Our fingernails are dirty

Our fingernails are filled with dirt. Our bodies are sore from chores and feeding animals. We are tired from days that start before sunrise. And I’ve never experienced anything that has resonated so deeply in my spirit. A small taste of this life and I’m ruined (in the best way). The farm feels like home. 

We’ve been staying with Lyndal and Steve at their homestead, Aisling Quoy, for 11 days now. They’ve been farming this land for 10 years, building and constantly adding to their lovely, self-sustaining farm. The main house sits on a small hill surrounded by their animals and lined by a number of trees in nearly every direction, giving it a cozy, protected feeling. Rolling hills in soft yellow tones sit just off in the distance and bring texture and depth to the area. They currently have 25 goats, 36 sheep, 3 pigs, some ducks and little ducklings, and TONS of chickens and chicks. The moment we stepped onto the farm we felt the energy of the place. It’s something special and we feel incredibly fortunate to be apart of this energy, even if only for a month. 

Every day begins at 5:48am. The window of our room in the barn loft looks out on the baby lambs to one side and the chickens and ducklings to the other with a gravel road splitting between and leading to the courtyard (connects to barn, toolshed, hay, garden, etc.) Some mornings, the sun will slice through the horizon and everything turns a warm, honey yellow. We eat breakfast together before morning chores. At this hour, the animals are (usually) still and quiet in the paddocks (except when the baby lambs hear us making our way from the barn to the main house and yell ferociously for the their milk bottles as if they’ve never been fed before in their lives. Dramatic, those ones.)

Morning/evening routine chores involve many different working parts, and when all are working properly and efficiently, it’s like a well-oiled machine. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant you can imagine that euphoric feeling during a rush when service is going well and everyone is working swiftly and smoothly. Everything around might be chaotic and unpredictable, but you focus at the task at hand and do your best to problem solve, to dance with the elements. When everyone is doing this it creates an indescribable energy. I still think about that fulfilling feeling at the end of service when the guests were fed and happy, the kitchen staff exhausted but proud to have pulled it off, no matter how high the pressure. 

Feeding times are not unlike this rush. Instead of pushy customers we’re dealing with a symphony of yelling animals; instead of remembering orders, we need to remember where & how everyone ends up in the right place (shutting/opening gates), which sounds straightforward until a baby goat jumps over the fence into an open paddock or we forget to line the gates correctly and the milked sheep end up roaming a field near the pigs. 

After everyone is fed and happy, and Lyndal is done milking in the dairy, we sit down for coffee and treats. Sometimes we talk expectations and projects, sometimes we sit and breathe and listen to the rainfall. Most days we talk too long and forget about the work we meant to start 45 minutes ago. The other day, we abandoned our to-do lists and drove to the beach, stopping on the way to pick cherries and tarragon for our dinner. 

The sustainability and self-sufficiency of this place is remarkable. Aside from the water they bring in for the animals, the house uses filtered rain water. They compost and recycle most things and accumulate a remarkably low amount of rubbish that gets taken off the property. We wash things over bins in the sink and throw the excess water onto plants. Water that makes its way down the drain irrigates the paddocks. The compost toilet in the barn gets used as fertilizer and the urine dilutes in water and is dumped on plants! Circle of life! Permaculture! When we are good stewards of the land and the animals, we actually all benefit immensely from each other. When we aren’t good stewards, things like global warming and world hunger happen. 

They grow the bulk of what they eat, bringing in only a number of things to stock the pantry. The garden determines the meal, not a trip to the supermarket. If onions aren’t growing then we don’t have onions! This relationship to the food you grow makes you more creative, spontaneous and playful with meals. We are blowing our minds with what Lyndal can do with her garden. She likes to preface dinner with useless caveats like “dinner might be basic tonight,” and then we sit down to a beautiful 3-course meal she prepared while doing 4 other things and with her eyes closed. Some things we’ve had so far: Double-fried white potatoes with garlic and rosemary; stuffed zucchini blossoms; cucumber and mint ice cream; sheep sausage mixed with quinoa and garden veggies; green and red leaf baby lettuces with olive oil, cooked apricots, crushed hazelnuts and cheese (made by Lyndal of course). I’m learning SO much by watching her effortlessly work with what’s available. I could walk the gardens all day and never get bored admiring all the life pushing up through the dirt, all the produce in it’s most pure form. Everything looks eerily different from the produce we buy at Trader Joe’s. It’s brighter and textured and best of all, not packaged in plastic. 

The days go by in a beautiful blur, like looking at one of those paintings that is more suggestive than precise in it’s strokes. We feel at home in this life. They’ve adopted us into their way of life and sparked a passion inside of us we didn’t know existed. It’s a massive undertaking, running a farm, and Steve and Lyndal don’t sugarcoat this fact. I asked them how long it’s taken them to feel like they really know the land and the soil and the weather. They said they still don’t know, and the second they claim to know they’re hit by a curveball. So many people are trying to manipulate the environment to work in their favor instead of adapting to it. Like Lyndal and Steve, I want to learn to adapt. 

A couple nights ago after dinner, we sat around the front room, chatting and sipping whisky. I mentioned how fortunate we feel to be learning so much so quickly. Lyndal looked at me and said “that’s why we do what we do. I can’t solve world hunger, but I can do my small part and give people opportunity to learn stuff and go out and better the world.” 

It’s raining hard today. The goats don’t like the rain and they tell us frequently throughout the day. Farm days feel like one long mindfulness practice: the rain hits the tin roof of the barn; a rooster crows in the distance; fire cracks in the wood stove; It’s hard to be anywhere else but here. The animals and the land teach us so much about being present. When you grow things and rely on rain water you can’t afford not to pay attention. I often forget what day it is or to check my phone for reminders of the life and people back home (love you all!). The beauty and energy of this place is just too captivating to look away from for too long. Of course there’s all the stress we don’t see because we don’t run the place. For now, we have the privilege of being all in, of drinking in their wealth of wisdom while we’re in this dreaming phase of life. We have the privilege to see and believe this way of life is possible to create for ourselves one day…

>> SOME THINGS WE'VE LEARNED <<

to make halloumi, ricotta, and yogurt

to milk sheep and goats (Char not yet)

how to plant by the moon

weeding is completely addicting 

Lyndal and I planted a number of root vegetables

most of the animals’ names

you don’t need to shower as often as you think

biodegradable tampons work! (I learned this, not Char…)

how to insulate a tiny home with sheep's wool

animals need to be socialized (cuddling with sheep is therapeutic)

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small & simple beginnings

Today is January 1st, 2018 in New Zealand. This is the first time I’ve made it to a new year while much of the world has yet to count down the seconds to fireworks, champagne, banging pots and adrenaline kisses. I’ve been looking up times around the states, checking on family and friends spread across the country in different time zones. 6pm in New York! 3pm in Cali. I am meticulous in knowing when the people I love will join us in 2018. So strange, this world!

We’ve been all over the past few weeks. After Sonya and Pat’s we spent a few days an hour and half north of Auckland in Mangawhai, a beach town with killer surfing and another small community where everyone knows everyone. We glamped in a tree hut in the woods (owned by friends we met here, thanks guys!!!) where we spent our days reading in the hanging bamboo chair and nights team-building by trapping and killing mosquitoes. We got really good. There’s a hike along the beach called The Coastal Beach walk that traverses along the cliffside and is so remarkably beautiful I think I might have cried at one point. Being up there alone (just the two of us on an entire 2 hour trail!), and looking out at the vast expanse of pure blue water it was hard to process why we, out of everyone in the world, were lucky enough to experience something so beautiful. That’s been a hard battle in my mind: trying to freely receive the gift of God’s beauty and then remembering my privilege; remembering the billions of people who will live their lives without the opportunity to leave their home as freely or easily as I can to experience the bigness, the beauty, and to wonder at God’s creation. And yet, there is hope. There is hope. There is hope

The week surrounding Christmas we spent with friends of friends (or as the Kiwis say, "mates of mates"). There’s no way to overstate how kind, fun-loving, and generous this family is. The minute we walked into their home we were received with hugs and the profound feeling that we’d known these people for years instead of hours. When you feel disarmed by someone, you expedite your connection to them. Most nights were spent around the dinner table, drinking wine, talking about real things (because we all agreed small talk makes us want to lie motionless on the floor), learning kiwi colloquialisms (“what a crack up,” “heaps,” “hungry as,” “I could be keen for…”). We truly felt like we were with family on Christmas. What a rare and precious thing! And I think that’s grace right there: being unexpectedly hit in the face with so much love and acceptance. 

We’ve been on the move since Christmas, spending 4 nights in Wellington (8-hour drive from Auckland), eventually ferrying across the channel to the North Island and landing in Christchurch (on the upper/middle half of Eastern coast). All the driving has felt more like a privilege than a nuisance. It’s just all so stupid beautiful. FOMO kept me from sleeping; every time I shut my eyes I’d open them to a new spectacular hillside and wonder what I’d missed in the last 10 minutes. You really start to see how unpopulated this place is when you drive for hours and hours and the most activity you see are the sheep and cows grazing in open fields. The entire country is less than 5 million people. 5 million!!! New York City has nearly 9 million people. That’s a CITY almost double the population of this whole COUNTRY. No wonder this place feels like a big exhale. There’s simply more room to breathe.

It’s been awhile since we’ve been living on the farm. We’re craving some routine after bouncing around the past few weeks. Tomorrow (Jan 2) we will drive to our final farm stay (sheep/goat dairy farm) 45 minutes north of Christchurch where we will work/live for the entire month of January. With no days off and a whole month using a compost toilet (Lord help us, we’re so spoiled!), what we will do day in-and-day-out remains a colossal mystery.

I’m sure my restless nights and anxious thoughts are subconscious signals that I’m not so keen on all the unknowns we’re about to walk into. Getting comfortable with unknowns is easy to acknowledge and hard as hell to practice. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2017 it’s that the hardest, most painful and uncomfortable experiences teach us the most about ourselves and what we’re made of. They refine, sharpen, give us vision for what we want to be about (and what we don’t). I got good at talking about how this trip would “push us out of our comfort zones” (a cheap platitude). But Saying and doing are not one in the same. It all sounds sexy from the sidelines, the scary part is the fire.

It’s easy to forget the only way to be refined is to walk into the fire. This trip (so far) has felt like a serious of walking into the fire: unknown after unknown, all challenging in their own way, all more fruitful than I ever imagined this time could be. Embracing the unknowns doesn’t necessarily make the uncomfortable feelings go away, I think it just helps us let go of control. But it’s not a one and done process, it’s a posture of the heart, a daily outstretch of our clenched hands holding open wide the things we so desperately try to control. 

It’s now 11:00pm in New York. They say it’s one of the coldest New Years Eve’s on record. I feel bad for the people huddled in Times Square. Not only have they been holding their pee for hours, they’ve been freezing their asses off as they count down the minutes til they can hug and kiss the million strangers and then go home to their toilets and heaters. I remember last year having to work on NYE. I was working in the kitchen of a restaurant, making food for all the pretty girls and dapper guys celebrating the end of the year, bitter I wasn’t the one in their seat, cheers-ing with my friends. At the end of service, we cleaned as fast as we could in order to be where we wanted at midnight. I told myself next year I’d be doing something grand and there’d be champagne and gold balloons and I’d wear lipstick. Goes to show we can’t predict who we’ll be and what we’ll want in a year’s time. This NYE I just didn’t care as much about all the fluff. Char and I made dinner at our AirBNB, drank whisky that tasted like a campfire and fell asleep watching a rom com with Reese Witherspoon. It was small and simple, emblematic of the lifestyle we want to embrace more and more of this year. 

Cheers to you and yours, wherever you find yourself at midnight. And welcome to 2018 :) 

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Waiheke Wonderland

Our 2 weeks with Jack and and Anna ended early on a Friday morning, the sun barely over the hills tinting the land an intense golden hue as we said our goodbyes and headed onward. 

Next on our agenda was Waiheke Island, a magical place not far from Auckland, accessible only by ferry or boat. 

The minute we offload the ferry we can almost feel the distinction in pace of life between city and island. A certain kind of tranquility hangs thick in the air and my body reacts to it physically before I am even aware, like a long exhale you didn’t know you’d been holding in. The only way to get around is by a two-lane road system splayed out like roots all around the island. Many of the locals sport stickers on their cars that say “slow down, you’re here!” Ferry rides and slow drivers are no novelty to me and I’m immediately brought back to my childhood on Whidbey Island.

Waiheke looks a bit like an ameba, round with little peninsulas, bays, and cliffs covered in lush green texture that outline the perimeter. A little bit Hawaiian/tropical, little bit Southern California. There’s one major road lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, an overpriced inn, an area catered towards the affluent tourists and those with holiday homes down the street. 

But before we really see any of the island we drive directly to where we will be staying the first 3 nights, with Sonya and Pat.

I didn’t have much interaction with Sonya before we show up to her modest hut-of-a-home nestled in the hills of the Awaawaroa Eco Village. I knew she referred to herself as a “Storyteller,” she was vegan, and she had a warm smile with kind eyes. You can tell a lot about a person from the welcome in their smile. She meets us at the little wooden gate at the entrance to her property, right off the dirt road running through the village. Her hair - frizzy and tossled - is in two pigtails, enhancing her girlish quality. She smells like Indian spices and incense when we hug.

She ushers us into her little home that has striking similarities to a hobbit hut. A waterfall of beads separates the kitchen from the bedroom and beyond the bed I can see out to the gardens. There’s no fridge, no microwave, no pantry. Everything sits neatly in glass containers on the shelf - flour, sugar, muesli, brown rice. She said when she moved out here she made a commitment to simplify her life. I try to imagine living without a fridge or freezer, washer/dryer, catching my own rain water, peeing in the garden and pooing in a compost toilet. This kind of “simple" would be at first painfully inconvenient. I wonder how long it takes for the discomfort to feel freeing. 

After a cup of tea, we follow closely behind Sonya into her garden, like a puppy at the heels of its owner. It’s easy to imagine this place grounding a person. It’s a delicate and powerful place, the garden, infused by energy from living organisms, growing and budding and producing sustenance. The variety of things growing is overwhelming considering the modest piece of property she sits on: pineapple, tomatoes, strawberries, onion, chamomile  everywhere (makes the whole garden smell like nighttime tea). At some point I lose track of everything she’s listing.

The neighbor boy, Ruben, wanders over to meet us, curious about the foreigners. He’s the first in a series of other villagers we will meet that night. Sonya shows us how to use the compost toilet. I make the mistake of looking up and spotting a fat brown spider, in line perfectly to fall on Sonya’s head. He didn’t, of course, but this image ruins me for the rest of the weekend, making a trip to the shitter a horrifying event. We set up our things where we will be sleeping - in a house truck we’d be sharing with a number of insects and spiders of various sizes. I still can’t tell if I’m overcoming my fear of spiders by facing them or merely accruing new reasons to validate the fear to begin with. 

The sun starts to set and everything turns that dreamy kind of gold. We take a walk through the village to drop some things at the community building and at a family’s house. It’s lovely to watch people coexist this way, creating a life that acknowledges our need for others rather than priding ourselves on our independence from anyone. Sonya leads us a different way back to her home. Halfway up the hill we run into a parade of chickens, followed by Rob. Rob is fascinated by Char’s camera and wants to know if we will make a video for him. There’s a pack of wild baby hogs down the road he’s been feeding every night and would like to get video of this. We agree without hesitation. Rob is tall and wiry with an endearing disheveled look about him. He doesn’t look it right away, but Rob is such a softy. I wish we lived in the Eco Village just so we could be friends. 

That night we meet Pat, Sonya’s husband, fresh off his electric bike he uses to get to and from the passenger ferry (an hour ride one-way). He’s a kind and generous man with a refreshing openness about him. It’s rare to see this lack of cynicism in someone who’s lived a lot of life. He also speaks fluent Swedish and builds his own instruments. 

The entire weekend with Sonya and Pat was a whirlwind of events, a weekend of saying yes and being all in (even when we didn’t always know what we were saying yes to). Saturday we represented the biking group Sonya is apart of by riding in the Waiheke Island Christmas parade. We wore costumes and sang enthusiastically to the crowd of tourists and children wanting free candy. We took 2nd place. 

It’s not hard to notice Sonya’s imprint on the Waiheke community. Everywhere we go takes 10 minutes longer than it should because she runs into someone. We were always the first people to show up and the last to leave an event. They kept apologizing for the delays while we packed and unpacked the car, bouncing between an office, a friend’s house for more costumes, the market for snacks. No apology needed, we assure them, we know the drill, we were raised on this type of showing up for your community. 

The next day, a friend of Sonya’s (who we rode in the parade with) put on a fundraiser to save Kennedy Point, a beautiful bay of water at risk of being turned into a flashy marina. We helped out where we could per Sonya’s request (serving drinks, taking pictures, befriending passionate activists) all the while making faces at each other that said “what is our life?” We listen to people share about how the marina would obliterate 5 major eco-systems, threatening the history of the Maori culture (Maori are the indigenous people of NZ). The fundraiser inspires us to think more about how small choices can make a big impact (good or bad). 

By Monday morning we are fully exhausted. We share one last meal with Sonya and Pat, brown rice, soy milk and fresh fruit. Before we leave, they walk us across the road to show us the trees people gave them as wedding gifts (married earlier this year), planted on the hillside overlooking the eco village. Most of them are nothing more than sticks in the ground and will take years before they mature. I can’t help but think this is all of us, trees on a hillside, facing the elements, just trying to put down roots and grow a little bit taller to see a little bit more of the landscape (what’s beyond that, we wonder).     

We drive away, laughing at the unexpected ways God expands our minds and perspectives of the world. I look back to the hillside with all the little baby trees, thankful for roots and growth and change. 

>> HIGHLIGHTS <<

* Sunset dinner celebrating wedding anniversary at a flipping gorgeous winery.

* Experiencing Sonya’s storytelling. Picture campfire story meets motivational speaker meets professional cartoon voiceover.  

* We shared all meals together with S & P. Rich conversations, sharing stories and learning from our differences.

* Spontaneous jump in the ocean with S & P. Sprinting towards the waves and collapsing into the thunderous force of the ocean.  

* Going with Rob to feed the baby hogs. I asked Rob if he had a compost toilet or a real toilet. Without missing a beat he says “I have a real compost toilet.” Bless me. 

* We bummed around the island for four days, staying in an Airbnb we had to hike 10 minutes into. Quiet, secluded, private beach, kayaks, sharing a beer with our air bnb hosts at the beach. #kiwihospitality

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"We don't have Facebook, that's why we have carrots!"

It’s the day after Thanksgiving when we depart for what we’ve deemed “Farm 1.” It’s not until we are 20 minutes out of Auckland that the ubiquitous strip malls and suburbs dissolve until all that’s left are rolling hills and fields of sheep + cows and berries. We miss our turn off, distracted by the colors and newness outside our windows. We make our way up, up, up into the hills we were just admiring from the roads below. After bumping along a gravel road for what feels like ages, we see the address numbers in big wooden cutouts, hanging from a wooden fence. Driving down the driveway and watching the house come into view I feel like a giddy kid arriving at summer camp. So much anticipation, so much wonder, a little bit of what are we doing, are we crazy for doing this?? which I take as a good sign.

We get out of the car and the first thing I’m aware of is the noise - or lack of it. Birds are chirping harmoniously in the trees down the hill, a rooster crows, the wind whooshes by with forceful power and leaves the air empty and still in its wake. In the stillness I can hear myself think. I look over at Char. So, what do we do? I ask with my eyes but do not verbalize. Thankfully Jack* sees us arrive and makes his way across the yard (a football field’s length away) and I have way too much time to think about what to say upon initial contact. Be excited but not TOO excited, are we hugging, shaking, waving or what do I do with my hands? Do I look Farm-ready? (puke). I go with a hand shake. Jack’s disarming presence puts us at ease as he leads us around the stunning property, pointing out plant varietals and various names of all their trees down by the forest line, which I promptly forget because all I can focus on is how excited I am to see chickens and alpacas and the miles of space. The whole scene is so breathtaking it’s rendered me speechless. I let Char ask the questions and I keep sweeping the property with my eyes. As we walk around herb beds, through overgrown, unused sections of land and past an empty hole in the ground (failed attempt at a pond), Jack firehoses us with little bits of information. He talks about the soil, the southward-facing plots for optimum sunlight, the rain water they catch and triple filter (wow), their three step composting situation (wow again), among hundreds of other things. His delivery is casual and conversational, like he’s at a cocktail party discussing the weather or his vacation to Thailand. His nonchalant, effortless candor makes it hard to believe he’s only been at this a mere 7 years and not his whole life. 

Jack met Anna** in Auckland 15 years ago (Jack a kiwi, Anna from Russia). They met the week before Anna was supposed to fly home to Russia (and her boyfriend at the time). In movie-like fashion, she decided to stay for Jack. They lived together in the city for over a decade before moving out here with (admittedly) no experience in planting and growing things. They decided buying land and building a home made the most sense (if you can call anything they did “sensible”). They literally found this property, picked up their conventional city lives - jack a lawyer, Anna a consultant - and canon-balled into the unknown without so much as a dip of the toe in the water. (They both continue to work full time, Jack commutes to Auckland 4 days/wk and Anna is able to do most of her work from home with occasional visits to city). They bought the property when it was a simple hill with tall grass, a few trees and a herd of bulls. They’ve since planted nearly a thousand trees, a glorious mix of orchards, olives, red/yellow guavas, & citrus amidst the native New Zealand trees scattered throughout. This property has been a giant playground for their imagination for the past 7 years, a place to plant trees their grandchildren will one day get to climb, to raise their kids in a place they can roam free, to learn about the earth, to learn how to fail and keep going. It’s an ever-changing giant project made up of hundreds of smaller projects, a magical, eclectic array of (literal & figurative) fruits to their labor.  

I mention all this because it illuminates the very brave and bold path this family has chosen. At lunch over lentil soup and green juice, I asked Jack if any of their friends thought they were crazy when they told them what they were doing. “Oh, everyone,” was his response. “Most of them still think we are,” He added with a smirk. 

It’s 4pm by the time our tour wraps. We end up in the very overgrown vegetable plots where we meet Anna. She’s wearing a noodle strap tank, short shorts, slip on crocks with holes and standing in a dense patch of towering weeds, so naturally all I can think is what about the bugs. What about SPIDERS? That’s how I know this woman is fearless. Little do I know the ensuing 9 days will involve me seeing more spiders than I’ve seen in perhaps all my 25 years. 

We waste no time and spend the next 2 hours weeding. Not the kind of weeding I remember as a kid, the kind I’d do for old people in exchange for a few dollars to spend on Pop Rocks and Fun Dip. These weeds are tall and tangled and relentless enough that I can pull at the base with my full body weight and they won’t budge. We are both quickly humbled by how far off our preconceived ideas of gardening are from reality. I used to think gardening meant retired people in sun hats and khakis, trimming dead leaves from a hydrangea (did I mention we were quickly humbled!?!) I find myself facing the earth head to head, bending over, hacking full force at the base of an entwined section of decaying grass, ripping up the ground until it’s flat and smooth again, like waxing an old man’s hairy back. 

Day one wraps. We eat dinner together with Jack, Anna, their two kids (4 & 2 yrs old), Anna's mom who lives with them and Anna's uncle visiting from Russia. It's a full house, so it really does feel a bit like camp. We fall asleep fast and hard, dreaming of weeds.

We weed for the next 5 days, clearing out 4 major sections of overgrown beds and acquiring some nice fatty blisters on our hands. Our bodies haven't felt this kind of full-body aching in a while. It feels good to labor over the land the way our ancestors did - blood, sweat, and tears from little more than a shovel and the dirt. When our 5 hours of work are up, we are free to spend the afternoons doing whatever we want. We’ve left a few times to check out the area: the beach, a cool brewery and the supermarket for snacks (we are hungry all the freaking time). But my most favorite days have been the days we don’t leave. The ones where we wonder the property, listen to the wind and the birds, feed the alpacas, take too many pictures, and watch as the sun paints the sky in explosive colors each night before it drops below the hills and leaves us to the stars.  

>>> HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK <<<

* Showering. It's never felt so amazing. 

* Every night at 7 we gather around a big wooden table for dinner. It's lovely and sweet to be invited into someone's home and to get such a firsthand view into the way they do life. One night we were talking about social media and how time-sucking it is. Anna said some of their friends wonder how they are able to do all they do. “We don’t have Facebook, that’s why we have carrots!” she exclaimed. Maybe you had to be there but I thought this was gold. 

* Living more simply & working with our hands. 

*On Sunday, Jack + Anna surprised us with pancakes for lunch (with like a hundred different kinds of homemade jams) and pizza for dinner. We could've cried it was so yummy. 

* Their house is on top of a hill with sweeping views of the land in basically every direction you look (save for the driveway). When the work gets tough (mentally/physically) and the sweat starts to sting our eyes, we stop, look around, and shake our heads in disbelief at how gorgeous our work backdrop is.  

**I’ve changed names here as a precaution. These people don’t know I’m writing publicly about them so it feels best to preserve their anonymity ;)

 

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New Zealand (for 3 Months)

A few months back, I was waiting impatiently at a busy crosswalk when I watched a man ride his bicycle right into a Rite Aid. He was singing opera. He acted like this was the most natural thing he could be doing in the world. I looked around at the few people witnessing this situation. A girl looked up from her phone, covered her mouth as she giggled, then went back to her screen. A guy across the street nudged his buddy and pointed in the direction the singing bicycle man had just disappeared behind the automatic Rite Aid doors. The friend was unfazed. I, too, remember being unfazed by the whole act, thinking to myself ya, that felt like it should have happened. The city life will do this to a person, normalize situations that are far from being categorized as “normal.” This was the moment I realized I’d been living in the city too long.

Of course these unexpected encounters with the farfetched are part of the charm of living in the city. But after awhile, the noise, the trash piled on the street, the acrid smell of pee stuck in the sidewalk cracks, the addiction to more (more success, more money, more work), the distraction in everyone’s eyes, it all wears on the soul. And our souls are tired. Our souls are thirsty for a new normal. Slowing down has always felt counterintuitive in the city. The heartbeat of a city is movement, energy, stimulation, it’s kinetically operative. The desire to have more rest and less noise (while living in this heartbeat) has felt like trying to squeeze into shoes a size too small. We need a new pair of shoes. 

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When Char and I got married (almost 3 years ago exactly) we loosely tossed around the idea of living abroad for a good chunk of time. He had done his fair share of traveling/living in other countries (before we met) and I so badly wanted to travel. About a year and a half ago we got serious about the idea and started saving, not yet knowing where we would be going. We landed on New Zealand for a number of reasons: we had a handful of connections to people living here through friends of friends, it’s ideal for farming (something I’m curious + passionate to learn about), we’ve heard slowing down is more intuitive here, I don’t even have to mention the beauty, it’s winter in Seattle and summer in NZ (not mad about this), the accents are everything…

Here we are (!!!) finally, after hours of planning, saving, & dreaming. It’s all a bit surreal. Hard to find words for the avalanche of feelings + thoughts + fears + newness. Hard to download. 

So what are we going to be doing the next 3 months? I got really good at answering this question in the months leading up to leaving. I got the answer down to a nice soundbite covering our itinerary, I even included what I planned to do when we get back to Seattle (because so many people were asking). I don’t blame them for being curious, but it did overwhelm me to think that far ahead. I pictured me back home, looking up job openings and agonizing over my outdated resume. The question felt like it carried an expectation that I should think about how this trip would benefit me career wise. I can’t speak on behalf of the Julia in the future, I don’t know her yet. And letting my mind go there is counter to the essence of this trip.   

The truth is, we don’t have an insane amount planned. We will do some farming (labor in exchange for housing/food & who knows if I will even like it!? I have to give myself permission for it to be a hard pass). We will drive around the country in our new Nissan Tiida. We will soak in the ethereal beauty. We will turn off our devices, breathe, reflect & reconnect with the land. 

The rest - the space in between - is unknown. Heck, the planned things carry plenty of unknowns. I think the more we get comfortable surrendering control the less scary the unknown becomes — I suck at doing this, trying to get better. Our prayer is to hold this time loosely and with open hands. We don’t want to place so much emphasis on it yielding all the answers to the existential questions we carry through life: “Who am I? What do I want to be about? What is my purpose?” Travel, as enlightening and enriching as it is, is not (just) about finding yourself - something I’ve always thought to be true, which has notoriously kept me believing I could escape my insecurities, fear, & discontentment by running away. We are both trying to be careful to not look at this trip as a place of arrival, as if wholeness and fulfillment are waiting on the other side. Sure, we will change. It would be silly to think otherwise. But we don’t want to hold up a finished painting when we’ve hardly put the brush to paper. 

We’re just excited and grateful to be here. We already feel a peace that this is exactly where we are supposed to be. This kind of certainty is rare, and when it comes, I hold onto the feeling tightly. On Friday we head 40 mins northwest of the city to our first taste of life on a farm. Until then, we are cruising around Auckland with our lovely hosts and living by the phrase “We will see what God has for us.” 

>>> HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR FIRST DAYS HERE <<<

*We survived 52 hours of travel. We had a 16-hour layover in Hong Kong so we took the train into the city. A bird pooped on my head, we took about a hundred detours to find an ATM, I almost cried over not knowing how to order a salad at a deli (jet lag + pms does not = normal human), and char was freakishly close to being arrested for j-walking (pulled into police van for 10 minutes while I stood on sidewalk praying and envisioning us spending night in the jail and missing our flight). Needless to say getting to Auckland was that much sweeter.

*Ryan + Hanna welcomed us to NZ with an evening boat ride complete with grilling off the back boat and an explosive sunset we were certain would break our cameras. 

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*Char - with the generous help from Ryan - bought us our car. 

*At breakfast our first morning a man and his daughter started chatting with us and after 10 minutes he had offered us his flat for 8 days at Christmas time (umm what? You've known us 10 mins!! Kiwi hospitality is no joke!). 

*We've been on some beautiful walks. The contrast of vibrant green hills (spotted with sheep and cows, yay) with the surrounding city is a fun dichotomy. 

*The village down the road from Ryan + Hanna’s is called Mt. Eden. It's got coffee and bookstores and bakeries and a pasta place where you can sit and watch the workers hand prep the pasta (and make them feel like zoo animals). Mt. eden Itself is RIGHT across the street from us. It's a little (big) hill (volcano I think!?) with a winding road that wraps all the way up and ends at a massive crater on top (yes, definitely volcano). The 360 views from top are rad.

*We’re stubbornly determined to master New Zealand accents. This results in us walking the streets practicing words/phrases over and over. We sound full force crazy. Also, some NZ pigeon: flip flops = jandles, swim suit = togs, grocery cart = trolley

Cheers, 
Julia + Char

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