This is fun, right?

Monday 2 June 2008

Hmm, self-indulgent twaddle? Definitely.

I've been re-reading my posts. Obviously, you found it interesting enough if you're back reading another one. I don't think I've gotten too far with my main goals. I'm still in Galway, still slogging away at a stressful job, still not published. Guess it would help if I actually finished writing something! I went to a children's book conference in Dublin in May, and that was very inspiring, but it's hard to maintain the momentum now that I'm back to the usual daily grind. Not that I'm complaining. The job is more challenging in terms of volume than I'd like, but on the whole, I'm really enjoying my new career as a technical writer.

Yoga and horse riding are still on the agenda. I'm still struggling with the yoga, but I'm actually kind of enjoying it now. And I've progressed in my horse riding to "cantering", which is one gear short of "galloping"! I have a way to go yet before I get that mastered, but it's fun to keep trying.

I'm still having problems with my guts but slowly learning to eat differently and waiting for my appointment with a dietician. All I can say is, don't let them take out your gall bladder unless it's absolutely necessary! I think because my stress manifests in my guts that's partly why I've had such a hard time adapting. Most of the people I know who've had the surgery say they've been fine afterwards. So there you go.

I'm happy to say that after three years in Ireland, I've managed to keep off most of the 35 pounds I lost. I'm still overweight, but it's definitely an improvement. Better for my health and better for my self esteem. I am doing some personal development work with a counsellor. We're using "cognitive-behavioural therapy", which is more pro-active than simply analyzing my past. This is more 'now'-focused and action oriented. We look at an issue and try to figure out how I can change the way I think, react, or behave so that the issue is reduced or eliminated, if it's something that I can change. Sometimes, it's about learning to let go. It's hard work, and I can be very defensive and even angry because I'm struggling to get past my own defense system to the very tender and vulnerable part of me that's hiding behind my barriers.

There's lot of stressful things happening right now, like the departure of a work colleague/friend, but I'm going to learn from my mistakes and try to deal with things so that I don't end up stressed out and anxious.

The only goal I haven't really achieved is my writing for kids. I'm still plugging away at my home-study course after a year and still haven't settled into a weekly routine of writing. I am focusing more on it now, though, so that I can get my first project out into the publishing world. Then we'll see what happens.

Well, it's not a bad life, really, when I stop being so critical. I have done lots of travelling, so that's a goal achieved. I'm working as a writer, so that's a goal achieved. I'm living in Ireland, so that's a goal achieved. Hmmm, maybe I'm doing better than I thought.

This isn't the most coherent blog, maybe it's a "stream of consciousness". Or maybe it's just twaddle. :O)

Friday 15 June 2007

Ultimate Aerial Obstacle Course

Okay, maybe "ultimate" is a bit strong, but's in the brochure! (In the picture, you can see a girl inching her way along the wire, which is suspended about 10 or 12 meters off the floor. Below is the go karting area.)

Tonight we had a team outing at an activity centre in Oranmore, just outside Galway. We bowled for an hour and had some snacks, then we went upstairs and chose from activities like go karting, wall climbing, pool/snooker, or the air park. I looked at all the activities and the only one that scared me was the air park, a kind of high-wire challenge.

It involves being fitted with a safety harness and helmet and walking along steel wires with various ropes to hang onto. As you get to each platform, the next rope crossing is a little harder. There is one that's like a suspension bridge, just a thin wire with ropes on either side than fan out narrow at the bottom and wider at the top. Of course, the whole thing is fine because of the safety harness, but it was still scary as hell. Keith, my safety guide, actually whizzed out on the wire when I was on the second round because he thought I was too scared to move. I WAS scared, but I was really just taking my time and trying not to lose my balance, even though I couldn't fall even if I did.

Every time I made it to the next platform, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I'd walk a couple of steps, see what I had to do next, and go "oh shit!". Then I'd take a deep breath or two (and exhale) and step out onto the next wire.

The last crossing is a 4-inch wide steel girder that moves a bit and there's no ropes or anything. I was trembling slightly when I finished the circuit, but I was pleased with myself for having taken the challenge.

When's the last time you challenged yourself? Something to think about.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Adventures in Crete

Many of you saw this in an email I sent around, but for those who haven' is a condensed version of my holiday in Greece!

Day 1 - It was raining when my plane landed at Heraklion airport but muggy and hot, around 24 Celsius. The airport seemed like a disorganized slight madhouse but other than the luggage being really slow, it was fine. A very enthusiastic Greek man named Dimitros was waiting to greet me. He introduced me to my taxi driver and handed me an envelope (which had my return taxi information, it was all prepaid). I'd say my taxi driver was quite pleased to have a pretty woman for a passenger. There was certainly enough verbal nudge nudge wink winks between him and his taxi buddies as we walked to his taxi. And, all the rumours of the outrageous Cretan drivers is true. This guy did not wear a seat belt, talked on his mobile phone more often than not, and smoked constantly. Luckily, we mostly had the windows open. Careening down the road at breakneck speeds was scary. I was white knuckling most of the way, but in spite of his best efforts, we made it to the hotel in Almyrida without incident. The views along the way are amazing. You have mountains on one side and sea views on the other and flowers of every description all along the roadside. The first part of the drive is through drier scrubby brush country but once you get past Rethymno and near Georgioupoli along the north west coast, it suddenly turns lush and green with trees and grass in great abundance. You can see the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) from just about every vantage point.

The Almyrida Beach hotel turned out to be much nicer than I expected with very friendly staff and quite nice decor. I had a room with twin beds pushed together and a chaise and a writing desk. I had a "mountain view", which meant if I craned my neck to the left I could see a hill with a big cave on it, or if I craned my neck to the right and looked past the real estate office and the house, I could see the mountains in the distance. It was relatively quiet though, and I had my own balcony with table and chair, so I was content. I unpacked then went for a bit of a constitutional (walk). You cannot get over the number of lemon trees and olive trees that are everywhere even along the roads. I had the camera out of course and was snapping away. One roll per day was my limit and I managed to stick to it, so I had 6 at the end! That's gotta be some kind of minimal record for me!! No, I still haven't gone digital. I still like the mystery of getting my photos back and seeing how they turned out.

Day 2 - I still had the worst head cold ever (I almost always get sick before a big trip), so I enquired at reception about a pharmacy. There were none in Almyrida, too small, but Kalives, only 4 km away, had 2. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and they were both closed. But never mind. I took a taxi from Almyrida to Kalives (far too dangerous on the roads to walk it even if I wasn't sick) and spent the day sightseeing and taking photos. I stopped for food at the River Cafe and ended up chatting with a couple of the locals. I found out that based on my birth mother's maiden name, Xasteropoulos (correctly spelled finally), my Greek ancestors probably came from the Peloponnese area. It's a peninsula off the mainland of Greece, southwest of Athens. Think Sparta. Think 300. Or think Gerry Butler in leather underpants. I always do. (Ha ha ha ha ahem) Anyway, I tried a dessert called Kataifi, which involved a type of angel hair pastry filled with nuts and drenched in a sweet sweet syrup. I managed to eat about half but it was way too sweet. So, eventually, I taxied back to Almyrida and finished the day with an after-dinner constitutional along the beach to the far jetty and back to the hotel with some tissues and fresh lemon for a hot toddy (sans alcohol of course). I bought 35 postcards and managed to get stamps and a notebook for my journaling as well. Very cheap in Greece - YES!

Day 3 - Had to wear ear plugs because the semi-wild cats were not quite done with the spring mating rituals in the back forty, and the bed was rather rock like, but I slept okay. Tried Greek yogurt and honey for the first time. Strong flavours but very tasty! I also had fresh "canned" peaches. Firmer than the canned canned peaches, if you know what I mean, but wow, the flavour! So packed up my knapsack and headed out for the day. Much wandering around and taking of pictures again. Watched the French couples on the catamarans out on the water. Decided to walk some of the back streets and roads of the village and ended up in the hills around a village called Aspro. Didn't actually see the village, that's how small it is, but did find a rather intriguing little stone chapel that was being maintained by somebody. The Greeks take their religion seriously, because most houses will have a small shrine out front that contains little religious paraphernalia, candles, and offerings. Some of them are quite pretty. In my wanderings I encountered many growling barking dogs, a very popular "pet" in Crete. They mostly guard goats and sheep, and in some cases, yards. Luckily, they also seemed to always be on a chain, although is a bit of an issue if you're not used to treating dogs that way. They didn't seem to be mistreated, just not coddled the way some dogs would be in other places. Same for the cats. Pretty much left to fend for themselves (and to keep the mice and rats under control) so they're mostly semi-feral. Some are affectionate but it's not a good idea to get friendly (as I did) because the poor things can be desperate for affection and care. Sigh.

I eventually went back to the hotel and had an afternoon nap. My feet were remarkably well behaved, even wearing sandals. I did however, pick up a bag of frozen peas to keep in my wee fridge in the room so I could use it as an ice pack on my feet when the need arose. Dinner at the hotel buffet was always an adventure. I tried things every night that I couldn't name for you, but there was always a nice selection, and I didn't feel the need to eat out at any of the tavernas instead. My hotel arrangement was half board, which means breakfast and dinner were included in the cost. Typical arrangement for a hotel catering mostly to tour operators. Another fine evening and a bit of reading before bed.

Day 4 - Today was to be my horse riding day at Zoraida stables just outside Georgioupouli, but it was raining. That did not bode well, but I figured, hey, I live in the West of Ireland, it's always raining, that's not a problem! I wasn't due to be picked up until around 5:00 p.m., so I had the day to fill. I looked in my travel book and decided that a short trip up to a village called Gavalochori would be a good idea as it boasted a rather nice folklore museum. I took a taxi, because it was too far to walk, and was dropped in the main square, if you can call it that. In spite of the small size of the village, the museum was actually very well put together and had all its text in both Greek and English. Handy for me, but not handy for anyone speaking only German or French! Anyway, I spent some time in there taking pictures and learning a bit about local Greek life of the recent past. Nothing like seeing a bed laid out on wooden planks over the open hole of the wine-crushing cistern to make me appreciate my hard hotel bed a little more! Wandered up into the hills to see the Venetian wells and take more photos (of course, this is me we're talking about). I passed a young Greek man and his goat creature. It was the shabbiest, strangest looking animal ever, very sweet but kind of missing fur in spots with patches of black ad white fur in between the bald bits. The fellow himself had eyes that were not quite right and he seemed to be mentally challenged to some degree, but he was friendly, and whatever he said in Greek as he pointed up the hill I took to be directions to the wells or to the church at the top. It was raining off and on but that didn't deter the many hikers I passed both up and down the hill. When I'd had enough of the great green outdoors, I went back to the square and had a sandwich and shake in the local taverna.

Got a taxi back to Almyrida and had a nap before I got picked up my Kristi, the gal who owns and runs Zoraida. The stable was in a bit of uproar when we arrived as there were cats, kittens, and dogs everywhere plus the horses that were in and out of the barn, and riders for the beginners and medium classes all milling about. A group of 3 American women and one woman's 6-year old son went on the beginners ride. I rode with a 9-year old Scandinavian girl named Amalia on the medium ride down to the beach. Our guide Sandra led the way past the many sheep, goats, barking dogs, and passing cars we had to negotiate. It was a lovely day for it, the sky was still overcast but it had stopped raining, so there was no problem about being wet and uncomfortable. It was actually hard to ride on sand, I think it looks romantic in the movies, but it's apparently tiring for the horses even if you stay near the water where the sand is firmer. We took a circuitous route back through part of Georgioupouli. You'd think people had never seen anyone on horseback. People were literally stopping their eating in the tavernas to watch go past. Amalia never stopped smiling for the whole two hours! I don't think I did either, except that the Western saddle I was using was digging into the back of my legs. Ouch! Cannot complain. Had a blast and quite a long chat with Kristi on the (van) ride back to the hotel in Almyrida. My butt hurts!

Day 5 - Chania city was today's destination. Had to get up at 7:45 to have my breakfast and be at the bus stop for 9:30. Bus schedules in Crete are a bit like the ones in Ireland, they don't usually come when they say they will. However, I was warned that this one would come anytime between 9:30 and 10:00. I chatted with a retired English couple at the stop. There were quite a few people going into the city. The bus showed up just before 10:00. It was only €2.50, which is much cheaper than paying €25 for a taxi! I was happy with that but the Brits thought it was €2.50 for both of them and were a little miffed at the exorbitant price! Ha ha. It took 45 minutes to get to the bus station in Chania. I parted ways with my Brits and wandered off to find a pharmacy and some bottled water. It was extremely hot about 27 Celsius that day and felt hotter in the city. Kristi had put me in touch with a fellow in Askifou who could arrange riding there for me, so I called Nikos to confirm then I followed the signs to the Old Harbour, stopping for Imodium and fresh cherries and water on the way. I took more photos, tried on some clothes at a natural fibre clothing store (but nothing quite fit, oh those damn hips of mine, or rather, oh those too narrow clothes of theirs), and eventually had a chocolate shake to cool down. I wasn't as enamoured of the city as I thought I'd be. I think it was just too hot and I wasn't feeling great. Ah well, worth the visit. I went back to the bus station, luckily ignoring the time the guy told me earlier, and met up with the rest of the folks to head back to Almyrida.

One of the treats of my hotel was that I had a 4-foot bathtub. Okay, it was very small, but there was hot water and I bought some bio bubble bath that smelled divine. I had a relaxing soak in the tub, then had another intriguing mystery meal in the dining room. I went for my evening constitutional to work down my dinner and stretch my legs and hips (which were rather stiff from riding the day before). Waked up the hill to Plaka but it was getting dark so I didn't go into the village. Stopped in Dunes Cafe and finally found the (working) Internet! Had a pot of tea and chilled out. Early night because tomorrow was the BIG DAY in Askifou!

Day 6 - I had done a lot of research before going to Crete and one place that had interested me was the Askifou Plateau. I didn't know much about it, but there was a hotel called Lefkoritis Mountain Resort (Lefkoritis means something like "man walking in the white mountains") that offered daily riding. I couldn't stay there because I was using part of my award voucher (from last year) and could only book package hotels through the travel agency (which is how I ended up in Almyrida). It turned out that Nikos manages and probably owns the resort! I had arranged with him for a transfer to and from my hotel to Askifou since I wasn't driving, and he picked me up himself. We stopped at the pharmacy in Kalives on the way so I could get ointment for the mass of mosquito bites (I think I had about 25 just on my face and arms, all in one night.) I had acquired before I discovered the screen door on my patio. It was about 45 minutes up into the mountains, and let me tell you, it was about the same level of white knuckled-ness with a steeper drop off the cliff edges than the ride from Herakion! But the views! If you ever felt claustrophobic being up in the mountains gets rid of that. You can see for miles and miles, the white mountain peaks and the ocean and everything in between. The plateau is in a bowl surrounded by ridges of rock and scrub and trees. The 4 villages of the plateau are on the hillsides (one is on a hill by itself on the plateau) and there is a taller hill that has the ruins of a fortress on top. This fortress was used hundreds of years ago to guard the villages. You could see someone coming, that's for sure! People actually walked from the plateau between the ridges into the next plateau or valley every day to trade with the villages on the other side! The plateau itself is one huge green space of fields of grains, fruit and olive trees, and grazing land for goats and sheep. The resort was at the far end of the plateau on the hillside but the stables were on the plateau floor. Nik drove us up to the resort, where I got to try a mug of locally grown herbal tea with honey. Don't know what it was made of, but it was mighty tasty. Nik said that most of his guests were well-educated, well-mannered hikers over the age of 50 or 60 who basically were up early, disappeared all day into the hills, and then showed up briefly for dinner at night. Not too much work for the staff!

I got my riding helmet, he had a smoke (god, they all smoke it seems), and we drove down to the stables. There was a horse already saddled and tied up at the fence of the corral. Her name was Evie, a dappled grey mare. Very pretty and very serene. The guide who was supposed to take me out was in fact in Chania at an appointment, so Nik saddled up a young stallion and took me out himself. Talk about star treatment! Now, you may not know much about horses, but Cretan horses are like Icelandic horses and some other smaller mountain breeds. They have a fast little gait all of their own, which is especially well suited to hoiking tourists up mountain trails. I had to do some serious squeezing with the thighs to stay in the saddle, because I wasn't used to Evie's fast little trot. It was rather comical at times as I bobbed along and hair-raising at others, as we rode up rocky scree-covered paths with some rather painful-looking rocks on one side and a long view straight down. It kept me very focused on staying in the saddle anyway! Nik says the horses will actually correct their position if they feel you slipping so it's actually harder to fall off than it feels. Marginally comforting. We rode 700 meters up from the floor of the plateau to the top of the ridge. It was a slow and easy pace. At the top was a stone chapel (of course). We stopped for a break and to rest the horses as well as my knees (too much squeezing). Nik had lived in New York for quite a few years, so he talked about his time there and his kids in college and this and that. We rode back down the ridge in much less time. Evie and the stallion got hosed down and squeegeed (I kid you not, he had a horse squeegee) and fed and watered before we drove back up to the resort for a lunch of local stewed lamb, green beans, potatoes, salad, and fries with fresh pear and apple slices for dessert. I had a fizzy lemonada, which is a Greek soda in a glass bottle but not so sweet. I paid for my day out then Nik drove me back to Almyrida. He went off to buy gum for the drove back to the plateau, and I keeled over on my bed for a couple of hours. After my nap, I ventured out to the beach and then the pool for a swim before dinner. It was a long, fantastic day!

Day 7 - Last day (sniff!) and I decided to lay low with an hour of kayaking and then lazing by the hotel pool. Slept in, recovered the feeling in my arms (hard bed), then went down to breakfast. Let that settle before finally putting on the swim togs again and braving the (imaginary) ridicule of the French youths at the UCPA (sports station) down the street. Luckily, there was a friendly French woman there instead of the rather unhelpful guys, so I rented a kayak for an hour (€7) and gamely went out to the beach. It was very windy, so I knew there was a good chance I'd get seasick as well as getting blown around. What the heck, I thought, I'm going to do it anyway. I had my life jacket on, my glasses tied to my head with stretch cord I bought at the supermarket, and my Italian sun hat tied on. Of course, as soon as I tried to get in the kayak, I fell on my keester in the sand. What could I do but laugh? The people in the taverna were laughing too, but hey? The French guy/lifeguard held the back end of the kayak steady so I could crawl in (very ungracefully) and I headed off a little wobbly but upright into the waves. Okay, so I lasted all of 30 minutes and then I was just too tired from fighting the wind and too green at the gills from being seasick, so I headed into shore and called it a day. Never mind. I had challenged my fear and conquered it! I was feeling rather queasy so opted for lying in the shade by the hotel pool. Much more civilized. There were kids playing and one little boy, Jack, was amusing himself, rather like my cat Agatha used to do, with a ball. As soon as I stuck a toe into the water to go for a swim, he was on me. "Will you play ball with me?" He was so winsome and lonely, how could I say no? So, I played ball with a little English lad in the pool. His mum and dad were nearby thanking their lucky stars that someone else was entertaining their kid. Mum was keeping a close eye, never fear. He had to go in for "tea" and begged me to be there when he got back.

I was going to go to the Internet cafe again, but I thought, heck, I can do that later. So, Jack came racing out to tell me he'd "had his tea but had to wait 30 minutes for it to settle, and then he'd be back out for another round". We had a load of fun. Jack couldn't swim in the deep end yet, so I had to fish him out a couple of times when he strayed past the line and looked to be in trouble, but otherwise, it all went swimmingly (ha!). His dad finally got into the pool with him, so that was my chance to make my escape. I was craving a crepe at Didos, so after I showered and changed, I wandered up the street to have a bite. Ended up having a nice long chat with another retired English couple who were in Crete for her (Trish's) 60th birthday and their 10th wedding anniversary. Ran into them again at dinner in the hotel, so we had another enjoyable chin wag. I finished the last of my postcards (sent 50 in total, a new record!), packed, and ignored the rather lame "trad music and dance" show by the pool. The dancers and two singers were live but the music was canned and rather too loud. I wish they'd have splurged and got a couple of real musicians - it would have been much nicer. Ah well. A lovely week all in all, and just the break I needed to restore my sanity.

Monday 4 June 2007

It's All Greek to Me

Xasteropoulos, yup, that is the correct spelling of my birth mother's maiden name (she was Acadian and Greek in heritage). (Pronounced something like "ix zast er op o loss") This is what it looks like in Greek: Ξαστεροπουλοτ. My ancestors probably came from the Peloponnese area in southwest Greece on the mainland; think Sparta, for one. So not a Cretan, in the end, but the geneology hunt is progressing.

I just came back from a week's holiday in Crete. What a fantastic place! There were parts that reminded me of Maui with the coast and mountains cheek by jowl, and parts that could have passed for British Columbian forests, particularly around Georgioupoli and the greener hills around Almyrida with the mountains in the distance. I think my favourite day was going up to the Askifou Plateau on the edge of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori). There are 4 villages in the plateau, 3 on the sides of the mountains and one on a hill, literally, the entire hill is a hodgepodge of houses built up like an anthill. There is a ruined fortress at the top of the only other and highest hill on the plateau (Diana, you would love it). The rest of the plateau is given over to crops and grazing land for sheeps, goats, and horses, and various chickens and barking dogs. The Cretan horses are smaller than average and have the unique gait of all mountain horses like the Icelandic ponies. I couldn't quite get the rhythm of it, so I got bounced around quite a bit, but it was worth it for the amazing trek up the side of the ridge (700 m) to the view from the top. There is an old stone chapel there. I stopped with my guide for a rest (the horses were sweating pretty heavily) before we rode back down. Had an awesome lunch of local produce of stewed lamb, fresh green beans, potatoes, home made chips, then fresh pears and apples for dessert. Mmmmm!

I will have photos soon. Picking up my 6 rolls of pictures tomorrow! Only 6. I managed to restrain myself. However, there is a definite excess of flower shots. And cute half-wild scrawny cats.

Sunday 15 April 2007

Things to Do When You Don't Have a Gall Bladder

This is a follow-up to my earlier article, Year of Pain. Skip this article if medical and diet stuff bores you.

Unlike the glib statement of the surgeon, I have not been able to return to my former junk-food-laden lifestyle since I had my gall bladder taken out last year. This is not a bad thing in many ways. I have kept off most of the 34 pounds I lost and feel better both inside and out because of it, but more importantly, I am eating a healthier diet than ever before in my life. Don't get me wrong, I still manage to eat lots of chocolate, but the days of weekend chip binges and living off high-fat, low-nutritional TV dinners are done.

But I am still plagued by upper GI pain, mostly on the left side, chronic severe constipation and the hemmorhoids resulting from that (I'm being really frank here). Also, I am getting a handle on my sometimes overwhelming fear that other organs will decide to shut down and go kaput from the sheer stress of it all. There, I finally put a name to it. I guess it's really a fear of dying and having to face my mortality. We're all gonna go sometime, but this whole experience has made it more immediate for me. My doctor reassures me that I am still young and healthy, and my CT scan shows that my organs (liver, spleen, stomach, kidneys) are all perfectly normal.

So where is this pain coming from? It turns out I am one of those people who can, quite literally, worry myself sick. It is a way of making thoughts and feelings manifest in the physical body. It is not "all in my head", the symptoms are real. The doctor has suggested that because I have been so focussed on my lack of gall bladder and fears around another organ collapsing, I have actually created the pain, even though there is no obvious physical reason for me to be having this problem. So stress and anxiety are two of the primary triggers for my pain.

You have heard how the mind is a powerful thing. It's true. Placebos work because a person believes the 'medicine' will make them well. Curses can also work if someone believes strongly enough. I watched a man will himself to death in a nursing home many years ago. He had Alzheimers and was only in his 50s. It took him 3 months, but he basically starved himself to death and willed himself to die.

Apparently, women have an extra hormone in their brains that men don't have that makes women more prone to anxiety and worry. Great. I can give up and accept that or just take it as okay to know and make an extra effort.

So, anyway, the guts have settled down again to an almost normal state, so that's a great relief. I take it on a day-by-day basis because it flares up without warning, but now I'm starting to get the hang of how to handle things. The most important thing is a healthier diet that includes fruit and veg, water, grains, small amounts of healthy fats, and a few unhealthy treats (once in a while instead of every day).

Here's a few things I've learned that might help. You can research them in greater detail yourself and decide what works for you. I'm not a medical expert, so always consult a professional rather than messing around with stuff that could potentially be harmful.

Good Stuff:

1. Vitamin C and good multi-vitamin - Just generally helps your body fight off germs and stuff (especially important, if you don't eat enough fruit and veg, like me)

2. Cold-Pressed Flaxseed Oil - crush the seeds yourself in an electric coffee bean grinder or buy the capsules - helps keeps your innards greased and also is good for you

3. dandelion or milk thistle supplement - these are liver tonics that are supposed to help your liver function properly

4. water, water, water! - drink as much of it in a day as you can stand but the recommend amount is 6 to 8 glasses for most people - best thing for hydrating your body, helping clear out toxins and waste in your intestines and bowels, and preventing constipation

5. Fiber - soluble and in-soluble - you need both of these types - things like fruits and vegetables and grains are the best sources

6. Slippery Elm supplement - good for soothing the innards, helps with the bowel and preventing constipation (also makes a good throat losenge, I don't use anything else)

7. Herbal tea - instead of regular tea or coffee, carbonated drinks, teas with chamomile and things like marshmallow root are easier to digest than the regular stuff

8. Spelt - instead of regular wheat, try eating spelt bread and other spelt products. Spelt is a type of ancient wheat that has less gluten and is easier to digest. I have also been eating things like brown rice pasta and spelt pasta. It gives me more variety and is easier to digest.

9. Exercise - seems obvious, but even a little bit of stretching and short walk every day will help keep your body more relaxed and functioning. More it or lose it.

10. Relaxation - mellow music, meditation, prayer, quiet time, anything that helps you relax and worry less is a good thing

11. Caricol made from Papaya juice - can't remember what it does, but it was recommended to me

I'm sure there's more, but that ought to get you started. Oh yeah, of course, the number one best thing to do is to try not to get gall stones in the first place (although some people have them but don't have any problems) by eating healthy and lean (not a 100% guarantee, but certainly improves your chances of not losing your gall bladder).


Do not try liver and gall bladder cleanses like the popular olive oil and lemon juice one. They are not flushing out gall stones but soap stones made up from the big whack of olive oil you just ingested and some of the contents of your guts. If you have a gall stone in your gall bladder already, apparently the sudden influx of a huge amount of olive oil could potentially cause your system to freak out and land you in the hospital. This type of cleanse is posted everywhere on the Internet and is extremely popular as a folk remedy, but apparently has not been medically proven to work and can in fact be hazardous. At best, you'll get a little sick; at worst, you'll be in the hospital. Be very cautious about trying anything like this!

That's it. Be wise, be healthy.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

What am I Doing with My Life?

I stumbled across the acronym S.O.A.M. when I googled the question "what am I doing with my life?". S.O.A.M. is an acronym for "self-ownership, self-appraisal, and self-management". It translates as taking responsibility for my life, being brutally honest with myself, and doing something about it, which is something I haven't been doing enough of.

I have included a link to Jan Maizler's article rather than quoting it to death. Read it if you're interested in personal growth stuff.

I was floundering in a state of indecision, doubt, and inertia for about a month after Christmas. My brother and sister-in-law had been to Galway for a 10-day visit, and it was really painful to watch them leave. I think we managed not to annoy each other too much and had some great conversations. Coming to Galway at Christmas is not ideal because people take their Christmas seriously here, so there's not much to do other than sit around the apartment eating Christmas leftovers for days on end. I know Dave and Bo were happy to be heading back to Italy!

I found out that someone close to me is going to be leaving Galway, and I found that difficult to accept because I have had to work so hard to create a new circle of friends here. Panic stations all around. I think I've come to grips now, and I have calmed down and reassessed my own goals and priorities. I'm staying in Galway for at least another year, maybe longer. Time to get those kids' books written and out there!

When I read stuff like this, I can see how self-absorbed I am. Yuck. Self-revelation isn't always pretty.

The S.O.A.M. Model of Growth

Monday 4 December 2006

Year of Pain

Skip this one if you are bored or grossed out by medical stuff.

I am not exaggerating. It's now December, and I am still having pain. Let me backtrack to early January 2006 when I went to see my GP. I had been having pain in my upper left abdomen almost daily, so I figured I had an ulcer or something. She diagnosed stress-related gastritis and gave me a prescription to reduce my stomach acid. Hmph. I was a bit taken aback by that diagnosis. Knew I'd had a tough year but couldn't imagine that I'd been THAT stressed out.

No real improvement by the end of January and was due to go back to the GP in early February. Went out for dinner to a local restaurant with the pod on a Saturday night. Woke up in the wee hours with my guts on fire with an intense pain I'd never experienced in my life. Didn't know what was wrong but I knew I had to go to the hospital. Being me, the girl who doesn't know how to ask for help, I didn't wake up my roommate or phone a friend. I put my clothes on and walked to Eyre Square to the taxi queue and asked the driver to take me to the nearest hospital. So off I went to the Regional Hospital emergency room. Pain was bad but bearable by then. I saw the triage nurse, and since I wasn't looking like I would expire on the spot, was sent back to the waiting room. I think that visit took about 6 and a half hours. The resident who saw me, figured since the pain was on the left side, that it was gastritis, like my own GP had diagnosed. Great. The pain had pretty much subsided by that time, so I was sent home. Spent most of Sunday recovering.

Went to work on Monday as usual. Monday night, woke up again in the wee hours, this time, I felt like someone had taken a giant sickle and was cutting my torso in half. The pain was unbelievable. It was all the way around my sides and back and across my entire upper abdomen with fire spreading in every direction. Now I was on the verge of tears and really hurting. Even though I was told to call her no matter what time it was, I didn't want to wake up Stephanie or my roommate, so again, I took myself to the hospital. Silly me. I was barely holding it together when I checked in. While I was waiting to see the triage nurse, I had to make a fast stumble to the bathroom where I sat for a good 10 minutes panting and pale, not sure if I was gonna throw up or faint. Didn't do either in the end. Finally saw the triage nurse, but even being that ill wasn't enough to get me a bed. I was stuck in the waiting room. I couldn't sit. I couldn't read. It was very uncomfortable to lie down, but it was the only thing I could do, I was in so much pain and so tired at the same time. It was the longest night of my life. I finally was taken in to see a doctor after waiting about 10 hours. I was still in pain but much less so by then. I was drained. I asked for saline because I felt so dehydrated. The resident was different, a woman this time. She looked at my chart, saw my age, took a look at me, and said "You've got gall stones." Apparently, I fit the bill for the perfect gall stone candidate - fair, fat, 40, and female. She said that the pain was referring, not unusual. She gave me a prescription for something that would stop the pain if I had another gall bladder attack, and wrote up a referral for the local hot shot surgeon (consultant).

I went to see my own GP later that day to get things sorted and update her on the new diagnosis.

I had to wait almost a month to see the consultant. People tell me this is fast. While waiting to see him, I had another gall bladder attack, but the pills helped stop it. I was put on a restricted, ultra lean diet, but I was still in pain almost every day.

I switched to private coverage so I could get surgery faster because I didn't want to wait a year for this to end! I had to wait another month to have an ultrasound and gastroscopy. I have to say that Bon Secours has one of the best day case units ever. It was confirmed that I had a gall stone, not a big one, but big enough. It only takes one. Two days later, I got a call that there was a spot open for surgery the following week, so the Monday before Easter weekend, I went back into Bon Secours to have my gall bladder removed. It was an interesting two days in the hospital. I've discovered the best thing there - not morphine, no no, OXYGEN! Yeah, give me a mask full of that any day. Ahhhhh.

So, blah blah, recovered from surgery, still eating carefully, had lost about 24 pounds in 3 months, was still scared to eat anything fat, rich, yummy. Was told I would be able to eat whatever I wanted the day after surgery. Hasn't quite turned out that way.

For about a month, I was feeling pretty good, but by June, I was having discomfort on my left side again and had developed some other post-surgery problems that were relatively minor but unpleasant (bunch of hair fell out, and other fun stuff).

Went to the GP 4 times over a 3-month period, until finally I was sent back to the consultant. He sent me for a CT scan of my organs (liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys), which all showed as normal. So, what to do, what to do? Can't find anything wrong with me, but I'm still having pain every bloody day. Hurts if I eat, hurts if I don't eat.

In the Terryland mall is a little Chinese herbal shop where they have doctors trained in traditional Chinese medicine. I'd tried everything Western allopathic medicine could offer, so I decided to give Eastern medicine a go. I've spent close to €1000 over the last 9 weeks and had acupuncture, cupping, and massage along with the herbal tea, which I have to brew and drink twice a day. It's pretty miserable-tasting stuff too, as the folks at the shop will attest. I have one treatment left and then I'm stopping because I have run out of money. It has helped a little bit but not completely, and I don't know what will happen once I stop drinking the tea. Last week was really great, only a couple of days with any pain, but this week was crap, with pain every single day. So Eastern medicine has not been able to help either.

So, the year of pain continues. But it hasn't slowed me down much. I went to Italy and Canada in May, Germany for work then a tour of County Kerry in July, Scotland in October, and Sweden in November. I have lost 30 pounds, gone down two dress sizes, started yoga, swing dancing, and horse riding. I wore a sexy red dress to the office Christmas party and danced with a very nice man who's probably 20 years younger than me - and I loved every minute of it - even when he stepped on my foot!

The Honeymoon Phase

People will tell you that the first year in a new country is the best time - exciting, challenging, different. What they forget to tell you is how lonely it will be. When I first moved to Ireland, it WAS exciting, challenging, and different. But, I didn't have my cats, I didn't have easy access to my friends or family except when I went to a talk shop to use the phone. I didn't have the comfort of my personal belongings around me. I didn't have the familiarity of my daily routine and the life I'd led in Vancouver for 13 years.

What I ALSO didn't have was the restrictions and limitations imposed by myself, my former life, and other people who knew me as being a certain way, based on years of the same behaviours, thoughts, beliefs, and habits. I had a chance to start fresh and reinvent myself as much as I dared.

I was in a rut and felt myself getting more afraid of life and becoming set in my ways. I needed to shake the tree. Galway City on the west coast of Ireland has been a place of much tree shaking.

Almost the second I set foot in Ireland, I started losing some of the excess weight I had been carrying around since I moved to Vancouver. No TV dinners here! I still get annoyed by the bar fridge-sized fridges that are the standard in most apartments. The ice box takes up 1/4 of the space, so there's not a lot you can keep in there. On the plus side, I eat fresher food more often because I can't store a lot of stuff.

I arrived in Galway at the beginning of June with my big suitcase and other bags of clothes and shoes. Stayed at a B&B for a few days. One of the down sides of moving to Ireland BEFORE getting a job is that I paid my own way. If the company I work for had hired me while I was still in Canada, I would have been given a bit of help with moving and accommodation. But they wouldn't have paid to ship me over. They were only hiring locally. Oh well. C'est la vie. It was a gamble moving without a job, but it paid off.

I stayed at the University's student residences up Newcastle Road for about 10 days. The night before I moved out, the boys upstairs left the kitchen tap running all night into a full, plugged sink, which leaked water through the ceiling into my bedroom in the wee hours!

I moved into the granny flat (converted garage) in Claddagh which was to be my first hovel, I mean home, in Galway. I nicknamed the flat "The Shoebox" because it was long and narrow and had a dividing wall down the middle between the living room/bedroom space and kitchen. The bathroom had an electric shower that was so small I had to squeeze into the corner opening sideways. The power box for it was in the kitchen by the outside door - 7 feet up the wall - I measured it! I had to use a stool to turn the power on and off. The place was so damp, even in the middle of July, that less than 3 weeks after my stuff arrived, my vitamins were moldy. Yuck! And I had far more 8-legged guests than I could stand. I stayed 3 months there, then broke the lease and moved into an apartment at the docks in Galway's city centre.

A drier apartment with a roomier shower, but I now had to acquire a roommate since I couldn't afford to live there on my own. Now, I had not lived with anyone for more than 15 years, so it was a helluva shock to the system. My roommate was a Canadian guy, nice enough, but it turned out he was a serious smoker. He fibbed about that. He paid his rent and bills on time and was quiet, but we didn't really click as roommates, so he moved out after a few months.

The apartment was nicer looking but badly built as so many things are here. I had to take a lot of time off work to let in guys to repair leaks in sinks, doors that didn't hang/close right, immersion heater timer, water pump, window lock. The worst thing was the window in my bedroom. The flashing (thing that keeps rain off the window frame) had come off the window frame sometime in the months before I moved in. Because the frame (wood, oh so practical in Galway) kept getting wet, it rotted. The window was on the verge of falling out, so the guy who came to fix it, nailed it open a crack because he couldn't close it all the way for fear of breaking the frame, and covered the gap with packing tape. I spent the winter with my window open like that. Brrr! Big heating bills, and I was still cold. Whine and moan.

Yeah, so who cares, right? I started my job as a technical writer, and I was in heaven! Spent my days talking about grammar and punctuation. Haggled over words and definitions. Wrote and edited documents. And I finally made some friends. Other writers like me who had moved to Galway for the job and were making a fresh start in a new place. A little social pod developed including a cinema club, book exchange, and regular weekend activities like hanging at the pub or going dancing.

I had my birthday in Italy, a two-week trip to Germany in July for work, and a trip to France in November. For Christmas, two cool gals made the hike to the wilds of western Ireland from England and Italy, and we had a girls' long weekend for the holidays.

But all was not well. In the new year, I started having a recurring ache in my upper left abdomen. So began the year of pain. Very cryptic, non?

Monday 27 November 2006

In the Beginning...

After receiving a warm welcome by friends in London, England, and making a day trip up to Oxford area to meet some cool cousins, I finally arrived in Ireland at Dublin airport. The taxi driver, as he helped load my bags into the trunk of his car, asked what I was doing there. When I told him I was moving to Ireland, he said, "Are you MAD!?" That pretty much set the tone of my first day. I found my lodgings, and as I looked around my cold little bedroom (I couldn't figure out how to turn on the heating), I realized how alone I was, away from everything comfortable and familiar. I cried my eyes out. "What have I done?", I wailed. Talk about a pity party. I chalked it up to being tired and went to bed early. Things always look better after a night's sleep.

Things did seem better, and it was time to explore Dublin City. It's so much smaller than Vancouver, I thought Dublin was cute. (Compared to most of the other cities, towns, and villages in Ireland, Dublin is a metropolis. Scary.)

Something as simple as crossing the road was a challenge, because the cars drive on the other side. It was also disorienting at first to try to figure out which way the bus was going to be running and on which side of the street I needed to be to catch it. Once I figured out where city centre was in relation to my accommodation, then it got easier. I lived with a map in my hands.

The bus payment system was similiar to Vancouver, exact change or a ticket that you validated in a meter. Had to learn how to navigate up and down the stairs to the upper deck - almost went flying a few times and wrenched my arm more than once if I was on the stairs when the bus stopped, but the view from the upper deck was worth it. And forget the bus schedule. It tells you what time the bus leaves its point of origin, but you get guess-timates of how long it will take to get your stop. Crazy! Made it tricky if I had to be somewhere at a specific time. How to allow a large fudge factor.

Since my savings were dwindling at an alarming rate (the exchange between Canadian dollars and Euros was killer), I signed up with some temporary employment agencies while I waited to hear about my job applications and ended up with a bit of work for a couple of weeks in May. Kept going back to the same little law firm in Ballsbridge. Hadn't done dicta typing in a LONG time, but the folks were really nice and they shared their chocolate.

Opening a bank account proved to be a frustrating experience, even with advanced warning of what to expect. You need certain documentation and I seemed to be one item short, so I was getting pay cheques from the agency but couldn't cash them! I finally got the right forms but then I got the job in Galway, so I had to move again, and there wasn't any point in opening a bank account in Dublin and trying to transfer it to Galway, 'cause that's almost as bad as opening it in the first place!

Not that it was all frustration and misery! Oh no. Far from it. I spent time toodling around Dublin's city centre, got to meet a couple of friends of friends who were living in Dublin, went to an art show opening at the law courts, and revisited places I'd seen with my brother in 2000. I enjoyed a long weekend in Milano for my 41st birthday with my brother and sister-in-law, my friends Karen, Hella, and Davis, and some of Karen's friends. We ate at a fab restaurant and had so much fun! They sang happy birthday to me in 5 different languages, and there was a yummy chocolate cake to eat for dessert.

I was determined to make the move while I was still 40, and by the skin of my teeth (who came up with that expression anyway?), I did it with about 3 weeks to spare!

I had a job interview in Galway not long after the big birthday weekend and got a job offer at a large multi-national software company starting in mid June. So I packed my bags again and hopped on the train from Heuston Station in Dublin to Galway.

As a born and bred city slicker, I was not prepared for the smallness that is Galway City. Population is around 100,000 people, but because of the layout of the city and the tiny city centre, it feels more like a small town to me. But that's another story.

Sunday 26 November 2006

Leaving Vancouver

A lot of people have asked me why I moved to Ireland. It may have seemed out of the blue to some folks, but I'd actually been talking about doing it for many years. There were a lot of reasons why I finally upped and went in 2005. One of the biggest was that my birth mother, Helen, had died in 2003, at the shockingly young age of 58. That really hit me, and made me think about the fact that I was heading towards 40 and didn't feel like I'd really accomplished anything significant in my life. I'd spent two and half years at night school to get a Technical Communications cert but couldn't get a job as a technical writer in Vancouver. Bad timing, I guess

Then, in 2004, Miss Lemon, my most treasured and loved 14-year old cat, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and after a couple of months of giving her palliative care at home, I made the difficult decision of having her "put to sleep". I used to hate that euphamism, but it really was like that. I'd begun thinking about the move to Ireland after my mom died, but this kind of clinched it for me. I was now free to go if I wanted.

I still had another cat, Agatha C, but I knew that she was very social and could be adopted. That ended up being a more difficult task as she was already about 10 years old and her thyroid decided to go postal around Christmas. So, I had to get that treated, but I was very lucky because a wonderful woman named Margaret adopted Agatha. (Latest reports are that Agatha is a happy little camper in her home in New Westminster.)

So, in autumn 2004, I talked to the folks at work about leaving, applied for my Irish passport (I have dual citizenship through my Irish grandpa), and in April 2005 waved goodbye to my life in Vancouver. I had many goodbye lunches and dinners and parties. Really made me appreciate just how many wonderful friends I have. My parents came out from Manitoba to help me pack. I don't think they realized just how much packing they would end up doing! I never could have got it done without their help. My cousin Victoria flew up from LA to meet me before I left the West Coast.

The photo shows me (30 pounds heavier) holding a delicious home-made cherry pie. Check out the airplane, shamrock, and maple leaf on the crust! Daphne, a co-worker at Mercer, is a consummate pie maker and prepared this delicacy for me. What a way to go!

Saturday 25 November 2006

Getting Started

I've only recently discovered the self-indulgent world of blogs! Why didn't somebody tell me about these sooner? A chance to blather on endlessly about whatever I like, and anybody with a computer and a finger on a mouse can choose to read my ramblings (or not).

So, have a gander, but if you don't like it, too bad. Go read something else!