Retreat Yourself

This month has been one of  transition, of challenge, of merrymaking, and of ants.

I will start strong and tell you all of my recent nightmare involving an army of ants, my sleeping body, and the eeriness of a full moon.

I recently moved into a new home, away from my sweet but small and noisy hut on the other side of the retreat. I had to farewell my pet gecko Fred – we had developed a strong relationship based on him pooping in the corner, and me pretending to ignore it. Now I live in a comparable mansion, which is perhaps one metre larger, with solid floors, walls that turn into windows, a door that shuts fully and completely, and more places to put things! I also have replaced Fred with a pet frog who waits for me on my light switch every night. A slimy suprise. Needless to say, I was the happiest girl when I moved in at the beginning of this week. I was pumped for a big, good sleep in my awesome bed with the full moon streaming in my open window, a gentle breeze tickling at my feet.

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I awoke at 3am, feeling itchy. Things were crawling upon me. I was sure I was dreaming and kept swatting at the irritation, until I was fully awake, then realized it is not normal to have things crawling on you in your sleep.

I turned on my torch and gasped murderously as a stream of bolshy ants paraded  up and down my exposed arm, infiltrating my clothing, delving into the depths of my bosom crevice. I leapt out of bed, getting all tangled in my mosquito net (which, I will say, has NO POWER against the wrath of ants), and placed my feet on the floor, instantly realizing that I was standing in a SEA of ants, they began to climb my legs, clinging to my feet as I fled the room.. The entire floor had become one big ant.

I returned in desperation, trying to spray them and get them out of my bed , also pouring half a bottle of insect repellent onto the floor – they seemed to enjoy the challenge of the liquid, and began to build rafts using eachothers bodies, all the while advancing on me with menace in their eyes. I went to sleep in another accommodation, and returned in the morning to find they had nest’led into my clothes, my bedsheets, and my soul. I put on my yoga pants and instantly regretted it, feeling a tingling, itchy sensation all up in my legs that would last for days. Fun fact – apparently ants do not bite – they PEE on you, and that is what stings.

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The retreat staff came to exterminate the ants who had infiltrated my home, spraying toxic stuff all around the outside, and hopefully this will ensure they never return. The girls did point out to me that ants like coconut oil, and I had a big old jar sitting on my bench. I had also covered my entire body in the stuff before sleeping that night, so they probably smelt me and came running.

I have never written the word ant this many times and it is beginning to look and sound strange, so I will stop talking about that now.

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I am learning the ways of Siem Reap, some life hacks, so that on my days off I maximize my time and minimize expenditure.

I have stayed in the same $12 guesthouse for the past couple of weeks, where they greet me with a smile and rent me a bicycle for my time there. I love riding my bicycle – the tuk tuk drivers don’t hassle me, I simply cruise past with a look of superiority and independence on my face. On my day off, I like to venture to a nearby luxury hotel, where they charge 10dollars to spend  the day by the pool, with access to the spa, sauna, hot showers, Jacuzzi and ginger tea! Or, if you’re like me and many of my Siem Reap acquaintances, you just glide in as if you belong, wearing your least hobo clothes and with a posture of dignity and tremendous wealth.

I spend a good 70% of my time off  immersed  in some type of water. I always feel quite dirty here – even when I shower I am instantly sweaty again, and my hair is comparable to a frizzy hedgehog. It is the humidity I suppose, and the fact that washing in cold water all week long hinders cleanliness.

Last week, however, was very cold indeed! A cold front came through from somewhere that experiences an actual winter, and we all shivered and huddled over our tea for several days, (it was like 19 degrees Celsius, but its all relative). I secretly loved being able to light the firepit in the yoga hall every morning, and put on another layer of clothing. At night, I pulled my blanket over my shoulders, which is a miracle in itself.

I am now adjusted to the 6am starts, sometimes 5.30am on a good day, and I have to ensure I am tucked up in bed by 10pm. I often take a daily nap in the late morning or early afternoon, but I can’t nap for too long because then I wake up all sweaty and disoriented. The only clothing I wear these days are yoga clothes, and some may say this is the best job in the world, because yoga pants are the most comfortable pants ever. I haven’t worn jeans in 3 months – I didn’t even bring any with me.

Highlights from this week were teaching outdoor yoga at a nearby temple, next to a lotus pond, and also teaching a partner yoga class. Nobody can get through this class without exploding into giggles – especially when men partner up with each other and I get them to make love hearts with their bodies and “breathe with each other”….

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Every week I seem to say something hilarious when I’m teaching – something that is NOT acceptable and people tend to laugh and fall over a little bit. For example, in a water themed class this week, we were rolling around in the ground in a “happy baby”pose (legs up in the air, on your back, rocking side to side), and I called out “have a little fun with your body….. it’s always available to you”……. Needless to say there were some stifled giggles.

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Our guests are from all walks of life – high season at the moment means there are around 30 people on each retreat, young people, old people, couples, boys, girls, beginners and people that have been practicing for 30 years. It is a challenge and a joy to create classes that suit all levels, and the feedback I get from people tells me that I am definitely in the right place.

So I will be here a while longer… What began as a 2 month internship has expanded into a 6 month role, learning all aspects of the retreat environment – teaching, administration, guest relations, and learning to live in a community in a bamboo shack, surrounded by nature, eating vegan food, and meeting people from all walks of life.

I’m writing from a riverside cafe in Siem Reap on my day off, soaking up the sun, and the caffeine which is contraband throughout the week. The good thing about limiting yourself to a coffee every 7 days is that IT REALLY HITS YOU  and you GET SHIT DONE.

On that note, I’m off to cruise on my bicycle, head held high, in search of a pool with free wifi and cool asian hats.

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Visit me for a 6 day integral yoga and meditation retreat at Hariharalaya

 

 

 

Cambodian Village Life

After a month of Rugby World Cup shenanigans and family time in England, my travels took an unexpected turn and I jumped on a plane bound for Siem Reap, Cambodia. Definitely did not foresee such action, but it turns out it was an excellent decision. 

Whilst in Spain, I was also applying for various yoga jobs in Europe, just throwing my CV out there and hoping the universe would provide. Old universe came through, but as usual, it was in a highly unexpected way. 

So now I’m in Cambodia, working in the traditional Khmer village of Bakong, near the temples of Angkor Wat, surround by rice paddies, an overwhelmingly stinky marketplace, curious-looking cows, tiny children dressed proudly in school uniforms riding bicycles far too large, dusty brown roads and dense green jungle. The villagers throw wild, loud parties that begin at 4am and finish at 3am. They celebrate life, death, weddings, anniversaries, getting a new cow, their neighbour getting a new cow, the anniversary of 100 days since their neighbour got a new cow…. Anything is a reason to party, and I respect that. I also respect and relish my one hour of silence between 3am and 4am, when the wailing and chanting ends and the frogs begin.

   
   
I’m teaching yoga at Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat, quite possibly the best yoga retreat in Cambodia, but maybe I’m biased… I live in a little thatched hut, with a mosquito net that I keep throughly tucked into my mattress, and a broom to sweep out the fresh gecko poop. My pet gecko is called Fred, and sometimes I burst into my room to find him squatting hurriedly in the corner, an alarmed look in his beady eyes as he is caught doing his thrice daily ablutions! One of Hariharalaya’s pure intentions is to get people back in touch with nature, and there’s no doubt it has done that for me…  A frog squad lingers outside my hut at dawn and dusk, exchanging tales from pond life, leaping over each other and avoiding my huge human tread. Once, on a sleepy midnight trip to the bathroom, I stepped firmly on something very soft and squishy, which turned out to be a tiny frog, fresh from tadpole life, and I felt so sad and mournful. 

  
There are also giant worms, and I mean so so large. As long as my leg (which in fact is not very long but long if you’re a worm). The first few weeks I was here, there were still remnants of the rainy season, and after the rain the giant worms would come out to play. At first I thought they were snakes. And then the first time I saw a snake, I thought it was a giant worm, so I peered at it curiously, considered prodding it, until one of the Cambodian girls came sprinting out of the house, broomstick in hand, and started bashing at it furiously with all her might. She turned to me, eyes bright, and cried “ees small, but ees baaaaaad!”.  Poisonous worm, otherwise known as snake. I should not be left alone in the jungle.

  
My first week was a challenge. Up at 5.30am every morning, sometimes earlier, learning the ropes, planning classes for groups of 20-30 people of mixed yoga experience, from all different backgrounds and languages, and trying to balance doing a good job with socialising with guests. Plus I was dealing with the culture shock, the temperature and humidity, jet lag, a cold turkey vegan diet (pun intended) and caffeine withdrawals. 5.30am is rough WITH a nice cup of English breakfast tea or strong coffee, but without… I truly felt like a zombie going through the motions. Jasmine tea and meditation is what I have to work with. Days off though…

  
My first two weeks of morning and night meditation was a STRUGGLE. I’ve tried to meditate regularly over the past couple of years, but never really got into the rhythm. Here I have no choice, which as it turns out, is exactly what I needed. I could not sit comfortably for half an hour without fidgeting, worrying about bugs in my hair, scratching mosquito bites, adjusting my shawl, rearranging my sitting position from cross legged to kneeling to cross legged to kneeling.. I soon realised that I am obsessed with being comfortable (which anyone could guess from my collection of chunky jumpers and yoga pants) and that maybe it is quite good for me to sit with the discomfort for a while. And that’s when my meditation improved. Amazing! I mean obviously, it’s still bloody awkward sometimes, especially when a moist slimy gecko lands on your leg in the darkness of evening meditation, and you can’t see what it is, so you let out a wisp of a scream and jump from the ground, fumbling for the light of your phone then realising you don’t have it because it’s a digital detox and all phones are contraband, so you scamper to the bathroom and sit on the toilet until the meditation bell rings to signal dinner time, and you emerge, pale and shamefaced, admitting defeat by a wayward gecko.

  
There are many humorous moments, and many meaningful ones too. At the end of each retreat we do a closing circle where everyone shares something of their experience. Sometimes people start crying which generally makes me cry and then the sight of me crying makes other people cry because it’s not very pretty, in fact it’s a bit scary. It’s a healing place though and I’m so grateful that I’m a part of it.

   
   
 The next retreat is over Christmas, so that’ll be weird. Vegan, wine-free Christmas? If I was Santa I’d stay at home. But maybe it’s a good opportunity to give Christmas a different meaning. My family dinner this year will be with my lovely workmates and retreat-goers, passion fruit smoothies will be my prosecco, and the treehouse will be my Christmas tree, the sunset will be my Christmas lights… These are the things that people who live on yoga retreats begin to say. Village life is going to my head. 

  
I’m currently enjoying a luxurious three nights off,  recovering from some kind of savage bird flu (maybe just normal flu but I like to be dramatic), partaking in hot showers, green juices, mineral water, jacuzzis and vast swimming pools. All the different types of water please. I recently had a very bad, very boyish haircut from a lady in the marketplace (in hindsight, not a good idea) so I don’t particularly want to go out where lots of people can point and laugh. “It’s not so bad!”, my friends cry, but they’re not the ones with a frizzy mullet. 

  

I will be back soon with more tales of Cambodian village life. This post was mainly about insects and creepy crawlies, but this stuff is important to cover. In the meantime, if you’re in Southeast Asia….. book yourself in for a retreat here

  
   

  
  

  

  

  


…. And please bring me some Christmas dinner. 

A controversial hummus of the zucchini variety.

I know. I’m sorry. Perhaps you think I have lost the plot with this one…

It IS hummus, but instead of using chickpeas, I wanted to find something a wee bit lighter. We currently have zucchini coming out of our eyeholes, so I thought why not use this gigantic phallic vegetable for a new and exciting hummus-y paste?

I’m sure you can probably think of a few reasons why not…. But give it a go.

Its a bit runnier than your average hummus, due to the moisture content of the zucchini. I found that letting it sit overnight in the fridge thickened it up a bit, but if you want it less runny, try grating the zucchini first and squeezing the moisture out of it before blending with the other ingredients. You could also add a handful of nuts or seeds (cashew is always a goodie) to give it a bit more texture.

If you can’t tolerate or avoiding legumes, its a good option. Hummus purists may weep a tear or two, but I think its a tasty alternative.

Ingredients

2 medium zucchini (or just one big daddy), peeled and chopped, excess moisture squeezed out

1/2 cup tahini

3 garlic cloves (to keep the boys and girls away)

1-2 tbsp olive oil

juice of one lemon

1-2 tsp cumin (or other herbs and spices you like)

sea salt and cracked pepper, to taste

Method

Pop it all in your food processor and whiz away until it resembles hummus. Sprinkle some toasted seeds on top and serve with chopped veggies, or maybe a large hunk of steak, if that tickles your fancy.

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Balls.

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An enticing title, agreed? I shall try not to disappoint.

I made these balls on a lazy Sunday, when I felt like being a good wifey and making wholesome treats from scratch.

There are plenty of recipes for this kind of thing on the inter web, this is my take on them. If you can’t find/ can’t afford fresh medjool dates, just get the ordinary kind and soak them for a few hours to make them all nice and moist… Also, if you want to use different nuts, give it a go and find a combo that works for you 🙂

Balls Of Fun

Ingredients

2 cups walnuts (whole or pieces)

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup shredded/desiccated coconut

2/3 cup cacao powder (or just plain old cocoa powder will work too)

8 fresh dates, pitted and chopped up (or dried, just soak for a few hours first)

1/4 cup of water

pinch of sea salt

Method

  • Combine walnuts, sunflower seeds, dates and coconut in food processor. Pulse until combined.
  • Add cacao powder, salt, and water and process until mixture forms a dough.
  • Make the dough into wee balls by rolling between your palms. Or big balls. Whatever you’re into.
  • Pop them on a tray or container and chill to let them get hard.
  • Eat dem.

You likey?

Sexual Bread

Bread and Sexual. Two words that maybe don’t go super well together? You’ll see.

This recipe has been doing the rounds on the blogosphere, originally from a blog called My New Roots. Some might call it a viral bread, but that doesn’t sound too tasty so I’ll call it sexual. I am shamelessly taking it and sharing with my followers because I think you all deserve to know that bread can be healthful and also delicious (and pretty easy, which is kind of my priority when it comes to baking.)

Its vegan, gluten free, dairy free, flour free,preservative free, free free etc etc. Its very good for digestion, and the thing I like about is that most of the ingredients you can mix and match depending on what you have in your cupboard or what you do and don’t like.

Psyllium husks are the magical ingredient, binding everything together, and they have an amazing effect on the old digestion, by binding everything in your digestive tract together and sweeping it on out your bum hole, like an internal caretaker! Its good for eliminating toxins and if you’re backed up, it gets things moving.

The best thing is that its really cheap, which is pretty important, because sometimes these things can be a bit pricey. Nobody got time for that. Initially to buy all the ingredients (most of them you probably have at home) its a little investment, but you only use a handful or two of everything per loaf, so it lasts ages. I think per loaf mine costs about 4 or 5 dollars, which is no more than a loaf in the supermarket, and is way more nutrient dense and filling!

This recipe has no flour, gluten free or otherwise, which is wonderful, because most commercial flours have been over-processed and stripped of all their fibre-y goodness.

Everything in this sexual loaf is soaked for easy digestion and assimilation, so your wee bod doesn’t have to work too hard. It already does enough, amiright?

The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread
Makes 1 loaf
Ingredients:
1 cup / 135g sunflower seeds
½ cup / 90g flax seeds (linseeds)
½ cup / 65g hazelnuts or almonds
1 ½ cups / 145g rolled oats (use gluten free if thats better for you)
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
4 Tbsp. psyllium seed husks (3 Tbsp. if using psyllium husk powder)
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt (add ½ tsp. if using coarse salt)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup (for sugar-free diets, use a pinch of stevia)
3 Tbsp. melted coconut oil
1 ½ cups / 350ml water

Directions:
1. In a flexible, silicon loaf pan combine all dry ingredients, stirring well. Whisk maple syrup, oil and water together in a measuring cup. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix very well until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick (if the dough is too thick to stir, add one or two teaspoons of water until the dough is manageable). Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. Let sit out on the counter for at least 2 hours, or all day or overnight. To ensure the dough is ready, it should retain its shape even when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it it.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C.
3. Place loaf pan in the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove bread from loaf pan, place it upside down directly on the rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely before slicing (difficult, but important).
4. Store bread in a tightly sealed container for up to five days. Freezes well too – slice before freezing for quick and easy toast!

When I make mine, I use honey rather than maple syrup, and sometimes I use quinoa flakes, which absorb a bit more water, so make sure you adapt the ratio as needed. Sometimes I add a little extra salt.

This is how my first loaf turned out, I felt quite pleased with myself.

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Enjoy!

Best. Day. Ever.

Wednesday was an action packed day. These Dutch people, they don’t mess around, they get things done. It’s invigorating and inspiring, and you are so ready for bed when the time comes.

The day began with some yoga and a meditation with Izzy outside our little chalet, which we have been doing every day. They say it takes 30 days to develop a habit, and I think I just hit that. Right now I’m loving the Sivananda sun salutations, probably because that was the style we were doing in Spain every morning. The meditation is the 108 breath meditation, which involves alot of heavy breathing which is kind of awkward…. But it sets you up for a very peaceful morning meditation.

 

Bums
Bums
Saluting the Sun
Saluting the Sun

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After that, we had our green smoothies and did some weeding and gardening. I am learning all about which ones are weeds and which ones are plants, which is quite useful to know. I needed to be taught, otherwise I would just go around pulling everything out because it “‘looks messy”… We went foraging for greens to have in our lunchtime salad, now I know that things growing all around our feet are totally edible and actually taste kind of good. Apart from some things which will make you ill, don’t eat those ones…

Then we ate lunch, then we made a raw apple pie for our dinner party that evening! Oh boy, it was good. Its free of.. gluten, dairy, processed sugar, and… meat. You would hope so.

Here’s the recipe, if you’re into that kind of thing. Or maybe you do not know how to work the oven, in which case this is perfect for you.
Raw Apple Pie
Base
200g ground almonds
150g dates, soaked, or a date paste
pinch salt
Filling
3 apples
1 cup dates, soaked
raisins
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
half a tsp ginger
pinch nutmeg

Blend together the base mixture in a food processor, press into the bottom of a shallow dish lined with baking paper. The mixture doesnt need to be around the sides. Blend the filling ingredients, press on top of the crust and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. Put it in your mouth.

 

Cat and Pie
Cat and Pie

After making our pie, Mariken took Izzy and I on a trip to a nearby town called Chantelle, where there is a monastery with REAL NUNS, a forest and a river. Dreamy. We had a look in the nun shop where they sell all their homemade goodies, then hiked into the forest to forage some wild garlic for our pesto. I was expecting bulbs of garlic to be popping out of the hillside, but no, they are leaves that taste like garlic! Magnificient leaves! And pretty flowers that you can also eat. Oh nature, you never fail to amaze.

Then we found a swimming hole and decided to go swimming. Naked. Because there was no one around, and because we could. Initially I was like oh my word, I barely know these people! I cannot bare my flesh to them! Then I thought, meh. They can just deal with my awkward tan lines.

It was the shortest swim of my life because it was so GOSH DARN FREEZING. It literally took my breath away.

We drove home singing along to Bob Marley. Bobby never fails to capture the mood.

Mariken showed me how she works with her ponies without using a halter. They have seven ponies, all of them a little bit mischievious. They try to eat my gumboot on regular occasions.

Ponies
Ponies

That night we had a 3 course raw vegan meal with some of the guests – Auke, Saskia and their wee tot Shuart. I have no idea how to spell his name, but its pronounced as a combination of Stuart and Short. We had wild garlic pesto, raw lasagne and, of course, our apple pie. And wine, because whats a dinner party without wine? Then we had a soul shakedown party, which is essentially all of us dancing around and Auke the giant swinging around the pole in the middle of the room like a giant pole dancer. He is genuinely the tallest person I ever met. He has to duck to get in everywhere.

Shuart on his machine
Shuart on his machine
The Brenazet Family
The Brenazet Family

We made a bonfire outside and sat around making up stories. A pretty awesome day. Izzy and I are looking after the farm for the next 3 days while Mariken, Ron, Igor and Nikola go back to Holland for Opa’s birthday party. We are excited to have some quality farm time, make some exciting meals and walk Elsa the dog. This place is beautiful! Who knows why some of the photos are black and white and some are in colour…. I am too tired to figure it out.

Ron
Ron
Little guy
Little guy

Brenazet france mei 2014 001 (219)

Brenazet france mei 2014 001 (217)

Brenazet france mei 2014 001 (221)

Wine and Spinach, Hand in Hand

I’ve been struggling over the past few days with the concept of all or nothing. Tonight is my last night at Cranleigh House, and this place has certainly changed my attitude towards food, eating animals in particular…. But I am never going to be a vegan. I would miss cheese too much. And meat. And cheese. Aaand cheese.

HOWEVER! I have done lots and lots of educational reading while I have been here, in particular a book called The China Study. If you have not read this book and want some pretty conclusive, solid scientific advice on why a plant-based, whole foods diet is better for you in every way than eating the standard western diet, read it!

Seriously, its kind of changing my life.

But, in saying that, I have this weird connection to eating meat and dairy, because I grew up on a farm and I feel it is basically in my DNA to eat meat. I feel like I would be betraying my childhood roots if I turned my back on all animal products. Also, I feel as though my family and friends would look at me with great disdain if I declared I no longer eat gluten or any animal products. No one would invite me to dinner.

And I am a firm believer these days in ‘everything in moderation’. Apart from foods containing gluten, because that shit makes me unpleasant to be around.

So I have decided to keep my focus on plant-based whole foods, because they make me feel amazing! But when I am offered meat and cheese, I am not going to say no, because I am poor and if someone is offering me food then I will gosh darn take it, and be grateful. And a little bit of meat and cheese makes life happy. Its when you are consuming large quantities of processed meat, pumped full of chemicals and hormones, every day, that you run into problems (see standard American diet).

My fellow HelpXer, Darryl, calls himself a ‘conscious eater’, which I think is a wonderful way to put it. Be aware of what you are eating, where it came from, how far it has travelled and how many chemicals have been sprayed on it. If your family chicken has passed a gentle death and wrote in his will that he wants his parts to be donated to your mouth, then you had best honour his wishes. Choose the foods that are closest to nature, and grown closest to home. Choose the foods that work for you, and recognise that only you can know what those foods are.

Kayla, my other HelpX buddy, is flirting with the term ‘Flexitarian’. Eat the way nature intended most of the time, but don’t be anal about it. Have cheese when you want it, and ENJOY IT SO MUCH.

There’s a whole lot of hate on vegetarians and vegans, and how they are pale fragile waifs, blown about in a gentle breeze. There is the impression that they are snooty, self-righteous protesters, that hate people who eat meat. I’m sure there are some like that. But the people I have met are people who are just figuring out what works for them and what is kindest to our animals and our earth. What is to hate about that? Animals are cute.

I love cows, I used to ride one called Mrs Brown. Rest in peace my noble steed.

Please note, I can eat plants on the reg, and still party like its 1999. That’s important for me, because I love to party. I am not turning into some weirdo who would rather stay at home and cook lentils and do ecstatic awakening dance in my living room…. Oh wait.

No seriously though… nobody will ever take away my right to party. I am not putting myself in a box, or giving myself a label. There is a belief that adopting a certain lifestyle means that you have to adopt a certain persona. Nah, I’m just doing ma thang.

Bye Cranleigh House, you’ve been weird. I fear my blog post material will become boring when I leave. All normal and no aliens makes Rosie a dull girl!

Farewell, alien mountain. I probably won't miss you.
Farewell, alien mountain. I probably won’t miss you.