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.

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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.