Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve Morning Caroling

Confirmed! The second official caroling day in Greece is on New Year's Eve day, and there were multiple groups who buzzed the apartment buzzer this morning.

The caroling got started a lot later this morning than last week, because this happened:


Snow. Snow in Athens. The first snow I've seen since coming here. Edit: I just realized you can't even seen the snow in the video. It's there. It is. It snowed steadily all morning. I think it's finally stopped. There was no accumulation. I don't even think the sidewalks are wet. It's been a bit chillier today, though. I had to break out three layers to go to the laiki this morning. 

Speaking of the market, I keep buying little houseplants that I don't know how to care for, and then abandoning them on the balcony. I don't even want to show you my poor basil. I don't feel that bad for it, I kind of developed an aversion to the smell. Better luck next time, basil. Here are my two new plants. One is a cactus, one has pretty flowers. Please identify them for me, and tell me what I should be doing for them. I'm primarily beseeching my dad, who is a horticultural expert, but anyone is welcome to respond. 

Plant #1

Plant #2

Our downstairs neighbors/American friends invited us to New Year's Eve dinner tonight. I'm cooking the ham Phil bought us for Christmas from the exchange store. It's 12.5 pounds, spiral, and I completely forgot to thaw it in time. I never forget to thaw the ham. Never, darn it. Oh well. It's pre-cooked, so we could theoretically eat it frozen and be fine, but hopefully it will be warmed through by dinner. It's been sitting in that oven for 3 hours already. Prayers to the ham gods.

This is a bit of a bummer, but I thought you should know it anyway. Europe is pretty freaked about terrorism right now, and it's impacted New Year's Eve celebrations. You might have seen on the news within the past week or two that credible intelligence indicated that European capitals were at risk on New Year's Eve. Paris and Brussels cancelled their fireworks shows. We just found out today that there might not be fireworks in downtown Athens tonight, either. I don't know if that's related to the terrorism threats, or if it's a budget thing (or if it's even true), but it's too bad.

Back to the ham, though; I just cranked the heat a bit. I'm really starting to sweat it. Come on, ham. You can do it. 

Phil and I hope you have a safe, fun New Year's Eve, whether you're celebrating with fireworks, or going to bed at 9:30. We're looking forward to the new year, and hope it brings some of you to our spare bedroom. 

γεια μας!



Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Secret Projects

It's the penultimate day of the year, so I thought I'd give you a tantalizing glance at a couple of my secret projects for the new year.

Before I do that, here's a picture from ten minutes ago. Is this what winter in Athens is like? I don't know. It was 61 degrees yesterday (fahrenheit). Today it's 48. Tomorrow it might snow.

They put those flags up before Christmas. Want to make bets on when they'll come down?
My guess after Epiphany. So I'll say January 7th.
Who else wants in on this pot? $1 buy in. 
Project #1: To Do List

The apartment really does get that messy. Oy.

I made a huge list of things I need to get done. Some may be inscrutable, but most involve cleaning (and the majority of those tasks involve cleaning the wood floors). I like making big lists like this, because I feel so accomplished when I'm able to check off a box. Unfortunately, the list has been growing exponentially. There are a lot of reasons it's growing. I keep coming up with new, fun project ideas I want to try. The main reason it's growing, though, is that cleaning wood floors is a never-ending, mind-numbingly taxing and tedious process, even with the wonderful mop from my mom. 

Project #2: Granny Squares


I've been trying out new crochet granny square designs with hearts. You can tell those are hearts, right? Just say they look like hearts. I'll feel so much better if you do. The two smaller ones are designs I tried to wing based off of pictures online. The one on the left is easy. It's a very basic granny square. The one on the right is difficult, and I didn't do it correctly, and I need to find an actual, readable pattern if I want to try it again. The two in the middle, though, can be found here. It's a lot easier than it looks, especially if you watch the accompanying video. I want to find more. The final project is TBD, and I may or may not keep you updated. 

Project 3: Room Decorating

99 euro cents each! Hooray for Jumbo!
We've been living here for six months, so I decided to start putting away all of our stuff. I'm still trying to figure out how to decorate each room. You've already seen my accomplishments in the entryway and living room. Now I'm working on the bedrooms. In particular, I'm starting to think about how I'll decorate the room that will house our infant. I have a killer idea. I don't want to tell you until I finish it, and then you can be amazed and throw it up on Pinterest, and tell me how incredible I am. Until then, I just wanted to tease you with these picture frames, which I will incorporate into the final design. I'm so clever.

Project #4: 2016 Birthday Cards

But what will they look like put together?!
My grandma used to send birthday cards to a very vast list of relatives. My list is not quite that large, but I'm trying to uphold her legacy nonetheless. I don't think she'd haunt me if I didn't, but I just don't want to take the chance. Here's an exclusive peek at this year's design. 

I thought I had more interesting things to brag about, but that's it. Those are all of my not-so-secret projects. Or are they?

Shhhhhhhh.






Tuesday, December 29, 2015

German Christmas Pyramid (the longer video)

I did it. 
AHAHAHAHAHAHA!
I! DID! IT!





This thing took so long to upload. I'm going to go get a cookie. I've earned it.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Day

Merry (belated by 3 days) Christmas!

We hope you had a wonderful holiday, or just a wonderful day, if you don't dig on Christmas. We had a really nice time here in Greece. I'll tell you about it, but first look at my German Christmas pyramid in action. We got it from a Christmas market in Mainz, and I love it. Turn your volume down before you watch the video, because the dryer was running in the background, and it sounds like a military grade jet engine. I tried dubbing over it with Tina Turner, but the file became too big to upload. I also tried to upload a longer video that actually shows the fan turning on top, but it was taking hours to upload, and I gave up. 






Christmas day was a mellow in the city. All the stores and a lot of restaurants were closed. Traffic was beautiful. It was like driving in August: not a lot of cars, not a lot of motorcycles...a true Christmas miracle. And speaking of August, the weather was fantastic. It was mid 60s and sunny. The Greeks were bundled like Utahns in January, which is really funny to mock until you go to Germany for a weekend and dress like a climber on Everest while the Germans are in light windbreakers. 

On Christmas morning, we slept in late, and ate a bunch of Ebelskivers for breakfast. Phil and I have a longstanding argument about how you're supposed to eat those. I eat mine dipped in sugar. He eats his with syrup. I can't remember what my other family members do, but I think one or more of them eat theirs with jam. It's a very versatile breakfast. For lunch we had a traditional American ham, turkey, and potatoes meal hosted by our church. Later, after the food naps, we went to The Nutcracker ballet with some friends who were visiting Athens. The ballet was performed by the Bolshoi Ballet Academy at the Badminton Theatre. Can you guess what the theatre used to be? I'll give you a hint, the building was used to showcase an Olympic sport with rackets and shuttlecocks. The ballet started at 8:00pm which, in Greek time, actually meant 8:25pm. The theatre had some concessions, including booze, a candy, and nachos (for real). 

Here's the Athens clan on Christmas morning:

Clothes! So exciting!

She doesn't know what's going on, but she's on board with it.

I know you're wondering and, yes, there is a flap in the back.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Morning Caroling

According to Greek tradition, on Christmas Eve morning, carolers go from house to house banging on a triangle and singing Greek carols. The people inside are supposed to open their doors and give them a small amount of money.

I first became vaguely aware of this tradition at midnight last night, as I was trolling the web for fun cultural practices I could appropriate. I remember thinking at the time, "Huh, I wonder if they actually do that?"

They do. It started around 7:30am.

Based on my keen observations (by keen, I mean I was abruptly awakened by triangles), it's a lot like trick or treating. The kids walk around the streets wearing Christmas sweaters, Christmas leggings, Santa hats, and reindeer antlers, carrying little triangles in their hands. The younger ones are accompanied by their parents, and seem to be really, really excited. Like trick-or-treating, however, the dominant players in this game are the middle school and high school kids. When I finally opened my door to some carolers, it was two fifteen-ish year old boys in Santa hats. They were super embarrassed. I loved it. Their song was entirely in Greek and unrecognizable to me, but I'm assuming it was some festive Christmasy thing. I guess it could have been something raunchy, but how should I know? I gave them 2 euros, to absolve myself from any guilt of not opening the door anymore, and they went on their way.

Upon further research, this is potentially the first of 3 official caroling days in Greece. The next one is New Year's Eve day, and the last one is Epiphany, on the 6th of January. I'll let you know if the other two caroling days pan out/if I buy a triangle and promote some American carols.

Speaking of American Christmas songs, here are a few of my favorites:


White Christmas (from the movie of the same name, by far the best version)


Fun Fact: I knew I was pregnant really early on because of this song.
I was watching the movie in August, and this happened.
I documented it, because I think it might be the ugliest cry face of all time.



Silver Bells (from The Lemon Drop Kid, note the blatant racism)




O Holy Night (from the mop-topped, musically endowed muppet, Josh Groban)




For Unto Us a Child is Born (by far the best use of this excessively white choir)




Joy to the World (RIP, Whitney. Seriously, what a talent)



There are many, many more, but Bella and I have to keep a low noise profile, because we're hiding from carolers. Happy Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Athenian Sidewalks

This is from a series I created a month or more ago, entitled: Athenian Sidewalks.

The photographs were taken from my very low quality smartphone camera during a five minute period on our afternoon walk.







I really think I've captured something here.

Walkable sidewalks are ephemeral.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mail Call

You wonderful people. You keep sending mail, even when I fail to acknowledge it with the least degree of gratitude. I'm sorry, and thank you.

Here's the mail (I feel like that guy from that kids' show, Blue's Clues):

From my mom: My favorite type of mop (it's great, really).
She also sent a giant box of food and spices.
She gets me.
Thank you, mommy! I love you. Come here and use the mop!

From my California relatives: a vintage Halloween card.
I wish I could have been there for Halloween, but I'm glad I made it for pre-Thanksgiving.
Thank you for thinking of me! Love you!

From our German expat friends:
A really lovely congratulations card for our baby.
And then two weeks later, they let us stay in their house.
Thank you so much! Please be my doula (but, really...)

From our Long Lost VA Couple Friends:
A Thanksgiving card that we got the Monday after returning from the States.
I read it on the couch when my stomach was recovering. It made me cry.
We're thankful for you, and miss you!

From Lots of You:
Holiday Cards!!! I can't believe we're getting holiday cards all the way over here.
It is so exciting.
Some of you have already received our 2015 card.
The rest of you fell victim to my lethargy. Yours will be more like 2016 cards,
depending on how quickly the pouch goes out.
They are coming. 

It's so thrilling to receive mail here. I can't thank you all enough for thinking of us, and sending us so many lovely things. I hope you know how much Phil and I appreciate you.

P.S. I forgot about my holiday card challenge, but I'm going to do it again this year. I'm going to hang up all of your cards on a wall with a single piece of tape. Whoever's card stays on the wall the longest will get some sort of prize. I realize my track record isn't great with this, since the inaugural winners never received their prize this year (sorry, cousins), but I'll do better in 2016. And I promise you'll get your 2015 prize. Let the challenge commence!

From October to Now

A brief overview of our recent lives.

Halloween:

We had our British church friends over for Halloween Eve, only it turns out that they are not British. One is from Scotland and one is from New Zealand. It was disappointing because there are pockets in both Scotland and New Zealand where Halloween is celebrated. I thought I was going to be blowing their minds with Halloween. Instead, they already knew everything. We still made them carve a pumpkin. They thought it was sort of cool. This is my pumpkin. It follows the same basic design I do every year, because every year I panic and carve at the last minute.

Unlit.

Lit. 

We attended the Halloween party at the Embassy. It was great. Every section had their own activity table. The kids got to vote on which table was their favorite, and the winning section got a pizza party. It was extremely competitive. There was a Nerf Gun shooting gallery, face painting, dessert station, and a bunch of candy and junk food. There was also a pretty decent haunted house set up in the parking garage, spearheaded by several people from the Med Unit, bless them. My favorite part of the night, though, was when we left the party behind a guy dressed like a vampire from the Blade movies. His costume was inspired. It was beautiful. It was terrifying. We got to drive behind him as he cruised the streets of Athens in his minivan, window rolled down, clawed hand dangling casually out the side. He'd occasionally wave at Athenians on the street, who would jump in terror and confusion. I'm not exaggerating when I say, desperately and repetitively, that Halloween is not a thing in Greece. That man is my role model.

Phil dressed as a Ghostbuster. I went as myself:

Yeah, that's the demon ultrasound photo from Google.

Thanksgiving:

We went home to the States for Thanksgiving. We had a connecting flight through Paris, and made it through the airport about 7 hours before they closed the borders because of the terrorist attacks. Phil stayed in our home state, while I wandered off to spend a few days with my California relatives. 

Two days prior to leaving Greece, Phil and I drove to Sounio to take photos for our Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year/Whatever cards. It was 80 degrees. Here's a photo we didn't use for the card. Bella's face is great.

It was too hot to be wearing black pants.

It was much colder back home. Luckily, we spent most of our time eating and catching up with people we love. It was great to be home, not the least because the food is so much better than everything here. I just really love food. Everyone in both of our immediate families were in town for the holiday, including our niece, who already knows how to do Thanksgiving the right way.


This is baby on Thanksgiving morning, taking in the parade.
She threw up on me later that night, after drinking too much milk.
Our trip home was great, but the trip back to Greece was terrible. The afternoon before we left, Phil went to bed with a stomach ache. I got a text from him while I was sitting in the living room, "Can you come see if I have a fever?" By the time I went upstairs, he was in bed, in his ski coat, under three blankets. My stomach starting feeling sick in the middle of the night. We had three flights this time, the first flew to Chicago, the second to Paris, and the final one to Athens. I'm not sure how we made it. I spent the next few days recovering on my now-beloved couch.

Pre-Christmas:

After we came back from Athens, and after I recovered my stomach, I put up our Christmas decorations. Christmas is, thankfully, a huge deal in Greece. They have pop-up Christmas stores all over the place. Christmas lights are becoming a big thing, too. I still have some leftover incandescents from our first married Christmas 3 years ago. It's a miracle. I've had to plug them into a transformer, which is a bit of a bummer, because I don't feel comfortable keeping them constantly lit from the transformer. Oh well, it's probably better for the environment, or whatever.

This depressing scene is what happens when you don't have hooks.
Phil bought me some this weekend, but I haven't installed them yet.
In the meantime, I call dibs on the stocking that's still hanging.

Bless this little tree. The white lights at the base have gone out.
Somebody fix them.

This is the 3 euro nativity I bought at Jumbo.
I was really pleased with it. The display nativity people had super messed up faces.

We went to Frankfurt last weekend to visit our friends and take in a German Christmas market, or two (or three). I want to go into more detail about our trip, and show you pictures, and tell you how much fun it was. Unfortunately, Phil has the photos on his phone, and his phone is with him, and he is at work, so it's not going to happen in this post. I promise I will write about it in the future (maybe), but I wanted to give a preliminary shout out to our friends, K and J, who let us stay in their apartment with their cat, Burt. Thank you so much, friends. We had a blast. Please come stay with us so we can return the favor.


He did not want me to hold him for this picture.
He was held anyway. Hi, Burt!

Misc.:

It was really interesting to see the uptick in security after the Paris terrorist attacks. When we boarded the flight to Paris in Chicago, there were several uniformed customs agents standing just inside the jetway watching passengers walk to the plane. In Paris, there were noticeably more police officers stationed around the airport. We had to undergo additional security screening before our flight to Athens, and spent a good chunk of time waiting in passport control. The French officials were a lot more thorough in their passport screenings. 

The real kicker, though, came when we flew into Frankfurt from Athens two weeks later. While we were taxiing to the gate, the Aegean crew came over the intercom to announce that German police would be screening all of our passports when we landed. That's pretty crazy, because both Germany and Greece are party to the Schengen Agreement, which is basically an open border policy among all European countries that are signatories to the agreement. In other words, they shouldn't be screening our passports. The police were waiting for us right when we stepped off the jet bridge. The girl in front of us had an ID card, rather than a passport, and the guy absolutely grilled her. "What are you doing here? Where are you staying? How long will you be here? When are you leaving? Who will you be staying with?..." 

We asked our friends, who have been traveling quite a bit throughout the EU for work, whether they'd had their passports checked when re-entering Frankfurt from other European countries. They hadn't. 

Managing the refugee/migrant crisis has been extremely difficult for the European Union. Tons of people are pouring into Greece, but the Greek government has a hard enough time coming up with resources for its own people. I can see why Germany is carefully vetting arrivals from Greece, but I can also see why Greek people might feel like they're being picked on by Germany. I'm not sure how they'll tackle these issues, but I imagine we'll get a chance to see their attempts in the coming year.

And, wow. All we wanted was some bratwurst, and a Christmas Market.



Pregnant

Boy, do we have a lot to talk about.

I'm pregnant. I'm having a kid in Spring 2016. Some women have a very graceful first trimester. I am not one of those women. I've become inordinately fond of our Drexel Heritage couch. I've also developed a strong aversion to green apples, Saltine crackers, and basically the entire country of Greece. Here's a first trimester ultrasound picture of our little miracle:

This is apparently from some horror movie. I found it on Google.
My inability to tell you which movie probably speaks volumes about it.

I'm doing a lot better now. I'm currently in the middle of the "second wind" that, according to all the baby websites, hits after you stop puking and before your offspring obliterates the remainder of your internal organs. I'm solidly in the middle of the second trimester. The kid is doing well. He kicks me a lot. It's really bizarre to see and feel. Phil regularly compares it to the movie Alien. Here's a recent picture of the child:

Did you fall for it again? This one's also from Google.

Gestating life is occupying a lot of my time, but I've made a commitment not to publicize too much of the process. I know there are a myriad of reasons that can make seeing and hearing about someone else's pregnancy unpleasant. I'll keep you posted about big updates; for example, when the kid is born. I'll also let you know what delivery is like overseas. If you want any more specifics, like what size of pants I'm wearing, shoot me an email or give me a call. 

Don't call if you're a stranger, though. I'm not going to discuss my pants size with a stranger. 

p.s. Here's a funny Greek-ism one of Phil's coworkers told me about the other day at lunch: It's an old wives' tale that if you're pregnant with a girl, your face will start to become harder and more masculine because your daughter is stealing your beauty. So if an old, Greek woman tells you you're going to have a girl, what she's really saying is that you look terrible.