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twofunkyhearts

Good Vibrations

Recently I took on teaching yoga to seniors in nursing homes. Initially I thought it would something nice to do, and was happy to pick up a few more teaching gigs. It’s quickly become much more than that.

The classes are small, ranging from 2 to 15 participants aged 75 to 97. One of my yogis is a beautiful woman (we’ll call her Sheila – not her real name). Sheila is 96 years young and always has impeccable makeup and carefully selected outfits – she wears a lot of matching two piece pant suits in pastel colours and the same button-up printed shirts my grandmother used to be fond of. Despite being 96 and wheelchair bound, Sheila is the heart of the class. She entices and coerces her peers into the yoga circle and tells them to stretch higher, move more – don’t be so damn lazy! It might sound like she’s a bit bossy, but Sheila is an absolute gem of a woman with a heart of gold. Her life story – from what I know of it – sounds like she is a total pioneer. It’s an honour to know her and be approved of by her (as long as I “work a bit harder and reach farther – you’re still young, dammit!”).

In another care facility, the day after I see Sheila, there’s another woman, Lucy (also not her real name), aged 97. In an environment where people are often frustrated by the changes in life that brought them to the home, Lucy has a beautiful sense of acceptance and hope for the future. She was brought into care 12 months ago after having a health scare and wasn’t even allowed to return to her house before entering care permanently. That’s a concept I can’t imagine for myself and her grace is humbling. Similar to Sheila, Lucy is the driving force behind morning yoga, recruiting other residents and friends to join in, and makes sure everyone gets back to their rooms alright following yoga. The first day I met Lucy I had the group doing leg exercises in what I call “dance steps” (everything we do is based from a sitting position). Lucy turned to me, an apologetic look on her face and said “I’m so sorry this hip doesn’t go as high as the other one. I’ve got a touch of arthritis.” High expectations seem to be a common theme amongst the longest-living and healthiest residents.

Following seeing Lucy I head downstairs and work with residents who have progressed in dementia. I have to say that initially I was intimidated by this ward, and unsure of how I would connect and motivate this group, but I really had no reason to worry. Dementia patients have good days and some less-good days, but everyone loves enthusiasm and a smile. Another perk is that I get complimented on the same “new” outfit every week.

I’ve found little keys to working with these amazing people. The use of story and imagination is a wonderful thing and we’ve started to weave a good yarn in with our exercise. We make up adventures  as we lift our feet and knees, making broad strokes with our hands like we’re clearing bush and walking through a jungle. Sometimes we have to climb trees and hold on for dear life when a storm comes. (Last week when we were in a tornado one of the residents cried out that she could see a cow that had been picked up by the wind and was sailing across the middle of the room!) Eventually we always reach a sunny beach and go for a swim, doing backstroke from our chairs, feeling the sun on our faces. Sometimes the Beach Boys are even there and we have a little dance.

It’s a lot of fun, and not in that saintly, not-actually-fun-but-it-sounds-good kind of way. Maybe having these great connections to older people is normal for those who grew up closer to their grandparents, but for me it’s something special and I’m really grateful.  I feel like they’re teaching me how to age, and do it with class.

Sharing Time

It’s been a while since I was last an employee. Over a year, actually and it’s been great.

I’m incredibly lucky to have had breaks in my career. When I left Europe to go on my 2 year long sabbatical, I found it took me 6 months away from my job before I began to stop thinking about it. After a year I’d finally stopped looking at job postings “for fun”. Once I let that go, I finally felt creativity I didn’t know I had, start to bubble up within me. I began writing in earnest, I learned how to draw, and when I rented places for a month or more I really enjoyed sourcing local ingredients and cooking up new things. Music and dance had a new shine for me, and my yoga practice finally started to click as I allowed myself more enjoyment with much less effort.

Despite having been through these phases before, I still have the tendency to worry that I’m not doing enough and subconsciously my focus shifts from relaxed and happy, allowing things to be effortless to concern that I should be doing “real work” (ie: going back to corporate, making loads of money and having a fancy title to fan my ego with).

This morning, however, rooted me back on the good side of my own positive values. Volunteering at a local cafe run for “people from all walks of life” (in reality this means there’s a high population of people who are homeless and/or suffer from mental illness, addiction, etc), I provided very basic service, preparing and serving food. There was no expectation of perfection or improvement. Instead the value was in just being there, in connection with other people. The capacity to share time for a common goal, to have the chance to talk with people – cafe patrons, staff, volunteers – is surely one of the most effective ways to feel rich. And the common goal is so simple – just to be happy, have shelter, get fed. When you break it down, happiness can be pretty simple even for those who don’t seem to have many reasons for it. A good reminder for me who has so many.

Investment Strategies

We had a wonderful 1 1/2 days of spring skiing, followed by a detour down the coast to Narooma. The south coast of NSW is one of my happy places. Forests of eucalyptus trees, cackling kookaburras, empty beaches spanning miles of coastline. It’s a wonderful, magical place to be.

While fun, the trip was not just for leisure. Sean and I have been very seriously (and adultly) considering investment options. We’re considering buying real estate, and have been mulling over two properties – a studio in Bondi Beach we affectionately call “Garage View” and a cute apartment down the coast in Narooma.

In considering this major decision, I reflected on past good investments, and thought about what had brought me joy while also being useful and profitable. The electric kettle we purchased for our snow excursions came to mind, and the rebellious part of me that doesn’t want to get hemmed into a committing, unwieldy land purchase began to  compare the experience of owning a very handle kettle to owning a pricey and bulky plot of real estate.

Kettle ($15)

Real Estate ($more)

Portable Immovable
Dividends paid within 3 minutes Pays back in years if all goes well
Warms you up – essential for survival Has a sundeck
Requires electricty Requires a lot of stuff
Can be stored without a thought indefinitely Takes taking care of, management
Sense of security and well being Sense of risk
Maintenance free Not.

Clearly the kettle was a bargain.

Anyways, we continued to consider the matter. The real estate agent was from Whale Realty and the apartment used to be called Daisy Street, which I quite like the sound of. While mulling over our choice, we pulled over on the side of the road overlooking the ocean and got out of the car. Sean picked me a handful of wild daisies, and while looking at the water a whale breached in front of us.

We took it as a sign and bought the apartment.

 

Spring Season

Canadians tend to look forward to spring skiing. Warmer (but still freezing temperatures), some sunshine, fewer crowds, late season dumps of snow.

But Australia is different. Spring season is equivalent to water skiing in Canada. Okay, fine, that’s an overstatement but not too much of one. Temperatures rose this last weekend to 9 degrees (yes, that’s +9, not -9), making for a lot of melt and lot of water.

Good news is that car camping is only getting more comfortable, and a half day of morning skiing is better than none.

Warren Miller Wannabes

During our Western Hemisphere Tour 2017-18, we had a brief stop going through Seattle.  When we go to a new place Sean always knows what’s going on because he habitually collects the local paper. It was in this way that we learned of the legendary Warren Miller, film maker and ski outlaw.

Warren Miller is well known for being the first to make high-adrenaline skiing movies, starting with his initial compilation in the ’50s. There are stories of how he lived in his his van, stealing packets of ketchup from fast food restaurants and mixing them with water to make tomato soup – partly because he was broke and partly because he was a total bandit. Miller didn’t pay for lift passes, but instead would snag a ride up a chairlift only to outrace the ski patrol chasing after them all the way down the mountain. And repeat. All day long.

For obvious reasons, Miller captivates both of us. While we like to think of ourselves as Lifestyle Bandits, but Miller took it a few big steps further. He started filming his ski bum friends doing wild things, compiled the footage into movies, and took it on the road, traveling around North America to ski-bum cults hungry for adrenaline-fuelled ski debauchery that Miller effortlessly provided.

Taking a page from Warren’s book, Sean and I figured we should find a way to simplify going to the snow. It’s a 5 hour trip from our place in Sydney and accommodation is both highly in demand and very pricey. Besides, it’s always more fun to be outside anyways. Taking this into account, Sean took the seats out of the back of our Rav 4, padded the floor with a foam mat and we threw our ski gear, sleeping bags, food and kitchen camping supplies into the back.

Before leaving town Sean stopped by Kmart and bought an electric kettle. I thought this was going a bit far, but I’ve become a tea drinker since coming to Australia and agreed it would be nice to steal some electricity for hot water if we could find it.

In our first debut as Millerites, we had the best weekend. Arriving at the snow on Saturday midday, we enjoyed the runs until lift close at 4:30pm. From there we stopped by the car, dropped our gear off and picked up our gym gear and the kettle before heading to the leisure centre. We did another work out, had a swim, a shower, brushed our teeth and boiled the kettle in a corner before meeting some friends for dinner at their fancy lodge. After a wonderful dinner, we arrived back at the car around dusk and drove to the campground down the road.

The campground is well used in the winter (I’m very impressed by the other Aussie Millerite’s tenacity when it comes to the snow), and since we arrived after dark our choices for a park were limited. We pulled off the road and put the skis on the roof, clearing space to sleep, and even though it was still quite early, I promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake until 6am the following morning.

Straight away we went to the gym again and boiled the kettle. There’s something about fellow ski bums that makes them agree with our thinking that there’s something a bit awesome about bypassing the usual resort system. People who saw us with our little kettle and the packed Rav 4 would alway smile and say ‘Good on ya’, or tell us some story about their youth when they’d done the same. Then they’d frown and say ‘I’m not too old for that. Maybe next winter…’

The following night we had no dinner dates, and instead were back at the campground before dark. We lit a fire, heated up some supper and enjoyed watching night fall. The stars were incredible and the critters scurrying around at sunset – wallabies, kangaroos, ducks – were fun to watch. The moment was just as good or even better than being on the hill.

Sadly, being latecomers to downhill skiers, we only learned of Warren Miller by way his passing when we saw an article in the Seattle Times. His obit reads like an adventure novel and is thoroughly inspiring. It gives me feeling of a kid who’s gotten away with something and  makes me want to earn the same kind of biography at the end of my life.

A midday break for lunch…

Going Home from Home

I’m finishing up a spontaneous 12 day visit back home in Saskatchewan. It was a last minute decision to leave Sydney, but a good one. My brother is in the midst of moving from Pakistan to Nigeria, with a brief stop back in Sask, so when another bureaucratic error meant I’d have to leave Australia on a visa run,  it seemed a good opportunity for a family visit.

Being home – as in family home – is always a different experience, regardless of whether a lot or a little time has passed. There are always things that have changed. With people, with places, with myself.

Whenever I go home I catch up with my childhood bestie, Megan, and her three daughters. Our lives could hardly be more different – Megan has a family, a farm, a business, and at least 15 chickens. I, on the other hand, live in a city on the other side of the world, and am barely responsible for keeping myself alive (Sean does a lot of the cooking in our house). The girls are getting older, as apparently is normal for kids, and as I see them grow I realise I’m getting older too. This is weird because I don’t feel much different than last year or 5 years ago, but the girls are entirely new people every time I see them. Other people’s kids really stick it to me with the way they reflect the passage of time.

It’s a bit ironic that never having felt I had a home in any other place I lived, I now have two. It’s nice, but at the same time when I leave Sydney for Saskatoon or Saskatoon for Sydney, I can’t help but feel a bit adulterous. Sydney could never understand what I see in the quiet, living plains and skies of Saskatchewan, while Saskatoon couldn’t relate to the temperate, bustling, ocean life of New South Wales. They are two extremely different lifestyles, but somehow it really works. I’m really lucky that both of them take me.

This was my last trip home to Sask as an unmarried woman (dun dun dunnnn!). Before leaving Australia, people pointed this out to me as though it was significant, as if this particular trip should have a deeper meaning than an excuse to burn things in the fire and eat Saskatoon berry pie for breakfast. I didn’t think of this once while home, but now that the time is over and I remember their words, I suppose it is a good moment to pause, and reflect on the shape life is taking. In some ways, it’s a bit depressing – it’s become impossible to deny that the time-space continuum applies to me, just like everyone else on the planet. Life, with its growing, changing, ageing, dying, involves me too. That’s kind of heavy. But at this moment, I’m grateful for the pause to see it – at least for a very small moment – and appreciate the perspective.

Australians and the Snow

We are in the Snowy Mountains this week with Sean’s family. It’s winter here in Australia and we’ve left the chilly 15 degree July temperatures in Sydney for a frigid -2 degrees here in Thredbo. (Those of you reading in Canada will pick up on my sarcasm).

In an ironic twist of fate, my love affair with downhill skiing started here, in Australia of all places, only a year ago. It’s school holidays so crowds are horrendous, and the runs and snow quality are nothing like the Rockies, but I have a fondness for this place that provided the foundation for our western Canada expedition last year.

Many Australians have never seen or touched snow, so it’s almost as much fun for me to watch them in it as it is to play in it myself. There are many annoyances: unruly crowds, new skiers who can’t figure out the chairlift, parking lots full of anxious drivers circling at 4km/hr, but it’s all worth it to see them meet Snow for the first time. People laugh and draw their hands back, shocked at the cold. Kids throw snowballs, make snowmen, are overwhelmed by wonderment. It’s rare to get a glimpse of that kind of virgin awe in a world where information is always at hand and anyone can know everything. Seeing someone touch snow for the first time gives the observer a rare chance to view unrestrained glee and astonishment that can only come from experience. Watching them, I realise I’m fortunate to have grown up with so many cursed winters in Saskatchewan.

Australians don’t really “invest” in winter the way Northern Hemispherians do. With few exceptions, kids wear the same coloured coats: red and black for boys and pink and blue for girls. Aldi, a low-cost department store, sells these, keeping the same colours but changing the patterns each year. After 2 seasons on the snow I can effortlessly determine what fashion year any Aldi ensemble comes from.

The trip has been fun, with us exploring the mountain further now that we’re more proficient on skis and can go anywhere we like. We reached the highest lifted point in Australia the other day, with a view overlooking the brown valley of Snowy Mountains beyond (there’s really not that much snow, even with this being an absolute bumper year). Just like last year, I turned to Sean and said “Baby, this is cute!” Last year I hadn’t meant it sarcastically, it really did seem cute to me that thousands of people from around the continent flock to these big hills for a taste of the snow. This year however, after acclimatising the the constant climes of Sydney, I said it with affection. Even for a Canadian girl – perhaps especially for a Canadian girl – the snow holds a lot of magic.

 

People Are Good

$2521.11 is equal to:
10 years of rations for a refugee
2.8 years of school
34 generous sponsors
21 meals with rice as the main ingredient
Numerous mental slips
High degree of physical exhaustion
3.4kg weight loss (7.5lbs)
A huge lesson in gratitude
Appreciation for our common humanity

The Ration Challenge is over (though feel free to still donate if you missed doing so earlier!). When we started, Sean suggested putting our fundraising goal at $2500. I thought this was overly ambitious and extremely unlikely, but figured why not try? As of yesterday afternoon we thought we’d made a valiant effort, despite coming short when at approximately $1600. However, between the hours of 8pm Saturday and 7am Sunday morning, additional angel benefactors contributed a staggering amount to the cause and as of 10pm on Sunday night we’re sitting at an incredible $2521!

The experience of eating like a refugee was wonderful for both of us. We agree that we’ve come out the other side with a deeper sense of gratitude for the many blessings of our lives: abundant healthy food, clean water, constant home, safe transportation, healthy families, a peaceful country, nature at our doorstep…

The challenge was a great reminder of how living simply truly is the highest form of elegance and sustainability. We had no waste or packaging, spent little energy preparing or cleaning, and were appreciative of every morsel. We also now have a sense of how incredible acts of kindness from people who have little are. When you hear beautiful stories about displaced communities rallying together to bake someone a birthday cake or share rations, the true meaning of what it is to give from the heart is seen clearly. It’s truly inspiring and something I’m reminded to strive towards.

Breakfast was a lovely midday event of pancakes and berries with a cup of tea which totally blew my mind. Dinner was roast veggies and lamb shared with our good friends Sal and Brett. As we prepared, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky I am to have something to share.

A small thing that is so easy to forget: How lucky I am to have something to share.

My deepest heartfelt gratitude goes out to all supporters of our Ration Challenge and all other givers of time, money, food and heart. Thank you.

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A beautiful life.

The 7th Day: A Day of Rest (because we can’t do anything else in this state)

Welcome to the final day of eating like a refugee. That’s Sean up there, holding the last of our food (oh, and a tin of sardines… but now that we’re this close I’m leaving them for Sean as I can see daybreak ahead).

Since yesterday I lost another 0.7kgs, bringing my weight loss to 3.4kgs or 7.5lbs. I feel like my body is reducing quickly now, and am sure that if I stayed on this diet I’d shed another 5-10lbs quickly. Thank goodness that won’t be the case – I’m not sure I could function if that happened. Already I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Despite our tired and haggard state, Sean had an audition this morning and we did a brief swim at Clovelly. The water feels a lot colder now, and the breeze cut right through me when I got out. I shivered and jumped from foot to foot, all the while conscious of how many calories I must be using, fully aware that a swim was only possible because I knew that rationing would be lifted tomorrow..

On our way to the beach we passed Iggy’s Bread, a local hotspot. Sean and I, while appreciative of the good community work Iggy’s does, often scoff at the people lining up down the block at 7am on a Saturday for a loaf of bread. Today was no different – it was perhaps even more impactful. I wonder at how people in such an abundant society, where bread and food are available everywhere,  choose to spend free time this way. You could take a photo of Soviet bakeries during bread rationing, dim the colour a bit and dress the people up from beachwear to parkas, and you’d think it was Russia in the 80s.

Throughout this campaign I’ve realised a very simple concept on a much deeper level: people need food. For all this simplicity, it shocks me that people still go hungry, that we don’t make simple, nutritious food available to everyone. It’s incredible to look at the way our food systems work. We allow so much waste, and we permit food marketing to children that will make them obese while undernourishing them. If you’re interested, search fatty liver disease in children, where liver damage due to poor diet results in a condition comparable to a seasoned alcoholic. Rates in the US sit around 2.6-3.2%… which is nuts. Peter Attia used to talk about this.

“First we eat, then we do everything else” – MFK Fisher

On the positive front, we’ve raised over $1700 from an amazing group of friends and supporters. From this incredible generosity we’re feeding a heck of a lot of people and Sean and I were able to earn two teabags and an extra serve of spinach (#thankyouthankyouthankyou). We’d love to keep that number growing and continue providing health and basics for life to more Syrian refugees. If you have anything to give, please head here to share what you can.

“…The people who give you their food give you their heart” – Cesar Chavez

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