Mamma Mia On Crete

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Writing a book is like birthing a baby.   Except the labor has been over two years long.  There were moments I literally screamed, “I CAN’T DO THIS!” but it was there inside me demanding to be born.  And I knew that the labor would produce a happy ending.  A beautiful reflection of my soul.  Or at least I hope so.

Things are moving fast now and I’m “pushing” to the end of this project.  Manuscript edits are completed, as well as cover design and back cover text.

And I have a name picked out:

Uniquely Crete:  Life Redefined on a Greek Island.

Now the big push for book release this summer.  Then comes the hard work…announcing to the world that my baby is out there for everyone to see…and love.  Of course, I’m fully aware that not everyone will see my baby in the same glowing light as me.   But I don’t care.  I’m a proud (and exhausted) mama.

More to come on that later….

As I was writing this travel memoir I had so many flashbacks to my years of living on Crete and many opportunities to revisit this island both in my mind and in the flesh.

Sunset at the Venetian Lighthouse at Chania, Crete, Greece

On one of my recent visits back to Crete, I sat down with a friend who immigrated there from Zimbabwe when she was just 22 years old.

Meet Jeannie – a modern day Mamma Mia.  An entrepreneur with a flair for hospitality.

Jeannie always had a heart for the sea and dreamed of living by the water someday.  When she turned twenty-two, she packed up everything she owned, immigrated to Crete and started looking for a job in Hania. She cleaned hotels, waitressed, cooked and was a self-proclaimed “jack-of-all-trades.”

“I pride myself on being a very positive thinker.  I could be mopping floors and be thinking about new ideas for my next venture.”

She married a local Greek when she was twenty-four, but even when that ended in divorce, she stayed “because of the love of Crete, not a man.”

Never one to sit still, Jeannie took odd jobs, eventually landing in management positions at various resorts.  Her newest venture is managing and promoting the Clio resort hotel outside of Hania.

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When I lived on Crete, the Clio was a tired deserted-looking hotel in an absolutely stunning location.  I remember thinking, “This place just really needs some love.”  Jeannie thought the same thing.  Only she did something about it.  When the owner announced he was going to close down the Clio for good, Jeannie approached him and said, “Take a chance on me.”  (Cue music from Mamma Mia.)

Today, the Clio is a vibrant but quiet retreat with spotless rooms and view to die for.  There’s no better place to view the sunset.

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Jeannie’s secret to success?  “Believing! I focus my attention on what I want to do, see the  opportunity and take it.  I don’t hold back. I’m always looking forward, not back.  And when I hit a snag, I get through with prayer. I believe my difficulties are what make me strong and that I am a winner with God on my side.  My confidence comes from deep inside because I believe.”

Great advice for a writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three things I love about Crete

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Gazing out of the clouded airplane window, I absentmindedly take note of the expansive blue beneath me, We are flying over the Mediterranean Sea in route to the island of Crete. A German voice over the intercom jolts me out of my daydreaming and soon the english translation follows. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into Crete. Please keep put your seat backs in the upright position…”. I tune out the rest and crane my neck around to catch the first glimpse of the island that was my home for five years. The Rodoupou peninsula comes into view in the hazy distance, and then closer I recognize the shape of the small island nicknamed “Kri-Kri Island”, sanctuary of the wild and elusive kri-kri goats of Crete. Tucked into a cove and out of view is the historic and picturesque Venetian port of Chania. But my favorite sight, the one that causes my heart to jump and my eyes to mist over is the foreboding cliffs of Stavros. How many centuries, millennium have those cliffs blazed red in the setting sun and been the inspiration for ancient and modern poets alike? Have they changed at all since the Minoans first called this island home? I doubt it. A sigh escapes my lips and something deep and spiritual, like warm honey, sweet and warm, flows into my soul.

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Even as I read these words, they sound a bit superfulous, yet still not enough to describe my feelings when I see Crete. All the chaos, confusion, and ugly realities of this crazy place give way to the the beauty and magic of the feeling that I’ve somehow come “home.” After living here for many years, I had become quite enmeshed in the fabric of the community, or at least, the community had oozed into the fabric of my being. What is it about this island that has such a hold on me that I spout adjectives in volumes greater than delicacies at a Greek wedding feast? Simply put, it is the simplicity of life that Crete embodies and embraces and clings to, while the rest of the world works itself into a frantic state of animosity and ambiguity. More specifically, it is three things that keep me coming back.

The Sea
I’ve often described the Cretan Sea as liquid silk. On a hot sultry summer day, it looks almost oily as it shimmers in changing shades of blue, green and gold. Some days it can be as still as lake water in the early morning hours. On other days, it’s as restless and unpredictable as a hormonal teenager. But on all days, it defines beauty.1000FC1A-ABCD-4E51-927A-952C97204AB3

The Food
Simple and fresh. No annoying gravies covering an indescript pile of meat and potatoes. If you’re English or German your mouth may be watering for this type of cuisine (which is a significant improvement on processed American food as a whole.) But for this girl, I love a tomato that tastes like the color red, and olive oil that tastes like Greek sunshine. It’s the kind of food that demands savoring. There are cultures (namely mine) that see food primarily as fuel. Then there are the cultures that see food primarily as an inspiration for social gatherings. The Greeks have mastered this activity, engaging in generous meals that last for hours, or as long as it takes until the storytelling and laughter subside. As long as the wine keeps flowing and the food keeps appearing, there is no end in sight. And why would you want it to end when the food and the fellowship rival each other for best memory makers ever.4211673C-7D61-46E2-906B-73F10AFF1192

The People

I love the Greek people – they are so blatantly proud, generous and determined. Everything has significance, nothing is by chance. As a result, what seems like superstitious nonsense to us has a traditional, time honored “truth” to them. A draft can kill you (that explains why most Greek establishments are devoid of any air movement.) If you talk about death, it is a bad omen (spit, spit to keep the evil eye away.) The wild herbs of Crete have miraculous medicinal effects. (Actually, I do believe that last one is true because when I use Cretan herbs in cooking or in cosmetics I just FEEL better.)
Have I ever met a Greek I didn’t like? Of course. Human nature is not completely subject to the culture in which one is raised. So you will find cheats, liars and bullies everywhere. But in general, the Greeks honor their families and their faith above all, and that goes a long way.

It’s not just the Greek people that I love, it’s people in general on the island of Crete. Just like stress can bring out the worst in someone, the laid-back lifestyle of Crete brings out a childlike wonder and lightness of heart to those who will linger long enough to let it all sink in.IMG_6862

I suppose it’s not so much the island as the feelings it exposes that I love the best. My best self emerges here and I feel God’s smile on me more often. Perhaps because I slow down and become more intentional about listening for His voice. Or perhaps I recognize His touch that brought me to my knees and lifted me up at the same time when I lived here so many years ago. Such a place of dichotomy – of brokenness and healing, of chaos and serenity. Of being keenly aware I need Him every moment to survive and to soar.  The simple truth is that every moment holds a treasure, even in the hard places.

For today, I revel in these simple facts;

A big Greek salad, fresh bread with olive oil, a sizzling plate of calamari and a carafe of wine = 18 euros
A day rental of beach umbrella and 2 lounger chairs = 6 euros
A luxurious swim in the clear turquoise waters of the Med = Free
Friendship and wellbeing on the island of Crete = Priceless.

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Featured

Wander, Linger, Savor

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This blog is dedicated to the idea of slow living specifically as it relates to travel in all forms. When I moved to the island of Crete, it didn’t take me long to appreciate the art of slowing down. And after five years of living in the Mediterranean, I fully embraced the practices of wandering, lingering, and savoring both at home and on the road. If you want to read my writing from my time in Crete, you can see my writing on Cretan Chronicles.

There are times when it’s appropriate and unavoidable to pick up the pace of life. Working on a deadline, preparing a meal for last minute dinner guests, keeping up with an active toddler, racing beyond the speed limit because you’re late for that hair appointment you scheduled two months ago and it’s in jeopardy of being rescheduled.

Ok, that last one is just a product of bad timing on my part.

Which is precisely my point. Most of us lead hectic lives because honestly, we choose to. We cram so much into one day, that there is no wiggle room for the unexpected bumps and/or joys. Realistically, we can’t slow down every aspect of our lives. Only a hermit or a monk would be successful at that challenge. But we can be intentional about the things that are important to us.

I would submit that there are specific activities that should never be rushed if at all possible. Like cooking, praying, spending time with loved ones, and my most challenging “take your time” enterprise – travel.

On this blog, I hope you will be encouraged to wander with me to some surprising out-of-the way places, linger over some unexpected happenings, and savor the delicious moments of the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Crete Home

Old harbor Hania
Old harbor Hania

As I look back on photos of our visit to Crete, I realize that they reflect my favorite things about this very special island that we called home for five years. Hands down, my favorite memory of the island is the people. Coming in second – a tie between the sea and the food.

Cretan salad and olive oil
Cretan salad and olive oil

After our leisurely trip across northern Spain, we took a fast train to Marseilles, France where we could pick up a cheap Ryan Air flight direct to Crete (avoiding the inevitable long layover in Athens via other major airlines). As we de-boarded in Hania on Sept 2, unpacked and took a big relaxing breath, it didn’t take long to settle right back into the island pace that we’d grown so accustomed to. In fact, there was an overwhelming sense of “coming home.” We remarked more than once about how it seemed that we’d been on a long vacation back to the States and now we were just returning home.

Welcome gift from a neighbor
Welcome gift from a neighbor

When we moved from the island back to Colorado a little over a year ago, we had left in a state of urgency – a family emergency pulled us home and distracted us from many “proper” goodbyes to Crete. Now we were returning for some much needed closure. We had no agenda, no itinerary, and no expectations except to see friends, eat good food and swim in the still warm waters of the Med. My best days involved all three – at the same time.

friends, food and the sea - perfect ingredients for a soul-feast
Friends, food and the sea – perfect ingredients for a soul-feast

Each morning we would wake up in our little Cretan stone house, wander down the narrow back street to the local taverna where Nikos served up our usual morning fare- two espresso macchiatos with extra foam. I’d forgotten how the Greeks always serve up coffee in style – accompanied by a tall glass of water and a cookie on the side (all for two euros), and this no frills taverna tucked back into a serene little village was no different. Most of our daily planning was done over our coffees at the small table in the corner under the shade of the big plane tree. It was very hot for most of the two weeks we were in Crete so our mornings usually started off with a swim in the sea at nearby Marathi Beach. After that, we mostly set off to visit with friends or just walk around Hania remarking at how good everything looked considering the “crisis”.

Venetian old harbor in Hania
Venetian old harbor in Hania

Only twice did we venture away from the Hania area. Once was to visit with our friend Babis at his extraordinary B&B Villa Kerasia, in the hills above Heraklion. Some things never change (in a good way) and the villa is no exception. Babis warmly welcomed us back and we spent long hours over good wine and food reminiscing and laughing about earlier days together. And there are still kittens everywhere! (villa-kerasia.gr)

Kittens at Villa Kerasia
Kittens at Villa Kerasia

The other day trip we took was to our favorite seaside village on the south coast, Paleohora, where we surprised our friend and local artist Manto and her husband to their great delight. It was wonderful to see that her business (studio, rooms for rent and an amazing breakfast café) was doing so well. (mantostudios.gr)

Gialskari Beach in Paleohora
Gialskari Beach in Paleohora

Because we had intentionally planned big holes in our schedule, we had ample room for the spontaneous which, from experience, tend to result in the most fun and memorable times. Our days were full of soul satisfying sustenance. Rather than sampling a little of everything, we chose to feast on a few simple pleasures in the friends, the food and the sea. On the 12th day of our return to Crete, I woke up and suddenly realized, I’m ready to go home – to Colorado – and sink my roots in there. And as I took one last look down at Crete from our departing flight, my heart was full; not of sadness for leaving but of gratitude for the time we had there. God had granted the closure I needed and now it was not only OK to move on, it was necessary. Someday, we would return as visitors reliving precious memories. But for now, I could smile down at my special island with peace and know all is well.

 

 

Slow Cookery, Deliberate Dining

 

Greek Food

(In light of Greece’s financial crisis, my heart goes out to the Greek people who are caught in the middle between corruption and politics, tradition and reform, while trying to put food on their tables.  We can only hope the government will make the right decision.  Prayers for you, my friends.)

The Greeks have mastered the art of SLOW.  You see it everywhere.  No one seems to be in a rush — well, except when they speak or drive.  But seriously, a typical meal can last up to three or four hours, Greek Orthodox church starts early in the morning and goes until whenever the priest is done, it can take up to a week or more to get internet/phone/car/anything serviced, a hike is more of a leisurely stroll, an afternoon meeting can extend into dinner and drinks (which typically start at 9pm) and a Greek wedding is an all day/all night/next morning affair.  These people really know how to squeeze every bit of energy out of each moment without ever running out of conversation (or food.)

And they created the art of slow food passed down through generations. It begins in the morning when mama and/or yiayia (grandma) visit the farmers market for the fresh produce they will use in the daily meals. The market teams with women (and quite a few men) leisurely strolling and loudly bantering with the merchants.   This is a social occasion as much as it is a shopping trip.

Slow food for the soul lesson #1: People are more important than tasks.

Preparing a meal is an all day affair of cleaning, chopping, shredding, baking, boiling, and chatting. Smells of garlic, lemon, oregano and succulent meat waft from the kitchens all around town. When the family sits down for a meal the table is simply set with one plate each, a set of silverware, local wine and food enough to feed an army. On any given day you might see a fresh salad, fresh baked bread, mezethes (Greek appetizers), pastisio (basically mac and cheese), big beans, roasted vegetables, lamb kleftiko (slow cooked in parchment paper), beef stifado (slow cooked in a pot) or lemon chicken (slow cooked in the oven with potatoes). Or all of the above. Even more revered than the belly-satisfying, mouth-watering food is the time-honored tradition of creating and preparing and partaking of it together in community of family and friends – slowly, intentionally, fully.

Lesson #2: Fast “food” fills our stomachs. Slow food satisfies hunger – body and soul.

Food for the soul
1st hour: Eat, drink, talk, relax
2nd hour: See above
3rd hour: More of the same

I challenge you to slow down, grab a friend or family member and a glass of wine while you prepare this succulent recipe.  Then sit down for a while and forget about the next thing on your schedule.  Better yet, empty your schedule and enjoy.  You’ll be glad you did AND you’ll be back for more!

 

LEMON CHICKEN WITH POTATOES

3 cloves garlic
1 whole chicken cut up
2 potatoes per person 
1 teas. fresh ground pepper
1 teas. mustard
1 Tbsp. oregano
2 teas. salt
Juice of 2 lemons (plus zest)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water

Peel potatoes and cut into wedges.  Place in large baking pan or clay pot.  Lay chicken pieces on top.  Cut garlic cloves in half.  Slice small hole in each breast and insert 1/2 clove.  Lay others around pan.  Add oregano and pepper.  Dissolve mustard in mixture of lemon juice and zest and pout over chicken.  Add salt, oil and water.  Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Uncover, return to oven and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve with all the juices.

Lemon Chicken baked in the outdoor oven
Lemon Chicken baked in the outdoor ove

From Crete to Colorado

“The only place we have to see before we die is the place of seeing God.  And His presence is everywhere for those who slow to see.” Ann Voskamp

 

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Welcome to my new blog!  After I retired my five year blog, Cretan Chronicles (www.cretanchronicles.wordpress.com), it wasn’t much later that I began to get the itch to blog again. But coming up with a theme was a challenge since there are so many things to write about these days and the world of bloggers is saturated by every topic imaginable. I finally narrowed it down to the question, “What am I passionate about and how is that significant for my readers?”

Some people are passionate about running, or hiking, or cooking, or politics…the list goes on. But these are merely activities that feed a deeper inner passion – to find something that we can relate to that feeds our need for belonging, peace, control and satisfaction in this crazy world. We all want to make a difference whether it be in our own lives or in the lives of others – in our own home or in the world at large. What I’ve discovered is that I can make a difference anywhere I go just by using the gifts and talents the good Lord gave me as long as I slow down enough to listen and breathe.

My passion for travel has taken me to places outside and inside myself to where I realize that I crave travel not so much to see things on my bucket list, or take great photos or find new blog material. Travel feeds my desire to make a difference – to experience a reciprocal relationship with a different culture where we can all come away with something that makes us better people in the long run. Even if its just a new appreciation of a different slant on life.

And so, this blog is born out of a desire to share what I’ve learned from my travels and living abroad to those of you who have a deep seated need to slow down, to turn off the distractions and to really see and live life intentionally.

I miss many things about Crete especially as I try to navigate through some reverse culture shock here. Everything here is so big and fast – I realize that the small town European culture fits my personality so well (especially the island and the sea!).  But the close proximity to our precious family is priceless and so I’m treasuring every moment with them while still being very intentional to preserve the pieces of Cretan life I so appreciate – like a slower pace, a stronger sense of God’s presence amidst the  busy-ness of daily life, an afternoon nap or cup of tea, not to mention, a better diet!!

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was feeling so conflicted – comfortable and yet deflated – when I returned to the States and then it occurred to me; The familiarity of American life makes it predictable…”normal”…almost boring. The aggravations of life on Crete were rooted into the very things that made it such a great place to live – slower pace, out of season food not available, inconsistent business hours, new holiday celebrations every week (businesses closed), no regard whatsoever for rules in regards to traffic or queuing up. But I find myself becoming more frustrated with the rigidity of rules and regulations in America – so much so that I nearly “got my Greek on” and blasted right through an obscure stop sign in the middle of nowhere last week. True, my challenges pale to what most of the rest of the world has to tolerate or suffer. We have enough food, enough money, enough material goods, projects and entertainment to live very comfortable lives. We are blessed to distraction.

“Intentional living” is a term thrown around a lot these days but I think it has merit especially in America where our biggest enemy is the black hole of Distraction. We intend to do something, go somewhere, some day get to that thing we’ve always wanted/needed to do but it constantly eludes our best intentions because something else fights for our attention. I remember the days of parenting small children when my greatest wish was a few moments of undisturbed quiet to see a task from beginning to completion. But I also knew that raising my children was far more important than marking checks off my bucket list and in fact, was at the core of intentional living during that time of my life. No matter where we are in our lives, from diapers to board meetings, from our own neighborhood to some far away place across the globe, we have the ability to live in the moment.

The secret to slowing down? You have to choose it. Just because there is a hole in your schedule doesn’t mean it should be filled. Better yet, schedule in a big hole. You’ll be surprised with how God fills it with something satisfying and good for your soul. All because you were available.

Living abroad has changed me – in a good way. I’m more patient, more tolerant, more grateful and more open to any new experience or adventure. I’m more discerning and wiser about our global community and my prayers are bigger than they ever have been in the past.  If you are craving a simpler, more aware, less frenetic life like I am, stick with me and we’ll journey together through more travels, stories, recipes and photos that will hopefully nourish the soul and inspire the spirit.

Teaser:  Next blog…..Under the Colorado Sky