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“John Dies at the End” by David Wong – narrated by Stephen R. Thorne

This book was so incredibly bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Being a fan of cracked.com, I was constantly seeing this book mentioned because one of the website’s writers, David Wong, wrote “John Dies at the End”. I discovered that Audible had it and added it to my wish list. I can’t remember when I actually got the book, but I had it on my iPod and was considering starting it soon when B watched the movie one night. When I realized what it was, I put music on in my headphones so I wouldn’t hear the movie and spoil the book, and decided I’d read it next. As I was listening, B would often hear bits and pieces of the book and we would compare what each of us knew. From the sounds of things, the movie and the book are quite different.

Since the title tells us that John dies at the end, I tried hard not to like him but I found that pretty impossible. He’s just a likable character, reminding me of myself in my early twenties, bouncing from job to job, being highly interested in partying and the opposite sex, and the narrater read the character in such a way that really matched John’s personality.

Parts of this book were so over the top unbelievable that I found my mind wandering at the absurdity of it all. David Wong writes the book in the first person from his own point of view as he’s talking to a reporter interested in the insane paranormal situations David and John find themselves in and how they help other people, quite like a modern day Ghostbusters duo with a stoner Hardy Boy detective mix, only not as cheesy as that sounds. Just as I was unable to suspend my beliefs any further and consider turning off the book, the reporter had the same idea, stopping John mid story. I must say, that was creepy, to be feeling the same way the reporter was feeling!

It’s almost like this pause gets David back on track and the story gets a little more believable and good again. Bizarre I tell you.

If you read this book, I wonder if you’ll ask yourself where the dog is all the time, like I did. Where’s the dog? Wait, where’s the dog? Oh, there she is.

I enjoyed this book! It was way out of the norm for me, but it was definitely entertaining. I also had fun comparing notes with B and discovering how different the book and movie were. This book also told me what to read next. I’m not even kidding. It really did.

Rating: Entertaining

(If you have a weak stomach, be forewarned)

“John Dies at the End” at Audible ~ “John Dies at the End” at Amazon”

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Filed under 2013 Book List, Audio books, plugs

The Tenth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is up!

Check out the Tenth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. I think it turned out great and AfterGadget did a fabulous job putting it all together!

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Inaugural Center of the Roof Top Ten Book List

*I’ve been working on this post for about a week or so now. I can’t believe it’s finally finished! The following books weren’t all published this year but I read them all for the first time this year. It’s a monster post; it kinda morphed on me. I hope you enjoy!*

It was incredibly hard to narrow down a list of ten books out of all the books I’ve read this year (fifty-nine, whoa!). After deciding to make this list, I began going through all the books and jotting down titles that I thought might make it. It has been difficult to remove books and juggle titles as I read more and more books this year! It has also been incredibly fun and I know several people who have been anxiously awaiting this post. I’ll include a link to my original post about the book and the chronological number with the date finished in parentheses. So, without further adieu, I give you the first CenterRoof.com Top Ten Booklist!

10. “Fifty Shades Darker” (Book Two of the Fifty Shades Trilogy) – E.L. James (#31, August 16)

This book’s post is what sparked the idea for the top ten list and I kept worrying this book wouldn’t even make the list as I read more and more books this year. however, it made it to the very end, I think starting off in the seventh position. Excerpt from post:

Darker” takes us to knew and frankly terrifying places with this couple. I don’t think I’ve wept so much to a book since “Gone with the Wind’. Did she just compare a “Fifty Shades” book and “Gone with the Wind”? Yes, yes I did.

I have to wonder if I would have reacted the same way to this book if I had been on Lexapro like I am now since I am much less emotional but if not, the idea to do a top ten list might not have been born so I’m glad I reacted the way I did, regardless of why.

9. “The Concrete blonde” (Book three in the Harry Bosch Series) – Michael Connelly (#2, January 9)

This was the first Harry Bosch book I read even though it is the third in the series. A friend of mine bought it for me on Audible after I had read “Void Moon” by Michael Connelly and really liked it. ‘concrete’ was my friend’s favorite of the Bosch books
and it is still one of mine as well. I ended up starting the series from the beginning and counted this book twice in my list, something I haven’t done with later books I’ve read twice this year. I’m so grateful for Harry bosch! I’m nearly caught up with the series and then I will be very sad. Excerpt from post:

The book was published in 1994 and it was really funny to read about communication that couldn’t happen because the car had no rover. They didn’t have cell phones haha! They also used pagers. Wow. Definitely a very good book. The psychology was very interesting and the relationship between Harry and Sylvia was very real, so real in fact, that I related a little too much haha!

Wow, it’s fun to remember this book and think about how far Harry Bosch has come since then and how much has happened. Not only are these books brilliant cop dramas, the character development is superb. Connelly quickly became my favorite mystery writer this year. Love him!

8. “Under the Dome” – Stephen King (#3, January 22)

I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. I remember being thoroughly creeped out and there were several times B would come into the room at night and make me jump. He also wanted to talk about it as I was reading it and sometimes He would stop and listen to the audio book, remembering parts he had forgotten. He loved the book and I quickly understood why. Excerpt from post:

It was incredibly disturbing, but not just because a mysterious and impenetrable dome falls around a small town in Maine. No, what as most disturbing was the human element in this town. Of course there were plenty of good people but the bad were baaaaaad. So bad in fact that I questioned my own morality when I wanted to see bad things happen to these people. They were so bad that B had me scared of our own town car dealer mogul and his commercials.

We have a car mogul in town named Jim, same first name as the creepy car mogul in this book. I hadn’t even thought of it until one night a commercial with our Jim came on and B mimicked the Jim from the book. I broke out in gooseflesh and screamed. It was quite the hilarious moment haha! You know a book is good when it effects you that much even while you aren’t reading it.

7. “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” – Rob Lowe (#7, February 6)

The seventh spot on this list was creating a problem for me. I couldn’t seem to narrow it down but then I noticed that this book was the seventh of the year and this is the seventh spot and January seventh is an anniversary so it just seemed right that Rob Lowe’s book should make the list in this spot. I haven’t read too many memoirs in my life but I thoroughly enjoyed this one and related a ton since both of us have been on our own journeys in recovery. Excerpt from post:

The book follows his journey into acting, from a kid in Ohio to a teen in Southern California, meeting Liza Minnelli and adventures with the Sheen clan. He writes openly about his experiences and the names he drops brought back my own memories of movies I had seen starring different actors from when I was a kid. Although Rob Lowe was before my time, that era of teen movies still had its influence on me. While he wasn’t in The Breakfast Club, that movie introduced me to that famous group of young actors, The Brat Pack, of which he was a huge part.

I follow Rob Lowe on twitter and while he doesn’t tweet often, I’m glad I’m able to follow him. I also took a music recommendation from him, check out Tony Ferrari. When a song from the album plays, I remember it was Lowe’s recommendation and it makes me smile. I like to have reminders of sobriety throughout my day and anything associated with Rob Lowe gives me that. This was such a good book!

6. “A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans” – W. Bruce Cameron (#27, July11)

I absolutely adored this book! I have Audible to thank for my discovering this. Their sales lead me to books I probably never would have read otherwise and this is one of those. I remember the title grabbing me and the description intriguing me but I was on the fence about it as I shopped a sale. I’m so incredibly grateful I got it! This book was not only entertaining, it taught me even more about how to communicate with Jayden. Our bond got even stronger after I read this book, I kid you not. Excerpt from post:

We get to follow the spirit of one canine through several lives. I call it the spirit of a canine because the spirit is reincarnated into different dogs, but the spirit remains the same, growing and maturing with every experience and bringing those experiences into the next life of the next dog. I went into it knowing that the dog’s spirit takes several forms, and the tension that builds as you follow each life, wondering how this one will end, is incredible. I laughed, I cried, I cried some more, I laughed while I cried, I got on the floor and cried on Jayden while he slept.

I’ve juggled the position of this book on my list so many times I can’t count. It’s been so hard to assign numbers to these books! I love every single one of them but the closer we get to number one, the stronger my feelings grow.

5. “Nine Dragons” (Book fifteen in the Harry Bosch Series) – Michael Connelly (#56, December 15)

I was pretty sure about halfway through this book that it would make the top ten list. It was such an intense roller coaster ride throughout the entire book and those kinds of stories are my favorite. This book took bosch to several places we have never been with him before and it was one of those stories you immediately wanted more of. Excerpt from post:

At one point I was listening while soaking in the tub and I sat bolt upright and stared towards my iPod with my mouth hanging open. Bravo, Connelly! I am going to be so incredibly sad when this series is over! Did you possibly introduce us to your next series character?

I have to give Carol a lot of credit here because she said nothing while I was reading this book and after I finished it and began telling her my predictions for future books she cut me off so as not to give anything away. I don’t know if I’ll ever find another series of books I love as much as the Harry Bosch series!

4. “The Hunger Games” (Book One of The Hunger Games Trilogy) – Suzanne Collins (#49, November 9)

It’s impossible to include this book in the top ten list without mentioning “Catching Fire” and “Mocking Jay”. The books blend seamlessly into one another and you really can’t have one without the other. I never thought I would enjoy this trilogy as much as I did, mostly because of my loyalty to Scott Westerfeld. I think he would forgive me though. Excerpt from post:

I think what makes this book good is that this futuristic world is believable. Maybe it’s my fear of my own future and my deepening mistrust of “the system” that makes me able to believe it. There is also the element of reality TV which you’d have to be blind to not see how this country is getting obsessed with. Is it not conceivable that one day people will hunger to watch contestants kill each other in an arena? Last person standing wins.

I think the second book was actually my favorite of the three. Excerpt from “Catching Fire” post:

While this world is well into the future and hopefully will never happen, it’s believable which makes it really scary. This book takes the characters we grew to love in the first book and plunges them into events unimaginable. I did not want to put it down! The movie is going to be amazing I think.

Excerpt from “Mocking Jay” post:

One of the things that really stood out to me was when {they} are in the capitol and the citizens actually drink something that makes them purge so they can eat more of the delicious food. The rest of the country is starving and these people are vomiting to eat more. I couldn’t help but think about the attitude of so many during this campaign year, those who aren’t hungry who refuse to share, deciding instead to blame the hungry for their own lot in life, as if every hungry person is at fault.

It’s amazing how much a futuristic series was so relevant to today. It’s scary to consider that we are very close to heading towards this made up future.

At the end of “Mocking Jay” there was an interview with Suzanne Collins. She talks about how the idea for these books came from her channel surfing one night. She was tired and the lines blurred as she flipped between a reality show where young people were competing for money and another channel covering the war where young people were fighting and dying. In the interview she lists questions she hopes young people will ask themselves when they read these books and I can’t remember what all the questions were but as she asked them, I had asked them myself.

I loved these books and can’t wait for the next two movies!

3. “The Given Day” – Dennis Lehane (#23 June 17)

It’s getting harder to write more about these books as I go along because when I feel strongly about something, I tend to fall over my words because my brain is moving too fast for my hands. This is one of those books I’m looking forward to reading again but when I finished it, I knew I would need a long break before going back to it. I know there is a sequel to this book coming out at some point so I’ll probably reread it again before that. I love a book that hits me in the gut and this one most certainly did, several times. Excerpt from post:

I loved this book. Ever since reading Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan” series, I’ve wanted to read more historical fiction. ‘Given’ is definitely that. I learned so much about post WWI Boston that I never knew. I learned things about early baseball. I unfortunately learned how awful racism was then and how evil men could be. While the story line is fictional, the mood of the time isn’t.

The historical fiction element is what added to those aforementioned gut punches. The present has its own set of problems but reading about the past can be terribly hard to stomach. It’s a good reminder that we don’t have it as bad as we might think we do.

2. “The Potato Factory” (Book One of the Australian Trilogy) – Bryce Courtenay (#28, July 25)

Here we have more historical fiction, this time centering around the history of Australia. This book had it all, incredible writing, fantastic characters, page turning plot, the historical element and best of all, a fabulous narrator. Humphrey Bower gets my best narrator of 2012 without question. A Roofie award? This book and the one before it could easily have been number one, that’s for sure. Excerpt from post:

The main female character, Mary Abacus, goes through things I could never imagine. This is one of those books that sucks you in so deeply that you have a physical reaction to things the characters must endure. This book is definitely not for the weak of heart. It made me extremely grateful to be living in this age and not that one. I used to romanticize living in the 1800′s but I don’t think I would have survived unless I had been one of the privileged.

Yet another example of a book that makes me grateful I live in the time I do, even with its own difficulties. If I had been a blind woman in Mary Abacus’ time, I probably would have died in a gutter.

1. “Gone Girl” – Gillian Flynn (#45, October 25)

Oh, “gone Girl”, I can’t hear the title without shuddering and wishing I had someone to talk to about it. This book was just perfect! I honestly don’t know what to say here. I think I said it all in the review. Listen to me ok? Don’t go reading anything about this book, nothing detailed, ok? Ok. I feel better knowing you’ll heed my advice. No spoilers here or in the original post. Excerpt from post:

It’s a typical story, wife goes missing, husband the prime suspect, but there is nothing even remotely typical about this book. I could not put it down and it was just lucky for me that I was laid up in bed sick so I didn’t have to pause this book for long periods at all. In fact I’m always going to associate a liquid diet with “Gone Girl”. There were several times I was glad I had no food on my stomach while listening to this. I am not going to go into any kind of details lest I ruin this book for you. Please, heed my advice and do not read anything about this book before you finish it. Did you get that? Do NOT read anything about this book until you finish it. No really, are you listening? Don’t ok? Just don’t.

You know that noise you make when you take a bite of something incredibly delicious? Or rather, when you are telling your friends about that food? Yeah, that’s the noise I’m making in my head right now. “gone Girl”, you amazing book you!

1. “Defending Jacob” – William Landay (#41, October 7)

I can’t say anything more about this book than I did in the original review. I’ve already read it again and it was even better the second time, being able to pick out the little hints Landay dropped. I knew back when I finished the book that it would get the number one spot and then the author himself solidified that. You’ll see if you go check out the post. Excerpt from post:

How would your family survive if a member was accused of murder? This novel takes us inside a family that must deal with just that. The father is an assistant district attorney and the member accused of murder is his fourteen year old son. Can a marriage survive that? Will the family make it through the media scrutiny of a trial? If you have children, how do you think you would get through something like this? Would you find yourself doubting your child’s innocence even though in your heart you know he can’t be guilty? He can’t be, right? Right?

I have been considering doing a top ten book list at the end of the year but was undecided, until this book. I am so in love with this book, I would marry it if it asked me. In fact I’m having a difficult time trying to write about it. It’s like when I try and talk about gratitude; I get completely flustered and can’t form a thought.

I just sighed, feeling all my feelings about this book in the span of about fifteen seconds after reading that quote I took from the original post days ago. Quiet reflection, that is the best way I can describe what this book makes me do. I had to lay in bed for a good twenty minutes in the silence after I finished it the first time. Perfect, just a perfect book!

*It’s my blog and I’ll pick two number ones if I want to!*

We aren’t done yet! From the cutting room floor:

Honorable Mentions

“Angels Flight” (Harry Bosch #6) – Michael Connelly

Oh, “Angels Flight”, I keep thinking about you. So good, just so so good! So dark, oh so dark, and nauseous making. So good.

*It’s not every day that “nauseous making” is a compliment.

“The Art of Fielding” – Chad Harbach

It’s really close to a top ten nod but I just don’t know. I might need to create an honorable mentions category…

*This book *almost* made the list. Always a bridesmaid.

“The Brain That Changes Itself: Personal Triumphs from the Frontiers of Brain Science” – Norman Doidge

I was in nerd heaven while I read this. And I found myself more tired during the day after reading this book at night.

*This book will always be known as “that brain book”.

“The Last Coyote” (Harry bosch #4) – Michael Connelly

This book was soooooo good! It’s my favorite of the Harry Bosch books so far, even though it’s only the fourth one.

*Did I catch myself in a lie?

“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)” – Jenny Lawson

When I started it that first night I laughed so hard I was afraid I’d pee the bed.

*I don’t recommend playing this audio book while driving unless constant laughter doesn’t impede your vision.

The Narrows (Harry Bosch #10) – Michael Connelly

…another beloved character is back in a way, the character who got me back into drinking orange juice.

*Thanks to McCaleb and Jayden, my potassium number is good.

“The Scarecrow” (Jack McEvoy #2) – Michael Connelly

This book was scary to me because with our technology today the scenario was pretty easy to imagine.

*Just call me Sandra Bullock. Carol, that’s for you.

“Solomon’s Song” (Book three of The Australian Trilogy) – Bryce Courtenay

His writing is so descriptive and beautiful you can’t help but feel you’re there, running on that beach with the men you’ve come to know.

*That beach was most definitely not a vacation spot.

They never made it within a mile of the cutting room:

Dishonorable Mentions

“77 Shadow Street” – dean Koontz

It just went on and on and on and then had a really awesome ending.

*That’s what she said.

“1q84” – Haruki Murakami

The book started out pretty cool but it went on and on in several places, so much so that I thought, how did this get passed the editors?

*Editors? We don’t need no stinking editors.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” – Seth Grahame-Smith

I do know that several times I felt like Lincoln’s memory was sort of, oh what’s the word…insulted?

I won’t be seeing the movie.

“The Next Right Thing” – Dan Barden

I probably didn’t hear the next few sentences over the noise of the crickets in my head.

*I really think the narration is what killed this book though.

“Zero Day” – David Baldacci

Ok, I liked MacGyver, a lot, but this was too extreme.

*They don’t make TV shows like they used to. Oh yeah, forgot we were talking about books.

Those books might have been bad but at least I finished them. There was only one book I didn’t finish this year and that was “Nano” by Robin Cook. I was very disappointed since I loved him when I was a lot younger but I couldn’t even get into the second half of the audio book. The narration might be to blame on this one but Cook has to take some of the blame as well. I’m sorry, but two smart doctors wouldn’t sit in a break room discussing secretive stuff in front of the guy in the corner no matter how absorbed he looked in his work. Add the adults acting like jealous teenagers and the overly troubled past of the damsel in distress and there was just no way to focus on what was going on, the actual cool part, nano technology. Thanks a lot for wasting over two nights of good reading time, man! I wonder what was up with those poor test subjects? Maybe I’ll look it up on Wikipedia. Thanks Audible, for letting me return this and get my credit back!

That does it for the inaugural year end book post! I hope you enjoyed it, got some recommendations, found some books you’ve read here on the list or just killed some time. This post took days to write and format and I learned a lot for next year’s post, for sure. I can’t wait to see what I read next year! I really enjoyed keeping such close track of every book I listened to. I wonder if I’ll read more or less next year? Thank god for audio books and Audible.com!

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Filed under 2012 Book List, Audio books, gratitude, Jayden, plugs, sicky sick, sobriety, twitter me this

“The Blanket” – My First Short Story

Back when I took the F2K Free Creative Writing course, I discovered how much I love writing short stories. After several lessons were under our belts, we were given a short story challenge. Participation was voluntary and if we so desired, we could try our hands at the guidelines. These were, write a story with a beginning, middle and end, one thousand words or less, containing these three objects: a blanket, a TV stand and an empty glass.

I couldn’t believe the ideas these three objects sparked. Long time readers of my blog will be familiar with this since I’ve asked you to submit these objects that I call sparks for a few short stories here. The first story I wrote is dear to my heart and I had originally posted it on the blog until a fellow writer told me if I ever wanted to publish the story, it couldn’t be published elsewhere. I contacted one publication that focuses on the kind of material this story is about but they don’t publish fiction.

I’ve decided the story doesn’t belong anywhere if not that publication or right here at the Roof. It has been just sitting in my computer collecting dust and a writer wants her creativity to be experienced by others. So, I decided Thanksgiving would be a good day to publish my first ever short story here. I hope you enjoy it!

Word Count: 993

“The Blanket”

The sun was setting as I left, a slight chill in the air. My name was called from the direction of the smokers, and as I turned, I saw Troy breaking free of the haze as he tossed his smoke and jogged toward me.

“Troy, congratulations my man.” I took him into a warm hug.

“Pat, thanks. And thank you for being a part of this last year. I have a favor to ask you…” he trailed off, as if afraid to continue. He often called me is sober mom, since I was old enough to be. When he walked into the rooms a year ago, he was the shell of a boy lingering on the threshold of manhood. How things change, I thought. I urged him to ask his question by saying nothing, only squeezing his hand.

“I watch you crochet those blankets,” he began sheepishly, “and I wonder if you’d make me one. I’ll pay you.” His eyes filled with tears and for a second, I couldn’t speak. I hadn’t expected that, the question, nor the show of emotion.

“Of course I’ll make you a blanket but you can pay me by explaining why asking for it filled those beautiful baby blues with tears.” I grinned at him and he relaxed.

“Deal. Can you make it in shades of green?”

“You got it darlin.” He had no other requests as to the pattern or anything, just shades of green. Interesting, I thought as I walked to my car.

Over the next few weeks, I worked on his blanket. When I crochet something for someone,a little love goes in to every stitch. I thought about Troy and how far he had come, and a few tears even made their way into the strands of yarn. When the finishing touches were added, and the blanket washed, I called Troy and we met for coffee.

As we settled in, whisps of smoke in the air and Nirvana spilling from the speakers, the blanket tucked neatly into a bag at my feet, I faced Troy, sipping the bitter espresso. “Ok, you know the deal, spill.”

Troy sighed and took a long pull on his mocha. “My mother crocheted me a blanket when I was 16. I mean, sure it was nice and all, but hell, I was 16. I wanted cds and nudey mags, you know? I don’t think I ever even used it, but I always had it, even when I left at 18, immersed in my drinking. I started dating this girl who found it and washed it and draped it over my couch. It looked so stupid. A crocheted blanket in shades of green on my stained, beat up blue couch,” he laughed and took another long pull of his mocha.

“When I was 19, mom was killed in a drunk driving accident. She was the drunk one. I hated her for that.”

I sat there, the warmth slowly fading from my cup.

Troy continued, “ironically, I hated her for being what I was becoming. One night some buddies were over and we got loaded. One of the guys ended up puking everywhere. I was already blacked out by then. Another guy grabbed that blanket off the couch, mopped up the vomit, and took the blanket to the dumpster.”

“I woke up the next morning, sprawled on the floor by the tv. I reached up and touched my aching head and it was sticky with blood. I had fallen into the tv stand the night before and busted open my eyebrow. I remember staring at an empty glass next to the tv. Had that been my glass? I still don’t know. I don’t remember how I found out about the blanket, but I remember running to the dumpster, only to find it completely empty. The damn trash man had already been there. I drank even more in those last few months, eventually landing myself a good ol’ DUI and walking into my first meeting after a nudge from the judge. When my head started clearing, and I saw you making those blankets, I knew I needed one.”

He stopped talking and flopped back onto the couch, fishing in his pocket for a cigarette. He tried lighting it with shaking hands, until I took the lighter and lit it for him. I didn’t speak and neither did he. When he was done smoking, I reached down and handed him the bag. He gingerly removed the blanket from the bag, lovingly caressing the different textured yarns in many shades of green. Finally he broke down, leaning forward with his head in the folds of the blanket arms on his knees, shoulders wracking with sobs. Now a grown man, unabashedly sobbing in the coffee shop.

We could have looked like mother and son there in that hazy shop, as I set my cup down and wrapped him in my arms as the blanket soaked up his tears. When he had calmed, he sat up and gave me a winning smile, mouthing the words, thank you.

“No, thank you,” I whispered. Brushing his hair from his forehead I said, “I knew that story would be the best payment you could have given me for this blanket. You are a miracle my son. I’m so honored to be a part of your amends to your mom.”

His eyes widened. “Amends?”

I sat back and smiled. “How do we make amends to the dead? We live our lives with grace and dignity and maybe we recreate something we lost of them. Isn’t that what you did?” He laughed and said he hadn’t thought of it that way, but agreed that I was right.

The sun was setting as we left the coffee shop, hand in hand, mother and son in sobriety, his story still swimming in our minds, a part of both our pasts now, and pushing us forward into the future, one day at a time.

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Filed under coffeeholic, crochet, gratitude, holiday, misty eyes, NaBloPoMo 2012, plugs, short story challenge, sobriety, writing

“Beginner’s Guide to Echolocation for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Learning to See With Your Ears” by Tim Johnson

When I began Orientation and Mobility lessons a few months after going blind, I was amazed to learn that using a white cane involved so much more than just interpreting sensations in the hand holding the cane. My instructor, Dave, taught me to begin paying attention to sounds outside my apartment. Hear that traffic? If you ever get turned around, listen for the traffic and use the sound to point yourself in the direction of your apartment. Years later I would use this skill after arriving home with my guide dog while he was learning the lay of the land.

Dave also taught me how to listen for buildings and hear the difference between a flat building front and an alcove or covered area. I used this a lot while learning my home area since those sounds became landmarks. Instead of the mailbox on the corner letting me know I was close to my destination, the different sound the cane made as I passed by an aluminum overhang became my landmark.

Dave taught me how to tell which lane a car was in as we stood next to a three lane road. He would stand me near a bend in a busy street and have me point to where I thought the intersection was. In buildings and stores he would have me stop and listen for the sounds of a cash register or talking. When I expressed fear of entering a public bathroom alone, he found a blind female coworker who told me to listen for the sounds of the sinks, the hand dryers, the paper towel dispensers, the flushing toilets. Remember those sounds in relation to the door and you’ll be fine.

As I learned all these skills I couldn’t help but remember a television documentary I had watched with B back when I was blind in just one eye. This documentary was about a boy who lost his eyes as a baby. B and I watched in amazement as this boy road his bike, skateboarded, shot basketballs and didn’t miss, all by clicking his tongue. When the program ended I turned to B and said, “I should learn that in case my other eye goes blind.” I clicked my tongue a few times but the thought of losing my other eye never seemed like a reality. Who knew a year later I would begin to learn the basics of echolocation without even knowing it.

When I read “Beginner’s Guide to Echolocation for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Learning to See With Your Ears” by Tim Johnson, I found myself remembering those early days of O & M Lessons with Dave and smiling. While learning to navigate the world without sight was frustrating and terrifying, there were also some really fun times. This book was a refresher for me in many ways but it also introduced new skills and concepts. It can be exhausting moving around the world with your ears. Johnson gives examples of relaxing exercises and techniques to practice to assist with honing your hearing, decipher sounds and open your mind. I think this is invaluable to help with energy conservation. I have found myself focusing on these things in the days since I read this book.

Johnson makes it clear that this book is not a replacement for O & M lessons with a qualified instructor. He also gives information about centers where one can go to specifically learn echolocation. I would love to be able to attend this kind of training! I remember when I was first blind, navigating around my apartment and stopping just before I hit a wall. I remember telling people, “I heard the freaking wall!” I really enjoyed reading this book and finding out in detail just how it worked that day I heard the wall.

Johnson explains sound waves and why certain objects sound the way they do when a click or clap bounces off of them and back to the ears. He explains how the visual cortex in the brains of the blind still function, allowing us to build images in our minds from the things we feel and hear. I ate this information up since I love brain science. When I finished this book I felt brain tired, just like I do when I read books about science. I love it! I also had an aching tongue from all the clicking I did as the book described different techniques. Johnson flawlessly uses descriptions to teach you all the different ways you can click.

I recommend this book for anyone, blind or sighted. Even if you are not interested in learning echolocation, it is still a fascinating read for anyone who enjoys learning something new. “The Beginner’s Guide to Echolocation” is available in print from Amazon with large print available and audio coming soon. You can also download the book in MS Word format to read with your screen reader.

We don’t think about the kinds of echolocation we use every day. Whether using a white cane or a guide dog, if we can hear, we can see our surroundings as we move through the world with our mobility aids. There are even some days I can tell when it’s cloudy, just based on how different the traffic sounds. I don’t know about you, but I am grateful to be able to sharpen all my tools as I continue trudging along on this sightless journey. My thanks to Tim Johnson, for devoting his time and skills to this book!

*Addendum* Exciting news! I heard from Tim Johnson and the audio book is now available for download here, and will soon be available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes!

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Filed under Adjustment to blindness, Amazon, blind opinion, cool product, gratitude, guide dogs, NaBloPoMo 2012, Orientation and Mobility, plugs, white cane

How cracked.com influenced my Sunday

I never thought a Cracked article would start my day off nicely. Today the Twitter account posted:

@cracked Read “5 Inspiring Stories for Anyone Feeling Cynical Today” and try to be a bit less of a bummer for once. http://bit.ly/SWEdn2

If you’re not familiar with Cracked, trust me when I say this is not a typical post of theirs. I tend to read Cracked when I need some good belly laughs at something sarcastic and usually vulgar and very politically incorrect. So I was intrigued when I read that tweet and immediately opened the link. I actually got misty eyed reading it and instantly knew I had to share. It set the tone for the day and so far I seem to only be encountering positive and happy stuff. Such a switch! Thanks Cracked!

I knew I wanted to share that in today’s post which works out nicely since I’m still waiting to post another thing I have planned. What to add to it though? I didn’t want to just include one link. Well, animals almost always come to the rescue it seems. After I read that article I was feeling all warm and fuzzy. B was up waiting for football to start and the day felt relaxed. I got up and did something, refill coffee? When I returned, Jayden was sitting pretty on his side of the couch which made me laugh. I leaned towards him and put my arm around him. I pulled my feet up to my left and Jayden gave me kisses and then leaned into me and flopped down, pinning my upper body between his back and the couch. His shoulders and head were cradled perfectly in the ninety degree angle of my legs and belly and my head rested on his hip. Spinelli decided to get in on this and she perched on my left hip and leg. It was so warm and cozy! B snapped a pic, so I thought I’d share. It’s a link to a Twitpic since I still haven’t figured out uploading pics to WordPress. That cuddle session just added nicely to the happiness that Cracked article had awakened in my heart on this Sunday.

I decided to share the photo with my friends on Facebook. I rarely read Facebook anymore but since I was already in after sharing the pic, I decided to read through some status updates. This could have been very dangerous since Facebook seems to be the place people love to air their grievances with society. Twitter too, but I have filters in place there. Luckily I recently cleaned up Facebook and narrowed things down to only those people who don’t make a habit of complaining in every other status update. I am so incredibly glad I decided to browse through updates because I got to find out that an old friend was the first woman to cross the finish line of this year’s El Tour de Tucson! How cool is that! I knew her back before she started riding and I’m just so proud of her! I would have missed that had it not been for the picture. The picture might not have happened had the Cracked article not given me the warm fuzzies.

After B and I have what is our new Sunday tradition of delicious breakfast for lunch, I’m going to soak in the tub. This Sunday is shaping up quite nicely!

Hope I didn’t just jinx it…

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Filed under coffeeholic, fellowship, gratitude, in the news, Jayden, misty eyes, NaBloPoMo 2012, num num food, plugs, Spinelli, sports, twitter me this, wow

Demo: Creating custom audio labels using Digit-Eyes

This is a demo of using Digit-Eyes to create custom audio labels. If you are unfamiliar with Digit-Eyes, you can listen to my first demo and you can visit www.digit-eyes.com/ for more information and to purchase the app and labels. The website also allows you to print your own labels if you have a printer and sheets of blank labels. I don’t have a printer, so I have the pre-printed labels from Digit-Eyes.

This demo is about thirty minutes long. Today was the first I had recorded any custom labels and I did some practicing before recording. As with any new technology there’s a learning curve. Just be patient and before you know it, it clicks.

Digit-Eyes Custom Labels Demo

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Filed under apple Inc, assistive technologies, cool product, demo, gratitude, iPhone, iTunes, NaBloPoMo 2012, plugs

Solo-Dx – The Next Wave of Audio Descriptions

I used to enjoy movies back in the day but since going blind, they have lost their appeal for the most part. When I do take in a movie it’s usually alone when I can get my hands on a described version. For those who don’t know, audio descriptions are sometimes available for the blind and visually impaired. This will be a narrator describing the action on screen when there is no dialogue.

While this is great, it’s not easily accessible since it will be in a DVD or Blueray menu and not available at all for streaming movies. B and I have watched a few movies together when he was renting DVDs. If a movie sounded interesting to me he would check to see if it had descriptions and most times it didn’t. So I only got to do a few movies with him that way and while it was great for me, it was annoying for him because sometimes the narration would describe action before it happened on screen. The narrator can only speak when there is no dialogue so often times something is described right before it happens visually on screen. I’ve completely gotten away from enjoying movies, so imagine my intrigue a few weeks ago when I checked the Roof’s mail and found this from a company in Los Angeles that specializes in audio description, hollywoodaccessservices.com.:

“Located in the heart of the entertainment industry, Hollywood Access Services, LLC produces audio description that is faithful and appropriate to the source material, offering a vivid experience to visually impaired consumers of motion pictures, home entertainment, and television programming. 

Here’s a little bit about our new product: Solo-Dx Solo-Dx is a new premium audio description MP3 file that you can play along with your favorite movie at home. Each Solo-Dx track is written and produced by experienced entertainment industry professionals. Solo-Dx helps bring movies to life for individuals with visual or cognitive impairments.  Solo-Dx works with any standard media player. The only other thing you need is the movie itself on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming, or Video-on-Demand.  Simply follow the directions narrated at the start of the Solo-Dx file, sit back, and enjoy!   You can learn a little more from our website at solo-dx.com.” 

I was able to choose Hunger Games to try this out with and was sent the Solo-Dx track. Time kept passing and I kept not having a good chunk of uninterrupted time to enjoy a movie. It’s amazing how quickly you get out of the habit of setting aside time for movies and television when you no longer enjoy such activities. Finally today I had time so I rented Hunger Games from iTunes. Solo-Dx had sent me the description track and I had that loaded on my iPhone all ready to go.

Wait, back up! I can hear your thoughts. Rented a movie, track on the iPhone, what what? The Solo-Dx track is an mp3 file you download from iTunes or Amazon. Currently the tracks are $1.99 but I was lucky enough to get Hunger Games complimentary. Unfortunately I don’t have a Netflix or other streaming subscription so I needed to rent the movie from iTunes. Lucky I don’t need hi-def so I only had to spend four bucks on the rental. I had never rented a movie before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Once you download it you have thirty days to watch it. Once you press play, you have twenty-four hours to watch it. I couldn’t get the movie to start right back at the beginning again after I messed up the syncing of the track. I was able to get it all lined up though and we’ll get to that in a minute. I was jus able to start the movie again after completing it so I presume you can watch it as many times as you can in that twenty-four hours.

I put the Solo-Dx track on my iPhone but you can put it on any device. I would think it would be difficult to play both on the computer since you would need to play the Solo-Dx track using a different audio player. On the Mac you could do this with Preview by showing the Solo-Dx track in finder and pressing space to play the file at the appropriate time. So this would be possible without another device.

I had misgivings about doing this with my iPhone since it’s a phone and phones interrupt things. We’ll get to that. You sync the track and the movie by first listening to the track and the directions. Using Hunger Games as an example, the instructions said music would play for about ten seconds and then a distinct guitar would sound. When you hear the guitar, start the Solo-DX track. After it told me that, it counted down to three and there was a beep. You pause the track at the beep and wait for your guitar. When this was explained to me I thought it all sounded rather complicated though it made sense and I figured actually doing it would make it clear and it did.

I was disappointed when I had the track all cued up on my iPhone, paused at the beep, and the darned movie was too quiet and I didn’t hear the beginning music. The guitar started but that too was quiet so I quickly paused the movie and tried to find a way to restart it. I couldn’t find how so I got frustrated and thought how will I ever sync this? I checked the time elapsed and it was thirty seconds. The instructions said there was about ten seconds of music so I restarted the Solo-Dx track and paused and unpaused both track and movie until I got it lined up. I was lucky because the description said something about a girl running down the stairs and I got it lined up perfectly with the sounds of running feet. Lesson learned so I’ll be prepared next time. After finishing the movie I replayed the beginning and got it all synced up perfectly the first time and it was pretty sweet that way! I hadn’t missed anything with my syncing attempts before luckily.

So wait, you put the descriptions track thing on your phone? You didn’t get any phone calls or anything interrupting the description track?

That had been my first huge misgiving about this. I could have used my iPod but I didn’t want to use earbuds and I keep it in my room with my audio books on it. I know, luxury problem. I thought I would just use my phone and my Bluetooth earpiece so I’d have the descriptions in one ear while the movie played on my computer speakers. I ran this by Solo-Dx and it was suggested to either use airplane mode or the new do not disturb feature in iOS 6. Perfect! I would just use airplane mode I decided. Do not disturb would still allow favorites to ring through unless I went and changed settings so airplane mode was just easier. Only problem with that was it also disabled my Bluetooth earpiece so I was back at the ear buds issue. I decided to just use the built in speaker on the iPhone.

It turns out that my pickeyness here was a benefit, at least in my opinion. The female narrator’s voice on the Solo-Dx track took on a different audio tone than the movie so it was easy to separate the two. Also, neither ear was taken up with anything so the movie took center stage and the Solo-Dx track was secondary. I was comfortable on the couch with the phone either resting on my shoulder or sitting on the arm of the couch. (Obviously in a theatre or with others I’ll use my earbuds.)

An awesome thing about this was I could control the volume of the audio descriptions. When the movie volume increased, I just put the phone closer to me and when it got quiet again I moved the phone again. This was great, because I’ve noticed when watching movies with audio descriptions built in, sometimes the volume of the narrator isn’t adjusted so when the scenes get loud, you can barely hear the descriptions. It’s either that or sometimes the volume of the action fades out so you can hear the description. Either way it’s disruptive and draws your attention solely to the narration.

With the Solo-Dx track on my phone, the voice of the narrator at a comfortable volume, easy to control when I needed to, the movie was brought to life more than I’ve ever experienced since going blind. It was truly remarkable, being able to completely control both aspects of the movie. I never thought about it before but just like with a bad audio book narrator, a bad descriptions production can really take away from a movie. The Solo-Dx track was clear and easy to understand and the narrator portrayed the emotion of scenes without going overboard or being boring. It was really freaking awesome, no other words I can think of!

I emailed Solo-Dx excited to let them know I’d finally watched it and how cool I thought it was. They let me know some exciting news:

“We just came out with Solo-Dx for the first 4 episodes of the Walking Dead.  On iTunes it’s album-only
for $2.99.  On Amazon, it’s 99 cents per episode, or $3.96 for the album of all four.”

I’m excited about this because that show has sounded awesome but just like with movies I’ve been unable to really get into TV. I will be checking these out for sure!

So, what do you think? I think this is pretty fantastic. I had a lot of misgivings going in but now that I’ve tried it, I’m very impressed. By the way, Solo-Dx isn’t paying me to write this or anything haha! I feel very lucky to have been considered a good test subject to check this out and help get the word out to the blind and visually impaired community. I think I have a pretty good grasp on this product so please feel free to ask questions in the comments or email me and I’ll see if I can answer your questions or forward them to the Solo-Dx team.

I’m really excited about this. I think the opportunities are great in that we might be able to take descriptions with us to the movies even! I can watch movies with B and have descriptions all to myself. He no longer rents DVDs anymore since he as access to any movie he wants with his streaming subscriptions and since he does that now, descriptions are out of the question since you don’t get cool DVD menus.

Once the Solo-Dx catalogue really expands, maybe I’ll be able to say, “hey, I have this movie available, want to watch it?”

The only real lingering question I have is pausing when I watch a movie with him or someone else. Today it was simple, I just unlocked my screen and put my iPhone on my shoulder. I put my keyboard on my lap and on the second two fingered tap of the pause/play double tap, I pressed the space bar at the same time with my other hand. I paused the movie several times in this manner and only once did I get a little out of sync when my phone didn’t play it. It was easy to get it back but I’m not sure how this would work trying to pause a movie with another. I think B would probably need to let me control that when one of us needs to pause. He would need to just show me the button on the remote I suppose. I hope anyway! I look foreword to trying it eventually.

This is going to make me want to get back into movies and TV, I can tell you that much for sure. And the cool thing about these tracks being on iTunes and Amazon is you can get gift cards from friends and family to help with this. I know even $099 on a tight budget can be a lot for entertainment. I think those of you who have Netflix and such will really benefit. I might look into that myself since if I start doing more movies and TV, that might offset the cost of iTunes rentals. As of right now, Amazon streaming isn’t accessible with my Macbook which is too bad since I have a Prime account and get a lot of free streaming content. I need to email them about that. Ah, I digress.

Is Solo-Dx the next wave of awesome assistive technology for us? Could be! I’m very impressed. Oh and Hunger Games? That’s a hole other blog post. What a messed up movie!

Oh one last note, I listened to the entire credits at the end of the movie as well. The narration reads all the credits and the music was nice at the end. So if you’re wondering who played who and don’t feel like going to IMDB, just listen to the credits haha! Ok, I think that’s it.

Oh except this, follow Solo-Dx on Twitter @SoloDx1

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Filed under Adjustment to blindness, Amazon, apple Inc, assistive technologies, cool blinky stuff, cool product, iPhone, iTunes, plugs, twitter me this, word pictures

Demo: Digit-Eyes

This is yet another goofy demo of an iPhone app. I don’t think I’m capable of doing anything not goofy. This also turned into a commercial for several products haha! There a couple I give you the chance to guess though I don’t really give you too much time. I also experimented with adding an intro but I didn’t have the volume up high enough.

So without further delay, here is the forty minute Digit-Eyes demo. Here is the Digit-Eyes website. Here is the link to the AppleVis page about the app. I read through the comments there before deciding to get the app. It’s quite helpful.

Enjoy! My next demo is going to be on Text Detective. It kind of took a back seat when I got Digit-Eyes so I need to get a little more practiced with it.

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Filed under apple Inc, assistive technologies, cool blinky stuff, cool product, demo, iPhone, num num food, plugs, screen reader, silly girl, techie tips

Doggy Diaries – A Few Fun Dog Links and Brief Clicker Story

I kept two 1-800-PET-MEDS articles up today to blog about and share because I enjoyed them both. I’ve also had a youtube saved for awhile that I wanted to share but kept forgetting, so today I give you three fun dog related links.

This first one is about Dogs for the Deaf and how they’ve expanded into training service dogs for Autism and even classroom dogs. Possibly the best part? They use shelter dogs! It was heart warming to read about these dogs who might have been destined for euthanasia but instead become service dogs. How cool is that?

This next one is about teaching your dog tricks and the effect that has on the person. It is a really adorable story about how a woman trained her dogs to love her piano playing, or, ahem, something like that. Give it a read, it’s cute!

I don’t really teach Jayden tricks but I do sometimes teach him something new to either help me or enhance obedience. Either that or just turning something into a game. I recently got out the old clicker and showed Jayden that when I pat the couch and say “up!” that I want him to get on the couch. This might seem a little silly so I’ll explain.

Jayden was raised not to get on furniture unless invited. That part of his raising was apparently incredibly hardwired because there are times when he sits and stares at his side of the couch and waits for me to invite him up. Now since that’s his spot, I haven’t required him to wait until invited pretty much since bringing him home. Most of the time he gets right up when he wants but other times he refuses, to the point where I have to actually touch him and urge him up.

These aren’t moments of wanting affection, as he’s like a foot from me and sits on the floor staring at his side of the couch, sometimes even resting his chin on it. Sometimes I’m in the middle of writing something or eating or crocheting and I just need him to let himself up on the couch haha! So I did clicker training. It was so much fun for both of us. I’d have him sit facing his side of the couch, pat and say “up!” and when he jumped up I clicked and kibbled. Then I’d tell him “off” and at first he was confused like, but is this obedience? Look, I’ll lay on the couch. Haha! Then he’d finally leap off and jump around and we’d do the whole thing over. It worked like a charm! Now I just have to pat and say “up!” and he gets up. No more having to reach over and urge him up.

Then last night I thought we’d have to do the clicker training again. He sat there looking at the couch, I felt for a cat and didn’t find one so I patted and said “up!” and he wouldn’t. I repeated this a few times and he didn’t jump up. So I went to stand up and heard Timmy’s bell. Oh! He was curled up in the very corner of the couch. No wonder Jayden disobeyed haha! I moved Timmy and Jayden jumped right up. Training him is so much fun and so rewarding. I wish we could play clicker every day.

This last link might require some tissues or perhaps that was just me. The trainers at Southeastern Guide Dogs perform Trust Me Baby. I’m guessing the images are adorable. The lyrics had me sobbing the first time I heard it and when I opened the video to get the link just now I got misty all over again. The song is a take of Call Me Maybe which always gets stuck in my head when I hear it but now I get Trust Me Baby stuck in my head instead.

Hope you enjoyed the doggy links. I sure did!

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Filed under Autism, Doggy Diaries, guide dogs, intelligent disobedience, Jayden, jayden quirks, misty eyes, plugs, puppy raisers, Timmy, video, youtube