Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Time of Thanksgiving

150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln officially set aside a national day of thanks. I think this is a well-deserved tradition. So in honor of Honest Abe, I am grateful for:
  • Kelly - my partner in crime, who has supported me, stood by me, and kept me laughing for a quarter of a century. I don't know what I did to deserve such a great guy.
  • My sons - they are the center of my universe. They challenge me to be a better man each and every day. They have changed me - for the better - and I strive to be the father they need me to be.
  • The big, fat Greek family into which I was born. They surround me with love, acceptance, and patience. They provided me with just enough dysfunction to make me amusing, and I appreciate that.
  • The Huntingtons - it's nice to have in laws, who embrace you as one of their own.
  • My friends - too many to name - who enrich my life with their diversity, humor and support. But I need to call out a few:
    • Sabine and John - simply the greatest best friends, soul mates, kindred spirits anyone could ever hope for in life.
    • Teresa - a work wife who never divorced me even after we stopped working together. I know I can count on her to say what I need to hear, without judgement or strings.
    • Brad - for having faith in me enough to spark my new business, and patience with me when I start to freak out.
    • Bob - a man I am proud to call my friend even when he's pissing off everyone else. He's the best business partner, cheerleader, and advocate for equality you could ever imagine.
  •  All of our pets, Athena, Apollo, the chickens, and Speedy. But most of all for Gracie, the good dog, for 13 years (this month) she's faithfully provided me unwavering love and adoration.
  • Saint Sophia School, where my kids are embraced, my family celebrated, and childhood is a little sweeter.
  • All those whom I have loved and lost - we will be reunited.
Most of all, I am grateful for this life I have been given. It's filled with challenges and sorrow, certainly. But also with so much happiness, laughter and everyday blessings that I sometimes think I'm the luckiest guy in the world.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lessons From the Road

Back when I was at Morgen-Walke / Financial Dynamics, I traveled a lot. I mean a lot. How much? Let's just say that United Airlines flight attendants started to recognize me, and the parking attendant at SFO actually learned my name. There was one crazy week in which I flew to LA on Thursday night, worked on Friday, flew back to Oakland that afternoon to head to Chicago, spent the weekend and two days in the Windy City, came home for a day of meetings, and took off the next morning for NYC.

Thankfully, those days are long behind me. Last week's trip to Denver was my first business trip in a couple of years. And it reminded me of some very important lessons:
  • Having to half undress at security is universally inconvenient
  • There's always one TSA agent that takes him/herself  too seriously, and one who is frighteningly lax
  • No matter how comfortable, no hotel bed is ever a match for sleeping in your own bed with the person you love
  • My kids (and friend Teresa) are always more interested in what my room is like than I am
  • Convention / conference food is overpriced and not very  good 
But this trip also taught me some new lessons:
  • I'm really great at psyching myself out with fear of the unknown
  • But I have some really great friends, who can turn that doubt around - Bob Henline's simple, "You've got this" made all the difference
Most important lesson learned: 
  • Coming home is always the best part of any business trip.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Changed Woman

When we picked Athena out of the line up of cats at the SPCA two years ago, it was based on the fact that she seemed mellow and, according to the information card, was good with kids and tolerant of dogs.  When we got her home we discovered she wasn't very interested in people. She didn't particularly enjoy being petted, hated to be held, and pretty much avoided us. Basically, she kept to herself.

Then last year, as you may remember, she took off during a visit to the vet's, got lost, and wandered the streets for a couple of weeks before being rescued by a kind woman, who called us to come pick her up.

Over the past 12 months, I've noticed a very different Athena. It's true she still doesn't particularly enjoy being held, but not only is she all about the petting, she's taken to sleeping in our bed during the day, and at night snuggles up between us. It's like a whole new cat.

You know, her information card also said that she had been turned over to the SPCA because her last humans had moved and couldn't take her with them. Who knows? Maybe she wanted to make sure we were in it for the long term with her before she committed - and finding her after she got lost was the proof she needed.

There are downsides to the new Athena, however. She's started bringing us presents - mostly grasshoppers, but a couple of mice as well - and if I don't make the bed immediately after waking up, it's a lost cause!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Fear for the Future

For several weeks, construction crews have been working on a building that we pass on our way to church. Recently we saw a banner announcing that the new building is to be an assisted living center for the elderly.

The other night while we were driving back from Greek School, Gus mentioned that it sure seemed big. My sister and I explained how it would probably have many rooms, administrative offices, a kitchen, dining area, etc. But Gus seemed unimpressed. He said he planned on putting me into a home where I'd be in a room with 5 - 6 other people.

When I asked why, he matter-of-factly replied, "Because I'm not spending a lot of money on you." 

Maybe those jokes about putting my parents in the home I saw on  60 Minutes aren't so funny after all...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Where Are The Eggs?

It's funny how kids associate adults with one specific action or trait. Sometimes those become the only memory you have of  that person. For example, my Uncle Nick Sarantos, my sister's godfather, had a stone wheel on which he sharpened knives. My yia yia and I would walk over to his house and he'd let me push the peddle.

Uncle Nick passed away a few days before my 4th birthday. But I still associate knife sharpening with him. It's about the only solid memory of him I have (well, that and the dollar bill that would magically appear in my palm whenever we shook hands.)

I've wondered, what do the littlest people in my life associate with me? Like the knives, is there something I do that would stick with them for 45 years should I suddenly disappear?

My nephew George - my cousin Nicole's son - answered that question for me. I saw him last Sunday at church with his yia yia.  Yvonne pointed me out and said, "Hey, here's Uncle Chris." George looked at me and asked, pou einai ta auga? (Where are the eggs?)

Yes, that's right, if I were to fall off the face of the Earth right now, George would remember me as the guy with the eggs. I should've learned Uncle Nick's dollar in the palm trick!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

They Said What?

I'm trying to instill in the boys a joy of us reading together as a family.  A couple of times a year I read some classic to them - this time last year it was Charlotte's Web.  Now we're deciding whether to start The Bridge to Terabithia or The Swiss Family Robinson.

Last night we finished the seasonally appropriate The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was a difficult read. Interestingly, the style in which Washington Irving wrote focused far more on setting the scene than the exciting climactic action. The actual Ichabod / Horseman encounter is less than three pages of the 25-page story. It was also filled with complex sentences and various clauses. There's no way a kid could actually read it. In fact, I was less narrator of this book and far more interpreter.

So, "Fain would I pause to dwell upon the world of charms that burst upon the enraptured gaze of my hero, as he entered the state parlor of Van Tassel's Manor.  Not those of the bevy of buxom lasses, with their luxurious display of red and white: but the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea table, in the sumptuous time of autumn" became, "When Ichabod went into Van Tassel's house, he didn't notice all the pretty girls. He was only interested in all the food on the table."

But one word caught me off guard: Negro. As it stumbled awkwardly off of my lips, the boys asked me what it meant. I explained that it was a very old term to describe a black person. Perhaps it was the way I said it, but both of the boys were aghast at how it sounded.

"Why not just black?" and "Why not African American?" were soon asked. My response was simply that it was the word people used when the story was written, but we don't ever use it today. They both thought for a second and then Gus asked me to please use "black" in place of "negro" for the rest of the story.  So I did.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Where Are You From?

The other day my friend Tanya, with whom I used to work, was complimented on how good her English is. Whereas her English is good, I suspect the person commented on it because Tanya is Japanese. Actually, she's Japanese-American, born in New Mexico. That tidbit about her birth really confounded the person paying her the linguistic compliment.

Hearing these types of stories always cracks me up.  Although sometimes it hits a little too close to home. On several occasions I've been told I speak with a slight accent (which, baffles me to no end.)  And once during the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, a nice older lady riding the light rail with us asked me how I was enjoying America - which amused Sabine, John and Kelly a lot more than it did me.

But far worse than my own surreal experiences is the fact that I can no longer count the number of times someone has asked us where the boys are from. Even after hearing that Gus was born in Orange County and Niko in Berkeley, we still get asked, "but where are they from." Kelly got so irritated at an inquisitor that he finally barked, "Their mother's womb!"

So for anyone who's been wondering:
  • I was born at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
  • Any traces of an accent in my speech is entirely a mystery to me (I do not hear any)
  • My kids were born in America: Orange County and Berkeley  to be exact - they are Americans
And if you're still wonder where they're from take a look at this quick video. It's how you seem, guvnah!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What Time is it In Mongolia?

Today we turned our clocks back an hour. Returning to Standard Time always makes me think of Mongolia. No, I'm not that weird, there's really a very good reason.

In the Fall of 2002, John, Sabine and I had a wonderful adventure in China and Mongolia.  When we arrived in the Gobi at the end of the tourist season, we discovered we were the only guests at the lodge: I had a yurt*, John and Sabine had one, and the rest were occupied by the staff. (*Mongolians call yurts gers.)

It didn't take the crew long to discover we wanted to spend time hanging out with them. So, after a day of adventure, we'd come back and have dinner with them (Sabine and me good naturedly teased about being vegetarians), and spend the rest of the evening playing Flick the Bones - a game sort of like marbles but played with sheep knuckles!

One night after Mongol our driver had kicked our butts for the umpteenth time - no matter how badly he threw a match, we just couldn't beat him - our guide, Badma, told us that the next day's destination was quite a drive, so we needed to wake up by 6:00 a.m. Oh, she added, tonight was when Mongolia set its clocks to Standard Time, and instructed us to move our clocks ahead an hour. Ahead? Mongolia falls forward? Yes, forward.

After barely closing my eyes to go to sleep, I heard Sabine's voice outside my door gently calling me awake. As I stumbled out of my ger, I saw John and Sabine standing in the pitch black. The only light to be seen were the zillions of stars shining down on the desert - the Milky Way looking like the headlights of a traffic jam on some Los Angeles freeway.

We were alone. Not one of the crew was yet awake. I guess our discussion about what to do began to wake them, because soon, one by one, the Mongolians staggered out of their respective gers, muttering away to each other and rubbing their eyes. Badma asked us why we were up in the middle of the night. We reminded her that we had switched our watches an hour ahead as instructed.

That was it, the voices became more animated and various Mongolian watches were consulted. Finally, someone popped back into her ger returning a few seconds later with a cell phone, which had an automatic "summer time" and "winter time" setting. Guess what? Like the rest of the world, Mongolia falls back. Not only was it not 6:00 a.m., it wasn't even 5:00 a.m. It was 4:00 in the morning.

Ever the good hosts, they asked if we wanted breakfast. At 4:00 a.m. We declined and sent them back to their beds. John, Sabine and I huddled around the fire John built in their ger talking and giggling. At some point, Sabine and I went outside again just in time to watch the sun magnificently rise over the desert. It was spectacular, one of the many amazing moments we've shared together.

When the crew finally woke up, and we sat down to breakfast, Badma asked how we had spent those wee hours of the morning. Sabine mentioned that she and I had seen the sunrise and how beautiful it was. Badma laughed, translated what Sabine had said to the crew, and they all started laughing. It turns out that there's an old Mongolian superstition: to see the sunrise over the Gobi means you're having a baby. We laughed along with the crew.

Only thing: 8 1/2 months later Gus was born.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Bump in the Night

If you really think about it, Halloween is a strange tradition: kids dress up, ring doorbells, and extort candy out of strangers under threat of mischief.  Well, if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for my kids.
Gus and Niko were a mutant and dead Ninja. Friend Jansen a werewolf. Me, arrrrghh!