Vineyard rains and cherry crumble

More than the breathtaking views [[truly, I sometimes forget to breathe while gazing out at those snow-capped mountain peaks and lush valley fields]]; more than the viticulture lessons that I’m soaking up like a sponge; more than unabashed puppy kisses, rich Italian food, and the joy of watching the cherry tree ripen with each passing day, the last three weeks have given me the gift of solitude and connection.

Some might scoff at the idea of going on ‘vacation’ and purposefully plopping down on the middle of a mountain–no nightlife, no shops, no restaurants, no beach, no civilization, really. But for a country girl at heart–a heart who needs some work– these may have been some of the most abundant few weeks of my whole sabbatical. It’s given me what I craved while I was still at my buzzing office desk in the Seattle metropolis. It’s given me distance from the buzz, time to reflect, space to work on me and the reignited desire to reconnect my body, mind and spirit. Cheesy? Sure; I usually am. True? Yup. No. Doubt.

I’ve spent my days in a slow but unfixed routine…

I wake up to the sound of the birds, not honking cars…

I sip on coffee and savour breakfast while reading the Bible or catching up on EastLake, rather than scarfing down as much caffeine as possible while cursing the HOV lane traffic that shouldn’t be…

I practice yoga without any expectations or distractions or raced agenda. Slow flow. Slow breaths. Strong holds…

I wander out into the vines to work with my hands and nature, where my mind is free to go wherever it needs to go, without an over-saturated calendar of conference calls and decks…

It’s there that I think about God. I pray. A lot. More than I’ve ever prayed before. Maybe it’s that at halfway up the Alps I feel a little bit closer to His house? Maybe it’s the quiet that guides my heart there? Maybe it’s that I saw a snake a few weeks ago and that just screams ‘pray?’ Regardless, real, raw, prayers have been said on the side of this mountain…

It’s there that I think about boys. Boys and men. The difference between the two. The one who broke my heart. The ones who’ve filled my time. The one I think about now. The one I pray for…

It’s there that I think about my family and my friends who feel like family. I do miss them. Four months is a total blink of an eye. No time at all. But it’s enough time to miss Jessica’s graduation and Papa’s health scares and Val’s wedding planning and one girlfriend’s mama-hood announcement. It’s enough time to ‘miss’ in general. And that I do. So hard…

It’s there that I think about what’s next [[such a contradiction to my ‘be present’ prayer that I pray every day]]. Sure, Greece is next week. And then Norway. But what’s next, once I hit American soil? Where do I want to be? Why do I want to be there? How do I want to spend my time? Who should I surround myself with? So many questions. So many ideas. So few conclusions. And thus the prayer repeats…

Sometimes at the end of the day, those rains sweep in over the valley so quickly I can’t even make it back to the house before getting soaked to the bone. And so sometimes I just stay put and let the rain fall on my face.

And then when I’m too cold and wet to bear anymore, I head inside and make homemade cherry crumble.

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True Life: I Live on an Italian Vineyard

This trip has been four months chock full of dreamy, surprising and delightful, but I may have found the trump card here in northern Italy.

There’s this travel secret called Help Exchange [[there are others too, WWOOF & Work Away included]]. Why it’s such a secret, I have no idea, cause it’d have been about the coolest way to spend a college summer or 4 that I could think of. [[Get ON it, Joey, Phillip, Jess & Catie!]]. Truly, it might be the greatest thing invented since wine.

In a nutshell, travelers can apply to go volunteer with hosts from around the world who need any range of help–from feeding baby goats on a farm in Australia to working on a yacht in the Med, to sous-cheffing it up at an organic cooking school in Turkey. In exchange, hosts offer a range of comforts, mostly including lodging and food. It’s pretty much a win-win, no matter how you slice it, though I suppose the richness of the experience largely depends on the host / help match.

But with a little bit of luck finally on my side, I hit the HelpX gold mine of all gold mines on my FIRST try.

Yall, I live on a vineyard. THIS vineyard:vineyard

For at least the next few weeks. I live and work and play and eat and drink on a vineyard with the loveliest Italian couple and their incredible amount of pups. Twenty years ago, Paolo and Marisa bought this little chunk of land nestled in the northern Italian Alps looking out over the Valtellina Wine Valley. They built a gorgeous home, expanded the vineyard and created a total haven up here in nature. A haven which they now graciously share with me.

From my new favorite coffee / wine perch, depending on the time of day, I have an unobstructed view of their sloping vineyard, the valley and river down below, the snow-capped peaks, almost Switzerland and absolutely heaven.coffee perch

It’s perfect timing too, cause the last few weeks have been filled with an unquenchable need to be productive. I know, that sounds crazy… ‘just relax and enjoy the dream you’re living right now,’ they say. For the most part I have, don’t get me wrong. But after four months of relative ‘downtime,’ it was time to entertain my Type-A for a bit.

And here, I find my balance.

I unpacked my suitcase for the first time. I have a room and bathroom to myself, thanks to my generous host family. I get to put my hands to work while I let my mind wander. I have ELEVEN gigantic and gorgeous playmates [[oh, as if Paolo and Marissa aren’t busy enough tending to 4000 bottles of annual wine-worth-of-vineyard AND working full-time, they’re also European champion Bernese Mountain Dog breeders…real life?!]].

I get to be in a kitchen again [[oh, how travel makes me miss this novelty]]. But I don’t get [[nor want]] to be the boss chef, cause Paolo may as well have his own cooking show too. Then we sit together, with that heavenly view, a heaping plate of authentic local cuisine, a glass of red harvested from the grapes not 10 yards away from our table [[10 yards, but 4 years prior]], and they entertain my incessant questions about wine making.food

Around the table, I’ve learned all about the year-round labor of love that producing my favorite good requires. And in June, it’s vine-perfecting-time here at the estate, so I spend my ‘help’ time surrounded by baby grapes, with Michael Buble blaring, the sun tingling my skin, all the while making the vines do what they’re supposed to do and scolding the unruly.IMG_0273-0

What a life metaphor, huh? Unruly as things feel at time, with a little focused TLC, all things grow straighter, stronger and more fruitful.

Raising my coffee cup / wine glass to THAT, from my vineyard home in Italia today, friends.IMG_0292-0

Thicker than water

What a lyrical weekend our trip to the Hunter Valley proved to be. Cousin Julie and her lovely Sean brought us to…wait for it….wine country. And it cements the fact that ‘blood is thicker than water.’ There may be a whole flippin ton of water that separates Julie and me in a normal day, but that Temme blood is thick as a good Port. She gets me.

All weekend she’s laughed, calling herself a ‘nana’ because she likes to sip wine on the porch rather than get sloshed at a pub…cook a healthy herb-glazed chicken and salad in our rented kitchen, rather than go out for fried food…cozy up in bed at a reasonable hour rather than pretend to be an 18 year old who doesn’t need sleep [[I was not said 18 year old, but still]]…lay out on the grass at a country music festival rather than squish up against the stage to dance faces off with aforementioned 18 year olds…If Julie is a nana, then I am a nana too. I think I’ve always been a nana. Good company, that Temme blood. No wonder our actual Nanas live to be 100+ years old…they’ve been practicing for a century afterall.

So, if you aspire to live to be 100+ years old…here is how to practice being a nana when you’re 26 [[27?]]:

  1. Arrange for a private wine tasting at your favorite winery and let Emma teach you all about beautiful local wine making, but then reassure you that it’s all rubbish at the end of the day, cause your palate likes what it likes. Let her pour you a dozen+ sips and leave with a case.
  2. Grab a picnic blanket, head to a country music fest and find space in the grass to sprawl out. When the rains pass and the sun sets and darkness falls, lay back on the blanket and watch the stars [[both shooting and still]] and listen to real artists sing about real life. It feels real good. You’ll smile in the dark, and not for anyone but yourself and God. How real.
  3. Roll out of bed at 7am, lace up your Nikes and go for a run. Not just any run though, go run in the vineyards and let yourself stop to smile so hard at the kangaroos that jump out in front of you and startle your stride. Take pictures of them basking in the sun at the end of the vines and let it sink in that even though you’re in wine country, you’re a million miles from home. Let that smile sink deep down to your soul, and then run the hills.
  4. Rent colorful cruiser bikes with the fashionable baskets, ditch the helmets so you can feel the wind whip your hair around and pedal through the vineyards. Most nana’s would recommend sunscreen, but I quite like the feeling of the warm sun on tingly skin, made better by a cool breeze and a fire in your quads. The uphill burn is made sweet by the downhill tear, with an estate in view…It will all just make you feel like a kid again…a kid motivated by wine anyway.
  5. Drink wine. Drink lots of good, red, wine. Moreso, drink in the bliss of having a glass in hand, surrounded by good people, rich conversation and a beautiful view of the valley with the roos lounging under the olive trees. Drink it all in. All day. Do this day on repeat as often as possible.

Nana-practicing in the Hunter Valley was a soul-filling kind of weekend. Funny though, now that we’re back in Manly Beach, I think I might have found my favorite inspiration to be a truly good nana someday…just follow the Granger Rules:

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If I can live to be 100 years old, living out these rules that Julie and Sean and their two lovely little kiddos model, then I think it could be worth the wrinkles.

Cheers to fine wine, thick blood and good rules.

Hunter Valley

Wish you were here…from New Zealand

That’s it. It’s official. I’m in love with New Zealand. Five years since my last trip to the South Island and I can still confidently report that it is truly one of my favorite little pockets of land in the entire world. It’s just stunning. And it feels so, so good.

In these moments of pure awe, I keep asking myself ‘who, do you wish was here right now?’ Sometimes it makes me think deep, like who appreciates beautiful architecture, or who might need a laugh at this good people watching perch?….but sometimes it’s easy. This was an easy one. Landed in Christchurch, stepped off the plane and into our little Getz rental car and headed south. Easy. Done. Jori, I wish you were here.

jori

Jori loves beautiful more than anyone I know. She hikes and bikes and loves to be outside. This girl does PNW life right. And that’s how I know we should go in on a vacation home in Queenstown together. One day, Jori. One day.

New Zealand is home to some of the best hiking, biking and outside-doing on the planet. We zoomed our little Getz to Dunedin and then Milford Sound…that’s where the ‘feels good’ set in. The last hour of our drive to the lodge took us through winding turns that felt like a PNW pass met the Swiss Alps…all close enough to the windshield it seemed touchable.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound…Kara got it right…it’s magical. Maybe that’s why I thought of Jori so much…never have I seen such magically majestic things work together so seamlessly and impressively to create an even more magically majestic thing….beautiful mountains crash straight into the beautiful Tasman Sea. It’s even more beautiful to do the Fjordlands by boat on a morning cruise with a hot cuppa’ in hand. What a powerful way to start a day…

We used all that housed up power to hike up Key Summit, just a bit out of Milford Sound. And that was magical too…

Jori, you would love Queenstown. I L O V E Queenstown. It’s like Chelan meets German ski town, on steroids. It’s this quaint little adventure-junky-packed town situated right on top of a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains. The shops are full of famous New Zealand merino sweaters, the Ferg Burger lane is full to the brim with salivating travelers and paragliders hang in the sky taking in the sweet, pure air and ‘sweet as’ view. Seriously, can you imagine a more perfect place?

One afternoon in Queenstown, Kara and I hired bikes, stuffed a bottle of wine and two leftover coffee cups in our bags and headed to the lake-front trail. We rode with no agenda. We stopped to sip wine and sit on a dock and talk about God and life and our awe of this place. If Jori were there, I imagine we would have taken a few more Insta-worthy pics and reminisce on PNW weekends. An agenda-less afternoon well spent.

Jori, you would have loved wine day. We loved wine day even more after a slight morning hiccup. We pulled in to AJ Hacketts bungey jumping [[throwback to when Kristen and I jumped off that infamous bridge, the home to the first commercial bungy site in the world]] for a coffee and an adrenaline-stoked-people-watching-sesh. Lil Getz locked us out of the car though, which annoyed the living daylights out of me [[$150 call-out for a car jacker is near enough to cardiac arrest an umemployed backpacker]], but it resulted in one of the funniest sights I’ve ever seen. Yall, we saunter back to the car, even more ready for a 10am Pinot Noir than when we arrived, to see half a dozen people have gathered around Getz. It seems that our locked-out episode was more entertaining than the line of people jumping off bridges in the background. Locals and tourists alike had every inch of window space covered, peering into the windows to help guide the effort. I was hot to trot, but found myself giggling over how entertaining it turned out to be. An unplanned lesson in civility, kindness and making lemonade, in hindsight.

Getz lockout

Back to wine day. It was utterly perfect. Stunning estates, beautiful Pinot Noirs and Sauv Blancs. We planned to hit half a dozen on our way to Wanaka but that’s the beautiful thing about this type of traveling…we didn’t achieve such plan when three forty-something-San Fran-Iron Man-guys distracted us for the rest of the afternoon. We sat out at an old converted church turned cellar door with a view of the mountains and a paddock full of sheep swapping stories with these guys-turned friends. A few bottles of Rose and cheese platters later and the whole afternoon disappeared. We couldn’t have planned it better.

Yep, Jori, you would have loved every minute. I wish we were a threesome for this week, except for the night we had to sleep in the Getz [[you wouldn’t have fit]] and except for the time we had to put on every piece of clothing we owned to get even CLOSE to our 7kg / pp weight limit for our flight back to Sydney. At 4am, it was an exhausted giggle fest trying to work out what we could shove into what pocket and how many layers we could possibly put on…Yeah that mess is for the birds and I don’t know that they would have allowed even one more tiny giggling, desperate American gal on the plane without emptying our wallets for the umpteenth time.

Other than that, you were fondly thought of and sorely missed, sweet-as-girl!

good.