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 years...one 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.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Happy 60th to my Beatles-loving, full-head-of-red-hair, looks-younger-than-the-rest-of-us brother-in-law David!


David first came into our lives nearly 25 years ago, when I came home from Japan and met the cute redhead my sister Nadine had been writing to me about. She met him in the PLU Fitness Center and admired him from afar until he asked her out. By the time I'd come home from Japan, they were an item!

Back then, David looked younger than the rest of us, and he still does. He's also in better shape than anyone I know. We expect him to outlive us all!

When I was looking back through my photos of David, what struck me was that most of them featured him holding or interacting with one or more children. That is one of the things David does best. He is incredibly gentle, kind, and compassionate...and he lives out those attributes through his work. He teaches adaptive P.E. to kids with disabilities, and he is a wonderful father to their three boys. He and Nadine are godparents to Chris, our oldest son, and our youngest son, Nicholas, carries his name as his middle name.

He's also got a great sense of humor and strong opinions, although he doesn't usually foist those opinions on anyone else unless they ask him what he thinks. (He's well versed in politics but you wouldn't know that unless you struck up a political conversation.) I also get great joy in teasing him!

I cannot possibly express my gratitude that Nadine met and married David--he has made her feel so happy and loved, and that's the best possible thing about him! We are so blessed to have him as part of our family. Here's to you, David--

Keep momming

I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting (#MC) for Shire. I received a promotional item as a thank you for participating.

Raising a child at any age is challenging, and when it comes to mothers and daughters, the dynamic can be even more complex. What some may dismiss as “typical tween girl behavior” can sometimes be symptoms of something more serious. Research suggests that girls are more likely than boys to report having mostly inattentive Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Since inattentive symptoms can be less noticeable than hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, it is important that moms know what to look for.

That’s why I’m pleased to be joining Shire, CHADD, and Holly Robinson Peete to announce the launch of keep momming, a new public service initiative geared towards the moms of tween girls to raise awareness of ADHD.

The campaign is anchored within a new digital hub, KeepMomming.com, where you’ll find tips, tools and other go-to resources for moms, including a checklist to help recognize the symptoms of ADHD – inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity – and then encourages moms to talk to their daughter’s doctor. The keep momming initiative can help moms learn about ADHD and provide ideas on how to spark a conversation and stay connected with their tween.

Check out Holly’s message about how she keeps momming at http://goo.gl/MR8HL2, and don’t forget to visit KeepMomming.com.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

10 things I cherish (Monday Listicles)

I haven't done Monday Listicles for ages--I think the last time was before my April blogging extravaganza (Portlandia from A to Z), after which my blogging has quieted down a bit...but I miss it! So what better way to get back in the groove than to start up again with Monday Listicles? This week, it's:

10 Things I Can't Get Enough Of!

1. Babies (just borrowing them for a bit--I had some good baby bonding time this weekend with this cutie this weekend!)
2. Raspberries
3. Books
4. TV shows with strong female leads (e.g., Homeland, Scandal, Orange Is the New Black)
5. Book group (love my book group!)
6. Listening to my 7-year-old sing Michael Jackson songs
7. Girlfriend getaways
8. My lovely husband! (looking forward to a getaway this week)
9. Watching my kids perform on stage
10. Time with my loved ones
Want to join in? Link up or read others at The Good Life!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What I read in May (2014)

Oh my poor neglected blog! I hope to return to you soon! 

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

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

Tom Sherbourne, returned WWI vet and introvert, signs up as lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock in Australia. Then he gets married and takes his wife Isabel to the lighthouse. At first she loves it, but then she experiences two miscarriages and a stillbirth. Racked with grief, she's also told that she has entered menopause and she won't be able to have any more babies. When a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a live baby, the couple decides to keep the baby and not tell anyone. Tom is uncomfortable with the idea, but Isabel persuades him. They both fall in love with "Lucy," their adopted baby, and claim her as their own. If you like books laden with ethical dilemmas and no easy choices, you'll enjoy this beautifully written novel.

House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey HomeHouse of Prayer No. 2, by Mark Richard

The Fault in Our StarsClearly, Mark Richard has a gift for writing. The end of this memoir made it all worth while for me, but my mind wandered a bit along the way. I found it awkward that the book starts out in third person and then goes into second person, making the narrator appear detached...as if he's observing his disaster of a life from afar, absolving himself of any responsibility. As a child, he's labeled as "special" because of his deformed hips and spends a great deal of time in charity hospitals. It's a wonder he made it to adulthood, with some of the risks he took. Although the book was lyrically written, I was looking for something more compelling.

The Fault in our Stars, by John Green

People either love this book or hate it (calling it cancer porn). I am one of the lovers, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie and crying my eyes out.
So this book is about two teenagers with cancer. It's a love story. Hazel and Gus are keenly intelligent, down to earth, bookish, and unconcerned with what other people think of them. They have strong family connections, and they fall in love over a book. What's not to love? No spoilers here, but be warned: it's unflinchingly, heartbreakingly sad. It's also raw and honest about cancer.

Happy reading!

Friday, May 30, 2014

You've come a long way, baby!

My son won an award today, and I'm so proud of him! It's especially awesome given his history from birth.

As many of you know, Chris was born in crisis at 24 weeks gestation, weighing just 1 pound, 6 ounces. Read his birth story here and more reflections on his 16th birthday here. His neonatologist said he had a 50 percent chance of survival, and if he survived, he'd have a 50 percent chance of major disabilities. His childhood had its challenges--he didn't talk until he was three, and he had motor delays. As a baby and toddler, he also had some serious feeding problems caused by reflux. He had to start wearing glasses at age 3 because of retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease that preemies get (and that made Stevie Wonder go blind). He didn't even get on the growth charts until he was 3 or 4. The tall kidney doctor wanted to put him on growth hormones, but we resisted. 
When he went off to preschool, he needed some help with social skills, but otherwise he was doing fine. Although it took him longer to learn how to write, he was an early and avid reader. Throughout Chris' childhood, we knew every day how lucky he was--and how lucky we were--that he had not experienced more problems from his prematurity. 

Although he was a strong reader, he began struggling with math in second grade. In third grade, he suffered from a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy (he's since become cured of epilepsy). We knew from a few MRIs that his brain was not typical...most likely because of cerebral edema and low flow to the brain in the NICU. But again, he is luckier than most 24-weekers because he never had a brain bleed.

With his fifth-grade teacher
In fourth grade, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, and in fifth grade, his teacher saw such a gap between his math and verbal scores that he was put on an individual education plan (IEP) for math and organizational skills. I remember being highly emotional during these meetings and the whole IEP process, because as a preemie mom, I so desperately wanted my child to be "normal." 
It's never easy for a parent to hear that your child needs special help in school but in my case it brought up post-traumatic stress. This was not helped when a former friend made some insensitive comments about Chris. I know she was trying to "help," but she was extremely hurtful.

After the IEP began, he started getting extra help at school and we enrolled him in Kumon math tutoring, which focuses on helping kids master the basics and building on their self-confidence and success. That helped him build a strong math foundation, which sticks to this day. In middle school, we navigated the IEP process and hated the fact that each IEP meeting focused mostly on what Chris needed to work on rather than on what he was doing well (getting good grades, great behavior, etc.). I know that any parent with a child on an IEP can relate. 

It didn't help that he had some truly pathetic middle school teachers--one special ed case manager who was completely hopeless and two awful science teachers. Nevertheless, he managed to enjoy middle school and do well with just a few days spent in a study hall and the ability to take standardized tests in a quiet room for extra support. He also experienced some bullying, because Chris is a friendly, enthusiastic young man...not the characteristics that are considered "cool" in middle school. He got good grades overall, and we always felt that a C in math was good as long as he did his best. While Chris enjoyed middle school, I do not have fond memories of that era, at all...but before he left middle school, he came off the IEP because he was doing so well. He didn't need any extra help to succeed.

When we began to think about high school, we learned about Thomas A. Edison High School, which specializes in teaching kids with learning disabilities--specifically ADD/ADHD and dyslexia. It's very small with just 80 students, and the teacher-student ratio per class is about one to eight. It's expensive and has been a financial sacrifice. (With that said, the school does give out a lot of money in scholarships.) We are staunch supporters of public schools, but we felt that this would be a place where Chris could thrive. We knew he would do fine at a public high school, but we wanted him to do well and give him a great start at adulthood. At first he didn't want to go there because he wanted to stay with his friends. It didn't take him too long to settle in though, and he loves the opportunity to do drama and music at nearby Jesuit. By the end of his freshman year, he wrote this letter about why he wanted to return for his sophomore year

Last fall, he was one of two student speakers at the Edison Breakfast, where he spoke about his experiences at Edison in front of an audience of several hundred people. 



Now he's almost done with his junior year, and today we were invited to an awards assembly where each teacher presented an academic award to the top student in each grade. We also attended last year, when we found out that Chris had been appointed as a peer helper, a group that meets regularly with the counselor to help students who are having social problems. He's also served on student council in the last two years. So we expected that kind of recognition again--both great honors!
Student council recognition
Peer counselor recognition
But imagine our shock when his gifted Algebra 2 teacher, Colin Livesey, announced that Chris was receiving an academic achievement award. This is the kid who went on an IEP for math! Even though the Edison teachers are all extraordinary, we've been astonished by Chris' turnaround in math--because of amazing teachers. Last fall in his student-led conference, Chris' physics teacher commented about his strong math skills and how they help him in physics. (Our kid? :)) 
Talking about Chris' achievements
This year Mr. Livesey has been using a new technique for teaching math, and it seems to work extremely well for Chris. Instead of spending the time in class lecturing and teaching Algebra 2 concepts, he makes a video of himself jotting down the equations and lessons. The students watch the video at home and take notes, and then they spend the class time going over the concepts and discussing them. This approach has been highly effective for Chris, and he's been getting As.

Mr. Livesey is one of the most devoted teachers I've ever seen. He also has the Algebra 2 students come in early for an extra half period a few mornings a week, just so they can thoroughly understand the concepts. He also teaches swing dancing and boat building, and coaches the school's ultimate frisbee team. When the principal spoke about Mr. Livesey today, he said that he has recently cut back to 12-hour days and it's his perpetual goal to get to school earlier than Mr. Livesey--he hasn't succeeded yet.

I only wish that I'd had a math teacher like this when I was in high school. I'm embarassed to admit that I got two Ds in high school--one in Algebra 2 and the other in Physics. I didn't have good study skills and the content didn't come easily to me. I don't think it comes easily to Chris, either (he was born to two English majors!), but he works extremely hard and he has an amazing teacher. 
Receiving his award
From not meeting math benchmarks in grade school to being happy with Cs in middle school, it's been a journey for Chris to get to this point. Algebra 2 is the highest-level math his school offers, so next year he's off to Jesuit High School to take his final high school math class. I am so proud of my little micropreemie!! 

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