Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Good Riddance 2014?

"Good" is a very subjective adjective. It relies heavily on personal preference and interpretation. For example: many people view the snow now covering Salt Lake as a nuisance. Others, however see it as the source of much needed water, and a good way to have some fun.
Gus and I snowshoeing near Willow Lake earlier this year.
The same can be said about years. One person's banner year is another's annus horribilis.
Elizabeth II announcing that 1992 was anything but good.
For me, 2014 brought:
Too much time in hospitals with other people:
Intermountain Medical Center, became my home away from home.
Saying good bye to Gracie, the good dog:
No one could argue "good" wasn't the perfect adjective.
And the sudden, unexpected death of my friend and former teacher, Sonja Beere.
She was a GREAT teacher and friend.
For the past several days I've been eagerly waiting to sweep 2014 into the dustbin of history. But then I remembered there are very few years that are entirely good or bad. And I began to re-evaluate.

2014 also brought some fun times with family and friends, and some very good times:

Uncle Don (mom's brother), Aunt Sharon and Mom on Antelope Island
 Always a great time when John and Sabine visit.
 (The Greek ice dance team 2018?)
Uncle Chris and Niko cooking at the Pan Arcadian fundraiser.
 Celebrating Easter with my Russian "mom" Nina Boguslavskaya.
And my nieces Carli and Ashley.

 Gus in the Greek school program.
Campaigning for our friend Sheriff Jim Winder at the Pride Parade.
 Mom and Dad celebrated 65 years of wedded bliss!
  Gus's Arrow of Light ceremony making him a Boy Scout.
  While Niko won the Pinewood Derby!
 Emceeing my cousin Joanne's Testimonial upon her retirement 
as Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope.
 Cousin Sophia Mannos and I at the event.
Hiking with Kelly.
 Making spaghetti for the Opa Camp kids with my sweet friend Popi.
 The future president of the Pan Arcadian Federation.
Even Kelly gets in the act.
 Great niece, Kaydence and I do a selfie.
 Gus and Jerid hiking.
 Hiking with two of my favorite women, Lyndsey and Sandra.
 Had a bumper crop of giant pumpkins!
Trick or Treat.
Gus serves at the altar.
Niko debuts as an altar boy.
Both boys serving on their pro-yia yia's birthday.
 Man would she be proud!
Sandra and I marching with the Pan Arcadians
 to raise funds to fight breast cancer.
Celebrating Niko name day with Uncle John and Cindy.
 Gus as a wise man in church program (Niko refused).

 Now that I think of it, 2014 was a good year after all.



Monday, December 29, 2014

Baker Man

When I was a kid, my best friend's sister had an Easy Bake Oven.
On special occasions - Christmas, her birthday - she got the mini cake mixes. Russ and I eagerly awaited those baking days.
 But mostly she was allowed to bake sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon.
In those days, the Easy Bake Oven was clearly a girl's toy. Well, a couple of years ago, a 13-year old young woman named McKenna Pope set out to change all that. Her 4-year old little brother, Gavin, was hoping to receive an oven of his own - the only problem was he didn't like the pink and purple models. Nor was he comfortable with the packages featuring happy girls. So McKenna went to and gathered over 40,000 signatures to get Hasbro to join the 21st Century, and start marketing their ovens to both girls and boys. The company listened - and brilliantly invited the Popes to help design the newest ovens, which hit store shelves that Christmas.

Well this Christmas, Niko used the money he received from his Theia Laura (and some he had saved up) and bought himself an Easy Bake Oven.
So far he's whipped us up some pretzels. They were, well, interesting. But I am proud that he is comfortable enough with himself to know that it's OK for a boy to cook!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Devil's Game

I don't know how many millions the Parker Brothers have made off of the game Monopoly, but I'm pretty sure they sold their souls in order to gain that success. Why? Because Monopoly is the devil's game!


1. As a kid, I heard many, many stories of how my dad's numerous victories were the result of cheating. (An accusation he denies.) His actions on the way to victory would cause my aunts to scream in anger, and caused my papou to toss multiple boards into the fire out of pure frustration.

2. Once my big brother, our cousin David, and I were playing Monopoly while watching TV. At one point, David landed on a property owned by John, who was looking at the television, about to roll the dice. So, I called out, "RENT!" David reached across the board and nailed me aside the head.  It was the one and only time my cousin ever struck me.

3. Santa brought the boys Monopoly for Christmas. We played it for the first time the other night. True to his namesake, Gus cheated. Niko reacted with a punch. And I swear I heard a heavily Greek accented voice suggesting, Throw damn thing in fire!

Maybe Santa doesn't bring Monopoly as much as Satan!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

This is still  how I see Christmas. Merry Christmas from me to you and yours!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cookies That are Oraia

At my dad's insistence, my mom is holding her annual crazy Greek Christmas Eve dinner bash. In the 6 years we've been back in Utah, we've seen the attendees fluctuate from just under 30 people to nearly 50.

My dad likes traditional Easter cookies, called koulourakia, any time of the year, and requested they be on the dessert menu. Since I learned to make these at my yia yia's side when I was about Niko's age, I offered to take baking them off of my mom's "to do list."

Dad likes them a certain size - and my mom's earlier batch had been deemed "too big." He planned on supervising my baking.

Mom and I made the dough together, then she stepped aside and let me do my thing. I shaped a half dozen cookies, baked them, let them cool, and presented them for inspection. Dad held a couple up examining them, ate one and when I asked, Einai kala (are they good), he responded, Oraia (beautiful.)
 The finished product.
More important to me than making sure my dad has acceptable cookies, is the need to pass the skill on to the next generation. As I was finishing the last of the dough, Niko arrived to help me.  He has a knack for Greek cooking, and I'm sure one day I'll describe his cookies as oraia.
 Niko braiding
 He insisted on making one a Q, for the queen (Liz II, we're waiting for you...)

For some reason, people keep insisting I'm the only male member of the Daughters of Penelope...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Letter to the Editor

The local chapter of the NAACP is holding its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial luncheon next month. I received an invitation. When I saw whom they were honoring with the MLK Award, I was more than a little surprised. Pastor Hodges has been vocal about his views about LGBT people and they're not very accepting (although in fairness, he did support a proposed anti-discrimination law a few years ago - because churches were exempted, and his freedom to condemn homosexuality from the pulpit would not be infringed.)

In a column he used to pen for The Salt Lake Tribune, he argued his views were not bigoted because they were based on his religious convictions. Personally, I have no stomach for any form of bigotry, but when it is based on "religion" it seems particularly offensive.

I emailed my RSVP as regrets, explaining that the irony of honoring Dr. King's legacy by recognizing someone, who wishes to preach against another group, and hides his bigotry behind "God's words" showed an astonishing lack of understanding about the struggle for equality that Dr. King and others fought.  I also, emailed the local chapter of the NAACP to express my opinion. There has been no response.

So I penned a letter to the editor of the Trib, which ran today. Click here to read it, if you'd like.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Role Reversal

My dad is in the last part of his life. It's hard to write those words, but it's true. He just turned 89 and his health has been a struggle. For a man who has always lived his life with unabashed independence and on his own terms this new reality is incredibly frustrating for him.

To say he's lucky to have my mom is probably the greatest understatement in the history of humankind. She has shown amazing patience and love throughout this whole experience. We joke she's not an angel, but actually Jesus. I am grateful that I can be of some help for her with Dad.

But helping a parent at this level brings with it a strange, unnerving role reversal in which the child often has to act more like the parent than either person is comfortable with. The pain of watching him struggle to do what used to be second nature, married to his angry frustration at how I do it, pushes my patience to its limit and back.  

Every medical decision is now run by me first - even, in my opinion, the most obvious.  Sometimes, the little boy in me - the kid who worshiped his father - wants to scream, "What if I'm wrong? What makes you think I know what the hell I'm doing?" And then at other times, the almost 50-year old man with kids of his own comes through with a clear, "You two were always tight. He trusts you like no one else."

The other day, I was speaking with his palliative care nurse about how frustrating this whole situation is for everyone involved, how he can't quite let go the control that would make life for everyone else so much easier. Without hesitating, she asked me if I can imagine how frustrating it will be for my boys, should I find myself in a similar situation as my dad's.  

I told her I'm going to be completely cooperative and do whatever they say without question. She burst out laughing and told me, "You and your dad are exactly alike. That's why it's so frustrating. But also why it works."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mimi's Along for the Ride

Tuesday would have been my sweet Theia Mary's 90th birthday.  "Mimi," as we all called her, was honestly one of the best friends I had growing up.

Nothing beat spending Friday nights at her house. She'd pop a big bowl of corn in her first-of-its kind electric popper, which looked more like a coffee percolater, and we'd kick back and watch Sanford and Son howling with laughter.

In the spring we'd walk to Big V and buy dollar kites to fly on the sports field at the junior high school across the street from my yia yia's house. Mimi was almost always the only adult flying a kite along with the kids. And she had skills.

Come summer, we'd walk up to Albertsons - a mile and half round trip - to buy individual Creamsicles. She'd just pop open a box, take a couple out, and we'd buy just two - always her treat.

But it was when I got my driver's license that our adventures really began. She'd call up and casually ask me if I'd mind taking her here or there (always offering to pay for gas) and the next thing we knew, we were lost behind vacant warehouses and railroad tracks. She'd always tease it was my fault we got lost, she was just along for the ride.

She didn't care my 1969 Buick Electra was a piece of crap, matched only by my questionable driving skills. My knack for clipping the curbs in parking lots made her squeal "oooh!" and sent her into hollers of laughter.

There were many experiences I wouldn't have had if she didn't call and ask, "Would you take me?" Together we saw the man-made canals on the streets of Salt Lake after the Great Salt Lake flooded, and a year later the Olympic torch on its trek to the Los Angeles Games. Both of those outings were her idea.

The boys don't really remember Mimi. Gus was barely six, and Niko wasn't even 3 when she passed.  I wish they had, they would've liked her. But every time I clip a parking lot curb, I squeal a little, "oooh!" and tell them Mimi must be along for the ride.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Celebrating Saint Nicholas

Saturday, we held a get together for Niko's name day. A name day is the feast day of the saint for whom a person is named. December 6th is Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker's (in some countries, this is the day on which presents are exchanged.)

As you all saw in the last posting, Christmas was on the brink of exploding in our house. That explosion was complete just in time for our celebration of St. Nick!
The living room is a mini Festival of Trees
 A "few" nutcrackers guard over us.
And it spreads into the kitchen / dining room.

But what made the celebration bright wasn't the lights, the baubles, or Kelly's craziness. What made Niko's name day an amazing night were the family and friends that came to help him celebrate.
Aunt, Uncle, Aunt, Uncle (Cousin)
Karen Anastasopoulos, Chris Katis, Cindy Buckles, Drew Pauls (TJ Mansfield)
His adored Theia Yvonne checks out the goodie table.
 Aunt RaeEllen and Uncle David represent the Huntington side.
Uncle John and Cindy with the Name Day Boy
After a wonderful Saint Nicholas celebration, we can hardly wait to celebrate Saints Konstantine and Helen's day on May 21st for Gus's name day. Kelly should have all the decorations put away by then.