Reflections on a year

I like doing what my friend calls ‘making bookends’ of the year, and inspired by another friend -from whom I borrowed the title of this post – I wanted to take stock of 2018.

In November 2017 in an attempt to ward off winter depression (SAD) I downloaded the free NHS couch to 5k app and taught myself to run. It proved to be not only a life saver in terms of fighting depression but also life bringing. In late April I headed off to Tampere (on the very early coach – in the rain!) to run my very first park run … and right now I’m sitting on the coach heading for Helsinki. Tomorrow morning -God willing- I’ll complete my twelfth parkrun this year. I’m really pleased … I’m not fast, I’m not elegant but running makes me feel alive … and being part of the park run community in Tampere has also been a great source of JOY for me!

During 2018 I have lost weight. Enough weight that it’s been noticeable and commented on by all kinds of people.

I have never had good self esteem when it comes to body image … but in the last few months I’ve started to enjoy how I look because the slimmed down version of me feels good -I’ve ditched a lot of old clothes (almost all of it had become too large for me!) and rediscovered some unforgotten gems, but also love this new coat (my daughter fpgelped me choose it and my MIL bought it for me as my birthday present!)

Keeping SAD at bay is still a challenge (particularly during Christmastide when the days are short in terms of day length, but nonetheless drag on in terms of lack of life-bringing structures … there’s too much eating, and too much being sensitive to the needs and desires of others than I’m often left feeling exhausted and sometimes the bleak feelings creep in again too). Somehow I need to find more courage to carve out more life giving well being habits at this time of year, but going out for runs with and without dogs and sneaking off to the pool have been lifelines I’ve grasped with both hands this year!

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2018 was brilliant in terms of my so-called bucket list (though I hate the term!)

In May- June I got to visit Orkney and Shetland … both lived up to expectation, and were really beautiful and interesting, so much so I want to go back …. I loved the ruggedness of Shetland, the wide open spaces, the views and the wildlife and the friendliness of the people. Orkney was spectacular too; much more fertile and flatter and the cathedral was amazing!

In September-October my dream of walking the Camino finally became a reality. It was marvellous. I saw wonderful sunrises almost everyday … climbed mountain paths (up and down) and met some amazing pilgrims from so many different places and backgrounds! The Camino was So much more than I even dared dream or imagine … so life giving and joyous and one of the beautiful bonuses was that I was able to see life with new eyes. It was as if I’d had glaucoma or a cataract … and post op my vision of myself of others and of God was clearer and much more positive!

Life post Camino has been good … I was fearful how the reverse culture shock would manifest and how it would hit me or how I’d handle it …but I navigated November really well …and my decluttering project during Advent also brought life and freedom in a different way as the light shone in deep recesses in my closet and in other nooks and crannies in our home.

I tuned 59 at the end of November … and that means I’ve stepped into my sixtieth year

I want this to be a year to remember -for all the right reasons – so one of the things I’m asking friends -and family – is to invite me to join them this year in doing something they love or enjoy. I’m hoping it won’t be limited to food and drink related activities … my friends are more imaginative and creative than that! – and I’m hoping that people will invite me to walk on their favourite beach or forest or woods, or invite me to join them doing something they love -a particular exhibition or museum, an art gallery, ballet or opera or show – a visit to their dance class or equivalent …

I want to be exposed to beauty in different ways than I’m used to and I’m very much hoping to use this year to get some wonderful one on one time with my fabulous friends, and family members – building memories rather than gathering stuff!Let’s see how that goes …

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Posted in at home, food for thought, reflections after the Camino, this & that | 3 Comments

Embracing Life – it’s time to celebrate!

(Apologies to those of you who are also friends with me on fb … you’ll have seen this already)

1n 1959 this baby girl was born

That means in a couple of days she’ll turn 59 … and enter her sixtieth year!

This past year has been a particularly good one for me! As I wrote earlier, this time last year -as a way of pushing SAD (seasonal depression) aside – I taught myself to run! I discovered park run, and now have a wonderfully affirming internationally-minded park run family in another city here in Finland!

I have always wanted to visit Orkney and Shetland. This year I got to both, made a new friend in Shetland and met up with a university friend on the northern coast of the mainland for the first time in over 35 years! I loved being up north, and the only problem is I want to go back!

I also walked one of the Caminos to Santiago de Compostela, (Camino Francés from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and then on to Finisterre and Muxia) something that I’d dreamt of doing for almost twenty years. It was an amazing adventure, probably not as hard (walking wise) as I’d feared – in part because I’d done loads of walking in 2017 and 2018 thanks to the #walk1000miles challenge, but also because I’d lost weight and worked on getting fitter with the running and my all time favourite aquajogging.

On Saturday evening I started (a little prematurely) to embrace my sixtieth year. A friend bought me a ticket to a wonderful musical show and I met other friends before the performance for drinks! I loved it all!

That’s where the idea of fully embracing my sixtieth year was born!

This coming year I’m hoping to meet as many of my friends face to face, one on one (or in very small groups). My hope is that many of them will identify something they like to do and invite me to join in with them,

Posted in my sixieth year | 2 Comments

Running …

Saturday was my tenth park run!

Yep, you read that right! Imagine, until this time year I had never ran, (except reluctantly to catch a bus or in sports lessons way back in school!) I didn’t know how to, I had poor self esteem because of my shape and size.

I was however motivated to learn, as an attempt to ward off SAD (seasonal depression, which was pressing in very hard last November)

I found and downloaded the wonderful NHS coachto5k (C25K) – it’s free- and basically taught myself to run.

It wasn’t easy … I remember the very first time I went to the gym at our swimming centre and stood on the treadmill and ran (slowly) … the programme’s strength is that it introduces the novice to interval running (walk, run, walk run etc) increasing the running intervals and decreasing the walking run by run.

I stuck at it – going to the gym three times a week for two months! I was determined to give it my best shot! Key for me was that I trusted the app, and learned to ignore and finally switch off the inner voice that to,d me ‘you can’t do this!’

Fast forward to the end of January this year and I could run for 30 minutes without stopping! That was a humongous breakthrough milestone moment for me! I added minutes (still on the treadmill) until I could run 5km… and then, golly, I had to learn to run off of the treadmill.

That wasn’t easy either – I transitioned by going to our indoor running track and went back to week 5 of C25K and took it from there! That worked, and in late March it was then time for me to brave the world outside – only I faced horrible slippery winter conditions.Yikes! I invested in spiked running shoes and from that point there was no stopping me. I drove to the park, ran 1km. Two days later I ran round the park twice. Next time I got a lift to the park and ran home. That was 2.5km. Another time I ran half way across Ruissalo to meet hubby who was walking the dogs from the other direction, and together we walked back to the car.

Running changed my life more than I can describe.

We don’t have a parkrun in Turku (yet) but I signed up, and on Saturday 21st April I caught the very early morning coach to Tampere (2 hours north of here) to run my first park run. My only aim was a) to find the start! and b) run the whole way without stopping! My hope was that I would complete it within an hour. I succeeded -beyond my expectations – running the 5km in under 45 minutes! (42.07)

You can see the course here

Please understand I don’t run fast or elegantly but I love it.

Yesterday was my tenth park run. (My ninth in Tampere).

My time hasn’t improved much … I ran the course this week in 41.26 (a minute slower than the week before!) … but I loved it. It was a beautiful run in the loveliest of winter conditions. Cold yes, but wonderful.

One of the most wonderful things about having gone up to Tampere for the park run is the new friends I’ve made – I call them my parkrun family. It’s the most inclusive, supportive group of internationally people I’ve met in Finland! I love going there.

There are now three parkrun in Finland. Sadly Turku isn’t one of them, but that means I can keep going to Tampere … and in December my plan is to get the park run in Helsinki (also 2h away from here)… anyone want to join me?

Posted in activities, park run, running, Tampere

Sunrises

I loved the sunrises on the Camino … particularly in the wide open Mesetas!

But I admit that I’d forgotten how wonderful our winter sunrises here in Finland can be! Just look at this sky!

Posted in Finland, Turku, winter | 1 Comment

Cherishing “icebugs”

We can’t change the weather conditions but we can do our best to equip ourselves to ‘weather the storms’. For me, at this time of year, that means wrapping up well and dealing with icy conditions.

I walk a lot (today I walked 12 km in total, yesterday 14km) Most of the walking is by choice, but I’m also obliged to walk one or more of our dogs most days, and that means come rain or shine, heatwaves or extreme cold snaps, I have to go outdoors. Walking is usually a joy but I do struggle in adverse conditions – particularly in the winter with the snow and ice, and very cold temperatures when your eyelashes freeze and it’s hard to breathe!

This week winter proper began to arrive and it’s been below 0C every night. What’s more, the pedestrian bridge near our home had a thin layer of black ice on it this morning (long after the sun came up), and trust me when I say that that’s no fun when you are running with a golden retriever!

Three years ago I bought my first pair of ‘icebugs’ … aka winter boots with spikes. They are like winter tyres, and offer a lot more grip for us two legged creatures! My icebugs are a prized possession because have made a huge difference in my winter existence.They aren’t cheap, of course, but for me they are worth every penny as I feel much more secure when walking in winter conditions than I used to.

Those original boots are still going strong (though the zip occasionally works itself loose) and (after getting the worn spikes replaced) are still perfect for forest trips and walking the dogs. I also invested in a second pair of icebugs in the sales. The second pair are a bit smarter style (for city wear etc).

Our daughter walks the dogs far more than I do. One of the advantages of my having two pairs of icebugs last winter was that when she was home from Italy she could borrow mine.

Today she got studded boots of her own. They aren’t the icebug brand, but this stylish alternative make were much more comfortable for her narrow feet and offered good ankle support.

So here’s to our winter dog hikes in 2018-2019! Can’t wait … though I hope we’ll have sunshine too!

Posted in Finland, out and about, this & that

Missing the Camino

And also missing writing this blog.

I miss the walking – though am still walking everyday.

I’ve noticed that I’m both fitter and trimmer after the Camino, though I didn’t actually lose (much) weight – beer and wine most days was the main reason I suspect – and in an attempt to keep the weight off I’ve been to the swimming pool a lot as well as walking and running (a bit).

I’m also missing meeting people on the Camino.

Last Saturday I did my first park run post Camino.

My time was nothing to write home about (40.23 /5km) but it was lovely to be running by the lake in Tampere again, and to spend time with some of my park run family. I love that … in some ways reminiscent of the Camino family at least in terms of having a shared goal and being part of an encouraging community!

Come and join us … the Tampere park run is every Saturday morning at 9.30. To get there (I go monthly!) I get the early morning bus or train from Turku. You don’t have to be a runner to do the park run, you can walk the course. It’s possible to do it pushing a buggy or wheelchair as well, or why not run/walk with your dog? In the spring I plan to drive up one week so Tinka can meet the parkrun gang as well. She’ll love that!

I’m missing the sunshine of the Camino, particularly the wonderful weather I had for the first five weeks!

Meanwhile here in Turku: at the pool I’ve changed my regime a bit because the city has invested in a couple of water friendly mounted tablets … so instead of only aquajogging I’ve been following a programme called hydro hex … mainly focussing on developing core muscles and strength and working a bit on my upper body (arms in particular) as well. It’s a lot of fun … and I’ve liked the change from merely aquajogging. I feel it’s helping me keep my sanity post Camino!

November is usually the trickiest month for me, and the one in which I have to work hardest to keep SAD at bay. This year, so far, most probably because of the Camino experience (which is still bringing me joy) and the new exercise regime, I have managed better than I feared possible. The November blues are there, but milder than they’ve been for the past few years. For that I’m thankful … though it was SAD last November that forced me to try running … and what a wonderful thing that’s turned out to be.

I’m missing all the different impetus of the Camino: the different views, colours, the cultural differences, the mix of languages ….

To compensate I’ve scheduled in things that “fill the tank”.

In Tampere last weekend I went to the Tampere Art Museum, and this week I was at Aboa Vetus (old Turku) with a school group … Next weekend I’m off to the theatre (a birthday treat) for a musical evening in Swedish.

And I’ve started to read again!

Another thing that’s really been helping me this month, is my decluttering project. I’ve done a little every day … and chosen not to focus on /blitz one particular room, but rather take a ‘bite-sized’ approach of one junk drawer or one shelf per evening …and it’s paying dividends.

I’m combining the purging of unwanted/ un or under-used items, with a sort of spring /winter clean … the most purging has happened in my closet and the junk drawers, and I feel both I and our house are already able to breathe a bit better! Certainly the dust is less which helps!

I tend to think of myself as a reluctant consumer insofar as I am not a shopper by any stretch of the imagination, and when I do need to buy I usually prefer to try to buy secondhand pre-loved items rather than new … (on the Camino almost nothing I took with me was new) so it’s always a bit of a shock to realise how much stuff I actually have … and worse how much of it is never or very rarely used.

I’ve worked primarily with the premise “if in doubt, throw it out” … although sentiment does come into play. We have this lovely coffee service (tiny coffee cups) which was a wedding gift thirty years ago from family friends in Sri Lanka. We never use it … but I’d hate to part with it!

So it was washed, the shelf cleaned, and put back in more or less the same position! The shelf contains porcelain that our children were given as babies / small children. Below that on the open shelf my late dad’s coffee grinder, and my grandmother’s rosewood box with a few blue nicknacks I’ve acquired over the years. This is the closest I have to ornaments … none of it useful or used, but most holds sentimental value for me. Which goes to show I’m a hoarder … though not an extreme one.

I’m missing the Camino but not as badly as I feared. I think that’s because the Camino helped me learn to look at life a bit differently. And my life here in Finland is pretty good …

Posted in Finland, park run, reflections after the Camino, Tampere, Turku

Reflections on the Way : what would I have done differently?

Or, what would I do differently next time :)

Remember my decision before the Camino? Never to second guess myself … and To remain assured that whatever decision I made – and no matter how it worked out – was the right decision for me. That’s stood me in good stead through my Camino. I have no regrets!

But there are a couple of things I would do differently if I did the Camino Francés again.

The most important being that I’d take longer to do Navarre and La Rioja. They were -for me – the most beautiful regions, with spectacular views and interesting small towns and villages to stay in. I had time. I could have stayed longer. With the knowledge and experience I now have, I’d take longer for that part. I didn’t have any rest days on this Camino until Santiago and that was right for me, but I really enjoyed my half days a lot, so that’s probably how I’d do Navarre and La Rioja again. Lots of shorter days ….

I probably wouldn’t bother to walk the last 50-80 km before Santiago next time (since I already have my Compostela). The scenery wasn’t that interesting and the sheer volume of new pilgrims – the way they walked and the conversations I was privy to – made these the least enjoyable days of the whole Camino. I ended up pushing on the last day, and I’m really glad I did (another case of the Camino working out better than my planning!) because Santiago was far nicer than the immediate walk in.

I ended up with about ten days for Finisterre and Muxia which while lovely (if a bit chilly towards the end) means I really explored both villages really well, as well as those on the way there, so I might not feel the need or desire to walk the continuation Camino Finisterre again! That said the zero waymarkers meant a lot to me, and I’m really glad I got someone to take photos of me at both of them! More significantly, this extra time of reflection was really important, so I wouldn’t have changed it this time. But I probably wouldn’t repeat it.

Would I have taken different things is another good question,

Yes, I’d modify what I took but not by much!

My bag was on the small size but that prevented me carrying too much, and I could carry the 6 kg (7kg with water) quite well. I’d stick with the slightly smaller bag I think! Walking with one pole was great. It freed the other hand for my torch etc …and early on, when I had my water bottle on my back, I swapped hands regularly. (Later on I had the bottle on my waist -left side – so didn’t swap the stick over as much)

The main thing I’d change would be taking a thin sleeping bag rather than a sleeping liner. The liner had worked well more or less for the first four weeks … (it wasn’t enough in the Pyrenees but in Orisson there were blankets) but at times especially after the Mesetas it just wasn’t warm enough. That meant that unless the albergue had blankets I was a bit cold at night and so had to put some of my walking clothes on (which wasn’t that comfortable but did stop me freezing!)

Municipal albergues don’t provide blankets so in Galacia I ended up using private albergues most of the time and on the Camino to Finisterre and Muxia I stayed only in private albergues because they do have blankets! That area suffers from high humidity and so all the albergues had machines to dry the air -to prevent mould- but they didn’t heat the rooms so they weren’t nearly warm enough for me, and sometimes I needed two blankets!)

My clothing was about right. I used everything I had with me most days, though I didn’t need my rain coat (or poncho) for the first 30 days or more! Wonderful!

After the first week where I tried different things I ended up using my zipoff trousers everyday. They were perfect (much better than I thought) and in reality I could have left the extra pair of shorts at home. (I did wonder!) and next time I’d pack a pair of gloves (although my extra socks worked perfectly as a substitute)

The main thing I’d change is what I carried in my first aid kit.

For starters I’d take Betadine, surgical tape, a needle and thread (Alan did try to advise me!) and a really good insect repellant. The one I use in Finland was hopeless on the Camino! The insect bites were -for me- far worse than the blisters because I’m so allergic and once I was given a local spray I never had problems again. Lesson learned!

Oh and I’d take a spare battery for my torch (I was given one by another pilgrim) or possibly even take a head torch next time.

Two things that I would most definitely take again are wax earplugs (again given by a pilgrim at Orisson! .how lucky was that!) and a sleep mask. I lost my original in Pamplona but bought a replacement. Both these helped me sleep in the albergues (something I had worried about) …

and there was a third thing which made all the difference too … a dress/top thing.

I used it everyday after the shower …usually slept in it as well as wandered around the albergue, village town or city in it (with shorts or trousers if it was cooler) wearing plastic flip flops! It weighed next to nothing, took almost no room in the bag, always looked good and dried very quickly. I’m so glad I had it with me as it made a huge difference.

Overall I’m quite satisfied with what I took, the distances I walked, the variety of albergues I chose to stay in.

There are no regrets … and if I do do another Camino, I take this wisdom with me.

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