Pause for Thought on Being Grounded

The image shows a yellow Labrador with her forehead furrowed as if frowning

Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.

I’ve been getting more and more angry over the past few months. It feels like Mom is simply never around anymore – first she went to Europe for a whole month. She had only been home for a few weeks when she suddenly disappeared again, this time to Mauritius. And again left me behind.

I’ve had enough! My patience is totally at an end. I’m putting my paws down firmly – all four of them, and have decided that  Mom is officially grounded from now until I say differently. Without exception, she is not allowed to leave the house without me.

Of course I will allow her to come walking with me, and she can even go shopping or visiting friends. But only if I’m with her. Because I am sick and tired of being left behind when she goes away.

Please don’t think that I don’t enjoy having Aunty Claire to play with when Mom and Dad are away. Because she’s lovely and is loads of fun. It’s just that I’m a guide dog and my place is with my mom, wherever she is. So I think I should always go along with her when she disappears

So, like I said – Mom can go out if she’s with me. But otherwise she is grounded till further notice.

And that’s just the way it’s going to be!

Europe 2022: A Highlight of Budapest

The image shows a woman with dark hair in a high ponytail smiling as she eats a pastry

On our travels in the last few years, Craig and I have used Airbnb Experiences to explore the places we visit. Our first Airbnb Experience was a street food tour of Kolkata, India, and it was amazing! We also enjoyed several online Airbnb Experiences during the COVID lockdowns, where we sampled a number of the cooking classes. And all were loads of fun.

So it‘s not surprising that we tried two Airbnb Experiences while we were In Budapest, Hungary. The first was a tour of Budapest Castle by night, which was fascinating. But by far the highlight for me was a food tour we went on, introducing us to several of the market halls where local produce is sold.

When we initially tried booking for the tour, we couldn’t find a day and time that would work for us. The guide generously opened an extra slot for us. On the morning of the tour we arrived to discover five others had taken advantage of the additional tour, which was great – as I’ll explain later.

We met up outside a Starbucks, popped into the bakery next door and sampled our first delicacy of the day – a rich buttery pastry called a chocolate snail (thankfully without actual snails being involved), and then hopped onto a bus and made our way to the first of our stops.

Budapest market

The first food market was a labyrinth of stalls of various types, with goods ranging from fresh vegetables, to baked goods, cheeses, cold cuts and a range of drinks. As we walked amongst the goods on offer, our guide told us about many of the local specialties. Every now and then she would stop and buy from stall-owners. After a while I began to get a bit confused – my experience of food tours was that they usually included more sampling than we were doing, along with the conversation and information being shared with us. I also began to wonder if our guide was busy stocking up her own kitchen, considering the amount she was purchasing as we wandered around.

Eventually we stopped at a stall that sold strudels.  Most of you will probably be aware of apple strudel, which is almost synonymous with Austria and Hungary. But how many of you have tasted sour cherry strudel? Or apricot strudel? Or what about pecan nut strudel? They were all delicious! Not so much to my taste was the cabbage strudel that was on offer – to my mind it neither smelt nor tasted good!

Anyhow, once we had wandered around the market hall for an hour, it became clear why our guide had been shopping. She led us to a quiet area where there was a large empty table and began to unpack a veritable feast of food for us to sample. The table must have been groaning under the array of meat, cheese, salad vegetables and bread. And, with there being seven of us in the group, it had been much easier for our guide to purchase a broader range of food to taste. Even for me – the fussy vegetarian – there really was plenty to choose from. And it was all delicious!

Of course, we assumed that our meal marked the end of the tour. But we were wrong. From there we caught a bus to a second market hall, where we sampled some local wine, a sour cherry beer and a glass of fresh farm milk, along with a decadently scrumptious deep fried flatbread with cheese and spices. Finally, we went to a local pub close to our guide’s home where we sat and chatted over a glass of local beer or wine. Before taking a much needed walk back to the nearest metro station to head back to our apartment.

Honestly, there was so much to see and taste  at the indoor market halls that Craig and I returned the following day to make a few purchases and take a few photos. And I’m not kidding that the second visit was as satisfying as the first! Definitely worth taking a few hours out of your trip to Budapest to visit the market halls where everything you could possibly want to sample is gathered

Paws for Thought: Waggy Birthday, Mom!

the image shows a close-up of the face of a yellow Labrador and it looks like she is smiling at the camera.

Hello everybody, it’s me – Fiji – once again stealing one of Mom’s blog’s because she’s away… again.

Anyway, even though Mom’s in Mauritius, wherever that is, I still want to wish her a very waggy birthday for yesterday. Because she is very special to me and my doggy siblings and we want her to know we thought about her on her birthday yesterday.

I’m already planning a belated birthday celebration for her for next week when she returns. So far I plan to wake her up bright and early by jumping up and pulling the covers off her, wagging my tail as fast as I can to show her that I love her. Then I’m going to demand that she lets me take her for a birthday walk, followed by an extra-long birthday play with me. I’ll probably sneak off for a nap after that, to give Mom a chance to recover from the excitement of the morning. But I’ll definitely make sure I wake up in time for her to give me and my doggy siblings an extra-special yummy birthday supper. Don’t you think that will be exciting for her? I’m sure she’ll feel very special.

Anyway, I still have to do all the detailed planning for her belated special day, so I better start on that. And, since I think best when I’m lying down with my eyes tightly shut, I’m just going to trot off to my ultra-comfy bed.

So, till next time…

Mauritius 2022: Visiting the Global Rainbow Foundation

 

The image shows a dark-haired woman presenting

It feels somewhat strange to say this, but I’m travelling again. The reason it feels a little peculiar is that I’m still processing all that I experienced on my trip to Europe six weeks ago. Not to mention how odd it is for me to travel twice in such a short time after almost three years of hardly leaving my house.

This time I’m in Mauritius, visiting Global Rainbow Foundation, a disability-focused organisation. I’m sure I’ll soon be sharing more about Global Rainbow Foundation and the amazing work they do to assist persons living with disabilities in Mauritius, but for now all I’ll say is that I’m learning how the foundation operates and am speaking at the Enable Mauritius conference taking place later this week. So there’s plenty for me to do while I’m here.

Of course, it would be silly to go to the beautiful island of Mauritius and not take advantage of the time there to relax and enjoy the beaches, entertainment, and delicious food that’s on offer. So we’re taking an extra week to help us recover from what has turned out to be a particularly busy year.

Once I’m back I’ll continue sharing stories from my travels to Europe, and then probably dive straight into sharing a few of my experiences from this trip.

In the meantime, wish me success with my presentations at the Enable Mauritius conference. It’s going to be such fun to speak there!

Paws for Thought on My Favourite Fictional Dog

the image shows the cover of the book Over Every Hurdle by Barbara Hinske

 

Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji

I’m bouncing up and down with excitement because I have wonderful news to share with you all – my favourite fictional guide dog is back!

His name is Garth and he’s the main dog in the Guiding Emily series by Barbara Hinske. And the exciting news is that Over Every Hurdle, the third book in the series  is being launched in just two days. I know mom has already pre-ordered the book and can’t wait to snuggle up at her feet to find out what Garth has been up to since we last read about him and his human, Emily.

Garth is such a cool dog! He’s a black Labrador like my friend Billy.  And Garth says and does so many things that my mom and I can relate to. We often laugh at his antics. Because he is just like me and my real-life guide dog family. He’s full of fun, but he takes his job as Emily’s guide very, very seriously. Just like all of us actual guide dogs do.

If you haven’t met Garth and Emily yet and like dogs or great stories, I promise you that you’ll enjoy reading about them. Over Every Hurdle is the third book in the series- the first two are  Guiding Emily and The Unexpected Path.

There are still two days to pre-order the book, so don’t waste time – jump up right now, grab your leash and go order them!

Here’s a link to find all the books in the series on Amazon.

I can’t wait for my and Mom’s copy to land in our Kindle library on Thursday. Wag, wag, wag, wag, wag…

Europe 2022: A Mixed Museum Experience

I have always loved history. One of my favourite forms of relaxation is to curl up with a book that can teach me something about a time or place that is unfamiliar to me.

With that in mind, it would seem to be a natural extension to assume that I enjoy visiting museums. Because they’re all about history, right? The truth is a little more complicated, because it all depends on whether or not I’m able to experience the museum using senses other than sight.

Let me give you two examples from my recent visit to Europe, from museums in Vienna.

The first is the House of Music. It was a lot of fun, as I got to engage with some of the exhibits. The first thing we did at the museum was to find the wonderful Piano Stairs, which you’ll see, and hear, in the video. I had such fun running up and down the stairs making music. Admittedly, as you’ll see from the video, I couldn’t find a way to play a recognisable tune, nor could I get the notes to harmonise, which is what I was trying to do with my white cane in the video. It may not have been tuneful, but it was so much fun!

There were other interactive installations that I could engage with. My favourites were the opportunity to conduct a full orchestra – virtual, of course – with a choice of several pieces of classical music. It was as much fun listening to other people exploring how different arm movements affected the music as it was to try it out for yourself.

Another set of experiential exhibits were a set of simulations about the experience of listening to sound. In one simulation various sounds were played showing how different breeds of animal would hear them. Another showed how an unborn baby would experience a range of sounds, including laughter, thunder and church bells. And the chance to explore how differently shaped waves create different types of musical notes.

I also got to experience sound showers for the first time and was fascinated as the sound of rain cascaded down from above, then moved two steps and the sound changed to that of birdcalls, then voices from a stage in a large open space, and then on to industrial sounds. The range of sounds was fascinating. As was the fact that so little sound bled across – each sound was almost entirely distinct.

In contrast to the House of Music was a military museum we visited. I’m sure the exhibitions were fascinating to someone with eyesight, but they were almost all behind glass or other types of barriers. So, even though my fingers were itching to explore the cutaway of an Austrian battleship, or to feel the sabers, swords and cutlasses that were displayed, no matter how desperately I wanted to step into the simulation of a WWI trench and feel my way around it, sadly, I could do none of these things. That museum made me feel marginalised and excluded.

In my travels I have had the opportunity of going to some fantastic museums that incorporate different techniques to make heritage come alive to all their visitors. Because the truth is that none of the interactive installations at the House of Music were designed with blind and partially blind people in mind. They were designed to make the museum more immersive for everybody. And they were being enjoyed by all the visitors.

Sadly, inclusive museums are not usual in my home city of Cape Town. We tend to have only museums that hide their exhibits away behind glass. But it seems there is interest in changing that. And I hope to be part of the change.

Europe 2022: Empty Skies

the image is of a forest in Poland

I live in a quiet suburb of Cape Town, near a river estuary. The area is lush, green and we have lots of trees in the surrounding area. And an almost constant accompaniment of birdsong. Birds are so much a part of my everyday life that I hardly hear them when I’m concentrating. Still, every now and then I become aware of the sound around me and smile.
 
Which is why I was so aware of the lack of birdsong when I was in Europe. I found the smost silent skies unnerving and ominous, almost oppressive.
 
It’s not that the environment around me was silent. In most of the apartments where we stayed,  there was a backdrop of sound from the steady flow of traffic, planes crossing the sky, the rattle of trains, trams, busses or metros, the occasional bark of a dog, and the chatter of human voices. But very little birdsong.
 
I first became aware of the eerie quiet in Vienna, the first city we visited on our travels. The morning after we arrived, I was startled when the silence was shattered by the start cry of a crow. When I heard it, I became aware that I could hear no other birds. That was when I actively began listening to everything that was around me. And was flummoxed to notice the same lack of birdsong in the other cities we went to.
 
To be fair, most of our apartments were in the centre of cities, so perhaps the environment wasn’t ideal for birds. Perhaps the birds chose to live outside the city centres. I don’t know.
 
And, having said that, I did hear the familiar sound of birds on two distinct occasions. First, sitting outside a pub in the centre of Bratislava in Slovakia, which we visited one evening at dusk. It was reassuring to hear birds settling into the nearby trees  for the night. The second occasion was in the forest near the place we were staying in Poland, which is about 30 minutes outside Krakow. Again, it was lovely to hear birds chirping and chittering when we were there.
 
Even now, as I sit writing this blog, I can hear birds in the trees near our home. It is  a marked contrast to what I experienced in Europe.
 
PS After our trip I was chatting to my friend Avril about her recent cycling trip to Greece and, totally out of the blue, she mentioned how strange she had found it to hear so few birds there. So it seems I’m not the only one who found it curious…
 
Have you been aware of sounds like birdsong on your travels? I’d love to know what your experiences have been like on your own travels!
***

Europe 2022: An Overview of my Recent Travels

Alt text: the image shows a street scene from Bratislava, Solvakia
 
I know, I know – the first blog of the month is meant to be a Fiji post. But seeing as she posted a few additional blogs while I was overseas, I think I’m justified in dognapping this spot from her, don’t you?
 
Besides, since I’ve just returned from an amazing, exhausting, fascinating, busy, invigorating, and challenging vacation in Central Europe, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my insights and experiences from the trip with you.
 
I was away for almost a month, which is the longest I’ve been away from home and dogs ever. The trip took us to four countries – six if you include South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which we flew through on our way to Europe, though we didn’t leave the airport this time around.
 
The countries and cities we actually stayed in were Austria (Vienna), Slovakia (Bratislava), Poland (Krakow) and Hungary (Budapest). Our trip  was organised around my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday in Poland.
 
While we were away we obviously experienced all sorts of interesting things, and ate far too much delicious food, but that’s not going to be the focus of my articles. Okay, there may be a little of that, because it’s part of travelling to a different place. But since you can find that sort of information on almost any travel blog, I’d prefer to focus on how I experienced our travels as a totally blind woman.
 
What I’ll be sharing with you is how I experienced different aspects of my recent vacation through the senses other than sight, hoping that you’ll find it interesting to compare against the way you travel. Having said that, since I know that travel doesn’t interest everyone, I’ll also add in a few articles on other subjects, to keep things interesting.
 
I hope you enjoy learning a little about my travels,  and would love to hear some of your travel stories if you feel like sharing them wherever you’re reading this.

Paws for Thought on Homecomings

Cds IMG 0003

Hello everyone it’s me – Fiji… again
 
This isn’t going to be a long post, because I’m just sooo excited because my mom is back home. She came home a few days ago and I’m still jumping up and down and running around like crazy because I’m so happy.
  
Mom is home and everything is right with the world again. Wag wag wag wag wag
 
Im sure Mom will tell you all about the paces she visited when she takes control of the blog again. So that should be fun!

Paws for Thought on Humans and Clothing

The image shows a yellow Labrador wearing a dark brown guide dog harness

 
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji:
 
As you no doubt realized, Mom is still away overseas. So I’m grabbing the opportunity to steal a few extra blog posts while she’s away.
 
Anyway, as I was lying in my bed this morning, still dreaming about the mountains of food that I imagine must exist in Hungary – wherever that is – I began thinking about the preparations Mom and Dad made before going on holiday.
 
Which got me thinking about human clothing and how odd it is. The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. Because human clothing just doesn’t make sense to me at all.
 
I’m a dog, so I always wear the same collar, no matter what the weather is like, the time  of year, or where I’m planning to go. In fact, the same is true of my guide dog harness. I only have one and I wear it wherever I’m going, if I’m working.
 
But not humans. Oh no, they have to complicate things. They have lots of clothing, with different colours, different styles-  the variety seems endless. Some of their clothing is smarter than other bits. And it seems to come in lots of different forms – dresses, trousers, skirts, long sleeved tops, short sleeved shirts. It makes my head spin.
 
Mom is particularly odd because sometimes she wears dresses and sometimes she wears trousers. At least Dad always wears trousers, so he’s less confusing to me.
 
Humans also seem to get unhappy with their clothing often. Which is the only reason I can think of that they change their clothing so much. Sometimes they might change three times in a single day. I’d be exhausted if I had to constantly change my collar or harness. Why don’t they simply wear the same thing all the time?
 
They even have different types of clothing for different activities. Dad wears one type of clothes when we go running and another when we walk. And they change their clothing if we go out to visit people. How silly is that? Can you imagine me changing my collar every time I go to visit my cousins Pixie, Baillie and Huey?
 
For some reason, time of day also seems to play a role in the clothing they choose. Because they change out of perfectly good clothing and immediately replace it with other clothing before climbing into bed at night. But they don’t do it if they take a nap in the daytime. Which confuses me even more.
 
The only thing about human clothing that I can sort of understand is that they wear more clothing when the weather gets cold. Because I also like to sleep under a blanket then.
 
I’ve tried to ask my mom about it and she pats me and tells me it’s a human thing. Which doesn’t  strike me as a particularly good explanation, because  it doesn’t answer my question at all.
 
If I were a human, I would have only one piece of clothing and I’d wear it the whole time. Okay, maybe I’d have a second item of clothing for when I’m working, just like my guide dog harness. I think that would make far more sense, don’t you?
 
So, maybe  I should simply accept the fact that I will never understand the human obsession with clothing and leave it at that.
 
PS: Like I said, Mom is still away, and all us doggies are having lots of fun with the humans we’re looking after until Mom and Dad return.

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