1 Year Blogiversary

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Here we are, 1 year on, 104 posts published and 1,148 followers on WordPress later. Befuddled is an understatement of how I feel when I think how this happened.

Like most starting out in the world of blogging I had no idea how it worked or how it would turn out but I have always loved a good challenge. I did wonder if writing about sight loss and life with a mischievous, attention seeking guide dog would provide enough prompts to keep the blog alive but I didn’t need to worry after all.

From the start, I have loved reading other bloggers posts and it still blows my mind how each blogger makes such an impact on my life and the lives of many others. Hearing everyday stories from bloggers around the world is far more informative than any news programme can ever tell me about the world. These talented bloggers speak about the true world that many know little about.

The name of this blog came about from living life in the sight loss world, that many in my life knew nothing or very little about. Over the year I have shared stories about little Minster Munch’s adventures and had beautiful comments left on the blog about his typical dog like behaviour that brings a smile to many a dog lovers face. Hearing the amusing stories of other dogs on writers blogs has left me feeling better about the perplexing and comical world of canine behaviour.

The support among bloggers by encouraging each other’s writing is an environment that has to be witnessed to be believed. Grammar police and trolls rarely exist but you can find enthuisiast of the written word and personal cheerleaders in abundance. These are the type of people you could spend all day chatting with and never run out of words.

Thank you so much to those who have continued to read my waffling words and been nothing but kind. Writing two blog posts a week keeps the spirit of writing alive. Never having suffered from writers block only writers diarrhoea, you are very patient people who deserve medals for your patience. Knowing that you want to read about a matching pair of odd socks in the world warms our hearts.

Thank you so much for the dedication you put into your own fascinating blogs. Google would be under threat if you all clubbed together to enlighten the world with your own areas of expertise. Each individual blog can read like a classic book that mesmirises the masses yet is a discovery waiting to be unearthed by that one important person who will make it famous.

With greatest of thanks for following our first year and we hope to share many more years with you. Much love from Munch and his maid.

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The One Who Always Gets Away

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Have you ever been to a Children’s concert where there is that one child that is happily doing their own thing whilst every other child does what they are meant to do? Well, Munch is the canine equivalent to that. During our free runs, most other dogs can be found near the heel of their owner and listening obediently. Then there are the Munch type of dogs that explore every corner of the open space that they can find. Tongues flopping freely out of one corner of the mouths, these dogs seem to be oblivious to anything else but opportunities.

Munch’s version of a good time includes an abundance of grass, easily led dogs to corrupt, rivers to practice his aqua aerobics in and muddy puddles to splash in. Anything else is a bonus. If stray sticks end up as a temporary play object, so be it. Passing dog walkers who part with a treat or two, all the better. A fenced off field full of friendly looking cows to prance over to say hello to, just his thing. A ditch full of muddy water to accidently fall into but remains playing in for a while, his idea of heaven. Combine all of these and you get one happy dog.

When we got asked out on a doggy play date, I knew that he would be one very happy dog. When Dolly the stunning chocolate Labrador and Rocky the handsome Chihuahua come to pick us up to go to a dog friendly country park, he was so happy. When we got there, he was the first to leap out of the car to execute his mission to run like the wind. As Dolly and Rocky had the odd sniff, Munch was miles ahead in any obscure places he could find. My panic for his whereabouts was always calmed by my kind sighted friend.

Even when our shoes were sinking in soggy mud on the wrong path we accidently took and my arms resembled a windmill trying to stay upright, he rustled away in some far away bush. Dolly and Rocky remained with us as we comically carried on and my friend become my caring guide as my guide dog was away on his travels without a care in the world. The guiding long cane, a steady replacement for Munch, never stopped to sniff or pee once so all was good. Hearing his high-speed running in surround sound around us, made me so happy as I knew his heart was content.

Being in harness by my left-hand side when he is working must be so tiring for him and it shows his dedication to his jobs which I will always appreciate. This free-spirited off duty side to him is the one that I love to see the most though as he floppily bounces through nature doing his own thing in his own way. As he goes away on his adventures that he will come back from soaking and caked in mud, I cheer him on and know that he needs this space to be himself.

Being the one that always gets away can be so much fun.

The Magic Of The Moment

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As his giggled words “you make a better door than a window” floated through the air to his friends in the park, they all knew what he meant. Just as dense sooty fog obscures the vision of the driver, doors instead of windows allow only imperfect long vision. As necks crane around the seated human in front of them to see into the distance, a feeling of missing out washes over many. When tired blurry eyes loose focus and cannot see with clarity, the haze of the observed objects can be frustrating to the eager eye. Debris from life that ends up in conjunctiva, will always be under the threat of eviction as the owner of the eye tries to remain focussed on resuming normality. Temporary loss of sight is seldom welcomed.

The wave of panic that hits as soon as we lose what we feel what is rightfully ours, immerses us in a feeling of helplessness. A loss of a sense that has worked for us for so long, becomes our enemy as soon as we think it is working against us. We can often forget to thank the abundance of opportunity that the sense has given us in life and go straight into the lack of the moment that we are living in. Patience is a strength that we believe that we often use unless it is in times where it is temporarily not there. When we are so busy focussing on the obstacles that may have sneakily been placed there to push our problem-solving skills, we are forgetting to look at the object with love.

When you cannot see what others can, you learn to imagine what it is they talk about. The frustration that they feel about looking at things that causes them disgust, you feel protective about these things that they disregard. Talking about sights that they see daily but don’t seem to be in awe of, you feel blessed about by being given a chance to enter a world that you have never been in. The wise teachings that the sighted give about the world around us, you take in and memorize the beauty of it all. If disagreements between the sighted occur about what looks the best, you take the best bits and leave the rest as you learn what it must be like to see with clarity.
Next time you see a door when you really want to see a window, thank the person who made such a useful thing. As fog falls all around you, feel the change in atmosphere that nature has blessed upon you. When the person in front of you that is blocking the view irritates you, take a moment to bless that person’s existence as you never know how they may help you of you ever meet again. Tired eyes can always be refreshed so listen to your body’s need to recharge and look later at things through fresh eyes. If debris is an unwanted guest, stop for a moment to think is there a reason that you have been forced to stop what you are doing? Chances are there is a good reason.

If we learn to change the perception of barriers in loss into the discovery of the true beauty in life, we can stop and appreciate what once we disliked. The place to be is always in the moment.

Ready, Camera, Action..

This should be interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I really love this sweet hairy bear of mine and know he is amazing at his job but doing what you want him to do? Not his strongest point. On harness he listens to commands, guides with grace and keeps me safe but then there is the off-duty version who is the opposite. Why did I not think of the latter when the phone call came? My optimism always leads me astray and this time will be no exception. Telling him the news after I put the receiver down triggered a head tilt as he listened carefully to what I was saying. I cannot be 100% sure but I am sure there was a little smirk on his face just before he sighed loudly and placed his head back on the pillow and continued his snooze. It was obvious that he was up for the challenge of being filmed but I on the other hand was dreading it.

Being asked by one of the lovely members of staff at guide dogs if they could film Munch for a BBC documentary sounded like a good idea. I agreed almost straight away as to be fair I would do anything possible to try and repay the gift of having Munch, so it seemed the least I could do. It wasn’t until that possible smirk and sigh from Munch that I knew that it may not go as smoothly as planned. The key thing I forgot to consider was who it involved…Munch. If you have read about any of his antics you may know that he tends to create a little mischief wherever he goes so an acrobatic team began preforming in my stomach as I thought about what the camera will catch. His on-harness Minster character should be TV worthy but his off-harness Munch character…………? Oh God……

The good news is that they are filming in one of the schools that we work in so technically, if he is filmed on harness walking around all should be good. It is the off harness version they film, that may be a little problematic. Let loose in our room his mood is the deciding factor in how he behaves. If his playful side comes out, he may get up close and personal with the camera, roll around dramatically as if he is auditioning for a Hollywood film or hide and play peek a boo as they try to film him. If he choses to go into his wise old sage mode, he may pose for the camera, react on cue to what I am saying about him or just sit nonchalant on his bed pretending not to listen.
The other option is that he could go into his normal attention seeking ways and know that the film crew is there for him. In the past when we have done some public speaking, he just loves to steal the show. From jumping up to try and steal the microphone from me to “talking” over my voice whilst having his back to the audience, his diva like qualities comes alive when cameras are around. I am unsure therefore, what to expect this time around as this time he will be filmed for his biggest audience yet.

The documentary will focus on how these amazing animals help people with sight loss and I know the other three dogs that are being filmed will demonstrate the beautiful life changing efficiency of these dogs. There always must be one through that is a little different and I think Munch will quite happily be that one.
Whatever the result of the filming, I know he will act exactly as he needs to. Be it impeccable, mischievous or dramatic he will just be himself. I will let you know how it all went after we film in two weeks-time whether there are cringe-worthy capers involved or star like quality. I have a sneaky feeling that he may believe that this is the first step to the making of Munch the Movie. Oh dear, what a thought

World Braille Day

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Happy World Braille Day. January 4th celebrates the birth of Louis Braille who created the reading and writing code for those with sight loss. At the age of 15, he created this system of communication based on Charles Barbier’s writing system. Louis Braille did not live long enough to see the first braille curricular adapted by France’s Royal Institute for the Blind Youth which was implemented two years after his death. His genius invention lives on and can be found in everyday use in literature, public places and in various other places but a lot more needs to be done to ensure that this accessible form of communication is more wide spread.

Personally, I have only started learning braille over the last two years and I have only learnt grade one braille which consists of letters, numbers and punctuation. The grade two braille that consists of contractions are used in one or two cells to correspond with groups of letters or whole words. This is something that I want to work up to. Braille shorthand or grade three as it is otherwise known as, is something that will take a while to master but as it is used the least in the blind community then I am in no rush to learn it.

With the use of vast text to speech programmes and digital equivalents of braille available today, not all sight impaired individuals opt to learn braille but there is something quite beautiful about the textured words that flow across each page.

Having used touch since birth to be able to process information that most process through vision, there is something quite magical about feeling the written word. As the little dots transform into letters and words from textured pages, the brain becomes awakened to an alternative existence that not all are blessed to know. Slowly reading each word as it appears on the page, allows you time to really connect with each word one at a time. Feeling closer to the author’s voice is a fortunate by-product of reading Braille as the brain interprets the word kinetically. Activating another sense to enter the world of the written word, allows an alternative portal to be opened to the reader where old words take on new meanings.

As 15-year-old Louis devised this system that has been universally adapted today, I wonder if he ever perceived how popular it would become. His invention can now be felt on places from door signs in many places, on buttons on stop bells on public transport and to medication packs at supermarkets. His contribution to the world needs to be celebrated more as he has given the gift of connecting individuals with sight loss to the sighted world.

Working my way up to grade two Braille is something that I feel I need to do. Not only would it be an amazing skill to have but it also feels like it is a mark of respect for an individual who has changed the lives of many. Thank you, Louis Braille, for creating instead of waiting for another to create.

New Year, Same Old Us

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2018 was one of those years that is hard to beat.

I don’t believe we can ever have a fully bad year but do know that bad things can happen in a year which can leave us celebrating its departure as we step into a new year. Even in times of crisis in life, there are momentary glimpses of hope and beauty that exist through the cracks in the crisis. These evolutionary prompts that make us change direction in life, can feel like torture for the soul, but without them how could we ever grow from normal to extraordinary? A challenging year shows you everything that you are capable of overcoming.

Great years in your life help you push forward, and you become a force to be reckoned with. In such years of gold dust where dreams become a reality and the universe gifts you a Midas path to walk upon, you claim what is rightfully yours upon the way. Old barriers become new opportunities and time becomes an illusion as you achieve things at record speed in miraculous ways. It is a year like this that we have just leaped out of and know that 2019 will be an even better year.

As the seconds of the New year clock tick, we will still be the same. Munch will be as majestic as ever and I will be permissive of him as ever. Our authenticity will be as stagnant as ever as we go through life happy in our skin. As Munch carries his wise sage spirit into 2019 in his unconventional guide dog body, I will follow him in my body made for comfort not speed. We may attempt to look more ‘society approved’ if we ever lose who we truly are although I don’t think this will happen.

Our love of life will be the theme that runs through the year, like it has in every other that we have lived. Along the way, we will see hope where others may see despair and know that everything always works out in the end. As Munch sniffs out, new adventures that he can follow, I will be led by my furry partner in crime and trust that all adventures lead to new discoveries with twists and turns along the way. Doing the same old thing day in day out has never been our idea of bliss so we are not about to start doing it now. The new adventures from our forever bond will be worth every step along the way.

Being led out of the invisible world to the visible one by attention seeking Munch, will allow our horizons to be broadened. From living with a hidden disability to being plonked in the limelight, life will never be the same again. Munch my Guru is a leader that I know walks his walk and just oozes serenity in a sometimes-chaotic world. If I can give even a fraction of the unconditional love to others as Munch gives, we will be able to see the beauty in everyone that we meet in the coming year.

New Years resolutions are not for us. Natural life changes are. If we can stick with the core of the way of being that has got us through 2018, I know that this coming year will be even more amazing as we fit into the natural evolution of our lives. We wish you all the 2019 that you really want to live and know that the you that people know and love is more than good enough. Much love and keep evolving.

He Actually Made The Nice List

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He made the Nice list. I am not sure how, but he did it. I was thinking that maybe he may have slipped onto the naughty list after his Munch like behaviour, but I was wrong. Santa, friends and family all made sure that Munch had a lovely Christmas surrounded by edible and non-edible gifts and lots of love and attention. It appears that Santa was in a forgiving mood this year. Even when Munch sniffed out all his presents from under the tree one night (thoughtfully leaving everyone else’s) and unwrapped them on the living room floor, Santa chose to let it slip.

Santa has been in a very forgiving mood this year towards Munch. It may be because he knows that when Munch becomes guide dog Minister as soon as the harness is slipped on, he becomes a total angel guiding me around. Well, he is usually an angel on harness minus a few slip ups. I mean, the time in a supermarket when he peeked his head through a man’s legs to sniff his sausage that he held in his hand (just to clarify, a dog food sausage) and nearly got me chucked out and him put on a dodgy doggy register was an innocent mistake. As was the time that he chose to jump nearly 6 foot up a tree (whilst on harness) to play chase with a friendly squirrel was a momentary lapse in concentration. The time that he shot in between my lovely 4’11” mothers 25” legs to give her a loving cuddle in my Uncles funeral which left her riding him like a backward facing jockey was a miscalculation in spatial awareness. None of which were his fault.

He is always the first one to offer help in anyway he can. Let’s talk about the time that he helped clean up the immediate environment in my granddaughter’s party. Let’s be honest, why put carpet down in an indoor play area when food can get squished into the carpet? His hoovering up of the debris from the food droppers was his way of alleviating extra work from the poor stressed out staff. It was after this experience that he took it upon himself to clear up non-edible but totally play worthy objects. On one occasion whilst out shopping, we are still unsure if he picked up a stray tennis ball in a shop or on the ground outside, but he was first one the scene to remove this dangerous trip hazard. Only as he jumped in the car did my friend notice his heroic gesture, secured in his mouth. A few months on and his face has yet to appear on Crimewatch for theft, so we are putting it down to his innate environmentalist streak and not kleptomania. This dog is all heart.

His off-duty life throughout the year has been just as eventful and equally concerning but at least it has not been boring. From his weakness for humping golden coloured male Labradors to leading other dogs into mischief, he loves to express his leadership. Getting stuck in the most random of places and falling of beds has become a weekly habit that he seems to be reluctant to let go of. I have learnt to appreciate his Lordships sense of entitlement and stubbornness that makes him who he is. Angus the cat on the other hand, is struggling to bond with Munch despite trying his best by rubbing into Munch and kissing him daily. The incident with a dead rodent that Angus gifted us one night plus a few chewed-up spiders that Munch mourned over has made Munch stay distant from this feline destroyer.

2018 has been an eventful year with this furry soul mate of mine. With our book being released in seven months, I wonder if anyone will believe that he is a fully trained guide dog and not an imposter in a Hi-Vis harness. I hope you have enjoyed reading about his antics over the last year and we will always be here if you fancy reading some more of our daily lives in the next year to come. All of you who read and comment on our posts are always in our thoughts as we love to read about your lives too. Know that your writing makes such an impact on people that we may only ever meet online but their energy is omnipresent.
P.s. if you too struggle to do things that will keep you on the nice list, rest assured that if this little Minster Munch can remain on the nice list, you can too. As you step into 2019 and ever wonder what to do in a situation, just stop and think what Munch would do and do the same. Or maybe not….

Christmas Wishes

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When bubbles of festive cheer are bursting all around you and you feel like you are in a lead balloon, know that life won’t always be like this.

When the whole world sparkles in festive glitter and you feel cocooned in darkness, know that people can still see the inner glow in you that you are forgetting to see.

When hordes are celebrating the birth of the season and you are mourning loss, know that magic of time can help the passage of change of mind.

When shoppers will throw a lot of what they buy, and you struggle to buy what you need, know that many will offer to share if they are aware of your needs.

When the cheer of happy families seems to be all around and you feel all alone, know that there will always be room for you at someone’s table.

When unwanted gifts get tossed aside by ungrateful hearts and you would love the sentiment of a gift, appreciate the gratitude that you possess.

What if Christmas was less about things and more about people, maybe we could celebrate equally.

What if Christmas was all about us and less about me, maybe we could be surrounded by nothing but support.

What if Christmas was about giving what we need and not what we want, maybe we could all be as happy as each other.

What if Christmas made us stop instead of rush, maybe we would be fully present.

What if Christmas was about change and not about tradition, maybe we would grow in new ways.

What if Christmas was about lack so others could gain, maybe we would each have a similar Christmas.

If you fancy making a difference, surprise a stranger with a gift.

If you fancy making a difference, buy less and spend more time with a loved one.

If you fancy making a difference, buy less food for yourself and more for those in need.

If you fancy making a difference, sponsor a child in need that you may never even meet.

If you fancy making a difference, recharge your battery enough to be available to yourself and others in the year to come.

If you fancy making a difference, lead by example and be the change that you want to see in the world.

Whatever the when, what’s and ifs of Christmas bring you, I wish that your presence will be far more magical than any present can hold. Wishing you a different Christmas full of happiness and life changing gains.

Birth, Death And Transformation

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With birthday wishes flying at him from all directions, he wore his birthday badge with pride. A “Happy Birthday dog” here and a “Aw, he is 4 today” there, he pranced down the corridor in work loving attention that he was drawing to himself. I may have had a little bit of an input into his badge wearing today but he wore it with pride. When he came into this world 4 years ago today it seems he was destined for the limelight.

In Astrology, those born on December 18th are “friendly and charming with a deep sense of kindness, perceptiveness and compassion. Moralistic yet forgiving outlook on life is another feature of those born on this day. Assertiveness, alertness and intense curiosity is one way to describe these individuals the temper tantrums, moodiness, rebelliousness and frustrated behaviour are also mixed in with these charming souls”. Spot on universe, spot on.

This is his third birthday that he has spent with us and each year he gets more and more spoilt. This year he had lots of presents from family members and friends, a doggy cake and doggy beer which he chose not to consume. As our celebrations went on through the night, my appreciation for my little Minster Munch grew by the minute. He has certainly made his mark in this world over the last four years.

December 18th evokes a mixture of emotions for me, as although it is my furry soul mate’s birthday another two events happened on this day. Eight years ago today, my beautiful grandmother passed away. She was the sweetest person that I had ever known and only ever spoke kindly of people. As unconditional love oozed out of her, you could never feel anything but pure bliss in her presence. After a short illness, she passed away peacefully which was her constant state of being whilst alive. The candle that I light in memory for her every year, helps remind me of the warmth that she always showed to those around her.

Not only does this day symbolize the birth and death of loved ones but it also reminds me of transition. Four years ago to this day, I worked my last day in my current job after handing my notice in. As my eye sight deteriorated, I got to a point that I could no longer get around independently. What I was unaware of was when I was leaving my job with gritted teeth was that Munch was celebrating his first birthday. A mere eleven months later and our worlds met and became one. Divine right timing made our paths cross at exactly the right time of me needing a guide dog and him being ready to guide.

The variety that this day holds will always mean so much to me. The joy of birth, the loss of an earth angel and the transition between the dependant and independent world, all hold different meanings. The universal meaning of them all however, is about the meaning of life. Birth, death and anything in between will provide you with any meaning that you want to seek out. For me, the birth of Munch, my pause in my work life and the physical death of my much-loved grandmother meant that I learnt to value each moment in life. Each moment can be the moment that things can change. so live with no regrets, just with blessings of the guaranteed now that we always have.

My Furry Healer

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Peering lovingly down at my furry footwarmer, I should have guessed something was up. On numerous occasions over the years, Munch and my sweet rescue cat Angus have laid across different parts of my body healing me where I didn’t even know I needed it. I love how animals can sense things in the human body before even the human can. Four years ago, before I was hospitalized with pneumonia, Angus and his brother Arnold took it in turns to lay by my feet and head and act as a healing channel even before I knew that I was ill. They had never done it before and never did it afterwards,
This time it was Munch’s turn to take on the role of healer. Throughout the day in work he lay on my foot back and forth and in the night, he came to bed and lay his head on my knee. It was a little odd for him as usually he expects me to do the running when it comes to showing affection. The following day, when sorting out the mountain of laundry, I walked into the side of an armchair and my patella began sliding out of its comfy place like a safety chain on a door lock. Luckily, I realized what was happening and straightened my leg to prevent yet another dislocation. Seven times on one joint was enough and I was willing to do anything to avoid the eighth.

If you have had a dislocation in the past, you will know how painful they can be. I have had numerous breaks, fractures, ligament damage soft tissue damage and most other things in the past but the numerous dislocations that have graced my body are probably the most painful. The joys of Marfan Syndrome are that the unexpected always seems to be the host of surprise parties when it comes to your body. When the Fibrillin 1 throughout your body decides that it fancies mixing it up a bit, guaranteed a hospital visit will be on the cards. Some Marfan patients are luckier than others but clumsy ones like me always seem to draw the comical short straw.

One of the worse things about a quick trip to the A&E department I have found is the explaining to hospital staff how it happened which can be more painful than the actual injury. Regarding my frequent patella dislocations, I have had to explain many scenarios from how I slipped in the shower (washing off dog poo that I had just slipped in whilst out walking), to dislocating it after playing keepy uppies with a balloon in work, to falling over a chair whilst demonstrating laughter yoga to 35 teenagers. The other times in between you really don’t want to know. Telling the hospital staff that I put it back into place myself and do not need any pain relief as I am doing breathing techniques and unicorn meditations, only adds to the oddity of these visits.

Luckily this time however, I managed to keep my patella secure as it is currently being supported by my one of many knee braces which range from Rococopesque to a more discreet version. Bizarrely, the day after this happened, I had a letter from the hospital offering me an appointment for my pre-assessment for my knee reconstruction early next year. I had already cancelled it once as I stupidly thought that my patella had become quite comfy where it was meant to reside but the soft tissue around it that is currently having a pity party and has tantrums when I weight bare, has different ideas. It looks like I may have to go ahead with it and add to my collection of Marfan Syndrome related operations.
This sounds like a start of a classic joke though as I wonder how the heck I am going to get around.

I have been in a full leg case three times and got it stuck between the passenger seats of a car twice and between my bed and the wall to name but a few examples. Clumsy is my natural mode to operate in so I am not sure how this operation malarkey will pan out. Apparently, I will be back walking in two weeks but will remain in a leg brace for three months due to the unpredictability of the Marfan’s make-up and my previous history. I have a sneaky feeling that when I am back in work and in the swing of everyday life, a boisterous guide dog, crutches, a leg brace and numerous bags for work may end up like a game of Buckaroo, where my pantomime like donkey grace will provide hours of entertainment.

Let’s hope my furry healing footwarmer and his co-worker Angus are on hand for the after affects of my comedy show. I think I may need them.