6 keys to living a long and happy life: Lessons from my 98 year old grandma

Baka & Deka on their travels

Today is the 10 year anniversary of my grandma’s passing. Baka was born in 1911 in Yugoslavia. She was married young, spent summers travelling to the mediterranean, had her first and only child (my mother) at age 40, moved to Sweden in the 60s to avoid political conflicts and then moved to Canada in the early 90s to live with us as a full-time grandparent.

She didn’t speak English, she couldn’t drive a car, she never had a job, but she was the Aussie definition of a “Legend” and she inspired everyone she met.

These are the lessons I learned from her about how to live a long, healthy and joyous life. And how to be a well and truly beloved human being.

1. Stay curious

I firmly believe that the reason Baka lived so long, with so much youthful abundance was because she needed to know. She read the Serbian and Canadian newspapers, she read books, she watched the news, she listened to the radio, she sat in her tufted leather chair by the front window and made sure to watch the daily school bus pick ups and drop offs (well past our own school days). She loved meeting our friends, boyfriends, neighbours…and calling up her friends in Serbia to tell them all the gossip. If we were eating something different that she’d never seen (nachos, Chinese food, etc.) she’d always want “just a little bit” to try. She didn’t go to university, I’m not sure if she even finished high school, but she was always learning and always willing to explore something new. She would have LOVED snapchat filters. Curiosity was the spark that kept her flame burning bright.

2. Stay playful

Despite not speaking English and not really leaving the house beyond the garden (I don’t know if she ever actually went out on her own without someone with her), she was beloved by all the neighbourhood kids and our school friends. Everyone who met Baka was instantly charmed. She always had this smile like we were all going to get up to some mischief and a twinkle in her eye that made you feel like you were in on an amazing secret. She was funny, somehow, without needing to speak the same language. She didn’t take life too seriously, she loved to tease and she was always ready to laugh. She basically became the neighbourhood’s grandma. Everyone loved Baka.

3. Never stop moving

I don’t think she ever owned a pair of running shoes, let alone workout gear (hah!), but she was someone who never stopped moving. When I read about Blue Zones (the people who have lived the longest), one of the key indicators is constant natural movement every 20 minutes. Subconscious habitual movement. She would spend the day cleaning the house, cooking, sweeping leaves, trying to clear snowy pathways or move the garbage bins out (to the point where my parents worried people would think they were forcing her to perform heavy labour haha), but she needed to be up, moving around and busy. I think this constant movement is what led her to be so mobile right up until the day she passed away. It kept her quality of life so high for so long.

4. Be physically affectionate

I will never forget what it feels like to hug and be hugged by Baka. The feeling of holding her hand. Or sitting on her lap…even when I was a grown woman and she had become shorter than me she would say “I’m tough, just sit!”. What we couldn’t always communicate to each other through her broken English and my 20 words of Serbian didn’t matter when she was such a solid, physical presence in my life. No matter what was going on, the power of a hug from her could fill me with all the calm and grounding I needed. It made me understand and realise the importance of touch.

5. Have faith, have rituals

Baka was religious…but not. She was the kind of religious you would also be if you were born in 1911. She would go to church on special occasions and she would cross herself when something was important. She had various rituals for various events: lighting candles, baking amazing sweet bread with a lucky coin inside (whoever got the piece with the coin would have good fortune), and fasting every Friday (no meat or dairy). She loved to tell fortunes with playing cards, and flipping over Turkish coffee cups to see your fortune. She had her things; we didn’t always know why or what was going on (although we wish we’d paid more attention now), but they brought some structure and grounding, a greater sense of purpose outside of our day-to-day lives.

6. Don’t worry, be happy

And finally, she was calm. She was steady. She was there for us always, holding space. Her room was a haven from whatever was going on in our worlds. If we were really upset she would give us a hug, entertain it for a few moments, but then smile and find a way to make things light. Sometimes that would be a trigger…“Baka!”, when all you wanted to do was wallow in your misery, but her lightness was contagious and you couldn’t help but feel like…well, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all. If you were in her orbit, things were always going to be ok.

And some other Baka wisdom I will never forget…

  • Always pull down the back of your shirt/cover your lower back or you’ll get sick!
  • Always have a switch/stick/something from the backyard to threaten a smack with (and be ready to say “I’m going to hit you with this!” but never carry through)
  • Always keep sweets in your drawer to give to your loved ones, be it a tin of mints or a few days old timbit in tupperware.
  • The best show on television is Murder She Wrote….oh Jessica! Honourable mentions to her other favourite As Time Goes By (she loved Dame Judi).

Volim te Baka, moje sunce 🌞

– Alex xx


Tnfld Podcast | Ep05: Helen, from big dreams and horses to the man with the golden glints

Or listen via iTunes 

Hometown / Sutherland Shire, Sydney, Australia
Currently resides / Braidwood, New South Wales, Australia
Job / Owner and Instructor at The Saddle Camp

A little bit about…

Helen is an incredible woman with a lifelong love for horses that she’s turned into a successful business, The Saddle Camp. Despite growing up in the biggest city in Australia, she knew from a young age that she wanted to own a horse riding farm and did everything she could to follow her heart and see that dream through. She’s an entrepreneur, a mother, a wife, an environmentalist, a teacher and a million other things wrapped into one. Helen’s story is one of epic romance, following your inner voice, pursuing your passions and creating the life you want to live. And she was kind enough to let us camp out on her land while we were getting ready to launch Tnfld, so she’ll forever be a part of our story too.  

Helen’s advice for living life Tnfld
  • Just start small. If you go all in, not everything works out right at the get go. It’s good if you start in small doses and you can work it out as you go.
  • Don’t doubt where you are because you’re where you’re meant to be right now.  
  • Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you feel alive because the world needs more people who feel alive. (one of her fav quotes from Howard Thurman)
Our favourite quotes
  • “Staying in Sydney was never an option. I know myself, I’ve known myself for a very long time. And I have been in that situation. And it’s like being a robot, even though I knew I was working towards something. It was keeping your head down and your bottom up, keep ploughing through because you hope there’s something better on the other side. It just wasn’t on the cards for me and I understand it’s like that for a lot of other people too.”
  • “They (horses) are so wise and they put up with so much. The fact that you can have such a big animal focused on you and happy to follow – I point my finger and they’re like ‘happy, no problem’. It’s just amazing to have that kind of connection with such a beautiful animal. I love their calmness and their wisdom and their focus.”
  • “The whole town (Braidwood) is just the greatest community I could imagine; you can be as sociable or as reclusive as you like, whenever you like, nobody’s offended. Everyone walks their own track; they’ve all got their own passions. Everybody’s very accepting and will step in to help you at the drop of a hat, but you don’t have to speak to them for several months.”
  • “Just looking around. Sometimes you just glimpse up and go…Oh. My. Goodness this is amazing, this is just so beautiful. I’m so lucky. I’m very, very lucky.”

 

Helen was lovely enough to send us some written answers to our questions, so come back for more after you take a listen to the podcast!

What do you do for work?

I teach horse riding at Saddlecamp. I run fun horse riding camps for girls through the holidays and weekends, and teach horse riding after school and to tiny tots in school hours.

What was your life like before Saddlecamp?

I was working full time in North Sydney in the travel industry and studying Travel & Tourism Business Management 3 nights a week at TAFE, near Central Station. I’d go to the gym or play touch football the other 2 nights, go clubbing after TAFE on Friday nights, and dance til dawn. And on Sundays I’d work at Darkes Forest Riding Ranch taking out trail rides. I’d been dreaming of owning my own horse riding farm since I was 9. I was 21 when I gave up my full time job to start my business with party ponies, carriage rides and riding lessons. That was 21 years ago.

How would you describe your life now and what’s the difference between your current life and your old life?

Now I work from home. My office is straight outside my bedroom door and looks out through the Tack Room Glass Doors to the horses and paddocks and bush outside. I’ve got 6 amazing horses that I work with each day, a beautiful property with loads of relaxed wildlife, really lovely guests that stay and amazing girls that I get to teach riding to. And I have 3 wonderful little sons and a great husband. Before I took the leap of starting my own business I was frustrated but very focussed. I knew where I wanted to be, but had to wait until all my pieces were in the right place before I could “jump off that cliff”.

What does your average day look like?

I start at 6 with breakfast at the computer checking emails and typing up the running sheet for the day and aim to finish up my work by 9.30 and in bed for 10 pm. 7 days a week.

It’s just been the last 12 months that it’s been so nasty. Because of the drought, the cost of feed went up, and my local riders were affected too and bookings fell. By August I had to let the last of my Managers go to keep within my prime costs – so I’ve been teaching riding and caring for the horses, running the office with bookings and book-keeping, cleaning and making beds in the Clubhouse and Tiny Houses Accommodation, and cooking and serving in the Café.

I’ve got checklists for all 3 roles and through the school term, I give myself an hour at each role before switching to the next one. On a good day I can get 3 x 3 hour cycles in before I start teaching riding after school – then I cook dinner and grind through the kids’ homework, and clean up.

Its easier in the holidays and on weekends because I have other young girls working that can take over the regular tasks like feeding & caring for the horses, and my sons don’t have homework. I teach from 8.30 to 4, then the students put the horses away while I cook dinner, bake for the Cafe and clean. Then I take them out for a swim at the river or on a spotlighting tour in the ute. Feed them hot chocolates and popcorn, and put a movie on for them and fall in bed.

It’s not sustainable – but I couldn’t think how else to get through the crisis. I sent a letter to the Business Enterprise Centre in December to ask if they could see a better solution, and a rep spent 2 days going through everything here – my procedures, financials, and testing results, my business plan and said if I could just hold it together until 29 January when everyone goes back to school, I could take 2 weeks off to recover, and going forward cut out 2 days of after-school riding, and get a tutor to help with the boys homework. I’ve had 5 days off teaching riding now, and I’ve nearly caught up on my paperwork. But I’m feeling much better, and think this is a great plan for the next 12 months. My riders have been very understanding, and my sons love the tutor.

What are the small things you do on a day-to-day basis to bring you into the present and bring joy?

I look around. It’s much easier now that everything’s green after the rain and things are growing. I downloaded the Inature app this week, because I’m seeing grasses I’ve never seen before, and I’m so thrilled that there’s growth again in the paddocks. I spend a quiet moment with a horse. They ground me, and I always feel so blessed that they’re happy to spend time with me too. They’re looking so much happier now too that there’s grass! When they’re not with me their heads are down grazing, and it’s a happy herd. That fills me with joy. And I hug my family a lot too. I tell them how great they are, and thank them for their help.

Who do you surround yourself with? Who do you have in your inner circle?

My inner circle is very small right now! Rob, my husband, is generally all I need to download everything onto and set me back on track. But I’ve got a really fantastic community and amazing neighbours who are all very passionate about their own “callings”, and always ready to lend a hand or offer advice – or just to talk about their own exciting projects so I can escape my own head for a bit. But whenever I’m doing my manual jobs I listen to a podcast. I think of them as friends in my inner circle too.

How would you describe the vibe in your life?

I’m always thinking about the vibe in my life! I love being positive and enthusiastic, but I’m a bit sensitive and little things can bring me down. So I avoid the news, sad movies and books. And if I’m having trouble getting out of my head I’ve got plenty of podcasts to bring me back up again. Tnfld is now 1 of them.

Do you have any health hacks? 

Luckily my work is pretty healthy. I’m outside a lot – running, walking, jumping and swimming at the river with the riders. And we have easy access to lots of great organic produce from our neighbours and our own garden, and bush tucker when we’re out on trail. It’s great to see a lot of the children really into healthy food choices too – the school system has done an amazing job these last few years. We always have our water bottles close by too. The last few months I’ve eaten way too much sugar to keep me going, but now that things are quietening down I can be much more thoughtful about what I eat.

How have you grown the most in the last few years?

I learnt how to make a profit! I thought it would happen organically, but all our profit would go straight into infrastructure for the business. A few years ago, I realized I’d forgotten about our GST quarterly payment and spent it on an undercover tie up area for the horses. My husband had found roof trusses at his dad’s and said he could make it that week. So I was a bit rushed and not thinking clearly. I’d just turned 40 and when I realized my mistake I wondered for the first time if my dream was just stupid and I should get a real job and stop risking my family’s home.

Instead of asking God for help, I started asking Siri. I asked her if it was time to let the dream go, and she came up with lots of great inspiring stories, one about a lady having to eat caterpillars to survive but it was totally worth it because she got through to making her dream a reality. I thought my life wasn’t that bad yet, so I started asking questions about how to make more profit, and she found me a book called “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz. I live by his system now, and have 14 bank accounts, and every week I make my 5% Profit Payment into a savings account. We’re using it to build our house, and should be in by this time next year.

What are your biggest challenges right now? 

Climate change. I’m using Alan Savoury’s Holistic Management to manage the paddocks. I’m trying to give them as much resilience as I can from these weather swings. Each paddock is getting a 90 day recovery period. I’m trying to keep mulch over the bare patches. And I’m playing around with “cocktail paddocks”, throwing out different varieties of seeds just hoping that something will grow with whatever change of weather we get.

I’m trying to keep the wildlife safe, with troughs that the wallabies and possums can safely drink from. Rob and I went for a walk on New Year’s Eve and found the dam’s edge littered with hundreds of dead froglets. They still had tails so it means their lungs hadn’t developed enough for them to get out of the water. Further up the hill, there were loads of dead worms on the bare soil and above that it looked like someone had tipped chemicals in big patches across the grass. It was salt that had washed out of the hill in a big flush of rain and killed all the grass, frogs and worms. The only thing I can do is get as much vegetation growing on the bare ground before it happens again.

I’m keeping the horses slightly overfed so they can cope with the crazy hot days and swings to cold snaps. These last school holidays we had a few problems with heat stroke – 1 girl collapsed and we rushed her to hospital, and others were vomiting. So I’m making everyone put electrolyte tablets in their drink bottles, and telling everyone the danger signs to look out for so we can keep each other safe. And really forcing everyone to keep eating so there’s something in their tummies. On those really hot days we changed our program so we started with the horses at 6 am, put them away in the hottest part of the day, and rode again at 6 at night.

All the girls staying, and their parents, know our bush fire plan. And now that we’ve gone through a few blackouts we’ve got the generator set up so we can keep the fridges going. I had 13 people to feed in a blackout that went for 18 hours. I think we rocked getting through that one! The girls said it was their best camp ever… I’ve noticed when everything’s going wrong, our riders seem to enjoy it much more. Everyone gets involved in planning to get through the crisis, and being part of the solution.

What have you learnt about yourself in the past few years and have you surprised yourself in any way?

I’ve learnt that the better my questions the more helpful answers I get. And everyone’s happy to give answers.

How have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? 

I’m scared of the dark and of being alone, and when I moved onto my property 15 years ago I was alone and had no electricity or running water – for about 14 months. I took in a stray dog to keep me company, and I had my horses outside. And I spent a LOT of time socializing – with friends in town, working and joining committees. At the time I was also giving Ghost Story Tours around Braidwood in my horse drawn Carriage on Saturday nights. I was fine while I had my passengers with me, but putting away the carriage and horse and getting back home at night would terrify me.

It only started because I was giving rides around town like restaurant transfers and historic tours, and a really nice man said “Helen, its summer now, but what are you going to do in Winter when no-one wants to be out in the cold”, and I said I’d tell ghost stories. And he said “Really? Because this is what happened to me…” And all these people told me the most amazing experiences they’d had in the different houses and landmarks around town. I guess the end result is I met so many amazing people that still make time for me today, I’ve got some great stories to tell, and I made it through to where I really want to be.

What are your core values?

Live and let live… Do my best to care for my horses, my family and my riders. Horses come first but everyone here knows that.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

To start a Girls Only Sleepover Horse Riding Camp where everything is pink, fluff and sparkles. I thank that man every day.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give someone else?

Howard Thurman’s “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” And start small!

What’s the motto you currently live by?

Luck favours the mind that is prepared.

What part of your life are you focusing on now?

At the moment, just getting my head together. Things have changed – I think this drought might be our new normal. If I can’t afford a permanent staff, how can I still live my dream without losing my mind. I’m pretty sure there’s a way, but this year’s focus is on working it out. There’s a lot of maths and research to do.

When do you feel most free?

Cantering bareback through paddocks on my favourite horse. But I often feel free when I look around me. I don’t need to stop – just look around and say a quiet thank you.

What’s next in your adventure?

I’m dying to sit down and make QR Codes for our bush walks. I’ve got fantastic videos of an Aboriginal Elder walking around Saddle Camp talking about the Bush Food growing here, and the different types of vegetation and how it was used by his ancestors, and the stories that go with them. I’ve also got some ghost stories about the area, and the white settlement history. And with our grant for “Corridors for Biodiversity and Carbon Farming” I’ve got some great information about the wildlife and their habitat and scats and tracks to look out for from the ecologists who visit. I’d love to have the kids ride horses or walk along with their phones and scan the code and see Noel telling them about what they’re looking at. And I’d really love to serve more Australian Native food in our Café.

Inspired by Helen? Check out The Saddle Camp on social…

Insta | @saddle_camp

Facebook | @saddlecamp

Helen’s Favourites

Podcasts

Books


Tnfld Podcast | Ep04: Josh, from ambitious dropout to dream maker

Hometown / Auckland, New Zealand
Currently resides / Bronte Beach, Sydney, Australia 
Job / Full Stack Web Developer

A little bit about…

Josh is truly living a 2019 life. He’s found a way to have both work and play in the best way that suits him and his needs. A lot of that came with knowing himself and what would and wouldn’t work for him. A lot of people think “Oh, I want to be a digital nomad” without actually thinking about what that could mean (financial instability, bad wifi, the temptations of being in paradise, but not being able to enjoy it). As a full-stack developer he could have easily gone that route, but he knew being a full-time digital nomad wasn’t right for him. He wanted there to be a separation between work and travel so that he could fully enjoy his travel time and BE THERE 100%. But short trips weren’t going to cut it. So when he got back from Bali after a month he had a proposition for his boss…

Josh’s advice for living life Tnfld
  • Ask for what you want, especially at work, whether that’s more vacation time, flexible hours, a work from home option, etc. “It’s 2019 I feel like we should be able to ask for what we want and not always feel like we work for our jobs, but that our jobs can work for us too. And we can kind of create this life – why do negotiation always have to be about money?”
  • Do different things to break out of your comfort zone: “Every time I’ve made these drastic life changes it’s been kind of scary, but when I look back later I always think – wow that’s the best thing I ever did.”

  • March to the beat of your own drum. If you can’t hear that beat, do the things you need to do to grow your inner voice and your confidence in that voice. Over time you can teach yourself to be more confident with your decisions, with change, and ultimately with yourself.

Our favourite quotes

“For me the dream life would be a 50/50 mix of both travel and work. Take three months off for travel then come back and have a [9-5 work] lifestyle and nourish that other side of my brain [for the next six months]. The dream is to do both. So I asked for it. No one’s ever asked and no one thinks to, because negotiation is such an ancient thing. No one really asks for what they want and I thought…what do I really want?”

“For the first time in my life I came back to work from the holidays and I didn’t have the post-holiday blues. I was ready to work. [I thought] “Man my life is sick, I’m ready to work”…it was my choice to be there. That was the difference.”

“People say to you “Oh, I wish I could do that” and I think, “Why can’t you?” I’m not special. I’ve had nothing given to me, not a cent from anyone ever….but I’ve always just gone for it and slowly over time I’ve taught myself to be more and more confident with those decisions and making those changes.”

Josh’s Motto

In 20 years’ time you’ll always regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.

Inspired by Josh? Check out his travels on Insta…

thekiwinomad_ (he’s also an amazing photographer)

Josh’s Favourites

Some of the books that influenced him the most when he was first starting out…


Tnfld Podcast | Ep03: Abi, from fast-paced Londoner to Bondi buddha

Hometown / Swindon, United Kingdom
Currently resides / Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia 
Job / User Experience Designer

A little bit about…

Abi grew up in a small town in England and spent most of her twenties working her way up the corporate ladder in London. She loved big city life, had a great group of friends and a flourishing career, but found herself being drawn to a more conscious way of living. 

One day, not too long after starting a new job, she had an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia while sitting at her desk. She realised she had been filling her life with more and more unique hobbies to fight her boredom and needed a real break from corporate life. 

She (bravely) asked her new boss for a 3-month sabbatical and took off to travel the world. As expected, she wasn’t quite the same when she returned from her travels and was inspired to embark on a new adventure across the pond.

Abi’s Motto

“I’m always trying to question things. The more conscious you become in your life the more questions arise out of things you do in the day to day.”

Abi’s advice for living life Tnfld
  • Be extremely protective of your work life balance and try to find ways to bring your passions and interests into your job.
  • Try having no plans and taking a few hours for yourself every weekend to do your own thing and give yourself space for spontaneity.
  • Be conscious of your body and the health of your mind and invest in them.
  • Stop and check in. Notice the little things. It’s insane how much more awesome life is when you do.
Our favourite quote

It’s been a real exercise in consciously trying to craft a life that I really actively want to be a part of rather than just drifting.

I know the importance of doing something every day that’s good for mind, body, soul. There’s a longevity in contentment if I do that.”

Inspired by Abi? Give her a follow on Insta…

abi.w_


Tnfld Podcast | Ep02: Ben, from corporate to creative

Hometown / Northern Beaches, Sydney, Australia
Currently resides / Berlin, Germany
Job / Freelance strategy and design consultant, co-founder of The Cultive

A little bit about…

Ben is the kind of guy you can throw into any challenge and he will not only adapt, but find a way to thrive. He’s a natural leader and has an inherent ability to infuse a sense of calm and ease into even the most stressful of situations.

Earlier this year he and his partner Caitlin left their corporate lives in Sydney and embarked on a three month adventure through the European summer. They’re now settled in Berlin and thriving.

Ben’s Motto

“Your energy is contagious. The energy that you give off, whether that’s happy, sad, irritated – whatever you’re projecting really affects everyone around you and that’s what you end up getting back.”

Ben’s advice for living life Tnfld
  • Take advantage of your environment. Instead of bracing against an upcoming cold winter, reframe it in your mind – build your winter nest, find a way to relish the time indoors and use the space you’ve carved out to get creative.
  • Do things straight away – even chores. Just do it when it should be done. Do it as soon as you can and then you’re on your way to the next thing.
  • If there’s something you want to achieve, focus all your upcoming decisions towards making that goal, even if they’re tiny little actions. Every bit will help you realise the big picture.
Our favourite quote

“I always think that happiness is a hard concept to talk about…I think about it in terms of satisfaction or fulfilment.

Being here [Berlin] is a totally different experience. It gives us not necessarily more happiness, but more opportunity for satisfaction in terms of fulfilment, because of the flexibility that we’ve managed to build in. So yeah, there’s more choice everyday…where we can wake up and say ‘are we going to work on this…are we going to work on that? Or maybe today we won’t work at all….have a new experience…go out to the national park.”

Inspired by Ben? Give him a follow on Insta…

@thebentweedie  |  @thecultive

Ben’s Favourites
Books
Podcasts
People

Moving to Australia pt3: How I stayed

So I visited Australia, I fell in love with Australia, and then I moved to Australia. But the tricky part was…how would I stay?

Home and away (but actually the beach the TV show is filmed on)

Making the decision to move to another country is a giant step. Buying the ticket, telling your family and friends, packing up your belongings…they’re all big stepping stones to the life you want. Then there’s finding a job, residence, and community in your new home, and add on all the psychological stuff and it’s pretty full on. But the most important part, in my opinion, is figuring out your visa situation. Not just for the immediate future, but for long term.

The thing is – and I’ve seen it time and time again here – even if you think you’re just coming for a fun year, you really never know how you’ll feel by the end of it. And if you realise you can’t bear the thought of leaving, life will be infinitely easier if you’ve at least plotted out a slight idea of how you can stay.

There have been so many changes to the system in the past year that some of this does not apply, but I figure there’s still some value in my journey to Permanent Residency.

How I became a Permanent Resident in my favourite country on earth:

Holiday working visa, 417 (HWV):

https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa-1/417-

This visa entitled me to one year of travel and work around Australia. I was allowed to work anywhere I wanted  so long as it didn’t exceed six months in any one place. This is available for Canadians and a host of other nationalities up until the day you turn 31. The price at the moment is $450.

HWV 1 year extension:

That time I worked on a cucumber and strawberry farm…

If one year isn’t enough time to explore the country there’s a way to add an additional year to your HWV, for many countries there’s the option of doing your regional work (aka farm work…although it doesn’t actually have to be farm related). This involves spending 88 days working in regional Australia. I worked on a small cucumber and strawberry farm in Woolgoolga. I dreaded it, but in the end it ended up being one of the most interesting and Australian experiences of my life.

Temporary work (skilled), 457 (aka Sponsorship!):

*This visa no longer exists as of this year…but my advice about planning definitely still applies*

Sponsored, happy and celebrating Xmas in July

During the second year of my WHV I spent six months working at a well known media company with the aim of getting sponsored by them. They offered me sponsorship and the next phase of my Aussie journey began.

At the time I started (2014), to get sponsored you needed to have a relevant degree to the job you were being nominated for, meet the min. amount of experience required, and a host of other things. I have friends now who have worked really hard to be offered sponsorship only to find out they don’t meet the minimum requirements and would have been better off getting a more relevant education to enable them to stay. I also have friends who weren’t fussed about their timeline so didn’t check out their options early…they ended up missing out on the 457 path to permanent residency, even though they are sponsored now and are very uncertain about their future in two years.

So much has changed in the last year regarding this visa, that I advise you to do your research and do it well!

Permanent Residency, 186:

https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa-1/186-

With the now defunct 457 visa, once you worked at your place of sponsorship for two years you were eligible to apply for Permanent Residency. I was lucky that at the time the waitlist was only 6-7 months. The whole process was costly (I think I spent around $8k), but more than worth it. On Feb 13th, 2016 I got an email from immigration saying my PR had gone through. I didn’t even know how much it meant to me until I burst into tears at my desk like a crazy person. Haha. Luckily it was 5:30 and time to go home. I detoured to the Opera House with some friends to celebrate in style and ferry home with the beauty of Sydney stretched out before me. I am a proud Permanent Resident and so happy to call Australia home.

Citizenship:

https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/citi/pathways-processes/application-options/migrant-with-permanent-residence

Once you’ve had your Permanent Residency for one year and lived in the country for at least four years, you’re allowed to apply for your Citizenship (cost: $285). Having done my Permanent Residency application myself I had everything I needed pretty much to do the Citizenship application too. It was quite straightforward and I’ll keep you updated on my status. So far it says wait times are 12 to 16 months and I’m on month six at the moment. 100% worth the wait.

So again, I can’t reiterate how important it is to do the dry work: check out what options are available to you before you even really need to look. The information is all out there and it could save you heaps of time, money and heartache in the future. If you have the chance to live in your happy place, grab it and go forth!

*UPDATE* One year and four days after applying I had my Citizenship interview and test. I just got my letter of approval and am waiting on my ceremony date. It’s not official until you pledge yourself to Australia at the ceremony. So excited and so proud to be an almost Australian citizen.

Moving to Australia

Written by Alex


Moving to Australia pt2: The seed is planted

In February 2012 I visited Australia for the first time. On this fateful trip, I conducted a little survey with every Australian I met by asking them: “Would you say you’re happy?”…not confronting at all, right? 😂

Sneaky pic I took of happy beach goers

But I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this magic place existed. A place where in some ways, everything was the same as where I came from: people worked 9-5, rode public transport into the city, spent the weekend hanging out with friends. Except it didn’t feel the same, it didn’t feel the same at all. It was sunny, warm and the ocean – the ocean – was right there. And nature. And so much green. I met people who had the exact same job as me, but lived in Bondi beach. They lived in a place that I had spent years dreaming about, finally getting up the courage to visit for a few weeks.  They would go to work, then come home and go for a surf! They would hang out with their friends on the grassy knoll on weekends and then head to someone’s house for a barbie (barbecue to the uninitiated) to finish off the day. They had 20 DAYS OF VACATION a year. They were allowed and encouraged to take unpaid leave. They also smiled a lot and seemed very relaxed. There was a general sense that these were people who were enjoying their life as they were living it. It was not about someday – it was happening right now.

But I had always loved Australians, from my fateful days spent on a little island in Greece during two uni summers, when I became friends with a group of them. I loved their easy going, straightforward attitudes. They were just generally good and decent people and so much fun.

So when I asked the “happy” question, the immediate reaction was “…ah, what?” Haha. But then in true Aussie fashion they would “give it a go” and their responses were always along the lines of “Yeah, I guess I am!”.

All the blues and greens

This gave my Toronto-conditioned brain a real jolt. If I’d asked the same question back home the answers would have been along the lines of “I can’t really complain, it could be worse” to the classic “…is anyone really happy?”. This general attitude of complacency – or acceptance, by virtue of it not being “as bad” as something else – never sat well with me. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how you could think like that and be able to find the motivation to go forward. By this point I’d already experienced some really big highs and lows in my life and my whole adulthood in Toronto felt like one long string of baseline “meh”ness. The moments of existential despair had overtime become more and more frequent. I found myself constantly thinking…how could this really be as good as it gets?

Well, it turns out it wasn’t. At least not in Australia. The secret was out! (to me). I had found the place that made sense to my brain. The place that made life worth living. I had peeked behind the curtain, I had seen the emerald city and there was no going back.

I spent the last day of this fateful first trip by myself. I walked through the city and suntanned at Bondi beach. I observed everyone and everything. I soaked up as much as I could and wrote it all down: the things people said to each other, the difference in attitude, my complex feelings of wonderment. I promised myself to find a way to somehow live like that back in Toronto. I was blown over, but I still didn’t see how that amazing place could ever be MY life. I didn’t dare dream that I would actually live there one day. That Bondi would be my backyard. That I would swim every morning in that beautiful, freezing cold sea. That I would get so used to sunshine that a rainy day would be welcomed.

So I went home and tried to keep that sunshine with me…

Six months later I applied for my Australian Working Holiday visa. A year and a half later* I was living in my apartment in Bondi.

And that’s how my love affair with Australia began.

*A whole hell of a lot went on in between then (hello separation from my partner, living a wild life in Costa Rica, working on a farm in small town New South Wales), but that would literally take a novel to write…or many, many more stories.

Moving to Australia

Written by Alex


Moving to Australia pt1: My first time in Sydney

Before I’d ever set foot in this place, Australia was this thing in my mind for a very long time: a sunshine country full of beaches and beautiful, friendly people. In the depths of winter in Toronto, I had this recurring dream where I would wake up on a beach, squinting at the sunlight – the sky unbelievably blue, the surf frothy. The soft sand littered with lifeguards and beachgoers all out enjoying the gorgeous, sparkling day. It was so warm and it felt so real; it felt hopeful and happy and right. I’d wake up from the dream and lie still, eyes closed, trying to hold onto that feeling for as long as I could. I wanted to feel that sunshine…

I visited Australia for the first time in 2012. My best friend Sid and I had always wanted to go ever since a fateful summer living on an island in Greece, where we’d met our first Aussie friends. We spent years after talking about it, but it was one of those trips that seemed like you would need a lot of time and money…and it just seemed SO FAR AWAY. So we let ourselves get swept up in our work and relationships and the trip became a distant dream.

My first pic in Bondi – little did I know this would literally become my backyard in two years.

Then one day, out of the blue, Sid said she was planning a three week trip to Australia and asked me if there was a chance I would come. At the time I was a few months into what I thought was my ‘dream job’ (aka. the thing that was going to make life better, fix everything, give me purpose, etc.), but it had turned into my own personal nightmare – as these things do when you rely on a job to fix your life. I was depressed, anxious and had no idea what to do next. I felt so trapped and I needed an out badly. This was my out.

Quit my job and travel for three weeks?!?! I thought it was crazy at first…three weeks away was a lot in Toronto at the time, but the idea wouldn’t leave my mind. After a month of more misery at work, I realised this was the perfect excuse to leave. I also found out it would only cost $500 return for me to fly with Sid since she was a flight attendant, which basically removed any other worry I had left. Looking back this was all such an obvious sign from the universe – when things start flowing, let the river take you! 

So I gave my notice, threw caution to the wind – with no job prospects for when I returned – and left. We flew to Vancouver, spent the afternoon there (such a good flying break – highly recommend), then took the midnight flight to Sydney where we were set to arrive early in the morning.

When we got out of customs I saw a row of palm trees just outside the gate. The air had a headiness to it. It felt like beach to me. The sky was blue. The colours were different – have you ever noticed that not all blue skies and sun are the same? This sky gave off a bright and warm light. I thought about that feeling I would get when I watched an Australian tv show back home. It was weird to be travelling in an English speaking country – so easy, but still different. We went to buy a bottle of water and I remember being shocked at the $3 price (haha, if only I knew!). We got on the train and headed to Central Station where our hostel was.

When we arrived in the city we were both awestruck. More palm trees. Blue skies. Heat…and this was downtown (or as the Aussies call it “the CBD”). I remember a change starting to take place within me (an awakening really) that I couldn’t yet articulate. The gears were turning. This was an English speaking, first world country – NOT in the US (which I was never a fan of), with amazing weather. We were giddy with excitement.

View from Taronga zoo. I thought it looked like Toronto.

You know those things you put off for awhile out of fear, a purported difficulty, or a myriad of other reasons? But then, when you finally do it you’re like…oh. OH. OHH! And regret immediately not having done it earlier? That was Sydney for me. That was Australia. I had a huge…“How did it take me this long to get here?!” stamped in my brain, on constant repeat. Why would I ever have put this off? Yes, the flight was long, but really – any flight longer than 8 hours is going to take your day and night anyways, right? And yes, it WAS so far away from Toronto, BUT in all the ways that mattered, it didn’t feel very far at all. It was easy to navigate, there was no language barrier and it was familiar – a thoroughly western city. And then on top of all that, it was absolutely, bloody gorgeous. I finally understood what world class city meant. The harbour, the ferry commutes, the luscious park havens right in the CBD (Hyde Park and Botanical gardens), the food and THE BEACHES: white sand, clear water, 20min from downtown – they were everywhere! And the weather, did I mention the weather?! It was Toronto on its most glorious day…every day.

I loved Sydney the minute I laid eyes on it.

Moving to Australia

Written by Alex

What are your conditionings?

A family friend told me a story years ago that I’ve never forgotten:

One year she went to both her company’s Christmas parties, one was in Toronto and one was in Vancouver. In both places she was asked “What do you do?” and both times she responded the same way “I’m in marketing”.

In Toronto this started conversations about projects, teams, roles, etc., but in Vancouver when she started talking more about her job they would interrupt her with, “No, what do you ‘do’ do…like snowboard/ski/etc.?”. 

Same party, different cultural perspective. This story stuck with me, but it wasn’t until I went to Costa Rica for the first time that I experienced it for myself.

There was no way I was spending Christmas at home. View from my bedroom (December 2012, Toronto)

I was 28 when my life turned upside down. I needed an escape from the turmoil, and Tory being the good sister that she is, said there was no way we could spend Christmas at home. We looked for cheap, last-minute flights to anywhere hot and Costa Rica was the winner.

We left the freezing, dark, wet, concrete metropolitan that was Toronto and arrived in Jaco: a touristy beach town that’s also a sunshine on crack, lush,  tropical, living, breathing surf and reggae heaven.

Calle Bohio, aka Sunshine on crack

If that wasn’t enough to jolt us out of our former pale, city-dwelling selves, there was so much more to come (but I’ll save that for another time and post…).

One of the things I noticed right away was that when I talked to someone new no one would ask me:  “What do you do?”, which is what I was so used to back home. Instead, the questions were along the lines of:

Questions
  • Where are you from?
  • How long are you here for?
  • Where else are you going/have you been?
  • Do you surf?
My answers
  • Toronto
  • One week
  • Home/nowhere
  • Not yet

This shook me up. I was so used to relying on my job as the main way to identify myself (even if I didn’t really believe it) that when it was taken away as an option I felt like my current situation did not and could not describe who I was. I wanted to say, “But really…I’m interesting! I’m exciting! I’m so much more than this! And…I LOVE TO SURF!”.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And I didn’t know how to surf, even though I’d desperately wanted to learn my whole life.

Why was I so triggered by this? It’s easy to see why in hindsight. I was confronted with the fact that I was not living my life the way that I wanted and that most of my choices up to that point had been based on what was expected of me and the society in which I grew up. I was 28 and on paper I found myself boring.

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important.

The deprogramming begins (Jaco beach, December 2012)

My inner life was and had always been rich (in anxiety hah, amongst other things), but my outer life was not a reflection of the true me. This realisation shocked me to my core and set about a series of big changes (hello Saturn Return).

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important. That if I went somewhere different, a different set of values and rules applied. And that in all of these instances, none of them had to apply to me. In the end, what mattered was what I held true for myself.

I was deep, deep down in a well of conditioning and I had just seen my first hint of light. What’s followed since has been a series of lightbulb moments where I’ve realised that there are a lot more of these assumptions living in my mind.

Here is a base list of assumptions I’d been conditioned with:

1.

Doing well in your school/job is the key to success. Success = fulfillment

I was taught that being the best at everything was the only way forward (tiger parents, before the term existed). Growing up, I was never allowed to step back and examine if the thing I was about to work tirelessly towards was what I actually wanted, needed and if it was even worth it. This caused many periods of depression in my life, where I blindly followed paths of “success” (new school programs, job offers, etc.) with the faith that once I achieved these things happiness would follow. It didn’t (surprise!) and once accomplished I would feel so much loss, disillusion and despair, often asking “What’s the point?”. I never thought about the journey, only about the final outcome and that outcome never lived up to the hype.

2.

Being with someone is the key to happiness

I dealt with frequent bouts of depression and existential crises from a very young age. Anytime I was in one of these periods my dad would always counter it with “You just need to meet someone and then you’ll be happy”. Then I did meet someone and was in a relationship for my entire 20s. And I WAS happy…for a time. It was a balm to my achy soul, but eventually the same ‘demons’, came back. Love is happiness – so much happiness, but unless you’re solid in yourself it can also be used as a distraction of sorts. We seem to often use our relationships, not to mention our responsibilities (mortgage, kids, etc.) as an excuse to not take those scary steps forward that let us grow. Relationships (even friendships) are one of the big excuses we use to stay stagnant.

3.

That’s just life / There are some things you just have to do

This kind of acceptance has its place, but it’s often used to brush over things that make you unhappy and that should be addressed. Once upon a time I was told that pretty much everyone has to work 9 to 5 (I grew up in Toronto) and that you have to be born rich or win the lottery to experience a different fate. Already, in the last five years especially, we’ve seen how not true that is (as I sit from a cafe in Canggu, Bali, with money in the bank writing this post). This statement is almost the basis of this whole site hah, so I can’t really cover it all in one bullet point!

4.

You can’t have everything

Said to many who dared to dream big! But really, what is “everything”? It can mean very different things depending on who you ask. And if it’s different for each person, then maybe you, YES YOU, can have your version of “everything”. My mother’s version of everything is dependent on winning the lottery, which has always made her “everything” very difficult to achieve. My version of everything (the truncated version) involves living by the beach and having a good work/life balance…something I’ve already cultivated and work at everyday to improve.

These conditions are pretty prevalent where I come from. I’m still trawling through them, one by one and actually get so excited now when I uncover a new one. Each time this happens the world gets a little lighter and I feel a piece of my freedom, a piece of myself, come back to me.

Do any of these resonate with you? What are your conditionings?

***Update: I just went to see a talk with Sarah Wilson the other day and had a chat with her after. We were mid convo when she asked “What do you do?”. For a moment I blanked…I couldn’t actually remember! I’ve been doing so much creatively the past year that I feel represents me, but none of it is in my main paid work. When the words came to me I realised that there was a huge disconnect between what I’ve been doing with the majority of my time and who I am now. What I do for the most part at the moment does not represent who I am. I had a lightening bolt realisation that  I need to bring the two closer together. So onwards and upwards! Very excited to start figuring this out.

Tory and the sunset (Jaco Beach, December 2012)

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Written by Alex

The mystery of diet pt1: aka what the f*$k am I supposed to eat?

I haven’t written my health story on here yet, but suffice to say the last three years have been a bit of a witch hunt on my body. I read everything about everything in an attempt to find the magic diet that would cure my hypothyroid condition and Hashimotos (an autoimmune disorder). Spoiler: I never found it.

I tried many a diet: pescatarian, vegan, keto, gluten-free, sugar-free (including fruits and starchy veg), paleo, and an assortment of hacks I read for dealing with thyroid issues (i.e. no eggs, celery juice in the morning, no pork, etc.). All the diets sounded good when examined in isolation. They were clear, concise and promised a body that would feel the same. The problem was that I like to comparison shop…so I tried them all! I would research one heavily, try it, not see improvements, then go back to see what I had missed and go down the rabbit hole once again. I’d find another diet that would suggest the exact opposite and I kept hoping that one of them held the magic key that would make me feel like a healthy person again. 

When you’re ill, all you want is for someone to tell you “Do this and you will be better”.

The food witch hunt was not a success. I didn’t find my way out of my thyroid problems with any of these diets, but I did find myself with a real eating disorder. Almost every food can be ‘bad’ if you read the right article – I was paranoid of spinach at one point, then broccoli…seriously! I felt paralysed when choosing what to eat. I also felt intensely deprived. The stress and isolation of feeling like I wasn’t allowed to be free with my eating took a huge toll on me and added to the stress of my existing health conditions.

So here’s my hit list of foods that I’ve been told at one point or another not to eat:

Alcohol
  • Too much sugar
  • The mental effect: I always get a slight depressive, end-of-the-world feeling the day after that can linger for a few days. I have to constantly remind myself that I’ve had alcohol and that it’s not reflective of my true reality
  • Wine is so inflammatory for me and it makes me so sad! The social ritual of having a glass of red with friends was one of my favourite things, but I get hives and horrible hangovers. I didn’t have wine for almost a year and then tried ONE GLASS of biodynamic, organic Merlot and still had that tightness in my head feeling the next day (like an oncoming headache) accompanied with mild depression and anxiety. Just not worth it.
Corn
Cruciferous vegetables
Dairy
  • Full of hormones, allergens, and generally not good quality.
  • I recently had a convo with a girl who did her farm work  at a dairy farm that was an expensive, well known brand. She explained how everything was super clean and regulated, but the lives these cows live…it’s like watching a movie set in the future where humans are grown as body parts for other humans. No way for any living being to exist…even if its a ‘good’ farm. How can the milk they produce be of good quality to consume when they aren’t really living? The equivalent to eating vegetables grown in a garbage dump.
  • Even when I wasn’t a healthy, conscious eater (one of my favourite things to eat way back when was chicken fingers!) I knew I couldn’t have milk. The day after having it I would immediately breakout and have that onset allergy feeling.
Dried Fruit 
  • Aside from the fact that this is basically an addictive candy for me (another issue altogether), most dried fruit is made with canola or some other not-good-for-you vegetable oil and preservatives. Even the organic ones – they’re sneaky like that.
Eggs
  • Eggs also cause inflammation and allergies; feed viruses, bacteria, yeast, mold, Candida and other fungus; and trigger edema in the lymphatic system.(page 281)This book  lists eggs as a thyroid stressor (explanation of why is in the book), saying they feed viral infections and that viral infections are the underlying cause of autoimmune diseases. They were my main source of protein before (at least two a day), but after reading this I stopped eating them for months. I’ve since reintroduced them back into my diet, but always, ALWAYS organic…
  • I once went on a date with a guy from the RSPCA (animal welfare organisation in Australia) and he said he would never, ever eat chicken or eggs because they are treated horrendously, even when the label says otherwise. I think unless you can find the chicken that laid those eggs and see for yourself that it’s happy, the chances are probably pretty low that what you’re eating is nutritious.
  • Like corn, soy, and wheat, eggs are one of those things that are in a lot of processed foods. So you may be consuming more than you think – and they most definitely wouldn’t be organic.
Fish
Fruit
  • Supposedly not good for insulin resistance because they have too much sugar (I am NOT ok with this, hah). The problem is that they’ve been bred over time to be sweeter and this has had some huge effects, like with these poor monkeys.
  • Some are worse offenders than others. I’ll never forget watching an episode of Dr. Oz and hearing him say grapes are just little packages of sugar – that statement has haunted me for years…the things the mind holds onto. Berries are generally less sugary and more fibre, whereas melons, bananas, pears, and grapes (!) are sugar-ific.
Gluten
  • Creates an inflammatory response, even if you’re not coeliac. This is also like corn, soy, wheat, etc. where gluten is found in so many things that you are much more exposed to it than you probably know. The overexposure is what causes the sensitivity. 
  • If I ever eat bread ‘too much’ (like more than once in a day or multiple days in a row) I feel a distinct hungover effect, even with artisanal, organic breads. I can’t handle plain white sliced bread or french bread (sob) AT ALL and have immediate allergy flare ups.
Grains
  • These can also be like corn, soy, wheat, gluten, etc. where the general overexposure when it’s used as filler leads to sensitivity issues. There’s also this
Legumes (peanuts, beans, etc.)
  • I definitely have a reaction to too much peanut butter (but how do you stop at one spoonful???), my skin breaks out and I feel sluggish the next day.
  • Lectins and phytates are the big no-no associated with legumes, said to cause inflammation.
Nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, etc.)
Nuts
Pork
  • Called a virus aggregator by Medical Medium.
  • My whole body has a weird reaction every time I eat pork products. I knew this, but I didn’t actually piece it together till I read the Medical Medium thyroid book…probably because I loved bacon so much. RIP pork.
  • Bacon was just listed as a known carcinogenic by the WHO…eek. 
Refined sugar and other sweeteners
  • Duh, right? This includes honey, coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, stevia…I do believe that the less we use to make things sweeter and the more we get accustomed to the natural sweetness of things as they are the better off we’ll be. The sweet high is the sneakiest addiction!
Soy
Vegetable oil, canola oil, palm oil, etc.
  • I haven’t used these to cook in probably a decade, but they’re probably what’s used every time you eat out, buy a snack (hi dried fruit), etc. 

It’s almost everything, right? At some point or another I have not eaten each of these things. It messed with my head, which in turn messed up my body even further. The result was that I became even more disconnected with myself. I didn’t know up from down, everything seemed like the enemy and I developed a lot of food related anxiety. It’s still there, but I’m very slowly trying to find my way back to myself and strengthen my intuition around eating.

So what do I eat now? How do I navigate this minefield? Well that’s for part 2…

Written by Alex

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