Saturday, December 22, 2018

Happy Holidays!

Merry [almost] Christmas! I'm currently sitting on my couch, taking a break after yoga classes this morning, wrapping Christmas presents this afternoon, and just before heading to the gym this evening. It feels so good to just sit down and write! This past week has gone by like a blur - wine night on Monday with a girlfriend, yoga class on Tuesday night, company Christmas party Wednesday, laundry/grocery shopping/cleaning/drinks out with another friend on Thursday, and shopping with my mom yesterday. (I think it goes without saying, yoga this morning was exactly what I needed!) And tomorrow is only the start of the family functions - evening at my aunt and uncle's, then Christmas Eve at another aunt's, then Christmas at my parents', a few days of work, and then heading off on a little out-of-town trip until Sunday. WHOOSH. There goes another week!

So while I'm just sitting here, ridiculously cozy in my big, fuzzy blanket, with a mug of Celestial Seasoning's Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride tea and watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, I've been thinking about holidays in the past. Call me sentimental, but I love to think back on past holidays and appreciate how different things have been over the years. Some years have been better than others, but every holiday season has brought new memories and valuable time with family and friends. My family has always made an effort to get together during the holidays, no matter how far apart we live. And while we don't wear matching outfits anymore (thanks, Mom) we still enjoy the festivities and have a great time making new memories. (Actually, I have to say - the holidays have gotten significantly more fun since I now that our family has grown and I have little nieces and nephews running around!)
Bless these matching outfits
So my siblings did the same to their kids, 21 years later
I will say, its weird that my siblings and I are now the 'adults' at our family parties. I feel like it was just yesterday that our family - aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. - would all gather at Papa's house on Christmas Eve for our huge family celebration. We would all bring way too much food, cover the ping pong table in my grandparents' basement with presents, and catch up on whatever was new with our families. We used to spend the entire day together (until it was time for church), opening presents, eating bacon-lard noodles and Christmas cookies, playing games, and watching whatever new DVDs we'd been given. One of my aunts always brought "Bourbon Slush" (a delicious concoction, maybe I'll get the recipe to share!) and we'd just have a great time together. But now we are the aunts and uncles...new traditions, new memories. It's weird, but kind of wonderful.

My family has spent the majority of Christmases in Michigan. But there was one year when I was out near Fargo, ND for school and my brother lived in Minneapolis, MN, so we all decided to gather in the Twin Cities for the holidays. It was probably one of my least favorite memories of Christmas, as I didn't get the chance to go "home" for the holidays. Celebrating in a more central location saved me 14 hours of driving, of course, but still...there's something about being back in your hometown around the holidays.

But then a few years later, I spent Christmas in Michigan then was on a mountain in the heart of the Alps by New Year's (one of my favorite memories of the holidays...you can check that trip out here)! I had literally just graduated from college (on December 17th), moved from Minnesota to Michigan by the 19th, had Christmas with my family on the 25th, and was on a plane to Germany by the 27th. I loved getting to ring in the New Year with my friends in Europe, experiencing a totally new way of celebrating the holidays. It was an incredible year, and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
And then last year, I was in the UP for Christmas Eve and Christmas, spending the holiday with John and his family. He had to work on Christmas Eve, so I went to church and had a low-key day at my apartment. Then we spent the day together on Christmas, visiting friends for dinner and spending time with his family. I headed down to my parents' house the day after as he had to work until New Years' Eve. But on the 31st, he drove down right when he was off work and made it just in time for my sister's New Year's Eve party (he had some catching up to do when he got there - haha). It was an absolute blast! And while driving down from the UP in the middle of December is somewhat terrifying, I think we'd both agree that it was completely worth it.
Literally do not miss this one bit.
Anyway...I can't wait for this year. It feels like the first year in awhile that I don't have any long drives or flights for Christmas, given that most of my family now lives only 45 minutes away (I moved down from the UP in September). My brother, his wife, and my adorable niece will even be up visiting from Missouri shortly after Christmas, which will be the first time I've seen them since June! My oldest brother is an Organist, so we've always celebrated Christmas with our immediate family a few days after, usually on the 31st. Then my sister has a big New Year's Eve party and its just one big, fun day full of family, friends, and food.

But despite not having made Christmas-specific travel plans, I did manage to squeeze one little trip in this year.... John will be coming down the 27th and the next day we are heading to Chicago! We'll only be there until Sunday (of course we'll be back for New Year's Eve) but I couldn't be more excited. We're planning to drive down early afternoon on Friday, then who knows - it's going to be a very spontaneous trip (we don't have anything booked or planned)! But what I've learned from my trips to Greece and Germany is that sometimes those are the best kinds of trips: you just go and get lost in a new place...with GPS handy just in case. I haven't been to Chicago since 9th grade (10 years ago, goodness), so I'm definitely looking forward to going back. We even found an AirBNB right in walking distance of public transportation. Win.
Throwback to black hair....never again!
The holidays always make me reflect on how much things have changed over the years. Some changes are great: new nieces and nephews, new relationships, exciting plans or travelling, and goal-setting for the new year. Some changes are not so great: that first year we celebrated Christmas without either grandfather or realizing that certain goals from the previous year just didn't (or likely won't) happen. But with Christmas only three days away (ahhh!) I am choosing to focus on the good things: the growth, the lessons learned, the new opportunities. And I truly hope you can, too.

From my family to yours, I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. I'll see you all in 2019!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Yoga as a Christian.

Yoga is not a religion. 

Being “into yoga” does not automatically mean that you have a certain belief system. It doesn’t imply that you worship certain deities or follow Eastern philosophy to a ‘T’. It doesn’t mean that you have certain opinions and it certainly doesn’t mean that you are liberal or conservative. It simply means that there’s something about yoga that resonates with you and is time-worthy enough to keep you coming back for more. If anything, yoga is a science of how to integrate mind, body, and spirit. From physical postures (asana) to meditation to a clear and content mentality, there are so many ways that yoga can be interpreted. And just like other sciences, it can vary from person to person. As my yoga teacher has often said, “Take what you want, and leave what you don’t.” Yoga is what you need it to be; nothing else.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now. Ever since I started my 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training I’ve been asked all kinds of questions regarding my opinion towards yogic philosophies. What do I think of them? What do I believe? How can I do (let alone teach) yoga if my religion doesn’t align with every aspect of them? While yes, some of the readings we’ve had in class haven’t resonated with me and have on occasion made me uncomfortable, it’s not enough to deter me from going. However I do enjoy meditation, just sitting with my eyes closed, focusing on my breathing rather than upcoming plans, what I need at the store, what that person said to me last week, etc.. And I thoroughly enjoy the physical practice, growing more flexible and stronger through different sequences and postures. I take what I need and leave what I don’t: its as simple as that. 

As many of you know, I am a Christian. I grew up as part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, was confirmed in eighth grade, and have continued to practice throughout the years. I could type out the Apostles’ Creed to clarify if you aren’t sure what the LCMS believes, but I’ll just link you to it here instead. To summarize, it’s a fairly conservative branch of Christianity that requires belief in Christ and repentance of sins to one day join Him in heaven. That’s it. So you can imagine where questions have come up, given that yoga is both a physical and spiritual practice. For example, when we first started studying the philosophies behind yoga, we read the Bhagavad Gita, learning of the god Krishna, the concept of the Atman (the universal self), and even reincarnation (to name a few). These aren’t concepts that will come up in most standard yoga classes (think vinyasa, ashtanga), and certainly aren’t part of any LCMS beliefs. Unlike the standard flows in hour-long yoga classes, Kundalini and other types of yoga do however incorporate these principals. This stands to show that yoga can be so much more than just a physical practice. Yes, we meditate. Yes, we chant.
But these ‘spiritual elements’ of yoga can also go beyond the belief system. There’s a great deal of physiological activity in yoga, from stimulating certain chemicals in the brain to exploring different nerve clusters in the body. While the spiritual enthusiasts may discuss ‘higher beings’ or ‘the Universe’ bringing about changes in the body, others can simply acknowledge a chemical change in the brain due to either physical activity or mental focus. “Mudras” - shapes often made with the hands to ‘focus energy’ in the Chakras (energy centers) or bring about a certain mental/physical change - are one of those things that can be evaluated on a physiological level. For example, holding your hands in front of your heart, palms together and fingers facing upwards, is called Anjala Mudra, and literally means ‘to offer’ or ‘salutate’. In the spiritual side of yoga, it is offering the self to the ‘higher being’, or the ‘universal self’. In the physiological side of yoga, the nerve endings in your palms create a feeling of comfort, calm, and belonging when pressed together in Anjala Mudra. Likewise, certain chants in Kundalini have nothing to do with a higher being and more to do with recognizing the inner self, though many people think chanting is praising or worshipping a deity. For those who are wary of chanting, my yoga teacher advised us to just focus on how it makes us feel: certain words, hand motions, or rhythms can have a huge impact on mood. On the spiritual side, opening your arms wide and chanting ‘Sat Kartaar” means that ‘God is the Doer’ (we just need to follow His plan in our day-to-day lives and accept what is). But the very act of the chant boosts your mood whether you know what you’re saying or not: the tongue clicks against the roof of your mouth, your chest opens, and you thrust your arms outwards. Try it. As you say SAT, press your hands together in prayer at the center of the chest. Then say KAR, and extend your hands out from the shoulders, half-way towards being fully outstretched. Keep your fingers pointing straight up. Finally, say TAAR, and quickly fully extend your arms out to either side. Repeat over and over until it’s no longer a step-by-step motion and rather a flowing movement. I can’t do this more than four times without smiling!
I could go on and on about the spiritual aspects of yoga and how I interpret them slightly differently as a Christian. I could talk about Reiki and crystals and vibrations, which yes have some truth to them but no, aren’t discussed in the Christian religion. Science has shown that different colors and scents have different effects on our brains. Think of how many fast food chains are red: believe it or not, it’s a color that has been shown to stimulate hunger. Or maybe you use essential oils: these also bring about a physiological response depending on which ones you use. So despite not buying into all aspects of it, I can understand how people find value in Reiki and fully believe in it. 

Finally, I want to address the closing “Namaste”. I recently taught yoga to a group of eight-year-olds and one of them confidently announced that saying, “Namaste” means you are worshipping a god who isn’t Jesus. The truth is, it has nothing to do with gods at all. It actually means, “The light within me honors that light within you.” In simpler terms, “My soul honors your soul.” It’s a way the teacher thanks his/her students for coming to class. It’s a way the students show appreciation back for having just led the class. It’s just a simple way for a person or group of people to acknowledge and celebrate one another. Think of it as simply saying, “You rock” - “Hey, you rock, too”.
Yoga is not a one-thing-fits-all practice. I have a friend who only goes to hot yoga and that’s it. A woman in my Yoga Teacher Training prefers Kundalini over any other class. Another friend of mine only goes to Yin or Meditation classes and has been to several Reiki workshops. And then there’s me, who only used to go to Vinyasa classes at Lifetime Fitness because they made me sweat more than cardio on a machine. Yoga is highly subject to interpretation, but in the end it’s not a religion. Are there religious aspects in it, if you want there to be? Of course. But yoga is what happens in your mind, body, and soul when you’re on the mat. It’s also what gets taken with you off the mat and into your life. It stays between you, yourself, and you. A teacher may give you guidance on how to breathe or how to move, but they aren’t a preacher or pastor in any sense. They’re simply there to guide you through a flow, help you increase flexibility or strength (in the physical body), open up energy channels that may be blocked (on the spiritual side), and bring you to Savasana with a clear mind, renewed energy, and readiness to take on the rest of your day.

I am a Christian, and in a few months I will also be a Yoga Teacher. I have no desire to change my religion based on what I've learned in my training. I just plan to continue on with a curious mind and positive attitude. Does my religion hinder my ability to teach yoga? No way (come to my class next year, you'll see!). Should it hinder you from trying yoga? Absolutely not. Give it a try, and you just might find some things that resonate with you. Have a great weekend, everyone! Namaste.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Creative Clarity Vol. 4

Happy Hump Day! ...or something like that? When did Wednesday start officially being "Hump Day"? Was it ever really "Hump Day" before we started seeing the camel commercials? Why is having a mirror on the ceiling of the elevator so entertaining? Is the New Year really only three weeks away?

I digress...

I have a list on my desk next to me of blog posts I plan to write in the coming weeks. I'll admit: I'm pretty excited. Despite being in the midst of the holiday season, I've started working on several posts on everything from yoga and travel to writing and future plans. While these are marinating in my drafts folder, I thought I'd take a few minutes to share a few (ok, many) things I've been loving lately. I realize I haven't done one of these posts since before Halloween, so please excuse my untimely holiday content. Enjoy!
Halloween party at work
Speaking of work...this is INSIDE my building. I walk through here almost every afternoon and I love it.
Atomic Coffee in downtown Royal Oak is a new favorite spot (I got an Americano - five stars!)
My mom's - aka "Nana"'s - birthday party with these two cuties. Terrible picture quality, adorable picture!
Learning Anatomy in Yoga Teacher Training has been my favorite unit so far.
My interpretation of the "Ugly Sweater". Can I wear a dress instead? With socks?
Another occasion to wear a dress: a charity event at the Townsend Hotel. Incredible evening.
Tacos & Beer at Greenspace, a vegan restaurant in Ferndale
So glad my mom talked me into buying these leggings on Black Friday (PS they're from Meijer)
Planning some things for later this month - stay tuned! (source)
I hope you've enjoyed seeing what I've been loving lately! It's amazing how fast this year is going by but its so important to take a few minutes and reflect on the "highlights reel". 2018 has been so eventful (in both good and not-so-good ways), and it feels like its only gaining momentum heading into 2019. It's going to be a great holiday season and an incredible new year. I can't wait - three weeks to go!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Green Smoothie: How To Use Spirulina

I'll start off with a very honest statement: the thought of Spirulina used to completely gross me out. After all, the thought of purposely putting a dark green powder made from blue/green algae into your food would seem crazy if you don't take the time to research its benefits. But as it turns out, Spirulina is incredibly good for you, from the amino acids it contains (aka the 'building blocks' of protein) to nutrients such as calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron. Don't believe me? Check out more info here. And while yes, when you first open the bag it definitely has that 'from the sea' smell, mixing a small amount into whatever you're eating will hide it wonderfully. 

I first started seeing bright green smoothie bowls on Instagram and it instantly peaked my interest. I love to try out weird new foods, and anything that had such a vibrant color while being completely natural was too good to be true. I decided to jump on the bandwagon and give it a go. 

My first smoothie was awful.

I added a heaping scoop of the stuff to my usually delicious smoothie, which at the time consisted of unflavored/unsweetened pea protein, frozen banana, and cashew milk. It honestly tasted like I was eating grass-flavored ice cream. So with much trial and error, I finally have an incredible recipe that I make nearly every morning for breakfast, and it tastes like a treat. For those interested in trying out Spirulina, I hope this recipe helps you take that step! For those who think I'm weird for enjoying bright green food, well...you must not know me very well. I love it. Without further ado, throw some bananas in your freezer, pull out your algae powder, and get ready for a treat!
 (My two favorites - use what you love!)
Mean, Green, Protein "Ice Cream"

Ingredients:
- 90g frozen banana (approx. 1 small or 1/2 large banana)
- 2-3c ice (depending on the size of your blender)
- 3/4c plant-based milk (I use Silk Unsweetened Vanilla Cashew milk)
- 30g (approx. 1 scoop) protein of choice (I like Vega Salted Caramel or PEScience Vegan Chocolate Bliss)
- 1/2tsp Spirulina powder (find mine here)
- 1/2tsp Pyure or Stevia powder (I use this one)
- 1tbsp chia seeds (optional)
- 50g pumpkin puree (optional) - this mostly helps with consistency. If you are not vegan, you can substitute Greek yogurt to get the same result
- Toppings such as: 2 tbsp peanut butter of choice (I like PB2), frozen berries, granola, cereal, chocolate chips, cacao nibs, cinnamon, coconut flakes, etc.

Note: I have a Ninja, but this can be made in just about any blender. Smaller blenders/bullets may require you to crush the ice first

1. In the Ninja cup, add ice, frozen banana, pumpkin puree (optional), and plant-based milk. Blend on high for 5-10 seconds to break up some of the ice.

2. Add in the protein powder, chia seeds (optional), Pyure/Stevia, and Spirulina.

3. Blend until smooth. You may need to remove the blender cup, give it a few shakes, and continue blending. If it isn't blending smoothly, add small amounts of your plant-based milk.

4. Once thoroughly blended, transfer to a bowl and put it in the freezer.

5. Leave it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to thicken. During this time, I usually get out my toppings, make my coffee, get ready for work, etc. You can just eat it right out of the blender but it'll be more ice cream-like if you freeze it for a short while.

6. Add toppings and enjoy! I chose cereal, frozen berries, PB2, and a healthy amount of cinnamon in the photo below. Definitely going through a cinnamon phase right now...

7. Enjoy!

Let me know if you give this a try!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Avoiding the Holiday Burnout.

Happy December everyone! I feel like we can all agree that this year has gone by so quickly. Its hard to believe that we're already back to cold, snowy weather, Peppermint Mochas, and counting the days until Christmas (24, by the way). Even these past few weeks have just vanished, and sitting down to blog this morning I'm realizing its been over a week since my last post. How is that possible?

With last week having been a short work week, the Thanksgiving holiday, a friend visiting last weekend, and company leadership in our office this week, I feel like my mind has been racing just to keep up with my body. I haven't had time to get to any yoga classes since the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. My workouts have been far from spectacular. I'll even step up and admit that I had to drop "NaNoWriMo" halfway through because trying to hit 50,000 words by the end of November just wasn't going to happen. I tried to push, staying up well past midnight several nights in a row, but frankly started to burn out. A friend told me I was going to hit a wall if I continued trying to do so many things, and he was right. Blogging, yoga, trying to squeeze writing an entire novel into one month...they've been put on the back-burner (though I did make it to 48 pages. Still proud.). The good news is that the coming weeks will be much less chaotic. Unlike most, who are planning trips and lots of holiday parties, baking loads of treats, and attending different Christmas-related events, I've got a surprisingly light load through the end of the year. I'm relieved. Sure, there are a few work events coming down the line and of course my family will celebrate Christmas, but December is overall looking much less hectic than it has in past years. Last year, I took a long weekend and traveled home from the UP. The year before, I was coming back from my Germany/Greece adventure. Even the year prior to that, I was graduating from college and moving from Minnesota to Michigan. This is the first year things feel as though they've truly settled. My schedule is busy, but not unmanageable. And I've made sure to allow for plenty of down time to do the things I enjoy.
 (At the Townsend Hotel for a charity event last month)
 (Family Thanksgiving last week)
(Catching up over great food and beer)
That being said, my goal for December is to get back into the habit of blogging and focus on doing it more as a hobby rather than as an obligation (as its become from time to time in the past). I love to write; if you're a friend or family member who's known me for any period of time, you well know that. For me, blogging - or writing in general - is something that should be enjoyable. And while I do look forward to that moment when I've put together something I'm proud of and can finally hit, "publish", sometimes the process can feel more like a "have to" than a "get to" when I try to force it. It's the same with yoga, working out, or even cooking a good meal: when you're stressed and feel like you're just doing it to 'get it done', it loses whatever makes it enjoyable.

Carry this with you throughout the holiday season: if you feel as though you have too many obligations, too much pressure, or just not enough free time to do what you actually enjoy, give yourself a break. It's ok to say no. You love to bake but don't want to bake 15 dozen cookies for all of your different holiday parties? Offer to bake for a few, then take something easy like wine or munchies to the others. Feel like you don't have time to go to the gym or that Pilates class because you have so many evening obligations? Just attend those where you truly enjoy the company of whoever is hosting. Love shopping but don't have enough money to buy elaborate presents for everyone on your list? Find things that are small but sentimental. In the past few weeks I've been reminded that a packed schedule is not necessarily a productive one: if anything, it can usually be quite the opposite. And the holidays are supposed to be the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year," right? Don't let yourself burn out!
 (Some nights you just need a cup of tea, a yummy-smelling candle, and movies)
Knowing when to say, 'Yes' and participate in 'extra-curriculars' is so important (holiday parties, baking 15 dozen cookies for different get-togethers, shopping, etc.). But equally important is knowing when to step back and just say, 'No'. It's December: just one month to go until the new year. Enjoy the time you have with friends and family, the time you do have off from work, and spend some time doing the things you love: the things you'd regret if you missed. But do them at your own pace, and acknowledge when you need to take time for yourself. Don't let the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year" become the most stressful 

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 4

Everything was gone: my credit cards, my driver’s license, the €260,00 I’d taken out of the atm the day before. How am I going to buy my bus ticket? What will I do for food? How am I going to make it another six days without any money? My heart was pounding and I felt I might be sick. Do I get on the plane? Do I go back to the AirBNB? What do I do?

The bus driver was of no help. According to him, this wasn't uncommon in Greece. Pickpockets targeted public transportation all the time: it was easy to get away with without being caught because everyone was moving about. My heart sank. My mind was racing. My instinct told me to call my mother but it was only 3:00am in America. And ...my flight to the next city left in forty minutes. I checked my bags about a million times, hoping to see my wallet poking out from a pocket or something. I had no luck: it was gone.

The next five hours blurred together. I found an attendant who helped calm me down and print my boarding pass, then directed me to the airport's police station. Only one officer spoke English. He helped me to cancel my credit cards, call my next host to let him know of the situation, and explained that my family could use Western Union to send me money. I tried to remain calm, but I wanted to cry. I was in a foreign country, with nothing but my luggage and a passport. It was a nightmare.

The officer instructed me to get on my flight, text my host when I arrived using WhatsApp, and he would come pick me up at the airport in Chania. The original plan was for me to take the bus to the stop nearest his house, but I no longer had money for a bus ticket. And then to my horror, I got to the airport and didn't have a steady enough WiFi signal to message him. An attendant at the airport told me the WiFi was down. Of course. So I wandered around the airport for nearly three hours until I found a corner where I could connect for more than two minutes. Yiannis - my next Couchsurfing host - came an hour and a half later and I hugged him like he was a parent coming to rescue his kid. I had never been so thankful to see a complete stranger in my life. 
Looking back at how things unfolded, I could not have been more fortunate. Yiannis made sure I had food to eat. He made sure I had spending money. He took me out for pizza and beer on the way home from the airport, where I learned he actually owned and ran a brewery right there on Crete. Fittingly, it was called Cretan Brewery, and the pizza place we'd stopped had his Charma lager on draft. It was phenomenal, and I was beyond relieved to know I had such a caring host. We figured out a "plan of action" over dinner, then headed to his house and out to the Venetian Harbor for a late tour. It could have been a miserable first night on Crete, but it was absolutely incredible.
The rest of my time spent on Chania was both the most amazing few days of my life and the most frustrating. My mother tried to send me money through Western Union, which can normally be done online or in-store with a credit or debit card. But because the economic situation in Greece was so terrible, she had to use cash only...so it took an extra few days to arrive. My bank also said they could send an emergency replacement debit card to Yiannis' house from a mint in Germany, and that would take an additional three days to come. I had an unconfirmed ferry trip planned from Chania to Santorini, then back to Athens, which was nullified when I cancelled my credit cards. So I had a flight from Athens back to Detroit pre-paid, but no way to get from Chania to Athens. I was literally stranded on an island. Fortunately, as soon as I posted something on Facebook about it, several people reached out to me asking if they could help (you all are amazing!) and one of my friends from highschool offered to buy my flight from Chania to Athens. Pat Wagner, you literally saved my trip and I cannot thank you enough. You know a true friend when they don't think twice about booking you a flight to help you out of a tough situation. I had never felt more relieved in my life.

On a positive note, my time in Chania was very well spent. Yiannis sent me on a Jeep Expedition through the White Mountains with an employee from his brewery: they wanted to add the brewery to the tour (which included a winery, trip through the olive groves, lunch, and a view of a shepherd's hut at the top of the mountains). He had a sensitive stomach, so sent me to see what I thought. It was the most incredible day. Everything from the wine tasting to the traditional Cretan-style lunch at a small restaurant in the mountains to driving up near 90-degree angles made for an unforgettable experience. All thanks to my wallet being stolen.
Manousakis Winery
The most amazing lunch ever
 I'm in love with this view. Breathtaking.
Because I stayed a few days longer than originally planned, I got to meet Elena - the next Couchsurfer coming to stay with Yiannis. She was from Moscow and we got along like old friends as soon as we met. We explored the city together (she takes beautiful photos!), talked and drank homemade wine together, and even cooked dinner for Yiannis one night. In return, he took us on a tour of Cretan Brewery and we got to try all three of his brews (there are far more now) and see the beautiful brewery. The morning finally came for me to pick up the emergency debit card from the UPS store, pick up my mother's money at the Western Union store, and head to the airport. Chania had been such an adventure, and I would go back in an instant.
 Yiannis also took us to a family restaurant for an absolute feast: several kinds of seafood, Boureki (recipe to come!), fish soup, fries, fresh bread, and plenty of wine. We actually had it on Thanksgiving day, and it was the greatest feast I've ever had.
Money in hand, I took a bus back to the Chania airport after a sad good-bye to Elena and Yiannis. With the whole "stolen wallet" situation, I felt like I'd grown closer to them than I would have had I been able to be on my own the entire time. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise...maybe having my wallet stolen was actually a good thing that helped me to get the most out of my trip. Of course I was bummed that I didn't actually find my Greek relatives (Yiannis told me that since their last name didn't end in "-akis or -aki, we weren't actually from Chania. Rather, it was just where the boat left for America). But it was incredible to witness the culture and meet all of the wonderful hosts I had.

When I got back to Athens, I had just enough money from the Western Union transaction to last another three days before heading home. I didn't stay with Christophe again, as I wanted to meet more people and spend time in a different area. But we did meet up for dinner one night so I could get my Starbucks mugs from him (I'd left them at his apartment knowing I was coming back to Athens) and we talked about everything I'd seen since leaving Athens. It felt like I was having dinner with a close friend, and I was so thankful to him for paying that evening. The emergency replacement debit card hadn't worked: I had nearly $350 in international phone charges when I got home trying to figure out why it wouldn't work in any restaurants or stores, and was mortified when they told me it had been printed incorrectly. It hadn't come with a pin number. There was no three-digit code on the back. My bank felt terrible, and while it was MasterCard's fault (not theirs), they still offered to cover the fees and sent me a gift card for my troubles. So by the time I ran to the bus stop the next morning (in an absolute downpour, of course), paid for my bus ticket to the airport, and bought a small sandwich at the airport for lunch, I had $12 left. I hadn't been able to buy any of the souvenirs I'd been planning to for my family and friends, but I made it back to America. After a container of hummus and pita chips and a beer at the Toronto airport (I had a six-hour layover before flying back to Detroit), I had a grand total of $1.50 left. 
Once I made it back to Detroit, my friend Leslie picked me up at the airport and drove me home (she lived just one floor above me in my apartment complex). I was thrilled to find my replacement credit and debit cards waiting in my mailbox, and excited about finally sleeping in my own bed again. I had to be at work the next morning, and was a zombie the entire day. But I had made so many memories in just two short weeks. 

As Anthony Bourdain said, "“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you - it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” 

My trip certainly wasn't always pretty. It definitely wasn't always comfortable. It sent me to the edge of my comfort zone and made me appreciate all of the little things I take for granted. It opened my eyes to the cultures of my family and changed me for the better: I truly believe it left a mark on my memory, my consciousness, and of course on my heart. I will always have the memories of this trip to take with me, and I know I left a mark behind as well. 

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