being thankful & learning new rhythms

It has been a few months since I wrote here, and even longer since it was a regular habit. For me, that is what happens sometimes when life gets tossed upside down. In the last six months life took several turns that I did not anticipate: I took a job months earlier than I intended to, moved to California, added Asia to my work travel schedule, bought a condo, and am in the midst of a small remodel. Pause and take a deep breath: the nomad, who two years ago downsized and moved to Africa, then moved back and was preparing for months of travel, photography, cooking, exploring and seeing friends, instead took a job and bought a house (and has done very little photography, cooking, or seeing of old friends). These twists and turns were both unanticipated and beautiful; I am thankful for this journey.

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I feel like when you accept a job, you step into the unknown. It does not matter how much research you have done, how many conversations you have had, or how many details you  have worked out – it is an unknown. There are hopes and dreams and you want to pretend that you know what you are stepping into, but it will be different than you anticipate. The hope is that it will be better in its own way, but it is the gamble taken. I have just completed six months at my job — and I am thankful to say that it is has been better than I hoped for and I am excited about the future. There is so much work to do, so many lives to impact, but I am in a place where I can work and can grow, I am with a team that is strong. We are far from perfect, but  we embrace the challenges and believe in excellence. Trust me, you will be hearing more about my journey at Lifewater and the lives we impact. It is good and I hope you join me in the work we are doing. I am thankful for this work.

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Then there is the condo. There is a part of me that never wanted to make such a purchase and a commitment to upkeep of a property, but then there was another part of me that wanted a place that was my home – my own place of peace that I could share with others. Well, I am in the midst of creating the latter: my very own place of peace. When you buy a 1979 condo that had never been updated and had downsized your possessions (or left them trailed behind you in other countries), this is a not small labor of love, but a worthy one. I am thankful for this home.

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This is where I find myself: on a most unexpected adventure, but thankful it is where I am. My world has been flipping around, and I am starting to find my new normal, and for that I am thankful as well. I can honestly say that I am excited by where I am and what I am doing. I am excited by this challenge and this journey, and I look forward to sharing more of it with you as I settle into the new rhythms of my life.

i love coming home

a photo a day: week 17

location: San Luis Obispo, CA

As much as I love to travel, I love to come home. I love familiar feelings of places that I know, that share a piece of my story and a part of my history. I intuitively knew that this is different than nostalgia, but I could not make that thought tangible, so I looked nostalgia up in the dictionary.

Nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or a wistful affection for the past, typically a period or place with happy personal association.” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

This love of coming home is not a longing of the past. Instead it is a sense of belonging and a placement within history. My home is my haven where I am free to create and to simply breathe. It is my place of peace that I share with loved ones. Every time I move, I work to make my new house my home as quick as possible, and I am glad to say that as I fill the pores of this house with the smells of cooking and her walls with my photos it is becoming a home, a place I love to come home to.

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the start of a new adventure

Right now I am on the road west. I am on a long road trip with my dad, my car, and trailer filled with my belongings. Approximately 2,400 miles from start to finish, this trip from Georgia to California will close the door to several beautiful months off with family and friends and swing open the door to my new adventure: life and work in California.

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Next week I will be joining the team at Lifewater International as their Director of International Programs. This is a nonprofit I have known and respected for many years and consider myself incredibly blessed to have this as my next adventure. My work will continue to focus on water and sanitation around the world, so get ready to hear more about that and be introduced to new places as I both make my home in San Luis Obispo and travel the globe to meet with new partners.

This is the start of a another beautiful adventure.

 

hiking the cumberland river trail

That particular weekend in January we were hoping to go camping, which took some serious commitment for me because I don’t love the cold. But, I believe in seizing the day, and this was the weekend available. Then it got all rainy and muddy on Thursday and Friday. Muddy and cold and a chance of rain. We decided sleeping indoors was a wise move. Someday maybe I will fall in love with cold weather camping. Maybe you will be the one to make that possible. For now, this is this the story of that weekend.

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Camping nixed, the goal was to find a place to be outside. Breathing in nature is good for my soul, and even if I was not camping, there was to be an adventure. We flipped through a book I highly recommend called 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Nashville. There are different editions of this book for different cities, and I think they are brilliant. I am writing this particular trip up here because it is a place I wish I had known about when I was living in Nashville. We went to the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail near Ashland City and did about an eight mile walk on an old railroad path that was paved over. It was flat and easy walk, but the sky was blue, it was warmer than anticipated, and it was a new area. The trail continues for another segment just as long (though I am not sure if it is all paved). For much of the walk we felt like we had it to ourselves. It would be perfect for a bike ride, a hike, taking a stroller, just something different that is close and easy and not muddy when it rains like crazy. Besides, if you do the first part of the trail, there is this random bike welded on top of a pole. Random and odd and made us smile that day.

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I often find that adventures end well with a hunt for a local diner or restaurant. It is now becoming a tradition – sometimes something grand is found, sometimes greasy locations where it is rather clear I am not a local. This time we found a Vuocolo’s Italian Pizzeria, a restaurant in what looks like a house. Inside it feels like a house and there are really only two tables. Would it be good? We had our questions, but that is part of the adventure, part of the game. It was outstanding. The owner will happily divide the pizza in half or quarters so that you can each get what you want. I think it was the best pizza in the Nashville region. Why don’t you take a trip up there this spring or summer? Go for a long walk and get some pizza, then let me know what you think. 

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a pizza taste-off

Four pizza places within four blocks. There are stories behind some of these places – one started after disgruntled employees left. One is legendary because of its cheese. What do I do when I hear about all of this? I decide that we need a taste-off. And of course we can do this in an affordable (and at least semi-non-indulgent) way: one slice of plain pizza with red sauce and cheese. All in all, four slices of the classic, basic pizza. Line them up and start tasting. The three of us would take a bite move on, take another bite, swap locations, shuffle around.

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We were looking for the total package: crust, sauce, cheese, price, and location. The one with legendary cheese? A horrible crust and the sauce was only so-so. I love brick-oven pizza, but the one with a brick-oven styled crust did not have the right sauce or cheese to go with. One cost $2.50 while the others were all less than $2.00; it was also the furthest away. Our decisions made, we each headed back for one more slice. We laughed, we chatted, we analyzed together. And for less than $15 we had lunch for three and made a memory.

Where did this happen and which pizza joint was the winner? Irrelevant. The point is that we created fun in the middle of the week when we needed some laughter. Go, grab some friends and make a memory.

 

a few weeks of quiet

After a few days in Atlanta, I hopped in my car and drove north, to spend a couple of weeks stepping away from the business of life and changes that are fast approaching. I have spent the time enjoying community, slowing down, stepping away from the media and social media. I have spent time putting words to pages, reading fun books, and playing many new games. It has been good and seems perfect that this is during the season of lent. This slowing down has given my brain time to think and to be, both things that are precious when life seems to fly by at lightening speeds. Next week I will be back online with new blog posts and some exiting news about where I am headed next, so stay tuned.

a photo a day… in 2013

2013 is going to be a year of transition. Even if you were to ask, I do not have answers on what is next, but I promise there are things brewing and that I am filled with wonderful anticipation. As I begin another season of life, I am excited to remember the original tagline of this blog, “A piece of where I am.” This has been a place for me to write about the journey and to find beauty in where I am. As this year of transition begins, I want to record it and share it.

In addition to writing about “where I am,” I am launching a fun little photo project. In 2013, I will be posting a photo a day through Instagram (tagged with #365), and will share those photos in a weekly blog post with some thoughts to wrap up the week. I will collect these photos in a little book to share with you at the end of the year. This blog has often helped me to find the beauty that surrounds me, and I believe this project will do that as well. My hope is that, as I search for beauty in where I am, that you too will be blessed.

Just to fill you with anticipation, here are some instagram photos from 2012.

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Chilling in my hammock (Kigali, Rwanda).

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Flying places: sometimes in small planes (Uganda).

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Old land (Northern Kenya).

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Making coffee on the road (Ndola, Zambia).

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Handwashing station in the desert (Northern Kenya).

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Big flower, little bee (Northern Uganda).

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Village scenes (Lira, Uganda).

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House projects Africa style (Kigali, Rwanda).

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Sunset and lake (Michigan, USA).

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Hiking Ben Nevis (Scotland).

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Coffee (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).

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Ancient buildings (Rome, Italy).

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Old art (Rome, Italy).

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Water and islands (Hydra, Greece)

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Interesting signs (Marsabit, Kenya).

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Beautiful and yummy food (Atlanta, USA).

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City sunset (Atlanta, USA).

I hope that you too are filled with anticipation as we prepare to ring in the new year!

All my love,

~pam (the nomad)

a touch of my garden’s beauty

I love my garden in Kigali. It is a wonderful haven – a place in which to escape and be filled with peace as you soak in the beauty around. Although plants grown year around on the equator, with the rains, the garden wakes up and the colors become more vibrant. Here are a few pictures I took on a walk through the garden a few weeks ago. This is just a small piece of its beauty. I wish we could meet for a cup of tea or a Saturday brunch and soak in its beauty together.

hydra: a greek island vacation

It was an outstanding vacation. Eight uninterupted days on Hydra – a Greek island with no cars (but plenty of donkeys) with some of my awesome family. I am not sure when I last took a true break – so long and far from communication that I could truly unplug and forget about life off the island. We slept late, ate great food, swam in crystal clear water, hiked hills, saw monasteries, ‘discovered’ hidden beaches, read books, and played games. In a later post, I will share a few ‘how to’ tips in case you decide this island is for you. For now, a photo journal. If you want more great photos of the city (and a humorous account of the low water pressure, check out Lauren’s blog).

First, meet my fellow vacation peeps: Lar, Matt, Mom & Dad. Awesome company. And that is part of the city / port of Hydra.

Let’s start with the town. Exactly what I imagined a Greek island town to look like: whitewashed walls everywhere, blue shutters, red tile roofs, winding paths, and bougainvillea (vine with magenta flowers in this photo).

A restaurant in waiting. Not even trying to be picture perfect.

I wonder when this lantern was last used.

The city of Hydra from above. You are either walking up or down in the town (and around the island). Other islands can be seen in the distance.

On our walks, we came across other ports – the ports of the local fishermen. I love how old boats tell stories with their worn wood and peeling paint.

My hiking companions. Hot and sweaty, but loving the adventure (and dreaming of the swim to come).

One day we hiked over the island and back down to this hidden beach, which we had entirely to ourselves.

Another day the whole crew hiked to the top of the island (just more than 500 meters) to catch the view for miles around.

This was the view from the top. It felt like we were on top of the world.

On our hikes we saw ancient, gnarled olive trees.

And we saw desert flowers in bloom.

And we visited old churches with beautiful ceilings.

And we met donkeys, the island’s transport system.

I promise we did more than hike – we also cooled off in the crystal clear waters surrounding the island.

There was incredible food – here a massive piece of baklava. 2 pieces shared amongst 5 and we were all in sugar comas. Not pictured were the fresh peaches, figs, pears, tomatoes, cucumbers and other fresh fruit that was simply divine. Or the food we made or the food we ate out. So good. And the feta. Yummmy.

I mentioned that we ‘made’ food. We love to cook and this was our view every night: sunset followed by the city lights from our house on a hill. Would you go out ever night if you could have this?

Today I leave you with this photo – of an alternative boat dock. Just one of so many hidden gems on Hydra.

 

 

i climbed ben nevis

Not too many weeks ago, I climbed (hiked) Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK (though lower in elevation than my home in Kigali). Today it has been cold and rainy, which somehow seems an appropriate time to write about the climb. This was a big climb for me – my longest ever. You go from sea level to 4,400 feet and back in about 9.5 miles. For all the other outdoor things I love, you might wonder why this is the longest hike (in terms of elevation change) I have done. I have bad knees, and honestly did not know how they would do, but figured it was worth finding out.

I tried to put everything in my favor including buying walk poles. In America, it seems walking pools are for the old or the trendy. In Scotland, however, they were a normal part of hiking attire and at least one third of the hikers (of all shapes and sizes and ages) had them. Given that Scotland is a land of walking, hiking, and climbing, I decided to learn from their wisdom. I am thankful that I did learn and plan on taking the sideways glances of Americans with a smile on my face every time I use them in the future. They are grand.

Back to the mountain. Actually, first to the glen. Our first day at Fort William, we decided to hike Glen Nevis, the valley below Ben Nevis. I didn’t think about the kilometers to miles conversion much, and we ended up doing a 12 mile walk. I can fairly confidently say that Matt & Lauren (brother & sister-in-law) would have been thrilled to turn back early and cut the walk in half (or less). But, they humored me as I urged them on, and we stopped for many pictures along the way.

The next day was Ben Nevis. We were prepared with food, drinks, all appropriate layers and a compass in case the top became totally clouded in. The nice guy at the shop described it as a “long, hard plod.” But it was already sunny (miracle) and the weather forecast was good (another miracle). And so we began the plod up the mountain. At this point, I was reminded that my legs are used to walking flat ground for miles at end, but going up is not their favorite. Matt, who bikes all the hills of Edinburgh, smiled and urged me on. Ever the brother, he loved the role reversal.

Matt and I did make it to the top where we the clouds again cleared and granted us some amazing views. I need to mention here that Lauren, though not feeling great, made it half way up the mountain. This, from a woman who bought her first pair of hiking shoes less than two years ago. Check out her comments about the mountain here. And that is how I climbed a mountain, saw some grand views, and fell in love with walking poles.

the gift of spring

My trip to Scotlan was absolutely wonderful, and now that I am home I do not want to go to bed because tomorrow’s morning alarm will mean it is truly over. One of the many gifts I was given on this trip was to witness the start of spring. Fresh buds, spring flowers, and new leaves are all filled with magic to me – signs of life after a long winter. Although I love my perpetual summer on the equator, I miss the magic of spring and fall, and this was so sweet. This photo was taken on Ben Nevis in the highlands of Scotland.

45 hours in frankfurt

Touchdown to take-off was 45 hours. Most of those were spent in meetings or sleeping; but one evening did include a walk and dinner in town. It was a most beautiful weekend escape filled with pieces of what is not here. Hearty breads and tender meats, fluffy beds and comfy chairs, aged cheese and old beers, modern construction and stately buildings. And, just to make my soul smile, there were snowflakes outside the meeting room for a mere one hour. A few (iPhone) photos from the walk in town. Thank you Fetzer Institute for excellent meetings and a weekend escape.

beginnings of community

Sometime ago I wrote a short article for an online magazine about maintaining community in the midst of a life that has me constantly on the road. I talked about it not being an easy journey, but that it was indeed possible if one was intentional. Lately I have been reminded of those words as I work to build community, to build a home, here in Rwanda.  Community is something that is found and built; it is not happenstance. In takes time – it is an investment. It takes perseverance to find, to build, to maintain. Sometimes there is a precious gift of stepping into a community that is waiting for you and welcomes with open arms. Even then, it takes time to make it your own.

I do not know any perfect formula for this process – but there are a few things I will do until I fall into bed exhausted. Coffee dates, weekly meetings (Bible studies, pub quizzes, long walks – whatever it is that works for you), and gathering over food in my home. It does not take a grand excuse for people to gather – sometimes a small one is even better – it is just an excuse to share in a piece of life together. And from there shared history begins.

I smile because on Sunday some of us gathered for a picnic in my backyard. It is dry season and the grass is dry and the little ants wanted our food. But it was sunny and warm and conversations drowned the music. In that moment, there was a piece of shared history. Maybe when the rains start, we will gather inside over soup and think back to that time we lounged under the shade tree when the sun made the afternoon hot.

As I write this, a Jars of Clay song came on, and smiled at how perfect it is for today’s thoughts, “In the shelter of each other, we will live.” May we all be so blessed that this would be true for us.