Monday, March 31, 2008

Two Quotes from "A New Earth"

I've been reading "A New Earth" by Ekhart Tolle, which is the second book of his I've read. A few years ago, my good friend Laura Prisbe recommended "The Power of Now," which seemed to be particularly applicable while we were travelling through India. It was a life-changing read and helped me to source an inner calm. I saw that he had a new book out and wasn't too keen to read it since I'd found so much value in "The Power of Now" that I figured either his new book would be a repeat of the same ideas or I'd be disappointed that it wasn't as good. I've found neither is true. I'd highly recommend this read if you're looking to question your perspective on life. Don't be scared off that it's too deep or new-agey- he addresses our perspective on life/emotions/spirituality in the context of all religions.

A couple of lines that really resonated with me:

"Only if you resist what happens are you at the mercy of what happens, and the world will determine your happiness and unhappiness." p.200

"The joy of being, which is the only true happiness, cannot come to you through any form, possession, achievement, person, or event - through anything that happens. That joy cannot come to you - ever. It emanates from the formless dimension within you, from consciousness itself and that is one with who you are." p.214

"Behind the sometimes seemingly random or even chaotic succession of events in our lives as well as in the world lies concealed the unfolding of a higher order and purpose." Explaining the Zen saying, "The snow falls, each flake in its appropriate place." p.194

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cook Islands Adventures

After all the problems I've experienced with blogger this week and my own stupid sickness, I'm presenting a belated, muddy picture of the Cook Islands.

South shore Bike ride around the island

Sat 22Mar: Plane leaves Auckland 7:15PM, arrives Rarogonta, Cook Islands 12:10AM 22March. Yes, the same day, only much earlier. (Courtesy of international date line.) After a quick shuffle through customs, I'm directed to the van from our backpackers waiting to deliver us to our beachfront accommodations. Even though we arrived just shy of 1AM, we got a full tour of the facilities. All this at $20NZ per night? Amazing.

After a few hours sleep, I woke up excited at the prospect of the beach and headed off for a walk and a swim. I saw one man fishing way out, an older gentleman bobbing in the water, and two children playing on the shore. Truly a remote paradise (though I hate to use that word). I returned to the hostel to check in to my room and leave my key deposit. Five kiwi women and I waited for the bus into town but ended up being picked up by the hostel owner in her big white van with her toddler and four week old baby. The rest of the day was spent in leisure, sipping fresh chilled coconut water out of the shell from a retired couple, reading, wandering.

Sun 23Mar: Outfitted self in togs (swimsuit, for you non-kiwis) and set off on free rusty, hostel mountain bike for a round the island tour. It's 32km, not too bad. I did check the bike for working brakes prior to setting off though. Along the way, I stopped off for another early morning swim before continuing on my journey. I returned to the hostel hours later with a slightly sore butt but no sunburn, before heading off to rent snorkeling gear for the most sublime underwater experience I've ever had. I won't even try to describe. But I will say that it made me think about getting a waterproof camera. I ran into an Irish couple from the hostel (Ken and Lorriane) at the beach. We'd actually came in on the same flight and I'd run into them in town the day before also.

That evening, the three of us walked down the beach to find some dinner. We found a restaurant on the beach - a little hut with tables made of polished tree trunks, glowing with lantern centerpieces. We lingered until they closed then wandered back down the beach home again.

24Mar Mon: It was my last day, so I awoke at 6:30AM to sit on the beach, reading and writing before getting myself ready for the day. The three of us had planned to do the "Walk across the island" trek. So at 9;30AM, we caught the bus to the start of the trail. It started to downpour even before we reached the trail head, but it was actually refreshing. We attempted shelter under a large tree, where we watched locals walk by and pick starfruit off the tree across the road.

Finally, we set off up the mountain. It was mildly confusing to find the start of the trail, as it was all quite overgrown. Once starting off, we ran into two girls from LA and a group of about six kiwis, so it seemed like it was well-traveled. (Notice: no locals, they know better!) The walk to the Needle was grueling and muddy, with steps made of tree roots provided by the forest. The view from the top was pretty cool. We could see across the whole island, from where we started to our finish point. I've never traversed an island like that before. The way down required navigation skills. With efforts from all three of us, we managed to stay on the trail. About the time that we thought we were really lost, an orange flag would show up, or I'd see footholds in a rock. By the time it was over, Ken had one broken shoe, we were all covered in mud, I had fallen once, Ken had fallen once and GI Jane (Lorraine) was still in once piece, but also covered in mud. Most of the way down, we walked in silent concentration. One misstep, and we'd have been sliding along faster than a speeding bullet. Intermittent rain showers added to the muddy status of our adventure. Conversation finally resumed when we could hear the sound of mowers looming in the distance.

Upon emerging from the thick rain forest, we were greeted with a waterfall and a swimming hole. The group of kiwis ran up to us and said they got fully lost and ended up sliding down the mountain on their butts at one point. Remarkably, we stayed on the trail, traversing a stream multiple times, backtracking a few. All the while, I had my snorkel gear on my back (we'd planned to go again right after the hike). The three hour hike (according to locals and the guidebook) took us from 10:00 to 3:30. We rewarded ourselves with another snorkel before heading back to the hostel for dinner and rejuvenation.

I had a flight out at 1:35AM that night. (Who makes the flight schedules in the Cooks?) I went through customs and waited in an outside garden for our flight to board. I boarded and found my seat 29A (the second to last row in the plane- I had a dippy check in clerk), only to be moved to 21D (so a sick woman could lay down) and then to 13D (because their seats didn't recline), where I finally fell asleep.

I arrived in Auckland and my bag was off the plane in five minutes. Customs took about the same amount of time, even though in my delirium I'd checked "No" on the question "Did you pack your own bags?"

After a few questions about my trip, the customs officer said, "Welcome back!" I proceeded home, refreshed and ready for my full day of work ahead.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter in the Cook Islands

It's taken me all week to get these posted. I don't know what the issue is- every day it's something different. I can't write the blog story right now. My mind is too frazzled.

I'll just say the Cook Islands are dreamy- better than any beach holiday I've ever been on.

An inlet where I swam during my bike around the island
The beach in front of my hostel, Rarotonga Backpackers
More coastline
Backpackers at sunset (taken from my hammock- sorry not perfect!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sorry to disappoint

I tried to upload some pictures from the Cook Islands, but they didn't save correctly onto my flash card, so you'll just have to wait another day. Egads! I think I'll also postpone the story until the pictures come along. (But it will be good, I promise.)

In unrelated news, my voice decided to take a vacation from me today. It was coming on last night, but I thought perhaps I was imagining it. No. It went away for no apparent reason. (I'm not sick.) Luckily, it's entertaining to my colleagues, who shout, "Speak up!" and snicker as I scrunch my face up in mock frustration. By this afternoon, I was resorting to slips of paper and miming. Luckily, I have a lot of facial expressions stored up and can write legibly when necessary. (I'm not a real doctor, you see, otherwise there might be a problem.) Don't tell anyone, but I am rather enjoying the silence. I promise I won't become like that kid off the "Little Miss Sunshine" show, unless one of you posts a really good cause for me.

So off I am home now. No activities planned for the evening.

One more thing- a bit of happy vegan baking news. Last year, I submitted a recipe (Maple Cranberry Almond Scones) that I'd made up to a vegan recipe contest (through Blossoming Lotus in Portland/Hawaii) and they selected it as one of the top 50, which is not like grand prize, but it's good enough. They're considering a book, with credits to the recipe authors. I may start calling myself "Sara the experimental vegan baker." I know it's a long, semi-unoriginal title, but I like it anyway. Unfortunately I have only a toaster oven here, so it seems my new recipe inventions will be rather limited for now.

For when the great scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks not that you won or lost
But how you played the game.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's a small world (be careful what you blog!)

Last night, after work I walked to Mt. Eden (a tree-lined suburb named after one of those many volcanic hills surrounding Auckland) to the Time Out Bookstore for an evening with C.K. (Karl) Stead (a NZ author who I've previously mentioned- see posting March 4) and Elizabeth Caffin, the ex-director of Auckland University Press. They were there to discuss his newest book, “Book Self; The Reader as Writer and the Writer as Critic.”

With a few minutes to spare, I arrived at the bookstore. Time Out is unassuming, neat inside and fantastic for browsing. It’s quite tiny and cosy with about one of each title in stock, laid out in a logical fashion, which suits my mathematical and orderly (aka OCD) mind.

I wasn’t sure where the reading was to be held, but I saw a woman disappear in the corner of the room, so I followed. After ascending a creaky, wooden staircase with a metal pipe railing, I emerged into what felt like someone's living room. The brick-walled room was lined with paintings, maroon leather smoking couches, and a few modern, black, wood-slatted benches. Complimentary drinks, fresh fruit and veggies were served up by three of the bookstore staff. I felt like I'd been dropped into an alternate universe.

The space quickly became full, with about 20-25 people (occupancy was limited). I felt lucky to be among the few.

I was chatting with a woman, Nadine, a dark-haired, petite mother of three originally from South Africa who’s been recently working on her poetry, when Karl Stead and Elizabeth Caffin arrived and mingled among the attendees. The format was a conversation between the two of them. Topics ranged from religion to travel, leftists to music, confidence to caning.

Following the stimulating conversation and questions, I decided I’d like to have a book signed after all. I’d been wavering about it because it seemed like a groupie sort of thing to do. I mentioned it to Nadine and she said, “I’d like one too.”

After a second glass of wine, we headed up front to have our books signed. “You go first,” she said, making room for me for me to pass by.

I walked up and blabbed to Karl in my usual way, joking, “I’ll take your book back to America when I go- and you’re right, your stuff doesn’t get over there as well.” I was talking Saraspeak, which is a little on the fast side, trying to get everything out in ten seconds flat. I mentioned that I’d picked up his book of poems in the Parnell library and told a few people how much I’d enjoyed them and then went to his lecture at the University.

His looked up at me quizzically.“Which book was it that you read?”
I said, “The Red Tram.”
Then from him, “Did you write a blog about it?”
“I read it. Someone saw it and forwarded it to me. Thank you.”

I don’t remember what else was said after that. I was so shocked that he’d read my blog! I couldn’t believe it. What a strange world.

Following the thrill of the book signing, we went downstairs to pay for our new reads and I asked for directions to Stokes Street, where I’d planned to pick up the bus home. At first, no one knew where the street was. Finally a grey haired woman came along and said she was going that way and would walk with me. At that time, Nadine said to the woman, “It’s okay, she’s actually riding home with me.” We walked to the car and drove away.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Not what happens to you but how you accept it is of paramount importance.

Interesting article in the Herald editorial section this morning:

Colin James: Bush's true victim - the morale of the US people

In his five year anniversary review of Iraq war, Mr. James asks (and answers) many questions. He also says with quite a lot of good things about America. I've heard those sentiments from many of the foreigners with whom I've had discussions- even ones who've said bad things about our arrogance in the beginning of the conversation. They come around and say that the United States has historically done so many good things in the world.

I hope we can return to those days. I know that Americans are good people who want to help. I think we have to raise our standards and start taking care of each other again, rather than thinking about ourselves, our problems and the next thing we can acquire.

If we all just worked on kindness to others, imagine what the world could be like.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Birthday to all those who share the day with Einstein

I have an inordinate number of friends with this birthday, so here goes:

To: (listed in chronological order by date met)
Slim, my old neighbor in the penthouse suite in opt school - now in Montana;
Aaron, my former flame who's now in Edmonton;
Sarah the curly blonde who's moved to California;
Shalene in Portland who I met through Matt;
Fiona, the most recent March 14th, who I met in Auckland- though she's also from Edmonton.

One other random connection to this date: Ursula's brother and grandmother were both born today.

If I've missed anyone, please let me know!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I've been quiet this week

After a decent day at work, I came home and spent tonight sewing and drawing and listening to music… feeling like I was in a little bubble in my room above the garage.

I thought I might give you a glimpse of a normal week for me:

Last Friday, I met up with a crew downtown after work for a drink and got a salad with four pieces of lettuce for $8. Good thing I have a little extra body fat to get me along. I made some new friends, mostly Canadians (maybe I’m destined to move there someday after all).

Saturday was Pasifika, which is a cultural festival of the Polynesian Islands (Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, etc). It’s mostly just a lot of food booths. I’d planned to meet Ursula and crew but they kept having car troubles, so I ended up soloing it. The highlight of the day was the fresh cold coconut water that I drank out of the shell under the shade of a tree in Tonga and the opera music. (Don’t ask.)

The following day (Sunday), I took a bus north of town to Long Bay, stopping at Takupuna on the way to check out their flea/farmers/craft market. Once at Long Bay, I started out the afternoon with a fantastic salad and coffee on the deck of a restaurant overlooking the ocean. I sat under an umbrella, munching and journaling with the din of conversation, ocean waves and Norah Jones in the background. It felt a little like heaven. After lunch, I hiked along the coast trail for some great views. I didn’t take my camera, deliberately. I just wanted to enjoy myself. I did. After suffering the effects of the heat, I felt like taking a swim- the water was warm. But I hadn’t brought a suit. I came upon a nude beach… figured may as well see what it was like. It was fine.

Monday I went to my first Spanish class. I wasn’t overjoyed with it- it lacked structure (the woman who teaches it is a psychologist). I wished I were in German or French. I really don’t have the drive to learn Spanish, but I think it’s a practical choice. Sometimes practical is not the choice of your heart. I’d originally signed up for French but switched, because I couldn’t really justify it. Later, I started to read my “Africa on a Shoestring” book and realized lots of countries in Africa have French as one of their national languages. So I could have taken it after all! (By the way if I go to Egypt someday, Ross, you are welcome to join me.)

Monday night after class, I got ambitious and hung up a mosquito net. I was tiring of 6-20 new mosquito bites every morning. In the middle of the night, I was attacked by a falling mosquito net! I am destined to be a red-spotted girl.

Tuesday eve I attended a University lecture, entitled, “The uses of the university revisited” by Sheldon Rothblatt, a professor emeritus from UC Berkeley. I was expecting some sort of discussion of modern universities and their place in society. Instead I got a review of the history of the University of Auckland. I was disappointed and decided I wouldn’t attend his other two lectures in the series. After a little refection, I realized that he was a history professor and he gave a history lecture. I should not have been surprised. (No hard feelings.)

Wednesday after work, I walked to Fraser’s to meet Michelle, my Canadian friend who I met my third day in Auckland. She’s returning to Canada for a while, while waiting for Papua New Guinea to decide whether they are going to grant her a research visa- she’s been waiting ten months already and her whole PhD is hinging on this. Stressful.

After that, I walked to an Irish pub in town to meet up with Ursula, Nick and her sister Hannah (who's also moved here now from the UK) and listen to open mic singer songwriters. I beat them there so stood and chatted with some folks at the bar who immediately asked, “Which part of Canada are you from?” It seems I have an indelible Canadian accent. Of course, I answer, "North Dakota, Canada’s left testicle." Ha.

That puts me at tonight. Reflecting on the week. Thinking about the weekend and where I’ve come so far.

Two months in New Zealand. Two months of students.

I’m still not in love with optometry. My students are mostly rewarding though. It’s hard to believe that they are all about 10 years younger than me. I’ve got some good friends on staff- Ursula and another woman, Anny- both are sharp-minded and energetic women.

I think the remainder of the staff probably underestimates me. It bothered me a little for a while but I decided then I could just do what I want. It’s not really any different than any other time in my life. All the people who didn’t think I could do it… starting back in first grade when I was in the bottom reading group, to university when they didn’t think I could get thru calculus (even though I’d already done calc I & II with As) to my final year of optometry school when my advisor told me he thought I’d never opened a book and didn’t know anything… it just continues. But the positive about people thinking the least of you is that you can surprise them since they have no expectations.

This week I decided I was going to use my downtime productively to think about what I’m doing and where I want to go and then work on my own goals. No sense sitting here treading water.

Next weekend for Easter, I’m headed to the Cook Islands. I read they have snorkeling and relaxation. I’ve reserved a hostel on the beach. Watch for the next update.

Until then, peace to you.

“If you wish to see others smile,
Smile first.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Native Americans in New Zealand?

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get out of work early. Which meant that I finally had time to wash all the clothes I'd stockpiled on the floor at the foot of my bed for the last 5 weeks (yes, I brought lots of underwear). After 5 loads of laundry (equivalent to about 3 US loads), I started working on my tax documents, which proved to be a bit difficult since some of the receipts I need are in my file box at Carrie's house in Portland. I was getting pretty engrossed in my progress though (I secretly enjoy doing my taxes) when I noticed that it was already 7:12PM. I had penciled in "Native American Healer- UPF Peace Concert" into my planner for the night and it started at 7:30PM. I didn't really feel like going, but I rushed out the door and up the hill to the Parnell Community Center anyway.

I got there and paid my $5 to enter, not knowing what I'd gotten myself into. I saw a few empty chairs and headed for them. Everyone was introducing themselves to their neighbors as directed by the lady in the front of the room. The guy behind me (who was in a wheelchair) introduced himself, his mother and friend Rina, then followed up with, "I'm available!" Quite funny.

After an explanation of United Peace Federation, we were introduced to Reuben and Gil Silverbird, a Native American father and son who travel for UPF spreading the message of peace through words and music.

From Reuben (the dad) we heard:
"I believe we will not have peace in the world until we have equality between women and men."
"There is one word that is the root of all the problems today: Greed."
"I believe every time a leader says, 'terrorist,' a terrorist is born. I believe every time a leader says 'peacemaker,' a peacemaker is born."
"I don't want to get political, but I hope Barack Obama wins."

The son, Gil, said:
"Do I need anything? No. Do I need the air to breath? No, it's right here."

They sang songs of different tribes and had us sing along and echo them. Then played wooden flutes while we closed our eyes and let our minds drift. (I went to the river and the woods and my family.) The son played piano with such talent- some of his own compositions first, then "Morning has Broken" and finally the best part of the night, "Imagine". The room was filled with people from age 5 to 90, Native New Zealand Maori, Indian, Canadian, Chinese- all walks of life- singing this song together, I think just as John Lennon would have imagined it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rotorua Pics II (aka I love Aqua)

Happiness in the fog!
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin,
Unto his nest again,
I shall not life in vain.
-Emily Dickinson

Monday, March 3, 2008

C.K. Stead

Last night after work, I hurried downtown to the Maidment Theater to catch a lecture by C.K. Stead. If you haven't heard of him, he's a fantastic New Zealand author and former professor at the University of Auckland. He writes in a down-to-earth, witty manner with an alternative style of thinking. After hearing him read excerpts from several of his novels, I think I have some new homework to do.

Prior to last night, I'd only been exposed to his poems. I felt compelled to take a book of his home (The Red Tram) from the Parnell Library after skimming though a few - they were so accessible that I actually brought the book home and read them!

Two of his readings I found particularly captivating:
My Name was Judas (2006), re-imagines the life and part of Judas of Keraiyot, the great betrayer, in the story of Jesus. It has been shortlisted in the fiction category of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007.
The Secret History of Modernism (2001), "This complex novel fits together so neatly that it might feel glib in the hands of a less skilled writer. But Stead’s crisp prose serves a vigorous and subtle intelligence, so that nothing is closed off. There is always another connection, another layer." - John de Falbe, The Spectator

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rotorua recap

This weekend, I hopped on the bus for a ride to Rotorua, about 4 hours south of Auckland, inland. Rotorua is known for its thermal springs, spas, bubbling mud and colorful sulfurous rock formations.

I arrived at about noon on Saturday and checked into my clean, modern hostel, Treks, then set out on foot to wander the town. I headed over to the city park (Kuirau) to see what the fuss was all about. It was a misty, Portland-type day. I was outfitted in my grey raincoat and grey travel pants to match the sky. Perfect for exploration of the mystical bubbling mud and ponds which would momentarily disappear in a cloud of steam and sulfur. I was enchanted.

After my hours of walking, I stopped into the Polynesian Spa for a soak in the mineral pools. (Rated one of the top spas in the world by Conde Nast.) It was not particularly fancy, but thoroughly relaxing and a perfect activity for the cool, drippy weather. I suited up and slid into a pool overlooking lake Rotorua. After several hours immersed in the heated waters, I re-dressed and headed off for the next adventure: redeeming free drink coupons that I'd received from the hostel.

On the way to the coffee shop, I sighted a sign of my dreams, "Manager's special: Bathrobes $20," attached to a pink-robed mannequin. I went inside and discovered aqua blue was the other choice. I've been watching for a robe for a while, but prices have been upwards of $95, which I consider high for temporary attire. When winter arrives, I'm sure this will be a necessary article of clothing at home. (They don't believe in insulation or central heating here, though it's about the same climate at Portland, so houses tend to run on the very cold side. I think it's a bit of denial on their part.)

After updating my journal in the coffee shop, Capers, I headed off to The Pig & Whistle to use up my second "free drink" coupon. There was a band scheduled, but I stupidly got there an hour early. I presented my coupon and was happily handed a ridiculously full glass of tasty red wine by the bartender. (NZ is actually known for its whites, and I've tried them, but nothing beats a red to me.)

I stood around with my wine and water, searching for someone to talk to. Everyone was occupied with their own clan or the rugby game on the TV set. I wanted to leave actually, but I was thinking, "I can't chug the wine, or I'll fall over on the floor." "Should I waste it?" "I can just stick it out- wait and see what the band plays." "It's my dad's birthday- he would want me to stay and dance." Finally, the band started warming up and I figured I could last a few more minutes of torture.

The first song was rendition of Hootie and the Blowfish or something equally painful. I was not hopeful. But then it was followed by the Rolling Stones, "Start me up." I felt the beat.

A single male got on the dance floor, and at first glance, looked like he was quite the dancer. After further inspection, it was apparent that he thought he was John Travolta and had memorized some dance moves, which he repeated over and over without regard to the beat. But he did eventually encourage people to get on the dance floor, including myself. Funny difference here is that the guys actually dance with each other and there were more men than women dancing.

I met two new girls after announcing, "I don't know anyone here!" Then met a pile of kiwi males and hung out with a group of about 8 of them (all very sweet) for most of the evening. They started out calling me, "Miss Canada," which I nicely corrected and ended up calling me, "Dakota." (Much better!)

I arrived home at about 1:45AM and after a shower, crept stealthily into my hostel bed, only to be awoken at 7:15AM by a Chinese girl with plastic-bag-crumpling-syndrome. It is a dreaded disease of hostellers. I figured, "Bugger it, may as well get up."

After my first bad coffee in NZ (they used too much water), I was off to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It was gorgeous, though being limited by the bus time schedule was less than ideal. I felt quite rushed- we had to see the whole place in about an hour and a half. On my own, I would have taken twice that time. It was visually fantastic- a color lover's dreamworld. Who would even imagine a fluorescent green lake? I never knew such wonders existed.

I wrapped up the weekend with another dreamy four hours on the bus, reflecting peacefully on the weekend, watching the countryside go by-- mountains, small farmhouses, rivers, simple beauty. I'd met people from around the world (from an Aussie 60YO to a Swedish 19YO), discussed ideas and shared moments.

Rotorua (maybe I'm staying after all)

bubbling mud
note signcroquet bathhouse park