Monday, December 31, 2012

My Wonderful Theia Amelia Kartchner

I was born in a hospital. I know, that's not a very remarkable statement for a man of my age born in an American city - even a small city. But it almost didn't happen. My dad had a bowling tournament that night, and of course asserted he wasn't going to go. After repeatedly reminding him that she had been through this five times before - and so what if this baby was already more than two weeks past the due date - mom insisted that no baby was coming that night, and shooed him out the door.

Of course minutes later her water broke.

Mom called the only available person in our family who could drive: My Theia Amelia. She couldn't have chosen a more adept speedster. To say Amelia Kartchner drove fast is like saying Mario Andretti was a pretty good racer.

Over the years, Theia liked to demonstrate just how fast she drove in order to get me from Midvale to LDS Hospital - 15 miles away and in a time before freeways. I always left the car thinking my birth may have actually been a miracle.

Theia Amelia passed on earlier this month. And although I was terribly saddened by it, I also admit it was a relief - to her and to my cousins. Just prior to when she left this world, I stopped off at Prophet Elias, lit a candle for her ("the expensive kind" as she'd say) and I knelt alone in the empty church and asked God to take Theia Amelia in death with the speed she had taken me to life.  I've never been so pained and thankful for a prayer to be answered so quickly.

I don't know if it was the role she played in my arrival, or my status as the youngest child in our family, but Theia Amelia and I always shared something special. To her I was the smartest, best looking, most polite, and best behaved child you'd ever meet - even when I wasn't...actually, especially when I wasn't. She believed in me.

When I was 13, my brother John and I drove to Boise for a long weekend. John and our cousin, David, spent their time doing what 90% of teenage boys do - chasing girl. I did what the remaining 10% of us did - hung out with our middle-aged aunt. Man, did those two get the short end of the stick that weekend!

My dad was curious how I was nearly $25 richer upon our return from Boise. I innocently informed him that I'd won the the track betting on the ponies with Theia Amelia! Somehow he wasn't at all reassured when I told him that after giving me a little seed money, Theia made it clear it was entirely up to me to win more or lose it all.

What really stands out about our time at the race track wasn't my wins, it was a loss. There was a horse - I only remember the colors were orange - who was guaranteed to come in dead last. But I told Theia I just had a feeling that horse would win. She convinced me the odds were too great and I shouldn't bet on him. When Theia returned from placing our bets, she had a surprise for me: a ticket for that horse to win. My horse ended up coming in second - and Theia kicked herself for not buying a "win-place-show" ticket. It didn't matter to me, she had believed in me enough to place the bet.

I could write for pages about the adventures she and I shared: hunting for hidden fortunes in the old "hippie" house she and Uncle John had purchased as an investment property, sneaking off to get freezes that froze our brains (and made us cackle with laughter every time), laughing so hard with each other we couldn't breath.

But when I think of my Theia Amelia one memory will always put a smile on my face: the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times we would sit next to each other on a couch, her arm around my shoulder or her hand patting my leg, and we'd just quietly talk. We'd talk about everything and nothing. It was just the two of us, and it was wonderful.

I chose to make this tribute to my amazing Amelia the last Who's Your Daddy Blog entry for 2012 because it marks the end of what has frankly been a stressful and trying year.  In just a few more hours we'll ring in 2013 - fresh with promise and possibilities.

So good bye to the old. Good bye to my sweet, sweet Theia Amelia. Thank you for the lessons you taught me, the fabulous times we shared together, and most of all for making sure I was born in a hospital...even if you almost sent me back to one too many times to count by showing me just how fast you drove that cold March night.

May your memory be eternal.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I Remember Tony

Today is International AIDS Awareness Day.  It's a time when - in theory - we set aside a few moments to remember those we've lost to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

I came of age during a time when people with AIDS were shunned. Members of Utah's legislature actually suggested quarantining people with AIDS or HIV in camps. Pres. Ronald Reagan refused even to mention the disease until the end of his second term - long after millions around the world had been impacted.

One of those people was my friend Tony Leone. In the time I knew Tony, I never heard him utter an unkind word; I never entered or left a room without having to experience one of his famous bear hugs (even when he was literally withering away); and I never felt anything but good about myself when I was around him.

Today, with pharma cocktails and non-detectable viral loads, it's hard to imagine that AIDS cut down so many in the prime of their lives.  Let's not forget them.

I remember DJ.

I remember Chris.

And I will always, always remember Tony.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's Greek to Me

One of the great benefits about searching the internet is stumbling across an unintentional gem. Recently, looking for a the lyrics to a song led me to a short independent film, which sent me to a stand up comic routine, finally guiding me to tongue-in-cheek lists of ways you know you're Greek.

Usually, I find these analyses mildly amusing - poking fun at the extremes found among my people and culture. That is I used to find them mildly amusing. Now I recognize they're making fun of me.

Some of the proof points corresponding directly to me:

* #37 - When leaving a house, you stand at the front door for a half an hour more saying good bye
* # 4  - You have a bottle of ouzo in your house right now (two of em, actually)
* #75 - You think talking loud is normal
* #12 - You've unintentionally smacked a stranger while talking with your hands

But the one that really hit home:

* #36 - Your pets have Greek names.

Aphrodite and Stavroula
Eleni and Yia Yia 


 And what of Gracie? #37 - Your pets understand Greek!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 21st - A Day to Remember

November 21st is a special day for our family. It's the day that Kelly and my sister, Sandra, went to the Oakland dog pound and rescued a scrawny, scraggly street dog that would become Gracie.

I still remember that day: I walked in to the kitchen, saw her sitting there, dirty and matted. She looked at me, turned her head to the side a little, and sauntered on over. The still unnamed Grace, pressed up against me and pushed her head against mine.  I'm not much for anthropomorphism but I swear she was saying, "Thanks."

A lot has changed in the 12 years since have passed: we've moved 4 times, the boys came along, she mellowed a lot. But one constant has remained: every day she still  says "thanks" to me.

Funny, I always think I'm the one, who should be thanking her.
Poor Gracie, wearing the Cone of Shame!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cover Up, Please

San Francisco is in the midst of a debate about banning a great deal of the public nudity that the city is infamous for. It's true, during the nearly 10 years we lived there, Kelly and I saw way too many people wearing nothing by tennis shoes and a smile.

I'm not a prude: I believe there's a time and place for nudity. But I believe there's also a time and place to cover up.  Wine connoisseurs, however, shouldn't have to make that distinction for the label of a wine bottle.

Unfortunately, they do when purchasing one of my favorite wines in some Utah state-owned liquor stores. It's a Greek wine called Amethystos, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with an added grape found only on the Greek island of Limnos.

It's a dry, heady wine that's not for everybody. But it's also not controversial.You see, the lable on Amythestos has an avant garde painting of three women each holding a glass of wine. Oh, the women are topless. 

When my parents bought me a bottle for my birthday last Spring, they were asked if they wanted the bottle covered or not. Apparently, in some Utah communities - like those in Utah County - the clerks at the State Liquor Store are frequently asked to cover the ladies on the bottle. Those clerks oblige using black masking tape.

It rather reminds me of my junior high school librarian, Mr. Friend, who took it upon himself to remove the naughty bits found in art books with an X-ACTO knife and black marker. Venus Di Milo was missing more than just her arms after Mr. Friend got a hold of her.

 Here's the thing: the type of people, who would find the bottle label offensive (or erotic) are not very likely buying wine anyway, so what does it matter?

There's a time and place for everything, I guess. The folks in the city I loved to call home need to think about covering up; the wine I love now shouldn't even be asked.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

An Electoral Map to Remember

One early summer day back in 1976, I was walking home from the library when I ran across a political lawn sign tossed in the gutter. I picked it up, brought it home, and with the permission of my parents posted it in our front lawn.
Shortly after that fateful day, I watched the national convention on TV with my great grandmother as Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale accepted the Democratic nomination.  A few weeks later, my mom drove me to Salt Lake to the Democratic Party headquarters, where I was handed a stack of Carter brochures and asked to drop them in my neighborhood.

It was my very first political involvement, and I was obsessed with the election.  But on election night, I was sent to bed before the results were in. I tossed and turned wondering if the guy I wanted had won.  I still remember the joy I felt the day after the election when I found The Salt Lake Tribune waiting on the kitchen table, Dad having propped it up against a glass. The headline heralded the first president elected from the "Deep South" since before the Civil War, the electoral map reflecting that fact.
Four years later the election was decided well before I went to bed,  and the result was a different story. I was heartbroken. But for me election fever had already taken root. By 1984 I was a volunteer staff member of Frances Farley's Congressional campaign.  I lived and breathed that campaign 24/7. And after she lost (by just under 500 votes out of over 250,000 cast), I was with her as she was returned to the state Senate in a landslide two years later.
The late Frances Farley was only the 2nd woman and the 1st elected without having first been appointed to serve in the Utah state Senate. Her Congressional loss was still a victory - for much of the 1990s, Utah's 2nd Congressional District  was represented by women.
 I continued being very politically active when we moved to California - I was even the Harvey Milk Lesbian / Gay / Bisexual / Transgender Democratic Club's Volunteer of the Year back in the late 1990s.
But then something happened, something came along that killed my desire to be so deeply involved.
Besides a lack of free time, I also decided I wanted my kids to live in a world less partisan, less divisive. With "talking heads" of all political bents trying to shout down the "other side," I didn't want my kids to be a secondary priority to an election.

That doesn't mean I wasn't still involved - this year I did some consulting on a state-wide race, donated a little money, and had a few lawn signs (couple of which were stolen.)
"Our family stands behind Jim Bradley, because he stands behind our family." (I'm not demented, I'm squinting!)
Sure, the boys knew we supported President Obama's re-election, but that was about it. Then election day came, and when I picked Gus up at school, he enthusiastically told me that they had voted in his class and the president had won 3-2. His homework that night was to watch the returns.

I couldn't get over how into it he was. So, just before the polls closed here in Utah, I invited him to come with me to watch the rest of the results in the hotel suite of the candidate with whom I had consulted.  He jumped at the opportunity.

For most of the time, he was the only kid there. Sticking close to me, he tried to follow the discussion about this candidate or that one. Of course, he couldn't understand why everyone in the room had such a visceral reaction to the GOP Senatorial candidates in Indiana and Missouri. And he didn't know why we all stood and toasted the memory of the late (and I think pretty darn great) Sen. George McGovern. But when  MSNBC called Ohio for President Obama, and he crossed the magic threshold of 270 electoral votes, Gus jumped to his feet with the rest of us. He and I even shared a hug out of pure joy.

The next day he told his class where he had watched the results. The teacher and other kids were impressed. (He also told them that since it was a special occasion, I let him have a Coke!) He had really enjoyed it.

Whether his interest in politics continues or not - whether he too has a life-long case of election fever - isn't important. Because I know he'll always remember watching the results of the 2012 election with his dad. And he'll always remember his first electoral map.

Friday, November 9, 2012

We Interrupt This Program

Several people have asked me when I'm going to blog about the recent election. Don't worry, it's already finished and in the queue. But, I have chosen to bump it from rotation to share some great animal news: Athena has safely returned home!

As many of you may have heard, one Monday morning almost three weeks ago, Kelly and I corralled the grey cat Athena into the car to take her to the vet for some needed boosters.  I went in to do some paper work, while Kelly and Athena stayed in the car. Not three minutes later, he poked his head in the office and said, "Never mind, we have to go!"

Athena had some how broken free of the leash (having successfully escaped from the carrier earlier) and darted across 6 lanes of traffic. For three days we searched for her, but she was no where to be found.  We sought comfort by reminding ourselves that it was still warm out, there was water in the nearby canal, and plenty of mice in the fields for her to eat. After she remained missing for a week or so, we resigned ourselves to fate: either someone would catch her and call the number on her tags, or she would find her way home. But neither happened.

Every night in my evening prayers, I asked God to keep an eye out for her and to keep her safe. It was all I could do, making me feel even more helpless.

But tonight, my prayers were answered! I had plugged my phone in to charge upstairs, and enjoyed How to Train a Dragon for boys' movie night in the family room. A couple of hours later, I grabbed my phone and noticed I had missed a call - no voice mail was left.

Now usually, I just ignore missed calls without a voice mail. It's almost always a survey or my alma mater looking for a donation. But tonight for some reason I called the number back. Hearing the woman ask, "Do you have a cat named Athena?" was music to my ears.

She had been hanging around the woman's house for several days - less than two blocks from where she made her mad getaway, and just a few more blocks from our house. Today's snow finally drove her to seek shelter on the woman's porch, where she was taken indoors, and we were called.

Seemingly not at all pleased with her adventure, and finally safe and sound at home, she ate heartily, drank her fill, and has spent the rest of the evening curled up in Kelly's lap, happy to be home.

We're happy she's back.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Kseno I Love

This is a photo of me with the lovely Greek singer, Margarita. Yeah, I had had a couple glasses of wine first.

Just as it was about to be taken, I picked up the mic and said, "Kelly, be sure to take a photo. We'll send it to all the family and they'll say, 'We knew that kseno he was with was just a phase!'"  Ksenos means foreign man.

My punchline got a big laugh, and a squeeze for me from Margarita. It also got some good natured finger wagging from several of Greeks who, "Like the kseno very much!"

And who can blame them?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Who's Emily?

Last week at Scouts, we carved Jack O-Lanterns. One of the boys expressed his distaste for "gutting" the pumpkin and too vocally announced he wasn't going to to it. That's all it took, the other boys pounced on him, teasing him and calling him by a girl's name. (For unknown reasons, they chose "Emily.")

The kid floundered; clearly he didn't expect this reaction.  His father tried to explain to him that he was "getting a reputation" by not cleaning his own pumpkin, but the kid didn't seem to mind - the other kids kept good-naturedly ribbing him. It wasn't really bullying - that would've be stopped immediately. But it still bothered me.

What irked me wasn't that he was getting needled for not shoving his hands into a bunch of cold, sticky squash innards. (Even I teased him about that being the best part of carving pumpkins, as I dumped his pumpkin's guts out for him.) No, I was concerned that he was equated to a girl - as if there was something wrong or weal about being female.

I told him that the way to stop it was either dig in, or to challenge the other guys about the way they see woman. Several of the other dads clearly got the point, and for the most part, the teasing stopped.

The whole incident made me think: the Scouts are about teaching boys to become men, and they should know that a real man understands that women are just as loyal, trustworthy and brave as he is.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Serial Killer Among Us

For generations, Hollywood has plastered movie screens with stories of serial killers. They live among us, hiding in the shadows, waiting to pounce on their next victim.

I suppose on some level we like to be frightened by the images of terrified teenagers hiding under a bunk in the last cabin at some desolate summer camp; their hushed sobs and streaming tears sending chills up our spines as we see the scene from the viewpoint of the homicidal maniac.

But homicidal maniacs are adorable too. I live with one. I even love one.

Today when we walked in the door from skating, Gus immediately asked, "Why are there feathers everywhere?" The answer was found motionless on the laundry room floor: Apollo had killed a bird. 

Remember, Apollo is a domesticated house cat. He has 24/7 access to food. He kills for sport. Just like any other serial killer. In fact, other than the gash down its side and the carpet of feathers, the poor bird looked like it was sleeping...uncomfortably, but still sleeping. 
 This is the second bird he's gotten. His first dastardly attempt failed when the boys and I interrupted him - growling at us as I pried the sparrow free, Apollo's teeth still gripping the traumatized bird's tail feathers.

Today's murder serves as a reminder to me, that this killer living among us could turn on me and my family at any time.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Heart of a Lion

A couple of months ago, I received an invitation from one of my priets to join the Gratitude Project on Facebook. Every day the "participants" post what they're grateful for on that day.  This morning I posted how incredibly grateful I am that my kids get to attend Saint Sophia Hellenic Orthodox School.

Last evening, the school presented their Ohi Day program. In Greek, Ohi (or Oxi) is the word "no." It commemorates the bravery and victory of the Greeks over fascism during World War II.  Mussolini had demanded that he be able to send troops into Greece, or he would invade. The Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, went to the floor of parliament and relayed the dictator's demand. He also provided his answer to Mussolini: OXI!

Italy invaded. Out manned and out gunned, Greece fought bravely. And won. Not only did the Greeks repel the invaders, they liberated parts of occupied Albania. It was the first victory of the Allied Powers during WW II, leading Prime Minister Winston Churchill to say, "We used to say that Greeks fight like heroes. From this day forth we shall say heroes fight like Greeks."

The Greek resistance - which lasted longer than that of any other defeated country - changed the course of the war. Mussolini's defeat meant that Nazi Germany had to invade Greece delaying their planned attack of the Soviet Union by more than two months. Had it occurred when it was originally planned, Hitler's troops likely would have taken Moscow, and the result of the war may have had a terrifyingly different conclusion.

Greece paid a heavy price during the war. She lost 14% of her population - more than any other nation. That would be like 39 million Americans dying today. She suffered more starvation than any other nation save Poland.

As the world sneers at Greece today, as politicians hold my ancestral home up as an example of dysfunction, I ask you to remember what Greece did for the world, what she is capable of.

The poem Eimai Ellinopoulo means "I am a Greek boy." It talks about liberty living in the heart and mind of a boy. Although not strong enough or big enough to fight, he has the heart of a lion. 

I am extremely proud to be an American of Greek descent. I am extremely grateful that my children have a blessed opportunity to attend a school in which Hellenism and the Greek culture are central to the curriculum; a school where my son can recite that poem, and where they learn that Greece has the heart of a lion.

Monday, October 15, 2012

We Thought You'd Marry One

Remember a few months ago I wrote about planting our first garden? We honestly didn't have much hope for it. The soil was rocky and clumpy having spent years trapped under blacktop.  And of course, neither of us knew a thing about gardening. We tossed in a few bags of steer manure and decided to let nature take it's course.

Well as it turns out, Mother Nature is a tough old broad. We had an amazing crop.

We also learned some lessons: plant the tomatoes a bit further apart from one another; pumpkins will overtake everything in their path like The Blob; and Sweet Baby Jesus 5 zucchini plants are 4 too many! I gave them away to friends. I gave them away to neighbors. If a kid made the mistake of coming to our place to play, he left with zucchini.

And with a bumper crop comes the question of what to do with it all. One moment you're delighted to have harvested 50 tomatoes, and the next you're trying to figure out what to do with 50 tomatoes. Well, I am my yia yia's boy: so following in her footsteps, I canned mine - even using her (now vintage) grinder.

I even shucked our sunflowers!
Years ago, after hearing that for Thanksgiving I had let bread go stale for our homemade stuffing and that I backed a fresh pumpkin for the pie, my brother John said, "Gee, Chris, we always figured you'd grow up to marry a nice Mormon girl, not become one!"  Hmmm, maybe there's something to that...

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Autumn has always been my favorite season. I know, lots of people associated this time of year with the approaching winter. But for me it brings the perfect temperatures, college football, and the world painted in reds, golds and oranges.

 This is what Autumn looks like to me.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Skips a Generation

Kelly's mom, Bonnie, was an amazingly gifted artist. Her paintings routinely received ribbons in county and state fairs, they were sold in galleries, and even hung in museums.

I've reminded Gus of that fact ever since he first said he wants to be an artist. I want him to have a connection with his late grandmother, and to understand talent runs in his family.

From the looks of his last couple of pieces he did in the art classes we signed him and Niko up for, I'd say he's well on his way.

Monday, September 24, 2012

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

Remember a couple of months ago I noticed the boys' chore charts included "feed the rabbit" and it confused me since we didn't have a rabbit?  Well, guess what we got at the State Fair?  The boys have named her Hera.

So in the past couple of months we've added a kitten and a bunny to our petting-zoo like household. Bringing the total number of non-human inhabitants at our place to 14: one dog, 2 cats, 3 fish, a snake, a guinea pig and 6 chickens!

What I don't understand is why these animals, which I wanted nothing to do with, seem to think I'm their best friend in the world? Apollo labors under the fantasy I want to be his personal sleeping couch, while Hera is convinced I'm going to protect her from the dangers that lurk in the house.
Ironically, I do like our cat, Athena, but she's not too fond of me - or anyone for that matter.

So I keep trying to tell that damn kitten and the new bunny that Gracie is the only one I like.
 They just don't listen.