Showing posts with label expat life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label expat life. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Losing Touch

It was a copy of People Magazine left by our recent houseguests that brought the point home: 

Living in the laidback Greek countryside, I've lost touch.  

Summer in an olive grove

People Magazine tells all there is to tell about America's celebrities and public figures. Problem was, that aside from 79-year-old Tom Selleck, most recently of television's Blue Bloods, and the recently deceased O.J. Simpson, I didn't recognize many of the names of those famous folks.

People Magazine - who is doing what and where

I've lost touch. It is as simple as that.

 And what I found most amazing about that realization was that I didn't care who these people were, nor did I care what they were doing when the paparazzi photographed them, even if it was while they grocery shopped or frolicked on some exotic holiday. 

Losing touch with the other world

Being an expat and losing touch with the everyday world you left behind, to a certain degree, go hand-in-hand.  

As American expats we've lost touch with the familiarity of doctors, dentists, and hairdressers we had visited for years. We've lost touch with routines of shopping at the corner supermarket, visiting the dry cleaner and filling the car with gas at the regular service station. But with each of those has come the challenge and exhilaration of creating new familiar and favorite routines in the Greek world.

What has been tough is losing touch with friends and family. 

We knew it could happen.  We'd read the articles about expat life and knew that losing connections with friends back home and loneliness can bring down the most enthused expat. Yet, as with all unpleasant possibilities, one reasons that it couldn't possibly happen in your world. 

Losing Touch

'Losing touch' with friends is quite a widespread phenomenon apparently experienced by many of the 230 million expats worldwide.  And with 18 percent of those expats being more than 61 years of age, they likely have a good number of friends and family with whom they want to keep in touch.

Loneliness is often cited as one of the most difficult aspects of expat life. The inability to make new friends and the absence of family and longtime friends are often the reason expats choose to return to their home country. 

Friends at Your Fingertips

So, when you look at the speed and ease of communication afforded by today's technology, there is really no excuse for losing touch, is there? 

With a scroll through Facebook and Instagram postings we are able to celebrate birthdays and holidays, graduations and weddings. We can share in the sorrow of loss and send well-wishes to those who are ill.  

US, Canada and Greece - we talk face-to-face twice a month on WhatsApp

WhatsApp, Facetime, Messenger and other such programs allow us to visit face-to-face with friends no matter where in the world they are living. And doing so is always a day-brightener!


Weekly email 'coffee klatches' keep us in touch

Even writing emails - now thought of by young people as a somewhat old-fashioned communications tool-- keeps us up-to-date with the comings and goings of friends.

Luckily, we have a cadre of dear friends who are committed to keeping in touch while we are in Greece. Several of us write emails as if we were visiting regularly together over coffee. We chat face-to-face with others. Skype has made texting together was easy as if we were just across town. 

Emails, photos and Skype keep these childhood friends together

Staying in touch is done both with precision regularity as well as at random out-of-the-blue contacts. Now, despite being thousands of miles apart, we are up to date with each other's lives, everyday activities, travel, health, even weather. 

As the years have passed my definition of 'staying in touch' has become so relaxed that it includes writing a comment on a FB or blog post. 

Poof! Just like that, they are not heard from again

Yet it has been with some incredulity that we've realized there are some -- thankfully, not a lot of --friends with whom we have simply lost touch.  Poof. Gone. No communication from them and no response to attempts to reach them.

Moving On

An article in, a website 'by expats for expats', offered an interesting take on losing touch: 

 'Don't be afraid of losing friends who won't or can't commit to keeping the connection. . .it gives you more time to invest in those who are willing to make the effort,' it offered.  

Reasoned one expat about the topic of lost friendships on Reddit, an American social news website, 'People's lives go on and you've moved a different direction. Many friendships are based on common experience and close proximity.'

'It's hard to stay in touch with all the friends we make through life. Scientific studies show we maintain 150 relationships at any given time in life,' wrote another.

One of the most obvious bits of advice offered to expats is to quit fretting over those who've dropped out of sight and make new friends.

Friends in the expat world

A meet up of multinational expats on Easter afternoon in the village
As of last year, according to the World Population Review, there were 23,297 American expats living in Greece.  The number pales in comparison to the 799,248 living in Mexico, but still, it seems like quite a few to those of us who are a part of that statistic.  

Morning coffee at the beach cafe with friends

In our slice of Greece, we have a diverse blend of expats friends including Americans who hail from the Pacific Northwest, California, the Southwest and Northeast.  Those from further afield hail from Canada, Belgium, Turkey, England and elsewhere.

Thankfully our expat life in the rural Peloponnese has been filled with new friends, both expats and Greeks. Although making friends takes time, just like it did back in the old world.  

We find that the lifestyle here probably has us socializing more with friends here than we did back in the States as logistics of getting together are so simple. 

An evening spent with neighbors is always a great evening

Our Stone House on the Hill is set amid eight other homes on a short stretch of road just outside the village. Our neighborhood is an international one with France, Britain, Peru, Germany, Greece, Switzerland and America represented. We are blessed that we are surrounded by kind and caring people and that we have all become friends.

 Silver and Gold

A toast to lasting friendships - old and new

Back in the 1960's Girl Scouts in America had a song they'd sing around a campfire that was a simple ditty with a powerful message:

 'Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.'  

It could be the theme song for expats. 

And with that thought we close for this week and send wishes for safe travels to you and yours.  We are heading off on an adventure. . .one that we said we'd 'never do' and yet here we are doing it! We will tell you about it next time!

Monday, June 10, 2024

A Song of Summer

It was early when I heard the soloist; the sun was just peeping over the hill behind us. With the temperature already in the hot zone as I sipped my first cup of coffee a few mornings ago, the sound of music was loud and clear.

Sunrise and the song of summer

In this afternoon's warm summer breeze, it seemed as if the olive tree branches swayed in time to the music; the song echoing across the grove, now sung with gusto by an entire choir. 

On both occasions I was hearing what I will forever consider 'the song of summer' and theme song to our expat life in Greece: 

A choir sings a summer song in surround sound

The song of summer is sung by the cicadas.

A Cicada Kalokairi 

Kalokairi is summer in Greece

Kalokairi is the Greek word for summer.  'Kalo', or 'kala' in Greek is 'good', so calling this bright, sunny season kalokairi makes absolute, perfect sense to me. (It is one of the few words I now have down pat in my fledgling Greek vocabulary).  

Kalokairi is such a happy, upbeat season that it seems only right that its arrival is announced by musicians who will continue their sizzling soundtrack until autumn takes over.

Residence permits - a ticket to the 'summer concert'

The song became our theme song back in early June 2017. It was then, upon receiving our first Greek residency permits, we could stay here as long as we wanted. Our time would no longer dictated by those tiresome 90-day Schengen Zone limits. Giddy with the newfound freedom, we agreed to extend that stay, just because we could! 

Instead of an actual date though, I told The Scout that I wanted to stay 'until the cicadas sing' to announce summer's arrival. Up until then, I'd missed these troubadours of summer.

Summer scenes in our world

Stay we did. Until the end of June. The cicadas had begun their summer serenade. And that's when those little critters' song became not only metaphor for the onset of summer but also for our seismic shift in life. We moved to Greece four months later.

Cicadas in Cultures

One thing we've learned since moving here is that pretty much everything we encounter in the modern-day world has some deep-seated roots in Greek history, culture and/or language. 

Cicadas, pronounced 'se-KAY-das' or 'se-KAH-das', are no exception.

Stories handed down from ancient Greeks tell of men who were so obsessed with singing that they forgot to eat and drink. They were turned into cicadas by the Muses and given the task of keeping tabs on which humans were showing proper reverence to the Muses, those goddesses of music, poetry and myth.

Cicadas important in Chinese history and culture 

Even in ancient China the cicadas represented 'rebirth'.  They certainly did for us that summer as we closed out our life in the United States and moved to Greece.  That was definitely a 'born again' into a new world and culture experience!

During the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220CE) amulets shaped like cicadas were placed on tongues of corps to symbolize rebirth and immortality. Cicadas in today's Feng Shui are powerful symbols of longevity and happiness; their image is used on jewelry and charms. I've not yet found any such amulets paying homage to them in Greece, but I'd certainly be wearing one if I ever do.

Sing it Again

Summer in our world - file photo 2021

I always feel grateful when I hear summer's song reverberating across the hillside on which we live. The song, once only a promise of what summer could be in Greece, now carries memories of the summers we've spent in this adopted world of ours. Now I can't imagine a summer without the cicadas' song playing in the background.  

Summer songs ring out in our Mani area of Greece

Along with the cicadas' song, other signs of summer are reminding us that the new season has arrived. Oleanders are brightening the landscapes with their white, pink and rose-colored blooms. The air is scented by the wild sage, and thyme scattered about gardens, groves and hillsides. 

Signs of summer in nearby Stoupa

Temperatures are hovering at 90F/32C with predictions of it reaching 100F/37C later this week. 
The water supply is at its usual low and fire danger is its usual high. Sunbeds are filling with sea and sun enthusiasts who have traveled here for a small dose of what we enjoy as everyday life. 

Summer sunsets at our house

All is good - ola kala - in our world.  Hope whatever season you are welcoming that all is good in your world as well. Safe travels to you and yours~ 

And in closing I want to give a 'shout out' to a group who we recently met while they were vacationing in the area.  Thanks for taking the time to come and introduce yourselves and tell us that you are readers of 'TravelnWrite' after you spotted us in the village - we hope to see you again on a return visit! .  

Monday, April 1, 2024

Olive Grove Lessons ~Life, Love, Loss

 A stiff breeze rustling the branches of the olive trees and making the terrace grasses sway, was enough to pause our stroll in the grove. Sometimes, it was the raucous cry of birds swooping to nests high atop nearby cedar trees that stopped us mid-step. 

Each new noise or movement, they taught me, was a wonderment. We had to pause, listen and watch.  Every time . . .because it might just signify something new and exciting.  

In the grove at The Stone House on the Hill

In the spring, the grove beckoned for a game of hide and seek at the rosemary bush. Sometimes on hot summer afternoons, it was where we watched ants at labor marching across the soil cracked by the intense Mediterranean sun. In the fall, it was games of chase using olive twigs cut during olive harvest that filled our time in the grove. 

Olive grove games

For several years now, I have spent a portion of nearly every day in our olive grove, simply for the purpose of enjoying it. 

It wasn't easy to do that at first. I thought I needed to be pulling weeds, trimming, doing something. That is, until my two feline mentors, Princess and Maggie Mae, decided it was time that I understood the concept best defined by Italians as, dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. 

Dolce far niente in the olive grove

One can't help but notice the proliferation of self-help tips that fill social media these days. There are mantras, memes, and meditations, all offering ways to improve one's life/outlook/happiness by slowing down, simply calming oneself. Indulging in sweet nothingness. I guess the teachings of my fur girls were much in the same vein - they just taught by example. Peace and happiness could be had just by watching a bug crawl past or a butterfly flutter above.  

The key, I learned from them, is taking time to notice, then allowing oneself the time to enjoy it. 

My grove getaway at the Stone House on the Hill

I honestly can't recall when our trips to the grove became a daily ritual.  I was doing it 'for the cats' in an effort to keep them interested in something far away from the road that passes by the other side of our home, I reasoned.  

Princess, left, and Maggie, right, explore the grove.

In truth, I was getting as much out of those grove hours as were the two felines who accompanied me there.  

Life and Love in Greece

The two - Princess and Maggie Mae -- as we named them after they each had made clear upon arrival -- one year apart and nearly a decade ago -- that they would be making their home with us. While not related to each other, after their initial skepticism at sharing our attention, they were to become inseparable sidekicks.  

Dolce far niente at the Stone House on the Hill

The lessons in the grove took on new intensity back in January as the spread of Maggie's skin cancer was clearly bringing her to the end of her life. During these last three months, our trips to the grove increased and each time we lost ourselves in the sweetness of doing nothing . . .together. 

Savoring those last days. Maggie continued to find wonder in sniffing the air to catch its scents as she sat, watched and listened.  

Maggie Mae Smith

We buried Maggie 10 days ago next to the rosemary where she had spent so many hours enjoying life. Princess and I haven't resumed our trips to the grove. We are both adjusting to Maggie's absence, but we continue to indulge in dolce far niente. 

Maggie was not a fan of our travels!

I've taken a break from the blog in recent weeks to experience that sweetness of doing nothing with my fur girls.  As Maggie's health deteriorated, The Scout and I cancelled all travel we'd planned for the first months of this year. (cat people do those things) With Maggie's recent passing, we have a small window of opportunity to travel in Schengen countries before our residency permits expire the end of April and we are no longer allowed to travel (pending the new permits).  We are ready for some travel adventures again. And he's scouted out a good one - I'll tell you about it in the next post.


Thanks for being with us today - and our wishes for safe travels to you and yours. 
And a big welcome to our new subscribers!!

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Night of the Jackal

They begin just after sunset, those haunting cries that echo across our valley in rural Greece.  Sometimes soft and distant and other times so loud and close that you nearly jump out of your skin. 

Sunset is time for the jackals calls to begin.

Nightfall is the time of the jackals and their blood curdling cries. It is when they begin their search for food and drink; the search and piercing nocturnal cries often continuing intermittently until dawn.

These omnivorous predators, smaller than the North American coyote, are in search of small- to medium-sized animals.  Traveling in pairs, sometimes packs, their mournful cries sound like sound effects for scenes of the untamed frontier in old Western movies.

Night view from The Stone House on the Hill

Their eerie calls used to be a rarity at our home on a hillside outside the small Greek fishing village where we've made our expat life. These days they are almost as much a ritual as the sunset itself. We told a recent visitor that if it sounded like jackals were just outside the window of the ground floor guest room - they probably were!

Golden jackals are found in Greece

Luckily, we've only encountered three of them and each at a bit of a distance - all looking much worse for the wear than the one in the photo above -- however, we find their tracks in our flower beds and olive grove.  

Maggie and Princess on alert

We know why our cats head for the upper decks of our home and keep watch on their property below. Two sets of neighbors, each with a young cat just a few months old, report their cats have disappeared, both believed to be victims of jackals.  

Now we are safe on The Scout's lap!

On only a few occasions have our two cats been outside on ground level when I heard the first of the jackals' cry. As I've hurtled out of the house and into the darkened grove with just my mobile phone flashlight, I've been thankful that the cats have come running at the sound of my voice.  I really didn't want to meet up with one of the scavengers.

Not far from our home in Greece we spotted this 'yard art'

Wanting to live differently, we chose an expat life in rural Greece. A narrow track road leads up the hill to the seven homes that comprise our spread-out neighborhood carved out of olive groves in the Mani region of the Peloponnese.  

On our Greek road home.

Back when we moved, our focus was on culture, cuisine, language and lifestyle of a different country. We were thinking about functioning within a place where English isn't the first language and where you don't order 'French fries with ketchup' when dining out (when you do eat that style of potato here, they are 'chips' and if dipped in anything, it is mayonnaise).

Our slice of Greece - rural and sparsely populated. 

We didn't give that much thought to the new experiences we'd have simply living in an agricultural setting. But roaming jackals and the wild boar who also patrol our hillside in bulldozer-like fashion remind us that we aren't in suburban Seattle any longer.  

Wild boars roam near our home

This summer a neighbor was injured when he encountered the wild boar family - a moving destruction crew - on the road about a mile from our house. He was on his motorcycle and was charged by one of the boars. They've destroyed several terraces in our olive grove and dug up plants but luckily, we've not been any closer than the night we encountered them on our way home and the blurred photo was taken.

Living Differently 

Even as we watch homes and tourist accommodations being built at a breakneck pace around our valley in recent years, we still live in a rural setting where wide open spaces stretch for miles. And for the most part, the rural setting affords us pleasant, even heart-warming, new experiences.

Giving me the once over

When I meet friends for coffee, I usually walk to the kafenion and I pass the guy pictured above grazing in the olive grove just below our house.  Sometimes he calls out a greeting and sometimes prefers just to keep an eye on me.

The cattle being led to graze in olive groves

He and his wife and child - as I like to think of them -- are regularly led to the grove to graze by an older Greek lady who owns them. 

Traffic jams are common on our village roads

If we set off in the opposite direction, towards Platsa, the village at the top of our hill, we often find ourselves caught in a bit of a traffic jam when the herd above us is moving from one grazing spot to another.

Highway slowdowns 

Traffic jams aren't limited to just the local access roads though, they can occur on the highway that cuts through our area as well.  Here 'the highway' is a two-lane road, versus the single lane local roads.

Slow cooking in the fireplace

Critters aren't the only thing different about this rural lifestyle. It inspired me to try my hand at slow cooking the old-fashioned way: in a glazed clay pot over an open fire. Embers, actually, in the fireplace.  We've successfully cooked a number of dishes that way and it is a family affair as The Scout is in charge of preparing the fire and getting the embers 'just right' while I work on the food.

Horta hunting

While on the topic of food, this is the season for 'horta hunting'. Horta is the name for wild greens harvested from along roadsides and olive groves.  A good friend, who runs a local taverna took us and two friends out last year on a horta hunting expedition. She showed us the kind you want to harvest, and which to avoid. It was one of our finest days!

We are living differently, that's for sure! 

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Friday, December 8, 2023

Too Old to be Expats?

At almost 101, she is probably the oldest expat in the area.  

She is the expat I want to be 'when I grow up'.

I am not naming her because her name isn't as important to this tale as is her age.  She is simply living proof that quality time lived as an expat need not be age defined. 

Agios Nikolaos, our expat world

Just last week I saw her studiously bent over her latest needle work, chatting away with her longtime friends at a weekly crafter gathering in the village. A couple years ago, while seated next to her at a fundraiser she kept me entertained with her stories, . . . well, until the band started playing and she headed to the dance floor! 

Three birthday cakes, a party and many friends as I hit 70!

Although not as spry as she once was, I think of her as the poster child for the 'aging expat'.  And since becoming a septuagenarian last July, I now qualify as both 'aging' and 'expat'. 

So, finding someone 30 years my senior is gratifying as I ponder the question: Can one be too old to be an expat?

'It's only a number,' chided my just-turned-50 expat friend, as my tongue swelled in July when I attempted to say my age. Saying '70' in Greek (ev-do-MIN-ta) and English (s-s-seventy) continues to be difficult. When I can't wrap my head around something, I usually can't wrap my tongue around it either.

Coming of Age in Greece

Celebrating the purchase of our home with its former owners 

'Are we too old?' we asked ourselves as we debated the pros and cons of buying a home in Greece a decade ago.

Getting those first residency cards!

'Are we too old?' we asked ourselves again, a few years later, when we pondered becoming expats in Greece.

To think, that was back when we were mere 60-somethings!

When we decided to take the plunge, we reasoned that when we were 'too old' for the expat lifestyle, we would likely move back to the States. At the time we didn't think about how to define 'too old'. Instead, we set up 'age gauges'.

Our stairs would be an 'age gauge' we reasoned.

For instance, when we were no longer able to navigate the flight of 30-steps we climb between our Stone House on the Hill and our car, it would be time to pack up and move on. Thankfully, we still climb those stairs regularly, but now we talk about the logistics of a sloped sidewalk through the garden alternative when the 'time comes'.

Olive harvest equipment replaced us!

Olive harvest has been another 'age gauge'. When we couldn't actively participate any longer, we'd say, 'it just might be time to. . .,' never really completing the sentence. Well, thankfully our hired crew is so mechanized, that we no longer play much role in the hard part of harvest, so that gauge is out the window. 

In the blink of an eye, we are 70-somethings

We know that the unconventional lifestyle of an expat doesn't ward off the pesky signs of aging. We are now 70-somethings and despite the claim that 70 is the new 50, our bodies often dispute that after a walk home up the hill on which we live, or a day spent working in the garden or grove! 

We probably do sound like 'old people' when reminding friends who've been saying for a decade that they were coming to visit us in Greece -- that it might be time to schedule that trip. But seriously, time could be running out. Even living a Mediterranean lifestyle, the longevity factor in Greece is 80.2, roughly the same as that of the European Union. (And that is better than the US, where it is only 77.5 years).

The Elderly Expat

Expats of 'a certain age' set off on the sea

The expat and Mediterranean lifestyle combine to keep us far more physically and mentally active in our Greek world than we are in the States. Expats of 'a certain age' here are pursuing any number of activities, among them: gardening, swimming, biking, hiking, trekking, traveling, socializing, and participating in volunteer activities.  

Expat friends of 'a certain age' at lunch in the village

I like that phrase, 'a certain age', possibly inspired from a similar French phrase, that puts a person in a pleasant holding pattern of sorts, 'not still young but not yet old'. It, like Mae West's, 'You are never too old, to become younger', are far more agreeable to me than 'elderly'. The World Health Organization defines elderly persons as 60 or older. 

Spring hike on a kalderimi

If that is the case, then there are a lot of elderly American expats scattered about the world. Of the approximate 10 million American expats, (U.S. State Department statistics) about18 percent, or 1.8 million, of us are 61 years of age or older. 

The ability to live as an expat isn't defined by chronological age alone; we all know that health, mobility, and mental attitude have much to do with the quality and quantity of life regardless of where one lives.

Too Old or Not?

In researching this post, I came across a hodge-podge of thoughts on age, three of which I felt worthy of repeating:

How old is too old?

First, according to a survey by TD Ameritrade 73% of women and 59% of men felt that 70 IS the new 50, based on the fact that we are living healthier and longer lives. (It didn't list the ages of those surveyed though.)

Second, American writer, Anne Lamott, in an opinion piece for the Washington Post titled, "Living on Borrowed Time,' made me laugh: 'Getting older is almost like changing species, from cute middle-aged white-tailed deer, to yak. We are both grass eaters, that that's about the only similarity.'

Short, shorter. . .vanished?

But if was an article on aging by fellow septuagenarian Robert Reich, an American political economist and professor, that provided a new perspective on the question I've been pondering. He cited a study that said: after age 60 one loses a half-inch in height every five years.  And that gave this once-five-foot-tall writer, a whole new perspective on being an aging expat. If I live long enough, I just might vanish. Then I won't need to figure out if I am too old to continue being an expat!

That's it for this week from sunny, but chilly, Greece. 

So how about you?  Have you reached 'a certain age' that now influences travels or expat adventures? Share your thoughts via comments or email.

As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today - hope to see you back again. . .bring a friend with you!


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