Thursday, September 22, 2022

Going Home - It is Time

 Last Saturday morning as we walked into the village on the shores of Lake Chelan in Central Washington State, I announced I was ready to go home.  

Manson, our Washington State World

Not the one located a few blocks away in the tidy, gated community here where we've planted our part-time roots, but the one on the hill on the other side of the world. In Greece.

At home in Greece

We are at the end of our several-weeks-long stay in the US Pacific Northwest. Our visit here has taken us down Memory Lane to class reunions, get-togethers with long-time friends, family, and neighbors, over lunches and dinners. And I've indulged in long 'girl talk' telephone conversations. It has been great, but still, we are ready to go home.

Our US roots are planted here

Returning readers know I've been pondering for some time, the question, 'Can you go home again?' I did so in earnest this fall as I returned to the town in which I grew up and graduated from high school. But I think if the truth be told, we expats ponder the question quite often, because at some point in our expat adventures we realize that what was once home starts to feel every bit as foreign as once did the foreign country to which we moved. 

Home is where. . .

Frances Mayes, who divides her home life between her home in America and her home 'Under the Tuscan Sun', has just written an entire book focused on finding the meaning of home. The book is described as one in which she writes of the adventures of moving on while enjoying the comforts of that cornerstone we call, home.  It's definitely going to be required reading for me.

Riverwalk Lake Chelan

Another of my favorite writers/poets, David Mason, who wrote 'News from the Village', a memoir about his time in Kardamyli as a young adult living next to Patrick Leigh Fermor, now lives in Tasmania. In a recent interview, he also discussed the concept of 'home':

'At the end of one of my early narrative poems, “The Country I Remember,” a character declares, “This is my home because I say it is.” I never felt like someone with a birthright, someone who would inherit a home. I always felt I had to make home wherever I happened to be. In my memoir I wrote that I could never become an expatriate, but fate has taught me otherwise. There is a kind of death in immigrating, a kind of letting go, but that only makes it a profound lesson in the nature of being alive. You let go of so much that you thought was important, only to discover importance in other things. You grow by losing, by paring away. I’ve always felt like a person who carried his household on his back. Now I can set the load down and stay a while. This is my home because I say it is.'

Lake Chelan vineyards

We definitely feel blessed to have two places in the world to call home. Home in this world is in a small village on the 55-mile-long, glacier-fed Lake Chelan. We arrived here in August; a time when temperatures were near 100F/37C and the summer sun was putting finishing touches on ripening grapes and apples, both trademark products of this area. 

Apple harvest began last week signaling both autumn's arrival and our departure.

Autumn has arrived when the trees look like this

As the days have grown cooler and the leaves have begun turning color, our thoughts have turned to autumn in our other world. It won't be long before the local fishermen start moving their boats from the village harbor and stowing them away for the winter. The olive harvest gets underway the end of October. LitFest, an annual gathering of writers and readers, will soon be taking place in the village down the road. Autumn is one of our favorite seasons in Greece.  It is a fabulous time to visit for those of you contemplating trips.

Olive harvest is my favorite season of the year in Greece

Again, this visit we've been reminded that some in our American world don't quite grasp our desire to make a world for ourselves so far away.  

Their eyes widen - some in wonder and others in horror - when we talk about daily life at our Stone House on the Hill. We often liken it to returning to the world of our childhoods: hanging clothes on the line to dry and our lack of a dishwasher and television there.  Frankly our house is so small in Greece I am not sure where we'd put a television and there is certainly no kitchen space for a dishwasher.
'And you like that?' they ask.  
Well, yes, we do, or we wouldn't be going back.

Now that isn't to say we don't enjoy using the clothes dryer and dish washer while in the states, but this new lifestyle has made use of those appliances a treat and not a routine expectation of life as they once were. 

A Shrinking, but Expanding World

Autumn leaf-fall in Greece

We enjoy this expanded world of ours - the one with new cultural nuances, language, landscape and the opportunities it offers. Our friends in Greece are now many and I couldn't imagine life without them a part of it. It isn't easy making a new world for oneself, it can be downright daunting, we tell those expat wannabe's who seek our advice.  Leaving routines, comforts of home and friends and family isn't for everyone.
Towers of the Mani

However, we can thank technology, for shrinking the distance between our old world and our current world. My expat friends and I marvel at the ease of staying in touch with those thousands of miles away. We've all found that our friends who want to stay in touch, do so. Talking face-to-face regularly with some friends is easily done using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. 

The other thing on which we agree is the fact that is impossible to see everyone you'd like to on a given trip back to the States. There simply aren't enough hours in a day or days in a visit to accomplish that. 

Time to come to Greece

So now that Covid is no longer preventing or hampering travel and tourism folks are touting all the new routes linking America to Athens, we are telling friends that we won't likely see them all while we are in America, but we have the welcome mat out in Greece. 

The Airbnb craze has come to our slice of Mani, so we have one next door and another just up the hill, several at the base of the hill are within walking distance of our home. Our friend George offers fabulous studio apartment tourist accommodations that overlook the sea and are only a short walk away.

Lake Chelan - Silver Bell winery

Our bags are packed, we are ready to go, so we've kicked back to enjoy what remains of our time here. Wishes to you all for safe journeys and happy travels. We'll write again from the other side of 'the pond'! Thanks for the time you've spent with us today~

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Reunion Banquet ~ It Could've Been Worse

It could have been worse; I keep reminding myself when I think back to the banquet. 

We could have been at the Bates Hotel and Norman could have been in the kitchen with a butcher knife when Mary and I finally went in search of the food. 

The hotel lobby sign should have been a tip-off

Reunion Weekend

The Scout and I are back in the Pacific Northwest. As I've written in earlier posts, the trip was prompted by my 51st Class Reunion, a three-day event being co-chaired by me and my long-time friend, Mary, in our hometown, Yakima, Washington.  

"Doin' Downtown Yakima' is a blast!

Events included a Friday evening (hugely popular) no-host Meet and Greet event at Second Street Grill, a local restaurant/bar followed by 'Doin' the Downtown' at local restaurants, tasting rooms and ale house. That evening another gathering of classmates attended our alma mater's Homecoming football game. Saturday morning's highlight was a well-attended tour of the modern complex that has replaced our high school, led by the school principal who had her hair dyed the school colors (times have changed - our principal was bald). The weekend ended with a sendoff gathering at a long-time favorite hamburger joint, Miner's Drive-in, a local icon, that's been around since 1948.

The Marquee Event, however, was the Reunion Banquet. It drew 128 attendees of them, 81 classmates. Many had traveled from far distant points in the United States to be at this Saturday night affair. 

The Reunion Realities

We've been preparing for this weekend for nearly three years - COVID gave us an extra year for planning.  And we thought we had it nailed right down to the last detail. But as is so often the case, then reality stepped in:

The Banquet was held at the Red Lion Hotel, a place that once was a centerpiece conference hotel in the city. It shares a parking lot with the city's modern, sprawling Convention Center.  We'd had a similar banquet there for our 45th reunion and returned because of the good food and good service back then.  

As the night unfolded, we realized things have changed, and not for the good. And that's when I also started thinking about the Bates Hotel. . . I do that when we have bad experiences at hotels.

Once 'the' place to go in Yakima

Admittedly there are many types of horror, and this tale has no ranking, when compared to serious, life-threatening stuff.  BUT I can tell you that when you've organized an event down to the smallest detail -- the color of the napkins -- and it begins unraveling before your eyes, it is a very real horror.  

Norman Bates - the Bates Hotel

The Bates Hotel was a fictional location, the setting for the Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller, Psycho.  The main character, Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins) suffered a dissociative disorder and while being the mild-mannered person who ran the hotel, he was also a serial killer.  

While we didn't have any Psycho experiences, I reminded myself several times that evening, 'It could be worse, we could be at the Bates Hotel.'

Showcasing our 'roots'

Way back in the planning stages we'd decided to showcase this land of our roots by offering a selection of ales and wines produced in our Yakima Valley wine AVA/hop growing region at our no-host bar for alcoholic beverages. 

Wines on display Prosser's Viticulture Center

One of the distinctions of the Yakima Valley is that it is home to more than 17,000 acres of vineyards and growers produce more than half the state's wine grapes. There are more than 90 wineries and tasting rooms scattered about the valley. The reunion seemed a perfect place to drink a glass of local wine.

Yakima produces 75% of the nation's hops

Not only famous for its wine grapes, but the Yakima Valley is also known for its hop production. Growers here produce 75 percent of the United States hop crop. That has led to the establishment of numerous breweries, ale houses and tap rooms scattered about the city and surrounding areas.

Ale production for the Bale Breaker label

Despite numerous requests to showcase the local brews and wines, the hotel was unable to provide them. Disappointing, but certainly not the end of the world. The hotel representative agreed to offer a selection of wines albeit, mass-produced: a couple of red wines and three whites, Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, and a Sauvignon Blanc.  

If the misspelled and hastily drawn welcome sign hadn't given us a hint of the way the night would go, the malfunctioning cooling system in the banquet room should have; but no, it was checking the no-host bar that we first got a foreshadowing of the direction this banquet would go.  

When I asked to see the white 'Sauvignon Blanc', they'd managed to get for us, the bar manager grabbed from the shelf behind her, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, a deep dark red, and proudly showed it to me. Then she said she had added a sweet Moscato to the white wines instead of the dry, crisp wine we'd requested.

Banquet beverages

So focused on what would go in the glasses, we hadn't thought to confirm we'd have stemware and appropriate beverage glasses.  They must have cleaned out the hotel's bathrooms as they were serving drinks in those small, flimsy plastic glasses, like those wrapped in cellophane and often found on U.S. hotel bathroom counters. And they were charging $9 for each glass.  The story of the mass-produced beers - not ales -- was no better.

Finally, we understood why we had been advised during that planning meeting that attendees could not bring in a beverage. . .and we also understood why attendees would want to bring their own beverage. 

Buffet Buffoonery 

Co-chairs get the evening underway

The laughter and conversation had raised the decibels of the room, as long-time friends arrived. Classmates greeted each other with hugs. Joyous sounds of shared memories as attendees were seated. We opened the evening with enthusiasm. Food appeared on the banquet table at the time specified in our contract. The event, with a few glitches, appeared to be going well! 

Buffet selections were hearty choices

The buffet menu we'd selected was a hearty one as we wanted people to fill up on good home-cooked- style food. Chicken, meat loaf (always popular, they told us), spinach salad, green beans, ambrosia salad, mashed potatoes, hot dinner rolls and hot bread pudding for dessert.   

It was the disappearing dinner rolls that started the evening on its slippery slide south. Although at the time we didn't realize it, we had an inkling, when Mary pulled me aside saying, "We are out of rolls. They are baking more." 

'Baking more? They aren't heating more, but have started baking more?' I asked. They'd known the final count for a week.  Oh well, we reasoned, guests could go back for hot rolls when they came out. 

Then the buffet line quit moving.

Patient Pirates wait for food.

"We are out of salad," called out a classmate.
"And we need more meatloaf and chicken," others pointed out.
The bread roll basket remained empty. 
The hot bread pudding getting colder by the minute.   

It was when - with a third of the room almost finished eating, another third waiting to be called and a third standing in line - that we knew trouble was brewing in the kitchen (coffee certainly wasn't as we ran out of it as well). 

As co-chairs, the ones who'd signed that multi-thousand-dollar contract, Mary and I decided it was time to take action:  we had to find food.

So, we through the service door to the kitchen. . .

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates

. . .and found ourselves in an empty room - apparently it is an outer room for the kitchen but no sign of staff or food in sight. (On the positive side, at least Norman wasn't waiting for us there either, I told myself.) 

When finally, a staff member emerged from the kitchen, she exclaimed, "You can't be in here! You have to leave! We have the chef is cooking, and the food will come when it is ready!"

Not a tuber to be found - 

And so it did - piecemeal fashion - the rolls and then the meatloaf and then the salad; nothing that allowed the line to move forward.  The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was when the banquet manager reported they had run out of mashed potatoes! Completely - not a tuber to be found on the premises. 

The Grand Finale

Davis High Pirates 

The food fiasco had sent program plans back to the drawing board. Changes made, program shortened, we forged ahead. 

The night certainly wasn't going as planned, so I don't know why I was surprised during classmate introductions when a classmate reported having been abducted by aliens shortly after graduation, getting over it and then adding that there could be aliens in the room with us at that very moment.

At that point, I was hoping they were. I would have volunteered to have gone with them!!


The hotel charged us the full contract price. Classmates staying at the hotel reported the room quality matched the quality of the banquet - perhaps, worse.  Our class won't be returning for any future gatherings. 

Decades of friendship filled this reunion weekend

However, the weekend and the reunion were great! I know many of you in conversations with me have expressed that you can't imagine going to a high school reunion (let alone co-chairing one). Let me tell you, when you've reached a 'certain age', you really should take the opportunity to enjoy those long-time friends! The joy of seeing so many  friends and classmates far outweighed the shortcomings of the hotel experience.

We are coming to the close of our time in Washington State and will soon be heading back to our Stone House on the Hill in Greece.  We've experienced some culture and sticker shock while here and I continue to ponder the question, 'Can you go home again?'  Wishes for safe travels to you and yours. Thanks for your time with us today ~ hope you come back again and bring a friend with you! 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Talking to the Washing Machine ~ Really?

 It takes some getting used to, this coming back to the United States after an extended period away.  This trip is proving that once again. Things change while you are away - some for the good and others, well. . .

. . . just this morning I was trying to wrap my head around talking to the washing machine by using a mobile app.  

Our plane to Seattle at London Heathrow

I'd just been reading an article about household appliances in the monthly magazine of a 'big box' chain store and happened upon the concept of 'adaptive intelligence, as it relates to appliances, which I learned is a form of artificial intelligence, commonly referred to as 'AI'.  I also learned that WI-FI has become a feature of washing machines!  

The WI-FI and related technology, according to David Wilson, senior commercial director of clothes care at GE Appliances, is making laundry easier. It is the example he gave to illustrate that point that still - hours later - has me trying to wrap my head around it:

Don't spill red wine then you don't need to remove it

'For example, he says, you can direct the machine, via the manufacturer's app, to remove wine stains from jeans. The app will send the info to GE, get information on how to optimize the washer to take the stains out and direct that info to the machines, which will automatically adjust to the right temperature, spin cycle, etc. for that particular load.'

Who needs a mobile app when you have cats?

Really?  I use a product called, 'Shout' in Greece to get the stain out. I pick up the bottle and spray before washing. Don't need to talk to anyone. I also hang clothes on an outdoor clothesline at the Stone House on the Hill as I don't have a dryer, so the only talking I do there is to my cats who like to vie for my attention. Believe it or not, I find that way of doing laundry a selling point of living in rural Greece. 

Ch-ch-changes. . . and other new things

The combination of appliances and adaptive intelligence might be an extreme example of the many new things and changes we've noted since returning to the land of our roots. But changes are real and taking place everywhere we turn.  Why even Jello has discontinued its Tapioca pudding mix for lack of sales!!

Heading to Seattle

As regular readers know, we are American expats living a good deal of each year in the rural Greek Peloponnese. This is our annual sojourn back to our roots in Central Washington State, tucked up in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States.  

Washington State, far left upper corner

When I last wrote, I had been fretting somewhat about our upcoming trip. It was prompted by all the recent press that painted a picture of widespread chaos and lost checked luggage happening at European airports this summer. My frets were unfounded as we flew from a subdued Kalamata airport in Greece to a manageable London Heathrow. Our flights arrived and left on time and checked bags seemed to appear sooner than usual at both London Heathrow where we transited and Seattle, our final destination. It was one of the more pleasant changes we've encountered!

International arrivals hall is enormous at SeaTac

A rather knock-your-socks-off change was the International Arrivals terminal at SeaTac Airport. What used to be a confined, claustrophobic area of customs kiosks and baggage carousels has been replaced by a modern, beautifully decorated stadium-sized facility where returning residents and foreign visitors are welcomed to the United States. 

'Where ARE we?' we joked, as it sure wasn't the Seattle arrival we knew from the past. It is a long walk and those with mobility issues should consider a wheelchair. To get from the plane to baggage and customs, as we walked the length of that new space-age looking walkway pictured below.

International arrivals at SeaTac

We always return with a 'to do' list that includes tasks to be completed in our old Kirkland suburb where we lived for 30 years as well as things to accomplish in our current world on the other side of the state. We spent our brief time in Kirkland with a friend and former neighbor, just footsteps from our former home. Our old 'hood is so familiar that we could 'do it' with our eyes closed. . .or so we thought, but change has happened there as well.  When we went to 'our bank', the place we've gone to for more than three decades, we found the doors locked and the bank branch closed. . .with our very full safe deposit box still inside.

A fine howdy-doo! (Old American phrase)

The branch had closed during COVID we were told. We followed the directions on the sign posted on the door (pictured above). The official at another branch told us that we could have access on Wednesday. Problem was, it was Monday, we were leaving Tuesday.  It took some effort, but officials opened the closed branch for us Monday afternoon. We had 15 minutes, they told us. We didn't need that much time. When asked if this would be a visit or closing out the box - The Scout made it clear we were relocating to a bank that was, well,. .  open.  Really?

Manson area - Lake Chelan

We planted our American roots back in eastern Washington State for much the same reason we were drawn to our area of Greece: rural setting, fewer people, less traffic, less everything.  With each trip back here, though, we find that small-town changing. Housing developments are sprouting as fast as weeds on land that once housed apple orchards.  

Apple orchard turned subdivision coming this way

One development being considered by the Chelan City Council - called Apple Blossom Center - would allow 30 acres within the planned development boundary of nearly 200 acres to be built up at a gross density of 24 units per acre, resulting in a maximum of 720 multifamily dwelling units. Really? I can understand why full-time residents have voiced concerns. A development that size will change the community.  

The Lookout - a resort community continues to grow

We are two weeks into our return visit, and I am certain that more changes are in store for us.  That class reunion of mine that brought us back this time, takes place next week. Friends of mine, some who played together as children, will gather in my hometown to celebrate our high school graduation 51 years ago. And I can hardly wait to see the changes in both the people and the place! Really!!

“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.” -Nikos Kazantzakis

Thanks for being with us today! Hope you come back again and bring a friend with you!  Safe travels to you and yours~


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