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I’m not a Grumpy Old Man!

The last thing I want to do is sound like that grumpy old man sitting on his porch yelling at the neighbor kids to get the hell out of his front yard!  I am not against technology, yes here’s the but, it seems like the more dependent we are on it, the less problem-solving that we have to do, not only as blind people, but as a whole.

I was a little late getting to the game when it came to technology, I just purchased my first iPhone a couple of years ago, and I have to be honest, I love it! There is a scene in the video where a man is sniffing a carton of milk, questioning whether it is still good or not, thank God for this app, he was able to get the answer from a perfectly good set of eyes on the other end of his phone. Growing up I have smelt bad milk on a few occasions, and when I questioned whether the milk was good or not I would simply take a little nip off it, you will find out real quick whether the milk is rotten or not, and no one is going to die!

Now I am not opposed to using somebody for their eyes, I have done it many times, if I went to Macy’s to purchase a new shirt, I will ask for a shopping assistant to help me find the right size.  I do this for a couple of reasons, one I am assured that I will get the product I want, and another reason is I can open a good dialogue with the person on a few different topics. I guess maybe I am just old-fashioned, but to me it feels more efficient, using the set of eyes that knows the store, and may possibly know where the sales rack is as well, bonus! With my luck, I would use the app and get some guy that was stoned out of his gourd to help me with sizes, awesome!

To me the advertisement had a negative theme to it, it felt like the only way I could figure these things out is by having a sighted person swoop in and rescue me from the situation. I think I will wait a couple of years just to see how this one pans out. I would love to hear anyone else’s feedback on this.

Just Jump!

I was at the beach earlier today, it was about 72° outside, and the water in the ocean right now is around 60 to 62°. I recently started taking ice cold showers in the morning, just turning the water on cold, not warm but cold. The first one I took was awful, I jumped in let the water hit my forearms, then my biceps, splashed a little on my face, and got the hell out of there. When I go down to the beach, very few people are actually getting into the ocean, and all of the surfers I have seen are wearing wetsuits, I just jump right on in from taking the showers the water in the ocean actually feels warm at 60°.

This reminded me of a winter a few years ago back in Minneapolis, I had a student in my class from Georgia at the time, and this particular winter was very nasty. We almost broke a season snowfall total that year, and it never melted in between snowfalls, so the snow really built up by the end of the season. Every year around Minneapolis on many of the lakes they do polar plunge, And I had done it before and was looking forward to it. My student had never seen so much snow in her life, and walking around the city was at times a fun experience for her, trudging and trampling through the deep snow, crossing streets, and just making your way from the training center to the apartments back at night.

So the polar plunge is very simple, they chop a big hole in the ice, pull the blocks of ice out and you were left with and icy cold bath to jump into. The water is roughly 5 feet deep, so you jump in, then walk straight ahead about 20 feet and you will be out of the water, this is where you can either head back into the warming room, or jump into a hot tub. The hot tub is fine early in the morning, but after a few people have been in and out of it it becomes rather nasty, I tend to avoid the hot tub’s. I had convinced a couple of students to join me this year, the staff members that did it with me the previous year chickened out, so I was recruiting people, and I convinced the lady from Georgia to join us. I arrived at the lake about half an hour before the students, my phone rang and it was today, she said she did not want to come, but I talked her back into it. About an hour later we were all together, we signed up, and we’re now heading into the changing rooms to put on our swim trunks, and our old pair of shoes, and then we were off to the waiting area to jump in.

The worst part of the whole thing is waiting in line to jump in, you are standing on ice and this is why you need shoes on so your feet do not freeze, but you are standing there in a swimsuit, no coat or hat so this is the worst part, sometimes you can wait for up to 10 minutes. We are all standing there waiting, the line is moving pretty quick at this point because we are now towards the end of the jumpers, we finally arrive at the launch point. There is a total of four of us, and we all stand in a line right next to each other, there is a countdown starting from three and once they hit one they yelled jump!! We simultaneously jump into the water, and the feeling of 32° water hitting your body is unexplainable, it literally takes your breath away, you emerge from the icy bath and have no air in your lungs to even scream.

Three of us make our way towards the shore, I looked to my right, was my other student? She was right behind me, and now she had turned herself around and was making her way back into the deeper water, the water was up to her chest again, and I heard her frantically starting to scream. I stood there for about two seconds, and the voice in my head said leave her, she’ll find her way out, that water is too damn cold to go back into. I of course did not leave her, I trudged back into the icy water, grabbed her hand and we walk together out of the icy bath. After all of that, she remarked that she enjoyed the experience, and might consider doing it again.

There is nothing like the polar plunge around here, 62° does not compare to 32, and all of those ice showers I take, not even close! Now go raise some cane! And for all of my friends in the Midwest, I hope you jumped in a lake this year.

Are you a Country or City Traveler?

It was probably within my first three years of teaching, that I had a student in class from the country.  She told me she was from the country, she was in her late 50’s and new to blindness, and she had never been in a big city before. Every student brings a challenge into the classroom, some are scared of stairs, some do not like crossing streets, and some may have other physical disabilities, but this was one of my first geographic challenges.

Now many people know that I was raised on a farm in Iowa, and went to high school in a very small town, I really had never experienced a large city before moving to Minneapolis to get training for my blindness. I was a bit nervous as well, everything of course was bigger, more traffic, more people, and a lot of noise. The cool thing about where I worked was that we put the students up in an apartment building; which was a short bus right away, this allowed students to travel to and from the training center each day on a bus, exposing them to real life situations. This was both exciting and a bit scary for me. I had always walked everywhere I needed to go, but being in a bigger city it took a lot longer to walk to places, so I got really good at riding buses really quick.

Now when this lady, we’ll call her Jane, came into my classroom and said she was from the country, I drew back on my experience. Like I said Jane was in her late 50’s, she really had no desire to get back into the workforce, and she just wanted some basic cane skill techniques to get her around her environment. Jane and I would spend quite a bit of time in my office having deep discussions about traveling in the city. I shared with her my experiences, but she would always respond, “I’m from the country and I’m in my late 50s I don’t need to know how to travel in the city”. “No Jane”, I explained, “Being from the country was staying at the student apartments a short bus ride away”; this meant that we needed to work on the bus route to and from the training center.

Well we worked on getting from school to the student apartments a number of times in travel class, and in Minneapolis the buses can be fairly entertaining at times. You can run into a lot of characters on the bus! Jane was not too fond of characters and each time we would ride the bus she would be petrified, literally clinging to my arm. The straw that broke the camels back as far as bus goes was the day we witnessed a fight between two guys. The fight was verbal, and before it could get physical the bus driver kicked both of the guys off, but this still scared Jane.

About a week later we were traveling down busy Nicollet Avenue, on the sidewalk about ten feet in front of us a drunk man proceeded to vomit all over the sidewalk, that was at! That happened on a Wednesday, and by Friday Jane was on her way back to the country. I thought about Jane for quite a while after she had left, and maybe she was right, maybe everyone isn’t cut out for big city travel. Each person has their limits, but a person will not now until they our pushed outside their comfort zones. It is important to not fear the other side, but get first hand experience to really make the decision if you are a city or country traveler.

I Care Enough

When I first started teaching about 13 years ago, I recall one of the most difficult things I had to allow people to do is to be independent. When I first started teaching I was the father of a 10-year-old son. I can remember raising him as a baby, and I especially remember when he was first learning to walk. When babies are first learning to walk, they tend to wobble and eventually fall forward or on their butts, as a parent it was important to allow this to happen. It would always make me nervous as he approached a coffee table, or something that he could potentially he hit himself on. Now there was this one particular time he was stumbling towards the TV stand, he reached out with both hands to grab onto it but lost his balance and fell forward. He ended up with a nice little shiner. Walking turned into running, running turned into learning to ride a bike, and during this whole process he was jumping off of everything in sight. He did acquire a number of bumps and bruises, scrapes and scratches, but he survived and was stronger for it.

So now let’s fast-forward a few years to when I first started teaching orientation and mobility. I never thought about how I was as a parent that never even crossed my mind as a teacher. I can remember walking down the sidewalk with my first student ever, he had on a pair of sleep shades; and was doing a pretty good job staying straight down the sidewalk. We turned the corner and made our way down the next street. This particular street was a little busier and had a lot more clutter on it; he started walking straight towards a sign. Now my initial instinct was to grab his shoulder and say “Whoa stop buddy, there is a sign in front of you”! I of course did not do this and I allowed him to run into the sign face first. This dude was pissed off, he said you told me travel could be safe for blind people, and I ran into this damn signed, you should’ve stopped me. I was new at teaching, and I was not sure how to respond to him. Maybe he was right, after all that’s how people treated me, they would tell me when there was a curb up ahead, when it was OK to cross, or that there was an object in front of me. I have always been a bit of a smart ass, so I replied, “Walk it off”!

After a couple of years of teaching I became more comfortable with my teaching style. I also had been thinking a lot of all my encounters with the student so far and how to better interact with them. No I’m not saying that a little humor doesn’t go a long way, it definitely does, and it helps relax the student if they are able to laugh at the situation. I thought back to when my son was learning to walk and the struggles he went through, how I allowed him to fall down and then pick himself back up. It struck me as very similar situation to my students, almost as if they were learning to walk for the first time. By becoming independent, falling down both figuratively and literally at times, acquiring bruises, scrapes, scratches, but then coming out on the other side a hell of a lot stronger for it.

Of course, I would always make it safe enough to the point where my student’s life was not in danger. However, anytime a student asked me “Why” I would let them step off a curb, or run face first into a sign, I would reply, “Because I care enough to allow you to run into that sign”. This would still puzzle many students, but it did open the door for some good dialogue, and brought a new approach to travel. Man, I always love those moments so much, those teaching moments, that would occur so often! Go Raize some Cane, and remember I care!

 

A Christmas Story

When did you realize that there was no such thing as Santa? I grew up in a family where Christmas was magical, and the thought of Santa was very real, that was encouraged and fostered by my mother. Each year my brother and I would send letters to Santa I can remember this from about six or seven years of age on.

I grew up a Miami Dolphins fan and I’m still a diehard fan, I long for the day when I will witness a Super Bowl victory. Dan Marino was drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins back in 1983, he was the 27th overall pick. Dan Marino did not play until game six of that season, he lost to the Jets, the damn Jets! Marino took the Dolphins to a 12 win season and ended up losing in the playoffs to the Seattle Seahawks. I can remember going to the department store in Mason City, Iowa about one month before Christmas, and looking through the toy section. I noticed a Dan Marino football! The football was huge in my hands, and it had his signature in dark black letters, it was cursive as if he signed it himself with a sharpie. Man I wanted that football!

This was the last year that I would have mom send a letter to Santa, I firmly believed the magic was over and he did not exist. In this letter I expressed how I thought Marino would win 10 Super bowls, and I expressed all I wanted was his signed football, nothing else. My brother and I gave our mother the letters and she said she was going to mail them, just like she always had. We grew up poor, so my brother and I never asked for a whole lot, what we did ask for, we usually received.

Oh yes, the last few weeks of school, man they were exciting, and boy did they ever drag by so slow. I remember all the crafts in school, cut outs of Santa, putting glue where his beard was, and then smothering the glued area with cotton balls. There was also a small gift exchange with other students, I remember the spending limit was one dollar, what a fun time as a kid. I remember how cold it was this winter as well, and it seemed we got a lot of snow on top of it. I can remember having a few snow days, which added to the excitement of Christmas.

Man it was finally here, Christmas Eve the single longest day of the year, no doubt about it. Josh and I would stay up most of the night talking, we were both so excited, and we would occasionally be brave enough to head downstairs to try to sneak a peek at the tree only to get yelled at by our mom to get back upstairs. “But mom we need to use the bathroom”! we would cry. “No you don’t you just used it, now back upstairs” mom would retort. The night dragged on, but finally the sun was starting to come up, we are both ran downstairs and sat by the Christmas tree. We would both shuffle through all the presents and find the ones with our names on them putting them in a small pile in front of us. I found one in the shape of a football, I had never been so excited in my young life. After mom would make coffee we were given the green-light to open our presents, she used a percolator, it seemed to take three hours. We started opening our presents, and I saved the football shaped one for the end. I vaguely remember opening a blue sweater, a pair of shoes, and a box of chocolate covered cherries…time for the football.

I opened the package, and then rotated it in my hand to see the Dan Marino signature, my heart was racing! I rotated it around and saw Dan, the last name Fouts, what the hell! Dan Fouts was the quarterback for the San Diego Chargers. I was so crushed! This is when I realized that my mother, the one who knows nothing about football, must’ve picked this one out. I remember taking the inferior Dan Fouts football outside and kicking it around, it was cold as hell out and I remember my wet hair freezing. I noticed the football going flat, probably because of the cold air, when I brought it back in it never went back to its original shape, the damn thing never held air after that, I knew that the Dan Marino football would have never lost a air.

Just a little holiday story I wanted to share with you all, Merry Christmas.

-Zach

You’re Not Qualified

Sitting outside with my Chihuahua, less than a week until Christmas, and it is 80° outside. This is exactly where I wanted to be last year at this time, yes of course I was nervous about moving from Minneapolis to a small town in Florida, but the thought of living on the beach made my decision a lot easier. I knew it would be a challenge reestablishing myself career wise, but I felt that it would be all good after a couple of months, that was opposite of what actually happened The more I poked around, and look for open positions in my field, the more nervous I got.

I started noticing that they do not hire blind people to teach orientation and mobility, the certification I have is different than the one necessary to teach here. I have been teaching for nearly 13 years and over that time I have had hundreds of students, and many of the students came from other states to attend the school in Minneapolis. I have heard stories about how crummy services are in other states for blind people, firsthand from people that had lived in these other states, and a couple of students mentioned the services in Florida. No I don’t want to sit here and bash Florida, but when it comes to services for blind people they need a lot of work. I have plied for, and talked to several training centers throughout the state, and each one has told me they don’t hire people with my certification, certification they use is limited to cited instructors, And many positions require a drivers license. I even had a couple of people tell me sarcastically, good luck with that, which just added to my frustration!

I have spent a lifetime dealing with negative attitude about blindness, and many years of my life I myself had a negative view of my potential, I even started to notice over the last few months that negative vibe about my blindness creeping back in. My blindness is always there, it’s not going away, and how big a part of my life it is depends on my attitude, there are times where I won’t think about it at all, and then there is the last couple of months where it is on my mind nearly every day. I find myself getting angry about it, and this leads to frustration, these are feelings I haven’t felt in many many years, and I am done with them.

It looks like I will be heading out of Florida for a while, maybe a few years, and that pisses me off, I will be away from my beautiful wife, and my cute Chihuahua. I knew moving to Florida would be a challenge, but I did not realize it would be of this magnitude. I feel bad for the blind people living here now, receiving the type of training that they are, or should I say lack of training. Every blind person deserves great draining, people that are passionate about what they do, people that believe in the potential of blind people! Not only good training but also positive mentors, I believe I possess these qualities, and I believe firmly in my abilities to teach and work with blind people, this is definitely my passion and purpose in life.

Well it is not the end of the world, I hopefully will be working with blind people very soon, making a difference, and living out my dreams as a blind teacher. I will definitely keep everyone updated on my whereabouts, and someday I will be back at the beach. My wife is my rock, we will get through this, I have no doubt, my Chihuahua well he’s not as tough as my wife but we’ll get through this as well. I need to stay positive, and focused, and go out and raise some cane!

Stop, Drop and Roll

Drop, stop, and roll! Falling down sucks, not only could you get hurt but if done in public it can be embarrassing. The first day I would work with a student I would always ask them what some of their fears of traveling were, and many times it was falling downstairs, or off a curb or latch.

So one of the first skills I would show a new student would be sending a large staircase. Holding the cane with a light touches the most important thing for starters, having your cane extended out in front of you is the other, if used properly together you will easily locate drops in your environment.

This is also why I encourage using a longer cane, ideally one that comes up to your nose, the longer the cane the more warning time you will have when you’re can locate a drop, usually two or three good steps in front of you.

Once you feel your cane drop in front of you, this is where you stop, now you can assess what it is in front of you. If it is a set of stairs your cane will continue to drop in front of you, if it is a curb there will only be the one drop.

Once you have assessed what it is exactly you are about to send then you can keep rolling, go forward! This was always a fun drill I would do with students, I called it drop, stop, and roll! Just like any other skill it needs to be practice over and over to the point where it is muscle memory

Now I would love to hear from you.

Have you ever had an experience with going down a large staircase? Did it feel never-ending? What techniques did you use to not fear your journey down?

Let us know in the comments below.

Remember, share as much detail as possible in your reply.

Many incredible souls come here each week for insight and inspiration and your story may help someone else.

Important: share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments. Links to other posts, videos, etc. will be deleted as they come across as spammy.

Thank you, as always, for watching, sharing and allowing me to be a part of your week.

What’s Your Most Challenging Travel Environment?

What is the most challenging environment that you have had to traveling?  I’ve been thinking about this, and I would honestly have to say it is on one of those cold 20 below zero, windy, snowy, mornings back in Minneapolis.  I’m not sure if it was the walking, or the waiting for the bus?

I think standing around and waiting in this type of weather is absolutely horrible, I did it for so many years, what I do it again?  Hell yeah!  As miserable as this environment is, I can definitely say it builds character.

First of all do you have to put on several layers of clothes before you can even attempt to go outside, long underwear two pairs of socks, three shirts, heavy coat heavy boots, and a heavy hat, only to be topped off with heavy gloves.  After putting all these layers on, it is time to head outside, don’t forget your cane.  Hopefully the people that live in your neighborhood have shovel their sidewalks, it is challenging to distinguish sidewalk from street after a fresh snowfall.

Most basic cane skills go out the window, standard grip, pencil grip you basically use what you can to make your way down the sidewalk sometimes poking at the snow to detect what’s underneath as if you were using a long spear to catch a Fish!   At last you made it to the bus stop now only a 10 or 15 minute wait Intel the bus shows up, after about three minutes you start noticing the cold.  Hang in there toes, hang in there fingers, hang in there knows maybe five more minutes wait.  All of a sudden the bus is in front of you, it was hard to hear it coming because the tires are muffled traveling on the new bed of snow.  The door opens and you hear the friendly familiar sound of number six downtown.  Only 15 minute ride, by the time you warm up you will have to get back off, and wait for your transfer bus!  Hey what’s that inside my boots? I think I might feel my toes?  Shit! My stop, got to get off.  As you wait for your transfer bus do you think to yourself, oh this ain’t so bad, Only four more months of this.

As I sit here and write this a couple of days before Halloween, it is 82° outside, do I miss the impending doom of winter? Actually a small piece of me dies.  To all my friends back in the cold states, hang in there spring is coming!

Now I would love to hear from you.

What was your most challenging travel environment? What made it so difficult? What made it your technique stronger?

Let us know in the comments below.

Remember, share as much detail as possible in your reply.

Many incredible souls come here each week for insight and inspiration and your story may help someone else.

Important: share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments. Links to other posts, videos, etc. will be deleted as they come across as spammy.

Get It Straight

When I first start working with a new student I will ask them what they think is one of their biggest challenges when traveling? Many times the student will tell me that they are unable to walk a straight line, so I like to make travel as fun as possible while learning, so we will head out and do a drill called the tight rope.

The tight rope is done in an area where you will have a long stretch of sidewalk, on both sides you will have a grass line, and the stretch of sidewalk will not have any parking lot entrances, or driveways, just grass. The idea is to walk down the center of the sidewalk as best as possible, when tapping your cane to the left or the right you will not hit grass. Most people will naturally veer to the left or the right especially when first learning how to use a cane, so when you find grass on either side you want to position yourself back on that tight rope and keep moving forward. After a few moments you want to increase your speed just a little bit, sometimes this can be scary for a new student, but walking just a little faster will help you walk a straighter line.

When you reach the corner you can turn around and do it all over again, I would typically do this with students for a couple of hours if necessary, and if more time is needed we could definitely do more, perfect practice makes perfect. This is one of those skills that needs to be fine-tuned and honed, it is a very important skill, because if you have a difficult time walking a straight line down a sidewalk that is narrow, you will definitely have a difficult time walking down a sidewalk in a downtown setting where the sidewalks are three or four times as wide. Practicing this skill will also make you more efficient and smooth.

Learn the Tight Rope Technique with Zach by clicking on the photo above!

Now I would love to hear from you.

Have you ever had an experience where you were left solo on the sidewalk and felt ungrounded? How did you deal with it? What got you through to re-establish you whereabouts?

Let us know in the comments below.

Remember, share as much detail as possible in your reply.

Many incredible souls come here each week for insight and inspiration and your story may help someone else.

Important: share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments. Links to other posts, videos, etc. will be deleted as they come across as spammy.

Thank you, as always, for watching, sharing and allowing me to be a part of your week.

The New Chapter…Transition

We have officially been in our new apartment at new Smyrna Beach now for two weeks, our furniture came last week, and we have arranged most of it so our place feels more like home now.

It has definitely been an adjustment period, we both miss Minneapolis and everything it has to offer, especially coffee shops, specialty groceries and restaurants. I found a new gym about two blocks from our new place, it works out perfectly, it’s actually a really nice gym. When I first walked in the lady behind the counter was not quite sure how to react to a blind person walking in with a cane. I told her I was new to the area and was interested in a membership, and she was very helpful in helping me fill out the essential paperwork. She then gave me a tour of the place and it is huge, they have a big room for ellipticals  and treadmills. There is a smaller room where you can stretch and jump rope do some pull-ups, mostly bodyweight stuff, then there is the extremely large weight room. The weight room is actually a little funny, it feels like I stepped into a gym back in 1989. Most of the weights are old iron weights, a lot of extremely heavy dumbbells, and a lot of guys lifting weights that also looked like they stepped out of a late 80s early 90s. I have talked to a couple of them, but most are very serious and strut around like they don’t want to be bothered. I noticed a comical poster on the wall with a picture of a dumbbell on it, it’s sad this weight will not lift itself.. Back in my 20s and early 30s I was interested in lifting heavyweights with no cardio or bodyweight stuff, but now I’ve learned that those types of workouts do me no benefit, I spend most of my time doing pull ups, push-ups, and a lot of jumping rope.

I have also been walking around exploring my neighborhood, and for the most part it is a pretty quiet little town, not a whole lot of traffic, so this makes crossing streets extremely easy. One of the biggest adjustments as public transportation, I just can’t step on my front door walk a couple blocks and catch a bus. I have been walking most places that I go to, this is OK because the weather is beautiful. I am still pursuing getting set up with state services here in Florida so I can continue with my teaching, this is the thing I missed the most, it has been almost a month since I have work with the student and I really miss it. I remain positive, and it won’t be long before I’ll be back into it.

Caper the Chihuahua absolutely loves going for walks here, there are a ton of little lizards to scoot across the sidewalk in front of him, and he has a fun time trying to catch them, he has so far been unsuccessful. But he definitely keeps on trying. Sundays have been rather nice, I have been a Miami dolphins fan my entire life and it is nice to have them on TV every Sunday, it’s kind of fun going to the beach in the morning and then home to watch the game. Well I will talk to you all real soon, go raize some cane.

Sunset at Riverside Park

Sunset at Riverside Park

Zach making his way out to the ocean on Ponce Inlet New Smyrna Beach

Zach making his way out to the ocean on Ponce Inlet New Smyrna Beach

Looking out on the dock of Hidden Treasures (bar and grill)

Looking out on the dock of Hidden Treasures (bar and grill)

Hidden Treasures dock and boat rental to venture Spruce Creek

Hidden Treasures dock and boat rental to venture Spruce Creek

It's a Florida stormy day on the beach

It’s a Florida stormy day on the beach

A playful crane sitting patiently on Riverside Dock for his evening meal

A playful crane sitting patiently on Riverside Dock for his evening meal

Now I would love to hear from you.

Have you moved to a unfamiliar place? What are some of the differences and quirks that you found yourself comparing?  Let us know in the comments below.

Remember, share as much detail as possible in your reply.

Many incredible souls come here each week for insight and inspiration and your story may help someone else.

Important: share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments. Links to other posts, videos, etc. will be deleted as they come across as spammy.

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