Looking Back on 2017

2017 was nothing like I thought it would be!  I spent six months in Greece, broken into two three-month segments by six months spent in the United States.  In real time, I found a lot of this year stressful because the future seemed so unknown.  But looking back, I can see that the unknown held a lot of wonderful experiences.

I was promoted to a higher level of management at the NGO where I volunteer in Athens.  When I found myself back in the States, I was hired by the library where I worked five years ago.  Many of my coworkers are still there, and it felt like a happy reunion.  I also got to spend a lot of time with family and friends from my hometown, people who know my eccentricities deeply and love me anyway.  I’m finishing the year in Athens, surrounded by my Found Family in Greece, grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to live here.

But what’s a Looking Back without remembering all the places I was able to travel during the past year?

  • January:  I started the year in Seattle, celebrating the New Year with my brother and snowshoeing for the first time.  Mid-month, I flew back to Athens for three months.
  • February:  Luciana, Olga and I spent a weekend in Bucharest, Romania enjoying the snow we never get in Athens.
  • March:  Our organization spent a weekend retreat in Kleitoria, in northern Pelopponese, where we explored caves and ate fish we chose from a tank.  I also went to Thessaloniki with Anthi and Rosie to experience Greece’s second city and eat loads of bougatsa.
  • April:  I flew home to the States in April, and soon thereafter I went to Vancouver for two weeks of training with our parent organization.  When that finished, I spent another weekend in Seattle with my brother before flying home to Illinois.
  • May:  Thinking my time in the States was short, I drove down to Dallas and Austin to reconnect with a lot of my favorite people from my time at DTS.  Later in the month I joined my grandparents on their vacation to Wisconsin Dells, which was a lovely opportunity to spend time with them.
  • June, July: I started working for the library, and ironically, I didn’t travel during the summer.
  • August:  My mom and I flew out to Portland, where we met up with my brother and his partner to roadtrip up the coast to Seattle.
  • September:  I drove out to Rockville, Maryland for a long weekend with one of my closest friends exploring quaint coastal towns and eating a lot of great food.
  • October:  I flew back to Greece for a final three months in Athens.
  • November:  When visitors came to our organization, we orchestrated an outing to Corinth, which I hadn’t been to since 2007.  I later went to Evvia for Luciana’s birthday and was astonished to see autumnal leaves in Greece.
  • December:  Anthi, Rosie and I traveled together again for a long weekend in Rome, satisfying one of my top travel desires.

Guys, I’m developing an unsustainable habit of needing to travel somewhere at least once per month.  This will someday be a problem, but for now I’m super grateful for cheap plane tickets, a good car, and friends who let me stay with them for free!

2017 doesn’t fit into any neat “This Happened” box, and instead I’m left with a lot of disparate but lovely memories.  I’ll take it.

Looking Back on 2016 | LOOKING FORWARD

I’m heading back to Athens, Greece in 2017!  I will continue to volunteer at HD, though in time I’ve been away, we already have another participant and our first baby.  Things should continue to be interesting and challenging at work, which is exactly how I like it.  On the social end of things, it will be so nice to return to my own apartment and my own cat, to grow already existing friendships instead of creating new ones from scratch.

One of the strange things about moving to a new city is how long the process of finding friends really is.  It’s easy to meet new people, but sometimes you don’t realize that you don’t click until a month or two in, and sometimes you immediately click but your schedules never match up.  It takes time to find the people who will be a consistent, fun, and supportive presence in your life.  Luckily, I did most of that work last year, so I get to reap the rewards and jump right back into hanging out with Luciana, Giorgos, Kendra, and Rosie.

Most of my goals for next year are the same as last:  keep learning Greek, keep traveling, keep figuring out what to do next year.  The fact that I am kind of reliving my year makes me want to die, though, so here are some new goals.  Never be stagnant!

This year I want to travel solo.  There are often deals on Ryanair that offer flights for only €10 each way, but I pass them by because I can’t find anyone willing to spontaneously go on a weekend trip.  Why waste the opportunity?  And honestly, the more I think about it, the more fun it sounds to wander Budapest on my own.

Hm.  That’s honestly the only new thing I can think of.  Maybe I would want to join a dance class or something?  One of those ridiculous hipster dance classes that focuses on body positivity that Luciana told me about.  Or self-defense!  I don’t know, and probably I wouldn’t spend money on something like that, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

Other than those things, I really am just going to focus on: keep learning Greek.  Keep trying to figure out what the next step is.  Keep enjoying where I am while I’m there.

Bring it, 2017!

Looking Back on 2016 | BOOKS

My Six Favorite Books of 2016

(I read them in 2016; they were not necessarily published in 2016)

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-5-19-48-pm

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The nature and causes of mental illnesses is explored in this unique, beautiful love story between two teenagers.  Do not read in public if you have an ugly crying face!

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

A perfectionistic young woman stops trying to please everyone else and travels throughout Ireland, Australia, and South America.  It was relevant to my life.

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire by Lars Brownsworth

Yes, this is a non-fiction book about the Byzantine Empire.  But if you are even slightly interested in history, this is SUCH an engrossing story.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

A retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective that is unreliable, clever, and socially scathing.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (review not up yet)

A Pride and Prejudice retelling starring a Muslim girl in England – it’s actually different enough from the source material to be worth reading!

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A stand-alone fantasy novel that has intensely original worldbuilding and a slow burn of a romance that doesn’t supercede our heroine’s character development.

What were some of your favorite books that you read this year?

Looking Back on 2016 | TRAVEL

As usual, I judge the success of my years by how much traveling I manage to get in.  Here’s a quick rundown!

Outside Greece

  • I met up with Kaitlyn in Berlin, Germany for a weekend in March.
  • I met up with Roy and Idil in Cappadocia, Turkey in June.
  • I went on a roadtrip throughout Slovenia and visited Venice and Bologna, Italy with my mom in August.
  • I went to my organization’s debrief in Lille, France in December.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-41-12-pm

Inside Greece

  • I went to three Greek conferences this year: one near Corinth, one on Evvia, and one near Katerini.
  • I visited Sounio and Nafplio with Anthi.
  • I went to Meteora with Sarah in October.

Greek Islands

  • I visited Aegina with Jenna in March.
  • I spent a weekend in Hydra with Mallory in May.
  • I spent a weekend in Crete with Elizabeth in October.
  • I spent a weekend in Santorini with Lindsay and Emily in November.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-41-38-pm

Traveling is my happy place, and it was especially good fortune that during one of the most stressful years of my life, I was surrounded by an enormous amount of cheap, beautiful, diverse weekend destinations.  Here’s hoping that traveling doesn’t feel quite so necessary next year, but that I’ll still get to hit up several amazing places!

I’m 28 Today!

I was talking to Dina the other day about marriage and singleness.  She said that in Greece girls are encouraged to get married when they graduate from school – from HIGH SCHOOL, and that there is this underlying belief that a girl’s purpose is to get married and have babies.  I said the same thing existed in the States, although the pressure happened when graduating from college.  And then I said, “I wanted that really badly when I was in college.  But if I’d gotten married, I would probably be living in a suburban house in Illinois or Tennessee with a husband and kids.  I wouldn’t be here now.  I doubt I’d have a Master’s in Counseling….I’m so glad I didn’t get what I thought I wanted!”

All of which is to say:  my 27th year was a CRAZY one, and a great one!

While 27, I:

  • graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Master’s in Counseling
  • lived with my grandparents and parents for three months each
  • raised $27,000 in fundraising to move to Greece
  • went on a month-long roadtrip to 17 states
  • worked as a nanny, secretary, and librarian
  • saw Hamilton the Musical
  • moved to Greece
  • learned basic Greek
  • visited New Orleans, Disney World, Seattle, New York City, and Berlin

Putting everything in list form, I don’t know how being 28 could possibly top last year.  BUT, well.  I’m in Greece!  A stone’s throw away from weekend trips all over Europe.  And House Damaris is about to begin, and I’ll get to work as a counselor/teacher/secretary/fundraiser!  And I get to figure out if and how I will stay here after my visa expires…

Life is wonderful!  I mean, it’s also scary and overwhelming, but that’s a pretty good indicator that I have chosen a life of adventure.  I can’t wait to see what good and beautiful and heartbreaking and exciting things happen now that I’m 28!

Looking Back on 2015: Looking Forward to 2016!

2015, in a lot of ways, felt like one big goodbye.  Goodbye to Texas, and the friends I made there.  Goodbye to DTS, and the nerdy pleasure of reading textbooks and writing essays.  Goodbye to Peoria, and the friends who helped me accomplish my goal of moving to Athens.

It was a year of goodbyes, and I’m definitely still sad about many of them.  But the goodbyes are all in anticipation of one massive HELLO – to Athens, Greece, and the life that awaits me there.

As I look forward to my life in Athens, here are some of the things I’m most excited about:

  • GREEK FOOD
  • riding public transportation (more time to read!)
  • helping organize, plan, and implement a new business
  • working with my HD teammates
  • meeting the women who will come to HD
  • traveling around Greece (and hopefully more of Europe)
  • learning a new city and calling it my own
  • stretching myself beyond what I think I can do

2015 was amazing.  I cannot wait to see what 2016 has in store!

What is coming up for you in 2016 that you’re most excited about?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Looking Back on 2015: Travel!

The highlight of 2015 was definitely all the traveling I did.

  • I went to Athens, Greece in March
  • I explored New Orleans and kayaked through a swamp in May
  • I went to Disney World with my family and danced with the Beast in July
  • I spent the entire month of October roadtripping around the United States, staying with friends and seeing new sights in my self-named #32DaysInMyCar
  •  I took a three-day-long train to Seattle to spend Thanksgiving with my brother
  • I bonded with my mom in New York City (and saw Hamilton!) in December

You can read more about each of those trips in my Recent Trips page.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 6.40.36 PM
The states I visited in 2015.

All told, I went to 26 states in 2015.  Half the country!  Just this year!

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to beat that number again.

Hmmm…challenge accepted.

Did you go anywhere awesome this year?  Leave a comment and tell me about your favorite trip of 2015!