Archive for ‘Miscellany’

November 22, 2015

Summer reminiscence

Evidently, I don’t blog anymore. Only three posts this year! My excuse is the large amount of scientific writing I’ve been doing lately. When you remove the ability to be quippy and do nothing but voice your own opinions without forethought or justification, it turns out I’m a fairly terrible writer. Soooo, when I finish staring at my computer screen for hours trying to form words into cohesive thought, I am simply in no mood to do any other writing…at all…ever again. The unintended benefit is I now have a tremendous amount to fill you in on. Shall we begin?

The 42nd Annual Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival

It was on May 2nd and 3rd this year, and it still surprises me that after attending this festival for the last four years, I can still find new and interesting things.

20150502_142941I found some gorgeous handmade glass circular knitting needles by Michael and Sheila Ernst Glass. I was assured by the artist that they absolutely won’t, say, break while I’m knitting and impale me through the hand. They were a little pricey (not that I wouldn’t realistically spend that much on needles if I were being truthful with myself) but still stunning.

I learned a new skill from woodworker Stephen Willette who makes beautiful fiber art tools. Now normally I can’t have anything to do with artisans like these; my boys would simply not tolerate exposed balls of yarn in expertly crafted wooden bowls to go undestroyed. But I bought this lovely lucet and learned how to make a lucet braid. <– That link, by the way, will take you to a YouTube video with a good tutorial…and bitchin’ soundtrack. This is a technique that apparently dates back to the Vikings and the resultant cording can be used to make just about anything: jewelry, potholders, rugs, things like that. I’ve decided, once I get the hang of making the braid more uniform, to begin with some cute neon friendship bracelets and I’ve also found just the yarn for it:

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And speaking of neon, I am absolutely thrilled that vibrant, rich colors are back in vogue. I, and my skin tone, simply cannot do pastels, and white clothing is just impractical. That is when I discovered Neighborhood Fiber Co., a local, small batch hand-dyed yarn company that makes some of the brightest, most colorful yarns I’ve found. I got their exquisite Penthouse Silk Fingering. Yarn colors are named after neighborhoods in DC and Baltimore.

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Traveling in the name of science

I attended a couple scientific conferences this summer (a.k.a Nerdfests according to the Greek) which gave me the opportunity to do some traveling for free. Well, for me at least. And of course I had to do lots of science-y things, but there was time to spare to take a look at my surroundings, and I saw some amazing things.

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This is the lobby area of the Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Clearly a converted railroad station from a grander era, at night they have a subtle light show of changing color on the roof. It was an unexpected pleasure since while I don’t know much about the Midwestern town outside of the Judy Garland film, I hadn’t had high hopes.

The intensive scientific workshop I was attending in Dubrovnik, Croatia coincided with their Summer Festival celebrating music and art. This meant that in between didactic lectures and dipping into the cool, blue Adriatic, I was able to attend an open air chamber quartet performance held in an old abbey and hear La Traviata sung in the streets. Yeah, it was an okay time. The festival opened with a fireworks ceremony, and we found a tremendous spot to view it from:

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And finally, a real, bonafide vacation

In September, I got the opportunity to visit the Greek’s homeland of Cyprus. Well…he was actually born in Maryland. His family is from Cyprus, a Greek isle in the Mediterranean invaded by Turkey in 1974 forcing his family to flee to the States. So, it was both homecoming and vacation. The resort town his family actually lived in is still on the occupied side and I’ve got to say, seeing most of the city abandoned and crumbling and, ironically, unoccupied, cordoned off in a “forbidden zone”, was truly haunting. Aside from that though, it was a happy and exciting trip, and I think I’ll conclude this post with some of my favorite photos from it.

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Lunatics cliff diving from off the top of the sea caves near Cavo Greko

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IMG_1273 20150918_093430  It isn’t all warm, sandy beaches and clear, blue water. There were also forests and mountains that actually got pretty chilly. Our jaunts there were pretty much the only time my aggressively endothermic partner was truly comfortable.

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The Greek talks nuts.

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But let’s not forget about those sunny beaches and crystal blue water…

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I know. I’m jealous of myself right now.

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January 4, 2015

I’ll be homemade for Christmas

So, apparently, I haven’t written a post since July!  Now normally I would claim busy student and then proceed to gripe about how demanding and important my life is.  But I’m afraid this time I can only admit neglect.  For I have finally found that the rigorous and unforgiving workload has finally begun to bear fruit: in a desperate bid for survival, I actually became a highly enduring and efficient worker, almost without even noticing.  Therefore, when these latest holidays rolled around, I found myself able to finish all I’d intended, even while making it more involved [pats self on back].  (This might seem somewhat pompous and self-aggrandizing if you don’t know me.  But trust me, these moments when things just work out happen so rarely that these small victories  simply must be celebrated.)

First, I managed to get all my Christmas cards out on time…ugh, except for one (!) because it required the Greek’s personalization. <– Not my fault.  These are my favorite, simple and charming and hand pressed on heavy card stock from Steel Petal Press; I buy them every year:

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Aaaannnddddd I got to use my new Scottish sealing wax  that I found last Renn Faire.  I originally wrote about finding my antique wax seal 2 years ago, but the accompanying wax I bought with it just sucked all the fun out of it.  It felt like I was melting cheap crayons, and the seal looked like shit.  I literally choked a little when the Renn Faire vendor told me the price, $22 for a single 4-inch stick!  But he told me it was a traditional sealing wax, made in a much higher quality than you normally find, and guaranteed me 30-40 seals per stick.  I bought it in a lovely metallic green color and have no complaints.  It’s sold by K Dopita Studio online; you have to call a number to place an order, which is adorable.

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I made a pair of scarves for my sister and my mom…and in sufficient time to get pictures no less.  My Ravelry profile has frustratingly stagnated at 5 projects for years because I can never finish something in a calm and timely enough manner to remember to take a picture.  I know, I know, a tragedy of narcissistic proportions.  I’m glad you agree.  Little Jack absolutely insisted on being in the photos…as you can see from the defeated expression on his face.

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The Greek was a tremendously busy boy this holiday.  After many years of pleading on my part, a summer trip to the Maine woods (bien sûr!) finally convinced him to grow a full and luxurious beard, which, when you’re a Greek, takes about an afternoon of effort.  Unfortunately, beards are itchy, so he set about finding a solution.  With a lot of internet research and a little bit of experimentation, he made himself a beard balm.  Seriously, it’s so shiny and silky now that his face looks like a black panther!  And since facial hair is de rigueur right now, he was able to make beard balms for nearly every male he knows as Christmas presents this year.  And with essentially only a few modifications to that recipe (a little less beeswax, a little more essential oils, and some time spent in a standing mixer), he was also able to make jars of whipped body butter for the females.  For a first effort that came down to the wire time-wise (no lie, we were spooning them into their containers on Christmas Eve morning), they turned out wonderfully.  What am I saying, they were fabulous, period.

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And since I always cite my sources: This is where he got his balm recipe.  This is where he got his butter recipe.  And this is where he got the recipe for the scent (it’s Fall Foliage).

IMG_1129Finally, I always conclude each holiday post with my New Year’s drink.  New Year’s is my favorite alcohol holiday since it’s one of the few occasions where you give yourself permission to drink bubbles all night and worry about the headache later.  (Side note: Evidently, it’s the bubbles that amplify the effects of the otherwise typical alcohol hangover and are responsible for the so-called “champagne headache”…although apparently you don’t get it with REAL Champagne [insert derisive snort].  It has to do with the quality of the wine used or the way the grapes are pressed or something, blah, blah.  Mostly it’s a fantastic way to sound snobbish.) This year, it’s Gruet Brut.  Unfortunately, I was uncommonly popular this year and actually had plans, and I don’t think we ever popped my sparkling wine that night.  Don’t worry about me though…PLENTY of others to be had and I poured myself into bed (i.e. the sofa) at just before 4AM.  Jesus, is that really how I intend to end a post?  Well, I have nothing else to say sooooo yes.  Yes, it is.  Ah, well.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS ALL!

January 15, 2013

A Jaunt to The Jefferson

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Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my great aunt and my cousin in Richmond, VA.  This was truly a momentous occasion as I was, respectively, 15 and 12 the last time I saw them.  That’s right, grunge was at it’s popularity peak when I last saw my cousin!  Sadly, we only had a day, but we packed a lot into that day!  Part of that outing included a wonderful tour of downtown Richmond.  My cousin was right: I-95 simply does not do the city justice!  I remember many road trips through Richmond as a child.  My most vivid memory, aside from the smokestacks and pervasive grayness, was a large, aluminum cigarette jutting out of the city, the so-called Tobacco Monument on the grounds of the Phillip Morris Plant.  As I understand, it no longer stands there, a relic of a bygone era that is no longer politically correct.  The highlight of the day (aside from good company) was a trip to the historic Jefferson Hotel.  Built in 1895, it is one of the finest hotels in America.  It has both an AAA Five Diamond award and the coveted Mobil Five Star award, one of only 27 hotels in America to carry that honor.  It has hosted 12 U.S. Presidents including both Roosevelts, Reagan, both Bushes, and President Obama.   Both Elvis and Frank Sinatra have stayed there, the latter apparently serenaded other guests at the hotel’s esteemed restaurant Lemaire following his dinner.  Named after Thomas Jefferson, who was born in Virginia, it is truly a storied site and unimaginably beautiful.  So naturally, I took a few photos.

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This is The Palm Court Lobby.  It was such brightly lit room with the large skylight and all the Tiffany stained glass windows.  In the center is a marble statue of Thomas Jefferson.  When we were there, the room was set for tea service.  But surrounding the statue used to be a marble pool where several live gators resided.  Apparently, affluent Richmonders would vacation in Florida and return with baby gators as pets (if there is a more poorly thought out idea in this world, I have yet to encounter it!).  And in an outcome no one could have predicted, the babies would grow into adult gators and become unmanageable and were then promptly “donated” to the hotel.  It is for this reason that several bronze replica gators can be found throughout the hotel, beginning with an enormous one at the entrance that startled the crap out of me when we arrived.  Speaking of which…

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Here’s one leading down to the main staircase.  The staircase, incidentally, is said to have been the inspiration for the grand staircase at the end of Gone with the Wind, since author Margaret Mitchell was also a guest here.  Sorry, no picture of that, but I assure you it was stunning.  Some more pictures:

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And the man himself…

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January 6, 2013

Synopsis: Holidays 2012

First and foremost, I’d like to note that I am finished with that evil, wretched, awful class!!!!  Me=winner.  Or survivor?  Either way, I’m done.

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This actually occurred, by the way, around Thanksgiving, and I am just getting around to announcing it now.  These things will happen when you’ve shackled yourself to a university that decides, for the first semester of the first year, they will teach you graduate level knowledge in a college style format (i.e. four hours of lecture a day, five days a week).  Also, they make you learn the whole shebang in the beginning; not just your intended field, but everything you never wanted to know about cell biology.  This is where young people have the advantage: they still have the dog-like obedience of youth towards authority figures.   That and the capacity to stay up all night studying and drinking coffee without having to use words like “irregular”.  By the time you’re my age, your brain has simply decided that it’s not going to do things it doesn’t want to do just because some grown-up told it to, which made for difficult learning when brain found topics uninteresting.

And now, on to the holidays…a topic I finally got to consider once I finished the semester at the beginning of December only to realize to my horror that it was barreling down on me, and I hadn’t done a single thing to prepare for it!

I’m happy to report, my table runner made it onto the Thanksgiving table this year.  Knitted by me for my aunt and uncle last Christmas, I finally acknowledged I had made it too narrow when I had already spent too long on it to start over.  So, I have decided to start spreading the rumor that this was intentional in order for it to be utilitarian.  Most people simply have a table runner; they now have a table runner AND a scarf long enough for them both to wear at the same time.  See?  Versatility!  You’re welcome, relatives!  Some autumn-colored daylillies complement it nicely…

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I had unprecedented baking success this year!  Nearly everything turned out just perfectly except for one pumpkin pie that mysteriously collapsed in the center like a soufflé, the latest victim of the custard killer that is my crappy oven.  Nothing will set properly in that damn thing!  I also made a pair of pecan pies, one of my specialties for which I receive scads of unwarranted praise considering that I use the recipe from the Karo syrup website and there are about three ingredients total.  Nevertheless, this year I found a way to make it at least a little my own.  Inspired by my first pie that used the last of the crumbled pecans in a bag, I decided to coarsely chop the pecans before adding them to my filling.  This is math even I understand: chopped nuts=more nutty surface area to be candied.  And while it is highly unlikely this wasn’t previously thought of by a thousand bakers before me, I thought of it independently and shall take credit for it.  Apple tart tatin, part deux, was also delicious.

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This year, I also took my first shot at a yule log.  Named after the large log burnt in the hearth on the evening of the Yule festival, a religious celebration of the Germanic tribes that then became the Christian celebration of Christmas (that’s right, kids: Christmas used to be a pagan holiday!), it is now a jelly roll cake made to look like a log.  The flavors were spot on, but the log was a little droopy. Perhaps my log actually better represents the giant, heavily decomposed logs one would find in the primordial forests of Northern Europe where Yuletide was once celebrated or perhaps I just wasn’t aggressive enough when I was rolling up the cake, afraid that I was forcing too much mousse out of the cake, and need to roll the log more tightly next time.  Either way, it’s not bad for my first try.  The recipe is here.  I used extra virgin olive oil instead of hazelnut oil, a deep cookie sheet instead of a jelly roll pan, and mini marshmallows and Hershey’s Kisses instead of the meringue mushrooms in the recipe.  Improvisation is the key to being a truly good baker, folks!  Some of the best cooks I know have old or few kitchen supplies and teeny, tiny kitchens.

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And miraculously, I got everything accomplished…with improbable pluck and panache!  Although admittedly, some of my international relatives may have still not received their Christmas cards :(.  And acknowledgement must be paid to the Greek who really stepped up to the plate this year and did the majority of the nightly ritual of wrapping gifts for the holiday visit with family the following day.  This includes his gift to me, beautifully made himself, my reward as the evident victor of a ludicrous argument we’ve been having the past few years in which he no longer thinks he needs to wrap my gifts and I, um, disagree, culminating in me returning his gift to me last Christmas because, I reasoned, we have all joint funds; if he doesn’t find some way to make it special, I might as well have bought it myself!  When you’ve been together as long as we have, you have to start finding more creative ways to spice things up.  But isn’t it lovely?  Worth it.

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UntitledAnd now to conclude this post, I think I shall do what I did last year: have a glass of wine and reflect on 2012 and my goals for 2013.  This year, I had a glass of Rondel Brut Cava sparkling wine: dry, tasty, and $7 a bottle!  A fortunate discovery during an especially high concentration of gatherings this past summer that required economical bubbles.  Sadly, my first goal of the new year was last year’s as well: while I AM in graduate school, I was unsuccessful in getting into a coveted PhD program and instead applied to the Masters program.  So, I’ll be giving the doctorate a go again.  I also hope to see a revival in the things I enjoy doing and yet haven’t been doing a lot of lately; unfortunately, my goal of last year, in addition to being incomplete, kind of left me no time for doing anything else.  Perhaps this explains why I happily volunteered to do so much holiday baking despite having less places to go this year and was able to approach it with such zeal despite the academic ass-kicking that left me so exhausted.  Finally, I want, as I want each year, to try new things: not always a successful thing (see: gardening and mountain biking) but a necessary one I think.  Happy holidays, all!  And a Happy New Year!

February 22, 2012

An appreciation of beautiful photography: Carnevale 2012

It has been brought to my attention that the talented blog writer for “Tongue in Cheek”, a blog about an American expatriate’s daily life in France (which can be found in my Blogroll), has been traveling in Venice during Carnival.  I like to visit her blog from time to time  for her absolutely stunning photographs, mostly of assorted treasures found at Paris flea markets, but this week I’ve been looking at the elaborate masks and headdresses of the partygoers at the 1,000-year old, two-week long Carnevale di Venezia.  So, I thought I’d put aside my environmentalist urge to rip my hair out at all the waste produced as well as my socio-economic questioning of impoverished countries such as Brazil dumping so much money into such extravagant and costly productions and write a little post that gives just a taste (in pictures!) of the festivities currently going on around the world from Brazil and New Orleans (bien sûr!) to Germany, India, and even Mobile, Alabama (no joke).  I prefer the wistful, romantic images from the Italian Carnevale to the bare bodies and vibrant colors of the Carnaval of Latin America or the beads-for-breasts approach of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras (kidding aside, some devoted revelers do manage to keep it festive but alas…young, drunk people ruin everything!).

 

 

And because random trivia interests me, I also found an article about the origins of the plastic baby (which is supposed to represent Jesus) that is baked into the king cake (galette des rois), the doughnut-shaped, frosted, yeast dough cake eaten from King’s Day on January 6th to the last day before Lent (Fat Tuesday).  Apparently, this tradition began sometime in the late 19th century when the Twelfth Night Revelers, a New Orleans social group, began hiding a bean in the cake.  The lucky finder of the bean became the king or queen of the ball.  This is also the reason the king cake is sometimes called a Twelfth Night cake.  The bean became a porcelain figurine when a traveling salesman gave several to McKenzie’s, a popular commercial bakery in New Orleans in the 1940’s.  These became plastic babies when the baker ran out of the porcelain figures, but how these plastic babies became plastic baby Jesuses was not explained in the article and so remains a mystery to this blogger.   http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/17/147039138/is-that-a-plastic-baby-jesus-in-my-cake?ft=1&f=1001

January 8, 2012

Synopsis: Holidays 2011

The holidays began for me as they do every year…with baking.  In the end, I’d made three batches of cookies, baked six pies, bought one carrot cake (to replace one burnt apple pie), and made one breakfast of beignets (from a mix; I’m not a machine!).  All-in-all a success, aside from my nemesis apple pie, which, despite six attempts made during the last decade, has stubbornly refused to both look appealing and taste delicious at the same time.  Irritatingly, my most beautiful pie tasted by far the worst ending up tart and watery despite the addition of homemade caramel.  A frustrating bafflement.  And my unanimously declared most delectable pie being the ugliest; it was notoriously named “Frankenpie”.  My most recent pomme failure was a pie completely scorched on the top, possibly because I brushed the crust with milk instead of egg white having used the last of my eggs, or possibly at the hands of my erratic oven which I mentioned in a previous post has a suicide pact with several other kitchen appliances.  The most recent member of their ranks: the kitchen faucet who sprung a leak and flooded the cabinet below the sink on New Year’s Day, an appropriate occurrence considering the curse of bizarre mishaps that always seem to happen to us on and around New Year’s.  However, this became a rare opportunity for the Greek to demonstrate his renowned MacGuyver-esque skills to, quite literally, use a straw, a paper clip, and a rubber band to allow us to continue to use the kitchen sink until our replacement part arrives in 10 to 14 business days.

 

Now, I pride myself on my present-wrapping.  I actually enjoy taking the time to make sure every gift is wrapped beautifully despite the fact that we can’t display them under the tree lest our feline terrors shred them and that most of my delicate handmade bows get smashed en route to each holiday party.  But this year acknowledgment must be paid to the Greek’s mother Ann for her sparkly blue bows of abstract art inspired by the fascinator (most recently popularized by Princess Kate).

 

These pair of photos I have aptly named “The Frenzy” and “The Fallout”; they are as close as a still representation can come to describing the Greek’s nephews during the unwrapping of presents.  And I learned a valuable lesson this year: always dress your little ones in the most adorable, preferably matching (this is why you have two) outfits for present-unwrapping.  For one, they’ll likely go along with whatever you chose as long as it involves opening presents, and, as many a childhood Christmas morning photo of mine can attest to, it’s less cute when they’re wearing dingy pajamas and mussed hair.

  

Kayla’s tolerance knows no bounds.  Good dog.

2011 was a big year for me.  I began a blog, and within it I recorded all the things I’d resolved to do that year…and then actually carried them out.   Imagine that.  And while the Greek and I didn’t do anything even remotely exciting this year (we sat around and watched the DIY network and read books; he fell asleep at 11:54 pm), I thought such a personal feat should be somehow commemorated.  So, I had a glass of Viognier.  I think it’s a $6 bottle of wine.  Nothing exceptional about it except that I bought it in Paris in spring 2010.  I thought this occasion was special enough.  Plus, it was a prime opportunity to use my lovely stone wine stopper, a gift from my sister.  So I drank it slowly and thought about what my resolutions are for next year.  In 2011, I applied to grad schools.  In 2012, I shall get into one of them.  Try new things.  Keep making the time to do the things I enjoy.

When I was a child, I lived a very transient life moving from one place to the next (no, my father was neither in the military nor on the lam), and my family was and remains scattered all over the world.  Since I moved near my aunt and uncle’s to go to college and decided to stay put for the foreseeable future and since my mom joined us over a year ago and we were thankfully able to convince my sister to visit us for many years in a row and since the Greek’s family all remained within a stone’s throw of one another, I now find myself in an unprecedented rich concentration of family that I have never before experienced.  I should be basking in the warmth of the knowledge that a dream, so hopefully and longingly wished for, had finally been realized.  But what do I do; complain about how tiring it is slogging from one place to the next each holiday season.  Which I shall do next season.  Christmas is invariably a 3-4 day affair, a veritable marathon of several cycles of baking, wrapping, driving, and merriment.  Nonetheless, it was wonderful spending the holidays with you all, and I love you all dearly.

October 19, 2011

Gifts from Cyprus

Andreas’ father, Dino, just returned from a three-week visit to Cyprus.  He brought many beautiful things back with him, which I had the opportunity to see when we visited last weekend.  So, I thought I’d spend a post showing them to you.  Had I begun this blog a year earlier than I did, I would have had so many things to show you of my travels…Australia, Paris, Maine.  Alas, since I’ve finally got the blog up and running, I’ve done nothing interesting except complain (travails instead of travels).  So, I offer instead…other people’s travels, in case my tales of domesticity and the bemused, tangential streams of thought that occasionally find their way onto my blog have worn a little thin.  First, the gifts for Greek and me:

A set of ceramic serving bowls set in a wooden base.  The design is a lemon, a critically essential ingredient to Greek cuisine.

         

And, a set of hand-embroidered kitchen towels.

For me, a bar of orange and olive oil soap (it’s a pity I can’t somehow infuse this post with the fragrance of it), and a silver bracelet.  Notice the distinctly Greek geometric design of the charms, found along the border of many a piece of ancient Greek pottery or sculpture.  Like so.

I’d also like to note at this time that a Google search of “ancient greek art” from which I got this image produced a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hercules right alongside a bust of Aphrodite.  These next ones are gifts Dino received from their extended family still living in Cyprus, a small, Greek isle in the Mediterranean.

           

A pair of ceramic relief tiles and a ceramic statuette made by Dino’s aunt from her art shop in Cyprus.  Hand-moulded, hand-painted, and hand-glazed of course.

Lastly, lace from Cyprus, handmade by a community of little old Cypriot ladies beautifully framed in a dark wood frame with tiny brass handles.  A gift from his cousin.

So, as many of you know, my Greek and his family were from the northern district of Famagusta in Cyprus where they owned a small apartment building by the sea.  They were displaced like so many other Cypriots by the Turkish invasion of 1974, which brought them to the States.  The Turkish occupation and schism of Cyprus continues to this day.  And while the world does not recognize the government of the Turkish-occupied portion of Cyprus, it has not managed to relinquish Turkish control of that chunk that would allow people like Andreas’ family to reclaim their long lost property on that part of the island.  So, I’ve also decided to include a petition you can sign in opposition to Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus: http://www.petitiononline.com/wcrime74/.  Andreas’ and my signatures are somewhere in the 9000’s.  So, if you feel passionate enough about it, sign away!

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