This Time Last Year

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My DH and I were a few months away from celebrating 38 wonderful years of marriage. The children were grown and our lives had taken us to many places around the world, places I had never dreamed I would see, much less live in. We had recently moved to another country and were enjoying the adventure of getting settled. We were working on where to store Christmas items in our new apartment.

But I had other plans also and I knew they wouldn’t include him. I was going to walk the Camino Frances soon.

I didn’t know exactly when or how. I didn’t know exactly where. I especially didn’t know why.

I hadn’t made any transportation arrangements because I had no clue how to get from where I was to where I thought I might need to be. I didn’t believe in hiking poles – too dorky. I was a good (what’s good about it?) twenty pounds overweight and I’m being kind. I didn’t have hiking boots.

The only thing I had going for me was that I liked walking although I sometimes found it boring.

I had decided to walk the Camino Frances and I had broken the news to my DH just after Thanksgiving. Would he be OK with it? It would cost us money and time. Lots of time but I had no clue  how much.

Not even my children really knew what I was up to.

“Mom’s thinking about going for a long walk.” What did that mean???

You don’t choose the Camino. It chooses you. And I had been chosen. But try to explain that to people who want to know why you want to walk across the top of Spain.

The ancestry of the Camino Frances sits squarely on a pilgrimage. But I’d never been religious enough to feel drawn to religious sites. I’d never felt compelled to visit places noted for miracles. And my life was relatively happy – no need to do penance or suffer to set things straight.

I was an older woman, inactive for many, many years, suddenly possessed by an idea that no one I knew had ever done before or even heard of.

It was time to give this some serious thought.

Camino minus 16 – Behind an Unfamiliar Door

As I turn the handle and enter the room that should be so familiar to me, I am struck by how out-of-place and uncomfortable I feel. I feel like a stranger entering someone else’s home, not me returning after a long journey.

Have I changed that much?

July, 2013, and my Camino finished, I have returned to my old life. Family and friends will soon arrive to welcome me with hugs, kisses, and open arms. I put my pack down and sit in the chair to remove my boots. My boots had been strangers two months earlier and  now seem permanently attached to my feet. It feels strange to not have them on.

My pack weighs less than when I began, not only because I no longer need to carry water with me, but because of all the things I have left along the way, items I  thought I needed and discovered I was better off without.

Also, the few things stolen. Clearly nothing necessary, for here I am, safe and secure back home. The person who needed them more than I finally has my forgiveness, although that was a tough one.

The books are where I had left them on the shelves, waiting my return to be read again. My papers still haven’t been filed and are also waiting for me. At this point, I’ll probably just throw them all away.

Projects left half done patiently await their turn for my attention. Quilting, sewing,  The ladies – my collection of orchids – display their  huge purple, white, and pink  faces in the sunshine, none the worse for wear, although I’m sure they have missed my singing to them.

I open my closet and see the abundance of clothing. After having used one change of clothes for five weeks, a closet full of skirts, blouses, and pants truly seems like overkill. What will I ever do with so many clothes?

The only souvenirs I brought back were a shell which means nothing to anyone but me, and a sheet of paper with many stamps on it. Each stamp, from a stop along the way, indicates the long way I had gone but tells nothing of my journey.

The feeling that I might never be able to resettle into this place is unnerving. Have I changed that much?

My loving DH looks at me strangely, wondering what is wrong. I smile, knowing that I will not be able to completely explain no matter how I will try.

The sounds, the aromas, the people I had met along the way. Lyrical music drifting in my memories but only as essence, long since dissolved as melodies. Beautiful vistas, people who became close and whom I will never see again. I will look at my photos and my notebook and remember.

The me that has returned is a different me from the one that left. I have been challenged by sheep and wolves and chased them off. I have gotten lost, and lost again and found myself.

I have had weeks to listen to the voices in my head and I have come to realize truths about myself that are now self-evident. Neither snorers nor anxiety keep me up at night now.  I have very occasionally surprised myself with courageous and generous actions.

I have disappointed myself over and over with thoughts and acts based on fear and cowardice and, having faced my worse self, have put that person aside, never to be seen again – I hope.

I have said hundreds of rosaries and found peace and courage in prayer.

I look at the door and close it behind me. I smile again at my DH as he offers to make me a cup of coffee and give me a cookie which he made especially for my return.

I am glad to be home.

 

To my friends and followers – This post was part of a writing challenge by WordPress.com, the site which hosts my blog.  The challenge was to imagine that you walk through a door in your home, but the time on the other side has been changed. You could be in the past, the future, other people could be living there, whatever. This story is NOT my idea of what my return from my Camino will be like. Although a party and homemade cookies would be very nice.

Camino minus 21 – Feet, meet shoes. Shoes, meet feet.

Is it going to rain?

If it rains, 1) DH won’t want to ride his motorcycle, and 2) I won’t want to wear my new boots on my long practice walk for the Camino.

In the end, he bet that it would rain and took the car. I bet that it would stay dry and wore my new boots.

Fresh out of the box.

Fresh out of the box.

With such a short time left before I begin my Camino, I was anxious to learn whether my bet would pay off – had it been smart to buy new boots on-line so close to the Big Day? They had arrived in just a week but I hadn’t even taken them out of the box.

The answer appears to be yes.

They will never look this nice again.

They will never look this nice again.

Today was my regular long walk day so it could be perfect for breaking in new shoes, giving me much needed confidence in a decision well made. Or it could be an utter disaster, setting my training back weeks with lots of limping and more black toes. I had packed my backpack with about 20 pounds worth of things I wanted to take on today’s long walk, some I would also take on the Camino:

1. summer sleeping bag

2. rain jacket, still not waterproofed

3. checkbook, although I’m the only person in Europe still using a checkbook

4. glasses, since I’m wearing my sunglasses

5. peanut butter sandwich

6. i.d cards, cell phone, euros and dollar wallets

7. two Camino travel guides, in case of down time

8. hat and hiking poles

9. rosary

10. camera

I later packed my fleece jacket into the bag. And 2 liters of water in a Camelback. I figured that would give me a close estimate of the weight I will be carrying on the path so that I could give the new shoes a realistic try out. With two sets of socks on each foot, the shoes fit snugly and well. And they didn’t untie every ten steps, a persistent problem with my other boots.

So, I own shoes and socks and two pairs of pants. I’m working my way up.

The weather stayed cloudy but dry. Today, May 1, was a German holiday so the roads were empty, although the sidewalks were full of people walking, biking, hiking!

A beer wagon. They were probably ontheir way to the huge beer fest going on in Bad Cannstadt, "Freulingfest."

A beer wagon. They were probably on their way to the huge beer fest going on in Bad Cannstadt, “Freulingfest.”

I had a nice encounter with some young German men, waiting for the rest of their friends at the gas station that has become my WC stop halfway through my long walk. They had day packs and beer!

Heaven forbid there should be a German holiday without beer.

They were friendly and, since they saw me walking past them with my enormous pack (compared to their dinky little day packs), they gave a friendly “Hallo.”  I asked if they were going on a hike, they pointed in the direction they were headed, and asked where I was heading. When I told them they noted, correctly, that my “hike” was really just a walk because it would be all along roads.

They offered me a beer, I declined. I pointed out to them that I had water and they agreed that beer probably wasn’t needed.

I enjoy talking to German men even when they have a beer or two under their belts. The fact that I am old enough to be their mother has alot to do with it. They are like gentle giants, for the most part

I wished them a safe and fun trip, which I’m sure they had, and I continued on my walk. By then I had forgotten about my feet and my pack, which is the sweet spot when you’re trying out new shoes.

Spring in the City.

Bloom where you’re planted.

Feet, shoes, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship . . . .

but I’m taking moleskin and Compeed for blisters, anyway.

Camino minus 22 – the X-Ray-ded edition, with a special warning for the faint of heart

Knowledge is power.

I mentioned yesterday that I had gone to the lab to get medical work done. I realize I’m not as young as I once was, although my Wii Fit instructor/avatar seems pleased as punch with the shape I’m in.  But in preparation for this trip,I knew I’d better find out anything and everything that’s wrong with my health before I go.

I especially wanted to make sure my leg is in good shape. Several years ago, I broke one of the most break-resistant bones in the body – the femur. The thigh bone. I did it snowboarding.

My DH had sent me off that morning with a cheerful “Ha,ha, don’t break your leg!” Well, within one hour of getting to the mountain, I was face down in the snow, unable to get up. Never having broken a bone before, it was an unusual experience.

Also, being in Japan and not speaking the language, it was especially unusual. I think the “rescue” people thought I was just an old American lady slacker, whining over nothing.

OK, here’s the warning. I’m OK with these x-rays of my leg. But others have turned slightly green at the sight. If you tend to turn green, I advise you to scroll down and avert your eyes for a bit.

Otherwise, here are some of the x-rays taken 9 hours after the accident, when I finally got to a hospital:

Side View - OUCH!                        Front View

Ouch.

No problem, though. The American military doctors were excellent. I never had a cast of any kind. Three tiny one-inch scars. My care was wonderful.  And, although I was NOT HAPPY at the time, the Air Force physical therapists had me out of bed and very gingerly back on my feet the next day.

      Kathy5                        Repaired, see the original break towards the top right.

As I recall, the PT to get the strength back in that leg was much more painful than the break.

Thanks to my PT wizards, my recovery was swift. Within a week, I was very carefully getting around on crutches, and, within months, had climbed Mount Fuji, pain free (except for the pain of climbing Mt Fuji, but that’s another story).

However, years later, the site of the break  occasionally gives me a little discomfort. So, I wanted to take a peek inside, before the trip, to make sure nothing weird was going on.

I suspected the discomfort was caused by my simply being out of shape and my poor muscles not being able to handle stress. But for an 800 km walk, I needed to  be sure it was just me failing my body, not technology failing me.

Well, I saw yesterday’s  x-rays. They looked excellent. Even better than they did years ago. No slightly jagged edges where the original break had been, everything looking clean and smooth, like a normal bone, just with a giant nail running from top to bottom. The medical people call it a nail, I think it looks more like a sewing needle.

The metal does not set off airport security.

So, one more hurdle jumped over. The leg is in technologically good shape. I can’t blame anything but my own laziness and “junk in the trunk” for any aches and pains.

Thanks to those amazing military doctors, nurses, and therapists, not to mention the craftsmen who kindly put in hours building structures so I could get around our house, I’m no worse off than before.

All of their names will go with me on my Camino, on a slip of paper, so I can remember them in my prayers along the way. My prayer list will be long, as I remember how blessed I am.

A big hug to my DH.

And, no, I no longer go snowboarding.

Camino minus 25 – Wii train for the Big Day

The rain that was supposed to hit yesterday didn’t come in until last night. Today it is rain, rain, rain. So today I trained inside.

I use my Wii Fit program.

I start with 15 minutes of yoga. Yoga fanatics will be upset about my doing so little. But it’s beneficial, enjoyable, and taxing.

I like doing yoga in the privacy of my own home. I can stumble around and lose balance without losing face. I don’t have to worry about what view of me the tight bodies on either side (or, heaven forbid, behind me) are getting. And, sorry, I do feel badly when I can’t flip around and touch body parts in highly contorted ways like the people on the other mats.

They serenely breath in and out as if they are watching a movie. I huff, puff and sweat like a heavy smoker who has just lumbered up five flights of stairs.

And that’s just for the opening warm ups.

At one yoga class I attended, the teacher led the class in the cool down exercise which was –  of course, what else – standing on one’s head.  The few, pitiful,  beginners were allowed to use the wall for support. Crawling over on my hands and knees, with my fogged-up glasses slipping down my sweat covered nose and my vapor-filled water bottle clenched between my teeth, so that I could simply sit  with my back against the wall, was enough of a cool down exercise for me.

But don’t get me wrong. I like yoga. I’m doing yoga to improve my posture and balance. I know it will help me very much as I make my way up mountain passes with an unaccustomed  weight on my back. I do not want to be one of those who twist an ankle, or worse, and have to call the whole thing off before I really begin.

After yoga, I move on to my least favorite exercises, Wii or no Wii – strength. Sadly, the Wii doesn’t really provide much for upper body strength. You’re mainly on the honor system.

Except for push-ups. Those you can do on the Wii and I do, although I skip the accompanying side plank. My excuse is that I don’t have enough room in the apartment to do push-ups and side planks together, but I know if I had an empty apartment, I still wouldn’t do it.

The rest of the strength work-out is good.

Then, aerobics. Unfortunately, I can’t do my favorite aerobic exercise on the Wii, which is running. Yes, running for the Wii. You don’t use the balance board but hold the controller in your hand and it keeps track of your speed. I can’t do it here, though, because we have the world’s squeakiest floors.

If you’ve lived in Japan, you may be familiar with the idea of  “nightingale floors.” The story is that, in the days of the Shoguns and the early Emperors, floors were deliberately left to squeak so people could hear someone (i.e. Ninjas!!) approaching. This could also serve as a great excuse for shoddy craftsmanship and/or high humidity on wooden floors and keep you from having to honorably kill yourelf.

As an alarm system, it certainly works in our apartment. The business downstairs knows when I get up, when I head into the kitchen, when I sit at the desk, etc. I can’t have them hearing me run with the Wii.

Instead I do hula hoops and step aerobics. Very, very silly and looks childishly easy. However, I have yet to get a perfect score, so I guess it’s harder than it seems.

Lastly, the balance games. They have several, The first is a soccer game where you head the ball and other things that your “teammates” hurl at you. Somehow, I consistently miss the soccer balls they throw and  always get konked on the head by the shoes they toss.

Another balance activity is the ski jump. Let’s not go into details, since it looks easier that sitting down – all you have to do is pretend to jump. Yet, I’m a total Olympic-sized weenie.

To finish off my inside work out, I found a step machine at the thrift shop about three weeks ago. It’s small but powerful, has hydraulic lifts, and an electronic counter. Also, it sways slightly from side to side, I guess to mimic your natural motion if you were actually walking up steps.

I step on and turn on the DVD player. I watch an episode of “The Simpsons” or “Curb your Enthusiasm.” Both work well to take my mind off the monotony of stepping in place in my apartment.

When I’m finish, I’m drenched.

I’m ready for a nice glass of whine.