Sunday, September 14, 2014

What I read in August (2014)

So my husband informed me today that he thinks blogging is going out of style. That might be true in general, but it made me reflect on how much I've been neglecting my blog and how bad I feel about that! I must make a renewed effort to post more! It seems like my life has spiraled a bit out of control lately and I don't have as much time to be creative. So here I stand (as Martin Luther would say), stating my desire to recommit myself to blogging!!

Here's what I read in August.

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)
The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith

This is #2 in J.K. Rowling's new adult mystery series. Detective Cormoran Strike is an interesting character--he's a disabled veteran with a prosthesis, born to a famous rock star father but alienated from him, motherless and still deeply ambivalent about breaking up with his psychopath girlfriend. I preferred the first book in the series, The Cuckoo's Calling, but this one still contained vintage J.K. Rowling story telling.

Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo KitchenJapanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen, by Naomi Moriyama with William Doyle

This book is a combination health book and cookbook. Japanese home cooking is so much more than sushi and can find more of it at American Japanese restaurants than when we first returned from Japan. This book made me miss Japan and Japanese food so much! I love the way Moriyama gives tribute to her mom's own Tokyo kitchen...and I definitely want to incorporate more Japanese cooking into our own kitchen. But the truth is that cooking Japanese does take a great deal more time, and we don't all have Japanese housewives in our families!\

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Such a wonderful quiet surprise of a book! Harold Fry, an Englishman in his early 60s, is feeling driftless in his retired years. One day he learns that his old coworker and friend, Queenie Hennessy, is dying of cancer all the way at the farthest north point of England. He's inspired to walk all the way up England--a 600-mile journey--to see her, with the hopes that she will stay alive until he can get to her. He thinks this will save her. I thought this was a sweet, sensitive book, and extremely English. It's also very sad--both about Harold and his wife Maureen's life and own son--and about Queenie herself. But in the end, he finds redemption...always a good ending in my book!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Do you have what it takes to support friends in their difficult times?

Today I was remembering the moment when our friendship with another couple reached a critical turning point. After our oldest son, Chris, was born at just 24 weeks gestation, he lay in his warming isolette for weeks in the hospital. In the first few months, he was connected to a high-frequency ventilator and had all sorts of tubes and wires attached to him. Sometimes they put IVs in his head (when they ran out of other veins). He was heavily bruised, scrawny, fragile, and red. He looked like a tiny baby bird. 

But we thought he was the most beautiful thing we'd ever seen. Months later, my OB told me she was convinced he could not possibly survive...and that he looked like a fetus. (Yes, he did, but did I want to hear this? No.) I remember feeling so grateful for people who told us he looked beautiful and who cheered him on!

My little baby bird
The painful turning point in our friendship with the other couple came on an evening when we took a break from the NICU and visited these friends. After dinner, we showed them some video footage of Chris in the NICU. I will never forget their silence. They did not say a word. I suppose that was better than saying something horrible, but their silence spoke volumes. They did not want to see this video, and they did not know how to provide the support that we needed at the time. Gradually, over the years, we distanced ourselves from them. But we were still friends until many years later, when other events led to a falling out. I view that video as the beginning of my realization about our friendship.

Between my oldest and middle sons, I experienced four miscarriages. In the beginning, friends were supportive, but as the time went on, they became less so. I have many painful memories of friends acting insensitive. In one case, it seemed that one close friend actively avoided me because she was pregnant and didn't want to be around me. On another occasion, when I told my then-women's group that my feelings were hurt because of their insensitivity, they became defensive and did not even apologize.

Facebook Apologizes For Banning 2-Month-Old Heart Patient's 'Gory' PhotoI was reminded of these stories when I read about the parents who posted photos of their sick baby on Facebook. Dad Kevin Bond is trying to raise money for a heart transplant for his son, Hudson Azera Bond. Facebook banned his photos, deeming them too "scary" and "gory" and would not allow him to promote the photos with a $20 ad. Although Facebook eventually reversed its decision and apologized, nothing can reverse the damage that has been done to this family.
 “It hurt our whole family,” Bond, a photographer, told Yahoo Health. “Nobody wants their beautiful son compared to ghosts, zombie ghouls, dismembered bodies, and vampires, and whatever else that rejection letter said.”
I've reported lots of photos and messages on Facebook for hate speech or horrific sexism, and they allow those posts to remain...yet break a family's heart by saying their baby looks gory. 

Insensitive words and actions (or inactions) have such great power and often irreversibly hurt people and destroy relationships. Since those days of the NICU and infertility, our close friendships have evolved and I have incredibly supportive, compassionate, and amazing friends. I can't imagine any of them having these kind of reactions.

This, then, is the true test of friendship for me:
Do your close friends have what it takes to support you when you are facing difficult times? Can they buoy you up, encourage you, be able to see the beauty in your fragile baby bird? Are they able to be in the difficult places with you?
If not, you need new friends. Cultivate them now!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My little miracle turns 18 on Saturday!

I can't believe it's been 18 years since I went into premature labor at just 24 weeks gestation and raced to the hospital. It seems like just yesterday that our lives changed in a day...and I learned all the things about prematurity I wish I never had to learn.

We are so lucky. Chris was an incredible fighter (read his birth story here), we prayed hard for his survival, and he had the best care. But much of his survival came down to pure, blind luck.

Although I would never wish the NICU experience on my worst enemy, I am grateful for the blessings it brought:
  • A greater awareness of the fragility of life
  • Wonderful support from family, friends, and faith community, and learning who could be with us in the hard times
  • Reminder not to take anything for granted
  • Opportunity to develop close friendships with other NICU parents
  • Knowledge that it doesn't matter at what age your child talks, walks, reads, etc.--each of those milestones is a gift
Now Chris is on the verge of becoming an adult. We are so proud of you, Chris!! You are my hero. From the first moments of your life when you clung to survival against all odds, to the accomplishments you've made throughout your life...appearing on stage, speaking on behalf of the hospital and NICU (e.g., the Red Wagon video for Emanuel), becoming an accomplished drummer, receiving an Algebra 2 achievement award after all those years of struggling in math, and most important, becoming a kind, compassionate, funny, and opinionated young man. Your love for music began in the NICU when you heard us sing every day, and grew as a toddler when you were obsessed with CDs. Now you are a walking, talking musical dictionary!

We love you so much and cannot begin to express our gratitude that you survived your birth and have grown up to become a wonderful young man! I made this little video to honor your first 18 years. We sang the first three songs, among others, to you in the NICU. Here's to you, kid!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What will my children remember of their childhood summers?

At the beginning of the summer, I did a writing exercise with a friend. We brainstormed about what we were hoping for the summer. My list included things like valuable time spent with family and friends, but it also included things like organization, getting the house in order, getting my high school senior to become more independent, etc.

So here we are, with only a few weeks of summer remaining. What did I not do this summer, which I intended to do?
  • Paint (the walls)
  • Get the garage door fixed
  • Clean the study
  • Beautify the yard
  • Take out the carpet in our bedroom and refinish the floor
  • Put new flooring in the kitchen and repaint the cabinets
  • Have Chris study for the SATs and learn how to drive
  • Train all my kids to cook!
  • Get back to the gym at least twice a week...and lose weight

And oh my, there's so much I can find to criticize myself for...have I done any of these things? No! We have hired my brother to do some cleanup in the yard, so that's something, but I haven't accomplished half of what I hoped for. C'est la vie!

Nick and our puppy Romie at Multnomah Days
So I can't begin to express how grateful I felt to read Glennon Doyle Melton's article, "Give me Gratitude or Give Me Debt," in which she writes about how we should be grateful for having the things we do, instead of wanting more. We are truly privileged. Reading this blog post could not have come at a better time!

Nick rock climbing
It reminds me of when I was in a women's group in the early '90s. Many of the women in the group had more money than I did, and it seemed that they were OBSESSED with their kitchens. Many women's group meetings seemed to focus on remodeling, and I could not have been more bored. But I sat there and listened, eyes glazed over. I think I'm more evolved now, and if this happened now I would have made a decision not to continue participating. Not only was I bored, but I also found myself wishing for things that I could not have...or things that were not worth going into debt to obtain. There's a reason why I've never been into window shopping for things I couldn't afford. Being around these remodeling- and house-minded women made me want more than what I had or that I needed.

Which brings me to my title. I don't think my kids will remember that our house is not pristine and in the latest, greatest style. If they could have anything, they'd request more electronics, dinners out, and vacations!

This weekend, instead of spending time upgrading our house, we decided to soak up the last of summer. Last night we went to a free concert in the park. This morning we went to a parade in Multnomah Village, the annual "Multnomah Days." This afternoon we went to see "Midsummer's Night Dream" in Shakespeare in the Park, and then we had dinner al fresco in the backyard. These types of memories are worth so much more than a fancy kitchen!
My little adventurer

Mike talking to our friend David at Multnomah Days

Midsummer's Night Dream in the park

Kieran at dinner

My three beautiful boys

Dining al fresco
 Teriyaki chicken, rice, and summer squash--yum!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What I read (in June and July 2014)

Here's what I read in June and July. For full reviews of these books (these are just excerpts of the reviews), click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.

Great nonfiction:

Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid, by Joshua Safran

Free Spirit : growing up on the road and off the gridJoshua Safran's mother ("Claudia") was a counterculture feminist artist/activist, and when he was four years old, they left Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and hit the road. He was raised in an extremely open, permissive home and "homeschooled." But as much as his mother was proudly independent and strident in many ways, she ended up with loser after loser. This book, more than any other I've read, describes well what it's like to be in a home full of domestic violence. It's a story of redemption and discovery in spite of a very difficult beginning. This book brought me to tears at the end. If you're interested in knowing more about Joshua Safran's story, take a look at this video presentation of him talking at Google.

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor

My Beloved World
What a phenomenal woman! I never would have guessed that someone so accomplished--reaching the top rung of her field at a fairly young age--would start her life with such large obstacles. In this memoir, she opens up and shares her stories from a young age...from when she was first diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and had to start giving herself daily talking about how her marriage failed. She revealed more about herself than typical for a Supreme Court justice and knew she might be judged harshly for some of her choices, but she made this decision consciously to offer comfort, and maybe inspiration, by showing that an "ordinary person, with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else, has managed an extraordinary journey." I love Sotomayor's views on mentors and friends, on the value of life, and the importance of deep friendship and family. Although I had a hard time sinking into this memoir at first, it was well worth the effort! 

Fiction I Thought Would Be Better:

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

Interesting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant with her first child, and happily married, but instead she's 39, has three highly spirited kids, and on her way to a divorce. This book turned out to be more in the genre of "chick lit" than I thought it would be. In the intervening 10 years, Alice got her perfect life and became a shallow, spoiled brat (in my view). I did enjoy this beach read in spite of its made me think about my own life, my priorities (am I spending enough high-quality time with my kids and my husband?), and how quickly life is passing me by. Read the review to learn what bugged me about this book.

We Are WaterWe Are Water, by Wally Lamb

I've read everything Wally Lamb has written, and this plot sounded promising. Sadly, I found this novel lacking in comparison to his others. It's the story of Anna Oh, an artist, wife, and mother, who has left her marriage of 27 years and is about to marry another woman. Annie has three children with her psychologist husband, Orion: Ariane, Andrew, and Marissa. The book spans all of these lives and many others. Read my review to see what I disliked about the book. The novel examines the generations of damage caused by sexual abuse, and reading it from the perspective of the pedophile was particularly difficult for me. This is still a good book, but not as great as his others.

And the fun read of the month:
Word Nerd

Word Nerd, by Susan Nielsen

I loved the painfully awkward and uncomfortable Ambrose...who is deathly allergic to peanuts and always manages to say the worst possible (and often, honest) thing. He befriends Cosmo, a grumpy ex-con, ex-druggie son of his Greek landlords, and his life changes. They join a Scrabble club together, after much cajoling and conniving by Ambrose. In the quirky world of competitive Scrabble players, Ambrose finally feels at home. Fun middle-grade novel!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Boyhood. See it.

Cousin camp at the beach
We are all about boyhood in our family--between my sister and me, we have six boys. Since our two youngest have been at "cousin camp" at the beach this week, we've enjoyed spending time with our oldest son Chris, who will turn EIGHTEEN in less than a month.

Sunday the three of us went to see the new movie, "Boyhood," exclusively showing at Cinema 21 in Portland. After reading the 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and rave reviews in the Oregonian, New York Times, and Rolling Stone, I had high expectations. Writer/director Richard Linklater created this film by bringing together an ensemble of actors over 12 week each year. He began in October 2002 and ended filming in October 2013, at which time Mason Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane, had grown from age 6 to 18. The film is far more character driven than plot driven, and you'll see little sex, violence, or action elements in it, but at times it's tense and gripping...and at other times sweet and sad. Here's an interview with Linklater and Coltrane talking about the movie.

The acting is exceptional. Patricia Arquette is Mason's mom, and Ethan Hawke is his dad--who in the beginning of the film is estranged. Linklater's daughter Lorelei plays Mason's annoying older sister. At first a few things the mom said (like "let's play the silent game and see who can be silent the longest?") reminded me of myself. But beyond that, we are very different sorts of moms. She had a knack for picking up losers--often alcoholic and physically or verbally abusive--but in the end, she kept her family together.

Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr. acted like a grown child at first, but he grew up in the movie as well as his son...and he actually gave Mason more stability in some ways than his mom did.

Throughout his boyhood, Mason faced the usual pressures that many boys do--struggling at school, being bullied, teased about being gay or girly, pressured to have sex or drink alcohol, finding the joys in first love--and he had additional pressures from being ferried back and forth between parents and adding difficult stepfathers into the mix.

Lorelei Linklater, Ellar Coltrane, and Patricia Arquette
I don't think of myself as that sentimental, although when it comes to my kids, I do have a soft spot. But I cannot begin to describe how much this film touched me and wrung me out. I had tears rolling down my cheeks, and just writing about it now makes me choke up again. The momentous impact of watching this movie sitting next to my own nearly-18-year-old son, who went through all the same phases around the years that Mason did (GameBoy, Harry Potter, Yugio, etc.), hit me hard. Where has his childhood gone? He is nearly a man.

The boyhood of Ellar Coltrane
"Boyhood" is, hands down, the best movie I've seen in years. All three of us loved it and cried.

We all agreed that we'd like to see it again, and Mike even said he'd like to buy it. (We NEVER buy movies.)

Our own 12 years of boyhood
I wanted to see "The Fault in Our Stars" this week too, before it leaves theaters, but my soul can't handle another tear jerker so soon. Seriously.

Loved this movie.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tears for Palestine: What I have learned

True confession: Even though I'm an avid traveler, I haven't always pored over the foreign news in the paper...especially the news that depresses me. So until a few years ago, I was ignorant about the situation in the Holy Land...and what I knew was heavily biased toward Israel, fed to me by the one-sided American mainstream media.

How I got educated: Several people at our church (Mission of the Atonement: A Community of Lutherans and Catholics) have traveled to Israel and Palestine and created a Holy Land team for education and advocacy. Pastor Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and a fierce advocate for peace in the region, spoke at our church, as did an articulate and impassioned Jewish man from Jewish Voice for Peace. Lutherans and Episcopalians are heavily involved in peacemaking efforts in the region.

This spring, our Lutheran pastor, Catholic lay leader, my second cousin and her husband, other friends, and our Bishop traveled there on a trip sponsored by the ELCA Oregon Synod. This was not a tourist jaunt...they visited holy places, but they also met with Palestinians and Israelis and organizations working for justice. Many Americans who visit Israel do not meet Palestinians...and in fact, many Jewish Israelis do not know Palestinians themselves, even though they are among them. It's a more extreme form of apartheid. Hearing my friends' stories about the plight and extreme hospitality of the Palestinian people has moved me and woken me up from my ignorance. In spite of the violence, lack of resources, prejudice, and exclusion, the Palestinian people they met were full of hope and optimism about peace in their future. Our pilgrims returned right before the recent violence in Gaza flared up, and it's breaking all of our hearts.

What I know now: After the horrific Holocaust in Europe in the 1940s, Jewish people fled to the Middle East to create a new state: a place where they could finally be protected from anti-semitism and hatred. A great intention, but soon they were perpetrating discrimination, exclusion, and violence on the Palestinians whose lands they took over. For a quick overview of the history in Israel and Palestine, watch this great 6-minute video:

As Phyllis Bennis writes in Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer (which you can read online here),
"When Israel was created as a state in 1948, 750,000 indigenous Palestinians, whose families had lived in Palestine for hundreds of years, were forcibly expelled by, or fled in terror of, the powerful militias that would soon become the army of the State of Israel. The one million or so Palestinians inside Israel today, who constitute just under 20 percent of the population, are those that remained and their descendants. Despite international law and specific UN resolutions, none of those forced into exile have been allowed to return. In fact, Israel's admission to the United Nations in 1948 was conditioned on on its willingness to abide by General Assembly resolution 194 calling for repatriation and compensation." (This repatriation and compensation has never happened.)
What about the Intifada, PLO, and Hamas? It's important to understand the context. As Phyllis Bennis explains, the Intifada (or "rising up" or "shaking off" in Arabic) grew out of Palestinian frustration with military occupation and the daily discrimination Palestinians face. Noam Shaif, a Jewish Israeli who opposes Israel's military campaign, compares living in Gaza to living in a maximum-security prison:
"The prison facilities now hold a total of 3.5 million people—an entire nation—all sentenced to life. Under such conditions, prisoners can turn to desperate measures, such as suicide missions, digging long tunnels, or swimming miles and storming our tanks with their old rifles. Often it ends up with a killing that looks like it was taken from some old video game. On the rare occasions that they kill one of our guards, they hold celebrations in the prison, and we become even more sickened by them. This, of course, also causes us to fear the day that they find a way to break down the walls."
I do not condone violence, but understanding the history and context for the uprising and fighting back is critical. In the current conflict, Hamas is throwing the equivalent of stones, and Israel is lobbing back bombs, killing women and children, destroying infrastructure, and even bombing hospitals.

My tax dollars are funding Israeli violence: Through a military strategy called "The Dahiya Doctrine," the Israeli government commits asymmetric warfare in an urban setting, deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure and inducing suffering for civilians. And the U.S. gives $3.1 BILLION PER YEAR in military aid to Israel, even though Israel's economy is robust. That is $121 billion since Israel was funded. My tax dollars have funded this war, daily discrimination, and bloodshed. I am thoroughly disgusted by this. To date, 586 people have died in the recent Gaza attacks, 157 of them children.

If you too are disgusted by our funding Israel's violence, SPEAK UP. Jewish Voice for Peace has made it really easy to send emails to our senators, representatives, and president with just a few clicks!

So many voices around the world--Jewish, Palestinian, and Christian--are advocating for peace. Many Jewish people, including in Israel, advocate an end to the violence. Celebrities are speaking out. One of my favorite celebrities, Jon Stewart, is also begging us to wake up to what is going on. And criticizing Israel is not anti-semitic! That is the equivalent of saying one is not patriotic if he or she disagrees with the U.S. government, a tactic conservatives used in the Bush-Cheney era.

The U.S. is alone in siding with Israel. Since I have not been to the Holy Land myself, I do not profess to speak for those who have first-hand experience there...those who have seen the conditions in Palestine for themselves.

Here is a first-hand account by Ellen O'Grady, friend of a friend, who lived in Gaza for three of the seven years she lived in Palestine, and I reprint with her permission.
Dear Facebook Friends.
As some of you know, I lived in Palestine from 1989-1996. Three of those years I lived in Gaza in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City. I made the decision to live in Palestine after I studied for a semester in Jerusalem in the spring of 1989. I didn’t set out to be an activist, but when I began seeing the Israeli occupation firsthand, and how vastly different the reality is from what is portrayed in our mainstream media it felt important to return.
I also returned because I enjoyed–and felt nurtured by– Palestinian culture, which among other things puts a high value on generosity and community. Often I saw whole communities offer support to a particular family, whether the occasion be one of sadness or joy. And that generosity is extended to strangers. In my first weeks in Gaza, there were taxi drivers who would not let me pay the fare, people whose names I didn’t yet know inviting me in for tea or bringing me fruit from their yards, new friends having me over for lunch and providing a lavish meal though they might be very poor. Such free-flowing generosity, and coming from people who live in a place where, because of the occupation, there are shortages of food, water, electricity, jobs, and hospital beds, and where many live in makeshift homes.
At that time in Gaza, the Israeli military patrolled the streets at all hours, and every night we were under house arrest (you were in danger of being shot if found outside). Clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth broke out regularly and everyone I met had loved ones killed, injured and/or in prison.
There were other foreigners living in the area but at that time I was the only one I was aware of without a car. Sometimes when walking through the city, I would round a corner or come up a street as an Israeli jeep was speeding away. Upon seeing me, Palestinians would run up to tell me someone had been taken and they would appeal to me to go to the detention center to argue for that person’s release. I would often be told something along the lines of there had just been a demonstration that turned into a clash with soldiers and that the young man taken had not been involved, maybe they had been shopping or selling falafel from a cart when things broke out. (I have witnessed these arbitrary detentions in person).
These Palestinians appealed to me because, as a foreigner, I had a chance of being able to talk with an Israeli official who could help that person get released. As a Palestinian in Gaza there was no such chance, which is just one reality of living under occupation. You or someone in your family can be taken from the street or from your home and put into administrative detention, without charge or trial, for several months to several years.
These days, as I watch and listen to reports from Gaza from the comfort and safety of my home in North Carolina, I am heartbroken and often speechless. In moments of despair, it feels any action I might take won’t matter. However, in clearer moments, I know with certainty that every thing we do matters. Every act of generosity, every moment you speak a truth, every time you listen openly to someone who has a view other than your own, every conversation that attempts to open a window onto realities others don’t see or prefer not to be reminded of. It matters.
So. I appeal to you. Do something. Even a small thing like taking a couple minutes to email or call your representatives would be very good.
If you haven’t been following the events in Gaza, please check here.
This is not about which side is right. It's about justice, equity, and human rights for all. I urge you to join your voice with mine and ask Israel to stop attacking civilians and already fragile infrastructure in Gaza and the U.S. to stop bankrolling the violence.

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