Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Sudden Realization

Not long after I met my former boss in Neal, the topic that I was a regular church goer came up. I remember he said something like, "I've never met a Greek person for whom the church isn't the center of their life."

Naw, I protested, I just go to church.

Last Saturday, as Kelly, the boys and I ate breakfast in the little gym at Prophet Elias, I suddenly realized, I'd become one of those Greeks Neal was talking about.

Kelly noted that after Holy Liturgy on Sunday, the boys would have been at church every day of the week: 5 for school, once for Scouts, once for breakfast with Santa, and then for Holy Liturgy.

Eh, it could be a worse - we could be Evangelical snake handlers!

The boys chatting with Ol' Saint Nick

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

But My Mom Thinks I'm Cute

Tonight the boys and I were making dinner when the topic of conversation turned to some kids at school and how tall (or not) some of them are. One of the kids, whose name came up is a 4th grade girl whom Niko secretly declared to his teacher he plans to marry. When Gus teased him about it again, Niko decided he was just joking and didn't want to marry her after all.

I casually mentioned that I didn't marry the person I said I would when I was in Kindergarten either. A barrage of questions followed: Who was it? (Michelle) What happened to her? (She married a guy named David right after high school; they've been married a really long time now.)

Then Gus asked if I had kissed her. No, I never kissed her. But I do remember the first girl I kissed.

With a healthy mixture of utter disgust and budding curiosity, Gus asked me who she was. I told him her name was Rene and it had happened when we were in 7th grade. He immediately wanted to know the details. I told him we were in a play together and one day during rehearsal, she and I were standing outside of the theater talking, and she leaned in and kissed me. But, just at that moment, some of her friends came out and saw, so she pushed me and told me to "never do that again!"

Gus smirked at Rene's coyness. Niko split a gut laughing at the image of me being kissed by a girl.

After a pause, Gus asked why she had done it. But as I explained that she didn't want her friends to think she had kissed me, Gus interrupted and said, "No. Why did she kiss you?"

Why did she kiss me? 'Cuz I'm a hottie. That simple response was met with peals of laughter from both the boys. Between deep guffawing, desperate for a breath, Gus finally spat out: "Daddy, you are not a hottie."

What could I say, my mom thinks I'm a cute?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Tie from My Dad

86 years ago today in a house in Copperton, Bingham Canyon, Utah a baby boy was born to Greek immigrants. He was their 4th child, and only living son at the time. 39 1/2 years later, he would become my dad.

Those 40 years between his birth and mine always fascinated me - trying to imagine your father as a little boy, as a teenager - is nearly impossible. Sure, I've seen photos of him and I've heard plenty of stories, but it's not quite the same. Stories are clouded by the teller's viewpoint.

For example, through my yia yia's eyes, I saw a nearly perfect child, who never gave her a moment's pause. However, my aunts and uncle have had a slightly different take on Dad's history.

I suppose fathers want their sons' to be just like them growing up, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't just like Dad as a kid. I couldn't be. No, I didn't need to be.

Even though as a kid we were just a middle class family, compared to the Great Depression of his childhood, we were billionaires! This allowed me to be coddled, to be spoiled - a luxury his parents didn't have. Whereas I had theater and debate and tennis after school, his school day was followed by hours at the mine - to help support his family.

In the one story Yia yia told me I do believe 100%, she said Dad came home with his first pay envelope, dutifully handing it over to his mother without complaint. She had to call him back and give him a little of the money he had worked so hard to earn.

That story has stayed with me from the first time I heard it. Every time someone tells me they feel bad that I have to wear a tie at work, I quickly tell them that my dad spent over 40 years at the mine to send me to college so I could sit in an office and wear a tie.

Maybe that's what my dad's childhood was like: planning, dreaming so that his kids would have an even better life than he did. Come to think of it, maybe our childhoods weren't so different after all.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Thank you for letting me wear ties.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Day of Laughter at the Museum

My friend John - a former professor of mine - once told me that whenever he and his wife traveled with their children, they always made a point of visiting museums. He said frequently the kids complained, but now they're adults a visit to the museum is on the itinerary no matter what city they visit.

I want my kids to have an appreciation for fine arts. I look forward to the day that my sons and I can stroll together through the amazing museums I consider myself so blessed to have visited: from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Chicago's Field Museum, from San Francisco's The California Palace of the Legion of Honor to Moscow's Pushkin Museum.

But, like John, I know that in order for that to happen, it's up to me to introduce the boys to the fine arts.

So Saturday I took them to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) at the University of Utah. For a smallish city like Salt Lake, this museum is really pretty impressive.

I knew I had 30-minutes to an hour tops. I didn't expect a 5- and 8-year old to look thoughtfully at each painting and comment on the play on light. Although at a sculpture consisting exclusively of Federal Express boxes and correspondingly-sized shattered plexiglass pieces, Gus did ask the ultimate artistic question, "This is just broken glass; how is it art?" That's pretty good commentary for an 8-year old!

But it was when we entered the Asian exhibit that it all fell apart.

Almost immediately we came face to backside with a dancing Shiva from the Chola Dynasty of India(300 BCE - 1300 CE). Niko took one glance at it, pointed at it's derriere and shouted, "Oh my gosh! A bum!

And then he lost it. He was laughing hard, doubled over, gasping for breath. This, of course, made Gus start chortling. As curious on-lookers tried to ascertain what was so funny, I snatched Niko up before he lost total control and crashed into a 19th-century Reclining Buddha from Burma.

The front side of Shiva...

Quick! Into the hall of Dutch and Flemish religious paintings. There's nothing funny about Madonna and child, which was the first painting we came across. Only, when you're 5-years old and that painting is Peter Paul Reubens' The Virgin Nursing the Christ Child, you shout at the top of your voice, "BOOBIE!" If Shiva was funny, the Virgin Mary's breast was the greatest comedy of all time.

I glanced around the hall, a few rather amused older women smiled at us. I hoped they were cutting me some slack seeing how I was trying to introduce my hooligans to fine art.

My plea that he was laughing at the Holy Virgin Mary only made Niko laugh harder. To his credit, Gus was clearly trying his darnedest to be mature about it, but as painting after painting revealed another breast here, another buttocks there it became increasingly difficult to stifle the chuckles. The laughter only really subsided when we moved into the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian hall.

We left UMFA after 45 minutes. Wait, we left UMFA after 45 fun-filled minutes. At least their first real exposure to a fine art museum was fun!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Brother, Oh Brother

I'm told there's a special relationship between sisters. But I know there's a deep bond between brothers. Growing up with four older brothers, I've experienced the good, bad and ugly that comprises that brotherly bond.

Watching the relationship between Gus and Niko ebb and flow has been one of the most fascinating aspects of being a dad. Like all brothers, I suppose, one moment they're best friends and the the next they're mortal enemies.

I know from personal experience, it'll get worse as Gus enters his teenage years, and Niko remains a little boy. That can be tough on a younger brother. I remember being both perplexed and hurt when I learned that my 15-year old brother John had negotiated with our parents to a move to the basement "suite" to share a room with our 19-year old brother, Dan, leaving me alone in the bedroom we'd shared my entire life.

I couldn't understand what sophomore wouldn't want to share a bedroom with a fourth grader!

Already I've started to see signs of the inevitable sibling split in Gus and Niko. Although Niko pretty much still adores Gus - his brother's name was his first spoken word - Gus is beginning to seek greater independence, free from his little brother's adoration.

But I know that like John (and Dan, Ted and Mike) and me, the basis for the bond was created long ago and runs deep. And maybe like my dad before me, it's my job to now and then remind of them of that.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank You

I am thankful:

For Kelly, who has stood by me - barely flinching - for almost 24 years
For my boys, who make my life worthwhile
For my family, who love me warts and and all
For far too much to ever give voice

And for all of you - for reading, for responding, for encouraging.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Night at the Museum

Something that greatly concerned me about moving back to Utah was that we were leaving behind a treasure trove of cultural options in California: The Getty, the Page Museum (the La Brea Tar Pits), LACMA (not that we ever went there....)

But last week we took advantage of our memberships to the Natural History Museum of Utah to go on a members-only preview visit to the brand spanking new museum. All the boys could say was, "Wow!"

The boys had a fantastic time, and we're glad to live in a place with such a world-class museum!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Be a Kid

In my opinion, one of parenting's biggest challenges can be striking a balance between activities that make for an enjoyable childhood and what parents like to do. Not that there's anything wrong with a kid who enjoys Vivaldi and has an opinion as to whether Jackson Pollack was a genius or a hack, but I always hoped my kids would be kids.

If Gus is any indication, we're succeeding.

At the hockey clinic

Upside down on the monkey bars!

It's a square knot, ma'am

Getting his wings

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Birthday

Earlier this week it was Niko's birthday. On the boys' birthdays, I always think about their mom.

Tuesday morning I wondered if - like me - she woke up and thought, "He's 5 today." I wonder if she imagined in her mind's eye what his day would be like. Did she visualize his daddy singing Happy Birthday to him, as he grinned from ear-to-ear? Did she know he would hug that man, squeezing tightly, out of sheer joy?

I'm curious if she let her mind run wild that day. Did she paint a vision of Niko's family life? Could she let herself dare to dream that he celebrated his birthday standing next to his big brother, her other son? And if she did, what family did she conjure up for him, for them?

It's pretty safe to assume that in her wildest fantasy she's never pictured the boys with two dads, living in suburban Salt Lake, with a big, fat extended Greek family where everyone and their cousin is a theia or theio.

So did she invent the "perfect" family for him? Did she dare let herself believe that he has the type of childhood she sadly was denied? Or is her imagination only limited to what she knows?

Well, I truly hope she did. Because throughout the day I tried to send this woman, who has given me so much, a mental picture: Niko grinning from ear-to-ear as his daddy sang him Happy Birthday.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Sunday we joined the rest of the Scout troop for their annual hike. It's probably the last hike we'll get in this year; the weather is turning cooler and more rain is expected - the mountains are already topped with snow (the tallest peak in our immediate range had snow all year long).

Gus really enjoys the Scout hike - like all boys his age, he digs hanging out with his peers and being, well, boys. He managed to lobby his way into riding up with the Papadopouloses (to whom, in true Greekness, we're "related" by marriage).

For me, days like this offer Gus an amazing gift: a sense of community, a sense of belonging. Some of the boys he knows only from Scouts. Some are from his Sunday School class or serve as altar boys with him. But it's the shared experience, the shared memories that are important.

Hopefully, the fun and excitement will help him remember what I took away from the hike: the amazing beauty, the moose we saw, the chill autumn air I love so much.

Happy hikers

Hey, Moose!

On the way down the canyon

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Goddess Amongst Us

Gracie is my first dog. Growing up we had cats - Spook when I was a kid; Maggie and then her son, Sam, when I was teenager. I love Gracie - I mean I really love that dog - but there's always been a place in my heart for a cat.

Probably against my better judgement, I succumbed to Kelly's argument that we should "get the pets out of the way when the boys are young" and in celebration of Niko's upcoming birthday, we got the family a cat.

Saturday, Kelly and I spent a couple of hours at the Human Society looking, holding, petting and playing with cats. We needed one that was mellow, was OK with kids and liked dogs. After nixing the idea of a kitten (or two) we landed on a beautiful, 1-year old gray tabby.

To say the boys were surprised and delighted would be an understatement - Gus literally leaped into my arms in excitement. Niko was beside himself. We had finally gotten them a cat.

We've named her Athena, and so far, so good. Gracie ignores her - except to excitedly tell me through her eyes and wagging tale, "Chris, guess what? That cat doesn't eat all of her food! So I get to eat it! HOORAY!!" (We've moved the cat's dish out of Gracie's reach...)

Last night she spent the better part of the evening sleeping along side Niko in his bed. Much to his delight.

She's a sweet little goddess among us.

By the way, this photo was not staged. Athena's actually looking out the window with the Greek flag behind her!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Making the Earth Laugh

When I was a kid, I used to love to plant flowers with my Theia Mimi. We used to spend hours together during the summer puttering around her garden. She taught me a great deal about flowers: how deep they need to planted, what the best conditions are for them to thrive.

All these years later, I still enjoy planting. It's incredibly good therapy for me. And makes me feel like I'm doing something for Mother Earth. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The Earth laughs in flowers."

Digging in the dirt - splashing color in my yard - also makes me think of Theia Mimi and the times we shared. The other day when I was at Home Depot buying chrysanthemums, I decided it was about time that I passed on the knowledge of, and the love for, gardening that Theia Mimi had shared with me. So last night after work, Niko helped me plant.

Just like Mimi and me, we had a great time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

It's Just My Imagination

When I was a kid, I had a very vivid imagination. I remember once in college my friend, Aimz, advising me never to drop acid because, "With your imagination, honey, you'll have a really freaky trip."

My Theia Mimi once baffled my cousin Chris' oldest kids by telling them that when I was their age, all I needed to entertain myself was two small blocks of wood - each with a small nail pounded into it - and a piece of string. Those bits of 2x4 were my boat used to ferry the animals from my old farm set all over the sidewalk-river looking for a good spot to colonize.

I said I had a vivid imagination; I never said I wasn't totally weird.

Although Gus certainly has a good imagination - I remember once watching him smiling from ear-to-ear as he pictured himself as Batman when he grew up - Niko seems to really be in tune with his more creative side. I think it may be the influence of having an older brother, who doesn't always want to play with you. Left to your own devices, you can create any world you'd like.

Almost daily I hear him talking to himself as he plays with his toys. Rather like mine, his story-lines are pretty complicated, and his sound effects are Oscar-worthy!

Just tonight, after dinner, he was spinning an intricate plot involving Godzilla and a couple of other monsters in which alliances were made and broken, and powers came and went.I say good for him.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vacation - Epilogue: The Ride Home

On our last night in Vegas, we took the boys to buy a couple of souvenirs with the money their grandparents and aunt had given them. Gus stepped out into the night-time heat, looked around at the flashing, dancing lights of the city, and, pumping his fists declared, "This is Vegas, baby!"

We knew it was time to go home.

Somewhere outside of St. George, Kelly turned to me and said it was probably a good idea to go back to the Bumbleberry Inn just in case Wildcat Willie was there. If he was, Kelly argued, it was a sign that we should bring him home with us.

So we went out of our way - 44-miles round trip - to see if a feral cat was waiting for us to bring him home. The boys were delighted,convinced Willie would eagerly jump into the arms of his new human family. For my part, I prayed to any and all deities who would listen that the feral mouser would be nowhere to be found.

With great anticipation, we turned into the hotel parking lot and pulled around back to where our room had been. Willie was nowhere to be found. Kelly and Gus walked around the hotel's perimeter searching for any sign of the cat, but came up empty handed.

With equal disappointment, we left the Bumbleberry Inn to head home: cat free.

But all was not lost! On our way out of Springdale, we stopped off at the Springdale Fruit Company to enjoy the shade and fresh organic ice cream and smoothies. If you ever get to Springdale, make sure to visit the Fruit Company!

This first family vacation provided us with some great memories and brought us closer together as a family. And best of all, we didn't come home with any cats!

There goes the college fund!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vacation - Part II: Vegas, Baby!

For the second half of our vacation, we left the pristine beauty of nature for the man-made glitz of Vegas.

Las Vegas, rose out of the desert like some sort of tacky, neon mirage. Gus took one look at the Strip and said, "That's Vegas? That's awesome, man!"

We stayed at the world-famous Circus Circus. Here's the thing, with all my love for my cousin Joanne not withstanding, I freakin' hate clowns. They creep the bejebus outta me. And at Circus Circus, you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting an image of a clown somewhere...everywhere, actually. (Thank God I didn't see any wandering the casino...)

And man, Vegas is hot. It's Africa hot. Zion felt chilly compared to Vegas. Every day we were there the thermometer tipped 105 (40 C). So right after lunch, we made a bee-line for the pool. In an ironic twist, unlike the Bumbleberry Inn, Circus Circus heats their pool. Actually, it was perfect, and we had a lot of fun.

But there's more to Vegas than heated pools. And our first night we drove a couple blocks from Circus Circus to Treasure Island to catch the Cirque du Soleil show: Mystere. If you've never seen a Cirque show, you don't know what you're missing. It was phenomenal, and the boys were spellbound.

After the circus, we decided to check out the Strip. Fun fact: giant hotels look much closer than they actually are! What visually appeared to be just a couple of block stroll to the Bellagio, ended up being a hike and a half. The boys were tired, the sidewalks were packed, and as each person dropped another Girls! Girls! Girls! card on the ground, I barked at Gus, "Eyes up!"

But the trek was worth it: the boys loved the dancing waters.

The next day - after a dip in the pool - we hit Circus Circus' Adventure Dome: an actual theme park right inside the hotel!

On our last day in Vegas, we visited a couple of museums: The Children's Museum and the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum had a very nice Egyptian exhibit.

In one room, we walked through a maze, created too give you a sense that you were discovering King Tut's tomb. To give the visitor a more authentic experience, the lights were turned down low, very low - we only had flashlights to guide us. Adding to the creepy atmosphere, the room's permanent exhibit of large animals - bears, big cats, ungulates - was pushed to the sides; a stray beam of light might shine back through glass eyes. At the end of that exhibit, the museum played the Boris Karloff movie, The Mummy. Niko, already spooked by experience, sat quietly watching the film, when Gus creeped up behind him....

Big brothers, watcha gonna do?

In the morning we geared up for the long drive home. Vacation was over.

But what happened to Wildcat Willie from the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale?

You'll have to wait for the last installment of Who's Your Daddy: Vacation Edition!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vacation - Part I: Zion National Park

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful place in the world than Zion National Park. The cool river running through the red bluffs is just amazing. It was also the perfect introduction for the boys to vacation.

The last time Kelly and I were at Zion, we camped out. This time around, we stayed at the Bumbleberry Inn Hotel. The boys were enthralled with everything about hotel life: the key cards, the little soaps, the ice machine, the nurses. Nurses, you ask? For reasons that we have yet to fully understand, Gus continually referred to the housekeeping staff as "nurses." As in, "Did the nurses make our beds?"

As with all kids, the pool was a big hit! Practically every moment we weren't hiking, eating or sleeping, we were at the pool. Now, I'm not sure if I believe the gal at the front desk when she told me the pool heater was broken, or maybe the Bumbleberry just doesn't heat its pool seeing how the day-time temperatures were right about 100 (37 C), but it was cold. I mean cold!

Of course Gus and Niko didn't mind. Gus has become quite a good little swimmer and enjoyed flinging himself into the icy waters - especially if he had some buddies to join him. Jimmer and Ellie from Park City were always up for a good jump. But Jordan and Elliot from France preferred lap racing.

The pool was fun, but we came for the hiking. And on Friday and Saturday, we jumped on the town's free (natural gas) shuttle right from our hotel and rode to the entrance of the park. Once there, we grabbed Zion's free (natural gas, also)shuttle that runs the length of Zion Canyon.

The first day we hiked to the Emerald Pools. The trail meanders through red rock cliffs until waterfalls cascade down from the top of mesas, forming clear pools turned emerald by algae. Literally, oases in the middle of the desert.

Since the middle pool was closed due to a rock slide, we grabbed a connecting trail that circled through some really amazing views of the canyon, until finally dropping us off at the Virgin River.

There's nothing like wading in the Virgin. So that's exactly what we did. The cool water felt so good after hiking in the sun, and I taught the boys a new trick: how to catch tiny river frogs. They were everywhere - and in all phases of their evolution: from tadpoles to full-fledged frogs.

On our last day we took the park shuttle to its end, the Temple of Sinawava, where we hiked the River Walk Trail along the refreshing river, to the Narrows. This is a really amazing part of the park - you can actually hike in the river through the canyon. Now when we were last there, we probably hiked 2-3 miles in. This time, since the water hit Niko's thighs, we made it 2-3 hundred feet.

On the way back down the River Walk Trail, we made a detour: finding a huge bolder in the middle of the Virgin River, we forged out to it, climbed aboard, made fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwiches and enjoyed lunch in the middle of the river.

Our last hike in the canyon was to Weeping Rock. This was a short but sometimes steep jaunt to an overhang, where water literally seeps through the sandstone from the mesa above. It takes 1,000 years for the water to make its journey, so the water that got us wet hit the top of the meas about the time Leif Eriksson and the Vikings were hitting the coast of North America.

After a hot day of hiking, there's nothing like a refreshing ice cream. So we enjoyed a cone under the giant cottonwood tree at the visitor center, and listened to a ranger-led talk about big horn sheep (the boys got to touch a skull and the horn!).

Speaking of sheep, next to the hotel there was a small herd of plain old, regular goats. Niko asked if we could buy one. They also had chickens and ducks. On our hikes we saw a couple deer, lots of squirrels, what as either a very large eagle or one of the re-introduced California condors. And in the evenings we watched little bats dart about keeping the skies bug free.

But the most exciting animal sighting was the feral cat that hung out by our room. Kelly took pity on it and fed it. The boys' failed miserably at keeping it out of our room. Conspiring against me, the boys and Kelly hatched a plan to bring the cat back to Salt Lake with us. They even named him, Wildcat Willie (after the nearby restaurant). Only Willie looked more like a Wilhelmina to me!

After really pondering it for a while, the morning we left for Vegas, it was decided that Willie should remain in Springdale. Kelly had come to his senses...or had he? Read all about Willie and our trip to Vegas in the next Who's Your Daddy!