An Eye-Opening Experience…literally.

I have been looking forward to this challenge since I first opened up the envelope. It is one of the more unique challenges I’ve been given and I was incredibly anxious to do it!

Challenge #16:

“Lady Kathryn, I would like for you to go to a public place (with a buddy) and blindfold yourself. Navigate the space (with the buddy close by) for 1 hour.

Since my mom is blind I feel strongly about people understanding this disability and how folks manage with it.” -from Meredith Comin

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Meredith is another friend of mine from Junior League. We had the pleasure of meeting when she stepped in to fill a roll in a fundraiser we were planning, Cinsation 2011. We became friends pretty much from the moment I met her. But how could I not? This girl is the sweetest southern belle, both inside and out. I bet she bleeds sweet tea. 😉 And we wear the same size shoes. And she has awwwesome shoes. Bonus. I can count on her for level headed advice, a great laugh or just plain pleasant company.

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Meredith’s mom, Peggy, is blind. I asked Meredith to provide me with some background on Peggy so that I could share the experience with you.

She was blinded at the age of 2 in a horribly unfortunate accident. Some people would let this define them. If anything, I’d say she defined it. She attended public school until 9th grade, when she enrolled in a private HS and learned to read and write Braille beginning in the 2nd grade. Throughout her childhood, she had several attempts at a corneal transplant which were unsuccessful.

When Meredith was 1, Peggy gave the corneal transplant another go and it gave her back the ability to distinguish between light and dark and very bright colors. Then, about 5 years ago, she had another transplant that provided a great deal more vision. Meredith has told me this before and it never occurred to me to that body language was so visual. She explained that she thought people spoke like porcelain dolls – that only your mouth moved. She had no idea how animated people are or that you use your hands, your head moves, your eyes blink, etc. Her incredible independence can be attributed to Meredith’s grandmother raising her as though she did not have a disability. “Plus, Peg is just as fierce and motivated as can be :)”

Speaking of motivated, let’s talk about all that she has accomplished!! She received her undergraduate degree in English from Florida State (GO NOLES!) and Master of Elementary Guidance Counseling, Master of Rehabilitation Counseling from Georgia State University. She is currently expected to complete her Master of Creative Writing in 2013 from Kennesaw State University. She works as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the Georgia Department of Rehab. She is a long-standing member of the Junior League and has been a Sustainer in the JL of Atlanta for over 20 years. She has been married to her husband Bill for 36 years and raised two incredible children. I mean. WOW! Talk about impressive!

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I also asked Meredith to tell me what it was like growing up with a visually-impaired mom.

“Growing up, I certainly had to do things such as read the mail, double-check the stove and burners, help coordinate outfits and act as a chauffeur. However, I don’t know any different so while I understand this is not what most people experience, it’s all I know. You learn to keep floors and hallways clear, though my beloved mother is forever misplacing her shoes and sunglasses! She’s never had a guide dog and has always done it on her own. She is truly my hero and I feel as though I’m a better person for having her as my mom.”
Well, she raised you so I’m darn glad she was your mom, too!
So I have been thinking about this challenge on and off since February. It was one of the first cards to come back in and I’m so glad it happened when it did. July has been an exceptionally gorgeous month. From the sunsets over Walloon Lake, to the fireworks on the 4th of July and the splendor that is the Missouri country side, I’ve been in awe for the past 31 days.
Jenna and I just came back from an incredible weekend visiting our best friend Courtney in St. Louis. While we were there, we took a party bus around to a bunch of different wineries in the area of Augusta. I am not exagerating when I say this. It literally could not have been a more perfect day. Blue bird sky, scattered with a few clouds, 75 degrees. Perfect. Jenna and I drove home on Sunday through the hills of the midwest on another equally gorgeous day. The thought that I was returning to Cincinnati to complete this challenge never left my mind. The beauty of everything I saw was a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be able to see it.
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Meredith and I decided to complete this challenge at Washington Park, a newly renovated green space in the heart of OTR. I headed down early to snap some photos and reacquaint myself with the lay of the land. They host a farmers market on Mondays and I thought this would be the perfect spot. It would have plenty of people, I could buy something, I was familiar enough with the area that it made me feel comfortable, it is full of commotion and, finally, the sounds. There are so many sounds. Every time I’m there I notice all of the different things going on.
Meredith did what is called “Sighted Guide” with me around the park. I held onto her arm, based on which side was more comfortable, and she walked around the park for about an hour and a half. Christy was with us for most of it, as well. We ran into people I knew, but I could not distinguish who they were. One gave me a surprise poke on the rear end and scared the living daylights out of me.
I brought my GoPro camera to record the whole experience, but the footage didn’t turn out so great. I had it positioned on my head, but it was facing the sky most of the time. Also, just to prove how bad I am at being blind, I thought I turned it on, but I didn’t. Hahah…big surprise there… In another example of my undisputed brilliance, I forgot to bring a blindfold. Thankfully, Christy just happened to have one in her office that was a block away. We went to 3CDC, got situated and headed back out to the park.
I decided to test my strengths and see if I could manage enjoying a frozen treat from Gerry at Chill, an organic shaved ice vendor at the farmers market. Meredith read the flavors to me and naturally, she ordered the Georgia Peach. Sadly, they were out of it so we both settled on Strawberry Limeaide. Eating without being able to see is difficult and relatively messy. I couldn’t find the straw with my mouth and kept missing the cup when I tried to jab at it to break up the chunks. I guess I need vision for depth perception. The most interesting part about this experience was paying. I realized that I had no way of distinguishing which bill was for which dollar value. Thankfully, Gerry was very nice and told me, but I can see how people could get ripped off all the time. After that, we tried to wash my hands off in the fountain. Thankfully, Meredith was great at directing me and I didn’t get soaked.
We went up and down the steps of the bandstand, crossed intersections, and wandered all around the park and surrounding areas. We met people, played with dogs, purchased some local honey (the best medicine in the world for allergies or a cough), and even spoke with some local press. A guy from Local 12 was interviewing park visitors on their thoughts on NSA. I promptly said, “No I don’t want to answer your questions. I’ll end up on Jimmy Kimmel Live in the segment about people that don’t know what they’re talking about.” He asked about my blog too (maybe because I was standing there with a bright red blind fold and a GoPro Camera on my head). Maybe they’ll call and want to do a segment! Who knows…
I noticed a few things in particular and some others that Meredith pointed out to me. The rest of my senses became significantly stronger. I was hearing things I’d never noticed before. I enjoyed trying to identify them, as well. I also noticed that people really do treat you differently. For example, whenever anyone would approach us to see what was going on, they would always ask Meredith what was happening instead of talking to me. I just wanted to shout “I’m BLIND not DEAF!” Also, my sense of direction was totally thrown off. As we wandered through the park I listened for familiar sounds, felt around and checked out the grounds to try and evaluate where I was or what direction I was facing. I was wrong 99% of the time I checked for clarification. When talking with people, I had to ask Meredith for confirmation that I was, in fact, looking at them or at least in their general direction. People generally moved out of my way and a lot of interest was generated in what I was doing. One little boy was, however, incredibly disappointed that I was not actually blind. Sorry to let you down, dear…
To accompany the physical portion of my adventure, Peggy sent me a little package! Enclosed were my name typed in Braille, the Braille alphabet and a little message for me to translate. It took me a little bit and I made it through the first half without peeking, but admittedly cheated on the second half. It was unintentional, but I had to know if I was right!! I believe it says “Have a marvelous summer and stay cool…try swimming.”
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I’ve been anticipating this adventure for awhile now and in the last few weeks I started thinking of all the things I would have missed out on if I weren’t able to see. I would have no idea what my niece looks like. I wouldn’t be able to get myself ready to go places. I happen to love doing my makeup and I attempted to do it without opening my eyes. Let’s just say that was a disaster and leave it at that. And while this may sound fairly narcissistic (because it is), I LOVE looking at myself in the mirror. Not every one, specifically every woman, can say they look in the mirror and like what they see. I happen to enjoy it. I like to know that things are in place and that I look presentable. Sue me.
Beyond that, I am a very visual person. Specifically, I am a visual learner. I like to see things to understand them. I imagine things in my mind that I never would have been able to imagine had I never seen them before. I never would have gotten through high school. I pictured the loose leaf pages of paper that I’d scribble notes all over every time I took a test. I could tell you exactly what they looked like and where everything was written. I remember what people were wearing or what their faces look like. I don’t know how I’d ever remember who anyone was if I couldn’t see them. Meredith said something to me that struck me the other day. She said that her mom doesn’t know what she looks like. It broke my heart. I cannot imagine what that must be like.
Most importantly to me on a personal level, my love of photography would be non-existent. I absolutely cannot imagine living life without the ability to capture it on film. I get a lot of grief for how many times I snap photos of things on my phone, but that is because the moment meant something to me and I wanted to share it with the world. I wish everyone got as excited as I do about clouds and sunsets and flowers and trees. In fact, I can’t understand why they don’t. It’s magnificent. Nature is really freaking awesome. And I want to take pictures of all of it. All of these breathtaking adventures I’ve been on would have been a whole lot less enjoyable without my sense of sight…
Here are some of the photographs I’ve taken along the way…
A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

Alaskan fireweed with Saginaw in the background

Alaskan fireweed with Skagway in the background

A Bald Eagle in flight

A Bald Eagle in flight

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world...

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world…

I'd never know what this beautiful face looked like.

I’d never know what this beautiful face looked like.

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

I learned some pretty valuable lessons on this little excursion! I will never again take advantage of my ability to see. I am clumsy enough as it is. I’ll leave you with a quote…
“I hope I never become so used to the world that it no longer seems wonderful.”
Open your eyes. Take a look around. Really enjoy what you’re seeing because not everyone can.
See you next week!

Wakeboards, Music Festivals and Family! Summer Vaca at its finest

Hey, guys!! I have returned from family vaca, music festival madness and some much needed R&R! I hope you all have had a lovely last couple of weeks! Those that were in Cincinnati suffered from quite a bit of rain and are now entering the hot, humid dog days of summer. We had perfect weather while we were up in Michigan at Walloon Lake so it was difficult to come back to.

The sunsets on Walloon are priceless.

The sunsets on Walloon are priceless.

I have had a crazy couple of weeks since my last post and have a lot to fill you in on! My next official challenge will post next week as I’m just getting back into the swing of things in my normal every day life. It’ll be a good one so be sure to tune in!

I spent 10 days surrounded by my family relaxing at our place on Walloon Lake. I got my cherries, spent time with my grandparents, learned how to drive a boat, fished, watched a parade, cooked, roasted marshmallows and took in some of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see. I also stood witness to the most incredible fireworks show I have ever seen, standing directly beneath it!

Just because I took a little vacation from the blog does not mean I did not see my fair share of challenges along the way. For starters, I learned to wakeboard!! I’m a bit of an odd man out in my family in the sense that I am incredibly uncoordinated. Like constantly tripping, bumping into things and seriously injuring myself uncoordinated. My brother, John, and sister, Abbey, are both athletically inclined and are generally successful at everything they attempt. As mentioned before, I’m the artsy one. That being said, I have been wanting to try this for awhile and since water skiing didn’t go so well, I figured I stood a better chance at wakeboarding.

The reason: both legs are strapped to the same board and can’t get twisted all around, spread into splits far more than my flexibility allows and if you catch an edge, your whole body falls in the same direction. These are the same reasons I prefer snowboarding to skiing.

My parents got us a new MasterCraft wakeboarding boat for Christmas so I have been planning on conquering the sport since I first looked at the pamphlet. This thing is pretty sweet. It has more storage than any boat I have ever seen in my life. Naturally, this is to conceal all of the sweet water sports accessories he got to go with it. We have skis, tubes boards, surf boards, knee boards, etc. It has a killer sound system and definitely isn’t hard on the eyes. They said it was for us, but I’m pretty sure it’s dad’s new favorite toy.

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Determined to pick this up, I asked my Dad to take me out on the boat and give it a whirl. He had arranged for a pro to take us out the next day and I did not want my first attempt at the sport to be witnessed by someone who competed professionally. I know that sounds kind of backward because he could obviously teach me better than my family members, but whatev. After receiving some guidance from my siblings and reviewing a few instructional videos I found on YouTube (because everyone does that kind of research first, right?) I strapped the board to my feet and got into the lake.

For those that aren’t aware, this is the hardest part for me. There is something about sitting in water where I cannot see what lies beneath me that causes me to become compleeeetely unglued. So after a small fit of squeals and Ohmygodohmygodohmygod’s and a bit of splashing around to scare away lake creatures (like that really works…) I adjusted. Dad put the boat in gear and off we went!

Look how good I am! Just kidding! This is Brett Dense, our pro that showed us how it's done!

Look how good I am! Just kidding! This is Brett Dense, our pro that showed us how it’s done!

Popped up on my first try!!! Sure I face planted 4 seconds later, but the point is I got up!! Feeling slightly defeated, and again floating helplessly in the fish-ridden abyss while the boat circled back around, I analyzed what I thought I’d done wrong, grabbed the rope and gave it another go. Up again. Down again. Followed by a few bouts of being dragged through the wake when I didn’t make it up. I’m a *bit* stubborn so my sister is hesitant to provide criticism on my technique, but I asked nicely and she obliged. We concluded that this kept happening because I couldn’t figure out how to stay within the confines of the wake. For some reason my alignment is off and I pull to the left. I also wasn’t pulling my knees close enough to my chest and instead of letting the boat pull me up, I tried to stand on my own too soon. I tried a few more times and had a few successful 10-30 second rides. And after a particularly wicked wipe out, I mastered the graceful landing by surrendering the rope once I realized I was going down. After the 6th or 7th time I sat defenseless in the lake water, I became acclimated and didn’t mind it so much. It was actually kind of pleasant. I guess there’s an adjustment period for everything. I’d had enough for the day so we boarded the boat and returned home.

The next day, Brett Dense from Action Water Sports (the pro I mentioned earlier) arrived to show us how it was done. After watching my sister do her thing and learn to jump the wake, it was my turn to show him what I was bringing to the table, which was not much. He was, however, impressed that I managed to get up on my first try. He saw my first run and I pulled off a decent ride, though he told me that my legs were too stiff and my body was too squared up with the boat. We also adjusted the rope. Contrary to popular belief, when first learning to wakeboard, the rope should be as long as possible. My sister put his advice into terms I would understand by comparing my stance to what I would do in Pure Barre. Pelvis in, shoulders back, core tight. This solid gold information proved extremely beneficial when I not only popped up and stayed up, but I also stayed within the wake. We hit a bump that shook my ego and I let go, circling around and sinking gracefully into the water. My brother called this my “pirouette.” Armed with a new sense of confidence and the tips of keeping my arms straight and leaning on my toes or my heels to steer my board, I tried again. I glided along the glistening waters of Walloon Lake like a pro, weaving from side to side within the wake. Then I got a little too close to the waves, caught a wicked edge and ate it. Bad. And my brother caught it allll on film.

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My first time wakeboarding!

My first time wakeboarding!

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My brother gave it a go after I did, but he’s been doing this for years- well over a decade if my memory serves me right. He worked on the technique of trying to jump from one side of the wake to the other. He had a few wipe outs, but he had some pretty impressive jumps!! Brett gave us a treat by showing us some pretty great tricks and acrobatic feats that I could only dream of accomplishing. It was a very impressive show.

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Wake surfing followed. I have never even seen this before so I was intrigued when they brought out the board. John and Abbey mastered it almost immediately. Wakesurfing is different from wakeboarding in many ways. For starters, you are like RIGHT behind the boat. The idea is to ride the wake coming right out of the prop. The rope is MUCH shorter and eventually, if you get in the right spot on the wave, you can release the rope and continue to surf as your normally would on a regular surf board. Since you’re just surfing, your feet aren’t strapped into the board like they are on a wakeboard. It was pretty cool to watch, but sadly, I was not lucky enough to figure out how to do it.

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Other than that, my dad and I spent some time fishing on what I presume to be is an almost fish-less lake. He hooked one by the fin and I had 2 on, but didn’t bring them into the boat. We spent the week with Belle, all completely fascinated by the little munchkin. She is walking (everywhere) and starting to learn how to talk. She mastered “Mama” while we were up there and my mom seems to think she is now Gaga instead of Grandma. I continue to be completely enamored by her and her development. Since my mom is sick we all took turns taking care of the meals that she normally puts on the table so effortlessly. We celebrated my Dad’s 56th birthday and my twin uncles’ 54th birthday. My uncle brought his kite surfer over to test out on the water to no avail, but it drew quite the audience and was hilarious to watch him try. Becky and I also spent some time tubing in the new three seater that dad got to go with the boat!

Becky tubing!

Becky tubing!

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I returned home for a day and immediately headed up to the bustling metropolis of Ft. Loramie, OH to spend the weekend in a field with 35,000 of my closest country-loving friends at Country Concert. It’s a three day music festival in the middle of nowhere Ohio. People come from all over, set up tents and RVs, camp for the weekend and listen to a pretty impressive list of country music performances.
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This was my second year attending and, let me tell you, it was MUCH better than last year. Last year we camped (yes, I camped) in a tent in 110 degree heat and I woke up each morning expressing my hatred for the entire experience. For $6 a piece you can shower in a semi truck trailer hooked up to a well water line. The lavatories are either porto potties or a similar semi truck trailer offering 6 disgusting stalls a piece. This year, to my delight, my friend Mike rented us a top of the line RV featuring air conditioning, a flat screen TV, a refrigerator and our very own bathroom. I will never camp-camp again. Troop Beverly Hills style from here on out.
Country Concert 2012

Country Concert 2012

Cards Against Humanity: A Party Game for Horrible People

Cards Against Humanity: A Party Game for Horrible People

I even purchased a pool off of Amazon in preparation for the heat. However, mother nature decided to be kind and treated us to a weekend of blue bird skies and 85 degree days. It was magnificent.
Kevin and Mike sitting in my pool! We filled it with well water, which quickly turned an awkward shade of brown. I think the Porta Kleen team drained it because it looked rancid...

Kevin and Mike sitting in my pool! We filled it with well water, which quickly turned an awkward shade of brown. I think the Porta Kleen team drained it because it looked rancid…

Our sweet RV that took us all of 5 minutes to destroy

Our sweet RV that took us all of 5 minutes to destroy

Our American Flag Beer Ping Table really sets the tone

Our American Flag Beer Ping Table really sets the tone

We got up early Sunday morning and hit the road to head back to Cincinnati, exhausted, covered in dust and ready for a night in my own bed in my own house. On the way, I asked Adhrucia to look up the line up for Bunbury, another music festival in Cincinnati that coincided with Country Concert, featuring many of my favorite bands. It was a tough decision but the atmosphere at Country Concert is worth it. The moment she mentioned that The Knocks were going on at 2:45 and I made the executive decision to drive faster and tack on another music festival to the weekend. My friends said I was ridiculous, but Christy Samad, always at the ready, gladly attended! She even got me a free entry bracelet!!
The Knocks are two DJs out of New York, Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “Mr. JPatt” Patterson, that play fabulous jams that I cannot get enough of. Their name references the early days in their career when neighbors would knock on their door for playing music too loudly. Had I been their neighbor, I’d have asked to come in and listen. You should listen to them immediately.
My faves:
Christy and I were charging our phones in the Techbury tent and Ben and James walked by us and Christy was like, “Um Katie…aren’t those the guys you came to see?” I immediately leapt to my feet and ran after them, you know true fan-style asking for a photo and to chat for a minute. They were super cool, totally obliged and mentioned some of the acts they were there to see. It’s refreshing to see artists acknowledge their fans! Thanks guys! Totally made my day! You rock!!
Ben "B-Roc" and James "Mr. JPatt" of The Knocks

Ben “B-Roc” and James “Mr. JPatt” of The Knocks

Bunbury, along with MidPoint Music Fest, have brought some pretty impressive acts to Cincinnati that I might not otherwise have had the chance to see. I am sad to say that I missed some of my favorite bands on Friday and Saturday, like Youngblood Hawke, Atlas Genius and The Mowgli’s. I did have the pleasure of discovering Camera Obscura and Bethesda. Christy and I also caught Night Terrors of 1927, The National and another personal fave, A Silent Film.
In case you haven’t figured this out, I’m a music junkie. Shazam is my favorite app and I use it about 30 times a day. This is also the reason I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of money on iTunes lately…life needs a soundtrack. I sing in my car without shame. Sometimes I dance, too. Deal with it.
And to conclude this summer vaca of amazingness, MY MOM FINISHED CHEMO!!!!!! How cute is she, seriously?! Thank you all for the well wishes and love you’ve sent our way. My family is forever grateful!!
Mom made it to the finish line! NO MORE CHEMO!!

Mom made it to the finish line! NO MORE CHEMO!!

Tune in next week for the official challenge to bring it all back to action. It’s gonna be a good one!!!