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Perfect paddle boarding

Very often, the focus of my blog posts is some mishap or other: some series of events that only seem to happen to me, something I have done wrong, some mini disaster, a bit of stress of just one or several of those moments.

Last Saturday was not one of those. I actually had a perfect day. Should I even write about it? I am not sure if I have a misfortune to make you laugh…

I had purchased a voucher for a Stand Up Paddle boarding lesson, as it was on my Perth bucket list. I had seen people doing it on the Swan River and thought it looked like something I would like to do.
There were two other Au Pair friends also doing it, so I wasn’t going to be on my own. I also had a lift lined up from someone who lives in the same suburb as me, so didn’t have to do battle with Perth public transport ( if you read OFF UP THE COAST you’ll know my feelings on this).

It had been raining most of the week, but I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, with a clear mind (no booze the night before) and a healthy (ish) body – ready for action. My concern was that I read wetsuits were NOT provided, and as it IS winter, I didn’t fancy falling in. Then I must remind myself that this is Perth, not Melbourne, so it’s really not THAT cold. And yes, if you haven’t thought/said it already – I do indeed come from colder climes, so yes, I should be used to the cold weather/water etc. My other concern was my left knee: still bruised from my little ice skating escapade (read LIVE A LITTLE for that disaster) and comes with a certain amount of fear of hitting or even using it. I had read up on Paddle boarding, and the first thing you do is kneel and learn to get your balance – not something I can comfortably do – and can you believe this – because of this I was considering surrendering my voucher and not even going!

Luckily I gave myself a good talking to that morning and got up and on with it. Wished I had bought a pair on board shorts – who in Australia doesn’t own a pair of boardies? Me of course!
It turned out that our lesson was just the three of us – 3 Au Pairs on paddle boards with an mean age of 28 (this is indeed unusual in my line of work!) went out on the Swan with out instructor Cristina from Germany. The water wasn’t cold, just a little “eech ouch” getting in on account of all the tiny shells on the shore.
I was given the biggest board – probably on thanks to my usual look of uncertainty. After a brief “this is how you do it” We lugged them into the water and got on. It hurt to be on my knees – bloody ice skating – so once we got some speed (literally moving, not racing) we got to our feet.

The sun was warming my back, my board was steady and I was smiling because I was paddling! I managed to turn without falling off, I coped with a wave caused by a passing boat, and didn’t fall off when I looked round at the large splash to my right when H had fallen off her board trying to get a photo of M!

The only problem I had was a cramp in my right foot (It wouldn’t have been right for it to have been THAT perfect), which I later learned was perfectly normal, although incredibly uncomfortable, as the body tries to counterbalance what the board does. Once our level of comfort was ascertained, we paddled back to shore to get different boards. This time I had a shorter, lighter, therefore faster board, which was much more fun to work with. I actually ENJOYED this outing, and found myself asking fellow British nanny friend from Torquay if this was something people did at home. Yes, apparently it’s quite popular! Show’s what I know, as the first time I had seen it was 6 months ago here in Perth.

To congratulate ourselves on a morning of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise – I want to do more of this – we went to the Matilda Bay Tea Rooms. An Idyllic setting on the river, under the trees where the parrots sit and… poo on your slice of chocolate cake. No joke. But it wouldn’t have been MY blog post without a little bit of trouble…

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Live a little…

So, the other day I bought a voucher to go Iceskating…

It occurred to me that I had become a bit “safe” recently and subsequently, quite boring, and yes, indeed bored.
I have a number of excuses for such a position. Is it because I now work as an Au Pair and I am quite literally drained of energy at the end of the day? And I have the unusual luxury of having my own digs, complete with tv and internet, so sometimes it’s just “easier” to not go out?
Is it because I have never got enough money? I don’t earn very much to say the least, and what I do earn, really doesn’t go very far in Perth. Then there is the fact that I don’t have my own car, so going anywhere involves a number of transport complications, so as previously mentioned, it’s just sometimes easier to stay at home.

But is that what I came to Australia to do? To sit in my room, watching Foxtel and feeling pleased I have got through the day? Worrying about where my cents will go, so desperately trying to save them instead of enjoying them?
I know that when I get back to the UK my dollars will mean nothing, the sun won’t shine very often and I won’t have the opportunities that living in a (pretty cool) city in a (bloody awesome) place like this has to offer.

They say that you should do something that scares you every day. That’s not always possible and I am not as brave as I used to be, so I will aim for once a week! I also have only 5 weeks left in Perth, and only 8 weeks left in Australia, so now is the time more than ever to MAKE EVERYTHING COUNT! Who knows when I will be back?

Iceskating. Yes it scares me. The last time I went was about 10 years ago. I fell over, but it was ok. The time before that was about 3 years previously and I fell badly, landing on my knee, really hurting it, and vowed never ever to go again. Since then I have feared hurting myself so much that I never thought I would go again. Frightened I would fall and hurt my back, I forgot about the prospect of landing on my knee again. Which was worse?

Anyway, I enlisted the company of a fellow Au Pair and friend on my fear-combating adventure. Bought the tickets and made the plans. I refused to let anxiety hinder my enjoyment, but on entering the building I was looking for any excuse turn on my heel (whilst still on dry land – can’t turn on ice!) and make a quick exit. There was nowhere safe to leave my bag: leave it in the car. The skates were too big: Smaller ones would be uncomfortable. The skates hurt: get over it. It’s cold: get over it. I don’t like the music: get over it. Out of excuses. Skates on.
We waddled our way towards the ice – how do you walk without looking like a penguin??
I gingerly stepped onto the ice, gripping the barrier for dear life. At this point I start laughing hysterically (anyone familiar with this?) as I was actually bricking it. I can’t move!! I had no idea what to do, I froze, pardon the pun! Other skaters whizzed past me, carved the ice, skated backwards. No one was falling over. This was not the place for Grace to get over her fear!

Slowly I started to move my feet – making my way along the edge, and whilst laughing and screaming simultaneously whenever someone passed me, I found myself sort of skating. My partner in crime was finding my expression (sticking tongue out in concentration interspersed with screeches of fear or hysterical laughter) hilarious herself and had to stop a number of times from laughing too hard. I don’t know how many laps I did before I started to realise I was actually skating and dare I say, enjoying it a little bit. I still flailed my arms, and windmilled my way around and went straight into the barrier to stop. I still screamed every time someone whipped past me, and watched people fall over to asses how badly they were hurt and to figure out how they got up again.

I started to get the hang of it, and was smiling, grinning, skating, yelling out “I am skating, no one will believe me! I can do it!!” I don’t have words to describe how it felt to actually do it, after all these years. I even had a little fall and got back up again, but I was fine!

It has to end somewhere though doesn’t it? Usually when someone wants to take a picture. Often when you fall and really hurt yourself and the wind is taken out of your sails, not to mention your chest and your pride, not to mention your body is bruised.

“You skate ahead, do another lap, and I will get a photo of you”. Off I went, picking up speed: the idea of a camera capturing my moment spurring me on. Then something went wrong, I did something wrong and I went down. I went down hard. Right on my Left knee (same one as before) and hard on my left boob and hand, as I tried to cushion my fall. I flipped myself over immediately, scared someone was going to slice me in half, but the pain in my knee made me want to vomit and the pain in my chest from being winded actually scared me. I can’t tell you how I got to my feet, but I made it just as someone was offering me a hand, I managed to dodge oncoming traffic and slide contraflow to the exit and get off, barely able to move my legs. I sat, tears smudging my mascara, as my leg shuddered with shock, and my left breast felt like someone had kicked me repeatedly. I wanted everyone to disappear so I could have a good cry. The pain eventually subsided, but my enthusiasm was gone. Skating was finished for me. The fear was back and I was terrified and bruised. I did, however, get back on the ice and I did another lap, just so that I could end it well, and not have my memory being face down.

I saw so many people fall and get back up again, who looked fine. I was fine too – nothing but my smile was broken, but it was time to go home.
On the way home, we stopped for frozen yoghurt – my new obsession and I got a bag of ice for my knee, which I sat with all evening, fearing the prospect of an unusable knee.

I am SO pleased I did it, I now know I can do it, and I had a go, and even enjoyed it.
I told my younger brother tonight what i had done, and he said… “So, maybe are ready to have another go at skiing then…” Some of you know my skiing story from the Pyrenees about 7 years ago – an experience I do not wish to repeat!

The gratitude of pain

I’ve had this blog post circulating in my head for some two months now. When it first came to mind I couldn’t get it onto the keyboard thanks to pain so great in my right shoulder I was unable to type or write. In fact, at the time I struggled to even brush my teeth or do a number of tasks I had previously assumed were a given.

It got me thinking about how little we thank our bodies for the good days and what we are able to do with them, yet we are so quick to admonish the parts that don’t function well when we need them.

This post isn’t because I wish to list my medical ailments and woes, nor bore you with my pain stories. Those who know me, know what I am referring to, but I do on a regular basis deal with a a considerable amount of pain and discomfort. Last year, I was given a reason to feel pain – 14 years after my initial consultation I was given a diagnosis that gave it a label finally. My doctor in Melbourne remarked upon my coping strategies and commented that he was amazed that a woman my age (then 27) could live a normal life in so much pain. My answer to him was simple, as it has been to any concerned friends or colleagues who have made similar comments. I tell them that I am grateful for my pain free days: I’ll climb mountains when I can and when the pain comes back I simply sit down for a bit and find a way to be grateful for what I had been able to do until then. Sometimes it lasts a day, sometimes weeks: it tests me, depresses me, limits me and really angers me at times. In fact only last night I was sitting on my living room floor trying to find a comfortable position whimpering in pain, feeling sorry for myself.

But gratitude is really the only thing I have. I never know when it will come back or how long it will linger for, but it’s taught me to really live in the moment and to grasp opportunities when they arise. If someone says “let’s go for a hike” – on a pain free day I will jump at it, because next time perhaps I won’t be able to.

It’s taken years and years for me to understand my body and its ever-changing needs and demands. I accept help when it’s offered, but try not to need it knowing that ultimately I am on my own and relying on others only makes you useless when they are gone.

So today I will do my stretches, take my vitamins, smile at the sun and see what my body will allow me to do. I I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow, but I will do whatever I can today.
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sunday riding

This was written some time ago…

Sunday Ride

“Do you have any plans for Sunday?” I was asked last week. Plans?? Hmmm… well, I have to do some laundry, sweep my room, maybe catch up on some sleep, but those can all wait. “Nope” I said with a grin. “I thought we might take you for a ride then”. This was MUSIC to my ears! I had been anxiously hoping, that on my final weekend here in the bush I would do what I have hoping I would do all this time!
Ever since my very unexciting ride back o

n Mornington Peninsula I have been desperate to get back in the saddle and really experience a horse ride, on a real horse. ..
I was instructed to come to the house at 8am (on a Sunday!) and wear jeans, long sleeves and plenty of sunscreen. After a not so good sleep, and a chilly early start I skipped over to the house in my most convenient horse riding attire. Thank goodness my jeans are stretch!
After making lunch (should I blog about my cooking too?) which was a pumpkin and carrot frittata and gathering up yesterday’s baking marathon: a fruit and muesli slice, raisin brownies, apricot and orange muffins and double chocolate chunk cookies: I was put into a pair of boot and fitted for a hat. (Not a riding hat, like us Europeans are used to, but a cowboy hat!)
At about 9 am E, K and I got into the Ute and drove off the other yards to collect some saddles, whilst D and C went off to round up the horses. My first shock, perhaps, was that the horses had to be found, and then saddled. I could barely lift the heavy thing out of the Ute (not a good station hand am I?) About 8 horses galloped into the yard: All excited, all frisky, all not looking very calm.
So Oaky was saddled and bridled up and I walked him around a little bit before trying to find a place to climb up so I could get on. Apparently he has an odd body shape, so his saddle rolls a bit as you try to get on. Poor D seemed a little bit unsure of whether to put his hand on my arse to shove me onto the horse, so I had to climb onto a water trough and transfer myself to the horse.
We set off, the children in front, and myself and K at the rear, making sure to keep out father and son horses a safe distance apart as they don’t share much love between them. I needn’t have worried about Oaky’s friskiness, as he was in their words “too old, lazy and unfit” to give me any bother. He was In fact a very gently horse, who when kicked slipped into a reluctant, but smooth trot, which my audience were impressed with. My last official riding lessons were about 20 years, but I still remembered my “rise and trot”, “heels down” and how to gather the reins. Those puzzled me at first, as I had never used an open rein and of course held those all wrong.
Once back in the saddle, the memories I have of always wanting to have my own horse as a child came flooding back, and the enjoyment I have always felt when sitting on one surrounded me as we walked through the paddock under the crisp blue spring sky. We stopped once we found a tree that provided shade and good stump (for me to climb back on the horse) for morning smoko. We ate our fruit, fed E’s horse the cores and the children shared stories of funny horsey happenings in the bush. On we went through the trees for some time until we reached Tiger’s Hole. A damn/creek in a picturesque spot: perfect for our bush picnic.
My saddle bag had a quart pot in it, which we filled with water, and put in the fire the children made for Quart pot tea. Having cleared the ground of ants and sat cross legged in the dirt eating our lunch, whilst the children did running jumps into the creek: I realised I had (had to) let go of a lot of my hang ups which had manifested in adult years. Sitting on the ground where I can SEE ants is one, eating without washing my hands is another, trusting a horse I don’t know, wearing someone else’s shoes, peeing in the bush… all of which might not seem much, but I hadn’t realised how much they had made me restricted.
Before heading back, we mounted the horses (with the help of another water trough) and Oaky and I had a photo shoot, as well as a few little trots for the camera. Everyone wanted me to experience Oaky’s “beautiful” canter, and game though I was after my initial hesitation, it was short lived due to my stirrups being just a tad too long to feel comfortable.
On the ride home, the sun was blazing and all of us here breaking a sweat. I found it hard to imagine mustering all day in much sharper heat, for much longer and at a much more demanding pace than Oaky’s totally chilled out gait. We trotted quite a bit on the way home, and once or twice, sniffing the air of the home stretch, Oaky broke into an unexpected canter, which I wish I could have enjoyed, but my reservations about stirrup lengths and inexperience made me pull him up sharp and we continued at a healthier, slower pace.
Arriving home, I felt an overwhelming sense of pleasure in finally experience something that these bush people clearly love. The conditions were perfect, nothing went wrong, and apart from having to walk around in a John Wayne stance for two days, it was an invigoratingly positive experience.

jogging for biscuits #2

Something strange happened today…
Maybe it was because I outed myself as a jogger, maybe it was because I have been doing to for nearly two weeks, maybe it was because I knew all of you had read this, maybe it was because I had casually measured my waist…

but I jogged today, I jogged hard. I could even say I ran!

It was just me and K today. NO dogs, no children and a nice cool breeze pushing us along.

Today it didn’t hurt as much as it did before. I even picked up speed. My feet left the ground, not shuffling, but jogging. We jogged until we got to a tree that was far enough away to feel a good jog, then walked for a bit, then jogged to the next tree or powerline. Ok, these are STILL short spurts, but we are doing it. I am doing it! I am joggin for my biscuits in the bush. I am going a little further each day and it’s not as horrific as I thought it would be.

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Jogging for biscuits
Before I came out to the bush the vision I had of myself was riding horses regularly, spending plenty of time outdoors, eating prime cuts of meat and fabulous home cooking and just watching my muscles build and the weight fall off.

That is not the case of course. My day involves walking the 12 or so steps from my bedroom door to the classroom and then an additional 12 steps to the house, and I never walk back out of there without having eaten something.
Then there is the food: the volumes of it, which I readily accepted so not to be impolite on first arrival. The Smoko (cakes/biscuits/pikelets/tea/coffee etc) at 10am, and then again at 4pm, (more of the same) and dinner is a mountain of food very often followed by a dessert. Lunch is starchy and meaty unless I make it myself.
So to summarise: I have grown. I am not the svelte shape I hoped I would be, but a larger, much less fitter version of the one I was aiming for.

In my first two weeks I was in the kitchen readily baking for eager mouths, loving the novelty of having people to bake for, but I soon started to notice an ugly pattern. The two bushies decided to get me jogging one day, which was absolute hell. I pounded along a dirt track, one behind me hitting my bottom and the other in front encouraging me on like an old cow going in for milking.

We coined the term “jogging for biscuits” which became my incentive and much fun for them as they turned my plodding efforts into biscuit rewards!

Now, some weeks on, having had many many relapses, I am now going for a stiff walk, and breaking occasionally into a jog or a shuffle, as we call it, every day! Since almost two weeks ago, I have not missed a day despite the pain and undesirable state it leaves me in.

We agreed that at 5pm every day we will go for a walk. We put on trainers (yes I have been lent a pair!), enlist a few Labradors, I don my leggings (because if I feel sporty, that’s half the task done!) and off we go into the late afternoon sun. Sometimes it’s just me and the bushies, sometimes me and their mum, sometimes me and my new pig-hunting-dog friend, but it’s always me!

We walk/jog/shuffle up the hill, down the track, around the paddock: It doesn’t matter where. I know if I break a sweat (not hard!) and get my breath going (equally easy) I have earned at least half a biscuit. Sometimes I can manage a whole 100 metres of jogging, which those of you who know I can barely run for a bus will understand is no mean feat!

One day I even walked the LONG way to the mailbox and back, which was over 10km. Some days I have longer energy spurts, some days a pain appears from nowhere and makes me wince, but every day (since two weeks ago!) I go.

I jog for biscuits in the late afternoon sun of the Australian Outback.