Charlotte Trip and School Thoughts

Now that my cousin’s birthday has already come and gone, as of this Thursday in fact, I consider the summer on the decline. Man is it trucking by or what.
Remember all those fancy trips I’d pondered earlier on? Well, I don’t think any of them are really going to happen, for one reason or another. So, I’ve just had to make the best I can out of my little staycation.
I just returned from my third trip to Charlotte this year, this time to visit my cousin and his wife in their new digs. They live in a nice little place not far from where I spent some of my formative childhood years. There isn’t a whole lot in the way of restaurants or retail over there, but I suppose as a residential area it’s pretty decent. It’ll also give them the best chance to get off to a solid financial start.
I decided I’d take Friday and today off, since I would have done so if I’d actually gone to Washington DC as planned. On Friday I headed to Charlotte, having an entertaining train trip in which I got to talk to a nice woman all the way down to Greensboro. She said she’s 20 years of age, attending UNC Greensboro, and working a full-time and part time job. The full time is at Burlington Coat Factory and often can encompass 5 and a half days per week. The part time is babysitting children closer to her home town of Fuquave Marina. Right off of that train, she would go to work at the store from 7-10 that night, and by 9 AM Saturday morning.
“Wow, you’re a hard worker!” I said.
“I have no choice,” she responded.
And in a demonstration of how out of control our education costs are these days, she will still have to take the Fall semester off in order to save some money before continuing. This makes me sad, as one must have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, and really more than that, if one wishes to have a decent career.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and especially as I try to decide what kind of path will get me to where I’m going. As I prepare to begin this HTML course, (last day to enroll, by the way), I of course know and hope that others who are taking it are aware as well, that it alone will not result in some sort of magical employment opportunity. In fact, I hope that my experiences in the job market haven’t pushed my idealism/realism meter too far to the other side, to the point where I’m not really sure anything will quite work. I do hope this course will get me thinking about how I can use my newly acquired skills, along with ones I already have, to start the hard work of building credentials and experience. And as I discover that some of my long-time friends will also be taking this course, I grow even more excited by the possibility of firming up professional relationships.
Will I find a graduate school program to attend? Well, I’m not sure. As I said earlier, education expenses are increasing exponentially. And those points were in reference to undergraduate students. On this past Friday alone, I met three (3!) individuals who said they either were taking this semester off or had taken the previous semester off in order to scrounge up enough dough. While I hope I can get something to work out with my idea to become a professional blogger or social media manager, I know there are no guarantees. I’d like to avoid a $200,000 student loan debt that I’d never be able to repay with my workshop salary. So the tough adult choices continue to spin through my head, with no one to give me definite answers on which are correct.
My Charlotte trip did give me some respite from all of these worries, even if only for a couple of days. I ate, slept, enjoyed chatting and listening to baseball games with my cousin, and had my regular Charlotte lunch dates with a good friend I met online. On Saturday night, I even helped to make delicious fudge brownies that we enjoyed with almond milk, after having consumed garlic bread that my cousin made, and a couple of plates of delicious spaghetti with meat sauce and parmesan cheese.
So all in all, it was a great weekend. When I returned to Durham, I met the kind cab driver who has often assisted me these days in grocery shopping, going so far as to accompany me up and down the aisles and thus making it a lot less irksome a process. She quite regularly works with many of the area’s blind folk, and started telling me about all sorts of places near my apartment that I might want to know about as well. Things like that make Durham feel to me less like just a place to stay and more a bit of home.
More soon, probably on what I think after experiencing my first couple of HTML classes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this summer.

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On Friendship and Fantasy

Just plugging along, not a whole lot to see here. But, I know it’s high time for me to put finger to plastic key again and find something to talk about.
I suppose the most interesting occurrence has been the solidifying of a friendship at work. I’ve really gotten to know the guy to whom I referred a few entries back, as we continue to sit beside each other in our old section. We can sit there having deep talks about forbidden topics such as politics and religion, then start singing for the next hour or so. It really does make the workday go by a lot more quickly and enjoyably.
I know people have often said that this is an important reason why persons with disabilities should be employed: to really get that chance to connect with and become a part of a community. I certainly hadn’t thought I’d experience that in my current setting, though.
That connection is nice, but it demonstrates to me how few other such venues I have outside of the workplace. As the temperatures have climbed here, many of my friendly neighbors are choosing to remain inside and under the AC. I suppose I can’t blame them there, but it means I really need to find the neighborhood watering hole or something, someplace where I can go to party or just let loose for a while.
One would think I’d have found such a place after nearly half a year. Half a year already! I can’t believe I’ve been in Durham that long, as I can still clearly remember sliding on dangerous ice that pelted down relentlessly that cold, late January day.
Perhaps the biggest reason why I’ve kind of lived on the outside looking in here is that I’m a creature of habit. First, of course, I mostly just turn to my online friends for conversation. This is fine, but lacks some critical component as I’m re-discovering by my burgeoning work friendship.
Secondly, I still like to spend a lot of my off time in Chapel Hill, primarily because being in that environment makes me feel revitalized. I think though that the c-change is beginning, and soon enough this area will truly feel like home.
I want to close by offering support to an author who has crafted a book that very much explores issues surrounding friendship and disability. This book, called The Heart of Applebutter Hill, was written by Donna W. Hill, who I think has some degree of blindness herself. It seems to be a young adult fantasy piece featuring a 14-year-old blind girl named Abigail and her close male friend Baggy as main characters. Abigail’s guide dog Curly Connor, usually referred to as the “Fluffer-noodle” is also prominently featured.
During the school year, Abigail lives in a town called Applebutter Hill after having been banned from her previous locale due to a number of complicated societal reasons. She has to spend the summer with a family called the Blusterbuffs, (that’s another thing I like about this book, the strange names), because her primary guardian has left town to attend to some other business.
This story asks one to expand what one believes in, bringing back some of the magic of childhood imagination. For instance, the two main characters encounter a transportation vehicle that seems to be a sort of flying boat, and are informed that only they can see and interact with it. They also meet and take in an acorn that can expand and turn into a small man who can walk around on tiny legs.
I haven’t read the whole story yet, in fact I’m kind of just reaching the halfway point as I make my halting way along while on bus rides to and from work. But it is clear that these individuals will find adventure, get themselves into and out of troublesome situations, and generally grow closer as the story progresses. I obtained a copy from Smashwords for just $6.99, and I’d definitely say it was worth it. The writing is excellent, and one very quickly becomes swept away from mundane reality and into this interesting and unusual world. Also I’ve seen somewhere that the author uses proceeds from this book to help people gain access to Braille in areas where it might not otherwise be possible, a very worthy cause in my opinion. So check it out.

Vacation Wind Down

Ah, I can’t help but wonder how many Americans are in my same boat. I thought that being off for a week was supposed to rejuvenate one. Instead, I feel I’ve fallen so far out of my sleep pattern that it’s gonna be real tough to lug myself out of bed at the appointed time tomorrow: 4:15. *big yawns*
Even though I didn’t really go too many places this week, I still feel that it was quite productive. I initiated my application for the computer training course I referred to a few entries ago. It will cost a bit, but I am hoping that the benefits will be more prominent for me. Because almost everything depends at least to some extent on computers and knowledge of them these days.
That feeds well into what I’ve been reading these days. I started the WWW series by Robert J. Sawyer, mmm, maybe 3 and a half weeks ago? The books are, in order, Wake, Watch, and Wonder.
The main premise is that a young woman named Caitlin, an American citizen who has moved with her physicist father and learned mother to Canada, gains sight for the first time via an experimental operation by a Japanese doctor. He connects her to an electronic device that they jokingly call an “eyepod” that corrects the scrambled signals from her nerves to her brain and thus make her able to see. This requires a lot of adjustment, as she’d previously been blind all of her life.
Something goes a bit wonky, and Caitlin discovers that she is able to also “see” the web. She makes a fascinating find that seems quite relevant when viewed against the current revelations regarding NSA data collection capabilities.
There are a lot of controversial philosophical and religious ideas within those pages, but I find it to be good food for thought. I’ve just started the final book this week, and am curious to see how the story will end.
I read almost the entire second book during this past week, and especially on the 4th of July. I hadn’t had much to do for the early afternoon, so I texted around to see what some of my friends were up to. One of my very kind former classmates offered to come and take me to get some frozen yogurt at a local place that I think is called, sensibly I suppose, Local Yogurt. I forgot to ask her specifically, but just googled area places and that’s the one to come up. I had delicious cheesecake flavored yogurt covered in crumbled brownies. We sucked it down while sitting at an outdoor patio and taking in the beginnings of an area fireworks show.
And so I prepare to totter off and get another workweek underway. Hopefully it will be a good one, and especially if I can get all of the ducks on which I am still working in a row. I’ve opted to participate in a project called Audio Mo that asks folk to come up with and record some sort of piece every day for the month of July. You can hear those, as well as my other Audio Boo uploads, if you wish. Also, give me more topics! I’ll write more probably by Friday, as things finally start to take shape. Till then, have a good week.

Because Somebody Gotta Be the Goat: My initial thoughts on Seeing Eye GPS

On my last trip to Charlotte, my Aunt told me that I have the potential to be a leader. This in terms of helping my family and of course the blind community to make progress. These were powerful words, and I’d like to think I’ve been attempting to find the best way for me to do that over the last few years.
Certainly one of my strongest areas is rapidly becoming technology. I’m getting better all the time at using the iPhone/iOS, and I will hopefully soon be acquiring a Braille display via the National Deafblind Equipment Distribution Program.
Speaking of that, if you are Deafblind by that program’s definition, I’d recommend looking into what kinds of equipment they may be willing to provide. This is best done by contacting someone in your state’s equivalent of the Division of Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, or your vocational rehabilitation counselor if you have one. My new medical providers at UNC Family Medicine knew about the service too and were ready to refer me if the Division of Services for the Blind hadn’t. I was pretty impressed by that.
Anyway, so I decided I’d step out on a limb and get the newly released Seeing Eye GPS iOS app. Now the observations I have may be specific to my device, although it states that the app should work with an iPhone 3gS running iOS 5 or later. I also freely acknowledge that this is the first version, and thus things should change pretty quickly with updates. But given the app’s cost, $69.95 for one year and $129.95 for three years, I’d say that one might want to be aware of potential challenges.
So I got the app installed fine, clicked register, entered my info, and stepped outside. I decided I’d first take it for a spin along a familiar route to see what it said.
I saw buttons that said POI, standing for Points of Interest, Route, Map, and something else I think. The only thing is I couldn’t often view them, because the app caused my entire system to drag incredibly. I’d touch the screen, flick left and right, and still rarely hear a click.
I thought it may have been because I was still kind of connected to my WiFi when I started, so I disabled that and went solely on the 3G network. Still very slow. Maybe I just need to re-configure some things, I don’t know.
There were definitely some good things, though. As I approach the Exxon station that I usually try to reach, I often have some difficulty because it is at the top of a driveway and set off at an odd angle across a wide open lot. The app told me which way I was walking, as well as the direction I needed to face if I wished to locate the Exxon station. It had an impressive accuracy level too, all the way down to just 16 feet. The best I could get on Ariadne GPS was 64 feet. Intersections were called out as well as which type of intersection it was, (E.G) 3-way.
I turned on the look-around wand, and that’s when it began more specifically describing what exactly was around me. There were some sound effects too, the nature of which I’m not entirely sure. I suppose they were meant to alert me to if the app had lost signal acquisition or if an intersection was actually coming up.
Finally, I noticed a fairly significant battery drain even compared to other GPS services I use. Given the complexity involved in this particular app though, I suppose I could live with that outcome. It just means one really has to be aware of how much juice is left in the device prior to departure.
Despite the drawbacks I noticed, I’m still pretty excited about this app’s potential. So many more buildings and surroundings were labeled as I walked by. And yes, MapQuest noted these buildings too. However, it doesn’t give anywhere near the level of specificity in helping an individual to locate them, not surprising, as they figure most of their users to be sighted. So if any developers do see this entry, keep in mind that I point out the things I notice only in the hopes of improving things for all of us, not as a means of tearing the app down. I know that a lot of work has gone and continues to go into it. Also, the pricepoint is actually not too bad when compared to the hundreds of bucks we’d have to spend for such a system just 5 short years ago. I’d say it’s a fair start.

The Wedding, The Wetting, and Work

Friday:
Work. Or at least I used to call it that.
I punch the timeclock, grab a seat in the breakroom to listen to my NPR stories, then saunter onto the floor to start my day.
“Ok folks,” our supervisor says during our regular morning huddle meeting “we’ll begin by finishing what we were doing yesterday.”
That involved re-counting tiny round things, the nature of which I couldn’t identify. Ostencibly to verify that the number was correct, but more likely to remain somewhat occupied.
Ah, the summer doldrums return. Much of this week has involved working for small stretches, then waiting patiently for another task to be devised. The department to which I had defected the previous week no longer had need for my, or the others who had followed me, services. This is common at NIB-affiliated workshops, and especially as we await the end of the government funding crunch.
One of the results, and perhaps I’m not entirely displeased with this, is that we get the week of July 4th off without pay. Ah, of course I could always use the money. But at this point, I could also use the time for relaxation, contemplation, and preparation. I will still be up to quite a bit in the coming week.
So we make our way through the rest of the day in that vein, and I can barely suppress my cheer as I finally head for the door and freedom at 3:20. The duffel bag strap digs into my arms as I jostle myself aboard the Triangle Transit 700 bus that will take me to Durham Station, where I will then hop onto the free Bull City Connector for the short jaunt to the Amtrak Station.
Once at that ticket counter, I find that the trains are yet again sold out! Well the coach class seats are anyway, meaning that I will have to upgrade to business. I must show my appreciation to that agent though, as she asks me to hold off on the purchase for a minute while she attempts to squeeze me into coach somewhere. That was simply unavailable, and so I paid $47 instead of the usual $26 in the interest of just reaching my destination.
And I had only an inkling of what I was in for. This endless Carolina rain has and continues to reak havoc throughout the state.
The train departs Durham approximately 15 minutes late, but the time posted on the Amtrak iPhone app optimistically projects that we will make up much of this difference. But first a storm in the Triangle socks us, and then a much more violent storm screams in as we approach Charlotte. This last causes us to slow to what my GPS app tells me is between 7 and 10 miles per hour, meaning that it takes us nearly an hour to traverse from the entrance to the Queen City to its train station at 1914 North Tryon Street.
My patience is definitely gone by this point. I know of course that that situation is beyond their control, but am surprised that they can’t at least go 20 miles? I guess the tracks become too slick. I do make fun conversation with another passenger who says she’s been onboard since just prior to Washington DC. It could always be worse?
Once we finally arrive, my uncle collects me and we slosh through nearly knee-deep water. I say a prayer that my electronics will somehow survive the continuing deluge, and happily they do. In the car, Angel the poodle immediately says hi with tongue and tail as I make small talk with my uncle and cousin. My uncle, who is already zonked by this point, nearly takes us to the place where he and my Aunt used to stay off of Beatties Ford in the northwest part of town, instead of to my Aunt’s current residence near Providence Road. Luckily, we manage to slide on and arrive safely at our destination.
By this time, it is nearly 11 PM. I am saddened by this, because now I won’t get a whole lot of time to just sit and chatter with my cousin. Of course, I have to accept that those days are largely over with his now being married, a realization that I am fine with but just note as being another part of getting older and adjusting to change. We smack on a dinner of barbecue chicken and sides, yammer for approximately another half hour, and call it a night.
Saturday:
The vibrating phone pulls me to at 7 AM. I roll over, bring up the NPR News app, and continue listening to the stories from the day before. I’d tried to do so on Friday night, but a while after since they made longer no. So, I couldn’t deny that sleep was needed.
For breakfast, I have a hard boiled egg, it’s been a while since I’ve eaten that as they used to make my stomach protest but seem not to have an averse effect this time, sliced turkey sausages, grapes, and strawberries. Then I shower, put on my suit which if I manage to attach the photo one of my sisters took of me you’ll get to see, (yeah I know that some of you who only read my blog haven’t actually seen a picture of me) and headed out.
My mom says that the suit I have chosen has some red in it, which was my late Aunt and cousin’s mom’s favorite color. My mom has worn an outfit with red in it as well, in acknowledgement of her memory. I find that moving.
We reach the venue where the ceremony is to take place at approximately 10:20. It’s a recreational building at Charlotte’s Freedom Park where wedding receptions, birthday parties and the like are held. My uncle says that the architecture is some of the best he’s ever seen, with flat roofs and colors that blend in with nature. They even have it so that shrubbery grows right up against the side of the building, and the shaded areas are particularly effective in combating summer heat.
As we wait for things to begin, I chat with my Aunt and younger cousin while enjoying some mints provided by the couple. I like the little jar they come in, as someone says the seal is particularly strong and useful in camping or other outdoor areas. This may come in handy in a couple of weeks for me, as I have an exciting trip that may or may not happen then. Details forthcoming.
More friends and family trickle in, and we all note, only half jokingly, that we wish to do a better job of staying in touch. The first person I meet used to work with the Charlotte Beep Ball team on which I once played, but has baked the wedding cake for this gathering. Then I talk with another beep ball player who is one of the most energetic people I know. Finally, we all make our way back to our respective seats and settle in for the show.
To begin, they play snippets of Brandi’s version of Everything I Do I Do It For You, and another song I unfortunately can’t recall. I assume the couple is approaching the front of the room and the reverend ensconced there as these play.
Vows are exchanged, somewhat nervously but with a laugh whenever a little slip of the tongue or early reaction occurred. The whole thing probably took 15 minutes, but it’s as they wanted things, simple and to the point. I think they definitely still managed to achieve memorability, which was the most desired outcome.
Then there are the pictures. I bet photographers make the biggest portion of their income on weddings alone. Of course I’ve not yet had the experience of being groom, but it seems he and the bride participate in hundreds of photos. I and my family are shot in various group configurations with the newly weds, with me sometimes conjuring up smiles just from the amusing way they have to turn my head.
Once this is done, we reach my favorite part: the food! What? I have a delicious and giant meatball smothered in some kind of sauce, a couple of chicken tenders, a tuna sandwich, and some pineapples, along with a small goblet of punch. Licks lips. Then they rolled out the cake. I’m not exactly sure what that flavor was, perhaps German chocolate? I of course eat it with another big smile on my face.
And that is largely all of the substantive portion of happenings. My cousin and his wife depart for their weeklong vacation on the Isle of Palms, just off the coast of Charleston South Carolina. After making video statements to them about what we hoped their new life together would be like, (I sound silly and have a hard time speaking in a straight line as always, why can’t I speak like I write!) we all head out as well.
So as I tried to say then, I will again now. First, I again extend an official welcome to the newest member(s) of our family, as her folks are also included. My cousin and I spent many a night talking about the kind of person we would like to find and marry, and I feel that he is very blessed and fortunate to have found the one he has. I am excited to watch the ways in which they will grow and develop, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for the way they helped me both in finding and connecting to good times and in staying alive during the tougher times. I plan to do what I can to support both of you when I can, and especially as I hopefully begin to attain some financial stability. Here’s to Calvin and Corliss, many pleasant years together.