Go Bears!!

Golden Bear

CAL. The University of California, Berkeley. The crown jewel of the UC system. My alma mater.

When I was little, we would take the train to Southern California. In those days, Southern Pacific still ran a passenger train from Oakland. We would stop at the Berkeley station, and my mom would take me by the hand to a window on the train that faced the Berkeley hills. She would point at The Campanile (Sather Tower) in the distance standing watch over the Berkeley campus and say, “that’s a good college. You should go there.” Greeks value education above all else. My mom emphasized that a college degree was something that you have forever.

The Campanile

Neither my mother or I knew that Berkeley was a top-ten university, that it was a crowning achievement to be granted admission to such a prestigious university. She just thought it was a good college and I thought okay mom, whatever you say.

The Campanile

The Campanile stands 307 feet (93.6 m) tall, making it the third tallest bell and clock-tower in the world. It was designed by John Galen Howard, founder of the College of Environmental Design. It can be seen against the backdrop of the Berkeley hills from around the Bay Area.

John Galen Howard

I did get in. I did get a great education. Many days I sat looking up at The Campanile knowing that it was my homing beacon. I’ve been to the top, taken my mom up too. I remember hearing the notes of carillon across the campus. Sather Tower houses a full concert carillon, enlarged from the original 12-bell chime installed in October 1917 to 48 bells in 1979 and the current 61 bells in 1983.


The largest bell is the 10,500 pound “Great Bear Bell,” which tolls on the hour and features bas-relief carvings of bears as well as the constellation Ursa Major.


The Bells

I’ve been on the interior floors housing the Department of Integrative Biology’s fossils. I was told the cool, dry interior is suited for their preservation.

View to the Bay

On graduation at the Greek Theatre (The William Randolph Hearts Greek Theatre), my mom heard my name being called out. While the Greek is an 8-500 seat amphitheater, I could see my 4’10” mom standing ten feet tall as I walked across the stage to receive my diploma.

CAL Graduate

I tell everyone I got in when monkeys could get admission, not because UC Berkeley isn’t a top-notch school but because, still to this day, I can’t believe that I, a poor kid with undiagnosed dyslexia, born and raised in Oakland, with uneducated immigrant parents, could gain admission to one of the world’s top universities. I still pinch myself.

I bleed Blue and Gold!!

Xronia Polla!! Happy New Year!!

In Greek households, New Year’s Day is Saint Basil’s day and the name day for any one with the name Basil, (Vassilis).  Name days are celebrated in stead of birthdays in Greece. Traditionally, Greeks eat a bread called the Vasilopita on January 1.  Inside the bread, the baker places a coin wrapped in aluminum foil prior to baking.  When the bread is sliced each piece is designated for a family member, whoever finds the coin in their slice is considered to have luck for the new year.

My godmother made the bread when I was growing up.  It was sweet, perfectly round and beautifully decorated.  In her memory, I made the vasilopita on New Year’s Day for my family.


Not as perfect as hers or as pretty, still it reminds me of the happy times I shared with my godmother throughout my childhood.  She was an incredible cook and bon vivant.  And throughout my childhood, I received the coin until I was old enough to be told that my godmother made sure that I received the slice with the coin every year.

Traditions after all are about memories. Old and new, passing the torch from one generation to another.  Each taking the tradition and adding new memories before passing it on to the next generation.  Personally, I believe that the best traditions accompany food — good Greek food — with family and good friends around a table.

Growing up I spent New Year’s Eve at my godmother’s house.  Every one waited until midnight and then a chorus of Xponia Polla (Many Years) rang throughout the house.  The next day we ate together – a meal around two in the afternoon in keeping with Greek ways.   After the end of the meal, we cut the vasilopita.  And I got the coin.

Today my family cut the vasilopita I made.  I can happily report that it tasted as sweet as ever.  I didn’t get the coin, the youngest member of my family did, in keeping with my godmother’s tradition.

Happy New Year!! Xronia Polla!!

Nike Women’s Marathon

“30,000 women and a few good men,” the announcement blared through the dark and foggy morning at Union Square at 6 am in San Francisco bouncing off tall building and hotel facades and echoing through valleys of concrete and steel. The announcer was revving us up for the start of the 10th Nike Women’s Marathon; the largest women’s marathon in the world. This race benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society which funds research into treatment for blood cancers and was created by Nike, Inc.

Nike is the Greek Goddess of Victory. In Greek, Nike (Νίκη) means Victory. She is always depicted with wings. She is the goddess of strength, speed, and victory.

I’m not a runner. I hate waking up early. I especially hate waking up early to run.

My younger son Samuel became ill at nine and half months old in 2004. He was diagnosed with Leukemia. He was stoic throughout his treatment, some of which were very painful, yet he never cried; as long as we were with him he endured everything. Samuel died six weeks after being diagnosed. He never said his first word and never took his first step. Our family will never be whole.

My friend Vivian tried to get me to run the first Nike in 2004 as a way of healing after Samuel’s death. I refused. She tried again in 2005, I refused. In 2006 she showed up early one Saturday morning and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She drove me to the Team-in-Training kick-off and signed me up. I told her I would do it for her, this-one-time-only. She laughed.

I trained grudgingly, hating every minute on the track and on long runs over city streets and trails. I hated it because every time I laced up my shoes, it reminded me that Samuel was dead. Seeing my lack of enthusiasm, my coach even asked me why I was there. Vivian, I thought but didn’t respond.

A few weeks later, I was asked to speak at an event. I told Samuel’s story. My coach walked up to me with tears streaming down his face and said, “now I understand why you are here.”

On a Sunday morning in October 2006, I stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of participants; some cancer survivors, some like me, mourning lost family members. As I made my way through the streets of San Francisco,  I knew that Samuel was at my side.

At Crissy Field, Vivian was waiting. She walked with me for a while and cheered me on when she let me continue. From the flat ground of Crissy Field the course begins climbing upwards through the hills of San Francisco. Vivian’s cheerful encouragement boosted me over the next steep hills. I made it to the end. My obligation done to Vivian, my honouring Samuel’s memory accomplished.

A few years later, Vivian was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through similar treatments as Samuel but she survived. She died a few years later.

But Vivian was right to laugh that first day when I said only this once. She knew. She knew how important it was to keep Samuel’s memory alive. How important the work that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society does. Much of the research funded for blood cancers has produced treatments used for other cancers as well, like breast cancer.

Every year since 2006, I wake up at four in the morning to lace up running shoes and head out into a cold dark morning to run from Union Square out to Ocean Beach. Every year, I pass a section in Crissy Field where on my first run Vivian met me to cheer me on and I know that each year since her death that she’s there with me.

Just yesterday, 20 October 2013, I ran Nike. At Crissy Field, I remember Vivian’s bright and cheerful face. I run with Samuel at my side.

I fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and run Nike every year since 2006. I represent Samuel and talk about him to other Team-in-Training participants. Thanks to Vivian, his memory lives.

Nike 20 October 2013

Nike 20 October 2013

Nike Sign - 20 October 2013

Nike Sign – 20 October 2013

Nike Start Line - 20 October 2013

Nike Start Line – 20 October 2013

Nike Finish Line - 20 October 2013

Nike Finish Line – 20 October 2013












Tykhê – The Greek Goddess of Fortune and Chance

Tykhê – (tee-hee), is the Greek goddess of fortune and chance.  To the ancient Greeks, she explained the unpredictability of life. Whenever there was disaster, it was Tykhe.  She was considered fickle, bestowing on one, great riches while for another, taking every thing. In Greek, the word, tykhe, means luck. It is said that the inventor, Palamedes dedicated the first set of dice to the goddess Tykhe at her temple in Argos, Greece.  Interestingly, she rolled snake eyes for him; he was wrongly accused of being a traitor during the Trojan war and killed.

Recently, I read that Americans just can’t get that bad things happen to good people.  The Greeks understood that it not only could, but that it did.

It’s actually a very liberating idea.

As the character of Marcus Cole said in the television series Babylon Five,

 “I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

 It’s Greek to me. It’s just tykhe. I can live with that.

As first posted in…

The Oakland Greek Festival.

I remember the Oakland Greek Festival when I was a teenager. In the early years, the festival was held at the Oakland Auditorium. A beaux-arts building built in 1914 which consists of a 5,492-seat arena, a theatre and a ballroom. The auditorium was renamed the Kaiser Convention Center in 1984 after Henry J. Kaiser.

But back in my day, it was just the Oakland Auditorium and while the adults worked the festival, we kids were rulers of the arena. We arrived before opening helping our parents setup and then with their volunteer activity or as volunteers if we were old enough. We would leave after midnight on Friday and Saturday exhausted both thrilled by the fun we’d had, ready to return the next morning.

I remember viewing the oval cavernous space of the auditorium from the seats above and thinking it would be impossible to fill. The slightest sound carried in the empty arena. In those morning hours I could have driven a car on the floor amongst the booths, exhibits and around the central stage. Then slowly with each hour after opening, the festival would attract visitors until in the evening hours there was no elbow room left and a cacophony of voices, music and dancing filled the arena.

Some of us kids performed on the stage as dancers in Greek customs from the regions of our parents or grandparents. Others assisted in one of the booths or clearing tables in the restaurant and kafenio sections or serving food. But once finished with our shifts, we roamed the auditorium; walking the length of the arena a thousand times or climbing up into the seats above. We ate Greek food like souvlaki and roasted lamb. Nibbled on desserts, loukoumades or baklava. And we danced!!  In long lines, hands linked and following steps centuries old with embellishments by the leader of the line showing off skill and creativity.  For three days in Oakland everyone was Greek and shouting ‘Opa’.

I love these memories, and you can make your own. The Greek Festival while no longer at the auditorium, still happens every May and this year it is 17 – 19 May 2013, so come and be Greek!!

Click the link for information:

A Child of Two Worlds