Pennies from Abroad, vol. I: Greece

After eight weeks of adventure, I'm finally home, and finally sitting down to process some of my experiences.

From the outset, I didn’t want to miss the little things. It’s easy to go-go-go while traveling, especially with limited time. But that mindset can make for a surface level understanding of where you are. So this time around, I started to make a list of little observations, isms I’d noted in countries, pieces of culture easily skimmed over. In a way, these things are my souvenirs – I take them home with me, with the hope of integrating some of them into my daily life, creating a traveling spirit even while home.

While I was traveling, I grew accustomed to mainly using cash (a foreign concept in the world of credit and debit cards). Somehow, after leaving each country, I found myself left with a few pennies (or rather, 1 cent) in every currency – euros, danish krones, croatian kunas, hungarian forints, or swiss francs. Those darn pennies were the hardest to get rid of (we all know the mad dash to use up the last of the local currency before leaving, buying ridiculous things you wouldn't purchase otherwise :) ). 

Shauna Niequist once wrote on how no one seems to want pennies, so she started to collect them, to give them a place, to make a small stand as if to say, "Even though the world deems pennies useless, if they have a place, they have meaning." When she started collecting them, she started seeing them everywhere, as tangible reminders of worth and God's faithfulness and big-picture meaning in her life. 

For me, these little isms that I gathered are like pennies: easy to miss or forget, and not often regarded by locals or travelers. They're little moments that I want to carry around like pennies, jingling in my pocket, squeezing their way in seat cushions, and becoming a part of the currency of my life.  

First up, Greece. (How on earth has it been two months since I was there?!)

My family spent the majority of our time on the Greek Islands, mixing lazy with adventure. Some of the things I noted are silly, and some are more philosophical, but regardless, here they are!


1. Partner white with a pop of color

No doubt you’ve seen the white-washed buildings of the islands on your Instagram feeds. Paired against a smoky-blue sunset, they’re stunning. But in this all-white culture we live in (paint all the walls white! It opens up and brightens a space! White marble kitchens! All white insta feeds!), it was nice to see that while the Greeks were the Original Gangsters when it came to white, they hadn’t disregarded the beauty and power of color. So really, while pictures may tell one story of the islands, I saw some of the most vibrant colors there. Bright pink bougainvillea draped the walls, and cobalt blue doors graced the entrance of every home.

The message is simple: white and color complement and strengthen one another – by working the two opposites together, you are able to fully appreciate the beauty of both.

2. An olive oil and vinegar set should grace every table.

We saw this in other countries, but not to the extremes of Greece. No matter what was ordered at a restaurant, whether it be bread, a salad, or pasta, the dynamic duo was there, ready to be drizzled on top.

The presence of oil and vinegar was comforting. In some ways, it felt like a hospitality symbol: from the white-tablecloths to the plastic ones, they were there, the simple, humble constant that speaks the same message: Come, sit, eat, and delight.

At the same time, it felt like a shared ritual that ties all of the people together. Can you imagine the conversations if you grew up in a Greek household? “McKenzie, can you set the table?” Out would come the knives, forks, and napkins, next the salt and pepper, and of course, the oil and vinegar. You’d have your special family bottles of the two, with your special brands.

Coming away from Greece, I want to find my versions of the two, and make them a constant at the table in my home.

3. You can believe in hard work, but also believe in rest

From October to March, the islands are dead. The weather grows harsh, and the tourists no longer make their way to the infamous parcels of land in the Aegean. Those who work in the tourism industry leave for the mainland, spending time with family, working side jobs, etc. But from March to October, they work hard. Six to seven days a week, often 12-hour days. One guidebook encouraged tourists to be patient in their exchanges with locals: remember, they don’t stop for seven months out of the year.

Part of this is system is due to the current Greek economy. That being said, the Greeks (at least the ones I met), are extremely hard-working. But they commit to the long hours for the rest at the end. I applaud their diligence and ability to have a vision for the future in the midst of hectic present. Their attitudes were positive and did not reflect one of “I’m so exhausted and poor me, I have to work straight through the next six months.”

Yes, their rest is “earned,” you could say, but I think it’s important to say that we shouldn’t feel the need to earn our rest. Rest is something we make space for, not a right we earn.

4. Sesame Seeds + Honey = Magic

It's the local version of a semi-healthy granola bar, also known as Pasteli. We were first introduced to the treat on an airplane — their version of a biscoff cookie  — and were immediately hooked. Some come in hard, crunchy form, others in chewy. I've seen them with pistachios mixed in, raisins, almonds — what have you. As soon as I get back home, I'm planning on trying to make my own version. 


Thus concludes the first installment of Pennies from Abroad. Stay tuned for more!

Slowness vs. Stillness

I’m learning that time is precious. Time with people, Time with yourself, time with Jesus. How I spend my time determines whether or not I am fueled. Often I spend it consumed by something: people, social media, homework, TV - you get the picture. I'm always in this revolving door, moving from one thing to the next. Missing in the equation is time that is slow and still.

IMG_1676.JPG

There’s this idea I have, that slowing down doesn’t equate to being still. Slowing down is a change in the pace, but not a change in the heart. Your heart and soul can still grow rubbery, like an office rubber band. You can slingshot it across the room; it can snap oh-so-easily, one moment sturdy and reliable, yet another all over the place.

Slowing down is essential – yes, sometimes you need to just lie around your house all day, lose yourself in a book, or a TV series. Sometimes you need to step out of this instant, on-demand world and participate in the things that take time.

But stillness stops the creeping calcification of your being and answers the ache. Slowing down is often easy, but stillness can be a battle. Sometimes it feels like you’re putting yourself in timeout when you sit alone without the noise, with your thoughts and God. When you set aside the stream of technology to reflect, to submit, to listen.

Stillness is a practice too easily lost, cast aside when there’s no motivation or schedules fill up – yet there’s still time to watch an episode of your favorite show or make that time-consuming dinner. I’m learning to prioritize stillness, because it rebuilds me. I am weak, but in the stillness I find my strength. It’s like a reverse Jenga: the pieces of me are placed back in their proper place.

Slowness and stillness often layer on top of each other – yet I’ve come to this conclusion: you can have slowness without stillness, but you can’t have stillness without slowing down. Stillness is the IV we often rip out, rejecting the drip containing our lifeline. Why, I can’t comprehend. Being still keeps you alive.