Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Settling In

We’ve been in Greece now for around 3 weeks, and I think we’re settling in nicely. Jeff has been busy at work. He’s grateful that he has some overlap with the person he's replacing so that he can get up to speed without quite so much pressure.

Alexa and I are doing well. I like our housing, though it has its challenges as always. We estimate that it’s about the same size as our house in Kosovo, but it has a larger number of smaller rooms, and some of the design features make it not quite ideal. For example, there’s no good place in the living room for the TV because of the placement of doors, windows, and a fireplace, so we think we’re going to need to angle it into a corner that will still be a little tight. We’re also lacking wall space that would be suitable for hanging our art pieces, due to windows, doors, tall furniture, and a “special finish” that we aren’t allowed to disturb on the wall above the fireplace. It’s an interesting challenge to say the least, but we’ll figure it out. I’m planning to do a blog post about the house hopefully before too long, but unlike at previous posts, I want to wait until our things are here and set up so that the pictures will show the house as we’ll be living in it rather than as it is before we make it ours.

Our two furry family members have rejoined us. One week ago, Jeff flew back up to Prishtina, where Cleo and Isis had spent the summer with friends and our car had spent the summer in a friend’s driveway. Jeff left Athens on Friday night, overnighted in Istanbul, arrived in Prishtina Saturday morning, and was on the road with the car, the cats, and their stuff by noon. He arrived here around 9 o’clock that night. The cats seem to have adjusted pretty well to being back with us, and we’re happy to have our little family all together again.

Alexa and I each have found a friend. Our next door neighbor grew up in the same state as me, and she has a 4-year-old daughter. The mom has been an invaluable resource for me, taking me to a huge laikey (farmer’s market) and to the supermarket, in addition just to being a fun person to be around. Alexa bonded with the daughter the first time they met—even though Alexa called her simply “the little girl” for the first couple of days until her name stuck—and they enjoy playing together as often as they get the chance. Best of all: they’ve only been here for a couple of months longer than us, so unless something unexpected happens, they’ll be here until just a couple of months before we leave.

I’m slowly figuring out how to cook in Greece. The laikeys are wonderful, with fresh fruits and vegetables. It looks like I’ll finally learn what’s in season when, as options appear and disappear over the year. My neighbor took me to an awesome butcher shop where I was able to stock up on all the beef, chicken, and pork we’ll need for perhaps the next month (we have a good freezer). I still need to explore the supermarkets a bit more—I’ve only been to two, and in neither case did I really have time to go slowly and look at exactly what’s available; I was on a mission each time to get what I needed and get back by a certain time. It does seem, however, that there should be plenty of options here. Once all my kitchen stuff arrives, I should be able to put together good, healthy, familiar meals. Until then, I’m able to feed the family basic meals involving meat, vegetables, and minimal seasonings … and there is a wonderful Android app called “ClickDelivery” that enables us to see English menus and order a huge variety of delicious food to be delivered to our door. Our wallet and waistlines will appreciate the arrival of my slow cooker, though.

Speaking of, we’re hopeful that our stuff will arrive within the next couple of weeks. There were some snafus on the part of the shipping company in Kosovo that delayed our shipment, but those seem to have been worked out now. It has been reaffirmed that they cannot simply put the uncrated boxes in the truck, drive it down, and contract on their own with a company here to deliver those boxes—the boxes accordingly have been placed in lift vans, which will be put on the truck, driven down, and then delivered by a company that’s actually been approved by our security people. Yeah, we're silly like that ... we like to vet the people who have access to our stuff ...

We were able to start school at approximately the same time the international schools here started, though we didn’t get to start all subjects the same week. We had to wait for most of our curriculum to arrive—we have the history curriculum in digital format on the laptop, and we’d ordered history, geography, and literature books to arrive around the same time we did, so we’re on week 3 of our 36-week planned year for History, Geography, Literature, and Bible. We’re on week 2 of Art and Music, and we’re just starting Health, Science, Math, and Language Arts this week. The art and music curricula arrived at the same time as the other books we’d ordered, but I needed to review them a little, and I also didn’t want to add too much at once. Our remaining materials just arrived a few days ago, as we’d purchased them in the States but left them with friends to mail to us here—they wouldn’t fit in our suitcases.

School is going fairly well so far. Alexa is enjoying my literature selections—instead of following any particular curriculum for that, I’m pulling books from multiple reading lists. So far, she has not wanted to read any history books until we got started, and then she was interested. The science books, on the other hand, are a source of great fascination for her, especially the ones about animals. We haven’t officially started our curriculum yet, but that hasn’t stopped us from reading about 10 of our science books already. In addition to science, Alexa has been excited about music and art. She seems to like the math and language arts curricula we’re using, too, although that may be because they’re beginning at a level that’s very basic review for her. I’m hopeful that she’ll keep enjoying them once we hit the new material. I’ll try, in a few more weeks, to do a more comprehensive post about our curriculum choices for this year and how they’re going. I realize that I never did get around to finishing my series about kindergarten curriculum last year.

We're enjoying life in Greece so far. If I can find a way to take language classes (childcare is an issue), I'll enjoy it even more. We're looking forward to connecting with another homeschooling family once they return from vacation later this month. We also have plans to start visiting churches soon. We're settling in, figuring things out, and making connections. We're going to have a good three years here.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Our First Week in Athens

I have learned a few things about myself over the years. One of those things is that I do NOT do well on little sleep or with any type of illness, not even something as simple as the common cold. When I’m tired, I tend to be a little down in the dumps. When I’m exhausted, everything is bad; there is nothing good about anything, anywhere in the world. When I have a cold, I am both exhausted and dealing with the added indignity of not being able to breathe easily or quietly. It is not pretty.

I was unable to sleep on the flight to Athens, and I developed a cold on the plane.

I arrived in Athens primed to hate everything about it. And I did: my house was too dark, the rooms were too small, the split pack air conditioner units were placed inefficiently, the stairs were too steep and too circular, the handrail on said stairs was too high, and don’t even get me started on the ridiculously ineffective European washer and dryer in the basement (okay, fine, the dryer; the washer is actually fine). Luckily, there was no need for me to leave my house for a full day after I arrived, so my hatred was confined to the house while I slept off most of the jet lag. Jeff brought home medicine from the exchange at the embassy, so the cold began to resolve fairly quickly as well.

By the time we’d been in country 48 hours, I was feeling a bit better. That was a mighty good thing, because by then, I’d had to leave my house. We were at the embassy on Wednesday morning, getting photos made for our diplomatic ID cards and going through the in-briefing for newcomers (in which we heard from Human Resources, GSO, and the health unit). I was still a little ambivalent about everything, though I tried to think and act more positively than I was feeling at the time. After a morning at the embassy, I was more than ready to come home and take a nap.

On Thursday, I woke up feeling almost normal. Alexa and I puttered around the house all day, and amazingly, it seemed brighter than the previous days. The rooms were indeed smaller than what we’ve had in the past, but I recognized that they are a workable size. The air conditioners still weren’t placed efficiently (they really aren’t; we may invest in a fan or two next summer), but the stairs felt more manageable (if still steep, circular, and with a shoulder-high handrail). I managed to do two or three loads of laundry, without getting annoyed that the clothes came out "cupboard dry" rather than "ready to be worn dry"; I even recognized that hanging them for the last little bit of drying is going to result in much less ironing for me, and that's never a bad thing.

Thursday evening, Alexa and I headed out to meet Jeff and some of his coworkers. There were TDYers in town (Temporary Duty-ers, here on a short work trip), and they were being taken up to the Acropolis to see the sunset. It was an opportunity too good to miss.

We took the metro to the stop just behind the Acropolis, then walked up and up and up some more to the top of the mountain. When we first came out of the metro, we walked through a shopping area that reminded me of a cleaner, more high-end version of the Khan el Khalili in Cairo, and I made a mental note to check that out when I have a little more time. There continued to be random stalls here and there almost all the way up, though most were clustered at the bottom of the mountain.

After the long walk up, we climbed some stairs and found ourselves on a rocky outcropping. The Acropolis was just one outcropping over. There were amazing views down into Athens. I had not brought my camera, so I had to settle for a few pictures on my phone. I’ll definitely be making the trip again—probably several more times—with a real camera ... and possibly a taxi.

Once the sun had set, we continued walking around and back down the mountain. We stopped for drinks at a wine bar, then went to a local restaurant for a very late dinner. We talked and laughed and all around enjoyed ourselves and the food: Greek salad, fried sardines, roasted pork (or was it lamb?), and some kind of greens. It was very late when we returned home, close to midnight, I think.

The next day, while Jeff got up and went to work, Alexa and I slept until 11am. Just a few hours after we got up, we met up with Jeff and some others at an apartment downtown for a happy hour. It also was a nice time—a great opportunity to get to know some of the other people from Jeff’s office and from around the embassy. We didn’t stay too late, though, as we thought it better to get Alexa back on something resembling a normal sleep-wake pattern.

Yesterday, Saturday, one of the people in Jeff’s office took us to Ikea. It is so incredibly nice to have a resource like Ikea here! We bought several odds and ends that we needed—lidded trash cans for the bathrooms, a soft topper for Lexa’s hard mattress, a new drying rack to pair with that European dryer downstairs. The availability of familiar stores where we can get lots of different needed items from one place (rather than going to several smaller stores) is a definite plus to being in a more developed country.

Today we had intended to go to church, but Jeff woke up with a scratchy throat. He made the executive decision to turn the alarm clock off and go back to sleep to try to get over this quickly. He has all day today to rest, and he can rest tomorrow too, if needed, since it’s Labor Day. We’re hoping to spend at least part of tomorrow walking around with our neighborhood sponsors, though, getting familiar with what’s near our house.

I did have a rocky first couple of days in Greece, thanks to jet lag and illness. I’m thankful that I know myself well enough that even then, in the midst of the “I hate everything” attitude, I recognized it for what it was and knew not to take it too seriously. The last few days have been much better.

I’m pretty confident that we’re going to love living in Greece.