Monday, 15 February 2016

A walk across Spain - Camino

My first Spanish sunset, seen from the train from Madrid to Pamplona. 
Bag too heavy? Take the donkey!

Friendly faces along the way

Just one of the many MANY beautiful buildings we saw.

A new friend, ready to go.

Have a good journey 340km

100 x more beautiful without the camera


long long road - with hot soup up ahead!

staple diet


I see you

one of my favourite stops

just another man and his dog

far from home!

follow the yellow arrows

too pretty

Knights Templar Castle

Always a new friend around the next corner

a beautiful sunset under a bridge

another good pitstop

they look prettier than they taste!

200km to go!

don't worry about finding a bed for the night, this is a common sight

very very tempting!

I think this is where my shoe landed up. I am sure it is very happy.

Nothing like the sound of cowbells

it was true love

misty and cold but we persevere

more love...

A wonderful place to spend a night

Ahh..... shoes off, sunshine, and another new friend

If you see this gate, don't walk on by. Go in.
My very own Irish songwriter singing/walking buddy Sam! 

cyclists in the mist

be the change


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Cool apps for a live-in carer

I am one of those people who needs to be able to see how I am doing. Track my progress. Sometimes I need a visual reminder of why I am doing this, where it is taking me, and what I am achieving.

I have found three apps for my phone that help me with this.


I enter the date of my next break, and every day, boldly displayed on my phone screen, I see the number of days left. Very therapeutic. 
It allows lots of dates, so I had one for when my son was due to visit, and I even have the date that I landed here so I can see at a glance how any days I've been in the UK (380 today!)

Piggy Bank. 

Every day, I enter the amount I have earned that day. And the bar moves slowly to the right hand side of the screen and I can feel good that I am building up, step by step, day by day.
Especially good for when I start to ask myself the "why" question!


I love this one. When I go for a long walk, I track myself. It not only shows me the route I've walked (so that I can find my way back again!) it also shows me the distance, elevation and calories burned. Good accountability partner, that one.

I am sure that there are many more lifesaving apps out there. Maybe we can do a post showing the favourite travel and accommodation apps that most of us use. What else is there that I an add to my own "feelgood" collection?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

When we miss home...

Walking barefoot on the beach
 My friend Sue asked me this morning if I am missing home. Home being Cape Town, until I sold my house there (the new owner took it over on the 1st August, just the other day). Now I'm not actually sure where home is.

The answer? Well, yes. Of course I am. But now that I'm allowing myself to think about it, what do I miss the most?

Some things that spring to mind:

  1. Internet. Wherever you go in Cape Town, you are connected. And I am sure it is cheaper there too. Here, it is come and go. Today, thanks to the rain, it is a go.
  2. Parking. Back home, whatever it is that I am wanting to buy, I can find a shop that sells it relatively nearby, get into my car, drive there, and park. Or walk! And when I visit friends, no matter where they live, I can park either on the property, or on the street outside their front door.
  3. Distances. Everything important is so close to home. Under 15km. I used to find myself putting aside a whole day if I needed to get to the northern suburbs, or even Fish Hoek/Simonstown. Anything over 25km seemed a long drive. Whereas now: Cambridge from Southampton? No problem! Be there in 4 hours, have a cold beer waiting, please.
  4. Spontaneity: I miss popping up the road for a cocktail with my friends. Or a coffee, sushi, a walk on the beach or up the mountain. Spur of the moment. 
  5. My family - always up for any of the above, although my mum was always a better drinking buddy than my boys. Not sure where I went wrong with them, when I order a beer, they have milkshakes.... and they're both in their twenties...
  6. My neighbour Nick. The sound of his guitar through the walls when he practised. "Hi Margs" from over the wall if we were both hanging out the washing or working in our gardens. The ever ready bottle of red if I'd run out. And if I cooked too much dinner, he was always happy to share. 
  7. My cats.... who are now happily ensconced at Nick's place next door.
  8. Music. There is  something musical happening within 15 minutes from home, in pretty much any direction. From Concerts in the Park as we picnic on lawns under trees, Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts in the shadow of the mountain in the country's most beautiful garden, to jamming in a local pub or even an international band at the nearby Green Point Stadium.
  9. Rugby. It is just not the same, watching it on my phone, alone, in between calls for commode assistance...
  10. Familiarity: At home, I knew where to find information, or who to ask. I always knew someone who knew something about anything. Here, I've had to try figure it all out, and I am still doing that. But getting there... 
See, not too morbid a post, this. I am slowly building up a network of quality friends here. And I did feel at home from day one; I love how things just work here.

 I am fairly sure that feeling homesick is something we share. What is it about the place you left behind that you miss the most? Would you go back? I am determined to spend at least a month every year in Cape Town. And all the things I've listed above will still be there...

Monday, 10 August 2015

Is this it?

Hanging in a hoist, during update training, I have to wonder. Is this it? What we have to look forward to? 

Picture it. 

A class of 9 live-in carers doing their annual update training, learning about new equipment and being tested on our moving and handling skills. We are transferring each other from wheelchair to chair. From bed to commode. From lying to sitting.

And this is where I start getting morbid.

It is disheartening enough that we are performing these moves on elderly, vulnerable adults all day every day. But next up, it will be my mother in the hoist. And then it will be my kids having to find someone to do it all for me. 

I could cry.

A reminder that time counts, and that we have a duty to make the most of it. 

My first step is to make sure that I ALWAYS have something to look forward to. That will help me get through the day-to-day tediousness.

Then I will book a holiday with my mum. And keep doing that, at least every three months.

And I will always look for the real person behind the façade of helplessness that presents itself to the world. These men and women have lived full lives and are full of stories and experiences. And it is up to me to recognise that in them.

And to help them to feel special.

Friday, 7 August 2015

First anniversary as a carer. Dreams, achievements and lessons.

A year. How do I feel about that?

Well this is a tough one. I have a different perspective now that I am taking a few weeks off and relaxing in a friend's flat. I am surrounded by hills and footpaths and beautiful scenery and yes, I'll confess, a shopping mall adds to the picture here. Much more positive now than when I was stuck in an old lady's house day in and day out with confused ramblings and constant criticisms for conversation.

Looking back on this past year fills me with mixed feelings.

When I set out in July 2014, I had big dreams.

  1. Travel - UK, Europe, Eastern Europe. Travel is easy and affordable from here, isn't it?
  2. Collect interesting stories from people who have been around since the beginning of the previous century
  3. Pay off debt - mine and the boys' student loans
  4. Pay off my house
  5. Build up a huge savings
  6. Make new friends
  7. Have ME time
  8. Buy a leather jacket
  9. My money! spend my earnings on myself for the first time since leaving home at 18. 
  10. Get the kids fully independent

What of these have I achieved in 12 months?

  1. Travel - Barcelona, Wales, Cape Town, various parts of England. Not nearly as much as I'd hoped for
  2. Stories - the thing with 99 year olds is that in most cases their ability to tell stories is, well, challenged. I felt like I was eavesdropping on my lovely old lady with dementia when she started talking to imaginary friends/family about personal stuff! I could write a book on that....
  3. Debt and 
  4. house - well I sold the house, and paid off all the debt. Tick those off.
  5. Savings - I'm working on that.
  6. New friends - tick. I keep meeting such inspiring, strong, interesting people. Far more so than I did back home, working at an office.
  7. ME time - I try. And to be honest I think I can tick this one. I make ME time a priority now, whereas in my old life I kicked myself to one side too often.
  8. Leather jacket - still to come. That will just be a symbolic purchase. 
  9. My money: spend my earnings on me - yes, most of my money is mine now. What I manage to hold on to, that is.
  10. Independent kids. Tick that one off. I am so proud of those boys. They have achieved so much these last 12 months. One has just landed an apartment at the V&A Waterfront! And the other is about to walk off with his Bsc in Genetics and Biochem. Well done, boys. 

What have I learnt about myself?

  1. I can do this. So many people say "I could never do what you're doing" but you what? You probably could. Some empathy, perseverance, determination, and focus, and a view of the bigger picture makes it manageable.
  2. I am resilient!
  3. I can allow myself the occasional wobble. Or, as I like to call it, a wallow. After all, if a hippo can take so much pleasure in wallowing, why should I not take a day off a month, blame pms if that helps, and just let go? As long as it doesn't last longer than a day.
  4. Two new friends gave me some excellent advice the other day. "Make caring work FOR you." I am learning to do that.
  5. I have good friends. Really good friends. Thank you.
  6. I've learnt to be grateful.
  7. I have choices. If I don't like a placement, I can choose to leave. 
  8. I am free. Freer than I have ever been.
  9. Discovering new interests and passions, things I didn't have time to consider in my old life.
  10. An appreciation and respect for time. It passes. Use it well. 
I am happy. Momentary irritations, lack of sleep, missing friends and family, yes those are hard but on the whole, this is worth it and I am happy that I made this choice. 

For now.

Your stories

What have you learnt about yourself? What helps you to keep going? Is it worth it for you?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

GUEST POST: My Camino, by Ingrid van den Hoek

My Camino de Compostella
 Ingrid van den Hoek
July and September 2012
Camino Primitivo
Camino Finesterre
Camino Portuguese

Arriving in Santiago you queue at the Pilgrims office to receive the well deserved Compostella. 

3 Questions are asked.
Did you walk for 1. Religious  2. Spiritual or 3. Historical reasons?

My response? ‘All 3 and many more reasons.’
The official just smiled – probably heard this before. (Watch the movie ‘The Way’ and listen to the response of the 4 Peregrino’s at this same office – very interesting.)

Why did I go all the way to Spain and Portugal to walk 700 km?  It has been a dream for many years. I love the mountains, hiking, exploring new places and meeting people.  Having a limited budget, the Camino is an ideal way to spend a holiday. (our budget was €15 per day).

Yes, it becomes a spiritual and a religious journey, you can’t help being touched by what the Camino has to offer – walk in the footsteps of many other Pilgrims.  (Interesting articles on how the Camino de Compostella originated, can be found on the internet and worth reading before you start your walk.)

I walked with a friend from South Africa for 3 weeks – she was then 72 years old - covering 450 km. Starting in Oviedo and finishing in Muxia.

Why the Camino Primitivo and not the Camino France – a far more popular walk?

 We are both members of the mountain club, love mountainous and more remote areas and also wanted more of a challange– the Primitivo has all this to offer. The route is more up and down, but not that extreme. Anybody with reasonable fitness can attempt to walk this one.
www. gives you all the information you need including all the elevations of each stage.

The Albergues are much smaller and there is no rush to get from the one to the next. We even had some Albergues all to our self. This does not apply to the Albergues from Melide to Santiago. Here you meet the peregrino’s from the Camino Frances and some sleep up to 160 people. Then you walk like mad to get to albergue when it opens to claim a bed! If it is full, just walk another 15-20km to the next albergue!!!

What made me happy? Life was simple. You don’t worry about anything.  (unless you have blisters!). All you have to do is walk; follow yellow arrows; find food; admire the environment; chat to fellow walkers on route; see where you can find the cheapest vino rouge or beer and chill at the albergue. Here you will do some washing, attend to your feet, maybe explore the little village, take lots of pictures and go to bed early (with earplugs!)
There is no rush to leave in the morning – some do leave at the crack of dawn, but we took our time and still got to the next place in time.

It took us 2 weeks to get to Santiago – loved every step of the way.  We spend the weekend there (I don’t want to give away the ‘secret’ of Santiago - experience the gem yourself) and decided that this was not the end for us. We walked to Finesterre – another 100km’s.

Completely different terrain...more coastal and absolutely beautiful. Some days rather long, but you can find a private albergue if you feel you had enough. We did that once because of the heat and did not feel like another 12 km’s in the baking sun.

Finesterre – finish earth – end of the world, is the meaning of the word. 

It is a beautiful town and has a very special meaning for all the pilgrims. We walked to the light house and decided to have our picnic lunch down on the rocks. After a rather steep climb down, we could put our feet in the water and enjoy the peacefulness of the area. To think this is what the pilgrims did 1000 years ago!(they also burned their clothes and it was a real cleansing ritual.)

My friend and I felt that we did not want to end our Camino just did not feel right. (don’t ask me why, but it did  not!)

Fortunately we had the time to walk another 30 km to Muxia, also a coastal town. This was the best decision we could have made. It offered everything we were looking for and more!

As in the movie ‘The Way’ we ended our Camino here.  ( I am pleased I only saw the movie after walking the Camino)

Muxia was The Grand Finale! Both of us very pleased as we received our 3rd Compostella!

I can write a book on what I have experienced, but everybody has to make the Camino his/her own.  It was an emotional trip for me personally as I had to work through a lot of stuff that happened in my life at the time. I came home feeling strong/ready to tackle life again and the biggest thing you learn is to stop SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF....

So if you have 2 feet, a sense of adventure, needs to get away from it all....why wait?


Ps. I walked the Camino Portuguese in September – all on my own and loved every step of the way. (Up to a point!)

The route was probably easier than the Primitivo, but more tar and cobblestone roads and more pilgrims. The albergues were in bigger towns, busy and they got terribly full at night. I did not enjoy the masses that much, got a bit grumpy and decided in Ponteverda to make a U turn and walk/bus/train back to Porto.  The best decision I could have made! I had the most wonderful time exploring towns I skipped and this gave me the time to spend a weekend in the most amazing city...PORTO.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


Earlier this year, I visited Barcelona for a few days. It turns out that I am not a fan of tourist spots. Who knew.

My top 5 things:

  1. The beaches. Reminding me of Cape Town. Just don't buy a cocktail from the guy with the cooler box - the Americans next to us fell for that one!
  2. Wandering along the back roads of La Rambla. So much to see and hear.
  3. Tapas and Sangria at out of the way, vibey spots.
  4. The very generous servings, whether it is a goldfish bowl of beer, or a tumbler full of whisky...
  5. Street music. Around every corner. A constant party.
Goldfish bowl of beer

Walking on the beach at night

Health juice. Nah, who am I kidding? Best sangrias!

... and some tapas to help them down.

As close to a tourist spot as I got. The rows of buses sent me packing.

Weird architecture of a different sort. Fairground attraction.

This was a good sangria spot on the beach

Reminding me of Cape Town...


... and imaginative

Who thinks these up?

Almost too pretty to eat

... but plenty to go around....

.... and such variety!