30 Challenges, The Complete List!

After all the talk of the 30 challenges, I never did post the final list when I finished, so here it is! I didn’t do this to prove anything or for people to say it’s inspiring. I didn’t do this to prove that I can do things eeven though I’m blind. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I did this because I wanted to learn new things and put myself out of my comfort zone a bit. But more importantly, I did it for fun!
Thanks to anyone who helped to make any of these 30 things possible, whether by organising, participating, or encouraging me to do them and not thinking I was crazy! Getting to spend time doing fun things with so many different people during the year was fun. I definitely learned a lot, and it has made me think about things I want to do in the future. It was definitely an interesting and fun 30th year!

1. Raise money for guide dogs on my 30th birthday
I had a coffee morning for guide dogs which raise €1,750.
2. Visit a city that I’ve never been to before
Krakow in Poland (30th birthday present from my family.)
3. Eat traditional food associated with a particular country
Dumplings in Poland, Welsh Cakes in Wales. Nepalese food.
4. Bake a cake
My friend Francina helped me to make nephew Danny’s 9th birthday cake.
5. Do a short course to learn something new
Intro to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in the NWRC in Derry.
6. Take part in ‘darkness into light’ on 7th May
Guide dog Sibyl came too. I would really recommend this.
7. Do something historical in Belfast, since I lived there for three years and did nothing!
I did the titanic tour (part of my birthday present from the girls.)
8. Find Bruce Springsteen tickets for a Croke Park concert!
People said I wouldn’t. They were hard to get, but I got them a month before and it was great!
9. Educate myself more about mental health
Learned lots through a transcribing job and some courses and talks that I attended.
10. Touch an animal that I’ve never felt before
I held a bearded dragon and a blue tongue skink, two types of lizards. Fed a lop-eared rabbit.
11. Attend a musical performance that’s not really my type of thing
I went to Beyonce in Croke Park on 9th July with my best friends for Cheryl’s birthday.
12. Go on a rickshaw
This was unplanned but it was our transport to Croke Park when we missed the bus!
13. Gut a fish (an idea my 9-year-old nephew challenge me to do)
I only managed to chop off the head and tail and was nearly sick!
14. Listen to 30 inspiring Ted Talks during the month of August
Some of these were great.
15. Go surfing
This was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, even though I’m afraid of waves!
16. Spend time in a recording studio
I got to have a look around Neill McGrory’s studio in Culdaff.
17. An activity at a spa that I’ve never done before
I went in an outdoor hot tub in the Galgorm with some of my friends.
18. Make something from wood
I did some woodturning and made a bowl. This was a brilliant experience.
19. become self-employed
This wasn’t part of the original plan, but now I have my own audio transcription business.
20. Learn a useful life skill
I did my first ever first aid course with the RNIB.
21. Eat vegetarian food for a month
I started on 25th of November and ended by eating turkey on Christmas day.
22. Make and drink a wheatgrass shot
This was horrible!
23. Do more voluntary work
I became a volunteer with the Foroige club working with children, and have plans for other things.
24. Post a song a day online for a month and the reasons why I like it
This was easy but good fun!
25. Learn to make homemade cosmetics
I learned to make some simple scrubs and face masks. Still want to try soap making sometime.
26. Walk the two bridges in Derry
I walked across the Foyle Bridge and the peace bridge with my friend Julie.
27. Go on a motorbike
I went on a motorbike from Buncrana to Bridgend with my uncle Denis.
28. Work in munchies sweet shop.
I made mixes, stocked sweets and served customers. First time ever working in a real shop.
29. Shave someone’s head.
My cousin Evan allowed me to shave his head, and his brother Denis helped me to do it.
30. Go gliding.
I ended the year on a high!


Challenge 30 of 30

Finally today, five weeks later than I had hoped, I completed challenge 30, the last in my list of new things I have never done before during the last year.
I could have chosen something simple and did it on my birthday to finish off the year, but I had an idea in my head for the last six months. You know what I’m like when I get an idea in there!
I wanted to do something exciting that would take me out of my comfort zone, would be lots of fun, and something memorable. I wanted to end on a high, and that is exactly what i did!

At 12 o’clock this afternoon I drove with a friend into the Ulster gliding club in Limavady, just over an hour from where we live, and close to the beach where I had gone surfing last September. It was full of enthusiastic people who enjoy flying and gliding for a hobby, and are keen to share it with anyone who wants to try, even if they have a disability. The gliders are small, so the weather needs to be really good, which is why I couldn’t do it until now. We got the warmest day of the year so far, and it was almost too mild to glide because there was not much wind. I didn’t take Sibyl, but really should have, as there was a bit of waiting around before I went, and she would have had lots of fresh air and walks outside. Everybody was friendly and encouraging, and excited for me to try gliding.

I had a chance to feel the glider before I went. It’s basically like a small plane without an engine. It is attached to a small aeroplane by a rope about 150 metres long, which pulls the glider, bringing it into the air to a certain point before disconnecting, at which point the glider is flying almost silently. The aircraft has to be evenly balanced, so they had to add extra weights because I’m so small. To my surprise, I sat in the front seat while the instructor sat behind. This felt a bit strange at first, like I should know what I’m doing! We both had the same controls, so he had full control at all times, but could let me fly on my own at certain points. Another surprise was having to put on a parachute before I got in. This was more for comfort like a cushion to fit in the shape of the seats in the aircraft, but obviously it was a safety feature too. I was hoping I’d never have to find out exactly how it works!

My instructor was called John, and he was fantastic at his job. He had 25 years flying experience, and he was also a teacher, which put me at ease because he explained everything brilliantly. I was the first blind person he had ever flown, but I never would have guessed from how well he described things. He strapped me in, did the pre-flight checks, and then the plane took off, pulling us behind it. The first ten seconds were a bit bumpy, but when we left the ground, it was totally smooth and relaxing for the whole trip. You can feel the glider moving, but I was expecting the movement to be much more obvious than it was. I was fascinated by how fast it goes, even though it didn’t feel that fast. We flew to 2000 feet, at 60 miles per hour, and covered a good distance in a short time. We flew to the edge of a cliff, where people stood waving at us.

The best moment of gliding is when you feel yourself moving upwards, hear the noisy plane in front, and then the instructor disconnects the rope from the plane. The plane turns right, you can feel yourself turning left, and then it just goes almost silent. The sound of the plane fades away, and you’re in the sky, gliding along in an object that has wings and no engine. The idea of that just sounded crazy before, but when you’re in it, it feels totally safe. John gave me verbal directions how to steer the glider, which is something he said I was actually very good at. Who would have thought?! It is easy to feel the change in direction as you move the stick left or right. Moving it away from you points the nose of the plane downwards, and you can hear the change in the sound of the air. Moving it towards you brings it back up again. It was great to be able to feel these changes and experience that part. Being blind definitely has its disadvantages when you go gliding, because the views are amazing, especially on a lovely day. Everyone says that’s the thing that gets people adicted and makes them want to keep coming back. Ulster is a very popular club, with lots of people from all over Ireland regularly coming up to fly their planes whenever they can. I did feel like I missed out on a bit of that experience by not being able to see it today.

We landed safely and smoothly, and the people were excited to know what I thought. I definitely enjoyed the experience. It was similar in many ways to the plane I had flown in before, but the idea of it having no engine made it more relaxing and intimate. It is brilliant that flying clubs can offer opportunities like this to people who might think it is impossible. Although I would say gliding is definitely a very visual thing in many ways, it was an exciting thing to try, and having a great instructor made it very worthwhile. It was definitely a different way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and a brilliant end to an interesting year of doing new exciting and challenging things.
I’ll post the complete list soon, but for now, I’ll enjoy relaxing my brain and being back on normal ground again.

A challenging week!

I can’t believe it’s this time already. It’s 17th February. My birthday is tomorrow. I’ve done 29 new things since last year that I’ve never done before, which was something I challenged myself to do in February 2016. I have one day left and one challenge to do. If the weather cooperates (which it doesn’t always do in Ireland) I’ll be finishing off my 30 challenges by doing something scary but exciting on my birthday. Here’s hoping!
When I finish the birthday celebrations I’ll put up the full list of things I’ve done. In the meantime, I wanted to write about a few of them that I did this week because they were worth describing in a bit more detail.

Last Monday afternoon I went on a motorbike with my uncle. I’d been on a small one in Thailand before, but this time I was more prepared. I had the trousers, the coat and the helmet. My uncle is a retired guard, so I knew I’d be safe. I wasn’t nervous, but my aunt was, and apparently she didn’t sit still until I came back. The bike shook a small bit as it took off, but when it got going I loved it! We drove for almost half an hour. I had no real concept of where I was until I smelled slurry at one part of the journey and that was a good clue. It was a windy day, but the protective clothes kept the wind out. It’s a great feeling driving along in the open air with the wind blowing around you, holding on tight but also knowing you are safe. If you didn’t feel relaxed, you probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.
I can definitely recommend riding a motorbike sometime in your life if you haven’t done it already.

Challenge 28 happened two days later. For many peple, especially my six and nine-year-old nephews, this was a dream come true! I spent an hour working in Munchies, which is a local sweet shop which my friends own. I prepared bags of mixed sweets, where I was able to choose from around twelve different types of jellies and yummy fizzy things which are bad for your teeth. I attempted to put stickers on bags which advertise the shop, but we soon realised that this was not a good idea. I’m hopeless at keeping things straight, so it gave us a good laugh. I was quickly moved on to restocking jars of jellies instead. Cheryl also gave me the chance to serve the children who came in after school. I had to use the till and make sure I gave them the proper money back! I knew lots of the people who came in, and they were surprised to see me behind the counter with an apron and gloves on. I’m usually there to buy things instead. Nobody was more surprised than my two nephews. I had asked their dad to bring them in after school without telling him why. They were very jealous and very excited, and we took some photos as they bought their chocolate bars.

Working in a shop was a brilliant experience that a blind person wouldn’t usually get the chance to do. I had the opportunity to be involved in everything, even working the till, and even the customers were very encouraging. It was definitely the most enjoyable Wednesday afternoon Ive had in a long while.
And yes of course, I did get to taste a few nice things while I was there 😀

Challenge 29 was one that was on my original list, and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time out of curiosity. After dinner with my parents and family, my cousin Evan and a few more family members came to visit. I got the shaver out and shaved his head! I was a bit afraid at first, and felt a bit guilty as soon as I felt the first clump of hair fall into my hand. But there was no going back! I gave him a number 3, so I didn’t completely bald him. Wasn’t that nice of me? His brother helped guide my hand and show me what way to move it. I also made sure that he tidied up the cut in the end, because if he’d left it he might have gotten some funny looks for a while.
It was fun doing something that you should really not do when you are blind. I don’t think I’ll have a career as a hairdresser any time soon though!

30 Song Challenge

A friend suggested on Facebook that as part of my 30 challenges (which have to be completed on 18th February!) I post a song a day for 30 days and write about why I like it. I finished this last week and thought I’d post the list here.
I’m very lazy. I haven’t posted links to each one. I doubt anyone would actually want to listen to them all anyway. It’s not like lots of people read this!! If you want to hear a particular song, you’ll just have to find it yourself sorry. I know my readers are very independent, so I wouldn’t want to spoonfeed you all the time! 😀
If you do go to the trouble of listening, hopefully you’ll find something new that you haven’t heard before. And if you want to recommend any music you think I might like, I’d really appreciate it. There’s a music voucher in my house that needs to be spent, in a real music shop!

1. Mary Black: Sunny
After nursery rhymes, this was the first song I remember really liking. I even learned it on the piano!

2. Phil Coulter: the town I loved so well
This is such a beautifully written song, but I also love it as a solo piano piece.

3. Crash Test Dummies: Afternoons and coffee spoons
They were the first band I really really liked. These lyrics are so ridiculous, but Brad Roberts does have a unique voice!!

4. Bon Jovi: wanted dead or alive
I was famous in primary school for my obsession with Bon Jovi. They were the first band I ever saw play live. I was ten, and it was a dream come true. I couldn’t pick a favourite song, but the guitar in this is great.

5. Shane McGowan and Sinead O’Connor: haunted
These are two voices that couldn’t sound more different, but the song totally works!

6. REM: Electrolyte
I’ve been listening to REM since I was eight years old. It’s impossible to choose a favourite song, so this is as good as any.

7. David Gray: gathering dust
Like half the population of Ireland, I was introduced to David Gray’s music through ‘white ladder’ in 1999. He made me listen to music in a different way. I learned how powerful acoustic guitars and song writing could be.

8. Bob Dylan: forever young
It’s just beautiful.

9. Jeff Buckley: Halleluiah
A friend who knew what kind of music I liked gave me a copy of Jeff Buckley’s ‘grace’ when we were in secondary school, and I was completely blown away by his voice. I had never heard anything like that before. I chose this song because it covers my love of Leonard Cohen as well, although it’s not even in my top 20 favourite songs of his.

10: The frames: people get ready
I’d known of the frames since revelate, but never took much interest in them until around 2000. I listened to Uaneen Fitzsimons at night-time on 2fm whenever I could because she was obsessed with David Gray too. She was an inspiration, and I remember being really upset the day she was killed in a car accident. She often played the frames, and gradually star star and lay me down got stuck in my head. I was slow to like them, but when I did, I couldn’t stop. Seeing them live in 2002 was the start of lots of concerts, bringing everyone and anyone who would come with me, discovering lots of new music, meeting new friends and great musicians, and making lots of happy memories.

11. Mic Christopher: Hey Day
Mic’s album Skylarkin is one of my favourite albums of all time. The lyrics are so positive, and it’s interesting to listen back now after everything that happened since he wrote those songs. Who knows what great music he would have went on to make, but this was a great legacy for him to leave.

12. Josh Ritter: Kathleen
The next thing I loved because of the frames was Josh Ritter. And a song with an opening line like this one can’t be faulted.

13. Van Morrison: Madam George
When you start listening to the music of David Gray and Glen Hansard and hearing interviews and them talking about what inspires them, two words keep coming up over and over again. Astral Weeks. I listened to Van Morrison’s ‘astral weeks’ for the first time on earphones in the car as I travelled to Belfast to start my course in Queens University. I was heading to the right city. I listened to it many times during those three years.

14. Pixies: where is my mind?
It doesn’t need a reason. It’s just cool 

15. Planxty: Little Musgrave
I couldn’t choose my favourite Christy Moore song so thought I’d go with this one. I love a song that tells a story, and this does it very well.

16. Queen: killer queen
I think queen are the only band that myself and all my friends actually like! If I could see any band play live, it would have been them. This isn’t my favourite song, but it reminds me of a special day. In June 2007, I went to Cork to meet a black Labrador who ended up changing my life. Before you train with a guide dog, the trainer takes you for a matching walk to see if you and the dog are suitable. It’s the most nerve wrecking and exciting thing. I remember finishing the walk with OJ and the trainer telling us that we were a match. When we got back into the van to drive back to the guide dog centre, this song was playing.

17. Lisa Hannigan: down to the river (cover version)
Lisa Hannigan could sing anything and I’d like it! Paul Noonan singing with her here covers my love of Bell X1 too.

18. JJ Cale: any way the wind blows
I was late discovering the goodness of JJ Cale, but better late than never. His work with Eric Clapton is so good!

19. PJ Harvey: good fortune
Just because she’s cool 

20. Tom Waits: Martha
You probably already know by now that I love a song with a good piano. I thought this was easier to listen to than the piano has been drinking!

21. Simon and Garfunkel: the boxer
It doesn’t need a reason. Love both of them together, but I was always more of a Simon fan if I’m honest. Was lucky enough to hear him play live twice, and his concert in Vicar Street was in my top five gigs of all time.

22. The lost brothers: the goodbye kid
On the subject of beautiful harmonies…

23. Fleet foxes: white winter hymnal
A song that feels Christmassy without being a Christmas song.

24. August Wells: come on in out of that night
I can’t get this song out of my head these days. They might be a new band for some people. I’m looking forward to hearing them play live at the end of February.

25. John Prine: Lake Marie
It’s so hard to pick a John Prine song, but when I saw him live for the one and only time, this song definitely got my attention. It’s got great lyrics, emotion and humour, all the things that make John Prine songs special.

26. Interference: gold
The story of Fergus O’Farrell and Interference is one that’s worth exploring if you haven’t already.

27. Colm Mac Con Iomaire: the Finnishline
I love instrumental music, and I love this tune!

28. The decemberists: rocks in the box
I absolutely love this band! Not my favourite song but its good fun. Check out the tune in the middle!

29. Glen Hansard: winning streak
These days Glen Hansard is known for his solo career as much as lead singer with the Frames. His solo performances are very different but still have that energy and passion for what he does. He gives so much every time he plays. I should know, I’ve seen him enough haha. He writes songs with great lyrics like this one. And he’s very charitable and very sound too. What more could you want?

30. Bruce Springsteen: Thunder Road
It was so difficult to pick a favourite song, but this is definitely one of them. Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band play live is as good as it gets really. The band work hard, give 100% every time, and have lots of fun, which is really what music should be about I think. It’s not a bad motto for life itself either!

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!