News, updates, and happenings with the Kragnes family: Phil, our Seeing Eye Dogs, and (me) Rebecca.

Archive for January, 2012

the perfect tools for drinking

This isn’t a post about alcohol, although sometimes the paraphernalia going along with that is fascinating too. I enjoyed a good fruity, alcoholic drink, but with the medications I take, I don’t mess with it! This post is about my fascination with tools for drinking nonalcoholic things.

It started when young. I played with glasses — particularly an off-white one and a bright yellow glass which had the exact same rough texture on the outside.

I lost my traveling water bottle last week. it was made by REI. When closed properly, it would not spill in my lime green backpack. It was also lime green. The screw-off cap was one color of lime, and the bottle proper was a translucent chartreuse which the water accentuated. I drink water while playing piano in church, and I suspect it’s at church. We have another REI bottle which is translcent white with a royal blue cap I used for years before buying my green one, but I still hope my green one is found.

Phil says I could always use the pale lime green water bottle he bought this fall to fit the cup holder in my chair. It’s lovely for those times when I am typing on the wireless keyboard and want to take a sip of cold water once in a while. Pulling up the top means very little chance of spilling on the keyboard. The REI bottle doesn’t fit in my cup-holder like the bicycle bottle, but this Bicycle bottle has more of a tendency to leak in a bag. So if my REi bottle is found, I will continue to have two green water bottles in the fridge — one ready for travel and the other ready for the chair. I also have a green pitcher of cold water in the fridge in case I’m in desperate need of cold water and forgot to fill one of my bottles.

At my parents’ we had a well water faucet growing up, but unless it was winter or early spring or ice was used, the water could always be colder. I’d run the faucet and probably wasted a lot of water, but I don’t have to worry about that now with the pitcher in the fridge.

I do have fond memories of the solid-colored, shiny metal glasses by the sink, and a few years ago when my friend spotted some, I had to have four — red, blue, gold, and of course green!. When I’m dying for a quick cold glass of water, there’s nothing like metal glasses to keep it chilled as much as possible! If it’s sunny, the water accentuates the color of the bottom inside, and it shines even more than the glass itself.

Bottles and metal glasses are more likely to tip over at the table, so for water and other transparent or translucent drinks, one of our clear glasses or plastic mugs is a good choice. We used to have some beautiful glass blue ones, which were light and transparent at the top and got dark and more translucent going toward the bottom. The big glasses in that set broke. We have cool Christmas glasses with clear bottoms and transparent red, green, and clear squares in a pattern, such that there’s always a different colored square above, below, and on either side of each square. For transparent drinks in clear-bottomed glasses, we have these wonderful coasters with a button underneath. The wait of the glass presses the button , and the coaster lights up in different colored lights. The four light- up coasters are puzzle pieces in a tray.

IN the office, I use four of my late grandmother’s shiny colored coasters — silver, gold, orange, and of course green. I played with them when I was a kid, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t look at them shining in the light once in a while when it’s just two or four of us.

We have a couple interesting-feeling leather Coasters with “Seeing Eye” in Braille and a picture on them. I suspect it’s probably a picture of buddy the first Seeing Eye dog.

For milk and juice in the morning, we have these lovely Tupperware glasses I bought at an auction. I remember Phil being exasperated with me, because as you can tell, we have a lot of glasses. the pale, light blue are the biggest, bright, lime green in the middle, and finally little orange ones. I use a green one, and Phil uses an orange one to monitor is fluid intake. We often give guests big blue glasses of water or other beverages.

We haven’t even talked about how we drink hot drinks from our new Keurig yet. We have a mismatched assortment of ceramic mugs on two mug trees, and yes, I tend to break them. I really try to hang them correctly, but at least once every few months I crack one. Phil likes the big University mugs, because they hold a little more. I prefer the “d-shaped” handles which are easier for me to hold.

For years I was in search of the perfect non-ceramic mug (so I couldn’t break it). I tried an 8-ounce plastic Seeing Eye mug, but because of it’s tall, skinny nature, it had a tendency to fall. Then for Christmas a few years ago, I received a thermal mug with a cool handle , a slotted lid, and an excellent flat bottom. before the new machine, we produced hot water through our coffee pot. when alone, that seemed like a waste, so I warmed hot chocolate in the microwave. my wonderfully shaped thermal mug was metal. Then a couple years ago, I found a mug of about twenty ounces — perfectly plastic, a flat bottom, and a slotted lid. Phil used and took it when he was released from the rehab center (since otherwise they would have thrown it away). It is like one I had in college for which I’d been searching for years. Ah, mug nirvana!
It and the metal thermal mug are good choices for drinking hot liquid at the table. But now I have a cup holder and the ability to type on a wireless keyboard in my wonderful new chair. the guest blue glasses worked for cider, but I was still scared about the splashing. Nothing with handles would fit. So Phil went online and found what I think is the best possible hot/cold drink chair cup for me. Shiny green and 16-ounces, it is absolutely no spill! A button is pressed to open the slot for a sip and screw on the lid. Because there is no gap between cup and lid, instead of stirring in sugar, I can shake it! The company said one should be able to put it upside-down in one’s important file drawer without spilling a drop. Although I probably won’t test it that way, I’m very happy with my handleless chair cup.

Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
E-Mail: rebeccak
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes


in case anyone cares: what I think about religion and things outside of it clashing

Amy Wellborn wrote a great column about silence and it’s value in communication — particularly with God. #catholic #pope #spirituality #Christian

Who knew twitter could actually promote thoughts on a theme, but despite the chattering of my synthesizer, the tap of the keys and the white noise of the humidifier, it’s been quiet here tonight. Reading and responding to a few tweets has sparked an internal dialog with myself and God about what happens when religious values clash with things in the outside world. Three stories on twitter and one I have lived many days caused me to really think about all of this, and as some of you probably expect, there isn’t an easy answer. Yet I don’t want to be accused of relativism or choosing from the Christian buffet. I believe people have to come to conclusions by using the mind and conscience God gave them, and I’ve done that.
Story 1: KTSP: Minnesota atheists promote message with babies on billboards.

Probably the easiest of the three stories is my opinion on the image of babies being used to promote atheism on some twin cities billboards. The organizers said they did it in order to have babies associated with something else besides antiabortion slogans. Although I don’t agree with the general message of the billboards, I have no problem with them expressing their point of view, unlike one of the religious figures quoted. I take immense pride in the quote from the priest mentioned in the article, because he is the priest at Incarnation parish where I am an active member. He disagrees with the billboards without saying they should be taken down. In fact, he says they stimulate thought! Good on you, Fr. Kevin!

Story 2:http://Pittsburgh.cbslocal.comma/2012/01/27/bishop-obama-telling-Catholics-to-hell-with-you/

So the basic premise is that Obama’s healthcare program requires that every employer buy insurance for their employees in which all FDA-approved things are covered. this includes contraception and abortion. There is a religious exception, but one of the conditions of it is that everyone in the workplace has to be of that religion. So if everyone was Catholic, this rule wouldn’t apply. I am no fan of abortion, but considering I’m married for 15 years and have not had a child, it’s pretty safe to assume there’s some contraception going on. The bottom line is that whether it’s insurance or paying our taxes, by following the law, Catholics are not paying for things which conflict with Catholicism. There is a layer in between. They are paying for insurance which pays for those things. Are we going to stop shopping at Wallgreen’s because they sell contraceptives? And how about fast food places who might contribute to political candidates with whom we don’t agree? Is it really possible to live our lives in such a state that we don’t give money to someone who in turn spends it on something of which we may not approve? In some instances like buying a sandwich verses handing out cash to a homeless person, we can try, but it just isn’t going to work in every instance. I believe unless they break the law, it won’t work in this one.

Story 3 is the hardest:

So a 16-year-old atheist is unhappy with a prayer written by a former student in the early years of the school’s existence. the prayer currently hangs in the auditorium but is covered until the courts decide whether it is school prayer to display it. Meanwhile, the so-called Christians are harassing this girl, and she is saying her fight is for the good of everyone. If everyone on both sides could come off their high horses, it seems to me that a compromise could be reached. Why not put the prayer somewhere reachable in the school but not in her face in such a public area. For now, prayer isn’t in schoolbecause of separation of church and state and the religious freedom guaranteed for everyone by our constitution. Yet, just like “in God we Trust” reflects the history of our money, this prayer reflects the history of the school. But oh no! Both sides will duke it out in court rather than trying to find a way to be kind to each other as the prayer asks God to help them do. There’s something just a little ironic about that!

I’ve touched on story 4 in past blog entries. Despite my being the customer, cab drivers get to tell me to “watch your dog’s mouth” because of their religious practices. If the dog’s nose or mouth touches him, he has to wash seven times, because the dog is unclean. For a while, I’ve been so grateful the drivers pick me up and don’t cruise right past that I’ve bent over backward to try to accommodate them. Frankly, I’m getting sick of it and have about reached the end of my patience! It’s aggravating when they won’t even take the fair, because I’m inadvertently holding it too close to my dog’s nose. Rather than requesting me to raise it a little, they sit and whine. This is because they realize the contortions they are forcing their customer through really aren’t required, and doing so is illegal and could be grounds for dismissal if their bosses at the company found out. I had a conversation with my favorite company in the last couple days. It never used to be a problem with them, but It’s happening more and more.

In a similar situation, there have been Catholic pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for things which go against their religion. In both instances, I say it’s time for a career change. If I had gone into counseling, there probably would have been a few instances in which I would have had to refer clients to someone else if I was working in a public clinic. I could not be neutral on abortion, and in fact, I hope every counselor knows enough about their own belief systems to understand which issues may be difficult for them to work with clients. But I’d have to think very carefully when I took the job and talk about the ethics of our profession and how this conflict could be managed should it crop up. Clearly, I probably wouldn’t take a job at planned parenthood. Religious cab drivers and pharmacists are not giving good customer service and need to figure out whether this job is a good fit for them.

Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
E-Mail: rebeccak
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes

Fire of Hope: a get-away for girlfriends and God

All of those of the male gender are asleep in front of the fire. So with headphones quieting computer speech, I’m ready to tell you about the conference I attended. the title in the subject may be a paraphrase of the actual title, but Fire of Hope is close enough. A woman named MaryJo Shirwood attended the Christian conference held every fall called Women of Faith. Some big companies sponsor it, and she had a good time there. But she had the idea of starting a conference for Catholic women with many of the Catholic distinctions built into the conference. She hoped for a Mass, reconciliation time , and adoration. None of those things happened this year, but I hope the premiere conference motivates many women as it did for me.

My involvement started with a tweet about it on Friday the 13th of all days. The tweet said there were free tickets to a conference for Catholic women in Downtown Minneapolis — one of my favorite parts of the city. I immediately called the number and spoke to Mary Jo. at that point, a Mass was planned, and I offered to play piano or keyboard for Mass or whatever else for which she needed music. Apparently the person in charge of the music portion had a family emergency and was forced to back out of her commitment. MaryJo had some ideas for music, and I came up with a few. But I said to her that I wasn’t the singer. i just played the keyboard.
On Monday night, I got an e-mail that she’d found a singer, and I was overjoyed! Tuesday the singer named Michele Michaels called me to work out the details. Just one problem (at this point — there were many). Michele was only now gaining her voice back. She said yes to MaryJo and even volunteered her keyboard. When I called, it suddenly occurred to her just how big of a commitment she’d made, considering the circumstances. She was slowly recovering from losing her voice. Then she expressed concern about getting the words in Braille within such a short period. I know a lot of people in the blind community, but I hadn’t met Michele. We quickly established that we were in the opposite and — especially in the Midwest — often opposing organizations of blind people. Michele is orthodox Catholic, and I tend to be more liberal politically. I guessed correctly that she is Black from the slight accent and her categorizing her voice as sounding gospel. I probably don’t have to remind you I’ve been getting into a lot of that lately. Blind Catholics who are musical and within a few years of each other in age are not easy to find. I hadn’t found a person like Michele within the blind community I knew. We talked about everything, and I had the sense we would have talked much longer if she didn’t have to rest her voice and find her replacement to canter. She had made a commitment to perform Friday night, and MaryJo asked her to do one song on Saturday as the last act of the conference before Mass.

Michele found a wonderful canter named Kristin who called on Wednesday. We came up with a basic outline using ideas MaryJo discussed with us both. Thursday was not possible for her, so we determined we’d rehearse on Friday. We exchanged a lot of e-mails, and Kristin sent me to a Web page to preview and buy music or mp3’s of the 2010 Mass of Creation with the new Mass language included. Meanwhile, Michele and I talked about my accompanying her Saturday on her song. She has an accompanist, but he wasn’t available. Michele and I planned to practice, but it was just too cold for either of us to travel — especially given her voice and my dog’s tendency to violently shiver in cold when standing still waiting for buses. We did as much as we could over the phone, and Kristin and i had our practice on Friday as planned.

I think I’ve made it pretty plain that morning isn’t my time, but it was Kristin’s only time. So on the day of practice I asked Phil for strong coffee with hot chocolate in it. It snowed that day, and there were a lot of accidents! Kristin got bad directions to our place from google maps, and with the treacherous driving, she was very late. Still, our rehearsal seemed to go like clock work. I also learned a little about the Intentional Christian Community to which she belongs called People of Praise. They have a big event every two weeks and smaller groups in between times. Kristin and I love Christian contemporary music, and MaryJo asked for some of that during the Mass.

I got a call during rehearsal but got to it after we were finished. It was MaryJo saying the priest who had committed to come to Minneapolis had taken so seriously ill, doctors wouldn’t allow him to get on a plane. She was getting ready to go to the venue and set-up. She had made all the phonecalls she could and said that if we didn’t find a priest, there would be no Mass. I’d invested time in planning the music, the rehearsal, and typing many of the selections, so they could be projected onto a big screen. MaryJo didn’t have time to find a priest, so it was left to me to start searching. I called and tweeted everyone who came to mind. Although some couldn’t help, many either reached for their own connections or suggested another approach. Then I got a hold of a super lady named Lori at the Clergy Services Office at the Archdiocese. She said she wouldn’t leave, until she found someone for us, and she kept her word!

I called MaryJo to give her the priests contact information, and she informed me that there was another problem. Mass wouldn’t be happening after all. I don’t know what that problem was, and it was pretty jarring. My stomach didn’t want to accept food, until we found someone, and my original plan was to catch the nap I missed waiting and rehearsing in the morning. MaryJo said she’d talk to the priest and Kristin, but I felt some responsibility to do it. I felt so physically lousy I almost didn’t go to the Friday night portion. About the only thing that got me there was learning Michele had her bank card shredded in the ATM machine. She was trying to get money out for the weekend when it happened. After that story, I had no right to complain. There were plenty of those icky things happening. MaryJo and many others call it spiritual warfare and attribute those things to Satan or the
Enemy. I am not sure if it’s Satan or just some other unkind spirit/force, but the attribution is less important than the resolution not to let it get in the way.

There were two speakers who were my distinct favorites, and neither occurred on Friday night. One Friday speaker was on looking your best, and the other was a dietitian. Those of you who no me well know I get kind of defensive in those areas. Actually, it was less painful than it could have been. There were many pictures in both presentations, but there was talk of the psychology of color from the fashion/closet organizing consultant. The dietitian gave us a list of foods which looked like a part of the body and were actually good for that part. One quick example, Kidney beans are good for the kidneys. Both speakers went deeper into their own lives than I expected and weren’t these perky people who get on my nerves. I don’t remember which one said this, but I don’t even have to look at my notes to remember the phrase. We have a choice to be humbly grateful or grumbly hateful.

Another reason to have gone Friday night was to hear Glen from Relevant Radio doing his three trivia questions. The one time I tuned into Relevant Radio, someone was on telling people to get their kids to turn away from Harry Potter and read the lives of the Saints. That totally turned me off of Relevant Radio. Just as with my church, I’ll probably hear things with which I disagree, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things on which we do. Many of the questions were about the Daily Mass readings. The Rosary hasn’t been effective for me, and I certainly don’t make it to Mass every day. But reading the Mass readings every day is something I try to do most of the time. I’m constantly learning something about the Bible.

Hearing Michele sing and meeting her after the session were two very good reasons I was supposed to go. She wore a perfume I adored and was as genuine in person as on the phone. We both got the free booklets offered at the upstairs vendors, and she talked to one of the speakers. We wanted to talk to MaryJo about the last song. With no Mass, there was no keyboard, so obviously something had to change. I offered to back Michele up with harmony, and we practiced a little. I thought we sounded fine, but she really didn’t want to do it. Early in the week I said I couldn’t sing, because my fingers would be busy on the keys. Memorizing words is hard last-minute. Finally, I said I’d do it if she could get me the words. With no keys, I could read Braille lyrics. She e-mailed them to me, and I used my notetaker to transcribe them into Braille.

The final reason it was good to go Friday night was to meet MaryJo and to learn from her that the morning’s conference didn’t start at nine thirty but at nine. I had to cancel my metro ride and get a cab. I would have gotten there too late, and MaryJo promised me I didn’t want to miss a word of the first speaker!

I’m not even going to try to spell last names or give too much detail, in case someday you happen to hear these speakers. Most speak for Christian and secular markets. LeeAnne is the co-author of several Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She told us the story of her involvement in lifting orphan babies out of Vietnam during the last days of the war in 1975. That doesn’t do it justice, but I hope some of you will hear the story yourselves someday. Mary was one of my two favorites. Her talk was about some of the “thin places’ — a thin veil between this world and Heaven. She spoke from personal experiences and said things about coincidences, repeating patterns, and signs which I have always attributed to God but never thought it fit into my faith.
I met our third speaker as I was settling into my seat. Naomi is a genuinely nice person and had some big challenges for me. But the little political comments about leaning to the right were distracting for me. It’s no secret to me that most married Catholic women are probably more conservative than I am. After all, I’m the rebel calling herself Catholic who doesn’t plan to have one baby — let alone ten to twelve. Those political things can really divide us.

A change had taken place overnight. As I waited for my ride on Friday, I asked the house manager Jerry if I could possibly sit somewhere else. I was sitting in a roped off area all by myself. This was to give Zane space, and he said the chair without arms (which was more comfortable to me) wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Lo and behold, when he found out I was going to be on stage, suddenly he found a nifty spot right up front for me to sit on Saturday morning. I was still alone, but not nearly as far from people as when I was behind the roped area.

I made three critical mistakes — two from which I recovered — when we broke for lunch. Zane had been very quiet all morning, but when the lights came up, he let me know we needed to boogie! Some ladies asked me to lunch, and oh how I wished I had said yes! but I was so concerned with getting Zane relieved. They were going to the microbrewery next door, and I’d heard the food was bad and they robbed their customers. I thought I’d stroll to a restaurant I knew with a relief break on the way. My backpack felt unusually light as I walked out the theater doors to find Zane a place to park. Then I got disoriented and went the opposite direction than my plan. Zane helped me find a parking ramp, he did his thing, and we went back the way we came. I hadn’t planned on it being quite that cold, and I could barely feel the holes to buckle Zane’s harness. I had lunch in the microbrewery alone. they had a Braille menu, but I had to wait until I could feel something again before reading. the food was fine and within normal price range. The salad was gigantic and especially delicious, but the Mac ‘N Chicken was fine too. I had just enough time to squeak through the hallway connecting the restaurant and the theater and take my seat. A woman helped me fine my seat. I thought I knew where to go, but I was mistaken. Then I sighed with relief as she handed me what looked like a purse to her. I discovered at the tale-end of my lunch that my Braille notetaker was missing from my bag.
Zane had been in such a hurry! I’m glad we were at a Christian conference where it remained where it was.

We saw a funny video about girlfriends, and then another of my favorites spoke. Louise’s approach and talk touched on a number of areas in my life on which I’m working right now. She had us interact with each other, and there wasn’t anyone near enough for me to ask. I had a chance to gently tell her later, and she’s someone I hope I will come to know in the future. Our discussion was cut off by the arrival of my ride.

I heard the first part of Deacon Tom’s talk and learned he not only had print books but an audio program as well.
Then a woman said it was time for me to go backstage. She took me through the inner-workings of the theater. I noticed one of the speakers had a problem with the mike, but I didn’t know what it was until it happened to me. the little earpiece didn’t stay. Luckily, that happened before I was live. they had plan B and set-up a mike stand right next to the music stand where I had my Notetaker with the words. As I said at the beginning, I don’t consider myself a singer, and Phil is constantly telling me that I really need to sing more. With all of the messages about courage and hearing the call, it was obvious I was supposed to sing. I stumbled once, because my Braille display jumped a line. I recovered well and had a good finish. I sang while the baskets were being passed for financial donations — the last part of the conference. I sang “Pass It on” — a song which always seems to pop up in important moments of my life. I first heard it sung by the blind friend who sang for our wedding. I was probably seven, and she was fifteen. She has since gone to God, but her talents were very similar to my own. We didn’t get along well in school, because we were often pitted against each other. Later the friendship ran very deep. I think the most beautiful thing about the song is that very few people were aware it was me singing. It wasn’t a performance, because I was actually in the backstage area. It was just my voice coming through, and while the basket was past, candles were being lit from one another. Deacon Tom and the others who knew it was me were very complimentary. One man said he hadn’t heard it sung that well since someone sang it at his wedding.

My metro driver got me over to church in plenty of time to put the hymns and readings together. I have no idea why we didn’t have Mass at Fire of Hope. But I think I know why I was supposed to attend Mass at Incarnation. I didn’t play piano this weekend, so I was out in the congregation. I heard Spanish speakers setting up something, but I didn’t know what it was. Before Mass started, Father explained that in Mexico, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul is a much bigger deal and is celebrated for days before the actual feast day on the 25th. One means of celebration is to have a huge procession, and it really was huge! It was the first time I can remember seeing more Spanish speakers than English Speakers at the Mass. And this wasn’t a quiet procession. They had drums, something that sounded like a piccolo and lots of shakers. A couple times I felt something hit my forehead or hair and reached up to feel feathers on the clothing they wore. Zane was interested in the kids, and the kids were interested in Zane! Even though much of the Mass was in Spanish, and I didn’t understand the homily, Mass really felt like the celebration it is supposed to be. There were people every where, and English speakers like me leaned in to try to get the melody if not some of the words to the Spanish songs sung. Usually there’s no one around during the sign of piece when I sit in my usual seat. Today they came from all over! Communion wasn’t the usual solemn affair. I could really hear the joy as people went up to receive. I could only participate in a limited fashion, but that was OK, because I was surrounded!

Father warned that the ending procession would take those who chose to do it around the block to the former-school across the street for food and dancing. Zane had a big day, and as much as I was tempted to try this, I also knew we really needed to get home. Zane did his work willingly and followed a ton of different people all over the place. The sand /salt on the sidewalks irritated his feet, and when we were outside, we had to stop to brush it off. The bus wasn’t too far away, and Zane guided me swiftly into our backyard.

A girlfriend of mine called, and we hadn’t talked for a while. She was the only Catholic woman I decided not to approach about this conference, because I just didn’t want to offend her if she wasn’t receptive. It turns out she would have loved to go, and next year, I will be at this conference with at least one other girlfriend — if not a couple if Michele and I stay in touch as I hope.

Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
E-Mail: rebeccak
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes

centered on Yesterday’s MLK concert

Some of the first part of this message may not seem to be related to yesterday’s concert, but I promise that it will eventually show itself to be. Twitter has done a lot of things for me. Last spring when Phil was so sick, I acquired Kirk Franklin albums. I’d been following contemporary Christian artists’ music for many years, but in those awful days, I needed the same messages with a little more punch and directness. I love R&B, so this music felt like a very natural extension of my tastes. Then I got on Twitter, and following Kirk Franklin and a few others lead me to hear others in this genre that I’m going to call Black Gospel to distinguish it from the Southern Gospel Country sound. Following all of these people lead me to hear about their award ceremony called the Stellar Awards, which took place this weekend in Nashville. It’s the Doves of Contemporary Christian music or the Black Gospel Grammies.

You all know how much Phil and I have been looking forward to the musical group Committed at the concert. When I got their album this fall, I had a hard time placing their genre, but given the clean nature of their songs and the number of them about God, I decided they’d go along side their mentor Take Six in the Men’s group category of my Black Gospel section. Of course, I began following Committed and its various members on Twitter. I saw how one of them developed a cold last week and didn’t want to come to Minneapolis having to perform with it. Then as the weekend got closer, several of them (being from the south) worried about how cold the weather would be here. One in what I hope was a half joke tweeted to another something like, “get the money. Get the money.” We did have some pretty awful temps here late in the week, but by the weekend, it was mild again. We got a dusting of snow Saturday night, and as they touched down, this and the cold were a shock to their systems. Some of them used humor, but others seemed a little put-off. Then later that night and the next morning — the day of the concert –, a couple retweeted comments from their friends at the Stellars. these Committed members wrote back to their friends wishing they were there. They also continued to talk about Minnesota weather. It was a beautiful, sunny day and around 30 degrees. I certainly didn’t blame them for wanting to be with their friends, but some of the comments felt perilously close to saying they really didn’t want to do this gig. This concert wasn’t outdoors at the St. Paul Winter Carnival also happening this weekend. Some events for that had to be canceled, because there wasn’t enough snow. We were in a warm auditorium, and I’m sure they had transportation from the hotel to the venue. It made me sad that it seemed they really didn’t want to do this. I took time off from the Malt shop — something I’ve only done one other time for a concern other than weather/lack of business since I started five years ago. I have gone when I really should have stayed home because I was sick. I consider that my job and try to be dedicated to it.

As the lights dimmed for the first part of the concert, a video of Martin Luther King was presented. I learned that he spoke at the University of Minnesota in 1967, and they showed excerpts of this speech — often called “the lost speech” because until yesterday, footage from it hadn’t been widely seen. Then a young male poet did a dramatic reading which was pretty affective. Then after a few announcements from the MC, a local group put together by a professor did a few songs. the bass player used to play with Steve Miller and was quite good. The keyboardist was one of the Steel siblings who are a well-known local African-American musical family, and he was awesome. The female singer named Tonya hues was quite good. I wasn’t very impressed with the guitarist, as he didn’t tune his guitar well or try to fix it when it was obviously out of tune. The male singer and drummer were OK. This isn’t to say their portion wasn’t affective. I learned that the biggest lynching ever took place in Mankato, and they sang a song about a racial incident which happened in Duluth. the last song they sang was written by a seventh grade class, called “I Don’t Believe in Violence”. the audience clapped throughout their set, but we were encouraged to sing the refrain.

When the second half commenced, it was instantly apparent that the majority of the crowd were like Phil and me who came because of Committed being there.
People who had been quiet in the first half started screaming, and yes I was one! The cold made its appearance very occasionally during the show. I sympathized, because I know It’s hard to sing with throat hurting and ears plugged. there was one voice crack, and a couple times when pitch was slightly off. But the professional part was that it was always and very quickly corrected. I noticed, because I’m a really picky listener, but I doubt very many others did. I suspect it was the cold rearing it’s head. They did gospel songs and a Michael Jackson song — always worth points in my book. They did love songs, patriotic songs, and old R&B classics — also among my favorites. there is a Stevie Wonder cover called “As”on their CD that both Phil and I hoped they would do. Because Stevie Wonder was so instrumental in getting Martin Luther King Day started, I was sure they’d do it as an encore bringing on the other group to support them. Alas, there was no encore or “As”. In retrospect, even with their powerful miking, I know they had to do some serious overdubs in the studio to cover all of the facets during the song’s climax. The no encore thing was kind of startling. For those who don’t know, many musicians act like it’s the end and say goodnight. Then if the crowd is really into it (as they normally are), they stand and scream until the musicians come back for at least one more. We stood and screamed, but the lights came up and the music loop came on truly signaling the end. So I just wasn’t quite ready for the quick goodbye.

Then because of a series of circumstances –partially of my own making — I didn’t meet any of them, and I could kick myself. They had merchandise but I already had their music. Autographs don’t mean a lot to me, and neither do posters. I thought I’d seem awfully cheap going up and talking to them without evidence that I had purchased anything for an autograph. Phil told me I should have done it anyway, and other fans probably did. Members and I have had small conversations on Twitter, and maybe they would have remembered me from them or afterward when they would see my name. I told a couple that we would be the ones with the dogs, assuming I’d go talk to them. But then the lack of purchase thing made me feel like I would be wasting their time. that was the part of my own making. The other part was that Phil and I got separated. I didn’t want to worry him, and it was really crowded and confusing in there. The dogs in their various ways did a great job getting us out of there. Phil and Garron move faster, and Garron is a little more forceful about getting Phil through crowds. Zane and I tend to wait until there is a parting, while Phil and Garron naturally create partings. Also Phil had a better idea where the stairs were from the theater than I did. We met up at the bottom of the stairs, and someone led us to some chairs to wait for our cab. Then Zane started making his anxiety whines, and some of them were stopped after a trip to the little puppy’s room.

I can’t end my account without discussing our cab ride to our favorite Mexican Restaurant for dinner. I set-up the ride in advance, so they knew we were a blind couple with Seeing Eye dogs. But the driver acted all surprised and had to move some stuff in his back seat for both of us to get into the van. Phil and Garron went to the back seat, and Zane and I sat in the middle seat. The driver asked me to please watch my dog’s mouth. -Either the driver was afraid of dogs, Zane’s muzzle wasn’t to touch him, because his religion says he has to wash seven times, as dogs are considered unclean, or both. With Zane being a curious, friendly Labrador who wants to look at and sniff everything, monitoring his muzzle is a three quarter time job, and it certainly doesn’t make the cab ride comfortable for either of us. Zane senses my tension and doesn’t understand its source. I was the one with the cash, so I had to dig for that with one hand and monitor Zane with the other. After what we’d just experienced, I understood that we weren’t being lynched, and at least we got a ride. Being required to do These acrobatics still felt discriminatory to me.

Even though I didn’t get to meet Committed members in person, there are a couple I will know by voice — particularly the bass Jeston. It made me feel better that Jeston seemed positive all the way through. He really enjoyed being here, and he commented on liking the Old Spaghetti Factory — a restaurant where Phil and I ate our sixth anniversary meal. A couple of others commented about how cold it was going to get and said they were thankful to be leaving just in time. Jeston seemed a little sorry to leave. I joked with the others that the upcoming temps are when we start complaining and to get warm for us. The only thing Jeston wished was that there was a TV in the green room. These guys and many other people I follow are serious football fans. I don’t enjoy watching football, but I have to admit that I sort of enjoy reading there enjoyment of a game. With tweets, you have to put it in to words. When I’m with actual fans, they’re screaming so much they can’t tell me what happened until they calm down.
I want to make one thing clear about Twitter. Even though I was sad that some of the men seemed not to want to be here, there was a part of me that was thankful Twitter allowed me to see their honest feelings. A show is scripted to some extent, so having some behind the scenes glimpses was really helpful. I understood a lot better what they were really saying after their opening number. One said they were happy to be in front of us. I admired that they didn’t try to come out with what might have been a lie — that they were happy to be here. The tweets about the cold made me cut them a little slack and admire their performance even more.

I hope Committed comes back in one of the other three seasons, because I truly think they’ll appreciate Minneapolis more then. I know how much blind people across the nation enjoyed being here for the 2007 ACB convention, and Minneapolis really can be a fun place!
Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes

one of life’s little sweet spots

If I’m serious about going for coffee downtown tomorrow morning with members and friends of ACBM, I should be in bed, but we’ll see how the weather is and how tired I am. this week has been a really good week in so many ways. I’m a little afraid that this post is going to sound materialistic, because so many things have come which have made life easier for both Phil and me. It started with our new machine called a Keurig. I can now offer someone a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, cider, or tea without having to make a whole pot of any of it. This machine brews a cup at a time using cylinders called K-cups. Not making a pot means no accidentally putting in more than one filter and making a huge mess of coffee grounds and water. I’ve watched Phil do that and have been hesitant about trying it. If he does that, with my clumsiness, I’d do it too. It also means not pouring into the pot or hot liquid into the cup. Phil’s gotten one for work to keep from spilling with his tremors. I don’t even need tremors to spill it. Not making a full pot also means everyone can choose their own beverage. We’re also told it makes great iced tea in the summer.

I was worried about Phil’s fluid restrictions. But I guess not having to watch them as closely is probably the only plus to the chronic diarrhea he’s had. He’s been to the GI specialist, was tested for a bacteria, and is right on the boarder. No one has bothered to call to tell him what to do next. But he hasn’t exactly been proactive about calling them either.

On Friday, the stereo speakers Phil surprised me with came, and they were up by that Friday night. On Saturday, Phil thought one seemed not to work. But by Sunday night, he and our friend Dwight had all of them working.

I got a surprise spinning light with different colored lenses from my parents. That’s on the piano and will be fun when I start playing. Music is slowly coming. That same day, my repaired light arrived. It was minus a couple buttons, but they are on their way. The sound sensitivity with the new speakers is awesome, and I’ve found a new color program I didn’t experience before the light broke. It goes through a cycle of every possible combination of the colors red, green, blue, white, and amber.

This is going to sound very weird, but I’m excited about getting new socks. I don’t know about anyone else, but I haven’t been able to find substantial, comfortable socks in places like Target. We’ve discovered that Amazon has stuff I never would have thought they did. We get everything from dish soap to bird seed from there. Phil had good experiences with Wigwam socks, so he found them in my Women’s shoe size and got me some. He is such a great Amazon shopper. The only thing I’m consistently great at buying from Amazon is MP3 albums. And when I see the credit card bill, I suddenly think I should probably try to flunk at that.

Despite the health news I shared earlier, Phil is actually in fairly good spirits. We’ve had our first cold snap the last couple days, so tonight we ordered Chinese for supper and lunch tomorrow. Then we played a game of yatzee and a game of Uno in front of the fire with my light going. Maybe I’m in good spirits, because I won both. Or maybe it’s the strawberry Scentsy fragrance in the air.

I think another reason is that I have things I am looking forward to doing. I took the day off at the Malt Shop this Sunday night and am doing next Thursday instead. The male a cappella group Committed is a part of a free Martin Luther King Concert on Sunday night. Committed won the second season of The Sing-Off — the show which caused us to finally get a working TV antenna. Reception is pretty good, but Phil plans to do some more work this weekend to fine-tune the antenna.

I just learned yesterday there is a conference for Catholic women next weekend called Fire of Hope in Downtown Minneapolis. The coordinators are giving away free tickets, and it turns out the person playing the music for the Mass had to back out because of a family emergency. Guess who volunteered to play? I understand some pretty well-known speakers are going to be there, and I see it as such a good opportunity in so many ways.

The week after that is our first book club meeting with an actual book discussion. I’ve read the book and am excited about that.

I’m in the final stages of deciding whether to have a Scentsy party at the end of this month. If I don’t do it in January, it definitely will happen in the next few months. Anyone who is interested in coming, please drop me a line.
Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
E-Mail: rebeccak
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes

a feast for the senses

All of us indulge during the Christmas season, but some of our Christmas is coming a little later. When everything is done, we’ll have a feast of all the senses. You’ve read about my light, so that’s the visual sense. I think I also mentioned a friend gave a Scentsy warmer and some scent bars to start. We’re still enjoying that, and right now the vanilla and sweetness of a scent called Quiver is combining beautifully with Phil’s wonderful dinner. He rub some chicken thighs in garlic, thyme, basil and other spices. He cooked it and added mixed vegetables including asparagus and water chestnuts, almonds, pasta shells, and choumaine noodles. We both agreed it was delicious, and I love that Quiver is blending with the scent still in the room, despite all dishes having been run through the dishwasher. Then you’ve read about the new speakers Phil surprised me by ordering last week. That covers sound.

Despite Phil having slept all day on Friday, when he found out the humidifier had arrived, he immediately set it up. I wasn’t sure how much it would really make a difference, but I am noticing less itching for humans and dogs, my skin is softer, I seem to get less cold when near it,and it’s easier to breathe. Maybe we’ll even avoid some of the electric shock which seems to plague us each winter.

But Phil had one more surprise in store. He has felt better over the last days, and Saturday night we went to our favorite Mexican Restaurant for supper. We were discussing how His father received a Keurig brewer for Christmas. Since Phil’s mom has moved to the care center, he only needs one cup of coffee in the morning and waists the rest of the pot. Although that’s not our issue, we decided there could be other advantages. Hearing this brought back the echoes of how much one of my friends named Jane (whom I visited last summer) loves hers and the accompanying K Cups. We don’t drink a lot of coffee, although we enjoy it when we do. I have a little hang up about making a pot of coffee, so I don’t offer it to guests. I’ve seen experience coffee maker Phil more than once accidentally have two filters stick together and have coffee and water spew all over the place. My mother has always said that in order to be a good cook, you have to be ready to make a big mess. I really hate big messes! Phil and I also like different flavors at various times, and although we can pour using a device called a Say When to tell when we’ve reached the top of the cup (better than the burn the finger method) there’s always the chance we’ll miss either when pouring in the cup or in the pot itself. Often we use the pot to get hot water, and it takes ten minutes. I had no idea of the variety of flavors one could get in coffee, tea, cider, and chocolate. We can still use the tea and cocoa mix we have just getting some hot water in our mugs by not using a k cup. No matter what we do, we’ve learned average brew time is a minute. We were both surprised at the number of brewers out there, and some of them had digital menus. Jane gave us the brand she loves, and it has two buttons to distinguish between eight and ten ounces. one is on the way. Phil is already organizing the counter where it will be placed with four dispensers for our choices of cider, chocolate, coffee and tea. the brewer also comes with a variety pack. Phil has also rearranged the freezer, so our ice trays can be available for ice. Apparently, making iced coffee and tea isn’t that difficult given plenty of ice to cool it quickly.

Although normality sets in when Phil goes to work and dialysis, we’re hoping these fun things will help us escape the winter blues.
Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
E-Mail: rebeccak
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes

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