Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old, familiar carols play,
  And wild and sweet
  The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
  Had rolled along
  The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
  A voice, a chime,
  A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
  And with the sound
  The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
  And made forlorn
  The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair, I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
  "For hate is strong,
  And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
  The Wrong shall fail,
  The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

More Stories from Lately

Here are a few things we've done lately. Lately, in this case, refers to the past month. I wanted to tell you these things earlier, but life intrudes.

1. Phil finished his first 5k race. The 5k was part of the Athens Classic Marathon. He had a great time at the event. He said it was a lot of fun, though he still hates running. The Kid and I stayed home because we're no fun. I tried making a bunch of muffins, and a fun banner. When Phil came home, the kitchen was a mess, The Kid was crying, the muffins were just okay, and the banner said, "LIHP ROF YAY," because I taped it backward.


2. I sort of made Indian food, and it was sort of good. It's about what you'd expect from a last-minute online recipe search, but it filled the hole.

Always a skeptic.

In process. 

3. Greece started decorating for Christmas. What you see below is the minutest, most unnoticeable example of that, but I love the St. Filothei Monastery, and I wanted you to see it at night with globe string lights. I am still trying to figure out where this particular site fits into Filothei's history. I think it is possibly the convent where she was brought after being beaten, and eventually succumbed to her injuries. Not the happiest site, but really meaningful. Filothei was such a cool woman.

4, Easily the best thing that's happened recently was President Obama's visit to Athens. He held a Meet and Greet for embassy staff, and family members of American employees. We had to wake up really early, go through a ton of security and wait for a few hours in the cold (legitimate cold, not typical Athenian November cold) to see the man for fifteen minutes. It was worth it. He gave a short speech, and spent the rest of the time talking to people. The highlight of the event was when he held the babies. I'll spare you the details, mainly because I was too excited to form concrete memories, but HE HELD MY CHILD! I've never been as starstruck in my life. Everyone was so excited. People took dozens of photos. For a week after the event, we had photos pouring in from friends and neighbors. We collected some great shots. I'm not going to post any of them below. Instead, I'll share a crappy one I took when the Ambassador was introducing President Obama at the beginning of the event. If you're someone I know, and you want to see the good ones, let me know. I will happily share. 

The man himself!

5. Easily the worst thing that's happened recently is The Kid's hospitalization. Before you panic, he's doing okay. On Monday, he went through a scheduled procedure, and we were able to leave the hospital that evening. He woke up on Tuesday with a fever, and we came back to the hospital on Wednesday. They're not sure if it's viral or bacterial, so they're treating it as if it's the bubonic plague. Just kidding, but not much. It's seems ludicrous to complain about the excellent care we're receiving, but we're still pretty fed up with the fact that we've been hospitalized for this long (and are still, hospitalized, by the way). I'm currently writing you from the couch in his room. I'm steadily becoming more belligerent, which is always an interesting state in which to experience me. I'm trying not to direct it toward the nurses, who are kind, following direct orders, and aren't paid enough to deal with it. As a result, the doctors are taking the brunt. Pray for them. Pray for us all.

Fight the good fight. This, too, shall pass. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Abroad

I really need praise for my Thanksgiving decorations. I only finished them yesterday, and they're coming down ASAP to make way for Christmas. I'm not asking for much praise, I just want you to tell me these are the greatest Thanksgiving decorations you've ever seen, and that I'm a creative genius. I almost misspelled genius.

The two garlands are old. The leafy chandelier is new. It's beautiful. Tell me it's beautiful.

I love this so much. I stop in front of it, and just stare. I'm vain and proud. 

The Halloween tree re-purposed for Thanksgiving. 

A second leafy chandelier, because the first was so beautiful. Say it. Say it's beautiful.

The banner says, "Happy Thanksgiving," and it's so cute.

For a touch of realism, this is what my table looks like. I never did clean it. Those things right behind my re-purposed Halloween tree are German presents from my expat friend who is visiting from Deutschland this weekend.

A close up of my pumpkin. It's a styrofoam ball with tissue paper. It took 20,000 hours to complete.

Yarn pumpkin close up. It took much less time than the tissue paper pumpkin.

Second tissue paper pumpkin, and glitter pumpkin.

Turkeys. I'm so talented.

This is my wreath. I made it. I made it with my bare hands.

We shared Thanksgiving this year with some good friends from work. They took turkey duty, and had to deal with a horrifying realistic, freshly killed bird from our local butcher. I was on roll, mashed potato, and candied yams duty. It was a great dinner. We enjoyed the food almost as much as we enjoyed the company. Here are some photos from my side of the kitchen:

I tried a new roll recipe this year. They look fake. They tasted like fluffy butter air. Will definitely reuse the recipe:

Potatoes in process. I used butter and cream, the only true and correct way, as taught by my Grandfather. They were decadent.

These are the sweet potatoes. The oven fogged my camera.

Oh, Bella.

We have a long list of things we're thankful for this year, but I'm not going to subject you to all of it tonight. I am going to subject you to some of it. You can handle it.

We're thankful for the opportunity to be living abroad. 
We're thankful for the people of Ellas. 
We're thankful for the wonderful souls we've met through Phil's work. 
We're thankful for our family and friends who weren't already included in the previous two entries on this list.
We're thankful for the opportunities we have to become kinder, more concerned neighbors.
We're thankful to have a platform from which to express our thankfulness (as well as beg for compliments on Thanksgiving decorations).

We know not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving, and we know it's not going to be a happy day for everyone. For those who don't celebrate, Happy Thursday! For those who are having a hard day, we hope you find happiness soon. For the rest of you, Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November Weather

A bit of this:

And a lot of this:

You can't beat the weather here. Don't even try.

As a bonus, here's a school bus we saw the other day. This is real.

What a cool place. We're currently waiting to hear where we'll be living next. Maybe they'll tell us to stay here. I would not complain. I would enroll The Kid in Dorothy Snot school. It's not going to happen, but it's good to have dreams.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ancho Mexican Food

Phil and I have found the Chipotle of Greece. It's called Ancho. They have two locations, one in Swanksville City, and the other in Semi-Swanksville City. (Kifissia and Chalandri, respectively).

The setup is exactly like Chipotle, and other (better) Mexican food places. You walk up to the counter, decide what form you'd like your Mexican food to take, and choose what goes inside. We went with pork burritos, and they were pretty good. Their chips and salsa were all right, too. Their ice was a highlight. It's that munchy, crunchy stuff like the stuff at Sonic. Beautiful.

Phil enjoying a pre-burrito chip.

The chips and guacamole.

A blurry look inside a real burrito.
It's not the best Mexican food you'll ever have in your life, unless you live exclusively in Greece. Then it might come pretty close. We'll be back, Ancho.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Would you like to see some photos of Kea: a boring, gorgeous island off the tip of Athens? 

Phil found Kea while researching islands in our Lonely Planet guide book. We decided to go a few weekends ago, during Greece's 28 October holiday weekend. Oxi Day is a celebration of Greece's refusal to allow Italian troops to occupy the country during WWII, effectively dragging them into the War against the Axis powers. As Phil's coworker put it, it's the only holiday he knows where people celebrate the beginning of a war.

We took a ferry from Lavrio, a port town next door to Poseidon's Temple in Sounio. It was windy when we left, and the sea was moderately choppy. I got sick. Phil and The Kid were fine. The ferry route goes through the same area where the Titanic's sister ship, the Britannic, sank in 1916. There are two other big wrecks nearby. I did not know this before we got on the boat.

The ferry ride wasn't actually all that bad. It was short, only about an hour, and the boat had a snack bar, game room, and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. We took our car, so we could drive around the island and take pictures. The main road is paved, but everything off to the side was gravel or dirt. Phil loved it. 

On Kea, looking North-ish.

Down there is one of the more popular beaches in Kea. Deserted, because it's off-season, and because it was unseasonably chilly.

I don't remember what I wanted to show you here. It's pretty.

The whole island was terraced, just like Mani Peninsula. I can't imagine how long it's taken people to do that. 

We drove through that valley, then up onto this ridge. I was looking in all directions at once. Also, I saw a bird sitting on a cow, and a dog sitting on a chair. They each happened too fast for a photo. Please believe me.

There was quite a bit of livestock on the island--mainly sheep and goats, but we saw cows, horses, donkeys, chickens, and probably other things that I can't remember now.

This is the main square of the main village on the island. The village is not accessible by car. You have to park below it, or above it, and walk through it. We saw a local walking through town with his kids, and his donkey. The donkey was carrying the recycling.

The villages on the island are connected by trails. Some are nice, some are ancient (literally). We saw a sign in this village with distances to other villages given in time. As in, "4.5 hours to Such and Such Village."

A view of the main village.

This is the reason we came to Kea. We came to see the ancient lion statue. Look at it. Look at that thing. It's hilarious.

The mythology is that Kea was once a beautiful island, and the Gods became jealous. They sent down a lion who ravaged the place, and turned it into a desert. In my opinion, he didn't do a good enough job. Athenians are starting to develop the place with vacation homes and rental properties. It's really beautiful.

This gorgeous, deserted beach was home to three Athenian vacation homes. The houses, which were only yards from the spot where I took this photo, are going for about 400,000 euros apiece. Can anyone loan me 400,000 euros?

Farewell view from the ferry.

I rode on the outside for the return journey. I did not get sick.
I wanted to tell you more about Kea two weeks ago, but time and distance have taken their toll, and now I just don't care. It's a gorgeous, dull little island, and I would happily return to take up residence in that 400,000 euro house on the beach.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween 2016

I love Halloween. It's my favorite holiday. Every holiday is my favorite holiday. I don't know. Don't make me choose a favorite holiday. Who even brought this up in the first place?

I like Halloween because the decorations are cool, and dressing up is fun. Every year, I have huge expectations for what I'm going to do, wear, eat, craft, and decorate. I usually only accomplish a third of my plans, which turns out to be a good thing. I have years of prospective Halloween ideas. 

If you've been paying attention, I've made regular rants against Greece for its failure to embrace Halloween. I saw encouraging signs this year. Our Greek neighbors had Halloween decorations on their door. I was wished a Happy Halloween by our gardener. Jumbo, the Greek equivalent of Big Lots, had a small Halloween section. In fairness to the country, probably all of this was going on last year, too, but I was too sick to get off the couch and experience any of it. 

This year, I got off the couch and started decorating in early October, after the HVAC specialists ripped apart and reassembled our ceiling. For the most part, I'm satisfied with my efforts. There were a few disappointments. I've been wanting to make cheesecloth ghost decorations for years. I finally did this year, but didn't have enough time to figure out how to display them. So, once again, the cheesecloth ghosts will be filed to "Prospective Halloween." It also took me a lot longer to get my Halloween crafting supplies than I'd expected. My plastic bats just barely arrived last Thursday.

Another annual failure is my repeated declaration that I'll host a big Halloween party, and my inevitable failure to follow through. I got closer this year. I made enough dessert for a big party, but I kept vacillating on whether to invite a bunch of people or not. In the end, it didn't happen. I have a giant Halloween trifle in my fridge that is no longer seasonally appropriate to eat. 

Last night, we attended a Halloween party for the embassy community. Each working section of the embassy was assigned a table to decorate for trick or treating kids. At the end of the night, the kids voted for their favorite table. Winners get a pizza party, so it was stiff competition. 

Last year at the same event, Phil's section came in second with a Ghostbusters Nerf gun shooting range theme. They should have won, but lost out to a table with a make-your-own-dessert component. This year, they returned for vengeance. One of my friends, the wife of Phil's coworker, spent hours with Pinterest, spray paint, and her Cricut machine to create a pirate table. We had cookie decorating, walk the plank/Captain Hook's ring toss game, and a treasure chest full of gold candies. We found pirate music on YouTube, and hooked it up to a speaker. We bought chains, swords, skulls, and other beautifully helpful decorations from Jumbo. We spent more time on that stupid table than the crappy pizza party warranted, but gosh darn it if we didn't carry away the laurels of the evening.

That's right, Phil's section won the pizza party.

We didn't take any photos of the embassy party, but I do have pictures of plenty of other things. I know you're dying for me to shut up so you can see them, but the joke's on you, because you could have scrolled down at any time without listening to me talk endlessly through writing.

This year's pumpkin. A rush job, since it was already 9pm on Halloween. The theme is Harry and Voldy: A Duel.

I'm trying something new with my pumpkin this year. I cut giant chunks out of the back to use for pumpkin desserts. I have no idea if it's going to work. I think typically people use smaller pumpkins specifically grown for eating. Will let you know.

I saw these bats on Pinterest. I wasn't going to do them, but, heck, I had the cardstock and the wall tape.

Making use of my old decorations, my purple lights, and my limited wall outlets. 

You can't see the grubby Kid prints from this angle. He loves his mirror self.

The layers of my trifle. I really put some effort into this. Homemade chocolate dirt. Homemade chocolate pudding. Homemade chocolate mousse. Homemade worms. I'm simultaneously proud and annoyed, because what was the point?!

A top view of the worms. They're jello and cream, set in straws. Very good.

Monster cookies. It's a basic dough, dyed green, with candy eyes shoved in the warm cookie.

The entry table, with my two cards from last year.

The fireplace scene, lit, with Black Lagoon underneath.

Bella's Halloween shirt, from Kate.

Halloween wreath. I kept it simple, because I didn't know if the Greeks would know what was going on. It turns out they do. If only we were going to be here next year. I could gore it up significantly.

These could use some cheesecloth ghost friends. If only.

If I'd had a party, drinks or desserts would have gone on this table. Probably drinks, because of the bottles, but I had another idea for drinks that wouldn't have fit here. So many wasted ideas. 

The dining room, with the late-arriving bats.

I am massively proud of this tree. I've been wanting to do a "holiday" tree for a long time, and I finally ordered the plaster of paris and did it. The plaster of pairs split open and coated all the other crafting supplies in the box, but it was (sort of) worth it. The other really cool thing about this is that the "tree" is a branch I found on the ground at the 2004 Olympic complex here in Athens. Cool souvenir. 

The coffee table, candy inside.

My pirate costume. All I did was cut out a piece of felt, paint it with brown acrylic, and safety pin it to the beanie. The shirt was an old thing that I quickly painted with blue acrylic. Easy.
I look like my dad with this beard. It's a good look. 

Until next year, Halloween.