I thought we were dog people

Cuddles the Tiger, Orange Julius, Panther, Mickey Mouse, Cuddles Junior (CJ), Clementine, Mama, Shadow, Lloyd. Just a few of the cats we’ve befriended and renamed. For example, Shadow’s real name is Apostoles. But he followed Michael and Peter so much… well you get it.

Anyone who has been to Greece has seen the cats in the streets and alleys, in the tavernas and hotels. In fact, the tourist shops have postcards, posters and t-shirts with “the cats of Greece.” They are everywhere.

What’s really interesting is that they are strays, except not really. There’s a family – or maybe they’re all just housemates – of cats that live, from what we can tell, under the building next door. Most of them are skittish, but they are well fed. Walking by the gates of that building you see all kinds of bowls. I’ve seen at least three different people feed them. One day in the supermarket, I looked down into my cart and saw five cans of cat food. I reminded Demetri that we do not in fact have a cat … and he looked at me like I was nuts.

The Plateia has even more. Tons of cats hang out near the dumpsters of the tavernas and some are brave enough to saunter around the tables. One of the servers we’ve become friendly with feeds them all before he leaves. And by “feeds them,” I mean pork, and chicken. None of this cat food nonsense. They follow him to the bench and they sit together for 30 mins or more.

Our favorite is a brownish gray female tabby whom Peter calls Cuddles. She jumps up on the planter next to the door, loves to be pet and meows loudly the entire time. She loves the affection and the food (Papou feeds her too), but it stops there. She is not interested labels – especially that of “traditional pet.” Once Demetri tried to sneak her upstairs and it sounded as if a murder was being committed in the elevator.

So … we meet her on her terms. Though lately she’s keeping her distance — Demetri went down to feed her one evening and she jumped up and clocked herself when her head hit the plate Demetri was holding. So now, Peter hops the fence after school to go find her. And she lets him love and feed her.

We don’t think she’ll want to leave her plush life in Voula, but we make up stories about her moving to Colorado. I think she’d give the foxes a run for their money. Especially when it comes to chickens.

Pictured above: Peter and Clementine, real name Karolos (Charles) in Nafplio, March 2018. Clementine climbed up peoples’ legs.

Greek life

Sea, my sea: Tell me your secrets

In January, the kindergarten began studying the sea.  Last week, they presented the project and a special play that incorporated pretty much everything they learned.  For the first 30 minutes, Kyria Anna and Kyria Amalia, the kindergarten teachers, talked with the parents/siblings/grandparents about everything they studied and incorporated into this expeditionary learning unit.  All of their reading, language arts, math and science centered around the sea. They read a book about a τριγoναψαρουλη (a triangle fish) and did a report on it.  They read another about a κοτουλα (chicken) named Karmela who wanted to see the sea so badly that she ran away from home.  And another about a φοκια (seal) who hated the way she looked so much that she cut her whiskers off only to find out she couldn’t hunt fish without them and learned to appreciate her face and body.  They built their own ferry (The Blue Star Kessaris) and christened it with a bottle of ‘champagne’ filled with confetti.  They built canoes and paddles.  They made dioramas.  They made clay sea animals.  They constructed lighthouses and key holders to sell at the Open Day Bazaar.  Peter drew sea scenes for weeks at home and at school.   And yesterday, he decided he’s going to live in Mexico when he grows up, because Mexico has bullfights AND sharks (καρχαγεια)  I mean, really, what could be better?

img_9444The field trips with this unit were awesome.  First, they went to a sea turtle refuge just down the road from our house and learned about how the refuge helps the turtles become healthy and able to go back into the sea. Our class adopted a χελωνα (turtle) named Nemo for a month, paying for all its medical needs and food.  In April, they collected recyclable materials all month in the classroom and then loaded it onto the school buses headed toward a recycling center.  The kids and staff talked there for more than an hour about how recycling is good for the earth … and the sea.

Last September’s oil spill provided a great teaching opportunity. During the play, half of the children played fish while the other half wore black capes (oil) and army crawled on the floor. The fish all died.  It was a very dramatic re-enactment.  They also did a couple of skits where they discussed the ‘rules’ of the sea and why we keep the beaches and water clean. They re-enacted the part of the chicken book where Karmela’s father grabs her wing and escorts her back to the coop because she’s too little to go to the sea by herself.  Each child had a part or two with a couple of lines. It was adorable.

img_9493Their final field trip was to the beach at Varkiza, where they picked up trash for a few hours.  Kyria Anna told us that the area they cleaned had not one speck of trash when they left.  Peter came home talking about all the kalamaki (straws) they found on the beach, and how his pal Demetri found a souvlaki kalamaki (bamboo skewer) and how dirty the beach was.  They learned how bad plastic is for our environment and each child got his/her own canvas bag to take things to the beach.  At the end of the performance, the kids sang two songs in English and two songs in Greek and received oceanographer diplomas, and then we got to walk through the halls and collect all of the masterpieces the kids made over the course of this unit.

This was the most perfect unit I could think of for this age.  I hope their discoveries turn them into the generation who will preserve the beautiful Greek environment.  The country desperately needs it.


Greek life


After the basketball game at the Olympic Hall two Saturdays ago, Papou took the kids and me to a pretty little monastery tucked into the side of Mount Imittos, one of the mountains that surrounds the city of Athens.  We walked through the grounds of the monastery – seeing the 11th century church, the living quarters, the kitchen and the olive press room, where donkeys used to pull the large rock wheel that crushed the olives into oil.  Then the boys climbed and rested in a huge sycamore just on the other side of the monastery wall.  We had a drink in the little snack bar, the boys explored the woods around, and we came home.

Though the church was built in the 11th century, the site itself in ancient times is thought to have been a temple or other monument to Aphrodite.  A gorgeous place for the fairest goddess.

Last Sunday, we took Demetri back there to hike the trails above the monastery.  We had a nice cloud cover so it didn’t feel too hot and we wandered in the woods for 4 hours.  The boys found 9 turtles along the way; they even fed one a full buffet of sumac (it looked like sumac) leaves.  Through the city haze, the views of Lycabbetus Hill, the Acropolis and even the Pireaus port were spectacular.   Athens looks huge – a sea of white buildings in the valley surrounded by the mountains.img_5424

After the hike, Thodoris and Mina met us for a late lunch in Zografou.  We found a fun little park, with a vine-covered fence that hid the playground from the surrounding streets.

img_9472Demetri’s final trip to Spain was awesome.  Based in Barcelona, the Race2Adventure crew saw  Barcelona, Costa Brava, Game of Thrones’ Girona, Ibiza … and then he and two friends saw the F1 race in Barcelona.  Demetri realized that he’s spent 25 of the last 40 days in Spain.  Never a bad thing.  He’s got fun pictures of his trip on his facebook page.  Tomorrow, he’s off to Monte Carlo for more F1 and then to Mugello Italy for MotoGP with Thodoris and Vasillis.

Greek life

Το Λαϊκή Αγορα

The laiki agora literally means “people’s market.” It is the farmers’ market that happens weekly in most neighborhoods around Athens. The laiki vendors sell fruit, vegetables, fish, eggs, olives, flowers, nuts … plus some household items like clothes line clips, laundry baskets, or mosquito battling supplies.

The Voula laiki happens on Thursdays.  The photo above is one I took in mid-March; just as the strawberries started to make their appearance.  ( I know! Strawberries in March! They were so fresh and ripe we could smell them as we walked by.) In the photos, you see tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes, pomegranate, persimmon, green beans — a mix of winter and spring produce. Greek food is local and seasonal, so the laiki won’t have things that are out of season … though we can get apples, bananas, cucumbers, oranges & greens all year long.  Tomatoes too, but truly the best ones are during the summer.img_8857

My first few times at laiki, I went (naturally) with Papou, who likes specific vendors for specific things. For example, the guy who sells the eggs Papou prefers also runs the souvlaki stand.  He may buy the eggs because of the souvlaki; I should ask.  In the supermarkets, eggs are €3-4 for six eggs.  At the laiki, eggs are fresh, fresh, fresh and €,20 each!

Last week, I was stoked to see summer fruit start to make an appearance.  First come the βερύκοκκο & φραολεσ (apricots & strawberries) and the πεπονι (melon — looks like honeydew, smells and tastes like canteloupe).  This week, I’m seeing cherries (κερασια) and watermelon (καρπουζι).  Which means the peaches (ροδακινα) and nectarines (νεκταρινια) are not far behind.  To Peter and me, peaches and nectarines define summer.  Then come the grapes (σταφυλια), the really good summer tomatoes (ντοματα), and … the figs (συκα).

There’s nothing like Greek watermelon.  In the summer, tavernas bring a big plate of sliced, cold watermelon after your meal.  It’s hard to describe how good it is.  Just what you want on a hot evening.

You have to remember to bring small euro notes and change to the laiki.  They will laugh you away if you hand them a €50 for €1,50 worth of something.  Last Thursday, I worried I didn’t have enough money for all the things on my list — I scraped together €15.  I had a buck leftover and was so weighed down I needed to readjust myself twice on the way back to the car.  I think my very favorite bargain is the herbs.  For €,50 each, you can get a huge (huge!) bunch of parsley (μανιταρια) or dill (ανηθοσ).  None of these little plastic boxes for $4 like in Denver.  For €,50, who cares if I don’t use it all before it goes bad.  (Papou taught me this trick.)

Prices change within the day.  We see higher prices in the morning, especially for things like fish. Prices –and where the item is from– are always written on cards or little chalkboards and also are announced verbally by the vendor.  The lowest prices seem to happen by mid-day, say 2 pm.  Last week, strawberries were almost half the original starting price.

The laiki is a social tradition; I see my neighbors at the laiki often.  Last week I followed Eva a bit just to see where she gets her things (she’s our downstairs neighbor who made the cake for the kids on the first day of school). Sometimes I see Labros from the 2nd floor or Mrs. Kastrioti from the 5th floor.  Sometimes Papou takes Mrs. K with him and they have a souvlaki together after they shop.

Athens has a big central market near Omonia square that is open every day of the week — there are permanent buildings that house it.  The buildings on one side of the street have meat and fish (including goat heads) and the other side is produce, olives, homemade wine and household items.   It’s cool to walk around in there and see it on your way back from say, the National Archaeological Museum.

Greek life

Κολύμβηση ΕΞΠΟ

Today’s title says “Swimming EXPO.”  It seems at this time of year, many of the schools in & around Athens have “open days” of sorts; a combination of carnival and showcase of progress and projects around the school. Kessaris’ Open Day was April 28 — the kindergarten and pre-K hosted a Bazaar of various crafts and projects from their studies this Spring, Michael’s class performed a play, the basketball teams showed off their skills, the art program hosted a gallery and the robotics program had a lego display. This morning, the swim program at school held its own expo, where the students who participate in this elective (it’s held during the school day like an extra gym class) got to show their parents, grandparents and classmates what they have learned over the past 9 months.

img_9293Demetri is in Barcelona for Race2Adventure, so Papou and I went today.  The program started with the three year olds, then the Pre-K 4 kiddos. Nipio (kindergarten) was next.  Peter marched straight out of the locker room, cap on, kick board in hand, and climbed up to his starting block.  He and his friends Demetris, Gianni, Anastasia, Sylvia, Eva and others got in position and jumped in and swam the length.  They climbed out and did it again, this time doing one hand at a time on the kick board, freestyle. Then again on their backs.  The finale was a dive (kind of a flying leap for most of these little ones) through a hula hoop.  It was unbelievably cute.  They were all very serious and very good listeners.  Many of the kids waved to their parents; some even while they were in the water.

Michael’s class came next. The title picture above is his group: Michael is third from the left, with his pal Kostantinos and his classmates Demetris, Georgios, Haralabos, and Panagiotis. Penelope, Aphrodite and Marianiki are on the right.  Michael’s teacher brought the students who don’t swim or play tennis to the pool so they could cheer for their buddies.  Michael’s exercises were similar to Peter’s class: breast stroke, freestyle, and backstroke.  Michael is a little bullet  backstroker.  He and Kostantinos were neck in neck for a lot of it.  Kostantinos is in a different 2nd grade class, but he swims and plays basketball with Michael and they are in the same bilingual English class together.  The two boys are a lot alike: quiet, sweet, shy — so they liked each other immediately but it took them a while to form their friendship.  His bilingual English classmates were Michael’s first friends. There are only five of them in the class but they are all fluent in English so he could communicate with them from the first day.  Their finale also was a dive through a hula hoop and at this age the diving was terrific. They swam along the bottom of the pool across to the other ladder without a breath.img_9295

Papou was an excellent cheerleader.  Demetri talks about how his dad used to come to his highschool wrestling matches and yell “GOOOOOOOOO DEMETREEEEEEE!” loudly from the stands. He did the same thing today for the boys.  (Demetri says that his wrestling teammates liked Papou’s enthusiasm so much that they asked Demetri if maybe Papou could cheer for them, too.)

I’m glad the school staff knows me a little bit now and understands that I’m just an emotional mom.  The first day of school I was in tears out of fear.  Today my tears were different — from my exploding heart.  We stopped going to the beach (oil spill) about the time that swimming started at school, so Demetri and I haven’t really seen the boys’ much-improved skills.  They have become real swimmers!  It was a total thrill to watch.

The next end-of-year showcase will be next week when the Nipio presents their project on “The Secrets of the Sea,” along with a play that the drama department and kinder teachers wrote and directed.  We cannot wait.