These Days

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This past fall was the one year marker of my time here in Kosovo. A whole year. That seems tiny and huge at the same time. “What is my life?” I say this at least three times a day and it’s not always said with excitement or hope.

Living in Europe can be really exciting, and I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve been able to have because of living here. But as with anything in life, the novelty eventually wears off and the dust settles and what is left is the simplicity (and monotony) of the day to day. I knew that when this time came, I would need simple rhythms that gave me space, community, and boundaries so that I could be creative and inspired and empowered.

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For me personally, this has looked like creating time to write at all costs, even if I have to say no to other things on occasion. I’ve committed and invested my time in beautiful and encouraging people both here in Kosovo and back home. I focus a lot of my attention on being mindful and present as I go through my day by meditating, setting reminders on my phone, and stopping to simply take a deep breath every once and a while. These are just the tangible things, but they have proved to be so crucial to my well-being.

Why am I telling you this? Well I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is that makes up a life. What is at the root of it? Experiences, emotions, people, places, careers, the snapshots we share and the stories we tell, all of those things are part of it for sure. But what is so obvious to me now is that what life is made of are those really simple rhythms that we create within ourselves and our communities. It’s the moment in the morning where I sit with my cup of coffee and read a couple of stories out of a flash fiction anthology. It’s sitting in the office waiting for a student to show up and searching the internet for scholarships for Kosovar exchange students. It’s calling my sister right before she has to go to work or excitedly emailing with my best friend about a creative collaboration we are working on. Listening to podcasts while I do the dishes, spending at least an hour everyday writing, planning adventures for my spring break, making tacos simply because it’s Tuesday. That’s my life. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, and a lot of times I’m totally indifferent towards it. And I’m guessing you feel all of that about your life too.

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I live in Europe and someone might live on a mountain top in Nepal or in the center of New York City or in a redbrick house in suburban Georgia, but I really doubt that is at the root of what any of our lives are. A trip that I take to Slovakia or Italy or Florida is not what makes up my life. Whether or not I get a Master’s degree or published in the New Yorker is not what will give my life substance. What makes my life completely worth living is the space I create for inspiration and community. It’s the creativity and curiosity I cultivate within myself and the world around me. It’s the everyday reminders of what it means to be alive.

I think I write all of this because in my life here in this tiny Eastern European country, I often feel totally weird and isolated and out of place both with the people here and the people back home. But that’s part of the deal you make when you decide to step out into unknown territory. I guess I am just needing to remind myself, by reminding you, that at the end of the day, each one of us is left with the rhythms we’ve made and the space we’ve created. I hope that it’s a beautiful space. I hope those rhythms match the beat of your heart. I hope that even with all the moments that leave you feeling broken or the ones that simply slip by unnoticed, that there are also moments that inspire you and leave you in awe of the world and your life in it. It’s nice to remember that we aren’t so different. We all feel weird and crazy and curious and invincible and fragile, and we are all here, today. Sometimes (often times) I just need to remember that.

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New Years + London

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I rang in the new year on top of Primrose Hill in London, England, shivering.

This year has been all over the map (see what I did there?)

I traveled to 10 countries, 4 of them brand new to me.

I wrote nearly 20 poems and 6 short stories.

I read 13 books (which is pathetic, my goal for 2016 is 30).

I cried a lot.

I stood on dozens of mountain tops.

I got my third tattoo.

I started calling myself a writer instead of a “writer.”

I let myself have some regrets.

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This was my 8th or 9th time in London (I’ve honestly lost count). It was the least magical, the most tangible. I got really sick my third day there and spent the rest of the trip coughing, sneezing, achy. I walked feverishly through oddly familiar streets.

I was with my sister. The last time we were in London together was 10 years ago. Then, London was sparkly dream. Now it was grey and hard. I woke up, I guess.

I love London. I visited 4 times just in the last year and a half. But each time it lost a bit of it’s magic, sort of like Christmas does as you get older. This last time was hard because of all the leaving. I spent the whole two weeks thinking about saying goodbye, actually saying goodbye, and wishing I hadn’t just said goodbye. This time around, London felt like people I miss. It felt like moments I wish I could have back or that I wish never happened.

Yet, it’s a new year, and even though I know calendars are arbitrary, it stills makes me feel hopeful and new. I think I’ve worn London out for now. Or London has worn me out. 2015 has worn me out.

My word for last year was grace. I knew that I would need to extend grace to the culture I had entered, the people I was around, and the place I now lived. But more than that, I knew I would need to give grace to myself, because I was trying something totally new, that I was completely unsure about, and I would mess up. One of the ways I messed up was by mistaking grace for passivity. Extending grace does not mean being a pushover. It doesn’t mean letting people hurt you. It doesn’t mean making excuses for others or excuses yourself.

So. In 2016 my word is brave. It feels sort of cliché to choose that word. People throw it at me a lot, simply because I’m girl wandering the world alone and that’s “a brave thing to do.” But what does it actually look like for me to be brave in my day to day? What would it mean if I was brave in my relationships? In my job? In my art? That’s what I want to find out.

I left London alone by train, heading to somewhere I had never been before: Paris. It was 5 am and I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and sad. A few minutes after the train crossed into France, the sun rose, and I made a choice. I chose to feel new. I chose to shake off the heavy things I had been holding onto. The fear and failures, heartbreaks and rejections. And I chose to look (bravely) towards something new. It’s a choice I will have to make every day. But I am so sure this is a year that will end somewhere different than it started.

Happy brave new year.

-Elizabeth-

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Making Plans

Lately, the days have been going by so slowly yet incredibly quickly. It’s a weird phenomenon that I often find myself caught up in.

On Wednesday, I was supposed to be creating lessons plans, but instead I created my Peach Plan. Context: peaches are in season and therefore the main fruit to be found at the grocery store. They are also only .95 cents/kilo. Since I regrettably didn’t come up with a Strawberry Plan when it was strawberry season, I decided I need to make sure I utilize the bounty of peaches while I have it. So I went to the grocery store and bought a lot of peaches. Basically, as you have probably guessed by now, Peach Plan is just buying all the peaches at the grocery store and then eating them. I also intend to can some of them (I see a major failure of this in my future).
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BUT, I also cook sometimes. On Thursday I took the two squishiest peaches and made peach and carrot bread (there’s been a bounty of carrots lately too). I used this recipe, but halved it (should have quartered it, I’m only one person after all). I ate the whole loaf in less than 24 hours. No regrets, yall.

Then yesterday (Sunday), I decided to attempt peach jam. Guys, I was scared. I don’t have a good success rate when it comes to new cooking endeavors.

A note about Sundays. Lately (and by lately I mean for the last few months/years), Sundays have been the worst days of the week for me. I don’t know when it started exactly, but I’ve found that most Sundays have been accompanied with crippling boredom and sadness. Sundays are also supposed to be my rest day. Especially now that I live in Kosovo, Sundays are a natural rest day. Most shops are closed and the buses don’t really run, so there’s not much to do. Therefore, forced rest. However, rest has turned into me laying on my bed listening the soundtrack of Little Women and yelling,”I’m so bored and alone!” at my cactus plant. None of that is conducive to emotional health or productivity. So, in the spirit of coming up with a lot of plans, I came up with my Sunday plan.

  1. Sleep in (because, obviously)
  2. Coffee + reading. Coffee is essential to life and reading puts your life in perspective.
  3. Write. I have been writing A LOT lately. I actually get up at 7 am every weekday morning so that I can have time to write before work. It’s been pretty great actually.
  4. Yoga. Namaste.
  5. Clean AT LEAST one room of the apartment. Like really clean. This includes mopping.
  6. Do something creative. This could be painting, playing music, or trying a new recipe (see peach jam, below).
  7. Go for a walk. It’s best to leave your apartment at least once a day, I’ve found (#introvertproblems).
  8. Study Albanian for an hour (you do this anyway, but for some reason on Sundays you always find a way to skip it).
  9. Don’t wallow. There is a time and a place for wallowing (with your sister, watching re-runs of Gilmore Girls, and eating a tub of ice cream), but it’s not on Sunday.
  10. Remember that being alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely.

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SO, yesterday I initiated my Sunday Plan. And it just so happened that my Peach Plan and Sunday Plan could coexist quite nicely. I give you: Liza’s Peach Jam.

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The Recipe (adapted from here)

6 peaches

Juice from half a lemon

3/4 cup of Sugar

First, I pealed, pitted, and chopped all the peaches. I put the chopped peaches and the lemon juice in a large frying pan and smushed and stirred the peaches until it was boiling. Once it was boiling, I turned down the heat to medium and stirred in the sugar and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once finished, I ladled it into a jar and stuck it in the fridge. And that was literally all there was to it.

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I’m happy about my jam and my peaches and my plans and my Sundays. I’m also really glad it’s September.

Georgia Peach forever (here’s a selfie to prove I’m a human).

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The (Koso)days of my (Koso)life

So, I’ve been told that people want to know about my life. Not my whole life (that would be boring) but my Kosovo life. Kosolife, if you will. I guess that’s fair. I love hearing about other people’s adventures in countries and cultures different then my own. I’m also a writer and we all know that writers will take any excuse to write about themselves. (Except for George MacDonald because he’s perfect). So I’m going to try and update you on my little adventures and my day-to-day life.

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This is a picture of me looking 15 years old

After living in a village for the first bit of time I was here, I moved into a snazzy little zebra palace apartment in town with glorious views of the mountains. It’s the fifth floor, broken elevator. When I first saw the apartment it looked like someone had killed a dozen zebras and used them to decorate the whole thing. I totally love African animals, but it wasn’t quite my style, so I’ve been doing little crafty projects and buying a few things here and there to make it look more 23-year-old-who-loves-nature-and-travel-but-doesn’t-like-to-clean. I think I’ve achieved that for the most part. Once spring comes, I’ll fill it with plants and it will be perfect.

Fun thing about Kosovo: power outages. I’m no stranger to power outages, because I spent 6 months in Lebanon (shout-out to my homies). When the power goes out I just shrug and turn on my iphone flashlight. It’s actually kind of nice because it forces me to unplug. I get a lot of writing done during these times (example: the power is out right now).

Many people want to know “what do you do here?” Well I mainly do three things.

  1. I help out in the ballet class in Suhareke. I love it! I love doing choreography. I love being around dancers. I love performances and performing. It’s so fun to be back in that world.
  2. I teach English. I teach three classes a day, three days a week. And I love this too! I <3 English. And I <3 teaching. It’s fun to be able to create my own lesson plans and activities. I’m not the best disciplinarian and I know that will catch up to me, but right now it’s great. This week we wrote postcards to people I know around the world (thanks guys!). We also talked a little bit about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” because I think this is important no matter where in the world you live.
  3. The third thing I do is study Albanian. I’ll be honest; this week hasn’t been as strong as others. Albanian is super hard and I still can’t figure out the grammar. But I’m memorizing things and listening a lot. Some days I’ll be super independent and know what I want to say and how to say it. Or I’ll totally understand a conversation that is being had near me, and it’s awesome. But other days, I fail completely. Like Tuesday, for example, when I went to the outdoor market knowing I wanted to get fruit, but then I totally blanked and got really intimidated so I left empty-handed and defeated. Ah, language learning, you fickle friend.
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My students’ postcards to people around the world

I’ve settled into life here, and it’s good.

I eat the food.

I drink the coffee.

I visit Prizren almost every week.

I’ve gotten tired of the snow.

I will never get tired of the mountains.

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It has been a great first two months, and I know that the next two months will be even better.

2014

I don’t know what I did with my list of New Year’s resolutions for 2014. Probably it’s somewhere tucked away in my bedroom at my parents’ house. I know I made one, because I always make one. I’m addicted to lists and checking things off of lists. But I’m also addicted to chaos and unpredictability so a lot of things don’t get done and other things happen that were never planned.

I always have some of the same things written on my list every year. Run a half marathon. Read all the books on my bookshelf. Fall in love with something/someone/someplace.

And I never seem to get around to doing them.

This year has been the most uncertain year I have ever lived. Nothing got done, but everything happened. My steps were shaky and the ground was unsteady as I picked up and moved across the world, then went back and did it all again. I had a quiet voice that didn’t speak up enough and a fickle heart that refused to fall in love in the right way.

In 2014 I was a mess, but you know what, in 2013 I was a mess too. Why is it that at the start of every new year, we think that this will be the year we’ll suddenly find our way? I don’t think I accomplished any of the things on my list for 2014. I did not become a runner. I didn’t read all of the books in my bookcase. And I did not fall in love in the way that I meant it when I wrote it down a year ago.

However, a year has gone by and I am different, but also the same. I write less, but dance more. I eat too much chocolate, and I walk everywhere. I don’t shower enough and I make too many lists. I talk too much or not at all. This year I asked more questions. I sought peace and freedom. I stood up for myself once (I should do that more). In 2014 I didn’t fall in love, I found it. Again and again. Through every person and place that crammed itself into my heart. This year, like every year, was the year I changed and also didn’t.

I’m a little nervous to make resolutions for 2015, but I probably still will because how else will I keep track of all the things I don’t do?

But here’s a little flash back of some of the things I did do in 2014.

Moved to Beirut, Lebanon

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Traveled to Jordan, Macedonia, Albania, Turkey, California, and London

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Binge watched Gilmore Girls, Parks and Rec, and Sherlock on Netflix.

Ripped my favorite pair of pants and my friend got it on video.

Got matching tattoos with my sister

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Loved every second with my family and friends

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Watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time. Did not get the hype.

Ate more crepes than I want to admit.

Moved to Suhareke, Kosovo (and LOVE IT here)

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Stopped keeping track of the time as it passed.

 

Happy New Year!

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Quick Words

I was supposed to be intensely working on a million things to prepare for the next season of my life, but instead I created this word map of common words used on this blog (using wordle). This is how life goes sometimes. Words are pretty and these words seemed to me to be especially beautiful and important. Sometimes you write your own best advice.

Hello, Let go.

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Under the Covers

I’m doing a lot of packing and cleaning these days. I move out of my little dorm room tomorrow, and I’m going to Kosovo in a week and a half (yay!). Here are my top 11 (because I couldn’t narrow it down to 10) favorite song covers that I have been slow jamming to lately. They are full of feelings and adventure and happy just like all our summers will be.

11. London Grammar- Wrecking Ball. Amazing, and also a more socially acceptable way to enjoy this Miley Cyrus jam.

10. Daughter- Get Lucky. I have to include this just in case you haven’t heard this amazing cover yet.

9. The 1975- What Makes You Beautiful. The 1975 is a dirty little band from Manchester that I accidentally discovered while at a The Neighbourhood concert. They are pretty amazing and I love the fact that Matty looks like he’s going to start laughing and/or crying at any moment.

8. Milo Greene- We Didn’t Start the Fire. Because Milo Greene is my favorite and this song always reminds me of The Office. (It starts like 1 minute in).

7. Thirty Seconds to Mars- Stay. I will always stay, Jared Leto. Always.

6. Ed Sheeran and Passenger- No Diggity + Thrift Shop. This has been my favorite for a long time. I just can’t stop listening to it. And these two singers are the ultimate dynamic duo (especially when it comes to songs that make me weep).

5. Bastille- No Scrubs. This is forever my jam as I walk down the streets of Beirut. No scrubs here, please, thank you.

4. Ben Howard- Video Games. Forever one of my favorite songs. Forever one of my favorite artists.

3. Tom Odell- I Knew You Were Trouble. Tom Odell is recent love of mine. He solidified my love for him when he did this Taylor Swift cover that makes me weep.

2. ADDIE- Blurred Lines. I typically hate this song (like the good little feminist that I am), but this cover is INSANE. This girl should sing every song ever written ever.

1. Ed Sheeran- Drunk in Love. Oh. My. Beyonce. As if I wasn’t in love with Ed Sheeran enough already, he goes and does this perfect cover of Queen B’s number one jam. It doesn’t get much better than this.

 

Honorable mentions: Miley Cyrus- Summertime Sadness, Arctic Monkeys- Hold On, We’re Going Home, Gabrielle Aplin- Best Song Ever, Birdy- Wake Me Up (and every other Birdy cover for that matter).