Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 319: Family Eating Plan, Sunsets Included

On Day 319, we woke up planning to nothing other than continue our vacation activities: diving for sea urchins, tanning by Yaya's pool, sleeping wherever and whenever we wanted. In many ways, the trip had started to feel like a broken record. Like the best broken record there ever has been: sleep, boat, swim, tan, eat, and repeat.

I started to notice a pattern at our twice-daily sit down meals with Yaya that felt familiar to me. Somewhere in between me whispering under my breath, "This is so delicious," and happily indulging in another helping of whatever perfectly prepared food we were eating, Yaya would ask us what we wanted for lunch and dinner in the days to come.

Yaya, like members of my own family, likes to plan her next meal while still eating her current meal. Gallmans are notorious for this and it completely baffles me. How could I, taking my first bite of cereal at 9am, possibly know what I'm going to want in three hours for lunch, or in eight hours when it's time to have dinner? I'm obviously not a planner and I know this very fact is likely maddening to the more organized people in my life, but the constant need to know what we're eating for every meal in a week is both frustrating and humorous. In the case of my family, since we're dealing with a large group that includes kids and bedtimes and grocery shopping, I understand the need for some foresight and discussion. And in the case of Yaya, her goal is to please her grandchildren and she wants to make sure they get all of the meals they like to eat while they're in Greece. But the whole planning thing just goes against my natural tendency to just take things as they come, and eat when I'm hungry. I can't plan dinner now because I don't know what I'm going to feel like eating in six hours, or if I'm going to want to eat at all. But the Gallmans want to know. So does Yaya.

I make these comparisons because I had to chuckle thinking that while Chios, Greece and Oak Island, North Carolina are quite possibly the two most different places on earth, I felt an instant connection between them, strangely: perhaps it was the nothing to do, nowhere to be, family time at its finest feeling? And even though it wasn't my family with home I was enjoying this unbelievable vacation, I still felt the love. And as if Yaya had gone out of her way to make me feel at home by incorporating my own family traditions, we'd decided, while eating one of our meals on Day 318, that we would dine out on the evening of Day 319.

Thanks to an already established plan, Day 319's things I've never done before were to visit an abandoned city and to watch a sunset in Greece.

In addition to her lovely, super-romantic story about marrying Pappou on Day 318, Yaya also gave us a mini-history lesson about Chios, specifically about this town of Anavatos. Now I haven't been able to confirm that this next part is historically accurate, but I'm pretty sure that if Yaya told me the sky was green, I'd believe her, so I have no reason to think her story isn't true.

According to what Yaya knows, Anavatos had been able to resist the Massacre of Chios in 1822, thanks to having been built at the top of a steep, rocky mountain. The mass killing left tens of thousands dead, but because the terrain up to Anavatos was simply too treacherous, that city's people had been spared from the brutal attacks. That is, until a woman Yaya described as, "Not smart, not all together there, a village idiot-type," told a man promising to help her people just exactly how to navigate the terrain to get to Anavatos. She more or less showed him the route, unaware that when he got there, he would destroy Anavatos, and kill everyone in his path. Like I said, I have absolutely no proof that this story is factual, but after seeing the city, I definitely believe that something horrible happened there.

Getting to Anavatos in a car in 2010 felt every bit as difficult as it must've felt getting there in the 1800's. I can't recall ever getting motion sickness, but this is certainly the closest I've come. Yanni, the driver, did the best he could to get us there quickly and safely and without making us sick, but there was only so much he could do. The roads were steep and narrow and they winded back and forth; Anavatos was at the very top. Looking over the cliffs from a car window was nauseating.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, I thought we were on a movie set. The entire scene, the destroyed buildings, toppled over bricks, piles of debris, all looked like they were staged for the invasion scene of a film. Yaya insisted we walk to the top to check out the view; she said she would stay behind with Yanni at the car. The walk, she said, was just too much for her.

Katy decided she'd stay behind with Yaya while Jana and I walked to the top.

"No," Yaya said, "You go."

"Yaya, I don't want you to stay by yourself," Katy said, walking away with her.

"I'm fine. I don't need you to stay with me," Yaya returned. "You should go to the top to see the view."

"Yaya, I don't want to leave you," Katy said.

"This could go on for a while," Jana said jokingly. She's seen her sister's will, and her grandmother's, and it was unsure who would win this battle.

They went back and forth for a solid five minutes, Yaya taking Katy's hand and guiding her to the stairs to start walking, and Katy turning around to following Yaya back to the car. It was Granddaughter vs. Grandmother in likely the sweetest fight I've ever witnessed. I'm not a gambling woman, but I would've taken Yaya as the winner of this scuffle, and I would've been right. Katy had no choice but to relent to Yaya's wishes that she walk to the top with the rest of us and enjoy the beautiful views.

Katy, Jana and I took off through Anavatos; I stopped repeatedly to take pictures of the town, which rivaled San Francisco in terms of ass workouts the hills were so steep. Yaya was right about the exquisite views, but there was a sense of sadness and mystery that I could feel. If the story that Yaya had told us was true, then the people of Anavatos had likely established a healthy sense of security at the top of the mountain, certain no harm would come to them, only to be accidentally betrayed by one of their own and susceptible to a hostile takeover.

I just kept wondering, as I do whenever I'm in a place that is full of history, "What really happened here?"

We took a lot of pictures at the top, of the view, of the sun that was starting to set, and of ourselves (some of which felt inappropriate considering the devestation that happened there. But I can't help myself, I cry and laugh at inappropriate times.) We concluded that we all dressed inappropriately, and could've suffered fatal consequences trying to explore the damaged buildings in sandals and sundresses. I'm not a huge fan of heights anyway, and paired with an outfit that was poorly planned for exploring made me feel uneasy.

When we came back down to meet Yaya, she hurried us into the car so that we could get to dinner before the sun was completely gone. She then instructed Yanni to do whatever it took to get us there. And he did.

I don't know if Yaya called ahead, or if she knew the right people, but when we arrived at the restaurant, we were seated immediately at one of the best tables, in the center of everything, on a covered porch without any windows. And we made it just in time to watch the sun set into the hazy horizon, a gorgeous picture that luckily will be burned into my brain for a long time, thanks to my camera's inability to successfuly capture a picture of it. I'm not super picture-taker by any means, but I will accept user error only up to a certain point. Thankfully, Jana's camera, and camera skills, are better than mine. And I have an excellent memory.

I remember glancing briefly at a menu while we were there, but Yaya took charge of the ordering, just as she had with everything else. And order she did, because soon after we sat down, there was a constant flow of food (including fried cheese) and wine for at least an hour. Par for the course in Greece, we ate and drank like we were going to prison the next day.

Much to Yaya's delight after being concerned about their whereabouts all day, Nico and Tatiana joined us towards the end of the meal, having returned to town after an expectedly racous time at the football/soccer match.

The meal was rich and loud with food and story-telling and the whole scene made me feel like I had temporarily staked a claim in this family who like mine, sometimes argues, often over-plans, and always over eats.

My stomach hurt, but the rest of me felt pretty damn good, even on the wind-blown trip back to Emporios.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 318: Sea Urchins and Love Stories

We woke up in Greece for our first full day ready to tackle the important things: more eating, more lounging, more tanning, more swimming. Though the jet-lag made me feel strange and I had little concept of time or what day it was, I woke up feeling rested and excited, all thanks to Ambien and a super comfortable bed.
Breakfasts at Yaya's, Katy explained, are the same everyday, and are all self-serve. Since everyone usually wakes up at different times, a supply of tea, coffee, bread and fruit was left out on the table for us to help ourselves. So we did, and then changed into our swimsuits to get started with our day.

Ahead of Day 318, there was a great deal of conversation about whether or not we would attend an annual football match to be played on a nearby island. Surprising to everyone, including him, Nico was rumored to have been tapped to lead the Chios team as captain; nearly everyone that Katy knew from spending her summers in Greece would be there. The potential for fun and adventure and things I've never done would be sky-high, plus I'd get to hang out with Nico, Tatiana and Michael, who in the short time I'd spent with them, I'd already taken a liking to. But there were understandable reasons why we shouldn't go. We were still adjusting to Greece time and this trip would involve a long car ride, followed by a ferry ride, and late night, not to mention we'd be leaving Yaya less than 12 hours after arriving on her doorstep. Plus, even though I was going to be away from the United States for more than a week, with travel days and time changes, my actual time in Greece was limited, and Katy wanted me to be able to soak up as much Chios and as much relaxation as possible. So after lots of discussion, Katy, Jana and I decided that we would forgo the football (soccer) match, and stay behind with Yaya.

I love it when "staying behind" means taking a boat ride around the Mediterranean and diving for sea urchins, which were both Day 318's things I've never done before.

Katy started to tell me about diving for sea urchins before I had even decided for sure that I would come with her to Greece, but she stopped herself; she was afraid, she said, that whatever she said might scare me. I demanded that she complete her thought, certain that whatever she had to say wasn't going to scare me. I mean, she reads the blog. She knows I'm adventurous! I guess having already completed 300+ new things wasn't enough to make her trust I was serious about embracing new opportunities.

How dare Katy think that diving and catching my own food would freak me out! So what if I never fell in love with beets? Her doubting my sense of adventure, especially as it pertains to food, was frustrating. I can, and would, of course, give sea urchins a chance.

Shortly after breakfast, Jana, Katy and I walked down to the street to meet Stelios, the boat captain, who took us to Yaya and Pappou's boats that are anchored with other boats in the middle of the harbor. We collected flippers, masks, old forks and a basket for collecting our urchins and then loaded the smaller of the two boats and were on our way.

When we got to our first diving spot, there was a small instruction session given by Jana and Katy on exactly what I was supposed to do. The sea urchins are attached to the reef, and our goal was to dive down and with the fork, pry the female urchins loose. Females only because they are the ones with eggs, and that's what, "eating a sea urchin," really means, eating the roe. According to Katy, female sea urchins have shorter spines, bigger bodies and usually have seaweed or rocks stuck on them; they're usually tinted red, purple or green. Males have all black needles and smaller bodies.

In her hands, the difference between a female and a male sea urchin seemed pretty obvious, but once under water, I found making the distinction quite difficult. I'd bring a handful of sea urchins to the surface, only to find that they were all male ones and had to go back. Overall, though, Katy and Jana were pleased with my performance, even as a rookie.

There weren't a lot of sea urchins at the first place we stopped, so we moved on to another area and were much more successful. Once the basket was full, we headed back to the harbor, sunned for an hour on the boat and then headed back to Yaya's house to get ready for lunch.

When we returned, Katy showed me around Yaya's yard, including a trip to her greenhouse where she keeps all of her orchids; Yaya is a master when it comes to orchids and her house is full of them, on the inside and on the out. On the way back from the greenhouse, we ran into Stelios, who was now preparing the sea urchins we had caught. Preparing a sea urchin is really nothing more than cutting it half. No cooking required. Stelios handed me the special knife he was using and I took a turn cutting one open, a task that he made look a lot easier than it actually was.

Once at the dining room table, I took a look at our bounty and I strangely felt proud of myself, like a gatherer who had collected a feast for her family.

Katy showed me how to eat the eggs, by taking a spoon and scraping the orange eggs from the shell. People eat them in a variety of ways, Katy and Jana both explained. Some people eat them directly off the spoon; others, like Katy, spoon the eggs on top a piece of bread to cover it like a spread before eating.

I tried the sea urchins a variety of ways. I enjoyed it the most the way Katy does, with bread; the moisture from the sea urchin eggs, with a hit of vinegar (a la Katy's mom), and the bread was perfectly salty and delicious.

Katy, all about some dramatic statements, exclaimed, "I love it! This is one of my favorite foods. Seriously. Top. Five. Favorites."

I looked at her and smiled, and nodded that I understood what she was saying.

I liked them too. I liked that I helped catch them, and now we're all enjoying them. I liked that eating them was almost eating caviar, something that I'd always wanted to do.

But favorite foods? I'm not sure I would go that far. I appreciate them for what they are. Salty fish eggs. Perhaps this is the snob in me, but I think part of the reason that I enjoyed them is because Yaya told us that they are a delicacy.

I was surprised when she told us so, since they seemed pretty easy to come by. But Yaya and Pappou found out the hard way just how much of a delicacy they are after ordering plates full of them while out to dinner in New York. When the meal was over, Pappou got stuck with a pretty hefty bill that he was both perplexed by and frustrated with. I imagine paying a high price for something you're used to collecting basket fulls of daily feels strange.

After finishing the sea urchins, our lunch continued with delicious white fish (head and bones included); then we continued our day with more sunning and napping. Katy and I had major plans to exercise everyday while we were in Greece. So far we were off to a terrible start.

Dinner was a quiet affair since just the four of us were there. Lunch was such a delicious, lavish affair, we ate a light lemon soup for dinner.

Before leaving for Greece, Katy had, at my request, told me about her family. Yaya and Pappou had an arranged marriage more than 50 years ago. Like many Greek men do, Pappou and his brothers worked in the shipping industry in New York and in Athens. They had two children, Katy's mom, and her uncle (who has lived in New York, London, and now in Athens), and now have six grandchildren. No offense to Katy, but hearing Yaya tell the story from her perspective was far more entertaining and after finishing dinner, the three of us, Jana, Katy and I sat on the edge of our seats as she spanned several decades of her life.
I assume it was Katy or Jana who asked the next question, but Yaya had been so candid, so open with all of us, I wouldn't be surprised if it was me who asked, about her marriage to Pappou, "How did you feel, marrying someone that you barely knew? Were you nervous?"

I stared intently at Yaya's face waiting for her answer, and if I could've crawled into her brain to know exactly what she was thinking, I would have. The expression on her face spoke volumes as she recalled the life she'd built with this man who she was so obviously devoted to and she said, slowly and honestly, "Well, yes. But after we got into the car, he took my heart . . .," her voice trailed and she stopped briefly to correct herself. "I mean, he took my hand, and looked at me, and I knew it was going to be okay."

I moved my head to Jana and then to Katy, then to Jana, then back to Katy, hoping that I heard what I did, and that their reactions were the same as mine. Yaya said, "heart," but she meant, "hand." But by misspeaking, we all knew he had stolen them both. For a lifetime.

Thanks to being constantly distracted by own thoughts and everything that is going on around me, I can think of but a few moments over the past year, and in my life, when I felt 100 percent present in the moment, completely connected into what I was doing and not thinking about what was going on around me, not caring what was going to happen next. But right then, right there, at Yaya's kitchen table, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, listening to a love story Hollywood could only dream of inventing.

Later, I wondered if that feeling of being completely plugged into the present is what I'm supposed to be feeling all of the time. I'm sure that there are people out there who would argue that if you're living your life as you should, then you'll always live in the present and drown out all of the outside "noise." I don't know if I'll ever get there, so instead, I'll cherish moments like this one with Yaya when I felt the stars align, and was, even for a short time, able to block everything else out. It moved me in ways that are hard to describe.

This was why, when I asked her if I should go to Greece, my mom said, "When someone from Greece asks you to go to Greece with them, you go." Because she knew, and now, thanks to this little experience I did too, that this moment wouldn't have happened if I came to Greece on my own. If I had all the money in the world and stayed at the nicest hotels and ate at the fanciest restaurants, nothing could've compared to this moment that had moved me to tears right there at Yaya's kitchen table.

I'm not quite sure why I had such a strong reaction to Yaya's story; I suspect the beautiful story was emotional for everyone, including Yaya, and Katy and Jana, though I don't remember seeing anyone else's eyes welled up with tears. Maybe they'd heard this story before. Or maybe I'm a romantic weirdo.

But I thanked God for Katy, and for Yaya and Jana and for American Express and for irresponsible financial decisions that led me here, to a moment that stopped time and allowed me, if for only a short time, to be in the present.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 317: All the Pretty People in Greece

We arrived in Athens right on time, the morning of Day 317, a day that would be full of things I'd never done before: drink a frappe, eat a proper Greek meal, run into family members at the airport, and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

I was very anxious to get off the plane when we landed. Eager to stretch my legs and very eager to feel warm air on my skin for the first time in 11 hours after sitting over the wing and feeling a subzero draft the entire way. I was also in a hurry to get away from my seat mate, who I stupidly gave my business card to after he asked me for my number and I didn't know what else to do. He wasn't a mean person; he was just strange, and a little too inquisitive.

I met Katy outside and I assumed we were making our way toward the customs counter and to baggage claim. We were, but by way of a man who worked for Katy's grandma (Yaya), who was sent to the airport to help us get to where were needed to go.

This would become the first installment in a vacation-long series entitled, "Steph is an Idiot, so Thank Goodness her Friends Take Care of Business in Greece."

Episode One:

A friend of Katy's grandparents actually met us at the airport, collected our passports and moved us through Greek customs quickly and with ease; he helped us retrieve our luggage (well, he helped me get mine; Katy's was checked on to Chios), and then he checked us in for our next flight. Other than shaking his hand and saying hello when Katy introduced us, I said very little, and did even less, during the next half hour with him. I literally checked out and went dumb, forcing Katy to use whatever Greek she knew to communicate to him what we needed.

When our friend, (and complete life saver, as far as I was concerned) was done helping us, Katy and I went to the bathroom to freshen up a bit. She changed her clothes, into a dress and sandals. She looked so cute, and I regretted not also having a change of clothes so that I could do the same.

I looked at myself in the mirror; I looked like someone who just had just been on a plane for 11 hours. "Does this look awful?," I asked, referring to my outfit. "I feel gross."

"Not at all," she said, "You look great. I love what you have on."

I had no other options for clothes, so I had no choice but to accept her compliment even if I had to fish for it.

But then she followed with, "Like I said before, you wouldn't be here if you weren't pretty."

I laughed, and shook my head.

Katy has said to me before, quite matter-of-factly, that she’s not friends with people who aren’t attractive. At first, I was both humored and flattered by this bold, yet seemingly superficial statement.

"Certainly at least one of your friends isn't pretty," I challenged.

"Nope," she said, pausing to think about it. "They're all hot." I tried to keep pushing her on it, but when I stopped to think of my own friends, I couldn't deny that they're all hot too. But I suspect that's probably because that's the way I see them. And that's how Katy sees her friends too. Not an ugly one in the bunch.

I did my best to get myself looking like the hot person Katy thinks I am in the bathroom of the Athens airport, but there was only so much I could do without an ample amount of beauty rest. We then went in search of frappes, Katy's favorite frothy coffee drink in Greece.

After ordering our drinks (which were caffeinated, creamy, and delicious, just how I like my coffee), we took a seat at the coffee shop and killed time before meeting up with Katy's sister Jana, who was coming in from New York. We somehow managed, despite very little sleep and not a whole lot of brain power between us, to strike up a super deep conversation about life and love that left me even more exhausted than I was before.

We finished our frappes and went in search of another restroom before heading to our gate to wait for our next flight, literally running into Jana on the way. We sat with her while she also had a drink at the coffee shop; we talked about our flights and about my blog. Jana and I bonded immediately over high levels of self-awareness and sarcasm. I liked her right away, just like Katy told me I would. I think she liked me too.

Katy, Jana and I were all on the same short "puddle jumper" flight to Chios, and as Jana jokingly suggested on our way to the gate, there was a good chance that we'd probably run into more of their family members boarding the plane. Trips to Chios are family affairs.

And sure enough, after a hold up at security (all me--no doubt the pale skin and light hair made me a traveler that was worth extra questioning), we began running into members of Katy and Jana's family all over the place. I had to laugh, as we went to take a seat and Jana caught eyes with a woman who was her second or third cousin.

I was amused by this encounter, and even took a picture so that I'd remember it before I was introduced to the group. Little did I know that this was merely a kickoff to a week full of introductions to Katy and Jana's family members. Greek families are big, and they all travel together, and many of them, as I'll explain in later posts, have the same name, making my ability to remember them virtually impossible.

The trip from Athens to the island of Chios was under an hour. The Chios airport is small, and there isn't really a "terminal." So once on the ground, the pilots simply parked the plane next to the runway, and we walked down a makeshift stairwell and over to the airport’s baggage claim area.

As we approached, all I could see in front of me and around me were grandparents kissing their grandchildren, husbands kissing wives, daughters and sons kissing their parents; everyone appeared so boisterous and emotional, kissing cheeks and enveloping their loved ones in a loving embraces.

The whole scene sounds sweet, doesn't it?

It definitely was, except for the fact that these emotional scenes were playing out in the most crowded baggage claim area while everyone waited for their bags to arrive. There simply wasn't enough square footage for everyone to show so much PDA. I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I was hot, I was tired, and I was starving; honestly the only thing that kept me from blowing a gasket in the airport were deep breaths and the constant mantra I was saying over and over in my head: "I’m in Greece! I’m in Greece! I’m in Greece!"

Despite the baggage claim insanity, Jana was able to point out a picture on the wall and she said, "That's where we're going. That's Emporios." The photo she showed me was absolutely gorgeous. I started caring less about being tired and hot and hungry. I was so excited.

The second episode of "Steph is an Idiot, so Thank Goodness her Friends Take Care of Business in Greece," came in the form of Yanni, who picked us up in an old school Mercedes. Katy and Jana have known Yanni for a long time because he has worked for their Yaya as a cook and a driver for years. He retrieved our luggage, packed it in the car, and we were on our way.

Yanni spoke very little English; and since Jana and Katy speak only a little Greek, the car ride was pretty quiet. Had it not been for the narrow roadways and the hilly terrain, I probably would've fallen asleep. Instead, I soaked up my surroundings, breathing in the Greece air, feeling eternally grateful that this journey had led me here, to this place.

Chios is a kidney-shaped island off the east coast of Greece. It's 30 miles long, and around 20 miles wide, and from what I could tell on the way to Katy’s grandparents’ house in Emporios, on the southern end of the island, was not what I was expecting from Greek island. Not because I had any huge expectations, but only because the only thing that I knew about Greece was what I’d read in history books (the Acropolis); in stock pictures of Mykonos (white stucco buildings with blue shutters) and watching the film Mamma Mia (gorgeous people everywhere bursting into song and dance every chance they get.)

No, like most things I've encountered in my life, this year especially, Chios didn't look like I thought it would, but it was every bit as lovely and quaint as I could've imagined, and I loved it.

As we made our way past a pottery shop in the next town over from Yaya's, Katy looked at the store and then she looked at me and Jana and declared, "I'm really gonna load up on some pottery this year." Her comments pulled me away from the daydream I was having about living in Europe and marrying a Greek shipping heir. The intensity with which she spoke about pottery was laughable, but I could tell that she meant what she was saying. Katy attacks everything she does, work, Greece, pottery, with gusto.

Jana and Katy's physical demeanor changed as drew closer to their grandparents' house and I knew we had almost arrived when they began pointing out all of the neighbors' houses, saying things like, "Remember the girl from the airport? That's where her parents live."

When we pulled down the narrow street to the house, Yanni had to drive carefully to avoid other cars and people in the street. Just add it to the list of chaotic scenes from the day. Visitors to Emporios apparently use the street to park their cars and go to the beach, which is could now see right in front of me.

The scene was a bit overwhelming, but once we pulled into the driveway to the house, and closed the gate behind us, all of the chaos of the airport and the car ride and the street traffic instantly went away. It was if I yelled, "Serenity Now!" and someone just handed it to me on command. Yaya's house was to the right of the driveway, and her beautifully landscaped yard and greenhouse were to my left. In front of us a sweet black lab puppy trotted across the driveway.

Is this my life? Greece? Beaches? Puppies? Truly unbelievable.

We jumped out of the car and were greeted at the door by a strikingly attractive older woman with silver hair slicked straight back from her face. She wore little makeup, but her skin looked tanned. I knew this woman was Yaya even before Katy called out to her and enveloped her in a warm embrace.

Jana followed with a big hug of her own.

I sort of stood there like a weirdo watching their reunion, desperately wanting to join in with my own hug for Yaya; I wasn’t sure if getting hugged by random American stranger you agreed to let stay at your house with your granddaughter was appropriate, though, so I refrained.

There was some apprehension ahead of my meeting with Yaya and whether or not I'd be able to understand her, since she's Greek. I told Katy ahead of time that the only Greek words that I know are, “Alpha, Omicron, and Pi,” and any of the other letters that adorn the t-shirts I collected in college. Katy assured me that Yaya spoke perfect English (she lived in New York for many years), Greek and probably several other languages too, and that I would have no problem understanding her.

She was right.

Yaya told us about the dog that we saw, explaining that Katy and Jana's cousins, Michael and Nico, were responsible for bringing their new pet Lola to Greece for the summer. The dog was really cute, but Yaya didn't seem to be very impressed.

She welcomed us into the house, and when I looked around and fell in love. The whole placed just felt lived in, like a lot of memories had been made there and stylistically speaking, probably hadn’t changed a whole lot. The decor was dated, but not in a, “I’m a Grandmother and I don't know any better" kind of a way. No, this style more spoke of, "This is a 1970s-style Greek beach house and this is the way we like it, so there.” Katy says a lot of the furniture in the house was in her grandparents house in New York, and all of the decorative items are ones collected from their lifetime of travel.

I know this is impossible considering nearly everything I'd encountered so far was in complete opposition to every experience I'd ever had with my own grandmother (Greece, the beach, a cook, a driver, a greenhouse), but Yaya and her home reminded me so much of my own Grandma. Perhaps it was simply in her sweet and loving demeanor, and the way that she looked at her grandchildren like she thought they could do anything.

Yaya hugged and kissed her granddaughters, her excitement visible all over her face. I felt immensely grateful that she had opened up her home to me and allowed me to share this precious time she spends with her grandchildren.

"Are you hungry? We've been waiting for you. Let's eat!"

Again, a desire to hug Yaya immediately came over me. I grabbed my luggage instead and went back to the room that Katy and I would share.

Katy and I dropped our luggage in the room closest to the kitchen with two single beds and an attached bathroom. While getting ready for lunch, Katy's cousins Nico, Tatiana and Michael, the most beautiful Greek children I've ever seen, came by the room. They all hugged and joked and laughed, like any months that passed since the last time they saw each other was completely insignificant.

When Yaya announced it was time, we all headed to the dining room, that was already set for seven people. Yaya sat at the head of the table, and when it became clear there weren't assigned seats, so I took a seat to her right, Katy next to me, and then Jana, Michael, Tatiana, and Nico.

I really wanted Yaya to like me (I mean I’d just met her, and already almost hugged her twice), so when a woman came from the swinging kitchen door holding a serving platter loaded with green beans, I got nervous and wished I hadn't sat right beside Yaya. I mean, I've eaten nice meals before, I've been served at a table like this, but I had no idea what was coming next, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to put beans on the side plate or directly on the big plate. I put the green beans directly on the big plate, which, of course, was wrong. I watched the plate go to everyone else, and they were using their side plates. I was mortified. And then I remembered it was green beans and that no one, especially Yaya, seemed to care.

Katy told me ahead of us leaving for Greece how completely wonderful the meals at her Yaya's house are. She did not oversell them in anyway. Granted, I could've eaten anything at that point, but the green beans and Chicken Milanese and white rice that followed were quite possibly some of the most delicious foods I'd ever tasted.

I've read that Mediterranean diets are good for our health, and I'd like to think that it's true. But I'm not sure the rich, delicious food that is served at Yaya's house and the mass quantities of which we consumed all week are really what those articles were talking about.

Squeezing myself into a bikini after being up for 36 hours and eating a multiple course lunch was not high on things I would normally want to do, but since we were in Greece and our only responsibilities for the rest of the day were to swim, read, sun and repeat. Minus feeling slightly disgusted with myself, I was in heaven.

While swimming in the backyard infinity pool (I know, I'm so jealous of me too), I took in the view, which was positively breathtaking. While standing in the pool I could see down to Mavros Volia (which Jana and Katy laughingly told me means, "black ball beach") and the Mediterranean Sea.

Later we were joined by Pappou, Katy and Jana's Grandpa, who came to take his daily swim with the help of his live-in nurse. He was unable to speak to me, or shake my hand, but I could tell he recognized me as someone he didn't know. And I'm not sure he was very excited about it. Tatiana and Katy hugged and kissed him and doted on him in a loving way, seemingly hopeful that he is still able to take his daily swims, but disappointed he can't communicate with them like he used to.

We spent the afternoon outside doing a while lot of nothing; the warm sun and cool water were just what the doctor ordered and I started to feel like my old self.

Later that evening, as the sun was starting to set, we took a walk in Yaya and Pappou's backyard, a beach made up completely of black rocks, thanks to a prehistoric volcanic eruption. Gorgeous to look at, not so easy to walk on. We took a dip in the chilly water, watched Lola, the puppy, chew on beer cans, and enjoyed the sun setting behind the beautiful house. As I watched the sun slip away, I was floored to see that I was looking at the same picture of Emporios that I'd seen at the airport--that picture was of Yaya and Pappou's house!

We showered, and joined Yaya at the table for dinner: steak, french fries, and one of the most simple and most delicious salads I've ever had that was simply lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and avocados and olive oil. Maybe it's Greece, maybe it's Yaya, maybe it's Yanni, but my stomach handles Greek steak a lot better than it does steak in the USA.

For dessert, I ate a fresh fig for the first time ever, and then popped an Ambien. I was a happy girl.

Greece is good for the pretty people.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 316: My Big Fat Greek Summer Vacation

In addition to having jet black gorgeous hair, and beautiful olive skin, one of the other reasons that it’s hard being friends with my friend Katy is that she spends her summers in Greece with her grandparents.

That’s right. Greece.

While my family is toting beach chairs out to the shores of Oak Island and most of you are sitting poolside at Myrtle Beach, Katy is doing her summer relaxing in the Greek Islands.

Life is so unfair.

When my Grandmas were still alive and I would go and visit them, I went to one of two places: Celina, Ohio or Wellston, Ohio. I love both of my Grandmas very much and enjoyed these visits, but I don't need to tell you: Ohio ain't Greece.

Not surprising then, that I’ve been begging Katy to take me to Greece since we became friends. My begging is usually in jest—I never actually expected her to extend an invitation for me to accompany her on her yearly visit because the trip, for her, is all about family. She saves up all of her days off from work so that she can devote an extended period of time to being there with them.

When I started writing Project 29 to 30, my persuading finally had an angle. "Greece is a place I’ve never been before," I would tell her.

But deep down, just as I never expected Katy to invite me, I never suspected that if she did that I would actually go. This time with her family is sacred and I'd really feel bad about imposing. Not to mention, I’d already been to Palm Springs and San Francisco and New York and Lake Tahoe and Panama this year alone. I needed to table the traveling for a little bit, and my checkbook needed its rest. Plus I'm an average 29-year old working girl, not some cosmopolitan jet-setter, no matter how many times I play one in my dreams.

Shockingly, though, on the night Katy, Justin, Mo, John, Ana and I ate steaks and played dirty Jenga, Katy did the unexpected and extended, to me, an invitation to go with her, to Greece. I figured she was "over-served," and probably wouldn’t remember it the next day, or if she did, realize she shouldn’t have and never bring it up again.

A few days later, though, she did bring up Greece again. Katy was serious! Serious about my coming to Greece with her, and after a conversation with Mo and Justin, most serious about getting tagged in the blog more times than them.

“I spoke to my mom and she talked to my Yaya and they said you could come," Katy said to me, smiling widely. "So you have to. Greece is amazing. Book your trip. Please come. Steph, you have to!"

She followed up her demands with the beautiful pictures in this post showing me her grandparents' house, and how much fun she has when she goes. The photos weren't necessary, but they definitely made an already sweet deal even sweeter.

Her offer was still a lot to consider. Not because going to Greece with a Greek person wasn’t the opportunity of a lifetime. But there was a lot that was holding me back from saying “yes” right away:

1. Imposing on Katy’s family time. This was the reason I got over the fastest, considering Katy had asked me to come along. Plus she would be there for several weeks, and if I went I would only go for part of that time. She would have plenty of solo time with her fam.

2. Taking days off from work. Also an easy problem to fix, considering I’d already randomly taken off the very week in August that Katy had planned to go to Greece. What are the chances? It was like it was meant to be!

3. Paying to go. This was a big one. Though Katy assured me everything would be paid for once we arrived, I had to get there. And airline tickets to Europe were not cheap.

Just when I started really wanting to go was the very moment that I realized I couldn’t. But as I have done before when I want something I cannot afford, I began figuring out ways to make it work, some of which made sense (pick up some freelance gigs for extra money) and others that were just ridiculous (selling stuff on eBay).

I just couldn’t seem to make it work out, so I came to my senses and called my parents, sure that they would be able to nip these crazy thoughts about me whisking off to Europe in the bud immediately.

Who did I think I was? I could not afford to go to Greece.

I called my Dad first.

“Dad, you’re never going to believe it but my friend Katy invited me to go to Greece with her. Isn’t that so nice? Airline tickets are crazy expensive, though, and I just can’t seem to make it work financially, so I’m going to tell her ‘no.’”

His response was not what I was expecting.

“Wow! That sounds awesome! Wow, Steph, Greece? With someone from Greece?! That’s awesome, dear!”

I shouted back into the phone at him because it was loud in the background, “Dad?! Did you hear what I said?! I can’t afford to go. I would have to charge my ticket. On. My. Credit. Card.”

He ignored the credit card completely and just kept talking about how awesome it was that I had a friend whose grandparents lived in Greece. He was asking me detailed questions about how long they'd lived there, and what they did for a living, none of which I could answer. He went on and on about how much fun it would be for me to go, money or not.

I blamed his uncharacteristically irresponsible suggestion on the fact that he was in a crowded restaurant and he didn’t completely understand what I was saying. I called my mom next.

Her answer, like my dad’s, was unexpected.

“Oh Stephanie! That sounds wonderful! A once in a lifetime opportunity! I wish I could go!”

My mom was not in a crowded restaurant. She heard every word I said, but the fact that I would have to charge this ticket on a credit card and work like a dog to pay it off seemed completely irrelevant to her. She was romanticizing, on my behalf, about all the fun a Greek vacation would bring. I think she even referenced my trip to Psychic Rose, “Maybe that’s where your water man is!” I thought that was a stretch, but couldn’t help but feel her excitement too.

Wow. My financially-sensible, pay-cash-for-everything parents had both advised me to go on this trip that I can’t pay for.

I was confused.

I thought about everything that they said and their advice to take the opportunity that was presented to me. They didn’t say so, but I suspected that had I called them and told them that I really wanted to buy an expensive sweater or a car I couldn’t afford, I doubt they’d be so encouraging. But a trip to a beautiful place? They were on board in a big way.

"Live your life, Stephanie!," they were telling me. "Deal with the consequences (which are minor in the scheme of things) later."

I’m so lucky to have them as my parents, who know that the most important things in life aren't things, but people and experiences. I'm also so lucky to have a friend whose grandparents live in Greece.

I had to wonder how I got to be so lucky all of the time. I mean, Golf course houses in Palm Springs? Mountain houses in Lake Tahoe? Tree Houses in Panama? And now beach houses in Greece? I’m a traveling wizard thanks to all the people I continually surround myself with.

Still, there was a part of me that felt guilty and mildly embarrassed about going and telling people, that for the second time in five months, I was leaving the country for an exotic, beautiful destination. But my parents were right, this was a special opportunity. Saying “no” would be completely out of character for me in my 29th year.

So I booked a flight, making Day 316’s (which because of the time change led into Day 317) thing I’ve never done before to go to Greece (with a Greek.)

Writing a blog about doing 365 new things in one year has forced me to take life one day at a time. So much so, in fact, there is rarely much anticipation for things with me. I don’t have time to get excited about things that are about to happen, because I have to focus on the here and now. The same was true of this trip. I booked the flights and then didn’t think about it again, thinking, “I will be excited about Greece when I’m on the plane headed there.”

I think Katy mistook my lack of enthusiasm as me not looking forward to the trip, which was not at all the case. I was excited, I just couldn’t stop the momentum of doing other new things ahead of leaving. I also sensed that I had started the very thing I hoped this blog would help me avoid and that’s the spiral into depression over my upcoming 30th birthday. I’m not sure what brought it on, but I was determined that it was nothing seven days in the Greek sun couldn’t fix.

When I finally let myself relax enough to get into trip mode, I sent Katy an email asking her about riding to the airport, and, of course, what to pack.

Her packing list was funny, not in her suggestions, but in her commentary about each of them:

1. Bathing suits and cover ups. We'll need them every day including 1 bathing suit you can do water sports in--very important.
2. We have lots of suntan lotion but not much over 30 so you may want to load up on some 50 shit. Or we can buy it there.
3. 1 nice dress or outfit for going out to nice dinner. We may not even use it but just in case.
4. Sneakers for hiking up to the church up a mountain near the house. And running clothes because I may want to jog and make you come with me.
5. A semi-slutty going out outfit. We are in the Greek islands, after all.
6. Bunch of like, 'lounge wear' - like shorts/tank tops for hanging out in the afternoon, taking a break from the heat.
7. Books for reading on the beach, or you can borrow from me, I'm bringing a bunch. (bttw - I'm bringing hair dryer so don't worry about that.)
8. At least 1 pair of heels, maybe 2 for fun. Lots of flip-flops/sandals

I was comfortable with every item on the list, except for #5, because I don’t really own anything that is “slutty,” or “semi-slutty,” even. Except for maybe my Strawberry Halloween costume and I didn’t feel comfortable rocking that in Greece, or anywhere outside of Team Temecula. I more or less packed the exact same clothes that I'd packed for Panama.

When it came to getting to airport, Katy said she’d like to be at the airport at 1:30pm, and wanted to know if I wanted to ride with her.

I read her email again.


Our flight was at 4:30pm. I realize I’m the last person to look to for success at the airport, having missed my fair share of flights over the years, but 1:30pm? I also realize we were flying internationally but three hours felt like entirely too much time for a nervous flier (yours truly) to just hang out at the gate. Katy explained that her family has terrible luck at the airport and she likes to get there as early as she can.

Luckily, Katy’s diligence (or anal retentiveness) was not something that she forced upon friends she invites to Greece because she agreed to let me meet her at our gate.

Not to mention, I scheduled a lunch date with a client at work, who has become over the past year, a good friend. I don’t know what kind of person schedules lunch dates on the day that they’re flying out of the country for a week; the plan sounded doable when we made plans weeks in advance, considering I had the entire weekend to prepare to leave for the trip.

Once Day 316 arrived, however, after I wasted a whole lot of time feeding animals at the weirdest place ever, the idea to go to lunch felt downright stupid. I couldn’t back out, and though the morning was stressful, I left for my lunch date already packed, I arrived on time to pick up my friend, I had lunch at Zoe’s Kitchen (a place I’d never eaten) and got on the train to the airport ahead of schedule.

In fact, I arrived just minutes at the gate after Katy did. Greece had already made me fabulous. And responsible, apparently. My parents would be so proud.

We even had time to grab a beer at the airport before boarding the plane, which turned out to be a mistake; the beers were stale and not very tasty. Small setback, I figured, because soon after, we boarded our plane and were headed to Greece!

The flight was, in a word, long. I think it lasted 10 or 11 hours, but it felt like 15 thanks to the guy next to me asking me every 15 minutes who I voted for in the last presidential election and asking me what I thought about Sarah Palin. When I refused to tell him who I voted for, and expressed my indifference about Palin, he pressed further.

“Like what do you really think about her?” he said.

I tried to fall asleep quickly to avoid his super intense questions. I hoped that when I woke up, we’d be in Greece, and my Big Fat Greek Summer Vacation could begin.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 315: Where the Wild Things Are

For those of you who just started reading Project 29 to 30 (most likely because of my blog bff Olivia, and everyday musings), I have to come clean about the fact that I actually turned 30 in September. Thanks to lots of fabulous trips and numerous long blog entries, and refusing to let the fact that I'm writing about my life keep me from living my life, I am, and have been since the blog began, behind. Trust me when I say this fact is far more frustrating for me than it is for you, mostly because whenever something incredibly insane or awesome or hilarious or scary or emotional happens to me and I want to tell everyone about it, I want to write about it right then; instead, I have to wait months to write about it.

Day 315 was one of those days that I've been waiting to write since it happened; the experience was a cornucopia of emotions from terror to shock to hilarity. I am so sorry that it's taken me so long to get here and if I have any regrets in life, it was that I was not technologically savvy enough to live-blog the experience as it was happening.

Instead, I am doing what I've done all along, and that is rely on the emotional scarring, the images and memories that have been permanently burned into my brain to write this blog; and of course, consult the excellent notes that I took following this insane day.

Weeks ahead of Day 315, my work friend Jackie announced at work that she was in need of ways to entertain her 2-year old son Vince on weekend mornings while her police officer husband slept at home after his overnight shift. Jackie didn't have to explain to me that toddlers and adults trying to sleep during the day do not mix.

While trying to think of ways to help her, I instantly remembered a conversation I'd had with my friends Dani and her husband Doug at a wedding several weeks before. They had recently visited a place called Wild Animal Safari where they came face to face, literally, with wild animals roaming through a field.

My response to Dani after she told me about it, "This place is in Georgia?"

She smiled and shook her head "Yes. Weird, isn't it?"

She and Doug went on to show me video and pictures. I was instantly amused, and somewhat disturbed, but mostly disturbed. I knew that for blog fodder, a trip to this strange place was exactly what the doctor ordered. Plus Dani, who hasn't made many blog appearances, but had already come through with a doozy of a trip to a Bingo Hall, was clearly full of good ideas.

"Go," Dani said, "I'll go with you if you want. Just go."

My only concern was that the place might not be suitable for toddlers, but only Jackie could determine that. She perused the website and decided that Wild Animal Safari was exactly what she and Vince needed to occupy their Sunday morning. So they picked me up at 9am on Sunday morning and away we went.

Day 315's thing I've never done before was to go to a petting zoo.

I'm calling Wild Animal Safari a "petting zoo," though I'm not even sure that's what it is. But "petting zoo," sounds nicer than, "weirdest effing place ever," so I'm just going to go with it.

The trip down to Pine Mountain, where Wild Animal Safari is located, was nice. Jackie and I rode in the front chatting with one another, while Vince napped in the back, seemingly leery of his mom's new friend and about where we were going.

After a couple of missed turns, and both of us wondering who came up with such a weird idea and why they put it way out in Pine Mountain, we arrived at Wild Animal Safari. The entrance sign led us both to believe that this was a legit zoo that just so happened to be tucked away an hour outside of Atlanta. We pulled in, excited about our adventure ourselves, and trying to excite a now awake, but still confused, Vince.

We were some of the first visitors to arrive, and we walked inside to buy our tickets at the restaurant/gift shop. There were a lot of options for tickets: adults, kids, seniors, military. Then there were food pellet options: one bag, two bags, family size. There was a lot to decide for an activity that should've been easy, in my opinion. Jackie generously paid for my share of this experience which was way more expensive than I could've imagined. Admission, plus food to give to the animals, and the optional car rental really added up.

Wild Animal Safari gives visitors the option of driving their own cars, or renting one of theirs to drive through the park. Dani and Doug advised strongly that we should borrow their vehicles because the place is pretty dirty; cars are not off limits to animals slobbering or defecating on.

Gross, I know. But cars are washable, so whatever. My only concern about using one of their vans was that Vince wouldn't have a car seat to sit in. The guy behind the counter assured we'd never go faster than 5-10 miles per hour, and that we should be fine sans car seat. So Jackie and I decided to rent a mini-van; I would drive so that she could hold on to Vince. The guy at the counter plopped two plastic bags full of food pellets on the counter, we made a quick restroom stop, and then we walked out to the fleet of vehicles in the parking lot.

I assumed that any van taking frequent trips through a petting zoo would not be in tip-top condition. I wasn't expecting we would ride in style. I wasn't quite prepared for just how disgusting these vans were, though. They were painted in animal prints, which was fun, and the rear windows had been replaced with bars that made feeding and petting the animals easy. But they stunk so badly, I was nauseated. There was a layer of grime on everything inside and the second I touched the steering wheel I wanted to wash my hands. The seats felt like they had never been vacuumed. My car's not exactly pristine, but the cars grossed me out and I didn't even want to touch the steering wheel.

I forced myself to get over it, and buckled myself in for the journey. Jackie did the same, holding Vince in her lap. We positioned the food in between us on the floor so that we both had easy access and off we went, at a safe five miles per hour, to the start of the park.

Having seen the up close and personal videos and pictures that Dani and Doug took from their trip to Wild Animal Safari, I had set forth some strict guidelines with myself about what I would and would not do during the 3.5 mile journey through 200 acres of the safari. I'm all about getting an authentic experience in any new things I've done this year, but under no circumstances would I let the animals eat from, or lick, my hands. I didn't even want them to get close to me at all. I planned to toss food at them as I drove by slowly, keeping them several feet away from the car.

You can imagine, then, to my surprise, and to Jackie's, when after slowly driving through the entrance gate, no more than 10 feet into the park, we immediately were surrounded by animals aggressively coming at our car from all sides. There was no time to follow my guidelines and toss the food at them. They were everywhere! Antelopes, zebras, cows, boar, some I didn't even recognize!

Don't get me wrong, we were prepared to see animals; we were prepared to feed animals. We were not prepared to see so many all at once within the first minute we'd arrived. It was like our car was like Justin Bieber and these animals were 15-year old girls. They were knocking into each other, charging full speed (which was not fast by any means, but nonetheless alarming), all trying to get to whatever it is that we had.

I'm not sure what I was expecting (perhaps I expected order, as if the animals would approach us one by one), but this was not it.

The near-bum rush of 20 animals at once sent Jackie and I into a tailspin. I tried to keep the curse words to a minimum, but I can't be so sure that one, or 1,000 didn't slip out in the five minutes of terror we experienced. I was laughing, because that's what I do when I'm nervous, but I was also letting out moans similar to the ones I'd let out at the Haunted House almost a year prior.

And I'm not proud of it, but there were also a lot of, "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God," spoken as well.

Poor Vince, at only 2.5 years old, he had no choice but react the same way the two adults in the car had reacted and he began to cry. And those tears came before, in a fit of panic, his own mother heaved him off of her lap onto the floor in between our two seats. Jackie said she's still not sure if that was her motherly instincts trying to protect him from the gross animals charging at her passenger side window, or if she was saving herself and needed him out of her way to make it happen.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we made it to the "other side," temporarily away from any animals. And then we started to laugh. Hard.

We laughed so hard that we cried, right there in our beat up, painted-like-a-zebra Chevrolet Astrovan. I had to stop the van completely so that we could deal with what just happened, pick Vince up off the floor, and figure out how we were going to make it through the remaining 3.49 miles of our journey. I hadn't ever, that I can remember, experienced complete terror followed so quickly by such pure amusement in my life. My stomach muscles hurt from laughing so hard, and my heart was still racing.

Thankfully, nothing that happened after the first ten minutes at Wild Animal Safari was quite so dramatic, though after that experience, we aimed to get out of there as quickly as possible while still doing what we came to do, and that was, I think, to enjoy the animals.

We opted to leave our windows rolled up except for a space large enough to throw the pellets through, and managed to keep a safe distance, for the most part, until we arrived at the giraffe, which is treated as the park's main attraction. As much as I didn't want the giraffe's gross mouth and tongue anywhere near me, I had to marvel at the animal's height and was amazed at its ability to bend its neck to get food from our van.

Unfortunately, our plans to keep our vehicle moving was in direct contrast to the van in front of ours' desire to pet and feed every single God-forsaken animal in the Wild Animal Safari that day. I swear there was a family of 15 inside that van and when we'd pull up behind them, all Jackie and I could see was 30 little arms sticking out of the back windows holding pellets to summon the animals over. We'd sit and wait for them to soak up every last minute with each gross animal before they'd move on to the next area so they could do it all again.

Obviously we found their behavior quite strange, and we were clearly not as into this whole experience as everyone else, but I have to think that even the biggest Wild Animal Safari fan would eventually tire of the same animals coming up to their van begging for food.

But if anyone else was bored, they didn't show it, and exhibited pure enthusiasm from beginning to end.

Jackie and I, on the other hand, got towards the end, and when we started to get approached by the same animals who had greeted us upon entering, we started heaving the pellets that we had left out the windows and doors of the van. Our only goal was to get rid of the food and move on.

Halfway through the experience, when the number of vans and people driving through seemed to steadily climb, I had to wonder how healthy it was for all of us to be feeding these animals. The thought that perhaps what seemed like a good as a funny thing to do wasn't the most environmentally friendly one.

I never completely relaxed during the trip either, finding comfort only in the sweet things Vince said to the animals throughout the trip, including, "Hey you, boy, don't get in our car!," and, "Hi A-Min-als!" When he saw deer he said, "Hey John Deere!" in a friendly voice, but he appeared to like the llamas less, saying firmly when they approached our car, "No." Then he followed with, "No, no, no."

Vince also called me Sophie for most of the day, and may have attempted to go to second base a couple of times, too. I let it slide. He's 2-years old. Plus this place his mom and I had brought him to was no doubt emotionally disturbing and she'd accidentally thrown him to the floor earlier in the trip.

So disturbing, it seemed, that when we arrived back at the parking lot to park the gross zebra van, Vince didn't seem to want to leave it. Instead, he wanted to crawl all over the floor and climb over the seats, a sight that made me physically ill, but after all we'd been through, I wanted him to be happy and do what he wanted. I think Jackie was exhausted and didn't have the heart, or the energy, to tell him to stop.

We squealed out of the opted to reward ourselves with a lunch stop at Sprayberry BBQ, where country music singer Alan Jackson first worked as a teenager, but they were closed, so we toasted our bravery over chips and cheese dip at a Mexican restaurant instead.

The delicious food was well-deserved treat after an emotionally trying experience, and it's safe to say that the greatest thing that happened that day was spending quality time with Vince. And the giraffe.

No, just Vince.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 314: Celebrity Sighting, Sort of

One of the questions I'm commonly asked about the blog and the rules that I set forth for myself to do 365 new things in one year has to do with what happens when I do multiple things in one night. Could I transfer those new things to another day? If the thing I've never done before happens after midnight on a particular night, would it count as the next day's new activity?

My answer has always been, "No." If I go to Fernbank to drink martinis and see an IMAX movie as the things I've never done before, and then something else happens to me that's new then I'll just consider that new thing a bonus, but not necessarily something for the blog.

That is, until Day 314.

Because what happened after midnight was so exciting, it deserves its own entry. After being ignored by Kelly Ripa, Paula Deen, and Delilah, Day 314's thing I've never done before was to finally make a connection with a celebrity.

After leaving Fernbank, the crew went to East Atlanta Village to grab some dinner and a couple of drinks. We also went to 529, a bar nearby, to see Otis Redding in concert. And by Otis Redding, I of course mean Otis Redding III, the son of "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" Otis Redding. That Otis Redding has been dead since 1967.

Only when we arrived to hear him play, the only person at the venue was a DJ spinning records on the stage where we assumed Otis Redding would take the the stage. We opted to start our own dance party and wait for him to arrive. If only "start my own dance party" was something I'd never done before. But let's be serious, I'm a dancing machine; that wasn't new at all.

Thirty minutes into our dance party, we were getting dangerously close to quitting time and had to assume Otis Redding (the third) wasn't coming.

So we asked the creepy DJ on stage, who had been enjoying our antics all night. His response, "Um, he played here hours ago."

Whoops. Our pre-concert dance party, was actually happening post-concert.

We decided to leave the venue upon hearing this news, defeated that our trip to Midway had caused us to miss the main event.

But all was not lost, because as we made our way out of 529, the Otis Redding III walked right in front of us.

"OTIS!," my friend Scott called after him, as if we'd all been friends for years.

Otis turned around and smiled, very gracious and nice. We walked over to him, and told him, all at once, shouting in his face, "We tried to come see you! You were already gone! We started a dance party!"

He seemed overwhelmed, but couldn't have been nicer. And then Emily asked if we could have our pictures made with him. He agreed.

Some might argue that Otis Redding III, the son of a musician who has been dead for more than 30 years, was hardly a celebrity encounter at all, and they might be right. But after striking out three times this year to meet/shake hands/cook with/work out with a celebrity, meeting a famous person's son felt pretty great.

So did the dance party.

Editor's Note: I'm completely aware that there appears to be a gaping whole in the front of my shirt, but I assure you it's an optical illusion, and nothing more.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 313: World of Rhythm

Day 313's thing I've never done before was to attend Martinis & IMAX at the Fernbank museum in Atlanta with a group of friends wanting to do something different on a Friday night.

This activity was something that I'd wanted to do for a while, on the list of, "things to do in Atlanta." Martinis & IMAX is, just as it sounds, a martini party at an IMAX movie at Fernbank, Atlanta's science museum (think the Museum of Natural History in New York).

The evening presented several opportunities for new things (first IMAX movie, first trip to Fernbank, first time playing in a percussion drum circle made up of my own friends), all while doing something I knew I already loved to do: drink martinis.

I assumed ahead of going that like most things in Atlanta, this activity was pretty laid back and casual; so I suited up in normal summertime attire: jeans and a sleeveless shirt and headed over to Fernbank. When I got inside the museum, however, I was surprised to find it was a lot nicer than I was expecting. There were cocktail tables filling the lobby where there was an enormous dinosaur skeleton on display, a lounge singer performing with a band, and fancy cocktails being poured at bars around the perimeter of the room. I thought perhaps I should've dressed up a bit.

Emily, Scott and I met in the parking lot and hurried inside in the rain to meet Amy, Jeff and David. Fernbank offered a variety of different drinks, but Emily and I went with the old faithful, always delicious, dirty vodka martini, extra olives. We grabbed a seat and enjoyed the band for a while. And by "enjoy" I of course mean judging the lounge singer for her ill-fitting tight green dress.

We finished our drink and grabbed another before heading into the theater to watch the IMAX film, Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey. The film was made by the creators of Stomp, the stage show that, more or less, made banging on buckets entertaining. I saw Stomp years ago and was impressed at their ability to turn the super ordinary into something extraordinary.

When I took my seat to watch Pulse, the only difference I could see between an IMAX film and any other film I've seen is that the screen is enormous. Like floor to ceiling huge. I'm sure there are probably many other ways IMAX films are different, and I look forward to someone explaining them to me, but regardless, the mere size of the screen was enough to make this movie-viewing experience completely different from anything I'd ever seen before. I felt like I was in the movie with them. It was awesome.

Pulse is like a journey across the world, showcasing the sites and sounds of different countries. The film's description says it's a celebration of the global beat. The film stars dancers and musicians who I suspect were those kids in elementary school that couldn't sit still and were constantly tapping their feet or their pencil on their desks or twirling across the classroom. Much like myself actually.

There are drummers in Sado Island, Japan, a couple of high school marching bands who march across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, a flamenco dancer in Granada, Spain, Native American dancers in the deserts of New Mexico, drummers in West Africa. The list goes on and on.

There is no dialogue in the film, only music (made by the stars themselves) and movement. I didn't think I could be entertained by a movie without any words, but Pulse proved me wrong. I was mesmerized by the beautiful scenery and began adding to my mental list of new places I want to visit and new dance moves I want to try, new instruments I want to play.

The night began in a very entertaining fashion, which turned out to be only the beginning of much bigger and better things to come on Day 314.

Check out the trailer for Pulse right here.

Pulse moved us so much (pun intended), we started our own impromptu drum circle in the parking lot of Fernbank. You can check that out here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 312: Honk and Wave

Before I left work on Day 312, I saw a friend's Facebook status that read: "Sometimes I like randomly honking at people for no reason."

I hate it when people use text language to express themselves, but if ever there was an appropriate time for an "LOL," it was then. I literally laughed out loud at my desk. What a positively hilarious and awesome idea. And definitely something I've never done.

Don't get me wrong, I've thrown some honks out there in my day, but always with purpose: to alert a friend I was outside their house to pick them up, or more commonly and demonstrative of Atlanta driving conditions, at the idiots trying to merge into my lane on top of me or those driving 55 miles per hour in the left lane.

But honk for no reason? That's new. That's fun. That's what blogs like mine are all about.

I turned to Justin who was sitting beside me and told him about my friend's Facebook status; he agreed that the idea was, in fact, awesome. But unlike me, I think Justin (who is from New Jersey so it kinda makes sense) intended for my fake honks to be mean-spirited ones. His idea: honk at someone, then raise my fist at them, or my middle finger, and pretend to angrily yell.

That's not exactly what I had in mind, though. Road rage is a real thing, especially in my fair city, and I didn't want to get myself killed. Plus, I had a feeling a mean-spirited honk wouldn't feel nearly as good as a friendly one. My plan: to honk and wave wildly as if the person was my long lost best friend from middle school.

So I hopped in my car after work and took off towards my house, my eyes darting back and forth to either sidewalk for someone to wave to, anxiously aiming to make Day 312's thing I've never done before to honk and wave at unsuspecting strangers.

An easy task, I figured. But there was no one.

Five o'clock on a weekday afternoon in downtown Atlanta and not one person was on the street. I was shocked. I'm pretty used to things not completely panning out the way I plan for them to, but all I needed to pull this off was people. Scratch that. All I needed was one person to honk at and wave to.

Not to mention, traffic was moving considerably well, so I wasn't even stopped long enough to attempt a honk and wave at someone in another car. On any other day, I would've been extremely happy about this. But not today! I want to wave!

Finally when I turned the corner onto Spring Street, I spotted my first victim (or lucky recipient) walking down the street. He was so unassuming, I almost felt badly that I was probably about to annoy the hell out of him or scare the daylights out of him, possibly do both. I moved over into the right lane (carefully, of course), hit my horn, "Beep, Beep," while leaning slightly into my passenger seat to wave wildly at the guy through the window. I was smiling and laughing (to myself); I think I may have even said out loud, "Hey there!," even though I knew he couldn't hear me.

I will never forget the look on his face as long as I live. He looked stunned, and then he stared at me, understandably confused. He started to smile, (it's hard not to smile at someone smiling directly at you), but when he realized he didn't know me, he turned around to see if I was waving to someone behind him. I laughed out loud (again, LOL!) as I drove by and when I glanced at him in my rear view mirror, I saw that he had completely turned around to try and figure out who this crazy girl was waving in his direction. Before I drove out of sight, I saw him raise his hand to reluctantly wave in my direction.

I. Felt. Awesome.

I was already halfway home, and I'd only "gotten" one person, but I absolutely loved this task. I love it so much in fact, that I had to hold myself back when I started to encounter lots of homeless people on the side of the road trying to beat the Atlanta summer heat. I just felt like honking and waving at them would be terribly insensitive, as if I was saying, "I'm in an air-conditioned car and YOU'RE not, sucker!" I decided I'd be selective with my victims.

Like the second guy, for example. He was a skateboarder, using the stairs of an office building as his playground. I honked and waved just as I had to the first guy. This time, my antics nearly caused him to fall off his skateboard into the busy road. Whoops. Maybe I should've avoided honking and waving at him?

But every other stranger on the way home (and in the Target parking lot that I hit because I couldn't get enough) was fair game. I was hoping for some different reactions, but almost everyone reacted the same way the first guy did: stunned confusion, then a smile, then a delayed wave right back. Pure joy.

This day, this "thing I've never done before," ranks up there as one of the greatest things I've done in my 29th year. Like Day 100 when I slapped a hundred strangers high-five, this activity was cheap, it was easy, and it was so much fun. In fact, honking and waving may rank higher than Day 100, because I did it from the comfort of my own car and no germs were spread.

My only regret is that I didn't have a car full of friends there to wave with me, and therefore there are no authentic pictures of me actually honking and waving. (I included pictures of me waving, however, since that seems to be the move I choose if there is a video camera within a five mile radius.) I was by myself, smiling, waving and laughing hysterically all the way home. I've lived in Atlanta for six years and it was probably one of the best drives home I've ever had.

Do this. Do it today. On your way home. You will love it. Unless you're a generally un-fun, sucky person and then you probably won't.

But the rest of you, honk and wave! Honk and wave!