All posts by Melissa Mcpherson

Melissa is a 31-year-old creative writer, quilter and photographer with Cerebral Palsy. She received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University in 2005. When she is not pursuing her creative endeavors, Melissa works as a part time Administrative Assistant at the University of Michigan. Melissa spent eight years working at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, where she developed and taught inclusive creative arts and writing classes for people with and without disabilities. She continues to mentor and advocate for people with disabilities through her blog: Disability and I do. She lives with her husband in Michigan.

My Favorite Shoes Got a Makover

Cliches are something that as a writer, I have always despised, both on the page and in real life. Unfortunately  cliches wouldn’t be cliche if they weren’t so dreadfully hard to avoid. As a human, I have to succum to many of the cliches that define my gender, age, race and class. Some of these were phases, like in college I smoked, I wore pajamas to class and I was usually at the bar on a Thursday. Others I managed to avoided for years until one day I realized that I had become one of those women.

Case in point. I love shoes. LOVE THEM. I never cared about shoes at all in high school or college, but back then I had believed that the only shoes I could wear as a person with a disability were the boring sneakers I wore with everything and the annoying, painful dress shoes I wore for special occasions. A few years ago however I realized two things, the first was that many shoes I assumed were not possible, like flats, actually worked fine; and the second was that as the human race gets lazier about laces, more shoes are becoming accessible.

I have had a love affair with Converse shoes for many years. I love them, the colors, the style, the comfort. I own two pair. One in mint green and one with wheelchairs on them. (The latter of which I will never give up. EVER!) However I rarely wear these

shoes because the are so hard to get on without help.

Well imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that converse now makes shoes with zippers! You can even customize your own pair for under $100 dollars at the converse website. While I have not gotten a pair yet (they are now on my decidedly short Christmas list) The double zipped on the sides seems like it would make it pretty easy to get these on and off and the back zipper, I know works because I have had other shoes with this feature.

I guess the next question should be, when are you too old for Converse? Certainly this discovery allows me at least a few more years, right?


Waiting for the Right Trend

I am not much for trends. But every once and a while a trend will come along that I like and I will quickly jump on board. Usually I stay long after everyone else has jumped ship; my Blackberry is a great example of this. However, I do not do trendy things for the sake of the trend. I think oversized glasses are silly and I had enough of eighties fashion in the eighties. That being said, I love when a trend works in my favor.

For years I couldn’t find a cute purse to save my life. This was because I wanted [needed] a long strap to wear cross-body, and long straps on purses were just not the “in thing” when I entered the purse needing phase of my life. I usually had two options: old lady style bags or giant messenger bags. Then the style Gods smiled upon me and suddenly cross-body bags became all the rage. Now I have a cute purse in almost every color. Later, the same thing happened with shoes. For years I was forced to wear sneakers year round because Mary Jane style shoes were the only summer/dress type shoe I could keep on my foot. Then, one day, everyone loved the Mary Jane style so much that the “z strap” was invented. Oh happy day!

The latest trend to come around is spill proof glassware for adults. I gotta say, this one was a long time coming. I have spent many years asking for a straw for my beer, crushing red solo cups into unrecognizable shapes and listening friends joke that I might need a sippy cup. Now, there are plenty of fun and stylish cups that come with lids and straws for (almost spill proof) drinking. I have many of these items and I use them for both recreational drinking and plain old daily hydration. But my favorite is the Mason jar. Being from country, drinking out of a Mason jar is no big thing, my sister even uses them as wine glasses; but someone decided to take it to another level by leaving on the lid and adding a straw.

These glasses are super cute, great for kids and adults, and an adorable idea for barbeques and weddings. If you’re like me, you might be thinking, why would I spent money on another mason jar when I have so many at home already? Fear not, there are lots of online tutorials that will show you how you can convert your mason jars into one of these cute glasses.

So yes, most trends I let pass by without a second thought, but others I wait years for. Sometimes you’re just so cool you have to wait for everyone else to catch up.


How My Wheelchair Gave Me Independence

When you have a disability, there are two types of assistive devices, those you need in order to function and those you want because they make life a little easier. The items that fall into ‘need’ vs ‘want’ kind of depends on your level of disability. Personally, I see nothing wrong with using both kinds of devices regularly. However, growing up I did feel a lot of pressure from my parents, therapists, and even strangers to only use what was absolutely needed, not what made things easier. This pressure seems to come from the belief that the fewer assistive devices you need, the more independent you will be. While this makes sense in theory, in practice nothing could be further from the truth.

Growing up I used crutches to get around; long distances, short distances, at school, where ever I went I was crutching it. For years my teachers had to excuse me from class early (with a friend in case I fell) in order for me to make it to the next class on time. I was always lagging behind other students, more often than not, by the

time I got somewhere my classmates were already moving on to the next destination. My closest friends developed a habit of walking slow; in fact, to this day one of my childhood friends still gets teased for being a slow poke.

Crutches were all I knew, so I never complained. I never asked my parents for a wheelchair because I didn’t know I could. I could walk; people that can walk don’t use wheelchairs. However, in high school my shoulders started to hurt from walking with crutches. My Physical Therapist thought it was tendinitis and suggested that I get

a wheelchair. My parents agreed to this recommendation, but on the condition that it be used only for school.

So in eleventh grade I got my first wheelchair. With this new mode of getting around I discovered two things; just because you don’t need something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, and that a wheelchair doesn’t mean less independence, it means more. With my wheelchair I was able to get to class on time, I had no more embarrassing falls, I didn’t have to sweat all day in tacky snow boots and I could carry my own lunch at school. Seeing how much more independence I gained from my wheelchair helped convince my parents to get me a power chair for college.

I have never experienced more independence than I did during those four years at college thanks to my power chair; I excelled both academically and socially. Sometimes it isn’t just about what you need; sometimes it’s about what is easier. I know there are people who see me walk out of my chair and probably wonder why I am in a chair if I can stand. But I don’t let it bother me anymore. I am just living the best life I know how; if that means using a chair, drinking from straws, training my dog to pull my socks off for me, and letting my husband carry me up the stairs, well then, so be it.

I Bought a Beard Trimmer, and It Wasn’t for my Husband!

Living within one’s means is a tough thing to do; whether it is the inability to work, or the inability to find adequate work, many people struggle to keep their bills paid and their fridges full. This causes stress. For me, the best thing for stress is to take up a hobby. Something that you love to do that takes enough brainpower to distract you, but not so much that you get frustrated. Preferably you will enjoy a cheaper hobby like coloring or writing, but if your hobby is expensive like mine, you may need to get creative in order to enjoy your hobby without creating any additional stress.

Most people I know love to quilt. What most people don’t know is that quilting can be quite expensive. Even if you decide that all your quilts will be made from scraps and you buy a second hand machine; you will be appalled at the prices of scissors, thread, needles, mats, rulers, rotatory cutters, blades and even patterns. So in order to quilt on a budget you need to learn to cut corners. Where is the first place you should go to learn about how to save money on this hobby? Other quilters of course

Quilting boards and blogs on the internet have been a great places for me to find ways to save money. I now know which shops offer free or discount shipping and that Harbor Freight has blades that fit my rotatory cutter for a fraction of the price. My most recent discovery was my most exciting to date, and it’s one that can benefit other quilters like me with a disability.

The quilting world loves its gadgets; there are machines that cut for you, natural light lamps, and hundreds of rulers that guarantee accurate cuts, all of which come with a hefty price tag. My most recent find in the sewing gadget world seemed like a dream come true. An automatic seam ripper? Sure, it seems ridiculous, until you find yourself hours into taking apart forty blocks with one corner sewn in backwards. But the price stopped me in my tracks. This $20 dollar gadget looked a lot like a beard trimmer to me.

Sure enough, I found that the modal number for the gadget toting itself as an automatic seam ripper was really just this beard trimmer wearing a clever sticker and a heftier prices tag. I know what you’re thinking, “you did not buy a beard trimmer to quilt with!” But I did, and you know what? It works! Will I use it every day? No. Will it save me from the pain and wasted time when I make a really big mistake? Yep!

Making your favorite hobby affordable may take some investigation. It may also take doing things that seem a little crazy sometimes. But in the end you will be glad you took the time to find a more affordable option, that way you can enjoy your hobby without feeling guilty.

What’s the weirdest gadget you have ever bought to save time?

A Good Night’s Sleep While on the Road

Sleep is a funny thing. When we are children we hate the idea of sleeping. We are certain that we are going to miss something hugely important or wonderful; after all, the Easter Bunny, Santa and the Tooth Fairy all come at night. The older we get the more we see sleep as a blessing instead of a conspiracy, and ironically, the more sleep seems to allude us.

I love sleep as much as anyone, when Tom and I got married our first big joint purchase was a brand new bed. Neither of us had ever slept on a brand new mattress before, so we decided to really go all out. We bought a pillow top mattress with an adjustable base. At first the adjustable base seemed like a luxury, but I soon realized that it had its practical purposes. Sleeping with our heads slightly inclined has helped with my husband’s snoring, my stuffy nose and the back pain that both of us usually felt in the morning.

This bed is great, but we are a bit spoiled by it. Now when we travel and have to sleep on a flat surface, we are acutely aware of our suffering. Well, my husband isn’t aware until the morning, I’m the one up all night poking my husband in the ribs trying to convince him to roll over and stop snoring in my ear. I began to dread leaving my bed for even one night with my husband in tow. Then a friend came to visit for a weekend and I was inspired.

My friend also has to sleep inclined, but for her, sleeping flat can have some pretty scary consequences. Therefore she always comes prepared with her very own sleep wedge. How did I not know these things existed? My friend’s sleep wedge is comically huge, it is almost as big as she is. This made it kind of a pain to travel with, especially when public transportation is your only option. I looked around online and managed to find an inflatable version.

This wedge especially works great for hotels that like to skimp on the pillows. You just inflate it to a comfortable level and shove it under your pillow. I wouldn’t recommend sleeping directly on top of the wedge though, it is made of plastic and smells similar to all those pool inflatables. I didn’t have any problems with this wedge going flat by morning, but I only use it for one night at a time.

Obviously nothing is as good as a full night’s rest in your own bed. But if you have issues with sinuses, snoring, or back and neck pain when traveling, this inflatable travel wedge pillow (or the standard version if you have the room and are staying awhile) will make your night a little more comfortable.

What accommodations to you have to make while traveling?

Got A Lot of Produce? There’s a Gadget for That!

Based on the subjects of my posts, many of you probably think I spend my entire life in the kitchen. Although that sometimes feels that way, I assure you I do spend time in other places of my house. However, the kitchen is where I find myself needing the most adaptations. It makes sense if you think about it; the kitchen is probably the most dangerous place in my house. There are so many sharp, heavy or hot items in the kitchen, if that doesn’t kill me, the things that come out of it just might.

Summer is the most challenging time of year for me in the kitchen, not because I am doing a lot of cooking, but because I loathe cooking in the summer. It’s far too hot to have the stove running, the crockpot is best for creating winter type foods, so I am forced to use the stove. I hate the stove; it spatters and spits and that is not ideal for someone with a startle reflex or questionable balance to begin with. Needless to say, I don’t do a ton of cooking in summer. But the main reason summer in the kitchen is a rough is because of what my husband is bringing into it.

See, my husband loves his garden. He loves to plant things, loves to watch them grow and relishes in eating food from his garden. But it’s that middle part between the harvest and the eating that eludes him, and that’s where I come in.

The garden is probably bigger than what two people actually need, resulting in hoards of food from about mid- June through September. This year our planting was late and so was our harvest, but last night my husband appeared from the back yard with an armful of produce.

Unable to consume it all before it spoils, and not keen on canning, I end up freezing most of it, which means there is a lot of chopping. This is where I break out my Ninja to do the hard work. The Ninja is a great little gadget for processing foods. I love to make smoothies in my Ninja, but I primarily use it for chopping up all those veggies my husband brings in so I can freeze them in convenient portions.

As for slicing, my Slice-O-Matic just doesn’t cut it for large quantities of produce. Although it works nicely for one or two cucumbers, or a zucchini, slicing a dozen or more is a chore. I have made the executive decision to purchase an attachment set for my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer that will automatically slice and shred my veggies. I have not tried it yet, but my Kitchen Aid Stand mixer was a life and time saver when it came to baking for all those potlucks and Graduation Parties this summer. So I have high hopes for this great little attachment.

Now, does anyone have any clue what I could make with about three dozen Chile Peppers?

Why I Participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, or you are part of a handful of people who have yet to join the virtual world that is social media, you have probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. There has been quite a bit of debate about this challenge. There are the supporters who say that the trend has raised more money for ALS the ever before, but then there are those who see the challenge as simply an excuse for people to make a video and see how many likes they can get. I am not going to get into the pros and cons of the Ice Bucket Challenge, but I did want to share the reasons why I chose to participate.

My Video

(If you can’t see it try clicking the full screen button on the far bottom right of the video frame.)

Having a disability does not make me a saint. I am by no means a terrible person, but I am also not the kind of person that spends all her free time and money helping others. I spend a lot of money on crap. Some of this crap does end up being for other people; but if we’re being totally honest, most of it is for me. I also spend a lot of time doing things that really only benefit me and making excuses as to why I don’t have time to do things for others. Sure, I have rounded up my change at CVS, and I give to Purple Heart twice a year when I do my spring/fall cleaning, but for the most part I am pretty self-absorbed. I don’t mean to be this way, it just sort of happens, and I am willing to admit it because I know I am not the only one.

So, the first reason I did the Ice Bucket Challenge is simply because I felt I should spend some of my time and money on something important; helping fund research to cure a disease that takes away a person’s independence, and ultimately their lives, seemed like a noble cause.  Even if it wasn’t much, it was better than nothing.

My second reason for participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is that it was easy. The most difficult part was waiting for my water to turn into ice. After that, all I had to do was pour ice water on my head while my husband videotaped it; which for some reason he took great pleasure in. Oh yea, did I mention I HATE the cold? I knew I would never willingly torture myself without at least some good coming out of it. After I posted the video, I went over to and made my donation.

The last reason I decided to do the challenge is because I knew the donation would only continue to grow if I chose to participate. Since I accepted The Challenge, I got to nominate three friends to take The Challenge as well. I chose Stephanie, Bryan and Cathleen, who all accepted, so I essentially tripled my donation.

If you have never heard of ALS or the Ice Bucket Challenge, you can go to to learn more.

The UNlimited College Experience

On Monday I went with my in-laws to drop my sister-in-law off at college. I was so excited that you would have thought I was the one starting on a new adventure. My sister-in-law has chosen to attend my alma mater, Grand Valley State University, and I can’t help but feel like her experiences there are partially my responsibility. I know that’s silly, but I just want her to have a great experience.

I loved college; it was easily four of the best years of my life, part of that is probably because high school was pretty terrible for me. I was the first person in my immediate family to attend a four year university. Having a disability seemed to make this accomplishment even more important, although I didn’t particularly think so. College was always something I knew I would do, but there were still some challenges that needed to be overcome. If you have a disability, and plan to attend college, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Every college has an office that is supposed to tend to the needs of students with disabilities. My advice is to contact these offices before you are admitted. That’s right, research the services that are provided for students with disabilities and make that research part of your decision to attend. Accessibility should not be the only reason you attend a college, but it should probably outweigh the male to female student ratio, or the food selections.

My second piece of advice is to visit the campus, more than once, before accepting admittance. Especially if you have a disability that will affect how you navigate the campus. Because I had visited Grand Valley several times before becoming a student, I knew I would need a power chair in order to be fully independent. I never considered a power chair before, at this point I had only been using a manual chair for a few years; this was not something I would have thought of had I not thoroughly toured the campus. When you visit campuses you might discover that you will want an aid, a service dog, or another accommodation to help you navigate. You may also discover that the campus is not as accessible as you had been led to believe.

My last piece of advice, do not be afraid to speak up and ask for the things you need. In my first year at GVSU, I found out that there were many small things that made it difficult for me; doors that had no buttons, counters that were too high, restroom stalls that were too small. I wrote a letter to a school newspaper called The Rant. Days after it was published, I was contacted by the dean who wanted to tour the school with me; I was able to point out the things that were not accessible and explain why they needed to be adjusted (which is not always obvious to those who don’t have disabilities). Not only were these things improved, my advice was used for future projects.

College can be a great experience. It can also be a not so great experience. Sometimes situations will be out of your control; but embrace the things you can control to make it the best experience possible. College isn’t just about getting a degree. It is also where you learn about yourself, your needs, your strengths, your weaknesses and really grow into yourself.

My Assistive Technology Dream Come True

Whenever I see back to school commercials that talk about laptops, tablets and cell phones, I feel really old. When I was going back to school, only adults had personal computers and only the really important ones had laptops; not a single one of my friends had a cell phone. And now, just 13 years after I graduated high school, most students have one or more of these devices on hand. As a person with a disability, I’m glad I was born at a time when technology was on the rise; I have seen this technology grow and change the lives of people with disabilities. Read here how to spend time effectively.

Thanks to technology, people without the ability to speak can talk, many of the people who want to hear are now able to, and those who cannot walk have more and more options for mobility. Everyday new technology is created that can improve a life, and you have to admit that is pretty cool. I have benefited from many of the new technologies out there, they have allowed me to be more independent and more productive. However, there is a part of me that still waits, hoping that someday technology will come up with something that will allow me to walk hands free.

I have Cerebral Palsy, and like everyone with C.P., my case is unique to me. I am able walk with assistive devices such as a walker or crutches; I can also walk around my house by holding onto the furniture or walls, and I have decent balance. However, despite multiple surgeries, countless hours of physical therapy, and multiple bribes from my parents, I cannot take more than one or two steps unassisted.

This is something that I have come to accept. However, I do wish that there was something out there that would allow me to walk hands free. Having my hands free for reaching items is one benefit I get from using a chair; but when I want, or need, to walk somewhere, my hands are tied up doing other things. They have plenty of handsfree walkers meant for children to help train their muscles for walking and balance; but these walkers are typically bulky and a have ton of straps for support As an adult who just needs that tiny bit of extra support, there seemed to be nothing that could help my cause. At least until I saw this walker.

I can’t help but be a little excited. It does not seem like a perfect solution, and it still seems quite new given the limited information on the site; but the fact that it even exists gives me some hope. Hope that technology is catching up to my needs. Hope that someday, in the nearish future, I might be able to walk down the street carrying a child, holding hands with my husband, pull multiple items out of the fridge in one trip, or grab gallon of milk from the store without needing to put it in a cart first.

Is there anything on your assistive technology wish list?

My C.P. Superpower

I was in the kitchen the other morning preparing a pork roast for my trusty crockpot because I already knew I wouldn’t feel like putting in much effort when it came to dinner that night. I was almost done; the pork had been seared, potatoes and onions chopped, beef broth added, all I had left was to add salt, pepper and garlic.

Typical for a Monday morning, I was being lazy and didn’t feel like putting together my garlic zoom; it had been disassembled for a thorough cleaning the night before. Instead, I pulled out my standard garlic press. I find the garlic press easy to use, especially mine. It seemed to be pretty sturdy, well-constructed, and had a nice big handle with a rubber grip so I wouldn’t drop it. Yes, I said it seemed to be sturdy because somehow I managed to break it. It snapped at the joint that connects the two sides together with absolutely no effort whatsoever.

I cannot say that I was particularly surprised, C.P. has plenty of quirks. Some of my favorites include the startle reflex and the inability to control the volume of my voice. By far the most impressive of these quirks is something I like to call the “C.P. death grip.” This is a common quirky ability present in those with Spastic Cerebral Palsy, and is characterized by sometimes uncontrollable grip strength.

This particular quirk has caused a lot of frustration over the years. The garlic press is not the first thing I have broken, crushed or manhandled to the point of destruction. I cannot be trusted with juice boxes, origami masterpieces, or apparently well-made garlic presses. A friend recently told me about an unintentional tug-of-war game she had with a cashier when she simply could not let go of the twenty she was trying to pay with.

As frustrating as my death grip can be at times, it is also one of my favorite C.P. quirks; especially when I can call upon this strength as needed. When my kitten batted at a fishing pole and got a hook snagged in his cheek, I snapped a 30 pound test line with my hands alone. I am the “it” girl when it comes to opening jars, and this grip has also saved me from many falls.

Though this quirk is considered to be part of a disability, it is also an advantage, a real life super-power. Even the times it has worked against me are good experiences. They are unique, they are funny, and I learn valuable lessons, like if I am going to be lazy and use a garlic press, I should probably get one with a warrantee.

Throwback Thursday: A Toy from My Childhood

Photo Credit:

Recently, my husband and I went to visit some friends in Grand Rapids who were celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary. If that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will. We left our dog at home, but several of the other guests brought theirs. They were all varying degrees of small, but the smallest was my friend’s Yorkie; who tried in vain to keep up with the other dogs as they raced around the yard. I couldn’t help but smile and feel sorta bad for the little guy. He reminded me so much of myself as a child; always struggling to keep up, but no matter how hard I tried, I was always just a fraction too late.

In other posts, I have credited my sister with inadvertently teaching me how to be independent. It was, after all, my struggle to keep up with her that inspired my parents and I to make adaptations where necessary and come up with new ways for me to do otherwise simple things. I have already told the story of the bicycle, but watching that Yorkie running feverishly about the yard reminded me of the scooter at my Grandma’s house. As it turns out, not only could I use this scooter, but was actually so good at that I had others struggled to keep up with me for a change.

Let’s face it, toys such as tricycles, bicycles, scooters, and rollerblades are not geared towards kids with disabilities. And yet, kids with disabilities want nothing more than to go zooming around with their friends. The Roller Racer is one of the few toys I could use without special adaptations as a child (aside from the Power Wheels my cousins had, which I used to run over my sister).

This scooter was great because you used it while sitting down. There was a wide base and you were super low to the ground, this made it really easy to get on and off of independently. The best part for me was that it could be operated with one or both of my arms. I remember the first time I got on it, thinking that Mom or Dad would have to push me around like everything else; I was overjoyed when I realized I could do it myself.

The Roller Racer was my first taste of real independence. Walking at that age was still hard and slow going, and I didn’t have a wheelchair. But with this scooter I felt like I was unstoppable! These, of course, were the days when the end of the street felt like miles. Obviously this scooter is not the answer for truly independent mobility, but it you have a kid that wants nothing more than to zip around the neighborhood with friends, then you really should give with a try. I’m not the only one that thinks so. It has made it onto several lists of toys for kids with disabilities.

Heck, I turned out to be a small adult; part of me wants to order one for myself just to recapture that joy.

What’s the One Thing that Bothers Me About Having a Disability? Other People.

There isn’t much that bothers me about having a disability; I know that might sound weird to some of you, but it’s the truth. Being disabled has never been all that terrible; my wheelchair is comfier than most people’s office chairs, and I might walk slowly, but I’m fine with that. What about falling you ask? Well, when you do it as often as I do, you not only get used to it, you get good at it; I rarely get hurt from a fall. I hardly ever feel disabled at all. I just feel like your average women, with an average life, making her way in the world. That is until I run into other people.

I find there are three types people I interact with on a regular basis: Those that completely ignore disabilities, those that accept disabilities as just another part of the human experience, and then there are those who see a disability as something that is sad or in need of being fixed. The second group of people is rare, they usually start out as a member of the first or third group, but are then converted after meeting someone with a disability. The first group can be really irritating, but it is the third group that offends me the most.

The people in the third group mostly mean well, they are nice, they would never purposely be rude or discriminate, yet they are rude and they do discriminate; and I run into them almost daily. They are the teachers that told me “one day we will be healed in heaven”, the street preacher that thrusts a bible at me and offers a prayer, the hairstylist that says I am “too pretty to be in a wheelchair”, the barista that tells me how nice it is to see me out, the boss that calls my husband a saint, and the bus driver who tells me how smart I am given my situation. On the surface, these would seem like compliments, right?

The reason I find these interactions so offensive is that they come from a place of pity, of lowered expectations. The problem with those statements is that if someone continually hears them, it usually leads to one of two things: either an inflated the ego, making them feel entitled to special treatment, or a feeling of shame. I recently read this article where statements like this caused a woman to stay in an abusive relationship because “she was so lucky to have someone”.

Of course, the intent is never to hurt the disabled person. I do believe that, in general, when I hear these things that they come from a place of good intent. People want to encourage me and make me feel proud for what I have accomplished in spite of Cerebral Palsy; but these statements do not make me feel good. Instead they make me feel incapable, broken, wrong and limited. The truth is I don’t have this life in spite of my Cerebral Palsy, I have this life because I embraced it.

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