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Are You Ready for Some Football?

By Susie Stageberg
Contributing Writer

Autumn is a sort of bittersweet season: the heat of summer is gone, but winter is waiting in the wings. The lazy summer schedule gives way to the jam-packed autumn, school-year rhythm. The leaves fall and crackle delightfully under my feet, but I have to get up and go to work in the dark. There is, however, one autumn pleasure with no downside: football! Autumn weekends can be spent in a comfortable chair, a chosen beverage at hand, maybe a cozy blanket or a beloved pet for company, following the exploits of your favorite team. Weekdays can be spent wondering about the next opponent, perusing the latest injury report, and razzing your coworkers who follow teams not your own.

People are often astonished that I, a blind woman, enjoy football. First of all, conventional wisdom holds that women do not like football. Advertisers have swallowed this myth whole: commercials during football games are definitely aimed at men—beer, cars, insurance, and certain pharmaceuticals that only men use. The phrase “man up” is liberally sprinkled through these ads. I ignore them when possible.

And then there is the blindness thing: how can a blind person enjoy a televised football game? Or a radio broadcast, for that matter? Football is complex; it can be hard to follow all the different formations and strategies. It’s hard to understand.

I admit to being a bit smug when such talk comes up. I understand most of what goes on in a football game. I have a secret weapon: my dad.

My dad, an avid sportsman and sports fan, thought his daughters should understand football. On autumn Sundays our family watched the weekly televised game (there was only one in those days) together. One such Sunday afternoon my dad called me over and said, “Come here; I want to show you what’s going on on the field.” He took eleven pennies and lined them up on the tabletop: a row of seven in the front, a single penny in the second row, and a row of three behind the single one. “This one,” he said, indicating the lone penny in the second row, “is the quarterback. The center, this guy here,” (the middle penny in the first row) “passes, or snaps, the ball to the quarterback…”

And so it went. He ran plays using the pennies until I got the idea. Of course, football has evolved since those days. Now there are wishbone, shotgun, wildcat and pistol offensive formations, and nickel, dime, zone and 4-3 defenses. The ball is thrown, or passed, much more often, which brings about some pretty fancy formations and strategies. But based on that first lesson, 40-some years ago, I mostly understand what’s going on. And when I don’t, I ask one of my sons, or my husband. My husband and I cheer for rival NFL teams, so I’m careful not to ask too many questions when his team is playing against mine. (Mine won the most recent such contest.)

All this is to say that sometimes the solution to making something accessible isn’t high tech or expensive. My dad also took me to the hardware store and showed me wing nuts and drawer pulls and Phillips head screwdrivers. How fortunate I am to have been given all this information about the world. But on autumn weekends, I am most grateful that my dad had eleven pennies in his pocket.


A Tribute to my Slate and Stylus

By Susie Stageberg
Contributing Writer

There is a Braille device that never crashes, never needs new batteries, and can be used anywhere. It fits into most purses and many pockets. It accepts all sorts of paper. It’s quiet when in use. It works when the power goes off. It costs a fraction of the price of that fancy Braille notetaker. You can use it to write the great American novel, your grocery list or your mother-in-law’s phone number.

What is this marvel? It’s the lowly slate and stylus. The slate has no firmware to upgrade, no warranty to buy. It can be used by anybody after minimal training and practice.

The design of the humble Braille slate has undergone few changes since the first one I had, in the 1960’s. That slate went with me through junior high, high school and college. It helped me take class notes independently. I used it to write letters to Braille-reading friends, pass notes in class, and label countless household items. I wrote Braille with it on cardboard, notebook paper and sticky tape. When it finally gave up the ghost, got bent beyond usability, I bought a replacement—heavier, but essentially the same.

The Braille slate has an undeservedly bad reputation. It is viewed with horror by new Braille students; and some not so new. “It’s hard to use. You have to write backwards! It’s hard on my arm.” I would argue that the learning curve is much less than any other Braille-writing device. Your arm gets stronger. Your mind automatically turns the Braille around so you can write it correctly. There is no substitute for the ease and portability of a slate when you want to write something on a Post-It note or copy your mother’s recipe for pumpkin pie.

Slate users of the world, rise up and be heard. Whip out your slates and take notes at a meeting or during the sermon. And the next time your Braille notetaker’s hard drive crashes, don’t forget your trusty slate.

The Singing Season

By Susie Stageberg
Contributing Writer

It’s that time of year again: the nights are longer and cooler; Iowa and Iowa State square off for their annual football showdown; the kids are back at school. In the Stageberg household, singing season has begun.

My husband Paul and I sing in two choral groups: our church choir and a community-based chamber choir whose members must audition to get in. The church choir sings at least one piece every Sunday. The chamber choir gives at least two concerts per year, often more. All this adds up to a lot of music to be learned. Both these groups move at a pretty rapid pace, so there’s not a lot of time spent going over and over notes, which might allow me to learn my part by listening.

When I was 12 years old I began studying with a wonderful lady named Bettye Krolick, who taught me how to read Braille music notation. In fact, I was the first person she ever taught to read Braille music. Mrs. Krolick went on to become an internationally known expert on the subject, and she wrote at least one book on the Braille music code. Being able to read (and write) Braille music has made it possible for me to participate in both choirs along with the sighted singers. In fact, in the church choir I am the leader of my section. My responsibility as section leader is to know the music before the rehearsal so that the others can follow my lead.

There is a collection of Braille music housed at the Library of Congress inWashington. Occasionally, I have been able to borrow a copy of a piece I need to learn. Most of the time, though, I make my own. Paul dictates the music to me and I write it down using a Braille notetaker, a Perkins Brailler, or a slate and stylus. Over the years, Paul and I have developed a system of shortcuts; my notes make sense to me, but perhaps not to someone else. Since they only need to make sense to me, it works out well. Of course, “the great dictator” as we laughingly call Paul, has become a highly efficient communicator of the information on the page. We can transcribe the average Sunday morning anthem in under half an hour. My singing life would certainly be harder without him to dictate, but I imagine I’d find, and train, somebody else, just as I would train a sighted reader to read mail or other print documents. And once the piece is transcribed, it’s up to me to learn it and make music out of it.

Paul and I enjoy our singing life. It’s the main common interest we have outside of house and kids. The experience of making music with a group of people takes us away from the everyday, sometimes frustrating world of jobs and bills and groceries, and lets us have just a peek at Heaven.

Weeding Again

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

During three evenings this week, I headed out to pull weeds and some early crops from the east end of the garden. My first task was to weed the area west of the carrots and east of the green beans. The plants had grown tall enough to present two excellent marker rows, which made this task easier. The carrots have fine and ferny leaves, while the green beans have large leaves. In addition, beans were hanging from these plants. The only plants that would not be weeds between these rows were the vine crops. I was amazed at how short and spindly the vine crops are; then I remembered that I did not plant them until mid-June. So, perhaps they are all right anyway. The vine crops (cucumbers, squash and zucchini) have fuzzy leaves, and as they mature, their leaves will get larger. I worked from the north fence moving south, and by the time I was tired out, I had reached the south fence. In addition, along the south fence I had planted several voodoo lilies in late April. They have a stem as thick as my finger, and huge fan-shaped leaves.

The second evening I proceeded to the south fence and worked westward along the voodoo lilies until I found potato vines. They are standing proud and tall. Their thick, square stems and abundant leaves make them easy to find. Once I found potatoes, I began working northward with the potatoes on the west, and the beans on the east. My task was complete when I reached the portion of the fence that runs along the north side of the potatoes and the west side of the beans.

My third night’s weeding was also quite easy. During the first night, I pulled all of the spinach. It was done, beginning to “bolt” or sprout seed stems, and not very plentiful. On this third night, the carrots were on my west, and the fence along the east. I brought a bag, as I did pick lettuce as I moved northward, pulling all of the plants. Kohlrabe and beet plants presented their smooth leaves which are rather large. Their leaves are similar, except the kohlrabe are beginning to produce knobs near their roots. In a few weeks I will pull them, and Beth and I will enjoy these bulbs. I did not dig any beets to see how they are doing.

I must count the lettuce and spinach crops a success. We were the beneficiaries of many tasty salads. The cool and rainy weather in June prolonged their season.

To the east of the lettuce were the onions. Again, I must regard this crop as a failure. Not the right kind of soil, not enough light, and too many grassy weeds. There will be a few small onion bulbs I will dig, and I’ll fry them up for dinner. The sweet potato hill I planted near the south fence has simply disappeared–better luck next year.

The deer have been enjoying my garden again. The green beans have all been clipped off. Fortunately, they just ate all the tops off, so many of the beans are undisturbed. They must be picked this weekend. In addition to this, I am ready to plant a second crop of beans where the spinach once grew. The vine crops may encroach later, but I will direct their vines south and west, as by that time the potatoes will be ready to harvest, and the green beans will have given me their best.