I'm not new to talking, sharing ideas, or stating my opinion, especially stating my opinion! After all, I taught elementary school for 30 years! However, my audience has typically been smaller,just family, the classroom, or just talking to myself!

My blog has two goals: be an outlet for sharing thoughts on writing children's books and the path to publication (got my fingers crossed that I'll get there) and a place to chronicle my journey of losing my sight. Sometimes I imagine these two paths will overlap .

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Write From the Soul

To all my Jewish followers, friends, family: Happy Passover!!!

Like many holidays, in many faiths, and for many families, there are yearly traditions you follow. Unfortunately for my family-over the past 15 years- the week before Passover has "traditionally" brought a death and a funeral most years. There have been so many that my nephew, when he was 5 years old decided maybe the holiday should be called "Deathover" instead.  We've skipped the last 2 years and were thinking our luck had changed..... until the director of the clinic where my sister works parttime announced his mother died and the funeral would be last Sunday. Drat, it struck again! Yes, I know the story of Passover involves the Angel of Death passing over the homes in Egypt and killing the first born son as one of the 10 plagues brought on the Pharoah and his people. And yes, I know the Jewish people have been called "the Chosen Ones" sometimes. But I'm stating for the record that my family is tired of being the chosen ones for deaths and funerals before Passover!!!!!!

So...... I want to start another tradition for Passover. I want to think about, and talk about as much humor and frivolity as possible. In that spirit, below are some of the funnier, sillier, and more playful actions that I can remember associated with Passover.

  1. The end of the ceremonial dinner, called a "seder" has 4 or 5 songs for all to sing.  One song is called  Kee Lo Na-eh [Hebrew transliteration] which means Because Praise Is Due To Him. Several years ago, my sister and I turned it into a contest to see who could sing the chorus the fastest. ( Let me state here that this singing part doesn't come until after we've had 3 ceremonial glasses of wine and possibly more with dinner!) Winner of the most fastest-verses, gets bragging rights. We get the rest of the family- and any unsuspecting guests- to be the judges. Most verses are so close, you practically need an audio tape to determine the winner. But occasionally, there's a clear winner, like last night. My sister won because I got tongue-tied on 2 verses and burst out laughing and couldn't finish the verses. Oh well, there's always tonight!
  2. Another part of the seder involves breaking the middle of 3 pieces of matzah on the table, [matzah is humongous-sized crackers used instead of any bread during the week of Passover] wrapping it up and hiding it for the kids to find later, after dinner. The hidden piece is called the Afikomen, pronounced Ah-FEE-ko-man. Our seder last night included a nonJewish family who had never been to a seder before. My sister gave the mom one of the prayer books we use so she could look it over and ask any questions she might have. During this past week, the mom called to ask some questions and was asking about the Ah-FEEKO-man. My sister thought it sounded too much like "fecal" and had to correct her so no one would think we were hiding feces in our house!!!
  3. A few years ago, my mom wanted to know, from my sister, what the grandchildren would like for their afikomen prizes. She called my sister  to ask and caught her when she was busy and distracted. Mom said something like, "Oh, what about afikomen? What do you want?" My sister, who wasn't paying attention, thought mom said, "What about Alfred Cohen?" and she stopped to ask WHO was Alfred  Cohen and WHAT did he have to do with our Passover?!!  Ever since then, our family refers to the prizes as Alfred Cohen prizes. :-D 
  4. Did I mention that the seder involves drinking wine????? Yeah, it's required to drink 4 cups/glasses at specific points in the seder. And NO, we don't have the kids drinking wine, they get sparking grape juice. (cuz it comes in bottles like wine and looks like wine and they feel grown up that way!) Since the dinner portion of the ceremony doesn't come until after the second cup/glass, the chances are we will be acting a little silly-depending of course on one's tolerance level! Anyway, we got to the part where we enumerate the 10 plagues. If there are children at the table (sometimes that includes teenagers) or if we have guests, we usually make the plague-counting interactive. This means there are props!! For instance, the 9th plague is darkness, so there are pairs of sunglasses for people to put on. One of the plagues-don't ask me the number- is hail, so there's a snack size baggie of teeny tiny cotton balls that someone throws into the air, or at certain people at the table, and inevitably, some land in our glasses of wine! Naturally, we rush to remove them since they are absorbent and will soak up that  precious beverage we're mandated to drink! But my favorite plague, is the frogs. We've found these rubbery, squishy-feeling colorful frogs- about 2 inches big- and the best part about them? They will stick to the ceiling!!!! So kids and adults alike grab for the frogs and throw them, with gusto, up toward the ceiling! If you throw them hard enough, you'll have to get on a chair later and pull them down. [One of them from last night, didn't fall down until this afternoon!] If however, your pitching strength isn't great, you might find one falling down into your bowl of chicken soup or while you're serving yourself some vegetables! Our seders often have surprises. :-)
As you can see, even during our Passover funeral cycle, my family pulls together and tries to find some joy. We have more company coming over for the second seder tonight. These are familar, silly friends and I expect we'll find a few more laughs with them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Write From the Soul

For those of you who love children's literature as much as I do, (and that includes MG and YA) you should know the May 10-16th is Children's Book Week. Now before you start thinking I'm being rather obsessive compulsive since it's 2 months away- hey, I hear you longtime friends out there laughing and saying I've always been OC- there is a reason to mention this now. The Children's Book Council sponsors the Children's Choice Book Awards and voting has started. Kids can vote, parents can vote, teachers can vote, other adults can vote (well, we're like teachers too) and you can do that online at:

Don't forget to vote for your favorite author and illustrator too. Yes, they have the choices for you to pick from there, and no, you can't write in names- darn!

Go and vote.....I did.


Today was mobility training lesson #2. As I'm sure you could tell from my last post, I was struggling. But I said to myself today: Gail, just try it again. It will be easier because you've already done it.

As I was getting ready for the lesson, I went looking for the blindfold. Now I don't know if it got misplaced in the  tornadic action this weekend, otherwise called tax preparation, or if I waylaid it (Freudian slip maybe?) but the blindfold was no where to be found.

So I just decided I'd put on my sunglasses AND keep my eyes closed. I hear you saying....yeah, right, so easy to cheat that way! But I didn't open my eyes once, not when I bumped into a parked car or was trying to locate the speed bump on the road in my complex. Honest, cross my heart.
That said volumes to me. It meant I was feeling more comfortable and less fearful. It meant I was willing to trust myself more. It meant I was trusting my instructor more too. So while last week's lesson felt like crossing a desert, crawling through mud, and crossing a canyon on a tightrope, this week's lesson was more like jumping on a trampoline; you're a little uncertain while in the air, put you know you'll land back on the canvas and be supported.

Here are the positives my instructor pointed out:
  • My gait was more even because I wasn't hesitating every few steps
  • My speed was faster (not fast, just faster) indicating I was feeling more confident
  • I was able to identify curbs, sidewalks, speed bumps easier than last time
  • I was more surefooted going up and down stairs.
Go Gail, Go Gail woo hoo!!!!!!

I am still veering to the left when I walk. That's not a huge issue within the complex, however, it becomes a MAJOR issue if I'm trying to cross a main street! Wish fixing it was as simple as realigning one's car.

We worked a bit on using sound as clues to location. I was trying to tell when a car was coming toward me in the complex. At first all the birds singing was a little distracting.  Then the landscapers arrived. When they crank up those leaf blowers, you can't hear anything except maybe someone shouting right next to you. It wasn't bad if they were moving away from me, but coming towards me- yikes! Pull out the earplugs :-)

Following the lesson- and I signed up for 3 more- I ran some errands with a friend. First thing she said as I got in the car was, "Oh, you're smiling. This lesson must have been better." And I responded that I thought I might actually make it through this process after all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Back in Atlanta to participate in the Foundation Fighting Blindness walk called VisionWalk. Our team raised $10,000 and the Atlanta chapter raised $100,000! That's fabulous because almost all of the funding goes to cutting edge research.

Having 12 days in town gives me time to reconnect with activities and segments of my life that just went on hold when I was needed in Boston to help out with Mom. I arranged to begin, again, with mobility training. That means learning to walk with a white cane. I find the emotionality of this harder than when I had to unexpectedly give up driving. Yes, I know that cane training will give me more freedom in mobility as the vision decreases. Yes, I know it's a necessary part of this vision journey. And yes, it's required in order to qualify for a guide dog. Even knowing ALL those things, I still feel myself fighting against learning to use one.

One of the strongest qualities I have is that I am a survivor. My instinct to go on after a trauma, tragedy, or major difficulties or disappointments comes from deep within. So as I was anticipating the arrival of my instructor today, my self talk was..... View this as a learning experience. Concentrate on learning new skills instead of the implication of using a cane. Don't run from this, immerse yourself in it. Don't think about feeling embarrassed to have others watching you.

I asked my instructor to bring a blindfold today. It's not required to learn cane travel this way but I know myself and my survivor instinct well. If I'm allowed to use my sight, I will use the sight to give me cues, rather than the cane.

We started in the parking area which feeds into the street running through my condo complex. I had trash to take to the compactor/dumpster and letters to place in the mail slot at the mailbox center. Now if I was using my eyes, the walk to the trash compactor would take about 90 seconds. Today, I think it took 30 minutes.

I have a clear picture in my head of the walk to the compactor- down the stairs, step off the curb, turn right, walk to the end of the parking area, turn right and walk the distance of about a block, over 2 speed humps, up 3 steps, landing, and 4 more steps to the opening of the dumpster. Easy, right? Not even close.

Apparently, with a blindfold, I'm like a car with poor alignment; I kept veering to the lefttoward the center of the road. True, there were no cars, but if one came along, I was primed to become a hood ornament! My instructor would "show" me by drawing a line on my back with her finger, which way I was walking and which way I needed to be walking. As you sweep your cane side to side, you're looking for obstacles or to find curbs or steps. She kept stopping me and adjusting the direction I was headed- inevitably I'd be veering left.

Today I learned to find a curb and align myself with me. (That's not the term she used, but I don't remember the correct one!) I learned when you run into something with the cane, to plant the cane firmly against it walk up to it and get your toes lined up with the edge. If it's a step up, move the cane up first, then step. If it's a step down, move the cane ahead to find the next step down before you take your step down.
That doesn't sound too scary, however, as a limited vision person, I am trained to always hold onto a rail in case I miss a step. In mobility training, they don't have you holding onto a rail. It felt like I was taking a step and not knowing if it was that one off a cliff. My instructor kept reaasuring me she wouldn't let me fall. The biggest step for me, though, was trusting her. Not because she isn't a trustworthy person; rather because I really don't know her well and I am literally stepping into the dark. I guess you could call it a leap of faith. :-)

The mailboxes are probably 30 feet from the compactor but it might as well have been 30 miles. No where I walked seemed to match the picture in my head and that was frustrating and a bit frightening. After walking into the center area between the 2 rows of mailboxes- which wasn't where we needed to be- to find the  mail slot, I finally got turned around to the outside edge of the boxes and found it. You would have thought I had crossed a desert, crawled through mud, and then walked on a tightrope over a huge chasm instead of  just carrying a bag of garbage to the dumpster and 2 letters to the mail slot!

I couldn't handle anymore of the blindfold. When I took it off and could see around me, I just cried. Relief  I made it, joy at seeing what matched the picture in my head- I don't know. But I knew I didn't want to put the blindfold on again today. We walked toward the front of the complex, my instructor reassuring me that I had done well, and me just sniffling away. We approached the security guard, sitting in his car. He must have watched us on our journey to the dumpster. As we passed him, he called out: "Did you have a fun walk?"
I was horrified, and embarrassed, and still sniffling away. Didn't he see I had a white cane? What did he think, I was out walking blindfolded on a whim or FOR FUN????? I replied, with as much dignity as I could muster at the moment; " No, there is nothing fun about learning to use a cane."

Obviously, he didn't think.....unless he's an idiot.... or maybe a jerk.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Write From the Soul (no more numbers-I'm tired of them!)

                                           AN ORTHOPEDIC  INJURY

1.  Be sure there is at least one commode in the house that doesn't have an elevated toilet seat with handbars on it. It's kind of creepy to have to share those with someone!

2.  Make sure you have 3 days worth of clothes on the main level where the individual is temporarily living and EVERY possible toiletry. If you don't, you'll be running up and down the stairs just for a pair of socks, or a belt, or some more toothpaste.

3. Buy plenty of tennis balls and have a really sharp knife around to put a slit in them to go over the rubber stoppers on the person's walker. You'll need lots of tennis balls because if you plan to walk outside, tennis balls are not, I repeat, NOT meant to be all-terrain appliances! My mom took a short walk just once around the cul-de-sac and all the yellow fuzz was worn off of the tennis balls And a portion of the rubber underneath was gone too. Not to mention when you come back inside, all the dirt, twigs, and grime of outside will now be ground into your carpeting- NASTY!!

4. Did you know they make "skis" for walkers? Me neither! They are actually small (about 3 inches long) hard plactic skids that attach to the legs of a walker so your walker will become an all-terrain vehicle.We're trying them out today to see if they will work on the carpet as well AND if they transport the outside dirt onto the carpeting like the tennis balls.

5. Go to a web site like "The Wright Stuff" where you can buy all sorts of nifty, handy items for orthopedically-challenged people. You can even buy elastic, springy shoe laces for sneakers-which become slip ons- so the person has good, supportive shoes to wear but doesn't have to ask someone to tie their shoes for them.

6.  Be prepared to become a taskmaster when you get home from the hospital or rehab center. Even the most willing individual seems to procrastinate doing their physical therapy exercises once out of the "therapeutic environment!"  All the reminders about "you won't have full range of motion unless you do these" or"you want to be able to drive again, don't you?" will get you the appropriate responses BUT they won't necessarily produce the exercises!

7.  Don't get impatient, be nice and kind, and cooperative because you never know....you might turn into the orthopedically- challenged sometime and will someone to look after you!


Those "skis" work fine outside and are okay on carpet but they might be scraping on the hard wood flooring now that they are roughed up. We can't win.....

Monday, March 8, 2010

Write From the Soul 19

Are you a reader of e-books? Many people are now using a Kindle or a Nook, or any number of electronic devices that will download books. Did you know that this week, March 7-13th is free e-book week?????? ( or at least greatly reduced prices book week!) Nope, neither did I.

There are quite a few authors and electronic book publishers partnering this week to expose more people to e-books. Interested?

Go to the following website for lots of information. Click on the bar on the left called "eBook Partners for specific publishers, authors, and webzines.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Write From the Soul 18

Am I in Massachusetts or Georgia? Since the 9th of February, I've spent most of my time in Boston with Mom and her now healing kneecap. (By the way..... she will come back home tomorrow and will finish PT- pain and torture...er, I mean physical therapy- at home.)

Anyway, I took a break this past weekend, came back to GA and went to stay in a hotel where the SpringMingle  SCBWI writers' conference was being held. The conference was awesome and as inspiring as last year- my first conference- but what a difference a year makes!

Last year.....went alone, knew no one, found it kind of difficult to connect to people.
This year..... had an unknown  roommate who turned out to be fun and sweet and a talented writer, knew at least a dozen people (from blogs, events attended this year), and found it fairly easy to talk with others.

Last year's career progress....... slim and none, except for 50 business cards in hand.
This year's career progress....... web site, blog, NEW business cards, connection to core players in Southern Breeze because I offered to help and volunteered to assist at conference, as well as 4 stories written and beginnings of 2-3 more.

The speakers at SpringMingle are always motivating. I want to dive back into my writing and just write, write, write! Of course, it doesn't help to be flying between states so much. Of course, if I had a laptop, it would all go with me.

I'd love to buy a laptop. I want to buy a laptop. But I also want to go to the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles at the end of July and that will cost at least $1,000- $1,500 between flights, hotel, and conference costs. Retiremnet on a teacher's pension means making some choices and I want to go to that conference more than I want the laptop. I guess the writing will have to be done in a notebook and transferred to the desktop for now. Not exactly 21st century technology but it will have to do.

Here's hoping tomorrow will bring scheduled flights that don't get cancelled so I can wing my way back to Massachusetts. I think I'm really in the state of Confusion!