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Fall in Philly-Part 2

 

h2017-09-22 13.49.54Photo caption:  K at Constitution Hall inside the chambers where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

One of the great things about living on the east coast is how close you are to so many amazing places. Jesse and I are trying to take advantage of this more, so this fall, we planned a semi-spontaneous long weekend trip to Philadelphia. This is the second part of my post. You can read the first part from last week here.

 

We spent a large part of our second day at Independence Mall where we were able to see the Liberty Bell and tour Independence Hall where the Constitution was signed. Experiencing these things was a bit of a sacred experience for me. We have so many freedoms that we take for granted, and so many people sacrificed so much for our liberties. It’s hard to put those feelings into words. Our experience at the Liberty Bell was also quite unique. Because we are blind, the park rangers let us actually go up and touch the bell. Otherwise, people just view it from behind a rope. This was quite special for us to actually handel a significant piece of history. Our kids got to touch it as well, and while they are too young to really appreciate the significance of this, I’m grateful for the story they’ll have to remember. Usually we don’t like to take special treatment like this, but I was willing to make the exception in this case.2017-09-22 12.29.06

Later that night, we once again implemented our structured discovery skills and found our way to the new LDS temple in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, it closed for cleaning two days earlier. I had hoped to go to a temple session while we were there, but walking around the grounds and visiting it was still nice. Again, I’m grateful to share special places like this with my children.

Photo Captions Pic 1: LDS Philadelphia Temple

 

 

 

Photo Captions Pic 2: Hartle Family outside East doors of LDS Philadelphia temple

We got a little turned around going back to our hotel as we took a different way since the way we walked wasn’t very pedestrian friendly, and our four-year-old finally had a major meltdown from the long walks and almost gave up to fall asleep on the sidewalk. (WE kind of over did the long days and long walks even though we broke it up a lot.) But, with a piggy back from Daddy, he managed to get his second wind. Bonus points again to Jesse as it’s hard to hold onto a child on your back and use your cane at the same time. WE clocked a lot of steps that day.

We decided to take the Big Bus tour around the city on our last day. This was a double-decker open roof bus. There are several stops and you can jump on and off at various locations.   WE sat up on the top and thankfully, no tree branches hit us as the guide warned us may happen. WE decided to get off at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (a.k.a. the building used in the Rocky training montage where he runs up the stairs.) And yes, we did the Rocky Run. I took some video of Jesse and the kids running it. I did as well, and I’ll just say, going up was a lot easier than coming down. Thank you cane!2017-09-23 13.02.50

Photo Caption: J, K, and J.J. at the top of the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (oops, my thumb sort of got in the way of the pic and this is the only still we took there as the rest was video of us going up all those stairs!)

We finally made it home late Saturday night. The Mega bus was late, and we had trouble getting an uber XL home given some misleading uber practices which I’ll save for another post. (I’m boycotting them for a while for this practice.) Oh the joys of transportation! On our way home that night, feeling tired and a little overwhelmed by some of the challenges of the weekend, I asked Jesse if we were crazy to try to tackle things like this. This wasn’t our first time. He laughed and said we probably were but that it was worth it. We both agreed that if we knew how challenging it would be, we probably wouldn’t do it. I sat reflecting on the weekend and other things in our lives and felt really proud of us for sticking it out and continuing to try things like this despite how challenging they may be. Maybe it’s better not knowing sometimes. But, if you don’t try, you miss out on so many great experiences and happy memories.  I guess the message I want to convey with posts like this is that you don’t have to let challenges hold you back. We did not take a sighted guide along with us to help us find our way around and look after our children; and while I have some limited vision, it doesn’t help me read street signs, see oncoming cars, read a map, or see anything that is more than three feet away from me. With the right skills, a little bit of confidence, and a willing attitude, anyone can do hard things. So get out there and do them.

 

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November Gratitude Challenge: Days 8-16

Okay, so I’m a few days behind, but I’m still working on this. Here are my blindness Gratitude moments for the past few days.

 

Day 8: I’m grateful for bump dot stickers that help make my microwave accessible. It’s the little things, right?

 

Day 9: Today I’m grateful for friends that call and offer rides without solicitation. Often, these come at the most needed times (like when it’s raining, or you’re really late) and are like little tender mercies from above.

 

Day 10: Today we did a lot of back and forth in cars/rides to/from our house to an NFB convention at a local hotel.  I’m grateful that my kids are such good passengers and so great at following the little “car loading system” we have.

 

Day 11: I’m grateful for people who work on access technology and universal design which help make things like websites, computers, and phones accessible for the blind.

 

Day 12: I’m thankful for a good friend who assisted us with our photo shoot today. We had family pictures taken this weekend, and after a poor experience last year, it was nice to have another set of eyes to help ensure that we get some good pics this year. A future post coming related to this topic.

 

Day 13: Grateful for friends who see past the blindness and have no concerns about me babysitting their children.

 

Day 14: Grateful for the long white cane. I attended “American Education Week” today at my daughter’s school. Parents are invited to sit in on their child’s class for the morning and observe. My cane helped me navigate around the classroom confidently without fear of tripping over a little chair or stepping on someone sitting on the carpet during one of their rotation times. Maybe a future post in the making with more on my experience. Also, I’m very grateful for my friend who babysat for me and even gave me a ride and dropped J.J. off at preschool. She’s wonderful!

 

Day 15: Grateful for the technique of putting bells on my children when they are young. We lost J.J.’s bells this summer on our trip to Disney World, but he’s a lot older now and at an age where he doesn’t really need to wear them. He transitioned out of them right around the time B started needing them, but I haven’t found a good set yet. So, I just use twist-ties and craft bells. These break off often though. . I just put some new ones on B’s shoes and it is so helpful. I’d been managing for a few days without them and have really missed the bells. Now if I could just get him to leave his shoes on!

 

Day 16: Grateful for friends that are okay with picking up my children for playdates. We did a playdate exchange last week at our house, and today was my son’s turn to go to his friend’s house. Rather than me dropping him off in a lift or uber, my friend volunteered to pick him up and take him back to her house without me even asking. She too is such a wonderful friend that I’ve known for years and totally has no hang ups with the blindness.

 

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Fall in Philly–Part 1

2017-09-22 12.29.062017-09-21 16.11.28.jpg2017-09-21 09.55.52

One of the great things about living on the east coast is how close you are to so many amazing places. Jesse and I are trying to take advantage of this more, so this fall, we planned a semi-spontaneous long weekend trip to Philadelphia. (It’s a little hard to be spontaneous when you have three small children and can’t just jump in your car, but we do the best we can.)  Anyway, it was a really fun weekend and we are looking forward to going to Philadelphia again sometime soon as there is so much to see and do there, not to mention, it’s so close for us. I decided to break this up into two posts. I share a lot of the strategies we use for traveling with our kids, along with highlights of our trip, so it ended up being a little longer than I’d planned. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

About a month before our trip, we reserved a hotel room, bought ourselves five tickets on the Mega Bus, and made a plan.

For those of you who may not be familiar, the Mega bus is like Greyhound, except MUCH better, cleaner, nicer, and more reliable. I took the grey hound twice in my life and that was enough. Never again. The Mega Bus also only travels to more touristy cities like Boston and New York, etc., so kind of in a different camp than Greyhound. Anyway, we pulled K out of school and J took the day off of work so that we could have an extended weekend. We set out early Thursday morning and took a Lyft ride from our house to the mall where the Mega Bus picks up. When the bus arrived, we lugged our three kids, three car seats, one small suitcase, and two backpacks onto the bus. The ride is only about an hour and fifteen minutes from our house to the heart of Philadelphia. I highly recommend this for those of you who’d rather not deal with traffic or tolls.

It was a beautiful day and we were all excited. All was going smoothing and as planned. About a half hour into our trip, however, things took a turn. B (our one-year-old) who ended up sitting in my lap, had just finished a bottle and was trying to climb up the back of the seat in front of me. Out of the blue, he suddenly threw up all over himself and my lap. K who was sitting next to me immediately jumped up and went to the row behind me with Jesse and our other four-year-old son. She has a very weak stomach and is known for her own car sick tendencies. Jesse then switched places with her and began helping me clean things up as best we could. It felt like a very Macgyver-like scenario—trying to clean up the mess with whatever we could find. (Sorry if some of you are too young for that throw-back reference.)  We stripped B of his clothes, put them in a zip lock bag from some snacks, and wiped him and me down with nearly an entire package of baby wipes. This next part gets my husband serious brownie points because he then did his best to clean off the seats and wipe up the floor. Thankfully, B and I caught most of the mess on us, so it wasn’t too much. Just a little note to help those of you sighted folks reading this to better appreciate the situation—when you’re blind, one of the nonvisual techniques you use to clean up surfaces is to use your other hand to feel where the mess is and verify that you get it all since you can’t see the spill with your eyes. My weak-stomached husband did a great job and managed to get it all, so well in fact that when we arrived and could do a better job since we were stopped and had the assistance of the driver, there wasn’t really anything to worry about. As if that wasn’t bad enough, about a half hour later, both K and J.J. threw up within a few minutes of each other. Thankfully, they are a little older and can at least give you some warning, so Jesse was able to hold a trash bag open for them and contain the mess better. We were reminded of some valuable lessons we’ve forgotten about travelling with our motion-sick pruned children that day. It’s been awhile since we’ve been on any long car rides with them. After arriving, we informed the driver and asked if he had some cleaning supplies. He rounded up an old towel from some other driver at the stop and had a bottle of disinfectant spray. He and I then sprayed down the floor and seats as best we could. The driver seemed very impressed that we even told him what had happened, let alone offered to clean it up. He said that happens all the time and that mostly people just get off and don’t tell anyone about the mess. Go us for being good doers!

After getting off the bus, we walked over to Union Station for a bathroom break and to clean up better. We then got some walking directions from a station attendant and started out for our hotel. It was a beautiful day and we decided to save ourselves a little bit of money on a ride as we’d have to pay for a larger vehicle to hold all of us. So, since the hotel didn’t seem too far away, we decided to walk. (Anything that you can walk to within 15-20 mins. For us seems reasonable. ) I pulled the Sit n’ Stroll car seat (it has wheels and can be used like a stroller) while carrying B on my back in the Ergo. J.J held my hand while K held Jesse’s hand. We then stacked the two booster seats in the Sit n’ Stroll, and Jesse pulled our suitcase. (We only brought one small suitcase with all our things.) We’ve kind of master this way of traveling with suitcases, kids, and car seats over the last couple of years. Since Jesse and I also use canes, and we were pulling something behind us, the kids hold our hands by holding the hand not using the cane by the fingers. We call it “holding pinky hands” and have been doing it with our kids since they started to walk. Since their hands are so small, you can hold their hands tightly with two or three fingers, and if you need to pull them quickly like to avoid harm, you can easily do so or even just drop the item you are pulling. It’s hard to explain, but it works. Our kids also are really good at just staying with us and walking next to us. Thankfully, we’ve never had issues of them darting off into the road, going too far ahead of us, or not wanting to hold hands. I guess it’s just something we instilled in them from an early age.

Our walk turned out to be more like an old drop route travel lesson from my days at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. We were traveling in an unfamiliar city, and yes we did get lost, but we figured things out and eventually made it to our hotel. The problem was that the entrance of the hotel and the physical address didn’t match and the street dead-ended into the convention center, so the roads around it were kind of confusing. Thanks to the GPS on our phones, structured discovery orientation and mobility skills, problem solving abilities, and a LOT of patience, we managed to figure it out. We did ask for directions a few times which was also helpful, but we were staying in a touristy area, so several of the people we asked didn’t know where it was either. Finally about an hour later, we made it to our hotel. Our kids were such troopers! WE checked into our room and took a little R and R from the crazy bus ride and long walk before venturing out again. I want to really point out the value of the good o and m training that Jesse and I had. I am a big supporter of the structured discovery learning method. It not only teaches you skills and how to problem solve in different situations, but it teaches you how to have the confidence to find your way around in an unfamiliar place. Sure, you can say we’re gutsy or brave, and maybe we are a little bit, but the thing is, we don’t let our blindness hold us back. Yes we get lost sometimes, and yes, it’s frustrating, but we figure it out and get where we need to go. Sometimes these challenges even make the whole experience richer. Sometimes you just end up fighting with your spouse. But when you’re lost together, eventually, you have to learn to work together so maybe it’s good marriage therapy too.

Later that afternoon, we ventured over to Reading Terminal Market for lunch, where we browsed some of the local stands and enjoyed some real-deal Philly Cheesesteaks. After, we walked several more blocks to Franklin Square Park where we rode one of the oldest carousels in the country and played mini golf. (No, mini golf isn’t very accessible to the blind so I’ll have to write about this another time and how we’ve tried to play before.) This time it was mostly our kids and their first time playing. We spent the rest of the evening walking along Market Street just taking in the sites of the city and looking for some place fun to eat before calling it a day.

 

To be continued…e

Posted in Dealing with Challenges, Gratitude Challenge, Uncategorized

November Gratitude Challenge: Days 4-7

So, as I mentioned last week, I’m trying to take the Gratitude Challenge this month but with a little bit of a twist. All my posts are going to focus on something I’m thankful for related to blindness. This past year, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed and often put a lot of pressure on myself and feel very inadequate. Blindness plays a big part of this because I feel like it often presents a lot of extra challenges. I don’t mean to say I’m resentful or bitter; rather, just that I feel like I can’t keep up with it all sometimes. To counteract some of my negative thinking, I’m trying to focus on my blessings. So, here are my daily doses of gratitude.

 

Day 4: I’m grateful for this complete stranger who offered to give me a ride to our church’s temple today. My ward (congregation) was having a special temple day today and I wanted to participate. One of the individual’s helping to coordinate the events of the day (encouraging people to attend, and arranging rides, and lunch logistics, etc.) connected me with this woman who is new to the area and only here temporarily. She gave me a ride and I also made a new friend.

 

Day 5: I’m grateful for neighbors who knock on your door and offer a ride in bad weather without you even having to ask for one. I’m also thankful for Twin Vision books that allow me to read, even if I’m slow, in braille to my children.

 

Day 6: I’m thankful for delivery services. We purchased an item from Lowe’s over the weekend. It was small enough that had we had our own vehicle, I could have brought it home right then (with a little extra muscle power) and we could have assembled it ourselves. But, it was a bit too heavy to carry and I’m not sure I could have convinced an Uber driver to help me load and unload it, not to mention it may not have even fit in their vehicle. So, I paid a little more to have it assembled and delivered today, but it was worth it to get the item and not have the stress of having to figure out how I’d get it home.

 

Day 7: its days like today when I really need to practice gratitude because it is so easy to complain and feel sorry for myself. Today is one of those really ugly, rainy days. I walked my son to preschool this morning, but later when it was time to pick him up, I looked outside to see that it was pouring down rain! I quickly requested a Lyft ride and was able to go over and pick him up. Even though I was frustrated with the situation, had to wrestle my infant and his car seat into the car while being rained on, and was a bit annoyed at the driver who sat practically reclined in his seat munching chips while all this went on, making it extremely difficult for me to get the car seat in and resulting in me taking it out and putting it on the other side. The bottom line is that I have access to resources like this and was able to accomplish the task at hand. Okay, so I’m not perfect but I am trying to be grateful.

 

Posted in Activities with Children, Dealing with Challenges, Parenting Essentials

The Perils of Apple Picking


Picture: B sitting in his car seat enjoying the world’s biggest apple. He gnawed on it with only four teeth for nearly an hour. .

I love fall! One of my favorite fall must-do’s is to go apple picking. It’s become a family favorite. Shortly after moving to Maryland (pre-marriage and kids), my friend Betsy and I started making it a yearly thing. Now, it’s like a family tradition and it’s so fun to share with my children. We missed last year too on account of the factthat Betsy was in grad school, so we all were especially excited to go this year.

My two older children are six and four, so this was one of the first times that both of them could help with the picking. I usually do it, with a little verbal guidance from Betsy as to where to feel on the tree for an apple, but this year I welcomed the change from picker to pack mule. Upon our arrival at the farm, I realized I had forgotten my Ergo (baby carrier backpack). This was a very big deal as I would need to carry our one-year-old, new walker around. I’ve been carrying my kids this way when we’ve gone apple picking for years. I was so mad at myself for forgetting this! It’s not like we could go home and get it (we drove over an hour up to an orchard on the other side of the border into Delaware), and it wasn’t like there was a Walmart near-by for us to just zip down to either for a temporary replacement one. So, not wanting to ruin our day, I did the next best thing. I couldn’t realistically carry big bags of apples and my twenty pound son, nor could Betsy and the kids carry them all either, so we took the Sit n’ Stroll with us. Just a note, the Sit n’ Stroll is our car seat/stroller combo. The wheels retract into the base while being used as a car seat. It’s worth its weight in gold and one of my favorite baby products as a blind parent. (See my post on this gem) but it’s not really the most road worthy as it’s mostly designed for airport or mall travel. Definitely not farm land.

After a quick perusal of the craft displays and a visit to the port-a-potty, we headed down the road to catch our tractor wagon down to the orchard. You can imagine the sight of me helping the other two kids onto the wagon, passing one of them my cane to hold, and then climbing up myself while hoisting B strapped into his car seat in front of me. But, we made it and soon we were all excitedly picking some of the biggest apples I’ve ever seen and enjoying a little snack along the way.
After a while, we had three large backs (about 50 lbs.) between Betsy and me, and the kids had enjoyed themselves. Thankfully, the car seat had hung in there only getting stuck occasionally. We decided to load the car seat with the bags of apples and that I would carry B back to the wagon. WE thought this would work easier. And then it happened! One of the wheels got stuck in a rut and we were a bit too forceful in trying to free it when it suddenly snapped at the shaft of the wheel. I could have cried! Not only are these car seat stroller combos expensive and hard to repair, but I rely so much on it since I have to transport car seats so often from car to car and place to place. The other frustrating thing is that the same thing happened to our first Sit n’ Stroll which we practically wore out because we used it so often for our first two children. In that case, however, the wheel must have had a crack or something and already been compromised because it snapped off in the same way one night when I was pulling it up our driveway. I was never able to contact customer service to find out how to repair it as all the website contact info was outdated. I ended up finding a used one on Amazon and just purchasing a second one. The thought of having to go through the same process again, or purchasing another one was so disheartening.

Somehow we made it back to the wagon, though it was rough going. I carried B, one large bag of apples and sheparded the other two kids while Betsy manhandled the stroller with the other two bags of apples trying her best to keep it level so we could at least push it with the three wheels on the uneven ground. I’m sure her arms ached the next day. We finally made it back to the wagon and loaded everyone on. When we got back to the drop off in the parking lot, the kids, apples, and I stayed there waiting while Betsy went and got her car and drove it back to pick us up. Did I mention she’s a really, really great friend? Everyone needs a Betsy in their lives.

Picture: K standing with head and hands out from behind a wooden cut out photo prop of stocks with thought bubble that reads: “I shouldn’t have taken the apple off the trees at Milburns!”

By this point, the kids were cranky and so was I. It was time for a late lunch and to head home.
Upon leaving, we stopped off for lunch at Wendy’s where I tried drowning my sorrows in a chocolate frosty before calling Jesse to share the bad news with him. All in all, not my favorite apple picking adventure, but definitely one that will be remembered. Isn’t it funny how the things that go wrong later are the memories we look back on with a smile and fondness? I can’t wait until this feels that way because right now I’m still a little sad over the whole thing. It’s been a few weeks now and I’ve not yet replaced the stroller, but I’m going to have to as there is no way to send it in for repairs—at least to my knowledge. So, that will be dipping into the “Mary Jo shopping spree fund” (as if I really had one.  It’s also made some of our outings a bit more difficult, but I’m getting arms of steel from carrying the car seat when I’d normally pull it, and saving us a little money on rides on nice weather days since I’m more inclined to walk or take public transit so as to avoid having to juggle multiple car seats. So, I guess there are some small perks to be enjoyed. I’ll end on a positive note though and say that we’re still enjoying some delicious apple treats. Hopefully we’ll have better luck next year.

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November Gratitude Challenge: Days 1-3

Okay, so it’s November and I know that a popular trend on social media is to state what you’re thankful for each day during the month of November. I decided that this year I’d play along, but with a little bit of a twist. All my posts are going to focus on something I’m thankful for related to blindness. This past year, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed and often put a lot of pressure on myself and feel like I’m very inadequate. Blindness plays a big part of this because I feel like it often presents a lot of extra challenges. Sometimes simple tasks seem to take two and three times longer because of various reasons—namely tasks related to transportation and technology; and my brain feels like it’s often on overload with logistical Olympics. I also am very guilty of comparing my weaknesses to others’ strengths. I don’t mean to say I’m resentful or bitter; rather, just that I feel like I can’t keep up with it all sometimes. To counteract some of my negative thinking, I’m trying to focus on my blessings. So, with that, I’m going to use my blog as my platform for posting my daily doses of gratitude. Here goes.

 

Day 1: I’m thankful for kind neighbors who gave us rides to/from K’s school today so that we could enjoy her costume parade. We can walk to her school, but it takes about 20 minutes, so this is a nice luxury. I’m also grateful to these same neighbors for rides to/from our neighborhood Halloween party which was several blocks away. My Darth Vader husband appreciated not having to walk so far in his bulky, hot costume too. Bottom line, I’m just grateful for great neighbors. So many of them have become good friends of ours. We jokingly call it “our village”, but it’s true. It’s nice to be able to raise our family in that kind of environment and be able to rely on each other for help sometimes.

 

Day 2: I’m grateful for good health, the ability to walk, a durable double stroller, and very nice weather! I clocked about four miles today between taking J.J. to/from preschool (it’s about a half mile walk to his school, and I have to take him and then go back and get him after, so about 2 miles each preschool day),, and then walking to K’s school (about a mile away, so two miles round trip and 20 minutes each way to walk) for her “Race for Education” fundraiser. It ended up taking a big chunk of time since I was walking with the stroller, but we were able to get where we needed to go and do what we needed to do. I was a bit more tired than usual by the end of the day, but thankfully, we’re all a little used to these kind of big walks, though normally not all on the same day. The fall weather here has been gorgeous which also was a great blessing—not to have to walk in the rain or lug car seats with a ride because of inclement walking weather. I might have even got a bit of a sunburn! I’m also grateful to my patient little boys for whom these long walks in the stroller are not always so fun. It gives us a lot of time to chat though, sing songs, and play games as we try to pass the time.

 

Day 3: I’m grateful for this new app called Seeing AI from Microsoft. It’s a free app, but I’d totally pay for it as it’s worth it. In a nut shell, it can scan and read documents but the thing I like most is its “short text” feature. Within seconds of opening the app, I can hold my phone camera over a document and it will start reading it to me. It’s been so helpful in reading notes my kids bring home from school, mail, flyers, handouts, and homework. Last night I used it along with a magnifier app (Big Magnify) to give K her spelling test and check her homework. It was nice to be able to do it on the spot right at the kitchen table where she was working and not have to haul everything down stairs to my office to try and read it on the CCTV, or even save the pages to read when I have a reader available. I think I may end up writing an entire post dedicated to the other ways I’ve used this app and how it may be helpful to others.