What IWD means to me

 

Today is March 8th – International Women’s Day. I don’t think of myself as particularly feminist and yet I felt compelled to write something this year. And I don’t think that women’s rights have been at the forefront of my mind in ‘things I want to change in the world’.

Until recently.

I don’t know if it’s my age or the journey I’ve been on with pregnancy and new motherhood or that feminism seems (from where I’m sitting) to be becoming more and more commonly spoken of and with less of a negative spin. It’s probably a combination of all three. Plus I now have a daughter – so I feel concern over the world that I can help create for her.

If I were to pinpoint a time when I began finding more understanding of what it means to be a feminist it would probably be in pregnancy.

But let’s look a little further back than that. When I started my job I was the only female in my office. And coincidentally the eldest. We were a small office and I found that over the first couple of months my preference for organisation and cleanliness saw me doing little things like making sure the tea towels in the kitchen were laundered.

I soon realised my mistake as I started to be seen as the person who would take sole responsibility for such things. I was (affectionately I suppose) referred to as the mother hen. But what does that actually say? I’m pecking everyone into order? I’m mothering everyone. I think the connotation is double sided.

Over time we have more women in our office and over time I’ve learnt to respectfully encourage others to also to help with buying the office groceries (now mostly looked after by one of the guys in our team) – we don’t have anyone who actually looks after all these things so we have to share the load. And these days I think we do it well.

Similarly when I became pregnant I realised I was going to be the first in our Australian team to be pregnant, the first to take maternity leave. The first to deal with all the ‘interesting’ aspects of pregnancy – sitting uncomfortably, nausea, not lifting things, swollen feet/legs, hormones (hormones, and more hormones), fatigue and waddling around as I turned into the size of a house. And that wasn’t even mentioning the need to be absent to get to antenatal appointments and scans galore. Part of me felt like there were going to be no issues as everyone would be very understanding but part of me felt that all of these things wouldn’t work in my favour to be taken seriously as a manager at my level. Or that none of these things would help in understanding that I am equal to my male colleagues. I’m clearly not!

And this wondering was simply that – nothing outwardly said or done – just me attaching a stigma to myself, doubting my position… and all based on what I believed society had taught me to understand about the role of women and women in the workplace.

I continued to do this in the last month, in my return to work from maternity leave. I feel I am fighting really hard to prove I’m as good if not better at my job now. I don’t want there to be room for a doubt that because I have my brain on my daughter – did I sterilise her bottle or remember to pack her sun hat for daycare? I need to work on those slides this weekend so I need to remember to make sure Mr OC isn’t working on Sunday afternoon. I need to cook up some veggies for her dinners for the next few nights when I get home. I have to leave early to pick her up as hubby is held up or sick etc etc…

And I want to prove I don’t have to be in the office five days a week to do an excellent job. Because I’m simply amazing.

Simply exhausted more like.

But I don’t want to slip. I don’t want to leave an inch of room to be referred to in a way where it’s “well that’s ok, we don’t expect you to do that because you’re a mum/ you’re a woman so you are never going to be fully committed to your job in the way a man is”.

Is that right? I don’t know.

Or should I be saying – this is being a  woman? I can do it all. And maybe that is why we should be paid more than men. Not less.

What I do know is I’m trying to get to grips with the importance of feminism.

I was shocked and disgusted to hear that daycare workers (a predominantly female industry) were left with no option but to strike on IWD over low pay. These Cert III qualified educators are not paid as much as a Cert III qualified electrician. Why?! Why are we not paying them more?! The job they do is vital. They are being mum, dad, teacher and role model. The are nurturing and teaching our children while we go and do something else. To me they’re invaluable.

And this is another example of how poorly we support the post-natal path. Not only is it commonplace, around the globe, to offer poor paternity leave schemes and payments, making it very hard for parents to NOT return to work (regardless of their own wishes) and yet, we do a crap job of supporting the systems that enable these parents to be able to go back to the workplace – the child carers. It’s ridiculous.

Wasn’t it Joe Hockey who made the outrageous comment that if you want to afford a house in Sydney’s stupid housing market then all you need to do is make sure you get a ‘good job’.

Well, Mr Hockey, I would suggest these early childhood educators have a good job. And yet, they will not be able to afford a house in this market now or anytime in the future if things continue this way. And the same could be said for our nurses (and whole host of other jobs I am sure I’ve missed). All these people who we simply cannot function without as a society are working the longest hours, making the most difference to our future (our children, our health… ) and yet getting paid pittance for it.

Anyway, I’ve gone on for longer than I meant to and my bus is about to arrive in the city… I’m not taking a day off work today as many women will. But for my best girl friends and their daughters, my nieces, my stepdaughter, my daughter and for the future of the human race today and on going I will be bold for change.

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Embracing the winter chill!

The weather has definitely turned a lot colder in the last few days and as pro-Stark it has been a joy to say Winter is Coming (and now, Winter is Here) with or without the hashtag. I wrote the below as a writing exercise for myself. It’s a mish-mash of reality and one or two inaccuracies  – mostly being that we haven’t been to Narrabeen market in forever.

 

In spite of the low temperatures, some of us are yet inclined to brave the chill and get our winter on.  Whether you prefer to be by the roaring ocean, or crunching your way through the fallen leaves – there are some lovely things to see and do in the great outdoors through the winter month – even if you live on the cost of South East Australia where it doesn’t get like PROPER winter.

When we lived in Narrabeen we loved nothing more than strolling along the lakeside to the monthly Narrabeen Market on the third Sunday of the month. And even now we no longer live close-by we’ll still head over there. We’ve visited in hail, shine, hurricane-like storms (where many gazebos were laid to rest!) and in the cold, damp too. It’s always worth it even if we only go for the home-made dumplings with delicious chilli sauce. Whilst the weather can affect the number of stalls and the range of produce, it’s a nice couple of hours at beautiful Narrabeen Lake either way – even if you just go to feed the ducks! We found stalls of usual market fare – candles, Balinese style fashion clothing, head gear, homewares, cupcakes, Dutch pancakes, Gozlemes, second hand books and so on. But there were also jams/preserves, woodwork, second-hand books, second-hand clothing and much more – a very interesting range.

Once we’d had a wander around the markets we needed a little warming up so we headed to Dee Why Beach for a coffee to warm our hands and to take turn along the promenade to the pool, up the hill and towards the headland. When the weather has been a bit wilder it’s a great place to safely watch the waves crashing and foaming at the rocks. The seagulls don’t much care that it’s not peak season – they’re still there looking to see if anyone is going to drop a tasty morsel. The wind was up, and they were surfing and gliding the pockets of air as we watched. There is a cute place called the Boatshed which is right on the water’s edge (watch out for high tide if you don’t want to get the odd sploosh of a wave rolling in against the sea wall!) where we bought our coffee. This little location is also a super spot for watching the sun rise (for the early risers!) of a morning!

It’s time to embrace the chilly days of winter. Even if you don’t have access to a cosy log fire and even if nowhere near you sells mulled wine (or maybe you just hate the stuff… but why I ask myself??!) you can still warm the very cockles of your heart. Wrap yourself up in a scarf and hat, and let those cheeks get a little rosy!

6 months. 6 things that happened!

Well, I haven’t been around much these past 12 months have I? And even less so in the last six where I have managed one blog… and that’ll be six months ago in a couple of weeks!

So, here’s what I’ve been up to and why I’ve been a bit preoccupied. I’m summarising in six  – one for each month!

1. I’m a Tough Mudder!! 
OK so technically this was more than six months ago but it was one of the major things that has happened in my life since my blog-posting has been slack. I’ve been trying to do Mudder for a couple of years and in 2014 I made it there, made it round the 19km course (in a tutu, I might add) and back home in one (albeit dishevelled) piece.

mudder mudder2

For those who are thinking of doing it my words of advice are – this event is totally about teammateship and camaraderie. Your focus shouldn’t really be about individual achievement although you will achieve a great deal just by making it around the course.
Secondly, work on your abs and your arms. I am not naturally strong in my upper body – my legs can go for days but ask me to jump over water and grab a rope net is a near impossibility for me. And climbing high walls and fences? HARD. Many I couldn’t have done without my teammates pushing and pulling  my body (and probably cursing me) until I damn well made it over that fence/wall/log/slippery mud hill.
Also, keep moving. Especially, if like me, you get cold quickly. You are in and out of water a lot and if you don’t keep moving you cool down FAST! This is most true when you jump into a skip of iced water. Your body literally starts to freeze. Move your butt before it can.
And finally, enjoy it – have fun, get muddy, wear clothes you’re going to throw away and just immerse yourself in the pure craziness the best you can. It’s an amazing experience. I was really bruised and battered by the end as I chose to wear shorts because I hate getting too hot (ha! and ended up cold!), plus I pulled my abs REALLY badly trying to get over a huge fence, but I healed and I was fine.

2. Planning, plotting, crafting and creating. 
There is so much to tell you all about the invitations, order of services, readings, table names, itineraries, accommodation guide, flowers, decorations and so much more. Without sounding like I’m blowing my own trumpet I worked my butt off for this wedding and had some amazing help from some very good friends and my family to pull it off. When people say it could be a full time job planning your wedding they’re not kidding. And it was my desire to create a wedding unique to us and with lots of personal touches that hinted towards who we are as a couple. I hope to blog about some of the DIY wedding planning I did as hopefully they’ll be useful to other people too- or maybe even inspirational. I have many hints and tips and even some templates that could be put to use!

medley medley-decor

3. New home bliss!
Just before Christmas we finalised on our new home and moved in. To follow we had our first “just us” Christmas – cooked a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and didn’t have to go anywhere except just lazing around looking around at this new apartment that was all ours. It was great. We were going to head down to the beach in the afternoon but being that it was the first Christmas dinner we’ve cooked together we overshot the timing a little and by the time we had cleared up a storm had blown in! Typical. But it was my favourite Christmas in many years – minimal expectations  and just good old-fashioned quality time at home.

house christmas

4. My first ever broken bone!
OK, so if we’re being picky it was actually just fractured, but still… It was just nine weeks out from the wedding when I decided to smash my little pinky toe… and the one next to it. I was training a lot (obviously – for OWD – Operation Wedding Dress) and all of a sudden I couldn’t run, barely walk (for week or two), couldn’t lunge or jump, couldn’t do sand sprints, couldn’t do burpees… argh! But I kept going to training and did a lot of push-ups, squats, wall sits and boxing! At the end of the day at least I knew I was increasing my upper-body strength finally.

It wasn’t even like I had a good story of how I came to break it. I just stubbed my toe on the dining table. FML. Still it healed, and I felt special having my first broken bone… and it still twinges when it’s cold just to remind me my toe is there, and that it definitely happened. Check out the bruising…

broken toe

5. Lots of family time
Two major things have happened in Mr OC’s family in this time period. One very happy and one extremely sad. The sad event was that just six weeks before the wedding Mr OC’s dad passed away very suddenly. Mr OC is still reeling from this as one might imagine, and so are his mum, siblings, and the rest of the whanau. It’s been a very emotional time and nothing can alter the fact that he wasn’t able to be with us on his son’s wedding day. But on the day we certainly felt his spirit. Mr OC Senior was a family man above all – every thing he did was for family. He worked crazy hours and put his family first at all times. He loved his multitude of grandchildren and he lived for his children. In many things (my) Mr OC does in his life he tries to be like his dad and while we remembered Mr OC Senior thoughout the whole special day, it was a joyous day, and it was all about that thing that he loved so much…. family. All we wanted for our day was to feel the love bouncing around the room, and between us and our wedding guests there was a buzz that is indescribable. Such love, such unity, such happiness. He was indeed with us that day… in our hearts.

Then, the happy event occurred after the wedding, when Mr OC’s daughter (who was one of my beautiful bridesmaids) decided to stay on with us and not return to NZ after the wedding. So we now have a little family! And whilst I think there might be some blogs coming on the challenges of teens and trying to understand the mindset of a 15 year old, we are so overjoyed that she is with us… of course. And what a brave thing to do – all credit to her for leaving a place and friends she has known all her life, let alone parting from her mum and other siblings. Not easy. Very brave. I hope we all do our best and make it 100% worth it.

In the weeks surrounding the wedding we had all our immediate family as well as very best friends with us. My maid of honour is my virtual sister, my soul mate, my twin, my polar opposite, my friend of 20+ years  and she flew from the UK to be with us. It can only be described as amazing, Truly amazing. For the first time since I moved to Australia, everyone I hold dear was by my side, just round the corner, coming over for a cuppa, meeting up for picnics and breakfast…  or just in the same time zone to have a chat with. It was incredible and so, so brilliant. And to top it off, my beloved 19-year-old nephew was so taken with Oz that he has already booked his flights back out here for later this year! I couldn’t be more excited to have family here. We’ve gone from just us, to us three, and now we’ll have more additional family around too.

Steve gathering
NZ whanau together celebrating Mr OC’s dad’s life.
Rehearsal dinner

Rehearsal dinner - other
Rehearsal dinner – all those we hold dear
 

6.  Gettin’ hitched!
And yes, of course, if you hadn’t gathered by now, two plus years in the planning and Mr OC and I finally tied the knot in what can only be described as the most wondrous, most amazing, most love-filled and happy day of my existence. And I hope his. So, yes, I am no officially MRS OC – how funny!

Kiss at altar Walking the aisle

So I’ll be back very soon with some wedding diy hints and tips and insights, and also with some other interesting delving into the depths of my mind! Catch you back here then.

Dedicating this post to the wonderful memory of Steve O'Callaghan. 10 4. xxx
Dedicating this post to the wonderful memory of Steve O’Callaghan. 10 4. xxx

Beggar’s Belief

Sydney's Homeless

I was in the city waiting for the bus the other day, it was peak time – just after 5.45pm on a Monday evening and everyone was trying to get home, so there was a long queue at my bus rank. Suddenly I was aware of someone loudly talking to the young woman next to me. That someone was clearly a homeless person or if she wasn’t, she was definitely on the rough end of life. She was talking loudly and babbling on, asking the woman various questions about her necklace (which, as it turned out the lady had had engraved with a foreign inscription). Anyway, ultimately she was there to ask for money and soon moved on to this question to which the woman replied no, as did the woman after – me, and she moved down the bus line in turn, mostly just asking women. I guess she felt safer doing so.

As she moved past me I smelt the strong smell of alcohol on her, but her hygiene seemed good and she wasn’t thin and whilst she had a bit of a beer belly she was not in bad shape – not too thin, or seemingly malnourished. Whether she was homeless or not I don’t know. However, as she moved down the line one girl offered her a mandarin and another an apple. To the first offer – the mandarin – she considered and took it. But to the apple she joked that she didn’t need an apple, didn’t need food “does it look like I need to eat anymore”. Well, isn’t that exactly the issue? If she didn’t need money for food then maybe she needed it for a bus fare or for a place to stay. Who knows.

Sadly, the most likely story, of course is that the money is for drugs or booze. Particularly given the alcohol on her breath and the loud talking.

And these days of course, we know to not offer money to homeless or beggars – to offer them a meal or food. And that’s what people were clearly doing.

This actually put me to shame a little, firstly because I hadn’t even thought before the answer ‘no’ came out of my mouth, when asked if I had any change. How awful is that? Not only did I not even weigh this lady up for the individual human being that she was, instead classing her as a stereotype and dismissing her, but I also didn’t even stop to consider if there was in fact something I could offer.

Well, shame on me.

I thought about this for a while afterwards and realised that it was force of habit. Way back when I started roaning the streets of London or Reading on my own as a girl in my late teens – and by ‘roaming the streets’ I mean as a shopper or moving from pub to pub, whatever it might be – I of course had my first experiences of being asked for money by beggars and the homeless. My response was always to try and give something. If asked if I had a coin or two, I would answer honestly – yes or no. And of course, if I did, hand it over.

Like many girls at that age I had a belief that my good act could make a difference, that if we all acted like this we could change the world, or that maybe these people weren’t to be dismissed as some people cruelly did. I was going to be the one who was kind and gave what I could.

Then, one day, that changed. In McDonalds (in the days when I used to still go there) in the heart of London I was approached by an Arab woman with some other Arab women all standing around behind her. She was asking me for change, and claiming some kind of desperate need (I cannot remember specifically what, now) but I had no change on me, I only had a fiver.

What I tell you next, will sound absolutely ridiculous, but bear in mind I was maybe 17 at the time, and I was a bit of a dreamer until I was well into my 20s. Still am in many ways.

So, anyway, I said, in my honest way of doing things “I don’t, I’m sorry I only have a five pound note.” And she said she would give me change. I took the note out of my purse and handed to her with my hand out ready for my change. Stupid. And it wasn’t my lack of generosity that meant I didn’t want to just hand over the fiver. Let’s please bear in mind that I was at school, and yes living at home but my weekly spends were few and I was visiting London that particular weekend to see a friend so I needed my money for the train fares and food etc. My job on the checkout at Waitrose didn’t exactly amount to a fortune!

But of course the inevitable happened as she beat a hasty retreat with my money. So I started calling to her and people begun to look up from their fries and burgers. At this point I turned and loudly said to my friend who had just joined me at the table with her McChicken sandwich “She took my fiver” or words to that effect.

I didn’t get that fiver back is the long and short of it and I felt extremely silly, small and naive. I guess I learnt fast. What embedded the disappointment into my brain was that later on that day on the tube an announcement was made by the driver that there were Middle Eastern woman on the train claiming poverty and they were not to be trusted. As I was later lead to believe, at that time, and perhaps even still today these women did this as a kind of job – con artists working in a pack and often stealing from you whilst begging.

Since those days, or at least in more recent times, the con artists are more likely to be Eastern European in London, and there is a rising problem in particular areas of the capital.

East European Beggars London
Image courtesy of The Express

However, the result remains the same in my little world, I stopped trusting any beggars and my compassion quickly turned to absolute suspicion. It didn’t help that a couple of years later my handbag was stolen from right next to me on my seat (also in McDonalds… clearly that place is bad for you in more ways than one) and so while it took me several years to be more vigilant about leaving my phone in cabs and pub bathrooms, I certainly became very careful about my bag… and beggars, in particular in London forever and ever more.

Nowadays I simply say no before I even think. But it’s so hard to know what to believe when standing face to face with some of these people. A real homeless person is, in my eyes very obvious. And this woman at the bus stop might well have been homeless but should I have spared her more – time? Conversation? Food (I didn’t have on me)? Or cash? What, really, is the right thing to do? And is it the right thing every time? How do you know?

I don’t know.

Maybe it’s about getting out there and volunteering within the community – getting to understand the different kinds of people in their different situations.

Food for thought. In the mean time. I guess I’ll be sticking to my cynical beggar’s belief that none of them are to be trusted.

 

Choosing the Dress – 8 “Dos” and “Don’ts”

bridal shop inside

Ohhh how I wish I could post a little picture of my dress on here. But, nope. I’m afraid you guys are going to have to wait 11 months for that one!!

The good news (for me at least!) is that I’ve finally chosen one. A whole year after I started me wedding gown journey. Good job I had plenty of time!!

Which leads me smartly onto my first tip!

1. Don’t Leave Your Dress Too Late.

It seems obvious but there are reasons your dress should be a priority, not least because depending on the style you want you may have to wait several months for one-offs, couture dresses and adjustments themselves take several weeks. But, don’t forget that your dress style will steer much of your decor, the bridesmaids’ dresses, the groomswear etc. Get the dress sorted early (I had mine ordered just under 12 months before – that was quite early but I’m a busy bee so I needed it done!) and then you have time to worry about all the many, MANY other things to be sorted, AND some idea of what you’re going to do for them.

In Berkshire, I went to the fabulous Borrowed Blue & Lace and Confetti – the first is just a divine little boutique with extremely friendly, helpful ladies running the place. I felt at home there right away and thank them for the beautiful service. Highly recommend. The second is a family favourite – both times I’ve been a bridesmaid it’s come from Confetti – both my step-sister and my sister-in-law got their dresses from this well established bridal wear business – they ladies are highly experienced and service is excellent.

2. Do Take Your Nearest & Dearest to Share the Moment.

And I emphasise the “share the moment” part. I actually first went dress shopping three months after we got engaged but just less than two years before the wedding (we booked our date far out for all our overseas family), and the reason was because I was back in England visiting my family and friends so I knew with all the saving that was going to happen in the coming year or so that it was likely the last trip to the UK I was going to get prior to the wedding. I wanted to have the experience of wedding dress shopping with my mum, my maid of honour and my bridesmaids. None of whom live here in Australia!! I was glad I did – it didn’t shape my view on what style I wanted but it got me to understand which shapes suited me and most importantly, I will treasure those memories as I know my family and friends will too.

Dress Shopping - me
Me being fussed over by mother and shop owner

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Go It Alone!

A few months ago when I started trying on dresses again I realised I was not even enjoying the process anymore. It felt overwhelming and I really just wanted to pick the damn dress but I felt afraid to make the decision or as if I was waiting for the big moment everyone talks about when they find ‘the one’. I am so eternally grateful that I have some excellent best mates over here who have been such awesome bridesmaid stand-ins – big, big love for Maree in particular as she came with me several times and once we journeyed an hour away and with little luck. I needed her opinion and her excellent understanding of the process to guide me through.

Ultimately though, in order to get the job done I decided to take some time off and go mid week to some great bridalwear shops in the CBD (city centre) at the Dymocks Building – thank you Maree for that suggestion too. First trip there I went with Maree. Next trip I went mid-week and went alone. I was really worried about how much of  weirdo I might look turning up on my own but in fact one of the places I went the consultant told me that she thought it was a good decision (and I know it wasn’t sales spiel – this woman was one of those no nonsense types). She couldn’t have been more right though – having had my friends and family by my side to gain knowledge and ‘try things out’ it was on my own that I had real clarity of mind. Instead of putting a dress on and my mind immediately drifting to what the reaction would be when I walked out of the changing room, I was alone with myself and my reflection in the mirror (I mean, yes there was a consultant tying sashes and tightening ribbons behind me, but you get the idea…). Then, and only then did I think “no, absolutely not” or “yes, yes, yes 1000 times yes!”.

As it happens the dress I chose was in the shop with the no nonsense consultant! Love her!

4. Do Value Second Opinions of Those Who Know You Best.

Once I thought I’d found the dress I still had a competitor I wasn’t quite done with – I decided to get my cousin and another good friend to come with me and get their opinions without telling them which I was feeling more strongly about. These are two girls in a small group of people over here in Australia who I would class as those who know me best on this side of the globe. It was the right thing to do – their faces couldn’t hide their feelings. They loved the same one I did. My gut had been right. I’d found the dress! YAY! So, while you need clarity of mind, those people who will be honest, selfless (not steer you to their favourite styles just because they like them), and true to you are absolutely invaluable in this process. To them as well as Maree – thank you!

5. Do Plan in Advance.

You are likely to need consultation times booked in – particularly if you want to go on weekends. In Australia, David Jones Bridal books in months in advance – months! And do remember to leave space between appointments to get from place to place. Most consultations run for 45 minutes so if you book them on the hour you are likely to be fine but just bear it in mind.

And remember to wear a strapless bra. Some dresses they’ll take you out of your bra completely but better, just in case. And if you don’t want to bare your booty – don’t wear a g-string!! Oh, and remove your chunky jewellry – such a large watches or bracelets – the last thing you want is to be ripping the beautiful dresses. You can always put it back on again once you’re in the dress if you want to.

6. Don’t Forget to Remove Any Pictures or Links.

If you have sent the pictures of you in any dresses or any links to the dress on a website to loved ones not so nearby – like I did to my mum and my maid of honour – then don’t forget to remove them from your phone – especially when you sync your photos with your PC. We have our photos on our laptop screensaver and that laptop gets plugged in the HDMI on our TV for some of the shows we watch – suddenly pictures of me in some of the dresses I tried on started scrolling through to which I quickly pointed out to Mr OC that none are my dress (I don’t have pics of me in my dress yet) but he responded that he didn’t want to see any as it spoils the whole thing. So I removed them as that was fair comment and pretty sweet. And of course the last thing you want is to open up our browser to show your fiance something and the last page you were looking at was your dress! So just be careful!! The pic I included above obscures most of the dress – important!!

7. Don’t Cling to a Vision.

So, like me, maybe one of the first things you did as a newly engaged gal was to get a bridal magazine or maybe someone gave you one. Or maybe you’ve seen a celebrity in a dress you want to imitate. Or you might have had they style of your dress pinned to the memo board since you were eight years old. Whichever of these might be true you have got to be prepared to potentially let that ‘dream’ go. Sorry. But that’s the truth. Some styles that I loved looked so beautiful on the girl standing next to me in the next changing area but when I put it on – errr, doll toilet roll cover anyone? You have a shape. Dresses come in different shapes. Some fits won’t look right on you and some will fit so well it’s like it was made for you! And maybe it was!  Don’t cling to something you THINK you want to wear. Wear what your heart tells you feels right, but take note of what the mirror is saying – you’ll know if it’s not right. Tune into those feelings, and tune in good!

Doll Toilet Roll Dress

8. Do Have FUN!!

This is very important – this is hopefully the only time you’ll ever be picking your wedding dress and memories of doing so should be treasured. The day I chose my dress we actually had a lot of time to kill between appointments so we gorged on dumplings then a after giggling and chatting for a good hour or so longer we went and gorged on tea and cheesecake. It was a proper girls day out and it was fun for everyone! Make a day of it, make it fun for those accompanying you because let’s face it, they’re doing you a lovely favour. And do it for you! It’s your time, your dress, your moment – and you should savour it, breathe it in and feel like the amazing woman you are.

There are many things to bear in mind on your bridal gown shopping adventure and these are just a few. What would be your tips to new brides-to-be? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Living Life to the Full

Live with purpose

Remember how just before Christmas I was saying we don’t do things by halves? I seem to have taken that mantra into the new year. I’ve been trying to write this blog for about 6 weeks!

I have always been a person who is not very good at sitting still, not very good at having very little on my plate. However, when I came to Australia I vowed to myself to not get as busy as I had been before I left – I had a demanding job, a hectic social life and also had hobbies such as performing in amateur plays. I never seemed to have time to read anymore, and I was rarely at home of an evening. I was single too which made a difference.

And for the first 2 or 3 years of being out here I kept good on my promise to myself.

Then last year it all started to change. Not only did I start my book club in 2012 but I also started my boot camps and doing runs. And it all really kicked off with signing up for the 100km walk. Due to training I would lose an entire day of my weekend just to walking… sometimes on my own, and sometimes up to 40km. It was a great experience, but I did look forward to having my weekends back once I was finished with training and fundraising.

Last year we got engaged… so now there are wedding plans to be seen through, and the day keeps looming closer. When we got our official date late last August I was all “ahh it’s 22 months away no worries.”  And now it’s like 13 months less than a year away and all I’ve done is book venues, half-heartedly try on a couple of dresses, sign up for a personalised website, and start lots of spreadsheets (I love it).

Actually, that’s not true, I’ve sent out save the dates to the closest friends and family, especially overseas too and that was fun and we checked that off the list just after Christmas. So, now I’m into serious dress hunting mode, blog on that soon. And a general update on ‘where we’re at wedding-wise (wwaww)’ is coming soon too.

But let me tell you a bit about the pickle I got myself into over January pretty much through to the end of March.

Mr OC can work Saturdays – which is great. He picks up cash work and so he’s always been the person to bring in the extra dough when we need it.

I wanted to take control of bringing in some extra money myself and also start getting an idea of what it’s like to run a business for myself.

Before I knew it I was running my Scentsy business and pet-sitting in my spare time. I was doing my normal job in the day then driving off to feed cats and walk dogs before getting in late, making dinner (unless Mr OC had managed to get in before me) and seeing to our own pets before collapsing into bed. On my weekends I was getting chores done and trying to grow Polly’s Home Scents. On top of this I was doing the usual things: boot camp, running the book club (trying to find time to read the book too!).

Scentsy party
Scentsy party

Then things got a little crazy.

Things changed at work. As in, my real, salary-paying, office job. We got a CMO and we’d not had one of those in this company before and he was keen (rightfully so) to make an impact and change thing up. Get motivated, get some focus and give the team some proper direction. GREAT! Except it meant we were going to launch a series of multi-media campaigns, update the website (and our core messaging) and try and get some results (i.e. prospects) in a pretty short space of time. This meant a lot of work. A lot.

Not just that but if you’ve had a new boss who is trying to make an impact you will all know that this most definitely has a counter effect on you, the direct report. You have to prove yourself a) because they don’t know you so they don’t yet know how awesome you are, nor trust you and b) because it could mean the difference between career development or downfall.

Pressure is always added when they tell you that they don’t ‘do’ missed deadlines.

Yep… that probably means that what they do do is kicking people up the arse in a rather ginormous way. I hate dressing downs, I hate disappointing people – I’m a people pleaser. So, naturally I was quivering in my black suede Witchery gladiator sandals.

Before you could say “marketing fluff” I was trapped in a vice of huge weekly deadlines, weekly 7am on a Friday WIP (work in progress) conference calls, chasing suppliers in all corners of the globe and working so many hours that I didn’t even have the time to actually drive into work. I spent a lot of those few weeks rolling out of bed, walking-dead to my desk with a tea in hand at 6.45am and barely moving from said desk until I stumbled back towards my bed at midnight or thereabouts. I was constantly too late to bed and too exhausted to do boot camp the following morning and Mr OC barely knew what hit him. He usually works the longer hours and he would either get home to no me at home and no dinner, not fed cats etc  – it took him a week just to figure out that it was a REALLY bad idea to phone me up and ask me what was happening about dinner.

To be fair after an initial two or three weeks of this things did bear up and the late nights stopped – I managed to hit all my deadlines and having done so the pressure on me (both from myself and my new CMO) eased. But the craziness wasn’t finished yet. Oh no.

Prior to the new CMO and the arrival of my new constant high-pressure role I had agreed to help out for an entire month at the animal rescue I volunteer with  – I usually just do all their online stuff – Facebook, website, online pet profiles etc. But the rescue is small and family run and the owner was off to see her son married. So, I was going to help her daughter with running things for a month – we’re talking 20 cats, 4 dogs. But, whilst there were times, driving a cat to the vet or the mall pet shop in the pouring rain, whilst trying to answer a Skype call from my boss that I wondered if I had some kind of sickness. What on earth had I been thinking? Who on earth would be so mad to take on so much.

Beautiful Naya before she got herself adopted
Beautiful Naya before she got herself adopted

All of a sudden all the things I was proud to have built into my life in Australia were disappearing – outdoors time, exercise, decent sleep, organisation! And all the things I was aiming to NOT have return to my life were back – late nights, burning the candle at both ends, no time for exercise, can’t even remember if I’d had lunch etc etc. There is nothing wrong in working hard to achieve your goals, in losing some sleep, and losing some ‘something’ to get to where you need to get to. But the less time I have to exercise the more I’m susceptible to getting run down, the less time I have to keep my house reasonably tidy, the less tidy my mind becomes. Does that seem silly?

And during all these things happening we had Mr OC’s niece visiting from NZ, run a race (and did it well, bizarrely), plus the usual things that crop up in the calendar – birthdays etc. I was trying to do market stalls for Scentsy on the weekends, and we were also having problems with Beau (our 1 year old cat), we actually decided to take a gamble and get another kitten to see if this resolved any of his issues (see a future blog all about THAT drama). And amazingly Maxy did solve things. However, Maxy being a 3 month old kitten – along came the poop. Again more in that in another blog to follow. Suffice to say my stress levels were enough that my mother, gawd love her, sent me lovely Burt Bees pampering products as some kind of alleviation of my stress (obviously clearly perceived via a Skype call).

But there were up sides. There’ll be a blog about my pet-sitting and rescue experiences soon too… stay tuned. And the change of manager actually did wonders for my confidence and self esteem in my job.

Walking the toy poodles!
The toy poodles!

However, April has been quieter. I’ve deliberately said no to a few things. I’ve stopped trying to push certain things – pet-sitting is one, the word is out there, I still do it, but I can’t give up as much time to it as I imagined. Scentsy – is happening, but I’ve stopped doing markets though. They didn’t give me a good ROI. No point putting the time in if they’re not working for you – maybe further down the line it will be worth it.

Scentsy market
At the markets with Scentsy in the rain

And just last week I took 10 days off (a mixture of public holidays through Easter and my own leave) – I relaxed and I ticked a few jobs off the wedding list… because yes, that is now less than a year away. How did THAT happen?

But yeah, that’s also why I haven’t been on here much either. And to be honest I still feel pretty busy, so we’ll have to see how I go… it’s taken me since mid-March to type this and it’s now the 1st of May… and now I must go because Zazu our lorikeet is chirping on the balcony and we have moany neighbours (another joyful addition to this year in our new home… we DEFINITELY won’t be staying past the 12 months… goodbye renting… hello Australian mortgage … and yes another blog on that soon too… wow, lots to blog about and less time than ever to do it! I guess that’s the irony – more to blog about,  means more going on, means less time available to get the blog written!). Yikes!

Running Again – For a Charity Close to My Heart

I indulged over Christmas there is no doubt. Lose your routine, undergo stress and temptation all around and that’s what happens. With the move before Christmas, a week in NZ over Christmas I was not watching what I ate like I would normally do and I was enjoying sweet treats and drinks galore. So my first run post-Christmas was not great. I went out for few runs – inspired by having my new Polar FT7 watch  – and gradually I’ve stepped it up again.

I was totally surprised that at fitness tests this week at boot camp I managed to shave another second off my sprint. So I can’t be doing too bad. And to get myself motivated I’ve signed up for a little fun run that I did a few years back when I really didn’t run at all  – like really. So no excuses.

This run also gives me a chance to potentially raise some dollars for a charity I donate to regularly and am proud to be running for – the Animal Welfare League

We adopted our little monkey Beau as a kitten from AWL and he is the light of our life. He is not my first rescue cat but since then I have got more involved in animal rescue and truly now see how many terrible things happen to the pets people are supposed to love. And it’s happening every hour of every day. Even when they just give up on them and want a new toy and send their family member off to the pound where in 7-14 days that animal will likely be euthanised.

Many people run animal rescue in their own backyard and from their own money and kind heart. Animal Welfare League is a more developed rescue and a great charity and certainly no less deserving. Money raised feeds animals and gives them vet care where they would otherwise stay their last short days in a pound before being put to sleep. It also gets animals away from being unknowingly sold as live bait and keeps our fur babies neutered in the hope we reduce the number left to be neglected.

You can donate if you would like to. Thank you so much.

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My baby boy Jasper RIP - he has green on his nose in this pic!
My baby boy Jasper RIP – he has green on his nose in this pic!

100km Walk Diary Entry 3: Finally the full story

mind over matter

mind over matter

I’ve been trying to write this blog since two weeks ago on Monday (and I eventually started it last Tuesday). I originally failed on two accounts – one that I was stupid busy the first week after the walk (and also tired!) and the second reason being that I don’t quite know where to start. I don’t know how to pen all the emotions before, during and after the 100km Walk for Hunger and give it due credit.

But I shall try. Here goes.

My plan had been to blog along the route as much as possible but I found that when I got to each pit stop I was limited on time even when we had a decent stop. It was essential I had a good stretch, topped up sunscreen, peed, filled up my camelback and ate. Thank goodness for pit crew I managed to get this done before we headed off again! But more on all that in a bit. The long and short of it is, it didn’t happen. So here is the story.

Trying to get some rest beforehand

This was before the walk of course but it is so relevant because it did affect how some of the walk unfolded. So, here in Sydney we’ve had a relatively mild winter and an even milder start to spring. So mild that by mid September bushfires were starting to burn in high winds and dried out conditions. And then the week before our walk it really kicked off with a huge bushfire out of control and (still burning earlier this week) in the Blue Mountains and out west in Penrith. This is my first experience of epic bushfires.

When my friend from work and I left at lunchtime to get some sleep before heading to the starting line for 11.30pm, we headed to the mall for lunch and to get some last minute bits and pieces. It was scorching. Especially for said friend as she was up from Melbourne. We headed back to mine where she was staying in our spare room, got our kit bags ready and headed off to our beds about 3pm hoping to get some much needed rest. As I drew the curtains to shut out the light I realised I could smell a bonfire smell. I lay to go to sleep but the smell kept getting stronger. I must’ve dozed off but about 5ish I woke up as the smell was very strong and there was a strange light leaking into the room.  I looked out the window and there was the eeriest orange haze all around. I then picked up my phone, as one does now to find out what’s going on in the outside world, right? Sure enough everyone was posting pictures on Twitter and Facebook, of Sydney in a smog of smoke so dense that Bureau of Meteorology weather radar was showing it as rain on the satellite images. CRAZY! It occurred to me that I had the windows and balcony door open for air and the smoke though not bad might affect our cat so I got fully up (having previously just been stumbling around my room) and went to observe the scene a little better from the balcony and then to close the door. By this time, I was awake so I put on the Sky News and watched that. The end result was that when I tried to get back to sleep a little later it just wouldn’t happen. I had missed my window (an extended siesta) and now I was tired… already.

The other significance of the bushfires, other than the smoke travelling for absolute miles (at least 70km to get to us) was that if the weather didn’t do as it said it was going to, and bring a southerly and cool change, then we’d be facing the prospect of part of our walk being cut off, at least from a safety perspective even if there was no actual blaze.

At the start line

In the car on the way over I tried to get myself psyched up, get excited but I just felt… tired. And when I’m tired I’m grumpy about being tired and worrying about when I’m going to next get sleep. I had a sharp word with myself. Get over it – you’ve had plenty of sleep in recent days and you’re doing a once a lifetime thing. So you’re tired? So are the malnourished kids and their mothers in Uganda.

It worked.

After a few speeches, hugs and photos… a last minute dash to the toilet (having consumed litres upon litres of water in the last 24 hours in preparation, I’d spent much of my time on the toilet in the last day!!)… we were finally off, waving goodbye to our friends and family as we greeted the 18th October and the first metres of our 100km walk.

The first 23.5

This was the longest stretch and a part I was least looking forward to as a lot of it was road/pavement – walking through Sydney airport and quite urban. However, it kind of flew by – it was a five hour stretch and we were early to the pit stop. The only downside was that when we’d set off it had still been quite warm, yet by the time I stopped walking I realised I was cold. And I’d got to the pit stop before Mr OC had made it there with spare clothes and we’d all got there before the egg and bacon sarnies were cooked by our wonderful pit crew. I just hovered around the bbq and waited for my spare clothes to arrive when I promptly put on some track pants over my tights and vest over my coat and jumper! The southerly that had come in was creating a bit of a chill.

How was everyone faring?

Some, sadly, were already complaining of blisters and sore feet from shoes that for whatever reason were just not agreeing with their feet. Never had I been so glad of my excellent find for my feet – my Salomon trail shoes and also my On Cloud runners which I used for this first part as it was all pavement. It seemed such a shame that some were already experiencing problems. Even my walking buddy who ALWAYS suffers from blisters  was so far going well, although she did try the toe separating silicon tubes but they got abandoned in a later section. However, another of the girls on the walk was finding the silicon toe tube things to be her saving grace. For me, it was the addition of another pair of socks over my toe socks that created the magic. The toe socks themselves were fantastic – allowing my toes space and no rubbing. But the extra pair of normal socks on the top just gave me excellent cushioning as everything started to hurt!

Making our way to the ferry

The next section required us making it to a ferry that only ran every hour, and having over run on time at the pit stop a little we were just heading for a later one than planned. The extra time although it set us back a little on schedule actually meant that we had some lovely time on the peaceful ferry dock at Cronulla to stretch out, rest our feet and then on the ferry it was the same – in fact I think I may have even dozed off for a minute! It was, by this time, heading towards 9am and we’d soon be heading into the Royal National Park. So by the time we docked in Bundeena, a sleepy little town in the middle of the National Park, I was feeling in great spirits.

Getting into the swing of things

It was interesting that by this second stop our pit crew were definitely getting into the swing of things. Our personal helpers – Mr OC and a friend from work – were grabbing our camelbaks, filling them up and making us food as we arrived. Also, Mr OC was getting asked to help out with bandaging those whose feet (at roughly 35km) were already really sore. And I can vouch for him. He’s bandaged me up before and even if he wasn’t a first aider (which he is) he’s a dab hand with a plaster (band-aid), some dressings and a role of strapping! Bless.

At each stop you’d see foam rollers being lain on, everyone was making the most of recuperating and getting big hugs and smiles as loved ones were greeted. I think everyone, even those in pain would leave feeling replenished. Pit stops work!! Well, at this stage anyway!

Time to go wild

As I said, I was looking forward to being in the park. Having done this walk already I a) knew what to expect and how to prepare myself and b) I loved the scenery and the energy of the ocean. The sun had been up for a few hours and life was good! However, it was in this stretch we began to really split up as a group. We were 15 in number when we started and as a small group we were not going to divide into teams. We had a rule that no one should be on their own in the National Park if they do not know the route, and that we should try to stick together. The faster of us kept stopping at first but then it became clear that there was a group who seemed to enjoy a slightly slower pace and were happy to walk with those who were having trouble and that there was a group who had a need/desire to stride on together. I think too, in my opinion, if there is a group pushing ahead it keeps the momentum. The main thing is that no one is left behind.

So we were in two groups. The scenery did not disappoint, and my friend who had yet to have seen the park was enjoying it, which was great to see. We had fun taking some photos and moaned about steps downward (these seemed to cause a lot of pain for the vast majority – they weren’t comfortable for me but they weren’t terrible either. I was just lucky I guess?). We pulled up at the halfway mark in the heat of the midday sun and then things started to change a little.

Pit stop replenishment

It would be safe to say as the first person to walk into this pit stop that I was feeling good. I had three things I wanted to get done in this break – sunscreen total coverage (felt like I was beginning to burn), eat big (was super hungry and I could feel I was going to need to build up my sustenance for the second half), and cool down. There is nothing better than having someone (who you don’t mind touching you) make sure every inch of every limb, and all exposed areas of your skin are covered in sun lotion. I am not very flexible and left to do it myself I’ll always miss a patch and get burnt! Mr OC does this job excellently too! Bless him – so useful. Plus he scored more brownie points for making me the most excellent chicken wrap, which I scoffed down! Next up, having got changed into my shorts, I went and put my feet in the beautifully cold trickling waterfall that goes down to the secluded beach at Wattamolla. I can highly recommend this to anyone doing this kind of event as it just reduces swelling which causes discomfort of course, but it also just stops your feet feeling like they’re burning too.

Some fond farewells

Unfortunately, it was also at this halfway point that we lost a few of team – almost all of them to blisters/sore feet they couldn’t go on on. I think we lost three or four people. Most people, even with a few aches were still feeling good, and after another good stop (again longer than planned) we were ready to battle on for the second of three parts of the national park. However, if I could say there was a pit stop at which I remember being the last fully ‘happy’ one – it would be this one. Looking back, it was clear that like so many people who’ve done 100km walk before had warned us, that you feel pretty good up to 50km as most people have practised walking to around this distance in training. And that’s certainly true. After that, time starts ticking on… and things start to get, well, interesting…

Feeling icky

The thing I remember most about this section is that it isn’t one I love and there are two reasons for that – the first is that there are large sections that require walking over grating – you might know what I mean by this, but if you don’t then it’s the kind of thing they put down at a raised level so that you are not walking through dense bush, or in boggy sections. It is like walking on a giant cooling rack. For some reason, and having asked around, no one else suffered from this so it was a bit weird, every time I’ve walked on it in these longer walks it sends small shocks up my shins, what I imagine shin splints must feel a little like. It is ok if there are small sections but in the places where we’d be walking on the grating for more than, say, ten minutes then I would notice it start up. And then the other bad thing about this section is there is a massive amount of steps down to get down to Garie Beach – tired legs and those who find downhill and down stairs painful suffer on this section, so a fair bit of moaning starts up. It can be hard not succumb to the negativity yourself.

Finally, when you walk almost the length of the big, barren beach you turn into the next stop and relief takes over. But then you also realise it’s getting cold and time has once again skipped on – it was at this point that I felt like we were racing the clock. Not like we had to be anywhere by a certain time, but the plan had been to be out of the park by dark (for safety reasons)  but now we would be racing the darkness. But also, the longer we were walking, the longer it is since we last slept.

However, as much as I was keen to hurry on, I was also so keen to cling to the things I could do at those pit stops – on this particular one out of nowhere, our lovely friend in our pit crew gave us toothbrushes and flannels and soap! WOW – what a legend she is! Such luxuries… I kid you not, we hurried off to the beach toilets and whilst there was no time shower, it was so nice to have a clean face and mouth and spray some deodorant. At this stop, I noticed too that I sat down a lot more – in fact I barely got up out of my folding chair for the duration, thanks to our excellent two pit crew. I also put my leggings back on at this point because it was getting decidedly nippy! I think we may have lost another walker at this stop, but I’m not sure as I’m a little fuzzy.

Getting a little crazy

The next stretch was fairly long but I was able to put out of my head that which I felt was sneaking up behind me, which was ‘I’m over this and it’s getting too much’. This was the last section of the park and has a couple of big climbs in it. With the climbs behind us, it was just a case of slogging out the remaining distance and… well, turning to silliness to get us through! And so it was that we seemed to all start getting a bit giggly – once something started us off we’d be giggling for five or ten minutes. One such point stands out when myself and two other of my chums decided we needed to pee.

Now, I’ve never been one for giving a monkeys about peeing out in the open and if you walk a walk like this you can’t be too bothered. You’re keeping very well hydrated, and although the peeing slows down (due to liquid replacement kicking in) it still occurs at random, frequent moments and so you just look out for a semi-private place to drop your undies and hope you don’t get caught in a cross-wind. So, we’re walking down a wide, rugged trail and on either side is dense thick bush and tall trees. We’re completely under cover but there is no just running into the brush and undergrowth as it’s untouched and no doubt there are heaps of snakes, spiders and jumping jacks or bull ants. Trust me. The thought of you getting your privates out in front of your walking buddies is far superior to the idea of getting bitten by a red back.

So the three of us just laugh and say ‘no peeking’, and squat on the side of the trail as everyone else heads off around the bend (having been told not to look back under any circumstances) as we are all there squatting we look up and laugh at us in a little triangle (two on one side of the trail and one on the other) all having a giant wee! And, although absolutely hilarious and a once in a lifetime moment of silliness, it was somehow bonding! You may laugh… but maybe you should not until you’ve walked in our shoes! Laugh with us though – we were in absolute stitches strolling on for the next kilometre… so it definitely cheered us along our way for a while longer.

Darkness sets in

As we arrived at our next pit stop a few hours behind schedule now, all the walkers were pretty quiet – the delirium had slipped from sugar high to an ebb of very low energy. The pit crew in their awesomeness applauded us as we’ll exited the National Park at Otford Lookout and stopped to rest our weary bones. It was pretty much on darkness and the moon had been up for a little while. I was exhausted and unable to form sentences. I slumped in my seat and my honey made me an awesome cup of hot, hot, hot tea. It was fantastic.  I rugged up in my vest and gloves, donned my ear warmer band and tried to psyche myself up for what was ahead – a night of darkness, and a lot of road. There was some banana bread handed around and we all filled up our packs with some sugar snacks for the last 30km. We had just one more pit stop to go and we were about to head back onto the road that would get us there.

The longest walk of my life

When we started out on this section we had to form a single file, bunched together group of walkers because we were walking along a main road that wound down hill, on a narrow road and with no foot path. We were being guarded by a truck at the front and a Ute at the back of our line of walkers, until we got back to a section with pathway. I remember we were all cold too and we set out at a really fast pace. All of a sudden having slogged it out we were at the pathway and someone said we’d hammered out 5km! Wow. I couldn’t quite believe it. So we were all in high spirits and after most had had another pee (!) we were off again. Not far to go til the next pit stop.

So we thought.

If I could describe this section in one word it would only JUST be an exaggeration to say ‘torture’. Did you know that a form of torture used (and apparently one of the best) is forcing people to stay awake? Well, it is. And it works. By this point we knew we had all been walking for what would likely be around 24 hours by the time we reached the next pit stop, and besides a nanna nap before the walk or not, this meant we’d all been awake for a good day and a half. Thus, your coping mechanisms you usually rely on are beginning to slip – tolerance is going out the window and your body is beginning to manage your physical needs over and above your mind’s trickery.

When I’m at boot camp and my arms or legs start to burn and I think I’m going to drop my mind says ‘no you’re not, you’re fine, you’ve done this before and you can do it again’ or ‘no you’re not dropping, you don’t need to drop, you can do this’. And it’s great. Isn’t the mind wonderful?! If there is one major thing this 100km walk taught me it is that your mind really can go to places it’s not been before or it can seem to disappear on you altogether so you’re just a kind of meandering, bundle of bones with some kind of vague purpose you know you set out for.

And this wasn’t the weirdest it got.

So, at this point, the problem really was that we just weren’t striking through the distance like we had been. It was taking us so much longer to reach our destination and we just couldn’t seem to get our head around it. We were walking around a giant, beautiful bridge that has been built into the cliffs and holds the road as it winds around the coastline.  And it was stunning even in the dark – looking out to the water with the moonlight glimmering softly and serenely, trying to grant us some peace, while the grandeur of the majestic cliffs gave a beautiful and ominous backdrop to the scene.

But the road just seemed to keep going, and going, and going. It wasn’t a boring route – pretty townships, glimpses of the ocean… and then we’d come to a beach and because were heading for Thirroul Beach we would be thinking ‘Oh are we finally here?’ and this happened twice, three, four maybe even five times… it just felt like it was never coming. This stretch was 18km, which was quite a long stretch and at that stage of the walk with how tired we were it was a mental game just tell yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. No one in the group I had fallen in with was talking by the last few kms. Even when the police pulled up beside us and asked us what we were doing I just felt like ‘meh, go away, I need to just get to the next pit stop’ – normally the police pulling up would make me feel alert and slightly on edge.

Can’t go on

As I walked into the pit stop at Thirroul Beach I was looking at the pit crew and thinking to myself – I hope my body language and face convey how we’re feeling because I don’t have the words and I certainly don’t have the energy to pretend I’m feeling good right now. For the last hour of walking one of the main things that had been going round my head was how on earth was I going to get through the final 12km when I felt like I’d given everything I had to get through this one. As I sat down, my team pit crew handed me a hot soup, covered me in blankets, gave me a hand warmer and brought me more levels of comfort than I thought was possible and I tried to just focus on the moment and the feeling better, and not the task ahead.

As more people started to arrive at the pit stop I was beginning to liven up. Mr OC rubbed a bit of cramp out of my foot. Somehow the soup he’d given me had worked – it felt like I was superhero (ha!) in a video game who was running low on energy and had found a magic booster that had filled me up – I felt like I could physically feel the soup topping up my energy levels.

But while I was beginning to perk up there were other people who were not. A couple more dropped out simply from just being mentally done with it. I felt really bad for them – and tried to speak words of encouragement, but my words felt useless. I knew that the bad side of the mental game had won out as it had so nearly done with me and that if they said they were done, it wasn’t a lightly made decision so that was that.

The silent assassin

As we headed out on our last 12km I felt slightly heavyhearted that we’d lost two more of our team. But I knew I had to push on and push on as quickly as I could manage. However, the other part of me wanted to be part of the few of us who were left – we were now down to eight of us, and we’d all been through this together. We all said we were going to try and walk together and one of the girls who organised the walk, her dad was walking the last stretch with us. It was really touching and meant a lot for him to do that.

For the first 5kms I walked with everyone and then I started struggling when our first aider/safety guy pulled up and said we had 7km to go. It was meant to be a positive tip but it wasn’t. It was too far. I tried to keep stopping and holding back, but my brain was saying to me ‘you can’t do this’ and the only way it stopped saying that was when I was just pounding the ground as fast as my feet could manage. It’s a bit like when I’m running and my mind says I can’t do it, the best way for me keep going is by having people running in front of me – if there are always people to pass I will keep trying to pass them. If I stop, if I look back I don’t have the same incentive. I need to just know I’m ticking off the people, and this case I needed to know I was just scrubbing out the miles, as quickly as I could.

One of the other guys broke out and started striding off. I watched him go and after a few minutes I made the decision to go too –we were all spanning out again. If I didn’t just get it done, I didn’t honestly think I would make it. I felt broken and overwhelmed with it all. I couldn’t have a moral battle with myself on top of everything else.

So I walked, and walked and walked and walked. At the 7km to go mark we had hit a road that was a straight run all the way to the finish line: one road, fairly straight and getting more and more urbanised. It was a wide road with tree set back from the carriageway and nothing much else to look at – just road, and more road… and even more road. It was relentless, it was dark and it was quiet – it was about 2 or 3 in the morning.

I remember walking along and realising I was completely alone and that all I wanted was to be at the finish line with my baby… that all I wanted was a cuddle. I didn’t feel anything ABOUT anything if that makes sense. I just felt despair.

When I tried to explain this feeling to my colleague at work, he compared the mental drain to a silent assassin – that it sneaks up on you out of nowhere and grabs you and there is nothing you can do about it, you cannot even try to plan for it. This is such a great description and what is more, that sleep deprivation we were talking about earlier? That form of torture? Well that is at its strongest. I was walking along feeling nauseous and trying to keep my head up because if I looked down I would start falling asleep. No word of a lie, even with my head up sometimes I just lost focus and my head started to roll. So then I would jog for a minute. Then stop and walk again, afraid I would knacker myself out before I got there.

All this, and then out of nowhere I felt buckets of emotion welling up in me. Somehow I was walking along down this main road, in the early hours of this Saturday morning crying my eyes out. And I didn’t care. I felt drunk. And then I’d shake it off. And then I’d go round in a circle with it again.

One thing I had been doing on and off, every few hours, was just switching the data onto my phone and looking at Facebook, or checking my text messages. I had deliberately saved my battery for if I needed music or in an emergency, but in the end I needed neither of these and it was the words of encouragement of friends and family both on the same land as me, and in far off places, who were able to provide me what I needed through that oh-so-important little electronic device. And I was so grateful to each and every person who said something, or posted something for me, or sent me a message. It kept me going in ways they might never understand.

It got so strange, I even started seeing things a bit – just people I thought were in front of me way off that weren’t but my long sightedness is not great anyway, and when I’m tired it’s hard to focus. Eventually however, I realised I could see someone and a path coming off the footpath to the left about 200 metres away. Did I dare to think it might be there – the finish line? I did, but I tried to shove the thought out my head, I didn’t think I’d have the capacity to deal with it if it turned out not to be, or if I turned the corner and had another kilometre to walk.

What it was like to finish

But as I neared this guy, one of our lovely pit crew, he put his arms out and we turned off the road and into a park. He walked me through some trees, all the way supporting me, side by side. I couldn’t really see now because ahead at the finish line, where they’d set up a big camp there was a blinding light and my eyes weren’t managing to make anything out.

And then all of a sudden Mr OC was there! But it felt all wrong. The guy who’d gone ahead of me, I suddenly realised, was on a bench, waiting for his other half and the rest of the group to cross the finish line. So I sat down on the bench and also started waiting… and waiting. I didn’t want to cross the finish line alone but I was freezing and all I wanted to do was KNOW that I’d finished so I could just switch off. So I could just hug Mr OC and let it all wash over me.

My cousin arrived then, and one or two others. My cousin too was cold, and in need of blankets and just to finish, so we decided to go over the finish line the two of us together and then come back those last few steps and walk over with the guys when they all arrived – news had been brought that they were battling on but still about ten minutes away. At that point, ten minutes was a very long time. So she and I walked over the finish line together. I don’t remember feeling happy or elated. I remember just needing comfort so badly. I grabbed my man and felt warmth at the same time as volcano of emotion erupted from the pit of my stomach into my throat and just left me sobbing my heart out. It was the strangest kind of emotion I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know what I’d have done if I didn’t have a loved one there.

And then the coldness kicked in. We sat down, and, I think in all four blankets were wrapped around me by kind and lovely people before I stopped shivering. I had a tea and a snag (sausage sandwich) and that warmed me up a bit. But all the while I just kept weeping. I looked over at my cousin. She was the same.

After we’d all crossed the finish line a few people had a beer. This had been my original plan. But now I was done. I wanted to get to bed before the sun showed its head again. The thought of greeting the sun for a third time with no sleep in between was a bad one. It was too much.

Letting it all soak in

Normally when you accomplish something amazing or life-changing you feel the elation immediately. Well, at least that’s the case in my previous experiences. This time it took a while, it crept up on my and then burst into life unstoppably. When we got back to the hotel and went to bed that night, I felt that nice sense of contentment – I was going to rest, I had my baby by my side. I’d done it. I had phoned my mum back in England as we drove to the hotel room and her voice was full of emotion. I just felt drunk… talking to her incoherently, but her emotion still got through my exhaustion and struck a note that rings out even now. Her pride, across the oceans and many miles, started to bring it home.

In the morning (well, later in the morning) when I woke up, I wasn’t too sore, I was a little jaded and I knew later I was going to be exhausted again. But I felt great. The sun was shining – the world was fabulous and I had DONE it.

But it was still a modest sense of ‘I’d done it’ – I’d always meant to do it, and not just, that but seven other people had done it. 20 or so other people had helped us get there – without the pit crew and walkers who didn’t get the walk done supporting us we’d have never made it. Not in a million years. It would have been impossible. Or so I believe.

But as we all said see ya to everyone later that day, after lazy brunches, some of us getting amazing massages (best plan ever) and tearful goodbyes, we limped our way out of there and drove home where I couldn’t wait to see my cat! And then from, the safety of the couch with a nice celebratory glass of fizz and a chinese, the outpouring of emotion began… in all places, on Facebook. Everyone was saying how amazing they felt, how awesome the pit crew were, how incredible it was to go through such a gut-wrenching journey with 14 other companions and how fantastic the support had been from everywhere. And that was when it all started to sink in.

Mr OC told me he was proud of me when we got back to our apartment. And that meant so, so much. He doesn’t say things like that often but that makes them mean so much when he does. I felt it in his support throughout and in his comfort at the finish line, but I won’t lie, I needed to hear it. And I allowed myself briefly to think I deserved it.

Making a difference

Over the coming days I told people bits of the story and everyone congratulated me. Some were in wonder at how we’d finished. But I don’t think it’s THAT amazing. It’s amazing and it was lifetime achievement. But, in the back of my mind there is the knowledge that other people do harder things all the time, some of them every day. I’m not a hero. But two people who are, are my cousin and her best friend who will be taking that money to Uganda at the end of this week, and once there, giving it to the people in need. These are the people who struggle not just two days in their lives, to reach a 100km finish line of a walk they chose to do. These people struggle to just stay alive and keep their children alive… Every. Single. Day. They walk to get water, not because they choose to, but because they HAVE to or they will die.

All in all, nearly $55,000 has been raised by the Sth Syd 2 Sth Coast Walk for Hunger 2013, proudly supported by The Hunger Project Australia. To everyone, every single person who has supported us in some way – thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

A selection of the pictures – click on image to see it BIG!

It’s Nearly Time! We’ll be heading to the start line TOMORROW!

readytowalkWell, tonight is the last night of full sleep. After work, my teammate (a friend from work), and our two pit crew (Mr OC and another friend from work) are getting together for dinner to check we have all our ducks in a row.

My kit bag is packed, my overnight bag for when we get to the other end (Wollongong) is mostly packed. We’ve booked in Mr OC’s bro to feed the animals in our absence.

All that’s left to do is do a food shop for what we need, plus the all important beers for the finish line and then load the car up.

Then… sleep!

The weather is looking relatively cool (considering it’s 28 the high today and 31 tomorrow – and last week it reached mid 30s)!
weather-walk

And we’ve smashed our donation target – this is just for online donations. I have to go to the bank with the hundreds we’ve raised offline too! It makes it all worthwhile.

donations

Stay tuned… if I have enough opportunities to charge my phone battery at pit stops I am going to try to blog along the way.

100km here I come!

How to Walk 100km… by the experts

Varying terrain all the time

So, there are only a certain number of ways you can really prep for doing 100km it seems. One of them is obvious – get walking, and getting walking for good long distances so your body is used to the endurance. Some other tips I’ve read are

  • Get used to a bit of sleep deprivation (obviously not in the weeks immediately prior to the walk though!) – but try to have a couple of nights where you forced yourself to stay awake. I have to confess I love my sleep and I’ve not dared to do this. But I can totally understand the logic.
  • Make sure you get your shoes in plenty of time to try them out and know they’re the ones. It’s like all ‘event’ lead up advice – you don’t wear or try something new on the day.
  • Same applies for food, supplements, and anything you put in your mouth basically – try it out first, or stick to foods you know work for you. This last training walk I trialed electrolyte replacement stuff having heard it was good of hydration. It was good. I also trialed eating wraps with chicken which I know some are avoiding as they find bread too heavy and sickly. But for me it worked well.
  • Keep working on your recovery in your everyday normal exercise routine AND after your walk training sessions. In other words – stretch, get a massage, have a bath with epsom salts, drink magnesium, roll out. Whatever it is make sure you’re nursing your body, giving it the attention it needs to help you stay well, an injury free.

On top of this I also took some time to interview three guys who are basically the experts on this 100km walk stuff.  Why? Because they’ve done it! Some of them more than once. These blogs are written by me, and posted on the Sth Syd 2 Sth Coast website.

It’s all about the ‘Whinge Cards’! Read John’s interview – he walked the 2007 Oxfam 100km

What it’s like when the going get’s tough and you have a rough time.

Make sure you train train train! And then train some more!  Expert advice from a two time 100km-er!