A FEW WARM THOUGHTS…….

At this time of year when my joints are all protesting at the cold weather, my thoughts do not turn to ones of love, but to lovely warm sunshine, long sandy beaches and summery nights when it’s just too warm to put on a cardigan over your strappy t-shirt. It’s unlikely to be like that here for some months to come and I find my mind recalling my first ever trip down to Australia one wintery January.
I was just 3 months post-op of my hip replacement when my daughter invited me to come visit them in Cronulla, which is a suburb of Sydney and. as Pat was away working, I had to make the journey on my own with wheelchair assistance from the airlines.  Not having a clue about how long the journey was, my son took me to Cork and Aer Lingus flew me to Heathrow where I was met by a wheelchair and taken to the Malaysian Airlines Jumbo Jet first to Kuala Lumpur and from there to Sydney.  We sat on the tarmac at Heathrow for nearly two hours whilst the plane’s wings were de-iced, which then made it about a 14 hour trip in all to get to KL.  It was my first long haul flight and, after struggling up to the top deck, I thought I would never manage to sit still for that long.  But despite my fears the hostesses were wonderful and encouraged me to walk around the very tiny space near the stairs and then after a lovely meal, I stretched my seat out as low as it would go, swallowed a couple of sleeping tablets and turned on my headphones.
Luckily we flew through endless night and I had no idea of what time it was when we landed at Kuala Lumpur, but it was still night time and there was that lovely hot and humid air that tells you that you are somewhere tropical.  Next plane was not a Jumbo, but a much wider one and because I was in a wheelchair, I was boarded first.  I put my handbag down under my seat and went to try and understand the remote control that would move my seat, massage me, etc. etc.  Of course the minute I put it on, the seat mechanism got wrapped around my handbag and much to my chagrin, an engineer had to come on board and get it out again !  This caused somewhat of another delay and when my cross co-passengers boarded I found myself in the middle of a Visa Convention consisting mainly of Americans who were flying round the world courtesy of all my credit card payments !  The man next to me wanted to show me all the endless photos of his daughter’s wedding, so I just had to try the remote control again (with my handbag firmly on my lap) recline the seat and feign sleep for another eight hours.
I had no idea what day it was when we landed at Sydney, but Gemma drove me back to their house which they shared with about three other people and after dinner I retired to bed.  What I had not realised in my jet lagged state was that the bedroom had all the floor to ceiling windows wide open and just mesh to stop all the Ozzie hazards (spiders, scorpions, crocodiles, etc.) coming in to share the bed with you.  So at 5am when a bunch of kookaburras started up a dawn chorus, I shot up in bed thinking they were right there in the room ! I’d never heard anything like it !
Gemma and Ben had taken time off work and the next day we went on a driving trip round S.E. Australia. It felt to me like we had driven all around Australia as we did 6,000 km in 10 days taking in Ned Kelly country, Adelaide and the Barossa Valley (for a touch of wine tasting!) and then on to Melbourne.  From Melbourne we went all along the Great Ocean Road and then from there up the coast road and back to Sydney. Such amazing sights and sounds and, oh boy was it hot !  In the middle of the day in ‘the bush’ (which is composed of the most beautiful striations of red rocks and dust) it could reach nearly 45 degrees Centigrade, so we just had to get up early each morning at 5am and drive till it got too hot to go any further.  I can clearly remember the misty Murray River with its paddle steamers moored in the early morning swirling fog and acre after acre of vines growing for hundreds of miles on either side of the dead straight road undulating in the heat haze.  Every morning we would keep an eye out for the Golden M (MccDonalds) as it was the only place open that early for breakfast and I ate dozens of ‘pies’ in Ben’s search for the best one in Australia !
Pat had warned me not to buy any wine, but it was just too good not to purchase so maybe just one wouldn’t hurt so by the end of our trip we had bought a few dozen and, as the trunk was not air conditioned, poor Gemma had to sit in the back of the car trying to stop them all from toppling on to her as well as a few smelly cheeses that had seemed like a good idea at the time !  Getting the wine back to Ireland was a whole other story, but each one brought such amazing memories back of this spectacular place they call Australia, its friendly people and, despite the odds, my hip replacement survived it all !

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The Great Ocean Road

FEELING FATIGUED ??

I’ve just come back from my six-monthly visit to my Rheumatologist in Dublin and am still exhausted ! Pat and I went up on the train because I get free train travel for me and my ‘carer’ and rather rashly, I decided to do the whole trip up and back in one day!   Going up meant having to get up at 5.30am and it is a 3 hour journey to Dublin on a reasonably comfortable train – that is, it would have been if I did not have a very large person sitting next to me squashing me against the window !
The visit to the doctor went fine and she was well pleased with my lack of inflammation, so feeling full of good cheer we went and had a long chatty lunch with an old schoolfriend of mine and her husband. Two glasses of wine later came the time to get in the cab to go back to the station and, ignoring Pat’s advice to sit in the front, I got stuck half in and half out of the back of the taxi !  Never mind, two stout men to push and pull me and out I popped to sit feeling very foolish in the front. Memo to self: Take note of what Husband is saying in future !
By the time we got home I was exhausted and that Perfect Husband of mine was saying “I told you we should stop the night in Dublin” but I was too tired and sore to care and it’s taken another two days to get myself back to Square One !
On the way back down I was contemplating to myself ways to save energy – some of which I already do and some of which I really should do, so my Blog this week is all about ways to avoid feeling so exhausted.
– Food shop on line. This must be possible for all of you, because here in the remoter parts of the South West of Ireland, even I can do this. Keep a running list of groceries and order at the end of the week. Not only (for a few euros) will they deliver, but they carry it all into the kitchen for me, so no more having to haul heavy bags.
– You can also shop on line for gifts or gift vouchers for your relatives, saving the need to trudge around the shops getting more and more cross and exhausted. I pride myself on being a canny on line shopper and even got a heated cat basket for my rescue cat the other day !
– Line the bottom of your oven with one of those brilliant nonstick oven sheets that you can cut to size and rinse under the tap. This is especially useful if you can’t bend down far enough to wipe up spills !
– Cut back on ironing by spraying creased items with water and then pop them back in the tumble drier.  I never iron on principle.  If my husband wants an ironed shirt, he has to do it himself !
– Only ever clean one room a day. Set a timer for 30 minutes and when it rings, stop. If you haven’t finished, do it the next day. After all, who is going to inspect it ? I often worry that my kitchen/hall/livingroom are not tidy enough and have to remind myself sternly that it really doesn’t matter.  But then I am lucky to have my ‘secret weapon’ Pat who thinks housework is ‘fun’ – Yes Really !  I suppose it’s because he hasn’t done any before and the novelty hasn’t worn off yet !!

Next week I am going to give you all some tips on keeping healthy – but be aware that these are coming from someone who hasn’t quite started her New Year’s Resolutions yet – after all, there were all those left over mince pies and Christmas puddings etc. that needed eating up before they went off !  I am doing the walking each day, but I don’t think it counts if you are just trying to walk off the scrumptious dinner from the night before…….!

THE IDEAL HUSBAND

I definitely have the Ideal Husband and no, you can’t have him ! After 43 years of marriage I can say this with confidence, although it was not the ‘normal’ kind of wedded bliss that I had been expecting. For starters, within a few years of getting married, we moved lock, stock and a barrel-shaped me (pregnant with my daughter Gemma) to the South West of Ireland and shortly after she was born he left to work on an oil rig in the North Sea rotating a month on/a month off, so he was only at home six months of the year. In the meantime I had to cope with three small children, one enormous dog, two calves, four goats, two sheep and numerous chickens and ducks with the nearest shop 14 miles away ! Thank goodness I had no symptoms of my Rheumatoid Arthritis then – or maybe I did, but just didn’t have the time to think about it !
So my Ideal Husband came and went in and out of our lives, though when he was there he crammed all the jobs normally needed to be done over eight weeks, into four. He chopped wood, milked cows, took the goats (in our car!) to the Billy for you-know-what, built chicken coops and sheared sheep and then returned for a well deserved rest to be boss of an oil rig in far off countries. I’m sure a few people got fired who didn’t deserve it!!
I was diagnosed in 2000 by which time my kids were aged 25,23 and 21 and had mostly left home, except for the odd crisis, such as being ditched by a boyfriend/girlfriend when they had to return to mother on a temporary basis till the dust settled again. By this time I saw even less of my man as he became a Drilling Superintendent and roamed from country to far off country working and no longer came home on a regular basis like before. Mind you, I really quite enjoyed being on my own at home because if I felt unwell I could just stay in bed or take my time over whatever jobs needed to be done.
However being on my own meant that whilst I had a hip replacement, gallstone removal, a knee replacement, two broken feet, a broken shoulder and a broken wrist plus a touch of skin cancer, he usually wasn’t there. Mind you he would always attempt to grab a few days home too make sure I was still breathing, but it wasn’t something you could rely on as, hey presto, he was gone again ! During these times of bad patches for me health wise I came to rely on my eldest son Jason and his wife Debbie more and more as they lived about 20 miles away and when I was good enough to go, off I went to visit Pat in whatever country he happened to be in ! I discovered that it was a simple matter to fly to anywhere with the help of the airlines and I got to visit amazing places around the world and meet amazing people.
If he was really busy on a job far out in the Sahara desert, for example, and I was post first foot operation, he paid for me and my girlfriend to go and visit my daughter Gemma living in Far North Queensland for six weeks and unfailingly phoned 3 times a day for an update on my progress ! My second foot operation coincided with the bottom dropping out of the oil industry at the end of 2014 so suddenly I had a full time husband at home – what a novelty after 42 years of marriage !! As I was in a wheelchair, apart from looking after me, he had to do all the cooking, all the housework and shopping which were all whole new experiences for this rough, tough oil man and, what is more, he took to it like a duck to water ! I stand in awe of his competence – he’s much better at household chores than I ever was!
The only thing he isn’t good at is gardening and as I am now not able to remove so much as a weed from our large garden, I got myself another man to do the gardening and he has saved the day. This paragon of all things green has proved himself invaluable and treats our garden as his own so I can thank my lucky stars that I now have two ideal men !!

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My lovely husband Pat !
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Our garden

ANYBODY FEEL LIKE LOVE ?!

Here I am, having just got over Christmas and New Year and it’s only five weeks till Valentine’s Day! My thoughts are supposed to be turning to thoughts of love, but it’s taking a major effort just to cope with the aftermath of the celebrations. Lots of deep breathing needed and walks taken around the countryside to de-stress whilst husband hoovers up all the glitter I’ve spread around whilst trying to take all the decorations down. I think he’s more stressed than me after seeing me attempt to stand on a step ladder to get down the Christmas lights – I didn’t know he could move so quickly !!
Pushing Valentine’s Day to the back of my mind leaves my thoughts free to plan my six-monthly trip to see my Rheumatologist in Dublin. Quite a bit of planning has to go into this as we live about 300 miles away on the Beara Peninsula which makes it a full day’s outing. The train leaves Killarney – 35 miles away – at 07.40, so I have to get up at 05.30 to have a shower, get dressed and have breakfast and be ready to get into the car at 06.30. By this time Pat will have taken the two dogs in to the kennels the day before and I have to make sure and leave the 2 rescue cat’s food in the larder for my friend Stella who will pop in and feed them in the late afternoon. I will also have booked two seats on the normally busy train to Dublin courtesy of Irish Rail. We catch the train up and back because I get free train travel for me and my ‘carer’ , (i.e.. husband) and the trains are clean and comfy and I can wander around if needs be. They also have large, wheelchair friendly loos with doors that slide right back and reveal all, if you forget to lock them !! (Did this happen to me? – of course it did !). I’m usually not awake enough to make sandwiches and flasks for the trip, so we avail of the trolley service for the much needed cup of coffee! This particular train – and the one we take back – goes straight through from Killarney to Dublin and takes just about three hours. I always download a rented film or two to my IPad a few days before and can watch these en route as well as avail of the free WIFI on the train and before you know it we are pulling in to Heuston Station.
During my various operations I had to go to Dublin by myself occasionally as Pat was away in far off climes and the Irish Rail staff were absolutely brilliant, especially if I was in a wheelchair or in walking boots. They would assist me on to the train and send the ramps with me in case I had to change trains and they always informed the staff at Heuston that I was coming and they decamped me into a taxi to the hospital !

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My Rheumatologist at the Blackrock Clinic is efficient, friendly and young enough to outlast me !! I have to provide her with my latest ‘bloods’ and a list of any changes in my symptoms since I last saw her six months ago which she questions me about. Her assessment of me is always thorough and unhurried and she always writes down (with a copy for me) of how I should proceed both with medication and personally as I definitely am one of those people who forgets everything given half the chance ! I come away feeling relaxed and updated on my RA and it’s worth every minute of the long journey up and back. With Pat to drive me home from Killarney we arrive slightly exhausted around 9pm having hopefully remembered to collect the doggies en route !

I HATE NEW YEAR !

Here we are only a few hours into 2017 and I’m beginning to hate it already! It’s the same old New Year’s resolutions over and over again. Loose weight, give up sugar, walk more and organise your life and I know perfectly well that by March I will have forgotten all of them ! So I’ve decided to add a few new ones which might be easier…………………
1. MAKE NEW MEMORIES. The old ones are great but I need to make new ones too.
2. TRAVEL as much as I can. This is getting progressively more difficult now, having to live off a pension. I went to the Greek Islands last year, but that seems so far away in the past and I want to go again, so I’m going to start a small savings account specially for it ! The great thing about travelling is it makes you appreciate your home when you get back. I was once told that what you really want from life is waiting for you back home, but right now in the depths of winter I feel like I could lie on the deck of a sailing boat in the Aegean and make a whole new home. Rubbish I know, but great to fill my dreams !
3. BE KIND. I need to switch my focus to others and always be kind. Did you know that being consciously kind releases oxytocin which will give you an emotional high and reduce your blood pressure ! Being kind to others is paradoxically a way of being kind to yourself, though it has to be done without expectation of getting a pat on the back !
4. BUY A NOTEBOOK and write down your feelings, bits of conversation, pieces of poetry that move you so that you can refer to them on your black days when chronic pain and feeling unable to cope get you down. I especially write down strange things that happen to me when I travel – hence the Blog,
5. SET A GOAL FOR EACH MONTH and keep to it. This is where the old perennials of loosing weight, eating less, no sugar, etc. etc. come into play. Write down your weight (how terrible is this for a suggestion ?) at the beginning of each month so you have something to work towards. At the moment I try to walk in and out of the bathroom and not let the scales catch my eye, so now I have to actually weigh myself and write it down……………. I feel quite faint at the thought of it !
7. I was going to put down EXERCISE MORE but my husband and mentor tells me that as I loose all this weight, I will be able to walk further and thus get fitter and fitter ! Perhaps I should get one of those step counters and right down how many steps I take each day to see if I am progressing, or if I am in truth actually getting worse ?? Maybe the shock of seeing how heavy I am will spur me onwards and upwards, but I’ve a long way to go before I could actually smile at the results !

One thing I have learned over the years is that what I want out of life is not the same as when I was 30 or 60. You just have to embrace all the changes as life goes on. Having RA has not been all bad and I’ve had some great moments and made great friends and it’s these more recent memories that are part of me now. For example, after 15 years of numerous operations, come March 2017 it will have been two years since the last one on my foot and not another one on the horizon ! I seem, at long last, to be settling down joint-wise and just getting to be a regular old bionic granny – Hooray and A HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all !

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Me taking notes all at sea !
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The Aegean Clipper – in Greece !

CHRISTMAS PAST (2)

For a total of four years, Pat worked in TUNISIA based initially in their main city of Tunis, so as a result I spent a number of Christmases there. Although in the main Tunisia is very hot, in winter the temperature drops to below freezing sometimes, necessitating a warm jacket at the very least!
Going there for Xmas has one big advantage – it’s Muslim and they don’t celebrate Christmas – so absolutely no glitter or glitz, or Santa or reindeer. You leave it all behind in Paris or London or wherever and arrive to invigorating sunny days and heady nights where only  lights sparkle in their watery reflections.
Of course, there is the advantage of being able to go and spend Xmas Eve at a hotel like The Residence (my favourite hotel in the whole world !) who go over the top with glitter and glitz and French food to die for with not a turkey or a cranberry in sight. I remember one menu which said it had ‘poached wolf’ for the main course ! Now there still are wolves up in the mountains, but I had never seen one and on enquiring from our Tunisian friends found out that the French word Loup was actually a kind of fish and had just been literally translated !

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We usually return there on New Year’s Eve and take a room for the night as their floor shows are legendary. Tunis is the original home of Contemporary Dance Schools and past pupils return for this one night to Tunisia to show off their mind-blowing skills in order to welcome in the New Year. One time when we went the whole show was put on in the huge Roman swimming pool with scantily toga-clad young men brandishing real flaming torches as they walked down into the water. After a good sleep in the preceding afternoon, I usually manage to stay up till about 3am and then wander back to our room to the scent of Neroli which pervades the entire hotel and sleep soundly till noon. Poor Pat has to be at the office by 8am, but he manages to sneak out without waking me and leaves me to my dreams.

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Breakfast on New Year’s Day is spent beside a small indoor pool filled with floating flowers and a huge inverted Xmas pine tree hanging upside-down over the pool. Not a single decoration on it, but a high up window is opened and the local wild birds come down into the tree to feed on the resin and chirp and sing their small hearts out. Formidable.
On a couple of occasions when Pat has been away in a country I can’t visit due to visa problems, I have spent Xmas Day with my family here in Ireland and then jetted off to AUSTRALIA on Boxing Day to spend New Year with my daughter. This is indeed strange as they have all the Xmas paraphernalia at the hottest time of the year. Santa’s and glitter all over the place at loggerheads with the burning sun. Up in tropical Port Douglas, Far North Queensland where she lived it was also the ‘wet season’ so it was necessary on New Year’s Eve to put on a sparkly glamorous blouse on your top half and an old pair of shorts on the bottom half as when it rains there it can come up to your knees in seconds and somewhat dampens down the firework displays – but good fun and all part of the Ozzie experience as the water quickly drains away ! Also there is nothing like a boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef to celebrate New Year and swim and snorkel in the warm waters of the Coral Sea whilst everyone at home freezes ! What a wonderful and amazing country it is !
But regardless of wherever you are, I hope you have a wonderful pain-free Christmas and manage to take it easy and reflect on all the good times you have had and those to come – as they surely will.

CHRISTMAS PAST

A great many Christmas’s over the past seventeen years have been spent travelling as in the Oil Business Xmas is just another day and my husband was expected to work, so I just had to go out and join him wherever he was.
Romania was an eye-opener for me. I flew to Bucharest where Pat met me and we stayed, briefly, at a hotel called The Hotel Concrete ( a lot of Bucharest is made of concrete!) and got up at 4am to drive to Craiova, Romania’s 6th largest city and capital of Dolj County, which is situated near the east bank of the river Jiu in central Oltenia in the far South West. The landscape is spectacular, heavily forested with chestnut and oak trees in the mountains and interspersed with beautiful villages. The roads were interesting and about the width of our 4×4 hire car.  It was not unusual to meet an oxen pulling a cart, complete with a sofa on the back and most of the family on board coming in the opposite direction!
We were booked into a small hotel in Craiova run by a marvellous family who invited us to spend Xmas Eve with them. This is their main celebration and consisted of about 30 relatives, no alcohol, and about 20 ways of doing pork – all of which we had to sample!  Only a couple of the younger girls spoke some English and Romanian is extremely difficult to understand, but it was an evening filled with laughter and even some Russian Orthodox monks singing deep throaty Russian Xmas carols!  The outstandingly amazing thing about industrial Craiova are its Xmas lights.  Over 200 trees are all lit up, so are the streets and the central square become a fairy-tale skating rink – I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere. The temperature hovered around -10 and it snowed endlessly !

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On Xmas day we had to visit a couple of rigs up in the mountains and then we took ourselves off to a local ski-resort which had an interesting road which a snowplough had cut in the side of the mountain and if you didn’t have a 4×4 like us you had to walk up (and then ski down! ). There was a hotel at the top serving tripe soup (- one look made me resort to bread and cheese )- but it’s a National dish if you want to try it ! On the way back all the local villagers were dressed in national dress and carrying baskets of food to one another houses trudging through the snow. It was like passing through another century and quite unforgettable.
I’ll tell you about other Christmas Days in my next Blog, but right now I want to wish you ALL a Happy pain free Xmas and hope Santa brings you everything you desire !