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!

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!!

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.

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!

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!

Happy 2nd Birthday Sibyl

I’m not one of those people who buys lots of toys for their dog and gives them lots of treats on their birthday. Boring I know! I usually just buy stuff when they need it. Poor Sibyl actually got nothing out of the ordinary today (still in the process of changing food, and trying to keep food as plain as possible.) We did go for a long walk with a friend, in a wooded area with lots of different paths, and I let Sibyl off her lead for most of it. We must have walked for at least an hour, though it didn’t feel that long.
We were almost at the end of our walk, when Sibyl stepped in a grassy area which sank down into a large puddle of muck. I think she scared herself a bit, because she tried to jump out very quickly and nearly fell over. Her paws were covered in muck, which is much more noticeable with her lighter colour. We had nothing to clean her with, so gave her some more time to dry it off in the grass before we went into a restaurant for lunch.
So although Sibyl didn’t get anything eatable for her birthday, or a run on the beach with O.J like I had hoped, she still had fun, and she’s been pretty tired all evening.

Happy Birthday

O.J is nine today!

I’ve nothing major to write about, but I just wanted to mark what will probably be his last birthday as a working dog.
It would have been nice to bring him to the beach or for a long walk today since the weather finally decided to improve, but I had to go to work for a while, so O.J spent most of the day working. He was in a very inquisitive mood when I went for lunch and went to a couple of shops. He really is craving lots of attention these days. Funny dog!
Hopefully we’ll get a nice walk tomorrow before the annual guide dogs churchgate collection.

A quiet February

My definition of a quiet February probably isn’t the same as most people’s. By quiet, I mean that I haven’t gone out anywhere at weekends and haven’t spent much money. It’s exactly how I hoped January and February would be this year. Last year was so busy, and although it was brilliant, I definitely want a less busy year.

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve got some things done that kept being put off, which is always good. The CD holders that I got in Ikea were finally put up, and all the CDs are almost labeled and sorted. They are much neater now, and I have a lot more space in my office. Getting a shelf up in the kitchen has also been a great help. But in a way, the most useful thing my brother in law put up was a hook to hang the dogs leads and O J’s harness. Sounds simple, but it makes life much easier!

I had a lovely few days before and during my birthday last week. Got some lovely presents as usual, lots of cake and lovely food in my sister’s house. Apart from making soup twice in the last week, I haven’t cooked dinner in my own house which is rediculous!

O J has been doing some great work recently. The weather is improving so we’ve been getting out for lots of walks. Even with Dougal trailing behind us, he’s been so enthusiastic to work which is brilliant. In the last few days he’s been randomly getting up from his sleep and coming over to be cuddled for a few minutes, then happily going back to bed. It’s actually very funny. Sometimes I wonder if he’s having a mid-life crisis or something these days, because he has these bursts of energy that are just hollarius. He has such a funny personality and makes me laugh every day. Nicky and I went to Kilkenny at the beginning of the month, and it was O J’s first time there. Not that he cares where he is, but I’m hoping to take him to a few new places this year. I’ve been thinking a lot about the great job puppywalkers do recently for some reason, and if O J’s were interested, I’d love to take him to see them again this year. See if I write that down, then I’m more likely to do something about it! Any excuse to travel 🙂

Another new place O J and I went recently was to Dublin for a training day for work. We stayed in the accomodation in
which reminded me of my student days in Belfast. When my colleague booked our rooms and told them that I had a guide dog, they asked if there was anything they needed to do for us. There was lots of grass outside, and O J got a bit of a run around in the morning before we left for training. The staff asked how our stay was when we were checking out, and told us that O J was the first guide dog they’d ever had staying there. My colleague found it interesting to watch O J properly at work, since he’s usually relaxing beside my desk most of the time when we’re in the office. He was fascinated at how I know when there’s a step ahead. O J will put his two front paws on the step going up, and pause slightly before walking on, and of course I can feel this through the harness. I sometimes forget that people don’t really understand how a guide dog works until they see them in action.

I got much more from the training day than I had expected. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, and I think that deciding to link up with this particular organisation for funding for the schools project was a very good idea. If we decide to apply for funding for next year and are lucky enough to get it, I have a lot to think about in the meantime. Working only two days isn’t easy since I always like to be busy, so I’m doing a lot of thinking and googling these days. Two part-time jobs might be easier to find than one full-time one.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. Not sure who cares really, but I like writing haha.

Feeling Old

Its my birthday today, and even though I was in Thailand this time last year, I still had a lovely day, and a nice weekend of celebrating.
I went for dinner on Friday night with my mum, sister, aunts and cousins, a sort of “mothers and daughters” night. The food was lovely and the night was mostly good fun. Nicky was up for the weekend so we took the three dogs for a run on the beach with my nephews on Saturday. It was Orrin’s first time with O.J on the beach, and I think he loved having a big dog to play with again. He has slowed down a lot when he is playing, which is totally normal but something I hate noticing. They went into the water and got covered in sand, so my mum and I had to shower O.J and Orrin when we got home. They were still too wet for us to take them with us when we went for dinner in the evening, so we went on our own. Again the night was lovely and the food was amazing.

The dogs got more walks and playing yesterday and today, since the weather has been lovely for the last few days. I had a very relaxing birthday, and got some lovely presents. They included flights to Edinborough and a necklace with my birth stone (from Nicky), money and flowers (from my Godmother), clothes and a picture for my house. The funniest and most surprising present was from my friend, who has become very dimesticated since she got married and moved house. She recently bought a drill, and knows that I need pictures put up in my house. She bought me a towel and toilet roll holder for the bathroom, and is coming out during the week to put it up, along with pictures, a coat hanger and anything else I need. These are the kinds of silly jobs I really want done to make my house look a bit better and less plain inside, so even though its a strange one, it was a very thoughtful and appreciated present!

My birthday was a nice excuse to take the weekend off from the essay I’m writing as part of my course. Tomorrow, I’ll be back researching autism and checking the wordcount until I get 1500 words! 🙂