Sunday, July 25, 2010

Office Therapy

I recently read the book "Apartment Therapy" by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, and am now working through the suggestions in it.  (I found out about this book b/c one of the blogs I follow had a really great post about it.)  The premise is that you will feel much better about yourself if you get your living space in order.  Also, it's not about being "hoity toity" and having a beautiful house or apartment, but having one that is right for YOU and supports you in your activities.  I have found it very helpful. 

I was skipping around and decided to focus on my office for the past few days because it needs the most help.  Everytime I walk in here, I feel like "ugh"!  Office clutter seems to pile up the fastest, doesn't it?  I had piles of bills from over 10 years ago!  Also, my filing cabinet was crammed full of old stuff and was disorganized so files were piling up on my desk, the floor, etc.

Mr. Gillingham-Ryan suggests color-coding your files so you can see major categories at a glance.  My files are now pink and purple for personal stuff, green for professional stuff, and brown for house stuff.  I am so happy now that there is a place for all the paper clutter that has been covering my desk for years.  Also, I never knew what to keep and what to throw away, so I kept everything!  (You know....just in case.)  The following list in the book helped me greatly:

Keep:                                       For how long:
1.  Personal Letters -                permanently
2.  Tax returns -                        permanently
3.  Credit Card Statements -       7 years
4.  Mortgage Statements -          7 years
5.  Bank Statements -                 7 years
6.  Investment Statements -        7 years
7.  Tax deductible receipts -       7 years
8.  Insurance Policies -              3 years of renewals
9.  Warranties, User's Guides -   Life of Product  (or as long as you own it.)

Do NOT keep:
1.  Personal or holiday cards
2.  Utility bills (unless deductible)
3.  Rent receipts
4.  Nondeductible receipts or bills

Go ahead and declutter that office.  It doesn't take as long as you think it's going to, and you'll be glad you did!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

America: Don't be this guy!

I understand iphones are cool and all, but I really hope I never get like all these people I see who are permanently attached to them.  This was taken on a boat trip through the beautiful Killarney Lakes in Ireland.  Surrounded by SO much beauty and this guy never looked up from his iphone!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Greece: The Good, the Bad, and the Amusing

The Good:

I have a whole separate post on the good things about Greece. Here’s a recap: The islands, the food, the color of the ocean, siestas, tavernas, open-air cinemas, sunsets, beautiful flowers, frappes, kids running around at night, etc.

The Bad:
As with every country, you have to take the bad along with the good.  I always feel that an outsider has no right to criticise a country.  After all, if you don't like it, go home!  However, since my mother-in-law lives here, my husband is half-Greek, and I have spent every summer and every other Christmas here for the past 10 years; I feel I have earned the right to mention a few things I don't like.  (If you are Greek, please don't take offense,  I think the good outweighs the bad, and I am the first person to criticise things I don't like about my own country.)  Here are some things I really find hard to take when I come here:

-Athens - NOT my favorite place! It has all the problems of a big city without any of the convenience. I only liked Greece once I got out of Athens. By all means - go to Athens to see all the old stuff (Parthenon, etc.). I was really glad to see all that. The first time. After you’ve seen it all though, Athens is just a big, dirty city.

-Rude people - Admittedly, not all Greeks are rude. I find them to very rude in Athens, but really very friendly once you get outside of Athens.  Once, in Athens, an old Greek lady literally pushed me out of the way saying "op op op op op!"  I think that's the Greek for,"Get out of my way you dumb tourist!  I'm trying to get that taxi!"

- NO ONE waits in line. Ever. When you go anywhere, instead of lining up, the Greeks will push into a chaotic mob and elbow you out of their way. (Little old Greek ladies are the WORST!) I have been conditioned to wait my turn. If you try to do this, you’ll never get anywhere because everyone pushes ahead of you. Once the crowd begins to thin out, then a whole fresh mob of people will push in front of you. I have culture shock over this every time.

-Rules are for someone else - Most Greeks seem to have this mentality. Rules (even traffic rules) are for someone else. We once got totally yelled at by a man who had a red light, but he wanted to run it. We were walking across the street at the time (obeying the signal), and prevented him from doing this. (This is just one, small example. People create traffic lanes where there are no lanes, etc.) I always have underlying anxiety because I feel like anyone could do anything at anytime.

-Speaking of traffic - When driving in Athens, if you don’t go immediately, the person behind you will honk and curse at you. If you do go, then the car on street you just went in front of will honk and curse at you. Either way, you’re screwed.

The Amusing:
(I was going to call this “the ugly”, but I decided to think of it as amusing.)

- There is still smoking inside of buildings. When we went to the bank, (another thing I don’t like: things take FOREVER. Even simple things like going to the bank can take hours.) Anyway, we were at the bank, and the woman at the desk lit up and started smoking! I couldn’t believe it. Okay, though. It was a bank. Fair enough, I guess. What really shocked me was when we visited my mother-in-law in the hospital a few years back when she had a minor operation. People were smoking IN the hospital! Even the doctors and nurses smoked, right in front of the patients! (WTF?)

- Sidewalks are not for walking. Anywhere there is a sidewalk, people have planted trees in the middle of them. They cut holes in the concrete and plant trees in them every few feet. Of course, this makes walking on the sidewalk impossible. So then, everyone walks in the street while the angry drivers honk at everyone to get out of the way. To me, this is crazy.

-Gum - On the trunks of the above mentioned trees, there is tons of gum. Apparently, this is where youngsters put their used gum instead of throwing it away. Yuck.

- Ancient Plumbing - Most places have old plumbing with very narrow pipes. This means that you cannot flush toilet paper. Next to every toilet, they have a small trash can where you’re supposed to put used toilet paper and things you normally would flush. Ick. (This is another thing I find it hard to get used to.)

-Cats - They seem to be everywhere! Apparently, the Greeks won’t put down animals. This is nice in theory, but what do you do when the stray cats take over and there are packs of dogs which terrorize children? Sometimes, putting down strays is for the best.

Monday, July 5, 2010

More Things I Like About Greece

Other things (in addition to the islands) I like about Greece:

1. Food - I know we Americans think we have the best food, but Greece has us beat. I’m not even kidding! Now, I’m not talking about fancy, complicated dishes. Greece has just good, simple food but of the highest quality. I think this is because they haven’t succumbed to factory farming practices the way we have. The fruit and vegetable are the best I’ve ever tasted. They are grown locally and are picked when they are ripe.  Things like peaches and melons are just to die for.  Even broccoli tastes amazing over here!

The best lamb I have ever had has been in Greece. Alex says this is because the animals spend their whole lives eating fresh herbs that grow naturally on the hillsides. (Things like rosemary, oregano, and thyme.) The herbs are thoroughly incorporated into every part of the animal. Who knows if this is the reason, but I can tell you: there is nothing like Greek lamb chops!

Yogurt and honey - both are the thickest ever, and are totally delicious. The honey has the consistency of caramel. I’ve never found any like it outside of Greece. Also, they have different kinds. Today, we bought pine and chestnut honey. I can’t wait to try it!

Greek sweets - Did you know that there are LOTS of different kinds of baklava? Also, other baklava-esce desserts? Sweets are a big part of Greek culture. If you are invited to someone’s house for a meal, don’t bring flowers. Bring sweets! The sweet shops are even open on Sundays (nothing else is) so that people can get a beautifully wrapped box of sweets to bring to Sunday lunch. My favorites include the following:
  • baklava (the REAL thing. Not what they call “baklava” in Greek restaurants in America.)
  • kaitifi (made with “string” pastry instead of filo. It looks kind of like shredded wheat.)
  • ekmek (a Turkish dessert which is kind of like kaitifi with thick, whipped cream on top)
  • Chocolate “pasta”, which is a kind of cake which is layered with cream, then coated with a layer of chocolate. Alex’s favorite!
  • ice-creams - We all know that the Italians have a the best gelato, but I think some of that know-how must’ve gotten into Greek culture because they have amazing ice-creams over here. 
  •  I tried a new dessert this time. I don’t know what the Greek name is but the translation is “honey balls”. They are like donuts, soaked in honey, and topped with chopped nuts and cinnamon. Fantastic!
Frappes - Since it’s usually hot outside, the Greeks have a tradition of drinking cold coffee. They take really finely-ground instant coffee (like a really fine powder) and whip it up with water, sugar, and condensed milk. It makes a wonderfully frothy coffee drink. I think they were doing this long before frappucinos were invented.

2. Tavernas - I also love that you are more connected with the outside when in Greece. When you eat at a Taverna, you sit outside, usually under trees or a trellis. On our last night in Spetses, our table was on the beach, inches away from the water. Awesome! Also, it’s nice that everything you order automatically comes with a glass of ice-cold water. (Even if you order a glass of water, it will come with a glass of water!)

3. Siesta - Everyone takes a siesta from around 2 or so until around 5 or 6 in the evening. The shops close around then and reopen. The cool thing is that everything stays open until after midnight then. I love going to a Taverna at 11 at night and all the children are running around, playing while the adults chat and have a meal and/or a drink. It’s a really nice atmosphere.

4. Open-air cinemas - There are cinemas, which are usually on a roof-top, where you sit outside and watch a movie (on the side of a building or a screen) while the sun goes down. I love it!

5. The amazing turquoise water - When I first saw the ocean in Greece, I thought they must’ve poured turquoise dye into the water. It’s an amazing color! I’ve never been able to capture the color on camera. You just HAVE to come to Greece and see for yourself.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

My Favorite Greek Islands

My husband and I just got back yesterday from the islands of Hydra and Spetses.  If you're going to visit some isalnds in Greece, these two are close to Piraeus and are easy to get to.  I've been to other islands like Santorini, Mikonos, Paros, etc., but I find that these two are just as good as (if not better than) any of the more famous ones.  Here goes:

1. The Island of Hydra (pronounced “eethra”) - I have been to several islands, but Hydra is my favorite. It is the only one that does not allow cars on the island. Everything has to be carried by donkey or mule. This makes me feel like I have gone back in time. Also, it has the best swimming. You can jump directly off the rocks into deep, cool, clear water.

There is a café right on the water that I like going to. Here is a picture of some things I love to eat there:

At sunset, you can’t beat a fresh peach juice at Hydronetta bar. They juice the peaches right when you order it. Delicious! Also, I don’t think you can beat this view of the sunset. I know that the island of Mikonos is famous for that strip where you can have a drink and see the sunset, but Hydra is better. When we were on Mikonos, it was just so jam-packed with tourists that you couldn’t even get a seat. Even those who did manage to get a seat were squished and didn’t really look relaxed. (I have heard Mikonos described as “a piece of Panama City that they stuck in Greece”. I agree.) On Hydra, there is always a seat, a relaxing atmosphere, and you don’t have to wait to get service. Plus, the sunset is better because there isn’t as much haze. I never get tired of looking at this view:

2. The Island of Spetses - Very different from Hyrda, but still very nice. Cars and motorbikes are allowed on this island. There is an old harbor which is nice to walk along at sunset. This trip (for the first time), we rented a motorbike and rode around the entire island. I loved this! We found a small, secluded, almost private beach where we stopped for a swim. Awesome! If I were going to live on a Greek island, I’d live on Spetses and visit Hyrda.