A True Spirit of Adventure

Normie Eckard on his handcycle on a road with a Namibian flag

Every time I interview someone for my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling, I learn new ways in which people with disabilities engage with the travel and hospitality industries. This was especially true for the most recent episode we published.

Normie Eckard has been a wheelchair user since a motor accident when he was 18 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in a number of adventures that he uses to fundraise to assist children with disabilities. In the podcast we broke down a few of the adventures he’s done and explored how these were adapted to accommodate his own disability.

If you’re interested to know how Normie was able to skydive, paraglide, go scuba diving and shark cage diving, and ride a quadbike, amongst other things, and about his adventure cycling from Luderitz to Cape Agulhas on a handcycle, you can find out by listening to the episode at the following link:

http://iono.fm/e/1020502

While you’re there, it would be great if you could subscribe to the podcast to join me as I continue to learn from each new guest I have the honour to interview.

Paws for Thought on the Perplexity of Cooking

Fiji looking at a bag of dog foodHello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!

I know I say it often, but there are some things about humans that confuse me. Like why they feel the need to ruin perfectly yummy food by cooking it.

I mean, I’m ecstatically happy to be given a bowl of pellets at mealtimes. I’m so excited that I start to run straight to my food spot as soon as Mom picks up my bowl. but then I lose sight of my food. And get Scared that Mom might get distracted. So I spin back to check. And then I continue my spin so I don’t crash into the doorway. And then spin around again to check my food is still on its way. I think my greatest number of complete spins is eleven. I know it looks like I’m chasing my tail. But I’m not.

When we reach the spot, I sit down like I’m meant to, quivering with excitement. And Mom eventually puts my bowl on the ground. A fraction of a second after she tells me I can eat I dive in. And gobble my food as fast as I can. Because I have to finish before my doggy-sisters do, or they’ll try to steal mine. And they both feel the same.

But not mom and dad. No, they have to get all fancy and complicated with their food. In all sorts of peculiar ways. They either fry, roast, grill, boil, poach or steam it. And for what? It doesn’t make it last any longer before it’s all gobbled down.

Okay, I admit that when Dad cooks meat me and my sisters get intoxicated by the delicious scent of the meat cooking. And, joy of all joys, if he gives us a teeny bit of the meat to taste after it’s cooked, it certainly tastes wonderful. But it takes sooo long before it’s ready to eat.
If you ask me, even if it does taste delicious, I bet it would taste almost as good if we just ate it without all the fuss of cooking it first. And it wouldn’t take as long to prepare – just drop it in our bowls and it’ll be gone before you can say “Eat it”.

Somehow Mom and Dad just don’t see it that way and insist on spending unnecessary time cooking it. Apart from salad, which we dogs wouldn’t want to eat any way. Except perhaps for my sister Emily, who will eat almost anything. Except parsley, celery tops and brussels sprouts.
Drat! Talking about all this food has made me hungry. I wonder how long it is till supper.

Book Review: The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon, by Tom Corson-Knowles

the image shows the cover of The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon

Three posts in a row about books? That’s a little unusual for me. Yet, since books, reading and writing are such important parts of my life, it’s possibly more strange that I don’t write about books more often.

As a writer I’m always keen to learn how to write, publish and market books more effectively. Which is why The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon, by Tom Corson-Knowles, published by TCK Publishing, was of such interest to me
Even though this book was published a few years ago and certain Amazon features may have changed since then, it was a book full of useful information and great resources to assist an author considering self-publishing on the Amazon platform.

However, the book doesn’t stop there. There are also great tips to assist with the writing process included. I especially found the chapter about selecting a title for a book of interest, since this is something I’m currently battling with myself. The suggestions given will definitely stay with me.
While I have not yet had a chance to investigate the many promotional tools given in the book, there are bound to be at least a few that can assist with the marketing of a self-published book, which often proves a stumbling block for new authors.

In conclusion, I found this quick-reading book both practical and easy to follow. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to publish and market a book through Amazon.

Literary Tour of Africa

The image shows a map of the African continent

Okay, okay, so I’m not actually touring round Africa. But what else would you call it?

This year I set myself two reading goals: to read some of the classics I didn’t get to when I was at school, and to focus on reading outside the genres I tend to default to. The first book I read was Homegoing, by Ghanaian-born Yaa Gyasi. That was the book that shifted my reading into an unexpected direction, and focused me specifically on authors from the African continent.

One of the characters in Homegoing is a history teacher in Ghana. At one point he cautions his students that the texts they study often reflect only a single perspective. That they should try to find the voices that are silenced in the texts. And I became intensely aware of how few books I had read by authors from Africa. Even more, how few of those that I had read were by authors whose voices had traditionally been marginalized in the publishing industry.

Rather than spending time researching possible books, I posted a question on a Facebook book group. And received more than 75 recommendations of books written by authors based in Africa. From numerous countries. In fact, I have so many books and authors to try that I feel slightly overwhelmed. Which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to books!

So far I’ve read three books, each from a different country.

1 Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana)
2 If We Are to Become: A Conversation Taking Us to the Next Level – by Ruramai Sithole (Zimbabwe)
3 The Shadow King – by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)

I wish I could find a way to track the books I’ve read on a map of Africa, but can’t think of one. It’s one of the few times that my blindness has posed me a challenge I can’t solve without sighted help. That’s just the way it is sometimes.

I know I already have a long list of authors and titles to read. But I’m always keen to learn about great books. So why not let me know a few of your favourite books by African authors. I’d love to hear them!

Update on Fiji’s Book

The image shows Lois and Fiji It’s been a while since I updated you on Fiji’s book. And things are starting to move fast now!

Fiji and I have finished creating the content and the book has been proofread. Our next step is to add the photographs and to create a cover for the book… with Fiji on it, of course. Then we need to start shifting into the publishing and marketing phase. Which is going to be exciting for us both!

To my surprise, the book has turned out to be 27 000 words. Considering I anticipated it would be around 20 000 at a stretch, I was amazed to find it just continued to grow. Fiji and I kept adding stories. It’s been so much fun creating a book about Fiji’s perspective of the world. And those who have read it so far, including her puppy walkers, said they enjoyed it.

We can’t wait to share it with you! It will still be a while before it’s available. In the meantime, here is another short extract from the book. This time drawn from what happened when Fiji and I arrived home after being on guide dog training.

Here’s how Fiji remembers that experience:

“Mom and the man had a serious conversation on the trip to wherever we were going. I heard my name a few times but couldn’t figure out what it was about. I rather enjoyed snoozing contentedly at mom’s feet, curled up and occasionally resting my head and my front left paw on mom’s seat. Whatever they were talking about I knew I’d be fine.

The car eventually stopped and I lifted my head to stare curiously around me. The man got out of the car and closed the door, lowering his window to let in some cool air since mom and I were staying in the car. Then he opened the front door and three dogs bounded out and ran onto the grass.

I immediately wanted to go and join them and tried to climb through the open car window. Mom grabbed my collar and held me back and I started to whine and wriggle to get to the dogs. So mom opened her car door and I took a flying leap out of the car and went to introduce myself to my new siblings.

Introductions were quickly made, amidst much tail wagging and tentative play. Emily and I became friends right away – she was seven years old but was still happy to play with me. At fifteen years old, Calvin was already ancient by then and was a little grumpy, and mostly ignored me. But that was okay, because I had lots to explore and mom and Emily to play with. The third dog, Eccles, was mom’s retired guide dog and she seemed to be friendly as well, though she didn’t really want to play much either. She also tried lecturing me on how to look after mom best – as if I needed to be told! Still, I thought it would be disrespectful to ignore her so listened to what she had to say… before rushing off to explore some more.

Eccles and I had a polite conversation about who would get to sleep beside mom on the floor next to the bed. She felt she ought to retain that right. But I told her it was my spot now, since I was mom’s proper guide dog. The conversation went on for quite some time. And eventually we agreed to take it in turns – with whomever got there first winning the coveted spot. Which, of course, meant that I got to sleep nearest to mom most nights. Because I was so much younger and quicker than Eccles, and would race to the bed as soon as we’d had our night-time biscuits.”
We’ll let you know how to get hold of the book soon, I promise…

Paws for Thought on Itchy Ears

The image shows a close-up of Fiji’s face.

Early last week my ear started to irritate me. I was forced to shake my head repeatedly to try and clear the itchiness but it didn’t help. No matter how much I shook my head.

When mom noticed she sent me to the doggy doctor. Usually I enjoy going to the doctor because I get treats and get lots of attention. Every now and then I also get an injection which makes me cry. But most often not so the doggy doctor is my friend.

This time she checked my ear and it was sore. So I cried. And she patted me and said she was sorry.

Since then I’ve noticed dad slipping something into my dinner so I think he’s feeding me pills. But I never find them in my food since I eat it so fast. So that’s okay with me.

But I’ve also been having yucky liquid put in one of my ears. Twice a day. I absolutely hate it. It makes a horrible slushy type of sound and feels very horrid when it gets into my ear. So I have to shake my head and try and get it all out.

Is it any wonder that I run away and hide under the bed when dad reaches for the bottle of liquid for my ears? Dad’s taken to cheating and bringing my amazing squeaky toy and then I can’t help myself – I squeeze out from under the bed and jump for it. And dad grabs my collar. And then I get yucky liquid in my ear again.

On the positive side, my ear isn’t feeling itchy any more. And I haven’t needed to shake my head for several days now. Except to clear the medicine from my ear. Or if I’m playing with my squeaky toy and need to give it a good shake.

But yucky ear liquid is definitely going on my list of things I hate – along with being Top spotted and being left at home when mom goes out.

Next month I want to tell you all about another of my favouritest things in the world – food… Mmm, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
XXX

Five Wonderful Years with Guide Dog Fiji

The image shows Guide Dog Fiji licking Lois on the nose

Who would have thought it? Fiji and I celebrate our fifth anniversary today! And what an amazing five years they’ve turned out to be – full of fun, adventure, learning, independence, sharing our story, and lots of wonderful companionship. Sure, there have been a few less than perfect moments, too. But so few and far between that they fade into insignificance.

Last year I shared a conversation between Fiji and myself in which we reflected on the four years we’d worked. And this past year has hardly been anything for either of us to brag about since we’ve not been able to add much to our adventures due to COVID-19. But, even with the little we are able to do right now, I am reminded of how much independence Fiji gives me and how much joy she provides.

Admittedly, there are a few things that have changed in the last year. For one thing, Fiji has turned into a vampire runner. By which I mean that she no longer joins Craig and Allie on their runs if they do so in the morning. Rather she waits for the sun to be well and truly down before being willing to head out and hit the road.

The guide dog trainer said she thinks Fiji is self-managing her running and that maybe she’s feeling the heat of a morning run more than she used to. So, rather than leaping up and demanding a run whenever she can, she is regulating both how often and how far she gets to run. I guess I have to acknowledge that Fiji is getting older – she is now 6.5 years old. But it’s still sad for me to see it in her behaviour… even if it’s only apparent in small ways like when she chooses to run.

Having said that, the vet told us last week that Fiji is in remarkable shape for a dog her age, and someone who encountered Fiji when she was walking with Craig the other day asked if they could buy one of her puppies. And she is still as playful and as loveable as ever – still leaps into the air to catch her crunchwater, chases her tennis ball, and plays rowdily with her doggy sisters.

More than that, Fiji’s discovered a new toy. A few months ago we found Eccles’s old squeaky toy. And when we squeaked it, Fiji came hurtling up from the other side of the house and leapt for it. And proceeded to squeak it and shake it with glorious abandon. Which is strange because she’s never shown any interest in it before

Every now and then we find her staring up at the dressing table where we keep the squeaky toy with a wistful look on her face. Until we pick it up and toss it to her. And then we have a leaping, shaking, tail-wagging gleeful Fiji once again.

Most importantly, Fiji comes running whenever I pick up her guide dog harness, twisting in circles and wagging as fast as she can. Her love of guiding is always a joy for me to experience. And I’m sure she and I will continue working together for many years yet.

A very happy and waggy anniversary to my precious guide dog companion – and many more adventures for us… And a successful book launch when we finish her book later this year. But we’ll update you on that soon, we promise…

What do you mean we’ve had 200 K views???

https://youtube.com/shorts/exDSDDDrKWM

I’ve had a YouTube channel for years. But I’ve never really done much with it. Okay, I’ve used it to post videos of my speaking, of Fiji and I working, and a few fun videos of my beloved dogs. But very little beyond that.

In 2017 I uploaded a video of Fiji and I riding on an escalator. I thought the cutest part of the video was that Fiji is wagging her tail all the way down the escalator, clearly loving the work she’s doing.

And for years that video limped along, being viewed every now and then by a curious YouTuber. Until the last few months.

Suddenly I began getting a stream of notifications from YouTube telling me that people were watching the clip. These were interspersed with notifications that people were following my channel. And I began paying a lot more attention to what was happening on YouTube.

Over the space of two months my subscribers leapt from just over 100 to 615. And the number of views of that specific video clip rocketed from a few hundred to over 204 000.

It s made me realize the power that YouTube can have. And that I need to be more strategic about sharing videos, especially if they include my beautiful Guide Dog Fiji!

So, watch out – we’ve got lots more videos in our plans!

PS: Here’s the link to that particular video. Why not take a few seconds to watch it after all, more than 200K people must be on to something! https://youtube.com/shorts/exDSDDDrKWM

A Fun and Different Interview – The Cafinnated Q&A

Post Chat  2

It looks like I m in for quite a year of interviews, if the month of January is anything to go by.

My most recent interview was a little different from anything I’ve done before. And it was lots of fun!

Abigail Klopper, from the Cafinnate Academy, who works in the fields of brand management and confidence, has a dynamic Facebook group where she runs a weekly Q&A session with a guest.

Rather than basing her interview questions around the expertise and experience of the guest, the questions are drawn by random and focus on aspects like branding, creativity, content creation and confidence. And it was my turn to be in the hot seat late in January.

That s not entirely fair – while Abigail s questions were often thought-provoking and made me reflect on some of my own processes, I never felt in any way stressed. There was plenty of laughter at some of the questions and my answers.

But, rather than me telling you all about the questions that got me thinking and those that got us
laughing, why not give the interview a listen and see for yourself’

Here’s where you can watch the interview: https://cafinnate.com/cafinnated-qa-lois-strachan/

You can also join Abigail s community of dynamic women on Facebook and YouTube:

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/cafinnate
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5jv38ZjkCT8EvLka1Wp3Jw

Paws for Thought on Finally Writing My Book

Fiji guide dogDate: 2 February 2021

Hi everyone, it’s me – Fiji!

The most exciting thing is happening! After four years of procrastinating, mom and I have finally started writing my book. In fact, we’ve finished writing it and are just busy doing other, clearly less important, stuff like spell checking, editing, proof reading and formatting the book now. Even though mom keeps telling me that these are all very important parts of the writing process, I just can’t see it – surely writing my story is the important bit?

I guess mom and I will just have to disagree about that.

Anyway, while we’re busy with all the stuff that mom has to do on my behalf, we’re also busy with other things. We’re discussing the cover design, and are playing around with a number of different titles and sub-titles for the book.

I don’t exactly know how we’re going to distribute the book. We have a few ideas but nothing has been decided yet. I’m sure we’ll let you know as soon as we have all that in place.

In the meantime, just to whet your appetite, here’s a sneak peek into a bit of the story. Mom told me I ought to warn you that this hasn’t been edited yet, so it might change before the book is published.

“I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 30 August 2014, one of a litter of eight puppies. My mom is a Golden Retriever named Fiesta and my dad is a black Labrador named Jay. My dad lives in America –I still don’t know if I’m eligible for a Green Card because of that fact. I’m a bit confused about the whole process since I don’t think my dad came to South Africa to meet my mom. But I really don’t want to know about the details – there are just some things I don’t need to know.

Actually, I’m a bit confused about the whole mom and dad thing. Because I have had several moms and dads through my life – with my forever mom and dad being the humans I live with now. Especially mom, for whom I work as a guide.

But, if they are my forever mom and dad, does that mean the other people I thought of as mom and dad should have been called something else? Because there have been quite a few of them. First, as I said, there were Fiesta and Jay. And the human who is mom to Fiesta, too. Then I went to stay with Jenny and Mike in Johannesburg and they taught me lots of things, played with me, took me places and also took me to puppy school. They also gave me lots of toys – ropes which I chewed to pieces and a fluffy sheep toy that I didn’t, which was my favouritest toy when I was little.

I have lots of wonderful memories of the time they were my mom and dad – like playing in the garden and chewing my way through the stems of the strelitzia plants, grabbing the garden hose and pulling it through the house to put it in my bed with all my other toys, and going to wake mom up carrying my tennis ball in my mouth. I still do that sometimes, bringing my tennis ball with me when I want attention from my forever mom and dad.

This was also when I first started being called Fiji. Mom-Jenny and dad-Mike called me Fiji because they said my coat was the colour of the sand on the beaches of the volcanic island of Fiji. Though my forever mom also sometimes tells people that she believes it is because I have something of a volcanic personality.

I was very sad to say goodbye to mom-Jenny and dad-Mike and move to Cape Town for the next phase in my life. It all seemed very strange to me at first. But then I was introduced to my new mom and dad – Beata and Piotr, and I soon adjusted to my new place and my new routine.

That was when I started proper training to become a guide dog. I would go to school every day – well, every weekday – and Aunty Cheryl and Aunty Charne would teach me all sorts of exciting lessons I would need if I wanted to become a guide. I was surrounded by lots of other dogs who also wanted to become guides, as well as lots of friendly humans who worked with the South African Guide-Dog Association for the Blind, getting us ready for our exciting futures.”

So that’s a little of my story – you’ll have to read the book if you want to know more. After we’ve finished with all the bits we’re busy with. I promise either mom or I will let you know when it’s ready to go.
XXX

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