Thursday, December 31, 2015

Must be time for the end of 2015 review...

Well, hasn't 2015 been an interesting year?

I would describe it in one word as 'unexpected'.

I didn't expect to be losing even more vision this year and getting the process started for getting a guide - and then being matched with a dog before Christmas. I've been very impatient since I went to the assessment stay in June, but this time last year, I honestly hadn't even made up my mind to take this step. I thought it was twelve to eighteen month process before June, so this has - in reality - happened much faster than I expected it would. Only eleven days to go!

I didn't expect that I would not get back to doing braille after last summer's hiatus. The pace of this year ramped up a lot from last year in the PhD. I always thought I'd get back into braille classes in February, but by the time February came around I knew I would not be able to practice as much as I needed to. I'll be getting back into it in 2016 as I am steadily seeing the increasing necessity for this skill.

I didn't expect to actually go to Iceland - I had hopes, but really couldn't see it happening, it still felt like a pipe dream at the start of this year. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought my plans to do fieldwork in Iceland would becoming waylaid. I thought the Grumpy Old Man might not cope without me there for a month (boy was I wrong about that!). I thought it was all too good to be true.

I didn't expect Bryn and Ari to be changing schools mid-year. It was for the best, but not without some heartache. Fortunately, the boys have settled in quite well, with a few wrinkles yet to be ironed out in 2016.

I didn't expect to lose 25kg, or to actually stick to my New Year's resolution of cutting out processed sugar and carbohydrates. I didn't stick to it strictly past the middle of the year - and I'll be 'starting again' tomorrow - but to even get to the middle of the year and keep going whenever I could for the rest of the year was wholly unexpected.

I never expected to lose my closest friend of over a decade. In hindsight, I probably should have. While we were in some ways moving more in the same direction this year, in terms of life philosophy and lifestyle choices, we were very much moving apart. Ultimately, I have to thank her for having the insight and courage to do what I wasn't able to do and end it. Letting go can be painful, but it can also be liberating.

I never expected to find myself with a whole new social group of like-minded people who brought a completely new perspective to my life. A new set of understandings into my world that really helped me to understand myself better, and also to accept things about myself I had long ignored.

I didn't expect to have a tooth pulled, though I do expect this might happen a few more times next year.

I didn't expect my fourteen year old to grow taller than me this year.

I didn't expect MIL to still be living in her own place, or maybe even to be still living. Part of me thought Christmas 2014 might be our last Christmas together.

I didn't expect my own mother to be on the brink of death and to end up on life-long chemo. Thankfully, she took herself to hospital with only hours to spare and spent over a month there while the doctors figured out what was going on. Thank goodness for public health - mum would have died without it.

I didn't expect we'd be buying a new car! It is such a relief to have a car that doesn't sound like it's going to splutter to a stop in peak hour traffic.

So, this year, I learned that things happen that you may never expect. To be completely sappy, there is a world of possibility out there, it's a crazy ride of light and dark, and if you just keep breathing there is a lot to discover!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The force is strong with him...

Yesterday the Grumpy Old Man and I took the boys to the movies.

We don't go to the movies very often as it is so expensive. We hardly ever go as a family, maybe once or twice a year, it is easier on the pocket to send one of the boys with friends or for the GOM and I to go on a movie date.

The whole family wanted to see Star Wars, though, so we decided to splash out. Erik had already seen it when it first came out, as he was invited (and paid for) by a friend. Despite this, he was probably the most keen out of the lot of us. He actually had a sulk attack when we refused to pay the extra $29 to go on Monday! The kid has no impulse control.

So, we managed to sit on Erik's enormous enthusiasm for twenty-four hours and booked tickets for 1.45pm yesterday. Uncharacteristically for us, we ended up rushing to get ready and out of the house (usually, in this household, when we have an outing planned, we tend to all be ready an hour early - the boys out of excitement, and the GOM and I out of anxiety about being late). We were worried about not finding a park at Doncaster Shopping Centre - that place is crazy on a regular weekday, so a lovely school holiday day was bound to be even worse. The car park did not disappoint. We headed for our usual spot, right up the back, there are always spots there, but not yesterday. Everywhere we turned there were red crosses. It was a disaster. We headed back to the undercover parking area feeling quite defeated by the situation, and then I spotted some people getting into their car.

We had actually passed them, but as luck would have it no one was behind us, so the Grumpy Old Man was able to back up. The spot wasn't very big and under any other circumstance the GOM would have refused to even attempt it. This was a dire situation though as the minutes were ticking away against us. He did what seemed like a fifty point turn, but he got us in! I was very proud of how he didn't let himself get flustered.

As a bonus, we were parked closer than we ever had been, bar once when the GOM and I flunked a park right outside the doors, and it was our first ever park under cover! Things were looking up. We decided that the GOM would take Ari up to the cinema and the rest of the boys and I would pick up nibbles at Woolworths and then meet them. We got to our seats with plenty of time to spare.

The movie was awesome!

When it finished, I asked the Grumpy Old Man how Ari had faired. Ari, notoriously, finds sitting still quite painful. He has never managed to sit through a ninety minute film, let alone a film over two hours. I had thought about trying to get mum to babysit him, but it didn't seem fair to leave him at home. The GOM had taken charge of managing him.

Anyway, as it turned out, Ari was transfixed throughout! This is some sort of post-Christmas miracle! The geek is strong with this child.

Afterwards we had a takeaway dinner in the food court. We nabbed the comfortable chairs with the best view in the (relatively) most quiet corner.

So, basically, we had what was probably the most successful outing this family has ever had!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Two weeks until guide dog school!

After last night's (early this morning) anxiety post, I'm back just a few hours later to say TWO WEEKS UNTIL GUIDE DOG SCHOOL!

Harlem's puppy raiser posted this picture of him nine days ago on Facebook (don't worry, I didn't use my mad stalking skills to access her account, this is a public photo). Gosh, he's so lovely!

I'm still anxious about becoming a handler. I have stomach pains from the anxiety - a sort of cramping around my diaphragm, this happened when I presented at the conference in New Zealand as well. I've been trying (all night, next to no sleep) to focus on the good stuff - the not scary or intimidating stuff - like having so much more independence. I've seen a few videos of handlers with their dogs and they get about so confidently. They walk so fast and with confidence, not second guessing every step. I'll be able to go to new places with feeling like I might trip and fall at every step.

Losing my vision has been so taxing. Literally every step requires my full concentration - it is easier in places I know well. There is constantly new construction everywhere. Melbourne has gone mad with new construction so, often, even familiar place become a obstacle course to be puzzled out. With Harlem I'll be able to tell him to 'find the way' and he will find the best way around an obstacle and he will know where I can't get through. The number of times I've walked into a fenced off dead end at Uni, or on local footpaths is really not funny.

I'll have a lot more confidence crossing roads, knowing that even when I think the way is clear and instruction Harlem to cross, he'll see when there is traffic I can't see or hear, and he'll refuse to move (this is known as intelligent disobedience).

Also, there is the companionship. The agoraphobia I suffer means I feel very uncomfortable alone in public. I don't feel lonely - I quite like my own company - but unless I have a distinct errand to run, I often feel like a nuisance. I feel like I'm taking up space I'm not entitled to. This stems from walking into people, or being in people's way because I can't see them trying to get past me. With Harlem, with him acting as my eyes, I will navigate through public spaces with crashing into people or being in people's way. And people will see me because they'll see him. I realised recently that part of the reason I wear so many bright colours or, previously, 'odd' alternative clothing is because it meant I as conspicuous. People would move out of my way because they couldn't miss seeing me.

I need to get Harlem a few items - he comes with a bed, a bowl, a harness, a lead, a toileting harness, some grooming tools, food, and heartworming tablet (I think, or flee treatment, one or the other). So, I need to get him boots for when the pavements are very hot in summer. I'm getting these:

Ruff wear summit
He will also need a raincoat for winter:

Dapper dog raincoat
And, of course, he'll need a nice collar (okay, he comes with a good collar, this is just about me). I'm considering these:

These are all from Collar Mania - the place we got Jacob's collar a few years ago - the quality of the last collar we bought there has been great! I'm leaning towards the last one. I bought him a second bed in one of those teal/turquoise colours.

Sadly, I have to wait to order any of these because I need all kinds of measurements. Oh, the tedious agony of having to be patient. Two more weeks!

The Christmas Wrap up...

Where did that last week go?

Into the vortex that is Christmas. It has been a whirlwind of business, but a lot of fun.

We have been cat sitting a friend's cat, while she and her family are on holidays. This has been a great preparation for us getting the dog - even though cats and dogs are very different. So, what have we learned? We've learned that...

  • The Grumpy Old Man has not watched enough you tube videos about cats pulling down Christmas trees. His mother's cat NEVER attacked the Christmas tree, so he couldn't understand the level of anxiety the horsemen and I had about this happening. Thankfully, this cat has been well behaved and has only made half-hearted attempts to play with the decorations and always left them alone when we shooed her away.

  • Animals shedding in spring and early summer is definitely a thing, and black rugs are out! After vacuuming our lounge room rug three days in a row, I finally gave up, rolled it up, and passed it on to Mr14 for his room. He didn't mind at all. The rug was going to be history anyway as Harlem is snowy white, but the cat confirmed the impossibility of managing pet fur and a black rug. This, of course, just gives a great reason to go out and get a more appropriately coloured rug. I was thinking this rug (pictured below, because it messes with my dot points and I can't tolerate having my dot points messed with), would look nice. Our current lounge suite is red velour and I'd love a leather lounge suit, that wouldn't collect dog fur, but the Grumpy Old Man says I'm dreaming...

  • Ari takes a while to settle down after we bring a new animal into the house... Quite a while... Like, well, today was day five with the cat and he's still obsessed with its every move. Every. Single. Move...
All that taken into account, it has been lovely having an animal in the house again.

My parents and brother came and spent Christmas Eve with us - it was lovely, and dinner was perfect, if I say so myself - and I do! We had a three course meal, all traditionally Icelandic (okay, a lot of Danish influence, but certainly traditional on my Icelandic side of the family). Again, we missed our dishwasher. It's funny how after 14 years without a dishwasher, and only 15 months with one, you can become quite spoilt! Nine for a three course dinner on Christmas Eve, and seven on Box Day, well, it's hard not to miss the convenience of a dishwasher.

You may have noticed we had no guests on Christmas Day. 

Our usual Christmas Day lunch with mother-in-law had to be adjourned to Box Day because she was a little under the weather. Luckily, she was well enough to join us on Boxing Day, and once again, instruct me on the making of the cherry sauce, and, once again, play out the puzzlement she has every year over me not having kept the recipe she is sure she wrote out for me the previous year - which she never writes out for me, and this year was no exception.

Today, I packed up Christmas.

As much as I enjoy decorating the house for Christmas and celebrating Christmas (and I really do enjoy celebrating Christmas!), I always feel a sense of fulfilment and relief to pack it all up again on the 27th. 

So, now you may be wondering why I'm blogging at 2.30am? Okay, you probably have no idea what time I wrote this, but let me tell you it's 2.30am...

I can't sleep.

The next stage of these school holidays is upon us.

I'm not sure what this stage is called. It's a bit of a no-man's-land, really. There is New Year's Eve on Thursday night, for which we have no plans, and I'm perfectly happy with those state of affairs. Until then, I think there will be some clearing out and rearranging of the laundry. There might also be a washing machine shopping trip as ours seems to be in its death throws. On Friday 2016 will be upon us.

There is a trip planned to Warrnambool. It is supposed to be our first ever family holiday, but it might just be the Grumpy Old Man after all. You see, we're supposed to go on the 5th, but I have a radiology appointment on the 7th, and to be home in time for that, we'd only be able to stay away one night. There would be a lot of driving involved for the Grumpy Old Man, and ideally we'd have liked to stay two nights so he'd have a day with no driving. So, it may be that he goes on his own, and we stay here so I can go to that radiology appointment. Such a shame though, we've never had a holiday away from home together.

As I've said many time now, the 11th is the beginning of guide dog school. I have been beside myself with excitement, but now that it's only three weeks away, the nerves are starting to set in.

I've been worrying about not having what it takes to be a good handler. Not only is there the daily care of the dog; feeding, grooming, monitoring his weight and health, but there is also ongoing training to be done. Every time we go somewhere new, I have to train him. As well as that, I have to keep is training for staying when asked or returning when call up to scratch. I have to remember to do this. My memory isn't the greatest. 

Soon after I bring Harlem home, I will be going to Summer School in Geelong. I've never travelled to Geelong on my own. I'll be going by train. I've already mapped out the walk from the train station to the hotel and from the hotel to the Deakin Waterfront, but of course, looking at a map and navigating on the ground are different things. A map doesn't tell you if there will be construction or if traffic lights are working, and we'll be a new team.

Anxiety isn't rational, and I'm sure it'll all be fine. Still doesn't help me sleep, though, but I'll try. Good night - or is it good morning?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I need to clear my head... You have been warned!

Hi guys,

I've been a bit quiet recently, and I'm sure some of you are thinking here we go again, she's gone AWOL.

No, no, life has just been very business - it's always busy, with four kids, PhD, MIL, various skills training for vision loss, yeah, it's always busy - but actually, it's been a bit more busy, lately.

I took a trip to Canberra to spend a couple of days with good 'ol Robbie before he deserts me flies off to new adventures in Europe and Asia for the next year or two, or maybe more. Robbie managed to walk me ragged while we were in the nations capital - I still have a very sore blister on one of my toes ten days later, I may have to amputate. One day we walked over 50 000 steps. The last 30 minutes of that walk were sheer hell! We were both concentrating on putting one foot in front of another just to get back to our Airbnb apartment. We soaked our tortured feet in the pool - which was icy - for about ten minutes and then sank into the couches inside. Mind you, exhaustion didn't deter us from dragging ourselves out to the movies that night, where we struggled to keep our eyes open, ha!

Fun times!

I stole toilet paper from Parliament House. You can't take me anywhere. I also found a very cool present for the Grumpy Old Man for Christmas - nothing spectacular but, at least it won't be socks, or was it...

We've had a fairly rough time with three quarters of the kids this year. Only Lukas has been, relatively, easy going. It's been a tough year, a lot of stress at home; my seizure, Dave being carted off to hospital, mum's chemo... They've all felt the stress, I'm sure. Also, moving Bryn and Ari to a new school - which seems like something that happened last year, now - that didn't help. Let's not forget all my absences from the house; the conference late last year, the guide dog introduction session in June, a month in Europe in August... The kids aren't used to me being away. Though they are fine with the GOM, it's still a wrench when one parent goes away, especially for several weeks. That said, I know, with complete certainty, that my thesis needed me to go to Iceland!

The Grumpy Old Man and I have been pulling our hair out over Erik's behaviour. Sure, he's not doing drugs, or alcohol, but that doesn't make it easy when he does other stuff that impacts all of us. Some of it can be put down to Aspergers - not showing up for classes because he a) isn't that interested in the classes he chose at the beginning of the year, and b) because he's in the resource centre working on assignments for classes he enjoys (which, to him, means he's not dong anything bad). He basically didn't hand in assignments for any classes except Philosophy. He completely rocked Philosphy, his Philosophy teacher was shocked to hear that he was flunking everything else and giving all his other teachers the short shrift. Sadly, all this other teachers suffered for his dedication to that one class.

Erik was all but expelled from the brilliant school he's been fortunate enough to attend. Had that happened (and it still might), then I'd be forced to homeschool him as we actually cannot afford to move him to another school. I don't mind having to homeschool him - though I'm sure he would mind - but honestly, I have more than enough on my plate at the moment as it is.

Then there is Ari. Erik and Ari have so much in common. Ari's new teacher in the second half of the year (so, at the new school) has been lovely. While she is certain he has 'something going on' and doesn't shy away from the suggestion it might be ADHD, she is also active in working with his needs. She took on board the suggestion of giving him a responsibility in class, as both he and Erik respond well to having some sort of responsibility. This has worked well for Ari. His responsibility was to take paperwork to the front office every morning, but only after he had chosen a new reader (something he routinely would forget to do). Ari is generally liked by the students and staff - the principal calls him 'the smiling assassin' but with no trace of frustration. Kids call out to Ari as he enters or leaves the school yard, 'Hi Ari!', 'Seeya Ari!'. Mostly he doesn't bother to respond. This is so much like Erik, and yet, also like Erik, Ari has no friends group. He doesn't get invited to parties (in contrast Bryn has already been invited to four, as well as a few playdates and sleepovers). I sense that Ari is very aware of this, but he never talks about it.

We have Ari signed up for a formal assessment but the cogs turn slowly in the public school system. Academically, he's doing brilliantly well. He is well ahead of peers in reading and maths - his writing needs work, particularly legibility. His teacher told us another child with similar behaviours to Ari (getting out of his chair all the time, taking ages to settle into a task, and then being distracted by the tiniest of things) was diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin and the change was extraordinary. The child was able to focus, his writing because legible, he sat in his chair, and so on. I have to admit, just the thought of Ritalin frightens me. Ari is still so young, his brain is still so immature, and Ritalin is a strong drug. That said, my cousin says it has worked wonders for her child (who is a year older than Ari). My cousin's child is a bright and engaging eight year old, who I instantly loved on our first meeting.

Bryn, oh where to start with my heart. This boy, who taught me I'm not a hopeless parent. This solid little soul who showed reason at such a tender age. This year has been tough on him. He wasn't keen to change schools even though his circle of friends at the old school was quite volatile. He's made a great circle of friends at the new school and feels very much part of something there, but still gets melancholy if we reminisce about the old school. For this school, he seems to have chosen the role of James Dean in his classroom. He has developed the habit of deciding something or someone is 'stupid' and therefore he needs not engage with it or them. He back-chats his teacher - a lovely woman, who is a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs (if that isn't a recommendation, then I don't know what is!). Bryn is a worry. I know for certain the stress at home has affected him because he has told me. It keeps me up at night.

Yep, it's been full on. Hopefully 2016 will be a bit more settled. At least we didn't have to move house this year, ha!

The excitement is really building for the dog! We're getting in a little animal-care practice by way of cat-sitting for eleven days over Christmas. The kids don't know yet, so that will be a great surprise for them.

In relation to the guide dog training, I have applied for, and been granted, a short intermission for January and half of February. With the annual leave I can take over Christmas (we have 20 days a year annual leave), I'm now 'on holiday' until February 12th. This means I can give my full attention to all the stuff here at home and, in January, to guide dog training. Of course, it's not like turning off a light. I can't just STOP thinking about my thesis, but maybe I can wind back the panic a bit, ha! The intermission time gets added to the end of research time, so those six weeks aren't lost. The annual leave does not get added to the end, so I can still do some work in that time. I'm not allowed to work on my thesis during intermission.

Yes, so that's life at the moment.

And then there's Christmas... We started our Christmas shopping on Friday night - a week out from Christmas Day (and only 6 days out from when we actually start Christmas in this house). Tomorrow will be the big day of present shopping. Food shopping must be finished by Wednesday night. This house must be CLEAN - not GOM clean, not boys clean, it has to be Sif clean - by Wednesday night. Then it'll be a couple of days of eating and sleeping. Then some down time, and in early January we're driving over to Warnambool to visit an old friend of the Grumpy Old Man. When we get back I have a radiography scan of my right tear duct (there is something going on, it keeps weeping without obvious cause - don't worry, they're pretty sure it's not a tumour). Then guide dog school. Only three weeks from tomorrow! I'm more excited about guide dog school than Christmas!

Our 2015 Christmas tree

Saturday, December 05, 2015

More than equal...

I was talking to someone yesterday, explaining a little of what it is like to be a person living with a disability.

In this day and age, people feel they very aware. Political correctness has found its stride and we are ablaze with righteous anger over the way women are treated in society, and over the plight of asylum seekers - and as an extension, all people of colour. We are up in arms over the destruction of the rain forests, and the consumption of palm oil, and the threat to orang-utans, and bees, and whales (you should have seen the looks I've gotten over my carrying a seal skin bag - ask me about it, I'll explain to you why I bought it).

Yes, we're becoming very aware and it is benefitting many.

The introduction of NDIS is one way to acknowledge the people living in our society who live with a disability, but it actually doesn't recognise the micro-prejudices we live with every day. I just saw this video and it says a lot.

The reactions of the 'able bodied' people in this video show the kind of prejudice people living with a disability encounter every day. It is the assumption that we 'can't do as well'. The shock that someone with a disability should not only be 'as good' but actually 'better than'... That is the prejudice.

Being viewed as 'as good' comes at a high price for people with a disability. To be consider 'as good' we actually have to be 'better than'. If we perform at the same level as 'able' people, making the same level of mistakes, or having slow days, then that is put down to our disability. Where there is a certain amount of leeway given to a new employee in a new workplace, the person with a disability knows they can't screw up because if they do, the employer will immediately second-guess their decision to take on 'A person with a disability'.

We are defined by our disability as soon as people know. We are no longer 'just another person', we are 'a person with a disability'.

And, it is a sword which cuts both ways. If we insist on being considered 'just another person', then we cannot ask for consideration with regard to our needs as a person with a disability.

Now, you may be thinking 'You can't have your cake, and eat it, too. You can't want to be treated like just another person and then ask for special treatment because of your disability!'

Well, why not?

All the other 'just another person' people constantly ask for special consideration because they're short, or fat, or have kids, or are still learning the language, or are new to this place, or don't eat meat, or didn't get much sleep last night... A myriad of reasons 'just another person' people ask for special consideration - and get it without having their suitability for all that is life questioned.

As I said to this person, I have never had a proper job, despite knowing I'm very capable. I have to work harder every day just to keep up and then I have to work some more just to prove I'm as good as 'just another person' - it is exhausting. As hard as any 'just another person' as ever work to get where they are, I can assure you I have worked harder. People who know me know that when I decide to do something, I get somewhat one-eyed about it (pun fully intended). I'm as dedicated as it gets, but I'm also just human and I pay for my dedication with migraines, insomnia, anxiety, seizures, and sometimes, suicidal depression. As I said, it is exhausting.

The side affect of this is that I have become very sensitive about being viewed as 'just another person' especially when I have to ask for special consideration so I can function to my full potential. My full potential is pretty bloody awesome - I'm sure I'd surprise a lot of people!

Friday, December 04, 2015

Oh my dog!!!

A happy, happy post this time!

Okay, look at these lovely puppies - aw, aren't they sweet. I bet they made you smile! You're welcome. Their names are Heather, Hamish, Harlem, Hudson, and Harold. They grew into fine young canines, didn't they?

This middle puppy, Harlem, he grew into a very big and very beautiful dog - the most beautiful of the litter, I'd argue...

Of course, I would argue that because I'm a bit biased because, well, because he is MY dog now.

Introducing Harlem 'Polar Bear' Dal - his trainer nicknamed him polar bear for obvious reasons. He is currently 17 months old. By the time I bring him home, at the end of January, he'll 18 or 19 months old (I don't know when he was born, exactly, just yet). He is very friendly - came up for a kiss straight away, even though he doesn't know me. He walks at a brisk pace for the most part, which suits me to a tee. He's big which is exactly what I was hoping for!

Team training starts on January 11, and will go for three weeks on weekdays. On the third weekend, I get to bring him home. That weekend will just be for settling in, no harness work and no big welcome home party. Then there will be one more week of training at home before we're on our own. Only five and a half weeks until training!

The wait was sooo long! Okay, it wasn't really, I was matched in five months, but boy did it feel like a bloody long five months. I was actually having a big old pity-party whinge to the Grumpy Old Man on Wednesday about how long it was taking. How, in the year from August last year to August this year GDV had matched 70 dogs to handlers so, surely, it must be my turn soon. As I was saying this, the phone rang, and it was my case worker from GDV saying they thought they might have a match for me and would I like to meet Harlem on Friday.

Would I EVER!

I had to try not to get too excited or attached to the idea of him becoming my guide, and that was hard. Anyway, today we went for a trial walk and he really was a great match in speed, height, and temperament.

So, I had some photos taken with him (with my red-hot face from the walk), and that was that!

I have to say something - Robbie will just roll his eyes now - all day I've been seeing 27 on my watch. Seriously, 7:27, 9:27, 11:27, and just now 5:27... Yes, I'm crazy, but seriously, I am constantly seeing 27s - especially on clocks. Robbie says my brain is just tuned to look at my watch at 27 minutes past the hour, but I can't see how that is any less crazy, really.

Anyway, that's my happy, happy, joy, joy news of the week!

P.S. He is sooo fluffy and soft!

Good Job!