03 October 2013

The best island

When researching which Greek island to visit, I discovered that every island is the best in all of Greece. Each travel website I visited claimed to have the inside view on which island has the most beautiful beaches, friendliest people, most delicious traditional Greek food, and the real spirit of Greece.  Most of the websites didn't agree.
View from our patio.

After thinking through my criteria more specifically I narrowed the search down. I easily ruled out the ones that claimed to have the best party spots, the places to spot celebrities, and the ones with the most nude beaches.  And zeroed in on the islands stated to be where Greeks holiday with less commercialized beaches and more family friendly spots.  From this short list, I read about each one in depth.  Travel writers are so good at what they do and each one of them convinced me to visit the island they were describing.

Our hotel, Porto Raphael from the "best beach on the island."
Until I read about Tinos.  This Cycladic island is a  four hour ferry ride from Athens meaning it was reasonably cheap and quick to reach.  As I read further I discovered that because of the healing powers associated with a sacred icon of the Virgin Mary found on the island, Tinos is a religious destination for Greeks - especially those looking for a miracle of healing.  This also includes many families with young babies who want to have their child baptized at the holy church housing the icon.

The holy church, Panagia Evangelistria, with a pilgrim
who has almost completed the crawl up the hill.
Pilgrims, mostly women, are so sincere in their belief that many crawl up the half mile hill to the church in humility and with hopes of receiving the answer to their prayers.  A red carpet lines the cobblestone street to make the journey easier on the knees of those making the pilgrimage.  We saw several people doing this while we were there and admire their belief but at the same time are thankful to believe God hears our prayers wherever we are and regardless of our self-sacrifice.

While we didn't choose Tinos for personal religious purposes,  we did love the unspoiled aspects which are preserved mainly because the island is a religious destination.  This holy reputation has kept away the party and commercial atmosphere of several other islands especially the closest neighbor of Mykonos.

The island does have beautiful beaches with crystal clear water.  The hills and inland paths are high and winding which allow for amazing landscapes of the Aegean Sea from almost every point on the island. Scattered throughout the island are many small villages which have quaint tavernas (cafes) and artistic shops.
The hills of Tinos contain an abundance of beautiful green marble that is cultivated for sculpting. As a result many famous marble sculptors have come from the island and study here.  We visited several marble sculptors shops and met one artist who opened his studio to the public.  His shop is right on the corner in the beautiful village where our little car was almost swept off the road by the bus.

One of the 1000+ dovecotes on Tinos.
One more interesting thing that the island is known for are its dovecotes.  There are at least 1000 of these very ornate structures throughout the landscape. I'm amazed at how elaborate the architects made them as their main purpose was simply to attract pigeons for their meat (and droppings).

I have no perspective on whether or not Tinos is the most beautiful island.  But I can tell you it fit every bit of what I was hoping to find in Greece.  It had white buildings narrowly built together.  The beaches were uncrowded beautiful with crystal clear blue and green water.  We did encounter several nude sunbathers, but they were discreet and mostly older men who had clearly been swimming freely all of their lives.

Tinos market with sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and capers.
There was just enough to see on the island that we always had something more to go do but without feeling overwhelmed at needing to see it all.  We left plenty of time for relaxing on our porch or at the beach but countered that with exploring Tinos town, attending an annual jazz festival, and driving around the island.

We ate enough Tinos and feta cheese to make us cheese snobs for a while, but also tasted enough Greek coffee to know we are happy with what we can brew in our own coffeemaker on the counter. The chocolate croissants and the spinach pies flaked into pieces over breakfast and the little fishes stared up at us with their many tiny eyes for dinner. Nothing like eating unprocessed and fresh to the table!  Clearly those fishies had not sat in any freezer.

Whether or not it was the perfect island, I will remember Tinos for being all that I dreamed my perfect Greek island to be.  

23 September 2013

We didn't drive into the sea!

I never thought the transportation aspect of our trip to Greece would play such a major role in the experience.  But it did.

I'm sure me in a rental car isn't one you thought I'd include in describing out trip
to Greece, but it surprisingly was a major part of our trip.  This is the hotel
parking lot that was on a cliff.
Being the one in the family who drives a manual transmission, the driving duties landed on my shoulders.  I was good with that...at least it sounded fine at home.  But when my knuckles turned white after the quarter mile drive from the port to the rental car agency we began to realize driving on Tinos would be part of the adventure.

Renting a car on Tinos seemed like a reasonable idea back in the US where I drive on very flat, and wide roads that are clearly marked.  Signs exist, are in English, and are illuminated in the dark.  Drivers stay in their lanes, buses don't take advantage of their large size and I really don't think too much about the technicalities of driving.

Not so on Tinos...

The beautiful village of Panormos and it's two laned road.
After I asked questions about signs and rules, our rental car representative looked at me with a patient look and said, "Just don't drive into the sea."  That she felt the need to spell it out worried me a bit.  I also remembered the one book I read that took place on Tinos centered around a couple who had been killed when their car drove off one of the curvy roads.  This reality of driving into the sea created a seed of panic that never went away until I turned in the keys to that car.

Our hotel was a 15 minute drive outside of the main port city. It took about five days before I could drive that route without feeling lost.

The car added to our adventures and sparked a daily stress/relax cycle.  Really, I would have been relaxed and stress-free after one day at the beach, but the driving thing allowed me to decompress multiple times on a single vacation. I cycled through building up stress by driving to a beach, relaxing on the sand, and then creating more stress by driving back to the hotel and then enjoying being able to relax again on the outside porch.  Sleep and repeat.

Some of our driving adventures may or may not have included:

Blocking traffic when turning into a bakery parking lot causing a bus to swerve wildly.

Keeping a very close eye on the clock to make sure we left the main port hours before sunset so we wouldn't have to drive back to the hotel in the dark.

Driving on the part of the main drag that closes down at night to become a pedestrian boulevard after it has already closed.

Finding ourselves millimeters away from being scraped in our little car by a giant bus coming down around a curve.

Figuring out a longer alternate route back to the hotel so I could stay on the inside lane closer to the mountain rather than the edge.

But I will tell you that I did feel like I was driving up into Heaven on this alternate route. All I could see was a road going up and blue all around.  At that moment I didn't really want to die, but comforted myself with the thought that at least we would die doing something exciting.

This pictures doesn't do the experience justice, but this is the drive
"up to Heaven."
Eventually that road climbing into the sky wound back down and we found the "grocery store road" again which led us to the BP where we turned left with a quick right which led us past the sweet bakery, the little digger, and the yummy bakery where we bought chocolate croissants.  Just when I thought we were lost, the restaurant we always talked about eating at showed up on the left followed by the restaurant that we did eat at when they had the baby baptism.  Just one more curve to the right and then we needed to turn a sharp left and a sharp right.  One more time up the hill - don't kill the engine this time- and turn right into the parking lot that resembled a parking cliff.

While parking just remember not to drive into the sea!

I told Walter I would feel successful when I was tailing behind someone
rather than having a long line of cars behind me.  On the last day, here I
am behind this truck.  It lasted for about a minute.

21 September 2013

We went to Greece

We went to Greece...and we came back.

We traveled Amazing Race style with everything
we needed for 10 days on our backs.
Early on a Tuesday morning, life transformed into a big, scary, thrilling, exciting adventure and then on a Friday ten days later, it came back to the familiar, routine, comfortable life that I love.

For years I've dreamed of Greece.  The white washed buildings with accents of Agean blue, the cobblestone streets, and the Agean Sea itself sparkling and clear beyond belief.  I found it to be exactly this way.  The movies and travel pictures don't lie and it's not a make believe magical place.

There is a place across the ocean where gobs of tourists climb up a hill to visit the ancient Parthenon.  Museums house proof of a deeply ingrained belief system that explained every occurrence with the temper and story of gods and goddesses.  In this city of Athens, modern life brushes right next to ancient ruins.  A simple walk to get an ice cream would lead you past ruins of libraries and temples built to honor gods we read about in mythology classes.
The Parthenon.
Traveling even further on the adventure, there are ferries that line up to escort the smiling tourists, the businessmen needing to visit clients on the islands, those simply traveling home with their caged birds after a weekend in the city.  Possibilities of the places those ferries would land are the same that I dreamed about for so long.  The Blue Star Ferry we boarded was giant and I couldn't stop smiling as we left port and headed out to sea.
Our boat to Tinos!
For hours we watched tiny islands come and go with more sea and yet another island off in the distance.  As we approached Tinos, we waited in the dark garage with the other passengers ready to disembark.  Finally sweet music played and the ramp lowered, revealing my dream destination in slow motion. Seriously there was music and even in the rush of the disembarking crowds, I felt the magic.

I added a ferry in the Mediterranean to the list
of places I have knitted.
The island of Syros.  Wish we had one like this of Tinos,
but we were in the garage on that approach.
To Be Continued...

24 July 2013

The posts I would have wrote

Beautiful beautiful summer, why are you slipping away so fast?

The posts I was going to write this summer were along the lines of

"A whole summer ahead to spend with three of my favorite people"

"A beautiful wedding joyful and special that united Becky and Dave"

"The stubborn daughter who refuses to participate in organized activities"

"Hours and hours planning for a Grecian dream trip."

"Canning 101: my attempts to be a pioneer woman"

"Talking - voted overrated by my two year old."

"Ditching Direct TV and switching to "Ropegoo" (Roku) the best choice ever according to Asher."

"Boxes and boxes of hickory wood flooring arrived. I cheered while Walter sighed."

"Mom is dreading the start of school more than the kids."

These posts almost made it into this blog, but the summer continues to escape from us and I have adopted the spirit of lazy summer mornings.  I'll be back when the muse inspires, but until then, I'll rest knowing our summer has at least been captured in headline titles.

27 June 2013

Let the celebration begin!

Let the celebration begin, this is wedding weekend!

Becky and Dave will be getting married and we will celebrate at the castle in just a couple of short days!!

My little sister getting married.

No she's not a little girl leaving the house early, she is a grown woman who has accomplished and experienced many things in life on her own.  My maid of honor speech is written, but I've found I just can't brag on my sister as much as I would like with out it sounding like well, bragging.  But Becky and this gift of marriage deserves celebrating for all that it is.

If you average out her moves, Becky has moved every year since graduating high school.  She has traveled around the world.  Lived in several different countries for months at a time. Succeeded in getting her masters degree.  Taught countless students  More importantly she has been the kind of teacher who really cares. The kind who comes to your house and takes you shopping for underwear when no one else can.

She has led small groups of college students.  I'm talking about really leading. Leading that invests hours into preparing, praying, and making all of these sweet things that make you feel special.

She has been the aunt who comes to all of my kid's celebrations and the sister who has been the representative of family to me for many years.

Becky is an amazing woman and Dave is an extremely lucky man.  After praying with fervency and tears I have not committed to many other requests, I am beyond joyful to celebrate God's blessing of marriage on Becky and Dave.

And we are ready to celebrate!  Amelie has perfected her dance moves. There is the "Twister Twister,"  "Grasshopper twister hop," and several others "written" in her book of dances.  The boys' suits are altered and packed in plastic garment bags.  Rewards have been bought for the three kiddos to claim if when they make it down the aisle successfully.

My toes are pretty, Walter is prepped for helping the kids to pull this off  I think we are ready.

Let the celebration begin!

18 June 2013

The "Sick" Game

This isn't the post I wanted to write today.  I have a great one in the works about Asher and his latest accomplishment.  But for today I'm feeling guilty enough that I need to write and sort out my parenting battle of the day.

I'm the wicked stepmother today. Amelie is assigned to stay in her room today because she is "sick."  Mysteriously she has no symptoms but a stomach that needed a yogurt stick and more mysteriously her sickness cleared up after swimming lessons were scheduled to start.

We've been battling her involvement in swim lessons for a week and a half.  When we at the pool but not in lessons, she is a fish.  Entire head under the water, kicking up a storm, attempting back floats.  But when we arrive at the pool for lessons, she becomes a girl terrified of the water.
"Too young for lessons."
"Scared to get my knees wet."
"Need to blow my nose."
That kind of girl.  We are the family. I am the mom who drags a screaming girl from beach chair to waters edge twenty times in twenty minutes.  Asa is the boy stuck in the beach chair slats screaming for his mama while mama tries to settle daughter in the water.  And topping it off yesterday, Asher was that boy who managed to stub his foot on the concrete at just the right angle causing blood to gush out of his toe.

Oh yes. We are that family. And today I am that mom who let her daughter stay home "sick."

I battled my intense desire to stay home and not be embarrassed at the pool again and my fierce stand that my daughter will not be a quitter.

My pride tugged on by a dramatic daughter won today and so today we stayed home playing the sick game.

It's a game because I'm convinced she is not sick and I believe she also realizes its all a big story.  But yet she is spending the day content with her room confinement as I grow more and more scared of how easily I can play this evil step mother thing out. More and more good ideas to make the day miserable pop into my head as the day goes along.

When she seemed too eager about the idea of me bringing lunch up to her bedroom on a special tray.  I changed plans to seat her at the kitchen table far away from Asa so she "doesn't get him sick."

And so we spend the day. Me having to pull out more and more stops to make the day awful while not really sure what parenting lesson I'm accomplishing through her room confinement.  And my girl singing and playing with the ponies and kitties in her room.

As the day goes on, I'm more convinced she possesses this genetic stubbornness that refuses to budge.

The game of me treating her as sick and her accepting the confinement of being sick plays on and this mommy knows she has to win!

Just so no one thinks I actually am an evil step mother, and to ease my increasingly guilty heart, I'll share a picture of my girl and me from a happier day.

22 May 2013

Goodbye to The Office

The Office opening music switches my brain into an escape mode.  Those notes calm my spirit with the relief I imagine a drug addict gets from that initial inhalation. 

A bit of an extreme comparison?

Maybe, but The Office came into my life when I needed escape and for a while it was my drug of choice.  I became acquainted with Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight, and the rest of the gang while walking through dark days of losing babies.  In those long evenings after we put Asher to bed, the hours until I could go to bed seemed to last forever.  

And so Walter introduced me to what he pitched as an American version of a popular British show about an office.  I worked in an office, I got the humor of the cubicle life so we let ourselves get hooked. 

We watched The Office in our upstairs home office next to P.Rick, the adorable hedgehog.  Walter sat in the rolling office chair and I lounged on our nursery chair which had been moved into the office simply so we could watch The Office on our computer.  In those old fashioned days, we only had a desktop and couldn't stream Internet to our tv.  That was the tv that required a risk of electrocution if you wanted to turn it on because the power button had broken off and we had to stick a finger in to reach that little on-off button.  

Ah yes, The Office has been part of us for a long time.  Back then I could easily relate to the drudgery felt by returning to an enclosed office space surrounded by people with all kinds of idiosyncrasies   Of course I was the only normal one in those cubes.  I compared Michael Scott to previous bosses I had endured (of course I am not referring to Bill or Jon) and loved the parody of a life I knew well.

Laughing out loud felt so good.  Somehow the show made me laugh out loud even after Michael Scott left and even when it reverted to low humor.  It was that absence of my laughing that may have cued Walter in to my awake (or not awake) status.  We learned how to watch tv together through our years of watching The Office.  

I will quietly admit here that I sometimes struggle to stay awake through tv shows.  Over the years and depending on his mood, Walter has taken a variety of approaches to this idiosyncrasy of mine. If he is feeling sweet, he will gently rub my arm and remind me to wake up.  But the most common strategy of his is to pause the show and wait until I protest.  If I quickly cry out he knows I'm  awake.  If the pause lasts for longer than 10 seconds without hearing from me he knows it's time to turn the show off.  

At times his strategy turned vindictive when he gave me a brief warning that he planned to delete the show as soon as it was over. This warning was explained as an opportunity for me to watch and not miss out later. It still seems rather cruel though because before the last words of the show are spoken, he has quickly stopped the action and deleted it - hoping to teach me a lesson that I better stay awake or speak up.  Yes, The Office has been part of the evolution of our marriage and how we interact with each other.  

It's a show that now joins Seinfeld as somehow holding a special place in my heart like a childhood and college friend.  Someone who I connected with at a deeper level but for whatever reason the connection has changed and time has marched us into different places.

Emotionally I am in a different state than when we first needed the shot of humor The Office gave us.   P.Rick is no longer around to watch with us, we have upgraded to a tv free of electrocution risk, and we now sit together on a couch. 

Along with Jim and Pam we had babies, learned to work through our marriage, and have come to this point where it is time to move on and say goodbye to The Office.

Thanks for the guaranteed laughs.