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First Grade Field Trip Part 3: So maybe I’m just normal???

 

My last post on this topic got a lot of traction on Facebook. The comments seemed to fit one of two categories. My blind friends said things like”way to go,” good for asserting yourself to the teacher, or things like keep fighting to prove yourself. My sighted friends on the other hand all provided reassuring comments like this kind of thing happens all the time because so many parents always sign up, or they shared how they too didn’t get chosen for a field trip before so I shouldn’t take it personally—in other words, this isn’t a blindness thing. These latter comments surprised me a little. I guess I got so hung up on worrying about my blindness being an issue that maybe I made it one without even realizing it. Maybe I was just being treated like I was “normal” after all?

 

K’s teacher did reply to my last email where I tried to address any concerns with chaperoning. Surprisingly, she never even expressed a concern about my blindness or abilities and informed me that K in fact was not one of the first ones to return her slip last time contrary to what K told me, and that this is the reason why I had not been selected last time. (Whether or not this is true, I still will never know and I guess it is possible that K didn’t give me the form the very day that she received it (I don’t personally check her folder daily; sometimes I just make sure she gets her homework done and ask her if she has anything for me). K also may have neglected to turn it back in the next day even though she had it in her folder. We’ll never know. I’m also a little worried that K said something to her teacher about me being disappointed for not being selected as I never said anything of that nature to her teacher in my email. Yikes! In any case, K’s teacher did remind me that chaperones are selected on a “first come, first serve” basis (which I totally understand and think is fair), and that she has made it very clear to her class that she will be selecting parents who haven’t had a turn yet to come on a field trip. She did say that K did turn her form in first this time and since I have not gone on a field trip yet, I would be selected for this one.

So now, I’m excited about this but feeling a little sheepish and like maybe I made something out of nothing. I feel like as a blind person, I have to try so hard to be “normal” and prove myself that maybe that in trying to “nip anything in the bud”, I may have been a little defensive when maybe this time, I was just being treated like anyone else…”normal”.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last week. I don’t want to come across as being defensive or “rebelliously independent” because of my blindness all the time. But my knee-jerk reaction given past experiences makes me respond otherwise. I feel like the moment I put a cane in my hand, my IQ somehow dropped 20 points in the eyes of Joe Public. I’ve been turned down for jobs and told outright it was because I was blind. I’ve had someone accuse me of suffocating my child while wearing her in a front carrying pack because I held a cane in my hand.   I’ve had people jump up on the train several times and remind me not to sit down on the small child on my back—as if I could forget I was carrying that extra 20 lbs. And I am constantly having to explain “where I’m going” to random well-meaning passersby who see me walking down the side walk and think I surely must be lost. Frankly, it gets a little exhausting. So Howe

Do I learn to recognize when to advocate and when do I sit back and realize that I’m just being treated normal?

 

I still don’t think it hurt to send the email to K’s teacher. It’s probably still a safe assumption that she may have at least had some questions if not doubts too about my abilities—let’s be honest, I would too if I were in her shoes and not the blind one. But I will say, in this situation, it is refreshing that she didn’t seem to outright question my capability. I’ll probably still get defensive about my blindness in the future, and I know I’ll still have to prove myself on a regular basis, but this whole experience has been a good learning experience for me. IN the future, maybe I’ll take a deep breath and pause to look at all the angles first before acting on my knee-jerk response. So, long story short, I am going on the field trip next month. K is ecstatic! Now let’s hope I don’t blow it on the field trip!

 

 

 

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First Grade Field Trip Part 2: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.

IMG_0233(Photo caption:  A copy of the note my daughter brought home. )

Well, I got the dreaded note—I was not selected as a chaperone for my daughter’s field trip.  I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed.  I know for sure that we were one of the first ones to complete the form and return it as I sent it back the very next day, but who knows.  Maybe there were a lot of parents who also sent theirs back the very next day. But deep down, I’m really worried that I wasn’t selected because of my blindness.  It didn’t help that most of the parents who were selected are the same ones who help with everything.  Of course, I can’t ask if blindness was a factor, and will never know.

 

Initially, I was pretty upset and defensive upon learning this news.  I stewed about it all afternoon after reading the note my daughter brought home.  I was actually a little surprised at how hurt and upset it made me.  But a few hours of stewing and a chance to calm down, not to mention some venting to my husband and another friend gave me a bit of perspective.

 

I remembered a similar occurrence a few years ago. A friend of mine nominated me for a spotlight on the Power of Moms website.  One of their staff contacted me for an interview.  At the time, I only had my daughter and she was about a year and a half.  WE had also just moved to a new area and didn’t know too many people.  I remember mentioning something about worrying if other moms would ask me to babysit for them now that I was in a suburb with more stay-at-home moms where moms do that kind of thing unlike where we had just moved from in the city where I didn’t have a lot of mom friends because most moms around us worked and their children were in daycare.  Anyway, this comment was posted in the interview and it started a little bit of a fire storm in some of the comments after the post.  A few individuals posted how they would never trust a blind person to babysit their child. “No offense”.  Then, other moms said they would totally be willing to let a blind parent watch their children as long as they felt that the parent was competent.  In any case, I remember how those comments really bothered me.  I find it funny now as I constantly babysit for several friends and acquaintances around the neighborhood. But, I guess it took time to build up that rapport and I had to show people my capabilities.  Anyway, thinking of this past experience just reminded me that I’ll have to try a little harder.  I need to be more present in the school, volunteer in the classroom, etc. and show the teachers and administrators that I am capable.  We have attended a number of school functions where we’ve been able to show our capacity a bit, how we get around,  and how we keep track of our children, and I know that people know who we are, including the principle who knows us by name.  But, I need to step it up a notch.  I haven’t volunteered in the classroom or for school events much on account that I had such a young baby when my daughter started school.  But now that he is a year and a half, it is a bit easier to leave him with a friend or babysitter, so it’s time to get more involved if I want to be a part of my children’s education in this way.  So, the next week, I went to my first PTA meeting and threw my name in for a board position next year.  Elections are in May.  .  Gotta start somewhere right?  .

 

It’s not just about going on a silly field trip.  It’s about setting the precedence that blind people are capable.  Not only does it help curb any unspoken concerns or doubts the teachers may have, but the message goes on to the other students and their parents which will hopefully help my own children avoid dealing with harsh comments or discrimination on our account.

 

Since then, my daughter brought home another field trip permission form.  I once again filled it out and checked the box that I’d be willing to chaperone.  This time however, I sent an email to her teacher addressing the elephant in the room.  Maybe I should have done this last time.  It’s such a tricky thing though.  It’s like the question of whether or not to disclose your disability on a job application.  It can go either way.  But, I felt like maybe it needed to be addressed.  Here’s what I wrote:

 

Hi Ms. Smith,

 

I wanted to email you regarding my sign up for chaperoning the zoo field trip next month.  It occurred to me that I may need to address the elephant in the room about chaperoning given my blindness.  I wouldn’t have volunteered to do so if I personally didn’t feel comfortable doing so, but it occurred to me that you may have some legitimate concerns or questions about me helping with this, and I wanted to help ease those concerns or at least address them with you if you have such as I would very much like to help out with the field trip and be a part of something like this for my daughter.

 

As I mentioned, I do feel comfortable supervising children other than my own and have done so in a variety of professional and personal ways.  Prior to having my own family in fact, I ran an after school program for several years, substitute taught, and worked for a nonprofit running year-round youth programs as their director of education.  So I’ve had a variety of experiences supervising children of varying ages in a variety of settings—not to mention I get a lot of practice with my own three children daily. J   I guess I’ve kind of developed my own alternative strategies for accommodating where my vision isn’t as reliable.  I understand how stressful this can also be from the teachers’ perspective to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for.  Anyway, sorry for sounding like I’m trying to sell my qualifications, but I guess in a way I am as I want to make sure you don’t have any worries if I am selected to be one of the volunteers for this trip.

 

I have explained to Kayla that there is a possibility that you and/or the school may have some concerns about this which we may have to address and which may mean that I have to sit this one out, but I’m hoping to nip any concerns in the bud beforehand.  Please feel free to email or call me with any questions or if you feel like discussing this further.

 

Anyway, thank you for your consideration of this, and again, please feel free to speak to me directly of any concerns you may have about this.  I hope there are none, but very much understand if there are.  On a humorous note, I have mentioned to a couple of mom friends of mine with whom I often exchange babysitting and attend play groups my worries that I may not be allowed to help with things like this, and they have all volunteered to write reference letters of my capabilities or call the school in my behalf.

******

 

So, there you have it…the saga continues.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try, and try, again!

 

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$1 Buttons!

IMG_0231(Picture Caption:  Spool of blue thread with needle and loose buttons)

 

This was too good that I couldn’t help but pass it on. So, I’m not exactly domestically inclined when it comes to sewing. Partly because of the blindness, and partly because I just never learned. I even own a sewing machine but couldn’t tell you the first step in how to even turn it on. My mom however is great at it and had I shown an interest in it and maybe not needed to figure out alternative ways for learning to sew non-visually, I might be better at it too. Needless to say, when something rips or a button falls off, I feel a little bit of dread and slightly anxious because in the back of my mind I know that this is probably the end for that item of clothing. But, not wanting to be wasteful, I tell myself that I’ll sew the button back on or get it mended somehow. Fix it up wear it out, make it do, or do without right? Isn’t that the old adage? Let’s be realistic though, it takes me forever to do this. Not only am I not good at sewing, I usually can’t find my sewing kit, or if I do, I still have to buy a new button. So this means I have to remember to take the item with me on my next trip to Walmart or Target so I can match up the buttons with something from the store’s stock. This also requires using customer service to help me locate said buttons and/or matching thread since there’s not exactly a great nonvisual method for accomplishing this, and sometimes using customer service can be hit or miss. . In the event that I do finally buy what I need, the item in need of mending still sits for weeks more until I “get around to it.” Can you see why this stresses me out? I’ll admit in the interest of full disclosure that because of my nature, I’ve become really good at temporary fixes. For example, using pins and tape on the underside of a fallen hem, or a safety pin in the spot where a button has fallen off with no one being the wiser—hopefully. I even started a collection in my laundry room of things in need of mending and would save them up for my mom when she came to visit me from out of stae once a year. A few years ago I stumbled onto this great hack for people like me. I learned that most dry cleaners will mend items for you. This was game changing for me, the non-sewer. I felt like I just got an extension on my wardrobe. , so I started taking items into our local dry cleaner regularly—ripped seams, unraveling hems, broken straps on a sun dress, you name it.

I recently ripped the arm seam on my wool coat when trying to put my son into his carrying backpack. This is a nice coat and I’m not ready to toss it out yet, so I decided to take it over to the dry cleaner this week and see if it was something they could fix. I also remembered that one of the buttons had fallen off my son’s white church shirt (he’s been wearing a sweater over it for the last few weeks to hide this) I know, I know…don’t judge.   Anyway, I have had the best of intentions of sewing that silly little button back on because I know that while it might not be the best job, this is something I can do even nonvisually. But, I’ve been dragging my feet on it and frankly, it’s kind of low on the priority list until Sunday morning rolls around each week and I’m reminded of my negligence.   To my credit, I remembered the shirt as I was walking out the door to run some errands, including dropping off my coat at the dry cleaner. I grabbed it and took it along with me.

Later at the dry cleaner, I sheepishly asked the attendant if they sewed on buttons as if the admission of this might make my domestic maternal ancestors cringe. I was relieved to find out that they could repair the ripped seam on my coat and even more excited to learn they would replace the button. I think this was the first time I’ve ever taken anything in just for a button. I was even more excited to learn that they only charge $1 to sew on a button! $1? You mean, no more stressing about going to buy thread and buttons again? I’ll pay it! I couldn’t believe it! I joked with the attendant about how he had just made my day and that from this day forward I was never going to sew on a button again!

So, there you have it…a little hack for other non-sewers like me—blind or just a busy mom. . It’s life changing. No more guilt! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dig around in my closet for a few button-less items to take back with me when I go pick these ones up.

 

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Making it to Elementary School

 

Last week I wrote about the logistics of getting to and from preschool. This week, I thought I’d share a little insight into our elementary school routine.

When we bought our house six years ago, one of the big factors of consideration was its location to schools, and our ability to get to and from them easily either by walking or public transit. . There is an elementary school just down the road from us—within walking distance, and a junior high the other direction, also within walking distance. Both are great schools too. I remember looking online to see the schools we would be zoned for, but apparently I either misread it or mixed up the address. So, it turns out that while we live really close to this one school, we actually are right on the dividing cross street and our neighborhood is bussed to another elementary school a few neighborhoods away. At first, this was a little disappointing even though our kids were not old enough to go to school. I thought being able to walk to their school would be so helpful, especially when I wanted to go volunteer, needed to drop something off to them, or if they stayed after for extra curricular activities. We decided that when the time came, if we still wanted to attend the closer school, we could always petition the district to give us a waiver. Well, when the time did come, we decided it best to keep our daughter with the neighborhood kids and that having a regular bus ride would really be helpful. The piles of snow in the winter and lack of shoveling along the main road we would have been traveling to the other school also helped make this decision easy. The other times we needed to get to or from the school would be easy enough to work out. It turns out that the school we do attend is also walkable when necessary, but not practical to walk to on a regular baisis. The walk takes about 20 minutes. When you’re used to walking places, it’s doable, but time consuming.

We’ve also been blessed with great neighbors or parents of classmates who give us rides to/from common school events like back to school nights, school carnivals, fairs, etc. For the other times, it’s convenient enough to use a ride service to get to the school. As for those times when my daughter forgets her lunch or homework, she has to learn a bit of tough love since I’m not always able to take forty-five minutes to make the round-trip walk or not inclined to pay $15 to run something up to her unless its really necessary. But we do our best to be prepared the night before and We make sure she has money on her lunch account just in case. OH yes, and I’ve really made it clear that missing the bus in the mornings is not a good option. ( I think we only have missed the bus once for being late in the year and a half that she’s been in elementary school,.) Anyway, its turned out to be a great arrangement for us and we really love the school and the community we are in.

 

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Making it to Preschool

 

 

Recently I was talking to a blind mom who was trying to figure out transportation to/from her daughter’s preschool. Transporting your children from place to place often requires a bit of logistical Olympics whether you’re blind or not, but even more if you can’t drive. so I thought this post might be helpful to share some of the things we’ve done with respect to getting our kids to preschool.

 

Thankfully, we have a really great preschool within walking distance of our home (about 10-15 minutes.) My daughter attended there three years ago and this year my son started there. The tuition is a bit higher than some other programs around us, but for us, the convenience of being able to walk there is worth it. IN walking there, I use some kind of combo of either taking my children in the double stroller, one in a carrying pack, one in the single stroller, or one walking, etc. Each time we’ve had a child there, it works out great for us until about late December/ early January when the snow starts to fall and the temps dip down. We get a lot of freezing rain here too which leaves the sidewalks like an ice rink and makes walking anywhere pretty impossible. On top of that, we’ve had years when the snow gets plowed onto the sidewalks from the road, or people just don’t shovel, making the sidewalks virtually impassable. So, here is what I’ve done in these circumstances.

 

First, I could take a ride service like Uber/Lyft/taxi, but this gets expensive if you’re doing it to and from a couple times a week. Not to mention, it’s sometimes a bit awkward or tricky getting drivers to pull up in the pickup line or to be willing to wait while you run in and pick up your child. So, this is an option I generally have saved as a last resort or in a pinch like today when the sky broke open with pouring down rain right as I was heading out the door.

 

My second and most practical recommendation is to find someone with whom you can carpool. When my daughter was attending preschool, I asked her teacher if she could connect me with a parent that lived near us or passed by us or who would just be willing to pick my daughter up for a few weeks in the winter. A sweet mom volunteered and this worked out great for us throughout the months of January and February when walking was most challenging. She would pick up my daughter along with our car seat and take my daughter to and from school for me. I offered to pay her, but she declined so instead, after this arrangement was finished, we gave her a gift card as a thank you. In my experience, a lot of parents are really open to carpooling. While I can’t take a turn driving, offering to pay or babysit in exchange goes a long way.

 

This year, before I started asking around, the assistant teacher offered to pick my son up for a few weeks on her way to work. She has been picking him up for us for the past few weeks. He gets to school a little early, but there are a couple of other kids who need to be dropped off early so he hangs out with them and looks at books in the receiving area with the teachers until school begins. This same teacher also got permission to leave work for a few minutes to drive him home. (It’s helpful that we live within a five minute drive of the school.) This arrangement has been so helpful for us. It’s been nice not to have to scramble around to find a ride for him at the last minute if the weather looks rough that morning, or take both my young boys out in such cold temps. The weather is starting to warm up and hopefully the worst is behind us, so we are getting back to walking regularly, but I want to thank this sweet teacher for her time and service to us. Thanks Mrs. George!

 

This fall, I will be starting over and trying to make some new transportation plans. Sadly, we did not enroll our son at this same school for next year as the tuition for the four-year-old class is about $1000 more than this year, so I did find another program close to us which several of our friends have attended or do attend. I didn’t go with this one initially because it’s not walkable and not accessible by public transit either, (I like to be as self reliant as I can) but after weeks of deliberating, I decided to go ahead and enroll for this next fall in the hopes that we can find a regular carpool situation or some kind of alternative solution. I feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to find another family with whom we could carpool or that I could find a neighbor or good friend to hire as a driver for this (still less expensive than the current preschool or taking ride services) which is why I went ahead and enrolled our son for the upcoming school year. . We’ll see how it works out. Fingers crossed!

 

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First Grade Field Trip Part 1

 

 

Last week my daughter presented me with a permission slip for an upcoming field trip to the science center. She then proceeded to beg me to sign up to be one of the chaperones. She really wanted me to sign it that night so she could take it back the next day since chaperones were going to be chosen on a “first come, first serve” basis. I will admit that initially I got a little flustered with her persistence. Given that she presented this to me also right in the middle of dinner clean up and bed time routines, I told her to put it on my desk and I’d think about it. Dejectedly, she did so. This is my sweet little six year old who is in first grade and been begging me to volunteer in her classroom or chaperone a field trip since she started Kindergarten. When she started school, , I had just had our third child, so I was less inclined to leave our newborn/nursing baby for long periods of time for things like that. I told her this year though that I might be able to help out a bit more, and this is one of the first real opportunities for that.

 

Being a stay-at-home mom does make helping in these ways a bit more possible, even though there are still logistics to work out like who will watch my two younger boys while I’m gone, especially since this is an “all day” field trip, making sure my calendar is clear for the day, oh yeah, and of course, there’s that little thing of blindness. Darn it for always complicating things. So, I felt like I needed some time to think this over before volunteering for anything.  Later that night, I did end up signing the form and checking the little box that I would be available to chaperone. Much to the delight of my beautiful daughter, but I felt a little anxiety in doing so. Not because I don’t think I would be a good chaperone—I have years of running summer and after school programs and am used to keeping track of a number of school-age children–not to mention, I have three of my own that I look after every day independently.  Rather, I worried about whether or not her teacher and the other school officials making the decision about who would go would believe me capable. Who knew something as simple as going on a field trip could carry so much weight? The other hard part of all of this is that I had to try and explain these grown up issues somehow to my daughter who was beaming with excitement at how fun it will be for me to join her that day. I explained that while she and I know that Mommy and daddy are capable of doing these kinds of things (did I mention we also have a membership to the science center and go there often?), it may still take some convincing her teachers about it. I explained to her that they may have some reservations about a blind mom coming along, but that we’d see what happened, so she shouldn’t get her hopes up just yet. Then, we still had to make it through the lottery of other parents signing up too.

 

It’s been a couple of days now and I haven’t heard anything from her teacher. I don’t know exactly how or when the chaperones were going to be selected and part of me feels like I should email her teacher and try to nip any concerns that may pop up in the bud before they do. I have this fear that while I may have been in the first batch of returnees, I won’t be selected and that it will just be told to us that we didn’t make the “lottery”. Guess I’ll never know. My one little saving hope right now is that we have been present at a number of school events so her teachers and other staff have seen us and hopefully have a favorable impression of our abilities. The other bright spot is that two weeks ago, my daughter’s teacher invited one of her best friends and neighbors to come and speak to the first grade . Her “best friend” happens to be a blind para-Olympian swimmer with whom I am also acquainted, so, maybe the teacher has some positive perspectives on blindness and my worries are all for not.

I’m feeling a little anxious about the whole thing. I really hope it works out as I know my daughter would love it. But then what if it does work out? That brings a whole other level of anziety to me in trying to prove myself. Why are these things never easy?   In any case, we’ll see what happens. To be continued….,

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NFB of MD TLC Chapter January Raffle

Happy New Year!  I have lots of great posts coming and new projects I’m working on for the next year which I am really excited about.  I’m keeping some of them under wraps for a bit longer as I’m not fully ready to make things public, but stay tuned.

As some of you may remember from my outreach efforts last year, this week marks the anniversary of when I went blind twenty-six years ago at the age of 12.  For the last couple of years, I have been trying to commemorate this time personally in a more positive light by doing something that “Pays it forward “to the blindness community as a way of saying thank you for the ways in which my life has been so blessed despite this challenge.  Last year I  started a campaign to raise money for the Louisiana Center for the Blind where I received my blindness skills training twelve years ago.  You can visit a post about that effort and read more of my story about how I became blind here on my blog .

 

Because of the success this had, I am reaching out to all of you again with a similar request this year, except this time there is more benefit to you for your generosity.  I also promise that this will be a one-time ask, so you don’t have to worry about me pestering you about this.

 

Our local chapter of the NFB—the Towson Lutherville, Cockeysville chapter of the NFB is holding a January fund raiser.  This is a chapter I helped organize, and of which I was president for a few years.  I now serve as treasurer and my husband Jesse is vice president.  Our chapter is holding a weekly drawing throughout the month of January to raise funds for local projects.  Funds raised will go towards things such as sponsoring local blind members to attend state and national NFB conventions where they can partner with blind mentors and learn about local resources for blind people, sponsor middle and high school students to attend summer training programs, and provide financial support for the Maryland Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning summer program for elementary children.

 

Here’s how the drawing works:

  • Winners will be drawn each Sunday throughout the month.  You can join at any time and will be eligible for the upcoming week’s drawing.  Your name will also stay in the drawing for the next week’s drawing if you are not selected, so you don’t have to re-enter the drawing.
  • The first drawing will be held on January 7th.
  • You will be notified via phone and or email if you win.  You also do not need to live in Maryland as we will send the prize to you should you win.
  • There is no limit to how many tickets you can enter into the drawing.
  • Tickets are 1-$3, 2-$5, and 5-$10
  • Winners will be posted each week at www.nfbmd.org under the TLC Chapter page.

 

Now for the fun stuff.  Prizes include:

  • Gift cards to Starbucks, PF Chang, and the Bone Fish Grill
  • $100 gift card to Target
  • A Google Home
  • An Amazon Echo Dot
  • Grand Prize: NFL regulated football signed by players from the two-time Super bowl champions and AFC Champions, the Baltimore Raven’s.

So, if you are interested in participating, here are a couple of options for purchasing tickets:

  1.  Contact and pay me directly
  2. Purchase tickets through PayPal.

If you choose to buy tickets through PayPal, please visit www.paypal.com.  Upon logging in with your own PayPal account or as a guest, You will then select “Pay for goods and Services”.  You will then need to enter the email address: tlcchapter@gmail.com as the proprietor to whom you are sending money.  Next, select the amount you are paying to purchase the tickets.  Below the amount box, you will see a “Note” box.  In this box, please enter your name, phone, email, and the number of tickets you are purchasing.  Then hit submit.  I am the treasurer and keeping track of this, so I will contact you to let you know that we received your purchase.

 

  1.  Send a check directly to meNFB TLC Chapter30 Haddington Rd.
  2. Lutherville, MD 21093
  3. c/o Mary Jo Hartle
  4. You can send a check made out to the NFB TLC chapter   With a note stating how many tickets you would like to purchase.  Then mail it to my home address at:

 

Thank you for your consideration of this and for all the love, support, and encouragement you give me and my family.  It truly means so much and helps more than you know! Also, I invite you to subscribe to this blog if you haven’t done so yet, and to help me in my effort to educate others about the capabilities of the blind by sharing it with others.  A shameless plug I know. Happy New Year!