Start of another August

Regrets.  Go through life without any regrets.  Pretty good goal, I thought.

So I started to work hard and play hard.  I had a lot of fun.  I was lucky to surround myself with people who subscribed to that same idea, and I was equally lucky to be around those people at work.  Business trips became opportunities to follow a hard day’s work with some quality time letting off steam in a water ski boat in a bayou, or a late afternoon round of golf in the wet, wet, wet Florida heat, or a trip to the white sand beach for some volleyball and other ‘frivolity’.

One of those trips was in July 2003.  After a highly stressful week-long trip that was ultimately unsuccessful, we all headed home.  I always took the first flight out coming home.  That strategy gave me more options for alternate flights should a weather delay throw the proverbial wrench in the best laid plans.

So there I was, at about 11 am, having just arrived at Los Angeles International, and looking forward to a quiet weekend at home.  I turned by cell phone on, and I immediately knew something was wrong.  A dozen ‘missed calls’ and about the same number of voicemails…Damn, I thought, people already heard about our inability to achieve our objectives for the trip.  Here we go, again:  trying to explain the what, where, why, and how questions that usually happen in those occasions.

It turned out to be worse than that:  there were messages from Patty to ‘call home right away’, messages from my brother to ‘call home right away’, and so on.  It turns out that my parents were in an auto accident, in Greece…they were in the hospital, and mom was doing better than dad.  A couple more phone calls on the way home from the airport, a few more news along the same lines.  Finally, another call from my brother came in as I was about half way up Kanan-Dune road from the Pacific Coast Highway heading inland.

“Are you home yet, or are you still driving?”, he asked.

“I’m still driving”

“Can you pull over?” he asked again, his voice sinking a little.

“Is he dead?” I asked…to which he replied “We lost him.  He is gone”

My brother could not exactly finish the last sentence.

Damn, I thought.  He’ll never see us all again, and we will never see him.  Despite the extensive mental preparation for this eventuality, the reality of being so far away to do anything hit hard.

My brother and I traveled to Greece shortly thereafter.  We arrived at midnight, drove to the hospital to see my mom, and in the next morning a hospital psychologist stopped by to break the news to her that her husband “had finished”.  That was arguably the hardest thing I had experienced until then, only to be supplanted by the sadness of delivering a eulogy and burying my dad a couple of days later.

They say that time heals.  That is partly true.  I still get sad when I think that my dad did not have the chance to see his grand kids enjoy their visit to Greece in 2004 for the Summer Olympics, and he did not see any of their college graduations.  He will also never see his grand daughters on their wedding day.  He was so looking forward to all those milestones.  He was so happy to see them every time he had a chance to either come over or have them visit.

And I still have regrets.  I regret not visiting him and mom more.  I regret not having talked to him more often.  I regret not having him go to the golf course with me (even though he did not play) and talk about ‘stuff’ in general.  I regret not telling him at least one more time that I appreciated all the things he did for me and my brother:  picked me up and put me back on my bike after a fall; put his wants and desires aside to put me through college;  taught me how to swim; and lastly, but most importantly, taught me how to be honest, work hard, and take care of the important things in life, like my family.

I look back and remember exactly how much fun I had with him.  Going to the stadium to see his beloved Panathinaikos Greens, the Athens soccer team he followed with religion-like passion.  Giddy when they won, in ‘mourning’ when they lost.  I remember him purposely mispronouncing the very few English words he knew, only to be sternly corrected by mom; that always made him laugh.  The deep, genuine laugh.  I remember him taking us all to Athens on shopping trips, only to have us struggle to keep up with him as he walked and jumped and skipped through the traffic in the center of town.  I remember complete strangers (to me) calling him by name, greeting him, and thanking him for busting them a long time ago and guiding them on the straight and narrow and productive path of life.  I remember him driving my car on the Pacific Coast Highway and being awed by the beauty of the drive.  And I remember him tearing up as he and my mom would say goodbye and head home after visiting us.  Those visits, it turns out, were some of the happiest times ever.

I still cannot believe he is gone, and that it’s been ten years since the day he passed.  I still miss him greatly, and wish he was still here, with us.  So that I could hug him one more time and tell him that I love him.

Getting old

I recently had a milestone birthday.  There is the ‘wow! you can have solid food’ (no, I don’t remember that one, but I’m sure I enjoyed it because I haven’t stopped enjoying solid food); the ‘now you are an adult’, the ‘now you can legally drink’ , and then the ones that start the decades.

This last birthday was the big five-o.  Wow!  where did all the years go?  Before anyone starts reading more into this than there is, I am not sulking.  It’s just a very small-scale ‘shock’ of sorts.  I am now 50.  I HAVE to act like an adult; even when I really do not want to.

During each of my birthdays I take an introspective look back at what I have achieved and learned so far, what lies ahead, and what I can possibly do to make the next day, week, month, year, or decade so much better and more memorable than the last one.  Soon after my milestone birthday, I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary.  And, shortly thereafter, the birthday of my first daughter, Katerina.

Our wedding was on the 28th of May in 1988.  Katerina was due to be born almost exactly one year later, on the 29th of May.  She decided to wait a couple more days, and didn’t join our party until the 31st.

So now that I’m 50, I’ve been married for 25 years, and have a 24-year-old daughter (who is about to graduate college – yea!), and a 20-year-old daughter.  I consider myself lucky.  I also cannot help but remember my mom and my dad, who kept reminding me that I would understand them and ‘wear their shoes’ when I had children of my own.  And I do.  Age and experience bring along knowledge and wisdom.  They also bring along aches and pains from body parts that I didn’t know existed, worse vision (I may have to accept that I’ll have to wear progressives – gasp!), a (not-so) little spare tire around the mid-section, and yet more worries and gray hair.

In honor and celebration of my baby Katerina’s 24th birthday (yes, Katerina, you will always be considered a ‘baby’), I wish her the absolute best she could ever want.  Good health, happiness, and ever-lasting joy.

Keep lighting every room you enter with your beautiful smile, and continue to smell the flowers.  I love you!

Kat_MothersDay_2013_b+w

It’s Tax day…and I don’t like it…

“Προσεξε τα κοριτσια, και πες τους οτι τις αγαπω πολυ…φιλακια!”
(Take care of the girls, and tell them I love them very much…kisses!)

Those turned out to be the last words my mother spoke to me over the phone a little over a year ago.  Soon afterwards, I booked a ticket and flew to Greece to see her one more time.  It was Friday, 13 April 2012, Good Friday for the Greek Orthodox.

She was still alive when I arrived.  She was breathing mechanically, slowly drifting away.  I spoke to her, but there was no response.  Some of her breaths were labored, and some of them seemed like they would be her last.  She lived another whole day.  Holy Saturday is a celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, and is arguably the single most important date on the church calendar.  She always went to the Resurrection service at midnight, and stayed for the entire liturgy, coming home around 2 am.  She would be very happy.  She would have received Holy Communion and she was at peace.  She had not made it to that service for the last few years, and it weighed heavily on her.  I would call her on Easter Sunday and she would complain that she didn’t make it to church again for the Resurrection.

Well, the Resurrection of 2012 came and went.  She was still alive—barely.  She held on for one more time.  With the celebratory ringing of the church bells and all the noise and commotion from the parish churches, she slipped away.  Quietly.  One of those labored breaths was, in fact, her last.  On Greek Easter Sunday, 15 April 2012.

I never liked the 15th of April.  Maybe because it is Tax day and it is a stressful time for everyone.  Well, I now have a much better reason to dislike that date.

My mother was a very remarkable woman.  She grew up in a farming family of seven in the 20s and 30s.  Those were hard times.  In the 40s she saw people starving under the German occupation of Greece, and she saw our hometown burn to the ground by the occupying forces.  She was also physically weak, and was not cut out for the fields.  So my grandpa sent her to the teaching academy, so she could become an Elementary school teacher.  She loved teaching.

Many, many years later, during one of her visits to the States, she spoke of how satisfying her life was.  Many of her students did very well.  “Good kids” she would say.  “They just needed a little direction, and that’s what I was for”.  One of them was the priest that conducted her burial service.  He thanked her for being his best teacher.  She simply loved children.  She would be so amazed at how wide open their eyes were during the first day of school, how they were like sponges absorbing everything.

Those early days were not easy for a young female schoolteacher.  She traveled to villages ‘far away’, crossing waterways swelled by rain water in the winter time to go to her posts.  She was the teacher in single classroom schools, and she held her own.  Fiercely independent and proud, she carried on.  Later on, she met and married a man from one of those villages.  They worked hard, living apart for the first few years in order to make ends meet, and started a family of their own.  My mother continued teaching at those ‘far away villages’ and took my brother along.  After I came along, we settled in my mom’s hometown where we built our own house, and where my parents continued to live after they became ‘empty nesters’ and took care of each other.

My brother and I were very lucky.  My parents’ love was truly endless.  They both sacrificed so much to help and support us.  Now that I have two children of my own, I cannot fathom being brave enough to make some of the decisions my mother and father made for me, for us.  My mother’s eyes lit up every time she would see her grandchildren.  She was blessed with five of them.  She loved all of them so very much.  She was so proud of all five of them.  But because ‘life happens’, she could not be close to them.  So she did what she did for the 35 years she taught elementary school:  she looked at other children and treated them like her own children and grandchildren.  She truly loved them.  She would stand by the front door of our house to see them going to school in the morning.  She continued to marvel at how pure they all were.

She missed my brother and me.  She missed our wives.  She missed hugging her grandchildren.  She missed being around them during Christmas or Easter.  She was happiest when she had a house full of grandchildren during the summer.  She was ecstatic after every long airplane trip to the States because she spent time with ‘the girls’ again.  Saying good bye was never easy.  “A piece of my heart leaves me when I see you all leave”, she would say.  I now know what she meant.  My daughters are out of the house.  One is less than an hour’s drive away.  The other is a little further.  No matter, I miss them dearly, and I spend many nights worrying about them.

“When you grow up and have children of your own, you’ll understand”.  I heard that a lot.  I wish she was still around.  I wish I could hug her one more time, look at her straight in the eye, and tell her “I understand, mom”.

It’s been an entire year since she’s gone.  I still miss her terribly.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.  She may be gone, but none of us that knew her will ever forget her.

Therapy and “Me” time

Psychotherapy and self-help are getting a bad rap.  I believe that they are necessary in order to find what makes you happy, so you can pursue the ultimate ‘nirvana’ state of mind.  The trouble is one must find a good therapist first, and it can be costly, especially if the therapy sessions go on for a while.

So about three years ago I did some research on the Internet (thank you, Al Gore, for inventing it) and I found a guy.  My self help plan required a substantial monetary investment to acquire a ‘tool’ that I could use for ever, with very little recurring costs (maintenance, mostly).  This ‘therapist’ was named Jim Kish (http://www.kishbike.com), and he was at San Luis Obispo, fairly close to my home.  He agreed to build me this magical tool, and delivered it, as promised, eight weeks after I gave him the go-ahead.

This is what he built for me:

Fast-forward to today.  Nearing the end of October, and the weather forecast called for rain.  Well, technically it was supposed to drizzle, but in Southern California this sort of weather phenomenon sends the locals into a frenzied ‘Storm Watch’.  I awoke early and looked outside.  Hmmm.  It sure didn’t look like rain.  So I summoned all my inner strength, had my two double cappucinos, put on my cycling gear, climbed on my custom-made-for-me psychotherapy ‘tool’ and off I went.  I could also hear Olive crying. Olive is our problem child (OK, technically, she is a dog) who woke up with me and simply could not believe I was not taking her for a walk.

The weather was cool and crisp.  There was mist in the air in the form of a marine layer/fog cover.  The streets were almost totally devoid of traffic.  All I could hear were the sounds of squirrels, birds, ducks, and the seductive whrrrrr of a clean road bike drivetrain (yes, I am a bike geek).  But I digress…

After the obligatory loop around our man-made local lake, I headed to Hidden Valley.  This is where people go to learn how to ride horses, in huge, immaculately manicured stables, next to the really posh Sherwood Country Club.  I traversed the valley, with only my thoughts in my head, the occasional car (they were all very courteous today!), the horses, and the mist…

After a quick downhill into Newbury Park, I headed toward home.  I made it back in time for a quick shower, and hit the road to Los Angeles, where my wife and I met my nephew and my daughter for lunch.  A truly magnificent end to a wonderful weekend.  With some “Me” time in it, and a lot of two-wheeled therapy.

And it did not rain.  But we’re still on Storm Watch.  It’s coming on Tuesday.  For real this time…

My video from today’s ride:  https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=4670072510860&saved

Thoughts on latest cycling-related news

Holding sports figures in high esteem (or hero status) is a dangerous and mis-guided trait in our society.  [I can’t believe I’m saying this, but] Charles Barkley was right:  sports figures play sports.  They are NOT, nor should they be, role models, or heroes.

Lance survived cancer.  That is a remarkable achievement.  Based on the initial documented diagnosis, his survival was nothing short of a miracle.  Lance used his fame and notoriety to raise awareness and a huge amount of money to battle the dreaded disease.  For that, he deserves a lot of praise and credit.
Lance also won seven TdFs in a row.  That is also remarkable.  It appears now that he won by racing dirty.  He juiced, he cheated, he deceived; call it whatever you want, he did not win ‘fair and square’-allegedly.  So what does this all mean?  Well, it depends on which side of the fence someone is on.

People that will forever link Lance to cycling AND cancer, will never say anything bad about him.  They will not ‘abandon’ him.

People that for years maintained he was dirty will rejoice (and have been), and will be ecstatic that he was finally brought down.  Which is what our society tends to do on a regular basis:  we build up these HUGE hero figures only to tear them down.

My thoughts and feelings about all this are mixed.  I am saddened that once again, the sport that I love is in the news for all the wrong reasons.  I am saddened that the Olympic ideal of fair play seems to be disappearing in favor of the big money, endorsements, and commercial success.  It also saddens me to think that all of the cancer survivors that believed in Lance’s successes may feel cheated, or somehow diminish their own survival and beating of cancer.

The bottom line is this:  Sports ‘heroes’ are not ‘real’.  Look at the ‘heroes’ in baseball, football, and cycling:  magicians during competition, ‘losers’ in real life.  There are other, true heroes in the world, who should get the attention they deserve:  police officers that truly protect and serve; fire-fighters that rush in burning buildings (or World Trade Center towers about to collapse); single parents that juggle real life problems such as bills, school, etc.

By the way, I will still ride my bikes, and will still watch the Tour de France.  As a matter of fact, I think I’ll go for a ride now…

Back to basics

The scale has not been a friend the last few years.  It keeps going up, up, up.  Yes, I like to eat.  Well, that’s not true.  I LOVE to eat.  I eat healthy.  Just a little too much.  Working long hours has not helped.  I used to be at the gym every day at 5 am for an hour to an hour-and-a-half.  EVERY DAY.  But for the last 2-1/2 years I get to the office between 6:30 and 7 am, and don’t get home until 7 pm.  Long days, with no motivation left over to work out, except for the occasional dog walk to ‘clear the head’.  I also manage to ride my road bike during most weekends, and the mountain bike on Wednesdays after work (although that is definitely not a regular thing).  I also play a little golf (yes, I walk).

No, I’m not complaining.  There are a lot of people who don’t work (through no fault of their own), so I am grateful for what I have.  I do miss the work-outs though.  And the skinnier clothes that I used to fit in.

Lately I’ve been thinking about ‘going back to basics’ and acting like a young-un again.  I went to the store and bought a basketball.  It reminded me of my high school and college days, when I would play with my friends until dark.  And I would sweat.  And I would feel exhausted.  I remember I used to sleep better.  Sure, I had other pressures, but I was fitter than I am now.  So I took my brand new basketball to the neighborhood park this morning, and shot around for a little over 30 minutes.  The last time I did that was before my younger daughter was born.  Almost 20 years ago.

No, I didn’t make many.  The few pure ones, though, felt good.  No, they felt awesome!  And I was drenched!  Sure, I’m a little sore (knees, back, arms), but I was in ecstasy!  I can’t wait to do it again with the ‘kids’ at work.  I know I need to take it nice and slow, and I will.  But ‘playing’ is so much more fun than ‘working out’ or ‘training’.  Playing seems like, well, playing…like what kids [ought to] do!

Once in a blue moon…and doggy bath time

In the middle of this long Labor Day weekend, I struggled to decide what I would do first.  My ‘To Do’ list at home is long and it’s only getting longer, but I am really, really possessive of my free, away-from-the-office time.  We have all been working long, hard hours lately, especially since we are nearing the end of the fiscal year.  Which means EVERYTHING that was supposed to be done by 30 September, HAS to be done by 30 September.

But I digress….

Woke up early enough to watch the Formula 1 Race from Spa in Belgium.  Almost made it to the first turn of a 44-lap race before the lead driver of my favorite team (think Red and Italian) was taken out.  Well, so much for that…I ended up checking into Facebook and surfing for  a while.

I then switched to Fox Soccer Channel.  My favorite team at the Barclays Premier League (Liverpool FC) was on.  They were at home hosting Arsenal.  This is definitely a ‘transition’ or ‘rebuilding’ year for the reds, but they always come up big for the big games.  Well, not today.  They ended up losing at home 0-2… :-( [in case you’re counting, that is STRIKE TWO for me].

So a bike ride it is!  Local road ride, staying on the flats, working on speed and form.  25 miles later (and at approximately 10:30-ish to 11:00 in the morning) the heat was almost unbearable.  Too hot to continue, but I am definitely not complaining.  I love the summer.  It reminds me of the hot, lazy days in Greece, when the plans for the day were simple:  sleep in, have a nice breakfast (ok, a cup of greek coffee), and go to the beach for the day…

Well, the next thing on the agenda was the grocery shopping trip.  I had quite a bit of time until we left, so I gave the two dogs a bath.  Let me remind you, these are NOT our dogs.  They belong to Kat, our older daughter.  Right.  Olive was first.  She is funny.  She was so pre-occupied with the fact that the choker chain and the lead were around her neck to notice the hose, the running water, and the shampoo.  15 – 20 minutes later, she was towel dried, walked in the sun, shook almost all the water off her back, and looking quite like the diva she is…

Then it was Lucy’s turn for a bath.  Lucy is smart.  She is not fooled easily.  That chain and lead, though, could only mean a walk, right?  Well, no.  Lucy’s bath took a little longer.  It is really exciting, though, because after she is towel dried, Lucy turns into her alter ego, “Fluffball”.  Funniest thing EVER!!!  It’s best seen in the last picture, inside the house.

After a trip to the grocery store (we love Fresh & Easy Markets) and the obligatory trip to fight the seriously combative and rude crowd at Costco, we were back and ready for dinner.  Which reminded me that I had yet to get a good picture of the ‘Blue Moon’, the second full moon of the month.  So I grabbed the camera and parked at one of the ‘observation’ points/decks on the property, and waited for the moon to rise (I’m sure my neighbors thought I was weird, but that’s nothing new, and probably a topic of another post).  After a short wait, this is what I ended up with:

Gorgeous, majestic, cool, awesome, whatever word I choose, it simply cannot describe the sight.  Well, a successful day overall, and another day off tomorrow.

Talk to you all soon!