Refreshers Are Always Good
By Dave Walle
(Editor’s Note: Dave is an active member of our Rochester Chapter.)
Have you ever wanted to refresh or renew some aspect of your life? Perhaps it was the desire to go back to school to change careers or advance your current career; maybe you wanted to take up a new hobby to fulfill the dream of building something that would both give you great pleasure and help someone else. And you may have listened to a radio or TV ad that advertised some type of training that would facilitate the expansion of a particular area of your life activities to spur you on in having a greater amount of energy or a more positive appreciation of the things and people around you. Refreshment and renewal in our lives — no matter what area of life is considered or what the cost in time and money may be — is always a tremendous way of improving and enhancing the quality of our experiences and relationships. Well, I am in the mode of having a sort of “refresher course,” as I am in the process of losing hearing, which has gone on for the past four years. Since losing one’s hearing usually means revisiting how one accomplishes activities of daily living as one who is also blind and has been so since birth, I have undertaken a review of technology skills — a two-and-one-half-month course that has helped me solidify my computer skills as well as learn the new skills of using my iPhone and the Focus 14 Braille Display that is used with this iOS device and other similar iOS devices. In this training, I also have learned to use the Focus 40 Braille Display with my HP laptop computer. While all this refresher training has given me better facility with the computer and has provided a new avenue of communication through the newly-acquired knowledge and skills to access my iPhone and other iOS devices, I wish to share just a little of what I have been exposed to years ago — but through the lapse of time and just not doing enough of it to stay skilled and confident — I arranged to include this activity in my refresher updates. You ask, “And what was this activity that you haven’t done for so long that you lacked skill and confidence?” I’m glad you asked; it’s cooking.
When I first went to the Iowa Commission for the Blind Orientation Center (now the Iowa Department for the Blind) in September, 1967, I had cooking as part of the home management curriculum. Then, through my nine months of training there, I worked on a little of everything related to cooking — from the preparation of various types of foods to serving and presentation at the table to buying food and setting up a household budget toward the end of my nine-month stay. It was strongly suggested by the Home Management Instructor that students at the center live in an apartment for a short period of time, and since the Home Management Department became an apartment after classes were over for the day, I had my turn to live in the apartment for almost a month as one of the final experiences of my training While living there evenings and weekends, I was responsible for preparing my meals, keeping the apartment clean and neat, and getting it ready to become a classroom facility each morning and at the close of each weekend. That apartment living experience gave me the assurance that I could carry out the necessary activities of living independently in this way, and it prepared me for all the apartment living I did years later when I was on my own.
While I carried out light cooking in the places I lived during my years of teaching and during my seminary internships preparing for the ministry, it was not the same as when I was going through the Orientation Center. I had learned when I got married how to use a microwave oven, but that approach to preparing food wasn’t quite the same as using ingredients such as raw meats and vegetables to cook on the stove or outside on the grill. Using the microwave was (and still is) a handy approach for a blind person to prepare foods designed for that device, and it certainly can save time when one is living alone as I did before I was married, but it doesn’t substitute for all the healthy ways one can and should prepare food when a wholesome, nutritious meal is desired.
Since cooking is part of my current refresher rehabilitation, I am truly engaging some cooking that I’ve been exposed to in the early years, but I’m also learning some new tools and techniques that I haven’t used at all beforehand. Jan Bailey, as a cooking instructor with a contract through State Services for the Blind (SSB), has skillfully demonstrated for me that I must depend on my touch and not be afraid to get my hands into the ingredients to determine how the process of cooking is coming along. Jan has shown me with each cooking session that a blind person (and especially a blind person who is losing hearing) must be able to touch the cooking pan lightly, for instance, to tell when the hamburger or other types of meat is getting brown or fully and properly prepared. In several lessons, I learned how to use a tool called the Rotato, an electronic gadget that peels potatoes and apples. The difficulty with using this particular tool is to get the two specific parts engaged in cutting the potatoes and apples straight into one side so that the Rotato can appropriately peel away the top layer that one wants to get out of the potato or apple. Then, with the right amount of layers peeled away, there comes afterward the peeling by hand of additional skin that the Rotato couldn’t peel away. After getting everything necessary peeled from the potato or apple, one can slice the foods into small pieces. With the apple, the goal was to place the fruit into the apple pie mixture for baking. With the potato, the goal was to get it sliced and seasoned so that it could be mashed to be cooked as part of a meal called Bangers and Mash, mashed potatoes and sausage, a British dish that has become quite popular over here in the United States as a menu item in many restaurants. My wife Ellen and I enjoyed the bangers and mash meal very much. With the apples in question I was describing as part of my training to use the Rotato, I made a Dutch apple pie, and I made a dessert called Coleen’s Apple Bottom Spice Cake.
In addition to the inside cooking I have been working on, there has been some exposure to grilling outdoors as well. The first time I attempted grilling hamburgers with vegetable packets, it was very apparent that I was having trouble turning the burgers over in a reasonable amount of time and with ease. So, with both Jan and Ellen seeing this difficulty throughout the entire process, it was suggested that I get a type of meat holder that would make turning over hamburgers and other types of meats on the grill more successfully. With hamburgers, I can place four patties on the rack at once, thus making the process of turning them over a more continuous and steady action, without getting my hands too close to the flames on the grill. Regarding the vegetable packets, consisting of potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and red peppers, I have learned to place the packets on the grill beside where the burgers will go. With respect to preparing the vegetable packets, I have learned the art of folding and tucking the corners of the packets in tightly so that the vegetables will retain their natural juices in the process of grilling. The vegetable packets and hamburger meal has become a favorite for both my wife and me.
An important observation one can make concerning learning to cook as a blind individual is that one’s own home is certainly a positive and healthy environment in which to gain facility and confidence. And while it may have been many years since I have cooked independently, it is truly a refreshing reality to be able to now take part in the regular ongoing meal preparation along with my wife. Although hearing loss is the primary reason I have undertaken some training in the important skills of blindness and deaf-blindness, cooking is now — and hopefully will always be — a skill that enables me as a blind person to share the important responsibilities within my marriage, my home, and my entire life experiences — especially while I have my life, my health, and my independence intact. Yes, refreshers can always be good, particularly when they improve life skills and enhance the quality of life in ways beyond one’s imagination.