Kitchen dancing and sister best-friendships.

One of my favorite pictures wasn’t taken with a two-thousand dollar camera, or posed by a stylist, or is completely in focus. It was taken by me on my iPhone 6 of my two sisters dancing in our kitchen to “Can I have this dance?” High School Musical gifted us with a lot of things, one of which was a plethora of dance songs.

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It’s precious to me because it captures so many memories and emotions all in one snapshot. Joy. Goofiness. Freedom. Letting loose. Delight. Celebration.

My sister had just returned home from South Africa, having been gone a month. We picked her up from Hartsfield-Jackson with our hand-drawn posters and hugs. And when we came home, the music started blaring. For as long as I can remember, kitchen dancing has been a thing of sisterhood. From house to house, from age to age, it’s been a fixture. Those kitchen hardwoods have served as our personal stage, hosting many choreographed routines, concerts, and freestyled waltzes.

While we don’t make an appearance on that stage as often as we used to, when we are together in one home, music and/or dancing often find their way in (thanks to one younger sister with an affinity for loud volume and tunes).

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We’re close, us sisters. The relational dynamics shift season to season, just as leaves change colors, or new fruits come into bloom.

But we didn’t always recognize the bond of family as a gift. When one sister’s friend came over, our mom would remind that sister to include the others in our playtimes. With a sigh, we’d (sometimes) comply. And being homeschooled meant we saw more of each other than the average siblings. In the early days of homeschooling, we’d sit around the same table for ‘class,’ or do homework all in the same room.

Yet, I didn’t fully realize the gift my sisters were until a few years later. Like most siblings, we got in petty fights all the time. During one particular fight with my older sister, I locked myself in my room. She tried to open the door, but the lock – and I – wouldn’t budge.

A folded piece of paper was shoved through the thin crack between the door and the floor. Who even knows what we were fighting about, but I will always remember that note.

“Dear McKenzie, I’m sorry for (insert thing we were fighting about). … I love you. … You’re my best friend.”  

That small note altered my life and my relationships.

I realized in that moment, that my sisters were my best friends. Mom had no doubt realized years ago that our sister relationships were a gift, and that we were stuck with each other, better or for worse.

For each of us Cunningham sisters, our friend groups have looked different every season. But throughout middle school and high school and college and adult life, our sister best-friendship has remained.

I’ve seen each of them at their worst and at their best, just as they can testify to my nice and ugly sides. We have this landscape view of each other’s heart journeys, testifying to both the Mount Everests and Mariana Trenches of our lives. I am known by my sisters, and them by me. And to be fully known is to be fully loved.

Since the day my sister slid that note under my door, I’ve tried my best not to forget that, to not fall back into my childish view of our relationship.

That dancing picture sits as a reminder on my desk. I love the snapshot because it takes me right back to that moment, it makes me smile, and reminds me what a gift sisters are.

 

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!