Do it.

Can’t see it? Just do it. Stuff for the blind and everyone else.

how to handle stress

It’s the beginning of November, and that means the holidays are right around the corner. And that means draining your bank account to buy unappreciated gifts for your significant other, your children, your great uncle, your neighbor, your coworker, your boss, your pets…Then there’s the long hours (days?) of holiday cooking only to result in a dry turkey that nobody touches. And then there’s the stress of feeling your gut oozing out over your waistline and then the dilemma of trying to finish that dry turkey yourself since you hate wasting food, which leads back to the muffin-top issues. Sigh. The insanity. The stress.
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accessible app: our groceries helps the blind (and the sighted) make shopping lists easily and efficiently

Whew. Talk about a long-winded headline. But lately, I’ve had lots of energy. Not only did Pop-up Episode 1 at MKT BAR go off without a hitch (more on that soon—I’ll have a surprise for you in that regard), I’ve been [sort of] relaxing lately with some down time before the culinary adventures begin again.

I’ve been sleeping better than I have in years, trying to eat a little healthier, and working out a little more than usual (which, sadly enough, isn’t much). But I’m feeling good. I have a few weeks to shed the apron for the pen; with a personal essay and short story on my revision desk, not to mention that pesky memoir I haven’t touched since my thesis defense, I’m welcoming a change of pace in my daily routine. But what I’m looking forward to the most is being able to wear pajamas, no make-up, and bed-head every day.

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first ever guest blogger: meet jon m

This week, I have a guest blogger (my first one ever, so be kind). Meet Jon. He reached out to me after learning about me on “MasterChef.”. Jon is a photographer. Read on to find out what makes Jon’s story so intriguing.

Hi, I’m Jon. Like many, I have been inspired by Christine to achieve my Dreams.

I have 2 things in common with Christine. First, I am a creative person; I couldn’t cook to save my life, but I can paint, draw, and take great photos. Second, I have temporary blindness—I’m currently legally blind in my left eye from a secondary Cataract, and am fighting permanent blindness from Glaucoma.

My story began when I was just 19 months old and was Diagnosed as one of the youngest cases of Junior Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). This was well treated during my youth and went into remission. Meanwhile, I was showing a lot of promise as an artist; my grandmother and father both taught me how to paint and draw. Growing up, I was always known as the artist.

In junior High, the JRA struck hard and fast, almost crippling me. I was quickly treated before it could cause permanent damage. With medicine like Celebrex, and Enbrel, I was able to suppress it and live a normal life.

At 16, I noticed some blurriness in my right eye. It turned out to be Uveitis (arthritis/inflammation in the eye caused by my JRA). the treatment of this disease is what ended up causing my Cataracts and Glaucoma a few years later. During this time, I had honed my craft and was able to draw pictures with such detail that people often mistook them for photos. I won competitions and was accepted as a Sophomore in High School to a prestigious Art School in Brooklyn.

But I decided to go to college in Idaho for business. After just a semester, I was pulled out because I had full-blown Glaucoma in my right eye and had lost 75% of my optic nerves life. I spent the next few years in surgery and recovery. That was when I reevaluated my life and realized there are no guarantees for tomorrow. I then spent my early 20s soaking up life: traveling, skiing, hiking, spending time with my friends at their colleges—getting the most out of life that I possibly could. This was hands down one of the 2 best decisions I have made. I still live my life with this mindset and love it.

Three years ago, I made the other best decision of my life: I started my photography business. I jumped in head first, bought a professional camera and lens setup, and immediately started building my portfolio. It was a few years before I learned how to be a professional in the industry, all the while losing vision in my right eye to the point where I couldn’t see any definition through my viewfinder. I would use my left eye to see the shot and try to frame the composition with my right eye. Amazingly I did some great work during that time. I was able to get the blurriness cleared up, thanks to my great doctors and new technologies.

I am now becoming one of the best photographers in the area, and I’m working towards national recognition. God gave me challenges and shortcomings, but two things He gave me in abundance are Aspiration and Drive. I spend every day studying and teaching myself how to become better. I want to be recognized as one of the best photographers in the world, and won’t settle until that happens. Watching Christine take on a challenge that seemed insurmountable, and not only do well, but excel and ultimately win was all the affirmation and inspiration I could ever ask for. It just goes to show that your limits only reside in your mind. Knowing this has amplified my determination and growth. I have seen a great deal of personal and professional success since being inspired by her on “MasterChef.” Knowing that I am capable of becoming the best has torn down the walls that were once limiting me. I just turned 30 a few weeks ago and am looking forward to my future.

Thanks, Jon, for sharing your story. And you all thought I was nuts for being a Blind Cook, huh? Check out Jon’s work at Jon M Photography, and show him some blind love.

baseball for the blind

We’re deep in the season of baseball. Who said blindness has to stop you from playing America’s most beloved sport? Check out this video clip about the Long Island Bombers, a baseball team for the blind. And I thought I was brave, being on ”MasterChef” and snowboarding. But I would still be scared out of my mind to hear balls flying at my face. ;)

india creates world’s first braille phone

Yeah, yeah…so this is old news. But I’ve only recently begun clearing out my inbox, and the hubster had sent this article about the world’s first Braille phone, but I’d only read it recently. The functionality is very similar to how a Braille display works. I’m not sure fedex generic viagra how competitive this device will be against such innovative Apple iPhones, but it’s nice to see advancement in technology for the visually impaired. Now if only they could make a plane where the cockpit controls are all in Braille so we could become pilots. Just kidding. Or am I?

writing a new york times bestseller: check

Last Wednesday, I got an email from the communications director at Rodale (my cookbook publisher) stating that my very first book I’d ever published, Recipes from My Home Kitchen, was going to debut at #12 on the New York Times best sellers list for the week of July 14th under the Advice/How To/Misc. category. I was so incredibly stoked. I was in the car with my girlfriend on our way to a happy hour for a friend’s birthday.

“I’m not going to drink to her birthday,” I’d said. “I’m drinking to my making it to the NY Times best sellers list!”
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I thought getting into University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program and graduating with my MFA was an awesome feeling. Winning the title of MasterChef last year was superb. But I have to put being a NYT best selling author on to that same list if not at the top of it all. It was seriously yet another dream come true. Now to work on getting that Pulitzer…and then the Nobel…

Speaking of my cookbook, many of you have been asking since its release back in May, “Can I send my book to you for you to sign it?”

I’ve always had to turn down these requests because I simply, as a one-woman (with an occasional half or two) show, did not have the capacity to receive, sign, and ship back books. If I said yes to one person, I’d feel obligated to say yes to them all, and with all my traveling and workload, I just couldn’t do it. I felt bad because I don’t like disappointing people.

And then my local Houston book signing at Brazos Bookstore came and went. And then because I support Brazos for their long-lasting relationship with our graduate program, I decided to suggest they carry signed copies of my cookbook. It was a win-win situation: Brazos gets to be the exclusive store carrying signed copies of my cookbook which obviously leads to more sales for them, the fans get what they want, and I am happy to please everyone.

Ask, and you shall receive. Buy signed copies of my cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen, from Brazos Bookstore. As always, thank you so much for your love and support. xoxo

garlic, anchovies, cilantro: why i got it, what it means, and how it went

As soon as I’d finished taping the third season of “MasterChef” last year, I immediately knew I wanted to commemorate the whole experience with a tattoo. I recently unveiled a photo of my tattoo to the public via my Twitter and Facebook page, and many fans loved it, a few hated it, some wondered why I got such a huge tattoo for it being my first.

The truth is, it is not my first tattoo. My first tattoo was a Chinese character meaning “luck” which my good friend in high school paid for on my eighteenth birthday. Not because he wanted to give me something special, mind you, but because he thought it’d be worth paying $60 to see me cry out of pain. Unfortunately for him, I was smiling through most of it and even said I kind of liked the pain. In the end, he was left $60 lighter in the pocket and glumly disappointed by my non-tears.

While that tattoo was my first, it was indeed small (about the size of a half dollar). Fifteen years had passed since I was initiated into the inked club, and there were occasions when I wanted to get additional tattoos. My cousin and I were thinking of getting our last names tattooed on us in a Chinese character. But there really wasn’t anything outstanding or outlandish enough in my life for me to go get another one. I really didn’t think I’d be going under the needle ever again.

And then the show happened. And I became the MasterChef in the U.S. For 2012. And to be honest, even if I hadn’t taken home the title, I’d probably still get a tattoo simply because it was a life-changing experience. Tattoos, I believe, are not to be taken lightly. They’re permanent, for one. So it better not be something you’ll regret ten years down the road when your buddy asks you, “What’s the story behind the Hello Kitty on your bicep?” (Not to knock Hello Kitty—I think she’s cute. I just wouldn’t get her tattooed on me.)

So, yes, “MasterChef” was a life-changer. And as we wrapped filming, in the last couple of days we were all in L.A. Together, I was bouncing ideas off the others, asking whether: (a) I should get a tattoo, and (b) what should it even be of? Stacey, of course, gave me a resounding YES. And that it should be of the MC logo. (She ended up getting this tattoo herself.) Felix and Cindy said yes. Some said no way. And then there were two that said yes, but not of the logo. Which made me think and eventually agree.

So what should I get? After much thought, I decided to get a tattoo of a few of my favorite ingredients: garlic, anchovies (which represent fish sauce), and cilantro. In addition to being some of my favorite things to eat and with which to cook, they were food items I used quite frequently during the many MC challenges and thus served me well.

I also love the aesthetics of Japanese art and so knew I wanted these three key ingredients flowing together in some sort of Japanese print. How it would look exactly and how it would flow together would be left up to the artist because I, for one, had not a clue.

Since this was going to be permanent, I wanted to find a tattoo artist who was highly skilled with Japanese art. I considered flying to L.A. (Where there is a larger Japanese population than in Houston) to get it done. I even thought about waiting until my Japan trip to get it done overseas by a true Japanese artist. But everyone told me what I was thinking of getting would take multiple sessions, and in the end, I simply did not find it practical to take multiple trips on a plane to get a tattoo—it was already going to be expensive; I didn’t need to add several hundred bucks on top of that.

With the help of a few people I trust, I went from reputable studio to studio in Houston inquiring about the artists whom I’d heard could do Japanese art. I ended up choosing an artist named Tracy from Scorpion Studios in Houston. He was referred to me by John’s coworker, and after perusing his portfolio, my friend agreed he would be good for the job. As with most superb artists, Tracy was booked for months in advance (which I took as a good sign), and I had to write this strange email to him explaining to him that I was a contestant on a TV show and wanted to get my tattoo done before the series ended on TV, and that I wanted him to incorporate garlic, anchovies, and cilantro into a Japanese print.

Sure enough, it was the strangest request he’s had in a while, but being the amazing artist that he is, he came up with this tattoo which he freehanded on my back.

It is much larger than I’d originally wanted or anticipated, taking up a good portion of my lower right backside (instead of the 4”x6” I asked for). But Tracy said for the details and coloring I wanted, the tattoo would only look good if it was much larger. And so I acquiesced, figuring that I should leave the artist to his devices. After all, I know how irritating it can be to have someone come into my kitchen and telling me how to chop the onion.

“You pick the artist according to his skills and what you’ve seen of his work, and then you just have to let the artist create,” John told me. And this is true. And so that’s what I did.

I know I can’t see my tattoo, but I’ve been told by many people that it’s skillfully done and very unique. I guess even if it was terrible, it’s on a place on my body that is easily hidden and, being blind, I’d never see it anyway. (!) But I’m extremely happy with it. I have to give Tracy props for being able to take three food ingredients and working them into a harmonious flow all the while imposing a Japanese print look to it. On top of this, the art would have to look good with the curvature of a backside. Let’s just say the man knew what he was doing.

Many wonder if it hurt. To be honest, there were some parts that were more uncomfortable (e.g. When the needle passed over my spine or ribs or if he was doing some shading and had to go over a certain spot time and time again). My skin definitely felt tender for days after a session, and the aftermath hurts more than the actual needle time. But for the most part, it was not bad at all, just like how I’d remembered it when I got my first. In fact (and I know I’m weird), I kind of liked the buzzing pain sometimes. Call me a masochist—I survived “MasterChef” after all. The tattoo was supposed to take three sessions but because (in Tracy’s words) “I took that shit pretty good,” he was able to finish the entire thing in only two sessions of about 2.5 hours each. Because I was so still and silent, he’d kept asking me if I was okay or about to pass out. But I was fine. In fact, I was either dozing off or reading a novel in Braille.

I will likely get another tattoo after I publish my memoir a year or two from now. That will be another momentous occasion in my life that I will want to capture in ink. I don’t know what I’d want yet, but I’m thinking some sort of literary quote in an aesthetically pleasing font. What do you think? Any suggestions? DO you have any tattoos? What are they of, and what are the significances?

what did 2012 mean to you?

The year is coming to a close. It’s been a wild 2012 for me, that’s for sure. And I’m sure 2012 has been a memorable year for many of you, too. Here is a 6-minute video documenting the events of 2012, and I’m happy and humbled to be a part of the momentous declaration. (Keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll catch a glimpse of me towards the end.) Thanks to Alphons who originally posted a link to this video on my MasterChef Facebook page.

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caution: blind boarder

I don’t know what’s come over me. The older I get, the more daring I become. Or maybe the courage came with the vision loss, an illogical need to overly compensate to feel “normal”—“everything you can do, I can do too.”

Whatever the motivation, it has driven me to skydive two years ago and ski last year. My most recent adventure involves strapping both my feet to a board and skidding down an icy mountain. That’s right, I tried snowboarding last month. A bunch of friends decided to take a trip to Breckenridge again, and again, I called the BOEC to schedule boarding lessons. I was surprised to find that boarding came more naturally to me than skiing. I was less miserable this time and could even say I had fun. I was psyched to be able to go down the green and connect my turns a little from toe to heel by the second day. My teacher insisted that I was better than a lot of sighted beginning boarders. I think the key was the no fear factor—because I couldn’t see how steep a slope was or where the obstacles were, I just had to go with it and fully trust my instructor. I also think I had great instructors who, obviously, are highly trained. Thanks, BOEC, for helping people of all abilities enjoy the outdoors.

Here is a video John got of me snowboarding down the green with Wendy, my instructor. I’m slow as hell, but hey, I can say I carved on my very first trip! I hope this video inspires you—know that you can really do anything if you put your mind to it. Happy New Year, everyone!

elly and franky: pug b.f.f.

I haven’t been one for posting about food lately. After my first round of routine Rituxan last month, my vision deteriorated slightly. We decided to wait to see if it improves after the second round of Rituxan, but unfortunately, it remained the same: mildly worse than baseline. Dr. Greenberg, my neurologist in Dallas, decided to move forward with high-dosage steroids with the hopes that they will return my eyesight. We had to go with the oral route since it was right around Christmastime, and getting in to an outpatient clinic for IV steroids would prove to be difficult. (A side note: why does it seem like all my health problems arise during such inconvenient times like holidays and natural disasters? I know I’m not alone in this, too.)

Perhaps the oral steroids would work out better financially for us anyway since we haven’t renewed my Cobra insurance coverage, and we haven’t been able to enroll in John’s insurance through his new company. Regardless, I hadn’t been on such a high dosage of steroids in so long that I’d forgotten all the weary side effects that come along with them: extreme itchiness, hot flashes, taste distortion (constant metallic taste in dry mouth), increased appetite, general discomfort and bloatedness, constipation, restlessness, and insomnia. I hate all of it except for maybe the restlessness but only because it helps me turn into some extraordinary productive machine; I’ve been cleaning out the closet and tidying up the house and thinking about the novel like there was no next hour in the day. John took a forlorn picture of me yesterday at 11 PM. I was in my pajamas in the closet buried underneath boxes of shoes and bags of clothes trying to figure out what to donate and what to re-stack neatly on the shelves. He threatened to post the photo on Facebook if I didn’t take a sleeping pill right then and try to rest.

Needless to say, despite what you’d think with the increased appetite and energy, I haven’t been in the mood to cook or eat much. In fact, I’ve been kind of moody with what we NMO patients call “‘roid rage” lately. That’s why it’s important to remind ourselves of the fun and funny things in life. Like these two pugs who triple as best friends and guide/VI client. John sent me this post the other day, and we immediately thought of Jenna, my NMO Diaries sister who owns a pug of her own, Marmaduke.

Elly is a blind pug from Wales who relies on her pug friend, Franky, to guide her around town. How cute is that? And so I leave you with this lasting impression of 2011. Remember what extraordinary blessings we have in this world despite our circumstances. With the right group of friends and support, we can survive anything, and we can survive it with a smile.

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