31 Days: Challenge Complete!

31 days ago, I started a journey of blogging every single day for the entire month of August. This has stretched me in interesting ways. I wrote when I had lots to say, and I wrote when I feared that no words would come out. My Ultimate Blog Challenge hs caused me to be introspective, to get personal, to laugh, to share experiences with finance apps and services and assistive technology. I even made some new connections.

Sadly, daily writing can’t continue forever, at least for this blogger. I have a new job to grow in, and a modified Boston Marathon to train for. But this Ultimate Blog Challenge has given me what I think I always wanted it to, without knowing that’s what I needed: the love and the willingness to write again. It’s been surreal, and I can’t believe I did it every single day for a whole month!

I won’t be back tomorrow, but I will be back soon. Until then, my dear readers, do something (safely) that scares you a little.

I just did! 🙂

“Who Peed in the Ice Cream?”: This Blind Girl’s Hilarious misadventures in the Land of Emojis

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Two years ago, my friend and guide runner asked me a question. It started with the careful pause he always uses when he’s not sure if what he’s asking is going to be offensive (if he’s reading this, it NEVER has been!) But he asked me if I had ever seen the poop emoji. In truth, I hadn’t. I don’t even think any of my friends had sent a text to me with the poop emoji in it. I at first thought I had prudish friends; turns out, my friends were polite enough to not send poop pictures to me, specifically (truly appreciated, guys!)

So I asked the vast social network I’ve created over the years… what is this poop emoji? I found it, no problem; my screen reader describes the 💩 as a “Pile of poo”… but what does it look like? And why in the world would anyone use it?

First off, it looks like chocolate ice cream. With big eyes… and a smile? So now it’s a smiling pile of poo? And you’d use it in places where only an image would suffice. not sure why it has to smile, but oooookay!

This sent me on an intermittent search for interesting emojis. I’ve received them in texts and on social media, but they baffle me. I mean… there’s a ⛄ (“snowman without snow”) which has been described as a floating snowman? Isn’t a floating snowman really creepy? Why not just use the regular snowman ☃️ instead? And I can’t possibly forget the hilarious conversation where we were talking about real ice cream (Fudgesicles, to be specific) where I asked (at the behest of my partner) why there was yellow stuff in the 🍨 (ice cream emoji). The response I got back really isn’t fit for printing. But can someone clarify for me if the 🍨 really looks like someone peed on it? And why someone would use it instead of the 🍦 (“Soft Ice Cream?”)

What about the facial expressions? “Sad but Relieved Face” 😥 mostly makes sense, but always seems to confuse me. Are you sad, or relieved? And is one more prevalent than the other? And why isn’t 🤯 (“exploding head”) described as something along the lines of “mind blown”? For the record, I once used it instead of 😤 (“Face with Steam from Nose”) to describe being furious about something… that really confused the recipient!

Then there are the ones I found completely by accident. One of the cats was doing something hilarious, and of course I had to message someone about it. The last word of my sentence was “cat” and then I dictated the words “Face with tears of Joy emoji. Instead of 😂 I wound up with a cat with tears of joy, 😹 which I have since learned looks really creepy!

But I needn’t fear! Coming to the rescue is Emojipedia, a vast database (rabbit hole) of emojis. Not only are they described – even in a sentence or two – but they give helpful tidbits of what they are supposed to convey. But while I do find this helpful, as emojis are a part of the technological world that we live in, I 100% agree with a dear, funny, friend of mine: “I thought we had moved beyond hieroglyphics.”

Apparently not.

And, to this day, I have still never used the poop emoji.

An Open Letter to Service Dog Fakers

more than five years ago, I wrote this post.
For five years, I had lived in a state of semi-denial, as though fake service dogs were both as provable and disprovable as ghosts. I knew many people who had encountered individuals passing off themselves as disabled and their dogs as service dogs, but I never have encountered one myself.
I don’t know whether the handler of the dog I encountered recently on an ETS bus has a disability, or whether her dog mitigates it by performing quantifiable tasks. But what I do know is the dog was barking and snarling at my service dog, who stood at my side and was willing – though hesitant – to board the bus while the other dog was displaying aggressive behavior toward her.
What made the whole situation worse? It didn’t appear that anyone – particularly the bus driver – was willing to do anything to address the clear safety hazard that this dog’s behavior possessed to its handler, other passengers, my dog, or myself.
I still believe every single word I wrote five years ago. But all I will add is this:
We, as legitimate service dog handlers, have a responsibility to ensure that our dogs are under control, clean and presentable, and behave well in public. This does not mean they are robots; mistakes can and do happen. But when they do, we have a responsibility to the service dog community and the general public to address behavioral issues appropriately. I don’t want to be denied service somewhere because some service dog was permitted to behave aggressively and people stood by and did nothing. That other handler’s rights were protected; mine should be also.

Life Unscripted

You and I haven’t had the displeasure of meeting, but you’ve met almost all of my friends at one point or another. You may think you’ve pulled one over on everyone, but you’ve actually made governments – state or provincial – stand up and take notice of what you’ve been doing. I wish I could say that it’s nice to meet you, but then I would be lying… something you do every day by passing off your pet (even a well-behaved one) as a service dog. Maybe you know in the back of your head that your actions may affect those of us with illnesses or disabilities who use service dogs to increase our independence or alert to oncoming life-threatening situations; maybe you just want what you want. You love your dog, I get it; I love mine, too. But just in…

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Guide dog 2.0: ACCEPTED

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I got the email in the spring: I’ve now been accepted to train for my second guide dog! I’m both excited and nervous, and it feels like things are both moving too fast and too slow. I’m not ready, even as I know that Jenny is nearing the age where she needs to retire. Thankfully, though, she’s not quite there… yet.

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Finance Friday: Registered Savings Accounts

As I’ve stated before, I am by no means a financial advisor. I don’t know nearly as much as I would like to about the more complicated aspects of money management. But I’d like to learn more, and I have an unprecedented set of circumstances that give me more opportunities to educate myself.

RRSPs: The Thing we are Supposed to All Invest In

I’ve heard the radio advertisements every year – “Make your RRSP contributions!” – but I never really understood how an RRSP would benefit me. In short, an RRSP lets you register an account, make contributions that help you save for retirement, and let you defer the taxes you would’ve paid on that amount. For example, if you earn $50,000 in 2021, and contribute $5,000 to your RRSP, you would pay taxes as though you earned $45,000 in 2021.

The RRSP has a couple of minor drawbacks. There are limits to the amount you can contribute (based on your annual income), and there are penalties and tax implications for withdrawing from the account prior to retirement.

Creating my RRSP

I recently opened two RRSP accounts (more on why later). I started out by going to the bank where I do my day-to-day banking. It was a seamless process, though if I am being honest I found the adviser I spoke with to be condescending.

My second account was created online, with another financial institution. I found this process considerably quicker and less an investment of time, particularly without the condescension of my first. While I may diversify when, where and how I invest, I certainly hope there are no commissions going toward someone who chose to talk down to me as soon as I signed the paperwork.

RDSP: Special Account for Special Expenses

Similar to an RRSP, an RDSp is a registered long-term savings account for people with disabilities. Eligibility is confirmed by the Canada Revenue Agency, based on the ability to claim the annual Disability Tax Credit. The contributions you make to the account grow tax-free, and can receive matching government grants. In addition to that, depending on your family income, you may be able to apply for and receive government bonds. Both of these can provide ways for long-term savings to grow exponentially. Like an RRSP, withdrawals and interest – in addition to the government grants and bonds – are taxable upon withdrawal. There is a lifetime contribution limit of $200,000, regardless of your annual income. And if you withdraw from the RDSP so that the government grants and bonds are withdrawn within ten years of the contribution, that money needs to be paid back. but since my current goal is long-term saving, I don’t have any concerns – at least right now – of touching my recently opened account.

Opening My RDSP

I first asked the financial adviser at my day-to-day banking institution about setting up an RDSP. He didn’t seem to know how to set one up, even though when I made the initial appointment I indicated I wanted to set up an RRSP and an RDSP. I was sent away with a phone number to call during business hours. When I called the number, I asked what I needed to do to set up an RDSP. I was told I needed to fill out a form T2201, which is the form I filled out when I first applied for the Disability Tax Credit. So I needed to apply again for something for which I am already eligible? And send that to the bank?

Frustrated, thinking there was a better way, I went online and located another financial institution which had a dedicated line to create an RDSP. I called, and received some great information about what I needed, including a designated number for ESDC Canada who could provide some further clarity on what is actually needed. I created a new checking account and bank #2, then waited for my card. Once I got my new card – and read its numbers 100% independently with Lookout – I called the RDSP phone number again and got things rolling. I’m now just waiting for the paperwork to come so I can sign it, and my account will be open! I find it interesting how much simpler a process is when people who are supposed to know about parts of their job (like registered accounts) know about… registered accounts!

What’s next?

In short: I don’t know! I have time to decide what I want to do, and how I want to invest for my future. But I know more now than I did yesterday, and I know what I’m willing to accept as treatment from a business or an entity that I’m supposed to trust with my financial future.

What about you?

Do you invest? Do you find it thrilling, overwhelming, or something to be avoided? Where did you learn about registered accounts? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Happy International Dog Day!

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For some reason I don’t know – and don’t have the energy or inclination or desire to look up – someone has assigned today as International Dog Day. In honour of this day, I wanted to pay tribute to the dogs that have squirmed their way into my home and my heart.

Motley: A Kid’s Best Friend

I don’t have a childhood memory at home without Motley. She was just always there, having predated my arrival by at least a year. I’ve been told that she took her job as my protector very seriously, calmly guarding my nursery room door from an unsuspecting babysitter who tried to go in there to get my diaper bag. As I grew older, and we moved to the home I remember growing up in, Motley was a constant. She had no problem letting kids ride her, was terrible at tag, and didn’t see anything wrong with eating the peanut butter sandwich that 5-year-old me carried outside right at her nose level. She seems so large in my memory, because in relation to me, she was a big dog. But in fact, it was her heart that was huge, not so much her frame.

Pebbles: “Who, Me?”

Not long after Motley crossed the Rainbow Bridge, my Mom and I brought home two puppies. bandit bonded strongly with my Mom, and Pebbles… she did her own thing. Pebbles was a bundle of energy, had no listening skills to speak of, and seemed to be getting in to everything! If you called Pebbles, she would ignore you so intensely that you wondered if she had a hearing problem. But if you called Bandit, Pebbles would come running to you, stretch out a paw, and grace you with her attention.

Pebbles wasn’t well suited to our home. After nearly two years, we found a new home for her on an acreage, where all she had to do was keep her new canine brother company. She could run all she wanted, swim in the pond, and play with the kids who just loved her. And when her new brother was called in, Pebbles would come running, stretching out a paw, knowing that she came when she was called.

\Jenny: The life Changer

Jenny is a dog unlike any other, both in my heart and to many who meet her. She works and plays, listens and disobeys, in equal measure and with equal enthusiasm. She’s taught me how to be a good guide dog handler – because I made so many mistakes with her in the beginning. I wouldn’t be a runner without her. She’s been able to pivot from a city-commuting, packed-social-calendar guide dog to a homebody overnight. She’s taught me how to trust another being with my life, because she shows me every day that she’ll keep me safe. She loves completely and exuberantly, has hilarious ways of showing that she’s right about stuff, and is constantly learning and thinking and growing.

I’ve said it before, but I want to be like Jenny when I grow up. If I can have half of her good qualities – and look as good at her human age (65+) as she does – I’ll be thrilled!

How about you?

I’d love to hear about the dogs that have impacted your life. pet dogs? Service dogs? Office dogs? Tell me about them in the comments below!

Today is Not Forever

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Life is funny. It shifts and changes, and sometimes alters the course of the people we thought we’d become. Sometimes you fly, sometimes you’re brought to your knees, and sometimes it’s all you can do to take that one extra breath.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. For many of us the past year and a half has seriously altered our lives. Some of us have lost jobs, others have lost loved ones, still others have lost opportunities. But what we’re experiencing now won’t be this way forever, even if it seems like it. The past year aside, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are all emerging creatures, and the person we were five years ago can’t possibly be the same person we are today. How can we be? We’ve lived a whole bunch in those five years – made and lost friends, loved and lost, learned, felt, experienced – and only going through those experiences can bring us in to the person we will eventually become.

I look back on my own life, and I can’t help but be surprised at how so much of me has changed, and how much is still the same. I’ve always been outspoken, usually said what I thought, loved fiercely, overthought things, and generally gone after what I wanted. But over the years, how I’ve approached things has changed, the things I thought I valued have shifted, and things I thought were rock-solid turned out to be shifting beneath my feet.

And I don’t think I could be happier.

When I was young – really young – I wanted to be a veterinarian because my next-door neighbor and best friend wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I realized that veterinarians had to put pets down, and deal with blood and guts and puke… and I didn’t want to be a veterinarian anymore.

When I was nine, I wanted to be a singer. One of my friends and I were firmly convinced that all we had to do was send a recording somewhere and we’d be on the local radio any day now. We would perform weird concerts for our parents, singing the same songs they’d heard for the hundredth time. Little matter that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket (I’m horrified by cassette tapes I found from that period). I just spent hours and hours in my room singing to the radio until I sounded okay, and maybe even good. I got to be a singer for a while, to lead bands at my church as a teenager… And then I burned out.

At seventeen, I believed it was my calling to work with teenagers, to work in a church as a youth pastor. I remember the argument with my mother – the one where I wanted her blessing to attend a four-year Bible college; she didn’t want me to bury myself in the church. I don’t think I had ever felt more misunderstood, but I also knew that I couldn’t just trot off to Bible school, spend four years and thousands of dollars, and still be angry and resentful of one of my parents. So I vowed that one day, I would go to Bible college; it just couldn’t be then, and it couldn’t be like this. And I did. I asked questions and learned and grew and made friendships that I cherish to this day. And I no longer believe it’s my job to enlighten or evangelize or persuade anyone when it comes to their faith journey.

I thought I knew what I believed. I believed God was a “he”. I believed in a Jesus who fed thousands with five loaves and two fishes, and whose words of love and justice were so radical that he died because of them. I believed in piety and purity and separateness, believing that my radical acts of self-sacrifice would make a difference in the here and now. I didn’t realize the things I “gave up for God” would cost hundreds of dollars to replace, and years of self-doubt to claim in the first place.

At twenty-three, I married. I vowed until death did us part, and I meant it. But marriage, like life, changes you. The woman I was at twenty-three wasn’t the same woman she was at thirty-four, when it became clear that a marriage couldn’t be held together by sheer force of will. Today, I am just waiting for a seriously backlogged court system to process my paperwork, and then I will no longer be legally married.

I’m still here. I’m still myself. I still say what I think, ask a zillion questions, want to understand how things work. I still want to plan things to the nth degree – like a month-long trip across the western United States – even as my own life has shown me that changes in myself and in circumstance are inevitable. Maybe the person we are today wouldn’t recognize who we were one or two or five years ago – maybe in big ways and maybe in small. We can’t go back to the formerly comforting days; we’ve all lived and learned and loved too much. We can’t keep painting pictures of a nostalgic time and place, fitting our current selves into the image, because the colours are too bright or too dark or too faded.

If we could go and tell our past selves what would happen in the future, we wouldn’t live our real lives. My former selves wouldn’t believe the person I am today. And my current self wouldn’t believe if my future self came along and told me all the things that would shift in the coming days or weeks or months or years. And maybe that’s why we have to do the best we can with whatever we have… because nothing is permanent but change.

OrCam MyEye: Promising Tech?

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It should come as no surprise that technology has greatly enhanced my life as a blind person. Everything from screen reading technology to OCR apps to visual interpreting services has played a role in making my life more enjoyable and more equitable, both personally and professionally. I’ve been fairly reluctant to jump on the most recent tech out there, largely because there’s so much of it; it seems that not a week goes by without some new tech that’s designed for blind people – from shoes to backpacks to smart canes – much of which either never makes it to market or is prohibitively expensive.

I’d heard about the OrCam MyEye over the past little while, and I have always been interested in trying it out. Wearable technology that reads stuff? I could use that! Why not? I was given an opportunity to test one out recently, and I chose to take it for what it was worth.

What is OrCam MyEye?

In short, OrCam MyEye is a talking camera. It attaches to a pair of sunglasses with magnets, and uses hand gestures, voice commands, or finger controls to perform its functions. It can automatically detect text in your surroundings, read newspapers or documents, describe a scene, and even recognize pre-programmed faces.

Initial Impressions

When I first was interested in OrCam, I went to their web site, which offered financing plans for up to twelve months for Canadians. I added the device to my cart, entered my contact information for financing information, and was given the irresistible opportunity to pay nearly $2700, with the balance split over two monthly payments of $900 per month. Hardly twelve convenient and reasonable monthly payments! I exited the web site and went on about my night.

The next day, I received a phone call from OrCam. I told the caller that I wasn’t interested in the device, especially given the lack of reasonable financing options available in addition to the up-front payment. I was asked what my vision was like, if I had trouble recognizing faces, if I could use their smart-read features, and on and on. I repeated myself, that I was not interested at this time, and would be ending the call.

I then got an email. It was clear it was a form letter, because it stated something about it being a pleasure to speak with me and the hope that my questions were answered satisfactorily. I replied, asking OrCam to not contact me again.

Another Option

I was able to borrow the OrCam for two weeks from a Canadian assistive technology company. I received the device in a box, with a whole bunch of extra little things that I still can’t identify. The device charged, I was ready to try it out.

A Day at the Mall

Before taking the OrCam for a true test of its paces, I tried it out on some documents. There’s a lot of head angling and paper angling and lighting considerations that I hadn’t considered, but I soon got the hang of using the OrCam to tell what random pieces of paper were scattered across my table. I wouldn’t want to use it for professional documents, but I could get the job done.

Once I figured out the gestures, I was ready to hit the road. The first thing I tried to do was to read the bus stop sign to get downtown. After some angling and fiddling, I was able to read what buses stopped at my local stop, and where they concluded. While waiting for the bus, I used the automatic text finding feature and located a stop sign about a hundred feet away. The trip to the mall was less eventful. I was unable to read the route numbers on the bus itself (glare? signage? angles?), but I was able to read several signs and messages on the LRT. I was mildly impressed!

The mall was an exercise in complicated frustration. We started at the food court, where I was able to read parts of some vendors’ menu boards, but actually had no idea what restaurant would be serving me my pizza or tacos or sandwich. I couldn’t get the right angles; I was either so close that I was cutting off parts of the menus, or I’d be moving backwards into the flow of foot traffic. Deciding on a lunch spot was simpler without the OrCam – I remembered where the taco spot was, and tacos sounded good, it didn’t matter where they came from, I was just hungry.

Lunch consumed, I tried the mall as a whole. I used the text-find feature, reading basically anything and everything the camera could pick up. I found some stores only by the web sites listed on their signs, and knew some others had sales. But again, the angles were all wrong; I was either too close to get a whole sign, or I’d have to step back into the flow of foot traffic to get any more meaningful information. I was, however, able to catch the mall hours from several different angles.

The Bottom Line

I wanted to love the OrCam. I wanted it to be as helpful for me as their marketing makes it look. But if my initial introduction to their sales tactics didn’t put me off it, my cumbersome experience in the mall cemented it for me. I have other tools at my disposal – like Aira, Be my Eyes, and Lookout – and all of them are considerably more affordable and less cumbersome than the OrCam proved itself to be for me. I hope it can continue to grow and help more people, but this blind user is giving it a hard pass.

So… That Flirting Thing?

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A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I were visiting a local shop. While my partner was along for the ride, I was the one who wanted to shop there. After a brief conversation, getting more information from the shop employee, and making my purchase, we left the shop to head home.

“They were totally checking you out!” my partner said with a laugh as we walked toward the bus.

I sputtered. “Wh-what? Really? Like checking me out checking me out?”

“Yeah, really. It’s a thing.”

I pondered this for a while. It’s not the first time someone has pointed out to me that someone else is flirting with me, checking me out, or otherwise romantically interested. Perhaps because I don’t intentionally flirt with others, I find it incredibly bizarre that anyone else would view me that way.

Not long after my husband and I separated, I spoke to a counselor about some tangentially related things. I remember addressing some deep-seated fear of romantic relationships, because I don’t flirt, and don’t conceptualize how a romantic relationship can just spring out of two people meeting each other and vaguely being interested. The counselor seemed very convinced that casual flirtations and hookup culture were foreign concepts to me because I didn’t get the visual context of staring at a guy across a crowded bar or dance floor.

But that never seemed right to me. Even in situations where I should have picked up subtexts of flirtation and romanticism – phone chats, conversational volleys, summer camps where tons of relationships flourished – I never noticed any of that. When watching a movie or reading a book, where I was supposed to intellectually understand how or why the main leads were going to end up as a couple, it almost always seemed to come out of nowhere. Like, you hated his guts and then decided they were hot stuff because they made eyes at you and it’s all okay now?

It’s an alien concept to me, and yet it seems so ubiquitous. Before my relationship with my partner began, we were friends. I remember telling him that I didn’t understand flirting. I remember saying something like “If you’re going to flirt with me, you’re gonna have to make it REALLY obvious. You might even have to say something along the lines of, ‘hey… I’m trying to flirt with you.'”

But there’s hope for me yet. Not long ago I was on a work-related phone call. I don’t remember the entire conversation, but for a minute or two the banter was friendly and kind of fun. I hung up the phone, only for the thought to pop into my head… “Wait, was he flirting?”

I’ll never know. And maybe I’ll never get this flirting thing all right. And maybe… that’s OK.

Lazy Days

On my run this morning, we talked about it. It very much feels like summer is over. The leaves were starting to turn yellow, a crisp autumn breeze filled the air, and the tiniest handful of raindrops fell as we ran through the crescents that make up a lot of our long runs.

When I got home, I enjoyed a book and a bubble bath (thanks to all the bubbles I got for my birthday!) and then snuggled with Simone on the couch while helping rescued dogs and cats find their new forever homes.

I don’t know where my day got to – in the midst of running and bubbles and curling up under afghans. Throw in some comfort food for lunch and supper, and it’s been a perfect lazy day.

What about you? When you’re relaxing while the world is cold and gloomy outside, what do you do? Do you want to laugh at something on TV? Get transported to another universe? Read your favorite book, or listen to your favorite podcast? Does loud music bring you energy, or do soulful tunesmake you feel less alone/?

If you’ve had a relaxing day, tell me about it in the comments! and if you can’t have one right now, tell me what your perfect lazy day looks like.