Thursday, November 13, 2014

Heartbreaking story of a blackbird angel

Trigger warning: maternal death, infant death, prematurity

These kinds of stories always stun close to home.

Ashley Elizabeth (Wood) met her husband Chris Picco while they were both volunteering at Ground Zero after 9/11. After birthing their relationship in the ashes, they got married in 2007. Ashley worked at the Loma Linda Children's Center and earned her nursing degree, providing lactation counseling to young moms.

She gave birth to a baby boy via emergency c-section at just 24 weeks (the same gestation as my son Christopher)...he was due on February 22, 2015, but was born on November 8.

Doctors and nurses were concerned about Lennon's lack of movement and brain activity...which often happens to the smallest of preemies. I'm not sure what the current survival rates are for 24 weekers, but when Chris was born he was given just a 50% chance of survival.

Ashley often felt Lennon moving to music during her pregnancy, so Chris brought in his guitar to play for his son, including this gorgeous rendition of "Blackbird."

The next day, Lennon died in his daddy's arms, but it's clear he was deeply, deeply loved, and I know he felt his daddy's love through his music. Heartbreaking.

Chris has set up an Ashley and Lennon Picco Memorial site, where you can leave condolences or make a donation.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Are we too quick to blame the boys?

My 8-year-old, Nicholas, thinks we are. 

According to my little philosopher, people think girls are "goody two-shoes" and are apt to blame boys when something goes wrong. This came up in a morning-car-ride discussion about prison and sentencing...he asked me if people are ever sentenced to prison for crimes they didn't do. I told him that yes, they were...and in fact, people of color were more likely to be wrongly convicted. He predicted that this probably happens more to men than to women (and we were both right--according to the Innocence Project, 99% of wrongful convictions were males, and 70% of them were minorities). This morning was not the first time he has raised the issue of gender injustice. 

His school employs a form of behavior management in which children receive traffic light cards...and the goal is to avoid turning your card over to yellow or red. Nicholas is a well-behaved, hard-working he has been devastated on the rare occasion last year when his card was turned to yellow (a warning), and he mourned when his best friend often got his card turned over. He's often informed us that the girls hardly ever get their cards turned over. 

Part of the problem is that schools are not designed for young boys who are wiggly and energetic and who have not mastered the art of sitting still and staying quiet. The irony of this drive-to-school conversation did not escape me when I was singing with Nicholas' class this morning. Two boys in the front were distracting me with their wiggling and acting out (silently, but obviously), and I asked the teacher about moving them next week. I'm not the most patient with wiggly boys myself!

All three of my boys are doing well in school and (mostly) well behaved, so I suppose we are lucky. But I think we need to re-examine the messages boys are hearing when people say things like:

1. Boys will be boys. My #1 pet peeve people say about boys. It gives them an out for bad behavior, but it also sets them up for stereotyping and low expectations and limits their full expression

2. Three boys? I feel sorry for you. Even if they don't say the second part, I know that's what people are thinking. (Here are 10 things you should never say to parents of all boys.)

3. Did you want a girl? My sister, a physician who also has three boys, has often been quizzed about "trying for a girl." I can't imagine having a child to try to get a specific gender. If that's why you're having a child, you should get a pet instead.

4. "I have 20 boys and 10 girls in my classroom." Now I completely sympathize with teachers who have a preponderance of boys in their classes (see above comment)...the challenges are real! But I think we should avoid expressing the difficulty of this gender imbalance in front of boys, or girls for that matter. 

5. Boys can't be princesses/wear pink/dress up as girls on Halloween/use nail polish. This summer I painted Nicholas' nails red and black (Portland Trail Blazer colors), at his request. He asked me to remove the polish, though, after he got teased in school. Even his older brother and some of his teenage friends looked askance at a boy with nail polish. Why is this so important? Boys are so limited with their self-expression by a latent homophobia...even among us progressive types!

5. Man up. Grow a pair. Be a man. He has balls. Any time a boy hears these phrases, they sink into his pores, and he feels that he has to be tough, strong, and macho to be considered masculine. 

6. Wuss. Wimp. Sissy. Girly. And of course, the WORST thing a man or boy could be is a woman or girl...they are defined by these words if they display characteristics thought to be feminine (= bad). 

7. Boys can't sit still. Boys don't like to read. Mike and I have been guilty of this ourselves...we have joked about what it would be like to have three girls who sit around doing puzzles, stringing beads, and reading all day. But Nicholas loves to draw, and my nephews LOVE to read. When he was younger, our oldest son Chris loved to read too. I must use my mouth cop and not joke about these things any more.

8. What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dog tails. As a little girl, I definitely preferred the "sugar and spice and everything nice" to the snips, snails, and dog tails! It starts early with this nursery rhyme, and these messages are powerful.

Just as author Lisa Bloom got us to think about the messages we are sending to little girls, we also need to think about what we are saying--through word or action--to little boys. Why not think of these words instead?

And how do we deal with the wiggly, out-of-control boys in a more positive way in school? I will be looking for some ideas myself. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I read in September (2014)

Here's what I read in September--click title to read my full review at Marie's Book Garden. These are abbreviated versions.

Let the Great World SpinLet the Great World Spin,
by Colum McCann

Well written, with a wonderful sense of setting, Let the Great World Spin tells the stories of a variety of different characters, many of whom encounter each other at some point in the day or in their lives. Most of the novel takes place in New York City in 1974, the day Phillip Petit tightrope walked between the World Trade Center towers.

One of my major gripes with novels is when each chapter starts from the different perspective of a different character, so I found it a bit hard to sink into this novel, with all that moving around. On the other hand, the novel tells the story of New York City in so many different slices...of the priest Corrigan who works amongst the prostitutes and dealers in the Bronx ghetto and loves a Latina single mom...of the prostitutes themselves, whose children become prostitutes...a Park Avenue mom befriending a black mother, both grieving their sons who died in Vietnam...a drug-addicted artist who finds herself involved in a hit and run...and a prostitute's daughter who was raised in love and stability, who returns to New York full circle...beautiful individual stories woven together...

After EliAfter Eli, by Rebecca Rupp

In this thoughtful middle grade/young adult novel, young Danny struggles to cope with the death of his older brother, Eli, in Iraq. He befriends two unusual young people: the decidedly "uncool" but extremely smart Walter, and the beautiful, exotic Isabelle, who has quirky and creative younger twin siblings.

My favorite parts of the book were Danny's memories of Eli, who was sarcastic and mischievous but loving, and Danny's friendship with Eli's high school friend and purple potato farmer and his girlfriend, who come to be like a family for him. Rebecca Rupp approaches grief with a quiet, sensitive touch, and even though Danny chronicles the death of various people in his "Book of the Dead," the book was redemptive in the end.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

50 celebrations, Part 3: pampering time!

And so I've reached five decades, in the blink of an eye!

I celebrated on the actual day by having my great friend and birthday sister Nancie come visit for the weekend. She turned 60 the day I turned 50. Although we've known each other for many years, we've always celebrated our birthdays after the fact and have never been together on the actual this year was special in more than one way! Nancie's husband Dave was working on a trial so he couldn't join us, unfortunately.

On Sunday afternoon we took off for McMenamin's Edgefield, where we wined, dined, and pampered ourselves. I highly recommend that every milestone birthday be celebrated with spa treatments. I'm notoriously bad about spoiling myself, so I definitely appreciated it. Thanks to my Australian brother- and sister-in-law for the gift certificate, which made it easier!

Wine tasting
The weather was completely glorious--the warmest I've experienced on October 5 and 6--and we began with some wine tasting.

Then I had a massage, and as I was lying there on the massage table, I reflected on how truly blessed my life is.

In addition to my wonderful boys and the best husband I could imagine, I am surrounded by amazing, bright, and funny friends. I also have great extended family, a job I enjoy and that challenges me, and a wide-reaching village of people who support and appreciate me. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and am filled with a deep appreciation for life and what it has to offer. Life is good. I am so lucky.

After my massage, we took a brief journey along the historic Columbia River Highway. We visited Crown Point/Vista House and Bridal Veil Falls (Mike and I had our honeymoon at the nearby Bridal Veil Falls Lodge nearly 24 years ago).
Crown Point, Columbia Gorge

GORGE-ous view!
Birthday sister mini-hike

Bridal Veil Falls
Then we returned to Edgefield to the Black Rabbit Restaurant for dinner--halibut for me and wild boar for Nancie. We capped off the day with a lovely dip in the soaking pool and some sparkly!

Nancie with her wild boar

The lovely soaking pool at Edgefield
On October 6 itself, we got to wake up and wish each other "Happy Birthday"! We had breakfast and then went off for more spa treatments. I had a wonderful facial and a manicure.

My beautiful purple nails
Reluctantly, we left Edgefield in the afternoon and Nancie had to drive all the way home to Woodinville to be with her family. (I'm glad I didn't have to drive after feeling so relaxed!) And I came home to an immaculate house--thanks, honey!

That evening, we went to an early dinner at nearby Seasons and Regions, which was fine but the service was mediocre. (In fact, service was not fantastic at the Edgefield restaurant too, but fortunately the company more than made up for it in both spots.)

I've got more turning-50 plans coming up--stay tuned! I will sign off with this great horoscope a friend shared with me on Facebook--timely indeed, and eerily relevant to my goal for this year: to try new things!
"Your birthday this year occurs shortly after a New Moon, suggesting a time of new beginnings and fresh energy. You are instinctively starting a new phase in your life. It's time to give your life a makeover and to branch out into the untried…Changes in how you relate to others on a one-to-one level are essential to your personal growth, even if it feels a bit unstable for the time being. Something you have had to give up might now be available to you again, and you need to decide whether you still want it… This year, events and circumstances are such that you learn about your own personal strength. You may have to deal with willfulness and issues of power and competition this year--in others and in yourself. There is an inner drama taking place this year, and a feeling that external circumstances are undermining your own feeling of powerfulness. In the process, you may be able to get in touch with your internal motivations. A tendency to want to control your life through some form of manipulation is strong during this influence.
Meeting with obstacles in your paths, however, can force you into the position of using all of your resources to fight back, and you can discover resources you never knew you had in the process…This is an excellent year in which to advance projects revolving around communications - writing, speaking, selling, and so forth. Your reputation may be enhanced through word of mouth. Making new contacts through learning and mental pursuits figures strongly as well. This is a year for feeling competent, effective, and secure. You have a strong sense of both tradition and innovation. You are also more able to express your unique qualities or to go your own way, without stirring up controversy, as you act in a professional, respectful manner. You are humble, and with increased realism, we can pursue our goals with more chance of success…this should be an intellectually stimulating year in which you express yourself with more imagination and color, and make important contacts. You can feel as if you are beginning a whole new chapter in your life, and big life changes are quite possible…"
Artwork by my friend Roy DeLeon, a fitting mantra for the year!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Use your bean: There’s a better way to joe!

Is your coffee habit burying the planet? Read why coffee pods are not good for the environment or your health.

(This is an article and infographic we published at work on National Coffee Day yesterday. I know it's a controversial subject, and I don't want anyone to feel guilty if they own a Keurig or other type of coffee pod machine! But it's such important information that I wanted to share here on my blog. Thanks to my coworker Austen who helped write this.)

Are you one of the millions of coffee drinkers who own a single-serve, pod-style coffee brewer? 
Because we care about the health of our people and our planet, we do not permit the use of these coffee pod machines in our offices. Here’s why:
  • Your health matters. Heating plastic is a dicey business, releasing potential toxins into our food and drinks. Coffee pods are made from an unclassifiable composite of plastics, which can contain potential carcinogens (such as polystyrene).
  • The planet’s health matters. More than 13 percent of Americans drink coffee from single-cup brewers every day, creating waste that mostly cannot be recycled. Coffee pods are made from a mixture of paper, plastic and aluminum, which means they are not recyclable. So our coffee-drinking habits are flooding our landfills with huge amounts of trash. In 2011, discarded coffee pods could have circled the planet six times. Last year, the most popular coffee pod company sold 8.3 billion cups, which, end to end, could encircle the earth in waste 10.5 times. 
  • Single-serve coffee pods cost two to three times more than other options. Not taking into account the cost of the coffee machines, individual coffee pods cost about US$0.50-$0.60/cup versus $0.25/cup for coffee beans. If you already own a coffee pod machine, you could save US$200 to $600 just by switching to a reusable coffee filter!
  • Our clients count on us to walk our talk. We all contribute to a corporate culture where we show our clients that environmental efforts matter. Choices, like the types of coffee makers that we use, reinforce our global commitment to sound business practices and environmental care.

But let’s talk quality. And speed. 

The good news is you can enjoy fresher coffee for much less money by using a single-cup drip filter or French Press. (Keurig also makes a reusable coffee pod filter, the My K-Cup, which is on sale on amazon at the moment for just $5.33!) Fast, easy, awesome cups of joe.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

50 celebrations, Part 2: Tattoo!

I feel compelled to try new things this year, and I debated between getting a nose piercing or a tattoo. I decided on the tattoo for two reasons:

1. I'm not crazy about my's crooked, probably because of my cleft lip and subsequent surgeries.

2. I'm a word person, and I liked the idea of expressing myself in words on my body as a personal statement.

I pondered what words and images to use, but when I came up with a quote, I knew it was the right one. My decision was sealed when we saw a production of "Midsummer's Night Dream" in the park this summer and I witnessed the little, fierce Hermia expressing herself!

So yesterday I took the plunge. I found a tattoo artist at New Rose Tattoo, a woman-owned tattoo shop in SE Portland, and talked to her (Carrie Smith) about my ideas.

Here is a photo collage of the process, thanks to my lovely and talented photographer/friend who accompanied me!

Putting on the stencil

Ready to go!


Outside lines done

Starting on the text


At least I was able to smile!
Thankful I had a friend to talk to and distract me!

I survived! With Carrie Smith at New Rose Tattoo
Before bandaging
Photos of the shop

After I got my tattoo and had lunch with my friend, I went off to get my hair done. I was threatening my teenager Chris that I would get blue hair (he was much more horrified at the thought of having a mother with blue hair than a tattoo). So my hairdresser had a little fun--she put a blue feather in my hair!
Can you see the blue?
With Nick later on at Costco
 Today it's a little sore--feels like a sunburn--but I'm very happy with my new tat!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

50 celebrations, Part 1: Brandi Carlile and book group

Eleven days until I hit five decades.

So far I am more excited about this occasion than depressed about it. But I suppose that could change. I plan to celebrate all year long, with a series of celebrations and surprises, some of which will appear here on my blog, and some that will not. 

My birthday celebrations began on September 5, when Mike and I went to see Brandi Carlile perform with the Oregon Symphony--his gift to me. Even though I'm a long-time folkie, I only got hooked on Brandi Carlile in the last year or so...and Mike knew very little of her music. Now she is one of my favorites, so it was a real thrill to see her live with the Oregon Symphony (here's a link to her rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah). She performs with twin brothers--Phil and Tim Hanseroth--multi-talented musicians. Fantastic concert!! If you don't know her music, check out her NPR Tiny Desk Concert. I can't get enough of her, so it was a great way to kick off the birthday fun.

Last night my wonderful book group surprised me with a birthday dinner, those sneaky bibliophiles! Asian food (which they know is my favorite), lovely delicacies, wine, lots of laughter, great friends...that's all you need for a party!

With my wonderful friend Kristin

Caley, Niki, and Gitte

The hostess and her pup

The gorgeous desserts (and gorgeous server)

With the lovely Caley, who I've known for 20+ years
(She and her daughter decorated with streamers and "Marvelous Marie" behind us)
(Keep Quiet and Don't Stream refers to what was happening behind the French doors!)

I love my birthday card!
(They identified me out of tribe of women)

Love this phenomenal group of smart, funny, wise women!
Topped off with flowers, sparkly, and money to spend on books at Powell's, the celebrations have begun! Thanks to Caley, Niki, Kristin, and Gitte for kicking off my birthday in such a fun way!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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