Around the World in 80 minutes

On Saturday we got a sitter for Violet and took Liam to see Around the World in Eighty Days at the Megaron Music Hall. I was told it was an entertaining, visually-stunning extravaganza, and while all the dialogue and singing would be in Greek, we would still be able to follow along.

We gave it our best shot.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been so loooong, we probably could have made it through. We had good seats, Liam in the front and James and I on bleachers right behind him. We already knew the gist of the story, and with video screens to add atmosphere, it was mostly apparent where in the world the characters were traveling to. Liam got a kick out of the set — there were doors on either side of the stage with large pieces on wheels that the actors would ride on to enter and exit stage left and right. The songs were catchy, and you could tell the actors were having a lot of fun with it. But, there was an awful lot of dialogue and less singing than I expected, and while everyone else was laughing every five minutes or so, we couldn’t get any of the jokes. There were a few physical jokes we could enjoy, but the rest went right over our heads. At one point the video screens started showing scenes from the Serengeti, and I thought they’d made a long, out-of-the-way detour to Africa. But, no, they just stayed in India for a very. long. time.

Eighty or so minutes later we hit intermission, and our intrepid travelers were just starting to move on from India. Facing a long line for snacks and another hour and a half of the show, we decided it best to leave early. Liam probably could have made it through another act, but I’m sure his attention would have waned after another 30 minutes, and our backs were not too happy about us sitting on those bleachers for so long.

Luckily, tickets were relatively cheap, and we parked at the embassy next door for free. We spent the rest of our afternoon at Golden Hall, one of the more upscale shopping malls in Athens. Ah, commerce…so refreshingly American! And then, as if to negate all of the foreign-ness we had experienced that day, we had dinner at McDonalds. Liam loved eating at a restaurant without his little sister…I think we all did! Not a bad little Saturday outing after all.

Monday morning, I decided I’d let the grass (ahem…weeds) in the back garden grow long enough. First mow of the year!

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Last year I would have waited until naptime, but with one nap a day that happens during quiet hours, this was my best shot. Violet did a fantastic job of steering clear of the weed whacker. In fact, she mostly stayed inside as I made my way closer to the house. She may be a little more devil-may-care than her brother, but it’s nice to see she exercises a bit of caution.

Last August most of the grass died, and in October I tried spraying it with weed killer. It seems to have just killed the grass and fertilized the weeds. Whatever. We hardly use the back yard anyway — it’s muddy in the spring, mosquito-infested in the summer and fall, and too cold in the winter. My kids would much rather just go to the playground down the street anyway.

I have a toaster again!

Who knew toast would be such a sore point for me in Greece? You’ll remember I had a bit of a problem with my toaster. It quit working, then Vicko held it hostage for awhile. Finally…finally…they agreed to give me a new toaster. I walked up to the store, ready to take home my toaster, and the store clerk asked for the original receipt.

Dammit. I was hoping she’d overlook that.

See, because I have a child in diapers, I have about three or four different bags I use depending on who I have with me and where I’m going. And somewhere amid the transfer, I managed to lose the receipt. I looked everywhere. I suspect it got thrown away during the last Purge.

At any rate, the store clerk was very nice about it, but because Greece has this nutty receipt law, she was reluctant to give me a toaster without it. (On a side note, try refusing a receipt at the toll booth. They will insist you take one. Seriously.) Still, she was a very nice lady, and agreed to call the head office and see if we could work something out. So back home I went. Without a toaster.

The next day she called to say they would indeed issue me a new toaster, but I would not be able to have a new receipt, and would have to waive the option for a one-year guarantee, which is standard for Vicko products. Fine. It’s a 15 Euro toaster. If this one by some miracle also stops working, I’ll just buy a new one.

So this morning, imagine my (admittedly lame) excitement about getting to finally make toast again. And then imagine my exasperation when this happens:

Seriously?!

This wasn’t a fluke. My toast goes into orbit EACH AND EVERY TIME. I would cry if I weren’t laughing so hard. But, hey, at least it works!

O Christmas Tree

This will be our first and last Christmas trip back home while we’re in Greece, so I decided it best not to mess with putting up a tree this year. Instead I bought some green poster board and colorful construction paper from Jumbo, and viola!

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This little set up works out well for our curious toddler, as well. Plus, the landlord wants to refinish the living room floor while we’re away, so now we don’t have to worry about what to do with the tree. Perhaps next year we’ll spring for a real tree. But this works very well in the meantime.

Locked Out

Back in January when we moved to Athens, I noticed that the front door automatically locks as you shut it. Unclear if this was a Greek thing, or a European thing, or maybe just a living-in-the-city thing, I thought to myself, “I wonder how long it’ll be before I lock myself out?”

Turns out to be five months.

To my credit, I was seriously foggy from cold medication, and I was desperate to get out of the house. My children were literally climbing all over me, vying for my sole attention, so I invented an excuse to run a brief errand to the fruit stand. Liam wanted to bring his bike, so I thought we could stop at the park and let him work on his balance. It was late in the afternoon, and as I circled the block, I realized I hadn’t brought any water. So we took a detour back to the house and I quickly ran inside to get our water bottles. I remember even thinking, “Don’t forget your keys! It would really suck to lock yourself out!”

At the fruit stand I reached for my wallet and suddenly realized my keys weren’t in their usual spot in the stroller. I scoured every nook and cranny, checked my own pockets…no keys.

No need to panic. The embassy gave me a number for just such an occasion, and I had my cell phone. The security receptionist told me he’d call back in about 30 minutes when my spare keys were on their way. After I hung up, I started puzzling over how I could have done this. I very clearly remember looking right at my keys before we left. I asked Liam, “Do you remember me locking the door?” He was no help. Neither was my addled brain. Rather than wait at our sunny front door for half an hour, I took the kids to the shady park, and when we all got too cranky, we went to our favorite gelato spot, Solo Gelato. There we saw a familiar face, Evi, the friendly receptionist at my hair salon. She instantly lifted my dour spirits. She helped us decipher some of the Greek flavors, and recommended a few of the “famous” ones that had recently won some awards. Sold!

Halfway through my scoop of pistachio, we got the call. We hurried down the street and were greeted by one of the embassy security officers at our front door. And it was there that he pointed out…

I’D LEFT THE KEYS IN THE DOOR.

For the love of Pete.

So I guess technically I haven’t actually locked myself out. But I’m sure that day will come.

Later in the evening, I discovered another strange facet to this house. My garage door opener, a little FOB on my keys, has two buttons. I’m always mashing on one or the other of them to open the door. I figured one opens the door and the other does nothing, much like the extraneous light switches in our house. (According to our embassy handbook, that is a “thing” here.) But as I was sweeping the leaves off my 45 degree driveway (a dangerous proposition in flip flops), I opened the garage from the sidewalk outside and noticed something peculiar… the other button on my FOB opens the neighbor’s gate. The only reason I can think of for this is we have no outside access to our backyard except through a gate that opens to our neighbor’s driveway. So maybe we actually share this space? I have no idea. Oh, yeah. Because…Greece.

 

 

Celebrating the Summer Solstice

Actually, we did this quite by accident. In addition to being the Summer Solstice, June 20 was also the first day of Liam’s summer break and Holy Spirit Monday, a Greek public holiday. So, you guessed it, pretty much everything was closed. It was just as well — Violet’s nose was running like a faucet and my entire skull felt like one giant underwater sinus headache, so we weren’t in any condition to do any sight-seeing. Still, I felt bad for Liam, who laid around the house and lamented his long, boring summer vacation. Apparently he’s immune to this terrible cold, but not to whining.

DSC_0012So after I got Violet to bed, I let Liam stay up late. He wanted to swim on the rooftop, so we filled the little wading pool and watched as my rooftop lights twinkled on one by one. I wished I could have a glass of wine. I marveled at how he’d been so loud in the house during the day, and he played almost completely in silence once he was outside. Figures. As we were getting ready to go inside, I looked up and saw the most beautiful, bigger-than-life full moon rising in the East. I grabbed my camera and tripod, and while Liam toweled off I snapped a few dozen photos. It’s been ages since I actually used the different settings on my camera, so I just kept flipping the little wheel around and snapping with my remote, trial and error style.  The photo editing software that came with my Surface 3 is surprisingly robust, so I was able to fix them up decently. Photos of the moon never look as good as they do in person, but it was still an amazing sight.

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My first rooftop party

In moving here I’ve discovered my inner socialite. We lucked into this fantastic house, perfect for entertaining, but we don’t usually entertain. I married an introvert, and party planning makes my heart palpitate. But it’s summer! In Greece! And I have all of these ready-made friends from the embassy! I decided to start small, just a dozen or so moms I know from the embassy. Then I started to get all nervous, like a dorky high schooler hosting a party while her parents are away to impress the popular kids. I needed to make my rooftop presentable! A few trips to IKEA and Jumbo later, I had it all under control.

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I bought copious amounts of wine and beer, stocked the cooler and my new folding table with wine, beer, cheese cubes and crackers, put Violet down for the night and waited for my guests to arrive. Turnout wasn’t bad — there were 10 of us — and luckily I had enough chairs. James wanted nothing to do with my little soiree, so I put him in charge of Liam’s bedtime. I told Liam he could stay up late to watch the sun go down and the lights turn on. He had his own little chair over by the hammock, and he contentedly sat a little apart from our gaggle to watch the lights. I brought a blue tooth speaker up to play some music, and Liam spent the rest of the night creating his own little disco hopscotch dance party. So we had liquor, conversation, AND entertainment! Liam wasn’t happy when daddy came to escort him down to bed.

The weather was perfect, no rain and comfortably cool. I had a few citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes at bay. By midnight everyone had gone home and I easily cleaned up (James helped with that part — as long as I don’t ask him to socialize, he’s game.) All-in-all a success I’d say! My only complaint is the upstairs vestibule has no light. Six light switches, three that turn on outside lights, and three that apparently serve no function at all. Because…Greece! I had bought some solar lanterns to light up my folding table, but I mistakenly thought they’d get enough light during the day inside. I should have put them outside to charge. So next time, I’ll be sure to do that.

“Next time” will likely have to wait until late August or September. It seems that everyone, including us, is traveling all throughout the summer. Some of the guests who attended will have moved away by then, but hopefully I’ll have a chance to meet the new crop of people who move here in the summer. I certainly have enough leftover beer and wine to host another party or two!

 

Smart House, Smarter Boy

Four months in this house and we’re still learning new things about it. This time Liam was the one who discovered it. I already knew that we could use these handy-dandy video monitors to see who is at the front door.

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I even suspected you could push an intercom button and talk to the person outside. What I didn’t realize was you could also call the other intercoms. There are three, one on each floor, and you better believe once Liam discovered this, he had to test ALL OF THEM. Multiple times. A day. Now he purposely goes upstairs to his room just so I can “call” him for dinner. Then he’ll ceremoniously take the elevator down. This kid is getting so spoiled here.

Violet is FINALLY napping in her crib again, so I’ve had some time to work on our home décor. I started going through our artwork and photos, figuring out where I want to put everything (and hanging a few things in the living room, shhhh, don’t tell the embassy.) We left a lot of our bigger wall art behind — I didn’t anticipate having such a big space to fill — so I bought a few new things at the IKEA. I’m especially excited about Violet’s room. We’re ditching the teddy bear theme and going with pink and purple flowers and butterflies. Once we get her bookshelves hung, I’m going to put some dots and butterflies on the walls. I got this great round purple rug, and some adorable pillows to set up her own little baby reading nook. I tried adding a little rocking chair that used to be mine as a child, but my little climber kept getting up in it and standing. So that will have to live in the basement for a bit. (Side note: Liam had a rocking chair at this age, and he didn’t even attempt to sit in it until he was almost three. Amazing how different siblings can be!) Liam has requested a train theme (big surprise) so I’m planning to find some train track stickers to weave in and out of his bookshelves and along his walls. He specifically asked for a Metro station. Ok, kid. I’ll see what I can do. For our bedroom I splurged on this huge photo of the Eiffel tower lit up at night. That’s where we spent our “babymoon” in 2014. I’ve got a few more items to go through before I’m ready for the embassy to send over their guys with the hammers and picture hooks. It will probably take a full day.

I’ve also been sprucing up the rooftop garden in anticipation of my first rooftop party. Nothing huge, just a handful of new friends I’ve made to eat some cheese and drink some wine with me. With tremendous help from fellow ex-pat Aubrey and an ambitious trip to IKEA, we hacked back all the dead plants and weeds (which was pretty much the whole garden, heh), and hung some pretty lights. Last night I relaxed in my hammock and admired the view.

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Something about sitting outside under the stars motivates me to learn Greek, so I hopped back on to my Greek language app for the first time in months. I had to start over from the beginning, but it all started to come back to me, and now that I have people I can talk to, I think the lessons will stick better. This morning I taught Liam how to say, “How are you?” and got him to say it to his bus manager. She broke into a huge smile and replied in Greek…which of course we couldn’t understand! But we’re getting there.