Photographing your Life

Last Year, as we were traveling in Greece and across the U.S. I began to take out my phone and take pictures of what was around me. And when I came home I kept it up. Now, I have fallen in love with photography and I still take pictures on a daily basis. My phone storage and SD cards are overflowing with snippets of my life. I began to take photos because I love to keep memories for later, and I love to capture people as they are. I love having pictures of my friends, especially ones where they are smiling. It’s documentation, it’s a way of journaling.

But as I jumped into the world of photography and started to share some of my pictures I ran into a wall which I am still trying to get over. In a 21st century social media obsessed world it seems as though everyone wants to be a photographer. This, I have no problem with. However, many people will buy a camera, have no idea how to use it, and claim they are a photographer because of their fancy equipment.

And those who are phenomenal photographers and actually make their living off of it, have a lot to keep up with. They have to keep taking pictures and “creating content” all the time in order to stay afloat. But they have years of experience under their belts and they know how to market their work. Many people see this hard work and think they are just “lucky” or they only pay attention to their follow count. But then they try to do exactly what they do. Everyone has become so obsessed with how many followers and likes they are getting that a lot of photography has lost its charm.

I recently began to watch a photography course taught by Annie Leibovitz. I was immediately in love with most of her work. Every picture holds a deep story.  They are all unique and totally original. It is professional yes, but that is not even the most important part. The pictures feel alive. They are focused on and wrapped around their subject. She does not make a call for any model to come shoot with her and pose everything just like everyone else does. She photographs remarkable people in their natural habitats or doing their favorite things. And by doing so she captures their souls. It was such a breath of fresh air to watch a master at work than simply scroll through social media and see thousands of people doing the same things.

I am not a professional photographer. I do not have millions of followers on Instagram. I am just a girl who likes to take pictures. Not to create content, or boost my following, but because I love capturing the world around me in these small memory boxes. I love filling my walls with prints of my friends and my favorite places. It does not matter to me that photography has become “mainstream” because that is not the point. For me, the point is discovering the world and carrying it with me. Or capturing people I love and admire just being themselves, or feeling emotion. Photography has bridged gaps for me. It has brought me many new friends. People are less weirded out if you contact them saying “I am a photographer, and I would love to take pictures with you” than if you just say “I think you are cool, do you want to hang out?”

So here’s to photographing your life just to be able to carry it with you.

How to Save the World a little at a time

I have not written anything in a long time. I have been living in a perpetual state of writer’s block. Every time I sat down to write something the words all stayed in my head. I could not manage to put them onto paper.

Each time I wanted to write, my subconscious would say “You have nothing of importance to say. People will get offended by whatever you write, it’s 2017. Your writing is not good enough. You’re just a sixteen year old girl with a blog that no one reads.”

Most of the time my biggest stumbling block is myself. I overthink things way too much. I cannot conquer so many of the fears that cripple me. The future scares me, being thrown into places where everyone knows each other while I am an outsider scares me, losing people scares me. One of my biggest fears is living a life which has little to no meaning. A life where I struggle to survive and maintain a mediocre existence while never really helping others or making a difference.

What if I never achieve my dreams? What if life passes me by? What if I die young? What if I never fall in love? What if, what if, what if…

My expectations are way too high. I have already achieved some of my dreams but since they are in my past now I forget about them. But they were my dreams at one point and already I have achieved them.

One of my biggest dreams as a little girl was to see a live koala. I know that sounds strange, but I loved them. I knew everything there was to know about them. In 2015 I got to see one at a zoo in San Diego. It was sleeping. But that was a dream come true. One of my dreams was to read “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy before I was fifteen. It took me months, but I did it (I don’t recommend it). My biggest dream was to travel. I wanted nothing more. I read books of far off places and made an ever growing bucket list. In 2013 that dream came true, and again in 2015. In 2016 we travelled internationally. I discovered Israel and Palestine. We stayed on an island in the Aegean Sea in Greece and served refugees in Athens. This year that dream came true again, and possibly my biggest dream yet was fulfilled. I wanted to see England. We were there for just about an hour, but still..it was another dream that came true.

Sitting here in an empty room with a cup of coffee and a lot of school work to do, I am finally finding something to write about again. I just gained new perspective. We say things like, “I am never going to see my dreams become reality, What if I end up failing? Where will I be in ten years?” But what we forget is that, we have already accomplished things that we once dreamed about. I am living in a time I never thought I would get to. I used to dream about being a teenager and getting more freedom, but as soon as I became a teenager I started wishing I was an adult. I think we’re too caught up with the next thing. I know I am.

I think we all have a little bit of “save the world” in us. We want to “be something,” make something great out of ourselves, go places, become a figure, get rich, cure cancer, whatever it is. And those are wonderful things. Some of us might actually become pop stars or cure cancer, but you know what? We cannot save the world. Not alone. And what’s more, we’re not supposed to.

Here is how we save the world: First, we can save ourselves. We pull ourselves out of toxic relationships, learn how to be patient, learn how to love better. Then we save each other. Humanitarian efforts are beautiful, but we can also save the world by lifting others up, loving our families, smiling at strangers, not forgetting the people who matter. We can save the world by choosing not to hate, by being selfless, and minding our own business sometimes. God will do the rest.

It’s ok if we don’t invent something to cure all disease and bring everyone together into one big family. That’s not going to happen. I think it’s ok if we just live our lives, if we pursue our passions and inspire others. “Being great” doesn’t always mean winning an Oscar, or becoming a neurosurgeon. It can, but sometimes it just means, watering the flowers in your own garden and following your dreams, great or small.

Oh and by the way, Happy Halloween.

Your Pain Matters

Disappointment is an underrated negative feeling. By that I mean, it does not get the same kind of attention as grief, loss, or pain would. But in many ways it is equally as painful or at least it comes close.

This year I have been through a lot of disappointment. I kept telling myself: "You don't need to be this upset, you have a good life. Things could be much worse. Other people have it much worse than you do." On the surface that doesn't seem like a bad thing to tell yourself but the more I thought about it the more I realized how ridiculous that sounds.

Just because our issues and hurts are not the same as someone else's does not mean that they don't exist. Feeling lonely in 21st century America is the same as feeling lonely in another place or time period. Just because your surroundings are more advanced does not discount the pain of that emotion. If you are lonely, you are lonely. Period. No matter where you are or what is around you.

There is an odd habit that a lot of us have to say things like, "There are kids starving in Africa, you have nothing to complain about." Admittedly, we do tend to complain far too much about very small problems, but to be very blunt: What does Africa have to do with your personal problems?

I know, I know, that sounds terrible. I am not at all trying to say that those who may be starving are not important. To the contrary my heart goes out to them. I wish I could help, really I do. And we can do things to help them. But we also need to help those around us who are suffering from depression, anorexia, bullying, abuse, the list goes on.

And we need to take care of ourselves. How can we be a light and a help to others if we are not healthy or happy ourselves? This may sound very selfish, but to neglect your own body and soul while trying to

lift others up is doing no one any favors. I'm not saying to go do whatever you want to, but we do need to make sure that we are practicing what we preach. Strike that, I need to make sure that I am practicing what I am preaching.

I have learned this year that saying "I am disappointed" is not wrong. It is how I feel. No one can take that away from me. Just because my problems are not the same as another's does not mean that they are not hurting me or causing disruption. I care about other people's problems too, that's called empathy. But mine still exist, and they still hurt.

Saying something like, "Your problems aren't as big as these problems." is stupid. No one said anything about those problems. Your pain matters, because you feel it even if nobody else does. It's still there. How about we stop telling each other that it doesn't matter or doesn't exist. We may not feel someone's pain, so it's harder to see it, but that in no way means they don't feel that pain.

If a kid scrapes their knee and it begins to bleed everyone can empathize because it is visible pain. If someone is struggling with anxiety, that's an internal pain. We may not be able to see the root of that pain, because it comes from an invisible source, but guess what, it's still hurting that person.

Today would have been the day we returned from Greece to Franklin had we still been over there. And it makes me sad to think about all of the things we missed. I was devastated by that loss of opportunity and experience. I'm tired of hearing people say, "But Jackson is OK! What are you upset about?" Yes, Jackson is great, but that's a different story. Please don't try to excuse this separate issue with something different. If I say I am disappointed that stands alone as a statement aside from Jackson and everything else.

My Dad says, "Greece will always be there." and he is right. I'm sure I'll end up back there again, this is not the end of the world, but I feel a sort of emptiness right now thinking about the things that never were. On a positive note, I got to explore some of Colorado, which was gorgeous, and though I don't see it yet, I know this all came about for a reason.

All of that to say, we are humans. Pain and hardship is inevitable, but if we choose to lift one another up in our sufferings instead of discounting each other's  pain, we can go much farther. And the sun always rises after the night is over.

 

Raising My Voice: For Girls

I have a terrible tendency to tiptoe around things. A lot. Even in my own journals I find myself sugar coating my own thoughts and opinions in fear of being wrong or being embarrassed later. I tend to write about things that concern me but stay a safe distance from the things that really bother me.

Most of the huge issues right now I am still working through and trying to figure out where I stand in them. But this is a first step towards speaking up for things that I think should be changed over time. If all of us tip toe around and stay silent then nothing will ever change. 

One thing that has become increasingly disturbing to me right now is a lot of the things that girls are told, both growing up and once we are grown. We are constantly told what it is appropriate to wear, or to say, or to do. I understand that we have come a very long way, but there is still a ways to go.

I’m tired of being told, “No, you can’t wear that. It will turn heads.” I know what that means. It means that boys will maybe look in the wrong places and think the wrong thoughts. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to wear immodest clothing or do inappropriate things but I am tired of being restricted because of a fault that isn’t mine. It is hot outside, I want to wear shorts. My legs are long, it is extremely hard to find some that are comfortable and modest, that don’t make me look ridiculous. Not to mention that the restrictions on boys clothing are barely any if at all.

I have met so many girls who struggle with depression and insecurity. Some of them have even considered suicide. All of them are beautiful, but they refuse to listen to me when I tell them that. I believe that part of the reason is because of all the standards that we are expected to live up to. The media and Hollywood only shows us supermodels who have strict diets or plastic surgery. We are always fed the idea that that is what beauty looks like. It is not.

When we try to imitate the girls we see in movies or magazines, we are told “You wear too much makeup, that dress is too revealing, you need to act your age.” But when we wear an oversized t-shirt and running shorts we are told that we aren’t putting in enough effort, that we are plain, or that we will never find a boyfriend. Hey guess what, I don’t want a boyfriend, and if I feel like wearing makeup it’s my choice not yours. The same goes for not dressing up or trying everything that the media shows is “Hot”. 

Here’s an idea: What if instead of criticizing girls for wearing tank tops when it is hot outside, we start teaching our sons that girls are not sexual objects. I’m very sick of being told what to wear according to a guy’s possible opinion.

I’ve even been told by guys who are my friends or people I look up to that I look bland or I should wear makeup. I’ve heard my friends told the same things. People say, “Ew, girl you need to shave.” Why are girls required to shave and keep up a time consuming and expensive ritual when guys are not?

If you are a male and you spent five minutes on your routine in the morning, please don’t go up to a girl and make fun of her for taking five minutes too. And if she took two hours, then consider the fact that she might actually be insecure about her looks and she wants to look good for herself, NOT for you. Or maybe she just likes makeup or clothes. That is not a sin. It’s the same as you spending hours at a time on a video game. 

And the sad thing is, we are also told these things by other girls. In fact, more often than not these remarks come from girls, not boys. There is so much comparison among females that you’d think it was a disease. When someone says, “Oh your hair is so beautiful!” please just take the compliment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a girl reply to a compliment with, “No that’s not a thing.” What kind of response is that? If someone gave you free food would you look at them and say, “No, you can’t do that. I’m not good enough.”?

This may sound like a small thing but it’s more important that you may think. Every single girl I have ever talked to about this agrees. It’s not that hard to think twice before you sneer at a girl because her bra strap is showing. Oh wow women have female body parts and wear women’s clothing too. What a surprise. 

Guys, we wear what we like to be comfortable in our own skin. I like wearing earth tones, lots of bracelets, little to no makeup, and a feather in my hair. I’d rather be comfortable than “cute”. If you have a problem with any of that, leave it in my suggestion box so I can ignore it.

Girls, let’s stop shaming and bullying other girls. We’ll be a lot stronger if we work together. Beauty refers to the inside more than the outside. I’ve never met a girl I didn’t find beautiful in some way. We do have voices. Wear your favorite shirt, because it makes you feel like yourself and forget about what people might think.

If I ever have a daughter, I will teach her that she is beautiful no matter what other people say or think. I will teach her to respect and lift up her fellow sisters all around the world. She will be allowed to wear what she feels comfortable in as long as it is appropriate. And by appropriate, I mean that she can’t just walk around in barely anything but she shouldn’t feel ashamed to wear summer clothes in the summer or skinny jeans in the winter. She will know that her body weight or skin color or height have nothing to do with true beauty. I hope she will be strictly her own person and feel confident that way. 

I have a lot more I could say on this subject, but I’m just practicing raising my voice a little so that I don’t get too afraid to raise it at all. I’d rather be criticized for the things I believe in that regret my silence, when my voice could have been helpful. This is a little protest, a small rant, but together with the voices of others it might one day do some good. This is just about double standards and social norms which need work but there is so much more than that. There are so many women out there who’s voices are not being heard or are being silenced. Let’s start listening harder. 

 

 

 

Where is Home?

I looked up the dictionary definition of the word home because I was curious to hear what it said (and let's be honest, I'm a nerd). All of the definitions referred to "a house, one's place of residence, country or native land, living quarters." I've been thinking about this subject continually lately now that we are back in town, now that we are back "home". The dictionary seems to believe one's home is simply a house. I have a different opinion. 

Our last month in Colorado was quiet, we had the chance to do a bit more exploring in the mountains and see some friends of ours, but a lot of the time it was just quiet. Then, we had an eternal car ride across the Midwest, there is absolutely nothing out there. Before I knew it the landscape was changing from nothing and unfamiliar to known ground. We had entered places I grew up in and could navigate with my eyes closed. 

I had an odd sensation of feeling that nothing at all had taken place. That things were just as they had always been and I'd never been involved in the tangled and complicated months behind me. It was a feeling I had felt before, the last time that we had returned from a long trip overseas full of adventures, good and bad. But this time things are different. I have a lot more figuring out to do.

As we drove on streets well worn by our memories we listened to "The Call" by Regina Spektor. I love that song. It perfectly captures a lot of the things I can't put into words. One line towards the end says, "Just because they can't feel it too doesn't mean that you have to forget." That has always resonated with me because often, no matter how much effort I put into relating a story from my life or trying to convey to someone how I felt in a certain moment, they just don't get it. And that's not easy, especially when it's a friend you love and care about.

But I'm slowly teaching myself that sometimes your memories, the ones that make you smile and the ones that make you hurt can only ever be yours. If someone else doesn't understand or can't relate it's not the end of the world. You can take those thoughts and lock them deep in your heart. Someday, someone will come along who does understand and maybe even has a similar memory locked up inside of them.

So as we were driving up to our own front door in a different van than our old blue one with all her fading stickers, I felt two things at once. A surge of disappointment and a wave of unknown. I'm beginning to feel I won't ever know anything for certain. Life has proved to be so unpredictable.

Our friends had taken exceptionally good care of us by cleaning our house and stocking our fridge. Quite a few people stopped by to welcome us back. "Isn't it good to be home?" they kept asking. But I don't know. Is it good to be home? Is this home?

I loved seeing some of my friends again and I can't wait to see more of them. But part of me will always feel set apart. I'm "that girl", the one who "is never home", "Jackson's sister", "the one with the stories and the funny accents". I guess that's not a bad thing but it can be lonely when you know that your friends would rather not hear about the uglier sides of your adventure stories. There are parts I keep in the shadow because they are painful for me and no one likes to feel depressed. But sometimes you need to tell those parts too, it's part of being honest, it's part of telling the truth. 

Lots of people say to me, "Lydia, you need to be more open!", "Why are you so quiet?", "Why do you look so upset?" It's one thing to announce that I should be more open, but that leaves me to figure out how. Maybe I'm quiet sometimes because I like to observe the world around me and absorb it. Maybe I'm thinking. Did you ever consider the fact that maybe I look upset but I'm not? Or if I am that's probably because no one has only sunshine and rainbows in life.

I get exhausted hearing about ridiculous drama from my friends and who broke up with who. Last summer I was drinking copious amounts of tea in a refugee camp where the stories of their lives were nightmares. And the women and children were especially oppressed. I am still haunted by the beautiful faces of people who have lost everything and have only enough strength to put one foot ahead of the other. 

This year my brother came .05 % close to dying and we had to fly home from my favorite thing in the world to be with him as he recovered. Yes, I'm stunned at how good God was to us. Yes, I know he has a plan in all of this. Yes, it's nice to have some sense of stability now. But please, don't come to me to complain about your frivolous or petty problems. Do come to me if you want to sit in a field and stare up at the clouds and have deep talks about life or tell stories about beautiful people and places. I will not tolerate the first world problems that people seem to think are actual issues.

And I'm not excluding myself from that list. I have fallen prey to the drama and the petty quarrels too. But it's immature and I'm tired of it.

My first step towards being "open" is learning how to do that with myself. I'm trying to be honest to myself about my feelings. To take time to think about why I do and say things then learn where there are problems and begin to fix them. I've been journaling a lot, but often I just say the things that happened. I don't stop to write what I felt or how something affected me. I'm almost scared to write my own opinions even in my own journal. Being open isn't the easiest thing in the world. It's going to take a lot of work. Vulnerability takes a ton of courage and strength that I don't often have.

This has been a year of change so far, and so was last year. Things are still changing. I'm still growing and I have a long way to go. I have known what it is to feel everything at once, then only a second later to feel nothing at all. I have felt lost and confused lately. I still am. But I'm on a journey to figure out what I believe in, who I can learn to love, what I am meant to do, and where is my home.

I'd like to give the word "home" a new meaning because the old one isn't strong enough for me. So here is Lydia Thomas' definition of what a home is and where you find yours:

Home: a person, a place, a moment, a memory where you feel safe. A refuge you can return to and know that things are alright. It can be a character in a favorite book, a verse of song, a human being, anywhere that reminds you that there is a God above who will replace the darkness with sunshine and bring light back in. Home is anywhere and anyone who gives you that warm sense that all is right, a happy place, a comfort food, an anticipated letter, an old friend. 

So, Franklin, Tennessee is my dictionary definition of a home, but it isn't home to me. Home to me, is the flowers that bloom in the spring, it's the laughter in our house, it's hugging my friends I haven't seen in ages, it's hammocking outside with a good book, it's postcards from Athens and London. It is countless memories and moments. It's a feeling of refuge and calm.

 

 

Mountains and Valleys

Colorado is beautiful and I’m glad Jackson wrecked here not in Kansas or Nebraska. The mountains are gorgeous and when we have time to explore them it’s magical. But not everything about it is so wonderful and things have been hard lately as you can imagine. 

I spent a long time trying to decide whether or not to keep doing my weekly updates. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it really was meant to be a travel blog, and the heaviness of what life has turned into was not what I wanted to dwell on. And yet I owe it to some of you and to myself to keep writing something at least. Writing is an important tonic for me and though I journal daily I missed my blog. 

So here I am again, a little wiser, far more frustrated, and feeling perpetually lost. I was very positive at first. And I still am I suppose but I think part of me shut down and I don’t feel as much anymore: good or bad. 

There have been visitors in and out for the past two weeks and our mailbox is overflowing with care packages and concerned letters. It’s nice but it seems very far away. Friends of ours set up fundraisers and told us we were the “talk of the town”. Though I’m overflowing with gratitude for each one who has prayed and helped us, I can’t help but feel that we missed our own parties and by the time we get home it will have all died down. Maybe that doesn’t matter, I’m having trouble discerning what does matter. The major problems have caused smaller ones. I am growing weary of everything. 

My Dad always told me there were mountains in life and valleys and this month we fell from the top of our mountain down into the valley. I know that God can bring beautiful things out of this and we will all be stronger in the end, but you can’t enjoy the view at the top of the mountain until you climb it and it’s a long road. 

Jackson is recovering in leaps and bounds but the process will be very slow to get him back to full health. He is almost back to his old self but he gets tired fast and he has fewer filters. It is relaxing for me to talk to Jackson and I love spending time with him. Nearly losing one of my family members has made me appreciate them all more but Jackson especially. He makes a point of reminding us how much he loves us and cares for us. He still asks me my opinion on things and takes what I say seriously. That is something I’ve always loved about him and now it has made us even closer. 

Our family naturally has its flaws like any family does but for the most part we are rather close. I consider my siblings some of my best friends and though they make me want to pull my hair out I love them to the ends of the earth. It hasn’t been easy but we’ve been through everything together. 

It has helped to have other people here to keep me distracted from “what could have been” but it grows old too. There is nothing normal about our lives and I get the feeling it will only get crazier as we go along so I don’t mind much sleeping in the basement instead of a bed. But every once in a while I feel the tiniest desire to live an “ordinary” suburban life. That desire never lasts more than a millisecond though and I would always rather sacrifice brand new clothes and fancy cars for dirty foreign cities and history beneath my feet. 

This experience has even helped me understand people better as far fetched as that may sound. It makes me wonder what the rest of my story will look like and comprehend the trials and blessings that go into creating a unique personality. I may look back on this unpleasant period of life and feel that I wouldn’t be the person I am today had it not happened. 

So I wouldn’t change the present in order to keep a happier piece of the past because it may not take me to horizons I can’t yet see. But I can’t say that “everything is ok” or that “I’m doing fine.” Because I don’t think that’s the truth. But if I was always “ok” or “fine” it would be a lie. Sometimes people seem so afraid of hurting or pain that they avoid it entirely and choose to fake a smile instead. And by people I mean me. But I’m learning to be more honest with myself and others. That doesn’t mean I like to dwell on the darker spots in life but it does mean that I’m not going to hide from them and create false light. 

While I’m still learning what all of this will mean for me and my family I want to thank those of you who have been praying and contributing. It really means a lot to us all and we love you guys. 

Until I’m ready to write again, ανδιο και ευχαριοτω.

Week 4: Of Catastrophes and Miracles

I don’t know where to begin. The days have slipped together to form one experience with no particular awareness of normal time. This week was the kind that you read about or hear about and feel sadness for but never expect it to happen to you. Everything was moving along in its crazy Greek way until it all came tumbling down…

My parents had just left to take Heidi to a dentist appointment in another part of Athens. About an hour later I was about to post a picture to Instagram when I saw five direct messages from Jackson’s best friend Mitchell. They all said the exact same thing: “LYDIA. There’s been an emergency. Call me or have one of your parents call me immediately.” It had been sent hours earlier but we had been out all day and I didn’t see it until then.

I couldn’t call him because our phone service was turned off so I used FaceTime instead. I went to the balcony so my sisters wouldn’t freak out. Mitchell sat there calmly and told me that Jackson and he were driving through Colorado when the car flipped six times. Mitchell was on the makeshift bed in the back and came out unhurt but Jackson was life flighted to the hospital. He kept saying he was ok, but all I could think was, “My brother was in a car accident. The van flipped over SIX TIMES. He’s in ICU. Colorado.” I thanked Mitchell and told him I’d call my parents immediately.

They didn’t answer so I decided not to call again because for all I knew they couldn’t just leave in the middle of Heidi’s appointment anyway. They called back an hour or so later and I told them there had been an emergency and to come straight home.

We got hardly any sleep that night. Mom and Dad went back and forth on whether to stay or leave. We knew someone had to go but all of us? The only reason we hesitated was because Mitchell made it sound like it wasn’t that bad at all. After that horrible, restless night Mom was on a plane to Colorado by six the next morning. The rest of us stayed behind to settle some loose ends in Greece before coming back.

I’ve never felt so helpless before. My Dads good friend flew out to be with Jackson and he gave us a much more detailed and terrifying update than Mitchell had. Actually, quite a few people were there with Jackson: Mitchell and his mom, our family on Dads side, Mr. Purifoy, The Demoss family who live in Colorado, and Rose Reid (a close friend of ours). But as thankful as I was for them I was just upset that it wasn’t me at his side or mom and dad.

That night we couldn’t sleep again partially because of stress, partially because it was Easter week in Greece and that’s their biggest holiday. The bells at the church on the end of our street were tolling constantly and every once in a while a deafening noise would ring out from the harmless explosives they throw at Eastertime. Around nine we walked down to the church, jumping occasionally from the earsplitting sound of the quick lighting charcoal being thrown on the ground. 

At the church, a long procession of people began to wind through the streets following the priests and an icon. Everyone was carrying candles and someone was chanting the story of Christ’s death in Greek. The procession ended up back at the church and the crowds slowly went inside to take communion. I’m glad we didn’t miss Good Friday in Greece but I had been looking forward to being there for Easter.

It didn’t hit me until we were on the plane the next morning how much I would miss Greece and how little I missed America. We were supposed to go to a monastery called Meteora. It’s gorgeous, look it up. We were supposed to serve refugees, supposed to wake up on many more Wednesdays and buy fruit and vegetables from the fresh market. We were supposed to go back up the Acropolis to the Parthenon. We were supposed to struggle to learn Greek and get used to hearing it around us. We were supposed to explore more. We were supposed to stay. 

The hard part is it LOOKED like this was God’s plan for us this year. The opportunity to work with SGI came out of nowhere and seemed so perfect for us. My Dad’s business did really well and we had money to go back though we never could have anticipated that. The opportunity to go intensively study Greek in the country we had fallen in love with was such a blessing. Friends and family were going to visit us over there this time. It all fell into place and we really thought that was what God wanted us to do this year.

Apparently not.

I stared out the plane window and bit my tongue. “It’s ok. Nothing happened, we’ll be fine, I won’t miss it that much, Jackson can’t be that hurt.” Sometimes lying helps.

But then God reminded me how much he was looking out for us. The lady in Greece moved us up from coach to economy because “their son was in a car accident and they need to sit together.” The old British man who was our steward kept bringing us extra candy and drinks because he said if his kids were in the same situation he’d want them to be treated this way. The messages flooded in: “we’re praying for you guys. Hope he gets better soon. We love you. Let us know what we can do to help.” They even set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for flights and hospital bills. 

That’s when I began to realize that God was going to use this to change us all and make us stronger. I don’t see it right now, but I know that God is holding us and watching us struggle and he is answering every prayer spoken for Jackson.

We arrived in America twenty hours later and exhausted but happy to be so near our brother. It’s hard to see him laying there in a hospital bed. He’s so young, so strong. This isn’t natural. And yet over the next few days, he has made such great strides towards recovery, especially considering it’s a miracle he’s living.

Still getting so much love and support which I’m so thankful for and Rose Reid and Sienna DeMoss have been with us up until now and I have been so grateful for their company.  We spend our days between the hotel and the hospital waiting room.

Jackson occasionally says funny things in his delirium. He begs for coffee, he doesn’t have a filter. He had surgery a few days ago. There are now twelve screws and two metal plates in his left arm.

We went to see the van yesterday. Looking at the crushed driver’s side powerfully reminded me how much God has a plan for Jackson. I salvaged a few odds and ends and we took some pictures of it. All of our bumper stickers that we collected over the years from road trips and travel are left there in a junkyard with our poor blue van. She lived a long, adventurous life though and definitely went out with a bang. 

Jackson remembers us and is very responsive though still foggy. The memories are coming back and beginning to overwhelm him but at least they’re there. All in all nothing matters but the fact that my only brother is alive and recovering. He always said that if I was in need of some adventure he’d be there to give it to me, so thank you, Jackson, for sticking around for more adventures.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying and supporting us. Nothing is more felt or appreciated. God knows what He has for us and though we don’t know what it is I’m sure we couldn’t get there without this experience.

Always, Lydia

Week 3: το καλο και το κακο – the good and the bad

Day 1: 

The market seemed extra crowded and noisy today. You could hardly walk for all the people milling about. We still get lots of “looks” but I think the locals are beginning to get used to us. Our friend who likes to brush his hair with sponges recognized us again and waved to us as though his life depended on it. 

Greek peanuts are the saltiest things I have ever put in my mouth. Heidi told me to get those instead of the normal kind. Now I think my taste buds are temporarily out of order.

We didn’t do any extra exploring today while Dad was teaching. Market day can actually be exhausting sometimes.

Day 2:  

It was nearly 2 in the afternoon when we finally got out of the house. I have been begging to go to Plaka ever since last year. We’ve only been for a short time at night. It’s the old part of the city around the base of the Acropolis that was not destroyed during the Turkish invasions. The houses are bright and colorful and the streets are lovely to wander through. 

It’s one of the most heavily touristed places naturally but we purposefully came on a week day so it wouldn’t be so crowded. I have so many pictures this week that this post might have to be focused more on photography than writing. 🙂

The streets here remind me very much of the islands. They are narrow and seem to tumble over each other with no sort of order or pattern. The best places for wandering are where you can be awed by the beauty of the place and slightly lost. The doorways are bright and colorful and the porches are overflowing with plants. It’s like a beautiful Grecian fairytale.

We hiked all the way up to the base of the Acropolis and stumbled upon a secret that we had been searching for. Tucked away from the smells and sounds of city life is a tiny portion of town that is made to look exactly like the islands. 

Locals from the tiny Cycladic island of Anafi moved to Athens and transformed their tiny corner into a secluded island escape. Everything is painted in white and blue and an inordinate number of cats lay peacefully sunning themselves here. It’s amazing, this place really makes you feel like you’ve left Athens for a lazy little island. Until that is, you crane your neck upwards and see a bit of the Parthenon peeking down at you. 

Dad had to go home to meet his Greek tutor. Our dear friend Harris helped Dad find a Greek tutor to speed up the learning process. His tutor speaks modern Greek, ancient Greek, English, some German, and Latin so they often switch between them all if they can’t understand each other. I’m pretty sure both of them have language superpowers. But in all seriousness, almost everyone here speaks multiple languages.

Mom and I stayed out for a while longer to grab some coffee and get some things we’ve run out of at the everyday market. On the way, I found a plant store which sold succulents! I’ve been looking for a succulent for a while now and finally adopted one. Two of my friends at home named him Sir Alfred. 😉 

Day 3: 

IKEA is probably my mom’s all time favorite store so we always make a point to visit them when we’re traveling because Nashville doesn’t have one. While mom was shopping we hung out at the cafeteria and drank too much coffee. They have a machine here that lets you choose between tea, latte, cappuccino, or regular coffee. You get a cup for 1 euro and you can refill as much as you like.

Apparently, we showed up on the right day because they were having a grand re-opening and there were samples and sales everywhere. If you’re like me and you’re not trying to furnish a house IKEA is for exploring and getting lost in. So Heidi and I set off to do that. 

We were just goofing around and having fun when we noticed that there was a window between an example supply closet and a staged bathroom that looked right into the shower. We were taking a video pretending to each be minding our own business (Heidi in the shower, me in the closet) when we each notice each other through the window. So we’re casually just talking through a window while Heidi was taking a pretend shower when a guy opened the curtain. He saw what was going on, then said, “Oh, sorry.” like he’d interrupted an important meeting and closed the curtain again. Heidi stayed in the shower for three minutes because she couldn’t stop laughing and I nearly dropped my phone. I still have the video.

After mom had gotten her fill of IKEA we went outside to catch a bus which we missed by a second. While we were waiting for the next bus we found a tiny kitten. She was meowing softly. She was definitely a runt but Autumn still wanted to keep her. Unfortunately, mom is allergic to cats.

The next bus finally came and we were on our way…for a minute. All of a sudden the bus pulled into a dark, gated, neighborhood, turned off all its lights and just sat there. We looked at each other like, “What now?” but none of the locals got off so we waited it out. Fifteen tense minutes later it started up again and pulled back out onto the road. I have no idea what that was about but I’m glad we weren’t stuck there.

Day 4:

Late start again today but Dad, Geneva, and I did manage to make it over to the Panathenaic stadium. This is an ancient stadium but they still use it today for the Athenian games. It’s in the area of the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch and the National Gardens. 

We walked through the national gardens on our way back. They are blooming with flower-covered passageways, every variety of tree you can imagine, and lots of wildlife. This is the perfect place to spend a spring day with a picnic and a book. 

Sidenote: although there are plenty of dogs just laying around here we saw a man stroking a balloon shaped like a dog. He was gazing at it lovingly and stroking its “fur”.

Day 5: 

We have to find a place for us, our friends from Israel, and Dad’s family to stay together in Athens during June and July. Today we went to look at a house with three separate apartments in the same flat. Unfortunately, it is quite a ways from the city center.

Since its Sunday we had gyros and some gelato for dinner.  

Day 6:

I’m actually finding it hard to find things to write about this week. I have only related what adventures we did have but we have mostly been in the house this week. It’s been very difficult to find a place for all of us to stay in June and July and Mom has to do a lot of paperwork to be able to stay here longer than ninety days because she is not a European citizen. 

Honestly, this week has been stressful behind the scenes, and us girls have been at home most of the time. I find it hard to come to a new country and sit around inside when there’s so much to explore. But I shouldn’t be complaining and I know there is a lot to take into consideration right now. It does take us forever to get out of the house though and right now things have not been so sunny and cheerful in our house as we could wish for. But there are good times and bad and we’re hanging in there. 

Day 7:

Mom and Dad were gone for nine hours this morning dealing with Greek bureaucracy and trying to figure out how to get her a visa. In America they said it would be simple: it’s not. Meanwhile, we were at home, cleaning and doing schoolwork.

I smashed my finger and it’s bleeding under my nail so I’m having trouble typing all of this but I suppose the show must go on. We did get out to explore a special place with a fairy tale themed cafe and a unique alleyway. 

The afternoon ended up being fun but our mornings haven’t been great lately. Things will start to look up I’m sure. 

Until then, ανδιο!

 

Week 2: Life on this side of the world

It has been a week since we first arrived in Athens and yet it feels like we’ve lived here for much longer than that. We are still settling into this new way of life. There are many things to get used to once more. The lack of dryers for clothing requires everyone to hang their laundry on clotheslines, the absence of certain foods in the grocery stores or markets, the strong stench of filth that is just a part of most of the city, all these things and more we are once again growing accustomed to.

In this post, as I show you around the city and introduce you to Athens, I will take some time to shed light on the more difficult side of things. It’s very easy to write about only what is fun, beautiful, or interesting, but there is a huge side to this story that isn’t pretty but can’t be left out. Writing this blog gives me the liberty to share my perspective on things but I would not be entirely honest if I was only to show everything in a positive light.

Greece has officially gone from a recession to a depression and though much of the evidence is invisible a lot of it is obvious. The economy here is terrible. It is extremely hard for anyone to find good jobs. On top of that, there are so many immigrants and refugees who arrive and need to find a way to survive. But if there is no work for the unemployed Greeks, then how are they supposed to find work for the refugees? The result is a lot of homelessness, begging, and poverty.

The entire situation is very complicated and a lot of it I don’t know about. But I do know that I don’t want to give a false image of Athens. Yes there is beauty and happiness, and light here, but it is living side by side with tons of graffiti, people sleeping in the streets, dirtiness, and even more which is invisible.

And yet, though there is depression, bad economy, and the refugee crisis, the Greeks seem happy. Our Greek friend says that in the center of Athens only fifty percent of the people are Greek. Many of them have moved to the outskirts to enjoy “better quality of life.” He says life in the center is very different from life outside of it. He also told me, “As you can see, we are a happy people. We laugh all the time.” As far as I can see they bear their burdens well and are still extremely proud of their country and their heritage. However, most of the suffering I’m sure is invisible to me

Day 1

It’s market day! Every Wednesday they set up a market right underneath our balcony in the street below. We weren’t sure if they would do it this early in the year but when we woke up there were lots of tents already set up. This market has everything from clothing, kitchen supplies, and accessories, to fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers.  It’s quite a cultural experience too as we don’t have anything quite like it in America. It’s so convenient and the prices are cheap so most of the time when we need stuff this is where we get it. 

Walking around in the market we get plenty of strange looks. I like to consider us travelers rather than tourists but our blonde hair gives us away. And though she doesn’t realize it Geneva’s pink hair draws a lot of attention. However, the Greeks have kind of a hospitality code that says that you are required to give the foreigner a bed and food should it be needed and whatever he may need when he is in your house/land. They are some of the most hospitable people you can find, and I’m losing track of the times they have stopped us to offer advice or protect us from things we don’t know about. 

I love this market. All the vendors are shouting things in Greek at each other, the tables are loaded with vibrant fruits and spices, it’s a loud, colorful, odd place for us. You run into some weird things too. One guy kept following us around making swooshing noises. At one point he grabbed a cleaning brush for scrubbing your bathtub and began to brush his hair with it. He pointed at Geneva’s camera and said, “Take a video!” Another lady gave us a Greek lesson in the middle of the road. 

Dad had to teach this afternoon so we went for a walk to get out of the house. We headed for a park which we have not explored, but just as we were going over there a guy stopped us. He said there were lots of drug addicts who hang out in there and told us to go somewhere else. So we wandered around for a while before making our way home.

One thing I need to mention here is that last year we spent a considerable amount of time in an unofficial refugee camp that is about a block from our apartment. Things have grown tense there and for our safety, we aren’t allowed to return. We did run into some refugees who we recognized on our way home but since they were headed back to the Squat we didn’t stay to talk.

Day 2

Dad is determined for all of us to learn at least some Greek while we are here. It’s not easy. Languages aren’t the most difficult subject for me but when you throw in a brand new alphabet it gets hard. I can’t tell you how long it took me to understand that what looks like a “p” in Greek makes the sound of an “r”. We’re slowly, slowly, slowly getting through it. And it does help to hear it and see it around us everywhere in day to day life. 

This afternoon we found a much better way to get to Omonia Square. Last year, Jackson would lead us on these long, confusing marches where we would somehow appear at the right place without knowing how we got there. Omonia Square is one of the main centers in Athens. It is always crowded and it is also said to be the most dangerous place in Athens. We’re not so sure about that because last year we walked through it in the middle of the night and there was not a living soul anywhere. But you do have to watch your pockets or someone might snatch something.

The market here is set up every day. There’s the fruit and vegetable part, the spice area, and the meat market, which we usually avoid altogether. Let’s just say they don’t have the same ideas regarding packaging and hygienic distribution, not to mention the stench is overpowering. 

We spent a good part of our day here. You never know what you may find in an outdoor market like this. We met people from Egypt, India, and other places around the world. I found a basket full of living snails that were being sold as a food product. (I’m sorry Mom for including this). 

Day 3

Today was nothing exciting. Schoolwork and study in the morning and errands in the afternoon. We had to find a bank and a post office and get metro passes for this month. There isn’t always some great adventure every day. People seem to think we’re over here drinking out of coconuts and tanning on the beach all day which is far from the case. We’re just living life, and sometimes there are boring days here just like there are at home. 

Day 4

Happy April Fool’s Day! I seriously considered telling a few of my friends that we were coming home early as a prank but decided against it.

As usual, school and study in the morning. Greek, English, History, French (only I do French), journaling, sometimes Biology, High-Performance Masters Academy, and Great Courses if you’re wondering. We don’t always get to all of that every day though.

On today’s agenda, we have…Climb Mt. Lycabettus. This is the highest point in Athens and has a 360 overlook of the city. We weren’t exactly sure how to get there but by maps and the metro we eventually figured it out. Once at the bottom, we tried about four different trails which turned up nothing but a tortoise, a possible wolf, and dead ends. In the end, we gave up trailblazing and followed the main road to the top. 

The hike wasn’t as bad as I expected, and had it been ten times worse the view would have been worth it. All of Athens and Piraeus was spread below us. The Acropolis rose up from the tangle of buildings of in the distance. There’s the ancient Olympic stadium, there’s Syntagma Square, there’s the island of Aegina out to sea. You can see everything from up here. Moments like these you have to take all the pictures you want then stop to soak it all in. From up here, Athens seems even bigger. There’s so much left to explore. 

On our way down the hill, we met a guy from Canada who has lived here for about 25 years. He served as our temporary tour guide and led us all the way back to Syntagma via a part of the city we had never seen before. He described it as “the Beverly Hills of Athens” and it sure looked like it too. As we dodged speeding cars and mopeds trying to keep up he pointed to the line of traffic and said, “There is no one happier than an Athenian who finds a parking spot.” He’s right about that. Traffic here is chaos.

Day 5

We have been eating pretty much exclusively fruits, vegetables, and healthy food while we are here, but Sunday is cheat day. That means cheese pies for breakfast. A cheese pie is a quarter moon shaped pastry of layers and layers of filo dough and butter filled with feta cheese. They are the messiest, most rewarding things to eat.

Mom wanted to go to IKEA today (yes they have IKEA here. Two of them in fact) but they’re closed on Sundays. So we went to the antique market at Monastiraki. The antique market is only set up on Sunday but it is worth going to if you ever get the chance. 

Piles of old books and postcards, vintage cameras and pocket watches, suitcases, and more all in one jumbled corner of the city. We grabbed some gyros for lunch and spent the afternoon exploring here. 

This evening we met with our friends Harris and Vaso. They are actually the people renting us our Airbnb but they were so kind and hospitable last year that we became good friends. I love evenings like this. Good food, good friends, wonderful memories. 

To top it all off they showed us a secret place at one of their other rental apartments. A roof terrace with a stunning view of the city. I could keep living on in a night like this for years on end.

Day 6

Last night we stayed up so late that we got a late start this morning. Today was bit gloomy and overcast. Honestly not the best day for me but hey you win some you lose some. The evening ended well with a lot of laughter and stories about dads childhood.

Day 7

Cheese pies and books make for one happy Lydia. There is a section of the city just behind the library that is almost exclusively bookstores. For about a block almost every store you see is either a bookshop or a cafe. This is one of my very favorite parts of the city. Mom and I spent a blissful afternoon exploring the bookstores. There was one entirely for French books, many with only Greek, and many with a wide range of language selection.

I bought a tiny penguin classic by Arthur Conan Doyle for 1 euro. Almost every bookstore has a spiral staircase which just adds to my overall happiness. Day well spent in my opinion. On our way home we saw a party in Panepistimio Square. There were people walking around in cow costumes, and loud music was blaring. We found out that they were giving away free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for earth day. We went all the way home to get the girls then came all the way back for free ice cream.

Planning many more adventures in the days ahead. Until next time, αντιο!

Week 1: Leaving one home for another

And so the adventure begins. It doesn’t feel as hard as last time. Four months is awhile but it’s not forever. And we have more experience under our belts this year. We had a going-away party at a pizza shop in our little town. Many of our friends came to send us off. I love moments like those. 

A lot has changed since last year. First, Jackson isn’t with us. It feels a bit strange not having him here but he’s out in California living the life so none of us can really feel bad for him. He was helpful in a lot of situations while traveling but I think we’ve actually found quite a few things to be easier without him (no offense Jackson if you’re reading this). We all miss him of course but we share calls and pictures daily and it’s kinda fun to be having two huge adventures on either side of the world. I think we’ve both discovered what it feels like to live vicariously through someone.

Second, we actually have a general idea what we are doing this time! Having been to Athens it makes it much easier to arrive without feeling that terrifying emotion of having no clue where you are or what to do.

Third, the situation overall has taken a shift. Politically, and personally. On this blog, I’m going to try and avoid getting into politics because it will be far simpler that way. There may be times when I have to touch on it but I’ll try to keep them brief. Personally, it has changed because our reasons for coming back are different. We are here to lead teams of missionaries in working with some of the refugees in Athens. That’s going to be a new experience for us but we’ll take what adventures are thrown our way. We will be entirely in charge of taking them around the city, answering their questions, and showing them how and where to serve refugees in Athens.

Day 1

Our house is spotless from top to bottom and we are not going to be there to enjoy it. It feels almost like a normal day. People walking in and out saying goodbye, dropping stuff off or picking stuff up while we run around packing and cleaning. We can’t leave until my dad is finished teaching but our goal is to leave by 3:00.

By 3 everything was in the car and in my opinion we were ready to go. Two or three of our friends stuck around to see us off but as usual, mom decided to do the most random chores. She’s much better at seeing where things are still left undone than we are. It was five before we actually left. See ya later, Franklin. We’ll miss you.

We made a stop in Alabaster, Alabama first where our Grandma, our Aunt, and our two cousins live (all on my dad’s side). We spent some time with them talking about last years adventures when they came to Israel with us and whatever this year has in store while dad loaded up on caffeine so we can drive through the night.

Eight hours of uncomfortable sleep later and we were in Holiday, Florida, checking into a brightly painted, deteriorating motel decorated with the weirdest tiki statues I’ve ever seen. Not gonna lie, it was a bit sketchy and the bathroom in our room was defective on a lot of levels, but if nothing goes wrong when you’re traveling you’ll have very few stories to tell. 

We’re exhausted already and I don’t think we’ll have trouble sleeping tonight.

Day 2

The reason we stopped in Holiday, Florida was to visit our great-grandparents who are both in their nineties. We don’t get to see them much because they are snowbirds. That means they live in Michigan for half of the year and Florida the other half. Our Oma and Aunt Caroline are here too so today was a bit of a mini family reunion. They showed us their favorite spot to go to the beach and our painful sunburns remain as evidence of the time we spent there. We played cards and had pizza late into the night before saying another round of goodbyes.

Day 3 

Packed up, and checked out of the tiki motel. Finally on the way to Miami. Now begins the stressful segment of traveling. It’s a five-hour drive from Holiday to Miami. Many people ask me what we do on road trips when we’re in the car. Probably what you would expect, sleeping, listening to music, talking, laughing, staring out the windows, and somehow creating a mess that spreads through the whole car (it’s usually Autumn’s fault, just sayin’). 

We drove through a town with a large Greek population which is ironic because hey that’s where we’re headed. Conveniently, it began to rain just as we arrived at the car storage place. After parking, our little red van in a small, fenced-in lot dad called an Uber driver. He arrived within two minutes and began packing our bags into his trunk. It was a tight squeeze. The girls were in the back smothered in luggage and the front seat was full of our things too. We wouldn’t have survived last year in Greece though if we couldn’t handle tight squeezes now and then.

There is nothing exciting to relate about airport security. It’s a lot of waiting, pulling things apart to put them back together again, and dragging things around the airport. When we finally found our terminal we realized we’d gotten the times mixed up and we weren’t flying out until 10 P.M. It was 7 at that point. The wait wasn’t too bad though and a little after ten we were on the plane ready to go. 

Another question I often get is how does it work to fly with two passports? We wondered that too for a long time. All the best reports said you fly out on your own nationality and if you’re flying to Europe you should land on your EU passport. So that’s what we did. Flew out on American passports and arrived in London and Greece on our U.K. passports.

It’s hard to sleep in airplanes even if it’s an overnight ten-hour flight. It’s especially hard when the flight attendants have British accents and come around offering you tea and other refreshments. I was too excited to sleep most of the time and only got a few hours rest.

Day 4

Heathrow airport is huge, confusing, and absolutely packed with travelers from all corners of the globe. We came in two hours late and security took a huge chunk of our time, not to mention getting lost more than once. We were supposed to have a nine-hour layover, plenty of time to go to London and hit a few major sights. That time turned into about five hours and we needed to come back a good hour or two before our flight leaves. With approximately three hours to spare we collapsed in a central part of the airport.

Travel is not always glamorous and fun. In fact, most of the time it’s stressful and complicated. We were running on way too little sleep and things had not gone as we expected. Basically, there were two options: risk going to London for a tiny bit of time and coming back just in time for our flight, or staying at the airport to play it safe and waiting for five hours. Neither were great but I’ve wanted to come to England my whole life and I’ll take what I can get.

Mom saved the day by offering to stay at the airport with the luggage so we could move more quickly in the city. At first, we were very reluctant to even consider this option. We try to operate as a family leaving people behind is almost never an option. In the end, mom was so cheerful and willing to make that sacrifice for us and we were so pressed for time that we agreed. Autumn wanted to stay behind with her. I think she was over-exhausted.

Then began the fastest, tour of London known to man (that could be an exaggeration but I doubt it). A man in a purple coat came to “collect us”. He walked quickly through a maze of shortcuts in the airport and dropped us at the Heathrow Express. The Heathrow Express is a train that cuts 35 minutes out of the ride to London but of course, it’s extra expensive. I was tempted to turn around but Dad didn’t hesitate and we were soon passing quaint British houses on the way to London. I was bouncing in my seat with excitement. 

The Express dropped us at Paddington Station. We plunged into the Underground and assessed our ticket options while scanning maps for the best places to go in an hour and a half. First stop Baker Street. I grew up on classic literature especially by British authors and I can remember spending many nights with my light on late exploring London’s crime scenes with Sherlock Holmes and Watson. A statue of the world’s most popular detective was the first thing to greet me when we came up from the tubes. It didn’t take long to find house 221b. It was swarming with eager tourists. The sign above the shop read, “The Sherlock Holmes Museum” and a man dressed as a constable from Holmes’ time stood under the letters 221b over the door. We had no time to wait in line for a cheesy tour of the detectives fictional home. Snapping a few pictures was enough for me and we turned around and raced back into the Underground. 

Up next, King’s Cross Station. It was close to Baker Street and if you’re visiting Holmes why not stop in at the Hogwart’s Express? We asked a couple of cheerful policemen where Platform 9 3/4 is. They smiled and shook their heads at us before giving us directions. I bet they get that question so often. Platform 9 3/4 was crawling with Harry Potter fans. I barely had time to take a blurry picture before we were running back to the Underground. 

There was time for one last stop and we had to choose between Tower Bridge and Big Ben. All of us opted for Big Ben. Fifteen minutes later I was running up the stairs towards the streets of London. The famous clock tower appears out of nowhere directly in front of you and takes your breath away. Hello Ben, nice to finally meet you. 

Westminster is right there too. This really is a dream come true. Someday I’ll have to come back and behave like a decent tourist by going inside them. Five minutes and a few pictures were all we had time for before we had to race back to the airport. Farewell London, until next time. 

We made it just in time, collected our bags and two family members and headed to our terminal. Next stop, Athens, Greece.

Day 5

We landed in Athens at about 2:30 in the morning. It’s strange, the airport feels so familiar. Nothing is new or scary. Once we were through passport control and baggage claim we were greeted by a man holding a sign with my dad’s name on it. The host of our Airbnb had arranged for him to pick us up and take us to our little apartment in Kritis Street. The car ride was supposed to be forty minutes but I think we made it in twenty because our driver nearly ran over someone. All the Greeks drive fast.

Harris was waiting at the door to welcome us. He led us upstairs and showed us what had changed since last time. We were the first people to stay in this apartment and we became good friends with our hosts. They are some of the kindest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met. There is now a map on the wall with pins from all the visitors who’ve stayed here from around the world. A black pin is stuck on Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. 

We slept until two in the afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever slept that late before. For the remainder of the day, we rested and settled in again. In the evening we walked down to the restaurant on the corner and ordered gyros. I don’t know what they do to those here but they’re so good. Afterward, we revisited our favorite local bakery and got some mini ice cream bars and chocolate surprises to celebrate our return to our second home. 

Days 6 and 7

We’ve been trying to rest but we’re dealing with terrible jet lag. It’s going to take awhile to get used to certain things too. Mostly, we’re just happy to be back. And looking forward to new adventures.