Unpacking Baggage

As recently as my trip to Greece, I was reminded that I carry too much baggage with me.022

As we departed Greece and sat in the airport in Munich, I was the one who was lugging a thirty-pound backpack carry-on.  The other few members of the group also with me in Germany were smarter travelers.  They had small totes and daypack excursion backpacks that I would guess only weighed a maximum of ten or fifteen pounds.  Why couldn’t I be that carefree?

At the end of the evening’s dancing the waiter at the restaurant Archodissa in the island of Thasos picked up my backpack and handed it to me.  You absolutely must visit if you get to travel to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea!  He asked me, with the usual Greek charm, “Is this full of rocks?”  No, I wasn’t packing my bag full of rocks and pebbles from the marble quarry.  It was mostly full of things that I brought from home.  First, I packed my antiquated laptop that ended up only lasting two hours without battery power, so I was tethered to a power outlet most of the trip if I was ready to type up new works or edit poems.  After the laptop, I carried a notebook for scribbling on the go, two books I was reading for class, and a water bottle.   The rest was filled with who knows what.  It doesn’t sound heavy, but trust me, I felt like I was carrying a military issued backpack.  At the airport it hindered me the most.  I felt my back straining.

Fast forward to moving day into a new apartment the final week of October.  I packed all my books, keepsakes, and papers in boxes.  Putting solely my clothes in the master bedroom allowed me to realize that I have too much stuff.  Yet, the moving process was swift, and I only did a quick sort as I packed.  My boyfriend and I got rid of three large bags of clothes before the move.  Then, as moving day arrived suddenly, he simply packed all the remaining shoes and clothes into plastic totes and I packed my shoes and clothes into suitcases.

Once arriving at our new place, the first place that is ours together, we both realized we each had a lot of baggage.  The pile of suitcases taunted me for weeks.  I realized that I was getting along fine without even opening most of the suitcases.  I was not ready to handle my baggage.  To do so I would have to put some summer clothes into the back of the master bedroom closet that has a large storage area of three-foot tall steps.

Cue the closet’s florescent light to flicker and finally burn out.  A dark closet was a good excuse not to handle my baggage.  Tuesday my apartment’s maintenance man came over and replaced the light.  Excuses gone, I have to make progress.  It still is a process, because who wants to try on tank tops in the winter?  However, I am aware that the accumulation of clothes that I don’t wear taking up space doesn’t contribute to the flow of creativity.

Yesterday, my boyfriend hung the mirror above my dresser.  Baby steps.

My baggage won’t define me.  The action I take in this moment defines me.


Back to the past: Time Traveling

Packing up my life in boxes is bittersweet.  First, it is a chore, the kind that you procrastinate about starting.  It’s not a simple task.

I am only six weeks away from my moving date.  Knowing that I have a moving date on my calendar is beyond comprehension; it feels real and surreal at the same time.

Looking back at the past I have textbooks from college, children’s books from when I was a pre-school teacher, and young adult books I read as a high school teacher to converse with my students about the latest literary releases.  I have books galore.  All of these are coming with me.

Boxes, Boxes, boxes.  You know the cardboard boxes that are never opened, but shuffled from one apartment to the next, filled with memories, notebooks from classes, and your writings.  You couldn’t bear to look through them, but you also couldn’t imagine getting rid of them.  Each of these boxes is part and parcel of who we are.


Symphony at Lakeside, Ohio


Ohio State Buckeyes football fall 2006

Shoeboxes full of relationship mementos.  Your relationship has endured so long that you have filled several boxes and you keep starting new ones.  Each box contains a few years of history.  Each box has mementos, concert tickets, wedding and baby shower invites, movie stubs, and one even contains the corsage from your high school senior prom.  Long distance love letters from college and birthday cards are in their own box.

More recently the box has obituaries, medical bracelets from your visits, and writings that are only partially written.  More recently, work intruded with your time with friends and dates with your boyfriend.  The dark clouds took up residence for too long.  Writing was the moment in the recent past where you triggered happiness back into your life.

Finally you have acquired international mementos from three trips to Europe, including your favorites which you would love to plan a return visit:  Switzerland and Greece.  A new box needs to be established as you move on to new chapters of your life.  God willing, more positivity will fill the next box.

But the childhood and college mementos are who we are.  That is the time in my life I knew who I was the best.  Before jobs and responsibilities divided our lives into scheduled moments I said “yes” to everything I had an interest in.  Freedom allowed that discovery.

Travel Tips: The Four Truths about Travel

1.  Eat the local cuisine.

Greek food will always be best when you are in Greece.  It is the same for any style of food; you are at the origin of the recipes themselves, and you are often closer than ever to the location of the ingredients used in each dish.  Farm to table takes on a new meaning when you get to see where the components of the local food come from:  the farm, the forest, and the sea.  For some, this is the main reason that they travel.

You traveled all this distance; you owe it to yourself to try the local foods.  The local specialties will never be prepared the same if you try to re-create them by eating at an ethnic restaurant or trying your own hand at making them.   Sometimes the cooking process is so unusual that it adds an extra flavor; in Greece meals are traditionally baked in a woodfired oven.  Other regions might use a cooking pit or a spit to slowly roast the food.

2.  Be a respectful visitor.

Any effort to speak the language will go a long way.  Make an effort to learn basic conversational phrases.  It will come in especially helpful to know the words for hello, goodbye, please, and thank you.  Also learn the questions you will need to repeatedly ask, such as “where is the bathroom” and “how do you say…” to learn additional words when you have trouble translating your thoughts.

Treat others as you would want to be treated.  Treat others with kindness.  You know this as the Golden Rule.  Just remember, when you are traveling, what matters the most is that you realize you are a citizen of the globe, and we all deserve to live in harmony.  Express your gratitude to those who assist you.

3.  Don’t pass up an opportunity.

When you are a part of a group, go on all the planned excursions.  You will learn a lot.  If you have free time, go into local museums and into local places of worship.  Ask questions, take pictures, and leave only footprints.  If you are able to, you might get a chance to take a short train ride, or rent a car and go on your own mini-trip to a different area of the town or even visit another county.  The Nike slogan is appropriate:  Just do it.

It might be the only time in your life that you will visit the location.  Make every moment count.  Be open to unplanned travel.  Pack a small bag and go exploring.  Sometimes the best adventures are unexpected.

4.  Travel is difficult.

Prior to your travel, you should start exercising more, especially walking.  You will be doing a great deal of stair-climbing and walking on your trip.  Give yourself a day to adjust to your jet-lag.  Try to plan low-key activities for the first day and allow room to fit in a small nap.  Don’t drink alcohol on your flights; drink water instead.

Traveling is exhausting and time-consuming.   The arrival and departure, especially when you travel to a more remote area, will take even more time than expected.  Allow enough time to make your flight connections.  Stand up and walk around when you get the opportunity.  Walk around the airport.  If you can afford to, upgrade to business class.

Rest when you are tired.  If near a beach, you could take a catnap at the beach.  Listen to your body and choose activities that you have the endurance to enjoy.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Awareness will keep you safe and you will vividly remember what you experienced.

Have an amazing journey!  Make it your own!

Images of Thasos

Thasos is sleeping without air-conditioning, and awakening to fresh air coming in through the window screens.  Stepping outside and being able to breathe in deeply.  Clean air! Thasos is trading sugar and butter for the local honey and olive oil.  Honey is drizzled in our morning tea, yogurt, and mealtime desserts.  Olive oil lends satisfaction to every dish. Thasos is eating meals under a canopy of grapevines and olive trees in an open-air restaurant.  No roof above allows us a view of the stars and the moon at night, and sunshine filters through and warms our skin.  Herbs and vegetables are adjacent to the tables, picked just before their use is needed. Thasos is conscious eating, noticing the ingredients in each course.  Slowly tasting each dish and filing the flavors in our memory.  We eat meals marinated in a wood-fired oven for hours.  A three hour feast is followed by fresh fruit and honey desserts.  We share our meals with the table and sample every option laid before us. Thasos is eating seafood that was swimming only hours ago.    The daily catch of fish leaps onto our plate:  gavros, sardines, barbounia, sea wolf, mackerel, lavraki (sea bass), calamari, and mussels.  Octopus will never taste as good anywhere else in the world. 005009 Thasos is being welcomed into the family at Archodissa.  A fisherman reads his own original Greek poetry, then sings along to the music, and slips off his sandals to dance barefoot.  His son, the next generation restaurateur joins the band, holding the microphone like a professional singer, and serenades his wife in front of everyone. Thasos is drinking in the hospitality:  tsipouro from the island, white wine, red wine, beer and ouzo.  Nero (water) cleanses the palate.  We drink plenty of water to fight the summer heat. Thasos is live music.  A bouzouki band pierces the silence and everyone sways to the music.  Everyone rises to dance.  Greek dancing links our arms, and we watch the best leap and dance their own improvisation inside the circle.  Some people dance on tables, some people dance on chairs, those who are bilingual sing along to the words of the Greek music. The Thasian to-do list is beyond simple:  walk to explore the island, eat, drink, swim, and sunbathe.  My fellow writers on this journey also spend our time enjoying a daily communion with the written word. Thasos is living life with joy. 010

Leap of Faith

Traveling to Greece was a leap of faith.  I knew that if I went, I would return changed, I would return recharged, and I would return to forge a new path.  I was leaving my comfort zone behind forever.  I was changing my mindset to not only be a traveler, but to also be a writer.  I was returning to my roots as a writer.  I was shedding my teacher self, and humbling myself to become a student.  I was giving myself time to practice the craft of writing.


Traveling to Greece for a writer’s workshop was my opportunity to “study abroad” like most of my friends had done for an entire semester of college.  I had never been away from home for such a long trip.  I spent a whole moon cycle in Greece.  Why did I wait so long for a full immersion in a hospitable, historic, and calming country?  Why did I wait until 2010 to get my passport?

I actually went without expectations.   I went with an open mind ready to be receptive to my surroundings and to be receptive to the purpose in every moment.  I went to experience things as they are, including the Grecian beauty of nature, people, food, and drink.  While traveling, I traveled inward, and dug into my own core of truth.  The Aegean Sea washed over me, cleansing me in ways I never imagined.

In Greece I stayed on the island of Thassos.  I went to the beach almost daily, and almost every time I visited the temple ruins.  Yes, as we lay on blue beach chairs upon the sparkling sand, with the water’s soothing rhythm lulling us into a catnap and calling us to go for another swim, we were steps away from several ancient sites.  I, for one, kept returning to see these again and again.  I couldn’t simply tan knowing that about a hundred meters away was a sacred area.  I needed to ingest deeply and ruminate about this historic spot.


The temple ruins were scattered; there were the remnants of the foundations of several rooms.  To the right of the ruins was a cave.  The cave had tall rusty fences blocking off the entrance for safety.  I could throw nearby pine cones into the cave, but I couldn’t go in.  There was a four-foot wall that had been added above the temple ruins next to the olive tree.  Adjacent to the wall and in the shade of the tree were three marble benches, looking like they had been created more recently.  These benches were sometimes my meditation spots.

Then, three weeks into the trip, I sat on the aforementioned wall and stared deeper into the caves than I had before.  I was creating stories in my head about the inhabitants of the caves.  The first people who lived on this island dwelt in these caves.  They were hearty, strong people.  They had to know how to create fire and how to gather their own food.  They were survivors.  The men and women of Thassos were tough as nails and they had to know how to do everything in their own small community.  They still have this independent spirit today.

Staring into the caves and seeing the darkness inside, even on a sunny day, my thoughts silenced.  All I could hear was the rhythm of the sea.  I had the sensation that I needed to take this leap of faith far more literally than I had up to this moment.  I leaped off the four-foot wall and landed on the uneven grass below, spraining my right ankle, all the while wearing my black leather sandals.  A man who was looking after the temple grounds stood up and looked over the wall.  He said something in Greek as he started towards me.  I stood up quickly and scampered off saying “Kala…kala!” (Good…good!) to try to convince him that I was not really injured.  He sat back down, and I hobbled off quickly to the nearby beach to request ice from the nice gyro food truck lady that was always there.  She gave me a small cup of ice, so at least I was able to lie down and put ice on it soon after the fact.

My leap of faith succeeded in humbling me.  Also, it allowed me to act foolishly, and realize that any setback or injury is simply another opportunity to slow down and reflect.  Because my ankle was injured, I wrote more feverishly than I had the whole trip during the final 7 days.  Luckily, I didn’t land on my wrists as I fell.  Sitting down to ice my ankle forced me to see my own faults and my own weaknesses.  Sitting forced me to slow down and meditate on all the beauty that I saw in Greece.  I was not on this island to run a marathon.  I was here in Greece to write.  Nothing would stop me from the task at hand.  Nothing would distract me from my true purpose.