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Topic 2 Season 10

Dec. 4th, 2016 | 07:37 am

I met my best friend in 2008. He came at just the right time to assist me in navigating college and the start of my career, and you couldn't ask for a more loving loyal companion.

Every morning when I wake up, he is waiting outside my door for me and greets me with sincere joy. Although he has some arthritis now, he still eagerly comes to me when it is time to leave for work each day. He is loved by all my co-workers for his sweet disposition, and the way he is loyally by my side all day and always has a positive attitude. Coworkers have said just seeing him brightens their day. In fact, he is so beloved by the office that despite falling asleep and snoring loudly right under the boss's nose, he will never be fired.

He never learned to read and write, but he is intelligent in his own way, and has taught me a few things about life. For one thing, he doesn't know or care how much money I may or may not have. In fact, he doesn't even understand the concept of money. He only asks that his basic needs are met and is more interested in my love and attention than material things. This attitude has given me a more mature perspective in my interaction with others, especially around occasions like Christmas where I also have come to realize that the joy of a new thing is fleeting, whereas love and attention given and received with family and friends offers truer, lasting joy.

On a similar note, my friend has also taught me to better appreciate the simple pleasures of life. It is so tempting to get consumed by self-pity, or to compare yourself to others and think "if only I had that job, or if only I had more money and could afford to live on my own, life would be so much more exciting." But when you don't understand and thus cannot care about concepts like money and status, simple pleasures like eating, or looking out the window make every day an exciting day. While I am still a work in progress, I am trying to adopt this outlook on life, this appreciation and gratitude for the simple pleasures of life.

Studies have shown that friends like him have the IQ of a small child, but part of having such a low IQ is that he is only capable of living his life one moment at a time. I cannot tell you how much time I have wasted worrying about something that will happen at work tomorrow, or fretting about what the future holds, while my friend is snoring contentedly. He doesn't know what the future holds either, but doesn't seem to care because in this current moment, he is sleeping peacefully, and that is all that matters. This also means he is incapable of holding grudges. A few months ago, he accompanied me for a job interview. It was a dream job I really wanted, but he made me look bad, and a month later, I received the rejection letter. For a week or so after that letter, I did what I had to do to take care of him, but the thought of him almost made me cry as I wondered if he may have cost me the job. When I would call his name, I could feel frustration and resentment in my tone of voice, and after work, I would just retreat to my room and not want anything to do with him. But soon it occurred to me that while I was replaying this moment in my head over and over, he had probably long forgotten about it. And even in the midst of that moment, he was not behaving out of malice toward me. He did not understand the seriousness of a job interview. All he knew was that there was another dog in the office which was unusual, and he got carried away and acted out of child-like exuberance. When I came to these realizations, I forgave him in my heart and showed him extra love. In return, he gave no indication that he noticed my resentment of him, or if he was aware of it, he had clearly forgiven and forgotten. Since that experience, I have noticed myself doing a better job of trying to apply this attitude to my other relationships, forgiving others quicker and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Since he cannot speak, scientists still debate whether friends like him are really capable of showing love. But when I passed out from dehydration a few years ago and had to go the the emergency room, he did not want to leave my side when I returned home, and when I had to go to work without him because he needed surgery to remove a tumor from his mouth, Mom said he had been crying until I got in the car, at which point he rode home with his head in my lap. These, and other incidents too numerous to recount speak volumes. Love is a universal language that does not require words.

If you haven't guessed by now, this friend I have been referring to is my guide dog, Gilbert. Don't worry. I am not a crazy dog lady. I have many wonderful human friends as well, and I cannot imagine life without them. I also recognize the limits of dogs. We need the lifelong relationships and meaningful conversation that only human friendships can provide. But there is something unique about the relationship between man and dog that it is no wonder dogs have been coined as "man's best friend." I don't know the official history of how dogs got this reputation. Perhaps it comes from their long history as loyal helpers that worked alongside humans, protecting the homestead from wolves, hunting, or guiding sleds. But given my experience with Gilbert, and the other pet dogs I have grown up with, I also wonder if we are drawn to dogs for friendship because they embody what all humans long for but have never figured out how to attain. After all, if we could all live the way our dogs live--savoring life one moment at a time, appreciating the simple things and not getting caught up in worldly trappings like money and status, being there for each other in times of need even if we are at a loss for the right words to bring comfort, loving and accepting one another unconditionally, letting go of grudges and forgiving quickly--just think how much better this world could be. And for people whose only friends seem to be their dogs, I wonder if it is because they have been let down by people in their lives, and they feel their dogs are the only ones that love them unconditionally. If we know of such people in our own lives, what if, instead of looking down on them and making fun of their obsession with these dogs, we instead aspired to live more like these dogs, and strive to be that friend their owners have been seeking?

Topic 1 Season 10

Nov. 23rd, 2016 | 12:36 pm

Mrs. Jones' alarm clock rings at 6am. Not that she really needs it. She just figures if she doesn't keep some degree of a routine, she will lose her mind completely. She doesn't have anywhere to go now that she has been laid off from her job as a middle school teacher for six months. School budgets, which have been cut every year for generations, were cut so much this year that most schools couldn't afford to stay open. Instead, administrators all across the country decided to take an "innovative approach" to education, selling the buildings and conducting k-12 education entirely online. Most teachers were laid off because online, one teacher could handle hundreds of students, rather than the 30-students per teacher limit for in-person classes. This generally meant only one teacher was needed per grade level, and typically the younger teachers were chosen for this job. Mrs. Jones now looks back with regret at all the times she complained about having to go to work. She would do anything to have her job back now. She feels as though her days have no purpose anymore. At least she is fortunate that Mr. Jones still has a job in sales, one of the few positions where the human touch is still preferred so she is not dependent on meager welfare checks like so many of her friends and neighbors. It is disheartening to her that some wealthy people resent the higher taxes necessary for all these welfare checks, but since no one adequately foresaw the unemployment crisis that uncontrolled automation would cause, there was really no other option but to send welfare checks.

After a quick shower, she dresses in casual clothing suitable for lounging around the house or exercising, and then she shuffles into the kitchen where her coffee pot, set on a timer, has coffee hot and ready for her. She pours herself a cup, along with a bowl of cereal, milk and fruit which a drone delivered yesterday.

An hour later, she hears Kelly, her fourth grade daughter wake up and pour herself a bowl of cereal before retreating to her room to complete her lesson modules for that day. If she stays on task, this should only take an hour or two, but she will often get distracted by friends messaging her on social media, causing it to take more like four hours to get her lessons done. Mrs. Jones knows she probably should get after her to stay on task, but decided this is an unnecessary battle. After all, what's the hurry? Kelly doesn't have anywhere to be until her private art, gym and music classes the Jones' are fortunate to be able to pay for at a community center from 4:00 to 7:00 each day. Politicians didn't see value in these things, so the compulsory education online consisted of the standard academic subjects of English, Reading, Social Studies, Science and Math. It was up to parents to pay for extras like foreign language, fine arts and gym. And sadly, the Jones's realized that although they encouraged Kelly to study hard, and chastised her for bad grades, they knew that if the current trend continued, it was unlikely she would find a job and thus a purpose for her life either. She could learn writing, sales, or robot repair, train to be a police officer, apply to medical school or law school to try and get a job as a highly specialized doctor--routine checkups can be done using a phone app, putting most primary care providers out of work--or a lawyer that handled complex litigation better than a robot, at least for now. But the massive unemployment crisis has created such competition for these schools and the financial aid necessary to afford them that Mrs. Jones would not have been surprised if a study came out that you had better odds of winning the lottery than getting your child into one of these schools.

Mrs. Jones reads the usual morning news online while sipping her coffee, then puts her dishes in the dishwasher and proceeds to check her e-mail, chat with some of her own friends online, and then make sure that all bills have been paid and accounts balanced online. She is in no hurry either, so just like Kelly, she doesn't care if she gets distracted by a cute photo or video someone shared.

Around 10:00, Mr. Jones comes home. He is done with his sales calls and now just needs to do some documentation online before his work is done.

After brief pleasantries, Mrs. Jones leaves Mr. Jones to finish his work, but asks him to check on Kelly periodically, not that he would really need to. Kelly is so hooked to her computer screen she probably wouldn't have even noticed if she was left home alone. Mrs. Jones steps outside and opens the taxi app on her phone, clicks a button to order a cab, and thirty seconds later, a driverless car pulls up. As always, the car takes her to her local health club. There, she will spend the first hour lifting weights and doing cardio on an elliptical machine. Sometimes she wonders why she even bothers to exercise, as she has nothing to exercise for. Her friends don't even get together for reunions anymore because no one can afford to travel and they keep so up-to-date on social media that no one sees a point in the hassle of planning in-person gatherings anymore. But she still exercises every day because, if nothing else, it helps to pass the time. She will then spend another hour in the swimming pool, doing water aerobics per video instruction.

After that, hungry for lunch, she orders the taxi to pick her up again, and it takes her to a deli where she uses an iPad at the counter to order herself and Mr. Jones soup and salad, and Kelly her go-to favorite of a grilled cheese and tomato soup. All of these items are made and delivered to her by a robot. She picks up the bag of food and heads back out to the waiting taxi which takes her back home.

Lunch is eaten in silence, as Mr. Jones finishes his work and Kelly stares zombie-like at her phone screen, occasionally giggling at something funny a friend posted. Mrs. Jones knows she should take the phone away during meals, but decided it's just not worth the fight and besides, life is so mundane and purposeless now there is nothing they would talk about anyway, even if phones were banned. At least for Kelly, phones are banned during her music, gym and art classes, where professionally trained staff know how to awaken the students from their zombie-like state. It occurred to Mrs. Jones that after these classes, Kelly is more exuberant and alive than the rest of the day. Mrs. Jones wishes she could break her family free of the grip the screens and robots have on everyone, but the structure of society doesn't make this possible.

After lunch, Mr. Jones leaves to get his exercise, while Mrs. Jones puts in a load of laundry. She doesn't have to sweep, mop or vacuum, as a robot is programmed to do that while they sleep. Between loads of laundry, she continues to alternate between chatting with friends and reading a book on her phone, while her daughter goes outside with her phone and plays a scavenger hunt app that uses GPS coordinates to locate things like fairies and gold coins, on her block, all the while chatting with friends playing the same game on their streets. At 3:30, Mrs. Jones texts her daughter ordering her to come in and get ready for her evening classes, and promptly at 3:50, Kelly will order a taxi from her phone to take herself to class. Occasionally, Mrs. Jones will go with her daughter and watch what Kelly is learning with other parents through a window. But she doesn't do this every day because she wants to give Kelly space and a sense of independence, so today she waves goodbye to Kelly's cab and turns on the television to watch a mindless talk show, until Mr. Jones gets home and asks if he can watch a football game. Mrs. Jones agrees. She is not as interested in football, but frankly, she is really not interested in anything that is on television these days, so she is happy to mindlessly peruse social media while he watches the game.

At 6:30, realizing that Kelly will be home soon, Mr. Jones pulls out some frozen chicken, pre-made mashed potatoes and a can of green beans, more food that the drone delivered as part of their weekly grocery subscription yesterday. He preheats the oven and gets the potatoes and beans ready for the microwave. At 7:15 or so, Kelly bursts excitedly into the house, chattering nonstop about all the fun she had at class today. Mom and Dad are happy deep down, but Dad is focused on a football play, and Mom is reading another news story about a national debt crisis that social programs have exacerbated, and how elected officials are at a loss of what to do, when she knows all that is really needed are jobs. Sensing that both parents are pre-occupied, she quietly wolfs down dinner and then races up to her room to chat with friends about the classes on social media. At 9:00, Kelly's phone and computer are programmed to shut off, so Kelly will go to bed. Her parents will watch one more hour of television before retreating to bed themselves.

At 10:00, Mrs. Jones rouses Mr. Jones who has fallen asleep on the couch and they get ready for bed. Before bed, they both check their phones one more time and see an automatic reminder to take their depression medicine. As Mrs. Jones gulps it down with water, she is ashamed that she is depressed. After all, they are blessed not to be affected by the poverty so many of their friends and neighbors are dealing with, and robots have made life so efficient and easy. But as Mrs. Jones crawls into bed and turns out the light, she realizes that is precisely the problem. It was the struggle of getting up every day to deal with middle school kids in-person, then stop at a brick and mortar grocery store after work and come home exhausted yet still have to cook dinner, clean the house and help Kelly through the drama that a full day of in-person interaction with peers and teachers created, it was precisely these struggles that made life interesting. She realized that she even missed driving. She ordered her first self-driving taxi the year before Kelly was born, and was so enamored with the convenience of it, and the improved safety since she learned most car accidents are caused by human error, that she never looked back. But now she even missed the road rage from other drivers, the speeding tickets, and the social interaction with the car repairmen or gas station attendant. As she crawled into bed and made sure her phone alarm was set for another day that would be just like today, she realized that what she needed was not depression medicine, but a return to some of the struggles of life that automation took away, because we need a sense of purpose and struggle to feel alive.

Season 10 Introduction

Nov. 10th, 2016 | 05:31 am

I am a 26-year-old woman living in the midwest, and a former LJ Idol contestant. I last competed in 2011. I dreamed of being a writer of some sort, and still do, but haven't figured out a way to write that also pays the bills, so I earned a paralegal certificate, and now work as a case manager in a law firm. I am also usually tired and uninspired on week nights, but I promise when we get our first topic that counts and I have some weekend time to work on it, my writing will be awesome! But as you can tell, tonight is that typical night, so I don't know what else to say. But I look forward to writing here again, and reading other talented writers' work.

Decided to Come Back for LJ Idol

Nov. 6th, 2016 | 10:29 pm

I was a regular blogger here until 2011, when I decided to switch to Wordpress, but I haven't written there either since 2013. In these past years, so much has changed in my life. I went from a slightly immature college student, to a full-time employee at a law firm where I am now a case manager. I still dream of being a writer, but just don't feel like writing when I get home from work. So I was elated to receive an e-mail announcing that LJ Idol was back. I have fond memories of this competition from when I was a contestant in 2011, so thought I would try my hand at it again. I am hoping this will be just the motivation I need to get back to writing again, and just the diversion I need after a boring day of work!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.