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Christmas is almost upon us (or at least me), and we all know what that means. ‘Tis the season of brightly coloured boxes, eye-catching holiday cards, dazzling lights, beautiful bows and all things aesthetically pleasing. What’s not to love? Plenty, if you’re me, since the emphasis on appearance seems to shift into overdrive during this time of rampant consumerism…I mean quality contemplative congress with the ones you love. šŸ™‚

Trouble is, I love Christmas. Almost everything aboutt the season mmakes me happy, possibly due to the many years I spent belting John Rutter descants in concert venues around my city. I also hail from a family that decks the halls from floor to ceiling when December rolls around. No light fixture is left unadorned, no ornament left unpacked. In such a high-intensity festive home, a love of the season stubborn enough to overcome the more distasteful elements of the modern western Christmas couldn’t help but flourish. Unfortunately, so did a sense of propriety around Christmas gifts, inspired no doubt by the fact that I grew up around a woman who could make a lump of coal look attractive through sheer gift-wrapping talent. Take all these elements, plus a latent competitive streak and fairly high-pressure household, mix them all together and you have a conundrum for the blind Christmas shopper…or do you?

Not really, actually. To get too bogged down in the aesthetics of Christmas is to miss the point of the season entirely, in my humble opinion. Still, some effort is required to make the gift-giving part of Christmas as meaningful as it ought to be, at least according to my self-imposed standards. My effort is put into personalizing the present as much as possible.

Each year, for instance, I’ve been tasked with putting together a stocking for a family member selected through a draw (this year it’s Mom). Most people devote time and energy to selecting just the right gift, but must focus what’s left of their attention on packaging the present just so. Being the world’s biggest quad when it comes to gift-wrapping, my efforts go elsewhere. I take the gift selection process a step further and try to present it creatively. My mom will be receiving a theme stocking entitled “around the world in eight packages.” Each item, selected according to Mom’s tastes, preferences and history, will represent a country and be labelled with a short verse spelling out the connection and providing a hint as to what the item might be. The moroccan spice blend she’ll enjoy for her culinary experiment is pretty self-explanatory, as is the Julia Child “French Chef cookbook” that she specifically asked to have replaced. The espresso beans are a more oblique tie to Italy, while the Benazir Bhutto biography could stand in for any of the locales where that fascinating lady once lived but will likely represent Pakistan. An audio soundtrack for a book she loves will honour India, after the author’s nationality (read An Equal Music by Vikram Seth, it’s excellent). Her favourite bronzer will give her the sunkissed look of a tropical locale, a spanish glass angel figurine will make a nice addition to the collection she displays on her mantle piece, and some obnoxiously red lipstick will hearken back to family jokes past and represent a return to Canada. I’m seriously considering writing this all up in the form of a travel itinerary that she’ll have to follow.

It’s been my experience that a little creativity will thoroughly distract even the aesthetically minded from any deficiencies of packaging. It also salves my conscience as I try to be more eco-conscious in my day-to-day life. When the creative wellspring runs dry, however, it’s time for more practical strategies that help out blind and sighted alike. They’re called gift bags and in-store gift-wrapping, and they’re the best thing since sliced shortbread. šŸ™‚

How do you cope with the aesthetic demands of your holiday obligations? Do you find you have any? Sound off below! Oh, and now that I’ve set up this blog’s very own Twitter account, you can keep up with me there. Follow @eyeronicblog

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First things first — thank you all so much for the incredibly kind responses to my guest post on Inside Out Style. The comments came from perfect strangers, long-time friends, role models like Angie> and bloggers I’ve long admired like Sal from Already Pretty. I value them all equally and can’t properly express how much it all means. For those who are new to my blog, I love fielding questions from my readers about pretty much anything blindness-related. If you’ve got some, please drop by the suggestion box and ask away!

Did you know that yesterday was special? I sure didn’t until I conducted my daily purge of the work inbox (Yeah, that’s how I roll on Saturdays šŸ™‚ ). I came across a handful of statements from various political entities all offering fulsome praise for something called International Day of Persons With Disabilities. That’s a special occasion alright — an occasion for me to vent my long-festering distaste for stuff just like this.

Hang on a sec. A blind woman who believes in equality and has devoted much of her efforts to achieving it for herself is foaming at the mouth because of an international initiative that aspires to give others the same shot? What’s going on? You may well ask, but the best you may get is a fumbling attempt to defend a position that could rightly be called selfish. In fact I have not the slightest issue with the UN’s stated aims in launching this so-called day. Raising awareness of the chronic underemployment and marginalization many disability groups face is about as praiseworthy goal as you can find, and the agency certainly grasps the severity of the problem. The vision, though vague, is above reproach:

Take Action: A major focus of the Day is practical action to mainstream disability in all aspects of development, as well as to further the participation
of persons with disabilities in social life and development on the basis of equality. Highlight progress and obstacles in implementing disability-sensitive
policies, as well as promote public awareness of barriers to the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in their societies.

It’s the way in which the vision is executed that draws forth my wrath. While the UN undoubtedly means for this day to kickstart a dialog that would last the year round, it’s lucky if it generates something resembling cocktail party chit-chat. More often than not, these 24-hour-long calls to action do nothing more than pay lip service to the concept, mirroring the treatment the target population receives during the other 364 days of the year. What good is a day of platitudes that simultaneously celebrates individual successes while stoking the fires of powerlessness with a litany of depressing facts and figures? There’s no fear-mongering, since the issues under discussion are very real and are likely under-reported, if anything. There’s just an ineffectual approach that leads to the sort of patronizing behaviour that characterizes so many dealings with the disabled, both individually and from the organizations that profess to help. The takeaway message from days like this is easily distilled from these mixed signals — “Oh dear, how horrible for them! They are so much less fortunate than most — let’s be extra nice and understanding.”

Such sentiments are well-meant, but unproductive. Kindness and understanding, while valuable, won’t be enough to bring about change — particularly if they only manifest themselves on arbitrary days of action and the weeks immediately proceeding them. In my view, those estimable personal qualities can only have some impact on the community if they are used in service of conversation. Not idol chatter, but genuine engagement that has the potential to peel back layers of preconception and even misunderstanding to reveal core issues. Those issue (more…)

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Today’s post comes courtesy of Julie, who posed an interesting query in the Suggestion Box

Iā€™m very curious to know how you have developed your style persona?
How did you know you prefer modern classic clothes and develop your old Hollywood look?

Most people I know developed their style identity through observing people, whether they were friends, family members, movie stars or just wworkaday folks going about their business. It’s natural to take a fancy to a look and decide to emulate it. If I tried to go that route, though, I’d have to embrace stripes in a big way, since my days would be spent doing jail time on groping charges. Tactile cues take the place of visual ones for me, and my sartorial choices stem directly from what I find pleasing under my hands. Except for that vital substitution, though, I suspect my style identity evolution followed much the same course as most people’s.

I’m not sure exactly how someone develops a sense of aesthetics or how they come to conclude that look A appeals to them more than look B. I only know that such preferences start to take root with most of us pretty early on. That was the case for me. some of my earliest recollections involve tracing shapes in books, handling household items and generally starting to furnish my mental picture gallery with images of how the world around me looked. The items I kept coming back to time and again were the ones that I could imagine clearly in my mind after feeling them. The vision I had in my infancy may have left me with some capacity to retain mental imagery, because that’s what I’ve done all my life. When I think of, say, an apple, I have two levels of recollection. One is to recall the exact shape of the fruit in my hand, the texture of its skin etc. The other is to actually picture how it would look sittig before me on a table. The image is based largely on the details I ascertained with my hands, as well as bits of information dropped by sighted friends (the mental picture will change whether the apple is red or green). The clearer my tactile impressions and the more detailed the visual descriptions, the more vivid my mental image becomes. This doesn’t matter in the least for apples, since they all wind up looking the same anyway, but the mental picture process is integral to my style evolution.

Essentially, I don’t feel comfortable wearing things that I can’t picture clearly in my head. My mental gallery is expanding all the time, pushing my stylistic boundaries as it does so, but when you get right down to it, I still struggle to embrace looks that fall outside of my tactile comfort zone. By definition, tailored, classic clothing with clearly defined lines are much more pleasing under my hands simply because they’re structured in a way that makes it easy to note garment details. They contour my body, which of course gives me an excellent idea of their shape. They lack excessive embellishments, which frequently feel distracting under the hand and compete with the flow of an outfit in my experience. The details I can make out, such as necklines, sleeve styling, collar type, pocket placement and the like, are important features to take note of in any garment and are particularly easy to pick out on garments with clean lines. And of course, many classic garments tend to be made in higher-quality fabrics, which can lure me in on their merits alone. I grew up with classic garments in the closets of all my family members and developed a discerning touch when it came to the types of details noted above. Classic was my comfort zone, and I had to reach adulthood before I developed any degree of curiosity about looks beyond this admittedly narrow scope.

Nowadays I’ve branched out considerably. I’ve come to enjoy and even sport looks you wouldn’t have found anywhere near my body in the past. Just as sighted fashionistas adjust their eye to knew looks, I’ve gained tactile familiarity with moto styling, slim-legged silhouettes, billowy blouses, empire tops, ruched dresses, handkerchief hems and even colour-blocking. All of these elements have crept into my style as I tried to keep myself from getting bored with my wardrobe and maintain a current vibe with my sighted friends and coworkers. Even so, it’s those mental images formed early in life that remain my benchmarks for fashion decisions. I have a turquoise bib necklace that I enjoy wearing, but still prefer my chunky or multilayered pearl necklaces best because they’re easier to picture. The jacket that warms my heart most at the moment is a tailored black blazer with interestingly-shaped buttons, easily styled cuffs and a subtle ruffle trim that elevate it from the status of a true basic. My leather moto jacket, which comes out to play at least three times a week, still can’t dislodge that more classic blazer from atop my favourites list, simply because the touch-friendly details make it that much more enjoyable to wear. In a similar vein, I’m slower to adopt of-the-moment patterns because they rarely appear in a form that I can touch. Is it any wonder that, when I first embraced animal print, I acquired a zebra dress with raised stripes over a leopard blouse whose design could not be felt?

I don’t know how accurate Julie’s incredibly kind description of my look may be, but I do know my style has a decidedly classic bent. I’m ok with this so long as I keep finding ways to stay current and have fun with the whole process. Hopefully I’ve done something to explain why my wardrobe and image have shaped up the way they have.

A picture of me in a black pencil skirt, black lace-trimmed camisole, low-cut teal top and grey blazer with contrast cuffs. I'm wearing a tripple-strand of pearls tied in a knot with the outfit.

Stil classic after all these years

Thanks for the great question, Julie! If any others want to follow her lead, I’d love to see more comments in the suggestion box. I’m not shy about questions, so if there’s a topic you’d be interested to see me cover or even something you’ve always wanted to ask a blind chick, fire away!

A picture of me in a calf-length cotton dress with a purple and yellow floral pattern on it. The dress is sleeveless, is cut fairly low in the neck and has a fairly traditional silhouette that fits through my torso and then flares out dramatically. To compensate for this traditional style, I'm wearing it with taupe faux-snakeskin sandals, silver and pewter dangly earrings and a bracelet of concentric silver leaves. I'm carrying a white shoulder bag.

My favourite dress silhouette...with requisite modern touches

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I’ve always been the first to poke fun at myself and my blindness, not always very tastefully (I know, big shock). šŸ™‚ As I sat here on this quiet Halloween night, trying to trick myself into not craving homemade apple caramel crisp and savouring the ultimate treat of having someone else do the dishes, I got to thinking of the various ways I’d have fun incorporating my blindness into a Halloween costume the next time I actually dress up. What better way to demystify the condition than by treating it as a subject you’re able to laugh about?
There are the obvious ones, of course, like donning a bat costume or putting together a getup to look like Daredevil, but my sense of humour tends more towards the irreverent. If you’re into the gorier aspects of the day, how much more fun would it be to go as a blind witch complete with broomstick mangled by the most recent crash? Or a blind zombie whose white cane becomes a distinctive and useful accessory in the rampage du jour? I could draw upon my seldom-used talent for looking dazed and confused/staring aimlessly in the wrong direction and play the role of zombie victim instead. Prosthetic eyes like mine could be used to great effect in any sort of haunted house-type setting or really take a corpse costume to the next level. šŸ™‚

Gruesome isn’t my personal watchword at any time, including Halloween, so I’d be more likely to explore other avenues with any costumes I put together. Why not make my guide dog part of the ensemble and go for a Little Orphan Annie vibe? I have some coworkers that argue that I have all the makings of an effective NHL referee getup already, since they miss what’s going on right before their eyes anyway. I could find some sort of visual rendering of a solar eclipse, carry it around and keep staring at it. For a touch of whimsy, I kinda dig the idea of decking myself out like a super-professional-looking photographer, complete with top-notch gear and badass lenses…that would be totally wasted in my sightless hands. You’d get the same effect by dressing up as a Formula 1 driver.
No doubt you could find some way to work the blindness motif into your political cause of choice, either through satirical depictions of notable people or imaginative costumes illustrating an issue of the day (global warming deniers, anyone)?
Or you could keep it simple, as I would likely do…Pick up a double-edged sword and a set of scales and go as Justice> šŸ™‚

See? “Disability” can be fun!

So? How would you incorporate a largely taboo subject into your Halloween ensemble? If you wore a more traditional guise this year, what was it? Sound off below!

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My grade one teacher probably thought she was wasting her time the day she ordered me to stay away from my friends. Her stern warnings about cutting myself off from sighted students had little theoretical chance of registering, after all, drowned out as they were by the incessant laughter of the two fellow blind kids sitting at the lesson table with me. The clatter of our braillers, the chatter of our audio books and the click of the abacuses on which we mastered math calculations was more than enough to compete with the scratch of pencils emanating from the classroom next door where our sighted peers were also hard at work. As far as my blind buddies went, her words certainly fell on deaf ears. They couldn’t understand why our merry trio should split up during the only fun time scheduled in the day. What good would it do them to seek out “seeing guys” simply so they could be excluded from a game of tag or soundly defeated during the first round of Red Rover? They shrugged off her reprimands for spending too much time together and openly defied her the day she meted out punishments for avoiding sighted classmates, likely assuming I bore them company in their feelings as I always had before. They were wrong, however, and so was my teacher. Her words hit home, the very place where I had heard them for the first time, and proved oddly prescient in my dealings with the two worlds I inhabit.

I grew up with the notion that blindness was to be rejected as much as possible. This attitude may have seemed normal to my parents, who welcomed a fully sighted infant into the world and brought a blind toddler home from the hospital nine months later after cancer destroyed both retinas and threatened to do much worse. They grieved, as any parents would, fearing that their child would be doomed to a life of limited prospects and social isolation. No daughter of theirs would spend her life weaving baskets or tuning pianos, they vowed..and so their active pursuit of a “normal” life began. Not for them the nursery school where most blind children attended…They found it lacking and promptly enrolled me in an alternative program featuring mostly sighted children of varying abilities. They had always planned for me to get my earliest education in French, the language spoken by all my maternal relatives. Why should blindness change that? Kindergarten passed in a blur of Allouette and Le Petit Prince, all of which shielded me from any knowledge that I was different.

My parents’ alternative leanings prevailed when primary school began, too, deciding to send me to an integrated day school where both sighted and blind students learned side by side rather than the residential facility specifically for the blind that many other families advised instead. That integration was emphasized to me as I prepared to switch schools, and indeed I felt no qualms. Hadn’t I spent my final days of kindergarten promising to marry the sighted guy who sat next to me on the carpet and sworn we’d build a house next door for our other friend so that we could always stay together?

But something strange happened when I arrived and met my blind classmates. They were more like me. Not in appearance or attitude or even sense of humour, but in ways that were even more fundamental. They understood concepts the same way I did, had the same curiosities about the sensory world beyond what most kids wanted to explore. This was never discussed, of course, it was just understood. So well, in fact, that we gravitated towards one another and formed a clique so tight that it aroused the anxiety of our erstwhile teacher. She understood, as my devastated parents had, that the mainstream world didn’t function like this. A blind person hoping to make his/her way among sighted peers would need to master their frames of reference and acquire the confidence to literally walk their walk. My friends, both more rebellious by nature than me, ignored this traditional advice and went about doing things their own radically different ways. For me, that wasn’t an option. My teacher was just reinforcing the lessons resonating in my earliest memories. Her cautions were no different than my mother tilting my chin to teach me to look at others when I spoke, or preventing me from rocking back and forth when forced to stay stationary. Both Mom and my teacher were only trying to negate the impact of my blindness and make it as easy as possible to act sighted. Why should I fight against that?

Their lessons paid off. By grade four I had transferred to my neighbourhood school, joined an extra-curricular choir and become an enthusiastic piano student. Periodic bullying commonly experienced by artistically inclined kids was compensated by the true friends I made, many of whom remain close to this day. I maintained regular contact with my two blind pals of primary school days, but no longer could we weave an auditory world around ourselves. That time receded further into my memory as middle and high school flew by, all in the company of sighted friends who embraced me and absorbed me fully into their everyday lives. The trappings of blindness that I did carry, such as my cane and braille textbooks, were conversational icebreakers rather than isolators. As I aged, my parents’ wishes became my own. Feeling grateful for the ability to mesh in a world that I knew was not easily accessed, I made it my goal to assimilate into it as much as possible. I never actively denied the limitations of my blindness, but sincerely believed it would never hold me back from anything substantive.

Reality checks came thick and fast starting the summer I worked at a camp for blind people. I chose the job as a poor man’s alternative to the regular camp I’d attended for years, which very understandably declined to hire me because of my inability to be a lifeguard. šŸ™‚ While there I saw many examples of people who had become isolated from mainstream society and the bitterness such solitude could spawn. I felt a kinship to these people, yet also experienced internal tension as I fought to distance myself from that feeling. Things were different for me, I told myself. This sense of connection was downright dangerous and could jeopardize my chances of being normal! Such were the absurd musings of a seemingly confident teenager who was fighting to stem the rising tide of insecurity. Challenging one’s place in the world was terrifying and not the way an ordinary person spent the summer, after all, so I quashed the questioning voice and continued to do so for the next several years. University made it fairly easy to keep my head in the sand, feeling as it did like a continuation of my high school experience. Learning skills from my sighted housemates, going on tour with sighted choir friends and landing satisfying jobs at major corporations that epitomize mainstream life only deepened my sense that my blindness was an occasional inconvenience rather than a salient part of my personality. But there’s nothing like a change of career into an inherently questioning atmosphere to force a person to do some soul-searching and face the facts they find there.

Breaking into journalism first taught me that my facade of sightedness wasn’t going to pass muster under real scrutiny. I was outright told I couldn’t do the job and should pursue a career in academia instead. I flouted that advice and excelled in the journalism graduate program I attended, but received the same message when it came time to get a job. Only persistence, networking and extreme good luck got me the break I needed, first at a national newspaper and later at the wire service where I work to this day. The five years I’ve spent there have taught me a lot about the truths I tried to ignore. I am blind, no matter how much I may be able to ignore it. There are barriers in the sighted world I will never be able to cross, despite my own efforts and the best intentions of those who try to help. Being blind comes with frustrations and challenges that only a select few can truly understand. Pursuing that understanding is healthy, not a sign of sliding standards.

There’s a flipside, too. Too often I hear blind people rail against the iniquities of “the sighted world.” They lament that those who can see simply don’t care about the struggles taking place on the other side, or are simply too busy succumbing to the superficial lure of pretty exteriors to engage with someone who doesn’t fit the mould. Such thinking is grossly unfair — the disability world’s equivalent of reverse racism. Why should stereotypes and truisms be applied to sighted people if they’re not acceptable to the blind? Why does an “us vs. them” mentality have to exist? Don’t the concept of blind and sighted worlds only deepen the divides that circumstances have entrenched without any help?

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to that teacher from so long ago, as well as to my adored parents that worked so hard to smooth my path. Their lessons created a dissonance that I still struggle to resolve, but also gave me access to a community that I could so easily have shunned. The conflicts I felt growing up seem so much simpler now. My blindness is a part of me, much like my dark hair and love of writing. Just as I wear red to play up my colouring and read voraciously to keep my language skills sharp, I must embrace my blindness and bring it to bear in a way that helps bridge the two perspectives I’m lucky enough to have. One of the people I love most in the world lives this reality in a much more concrete way, having neither enough vision to be considered legally sighted nor enough telltale signs to let the world know he struggles to see. He’s channelled that experience into a profound empathy for nearly all around him and a sincere desire to help in matters great and small. I wish to emulate him by helping connect the dots for blind and sighted alike. If I can facilitate dialog between groups that may not instinctively connect, then I have indeed found the place where I belong.

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First things first — thanks to all who took the time to fill out my blog evaluation survey! Your feedback was really valuable, and I’m delighted that you all want me to maintain my current focus! Btw, for those who haven’t filled it out yet and want to do so, be my guest!

Now that you’ve recommitted me to my previous blogging path, be prepared to be taken deep into a web of neuroses also known as my mind. Yes folks, today I tackle what will no doubt be the first of many posts on this topic, since it’s one that has had to assume a fairly prominent place in my life. I’ve written before about my body image struggles, but I never felt the urge to expand on those thoughts as the problem spiralled out of control. I was trying everything from Weight Watchers to a personal trainer, but the weight kept piling on, climbing higher and higher every month. I finally reached a point of actual terror for my health and decided to take more decisive action — I sought medical help and now attend a full-service clinic run by a physician and devoted entirely to weight loss. It takes a multi-faceted approach and features a diverse staff of doctors, dieticians, physical trainers and psychologists. I was greatly relieved to learn that I am sound as a bell health-wise, even with my weight at an all-time high. Still, I realized full well that this could change at any moment, and I embarked on a dedicated quest to shed the pounds once and for all. Making wholesale changes to your lifestyle has a way of triggering the soul-searching reflex, and I’ve come to an interesting realization over the past few weeks — blindness and weight loss are just about the worst combo ever!

Think about it. Common weight loss wisdom suggests you won’t be able to slim down unless you zealously monitor every bite of food that enters your mouth and radically step up your activity level. Neither of these things jibe whatsoever with the life of the average blind person. I’d be perfectly happy to measure out precisely three ounces of hallibut for my evening meal or an exact one ounce of goat cheese to top off my lunch-time quinoa salad…except I can’t read the display on my inherited kitchen scale. As for reading the callorie content on my breakfast cereal of choice and determining the designated serving size, I may as well try to drive a car. Measuring out level tablespoons worth of olive oil can be tricky with the standard-shaped utensils, and slicing that whole grain harvest loaf into dietician-sized slices relies a little too heavily on hand-eye coordination for most blinks’ tastes. Then there’s the exercise component. Mosts sports require the average blind person to ask a sighted friend or family member for help, a request they may not be able or willing to accommodate as regularly as necessary for sustained benefits. Gym equipment is increasingly difficult to manage, since digital displays and touch-pad controls are quickly honing in on their more accessible, push-button cousins. Blind folks who struggle with mobility issues are as likely to take to the streets for an independent walk as they are to play Pictionary (it may happen, but isn’t too likely :)). Even if they do take the time to learn a route or two and attain the comfort level to travel it independently, they soon get tired of literally covering the same ground every time. Add in the fact that the blind population is chronically under-employed and often lacks the financial resources to make the right food purchases/enlist professional help, and you have a serious conundrum.

Many of these issues don’t really apply to me, so I am in no way using my blindness as an excuse for my current size. I have a great job with a more than adequate income. I live with a partner who’s well able to read me labels, coach me on how to use the treadmill in our building’s workout room and generally pitch in where it’s needed. My fleet-footed guide dog sets a brisk clip on our walks and gives me the confidence to stray far from the routes I would only tackle as a cane user. The rest of it is all too familiar to me, however, and I’ve had to get creative in finding the right coping strategies. Fortunately there’s an answer to everything. Measuring ingredients becomes a snap when I’m careful to buy very concave measuring spoons that hold the fluid in place while I use my fingers to make sure I’ve reached the rim. Ditto for measuring cups, which are the dieter’s best friend provided they come in the right units. A simple set of detachable scoops in 1, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4-cup measurements will give you all you need to accurately portion out solid food, while a single one-cup liquid measure gets me through on the fluid ingredients. The vessel is small enough that I can tell when it’s half-full vs. three-quarters empty, and it also prevents me from overdosing on any one ingredient. The manual dexterity to produce perfect bread slices has only come with practice, but a really top-knoch, razor-sharp chef knife did wonders to help me refine my technique. Even the label challenge can be conquered with some help from my friend the internet. Calloric and other dietary details for just about all common brands are readily available through a simple google search, while SparkPeople is the perfect accessible web tool for the enterprising cook who wants to get a callorie breakdown of her latest random creation. The web is also, of course, a bottomless source of first-class recipes on days when creativity is running low. The only issue left to sort out in my own kitchen is the problematic scale, and technology will likely solve that one for me too when a talking unit is released (there may very well be one out already).

There’s no doubt that this new effort is very labour intensive, as it would be for anybody. My blindness compounds the effort I put into the program, but may also be arming me well. I’ve become accustomed to working my way through issues that may seem insurmountable at first blush, and resourcefulness has become my watch word in all facets of my life. It’s also bred in me a certain level of determination that I know I’ll need to draw upon if I hope to succeed at this weight loss game for good. It hasn’t let me down yet. With some luck I’ll cross the 15-pound threshold tomorrow…perhaps my blindness and the qualities it’s given me may prove to be an asset afterall.

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A picture of me dressed in the outfit I wore to usher in my 30's. The bottom half is all black, with mock crock 2-inch heels, microfishnet hose and a pencil skirt that hits just barely above my knees. I've paired all this with a deep red top that has a pattern of black flowers, and I've synched it in at the waist with a wide black belt with a mock croc buckle. Around my neck I am wearing five strands of similarly sized white pearls, which are knotted in a cluster at the front and lie evenly around the sides and back. I'm wearing deep red lipstick and my hair is loose around my face.

Dressed for success...bring on the 30s!

I’m not usually much for birthdays, but turning 30 last week brought on a flood of reflections. Allow me to indulge a little and share some of them:

1. I had a very sheltered childhood. It was full of happiness, love, fun, privilege and safety, and yet it’s not a time I would choose to relive. I prefer the independence of adulthood, despite the insecurity that comes with it.
2. I had an uncharacteristic progression as I grew up. Most people dread their teens, and though mine started off disastrously, they proved to be a wonderfully fun and happy time. It was the reverse for my 20’s, which started out blissfully but were trying and sometimes even painful on the whole. Fortunately they ended better, and I’m hoping lessons learned will form a good foundation for the next decade. And yes, I’ll discuss the good parts.
3. I am gregarious and friendly, but at heart very insecure and sometimes even melancholy.
4. Fear of doing wrong has been a persistent theme throughout my life, and to this day I am incapable of dismissing others’ opinions to the degree I probably should.
5. My blindness has become more of an issue as I aged. This seems counter-intuitive, but makes sense upon further reflection. The protective childhood I had instilled me with a boundless confidence and the firm belief that lack of vision would never interfere with my personal plans. Maturity brings reality checks, and this has been a major one that I confronted in the latter half of my 20s. Blindness will put up barriers from time to time, and not all of them can be overcome to my satisfaction. I’ve learned to deal with it, and ultimately it’s better to be stripped of that delusion, but sometimes it’s still hard to swallow.
6. A lot of my natural impulses, emotions and characteristics have been toned down as I got older. I’m still sensitive, emotional, social and any number of adjectives, but to a lesser degree than I used to be. The only trait that seems to have intensified over time is my impatience.
7. Though insecurity is a key part of my makeup, I’ve gained assurance in other areas. I’m a nerd, and am finally proud of it. Nerdiness is the kiss of death to an anxious kid, but tremendous fun as an adult when you can surround yourself with like-minded people who love the books, music, films, games and passtimes that make you most comfortable.
8. Those preferred passtimes haven’t changed a whole lot from when I was 20. My musical horizons have broadened in large measure due to my boyfriend, who has introduced me to some artists I used to ignore, but my general preferences were well-established as I exited my teens.
9. My priorities, however, have changed immensely since then. I remember at 20 being determined to be as interesting a person as possible. This meant exploring people, places and art forms that would provide me with limitless material for sparkling conversation, profound writing and the like. This hilariously idealistic notion has been set aside, thank goodness. At 30, I now want to be successful, and this entails a lot more than just financial security (though that’s there too). I want to be competent in as many areas as possible (career, house-keeping, relationships, social endeavours, etc).
10. I am on my way to achieving some of those goals. Much to my surprise, I find I’ve been able to create and maintain a home that my boyfriend and I are happy to return to each day and that I’m eager to welcome my friends into at any time. I’ve found an interesting career, but haven’t excelled the way I hoped. I’ve rebounded from some savage lows and no longer feel like a social dud as I once did. Still, this goal is far from accomplished, which ultimately is a good thing…it’ll keep me honest!
11. I need to be kept honest and focused on a goal, because I have discovered an inherent lack of drive that trips me up surprisingly often. I was an over-achieving teen who has turned into a very ordinary adult, and it’s entirely due to my own lassitude. It frustrates me and fills me with self-recrimination sometimes, and I must get the better of it.
12. Many things have suffered from this lack of drive, but music is probably the most notable. I devoted much of my teens to piano and singing and achieved a fair bit of success in both. My time in classical choirs gave me some of the most joyous experiences of my life, and I took great pride in completing the second highest level offered by the Royal Conservatory of Music. I have let it go, and I don’t know why. I miss it, but can’t seem to get going again. One major barrier is the lack of affordable, decently transcribed braille music. It’s a genuine problem, but sometimes I wonder if I’m using it as a cop-out.
13. Reading and writing have helped fill some of the void left by my music, and I’m happy to report that the quality of my scribblings has improved over time.
14. My figure has gone much the same way as my music, and this actively triggers my self-disgust. I let it get this way and can’t seem to reverse things. I must do it for a variety of reasons, especially health, but my own paralysis in this area frustrates me more than I can express.
15. There are flipsides to all this, of course. While I’ve let myself down in some ways, the trials of my 20’s have made me realize that I’m a stronger person than I once believed.
16. I make my 20’s sound like a decade of unending misery, and it wasn’t like that at all. I gained a lot during that time, chiefly a partner who genuinely loves me and who I deeply love in return. We’ve supported each other through a great deal, and I honestly believe we’re better for the experience. His 20’s were rocky in the extreme, and I’m hoping our 30’s will prove more fun for us both. Fortunately our shared sense of humour ensures much laughter in our current home, and hopefully in the future ones we hope to own.
17. Other gains from my 20’s: independence, a great education, amazing guide dogs (both my retired golden retriever McClure and adorable little black lab Reva), a sound and engaging career, a deeper appreciation of my family, wonderful friends (many of whom have seen me through from my teens), a more sarcastic sense of humour, better awareness of my good and bad qualities and better knowledge of how to balance them.
18. Lighter discoveries have revolutionized my list of guilty pleasures, which now include Harry Potter, American Idol, and V.I. Warshawski from Sara Paretsky’s series. More substantive fun finds include pot luck parties, tea, hydrotherapy, the novels of Khaled Husseini and Kazuo Ishiguro, the fun in fashion and style, thai food, the buzz you get from actually working out properly, film (learning to appreciate it more), tv comedy like 30 Rock and Arrested Development, and the music of Eva Cassidy, Donnie Hathaway, Tori Amos (most of the time), Opeth (most of the time), Jeff Buckley and Giacomo Puccini. šŸ™‚
19. I’ve lost a number of things in my 20’s, and I really only miss a handful of them: my self-confidence, my physique and a couple of key friendships.
20. I used to be big on new year’s resolutions, but have now totally eschewed them in favour of more general guiding statements. For example:
21. I’m nostalgic by nature, but can’t let that get the better of me — I have more of my life ahead than behind me, and that should be my focus.
22. I am not too young to cry if I need to.
22. I am not too old to sing and dance when the mood is upon me.
23. I’m probably too old to keep a favourite stuffed animal in my room, but I don’t care — here he stays. šŸ™‚
24. I am definitely too young to hate long flights of stairs and/or steep hills. Must change that.
25. When embarrassing moments attack in my 30’s, I must always remember that it will never be as bad as the time my prosthetic eye fell out during a job interview at age 27. šŸ™‚ A well-developed sense of the ridiculous has kept me laughing so far and can’t be spared now!
26. I’ve had extraordinarily good luck throughout my life. I’ve been at the right place at the right time to meet incredible friends, land influential jobs, even find my current apartment. One of the biggest strokes of luck I’ve experienced was the timing of my birth. The rapid advancements in technology make this a great time to be blind, and I’ve benefited enormously from them all. That said, there’s a traditional streak in me — when it comes to personal contact, give me a phone call over an email/facebook message every time.
27. I have personal qualities that I should nurture through the next decade: cheerfulness, humour, empathy and my ability to truly listen to others all come to mind.
28. Less admirable ones, like selfishness, impatience, oversensitivity and excessive bluntness, should be weeded out as much as possible.
29. Self-care is not shameful, and indeed is probably now more important than it used to be. By insisting on getting enough sleep, taking care of my skin and making time for myself to work out, I’m not being frivolous — I’m using forethought and ultimately benefiting more than just myself. I want to extend this to care for broader concerns, such as living in a more environmentally friendly way.
30. Getting older feels good! I only recently stopped referring to myself as a girl, thinking of myself as a woman for the first time. It’s empowering, and I’m ready for more!

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