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#Showergate

When we moved into this house, we knew it needed some updating. Over the years, we have replaced most of the windows, had the walls replastered and painted, and put a proper floor down in the loft.

There is still so much we would like to do; have a downstairs loo fitted, extend our kitchen into the side return, put in a bifolding door across the entire back of the house, convert the loft, deck the garden, repair our front wall and replace the lounge carpet with a shiny wooden floor. However, in the event that we do not win the lottery, we have to make do with making small changes as and when we can afford them.

One of our priorities is the bathroom. As it is so small, it can only fit a ¾ length bath with a shower attachment so our dreams of a roll-top bath and walk-in shower for 4 will never be realised. Well, not in this house anyway.

One of the other problems with our shower is that it has diva-like tendencies and throws a full on hissy fit should one of the other water appliances be switched on at the same time.

‘Mariah’ – as our shower is now known – will give the performance of her life when she has our undivided attention, but should someone flush the loo, wash their hands or attempt to turn on the dishwasher mid-flow show, she will cease performing until every tap is dry, every cistern re-filled and every appliance has been switched off.

It has got to the point where we shout ‘DON’T FLUSH THE LOO’ before getting into the shower. Our neighbours must think we are either very concerned about the environment or very unconcerned about hygiene and cleanliness in the home.

This arrangement does, of course, work fine between me and our 7-year old, but it seems to trigger a sudden need in the Greek God(zilla) to use the loo, wash-up (!) or put a load of laundry on.

Almost every morning, I am left shivering in our tiny bath with a head full of lather and nowhere to rinse it.

‘WHO’S IN THE LOO?!’ I call out, knowing full well who.

‘WHO TURNED ON THE TAP?!’

I swivel the shower head in its cradle like it is a manual TV aerial I am trying to tune during the Strictly final. I pull the tap up and down and scream at the trickle that comes out. Meanwhile, my hair starts to form shampoo icicles that drip down my body and eventually congregate in foam puddles by my feet.

After a few minutes, Mariah gets over herself and belts out another hot stream of water and I complete the rinse and repeat.

The Greek God(zilla) does not think it is a big deal until it happens to him and then it is all I can do to stop him from getting the duct tape out.

I have no idea why we do not just call a plumber.

Our Big Fat Greek Holiday

It feels very unseasonal writing about summer when it is so close to Christmas (37 sleeps!), but I have 6-months of blog catching up to do so am just going to get on with it. Hopefully, this post will be a warm break from all the tinsel crafts, shopping guides and gingerbread recipes doing the rounds this time of year.

We had the good fortune to be able to take a 4-week holiday this summer and decided to spend it in Greece and Cyprus. Although we have visited Crete many times, we had yet to take our son to Cyprus where the Greek God(zilla)’s dad is from.

We went back and forth over which islands to visit after Cyprus but eventually decided that we would stop for 3 nights in Athens and then get the boat to Naxos for a week before heading to Crete.

The Greek God(zilla) took charge and booked planes, boats, hire cars and hotels leaving me only to pack and to find a house sitter who could feed the fish.

I dusted off the biggest suitcase I could find in the loft and started to mentally ‘edit’ my holiday wardrobe. I pulled garment boxes out from under the bed, discarded most of the contents to the ‘no longer fits’ pile and threw the rest in my suitcase. The Greek God(zilla) tripped over that huge purple case – tucked neatly away in a corner on the other side of the room – EVERY SINGLE DAY for 2-weeks before we left. Each time he complained that I was taking too much ‘crap’ and to make his point, stuffed 3 pairs of shorts and a t-shirt into a small rucksack and declared ‘that’s how it’s done, love!’

Cyprus

Our flight to Larnaca – on the southern coast of Cyprus – was quite turbulent and uncomfortable, not helped by the Greek God(zilla)’s frequent trips to the bathroom following a few too many hot chillis on his pizza the night before, and the mid-air realisation that he had forgotten to order a gluten free meal for me… or on any of our flights! Fortunately, I had loaded up on an omelette at the airport while the Greek God(zilla) had been shopping for batteries in the duty-free lounge. Of all the items to think ‘I’ll get that at the airport’, why batteries?! Electrical items maybe, but the batteries for electrical items, not so much.

We were met at the airport by one of the Greek God(zilla)’s many cousins. I was immediately struck by how much she reminded me of his sister in both looks and mannerisms so warmed to her right away. She had prepared a huge lunch for us back at her house, which I practically inhaled while the Greek God(zilla), who was still feeling a bit tender, prodded cautiously for signs of extra hot spice.

After lunch and a good catch-up, she drove us to our hotel, the Frixos Suites Hotel Apartments in Larnaca, which had been recommended to us by another cousin who works in the hotel business. It was absolutely perfect for our stay. The rooms were clean and modern, the pool was refreshing rather than ice-cold and the inclusive breakfast options included pancakes and chocolate spread, so our 6-year old thought he was in heaven every morning, or at Yiayia’s house.

The following day, we were invited to a family lunch to celebrate an aunt’s 82nd birthday. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to pack more than 3 pairs of shorts and a t-shirt so did not have to join the Greek God(zilla) when he went emergency clothes shopping in the morning.

There was more family get-togethers throughout the week and we were made to feel incredibly welcome by everyone we met.

It would be remiss of me to write a post about Cyprus without mentioning the amazing food! We dined on delicious seafood, meze platters, grilled fish, meats and salads. Everything we tasted was so fresh and flavoursome and the portions were very generous.

By far, the most emotional part of our trip was when we visited Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus to Engomi, the village where the Greek God(zilla)’s dad is from. We saw where his old house once stood but has since been destroyed. We then went to the edge of the ghost city of Famagusta, which has been left untouched since the 1974 invasion.

It was devastating to see and we all drove back to our hotel feeling contemplative.

We spent the most wonderful week with the most wonderful people and I definitely left a little bit of my heart in Cyprus, but it was time to move on to the next leg of our trip.

Athens

We arrived at the five-star Royal Olympic Hotel in Athens late afternoon and wasted no time in checking out the view from the hotel’s rooftop bar.

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As we had only a few days here we decided to hit as many of the tourist sites as we could, starting with the Acropolis above the city of Athens.

We also spent a morning in the Acropolis Museum, which is a fascinating way to escape the August heat and costs only 5 euros to get in. However, we then ended up spending about €50 in the museum gift shop on shiny children’s books about Greek myths and legends, so it was a bit of a false economy for us!

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One of the most fun places we visited was the original Olympic stadium from the 1896 Athens Games. The Greek God(zilla) raced our son around the track – and lost – while I videoed the whole thing for posterity… and Facebook, obvs.

olympic stadium athens

This was my first visit to Athens and I absolutely loved it. We walked around ancient ruins, enjoyed leisurely summer lunches and stayed in a beautiful hotel, but beach life was calling.

Naxos

We took an early boat to Naxos, the largest and greenest of the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean. The easiest way to get to Naxos is by ferry, but the port was chaos when we arrived as hundreds of tourists disembarked at once.

The manager of the Aegean Palace Hotel in Plaka sent a driver to meet us, but we couldn’t find each other in all the hubbub so ended up sharing a taxi with another couple. This hotel was another recommendation from a local and they couldn’t have chosen better for us.

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We spent one night in the fancy Aegean Palace and moved to a self-catering maisonette in the 3 Brothers complex in the same resort for the rest of the week. The accommodation was quite basic in itself, but we spent so little time in our room that it didn’t matter.

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We were situated on the main strip and just a stone’s throw from the beach, but one of the highlights of this hotel has to be its taverna, which relocates to the beach at night.

There are plenty of fantastic tavernas to choose from in Plaka, but we went back to the 3Brothers taverna time and again for the magnificent food and to dine under the stars.

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Our stay on Naxos was definitely the most relaxing part of our trip and we all took to beach life like wet feet to sand. We read, we swam, we reclined by the (freeeeeeeezing cold) pool and we took our time doing it all. Our biggest decisions every day were about whether to go to the pool or to the beach and what to eat.

We did venture into town for dinner one evening and took a stroll up one of the island’s most famous landmarks, the Temple of Apollo, which overlooks the ocean.  The temple started to be built over 2,000 years ago, but it was never finished. All that remains today are some columns and fragments, but when the sun sets behind it, it is magical.

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We left Naxos feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to meet up with the rest of our family and friends in Crete.

Crete

We arrived in Rethymnon just in time for dinner at a local taverna. The Greek God(zilla)’s parents and his two sisters were already there, my sister and her family were to arrive the following day and others would be joining us throughout the week.

We usually stay with Yiayia and Papou, but this year we booked into Summer Dream just 2-minutes away.

We know the area well and tend to gravitate back to our favourite places every year. We have cocktails at Pearl at the end of the promenade to watch the sun set over the horizon, we go to Peperoncino in Rethymnon Old Town for pizza and to Tropical Taverna for lunchtime drinks.  Every year on my birthday, the Greek God(zilla) takes me to the beautifully situated Avli restaurant for dinner and then we go to the same jewellers to buy a small souvenir with my birthday euros from Yiayia. We have been repeating this tradition for so long that the manager of the jewellery shop greets me with a warm smile and a big hug as soon as I walk through the door.

We are certainly creatures of habit in Crete, but while it is great to be so close to the beach and our favourite tavernas, we also like to explore other parts of the island.

One of our favourite days this year was a trip to Souda with my sister. The kids snorkelled in the crystal clear sea with their dads, while we made ourselves comfortable on sun loungers. After a mouthwatering tuna steak for lunch at a beachside taverna, we drove across to Damnoni beach to soak up the rest of the late afternoon sun.

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It was a rare moment of tranquillity in a crazy week. With my son turning 7 and me turning 27 *coughs* (43) the same week, there was a lot going on.

Before we left London, Grenglish boy had requested a Harry Potter themed party so I had carried costumes, wands, parties bags and lightning bolt tattoos across oceans to make his birthday dreams come true!

His 7th birthday was as traditional as we could make it with presents, cakes and party games with his cousins. Later that evening, we hosted a big dinner at a local taverna in his honour and –  after a long day as Chief Entertainer – I finally started to relax and got stuck into the rosé. Our little wizard was wiped out at the end of the day and as a special birthday treat, we invited his Auntie BB over for a sleepover.

I awoke the following morning another year older, but sadly none the wiser as I rubbed my poor post-rosé head. Fortunately, my birthday is always a much lower key affair. We started the day with a frappé at Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete and one of my favourite places to visit. The Greek God(zilla) shared a cheese and honey pie with Yiayia and I felt the hangover cloud start to lift as I took in the magnificent scenery.

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Later that evening we all went out for dinner to a fabulous restaurant off the tourist track called Zisis, frequented mostly by locals. The Greek God(zilla)’s sister took charge of ordering for the table, but with lots of recommendations from our waiter, admitted she had no idea what was coming! The feast that followed kept us going for at least a couple of days. We had stuffed vegetables, courgette flowers, beans, dips, bread, sausages, potatoes (mashed, chipped and boiled) and beef, chicken and lamb cooked in a multitude of ways.

I rolled out of there with a full belly and an even fuller heart, but it was almost time for our Greek island adventure to end. Although we had had the most amazing holiday, I was looking forward to being reunited with my own bed and to seeing the Greek God(zilla) in some different clothes.

Starting a Business in your 40s

Oh, how I have missed you, dear Grenglish readers. Although it has been so long since I have posted here, I wonder how many of you are still around.

I do still love this space. I miss this space. This tiny corner of the internet that I have claimed and treasured for 5-years has been sorely neglected while I have been off cultivating another corner, a smaller space that I am still trying on for size and taking my time to grow into.

When I first started writing Grenglish, it was with the intention that I would one day print it out and give it to my son as a diary of his early years, full of stories about his family and how much he is loved. And, for the most part, I have stayed true to that. Then, a few years ago, I realised that food played such an important part in our family. Or, more specifically, Yiayia’s food.

So, together with my sister-in-law, we took on the enormous task of documenting all of Yiayia’s favourite recipes, which we originally thought we would turn into an e-book that could be downloaded from this blog. However, as the years (!) went by, our ambitions changed and we decided to self-publish the recipes in a paperback format instead. Our book was published at the end of last year and it was around this time that we decided to embark on a food stall business as well.

We do not have the desire – or the kitchen skills – to become caterers, but we do think there is a market for our homemade Greek dips. Not the kind you can buy in supermarkets, but tzatziki the way Yiayia makes it with 2 cloves of garlic, fresh mint and crunchy cucumber; taramosalata that uses fresh tarama and dill, but none of the stuff that turns it bright pink, and houmous that really packs a punch.

Yiayia’s recipes have been well-tried and tested over the decades so we just had to concentrate on building the business. And, when I say ‘just’, I mean working every spare waking hour to make it happen, often setting my alarm for 5.30am to get a head start on the day. I also continued with my day job(s) and scheduled work around the school run and bedtime.

Sadly, this has not left much time for poor old Grenglish, but I do hope to rectify that now we are starting to find our groove.

Of course, the process has not been an entirely smooth one. We didn’t have any experience of setting up a business and there are many legal standards in place for food products that we had to get our heads around. We also had to complete a food hygiene course, purchase insurance, research packaging and build a website. All this before we could even start thinking about label design, marketing, or booking a pitch at farmers’ markets and fairs.

It has been an exhausting few months and there have been a few moments when I have asked myself what I was thinking starting a new business at this time in my life with already so much to juggle, but in many ways, I could not have done this before now.

I spent most of my twenties day-dreaming my way up a different ladder. I had no idea where it was heading, how I got on there, or what I hoped to find at the top. Every few years, I’d hop across to another ladder to see if I enjoyed the view better from over there. I side stepped, moving up and down a few rungs at a time, but never really making much progress. Perhaps, because I also spent a lot of my twenties going ‘out-out’…

In my thirties, I was too busy falling in love, getting pregnant, married and searching for the ultimate life/work/bank/blog balance to think about starting a new venture.

When I entered my forties, I did so with a happy heart. I had left my full-time job just weeks before and saw my 30’s out with a last hurrah by street dancing on the telly. I was ready for the challenge of something new.

There are many benefits to waiting until later in your career to start a business. For one, I have more professional experience to draw from and I have a better idea of my strengths and weaknesses.

I am also familiar with responsibility and have a clearer idea of the work/life balance I want. I am less afraid to say no. I am also less afraid to say YES!

We have made mistakes and will probably continue to make mistakes, but are learning so much and having a lot of fun in the process.

The response to our Greek dips has been incredible. From the people we meet on our food stall and the local store owners who want to stock our dips, to the supermarket chain that recently approached us wanting to stock our entire range! However, it’s still just the two of us working from our home kitchens and making our own deliveries, so production and distribution definitely needs to be a key focus for us in the new year.

Looking back over how much we have achieved in our first 6-months, it would be easy to put it down to good luck or timing, but we believe hard work puts you where the luck can find you.

The Greek God(zilla) Strikes Again!

The Greek God(zilla) is well-known for his DIY skills, although not necessarily in a good way. There was the time he decided to patch up the house using parcel tape, and another when he tried his hand at bleeding a radiator following an intensive 2.07 minute YouTube tutorial.

Last summer, after an external water pressure incident affected our entire neighbourhood, the Greek God(zilla) attempted to repressurise the boiler after growing impatient for the problem to be resolved ‘officially’. He pressed a button – that he was advised not to press – and inevitably flooded the kitchen! When we ran out of available saucepans and buckets to catch the flow, I took the decision to evacuate our son to a nearby friend’s house to wait it out. A few hours and HUNDREDS of pounds later, the house was dry enough to return.

For months, we have been incident free and the Greek God(zilla) has resisted the urge to touch any buttons that he does not understand, including the Apple TV remote and my MacBook Air.

But, it would appear that the temptation was just too great and on reading a disappointing number on the pressure dial, he decided to press the reset button on our boiler again. Probably because this worked out so well for us the last time…

It was the evening after the tube challenge. I had returned home a bit grimy after being underground all day, so decided on a long, hot shower and an early night. After washing the tube out of my hair, I slipped contentedly between clean bed sheets and settled in for the night.

As my eyes grew heavier and sleep was about to take hold, I was suddenly catapulted back into wakefulness from a loud noise downstairs.

I NEED YOU! COME DOWNSTAIRS! QUICK, QUICK, QUICK! COME NOW!!

Assuming the Greek God(zilla) had fallen victim to some unforeseen accident, I leapt out of bed and ran downstairs as quickly as my legs would carry me.

I found him in the kitchen, with his finger plugging a hole in the boiler and water pouring out all over the floor.

Did you touch the button?

NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO PASS BLAME, LOVE. PUT YOUR FINGER IN THE HOLE, I NEED TO TURN THE STOPCOCK OFF OUTSIDE.

Well, at least, he had learnt something the last time.

So, there I was, standing in a puddle with my finger stuck up the base of our boiler, silently cursing the Greek God(zilla), when I heard him walk back in.

But, he was not alone.

IT’S OK LOVE, I FOUND A MAN OUTSIDE WHO CAN HELP.

And, then he was in my kitchen. The Greek God(zilla) and a man he just met on the street. A man on his way home from work, who had been unwittingly caught up in our drama.

And, there I was – leaning over wet appliances to block a leak, dressed only in a pair of old granny knickers and a flimsy vest.

I did not know whether to continue to stop the free flow of water, or use that arm to cover my free-flowing breasts.

The Greek God(zilla) did not seem to flinch and asked me to step aside so they could get a better look. I was about to be all indignant when I realised that he was referring to the boiler, not to his scantily clad wife.

I was soaked through and needed another shower, although with the water now turned off that was not a luxury on offer any time soon. As they poked and prodded at the boiler, I tried to discreetly squeeze past them, but the only way I could get my whole body through the gap was to hoik my boobs up over the kitchen counter and carry them over.

I covered my shame with a loud tut and a generous eye roll.

As I retreated back down the hallway, I saw that our front door was still wide open and everyone waiting for the bus at the stop opposite got a full view of me sloping miserably back up to bed too.

If the Greek God(zilla) can’t keep his hands to himself, I am going to have to invest in a better boiler suit.

Doing our bit for Sport Relief

For the last few years, I have joined Team Honk – a group of bloggers who fundraise for Comic and Sport Relief – to raise money for people living in extreme poverty here in the UK and abroad.

In 2014, we took a Monopoly-themed tour of London

And, last year we danced for 6 hours non-stop at Wembley

So far, Team Honk has raised almost £100,000 for Comic and Sport Relief and it is incredible to have been a small part of that. This year, we knew we had to do something bigger and better if we wanted to really smash our target. With requests for sponsorship landing in inboxes several times a week, we knew we had to push ourselves out of our comfort zone to get noticed this year.

It was my blogging partner in crime, HPMcQ, who came up with the idea of trying to break the world record for visiting the most amount of tube stations in a day. Yes, she is mad, but there is method in her madness – we are both such avoiders of the tube and could think of nothing worse that spending a whole day there! It is crowded, dirty and deep deep underground. Mice run across the tracks, trains move through tight, dark tunnels and commuters wave their armpits in your face.

The current world record for visiting every tube station on the London Underground map is around 16-hours and initially, we thought this would be the challenge to attempt. However, with temporary station closures on certain lines it would have been impossible to complete the entire route, so we decided to attempt to break the record for visiting all 64 stations in Zone 1 instead.

This year, we were joined by Missie Lizzie on our annual jaunt, who was brilliant company. We set off early from Vauxhall and weaved our way across London.

Photo courtesy of HPMcQ

Photo courtesy of HPMcQ

There were a few minor delays on some of the lines and Liz lost her train ticket, which we had to stop to replace, so while we did not break the record, we still completed the challenge in a very respectable 3 hours and 37 minutes.

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Was it as hideous as I thought it would be? Well, yes and no.

I was lucky to have such wonderful company on the day, who made the whole experience feel worthwhile and fun. But, there was a lot of power walking between platforms and stations and many more stairs than I had anticipated; so while travelling on the underground in the middle of the day is certainly better than during rush hour, I was filthy and knackered when I returned home.

None of that really matters, the most important thing is that I got off the sofa, did my bit and we raised £720 on the day. This money – along with the total raised by other Team Honk events around the country – will make a huge difference.

£15 gives 75 Ugandan children with malaria life-saving medication.

£25 provides a young person in the UK who has faced domestic abuse with a one-to-one counselling session to help them overcome their ordeal.

£50 sends a disadvantaged young person in the UK on a sports coaching course, giving them the skills they need to find work.

Our challenge may be over, but you can still donate to the Team Honk Tube Challenge and help change lives.

Wayfair, the online destination for all things home, kindly sponsored me as part of Team Honk for Sport Relief.