2015 in Review

Let me start by saying 2015 wasn’t overly eventful, but it was a great year, one that i will look back fondly on for years to come.

This past year, I have continued to push myself to do things that i would not have ordinarily done. I took up running with Achilles Brooklyn, a chapter of Achilles International, a group which focuses on running, pairing individuals with and without disabilities to come together and get fit. I ran my first 5k and made some great friends through this group. I took up tandem biking, with InTandem, who makes cycling possible for individuals who are blind or visually impaired by pairing them with volunteers who are sighted. I met great people through this group too, and completed my first long distance bike tour, the Gran Fondo NJ, in September, where i rode 43 miles. I also did a smaller long distance ride, the Tour De Bronx, with my husband, which was really fun,

I’ve been on a lot of adventures with Jingles. I took my first bus trip to Boston with Jingles to see my folks, who had moved to MA a few months before. I took to the streets of NYC with only Jingles and my GPS and discovered some great restaurants, attended seminars for work, and continued to challenge my comfort zone. Jingles and I even took a trip to Cambridge to visit a friend who was a classmate of mine in guide dog school. This required us to plot our route and take MA’s public transit system without any previous experience, and we rocked it.

Speaking of Jingles, I’ve had the honor to speak for Guiding Eyes for the Blind on several occasions this past year. I was interviewed by USA Today, and my story was published in their spring/summer Pet Guide, I spoke at GEB’s Annual Golf Classic fundraiser, where Adam and I shared a table with Eli Manning – and all the football folks are jealous of me haha, and most recently, i got to speak at the Yale Club a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve grown professionally. Staff transitions at my job stretched me and gave me opportunities to develop my abilities. This past fall, I landed a new job that i love at a non-profit much closer to home, which has continued to push me to grow professionally.

Adam and I are better than ever. We’ve supported each other through challenging situations, enjoyed each other’s company all year, and spent plenty of time at the beach. In November, we celebrated 6 years of marriage, and I couldn’t ask for a better mate.

So, that’s my year in a nutshell. There’s a ton more that i could say, but those are some major highlights. Nothing crazy, nothing extraordinary, but all good.

Looking back, I haven’t accomplished everything i wanted to when 2015 started, there’s so much more i could’ve done, but that is what new years are for. I wonder what 2016 will bring? I certainly have my resolutions. I want to continue to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and do new things. I want to stay in touch with family and friends better than i have before. I want to put new experiences under my belt with Jingles. And, of course, I want to lose a few pounds, haha.

What are your resolutions?

Ride, Ride, Ride…Hitchin’ a Ride

So, I have been noticeably absent in my blog posts for the past…5 months??? Oh boy. In my Happy Anniversary post about Jingles, I mentioned some of my new pastimes – running and tandem biking – and now I have three favorite causes: Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Achilles International, and InTandem.

Today, I’d like to share with you a little about InTandem. As you all are well aware of now, I didn’t grow up as “the blind girl.” I loved doing all sorts of visual things – one of those being riding my bike. My family and I used to ride for miles on the Rails to Trails (converted railroad tracks turned biking / walking paths). I loved feeling the wind hitting my face, whizzing through the countryside through small towns, and watching the miles rack up.

Then, I began losing more vision. The last time I tried to ride a bike; I was around 20 with some college friends. After riding a few hundred yards, I realized how little I could see, and the cliff to my right seemed precariously close. I walked the rest of the way. And that was the last time I picked up a bike.

Until InTandem. This past spring I discovered an amazing organization that makes riding a bike accessible to people like me through tandem bike rides. . Enthusiastically, I signed up for my first ride, and Jingles and I headed to Central Park early one Saturday morning. And, did we ride! Wow, I couldn’t believe the amazing feeling, whizzing through the park, getting to know the person in the front seat. I smiled the entire time, and couldn’t wait for the next ride.

Even more fantastic – the opportunities to ride are completely free. To put it into perspective, a 1-hour tandem ride through the park will put you out a good $50 bucks, which is basically out of my price range for a leisurely hobby. But InTandem provides FREE rides on their own tandem bikes. The bikes are captained (steered) by kindhearted volunteers, and there are even people who give up their time to watch the guide dogs.

I’ve met great people, had great rides, and worked some muscles. Now, I’m going to ride 43 miles in the Gran Fondo NJ on September 13. I am doing this to raise money for this fantastic organization. I may not be able to move for a week afterward, but it will be totally worth it.

So, if you would like to help make my trip a triumph, please give a visit to my Crowdrise page and make a donation. If you can’t donate, I’d love some happy thoughts on race day: DDDD

Team InTandem Crowdrise | Rebekah Cross

Happy Anniversary Jingles!

One year ago today, I received one of the greatest gifts of my life. I knew I was getting a guide dog as I sat nervously with my classmates in the lecture hall at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, but little did I know I would receive so much more. That day, I received a gift, which held many other gifts. I received independence, self-confidence, adventure, laughter, acceptance, and an unconditionally loving best friend. All these gifts came wrapped in a ball of yellow fur, brown eyes, and a black nose with a little pink in the center. My little yellow lab, just over 50 pounds, a little doll with a big job.

Ah my Jingle-Belle. During those first few weeks of having Jingles attached to me at all times, trying to learn all the commands, and wrap my mind around my sudden doubling in width, I had no idea just how much she would bring to my life. I don’t think it’s possible to understand what having a guide dog can truly mean until getting one and going through the process of bonding. Jingles and I have had so many adventures over the past year – from mundane (to most) activities like going to the hairdresser or visiting a coffee shop to taking up running and tandem biking to discovering new places in the city and traveling alone. We’ve laughed together (if a dog could laugh) when I do something embarrassing or after she very proudly shows me she’s found what I was looking for by wagging her tail until she nearly hops off the ground. We’ve cried together (at least I cried) over frustrations, confusions, and life in general. We’ve overcome challenges – from Jingles’ and Muffin’s (cat) less than amiable relationship for the first several months to sniffing episodes when presented with the boatloads of trash and doggie smells that come with the territory of living in Brooklyn to walking on ice for a solid month in -5 degree temperatures last winter. We’ve shared plenty of love and kisses, and every day I am truly amazed at her intelligence.

As I reflect on the last year, I realize how much I have changed. The Rebekah of August 2014 is completely different than the Rebekah of now. I was still going through the stages of grief regarding losing my much cherished sight. Halfway in denial, I would wander in and out of anger, bargaining, and depression. I’m not saying I was a miserable mess, but I certainly wasn’t in the place I am now. Today, I feel like I really have moved into acceptance. I rarely find myself angry at my condition, and only feel a twinge of sadness occasionally. Now, I even make jokes about myself, and laugh about the challenges I face and the peculiarities I exhibit as a result of my own journey through blindness. I know it was Jingles who helped me over this seemingly never ending hump. Having her by my side, guiding me through the obstacles of daily life inadvertently guided me through the emotional obstacles of grappling with the physical condition I never wanted to accept. She restored my confidence and made me more like, well, me.

Last Sunday, I was lounging on the bed petting Jingles when Adam remarked “that dog is your favorite thing in the world.” He pretty much hit the nail on the head. While I love Muffin from the bottom of my heart, there is just something extra special about the relationship one shares with their guide dog.

Happy Anniversary Jingles! Here’s hoping we have many, many more!

Why I Don’t Mind Being an Inspiration

Recently, I’ve seen a series of articles, posts, stories and the like circulating about people with disabilities and how they don’t want to be an inspiration to others. I’d like to speak to this, and relate to you why I, myself, don’t mind being an inspiration.
First, I’d like to clearly state that this post is not meant to offend any of my peers or the online community as a whole that feel otherwise. You are entitled to your opinion in the same way that I am entitled to mine, and I respect that.

So why don’t people want to be an inspiration? Based off my own observations, folks, especially those with a visible disability like myself, are already in the spotlight. I can’t hide that I have a guide dog, others can’t hide their canes, wheelchairs, walkers, and the like, and I guarantee that even though people with visible disabilities can’t help but stick out, all of us want to blend into the crowd just like the next person. People with disabilities are just trying to live normal lives, like the person next to them. It can be hard to rise above the low expectations that society generally places on the disabled population, and many times it’s annoying to be applauded for accomplishing a menial task, when you’d rather be applauded for accomplishing something big, like a job promotion, earning a degree, or inventing a breakthrough technology.

I’ve had my own share of these situations. For example, I’ll never forget the time I was at a holiday gathering, and an instance like this occurred. I had only recently moved to New York, and was just then starting to come to terms with the fact that I would have to start doing things in life differently than other people. Without a job for the first time since I was 16, I spent many of my days at home, depressed and restless. Well, everyone around the dinner table was relating recent adventures, world travels, big time jobs, and family raising, then the story was told about how I had recently taken my cane out, walked 2 blocks to the subway, and met my husband. Now, this was actually a really big deal for me, as I’d never had orientation and mobility training, and never really gone out with my cane before, but when everyone began applauding me for doing this, I replied with some snarky remark about how it wasn’t a big deal and why don’t we all congratulate me for being able to put on my pants in the morning? Truth is, it was embarrassing, and entirely frustrating to have fallen so far from the independent young business person to the woman that sat at home and omigosh! was able to walk 2 blocks on her own. So, I completely understand why people do not want to be an inspiration for living their lives.

That being said, here’s why I don’t mind.

First, let me ask you, who inspires you? I know we all have our heroes who changed the world in some way or another, but let’s take a step back and focus on who, on a local level, inspires you? Got someone? Great.

Maybe it’s your neighbor, who is dealing with stage 4 cancer, but still gets up every day with a smile. Maybe it’s the single mom who is working 2 jobs to feed her 4 kids. Maybe it’s the recent immigrant who speaks English as a second language, but is working long hours and going to school at night to achieve the American dream. Perhaps it’s someone who has intense social anxiety, but gets up in front of a classroom every day and shares their knowledge with their students. Or, maybe it’s the mother who gave up her own desires for a traditional career to stay home with her kids. Perhaps it’s the person who is living in deep poverty, but is always ready to give whatever they have to help someone else, or maybe it’s the person who sacrificed the comfort of home to go abroad and help people in a third world country.

Point is this – all those people I just listed, are just living their lives. They are doing what they have to do, in spite of their challenges. They are not trying to show off, but somehow, their existence inspires others to go further, to realize that the situation at hand isn’t so bad, or maybe it is, but it can be overcome, because others have proven it’s possible.

So, who has inspired me? Here’s a couple examples. My husband has a friend who just happens to be in a wheelchair. A couple of years ago, when I was really struggling with accepting the fact that I am now different than others and can’t always be truly independent and under the radar, he told my husband this: “I don’t need help a lot of times, but people offer to help, and I’ve found that if I let them help me, it helps them, and that is why I let them.” I’m paraphrasing here, but that statement really inspired me. I hated people asking if I needed help, hated needing help in the first place, but I often think of those words. At times, letting folks help me when I really don’t need it, helps them. They feel good, and that makes me feel good. Plus, being appreciative will perpetuate acts of kindness. Maybe they’ll offer help to someone who really needs it, instead of being burned by a sarcastic remark by me, or maybe someone else letting someone help them will help me in the future when I really need it.

I have several friends who are blind, and they do so much! I don’t know what their perspective is on being an inspiration, but I do know this: when I am scared, struggling, frustrated with something I have to do, talking to them, or reading their posts makes me want to do more. It makes me realize that, hey, I CAN do this- they did, why not me? Because of these people in my life, I limit myself less every day. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there dealing with what I deal with. There are doctors, lawyers, athletes, leaders, travelers, artists, motivational speakers, all who are blind – and that is the tip of the iceberg. So, why can’t I accomplish those same things? I can, and thanks to people like them, I will. (Well, maybe not the doctor or lawyer thing, that’s just too much school haha),

So, now back to my situation. I have had so many people tell me I am an inspiration to them. From people who struggle with intense pain every day and can’t walk, to people who are cancer survivors. Regular people with no visible problems (I say visible because everyone has challenges) to people going through tough divorces. Random people on the subway, who are going through things that I will never know. Immigrants from other countries working countless hours to get by. The list goes on. And for me, when one of these people, who have so much more to deal with than I do, tell me I’m an inspiration to them, it is the highest compliment I could receive. Because in me just living my life, I somehow encourage others to go further in theirs, or just as importantly, keep going in spite of their own challenges.

This is why I do not, and never will, mind being an inspiration.

What a Week Part 3 – A Scare

(This entry was written on Monday…just now posting it).

Sunday…oh Sunday. Adam and I took Jingles for her annual vet visit. I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I go sighted guide with Adam when I have the dog, but not today. I wanted to make sure of the route so that Jingles and I could find it alone easily next time. We did great on the way there. Found all the right exits and staircases, and made our way down the street, enjoying Sunday as a family. The vet appointment went fine. Jingles won over the Dr. with her cuteness, and all tests came back great. Her weight is also perfect, which is great, after such a sedentary winter. After the exam, we made our way back to the subway, stopping first at Chipotle for some lunch, and then Starbucks for a coffee to sip on the train ride home. As soon as we got to our right platform, a train came. To catch it, I heeled Jingles beside me and held Adam’s hand. Somehow in all the commotion of catching the train, weaving with dog and coffee in hand, I lost track of where exactly I was in relation to the train. Next thing I know, SPLAT. I screamed as the world fell out from under me, then realized I was on my knees in the train… What the??? Turns out, I had caught the edge of the train car with my foot and tripped. Adrenaline much? After getting over my initial shock and residual embarrassment, I composed myself and calmed down with my caffeinated stimulant.

Once we got home, Jingles seemed sleepy, but after the trip to the vet, weren’t we all? After sleeping a while, thinking she was twitching, I realized she was not twitching, but shaking. My poor pup was shaking like crazy, and wouldn’t stop. Then we noticed she was limping. What was wrong with her??? I was so afraid. I immediately called the vet, who couldn’t be reached at the time because of other appointments. In the meantime, I searched the internet, and found it was probably a reaction to the vaccine she had just gotten. She was still shaking and completely lethargic, but I had basically ruled out analeptic shock. Thank goodness. Even so, I was in a state of freak out. Adam was trying to keep me calm, but it wasn’t working too well. I wasn’t flying off the handle or anything, just super concerned and pensive.

Eventually, the shaking lessened, and Jingles fell into a deep sleep. I still would not leave her, constantly checking on my little Belle. A little while later, the Vet called me back and assured me that Jingles should be fine, as long as she didn’t have facial swelling, hives, or pale gums. She didn’t. I still asked about the reaction. The Vet said it was a common reaction, though usually only seen in smaller dogs. The limp was from pain at the injection site, which happened to be her hind leg. Next time, I can get the vaccines broken up into single doses so that the risk of side effects is reduced. I will do anything to not have my pup go through that again: /.

Jingles slept the rest of the night. She wouldn’t move for anything. It was really sad. She still shook a bit in her sleep. I was restless all night, waking up every couple hours to check on her and make sure she was okay. I didn’t know what I was going to do about work today. I couldn’t take Jingles out in that condition, but I also couldn’t leave her alone all day. What’s worse, I had a meeting at City Hall I needed to attend. I decided to wait and see how she felt in the AM before deciding what to do about work.

This morning, Jingles was happy and semi-bouncy, but spent her energy quickly on a trip to the bathroom, and was shaking by the time I fed her. Then, she wouldn’t even put pressure on her hind leg. Poor thing. I put her back to bed and contemplated work.

I decided to go to my morning meeting, then take the rest of the day off and come home to take care of Jingles. Since she was improving, I figured she just needed some real rest to get her strength back and reduce the soreness.

Unfortunately, this meant that Bob the Stick would have to show his ugly face once again. I know he is laughing at me now, as I write this. I hadn’t used the ol’ Bobberoni in nearly seven months, so I was a bit nervous about my cane technique, but was determined to make it. Thankfully, Adam was home this morning (he worked a little later than me), and gave me a “lift” to the subway, which is awesome because I would’ve definitely been late if he hadn’t. I got off at the right stop, and found the stairs. My coworker, who was attending the meeting with me, was amazingly perched at the exact exit I took, so that was completely seamless.

The meeting (which was a public budget hearing) was long and less than exciting. Literally, one of the public officials was falling asleep in front of everyone in attendance. Yeah…After four hours of that, my coworker and I left to head back to the office and home, respectively.

She helped me to the subway, and I got on the right train. Then it was back to Brooklyn. All I could think of was Jingles, if she was all right, how she felt. I couldn’t wait to get home. I hated being without her. It just didn’t feel…right. Sometimes I let Jingles have a break and go for a walk or meal with Adam or a friend, but this was different. It was miserable being without my Jingle-Pup.

I got off the train at my stop and started on the ½ mile walk back home with Bob. Amazingly, we weren’t terrible. I made it home fairly quickly and smoothly, considering the more than half a year I had not used the stick. It still sucked, and I still hated it, but I noticed my orientation and confidence had improved even with the stick, thanks to Jingles. Of course, this could also have something to do with the fact that the only thing on my mind was getting back to Jingles to see how she was feeling. Boy, I hated having to concentrate on not being the human pinball, finding the curb, and crossing the street in a straight path again.

I made it to the building, burst through my door, and found my Jingle-Pup running to greet me! She was 10x more like herself than when I had left her this morning. Now she was her usual squirmy ball of love and wet nose. I can’t believe how much I missed my sweet girl.

She’s still a bit tired, and sleeping a lot to regain her full stamina, but as the day has gone on, she is more and more 100% my spunky girl. I took her for a quick walk a few minutes ago, and she was back to wagging her tail, and bouncing with excitement. You can imagine my relief. I think she’ll be ready for work tomorrow. In your face, Bob!!!

So ends the saga of my “adventurous” week. Here’s to another week of adventure…though hopefully only the good kind this time around.

**As I post this Saturday, Jingles is completely, 100% fine, and she has been since Tuesday. We also had a much calmer week, with only good adventures, thankfully.**

What a Week Part 2 – Saturday Gallavant

After the workweek of meetings and new experiences, you’d think Jingles and I would be done with adventures and hide out for the weekend. Not so.

Saturday was a Grand Day Out (to quote Wallace and Grommet). A grand morning, anyway. First, I was going to attend a Young Professionals networking group for folks with vision impairments. I’d gone to the group a few times before, and once with Jingles, but it had been a while. I basically remembered where the library was, so wasn’t too worried about finding the place. We set off bright and early. I decided, since it was cold, and had just snowed the night before, to transfer to a train that let out closer to the library. The transfer was in Downtown Brooklyn, at a station that I had been to a million times, but only once with Jingles. Even so, I figured we’d be fine. Well, it was our stop, and off the train we hopped. Jingles navigated the extra narrow platform with ease, leading me gently around many obstacles. Soon, she found an escalator, and we hopped on to transfer to the other train…Whoops…I accidentally took the wrong escalator. Crap! I knew the timing seemed a little off for finding the right one. No fault of the pup’s. So, there we were, in the hall for an exit only, not quite knowing where to go from there. Luckily, there was another guy leaving. He asked if I was okay. I told him I was trying to switch to the F train. He pointed out an alternate staircase that would lead into a lobby to get back in the station. I thanked him, and made my way down the stairs. Jingles found the turnstile, where a station attendant spotted us and asked where I was going. I told her and she gave me directions as to how to find the right place to transfer. I entered the station, but got a hint turned around. Station attendant to the rescue! She came running and pointed me to the right staircase. Once back down on the platform I had just left, I followed her direction and Jingles guided me to the elevator at the end of the platform. We accidentally hit the wrong button (almost calling the station attendant), but another individual entered the elevator just in time, and even better, thought I was holding the elevator for them! After leaving the elevator, we were in the mezzanine to transfer. Working from memory, I managed to give Jingles the right commands, and we made our way flawlessly to the right train…Great compensation for my earlier blunder.

After getting off the train, I realized I hadn’t been to this stop in forever and couldn’t remember what staircase to climb. Of course, I chose the wrong one. Upon exiting, I asked someone, and realized my mistake. Back down the steps we went, up the other side, and down the road. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, minus Jingles wanting to check out some scents in a scaffolding tunnel (who knows how many people and dogs have marked their territory there?). After crossing the last road, Continue reading

What a Week – Part 1

Wow, if last week is any indication of the upcoming months, Jingles and I are in for some real adventures! We experienced so many out of the ordinary experiences that I believe the week deserves multiple blogs, so as not to bore my faithful readers to sleep… Okay, without further ado, the week in review (poet and know it: P)

My recent trip to the hair salon with Jingles, paired with melting snow and rumors of spring made me restless to try something new, face another fear, and put another guide dog experience under my belt. On Tuesday, I decided to return some clothes. Now, I know that the simple act of returning clothes is nothing, truly miniscule in the realm of errands, but for me, it was kind of a big deal. See, I like to go shopping with a sighted person…usually my husband, but sometimes another family member of the fairer sex. Since my favorite store is only a few blocks from my apartment, I have, up until now, left Jingles to enjoy some “her” time while I search for the season’s latest styles. So, it really hasn’t been necessary to bring her with me. I have contemplated bringing her many times, say, to find a black shirt or some other singular item, but usually don’t know what I’m searching for, so I haven’t tried it yet. Anyway, I had a few items I needed to return, so I figured what better way to try our first venture into the clothing store than to simply find the counter?

It was a super windy St. Patrick’s Day. Jingles and I navigated around a few drunken people hanging out in front of the local bars on our way to the store. Once we got to the block, we began to slowly walk down the street, searching for some sign of familiarity as to the location of the storefront. We didn’t have much luck because I had never paid attention to the details surrounding the store in walking with my husband. After a couple swipes of the block, I heard someone closing a store nearby and asked them where New York & Company was. He kindly showed me the way, and soon Jingles and I were inside. Once inside, we were faced with a new challenge. The many stocked racks of clothes were viewed as obstacles to the dog, so she would stop to show me what was blocking my path. A clerk noticed us and asked if we needed help. . I told her we were looking for the counter and she guided us there. The return process was easy. Jingles chilled out beside me like an angel. After we were finished, I asked the clerk to point out the path, and once Jingles found it, she navigated to the front door like a pro. That was fun, winding around the many clothes racks on the path out 

New adventures were ahead of me on Wednesday. First, in the morning, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by USA Today about life with Jingles! Can you believe it? I was able to represent Guiding Eyes for an upcoming spread about the Today Show raising Guiding Eyes puppy, Wrangler. There will be a whole piece about service animals in early may, and guess who will be nestled in a side column? Your favorite yellow lab and handler: D I am so incredibly excited!!!! It was quite the honor, and I hope I painted the school and life with Jingles in a way that truly reflects how awesome both are: D

Later, I had a meeting in the Upper West Side. This would require me to transfer at Times Square, which I am not at all familiar with (I avoid the station like the plague). Luckily, I was able to take an Uber Cab on the way to meet my colleagues. Meeting was fine, but on the way back I would have to take Times Square during rush hour. Aghhhh. My coworker was super sweet, however, and rode extra stops on her way home to transfer with me so I didn’t get lost. While I’m sure I would’ve found my train eventually, this really helped take the stress out of things. Jingles was overall okay, but was a little too interested in the garbage and smells around us. (We’re working on this little issue…no one’s perfect).

Fast forward to Friday. This day, Jingles got to visit a Juvenile Detention Center. Not an incredible lot to tell here, except that there was a little miscommunication, and a little hassle getting inside because of the dog. It was rather annoying at the time, but once things got sorted out, the staff tried to compensate by being extra nice to Jingles and I, so I guess I’ll let that one slide: P. It was irritating though…I don’t like to stand out, much less be an annoyance to someone. Oh, well.

And, so ends Part One. A little excitement, a little irritation, a little sniffing…a lot of love.