Living Small part 2 – downsizing the ‘stuff’

emma leaves

Welcome to Part 2 of our trip down memory lane – to our experiment in living small during 2013/14! As well as life in general, because its all intertwined of course….

 

Let me say, I am struggling with where exactly to start off here. Perhaps a good place would be with a realisation I was recently reminded of:

I’m not easy going.

Or, at least put it this way – it’s not my natural default setting. I remember becoming aware of the concept  in the early days of my relationship with Michael (my now, husband). I said to him “I’m pretty easy going aren’t I?”. Well, the poor boy looked like a deer in the headlights! Stuck and unable to move, he didn’t know what to say to me – but his response told me all I needed to know. It was truly the first time I realised that I could be a pretty inflexible, tighly wound person. I wanted comfort and certainty – as well as the detailed report on how we were going to achieve it!

I’m happy to say I have come a long way (at least I think I have – maybe I need to ask Michael again….) – but I point this out because I think it’s relevant to the whole ‘living simply’ business (whatever that means for you). I imagine one reason people hold off might be that they are too uncomfortable, or worried they aren’t open enough to take it on. I want to say don’t let that stop you – really! The reason I have improved is not that I worked on it, then decided to take on this adventure – it was the other way around.

I took a leap of faith (for lack of a better phrase) and that made me squirm uncomfortably. I had a choice to either quit or deal with it. I deal with it because I know deep down this is the right thing to be doing, for us – even if it is scary and uncomfortable at times. The reward is immense – not only do you get to work towards your chosen goal, you get to grow in the process. That’s big. And the learning is constant – we are no where near perfect. I still get worried and anxious – then shop and eat too much as comfort (I know, I know – but awareness is the first step right?!). I’m constantly learning more about life, and me, and how to deal more healthily with my feelings. Ah, the school of life – I highly recommend it! (Incidentally, there now is an actual “school of life” – started in London by modern day philosopher Alain de Botton. There is an outreach campus in Melbourne – they run what look to be awesome classes and other cool stuff. Check them out here).

And so, back to living small – lets talk about what the biggest (ha ha – that pun was not intended!) changes have been:

Clearing ‘stuff’/decluttering/minimising/downsizing

Whatever you call it, you’ll likely need to shed some of your possessions. I think at the outset, this seems hard – and some of it definitely will be. However, it’s much more about shifting your thinking towards what you actually use and need, rather than learning to go without. In this way it becomes more therapeutic than painful, especially when realising the emotional attachment that we make with “things” may be better invested elsewhere. You also get better at knowing what you really use and so it becomes easier to let go of the excess.With every downsize or declutter we do, I feel lighter and more at peace. I don’t feel so overwhelmed by our stuff, nor have to spend so much frustrating time looking for items. And a surprisingly large amount of time is freed up from buying, organising, maintaing and cleaning what we have.

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just a little indicator of the state of our stuff from the old house – it’s a bookshelf full of non-books, hmmm….

Be warned of two things though:

1. It may become addictive, the post-clear high can be a powerful one! Decluttering may just become your next vice (i’m not joking) – better than gambling though, don’t you think?!.

And 2. It’s not a one-time deal – I think it’s more like a habit that needs to be developed because stuff has a tendency to accumulate. Think birthdays, christmas, hand-me-downs, that recreational rummage through the op-shop or garage sale. Not to mention the ability of random junk to just mysteriously manifest without any input from us whatsoever – what is with that?. You will likely have to revisit your belongings and what is important to you periodically , followed by some more minor, (I imagine) clearing.

What about the how? Well, there are many approaches to decluttering (in fact there are hoards of blogs and books on the subject – enjoy your google discovering and keep in mind many also cross paths with related fields such as voluntary simplicity, minimalism, economics, energy, design and so on). You can tackle the whole shebang or just one room/shelf/box at a time. As someone who gets regularly overwhelmed, with an annoying side-serving of perfectionism (not meaning I am perfect but rather harbour the totally impractical attitude that I must do it, do it thoroughly and complete it…TODAY!), I definitely go for something small and doable in one sitting. Or schedule a whole day/weekend (without small people) to deal with something big and factor in as many pick-me-ups as necessary (think cuppa run, some good food pre-prepared or bought in) because doing this can be hard work – physically, mentally and emotionally. When I took on an area, I sorted things into piles: Keep, Sell, Donate, Bin and Maybe. The ‘maybe’ pile was critical. It took the pressure off getting the decision right – I could put the ‘maybe’ stuff away in a cupboard for a while. If I went looking for something I kept it. If not, it went.

And then, what to do with it? Well, there are several options I can think of (feel free to add more suggestions in the comments…):

  • Sell it – think garage sale, ebay or maybe a notice at work or the local laundromat and spreading the word to friends who may be in the market for what you have.
  • Donate it – there are lots of charities happy to accept items, you can drop them off to their op shop or even have your items picked up in some cases (give them a call to find out – the Salvos definitely do it here in Australia)
  • Recycle it – e.g. stacks of old paperwork – if you shred them up they are great in the garden. You could also just put them in your council recycle bin.
  • Re-purpose it – for instance, maybe those old clothes will be good rags (we are currently using old socks to wash dishes – sounds gross I know but they were well washed before we started!) or maybe that big drinks tub is your ticket to a new wicking bed (we actually picked one up from hard rubbish just for this purpose)
  • Gift it – perhaps someone you know could use what you have. Ask around or make someone a pre-loved present.
  • Bin it – I don’t really like sending things to landfill but sometimes the items aren’t good enough for donating or using again. And sometimes, I just need the sanity that comes from getting rid of that item now – I try and keep these to a minimum.

In our own case we downsized from a standard three bedroom house to a 50m2 shed. So we started with trying to sell some items on ebay, quickly followed by an ‘open house’ garage sale. We essentially moved the things we wanted to keep then opened our doors for people to come in and browse our entire house – if they could see it, they could buy it. It was pretty funny trying to encourage people to come in the front door – we had to say “it’s ok – really!” then explain why we were doing it. A wonderfully unexpected upside was the conversations it started with people – nearly every one we talked to had a ‘living in a shed or caravan’ story. It was heartening to hear them talk about it – all but one expressed them as dearly held memories. After a couple of big weekends doing that, we loaded up the rest into our little blue hatchback destined for the op-shop – about 3 times over. And believe me, the car was full! So much so that when I got to unloading, it reminded me of those skits with a little car and the never ending stream of clowns coming out of it.

All in all we have pretty good memories of downsizing and shedding possessions. I would describe the whole experience (so far – it’s ongoing remember?!) as cathartic and am still amazed at how I don’t regret it. Are there things I wish I didn’t get rid of? Well I think there were a few I mourned – but to be honest, as I sit here and write this, I can’t think of what they were. Ah – one just came to me – it was my childhood diary. I feel a pang of pain at not having the opportunity to look back on it. It’s not even that I want to look at it – it’s the opportunity I feel loss for, isn’t that funny?. In the end though, giving myself permission to let go of all that I went through then (in that diary) and be who I am today (because that’s what I am doing by no longer keeping it) is worth that ‘opportunity cost’ – it is such a release.

And also let me say that we are not ungrateful for all the gifts that we received over the years. Do not be sad that we decided to let some go – we have appreciated and derived great joy from them. We keep the memories and sentiment while moving them on, hopefully to a new home where they may give someone else joy for a time also.

Bye for now

Bye for now

Mel x

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Living Small part 1 – three wood-houses in a tin shed

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And so here is another nostalgic visit to where we have come from – this time looking at the ‘small living’ we tried out prior to our travel, in 2013/14 – enjoy part 1 of this refelction on experimental living…

As some explanation of the title, for those of you unfamiliar with us so far, our family name is ‘Woodhouse’ and we currently live in a tin shed – yep, don’t you just love the irony!

Despite the seemingly natural gravitation of such named people to log-cabin style accomodation, we are loving life in a tin shed. But why do you live in a shed, I hear you ask. It’s a good question – and one we get asked often (usually in the form of a puzzled look when it’s mentioned). Well, it was kind of a serendipitous answer to the question of our life at the time. The question being – “Something isn’t right here – what do we actually want to do in this life and how do we move towards it?”.

We reached that point after many small steps along an unplanned path, which started out with what you might describe as a fairly average kind of existence in our modern western society – wife+husband+child+house+stuff+mortgage+jobs.

Despite being inundated with messages that this is the formula for success, a seemingly increasing number of people are finding this equation = unhappy. Us included.

Its no wonder really – when I step back and take a look now, it reads something like this:

  1. Go to school and work hard so you can go to University;
  2. Go to University and work hard so you can get a good job
  3. Get a good job and work hard so you can earn ever increasing money to pay for the incredibly unaffordable  house you should strive to buy and the stuff you must wear/eat/give/watch/use, (aka consume). And don’t forget to pay off that University debt.

It’s pretty easy to get jaded when trapped in that hamster wheel society labels ‘life’. But the wonderful thing about realising what we were stuck in, was the freedom that ensued. It’s like waking up. Suddenly you realise you don’t have to live the way most people do, you can listen to those small nagging voices of concern, (that turn out to be your real values), and take your true desires seriously – after all, they usually boil down to being a good person and making a positive difference in the world, right?. (if they don’t, maaaaybe you should exit here).

At this point I would like to add a disclaimer – despite the above comments, I am not opposed to working hard – just working hard for the wrong reasons, or towards a misaligned goal. Nor am I advocating we all quit work and live some kind of free floating unfocussed existence forever. There is middle ground somewhere- i’m sure of it. I imagine it to look something like a healthy community where people work together to take care and responsibility for themselves, others and their home – and with support from leaders, as opposed to self-interested power and red tape. Of course, sorting out the detail of what that looks like exactly, (who does what, how do we make it work etc) is a complicated matter- and a lesson I think we are all in the process of learning. Thus, I shall leave the disclaimer at that – back to the story at hand.

So, after working on that question of what we wanted to do in life, a lot of the answers came back to living more simply. You know that kind of peace some people get after going camping for a week? Life is pretty simple – focus on feeding ourselves, staying warm (or cool), spend time talking to our loved ones, having fun, maybe enlightening the brain with some reading and slowing down to the pace of nature. Running away to camp is not a viable option for long term living but the point i’m trying to make is this – when we focus the majority of our energy (physical, mental and emotional) on the simple and important stuff, as in camping, there is a nourishing fulfilment that comes with it.

It was that fulfilment we hoped to gain by simplifying. Living a ‘simpler life’ means different things to different people. We decided our long term goal was to live more responsibly within our environment – find some land, grow food and a community, share the experience and knowledge with anyone interested. Entangled amongst it all was a long-standing desire to see other places, cultures and maybe even make some positive difference there (no doubt taking more than that contribution back to our home in our hearts) – while in addition, giving our daughter the kind of awareness that only comes from seeing these things first-hand. Starting to sound kind of complicated now huh!

“We cant afford to buy land, or go overseas. We both have jobs. We couldn’t get time off. We might have to quit – what would we do when we got back? We have a mortgage to pay. And a child in school”. Plenty of excuses not to sort out a solution, don’t you think? Yup, it’s too-hard-basket material for sure.

Or at least it was, before we changed our thinking.

Once we had thought seriously about things and discovered, in our opinion, what would be a worthwhile purpose and source of joy in this life, it was pretty hard to ignore. It was all a bit ‘blue pill, red pill’ (Matrix reference for any fans – apologies to the confused others who haven’t seen the movie) – I’m referring to the fact that once you know, you can’t go back. So that’s all it took – a change in the mind that said “hmm, maybe….”.

We went from believing excuses to looking for solutions.

I kept saying to myself ‘there must be a way, there must be a way”. Some ideas hatched. What if we…… sell our house, use some of that money to go overseas, come back and put the remainder of our money towards some land. Hmm. No way we’ll be buying a house and land – better buy a caravan to plonk on it instead. Can all three of us live in a caravan? Umm…. maybe?

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soooo…… we bought a caravan – figure we’ll just have to make it work now!

Lo and behold, while mulling it over, we were gifted the discovery of two thought-changing documentaries.

The first was ‘We the tiny house people‘ by Kirsten Dirksen. This is a full length insight into the ever-growing ‘tiny house’ movement. For the uninitiated, there is a myriad of people now voluntarily choosing to live in small spaces. Lots of these, particularly in the states (of the united and American kind) are now building their own tiny house. They come in as many variants as there are colours, but the common theme is a little wooden house on a caravan trailer. It’s a fascinating proposition. And what I love even more about this film is that it doesn’t just cover the beautiful little houses, it shows all sorts of weird and wonderful places from teeny tiny NYC apartments to caves! In doing so, it paints a really good picture of why people are turning to this. For some it is financial, for others it is more about simplicity, self-sufficiency  or independence. I was so grateful to see these people not just making-do with this kind of option but really and truly loving it. With regards to our caravan concept, I went from apprehensive to excited – what a gift! (they do say it’s all in the mind…).

The other doco that landed on our doorstep was ‘Green Gold‘ by John D. Liu – we discovered permaculture and were blown away! We thought “if anything can save this planet, it’s permaculture!”. For those unfamiliar with permaculture, it is a way of growing abundance with the resources we already have – simply through more consideration and design. To give some perspective, this doco shows how whole deserts are rehabilitated just by changing the way they are managed (remove overgrazing cattle, terrace and add trees – give it 3 to 5 years and it goes from brown to green – seriously, the pictures are amazing). If that doesn’t excite you, how about this – they are growing a vegie garden in the middle of the Jordanian desert – within three years it will be self-sufficient, won’t even need irrigation – IN THE DESERT! Phew, talk about a solution contender for feeding the world -we were certainly impressed. Truly – check it out (link above).

So with permaculture and the tiny-house culture fresh in our minds, we felt empowered in our decision – might not be such a crazy solution after all (you can hold the sniggers, thank you!). I think that’s when we started telling people about it.

You can just imagine some of the reactions – no really, go ahead and imagine – you’re probably not far off. There were some ‘interesting’ and expected responses. So it was refreshing to receive encouragement from some quarters – particularly our new friends Toff & Cara who just ‘got it’ from the start. Maybe it was the reciprocated encouragement for their crazy idea to start a bakery without any experience in business or baking! (another disclaimer – i’m allowed to call their idea crazy because we were enthusiastic for them and backed it – so much so that Michael left his job to go work for them! And because it happens to be the hugely popular ‘Home Grain Bakery” at Aldinga & new sibling at McLaren Flat – go you good thing!).

Once you open up to an idea, the possibilities and opportunities just seem to flow in – seriously its weird! But great.  So after chatting about our idea with Toff and Cara, they offered up their shed to live in if we wanted. Finding another place to live wasn’t something we had really given a whole lot of thought to but it turned out to be a golden opportunity, not only because we got to sell our house and stop paying a mortgage asap, but more importantly because it gave us our first experience in sharing, community and living with others. Something we are incredibly grateful for.

So that, my friends, is how we came to be in a shed. I do wish to recount some of the adventures and practicalities of living small so far. However, as the size of this segment appears to have mutated somewhere along the way, I will do so in a follow-up part 2. So stay tuned!

wishing you fun, friends 🙂

Mel x

Micro Market Garden – an experiment

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As part of the Wattlebee project, we decided to experiment with growing food in the backyard – back in 2014. This is an account of that adventure.

So we decided to grow food not just for ourselves, but for market too.

Why? you ask – well the foray into growing food for the family wasn’t yielding as bountiful a result as I would have hoped. So I thought why not try something different – approach it like an entrepreneurial market gardener (albeit a pretty casual, low key entrepreneur). I figured if it worked, then great, we might have a nice sized crop to sell and if not, at worst, there would probably be something at least for us to eat. Besides, it would be good practice!

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So, picture a fairly typical suburban block and backyard with lawn, paved area and the kids’ trampoline and swingset. Add in the garage (currently our home – yes,that’s right – more on that in another post), garden shed, existing shrubbery and you start to get the picture there might not be much room left for growing. In fact there wasn’t really.  Especially compared to the average market garden – or even one of the small urban farms popping up now that convert unused yards and blocks to growing plots- like SPIN farms in the US (Small Plot INtensive – google it) or  Wagtail Urban Farm right here in Adelaide (check them out – they’re doing some cool stuff).

Nevertheless, this exercise was as much about learning to think and plan like a market gardener as it was about growing the produce. So I turned the idea over in my head for a while and like so many things that manifest themselves when you need them, the name of a local kept coming up in conversation. Soon enough we met by chance and eventually discovered that she, the wonderful Jay Kimber, had just launched a local fruit and veg co-op called Produce Boxes (as well as running another venture in reusable cloth pads for ladies – LilliPads – also worth visiting). Jay was offering conventional, spray-free and organic produce with a view to encouraging and supporting more local farmers and backyard growers. It was the perfect opportunity to give this kind of thing a go on a small scale with next to no risk – if I grew good gear, I had a place to sell it and if I didn’t then Jay kept her regular order in place. Simple. And let’s not forget to mention the awesome opportunity which is being part of  a great community-building project!

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So with the blessing of our friends, who own and also live on the property, I commandeered what I could and came up with 25m2 to grow in. After loosening up the soil and adding some black gold (aka compost) from Marty (the Original Green Co in Willunga, SA – 0417 822 506), figuring out the potential market was next on the list. I chatted with Jay about what kind of produce she was looking for, what sort of numbers she might buy and how much for. I pondered what I might like to grow – factoring in ease, season, local suitability and turnover time. After narrowing it down to beetroot and lettuce (plus maybe a little something else here and there), I measured and mapped out the beds and figured out, according to growing time and spacing, how much I could potentially grow. Next I plotted it out on a spreadsheet – how many seeds to sow, in which beds and when (as well as how many seedlings to raise for the next round of planting). Just going through the process of making a plan itself was worth doing.

It was a great plan. Pity it didn’t all pan out!

No, that’s not entirely true, some of it did and some of it unravelled a little – mostly due to my inexperience and inherently flawed human traits like forgetfulness or distraction. Things like figuring out what kind of watering system to use plus when and how much, not thinning seedlings effectively and not accounting for different soil or sunlight in different beds resulted in some stunted growth and longer than expected growing times. Plus, figuring out how best to use your space takes practice and time – I didn’t end up using all of the 25m2 available and, in hindsight, what did get used could have been done more efficiently.

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one of the micro market garden beds – cleared and composted

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a little while later…

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zooming in – can see lettuce and beets for market

I don’t consider it a failure though – far from it really. Despite the lack of marketable produce, there were so many good things that came from trying this – like learning the importance of good soil first hand. The critical nature of soil is referenced all the time – and rightly so because it is absolutely true. But there’s nothing like really seeing and feeling it for yourself. That is why I love learning in the garden – it’s different, almost like we absorb it through our skin. Some of those lessons really stay with you – sometimes without noticing. Like the first time you see random seedlings come up in a patch and realise you know what they are – despite the minuscule 3cm height and standard colour of green, something inside recognises the deceptively simple shape and screams “I know what that is! I know what that is!”. I love that.

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the custom seed trolley – fashioned from an abandoned BBQ, portable wardrobe, some bamboo, poly pipe and an old sheet 🙂

But you see I digress. Moving on, this experiment also upped my seed raising skills. In the few recent years that I have turned my hand to gardening, I’ve been a bit hit and miss at this aspect of it, particularly with plants like celery (just you try and control those weeny, finicky seeds). But, this season I finally managed to grow healthy seedlings, and more consistently too – even that nightmare celery (yeah – high five!). I put it down to consistent practice and attention – if we continue to do something over and over, naturally we improve.

giving our lettuce a new home @ Produce Boxes

giving our lettuce a new home @ Produce Boxes

Another fantastic positive was actually getting to harvest and sell some produce. Aside from it being fun and exciting to share your efforts, just wrapping my head around that whole activity was extremely useful. Thinking about logistics is something I do better if I can actually go through the process. In the end, we managed three (charmingly small) harvests for Produce Boxes including celery, lettuce, beets and chillies. Importantly though, just being involved was so encouraging because people really seem to be getting excited about good healthy food – it’s awesome! The sooner we connect with our food, the sooner we connect with everything else. So a big thanks to Jay and all her customers for the opportunity and response to our little contribution!

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from this….

... to this

… to this, packed up and ready to go.

And, as anticipated, we did end up with more food to eat ourselves. We have been able to eat salad and veggies from the garden most days over the past few months. It may not have been enough to feed us completely but it was a feat we haven’t achieved before. Onwards and upwards! I think as a result, I would apply this kind of method to our next home garden – i.e. using a planting plan, staggered seed raising, successional planting and building in lots of contingencies (i.e. triple everything!). I suspect a lot of home gardeners are probably on the ball with this kind of thing already but I have to say I certainly wasn’t! And thinking about it overall, the available space could have be used more efficiently to produce even more food than we did in this instance.

So we are packing up the garden now, in anticipation for winter and our need to focus on upcoming travel plans (I’ll chat about this in another place on the website soon). All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the outcome and lessons encountered! Mostly though, I hope it makes you think about the possibilities – it doesn’t take as much space, or know-how, as you might think to grow yourself some food. Just need to get in there and try! If you pay attention, nature will show you the way. And you might even grow enough to sell or swap locally – sweet deal I say!

Wishing you warmth through winter!

Mel. mel with celery first commercial harvest feb 2014

Review – The School of Life, Melbourne

Just because I can’t say enough good things about these guys – here is another shout out to the School of Life in Melbourne – a retrospective shout out from our visit there in 2014.

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They are a super-cool hub for inspiration and learning around the important things in life. Topics cover all manner of things such as love, work, better conversation, the point of art and so many other intricacies and essentials.

Running classes, workshops and talks as well as hosting a conversation cafe -plus an excellent range of books and other inspirational items – what more reason do you need to check them out?

Anybody feeling like they want to learn a real life lesson or understand the paradox which is human existence, should check out their site here, or their parent London site here. Also see the hilariousness and profoundness that was our original visit here, in this post.

The School of Life – “Good ideas for everyday life”

 

Review – Green Onion, Malvern East, Melbourne

 A retrospective review of this fantastic organic grocer from our travels to Melbourne…

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Today Emma and I went for a walk in Malvern East to the local shops and were lucky enough to find a lovely organic shop. We entered and were greeted with lots of scrumptious fruit and veg. I turned to ask if I could take some photos and met Chris, the owner -he blessed us with some of his time.

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Chris has worked in the industry for nearly 20 years and still gets just as excited when summer comes and he can bite into a juicy peach. Green Onions has been open for 4 years and has grown steadily simply through great produce, service and word of mouth. They try to source as much produce as possible locally. This has also required some education about food seasonality. A strong believer in the organic certification process, Chris shows his support by stocking 95% certified organic products. It doesn’t stop there though – first preference goes to biodynamic produce because of the holistic farming techniques used.

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Green Onions is a great place to source your food if you live locally, or if you’re passing through Chris will likely tell you about an organic shop near you. You may even make some new friends there. Thank you to Chris & the Green Onions staff – it was a pleasure.

Find all the details here at their website.

Enjoy life – Michael.

Review – Loafer Bread, Fitzroy Melbourne

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Super funky little bakery just outside Melbourne.

Even better than the vibe is their outlook on producing baked goods from scratch, with responsibly farmed and local goods, like bio-dynamic milk and stoneground flours – see more here.

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Everything is made on-site – including their unusual (for a bakery) breakfast and lunch menu including delightful lighter options (we sampled the granola and bircher muesli – yummo!).

Andrea shared with us some lovely stories about their customers, clearly they are a pillar of the business’ spirit. We highly recommend a visit here – support those doing good things for you and your local sustainable farmers!

find out more at LoaferBread.com

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Oh Rosa, Rosa, Santa Rosa…

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So back into the, chronological, swing and here we are again in California…

It was a whirlwind week full of schools, farms and driving.

 

Thursday: After making it to Santa Rosa last night we woke up to the bright lights of Walmart. We had chosen our spot with a hypocritical mix of fear, cringing and the tourist’s ability to use something previously detested while simultaneously revelling in its bright shiny newness and convenience. I trashily rejoiced in my new ability to shop in nocturnal hours and access a toilet and drinking water at a whim. Love it or loathe it, it’s a symbiotic relationship really – weary travellers get a guaranteed place to sleep that is free and unperturbed by local authority visits, while Walmart gets sales through the sheer convenience of having cheap supplies and food at your feet. We settled in amongst shoppers and RV’s in our, relatively, little tent on wheels – upon a suggestion from our friends back home we had arranged to hire a people-mover type van with the ability to put all the seats flush down in the floor, under the premise that it would act as accommodation where we didn’t have any. To our delight it did the job as hoped, although it took us a few nights to sort out the right combination for a semblance of real comfort – Emma ending up on the back bench seat, Michael on the middle floor with his new $5 walmart blanket and me in the fully reclined and flat passenger seat, having stolen the other sleeping bag.

We packed up in leisurely speed, for once (things had been feeling quite rushed so far in the States), as we were nice and close to our attraction for the day – Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm. We met the ever-smiling and knowledgeable Sallie just after the school’s main lesson – a feature of waldorf education. The main academic lesson happens in the morning when students can best receive it with attention, leaving the rest of the day for other more engaging, physical or creative activities – delightful yet developmental treats like music, hand crafts, arts and outside play. We toured the grounds and classes in the morning, including the end of a ‘farm’ lesson for Class One. They were shelling peas and corn kernels then gathered under the big sitting tree for the customary finishing address.  The lower school farm teacher recapped the lesson and cued its end with “thank you and goodbye class one”, followed by gorgeous chiming children in harmonic reply: “thank you and goodbye Farmer Dan”- so so sweet!

 

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We gratefully accepted an offer to stay for the school lunch, which is provided for high school students and staff four days a week. We met Matt and Tom – the joyously proud cooks who made the lunch that was delicious and overflowing with good stuff like lentils, pulled pork, veg and salad greens – even including produce grown at the school. During the refuel, we took an opportunity to talk more closely with the upper school farm teacher, Ronni, about the kind of integration the farm had in syllabus. Using the farm, it’s products and processes to teach life lessons is deeply entrenched in the school – since the beginning in fact, owing to the spirit in which the land is viewed. The school prefers to treat land as something which is stewarded, rather than owned – even entering into a legally binding Land Trust agreement that requires them to protect it as land and wild life refuge in perpetuity. This land was always expected to be a biodynamic farm, in symbiosis with the school – hence, in addition to the usual staff, they have two dedicated farm teachers, a teaching assistant, farm manager and two seasonal interns. That’s quite a crew to bring together all the educational opportunities a farm has to offer – what a wonderful thing to behold!

In the afternoon we walked with the farm manager, Dana, through the 17 acres of farm land (the whole campus measures 38 acres). They use it to grow food (fruit, veg, grains) and keep livestock (cows, sheep, ducks and chickens). Indeed it yields an impressive array of goods for the on-school farm stand – harvested, stocked and open everyday, it sells seasonal fruit and veg along with eggs and yogurt (made by Dana). Students, parents, staff and anyone else so inclined can buy the goods through an honour box. One of Dana’s aims has been to focus on lifting the production of the farm and evidently the sales reflect his success. The funds go back to support the work of the farm. There is also a permaculture garden as part of the high school which students are free to pick from.

collage farm walk collage farm stand

After an incredible day, I’m struggling to describe the overall experience as anything other than ‘wholistic’ – it just felt like life and all it’s lessons were so well addressed and showcased here it was hard for me to feel any other way. I certainly came away with the sense that it would be hard to find a school with a better educational program grounded in the earth and its wonders. To be fair though, they have had over 40 years to work and mould it!

P1050845 em on see saw

Of course the combination of Waldorf School and farm existing as one entity was a must-see for us, given our interests. However it also brought to light the potential for Emma’s own Waldorf School back home – the wonderful natural resources they already have, like a biodynamic almond grove, just waiting to be tapped into when the other resources emerge to facilitate it. That would be an exciting project to see.

 

Friday: While we toured the Summerfield School yesterday, Emma was invited to join Class One for their main lesson this morning – something she decided to do. Kudos to her, little poppet – despite clearly harbouring some nervousness at being the newbie she never asked to back out and apparently warmed up well. So much so in fact, that when we checked back in at recess time, she was keen to stay on for the rest of the day. So she got to spend more time with some new friends, do some hand crafts and help pack up the room in preparation for the next day’s Winter Faire. Bounding out of the class to me down the hill she declared “Mum, I had a GREAT day!”. Well, you can’t ask for more than that, can you?

I continue to be pleased and proud of this little person who could understandably reside permanently in the “this is all too new and too hard corner” but instead chooses to come out often and walk the “try it” path – good on you Em. We spent half the day in the car park (leaving your child in a new place is particularly tricky without being reachable by phone) but it was a great opportunity to read (actually I was very happy about having an excuse to just sit there and read!). However once we knew Em was all good, we ventured out to the local shops for supplies and came on back to our happy child – ahhh, good day…

 

em run garden

 

Saturday: Well, after the tour and Emma’s day at her third school for the year, we went back to Summerfield for the again! (I suspect coming to this school could easily have become a habit). This third day in a row was a Saturday and the school’s once a year big celebration/fundraiser/showcase and more – the Winter Faire!

We wandered around wide eyed while Emma got in a frenzy about all the things she wanted to do and see. We perused the vendors stalls and, amazingly, found an artist there who had hailed from Adelaide and helped found the other Waldorf school in South Australia, (in Mt Barker)! Apparently she came out in need of a reset and tried painting on a whim – she never left. Good thing too, her artwork was beautiful.

After that it was a flurry of cookie decorating, food, craft, food, more craft and and more food! The day was topped off with a circus performance which was neither dinky nor small – this school has a right proper circus tent up for most of the year as an extra building – so you can imagine the quality of their circus program. It was great way to end the day and Em stayed up close, glued to it for the whole show.

 

P1050849 em on stilts

 

Sunday: After taking the leisurely 1 hour drive back to San Fran we let Em in on the secret that we were headed to yet another Waldorf School Fair (that we had by chance found out about from one of the Summerfield Staff). We fit in some work at the laundromat and headed to the San Francisco Waldorf School. Absolutely an inner city school (albeit in a really nice area), it was an interesting contrast to the more rurally set ones we have seen. I think they did a good job with the vertical space they have, although space for outside play is, and always was going to be I guess, fairly small. However the upside of this location is they get to tap into the cultural and natural perks – like some little parks the city has kicking around. Kidding – they have Golden Gate park right nearby which is over 1000 acres in size and encompasses the San Francisco Botanic Garden, California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum, Conservatory of Flowers and a beautiful massive outdoor music concourse, art studio, lake and even a Dutch Windmill. Phew – imagine having access to all that in just one corner of your area? I don’t think a city school would be right for us but I can certainly appreciate the advantages.

 

collage san fran city waldorf

 

After a lovely day wandering about another school, folding paper stars and dipping beeswax candles, we landed at our new home for the week in Noe Valley – a well-to-do area just south of downtown. We were very grateful to receive a hosting offer from Julia, a member of San Francisco’s Urban Agriculture Alliance Group – a group that just started out with a few people in that area of interest who thought it was a useful idea to try and meet to build a network. I’m not even sure how we found them to be honest – I can’t remember how we got onto it but i’m grateful we did, they are a great example. Later in the week I attended one of their monthly meetings and am glad I did – witnessing one of their meeting later in the week was good learning experience and a chance to meet  people doing great things.

Mon: It wasn’t until we had returned our rental car and walked 2 hours home (by choice – we have been enjoying soaking up the different corners of the city by foot) that we first met our host Julia. Generous, trusting and knowledgable, it was a pleasure to spend the day with her. She took us to the local mexican place for a bite to eat which was both delicious and incredibly well priced I have to say (filling, fresh and healthy food for under 5 bucks each). Then we navigated some of the area’s bus lines and made our way to Alemany farm where Julia volunteers every week. Alemany is an interesting place from the perspective that it is city land (which, by the by was previously abandoned, guerrilla gardened, abandoned and gardened again) and run totally by volunteers without any, as far as I can tell, formal organisation. People organise themselves and the most experienced become the natural go-to leaders, who also take on tasks like weighing and recording all food that comes off the site – an uncommonly organised approach to an informal organisation in my mind – impressive. We spent the afternoon chatting to people and shuttling mulch to various areas being eroded by the much wished for rain (seems they are in drought here too). Emma made no hesitation in seizing the opportunity to play sight supervisor, deftly allocating and instructing Michael, myself and our new host! Well, I normally try and curb this kind of thing but it dawned on me that if we can’t practice this freely in childhood – whenever else in life do you get that kind of open, uninhibited opportunity? I sent out a couple of apologetic feelers then deemed it all good – carry on Boss!

collage Alemany Farm inc sign

 

collage Alemany Farm 1 collage Alemany Farm 2 duo

 

After Julia bid us farewell we continued on with some harvesting – what a haul, including lettuce, cabbage, beets, turnips, lemons, ground cherries (gooseberries), a plethora of other greens  and the new (for us) yacon which was like many things including crunch lychee or apple-y watermelon. It was an impressive site, apparently they are expecting to pull off about 8 or 9 tones of food from the meandering hilly 3 1/2 acre site this year. What a great effort. It was a pleasure to see this place and hear about the food grown for the community – going to soup kitchens, free food stalls and open pick community days, as well as the volunteers. We hope Alemany Farm powers on 🙂

 

Tue: Michael’s 33rd birthday! We started the day early with a stealthy effort in getting ready from Emma and I (because of course Michael was up at some baker’s hour before us). We came out to say “Happy Birthday”, then “get ready, we’re leaving”!! Don’t worry – it wasn’t all that brash, hugs were part of the deal 🙂 We ventured out by bus and foot to a little place I found online that described itself as making ‘creative pastries’ – thinking that was sufficiently intriguing and with the promise of good coffee too, it became the destination. They certainly had some very extravagant looking pastries and other foody items. We dined and drank before setting off again for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Markets, on three times a week in the hub that is San Fran’s Embarcardero (the strip of former bay piers turned restaurants and tourist attractions). We were a touch early so decided to walk to see the “famous” lombard/crooked street. Turned out to be a very long, very steep walk punctuated by the excruciating whining of a small child – followed shortly by my own equivalent. Poor Michael – that, I dare say, was the not-so-fun portion of birthday day! Thankfully after more walking we found a park – that’s always a good reset for the family. As for Lombard street itself I have to say I viewed it more as an exersize in physical endurance rather than traveller’s wonder – I marvelled at what attractions make the ‘tourist’ list (and secretly dispised having become one that bought into it). Sure, it’s interesting and pretty but it’s just a very windy, steep street – cool to see I guess but it was more entertaining to see the antics of other tourists. Both hilarious and infuriating – wide eyed tourists, like children who are told that they should be amazed at what they see, stood everywhere to take happy snaps. That included in the middle of the road while poor tourist-plagued-residents were trying to get out of their own driveways! Sigh. That’s why I secretly despised having become a ‘tourist’. Oh well, no getting away from that – perhaps I can just aim to be a responsible tourist…

collage mic bday

We found our way back, via China Town and perused the farmers markets. Good looking produce at what seemed (to an Australian) decent prices, it was great to see these markets in such a prominent location. I’m told now that there are many many more local markets about the place too, usually sporting better prices and aimed more at the general, local, public. We stopped inside the Ferry Building where there is a foodies heaven of gourmet and good old fashioned tasty value added foods – the best part of which is they mostly had a foundation and focus in organic, local or responsibly grown items. Michael had previously said he had been given a list of foods we must try while in the State s – we ticked one off with a good ol’ Grilled Cheese – sweet, yummy, filling. Stroll’s along the piers, ice cream and running ensued, followed by the (slightly mortifying) discovery of Pier 39 – I think of it as San Fran’s answer to the Gold Coast (or perhaps it is the other way around?). I would say it is like the trashy american donut our dear Virginian friend explained to us once – so bad yet so good!

Then Michael and Emma retired to home (plus a little trip down the street for pizza and ice cream!) while I ventured into the city for the San Fran Urban Agriculture Alliance’s monthly meeting. It proved to be a great example of group sharing to witness as well as an inspiring group of people and projects. So while I’m glad I overcame my reluctance to trek into the city at night, I would probably forgo that ‘adventure’ (ahem) again 🙂 Don’t panic parents and loved one’s, it wasn’t that bad!

Wed: After yesterday’s walking tourist spectacular everyone was pretty pooped so we opted for a quiet day. Michael and Emma did school lessons while I did some much needed photo sorting and writing (in fact i’m hauled up in a starbucks writing this now – tell me, is that cliche tourist or cliche local?). We also ventured out to have our first US postal service experience and patronised a little sweets/gift shop. The incredibly happy shop keeper was overjoyed while Emma slowly selected her little bag of treats – bless her, saying she didn’t want to spend too much money or buy too many treats lol. Ah, self regulation – it does appear now and then 🙂

Thursday: Yes, while including this thursday makes it strictly more than a week, it does close off this part of our trip nicely as it was our last day in San Fran. We were a little unsure about our plans as there were storms forecast for the day and people were sounding really concerned – they even closed the schools in places. It shook us a little like whoa, whats coming, will the buses run, should we stay indoors?? But all we were seeing was rain so we decided to don our rain gear and trek out by bus anyway. Seems like in the end, everyone got a little excited – understandably too. They have been in a big drought here – so much so the preoccupation with the weather, rain and climate was very akin to home. And to be fair things were worse a bit further north, but we did have a giggle when it just turned out to be like a standard rainy day in Adelaide. Score though – we were going to one of the sights of San Fran, the California Academy of Sciences, and along with all the public transport, it was practically empty. We pretty much had whatever we wanted to ourselves  – woo!

And so for putting up with a wet rain jacket we were rewarded with a super fun day spent exploring the Cal Academy’s aquarium, planetarium, rainforest and museum – all this stuff intertwined in one place. topped off with a cafeteria showcasing local organic food in a range of styles. We picked from the grill, mexican hall and the sandwich bar – had a great filling feed which was pretty good value. The day was something we hadn’t budgeted for but it was totally worth it, i’m glad we decided to do it. I never, never, get tired of seeing Emma’s little mind blow up in awe and excitement – and this was a full day of it. We viewed sea creatures from all regions of the world up close in the underwater aquarium from tropical fish to jelly fish and big fish that swam over our head… We picked up tickets to a planetarium show and moved on to see penguins feeding while the biologist told us about them. Taking in lifelike antelopes and tigers, we learned about the evolution of humans and our near extinction which left us with todays diminished genetic diversity – apparently we all have 99.9% in common when looking at our DNA. The giant globe housing a rainforest took our fancy and we entered (what is in fact a US containment facility – you must not leave with butterflies! We learnt about the 4 different layers of a rainforest (forest floor, under storey, canopy and emergent for those of you who want to attend the poop quiz later) and admired the beautiful bird and butterflies breezing by. We investigated some more tunnels where we found starfish and sea urchins we could touch. We took in 2 shows at the planetarium – one of which would have justified the entrance price alone. I actually had no idea what a planetarium was before this – good one to see, apparently its the biggest in the world. Think giant, like giant, domed movie screen in front of you and above – I think some people compared it to IMAX but my guess is this was more immersive, in fact one part in particular left us all feeling like we were really flying through the stars. The two shows covered superficial topics like the origin of the universe and lots of perspective building facts on the earth. more so than facts and pictures, they were both really beautiful movies in their own right – they just happen to be true and scientifically accurate.

collage cal academy

Thanks California – you were awesome xx

We interrupt this broadcast with a brief message from the future….. (part two)

 

 

P1110892

 

Now that it’s somewhat clearer why sending two thirds of the family home was a good idea, let’s explain how I also ended up home within two weeks of them – despite being months ahead of schedule and still possessing a ticket home from Europe…

So there I was, having farewelled the rest of my family, left to contemplate that decision and the next 4 months of solo travel. It was a hard bus ride home – I was grateful for the sunglasses and practically-mandatory-smog-mask which hid me away.

I came back to our room in the school – we had been graciously allowed to stay in one of the kindy classrooms while the school holidays were on. It was a glorious place for a family to stay – safe, peaceful and surrounded by beautiful Waldorf toys, playground and garden. It was a refuge we were very grateful for. But now, coming back without them felt awful and strange. It was so empty.

Empty, except for a little posie sitting on my pillow – it had a tag which read “love love love”. Oh what a saviour that little posie was – a beautiful token of love and thought left behind by Michael and Emma. Actually it made me cry but it was something I could focus on to move through the initial grief, carefully putting it in some water and arranging it upon a cupboard.

I could have easily turned to my old friends shopping and food that day but for some reason I made the conscious decision not too.  Instead I surrendered to the pain and knew I needed to just sit with it. Acknowledge it, let it pass. Don’t ask me why it changed there and then, god knows there have been plenty of other times it was sorely needed. Maybe it was because I was alone – now I had the time, space and ability to devote all my energy to whatever I felt necessary.

Out of the blue, I decided the necessity was meditation. Again: why? I’ve no idea – meditation wasn’t something habitual for me. But suddenly here I was, spontaneously cobbling together little bits of experience from yoga and relaxation, plus some kind of intuitive feeling for what I needed to focus on. It was incredibly comforting and much to my surprise, the relief was immediate, noticeable and long lasting (unlike my old vices, it came with no trailing guilt). I made a pledge with myself to turn it into a habit, so I read what I could and investigated options for further guidance – suitable courses that were for lay people yet didn’t cater to the wealthy tourist trade were a little hard to find but definitely existed. This, I decided, was what I had been searching for. I would do some simple practice by myself, seek out a good down-to-earth guided course for more experience/technique then I might just be ready for my ultimate challenge – a 10 day Vipassana session (see link here to learn about the immensity which is Vipassana). So I continued with it every morning and night, which also helped a lot to curb the sadness which seemed to peak at those times. It also became apparent it was helping with self-motivation and not getting so stuck in strong emotions like anxiety, sadness or fear. It instilled a confidence in me that I could cope with the challenges I had taken on, as well as those that were to come.

And come they would – the first week alone was crazy. In amongst riding out my emotions, reading, meditating and blog writing I also:

•took myself sightseeing, with a real paper map (for those who don’t know me, I suck at navigating – so please marvel at my accomplishment),

•got into a visiting situation that was stressful, confusing and alarming enough to seriously consider skipping out on them in the middle of the night

•found myself displaced but unable to look for other accommodation because I was a ‘guest’ and therefore they must do it for me,

•successfully navigated the above cultural intricacies and found my first solo overseas accommodation (which was neither a dive nor a rip off – score!)

•managed to meet up with my friends who were a) coming from a different country, b) with intermittent communication and c) without a definite plan – all while having a history of being anxiously anal and freaking out if the smallest detail remained up in the air (apparently that version of me had been knocked around a bit with all this experience….)

So after all that, spending some time with two friends we met at the Navdanya farm in India, was great. Eliza was from the States and Paula from Colombia – it was their first time to Nepal as well so we hung out and saw the sights. We visited the Monkey Temple (Swayambho) and Boudhanath Stupa the first day, then lost ourselves the next in the wonderful museum of Patan’s old city. The third day was spent trying, unsuccessfully, to break into the other old city of Bhaktapur (it’s a long story….). After an epic showdown with the ticket man we gave up and found a cafe to regroup in.

To my absolute delight and amazement we moved through this potentially frustrating, disappointing and day-ending situation into a new plan without so much as a raised voice. Wow – these two really showed me how to keep your cool and talk to each other in a way which is honest about your own feelings while still open and respectful to everyone else’s. And so much so that you end up with a plan everyone is not only accepting of, but excited about. Good work girls! And so the new plan saw us spend the rest of that day with a hired taxi man. He took us to the unexpected delight of Changu Narayan Temple and an awesome little museum that gave my first real insight into regional Nepali life. Then it was up the villages a bit further to Nagarkot. There we took in a cloudy but nevertheless awesome hilltop view and some cracking food at a guest house restaurant. After some seriously happy eating, the taxi drove us right back to our home (and tourist-town) Thamel – no wayward buses tonight my friends (unlike the two previous days…).

We decided the next day would be earmarked for a morning romp in a real-live garden then off to the last of the old cities – Kathmandu Durbar Square.

Saturday Morning – April 25

We had plans to begin with my family’s favourite little local, Namaste Cafe, but found it closed upon arrival. Of course, it was Saturday – this seems to be the Nepali’s weekend, just one day where a lot of people take time off from their shop or taxi to be at home. So we visited another nearby cafe and took the short walk to ‘The Garden of Dreams’ – a European garden oasis in the middle of the city (built by a Nepali President’s son, after winning the money for it from his father in a game – oh the life of royals…). We strolled and absorbed our fix of nature, before consulting the map and walking to Durbar Square.

We entered, getting our bearings and our tickets, then headed to the palace of Nepal’ls living goddess, the Kumari Devi (a young child thought to be the reincarnation of one of their gods of destruction – so naturally she is chosen by being subjected to a night of horrific noises, masks and buffalo heads….yup – that really happens). Inside the palace courtyard, people emplored the caretakers up in the wooden windows to coax the Kumari into showing her face. To everyone’s joy (and/or amusement) she did, before disappearing again shortly after. We strolled out again between the cities’ open square and palace, which held the museum of former King Tribhuvan. The building was an odd mix of ancient wooden palace joined to a newer white plaster european add-on. At the end we turned up ‘Freak Street’, in search of lunch and signs from its hippie-heaven past.

Saturday, lunchtime

We settled on the organic cafe which was still overflowing with white western hippies (literally – they spilled out over all the available steps such that we had to step through them to get in). We made our order and went to the empty second floor for a seat. Eliza had de-shoed and taken up the guitar, Paula was snapping photos by the window. The waiter came up the stairs then promptly started hugging the door frame, saying “oh my god, oh my god”. I was perplexed – moving between wondering if he was joking and trying to decide what else he could possibly be doing. Then I felt it.

My brain finally noticed and knocked on the door of my conscious – “We are moving. We are wobbly – something is happening. Wake up”.

I remained groggy for a few moments more while I scrambled to process what it meant. ‘What is going on?’. Click. It’s an earthquake.

What? How could I possibly be in an earthquake – I’m just spending the day with my friends, we’re waiting for our lunch….

“Wake up, this is an earthquake! Here. Now. It’s happening – and you’re in it”.

Right. Ok.

Historically embedded comments turned-knowledge surfaced: doorway, get to the doorway.

Grab bag, get to doorway, brace.

And so I did. Eliza and I held on to the door frame while the whole building shook back and forth like nothing I could have imagined. Paula was soon there too, after falling several times in her attempt to crawl over from the window. Eliza says “love you guys”. Paula is visibly scared – I hug her and tell her it’s ok. Meanwhile the waiter and another couple also huddled in the doorway with us – the girl cries into her boyfriends shoulder that she doesn’t want to die. “You’re not going to die” he says’- yes, good call.

An uncharacteristic and unexpected calm, compassion and pragmatism were within me – I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t panicking. I did what was necessary and waited for it to stop. It wasn’t the reaction I would have predicted – I am normally prone to anxiety and fear on a good day, let alone this. I only had brief thoughts about the possibility of the overhead stories falling down on us – they left as quickly as they came.

After what seemed like a very long time, the shaking stopped. We stopped too and our brains pondered what next. (my brain and body felt like quite separate entities at this point). Mine said “we need to get out, now”. My friends seemed reluctant but in my head it was the only option. Paula had the presence of mind to pick up Eliza’s shoes then we hastily descended the stairs and got out onto the street. There were people standing around everywhere – stunned, confused, looking, talking.

We got the first glimpse of damage in the form of a great dirty dust cloud sitting in the sky – a messenger of news and particles from fallen buildings. Eliza broke us out of our daze with a sage suggestion of getting out of the narrow street to open ground. I think we were all suddenly acutely aware that aftershocks follow earthquakes.

The open square we passed earlier was very close so we headed for that – joining lots of others. It was a safe place to be, well away from the now ominously towering buildings. It was also the spot where we gained some initial insight into the level of damage – one palace roof was now shorter and akimbo, the old palace/museum was missing a wall and the adjoining white-plaster side had lost great chunks while gaining severe cracks. Most alarming though was the temple next door to the Kumari’s palace – it was completely gone. Reduced to a pile of rubble.

I heard no screaming, saw no one attempting to approach the rubble. Nor did we – it felt too unsafe. Thoughts about what or who might be under that rubble were being suppressed somewhere inside my head.

The square slowly filled. There had been a market there moments ago – some merchants packed up their wares, while other goods were tossed aside as people looked for space. For reasons I still don’t understand, the girls managed to find an intact internet connection and got on with their smartphones. We scurried to send out messages – what a relief it was that our families and friends would know we hadn’t been hurt. The connection soon cut out and the aftershocks began, prompting panic and screams, crying and fear.

It was then I realised how dangerous panic can be. And how staying calm is actually a really practical thing to do that is incredibly valuable. As more people filled the space and/or people got more panicky, the risk of fear-induced pushing and stampeding increased – “this is how people get hurt, calm down” I thought – for goodness sake.

We held and comforted each other as the aftershocks came and went. We saw a helicopter fly overhead with what looked like Chinese writing on it. And a while later a man with a whistle gestured for everyone to sit down as an ambulance made its way through the square. Eventually we saw the first of some heavy machinery arrive. By now we had been in the square for hours, talking with our new ‘ earthquake family’ of fellow tourists. We decided to follow them to a much calmer park area nearby and after a carefully considered risk vs benefit analysis, we went with one of our new friends to find a toilet, food and water. Some nearby shops had opened their doors. Hilariously, (even in that moment), the one selling alcohol and cigarettes seemed to be the busiest. After some food and a long stint without tremors, we decided it was time to finally say farewell and go face our guesthouse.

Would it be there? Would we be able to get our belongings? Either way we had made the decision to sleep outside tonight – I certainly had no plans to be inside one of those buildings anytime soon. Actually, when we discovered that our guest house building was still in tact I found it incredibly hard just to take myself back up into one again. Our rooms were on the third floor – I climbed the stairs with anxiety and fear weighing heavy on me. My body shook as I hastily stuffed things into my bag and got downstairs again. We checked out and briefly chatted to some of the other guests, who were hanging out downstairs and very nonchalant about the whole thing. I felt vindicated though when the manager said he was just waiting for everyone to come back so he could lock it – they were sleeping outside too. Good, we were making the right decision.

It was nice to know because it was hard to make decisions – there was no information, no advice – only whatever limited experience and knowledge you had carried in with you that day, or what you could pick up from english-speaking locals. I wavered periodically in my levels of alarm – bouncing between ‘maybe it’s not so big and plans might still carry on as normal after a while’ to a growing realisation of just how serious it might all get. So I found it hard to judge whether I was overreacting or not. In fact our plan was to sleep in the school’s garden and I was harbouring the fear that I might be doing something wrong by turning up with friends uninvited. But really, it was an earthquake for crying out loud – as if the school staff were going to mind if we took refuge there!

Saturday, evening

Tackling the hour-long walk to school with all our gear and fast-disappearing daylight, we spotted several graffiti tags that said ‘earthquake’ and the date – it was weird and alarming to have the event marked like that already while we were still in it.

nepal earthquake tag 1

 

The roads were full of people, going in all directions. Tourists carried their luggage. Locals took sleeping gear in search of open space to stay in. Nepali soldiers were on the streets and crammed in trucks – the ones in the street just seemed to be standing there, those in the truck were either headed somewhere else or broadcasting garbled-nepali through a loudspeaker. It felt like an informational black hole. What had happened, how bad was it, what areas were affected, what should we be doing now? There were no public answers for tourists and I suspected not a lot more for locals either.

Taking a break along the way, I suddenly remembered we would pass the American embassy- that would be a great place to seek out information and for Eliza to register as being safe. Her passport granted us entry to the first security check where somehow, searching for info (and now a toilet) turned into an offer to stay. We explained we weren’t all American and an understanding quickly developed that the three of us were sticking together no matter where it meant we ended up. Despite making no plea, nor holding any expectation, that man (whose name I sadly forget) said it was his call and we could all stay. Wow – bless him and God Bless America I thought. I was astonished at this development. And that was before realising what kind of an embassy this was – had I comprehended the scale of this place and their resources I bet I would have plumb fallen down on the spot.

We surrendered our weapons (aka knives) and entered not-so-mini America in Nepal. It was a series of buildings in a massive complex for consulate staff, embassy services, a defence unit of some sort plus a crazy-big workshop and who knows what else. The place was incredible. We later found out it had all been rebuilt just years before, to the best earthquake standard available. It seemed we had stumbled into the safest place in Kathmandu.

I marvelled at our change in plans and circumstances. I was safe – so incredibly, luckily, unfathomably safe. So were my friends. And now we had been offered a practically-earthquake-proof, warm place to stay, with food and water. I couldn’t believe the fortune we were experiencing – I was so so thankful. I knew there were so many others out there in such worse situations than me – indeed I felt guilty because I was in here taking refuge while they were out there struggling. But self preservation had kicked in, for better or worse, and it meant I wouldn’t bring myself to jeopardise it. I was going to preserve the safety I had been granted and be damn grateful for it. That came with its own guilt and cross to bear but it felt non-negotiable. I suspect my friends may have been confronted with similar battles. We tried to be helpful in our gratitude by busying ourselves inside the embassy – Eliza and Paula did what they could in the kitchen and dining room while I helped in the library.

After a comforting hot dinner we settled onto our yoga mats in the ‘multi-purpose room’ – where it seemed the consular families with children were camping out. It was a fitful sleep filled with aftershocks and an acutely aware body/brain combo. In fact one of the larger tremors saw me upright with shoes, jacket and bag in hand in a matter of seconds – I was paused like an animal waiting to see if I needed to flee. The tremor stopped and the building appeared to be taking it in its stride so I stayed. But the longer the night went on the more I wanted to leave – feeling like there was no appropriate place for me. We had started to see that Nepal would be no place for a tourist while major rebuild and rehabilitation happened. I felt like unless you could help with food, water, shelter, sanitation or medical aid we would just be more mouths to feed and in the way.

Sunday morning

Another biggie woke me at 5am so I resigned myself to staying awake. That morning was an astonishing dose of food and information – a full hot american breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes and oatmeal (plus every cereal and milk under the american sun) was followed by an announcement from the Ambassador. It was exactly the kind of thing we had been hoping for – a public address on the situation; what they knew, what they were doing and what we could do. Currently, what we could do was pretty much stay put, stay safe and look after each other, as well as the surroundings (even in this situation people took to littering their space with rubbish – what’s with that?). We also now knew that the airport was in tact and operating – but only for aid and emergency flights so far. After this and a consulate offer to send messages out on our behalf via email, they soon opened up the library’s computers  so we could do it ourselves. Wow, we binged on information and it was so very satisfying.

The morning wore on and we talked about leaving – the airport was allowing some commercial flights now and we could see electronic ticket sales had opened again. We also talked about sticking together – I liked the idea and was keen to fly out with my friends.  However a combination of visa requirements, time delays and distinct lack of three tickets available on the one flight was inciting indecision. We decided to break for lunch and mull it over.

Sunday lunchtime

We ate, talked some more and considered our options. India was our destination of choice, but it was looking increasingly difficult for me. They had visas and existing flights home from there so it made sense for them to go. I had no visa nor any idea where to buy the next ticket onto in order to gain a ‘Tourist Visa On Arrival’ instead.

Then the second major earthquake hit – we braced in the doorway and got under the library tables. A loud incessant voice siren kicked in, stating something like ‘this is an emergency, take cover….’ – it did not help. It was so hilariously american and redundant that I would have found it funny had it not triggered an involuntary fear response within my body.

The shuddering (and siren) continued and we looked at each other from under the tables, “ok, decision made – we need to get out of here any way we can, asap”. We would seek flights leaving the following day – the girls to India and me to somewhere else.

But where? Believe it or not I wasn’t ready to go home, so what I wondered where else I might go. What if I go to Europe early – where would I stay, what would I do, would the visa be long enough? Should I just go to a country close by for now? Am I up for being in a place where I don’t know my way around nor speak the language?

These tickets are selling out in front of my eyes. I need to get out of here ASAP. I need to buy a ticket NOW.

Ok – I need to go home.

So I changed the destination to Adelaide and waited for my fate to flicker up on the screen – the first flight out was for the following night with an unknown airline from Malaysia. They had only started their operation in Kathmandu months beforehand – if there was any airline least likely to be organised and get out of here, it was them. Plus the Australian legs were with ill-reputed budget airline Tiger. Yup, no way I was taking that ticket. So I booked the next cheapest option, which in fact was not cheap at all but hideously expensive because  it was business class – however I was less than aware of that when I clicked on it faster than the speed of light.

Tomorrow, I would leave tomorrow. Monday night. It was a strange thought. The girls missed out on the first couple rounds of flights they wanted so they ended up with tickets to leave on Tuesday afternoon – now we weren’t even looking like getting to the airport together. Again – as we had done with so many decisions over the last week – we talked, took time to consider it all then came to talk again. They were willing to come to the airport a day early just so we could go together – it was amazing the kindness they showed, but I couldn’t let them do that. To give up their safety overnight just didn’t seem right or necessary.

There had been so much anxiety, fear and rush around snapping up those tickets and finding a way to print out the all-important paper confirmation that it was ridiculous – we were the lucky ones with food, internet and the best earthquake-proof building in the entire country – what the hell was it like for everyone else?

Well, we caught a glimpse later that day when we walked to the Australian embassy – it was literally up the road and also backed right onto the school we had been staying at (weird, right?). I wanted to see what they were doing for Australians and check in to say I was ok. It soon became obvious it was much less resourced – the buildings were no longer considered safe enough to use and there was only access to local phone calls – forget internet. Actually if it wasn’t so serious it would have been bloody comical – typical Aussies, they were all just hangin’ about chatting and camping in tents in the backyard! However, the impact of lack of communications meant they couldn’t call home, it was hard to get outside information to make decisions, and couldn’t book flights. And then there were all the poor locals who were camped out in the open, lucky if they had a plastic sheet for protection against the unseasonable rains.

Sunday night

So after this field trip we found ourselves even more grateful to have a place in the American embassy, but more nervous about keeping it – especially in light of how fast it was filling up. In fact the excursion had also led to a stressful and awkward attempt at helping a stranded traveller from South Africa – both the Australian and American embassy denied her refuge. In the end she found a Canadian who was also stranded at the American embassy after being refused help – they made new plans together. So it seemed like it worked out in its own way but the whole situation was a bit of a shambles and saw the three of us going back and forth through security at various times. It was tightening – there were now more people volunteering in administration and admissions hence there were more questions. I got asked if I had ‘my form’, to which I thought ‘what form?’ but replied “I’ve already checked in” – that was apparently good enough and she moved on. Paula got asked if she had her passport – “of course” she said, “it’s back with all my other gear inside the embassy”. She backed up that winner with a flash of the yellow chip we got from handing in our knives and she was through – kudos, that was some quick thinking. When Paula, Eliza and I were all finally back inside the embassy together the relief was palpable – we were not going back outside that area again until it was time to fly out. I hate to say it but I felt like one of those rats fleeing a sinking ship. It took me to a dark complicated place where instead of my morals triggering the usual upfront honesty, I found instead self preservation pushed me toward keeping quiet – I didn’t like this place. Regardless of how I felt about it we laid low for our last night together.

Monday and the rest

The breakfast had been reigned into a more modest selection of hot potato and rice, or cereals now and we ate gratefully – another safe warm night on the embassy floor had been ours. It was the day I would leave – I always get antsy when it’s time to move on from somewhere and this was certainly no exception. Despite my departure being hours and hours away I packed compulsively, knowing that I would feel better once I exercised that outlet of control and had it done. A loudspeaker announced the embassy was running shuttles to the airport and I discovered another couple was also leaving on my flight – we agreed to buddy up and take the 4pm bus out.

I spent the next few hours feeling that horrible we’re-going-to have-to say-goodbye-soon feeling. Eliza, Paula and I dined on the standard lunch of MRE’s – ready made military rations. While we were eating them out in the sun a staff member jokingly asked how we were enjoying them – actually I was enjoying my veggie patty and crackers immensely! The blueberry cobbler left a little to be desired in the looks department – but still, this was fancy desert/emergency food for sure. We talked and soaked up more sun before it came time for me to leave.

I bid my new family members goodbye – what an unusual link we would have together now and forever more. It certainly felt like fate had brought us together – how serendipitous  all the timing (and nationalities) had been and what a help we were to each other through that experience. And what an invaluable comfort for the future to know that no matter what, there was not one but two dear wonderful friends who understood – talking to Eliza and Paula about it would always be different because they were there, it’s that simple.

To have someone you can relate to in that way is a gift – a gold-plated priceless gift. How strange that circumstance made us that for each other – but how grateful I am that it did – love you girls.

I jumped on the bus and was very happy I didn’t have to negotiate the street or taxis. When we arrived I could see people outside everywhere – yet it was surprisingly quick and easy to get into the ticket holders area. But that’s where all the other people were, waiting, going nowhere. We joined the right line and eventually figured out people had essentially camped on the spot for now because an aid flight was trying to get cleared off the one and only runway in Nepal’s International Airport – incoming flights were diverted to other countries for lack of space to land. No flight in means no flight out, and backed up passengers.

I had prepared myself mentally, and physically for the possibility of camping at the airport – I carried my pack on my back and one of the front crammed with sleeping gear, food and water. I had no plans to check any baggage in case I got stuck in situ without supplies to look after myself so I carried it all – all the way home (actually by the end of it, after trying in both Qatar and Singapore to offload a bag, I was used to being a human packhorse – exploding bits of gear here and there).

Eventually our ticket line began to check people in and move them through customs – that was an uneasy place to be, stuck upstairs in a building of unknown structural integrity with nowhere to go except the enormous stationary ‘foreigners’  queue, while the ‘local’ customs officers sat around with nothing to do. It was crazy. By the time we got to the front people were going in whatever line they wanted. It was painfully obvious the airport was not equipped to deal with the situation at hand – the lack of sense of urgency was distressing and security was a joke (they confiscated the water in my hands but left the 3 litres in my bag?). However to be fair, they were probably doing the best they knew how to – I had already noticed an attitude of acceptance and doing things in their own time seemed an inherent part of the Nepali culture which ordinarily was fine, but in this sort of situation I could see it causing anxiety and anger.

After the security check area, people just seemed to be hanging out. We soon discovered why – the boarding gates were all chocka-block full of backed up and future flyers. I followed the narrow path that was left and found a place to sit on the filthy floor – although I couldn’t have cared less at that point. I looked at the departure board – it was like traffic lights all red, amber and green according to whatever status your flight happened to luck out on (‘as scheduled’, delayed’, ‘cancelled’ or even worse – blank). I struck up a conversation with the traveller next to me who’s flight wasn’t even listed on the board anymore – that sucks. He moved on to find out more and I contemplated my position – I was in the middle of a big room, surrounded by people and no walls or doors nearby to use for protection if there was more seismic action.

I pondered my options a little longer when  the inevitable happened – an aftershock. It was intense enough to make people scatter immediately, but short lived. That was all the impetus I needed – I collected my things and scouted out a better position near a doorway. From there I spied another hall way with less people, more sturdy looking structures and an unlocked door that opened directly onto the runway – that was surely the best place to be should I need to exit in a hurry. I moved again, even managing to score a chair this time and settled in. While my flight was still listed ‘as scheduled’, it was already a good couple of hours past the boarding time – I fully expected to be waiting indefinitely. But no sooner had I sat down than its magic flight number was called over the PA like a lottery winner as “now boarding”. Wow – all of a sudden that’s it – I’m off then. Ok.

The whole thing was hard enough to grasp let alone the style in which it happened – we boarded the Qatar aeroplane, apparently pretty snazzy anyway but of course I had the inadvertent business class tickets which meant it was even crazier. So there we were on the runway in earthquake-devasted Kathmandu being offered champagne, hot towels, television, luxury eye masks, and silver service. Incredibly and simultaneously surreal, bizarre, hilarious and abhorrently inappropriate.

We took off and I thought about what had happened – it was hard to believe it had only been two and a half days since the earthquake. It felt like a lifetime. I thought, wrote and distracted myself with movies as I flew to Doha. That airport is like no other I have ever seen – massive in presence and opulence. For instance in the business class lounge they had an indoor water feature that was about 5 times bigger than any accommodation we had been in for the past 8 months – just because they could, I guess. It sat in the middle of a football field of luxury seating booths, internet kiosks and a couple of restaurants serving free food. Then I took a shower in one of the bathrooms that were like half a hotel room. Wow – I was giddy with luxury and relief. But to go from natural disaster in a third world country to this in the space of about 10 hours was bewildering, to say the least.

I continued on through Singapore where it was no better – I got even more tangled up inside watching the news and hearing people complain about stupid superficial stuff while I sat there eating my fancy pants free food. It was enough to do my head in. Nevertheless I boarded my third and final flight, heading to Adelaide. It was hard to believe really – this would be my last stop. I would then be home.

The thing about going through the earthquake was it had triggered a change in my brain – it told that part which filters important vs not important that any shaking sensations were now SUPER DUPER important. This meant I was now extremely sensitive to any kind of vibration – not good news when getting home involves hours of turbulence three times over. By this last flight I had been transformed from ‘ordinarily excellent flyer’ to ‘oh my god, make it stop’. Nevertheless I made it through and got ready to land, noticing for the first time just how many trees we have in Adelaide. Flying in over the top and with lots of other places recently in my memory for reference, I could see that it was incredibly green by comparison.

I breezed through immigration and customs, suddenly faced with the arrivals hallway – holy crap, I’m here already. Not sure if I’m ready for this. But what else is there to do except keep going? I turned the corner and spotted Emma first – we ran towards each other and started crying. We had big hugs and got back to Michael and Mum W where more hugs, kisses and tears ensued. It was a wonderful welcome.

I had arrived – the challenge was now to ‘land’.

It was so weird to be back in the same place with the same people but feeling totally different. It’s like the entire world has changed within you while everything outside remains the same, and largely unaware. Very hard to feel and very hard to work through.

Plus of course the experience we had been through and the circumstances under which we all returned home was so big it was almost beyond comprehension for me at this point. It left me with an intense feeling of displacement.

That feeling would plague me for some time but as we worked through seeing friends, finding a place to settle down and thinking about ‘what now?’, it waned a little. Trouble was, it all still felt so immense and I had had so much more planned that it wasn’t easy to let go of. Finally one day I said to myself “I’m here, it’s time to start acting like it” and so I picked a project to move forward with – that was a big help in dragging me out of my displacement.

So that’s where I am today, over a month after the earthquake, at home piecing together our new life. I don’t hold ill feelings for my experience at all – I am, and hope to remain forever, grateful. I also hope that something positive can come out of it for Nepal and it’s devastated people. Having an earthquake is horrific enough, let alone when the country is poor and it puts the brakes on their major tourist industry. But here’s hoping…

Oh, and as for me and my remaining ticket home – I plan on using it. As I said to my dad – nope, the earthquake wasn’t enough to deter me from travelling again…..oh dear, I’ve been well and truly bitten 🙂

We interrupt this broadcast with a brief message from the future….. (part one)

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While our blog is still galavanting around the USA’s West Coast, we in fact, have already travelled on to the East Coast, India and Nepal. But more to the point, (for those who don’t know), we find ourselves back home again in Australia – months ahead of when it should have been and under unexpected circumstances.

So in an attempt to digest it all, I thought it worthwhile to interrupt the chronological order of things and bring it up here and now. This is how it happened…

Part One: Michael and Emma.

Our plan was to travel for a year. At the six month mark, in the throes of trying to volunteer in Nepal, Michael came to me and said he was ready to go home and take Emma with him. Whoa, I was dumbfounded. But I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I knew we were having a hard time – we were tired, grumpy and had worn down the buffers of patience and understanding. We struggled to replenish ourselves and the homesickness that Emma had carried throughout the trip wasn’t waning, it was gaining ground. I guess I just figured we would keep going and eventually push through it – I mean, we had seen so many of those hard times already during our six months. Most of them had laboured forth priceless lessons and growth.

But as is one of his strengths, Michael could see it was time to let go – we had gotten to the stage where the downsides of this travelling were no longer healthy for us as a family, or for Michael and Emma as individuals. He has always been better at making the move to leave something when it seemed impossibly hard. And there was no trace of desperation or frustration – just his calm manner and evident consideration. So despite my shock, I knew it was best and there was nothing for it but acceptance. It was time for them to return to the safety, structure and relationships of home to begin the next chapter, implementing the outcomes of their experience. I understood and supported that without question.

It was the implications I was struggling to grapple with. Because while I knew they must return home, I also knew I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready to.

I still had so much work I wanted to do within myself. We had talked about it extensively and thus already had plans in place for me to stay on after our travels for some alone sabbatical time. It was to be a chance to really sit with myself and find out all the things I either didn’t know or had been avoiding. After all, as Michael pointed out to me, I had grown up with my family and moved straight into a serious relationship with him at age 17, followed by study, work and a family – I had never really been alone in my whole life. (now there’s a scary realisation….)’

So we had both seen this as a great opportunity for me to work on some of those things I skipped as an adolescent. But now, in the current scenario with Michael and Emma leaving, and me feeling like I must still take that opportunity, it left me dizzy with one question – what on Earth do I do now? I was having a hard time facing what it meant. We have to be apart, for a long time. I must do a whole bunch of challenging stuff on my own. And we’re doing it now. Oh boy.

So the plans had changed. Again. In a big way.

Over the next day or so I processed the new situation and Michael and I talked about how we might proceed. I decided I could and would stay on in Nepal – seeing out some of our volunteering commitments then moving onto sabbatical stuff. Michael and Emma would leave in two weeks, giving us a chance to spend some more family time together and do a few more local explorations. We booked flights out for them on April 15 and contemplated the reality of what had transpired.

The next couple of weeks were a confusing mix of lovely family holiday, overwhelmed-induced paralysis and irritated twiddle-thumb waiting. We each had times of struggling, joy or becoming impatient to move on. I do believe that all of us were also grateful –  we spent those last days together exploring the wonders of Kathmandu’s old cities and the quiet peacefulness of Nargakot’s elevated village views. Towards the end we all became nervy and on edge about the impending farewell. But eventually it gave way to the most wonderful of family days: the day of departure included cuddles, stories and breakfast in bed followed by a happy productive air of just generally getting on with it.

Interestingly, minutes before he was due, our previously faithful and frequently used taxi man rang to say he wasn’t coming. Okay then. Luckily taxis were not a rare commodity and so we made our way to the airport unperturbed. The nerves returned though and only grew as we tried to sit for a cup of chai together, realising two things: 1) this dinky little outdoor alcove with a couple of small stalls and grand total of 4 chairs was it in terms of a waiting or farewell area, and 2) it was probably time for them to go already anyway. It was incredibly hard and heart wrenching to say goodbye. Luckily we tempered it well with lots of hugs and kisses, smiles and cry-laughs. I waved until they disappeared into the ‘ticket-holders only’ area then attempted to find a bus home…

So that’s how Michael and Emma ended up back in Australia with me still in Nepal! I’ll wade through my own return shortly in a second part – until then…xx

Portlandia!

Today we reached the final destination of our road trip – Portland. Woo!

We drove in over the city – taking in the trademark White Stag sign, which I didn’t manage to catch on camera. Nor did I do a good job of note taking – my entries here are incredibly scant. Perhaps I was too busy being taken aback by the place – what we saw and experienced here was crazy cool – Portland bursts with personality.

For me, a lot of that was in the community and business endeavours we discovered. So many great new (and not so new) ideas put into action, all with wonderful artistic flair. We came across a community farm, community programs, an eco-laundry, a great food co-op and so many places selling either fabulous local food or beautiful arty crafty goods. Phew!

We made it to the ‘Alberta Arts district’, the ‘Mississippi district’ and East Portland. So occupied were we with all that was in these spots, we never even made it downtown.

We ventured first to Alberta Main Street – heart of the Alberta Arts District. There we parked and wandered, taking in all the buzz and activity of the businesses. What a thriving place, and despite the cold too. Here are some of the goodies along the stretch…

collage businesses alberta street 1 collage alberta street business 2

We stopped at the ‘Random Order’ pie house for lunch – chicken pie and cherry pie. Yum and Yum. And their approach to it all just tops it right off…

collage random order

We took in some more strolling after lunch – one must work off their pie(s). But we did stick to the theme – visiting ‘Pie Footwear‘ on the main road, selling environmentally and socially responsible shoes. They even extended this mindset to the fit out of the shop itself – you can read some more here. We were aiming to get some of the shoes we had held off buying in Oz and fell into a really interesting conversation with the owners, Stacey and JC. Turns out that like our friends Toff & Cara back in Adelaide, (creators of Home Grain Bakery), this couple had also seen a gap and filled it – following the demand rather than their own personal preference for a business type. And we loved finding out that JC used to work in organic veg distribution, so we chatted a little longer on that subject too. Of course there was still more cool stuff to see, including a typical style of painted house that I quietly fell in love with, so we strolled on:

collage alberat street outside plus houses

Actually, the whole reason we had landed in Alberta Street was because our first night was to be in a ‘tiny house’ (see some previous musings on tiny houses here). It was located in the ingenious “Caravan Tiny House Hotel” – a project/business that made use of an abandoned lot to place several (currently 6) tiny houses in a little group, acting as a hotel with separate rooms if you will. The first of it’s kind in the USA (and most probably the world…) took lots of time and negotiation with the city to iron out the legislative hurdles, ahem…. I mean wrinkles. What a great job those trailblazers did of persisting to come up with something brand new – not only great for the community and a livelihood for themselves, but an excellent way for people to try out a tiny house experience. (Incidentally, if you are in Oz or New Zealand there is another way to try out a tiny house experience thanks to the Happy Simply project – check it out here and here.)

wattlebees in front of roly poly tiny house

For more info on the tiny house hotel, you can check out Caravans’ general website here. Or see more photos/info on our little home for the night here. They also have an extensive list of media coverage links here – it’s worth seeing, it’s massive! It also includes an episode of the Portland based, wickedly funny show called Portlandia (which, for the record, I didn’t know about when deciding the title for this post…).

We spent much time getting acquainted with ‘Roly Poly’ by climbing around and investigating. Yes. Literally. Climbing. In a house that could be the size of your bedroom it’s no wonder there are a couple of lofts upstairs for sleeping, and that getting to things often requires climbing up, down or over.

collage climbing in tiny house

Roly Poly – so named for it’s unique rounded qualities – is one of the smaller homes in the hotel. And for me, the design and furniture made it feel so. However, it was beautifully crafted and with only 1 or 2 people in there it would probably be much easier than it was with us 2 biggies and 1 smally. And regardless of all that, it was a super fun experience.

Emma loved climbing all about in there, just witness her hangin’ about over the kitchen. I think secretly though, maybe I loved it more!!! Aside from getting some strength and stretching work in, just by living, there is a great kind of novelty to having nearly everything within your reach. I wonder if it is purely just a novelty or if it turns into one of the pros of a small home. I guess an extended stay would be the ideal way to answer that question.

collage caravan tiny house outside collage caravan tiny house inside

Indeed, if budget had allowed, we would have loved some more time there. Instead we settled on a plan to sleep in our car caravan and started the day with a trip to East Portland, where Zenger Farm, and our  generous tour guide Prairie, was to be found.

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In a space that was open lands in the 1800’s sits the surviving farm, surrounded by encroaching suburbia. What was forest land was logged to help build Portland until it saw a series of owners and eventually turned over to dairy in the 1900’s by a Swiss immigrant family – the Zengers. Their son, Ulrich Zenger, desperately wanted to see the land’s heritage and sustainability preserved. It was eventually bought by the city – keeping and using it’s existing 10 acres of wetlands to help combat the flooding issues fast approaching  with increased urban buildings and insufficient drainage. It also had community and educational potential that began to be realised when it was leased out in the 1990’s to Urban Bounty’s owner Marc Boucher-Colbert. He used the land as a farm but also hosted community and educational events, later forming partnerships with educational institutions in the area to increase it’s use in education. These days the farm’s capacity for serving the community and environment has been expanded and formalised under the direction of a non profit group – Friends of Zenger Farm. This team and volunteers have partnered with the city to officially make it a public space – used as a working model of urban agriculture and education centre for all things sustainable and community. It is a base for a multitude of programs including summer camps, farmer training and a home school partnership. They even run a 60 person CSA and send produce to some local restaurants and farmers market.

They are also big on helping the community to help themselves. The ‘healthy eating on a budget’ workshops were just one example that Prairie joyfully shared with us. These community based cooking demonstrations and related activities have gone a long way to empowering those on the lowest incomes, while honouring and incorporating the huge diversity of cultures from which many of them come. They seem to foster an invaluable exchange of learning and relationships between community members. It was a great thing to hear about. And I loved this tid-bit from the website:

“healthy food comes from healthy soil, which can be anywhere, even in the city”

You can see more about Zenger Farm and what they are doing here.

collage zenger farm 2 collage zenger farm 3 chooks collage zenger farm 1

The mundane but necessary need to do laundry presented itself. So we took on a recommendation from the Tiny House Hotel staff to check out a new laundromat that had opened up in the nearby Mission district. The staff member who told us about it said he hadn’t been there himself but that people were saying it was good. Good indeed – the place knocked my socks off! It’s so odd to get excited about something to ordinarily boring but that is one aspect of the genius – we can make anything and everything an awesome experience! Kudos to the creator, Morgan Gary, who’s concept, execution and environmentally responsible mindset made this as one of my favourite spots we visited. My words aren’t really doing a great descriptive job right now of explaining that which is ‘Spin Laundry Lounge’, so allow me to cheat and read this paragraph from the website instead:

After completing an MBA in Sustainable Business, she [Morgan Gary] set out to give the laundromat a 21st century update: the fastest, most energy-efficient machines in the world + eco friendly laundry products in a retro-mod cafe/lounge, serving local food and drinks. Save time and money, reduce your carbon footprint, and enjoy every minute of Portland’s totally redefined laundromat experience. 

spin laundry and em collage spin laundry 1 collage spin 2 signs collage spin 3 cafe

I mean, they sell microbrews and have arcade games for goodness sake – is that not the coolest way to do laundry ever? We did our laundry and hung out in the cafe, using the free WiFi and sucking up some drinks. We also chatted to Megan, the lovely lady on staff that day. She did a fantastic job of telling us about the place, instructing us on how to use everything and looking after Em with friendliness, textas and spin colouring pages. Our laundry was done before we knew it – I didn’t really want to leave… You can see more about it here on the website.

In addition to doing laundry the fun way that afternoon, we also meandered down Mission districts’, you guessed it… Mission Street.

Like Alberta Street, this also had a fun feel. I observed some sage advice on a door front…

mission street 1 donutsOk. Will do.

We also happened across a funky looking building which turned out to be much more than we expected.

mission steet em building 2 smaller

This was the quirky and wonderful front to ‘The Rebuilding Centre’ – a community resource for affordable recycled materials. It’s a great place to find bits and bobs for all sorts of construction, and also to tap into an inspirational ideas library or their deconstruction service – their website is a great portal for all such things, see it here.

collage rebuilding centre 1

On top of all that, turns out it is actually an income generator for the ‘Our United Villages’ non-profit. Wow! Great place, great resource, great idea.

collage rebuild centre 2 collage rebuild cenytre community legacy

We loved the ‘Community Legacy’ program – a central place, space and imputes for sharing stories that bring the community together. Seems a great way to inspire, forge bonds and spread the word about all those good news stories happening right around the corner! See their website here.

After a very full afternoon we returned to Alberta Street and found fate had alternative accommodation plans for us – the offer of a bed from a kind stranger that we kept bumping into. We struck up a conversation and after hearing about the road trip Yonti said there was an empty room in the space she was renting. We were welcome to fill it for a night or two. It was really awesome to see human curiosity, generosity and trust in action.

When I said it was very kind, she replied “well, I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and know what its like”. Yonti was right – it made me think about our own feelings after receiving generosity and hospitality – it just makes you want to pass it on. I think to receive is to grow gratitude and wish to pass it on. Here is the first, of many, pledges to ‘pass it on’!

It turned out to be a spare room in the basement below a church – cool space! Also, funny to see peoples’ heads at street feet height.

P1050658 the ittle church portland

Not only was it glorious to have a warm, quiet, full size bed and warm shower but getting to chat with Yonti was like a bonus activity! We had interesting conversations and she passed on many wonderful suggestions for people to see around the place.

Sadly, between the other places we visited and the new info intake limit we were fast approaching, we didn’t get to follow up on these. We made a strategic decision to cut some of our plans and slow down. We headed off early to begin our return journey, preparing for the next stage in the area of Santa Rosa – home of the Summerfield Waldorf School.

Lastly as an aside, I want to make mention that I am writing this retrospectively, from Nepal. It’s interesting to do so because having now experienced and seen life here as well as India, it is with different eyes that I view some of our previous experiences. What a curious feeling it is. Like Portland for example, I got so excited about the artistic, cool and happening nature of the place, and with good reason of course. However, one might say it’s at odds with the appreciation I now have for some of the simpler concerns and way in which life is carried out in here in Asia. I find it a strange and hard place to sit. There is beauty in the allure, ideas and aesthetic of what I saw in Portland. There is also beauty and practicality in the simplicity with which people lead their lives here in Asia. I feel like the best way to reconcile this mental rift, as is often the case, is to find somewhere in the middle. I should look for a happy and responsible balance between the beauty and energy of fun, exciting, artistic endeavours while keeping them grounded with a good dose of perspective in the simple and necessary. Wish me luck on the pursuit!

Mel xx