Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: appreciate

Where Am I?

Life has been moving along at a steady pace, and I haven’t had a chance to take stock and see where I am. And then I’m going through my bag of Dove chocolates and come upon this!

IMG_7635How true is that? No matter where we are, good or bad, high or low, hot or cold, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. My “exactly where you’re supposed to be” is…

  • in decent shape but hoping to do more running and practicing yoga and hiking and bike riding. I guess that’s a place where I’m always at – wanting to do more physical outdoor activity. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’m doing just enough in that arena.
  • in a positive, soul-lifting, wonderful relationship where I’m learning everyday how to give and take, communicate, appreciate, and just “be.” I try not to jump ahead to fast or linger on the past but really cherish each moment we have, no matter how mundane.
  • in a job that holds just the right amount of stress and challenge where I’m not exhausted and burnt out nor am I bored and restless. I have some great colleagues and some interesting brain work. I’m so fortunate to have landed here.
  • at an age where I feel relatively secure, caring less about what others think, feeling a little more in touch with my own wants and needs and not afraid to express or prioritize them. That’s a nice solid feeling.

There is lots more to come in my life, but for now, I am content in the space I occupy. The roses smell sweet. The air feels refreshing. The sunlight is warming. I sleep well at night and enjoy the days as they come. Thank you, universe!

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A Wee Post to Reconnect

It's only been a few days since I last posted, but each day feels so long here on my travels since so much happens, I think. Not that so much REALLY happens, but I'm doing something different each day, learning new things, seeing new things, talking about new things, and each day feels more than its usual 24 hours. As a result, one day passes, and it feels like more have elapsed.

View of beach at Paihia, on the bus en route to Kerikeri

I am now in Kerikeri, almost at the top of the North Island of New Zealand. I'm at a lovely couple's home in the countryside. They own 13 acres and have it used for gardens (veggies and plants and flowers), for livestock, and left for paddock. I'll talk more about the WWOOFing in another post.

I can't get over how amazing this time in New Zealand has been. Food, people, fresh air, sights and sounds. I haven't really done anything spectacular or adventurous; but I've met beautiful people, reconnected with the earth physically and metaphysically, and have extricated myself from a desk-technology-centered life for just a few months (well, except for my iPad and iPhone).

Instagram-ed photo of the Tasman Bay in Nelson, from the bus on our way to Picton

When I talk to people and tell them that I quit my job before coming out there, I often get the reaction that I'm brave or that it takes a lot of gumption to up and do that. I didn't feel that brave or gumption-ful at the time– it just felt like it was time to leave the job, and I could have gone on to find another job and continued on with life in that fashion.

I'm going back home to the U.S. with new insights, with new ideas, with new friendships, and with a new appreciation for lamb (I never used to eat it, but free-range, grass-fed lamb is quite tasty!).

I'm getting clearer ideas of what I want to do and where I want to be when I get back, but I'm not quite ready to share with the world yet. I know I have to, not only just to let people know but also I'm realizing the importance of feedback and support from others. I'm anticipating big changes up ahead. I need the courage, also, to take the big leaps because I know I am capable. I fear failure and slow-going and mistakes. I have to learn to embrace all that and accept that things are always messy when there is big change involved.

So just wanted to reconnect with my inner self in this post. And to once again appreciate all that has allowed me to be here, in this place, at this time.

WWOOFing and Tourist-ing

I'm reminded often of how different this kind of traveling that I'm doing is compared to regular sightseeing travel. There's a time and place for each kind of travel, and I can't say one is better than the other. It definitely takes a certain frame of mind to do it either way.

WWOOFing

Seeing New Zealand as a WWOOFer, I'm getting a view that travelers AND residents alike probably wouldn't get unless they were farmers or gardeners. Interestingly, many Kiwis know about WWOOFing (unlike in the U.S.) because I guess it's common enough. Though cityfolk don't seem to know it.

It's like a homestay or a travel exchange. I eat with the family, get to know family members, including pets, and get to see another way of life at a very home-based level. I hear what people talk about at the dinner table. I see what people eat for their meals. And most interestingly, I get to pick up on country-specific idioms and ways of speaking. There are a few choice phrases that I've picked up that I just love because they're a bit country-ish and totally endearing:

  • heaps” as in “We just have heaps of veggies during the summer.” or “We have heaps of weeding to do today!” It's obvious what “heaps” means, and I love hearing it.
  • good on ya” as in “Oh, you can feed the animals tomorrow? Good on ya.” or “You did the dishes again? Good on ya!” You're seeing what I mean by country-fied speak here in New Zealand?
  • I reckon” as in “It's going to rain tomorrow, I reckon.” or “We've got a southerly wind coming in tomorrow; it'll be cold, I reckon.” or “Americans are quite materialistic, I reckon.” Seriously, both country-fied people and city people use this phrase ALL THE TIME. It's awesome!!
  • wee” as in “We put a wee lamp in your room.” or “I'll have a wee piece of cheese to go with this.” Men, women, children use this adjective all over the place. Totally cute. A bit of the British in the language, I daresay.

The list could go on, but those are some of my favorites.

WWOOFing also allows me to get my hands dirty, learning about gardening, farming, living off the land in various degrees (off the grid, plugged in, from garden to table, using a supermarket to supplement…). How cool is this? Getting to get free room and board (and usually the board includes great food, use of a washing machine, a great hot water bottle or electric blanket, and even a bike to borrow on days off!) with nothing to give in exchange except 5-6 hours of honest physical labor.

More before and afters of weeding. Can you tell the difference? Some of the statues and furniture were moved around.

So I'm getting fresh air, exercise, education, and lots in return! I'm also feeling the benefits and joys from things like weeding before and afters or a good collection of chicken eggs in a morning round or seeing the shoots or seeds planted growing bit by bit each day. Or getting to harvest my own greens for a good salad or stir fry or soup. I've had some kind of fresh produce everyday since coming to New Zealand (except for my day in Auckland), directly from a garden that I saw and had contact with.

Eggs I collected yesterday on my daily horse-chicken feeding round. So exciting! Free range, warm chicken eggs straight from the roost! I even have to physically move some chickens off the eggs to get at these eggs.

Tourist-ing

You have a lot more freedom with this method of travel. Go, stay, see the sights, hang out, stop for coffee, eat at a restaurant, cook in a kitchen at a hostel or apartment rental. I've definitely enjoyed this type of travel when I've done it. My trip to Paris last March was a great four and a half days (so short, I know!) of museum-hopping, cafe-stopping, and just walking-walking-walking around the beautiful city. I must've done like at least 10 miles a day!!

My favorite sculptor, Auguste Rodin, at his museum, which was, sadly, closed for renovation. But the sculpture garden was open... I love that museum in Paris!

Basilica of the Sacred Heart on a beautiful early spring day in March. Buskers doing their thing, couples, tourist groups, lots of Parisians and tourists alike.

With touristing, you don't often get to meet “the natives” and get a feel for how people live in that city. You remain “other” to the city or country. You are an outsider, and things are fine as is.

So far in New Zealand, I've only had a few days as a tourist– one day in Auckland when I arrived (at 6am from LAX!) and two-half days in New Plymouth on my days off from my first WWOOF host. Starting this weekend, I'll be a tourist again for almost two weeks, traveling the West Coast of the South Island– supposedly the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. I'll be staying at hostels, eating cheaply (probably bread, yogurt, muesli, and other easy meals I can whip up in hostel kitchens).

One thing about WWOOFing versus tourist-ing is that there's a HUGE different in how much money you spend (for obvious reasons). I've calculated that I've spent a little more than $200 in the last month I've been in NZ (not including my bus pass which was $415 or my plane ticket which was a little over $600). Wow, that's about $8/ day. And $70 of that was gift vouchers that I gave to my first host family to thank them for an amazing stay. Other than that, I've only spent money on some food here and there and city bus tokens. And I've estimated that my next two weeks of travel will cost me about $500 or so with hostel and food costs and maybe some excursion costs. Yikes! Definitely puts costs into perspective when you're WWOOFing.

But don't WWOOF if you're not ready for and interested in farm work, I'd say. Otherwise, you just feel like free labor for something you won't really enjoy. And all that for a day off here and there, you might think? Like today, I weeded a garden bed, picked up sticks across a stretch of grass so the owner could mow, and snipped off low hanging leaves on a flax tree. And that took up about 6 hours of work. Not recommended for those of you who don't want to get some dirt under your fingernails, cobwebs in your hair, and be squatting for hours on end.

I'm even thinking of where else I could WWOOF so I could get a similar experience in another country– like Provence or Tuscany or Hawaii or farmland of Korea or Japan… Anyone want to join me? 🙂

One drawback of WWOOFing is that you need a good chunk of time to travel like this. Staying just for a week or a few days just doesn't cut it.

The Universe Gives

I don't know if I'm just a lucky person or if it's something in my optimistic and overall positive outlook, but (knock on wood!) I think the universe has been good to me, not only on this trip so far, but also in my life. Maybe I'm jinxing myself by saying this… (hopefully not!)

Case in point: I'm currently at a really cool place. But this wasn't always the case. After I left the vineyard, I was set up to stay at a home in Christchurch. It seemed all good to go, and the couple had received a good review, so I thought it would be as great as my other two places were. I won't go into too much detail because this is a public blog after all, but it just wasn't a good fit for me. The couple was really nice, but there were environmental issues that didn't work for me, and I decided after a day and a half that I didn't want to stay. So I found this place on the WWOOF website, and the woman of the house responded straight away (that's another Kiwi phrase– “straight away”) that I could come– perfect timing, she said.

The property consists of 13 acres of paddocks (grassy fields) divided into sections for different types of animals; a beautiful big house; gardens; and other nooks and crannies with little treasures in the form of statues, courtyards, little hideaways for kids and adults to enjoy. The family has lived here for a little over a decade, and it's obvious they've put a lot of work into it. There are endless projects that both woman and man of the house are working on– everything from the man of the house's little personal cottage to an earthquake-damaged spa pool room that could be converted into a study to more gardens… Intense! But they love it, for sure.

View into the gardens from the front of the house. The two brick pillars are actually their chimney which fell down from the earthquake, so they installed them here as an entryway to their garden.

A little about the animals, most of which are as pets and amusement:

  • 4 llamas: Obama, Humphrey, Yoda (a miniature llama), and Cameo. Those are funny animals, and I guess they sometimes use them as pack animals– taking them on hikes so they can carry the equipment and stuff.
  • 4 horses: Starbuck and Paloma are more just pets– beautiful. Jimi (named after Jimi Hendrix) is a thoroughbred which the youngest daughter will be training as a show horse. And then there's Wolfie, a little miniature horse– such a cutie.
  • About 9 chickens, I think– kept for their eggs. A funny clucking bunch.
  • 4 cats: India (the mother), Muffin, Prince, and Totoro (yes, named after the Hiyao Miyazaki character! He's a cute little grey cat. The rest are black with various patches of white.), each with their own personality. And much loved by the owners.
  • A few cows– for milk, which they sell to the local community. I don't know their names and haven't formally met them. 🙂

So my jobs on the farm mostly consist of weeding and helping here and there with odd jobs. I feed the chickens and Jimi and Wolfie each morning. And feeding the chickens also involves collecting their eggs. That's quite interesting– I have to physically remove the hens from their roost to get the eggs that they're sitting on (not fertilized since there's no rooster). A bit close for comfort, but I haven't gotten pecked yet. I've also picked up sticks so the man of the house can mow the lawn; cleaned out their courtyard (weeding and raking leaves); and weeded and weeded and weeded!

A before and after of my weeding. This patch took me about an hour, I think. Isn't it lovely?

My daily attire (as it has been on all the farms) includes:

This family definitely doesn't have a shortage of gear, especially gumboots. These are ALL for WWOOFers! All shapes and sizes!

  • gumboots– these are basically used as rainboots back in Boston, but they're essential on a farm as you're walking through dew, manure, dirt, and all sorts of terrain. My mom, before I left, asked if I should buy my own to bring because she saw them on everyone's feet when she was researching WWOOFing (to ensure that I was going to be safe!!). But every WWOOF host has WWOOFer gear, including gumboots. I will never look at rainboots the same again!
  • work jumpsuit (not sure what's the exact term)– a full body suit, made of cotton, to keep your clothes clean when you're brushing up against hairy and furry animals, working with dirt and manure, pruning rose bushes… Also to keep you warm. I have yet to come across a snugly fitting suit– most are too big for me, but they're great!
  • gloves– super important for whatever– weeding, picking up chickens, protecting your hands from thorns, pricklies, dirt, bugs, etc. I have yet to use the gloves that my youth back home gave me as a going away present (best ever!) because every host has gloves, so I don't have to dirty mine.
  • sun hat– I brought this, and it's been great to have to keep my face shaded. Supposedly there's a big hole in the ozone over New Zealand so the UV rays are stronger, and it does feel brighter here than back in the U.S., so a hat is really important.

I'm feeling lucky that I landed here. I'm learning so much from the couple that owns the place. About farm life from the man of the house and about sustainable and spiritual life from the woman of the house. “B”, the man of the house, is teaching me about correct terminology– tools, equipment, and the like. He's adamant that I know the correct vocabulary so we can communicate more efficiently and effectively with each other. He's all about logic, efficiency, working smart. He's a hard worker and his “doing” orientation really makes this place run.

From “F”, the woman of the house, I'm learning about things to feed the soul– making bread, eating organics, the beauty of gardening and going with the flow, living for the moment, following your dreams. She's so different from her partner, and such a kind and beautiful soul. They make a fun and interesting couple.

My tiny little cottage (?) off of the house. Just a bed, desk, stereo, some books, and bureau with a few windows. I use the bathroom in the main house. It's a cute little set up.

So I don't know if I've just lucked out to land with such amazing hosts because I'm sure not all WWOOFing hosts would be the perfect fit for me, but so far it's been great. I'm eating well here, too. And learning about a different way of sustainable living. They're not off the grid like my first host was– definitely plugged into the real world and technology. It's interesting to see different lifestyles where making and growing your own food is central.

I have so many books I want to read when I get back to the U.S., and so much I want to look into– permaculture design course, biodynamics course, gardening clubs… Just have to take one step at a time.

Back to the title of this post, then– I think the other part of receiving so much from the universe is that one has to be open to receive whatever comes. Turning lemons into lemonade. Or making the best of any situation. Or seeing the good side in whatever happens. So maybe things have happened to me that may have been unpleasant, negative, even bad (?); but I've been open to whatever it is I'm supposed to learn from that situation and moved forward.

There's an alchemy here of positive attitude, optimism, luck, benevolence of the universe, and acceptance, I guess, which is important in living day to day. I'm so appreciative of all I'm receiving right now. Thanks, Universe!!

The Power of Community and Culture

I've been at the Seresin Estate for a little under a week, and each day has been different. What a change from my previous place where I was pretty much weeding a home garden everyday, which was really nice and rewarding, of course! Here, there has been a lot of variety, which has also been really educational and interesting. And I've been eating self-cooked meals everyday which has been nice for a change.

Front view of the house where I'm staying. Cozy, quaint. In the middle of vineyards!

  • Monday afternoon: I arrived and we weeded. By “we” I mean the two other WWOOFers, the head gardener, and his apprentice. A nice team of five with lots of chatting, storytelling, and jokes. Made chickpeas and veggies with rice for dinner.
  • Tuesday: in the morning, we did more weeding (a different area from the day before– maybe it was onions?) and then all afternoon we did the biodynamic preparation 500 that I explained in my previous blog post. And that “we” included our team and about 20 other volunteers and employees from the vineyards and winery. Made swiss chard and pasta with feta and colby cheese and cooked up some lamb sausage from the farm for dinner.
  • Wednesday: we continued weeding onion plants, a challenging job because the onion shoots were not much bigger than the weeds! And that was it for that day. This was the most tedious work we've done so far, but enjoyable because of lots of conversation and nice weather. Made falafel and pita with the others in our house for dinner. YUMMM!!!
  • Thursday: we prepped a section of land to plant potatoes using stakes and string. And in the afternoon we planted a few hundred potatoes in teams of two with a few more additions to our team of five. That was cool– planting all these spuds by hand (most people nowadays do it by machines, especially when doing on the scale we were– a lot!). Made grilled cheese sandwiches with swiss chard and spinach for dinner.
  • Friday: planted more potatoes, the rest for the land that had been prepped. Good morning's work. Filled some packets of wonderful composted soil for tomato plants which will be planted in a few weeks. Then after lunch did the preparation 500 again at the other estate, Raupo, which is the biggest area and where the best grapes are grown. Extra long day but felt quite accomplished at the end! Had some pancakes that one of the other WWOOFers made for dinner.

Strawberry patches in one of the garden areas on the estate.

To give you an idea of how each day works here, here's a typical day's schedule:

  • Wake up with the sun (I have my shades open for this reason) around 6:30 or 7am.
  • Lounge in bed a little.
  • Do my morning routine.
  • Eat breakfast– usually some muesli and yogurt or milk and a piece of toast with tea.
  • Read or take a morning walk.
  • Go to the estate (which is about 3 miles up the road) by one of the WWOOFers van or by walking (about an hour walk) or by bike (about 20 minutes).
  • Arrive at the estate by 10:30am-ish just as the employees are finishing up their morning tea time– a break where they eat snacks and drink coffee and tea. They start at 7:30am, but not us!
  • Get started working. Go until about 1pm when we break for lunch in their “smoko” room– basically the break room which is called “smoko” because it used to be where people would take a smoke for breaks; but people don't smoke here.
  • After a half hour lunch, work some more until about 4:30pm. And then head home.
  • Get home and relax a bit.
  • Make dinner with the other WWOOFers.
  • Take a shower. And then relax for a few hours– read, write, check email, just sit and chill.
  • Go to bed by about 9:30 or 10pm.

I'm outdoors all day which is wonderful. Such a reversal from life before where I'd be in an office all day with a glimpse of the outdoors on my walk to and from the train station and maybe during lunch if I had to go buy my lunch that day. Being outside for at least 6 hours a day is really do-able here in New Zealand. Even if it's a little cold or cloudy (or rainy), it's so beautiful. And there are the sounds of the wind, the birds, nature.

One thing I'm really getting exposed to here at the vineyards is the power of community. Even though it's a company– producing wines for sale all over the world– there is a feeling of family and closeness among the employees and even with the managers and higher ups.

Every Wednesday, they have a company smoko where all the winery and vineyard staff get together with the managers to give updates over some kind of food that they take turn preparing. Last week, the person on made amazing cheesy scones. So everyone hears the company updates and gets familiar with how the business is running. They also hear updates about the garden, which isn't so much part of the company side but is really about keeping some biodiversity and using the land for positive and meaningful things. The WWOOFers are also acknowledged at this meeting, which was held, not at a stuffy conference table, but standing around on an outdoor patio, over coffee and scones.

In addition to that meeting, I get the sense from the people I see daily over morning tea and lunch, those who work in the vineyards, that they all have each other's back and enjoy each other's company and respect each other. They truly believe in the organic and biodynamic principles. They really value each other as individuals. They value the earth and the animals on the farm. And they get paid doing this!

I've learned that the winemaking/ vineyard industry is really that, an industry as any other, and that few growers and winemakers think about the impact on the earth as Seresin does. Why do we have to rip up and destroy the earth to get what we want out of it? If we take an approach of respecting and giving back to the earth in exchange of what we take out of her, everything is more beautiful, sustainable, harmonious and productive.

Here's an example:

Notice the difference in these two unedited photos of vineyards. The top photo is of a conventional vineyard which uses herbicides and chemicals. The bottom photo is of one of Seresin's vineyard rows. Notice the color difference– brown grass on top, green grass on the bottom. Notice the feel you get– dry, brittle, a bit barren on top; lush, gentle, relaxed on the bottom.

So good wine here is about a holistic view– from the soil to the plant to the grape to the production to the people to the gardens amongst the vines to the treatment of their animals and people. It's about building a culture of sustainability, of respect, of value and love. Something I also really believe in and want to bring to anywhere I go and work and live.

I'm learning to read the earth these last few weeks. It's like learning a new language: what are edible plants, what are natives versus exotics, what is herbicided versus organic, what different birds are, etc. I can't wait to come home and see if I'm able to read the earth as I'm doing here.

A view outside the house where I'm staying. Hello, tree, said the bush.

 

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