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.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Happy 5th Year Anniversary, Garden Gallivanter!!!!!

Fall Sidewalk in Chicago, IL. 

Greetings from Chicago, Illinois. 
I've been back stateside for almost two weeks now, and it's been a whirlwind of excitement and joy! Since being back I've visited my loving family and my home yoga studio, Yoga Cove. To reconnect with these phenomenal people here in California, is essentially, why I come back. Now, I am in the grand city of Chicago, visiting my amazing brother Kevin and his boyfriend Steven. They have shown me, like always, such hospitality in their adorable apartment here in Lakeview, a young and hip neighborhood. I've been exploring the city, the coffee shops, taking the bus to this local wonderful yoga studio, thoroughly enjoying the city conveniences, like high-speed internet! I feel like a kid who hasn't been in a candy store for many years and finally, here I am, and filling my mouth with as many gumballs as I can fit!

Yesterday, my brother Kevin and I got to spend the day together. We hadn't seen each other since last April when he and my mother went to Vietnam and Thailand. He had been working last week when I had arrived, and so, yesterday and today, we get to spend some time together.

Steven and Kevin <333.

Dried Hydrangeas I picked on my walk to Kev and Steven's.

My brother Kevin, aka Merv. 
My brother Kevin is the most creative, witty, compassionate and courageous person you'd be so lucky to meet. I am fortunate to call him my brother. And since those days of playing "Beats the Neats" (what we called our Barbies) and Xena the Warrior Princess outside, hockey sticks turned upside down as our horses gallivanting through the woods of our backyard, I'm happy to say that we still have a golden time together, though now at coffee shops over espresso and cappuccinos or between racks of vintage clothing on the hunt for treasures at local thrift shops.

Merv, whom I call my brother Kevin, is a nickname I made up when we were little. It was random, probably with some influence from his love for fashion at a young age, but basically, it's the name of the department store "Mervyn's California". It's not as if this store has "fashionable" clothing necessarily, nor that we shopped there, but for some reason, driving past it one day, I started calling my brother "Merv," and it's just stuck ever since. It's funny when people ask what the story behind the nickname is, and it's really nothing special, but still a true story, and still what I call my brother.

My brother has always been there for me, through thick and thin, in every sense of that saying. I don't know where I'd be without him, really. It's not to sound mushy or anything like that; it's just true facts. He has that kind of love that is unconditional; the one that knows no bounds, fully present and non judgemental, timeless. And, on top of that, he has impeccable fashion sense and an artful eye. He's my art museum partner who will roam around with me for 4 hours at the Art Institute of Chicago through: Japanese, Indian, Islamic, Greek/Roman, South American, African, French Impressionist, European, Rodin Special Exhibit, Modern Art, Architecture, and still not have enough!

Looking at Quilts, a way of documenting history. 

Beautiful Georgia O'Keeffe. 

Kev and I at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

We went to Shangri-La yesterday, a family-owned and quaint vintage store. We hit the jackpot with our finds! Kev found this beautiful snake necklace choker, and I this gorgeous poncho, among some other small trinkets. He was the one who actually eyed this poncho, which fits me perfectly!! It's just the perfect length and so colorful, yet elegant at the same time.

Kev eyed this gorgeous poncho at Shangri-La Vintage.

Cleopatra would be jealous, I think?

Topping the day off with a Cosmopolitan.

And, to top off our day, we went to visit his work at Chanel! It was on the corner of Michigan Ave. and Oak St. It was like stepping into an art museum of clothes, each piece elegant and classic. I enjoyed meeting his co-workers who were so kind and excited to meet me! I love that they care for my brother, and I could feel their genuine appreciation for him.

We ended the day at the 96th top floor of the John Hancock Building, at the Signature Lounge with most spectacular views of the city, for drinks. The lights glimmered and twinkled like stars in the sky. The immensity was breathtaking. Of course nothing compares to the night sky of Villetale Haute, and of course these past few days of joy in Chicago would have been more joyous with mon amour Jorris, mais c'est la vie.  Jorris is working on some projects back in Villetale in preparation for next season, but Kev and I did get to skype with him for a little where he got to see the store front of Channel and pictures from the "photo shoot," as well as my poncho; so life is still good.

Fun "photo shoot" @Chanel, styled my Kevin Ma. 

My birthday is Sunday. I'll be 29! I'll be off to Lufkin, Texas on that day, to hang out at my Dad's new apartment. It'll be sweet to spend my birthday with my Dad. And I'll get to spend time with him during Thanksgiving here in Chicago, too. He flies in on Thursday! We're all excited to spend time together. I am so grateful for having another birthday to celebrate, my personal spin around the Sun and all of the beauty I have had the privilege of experiencing this year, along with all the transformational and transcendental discoveries that come with age. Until then, Happy 5th Year Anniversary today to my blog, my baby, Garden Gallivanter, who has been there to reflect and share my memories with all these years.

*photos by Tiffanie and Kevin Ma