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Five foodie finds: A Nashville food adventure

Upon arriving back home to the States from Albania, I imagined life slowing down and me laying low for a while. Don’t get me wrong, life was already pretty slow in Albania, except for the part where living my life was pretty much a job and socializing was strenuous work, especially near the end, when I knew I’d be saying goodbye pretty soon. But so far, laying low hasn’t seemed to be the case for me. Not only have I started a new job here in the States, but I have taken on some new adventures. I’m convinced that the travel bug will never leave my blood, even if it’s just taking a trip to the next city over to try a new restaurant. The travel bug will remain. Hence, my taking on Nashville, Tennessee last weekend. Actually this trip has been highly anticipated for a little under a year. It was my best friend Priscilla’s birthday gift last year. Let’s say us finally getting there was her opening it. We were so fortunate to be in Nashville in order to attend something called the K-Love Fan Awards. We found the event itself to be one of the best parts of our experience. Second to that was probably the food so here are the five foodie finds of Nashville:

1. Biscuits, and bo-nuts, and hot chicken, oh my

So, it may be common knowledge to some that Nashville is definitely known for it’s fried chicken. And not just any fried chicken, but it’s hot [fried] chicken, aka hot chicken. After college and falling in love with the south all over again, I was certain that after I finished the Peace Corps, I was moving to Tennessee for grad school, no if, ands, or buts about it. During that phase, I followed a bunch of eateries in the Nashville/Knoxville area on Instagram. One of those eateries was called Biscuit Love located in Nashville. They obviously specialize in southern biscuits; the fluffy, doughy kind. They are also known for their bo-nuts which we also got to try. Unfortunately they won’t be pictured, but it is just what it sounds like: a biscuit/donut hybrid. Rounded and fried biscuit dough nuggets, topped with lemony cream and served alongside a blackberry jam. They sort of just melted in our mouths and were a great precursor/follow-up to our meal. Our meal was called “The Princess”. It was hot chicken on a fresh biscuit topped with spicy brown mustard, honey, and pickles. The spicy and sweet combination was divine. And the mustard added a nice double-kick of spice to the mix.  This was the first thing we ate in Nashville, and it was when we first realized that we would be back. We don’t know when, or how, but we wanted more of that biscuit love..hehe.

2. Cook Out

Oh, Cook Out. Cook Out is, what I’ve learned to be, a privately owned restaurant chain that was founded in North Carolina. The fact that it is privately owned is probably why it is so good. You can tell that there is extra care placed into making those delicious burgers. It is a care that you will not find in too many other chains around the United States. When I saw the billboards floating around advertising this amazing place, I knew we had to try it. I had heard so many great things from North Carolina natives and non North Carolina natives alike. But despite that, I still couldn’t have prepared for the reality that would hit my mouth that night. We attended the kick-off concert apart of the K-Love Fan Awards weekend and after 3 hours or so of dancing and belting out lyrics at the top of our lungs, we decided that it was time to find our second Nashville food stop. Thankfully, there was a Cook Out not too far from where we were staying. We decided to give it a shot. So we both ordered one of their specialty burgers with cheese, bacon, and grilled onions. I ordered fries and we both ordered milkshakes. I went for the Hershey’s chocolate flavor, while Priscilla tried strawberry cheesecake. If I remember correctly, they had about 40 different flavors. The milkshake was the first thing I tried and it was so thick and the chocolate flavor was so authentic I could not contain myself. When we got back to our Airbnb, we tried the burgers which were cooked perfectly. Priscilla didn’t get the onions on hers, but I did and I must say they were not super grilled. They were closer to raw and though that made me cringe at first, by the end I was all about it. That is how good the burger was. Nothing could ruin it. This is not endorsed by Cook Out or anything by the way.

3. CRONUTS

It was our second day in Nashville and we attended a couple of concerts in the afternoon. We were not super starving but wanted something to snack on. So we opted for ice cream. I googled the words “best ice cream in Nashville” of course and the one with the best reviews was Jeni’s Spendid Ice Creams. And thus our ice cream hunt began. But not before we discovered that in the same shopping center that where Jeni’s was located was also a bakery called Five Daughter’s Bakery

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This is also one of those establishments I had followed on Instagram previously. I knew that they were famous for their “100 layer” donuts, or cronuts (remember the cronut craze?). Cronuts are a croissant/donut hybrid and have many layers, as you can see below:

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It was actually the first official cronut that I’d tasted and P and I both agreed that is was super duper rich. We were only able to down a few bites at the bakery and opted to finish them later on. We both ordered the “King Kong” which was basically a maple bacon flavor. There were only two left that day so I figured they were the most popular flavor (at least for that day). The bacon was actually the best part for me. The donut itself was so sweet and full of cream, it was really hard to enjoy it all in one setting, but overall I am glad we got to try it.

4. You scream, I scream

Ice cream. We love ice cream and it is a no-brainer that ice cream was among the many things we tried while in Nashville. As stated above, we opted for a place called Jeni’s. It was actually right next to Five Daughters and upon walking in we could smell fresh waffle cones being made. That is when I knew we chose the right place. There were also many flavors to choose from. Priscilla got a flavor called Savannah Buttermint which was a minty flavor with white chocolate shavings throughout. It tastes like those little white mints that are soft and just melt in your mouth. I went with my all time favorite: cookies and creme, which they called cookies in creme. It also had the white chocolate throughout.

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Our cones

Among the flavors we chose, they also served wildberry lavender, churro, and espresso/chocolate combo flavors.

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Ice cream and donuts…what can go wrong?

5. Asian Hot Pot

This is probably the meal I am most excited to write about. We were on our second to last night of our weekend in Nashville. I had been choosing most of the restaurants and so I begged Priscilla to choose what we would eat for dinner before checking out the Nashville nightlife. I was very pleased when she said she was up for some asian cuisine. Once again, we relied on handy, dandy google and found a place downtown. It was a Thai place called the Smiling Elephant. Unfortunately, by the time we finished at one of the K-Love events, it was closed and we had to find a place that was still open. Down the list of fairly reviewed places on google was a placed called Sichuan Hot Pot & Asian Cuisine. It sounded like a cool place and it was one of the only ones open at that time so we decided to go for it. And now I can say that there are no regrets. It was a new experience for me! Hot pot is an East Asian variety of food where a metal pot of stock is placed in the center of the table and different raw meats, seafood, vegetables, and noodles are served alongside to prepare in the stock.

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The setup

It was definitely something I had a lot to learn about beforehand but it is a food experience that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was actually one of the best and I look forward to more like that!

 

 

…And because man shall not live on bread alone, here is a little more about the event we attended called the K-Love Fan Awards. The theme was “ignite hope”. K-Love is a radio station out of the United States that plays encouraging, inspiring, and positive Christian music with a powerful message.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was when two U.S. veterans were given houses and purple hearts. Memorial day was the day after, so I can think of no better way to ignite hope than to honor men who have fought for the country I live in and the women and families who have stood behind them while doing so. K-Love partnered with the Military Warriors Support Foundation. I’m sure I had tears in my eyes most of the night because it was a night where I was reminded of how much I was loved by an amazing savior and how I’ve been set free. As if that isn’t enough, I get to enjoy the things above and write about them. If that isn’t grace I don’t know what it. Definitely something to ponder. Once again, thanks for viewing life through my eyes and until next time…

 

Peace Corps experience: tears, people, food, travel, memories

Today is the day. I am supposed to write this amazing blog post about the last two years of my life; the last two years I spent in Albania with an organization called Peace Corps. Today is the day; the day I reach deep down into the depths of my soul and bare it to you, the audience. Today is the day.

Then why do I find myself speechless? At a loss for words? At a time like this…shouldn’t I have all of the words? Or at least most of them? Today is the day…

I am on a minibus from Librazhd (the city where I stayed with a host family for about three months). Librazhd is also the city where I learned the Albanian language. It is the city where I trained to be a teacher. It is the city where I learned to make the traditional Albanian pie byrek. It is where I looked in the mirror and saw the first glimpse of the woman I was becoming, the woman that I am today. I love this woman.

1. This is a reflective writing because I am less than a month away from leaving this country and moving on with my life. I want to cry. I want to bawl. To sob. But one thing I’ve learned from this experience is that my tears are welcome. When I was younger, I was called a cry-baby and sensitive and I hated being called those things. They made me cry even more because I wanted to be strong and not cry anymore. But I still cried. As I got older, my tears fell less. I came to Albania at age 21 and it seemed that my tears were at a standstill at that time. My tear ducts were stopped up. But when I did finally cry, the tears never seemed to stop flowing. I’m okay with that now. A good cry for me is relief. I wouldn’t be the same without my tears.

2. People.

And I say it again for emphasis: people. These people have changed me. For better. For worse. I’m different. But that is what I longed for. I lived in a bubble before and I wanted to reach out. I wanted to reach out so that God could reach in and change me from the inside out. And He did. He has. I’m different. I don’t think I’ve understood grace more than I do now. I have learned not only to receive grace, but to extend it.

For more see:

Albanian AdventuresGruaja fut shejtanin me shishe (A woman puts the demon in the bottle)My Albanian Summer [Camps and more Camps]Gëzuar Thanksgiving!It’s the little thingsGod sets the lonely in families

3. Food.

I love food. I was with a group of friends the other day and we were each sharing one of the most meaningful things about our Peace Corps experiences. I actually shared three. My little spiel was about how I had grown because of the people I’d met and how my cooking skills jumped to the next level. I am not one for boasting in my own abilities. I just love to cook and it delights me to know that living in a foreign country forced me to expand on my cooking skills. I also enjoyed being able to try different foods from not only Albanian culture, but foods derived from the cultural backgrounds of fellow volunteers and friends. I look forward to this being a reality even in the next chapter of my life.

Favorite post in Albania about food: Byrek or Bust

4. Travel.

Throughout my Peace Corps experience I had the opportunity to visit some amazing places and see some amazing things, but I’ll let the photos below speak for themselves:

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Bari, Italy
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Çorovodë, Albania

Korça, Albania

Dublin, Ireland

Amsterdam, Holland

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Prishtina, Kosovo
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Ohrid, Macedonia
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Meteora, Greece
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Butrint, Albania
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Corfu, Greece
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Athens, Greece
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Lake Koman, Albania

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This final photo has the most meaning. One can travel far and wide, but it means nothing if you don’t have a home. I guess you can say that I have many homes. One of those homes is and always will be Albania. The photo above was taken on top of a mountain overlooking the Berati region of Albania.

5. Memories

And because of all the reasons above, memories were made; the tears, the people, the food, and the travel made it more than worth it. There were a few times that I wanted to walk away from it all and call it quits, but I am glad that I did not do that. In fact, I’m sure given the opportunity, I’d do it all over again. I am a different person because of this experience. Perhaps I can even say that I am a better person because of it, but only time will prove that. Before I came to Albania, I read a quote talking about the Israelites crossing the Jordan, the means of entering the land that God promised them, and how we as Christians will most likely in this life, be forced to cross our own “Jordans”. Now that I think of it, some of our Jordans will probably be this life itself before we make it to a beautiful place called paradise to dwell with the lover of our souls. But in a lot of ways, I feel like Albania was my Jordan. For the first time I was forced to live alone. I did not know anyone I came to Albania with, nor did I know anyone that lived in Albania. I went from dwelling in a thriving and loving community to living in what could have easily been considered a strange place for me. But I made it. I made it through my Jordan and it feels mighty good. And now I wait. I wait for the next adventure. I wait for the next thing that will expand my mind and open my heart. So until then… I guess the next chapter in my story begins with, “To be continued…”

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Until next time Shqipëria…

5 things a “facebookless” life has taught me

No, I do not hate Facebook. In fact, I think it is an amazing way for people to not only connect with those close to them, but also those who are not so close; people from all around the world. It’s a beautiful thing. But for me it can also be noisy. I love people and I love connecting with people but I love genuinely connecting with people and sometimes I feel like Facebook negates that task. So I am on a break with Facebook and we haven’t decided when we’ll be back together.

1. Life is quieter without excess amounts of social media

Do not get me wrong. Taking away one form of social media always seems to add another. I am still on Instagram, though my activity has slowed down tremendously. Well, it’s at a stand still basically but I still find myself desiring to be “entertained”. I find myself browsing through YouTube more. I mean “molten copper being poured on things” videos people. But despite that, life is much quieter without Facebook. I can focus on my ‘facetime’ relationships, the live ones, and love the people right in front of me more. My life seems to be less of a popularity contest and more of me enjoying and embracing whatever comes. It has been sweet.

2. I get to focus on my “real-life” relationships

I think I had quite a few friends on Facebook. And on any given day I talked to a lot of people. But now I find myself being thankful for the relationships I have outside of Facebook. I am getting to know the people around me in a more realistic way instead of browsing through their profile. Of course this proves more difficult but day by day I’m leaning to cope.

Enjoying the "facetime"

3. Facebook is IMPORTANT
In today’s society, in most every culture, Facebook is important. It is important for birthdays and big news. One of my closest friends in Albania got engaged! And I found out almost ten days later! It’s quite sad. But this is the risk I face (haha) by not being active on Facebook at the moment. Phone calls are also still very real things. I think I’m going backwards and yet I’m typing this on a smartphone; the beautiful paradox that is 2017.

4. When you don’t have Facebook your dinner technology time is different
So you know that time at dinner or lunch or even breakfast when everyone takes their phones out and starts fiddling around on them (I think it’s millennial thing)? If you are not aware of that time, think of it as “shared technological bonding”. EVERYONE’S scrolling through Facebook at this time honey and if you are not you’ve been left behind. I’ve been left behind. During that shared technology time I found myself reading the Bible using the Bible app on my phone. This is real life. Obviously, in a way it is not the worse thing. I used to read during that time even when I had Facebook. I have even opted for bringing physical books to dinner only to be scolded by friends for not being present (which, by the way, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!)

5. Dun dun du-daaaahhhhh: you have to find other creative ways to share
Despite not having Facebook, I am a blogger now. And because I do not have Facebook perhaps this blog won’t get the exposure it would if I did have Facebook. No matter though. I blog because I like it, not because I want to be famous. With that being said, you have to find other creative ways to share. For example, my people, (refer here: https://fivethingsfree.com/2017/01/29/god-sets-the-lonely-in-families/ ) sent me a link to like a Facebook page for them so that they could win a contest. You can go like it here: Drita e dijes Facebook page (like it for me people because I can’t). Each class in the school did a project and my friends were a part of the 7th grade project so that is the one you should like because I think it’s one of those the more likes wins things. I think they’ll win but they need your help. Their cause is blood donation and lack of blood in blood banks here in Albania. It is a real and heart-wrenching issue and they addressed it. I honestly couldn’t be more proud of them. Check out the video for their cause below and keep little Megi in your thoughts and prayers!

until next time…

The gift of new life

     My favorite author of all time is the Author of Life. He wrote the story of creation and He also wrote the story of how to begin a new life in Him. So that also makes Him the Author of New Life. I love His work and I love Him (very much). He creates life of all kinds; of humans and of animals. I witnessed new life come this past weekend and it was beautiful and it reminded me of my new life in Him. How does the new life of a piglet compare to my new life in Him? Here are five ways:
1. It’s a little painful
So, yes the intro is correct. I witnessed the birth (or “after-birth”) of seven little piglets this past weekend. My friends’ pig here in Albania was expecting and she finally managed to pop them all out. It came as quite the surprise and we were all in awe. My friend’s husband ran to the front porch with the smallest piglet, the runt of the litter, in his hand. It seemed to be in critical condition, squealing and screeching. It wasn’t ready to be separated from it’s mama or to have to sun piercing it’s eyes just yet. In order to to live, she was giving up a lot. She was giving up her comfort…just to live. And it hurt. And it was a lonely place. But she was small and she had to live.
I feel like that a lot in regards to my regeneration in Christ. Comforts are taken away. I feel isolated at times and I am called to live a life characterized by being different. A life known for the fruit it bears by knowing Him. I have to give up my comfort, just to live. To really live. But in exchange for momentary pleasures I get to do just that. Live.
-For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  -Paul the Apostle (Philippians 1:21)
-Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
-By their fruit you will recognize them. -Jesus (Matthew 7:16)
-Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
2. you need A LOT of help
     The newborn piggies needed a lot of help just to survive. It’s cold right now and they need eachother to keep warm. I watched them huddle up together to fight back against the harsh weather conditions while waiting for their umbilical cords to be cut. They could not cut those off themselves. The little one that we attempted to nurse to  health with warm milk from the kitchen and time in the sun had no way to make it from the pig pin to us (though she probably didn’t want to anyway – not the point). She needed help even if she didn’t realize it. They all did. They all needed to be placed in the sun  in order to receive a bit of life. They were new to the world and wouldn’t have been able to make it on their own.
Boy oh boy, do I need help from Jesus. I just need Him, period. I need His love – desperately. I need help. I need Him to rescue me daily. From myself. From my thoughts. From my wickedness. It’s a daily walk. A daily rescue. I’m screeching and squealing like those baby pigs for Him. And He comes. He rescues. He helps. And…He gives me new life.
But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay. -King David (Psalm 70:5)
-And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
3. you are totally dependent
     This falls under the “help” umbrella. Those piglets could do nothing for themselves at the moment of birth. Some could barely walk. They were dependant on their mama. They were dependant on us. They needed…someone to carry them. They needed eachother.
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trying to keep eachother warm
As for the Christian life, dependence goes without saying. I need a saviour. I need THE SAVIOUR. I am completely dependent on His sacrifice and will for my life. I know no other way at this point. I know no other antidote. I know no other…anything. And this may appear to be weakness but…
-That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
4. there’s a lot of milk involved
     From the time they pop of the wound until who knows when, those little pigs are going to be fixated on some milk. They need it to grow. They need it because it’s good. They need it to survive. Sweet(?) milk from mama. Watching them feed is quite mesmerizing. They are basically blind trying to grasp on to one of mommy’s nipples just to get a taste of her sustenance.
Like newborn infants, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.  -Peter the Apostle (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Christians need milk to grow (^), but not the milk the piglets needed. We need spiritual milk. We need God’s word to feed on. To take it all in and grow. It is impossible to grow without that milk. It is the wellspring of life and without it we are nothing; we are stuck and never get out of the “baby” stage. It definitely requires a lot of prayer, but with God anything is possible and He has already provided the milk: 66 books, 1,189 chapters. All right there for us to indulge. As sweet as honey from the honeycomb.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
 I gain understanding from your precepts;
    therefore I hate every wrong path
(Psalm 119:103-104)
Patience…
5. It often times involves death
I’m not sure what percentage of piglets from an average litter survive, but perhaps it is far-fetched to think that all of them do. A lot of them are born and it’d be silly to think that all of them survive 100% of the time, especially in such harsh weather conditions. Not only that, but the birthing process can be such a strain on them that they don’t make it in the end. One of my friends’ piglets didn’t survive through the cold winter night. An involuntary death.
But did you know that we, as Christians, are called to die daily. Mainly to ourselves, but also to the pleasures of this world. So this last point kind of reflects all of the previous points. Because we are called to die. Death obviously isn’t easy and it is obviously very painful. In order to die, A LOT of help and dependence are needed. For sustanance and provision, we turn to Jesus and the Word of God. And because of this death, we grow just as we do by drinking our spiritual milk. This death is for our own protection. We gain a soul and not the whole wide world. We get the greatest gift that there ever was and will be. We get Jesus. With Jesus, we get grace. We get mercy. We get help. We get a high priest, but we also get a friend. He is everything that is necessary to live this new life because He is the New Life. It is found in Him and in Him alone.
In the end, the piglets are doing just fine. And so are we who are found in Him.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Corinthians 5:1)
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Pigs are pretty friendly, btw

God sets the lonely in families

FTF 12/29

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An ode to the family God set me in

So I’m actually writing this on 12/30 but a song I heard yesterday inspired this post so I have to do my five things from that date (no cheating Jess). It’s okay though, because yesterday was very much a good day and worth writing about. I will actually put the events, or things, in the order of how they happened. In this case it means I must start at midnight. I got home from the States on the 27th. Usually I would fly into the airport in the capital of Albania, Tirana, and take an airport shuttle to the bus station to take a bus home, but thankfully some good friends picked me up. It was a family I know here in Albania that I actually only met about 3 months ago, but it feels like 3 years. They’re amazing. The wife/mother is a British missionary, who I initially met at the church I attend here in Albania, and her husband is an Albanian man with Romani heritage. They have three lovely girls that I have become extremely fond of, three girls that my life would be hard to imagine without. The whole family adds a spark of light to my life that has the power to ignite my whole mood if I am ever feeling down. So they picked me up and we spent some time at the beach to eat lunch and then we made our way back home (to their home). I stayed there that night with plans to go home the next day, but after a little begging from the youngest child, age 6, I decided to stay for one more night which was the night of the 28th. That night we threw a sleepover in the room that I usually sleep in when I am there. We even made a fort that consisted of a sheet hanging from a wardrobe against a wall to the end of the bed. The girls laid the mattresses from their beds on the floor under the makeshift tent and that was where we watched a film called Dolphin Tale.

  1. I dedicate my first thing to the time spent with the girls. At midnight it ended up just being me and the older girls, who are twins. We had just shared a precious moment and decided to try and drift off to sleep. Well sleep wasn’t coming so easily and then we heard this beeping noise. It started off with beeps about 5 seconds apart: beep…..beep….beeeeeep. We were discussing what it might be and then the beeping sped up: beep…beep…beeeeep. I jokingly mentioned that it sounded like a bomb, a ridiculous conclusion to jump to because…Albania (I don’t think bombs are easily accessible/nor would anyone take the time to make one). But then it sped up again and we snuggled close together, kind of anxious. Finally, one of the girls decided to go ask their mom what it was. Let’s just say we let our imaginations get the best of us. It wasn’t a bomb, of course. It was just some kind of alarm that goes off once a month that has to do with measuring temperature or something along those lines. We laughed a little at how fearful we were beginning to feel and then really tried at a serious attempt to go to sleep. It took some time but it happened. That time spent with the girls was very special to me and a night I will never forget.

2. Wake up call?

This was the same morning that we heard the alarm. I slept pretty well, but not super well. It was all worth it though. I’m not proud of my sleeping habits. I mean in the sense of how late I am able to sleep in sometimes, but after all of my traveling and running around while in the States, I thought I deserved just a little sleeping in time. It is Christmas break after all. But not this particular morning. On this particular morning the girls and I were awakened by loud and beautiful Albanian folk music (yay, smile). Don’t get me wrong, I love Albanian folk music and all but not when it interferes with my beauty sleep (another smile). I knew it was early because never do I get to see my friend, the girls’ mother, in her pajamas. She wakes up early, as a mother of 3 that are all under the age of 18 should, I’m sure. But I’m not a mother of 3, so I don’t bother. But I see the benefits of it. The smallest one was standing in the doorway at one point when I looked up and after a “good morning” exchange, she was in the bed with me and the girls. The girls got up soon after and next thing you know I’m a koala playing a game of hide and seek. Yep. Never a dull moment with that little girl.

3. Skype Tutorials

I’m sure you’re wondering what “Skype Tutorials” are. That was just my title for the next sequence of events. Why do I love the family, that is easily becoming the star, and rightly so, of this blog post? Well they have obviously been so kind to me, have taken me in as their own, they love me so well, they’re so gracious, and so humble. There is something so innocent about them. For example, they just got WiFi, wireless internet, installed at their house two weeks ago. Up until then, it wasn’t a necessity for them. They just enjoyed eachother’s company, worked with their hands, and did useful things with their time, unlike the rest of us in this technology driven world. I admire them so much for forsaking the status quo and doing their own thing. My friend’s sister is about to have a baby, who the family would like to see and interact with through video chat, which is why they went ahead and had the internet installed. They also bought a webcam to help with the process of using Skype. They asked for my help installing the webcam so I went ahead and helped them open a new skype account. As Skype was going through the steps to make sure everything worked we all sat in front of the computer trying to get the webcam just right. It was one of those things that just makes you happy. It definitely made me happy and I’m so excited for them to be able to greet their new little loved one some time soon.

4. Little gifts

Maybe you’ve experienced this with small children. They get a hold of Christmas present wrap or any plain old piece of paper and start wrapping everything up, old and new. Not only that, but they give it to you as a gift. Before I headed home yesterday, that was the case with my friend’s little girl. She wrapped up what looked like an antique item of her dad’s and tried to give it to me before I left. I opened it in front of her dad.

“That’s mine baba,” he told her.

I laughed a bit and told her that it was nice that she wanted to give me things, but she couldn’t just go around gifting other peoples’ things. So she ran back upstairs. My friend and I were preparing to leave, but the little one yelled for us to wait from upstairs. She pleaded with us so I stood near the door and waited. She ran back down with another gift wrapped item. I smiled and kissed her goodbye. A sneak peak of the little gift revealed a gold bracelet. Life’s little gifts truly are made of gold.

5. This love will ruin every fear

My fifth thing is where that line came from. It’s called “This Love” by Housefires (ft. Pat Barrett). A friend of mine posted it to her Facebook page yesterday evening and I decided to give it a listen. And I am sure glad that I did. It is labeled as spontaneous on the title of the video and it makes me think of the beauty that just flows out when worshipping the Lord. It just comes and then others are blessed by it. There is not much I can say but listen to it for yourself.

“This love is not like anything you’ve ever known…Oh, this love makes it so you can finally be free.”

No truer words spoken. Thank you, Jesus, that I’m finally free. Thank you.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear”-1 John 4:18

back to the ALB

FTF 12/26

I’m writing this a bit after the date that held these five things  but I’d like to think I remember everything just fine. Most specifically, I remember the late morning of that day. I was headed back to the airport in order to make my way back to Albania. Something stood out to me the most while checking in for my flight. It was a little dog. One of my favorite type of dogs: a chihuahua! A very cute one. I haven’t gotten the opportunity to notice many dogs in an airport. And at the moment I noticed him, Kirby was his name, another sweet thing was happening…

1. Something really free
So, traveling can get expensive in the sense that there can be all these little added costs popping up unexpectedly, especially depending on what you’ll be bringing with you. I just happened to be carrying a huge wall calendar that I planned on taking back. I didn’t know if I would have to check it in with my other bag or not. I was just hoping for the best. Well just by simply taking it out of it’s box saved me $100 dollars. The woman that was helping me behind the desk was very gracious and kind (will speak more on this later).

2. Potato Chips and a granola bar?

This is kind of telling a story so bare with me. I got through security and made my way onto the plane. While I was in line I saw that Chihuahua again! The cute little grey one with grey eyes to match. Wow! He would be on the same plane as me! Yay. Later I found out, he was going to be in the same ROW as me. DOUBLE YAY. And better yet, his owner and her mom were so kind. They brought their lunch onto the plane and actually offered me some. I declined a piece of one their sandwiches but they convinced me to take some of their chips and even gave me a granola bar. I was kind of in awe. You just don’t meet people like them often.

3. Leigh, Lois (And Kirby)

So now presenting the lovely ladies who shared their chips with me! Leigh was Kirby’s “mom”, as she called herself. And Lois, who sat next to me, was Leigh’s mom. Lois had a sweet spirit. We connected pretty quickly. She was the one who offered me a bit of her sandwich which really just blew me away. I mean chips are super shareable, but a sandwich (with a stranger)? I guess it depends on the person. Anyway, after eating, Leigh dozed off to sleep with Kirby in her lap. Meanwhile, Lois and I continued to talk. I told her about my time with the Peace Corps so far and living in Albania. She told me about her children and how one of her grandaughters had health problems from the time she was born up until age 2 or 3. Eventually she ended up on life support and they didn’t think she would make it. They prayed and prayed. They finally decided to give up and pull the plug and let the girl go to rest. Well the day before they made the decision, she gained consciousness and came back to them. She is alive and well today and Lois was saying how she imagined God saying,

You silly people. Don’t you know that I’m the one who is in control.

Her story really touched my heart a great deal and I actually had tears in my eyes by the end of it. I think we both did. It was a sweet moment. Even sweeter than those moments when Kirby got nervous and climbed over Lois into my lap to look out the window. Sweet people. Sweet dog. Definitely thankful for the moments like these.

4. Kindness

I experienced a great deal of kindness on that particular day. The kindness of others. The lady that was working the desk at the airport could have made me pay the 100 dollars and Lois and Leigh didnt have to offer me any of their food. I think I write about these things to remind myself that amidst the despair and desolation we tend to face in this world, there are more than a couple of bits of light shining through each day. We tend to ignore the light when our minds keep us trapped in a dark room. But there is hope. There is a greater hope than all of us. And smaller bits of hope that we experience each and every day. I hope we take the time to embrace them.

What have been your smaller bits of of hope today? Those streams of light trying to flood into the darkness surrounding us?

5. Cookies or sunrise? I couldn’t decide which of the following two would make my fifth spot. I guess cookies because the sun rose on the following day, the 27th. But it was beautiful and it had me wondering…where exactly does the sun go and hide during the night? Maybe that’s a silly question, but let me know if you know the answer. Now cookies. Airplane food. …amiright?

Airplane cookies.

Specifically, biscoff cookies which kind of rock my socks.

Simple ingredients: (the funny thing here is that I actually saved the wrapper to write the exact ingredients, but that wrapper is lost now, unfortunately)

Amazing taste.

Free.

What more can a girl ask for.

Like I always say, it’s the little things.

Until next time…

It’s Christmas all over again and that’s just fine with me

FTF 12/25/2016

Currently, I’m sitting in an airport reflecting on how amazing the past 10 or so days have been. I am truly blessed beyond what I deserve but I’m thankful beyond what words can comprehend. So without further ado…five things from Christmas 2016.

1. Inspiration

As of now I’m hanging out with my best friend and trying to figure out how I can put into words the euphoria I’m feeling right now. We are waiting for my dad and stepmom to get ready so we can go to a  Christmas gathering and also watching a video on Youtube called “Jon Bellion – The making of Woodstock, All Time Low, Woke the F*ck up (Behind the Scenes).” If you’re reading this, I suggest that you stop what you’re doing (reading this) and go watch it immediately. I have known about this guy Jon Bellion for about 3 or 4 years now and he is truly one of my favorite musical talents. This video, and so many more of his, reflect his raw talent and it made me quite emotional. Sometimes talent isn’t free but when you have it and what you do with it makes all the difference. In the video he says, “a lot of people ask me on my Twitter and stuff, ‘why isn’t he bigger’, ‘I can’t wait for him to blow up’, ‘I heard him on here. I heard him on here, it’s only a matter of time’ To be honest, I like living my life. I like being able to play basketball.  I like spending time with my family. I don’t mind being an average Joe.” I walk away in awe because how many people that have the opportunity to be “mega-famous” deny it for their sanity, their life, just for the chance to be human without restraints? Not many. Shout out to you Jon.

2. My favorite meal (the foodie portion of the post)

I call it thanksgiving food. Bear with me as I describe it in detail! My stepmom’s family has this tradition where they get together for Christmas and just eat and be with one another and fellowship. It really is a beautiful thing and even more beautiful when everyone particpates and has a good time. I kind of messed up beforehand because I had a pretty small breakfast and we were a bit delayed with eating. So call me “hangry” or whatever. I tried my best to keep it under control. I even told my dad to excuse anything that came out of my mouth before we ate because I would be speaking out of hangriness and not love. By the way hangry =angry because of hunger= hangry. But alas, we DID eat

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not so great photo of the hyped up text to the left (yes, that is kool-aid)

and everything turned out to be okay. A snapshot of it all looks like a plate:
paper (fancy)
-Chicken and rice (rice boiled with the chicken)
-Collard greens
-Sweet potatoes (pretty much pureed and baked)
-Red beans with pork? (or chicken)
-Potato salad
-Pasta salad (with spaghetti noodles because that’s the speciality ’round these parts)
-Cornbread
-A bit of Turkey and a slice of ham
-Macaroni and Cheese

-And some dressing with cranberry sauce on top.
These are some of my faves and when I come home it is a pleasure to delight in them once more. Now…it’s back to Albanian food, which is just as lovely in it’s special way I might add. (Check this: https://jwillolemiss.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/byrek-or-bust/)

 

3. Mr. George

After we finished at the cookout, before my dad dropped us off back at my mom’s house, he wanted to take a plate of food to his friend “Mr.George”, as he lovingly called him. My dad sacrificed himself for a good scolding about saving the food that was left for those that hadn’t eaten but apparently this Mr. George was worth it. So we went and took him his food. What I noticed immediately about him was his accent. He threw some aints and yalls into his speech every now and then but he surely wasn’t from the South. What was he doing in the backcountry woods of a small town in Georgia? I asked my dad, who then made me ask Mr. George myself.

Rolls eyes 

Turns out Mr. George is originally from Nova Scotia and the  military brought him to Georgia at some point. He talked a little bit about how he’d been all around and  ended up in Jacksonville, Florida which further brought him back to small town Georgia to work. I always want to include people like Mr. George on the blog, because I absolutely love sharing peoples’ stories. it’s a bit of a treat for me to hear someone speak about their life, how far they’ve come and where they’ve come from. We all have a story and I want to be one of those people who takes the time to listen to those stories.

4. PHOTOSHOOT!!

When we got home (to my mom’s house) we were pretty tired from…from what? From eating? I guess. But I managed to rally my best friend Priscilla and remind her that we had a photoshoot! That meant that she would be putting her photography skills to work and I would be her model. I must say she is a great photographer and you want to know why she even picked it up as a hobby in the first place? For her real passion, which is fashion (styling to be exact). I wasn’t just trying to rhyme…she really loves fashion and has been my stylist since we met about 5 years ago. She wanted to master photography so that she could take on the role as stylist AND photographer all in one and she has come so far with that. So she styled me for the shoot and took my pictures and they turned out REALLY good.  From that morning, watching Jon Bellion’s video to the shoot, the inspiration kept on flowing because it was a really successful shoot. The pictures below speak for themselves. I’m getting editorial vibes, afrocentric vibes, and just high fashion vibes. I’m so proud of you, Priscilla. How about I put 5 below? 😉

Check out more here: viewthroughmyshoes.blogspot.com

5. QT with beloved people

My favorite thing of all: quality time spent with people I love. This quality time had been taking place all weekend with Priscilla, my mom’s two godsons Jahmonte and Joziah, and the rest of my family including my brother and his girlfriend Kim. But on this specific night, Christmas night, we decided to start a new family tradition? Maybe? I didn’t know it was so popular to go to the movies on Christmas day but from what I saw at the theatre it’s a pretty big deal. It ended up being only Priscilla, Jahmonte, who is age 10, and I but I was still delighted to spend some time with just them. We went to see a new animated movie called Sing! which is basically about a Koala who wants to save the theatre that belonged to his father so he starts a singing competition to get the theatre some recognition. It’s one of those films where the characters are talking animals. This city is full of different animals that can not only talk but some can SING. It features Tori Kelly who can’t just sing, but she can ssssaannnnnggg. She can blow. She has an amazing voice and it shows even in the film. And so we went to this movie and we all liked it. Afterwards I thought we’d go visit my best friend from high school. This was a real pleasure for me because I took Priscilla,  my best friend from college, and they got to meet. It made me so happy that they got to meet before my wedding that they’ll both be bridesmaids in (not getting married anytime soon by the way…or maybe I am…stay tuned). We laughed like crazy, reminiscing, and my best friend from high school was feigning jealousy over my best friend from college. I love where life has taken me. To meet such amazing individuals and be able to still have them in my life even today. Once again, God is good.

Until next time…

Let’s not forget the real reason we celebrate Christmas. It’s not for the glitz and glamour, but because…

Unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

And His name is: Jesus

The gift of looking back and fried chicken

FTF 12/19/2016

I have spent -almost- the last two years of my life living in a foreign country as a Peace Corps volunteer. I have climbed heights (physically and metaphorically) that I never thought I would climb. I have watched others do the same. Let’s just say the past two years haven’t been the easiest but they have been totally worth it. And for the majority of those two years, I have managed to keep a journal, one of which I’m sure I wrote in almost every day. While moving forward in this life, it helps me a lot personally to look back. I have a desire to reflect and see what turns I took, where I went wrong, so I won’t have to go there again. I love to read over past adventures and relive them as well. That is also why I kept journals while I was in college studying. And while I was in Albania, I knew exactly where those journals could be found. And since I was going home for the Christmas holiday, I was excited for reflection before the next stage in my life, a stage which is approaching rapidly. Breathe…

1. Journaling
Sometimes I don’t think that I could live without a journal, or just paper to physically write my thoughts on from time to time. I need it. And though sometimes I type on my phone, it’s when I write on paper that I really soar. So as stated before, I am home for Christmas, at my mom’s house. I have consistently been keeping a journal for the last 5 or 6 years. And before that I kept one on and off. I even found an old day-planner from highschool and I thought to myself that that must have been the way I kept a journal even then. Along with that planner I found a lot of my old journals from college and I am so ready to dive in. How have I changed? How have I grown? Who was I in love with? Am I still in love with that person? I guess I’m going inward for a while. I’ll face the world in a couple of hours, but this is important.

(Comment below: Do you journal, and if so how has it affected your life? Do you track your own personal growth through it?)

2. Memories
Going through my old journals meant more to me than my words can say. I came away more inspired, satisfied, cheerful. All of those things because I got to know 18 year old Jess, 19 year old Jess, and 20 year old Jess. She made my heart fly up into the heavens. She had a childlike faith that could not be stopped. The way she put down her feelings on paper so transparently made me want to be more transparent in the way that I write. And oh how her words brought on the memories. She did not have a story to tell like I do, but she lived through the story. She tried her best to stay graceful, calm, trusting and as I am her coming out through the other side…I’d say that she really did alright. You did okay little Jess! You made it, by the Grace of God and only by His grace 😄. Shout out to you young Jess. Don’t stop writing dear one. You might just start a blogging website one day.
– Future Jess

3. A dog’s loyalty

Okay, so I realize that not everyone has a dog (or even likes dogs…to which I respond, HOW DARE YOU?) BUT if you do happen to have one you may know a thing or two about their loyal nature. You can ignore them, hurt them (hopefully by accident), neglect them, but as soon as you call their name, they come running to you as if nothing ever happened AND they even lick your face with doggy kisses. What in the world? I mean, what if humans were THAT forgiving? So loving and sweet, so loyal. My mom’s dog has been licking my face and cuddling up to me since I arrived home yesterday. When I call him, his little tail wags like crazy and he runs over to me.

“Roocckkkkyyyyy,” I scream and he goes crazy! I took him on a walk and he was so well-behaved unlike my dog that I had in Albania named Jessie (Xhesi – Albanian). Everyone

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RIP in doggy heaven Xhesi.

that knew her knows how unsettled she was. I got her when she was about 2 months old and she died at 8 months old in a car accident. When I would walk her she would be all over the place, wiggling and struggling with the leash, constantly biting at it. Why Jessie??? She was a wild one, but I miss her.
*Editing note: I just dropped a piece of food on the floor and she wasn’t there to eat it.

*TEAR*

4. Fried Chicken

So this is a bit of a silly one. But five things means just that: FIVE THINGS. So if one day I am grasping at straws trying to fit five things that I am basically thankful for into a list of five things that I am basically thankful for, I might as well throw in fried chicken. Anyway my confession for today is that fried food is my guilty pleasure. Maybe too much fried food sometimes, depending on how much access I have to it. Like, I would probably spend my last on mozzarella sticks or something. Thankfully, I don’t have that much access to it in Albania but while I was in college, I worked next door to a fast food restaurant and when I got off work at 2 am, I headed straight for the chicken strips. In fact, when I got off work at 12 in the afternoon, I could be seen heading straight for…the FRIED CHICKEN. *Gasp* Does this mean the stereotypes are true…? Back in the day, when I craved fried chicken, I usually indulged, but since joining Peace Corps, I think I have had just one opportunity to recreate “southern fried chicken” with some other Peace Corps volunteers. That being said, I don’t eat much fried chicken these days, but while I am on holiday, my stepdad is making it, and though I haven’t tasted it yet, I. Smell. IT. It reminds me of when in cartoons you see tasty food and the steam is floating up into the air in a wavy stream. Well I imagine those streams floating, floating from the kitchen, into the sitting room, wrapping around my head and floating straight into my nostrils. Aaaaah, I breathe it all in. So delightful. I love you chicken.
I mean, check this out:
5. Rest
Rest kind of speaks for itself. We all need it. It’s one of the Lord’s commandments. It’s beautiful when truly taken seriously. Being at home gives me time to rest. Not that I don’t rest in Albania, but being at home feels like a different kind of rest, like I am resting in love and the knowledge that I can just let go and be myself in the presence of the ones I love. True rest.
Until next time…

 

 

“Don’t be deceived my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

James 1: 16-17

A smile and a “hi” can go a long way

FTF 12/17/2016

Traveling can be a peculiar thing. Especially travel that lasts for more than 8 hours. Sometimes I feel like I’m floating through the day. Check-in. Security. Customs. Connections. More security. Layover. More security. Passport control. So much taking things out of my pockets and putting them back in. But when you meet new people during the process it’s like like break within the monotony. A break within the routine of it all. So one of my five things today is dedicated to Tina whom I met on my way home to the States whilst coming from Albania.

1. Travel
Most of the time, unless you’re traveling by foot, travel is not free. But I would like to think that the opportunity to do so is. Thank God above that I have such an opportunity, basically just by being a human on the earth today. And in my opinion any kind of travel is amazing whether it’s from one country to another or just up the road, travel opens our eyes to new horizons, new cultures, new views, and new aquaintances. It is basically just getting from point A to point B but it is so eye opening. I hope none of us ever have to be stuck in one place. And yes I know sometimes travel can be one of which we’re doing to escape a harmful situation, or place, but even then I pray that we would find the beauty in it especially if it’s taking us somewhere safe and secure. Here’s to travel. May we all be exposed to new horizons at some point or another in our lives.

2. Tina
Another beautiful thing about travel is that sometimes, in the midst of it, you get to meet new people. People who you might not have met had you stayed at home. With that being said, today I had the pleasure of meeting a woman named Tina. She was on her way back to New York from Albania. She is from Albania but moved to New York City ten years ago. We sat next to eachother on our flight from Tirana, Albania to Rome, Italy with the aisle between us. I looked across the aisle and was welcomed by her smile.

“Hi,” she said with a big smile on her face.

Later, we made a little small talk about whether I liked Albania to which I responded yes and a “shumë bukur” (very beautiful in Albanian). I wanted to make it easier for her by letting her know I spoke a bit of Albanian but she obliged me and continued to speak in English. We did not talk much for the rest of the flight but afterwards in transit to our gates for our layovers I got to witness her heart and what a beautiful heart she had. She just loved helping people. She was helping an elderly Albanian woman get to her flight to France. She connected her with some other Albanians going there. And after that I had her all to myself. I never stopped smiling. She told me about her Jamaican best friend and the Cubans that she works with. She told me about her twin daughters, one of which had just gotten accepted into a prestigious school located in Manhattan. She spoke about her husband of 32 years and how he was the only man for her. We ended up trying to go through passport control but were redirected to the path leading to connecting flights and while I wanted to huff and puff she kept me calm and repeatedly said, “It’s okay”. I mean 20 minutes spent with this woman made me forget the situation that I was in, a day full of travel. She lifted my spirits which usually aren’t very high at 7am (probably because I’m rarely awake at that time ( 😅). Now I’m sitting in the airport in Rome at my departure gate typing this and really just thinking about how cool it was meeting Tina. She was easy to be around. I didn’t feel constrained or too thoughtful about what I had to say. I just was. I hope I can make people feel like that in my presence. Not even looking to gain anything, just to love another person where they are…on a plane and then in an airport.

3. A quote:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it careful round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers…of love is Hell.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

This quote doesn’t even need a followup explanation. It speaks entirely for itself. It is so beautifully written but the depths of the soul it speaks to is indescribable. This quote by Lewis reaches me in a deep place because when I love I want nothing more than to give my all. But the risk of giving my all is pain. No one can be fully attentive to me. No one can love me with an unfailing love, except for One. So why do I go into relationships expecting some kind of earth shattering love. I mean…I can’t even love like that. So I have promised myself that no matter how much it hurts, I will continue to love. Yes, even animals. Because I really don’t want to bury my heart in a coffin of hobbies and distractions. I want it to be on display for all to see. And if it gets wounded. It gets wounded. But the scars will always be worth it. Always.

4. The innocence of children.

I’m here watching two children playing in the airport. It started as one little girl playing with her little brother, just throwing around a little stuffed animal and running all about the area we are in. I found it so precious and her playing, her running was so contagious, another little girl joined in. She just walked up to the first rambunctious little girl and kind of just started doing the same thing. And there were no questions. No “are you with Hillary or Trump?” “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” They just start straight up playing together. No need for background checks like the ones we seem to require when it comes to new friends (even aquantainces). These girls just started playing. And they made me smile. Sadly the playing was short-lived. The second girl’s mom claimed her back to a position at her side. She wasn’t too happy BUT I am happy to report the first playful girl I mentioned has already recruited more little ones to twirl around with her. I hope we find days where that kind of innocence returns! Even if it’s for only a moment in time where we let our guards down and just begin to PLAY.

5. A warm welcome from an old friend

I would be crazy not to include in my first blog post on FTF one of the most important people in my life. So I made it from Albania to the United States. A 10 hour flight from Rome to Atlanta made up the bulk of the trip and after that one I was EXHAUSTED. My tummy also hurt something fierce but I knew once I was captured in the embrace of my very best friend that it would all change. And it did. I’ll admit that in Atlanta I was a little annoyed when she left my message seen on Whatsapp (Don’t you know you’re supposed to respond immediately P?!) but I said ‘You know what? Forget that. Nothing is going to ruin that moment when I see one of the most kind and supportive people I know in an hour.’ Because I know what a stickler I can be for the smallest of things in any relationship. I know that I am one to blow things way out of proportion but this would be different. I would let it go and enjoy a more monumental moment. So I got off my flight from Atlanta and began walking through the Jacksonville International Airport at warp speed AND…then…I saw her! I started jogging a bit and WAM. I hugged her tight. She picked me up. It was glorious. So my fifth free thing is so much more than a warm welcome. It’s also friendship, because without this particular friendship in my life I might not even be writing this. Thank you Priscilla, my dearest friend.

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besties4lyfe

Until next time…