare to enjoy the new snowfall promised us over the first weekend of the new year and into the next week.

This is a piece I wrote about two years ago, in March when the season was getting ready to change. It reflects my first or second winter home after being in tropical climates for the past ten years. I was so worried about how I would adapt and yet, God opened my eyes to all its beauty. See the end of the season through Buddy and my eyes...
~~~~
A Fresh Look at Winter
Home never seemed like exotic foreign soil before. Then again, I never walked with my best friend through a wooded landscape in mid-winter experiencing every phase of snow that comes with it. It’s as if I’m experiencing everything for the first time -- the look and feel of the trees, the array of sounds emanating from the many branches, the beauty of the deer, the screech of the hawk and the feeling of serenity found within its borders. Wrapped in a warm parka, inner and outer scarves, gloves, a cap and boots, my Black Lab and I savor the rich culture we encounter each time we stroll through the stretch of land near my home. I feel exactly as if I’ve been detailed out to an unfamiliar yet beautiful country.

First of all, we’re in our own little world as we walk. Except for the driver of a single red car that passes us each morning on his route to work, we rarely encounter other people or wild creatures so we feel free to roam. I unleash Buddy and he leaps off the road, diving into snow banks, flying across fields, up hills and out of sight. I, too, feel liberated. I can even lie down and make snow angels! So often I taste the snowflakes tickling me. Light and airy, they trickle down from my eyes and cheeks numbing my face and making my nose run. A few minutes later, Buddy races over to me, his snout wet and frost-covered. Panting with delight, he tilts his face upward and swallows gigantic snowflakes. Who is there to see our abandon? The solitude and our exploration of the area leave us breathless.

Sometimes after a refreshing snowfall we come across deer markings. Buddy leans in close to catch their scent as I examine the height, width and shape of the marks. In deep snow, Buddy prefers to wade along the deer’s snow wake instead of venturing out on his own. As interlopers on their native territory, we acknowledge the local population without changing it.

Lately, I have begun to analyze the deer’s tracks. Other ‘natives’ may learn to read them from an early age but like any foreign language I must consciously study it and then go out and apply what I’ve learned. Some tracks are perfectly heart-shaped while others resemble delicate curvy quotation marks. I can now predict what direction the deer are moving and if they are traveling fast or slow by their markings. Just this morning I found tracks in my driveway. I like to think the deer are as curious about Buddy and me as we are about them.

As March comes to an end the edges of the large pond we pass begin to thin, although at midpoint the ice remains firm. Dirty slush heaps up in ugly mounds at the side of the road replacing the feathery-white snow we love to wander through. Some days thick sloppy mud sucks at the treads of my boots. Blue streaks peek through the perpetual gray skies, and the threat of bursting from our warm familiar cocoon looms over us. The sounds we’ve become most accustomed to – train whistles, bare branches moaning in the wind, snow crunching underfoot, the zoom of airplanes flying above, a woodpecker’s knock, and the hawk’s cry -- have served to tie us to my homeland. But it won’t be ours alone anymore. As the weather progressively improves, I know groups of fishermen, more vehicles, and chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons along with the white-tail deer will join us on our solitary path.

When spring arrives, Buddy will come alive barking at the many dogs he encounters as we change routes and the solitude fades. Winding the leash around my wrists I’ll have to drag him away from the source of his growling, woofing frenzy as I attempt to motivate him to go ‘my’ way. I must stand by on constant alert, ready to deal with moving vehicles, kids, adults, and wild creatures of all kinds.

Thinking of the remnants of snow caked on Buddy’s snout, the fresh deer tracks we’ve come to cherish, and the newly forged paths we initiate as a light curtain of white envelops us, I wish winter could continue forever. Like time standing still, I feel protected in the center of that glass sphere people pick up to shake and the soap flakes flutter all about. The unrealistic desire to stop time seems entirely plausible when I replay the pleasure we have on our winter walks.

God has led me to appreciate the unique sights and culture of a foreign country within my own backyard. Through His extraordinary binoculars, Buddy and I have seen new vistas up close. It’s as if we’ve danced under an exquisite sky of feathery white fine particles. The white-tail deer seem as exotic to us as the snowfall is common to you. As Buddy and I attempt to interpret the language of the deer and listen to the sounds of the hawk cry in the forest while a train whistles nearby and snow drips “Plop! Plop! Plop!” from spindly branches, we enjoy God’s world that much more.