America/New Zealand

A New Zealandy Christ mas

December 25, 2016

Christmas takes on a different flavor on this side of the world. 

It's a little hard to reconcile the deeply ingrained traditions that I have grown accustomed to with the upside down seasons here in New Zealand. We have a winter here - a cold, dreary, grey winter. There isn't any snow in Auckland, but there's plenty of wet, cold rain to make up for it. After winter, there is a beautiful, bloom-filled spring, and finally, the glorious, bone-warming, blues-chasing sun arrives and all you want to do is race to the beach, picnic in the sand, play ball until the sun goes down (which isn't till like 9:00 or something), and revel in all things summery. 

It's also Christmastime. The kiwis have come up with traditions of their own. They have a Christmas barbecue and airy desserts topped with fresh, luscious berries. They blend the familiar red and white colors of Christmas into fresh, beachy, summery stripes, and they put the holiday greetings on t-shirts and singlets (tank tops) instead of sweaters. But, the old traditions are still there as well (many of their grandparents were from England or Europe after all). 

The shopping malls are decked out with pine boughs and Christmas trees. There are penguins and reindeer, snow-topped pine trees, gingerbread men, hot cocoa, warming spices, snowflakes, and snowmen. And of course, the holiday songs are all about the snow and cold weather, and a snowy white Christmas. None of this has anything to do with the real meaning of Christmas, but it's all so familiar and so cozy ... and so weirdly out of place when it's summer outside!

It takes some getting used to, but at the same time it is a very nice way to remember that Christmas isn't about the season, it isn't about the trappings, it isn't about presents or the tinsel. Christmas is a celebration of the birth, the life, and the teachings of a very special person. Lord Jesus Christ. 

When thinking of the teachings of Jesus, I like to meditate on most essential of his teachings. When asked what his greatest commandment was, Jesus said 

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

I may not call myself a Christian, but it doesn't matter what label I attach to myself. Labels can change. what's important is that I try to love God, just as Jesus taught, and just as my spiritual master, Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda teaches. The essence of the teachings of Jesus, and the essence of Bhakti Yoga are one and the same. 

There is a saying 

Buddha was not a Buddhist, Jesus was not a Christian, Muhammad wasn't a Muslim. 
They were teachers who taught LOVE. Love was their religion.

So, this Christmas season I try to reflect on the teachings of Jesus Christ, pray for his blessings and guidance, and try to sing the names of God from my heart. And you know, all of these things can be done rain or shine, winter or summer, on the beach, or in the snow ... so these are the traditions that I will be holding fast to.

I hope that whatever part of the world you are in, you also take some time to remember the real meaning of Christmas and fill your hearts with love. :)

Merry Christmas!

America/New Zealand

Thoughts on the election ... from abroad

November 12, 2016

There was a momentous shift in America on the 8th of November (9th here). I was at home all day, glued to YouTube live news videos. Things looked good for Trump from the very beginning, but there was nothing that was completely unexpected until the very end when it became clear that he was the winner. "Winner" as in for better or for worse, DONALD TRUMP IS THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!! 

Yes, I am one of those Facebook friends who share political posts constantly during election years (sorry, I'm not sorry). When it comes to blogging though, I wanted to keep politics out of it; but since this is huge and will make such tremendous ripples throughout the entire world, I can't not comment on what is happening!!

It has been a couple of days now and to say that half of America is worried sick about a Trump presidency is proving to be the understatement of the year, but anyhow, this was my facebook-posted reaction to the election results.

Wooooooooooooowwwwwww .......... 😱 I know some of you are sickly worried about the future of America and the world, but I have faith that the story isn't over and that it will all lead to something much, much better that has yet to come. I am also choosing to look at the positives. We have the potential to halt progress down the failed path that the establishment politicians have set us on these past several decades. We also will have an improved relationship with Russia, and less chance of a nuclear Third World War. Americans have spoken loudly and clearly that we want change. Whether it was to be Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ron Paul, or a third party, we are not going to continue to accept more of the same. For that, I am proud of America! .... I am pretty worried about Republicans having the power in all the Senate, House, and Presidency though.  

I'll be watching the political scene and my thoughts may change, but for now this is how I feel. I've been a little terrified by some the reactions to the election that I have seen. Racists and bigots of all kinds seem to be crawling out the woodworks and having their moment under the sun, but I'm hopeful still that Trump will be able to pull himself together and act presidential, stop spouting divisive rhetoric that he may or may not mean to be taken literally, and if not turn the nation in the right direction, at least stop America from continuing to go in the wrong direction. That is my one expectation from him: change the way things are going without fucking things up too badly. From there, we can start anew! :) peace. 

I'm an Independent who voted third party.

Welcome, new readers!

October 04, 2016

Right after publishing my last post (Another Sorry Excuse...), I found out that my blog has been featured on ... I guess it's not the best look to put a big "Under Construction" sign on my blog right when I am first presenting it to the world ... whoops! 

If you have come here from expatsblog, welcome! There are a few things I would like to polish up on my blog, but like life itself, it's a work in progress. Be sure to like my Facebook page if you would like to subscribe to my blog. If you would pop in and leave a comment on any of my posts it would mean the world to me! To think that a stranger would read my blog and bother to say hello would be awesome! Include a link to your blog, if you are a fellow blogger, and I'll be sure to return the love. :)

I've really enjoyed having a place to write my thoughts down and share my perspective on life with (hopefully) the world. I wish I had all the time in the world to blog, but a few other things in life are taking priority right now.

What I have been up to recently is working with some friends on revamping a program that we offer to the community free of charge. It is an evening of candlelit yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and kirtan (chanting and music). It's a beautiful program with a fairy lights, lanterns, and a gorgeous nature slide show to set the mood. I'm very excited to be able to be involved in this project and to share the thing that most brings me peace with others. 

If anyone in the Auckland/North Shore area is interested in attending, contact me and I will give you further details. 

Goodbye for now and namaste! 

Another sorry excuse...

September 23, 2016

My goal is to publish at least one post a week, but sometimes life just gets in the way. This blog is really still under construction though, and only a handful of people even know about it, so I'll just trudge through and hopefully get there eventually.

To be honest, I feel like my life is still under construction. There is so much to be done, but not enough organization to get to all of it. I haven't been feeling well for several weeks, so that has been my excuse for letting things slide by the wayside, but I'm feeling better now and it's time to make up for lost time.

My goal for the next few days is to sort out a schedule that allows me to get to blogging and everything else I have to do on a more regular basis.

Hopefully good things are to come!


"The Muffin Recipe" - aka "Mom's Idiot-proof Eggless Muffin Recipe That Even People Who Hate Following Recipes Will Love"

September 15, 2016

I am a little bit hesitant to post this recipe as it's such a signature recipe of mine and I'm a little possessive of it (who wants to give away all their best secrets?), but because blogging is all about sharing, I will oblige. It actually comes from my mom. Where she got it from I can't say for sure, but it's pretty safe to say that each cook makes it their own. 

Before I get to the recipe though, I have a confession to make..... 

I am a bit of a rebel. 

I'm the kind of person who reads a label on their sheets that says "Wash in cold water - Save the environment" and I do not like it.

"Are you the one sleeping on the sheets, oh sheet label writer?" 

"Are you the one who wakes up with a stuffy nose every morning from dust mite allergies??" 

"Well then don't tell me how I should wash my own sheets!"

"Furthermore, I have a problem with your inference that using hot water is somehow worse for the environment than washing with cold water, which usually means you need chemical laundry additives to get your clothes clean!" 

"Did you even think of that??" 

"And what makes you think I'm not already taking steps to reduce my impact on the environment in the first place?!"

"Here's an idea, why don't keep your opinions to yourself next time and let me wash my sheets how I please ... which will be in the hottest water I can get, thankyouverymuch!"

"Oh btw, what's the thread count on these again?"

Now, I don't know exactly if my rebellious nature is to blame in this next case (it could also be that I am a visual person, a creative person who needs to put my personal mark on things, or am just a poor reader in general), but for some reason I am almost completely incapable of following recipes. 

I find myself going back and forth, back and forth reading the same line of directions over and over, yet I still often get the measurements wrong or forget an ingredient or step. I also feel a compulsion to add things that are not in the recipe. Following a recipe to the tee feels like painting by numbers. *Yawn*

Just give me an idea of what to make and a general direction on how to get there and I'll figure out the rest. Sometimes it turns out fantastic and sometimes it flops, but it's always original!

That's where this recipe comes in. It is simple, it is just about fool-proof, and best of all it is a wide open book. You can choose what type of fruit (or non fruit) to put in this recipe. You can even choose what kind of flour, oil, liquid, or sweetener to add if you are adventurous. Buckwheat Boysenberry Beet Muffins, anyone? ... yes, I've really made that. And, if you are a rebel like me, this recipe is so non-dictative that it doesn't even tell you how long to cook it for! 

In case you want more details or are the kind of person who likes being told what to do:

For the muffin in the picture I used sugar instead of honey (honestly I haven't used honey for this recipe since I lived with my mom who used to buy bulk honey by the gallon), I used 3 mashed overripe bananas as the fruit (which was more that 1 cups worth of fruit), I added ginger powder and cardamon, and I sprinkled crushed walnuts on the top (which came out deliciously roasted and tasted amazing, btw). 

Another delicious way to use the recipe is to use peeled, diced apples tossed in cinnamon/sugar for the fruit. 

It is also a great way to reuse leftover oatmeal. Just use the leftover oatmeal in place of the fruit. 

Don't be afraid to play around with the recipe. 

Personally, I like to fold the ingredients together gently and mix as little as possible so that there are still a few ribbons of dry flour and sugar in the batter. It just gives it a more rustic feel that looks like it came out of a trendy cafe.

You really can't go too wrong except if you don't let it cook long enough. For a while I thought the recipe stopped working for me because the muffins kept collapsing when I'd take them out of the oven, but I think it was because for some reason I had it in my head that they took a certain amount of time to cook (which wasn't long enough). I know it might be hard to swallow for some people, but you really just have to let them cook on their own time. Drier batter will be quicker, wetter batter will take longer.

The best way to tell the muffins are ready is by smell. They give off a nice baking smell when they are ready, so give them a chance to do that if you aren't sure if they're ready yet. 

I hope you like this recipe. If you give it a try let me know in the comments what you thought of it and what crazy (or safe) combos you came up with!


Janmasthami Season

September 05, 2016

The months of August and September are a special time of year for Vaishnava Hindus. Several holy days fall during this time, the crown jewel of them being Janmasthami, or the advent of Sri Krishna, which is celebrated with much joy around the world. 

video is the property of Science of Identity Foundation

Vaishnavas accept that there is only one God. Some people think that God does not come to this world, but the Supreme Lord descends to this world in various incarnations known as avatāras. God says in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4, Text 8):

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.”

 About five thousand years ago, God appeared in this world in his original form. Yes, God is the oldest, the wisest and the strongest, but that does not mean His form is that of a muscular old man with a long white beard. The original form of God is that of an ever-fresh youth: the all-attractive, most beautiful, gentle, lovable, sweet Krishna. 

Krishna's sweet form during my own Janmasthami celebration

America/New Zealand

How to have tea with an American/Kiwi (a Cross-Cultural Reference Guide)

August 12, 2016

Americans aren’t known for drinking tea. We’re more known for chucking that stuff in the harbor and then going to Starbucks, but on occasion we do enjoy a good cup of (usually herbal) tea, or a cuppa as it is known in New Zealand.

New Zealand on the other hand, as part of the British commonwealth, are big “tea” fans. The word tea is in quotation marks because in New Zealand it has come to mean so much more than just a cup of leaf-stained water. “Tea” in New Zealand is both a drink, a meal, and a tradition.

To help guide you through the differences between American and New Zealand tea drinking customs, I have put together this handy two-part guide. The first part is intended for my New Zealand readers and will help them to understand how to have tea with their American friends. The second part is intended for my American readers, which will help them to navigate the tea customs of their Kiwi friends. 

Just a disclaimer first though ... I am by no means a tea or cultural expert, these opinions are simply based on my observations from having lived in both countries. 

So without further ado, here they are!

Part 1: How to Have Tea With an American 

A Guide for the Kiwi Reader

Step 1. Ask your American friend what type of tea they would like and if they would like it sweetened (they probably will). Honey is the usual sweetener of choice, but they may like a bit of stevia if you have it and certainly are not above putting sugar in their tea if nothing else is available … especially if it is a nice coconut sugar or turbinado. What, no it’s just white sugar? …. Yes, of course I still want it sweetened!

Step 2.  Let the tea steep in the kitchen for the amount of time indicated on the box.

Step 3. Leave the tea bag in the cup (it continues to add flavor while you drink).

Step 4.  Serve the tea to your American friend making sure to warn them that the tea is still hot.

Step 5: Provide a coaster for the coffee table if needed and hunker down on the sofa with your American friend. Blankets or snuggies are a good optional addition here depending on how close your relationship is – aquantances: no blanket, good friends: individual blankets, roommates/spouses: snuggies.

Step 6. Catch up on the latest gossip with your American friend or watch a good movie together.

Part 2: How to Have Tea with a Kiwi 

A Guide for the American Reader

Step 1. Ask your Kiwi friend over for Afternoon Tea (sometime between lunch and dinner/supper).

Step 2. Make sure that you have a variety of delectables on hand. Packaged cookies, crackers, spreads, cheese, fruit, slice, or cake are all acceptable options.

Step 3. Lay out your spread on your tea table (it’s like a breakfast table but it may not necessarily be in the kitchen).

Step 4. Ask your Kiwi friend how they take their tea.  If they do not specify, leave the tea unsweetened.

Step 5.  After allowing the tea to steep for a minimal amount of time, remove the tea bag as it is now considered rubbish and your Kiwi friend would be politely aghast if you were to serve them tea with rubbish in it! 

Step 6. Sit down at your tea table and enjoy a catch up with your Kiwi friend while you gingerly pretend to eat the food in front of you. Don’t actually eat though or you’ll spoil your supper, which is only about an hour away.

Step 7. Now that the tea is cool enough to drink, say goodbye to your Kiwi friend as they now need to rush off to the shops before they close for the day.

Step 8. Tip their untouched tea down the kitchen sink.