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Public Notice of Address Change

Dec. 21st, 2012 | 12:17 pm

Hello everyone. Hope you are all enjoying the holiday preparations and that you all have a Merry Christmas. I know it's been over a year since I posted here. That's because I decided to blog at a new address. It's nothing against LiveJournal. I just liked some of the more accessible features on Wordpress. I made this announcement to friends a while back, but forgot to make a public announcement, so I apologize if anyone was eagerly awaiting another post from me here.
So if you would like to continue hearing me ramble, my blog address is now http://gilbertandme.wordpress.com. I am still keeping this account so that I can comment on posts from LiveJournal friends and post to communities I love like Note_to_dog. If something happens with Wordpress and it is no longer accessible, I may switch back here too. But most of my blogging for now will be at the new address.
I look forward to hearing from you at my new address. Thanks to everyone who has read or left comments on my blog!

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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Food Memories

Dec. 1st, 2011 | 08:53 am

"I'll never forget our very first Thanksgiving turkey after we were married," Mom said through tears of hysterical laughter. "The turkey was beautiful and ready to come out of the oven, but somehow when we lifted it up, it fell off the pan and bounced. There was a loud THUNK as it bounced off the door of the oven and rolled across the floor. Some of you in this room ate that turkey!"

This topic reminded me of my sister's bridal shower my parents hosted in 2008, the theme of which was "down home." My mom thought it would be fun for all the women to take a fancy note card, write a recipe on one side and their worst/funniest cooking disaster on the other. Then we would go around a circle and share them. Thinking back on this shower it has occurred to me that while a delicious meal that goes off without a hitch is wonderful, the cooking disasters are where the memories are made.

Like last Thanksgiving for example, when my brother who doesn't like pumpkin pie decided to make a favorite dessert similar to rice krispy treats but with chocolate melted on top. We think he overcooked the rice krispy marshmallow mix because the bars came out so rock hard that we almost needed a saw to slice them and I, mean little sister that I am dubbed them cement krispies.

Or the time Mom and I were baking oatmeal butterscotch cookies and my mom read the ingredients wrong and only put one cup of oats in when the recipe called for two. When they came out of the oven, we couldn't figure out why they were so crumbly. That's when Mom discovered the mistake. But hey, those crumbles made for a delicious ice cream topper and as much as we enjoy the many perfect batches of cookies that have come out of the oven since, one of us always laughs fondly and says, "remember when we made those oatmeal butterscotch cookies?"

Or the time when Mom and Dad thought they had bought a pre-cooked ham one day last year, so they simply microwaved it a few minutes. It seemed a little tougher to all of us than ham usually is, but we thought nothing of it until Dad was putting the leftovers away and saw blood on the bone. We had basically eaten raw ham! What fun I had spreading the story to my siblings who had all moved away on Facebook and asking my sister's husband a science guy if we were all going to die. (By the way in case you are wondering, he said that ham is so well cured that it is probably perfectly safe to eat raw, but he wouldn't recommend risking it). When my grandma, the type of person who is so obsessed about meat being cooked thoroughly that she puts her Thanksgiving turkey in the night before, got wind of the story, she called to check on us every day for a week! But "Remember when we ate that raw ham?" we can say with a laugh now every time we have ham.

Or my personal favorite catastrophe when a special teacher for the blind was giving me a cooking lesson. I had measured out chocolate and oil for some graham cracker bars and this teacher asked the kind of grumpy seventh grade math teacher if she could borrow the microwave in her classroom to melt the chocolate. Well the mixture burned, and when I went to math class in that room three hours later, it still smelled smoky. Instead of warm-up problems on the board that day, the teacher simply wrote "don't mention the smell", and banned us from using her microwave. But we still laugh about it to this day any time food enters a conversation.

Now some of you are probably thinking, "how about sharing some cooking disasters that you are solely responsible for rather than ratting on your family and teacher." The truth is, I am still at a phase of cooking where the prospect of my own cooking disaster scares me to death, so I only cook in the microwave, and I stay away from things that burn easily like chocolate and oil, cooking only things like frozen meals with simple goof-proof directions. Once, I almost had to clean up a baked potato explosion. I knew that you were supposed to poke holes in raw potatoes before putting them in the microwave, but when I heard a strange whistling from a potato I was reheating that had previously been cooked on the grill, I learned that grilled potatoes don't need holes pricked in them. So I almost had a cooking disaster. I often leave the microwave unattended when I am cooking too, but fortunately that day, I was still in the kitchen, so I ran over and was able to stop the microwave before the disaster unfolded.
So I can still brag that I have never had a cooking disaster. But eventually, I will want to graduate from microwave cooking, maybe even get married and host Thanksgiving dinner. Given that I am clumsy and kind of absent-minded, I have no doubt that this spotless record won't last forever. But the day this record is tarnished, especially if it is a holiday, I hope I can live by the example of my parents and teacher and not think of it as a cooking disaster, but a funny memory made.

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Dig Me Up a Piece of that Kit Cat Scat

Nov. 5th, 2011 | 05:23 pm

It was a very cold, rainy, dreary Saturday morning, the kind of day when I'm glad I only have to go outside the couple minutes it takes for me to do my business in the grass. When Mom brings me back in and I shake the water off myself and wag my tail, I already feel as if I have put in a whole day's work and have earned a day where my only responsibilities are scarfing down the kibble Mom puts in front of me, occupying my dog bed in front of the couch and barking at the occasional animal that enters our property.

Of course, humans take life too seriously to spend the whole day being lazy, but on Saturday's Mom, Grandma and Grandpa will treat themselves to a little bit of laziness in the early morning hours: Mom sits at the dining room table savoring a bowl of oatmeal and a banana, while Grandma sips coffee and shares the newspaper with Grandpa. I, of course, am snoring in front of the couch.

But before long, Grandma can be heard taking her last sip of coffee and stretching. Grandpa can be heard yawning and Mom is scraping the last morsels of oatmeal from the bowl. It is that moment when no one wants to admit it yet, but the newspaper has been read, the coffee finished, breakfast completed. It's time to get to work.

"So what's the plan for today?" Grandpa asks at last.

"I guess I should do some reading for school," Mom says.

"I was thinking since it's too nasty to go out today, this would be the perfect day to work in the basement," Grandma says.

"I agree!" Grandpa says.

I agree too! But I pretend to be sound asleep and oblivious to this conversation, so as not to draw attention to myself that if noticed, would put Grandma, Grandpa and Mom on guard and a rare opportunity would be lost.

You see, there is a storage room just inside the basement, to the left of the staircase. I happened to be exploring this room shortly after joining this family three years ago and found the most amazing treats! But when I came up from the basement smacking my lips, Grandpa flipped out, yelled at me and put a barricade behind the door that only the cat can get around.

But I have found with this family that when they have a big project to do, two things happen. They remove barricades so they can easily get from room to room as they are sorting, and they forget about me. In other words, if I play my cards right, I have a very good chance of getting a treat today!

As I sleep, I am planning. This crime does take careful planning. If I make no noise at all, I can be naughty right under Mom's nose because she is blind, but Grandma and Grandpa can see. So sneaking down while they are working would be risky. I could maybe sneak down while Grandma and Grandpa are gone putting stuff in the garage, but that might not take long enough for me to enjoy my treat.

Wait! I've got it! They always stop for lunch which takes at least an hour! And they chatter loudly during lunch too! Perfect!

All morning, I sleep patiently. At noon when Grandma and Grandpa come up chattering happily about all they accomplished, as they open a can of soup and pull the lunch meat out of the fridge, I continue to sleep, all innocent and cute on my bed by the couch.

"Lunch is ready," Grandma calls up to Mom, who closes her book with a sigh of relief that she has an excuse to take a break from reading and emerges happily from her room. This means the opportunity is approaching. Still I sleep patiently.

But it isn't long before they are seated around the kitchen table, fully immersed in happy conversation. I listen for a few minutes to make sure I don't hear any mention of words like "dog" or "Gilbert" topics that would increase their awareness of me and could blow my cover. When I was pretty certain they were talking about what they had done in the basement, I very quietly stand up. The time has come.
Usually I shake myself to wake up, but not now. Too noisy!

Quieter than a naughty child, I make my way to the foyer, careful that my claws don't click on the tiles.

Soon I approach the first seven stairs, the most dangerous part. The steps are carpeted so I don't have to be as mindful of clicking claws, but they are situated where Grandma and Grandpa could potentially glance over and spot me. I'm so excited and nervous all I want to do is run down these stairs, but I'm a big dog. That would make too much noise and I would be busted for sure. So ducking my head and hugging the wall of the staircase, I creep down one step at a time.

The second flight of stairs down to the basement poses less risk of being spotted, but the steps are made of wood. Mom has very astute hearing. I'd better not get overly confident. I make my way slowly and calmly down these stairs and at last reach the basement where I discovered my theory was correct. They had forgotten about me! The door is wide open!

Wagging my tail, I enter the room where I find a box of litter, stick my nose in and savor some delicious pieces of, let's call it kit cat scat!

When I have dug up all I could find, I run up the stairs unable to suppress the joy over my successful mission.

"Uh-oh," Mom says hearing me run up the stairs.

"What?" Grandma says.

"Gilbert just came from downstairs," Mom states.

There is no need to say anything more. They all know what that means.

"Did you close the door?" Grandma asks Grandpa.

He doesn't even need to answer. The smacking of my lips as I enter the room nonchalantly confirms he didn't.

"GILBERT!" they all shout in disgust.

Then they realize they cannot really punish me now that the deed has already been done. All they can do is sigh and laugh.

"Well, you're not allowed to lick me for a few days," Grandpa says.

"Why not?" I wonder. "I was just digging for a treat. There is no difference between that and digging through a candy bowl, is there?"
Apparently there is, according to humans. I don't understand it. But for months after this infraction, they will diligently check and make sure the barricade is up.
But us dogs, especially labs like me, are patient and undeterred when it comes to pursuing guilty pleasures like kit cat scat. So I am always listening, watching, waiting. If that door is ever left open again, I'll be ready.

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Trick or Treat

Oct. 29th, 2011 | 03:43 pm

Last week, Mom and I were shopping at Target when we saw Halloween candy on display and decided it was time to stock the big wooden salad bowl, just in case we get trick-or-treaters. But last year, we only had a couple trick-or-treaters and the year before, the pumpkin lit with a candle was outside the door, the porch lights on, "The Monster Mash" playing on a stereo we place outside and not a single trick-or-treater came.

Since answering the door and being the one that got to say, "and who do we have here?" to the little witches and goblins that came to the door was the extent of my Halloween celebrating once I reached an age when it was no longer socially appropriate to be a little witch myself, this absence of trick-or-treaters was disheartening.

I have tried to replace the tradition I outgrew with new traditions. Well, they cannot really be called traditions because they only lasted a year or two, but you know what I mean.

The last two years, Dad and I celebrated by dressing up as burritos to win a free burrito at Chipolte Mexican Grill. This year however, my dad has a new job and will probably work too late to continue this tradition and well, I inherited my love of stupid silly fun from my dad! And anyway, it still wasn't the same as trick-or-treating.

Two years ago, Dad also took me to a haunted house, but I wasn't that haunted by it. I'm not sure if it was because that particular haunted house was geared towards little kids or if it was because I am blind and the scariness of it was more visual. But whatever the reason, I left that house puzzled about why haunted houses draw such long lines.

This year, I am starting what I hope will be a tradition that I can carry over to the office job after college. I am going to live vicariously through my guide dog Gilbert and put him in a costume for Halloween. It is no longer socially acceptable for me to dress up I suppose, but dogs never have to give up their cute innocence right? So along with the candy, Mom and I picked out an adorable $6 old man costume for Gilbert, complete with a purple hat and orange tie. This will be the most fun tradition yet I think, especially when it is time for my Creative Writing class, a very intimate, fun class with only five other students, all of whom love dogs, especially Gilbert and have been looking forward to seeing him dressed up for days. But even this tradition will never live up to the fun I had trick-or-treating.

Of course, since our neighborhood hardly has any trick-or-treaters these days, my parents and I have been enjoying the candy all week and will have plenty left over, but somehow, this candy just doesn't taste as good as it used to.

To hear me rave about trick-or-treating this way, as if it was so much fun that nothing could ever live up to it, you might think trick-or-treating was something I looked forward to for months just like Christmas. Actually, trick-or-treating was met with a mixture of excitement and dread for me. I thought it was fun to dress up and I loved eating the candy of course, but earning that candy was hard work in my neighborhood.

Now that I am an adult, I appreciate our neighborhood more. It is a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood with two-acre yards, spread out houses, long driveways and a paved country road that can go hours at a time without seeing a car. In the spring, you can smell lilacs and honeysuckle from the road, making it a wonderful neighborhood for taking walks. But for little short-legged children, this neighborhood is torture.

I have vague memories of my older sister pulling me through the neighborhood in a little wagon with the candy bag in my lap when I was really small, but most years, I walked. Some neighbors would drive groups of trick-or-treaters from house to house, but my parents never did that. Though I wasn't aware of the increase in childhood obesity then, perhaps that is the reason. They didn't want to spoil our fun like other parents by rationing our candy, but we could at least walk to earn it.

To add to the misery of trick-or-treating, many Halloweens were cold and windy. I remember trudging through snow one year. In kindergarten when I dressed as a princess, the wind blew my crown off my head and my mom had to run after it. I vividly remember several years of wearing my winter coat over my costume and coming home with a nose tip that I am told was red and which I could tell was cold to the touch. So when I arrived at each door, rang the doorbell and removed the scarf from my mouth to say "Trick-or-treat" I felt I had earned the pile of candy lovingly dumped in to my open bag by each neighbor.

Being blind made the process of trick-or-treating annoying because every neighbor has a different configuration of steps that lead up to their door, which made getting up to the door even more tedious than it was for "normal kids", but I thought it was fun not being able to see the kind of candy being put in my bag. This meant that in addition to every other kid's eagerness to get home and eat the snickers bar they saw, walking home for me was like waiting through the night of Christmas eve. "What treasures did the neighbors put in my bag this year?"

As soon as I was in the warm cozy house and I had taken my coat off, my parents let me go wild and dig through it all! If I saw M&Ms or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, I had struck gold, but I loved anything with chocolate. I wasn't as fond of fruity candy like Smarties, so those I generously shared with my brother. (smile)

It's funny how when we are little, we cannot imagine being big. We don't appreciate how special trick-or-treating is because life seems timeless and the notion that one day we will be too old to say "trick-or-treat" never crosses our mind. But all of a sudden, puberty sneaks up on us and says "boo!" and we realize we aren't one of the little kids anymore.

Now that I think about it, the onset of puberty was also when Halloween candy no longer seemed to taste as good as it used to. Sure, this could be due to the fact that with maturity came a greater consciousness of health, so guilt got in the way of my enjoyment when eating candy. But I think there is more to it than that. In the same way that I always felt a sweeter sense of victory and satisfaction when I did a difficult homework assignment or cooked a meal all by myself, working for my candy, walking for what seemed like an eternity to my short little legs, fighting my way through cold, wind and sometimes rain and snow, made the candy taste even sweeter.

Thus it has occurred to me that my mourning about being too old to trick-or-treat is not about the costumes or candy, or even the void that was created when I outgrew this tradition. It is about the simple joy of earning my candy instead of having it handed to me, which brings me back to my disheartened mood in recent Halloweens when we hardly get any trick-or-treaters. Mom pointed out that many of the children in our neighborhood are now past trick-or-treating age. But on summer days, I hear a lot of little children's voices shouting and laughing in yards all over the neighborhood. I hope that maybe I'm just a poor judge of age. Maybe you cannot judge a child's age by their voice. I hope there really aren't as many children as it sounds like there are. I hope that all the children I hear playing in the yards aren't going to more compact neighborhoods where they don't have to work as hard for their candy, because I have found that earning my candy on Halloween and in life is half the fun.

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When You Pray Move Your Feet

Oct. 23rd, 2011 | 05:11 pm

This proverb reminded me of a joke I heard a long time ago. I don't remember it word for word, but the premise was something like this:

A woman is caught in a devastating flood. Eventually, the water is so high that she must escape to the roof of her house. While sitting on the roof, she decides to put her survival in God's hands and starts praying to God to save her.

After a time, a neighbor with a boat notices her on the roof and says, "I can rescue you," but the woman says, "I appreciate it, but God will save me."

As she waits on the roof, the water gets higher and higher, but a little later, a rescue helicopter comes with an offer of help. Yet again the woman says, "no thanks. God will save me."

Eventually, the house is overcome with water and the woman drowns. When she gets to heaven, she asks God, "I prayed and prayed for you to save me on the roof! Why didn't you save me?" to which God responds, "I tried to. I sent the helicopter and the neighbor with the boat."

I understand if some of you may have found this joke insulting, but allow me to argue that even if it is a little over-the-top and insulting, there is some seriousness to it. I think the point this joke was intended to make fun of was society's oversimplification of religion.

We have all heard of other extreme and not-so-funny examples of this oversimplification in real-life. In my local area a couple years ago, the parents of a little girl with juvenile diabetes were sentenced to prison because they prayed for God to save the child when she went in to diabetic shock instead of seeking medical care for her. She died as a result.

But there are plenty of less extreme examples of times in which we have all been guilty of oversimplification. I am speaking here not as any kind of theologian or expert on religion by any means. I am just your average college student who happens to be blind, but I can speak as someone who was guilty of buying in to this oversimplification myself.

One day as a teenager, I was flipping through channels when I came to a religion channel that sounded interesting. As I watched, I would find out the show I tuned in to was The 700 Club. For awhile, I was enjoying the show and found the testimonials of people who had come to Jesus inspiring. But then they had a segment where someone prayed over people who were afflicted with physical blindness from eye conditions and they supposedly got their sight back.

"Anyone afflicted with blindness, close your eyes and pray with me," someone said, "and your sight will be restored.

The rational part of me knew that this was a sham. If it was that easy, every blind person would have done it already and there wouldn't be any blind people in the world. And yet I am ashamed to admit I did it. Not surprisingly, when I opened my eyes, I was still blind. I never watched that show again.

But I fell in to the miracle trap again. I was watching a news report earlier this year about a church in my state that is believed to be the site of an apparition of the Blessed mother. The news story also said it was believed to be the site of miracles and specifically sited the story of a man who came in on crutches and left the church without them, a knee injury completely healed. Usually, I would have begged and pleaded to stay home when my family wants to tour a church, but ever since hearing that this church was the site of miracles, I was consumed with this weird mix of excitement and hope. After doing further investigating on the church's web site the day before the trip and finding that other miracles included the restoration of sight to blind people after family members prayed a novena at the church, I felt like a child on Christmas Eve.

Deep down, I knew that miracles by definition were rare and inexplicable. Also, I was always taught that God has a purpose for all adversity. Yet when I walked out of that church and playfully quoted a line I used to put a nurse practitioner at the eye doctor in her place a couple years ago when she asked me if I had noticed any changes in my eyes, ("I'm still blind!"), the truth was I did feel let down. My parents said prayers, but we were only there for one afternoon, not long enough for a novena which I learned was an intense form of prayer that spanned several days. I never told my parents, but for 48 hours after the trip, I abandoned rational thinking, researched novenas and longed to go back to the church and see if "we just didn't do it right." If only we had time to do a real novena, I could be running down our country road swinging both arms at my side in jubilation, untethered from the cane, dog harness or human elbow. As I wrote in an entry back in March called What Would Seeing Feel Like? (http://anastoff.livejournal.com/25607.html), it wasn't that I was depressed about being blind, far from it. I have been blind my whole life, so being blind is normal for me and I am very happy and well-adjusted. But I have always secretly wondered what it would be like to run down a street hands free or stand on a hilltop and see for miles. Fortunately, that week I had an internship interview to prepare for which distracted me so the feeling wore off quickly, but it was sobering to realize that I was behaving no better than the woman in the joke that began this entry, or even the parents who didn't seek medical help for their child. I had misconstrued the purpose of prayer, buying in to the myth that prayer is synonymous with magic.

Alright, most of you probably cannot relate to my experience either, so let me ask you this. Have you ever had a job that you loathed for inadequate pay, long hours, no sense of fulfillment or all of the above? Did you ever pray to God for guidance, asking him to send you a sign that would make it clear whether you should stick it out or quit and find something that better suited you? When he sent signs that you should leave--depression, no appetite, an inability to sleep at night--did you still insist on sticking it out and not search for something better? I know of so many people in this situation.

Have you ever continued practicing the faith you grew up with because it is familiar, but in reality you are just going through the motions with no passion? When you felt pulled by another faith that ignited a spark in you, were you unable to take a leap of faith (no pun intended) and let the spirit lead you to try something different on a long-term basis? I know of people in this situation too.

All of these situations are very different, I realize. But I feel like the moral in all of them is the same: prayer is not synonymous with magic.

It would be wonderful if a divine being could swoop down and save our lives, literally and metaphorically. It would be wonderful if all afflictions in this world could be erased through a simple prayer or if we could literally hear a voice telling us what we should do rather than having to settle with an ambiguous feeling that something "just isn't right."

I admit I still struggle with the "prayer should equal magic" thinking, but I am slowly realizing that since God knew the purpose he had for us before we were even born, prayer is really about asking God to be with us for whatever life throws our way. I have also come to believe that God should not be thought of as a physical being but as a spiritual force that sends us the signs that a circumstance in our lives isn't right for us, inspires the helicopter pilot to go rescue the lady from the flooded house or helps the blind person to recognize and accept that He has a purpose for their blindness and live out this purpose instead of fantisizing about what isn't meant to be. It is up to us to recognize these signs and "move our feet" accordingly.

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Students Suspect Preferential Treatment of Blind Student

Oct. 17th, 2011 | 07:10 pm

Shepherdsville, WI. School administrators at Clifford University are investigating student complaints regarding perceived preferential treatment of a blind student by professors. The student, Allison Nastoff, is a senior pursuing a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a politics minor.

Typically people at the center of serious investigations like this decline our interview requests, but Nastoff says she has nothing to hide.

"An investigation isn't necessary in all honesty," Nastoff said, "the preferential treatment my peers speak of isn't perceived. It's real."

Nastoff, who has been blind almost her entire life, said some preferential treatment has always been a part of life.

"I've always received a little bit of special treatment, simply because totally blind people like me are rare, and thus fascinating," Nastoff said.

But even she has noticed a sharp increase in preferential treatment since she started college. It just so happened that the start of college coincided with the acquisition of her first guide dog, a yellow lab named Gilbert.

This issue was first brought to the attention of the administration by Thomas Truman, a student in Nastoff's history class freshman year.

"I had to stay up all night finishing a paper and I was exhausted. But being the motivated student that I am, I dragged myself out of bed and made it to the 8am history class. But I inadvertently dozed off and my head slumped onto the desk," Truman said.

According to Truman's official complaint, Dr. Jefferson noticed and reprimanded him for being disrespectful, telling him he shouldn't come to class if he is too tired to pay attention. But a couple days later when Gilbert snored loudly during a lecture on stagflation, Dr. Jefferson laughed and said affectionately, "I guess Gilbert isn't interested in stagflation."

"How is that fair?" Truman would like to know.

Since Truman first raised the issue, other students have started to come forward.

"I sat next to her in an International Relations course last year," said Hillary Palin.

Palin recalled one assignment where they all had to write papers about whether or not the United States should send foreign aid to countries with corrupt dictators like Libya, and come up with our own ideas for how the United States could get aid to these impoverished countries without supporting corrupt dictators.

"The day papers were handed back, I overheard Dr. Biden say to her "95 percent! Nice job!" as he gave Gilbert an affectionate pat. At first, I was impressed that she scored so high and was going to congratulate her, but couldn't help glancing over her shoulder and noticing a comment Dr. Biden wrote on her paper," Palin said.

As Palin tells it, Nastoff proposed as one of her solutions to the issue that money should be sent to non-governmental organizations like the Peace Corps, to which Dr. Biden pointed out that the Peace Corps is part of the government.

"I had no idea it was possible to even get in to college not knowing that. Would such a demonstration of stupidity have been so easily forgiven if I had written the paper, being that I am not allowed to bring my dog to class? I doubt it," Palin said.

Phillip Peepys is in an english class with Nastoff this semester.

"Class had just begun, I mean JUST begun, when Allison and Lynda Dillard started giggling. Now if my friends and I had been giggling amongst ourselves during class Dr. Webster would have asked us to leave for being disruptive," Peepys said, "but when Dr. Webster found out they had been laughing because Gilbert was already snoring loudly, she laughed herself and stopped class, not to reprimand her but to rub Gilbert's belly! Now I don't care what anyone says. Laughing while the professor is giving a lecture, even over a cute dog is rude and the fact that Allison was able to get by with it is so unfair!"

Yet the administration has also gotten wind from a student who is in Nastoff's senior capstone class this semester that this unfairness has gone beyond the campus boundaries as well.

To graduate, all students in the communication program are required to have 150 hours of internship experience and are expected to seek out and apply for their internship independently.

"I found an internship, but only after sending out over fifty applications and attending numerous interviews," said Norah Rawls, "Allison used to be my best friend until I was chatting with her on the first day of school while waiting for Dr. Johari to start class and learned that she only sent out three applications, two of them resulting in interviews, both of these interviews resulting in internship offers!"

One of these offers, and the one Nastoff ended up taking was an internship with the governor's office. Rawls acknowledges that Nastoff is smart and an excellent writer but "come on! No one gets such an impressive internship with such little effort these days. I personally feel these offers had more to do with Gilbert's cuteness than Allison's intelligence."

We contacted the Dean of students who declined our request for an interview but sent a written statement.

"Our investigation is still ongoing, but at this point we do not intend to discipline these professors, partly because the same students who filed complaints later asked that they be recanted because they love Gilbert too."

We were able to confirm that this is true.

"I regretted filing that complaint as soon as I did it," Truman said, "he's a dog after all! He can get away with not paying attention to the professor."

"If I had a choice of either playing with an adorable dog in my dorm room or doing the research that would have shown the Peace Corps is part of the government, I cannot say I wouldn't have chosen to play with the dog, so I realized I shouldn't fault her," Palin said.

"Even professors admit lectures can get boring," Peepys said, "it occurred to me that I shouldn't be complaining about a momentary diversion from a lecture, a glimpse of pure innocence from a dog who can do what we all wish we could do without any consequences."

"If I were a hiring coordinator, I suppose I would have hired someone who can bring a dog every day to lighten the mood of the office," Rawls said.

"I do sincerely apologize for any bitter feelings Gilbert and I may have caused for my peers, especially regarding the prestigious internship. But the reality is that in a society where the unemployment rate for blind people is 70 percent, I'll take any advantage I can get," Nastoff said, "and frankly, given how much Gilbert has made life easier for me by charming professors and employers, I don't understand why only five percent of blind people choose to have a guide dog."

So while most of her peers are already fretting about how they will find a job after college, Nastoff is confident that Gilbert's charm will land her any job and any promotion she wants. Her ultimate dream is to get a job that pays enough that she can spend two weeks a year in the Gilbert Islands.

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Let Season 8 Begin!

Oct. 14th, 2011 | 04:46 pm

Well readers, it's the second most wonderful time of the year, the first being Christmas of course! This second most wonderful time of the year though is the beginning of a new season of LJ Idol! Yes Idol contestants, I'm coming back!

For readers of this blog who may be new, LJ Idol is an amazingly fun spin-off of reality shows like American Idol where each week, you are given a topic to write about. People vote for their favorite entries and whoever has the fewest votes for that week is eliminated, or should I say, "sent home."

Last year, Season 7 was my first experience as a contestant on LJ Idol. I had a wonderful time, but unfortunately was sent home on week 10. But this season, I can officially call myself a veteran. In other words, things are going to be different this year.

I would like to say with confidence that I will win, but I won't be that arrogant. I hate how every contestant on shows like American Idol introduce themselves by saying they are confident they will win. While it is great to project confidence and think positively, the reality is there are a lot of excellent, and for that matter much more experienced writers in this community and only one person can win. If I win, that would be so amazing, but if I don't I am alright with that too. However, it is my goal to at least make it further than week 10 this year.

Finally, I should apologize to my fellow contestants for not being able to read everyone's entries or respond to all the comments regarding my own entry. I know that when I signed up to be a contestant last year, I mentioned wanting to meet other writers and make new friends. I genuinely would love to do this, but unfortunately, I quickly discovered last season that being a full-time college student doesn't allow me to be as social as I would like to be. I could catch up on entries on semester breaks, but it feels kind of awkward to comment on entries after everyone has moved on to the next topic. So what I ended up doing last year was reading the entries of contestants on my friend list and then go to the polls and read a couple of the entries receiving a lot of votes in my tribe. If I don't read your entry, it is not because I don't care about your writing. I simply cannot read them all, and I don't think my parents would be pleased if I failed college classes over LJ Idol! No offense.

The same is true for responding to comments on my own entries. The braille computer I use is kind of slow, so even replying to one comment takes forever. I could reply to one or two of them but don't want it to appear that I appreciate some people's comments more than others. So since I cannot reply to all of the comments and don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, I typically won't reply to anyone's comments. But please know that I do read and appreciate them all. I will graduate college in May, so by season 9, I should be a college graduate with a job and no more homework and therefore a lot more time for an online social life.

With that being said, some of you readers are probably understandably asking, "if you don't have time to read everyone's entries or respond to comments, why compete?" My simple answer is that life can be pretty dreary this time of year where I live. It is midway through the semester, right when classes are at the height of boringness. My trek to class often involves cold damp wind or rain and since I am too old to get dressed up and go trick-or-treating and our neighborhood is so spread out that trick-or-treating is no fun anyway, there is nothing to look forward to until Thanksgiving. But reading comments about my writing, having the opportunity to read as many entries as I can from other amazing writers and the thrill of watching the polls is just enough to put a spring in my step and give me something to look forward to amidst the monotony of school life, and although I have no way of scientifically proving it, I feel like when I have something to look forward to, I have an easier time staying motivated to get my school work done.

So I understand the reasoning that "if you may not be able to read my work, why should I read yours?" If you don't read my writing, that is fine, especially since I would really have no way of knowing. But if you would like to motivate a student to keep writing and study hard in school, I sure would appreciate it and I promise that next year I will pull my weight and more actively support you. On that note, let the games begin!

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I'm a Winner!

Sep. 14th, 2011 | 03:34 pm

Well readers, several years ago, Mom told me about a newspaper article she read about a couple women who have a hobby of simply entering contests. I don't remember the details of this article anymore, but I am guessing they didn't win often enough to make a living out of this hobby, but I seem to remember that they won a fair amount of the time. This article has stuck with me, and rubbed off on me. I love entering contests! I have entered the adult Braille Readers are Leaders contest my sophomore and junior year, and plan to enter again despite the fact that it falls during the school year when I don't have the time to read and thus never win. (I do plenty of school reading, but according to the contest rules, only pleasure reading can be counted). In high school, I entered a couple of writing contests, including one sponsored by Scholastic where you sent an essay on why you love the Harry Potter books, and the writer of the best essay won a trip to London for the release of a Harry Potter book that summer! (I think it was the fifth book that year). I didn't win that contest, but a couple years later, I took third place in a contest hosted by the American Printing House for the Blind to celebrate their 150th anniversary, which won me a T-shirt. And of course, I buy lottery tickets every now and then. I know you have better odds of getting struck by lightning than winning the lottery, but somebody has to win! That person could be me someday!
This summer, I got wind of two contests to enter. The first was hosted by Humanware, the maker of my BrailleNote. All I had to do was write a story about how the brailleNote has made a difference in my life, an easy task since I love it so much and spend many of my waking hours using it. The top stories would be used on their web site to promote the product and the writer of the winning story could win a Trekker Breeze, a GPS device that I have heard other blind people rave about. I was hoping to win one to try it out. If I liked it, it would be an awesome thing to have to keep this self-confessed geographically challenged person from getting lost when I am living on my own, and I could buy a replacement when it wore out. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't be out any money. Unfortunately, I didn't win, and I haven't even seen the winning story on their web site yet. But in my objective opinion, I wrote an awesome and I think creative story, so even though it didn't win, I thought I would share it here.

Way back in the day when I started school, I had to do all of my assignments and take all the notes in class on a manual Perkins brailler. If you made a mistake, you either scratched it out with your fingernail and typed over it, or crossed it out by punching out full braille cells over the top of the mistake. Both of these options looked so sloppy to me that often I would just take out the paper and start over. Then when I was done with each assignment, my teacher's aid had to transcribe what I had written in to print for the teacher. In addition, you had to punch the keys hard and as a result, it was loud! I will never forget how one day when I was in first or second grade, my teacher's aid decided to take it in to the cafeteria to braille a worksheet for me during the lunch hour, and even over the deafening din of 200 chattering kids, I could hear her typing on it. While it was good for weight lifting and building arm strength, the heaviness of this machine wasn't appealing either when I had to carry it to another room.
I dreaded the occasions when I would have to use a regular computer to type papers or do research. I learned how to type using a computer, but couldn't type nearly as fast as I could with the braille code. Editing what I had written using the arrow keys or finding the information I needed on a web page was tedious. And don't get me started on how annoying the screen reader voice was or how difficult it was to understand sometimes!
All of the handouts the teachers used in class had to be brailled for me, and since braille is embossed on thicker paper and takes up more space than print, I had to have a larger desk with shelves that could store thick binders while the other kids had light paper folders. By fourth grade, a normal backpack no longer fit all the homework I had to take home, so my teacher got me a suitcase on wheels. When I got to middle school and all of my classes were in different rooms, I had so much gear to carry between binders, the braillewriter and any textbooks I needed that I was given a cart to pull behind me through the halls.
To hear me talk about these primitive conditions, I probably sound like an old person, but actually, I am only 21 years old. Yet I feel as though I went from the dinosaur age to the modern age in an instant when I received my first BrailleNote my freshman year of high school. All at once, I was able to type a paper just as fast as a sighted person, erase a character with a simple backspace, even go back and quickly change a word or even delete a whole sentence with the cursor edit buttons above the braille display. I could sit in a regular desk and take notes in class typing no louder than a sighted person typing on a regular computer, and (shhh, don't tell my teachers this, but if it was a boring class, the braillenote also made it a lot easier to be naughty and "stare at the clock" on my braille display without anyone noticing.) When class was over, I could put all of my things in to a normal backpack and hoist it effortlessly on to my back because all those handouts that once had to be on paper could be sent to me electronically and most of the books I needed could be downloaded from bookshare.org or scanned and sent to me via e-mail. Often times, I could turn in assignments via e-mail too or else simply hook the braillenote up to a regular printer and print them.
On the internet, I could find things just as quickly and efficiently as a sighted person with the braillenote's more straight-forward key commands and read articles in peaceful silence.
Even my sighted parents noticed how quickly I took to the braillenote and loved it. I will be entering my senior year of college in the fall, and I still love it and have never attempted a day of class or an evening of homework without it.
I loved the Braillenote Classic that I had through my senior year of high school and the Mpower I had my first two years of college. But I have to say, the braillenote Apex I have now is the best yet with its light weight and built-in wireless internet connection so that I can access the internet from anywhere.
I plan to be a loyal life-long braillenote user because given how much this invention has changed my life in just the past eight years, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for this technology, technology that in my opinion is the best technology ever invented for the blind.

The other contest I entered was the Bookshare Everywhere Summer Contest, hosted by, you guessed it, bookshare.org. The grand prize was an iPad, another product I have been wanting to play with, but don't want to pay for in case I don't like it. This grand prize went to the person who could guess the total number of books that would be downloaded from Bookshare over the course of the contest without going over. I just want to kick myself for missing this prize by a mere three books! Would you believe that my guess was 1,000, the official total was 1,007 and the winner guessed 1,002! But there were ways to win other smaller but still nice prizes.
Another way to win was to have the most creative entry for how each book made your summer fun. I only submitted two of these entries. I read a total of four books during the contest period. One of these books was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I wanted to re-read after seeing the movie with my dad because I forgot what happened in the book. This book is available on bookshare, but I felt like reading the old fashioned paper version, so I couldn't count it. The other book was Jaycee Dugard's book "A Stolen Life", and given the disturbing things she went through, I felt like it would have been disrespectful to use it for this kind of a silly contest. And of course, it did not make my summer fun. It gave me chills and nightmares.
The books I submitted entries for were the last two books in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and my entries were not very creative. I forget what I wrote for the first book, but for the second book I wrote that it made my summer fun by giving me a deeper appreciation for how fortunate I am. At the time I read this book, I was doing my internship, which involved sitting in an air conditioned office for just four hours a day. When I got home, I had a huge lunch prepared with food bought at the grocery store and then could spend the rest of the afternoon on pleasure, quite the contrast to the hard work of the farm life Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts.
The final category was the most interesting place you took your bookshare book, and I couldn't believe my fingers when I read the announcement of the contest winners yesterday and discovered I took the prize for this category! The first book I submitted, I had read during breaks at the governor's office where I did my internship! For taking the prize in this category, I won an MP3 player, which will be mailed to me soon!
My dad likes to joke that we are destined to be losers because when we buy lottery tickets, it is rare that we have even one matching number. To win any money, I think you have to have three matching numbers. But when I told my mom that I had won this prize in the Bookshare contest, we both agreed that we have to buy a lottery ticket today!

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Happy Labor Day Working Dogs!

Sep. 5th, 2011 | 04:40 pm

Hello readers, it's Gilbert here. Mom just realized that while she has talked a lot about me in her entries this summer, she forgot to give me the chance to speak for myself. "What better day is there than Labor Day to let the working dog speak for himself!" she told me. I agree! But don't worry. I'm not going to go on strike because I've got a good life and except for a couple days when she took me for walks and didn't realize how hot it was, she hasn't made me work too hard. I am a little perturbed that one of these times was August 4, my three-year anniversary with her. We were in Cincinnati for her grandma's 80th birthday and after my grandma and her grandma had been doing sight-seeing from the car for awhile and Mom was getting bored and cranky, Grandma tried to console her with a walk on a park trail. I was quite content sleeping in the air conditioned car, but since we dogs cannot talk, humans always get their way in these disputes and I found myself being harnessed up and forced to walk in the heat and humidity. It wasn't long before I was panting for mercy. But fortunately, my mom started sweating not long after so it wasn't a very long walk and when we got back to the car Mom and I both drank lots of water and Mom finally came around and appreciated the simple contentment of sitting in an air conditioned car.
But the overwhelming majority of the summer, I didn't have to go out in the many days of heat and humidity because Mom didn't like to be out in it either since she has a medical condition that makes her miserable the rest of the day if out in the heat too long. If it wasn't hot, Grandpa, Mom and I would go for walks, but there were many days when it was so hot that once I had guided her down the steps of her internship building and found the car, my work day was done.
Occasionally, I had to work weekends, but Mom tried to keep these to a minimum because she prefers to be home on weekends too. On May 14 and 15, we took a trip to visit the church that Mom raved about back in March, the church that she heard was the site of an apparition of the blessed mother and where she has heard miracles have occurred. I am relieved to report that she did not experience a miracle at this church because if she had gotten her sight back, she might have been ethically obligated to give me back to the program that trained me which would have been a sad occasion for both of us. I didn't get to partake in the full tour of an outdoor area of this chapel because some dog in the neighborhood came over and was following me around trying to talk to me. I wanted to socialize with him so badly that Grandpa had to put me in the car. (It was a cool rainy day so I didn't get overheated and we were about ready to leave anyway). About a month and a half later was the trip to Wisconsin Dells that Mom told you all about in the "There's No Place Like Home" post. Then on August 13, Mom attempted the state fair with me again. As she mentioned, that didn't go so well as I'm getting too old to handle all those big scary cows up close. And when we got home, Grandma and Grandpa said I was filthy and needed a bath before I could set foot in the house, but it was after dark and kind of chilly outside. I know I was trained to be good during grooming, but given these circumstances I couldn't help crying when I was sprayed with the hose. The whole family felt bad about this and gave me extra love the next day. But two weeks later, I had to go through the same thing after a day at the Bristol Renaissance Fair, a silly event out in a country area with unique things like jousting, silly sword fights and whip cracking shows. The fair itself was much more enjoyable for me since it wasn't crowded and I didn't see any animals. But when we got home, I had to have another bath. (If this cruel treatment keeps up, maybe I will go on strike). But my mom told me that since we may be living on our own next summer, life will be crazy enough between keeping up an apartment, getting herself to work, buying her own groceries and cooking her own meals that she won't feel like going to the fair. If she does, she promised she would insist that Grandma and Grandpa only take her for a couple hours rather than making it an all-day event so that I can stay home.
Speaking of the possibility of living at home, Grandma, Mom and I took a tour of an apartment building last Wednesday that is specially designed for visually impaired people. I will let Mom speak for herself about her opinion of the place, but I'm not sure I liked it. Part of it was that I could sense my mom's excitement about the place which made me nervous and excited. Some loud construction we had to pass to get to the building only added to my nervousness so that when we got in to the building, I was walking too fast, sniffing everything and not listening to commands, which Mom feared was giving our tour guide and potential landlord a very bad impression of us when I don't usually behave like that. When we passed a stuffed dog, I even barked at it, resulting in an uncharacteristically fierce leash correction from Mom. This settled me down a little bit, but I still wasn't quite the mellow dog I usually am. The landlord was very understanding and even told Mom to let me sniff the stuffed dog so I could see that it wasn't real. But once we were back in the car, Mom told me if she did decide to live there, I would need to take a huge chill pill. But let's not worry about that right now. Mom says she doesn't think she could handle living on her own until after graduation which is still a full eight months away.
Then the next day, September 1, was our last first day of school. I can already tell it's going to be a wonderful year. For one thing, although I think the campus community always thought we were the coolest kids on campus, this unofficial designation has special meaning this year since we are seniors. And, the fact that we are seniors also meant that Mom got first pick of classes at registration last year, a privilege which she used to our advantage so that our first class isn't until noon each day! Needless to say, we haven't had any difficulty getting used to sleeping in and taking our time getting ready in the morning. And come November and December when it starts getting cold, we won't suffer as much because the sun is higher in the sky at noon than it is at 8:00 in the morning when we used to have classes.
Anyway, it was so wonderful to see all of our friends and favorite teachers again and we both got complements for loosing weight over the summer. I was delighted to learn we have the same English teacher as last semester because while all the professors love me, this professor REALLY loves me, and always gives me pets before she starts class. I was a little sad that one girl who loved me so much she gave Mom a bag of home-made peanut butter dog treats for me wasn't in this English class, but maybe we will see her around campus.
I got corrected in Interpersonal Communication for trying to sneak off and sit with one of Mom friends instead of staying by her feet, but other than that, she said I did a great job, especially when walking the route from Main Hall back to the campus center, a route which I hadn't done all summer. (I took her to the crosswalk on this route when she prefers to use the beeping light, but that was her fault, and she admitted as much, because she was rusty on her directions and didn't tell me where she wanted to go).
Then at 4:00, we went to a barbecue exclusively for seniors where there was information about special activities for seniors and of course lots of food. As usual, Mom wouldn't give me any of her burger, but as usual, I found plenty of food on the floor. Thursday was also a hot humid day and Mom noticed I was panting even just lying down in the grass under the picnic table. But it was worth it because I got lots of pets from old friends from choir and Statistics. I wish Mom would shave off my coat for these brutal summers, but Mom says I might regret not having my coat if it didn't grow back in time for winter and I guess she is right. Winter is so much longer than summer where we live too.
The school year will really get underway tomorrow but before life got crazy again, a relative on Grandpa's side of the family wanted to have an end-of-summer family reunion/party at her house near Chicago. At first, Mom wasn't sure if she could go because she had a lot of reading to do. It was so funny to watch her read in the car because she could barely keep her eyes open. She told me it was pages and pages of philosophical rambling about an essayist named Montaigne and his views on "the self" and "the other" and how man's idea of nature and customs is different based on the society they were raised in. I don't get why humans have to study stuff like that and make life more complicated than it needs to be. When will we dogs ever convince you humans that life is about living in the moment, melting the hearts of anyone who gives attention and/or treats and sleeping the hours away in blissful ignorance about the problems in the world? (Actually, I think Mom secretly agrees with me, but as usual, she is in that phase where she is refreshed from summer and determined that this will be the year she actually completely reads everything she is supposed to read. But it won't be long before my influence rubs off on her and she'll be back to quickly skimming these ramblings right before class).
But anyway, yesterday she decided it was too beautiful a day to stay home alone and she wanted me to have the chance to meet and possibly play with this relative's big dog named Otis. I'm so glad she came to her senses because we both had a wonderful time. Well, Otis wasn't happy about another male dog invading his turf and getting all the attention. While he sniffed me a little bit, he mostly barked his displeasure from the house, especially when Mom let his owner give me one of his Purina Frosty Paws, a cup of ice cream specially made for dogs! It was so good I was in denial for several minutes after the relative took the empty cup away that it was really gone! Mom says she had never heard of them, but if I'm good, she'll look for them in our stores and let me have one every now and then. They would be perfect for next summer if it is anything like this summer was! But I digress. Usually I go crazy with excitement about the prospect of playing with another dog, but since Otis wasn't happy about my presence, I was respectful, getting in my submissive pose and letting him have his space. But since this house has a fenced in yard, I did get to run off-leash a bit, the perfect way to celebrate the end of the dog days of summer and the start of our senior year.
Well, I better get going because Grandpa is cooking barbecue ribs and he might need my help. In honor of Labor Day, I hope working dogs everywhere are helping their cooks out too!

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Discipline Returns

Aug. 23rd, 2011 | 01:27 pm

(I intended on posting this yesterday, but LiveJournal wasn’t working again. I didn’t want to change anything in this post though, so just keep in mind that it was intended for yesterday when you read it).
Well readers, remember back in January when I wrote an entry for an assistance dog blog carnival on the theme of Decisions? One thing I mentioned in this post was how I could totally relate to those new mothers and their utopian determination that they are going to be perfect and do everything the experts say you are supposed to do, only to discover after a couple days or weeks that perfection is unrealistic. Well, in the midst of my fury about being criticized for not walking Gilbert when the weather was bad, having him sleep in a separate room and forbidding any and all treats and table scraps, I neglected to mention perhaps my most serious deviation from the perfection I was so determined to maintain in my early days with Gilbert. I am speaking of the daily obedience ritual, which so many dog trainers and guide dog handlers say is crucial for bonding between dog and handler, and for preserving the good behavior of the dog in public. I'm not going to make any excuses. Unlike the expectation that I walk Gilbert when the ground is covered in ice, daily discipline is not an unrealistic expectation. It only takes a couple minutes which could have easily been worked in even on the days when I was swamped with homework. But a week after the dog trainer graduated Gilbert and me, I just fell off the wagon.
My parents tried to help me get back on. My dad would ask "did you do discipline today?" or say "you need to do some discipline with him" whenever he was the slightest bit naughty. But I never could get back on. I would do discipline sporadically over school breaks, or a few days leading up to an outing where Gilbert would see other guide dogs and I would be unofficially judged on my competence based on his behavior. I even tried to make it a new year's resolution! But like a lot of new year's resolutions, it collapsed by January 3.
When I started feeling guilty, I would rationalize with myself. "He doesn't need discipline. When we are in public and I ask him to sit, he obeys me perfectly!" Or "discipline doesn't have anything to do with behavior. When we are out in public, I am constantly showered with complements by strangers about how calm and well-behaved he is, just lying at my feet." Or "even when I was doing discipline, he would still go crazy at the sight of another dog, so daily discipline wouldn't help this behavior."
But what better time is there than the start of a new school year, and my final school year at that (I will graduate college in May with a Bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in political science), to try and turn over a new leaf and do daily obedience again?
A couple other factors played a role in this decision as well. Last week, I took Gilbert to our state fair, thinking that since he is approaching midlife (he will be five in January), that maybe he would have an easier time keeping a cool head while walking me slowly and carefully through the large crowds. Well, I was wrong. My parents ended up having to do sighted guide most of the time because he got so overwhelmed by the crowds, walking too fast for conditions and bumping me in to people. And then when we walked past a toy mechanical cat in the exposition hall and when he saw another dog in an exhibit outside, you would have thought he was a puppy! I mentioned that even when I did daily discipline, he would still go crazy when he saw another dog. But I got to thinking maybe that was because we were such a new team at that time that we hadn't bonded enough to apply the philosophy behind this daily obedience ritual, the fact that I am the boss, the leader of the pack, to the rest of the day. But now that we have been together three years, maybe this discipline will be more effective and we will both remember the purpose of this ritual when faced with high-distraction environments.
But another reason that I have been motivated to return discipline to our routine is that I have noticed that this summer, I have been so wrapped up in my internship and my dreams of being a writer that I haven't spent enough quality time with him. I do take him on walks of course, but my parents don't feel comfortable with me going by myself because our neighborhood has no sidewalks, and with them following close behind me, these walks are not the private bonding affairs I had dreamed of when applying for a guide dog. The same story is true when working him in places other than my college campus.
Just before Memorial Day, my parents, Gilbert and I went to Indiana to visit my grandma and watch a parade at my aunt's house. The fact that I felt a cold coming on that weekend and was tired from a long car ride combined to make me irritable that night by the time we got to Grandma's house. But after dinner at the American Legion, my grandma wanted to visit the cemetery to decorate my grandpa's grave and look at the Memorial Day decorations. My mom told me this cemetery has a nice paved trail where Gilbert and I could walk, so while my parents and grandma were decorating the grave, Gilbert and I struck out on our own. My irritability melted away almost instantly. It was just getting dark out so it was cool and quiet with the most wonderful breeze and the air smelled fresh. When I realized there were no voices yapping along behind us, I found myself talking to Gilbert, not just praising and encouraging him like the dog trainer said to do, but actually having a one-sided conversation with him, kind of like Mr. Rogers talking to his neighbor. "How are you doing Buddy? Isn't it the most gorgeous night? I just love the smell of flowers! Can you smell them? I love the peace and quiet of this place." Just like Mr. Rogers' interaction with his neighbor, which was anyone watching the show, it didn't matter that Gilbert couldn't talk back to me. Though he wasn't wagging his tail, I could just tell that he was content, so I bet he would agree that when so much of life is loud and busy, resembling the singing dinosaurs and talking moppets that are the mainstay of so many shows, a few moments resembling Mr. Rogers' more subdued approach and soothing one-way conversational voice is a wonderful treat. And when Gilbert had a brief moment of naughtiness and wanted to veer off the paved trail and explore the grass, I loved having the chance to notice this and correct him all by myself. My parents try not to interfere on walks, but sometimes, they just cannot help themselves, so I never get the full experience of working him on my own and bonding with him that I got to do in this cemetery.
Gilbert is a difficult dog to play with because generally, unless another dog comes to visit, he is not a playful dog. I have tried playing fetch, but have to do a tun of coaxing to get him to bring the ball back to me, not go hide somewhere to chew on it. So between his laziness and disinterest in bringing the ball back and my lack of patience trying to train him to bring it back, it is a game we both tire of quickly.
On a hilarious side note though, there is one toy that I discovered fascinates him. Gilbert loves the slinky! One day back in March while I was on spring break, my dad was cleaning and uncovered a slinky I hadn't seen in years. He had been absently rolling it in his hands while watching television the night before, and the next day when I happened to be home alone, I was looking for something else and discovered the slinky lying on the coffee table. As soon as I felt it, I was overcome by the urge to be a kid again and try to get the slinky to walk down the stairs. (Important practical life skills like getting a slinky to walk down stairs have never been my strong suit, so I ended up cheating a lot, putting one end of the slinky on the top step and the other end three steps down when I'm pretty sure you are supposed to put the whole slinky on one step. But hey, it still made a sound that resembled walking, and I had fun which is all that really matters right?)
Anyway, as soon as I picked up the slinky and headed for the wooden stairs leading to the basement, Gilbert woke up from his nap and followed me. When I sat down on the first step, he sat behind me watching curiously. He just sat there while I positioned the slinky and gave it a push, but when I heard it reach the basement floor, a rare feat when I was a child as the slinky would never quite make it to the bottom back then, I cheered and clapped! As if that cheer were the sound of a take-off bell for a race, Gilbert was off, almost knocking me down as he shot past me tail smacking me in the face as he passed, ran downstairs, grabbed the slinky in his mouth and brought it back! I was so amazed I had to do it a few more times and show my parents when they got home. But then it occurred to me that I probably shouldn't let him play with the slinky anymore for fear that since it wasn't intended to be a dog toy, he could choke on it. But as of yet, it is the only toy he has ever shown that much interest in. So until I find a more dog safe toy that excites him as much as the slinky did, I am not sure how to get him interested in playing.
Despite the absence of play and discipline, Gilbert hasn't been ignored by any means. I still bond with him through his daily care and he gets plenty of belly rubs and scratches behind the ears. I work him every chance I get when on errands or vacations with my family. But I want to do something more, something fun in addition to just his physical care for just the two of us with no sighted supervision. Returning daily discipline to the routine, it occurred to me, would be the perfect solution.
The good news for Gilbert though is that in addition to returning discipline, I have also decided to try returning the daily dog treat as well so that discipline can be something we both look forward to. He looks forward to eating the treat, and I look forward to the adorable way he sniffs my pocket, as if to say, "you cannot fool me. Hand it over!"
It so happened that on Friday, the day I came to this resolution, Mom and I had to go to my college to pay my tuition, and my college is located near Pet Supplies Plus, the only store in our area that carries Nutrisource, the dog food recommended by the dog trainer. So we decided to run in to the store and buy another bag on the way home. As we were walking past the dog treats, Mom said "remember those treats we used to give him? Would you like to get some of them again?" "You know, why not," I decided. As I said, it would make discipline more fun and rewarding, and now that the oppressive heat and humidity has released its grip on our area, he is getting regular walks again so I didn't have to worry as much about him gaining weight.
We couldn't find the treats we used to get, but settled on Natural Choice dog biscuits. I don't like the fact that they are kind of big, probably the size of two milk bones put together. (I wish, for the benefit of blind people, that products could have a tactile picture of the product so I could have a better idea of what I was getting before I had already paid for it, brought it home and opened the box.) If he appears to be gaining weight, I will definitely start breaking them in half. But the package claims they are an all-natural chicken and rice formula so it sounds high quality and reasonably healthy.
The dog trainer told me he didn't give Gilbert any treats during training or discipline because he likes dogs to work for praise not food. Instead, he liked to give the dogs their treat as a bedtime snack. I like the philosophy of working for praise, so I don't give him pieces of the treat during the discipline session. But as a person who finds a treat like a scoop of ice cram especially meaningful if I have earned it after a hard college exam or something, I like the idea of treating Gilbert at the end of every session for a job well done. I am proud to say that I have stuck to the routine for three days now. We haven't done the discipline session for today yet, but I have no intentions of falling off the wagon now because this new routine has lived up to the fun and rewarding experience I had anticipated.
So here's the routine for our discipline sessions these days. I haven't established a set time of day for discipline. I have heard some people say the best time to do it is first thing in the morning, but I have no ambition first thing in the morning. While some say that designating a set time of the day to do it helps them stick with something, I have found that as soon as something comes up like a new class schedule that interferes with the time I had set, I cannot re-adjust the routine accordingly and my good intentions collapse. So I am going to use the same policy I use to stick to my exercise routine. It doesn't matter when you do it, as long as it gets done once a day.
Since we haven't done discipline in so long, I am starting simple and keeping him on leash, but once we have discipline well mastered again, I am excited about incorporating distractions, like making him sit and stay by me when the doorbell rings, when the car horn honks to announce my dad's arrival home from work, while I am preparing his food and ultimately my goal is to ask a neighbor to bring their dog to visit and make him sit and stay until I give the command that he can play. But for now, we start by practicing sit and down on leash. He doesn't ever disobey the command like he did occasionally in the early days of training, but now during discipline, he will anticipate the next command before it is given. So after I have said "Gilbert!" but before I have said "sit!" he is already sitting. So every day, I have had to correct him for this until we have done it three times without anticipation. (He will still twitch a little every time, but as long as he catches himself, I count it as a success). Then I lengthen the leash, walk out in front of him telling him to stay until I call him. Then I call him and once he is sitting in front of me and I have praised him, I tell him to heel and he sits at my heel. And then comes the hardest but most rewarding part of all. I tell him to stay and then I walk further away, his treat still in my pocket. I have decided to do discipline in the downstairs family room of our house and walk upstairs to the foyer with his treat. (Friday and Saturday, I asked my parents to peak downstairs and verify that he wasn't doing anything sneaky, but when they told me both times he wasn't, I decided to start trusting him with this exercise yesterday.
After humming a song, making him wait a short but for him torturous amount of time as I later noticed drool on the carpet where I left him, I say "Gilbert come!" And with absolutely no hesitation, I hear happy paws dashing up the stairs and Gilbert comes to sit in front of me. He has earned his treat!
I have already noticed small changes in him after just three days of discipline. Most notably, I have noticed that when I call him to me, his obedience is more instant. He would always come, but a lot of times, I would hear him stretching and dragging his feet a bit. Already, our bond is improving, a beautiful realization, especially because it occurred to me that today is the three year anniversary of our graduation and the official start of our life together. If I keep doing discipline every day, just imagine how much stronger our bond will grow in the years to come.

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