Stuff that’s in my head…

With a silly post title like this, you’re probably afraid to read on. The stuff that’s in my head at the best of times is usually a bit nuts, especially when I don’t have a clear plan for a post. I’m having one of those times when I’m wondering what’s the point of writing at all. There’s nothing exciting to report guide dog wise these days. We aren’t going anywhere extraordinary, so Sibyl’s work is as good as it needs to be for now. Recently though, I’ve been reading back over posts, and it’s nice to have memories of things I’ve done and how things have changed. Sometimes I feel like I did a lot more and was happier at particular times, but suppose that’s the way life goes. It’s nice to look back over conversations I’ve had through the comments on my posts, and the 30 challenges idea is helping me to stay motivated to write as well.

Things have changed a lot over the last 18 months, from the time that I went training with Sibyl. Many of these are things about me that people would never notice, but I do. Having to go training sooner than I expected pushed me out of my comfort zone, and made me think about what I was doing and what I wanted and needed for myself. I questioned a lot of things, including myself all the time. I made decisions that were tough, but were probably better, even if it didn’t always feel like it. I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way, and I’m still learning! I won’t bore anyone who is still reading with the details about how I’m doing that, but basically if you have to change things, you really have to be in the right frame of mind to do it. For me, learning about cognitive behaviour therapy (purely out of curiosity) really helped me more than I’d expected. Spending lots of time outside walking, cooking and eating better, yoga and volunteering, among other things help.

I’ve been asked to speak to approximately 90 children in my local primary school next week as part of a program they do called ‘friends for life.’ It’s also based on CBT, and this is the second year that I’ve been involved. I have to tell them about my experiences of school, life in general, friends, people who have been my positive role models, and how I face and overcome challenges. These are all things I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. So now I just have to put something together to make it child-friendly and interesting to eleven-year-olds. I’m going to finish by telling them about my own 30 challenges idea, and encourage them to challenge themselves to do one new thing that they’ve never done before that will put themselves out of their comfort zone. I want them to see that challenges don’t always have to mean scarey things that we don’t like doing. I wonder what they will come up with?

30 Ted Talks

Here’s the list and quotes from some of the 30 Ted Talks I challenged myself to listen to in August. Some were recommendations, but most were chosen related to the things I’m interested in and thinking about these days. Hopefully you’ll watch and enjoy some of these as much as I did. I should put the links, but that’s effort!

1. How to find and do the work you love
Scott Dinsmor
“80% of people work in jobs they don’t enjoy because they think they have to.
Surround yourself with people who inspire you.”

2. How to find your passion and inner awesomeness
Eugene Hennie
“Ask yourself what do you like? Embrace yourself. Once you embrace it, everything else becomes easier.
Make the impossible the new possible.
Embrace confrontation.
Do what’s right.”

3. Every kid needs a champion
Rita Pierson
A must listen for everyone who teaches or works with children in any way.
“While you won’t like all the kids you teach, the key is to never let them know.
Teaching and learning should be a joy.
Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them.”

4. The power of vulnerability
Brene Brown
“The ability to feel connected with people is why we are here.
We need to believe that we are enough.”

5. Dog friendly dog training
Ian Dunbar
I love the work that this man does, and he always makes a lot of sense.
“You get a little puppy. His only crime is that he grew!
Dogs, horses and humans are the three species that are so abused.
They are so beatable, that’s why they get beaten.
Teach a dog to want to do what you want it to do.
Let the dog think that it is training us. Allow what was once the distraction in training to be the reward.
We have to learn to enforce a behaviour without force.
Training dogs and teaching children is very similar if approached in the correct way.”

6. What must our dogs be thinking when they look at us
Billy Collins

7. Which country does the most good for the world?
Simon Anholt

8. How to get your ideas to spread
Seth Godin

9. The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed
Bill Gross
“Execution definitely matters a lot. The idea matters a lot. But timing might matter even more.”

10. The dangers of wilful blindness
Margaret Heffernan
“People know there is a problem with something, but they say nothing.
Humans are all, under certain circumstances, wilfully blind.”

11. Every conversation can change a life
Pat Divilly
I listened to this again after hearing it first in February when it went online. One of my favourite talks, and definitely worth a watch.
“The world is a mirror and when you go out there smile at people and take an interest in people … believe in people when you don’t believe in yourself then your whole world changes.”

12. Measuring what makes life worthwhile
Chip Conley

13. How to make work/life balance work
Nigel Marsh
He talks a lot of sense!
“. We should stop looking outside. It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance.”

14. The happy secret to better work
Shawn Anchor
This is very funny!

15. in the key of genius
Derek Paravicini and Adam Okelford
I absolutely love Derek’s story and Adam’s work. Reading his book is brilliant, and this talk gives a small idea of what it’s about.

16. How autism freed me to be myself
Rosie King

17. The world needs all kinds of minds
Temple Grandin

18. What I’ve learned from my autistic brothers
Faith Jegede Cole
“Normality overlooks the beauty that differences give us, and the fact that we are different doesn’t mean that one of us is wrong. It just means that there’s a different kind of right… The chance for greatness, for progress and for change dies the moment we try to be like someone else.”

19. How I learned to communicate my inner life with Asperger’s
Alex Generous
A very funny insight into the life and challenges of someone with Asperger’s.

20. How I use sonar to navigate the world
Daniel Kish
“It’s impressions about blindness that are far more threatening to blind people than the blindness itself.”
I love this quote!
He’s a funny guy. Echolocation has its uses, but I’m not going to give up my dog to use it any time soon!

21. Questions that move us forward
Hugo Pereira
“What have I experienced in life that is worth sharing?”
“We are the average of the five people we spend most of our time with… Are they challenging you enough?”
“Would you do anything different in your life if you knew you could not fail?”
“If there is a small hint that you want to change something, then what is holding you back?”

22. Try something new for 30 days
Matt Cutts

23. Kids, take charge
Kiran Bir Sethi
“When children are empowered, not only do they do good, they do well.”

24. Why would God create a tsunami?
Tom Honey
I don’t know, and I still don’t after listening to this!

25. Rethinking foster care
Molly McGrath Tierney
Someone recommended this. Have no experience and not sure if I totally agree.

26. The transformative power of classical music
Benjamin Zander
This is really good.

27. How architecture helped music evolve
David Byrne

28. When meds fail: a case for music therapy
Tim Ringgold
I totally get everything he says. The connection that people have with music and how it affects us is powerful.

29. How I started writing songs again
I really like Sting, so it was a nice surprise to find this. The songs are great, as well as his down to earth talk.

30. Do schools kill creativity?
Ken Robinson
“I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
This was an entertaining and educational talk to end my Ted talk challenge.


Even though I’ve lived beside the beach in Buncrana for most of my life, I’m a little bit afraid of waves. I’m afraid for a good reason though. When I was eight, I was knocked over and turned head over heels by a wave on holiday in France. Ten years later I was on holiday in Thailand with my family. We spent a good part of Christmas day on the beach. The following morning we found ourselves in the middle of what we knew later to be the Asian tsunami!
Not only have I still continued to go places on holiday and swim in the beach, I decided that one of the 30 new things I wanted to do this year should be related to water. I knew that Torie had gone surfing before, so I knew there were people not too far away who were willing enough and crazy enough to help a blind person overcome a fear of waves. After finally finding the courage to contact Dan from
Long Line Surf School
by email, I knew there was no going back. Challenge 13 was planned for 1st September, and my PA Donna and I found ourselves at the surf school just outside Limavady at ten o’clock this morning.

Dan was full of enthusiasm when he met me to bring me surfing. I was nervous and not so enthusiastic. When I say I’m going to do something, I stick to it, so I put on the wetsuit and we headed for the beach. Benone beach is one of Ireland’s longest beaches. At seven miles long, there was plenty of space for Donna to walk Sibyl and let her off for a run. The surf school has been operating for five years, and there are six instructors in total, based in Benone and Portrush beaches. Their passion for what they do, along with the fact that they want to make surfing an option for as many people as possible with different abilities through their
disability surf lessons
is very impressive.

After chatting with dan for a few minutes, I quickly relaxed because I knew I could trust him. He’s a trained lifeguard after all. We walked in the water so I could feel the size of the waves and how deep we’d be going. It was always shallow enough which was perfect for a first lesson. I knew if I fell off I could stand up really quickly. Then he showed me how to lie on the board on the sand, before taking it into the water. The nine foot board means it’s long enough for the instructor to move and direct from behind. The first while was like bodyboarding, and I went into a few waves facing them, and then out to the shore. The feeling both times was brilliant, even though I found facing the oncoming wave a bit freaky at first. After a while Dan would tell me when to kneel, and I’d move quickly from lying to kneeling on the board as the wave took it into the shore.
We went back on to the sand again to learn how to balance and put one foot forward after kneeling on the board. I did this lots more times in the water. Apparently I have good balance on the board, especially for a beginner. All that yoga must be paying off!

Obviously the point of surfing is to stand on the board and ride the waves. Dan had a brilliant way of building me up to this gradually, though there was never any pressure to do anything. He’d suggest different things I could do, but If I’d wanted to stay on my tummy on the board for an hour, he’d have let me. The more I went on one knee, the more I was tempted to stand. The more I thought about it, the more I put myself off. We decided I’d do it three more times, as the weather was starting to change. The waves became a bit bigger, and it was harder to walk out towards them. I got a few ear-full and eye-fulls of water along the way, but when you’re totally soaked, you don’t care anymore. On my second last surf in to shore, I stood up before I even had time to think. The feeling was amazing, and I wished I could have balanced longer. Instead I half fell into the water and poor Dan nearly got his hair pulled as I tried to kneel in the sand. Did I mention he had the patience of a saint? I stood again for the final time before jumping into the water and laughing. I was buzzing at that stage. I could have ran the length of the beach!

Surfing with Long Line was such a brilliant experience. The work they do is amazing, and I can’t recommend them enough. It’s a great feeling when you decide to do something completely out of your comfort zone and actually really enjoy it. It takes a certain kind of person to make that happen, and Dan did an amazing job. Believing I could do something that I know nothing about, and describing what was happening during the lesson so well made this challenge work. And it worked so well that I really really want to go back sometime and do it all again.

Going to concerts when you can’t see

I haven’t been inspired to blog much lately for some reason, but I’m hoping a few things happening in September will change that.
I mentioned in my last post that I went to a Beyoncé concert with my friends, and at times it was a very visual experience because of the type of artist she is and the type of show she puts on.
asked if I would consider writing more about my experience of going to concerts as a person who is blind. It’s not something I’ve really thought about in great detail to be honest. Sometimes it takes somebody to ask you a question to make you really think about it. Although I haven’t been listening to as much music as usual recently, and am not finding opportunities to hear live music, I’ve given Beth’s idea some thought.

I have been obsessed with music for as long as I can remember. I was always really interested in different instruments and different sounds, and how things sounded when they were recorded. I got a tape recorder when I was almost three years old, and I took it everywhere. It was hardly surprising then that when I went to my first live concert to see Bon Jovi at the age of ten, I loved every minute of the whole experience. From the anticipation of going when I got the tickets, to traveling to the venue and walking in with the crowds of people. Finding seats or a good spot to stand, depending on the venue, and recognising most of the songs by the first few notes.
There’s nothing better than discovering a band, listening to a particular album over and over again, and finally hearing them play music you enjoy live. I can see bands perform many times if I really like them, and each time will be different.

It might seem strange because I can’t see, but my seats or where I stand at a gig can really impact on how much I enjoy it. If I go to a rock concert in a venue, I prefer to be standing among the crowd, no matter how busy it is. The closer to the front I can get the better! I’ve stood at four out of five Springsteen gigs, and my least favourite was when I had seats in Croke Park a few months ago. Visually, the seats couldn’t have been better, which was great for my sighted friend who could describe everything to me, but I felt so far away from the stage and the rock N roll atmosphere.

If I attend a musical performance in a theatre, I love sitting near the front because I don’t have to hear people talking all around me. This is particularly good when a few of the musicians I like often play a song unplugged during a gig, or when some of their funny banter can be said off-mic, but I can still hear it. Sometimes the fact that I need the disabled area when I bring the guide dog means that I can’t sit in these prefered areas. People who can see might not really understand why I can be so fussy about where I sit, but others just find it entertaining. Once while I was making my way to my seat in the front row of a theatre gig, a friend who always loved to make blind related jokes loudly called out, “Jen it doesn’t matter how close you get to that stage. You still won’t see a thing!!”

Going to a gig and getting there early to watch the special guest or support act who plays before can be a great way of finding new music. Mostly for me, it’s all about the sound, but sometimes, and more recently for some reason, I find myself becoming more curious about how performances look, or how a stage is set up. I don’t perform on stage myself, so have no real concept of how things look or how instruments might be set up. Sometimes I’ll ask friends questions about that, but usually I just wonder myself and concentrate more on what I’m hearing. Beyoncé’s concert was very different though, and I was very glad to have friends beside me who almost automatically provide audio description. I’m not a fan of pop music that usually involves manufactured bands and lots of singers and dancers on stage who really do nothing. I prefer everybody on stage to sing and play to be heard, not to make the performance look good. If I’m listening to instrumental performers or a trad session for example, I’ll just concentrate on the music. But sometimes if a singer is singing a particular way, I’ll find myself wondering what they look like. It’s no secret that I’ve seen Glen Hansard perform so many times, and although I know what to expect, I’m sometimes curious. He’s one of the most emotional and passionate performers I’ve ever heard. He could be singing quietly and then erupt, and I can’t help thinking how crazy his facial impressions must look!

While I’ll always be curious at times about how things look, for me, a performance is 99% about the music. I consider myself lucky, because when I’m listening, I’m not distracted by what is going on around me. I’m not watching other people. I’m not looking at the stage through the screen on my phone while videoing it. If I’m really interested in something, I’ll hardly speak to the person I’m with until it’s over. It’s one of the only times I can really understand what the phrase living in the moment is like, because I try to do that as much as I can. If the performer is engaging and passionate enough about what they are doing, they’ll make me do that.

So although having eyes that work would come in useful to get around, or when I miss out on a good gig because I have nobody to go with, or nobody likes the same music as me (which often happens), it’s all about the ears when it comes to live music. At the end of the day, I think that’s what the performers would want to hear. Good ears and good music are a perfect combination.

Where Did July Go?

I’ve been writing this blog since August 2007, and I’m almost sure I’ve posted something at least once a month every month since then. I know that’s not many posts in nine years, but the point I’m making is that I never missed a month. Until now! Disgraceful! I did think about this during July, but never sat down to write, so here’s a summery of what I’ve been up to.

In January this year I became a volunteer with the local Foroige club in our town. I help out with the junior group on a Monday night, and the children are between the ages of ten and thirteen years old. Everybody was very welcoming right from the beginning, but I feel like it has taken me a while to really find my feet, and learn how I can be a help to the children. On second July we spent the day in Dublin at the citizenship awards, because our group had entered a project that they had been working on throughout the year. It was a long and busy day, with lots of noise and food around to distract Sibyl. She was quite sniffy and tried to eat sweets from the ground a lot, which is something we have to work on preventing. Apart from that she was good. The kids won an award for their project, so they all went home happy.

The following Saturday I travelled to Dublin again, without Sibyl this time. Myself and my five best friends went to see Beyoncé in Croke Park, which was a present for one of the girl’s 30th birthdays. I’m not a fan of Beyoncé at all, and honestly didn’t even know how to spell her name properly until we were getting the tickets!! The weather was beautiful, I had bought some new clothes, and we all rarely get a chance to meet up without partners or children anymore, so I was happy enough to be there. While a few of us waited for a taxi or bus to the stadium after dinner, a rickshaw drove passed, and I was so excited when the driver said he could take us there. It was such a fun journey, and I hadn’t laughed so much in a while. I said that even if the concert was rubbish, it was worth it for the journey there.
The concert wasn’t as bad as I thought. Beyoncé’s voice was amazing, and she seemed very humble and genuine, not what I was expecting. It was a very visual performance with lots of costume changes. Videos were shown each time she went off stage, which I didn’t really appreciate, and she played bits of some songs, without doing the full thing, which I found annoying. It definitely was better than I expected, but I wouldn’t go to see her again.

I had the next weekend free, which I used to finish a big transcribing job which I’d been working on for almost two months. It was really enjoyable and I learned a lot.
The following weekend Sibyl and I, along with my parents travelled to Liverpool, where we met Nicky and went to a wedding. It was very different from weddings we’d have at home, but it was good fun and the weather was amazing. I had a chance to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in a few years, and meet her new baby for the first time. We also used the trip as an opportunity to spend a few days in Wales, as Nicky had a friend there who he’d been promising to visit for a long time. I’d never been to wales before, but I definitely want to go back. We spent a few days with lovely friendly people, who I liked as soon as I met them. We went to Hereford to meet other friends and their new guide dogs, which Sibyl loved. We went to a seaside town called Barry and had the nicest fish and chips ever! The children walked Sibyl and bought us two mugs to keep as suveneers. We had drinks sitting outside a pub which had blankets if we got cold. We were spoiled and looked after so well. Hopefully I can return the favour if they come to Ireland next year. Sibyl wasn’t there long enough to really learn her way around, but it was useful to have her, especially in the airport on the way home, when Nicky walked with the assistant and we followed behind. By the time we had landed in Belfast, Sibyl had been to seven different airports, which isn’t bad considering that she went on her first holiday almost exactly one year ago. I wonder how many she’ll have been in by the time she retires?

Of course when you come back from holiday, life just goes back to normal, or what seems to be normal in O.J’s world anyway. We collected him from the vet on Thursday after he had another lump removed. I think this is his forth. I’ve lost count. This one was under his tail, and the vet didn’t like the look of it as soon as he saw it. It might be nothing, but he said that if they left it and it grew bigger, removing it could make him incontinent. That would obviously be a nightmare, so removing it was the better option. He had a cone to stop him from itching it, but it was annoying him so we took it off after a couple of days. He’s eating and going for walks and seems lively and happy. It’s the quickest I’ve ever seen him recover from anything before. The fact that he’s so fit really does make a difference.

So there it is, my July update, which could have been made into three or four well written posts if I took the time to write them.

Two’s company, and three’s crazy!

OJ has been staying in my house for almost a week, and he’ll be here for another one. It’s great having him, even if the house is a lot more hairy! He’s still his usual silly lively self, maybe more attention seeking towards me than usual. He interrupts me when I’m typing by poking his nose in my side and lifting my arm up so that I have no choice but to pet him and laugh.

Having three dogs in the house is a bit crazy. They don’t go upstairs or into the spare room, so there isn’t exactly lots of space. They work out who sleeps where though, and when I’m here on my own, you’d hardly know they were here.

I’ve worked out a feeding routine in the morning and evening. They all get fed in different places so that they don’t rush their food and go investigating in someone else’s bowl. An ideal morning is when they all do everything they have to do in the run (the fenced off dog toilet) in the yard. It’s easier to have to clean it all up at the same time, rather than remembering who went, and who still has to go later on. I would need a never ending supply of dog poop bags!
After grooming yesterday, I had a bag of hair, leads and brushes in my hands, and accidentally dropped Sibyl’s comb into the wheelybin. It smells in there, so there was no way I was going in to find it!

Dougal is more shy than usual with the two bigger dogs around. I suppose he feels very small, and he can only make himself known by barking. Sibyl has been surprisingly more calm than I thought. OJ, even though he is the oldest, is the one who instigates all the playing, and if I didn’t stop him, I’d have Labradors running around my kitchen at high speed ten times every day. They were particularly hyper the other day, but when I took them to the park with my PA, they just stood looking at each other.

Sometimes I feel like I’m running dog kennels. I think I could do it no bother if I had more money and more space. It’s a bit crazy round here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hunting for Animals

Yesterday was one of those days where I had the chance to go somewhere with a friend, but with the weather being unpredictable, we had no real plan. I’m never bored and always find something to do, so it didn’t really bother me when she started driving. We came up with an idea that might tick off the ninth challenge on my list of 30.

One of the 30 challenges I set myself was to touch an animal that I’ve never felt before. This mightn’t seem hard, but I’ve touched lots! Since I was small, I’ve been very familiar with horses, donkeys and all the animals you might find on a farm. I’ve touched many different pets and types of birds, even an ostrich, and that was actually in Buncrana! I had a friend in school who kept many strange animals as pets, and he always enjoyed shoing them to me when I visited his house. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to some interesting places, where I’ve had the chance to touch lots of amazing animals. I rode on a camel in Lanzarotte when I was eight. I petted a kuala bear and a kangaroo, (and got bitten by a baby one) in a big park in Sydney. I rode on an elephant and held a baby tiger in Thailand, and it was there that I also got to hold my favourite animals ever, (after dogs of course!) The first time we went there was just before Christmas. As we walked down the street on Christmas day to go and get dinner, we met a man coming towards us holding a small monkey. I thought my family were joking when they said I could touch it. I held the monkey and got a photograph, and he was so cute! The next time we were there I met one on the beach and fed it some pineapple. If there was a place you could go and spend a day playing with them, I’d be in heaven!

So after touching all those animals, it was going to be hard to find something different. I have heard of a lady in England who went to a sanctuary where the owner let her touch a wolf! That would be terrifying and amazing, but I had to be realistic and try and keep it as local as possible! So I went to
tropical world
in Letterkenny and held two lizards. I’d never been there before. They have lots of birds, reptiles and animals, including marmosets an lemurs, which I wanted to touch but I wasn’t allowed. One Lemur in particular was very noisy and seemed like lots of fun!

In the reptile area I had the chance to hold a bearded dragon, which is a lizard with spikey skin. If you rub your hand towards it’s head, it feels more spikey than if you do it in the opposite direction. The second one I held was a blue tongue skink, which sounds disgusting, but wasn’t at all. It actually felt like it was made from hard plastic, as it’s skin had little bumps on it. They have no teeth, but the claws are quite sharp, so I had to let it lie on my arm on my coat so that it wouldn’t jag me. Both were very still and calm, and really used to being handled. They weren’t slimy like you might expect lizards to be. The girl showing me them was very friendly and was able to tell us lots about them. I have some photographs and two videos, but the birds beside us were so noisy that you couldn’t hear anything else.

Sibyl came with us and behaved very well, although she was very curious. The animals were curious about her too! We are having a quiet day today, although it is her 3rd birthday. We went for a short walk and met a friend for breakfast. She had a chew and chilled out for the afternoon. She seems happy enough, I think as long as she knows that dogs are still, and always will be my favourite animals!

30 Challenges List

I’ve reordered the list of the 30 challenges, with the things I’ve already completed at the top.
I’ve made a few changes because I want to be excited about doing most of these things. It could change again, so suggestions always welcome.

1. Visit a city that I’ve never been to before. (Poland for my birthday)
2. Eat traditional food associated with a particular country. (dumplings in Poland)
3. Bake a cake. (Nephew Danny’s 9th birthday cake)
4. Do a short course to learn something new. (intro to CBT)
5. Take part in ‘darkness into light’ on 7th May. (lovely experience)
6. Do something historical in Belfast, since I lived there for three years and did nothing!
(I did the titanic tour with Nicky, thanks to part of my birthday present from the girls.)
7. Find Bruce Springsteen tickets for a Croke Park concert. (amazing gig!)
8. Educate myself more about mental health.
(Recently learned lots about ADHD through a transcribing job.
Also signed up for a workshop with Jigsaw Donegal but it’s not until October.)
9. 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!
10. Go surfing. Did I really write that? I’ll be terrified!
11. Touch an animal that I’ve never felt before.
12. Complete a 30 K walk in one day (a kilometre for every year)
I need to plan a route for this.
13. Work in the cottage bar
14. Walk the Croke Park Dublin skyline
15. Make a memory box from wood.
16. Shave someone’s head.
17. Learn a useful life skill.
18. Spend time in a recording studio watching how it works.
19.Go gliding!.
20. Do something (not fundraising) for a charity that I’ve never been involved with before
21. Something artistic or creative, since I’m not good at this stuff.
22. Work on a farm for a day.
23. Learn to make homemade pizza.
24. Learn to bake scone bread.
25. Climb Sliabh Sneacht
26. Learn to do a few simple hair styles (I can only straighten and curl it)
27. Do another outdoor activity Suggestions?
28. Learn to make homemade cosmetics
29: Get my ears pierced, and don’t let them close up this time!
30. Keep a diary. Write, blog and record as much as possible.
Use this to make an audio documentary of my 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.

Birthday Celebrations In Belfast!

I know, you’re thinking when is this birthday thing ever going to end? It’s not every year you turn 30, so you might as well make the most of it.
My five best friends went together and gave me a brilliant thoughtful present that they knew I’d love, and that I’ve been looking forward to since February.

Last Friday Nicky and I took buses from Dublin and Derry and met up in Belfast for a weekend in Benedicts hotel. It’s one of my favourite hotels ever, with helpful friendly staff and a great welcome for guide dogs. I’m always impressed by the bowl and bed for the dog in the room, and this time the receptionist who showed us to our room said that if the dog liked the bed, the manager said I could keep it because they have lots!
We ate dinner in Made in Belfast in the Cathedral Quarter. I absolutely love this place! Again the staff were amazing, particularly the man working at our table who could not have been more helpful. When I thanked him at the end, he said he was only doing his job! The steak was lovely, and I really wanted dessert but I was too full up to even attempt it.

On Saturday morning after a lovely breakfas,t we got a taxi to the Victoria shopping centre so Nicky could go to the apple store. After he bought a charger and we asked about a couple of products, we found a Costa coffee to pass a bit of time. A staff member brought us to a nice seating area and came back to take our order. This was nicer than standing at a busy counter, trying to keep Sibyl away from food and low tables of nice smelling things. When he brought the coffee and muffins, he would only take £2 from me, saying that he wanted to give us our drinks free, and that I could use my money to buy something for the dog instead! People are so nice.

Along with our hotel, my friends booked us tickets to do the Titanic tour in the Titanic
exhibition centre. It’s not something I’ve really thought much about doing, but after living in Belfast for three years and doing nothing cultural at all, it was about time I did something. When we went inside the huge building, the first person we met was Stevie. It turned out that he would spend most of the next two and a half hours with us, doing much more than his job required him too. We had tickets for the longer tour inside the building, as aposed to the shorter discovery tour which takes place outside and is accompanied by a tour guide. At first we thought this might be a better option since we had no guide, but it turned out that the other one that we did was much better and really informative and interesting. We wore headphones which gave us short audio described pieces at different stages of the exhibition. There were also some videos we could listen to as we walked around. Obviously it was very visual, so there were bits we missed out on, but the audio was a great addition. There was a great variety of things to experience, including a short cablecar type ride that you went on to experience the sounds, the heat and the working conditions of the people who worked in Belfast during the building of the Titanic. There were a few seats along the way, and we watched a short film in the cinema towards the end of the tour. It is very well put together, with lots of things to entertain children if you had them with you. The staff are helpful and really know their jobs well.
The fact that we had nobody with us, and there was no tour guide inside made it a bit more difficult to know exactly what direction to follow on each floor. The staff kept an eye out for us, and Stevie was practically there for most of it. He took lots of time talking, explaining and describing things, as well as sneaking lots of pets of Sibyl along the way. She was very patient throughout the afternoon.

When we finished the tour, Stevie brought us to the carpark to wait on our taxi back to the hotel. The only small downside of the weekend happened when it came, and the driver said he didn’t have to take the dog because even though he worked for a particular company, he was driving his own private car. We asked him if he would call us another taxi then. When he did, and told his colleague that he didn’t want to take “a big animal”, they obviously told him who was boss, because he quickly changed his mind and said he’d take us. We didn’t speak on the way back, and I was careful that Sibyl didn’t put her face or head anywhere near him. He was helpful with his directions when we got out of the car, and we weren’t expecting that.
We met a friend for dinner in a lovely Italian restaurant, had a couple of drinks in the hotel bar and all sat chatting in our room for a while before she went home.

We didn’t stay around Belfast long after breakfast on Sunday. It was frustrating not really knowing my way around much, because the weather was great and I’d have like to have walked more with Sibyl. There is a park with grrass close to the hotel, and it took a bit of practice for Sibyl to find the lights, even though it wasn’t too complicated at all. The location of the lights are different in Northern Ireland. They aren’t very consistent which is annoying. Sibyl wasn’t trained to locate the button like O.J was, but I’m teaching her how to do it because it’s very useful. This weekend reminded me that I need to find reasons to go to Derry regularly and practice this with her. Our town just isn’t busy enough.

So there’s just one other birthday celebration to go. That is the Bruce Springsteen ticket I managed to find and by for myself. Because of course you should always buy yourself a present too, right?! The concert is this weekend, and to say I’m excited is an understatement!!

This was a good week!

There are a few reasons why the last week has been really good.
I love trying new things, and I got to do a couple of them this week, which were unplanned, not part of the 30 challenges, but still good fun!

My two younger nephews were off school last week so I told them I’d make them lunch and take them to the cinema. My PA drove us to Derry and left us off there. The road where the bus lets people off would be too dangerous to bring a dog and two small boys. They were so excited that Sibyl was coming too, even though they’ve been to the cinema with her before. We went to see the Jungle Book, mostly because I wanted to see it myself, if I’m honest. Anything with animals, and especially the fact that I knew the story so well made it seem like a good choice. We got treats and drinks and sat down to watch it in 3D. A man who worked in the cinema came over to ask if I wanted earphones for the audio description. I’ve never used it in the cinema before, and didn’t actually know that the Moviebowl cinema had it, as it’s not very well advertised. I was glad of it because the film was so visual. I was able to adjust the volume separately in both ears so that I could hear the boys to my right and hear the film louder in my left ear. Every ten minutes one of them would say, ‘what’s she saying now? What’s she telling you now?’ It was very funny. I must remember to ask for them next time I go, although every film is not audio described. If I didn’t have Sibyl with me, they probably wouldn’t have noticed that I was blind and wouldn’t have offered them.

The weather has been lovely, so I’ve been doing lots of walking and Sibyl has been doing lots of free running. Tuesday morning was really warm, and when I went to yoga, the teacher (who is my aunt) told us that she was doing the class outside. It was really strange for the first few minutes, being on the grass, listening to the birds and the sea. Most of the things we did felt different, but it was really enjoyable. We actually had to go inside for the last 15 minutes because it was so warm.

In between the walks and enjoying the good weather, I’ve been busy transcribing. I get nothing for a while and then everything comes at once. I could have a potentially big project coming up soon, so hopefully it will all work out, and I’ll be very happy.

The best part of the week was my new nephew being born yesterday morning. Everything went well, and he’s a gorgeous healthy little boy, with three big brothers to look after him. I’m looking forward to getting lots of cuddles in the next few days, especially when he comes home.