Friday, April 12, 2019

This inspiring book and flowers Lucie picked for me today.

"You are so young, so much before all beginning...have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and...try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

                                    Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet, 1929

This week was rough. A success, but hard, to put it simply. Often times, I wonder why I chose this way of life or why it chose me. I had all the comforts and freedom of a good car, all the attention of a close family, and all the city conveniences back in LA. Here in France, in a new country, in the beginning of a new life and business from the ground up, it's not the case. I forge on, though, breathe deeply and work in the present moment through all the uncertainties and challenges. From time to time, I pick up this book to remind me of why I am farming, why I choose to live close to nature etc. I discovered it last summer when I worked at Garden School Foundation and one of the kind interns mentioned this book. It's an anthology of different voices: farmers, chefs, writers, change-makers, in the field of agriculture, ecology and food. The essays inside continue to inspire me and I want to share some with you sometime.

I picked it up from the row of books on our desk held upright against the wall untidily by a little statue of Ganesh on one end and more stuff on the other end.  It was a Wednesday night before bed when I needed a pick-me-up myself. And, upon opening the first few pages of the book, I read that quote again which spoke to me so much last summer, and still now. It was a reminder that it's ok not to know all the answers. Most of the time I don't know the answers and wonder when they will show up. But we can't put life on pause just because we don't have all the answers. We just put one foot in front of the everything...and maybe the answers will come one day, or maybe not, and either way, it's all good.

*photo by Tiffanie Ma.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

New Beginnings

Freshly collected organic eggs.

This week I started my new job at Agnès and Renaud's organic farm here in the Southern French Alps. We buy our veggies and eggs from them every week at the artisanal store right by our house called Montagnes Paysannes (Mountain Peasants). We also sell our honey at the same shop. We’ve known them for a few years now and they are a kind couple with strong organic farm ethics, so when I spoke to Agnes about looking for a job maybe working at the store, she said to me that they were looking for some farm hands for help this season, and my eyes lit up. 

I’m so happy for spring’s arrival. The many blossoms and flowers add some color to an otherwise green and gray canvas of hillside and mountain. I feel like these are gifts from nature for making it through winter, a token of appreciation. I can feel a shift in the energy of my surroundings. I see bees buzzing around the blossoms, hear the birds more loudly, and all of our farm friends are up over their heads with work. It’s the beginning of a new season indeed, and I am hopeful and excited. 

Purple Irises add globs of color to the side of the farm house. 

Mysterious cone flowers the bees go crazy for!

We started off the week with a large egg delivery. I was in charge of collecting and preparing hundreds of eggs in their cartons for delivery to CSA (community supported agriculture) members and up-end restaurants and hotels in Nice. It’s no surprise that some top restaurants on the French Riviera want local, organic and quality eggs. We are lucky to have them each week too. Working at another CSA farm, where the consumers and farmer share a risk in the struggles and benefits of farming, reminded of my early days years ago farming in Montana. 

I greet the hens and say thank you for each egg I harvest in the end house. It’s been a bit of a dilemma for me because a part of me feels bad for stealing their eggs. Perhaps it’s part of my woman’s instinct, though I have not experienced motherhood, taking away the babies of another feels wrong. Jorris made the point that they are not fertilized eggs so there is no baby yet, but I still feel that it is a potential baby the way I see then hens sit on them, keeping them warm and protected. Most move out of the way but some are more aggressive and don’t want to leave their eggs. Their pecks and the way they fluff up their bodies tell me so. When I do get the eggs, they are warm in my fingers. I say thank you, sorry, and leave. 

Every morning I say bonjour to the girls et merci.

Gifts I pull from their little nesting houses. 

"Bio" (organic) eggs I packaged into cartons for the stores.

I suppose it’s the same with honey. We are technically stealing honey from the bees who make them. Of course, we don’t take all of their honey like some do. But maybe it doesn’t affect my moral judgement as much because I don’t see a bee sitting on its honey and protecting it? I feel the sting though, occasionally. 

Perhaps the silver-lining of working with the hens, gathering their eggs, stepping in their poop, giving gratitude to them each day, allows me to be closer to where my food comes from. To me it’s a special feeling, perhaps even rare in this day and age, to know so intimately where our food comes from. It is something our modern-day society lacks, and I believe this disconnect between where our food comes from and ourselves is making us sick. The low-quality, processed commercial “food items” produced on massive monocultures, mostly of genetically-modified corn and soy, making Mother Earth sick and us in return. 

The taoist see the inner body as a landscape. This metaphor resonates with this notion of our relation to Mother Earth’s landscape. If her rivers and oceans are polluted, so is the blood that flows in our veins. If we poison her soil with chemicals, we poison ourselves. 

I’ve been enjoying my work outdoors in the fresh air of the French Alps, chemical free. We drink pure water, which comes directly from the local spring. Our hands hold living, clean earth saturated with microorganisms, which I’m sure are making me healthier, along with the chicken poop. So much of our earth’s soil is dead from over-farming. So much of the food most people eat from the supermarkets are pasteurised or overly clean. How can we expect to live harmoniously with the many other microscopic organisms if we kill them all off? How can we expect not to get sick or have allergies when we sterilize everything and our bodies are not exposed to any bacteria?

I love all the freckles and imperfects of these beauties, not to mention taste! 

Heavy cases of eggs ready for delivery. 

Anyway, I digress. Farming is hard work, no doubt. But, I am learning how to work smarter and not harder. This doesn’t mean cutting corners or faking it because in farming, you can’t “fake it till you make it”. Farming is something else. It requires patience, honesty and you literally reap what you sow.  

I feel like I am developing a different part of my brain. For one, the language part, since while I am learning to farm I am also learning a lot of new French vocabulary. Secondly, I am getting better at understanding economics, making predictions, and calculating time. For example, with the eggs, I was placing the finished cartons in the big box for delivery and that big box was to my left on the table. After I filled that box with 21 egg cartons, I had to lift it down to the ground where it should have been. thought to myself, why didn’t I predict that it would need to be on the ground and just leave the box on the ground, adding the egg cartons into it, eliminating the steps of lifting the box onto the table and then later lifting the heavy box loaded with fragile eggs to set it onto the ground? These seemingly little innocuous things add up and I want to preserve my physical capabilities for the long haul. 

With tasks like these, I look to do things more efficiently and find that I naturally apply these little improvements to other parts of my life. Saving a little time here and there through efficient work saves a lot of time at the end of the day, week, month, year. And time is precious. 

"French Breakfast" radishes freshly harvested and washed for artisanal store.

As simple as packaging eggs may sound, which it is, I’m learning so much, finding beauty in the mundane. After all, farming is really just a combination of monotonous tasks, I’m learning. Sure, the end results of big leafy rainbow chard or crunchy “French Breakfast” radish (which I got to taste yesterday straight from the ground) and happy customers are all beautiful and romantic pictures of what it means to farm, but it’s not what we see nor do everyday. What we see everyday is a puzzle piece of irrigation lines and parts. What we do everyday is walk back and forth, to and from the same fields, looking for pieces of irrigation parts or moving things around. And the most seemingly simple tasks such as putting up the plastic of the hoop house takes hours. But through the small little moments of waiting for Indira to throw me the line from across the house so I can secure it on the pole, I take in the fresh air, admire the white cherry blossoms and birds chirping.  

The serre where we added the plastic onto and the cherry blossoms.

I am a romantic at heart, can’t change it even if I tried, and believe me I have tried. I’ve learned to accept my nature though, even appreciate it. Because, I have seen around me, even from the very hard-working farmers who probably started out as romantics, that life can harden you and you can loose perspective so easily in the mundane. As Indira, my colleague, whom I work with said yesterday while we were in the chicken coop in French something like, “Life will swallow you up, if you’re not tough,” I thought to myself that is very true and I am getting tougher, but I also I wish to safeguard the appreciation for beauty and curiosity of life because if we lose touch with those, what is left or worth living for? This is not to say that she has lost touch per se, just that her quote makes me think that it is dangerous to be soft and vulnerable in life. And it is, but I think only when we take that risk of vulnerability can we experience true beauty and joy.

*photos by Tiffanie Ma.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


We’re all a little bruised and broken. Suffering is indiscriminate. No matter who you are or where you come from or where you were and where you are going, no matter your gender, age, the color of your hair, your morals and beliefs, rich or poor, we all suffer.

The Buddha said that life is Dukkha. Life is suffering. To live is to suffer. Because, as the Buddha explained we are living in the cycle of samsara: life, death, rebirth; and with living comes suffering because karma, the law of cause and effect, can lead to suffering.

Some say our sufferings stem from ancestral wounds that never healed. This is a new concept for me, which I am curious about. I wonder though, does this mean that we can blame others for our suffering? Does this mean that we have no control over it, and it’s all predetermined through an ancestral algorithm of sorts? If not any of these hypotheses, then what does any of it mean?

Of course, humans are not the only beings or spirits which suffer, though I feel as though our suffering is worse because we are complicated creatures who perhaps bring a lot of it upon ourselves.

Some days, like today, all we can do is feel it through and just observe. For me it’s yoga, a walk in the woods, playing guitar, or writing a blog post, but for you, it could be something else. Whatever that space or action that can lead to cathartic expressions I believe can be incredibly healing.

Today I got onto my mat and discovered a deep well of sadness. I felt its darkness and absence of love. I didn’t know it was there until I got into a posture, just lying on my belly and breathing, and I began crying for all the things I felt and couldn’t say. In this state of delicacy, however, my mind was so clear. It was as if my mind was soothing my heart and just observing these emotions, and sort of consoling my heart that it’s ok to feel emotions like sadness and “just cry, just keep breathing and feel what you need to feel, without judgment, attachment or shame,” my mind instructed.

I think my meditation practice has helped me become so much stronger, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. I have to thank Andy Puddicombe from my Headspace app, and my soon to be brother-in-law Steven for having introduced me to the app in spring 2017 when I had gone to visit him and brother Kevin in San Francisco. I’ve been meditating since then and this practice has changed my life.

I’ve learned tools to help me not be afraid of my thoughts or emotions and to just observe them like passing clouds because underneath all the dark clouds there is always a blue sky. This analogy can often be found in meditation practices, and I learned about it through headspace. We just have to remember we have peace of mind all the time (blue sky) and that sometimes those clouds of sadness or doubts will creep in. Meditation has allowed me to better understand myself and my mind. Slowly I begin to see patterns and why I do or think the way I do, all from a place of tender curiosity and deep compassion. I am reminded of how human I am and constantly question what it means to be human and why we do what we do and don’t do what we don’t do.

Life, even in the Southern French Alps, is not always a fairytale. It’s hard no matter where you are. I’ve made more French friends here and have learned of more sad stories and pain and suffering are the recurring theme. It puts things into perspective.

For me life has been so condensed and charged with change these last 6 months. I got married, moved to a new country, moved to a new village within that country, intensified my studies of this new language, continued building my business while my husband continued building his and finding a way for those to blend together, all while raising a young cat and the learning curve that comes with raising a cat for the first time.

In this moment we are the crucible of building a new life, together. It’s getting hot inside as more responsibilities and deadlines pile up for this loan to that. It seems to never end and some weeks, we seem to never see each other as we live in the mountains and loans and banks live in the city and now the bees are on the coast so Jorris has been driving back and forth between all places, his cup filled with bee work, business class work with a dash of bank/finance work.

He’s stretching himself in all directions and you can imagine what that does to a person, and for a newlywed couple. His cup can fill no more. There’s no more room for drops of my quirky jokes or childish comments like this morning when I said “what if I loved Bodhi (our cat) so much he turned into a real human?!” Texting a business text and not hearing my comment, Jorris continued with his work. 

Then those quirky jokes and my wish for attention get swept under the rug and soon the rug isn’t big enough to cover it all up. Then what?

It seems like this sort of pressure-filled feeling has always been in our relationship since the beginning, perhaps a sort of relationship karma? At first it was, soon I’ll have to go back to CA because my visa will expire so we’ll be apart again but for how long; then it was where do we want to make our life in France or U.S.; then now, how are we going to do it...all these choices and life decisions that just seem to keep demanding an answer now.

Jorris had been camping in L’Esterel and working with the bees and various business formations in Nice so we hadn’t really seen each other until we went on a date night on Sunday. It had been the first just-us date night in a while at the local Au Bon Coin (The Good Corner) restaurant in our village. Over trout and pizza we had a moment to just be a couple, and while some clouds lingered, I could see the blue sky for a moment.

This morning though, I’m not sure if it’s as blue. My heart is heavy. I continue to breath through the uncertainty that is life. What else can we do? Whatever happens though will happen as it should and life will continue because it just does. Someone close to my heart the other day wrote to me and reminded me of how I was a bright ray of sunshine to her from across the ocean and that she admired my authenticity and how I could put love above all else. It was beautifully written and sincere. I felt a sense of peace after reading it because even if I accomplish nothing more in this life, at least I know I inspired love and light from a place of authenticity for one person and that’s more than enough for me.

If, to be human is to suffer, but to suffer is to know or have known true love, beauty and wisdom, then perhaps it is worth it, wherever our paths may lead.

*Photos by Tiffanie Ma

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

In a Nutshell

Les fleurs sauvage: Primevère Acaule

Sometimes I feel like I’m in my 30s and retired. I’m writing a memoir, gardening, going to the weekly village knitting club, and recently, started a French and English Café Exchange. That looks like the schedule of a retired gal in Southern France, right?! I guess what is not mentioned and not so retire-y is that I am in the process of job hunting, for what I’m not sure, whatever feeds my gypsy soul.

Happy first day of spring!! I know it’s been a while since I’ve been here, my apologies. Life happens fast. No excuses though, I really want to me more present here. I miss Garden Gallivanter and sharing my thoughts here with you all. I feel a shift today, maybe because it’s soon to be a full moon, and it’s the Spring Equinox; and it’s also the first time both are happening at the same time since 1981?!

I want to say that since I’ve been living in the south of France and this life close to nature, I am aligning more to her rhythms. Or, maybe it’s just all in my head, I’m not sure, but I know something is happening. Like today, I took a long nap, knocked out for 2 hours! I love naps, just normally don’t take them, but today, I just really needed one. I’m going to say the Spring Equinox and full moon coming has had something to do with it.

The first day of spring is quite special, especially for beekeepers I suppose, since it marks the first day of the season I would venture to my beekeepers out there, would you agree? The season though, began long before today, months before. Jorris has been working in the workshop up in Villetale building frames for the new hives we will soon pick up in Montpellier (city in Southern France) since January? And, he has been very preoccupied with paperwork and taking mandatory formations in Nice while caring for our hives, which are still on the coast in L’Esterel (I think my favorite place of the French Riviera!)

La bonne brood @L'Esterel.

So much has happened since I was last here, so I’ll try to be brief but thorough. We went to Holland for the holidays. It was picturesque. Northern Europe, if I can call it that, is like the birthplace of Christmas. It felt like that with the Christmas markets and traditions we experienced. Unfortunatley, Jorris' Grandma on his French side, Leonie, passed away, so we made our way back to France, to the Alsace, a north-east region of France with a long historical border conflict with Germany. Despite the circumstances, it was a beautiful opportunity to be with family, and for me, meet new family for the first time.

Colmar Noel Marche

Mon bus route a Nice pour la cours intensive Francais pendant Janvier. 

Mes grandparents, ma Ama et Aye avec mon petit frere Kevin et moi.  

The month of January was busy busy since I was taking an intensive French course in Nice everyday and rode the bus for 3 hours everyday for the month! I loved it and it was so worth it. I made friends and had a superb professor. I really learned so much that one month. I continue working through the text book on my own. I also did two days of important French immigration formalities, which having already gone back and forth to Nice for the week and then having to go on the bus again on Saturday, to spend a whole day of lecture, was extremely exhausting, but I made it.

At the end of February, my Grandpa Ma passed away. He was 96 and truly lived life to the fullest, at least in my eyes. My heart was broken and still healing, just because I loved him so much, and we were so very close. So, I flew home to Los Angeles to pay my respects, read some words from my heart and cried with my family. I got to see my cousins, aunties, uncles, my father, brother, mother, and it really was a most special celebration of life. Perhaps I’ll share my eulogy to my Grandpa with you sometime.

La famille en premiere. Photo: Kevin Ma

It was a whirlwind, emotionally, and physically, since I was fighting terrible jet-lag and was only in L.A. for 3 full days before flying back to France! I did get to fly back however, with my mom, cousin Kitty (Kat), and my brother Kevin. We landed in Paris where Steven, my soon-to-be brother-in-law, would meet us. They had planned to come visit me months ago, since the end of last fall I believe. Kat was the surprise element, though, with the whole change of plans with my Grandpa leaving us, the “cat” was out of the bag when I was talking to my mom about my seat selection and she said, “I wonder if there’s a seat near me...well, I’m sitting next to Kat, and there’s maybe...oh shoot!...”

Truthfully though, I had known a few weeks ago about the surprise when my sweet Nimbo Thin told me with such enthusiasm for Kat to see Europe for the first time and go on a vacation! I really was so honored to be the one to introduce her to Europe and France.

Ça fait longtemps <333

Mon autre demi devant Monet. 

Le Louvre

We had a wonderful time in Paris for the weekend; I played pushy tour-guide and got us around the landmarks and museum must-sees of Paris. I won’t bore you with the details, unless you’re interested; but suffice it to say that no time was left squandered because we were either walking, perusing through impressionist paintings of Monet or eating yummy food. I will say though, that my favorite museum was L’Orangerie, for it’s serenity, beauty and it just left an “impression” on me.

I felt like Grandpa Ma was watching over us because things would happen like it was raining a bit the last day and we wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower and while it rained during the car ride, it stopped just as we got out! And it stayed dry and sunny through all the pics and then when we got back in another uber, it started raining again! I saw out the window this woman pushing against the strong gusts of wind with her umbrella that looked like it was nearly going to break!

Sacré Cœur.

Poor Steven had been sick so actually had to change his flight and come to join us the last day we were in Paris, only to fly again that same evening to Nice, since that was in our itinerary. Kat, and he and I did get to go to Montmarte and Sacré Cœur, which was quite special, as we clinked les cafés and roughly ripped off pieces of la baguette to share.

Les tous que on a besoin! Santé!

Ils sont heureux dans Montmarte. 

After arriving to Nice, we drove through the alps to their air b’n b which was right across the bridge from our apartment which was great! We spent a few days here, showing them around the village, Entrevaux, Guillaumes and dinner in Valberg so they could meet my French entourage. Ma belle mère, my mother-in-law, was also here! She had planned to visit as well and it just so happened to be at the same time of my family's visit. I was happy for her to have met my family and shared a brunch at the air b 'n b. That night, it was a cozy dinner at our favorite L’Italiano, in Valberg where we had our marriage luncheon 6 months ago!

I was happy that they now have faces to names I always talk about. We were all hungry and happy, stuffed with comfortingly decadent pasta dishes all-around, and wine, of course. My Mom was so sweet and paid for dinner for everyone! She has such a generous heart. And the best part was when she said, “Thank you all for taking care of Tiffanie.” My friends were touched and so was I. I felt like my Mom had come a long way from where we started in this French journey. It hasn’t always been smooth, nor easy. But, I think she’s arrived at a place of peace with it all, even happiness for me.

Dans le médiéval village d'Entrevaux. 
Le dîner @ L'Italiano dans Valberg, notre resto préféré. 

On a apprecié les mimosas dans L'Esterel. 

I’m proud of my family for coming all this way to visit me. It meant the world. We shared many beautiful moments, which I’ll cherish forever. I’m proud of them because it takes a lot of physical strength and an open heart to ride through the windy roads of the French alps and being in any new culture can be challenging. And it was all done in a short time and all of us having some jet-lag, plus, perhaps having been emotionally exhausted with my Grandpa’s funeral.

It took me a week to recover, to get back into my routine without missing them. The goodbye was more emotional than I was expecting. We hugged at the bus stop at the corner across from Galeries de Lafayette (shopping mall). I was catching the 2pm bus. I think I cried a little when I saw my Mom’s eyes well up...and then after hugging Kitty and seeing her eyes change with a little glimmer of tears. I stayed strong through my last embraces of everyone. It wasn't until on the bus ride that all my tears fell like a waterfall. I tried to contain myself. But, they were more tears of utter joy for having been able to spend such precious time with each other, since time is really so precious.

Ma mère, aka Mumsy. Photo: Kevin Ma

Tout les sourit.  Photo: Kevin Ma

Which is why I am starting a new routine by not staring my morning off with Instagram. I used to sip my coffee and scroll through Instagram and noticed with the new screen time app and just in general, that I was on there too much, like an hour in the morning and then there were more hours throughout the day. I realized with all those hours, I could finish the door-stopper of a book, Vietnam: A History The First Complete Account of the Vietnam War by Stanley Karnow, and in turn, finish the family memoir I am writing with my Auntie Barbara about our family's escape from Vietnam to America. It was my Grandpa Ma’s mission to flee Communist Vietnam with the whole family, and it really is an extraordinary tale, which needs to be written. I had wanted my Grandpa to see it in print, but I know he’ll be proud either way that we preserved a piece of history not only of our family, but of the world.

Le dernier dîner. 

Anyway, it’s not to say that I don’t like Instagram or against it; it’s just I have many projects to give my time too and while I find the app inspiring and a great way tool of connection and expression, I want to live life more presently. I want to see something beautiful in nature and just appreciate it without thinking of pulling out my phone for a photo or feeling the need to document everything I do. I just want to do the things I do and enjoy them. Who else feels me out there?

I also enjoy writing here at Garden Gallivanter and sharing pictures on this platform that better tell a story with more thought and reflection. Stories can be beautifully told on Instagram too, but I guess I’m just an old-fashioned gal at heart who prefers using word to write and blogpost to blog. If I had it my way, I would have my typewriter (next on my list of what to bring to France next time I’m back in CA) here and typing this all out and snail mailing to subscribers! Ok, maybe that is a little over doing it. Call me old-fashioned, but I am also a 21st Century woman ;) Until next time, hopefully à trés bientôt! Ciao!

         Ce qui? <333  Photo: Kevin Ma

*photos by Tiffanie Ma, otherwise noted, or by kind strangers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Happy 6th Birthday Anniversary, Garden Gallivanter and Happy 30th to Me!

A stroll in our backyard village of Puget-Théniers.

The best things in my life seem to happen during Fall, when the leaves are changing color, fire reds and oranges, when the air turns crisp and you can see your breath linger as your face tightens and turns red from the cold to the point where it’s hard to talk. It’s a time of baked pies, pumpkin and apple, of the sweet aromas of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cardomone warming the house along with the crackling wood fire.

Fall is when new things happen for me and somehow my life changes course. This blog I began on a November Fall day 6 years ago. It was when I began to garden; and, it was also when I made my plans to intern at the Garden School Foundation, setting my life forth in another direction and leading me to meet amazing people.  In the past, I’ve  met other incredible souls who have shaped my life, or I made plans for grand solo adventures, like the one to France 3 years ago. This Fall, I married a beautiful soul, mon amour, Jorris. It was a milestone for us both. With that, I moved my life to a new country. This Fall, our farm cat Agata gave birth to 3 adorable kittens, and we are enjoying them so much. It’s a beginning of many new things.

A little crumbly, but oh-so-good with wild and organic apples.

From left to right: Bodhi, Sattva, Peaches&Cream (aka: The 3 little monsters)
Our yurt dressed in a surprising snowfall at the end of October. 

It’s a time of reflection, a time of transition, transformation, of quiet. The garden sleeps. Her bounty harvested, stored for winter meals. The yurt goes down. We move closer to the city but still live in the small village of Puget-Theniers. As the season changes, so does life, and so does our rhythm. Only since I started living close to nature 3 years ago did I start to really notice nature’s rhythm, and I have found that aligning my rhythm to hers makes me feel more whole, more at peace and in equanimity of my surroundings and of how I show up in my life.

Sometimes, I think that’s the best thing we can do. Just show up, everyday, with compassion, non-attachment, and love, for ourselves and for the world around us. With all of your heart, just as it is, whether that be full of joy for new kittens or full of stress from moving to a new place, a new country. Whether it be full of energy, or perhaps, a little laziness because it’s too rainy and cold outside to work. Those days are ok too; those days are important and also part of this beautiful thing called life. And, rather than being hard on ourselves for not performing at our “peaks,” what would happen if we allowed to ourselves full acceptance and unconditional love for how ever we showed up that day?

Garden treasures to be stored for winter.
Keys to new "apartment castle". 
I can wader the narrow streets of this village for hours. 

And just be thankful we were able to wake up to 3 kittens playing and bouncing around as we get coffee going in the morning, much needed coffee, since they were wild the night before jumping on our bed, the bed they already pooped and peed on while we were gone and so we had 2 blankets less and felt cold, so didn’t sleep that well and then our husbands wake up really early for work and we end up getting woken up too because we live in studio with no rooms. But we wake up, even though slowly, with gratitude and make our way to coffee and our day, and everything is good.

I have found that the same applies to yoga. With this approach, my practice has changed immensely. I have been showing up onto my mat everyday. Our studio loft is small, but we have been creative with spacing and so made our dining room table a folding one. It’s attached to the wall and folds down, remaining on the wall. In this way, I have room to practice yoga. When I show up without judgment of what I can do that day and just feel my way through, with curiosity and enjoyment, my body and mind just feels more receptive to expansion, physically and mentally. Also, one of the benefits of living in the village is better internet connection, so I can practice along with online lessons, but there are also some yoga classes in the village, which is wonderful, and I have visited. My personal practice is becoming deeper and so, I don’t feel the need to go to class really, but I like to, just to be in the company of fellow yogis.

My three little monsters. 
Entrance to our humble abode with folding table. 
Table folds so I have space to do yoga. 

Yesterday, I had the privilege of going to Marie and Samuel’s place with Philippe. They are our sheep cheese making friends, which I have written about before. They are a lovely couple and have a lovely growing family. They got some other village producers together and we all had lunch of incredible, exquisite food, seriously made for fine dining, without the fancy plates, just rustic and real. Pumpkin and squash soup, juicy and falling-off-the-bone oven baked lamb (their own!) with fennel, cous cous, variety of steamed squash (pumpkin, butternut) and rosemary; For dessert we had apple tart with caramel sauce (both homemade and best caramel I’d ever tasted), and homegrown/homemade pears cooked in red wine and cinnamon. The color and taste of that pear was just gorgeous.  My senses were all over the place and high on something! Real, homemade, homegrown food!! Everything was homemade or from the arm except for the flour in the bread and the couscous! Impressive and exemplary way of living, if you ask me.

The main reason we got together, apart from the exquisite food, was to make apple juice. This year was a fantastic year for fruit trees. These apples were organic and homegrown or wild. It was a day of apple juicing indeed! They had made 100 liters of juice before Philippe and I arrived, and with Philippe’s apples from his Mother’s house, we made another 100 liters! We brought home 95 liters. With this experience I have gotten closer to understanding where our food comes from, never will I drink apple juice nor see it, in the same way. Now I understand so much more.

This Fall has been particularly good for apples, so many apples!

Pasturizing 35 liters of freshly pressed apple juice. 
My mind, senses, and gut are exponentially expanding while here in France. I truly hadn’t tasted apple juice (I feel like that about a lot of foods I try here) until last night when I took a taste of what we had juiced. It was sweet, pronounced, a golden syrupy refreshing delight. It was real and pure juice, microorganisms and all. I did feel a little bubbling and gas in my stomach, but that just shows that it is a living food and that my body will get innoculated with more good bacteria and therefore my gut and immune system will be stronger. I will have some pasturization to experiment with tomorrow, to conserve the juice without adding preservatives.

It was a traditional juicing machine, made of wood and iron. It was gorgeous. You place chopped pieces of apple in, a lot, this spliced wooden barrel thing. And then with pressure from wooden blocks above, you turn this iron rod and the rod and screw pushes down on the wood and the apple pieces are compressed, so juices start flowing out. It’s pretty amazing. My phone died so I couldn’t take a picture, but actually, it was kind of nice, just living in the moment and enjoying the process of it all and the company of such kind people.

Today, is the 6th anniversary of Garden Gallivanter, this blog which I began when my heart struck a match with gardening and has fueled this fire of my life in the most profound, life-changing ways I never could have imagined. It has also burned down old habits, patterns of thinking, of being, old ways maybe not so good for me, people around me and the environment; I have been able to rebuild a new life of exquisite tastes and textures.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I am reborn. It hasn’t been easy nor has it always been beautiful.  But I choose to keep remembering, to keep coming back to all that is beautiful, when it gets hard and desperate. I choose to embody the phoenix rising from the ashes. 

Village Street Art: Hold my hand and don't let go. 
Dinner party/housewarming with Daniel et Sylvaine.
Mon amour Jorris avec les petits chatons.
I will also be turning 30 in a few days. And, I really feel 30. It’s wonderful, to have made it this far. It’s wonderful to be married, to have moved to France, to be creating organic products I love and believe in with all my being. When I think about it, I think how lucky I am to have lived 3 decades, experiencing this crazy thing called life. That is a lot of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds I have had the gift of experiencing. And now, I get to share these experiences and hopefully make new ones with mon amour, Jorris. I know you're reading this, my fantastic Garden Gallivanter fan, and je t'aime. 

Most of all, I think of all my phenomenal family and friends who have been there for me and with me throughout my 3 decades of life, filling my life up with stories, with unforgettable memories, with unconditional love. I think of my mom, dad, grandparents, brother, aunties, uncles, cousins, yogi friends and garden friends. Without this kind of love, the kind that moves mountains and splits sea water in half, I can say without a doubt, I wouldn’t be here, at 30, married and doing work I love here in France. This goes out to all of them, my family and friends, near and far, who continue to love and inspire me. And of course, this one goes out to you guys, my fellow readers, near and far. Thank you for growing with me through all these years. Happy Autumn!

Beeswax candles I made with apples. 

*Photos by Tiffanie Ma

Monday, October 15, 2018

Our French Wedding

I don’t know if I believe in forever or happily ever after. Too many of life’s lessons learned by loved ones, friends and strangers alike have me cautious. I do, however, believe in: love, perseverance, courage, hard work, and dreaming, dreaming BIG. That’s why, one month ago today, Jorris and I took the greatest leaps of our lives by saying “oui” in the tiny mayor’s office of our tiny village in the Southern French Alps.

“Oui” is French for “yes”.  We said yes to sharing and building a life together, nature and her wisdom as our guide, and love from all our friends and family. Although we sort of eloped (sort of because we didn’t tell our family until last minute and we had a little planning time) and our friends and family couldn’t be there, we still felt such love and joy.

I didn’t have so many expectations, just went with the flow. I’ve been feeling like this most days these days. It’s all in a good way. Not that I am complacent or don’t care, rather the contrary; it’s just that I think I’ve discovered an equilibrium for myself to live a life of balance, focusing on the important things (family, friends, health) and not so much the small stuff. It’s a daily practice. Yoga and meditation are my tools.

It was a Saturday. The morning of our wedding, I awoke, rested and peaceful in our yurt, on the royal bed Jorris had built for us last Winter. The sun was shining, luckily, since it had rained days before. It was just another morning, but so much more. I put on my robe, made my way to the farmhouse kitchen where my future husband was eating his oatmeal breakfast and had coffee ready for me. We exchanged “bonjour mon amour,” “good morning my love,” to each other and smiled, knowing it was just another day, but also not just another day.

I quickly finished the last sips of my coffee and made my way to the garden with scissors in hand. I began picking flowers for my bouquet and Jorris’ boutineer. I decided to keep it simple and elegant with wild carrot flowers, white and lacey, and of course, lavender. The lavender would match well with the lavender crown I had made yesterday. I made my crown with a variety of Lavender named lavandin. It is bold and beautifully, with bigger flower stalk and stronger lavender scent. I actually didn’t plan on using this particular lavender, I prefer the wild one, lavandula angustifolia, normally, but this one just presented itself to me fresh and still on the bush just down our farm house. Philippe had planted these and luckily, hadn’t harvested them yet.

I decided last minute to make a boutineer for Jorris, also of wild carrot and lavender, to match my bouquet. He was so enthralled and happy for it. Knowing our wedding time was 11am, I made my way back up to our yurt to quickly iron our clothes and get dressed.

My dress was linen and I had actually found it in a vintage store last year for 2 euros! Jorris’ outfit, ironically, was more expensive than mine! We had made a special trip to Nice a few weeks before to get him some dress pants, shirt and shoes. He already had a blazer.  I wore some sandals I had, which I felt were fitting for my simple dress, plus very comfy for my feet.

I wore this gold lariette necklace my Mother gave to me from the Metropolitan museum in New York when she was there for a trip.  I love that necklace and felt that by wearing it in a way my Mom was there.  I think it added elegance to my simple dress as well. I also wore this bracelet which was Daniel’s mother’s and his engagement gift to me along with a red string with blessings from the Dala Lama which Daniel and Sylvaine also gifted me before our wedding as an engagement gift.

We made our way down to Daniel and Sylvaine’s house. Francoise, the Tibetian Buddhist nun in retreat, and our wonderful friend, heard our car and rushed to the road to wish us luck and see us. She said we looked fantastic, perhaps even surprised by how well we cleaned up, since usually we are in our work clothes when we see her.

We arrived at Daniel and Sylvaine’s house where they greeted us with happy smiles and also complimented our outfits in exasperation. They gave us a ride down to the Guillaumes (village). Sylvaine was my witness and Philippe was Jorris’. Philippe would meet us down in Guillaumes.

We arrived just in time and were invited upstairs of the Mayor’s office which is quite a big building. It’s called “Hotel de Ville” in French, and it actually looks like a hotel building, blue shutters and all. In France, people get married by the mayor of the village or city where they live or where their family is from.

I had been inside the Mayor’s office, but I had never been upstairs. Upstairs is where marriages take place. The room is beautiful with art on the walls and though non-religious, it had a feel of a small church. Jorris and I greeted the Mayor of Guillaumes, Jean-Paul with the standard “bisous,” one kiss on each cheek. His assistant, Cedric stood beside him. Cedric helped us get all our papers in order for our wedding.

We were invited to sit in front of the Mayor and Cedric, and then he told us both to stand. He spoke in French of course, and although I couldn’t catch everything he said, Jorris translated some for me afterwards. A lot of it was about family and our duties and responsibilities. When he looked at me and said “Tiffanie.....something something...Jorris...(pause),” I knew that was my cue to say “Oui,” yes! Thankfully, in France, you don’t have to repeat after the person marrying you, otherwise I would have had a more challenging time. Saying “oui” was perfect. Then he asked Jorris the same thing and Jorris said “oui”. Then we exchanged rings and kissed. Cedric read our marriage certificate, which indicates that today we were marrying and where each of us is born and our who our parents are and their professions. We signed the certificate, together with the Mayor, Philippe and Sylvaine. And just like that we were husband and wife. 

There was such a feeling of serenity and joy, like we had just accomplished such  a grand task. I had asked Philippe to take some photos of us and I have to say he did a fantastic job. We couldn’t have done this, without Daniel, Sylvaine and Philippe both literally (you need two French witnesses), and spiritually, (they supported us all the way).  And we were even more lucky to have Daniel and Sylvaine because they were going to Greece the next day! I had come to France with just one month before returning to US (for a concert with my brother) and so we were quite crunched in terms of time. We had just enough. Enough time to go to the US consulate in Marseille to get a document saying I am single; enough time for the post in which the couple to be married has their names and wedding announcement posted so that if anyone should disagree they have 10 days to do so. It’s tradition.

The Mayor gifted us with this beautiful basket of flowers on behalf of the Mayor’s office. And then, he spoke to us, not from a formal script but from his heart. He said that my lavender crown was “magnific,” a symbol of our life together working with nature. He said how wonderful it was that we work with nature and that he hopes we continue to be a part of the community and make a life Guillaumes for years to come. It was so genuine and kind. We accept the flowers with gratitude and made our way out. Then we heard music playing! It was that wedding song from the movies when the bride and groom exit the church. We were surprised and smiled. They put so much thought into our little wedding, it was so sweet and forever memorable.

We took a few photos and then crossed the street to have a drink at the tabac shop, the local cafe of the village. People were sitting outside with their drinks basking in the 11am hour sunshine and when we entered they all clapped in joy for our wedding. It was such a warm feeling, these complete strangers clapping and admiring us! All I could do was say “merci,” nod and smile. An older man leaned over and said to me “vous etes belle,” which means “you are beautiful.” I thought that was so kind. Who knew my homemade lavender crown and 2 euro dress would make me beautiful.

We had drinks. Even the mayor joined us. There Daniel and Sylvaine gave us our wedding present of a tea set of dishes and cups. They are beautiful with flowers. I can’t wait to use them! He also gave us antique dinner dishes from his Mother.

After our drink we took a few more photos. I just looked around and said hey let’s take a photo by that fountain. I didn’t think so much about it. Sylvaine took our photo and it turned out to be the best photo of the day. I love these so much. They capture everything about our wedding and life. All the simplicity and beauty, the fountain, the flowers, the blue shutters in the background the painting in the far left corner on the wall, my foot lifted up just a little (totally not choreographed!). I am really so proud of that photo and cherish it with all my heart.

After those photos we were on our way up the mountain to Valberg, a neighboring village for a grand lunch at L’italiano, the best Italian restaurant in Southern France! It’s a small restaurant but the food is authentic and it’s like eating in Italy. The chef and owner is Italian. Italy is close to us so it makes sense.

They welcomed us warmly as always and offered us prosecco on the house. The sounds of clapping filled the restaurant as we entered. Daniel started it I think since he began clapping first. He’s so festive and sweet that way. Then we ordered appetizers to share, tomato bruchetta, cepes bruchetta. Sylvaine ordered a cepes risotto. Cepes is a type of mushroom. Daniel ordered a meat dish of some kind. Jorris ordered the ravioli with truffles and pecorino cheese. Philippe ordered pasta with cepes. I ordered pasta arrabiata, a little spicy and oh so delicious. Of course we shared a bottle of this exquisite red wine, which I can’t remember the name of. We all had various desserts. I had the panna cotta. Our meal was so intimate, clinking glasses, laughs all around, and some silence as we all devoured and savored our meals. I almost didn’t have room for dessert, almost. Philippe presented his wedding present to us, a book all about mushrooms from all over Europe. There are identifying pictures as well as recipes!

After dessert, bellies full, we headed home to our mountain. We stopped by Daniel and Sylvaine’s home for some sparkling water and just to sit and savor the ending of a wonderful wedding day with them.

Never did I imagine I’d marry a mountain man in France and move there! Nor did I think I’d have a French Countryside wedding. Sometimes the most magical and beautiful things we can’t even imagine happen to us. We have to just embrace it with  love, perseverance, courage and hard work. Jorris and I wouldn’t be married if it we didn’t share these values. We wouldn’t have taken this leap into the craziness of marriage and beekeeping and country living if not for these.

Cheers to my husband, Jorris, for saying yes to a life of adventure with me, in all its craziness, beauty, and love. After a month of being married, I still don’t know if I believe in forever or happily ever after, but I do know that Jorris convinces me more and more each day, and I believe more and more each day in the life we are creating together.

*photos by Tiffanie, Philippe, Daniel and Sylvaine.