Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Big News: Endless Summer!

So, the nature of my blog is going to be changing a little, for the following reason:

On September 18th, Matt and I will be moving temporarily to New Zealand!

Yeah! For real! There's so much I have to say about this that I hardly know where to start! So we'll go with this:

We are enrolled in the BUNAC Work New Zealand program, which manages 18 to 35-year-olds traveling to NZ on a Working Holiday Visa. The program provides support with finding housing and employment, as well as with logistics like setting up a bank account, getting a phone, etc. Our visas will be good for 12 months, and are repeated entry visas, meaning we can leave and enter NZ on the visas for as long as they are valid. We will be fully eligible to take any legal employment while we are there. We are currently scheduled to return to Portland at the end of May next year, but we can change our return date without much trouble, should we need to come home early or if we decide we just can't leave yet!

We've actually been thinking of doing this program for a long time. We originally planned to go last fall, but what with being laid off, relationship difficulties and a number of other factors, it wasn't right. This time around, we are both in a good emotional and financial place, we are looking forward to not dealing with winter in Portland, and living somewhere where mild-weather surfing is at our doorstep. For me, I am getting antsy to travel and shake my sillies out, and Matt wants more experience in the surf industry. We're in our twenties, we don't have anything in particular tying us down, and we want to see some of the world, and really experience it, not just be tourists. This is an answer to all of those things. And, it just sounds like fun.

Why New Zealand? Because it's rad. It's a beautiful country with kind people and a lot of job opportunities, surfing everywhere, an exchange rate that's in our favor, and when it's winter here, it's summer there! Oh, and I've been there before, so I can attest to all this. Here's proof (January 2007):

 Me and my friend Provo in Wellington

We plan to be back at the beginning of summer here, in time to get summer jobs at least. Matt is undecided as to where he wants his career to go from here, so he's still figuring out the long-term stuff. Next September, I will be entering the Masters of Public Health program at Portland State University. Some of you may remember me talking about taking the GRE and applying to PSU- I was accepted this spring into the Health Promotion track and have deferred my admission until fall term 2011. If all goes well, I will be able to go to school full-time, which means graduating with my MPH in the spring of 2013. Much of what happens when we return to Portland depends on our luck and work situation in NZ, which in turn will determine our financial situation upon our return.

As for leaving our employment here in Portland, Matt has a temporary job for all of July and August, so that works out very well for him. Me, I will be quitting my job. I had spoken to my supervisor a few weeks ago, right after we bought our plane tickets, and yesterday at our staff meeting I announced my departure to the rest of my coworkers. It was one of the harder things I've ever had to do.  I truly love where I work (a non-profit refugee resettlement program), and my coworkers are some of the best I have ever had. It will be really gut-wrenching to leave, but I will be ending something great to move on to something else great, so I can take comfort in that. I will be working right up until the end. My last day at work will be Tuesday, September 14th. As for our housing situations here, I should tell you that Matt moved in with me, effective the third week of June! So that has been a big change all in itself, but his lease was up and there was little point renewing it when we are leaving the country in three months, and this way we will both save money. I will be terribly sad to move out of my awesome apartment and leave behind my beloved garden, but again, all good things must end, and at least it's so we can move on to another good thing.

I have been wanting to let everyone in on the big news, but like any other big announcement, it is prudent to wait until everything is sorted out and official, which for us meant getting formally accepted into the work visa program, determining travel dates and buying plane tickets, and giving notice at work. So I couldn't even really say anything about Matt moving in and extra motivation for budgeting!We are still working on the final visa applications, and facing the mountain of work that is moving out, storing our belongings, leaving the country, and tying up all the loose ends involved.

As for the nature of my blog, I will still be focusing on simple living, but this will also become a travel blog. There is little doubt that we will be living simply and frugally during our travels, so that will still be a major factor here. But be prepared for lots of photos, updates, and sagas about our wanderings all over the Land of the Long White Cloud. This will be where my family and friends will be following along, as they have followed my blogs during my past travels. It is a new thing for me to broadcast my travels to a wider audience in blogland, so I hope you will all support that and understand that I am also writing for my family and close friends. I hope to still be a resource to those in the world of simple living, and I really hope you come along for the international ride!
Ahipara Beach, Far North. I'm fifth from the left.

If you have any interest in my previous travel blogs, here are the links (before I knew how to upload pictures into a blog- just a warning!):

My semester in London, fall of 2004:

Trip to New Zealand with my good friend Provo, January of 2007:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sunday in the Garden

I spent a few hours in the garden yesterday morning, before the heat really set in. It was time to harvest my garlic! An incredibly satisfying task, not unlike the treasure hunt for potatoes :)

Final count was 62 heads of garlic (!!), at least half of a pretty decent (golf ball) size, the rest slightly smaller. I got to do one of my favorite gardening tasks ever, braiding garlic! My four big braids are now hung up in the shade outside the back door to cure. It takes about two weeks for garlic to cure and get all the moisture out of the skin and stem so they won't mold during storage.

The weather should be perfect for curing- highs are supposed to be between 80 and 87 F all week, and it's supposed to be good and dry.

Once I pulled out all the garlic, I was actually able to climb in behind my tomato forest, and find that the cherry tomatoes are going nuts! These are Sungolds (I found at least 15 bunches like this):

With more space open in the garden and easier access to the fence, I pulled out all the pea plants along the fence, which had given out, and weeded the whole garden. I also did some general tidying up, including binding two unruly lemon balm plants to the fence and weaving some of the tomato vines back into their cages.
I love the feeling of having a clean, tidy garden. It looks much less crowded now of course, and more open with only the passionflower vine on the fence.
I also put in a little work propping up my sweet peas on their trellises. They were in a big tangle on the ground before.
There's nothing quite like a warm summer morning in the garden, especially when I get to see the work I put in planting and mulching my garlic last fall pay off. In addition, I know that I have enough garlic to last me a long while, for a fraction of the cost of buying it, not to mention the satisfaction of growing it. My seed garlic (Chesnok Red) came from Hood River Garlic, and their website was incredibly helpful with planting and harvesting instructions and a garlic calendar for tracking the progress of my plants.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Early Potato Harvest

Sunny weather has created a major turnaround in gardenworld here. I got back from being out of town for a week (my neighbor Julie was watering my garden while I was gone), and found everything about a foot taller!

Some discoveries made:

My squash plants are beginning to travel.

...and make their way up the fence!

My onions are beginning to grow bulbs, in spite of the dense soil.

Cabbages! Cabbages cabbages cabbages!

My garlic is now drying out (and blown about by high winds) and ready for harvesting later this week. 

My sweet peas are blooming!

Alas, not all is well. I noticed some brown spots on my potato plants a few weeks ago and kind of ignored them in hopes that they would go away. But, of course, that never works. I came home from vacation to find this:
And this:
Sigh. With advice from my mom, and assistance from the WSU Hortsense website and that of the Cornell University Extension, I diagnosed this as Late Blight, the infamous disease that led to the Irish Potato Famine. Everything I read noted that it is associated with high moisture and medium temperatures- exactly what we experienced for all of June. Since it can affect tomatoes as well, and since my neighbor's potato plants are right on the other side of the fence, I made the decision to have an early potato harvest, in hopes that it will prevent the blight from spreading, and to get the potatoes themselves out of the ground before they are affected.

Regardless of circumstances, harvesting potatoes is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the garden. It is the most satisfying of harvests, the best kind of treasure hunt, and I have really good memories of digging potatoes with my dad while growing up. I was really tickled to see that Rhonda over at Down to Earth feels the same way about potatoes, which she wrote about in this post last month.

From left to right: Russian Bananas, Yukon Golds, Red Norlands, and Yellow Finns. 
Not a bad harvest, considering how early it was in the season, and certainly enough to last me and Matt for the next couple of months. Only the yellow finns were misshapen, so hopefully I caught everything before the blight got too far, or else it was a strain of the blight that only affected the leaves. Has anyone else dealt with potato blight and can you tell me more about it?

We also had to catch up with the rest of the garden, so there were bunching onions, kale, peas, nasturtiums, and of course the potatoes to make a dinner of steamed potatoes and a salad with a marjoram/lemon thyme/lemon oregano vinaigrette. Oh, and of course I can't forget the first four ripe sungold cherry tomatoes, each about the size of a marble!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Back Home, and a Few Photos

We're back from a fantastic week spent in my hometown, for the wedding of my brother. Settling back into home, here are a few of my favorite moments of the week:
Decorating with flowers from my parents' garden.

Pre-wedding brunch at my childhood home.

Playing in the pond with my little cousins.

Dancing with my newly married brother.

Watching my dad dance with his new daughter-in-law.

Experiencing the infectious happiness of the day with Matt.

Campfire and s'mores with relatives the night before heading back to Portland.

And this.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Harvest and Out of town

Now into full summer mode with almost nonstop sunshine for the last 10 days or so, the garden (and the humans) are perking right up! Temperatures are finally getting HOT, and the plants are loving it!

Saturday's venture into the garden yielded the first new potatoes (Yukon Golds and Red Norlands), a few heads of fresh garlic (official harvest will occur at the end of July), more garlic scapes, a couple quarts of peas (picked for me by my kindly neighbor, as they are all growing on her side of the fence!), a gallon or so of kale, and chives and nasturtiums to round it out!

I don't think there's any meal that surpasses fresh new potatoes, boiled and served with butter, salt and pepper, and chopped chives:

With sauteed garlic scapes:

And fresh sweet pod peas sauteed in sesame oil and topped with a little soy sauce:

Things are moving right along in the garden. I found the first little green tomatoes, and these baby squashes on my Queensland Blue plants:

My vining nasturtiums are going absolutely bonkers, and getting hard to control! Here's a tendril that wound around a salvia flower and snapped it clean off its own plant!:

I hope you all are enjoying the bounty of the season, wherever you may live, and enjoying good food eaten with good people. And with that, I am going to be taking a bit of a blog break, as the summer has finally reached its pinnacle for me. An event I have been looking forward to for ages, the wedding of my brother Tighe and his lovely fiancee Lisia, will be taking place this next Wednesday, the 14th! So Matt and I are headed up to my hometown of Newport, Washington for 8 days, leaving on Saturday morning, for a week of wedding festivities and family reunion. I will be back into blogworld sometime after July 19th. Until then, I leave you with this meal grown entirely in my backyard, served simply, and eaten happily by two people on a sunny summer day in Portland!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Busy Busy Busy

As the summer is picking up and my life gets more and more hectic, I am finding it harder to stay true to my simple living goals. I think this is one of the biggest challenges of living a frugal and simplistic life: when you live in a city and work full-time, and then your social life and obligations begin to grow, how do you stay true to not spending extra, not cutting corners to make things easier, etc? When I get busy, I find I am more often tempted to go out to eat, purportedly to save time, and that chores fall by the wayside because I am "too busy." It's funny the mental games we play with ourselves, because in all reality, if I go out to eat instead of cooking for myself, I don't feel as healthy or satisfied with myself as I would if I actually cook a meal, and I know for a fact I am spending more money than is necessary. I have to remind myself constantly that cooking a meal at home is a far better use of my time, and that completing a chore usually only takes a few minutes, and I waste more time if I sit around thinking about doing it or thinking about how much time it will take!

One of my ongoing goals is to always have the ingredients for quick meals on hand. I cook a batch of beans whenever I am able, and put them in meal-sized containers in the freezer- beans with some rice and cheese makes a good healthy lunch for me at work. If I can pick lots of kale and peas from my garden, wash them and keep them in bags in the fridge, then I can throw together salads very easily. By spending the time to put together a big batch of something, I save time over the next week when it comes to making lunches or cooking dinner. And if I have something that I know is easy to prepare, I'm less tempted to go out for dinner!

Does anyone else have this problem? What are your solutions?