Americanpeasant’s Weblog

Last day of escapades in Santorini
February 20, 2014, 6:46 pm
Filed under: travel | Tags:

After yesterday, we decided to stick closer to home and wander around fira and firostefani. we had an amazing breakfast — greek style yoghurt is nothing compared to actual greek yoghurt.

fueled by greek coffee, we went to the museum of ancient thera, where the artifacts from akrotiri are housed. i really like being able to go someplace and have it to ourselves. it was just the two of us in the whole museum. then we went and bought the brit a backgammon set–something from her childhood. i got a really nice bracelet and a few pairs of earrings.

we had a great lunch at camille stefani’s. we both recognised the woman server, turns out she lived in high barnet for a few months about year ago. so we talked england and greece and flirted up a storm, fueled by sunshine and wine. the food was great–best eggplant salad the brit has ever had. the meal ended with us drinking shots of vinsanto wine with the chef and server–pro tip: get out the phrase book. i got so many kudos for at least attempting to speak greek. we sadly said goodbye and went off on our valentines scavenger hunt.

the perfect day ended with us sitting outside, playing backgammon until 8. then our signature dinner in the hotel room (a long time trend for us) and now we are off to sleep.

santorini isn’t a place either of us could see living in–the fact that the entire economy relies on the service industry and tourists would drive me crazy. but boy am i going to miss this time with the brit.


mamma mia!
February 19, 2014, 7:08 pm
Filed under: travel

We decided to get away for the February half-term. It’s been chucking down with rain in England, the brit got her degree, and Greece was a lot closer than Key West. We got a steal of a deal on a hotel and flights.

We left Heathrow late Sunday night for Athens and spend the flight listening to the sporadic drunken singing of the man next to me. we got to Athens really early and wandered around the airport, drinking coffee and trying to stay awake. (The brit thought this would be a good time for me to try mexaca, and some plastic-bottle to-kill-ya tequila called mariachi. No matter how long i live in Europe, i can’t get used to drinking alcohol before noon.)

There’s a Hershey’s kiosk in the Athens airport. Go figure.

Finally boarded the plane to Santorini. Landing there was something out of a movie. single track runway, big concrete block building with a luggage carousel. Thank goodness we had made arrangments for the hotel to pick us up. We were met by Adonis who ferried us back to our hotel–and carried our bag up and down the ~60 m of steps to get to the actual hotel.

We are staying in Firostefani. Santorini is a caldera. In the 17c BCE, there was a massive explosion which sank a large chunk of the island. Later activity formed the Nea Kameni, which is known as the volcano. The eruption of the volcano buried an advanced civilisation (plumbing, weaving, multi-story buildings)–there is an amazing excavation at Akrotiri (sometimes called the Greek Pompeii). Some argue that Thera (the old name for Santorini) is really Atlantis.

Santorini is famous for fava (yellow split peas), cherry tomatoes, and wine. We have partaken of all three on our trip–along with honey, ouzo, bread, spanokopita.

First day, we got showered and went out for a walk, promptly getting lost. We discovered that yes indeed it is the off season, meaning that many of the shops, restaurants, and advertised mini-markets are closed or just gone. We came all the way to Greece to have an Italian lunch. it was very good, but not what we were planning on.

We also leaned that Fira and Firostefani are on the edge of the caldera, quite literally. which meant a lot of steps. and no straight roads. A wrong turn can result in you ending up in someone’s courtyard, and we met our share of cats, dogs, and donkeys along the path.

After falling asleep at the pool around 4, we made it a night in our cave of a room, complete with leather origami birds/bats hanging from the ceiling above our bed. 13 hours later we rejoined the living.

Day two, we went to the volcano. And we kept seeing the same people from our flight over:

**a nice French gay couple, one of whom who we inadvertently caught sending a graphic selfie in the Athens airport–not sure how to start the conversation of “i was standing behing you and accidentally saw that picture of your penis”, even in french.
**The Australian couple who thought the cable car wasn’t working so walked all the way down to the pier–the volcano boat tour had to return to the dock to pick up the man’s wife, who wasn’t as quick as he was at getting down the steps and to the boat.
**The two luxemburgian ladies who we saw before in the italian place, and
**a great American couple from San Francisco–he is an engineer, trained in Colorado, originally from Minnesota. she’s a mediator.

We went down on the cable car to the old port, where we caught the boat to the volcano and hot springs. We had about an hour and a half to explore the volcano, which is lots of black rock, red rock, and sulfurous vents. We got back on the boat to go to the hot springs–now i had visions of glenwood springs and a place to put your feet in. turns out, here they just stop the boat, tell you where on the boat to get changed, bring up a bucket of tepid water, and see who jumps in. It wasn’t warm enough for me and i didn’t have my suit. i think the captain was disgusted with the lot of us, none of whom got in. And a huge thank you to the brit for providing baked goods and ouzo sweets, which i was initially frightened of in the early hours at the athens airport.

back to port, back up the cable car–there are three ways up and down–cable car, donkey, or on foot. at this time of year, the donkeys are used for construction and not hauling tourists.

and a nice wander around the town of fira–greek coffee, my new addiction–and browsing the shops. Got a bottle of vinsanto, some garlic olive oil, and some wicked coffee liqueur that went down too well. the shopkeepers are incredibly friendly, and most things are sold at a discount. we had our food parcel delivered to the hotel, the woman in one shop gave us free evil eye pins (to ward it off, not get it) and we keep getting free postcards. hit the grocery store on the way home and got dinner of bread, cheese, salami, olives, wine, and tomatoes.

today we rented a car and drove around the island. we went to akrotiri, the site of the archaeological dig. it was really cool to see–they have a bioclimatic canopy that allows in air and light but protects it from the elements. However, all the famous frescoes and artifacts have been placed in a museum in fira (tomorrow’s stop). Still, a worthwhile trip. then we went to see the red sand beach (only accessible by boat, but we could see it). we stopped at a roadside stall which the woman opened specially for us, so we felt obligated to buy some of her preserves. Turns out, preserves is a relative term, and after inspecting them in daylight i decided i would not be bringing a new strain of botulism into the uk, so binned them.

then we went to have lunch at panorama (pronounced pa-NOR-a-ma). We were their only customers, the first of the new season and while they did not have a full menu we managed to stuff ourselves on fava, tomato balls (tomato fritters), eggplant, pork cooked in wine, and real honest to goodness calamari (after that this american life story about pig rectums being used for calamari rings, i am skeptical–but this was real squid with massive tentacles). they were incredibly friendly and we had a fun time using the greek phrase book to communicate.

next stop, black sand beach. again, relative terms. sand meaning very small rocks/ very large grains, about the size of sesame seeds. beautiful beach, stuck my feet in the water, and all is good.

all this time the brit has been doing the driving, dodging cats, dogs, greek men on motorbikes, and putting up with my naviagtion skills using a map which can only be described as a stylistic rendition of the roads of santorini. that combined with signage that has faded, turned around, been written only in greek, or vandalised so that stickers cover the arrows.

going up one hill, we found the man who rented up the car honking behind us. he came up alongside to check on us and told us to go fill up the front tire as it had a slow leak. i did notice the last registration sticker was 2012, but maybe things are different here.

the brit took us all the way up to oia, which we saw but couldn’t figure out how to get into the town of. by this time, we were reaching that point in every overseas vacation where you have had enough.

having traveled a bit, i know that it is not a requirement, but about 2-3 days into a vacation in another country i hit the point where the novelty of the weird language, food, people, stuff, sights, toilets, and customs overwhelms me. it was no longer quaint or kitchy that we were in a nissan micra with a dodgy tire on roads that made no sense, with no clear indication of direction. we headed back to fira and went to the grocery store, because we didn’t want to shlep a huge amount of stuff on foot. namely water.

santorini is an island with fresh water supplied by the desalination plant. it’s supposedly safe to drink, but matt at the hotel recommends drinking bottled water–the hotel provides the first 1.5 litres free, you shlep in the rest or buy it from them.

and being an island, it has a sensitive plumbing system. to such an extent that you don’t flush toilet paper. there is always a bin to put it in. this takes some getting used to. and with us traveling around, not knowing where to stop (my starbucks rule does not apply–not a green and white siren in sight)

all the brit wanted was a coffee and a sweet, and she’d been saying it for most of the morning. it was now 4 pm, and we couldn’t manage to get to the cafe. we went to the grocery store instead.

everything went fine until we got to the till. this woman was mopping the floor and was determined to mop the till, regardless of people trying to check out. so i got body checked by a 70 year old with a mop while trying to pay for our stuff. then i discovered i had been shorted by 5 cents. not a huge deal usually, but as i said, i had had enough already, and i couldn’t get to the water on the counter because of the ice-hockey-player-turned-custodian with a mop.

so when the brit asked if everything was okay, i said no, she shorted me change but it’s okay–and then i neglected to recognise that the coin the cashier literally threw at me was 5 cents–because they are copper alloys. meanwhile, the brit was just trying to get to our bottled water. which the woman would not hand us.

i’m glad we had our evil eye protection pins.

with me on the verge of tears, we go park the car to discover that the greek salads from lunch have cooked in the back of the car, the aforementioned preserves are not up to the ball blue book standard and i can hear my mother screaming at me to not eat them, and my tin of lush lip balm from the pocket of my fleece has melted out of the pocket, making quite a large oily stain on both the lining of my pocket and already-stained upholstery of the micra’s backseat.

the brit handles all of this well, which is why i travel through life and not just the greek islands with her.

she gets the offending items packaged for the bin, our stuff collected from the back of the car, points out you can “hardly notice” the oily stain, and troops us off to the hotel while i am mutterring about wanting to go home. at the hotel, she turns the keys of the rental car over to matt, tells him about the tire, and that the man can come get the car at his leisure. she gets us coffee and halva and we sit and watch the sun go down over the ocean.

we have had a quiet night of reading and chatting and listening to music in our little cave of a room. we are still stuffed from lunch, and i’ve been able to blog to my heart’s content. she always asks if i included this or said that, and sometimes she shakes her head at what i think to mention.

she’s already asleep and i’m off to join her. tomorrow is our last day–we are going to the museum, spending our €20 that we do for Valentines Day (we each get a set amount and have to go get presents in a certain time, using as much of the money as we can), and lazing about. i can’t think of a better way to spend our last holiday day together.

Dad’s legacy
December 30, 2013, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ten years ago, I wrote my dad’s eulogy. The whole family sat around in the living room talking, having a true Kent moment.

Here’s a copy of what I said. I haven’t read it since his funeral, but it seems just as appropriate today.

“On behalf of my mother and the rest of my family, thank you to everyone for your support, from both those people here in Colorado and those who have come in from out of state. My father was a very spiritual person and in addition to his Episcopal faith, the Lodge and the Shrine were very important to him. He was truly fulfilling a lifelong vow when he became a noble. Following the Episcopal service we will have the Masonic burial rites that my father asked for. We invite everyone, whether you are a mason or not, to join us for this short service in the columbarium.

My father was a man for history. He also wanted to take care of his family, and was concerned about what would be left after he was gone. He had few specific wishes, except that we take care of my mom, keep things simple, and have a party.

Dad was not a man of physical wealth; he spent most of his life teaching. My father taught us the value of education, and the fact that all three of us, especially my brother, went on to study something was a great source of pride to him. So much of what he left us were things we learned.

We learned how to celebrate, and that no wedding is complete without a prank. We learned to identify trees at 60 miles an hour from the front seat of a pickup truck. We learned to listen, because there would be a quiz later. We learned to straighten up and fly right, and if we ever got arrested, we should probably stay there, because it was more likely a safer place than where he could get to us. We learned to take care of ourselves but to ask for help. We learned to start every recipe with two mouthfuls of water, and that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. You don’t eat half of anything because God didn’t make half days, and you don’t have thanksgiving without the white bread and mayo for the second course, preferable about fifteen minutes after the first. We learned to be generous, and offer two because they were small.

We learned about the unconditional love of family, that you don’t go to bed mad, you stay up and fight because you love each other. We learned to value the little things, but not sweat the small stuff. He was in love with my mother until the day he died, and I hope that his grandchildren will say the same about their parents some day. We learned that everyone gets to where they are going one way or another, and you can never predict where you will end up, but there is a place for everyone.

Dad, you told me it wasn’t goodbye, it was see you later, so that’s how it is.   I will tell you the same thing you said to me every time I left home. Be careful out there among the English, and write when you learn how.”



A Decade
December 30, 2013, 1:36 am
Filed under: family

Ten years ago, my father died.

I had just spent Christmas with my parents. I had reconciled with my then-partner, who had just moved in with me, and we drove out to Denver to spend the holidays.What do I remember? We took the dog.  I knitted a purple and blue scarf for my mom on the way out. We drove across the eastern plains from Minnesota, a drive which takes about 17 hours. More if you stop at truck stops, scenic viewpoints, and casinos. Christmas was the usual, Mom making cookies, Dad sleeping on the sofa, my brother and his kids. I don’t think my sister came home that year. I don’t remember what I got. My ex got a starbucks card that she gave to me later and I still carry in my wallet.

Eariler in the fall, I had called my Dad in a panic. In the middle of the services on Rosh Hashanah, I had had a premonition that I would be saying Mourner’s Kaddish for my dad that year. I got home and called him, asked him to please go to the doctor for a check up. He said he would, but that he felt fine. I worried too much. The week before Christmas, Dad went to his usual gp and he said he was fine. I guess Dad forgot to mention that he was falling asleep at his desk at work. I guess the man who had been his doctor for over ten years didn’t notice that my father’s skin was gray. We talked about it while I was home–he said he felt fine. Just tired.

So on the 29th, we said our goodbyes and started driving back to Minnesota. We took our time, stopping along the way at some stupid casino in Iowa where we worked out some personal issues and stuffed some feelings by playing the slot machines for longer than was healthy. We got back to the cities late at night but I called my folks to tell them I was home safe. I spoke to Dad, who seemed a bit out of it, but I guessed he was tired. I told him I loved him but he must not have heard me, because he didn’t say anything. I went to bed and got up early the next morning to go in to work to interview a new secretary.

Around 1 pm, I got the call from my brother. I had missed a call earlier from him when i was in the interview, and I was sitting in the Byerly’s car park when i got the call. He told me dad had had an accident at work. I told him I was on my way but he said there was no reason to hurry. And I knew.

My father had dropped dead at work. The plant was on shut down, and he had to go in to get a water sample to run to the environmental health and safety folks. So there weren’t many people around. No one quite knows what happened–either a stroke or a heart attack. A security guard found him in the corridor and tried to do CPR. They took him to the hospital but it was no use, he was already gone.

I guess it all makes sense, that’s apparently the way my grandfather died, and dad was always sure he would go the same way. Just–gone. Pop-pop died when he was 50. Dad was 60.

I remember keeping it together to get home and screaming my head off inside the cottage. We hadn’t even unpacked the bags and my ex was putting things back in the car. Despite everything shitty that she would do later, I would always be grateful that she just turned around and drove me back to Colorado. 17 hours of numb, watching the shadows of the midwest in winter scroll past the window. Unable to process that my father was gone.

This was the point where I first learned that grief can swallow you up. It’s a bottomless pit, and those who grieve stand on the very edge, always looking down. Hoping to see something other than that empty space that stretches on forever, the gap that gets left and never filled when you lose someone.  And terrified that you will lose your balance and be lost in the loss, falling forever.

It’s the reason why those who mourn occasionally lose their patience with others–loved ones, friends, the starbucks barista, random strangers. Because at that moment, they are standing on the very edge, trying not to be consumed by that vast emptiness. And it’s easier to lose your temper than admit that you are fucking terrified that you will lose your balance and be consumed by the nothingness of grief.

Closure. it happens. you have funerals, and memorials, and scatter ashes. There are family battles, stories, emails, and cards, and a round of antidepressants for everyone. Holidays go on. Christmas comes again. New Years still sucks. There’s a family event and you find that you are smiling, and laughing, and there’s a part of you that feels guilty because for just a moment, you forgot dad was gone. And those moments become longer, and while you still think of him, the grief becomes different.

It no longer feels like someone has ripped your chest open. Instead, it’s the phantom ache of a broken bone now healed. Something that you know happened, that acts up on occasion. That gives you a twinge just so you remember.

I wonder sometimes how others feel. “I miss him too” doesn’t really give me enough information. Have we all moved on? Sometimes I’m angry, wondering if everyone has forgotten him. I googled my dad a few weeks ago and found–nothing. and that made me really sad for some reason. I guess because I want everyone else to be thinking of him at least once in a while. And I know they do. My self-centeredness is getting in the way, I know. There’s no stone, no memorial–it was how he wanted it. Ashes scattered in the wind on the grand mesa (and a few other choice spots too).

Ten years. A lot has happened. Mom died, adding a whole new dimension to the concept of grief for me. I’m married and living 5000 miles away in London. I’m not having children. My partner has never met my father. I think they’d get along fine most days, and fabulously on others. Viv gets it. She talks about my dad, what would he think. She toasted him at our wedding. My cousins are very good at helping me not feel like an orphan. They get it. We are all getting older, and as my generation has children, we begin to lose more of the generation before us.

Lately, when I walk the dog in the mornings, I talk to dad. I compose letters, listing all the things that have happened. I can’t seem to write them–I think that if there is a heaven, then it’s silly to tell you what’s gone on since you know it all, and if there isn’t a heaven, well, there’s no point. So nothing gets written. And I hear my father sometimes. I know he’s with me, in a sense. Every time I make my pupils laugh, every time I lose my cool, when I talk to myself–I hear his voice echoed in mine.

A rabbi once said that when we lose someone, we can think of them as going on a train journey. We watch the train depart until it disappears from sight. We know the train is still there, just around the bend, we just can’t see it.

And in my snarkier moments, I say “yeah, well, I can at least call them when they get off the fucking train, but I can’t call my parents, can I?”. Because there are times when I just want to talk to them. But the problem is, it wouldn’t be enough. How do you hang up? How do you say goodbye? I had to do that this year and it’s not an experience I recommend. Knowing it’s really the last time you will talk to someone.

And there are times when I’m glad they didn’t have to witness the goings-ons. Dad never would have been able to cope with losing Mom, or his sister. Or the demise of my siblings’ relationships. But maybe I’m selling him short. I’ll never know.

I’m okay, really. I don’t have any other choice. But I miss you, Dad. I’m teaching science and trying to stay sane. There’s a dime taped above my desk, just like you had. I have a shirt mom made for you in my closet, and I have the nightshirt she made for you as well. I wear that when I’m feeling homesick. Have I followed in the family tradition of running as far as possible away from grief? It’s possible. it’s not an emotion I’m particularly comfortable with, which makes me even more prickly around others. (There is a reason why you called me porcupine). I’ve tried stuffing my grief with food, distance, antidepressants, video games, sarcasm, and on the rare occasion, alcohol. Some things work better than others, and after ten years I’m getting better at balancing on the edge. Because I have to keep going, just to see what will happen next. So I can have more things to talk to you about when I walk the dog.

So you keep an eye on things on your end, and I’ll sign off the way you used to–be careful out there among the English, and write when you learn how.

Just because it’s tradition doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
May 24, 2011, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

was the start of GCSE’s–the General Certificate of Secondary Education exams. these tests happen at the end of year 11 (10th grade) and are like the final exams in high school. except they are different because you have to take them to prove your knowledge in a subject, and that gets you points, which then gets you into Sixth Form (last two years of high school, essentially) or you put the results on your cv when you go look for a job.

and these are national, standardised tests. they are produced by one of three exam boards and everyone takes them at the same time across the country–similar to the ACT/SAT tests. and so for two years, the students prepare for the tests. the textbooks and revision guides are written for the test, and all you do is focus on what is going to be on the test. there are practice tests online, and question banks from past papers. similiar to our AP testing scheme in the states. except over here, there is also coursework for some subjects which is moderated externally ( or internally, as the science isa’s are. )

some schools use a modular method, where students take sections throughout the year. the advantage to these tests is that there is no difference (in theory) to the classes taught in different schools, by different teachers, etc. not only are they all in line with the national curriculum, you know exactly what needs to be covered (and at what depth). i don’t have a problem with this in theory. and i could go on for hours about what they have to know (or don’t) and what they have to do (or don’t). and what this does to teachers etc, etc.

but the point tonight is not about the test, it’s about the study leave. our students went on study leave later than most–we kept them in to keep them revising all this week, unlike a lot of other schools, whose year 11’s have been off for a week. they will not be back again, not as a year group. there is no “graduation”. there is a prom and results day, when everyone in the country gets their results back. our students went on leave monday, so they are in for exams and help sessions.

so there is usually some good natured pranking that goes on on the last day. i’m okay with that, i love a caper as much as the next person. but this was too far. yesterday they threw flour and cottage cheese on a fancy car in the staff parking lot–it happened to be a sixth form student’s car. today, they threw eggs at younger boys. two of my year 9’s showed up with egg in their hair and on their blazers. but throwing eggs at the little ones, the first years– that was entirely beyond. and trashing an assistant headmaster’s office, throwing eggs and flour. . .

i’m saddened. i feel for my colleague. i feel for my year 7’s. i know it was only a handful out of 150+, but i’m disappointed.

Royal Wedding
April 29, 2011, 10:37 am
Filed under: life in these parts

Okay, I’ll address the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve posted later.

I’ve been sucked into the Royal Wedding coverage. It’s on every major channel. The neighbourhood is strangely quiet–it’s a day off, and (almost) everyone is inside, glued to the TV. The Brit and I have been talking all morning about all sorts of things–where we were in 1981, the monarchy, Diana, the fact that I have no reference point for this as an American. The closest parallel is the inaugural ball, but that’s not even close. Can’t imagine the entire country stopping, throwing street parties, baking cakes and putting out bunting for the wedding of the president’s child.

So William and Harry are at the Abbey, and the rest of the royals (well, the B list royals) are travelling to the Abbey in minibuses.

Okay, requisite links for further info:

Official Website, Guest List, Order of Service.

And if you want to send a gift, you better read this. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is giving the couple a tandem bicycle.

The Queen looks absolutely stunning. The bride is in her car, and there has been a big deal made of what her dress looks like because it has been such a secret. There are thousands of people lining the streets and cheering as they drive to the Abbey. Some of them have been camping out since Tuesday to get a good spot to see the couple, and Princes William and Harry went out last night to meet the crowds.

And now she’s at the Abbey. Her dress is beautiful–so classy, so simple. She’s wearing the queen’s tiara.

I love the fact that the Abbey is decorated with an avenue of trees.

The service is quite short, took twenty minutes and they are offically married. No kiss the bride, apparently.

Street parties have a great history here in the UK. We aren’t having one, but Hertfordshire has the highest number of street parties in the country. Most of my students are going to street parties.

Interesting statement from NPR about the Wedding. There has been a lot of talk here about the American obsession with the wedding, and the massive presence of the American media.

I’ll be adding bits and pieces after it’s all finished. It’s nice to be back, btw.

Guest list, Order of Service

more alex pics
June 12, 2010, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Originally uploaded by americanpeasant