Choices and change

Creating the life you want involves choices. 

I made a wonderful choice a few months ago, and I am now back in the United States Peace Corps as a Response Corps Volunteer in the beautiful  country of Macedonia. I spent three years in Macedonia from 2006-2009 as a Peace Corps Volunteer living and working in the Municipality of Bitola. I’ve been lucky enough to journey back here for pleasure and projects each fall since then.

When the opportunity to serve again with the Peace Corps in Macedonia arose earlier this year, I decided to give it a go. Response Corps and I are good friends. Last year, after visiting Macedonia for 6 weeks, I flew to the Republic of Georgia to serve as a Response Corps Volunteer at the Ministry of Environment for three and a half months. As always, I had a great time, learned a lot about myself and the world and lived with an amazing host family in TbilisiResponse Corps offers short-term, very focused assignments to former Peace Corps Volunteers, and now for the public, as well.

I invite you to follow and share my three month journey – I will be posting photos and more about Macedonia in the weeks ahead, along with my Wishful Thinking Works posts.

Creating the life you want takes couragecommitment and change. What have you been thinking about doing? What excites and inspires you? Why not spend a few minutes this week, exploring what’s ahead for you? Click here for easy to use sheets that can help you explore your dreams – big or small.

Then check out the The Power of Fortune Telling to take your dreams to the next stage!

PS Rest assured your dreams are possible, there was a time when I believed living and working abroad was an impossible dream for me, and I have happily proved myself wrong time and time again. And, I’ve seen my clients change their lives in ways they never thought possible.

Challenge the limits you’ve set for yourself – push the boundaries of your dreams. Take a risk in the direction of your dreams.

Wishful Thinking Works!

PS Here is a post about one of my favorite places in Macedonia, the nearby village of Dihovo.

The ajvar trilolgy – redux

Have autumn changes begun in your part of the world? In southwest Florida, where I live the changes are subtle, but perceivable if you slow down enough to notice.

As the weather begins to change, every country has it’s fall traditions. In Macedonia where I spent three years as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer from 2006 to 2009, and have been lucky enough to return every year since then. Macedonian fall weather is similar to the crisp, cool and colorful days of northeast Ohio where I grew-up, but one of their traditions is very different and so aromatic that the wonderfully rich and dusty scent of roasting red peppers in preparation of making ajvar stays with you for life.

Ajvar (pronounced I-var) is a delicious tasting, dark-orange to deep-red, roasted red-pepper spread that can make even the coldest winter day seem a bit sunnier. Every Macedonian home has their special recipe, and each is equally delicious. To honor and share the ajvar-making process, I wrote this post last year while visiting Macedonia; I hope you enjoy it, and if you want to give ajvar a try, which I whole-heartedly recommend, you can find it at Trader Joe’s and many Eastern-European grocery stores here in the States. It will add zest to your table and will be a perfect accompaniment to any fall party, where family and friends gather to share companionship and a respect for traditions – including football!

In Macedonia, making ajvar is not only a tradition, it’s part of the fabric of life.

Families gather in villages, towns and cities for days of roasting, plunging, peeling, cooking, and stirring deep red peppers to creamy perfection. The aroma of roasting peppers permeates the autumn air. Kilos of peppers are bought in Macedonian fresh markets (pazzars) for the equivalent of American pennies. (One kilo equals 2.2+ pounds.)

Fall pazzar favorites

Their pungent crimson, thick, flesh dominates the cooking scene at this time of year. It seems every family has a special recipe for creating this rich spread, which is scooped into sterilized jars, set on shelves and shared with family and guests throughout the winter.

Fresh peppers are stuffed with cheese or meat and baked to perfection. Peppers of all shapes, colors, and intensity – burn-your-mouth-hot to sweet and mild – are served at almost every meal swimming in oil. The remaining peppers adorn walls and balconies, and are dried so large chunks of their leathery, slightly crisp, dusty-flavored goodness can be added to a delicious array of meats and bean dishes to warm-up meals during the colder months.

This year my American guest, Annie, and I had the honor of being on-hand for part of my friend Dragica’s ajvar-making odyssey. Dragica’s spirit and love of life flavors everything she does, her tasty ajvar being no exception.

We arrived after the ruby red capsicum had been roasted and peeled – a full day’s work. Our day of ajvar making (watching) began when the wood was burning and the peppers were slid from a huge pail into an even wider-mouth enamel pot for the long and arduous cooking and stirring process. Ajvar is always made outdoors, and city neighbors set-up shop in garages and backyards.

This year, after enjoying Turkish coffee and rakija in the mid-morning shade and chatting in broken English and Macedonian with her friendly and interesting neighbors, we moved to the steamy garage to talk with Dragica’s husband and college-aged sons, Marjan and Dan, who were home for ajvar making.

We decided the process might benefit from some literary inspiration – Dragica loves writing poetry, and within minutes we had created the following masterpieces. (Please remember these words were created with love, just like ajvar, and followed some homemade rakija sipping, which is basically moonshine-light and another great part of the Macedonian way of life. I must admit not everyone was sipping, but those of us who did felt even warmer and cozier.)

And, now without further ado . . .

The Ajvar Trilogy

Created with love and inspired by moments shared by Dragica, Marjan, Dan, Annie and me.

The Flavor of Ajvar

Red as the burning coals
Hot as a chick
Ladle mixing food, family and friends
Circle of life
Tastes so fine, makes me want to drink a bottle of wine.
With bread and cheese, we will eat with ease
Rex sits watching like TV.

Notes: Rex is their huge German Shepard, who sat  quietly by. Can you guess which lines her sons added?

Lace in the window

Smiling faces looking down
Cooling breeze
Smell of smoke and peppers overtakes the day.
Mother and sons, paddling together.
More oil, much better.

Ajvar Beach

Many friendly people sit on ajvar beach.
Who asks what is that?
Foreign fires burning,
Roasting tradition.
Sharing time with family and friends as the earth tilts away from the sun, is a wonderful way to lighten your mood and warm-up your life. Do you have some favorite fall traditions? What do you love to do?
 

Today is my birthday . . .

I love birthdays! The fun never fades, mainly because I have been lucky enough to share my birthdays with my fabulous family and friends. This year is no exception. My birthday week got off to a great start; I spent Sunday with some of my favorite Macedonian friends in sunny Florida. Being with them reminded me of one of my best birthdays ever . . .

Four years ago, while I was in the Peace Corps, I hosted a wonderful party at my friends brand new B&B in the rural village of Dihovo, Macedonia. (In Macedonia, the birthday guy or gal hosts the festivities or treats his/her friends!) The party was Villa Dihovo’s grand opening; we ate and danced ourselves silly. Special thanks to Pece and Renata and their family for putting up with our American antics and to my awesome fellow PCVs – Dao, Kate and Mary for their culinary creations that day. Thanks also go to my friends, Barb and Sharyn, who were visiting from the States and joined the fun cleaning and cutting veggies! Super great memories at the foothills of the Baba Mountains. Since then, I have spent many amazing days and nights in Dihovo.

You can check out the Villa Dihovo web site, here, and read more about it and Macedonia in the Lonely Planet Guide to the Western Balkans. The section on Macedonia was written by a great guy and good friend of mine, Chris Deliso, who is a prolific travel and political writer. To read more about Macedonia, click here and here, and you can find more posts and photos if you select “Visit Macedonia” from the drop-down list in the “Select Categories” box on the Wishful Thinking Works home page.

My posts and the Lonely Planet Guide also have information about Villa Patrice/Patricia, which was the second B & B to open in Dihovo, and is owned by my kind and caring friends, Saso and Nevenka. Their villa is named after me, but they did all the work, spending years creating the perfect place for you to visit, relax and renew. A few hours on their tranquil balcony with its village and mountain views will refresh your spirit. And, no matter where you stay when you visit, a walk around the village of Dihovo will transform your soul.

Thanks for joining me as I walked down my birthday memory lane. To all my friends and family in the States and abroad, please know that I will be thinking of you throughout the day and the many, many ways you have touched my life and made it richer, deeper, gentler, and more fun. Thank you!

And to all my readers, my birthday wish for each of you is that wherever you are and whatever you are doing when you read this, I hope you take a few minutes to let a friend or family member know how much they mean to you. Please don’t wait for a special occasion to let someone you care about know the difference they’ve made in your life.

And, if you are in the mood, I’d love to hear about your birthday memories and traditions. What’s your favorite way to celebrate or your all-time best celebration? What’s your cake of choice – cheesecake, chocolate or anything as long as there’s frosting?

 

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Just before this door closes

When a door closes, a window opens . . .

In September of last year I headed from Florida to Macedonia for a project and to visit friends. I haven’t been back to the States since! After six weeks in Macedonia I flew to Tbilisi, Georgia for a three-month assignment as a United States Peace Corps Response Volunteer. It was my second Peace Corps assignment; I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bitola, Macedonia from 2006-2009.

I’m now faced with the sad process of saying goodbye to more folks I have grown to know and love. In two weeks, I will be leaving my warm and wonderful host family; it will not be easy. They opened their home to a total stranger and quickly shared their hearts, as well. I also was lucky enough to meet and make new American friends through Peace Corps and other organizations here, and to work with many talented and amazing Georgians at the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Peace Corps.

Before heading from one place to another, finishing a project and starting another, or heading into a new phase of life, I like to take time to savor where I have been and what I have done. I think it is important to honor the doors and windows of our past as we prepare to discover and open those in our future.

Next week I will share some of the magical moments that have unfolded for me in Georgia, but for now, I hope you enjoy revisiting with me those I experienced when I began my journey last fall in Macedonia and the thoughts that are with me wherever I go. (These photos were originally posted in October, 2010.)

Hmm, closed and locked seems impenetrable! Ohrid, Macedonia
Don’t let appearances or the number of closed doors deter you. Bitola, Macedonia
What about a gate half open? Go with your guts; it’s always up to you. Ohrid, Macedonia
Mixed messages; “Should I knock or should I go?” Choice is yours. Bitola, Macedonia
A lost cause, time to let it go? Or, something that has stood the test of time? Ohrid, Macedonia
Not all your options will be neatly laid out in front of you. Leptokaria, Greece
Sometimes, you may need to pause and reflect before the answers come. Bitola, Macedonia
Some choices may be hidden or seem confusing. Bitola, Macedonia
Some options will sit squarely in front of you. Ohrid, Macedonia
Others may seem whimsical or unusual. Bitola, Macedonia
Sometimes your options will be appear at the same time. Bitola, Macedonia
Then previously closed doors, may open. Bitola, Macedonia
Or, new even fancier opportunities may materialize. Ohrid, Macedonia
Simple and yet stunning openings exist all around you. Ohrid, Macedonia
Moments you might miss without quiet reflection. Bitola, Macedonia
Recessed and waiting. Bitola, Macedonia
You truly never know what may open before you. Bitola, Macedonia
Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Bitola, Macedonia
With an open mind, you will surely see . . .  Bitola, Macedonia
. . . the possibilities, are endless. Ohrid, Macedonia

Hope your week is off to a great start, and windows are opening for you! 

PS Thanks for the “Likes” on Wishful Thinking Works on Facebook.

Magic beans

Once upon a time, in a faraway land a United States Peace Corps trainee (me) spent the night with her Macedonian host family at a table sorting beans from their garden. They were not just ordinary beans, they were magic. The beans represented food and income for a family of four. You see, this hard-working, always-generous and friendly family had dug the earth, plowed the fields, planted the seeds, watered and weeded the plants, and then harvested the tiny beans to provide sustenance for their family.  And, that is only part of their magic. 

The final step of the process was to sort the beans – to discard the bad, select the best for sale and store the remaining beans for meals during the winter months ahead. The beans were the main focus of the evening, and were piled high on the dining room table on a clean worn cloth used for this and many other cooking purposes. I quickly learned that sorting them was serious business, but not so serious as to inhibit the magic powers of the beans as they transported me back in time . . .

Suddenly, instead of being a woman in a faraway land with grown children of my own back in the States, I was a 10-year-old girl in a bedroom suburb of Cleveland, Ohio enjoying the company of my family around a small kitchen table that – in shifts – presented food for nine boisterous kids and their parents. Instead of a tablecloth and beans, our white Formica table was covered with playing cards as we trumped and Rummied our way through many a night. On occasion the competition got the best of a younger sibling and tears were shed, but most often laughter and fun filled the evening. It was there at that table, and at the larger (still formica, but darker) one in our dining room that I learned about winning and losing, fair play, math and the magic of being with family and friends. Although the settings were very different and were separated by time and distance the warm feeling of being with family and friends was exactly the same.

Today, I find myself in a new country, the Republic of Georgia, and I am again living with a wonderful host family. Yesterday evening I walked into the kitchen and my host Mom, who is much younger than me, was sitting at the kitchen table with her older sister, who is also younger than me, and they were talking and sorting beans that another family member had grown and shared. The tiny room was cozy and warm and overflowing with people laughing and carrying on different conversations, and the beans worked their magic again – I was 10 years old and felt completely at home.

I hope you find time in the busy days ahead to share some activities with family and friends around a table, whether you are preparing a meal, making crafts, playing cards or board games or simply counting beans!

And, I hope that when you find yourself table-side, you will look around at the faces of the people you are with and pause to savor the moment. Let it sink in from your head to your toes as you realize how lucky you are, because spending time with the people you love is where the magic truly begins. 

Wishful Thinking Works is on Facebook; visit for posts and other weekly updates, and to “Like”, if you like!

 As part of creating the life she really wants, Patrice Koerper is currently living in Tbilisi, the capital

 of the Republic of Georgia with a wonderful host family on a 3-month Peace Corps Response Volunteer assignment.

Stepping back

 

 

Going to the rural village of Dihovo just outside of Bitola, Macedonia is like stepping back in time.

I think stepping back, taking time to absorb life and see what rises and what really matters is a very good thing. In 2005, stepping back from my life led me to one of the best decisions of my life – to join the Peace Corps. In 2006, I found myself in Macedonia and soon after in Dihovo.

Dihovo is a place where the word quiet is a way of life and soft-edged stone homes hug the winding narrow roads. Natural time is the only clock that really matters here – the light of the sun and the tilt of the earth’s axis predict activities.  If you rise early you may meet a shepherd and his flock heading up the mountains, if you stay-up late you will experience the deep, rich sounds of silence. If you visit in late spring, lettuce will be ready to pick and flowers will be blooming everywhere. If you wait until fall, someone is sure to be stirring ajvar or fermenting grapes. 

Dihovo is nestled in the foothills of the Baba Mountains, where each step you take, every move you make is an uplifting experience – all puns intended. 

Under the protection of the mountains, the summers are cooler; the winters a bit warmer. Fall weather adds vibrant color to the surrounding hills, and on a snowy day nature’s gifts seem to almost too much to bear. Like an over-eager guest, who brings more than wine or chocolates to dinner, nature has presented Dihovo with an abundance of goodies. 

I first visited this tiny enclave at the invitation of one of its summer and weekend residents in 2007, my love of the village and its people quickly grew and has expanded over the years. Dihovo is alway on my mind, often on my lips, and can easily be found on my virtual fingertips as I find new ways and places to write about its peaceful wonders.

This weekend I was in Dihovo when Macedonia’s summer-like weather abruptly ended as rain fell and the temperature dramatically dropped. This brisk change served to enhance the village’s beauty as the dark sleek colors of stones emerged and the aroma of wood burning stoves, roasting red-peppers, and slow-cooking meat dishes filled the air. Walking the streets with my collar-up and umbrella opened, here is a bit of what I was lucky enough to enjoy this weekend in Dihovo. There is an emphasis on the chimneys that warmed the homes and my heart:

 

 

 

As always, lots more photos, but will save for another day. If you want to visit Dihovo, I suggest Villa Dihovo or Villa Patrice (named for me, not mine). Both are also listed in the Macedonia section of the Lonely Planet Guide Western Balkans (pg 315) and on Facebook. You can “Like” us all there! Also there are lots of great videos for Macedonian foods on You Tube. 

If you would like to create the life you really want, try stepping back by giving yourself a bit more free and alone time to see what happens. Turn off the TV, put down your book, and stop trying to do everything at once. Stretch a bit or take a walk and try not to think too much. It might feel odd at first, but if you keep trying you may find there is something entirely new or something you have wanted but have ignored, waiting for you. Stepping back can help you discover your dreams.

Stepping back is leading me on a new adventure; next Monday I leave Macedonia for the Republic of Georgia for a 3 month assignment with Response Corps Peace Corps. I’ll tell you more about it when I’m settled in there. Until then, I will be spending time with all my wonderful friends in Macedonia.

When a door closes

 
 

When a door closes, a window opens . . .

I believe this to be true, and seem to be spending a great deal of time wandering the streets of Macedonia and Greece capturing these beautiful and motivating symbols of change. Hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I do. Your window of opportunity may be just around the corner.

 

Hmm, closed and locked seems impenetrable! Ohrid, Macedonia

Don't let appearances or the number of closed doors deter you. Bitola, Macedonia

What about a gate half open? Go with your guts; it's always up to you. Ohrid, Macedonia

Mixed messages; "Should I knock or should I go?" Choice is yours. Bitola, Macedonia

A lost cause, time to let it go? Ohrid, Macedonia

Not all your options will be neatly laid out in front of you. Leptokaria, Greece

Sometimes, you may need to pause and reflect before the answers come. Bitola, Macedonia

Some choices may seeming confusing or a bit cluttered. Bitola, Macedonia

Some options will sit squarely in front of you. Ohrid, Macedonia

Others may seem whimsical or unusual. Bitola, Macedonia

Some will be super sweet, like curly rolled baklava. Leptokaria, Greece

Some may be salty. Leptokaria, Greece

Some will be combinations, and still like a seem warm and cozy option. Bitola, Macedonia

Previously closed doors, may reopen. Bitola, Macedonia

Fancy opportunities may materialize. Ohrid, Macedonia

Simple and yet stunning openings exist all around you. Ohrid, Macedonia

Moments you might miss without quiet reflection. Bitola, Macedonia

 
 

Recessed and waiting. Bitola, Macedonia

You truly never know what may open before you. Bitola, Macedonia

 
 

Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Bitola, Macedonia

With an open mind, you will surely see . . . Bitola, Macedonia

. . . the possibilities, are endless. Ohrid, Macedonia

 

Have a great weekend, pondering the possibilities.

PS Thanks for the “Likes” on Wishful Thinking Works on Facebook!

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