23 March 2017

Anavyssos: Market Days and Eating Well

Yesterday was Market Day in my Greek village, so this post is all about food! It’s so amazing how so many foods and food habits you take for granted really vary from one country to another.

I would say that my food situation here has been pretty similar to my food situation in France, particularly when I lived in a studio apartment and had two hot plates. This means that, in terms of cooking, I have to time things better and make use of just two pans. Also, since it’s slower and less controlled than a gas or electric stovetop, I make more of something (grains, lentils, etc.) at one time.

My grocery adventures are also very similar to how things were in France. I have a little shop right down the block from my apartment and I can get a lot of things there, but it’s a bit more expensive. There is also a larger grocery store (“My Market”) about a half mile away. Like in Germany, you weigh your own produce and print out a barcode for it. I actually forgot to do this the first time, but the cashier was very nice about it. (Or very mean, but in a passive-aggressive tone and I just couldn’t understand because it was in Greek) I have been into a shop daily since I’ve been here, buying a couple of things at a time. This is how I shopped in France, too, and I just kept food in the apartment on a subsistence basis.

There is also a bakery. I got some bread and did soup the first few nights when the apartment felt very cold to me. I’ve since adjusted to the temperature and I don’t think I’ll be eating as much soup. It’s funny, though, how tasting this soup and bread combo (and the same soup as France!) catapults me back to watching “How I Met Your Mother” in my tiny French apartment.

I have also had Greek yogurt and honey for breakfast. Yesterday, I tried these sweet breads for the first time. I think they’re called Koulourakia, and they come in a handful of flavors at the bakery. I make the coffee in a stovetop coffee pot (a process that I didn’t miss AT ALL if anyone is wondering) and Greek coffee is finely ground and quite strong.

Yesterday, I went to the market. The thing that was completely new to me was the quantity of zucchini flowers!

Isn’t this beautiful? The vendor asked me to make sure that you saw the beautiful open flowers, too. :) I’m going to attempt to make stuffed zucchini flowers today, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

This is my market haul:

Last night, I made my own tzatziki sauce and put it on a cucumber and tomato salad. I ate this with bread and a handful of olives. I never considered myself an “olive” person before our transcendent olive experience at Raddichio in Philadelphia, but now I’m going to try all of the varieties I can. It’s the thing to do, you know? ((This does not mean I will ever eat olives on pizza – that is disgusting and should be illegal))

Also, a common lunch for me lentils, bulgur, and feta. I can make a lot of this, take it in a Tupperware, and eat it cold.

That’s all for now. :)


21 March 2017

When Children Get to School, What Awaits Them?

If children do manage the motivation and support necessary to make it the half mile from the camp to  the public school in the morning, what awaits them? Is it enough to make them want to return?

This is a question that I seek to answer not just for these students, but also for my own students. School doesn't always have to be a "fun" place, of course, but it should be a safe place that promotes growth.


Mariam is ten years old: a bright, lively girl who makes jokes in English, runs around to gather up the  members of the class, and tells me she loves football (soccer). She goes to public school everyday and tells me English is her favorite subject. When I ask how her Greek is, she tells me "liga" ("little").

Mariam has classes each morning in history, science, Greek, English, and math. Every book is majority Greek text, even the English book. In English, they are given lengthy Greek texts and asked to respond in English to English questions about the text.

Mariam shows me the portion of a history text that she understands, and it's about ten percent. Her mother asks me why I think Greek is important if Mariam is already developing her English and they don't want to stay here. I try to explain that I want Mariam to be successful at all of school, and that right now the school is in Greek and that's how it is.

Mariam, if you can only speak English and you haven't learned history or science or math or literature, what are you going to /talk/ about?

My first step will be to try and find a Greek-Farsi dictionary. Mariam and her mother can read Farsi, so at least this will help with the textbook situation.

Secondly, I'd like to help Mariam and other students learn some language-learning prereading strategies. Mariam got stuck on the very first word of her history text yesterday (it was a declined article - "the" in masculine plural, so a word that carries little meaning anyway) and I told her it was okay to skip words you didn't know and come back to them later. No one had ever told her this!

I can teach these kids colors and numbers all day long, but the true thing that will help them everywhere is reading and listening strategies. ((Just teasing about the colors and numbers - all of the kids know more than this))

Also, I'd be remiss if I did not mention my respect for the classroom teachers here dealing with students of at least four languages (Greek, Farsi, Arabic, Kurdish) in a mere four hours a day and varying amounts of attendance. I have faith that they are doing the best they can in a difficult situation. I see my job as supporting their daily work with tutoring/homework help, etc.

That's all for today (and I'm typing this on my phone, so please forgive any typos) and I'll let you know how this situation evolves.


18 March 2017

First Days in Greece

Hello, all!

This is my first blog post from Greece! I haven’t truly started teaching yet, but I’ve seen the classroom space in the two refugee camps I’ll be working in, and met my contact. I’ve also done a slew of other things in very limited Greek, including buying olives. Then, at last, I saw the sea.

I arrived in Greece on Wednesday, after a two-hour delay out of Heathrow. I’ll tell you that British Airlines is *the worst* and we flew in a rickety plane and nothing (not coffee, not water) is complimentary anymore. Customs was fine and I got the rental car.

…you may or may not know that up until two months ago, I couldn’t drive a stick shift. In fact, the drive from the Athens airport to Anavyssos (in the dark!) was my first time ever driving a stick shift alone. I was happy to have a nice little car that had an indicator light for when to shift up or down, AND even happier to arrive in one piece. I missed a turn and even had to take a rather harrowing road through the hills in the dark. I tucked myself into my little apartment and had a good sleep.

Yesterday, I spent the morning in town and managed to buy a couple of things including some bread. My baker doesn’t speak English, but that’s okay because I’ll just write down my order before I go in next time. :) While we’re in this nice shopping paragraph, I’ll tell you that I’ve also found a little market (where the lady sold me some unlabeled wine that she perhaps made herself – also no English) and a supermarket. At the supermarket today, I bought some olives and some feta. These are both things that I’ve never enjoyed in the US. I decided to try them again, and it turns out that both come in many more varieties here AND the milder varieties that I chose are delicious. Hooray! I also learned the Greek word for “frying pan” because I needed one of those.

I went into Lavrio yesterday (the drive is BEAUTIFUL in the daytime, and only somewhat harrowing) and met up with my contact and fellow volunteer, Katerina. She’s been volunteering for a year and a half now and has a big heart. She introduced me to the Red Cross workers and showed me both classrooms:

I will say that the camps here (both run by the Red Cross and right next door to each other) are unused to having a long-term volunteer. Katerina says that most people come and want to volunteer for two or three hours a week. We spent a good amount of time talking about the future of the English lessons in the camps, and we drank Greek coffee.

We also went on an excellent mission with this family who found a puppy. We took them to the vet and got a deworming pill, and explained how and when to come back for vaccines. I was thrilled with the puppy mission, of course, because puppies are awesome.

Today, I managed to get a prepaid internet card for my computer.

I also got to teach a class today. I taught a class that Katerina already had going and that I’ll take over (so she can focus on other duties). We’ll also add at least two more classes at different levels. The class today was a half dozen women and three girls (10, 10, and 16? Maybe?). The girls really need to be in a more advanced class, since they know a lot from school.

Ah, yes… school…

…here’s the situation.

Every child has a place in a Greek school in town (according to the Red Cross). The problem is that not all of the parents have had an education, and not all of them see a need for their children to go to school. Attendance tapers throughout the year, and only a few children last the school year. However, the Red Cross does not want me to offer any activities for children that deincentivize school. Therefore, it seems that my primary mission on that front will be to “talk up” school to the parents as much as possible.

Today, after class, I came back to Anavyssos and walked from my apartment to the sea. There is a lovely promenade there where I can run, and today was a lovely spring day.

That’s it for me.


P.S. You can donate to the fundraiser for classroom materials here. With this money, we’ve already purchased a white board for one of the classrooms, since the students couldn’t read the chalk on the crummy blackboard when the lights were on!

11 March 2017

Volunteering in Greece

Hi, all!

It's been several years since I updated this blog, but it seemed like the right place to record my next adventures.

On Tuesday, I'm headed to Greece to volunteer with the Red Cross for three months. I'll be teaching English to Afghani and Syrian refugees and helping in the camps. Here's approximately where I'll be:

I sought out this opportunity back in August of 2016, after hearing a story on NPR about a "lost generation" of children without access to stable education. I figured that, as a teacher (with a Masters in teaching foreign languages), I could help out. Now, we're just a few days away!

Over the past few months, my friends, family, and TeachersPayTeachers community have been immensely wonderful and supportive. In addition to basic conversation lessons in Farsi, Arabic, and Greek, friends have also taught me to drive a stick shift! More than that, people from all over the world have sent books and monetary donations for the classroom!

I'll use these books to teach English to adults and children, and they'll remain a permanent classroom library after I leave. This is a pretty epic gift, considering that boredom is a huge challenge in the camps!

Friends near and far have also sent words of encouragement and support. These remain unopened, and I'll read them when I feel homesick, doubtful, etc. I'm so lucky to have you all as an amazing network of love.

If you'd still like to donate to classroom materials and supplies for the camp, the fundraiser is still open. You can find it here: Teaching English to Refugees in Greece.

You'll find my updates on this blog, so stay tuned!


28 December 2013

Puzzles & Disney

This Christmas, Amanda and I stayed in Philadelphia. She didn't have enough leave to go to North Carolina, so we hatched a plan to stay in our apartment and hibernate. We purchased a 1500-piece puzzle featuring The College of Magical Knowledge from one of her favorite books, The Voyage of the Basset. Here's the original image:

I knew it would be difficult, but I completed the Exploding Tardis puzzle last year, and it only took me seven seasons of Frasier to do it. In other words, that one was a serious head-spinner, and I doubted that anything could ever be so difficult.

Boy, was I wrong. More on that later. The second part of our plan involved a massive Disney movie marathon. We were especially interested in rewatching movies we'd only seen once or twice with a critical eye. On Monday, we relocated our TV and unboxed the puzzle. These are the innocent beginnings:

 We turned on our first Disney movie, Lilo and Stitch. I hadn't seen this one for a while, and MAN - so great! I definitely didn't think it was that great when I was younger, but I really appreciate it more now. I love Lilo and Nani's relationship and how hard Nani tries, even though it's frustrating. We also loved the fact that the social worker wasn't the bad guy - it was very clear that he was just doing his job, and that he really worried for Lilo's safety.

Next, we took a short break to make some Lovefeast buns. Our apt. was super chilly and my impatience didn't permit the dough to rise, so we ended up with something resembling Lembas bread.

 We watched Hercules and did the easy parts of the puzzle. Hercules is really not that great. It's funny, sure, but I felt like it was unrealistic that Hercules could leave his adopted family behind so easily - what happened to them?

We watched Robin Hood, which was one of my favorites as a kid. I give this one a solid pass for the times and the tale - 1973, and Marian is a classic damsel. Lady Kluck is a great answer to that - she was awesome. :)

We also watched Pocahontas... we love the music so much, but it's problematic in a million and one ways, including the warm fuzzies that you could have at the end if you could ignore actual history. So...

On Tuesday, we had Lembasfeast buns for breakfast and started The Aristocats. This is another one that I loved as a kid. It's decent and funny, and only has one racist part. We noticed a lot of voice acting overlap in these old movies - Little John/Thomas/Baloo, Sheriff of Nottingham/Napolean/Luke/Chief. This is also the point at which we noticed the image on the puzzle had been vertically flipped, meaning that the letters on the sign were flipped, too. Also, we noticed that the pieces didn't "lock" properly, meaning that you couldn't manipulate large chunks or even keep pieces together. In other words, this was the beginning of the puzzle nightmare.

Around this time, our gift from my dad and stepmom arrived, an Edible Arrangement:

We watched Atlantis, which was amazing on the rewatch. I loved this movie when I first saw it, but I never owned it, and thus only saw it once. It is definitely one I would love to own - what's not to love about a nerdy linguist and a cast of culturally diverse badass ladies and gents? We have a weakness for lady mechanics, too - Audrey was fun and sassy.

We watched Hunchback of Notre Dame and it was...brutal. Like, much darker than I remember it being. Esmeralda gets major props for being a badass and I liked all of the characters, so that was awesome. But holy goodness, Frollo and his creeperdom. I glossed right over that one as a child. Can we talk about how Esmeralda had to die because he found her too sexy ("She will be mine or she will burn")? Yikes!

In response to this, we needed Emperor's New Groove. It doesn't have a lot of ladies in it, but it's a lot of fun. Also, I love Kronk! He's like a secret genius! We had hot spiced wine, too, for soul-soothing and all that.

We went to a Christmas Eve Carol Sing and had a lovely time. When we returned, we watched Alice in Wonderland. I didn't like this movie as a child, and I didn't like it now. It moved on very little plot, and Alice's voice annoyed me. We MST3k'ed it and continued our puzzle work.

When we woke up, it was Christmas! We watched The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. Penny was a kick-ass little orphan girl, but Bianca annoyed me - she was supposedly the seasoned detective, but Bernard the Janitor took the lead at every possible moment. He seemed a lot smarter than her, and it was obnoxious.

We took a break to make a psuedo-Coffee Cake. Coffee Cake on Christmas is a tradition in Amanda's family. I don't think that Coffee Cake is Southern, because J'Aime and I made one once to take to the Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser. Still, Amanda couldn't find one up here, so we had to make our own. We didn't use a yeast dough, so it wasn't perfect, but it was decent.

 Then, we had our Skype Christmas! Despite a bad connection, we opened presents together.

 Here's an awesome one I got from Kathy and Shirley, wine glass charms that hang on this corkscrew decoration. You can slip this over the neck of the wine bottle! Yay!

We also got these lovely warm socks from Bob & Cindy! We got a drill and a mixer from Granny and some beautiful wooden Christmas tree ornaments. Amanda also got a USCG-proof camera to take on the boat with her.

 After our Christmas festivities, we picked up with The Sword in the Stone. I always liked this one as a kid because I've been interested in Arthurian legend since forever. It was decent on the rewatch - funny, but plot-lite. Also, Merlin is kind of a buffoon, and I don't love that. Watching it did make me wish that the BBC's Merlin had been better, though - kinder in particular to magical women. Sword in the Stone is guilty of the same thing - when women do magic, they're crazy (Madam Mim & Morgana), but when men do magic, it is righteous and good.

 So, we saved the best for last on Christmas Day: MULAN. Mulan is totally my favorite ever. Beautiful movie with an awesome protagonist and appropriate amounts of plot and humor. Disney scene that always makes me cry? "I'll Make a Man Out of You." Also, our puzzle was coming along nicely.

After Mulan, our puzzle was mostly finished. Usually, the end of a puzzle is easy since you can basically try a piece against every possibility, if you're so inclined. This puzzle got unreasonably more difficult with every piece we put in...

 On Thursday, after Amanda got off work, we busted open the drill and hung a shelf. It's TARDIS blue, to match the rest of the living room stuff. Also, I notice that the picture is lop-sided, but I promise that the shelf isn't:

Back to the puzzle...

We watched A Very Potter Musical and gnashed our teeth.

We listened to Dar Williams and pulled our hair.

And finally, after blood, sweat, and tears, we pieced the last piece!

 We finished Season 5 of Supernatural.

On Friday, we decided to try and mount the puzzle. I've done this five times before, but this time was a NIGHTMARE. As previously stated, none of the pieces wanted to stay together. Also, you couldn't just slip the poster board (gluing surface) between the puzzle and the mat because everything sucks. We ended up breaking the puzzle in half and using a series of physics-defying movements to flip and turn and glue this puzzle.

So, after we flipped and glued and locked the puzzle in the bedroom to dry, we started an easier puzzle, where the pieces actually locked and everything was great. I did this puzzle in 2012, but I made the mistake of putting it on the Nottoman and Crookshanks pulled it onto the floor.

We watched Fox in the Hound and it was painful and gave us feelings...

We watched The Great Mouse Detective, too. Amanda had never seen it, but I love this movie. It's a great intro to Sherlock Holmes and mysteries in general for kids. Love it!

 We watched some of A Very Potter Sequel and then switched to Supernatural. :)

So, that was our Christmas, told through puzzles. We hope you had a lovely and relaxing Christmas, too. Up next, more about Philadelphia and hey, maybe a post about the August trip to Hanover, NH. :)

21 July 2012


Last Wednesday, Stefan and I went to Düsseldorf for the day. We drove and we couldn't find the parking to take the morning boat tour that we'd wanted, so we set off for the palace. We walked around the grounds and got rained on, and so here are some pictures from that. 

^Also, there was coffee.

 ^Scarecrow. Or laughcrow. Whichever you prefer.

Then, we went into town to meet up with a friend of Stefan's, Maurizio.

 ^There's Critical Mass in Germany, too!

We went back into town to take a boat tour of Düsseldorf. 

 ^Me, Maurizio, a guy whose name I think is Sven, and Stefan

 ^The government seat of Nordrhein-Westfalen

 ^Is this a TV tower? And cool Düsseldorfian architecture

 ^And the fair was in town! But we didn't go... 

Why yes, my friends, this steeple is leaning, and with the myth that it will stand straight if ever a "true virgin" gets married there. *eye roll* Sexist legend does not justify shoddy architecture.

So then, we ran around Düsseldorf a bit. We ate dinner in a Chinese restaurant and then had coffee somewhere cool and then wine in another cool place and then beer in a little brewery. We walked along the river during the in-between times. ;)

 ^Oh, and it rained so hard that we had to take shelter, like that time that Karen, Brett and I were in Chicago.

 ^But after the rain come beautiful skies. 

So, then Stefan and I went back to Menden. The next morning, we got up and went to help Matthias pack up some stuff. I didn't get to know Matthias that well during my internship, and it's SUCH A SHAME because it turns out that he's awesome and we would have been great friends. Here's a bunch of his things:

What have I been doing other than that? Why, working on my Project of Awesome, of course. Here's the to-do list:

So, right, this was prolly the crappiest blog entry ever, but I want to keep up, even if the output is crappy. I have this other outlet which is demanding all of my awesomeness right now (The Project of Awesome), and so I'm sorry that the blog is suffering.

If you ever get a Master's, I advise you to do it in your native language. Otherwise, it's just so much work.