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Melissa Babasin Photography

Melissa Babasin Photography

Like a river, life carries me around bends and curves and to inevitable forks of decision. At the six-year anniversary of What About This?, I find myself at one of those forks. Sharing bits of joy with you these past six years has brought me great pleasure, but blogs take on a life of their own. They require attention and constant feeding, which translate into time. It is always difficult to put an end to something one enjoys, but at this point in my life, my hands are blessedly full. Today’s post, the 647th, will be my final one.

How do I go about saying goodbye to What About This? and to all who took the journey with me? Looking back on my days as a blogger, I know I have many people to thank for being my “river guides.” First, I’d like to thank my husband for believing in me when I didn’t dare, for knowing me better than I know myself, and for allowing me to be decidedly and indisputably me. He served as my IT guy, my stalwart editor, and my taste tester. Rousing debates over grammar, syntax, punctuation, and blog-worthy recipes became part of our everyday lives. Second, I would like to thank my family for allowing me to share them with the world. Last, but not least, I would like to thank each and every one of you who visited, commented on, or subscribed to What About This? You kept me company along the way and gave me the encouragement to continue. Every word typed, every minute spent, and every connection made during the life of this blog brought me joy. I sincerely hope it brought you some in return, as you were my inspiration.

I believe the end of one thing gives way to the beginning of something else. What will I do with my time, when I no longer write this blog? Clean my house, for one thing. I’m serious. But there are also photography skills to be honed, ukulele songs to be played, food to be shared, exercises to be performed, hours to be volunteered, and a little granddaughter to be cherished.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. It’s been an honor.

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.” Ivy Baker Priest

Now go and spread joy!

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A clicking and clacking noise can be heard almost everywhere you go in Greece. Airports, restaurants, stores, and street corners are not exempt from this noise. It’s the sound of worry beads hitting against each other. Greek men are seen flipping their worry beads much more than Greek women. Does this mean men have more worries than women? I don’t think so, it’s probably more that women just don’t have the time to stand around and flick beads!

In Greece worry beads are called komboloi, which means bead collection. According to Wikipedia, “Komboloi is a part of modern Greek culture, used to relieve stress and generally pass the time. It was especially popular up to the end of the 20th century while now it has dropped in popular use. It’s still though considered a traditional trademark of Greek (and especially rembetiki) culture and niche.” Playing with worry beads is a form of therapy and used particularly by those trying to kick the nicotine habit or lose weight, but could also be used by some to deal with travel delays or rising tempers. The beads are also a symbol of national pride and are hung in stores, homes, offices, and cars for decoration.

Worry beads are made from many types of materials, but are most commonly found made of plastic, wood, semi-precious stone, amber, or coral. The only prerequisites seem to be that they are smooth and make noise. There are two types of worry beads. The komboloi resemble rosary or prayer beads, although there is no religious significance. Begleri is a straight and shorter strand with fewer beads. It’s a matter of preference.

My daughter purchased her strand from a little Greek woman in the town of Nauplion. This woman told my daughter that one does not choose his worry beads – the beads choose their owner. It’s similar to the Harry Potter concept where the wand chooses the wizard and not the other way around. Worry beads sounded like the perfect souvenir for a fidgety person like me, so my quest began. Racks and racks of  worry beads were surveyed, but none called out my name. Then they found me. A lovely strand of onyx beads, the color of a deep, rich caramel, kept drawing me to it. They felt good as they slipped and slid in and around my fingers, all the while making a pleasant, raindrop-kind of sound.

Different worry bead techniques achieve different sounds for different therapies. The most soothing technique is to pull the beads up to the ends of the strings and release the beads slowly, one by one, so that they make a soothing sound as they fall on to one another. For a more frenetic therapy, worry beads can either be rolled between your palms or rhythmically flicked between your fingers. There is some skill involved in flicking the beads correctly. Numerous shopkeepers and my daughter have tried to teach me the Greek way of flipping the bead strands finger over finger. Mastering this technique is going to require some practice. But hey, no worries! I’m not going to worry over my worry beads!

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“Tzatziki, please,” is what my family found ourselves saying every time we ordered a meal in Greece. Tzatziki is a refreshing blend of yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic. It’s a healthy and versatile mixture that can be used as a dip or a spread, as a fresh-flavored salad dressing, or as a condiment for grilled meats, especially homemade gyros and souvlaki (skewered meat). Tzatziki would also make a nice accompaniment to salmon. For the very best results use a creamy and thick Greek yogurt.

Tzatziki – From the cookbook 300 Traditional Recipes: Greek Cookery with minor adaptations by Linnell

Ingredients:

2 cups full-fat Greek yogurt*

1 English (hothouse) cucumber, peeled

4 cloves of garlic, mashed to a paste or very finely minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Pinch of pepper

A little vinegar

Fresh dill weed, finely chopped

A few ripe olives

* If you cannot find Greek yogurt, you can substitute drained plain regular yogurt.  To drain yogurt: Line a sieve with cheesecloth, place sieve over a bowl, pour yogurt into the sieve, and place sieve and bowl in the refrigerator for eight hours.

Directions:

Grate the  peeled cucumber using a coarse grater. Squeeze out as much liquid from the cucumber as possible. Mix the cucumber with the rest of the ingredients. For the best flavor, let the mixture sit for about two hours before serving. Garnish with the olives.

Serves 6

Opa!

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Traveling can be exciting and fun, but it can also be wearisome. Here are a few travel tips that can make your next long trip a little easier. By the way, for those of you who laughed or scoffed at my traveling medicine bag, let me just say that several items in it were needed and used during my recent trip to Greece!

#1 – Have iPad, Will Travel
The cell phone I carry is a generations-old flip phone and I do not own a laptop computer, so when I received an iPad for my birthday, I was delighted! It was the perfect distraction for this restless traveler during the long flights. I played games, read books and news, did crossword puzzles, listened to audiobooks and music, word processed, designed jewelry, and more! I also downloaded these helpful applications to it before leaving: calculator, weather, flight control, currency exchange, Greek translator, and wifi finder. The irony with the wifi finder is that you need wifi to employ the finder! If not for the fact that I had to stand on street corners in Athens to get adequate wifi, I would have enjoyed posting to my blog and checking my email more often. It’s an indulgent toy, but it made my trip more pleasant and my backpack lighter!

#2 – Oh My Aching Neck

I read about this tip in a travel magazine years ago and have since used it many times with great success. Buy a soft foam cervical collar from a drugstore or a medical supply store for about $15.00. It’s smaller, more compact, and offers more support than basic neck travel pillows. When dozing off, your head and neck are comfortably supported – 360 degrees around – in an upright position. Your head can tilt in any direction and your neck does not ache during long flights. Of course, you will need to get over the fact that you’ll look like a whiplash victim!

#3 – No Jet Lag Pills

One of my friends gave me a package of No Jet Lag Pills before I left home. I dutifully doled them out to me and my husband during our flights to Greece as directed. We arrived in Greece after a day’s worth of travel – tired, but still energetic enough to meet my daughter and her roommates for a late dinner and a rainy walk back to our hotel. On our return flight home, I accidentally packed the pills away in my checked luggage and could not dispense them. I’ve felt jet lagged for days now and wish I had taken them! The pills are made from homeopathic ingredients and can be purchased online.

#4 – Socks That Might Make a Difference
Before one of my trips to Asia, my doctor told me to buy compression travel socks and to make sure to put them on before boarding the aircraft. With their gradual compression, these socks stimulate blood flow and eliminate swelling of legs and feet. They are especially good when traveling for long periods of time, because when the muscles of the legs are inactive, blood can collect in the lower extremities and increase the risk of developing DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when traveling for more than four hours you should :

* Get up and move around every two to three hours
* Keep hydrated and drink plenty of water
* Reduce alcohol or caffeine consumption
* Avoid crossing legs for long periods

These socks can be found in most travel stores or online.

#5 – The Most Important Trip
The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway. ~Henry Boye

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It’s all about the food. Sometimes the best way to learn about a country and its culture is to learn about its food and its cooking traditions. Lucky for me, my daughter, who was a student in Greece for nearly five months, was not only my tour guide to the ancient sites, but also my culinary guide.

From dining in little tavernas that speckle the narrow side streets of Athens to eating fresh-caught fish off the coast of Santorini, I was introduced to the exquisite textures and flavors of Greek food. Sampling inch-long baby okra cooked in a light tomato and onion sauce, devouring tiny fried whitebait fish – head, tail, spine and all, and spreading pureed dried yellow peas on bread, were just some of the opportunities I used to discover the gastronomic resources available to the Greeks. I learned that some of the varieties of legumes we eat today are the same ones once eaten in ancient times.

And because the sun shines most of the year and very little rain falls, Greek tomatoes and peppers are exceptionally sweet. The freshness of Greek ingredients cannot be denied. Most foods are simply delicious because they are prepared with fresh and few ingredients. Very few over-processed foods ever made it to my table while I was in Greece.


Scorpion fish or grilled octopus, anyone? The seafood in Greece was as good as I had anticipated. The subtle lobster-like flavor of the Scorpion fish and the chewy texture of the fresh octopus were both delicious, but it was the fried calamari that really got my attention. Maybe it was the freshness of the squid or the very lightest dredging of flour or the addition of exactly the right amount of salt, but this Greek version of fried calamari was by far the best I’ve ever tasted!

The Greeks love their sweets. The sweet scent of freshly baked pastries found me following my nose into more than one local bakery. Even before I left home, my daughter had warned me about this temptation. I’d heard her stories about Bougatsa me Krema and was looking forward to my first taste. It did not disappoint. How could warm layers of buttery, thin phyllo sheets filled with creamy custard, and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon be disappointing? Before the introduction of sugar, ancient Greeks used honey to sweeten their food. Thick, creamy, Greek yogurt and honey is a traditional treat and Greeks like to make sweet syrups from honey to pour over their cakes and fried sweets. Many Loukoumades or Greek donut balls coated in a honey-syrup called out to me.

Now back at home, I wanted to try my hand at making the memorable Bougatsa me Krema and I found a recipe online. Flakey, buttery and filled with custard – mine was pretty darn close to the deliciousness I experienced in Greece! I share this temptation with you.

Bougatsa me Krema or Creamy Custard Phyllo Pastry

-Courtesy of Nancy Gaifyllia of About.com with comments by Linnell-

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ingredients:

* 4 1/4 cups of whole milk

* sliced peel of 1 lemon

* 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar

* 3/4 cup of semolina (durum wheat flour which I found in my local grocery store)

* 4 eggs

* 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

* 12 sheets of commercial phyllo dough

* 6 ounces of butter, melted

For the topping:

* confectioner’s sugar

* ground cinnamon

Preparation:

Warm the milk and lemon peel in a saucepan. Stir in semolina with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thoroughly blended and thickened. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until light and add to the pan, stirring over medium-low heat until it reaches a creamy custard consistency. Remove from heat, take out and discard lemon peel, and allow it to cool completely. Stir occasionally to keep the custard from forming a skin on top.

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Lightly brush a baking pan (13 X 9 X 2 or equivalent) with butter. Line the bottom of the pan with 8 sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet well with the melted butter. Add the custard filling. Fold the excess phyllo that overlaps the pan in over the custard. Top with the remaining phyllo, brushing each with butter. Use a scissors to trim the top sheets to the size of the pan. Spray the top lightly with water and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon while hot, and serve warm.

Serving tip: In Greece, Bougatsa is cut with a pizza cutter.

Enjoy!

Adventures in Greece – to be continued . . .

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There and Back Again

As the plane touched the ground, cheers were heard amongst the group of weary travelers. Admittedly, I was one of those cheering to be back on U.S. soil after traveling in Greece for almost two weeks and being in transit for nearly twenty hours. I’m the type of person that the Concorde supersonic jet was built for – the type that needs to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Sitting and waiting do not seem to be among my strengths. I was probably one of those kids that sat in the back seat and asked “Are we there, yet?” Now that I’m back on my own terra firma and supervising fifty loads of laundry, I can take pause to reflect upon certain aspects of my trip.

My daughter has truly become an independent, self-assured young lady. She’s always been mature and independent, but her tenure abroad has added a new dimension to her confidence. She bravely went to Greece alone, made new friends, learned to speak and read some modern Greek – which is no easy task, excelled in her five difficult university courses, and with the ease of a seasoned traveler, she navigated her way around Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, and Jordan. Her extensive knowledge of Greek history was evident as she proved herself a competent tour guide ushering me and my husband throughout the historic sites in the city of Athens. I listened intently as she spoke passionately about the economic and cultural issues of Greece – a country she vows to return to one day.

Whereas my daughter wants to be a world traveler, I discovered I really don’t enjoy traveling for extended periods of time. I am good for about ten days and then I start to get weary of the hustle and bustle and the lack of a good night’s sleep. Having been fortunate to have traveled a bit, I acknowledge that I’ve seen sights and sounds in parts of the world that other people only dream of. I would never trade my memories of visiting my dad’s village in China or of my first glimpse of the crystal clear, cerulean blue waters surrounding Bora Bora or of the charming little towns of Italy’s Cinque Terre, but at some point during all of these trips, the overall strain of traveling and sightseeing starts to overshadow the wonderment.

Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” This morning as I sipped my tea, I gazed out of my kitchen window and looked at my backyard. With gazania, geranium, and begonia blossoms painting the garden with vivid splashes of color and carpet roses cascading over boulders like an undulating ribbon, I indulged myself a few moments to take it in. The scent of citrus blossoms wafted through the window and the sounds of water trickling from the fountain welcomed me home. Greece was wonderful to visit, but to me there’s no place like home.

Adventures in Greece – to be continued . . .

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Pepto-Bismol? Check. Ace bandage? Check. This is me mentally going through the contents of my traveling medicine bag. Whenever I travel long distances, I grab my plastic travel bag that contains medications and first aid items. I’ve learned that when traveling you can’t always buy medications when you need them. For the most part, my medicine bag is ready to go at a moment’s notice; I do, however, review expiration dates before I leave and replace any items that have expired. Most of the time the contents of my medicine bag does not change, but it may vary depending on my destination.

Obviously I’m a detail-oriented person, but I’ve learned a lot about packing from my mother. Once when I was preparing for a trip to China, my mother told me, “Throw in some strapping tape and an Ace bandage.” I mumbled to myself, “Why do I need those things?” Being a dutiful daughter, I threw them into my bag. Traveling in China during the 1980s was restrictive. You could not deviate from the schedule and most certainly could not leave the tour group to run to the nearest drugstore to make a purchase. So sure enough when someone in my tour group fell down and sprained her ankle, I stuck my hand up in the air proudly and said, “I have an Ace bandage!” And later during the tour when someone’s suitcase tore, I volunteered, “I have strapping tape, if you need it.” Two out of two – never again have I doubted my mom’s packing advice!

While traveling with my children over the years, I’ve learned that unexpected issues can arise and it’s always better to be prepared. Because of this I’ve had to add items to my traveling medicine bag. I’ll never forget this experience: It was a lovely day in Hawaii and my husband, children, and I were enjoying a day out on the beach. My oldest son was building a sand castle when he stepped on a bee and got stung underneath his big toe. I grabbed my room key, which was a plastic credit card-type, and gently scraped across his skin to remove the stinger. As his foot began to swell, I reached for a chilled can of soda from our day pack and held it to the swelling. Once back in our hotel room, I applied hydrocortisone cream to the area and gave him a Benadryl tablet. Since we were in Hawaii, we could have easily run out to a drugstore, but having these items on hand, I was able to attend to his swollen foot without delay and prevented his symptoms from getting worse.

Like prescribed medications, I keep this medicine bag in my carry on luggage. To make the traveling medicine bag lighter, more organized, and more compact, I remove all medicine from their boxes. Then I dismantle the boxes until they are flat and make photocopies of the important information on them. I cut out the photocopied information and put them into sandwich-sized Ziploc bags along with the medication. Blister packs of medication work well, but If you have bulky pill bottles or Costco-sized containers, pour some pills into labeled (medication name, # of mg/per pill, dose, expiration date) small, jewelry-sized plastic bags before placing them into the sandwich bags with the instruction sheets. All sandwich-sized Ziploc bags then get placed into the traveling medicine bag. I probably would have made a great Girl Scout, because I am always prepared!

Linnell’s Traveling Medicine Bag:
Ibuprofen (Advil)
Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Pepto-Bismol
Antidiarrheal (Imodium)
Decongestant
Antihistamine (Benadryl)
Hydrocortisone cream
Antibiotic ointment
Alcohol wipes
Assortment of bandages
Ace bandage
Blister pads or Moleskin
Digital thermometer
Dramamine or Sea Bands
Eye drops

If traveling overseas, I might add:
Antibiotics
Dental repair kit

Always read and follow the accompanying instructions on medications and always check with your doctor to see if there are any contraindications for any member in the family to take these drugs.

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