Learning to check your expectations with your luggage!

Chaska, Macedonia 2013 Mountain Road

An unplanned journey, and a day I will remember always – near Chaska, Macedonia.

I’m finishing-up my third Peace Corps assignment, and will be heading back to the States on Valentine’s Day – a sweet treat for sure. I served with the Peace Corps from 2006-2009 in the Republic of Macedonia, 3.5 months in the Republic of Georgia, 2011-2012, and I’m now finishing a 3.5 month assignment in Macedonia.

A big part of the joy I have experienced in my work here and in Georgia has to do with being open to exploring and understanding different cultures. So, earlier this week, when I opened my email and read an e-newsletter about “Cultural Intelligence”, I started thinking about what I’ve learned by living and traveling abroad and how those lessons have shaped my life.

My favorite line in the article is . . . “The last part of cultural intelligence relates to how you behave, and, in particular, how well you adapt when things don’t go according to plan.”

While living abroad I quickly learned that some of my richest and most rewarding moments were dependent on how well I adapted when things turned out differently than I expected, which led to an even more valuable lesson – to be truly happy abroad – it’s best to check your expectations with your luggage!

And, guess what? The amazing part of that lesson is it works just as well at home as it does abroad! Letting go of your expectations, is one of the keys to being truly happy – anywhere, anytime. When we let go of what we expect to happen and how we expect others to act and react, the happier and more fulfilling our lives become.

Expectations take-up a great deal of room in our hearts and in our heads and require loads of effort to maintain, which leaves very little space and energy for understanding, communication,  growth, and happiness.

Think about it.

  • How many times a day do you get frustrated with the actions or non-actions of yourself or others?
  • How many times in your life have you look backward or forward through a very narrow lens, shaped almost entirely by your or other’s expectations, and felt embarrassed, sad or stressed?
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to leave all that behind?

Why not give yourself a special gift this Valentine’s Day and lessen your expectations for yourself and others (past, present and future) and increase the likelihood that happiness will find a special place in your heart and grow to become the sweetest part of your life?

“Sreken pat” or happy journey, as they say to travelers in Macedonia, and may your happiest journey be your life.

Happy is as happy does, updates

Did you know there is a Happy Planet Index, (HPI)?

The HPI multiplies the subjective life satisfaction and the life expectancy of a country, and then divides it by the country’s ecological footprint.

The first HPI was published in 2006, the second one in 2009, the third in 2012. Guess which country has been #1 since 2009 . . .

Costa Rica!

In 2009 Costa Rica was #1 of the 143 countries reviewed. In 2012, it was #1 of 151 countries. Their medium level of environmental impact, very high well being and high life expectancy levels keep them at the top of the Happy Planet Index. (Their life expectancy is better than ours!)

The US was #114 in 2009; today it is 105 – that’s progress, but means 104 countries have higher HPIs than ours! (Didn’t you think ours would be at least in the top 10, 20, 50, 100?)

In 2009, Macedonia was ranked #111; unfortunately in 2012, they dropped to #127. (I lived in Macedonia for three years, have been back each year since 2009, and consider it one of my three homes.) I also lived in the Republic of Georgia for three and a half months, and fell in love with folks there, and I’m thrilled to say their current rank is #55! Their “relatively high life expectancy and a low ecological footprint” keeps them high on the HPI. Way to go Georgia! Happy is as happy does.

The HPI folks have set a target for nations to aspire to a score of 89 of 100 by 2050; “the highest HPI score is only 76.1, scored by Costa Rica.” (And, that was in 2009, it is lower now, but still higher than everyone else’s.)

Yup, we have a way to go, but I have no doubt we will get there both as a country and a planet because the topics of happiness and well-being are becoming mainstream and other positive indicators are getting attention throughout the world.

I’ve posted about Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the past. The King of Bhutan started that score rolling in 1972, when he decided that GNP, Gross National Product, a very commercial way of  looking at a country’s success, wasn’t the only way he wanted to assess his country’s viability. I like that. Here’s a new video that explains how Bhutan developed it’s GNH, and what happened after it did, including a 19 year increase in longevity and a 50% increase in literacy.

Did you know Australia, Britain, and China along with other major countries are developing new ways to assess their countries well-being? They, too, agree that GDP alone, is not the best indicator of how well their nations are doing. They’re putting time and money into well-being research, conferences and programs, which is good because even though household income for Americans has risen dramatically since the 1950’s, our happiness levels have remained relatively the same. Study after study shows that money is not the best indicator of happiness.

Would you like a free, quick and guaranteed way to raise your happiness level this week? Starting today, think about one thing you could do each day to make someone else happy, and then do it! Happy is as happy does.

Focusing your attention on finding ways to put a smile on the face of your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, children, neighbors, coworkers, friends and strangers will make you happier, too. We are social creatures and enjoy being connected to one another; by focusing your attention on others you can reinforce those bonds and bring depth and stability to your life and the lives of those around you. In fact, simply thinking about what you would like to do for someone or making yourself more aware of others and their feelings, can raise your happiness levels and mood because it takes your attention off yourself and your worries.

As you begin your happiness-raising week, remember it is the little things that count; no grand gestures necessary. And, don’t worry about being thanked in return; do it with an open heart and see what happens.

Happiness inducing tip: next time you feel the least bit slighted by a person or situation, instead of worrying, ruminating and plotting revenge – do something nice for someone else. Repeat as necessary, and you will be amazed at how quickly your world brightens. Happy is as happy does.

Let me know how it goes, and please share this post with your friends and family. If enough of us get involved, we just might raise the USA’s Happy Planet Index standing!  I’d like that.

Have a great week – do something happy!

PS This post was first published in July of 2011 and was updated for today’s posting.

PSS For a daily update on USA’s well-being, check out the Gallup daily well-being index. The data is free, and is broken down by state and congressional district, which by the way, makes a geeky gal like me very happy! (Please note: The HPI uses Gallup data in their formula.)

PSS For a nifty Gallup report on the U.S.’s well-being in 2011, click here.

If you would like help raising your personal well-being level, contact Patrice Koerper for her life coaching services.  Wishful Thinking Works life coaching can put you on the fast track to happiness!

10 Days in Tbilisi

I’ve been working and living in the city of Tbilisi, Georgia for six weeks. I live and work at opposite ends of the city; my one-way daily commute takes about an hour via bus and minibus. For the first few weeks my sightseeing was limited to the view from the windows of buses, but I made-up for it over Thanksgiving weekend when I met-up in Tbilisi with an American friend and former Peace Corps Volunteer from Macedonia. We rented an apartment in the center, which was perfect for seeing the sites in and around Tbilisi. We had a great time. This weekend I will be posting a bit of what we saw then and what I have seen in the following days. Clicking on any photo, will display all of them in a larger size and in a slide show format.

It all began with Thanksgiving in Tbilisi, we shared an eclectic assortment of food, and  one of my fellow Peace Corps Response Volunteers brought this lovely table decoration. Good company in a foreign locale more than made-up for our lack of traditional Thanksgiving fare . . .

The last photo is the sign of a restaurant with a sense of humor in Old Towne Tbilisi. The bookstore in the photos is Prospero Books, a wonderfully caffeinated literary oasis in the center of Tbilisi. The cappuccino is rich and foamy, the atmosphere is cozy and warm, the clientele is interesting and friendly, and the experience perfect.  

*Food photos and lots more to follow. * The static photo on the left side of my main page is a piece of art my friend purchased. Again, I love the Georgian folksy, whimsical style.* The snow is compliments of WordPress!*

Left of yesterday

That’s what I call it when my life takes an unexpected turn. You know, when you start down one path and end-up on a completely different one and it turns out to be, well, different . . . Left of yesterday.

If you ever find yourself left of yesterday, know that different directions, abrupt turns and false starts are a natural part of life. Trust that you have what it takes to handle the turnarounds and detours, and then try to relax and see what there is to see along the way.  (If you don’t believe or are shaky about trusting you have what it takes, don’t worry, we all feel that way at times. Check out my Courage Diet, it can help restart your engines.)

I promise you there is something to be gained left of yesterday, no matter how well its treasures are hidden.

Kinkhali in waiting

Hope your Thanksgiving holiday is filled with fun, family and friends. I will be spending mine in the Republic of Georgia with a former PCV buddy from Macedonia. No doubt, we will be eating kinkhali, sipping some beer and taking lots of photos, which I promise to share with you soon. (This photo is not mine, borrowed it from www.instructablescomiddumplingsfromthemountainsofgeorgia)

Until then, consider all the paths you travel to be the ones you are supposed to be on; remember gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving, and whether you buy or bake the pumpkin pie being able to share it with friends and family is all that really matters.

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS If you want to observe the fine art of kinkhali folding, click here. These delicious dumplings come in many varieties, the most common being a meat mixture, followed by cheese, potatoes and mushrooms. They are delicious and seem to me to be a cross between Chinese dumplings and pierogies. Meat kinkhali contain juices you must suck from the dumpling before taking a bite and the juice tastes like won-ton soup to me!

Out of the minds of babes

I love the messages along the bottom of the painting.

There were 70 paintings displayed in the art gallery of a beautiful hotel in the center of Tbilisi. The room was filled with happy kids and proud parents. The event was held under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment Protection, which is where I’m assigned as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

The talent and insight of children never ceases to amaze me, the kids captured some really special moments and messages with their well-placed brush strokes. These are just a sampling of their work.

Each of the students who participated received certificates presented by the Deputy Minster of Environment Protection and a t-shirt designed by the sponsoring organizations.

I love that art allows their environmental messages to shine through no matter the differences in language and culture.

I swear, no one at the exhibit looked like they could have been the subjects of the following paintings; be prepared to smile. I’m sure the kids’ parents and grand parents enjoyed the way their offspring portrayed them . . .

This is the Peace Bridge, which connects the left and right banks of the Kura River in Old Tbilisi.

The last two paintings offer particularly poignant perspectives.

“Honeymoon with My Brother”

One of the many joys of being a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is you often end-up reading books you might otherwise miss. PCVs are always searching for something to read, and I’m no exception, so I was very happy to be able to gather a stack of books when I first arrived at the PC office in Tbilisi, Georgia.

I’ve was so busy settling in, I didn’t get to read “Honeymoon with My Brother” until last Saturday, but it quickly turned into my favorite of the bunch. It was published in 2005 and was written by Franz Wisner, who at the age of 33 got dumped five days before his wedding, and a week or so later was demoted at his job. Bad week, huh? Yup, but the really interesting part is what happened next . . .

The first person he called when realizing his girlfriend of 7+ years was backing out, was his kid brother Kurt. They weren’t close, but he realized Kurt was the one he really wanted to talk to. His brother arrived in a day or two, and convinced Franz to go ahead with the wedding even without a bride since the location and accommodations were already paid for and many of the guests were en-route or had tickets in hand.

That turned out to be a great decision, having close friends and family around got Franz through the first couple of days, and gave him the stamina to deal with his demotion the next week. His relationship with his brother and the support of his friends ended-up being the calm in the eye of the emotional storm swirling around him.

In an odd turn of events, Franz soon convinced his brother to join him on a mega-trip using the already paid for honeymoon plane tickets and hotel reservations as a starting point, and as they say, the rest is history. Their plans for a one-year trip evolved into series of  3-6 months stays on various continents and expanded to two years, punctuated by short trips back to the States. Their journey of a lifetime cemented their relationship; ignited their passion for travel and led to “Honeymoon with My Brother”.

“Honeymoon with My Brother”, details not only their travels but the path they followed to rebuild their relationship. What I truly enjoyed about the book is Franz never sugar-coated his pain and confusion, but also never let if get in the way of a good story. He  deftly weaves dealing with the aftermath of his failed relationship, stalled career, and guilt for not being there for his brother when his brother’s marriage fell apart a few years earlier with entertaining travel tips and tales.

I highly recommend the book, both as a travel and a life guide.  But most of all, because it’s a great read. Here are a few of the insights I gleaned from its pages . . .

Things don’t matter as much as people do. Yeah, yeah. We all know this, but I’m guessing most of us find it much harder to actually live it.

Life can sting and burn, but that doesn’t mean it will end-up in flames – and if it does, rising from the ashes just might be the way to go. An homage to creating the life you want, even when you are not sure or keep changing your mind about what that life is or even thinking about wanting something seems like too much effort.

Slowing down, taking time to think, and to heal is hard to do. But I know from firsthand experience, it works.

Honest reflection is a part of growth and necessary whether you are standing still or traveling the world. Don’t fight it; invite it.  

Action and courage go hand-in-hand. Note to self: the first step may seem the hardest, yet sometimes life gets even worse before it gets better; try not to worry and just keep moving forward.

When traveling, don’t forget to pack patience and a sense of humor.Happiness is my constant traveling  companion, if I only remember to open my suitcase.”

Time is our friend – even when it feels heavy – and it can help heal wounds, if we let it. Life is a marathon not a sprint.

After writing “Honeymoon with My Brother”, Franz and Kurt headed back on the road, which led to a second book; a happy marriage and two kids for Franz. He and his brother Kurt are best buddies; their lives are good. To read more about Franz, Kurt and their journey, click here, here or here.

To get a new look on life, scroll down and see the view from my host family’s home in the eastern suburbs of Tbilisi, Georgia . . . 

Close-up view from my bedroom window.


Stepping back from my bedroom window.

Long shot from my bedroom window.

Nearby house on sunny day from bedroom.

Early morning rainbow from the balcony.

Second shot of the morning from the balcony.

Wider view – see my bus stop?

Mountains can be seen everywhere!

Broader view from the balcony.

This is a good example of the thousands of apartment buildings in Georgia.

PS As always, the book cover is included for illustrative purposes, not to suggest you buy!

Georgian Grits

We have a saying in south Florida that to get to the South – as in the America’s deep South – you must go north. You see, there are so many northerners in south Florida, you really don’t hear accents or get to experience the “southern” way of life, until you reach Ocala, which is north of Orlando. But some Southern traditions have seeped south of Ocala and good-old southern grits is one of them. Grits can be found just about everywhere in Florida, and as you know, in many other parts of the States, as well. But somehow I never expected to find them in the Republic of Georgia!

Turns out, folks in some regions of Georgia use corn products as their basic starch instead of bread. In my area bread reigns supreme, but a creamier version of grits has found its way onto the table and into the hearts of my host family. (In case I haven’t mentioned it, most Peace Corps Response Corps Volunteers in Georgia live with host families. Mine is absolutely wonderful, and they have graciously opened their doors to me for my three-month stay here. They’ve made me feel completely at home, sharing their apartment, sense of humor, exuberance for life and meals with me.) 

Truth is, I’m not a big fan of grits on any continent, too gritty for me, but the Georgian version I sampled was smoother and white as snow. It was served with a white cheese common to most of Eastern Europe – varying only in density and salt content (salty and saltier). The best, but still completely inaccurate way to describe “white cheese” in Eastern Europe, is to say it’s similar to the feta we use in the States, yet very different. Sorry, but that’s the best description and comparison I’ve come-up with. (Having said that, I will mention that if you buy your feta by the piece in an ethnic or speciality shop in the States the differences diminish a bit.) White cheese here is usually served in 1/4″ by 3″ slabs, but on occasion it is grated – for a pizza topping, but never crumbled like our feta. It  accompanies most meals, including breakfast – just like in Macedonia, so it was served along with our Georgian grits.

The fun part was hiding your slab of cheese in the grits. By the time you got to it, the salt had dispersed a bit and the cheese began melting into short strands similar to mozzarella. (There are some types of white cheese specifically purchased for their ability to melt into long and luxurious strands, ours today had a bit of this delectable quality.)

The most amazing part of finding grits in Georgia, was not the discovery itself but learning the process used in making them, which is extremely time-consuming. The better part of two women’s morning was entirely devoted to the task. The process actually began a day earlier when a large white pail – think “American paint pail” – appeared with fine ground yellow flecked corn filled to the brim. I was told that the corn was freshly ground and was from a village plot planted and tended by a family member. (Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the pail, because at that point, I had no clue the pail’s contents were going to be part of our lunch the next day.)

My host Mom mentioned Saturday morning they were going to begin preparing a traditional favorite. As she described the process, my thoughts quickly turned to women everywhere, who are so often involved in laborious processes as a means of preparing daily meals for their families. Many meals in Eastern Europe take as long to prepare as our holiday fare, and give cooking-from-scratch new meaning.

I was on-hand, but not in the room, for most of the process. I tend to follow the too-many-cooks-spoil-the-batter approach to cooking here, and stay out of the way, popping in and out for picture-taking. Unfortunately my approach left me wondering about the exact order of things, so remember my photos are informational not instructional – if you are seized by the urge to grind your own corn and prepare Georgian-style grits, there isn’t enough  information here for you to do it correctly, but I think you will be able to get the gist of it!

Another unfortunate lapse on my part was that I ate my grits without first taking a photo of them. Sorry about that. Please picture a soft white mound of gooey grits on a small round china plate sitting on top of an oilcloth covered table with light streaming in through a large window next to the table, okay? Thank you.

I’ve included two new photo viewing options for you, let me know what you think. And, don’t forget close-ups are available by clicking on each photo. The one of the ground corn in the sack is marvelous, if I do say so myself.  


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