Monday, 1 January 2018

New Year Round-up

About this time last year, I posted my plans for 2017. I thought it would be interesting to see whether I actually did any of them. After all, Facebook is currently filled with posts informing us that nobody ever keeps their new year's resolutions. So here goes:

Places to go:

  • Rother Valley Country Park - Neil and I went there in January. It was beautiful and we had a lovely afternoon out. We walked round the lakes there and had afternoon tea in the cafe. 
    Monochrome photo of birds on the lake
  • Cairngorms - In March, I had a lovely week in Aviemore with my two adult sons. We were a bit limited on snow sports because of the weather but it felt amazing to ski again with my boys!
    View from the top of the mountain, showing a little snow
  • The beach (actually on the sand and in the sea) - This was one of the highlights of my week in Kemi in June. I had a picnic on the beach with my friends and managed, with crutches, to walk over the sand and paddle in the sea. 
    Rather grainy photo of me paddling in the sea with my friend
  • A European capital - okay, so I didn't get to that one. Maybe next year.
Things to do:
  • Sitski without tethers - In January, I did this at Snozone and it was the most amazing feeling. I had a session with my coach and most of my family that are into snow sports. Sadly, in February, I had an accident and injured my arm. I realised that my arms are now more important to me for getting around and decided that skiing independently was probably not going to be a long-term reality for me. I still enjoyed skiing with the boys on Cairngorm though.
  • Find something to do to serve the church - We finally found a church where we feel at home and somewhat predictably, I'm taking care of the website. I wish I had more time to devote to it but at least it's a contribution and I feel like I'm giving something again.
  • Finish my Master's - I submitted my final assignment in September and got my results a few weeks ago. I got a distinction for my last module and have completed my MA.
  • Improve my photography skills - I'll leave that for others to judge but I don't feel like I've devoted enough time to this. Maybe in 2018.
People to see:
  • Family and friends - One of the best things about being back in the UK is seeing family more regularly. However, the flip side is that I miss my friends in Finland sooooo much! It was wonderful in June to spend a week in Kemi, catching up with some of them.
  • Disabled people who are into sport - funny, eh? This has become less important to me and I've gone more towards taking part in regular sport but in my chair. In particular, I've got into Parkrun, which I love. As well as great exercise and fresh air, the people are incredibly friendly and supportive!
  • Help or inspire someone else - I think this will always be a rollercoaster ride! There have been times when I've helped or inspired others, or at least people tell me I have. More often though, I draw my inspiration from others. This year, I have been particularly inspired by the people I met on the Canine Partners training course. It was so encouraging to spend a fortnight with other people with disabilities and share our stories and ways of managing life
This year, I feel disinclined to make any particular plans. As well as the above achievements, 2017 had its share of ups and downs. At times, I have seriously struggled to stay positive and have been hit by some of the frustrations of living with a disability. On the other hand, being partnered with Liggy, my assistance dog, has been a wonderful end to the year. 

This year, my hopes and dreams are pretty simple... I would like to move into a line of work that is more closely aligned with my recent studies, either with my current employer or elsewhere. I would like to do something that will change another person's life for the better. And obviously, I aim to work with Liggy to have the best trained and most adorable assistance dog there has ever been.

Friday, 29 December 2017

What do you see?

I've just seen a post on Facebook that got me thinking. There was a picture of a lady in a wheelchair on a beach (in the USA, I think) and she looked rather sad. She had written, "I wish people would see me and not the wheelchair." My first thought was to agree with her. I get what she means. She just wants to be like everyone else and for people to treat her like they treat other people. I read a lot of posts like this from across The Pond and I wonder whether it's somewhat more difficult there than it is here.

My second thought was about how she got onto that beach. It was soft sand. I remember trying to get onto the beach in Kemi last summer. I was determined to get onto the beach and paddle in the sea... more so because Neil is reluctant to even try to help me because it's so impossible. With a lot of help from my friends, I made it onto Kemi beach and then walked on crutches and paddled in the sea. It took so long to get over the sand that I was exhausted by the time I reached the sea! So I wonder how the sad-faced lady got onto the beach and why she was there. Wouldn't it have been easier if people had considered her wheelchair... my wheelchair... wheels in general? Wouldn't it be great if there was some way of getting onto the beach in a chair?

Is the problem that people do see the chair and assume that the person wouldn't want to go on the beach OR is it that they don't see the chair and therefore don't make adjustments? Okay, so most beaches aren't designed by anyone. Nobody is responsible for making a beach... but lets transfer this question to other places. My family are going out for dinner at the weekend and the restaurant is not completely accessible. I rang to find out about it but was left with uncertainty, as they talked about manhandling me down an internal step. Are they seeing the person and not the chair? Are they not seeing the obstacles that are in my way? OR are they seeing the chair and not the person? Are they just not getting that normal people don't like strangers manhandling them and in that chair is a person?

Recently, on the news, there was something about accessibility in towns and how businesses are missing out on huge amounts of business by not being accessible. They might think that all disabled people are poor... because obviously we don't work! Well I do work. Sometimes I work very happily and feel immensely grateful that I have a job. Other days, I work through pain, fatigue and feel immensely stressed and wish I didn't have to go to work. The money that I earn, like most working people, is hard-earned. Therefore I am becoming more and more reluctant to spend it in places that are inaccessible. Why would I do that?!?!? There are great places that have gone to a lot of trouble and expense to be accessible. I'd like to spend my money there.

So do I want people to see me or my chair? Well, I think I want them to see both... together. I'm not saying that my disability defines me but it is a part of who I am. I don't want to spend my life feeling sad about that or frustrated because life is built around the majority. If people happen to see my chair first, well, okay... they're going to meet me next. Once they get to know me, the chair will fade into the background. In reality though, people don't see me or my chair... they see Liggy first. We proved that yesterday, walking round Ikea and Meadowhall. A few children pointed at my flashing front casters but lots of people commented on my beautiful dog and how well-trained she is. Then I just feel so proud to be wheeling alongside her!

Friday, 22 December 2017

Advent and some thoughts on waiting

It's almost Christmas! For some, the excitement is probably too much to bear, as the number of sleeps gradually decreases and that special day gets nearer. For others, Christmas isn't that big a deal or might have sad memories or reasons why we don't feel like celebrating. I'll be honest - it's not my favourite festival. I have a multitude of reasons why Christmas is associated with stress rather than joy but let's not go there.

Advent is about waiting... waiting for morning to open another door on the calendar and be allowed to eat chocolate at breakfast time... waiting for the arrival of the baby Jesus... waiting for a saviour... waiting...waiting...waiting. I do feel a little guilty, as a Christian, that I don't find Christmas more exciting. I've never been the greatest fan of waiting either. God does seem to like to keep us waiting.

This year, has seen the end of various seasons of waiting for me. In September, I completed my final paper of my MA and had an impatient wait for the final results, which signalled the end of my studies. Now I'm waiting for my certificate and then I'll be waiting for the graduation ceremony.

Also in September, I got the wonderful news that my wait for an assistance dog was over and now my beautiful Liggy and I are learning how to work together and develop a bond that will ensure a decade or so of a much-longed-for partnership. Ironically, in continuing her training, one word seems to dominate... WAIT!

We are a good match and mirror each other in so many ways. We both love our food, especially treats, but have allergies that mean we have to be careful about what we consume. We both need our sleep or we become grumpy. We both need fresh air and exercise or we become lethargic and lose our sparkle. And, neither of us likes to wait! Of course, we do it... but only because we have to.

I'm still waiting for some things. We've been waiting for ages to get the building work done so that the house is fully accessible for me, though the garden was a welcome measure to tide me over whilst waiting. The day the builders actually show up, I'm sure choirs of angels will sing joyfully. I certainly will!

If, like me, you don't like waiting, well at least the wait for Christmas is nearly done. If you waiting for other things, especially the big stuff of life, I wish you all the peace, patience and joy that is possible... and maybe some that goes beyond the possible. Merry Christmas and happy new year!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

CP Liggy is home

Yesterday was a really mixed day. Having spent almost two weeks at the Canine Partners' Midland training centre, with Liggy, her trainer and two other new partnerships, yesterday was going home day - so exciting! However, it also meant saying goodbye to some new friends... friends that have journeyed through the last two weeks together, supporting, chatting, joking and living together. Although I was glad to be returning home, I was so sad to say goodbye to them.

I want to tell you about the training but first of all, I should post a couple of pics of my new Canine Partner to melt your heart and send any doggy lovers all mushy.

Liggy lying next to me in the cafe, wearing her CP jacket.Liggy practising her new 'cuddle' command

Training

It seems a lifetime ago that I arrived, a little nervous, to begin the two week onsite training course. So much has happened since then, and I've been on a rollercoaster journey, very similar to that of bringing home a new born baby. One minute, things are going really well and falling into place, and I think, "That's it! I've cracked this dog-training thing. I'm an expert!" The next minute, something goes wrong and I think, "I'm going to be the only person in the world, who can't learn how to take care of a labrador puppy."

We started with really easy things like basic obedience work. Well, I say 'easy' and 'basic'. It was quite easy, once I'd programmed my brain to remember the right commands. For a dog, a command word means one thing and only one thing. So, for example, 'down' means lie on the floor and look very cute. When she jumps up and you want her not to, 'down' (the first word that comes to mind) means nothing. It's 'off'. And as someone who frequently says, ' I'd better go now...' I really have to remember that 'better go now' is the command to pee or poo, and Liggy pretty much pees and poos on that command within seconds of hearing it. Don't worry, I haven't said it at the wrong time yet but it's only a matter of time.

We did lots of outings to practise walking nicely and to practise where to stand, sit or lie in various situations. She perfected the art of browsing through Christmas jumpers in Boyes, a task neither of us will ever need to repeat. She also did a fab job of lying parallel to my wheelchair, whilst I had a coffee and cinnamon roll in a cafe. This was one of my favourite sessions!

Liggy has learned to do various tasks already that will help me out. The most useful is that she will instantly pick up virtually anything I drop. She has picked up keys, pens, her lead, my phone, the TV remote control. Initially, I was dropping items on purpose for her to practise but now she's doing it for real and that is just the best feeling ever. I can't describe that sinking feeling I used to get, when I dropped my keys or pen. Bending down, whilst just about doable, is so painful and difficult. Now, I almost like dropping things, just to see her response. If she could talk, I imagine her saying, "It's alright mum. I'll get it for you. You just sit tight. Here you go mum. I did it! Treat???"

The other thing that I love is her specially-for-me 'cuddle'. She has been trained to cuddle my left leg (yes, she knows her left and right) by putting her paws over so that her armpits are right next to my knee (which often feels cold, even when the rest of me is warm). Then she stays there for ages, while I feed her treats and tickle behind her ears. We both really enjoy it!

Home

Okay, so I know that this will be Liggy's last relocation experience. She's gone from breeder to puppy parents, to onsite training with weekend foster parents and now she has arrived in her new forever home... but she doesn't know that. Moving house is stressful for us and we can talk and understand what's happening. Liggy hasn't got a clue what is going on. She just has to trust me to take care of her needs and her biggest need this weekend is to get used to her new home and know that all the normal stuff still applies.

I suppose, like all living things, the two most basic needs of a dog are food and water going in at one end, and pee and poo coming out of the other. Toileting and feeding are very routine things that I need to keep as routine as possible. I was a little nervous (in the light of some comments by Neil's aunty) that Liggy might not use her dog toilet as readily as I hoped. However, it was the first thing she did on arriving here. We went straight out in the garden, went to her toilet and she peed on my first command. She has kept to her normal routine of going at her usual times. Later this morning, I'll go out and try out my new long-handled poop-scoop. I'm less sure of it's ability to perform than Liggy's.

Feeding is the thing that most amazes me. Liggy is still very puppy-like. She's an obedient dog but absolutely loves food more than anything in the world (girl after my own heart). As soon as she sees me get her bowl out, she goes and lies on her bed. She waits patiently while I prepare it and then waits for two toots on the whistle. Then (for Harry Potter fans) she apparates from her bed to the bowl and vacuums it up.  When she has finished, she brings me her bowl so I can put it in the sink. Eventually, I hope to cut out the middle man and she'll put in the sink herself. Sadly, I don't think we'll get as far as doing the washing up though.

Morning

One final thing that I love more than anything. I have spent years in an all-male, night-owl, grumpy-morning-people home. Liggy loves morning! We may need to work on an acceptable weekend wake-up time but it's like going back to the days of enthusiastic toddlers. If I show any signs of waking up, she's straight in there, wagging her tail for all she's worth, parading back and forth carrying her favourite teddy and generally doing her morning dance. I'm sure she's trying to say, "Hooray! It's morning! A new day, mum! Quick! Wake up! I'm ready to pick things up, do nice walking and cuddle your leg. Come on mum! Let's do the dance!" (Evan Almighty reference there.) So I do... I get up and do the dance... okay, maybe not.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Getting ready

I'm a little limited in what I can post at the moment but I have now been matched with a Canine Partner, subject to her passing her advanced training. Until this has been confirmed and her puppy parents notified, I can't post her picture or name. So let's focus on a different aspect...

Dog food

Neil and I went for an exploratory visit to Pets at Home this afternoon to check out food, treats, toys, beds, poop scoops, etc. It was all very exciting! I had never realised how many different types of dog food there are. We know that all Canine Partners eat dry food, so that narrows it down a little but there's different foods for puppies, adults, mature dogs and overweight dogs.

So, there's the doggy equivalent of Weight Watchers...

Weight Watchers dog food

Regular food for adults but who have expensive taste...

Adult smoked salmon dog food

And the senior citizens' daily special...

Dog food for senior citizens

Obviously, we don't need to buy food yet but I had to buy something to make it all feel real. It's a bit like buying baby stuff when you first find out you're pregnant. So...

Toys

When I went for my matching visit, I rediscovered something that I have always known but recently forgot... I throw like a girl! Yes, I know, it's embarrassing, but I can't throw a ball in anything like an acceptable manner. Hence, the first toy I think we must have is a ball lobber. This is closely followed by a frisbee.

A pink ball lobber and a purple frisbee

Treats

We soon discovered that food and toys are reasonably priced. Treats though!?!?!? Oh my word! Well pricey! I shall be heading online to find some kind of bulk buy. Meanwhile, I've got a treat bag to keep them in. I found some of the ones I used on the assessment and matching days quite difficult to get my hand in but this sort was quite easy and clips on your trouser waistband.

Treat bag


So, here's hoping and praying that the little doggy will work hard at Big School (the colloquial name for advanced training) and that we'll be spending the first two weeks of November learning how to work together.