Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School

Carolyn Wing Greenlee’s recently released book, Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School is a journey into another world, a world without the benefit of sight. Through Greenlee’s delightfully graphic writing, the reader is given glimpses of what she has suffered with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that leads to incurable blindness. At the time she attended Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in San Rafael, California, her vision had dwindled to 4%. In her class of ten, three were totally blind; the others were in various stages of debilitating visual impairment.

For years, Greenlee chafed at the inconvenience of her deteriorating vision loss. Simple tasks took longer, going shopping, especially in a strange store, was a formidable task. Walking brought fear of bumping into something or falling into a hole. The worse part was giving up driving, which meant giving up much of her independence.

People who suffer from blindness feel isolated, no longer feeling that they are a part of the group. They require help which in turn make them feel guilty. They miss communication through body-language and, especially in a group, feel they’re missing out on the flow of conversation.

By a series of surprising connections, Greenlee finds herself surrounded by a community of support, individuals who help bridge this gap by providing counseling, technology, mobility skills, and a fresh prospective on blindness. They enable the disabled. The year-long preparation she receives from these many groups and individuals make Greenlee’s admission into guide dog school possible.

At the school, Greenlee launches into a world of unknowns–unfamiliar surroundings, challenging tasks, unknown fellow students, new routines. A third-generation Chinese American, Greenlee constantly battles feelings of insecurity, incompetency and inadequacy as the result of her Confucian background. She questions whether she will measure up to the task of learning the work and successfully bonding with a guide dog.

After three days of orientation, the students receive their dogs and Greenlee is given Hedy, a small black lab. She’s bitterly disappointed not to have the color of dog she hoped for–a yellow lab. For one, with Greenlee’s limited vision, the light color itself would allow her to see the dog more clearly. To Greenlee, Hedy seems small, smelly and indifferent. It is not love at first sight for the dog, either. It’s obvious Hedy longs for her previous trainer and shows Greenlee no fondness, only aloofness. Clearly, the dog is only there because she has to be. The staff assures Greenlee that with patience and consistency Hedy will come around. It’s a partnership: the handler directs the dog and the dog delivers its owner safely. But it takes patience, time and trust. Especially trust. With hard-headed Hedy, Greenlee worries. Will they ever become a truly interdependent team?

Greenlee chronicles the ambitious activities of the school. While at first she wonders what they could possibly find to do for 28 days, now it is a rush to get everything done. Along the way, the students have adventures, form close friendships, and have a surprisingly good time even though the schedule is grueling. Step by step they face the challenging obstacles placed before them. With the support of GDB, the students become courageous, adventurous, and full of hope, aspirations they hadn’t thought possible.

Stedy Hedy is an engaging, often funny, and thoroughly satisfying story of new found freedom in the face of catastrophic loss, where, as Greenlee says, “Your worse nightmare can become the source of your deepest healing.”

Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School can be ordered through your favorite bookstore, through the publisher Earthen Vessel Productions (,, Kindle and iBooks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Don't Be a Victim of Fraud

Fraud comes in many forms--telemarketing, mail scams, bunco schemes. If you're approached with a deal that's “too good to be true,” it probably is. If "you've gotta move on it now," you'd better take your time. Watch your step if you're approached by one of these "get rich quick" schemes:

The Bank Examiner A phony bank examiner, IRS agent, or policeman contacts you and asks your help in catching a dishonest employee. You're asked to withdraw funds from your account and give it to the "examiner" so serial numbers can be checked. Of course, the money vanishes, along with the "examiners." Banks, IRS, or the police never use this procedure.

The Pigeon Drop In this bunco scheme the victim is approached by someone saying they have found a large sum of money and will share it. The swindlers ask that you withdraw "good faith" money from your account. They take your "good faith" money and then make phony arrangements where you can pick up your share of the found money. It’s hard to believe so many people fall for this one, but it happens.

Telemarketing Fraud Many types of fraudulent businesses are promoted by telephone, such as travel scams, prizes offered by postcard whereby the victim is asked to call 900 number at a high fee, magazine promoters, charity solicitations. Not all telemarketing is fraudulent, but it's a good idea to ask the company for their offer in writing.

Pyramid Schemes An illegal pyramid scheme requires that you make an initial investment to become a member. Then you must recruit others into the investment who also pay a fee. For each person you bring into the program, you either receive money or bonuses. In an illegal pyramid scheme, making money depends not on how much merchandise is sold, but how many people you bring into the business.

Phony Repairs Auto, roof, and plumbing repairs account for many swindles. Sometimes the victim is charged an outrageous price for work done; sometimes no work was done at all but the victim has signed a "contract" and the swindlers claim money is owed. Or, the contractor may say he needs much of the money up front so that he can buy materials and that’s the last the buyer sees of him. Always get a written estimate before work begins. If you are unsure about the company, call your local Better Business Bureau. It’s also a good idea to ask for local references. Better yet, ask your friends if they know of a reputable repair company.

Work-at-Home schemes These endeavors rarely make money as claimed. By the time the victim has bought the kit or required supplies, the market for the finished product has disappeared and the company won't buy back the supplies.

Here are tips to avoid being a victim of fraud:
1) Be leery of "get rich quick" schemes. The quicker you say “yes,” the quicker the perpetrator gets rich.
2) Don't be pressured into making hasty decisions for offers made for "a limited time."
3) Never give your credit card or bank account information over the telephone to anyone other than a reputable company.
4) Beware of free prizes that require you to pay tax, shipping charges, or handling costs. Refuse a prize if you have to make a purchase to claim it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

DVD Review: Dirt! The Movie

Of all the planets, earth is the only one known to be covered with a thin layer of dirt. This dirt, or soil, is alive and capable of sustaining life. The video Dirt! The Movie is a documentary about the value of soil and its necessity for our survival.

Man’s existence is dependent upon healthy soil. Experts, naturalists, from all over the world recognize its importance to survival. Unfortunately, the quest for money gained through commercially exploiting natural resources has disrupted the natural cycles nature has provided. Tearing up the ground for mining, drilling for oil, cutting down forests, paving fertile ground, even short-sighted farming techniques have altered the natural use of soil and has adversely affected the lives of people all over the world.

The movie, directed by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, and narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, also features experts who have experimented with returning the soil to doing what it’s supposed to do. In one instance, a Los Angeles school yard’s pavement was removed and in its place the children planted vegetables and other life-sustaining crops. Their thrill, plus the vivid demonstration of the power of soil, was a heart-warming reminder of the value of returning to natural earth.

In stark contrast were scenes of barren land, devoid of life because of excessive chemical use, over-planting, and misuse of the land. Sick, starving people are the victims of the misuse of soil. One of the most memorable quotations from the movie, “Drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt,” is a dramatic statement of man’s mistreatment of our fragile planet.

We can take heart, however, by taking action. By doing a few small things correctly, each one of us can do a lot to restore dirt, to become aware of its value, of its life-giving qualities. “What we’ve destroyed, we can heal.”

I encourage everyone to see this memorable DVD documentary, Dirt! The Movie. For more information and to order the DVD, visit