My morning ritual is one of the most important things I do during the day. It has changed over the years. When I was working it was a much more hurried affair. Now that I no longer have to go down the coal mine each day, I can take my time.
Initially I followed what other people did but now I do what works for me. My morning ritual has evolved over time.
I am an early riser and fortunately my husband isn’t which gives me two hours of special time to myself each morning. So what do I do.
Firstly I make myself a large cup of tea. Anyone who has had tea at my place knows I take my tea making seriously. The early morning cup of tea was a sacred ritual in our family, and I stick to exactly the same system. The tea was always made with leaves. The pot was warmed with boiling water first, then the tea leaves were put into the pot, the water re-boiled and tipped onto them, the pot was enveloped in a tea cosy, then left to draw for five minutes. The pot was turned three times anti-clockwise before the tea was poured. Definitely milk first.
While I drink my tea I listen to French podcasts except on Tuesday when I listen to Spanish ones.
I then meditate for 15 minutes and finish off by doing my tapping exercises.
What is tapping therapy used for?
EFT tapping is a mind-body method of tapping acupuncture points (acupoints) on the hands, face, and body with your fingertips while focusing on an issue or feeling you’re hoping to resolve. This method may reduce stress and anxiety, improve performance, lessen cravings, and help resolve fears.
Next I write in my journal in either French or Spanish, depending on what day it is. I have keeping a journal for years – ever since I read about Morning Pages in Julia Cameron’s wonderful book “The Artist’s Way” which since its publication in 1992 has sold over 3 million copies.
THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron is not exclusively about writing–it is about discovering and developing the artist within whether a painter, poet, screenwriter or musician–but it is a “lot” about writing. If you have always wanted to pursue a creative dream, have always wanted to play and create with words or paints, this book will gently get you started and help you learn all kinds of paying-attention techniques; and that, after all, is what being an artist is all about. It’s about learning to pay attention.”
Like my morning ritual, my Morning Pages have evolved. Initially I religiously wrote three pages as recommended by Julia Cameron. These days I write what needs to be written. I offload my problems, ask myself questions, ponder but I always finish off my asking myself what is the most important thing to do today. So if I get distracted or caught up in life’s busyness, I achieve at least that one thing. Usually I do. If I’m traveling I write what happened the previous day.
At 7.00 I listen to the news on 7.02 then Markus and I have a morning cuddle. At 7.30am I go for a walk or a bike ride. While out walking or bike riding, I do my voice exercises and sing my scales and as my Facebook friends know, take photos. As I grew up in Narrabeen and ran a real estate business for 30 years here, I often run into people I know and have a chat and other times I meet someone new. I also pick up rubbish as I go – 968 bags last year.
There were Grandfathers on both sides of the family who were called John, so it was a no brainer to see where my brother got his name from. My sister Annette was named after one of my mother’s sisters who had died in early childhood. Mum finally told me that I was named after Susan, a delightful, young Aboriginal girl who lived in a camp beside Commissioner’s Creek at the bottom of the garden at “Earthorpe”, the property where my grandmother spent her childhood. Susan used to love helping in the homestead. She always went about her work humming. Later on, she started her own washing business in town and that was when Mum got to know her. My grandmother used to take in boarders after her husband shot through to Adelaide to avoid facing a very public divorce in Armidale where he was the well-respected editor and owner of the Armidale Express, leaving my grandmother and her five remaining children in dire financial straits. As my grandmother had plenty to do cooking, doing the housework, tending the garden, looking after the five children plus the boarders, she employed Susan to do the heavy washing. Mum told me that she was very fond of Susan. She was always such a happy person and was still humming as she went about her work. I am privileged to be named after Susan and feel a certain kinship with the Aboriginal people so I was very disappointed when I encountered them on our trip to Cape York, that a lot of them looked at me with abject disgust, cast their eyes downward or turned their backs. Very few returned my smile. I feel sad that I didn’t learn anything about the Aboriginal people at school. While researching material for “The Reluctant Camper Goes to Cape York” I have learnt a lot about what happened to them after the arrival of Captain Cook, and afterwards the first settlers, who took over Aboriginal land, shunting them off, not realising that it was their land, because they didn’t put up any fences. During my whole time at school I had only learnt a few basic facts about Australian history. We were even given a bum steer about the first explorer to discover Australia. We were taught that it was Dirk Hartogg who landed on the coast of Western Australia in 1616. When in fact he was the second arrival. Another Dutch Explorer Willem Janszoon had beaten him to the punch in February 1606 when he landed on the western side of Cape York Peninsula. During my research I also discovered that our Australian history is absolutely fabulous, full of wonderful characters and amazing exploits including Captain Cook’s voyage of discovery up the eastern coast of Australia, his initial interactions with the Aboriginal people, the decision to send convicts here, the terrible treatment by the government officials, the police and early settlers of the Aboriginal people, the missionaries endeavouring to convert them, the brave explorers albeit sometimes foolhardy, not to mention the hardship underwent by the early settlers themselves.
Raised eyebrows and foreheads creased in consternation greeted me when I divulged that my husband, Markus and I, planned to go camping on our next holiday. My friends and family are only too aware of my predilection for comfort.
People who didn’t know me so well either assured me that I would absolutely love it or hate it, depending on their own experience.
Camping, tents, camper trailers and caravans are not words which have ever existed in my vocabulary. However, it has always been my husband, Markus’s dream to travel around Australia when we retired. I did not want to be the one to thwart him. I know how frustrating it can be to want to achieve something and having everyone “agin” me. And Markus did heroically put up with me writing a book about a love affair with another man for ten years.
Marriage, I’ve found, is always a matter of compromise.
Markus researched 4 wheel vehicles for a few years before deciding on a VW Toureg. I bought him what he said was the best Christmas present ever – a Weekend 4WD Driver Train Course with Vic Widman. Fortunately I didn’t have to go.
Markus then began researching what kind of camping equipment would be best. Not tents fortunately – they’re too much like hard work to put up and down at our age. I have also heard tales of leaking tents and flash floods sweeping through campgrounds in the middle of the night taking tents with them. We also didn’t fancy towing a huge“you can have it all wherever you go” type Winnebago on the back of the car.
Caravan Parks full of people didn’t appeal to either of us. We planned to go off road into the National Parks so we needed something that would accommodate this.
We drove over to Silverwater towards the end of our summer holiday and checked out the T-Van which Markus had decided was “It”. It looked sleek from the outside which is important to Markus. It appeased his design background. It had off road capability and from what I could see it looked okay. Not that I could talk with any experience. This was only the second time I had been near any camping equipment and the first time I do not want to remember.
At least both the sleeping area and the annex were off the ground.
Fortunately we were able to hire before we bought so we put down our deposit on the spot to rent it from 26th April to May 10th. I was hoping that he wouldn’t like camping and would forget about his dream of travelling around Australia in a campervan.
The t-van proved a disaster. I was so glad we only rented and didn’t buy it. I couldn’t sit up in bed. To get in and out of the bed I had to wriggle back and forth like a snake. On several occasions I forgot about this and sat up, hitting my head on the roof usually during the middle of the night. On the last occasion I burst into tears. Tears were prevalent during that first camping experience. I hated every minute and insisted on staying in a motel every couple of days. I especially didn’t like communal bathrooms and in particular having to wear thongs in the shower. Cooking outside on a gas ring proved a nightmare. Until we cooked outside, I was completely unaware of the existence of the diverse number of insects, flies, bugs and moths which existed in Australia. It seemed that most of them presented themselves at our campsite when dinner was being cooked and/or eaten. The another annoying feature of the t-van was that the inside area was only as big as a telephone box. There was very little area to sit in if it was raining, cold or windy.
I sincerely hoped that this exercise would put Markus off the whole idea. But he was not to be deterred. Next, he insisted we attend the annual camping and caravan shows to look at what was available. I hated every minute of it this time too. Crowds are not my thing and the Camping and Caravan show was packed. I could not even console myself with a decent lunch as the food they served was atrocious.
Markus finally in 2006 came up with the Kimberley Karavan. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up. I can sit up in bed. There is also table with two benches either side. There is a microwave and a cooktop inside. It also has air-conditioning and a toilet with a shower over it.
There are negatives. The main one is that I am a clothesaholic and there is only one average sized drawer for my clothes.
I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments and adaptions to be able to go camping without being a complete party pooper, which you will read about in my upcoming book “The Reluctant Camper”.
It is now over 50 years since George Blue died but some people you never forget. He was one of those special people in my life. He was only 44.
I met him when we were billeted with him and his wife Joan during the tennis tournament at Sutton in Surrey in 1971. I can clearly remember him greeting us at the door loudly. He had been a Sargeant Major in India which wasn’t hard to imagine. George was nothing to write home about in the looks department. He was short and portly. He was mostly bald with a big mole in the middle of his head. But we had an instant rapport.
George and Joan had a beautiful home. Neither of them had come from wealthy families so they treasured every part of it. To say the least it was immaculate both inside and out.
Joan and her cleaning lady, Hilda spent their days cleaning it lovingly particularly a whole lot of brass which was in the entrance portico. She was a very heavy smoker and used to have several ashtrays positioned in various places with a cigarette burning in them while she went about her work.
George owned butcher shops – 7 of them including one in Paris. He would be up at the crack of dawn to go to the markets each day to buy the meat and would be still sitting at the dinner table in the early hours of the morning, sometimes nodding of to sleep. One could hardly blame him after such an early start.
The food and wine at their place was top notch but the lifestyle we lead whenever we stayed at the Blues was probably not ideal for up and coming tennis players.
I’d always dreamed of going bike riding in Provence. For years I’ve read with envy articles about other travellers enjoying bike riding holidays in France while I slogged away at my job in real estate. I imagined the vibrant colours of the landscape and could almost taste the food and the wine. It’s my perception of heaven to pedal hard all day through beautiful countryside, then relax in comfortable accommodation and of course, indulge in good food and wine each night. Perhaps it’s a hangover from my days on the tennis tour. For me there’s nothing like the relaxation I experience after strong physical exertion.
But have I left it too late, I wondered? Especially when I’ve had Fibromyalgia for the last 4 years and have to take an afternoon rest. The WalkInn representative tries to talk my husband and I into electric bikes when they find out how old we are. (I’m 65 and my husband’s 67 with a crook right knee.) The Bike Hire Company then actually delivers the said electric bikes to our hotel in a last ditch attempt to entice us. Not being technically minded, I’m sure I’d be a danger on wheels on an electric bike. The alternative they then supply is a “unisex”/man’s bike. They advise that I’m too tall for a woman’s bike. I have to insist. And just as well! Early on in the ride I have a minor spill when I try to ride up a bitumen flap and have to jump out of the way of the bike when it tips over. If I’d been on a male/unisex bike with a high bar, I wouldn’t have made it and could easily have been seriously hurt. As it was, I escape with a few minor bruises, a loss of dignity and the wisdom not to mount any more curbs. The tyres, I realise, are not cross-country ones like the ones I have on my bike at home.
Our bike riding adventure starts off in style with a move from our 2 star accommodation in Avignon to Villa de Margot, a very upmarket Bed and Breakfast at the edge of the historic part of town. It is a very stylish, elegantly furnished home with Persian rugs and beautiful artwork. As we are travelling for 6 months we are on a tight budget. The bike riding trip is to be an exception. We really appreciate having the luxury of a huge room, a very comfortable bed, soft pillows and an impressive bathroom complete with a huge bath. I can hardly wait to get in it. We can also enjoy the luxury of being able to sit downstairs in a sitting room or out in the garden, our previous budget accommodation having confined us to our room.
Dinner is not included the first night. Our hostess recommends that we eat at L’Essentiel and it is a winner – right up there in line with the accommodation. My very fussy Swiss husband, Markus says that it is the best restaurant we’ve eaten in since we’ve been in Europe which includes 7 weeks in Italy.
However, despite all the comfort and wonderful accoutrements at Villa de Margot, I don’t sleep well. I worry about all the horrible things that could occur on the trip. Ambulance sirens haunt my dreams, as do the noise of mosquitos which are real and invading our beautiful room ferociously.
We have chosen to do a self-guided bike tour so as seniors, we can keep our own hours and cycling pace.
Day 2 – Saturday 21st June, 2014
Our exit from Avignon, which is quite a substantial town via the Magnanen gate is not as bad as I imagine. Fortunately it is a Saturday, so there is little traffic on the road at 8.30am. There are also designated bicycle lanes on most of the roads we make our departure along.
I am surprised at my level of fitness. One of the things I anticipated was that I’d be really struggling by the end of the 36k’s of our first day’s itinerary. Even though it is more than 30 degrees, I feel fine and very happy. I love being outdoors as my school reports always attested to. I also envisaged that there would be a lot more ups and downs in Provence. In fact, there is only a small climb up the Montagnette to the Saint-Michel de Frigolet Abbey, where I sing “Amazing Grace” in semi darkness in the beautiful old church which has the most amazing acoustics. The reward of our uphill toil is the journey back down with no pedalling involved. Although I do keep my foot ever ready to brake if I start going too fast for my comfort. I find about 23 k’s per hour is my max, but if the road is too curvaceous, then the brake really gets a workout.
Toilet stops are a problem. I notice that the French seem to no longer wee in public without even going behind a tree, as I remember they used to when I was travelling on the European Tennis Circuit. We find we have to search for some bush as there are no public toilets provided for water guzzling bicyclists.
We pass through the quaint towns of Graveson and Maillane, where we take a drink break and arrive at St Remy in time for lunch. All that peddling has given us a hearty appetite and we strike gold with our choice of La Gousse D’Ail (the garlic clove). The food is delicious. I have a rabbit terrine and salad. The restaurant lives up to its name with the very garlicy salad dressing.
Although there is a pool at our B and B, it is in full sun and I think I’ve had enough Vitamin D for the day. I retire inside for a lazy afternoon reading a very old Morse detective book which I find on their bookshelf. We dine at L’Estagnoll which is situated in a large courtyard garden and is a perfect venue for a summer evening. It also has excellent food. I feel very relaxed but not bone weary. Markus, my husband is a bit worse for wear, not having done any training. In typical male fashion, he is relying on his body to perform. As we wander back through the town a cacophony of sound from different types of bands broadcasts though the night. There is a musical festival on and all the streets have been closed off. All the surrounding cafés and restaurants are packed and the streets are filled with people.
St Remy is a town renowned for its artists, home to Vincent Van Gogh for a year. Much to my disappointment, we won’t have the time or energy to go and see where he lived and painted, nor the Site Archeologique de Glanum, a Roman city.
Monday 22rd June, 2014
Over 30 degrees is predicted again today so we leave early in order to escape the worst part of the heat around 2. By this time of the day we hope to be well and truly happily ensconced in a shady restaurant, eating lunch. The ride today starts well. Once again we pedal down quiet country lanes through more olive groves and vineyards for which Provence is famous for. The rich colours of the blue sky, the green of the fields and the vibrant yellow of meadows of sunflowers makes it easy to see why artists have been drawn to this area. Beautifully sculptured religious icons of Mary and Jesus stare down at me as I ride through village squares, reminding me of the deeply religious country that French has been in the past and still is according to my Swiss husband, Markus, who descended from the Huguenots. His ancestors who were French Protestants, were driven out of France during the 16th Century during a scourge against Non-Catholics.
But this reverie doesn’t last all the way. About halfway through our day’s ride, we are on busier roads, some of which don’t have a designated bike lane; my pet aversion. Unfortunately I have a tendency to wobble when cars whoosh by. At times I fear I’ll go off the edge of the road into one of the deep ditches which run too close to the side of the grass verge for my comfort. Fortunately, French drivers on the whole are a lot more respectful of cyclists than their Australian counterparts and give us a wide berth, except for one young bloke whose patience gives way waiting for me to get around the round-about. He nearly collects me.
We ascend into Les Baux, named after the family of that name. It is not as tough going as I anticipate and I only have to get off and push my bike on a couple of the steeper sections, my thighs no longer having the capacity to pedal up fairly minor grades, even utilizing all the available gears. Les Baux is a mediaeval town perched atop a rock face. Entrepreneurs have taken full commercial advantage of the site. Rentals are obviously high as are the prices of the wares for sale. Quality paintings, sculptures, giftware and clothes, the latter which I manage to resist. No room in my bag. If only I could get rid of some of the sensible drip dry items I packed as recommended by the travel agent, that I’ve found I don’t wear.
We manage to get lost just a few kilometres from the hotel where we are staying. I’m not sure if it’s the wine and the 2 beers Markus had with his lunch or as Markus insists, the instructions from WalkInn which are at fault. It is well after 2pm and the sun by this time is absolutely blazing down as we ride down a gravel track. In the end Markus has to activate his GPS to locate our accommodation.
We eat dinner in the village square. Eggplant and chevre tart followed by duck in fig sauce (I think I have duck coming out of my right ear) accompanied by an excellent wine. Markus insists that we have wine which we have to pay for, commensurate with the food but it’s not cheap. We stroll around the town afterwards. One thing I really love about being in France is ‘la promenade’ after dinner even after a long day’s bike ride.
Tuesday 23rd June
Our last day’s peddling is “parfait”- just how I like it. Except for our exit via the main street of the village, most of the day’s ride is down quiet country lanes through the beautiful countryside of Provence. We easily accomplish the last 20 remaining kilometres back to Arles by 11.30, and despite those dire warnings of discomfort from our contact at WalkInn, except for the odd case of cramps we’ve both been experiencing due to the overly hot weather, and with the exception of that minor spill on the first day, we arrive unscathed. Contrary to one of my father’s favourite expressions “Anticipation is better than realisation” I have to report that the trip far exceeded my expectations. I particularly love the feeling of total relaxation and well-being I feel at the end of each day’s exertions which doesn’t happen often these days at home in Narrabeen.
I am happy to report that my bike riding has definitely improved. By the finish I am going downhill around 30 k’s and can ride around 18 k’s on the flat. I also wobble less when cars go by, though for safety sake, when I am on a main road, I stop and stand on the grass verge when big trucks go by.
We wander around Arles, eat lunch in a courtyard restaurant then spend the rest of the afternoon in our hotel. WalkInn has come up trumps again with their selection. There is a pool, (but once again in the full blare of the sun) a shady garden, several beautifully furnished sitting rooms and an outside bar area. We eat dinner at another fabulous restaurant, which Markus now says is the best restaurant that he’s ever eaten at, then wander down the banks of the Rhone before we turn in.