family

Machu Picchu!

Internets. It’s been a while. I’ve been, ya know, around.

I finished book 4 and got that up, and then suffered when it turned out due to an update error, the copy I approved wasn’t the correct one [ps, if you got a copy riddled with typos EMAIL me – mgakis@hotmail.com and I’ll send you a clean copy]

Then, I had some real life stuff.

But then, I finally crossed something off my bucket list! MACHU PICCHU!!

I’ve had a dream to go to Peru for a while. I don’t even know when it started, only that it’s been years. I finally made that trip! I was fortunate enough to be able to go with my sisters. We get along well and know what buttons need to be left alone, and which ones can be PUSHED.

I MADE IT TO MACHU PICCHU!!

AND I HIKED UP TO THE SUN GATE. Which, wow! At that altitude [and I’m in okay-ish shape] it was QUITE the hike.

Because of reasons, my sisters and I ended up hiking it alone – we were all there the same day and the same time, but Ann wanted to see how fast she could go, and Jennifer was sight seeing as she went and pausing with another tour-member to take pics, and so we ended up each on our own journey.

As I hiked, I had time to think about the hike. AND THINK ABOUT THE HIKE. AND THINK ABOUT THE HIKE. it’s all uphill, and though it may look like a mild gradient, I’m no athlete. But as I hiked, I started feeling/thinking – wow, this is like a metaphor for life.

You’re on this journey. and when it starts out, you’re like, okay, so this looks fun and cool.

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And you’re having fun

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And then you realize, wait. All I’m seeing is dull grey shit. I have to keep my head down to know where I’m going, but this view kind of sucks.

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So you look up and you realize, I have no idea how far I’ve gone, or how much is left.

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But then! All of a sudden, YOU CAN SEE HOW FAR YOU WENT!! [although you still have no idea how much further it is]

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But it’s FUN AGAIN! and you take some time to appreciate it.   img_6104

But then you turn the corner and you’re tired and this is hard and suddenly up in front of you, you see something and you think ARE YOU FOR SERIOUS?? LIKE…. WHY WOULD YOU PUT THIS HERE. img_6105  But you’ve got no choice so you keep GOING UP. And the view is kind of the same, but also different. img_6101  THEN YOU MAKE IT [and your sister may or may not already be at the top waiting for you and you may or may not just chillax for your other sister – individual results may vary ;)]

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img_6133And in those moments at the top, it doesn’t seem like it was all that hard [BUT IT WAS]. But you did it!

 

 

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Portia – coming to the end?

I adopted Portia from the animal rescue foundation in December of 2003. We’ve been besties since although we’ve had our rough patches. As a rescue, she had health problems and pretty much had potty accidents until she was 6. As you can imagine given her size, this was no small issue. Pun intended. I know more about a host of dog maladies I never thought I would have to know. All to keep this cutie happy and healthy.

She’s a sweetheart. For all she looks fierce, she LOVES people. Way more than I do, that’s for sure.

She seemed under the weather this week so I took her to the vet. She ended up needing to stay two nights and so far, the early diagnosis is age onset liver disease. We’ll know more in two weeks when we go for follow up tests.

Here she is at the vet during one of my visits. You wish you looked this good when you’re in the hospital.


Like I said, she’s a sweetheart and I’m not sure how I’ll handle her going to that big kennel in the sky. Maybe we’re not there yet. But she IS 12, so if it isn’t now, it will be soon.

It may sound cheesy but she’s taught me a lot and I’ve grown as a person having her around! She’s definitely the better ‘person’ in our relationship. She wears her heart on her paw and gets what she wants!


So, I’ll be waiting to hear what her numbers tell the vet in two weeks but I can’t help but feel like all I want to do is stay at home and hang out with her now.

If you invite me somewhere and I say no, I want to hang with Portia, I’m serious. Unless you have somewhere to go that takes 70 lb dogs.

Cake or Death? Being all out of cake

If you’re an Eddie Izzard fan, you know what I mean when I say Cake or Death

WELL, WE’RE ALL OUT OF CAKE.

I’ve got death on the mind lately. Which normally for me usually means something morbid and creepy is churning up in my brain for my fictional writing, but this time, I really just mean death. Like everyday-ironically-a-big-part-of-life death.

Things No One Told Me About Death

1. When you’ve been touched by Death [i.e. when someone close to you dies] other people are uncomfortable around you. I think it’s because they want to say something to make it better and there’s nothing to make it better. But also because it makes them realize Death can touch them too and that’s something we don’t like to think about it. and then you feel weird, because they feel weird. It’s a big cloud of weirdness around you.

2.It’s mostly a tragedy only to you. Most people’s lives go on the next day or the next week or the next month. But you’re kind of stuck dealing with it for a lot longer. You stare at things trying to figure out how it’s all working when you’re not.

3. People still get awkward when you talk about the dead person. In my case, I felt like people were awkward or uncomfortable when I talked about my dad for about a six months after he died. Like, just because he died he didn’t become less a part of my life, you know? But it was like when I would say something like, “Well, my dad used to say…” or “Yeah, my dad owned a restaurant for a lot of years…” or “Dad liked getting lotto tickets and socks for presents….” people would almost pause, like a deer in the headlights. I think it’s because they were having an internal monologue of “OH SHIT, SHE’S TALKING ABOUT HER DEAD DAD. DO I SAY I’M SORRY AGAIN? DO I ASK HER HOW SHE IS? DO I EVEN MENTION THAT I KNOW HE’S DEAD?” – I felt like they really wanted to say something nice or helpful and they just weren’t sure if they should and that made them feel weird.

4. Minutiae is eternal. The phone still rings and the car needs gas and you get a salad dressing stain on your favorite shirt and how can this all be happening when you have experienced this kind of a loss? When Donna’s mum died, I was the awkward one. She was talking to me on the phone and I remember thinking, “How can she just be TALKING to me right after her mum died?” and then 8 months later, my dad died and I told her about that moment and how now, I got it. You just go on and there’s stuff to do. She nodded and said, “Yeah. There is.” But I didn’t get it until that moment.

5. For something you think about a lot, it can still surprise you. Once, about two years after my dad died, I was at the office working. I can’t remember exactly what happened but Chantal and I had just come back from a break or lunch or something and Jessi said, “Oh, you’re dad called for you.” and I was like “Oh really? I wonder what he – what a minute, my dad is dead.” and I realized that Jessi was talking to Chantal. But for that moment, I forgot. I also have seen a man once or twice that looks like my dad and again, for that moment, I’m like “HEY DAD!!!” and then I realize it can’t be him.

6. Okay, I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but my mum and I had “OH SHIT HE WASN’T REALLY DEAD” dreams. Mum would realize in her dream that dad wasn’t really dead and DAMMIT how would she explain that she sold his car? Maybe because of the stuff I read and write, mine were a bit more graphic. I would full on dream we made a mistake and buried him alive and now we had to go dig him up and JESUS how did we FUCK THAT UP SO BADLY. And it would be a dream that I would have several times, with several variations and in the dream, I’d remember the other times it had happened and I’d just feel SICK and wonder how we kept getting this so horrifically wrong.

I’m sure there are other things that I didn’t know about Death. I’m sure I’ll find out more [unfortunately], but those are the things that have been on my mind lately.

It’s that Time of Year Again….

Father’s Day ads popping up all over.

Le Sigh.

I mean, it’s not like I don’t think of Dad at other times of the year – his birthday, Christmas,  or just random times throughout the year [usually right after Jenge has done something very dad-like]. But Father’s day still kind of sticks out. And it’s not like we really celebrated it hugely when he was alive, but after he died, it really became not so much Father’s Day as HEY HERE IS A BIG DAY  DEDICATED TO YOU NOTICING YOUR DAD IS DEAD.

Only they don’t make a card that says that.

I guess I get the most bummed out on how much I feel like he missed. Or rather, how much I’ve missed not having him here. I do believe in an afterlife and I have this notion that he’s kept up with us all, but I feel bummed out and cheated on behalf of ME not getting to have him around.

 

The family that doesn’t really fight together?

My sister and I consider ourselves pretty funny. Okay, we consider ourselves REALLY funny. We sometimes joke that we should have our own reality show – the problem is, it would be 98% complete and utter boredom rounded off with 2% comedic brilliance.

We don’t exactly DO a lot of stuff.

And when those WACKY shenanigans DO happen, we’re sometimes too dry and nonplussed for what would be considered DRAMATIC REALITY TV. We also don’t really fight with each other. Or rather, if we do fight, it’s a cold war – everyone knows there are nukes, but no one is quite willing to be the one to set them off.

But mostly, we just get along. Even when things go pear-shaped

Take for example my burned fingers on Tuesday of last week. I burned them BADLY on the lawnmower. If this was a reality show, there would have been TEARS. AUDIBLE SOBBING. FRANTIC TRIP TO THE ER. TENSE MUSIC. EMOTIONAL UPHEAVAL. WOULD I EVER PLAY THE CELLO AGAIN???? WHAT ABOUT MY WRITING CAREER? WOULD I NEVER BE ABLE TO GET A MEDICAL DEGREE AND JOIN DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS???

What happened instead was, I ran for the cold water, soaked it and then decided this was not helping Jenge mow the lawn, so I held a cold piece of rock-gravel against the burn while we finished mowing the lawn.  Okay Jenge did the mowing. I watched and offered moral support, frantically dashing to get another rock when the one was holding wasn’t cold enough anymore. But I did help empty the bag! with my one good hand! We’d already started the lawn! It needed to be done! The next day was garbage day and I wanted to get that grass in there!.

Then we had a lackluster trip to the Shoppers Drug Mart for First Aid supplies [What about this one? No, I think that’s for sunburns. This one? Well, I think that’s just the no-name brand of this. Should we ask the pharmacist? IDK, that seems like a long line) and only when THAT didn’t to work, did we go to the Urgent Care center. Which is ANYTHING BUT URGENT. It was, like, 3 hrs of my sis and I sitting there on our phones for me to finally get called into the back and then for a nurse to finally say all they were going to do was put polysporin on it and send me home (REALLY WISH THEY’D SAID THAT WHEN I CHECKED IN). And then I STILL didn’t see a doctor! Actually that’s not true. One came in and said, “What have we here?” and I said “Burned fingers” and he said, “Are you Shelly?” and I said “No” and he left and I never saw another doctor again. After 3 hrs and then hearing the nurse say they would just bandage it and put poly on it, I checked myself out and had to sign an AMA [Against Medical Advice] form.

Then we went out to Jenge’s car and CLICK CLICK SPUTTER.

Again, in reality TV land, the car not starting at 10.30 at night after 3 hrs at Urgent care would be met with SHOUTING. CRIES OF OUTRAGE. SHOCKED FACES. WOULD WE NOT MAKE IT TO THE RANSOM DROP IN TIME? WAS SOMETHING RIGGED TO OUR CAR TO EXPLODE?

We turned and looked at each other. I shrugged. Jenge turned the key again and then she shrugged. She pushed the button on her radio. I pushed the button on the radio. She said, “I’ve been good to this car. Dammit. I took it for all it’s service appointments. I JUST GOT THE LETTER TODAY THAT SAID IT WAS PAID OFF.”

Me: Like, today-today?

Jenge: Like at 4pm today. I just opened it and was all happy it was finally paid off. It’s still sitting on the table. Figures. BASTARDS.

Me: That’s shitty. [clutches gauze to my fingertips – they still aren’t bandaged because I was going to do that AT HOME]

Jenge: [presses overhead light that won’t turn off now]: ugh. Do you have AMA?”

ME: [presses same light that jenge just pressed] No but I can sign you up online right now.

Jenge: Yeah.

Me: Well, we’ll call Darren [our bro in law], I guess.

Jenge: [shrugged again]: “Yeah. I guess so.”

So we called him. And he came out. There was no hollering. No shouting. No, “YOU BETTER GET HERE AND HELP US.” No GNASHING OF TEETH. The conversation was sorta like

Me: Um, Darren? You up?

Darren: Yeah, what’s up?

ME: We’re at the urgent care center and Jenge’s car won’t start. Can you come down?

Darren: Yep.

Me: We’re not sure what it is. Maybe we just need a boost. OR should we call AMA?

Darren: I’ll come down and take a look and then we’ll see. Be about ten minutes.

Me: Thanks, man.

Pretty anticlimactic.

So maybe we DON’T deserve our own reality show. At least, not on network TV. PBS? Can you only get a reality show if you fight desperately and meanly with your family?

Letters from the Dogs

So, my sister and I are still very much like children. We sometimes have the combined mental capacity of 10 year olds. We amuse ourselves more than any one else with our antics.

One of the things we like to do when one of us is away, is write each other Letters From the Dogs. We have three dogs and tend to miss the little rats when we’re gone. Since we’re generally not on vacation with each other, one of us is still at home on dog duty while the other is away. Let’s see if you can match the dog to their letters. 😉

 

L. Beans

IMG_0072IMG_1357 from top to bottom: Lola, Rocky, Portia

Letters from when Jennifer was gone about 3 days:

Dearest Mother,
Your absence is like a burr in my fur; Obscured to others eyes, but quite noticeable to myself.
I am eating fine now, I thank you for your concerns.
There has been much riff raff in the neighborhood, but I remain ever diligent in reporting any shenanigans I see.
Fresh poultry was served as a snack yesterday. it was very tasty.
Dinner tonight was quite bountiful as we received two servings. I am sure you had something to do with it.
The manservant, Mark, came today to take the dogs for their sojourn. I do not know why he insists I accompany them, but he is quite adamant that I do.
Warmest Regards,

Mummy Jennifer,
Park is fun. I like to sit in the shade. WE got TWO helpings for dinner tonight, TWO. I didn’t even need to beg pork off G-ma afterward. Just went outside and lay in the shady spot by the lilac bush.  Good times.
We got chicken yesterday. I was just sitting there and it started flying. I ate the skin and the dark meet and other bits mummy margarita didn’t want. then she threw the rest out. Crazy! Who does that?

Mumsies,
We gots TWO DINNERS tonight!
Perhaps you have noticed how shinies my coat is? it’s cuz we gets fish oil in our food now. Makes me silky smooth. I like it.
And we got chicken too.
I’m a little bit sleepies right now, so I better go have my late evening nap.

Letters from when Jennifer was gone for the whole month of August
Dearest Mother
Mother Margarita slept in your room the other night. I don’t know why she thought she had the right, but there you have it. She found the quilt somewhat bothersome and took it off and put it on the dresser. She just made that change like she owned the place. It was most distressing. I have not been spending full nights in our room, but quite often take myself downstairs for a little while, enjoying the silence.
There is much afoot in the neighborhood today. Much. I have been working hard at barking and alerting the women folk. Grandmother shared a piece of chicken with us for dinner. Mother Margarita informs me it is five more sleeps until you come home. I look forward to your return.
Warmest Regards,

Mummy Jennifer
I like flowers. I was sniffing the red lillies outside and now I have orange and red pollen all over my face. It’s pretty funny. I helped out with bbq-ing tonight, staying by the grill and making sure all was good. am sacked out right now by the fireplace on the cool tile. Life is pretty good.

Hello,
My mummsies says I knows you and you used to live here and that you’ll be back real soon. She says we knows each other real good. Maybes you lived in the other bedroom? the one we slept in on friday? that’s where Rocky sleeps. Sometimes I go in that room and I cry a little bit but I don’t know why.

When Jennifer was away in Hawaii
Dear mumsies
It has been very chillies. I hope it is warmer in hawaii this year than it was when I went. It has been a good sissmas bacation. Mumsies has been at home a lot. but when she leaves I miss her extra much and I sometimes go back to the door she came in from to see if she remembered to bring yous homes. we gets lots of treats because rocky is barking outside a lot. Today mumsies friend Auntie Donna came over and I sat her in lap and she petted me lots.  we get up at 6 every morning. It’s great.

Mummy Jennifers
I like the nightlights last night. I didn’t get confused. I like auntie donna. we get lots of treats. today, I wanted to pull the blanket but that little one was sleeping on it so I dragged her across the floor. funny.

Mother dearest
I sleep in our room most of the time but sometimes venture out. There is much trickery afoot in the neighborhood. I hear sounds. I bark. Mother Margarita is extremely unhelpful, coaxing me inside with treats. I refuse to abandon my post without one. I go out regularly however and patrol. I will ferret out the usurpers and bring them to swift justice.
Mother Margarita’s ‘friend’ Donna was by. She is loud. I do not like her. I barked at her. I circled her the whole time so that she knew I was there and was on to her. I barked when she laughed or spoke to loud. Finally, as she left, I barked her out the door. I was tricked into the laundry room by Mother Margarita at the last moment and missed the actual gloriousness of her being herded out the front door, but I imagine it was a wondrous site. She’ll not be coming back soon, I don’t think. I retire to bed around ten so that I may be up at 6 when the women awake and start my rounds early. It’s been long and laborious without you but I sally forth.
I remain your humble guardian.

Trial by Fire Book Party!

 

Pics from my party! We’ve been in a little bit of a pickle here in Calgary with some flooding. Luckily for my friends and family, we are mostly unaffected. SO PARTY IT WAS! There was TONS of yummy food and CAKE with my book cover screened on the to icing. I got a JUMBO SIZED poster of my book cover and signed books for friends and family.

And of course my latest obsession, Apothic Red Wine. YUM.

I’m still eating cake. WHAT?? IT WILL GO TO WASTE IF I DON’T EAT IT. I’M DOING A SERVICE

My sister, Ann, did the theme in colors of fire – Red, Orange and Yellow. there were some GORGEOUS flowers and you’re all getting pic spammed. [IDK what she’ll do for book two, which is tentatively titled ‘Counter Hex’ – what color is a hex?]. She put on QUITE a show and graciously offered up her house. Jennifer, my other sister, assisted with planning food I think. Darren, my bro in law, stepped in to arrange a cake when our original cake place was flooded out due to the flood situation in southern Alberta.

It was a GREAT time! I admit, I get nervous around a lot of people, even when they’re all people I know! I was a little scared and slightly anxious before the party so I made a beeline for the wine as soon as I arrived. Once I got chatting, I relaxed. Signing books was a bit nerve-wracking and I made two or three spelling errors. ONE ON THE WORD ‘AUNTIE’ [for my fam – omg, I’m SUCH A DORK]

I was so touched and honored to have all my friends and family celebrate with me! the only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been the addition of those that have passed on. I know they were there in spirit.

 

Dad – Seven Years later

You're in the army now!

You’re in the army now!

The above pic is of my dad when he was in the Greek Army. I’m not sure of the year. Check out those pants! The beret! The mustache!

He died August 2006. After seven years, I wish I had something profound or helpful to say on the topic of his passing.

Death sucks. No two ways about it.

It’s tough because we all want there to be something profound and helpful to say, don’t we? When someone suffers a loss we’re all just praying we have that one kernel of wisdom that will help them through. The only thing I’ve learned is that sometimes there are easy or better ways for people pass over, but it’s always going to suck. If you had a good relationship, a bad relationship, an impartial one – something will shift in you and won’t ever be the same.

I’m very fortunate – I had a great dad. Seven years after his passing and I’m tearing up just writing this, like it was yesterday. Sometimes it feels like it was. Sometimes it feels like it’s been forever.

After seven years, I wouldn’t say I have wisdom but I do feel like I’ve learned some things.

1. He wasn’t just ‘mine’ to lose – it probably sounds so obvious, but it really through me for a loop seeing my dad’s friends distraught at his passing. His surviving sisters were just gutted – gutted in a way that I could appreciate but felt like couldn’t express myself. They’re Greek, and so expressing emotion is more… allowable (?) for them. Friends of his from when he first came to Canada told us stories about my dad when he first came here and it was so strange realizing that these people, who were kind of like strangers to me, had lost something too. My mother as well lost a husband and a partner.

2. I was so lucky to have my sisters and my mum –  I felt like with all these other people who had lost something, my sisters understood the same loss I had felt.

3. I hate when people won’t or can’t talk about the dead – I hated when, for the first couple of days, months, years I would bring up my dad and people sometimes seemed to ‘freeze’ – like the didn’t know how to respond. I understand it, but I hated it. Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he’s not still a big part of my life. My feelings for my dad and my relationship with him didn’t die the same day he did. To me, not discussing him is a disservice to his memory.

4. It still sucks.

5. It’s not fair. Some people don’t even like their dads or have really shitty dads but they’re still alive. It’s cruel and it’s mean to think it but I do.

6. Father’s day still sticks out. Although I prefer to think of him or remember him on Father’s day or his name day or his birthday rather than his death date. His death date was the ‘least’ part of his life, yanno?

7. Everyone dies. As he used to say, “When St. Peter is calling, there is no ‘take a message’.”

I guess it all sounds pretty maudlin and depressing. I don’t mean it that way. But if anyone stumbles across this post after just losing their dad, all I can say is – It sucks, man. It really does. You learn to live with it and that’s okay. You’ll be okay.

 

Hey, Koukla!

So, what the heck is a Koukla?

Well, I was always told it means ‘doll’ in Greek. My dad was Greek and when we would go visit family or friends, it was how they always referred to us girls [me and my sisters]. But, from traveling around Greece on some vacations with family, I noticed that it’s pretty much used for ALL women. Like when I was on a bus with my [then] 75 year old aunt and three old[er] ladies [also in their 70s] stared dancing up and down the aisle to some Greek songs that everyone knew the words to but me. My aunt cheered, “Bravo, Koulkes, Bravo” [plural of Koukla].

They bowed for us, doing a little curtsey and waving tissues like cloth handkerchiefs.

If I’m in Greece and I hear, “Ella! Koukla!” [Here! Doll!] I’m most likely to turn and look to make sure someone is not calling me. Whereas at home if someone yelled out, “Yo! Dollface!” I would mostly likely turn around to glare at them.

It’s not derogatory like you might think. It’s kind of a term of endearment or a more charming kind of way to call for someone. I certainly NEVER thought of it as sexist or… mean spirited in anyway. On the contrary, it makes me think of family and friends and just a general… camaraderie with the wold in general when I hear it.

So, any woman you know can be a koukla [except for my God-Sister Lynne, who my aunt refers to as The Koukla – you can hear the capitals. I’m not sure how Lynne got this honorific, but I do know that when Thea asks, “Tell me, how is The Koukla?” we all know to whom she is referring].

I find it all very… heart warming! I even have a shirt that says koukla on it and I forget that not everyone knows what it means!

On Grief

It’s surprising to me how grief works. When my dad passed away in 2006, it seemed like every minute of every day was eaten up by thinking about him, about what we’d lost. And then, as I moved through the process, I realized that I wasn’t thinking of him every moment of every day and then slowly, not every day.

Now, sometimes, I have to stop and try to remember what year he passed away. I think ‘Jesus, has it really been almost seven years?’

People say time heals everything but I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe I’ve said this here before, I can’t remember. But it’s not as simple as time heals all wounds. And even if it were, I’m not sure that I would be okay with that wound, the one of my dad passing away, healing.

But time does help you learn to live with it. I’m used to missing my dad. I’m used to not having him around.

but it still really sucks and it’s completely shitty and unfair.