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Posts tagged ‘adventure’

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

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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

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

Take off in Spanish


9780199534326
Hola friends…

As well as setting up this new blog on the 1 January, I began to explore a CD package: ‘The complete language-learning kit, which one of my lovely daughters kindly leant to me (thanks babe) for the purpose of learning my new language. I listened to the first CD (one of a series of six) to get familiar with the way they tackle the process and what will be expected of me, as the student. I will endeavour to practice every day (well at least most days, considering how everyday life has a way of interrupting – positively, that is).

I have also been exploring Teaching 123 http://www.123teachme.com a free website that I’ve found useful. Some other useful websites that were kindly shared with me by a teaching colleague (thanks, Mary) include: mansionspanish lessons (http://www.mansionspanish.com), BBC Spanish MI VIDA LOCA (http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/mividaloca/) and spanishspanish.com (http://spanishspanish.com). Also, YouTube – destinos – An Introduction to Spanish (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKUTRjw098g) prove entertaining as well as helpful. I haven’t explored all of these sites yet, but over time, I will gradually work my way through them.

A few people that I work with have volunteered to speak conversationally with me once I get started, so that should prove helpful. Hopefully it won’t be too hard to pick up once I get the basics…getting the basics may prove the challenging part, or maybe it will be retaining all the information in my head that might prove more challenging. Have faith, Deb! I’ll update occasionally on my progress over time.

Because I will be travelling throughout France and starting my pilgrimage from St Jean Pied de Port, the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains, I hope to be able to learn some conversational French as well. Oh my goodness…really! Have faith in yourself, Deb. Be realistic, but have faith! Okay…she thinks, smiling wryly…okay…I can do this….

I have approximately 17 months to learn two languages, loose weight, get fit, find all my necessary equipment, book flights, accommodation and learn as much as I can before I board the plane bound for Spain. That should be plenty of time…yes, it will be plenty of time…

Buen Camino

Deb

 

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