Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40 bags in 40 days (Lent 2015)

A friend on Facebook told me about the 40 bags-40 days challenge. Ann Marie, who blogs at White
House Black Shutters, has been doing this Lenten decluttering challenge since 2011. She also calls it "decrapifying," which is even a better term than decluttering!

She has a printable list, areas to declutter, non-stuff things to organize, and regular email tips and Facebook posts. I think I can use some inspiration to decrapify my house.

I'm not sure how religious I will be about 40 bags in 40 days--might be 40 bags in 30 days, or 30 bags in 40 days--but I will do my best. Don't hold me to rules because I will feel stifled! Ha!

Wish me luck, and join me if you'd like!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Take me to church (three videos)

You've probably heard it on the radio, Hozier's beautiful, haunting song "Take Me to Church." I wonder how many listeners know the background.

Here's your clue: it's not about going to church. 

It's a statement about how so many in the church have rejected LGBT people in thought, word, or deed. Hozier uses religious imagery to tell a story about true love, but while the highly singable anthem uses subtle symbolism and metaphors ("I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife"), the official video is extremely clear of the song's intentions. Two male lovers are tracked down and beaten; it was made to raise awareness and support for gay marriage after Russia criminalized homosexuality.

The other night at the Grammys, one of my favorites, Annie Lennox, did a beautiful duet of this song with Hozier. It's worth watching too!

And now Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin improvised a gorgeous solo performance in what looks like a church under construction:

This is what Hozier says about the song:

"The song, to me, is about what it is to be a human, what it is to love someone as a human being, and organizations that would undermine that, and undermine the more natural parts of being a person. If you feel offended or disgusted by the image of two people kissing, if that's what it is, but you're more disgusted by that than the actual violence ... I think you should take a look at your values, maybe. I don't think there really should be a controversy when we're talking about a basic human right and the equal treatment of people. Electing a person in the place of an organization, like the church, as something that is worth worshiping and something that is worth loving, something tangible and real ... There's a lot to the song, but if I need to stand up and swing from the corner, I'm happy to do that."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My heart just burst a little...

Today 8-year-old Nick came home from school with this note:

It turns out that his friend was feeling discouraged about his soccer skills, and Nick took the time to encourage him. And Calvin, in turn, made him this note.
The other day Nick had his best friend spend the night (late opening). I love watching these boys interact with each other--they can never get enough time together. This is the way I feel about my close women friends! They love each other and at this age are not afraid to express that. Of all my sons, Nick is the one who forms the closest friendships with other children. He is my tender one.
With his best buddy Osias
Although most of his friends are boys,
he had a HUGE soft spot for this precious Natalia!

And more little buddies Noah and Adam
As a female, close friendships are so integral to my life, and I'm keenly aware of the messages boys receive as they grow up. I think homophobia smothers close male friendship. I hope it is different for my children's generation.

I told Nicholas that this note meant more to me than a stellar report card...because he's a kind person and a good friend. Heart bursting!

Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu!

Kieran learned this week that he landed the role of Kurt in Jackson Middle School's production of "The Sound of Music Jr."

When I was in third grade, I wanted to change my name to "Maria." Back in the old days, we could watch "The Sound of Music" only once a year, when it was aired on TV. I've watched it outside in the open air one night at Holden Village, and I've cried through the singalong version at Jesuit High School. As a young boy, Kieran also loved this movie.

Holding up the flyer for the Sound of Music
 outdoor movie at Holden Village, many years ago!
For his sixth birthday, he wanted to have a Sound of Music party. I even bought lederhosen and a dirndl (for me)! It was a great event. He was obsessed with Kurt, his favorite character. As I wrote back then,
I was hoping to use a much more colorful photo for the cake...but Kieran insisted on this one, because it shows Kurt and Friedrich in their lederhosen!! As I was decorating, Kieran kept bumping me, and I told him he'd better be careful or I would end up writing "Kurt" instead of "Kieran." Of course, he was delighted with that there it is.

So we were all excited when he got cast as Kurt...although he wasn't planning to audition until his phenomenal choir teacher begged him to (she's codirecting with the drama teacher). It's hard to follow his amazing Mary Poppins experience.

Early reports are that middle school drama is VERY different from his professional experience at NWCT. They had the first read-through on Tuesday, and he was disappointed that people were not taking things more seriously. So we are crossing our fingers that this experience works out for him!! At the least, I'm hoping he becomes friends with more drama- and music-minded kids at his school...and the school's music and drama program were a major reason why we wanted him to attend this middle school.

He's also participating in one last season of NWCT's Kids Company Northwest, his fifth time, while preparing to audition for more mainstage roles next year.

Enjoy these throw-back photos of Kieran's Sound of Music party in 2009, or read the story here.

Watching "The Sound of Music"

Kieran's favorite scene--when the Captain calls them with a whistle!

Lederhosen boy with our amazing friends Brad and Catherine

In my dirndl

There's tiny Nick in the background, age 2!

With his friend Blu, who's one of the few kids
 from his grade school who goes to his middle school
What are your favorite songs from "The Sound of Music"? For me, it's "The Sound of Music" and "The Lonely Goatherd."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

If you reach for the heavens, you'll get the stars thrown in

My larger-than-life middle son just finished his mainstage debut as Michael Banks in Mary Poppins at Northwest Children's Theater (NWCT)--an amazing show! (Yes, I'm slightly biased!)

When did I know that he would be an actor? Probably at age three, when he declared he was having a Wizard of Oz party for his fourth birthday and he would be the Wicked Witch. We re-enacted the movie in condensed version! The sixth one was the "Sound of Music."

The Wicked Witch at age 4, with friends
He's been seeing theater since he was little...raised on the Ladybug Theater, NWCT, and Chris' various school plays. As soon as he was old enough, we got him into after-school theater programs. 

Kieran with John Ellingson at NWCT, who played "Winnie the Pooh"
(Tigger wasn't in the play, but as soon as John saw Kieran,
 he shouted, "Tigger! I've been wondering where you've been!"
But it wasn't until 2010 that his career aspirations were cemented. That year, he participated in two summer drama camps and discovered his deep love for the stage. 
Summer 2010, after appearing as the villain Haman
 in a play about the biblical story of Esther
Photo used in the Oregonian for the Hullabaloo
Then that fall he was cast as the only lead actor in Jane Theater Company's production of "Frankenstein: the Little Monster," a British-style pantomime. At age 8, he performed 25 performances over 5 weeks, not missing a one. We drove across the river to SE Belmont five days a week for one month, and three days a week for the performances. It was a great experience for him, but challenging in many ways because he was the only child in the play. 

With his mom in the play
And his real mom!
For years, it's been Kieran's dream to get on the mainstage at NWCT. He began auditioning a few years ago, and for four seasons he's been in their touring company, Kids Company Northwest.
At NWCT, dreaming of the mainstage
(Photo by our friend Bayard, who took Kieran and his daughter to an NWCT play)
In the meantime, he has been a regular at most of the NWCT shows.
Another photo with John Ellingson (Captain Hook) at NWCT
(Of course, Kieran had to dress up as Captain Hook to see the play!)
As soon as he heard NWCT would be doing Mary Poppins in 2014-2015, he set his eyes on the role of Michael Banks. Much of the Broadway musical is online on Youtube, and he memorized everything he could find. So we were all excited when he landed the role: finally, the mainstage, and with a lead role!

What a thrill it was to see him onstage! He had the time of his life. Every day Kieran was not at the theater, he was at a loss. Kieran's Jane is now his best friend, and he also formed bonds with many other actors (including the amazing Chrissy Kelly-Pettit, who played Mary Poppins). 

We've seen a lot of theater in Portland--both children's and adult--and this show was phenomenal. The singing, dancing, and acting were fantastic; costumes gorgeous; and production elements amazing. I cried during every show. Such a stage mom! (In fact, I'm not really--later on I found out that most of the parents saw the show so many more times than I did!) It was NWCT's most successful production to date--they sold out every show, and when they added an additional show, it sold out almost immediately. In total, 20,000 people saw the show!

We were also really impressed with the organization itself--rarely were they let out of rehearsals late (this is a pet peeve of mine as a theater mom!) and communication was great. I also appreciated the way they protected the child actors. Every adult actor has a background check, and they have separate dressing rooms. The kids were not allowed to leave the theater between shows. 

The roles of Jane and Michael were double cast, which alleviated the commitment over the holidays a bit. (Kieran would have preferred to be in every performance, though, because he loved it so much!) 

Kieran's known of NWCT's artistic director Sarah Jane Hardy for fact, many years ago he wrote her a letter asking her to produce "Into the Woods"! So it was a thrill for him to be able to work with her at last! And working with the phenomenal John Ellingson (Bert) was also exciting. 

He was SO SAD when the show was over, and he's anxious to get back on the mainstage again next season--fingers crossed!

Here are some photos purchased from David Kinder, NWCT's photographer.

Spoonful of Sugar 
Anything Can Happen

Describing the perfect nanny

My favorite photo!

Spoonful of Sugar

Visiting Mr. Banks at the bank

Let's Go Fly a Kite (my favorite song when I was young)

Michael and Jane with their stage mom
 (such a talented singer!!)

Practically Perfect

Step in Time, the amazing dance number!

Backstage tour

At the beginning of Step in Time

The entire cast of Mary Poppins
When the show was over, the entire cast had a (sparkling cider) toast together, and the Janes and Michaels took this great photo:

Thanks to all of you who came to see Kieran in "Mary Poppins" (more photos on Facebook)! He had a great fan base, and we are so grateful for your support!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Best Books of 2014

Here are the best books I read in 2014. Click the title to read my review. They are listed in approximate order of how much I liked them (#1 being the best). I'd love to hear what you thought of any of these books. If you've read any, please leave me a comment.

You can also refer to my best books lists back to 2001 here. Enjoy! This is cross-posted in Marie's Book Garden.


1. Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
2. My Notorious Life, Kate Manning
3. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
4. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Sherman Alexie
6. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
7. Word Nerd, Susin Nielsen
8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
9. The Ayah’s Tale, Sujata Massey
10. The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty
11. The Weight of Silence, Heather Gudenkauf
12. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
13. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
14. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
15. After Eli, Rebecca Rupp
16. Lean On Pete, Willy Vlautin
17. What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty
18. We Are Water, Wally Lamb
19. Body Work, Sara Paretsky
20. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Paula J. Freedman
21. The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
22. The Hundred-Foot Journey, Richard Morais


2. I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai 
4. A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout
5. My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor
8. God Is Disapointed in You, Mark Russell (still reading)
9. Believing Cassandra: Getting Beyond the End of the World, Alan AtKisson (still reading)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Amazing tomato soup!

I've always been a sucker for good tomato soup. In fact, when I was a girl, my favorite was Campbell's Tomato Soup, while my sister's favorite was Chicken Noodle. We used to have to alternate when we had soup for lunch! Of course, now my tastes are more sophisticated--I haven't eaten Campbell's for years. My everyday go-to is boxed organic tomato soup, and one of my favorites is Noodles' tomato-basil bisque.

Tonight Mike made an amazing tomato soup, which just might be my new favorite!! It's from Good Food, Great Medicine, a fantastic cookbook (and healthy lifestyle book) by Portland physician Miles Hassell and his sister Mea Hassell. I loved this soup and would highly recommend has a nice kick, too!

You can get the recipe as a PDF on his Web site, or you can read it below. I just read his advice about ginger--he has a great tip about making it last longer (in white wine or mirin) and I didn't realize that you don't have to peel it!

Bon appetit!

Creamy Thai Tomato Soup

The Thai reference in the recipe name is actually culinary license on my part, but this is a great soup; rich and vivid, yet with the comforting quality of creamy tomato soups. This can be made from scratch quickly and uses ingredients I always have on hand.

(Serves 6)

¼ cup virgin coconut or extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 medium-large onion in ¼-inch diced (3 cups)
1 tablespoon freshly crushed garlic
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1½ cups tomato juice (or a 12-ounce can)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (see note)
2 teaspoons fish sauce (see note)
1½ tablespoons honey
1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk (see note)

Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy 5-quart soup pot. Add pepper flakes and onion. Sauté 15 minutes, or until onions are very soft. Add garlic and sauté another minute.

2. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, ginger, fish sauce, and honey. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes, stirring now and then. Remove from heat, add coconut milk, and blend thoroughly with whisk or purée. (See note below.) Add fresh basil
just before serving.

Miles Hassel's Notes:

  • I like the smooth-textured version of this soup. If you have an immersion blender, purée soup directly in pot. If you use a food processor, purée cooled soup in 2 batches. Return soup to pot and bring to a simmer again. The fresh basil is a grand addition, but the soup is bright enough in color and flavor to stand alone.
  • Thai fish sauce is potently fishy – don’t let the smell put you off. It is available in most supermarkets and probably has a shelf life of a hundred years or so. However, I have successfully substituted a tablespoon of mashed anchovies – about 3 anchovies. I dice them finely first, then mash them with the side of the knife blade until they’re a smooth paste.
  • Fresh ginger is an easy item to keep on hand. Buy a firm, smooth-skinned knob of ginger and cut it into one-inch chunks. Store the chunks submerged in white wine or mirin (a sweet rice wine used in Japanese cooking) in a glass jar in the refrigerator. The ginger will last a few months this way, although it loses some of its fresh bite over time. Peeling ginger is optional, but it’s easy to peel or scrape off the thin skin. (Some people find that ginger relieves nausea; you can make your own ginger tea by steeping sliced ginger in boiling water with honey to taste.)
  • Canned coconut milk is available almost anywhere for a wide range of prices. Don’t buy “lite” versions, and before you decide on a brand, read the ingredient list; added xanthan gum and soy lecithin are fine – they are natural emulsifiers. If the contents have separated into a solid white layer on top and the liquid below, don’t worry. Just scrape the firm creamy part into the soup (it will melt in quickly) and pour in the liquid. 

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