Saturday, March 17, 2018


It was almost two years ago that I met Anastasia for the first time. I knew nothing about her except that she had recently moved into the Westwood 2nd ward, was a mature sister with no immediate family and had a sick cat that needed to be taken to the vet. I found a babysitter for my children and picked her up wearing my new cat shoes that I thought would brighten her evening. I was so naïve.

What I found on Livonia Ave. was an 89-year-old woman who struggled to make it down the stairs from her apartment, who had a room that wreaked of urine from her sick and traumatized cats, who paid the astronomical vet fees fully knowing it would mean she couldn’t feed herself for the month and who explained to me all the way home how she had been righteous all of her life and somehow God had forgotten her. A few hours after optimistic Heather left the house I got home and sobbed myself to sleep; how silly of me to think that a pair of cat shoes could lighten the load from such old and weary shoulders. I realized that I still had a lot to learn, and promised Heavenly Father, and later Anastasia, that I would not make her go through the end of her life and remainder of her trials alone. Two years later I feel so much comfort in knowing that I fulfilled my promise to both of them, and I hope they’re both pleased with my efforts.

The last thing to do in order to close this chapter of my life and hers was to deliver the life sketch/eulogy at her memorial service this afternoon. Since her next of kin is a niece in South Africa with whom she hasn't had a lot of contact, I was left with her own records, her friend's memories and the information she shared with me to write 90 years worth of material on the full life I was sure she led. It was grand indeed and I'm so grateful for this new understanding of the many lifetimes Anastasia lived in just her single life. As the years go by I'm more and more confident that we don't ever really know someone completely, even when we're with them on the daily.

Below I have included a few of my favorite pictures of her and the comments I gave. Farewell Anastasia, until we meet again. 

Nearly 20 years ago my great grandmother, Nana, passed away when she was just 73 years old. Although she was still so young, she was the last surviving member of her immediate family and missed them so much after they left. I found this poem in her belongings, and even as a little girl the words touched me so much that I memorized them. 

Who shall I ask? There is no one to answer.
Who shall I ask? For they are all gone.
I need to know so many answers,
The last of my family I have lived on.

Why didn’t I ask one of my brothers,
The questions I wanted the answers to know?
They are all gone, unasked and unanswered
The memories of childhood still linger on

Where’s the log cabin with trees all around it?
Standing alone at the top of a hill.
Is it only in memory I see it, or is it standing there still?

So children remember as you’re growing older
Ask of your loved ones what you want to know.
Don’t wait to question, but share all the memories
Enjoying each other before they all go.

As I was trying to prepare a life sketch for Anastasia this poem kept coming to my mind, probably because I so wish that on one of our daily phone calls or visits over the last couple years I would have intentionally shifted the conversation from Anastasia’s current trials and uncertain future, to stories about the long and exciting life that I’m sure she led in the past.  Memories of travels, important people, and life events were peppered into our conversations, but now that she’s gone I wish I knew more details about what made the woman that we all knew.

I know I can’t do her life justice with my meager words today, but I’d like to paint a small picture of the life Anastasia lived from her detailed records, from her friend’s stories and from the memories she shared with me.

Anastasia Vandoros, named after her paternal grandmother, was born on June 30th, 1927 in what was then known as Elizabethville, Belgian Congo in Africa.  She had an older sister named Elpiniki, Niki for short, who adored her throughout her life. Her parents, Joachim and Anna, were both Greek nationals and although Anastasia grew up in Cape Town, South Africa she carried a Greek passport until she became a naturalized American citizen.

Anastasia, or Ta-see-a as her closest family members called her, was very athletic in her youth. She was the captain of her baseball team and the picture is straight from “A League of their Own.” She also had a thing for the arts; she acted in the drama club and was a very talented painter. A grade school report said, “Tasia is a good little worker but is far too talkative.” Anyone who shared a phone conversation with her knows that that didn’t change much in her lifetime!  

She had an adventurous spirit from an early age. She was barely in her 20’s when she left home and was very proud of the fact that she travelled the world on her own. She lived in England and travelled all over Europe before first immigrating to Canada and eventually to America in 1960. If you get a chance you must take a look at her passport, it’s incredibly impressive!

Anastasia joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on May 1st, 1954. She was 26 years old and living in England at the time. It was during this period of time that she received the first of what I understand were multiple marriage proposals. Although she never married, it was not because there was a lack of interest from others. Perhaps her most serious offer was from her boyfriend, Noell, but she declined because she felt like God wanted her to move in a different direction. Her closest friends told me that even 60 years later she had some regrets about not pursuing this relationship, but she had faith that God had a special mission for her to conduct on earth and that became the foundation of her life.

And what was that special mission? All of you know the answer to that: the animals.

Anastasia loved animals and they loved her. Her niece, Gillian, says that while most people put human beings first, Tasia saw animals as equal expressions of the Divine.  In The Hollywood Citizen Newspaper in 1970 they spotlighted the work that she was doing with the company she founded, Animals Unlimited, and they called her the Florence Nightingale of the pound, a title I’m sure she adored. She always had a houseful of cats and dogs, but there was a time in Woodland Hills where she also had ducks and chickens and horses and goats. She owned a thrift store, worked as a legal assistant, did some sort of accounting work in her youth and held many other jobs, but all of that money went to fund her passion project—keeping animals safe. She drove a 15-passenger van and rescued animals from shelters, homes and off the streets of Los Angeles. She also loved educating people about what to do with animals in case of emergency.  

Anastasia held many callings during her membership in the church. She wrote a touching poem called “This is the greatest” that highlights some of them. It reads:

Very new in this country it was asked of me,
That I ward drama director would be,
We learned together, the actors and I,
Ambitious? Why we would reach for the sky!
This is the greatest, said I.

At various times later, a teacher I became,
Whatever the age-group, the joy was the same,
As a teacher I found I learned more than they,
My love for each one of them grew day by day,
Surely this is the greatest, said I?

As coordinator in Junior Sunday school I’d see,
Faith and trust in those young eyes looking up at me.
We talked together of the Father and the Son,
Such faith and humility is found in the young.
Oh…..this is the greatest, said I.

Stake drama director? This I dearly loved,
As I taught and guided and sometimes gently shoved,
More fully I learned that the uplift of man,
Is a noble part of the gospel plan
Oh yes, this is the greatest, said I.

And then as missionary my heart was filled with joy,
As I watched the faith of a certain young boy,
Then came the day he received that great gift from above,
He, who would guide, thru light, with love.
Surely, this it the greatest said I?

Yes all are the greatest for it’s the purpose that’s clear,
To bring to our Father His children so dear,
Dear Lord, as I through my life span to go,
May I ever my love and devotion to Thee show,
For to know and be known of the Father on High,
This is the greatest, say I.

She also found a lot of satisfaction in her callings in the scouts program, as well as emergency preparedness, especially with the animals. One of her dear friends Ceil told me “once she joined the church she never looked back. She had a close relationship with the Lord and received answers and directions, which she followed, and in many cases doors were opened for her. She was strong, a fighter, a doer.”

One thing is perfectly clear when taking a look at Anastasia’s life and that is that she was surrounded by some of the best people this earth had to offer.  She was very fond of Elder Holland and one of his quotes that I found again and again in her sacred files was, “I testify of angels both heavenly and the mortal kind. In doing so I am testifying that God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges we face. In the process of praying for those angels to attend us, may we all try to be a little more angelic ourselves—with a kind word, a strong arm, a declaration of faith…”

As I look around this room I am sure that you are the angels Heavenly Father sent to help her through this mortal journey. You all were in the trenches with Anastasia trying to keep her housed and fed and comfortable and satisfied. Just in case she didn’t say it enough when she was on earth, thank you for being there, for serving her and for being true examples of our Savior Jesus Christ.

She had particular love and respect for her home teacher of thirty years Bob Neill, her close friend and ally Julie Olsen, and some old Woodland Hills friends Ceil and Bishop Brent and his wife Jan. She had tremendous respect for Bishop Green and Bishop Hayes, was lovingly cared for by many caregivers, but Luz you were so good to her at the end and she adored you. Gayla spent endless time and patience with her preparing documents related to her passing and one of the most beautiful moments I ever witnessed was Betty Ann lovingly rubbing and blessing Anastasia’s body when she was so sick and miserable near the end. There are so many other friends here from the Hollywood, Woodland Hills and Westwood 2nd Ward, thank you again for being a part of this team.

Anastasia fought breast cancer almost a decade ago and after having a mastectomy and finishing a rigid treatment plan she was given a clean bill of health.  Almost a year ago, however, the cancer came back and this time she felt wary of the doctor’s advice and refused treatment. She was often uncomfortable, in pain and anxious about her symptoms, especially when the cancer began spreading and affecting other areas of her body, but she continued on with her signature grit and independence.

In January of this year Anastasia was found unresponsive by her caregiver and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She spent the next two months in various hospitals and care facilities with doctors and nurses and friends who were attentive to her medical, physical and spiritual needs. As was the story of her life, she was well cared for at the end.

Anastasia passed away on the evening of February 25, 2018 at the Country Villa Retirement Home. She was 90 years and 8 months old.

The day before she passed I could sense that the end was near. She was on hospice and hadn’t eaten for days. I was rubbing her head and telling her how proud God was of her, how she had done so much good on this earth, and that I loved her. During the weeks before she passed she transformed from a woman who needed my service to a woman who just needed my love, and Heavenly Father gave me that for her in abundance. Although her mouth was dry and she had been in and out of consciousness for days at that point, she gave me a pure and big and beautiful smile and said, “I. Love. You.” That moment was a gift. I know that Anastasia is out of pain, out of turmoil, out of the anxieties that life brought her and is looking down on us now and wanting me to share that same message with each of you. I have a testimony that families are forever and I’m sure the reunion she shared with her parents, sister, and the many animals waiting for her in heaven was joyous.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

T's Nerf War Party

It's basically a sunny paradise 360 days of the year so OF COURSE it decides to rain on Talmage's birthday weekend and foil our nerf war on the ball field. March can be such a fickle month weather-wise, but for some reason the revelation that it was actually, 100%, undeniably going to rain still surprised the heck out of me. Talmage was so afraid that we would have to cancel the party altogether, but do you really think a Wig would ever cancel a party?! Not a chance! Luckily when I had reserved the ball field at the church I also reserved the gymnasium just in case, and the latter definitely saved me. We had an obstacle course, target practice, games and a nerf battle in the gym and I can't imagine it could have been any better out on the field. 

I tried to keep all the details super low key because 1) I knew the kids, mostly 8 and 9-year-old boys, wouldn't care about the froof and 2) if I kept the costs down on the little things I could bump the costs up on things I knew the kids would care about--nerf guns and ammo! We had pizza and gatorade, chips, cuties, carrots and cupcakes, all with themed names and all demolished in a matter of seconds (except for the carrots, haha!) I had grand plans to make a nerf gun cake but T was insistent that he wanted yellow cake with chocolate frosting and since that was about a trillion times easier I ran with it! The main expense of the party was the nerf guns, glasses, and ammo. Toys R Us was having a huge BOGO event a couple of months ago so I bought them out of this specific nerf gun. I was originally going to buy each kid a small one that had three darts, so this was a total steal because it was a way better gun for basically the same price. When guests started arriving I had them write their name on the side of their gun in sharpie and they were THRILLED that they got to keep them. A gun, a pair of glasses and ammo doubled as the equipment for the whole party and their favors. 

The time passed quickly and the kids had a lot of fun running and screaming and shooting and playing. No, it didn't all go perfectly, we ended up stopping the free for all fight early and going back to target practice when a few kids were in tears after receiving painful close range shots (despite the rules and the whistles, eye roll), but as everyone was leaving all I heard were comments about how this was the best birthday party they had ever been to, so #winning!!! If I were to do this again I'd want to remember how much the kids LOVED the target practice; I thought it would be fun but had no idea they'd be fully entertained for hours. 

As for the birthday boy, he was as thankful and gracious and energetic and joyful as ever. On our way home he was just gushing about how perfect his party was and then he said, "Mom, some people might say 'this was my best birthday ever' but they don't really remember all of them so it doesn't really count. But I remember ALL of my birthdays and they were all really, really good Mom...but this one really was THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!" He legitimately says that every single year and every single year I can't help but smile and feel grateful to be raising such a happy, easy, grateful kid. 


I made these targets out of free boxes I got from a local store. A little spray paint, a little duct tape, a few toys already in their rooms and with a little help from my colored printer they became super awesome targets. T got to help me pick a few of his least favorite things for the guests to shoot at and grumpy cat, steak, soccer (he broke his leg last season) and Voldemort made the cut. It took quite a bit of effort but I think it's something he'll keep and use for some time. Even if not though, they loved it enough at the party that it was worth it! 

 The obstacle court consisted of going through two parachute tunnels, then crawling under the stringed up benches, then driving in a little tikes car over to these balloons. They could use their six darts to try and hit five balloons. 

 We had balloons hanging everywhere so that they could shoot at those if the other things were already in use.



My favorite part of the party was when James took off his sweatshirt and revealed the target shirt I had made for him. The kids thought it was the best to chase him around to shoot him and I was crying I was laughing so hard!!! He's such a good sport and I have no doubt that T will always remember this moment.


A balloon accidentally got stuck in the basketball hoop and all of these friends worked together to shoot it out!


Happy Birthday Talmage Scott, we love you and celebrating you was just the best! 
I can't believe you're NINE!!!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Our Coconut

My favorite thing about Coco right now is that when you ask her what her name is, she points to herself and says, "Cowa." Oh man, if you could hear her say it you wouldn't be able to contain the love in your heart. Runner up may be when you ask her how old she is and she holds up one finger and says, "two!" Already such an over achiever, but no baby girl, you gotta stay one for at least a minute longer.

She's talking so much these days that I almost forget she only knew like four words at her 18 month check up. She still grunts and points a whole lot but when I ask her to stop squealing and to use her words she usually can get a few out and tell me what she wants. It's so cute! Today in church she said, "Cowa snack?" so I gave her a little bag of goldfish. She reached in her bag and gave a fishie to Talmage and then one to Everett and when she saw me smiling at her she said, "Cowa nice!" Cowa is nice...when she wants to be! A few minutes later T asked her if he could have another goldfish and she said, "No! Mine! Is Cowa's!" That spicy little pillbox.

She still cheeses for the camera at every opportunity, still loves her bottle something fierce and still wants to be cradled and cuddled and held whenever possible. The binkie game is still going strong but I only let her keep it for a few minutes after nap time, otherwise it stays in the crib. She doesn't like to have a wet or poopy diaper and as soon as she's done her business she'll bring me the diaper and wipes, lay down in front of me and say, "Poopy!" It's hard to believe that by the end of the year she'll be out of diapers and I'll be raising four potty-trained kids! She's getting older and bigger by the second but she's awfully content to be my baby and I'm grateful to keep her that way!

When Quinn was this age I had a two month old Cora already. I CANNOT imagine having another baby right now. No wonder that first year was exhausting, I had two bitty babies.

 A sneaky shot of Coco "singing" the hymns at church today. It sounded a whole lot like screaming, but I didn't want to be rude and tell her so!

Supposedly she's only supposed to drink out of sippies at this age but I don't care and she doesn't either, so bottles up!

She's the best post-nap cuddler and she's got so many bonus mommy's.

Rainy day pick up of the boys. We're such fair weather fans, literally, I only love fair weather.

If she wants to play with Quinn that generally means she needs to be fixing or building or constructing something like Bob the Builder. Lucky for Quinn this little lady is a quick understudy.