welcome to my (mis)adventures

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.

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

The Day That’s 2 Days Away from Food

Day 6 of the Refugee Ration Challenge. Aside from meal times when we get very excited about fried rice & flour cakes, the day is grey. Mentally I’m blurry and emotionally I’m drained. The odd thing is that I know this state is a product of the food I’m eating, but I still look for some other, external incident that makes me so glum. Yet there’s nothing. Life is good – we have water, a safe place to sleep, family and friends – we’re just hungry and haven’t had a fruit or vegetable this week (aside from 170g of spinach that we shared, which sadly ran out yesterday).

I stepped on the scale this morning, and found that I’m down to 57.3kg – a 2.7kg (6lb) loss since the morning of day 1. Reading is difficult. I’m in the midst of a Cormac McCarthy book and his lack of some punctuation – easily adapted to in normal circumstances – is downright baffling in my mental state. I find myself re-reading pages over and over again to get the gist of things. It’s the first time I’ve ever been tempted to just watch the movie instead.

Tomorrow we’re going to see the NSW Waratahs rugby game and have rationed supplies accordingly. We’ll have rice-lentil-flour cakes and a thermos of weak tea (if we raise enough money by then to earn a teabag). It will be a real feast and I’m already excited. However, we need your help to get that (1) teabag! Donate now! (We love you!)

Rice Scares on the 5th Day

The effects of living on limited rice, lentils and chickpeas are being felt. I’m so fuzzy today that I nearly drove 30 minutes to a south-Sydney beach, convinced I’d left my bathing suit behind (it was in my backpack). I also had to take a serious time-out after I transferred our remaining 6 cups of rice to a new container, only to spill it all over the counter (I saved all of it in a tedious pick-up process, telling Sean that I “needed a moment alone”). Little things like this, which wouldn’t register in a normal person’s life, feel very… significant. I felt guilty, embarrassed, sad – not because anything was actually lost, but because I knew that if I’d spoiled the rice it would be a major downer for the next 2 days for both Sean and I.

While typing this, I realise I sound like a complete nutter – I suppose that’s the point. Feeling despair over a bit of spilt rice is almost funny, and even if it was unsalvageable, Sean and I wouldn’t really be any worse for it. Sunday would still come and we’d be fine. But it made me aware what it must be like to watch your family, your children be hungry and not grow up in a healthy way. I read a statistic about wasting and stunting amongst Syrian refugees. In Jordan camps the wasting rate is at 4.5% and stunting at 7.7% (by comparison, in Syria rates are 11.5% and 27.5% respectively). Even though the refugees in Jordan were clearly doing better, these rates are still shocking to me. The data I looked at is a few years old, but I’d be surprised if much has changed.

So far we’ve raised $1276 over the last five days that will go to Syrian refugees living in Jordan. This will feed one refugee for over 5 years. Or, put another way, It will feed nearly 20 people for three months. Clearly, a little can go a long way and any support is so welcome. (Act for Peace Ration Challenge)

Despite being regularly hangry, we’re hanging in there and have been surprisingly patient with each other over the last few days (I think this is good marriage prep!). Focus and sustained efforts feel highly energy consuming and the need for sleep is really the hungry rationista’s friend. Truly, I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to deal with people, raise children and go to work on this level of nutrition. We’re so lucky to be able to do this by choice.


HumpDay 4

I woke up this morning having a food dream. Sean and I were in this old-fashioned restaurant and I was surreptitiously stuffing a pain au chocolate into my face, hoping the shopkeeper wouldn’t see me. Even though I was stealing, it was painful to wake up to reality.

The good news is that it’s just after noon on Wednesday, meaning we’re officially halfway to banana pancakes on Sunday morning! (Sean promised!) It’s difficult for me to look at the header picture right now. It’s the last thing I added to this blog post and now that I’m editing it I find myself severely distracted by it.

Humpday is truly something to celebrate, especially as I’m down to 57.9kg this morning so the closer I get to Sunday is a good thing. That’s a 2.1kg loss in only 3 days on a refugee diet. I was already feeling pretty lean before the challenge began, so the reduction feels significant. Energy-wise I’m feeling good at the moment but am noticing my mental state is fuzzy… I’m not as “with it” as I like to think I normally am. I know that once 8pm hits I’ll be in bed.

We’ve started to fry more food in oil, making little rice-lentil pancakes and yesterday’s fried sardines. I think that’s helping me to feel more sated. The key seems to be in keeping busy, including keeping movement up. I think I’d feel the drain a lot more if I was sedentary.  Exercise keeps things moving and has the positive effect of endorphins – which I’m not getting from chocolate these days.

Sean is keeping up his training regimen, doing yoga in the morning followed by sprints, and a surf. He’s definitely coping better than me, but he looks exhausted and we’re both sleeping an extra hour or more each night.

Who knew rice-lentil-spinach cakes could be so good?!

It’s been interesting to do the challenge on another level as well. There are little perks like meal prep time is down, clean up after dinner is minimal, we never use the fridge (I don’t think it’s been opened all week), and waste is down in a very big way. There’s a box we fill up probably 3 times a week for recycling and take out the compost ~3 days in a week as well. Clearly we’ve done none of that for the duration of the challenge. We try to have a small footprint, but the challenge has been a good way to see what we can do to be better (buy in bulk, reduce plastic packaging even more, eat simply).

One added perk – a man just walked up to me and told me my aura is shining green and violet! The diet is definitely working!

That’s all for today. More tomorrow!

Donate to the Act for Peace Refugee Challenge here!

Day 3: The Day I Ate Sardines.

Day 3 has been a day of change for me. I’ve done things I never thought possible. I ate sardines (yes, sardines – plural).

Growing up on the prairies I think it’s fairly normal to have an aversion to fishy things. We’re a peaceful, grain-growing, Grade AAA Alberta beef, root-vegetables-in-the-cellar kind of people. We’re not really fish people. Our food must withstand -30 degrees celsius and a few feet of ice in order to be deemed worthy (so freshwater fish is sometimes acceptable). With this kind of history I’ve never gotten into fish in a big way. I’m making small, baby steps living here in the South Pacific, but it’s a long road.

Today, however, was a landmark day. My wonderful partner-in-crime and chef extraodinaire, Mr. Sean Barker, made a little batter from some of our flour and water, then fried a sardine for me. It won’t go so far as to say it wasn’t unpleasant or that I didn’t need a few glasses of water to get it down, but evidently it was palatable.

So far Day 3 is going well. The mornings are generally fine, but last night I was hungry. I think the high carbohydrate content of the food we’re eating makes the diet challenging  for me – there’s so little protein and fat comes in the form of vegetable oil (which we don’t really use much. The quota for oil is a whopping 600ml, which is more than we’ll use this week). I feel the effects of low blood sugar not long after lunch, but there’s nothing more to look forward to until dinner 5-6 hours later. Sean seems to cope a bit better and is dealing with Hangry Daryl admirably.

Switching gears, I found it interesting that the Pacific island nation of Nauru is in the media today. Their government declined the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp) visas to report on the Pacific Islands Forum later this year due to ‘bias and false reporting’. I’m new to Australian politics, but the situation with Nauru and the Australian government is a loaded topic. Now that I’m thinking about the refugee experience a little more, I’ve had fuel to look at the topic more closely.

Reg Lynch cartoon, from this Walkleys article

Nauru is home to Australian’s detention centre for asylum seekers. This means that anyone who comes to Australia by boat (including children, even if they are alone), are sent to Nauru to wait an average of 441 days before finding out if they will be given a bridging visa to Australia or sent back to their home country. (While over a year in these conditions is already staggering, there are several stories of kids staying >3 years).

A humane detention center is still better than where they’ve come from, right? Not really. In 1994 the Australian government removed the maximum detention limit of 273 days to indefinite, meaning they could hold asylum seekers for their entire life if they wanted to. Conditions on Nauru are like a jail, perhaps worse, described by the UN Committee Against Torture as ‘cruel, inhumane, and unlawful’. There have been reports of rape, assault, and other crimes at the centre.

Information about asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island is limited largely due to lack of media presence. Additionally, the Australia Border Force Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone who has worked in a detention to speak about their experience, punishable by 2 years prison time. This law makes it a criminal offence to report a criminal offence… Workers could not legally report crime if they wanted to.

So while I’m here, typing on my MacBook whining about eating a can of sardines over a week, some kid is spending their birthday in detention. It keeps things in perspective. The food challenge, such a small thing, is really a door into so many issues that it is easier to look away from.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 16.25.51
An interesting read about the top 10 refugee hosting countries.


I feel I should mention that despite my focus on Nauru here, the money raised from the Ration Challenge goes to Syrian refugees living in Jordan. The little jolt I received from the news this morning set me off on refugees in Nauru, but the injustices dealt to those fleeing conflict are no less felt by Syrians, Palestinians, Somalians or any other human in any part of the world.

More about the Children of Nauru here:

After all that, if you’d like to donate to the Ration Challenge, click here. (Just $43.30 away from 210mls of milk!)

Thanks, as always, for reading.

I’m Hungry. Day 2

It’s only the end of Day 2, but I’m hungry. We started the day with a bowl of rice and kidney beans after I weighed in at 58.8kg. Sean threw a dash of sugar on the bowl, which, even though it was a tiny quantity, was very noticeable, especially with the natural sweetness of kidney beans. As a kid I hated kidney beans and would pull every one of them out of the chilli my mom would make. I love them now (especially compared to the sardines for lunch). I have an incredible aversion to sardines. Everything about them – the look, the taste, the smell (especially the smell!) – makes me gag. I managed a bite, but left the rest of my half of the tin in the fridge for a day when I’m stronger. Or hungrier.

Breakfast of Champions! Refugees

Despite the sardine fiasco, fundraising is going well – Sean reached another milestone on his page, so we have the distinct luxury of buying 170g of vegetable (after much consideration, we’ve decided on the lightest-weight veggie we can think of: spinach).

Outside of our mealtimes, life is going as usual – we went swimming down at Clovelly yesterday, yoga today. Sean even did his sprint training in the afternoon. He’s feeling great – he’s been eating his sardines. Me on the other hand, I’m a bit tired and definitely hungry. I’m increasingly grateful that this is my reality for only a week, and that during that week I have constant shelter, a warm bed, and my partner beside me. We even have a Spotify account. The consistency and safety of my everyday life is unquantifiable.

At the moment I’m quite happy (it’s dinnertime!). I’m sat at my desk with a partial thermos of rice and lentils, covered with hot water to give it a soupy consistency which fools my stomach into thinking there’s more food than there is. I’m off to my Vipassana meditation group shortly where I’ll use the time to work on overcoming aversion to sardines and discarding craving for calories.

Until tomorrow…

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