Thursday, December 20, 2012

Time To Go

The winds are blowing strong and the occasional branch hits the roof of our yurt. The tarp surrounding our outside kitchen is flapping. I’m concerned about the electrical outlet exposed to the precipitation. It’s cold out there! Every time I have to leave the warmth of our yurt, is a struggle for me, and, as I re-enter the toasty warm circle, I sigh gently as I enter the warmth.
The view from my
morning shower

The view during my shower was definitely unique this morning. The snow is falling and if I venture even a step from the shower spray I can feel the crisp air on my skin. Thank goodness for our functioning hot water tank, although I did notice that the water begins to freeze even as it makes it way down. I’m grateful for the experience, and, I’m also glad that we’re leaving. I don’t think I’d still like this after a few weeks!

It’s time to go! Winter is undoubtedly upon us, and we are not equipped to live here comfortably. So we prepare to leave. Our tickets to Fort Cochin India are booked for travel on December 28 leaving from JFK airport in New York.

We leave the island on Saturday for 3 months. Our first stop is New York City to see my mother before we leave the continent.  She’s 87 tears old, and though she seems physically solid and healthy, I welcome the opportunity to be with her and spend some time while she is still here.

Paul and I haven’t been to India together for 3 years. I’ve been there twice since we explored the country together 3 years ago. I am excited to immerse myself in Yoga for the first month and to deepen my practise. Yoga has become a major focus in my teaching and I embrace the idea of broadening the practical applications I’ve learned. Returning to my teacher in Fort Cochin and reuniting with my Cochi community is exciting. I look forward to visiting the schools where I previously spent rich and fulfilling hours and reconnecting with the special people who make those Kerala schools so successful.     

Paul and I intend to travel to places in India we haven’t been before. Rajasthan, Varanasi, and Jaipur are all northern areas where we want to explore. This year I’ll even get to attend the festival in Bangalore at the Gurukala of my dear friend and teacher, Mah. The last two years my visits have been in early autumn and I have missed the weekend festival that occurs annually in February. This year, with Paul, I will be there!

Visiting with Sajee and Aji, has become a yearly event for me. Immersing myself in Yoga practise and enveloping in the environment of Indian family life and community activities is time I have grown to crave. I am getting my yearly fix.

And, though I am joyfully welcoming my trip to India, I also know how much I love my life here on Gabriola, and, once the Winter rage has passed, I can openly engage in focussing again on the land and creating an outdoor living space that enriches and fulfils.

Okay then…Canadian Winter, friends and family who I love dearly here on this continent……see you soon!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chanukah 2012

         Today is the 5th night of Chanukah. It is evident to me that Chanukah is a time of contemplation. I tend to ritualize the holiday and take stock of my situation in life.
          I remember Chanukahs of years gone by. Our family avoided the exchanging of presents. We kept our celebration focussed on the lighting of candles, praying and singing together, and eating traditional foods, like potato latkes and suvganiot (jelly donuts). The reminder of the miracles that happen in our lives, even those that we forget to consider, was, intentionally included in our gatherings.
       Of course, extended family members just couldn’t hold back with the presents, and several of them sent or gave our kids Chanukah gelt (money) as a gift. So, when Chanukah was over, we would gather the kids and drive over to Toys “R” Us. Each child got to buy something he/she wanted, and also, spent half the money collected to buy a toy for a distressed child. On our way home, we would stop at the Women’s Shelter in our area and hand over the toys! I appreciate that our children grew to practice this with ease. There was never thought of ‘keeping it all for myself’. And, as the children grew, their ‘giving’ spirit grew bigger with them.
          Our family hosted the Gellman/Applebaum Chanukah each year, which was really the only time that the whole family gathered together in celebration.
          In 2003 Paul and I travelled to Israel with our 4 youngest children, our daughters. It was Chanukah when we arrived in Jerusalem and the essential memory I have of that time was walking in the streets of the holy city and seeing a constant display of Chanukah lights in the houses that lined the residential streets of the community. Menorahs of all designs sizes and materials are publicly displayed in every window we pass. It is a most beautiful sight, enhanced even more by the quiet, subtle, spiritual energy that exudes from the ground of the city! That year, we all lit our candles together hugged by the Jewish community that surrounded us outside of our hostel and into the villages all around. There is an embrace that happens for me in Israel like nowhere else. I experienced that during that Chanukah 2003.
        Last year, Paul and I were in Guatemala. Our first weekend in Guatemala City was with a community of Jewish people with whom we, over the 3 months we were there, developed an emotional and spiritual connection that will be life long. Adat Israel (previously Casa Hillel) is a community of Latino people who have adopted Judaism as their own spiritual preference. Many of them were brought up in various other religions, especially Catholic, and were seeking something more personally meaningful and relevant for themselves. Each found Judaism as the ideal way of religious expression. Once they ‘found’ each other, they established a community. They learn together, pray together, share weekly services together and celebrate holidays together as a family of converted Jews. Paul and I spent several weekends (Shabbatot) with Casa Hillel during our 3-month stay in Guatemala. Chanukah was our inaugural experience with them. It is memorable, and, this year, I am thinking deeply about them.

          In Guatemala, Paul and I lived in San Marcos, a small Mayan village situated on Lake Atitlan. San Marcos is one of many villages encircling the lake, each exuding a different energy and a variation in vibe. We connected strongly with a hostel called Del Lago where we spent a lot of time, playing music, playing with locals, learning Spanish and feeling close to Mayan culture. There we spent the first night of Chanukah last year. An Israeli “expat” and I used the community kitchen to fry about 150 latkes that we brought over to the local centre to share with others. We lit Chanukah candles, sang traditional songs in Hebrew and English, and shared the stories related to Chanukah. It was a blast!
        This year, we lit our first Chanukah candle with our son and grandchildren in LA. We are in our yurt on Gabriola. Using Skype we are able to light the candles, sing the prayers, even a special Shehechiyanu, and sing Chanukah songs. The times change, no doubt, and practices do differ, but all in all, Chanukah is a holiday about dedication, education, and miracles. I’m up for it all!!!!
                   Happy Chanukah to all, and to all, a good night.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Road Trip

               I live a crazy life…no doubt! We left LA a week ago after a 10 day stay with our son and grandchildren. These past 7 days have been packed with driving, eating, connecting with dear people in our lives, and inching our way closer to home after a month of being being away from home.
                 San Francisco was our first stop. On our way we stopped for the afternoon with friends in Santa Cruz. We’d been there several times before. It is a small, quiet town with beautiful beaches and a tremendous boardwalk. We walked and watched the surfers. I think in my next life experience I might want to learn how to surf!
          Overnight in San Francisco, we spent time with old friends. We walked in the parks, made delicious meals, went to see a movie in a real movie theatre (Lincoln) and just hung around visiting with Gerry, Mark and their two grown up wonderful daughters. We even gave up our plan of going to Reno just to spend extra time with them.
                From San Fran we made our way to Morrow Bay, a quaint little town situated on the Pacific coast. Clusters of residential communities perch on hills overlooking the ocean. Simple, inexpensive restaurants and charming shops line the boardwalk. Expansive, white sandy beaches unroll as far as I can see. People, pelicans, and an enormous assortment of birds find their own space on the sand. The water, more aggressive than our Gabriola ocean, is active with enormous waves. Surfers are everywhere.
                 Rising out of the ocean is Morro Rock, a 175 metres high volcanic neck that stands at the entrance to the harbor. There is a narrow bridge connecting it with the shore. It reminded me of the Perce’ rock in the Gaspe Peninsula. That was the place where I did my first scuba dive after passing my course in Ontario. Like Perce’, Morrow Rock offers an awesome and protective presence.
     We spent two nights with new friends who we met through our ATC membership. With them we ate incredible tacos and visited some of the beautiful sights of the area. The Hearst Palace is just outside of Morrow Bay. We didn’t go inside the castle. The $25.00 entrance fee just didn’t seem reasonable, but we did check out the museum. Interesting but not too impressive.  My take from the display was that George Hearst had a lot of money. That’s his claim to fame. Not impressed!
          What was impressive was the home of the elephant seals along the coast. It happens to be the beginning of the mating season now. The expanse of beach just off the Pacific Coast Highway was blanketed with hundreds of the seals. Some of them are just hanging out on top of each other, clustered together, sleeping. Some are sloshing around on the beach. Others are actually sparring with each other as it is said they do when they are preparing to mate. They are huge and, by adulthood, the male seals grow a beak shaped trunk. I guess that’s why they’re called elephant seals. We loved sharing the afternoon with them.

        We loved the two-day respite from driving. It was nice to take some time to just explore a new place and spend some time together quietly.
        The next few days was all about meeting up with old friends, first in Redding, California, then in Portland Oregon. Redding is right near Mount Shasta, but the clouds were too thick and the rains too rough for us to even get a glimpse. Some of the people we saw were friends we hadn’t seen for 30 years, or children of friends’ who we’ve known since their childhood and we’ve watched them grow into independent adults. It is amazing to reconnect with people from our past. There is something special about weaving these relationships into adulthood, and noticing the growth in the way we interact with each other. Sarah, Paul and I went thrift shopping in Portland. Paul did all the buying! A new hat, a pick up for his guitar and an old novel was some of his finds.
             Our 6000-kilometre road trip has come full circle. Maggie, our GPS indicates our first stop…. Ferndale Washington. That’s where we are tonight, playing guitar with David, eating good foods and drinking simple wines. I feel at home a little bit. We will be soon…until we go off again.
            Our last night was a quiet one having diner with our Jacquie and Lindsay in Vancouver. It is our settling place before getting the ferry to the Islands. I like being at home. As wonderful as our trip has been, I’m craving the opportunity to be still.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Affordable Travel Club

ROAD TRIP!!! We’ve been travelling in our car this past month driving across three states to spend time with our son and grandchildren in LA. It’s not our first road trip. Over the past 3 years we’ve travelled approximately 40,000 kilometres in our little blue Subaru, between Toronto and Gabriola and back, Toronto to New York, New York to California and back, and most recently Gabriola to California and back.

People ask us how we can afford to travel so much. Undoubtedly, the major expense is gas. That’s an expense that can’t be avoided. We bring healthy foods along with us, mostly organic fruits, vegetables, yogurt ad other snacks that we’re able to purchase at local grocery stores. We try to eat only one meal a day in restaurants while we are on the road.

When travelling, our first choice is to stay overnight with friends and family. We use our travel to visit people we want to see along the way. When we need to stay overnight and there is no one we know, we use our membership to The Affordable Travel Club.

Each year we pay our fees of $70.00. We then receive an online catalogue of people throughout the world (mainly the U.S. and Canada) who have also joined. These people are mostly retired seniors who love travel and love meeting new people. They usually live in quite luxurious homes sometimes right in the heart of a city, and sometimes in remote areas deeply surrounded by wild. For $20.00 a night for the two of us, we meet delightful, similarly-minded people and stay in beautiful private accommodations sharing delicious homemade breakfasts with our hosts. I call it “Couchsurfing for the Over 50 Crowd”.

First we contact the people in the area we would like to stay.  Sometimes they are unavailable or travelling themselves.  Occasionally, they invite us to stay even though they are not there!

As we plan our trips, we make contact with members to request a stay for a night or two. Sometimes the accommodations are not available. Many of the people travel too. Sometimes the hosts invite us to stay even though they are not there. Recently I attended a conference in Santa Rosa California, and, not wanting to have the exorbitant expense of a hotel, I chose an Affordable Travel home. For 6 nights I stayed in a gorgeous house in the suburbs of Santa Rosa. The hosts were in England at the time and I had the entire house to myself. How wonderful to leave the conference each day and come ‘home’ to a beautiful house, with kitchen facilities and the comforts of solitude and quiet.

ATC is a traveller’s community. Each person on the list is screened and a clear description of each person is given. Our listing reads like this:

Canada - Gabriola, BC (5 km E. of Nanaimo - Vancouver Is.)

GELLMAN, Paul & BLOCK, Amy., Gabriola Island, CANADA. - Musician/IT Consultant & Ed. Consultant. Int: music, yoga, learning. Cabin, Yurt, acc: 2, bed: double, shared bath, smoking outside. Guide. Gabriola Island is one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia. (Dec10)

Other than the nights we spent with friends or family on this trip along the western coast of the United States, we stayed in Affordable Travel homes. In Oregon two of the houses we stayed in were right on the Pacific Ocean. One of the houses was a stunning condominium built on the waterfront. Our upstairs bedroom overlooking the cliffs allowed us to hear the crashing of waves against the shores.

Some of the people we meet through ATC are fantastic!
In Eugene, Oregon we met an incredibly interesting couple. They directed us to wonderful places to go. We even participated in a drop-in yoga class and attended Shabbat service in a nearby egalitarian synagogue. After our experience at the synagogue we went ‘home’ to an interesting conversation with our hosts, one of whom is a non-practising Jew.

In Morro Bay we stayed with Bill and Toni, retired teachers who are active grandparents to a 6 year-old granddaughter. We stayed for two days, which gave us a chance to hang out some. Morro Bay is a small town built along the coast. The entire town is centred around Morro Rock, a huge formation that stands majestically above the water. On our first night, we walked to the local taqueria with Toni and Bill, and ate delicious (and enormous) seafood tacos.

It adds so much to our trip to share time with the people in the areas we visit. I’m sure we see things we would never know about, and eat in local, lesser-known restaurants. Sometimes, we even buy groceries and cook together while chatting and drinking wine. Years ago, while travelling through Arizona, we stayed with ATC people in Sedona, and we became such good friends that we stayed over a week!

Stopping in Depoe Bay, Oregon, our host suggested we meet them at a local restaurant before venturing on to our condo on the water. They have two apartments there and offered us one of them. As I approach the table where they were sitting, I think: “How interesting to have dinner with these people. Paul and I have just spent all day driving together. What a nice opportunity to connect with others too.”
The Affordable Travel Club has been such an inspiration to our travels. We can afford to stay over now even when we don’t have friends or family. We love meeting new people while we are travelling. Even Europe seems manageable now. I never would have considered travel in Europe because of the high costs of accommodations. Now it seems possible.

I like the idea of sharing our home with others too, and, as Affordable Travel Members, that is part of our responsibility. In the 3 years we’ve been members, however, we’ve had only 2 requests to stay in our home in Toronto, and both times we were not there and our house was not available. Now, living in a yurt in B.C. it will be interesting to see how many people want to come to visit.
Our friends in Toronto, Harriet and Morty told us about ATC three years ago. It has changed the way we travel! There is no doubt that meeting new people along the way makes the trip way more interesting. Thank you for the tip!