Thursday, June 25, 2015

Triplets' Sixth Birthday

The triplets recently celebrated their 6th birthday. The day began with a friend coming over and opening some presents, as you can see above.

Then I took the kids to an indoor playground so that Pres. Pelagia would have time to prepare the house for the big party. Despite being June, the weather here has been unpredictable, and that day was full of rain and thunderstorms.

Pelagia decorated the balcony with balloons and homemade hula hoops, which all the kids took home with them after the party.

We even found a clown to come to the party for a few hours for games and face painting in the courtyard.

Here they were playing something like dodgeball.

Finally, it was time for pizza and cake. Pelagia made three individual cakes and each of the kids helped design their own cake.

They were topped with sparkling candles.

Before being consumed with ice cream.

Phoebe with her cake.

Paul as Captain America.

Then, high on sugar, the kids went back to play more with the clown.

The party ended with some small fireworks, which the kids loved. Just as the party was ending, the hiatus from the rain ended, with everyone joking that we must have "some good connections" for the weather to have held out so perfectly for the party.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

May and June in Makrinitsa and Portaria

May and June seem to be the favorite time for academic conferences, and our Metropolis hosted several groups. Twice recently I gave a tour of Makrinitsa and Portaria, which gave me an opportunity to learn a bit more about Makrinitsa. In fact, it was the first time I had ever managed to go into Makrinitsa's enormous main church, and learn about its history.

Above is a photograph from inside the church of a sculpted stone relief of the Divine Visitation, dating from the 13th century. It is one of the few pieces preserved from the original monastery built on this spot some time between 1205 and 1215, which was dedicated to the Divine Visitation of the Mother of God. The monastery had royal benefactors and grew in importance until the 17th century, when it seems to have disappeared. No one is sure whether it was destroyed by the Turks or whether it was gradually abandoned.

In any event, it was rebuilt on the same spot as a large church dedicated to the Mother of God in 1767, using parts of the original church.

In 1955, the church was almost completed destroyed by the earthquakes that rocked this region. It was rebuilt according to the same dimensions and plan in 1963.

May and June also mark the beginning of the season for weddings and baptisms. We were invited to a reception after a baptism recently, and the kids had a good time particularly with the bubble machine. Here you can see Damiani chasing the bubbles.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Damiani's Second Birthday

June 3 marked Damiani's second birthday, which was marked by opening a few presents.

With the help and eager interest, of course, of her brothers and sisters.

And which, included, among other things, a small inflatable pool for behind the house.

And, best of all, a chocolate cake decorated with mint frosting in the shape of a turtle, which is Damiani's favorite animal at the moment.

Here she is giving the turtle a kiss.

And here she is getting ready to blow out the candles.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The National Gardens in Athens

After we finished our work at the US Embassy, we took the subway over to the National Gardens in the center of the city. The kids enjoyed the subway.

Here we are the Parliament Building and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is ceremoniously guarded by three traditionally clad guards. They stand motionless and stone-faced, changing places only on the half-hour. People can pose next to them, but only with serious poses. Just before we reached the guards (you can see them in the background), we fed seeds to the birds, who actually came and stood on our arms to eat them out of our hands.

Paul was the only one brave enough to try it.

We then headed into the National Gardens, which were built in 1840 as the King's gardens, directly behind his palace (which is, today, the Parliament building). I told the kids the story of how the course of history was changed in these gardens in 1920, when King Alexander, who was out for a stroll, was bitten by a pet monkey and died three weeks later. His death brought the return of his father, King Constantine, whose pro-German sympathies changed the delicate European alliances and led, possibly, to the Greeks' loss of Constantinople and western Asia Minor.

I assured them, however, that there were no monkeys in the Gardens today. Instead, there were lots and lots of turtles, which Damiani loves.

Here is a great mass of turtles. The Gardens also have a large playground area for the kids, where, of course, we spent some time. In all, it's really a very nice respite in the middle of bustling Athens.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Lake Vouliagmeni

Recently, we had to take the kids to the US Embassy in Athens in order to renew their passports. This was quite a hassle, so we made the best of it by combining it with a trip to Lake Vouliagmeni, which the kids thoroughly enjoyed.

The first thing you notice is the small fish tickling your feet. Actually, though, they are feasting on your dead skin, and people come from far and wide for this spa treatment. The kids actually said they didn't feel anything, so I guess they don't have enough dead skin.

The green dot in the middle of the photo above is one of the kids floaties. Paul grabbed one and headed out full-steam for the middle of the lake.

Here's Phoebe at one of the stairs, where the hungry little piranha fish tend to gather.

As you can see, it's a gorgeous location in a suburb of Athens, far from the chaos of the city.

Here are Pelagia and Benny watching the fish tickle their feet.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Around Town

The long-awaited spring weather has given us the opportunity to get outside and work in the garden areas around the church. Above, you can see that even Damiani has been helping out. Pelagia has established a sort of "work party" every Friday. To this point, it's just me, Pelagia, Damiani and our catechumen Omari (from Congo), but we're getting some things done.

We had some friends over for a BBQ, and their kids brought their inline skates. Our kids were very excited about them. Here's Benny trying them out.

Last week, I was asked to give a tour of Portaria and Makrinitsa to a group of Catholic theologians from Bari who were meeting in our region. Here we are at the other parish in Portaria, St. Nicholas. The group included one wonderful Catholic nun from Tanzania, who is in charge of an orphanage near Mt. Kilimanjaro. She is working on her doctorate in ecumenical theology at Bari. You can see her on the right in the photo above.

When I went to meet the group at their conference, I ran into the local religion/culture reporter, who had been trying to track me down for a story. Not able to escape, I spoke with her, and she published this very nice article in the local paper. Here is the Google Translate version.