Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jun. 11, 2007: Tuesday Travel Memories - Santorini, Greece

My vote for the "Place I Traveled that was Hardest to Leave" is the Greek island of Santorini.  [Click here to play the Greek National Anthem while you're reading this -- you need to get in the spirit of things!]

I will have to say that all of Greece is utterly breathtaking, but Santorini was absolute perfection.  We went there after spending about 10 days touring in and around Athensand we really meant to use the ferry system and travel to several other islands, as well.  Every day that we were there, we dutifully packed up our bags to leave, checked out of the hotel, ate breakfast, and then re-checked in.  It wasn't a fancy hotel back then.  It wasn't the cleanest hotel.  It didn't even have a great view.  But it was perfect for us.  Sure, it is the tourist's duty to see as much as possible, right?  But why shuffle on to another island when we had already found "the bomb" as they say.  There simply was no room for improvement. 

The year was 1994.  Our everyday lives back in Pasadena, California, were filled with long commutes (mine to the heart of downtown Los Angeles, the King to Disney inBurbank), stressful jobs, and no kids.  Our careers, along with the King's pursuit of his Master's degree consumed every molecule of our energy.  By the time we reached Santorini, we had unwound significantly already.  Something about the sun in Greece, or the unbelievable gem-colored blue of the sea that is so different than what you find in the Caribbean, yet every bit as gorgeous.  And the light colored building materials or whitewash that reflect all that fabulous white and blue (Greece's national colors).  Okay, and maybe it was a little about them serving oenos at every single meal save breakfast.  The coffee they served at breakfast was equally yummy, I must say. 

But in October, Santorini is truly hotter than the mythical fires of Hades.  Our solution?  Obviously, you spend the heat of the day flying around the island on your rented motorcycle to stay cool.  If you jump off the motorcycle, make sure you're just about to get in the water.  And things are so laid back there; the only thing we *ever* needed to be on time for was the sunset over the caldera.  This is beyond a shadow of a doubt the most beautiful sunset anywhere in the world.  You see, Santorini is essentially one side of the rim of a huge volcano that is mostly underwater.  It is like the tip of an iceberg, only you are sitting on one side of the volcano and looking out over a bay that is the inside of the volcano -- at the much shorter rim on the other side.  The town of Fira is actually built down the side of that rim, but the main street runs right along the top of the "ridge".  And the sunset just fills the sky. 

Something happened to me during my stay in Santorini/Greece.  Having experienced an incomparable joie de vivre there, after my return to reality (if you can call Los Angeles "reality) I never again could care about my career to the degree that I once had.  Sure, I hung in there another year and a half, but I didn't lie awake at night stressing about that job.  My fingers had touched the brass ring of happiness and I never wanted to be that far from it again.  I kept my Greek music CDs handy in the event I needed a refresher course!  And of course, I never take off this big honking gold ring I bought in the Plaka while there.  When I look at it, I'm transported to a world of bright blue doors, spontaneous dance, and endless bartering sessions.

To sum it up, Santorini has a beautiful black sand beach, a regular beach, a rocky beach (all with clothing more or less optional), boat rides to hike around inside a smaller, active volcano, a dream-like "traditional" town called Oia, fresh roasted pistachio venders, and a dry climate that promises good hair days for the duration of your stay.  Can it get any better than that?

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jun. 17, 2007: Tuesday Travel Memories: Food Poisoning

Because I'm traveling on Tuesday this week, I'm posting Tuesday Travel Memories on Sunday.  Today's continuation of the series showcases my pick for the Worst Case of Food Poisoning Ever

I struggled to choose between two very memorable occasions in making this selection.  In the end, though, the illness procured from excessive olive intake in a Nile-side restaurant in Aswan, Egypt, and experienced on an overnight train to Cairo via Luxor, beat out that disgusting Chinese Restaurant in Bangkok which made my brief trip to Hong Kong a very unpleasant blur.  And I have to say that, as a result, the best part of the King Tut exhibit at the museum in Cairo was that I got a seat on a bench.  It was that bad. 

So my advice to anyone traveling to areas of the world that may not have our North American or European standards of cleanliness is as follows:

1.  Avoid all ice.  Everyone knows to avoid water, so I won't bother too much with that one -- but don't forget:  no ice in your drink, no popsicles or Italian ice, etc.  Carbonated water is safer than flat water, germ-wise -- because you know it really came from a bottle and wasn't a used bottle refilled in the restaurant's kitchen sink.  

2.  If offered tea or coffee in a "furrin" country, make sure it has been boiled for long enough to kill the bugs.  (According to the CDC, this would be a rolling boil for 1 minute.)

3.  My fatal mistake in Aswan was that the olives in the middle east/mediterranean are preserved in oil and not brine.  Not sure that carries with it the same anti-bug feature.  This was an outdoor restaurant and they had likely been standing in the sun for who-knows-how-long.

4.  Do not eat fruit or veggies that cannot be peeled or are hard to wash -- like salad.  Make sure you peel stuff yourself, too.  

5.  Take over the counter medicine with you -- you're probably going to get sick no matter what you do.  Interestingly, we all got QUITE the opposite problem when travelingback to relatively clean countries like Israel and the US.  After a year in Jordan, our bodies were just stumped by the lack of bugs with laxative qualities in the West Bank.  One of my friends actually contracted Typhoid while on a dig in Syria and was just ever so whiney on our Israeli tour.  We didn't miss a chance to tell him so, either.  We all felt really, really badly when we learned he was really sick instead of just being a baby. 

This all sounds scary, I know, but the experience of taking the road less traveled by is totally worth it. 

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jul. 11, 2007: Ahhhhhhhhh... rejuvenated at last!

Sometimes, with our frenetic schedules, the heavy responsibility of homeschooling and motherhood in general, it pays to be reminded of who WE really are.  Starting maybe with who we were before we were Mommy. 
Each year, I get that chance.  The King and I get together with about 30 of our closest, oldest friends (the number depends on how many can make it in a given year) and up to 15 or so of our offspring for the better part of a week.  We've been doing this for closing in on 10 years now, and before that, got together every Tuesday night for about 4 years in Pasadena, California, where we all lived.  Most of us met in college and kept up with one another in our Single days, our Newlywed days, our DINK days, right on through the starting of our various families.  We've stuck together through thick and thin.  Slowly but surely, we made the reverse pilgrimage east and spread ourselves pretty evenly across the regions of the US and for one family, various other points of the world (there have been supplementary gatherings in Mexico, Cypress, and Kenya). So now our get togethers are only annual instead of weekly, but they are even more special.  We've met in Maryville, TN, Phoenix, St. Louis, Chicago, Denver, Charlottsville, VA, and now Raleigh.  Next year, we're back in St. Louis and then we aspire to do a cruise together so someone else can do the cooking.

Most of the attendees stay in the house of the host family, which can be a little stressful, but is always fun, too.  Especially for the kids.  Beforehand, we determine which family will be responsible for which meals (Brunch and Supper are served daily).  That family submits a menu and a shopping list.  The host family buys all the stuff for the meals before we even get there.  The goal is always to provide the most gourmet meal plan possible and from scratch.  Virtually every brunch this year included some spin on the common Mimosa and some type of quiche or souffle -- one had whole grilled beef tenderloin.  Yum.  The dinners were magnificent, too. This year, the host family added the feature of primarily organic ingredients and as much local produce as possible.   At the end of each of these affairs, we add up all the receipts and divide it by size of family.  It is a screaming deal!  And there's such magic in the sheer number of hands to get any job or dish done in record time.  It is a study in the value of cooperation.    

It is always so very reassuring to see those people who are so similar to me on the inside and who knew me when I was so horribly young and silly, but loved me anyway.  Some of you would have laughed at the conversations -- we played a game one night to see who had traveled the most and I'm pretty sure I was close to the bottom of the list.  (I could count maybe 27 countries, but the winner had been to 44 countries -- the next runner up to 43 and then 42 and so on...)  They had me feeling like quite the homebody. 

The couple who hosted this year had a lovely and mercifully large (for all those people!) manor-style home with a European garden in the back -- tons of roses, pea gravel, a heart-shaped grassy area.  The roses gave birth to a fabulous activity for the many children (all boys, save one):  for every Japanese Beetle plucked from a bush, you got 1 penny.  I was tempted to participate myself!!  My oldest son won the championship, with some 633 Japanese Beetles whom he helped launch into another world, as he likes to say.  He's enjoying his $6.33.   This kept them busy for literally hours over the 5 days or so that we were there.  Between this gentle, unscheduled time with plenty of chatter, reminiscing, confiding, learning from each other and the 3 days we spent at the beach the weekend before, I came home refreshed and completely ready to face my world. 

I hope this will inspire you to call someone who knew you "when" and who still loves you anyway -- through thick and thin. 

P.S.  Here's one recipe I used for the brunch the King and I planned.  It was sublime, even though we had to triple it.  Make sure YOUR chilis are mild:

Egg and Chili Souffle

Oven temp 400 for 15 min. then turn down to 350.

5 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 T melted butter
1 - 4 oz. can mild green chiles, chopped
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
2 cups grated pepper jack cheese

Grease and flour 9 x 9" pan.  Beat eggs well until frothy.  Stir in next three ingredients and add melted butter.   Next, add cottage cheese and grated pepper jack cheese.

Pour into pan and bake 15 minutes at 400 then turn oven down and bake about 35 minutes at 350 or until slightly golden brown.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 10, 2007: Oops! I did it again...

Well, at least I didn't do it again the Britney Spears way, but still, it was bad with a capital "B."

My big boys wanted to make Jello tonight.  They followed all the steps and then, as Oldest Son was putting it in the fridge (in the pan, with the handle sticking out, without moving any existing objects from the spot he was placing it in, or minding the trajectory of the door), it went everywhere.  All over the inside of the fridge, the island, the wood floor, Oldest Son's clothing, and then it got worse.  As I'm shrilly and insensitively barking orders like a fishwife on exactly how the clean-up must commence, Middle Son comes along, realizes what has happened and starts bawling loudly.  I mean like a baby.  I said nothing to him, preferring to pretend his heart wasn't broken because the fruits of his labor were now all over the floor.  I just kept haranguing Oldest Son about all the spots he was missing and then I really hit the roof when baby started wading through it gaily and tracking the now glue-like substance across the room.  Oldest Son was very ashamed and disappointed and truly upset at his mistake.  So why did I heap it on further? 

Five hours probably passed before I came to my senses.  OS and MS had been asleep for nearly 3 hours when I thought back on what had happened (while doing dishes) and realized what a monster I was.  I could have taken that situation and turned it into a happy experience for them.  I could have made them clean up the mess, sure -- but quietly.  And then I could have simply found them another box of Jello and permitted them to try it over again.  What did they learn from that whole exercise, as I left it? 

I've always thought we get a good part of our vision of how God is from how our parents are.  And tonight, I taught my boys that God is merciless and unforgiving.  I robbed them of the chance to try again, to learn from their mistake, and to receive redemption in the form of a wiggly snack.

In shame and tears, I woke my boys up and apologized to them for my behavior and told them how sorry I was that their Jello spilled and that I knew how sad and disappointed that had made them.  I asked their forgiveness and received it in surprised, sleepy little voices.  I kissed them and told them I loved them.  I have now made a stack of  all the Jello boxes I could find and will let them make the stuff tomorrow to their hearts' content.  They will undoubtedly be very careful and will ask for help when it is needed. 

I hope that next time I have a chance like the one I blew tonight, I will teach them that God loves them unconditionally, is patient and kind, and that grace is a gift extended to us even if we accidentally leave litle patches of sticky yuck on the floor when cleaning up the messes we make in our lives.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 28, 2007: The perfect private school

I have decided that society's resistance to homeschooling is all due to poor marketing. 

I'm changing my personal marketing strategy.  From now on, when people ask me what school my kids go to, I'm going to say:  "I found the perfect private school!"

They'll say:  "Oh?"  And I'll say "Oh yes!  We feel so fortunate to have found it.  This private school offers a low student-teacher ratio -- 3 students to 1 teacher!  Can you believe that?"  They will look shocked and say "NO!"  I'll say "Oh yes, just a 3 to 1 ratio and get this:  It is TOTALLY affordable!" 

"No way!"

"Oh, yes!  I spend well under $1,000 for all 3 kids in all 9 months of the school year.  And believe it or not, the curriculum is customized to the needs of each individual child!"

"Surely not!"

"Yes, and it gets better!  They have a meal plan that is included in the price -- plus, they serve only healthy food and no uniforms are required, so you don't have to deal with that extra worry or cost."

"Is it a Christian school?" my friend will ask. 

"Oh, yes.  And the classrooms are multi-aged for positive peer opportunities.  The older kids have the chance to mentor the younger to maximize their leadership skills and the younger get to learn proper behavior and skills from the older kids.  They get exposed to higher level curriculum at an earlier age that way, you know."

"Wow, that sounds great.  But don't you hate getting them up and driving them to school instead of just putting them on the bus?" 

"No, that's the best part -- it is really close to home."

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 19, 2008: Ahhh, the possibilities

There's a lady at church who is contantly giving me self-help books.  She's one of those people who remembers everyone's birthday and never fails to arrive at church armed with a gift on the appropriate weekend before.  I arrive with a gift for her sometime in the month after, because, as I've said before, I'm just a rotten friend.  But I digress. 
Clearly, judging from all my past gifts from her, she believes I need much self-help.  (And to read Aretha Franklin's biography, but that's a blog for another day.)  Finally, I explained to her that  I simply don't read that stuff and in fact, loathe self-help books!  First of all, I'm really not at all sure that I would choose to change the same things SHE thinks I need to change, and judging from past results, I'm powerless to change anything anyway.  In short, it is my policy to avoid self-improvement books, programs, videos, you name it.  Just too depressing to wake up the same ole Queenofthehill, morning after morning, with all the same flaws hanging out there for the world to see and a lot of wasted energy and emotion spent in trying to change the unchangeable.  Not to mention that renewed sense of being a failure.  Who needs all that negativity???

I really felt pretty dogmatic about this, until this past week.   I suffered a terrible blow in the pride department a couple of weeks ago (Dad2Three tells the story better than I ever could) and the ensuing depression and literal nightmares I suffered as a result have spawned something of a spiritual awakening for me that has me thinking and praying a lot more. 

This, combined with a recent weight loss of 44 pounds (as of 8/19/08), caused a light bulb to go off:  if I could change my habits and my lifestyle significantly enough to lose 44 pounds, what ELSE could I improve about myself if I set my mind to it?  

So now there's a world of possibilities. 

Will I become a better housekeeper?
Will my children finally complete (or start) the second half of their Saxon Math before I call an end to the school year?
Will I stop obessively checking my email?
Will I stop yelling at my kids?
Will I be a better wife?
Fill in the blank and make suggestions ___________ -- you all know me!

It can really be quite overwhelming.  It was a lot simpler to believe that I was impervious to all attempts to change me for the better.  But God, in His infinite wisdom has sent me a theme song.  Much in the manner that "Wheels on the Bus" or "It's a Small World After All" stick in your head until you want to scream, but still the point was taken.  I guess I could accurately label it a "mission statement."  Are you familiar with that old hymn Make Me a Blessing?  Those are very simple words.  I look at my beautiful children, one who will soon be a TEEN, one who is at that peculiar age of 9, and one who is a Really Terrible Two, and I want to drink in every moment of their lives, memorize every funny face they make, and... not make one false move.  I want to be a blessing to them.  I want to nurture them to be able to meet every iota of potential that is worthy of meeting.  I want to create in them warm, fuzzy memories of their childhood and, well, ME!  I want them to have warm and fuzzies when they think of Mommy.  I do not want them to get a visual of a shrieking fish wife, which is what I am when I'm stressed out -- which is what I get as a result of poor organization and NO planning. 

In short, I want to do better by them.  Like with so many goals, that takes a multi-pronged approach.  To eliminate stress in my life will force a number of lifestyle changes.  To create a more enjoyable home and school environment will take a number of other steps.  To deal with them in patience will take a completely different set of changes.  Can I do what it takes?  I would have said "no way" a few weeks ago.  

I pray that God will "Make Me a Blessing" to them. 

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 22, 2008: Funniest thing said at my house this week

Nine-year old Middle Son:  "Mom, do you think Sally's tail is voice activated?" 

[Note:  Sally is the family dog.]