At Lollypop Beach, I’m here to remind you that no matter what kind of diagnosis or upheaval you’re faced with, there is light, hope and joy waiting for you. (And it’s closer than you think.)
I believe in regeneration of body and spirit. Dreaming during darkness and breathing in the promise of dawn. Nurturing yourself, sharing love and connection, seeing beauty, finding opportunities, and experiencing wonder and adventure.
I understand the healing power of healthy living, compassion and finding the right team for your health and life. I’ve also learnt that building resilience is vital to achieving your best possible health and living up to your potential.
I embrace that life, like the sea, can be wildly unpredictable. I’ve found inspiration through living in a country with a history of people stepping up during times of adversity. When you believe you have the inner strength to face anything that happens, every day is lived with hope and grace. At Lollypop Beach it’s always that kind of day — your precious life is both sweet and conquerable, an ocean of possibilities.
This is a place for retreat, renewal and to see the world differently.
Thank you for being here. Get to know me on the About page.
Australian writer Tim Winton, Land’s Edge: A Coastal Memoir
Twilight is time’s movement. Confirmation there is always tomorrow to start anew. To hope. To believe. To end a day feeling peace and contentment. I’m at Point Roadknight beach under the soothing glow of an evening twilight — with the kind of man I thought I’d never meet and the knowledge that I have stable health and a lifestyle to help keep it that way. My deliberate life of simplicity and minimal stress now allows time for my passions (this blog combines two, writing and the beach). It’s a long way from inner-city noise, alienation and the fishbowl life of the modern office; the life I ran from in mid 2013.
Walks have always sustained me and I have found the outside world to be at its glorious best at twilight, that magical time between sunset and dusk or between dawn and sunrise. This is thinking and reflecting time, or if you’re with someone else, sharing time. At twilight, life’s treasures are illuminated and its toils softened; the embracing and the letting go seem to happen naturally. What joys can we savour before nightfall? What must we still endure through? What can be reduced to a grain of sand and washed out to sea? At Point Roadknight under the twilight this evening, my partner and I enjoy the pleasures of walking, climbing and rockpooling together, thankful for what we have found.
Point Roadknight beach forms an arc, which makes it a captivating site when you walk on to the beach from the car park. The point and its reef protrude 500 metres, a popular spot for fishermen. While it looks tranquil here and the point offers some shelter to the beach, both Point Roadknight and neighbouring Urquhart Bluff can sometimes be hazardous due to rips. The beach attracts surfers, windsurfers and swimmers, and during the summer holidays is patrolled by the Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club.
My first visit to Point Roadknight is intensified by experiencing it at twilight — the colour blue, the sound of waves, the smell of the sea and the touch of the rocks are sensory delights. Twilight has a distinctive quality that photographers and painters also love. With the sun below the horizon, the surface of the Earth is neither completely lit nor completely dark. There are no shadows and objects appear silhouetted against the sky’s blue luminosity. Photographers call this ‘sweet light’, and painters refer to it as the blue hour (after the French expression ‘l’heure bleue’). In this place, I just call it magic — and my phone’s camera agrees. A day closes with amazing grace.
If in your heart you want to feel more beauty, curiosity and freedom, jump in your car and point it towards the Great Ocean Road. Point Roadknight is just the tip of the iceberg baby!
Where: Point Roadknight Beach is located on the Great Ocean Road, 37 km (23 miles) from Geelong. It adjoins the short Point Beach, then the shoreline continues uninterrupted to Urquhart Bluff. Anglesea Beach is located 2 km to the east.
Song: ‘Rockaway Beach’ by the Ramones (1977), a bopping punk tune that captures the carefree mood of our visit. After an afternoon and dinner at the Aireys Inlet Music Festival, we were rockpooling with our toes still tapping.
To see beauty is to be curious about the world around you. To open your eyes, ears and heart to what is before you, and to delight in the adventures you create from what you find. You can experience this by travelling across continents or by living in the smallest of towns; The feeling is the same and the treasure is in the memory.
If you were a fortunate child, your parents regularly gave you freedom to explore. You never forget the thrill of this. Curiosity can feel clandestine. Discovery can taste delicious. The more you discover, the more you want to find. Exploration is instinctive. I was always looking at nature and man-made structures wanting to know more and thinking about my own responses to what I saw: How much do I like this? Why do I like this? How can I see it again?
Somewhere along the line in early adult life, my study, work and social life become so predominant that I hardly noticed the world around me anymore. I’d walk for exercise, but be thinking about work, holidays or people. It would take something dramatic or obvious for me to notice my environment. I’d be jolted by a sunset casting a spotlighting glow over the street or taken by surprise by needing to dodge a stunning rose extending beyond a fence. Yet travel was different; On the road I could be alive to every experience, breathing life in, amazed by the differences a new place offers and how calming it feels to explore and to learn. Perhaps this is a large part of travel’s attraction.
It was only when my life was touched by grief at age 27 that I reopened my eyes to the precious gifts that surround us in daily living. And 10 years later, I began to understand how being aware of my surroundings more often, could also have benefits for my health. Mindfulness is one of many strategies I use to maintain stable health with MS.
You can create a contented and wonderfully adventurous life within your own home city or town if you stay curious enough to see beauty. Perhaps the following suggestions will trigger more ideas for you.
♥ Gardens and agriculture. When you pass a garden, look at the colours, smell the aromas and feel the textures. Appreciate the work and love that goes into it. The same applies for crops and fields of flowers. Let yourself feel something about the fact that what you are seeing will feed us or adorn our cities and tables. Imagine the farmers and the growers. If you pass a vineyard, notice the growth and season; Have the vines just been pruned, is it budburst or are the grapes close to harvest? Imagine the grape growers, the winemaker and the sommelier who will pair the wine with a menu.
♥ Untamed nature. In the wild, marvel at creation. Sense freedom when looking at the ocean, waterways, trees and wild flowers.
♥ Art and architecture. Relish the artistry within a movie or a theatrical show. Take in the experience in its entirety: sets, lighting, costumes, music and the performances. Look closely at interesting buildings, bridges and artworks. I have a fascination with gargoyles. From the cheeky ones, to the menacing ones, I like imagining their story: Why is this gargoyle here? What it is declaring or protecting us from? I’ve gazed upon the gargoyles of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and I’ve searched them down in Melbourne; both experiences felt exciting and playful.
♥ People’s faces and outfits. Look at the detail in people’s faces and wonder about their individual stories and what brought them to this place. Simply observe and wonder what they can teach you. On other days, talk to strangers (you’re big now). Listen to teenagers or uni students talk on a train — and realise how far you’ve come. Listen to the aged — and realise how much more wisdom there is to be gained through living. Observe fashion, it’s fun, even when you can’t afford what they’re wearing. Look at accessories, there will be ideas for any budget that can be matched to a current wardrobe or to a classic purchase that will have lasting value.
♥ The sky and clouds. Like Amélie, be amazed by the ever-changing scene above. I have fond memories from when I was aged 15 and camping with a friend’s family by the sea at Eden, NSW. Ten or so teenagers from the small campground would be lined up next to each other, backs on the sand, looking up at the sky talking about the clouds. Again and again, always something different to talk about — until someone needed another icy-pole. Nowadays, I cloud-watch from my sister’s shade-covered swinging outdoor chair or look up from a towel or picnic rug for a short-time (wearing sunscreen and sunnies).
♥ Sunshine. When you’re in the sunshine, think about how the sun feels on your skin; its warmth and energy. In regular small doses, sunbaking assists a healthy immune system and is recommended for those of us with MS. Just five minutes on each side on a sunny day and about 15 mins if cloudy will be enough, then cover up (check the UV levels on the weather report).
♥ The detail. Look at specifics in nature. Pick something to closely observe when you see it throughout the day or during a walk. It could be flowers, leaves, birds, insects…or even a colour. Notice its presence and at the end of the day write down, or tell someone, what you saw. Feel thankful for experiencing this wonder and adventure.
Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
For the ultimate guide on seeing the beauty in this world, watch the following TED talk. It could be the most clarifying 9.47 minutes you spend this week. Then, if you can, take a walk into the world.
Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. (also embedded below)
Meet Jaana: Musician, photographer and my pen pal since 1974
When I was nine years old, my Grade 4 teacher handed each child in the class a slip of paper with a typed name and address on it and announced, “This is your international pen pal and today you’ll be writing your first letter”. It was to be the most valuable class of my entire education.
Jaana Vitikka (née Kantoluoto) of Kokkola, Finland, has been my pen pal for almost 40 years. She was diagnosed with MS in 1997, five years before my own diagnosis. Jaana is an exceptional person and I feel blessed to have her as a friend, guiding me with her courage, wisdom and grace.
Our first letters compared likes. Jaana likes school, violin, piano, folk music, drawing, movies, embroidery, horses, snow and the outdoors. Linda likes school, reading, movies, crafts, little athletics, going to the footy, bike riding and swimming in the river or at the beach. Over the years Jaana added music teaching, performing, photography — and the love of her life Kimmo (who shares her passion for AC/DC, F1 racing and vintage cars). I added writing, travel and going to galleries, concerts and dance shows. Because of MS, we both now have an interest in health and medical research.
The way Jaana has handled the challenges in her life has had a huge impact on me. She’s been an angel across the miles helping to guide me through life’s difficult times, particularly being diagnosed with MS. Jaana’s inate gentleness never wavers; Even through days of pain, anger and frustration, her warmth finds hope.
I invited Jaana to share her story as it can also help others.
You were diagnosed with MS in 1997 and in 2010 were treated for ovarian cancer, where did you find support and how is your health today?
I’m feeling quite well. I have many little problems because of MS, not so much the cancer. I have Rebif injections two times a week and when necessary take headache tablets. I give huge loving thanks to my awesome husband Kimmo. It helps to have someone to share things with, we laugh at the different kinds of symptoms. Laughter is my life!
Over the years I’ve always loved hearing about the creative things you do (art, crafts, music, photography). Can you tell us about your changing career and interests and how MS has impacted what you do?
I am a folk music teacher and I play violin and piano. After a career of more than 25 years, I retired last year because I often get tired and walking around is now a little difficult for me. I still play music, but I don’t teach teens anymore. Now when I’m at home, I can rest or sleep whenever I want. I like to be outside as much as I can and that’s when my camera becomes my best friend. Kimmo joins me when I go to the forest. It takes me longer to walk, but if the weather is beautiful it’s what I love to do. When I take photos I feel like I can do anything. My mind is free and I have no time to think about sickness.
One of my career highlights was being in a folk group that made a record and toured in Europe. I also won a Finnish championship in folkmusic fiddling and received a Kokkola Medal. Our Finnish MS magazine interviewed me because they were interesting in how I can play the violin with my MS. I still play, but not for as long a time as I get tired so quickly.
Hot weather is painful to me. That’s when I like to stay inside, read, draw, play or talk on facebook with my other MS friends. In autumn and winter I love wearing woolen stockings!
You’re one of the most resilient and optimistic people I know. What do you do to help yourself get through difficult days? What brings you joy?
Like everybody, I have bad and painful days too. Then, if it’s possible, I go out with my camera — or in summer I work in my garden. Early in the morning, it’s lovely sitting out there and you hear only birds. I also have a wonderful friend in South Finland, who also has MS. In difficult times, we connect using Skype and we cry and laugh with each other…lots of black humour!
If I feel very unwell, I cry. I made a promise to myself that it’s OK to do this. You can’t laugh all the time and you’ve got a right to feel bad and angry sometimes.
It’s now more than eight years since your beautiful mum died — and your dad died when you were very young. What advice do you have for anyone going through grief?
My dad died when I was nine. I can’t remember him so well. I look many times at photos of us and think that he must have been a great dad. Mom died in 2005. It was a shock — and not. I knew she was very sick and it was just a matter of time. My mom is no longer here, but she is in my dreams. I think of her all the time, but not like I must cry; I have a smile on my face when I think of her. I remember how she sang to me all the time when I was a kid and maybe that was the reason I started to play music. Thanks mom!
You have a beautiful life in Finland and I know how much you love living there. Can you tell us about life in Finland throughout the seasons.
My favourite seasons are now autumn and winter. Because of my cancer operation in 2010 I get huge hot flushes. I love cold air! Not every winter is so cold that it is minus 40 celsius, but it’s not a surprise here. You need warm clothes and good shoes to go outside, and good sunglasses if you don’t want to have headache when the sun shines with snow. Sometimes our summers get very hot, last year we even had days near 40 celsius.
Your pet bunnies are so funny! People rarely have rabbits as pets here, and they’re not the cute floppy-eared ones. Tell us about your bunnies and what they mean to you.
I got my first bunny in 2000. He was floppy-eared and his name was Jussi. He died in 2006. Next was lionhead rabbit. Her name was Assi and she was my greatest therapist. When she died in 2011 I understood how much a pet can mean to you; I cried my eyes out. After that I tried to be without any, but when I was home alone (when Kimmo was at work) I didn’t have anybody to talk to or have in my arms. I knew if I got a new one it would hard to go anywhere (if we don’t have anybody to look after it). It’s very stressful to the bunny if you move it around, it likes to be at home. Well, of course Kimmo and I had a little disagreement about getting a new one, but maybe I am too strong a person when we talk about bunnies! In 2011 I bought this black ‘devil’ and his name is Vesku. He eats everything — and I mean everything. He’s the sunshine of my life. He sits with me when I watch tv or I do something with my computer. When I play music, he comes into the same room….like a dog (almost). I talk to him and yell sometimes, but I think he still loves me as much as I love him.
You and Kimmo have a beautiful love story. When and how did you meet?
I met Kimmo in 1990. He was a friend of my older sister’s daughter. It was Easter and I’d been at a choir concert (I was singing in Middle Ostrobothnia’s chamber choir). Kimmo had a car accident and he and Tuulia were visiting my mom (I lived at home then). I looked and thought, “What a nice fellow”…Soon I had a birthday and I sent him a postcard to join my birthday party — and he came! After that, well you know, we were engaged in 1991 and married in 2001. Wow, how time flies. I’m so lucky that Kimmo loves me as I am. Even when I got this damn sickness (MS) he wanted to marry me anyway. When I got cancer in 2010, he stood by me even closer. I was seven weeks in Oulu (North Finland) to get radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Every Friday and Monday he drove to Oulu to get me from there and took me back. Every day he was calling me…I love that man so much! Now we just laugh at all the silly MS symptoms I have. Laughter, that is our secret to happiness.
Anything else to share?
I speak Finnish, Swedish (our second language) and then English. I began studying playing violin the same year I began English and we started to write to each other. I was then nine years old. In our class everyone had the chance to get a penfriend and I got you! And I am soooo happy that all these years later we are still are friends. Love you, my friend!
I love you sweet Jaana. ♥
Being matched with Jaana Kantoluoto as pen pals in 1974 was an incredible moment of good fortune for each of us, enriching our lives in ways our teachers could never have imagined. The intention had been for us to discover what life was like for someone living in the opposite hemisphere of our vast world, but over the years Jaana and I learnt less about difference and more about the values, needs and desires that bind us as people.
I don’t really believe in fate, but this soulful friendship definitely feels like it was meant to be.
Finland through the lens of Jaana Vitikka