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

My First Podcast Appearance for 2021 – the Phemale Phoenix Podcast

Phemale Phoenix logo

I am regularly startled by the mails that arrive in my in-box. Thankfully I’m not referring to adverts for things that I neither want nor need, though I do receive a few of those as well – but remarkably few thanks to my anti-spam software.

Rather I’m referring to a number of incredible opportunities that have come my way over the past few months – like an invitation to appear on national TV… but more about that as the details emerge. And opportunities like guesting on some wonderful podcasts. Like the Phemale Phoenix Podcast with Lauren Deal.

The Phemale Phoenix is a podcast about women who have overcome challenges and, to quote the podcast show notes, “turned their mess into a message”. It turns out that Lauren read one of my Beyond Sight blog posts and decided I would be a good fit for her audience.

It was wonderful to chat to Lauren earlier this month. Her podcasts are usually 15 minutes since she wants her audience to be able to slot the episodes into their busy lives without too much difficulty. And the topics she covers address a number of issues faced by women across the world.

Here’s the interview we did: https://thephemalephoenix.podbean.com/e/episode-20-lois-strachan-unseen-ambition-in-a-sighted-world/

If you have a story to share with Lauren’s audience, why not reach out to her and see what is possible.

My First Podcast Interview for 2021

Alt text: the image shows a stylized image of the continent of Africa

I’m not sure how it happened, but the second half of 2020 was not a good year for me in terms of podcasting. Well, let me clarify that – while I was a guest on a number of podcasts, mostly due to the launch of the second edition of my book, A Different Way of Seeing, somehow I didn’t get round to publishing many episodes of the travel podcast that I host. In fact, I published only four podcasts, when I would usually aim for two each month.

So I’m happy to report that I’ve fallen back into podcasting and hope that I’ll be back on track in 2021 – I have three episodes recorded so far, with a further three in progress.

The first 2 episodes are an interview with ability activist Chaeli Mycroft, from the Chaeli Campaign. Chaeli and I chat about several topics related to travel and disability, including her participation in ultra-marathons in her wheelchair, and her trip up Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain peak on the African continent. The first episode is ready to go… and should be released any day.

To hear that interview, and any of the other interviews I’ve done previously, hop over to the podcast feed at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715

And why not subscribe while you’re there? That way you won’t miss any of the exciting and inspiring stories of the travellers I get to chat to.

Closing the Chapter on My 2020 Reading Challenge

Bus

First, a very happy new year to you all! May 2021 be a year with many wonderful adventures for you! Let’s hope the year will bring a little more stability than the last one.

My tradition over the past few years has been to start off with a post about my intentions for the year ahead. Frankly, with so much uncertainty, I don’t really feel like writing on that subject. So I’m doing something else instead.

In 2020 I set myself a goal of reading at least one non-fiction book per month. While I have always been a prolific reader, somehow I’ve just never found myself drawn to non-fiction books. Last year I decided to try and change that. At least a little.

And I think I succeeded – in total I read 17 non-fiction books during the year. So I met and exceeded my target. In a previous post I listed the books I read in the first half of the year. You can find the list in the post published on 14 July 2020.

Here’s the list of the non-fiction books I read in the second half of the year:

9 Make Money from Non-Fiction Kindle Books: How to Maximise Your Royalties, Get Paid to Capture Leads, and Rapidly Build A Successful Backend Business – by John Tighe.
10 Timeless on the Silk Road: An Odyssey from London to Hanoi – by Heather Ellis.
11 One More Croissant for the Road – by Felicity Cloake.
12 Walking without Skin: A Journey of Healing from Fear to Forgiveness to Freedom – by Lois Wagner.
13 Kong Boys: Seven Friends from Hong Kong Take on Eleven European Cities for Their Thirtieth Birthdays – by Gerald Yeung.
14 Fundamentals of Leadership: Your Treasure Map for Leading in a New Era Where Everything Has Changed and You Have Become Lost – by Rowan van Dyk.
15 Podcast 101: Simple Steps to Create Your Own Podcast, Build Relationships and Grow Your Business – by Paul Brodie.
16 Ditch the Fear and Just Write It: The No Excuses Power Plan to Start Your First Book – by Alexa Bigwarfe.
17 Adventure by Chicken Bus – by Janet LoSole.

This year I have started another reading challenge – to read books by authors with diverse voices, experiences and from different cultures and geography from myself. I’m starting with a book called Homegoing, by Ghanaian author Yaa Gyasi.

I also plan to read a few classics that I either missed when I was younger, or that I disliked as a teenager and that I’d like to try again to see if my impressions have changed. The first of these is The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald, which I couldn’t stand when I originally read it. I’ve decided to give it a second chance as so many people hold it in such high regard. It’s always possible that I just read it at the wrong time. Only time will tell…

I think I’m in for an exciting reading year!
XXX

Paws for Thought on a Family Holiday

the image shows two blond Labrador Golden Retriever crosses, with Lois
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!

A very happy New Year to you all – whether you’re my friend or my mom’s, I hope you have a wonderful 2021, filled with walks and lots of delicious food! And lots of play with your family. Because that’s what I hope is in store for me in the year to come.

Talking about family, I got to meet my doggy nephew during the holidays. Obi is my sister Faith’s pup and he and his human partner came to Cape Town over the holidays. So we got the chance to sniff noses and spend a bit of time together.

I heard mom and Anel – Obi’s mom – talking about us and comparing us. It certainly sounded like Obi and me have lots in common – we both get upset if someone else is sleeping in our bed, we both work well as guide dogs, neither of us suffers from significant dog distraction, and we look very similar, as you can probably see from the photograph included with this post. For ease of reference, I am the slightly bigger dog in the image. Obi is a very little dog, especially for a boy.

We also are different in many ways. Obi loves to sleep on the couch, which I only got to do after he had been to visit… and I wasn’t totally comfortable since I was sure mom or dad would tell me to get off. But they didn’t. But I’m still only going to jump on the couch when mom invites me to do so. Just in case.

Obi also got trapped under the dining room table, which has never happened to me. He just stood there and waited for someone to come and rescue him, where I would simply have pushed the chairs out of the way so I could escape. And Obi also doesn’t play with tug ropes – his brother Loonie does, though so we did get a chance to play with him.

I really hope I will get the chance to see my litter sister Faith sometime, so I can tell her all about how her pup is doing. I’m sure she will be very proud of the wonderful guide dog he’s become and how well he looks after Anel, his human partner. But, with all the strangeness still going on in the world, who knows when that might happen.

It was wonderful to meet Obi and Anel, and Gavin and Loonie, here in Cape Town. And it was a good end to 2020.

You know, I forgot to ask Obi what he thinks of squirrels… and if he’s even met a squirrel. But I’m sure he’ll share my aversion to the pesky things!

2020 – A Retrospective

Lois and Fiji

2020 is now almost over and I’ve been reflecting on the year that has been.

My year got off to a great start. I had planned three main projects to move me forward in my business. Those intentions were to release my audio book, complete a marketing show reel for my speaking business, and to totally revamp my website.

Then COVID-19 happened and, like everyone else in the world, my plans changed.

At a first glance, it would appear I achieved little this year. While I’m about 75% through the show reel project, I’m only 33% of the way through the recording of my audio book, and my website revamp hasn’t even started. To be honest, I was feeling pretty dismal about my progress.

Then I attended a seminar facilitated by Lesley Callow and she got me looking at my year completely differently. By challenging the way I was thinking, Lesly got me to focus on what I had achieved. More than that, Lesley also got me to acknowledge that I hadn’t been celebrating my successes because I was so busy beating myself up for not having completed the tasks I had set myself. And suddenly my year looked very different.

Sure, I may not have made the progress I had hoped on the three projects that had been my focus when the year started. But I had achieved a large number of other wins instead – I’d published the second edition of my book, A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an Ordinary Life in an Extraordinary Way, which I hadn’t even known was a requirement for me to release the audio book. More than that, wit the work I and my ARC Team (Advance Review Copy) did prior to the launch, my book became a No1 bestseller in two Amazon categories for at least 5 days (it might have been more as I had stopped tracking the ratings).

Like most speakers I’d been forced to shift my business online and, while I had perhaps not done as much speaking as I might have wished, I’d grown my online speaking skills significantly.

And I’d been busier with my music than I’d been in many years – doing 4 lockdown gigs on Facebook Live, and performing for several conferences, and fundraising events. And I’d been a feature artist for an arts festival run by Artscape Theatre. Shifting my music online had been remarkably easy!

There were many other smaller successes that happened during 2020 but those were the ones that I’m most proud of. So even in small ways I’ve continued learning and growing through the crazy year that has been 2020.

We can’t know what 2021 will bring, but it’s almost time for me to start setting my intentions for the coming year. And, whatever those intentions are and no matter what the year throws at me, I’m confident that I will continue moving forward.

Huge thanks to Lesley Callow for transforming my perspective of the last year. If you’d like to find out more about the work that Lesley does, you can contact her on lesley@e2lifecoaching.com

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 08 – Being Considered Inspirational

Alt text: the image shows Lois speaking in front of an audience

At a recent online presentation, I was asked to explain how I cook food. I explained a few of the techniques I use– how I chop vegetables, how I work with a hot saucepan without burning myself, how I know when food is cooked, and other simple techniques I use.

My explanation was greeted by various comments on how inspiring I am. Which bothered me.

I guess, as an inspirational speaker I should feel happy to be told I inspire people. And, if I’m talking about how I made the decision to move forward with my life after losing my sight, or strategies people can use to move past the challenges they encounter in their own lives, then I’m okay with being considered inspiring.

However, I don’t believe that talking about simple techniques I use to accomplish tasks in my life should be seen as inspirational. To me, it would be a bit like telling someone they are inspirational because they learned their six times table, or that they were able to tie their shoelaces.

We all learn new skills and techniques as we go through our lives. In my case, the techniques may differ from those a sighted person uses. But they are no more complicated… and no more inspirational.

Which is why I chose to write A Different Way of Seeing – to try and explain how simple many of the techniques I use to accomplish tasks are. And to explain why accomplishing those tasks should not be seen in any other light – they are simply techniques I’ve learned. ,

I know it may seem like I am being dismissive of the response I get from audiences when I speak. That definitely isn’t my intention – I appreciate that people may be moved by my story and the lessons I share to help them tackle their own challenges. I’d simply like people to understand that persons with disabilities do not feel comfortable being lauded for simply learning their six times table… or equivalent skills.

Shift Online Art Festival 2020

It was such an honour for me to be asked to participate in last month’s Shift Online art festival hosted by the Unmute Dance Co from Artscape Theatre. I’ve been impressed by the online performances shown on the YouTube channel throughout November. They have featured some talented artists from across Africa and the world and, of course, from here in South Africa. So it was really special for me to be asked to contribute to the festival.

There were two segments focusing on my work. The first was a mini-documentary that was premiered on Sunday, 29 November, which featured videos of me talking about my work as a singer/songwriter, author and motivational speaker.

Themba Mbuli, Creative Director of Unmute Dance Co, was responsible for putting the content together into a mini-documentary, and he did a really great job.

Here’s the link to the mini-documentary: https://youtu.be/l50KD6d8f5o

A second segment was released on the penultimate day of the festival, Wednesday, 2 December and featured me talking about how I wrote one of my songs – Here Be Dragons – and a little about how I play keyboard. Also featured in that segment was a solo performance from Lone Loh.

Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/f0CUpXmC0J0

I can’t even begin to think of how challenging it must have been to produce a month-long art festival online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full respect to Themba Mbuli and his team at Unmute Dance Co for such an amazing show! And congratulations to all the artists for their creativity in adapting their art to an online space.
PS: Don’t think that the festival is aimed solely at persons with disabilities – we are artists first, sharing our art with you. Our disabilities are just a minor part of who we are.

PPS You can also hear the first paragraph of my audio book on the mini-documentary.

Paws for Thought on A Sneaky Trick

The image shows Fiji lying in her dog-bed

Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!

Today I want to tell you about a very clever and sneaky trick I played on my doggy sister, Allie. Well, to be honest, it’s a trick I think I’m going to have to play on her quite often.

It was time for me to go to sleep. I wandered over to my bed. And found my sister Allie already asleep – in my bed! What a cheek!

Okay, okay – I know my doggy sisters and I don’t actually have our own beds. We have three beds and we sleep wherever we choose to. But that’s hardly the point – Allie was asleep in my bed… or at least the bed that I wanted to sleep in right then.

I tried glaring at Allie, but she just ignored me and stayed in my bed.

I knew asking mom to get Allie to move wouldn’t work. I’ve tried that before and mom only pats me on the head and tells me to go and sleep on one of the other beds. That Allie got there first so she should be allowed to stay there.

So I knew I’d have to find another way to reclaim my bed.

I went over to mom and just stood there waiting. Eventually she looked up from the book she was reading and patted me. So I licked her hand, just as if I was asking her for water. She offered me water and I had a few licks to satisfy her. Then I followed mom back to the bedroom and continued just standing there and looking at her expectantly.

Mom asked me if I wanted to play and I wagged my tail enthusiastically. That was what I’d been trying to get her to do. But sometimes mom is a bit slow and doesn’t understand my very clear communication.

And, as soon as we started to play, allie jumped out of bed and came to join in with the game.

And I quickly jumped into my bed, snuggled up and went to sleep.

Mom told me I wasn’t very nice to Allie, but it’s not like I forced her to come and play – she did so entirely on her own. As I knew she would!

Don’t you think that was clever of me?

Digging into the Musical Archives – My Signature Song

the image shows Lois playing guitar and singing into a microphone

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I began posting some of my lyrics and writing on my blog. Okay, I know I missed a month or two, but I think I’ve been pretty good about digging into my archives and sharing some of my writing with you.
Here’s the last set of song lyrics for 2020. This song – Misconception – has become something of a signature song for me. But I have no idea why.

It’s the song I’ve played most often in 2020 – for the World Sight Day Dinner for the South African Guide Dogs Association, for the AfriNEAD conference, for the Shift Online Ability Arts Festival at Artscape Theatre, for the Disability Summit by the Cape Chamber of Commerce, and for one of my lockdown gigs.

Listen to the song here: https://www.loisstrachan.com/music/

Misconception

Little miss Carli packed her bags and headed for the sun
She left her home in a country garden, waved goodbye and now she’s gone.

Chorus:
heading for those city lights
Where the lights they are so bright
little Miss Carli, where’s your body going to lay down for the night.

She left the harbour, bound for somewhere; she hopped on the nearest boat
She had some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five-pound note

Chorus:
Heading for those city lights
Where the lights, they are so bright
Little miss Carli, where’s the party, tonight.

she went to the place where all dreams come true
And the streets are paved with gold
Now her misconceptions are all she sees
As those city lights grow cold.

She took her songs and played them for someone who took her for a ride.
Now she plays her guitar on any street corner, waiting for those lights to shine

Chorus:
Waiting for those city lights
Where the lights they are so bright
Little miss Carli where will your body find refuge from the night.

Little miss Carli packed her bags and headed for the sun
she left her home in a country garden, waved goodbye and now she’s gone…

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