Didn’t I tell you we’d be busy?

All this talk of retirement hasn’t meant that O.J is winding down at all. We’ve been busy recently, and he’s worked and behaved like a star through everything. This is a long post, but the point is, I love this dog!!

On Thursday 5th I went to see
Duke Special
in McGrory’s in Culdaff. It’s my new favourite venue. It’s intimate and cosy, the people who come really love their music, and you can order coffee and nobody laughs or thinks you are strange!
The gig began with some songs from a band called the Pox Men. I can’t even describe them. There were some good musicians in the group, but it wasn’t really my thing. I wasn’t expecting any full bands to be there and they were quite loud, but O.J never moved.
Derry singer/songwriter Soak played next. She’s only eighteen, and has been getting a lot of attention during the past year. There’s something about her voice that makes you stop and listen, and the audience were silent while she played and kept us entertained with her great sense of humour.
Duke special himself played next, a solo gig just on piano. He’s more than capable of doing a great job on his own, and although it was random, enjoyable and entertaining, it wasn’t the best I’ve seen him play. It was nice to talk to him before the gig, and O.J got to say hi too.
We got one of the best seats in the room, because we had a comfortable sofa and lots of space in front for O.J to stretch out and relax, without being in anybody’s way. I think this was why he was so chilled out during the whole gig, and people were surprised that there was even a dog in the room.

On Wednesday morning we worked in a local school, and took the bus to Dublin afterwords. One of the only bands I love but still hadn’t had a chance to see live was the Decemberists, so I was delighted when they announced a gig in my favourite Dublin venue, on a day when I had to be in Dublin for work anyway. Nicky and I met up, fed the dogs in our hotel and met my cousin for dinner before the gig. She walked with us to Vicar Street, and we were all very impressed when O.J enthusiastically turned left into the entrance of the venue without even being asked. He knew that this was a place where he would be spoiled and petted and well looked after, and as usual, the staff couldn’t have done enough to help us.
The dogs chilled out on a mat in the store room while we watched Irish band Windings, and then the Decemberists. The audience were lively and really knew the band so well. Colin’s voice is amazing live, and he’s very funny. They played for just over two hours, and they were brilliant. The wait to finally see them was worth it.
We left the gig happy, with two happy dogs, who would have stayed for another few hours if they had to.

O.J worked really well around the hotel and nearby area, especially since there was no grass like we thought there was. It’s only taken him seven years, but he finally leash relieved on concrete twice! This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in the awkward life of O.J, it really was!!
He behaved great during the training day on Thursday. It was my first time going there on my own, but everybody is so friendly and helpful that it wasn’t a problem. Meeting up with them is very reassuring, and it makes me want to continue the work I’m doing in schools a lot more than I sometimes do when I’m in the office. Irish Aid’s
World Wise Global Schools
team are so supportive and easy to work with. One of them even took the time to wait with me until I got the bus home. We went for coffee and had a good talk, and the four and a half hour journey home felt a lot easier.
Next morning we were up early to travel to another school. The students have been brilliant recently, and they’ve done some great presentations as part of our workshops. Work is feeling a lot more promising than it did before Christmas.

O.J had a well deserved run on the beach and a swim yesterday after all his hard work. My sister washed him after the beach, so he’s lovely and clean. He really seems to be taking advantage of his Sunday rest today, but he totally deserves it.

Let the Waiting Begin!

As of Wednesday 4th February, I’ve been officially on the waiting-list for my second guide dog.

It’s taken me a few days to really process that sentence properly. It’s funny when you know something is coming and you are expecting it, but when it happens, it still feels a bit unreal.

I had a detailed conversation with a member of the client services team in Irish Guide Dogs, making sure that they had as much information as possible about what I want in my successor dog. The trainer captured everything during the assessment last May, but there were a few things I wanted to make sure of. It’s a totally different process second time round, because I know what to expect from a dog, and I know what I want. Not that O.J wasn’t a perfect match for me, he definitely was, and I couldn’t have asked for a better dog. I hope my next dog will be very similar regarding work and temperament at least. The appearance and personality will be a nice surprise, that I’ll just have to wonder about until the dog comes. I’ve also started praying that it has a name I’ll like, because I have no control over that either.

When I hung up the phone on Wednesday evening, I knew there was no going back, and at the time, I felt bad, especially for O.J.
Thinking about this now, a few days later, I know I’m in a lucky situation. Although it will be difficult working two different dogs so close together, I don’t want to be without one, and going on the waiting-list now will hopefully mean that can happen. I won’t be waiting for a while without a dog. There are people who have to retire dogs suddenly and have no choice but to wait without one. O.J is still happy to be working and does his job very well. He’s healthy and playful and full of fun, which is the perfect way to retire a dog who has worked hard for seven and a half years, and hopefully still has a bit more to do. I don’t want to retire him yet. I still need time to find the best place for him to live, and I think that’s what’s making it difficult at the minute. When I have that organised I’ll be a lot happier, and can enjoy and make the most of our working time together. I want to take O.J to as many things as possible, and blog about these so that I can remember the things we did. I also want to organise a fundraising event for guide dogs. We did one when I got O.J, and I think it would be a small way of thanking the organisation for such a great dog if we did one again before he retires. It would also be a nice distraction, and a positive way of thinking about O.J’s retirement. I just have to come up with a good idea!

So now the waiting will start. I have no idea how long it will take to find a suitable dog. Ideally I’d like to train in August or September, but it doesn’t work like that, and there’s no guarantee that I’ll even get one this year. I’m fortunate that I’m in no major hurry, and although it needs to happen sometime, every month of waiting is another month with this funny, lively scamp of a dog that I have now.

There’s Nothing More Fun Than a Primary School Visit!

That is true for myself, O.J, the children and even in some cases the teachers. We visit primary school children a lot less frequently now that my work as a disability awareness trainer is based with transition year students in second level education. It’s interesting and more challenging, but I’d be lying if I said it was more fun. I’m lucky to have regular access to the school where I was a past pupil, and the staff are more than happy to have O.J in for a visit.

When my oldest nephew Jack was nine, he asked his teacher if I could take O.J into his class. The advantage of keeping a blog is that I can still remember
that day.
We’ve done hundreds of school visits since that day in January 2008.

Last week my seven-year-old nephew Danny excitedly rushed into my house after school, looking for a piece of paper and a pen. He wanted to write down the dates I would be free to come to visit his class with O.J this week. He talked to the teacher, and she was happy to have us in on Tuesday. It wasn’t just his class though, it was three classes of seven and eight year old’s, all in the P.E hall, with questions prepared as part of the previous night’s homework. They were as good as gold, considering there must have been about sixty of them in the room. O.J was very quiet too.
The questions came, and I was surprised how mature they all were.
How was he trained?
How does he know where to go?
How do I find the button to press to cross at the lights? Luckily O.J does this for me!
Who washes O.J?
They were surprised when I showed them the feeding cup that I use to measure OJ’s food. How does he look so healthy just eating that amount of food?
One girl wanted to know how do I always know where he is, and another asked what happens if I accidentally stood on his tail, at which point I had a chance to do my best dog whimpering impression!
They wanted to know if it was difficult to learn braille, do I watch TV, and why I don’t ware glasses.
They loved seeing how my phone works, particularly the ‘tap tap see’ app, and the talking colour detector. A few of them told me that their parents know me. Two of their parents were even in my class in school. That made me feel really old.

The teachers told me that they learned a lot. Pupils often ask questions that they themselves want to know, but are too afraid to ask. They took photographs, and asked Danny to present me with biscuits and sweets to say thanks, which was a lovely gift that I wasn’t expecting. I allowed the children to pet O.J on their way out of the hall, and everybody left happy.

My youngest nephew Harry started in the same school in September, so I decided to call into his class for a quick visit as I knew they’d be having lunch. I don’t know what I was thinking! Taking a dog into a classroom of 30 four year old’s, on their lunch-break when their usual teacher wasn’t around was a bit mad! Harry was delighted and surprised to see me, telling everybody who could hear him above the noise that I was his auntie and O.J was a guide dog. O.J was surrounded by a group of excited children hugging and petting him. I had to watch where his head was as some of them had sandwiches and bananas in their hands. They told me about their dogs and all the dogs they knew. One boy asked what age O.J was, and told me that his dog was ten. By the time we were leaving the class, his dog’s age had been changed to 100. We were probably only there for ten minutes but it felt like a lifetime!

When we came home, O.J played in the snow, before having a well deserved sleep. The weather’s been so bad since, and we haven’t been anywhere, but the school visit on Tuesday really made our week more fun.

New Year, New Changes

Happy new year! I’m assuming I can still say that when today is the 6th. Which reminds me, the Christmas tree really needs to come down tomorrow. I’ll be glad to put it away, since the dogs eating the berries even though they are artificial, and knocking decorations off was starting to get very annoying!

2015 is going to be a fun year, with two of my friends expecting babies and one getting married. I didn’t see much live music last year, but this year will be different. Having a concert to look forward to always cheers me up, and I have two planned for February already.
Last year I started yoga, and I’m hoping to start some new things in 2015. Flying the plane and doing other less adventurous things last year has inspired me to challenge myself more, and do things that are out of my comfort zone. I think I’ll naturally be forced to do a bit of that this year anyway, whether I like it or not.

As usual, I’m uncertain about work, and what’s going to happen in June when my contract is finished. I’m no closer to knowing what I want to do, or where to look for work. Some days it really annoys me, but I try not to let it. As long as I’m busy, I’ll eventually work it all out. I know I have to seriously think about what I want, rather than other people, which is what I’ve been doing recently.

The thing that freaks me out most of all is that by the end of 2015, I could be working with a new guide dog. Obviously I always knew that the time would come, but the fact that it could happen this year makes it all seem too quick. I don’t know if I’ll keep writing a blog when I start training, but I want to at least write more this year when O.J is still working. The dog and the blog started together, so they might as well finish, and we’ll see what happens after that.

Thanks to everyone who still reads, and the 4 or five regular commenters :)
I see a wordpress email in my inbox and try who guess who will have replied first! Those of you who blog yourselves, I’m looking forward to reading more of what you write in 2015.
I hope it’s another great year.

Holiday Mode

I intended writing about the gig in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, and the lovely time I had there with my cousin. Now it’s almost new year already!
I enjoyed the lead-up to Christmas, being finished work early and having time to buy presents and relax. My brother and two cousins came home for Christmas, and we didn’t think they’d be here, so that made it even better.

I stayed in my sister’s house on Christmas eve and enjoyed watching the boys getting their presents from Santa when they got up on Christmas morning. Lots of people my age think Christmas is boring, but I’m lucky enough to have children around to make it exciting. After the traditional breakfast in my sister’s, we went visiting as usual. My aunt made dinner for twelve people, and we all stayed in her house. Dougal went to stay in kennels for a few days so that things would be easier for him. He doesn’t like crowds of people, and can sometimes snap when he is stressed, so although it was strange not having him around, I only had O.J to think about, and it was much more relaxing. I got lots of nice presents, mostly clothes and perfume which is always good.

On boxing day morning I took O.J for a short walk with my parents. In the afternoon I met up with my five best friends for a lovely couple of hours. The next time we’ll all be together will be next Easter, when two of the girls will have had babies. I can’t imagine that at all, but it’s very exciting. Nicky came up that evening, and we’ve just spent the last couple of days relaxing.

This year was the 10th anniversary of the Asian tsunami which myself and my family were caught up in. We were in Thailand at the time, and are very lucky to still all be here. I kept thinking about it lots on Friday. It was nice to be able to spend the day with family and friends. Things could have been so different if we’d been where we had originally planned to be that morning. Even ten years later, that still freaks me out a bit. I’ve done so much since then, and without sounding totally morbid or corny, I’m very lucky to have had the chance.

Is Anybody Feeling Christmasy?

I’m usually a bit slow getting into the Christmas mood, and this year was no different. Most of my friends put their trees up at the beginning of December, and that’s all everybody seemed to be talking about. I think it seems to come around earlier every year. The thing that started to get me excited was a phone call from my brother about ten days ago telling me that he was definitely coming home. We thought he wasn’t, so it was a lovely surprise.

We had our work Christmas party on Wednesday. It was in the Silver Tassie hotel in Letterkenny as usual, and we all had a lovely meal. There wasn’t a huge crowd so it was a lot quieter than usual, but we made our own fun. We’ve had a couple of new staff members recently, so there’s a good group of people around my own age, and we all get on well. I stayed in the hotel that night so that my colleague wouldn’t have to drive home if the weather was bad. It was strange booking a hotel in Letterkenny, only 40 minutes away, but it made the night more relaxing and enjoyable. So much so that we didn’t go to bed until after 4.
The staff in the hotel were lovely, but I don’t think they’d ever had a guide dog stay there before. When I rang to book the room and mentioned him, the receptionist had to go and ask the manager. She came back and said that the dog was fine, except she was instructed to “designate a certain room” for us. I thought, here we go, some kind of complicated fuss now, but that room turned out to be a big family room with more space for us all. It was a nice surprise!

I put up my new tree on Thursday with the help of a few kids who were very excited. They did more of the work than me, but I was a small bit tired!
I’m still stuck for Christmas present ideas for a few people. I hate buying things for the sake of it, and like to know what I’m looking for before I shop, so this kind of thing stresses me out! Going to Dublin tomorrow (literally for 24 hours), so I might get some ideas there. O.J is giving this one a miss this time, although the National Concert Hall where I’m going to a gig tomorrow evening was more than happy to have him, and even look after him if the music was too loud. I might write about that particular gig when I get home, depending on how it goes. It’s a combination of musicians I’ve seen before, but the structure of it means I have no idea what to expect at all. Sometimes that’s the best way.

Impact Theatre

Work has been busy and sometimes frustrating during the last couple of weeks. Myself and a couple of colleagues had an amazing opportunity last week to attend a workshop which was inspiring and made the hard work worth while.

DCIL received funding to run a workshop which I felt would be very educational for transition year students. I invited a class who I had worked with a couple of months ago. They are undertaking a huge disability project in their school, so they seemed like the perfect choice to attend this disability related workshop with a difference, in the Stationhouse Hotel in Letterkenny. Idan Meir brought a group of five actors with physical or sensory impairments to deliver a workshop and perform a play, but the day was much more than that.

The day began with a quiet group of students and a couple of teachers who didn’t know what to expect, and to be honest, I didn’t really know how to explain it to them either. We ended the day with a more confident, more creative and definitely more inspired and empowered group of people. I can’t really explain what happened in between! Idan talked to us about opression, having power, disability and what it means, and many other things. We didn’t just sit and listen. We learned about the impact of theatre and how we can use it. We learned how to create images with our bodies and how to tell stories. We learned how to lead and trust each other, and we definitely learned how to be out of our comfort zone! The actors performed a play for us after lunch called ‘happy birthday’, which explores the issues facing a 21 year-old girl who is unable to attend her own birthday party due to the inaccessibility of the venue. They performed it a second time, during which the audience were invited to stop the play whenever they felt that there was something unfair happening. This brought about interesting discussion and debate. After this, the students and teachers were split into groups, with myself and the actors joining each group to tell our stories or answer any disability related questions they had. The students and teachers were then asked to make an image of something they learned from that conversation. It’s hard to explain, but it was very interesting for me to hear, because I have no visual idea of how people represent words or feelings in this way. I learned a lot from these exercises, and it wasn’t what I had expected to learn when the day began.

It was nice to learn about disability, a theme I am so familiar with, but not actually be the person teaching it for a change. I wanted the day to be as much about the students as possible, so it was a nice surprise when I realised how much we were all included. I didn’t think to mention to Idan that I was blind beforehand. I didn’t think I’d be involved in the theatre with the students, and to be honest, it didn’t even come into my head. He did tell me that if he’d known he could have adjusted his activities a bit, but I was still very much included and he explained everything as much as he could. Part of the leading and trusting exercise involved people closing their eyes and then talking about the experience afterwards. I don’t know if this is always part of the day, but it worked well, and I was able to give my own feedback too.

O.J came along for the day too. I was very happy with how well he behaved since there was a lot of moving and running around. He just lay watching, and really loved the attention whenever the students came to pet him on their break. Idan sometimes gave him a quick pet to make sure he didn’t feel left out during the day!

‘Happy birthday’ was performed in Donegal a couple of years ago and I missed it, so it was brilliant to have everybody involved back to perform it and do the workshop just for us. It was a different way of exploring the theme of disability, and my only regret was that more of my colleagues didn’t come to see it.
Idan wrote a one man play called
Bassam
which returns to An Grianan Theatre in February next year. It’s based on a different theme entirely, but I like his work, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to see it.

Jake Clemons

Last Tuesday, myself and a work colleague went to see Jake Clemons play in
McGrory’s

in Culdaff. It’s Ireland’s most northernly music venue, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Jake and his band were playing there as part of an Irish tour in support of his ‘embracing light’ EP. I’ve seen him on stage as part of the E-Street band a couple of times, playing saxophone in one of the biggest bands in the world, so I didn’t know what to expect on a small stage in a bar in Donegal. Whatever happened, I knew it was going to be special, and it didn’t disappoint.

The gig began with songs from a Cork singer/songwriter called
Nicole Maguire

who I really enjoyed. She’s a great guitarist and has a great voice. Fortunately for her, but not for us, all her albums were sold out, so I definitely must get one online. She had supported Jake on a previous Irish tour, and he seemed to genuinely have respect for her as an artist. She seemed equally delighted to be there on stage as part of his tour.

The majority of the audience on the night were Bruce Springsteen fans, and maybe like me, they weren’t too familiar with Jake’s solo work. I only knew three songs! This is very unusual for me, because usually I really know a band well before I go to hear them play live. A girl in the front row did come prepared in her Jake Clemons t-shirt though.

Jake and his band came on stage at 9 PM, and the next 2 hours and 40 mins were not what I had expected. The band were lively and loud and full of enthusiasm. They sounded young and energetic, like they were excited to be performing their new material, yet they were very professional and tight. Jake moved between guitar to saxophone and piano like a pro, making me jealous that I couldn’t even learn one instrument properly. He walked around the audience, danced on a table and got a few people to dance with the band while he watched them and relaxed. The crowd took a short while to really get into the performance, but when they did, they enjoyed it and didn’t want it to finish.

The gig had a few highlights. The forth or fifth song was a version of ‘it takes two’ by Ryan Adams, a song I absolutely love. Mid way through this song, Jake played the saxophone for the very first time, to huge cheers from the audience. As the band played on, he then spoke about the loss of his uncle Clarance and the devistating impact it had on him. He didn’t feel like playing the saxophone again, until a friend talked to him and told him how Clarance would have wanted his music to be shared, and that it wasn’t an option for Jake not to do that. It was a fitting tribute in the middle of a great song. The band’s version of ‘a little help from my friends’ was amazing too. Jake invited Nicole back to sing a few songs with the band, after which he told the audience that he was very privileged to play on one of her own songs. She sang the vocals while the band accompanied her with Jake playing sax. The gig ended with an acoustic unplugged version of ‘carry me through’, with each band member taking a verse and singing the chorus together.

You can hear influences of Bruce in Jake’s music at times when he speaks to the audience, but he is a musician in his own right, producing his own original material with a brilliant band. Anyone who was expecting him to sound like Springsteen or act like Clarance was very wrong. He’s unique, but he’s also really really good!

And I discovered that he’s really sound too! After the gig he came back into the bar and talked to people. The owner pointed him in the direction of myself and Deborah first, which was nice since we had to get up for two long days of work in the morning. He gave me a hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed humble and gentle, and quieter than the rocker on stage a while earlier! Deborah talked much more than me, telling him that we worked together, that we were related and that I flew a plane! Not sure how that got in there, but he seemed impressed and amused by how embarrassed I was. More embarrassing was what she said next! It was lovely to go to a gig which was someone elses idea for a change. It was also lovely to have someone describe the stage, where things were and what people were doing. If Deborah sees something interesting, she thinks I need to know about it too, which is a nice thought most of the time. except when she asked Jake if I could touch his hair, because she’d been describing it to be earlier in the night. He was so cool about it all and just said “yeah sure!” and told me that it felt like wool. I’d never touched an afro before and was curious to know what it looked like, but I didn’t want to touch somebody’s that I don’t even know, and definitely not somebody that I hugely admire as a musician. My face must have looked priceless! We got a photograph with him, bought CDs to be signed, and I made Deborah leave as quickly as possible!

So overall, the gig was brilliant, McGrory’s is a fantastic venue that I’ll hopefully be spending more time in, and I got the closest to meeting Bruce Springsteen that I’m probably ever going to get! Even if it was a little bit too close for my liking! I hoped Jake Clemons enjoyed his first visit to Donegal as much as we enjoyed having him there.

My Kind of Music

That’s the title of Nicky’s brand new album, which he launched in the 7 Oaks hotel in Carlow last Thursday evening. The lineup featured friends of Nicky’s who are all well-known in the country music scene, most of who I’ve come to know through our annual trips to Portugal. The Ryan Turner band who also play there provided all the music on the night. The boys are fantastic musicians, and always make a gig very enjoyable. There was a great crowd, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. The only criticism I heard people say was that Nicky should have played longer!
Donegal was well represented on the night, with twelve people traveling down for the gig. My parents and some of my aunt’s and uncle came, as well as two couples who aren’t related in any way, but have heard of Nicky and decided to come themselves. It was great to meet up with friends we’d stayed with in Kerry over the summer, and Darragh and Emma, who are always very supportive when it comes to Nicky’s music. Emma was snap happy with her camera, and you can see some of her work on Nicky’s facebook page.
I think Darragh is busy updating the website and making the album available on Itunes soon. Maybe he’ll have a list of shops that stock the CD copy too, because I know you can’t get it everywhere.

There were five dogs at the gig, and as you’d expect, they were all well behaved and quiet. My parents were staying in the hotel, so I left O.J there during the performance, and took Orrin up to keep him company during the interval. He was in really good form, but quite restless during the day. He kept getting up if people came near and he thought he might get stood on. Maybe its just a sign of him getting older and a bit more stressed out more easily. The fireworks didn’t bother him on Halloween evening at all, and we walked to a restaurant to meet everybody for dinner with no problems. It didn’t seem like Halloween there though!

It was lovely to travel to Carlow and back with my parents in their jeep, rather than spending time on the bus. We could stop when we wanted, and the weather was bad on the way home so we took our time. We stopped in Monaghan to visit a friend who owns O.J’s brother Ozzy. We hadn’t seen each other in at least four years, and Ozzy is retiring in a couple of weeks. I wanted to get a photo of the dogs together, and wanted them to meet up probably for the last time. They were excited to see each other, but quickly lay down and relaxed. I hope O.J can work for another year, but it makes it all more real when I see the first of his siblings to retire.

I had a busy but fun couple of days, so it’s nice to stay inside and relax today. I think I’m on my fourth cup of tea at this stage! I have another busy week ahead, with working in a school that’s far enough away, going to Dublin for a training day, going to a wedding, and going to a gig on Tuesday that I’m very excited about!

I Believe I Can Fly!

Well I know I can, because last month I did, and here’s the video to prove it!

Donegal CIL had our AGM yesterday. It was our first one in our new premises, so there was a lovely positive vibe around the place. We finished up the afternoon by launching our new video and showing it to our members for the first time before it went online.

We raised é1,350 for DCIL from the flight, which I was very surprised by and of course very grateful for. Along with that, and even more importantly, we raised lots of awareness in our local community and beyond about the work that we do to empower people with disabilities and help them to live more independently. We’ve done this in a fun and exciting way, and ended up with a video that people will hopefully enjoy.