Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twenty-nine, Again!

Twenty-nine, again! December 13, 2012

“Only the Good Die Young.” ~ Billy Joel

Not everyone has the opportunity to celebrate two 29th birthdays. The only difference with my second one is that my father’s furrowed brow is now staring back at me in the mirror. Most people that I have encountered, who have experienced a traumatic Spinal Cord Injury, can remember quite well the day and quite possibly the exact moment of the onset of their paralysis, no matter if their spinal cord was completely or incompletely severed. The anniversary of this date is generally celebrated as a second birthday to celebrate the second chance of life. We lived.

I maintained consciousness throughout my car accident. I can quite vividly remember seeing the sign indicating the winding road ahead, feeling the out of control spinning of the car on the icy road, seeing the telephone pole the moment before the actual impact, looking at my legs draped over the seat in front of me after the collision with the pole, and watching quite intently the very concerned face of a nurse that held my neck until the paramedics arrived. She was my angel that morning in December back in 1983. There is no doubt in my mind that because of her great care, my spinal cord was not completely severed at the cervical level of C 5/6 and why I have movement and feeling throughout my body. I can contribute my incomplete paralysis and resulting independence to her and to a lot of hard work.

The only thing on that day that I can’t remember is what happened to the cup of coffee that I was holding? (I wasn’t driving.) Seriously though, I do think about that sometimes. Technology today has allowed me to use google maps and travel down the actual road and find the exact spot where the ice had accumulated on the road. I virtually revisit that site occasionally and it gives me a better understanding as to why we see grave markings along our highways.

Last night I caught the last part of an HBO concert that was a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I was thrilled to see that Billy Joel still had what it took to belt out his songs and to play great music on his piano. Unlike other performers before him, he did not come across as an old man trying to relive his good ole rock and roll days. His shirt remained buttoned, and he sang with his usual grace. His song, “Only the Good Die Young” reminded me of a joke used back in rehab. We had all jokingly concluded that we hadn’t died because we just weren’t good enough. Grin.

There were about 28 of us on F5 at Boston University Hospital at Christmas, and most of us were in our twenties. Sadly, many have probably passed away since then, but I will never know who for certain. Over the years since then, I’ve only managed to keep up with one very special friend.

We have all moved forward with our lives. We have all had to deal with all of life’s aches and pains. Our disabilities didn’t exempt us from dealing with the usual onslaught of real life issues. Today, and every day, I am indeed grateful for life.

It wasn’t until years after my accident that I had had the epiphany of how close to death that I actually was. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized how much my parents went through emotionally with my injury and with my brother’s unexpected death a few years later. As a parent, some things remain unthinkable, especially when it pertains to your only son who is serving in the US military.

Christmastime can be either painful or happy. We can either dwell on the life that has been lost, or appreciate the life that we have been given. We can isolate ourselves, or we can reach out and volunteer and do something worthwhile. We can donate food and blankets to those in need. We can live. We can share pretty 'feel good' flowers on facebook. We can focus on positive energy and on doing the things that basically make us feel good. It’s okay for all of us to remember, if we are old enough to, our lives before. It is from those many experiences that we grow up and try to do remarkable things. Sometimes we all need a little kick in the butt.

There was another worthy quote that I read this week regarding being able to see what is right in front of us. It’s all there; we just have to be able to want to see it. It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized that Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, with over one thousand cultivars of Camellias, had one of the most extensive collections of Camellias in the world. Amazing beauty!

'If you can't find something worthy to photograph within forty feet of where you stand, you are not seeing.' -Ruth Bernhard.

My last visit to Magnolia Gardens was incredibly frustrating because the accessibility was horrible. They had used large white stones on their pathways and their trails were nearly impossible for me to navigate with my wheelchair. It is now my mission to find out if things have improved. There are just too many beautiful Camellias there that I truly want to see!

©Susan Richards, with permission

If I go awhile without writing, it’s because I know I write a lot. It’s not because I feel I don't have anything to say. That’s generally not a problem for me. Sometimes, I simply do not write because I honestly just don’t want to say it. Writing means feeling. Some feelings are better left unsaid, at least for a little while.

A good friend asked me very recently why I didn’t ‘pop’ a newly opened entity for non-compliance with accessibility. My response, was because I liked the person who owned it and that I enjoyed eating there. Stomach before access, I guess that makes me a bigot. The truth is that the entity that was originally there should have never received their certifications that allowed them to operate as a business in the first place. They were built after 1990.Their accessible parking spaces and curb ramps never met the state code that was applicable then, never mind compliance with federal code.

My opinion is that the new business should have been required to bring the parking lot and ramps to code before they opened their doors for business. They’ve been informed, now I’m just waiting for a response. This shouldn’t be my personal responsibility or anyone’s with a disability. It gets very old, especially when you just want to go somewhere to eat a good meal. The press could bring them some unwanted media attention, and someone could quite easily come along and ‘pop’ them. They would certainly be within their legal rights to do so. I, in all actuality, detest conflict and would rather mediate everything.

I encounter this type of scenario entirely way too frequently. I 'huff and puff' occasionally, but I rarely blow anyone’s house down. I very easily could, and maybe that’s what intimidates some people. I know my civil rights and I know that what I achieve with accessibility will ultimately make life better for a lot of people, even for the aging ‘old farts’ that opposed my efforts over twenty years ago. (I can say that because I am quickly becoming older too.)

My survival is to do what makes me happiest.I simply refuse to allow ignorance or someone's lack of compassion to affect me otherwise. Life is too precious. Somehow, I think that my love of life is reflected in my flower pictures. My flowers are quite expressive. Sometimes, I can feel them flapping in the wind as if they’re dancing. As a relatively new photographer who loves gardening, I’m intrigued by the natural beauty of all plants. They make me smile, and sometimes they may actually make me say ‘wow’. They simply make me feel good, and to be able to share them with others makes me feel great!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Plink, Plunk of Falling Acorns

Acorns and Other Dangers in the Hood

"If you stand for a reason, be prepared to stand like a tree. If you fall onto the ground, fall like seed that grows back to fight again." ~ Author unknown

Plink, plunk! It’s that time of year when small projectiles known as acorns come plummeting down to the earth and onto my back deck, making life a real challenge. Acorns present a real hazard to anyone who may have any type of mobility impairment. I’ve hit them at full speed in my wheelchair and have come to a screeching halt before. I laugh, but I know that there is always the possibility of kissing the deck. It happens. In our lives, dangers are present everywhere.

It is rather alarming to be asked to evacuate your home immediately or to look out of your window and see an armored SWAT team of police officers. During that moment of not knowing if you are in imminent danger, one is most frightened. Regardless of your faith, panic sets in.

Car accidents are similar. If you can see it coming, there is a moment before the impact as if time is seemingly passing in slow motion, time spent not knowing if you are going to live or die. I can only guess that it must be the same for anyone sinking on a ship or plummeting to the ground in an airplane.

I never lost consciousness after my car accident, and somehow I maintained the belief that I would be okay, even when I could clearly see my motionless limbs still partially draped over the seat in front of me. The thought of death was brief, my goal was survival. I thought that I was going to be okay. I guess that is what one would call faith.

We all need to feel a sense of control. To trust that things are being handled properly and to maintain a belief that everything is going to be alright is difficult for anyone. Sometimes we simply have to trust the people who are suppose to be taking care of us, as we would trust a pilot to get us to our destination safely. That’s what their job is. This doesn't mean that they're not going to be questioned, but during an emergency you usually have to let them do what they do.

Last Thursday night I looked out of my window and police cars and heavily armed police officers were everywhere in my suburban neighborhood. I was alone and no one knocked on my door to tell me what was going on. No emergency alerts or text messages were issued. I didn’t dare go outside. My instinct was to call a neighbor, and she had no idea either. We could see cars stopped and other neighbors being escorted out of their homes. The only thing that I could surmise was that this was a serious situation. My speculation was that something must be happening down at a house where several domestic disturbances had occurred previously.

My husband was on his way home from work, and was originally prohibited from entering our street. Eventually, he convinced an officer that he needed to get home to be with his 'disabled' wife. Yes, he played the ‘gimp card’ on my behalf. He was told that there was someone armed at a residence at the end of the cul-de-sac where I had assumed things were happening. We were advised to stay away from our windows. Later, we heard a gunshot. An ambulance came and went, and after that, everything seemed to settle down.

It wasn’t until the next day that we heard that there was someone armed in the house with both a gun and a knife, and who was apparently suicidal and had taken the others in the house hostage. No one was injured, and the gunshot was a misfire from one of the police officer’s gun. Our assumptions were indeed correct and it was the estranged wife who we had seen months before escorted away in a police car. I’m thankful that things did not end badly for anyone. You simply never know about life, even in a somewhat calm and ordinary suburban neighborhood.

Communication amongst officials and neighbors is important in situations like this. Staying out of harm’s way is also a must. I believe that it would have been helpful if someone had knocked on my door when I was alone and had assured me that I was in fact safe. Even a security alert by the town or by our Homeowner’s Association would have been helpful. The situation was indeed unnerving, and the very close sound of the gunshot didn’t help.

I personally do not know the exact detail of my neighbor’s mental health, but I do know that with the approaching holidays many people have a difficult time. Please be in tune with your loved ones, friends and check on those who are alone. For me this time of year brings back many sad memories too. Please ask for help if you yourself think you may be dealing with depression. In life, we have to take care of both our mind and body.

For many of us our activities are slowing down in the garden. I am fortunate enough to have spinach and lettuce growing. I learned my lesson about expecting to find fall vegetable plants available at our local garden centers. There was only lettuce and swiss chard. I should have started more seeds, but honestly, it was too hot in August to even want to think about gardening. I had a lot to do just keeping everything watered. I know that more selection will be available fairly soon after the Christmas trees are gone in time for a spring garden.

Gardening is a fabulous way to keep our minds occupied even throughout the winter months. I love plowing through numerous gardening magazines, books and online articles in preparation for next year’s garden. I have been inspired by a friend to try growing some micro-greens. They are very high in nutrients.

As Thanksgiving approaches this week, I work hard at trying to stay upbeat. I am so thankful for everything in my life, that I refuse to let the trivial things upset me. Last week I learned that the White House Kitchen Garden created by school children for nutritional and educational purposes was probably not accessible. I’m still trying to confirm this very possible and appalling fact. The garden’s original intent was for it to be developed and maintain by school children and by people with disabilities. Sad, if it is indeed not accessible.

I’m one who likes to think that they are in control of their life. We all know that isn’t always possible. I always said that I would choke the next person who told me that “God only gives you what he knows you can handle!” Enough already! (Sorry, Joni Erickson.) I have faith, I just question it frequently. Time to pull out some good gardening books!

Please have a very Happy Thanksgiving and watch out for those falling acorns!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Clear as Mud

Clear as Mud

Walker's Creek, Georgianna Brush

“Muddy water, let stand - becomes clear” ~ Lao Tzu

Is anything really clear these days? For every good argument, there seems to be a good opposing one. We all seem to agree that we’re living in a world of information overload. The internet has provided us with a wealth of information on everything, and it can be totally confusing for anyone at times. It can also be very wrong and misleading. Probably all social media users will have the lasting memory of the fake images of sharks swimming in the flooded New Jersey Coastal neighborhoods after the recent ‘Superstorm Sandy’.

When it comes to eating healthy, there is not a shortage of information either. If you are like me, you can remember buying an apple and eating it without great apprehension. “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away,” remember? You simply would give it a quick rinse with water or give it a quick wipe with your shirt and proceed to crunch away. After all, apples are natural and good for you, right?

A few years back I remember getting an order of chicken wings for dinner from a popular chain restaurant. (I eat meat, although quite sparingly, but I feel that it is my choice to do so. I also have many friends that do not.) Anyway, the little wings were huge. I remember thinking, “Wow, why are these so big?” At the time, I chose not to question things any further, but I’ll never forget.


As a person who is very inquisitive by nature, I have found that as I age, I am not as inhibited from asking the questions that I feel are necessary to obtain what I feel to be somewhat logical answers. That is simply me. As a gardener, I have found myself asking more questions about the food that I grow or buy to consume. Before beginning Access to the Garden, I never even thought about the concept of eating ‘whole foods’. I never made the correlation, but personally I think that the closer something is to its original source, the better it is for us.

My philosophy has always been that too much of a good thing will kill you. I also agree with the warning that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, that it probably isn’t good for you either. Again, these are my personal choices. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to drink a soda occasionally or consume a funnel cake at the county fair. It simply means that I am choosing to make healthier choices regarding what I put into my body. Less CRAP as the poster says. I actually drank a green juice smoothie recently. (I’m not worried about oxalates.)

We live in a world where knowing that the label "Natural and Wholesome,” does not necessarily signify what’s actually the healthiest for us. The dairy product or meat may actually contain added hormones or antibiotics used for enhanced growth and production. "Natural flavors" are created in laboratories. “Fresh and Ready to Eat” may not actually mean that the fruit or produce is washed in a manner that removes the pesticides, and “Organic” may actually contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) or Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEO’s). To receive an "organic" certification, only 95% of the product is required to be grown organically and 5% can be non-organic or synthetic. "No MSG" can also be deceptive if the product contains other ingredients where MSG is naturally occurring. These are just a few of many examples of what’s happening.

Take it a step further and we learn that retailers have become quite clever by changing the actual serving size to depict fewer calories and zero Trans Fats. Reading a label and understanding the ingredients has become a mystery for any conscientious consumer. To whatever extent that this is all considered good or bad is our own personal perspective. When I spend extra money for produce or cereal that is supposedly organic, personally, I expect it to be. When I read that a ketchup company replaces a sweetener with a GMO beet juice, I'm disappointed.

This week on Access to the Garden I discussed the use of galvanized trough containers as raised vegetable beds. They’re a good height and depth. One issue that was discussed was the "zinc flake-off effect". This is something that I honestly had never considered before. I had automatically assumed that since they were normally used for animal feed and water, that they would be considered safe to use for growing vegetables for human consumption. The discussion and resources were actually quite helpful and there appear to be ways to possibly minimize the potential leaching when they’re used for growing vegetables. The potential for excessive heat build-up in the containers was another issue that can apparently be minimized with the use of bubble-wrap and a plastic liner.

The use of plastic brought on more discussion. If a plastic container has the recycling number 2, 4, or 5 on the bottom, it is generally considered safe. Again, this determination has to be individual and I would suggest doing additional research. The plastic containers that I own do not have any numbers on them.
Many good points were made regarding the use of plastics. Plastic is used to suppress weeds in all kinds of farming, organic too. Plastic is also used in the medical industry to save lives. I use and touch plastic everyday on my wheelchair. As an alternative in container gardening, I often use terracotta pots. They are heavy, possibly pose a great risk of back injury if lifted improperly, and there is no way of knowing what’s in the clay used to make them.

As a somewhat conscientious consumer and as a gardener, I can only try to make the most informed decisions as possible. Whether a gardener or farmer chooses to pursue organic versus non-organic methods is simply their choice. I’ve grown plants organically, and I understand some of the challenges a farmer may face. My choice quite understandably may not be yours. I’ve seen people who run other pages chastised for choosing to eat butter over artificial products. I guess that goes along with the joy of free speech. Personally, I feel that if someone is that opposed they shouldn’t LIKE the page in the first place.

Anyway, as I continue in my quest to decipher some very misunderstood regulations regarding accessibility to community and educational gardens, I can’t help but feel that I’m also sometimes swimming in murky water. It is very similar to planning the height for a raised bed for one individual compared to planning for many. Height and reach ranges vary for children and adults, and a variety of heights are necessary in a true community garden. All considerations necessary must be made.

Knowing which regulations to reference is of extreme importance. One regulation may simply specify “firm and stable” for surface materials when they’re actually required to meet all three criteria, “firm, stable, and slip resistant”. There is a very BIG difference when choosing what to use for parking and an accessible route. Your best bet is to reference your state code as well as both the Accessible Play Area Guidelines, and the latest ADA/ABA Standards for reference. Your organization’s funding source is of huge importance too. I also recommend asking more than one individual. Sometimes a local or state official will simply cite the state code, and sometimes they may not reference all of that either.

Accessible Play Area Guidelines,
2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design,

In both public and community gardens, accessibility is a major issue for many. The law’s intent is not to create an undue hardship, but to provide equal access for people with disabilities. Whether you are privately or publicly funded by state, local or federal funds, including federal grants, you need to be aware of what you need to do and to do it to the fullest extent possible. No public garden is exempt.

Cahaba Lily, Dustin Gavin

The Standells, Dirty Water

Played once by the Grateful Dead, I washed My Hands in Muddy Water

Friday, October 12, 2012

Shine On Beautiful Flower!

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do. ~ Helen Keller

This quote from Helen Keller is an absolute true reflection of my attitude about living my life as independently as possible as long as I can do so. Every day I appreciate the fact that I can still care for myself. It wasn’t possible after I first sustained my spinal cord injury, and with lots of therapy I was fortunate enough to regain my independence. In the back of my mind, I know the reality of the very likely fact that as I get older, I will probably need additional help. December 13th will be the 29th anniversary of my injury, and I can already feel the difference within my body as I age.

An important part of my therapy has always been to do as much as possible for myself, even if it takes me a little longer to do something. Initially, this was quite awkward for my loved ones to understand. I remember getting mad at them for trying to help me when I was quite awkwardly relearning how to use my hands. Most people who see me today do not fully comprehend the fact that I had to relearn how to do everything; from scratching my nose, to sitting up, to rolling over, feeding myself, to writing, bathing, toileting to dressing, etc. The only way that I could possibly regain my independence was to learn how to do these things for myself.

If someone today grabs the back of my chair, I may instinctively elbow their hand, or worse. I may actually yell at them if they startle me. As mean as this may sound, to a person with a disability it is as insulting as that infamous, patronizing pat on the head. It is a violation of my being, and for a person living without a disability, it is the equivalent of someone touching them inappropriately. I always insist that young children ask me first before pushing on my chair. I demonstrate why they shouldn’t push on my chair (with permission) by gently pushing on them to demonstrate how intrusive this is, and by talking about how they don’t like being shoved by another person. I explain this to adults by telling them that pushing on my chair unexpectedly could actually be dangerous because of my sitting balance. Pushing on my chair on uneven terrain could cause me to fly out of my chair, literally. My attention and focus are on the terrain.

For most people, it is simply within human nature to want to help. I remember unloading my wheelchair from the backseat of my car one time quite awhile back, and my sister sitting there commenting that people must of thought that she was an awful person for not helping me. The fact is that she knew better and she is a great person. Loading and unloading my wheelchair was something that actually became easier for me to do than to have to explain how to disassemble or assemble it to another person. I eventually learned a little trick when I was by myself not to make eye contact with anyone passing by. If I did, they were more compelled to offer their assistance which inevitably would slow me down. There were always plenty of offers asking me if I needed help, but I would only acknowledge with a simple “no thank you”, and without looking up at them because they would become more insistent on helping if I did.

Generally, I know when I need help and I’m pretty good about asking for it. My advice for anyone not knowing what do, is to sit back a second and see if your help is actually needed. Instead of using “do you need help”, I would suggest saying something like “do you want a hand with that” because it actually depicts less dependency. I open doors for other people all of the time, especially if the door is within the proper code for pull resistance. If I stop and look back at you, chances are that I already know that the door ahead of me is very heavy and I would rather not smash my toes on it. As a female, I’m accustomed to having the door open at times anyway. I’m personally not offended by it, but don’t run me over to do it when you see that I’ve gotten it!

I’ve enjoyed learning to use my camera this summer. I don’t have a lot of flowers, but I have managed to find enough almost daily to photograph. Having fewer flowers allows me to look at each flower with more individual detail. Each flower is slightly different looking than the next one, each looking somewhat unique. I’ve also discovered, after very patiently waiting, that my mystery cosmos are indeed cosmos with several new buds waiting to burst open. There is a weed that looks similar, and I was beginning to think that I was unintentionally, of course, growing giant weeds in front of the house. My patience has paid off, and I will have more flowers to share on my Facebook page, Access to the Garden.

After contacting another editor this week regarding outdated terminology when referring to people with disabilities in what was actually a wonderfully written article on gardening from a wheelchair, I received a thank you from an editor with an amazing attitude.

“Thanks Brenda. I had a twin brother with a disability and he and I have been on the receiving end of language which was hurtful, although not by intention.

We need to learn and evolve in how we communicate. People like you are the leaders in teaching those of us without disabilities. I feel wiser, and more comfortable, in communicating with people who have disabilities thanks to you. I encourage you to continue helping all people in this regard.” ~ editor

Even though occasionally we must deal with the weeds, it’s the beauty of a flower that makes it all worth it! It is always a pleasure to run across a new bloom. For me to revisit those beautiful blooms in photographs in the colder months ahead will be fun while planning what we’ll be planting next year. More cosmos, more sunflowers, more zinnias just to name a few. It will also be a pleasure for me to read more articles written by this editor. As long as I can keep making a difference, I will and as long as I can keep gardening and taking pictures, I will do that too.