I am a believer in surrounding myself with good, lovely things. Be it words and stories or people or even creation. It helps me to weather the storms of life and to see God in everything. Poetry has always been a tough sell for me, but I am coming around, slowly.
Enjoy this poem by Dana Gioia.
The world does not need words. It articulates itself in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted. The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being. The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.
And one word transforms it into something less or other— illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert. Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.
Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica. To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper— metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.
The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds, painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it. The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always— greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.
With a family of six to feed, clothe and keep healthy, we visit the local supermarket, natural food grocer or Wal-Mart about four times a week on average. These kids go through gallons of milk, bagels, bananas, and Nutella at a pace that has to be seen to be believed. I often go along with my wife to keep her company and give her moral support. In fact, we have had numerous date nights wandering the aisles. Unfortunately, these places are not well-designed for people with a visual impairment, although some do better than others.
One of my biggest issues is with the aisles themselves. Are they wide enough to get through without running into other shoppers or the items on the shelves? And if they are nice and wide, the stores will put random product displays that jut out into the aisle which I will inevitably clip with my hip, shoulder or basket, when she lets me push it. Knocking stuff off these displays is embarrassing and could lead to damaged products or a mess on the floor. The easy fix is to use the shelves and end caps and not encroach into the aisle but capitalism and marketing reign supreme. Finding the right aisle is also an issue. The signs above the aisle that provide a list of items in that particular row have gotten smaller and harder to read if they even have the signs at all.
Safely navigating a supermarket is an adventure all on its own. Crossing from one aisle to another is like being the frog in the classic videogame Frogger. Look left, then right, then left again and make a mad dash for it. Potential collisions with other shoppers and their carts lurk around every corner.
And then we have the single biggest issue with most every retail establishment. The lack of easily legible price tags and stickers. My pocket magnifier makes a regular appearance in my hand to read the prices, in order to be helpful to my shopping date. It is not terribly dignified to be looking through a magnifier while standing two inches away from the shelves.
This is not to even mention parking lots that are not very well lit and overly narrow check out aisles. I freely acknowledge that these issues are not unique to grocery stores. Clothes shopping is a nightmare best saved for another post. Fixing these issues or even providing improvements would help not only those with visual disabilities but also those who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters to make their way through the store. In the meantime, we will just continue to do our best. Keep an eye out for us because we may not see you first.
While shopping at our local natural food grocer, my wife spotted a jar of orange blossom honey. She knows that it is my very favorite kind, but it is awful hard to come by here in West Texas, for there are no orange trees to be found on the South Plains.
Upon seeing it, I began drifting back in time, all the way back to my years living in Southern California and my high school summer job working at Gibbs Apiary in Valley Center, CA. An apiary is a honey farm and many of the high school kids from our church youth group spent summers working there, either processing the honey from the bee boxes or working in the fields placing and collecting the bee boxes. At 16, I worked in the “honey house” working with the boxes to load them into machines to extract the honeycomb and honey. It was hot, sticky work and I got stung more than a few times. I was starting at the bottom, moving boxes, cleaning tanks and learning the ins and outs of the bee business. Along the way, I got to taste honey, all different types of honey. In case you didn’t know, honey tastes different depending on where the bees are doing their work. For example, avocado honey is quite dark in color and tastes very different than say, cotton honey as we have here in West Texas. But my favorite, by far is orange blossom honey. It is light in color and in taste with just a hint of citrus in the aftertaste. So perfect.
I did not love the job as it turns out, I am more of an “indoors” job kind of guy. But, I was following in my older brother Ben’s footsteps. By the time I worked there, he was already on his third summer and was now working out in the fields, wearing the bee suits and doing the “fun” stuff. I was proud to be doing what he had done and it gave us another thing to connect over. That was my one and only summer there but Ben continued on for a year or two longer. He took his love of bees and bee farming with him as he moved to Chicago. He set up bee boxes in and around his yard and made his own artisan honey, which he sent out as gifts for the holidays. I cherished those jars of honey and remembered.
After my brother passed away, nearly two years ago now, I went up to Chicago with our dad and helped begin the process of cleaning out his home. In doing so, we came across his bee suit and saw some of his bee boxes set up in the area. He had kept up with his passion for honey and working with bees up until the end, and that gives me joy. Ben always chased his passions, no matter what direction it would take him in. In that way, I’m still trying to follow in his footsteps. I miss him so very much but in seeing that jar of orange blossom honey, I felt connected to him again, and that felt good.
Oh, and you know I bought that jar and brought it home, and it tastes like that sweet summer memory.
Our kids are funny, creative and sometimes even a bit strange with the things that they talk about. Here is this week’s edition of Kid Blurbs, each of which was originally captured in a Field Notes Autumn Trilogy, the scarlet oak notebook.
The first three are all from Willow, our 6-year-old daughter.
We were discussing the different wing flavors offered by Pizza Hut, as we were about to place an order. Mom reads off the flavors, “Mild Buffalo, Medium, Garlic Parmesan, Smokey Sriracha…” At this, Willow interrupts and says “Smokey Sriracha was my middle name in High School.”
While riding in the backseat on the way to church, Willow pipes up and says My nostrils look like an alien.” The picture below offered as photo evidence that she isn’t wrong.
After eating lunch with my dad, PawPaw to the kids, Willow asked to ride back home with him. PawPaw later tells us that after pulling away from the restaurant, she asked him to put the radio on MIX 100.3 and began singing along with the songs. Backseat DJ here. Interspersed with the music, she peppers him with all manner of questions. He apparently is not acknowledging all of her questions so she then asks, “PawPaw, are you deaf?”
This last one is courtesy of Peanut (15-year-old daughter) as she is just about to dig into her Mexican Spud from a local place called Something Different. She looked at me and with a deep, sultry sounding voice says “Bro, look at my Mexican stud.” She immediately busts out laughing, realizing that she had misspoken, at least I think she did.
I often come across things in the day that catches me a little off guard, that surprise me or just make me think or laugh. These “inklings” posts will be where I put some of those as a way to remember for myself and to share with others.
I recently listened to a podcast episode about sounds in nature that really struck me as fun and unusual. The podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, which is all about sound, did an episode entitled Sonic Wonderland. This particular episode looked at unusual sounds in nature and it is just awe-inspiring to hear so many nature sounds that I have never encountered before. The episode features an interview with acoustician and author, Trevor Cox, who wrote a book called Sonic Wonderland. Audio that Mr. Cox has recorded from all over the world is played in this episode and all of it is just wild to hear. My favorite is the sound from the Kelso Dune Field in the Mojave Desert. It is this reverberating sound caused by the wind and the shifting sand and it is hard to believe that it even exists.
The video below provides another example of this amazing sound and also includes detail about what causes it.
I highly recommend that you listen to this particular episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz, and while you are there, check out some of the other episodes as well. I have learned a lot about all manner of sounds, including the Wilhelm Scream found in many Hollywood blockbusters. Once you hear about it, you will find the Wilhelm in many of your favorite movies.
The movie theater. An ideal place to experience the latest big-budget action spectacular with eardrum-shattering sound and visuals to make you gasp. An ideal place unless you are visually impaired that is. For people like me, a movie theater is a study in frustration. They are dimly lit, densely packed rooms with unevenly spaced stairs that seem perfectly designed to cause me to stumble into an unsuspecting stranger’s lap, spilling popcorn and nacho cheese everywhere. Not an ideal situation for me or that poor stranger. So let’s talk about it.
Let me begin by saying that I love movies. From my first movie theater memory watching Star Wars: A New Hope, with my parents in 1977 to now, I adore them. Unfortunately, I can no longer go to the theater and enjoy them like I used to. The actual experience of watching the movie is still wonderful as I can still see well enough to enjoy them and the popcorn, well, you can’t get that perfect popcorn at home. But, because of all the issues that I have with the theater itself, I find that I would much rather just catch the movie once it hits the Redbox or a streaming service.
Starting at the top from the moment I walk in the door. The first thing I notice is the lighting, oh man, that terrible lighting. The lights are intentionally dim, turned down to give that “ambiance” that people associate with a theater. Even the carpets, walls and decor are darker in color which absorb light. Walking down the halls to get to the actual theater is more dimly lit, dark walls and carpets. In order to navigate them safely, I literally trail my hand along the wall or hold the elbow of my movie date. This is not ideal nor particularly dignified but it is what it is.
Upon entering the theater itself, I am presented with the aforementioned challenges of dim lighting and dark carpets and walls and then add in the stairs. Oh boy. I never know what to expect with the stairs. I imagine that I am not the only person that counts stairs in order to navigate them more safely. For example, I might count four regular size stairs before getting to a wide stair which would mark the entrance to a row. But, most theaters don’t seem to follow a pattern. Maybe you start by climbing ten normal stairs before coming to the wide stair and then, out of nowhere, two or six or whatever random number of stairs come before the next wide one. I find myself desperately clutching the railing and/or the waistband of my wife’s pants to avoid faceplanting on the way to my seat. Once we reach our row, then we have to make our way to our assigned seat which if I’m being honest, I have never seen the actual numbers that mark the seats. Not a single time. I’m just trusting that my rear end lands in the right seat once I’m told to turn around and sit.
Now, let’s order some food since we might be at one of those awesome theaters that has a full menu of food options. Yeah right, as if I can see the order card to fill out without turning on the flashlight on my phone. And since I don’t want to be escorted out of the theater by an angry manager, I just whisper what I want to whomever I am with and have them do it for me. Just another way that I have to be dependent on someone else which is lame but hey, it is what it is, right?
Finally, we get to the movie and the whole reason why I came in for first place. Oh no, nature calls and now I have to figure out how to handle that with all the above challenges. Navigate the row, find my way safely and slowly down the stairs, find the exit, navigate the hallway and find the restroom only to encounter, you guessed it, a dimly lit room. Can we just turn on some lights already? Inevitably, the worst lit bathroom I have ever found is at movie theaters. Why? Why do we need ambiance in the restroom? I have, quite often, walked into one and just stood there, trying to let my eyes adjust, in order to find my way to stall or urinal. So very not ideal. Then it’s time wash my hands, feel the walls to find the soap dispenser because heaven forbid it be easy to spot in semi-darkness and then to find the hand dryers or towels. Ugh.
Now, I make my way back to the hallway and do it all over again to get back to my seat. Only, I can’t find my seat because I did not remember to count the exact number of stairs on my way down so I just stand there, hoping my wife will come to get me and help me back to my seat. Again, not ideal and now my dignity is completely disintegrated.
Next time, I think I will just stay home and watch that Avengers movie on my big screen TV and eat popcorn in my recliner.
At this point, I have fully embraced my stationery addiction. I manage the addiction fairly well. I have yet to reach the point where I have so many pencils, pens and paper stationery products that I couldn’t possibly use them all in my lifetime. At least I keep telling myself that I’m managing it well. In the stationery addict world that I am definitely not a member of, the word for having far too much stationery is SABLE. SABLE is an acronym for Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy. I have yet to reach SABLE level, but I definitely have a decent amount.
But, there is still room for more and to that end, I present the Sketchnote Ideabook. This is a product that is currently on Kickstarter with about three weeks to go in its funding campaign. The product was developed by noted sketchnote expert and author Mike Rohde, in collaboration with Airship Notebooks. Sketchnoting is a style of note-taking that utilizes a more creative method of taking notes in order to improve information retention and to make the process more fun and interesting.
These notebooks are lovely to look at and feature heavy, high-quality paper which should be suitable for just about any pen or pencil. The project fully funded within just a few hours, We ordered a six-pack of the books to share with my art-loving daughter and fellow stationery addict father. We are all looking forward to getting them once they ship sometime in October and I will follow up with a review. I recommend you take advantage of the Kickstarter while the prices are still well below the future expected retail price of $25.
I often find myself thinking about how things used to be. How they used to be before the advent of the Internet, social networks, and instant access to just about anything. This way of thinking lies behind the existence of this blog and many of the things that interest me. And one thought that I have been pondering recently is the idea of book discovery and how it has changed since my early years of loving books.
Thinking back to those “olden days” of my tweens and early teen years, I have so many fond memories of time spent looking at books. Whether I was at one of the local libraries or more often, at one of our mall bookstores, I loved to look at the books. I would pull them from the shelves and admire the covers and anxiously read the blurbs and descriptions on the back or inside the flap on the hardcovers. I was always on the hunt for my next read, for that next great fantasy or science fiction story that would sweep me away.
During this time, the mid-1980s, there was no Internet, there was no Goodreads or Reddit. Pretty much all I had to go on to choose my next story were the books themselves. Occasionally a friend might recommend something but that was rare, as I was a bit of a loner in my love of books. I distinctly remember discovering the Xanth series by Piers Anthony in a library, because they sounded so whimsical and fun. I discovered the sword and sorcery of David Eddings’ Belgariad on those same shelves. Perhaps my favorite series of all time, the Dragonlance Chronicles, was first stumbled upon at a Waldenbooks in the Gainesville, FL mall because they had beautifully illustrated dragons on the covers. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. The list goes on and on.
Flash forward thirty years and the way I discover new books has fundamentally changed, and not necessarily for the better. Now I have access to more book recommendation engines than I know what to do with. Amazon and Goodreads use complex algorithms to suggest books based on my history. Reddit has some fantastic book subreddits like the r/fantasy, where kind people will suggest what might be your next great read. But what I have noticed is that these things are making the process less enjoyable somehow, less serendipitous. I have become so consumed with “Will I love this?” rather than just taking a chance and giving it a go based on the fantastic cover or a well-written blurb. The fact is, my success rate with enjoying books has actually gotten worse while utilizing all these seemingly great resources. I have abandoned more “recommended” books in the last ten years because I just didn’t like them than I have in my entire life up to that point. I wonder why that is?
I want to take more chances. I want to teach my kids to do the same as they read and hopefully fall in love with reading. Just wander around, pull them off the shelf, look for a cover that triggers something and maybe, take a chance.
Eating out is almost always a great time… unless you are blind like me. Okay, so that might have been a bit of a “shock” opening line but, unfortunately, it is true for me. Like most people, I love eating good food with family and friends. I especially love it if I don’t have to help clean up the dishes afterward. This is where the restaurant comes in, those nearly ubiquitous dining establishments that can be spotted on just about any street corner in our town. However, I have begun to notice that I don’t enjoy eating out as often as I used to as my sight deteriorates. There are a number of reasons why and none of them have anything to do with the quality of the buffalo wings.
The first thing is the seating, especially when we are talking about a non-fast food, sit down and order joint. Navigating the maze of tables and chairs, that to me seem like they are scattered haphazardly, is nearly impossible without help from my wife and kids. I get it. These places need to maximize their seating to get in as many customers as possible to maximize food sales and I don’t begrudge them that. But, you combine the table and chair arrangement with the dim, mood lighting that most places seem to love and I’m definitely running into a chair or three.
Secondly, is the process of selecting and ordering food. In a fast-food spot, reading the menu boards hanging behind the counter is nearly always a no go for me. The font is entirely too small and I often wonder why considering how much white space I can clearly see. Isn’t the point of these things is to help you choose what to eat? Then I have to either rely on my memory of what I enjoyed the last time we came here or I have to lean over to my lady and ask for help. Not ideal and it definitely does not inspire a feeling of independence. There have been a few places that have self-ordering kiosks, that I’ve been able to use for checking out what they offer, and that has been nice and somewhat liberating. More of those types of screens please, where I can actually walk right up to them and see what’s what.
In a sit-down restaurant, ordering from a laminated menu offers its own challenges. As mentioned earlier, the lighting is usually dim which by its very nature, makes reading difficult. And similar to the menu boards, the fonts are usually small and there is clearly a real emphasis on making it look cool rather than making it easy to read. In these cases, I can pull out my pocket magnifier, if the lighting is decent, and make my selections. But in poor light, I once again have to ask for help. (Are you picking up on a pattern here?)
My final reason for falling out of love with eating out so often has been touched on already. It is that I simply don’t feel like I could eat out on my own, independently, without assistance, and that is not great. I don’t feel safe navigating the dining areas and often even need help to find the restrooms unless I have been there a few times. Certainly not the most dignified thing for a man in his mid-forties.
So, I add all those reasons together and I just don’t have the level of enjoyment eating out as I did when I had more sight. However, I do still enjoy the wings.
What a fascinating thing the tactile language of braille is. It utilizes a set of raised dots in a grid to represent each letter of the alphabet, plus numbers and punctuation. There is even a more advanced version called contracted braille that combines common letter groupings to make reading more efficient. It is hard to imagine that dots could convey all of that information through the touch of a finger, but it does.
What is almost as fascinating as the language itself is the history behind it. The story of how the written word has been translated into a language for the blind is a long and wandering one. One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, recently had an episode entitled The Universal Page. This episode provided a great overview of this history, along with looking at current trends and needs in this space. I highly recommend giving it a listen and reading the post that accompanies it. Notable to me was the emphasis placed on the need for involving individuals with visual disabilities in the development of new tools and methods. Who better to involve in the process than those who need it most?
I myself have always been hesitant to learn braille. I have even had some opportunities to take classes several years ago but I declined. At the time it just didn’t seem necessary considering all the digital tools and audio options that were out there. However, if I am being completely honest, it was more a matter of pride that was really motivating my hesitation. Deep down, by learning braille I felt like it would be an admission of need and I was not yet ready to do that.
Lately I have begun to feel my perspective shifting. My recent blog posts are evidence of that shift along with a realization that my blindness is an integral part of what makes me unique. It does not define me but it is a massive factor in how I live life. To fight this is to fight myself and that really makes no sense. I began to look into options for learning braille and came across Hadley via the American Foundation for the Blind website. Hadley offers braille training through correspondence courses, free of charge, along with a variety of other resources. After doing some reading on the site, I registered and received confirmation that I will begin in a few weeks.
I am excited to take this step. The time just feels right.