Sunday, December 31, 2006

Auld Lang Syne

Another year has come and gone, quicker and quicker each time. Somehow, 2007 sounds weird, but I guess we all bear the odd years with the same chutzpah as the even ones.

Bearing witness to the execution of a despotic Middle Eastern leader sure gets you into the party mood. Could 2006 have ended more oddly?

As my husband and I head out for our New Years Eve party, we want to wish you all a safe and happy new year and the best for 2007.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Who knew?

Kitchen shopping is the most inane, boring, time sucking consumer activity I have ever participated in. I honestly believe that when Oedipus poked out his eyes he was debating cupboard choices at Neoset instead of agonizing over his illicit love affair with his mother, because the former is obviously far worse.

In theory, it seems like it would be fun. A whole, empty kitchen to design. Cupboards and counters at your choosing. Colors and countertops and sinks of all varieties. But after all the looking and dreaming you sit down with the salesperson, blueprints in hand and then it starts. The math. Not only math, but some sort of complicated math that seems to be best used in hell. Measurements and drawings, all to figure out exactly how everything you want fits in the space you have. Nothing is left to chance, and this is when all the questions start. What size cupboards? How many compartments? If you want drawers, how deep? Which handles? Do you want glass on any of the doors? How high? How low? By the time we were finished, I was ready to confess to crimes I had never committed if only I could crawl into one of the corner cabinets on the showroom floor and go to sleep and never have to think of kitchens ever again.

Believe me, I get the point. The measurements have to be accurate. I want to be sure that I get the kitchen I want, no mistakes. But when what seems like the realization of a dream turns into a two hour interrogation of facts, figures, and choices, you quickly begin to not care about whether or not you have the perfect handles for your cabinet doors. And when you realize at the end of it all that it will take a second appointment to have a computerized design and price quote ready, for a brief moment you think hell with it all, I’ll just have a spigot and a table in the room with my appliances.

I’m sure by the time it is all done and we have found the right kitchen at the right price and we are finally living in our house with my dream kitchen (not my husband’s dream kitchen, because he doesn’t get a say) it will all seem worth it. But for now, I’ll suffer the agony of Greek tragedy, just to make it so.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas in the hood

In the city center you can find several bedecked balconies with lights and displays of all kinds. Unfortunately, our street seems to be rather lacking, as there are only a few balconies shining with Christmas cheer.

This display, by far, is my favorite, mostly because I love the Santa climbing the ladder (that red blob in the bottom center of the picture). Ok, so maybe it is a bit overdone, but it is tasteful enough. I like looking at it, at least.

That same balcony, when your camera has dropped a couple of doses of LSD:

The same balcony when your camera has gone completely schizo:

I keep meaning to take some pictures about town, but everytime we go out it is either too early or for purposes that exclude the practicality of carrying the camera with us. Hopefully, we'll get some before all the Christmas displays are gone.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I never quit when ahead

Still basking in the afterglow of my Oatmeal Scotchie success, on Christmas Eve I decided to attempt to bake another type of cookie. Theoretically, it shouldn’t have been difficult. I chose a recipe that I had grown up helping my mother bake and made several times by myself to great approbation. Spritz (this is the newer recipe, I use a slightly different older one) – a simple butter cookie – is an easy recipe. The biggest challenges are egg separation and using a cookie press, both of which I have pretty much mastered (ok, maybe not mastered, but I know what I’m doing).

With my husband in tow as assistant I started. Right off I dropped an egg. No big deal. I got all the ingredients into the mixer (ah, laziness) and let her rip. So far, so good. When it was done, I noticed the dough had an odd consistency, and the flavor was not quite right. My husband looked at our bottle of almond extract and thought maybe the French on the bottle said it needed to be diluted. No matter, so they’d be heavy with the almond flavoring. Not so bad, right? I affixed the camel stencil to the cookie press and shoved a big chunk of dough inside.

As I prepared to press the first camel onto the cookie sheet, my husband had a look of sheer delight and curiosity in his eyes. He had never come across such a device as a cookie press before and wanted to see how it worked. Imagine my surprise when I squeezed out the first camel and it resembled something more akin to a microbe than a desert dwelling pack animal. In all his expectancy, my husband certainly wasn’t prepared for that, and he let out a peal of laughter that I am certain found its way into orbit around the earth. Camel after camel kept appearing equally deformed, and his laughter didn’t stop.

I was not amused.

Since the dough seemed too buttery, my husband suggested adding more flour, and so he graciously kneaded flour into the batter, a half cup at a time, working towards a more normal consistency. By the time it seemed right, we had already almost doubled the amount of flour the recipe called for. Not a good sign. Now, I realize that most logical human beings at this point in time might have realized the dough is completely wrong and perhaps the whole mess should be trashed. But I had already invested some time in the process and by god I wanted my camel and Christmas tree cookies. So I refilled the cookie press and tried again, with the hoped for results of perfect camels.

While I worked on the camels I gave my husband a chunk of dough to work with. His sole job was to use the blue and yellow food coloring to make the dough green, for the Christmas trees. By the time he was finished, the dough looked like a giant blob of toxic waste and his entire body was covered with food coloring. Since there was no way he was going to get the dough any lighter, we decided to go along with toxic sludge colored Christmas trees. Why not? At least it was green.

At this point the first batch of camels came out of the oven. They looked ok, pretty normal in fact. But as I began to remove them from the cookie sheet I realized they were quite brittle. I was decapitating camels left and right, limbs were coming off, it was an ugly scene. When all the camels had finished, we had a couple dozen healthy looking camels and a giant graveyard of camel parts. It was from these that we taste tested our work. They weren’t awful, but they sure didn’t taste like Spritz. They actually tasted more like a shortbread. Ah well. They would still be presentable.

By the time we were done, the kitchen appeared as if it had been the site of a horrible industrial accident. There were dishes and utensils everywhere, and little spots of toxic green dough spattered all about. We filled the tin with the cookies we would take to my in-laws and left the remains behind.

I was still bothered by what had gone wrong. It was a recipe I knew, a recipe I usually excelled at. Yet they had turned into a disaster. Why? I kept going over the recipe in my head, trying to think if I had left anything off. Finally I had a horrible sinking feeling. The butter. I had done the cups to grams conversion wrong, and used twice as much butter as the recipe called for! That certainly explained the weird dough consistency and the fact that it needed nearly twice as much flour to be normal.

Stupid metric system. When we first learned about it in the third grade I had a funny feeling it would come bite me in the ass someday. And I was right.

Monday, December 25, 2006

O Holy Night

Merry Christmas!

Well, the eve has come and gone, and yet again our cats did not speak at midnight. Maybe there is a specific time zone to that myth. There might be animals talking somewhere, but not in Eastern European Time.

Christmas Day will be spent with the in-laws but without my hardworking husband, who scored a 24 hour shift. I guess we've been lucky, this is the first Christmas we've spent apart in 6 years. We'll get New Year's Day together instead, and celebrate the coming of St. Vassilis instead of Mr. Claus.

To everyone who celebrates Christmas - have a safe and happy holiday. To those who don't, have a safe and happy day anyway. We all deserve that every day, after all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Getting back to my old self

For the first time in over ten years, I made cookies for Christmas. Sure, it is only one kind of cookie when I used to make five or six, but this is a great improvement. I don't know exactly what got me off the baking bandwagon, a combination of things I guess - from a new found fear of burning myself (where did that come from?) to the lack of a decent oven.

I'm also not exactly sure what got me off my arse this year. I'm thinking a cross between having a halfway decent oven and the sheer frustration of lack of dessert choices at Christmas dinner. I tell you one thing, having only two (TWO!) small cookie sheets gets old fast in the cookie making process. It seems that Greek households aren't known for their proliferate cooking baking, because I'll be damned if I can find a cookie sheet anywhere. I suppose I’ll survive, for now. But when I’m ready to make more varieties, I hope I can find more cookie sheets.

These were made with special thanks to my parents, who sent me some butterscotch morsels.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The return of the light

Rejoice today in the return of the light, as the shortest day is at hand.

May your Winter Solstice be blessed with the happiest wishes of all that is to come.

Christianity for teh win

I don't know, but when two factions of monks start a brawl over living quarters it doesn't seem to be a shining day for Christianity.

Hey, I'm not even going to pretend I know anything about the background of this "rogue" set of monks who aren't recognized by the powers that be, or about the background of any and all tension on Mt. Athos. But to think that any monks, recognized or not, could actively get in an imbroglio with other monks and cause enough damage to one another to send a few to the hospital doesn't seem to be the pinnacle of Christian monk-like behavior. I also don't think it is very Christian of the legitimate monks to force another set of monks, recognized or not, out of a habitable living situation.

The story seems to change depending on which side is telling it, but honestly guys, you are both supposed to be on the same damn side. Not only that, you should also be setting an example. How am I ever going to find my faith when behavior like this is going on?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sunset in Thessaloniki, Mid-December

My favorite Christmas present

Does it really trump the digital camera we bought ourselves (yea, we can't really take a picture of the camera with the camera, duh)? It does to me, because hubby has always made fun of the show, and he bought it so we could watch it together. Honestly, I think the fact that he has been quite impressed with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip so far might have won him over. At any rate, I'm happy!

Thank you dear husband. Some day I'll buy you a Breguet pocket watch.

As Ouranos said to the clouds...

...I am still blue underneath.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I thought the Mediterranean climate was good for health

I'd always thought of Greece as a country where people in the 1920's fled to for good health in a good climate. You are always reading tales of American writers, their wives and friends taking Mediterranean vacations for their well-being, both somatic and psychological, and technically speaking, Greece does seem to be a good place for that, what with its overwhelming days of sun and warm weather.

Yet for some reason, ever since I've moved here - whether we lived in the big cities or the islands or the mountains - I have managed to get colds and/or the flu multiple times in the fall and winter months. In Nashville I had a sort of schedule for these illnesses - once in the summer, once in the winter, and once in the spring - which wasn't really surprising considering I have a "challenged" immune system. But here in Greece I seem to get upwards of a half dozen colds, right on top of another, between October and February. I'm now working on my third cold of the season, which started a week after I had been fully recovered from the last one.

I would understand this if it had been cold and wet for the last couple of months, but the temperatures have been relatively warm for winter and the days have been quite sunny. Why does Greece make me sick? Do Greece and I not get along? Do we have a bad relationship? I really don't think so. I've become quite fond of Greece since I've been living here and I like to think Greece has become fond of me. So why the sickness? Why does Greece seem to be a breeding ground for infectious microbes this time of year? And why, oh why, do I have to get sick so many damned times?

At first I blamed it on my husband working in a hospital - but when we were on Kos and in Litochoro he worked at the Army camps, not the hospital. I don't think I interact more with the world here than I did in Nashville, but I guess I do spend a lot of time at cafes. Still, I didn't really start doing that a lot until we moved to Thessaloniki. I just want to know why I keep getting sick. Why that scratchy, itchy, painful glut in my throat rears its ugly head so often. Why my nose is filled with concrete. Why I can't stop coughing.

Somehow, I think there is some type of Murphy's Law at play here. Leave it to me to move someplace that is supposed to have a healthy climate and get sick so often. For now, all I can do is take my decongestants, drink my tea, suck on my cough drops, and pray. At least I get one thing out of it - my husband waits on me hand and foot. Hmm, maybe my constant sickness is psychological...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

You call this cold?

Mid-December in Greece and temperatures are still what I’d call moderate – low to mid 50’s and sunny during the day, high 30’s/low 40’s at night. We haven’t had any real weather shocks aside from a brief cold snap in mid-October, and that was brief and not too extreme. The temperature has dropped slowly and steadily since then with a small disparity between highs and lows. I don’t think we’ve even hit freezing yet here so far. This is one of the many things I love about Greece – this gradual decline from fall into winter. It is something I almost never experienced in Nashville, a place where in December it could be 70 degrees one day and 30 degrees the next. You just never know what weather you are going to get in the winter in Middle Tennessee, but as a Nashvillian you learn to accept it as easily as you accept night and day.

Greeks, on the other hand, only seem to acknowledge and accept one type of weather – sunny, with temperatures of 70 degrees or higher. The hotter, the better, as many Greeks would say, although personally I think anyone who loves temperatures in excess of 95 degrees should be declared legally insane. With the Greek love for warm weather, it comes as no surprise that as soon as the temperature dips lower than subtropical, Greeks do not emerge outside without full Eskimo arctic gear, struggling along the city streets in their puffy coats, big hoods, and gloves that could handle dry ice. It is pretty obvious that Greek blood doesn’t tolerate the cold but at all.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my husband and I were out for our stroll on a slightly chilly but sunny 50 degree day and found scores upon scores of shops and cafes with their doors WIDE open. What in the name of all that is warm and fuzzy was going on there? My husband, in true Greek spirit, was in absolute shock. Why oh why would warm weather loving Greeks have their shops and cafes open in such weather?

As we approached the next open door, we drew closer, and a heavy, slightly malodorous burst of extremely hot hair punched us in the face. It wasn’t long before we realized that these places had the heat up so high, they had to open the door. Now, I’m not one for reason and logic, but wouldn’t it be better to lower the heat and close the door? Obviously, if Greeks are getting too hot, it is too damn hot. I suspect another ten degree drop or so will render no doors open, heat too high or not. In fact, in a month or so it will be so cold they’ll probably be using radioactive material to heat their shops. For now, I can walk down the street in my light jacket and chuckle at the frozen Greeks, wondering how they’d handle the Nashville climate. My guess is not too well. Not too well at all.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A fly on the wall

Nicole over in London turned me on to the Mayfly Project. I thought it was intriguing, and wondered if I could come up with 24 words to sum up my year perfectly. It is tricky, because even in a year when very little happened in my life, summing up without overstating any one thing is difficult. Of course, brevity has never been my strong suit.

Without further delay, here is what I came up with. Nicole’s is more interesting.

Can’t write thesis. Read. Overthink. Read again.
Stress too much. Get homesick. Discover Thessaloniki.
Love it. Miss working. No job this year. Maybe next.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Greeting card paranoia

My husband is convinced that my parents are trying to send him a message via the greeting cards they send us. Twice now the header has read something to the effect of:

For a Special Daughter and "Son"

He thinks the son in quotation marks has a hidden meaning, as in

"we'll-say-it-in-quotations-because-you-can-be-easily-replaced" OR "we-have-our-eyes-on-you-buddy" OR "we-know-you-aren't-really-our-son-and-we'll-treat-you-in-kind"

What he doesn't know is that my parents aren't really the evil nemeses of superheroes who think things on such elaborate levels. My mother was probably just trying to pick out a card that acknowledges us both on a not-so-annoying level.

For now, however, I'll keep feeding his paranoia. It's more fun that way.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

That's Mr. Smith to you

Me to husband: Hey, check out this search that ended up at the blog: What was the god* Achilles' last name?

Husband, not missing a beat: Papadopoulous!**

*To the person who was searching, Achilles was not a god, he was born of a demi-goddess and a mortal human. His mother tried to make him immortal by putting him in the fire but she held him by the heel, thus leaving that part of his body unblessed and rendering him mortal.

**For those of you not familiar with Greek last names, Papadopoulous is one of the most common surnames in Greece

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nope, I don't have a light, and I'm not lying

I’ve complained before - Greece is a country of ten million people, all of them smokers (ok not all, but we are looking at a pretty damn large percentage here). A non-smoker in Greece immediately takes on a heretic status – most people assume you smoke, and are aghast if you don’t.

So, to the woman and her man who were sitting next to me on the bench outside Plaisio, both with unlit cigarettes in their hand, I apologize. You just happened to ask the only non-smoker in Greece if they had a light. I realize you probably didn't believe me, but it is the truth. Luckily, you were able to snag one from a passerby about one second later, with whom you had a fabulously long-winded conversation about cigarettes.

I knew I should have gone into Plaisio with my husband.

Public Service Announcement

I have been getting a lot of hits recently for people searching for the meaning of the Greek flag. Since I don't think I've discussed it before, I'll make it short and simple for the folks that are actually looking for an answer.

The stripes represent the syllables in the phrase "Eleftheria i Thanatos" (Freedom or Death), which was a morale boosting chant during the Ottoman occupation. The colors represent the beautiful sea surrounding
Greece, and the cross is in honor of the Orthodox Church. In short, a lovely flag for a lovely country. The only thing that would have made it better in my eyes is if it was purple and blue instead of white and blue. When I have my own country, maybe I can design an all purple/blue/black flag. We can nickname it "the black eye".

And now, a word from our sponsor:

Just an ordinary Sunday

Comfort food:

The only Phoebe-approved show - Dr. G Medical Examiner (hey, at least it wasn't Animal Planet, in my husband's point of view):

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I'm dashing

Just a bit of fun while I'm spending all day updating an old laptop hard drive, since the newer one went crash and burn on me.

You Are Dasher

You're an independent minded reindeer who never plays by the rules.

Why You're Naughty: That little coup you tried to stage against Santa last year

Why You're Nice: You secretly give naughty children presents.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The amazing new elevator of claustrophobia

Our new elevator is finally finished, after weeks of agonizing stair climbing. As you can see, the outer door doesn't look so nice, but it will be painted so it will hopefully look better.

This is what you see when you close the inside doors that must be closed in order for the coffin elevator to move. The elevator is quite small, and you can't see anything from inside, so all you have to ponder is your plunging death. It is definitely NOT a good place for people who are claustrophobic, and even if you aren't, you might develop the phobia after a few rides in this puppy.

The panel is nice and flashy, and the elevator is automatic, which makes for fun times when you get in and don't hit the ground floor button fast enough so someone on another floor calls the elevator before you are done with it. Since there is only room enough for two people in the thing, it doesn't really work for it to stop at multiple floors on the way down.

The inside view, pretty standard for new, Greek elevators.

I wish I had the camera in time to take pictures of the ancient, scary elevator, but alas, those images are left to my memories. I'm a bit sad that I can't whine about the prehistoric moving box o' death anymore, but the new one is fast, sleek, and keeps me from climbing six flights of stairs. You can't beat that!

Friday, December 08, 2006

I'm no Martha Stewart

This is the extent of our Christmas decorating this year (yea, I know the tree looks like crap, but you can't see the lights with the flash on)

and this:

I'm still not brave enough to risk a whole tree with cats running around. We'll see how long this tree lasts before it gets knocked over.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Five weird things

Tim, my Tennessee friend living life up in the frozen North has done the honor of tagging me. Now I realize I have not yet answered my tag by Flubberwinkle and Kassandra on the "about the blog" meme, but this one is much simpler and requires less thought than that one. Five weird things about myself, when I'm not even that weird! Piece of cake!

1 I bite and pull my fingernails. This seems rather common, I know, but there is a twist: I only bite and pull at the fingernails on my ring fingers on both hands. The other nails I leave alone, although I have to file them down frequently, because my ring fingers actually make me look like I’ve been tortured with some kind of fingernail pulling device.

2 Whenever I eat something in a wrapper (a candy bar, tsurekakia, potato chips, etc.) I fold the wrapper into a tiny square and sit on it. I have no idea why I do this, although it seems to go along with my whole need to consolidate trash.

3 When I was ten years old, my best friend and I got in a dog poo fight with her big sister, who was a real twat. If you want to know what exactly a dog poo fight entails, think of snow ball fight but with a smelly, brown substance. I did not have a predisposition for using dog poo as an instrument of violence, I actually thought it was quite disgusting, but these are the things that childhood ire can drive you to do. Not to mention, it was the big sister who started it. Of course, now as an adult I feel the need to question why their basement was literally filled to the brim with dog poo.

4 I scare myself awake about every other night. It seems to be some kind of weird, hallucinogenic type dream/vision that does it, maybe I am not fully asleep yet when it happens. It is usually linked to something I think I see or feel in reality, like an earthquake or a giant half bug/half frog creature crawling on the wall. The rush of adrenaline is insane, I just hope I don’t give myself a heart attack one of these nights.

5 I have a history of odd celebrity crushes. It started when I was five with Tony Randall, continued with Peter Sellers, Carl Sagan, David Bowie, and Boy George. By the time I hit my 20’s I guess I stopped looking for humor, intelligence, and weirdness in my celebrity crushes and started the Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, etc. phase. Then I had the celebrity couples phase (David Duchovny and Tea Leoni) and now I don’t really have a current celebrity crush, as my obsession with Michael Vartan finally passed. Hmm, I need a new celebrity crush!

See, I’m not weird at all!

I tag everyone and no one. A lot of Nashville folks have recently done this one, and since I don’t typically tag (I don’t play nice) if you feel like doing it, or want to leave weird things about yourself in the comments knock yourselves out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Live goat cam!

The Gavle Goat cam in Sweden. Will the poor goat be burned down this year? They've got the bugger pretty secure! At least if it burns, we can see it via web cam.

Long night's moon

It is a brittle season Hades made dear, though a seed might trick us all. The Hellenes suffer silently the cold winter days in a land that was meant for the warmth of the sun. But Helios does not favor them – if ever in word or deed they had pleased him, Demeter’s maternal grief demands the chill of winter overtake us all.

The streets are filled with people wrapped like mummies against the bitter wind. Darkness comes early, a velvet covered hand clasped tightly at their throats. People move mechanically, sadly, bereft of the joy of kalokairi, their solemn faces a sober reflection of the dark skies around them. Fate has spared none.

So in this season we wait lugubriously with Demeter, her frozen tears blanketing us with melancholia until the sweet warm breath of a lost daughter frees us from the gloomy cold.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Let the soft, plushy toy speak for you

I suppose this is one way to let your lover(s) know you have a venereal disease. Fun and informative at the same time! I've always wanted to know my microbes better, and now I can!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ominous Nashville

The weirdest things make me homesick these days, like this brilliant picture of lightning striking behind the "Bat" building in Nashville. It is like a punch in the stomach, seeing something so recognizable in the Nashville skyline, and knowing I can't see that building any old time I want to anymore (not that I ever looked at that building on purpose, I definitely took it, and everything else about Nashville, for granted). The pictures make me feel so close to home I can almost touch it, before it fades away like a puff of smoke in my memories.

I guess the answer to the question "how long before you realized you were really homesick after moving abroad?" is 4 years.

Friday, December 01, 2006