Thursday, November 21, 2019

Waking up in Italy

Back in September, I took myself on a trip to San Remo, Italy. It was a most memorable solo-voyage, one I hadn't taken in what felt like a long time. I drove across the Italian border in my little manuel Citroën Saxo (a.k.a the little old car that could). I still remember the gorgeous view along the French Mediterranean coast as the soft sea breeze brushed against my cheeks and the late September sun warmed my skin. 

Today marks the 7th-year anniversary of my blog Garden Gallivanter. Seven years ago today I wrote my first post. No matter where I am year after year, I am always drawn to reflect on this day, to write to you. Luckily, (knock on wood) I've been able to write and have had access to internet to post every birthday year so far. Usually, I reflect on the year and on how I and this blog have grown. I hope to achieve the same thing, except, this year, to change things up a bit, I want to tell you about my trip to San Remo because it encompasses who I have evolved to be this year. Here is what I wrote from my hotel room:

September 18th, 2019
San Remo, Italy

I used to be scared to be wrong or to make a fool of myself, but now, being nearly 31 (OMG Really?!), I embrace my inner-fool. If we are afraid to be wrong or to make mistakes, we miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. I think it comes back to that concept of vulnerability.

Brené Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Art along my stroll in the old city. 

This concept has been revolutionary in my life. I think part of it was forced upon me to be honest, forced in a good way, a little push perhaps is the better way to put it. Being an ex-pat, I’ve had to learn, and still learn, how to live in a foreign country. It’s not feeling as foreign anymore, but I still remember the days of google translating from French to English “I would like to send this letter to the United States, please.” Everyday tasks such as going to the post office was a little extra, extra scary, extra vulnerable.

Thankfully that learning curve has passed in France, but I continue to gain these little moments of “extra” just across the border in Italy. I am in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera, known as the Lingurian coast. It’s absolutely beautiful. I just drove across, past Monaco, past Menton, and somewhere after one of those toll booths I had crossed over to Italie.

My darling little hotel room. 

Gorgeous sea view from my hotel room. 

It’s been a few years since I’ve been in Italy. Living on the French/Italian border isn’t so bad. I feel like we are blessed with the best of both worlds. I decided to treat myself to a little work/play experience. I’ve been itching to travel, and this was plausible and I could do it independently. I wanted a new landscape to write and found just the perfect little hotel room to do just that. 

Just the view is inspiring enough and helps me get into character to finish our family memoir. It allows me to feel and sense the childhood home in Vietnam with ocean view as my Auntie Barbara tells me about and remembers so fondly. Jorris always reminds me that the Mediterranean is a sea and not an ocean, but it’s the same kind of atmosphere.

Coffee and computer in bed, sea view, a writer's kind of morning. 

It’s amazing how changing our physical space a little can create new space in our minds and spirit. It feels so good here, having time to myself, out of the daily routines and tasks. It’s so refreshing. I took myself out to dinner last night at the sweetest little tavern that was kind of in a shady area but so quaint with delicious homemade Italian foods and drinks. Did I think of Jorris, of course. I thought how much he would have loved everything. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a sad or longing kind of thinking of him. I had a wonderful evening out and could just people watch as I enjoyed every bite and sip of my meal in peace.

While strolling and shopping through the Mercato di San Remo, my senses were dazzled. The food portion of the market was gorgeous. Vibrant colors of red and yellow peppers, sun dried tomatoes, peperoncino and bruschetta spices, the colorful pastas, the fresh fish and octopus, and of course the huge rough and rustic blocks of Parmigiano Reggiano. I chose the one aged 36 mesi (months)! This one is the best, strong, rich. Just hearing a different language spoken and seeing different styles of clothing and people, just across the border, can be so enriching and recharging. I love being somewhere new and submerging myself in the unfamiliar.

Summer on a plate. Best sun-dried tomatoes I've ever tasted.

Goodies from the market, spices, pasta, polenta, Parmigianno.

To top it off I found some cute jewelry rom India and Nepal at this stand and also a cute little linen romper. The market also takes place outside with different vendors selling purses, dresses, jewelry and more. It’s a sunburst, bright yellow, so fun and spontaneous. I wore my new jumper and necklace out to dinner last night. But the most special outfit I put together was with my Grandma Ma's silk blouse. I had been waiting for the right occasion to wear the delicate and beautiful blouse. Wearing it in Italy seemed perfect. I felt like I brought Grandma with me on a night out in San Remo. 

Artful dessert at Taverna al 29

Travelling has always kept me on my toes and that’s one thing about it that I have always loved and grow to love more and more. For example, I had made a mistake at the car garage parking and didn’t know that you had to pay before exiting, so at the exit, I kept putting in my credit card, which kept getting rejected. There were a few cars behind me, so I began getting nervous to make people wait. I pushed the intercom help button and in English said I need help and the voice yelled some nonsensical words back to me in Italian and hung up! So what do I do now I thought?

I stepped out of my car and asked the man behind me in half Italian/half brain keeps going back between the two. It’s been many years since my study abroad days in Firenze where I knew basic Italian, but some words have come back.

“Scusa,”(Italian for excuse me) I said to the man, standing at this window.. “c’est marche pas” (French for it’s not working). Luckily, he was French and said, “Il faut payer avant en haute,” (you have to pay in advance up there). His wife was in the passenger seat and quite annoyed that my little saxo and ignorance was blocking their way out. She said in French something like you can back up in that space there and not block us; there are cars trying to get out. The old me would have felt sad or been offended, or upset, at her tone of voice. But I came from such a place of compassion and right away thought to myself she’s just probably hungry, tired of the market, or they have lunch reservations somewhere. I didn’t react to her comment. I didn’t take it personally, and while it was an awkward situation and I felt nervous for 2 cars waiting for me, I just backed up, found a new parking spot, and found the little machine to pay which was upstairs and then returned downstairs to my car and then I was able to exit.

Wearing Grandma Ma's blouse for a night out. 

Soft, silky and I felt all of her good energy.

Overall, Italians are welcoming and it’s been lovely, though I’ve been yelled at by passing vespas and other cars. I don’t know if it’s because I’m driving too slow or if I’m breaking some sort of traffic rule...or both. I did accidentally drive the wrong way in a parking lot and an oncoming car shook her index finger at me. But it’s all good and while it doesn’t feel good to be yelled at in a language you don’t understand, I’m forgiving and understanding to myself that I am new around this neighborhood and need to drive slowly and look for streets, etc. I am also learning to driving with European traffic signs...and a stick shift; so in the bigger picture, even though it may look like I’m “failing” on the roads here, I’m succeeding so much in life! Growing up I did not drive a manuel, but I’ve learned! And we don’t have roundabouts really in the states like here, so learning how to drive through those has been quite a feat for me.

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”
                                                        - Brené Brown

I feel so liberated and grateful to be in this space of no fear. I’m not afraid to fail anymore. In fact, I embrace it wholeheartedly. This is huge for me because upon reflecting, as a kid I was terrified of being wrong or failing. I’m not really sure why because my parents were never hard on me or got mad at me for making mistakes. I suppose it was an inner fear. I was always afraid to be wrong in class and only raised my hand, (if that!) when I knew the answer was for sure right.

Favorite outfit with Grandma Ma's blouse. 

It feels wonderful to be shed of that skin of failure. I’m still scared of things of course! But, now I can laugh at my foolishness and relish in it even when cars drive past me and yell at me, or if my Italian is incomprehensible. Now I can just make reservations over the phone in Italian, without having it be perfect, and just trust that I still remember some Italian (with the help of google translate). If for nothing else, I do it because it challenges me; and it’s fun to speak Italian.

I used to be an all-or-nothing girl. The best and all of it or none of it. I’m much more flexible these days and just live by what feels good and right, with all the imperfections. Being a gardener and living in the countryside, I’ve grown to learn that even if a veggie or fruit looks imperfect (based on commercial standards), it is still a beautifully tasting veggie or fruit. In nature, rocks and trees, mountains, streams, are imperfectly perfect just they way they are. So, as an embodiment of Mother Earth, I too can be imperfectly perfect just the way I am. 

Dinner: Clam linguini pasta paired with a glass of white wine al fresco. 

I've grown to really enjoy time with myself. Strolling on the cobblestone streets of Liguria after a scrumptious clam pasta dinner with a nocciola gelato in hand could easily become a new tradition for me. I cherish those memories and that me-trip for years to come. Knowing that Jorris is always there for me, but that I am always there for me too, has been revolutionary new-found knowledge. I feel like this new independence, self-knowing, prepares me for something great to come. The relationship we have with ourselves might be the most important before any other relationship in our lives. This year I've learned to nurture and listen to my inner-myself, to speak up for my soul. Cheers to Garden Gallivanter and another year of writing. Thank you for being here, for reading and sharing in my life. The honor is mine. 31, here I come! 

Old City, San Remo, Italy

*photos by me. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The World Can Wait

Not Instagrammed: Desert hiking trail near Azusa, CA. May 2019 

Let’s slow it down. Take a breath. That email can wait. So can that text, and instagram message, and whatsapp message and messenger message and telegram message. It can all wait. The world can wait.

This has been my mantra for the past 4 months. Around the time that both my grandmas passed away, I came up with this mantra for myself. The world can wait until after I have had my cup of coffee in the morning. The world can wait until after I mediate before I answer the those emails. Just because technology moves fast, doesn’t mean that we have to. We have the power to slow it down. The choice is ours.

Around the same time, perhaps a few months before that, I decided to stop posting on instagram. My last post was on March 26th, 2019. I really enjoyed posting and sharing stories, but I found myself, almost everywhere I went, thinking “wow this would such a nice shot and oh this would be the coolest caption.” I began to realize that I kept ruining that moment for myself. I kept going into the future about what a nice instagram post this would be instead of just living in the moment. I realized that the cycle of taking the perfect picture and posting it and then seeing how many likes and views I got was like a tic, everywhere I went. I wanted to just experiment and see what would happen if I just stopped?

The human brain is incredible. The plasticity of our brains allows us to learn new things everyday. This means we can make lasting change in our lives, build new neurological connections and pathways. We have the power to do this everyday. So, I just told myself I would stop posting pictures for a while and just live in the moment.

Not Instagrammed: Hiking with family in Azusa, CA. May 2019

At first, I caught myself thinking, while sitting by a stream on a hike for example, oh this would be such a nice shot of this little flower here. I would, by muscle memory, go for my phone, usually in my back pocket. Only then would I stop myself and put my phone back, reminding myself of my experiment. This would happen for a while. I don’t remember how long exactly.

Eventually, I would no longer think about instagram or facebook or posting photos. I no longer reached for my phone during those moments of beauty I found myself upon. I was living in the moment, really just being in the moment of whatever I was doing and where ever I was. Perhaps my brain made new connections and so I stopped reaching for my phone. And, when I realized this, which was a gradual process, I felt so liberated. I don’t really know liberated from what exactly, but perhaps just from the desire or need to share where I am and what I am doing.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I still look at instagram and this is the main way I keep in touch with my cousins and brother, perhaps even get the news. And I find so much inspiration from it, especially in the realm of yoga and food. It’s a wonderful tool. But like all tools, I think it depends on how you use it. I still find myself some days checking it so many times, too many times. It is so addictive. So, for me, like life in general, it is all about balance.

Not Instagrammed: Interesting Swamp Scene on hike. Azusa, CA May 2019

And, since we are talking about building new good habits and establishing routines, I have begun a new morning and bedtime routine about 2 months ago. It’s not really new, since I had done it before, though I would fall out of the routine and jump back in, so it wasn’t as consistent, but it has been pretty consistent the last 2 months, and I have felt such an improvement in my days and in my nights.

During the morning, the first thing I do is have my coffee. I take the time to grind beans so it’s fresh and boil the water with a fast boiler. I use the pour over method, which I have been for years and absolutely love. Coffee for me, is a non-negotiable. It wakes me up and makes me happy. I sip my coffee on the sofa, enjoy the view of green mountains, and that is it. I try not to think of anything or think about my day yet, I just focus on sipping my coffee, smelling it and waking up, slowly. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, Bodhi will hop onto my lap and cuddle with me for a bit.

When I was working at the farm, I would take the first few sips like this, and then, for the sake of time, I would hop onto my yoga mat and do a few morning poses, cow and cat, a few lunges, forward folds, some sun salutations, and in between poses, I would continue sipping my coffee. I would feel so energized getting my body moving and the energy flowing in a positive way first thing in the morning after hours of sleep. Then I would hop over to the computer room where I have a chair by the window. I have to sit here to get internet reception on my phone so that I can hear my headspace app for meditation. At first, I was annoyed at this, the fact that I couldn’t just meditate on my yoga mat, but then I found the chair quite comfortable for meditation and the view beautiful as well,  so it all worked out. I do 10 mins usually, but sometimes, if I’m pressed for time, I’ll do 5 mins. This part of my morning is so important. I feel like meditation sets the tone for my day, one of clarity and positivity. It also gives me a moment to practice gratitude and that also makes me feel so good and gives such perspective on life.

After that, I do all my bathroom business and get dressed then I’m out the door. The main point that has helped a lot has been that I do not look at my phone or other electronics for the first few hours of my morning. I used to sip my coffee while I scrolled through emails on my phone/ looked at instagram, and though it took me a while, I began to notice that this really exhausted me. I suppose it was just information overload. And, frankly, mostly information I did not need.  It’s also perhaps a luxury of my job. The lettuces and leeks wouldn’t be emailing me, I just knew I had to get down to them ;)

Not Instagrammed: Beautiful CA Buckwheat on trail. Azusa, CA May 2019

After a month, I began noticing the difference. I felt so much more energy in the morning and had such clarity and focus throughout the day. My mind felt less cluttered with stories that didn’t serve me. Some mornings, like Saturday mornings, I’ll sip my coffee, do some yoga and look at instagram because it’s fun and I do enjoy it. Or, I'll sip my coffee and scroll through before yoga and meditation. But, that's more like a treat.

For my evening routine, I also eliminate all electronics at least 1 hour before bed, 2 hours is better though. I don’t look at my phone or the computer. Sometimes, if we watch a movie or show, then I make an exception, but this is rare so it’s ok. The other night I happened to look at my phone because I had gotten a text which usually doesn’t happen, but it did and then I got sucked into some instagram perhaps or something on the phone and had to pull myself out of it. I noticed that night I did not fall asleep as well. I try to be in bed by 9 or 9:30pm though, this week I've been closer to 9pm which has been great. Most of the time I am successful since my body naturally gets tired around then. I like to read a few words from whatever books I’m reading next to my corner of the bed and then fall asleep.

Together, these routines of starting and ending the day have improved my functioning and feeling during the day. I feel like I’m functioning more optimally by keeping to these electronic boundaries for myself.

Not Instagrammed: Sage Blossoms. Azusa, CA May 2019

The world can wait. It really can. I think we keep trying to keep up with the pace of the world, and it’s just not humanely possible and we get swept away by all this stuff we don’t need, dampening and dulling our own personal creative spirits and thoughts, while perhaps even straining our adrenal glands.

I have learned in these past few months not to be pressured by responding to emails and texts and all that messaging stuff right away. Back then, when snail mail or telegrams were the only way to communicate, information took time to get to you and you had time to reflect and write something meaningful back. I love that we have email and that it keeps us so connected and makes life so efficient in many ways, but it also hinders our abilities to take time and reflect, since it's so easy to just respond right away. 

Time. Time is ours and time is precious. Don’t let these superficial pressures of responding right away get the most of your time. Look up, look outside, gaze at the stars or sunset once in a while rather than your phone. Take time to be with your people, to smell the flowers, sages, and buckwheats, together. See how you feel afterwards.

People can wait and if they can’t, they can learn. They will live if you don’t answer them right away. Try it! I promise it’ll be ok if you don’t respond right away. So, for September (and beyond) let's slow down and savor life.

*photos by me. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sweet September

Purple Garlic from Provence is our favorite and gives me Fall feels.

Oh, Sweet September, how I've longed for you since August. And now you are finally here, with your chilly and bedazzling starry night skies. I welcome you with full embrace. My heart is happy for a new season and new routine. Last night, Jorris and I slept with our bedroom window closed because it was a little chilly, and I got the thicker wool blanket out, folded at our feet, just in case. Bodhi snuggled by my head; I think to keep warm since the wool blanket, which he had been sleeping on, had slipped to the floor.

The sound of his purring and feel of his soft fur against my ear lulled me back to sleep. I had gotten up to go to the bathroom and upon my return to bed noticed out the window a beautiful night sky, pitched black and sparkled with stars. It had been the first time I had seen the stars in what felt like so long ago. They were literally sparkling! I couldn't believe my eyes, in fact, I kept blinking and refocusing to make sure I was seeing reality. Half asleep, I forced myself to stand just a second longer and marvelled at the beauty above me. I hopped back into bed, spooning mon amour as he slept soundlessly.

This past week had been my first week of no longer working on the farm. I had finished my last day the Friday before. My contract had ended and while I was offered a new one, I felt in my heart and spirit and physical being that it was time for a change, so I kindly declined. We had a team meeting and there I let my voice be heard. We were all sharing our thoughts and feelings. I found the right moment for me to speak, and in French, spoke all that was in my mind and heart. I shared my gratitude as well as my frustrations. I cried, and while embarrassing, it felt so good to be seen and heard. I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to speak my truth.

Farming Sistas @ Chez Isnardi's field. 

I think it was the first time in my life that I had ever done that, to speak truly from my heart in front of people whom I'm not so close to. Normally, I would just brush things off and "let them go," but I think I have stepped into a new phase of my life where I just want to be authentic and true about who I am openly, even if it makes others uncomfortable or even if they won't understand. While I have always strived to be authentic and true, it was never really important to me to show that to others, but now, I feel it is important. It is as equally important to make ourselves seen and heard for who we are rather than stay small, as much of society wants us to be. Before, it was enough for me just to know for myself how I felt or what I believed, but I think others can learn something as well and we can evolve as a collective.

These concepts of being vulnerable and being seen and not staying small I have learned from Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher and author. She has written so many books on these topics, and I have found her ted talks and books inspirational. I wasn't intending on using these concepts, perhaps they were just in my subconscious and found a moment to be revealed. It was a learning opportunity for us all. I wish we had had more meetings like this. I spoke up for my friend and colleague Indira as well and since working with her I have grown to respect and love this remarkable soul.

Colorful Grape Tomatoes.

All in all, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have worked on the farm. Despite the challenges that we all faced as a team this season, we have grown some pretty beautiful vegetables and fed lots of people, so I am proud of what we have accomplished. I have learned so much about growing food and about life. I am especially grateful to have met Indira, my new soul sister. I believe we were meant to cross paths and learn from one another.

Now that the season is shifting too, I feel so ready for a new routine and this past week has been a great start. Jorris and I went to deliver some honey at Le Country Store and Jean de La Tomate, two adorable stores in Nice where we now sell our honey at. We also pitched some honey sales to a few organic food stores, went to the bank and post office, did grocery shopping, and then made a movie date out of it since we were in the city. We went to Cagnes Sur Mer to watch "Once Upon of Time in Hollywood," the new Tarantino film. It was excellent, funny and entertaining. We enjoyed every moment with popcorn. Did you know that in France they don't put butter in their popcorn?! It's so ironic because everywhere else they put butter except for movie popcorn. My father would not approve. Luckily, the popcorn was fresh and movie was great, so I can't complain.

Made this carrot cake last week for our friends. Can't wait for more baking!

Autumn for me means more time for tea.

It is amazing how changing up your routine can change how you feel and open up your mind in so many ways. As humans who lived by nature, we lived by the seasons and so naturally, we were not always doing the same things. For example when the weather changes and veggies can no longer grow in snow, we turn to other kinds of work, like baking carrot cake. It feels great to live more closely to this natural pattern of seasonality. My body is happy too, for a break from the same farming movements. I've been doing much more yoga and just focusing on opening up the tight parts of my body, mostly my shoulders at the moment.

This was from last Fall 2018 <333 Photo: Jorris

So, here's to September, Autumn, crispy orange and yellow leaves, wool socks, cozy sweaters, more cups of rooibos tea and knitting that scarf for my favorite guy, hopefully with Bodhi snuggled on my lap. And here's to a great season of organic farming in the southern French Alps. A deep thank you to my colleagues and Mother Earth for all their life lessons this growing season.

*photos by me, unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Reflections on Food and Farming

Back in April at the beginning of the season. Photo:Indira

It’s important to be proud of what you do.
I think it’s not what you do in life but how you do it. Even when days are hard, I do my best work because it feels good and because at least I can be proud of something.

Like this week, I was in charge of harvesting and preparing the beefsteak tomatoes. I prepared them beautifully in their boxes and the head farmer loved them and took a picture. I applied my colleague Indira’s tip of arranging veggies together by size and just took care to be gentle with each tomato. My other colleagues commented on the beautiful presentation as well and though no one said anything in particular to me, I was proud of me in my head.

When days are hard, I try to refocus and remember why I love this job, to work with nature, build a relationship with the land where I live, know her, and feed people good wholesome organic food. Then I think to myself, what could be more important?

"Beefsteak" tomatoes harvested by me. 

Happy with my tomato harvest this week. 

The Jumpy loaded with veggies for delivery. 

This season on the farm has been all about saving. Saving the potatoes, saving the rest of the small and unwanted poireaux (leeks) before making way for new crops, saving the not so pretty tomatoes for making sauce.

As I live this lifestyle in the countryside close to nature, I feel like I’m becoming closer to the cycles of life. And, in the cycles of life, there is no waste. Everything has a purpose and somehow continues on this web of life. While we still buy supplemental food at the market that come in plastic containers or glass/aluminum, Jorris and I accumulate minimal waste I would say. And, most of that stuff is recyclable which is good.

For food scraps like onion and garlic peels or any other vegetables, we put in our compost. Yes, we have our own compost now in our garden! Before, in our old studio we would just accumulate so much food scraps and it would just be unpleasant waiting for the end of the week to take it to the community garden’s compost.

There can be much food waste in farming. I work on a small family farm though, so we try to minimize this. At the farm, with the potatoes we harvest for example, some of them get cut into during the process with the tool we use. This is a normal part of harvesting because you just can’t see where the potatoes are as you dig them up, so naturally, some get cut into. The damaged ones cannot be sold and must be eaten quickly before they rot. So, Indira was sweet enough to toss the damaged ones aside so I could collect them to take home for Jorris and I. They are so tasty! We’ve made plenty of potato salads and potatoes pies, and while they are not a pretty sight, they are organic, non-gmo and really tasty. To me, these good qualities are what matters most, not the looks.

From Farm: Back in April when we planted the potatoes at Jean-Claud's field. 

To table: Jorris makes the best fried potatoes. 

These salvaged potatoes were delish w/homemade mayo.

With salads that are too small or carrots with broken tips when harvested, I have taken home too and they have made delicious meals. The other day, there were 2 bouquets of basil that Renaud was going to toss aside, and I commented that a pesto can be made with them. He said that I could do it, so he gave me the bouquets. They were slightly bruised and a few days old but no matter. They made the best tasting pesto I had ever made, and ended up in Jorris' and my dinner that night, lunch the next day and dinner again the next day. They were strong plants to begin with, so their flavor profile was intact despite their slightly darkened appearance.

I suppose I have a farmer’s eye now and see the beauty and potential in vegetables and fruits that perhaps not many people see right away. We, as humans, are so quick to judge, vegetable, people and plants alike. We don't take enough time to just take a look and make a mindful observation, to get to know something or someone before making assumptions. Sometimes it takes a little creativity and transformation, but that is what I love so much about farming. Farming and growing food is all about transformation: from seed, to plant, to flower, to fruit, to earth, again and again. The land we farm on is constantly shifting as well. Where the salads are today, there will be something else in a few weeks or months. And the creativity comes into play each time we problem solve and each time we seek to transform these vegetables into wholesome dishes that feed our friends and families. 

I don’t believe in wasting food. I don’t believe in wasting anything, but that is a topic for another post. Gardening and farming has instilled deeper into me this sense of saving food and not wasting. I think it’s because I am a part of that process of growing the food, so I know all the hard labor and sacrifices and resources that goes into growing that food. That is why I decided to make mashed potatoes last Sunday night at 11pm because the cooked potatoes in the fridge were approaching their expiration date, said my nose as I took a sniff. These potatoes which I laboured so hard over, bending over row after row to pick them from the earth and getting my hands pricked from spiky weeds as the sun mercilessly beat down upon me, these potatoes would not be wasted. Jorris thought I was crazy, but I wasn’t giving up on them. I couldn’t.

Baby salads are always so promising and beautiful. 

Black Beauty Eggplant (Aubergine).

Gorgeous poireaux (leeks); little ones worth saving too.

I think it’s also part of my heritage. My Grandparents grew up in an era of war and hardship, during times of food scarcity and suffering. They told us never to waste food. I remember my Grandpa Ma chasing me around and feeding me dinner as I played, he followed close behind with bowl of rice in hand. He fed me every grain and when there was soup, he would pour the last drop of soup on the spoon for me. I never forgot that and still today even at restaurants I pour the last drop of soup on the spoon.

Jorris and I are not perfect though and so sometimes food isn’t eaten fast enough and they rot so we just compost them, like the aubergines (eggplant) last week, which I had just never gotten to in time. It happens. But, at least it will decompose and return back into the earth and back into our garden, hopefully, enriching the soil so we may grow some aubergines of our own next season. In gardening, there is always hope, so, let's hope.

*photos by me; unless otherwise noted. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

100 Days of Mourning: A Chinese Tradition of Grief and Ceremony

Grandma Ma & me <333 from my scrapbook in CA.

It’s been 102 days since my Grandma Ma passed away and 111 since my Grandma Lee passed away. I’ve been thinking about them a lot this week, and my Grandpa Ma and Grandpa Lee, my Grandparents, my ancestors whom I am so deeply rooted.

I am wearing my Grandma Ma’s silk blouse that my sweet cousin Kitty Kat, who is more like my sister, had given me. I gave it a deep sniff and hug before putting it on this morning, savouring the warm morning sunshine on my back as I changed. I really feel her warm energy, beauty and strength as I wear it and type this post. I feel this way about the jade bracelet which was hers and handed down to my by my Auntie’s Nimbo Thin and Nimbo Nam back in May. Some might think me silly, it’s just a stone and blouse, they probably are thinking, but to me it is so much more.

I believe in the energy of the world all around us and everything holds a vibration of some sort. Natural materials I think really absorb the energies of their owners. Even synthetic materials I believe hold energy. I wonder to where my Grandma Ma wore this silk blouse. Perhaps she wore it on a lunch date with Grandpa Ma when they were first dating in Vietnam at their favorite French restaurant by the train station where they would meet during her business trips back in the days of the 1950s and 60s. She had such beautiful taste. I feel her love and comfort when I nap with her blanket as a throw. I believe in its rejuvenating and comforting energy.

The otherside of M. et Mde. Isnardi's field site where I work, France. 

Grandma Lee was a country girl too, here in a Vietnam.

I am reminded of my Grandma Lee everyday when I go to work in the fields with the organic veggies, hands in the soil, dirt on my shoes. While she never directly taught me gardening skills, I think she has gifted me with her green genes. And, those fond childhood memories of gallivanting in the backyard of that house on De Adalena street in Rosemead, CA with my brother as my Grandma Lee worked in her garden will never fade. Long before I would ever know it or harness it’s power, Grandma Lee gave me the seed of growing plants which would become my way of life and joy. These days, more than ever, I tightly hold on to these memories.

In Chinese tradition, the 100th day after the death of someone marks the end of the mourning period for the family and a final prayer ceremony is performed. My cousin Kat told me that it means that Grandma Ma has completed her journey to heaven. My cousin Kitty Kat sweetly sent me a message last night saying how she missed me and that the family was having a ceremony prayer for Grandma’s 100 days. She sent me some cute videos of my cousins saying goodnight to me, and it made me smile. While I’ve been thinking of my Grandparents a lot this month, I haven’t been keeping track of days, so I’m so thankful that my cousin Kat reminded me of this.

My brother Kevin and I happy with our Ama & Aye in Rosemead, CA

It is believed that the spirit of the deceased lives on and every 7 days during the first 49 days there are prayers and chanting to help the spirit have a good reincarnation. My Mom and I went to the temple with my Uncle Kanh and Auntie Quincee a few of the weeks while I was still in CA. We chanted mantras and left food offerings at the altar of the temple for Grandma Lee. We left a picture of her there in a special room with other photos of those who had recently passed. Flowers and fruit plates decorated the room.

Grandma Lee & me <333 in California

Grandpa Lee & me <333 in California

According to the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, which most Chinese Buddhist practice, this period of 49 days is called Antarabhava in Sanskrit or the Bardo in Tibetan. The soul is between death and re-birth. What happens during this period has an influence on possible liberation or the form of the rebirth. For a favorable rebirth, the family assists their beloved by prayer and remembrances ceremonies, which are duly preformed.

Some of these concepts are still unclear to me and there is so much to further explore. If I ever find more information I will amend my post to reflect this. Kat says that Grandma is in heaven, but perhaps heaven can mean anything to the interpreter? Perhaps it’s a pure land, as in some Buddhist branches of thought believe, or perhaps it could just mean liberation. For me, I see my Grandparents in all the beauties of nature, the mountains, rivers, the sea, the butterflies. Their spirit/soul/consciousness, is too grand to be contained into one entity. To me, they are liberated, beyond form, beyond boundaries.

Our friends Laura and Gijs came to spend the weekend with us, and we went on a lovely like in the Gorges de Daluis to Point Sublime. It was a gorgeous view. At the top I sat on a rock and just marveled at the beauty of the moment we were in, amongst good friends and surrounded by incredible beauty. The silence was inviting me to feel into my heart, and there I felt the pulse of my Grandparents and other friends whom I miss dearly. I took a moment to think of them, thank them for all of their protection and sent all my love. Some days I feel so sad knowing I can’t see them again, hug them, kiss their cheeks, hear their voices tell their stories. In some moments I cling to the idea of seeing them just one more time, hugging them once more time, painting Grandma Ma’s nails one more time, holding Grandma Lee’s hand one more time. I haven’t seen either of them in any dreams yet. I’ll be ready when they come.


I wrote this eulogy for Grandma Lee and had shared it on the day of her Celebration of Life at Rose Hills Memorial. I want to share it here because without my Grandma Lee’s green genes there wouldn’t exist my blog Garden Gallivanter.

My Grandma Lee next to sunflowers, in Vietnam(?).

Most remember my Grandma Lee as an independent and strong woman: both in business and the way she carried herself in the world. She could do anything. While all this is true, I remember her most for her nurturing spirit, perhaps a side of her being she did not dare let shine through often.

My name is Tiffanie Ma and I am one of Cuc Lee’s 13 grandchildren, the first wave of grandchildren you could say. I’ve had the privilege of growing up close to my Grandparents here in California. Being a farmer in southern France now, I had begun two new jobs last month. One, working on an organic vegetable and chicken farm, planting veggies, harvesting and collecting eggs; the other, starting seedlings, which, for my non-gardeners and farmers out there, are baby plants which we begin from seeds and care for before they are big enough to be sold to the farmer or home gardener.

I promise I have a point to all this, and this is still about my Grandma Lee.

One day at my seed-starting job, I was starting various seeds in the greenhouse with my friend and boss. Having seen my other trays of seeds sprout beautifully, she mentioned to me, “Tiffanie, you have green hands.” I smiled and humbly-declined the comment, noting the cultural difference that in the US we say “green thumbs instead of green hands”.

Her comment lingered as I kept working, tiny seeds in my hands, new life before me. I reflected on where I could have inherited these magical green hands and immediately thought of my Grandma Lee.

As a kid, I remember so many pieces of joyful moments with Grandma and Grandpa Lee. My brother Kevin and I were so lucky and got to spend time with them at the park at Langley Center where they played ping pong. I remember Grandma Lee patiently teaching me division at the kitchen table, as she went back and forth between the kitchen cooking up something delicious, like those amazing noodles she made me for my birthday.

I remember the backyard of the house on De Adalena street, where Grandma and Grandpa lived in the front house and we lived in the back house. I remember playing outside and noticed her working in her garden. It wasn’t anything manicured, some Vietnamese herbs and veggies I would guess, a plot of weeds to the untrained eye. I just remember a lot of greenness surrounding her, the tall grassy leaves of lemon grass, and never any chemical sprays or plastic bottles. I’m not certain, but I think Grandma Lee was an organic gardener like I am today.

While I don’t remember precisely, I have a memory of her planting all sorts of home remedies out there to better her soil and plants. Maybe fish or shrimp pieces from the kitchen were buried to enrich the earth of her garden.

I was young at the time, but I only wish now that I was able to learn more about gardening from the green wisdom and hands of my Grandma Lee. She probably had such a wealth of knowledge about organic gardening practices, her produce from the garden were always so green and lush. 

But, we shouldn’t live in regrets and what ifs, at least I choose not to live that way. Instead, I am so grateful that Grandma Lee passed down to me her gift of gardening which I discovered intuitively 7 years ago. I am quite sure of it, since I have no recollection of being taught anything specific, though this urge to grow food and nurture land sprouted from my heart and that seed must have been planted by someone.

I want to thank my Grandma Lee for all of her love and sacrifice for all of 7 her children and us grandchildren. She had to be so strong for everyone, and I am just honored that I got those glimpses of her soft spirit as I skipped around the backyard as she tended to the earth. Now I know how much of a nurturing heart it requires to grow life and Grandma Lee could grow anything.

Literally, anything. My brother Kevin reminded me of the dragon fruit (thanh long in vietnamese) which she grew and proudly showcased telling us that the tropical fruit is not native to Southern California, but she was able to grow it into fruition anyway!! Pure Magic.

These flowers here are from my garden at my parents house, nothing exotic like dragon fruit, but I picked them this morning for Grandma Lee. It is her gift of green hands which she gifted me that I was able to grow these flowers which have brought joy and peace to that piece of earth in front of my parents house and to so many who encounter them.

I will always remember Grandma Lee as a beautiful and delicate flower, with strong roots. Her name means Chrysanthemum. With every garden I grow, wherever I go, I will aspire to emulate my Grandma Lee in all her beauty and strength.

Com un ba ngoi. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunday Morning

Sunday mornings in Saint-Léger call for sleeping in (8am, yes that's farmer time for sleeping in) and waking up to slow sips of coffee in bed brought to me by my wonderful husband. The morning sunshine floods through the window as Bodhi baby, who sleeps on the bed by my feet meows a sweet bonjour as he stretches himself awake. I pick up my book, Braiding Sweetgrass, which is one of a few I am currently reading. It's going to be a great day; I feel it already.

Bodhi meows to go outside, so I open the window of our bedroom for him to explore the wild. I make my way to the kitchen, but first a pit-stop in the office where Jorris is on the computer, and I lean in to give him a bonjour kiss. At the dinning room table, I continue sipping my coffee and read about different herbs and beauty dusts online. My mind is curious and intrigued. I make a purchase out of self-love which was a bit out of my budget, but no regrets here. Ashwaganda root powder, Amla berries, Goji berries, Pearl...while others enjoy buying clothes and shoes online, I prefer these adaptogens. After all, I've earned this self-treat, my hair and skin are in need of a little extra love after all I've put them through this season on the farm under the radiant summer sun. I learn along the way, googling the different plants and feeling the bubbly excitement in my chest for nature's gifts soon to arrive at my doorstep (yes the mailman/woman comes to our door!).

Summer has me feeling fine. I knitted this hair tie!

Next is yoga. Just me and my breath. I savour every moment. Some light music plays in the background, creating an environment for a Sunday morning kind of flow, steady, strong and rejuvenating. Jorris enters after working on the hives at the apiary here, which he had moved here to our piece of land some weeks ago. He bends over for a kiss as I am in Mermaid pose. He tells me he is heading to the other apiaries to work and that he'll be back before the village aperitif hour tonight. I'm making bliss balls!

For brunch I make 2 fried eggs with garlic on my cast iron skillet which I brought back from CA and it has been the best decision I've made this year! Haha...that along with many other decisions, of course. But, really that sizzle sound those eggs make when you just crack them over on a hot cast-iron skillet is incomparable to anything else and for me; it's the sound of the weekend. Of course we can't forget the dash of soy sauce and 2 slices of Pain de Bayasse, toasted. The little bit of extra toast I didn't use to sop up the yolky-soy saucy goodness, I spread on some butter and blueberry jam. YUM!

It's been just the two of us again. No more family visitors at the moment and while I miss them, especially Pap since he had spent the most time with us, it's lovely to spend some time alone in our new home together this weekend. And, it allows me to take time to write for pleasure and do yoga and read, all in my panties and bra-less yoga tank top. I'm becoming quite the advocate of the movement to #freethenipple. But that's a topic for another post.

Sunrise on my drive to work.

During the week I wake at 4:30 am to have my coffee, do a little yoga when I can and get to farm. So, when the weekend rolls around, it's really a time I guard for rest. Physically, my body doesn't want to move, so I listen and follow what is being asked of me. Mentally, I rest my brain as well, no more calculating efficiency, timing and tasks. I know it will be waiting for me on Monday.

Village life suits me. This quiet and slow rhythm of life which aligns so much with Mother Nature grounds me deeply. I went with Jorris yesterday to do some work in the apiaries. He worked as I found a spot by the Roudoule river to set my blanket and pillow down for a nap. The sound of the trickling river water and the fresh shade of the trees lulled me to sleep. At the other apiary, I walked into the Var river and just sat on a rock, admiring the stunning beauty of the earth we are so incredibly fortunate to inhabit. Since it's a private property, it is not accessible to the public, so I was completely left alone to enjoy the river, water, rocks and mountains surrounding me. This is one thing I really admire about beekeeping; we get to access the most beautiful places either because they are on private land or they are too deep into the wild to be easily accessible to the public.

Le Roudoule is a gorgeous river which flows into Le Var river. 

Our small beehives by the Roudoule river. 

While we don't have so much money, I feel so rich. I feel like we live quite a luxurious life and I am so grateful everyday. I have an amazing husband who works so hard with a deep motivation to make a happy life for the both of us. He affords me the luxury of sleeping by the river and doing yoga on Sunday while he goes off to work. I am so grateful for all his love and support.

Furthermore, we drink fresh spring water that is also heated by the power of the sun which our solar panels capture. We breathe fresh mountain air. Then there is all the organic and local food which I have the privilege of growing as my job! We live in such peace and abundance. While we are not rich in material abundance, we have all we need. I even made enough money to earn a car! Though she is old, this Citroën Saxo drives so well and allows us to get to where we need in these mountains. It feels so good to earn something, too.


Work on the farm has been very busy and in all honesty, quite stressful. It's been a rough season for my bosses and this energy has a ripple-effect on me and my colleague Indira, but we are pushing along, like the little train that could. Tractor problems, miscommunication, too many orders, the fatigue of summer and general intensity of this time of year, which I think all farmers share at the moment, have us feeling a little meh. We all do our best.

It's August already, and I'm really looking forward for autumn to arrive. I can't wait for the weather to cool down, for a change in the speed and rhythm of life, for things to slow down a bit so I can catch my breath again, read, reflect, write, knit again, with Bodhi in my lap and a cup of tea by my side. Perhaps even light the wood stove!

Les Petites Courgettes

Les Petites Tomates Raisins

Les aubergines

But, I am so proud of all the beautiful veggies we have cultivated with Mother Nature, and still, despite the "life situations," as Ekhart Tolle distinguishes in The Power of Now, life is still good. We continue to allow people to live a more healthy and wholesome life with the the organic food we sell. As I wash leeks and carrots or harvest more courgette (I don't really like them anymore, can explain later), I just think of all the people at the organic market who will buy these beauties and feed their families with good and clean food. Not to mention, extremely flavourful. Our job is so important, and it's easy to lose sight of all the greatness that we are doing. After preparing 25kg of leeks, you can easily get sucked into the meh of the "life situations" and forget about the goodness of the life you are living and, in our case, the goodness of the healthy food we are feeding people.

It's all about what we choose to think and focus on. We have the power to frame our day in a good or bad way. That's the beauty of choice and the power we hold over our minds. We shape our minds and mood by the thoughts we allow ourselves to think and believe. The truth is, there is no escape from miscommunications and complications and chaos and tractors that breakdown. Whether you work in an office behind a computer in the city, or on a farm behind rows of beets in the countryside, there will always be problems. That is just the nature of things. But, we can choose how to see these problems and ultimately, how to work with them.

So, those are my thoughts on this beautiful Sunday morning. I'm sending you so much love and light wherever you find yourself today. Get out there. Get some sunshine, feel the river water on your toes. Take a nap. Read a book, do it in your favorite panties and bra-less top, or better yet, in your birthday suit ;)

*Photos by Me.