Thursday, June 30, 2016

Grandma Dot


You might look at this picture and think, "Clean your kitchen, you pig," which...fine. When I look at this picture, I see my grandma's influence. There's the big box fan too keep us cool. There's the counter full of snacks. There's my lunch, which I'm eating at 1pm sharp. There's the red-checked tablecloth. There's my speaker playing a compilation of classical music. There are my paints, which I'm using to make my own greeting cards. There's the dog, who has nothing to do with any of this, but is in it anyway.

I think of my grandma often. I don't know any one of her descendants who doesn't. When I hear a wind chime, I think of sitting on her porch while she'd fan herself in her wooden chair by the door. When I smell chocolate, I think of the stashes she'd hide in containers marked "tampons," or "chopped liver." When I whistle (terribly), I think of her cheery melodies at 4am, as she worked through her morning routine.

Her idea of Facebook was posting photos and notes from the family on her fridge. Her idea of Skype was a phone call inviting her grandchildren to come see her. Well before people were filling Instagram with inspirational uploads, she was taping funny quotes she'd found to her wall.

Every time I convince a dinner guest to take leftovers, or turn a five minute chat into an hour-long conversation, I think of my grandma. Every time I discover a discount store, or a new crafting hobby, I wish I could share it with her. When I think about my behavior, and how I can help others, I look to her example. My grandma was a powerful force, and one of the best people I've ever known.

It's been four years since my grandma died, and I miss her.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bloom, Work, One Year

The gardenia boomed.

There's the bud.

Bloomed!
The bloom smelled beautiful. It's nearly gone now, but it was wonderful while it lasted.

Today, Kate and I are hanging out near the apartment, waiting for a new water heater to arrive. We've been without hot water since yesterday morning. It hasn't been too difficult, though, granted, it's only been a day. Hopefully nothing will delay the install, otherwise I'll find out what it's like to really go without. Heaven forbid.

Yesterday was a work day for me. You read that right. I'm working very, very part time at the Embassy as a swimming and water aerobics instructor. I haven't been in a pool since early pregnancy. It feels good to be home. When I was a kid, I used to get a lot of anxiety before attending swim classes, even though I enjoyed swimming. Come to find out, I also get a lot of anxiety before teaching swim classes. That doesn't seem fair. Kate's been attending my aerobics class, and assisting me by boosting my ego on the drive home. My classes are small, but I love them just the same.

The downside to being back in the pool after a year is that I've had a whole year to get out of pool shape. Teaching is exhausting. I've been wearing Kate out, too. She's sleeping in the recliner right now.

It's been over a year since we moved to Greece. Despite my avowed hatred of the place while nauseous with morning sickness, I like it a lot now, and will be sad to leave next year. Phil has liked Greece from the beginning, but I'm convinced Phil could be content in an underground dirt hole in the desert. Oh, to be Phil. There are a lot of things to love about this country. The people are kind. The weather is amazing. The food is...fine. You can get delicious produce for bargain prices. Medical care is fantastic. Children are revered. There are cool things to see, and interesting places to explore. It's easy to find outdoorsy things to do, and you can do them pretty much year-round. It's a safe place to live, and it's absolutely beautiful. 

Bella is the only one of us who feels ambivalent about Greece. There's not much grass in Athens, people get up in her face a lot, and there is too much beach for her taste. I'm not sure how The Kid feels about Greece. I'm not sure he's sure how he feels about it.

I wanted to bake a cake to celebrate our one year anniversary of Greek life, but the moment passed. Here's what it would have looked like:

This is actually Phil's birthday cake from a while ago. Those candles were made by my sister last year for our Homemade Christmas celebration. They burned bright, and smelled like good beeswax.

I want to take a nap, but I'm behind on thank you cards, emails, chores, and a few other things I've forgotten. At least I blogged. I can check that off my list.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

National Archaeological Museum of Athens

So, it turns out that our one year anniversary of living in Greece is today. I'm still going to pretend like it's tomorrow. Today, we went to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. This is one of the two museums Rick Steves tells you not to miss in Athens. We've missed it for a year, but it was cool to browse through it.

The museum hosts a lot of artifacts from the ancient sites we've been visiting. There was a ton of gold from Mycenae, for example.

The museum cost 10 euros. It's a bit out of the way. if you're downtown, but it would be a cheap, quick taxi ride. We took pictures, so you don't have to.

The museum.

The museum-goers.

"Agamemnon's" "real" death mask. See: Mycenae







This was an old lyre. When I told Kate, she thought I said, "liar." It was fun.

Big, in real life.


Bunch of perverts checking out naked boy.

Phil said this looks like break dancing under a strobe.


Zeus. 

The world's first computer, found at shipwreck.


While we were walking through the museum, one of the docents, Eleni, started asking us about our kid. She showed us a photo of her three boys, and gave me one of her bracelets with wishes of good health and protection. It was a really touching experience for me. Many of the people we've met here are kind in a way that is deeply impressive. I can understand why so many Greeks who emigrate decide to return to Greece.

One year here. Wow.

Longest Day (Week?) of the Year

It's been a long week. Phil had to fight off the flu, we had to Lysol everything, I took a CPR recertification class, the Kid got shots, and Kate ran our whole household.

Only Bella was able to nap on her regular schedule.

We've been negligent in our blogging, and we apologize, but really, given the circumstances, can you blame us for not keeping you updated? Even so, you should forgive us quickly.

There is a loud, amateur concert at the tiny amphitheater across the street. It's the second concert there this week. Most of the songs are covers of American classic rock. There was some ACDC the other night. It was...okay. I don't remember these concerts from last summer, but they must have happened.

Speaking of last summer, on Sunday we'll have been living in Greece for a full year. Nuts.

On a different subject, how about that Brexit? If you think that all of Europe is freaking out about Brexit, I want you to know that no one in our suburban Greek neighborhood seems to care. Maybe they do on the inside, but on the outside, it is business as usual. It's pretty similar to this area last year when Grexit was on the table. My running theory is that we're in an upper middle class neighborhood whose inhabitants won't be deeply hurt by fluctuating economies. Still, it's going to be really interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks. I wonder if Greece will start discussing Grexit again. From what I've anecdotally observed, Greeks don't fully trust EU leaders to manage their economy, but they definitely don't trust their own leaders.

I'm tired of Brexit. I'm also just tired. Here are three photos we managed to take this week.

Bella on a windy day.

Excellent laiki haul.

Evening walk on the longest day of the year.

Goodnight.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Feverish

I was stooopid sick on Mother's Day, and it looks like Phil is going to be stooopid sick on Father's Day. I'm a first-timer, so I don't know for sure, but I don't think we're doing these holidays right.

Phil's not the only one with a hot body. We hit 91F by 9am, and got to 100F in the suburbs this afternoon. The low tonight is 84F. I realize how tame that sounds compared to the temps the Western U.S. will reach this weekend, but the Western U.S. wasn't constructed with white, hot, reflective marble.

Stay cool.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sweet and Sour Chore Day

Kate and I have been cleaning the house all day today. Okay, mostly Kate. I helped a little, but at least I did more than Bella.

Bella's sun salutations.

Bella's tummy time.

I'm in the process of "archiving" our 2015 Christmas cards. Someday, I'll show you what that entails. I like to save the cards that people send because it's a lazy way to keep a journal.

Have you watched any of those Buzzfeed Tasty cooking videos? They are absolutely enthralling. Watching them is easily my favorite way to waste time online. We couldn't decide what to make for dinner last night, so I decided to actually try one of the recipes--sweet and sour chicken. I had to adapt it, because we didn't have a bell pepper or scallions on hand. Both would have enhanced the flavor more than the peas and sauteed red onions I used, but I still think the recipe is way too sweet. It calls for a 1/4c. of ketchup, and a 1/2(!!)c. of sugar. I used less than half that amount of sugar, and it was still like eating chicken candy.

This looks questionable up close. 

I can sort of picture myself making this dish again, but only if I cut way down on the sugar, and added a bit of a kick. I'm still trying to figure out what that kick would be...probably peppers of some kind. Help? Here's a link to the video recipe: Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe.

Kate picked out an incredible watermelon yesterday at laiki. It's so good, and so huge.

This looks incredible up close.

I love watermelon season so much. It coincides with cherry season. We bought some okay cherries this week, but they aren't as good as the ones from last week, so they don't deserve a photograph. Instead, look at more watermelon:

I've eaten so much already.

Kate's been here for less than a week and she's already indispensable.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Correction: National Garden

As evidence of Kate's jet lag, I submit to you Exhibit A: that she thought we were in the Botanical Gardens yesterday, instead of the National Garden.

Kate in a garden.


There probably isn't much difference between the stuff you could see in either, except that everything in the Botanical Garden is labeled. To be honest, I didn't even know there was a botanical garden in Athens, but there is, it's close, and we're going. We'll show you  pictures when we make that trip.

The National Garden is in the heart of tourist central. If you're going to walk to Syntagma from Hadrian's Arch, the quickest route is through the Garden. Queen Amalia commissioned the Garden in 1838. Back then, Greece still had ruling monarchs, so it was the Royal Garden, and only open to the public during certain hours. When it was commissioned, the German dude who designed it imported a bunch of plants and animals that were not suited to this environment, and subsequently did not fare well. According to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, a Garden monkey bit King Alexander, and his death from the bite, along with the political turmoil that resulted, caused Greece's defeat in the Greco-Turkish War. Cool.

The Garden is open all day, and is completely free of charge. There are a bunch of things to see and do. It would be a gorgeous venue for a proposal, wedding, or a very classy "We need to talk" breakup speech. There are also, as Kate mentioned, a lot of beautiful, fit Greeks who go there to run. Enter with high self esteem.

Actual, live turtles. We could tell because of the turtle smell. I had  a turtle once. That's a story for another day.


Amalia's palm trees.

"Will you marry me?" or, alternatively, "I think we should break up."

Gazebo not in the Botanical Garden.

Kate with some old stuff.

This is a cool picture. You don't even have to tell me; I know it. 


Dumb tourists baking in the sun, while Kate, Bella, The Kid, and I enjoyed the show from the shade.

Greece so far...


I have been tasked by Jane with writing something on here every week. I'm not sure what exactly we're going to talk about, but I'm looking forward to embarking on this journey with you. Unfortunately, this week I am feeling low on creativity and energy. I chalk it up to the fact that I am currently living with an infant who is up every three hours during the night, but Jane insists that I have bad jet lag (I still deny it, but Jane is convinced that I've got it bad, though she has yet to prove it- my motto is "picture, or it didn't happen," so if Jane can present photographic evidence of my alleged jet lag to the world, I might concede.) Whatever the cause, this post is going to be brief and uninteresting.
All I can say is that, so far, Athens is wonderful! We have been to the beach, walked through the botanical gardens downtown, and witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The food has been delicious so far! We've also spent a lot of time walking around the neighborhood and hanging around at home with baby. He sure is cute; if you aren't interested in ancient ruins or yummy food, you should still come just to see the baby!
Hopefully next week I will have a lot of exciting things to share; if not, I'll just post a bunch of baby pictures. You can't go wrong with baby pictures.
Today we were at the The Diomidous Botanical Garden in Athens. It was huge and gorgeous and featured a lot of cool things like this gazebo, and a lot of runners. A lot of runners.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Arrival of Auntie Kate

She's here!!!

Oh, she's here!

We've been looking forward to Kate coming for so long now, it doesn't seem real. Kate arrived on Saturday morning after nearly missing a connecting flight. Aside from that crisis, she had a great transitory trip. She watched a bunch of movies, and thought the airline food was delicious. We met Kate outside of customs with all the other sign-holders. We brought our own sign. I wanted to make a big banner and wear costumes, but I still had my infected finger.

Kate's already cleaned my kitchen, put away several Laundry Mountains, and was traumatized by my child screaming inconsolably at her while I ran errands. She claims she isn't jet lagged, but has been found dead asleep in several uncomfortable positions. She's promised to write a regular post on here every Wednesday while she's staying with us. This is a big boon for you.

Welcome, Kate!



All my friends waiting outside customs.

She's here!

Bella just about died. She crawled in Kate's suitcase and cried.

"Why didn't you come sooner?!" -Bella

Monday, June 13, 2016

Things I Wish I'd Known Before Our First Post

If this is your very first international post, or if it isn't, but you just didn't learn anything the first time, here are some things you probably want to know in advance.

1. You'll miss your stuff a lot.
I know it's hard trying to figure out what to pack, air freight, ship, and store, but take some time to really think about the things that make you comfortable. If there's something you don't feel at home without (like, say, a blanket that doesn't feel like one of those brown, scratchy "Welcome" floor mats), you should pack it in your suitcase. Keep a notebook next to your bed. Make a list of all the things you use during the day. If you do this for several days, you'll have a crazy-looking diary that everyone will armchair analyze if you suddenly snap and commit a crime. You'll also have a good reference for the things you can't live without.

Honestly, you'll be able to live without them, and it will be a great character-building experience, but at what cost? Just pack them.

2. Costco is Great.
Bum a membership off someone, or get your own, and load up on non-perishables for your shipment. You should especially do this if: A) you're not bringing a lot of furniture, so there's no way you'll reach your shipment weight limit, and B) you like to bake. Wrap it up really well. There were bugs all over the sugar bag we brought with us, but none inside (thankfully).
3. Welcome Kits are...
The Welcome Kits provided by CLO are a really nice gesture. I took a picture of what we had in ours. Bear in mind that these are going to vary from post to post. I'm sure you can contact CLO in advance to find out what will be provided in your kit. Ask for it in a nice, non-neurotic way, so you don't develop the reputation of being a horrible person that everyone wants to avoid.



Having a Welcome Kit is hugely helpful, but you should know that the stuff that comes in them will not be the stuff that you've come to love and need. So, as written above, don't count on the blankets being soft. If you need a nice blanket, bring your own.

What I'm trying to say is, you should definitely bring your own bedding. The sheets and blankets are terrible. Really, really terrible.

4. You should take full advantage of your sponsors.
When we heard from Phil's office sponsor, we gave him a very basic shopping list. I thought I would hit the ground running, and be able to do my own shopping the night we arrived. What a joke. Take advantage of your sponsors. Give them a big shopping list. Ask them every question you have. Beg them to drive you to work, until you find your own means.

We had great sponsors when we arrived, and they were indispensable to helping us survive the first week. The office sponsors, especially, are paid for the time it takes them to shop, and set up your house, so it's okay to make them do stuff for you.

5. Figure out your transportation in advance.
I know it isn't always going to be possible to find out about transportation in advance, but try. Start by asking several people whether you'll need a car or not. Athens, for example, is one post where you'll definitely want a car. You can survive without one, but it will make your life 2,000,000,000 times more difficult. To get a car here, you can ship one, buy one on the local market and pay massive taxes, or buy one through the diplomatic pool with a tax exemption. If you choose the last route, you can purchase your car in advance, and save yourself three months of car-less commuter hell. It would have been cool to know all that in advance.

If cars aren't necessary, find out about other transportation options. It's nice to be able to get around from day one (although, really, you're going to be so dead that first day anyway).

6. You can ask to see a list of furnishings before you move.
Different posts have different rules about furniture removal/requests/storage. One way to avoid having five ugly couches and not enough beds is to ask for a list of furnishings in advance, and try to negotiate before you arrive. This is another time when being nice and not neurotic is essential to making a good impression, and getting what you want.

AND, the dining room tables should come with a protective mat. I want you to know that, because we didn't know it, and we don't have one. It terrifies me. I'm so destructive.

7. A dual-SIM cell phone through T-Mobile is a valuable thing.
If you have one of T-Mobile's Simply Choice plans, or whatever they're calling them now, you can get free international data and texting within 140 countries. That is so freaking nice. You can keep your U.S. number, and have a legitimate excuse not to talk on the phone. When you arrive wherever you'll be living, you can buy a cheapo pay-as-you-go SIM to use in country.

I like BLU phones. They're cheap, but nice. The dual SIMs run at the same time (for all intents and purposes--they're not actually running simultaneously), so you won't miss what's happening on either SIM. When you send a text or make a call, you can adjust the settings so it asks you every time which SIM you'd like to use. BLU phones are great.

8. You can play the dumb American to get around town (sometimes).
If you don't know the language, apart from a few key words, don't start conversations with the language as if you do. The person you're speaking with will assume you can speak fluently, and will be anywhere from confused to pissed when you can't. I always lead with English, then throw in a few Greek words during the conversation. I speak as if the person can understand basic English, and use a lot of gestures. I'm always polite and deferential because I'm being super rude in not even attempting to learn the language.

Playing the dumb American will not work everywhere. It helps if you're a woman (sexism), but even that won't save you everywhere. In some places, you'll have to learn the language. In those situations, I guess my advice to you is to start learning before you go, and then try not to feel like too big of a moron when you're using it.

9. It's harder for EFMs.
It just is. If you're the FSO, recognize the sacrifice your family is making for you, and help them with whatever they need to feel okay about that sacrifice. If you're an EFM, and especially if you're not working, be prepared to feel lost and unsettled for about 6 months. It gets better, but those first few months suck.

State is a sweet gig, if you're up for the challenges. As always, feel free to ask questions.
Happy Travels!

Friday, June 10, 2016

My Finger and Foreign Service Healthcare

My finger is infected.

On some level, I knew that it was possible to get an infection in your finger. In a much more real sense, though, how the **** do you get an infection in your finger and why the **** does it hurt so much?!

One of the benefits of Foreign Service is that we have access to a free health clinic at the embassy. I was able to walk in this morning, and walk out with a big bag of finger infection supplies. I talked with 3 nurses, and a doctor. That wasn't strictly necessary for my ailment, but they like me and I like them. The size, and probably existence, of the health clinic varies post to post, but State tries really hard to ensure that employees have access to good healthcare abroad. If they can't take care of you in-house, they'll refer you to the local market. If local care sucks, they'll Medevac you to a place with good care. Access and quality of healthcare is something to consider when bidding on a new post, especially if you think there's even a vague chance you'll develop a finger infection abroad.

There's lots more I could say about my experiences here, and how our insurance has worked, but if I decide to do that, I won't bury that information under a story about my finger.

That's all for today. I'm wounded.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Clean Eating

I was just about to wipe my greasy potato chip hands on my running shorts, but I stopped because of the irony.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

2015 Christmas Card Challenge WINNER!!!

"In war, you win or lose, live or die--and the difference is just an eyelash."
Douglas MacArthur
...except in this case, where the difference was a giant wad of masking tape. Congratulations to the winner of the 2015 Christmas Card Challenge: my sister and her family. Your prize will be mailed as soon as I decide what it is.

Winners and losers (waaaaay down there next to the transformer).

It was a great year for competition, and we can truly say that we enjoyed every moment of it. Thank you for your festive mail. We love having you on our wall, and we love watching you fall off.

One champion stands alone on the vast expanse of white wall.

See you at 2016's Challenge.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tuesday Thunderstorm

Sorry, one more.

I'm just excited.


Two More Tuesday Things

TWO MORE THINGS to tell you today.

1. We went on a long, pretty walk through the rich neighborhood today. I'm exceptionally proud of myself for finding this walkway. We've been using a staircase further down the street to get to the same place.


2. We're having our first thunderstorm of the summer right now, not counting the one that I waited for all day, and missed because I fell asleep hard.

I just saw big lightning out the balcony door. Naturally, I turned off my laptop, avoided running water, and stayed away from windows...ish.
3/2 for blog posts this week. We're on a roll! This probably means you won't hear from me for a month.

Happy Tuesday!

Anecdotes from Lately

I was working on my secret project, a Baby Book for our kid, while Phil was at work. I had my work spread out on the floor, and was sorting through photographs. Bella walked in, dragged her stuffed animal on top of my stuff, and started humping it, maintaining eye contact as she did.

The weather is hot, and we're not getting out early enough for our walks. About half an hour into our strolls, Bella reaches her wall, and refuses to move. In previous years, I've just picked her up off the ground and carried her. That's a lot harder to do with a stroller, so she and I reached a compromise.

The best part is when people don't see her and she barks.

I was walking home from laiki, pushing a heavy stroller, carrying a watermelon, and leading my dog, when I noticed a cat eating out of a dumpster ahead of us. I was paying such close attention to the cat that I dropped the leash. A few embarrassing minutes later, we all made it home. A quick look in the mirror showed my hair coming undone, my bra half out of my shirt, and my shorts riding up noticeably.


I may have lost my dignity, but I did not lose the food.


The Kid is pretty good at lifting his giant head. I've started doing a little bit of "tummy time," without really knowing what exactly tummy time is. He's not able to roll over yet,. Instead, he scoots himself forward with his legs, dragging his smashed face along the playmat.

Thanks to Phil, I finally know the name of our gardener. Theo has done a really wonderful job keeping my gardenia and rose bush on life support. A few weeks ago, he brought us a beautiful potted petunia as a congratulatory gift. On Sunday night, I remembered that I hadn't watered it for a few days. It is also on life support.

Why?


Yesterday morning, I took out my phone to capture a photo of The Kid when I caught a glimpse in the front-facing camera.