One of the advantages of living in Utah is that we get to enjoy nature even while just out on doggy walkies. Spring is in full swing as you can see from these photos Kelly snapped this afternoon as we strolled with Gracie along the canal and through the neighborhood.
Duck family out for a swim
Good news! Kelly didn't scream when he saw the snake!
One of the most interesting aspects about parenting for me has been to watch the boys as they grow into their personalities.
It's funny because when our best friends John and Sabine were in town they were amazed at how much Gus' personality mirrored Kelly's, while Niko's was more like mine. Taking a look at these two photos, I think they're on to something.
I've previously mentioned in this blog how my favorite toy growing up was my Fischer Price farm set.
I played with it so often that it's one of the handful of memories I have of my sister's nouno, our "Uncle" Nick Sarantos - who died just before I turned 4. Every time he'd see me playing with my farm, in his thick Greek accent he'd say, "I theenk you gunna be farrmehr." (I also remember he wore cuffed pants and he shook my hand to say goodbye, magically leaving behind a one-dollar bill in my palm.)
I admit, I've often daydreamed about Kelly and me being gentlemen farmers living in a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by acre-after-acre of crops nestled in some lush valley in New England or maybe the Amish Country.
It's not too far-fetched: Kelly's grandfather, Edward Huntington, was a successful sugar beet farmer in Utah County for decades. My grandparents' vegetable gardens were legendary. And my parents and Uncle Chris still reap Mother Nature's bounty from plots in their backyards. You could say "farming" is in our blood!
So this season we decided to plant the rather large plot in our backyard made available after we had an area of blacktop on which previous owners had parked RVs removed last summer.
After digging a couple of irrigation channels, we were achy, tired and calling into question the wisdom of the whole enterprise.
Who knows, maybe it skips a couple of generations.
That's a lolly-pop in his mouth, he's not smoking!
I love Easter - Greek Easter that is. I love the pageantry of the ancient services, the spiritual connection, the community surrounding it.
Every year Easter is special for me. But this year it was just a little extra cool.
First, this was the first year that Gus was old enough to serve at the altar. I'm obnoxiously proud to say he served during Holy Unction, on Holy Thursday AND during the Anesti (Resurrection) and Easter Liturgy services, which started at 11:00 pm and ended at 2:15 am! He also attended Good Friday services with me.
And Good Friday is the second reason this year's Easter celebration was so special. This year, I had some very special guests.
My friend Laurel is host mom this school year to a (soon-to-be) 16-year old girl from Pakistan. Seema is fabulous, as is her best friend, Lamiaa (from Morocco.) Part of their experience in America is to see and do things they won't/can't in their own countries. So, along with their pal Gabriel (who is a Christian from Palestine - Bethlehem, as a matter of fact), they joined Gus and me for Good Friday services.
I cannot express how thrilled and proud I was to have them there. I'm probably the first Orthodox Christian, at least at Prophet Elias, ever to have light for his candle provided from the candle held by a Muslim.
Over the past few months, in the limited interaction I've had with them, these teenagers have opened my eyes to so much. Seema and Lamiaa particularly as proud Muslim women.
As an American Christian and Middle Eastern Muslims, we have different faiths, different beliefs, and different ideas, but they've reminded me we also have much, much more in common as children of God.
This year's Good Friday is one I will never forget. Thanks to two Muslim girls (and a pretty cool Christian dude from Bethlehem.) CHRISTOS ANESTI!
Something else the kids had never done: jump on a trampoline!
When I was 11 or 12 I heard for the first time that my yia yia had been married to someone before my papou. I was shocked. Rather than being a sordid, scandalous situation, however, it was actually a rather sad story: they married quite young, he was a cousin of her brother-in-law, Mike Alexander, and he died in the great influenza epidemic after only a few weeks of marriage.
Beyond the fact her name had briefly been Alexandra Alexander, what struck me about learning this news was how one event occurring before you were born can change your life.
I tried to explain the concept to Gus yesterday evening. You see, before the boys, Kelly and I were actually matched with 2 other children: a 4-year little girl, Ana, and her 3-year old brother, Amado.
Last night, as I watched Gus serve as an altar boy for 3 1/2-hours during Holy Thursday services - with three young men twice his age, I thought of Ana and Amado, and how different my life would have been had we adopted them.
On our drive home I told Gus about Ana and Amado, how they found a different family and I was happy for them. I also told him that because they aren't a part of my family, he and Niko are.
He was tired, and it's a rather esoteric topic, so I'm not really sure he comprehended its significant.
I do hope he understood my final comment: how very, very thankful and grateful I am that Ana and Amado are with another family and that he and Niko are a part of mine.
We survived "American" Easter. Lessons we learned:
1. Chocolate bunnies are not the same as candy given up for Lent and can therefore be sampled - this according to Gus as he nibbled the bunny's ear off.
2. When I accidentally wake up at 3:30 am I should go back to sleep rather than get dressed to hide eggs outside. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed when I first wake up and the mere idea I could hide eggs in the back yard while it was still pitch black was comical. I sharpened up and returned to bed. (I got up again at 6:30 and did it.)
3. Gus is beginning to have doubts about a giant white rabbit delivering gifts and hiding eggs. When the boys bounded into our room first thing in the morning and Kelly told them to look downstairs, Gus asked, "Wait, how do you know it's downstairs?" (Kelly reminded him that's where the baskets were last year...)
4. Niko has inherited my obnoxious trait of telling a story or sharing commentary constantly. He pontificated about the reason behind the hiding place of each egg he found.
5. The two bluish-green eggs from our chickens we dyed green and orange ended up being a deep, vibrant green and a pumpkin color. Next year we'll skip the store-purchased white ones!
As I wrote a few weeks ago, Gus has given up candy for Lent. I'm very proud of him. And this Sunday the Easter Bunny comes...but to an Orthodox home? After all, "Greek" Easter isn't for another week -- after Passover when the Resurrection actually occurred.
But we're Americans, so of course the Easter Bunny is coming to our house on Sunday, but that does raise a quandary for Gus. To keep his Lenten vow, he'll need to hold on to the candy for another week.
It rather reminds me of a great scene from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Middlesex: it is "American" Easter and the protagonist's older brother watches as his friends in the neighborhood search for hidden eggs, chomp off the heads of chocolate bunnies, and toss handfuls of jelly beans into their mouths, all while he remains sequestered in a Greek Lenten home.
Eugenides description perfectly describes the Easter frustration every Orthodox kid has felt at one time in his / her life - mine included, "Standing by the window, my brother wanted more than anything to believe in an American god, who resurrected on the right day."
One day the boys' will understand that skipping the candy for one more week is worth it. In the meantime, they can simply wish we believed in an American god.
Urban legends have an air of authenticity because they always happen to someone just a couple of degrees separated from whoever is telling the story. It didn't happen to him or to his mom, but his mom's neighbor's son. That way there's enough distance to prevent actual confirmation from occurring but close enough to provide an air of believability.
Growing up, I was almost an urban legend in my neighborhood: I had honest-to-goodness relatives living in Europe. Most of my peers thought it was cool they had a cousin in California, I trumped that with cousins in Greece. And like the ax-wielding murder in the backseat, who killed an uncle's college roommate's girlfriend, for my friends my cousins were mysteriously connected only through my immigrant grandmother.
For me of course, there was tangible evidence. Once a month, every month, my grandmother and her sister, Eleni, wrote one another. I remember looking at the letters when they arrived and asking Yia yia to translate them for me. Sometimes the letters talked about my Theia Eleni's grand kids: Yanni and Elias, who were about my age, and her granddaughter Eleni.
My grandmother and Theia Eleni had no way of knowing that in a way their tradition would be carried on by their grandchildren: Eleni and I email and Facebook frequently. That would have pleased our respective grandmothers to no end. But it gets better.
As part of Greek class, kids in Gus' school sent a holiday card to a "pen pal" in Greece. Gus insisted that he wanted his card to go to his cousin Ikaros -Eleni's son.
Today Gus received a response.
Just seeing the letter took me back to my childhood and seeing my yia yia read and reread those letters from Theia Eleni. Well, to read Ikaros' letter, we need to make use of our well-used Greek/English dictionary but that's part of the fun of it all.
Oh and it gets better: unlike in Yia yia and Theia Eleni's letter, Gus got an added bonus: