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Meet the House Sitters

I’ve been busy planning a trip.

The preparation lasted over three or four months and began not long after our #2 daughter, who now lives in New York City with her fiancé, visited us last Christmas and culminated recently when we, my SO (Significant Other) and I stepped aboard a 747 QANTAS aircraft at Brisbane International Airport bound for New York City.

In a world where global travel seems increasingly common, there are still a number of us who find a trip from the Sunshine Coast-Brisbane to the other side of the world quite mammoth and exciting.

I originally planned to document this adventure as it unfolded, but researching and planning a trip of this magnitude vacuums minutes and hours into a spinning vortex, where lost moments can never be reclaimed. Time is precious and I discovered that even though I love to write and document parts of my life, there are times when I simply must live the moment and if I do decide it’s worth documenting, then I do it at a more appropriate time that suits me. I’m guessing this may be one of the reasons why I never pursued work as a journalist? It’s simply horses for courses, if you’ll pardon the cliche.

Planning a trip, no matter how long, involves a lot of consideration about your everyday life; the cogs that keep your life moving forward.

Things that needed my attention were our family of fur babies, namely, Mitzi, our ageing 13year old Old English Sheepdog, Oscar, our gorgeous Cavoodle and our inherited, #2 daughter’s, 9 year old cat named Oliver. This trip essentially meant a centrifugal migration from our beloveds and begged the question, ‘Who would step in during our absence?”

Our #1 daughter lives twenty minutes from us, but she commutes to work with her husband and they already have enough responsibilities. We possibly could have asked our neighbours, but we felt this would be potentially burdensome for them, so didn’t pursue that idea. We’ve only been living in this area for the past 18 months, so there really was no one local to call upon for such a length of time. However, I came up with quite an out of the box solution for us, and it took us down a path we’d never been before.

I expanded my list of needing help looking after our important family members to include looking after our beautiful home. I googled and researched the possibilities out there and discovered a website dedicated to connecting people looking to housesit with people looking for someone to look after their homes and animals. There is a whole world out there of people willing to look after your home and pets in exchange for accommodation all over Australia, and the world, for that matter.

The first website I found was Aussie House Sitters and it really ended up proving to be the best site I happened to find. I became a member of the site, listed our home after much discussion with SO. We decided to give this option a fair shot.

As a result, we found Brenda and Tony Hall who matched our dates and said they’d love to look after our fur babies and home while we were away.

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Meeting Brenda and Tony for the first time

Initially, we corresponded with them through the website’s email system and as time drew closer we exchanged mobile phone contact details. Brenda and Tony supplied a couple of references, however, I was more interested in listening and interacting with them, personally.

They shared a little about their own life and sent photos of their large motorhome and in the preceding weeks, I felt very comfortable that they would be just right for our babies and home. We live on acreage and were hoping for a couple who could share the load, although our home is very low maintenance considering it is on acreage. Our gardens are quite low maintenance and we own a ride on lawnmower, so things are quite simplified.

We made an agreement Brenda and Tony would arrive a day or two before we left for our holiday and this worked really well. This allowed us time to share a couple of meals, familiarise themselves with our babies while we were there, show them around, answer any questions we or they may have had and explain the way things worked on the property. Doing this was a very smart thing to do and both parties were pleased with the outcome. We discovered we all got on really well and knew within a very short space of time that our friendship would develop beyond just housesitting.

It really helps to ease any anxiety when you get to know your sitters before you hand over your life. I must admit that strangely, I never once felt anxious about what we were doing from the time I googled till the time we returned from our holiday. I actually felt relaxed and after I met Brenda and Tony I trusted them. I didn’t really have a choice, unless we pulled out of the trip and that wasn’t going to happen. Even SO was calm and relaxed and liked Brenda and Tony from the start.

While we were away, we enjoyed the peace of mind that our fur babies and home were going to be well taken care of. Tony and Brenda were warm, friendly, and interested in our life, our babies and our home. They expressed just how excited they were to be looking after things for us.

They proved to be reliable and we knew we could count on them from the very start because everything they said would happen on the date set, did actually happen. There was only the odd glitch due to technology issues, which can happen when you’re on the road. They showed up on the nominated day and let us know they were going to be a couple of hours later than expected because kind friends of theirs, who they called in on whilst driving up our way, insisted upon them staying for lunch. That’s a lovely problem to have.

From the moment we met them, it really did feel like meeting up with old friends. There was no awkwardness at all and once they parked their van and car, we began showing them around and shared a welcome drink and a few nibbles out the back when the sun began to set.

During our absence we stayed in contact via face book and Tony initiated many messages to let us know how the fur babies were doing. He even sent a couple of photos to show how adaptable our babies had become. It’s always great for the homeowner to receive these photos and communications as it helps to know how things are going and to rest assure there are no problems…however at times, we may have just felt a tad envious!

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Oscar: Missing you, mum & dad!

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Playtime…

We knew we could count on Brenda and Tony and when our water heater element died, they were right onto things. We’d left them a comprehensive list of people to contact and they made use of this list. Before we left for our holiday, we’d also contacted our trusted plumber, electrician and vet to let them know Tony and Brenda were looking after things and to help if need be. Our electrician came out, fixed the water heater and everything planned beforehand, went smoothly.

Tony and Brenda even went to the trouble of visiting an Op shop where they found and replaced the handle to my glass-top lid on my slow cooker. Quite some time back, I had melted the original one when I decided to use the crockery pot of the slow cooker in my oven. It seemed like a good idea at the time, however, I quickly discovered the lid’s handle was not oven proof. But, thanks to Tony and Brenda, that’s all fixed now. I just never bothered.

We also discovered other little welcomed ideas they’d shared to help improve our home. They are kind-hearted and giving. SO and I feel very blessed to have found Brenda and Tony in amongst the crowd listed on the website.

Just before we were due to come home, Tony jokingly sent us these couple of snaps showing Oscar, starring in his new role as the co-navigator, displacing Brenda from her passenger seat, and now ready for a life on the road! Not likely, but probably wishful thinking on Tony’s part, perhaps?

Oscar - the co-Navigator

Oscar – the co-Navigator

Oscar with Tony

Hey mum & dad … look at me!

The highlight of our return after a very long trip involving multiple flights was a hearty lamb casserole, a lemon tart and a bottle of fresh milk left waiting for us in the refrigerator, for dinner. Brenda is a great cook and wow, she needs to know how wonderful and thoughtful she was for going to the trouble of welcoming us back home like that.

Her gesture was very welcomed and both of us were most thankful.

I learned last night that Brenda had phoned our #1 daughter to ask if I liked fruit cake! I don’t and Brenda took the extra initiative to ask what I do like…the answer being, citrus, which is actually a long standing joke between my #1 daughter and me.

I’m really quite obsessed with citrus and to see a whole lemon tart sitting on the shelf in the refrigerator was a sight to behold, and a dream come true…an oasis.

Brenda and Tony also left behind a freshly mown lawn, a clean and tidy home, a detailed letter and thank you card.

I can highly recommend this lovely couple if you ever need someone to take special care of your home and fur babies. They really did go above and beyond.

I’m sure there are horror stories or stories where housesitting hasn’t worked, but fortunately for us and Brenda and Tony, ours is a very positive story and one I felt I needed to share.

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Thanks Brenda & Tony for helping to make our trip to NYC memorable.

All I can say is, thank you, thank you, thank you Brenda and Tony. You were a joy to work with and we both feel blessed that our friendship will grow beyond housesitting.

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Welcome home, mummy. I really did miss you! xx

Have you a house sitting story to share? Why don’t you share your experience in the comments box with other interested readers. I’d love to hear your stories. We’re planning another trip for the end of the year and will definitely be using the housesitting option again.

Until next time,  

happy trails everyone…

Deb

A Slice of Maroochydore, Sunshine Coast – Qld

I decide to take a chance and cancel the booking for my ride on the courtesy bus. I let the receptionist know my change of plans and step out into a world of metal and rubber. I’d booked my car in for its service and this meant a trip to Maroochydore; an all day event.

I maneuvered my way around waiting cars parked in the receiving area. Efficient service attendants, preoccupied with providing their services to patient customers pay me little regard, so I make my way up the inclined driveway that leads to Sugar Road.

I snap open my iPhone’s case and activate my Google Maps App. I don’t use it often and it reacts sleepily, surprised, I think, it’s been called into action.

I sense my own rustiness at operating the App. I rely on my car’s GPS when driving and when I walk to keep fit, I track myself on my Map My Walk App, but I can’t say I use my GPS much.

Orienteering is not one of my strong points – I learned this fact a long time ago at my Year 11 trip to the snow; my first and only trip to the snow fields. I didn’t get lost on the snow, but I did manage to have a difference opinion with a fellow peer I’d been teamed with for an orienteering session.

At almost every station, we argued, possibly too strong a word, so let’s just settle for disagreed, about which direction to take next. Luckily for me his strong personality won out and I gave in at every station – and his sense of direction proved right on every account. And each time, my face blushed a deeper shade of rose. Talk about embarrassing. Who knows what he thought, but what seventeen year old cares about the ego of a guy from another school, who quite possibly, I will never clap eyes on again. Still haven’t to date, or if I have, I would be hard pressed to recognise him with the passage of time. I can’t even remember his name, or if I ever knew his name. How sad, when you think about it. He played a fairly significant role in helping me understand my weakness in this area of special awareness and my sense of direction, or lack of it to be precise.

The App fires up and after I check the address of the beach on Safari, I tap the information into the phone. Immediately the App shows my destination and a woman’s voice begins to tell me where I’m to go – north-west. Great! That’s really helpful to me; me who has no concept of direction. I feel a dilemma coming on. Do I go right, or left?

I crack open the Compass App and puzzle at whether I’ve actually ever used this App before? I have no recollection of it, if I have, but there’s always a first time. Surprise! Surprise! I manage to work out what direction to take. I should have known it would point me the complete opposite way to the direction I felt drawn to. The story of my life; I could almost bet on this, if I was a betting girl.

So, off I head and trust the compass knows where it is taking me. Reading and following along with the map proved interesting, too. For whatever reason, I couldn’t expand the map so I could get an overall picture of where I was situated and where I was headed. I had to keep exiting the App and returning to it to make the arrow point in the right direction. It is obvious to me, and it will become obvious to anyone reading this, that I know little about what I’m doing – I know it’s not the Apps fault, it definitely is the operator’s lack of knowledge in this case.

However, today’s challenge is just what I need, it seems; plain as the nose on my face and I’m thinking now that I need to explore new areas more often because today’s adventure proved to be a lot of fun.

I discover local leafy avenues I’ve never walked before and the whole experience gave me a taste of local life around this neck of the woods. The pathways I trod led me to a major road called Alexandra Drive. I continue in the direction of some high-risers and turn down Sixth Avenue, heading toward Cottontree.

I took a path leading to what looked very much like a beach access and my eyes were rewarded with a stunning sight of sparkling crystal waves gently frolicking across the wide sandy shoreline; the tide bowing down and receding back into the depths of its mother’s belly. White water bubbling and bumping onto the beach’s creamy, blonde sand happy as a glass full of champagne bubbles.

Maroochydore Beach, Qld

Maroochydore Beach, Qld                                              photo credit: Deb Smith

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Surfing action at Maroochy                                         photo credit: Deb Smith

Life Savers on duty at Maroochy Beach Photo Credit: Debbie Smith

Life Savers on duty at Maroochy Beach                            photo credit: Deb Smith

I snap a couple of photos to capture my morning’s expedition and decide to explore further. At this point I felt a good coffee fix was warranted and well deserved.

Rock pools - Maroochy Beach photo credit: Debbie Smith

Rock pools – Maroochy Beach        photo credit: Deb Smith

I continue my walk along an esplanade running alongside the beach until I stumble upon a quaint little breakfast bar called, The Beach Street Deli Café.

The Beach St Deli Photo Credit: Debbie Smith

The Beach St Deli                         photo credit: Deb Smith

This looks just like the perfect spot to stop in and order a coffee, a light breakfast and do a spot of writing. I wander in and order freshly squeezed orange juice, a flat white and a serving of their free-range egg and bacon Panini with cheddar, red onion pickle and homemade smokey bacon sauce.

And here I am. Breakfast is finished, my coffee drained and quite a number of words are accumulating in my notebook. Yes, all handwritten with care and devotion.

I sit at a beach-styled window bench table on a timber stool in a private corner of the café. I gaze out through slatted white colonial louvres and allow my thoughts to mull and stir around in my head, dreaming across the waves of the Pacific Ocean I see peeking through the palm trees across the road.

I head off after a couple of hours pass and explore the Cottontree area and manage to use the GPS to find my way, eventually, to the Sunshine Plaza, where later on I will be picked up by the service department’s courtesy bus driver.

Exploring Cottontree photo credit: Deb Smith

Exploring Cottontree – along the Maroochy River – photo credit: Deb Smith

I’ve really enjoyed this morning and I think that if I only challenged myself more often to do these little expeditions, I’d improve immensely in my navigation skills.

Well, we’ll see.

Until next time,

Happy hiking…

A Walk through Tin Shui Wai, New Territories, Hong Kong

Whilst visiting my N2D (Number 2 Daughter) in Hong Kong as she recovered from hip surgery I finally worked up the courage to take a long walk and explore Tin Shui Wai, New Territories, Hong Kong.This area had been the home of N2D for the past 18 months. I’ve been meaning to put a post together to show everyone what Tin Shui Wai was like, but found time a little constrained lately. However, I have finally managed to put something together and for those who are interested, I hope you enjoy.

During my stay, I’d regularly visit the gym and learnt to use the treadmill, however, I was craving a good old fashioned long walk. The only problem was, and why I hadn’t gone sooner, was Tin Shui Wai is a concrete jungle, with high rise buildings that appear to all look the same. Until you’ve been there awhile and begin to slowly notice the differences, to the unobservant eye, everything blends in and looks the same. Everything, including street signs are written in Chinese and I did not know any landmarks to help me out.

One thing I had noticed though was the grey skies of Tin Shui Wai. In the 12 days I visited we got a total of 20 minutes of sunshine; no joke! Sunshine seemed scarce in this part of the world. Yes, it was winter, but gosh, you’d think it would be sunny for some of it. I’m not sure how I’d go living there for any length of time. I’m sure I’d miss my Brissy climate. Us BrisVegas folk are really quite spoilt when it comes to weather.

After Day 6, I decided that I just had to take a walk, no matter what. What the heck! It would be an adventure and a chance to feel vulnerable just like I know I will when walking through Spain. I procured a local map from reception of the hotel and began to study it. I would walk alone and hoped not to get lost. N2D gave me the hotel’s phone number to call if I did. I hoped I would not have to use it. Today’s post will be pictorial. I hope you enjoy.

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The start of my walk began at a park close to where N2D lives.

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I found some children blowing bubbles near the water fountain.

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A typical view throughout the parkland

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The gardens are well kept and clean

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The backdrop behind the park

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Identical bridges just like this one are built all along the canal at set distances

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Locals stroll and ride their bikes along the banks of the canal

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The walkway beside the canal

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These bridges help locals cross from one side of the canal to the other and are all identical

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 The grungier side of the canal

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Contrast: Wall art vs neglect & litter

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A sacrifice of thanksgiving

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High rise apartment buildings like this one are found everywhere. People string their washing outside the windows.

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Until the 1990’s Tin Shui Wai did not exist – it was totally a vast wetland and rice paddies

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Many locals make use of this area – I even saw a man getting his hair clipped while sitting on a kitchen chair along this walkway

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Little boxes full of people

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Hong Kong Wetlands Park is a feature of this area

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I ended up making a full circuit back to where I started by following my local map

(instead of retracing my steps as I originally planned – it seems I became more adventurous)

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The electric trams are used to get the locals to the nearest train station – they are a fast and efficient mode of transport

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I had to smile at this…

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Here marks the spot where I begin to head away from my circuit and begin to navigate my way back to my starting position – into the jungle I go

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The autumn leaves of winter

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The colours of Tin Shui Wai

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It’s a rabbit warren in there – there are tunnels and ramps everywhere – you really need to know where you are going

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I had to chuckle

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More traditional styles of signage

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I wonder if this school has a playground?

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It really is a jungle in there – a concrete jungle with a dash of green

In total I walked for nearly three hours exploring Tin Shui Wai. I enjoyed the walk immensely and I found the sights and people intriguing. I didn’t get lost, although a lovely elderly Chinese couple did stop and confirm that I was headed in the right direction after I paused at one of the intersections (for a wee bit longer than normal). I was trying to get my bearings and they could see me studying my map (maybe the way I kept turning the map around gave them a clue). They kindly came to my ‘rescue’ and set me on my way once again.

Buen Camino

Positively ~ On Track

Hola Pilgrims,

Even though I’ve had some time off from blogging about my pilgrimage preparations, it doesn’t mean I’ve had time off from my pilgrimage preparations; far from it, actually. Preparations are progressing well and continue to stay on track, especially where my training is concerned.

After I returned from Hong Kong, I’d already fallen in love with the routine of gym and the feelings of reward I received after each of my sessions, so I decided to look into finding a gym close to home that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg and that offered all the equipment I’d grown accustomed to back in Hong Kong. There are plenty of gyms around but not all gyms are the same. They might offer similar activities, but it’s not all about the equipment or the sessions they offer, I found out. I had to find a gym that I felt comfortable working out at as well. The gym I finally settled on was within walking distance from my home and after taking a tour of it, I decided it looked like the place I would benefit most from.

H2O is housed within the  Sleemans Sports Complex. Click on the links to see for yourself the variety of classes they offer. It really is a one-stop shop; a smorgasbord of land and water classes and everything else physical that you could wish for. I’ve been a member since June, 2013 and have no regrets. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made since my return from Hong Kong and I have managed to prioritise my visits to the gym to fit in with my busy schedule.

During the past few months I’ve noted with interest the changes and growth in me. My experience of working out at the gym has had many positive results for me in so many ways; ways I wasn’t expecting. When I was in Hong Kong, I stepped out of my comfort zone by  learning, not only  how to work the machines and discover how they would help the different parts of my body, but, to actually be vulnerable and show my low levels of fitness to others; not a pretty sight. It’s truly been a lesson in humility for me, that’s for sure.

However, things did not stop there. Once I joined H2O, I thought I’d only want to use the machines and merge them into my training routine, but surprisingly, the water and land classes beckoned me. Earlier this year I endured a bout of Plantar Fasiitis and I also suffer from Osteoarthritis  (OA) in my right knee, and my Sports Podiatrist and Physiotherapist recommended Deep Water classes to help maintain some pain-free fitness. The only problem was – I had NEVER taken a fitness class before and even contemplating taking one made me feel embarrassed. If I took a class, you know – with people, real people, everyone would know just how unfit and uncoordinated I really was. However, the more I thought about it and the benefits I would receive, not to mention I was now paying for the gym and should really make the most of it, I finally weakened (or should I say strengthened, in this case) and bit the bullet.

I jumped in feet first and have not looked back.

I’ve made  use of all the classes I am interested in. I know I must look silly at times when trying to get in positions I never dreamed I’d ever put certain body parts in, but I just laugh it off and smile to myself. Haven’t I come a long way! The instructors are very friendly and encouraging, but they also keep me accountable and push me when the going gets tough. Getting through the tough sessions can be a little painful and enduring, but then there are periods of rest that rejuvenate me as quick as a wink. The sessions are designed to push and stretch the body, but at the appropriate moment, a rest time takes place and it really doesn’t take the body too long to respond and bounce back. The end result is a very rewarding workout that releases endorphins and makes me feel relaxed and positive about myself. The effort is so worth the reward afterwards. I have to be honest, there are still times when I get a little nervous before some of my classes, but once I get started, my focus is all about the workout and I forget all the things that worry me. I’m pleased with myself for overcoming these anxieties and fears. I haven’t let them stop me from participating in life. This encourages me for the bigger picture of my upcoming walk through Spain. I’m sure there will be many occasions when I’ll be a little anxious or fearful about the trip. At least I know now that I can push through my doubts and know reward is waiting for me. It is these little wins at home that allow me to sense the feelings I might experience along the way of my pilgrimage and to peek through the windows of opportunity.

Another added value to participating in gym regularly is that people get to know me. At my first water class a friendly lady invited me to coffee. Some people don’t show any acknowledgment of my existence, but the general rule is that most people, at the very least will give me a smile, while others are more than happy to have a chat. After attending gym these past couple of months, it is nice to walk into the place and have people recognise me, smile and say hello. It feels very welcoming and I gain a warm sense of belonging. There is community and I’m glad I’m a part of it.

A couple of years ago, I turned 50 and I wasn’t very impressed. I’m still working on my attempt to grow old gracefully. I must admit, I pouted somewhat and wasn’t happy, but it didn’t change anything. I still turned 50. Why am I mentioning my age here, you might be wondering? It’s because I learnt something that I didn’t know when I was considering joining the gym and looking for the best deal I could find regarding gym fees.

At the time I was looking at gym memberships, a dear friend of mine asked me did I have a National Seniors Card? I raised my eyebrows and scrunched up my face and in a very indignant voice told my friend that I wasn’t old enough for that! How old did she think I was? Really? Wow, I thought. I must be looking way worse than I’d ever imagined. However, my friend then went on to explain. She was not referring to the official Seniors Card you get at age 65. She was referring to the National Seniors card that you can get once you turn 50! It gives you discounts to lots of participating places like movie theatres, holiday packages, insurances, plus many more offers,  including gyms. Now, she had my attention. I looked into this National Seniors Card and discovered lots. The best news for me was that it shaved a substantial amount of money off my H2O gym membership because they participate in this program, as well as the rebate I received from my private health cover. Suddenly, becoming a member of a gym looked a lot more exciting.

Joining a gym AND committing to it, are two different things. I am happy to say, I have joined the gym AND I am committed to it. I am a changed person, for the better and that makes me happy. I know now that I will stay committed because I enjoy the feelings and rewards it brings me. I am glad I am a person who has not grown so set in their ways that I can’t make changes to help me grow and develop into something far greater than I started out. It is important to me to be a life long learner and I am always looking for ways to improve myself. I love challenges and thrive on them.

Yesterday when I was at the gym, I glanced up at the swimming pool’s white board. Someone had boldly written a quote on it. It stated:

A negative attitude is like a flat tyre…

if you don’t change it ~ you won’t go anywhere

This really spoke to me. I’m not sure of its origin  ~ but they are wise words. We all experience a negative attitude from time to time, but it takes real courage to turn it into a positive and go somewhere.

My hope is, if you have taken the time to read down to here, that it has not been a waste of time for you. I hope there is something in my words that you can take away with you and apply them to your own ‘mountain’. And, if you know of someone who is on a pilgrimage of their own that might be encouraged or enjoy reading this blog, please share.

Buen Camino

Occasionally after a serious workout, I might indulge in one of these little babies.

Positive: Occasionally after a serious workout, I might indulge in one of these little babies.

Behind the Doors of an Asian Gym

I love it when life throws curve balls. I stand my ground, stretch out and face the music head on.

I’m fourteen months out from my Camino experience and I’ve been training for the past six months from zero to something respectable. I started back in October 2012 and lost 10 kilograms and two dress sizes in the first four months from increasing my walking regularity and distance, introducing weight training and  making some life changing decisions regarding my eating patterns. I eat much more healthily, I’ve cut out adding sugar to my diet, although I have not cut foods that already have sugar added to them, and I have alcohol free periods, although I haven’t cut alcohol altogether. I am not being a ‘Nazi‘ about my decisions, but I do place restrictions upon myself. I am trying very hard to enjoy my training and dieting experience and so I limit my restrictions to moderation. I know I will enjoy a much higher success rate if I allow myself treats occasionally and approach everything with complete flexibility in order to participate in life with some sense of normality. Portion size plays a very important role in the changes I have made as well. I just know that it’s important to adopt a common sense approach.

Friends and colleagues have already started to notice the significant changes in the way I look. Losing the weight and the two dress sizes is very positive progress and of course people are curious. What is interesting to note after I’m asked how I did it, is sometimes the response of the person who asks. At first they are curious and almost seem like they are waiting for a miracle cure sort of answer, but when I tell them I achieved my results through hard work (exercise) and making some important changes to my diet and lifestyle, I can almost see their eyes glaze over. You see, there is no quick fix. It is hard work to get back in shape and the worse you’ve let yourself go, the harder it is. There are no miracles. But, if you apply yourself and stay focused and endure the times when you feel challenged the most, you will be greatly rewarded.

At my age and stage in life, I found the weight did not suddenly ‘fall’ off me. In fact, the weight has been very slow to go, but because of the type of exercise (walking, weights and stretching), I lost the dress sizes because my body toned up. I sincerely believe that you must restrict what you put in your mouth if you want to lose weight, and sometimes this can be the real challenging part.

In my last post I mentioned that I am currently holidaying in Hong Kong. I came here by myself so I could assist my N2D (Number 2 Daughter) as she recovered from hip surgery.

The challenge for me was to make sure I continued my training, even if it was somehow modified. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage that but once I got here I was able to formulate a plan. Where I am staying with N2D and SIS (Something in Something) is totally different to my home. I am blessed to live on acreage and within a short distance, I have a lovely safe space to do my long distance walks and I have some home gym equipment to help me with my weights program. Here, there are hi-rises everywhere that look identical to each other. Nothing is familiar and knowing what my sense of direction is like, I felt rather reluctant to explore anywhere by myself, let alone go for any long distance walks.

However, I couldn’t let anything stop me. It is imperative that I continue with a training and fitness program, so I decided:  When in Rome do as the Romans do. For me, this meant that I would need to attend a real gym where real people would be working out too and yes, they would see how unfit and uncoordinated I’d be. Oh, the shock and the horror of it all!

I have never been a member of any gym before and have never ventured inside a gym, other than for maybe a quick look once, a hundred years ago. N2D and SIS live in a hotel that has a gym and the guests have full access to all the hotel’s facilities. SIS was quick to assure me that everything would be okay and it was soon decided that I would accompany SIS and N2D to the gym.

I was very nervous, but I succumbed to their encouragement and decided to give it my best shot. I reasoned with myself, what better place? It’s not like it’s at home where I might bump into someone I know and my secret of just how unfit I was would be revealed.

At least here, there is a huge turnover of hotel guests. I’d just be another number and would blend in quiet well. That was my assumption, at least.

The realisation hit me that first time to the gym that most of the participants were Asian men and we didn’t really ‘blend’ in as well as I’d expected or hoped for. All of the machines were foreign to me and they didn’t come with instructions. I begun my first workout on a cross trainer (after N2D gave me some quick instructions) and watched how others used the rest of the equipment.

It’s funny how quickly you stop worrying about what others think. Everyone is working at their own level and they aren’t worrying about me after all, I found out. I’ve attended the gym now almost every day of the ten days I’ve been in Hong Kong and I am happy to report that it didn’t take me too long to learn how to work the machines. I’m not an expert, but I can use most of the machines now without feeling like an idiot.

I encountered a number of interesting incidents during my time at the gym, but one that sticks out to me was the occasion when I wanted to use one of the treadmills for the first time. I climbed aboard and studied the dashboard. I must have been there for a little while and no doubt had a puzzled look upon my face. Nothing much was happening until this elderly Asian gentleman came to my rescue. He showed me how to turn the machine on, which I did and he went back to what he was doing, but then came over for a second time to show me how to increase the speed and some other functions. He was a really sweet man and had very little English. I think he could tell how appreciative I was for his help; the universal language: body language, big smiles and appreciative nods of gratitude.

Using this equipment has allowed me to really work to develop my strength and cardio vascular areas of fitness. I am really sold on going to the gym. I never dreamed I would enjoy it as much as I have. We don’t really blend in, but it doesn’t really matter. Everyone who goes to the gym is there for a reason; to get fit and improve their health and strength.

I am including some photos of the variety of equipment I tackled over the past ten days.

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Deb working out on the cross trainer – 30 minute program

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Working on the upper body is very important to build strength when it comes time to carry your back pack

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Only worked out once on this cycle during my visits to the gym

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Really enjoyed working out on the rowing machine

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Working on my upper body

Greetings from Hong Kong ~ Reaching out from the Empty Nest

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Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong – 31 March 2013

Who has trouble keeping up with life? I know I do. Just when I think things are under control, something crops up to show me otherwise. That’s really the fun part about keeping track via this blog, hence the name, This Pilgrim’s Way. My walk is very different to others, even those whom I am closest to. That’s what makes everything so interesting.

Over the past few months or so, life has been down more times than up. However lately, I feel there has been a couple of positive shifts that have eased the pressure. Just like everyone from time to time, I’ve gone through some tests with personal and health issues, but I know I’m getting there; just as we all do, hopefully.

A couple of weeks back, my S K (Shining Knight) successfully gained a work contract that will ease some of the load we’ve been under. The economy is a little tough at the moment and many families are affected one way or another. Gaining this contract has bolstered a more positive atmosphere around home and it will certainly help us keep things moving along.

One positive outcome is it allowed me to take some time out to travel to Hong Kong to surprise our N2D (Number 2 Daughter) who has just undergone some hip surgery. N2D is living and dancing professionally in Hong Kong at Disneyland. She had no idea that a visitor from home would soon be calling, and with the help of her partner, S I S (Somethin’ in Somethin’), we managed to pull it off without a hitch.

My S K booked my flight and within a week (last Thursday) I boarded a big Airbus A380 bound for Hong Kong. Part of the plan consisted of trialing my new back pack that I’d bought for my pilgrimage next year. What better way than to test it on a 12 day jaunt? I started off so well and managed to pack the clothes I wanted to take, which weighed in total about 8.5 kg, but the night before I flew, word got out among some friends where I was headed and soon I became a courier of well wishes and gifts for N2D.

I changed from back pack to suitcase and it didn’t take very long before my 8.5 kg weight grew to 20.5 kg of well meaning wishes and extra things I thought I might need. Oh well, I’m sure there’ll be another time and honestly, how lovely that N2D has such wonderful friends. You can’t complain about that.

As a compromise, instead of trialing my back pack, I decided I’d test run my new micro fibre towel that S K bought me, along with a bunch of other things he thought I might find useful, for Christmas.

The purpose for this trip was to help N2D in any way I could while she recovered from surgery. She already had  S I S with her and from the communication we’d already had from him, he sounded like he was a rock for her. We felt blessed that someone was there for her when we couldn’t be.

S K and I  are currently going through the transition of becoming empty nesters. Our family is kind of scattered to the winds now and I’m sure anyone who has adult children who are beginning to make homes for themselves will understand the mixed emotions that go with this territory. It’s a time for stepping back from their lives as they step forward to embrace their world. It’s a time for the severing of apron strings. These statements sound very cliché and well worn, but the feelings and emotions that I, as a warm and nurturing mother feels is raw and daunting. I cannot speak for S K or for other parents, but I’m sure there will be others out there who know exactly what I am talking about. The dynamics have shifted and S K and I have entered a new season, even if in some cases it is still in a transitional phase.

S K and I have slowly become used to having N2D living and working so far away in another country, but the real test comes when your child goes through a difficult situation that, for logistical reasons, you can’t really be a part of. This surgery for N2D is the second one she has encountered whilst living in Hong Kong. The first was relatively minor, but this time, the procedure was much more involved. The lead up to the surgery was difficult for all of us. We experienced heightened anxiety and feelings that things were out of our control. It’s times like this I am so grateful to have my faith to depend on.

I couldn’t get to Hong Kong before the surgery due to work commitments, however I arrived a day after the surgery when N2D was safely ensconced in her apartment. The surgery went well and deemed successful, and by all accounts, S I S played an admirable support role. N2D was surprised and after the initial shock of realising I was standing in her doorway, we both got the hug we’d been needing. Yes, there were tears, but they were tears of joy and relief…the best kind.

I begin my fifth day here in Hong Kong of pottering around with N2D and S I S simply being a support where I can, company and sometimes entertainment. N2D has made remarkable progress and continues to go from strength to strength. We are enjoying each other’s company quite well considering we are sharing a small, two roomed hi-rise apartment, and we break any sign of cabin fever with trips to the gym, strolls through the park, window shopping at the local shopping centre and outings for food, although we do eat in as well. N2D and S I S are both accomplished ‘chefs’. I am impressed with S I S who seems to be holding up remarkably well under the circumstances. This trip for me was never going to be just another sight-seeing trip. It was always going to be about spending some quality time with N2D and S I S and helping out wherever I could … and that is exactly what is happening.

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N2D and SIS out taking a stroll to the hotel’s gym

I am really enjoying this special time with my N2D and her partner. It is a wonderful experience for a mother to watch her blossoming child interact in the world they are building a life in. It feels like a privilege and certainly an experience I will treasure. S K is doing his part keeping the home fires burning and is currently working out west in Qld. We try to Skype with him daily so he is part of the experience.

I will use the opportunity whilst in Hong Kong and staying with N2D to walk, go to the gym most days and concentrate on my level of fitness. I’ve already been to the gym several times and I am very surprised at myself at how much I actually enjoyed using the variety of machines to aid my levels of cardio fitness and weight training. I will write a separate post about my gym workouts.

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On our way to the hotel’s gym

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Entertaining ourselves at Ginza Park, Tin Shui Wai

Hola! A Little Taste of Spanish

One of the exciting things I decided to do this year to help me prepare for my trip overseas to France and Spain in 2014 was to learn two new languages – Spanish and French.

After our trip to Hong Kong to visit one of our daughters who is currently living there and dancing at Hong Disneyland, I realised the value of taking some time to learn the language of the country I intend visiting for a number of reasons. Whilst you can survive without the necessity to learn the native language, the locals love and respect you for at least having a go at attempting to communicate with them using the language of their country.

We saw for ourselves the positive difference it made, watching our daughter, who at the time had not been living in Hong Kong but a few short months, communicate in basic Cantonese with taxi drivers, shop keepers and sellers at the markets to name but a few instances. The change of expression on the locals’ faces was impressive. Their expressions changed from the usual glazed over-not that interested look of having to deal with another foreigner to one of delight when familiar words and phrases were uttered. Some actually did a double take to look at our daughter more closely. And the smiles…for here was a beautiful young blonde-headed foreigner who had taken the trouble to try to communicate on their terms. Colleagues of our daughter fromDisney had kindly offered to teach her Cantonese when dressing her for her performances. So, whilst she had no formal lessons, she was still able to learn enough to make her life in Hong Kong a whole lot more easier and it no doubt helped her to assimilate in her new cultural experience.

Next year when I travel to Europe and visit France (briefly) and Spain (for a significant number of weeks), I want to try to speak conversationally with other pilgrims and locals, as well as anyone else I happen across. I’ve never felt the need to learn another language before this, but once I made the decision, it changed my perspective on things. I initially felt daunted and overwhelmed with the thought of learning not one, but two languages at my age, but after having had six weeks of lessons (so far) I am excited and it’s fun. I am also meeting many other like-minded people who are intending to travel and I listen with interest to the many others who have stories to share of the travels they have already undertaken.

I’m so glad that I decided to give it a go. I have three weeks left of a nine week course – Level 1 and I have enough basic understanding of things to practice with while I wait till later on in the year to tackle Level 2. My plan then will include a refresher course before heading off to Spain next year. During the time from now until I leave I will try to find other Spanish speakers to practice with. Other good tips are to watch Spanish movies and listen to what is being said while watching subtitles, listening to music, language CDs and Spanish news, etc. Recently I watched a Spanish cooking show and recognised my first word, other than the basic greetings. The word was poquito meaning little and has since become my favourite word so far.

For homework after Lesson 5, we were asked to write a short presentation using espanol about ourselves. Here is what I wrote:

Hola amigos,

Mi hombre es Debbie. Soy australians. Yo vivo en Chandler, Brisbane.

Estoy aprendiendo espanol porgue tengo la intencion de caminar en solitaire como peregrino en 2014 a lo largo de la ruta del camino Frances de St Jean Pied de Port hasta Finisterre, los extremes de la tierra.

Disfruto de las class de espanol y aprendo todo lo que puedo sobre el pais de Espana, su cultura, su gente y sobre todo la comida.

Estoy muy emocionada y espero el ago que viene

Saludos cordiales

Deb 

I have posted a link to Youtube to show a couple having a conversation in Spanish. He is mucho better and further along than I am…but watching this I can definitely pick out words and phrases that I have learnt.

Click on the link and see how much you know…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4sHt_0x_lE

A friend of mine who speaks fluent French is helping me with some conversational French and I am meant to be trying to learn French at the same time as I learn Spanish, which sounds all well and good, however, it is proving to be a little challenging time wise. Learning Spanish is not fast for me and I have to stop and look up words and phrases most of the time. As time  progresses, my speed and comprehension will develop. One thing I can’t afford to do and that’s beat myself up about it. I need to work at my own pace and the rest will follow.

So until next time, amigos…

Buen Camino

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