Monday, December 11, 2017

A Bicycle Wreck, “Night Court,” and Puppy Mills

When I was 12 years old, I broke my hand and knocked my front teeth out in a bicycle wreck at the foot of the hill near our home.  The gas company cut a trench across the street and left it open for longer than necessary without adequately patching the asphalt.  My front bicycle tire hit it just right to send me flying over the handlebars.

After several months of mom’s argument with the gas company, they accepted liability and awarded a small settlement to be placed in a trust for my future.  As it turned out it was a good thing, as my front teeth eventually suffered greatly from the trauma.  When my mom and I were asked to come to court to receive the monetary settlement, the judge had a chat with me regarding my future aspirations.  I never hesitated when I told him, “I want to be an attorney.”  He was a bit amused but further queried me, “Why do you want to be an attorney?”  My response?  “Because I’ve watched every episode of Night Court!”

I was only 12 and not trying to be disrespectful to the judge, just truthful.  I’d always known what I wanted to be and do—at least starting at about age 6 or 7.  I think it began with a documentary I saw on TV about puppy mills.  I was so distraught about the inhumane treatment of the animals that I lost sleep for weeks and cried about it endlessly.  I felt, without knowing how to identify it, the sense of advocacy within me—even at that young age.  The injustice meted out on those puppies still affects me today.

So, Judge Harry Stone and Judge Steve Daniel:  I wasn’t kidding.  I did it.  Thanks for the parts you played in my journey.

#advocacy  #puppymills  #attorney  #nightcourt

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Fred Scheigert Scholarship from CCLVI

A graduate of Belmont University College of Law, attorney Bianca Catherine Knight advocates for the right of others who have disabilities. In addition to this, Bianca Catherine Knight serves on the board of directors for the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International (CCLVI) and as a chairperson on the Fred Scheigert Scholarship Committee.

The Fred Scheigert Scholarship is provided by the CCLVI, an advocacy membership organization, to three students every year. It is a competitive scholarship for full-time college students who have low vision and provides each recipient with $3,000.

To apply for the scholarships, students must fill out an online application and provide documentation that proves they meet the scholarship’s academic and visual acuity guidelines. Eligible students must be enrolled in at least 12 undergraduate or nine graduate units at a college, vocational, or trade school for the upcoming academic year. They must also have a grade point average of at least 3.2.

In terms of vision requirements, applicants must have at least 20/70 vision in their better eye with possible correction or have a restricted field of vision that is no larger than 30 degrees. Students who have less vision and still benefit from using low vision devices during their daily lives may also be eligible for the Fred Scheigert Scholarship.

When applying, applicants must submit two professional or academic letters of recommendation. These letters will be accepted through the CCLVI website or via a Word document with signature attached to an email. Applicants must also provide a copy of the transcript from the school they most recently attended or are currently enrolled in. If students are attending a new school for the next academic year, they must submit a letter of acceptance from the institution.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Merle Haggard, December, and Dad

It’s December 1st and I’m really a true blue Elvis fan, but at the moment a Merle Haggard song is in my head swirling around there with Dad who was a true blue Merle fan:

     “If we make it through December
      Everything’s gonna be all right, I know
      It’s the coldest time of winter
      And I shiver when I see the falling snow

      If we make it through December
      Got plans to be in a warmer town come summertime
      Maybe even California
      If we make it through December, we’ll be fine.”

I lost my dad to cancer in 2006; he was only 52.  I lost my sight in 2008; I was only 28.  Dad did not live to see me overcome that horrific ordeal.  He never even knew I was struck with LHON.  He didn’t know I graduated with honors from Belmont University College of Law and that I’m an attorney.  He missed my marriage and the birth of his precious granddaughter.

Dad’s December was his cancer suffering that is all over now.  All gone.  No more pain.

My December lasted almost two years after I first lost my sight.  Eventually I grew into a new life of acceptance and strength.

We made it through our Decembers, Merle, Yes: Everything’s gonna be all right, I know.

#merlehaggard  #LHON  #lebershereditaryopticneuropathy

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Good Old Digital Talking Book Machine

Just this week I had the privilege of helping order my grandmother’s winter supply of books for the Digital Talking Book Machine to get her through the cold, lonely days and evenings when she can’t putter in her yard.  The Tennessee Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides the machines, which are similar to a tape recorder/cassette player, for those with sight impairment. This good old Digital Talking Book Machine is what opened up the world to me very shortly after I was struck with LHON.  Books and reading were an important part of my life and losing the ability to read was a primary reason for my post-sight loss depression. I still have many print books that I cannot part with even though I can no longer read them.  The content of those books is so precious to me.  I once read every word with my sight.

The good old Digital Talking Book Machine sort of paralleled my introduction to technology via the iPod.  I eventually graduated from the DTBM to web-based downloads on my iPhone and iPad and continued to wrap my world in the audio realm of books like the alphabet series by Sue Grafton IN ORDER beginning with A is for Alibi all the way to her final one simply titled X.  I’m equally fond of the series by Martha Grimes that follows her English character Superintendent Richard Jury.  Michael Connelly’s books about detective Harry Bosch’s cases in L.A. intrigue me and I’ve read every title by Harlen Coben about protagonist Myron Bolitor.  The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, Jonathan Kellerman’s books about detective Alex Delaware, and the Jake Brigance series by John Grisham are also at the top of my favorites list.

The TN Library for the Blind reached out to the sister libraries in Ohio and Idaho to fulfill my grandmother’s request to sit in her special chair, right there in her den, and visit Cornwall in England with five books by Rosamund Pilcher.  She’ll go to a cattle ranch in early Montana and the Northern Plains when her Digital Talking Book Machine reads A Bride Goes West by Nannie Alderson.  She’ll call on Elmwood Springs, Missouri and discover what strange things are occurring at the cemetery there when she listens to The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg.  I’ve assured her the macular degeneration that’s robbed her sight in a way similar to mine does not have to defeat her.  She can still explore this magnificent world by just punching the BIG GREEN PLAY ARROW.

#digitaltalkingbookmachine  #tennesseelibraryfortheblind  #LHON  #lebershereditaryopticneuropathy

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Last year at Thanksgiving, our obligations took us to another faction of family and I missed the dressing.  That’s THE dressing.  But my brother snapped a photo and sent it to me just as we were about to sit down to a meal void of anything remotely as wonderful and delectable as our grandmother’s cornbread dressing.  Northerners call it stuffing or filling; we in the South do not.  We call our grandmother “MaMa” (pronounced MawMaw) and she’s now 88 and although others within our family have the recipe we still have MaMa make it.  [I confess there’s little point in my possession of it, though I do, as my cooking prowess is lacking.]  Her homemade biscuits, cornbread, onion, broth, and sage—all combine and bake in absolute perfection.  It’s her joy; her gift to the family; her reason to beam when we rave. She always makes too much and we always bring take home containers.

I’m loving my leftovers, MaMa! Mmmm.

#thanksgiving  #dressing

Friday, November 17, 2017

Things to Consider Before Adopting a West Highland White Terrier

The West Highland White Terrier, more commonly known as a Westie, provides caring owners and families with a number of benefits. However, as is the case with any breed of dog, an untrained, improperly socialized Westie can prove rather troublesome.

Despite the dog’s relatively small stature, the Westie is a very confident and energetic breed. In many ways the epitome of the terrier family of dogs, the Westie is sturdy and highly interactive. They are generally more social than other terriers and do not mind being handled by fellow members of the pack. Westies can flourish in just about any home environment, so long as they are able to participate in whatever activities their pack mates are involved in.

Unfortunately, the Westie’s playful nature can quickly become a nuisance in households that do not treat the dog to regular walks and play sessions. Owners who cannot spend time helping their Westie run down their energy levels over the course of the day might need to reconsider their interest in the breed. An under-stimulated Westie can be highly stubborn and very loud, if not downright destructive.

Even a properly cared for Westie can prove challenging for some owners. Westies generally interact well with other dogs, but they can display aggressive behavior when it comes to dogs of the same gender. Smaller animals, such as rabbits, will almost certainly be viewed by the Westie as prey, regardless of training.

A well cared for Westie in the right setting can be an invaluable addition to any family. On the other hand, any hesitation about integrating a Westie, whether it be due to exercise limitations or other animals present in the house, should be closely examined before making a lifelong commitment to a dog.

Final Jeopardy Question

I’m a Jeopardy fan and it’s Tournament of Champions Week. When it came down to the final question yesterday, all three true brainiac champions missed.  But I immediately knew it, and for good reason.  The final wager clue was as follows:

      “When Time Magazine named it Invention of the Year in 2007, it was described as too slow, too big, pretty & touchy-feely”

Austin, Alan, and Buzzy all answered incorrectly while I shouted out “What is an IPhone?!” Not sure why they thought it was an iPad or a Tesla Model S.  It was the year 2007 in the clue that gave it away for me, and knowing, too, that it was something worthy of Invention of the Year.  The year 2007 was right before that awful, painful, life changing year of 2008 when I lost my sight.

After two whole years of floundering in my dimly lit world, I came to know my assistive technology instructor who changed my life and future. MaryLee convinced me to begin using an iPod. It was a simple first step into my world of technology.  She said if I could understand the concept of an iPod, I could certainly operate an iPhone.  It didn’t take me long at all to graduate to the iPhone that enabled me to use voiceover, text and email, dictate messages, navigate using Siri and use zoom.  The steps for me were iPod, iPhone, and THEN iPad.

If I’d been a Jeopardy contestant yesterday for certain I’d have gotten the final question. iPad came later, guys.  And I don’t even know about a Tesla Model S. I’ll ask Siri to look that one up for me.

#jeopardy  #LHON  #lebershereditaryopticneuropathy

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Falling Leaves

Autumn in Tennessee comes in November.  That’s when the trees finally turn scarlet and amber and shed leaves to the ground making crunchy sidewalk coverings and piles for jumping into like my brother and I enjoyed when we were kids.  And it’s time to remember and quote the Ogden Nash poem that always makes Mom laugh because it netted a poor grade for her dear friend in elementary school when the students were told to memorize a poem.  Evidently it wasn’t long enough to suit the teacher, but certainly memorable enough for two lifelong friends, for we’ve all laughed in autumn warmth for decades and generations since:
“The leaves are falling.  They look like a new rainbow.  Ah, where is the rake?”
Thanks, Ogden.

#ogdennash  #leaves  #autumn

Sunday, November 12, 2017

That Handicap Placard

I don’t drive. That means I don’t park either.  But I have to get from point A to point B and someone has to take me there, so in my gigantic purse that Mom refers to as one of Zsa Zsa’s trunks, I have a handicap placard.  I afix it to the rear view mirror of the car in which I’m riding and have my driver legally park in a designated handicap space.  In Tennessee, these placards are issued to residents who:
  • are confined to a wheelchair
  • walk with difficulty 
  • have 20/200 vision or worse with corrective lenses (forget corrective lenses! I’m legally blind!)
  • are the parent or legal guardian of someone who is permanently disabled and incapable of operating a motor vehicle (guess I qualify here, too! It’s permanent and I can’t drive)
For some odd reason, parking lots have vigilante parking lot police (usually some random middle aged dude) who feels it’s his duty to yell at my driver and me for parking in a designated handicapped space. No sir, we aren’t in wheelchairs.  Yes, we know where we’ve parked.  The latest tirade was directed toward my mom as she opened the rear hatch to get out the stroller for my daughter on our very first outing.  I had yet to even open the car door.

 I’m thinking of a magnetic sign to stick on the back of the car as well as the handicap placard for the rear view mirror.  It will say:  YOU CAN HAVE MY PARKING PLACE IF YOU’LL TAKE MY VISION LOSS.

#handicapplacard  #parking  #LHON  #lebershereditaryopticneuropathy

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Veterans Day Musing

There’s a picture of my PaPa hanging in my grandmother’s house that was taken by a journalist when he landed on the ground after skydiving at age 60.  My recollection of the event is dimming as time goes by, but the memory is still there. I was seven years old.  It wasn’t the first time my PaPa had jumped from an airplane. He was a paratrooper in Korea in that awful conflict and jumped behind enemy lines in several horrific battles.  He spent four years in the United States Army after spending four years in the United States Navy.  He was so patriotic and loved our country.  He certainly put his life on the line for it and received a Purple Heart for his battle wounds. I was the first of his four grandchildren and consider myself fortunate for having gotten to love him longer than the rest.  Today, PaPa, I think of you and thank you for your service to our great nation.  Sure do miss you.

#veteransday #Koreanwar #patriotism

Thursday, November 9, 2017


I grew up in the South.  By the time my generation came along, everyone had air conditioning so the blistering hot summer necessity of outdoor porch sitting had long passed.  But my grandmother’s house has a big back porch with a swing beautifully crafted by my grandfather. Sitting in the swing affords a view of his woodshop and the red barn he built with my mom’s assistance when she was in high school amidst fields of green grass and Hereford cattle.  In autumn, the grass turns a golden hue and the setting sun to the west behind me casts rays of violet and scarlet on the clouds above the barn.     For my entire life, sitting in this swing, I’ve found solace and peace, my own personal zen, total tranquility. My burdens are always lifted when swinging in the swing.

When I lost my sight, I was in Texas—miles and miles from my peaceful place—terrified of what the future held for me, if anything.  But time after time, in my mind, I went to find peace.  The journey to Tennessee, albeit in my thoughts, kept me rooted and hopeful and strong.

I go to the back porch now, whenever possible, and sit on the worn oak slats and swing, looking out across the fields, remembering every beautiful detail of the vista, and feel my peace. Wonder if the barn needs a fresh coat of paint?

#porchswing #LHON #lebershereditaryopticneuropathy #peacefulplace

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

That DNA Thing

Mom is into genealogy.  I’m not.  At least, I can say I’ve never shared her passion for uprooting our past ancestors and fitting them here and there into our family tree.  There’s an interesting fact, though, that she shared with me that’s relative to our relatives and this DNA thing that cropped up in my life at age 28 causing a sudden loss of my central vision.  She told me the 1850 census was the first to make notation of blind household members.  Hmmm.  You’d think somewhere in my maternal family tree there would be someone with a tic mark on the census record for blindness. According to Mom, it just isn’t there.  This disease that takes my sight, Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, is passed on mitochondrial DNA from mothers to all offspring. It’s passed to me from her, and her mother, and her grandmother, and her great-grandmother, and on and on.  It primarily affects males.  Why me? A female? Ralph Waldo Emerson said “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” I guess I came from one little defective acorn in our big family tree, but I’m gonna be a mighty oak!

#genealogy #LHON #lebershereditaryopticneuropathy #DNA #1850census

Monday, November 6, 2017

Thoughts on Driving

My maternal grandmother and I are exactly 50 years apart.  Oddly, we both lost our sight at about the same time but from different diseases:  hers, macular degeneration; mine, Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.  Another oddity is that the two visual maladies affect our vision in similar ways—the central vision is destroyed, leaving only peripheral vision. My peripheral vision is much less functional than my grandmother’s leaving me legally blind.  I’m young, she’s old. But we both feel exactly the same when it comes to the one thing we absolutely miss more than anything else about life:  the independence afforded by driving a car.  I gave it up a few weeks after LHON struck at age 28.  The day my car drove out the driveway, purchased by a stranger, knowing I’d never drive again, was one of the worst days of my life.  My grandmother, on the other hand, continued to endanger herself and others by driving her car “where there’s not much traffic” or  “when there’s lots of daylight”. She simply couldn’t let go of her independence, no matter the risk.  She’s 88, now, and has finally given up the keys. Long overdue. Was it easier to let go because I was young? Surely not. In my dreams at night I’m still driving, longing for that freedom of self.  In my dreams at night I can see, too, and I take it as a sign that before I’m 88, like my grandmother, I’ll be rewarded for my diligence and obedience and someday really see and drive away down a long road to somewhere in my own car.

#driving  #LHON   #lebershereditaryopticneuropathy  #maculardegeneration

Sunday, November 5, 2017


Today is my dog Malcolm’s 5th birthday.  Mom told me years ago, even when my Silky Terrier Petey was still living, that I should get a West Highland Terrier.  Of course, we both loved Petey so much and the time was years away, yet, for Malcolm to enter our lives and heal my broken heart from the loss of Petey.  Mom had been driving down a main thoroughfare in our hometown and saw a Westie in a convertible passenger seat wearing red sunglasses.  I think the memory always stayed with her.  It was her immediate suggestion to get a Westie when Petey passed away.  I’ve spent the day giving an extra dose of kindness to the little guy who can’t quite walk in the paw prints of Petey, but who has doled out his affection and showed me that love does, indeed, heal the hurt.
#westie #westhighlandterrier