Thursday, January 24, 2013


When we lived in Los Angeles, I was a member of Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.  The Proistamenos - head priest - Fr. John serves as a mentor for younger priests. They come to him newly ordained and serve with him for a few years before being sent off to their own parishes. It's sort of like student teaching. To me Fr. John seemed ideally suited to this role. Along with offering flawless Liturgies, sung in an operatically-trained voice - he's also pretty liberal. A friend of mine from church told me  when  he and his boyfriend broke up Fr. John did what any good Greek father would do: he tried to play matchmaker for him with a couple of single guys he knew!

During my time at Saint Sophia the young priest being mentored was Fr. Bill. I had the honor of being in attendance during his actual ordination, during which the congregation  periodically signals its approval by proclaiming Axios! (He is worthy.)

Part of the young priest's "apprenticeship" was to give the occasional homily - nothing like speaking in front of 300-400 people on any given Sunday to prepare you for your own small flock!

One Sunday Fr. Bill was speaking about second chances. He told us how growing up he and his friends had a contest the start of every Church calendar year: to see who could get tossed out of Sunday School the first. According to his own admission, Billy was the undefeated champion.  What he found interesting was that the next Sunday, when his parents returned  him to the class from which he had been expelled a week earlier, he was once again met with open arms as if nothing had happened. No matter how many times he was banished, he was always welcomed back.

He finished by sharing with us that on the day of his ordination, among those shouting, "Axios!" - symbolically acknowledging he was worthy to be a priest - were several of his former Sunday School teachers. He said he had contacted many of them before beginning his priestly training, and asked why they had always allowed him back in their classrooms without hesitation. To a person, he said, they claimed to see something deeper in him than he had yet realized. They had hope for him.

Niko makes me think of Fr. Bill...a lot.

Although he hasn't figured out quite how to get tossed out of Sunday School class - and actually seems to enjoy it - he's far from the best-behaved child at Prophet Elias.  He has no problem expressing his utter boredom, alleviated by (loudly) arranging and re-arranging the items found in the little shelf on the back of the pew ahead of him. He plays with the kneelers. He sees how far he can sneak off against the wall before I command him back. He thuds his body down in defiance to the standing congregation.

I'm convinced that were it not for a familial bond, my cousins seated behind us would smack me aside the head for my bad parenting skills.

Niko can be a handful. He's stubborn and strong headed. He's bossy and labors under the belief that the world revolves around him. He doesn't particularly enjoy doing anything that's not set to his time. He and I actually had a rather heated discussion about the need for numbers to go in a specific order and not in a higgly-piggly manner that strikes his fancy.

And then there's the kid that runs to embrace priests, who loves antidiron - blessed bread offered to everyone following Liturgy - and can flawlessly explain the Resurrection. The other day - on  Theophany (the Blessing of the Waters) when we returned home with Holy Water, Niko took it upon himself to bless the house in a manner that would have made Rasputin the Mad Monk proud. All the poor animals in our menagerie were blessed. Poor things.

As I struggle to get him to act more appropriately in church - and struggle with my internal conflict of celebrating his refusal to conform versus my desire not to be embarrassed by his behavior - I keep thinking if Fr. Bill can go from Sunday School parolee to priest, maybe Niko can reform himself too. Who knows, maybe there's something deeper in him that he hasn't recognized yet. Maybe someday we'll be shouting, "Axios! to Fr. Niko!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


WARNING: this Who's Your Daddy includes content some readers may consider to be PG-13.

My sister Sandra and I share a guilty pleasure: the television dating show Baggage. Hosted by Jerry Springer, it's half tabloid talk show and half The Dating Game.

The premise is tried and true: a single contestant chooses one person from three contenders with whom to go out on a date, and potentially find romance. Unlike The Dating Game the contestants can see each other and often comment on how attractive the other person is. Instead, each of the three contestants stands next to three pieces of luggage that increase in size, and are opened to reveal correspondingly embarrassing information.

Small bags usually have rather mundane "secrets" ranging from the juvenile to the unpleasant. It may be a large collection of Star War figurines or feeding a dog with the same utensil at the same time the person is using it.
The dater is required to explain what concerns him / her about this particular habit, and often it can be a stretch for them to find the trait concerning. In fact, I'd have chosen one person specifically because of her smallest bag: She was terrified of clowns. Amen, sister!
The middle bag is a blind reveal - I assume to prevent the chooser simply from moving forward the person deemed most attractive. Randomly placed, these bags hold considerably more controversial truths. I've seen everything from someone who makes his date order from a dollar menu to a person who stole celebrity garbage. 

Our dater announces which bag is simply unacceptable and that person is eliminated - often with a hurtful parting comment directed to the other contestants.

In the largest bags people admit to some pretty amazing issues.  And this is what I don't understand. Why in the world would people admit to these things? They can be pretty harmless, of course, like still being in love with an ex, but others are over the top.

One man, who earlier admitted to Skyping with his mom every day - and she was "in the audience" via a lap top - also told the world (and his mom) that he partook in several group sex events. I wondered what the father of a young woman who admitted to having hooked up with an entire rugby team one evening on a dare must have thought.

When at last the contestant has chosen his / her date, the "tables are turned." The person chosen must decide if he / she wants to go on the date at all after seeing the heretofore concealed big bag secret of the person who selected him / her in the first place.

To the show's credit - and a nod to the era in which we live - gay, lesbian and bisexual people, older folks, "cougars," and even "nerds" appear on the show.
But to me it comes back to a single question: Why in the world would someone share this information about themselves with the world? Do family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers really need to know that  one man insists on dressing up like Superman before being intimate? Do they need to know the circumcisional status of the guy down the street? (And I'm not sure why being uncircumcised is "baggage.")

Three admissions remain my baffling favorites (all from men!):

3. The man who insisted that he could sleep with any woman he wanted, but if his girlfriend slept with another man it was cheating and their relationship was over.

2. The man who kept his foreskin in a safety deposit box - and it gets better: he received it from his mom!

1. The very handsome, very confident guy who admitted that he frequently soiled himself.

Yes, you read that correctly. On national syndicated television this man admitted he crapped his pants with regularity.

But what's more baffling is that among the hundreds of "bags" I've watched be open are the revelations that the owner has remained a virgin or that he or she will not be intimate until marriage or engagement. Really? That's considered a drawback nowadays?

When my kids grow up, I hope I've  imparted in them that physical intimacy is something that one waits to express until you are in love. Beyond discussing ways to avoid unwanted pregnancy and STDs, I don't ever want to know anything about their private, intimate lives. Ever. And I certainly don't want to see it on Baggage!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Reason We Moved Here

After a particularly heavy snow fall during our first winter in Salt Lake, Gus looked out at the white stuff all over the ground and announced, "This is why we moved here!"

Whereas I think he's now discovered that there were many different factors in our decision to return to Utah, and that snowy winters were never even a consideration, it's safe to say it's an added bonus.

With the temperatures dropping into single digits, the foot or so of water in the canal across from us has frozen solid. To the boys it's a winter wonderland where they're part Hans Brinker racing through the canals of Holland and part Admiral Byrd exploring the Antarctic.

Niko is showing off his gum  

Gracie keeping an eye on us

It's Admiral Byrd!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tis Better to Have Tried and Failed

In my ongoing efforts to promote and preserve the Greek culture within my family I am increasingly preparing traditional dishes. For example, yesterday on a frigid Utah winter night, the boys requested avgolemono soupa - egg lemon soup.

 They're also big fans of my spanakopita - spinach pie.
Over the holidays I was quite ambitious. So I whipped up baklava, tyropitakia (cheese triangles), and koulourakia (braided cookies.)
Part of the fun of making these specialties is passing on the know-how to my kids. Niko is especially interested in helping me cook and learning how the various dishes are made. Last night, for example, he squeezed the lemons, and poured the egg / lemon mixture into the soup - even making the sucking sounds to make sure it doesn't curdle, just like my Theia Sophie taught me.

Making koulourakia took me back to my childhood. I had the boys feel, smell and taste a bit of the dough just as Yia yia had had me do so I knew it was "right." Like me, their favorite part was the raw cookie dough.

But sometimes, my ambition is greater than my talent. This year I tried to make loukoumades from scratch. These honey-drenched Greek "doughnut holes" are traditionally eaten as the clock strikes midnight on New Years. Tradition holds that this sweet as your first taste of the New Year brings sweetness the whole year long.

Now, usually I grab a box from one of the local Mediterranean delis, add water, drop some batter from a spoon into the oil, and deep fry. But for some reason I just never picked a box up. The recipe I had from my yia yia seemed way too complicated. So I asked my cousin Yvonne for a recipe and set to work.

Sometimes I forget: Greek cooking is not successfully executed simply by following a recipe. The cuisine is riddled with nuances.  So when my dough didn't "seem" right, I texted my cousin Joanne. She taught home ec; she'd know what was wrong. Just from the description she diagnosed the batter as being too thin, it needed to be more gooey.

Yes, I realize that being told "it needs to be more gooey" via text would probably not cut it on Top Chef but it made perfect sense to me: I added more flour.
Yeah, that's what they're supposed to look like, but something wasn't right about mine.
Mine looked less like festive holiday balls and more like protozoa.

That didn't stop the boys from enjoying them. And I remembered a valuable culinary lesson. My koulourakia are "perfect" because I started making them at my yia yia's side when I was 6. I've been making baklava, tyropita, and spanakopita for 30-some years. That skill didn't come over night; it took years of practice - honing my abilities and enduring some spectacular flops. Even that lemon soup the boys like so much is the result of trial and error.

The whole experience reminded me of something my mom always says, "You can't rush Greek food." But hey, at least I tried.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Resolve (Again)

Last year I made some pretty noble resolutions. Some of them have become a part of my life - I do walk a lot slower when out on walkies with Gracie - and at some of them I failed miserably (the book remains elusive.)

So after what shaped up to be a pretty rough year in 2012 - which disappointingly lacked a Zombie Apocalypse - I've decided to set some rather simpler, yet loftier goals for 2013.

This year I resolve simply to strive to be a better husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend.

Oh and get to that damn book!