Hanging up the Harness: On Guide Dog Retirement


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Last night, after a long work day, Jenny and I made our way to one of my favourite restaurants in the city and met a few friends – new and old – to celebrate Jenny’s life as a guide dog and her well-deserved retirement. OK, let’s face it, it was for the humans… but Jenn did get to break a few rules, like accepting pets under the table and giving kisses to one of her favourite humans while he put a snazzy new bandana on her.

Over fried chicken, Dorito mac and cheese, and dog-themed beers, my friends and I laughed and joked and talked about this incredible dog and the career she has had. And as I am mentally processing her retirement and training with my next dog, it seems only fitting to pay tribute to her on a blog that has seen her grow up from a rookie guide dog into the wise old soul that she is.

Jenny’s Career, By the Numbers

Number of years as a guide dog: 9.365 (exact calculation since graduation on October 3, 2013)

Number of hours she’s slept under a desk: 16,000 and probably more (40 hours a week for 50 weeks over 8 years and a bit – more, if you don’t count the time she spent hanging out with me while I spent a year job hunting)

Number of jobs she’s accompanied me to: 6

Number of job interviews she’s barked in: 1 (see below for more on that)

Number of kilometers we’ve run together: I stopped counting ages ago – 1500? 2000? More?

Number of finish lines she’s been at: 8 – 3 as a runner, 5 as a “spectator” (read: napping until she notices I’m there and then wiggling her bootie off)

Number of flights she’s been on: 50? Probably more

Number of provinces she’s visited: 6, possibly 7 (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and maybe – as a rookie but I always forget what year I went – Nova Scotia)

Number of states she’s visited: 8 (Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New York)

Number of cats she’s lived with: 7 – not all at the same time, don’t worry!

Number of doggie friends she’s made: too many to count

Number of human friends she’s made: Everyone, ever – unless you are one specific individual who will remain nameless because they hold the strange distinction of being the only person on this planet that Jenny has not liked

But it’s not Just about the Numbers

Of course it isn’t. You don’t live with another being, day in, day out, for years, and not feel like you know them better than you know yourself. Jenn’s made it easy; she communicates extremely effectively – I once wrote that no one needs a Jenny dictionary. I’ve written a lot about Jenny on this blog – she inspired my first tattoo, made me a runner, and has otherwise taken the world by storm. She has done absolutely nothing half-way – when she’s on, she is on, and when she’s not, she is so very very off. I am convinced she took pandemic shut-downs personally, because after periods of isolation she brought her A game to guiding, as if to say “If you were giving me a break, I’ll show you I didn’t need one; I’ll be the best guide dog ever so you’ll take me more places!” She has known that she’s known that she’s known that she’s right, and has still had the confidence to allow me to make colossal mistakes and then just sit down, head cocked to the side, nudging me with her nose as if to say “When you’re done not listening to me, we have places to go.” Her quick thinking has saved me from getting hit by inattentive or illegal drivers at least two dozen times during her working life, and probably more that I don’t know about. She’s traveled to New York City, one of the busiest, bustlingest cities in the world; crammed herself in the back of a Nissan Altima for a whirlwind awesome road trip; traveled alone with me for nearly a month, visiting new cities every few days… and a bunch more adventures in between. She’s raced with me to finish lines, trained me to finish lines, and met me at finish lines when she decided that she was so over this running thing. Jenny’s not-so-tiny body has squeezed under seats on airplanes, in trains and cars and buses, at concerts and hockey games and plays and operas. She’s guided through crowds so big and loud I couldn’t hear myself think, and shown initiative when I felt so lost and confused that she just knew that if she found something – anything – familiar, we’d put our heads together and we would be OK. Her emergency surgery and miraculous recovery confirmed for me that I am a much better traveler with a harness in my left hand than a cane in my right.

I heard for years that, when your dog is ready to retire, they will tell you. I believed that saying, in a way, but not really. But much like making a soul-deep connection you never knew you needed, you’ll never really know until it happens, and then you know. I knew there would be a time when Jenny’s age would make it likely that she’d slow down, but I never thought we’d be in a time where it was obvious – she was done. And, in her subtle yet in-your-face style, Jenny has shown that she is ready to hang up the harness, whether I am ready or not.

I could go on here for pages and pages about my thoughts and feelings during this time of transition from one dog to another. Maybe one day I will. But for now, this space is for Jenny, to honour her and her amazing brain and personality – and by extension her amazing career as a guide dog – and how she’s done everything she’s ever done with her whole heart. Those of you who’ve met Jenny during her long and amazing career, please chime in here; I’d love to remember with you.

And because I am extremely emotional right now, and need a good laugh, please find:

The Top 5 Naughtiest – And Most Hilarious – things Jenny has Ever done In harness

5. Barking – once – at a dog mannequin in Old Navy – it was just standing there staring at her!

4. Carrying a loaded hot dog bun through an Edmonton pedway. She carried it most of the way through the pedway, let me have a 5-minute conversation with building security, and then showed me she had it while wagging her tail as if to show how good and restrained she’d been. The bun – perfectly intact – went into the garbage.

3. Barking – once – at the company CFO during a job interview. While I was busy trying to gather my composure, convinced that this would be the end of my chances with this company, the man who would later become my boss – without missing a beat – said, “Oh, that’s OK, we all act that way around him.” I worked for that company for a year and a half.

2. Walking down the hall to another office and eating the office dog’s food – while he just sat there and watched her do it. I’d been telling her for months that she had the right to scold him for being naughty, and she had done nothing; I guess this was her way of showing him who’s boss!

1. Running on to a goalball court… in the middle of a game. In her defence, who uses a squeaky toy during a game when they know there will be guide dogs present? There is video evidence of this, but I cannot seem to find it anywhere; please take my word that this is by far the most hilarious and naughtiest thing that Jenny as ever done in her life!

So, What’s Next?

I am blessed to have had more than 9 years with Jenny’s harness in my left hand. She’s more than earned this retirement. Her remaining years will be here at home, with the humans she loves, the cats she thinks she can boss around but mostly ignores, with her days full of love and attention from anyone who wants to give it, and maybe a second career as a therapy dog. I’m a better traveler – and a better human – having had her by my side during so many transitions and experiences in life. Jenny girl, you deserve the best life has to offer you; thank you for giving me the best years of your life, and mine.

2022: All of the Different Directions



I must start off by expressing my gratitude to my faithful family, friends and followers; this blog has had a mere 14 entries this year – including a completely abandoned Ultimate Blog Challenge on beading, which I just left hanging… for months! I do want to pick it up again… when time permits.

2022 feels a lot like that blog challenge. The best of intentions, and maybe not the best follow-through. But some amazing things happened this year, which I will be blogging about in 2023… in short (if not in order):

  • I decided to go back to school! It’s a long story, and I’m still not sure I can explain all of it, but I’m studying and learning and procrastinating and fighting accessibility battles – like most disabled students, I’m sure. There’s lots to unpack there, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further on this blog in 2023!
  • My partner and I adopted another cat! The reasons behind this are complicated, and worthy of their own story. Her name is Madonna – we call her Maddie. She and Simone (Monkey) are best buddies, even if Monkey has turned into the most fair and strict “mama cat” ever. Wolfie and Maddie are working things out between themselves, and while they aren’t quite there yet we no longer have to worry about them getting into a fight they won’t stop on their own. Maddie is VERY sweet and adorable and my regular cuddle buddy – she’s my 10-pound weighted blanket and does whatever she can to make sure I get enough sleep, even if I get it in the middle of the afternoon.
  • I ran, and completed, my third marathon! There’s no nice way to put it – my training sucked! Between some things over which I had control (my own self-directed runs) and things I did not (injuries to myself and my regular running partners) I did not run nearly enough kilometers in preparation. But after more than 6 hours (for the record, I never ever ever want to run a 6+ hour marathon again!), I crossed the finish line, and was greeted by Jenny, guide dog extraordinaire!
  • My beading room has been completely transformed this year. The walls have been painted an amazing shade that, depending on the lighting, you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a tranquil place that I want to be, and create, and with the temporary addition of partial flooring, I no longer have to worry about getting slivers stuck in my feet – yes, this has happened! I just have to convince Maddie that my strands of beads are not toys…

No New Year’s Eve would be complete in my home without a fire in the backyard, burning away all of the stress of this year. It’s been a busy year, with many new changes around my house, and the fire makes it feel like I’m clearing space for the new year ahead.

A fire on New Year's eve, 2022

So, what Next?

Lots! And lots and lots!

When I traveled to run my most recent marathon in Sacramento earlier this month, I started to see some very clear signs that Jenny is ready to retire. Nothing major — like she needed to retire immediately – but signs that were fairly clear. She wasn’t making confident decisions like she has during her entire prior working life. I considered that I wasn’t giving her good directions, or that she was having a rest day after a long day of travel, but I knew she was ready to retire a couple of weeks later when we went to West Edmonton Mall – a place she has loved to work for years, even though I despise it – and again she acted like she wasn’t able to make decisive guiding decisions; there were too many ambiguous choices, and it was almost like she was afraid of making a mistake. She will be spending the first two weeks of 2023 guiding me around mostly familiar areas, and then will retire the day I fly to start training with Guide Dog 2.0 in mid-January.

That’s right! After a very very VERY long time of waiting, I got a phone call that a match has been found for me! It is – to quote someone I know when I first told them – really exciting and really scary and really a lot. I’ve cried a lot at the thought of Jenny retiring, even as she has shown me clearly that she is ready. She’ll probably take this easier than I will! I’m excited for a new match and all the lessons they will teach me. I am nervous to travel to train with this new guide, something Jenny and I did not do in 2013 when we trained in our home environment. There’s a whole bunch of feelings and thoughts I need to process, and this seems to all be happening so fast that I’m not sure what that will look like yet. But I do plan on blogging this training journey; I make no promises on frequency…. remember what happened last time?

I will run my fourth and fifth marathons in 2023! I’ve booked my tickets for Marathon #4 in Vancouver, and will be watching for flights to marathon #5 – again in Sacramento. To help with my training, I bought myself a second-hand treadmill that is (approximately) the same age as my partner. It’s been a process to learn how to run on it, and I feel like I’m SUPER slow, but consistency is key, and I’m gunning for two fast marathons in 2023. On that front, anyone want to guide for a portion (half) either race?

School! I am currently taking two introductory classes, one of which concludes in the end of March (if I don’t finish earlier) and one that ends in the end of April (which accessibility issues have contributed to my feeling of falling behind). But I am nothing if not persistent, and I WILL complete both courses with the best grades my persistence and mental health will allow. By the beginning of May (if not sooner), I’ll be starting courses that will contribute to my certificate program – and I can’t wait!

This blog! It’s been rather neglected for far too long, and I realize that I miss writing – like, a lot! But I don’t want to write just to write more posts; I’d like a bit more direction. So, I may take some time – after I blog about my guide dog experience – to figure out where I want this blog to go in 2023. But my intent is to write regularly – if not frequently – so keep checking your inboxes or RSS feed or however you cool kids get new updates!

How was your 2022, and what do you hope for in 2023? Drop me a line in the comments below!

The UBC Beading Edition: Another Pretty Beaded Thing!

Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about my love – and frustration – for wire wrapping. Not long ago, when I was setting up my work space (for what seems like the zillionth time in the past few years) I found these cute little wire-wrapped earrings with little hearts on the ends.

Silver-toned wire-wrapped earrings. The earring itself is a post style. At the far end there are little silver hearts
Wire-wrapped earrings. – Photo courtesy of Benjamin Lang

I suppose I have a complicated thought process around earrings as I do around wire wrapping. First? They are – in theory – quick to make. They can require only a half dozen beads or a whole bunch more, depending on the style you want. But their components are fiddly. They can sometimes have minds of their own and, like the wire I wrote about, do whatever they want. And, unlike a bracelet or necklace, you can not fiddle around with them to get them to “sit” a certain way; they either sit right… or they don’t.

But, if I’m honest, if I’m looking for a beading task that provides nearly instant gratification… I reach for my earring findings, and get to work!

The UBC Beading Edition: Wire is a Cruel Mistress


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I love working with wire.

Sometimes, I also hate working with wire.

Several years ago, I took a wire-wrapping class (more on that tomorrow). I leared a few basic techniques that I still use today. I’ve created ornaments that friends and strangers have loved, but that I don’t think I will ever make again.

The cool thing about making a piece with wire is that all you need to make it on the go are a clasp, a spool of wire, a set of wire cutters (bonus if they’re tucked nicely inside a set of pliers), and a strand of two of beads. You don’t have to worry about crimps or covers or anything else… and if you make a piece like this one, you only have to fiddle with one link at a time if you need to rework it (no need to take it all apart).

Each goldstone bead in this bracelet is wrapped in wire, and the wire loops link the beads together
Wire-wrapped bracelet

But wire is also finicky. It has a mind of its own, and does whatever it wants. More than one spool of wire has unspooled out of nowhere on me – once, memorably, in public, while I was making a custom order during a craft show. Sometimes it doesn’t cooperate with wire cutters, and I need to get out my handy dandy tool that dulls the sharp edges. Every once in a while it decides to have a mind of its own and configure into shapes I don’t want it to.

But working with wire is a true adventure… where will it take me next?

The UBC Beading Edition: Figuring it Out?

After I discovered that those little bitty seed beads were not a thing that I (or my then husband) had the patience to work with, I turned my hand to stones… sorta. I bought a travel case that I still have to this day, once spent more than four hours in a bead shop across town, just because I could, bought beads just because they felt interesting and I thought I might be able to use them someday…. for something…. maybe.

It was a time of self-discovery. Anything went. I had in my kit beads of stone and glass and shell, and strung where my muse took me. Quite by accident, I discovered stones. Over the next few months, I found stones I loved to work with (hello, amethyst) and ones that I charge extra for if a customer insists on them (I’m looking at you, pearls!) Glass is always fun to work with, if for no other reason than you’ve got it made if you can find a local glass-blower.

But I didn’t have a style… not really. I wrote before about thinking I needed a focal point on necklaces in particular, and so I made some pieces whose components just didn’t work together. The focal-point idea turned out to be more limiting than freeing. It took ages to discover that I work best with silver-toned findings (earring posts, clasps, crimps, etc.), and figuring out that stretch cord isn’t just for kiddy jewelry. Some designs turned out unexpectedly hilarious – like the time I made a piece exclusively out of shells and coral, which ended up looking frighteningly like a candy cane). Other times my designs turned out better than I hoped (like the time I decided to try out a woven look with probably a couple hundred chip beads on a stretch cord that still gets compliments today).

Today, I have a bit more of a style, but sometimes I get stuck in a trut and just need to try some new things. But that means I’m somewhat skilled in some things and a master of none. The nice thing – and maybe a frustrating thing – about beading is that you can go in so many different directions. The possibilities are literally endless

I’ve gotten some of the most amazing ideas from repairing broken pieces, or having someone ask me to make them something special – either for a special occasion or just because they want to support a local artist. Sometimes those requests push me out of my comfort zone, and that’s always a good thing.

What do you, dear reader, want to read about over the next few days? Are you interested in how-tos? More personal stories? How my blindness informs and hampers my artistry? Photos of pieces? All of the above? Let me know in the comments!

The UBC Beading Edition: Fixing Broken Things


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There’s something about fixing something that has broken – whether due to the passage of time or an accident or incident – that fills me with joy.

Yesterday a visitor to this blog asked if I could direct them to someone who could restring a necklace they have. And today, look what popped up in my Facebook memories?

I love beading.
But I don’t want to make beaded things just to make SOMETHING; I want to make things people will enjoy, to make them feel great and look good, or express themselves in new ways.
But, like writers or artists, I take time away from my craft. Sometimes it’s necessary, due to life circumstances, and sometimes I just hit a creative rut.
Whenever I hit a creative rut (“Beader’s block”), someone seems to telepathically know this, and gives me something to re-string, repair or re-design.
The simple process of taking out my supplies, cutting, crimping, stringing, wrapping, putting things together, jumpstarts my brain and gives me new ideas and motivation.
For all the people who’ve done this over the years, you’ve played a unique and essential role in helping me make more pretty beaded things.
YOU have my undying gratitude. 🙂 “

I think I like repairing things for a few reasons:

First, it turns something unusable into something useful again. That is a great feeling!

Second, it gives me fresh ideas if I’ve hit a rut. In fixing a piece, I’ve discovered materials that I otherwise would’ve never known I like to work with. If a piece is missing beads and needs to be reconfigured, I’ve been able to get creative and put my own spin on it.

Third: Sometimes I get to hear stories! I’ve fixed a piece that broke at a party, restrung a necklace that belonged to someone’s grandmother, and was privileged to connect with neighbors I didn’t know I had… all by answering “yes” to the question…

“Can you fix this?”

The UBC Beading Edition: Now it’s Your Turn!



Tonight, I turn this blog post over to you, my readers! For those of you who’ve been around for a while, or who have started with me on this Ultimate Blog Challenge journey…

I am clearly not the only one who has picked up and put down beading off and on over the years (just read the comments on earlier posts!)

So this post is for you!

For those of you who have stuck around with beading consistently over the years, what’s kept you with it?

And for those of you who have expressed interest in picking it up, either for the first time or after an absence, what direction do you want to go?

For anyone who’s dabbled in beading, past or present, what materials or styles bring you joy? What spurs your creativity? What stifles it?

I want to hear from you!

The UBC Beading Edition: Starting Again


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It was Christmas morning, my first Christmas as a married woman. My husband and I giddily anticipated sharing the gifts we had purchased for each other. The passing of time has dulled the memory of what I gave him that Christmas, but I definitely remember what he gave me!

It was a square stand, with four rows of five drawers each – each drawer containing removable dividers – and a small mountain of beads in little baggies inside!

I was flabbergasted!

“Where… how… this is amazing! But… like… what gave you the idea?” I sputtered as I opened all the drawers and found more treasures inside.

“You told me that you used to love beading as a kid, and sometimes wish you could pick it back up again. Well, now you can!”

For the record, I have absolutely no recollection of this conversation, which is really surprising (people who know me tell me I have the memory of an elephant). But clearly some conversation somewhere spun this totally amazing idea into my (then) husband’s brain, and he took it and ran!

Neither of us had any idea about beads, tools, wire, or anything, really. I was back to stringing seed beads on wire, but I needed tools! Luckily, there was a local bead shop in my area, and when I told them to talk to me like I knew nothing – which, well, I did – I got outfitted with a mini plier kit, a pair of scissors, another spool of beading wire, and some well wishes for my next project.

My table-top case for beads was great! But it was far from portable. At that time, I traveled a lot in order to train and compete in a sport called goalball. This often had me on buses and trains, and I needed something to do with the hours I was sitting on my backside en route from one place to another. I went to a local craft shop, grabbed a travel organizer, filled it with beads, and boarded a plane.

I should’ve known something was wrong when there were beads in the bottom of my bag. Not only was this container sending seed beads tumbling out the tiny opening in the back… but all the dividers were movable, sliding ever so slightly up and down as the plane hit turbulence. I came back from my trip with a very colourful – and very disorganized – travel case. My husband spent weeks with a rounded bead retriever, painstakingly sorting through all of those beads, getting 90% of it done, only to have our new kitten decide that the tray would be fun to go digging in… And – with the patience of a saint – he did it all over again! We remember you fondly, Dasher!

I learned to bead by just doing. This was before Youtube tutorials were everywhere, and most of what was available wasn’t in accessible formats. I was able to get my hands on a “for dummies” book on the subject, which provided decent enough descriptions that I could figure a bunch of things out without seeing the pictures. But I definitely had a few false starts along the way.

I remember with fondness the first piece I made for someone else. She had worked very hard to graduate from University, and as part of my graduation gift, I made her a chain necklace with multi-coloured cubes that hung at various points around the chain. I loved the finished result – and so did she – but I couldn’t say I was crazy about working with chain. This was before I had a tactile measuring tape, so I had to use the spacing of my fingers to ensure an even look. But my friend loved what I had done, and I felt a sense of accomplishment, and wanted to make more.

But I still didn’t know what I was doing! I knew what I didn’t like – chain was annoying and finicky – and seed beads were proving to be frustrating for myself and my husband. I needed a travel case, and maybe some more tools… so what was a budding beadsmith to do?

The UBC Beading Edition: A Pretty Beaded Thing!

I am grateful every day that I no longer have any of the beaded “mpasterpieces” I made as a child. It would be a minor miracle if I did!

I am also eternally grateful that most of my very early pieces have gone on into the bead soup in the sky.

This necklace is in shades of brown and red, with a faceted piece of Tiger Eye in the middle
Autumn themed necklace

This picture, however, is probably one of the first pieces I made that I still have. (Not for lack of exposure) I made it at a time in my crrafting journey where I thought that you needed a central piece to make your piece “pop”. So I took this faceted cube of tiger eye and made an autumnal themed necklace. To me, it it’s quirky and fun, but maybe it needs a little work. Maybe I’ll repurpose it into something else. Or maybe it needs to be here, just as it is.

I no longer hold to the idea that a piece needs a focal point – most of my current pieces don’t have one. But it was a fun creative endeavor.

The UBC Beading Edition: Where it All Began



I honestly don’t remember where my first packets of beads came from. I don’t remember the type of thread I used, or how I crimped the clasps on to my creations…

But I clearly remember sitting in my living room, watching the nerdy TV shows my childhood self enjoyed (and my adult self still gravitates to) with my favorite Disney themed TV tray across my lap and a bunch of canisters of beads to choose from.

My first creations were… colourful, to say the least. I think (though I can’t be sure) they had no discernable patterns – in shape or size or texture or colour. My fingers wanted to create something tactile and unique, something as appealing to the touch as many things were to the eye.

I remember seed beads – little tiny beads that my little tiny fingers threaded onto whatever wire I could get in whatever combination came out of the film cannister they were stored in. Long tubular beads (for some strange reason I vaguely recall dubbing them “bugles”) were generally silver toned or other neutral colours, so I put them with everything. My personal favourits were plastic three-pointed beads that came in a variety of colours, but when you stacked them on top of each other the points filled out the hollow space of the bead beside it.

Writing this all out makes me a little embarrassed for my childhood self. My vision was such at the time that I could tell colours apart on REALLY big things (like buildings or cars), but not clothes or jewelry. But I was a kid in the early 90s, where you could wear whatever colours you wanted, because anything went (snap bracelets, anyone?). That’s how childhoold me remembers the nineties… or was that just me?

Our local mall had a bead shop, called the Bead Loom. I remember wanting to go in every time I went to the mall (and we went a lot!) to get some new bugles, and – I think in retrospect – just to go to a store where, as a blind kid who was not usually allowed to touch stuff, touching the merchandise was not only permitted, but encouraged! I loved the rows and rows of trays, all filled with beads that I could actually hold in my hands! I was very happy there were so many beads, but sad that there were so many of them I couldn’t afford. For a while that’s where a lot of my allowance money went (I think my parents might have chipped in when my purchases went over-budget… that memory is hazy though).

For a couple of years, that’s what kept my fingers and mind occupied. That TV tray contained (and prevented) many a disaster if my fingers tipped over a cannister of seed beads, or when I trimmed the wire of a completed piece only to learn that I’d cut it too short and my colourful creation tumbled off the wire (for the record, sometimes that still happens, and also for the record I still cry like a little girl whenever it does).

But, as many childhood hobbies, beading fell by the wayside. I somehow understood that the pieces I made when I was six or seven – all splashes of colour in all kinds of directions – weren’t as “acceptable” when I was nine or ten. The bead store in the mall closed down, I discovered my love of music, and started to pursue other things. I had all but forgotten about my foray into jewelry making for more than a decade and a half, when an off-the-cuff comment set me on the path that I’ve been following – sometimes in fits and starts, and sometimes with great gusto – ever since.