Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Prep

Flaouna baking time is here again! Except for last year, when Marios was too little to really participate, Kay has always made flaounes with me. First with Alex and Sophia 'helping', lately with Zenon and Leo helping. So it seemed perfectly natural, now that Marios is a little bigger, to give her a call last week and suggest a morning's baking followed by egg tree making and a dog walk.

She arrived at just after nine and by ten we had a production line going: making the dough, leaving it to rise while we made the filling, then rolling each flaouna, filling it, painting with egg, and finally cooking tray after tray.

Time constraints mean that the egg tree is for another day, but we made several dozen flaounes (hers with raisins, mine with hash seeds) and walked Lucky along the dam.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Turning of the Seasons, the Turning of the Years

We are leaving spring behind and roaring, full throttle, into summer.

Every year the change in seasons happens this way: for the first half of April we cruise through a beautiful honeymoon spring, green grass, bright flowers, air crisp enough morning and evening to make long sleeves and a sweatshirt neccessary. The butter can stay out of the fridge in its butterdish, and retain the perfect consistency for spreading. Then around the middle of the month, the season shifts into higher gear. Overnight the grain ripens and the flowers die. Shorts and sandals come out of the closets, doors and windows stay open all day. One starts to avoid the sunshine. The butter sags into a golden pool and, if not refrigerated during the day, gets a rancid tang very quickly.

Yesterday we celebrated Zenon's birthday. He invited a crowd of friends and most of their parents joined us as well. Best Beloved did a simple meal of pork, lamb, and chicken souvla. There were hummous and grilled halloumi for the vegetarian contingent, and a massive salad. Cake and jelly followed the games, then the children dispersed to bike races, lego building, and table tennis – which the adults soon joined. Everyone left by dark, and BB and I cleaned up then sat sipping white wine on the verandah.

I guess I've been doing birthday parties – an average of two or three a year – for seventeen years now. And as I looked around the gathered well-wishers, I saw some of the same faces that appear in pictures taken more than a decade ago. Stelios is about to finish his army service now. Yioti is about to do his A-Levels. I have pictures of Yiotis's fifth birthday party, with several of the same characters gathered around his chocolate cake as were gathered around Zenon's yesterday. Maybe that's because Lisa's and my kids grew up side-by-side... But it's been a while since all her big boys were here, and as she said yesterday, as we watched them scoffing cake and jelly with the same enthusiasm that they showed twelve years ago “They don't get any smaller, and they take up So Much Space!”

Little People parties are dominated by Pass the Parcel and Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Sophia's last one – when she turned fourteen (she couldn't decide what to do last year, so opted for nothing) – was a tea party, complete with crustless sandwiches, elegant cups and saucers, and trifle... and head banging rock and roll or heavy metal rumbling from the nether regions both before and after the meal. Leo's is a winter birthday, and the weather is often too bad to spend it outdoors, but Zenon's is the perfect opportunity for outdoor games. Last year we had water ballon wars with washable dye. All the invitations included the admonition to 'wear old clothes' – not a usual warning on a Cypriot invite.

Next weekend belongs to Easter, and the spate of parties and feasting that accompany the major festival of the Orthodox year. I'll shun the bangers and bonfire of Saturday night: custom is that the whole village goes for the Midnight Service, shares a light from the Paschal Candle, and witnesses the celebration of the Risen Christ. The Pagan side of me enjoys the fire and the concept of the gathering, but in practice I usually avoid it – I hate the firecrackers, and don't enjoy the religion.

The Big Ones have friends in the village now to hang out with, and will surely go. BB or his parents may take the Littles.

Then it's back to school – revising and GCSE's for Alex, end of term exams for Sophia, the Three R's for the Littles. After that? The long, glorious ten weeks of summer holidays.

Roll on!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Making Dogs and Small Boys Happy

Another Facebook-inspired note today...

A friend posted the other day something like 'forget the gym, get a dog', and that caused me to reflect on our current situation.

We have been dogless since late last summer when our dear stray, Lizzie, who had found a home with us but a few brief months, ate poison probably spread on our land by a hunter jealous of another hunter's dogs. But Mili has a dog... Her pet Lucky died after a twelve-year innings, and was replaced in short order by a spirited puppy late last October. I had my doubts about this Lucky. I knew that it would grow into a big dog – she has, and she's still growing. I feel that it's desperately unfair to fit a big dog into a small pen. And, Mili is no spring chicken (she'll be seventy next month) and is neither as spry nor as strong as she used to be. The combination was not promising.

Sure enough, Milli tries to take Lucky II for walks twice a day, but they are pitifully short for an energetic, long-legged youngster. And seeing Lucky shut up, hour after hour, day after day does my heart and my temper no good at all.

So I take Lucky for walks. Not every day, but at least five times a week I take her out for an hour or so over the dam, down to the – thankfullly defunct – motorcycle piste, along the valley, or through the fields. Usually I can get one of the boys to come with me: Leo came the other day, and we walked the edge of the plateau – Lucky porpoising through the weeds, wheat, barley and flowers in the fallow pastureland, only the points of her ears and the tips of her waving tail visible above the green, yellow, purple and scarlet all around. Even Leo found some of the greenery head-high, and plunged with small-boy abandon after the dog and the ball that she was alternately clutching and tossing into the air.

Today was Zenon's eleventh birthday and his gift from his father and me was a bike. This is a honey of a bike – his first with gears – and he was desperate to try it. So this evening, with all other chores and driving jobs dispensed with, I suggested that he come with me and Lucky down to the dam. “We'll go along the wall this time, not over the tracks and the fields, and you can try the new bike properly.”

His face lit immediately, and he hurried to find his shoes, collect the dog from her pen, and help me get the bike into the Landrover. It's so big that we had to take the wheel off, and we fussed and pushed, and all the while Lucky II panted her excited doggy breath into the back of the car. Job done, Zenon climbed into the back beside the dog and we set off on the short journey.

By the time we got to our usual parking place, the light was golden and the shadows long. We unloaded bike and dog and set off. There and back, I walked a mile, the silver and light blue water, it's level almost to full (I remember so well two years ago when the high-water mark showed livid, way above the stagnant ooze that lapped the hillsides and damwall) meeting the green and dappled hillsides; EasyJet landing from Gatwick; the windmills turning against the sky. Boy and dog must have covered five miles: I was only a quarter of the way across when they reached the end and started back towards me. Then circling me, they headed back the way they had come – Zenon feeling his way up and down the gears and bouncing over the speed bumps and Lucky running alongside, tongue hanging, eyes laughing, tail wagging 'This-beats-those-sedate-promenades-with Mili-hands-down!' written all over her face. Mutt that she is, her chassis is a little crooked and she can't run a straight line to save her life.

By the time we returned, dusk had fallen and Zenon took Lucky back to her cage for her dinner.

Best Beloved turned our spare room into a gym last month, with the purchase of a treadmill, an elliptical machine, a rower, and a set of weights. Most weekday mornings, I do 15 minutes on the elliptical (it tells me that I have covered something over a mile with a resistance of 9 – whatever that means), and about 50 sit-ups. I simply do not have time to take Lucky out, so I resort to the gym.

But evenings are a different matter. Evenings now, for a while I forget the chores, forget the hassle, just get a boy, get the dog, and get outside.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What I was Thinking About While Planting This Morning

Something happened yesterday that made me sad.

I was doing my skim through Facebook and came on the following, posted by one of my friends from High School: “Apparently, Glenn Beck says that only hookers use Planned Parenthood. Guess that makes me and all the other people who have ever used PPs vast array of services hookers. Cross post if you are a hooker according to Beck too.” I had used PP – gratefully -- in my youth, thought 'What a ridiculous thing to say!' and without too much thought, posted it to my status bar. Over the next 24 hours, that comment generated more responses than any that I have ever made.

A friend in Maine explained some of the background to the quotation (which I will not post here. It's easy enough to find on the Net if you want to listen), and suggested that GB doesn't necessarily believe what he says, but thrives on OTT controversial statements, and I accept that that maybe true. I don't know him or his background from Adam. (Note to readers: I have not lived in the USA for two decades, plus. I am not familiar with talk show hosts or other popular personalities, and know that commenting on another culture whose nuances are unfamiliar, is done at the commenter's peril. There be Dragons! But I digress.) I replied that I was unfamiliar with the man in question and had probably passed on the equivalent of a Chinese Whisper. Within minutes, a friend in Florida posted the link to the comment, and I listened to what was actually said.

I felt ill almost immediately. It was so full of negativity and toxic energy. So belittle-ing of others who don't share his views. Maybe that's how 'entertainment' works these days, and I am so isolated on my Mediterranean seaside plateau that the world has left me behind... 'Hookers' are only ones that will miss Planned Parenthood should it be cut from existence.... Abortions are treated as a joke... Fundamental women's health services are ridiculed...

I've never hooked. And I'm pretty sure that none of the women who stepped up and posted beside me have, either. I see nothing wrong with the job itself, but deplore the misery and exploitation that so often serve as prostitution's hand-maidens. I have had an abortion. I lived in a country where contraception was illegal, a doctor who mentioned abortion as an option could be prosecuted, and women who found themselves in the 'family way' were forced abroad, into 'unwed mothers' homes', or gave birth alone in fields -- and died. It was not a joke, and I will bet a fortune on the notion that no-one who has had an abortion and no-one who provides them treats them as a joke. For me it was a time of misery, pain, and depression – and I was fortunate to have the support of my family. How infinitely awful for those who must endure them alone or under a cloud of disapproval.

What struck me most about that little soundbite was the lack of compassion. Maybe he really is a cuddly grandpa who puts all that callousness on for effect. That idea in itself led me to two further images: I, after using natural cleaners for so long, can no longer walk the the supermarket's chemical detergent aisles without developing a headache and sensitive eyes – yet other shoppers have no problem, and a frog can allegedly stay happily in slowly heating water until it boils to death. What's the cumulative cultural effect of that aural toxicity on those who hear it daily?

A dog-eared copy on the following was posted on the door on the Big One's nursery school fifteen years ago. I have never forgotten it.

Children Learn What They Live

By Dorothy Law Nolte, PhD

Copyright 1972

If a child lives with criticism,

A child learns to condemn

If a child lives with hostility,

A child learns to fight

If a child lives with ridicule,

A child learns to be shy

If a child lives with shame,

A child learns to feel guilty

If a child lives with tolerance,

A child learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement,

A child learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise,

A child learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness,

A child learns justice.

If a child lives with security,

A child learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval,

A child learns self-esteem.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,

A child learns to find love in the world.