community

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…

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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.

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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.

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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

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Local vs Central (and my love of mind maps)…

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The idea of local versus centralised operations (and to some extent the often related small versus larger business model) is one that has been coming up for us lately. Mostly in the form of ‘how to communicate the benefits of local’, which we inherently feel to be a better way forward. It seems, so far we haven’t done a great job of articulating our take on this issue, so I wanted to give it some thought and light here.

Indeed I had a lot whirring around in my head so I turned to, my now beloved, mind maps, mud maps or whatever you choose to call them (at the risk of being crass, my inner child would like to suggest we coin it  ‘brain vomit’ – snigger…). For the  uninitiated, it basically involves dropping all your ideas onto a page in no particular order or fashion – you just let it all spill out. Then you can go back and make connections, rearrange, add or remove stuff etc. They are especially helpful for perfectionists or detail people who tend to get stuck on the first slightly inaccurate or misplaced point they encounter (this is certainly true of me) so I thought it a good way to purge my ideas into a constructive form. After a couple of goes and some tidying up, below is my take on the advantages of staying local in business and personal spending – centering around benefits for local business, employment, society and the environment (hint: follow the arrows):

buy local mind map

Now take note – I’m not suggesting that the community be 100% self-reliant. While this is a noble goal, I think at this point in time, there are other things to be aiming for first . What I hope for by advocating ‘local’ is two fold:

1. Lets encourage people to start thinking about this issue and its benefits – putting it on the radar and building that ‘thinking habit’ is the first step;

2. Lets foster resilience in the community through local connections and mutually beneficial business. It not only builds strength, character and diversity in that community – if repeated elsewhere, the resilience and health spreads to an entire state/nation/world. And as an aside, don’t forget that when a community becomes stronger it becomes more stable – security is a diminishing asset these days.

I think the sentiment is expressed well by L.N. Smith (in his book Sunrise Over Disney):

“Every dollar you spend . . . or don’t spend . . . is a vote you cast for the world you want”

So what I would love to see is businesses, and individuals alike, including this as a regular consideration in their decision making. Price is undoubtedly a real and tangible constraint – it must be looked at. I just don’t like to see it weigh in disproportionately or used as the sole factor for choice.

And of course, getting too weighed down or consumed by it all isn’t productive either – just giving more thought to where the money is going is a great place to start. Or you could make a simple hierarchy of what is important, as a guide for those with spending power (teamed up with a realistic budget). For instance it might include a few of the following as equal or more important than price: good service, availability, delivery time, environmental credentials, flexibility, locally made, locally owned, adequate specifications or socially responsible. Sometimes it can involve a little more time and effort to find or work with a trickier option, but it’s worth it.

What gets supported, gets growing. So if more demand it, more will supply it. You know what that means – better options and prices usually follow. Win Win.

And woop woop!

Go on…… get your local on! xx

 

 

 

Edible-izing Adelaide

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This weekend we headed down to the big smoke for the Edible-izing Adelaide event. What an awesome day! We had so much fun setting up, serving drinks and chatting with people doing great stuff.

The event was all about connecting, conversing and learning about local food & community. Those that were lucky enough to book a ticket, before the free event hit capacity, had the opportunity to meet over a massive produce swap, try some local beverages, hear a host of super interesting talks (see below) and ‘meet and greet’ with Sophie and Costa from Gardening Australia. Phew – they packed a lot into a Sunday afternoon!

 

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people lining up, produce in hand, to come into the event

 

Some of the big themes that came through from the day were:

  • the importance of story telling to build culture and healthy communities,
  • the impact of people power to make change, and
  • the solutions to our problems lie within our own hands.

I want you to take a little time to read those three things again. Go on – really. They’re big. They may sound cliche but I think we are seeing more and more that they are brimming with truth.

I want to elaborate more on the talks. First up was Dan French from French Environmental who talked about the possibilities for food production anywhere and everywhere through systems like aquaponics. I think his take home message was really important:

Don’t let size, or any other barrier for that matter, stop you from trying your hand at producing your own food.

Next was Dr Sam Manger, a GP currently practising in Mt. Gambier and also Director of the Transitions Film Festival here in Adelaide (an empowering festival, on again this October, showcasing films and related events around change and sustainability). He talked animatedly through some of the common sense around food, nutrition and health, as well as the extent to which it can affect our lives – we have seen an explosion in the incidence of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. There is so much that can be addressed through diet and lifestyle (think: get active, eat more whole foods and less processed foods) – and the information is out there (Dr Manger’s patients apparently assure him that Dr Google can be consulted 24 7). The conclusion was this:

Now that we know [about healthy food and lifestyle], let’s increase the communication and participation.

And how is this for an interesting fact – apparently the study of Botany (i.e. plants) used be a standard inclusion for training as a Doctor! Food really was their medicine.

Next up were the event organisers and founders of Ripe Near Me, Alistair and Helena Martin. Helena persevered behind the scenes while Alistair talked us through the Ripe Near Me website. For those who are unfamiliar, it is an interactive food map – people with produce list it on the map and then others can search and see by area or food type. Originally conceived as a way to stop food going to waste, it is also a great way to buy, sell or swap produce and connect with the community.

However, it is set to be so much more in the future – if they can garner the resources. Their wish list includes items like:

  • expanding the listings to all sorts of resources such as used coffee grounds, firewood and even available growing or storage space
  • building in a facility to share knowledge, such as growing tips
  • looking at incorporating farmers into the system
  • improved listing accuracy (think: ability to determine if a listing is still active or not), a phone app and online help centre

They are currently running a crowd funding campaign to start working on the above wishlist – highly recommended – we have already contributed, but after hearing the story and future plans today, we’ll be pledging again! A live hook up to the website showed everyone how easy it was to navigate – and having done it myself, I can say for sure that adding produce and searching for it is super easy. While seeing it in action was great, Alistair’s live elevator music while we waited for the log in was even better!

Best of all though was the idea that Ripe Near Me could help us reclaim our food system. And do it in an old fashioned way – through home growing and exchange in the community.

After some door prize and Costa look-a-like competition shenanigans, which involved lots of flying vegies and fake bushy beards (true story), it was time for the Gardening Australia gurus to deliver some genius.

First up was the delightful Sophie Thomson who delivered a wonderfully broad view of the benefits of gardening. Exuding the joy and passion which she clearly derives from the natural world, Sophie laid out the case for gardening as a tool for fitness, relaxation, nutrition, creativity and good mental health. Backed up by example after example, i’ll make note of just a few. She referenced the work of Mardie Townsend at Deakin University in collaboration with Beyond Blue – who produced a report on “The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being” – read it here.  She also talked about the concepts introduced in Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” that describe children’s lack of contact with nature and its link to the increasing trend in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. And mentioning the alarming reality of chemicals in our food, as highlighted by Dr Mark Cohen, really drove home the following point:

Gardening, and all that comes from it, is vital. It needs to be a cornerstone of our culture again.

Rounding out the day was the unforgettable Costa Georgiadis. With trademark passion, fun and eccentricity Costa delivered a pep talk to reaffirm our own power. Power to change things for the better through vocabulary – using the right words, getting people interested, weaving these issues and the solutions into story form.

People look to the sky as Costa dissapears up

People look to the sky as Costa disappears mid-talk, up the stairs and to the balcony – it really was a Sunday Sermon

 

Forewarning: here comes my, apparently customary, digression for today.

Story telling – it is SO important (and it amazes me how often I find this being reiterated lately). It seems to me that stories, in all their forms (pictures, songs, dance, patterns/symbols, myths, folk tales, fables) are the lifeblood of cultures, and for good reason. Traditionally, this is how they educated and retained vital information, for example info like location and navigation methods for the pacific islanders (Bill Mollison talks about this in one of his lectures on patterns). It is also the way to communicate the very values a culture is built upon – just think about all the lessons delivered in Aesop’s fables (there may well be a better example, however that is what comes to mind at the moment!). But the real genius is in how we can physically take in story forms differently to words and lectures – they just seem easier for our brain to digest and assimilate. It’s the same principle behind why waldorf (steiner) schools use arts as the teaching vehicle all through the primary years – young kids have an underdeveloped left side of the brain and therefore pick up pictures, song, story and movement much better than any writing on a blackboard.

All in all, communicating through stories leads to a much deeper understanding, connection and therefore memory of the message stored within them.

And so it seems, I have a *few* thoughts on story telling (who knew – I certainly didn’t until now!). See – that is why writing is so therapeutic, you just never know what is going to come out through reflection. Apologies for the lack of supportive evidence in that section too – you will just have to call it my opinion for now!

And so back to Costa and his words today. I loved that what he saw in Ripe Near Me was not just a food map, but a “health search engine and community builder”. He also flagged the creation of this sort of platform as a sign of the market place – people are increasingly wanting to know more about their food and have a closer connection to it. When I stand back it does seem pretty evident. Even today on the way home for example, we drove past a KFC where they had in massive letters: made “fresh, by real cooks”. Think about it – they are trying to convince us it is fresh, and made by someone worthy – why? The same reason Coles are now stocking, and zealously marketing, hormone free beef and RSPCA approved chicken. They want to be seen as more ethical. Again, why? Because they recognise the new consumer demand for it – something Costa called the ‘new food current’. It’s happening whether you realise it or not – all these small changes, the increased awareness, a renewed interest – it’s showing us we can make change. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think Coles selling RSPCA chicken is going to save the world – but I take it as a great positive whenever one of the massive monopolies takes notice and steps in a better direction. We might well move giants better from the grass underneath than by aerial policy attack. I think the take home message from Costa was one of encouragement:

Realise how strong this movement is and the change we are making.

So I want to finish up by saying thank you to everyone who makes a move, no matter what the size, towards a better world. And in Costa’s words – ‘get your story out there, talk about it!’

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Happy story-telling x

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome aaaaaand …… farewell (almost).

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As the title indicates, this is both a welcome and farewell. Hmmm, that’s odd you say – I shall explain……

This is our first ever post – hurrah! And thus, welcome to our blog!

We plan to use this section of our site to cover everyday happenings and info that seems relevant as we take on our new life.

It is also a talented little creature because it will morph before your very eyes, into a…… travel blog! Yup – that’s because, (for those who don’t already know – which is potentially very few, given these plans have been in the pipeline for over a year now!), we will be departing for a year long trip away. Woo-hoo! Hence the ‘farewell’ – but not until October 🙂

The decision to go away for a year was originally born out of a desire to do something and make a difference. It was at a time that we were kind of ‘waking up’ to the type of life we were living (as I explain in more detail here in our ‘Living Small’ article). I think we felt stuck and wanted to shake things off – do something positive. It seemed we could make more of a difference with our efforts in another country where life isn’t so gifted as here in Australia – so that the small offering we were able to make could be of bigger impact. Couple this with a wish to experience simpler cultures and Michael’s lifelong interest in the Himalaya, and suddenly the possible destinations became clearer. Our first thought was Pakistan (one of the villages in Kashmir actually). However, much to the relief of many family members, we decided we could probably reduce the safety risks and still meet our aspirations by going to Nepal instead. Did I mention that we are bringing our seven year old daughter with us? Then, with India so close by, it seemed a good idea to include it too – what an opportunity to see life in all it’s loud and colourful glory, as well as its despair. And we thought we would also take the opportunity to visit my mum who lives in the USA. So that became the plan.

Over the 14 months since the plan was initially hatched, it has seen some transformation. And I have to say I am sad for that in a way because the volunteering, which first set us on this path, had its spotlight shifted somewhat to also include opportunities for researching and seeing first-hand so many of the things we want to learn about – like intentional communities, tiny/small living and the myriad of different farming/growing techniques around. We still plan, as before, to volunteer in Nepal but we will also be using our time abroad to see the hotbed of activity going on in these areas. Don’t get me wrong, there is a bunch of stuff to see here in Oz too – its heartening to see just how much is happening. We plan to take some of it in as we drive up the East Coast to visit my dad on our way out! That said though, the more we look at what we want to learn – the more we realise we can do so in the countries we’ll be visiting. And so it shall be. In fact, Michael aptly likened this transition to a little quote that I not so long ago read, and consequently put up on our wall:

 

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It must be said that I have had some doubts cross my mind – like, it’s a really expensive thing to do – is it worth it? Would the money be better spent setting up our own place here? Or just donating it to someone else directly? Those are all valid questions, but in the end, it feels like this trip is just something we have to do – you know that feeling? You might not be able to rationalise it, or explain it enough for others to understand – but you know it is on your path. It seems this is a learning and life opportunity not to be missed for us. Its taking shape as a trip to inform and guide our future ambitions – I think these experiences will help us decide specifically what we want to pursue when we return.

As an aside, I have been struggling with what to call this ‘trip’ – largely because there are so many aspects to it – research, volunteering, sight seeing, family visits, mind expansion!. We have referred to it as a ‘holiday’, which just seemed a poor description really, given that it won’t be your average kind of holiday  and we aren’t planning to be typical tourists (although we are totally reserving the right to still do some touristy things that take our fancy!). We will however, be leaving behind daily life and sharing some wonderful experiences as a family, so I guess it’s a holiday in that respect. This ‘family’ aspect is a point I want to touch on and say that for us, bringing our daughter Emma to take part in the experiences is critical – it was another major reason for doing this trip. We want Emma to know that not everyone lives as we do, there are many ways to do things and that happiness is not equated with ‘stuff’. Having been lucky enough myself to briefly visit a few countries to see my dad when I was younger, I know just how much seeing these places affected me. There is nothing quite like seeing another culture for yourself. I remember it feeling, literally, like another world. For that, I am very grateful. What better way to open your mind, build understanding and tolerance and become a better person?

So if you have a more apt description for this adventure, perhaps you could suggest it in a comment below!

In the meantime, here is the itinerary as it currently stands:

  • October 2014: driving from Adelaide to Queensland’s sunshine coast – likely to be taking in some Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane
  • November 2014: Staying in Qld – sunshine coast and its hinterland
  • December 2014 to February 2015: USA – visiting California, New York, Virginia & North Carolina (also train-tripping from the West to East Coast so potentially stopping along the way also)
  • March to May 2015: India – starting in the North West (Uttarakhand & Uttar Pradesh) then heading across to the North East (West Bengal)
  • June to November-ish 2015: Nepal – starting in Kathmandu then it’s open after that

We would like to put the word out about where we are going and hear what others think would be good to see/places to go/people to meet – if you have such wisdom, please let us know! If not, please spread this around in any relevant circles 🙂

Until then, as Michael would say, enjoy today!

Mel x IMAG0570