Take Off and Arrival — Our Newest Adventure, Part 1

The first several posts detailing my experiences in Ireland will actually be things I wrote originally in my personal journal, and adapted for the blog.  They will be very in the moment, sort of stream of consciousness, so possibly something a little different than what you are used to seeing here, but a very real snapshot of what’s going through my head as we make this transition.  Please enjoy.

We are on the plane to Ireland! I can’t believe this is a thing! I’m excited, but also not nearly as nervous as my first independent international flight.  I’m wearing a paw print necklace for Oleta, the Celtic ring that Dad gave me, and Mom’s high school ring, which was an accident, actually, yeah, Mom I have your class ring right now.  Anyway, I didn’t plan it, but I’m glad I have a piece of all of them. I wish I had something from my brothers.

This is one of those moments that I am so full of gratitude.  I am floored at the way God has provided over the last several months so that we could do this, and humbled beyond belief.  God, Thank you for bringing us to this place. Thank you for providing for everything that had to happen to make this possible before this. Thank you for leading me in your way, not my own.  Please God, let your will be done. Whatever I do in Ireland, let it be for your glory. 

Prim is doing so great so far. Just chilling on the plane. We are in the air. I’m sitting next to an Irish girl.  She said Limerick is a lovely place. I’m looking forward to being there.  We have an incredible amount of exploring to do.

7:05 Am Irish time 

We are here, and by God’s provision we are both through  customs. We are just waiting for the pastor of our church, who kindly offered to give us a lift from the airport.  I am so looking forward to making our first friends here.

Everyone is so hospitable! The agriculture man was so sweet, came and found Prim and I while we were waiting for my paperwork to get looked at, and got us started with that in order to take less time. One of the stewardesses from the airplane found my guitar and brought it to me because we had gate checked it and I completely forgot about it, bless her. The immigration officer was so nice too, and gave me directions to the money exchange place. Haha, and just now I heard someone, I’m assuming someone who works here, singing, “La di da…” to himself as he went. What a cheerful soul.

I am so grateful that God has brought me here and very excited to see what he has planned. I cannot wait for church on Sunday. I feel as if I’m coming to meet family I previously didn’t know I had, which I guess is exactly what is happening. Wow!  I also feel so odd for some reason that everyone back home is asleep right now. I’m like, why aren’t you responding to my text messages… oh, right, they are fast asleep lol.  My first run-in with the problem of time differences.

And so it begins.  Our newest adventure.  Let’s do this.

Second Exciting Announcement — I Moved to Ireland!

Many of you will already know this, but there are several people who follow my blog alone and don’t see my updates on Facebook… and anyway it’s not every day that people just up and move to another country… I mean, actually probably it is, but… never mind.  The point is, perhaps it could be useful to someone.  Either way, I received several requests to write here about the move and related experiences, so here we are.

Why Ireland?

I am here to pursue a Master of Arts in Music Therapy.  I chose this program for several reasons, among them financial considerations, the time required to become qualified (which is significantly less than it would have been in the states), my love for Ireland as a place and people, my love for adventure, and, primarily, my conviction that I was being called here by God.

Why Music Therapy?

That is a complex question that I will have to go into in another post.  Suffice it to say that God made it pretty clear this is what he wanted me to do, and it seemed to fit well with my talents, past experience, and professional hopes.

When?

I arrived in Ireland at the beginning of September.  Thus, I have already been here for several weeks, but have a good deal of writing already on the transition that I can share.

How often will you post?

To be completely honest, I have no idea.  Hopefully once every couple weeks at least.  Perhaps if I can keep posts to a more manageable length, they will be more frequent.

As with all the other stories and experiences I’ve shared here, I”m looking forward to continuing with this one.  Thank you for your interest in my journey and my writing.  I love it, but given my multitude of interests, writing tends to be one of those things that sadly falls by the wayside sometimes, so it is great to have your support as an encouragement to keep at it.

Cheers for now.

First Exciting Announcement — Opportunity Unleashed is Joining Youtube!

I’m glad to welcome y’all to my youtube channel!  I have been wanting to start this channel for YEARS, and never felt confident enough to do it, but now is the time!  Watch my welcome video

HERE!

Thank you all, for supporting me here at Opportunity Unleashed.  I am so thrilled to be expanding into this new area of the world wide web, and I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback!  If you have ideas for future videos, questions about blindness, guide dogs, or music-related requests, please comment or shoot me a message.  If you have been a reader here at OpportunityUnleashed.com, please become a viewer, too, and

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Thanks, and see you again soon!

More Thoughts on Opportunity, Plus Exciting Things Coming

Sometimes opportunities are like shining golden gateways, open portals that just appear out of the myst and beckon you to enter.  More frequently, though, I’ve found that opportunities do not just appear.  They must be sought out, excavated, cleaned, tended, and shaped to achieve MOP (maximum opportunity potential).  Achieving MOP is no easy task, primarily because MOP cannot be reliably achieved until every possible outcome is thoroughly assessed and explored, and the best possible outcomes selected as the target result.  It also carries with it a whole laundry list of risks, disappointment prominent among them.  As someone who feels very passionately about achieving MOP, my first disappointment in considering this process lies in the fact that I am not a computer, and life is not a concrete series of data points.  There are just some things we cannot predict, which is what makes seeking and taking opportunities all the riskier.

But that is also the thrilling thing?  Opportunity taking is organic.  You may have a vague idea of what you are getting into, but you’ll never quite know ahead of time what exactly you will learn, where you will go, who you will meet, who you will become, or what new opportunities might arise through it.  In a life lived to the glory of God, we can be sure that whether or not we achieve maximum opportunity potential as we or the world define it, the Lord will make our paths straight, and bless us richly through it.  God is the only omniscient opportunity optimizer, and therefore the only one who can ever really attain MOP.  Thus, we must place our trust in him, and recognize that he will be faithful to guide us.

I’m excited to share that I have been digging up some cool new discoveries lately, and they will become evident on this blog as time goes on.  Look out for my first of a few announcements in the next post!

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 11|Pizza

To continue the theme of food in titles this week…

Thursday was our country-travel/picture day.  Country travel is the term we use to refer to traveling on roads without sidewalks.  Our dogs are trained to walk on the left side of the road, but with no specific borderline on the other side it is easy to accidentally drift into the middle of the road from time to time.  So, we use a technique called “shore-lining”, which means my dog does her best to keep the curb line directly on our left, and every once in a while (or when I hear a car coming) I check our distance from the curb or grass line by telling her “Wait. Left, to the curb.”  When we arrive at the curb, whether that be one step later or five, she gets an enthusiastic “yes” and a treat.

Prim did fabulously.  There were no distractions, and most times when I asked her to go to the curb, we were right on top of it.  She showed me a big truck in our way at one point and we went around it then returned to the shoreline.  She was pulling like crazy, so we did have to work on steady some, because my arm was hurting haha.  Again, a problem I am okay with having.

In the afternoon, Prim and I got “gussied up”, as one of my instructors put it, for our ID and class pictures.  The class picture was interesting, with 13 humans and their 13 dogs as well as six instructors attempted to get in the frame and get settled.

“Say pizza!” our photographer told us… so we all called out “pizza!” at random intervals while he snapped photo after photo.  I found the whole thing very entertaining.  After that, we trooped into the hallway to wait for our individual pictures with our dogs.  I was second to go, so it wasn’t long before Prim and I got to hop onto the table together and pose for our photo op.  Prim sat very primly and looked right at the camera.  She is super photogenic.  I think it came out well.

To close out our day of training, we had a traffic check activity followed by lecture.  For the traffic check activity, the trainers set up a narrow isle that could only fit one guide dog team at a time.  At one end was the opening entrance, and at the other a door, which served as motivation for the dogs to continue down the shoot.  The first time we went down, we simply told our dogs forward, arrived at the door, and treated our dogs.  When we returned to the entrance, we instructed our dogs to walk forward into the shoot, and one of the trainers pushed a cart directly at us.  The only safe response in that situation is for the dog to back up to a safe distance, wait for the cart to clear away, and then continue down the isle way.  Prim did so beautifully.  The third time we walked through, a trainer drove the cart in front of us horizontally.  In that case, the dog must stop, wait for the cart to pass, and then continue to the door.  Again, Prim executed it perfectly.  Given this activity and several real life situations where we have had traffic checks, I feel very safe with Prim in traffic, and in grocery stores… which is good, because drivers of both cars and carts are crazy in Nashville.  You can handle’m Prim!

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 5|My Tiny Mack Truck

Friday, Padawan and I were first to go out at White Plains. She was happy to get her energy out first thing rather than wait an hour or more before hand.

For the preliminary few days, a trainer usually works beside the team on the left with their own leash attached to the collar of the dog. This gives the dog a confidence boost and keeps the trainer close so that they can easily communicate with the handler.  Our support leash came off halfway through our morning route

There was an immediate difference in the way it felt to work together.  It was a little bit freer and required more trust that Padawan would guide me safely. She did some excellent podestrian avoiding in a couple of street crossings, including an entire family with grandparents, children, and squeaky cart. There was also a small dog disraction. A dog passed behind us. Padawan looked, but quickly turned her attention back to me, and I got to reward her for her calm demeanor and attentiveness.  Immediately after that was the right turn… we have had a bit of trouble with this right turn every time.  There are multiple other obstacles in the way, so that we cannot turn directly to the right.  Padawan first has to curl a bit around me to get us around something to our left, and then avoid something on the right in order to continue on our way.  It took a little bit of finagling for both of us, but we figured it out.

A lot of what I am working on during our routes is learning to understand her movements in the harness.  Oleta was a gentle glider.  She was very calm and moved in a way that reflected that.  Padawan is more aggressive.  She’s a city traffic driver, not a country Sunday driver.  Her pul is very firm, and her movements are decisive. At our best pace, following her feels easy and clearly defined.  At our fastest, I feel like I am trying to keep up with a tiny mack truck (as my trainer referred to her once) plowing around curves down a mountainside.  The Mountainside Mack Truck pace is fine when we are out for a joy run on a track or something with no obstacles to avoid and no curbs to find, but on a busy city sidewalk it’s less desirable as it makes accurate obstacle avoidance a bit more challenging, if not impossible.  That means we are utilizing the “steady” command to slow her down at some points and refocus her attention when she gets a tad too excited, especially in areas with a lot of pedestrians.  I may have used “steady” a grand total of one time with Oleta, so it’s kind of new to me, but I think we are both getting the hang of it.

In the afternoon route, we encountered a 2 year-old, and thankfully didn’t knock him over, although I think it was close.  Children are difficult obstacles in some cases because they are unpredictable, so we did a bit of a dance with the child and the mother before we could go on our way.  We also had a small distraction with some men loading things into a van.  Padawan was briefly curious about who they were and what they were doing, but got right back on task with a leash cue.

Other than that, our routes were fairly uneventful, and we returned to GEB for our lecture and some time to rest.  Saturday, we have the same route again in White Plains in the morning, followed by individualized mystery work in the afternoon.  Can’t wait to discover what the mystery might be.

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 4|A Day of Firsts

Thursday morning I got to do obedience with a real dog!  And it was great.  Padawan did wonderfully.  She was remarkably responsive and didn’t make any mistakes. Granted, it is a low distraction environment right now and we are working individually with instructors at this point, but it’s still been less than 24 hours.  SHe’s a pro.

Healing up to breakfast was a tad bit challenging, because she was so excited and she got up quite a lot during the meal, but in the van and at lunch she laid quite positively still. We had our first walk around 10 this morning. Padawan was on it. She found every curb perfectly and navigated around people and carts and cars flawlessly. We even had a mini traffic check. We were crossing one street when a car turned in front of us. She slowed to allow it to pass then sped up, got to the curb, and all was well. She started out a bit quick even for me, but we ran it off and got a little bit slower as the morning went on.

On our second route, Padawan’s pace was perfect. She found every curb and the only thing I could fault her for was stepping into the street a bit too early.  She did slow to look at a pigeon at one point, but looked back at me quickly and kept working just fine. There was another car that pulled in front of us at an active driveway.  She stopped for it, then waited for me to listen and give the command to continue.

I really was not expecting to have such smooth routes today.  I am sure we will run into challenges, but when my trainer asked if I had any questions at the end of our second route, all I could think of was, “where are her flaws?”.  Apparently she has them… but all I can see so far is that we need to work a bit on staying and waiting. She is go go go all the time, and I love it, but sometimes we do have to stand still for a little while, unfortunately.

In the afternoon, I attached Padawan to her tie down so that I could lay down for a few minutes between lecture and dinner.  Padawan saw me lay on my bed and immediately leapt to join me, only to find that the tie down was a little too short.  So, she settled for standing with her front paws on my bed, bouncing at me and licking me. My heart melted.  I wasn’t expecting her to want to be with me that badly… so I got up and sank to the floor with her.  She wiggled and jumped to put her paws on my shoulders.  I got face kisses, and she rolled and wriggled herself around until finally coming to a rest draped over me with her bum on one of my legs and her head on the other.   We cuddled like that until we heard the announcement to go to dinner, and even then I took my time getting up.  It was too sweet!

Later that evening I got to play with Padawan for the first time.  We went with our instructor into Alumni Hall and I got to sift through a crate of various toys to see what she might like.  The bone wasn’t of interest to her, but she ran joyfully after the tennis ball and played soccer with a big bouncy frog that did not really fit in her mouth.  It was absolutely adorable.  She makes me laugh.

I also heard Padawan’s bark for the first time.  She was laying comfortably still beside me in the student living room as I worked on blogs.  Padawan saw/heard a fellow classmate and her dog in the hallway and suddenly leapt up with a loud “woof woof woof!”.  It scared me at first because I was so focussed and she had been so calm, but she was, I think, just excited to see her friend and wanted to play.  With a firm “quiet” and “down” command she went easily back to resting, and I got back to work.

Friday (Friday already?) we have the same routes in White Plains and a lecture on grooming.  We’ll check in with you then.