Here Almost a Year!

Tomorrow is guide dog day, a fundraising day for Irish guide dogs, with events taking place all around Ireland. Last year I was in Cork for
guide dog day
training with Sibyl. That means she has been living in Donegal for almost a year. And what a great year it has been.

Retiring a dog and working with another isn’t an easy thing to do. Although you have lots of experience with the first dog, and you know all the basics before you start training again, it can be hard to get used to a totally different dog with a different personality. When I trained with O.J I was so excited, because I’d wanted a guide dog for so long. Although I was delighted to be matched with Sibyl, to be able to retire O.J when he was happy and healthy, and not have to wait in between dogs, I wasn’t very excited about training. I didn’t have the same instant love for Sibyl that I had for O.J, if I’m completely honest. That’s probably because part of me knew that she was continuing the job he had already done so well, and could have done for another while. I felt guilty that I wasn’t still working O.J, and then I felt guilty that I wasn’t crazy about this new dog straight away, because that seemed ungrateful. I had to often remind myself to give her more of a chance during training, and not to compare her to O.J. I had to give her time during the next year to learn and mature and settle down. Sometimes I was probably hard on her, and hard on myself, expecting both of us to do routes and walks without mistakes or so many distractions, but this was unfair. Training with a new dog can be emotionally exhausting!

I’m writing all this as a reminder for myself. It’s interesting to reflect back on this, almost one year after we have qualified. O.J is enjoying the perfect retirement, and I can visit him whenever I like, because I still miss him at times. Sibyl and I have both become so much more confident working together since we left Cork. Sibyl is the perfect successor to O.J. She is so different in some ways, but still has that brilliant personality and dependable nature that he had. She is lively and silly and playful, but in social situations when she needs to be good, she’s chilled out and patient, particularly around children. She loves travelling, and we have lots to do during the next few months to keep her busy.

I feel so lucky to have been matched with Sibyl when I was. Even though
I was shocked at the quick timing when I got the phone call to come and meet her, I’m so grateful that it happened when it did. Sibyl came at the right time. A time when I knew a career change was in order. A time when I was so unsure of what was ahead of me. A time when I want to travel more and do new things. A time when I need a confident dog with lots of energy to keep me busy. Sibyl won’t let me get bored or get stuck in a rutt. She has too much energy and enthusiasm for that, and she has the confidence to try new things, so I think we’re very well matched.
If you have a few euros to spare and you meet anybody collecting this weekend, this is why you might want to think about giving it to guide dogs. Because they really do change lives and provide the best independence, and we need as many people as possible to experience that.

30 Challenges Update

Here’s the updated version. I’ve completed five so far, a couple more have to happen on specific dates, and I have no idea about the rest yet.
Again, any suggestions or help welcome.

1. Complete a 30 K walk in one day (a kilometre for every year)
Notice that I changed mile to kilometre!
2. Work in the cottage bar
3. *Find Bruce Springsteen tickets for either of the Dublin Croke Park concerts.
So happy that I have these. Now, trying to meet him would really be pushing things, wouldn’t it??
Or would it?
4. Walk the Croke Park Dublin skyline
5. Take part in ‘darkness into light’ on 7th May.
6. Learn to bake scone bread.
7. Touch an animal that I’ve never felt before.
*8. Do a short course to learn something new.
I’m just finished an 8 week introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy. It’s really interesting.
9. Make a memory box from wood.
10. Shave someone’s head.
11. Attend a musical or theatrical performance of a genre that’s not usually my type of thing!
Got this covered. People will be very surprised when they hear where I’m going!
12. Learn a useful life skill, such as first aid or self-defence.
13. Spend time in a recording studio watching how it works.
14. Read one book every month, and review it afterwords.
15. Get my ears pierced, and don’t let them close up this time!
16. Do something for a charity that I’ve never been involved with before
Not Fundraising!
17. Learn more about a career that I’m interested in.
Spend a day shadowing somebody in their job.
18. Spend a day on a farm.
19. Learn to make homemade pizza.
20. Climb Sliabh Sneacht
I’m walking more and trying to get fitter before I do this.
*21. Visit a city that I’ve never been to before.
22. Learn to do a few simple hair styles (I can only straighten and curl it)
*23. Eat traditional food associated with a particular country
*24. Bake a cake
25. Do a water activity
26. Learn to make homemade cosmetics
27. Do something historical in Belfast, since I lived there for three years and did nothing!
– 28/29 Suggestions welcome!
30. Keep a diary. Write, blog and record as much as possible.
Use some of this to make an audio documentary of my year of challenges, when I’m finished in February 2017.

I intend to do the final one anyway, but would love to end by doing something really special in February 2017. I just don’t know what yet.

30 Challenges: Baking a Cake

I’ve been very slack with my 30 challenges idea, having done nothing in March, but April is a different story.
Well it started that way anyway. My friend Francina has started baking cakes during the last year, and she’s really amazing at it. She suggested that I bake one with her help, so last Friday we spent 3 hours baking one for my nephew Danny’s ninth birthday.

I have baked apple tarts, buns and banana bread, but I know absolutely nothing about cakes, so this was fun. We followed Donal Skehan’s recipe for chocolate cake, with the most amazing sweet cream ever in the middle! Francina gave instructions, measured and supervised, while I poured, sieved and mixed, and tried not to mess her kitchen too much! While the cake was cooking, we organised the icing. Danny loves football, so Francina cut out black and white pentagons and hexagons to put together to make a football on top. We used letters on the icing to write ‘happy birthday Danny’, and she even dyed some cream to make grass around the bottom. When Fran decides to do something, it’s always done 100% and this cake was no different.

Apart from having lots of fun, I learned a lot about baking cakes. There are lots of useful gagets you can use to measure ingredients and design the cake. The thing for piping the cream was my favourite! I also learned that vodka has it’s uses when sticking icing together. Don’t worry, the alcohol does evaporate!
We put the cake in a box and I gave it to Danny the next day after dinner. I don’t know if it was because his birthday is today so the cake was three days early, or if it was because it was football related, but he was so excited and thanked me about ten times, telling me that it was the best cake he’s ever had. It did taste lovely!

I have lots of photographs and videos of the baking process. Pity I’m useless with technology and don’t have someone hear to put them up on my blog.
Thanks so much Fran for taking the time to do this and making it so enjoyable. Thanks for helping me to do another new thing for the first time this year.

Easter!

I spent Easter in Carlow this year for the first time, and we had a busy enjoyable week.

Sibyl and I travelled to Carlow on Holy Thursday. After dinner she stayed with Nicky while I went out with a group of girls to a table quiz. I didn’t know most of them, but it was good fun. We came second in the quiz, although I wasn’t much use! Apart from the music round, one of the only questions I could answer was how many toes does a dog have!!

On Friday evening Sibyl had her first experience of going to the theatre. She had visited the pet shop and done a lot of walking earlier in the day so she just slept through the show. She was very relaxed, unlike us humans. The play was called ‘the corner boys’, written by John McKenna, and it was not something I would recommend at all. It was based in the 1960’s. I don’t really know what the point of it was to be honest. I’m not easily offended, but the language and sexual references was absolutely disgusting. I’m just glad we were with Nicky’s mother and not mine!

During the next few days we went out for dinner, walked around town and started listening to two different audiobooks and finished neither of them. We drank lots of tea and ate chocolate too of course. On Tuesday we went to Wicklow to spend a couple of nights in the summerhill house hotel, which was Nicky’s birthday present to me. We had to wait for over an hour in Dublin for a bus to Enniskerry, and Sibyl was much more patient than I was. The bus driver drove us as close to it as he could, and asked a helpful girl to walk us the rest of the way. The hotel was in a lovely location, and it is very popular for weddings. We had dinner there, but it was very quiet and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere. Thankfully the next day was better, the staff were friendly and helpful, and there was more life around the place. We even met a small dog who was there for a photoshoot! We had a lovely massage in the spa beside the hotel, and walked down to the small village for lunch. It can be a bit of a challenge just going on people’s directions, with only one dog to guide us, but Sibyl was so confident. She knew her way back better than we did, and brought us a shorter way home. We had to ask for directions twice because we thought she was going wrong, but if we had gone with her both times, we would have been right. She worked well when we returned to Dublin the following afternoon, even though she had no idea where she was going. She worked hard during the last week, and a good free run is long overdue, so hopefully we’ll do that tomorrow.

When we were in Wicklow, I went to Bray for the first time. It’s somewhere I’ve heard lots about, and have always wanted to walk by the sea there because it sounds lovely, but that wasn’t possible. We went for a Chinese there on the Wednesday night, and met a friend on Thursday before getting the Dart back to Dublin. He has a beautiful golden retriever guide dog called York, who just wanted to play with Sibyl when we were having coffee. She also met Clipper the guide dog later in Dublin, and although she loved seeing both of them, she was surprisingly calm and sensible. We had a nice afternoon in Dublin before getting the bus. The journey seemed long, and I’ve honestly never seen a dog so glad to see it’s own bed when we got home.

Before typing this, I listened to the live broadcast of the ‘imagining home’ concert from the National Concert Hall in Dublin, hosted by Glen Hansard as part of the 1916 commemorations. I really wish I’d gone to it. It sounded like a brilliant night, with some really special performances. Hopefully it is online to listen back to on the
RTE Radio 1 website. I would definitely recommend it.

A Quick Update

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything since we went to Poland, which feels like about three months ago now. That always happens when I am busy. Now I’ve to try and remember what I was busy doing!

At the beginning of March I posted on my
audio transcription page
(which more people can like and share if they want!) I wrote about how audio transcription can be useful for students who are completeing research. Read the post if you want to know what I was talking about. I decided to send the link to the page to colleges around Ireland, and was delighted when somebody from one of those got back to me and offered me some work. My brother’s girlfriend stayed with me for a week, so I had great company when I needed breaks from typing.

I usually always blog about doing the church gate collection for guide dogs. I was shocked when the weather stayed dry all weekend. Sibyl did very well considering that it was her first one, although she was a bit confused at first when we got out of the car and just stood in the same place for 20 minutes. We managed to raise 1,300 euros, so along with the 1,750 we raised at the coffee morning on my birthday, that’s 3,050 euros we raised in Buncrana in one month. That’s not bad at all for Sibyl’s first fundraising attempt! I’m very greatful to the generous supportive people in our town.

O.J was ten years old on 13th March. He had just recovered from a tummy infection the week before, and was back to his usuall silly playful self. He hasn’t put on any weight at all since he retired, so I’m very happy with how well my parents look after him.

I’m almost afraid to write this next sentense. Sibyl is really starting to mature and do some great work. I hope I don’t jinx her, but I’ve noticed a huge difference particularly since Christmas. We had a few weeks of dry weather every day, so we did lots of walking, visiting different places in town for different reasons, so Sibyl had to concentrate a lot. I love how she slows down and is much more careful when I’m walking with my nephews, holding their hands. It’s like she knows that she has to be extra careful. I’ve given her lots of free runs and play time, and that has definitely helped her crazy behaviour. But just encase anybody is afraid that she’s getting boring, no chance! She’s still a bit nuts, and very very funny! We are going to Carlow for Easter, and then going to celebrate my birthday (it’s not over yet!), so Sibyl will have more changes of scenery and more work to do.

I didn’t want to write a post and not mention the awful tragedy that happened at the peer in Buncrana last Sunday. There is nothing useful that I can say, except that it has been a very sad town this week. Everybody is thinking about the family and all involved. I wish I could do something to help.

Visiting Poland With a Guide Dog

On the evening of my birthday, after eating a lovely dinner at home with my family, they gave me my present, which I wasn’t expecting. They gave me a three-day trip to Poland with my mother and sister. They put a lot of thought into it, booking a pet friendly hotel in Krakow encase I wanted to bring Sibyl. They even researched music events that I might like. Glen Hansard is playing there this week, but a Wednesday was too mid-week for us to travel. They are so thoughtful though!

We flew out on Thursday 25th, a week after my birthday. I didn’t have much time to plan since we were busy in between, but I did a bit of research about guide dogs in Poland on the Sunday and Monday before we went. I discovered that although they like dogs, their guide dog school is quite new, and when I contacted them, nobody replied to my email. People told me that access shouldn’t be much of a problem, and through Torie’s help, I found a couple of people on a guide dog Facebook group who had traveled there with dogs. Sibyl’s passport was already sorted from our holiday in Spain last year. As we were only spending three nights in Poland, we didn’t need to bring her to a vet there, so this made the decision to bring her much easier.

When we arrived in Belfast international airport, the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. They checked the pet passport thoroughly, and one of the ladies took Sibyl out to the grass before we boarded the plain. They told us that she was the sixth guide dog they’d had through the airport that week. The flight was great, and staff in Krakow airport didn’t seem bothered by the dog when we landed. The hotel staff liked her as well, and made us feel very welcome. The general public were a bit more surprised to see a guide dog, and stared at us a lot. People often walked close to us, or didn’t make an effort to move out of our way. I wouldn’t say they were ignorant, just curious and uneducated about guide dogs.

During the next two days we did lots of walking and sightseeing. We took a bus to visit Auschwitz, which was very interesting. The photographs and objects behind glass made it very visual, but hearing people reading information and the accounts from survivors was fascinating.
We walked around the streets, had lovely food, coffee and hot chocolate, and went into some shops. We had dinner in three very nice restaurants. The food was so cheap, and they all offered Sibyl water when we came in. On Saturday we took a tour of the old town where we were staying. Our tour guide had great English, and he drove us around in a buggy type thing. Sibyl enjoyed looking out, and especially liked watching the horses and carriages. The place was full of them! We stopped at a church which took sixty years to build. The tour guide told us to go in and have a look because it was beautiful, but that he would watch Sibyl because dogs aren’t allowed in any churches in Poland. Pity we didn’t know this before, because it would explain why a security man in St. Mary’s bascilica nearly lost his life when we went in on Thursday evening. He said we could stay for one minute only, but he would only let us walk so far. I’d love to know more about the reasoning behind this. I wouldn’t have thought Catholics would turn animals away, especially dogs that help people. I doubt God would agree!

Sibyl was brilliant with all the traveling, all the walking around, and being out of her usual routine. She is very nosey, and had more than enough distractions in the city. I took sighted guide a lot because it was difficult to follow at times. It was probably more difficult for my mum and sister having her there. Apart from giving me more independence, and initiating conversations with people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have had, it confirmed something that I already thought, how adaptable Sibyl is, and that I can bring her to new places very easily. I wouldn’t visit Poland without a sighted person. There are lots of flat kerbs, and not many obvious crossings. I didn’t hear any audible ones. The people are a bit reserved until they get to know you. I know that’s a big generalisation, but it would make getting around as a blind person more difficult. I’m glad I took Sibyl, and the trip made me want to travel more with her. I’d like to learn more about guide dog organisations in other countries, and find out what access is like. Apart from the church, and the constant staring, (which obviously I didn’t notice), Poland was quite good. I’m sure the more people who visit cities like Krakow with guide dogs, the better it will become.

I completed two of my 30 challenges while I was in Poland. I visited a city that I’ve never been to before, and I tasted dumplings, a traditional food which I hadn’t eaten. Only 28 more things to do!

30 Challenges List (well almost!)

Finally, here they are, well most of them anyway. There’s still space for a few more suggestions.
Some of them are things that I’ve always been curious about. They aren’t all huge challenges, and some might seem totally ridiculous!
So, in no particular order:

1. Complete a 30 mile walk with Sibyl.
2. Work in the cottage bar
This was Teresa (the owner)’s idea!
3. Find Bruce Springsteen tickets for either of the Dublin Croke Park concerts.
I’m determined to be there!
4. Walk the Croke Park Dublin skyline
Jennifer’s idea, and I didn’t even know that this was something people could do.
5. Take part in ‘darkness into light’ on 7th May.
6. Learn to bake scone bread.
7. Touch an animal that I’ve never felt before.
I’ve already touched lots!
8. Do a short course to learn something new.
9. Make a memory box from wood.
Darragh’s idea, and he said he’d help!
10. Shave someone’s head.
Any volunteers? Don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to do this. How strange am I!
11. Attend a musical or theatrical performance of a genre that’s not usually my type of thing!
12. Learn a useful life skill, such as first aid or self-defence.
13. Spend time in a recording studio watching how it works.
I’ve always been curious about this.
14. Read one book every month, and review it afterwords.
15. Get my ears pierced, and don’t let them close up this time!
16. Do something for a charity that I’ve never been involved with before
Not Fundraising!
17. Learn more about a career that I’m interested in.
Spend a day shadowing somebody in their job.
18. Spend a day on a farm.
I’ve done various things when I was younger, but not in a long while.
19. Learn to make homemade pizza.
20. Climb Sliabh Sneacht
Apparently I’ve been up here before, but it was before I was born, so thought I’d do it 30 years later, when I can actually walk myself!
21. Visit a city that I’ve never been to before.
22. Learn to do a few simple hair styles (I can only straighten and curl it)
23. Eat traditional food associated with a particular country
24. Bake a cake
25. Do a water activity
I’ve been on a jet ski, and different types of small boats, but I’m terrified of waves!
26 – 29: There’s still time to suggest a few more ideas!
30. Keep a diary. Write or record as much as possible.
Use this to make an audio documentary of my year of challenges, when I’m finished in February 2017.

If anybody can help with any of these in any way, let me know. I haven’t thought most of them through at all!
It’s going to be a fun year!

A Very Special 30th Birthday!

I was 30 last Thursday. I had decided a long time ago that I wanted to do something different for my 30th birthday. I didn’t want a party or presents, but my family love celebrating birthdays, so I knew it wouldn’t be that easy! I also wanted to spend time with them, so it seemed like an obvious thing to celebrate for guide dogs.
I came up with the idea of having a coffee morning in my uncle’s bar. People could come and spend time together, relax, have some food, and donate a small amount of money to Irish guide dogs. I literally came up with the idea, created a Facebook event, told a few people, and put ten posters around the town. Everybody else did everything, and it was such a special day.

I woke up early and was entertained by my best friends sending me messages on our what’sapp group. They sent youtube videos of happy birthday songs; one sung in harmony, one barked by dogs, and one called ‘happy birthday Jenny!’
Some of us had spent the previous afternoon having lunch together with Sibyl and a couple of their small children. One friend drove to the cafe (a 20 minute drive) without even telling me where I was going! Only because she knew she would get away with it because I can’t see. Another friend baked me a cake! They are so generous and always want to have fun. I’m very lucky!

Unfortunately Nicky had to go back home that morning, and was unable to be there for the day. My brother-in-law also couldn’t be there. I really missed them both, and thought about them a lot during the day. They would have enjoyed it. Unfortunate things happen, and there was nothing anybody could do. It was too late to cancel anything, and the day just had to go on.

My sister came to do my make-up and brought me to the bar, where people had been busy organising and decorating all morning. They even had napkins with labradors on them! People had made granola, scones, buns, bread and another birthday cake! They decided that a breakfast/coffee morning would be a little bit different rather than the usual sandwiches and lots of sweet buns. People seemed to like the idea too, because during the next 4 hours, probably 200 people came through the pub doors, right from the minute they opened at 10:30. People made such an effort to be there. People that I hardly know. People that I wasn’t expecting. People who went out of their way. Two other guide dog owners came. Everybody donated so generously, and I spent the day feeling so overwhelmed and happy at how supportive people in our town are. My family did so much. My nephews all helped to make it very special. One worked hard behind the bar, while the younger boys made sure that all the children who came were fed, as well as keeping me up to date with anything they felt that I needed to know. O.J was there too of course. Himself and Sibyl had sniffing competitions where they lay, but they behaved really well, and everybody enjoyed petting them.

I received some lovely presents, even though I wasn’t expecting any. Some people even gave me hand-made cards. Everything was so thoughtful. My phone never stopped all day. I was exhausted from talking when we left the bar after 3 PM. We visited my Godmother, who gave me a present, and another homemade cake! That’s three cakes in 24 hours! All very different, but equally Yummy! My brother and his girlfriend made a lovely curry, which we all enjoyed before sitting down to read cards and count the money. There’s still donations coming in, but my birthday raised over 1,600 euros so far. That’s an incredible amount of money!

Challenge Update

I’ve had lots of fun since I posted my previous blog. There’s been great suggestions of challenges that I can complete within the next year. I’ve definitely decided on over half of them, but there’s still time for you to suggest more!

Lots of the things people suggested are things that I’ve already done before. Joining a gym, tandem cycling, abseiling, jetskiing, canoeing, driving a car, petting some interesting animals… I’ve been very lucky to have had opportunities to do different things, but there’s still more I want to do.
I’ve divided them loosely into three different types of
challenges: new things to learn, things that could help other people as well as myself, and things that I’m curious about! This is probably the most interesting one!

Anybody who knows me well enough will already know this, but It’s important to mention anyway. I’m doing this for fun, and for no other reason. I’m not doing it because I’m blind and want to prove something. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I hate people who do challenges and extreme sports for this reason, and then talk about it and make money talking about it for years afterwords. I’ll mention no names! I’m not doing this to inspire people, or for people to think, oh isn’t she great! I’m doing it for me, just to make the next year a little bit different and a bit more fun.

The exciting thing about this is that I’m not the only one doing it. Darragh, from
DigitalDarragh.com
who is a good friend, and always up for a bit of craic is doing it too. Hopefully he’ll blog about it, because I know he’ll do some interesting things. He’s done some crazy stuff already, I could hardly think of things for him to do.

If anyone has anymore ideas for either of us, let us know.

30 Challenges!

I will be 30 on 18th February. That’s in twenty days time. I’m planning a fundraiser for guide dogs on the day, (I don’t want presents), but I want to do something fun this year. So I need your suggestions!
I want to challenge myself to do 30 new things this year. I’m making a list that I’ll post just before my birthday, but I need ideas.

So where did this crazy idea come from? This morning I went to the Foyle Arena in Derry, where I climbed a climbing wall for the first time. I’m not an adventurous person at all, but I was glad I did it. Doing something challenging can make you nervous and uncomfortable, but when you do it, there’s no better feeling.
Challenges are different for everyone. Going somewhere knew, learning a new route with a cane or guide dog, cooking new food, meeting new people, starting a new hobbie… All these can be challenging. I’m not looking for major fitness challenges, or I don’t want to climb Mount Everest or anything. I just want simple ideas that challenge me and encourage me to try new things. Challenges involving helping other people would also be nice.

Finding a job that I like is not included in these 30 challenges, though I’m trying to do that as well. When I am looking for work and don’t know what I want, it sometimes feels like that’s all I ever think or worry about, and that can get a bit boring and depressing! If I haven’t totally sortted a job or career path by the end of the year, I don’t want to sit back and wonder what I spent the year doing. I want to do new things and have fun. I could talk about doing this forever, but now that I’ve written it, I have to do it!

So come on, give me some ideas of new ways I can challenge myself and do something fun during the first year of my 30’s!