Friday, December 21, 2007
Give it a try:
At this time of year, it makes me revisit how many possessions we have and how little we really need. Christopher's Explorer Team (our alternative to the Boy Scouts) sponsored a needy family this year, as we have for several years straight, and bought them food and gifts for Christmas. I also think of our friends who have lost children or loved ones over the years, because this is a very difficult time of year for them. This year we are especially thinking of young 18-year-old Lenka, who is in the hospital undergoing chemo for non-Hodgkin's lympoma.
Every year, I also remember the very first Christmas we had with Christopher--he came home from the NICU just a few days before Christmas, and it was the best Christmas present we'd ever had. He was hooked up to a hefty oxygen tank, an apnea monitor, and a laptop computer, but he was home, and we finally had him all to ourselves. So I also remember all the families who have babies or children in the NICU or PICU, one of the worst places to be at Christmas.
As I'm trying to entertain my very active 1-year-old on the long flights to and from Europe, I will remind myself to count my blessings. I feel very fortunate that my children are all healthy, happy, loving, and compassionate. I have a great job I actually love, and how could I ever have lucked out to find such an amazing man with whom to share my life? My family are healthy and closeby, and we are also surrounded by a wonderful community of friends.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Friday, November 30, 2007
This topic has been long debated in my family. Growing up in Oregon, we always had gorgeous natural Christmas trees, while my British husband's childhood family always had a plastic tree. Horrors! Well, nowadays plastic trees are much more accepted (and vastly improved aesthetically) than they used to be. But I'm a Northwest stickler for the real Christmas tree. And not just any tree. I have never in my life bought a tree in an urban tree lot. Those trees often sit there for days between being cut and being sold. We joke in our family about leaving up our tree until Valentine's Day--and sometimes it's well into January before we cut it down. We certainly always keep it up until Epiphany. (In fact, one of Mike's family traditions we've implemented is to put your shoes under the tree on Epiphany, and the "Three Kings" leave you a small present overnight.)
Environmentalists and industry advocates are debating which alternative is the "green option." There is no easy answer.A real tree looks and smells beautiful, is sustainably harvested, and makes us nostalgic for holidays past. But how much do we pay for the gas to drive to the tree farm (or for the tree lot people to bring it to the city from the country)? How much energy is used for its disposal? How much water do we need to feed it to keep it fresh for several weeks?
A fake tree can certainly be cheaper over the long term, and in the past it's actually been sold as a "greener" alternative. But where are these trees shipped from? Probably China. How much petroleum went into the production of the trees? How much fuel was used to ship it (in its box) to the U.S.? And then there's the gas you use to shop for it.
Then we can consider the softer, less measurable features. For example, what about the health effects of chemicals used to make the fake tree or grow the real tree? What about the combustibility of fake trees? What's the impact on the U.S. economy of either option? And does a real tree affect your allergies? Fake trees are certainly the least hassle-free alternative. But what about those happy memories being created when a family makes an annual trip together to pick out a Christmas tree?
The National Christmas Tree Association charges that real trees are more environmentally beneficial because they are lead free, PVC free, carbon neutral, biodegradable, replenishable, and natural. (Click on the link to see its comparison between the two options.) Nonrenewable petroleum and metals go into production of artificial trees, releasing toxic dioxins into air and water.
I asked my friend Brandy Wilson, manager of my firm's Environmental Management System, for her opinion on the subject: “I come down on the side of real trees. They benefit U.S. jobs, providing social and economic sustainability, and they are a renewable resource. Real trees absorb some carbon while alive, even if much of that benefit is lost during harvest and transport. Fake trees have a heavy carbon footprint from birth to death and beyond in a landfill.” Brandy also sent me links to two excellent articles about organic Christmas trees and the live vs. fake debate.
Obviously, the greenest option is a live tree that can be planted outdoors later. Or no tree at all. But I would argue that having a real tree provides a wonderful opportunity for children and adults to feel a connection to nature during this festive season.
In Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, we are very fortunate to have plenty of sustainably grown and harvested trees available and nearby. We can support local agriculture and the economy by purchasing real trees. If we mulch our trees for our gardens after we are done enjoying their natural perfume and splendor, even the better.
In the past few years, we have started a family tradition of going out to get our tree and then going to a historic McMenamin's Pub afterward for lunch (unfortunately, many others in the area have the same idea!). The kids love the tradition, and so do we. In fact, Kieran is very upset about us going to England this Christmas, because we are not going to get a tree this year. It's just not worth it, since we're leaving on Dec. 22 and returning on Jan. 5 (the prime Christmas tree period in our family!). We'll have to do a rosemary tree or something like that instead.
If you celebrate Christmas and are staying home and not traveling, enjoy inviting a little of the outdoors into your home this season. However, make sure you follow all the guidelines for tree safety!
Here are some photos from our 2006 jaunt into the sticks to get a tree (at a Christmas tree farm):
Thursday, November 22, 2007
- The Wizard of Oz
- Frank Baum
- Dressing up
- Giving costumes away to other people (huh?? he must have meant he's thankful for when people give costumes to HIM!!)
- Grandma and Grandpa
- The cousins
- Hogwash and Zhei (his two most cherished stuffed animals)
- My brothers (I might have prompted this one a bit...)
Friday, November 16, 2007
I've been thinking a lot about friendship lately.
On Monday night, I got to have dinner with my "birthday sister" and celebrate our birthdays 1 month late. Several years ago I met Nancie, who is my colleague in our Seattle office, and we immediately hit it off. Then we discovered that we were born on the same day, October 6, exactly 10 years apart. We'd both lived abroad (she in Chile and me in Japan); love to read and travel; experienced infertility and other losses (she is a breast cancer survivor); married funny, wonderful men; and balance motherhood with our careers.
When I had Nicholas, Nancie came down to Portland (battling rush-hour traffic on a Friday afternoon from Seattle to Portland!) the weekend after I came home from the hospital. She did the best thing possible for our family: she spent high-quality time with Chris and Kieran, taking them all over town to do fun things and treating them as if they were the most special kids in the world. We asked Nancie and her husband Dave to be godparents to Nicholas, because they are fantastic parents and role models and know how to make children feel special.
For my birthday this year, I asked Mike if we could spend time with a couple that we had not seen for almost a year. We met them through the NICU Family Advisory Board, and our friendship has grown and flourished over the years, even though we really do not see each other often enough! We had a fantastic dinner at Mother's Restaurant in downtown Portland, and that adult dinner with friends was the best possible birthday present for me!
This summer I made a new friend, which is truly difficult to do once you leave college and the arena of shared experiences. Shelia and I spent a lot of time on the porch swings and following children around at Holden Village, and I discovered we have tons of things in common--love of reading; crafts; a laid-back but attachment-oriented, fun approach to parenting; and the fact that we both lived in Japan and we both have three children. She has a wonderful, irreverent approach to life and conversation. I knew we had a lot in common, but what really brought it home to me was the first time I went into their bathroom and discovered she had chosen the exact same, unusual bathroom tile that I had! Too funny! Unfortunately, she and her family moved to Idaho a few months ago, so it's ever more important to commit to staying in touch. I truly feel that her friendship is a rare gift, because we all become so stuck in our ways as we age and do not reach out to others as easily. It helps that our children have hit it off so well!
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
In 2001, a preeminent professor of African-American Studies, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., acquired a manuscript at the Swann Galleries in New York. It was believed to be the first novel written by an African-American woman who used to be a slave. Gates was the only bidder for the manuscript, which he acquired for $10,000.
Gates set out to explore the history behind Hannah Crafts' story, presumed to be based on her own life. The book is 1/3 back story (how he tried to research the history behind the manuscript), 1/3 the actual novel, and 1/3 extensive footnotes. Here is a review in the New York Times and a PBS interview with Gates.
Although the novel is written in a highly melodramatic, romantic form (reminiscent of a little-known romantic novel I read a few years back by Louisa May Alcott, A Long Fatal Love Chase), I found it compelling and fascinating. What's most remarkable is the fact that it was written by a former slave, who had no formal education. The author had some very unique insights about slavery, such as the preposterousness of slaves marrying and procreating, because they were merely perpetuating the idea of slavery (and risking severe emotional pain because the families were often separated).
Having read much about the Underground Railroad, abolitionist movement, and slavery in general, I didn't necessarily learn anything new about slavery...but what an amazing woman this "Hannah Crafts" was, to write such a complex, well-drawn-out story given her humble beginnings and lack of education.
It's definitely worth reading and an excellent addition to the 19th-century American literature canon.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
At the risk of having my dear readers think I've gone completely bonkers, I've decided to share a little folk cure I've discovered in the past week.
Ever since I had Nicholas at the ripe age of nearly 42, my body has never been the same. My joints are sore, my muscles feel ancient, and my bones are creaky. I creep out of my chair if I've been sitting at my desk for too long, and night time is the worst. I often wake up with aching hips. Honestly, there's nothing like having a baby in your 40s to make you feel old (in more ways than one!). I wouldn't change a thing, believe me, except I could do without the aches and pains.
The Oregonian has a natural health column every Sunday, and a few weeks ago it mentioned a cure for leg cramps or pain: placing a bar of soap in the bed. I tend to be very skeptical of homeopathy and the like, so I guffawed a bit when I read it. However, I also thought: "What could it hurt?"
So I've concluded that it has to be a fresh bar. I googled this remedy and found tons out on the internet (but no scientific basis for why it works), including an article on snopes.com. Someone wrote in on one of the web sites that he or she replaces the bar every couple of months. Apparently it's also supposed to help with restless legs, but Mike hasn't given up his Requip yet.
So there you have it--you can think that I'm wacko. But I'm a wacko without pain in my hips now! Hooray! Between the soap in bed, my attempts to eat wheat free, and my neti pot (see below), who knows what will be next! A chiropractor? :)
Monday, November 5, 2007
If you had told me that I would be the mother of THREE sons, I would never have believed you. I would never have planned to have three children to begin with, and three boys??? Who would wish that on herself? :)
And after a week when both Mike and I have been feeling tremendously overwhelmed by the complete mess and utter disaster that we call a home. Kieran declared that he loves living in a mess. All of our attempts to keep our house in order miserably fail. And yes, some would say that we do not have our children well trained enough to pick up after themselves on a regular basis (true) and furthermore, we should have cleaned all weekend instead of going to Family Fun Night at the community center, going to the Farmer's Market and the movies, having visiting-from-out-of-town friends over for dinner Saturday night, and going to see the spawning salmon and hiking in the gorge. Quality time over quality cleaning is our motto.
I just read a few lines in an essay and I was struck dumb by their beauty and perfection:
These words are from a column called "Mama at the Movies" by Caroline Grant, and posted on a wonderful web site and e-zine, Literary Mama.
This, indeed, is what I want.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Chris couldn't decide what he wanted to be, so he ended up amalgamating his choices into what Mike coined "the holy trinity": Howie Mandel, Simon Cowell, and Charlie Brown! A yellow t-shirt, some black tape, a little toy case, a cup, and my printer and laminator, and voila! :)
SuperWhy." It's about a foursome of superhero readers--it's really adorable! He was the lead superhero, "Super Why."
And now, I'll close on a very ADULT and some-would-say-sacrilegious joke....that made me laugh today! I got it from a coworker:
A cabbie picks up a nun. She gets into the cab, and notices that the VERY handsome cab driver won't stop staring at her. She asks him why he is staring. He replies: "I have a question to ask, but I don't want to offend you."
She answers, "My son, you cannot offend me. When you're as old as I am and have been a nun as long as I have, you get a chance to see and hear just about everything. I'm sure that there's nothing you could say or ask that I would find offensive."
"Well, I've always had a fantasy to have a nun kiss me."
She responds, "Well, let's see what we can do about that: #1, you have to be single and #2, you must be Catholic."
The cab driver is very excited and says, "Yes, I'm single and Catholic!"
"OK" the nun says. "Pull into the next alley."
The nun fulfills his fantasy with a kiss that would make a hooker blush. But when they get back on the road, the cab driver starts crying.
"My dear child," said the nun, "Why are you crying?"
"Forgive me but I've sinned. I lied and I must confess; I'm married and I'm Jewish."
The nun says, "That's OK. My name is Kevin and I'm going to a Halloween party."
Monday, October 29, 2007
We hadn't been to a pumpkin patch for a few years, since Kieran was 2, so I thought I'd try out a new one closer to home (especially given the fact that it was just me and the kids). We went to Baggenstos Farms in Tualatin, a fairly easy jaunt from our house. They had free hayrides to the pumpkin patch, a huge corn maze (which we skipped, given the fact that I had two little ones), a small hay maze for the little ones, a play structure, some goats and sheep, pumpkin bowling, and snacks to purchase such as kettle corn, french fries, etc. Both boys loved the adventure, and it was a fairly inexpensive outing. We bought a medium-sized pumpkin for $3 and a mini pumpkin for 50 cents, and also got some kettle corn and italian sodas.
And here is a very fun article about what your Halloween candy of choice says about your personality. As I was perusing the list, I was afraid to get to my favorite, but was very pleased to discover that it said I am a "generous soul...who understands the salty in life, as well as the sweet"! It goes without saying that if my Halloween candy wouldn't have reflected well on my personality, I certainly wouldn't have posted the link!! The full truth is that this year I did buy some Reeses peanut butter cups (my favorites), but I also bought some fruit snacks to offer a healthier choice and also for kids with allergies.
Tonight I will need to start figuring out how to help my kids with their VERY CREATIVE Halloween costumes. I'm proud of them for thinking out of the box, but it sure would have been easier to just go to the store and pick up a couple of ready-made costumes!
Here are some photos from our fun afternoon:
Friday, October 26, 2007
I discovered Girlyman when they opened for one of my all-time favorite singers, Dar Williams. (I'll blog about Dar soon.) Somewhere I read them described as a modern-day "Peter, Paul, and Mary," although they are two women and one man. I'd say they're somewhere between PPM and the Indigo Girls. Gorgeous harmonies, and songs I cannot get out of my head for the life of me! (In a good way, not an annoying one!) When we saw them in concert, I bought both CDs because I fell in love with their music. They just released their third CD this year, "Joyful Sign," and it's just as wonderful as the first two. My favorite song is the title song. Nicholas likes it too! Whenever I put it on the stereo, he gets excited. (But granted he does that for just about any CD or form of music!!)
If you haven't listened to Girlyman and you like folk-rock and gorgeous harmonies, check 'em out! You can listen to samples on their web site. Hey! I just checked their web site and found a wonderful free podcast of Girlyman singing with the Indigo Girls! Fantastic!!
I've long been an Annie Lennox fan, since my days in Japan when our Scottish friend Cath (who matchmaked between me and Mike) introduced me to a number of her favorite musicians. At that time, it was the Eurythmics era, and "Missionary Man" was one of their top hits. Although I loved the Eurythmics, I've enjoyed Annie Lennox's solo efforts even more over the years. Her beautiful voice, combined with her classical music training, result in lovely, and at times haunting (when not rocking!) music.
The highlight of the month I turned 40 (3 years ago this month!) was attending my one and only Annie Lennox concert. Actually, it was Annie Lennox followed by Sting, but Sting paled in comparison. I've been a marginal Sting fan, but after Annie, he was very disappointing. Annie was ELECTRIC! She was such an inspiration, too, for someone turning 40 (I believe that she's now 52, so she's nearly 10 years older than me). She rocked the Rose Garden. Amazing.
She doesn't put out CDs very often, and her latest one was worth waiting for: "Songs of Mass Destruction." It addresses global warming, Iraq, AIDS, religious conflict, global poverty, and gender inequity. As Annie said, "It is a dark album, but the world is a dark place. It's fraught, it's turbulent. Most people's lives are underscored with dramas of all kinds: there's ups, there's downs--the flickering candle. Half the people are drinking or drugging themselves to numb it. A lot of people are in pain."
One of the songs is a feminist anthem, "Sing," with a collaboration of 23 female artists, a sort of postlude to "Sisters Are Doing it for Themselves." It grew out of Annie's involvement and commitment to human rights, specifically the African HIV AIDS crisis.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
I admire his bravery to speak out in such a public forum in a staunchly red state. And his words resonate with me, too. As a Christian, I must vote my conscience and my beliefs. It's very hard for me to understand how someone can profess to be a Christian and believe in what Jesus Christ taught, and support politicians who vote against funding of children's health care and helping the poor, and are in favor of warmongering and discriminatory policies. How do people reconcile being a Christian with these things? I just don't understand.
There's no doubt that a great deal about the Catholic church gives me personal grief, but one thing I do admire about it is its consistency in supporting life and caring for the poor and disadvantaged. Personally, I am pro-choice, but I have an easier time understanding Catholics who are against abortion, the death penalty, and big war and defense spending than understanding someone who is anti-choice at the same time as advocating killing in the form of war or the death penalty.
This country is so deeply divided. I realize that the comments in any newspaper online run the full gamut of extremes (judging from the comments below this editorial and also our own Oregonian forums), but it is clear that there is no unity in sight.
I wish that I felt more hopeful about the future of this country. I guess the reason for hope is in our young people, who seem a lot more tolerant than their parents are!
This one's for you, Shelia! :)
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Yesterday, after a breakfast of Trader Joe's ginger granola (my favorite), a lunch of chicken pho, and a snack of an apple and a clif bar, I returned home to the wonderful smell of pizza baking, and this greeted me in the kitchen:
I know my busy stay-at-home dad husband needs to be able to prepare easy, kid-happy meals, and the kids go crazy for pizza. But I did have to give him a hard time for this one! Fortunately, it was the "meat special," and I generally forgo red meat (although the kids don't)...so that made it a bit easier to pass up. If he'd ordered my favorite, the Chicken Garlic, it would have been much more difficult to avoid.
The adult dinner was curried lentil soup (prepackaged) and toast. Fortunately, the spelt bread was a different variety, Dave's Killer Bread, and much more palatable than the other brand Mike has bought. I decided to make myself feel better by making myself a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the spelt bread.
I told Mike that the pizza temptation was almost, but not nearly, on a par with the time I came home from the hospital after having had jaw surgery...forced to eat nothing but liquids for 6 weeks, through my wired jaw...and I walked into the house to discover that my sister had made my VERY FAVORITE COOKIES, and I was totally, utterly, physically unable to eat them.chocolate oatmeal drops, and ironically, I'll continue to be able to eat them in their unadulterated fashion because they do not contain any wheat--hooray! I think I will go home tonight and whip up a batch to make myself feel better!
Okay, so the pizza was not quite as bad as that. I would have been able to eat the pizza, whereas I wouldn't have been able to eat the cookies. But it was a true test of willpower. I won. So perhaps he was (1) trying to test my willpower, or (2) trying to make me succumb so he could be the only nonwheat eater in the household! HAHA! (See Monday's post.)
Just kidding. He was the one who suggested that I blog about this. :)
Monday, October 22, 2007
I've looked at this curious development with pity, as the kids and I have been able to continue on our merry wheat-eating ways. We buy brown rice pasta and rice or spelt tortillas for Mike, and at the Farmer's Market we buy him rice puddings or other goodies while we eat muffins, etc.
Well, suddenly at the age of 43, I have been struck with the dreaded "wheat sensitivity" myself. I started having vague stomach pains at bedtime, and although Mike urged me to go to the doctor (I'm due for a physical anyway), I wanted to see if I could identify a food culprit first. After much experimenting in the past couple of weeks, off wheat and back on again, I'm afraid that I've succumbed to the condition as well.
Where Mike and I differ is that I've gone into research mode...locating wheat-free and gluten-free cookbooks and resources on the Web, and identifying a place (New Seasons) that sells bulk spelt and rice flour. I am determined to find a way to make this work without having to eschew the wonderful typically wheaty items that I love (baked goods, desserts, bread).
One such timely resource is Gluten-Free Girl, a Web site and now a book by a lively writer named Shauna James Ahern.
Mike, in his typical fake curmodgeonly way, has expressed dismay that going wheat-free is apparently now "in." He had overheard a conversation the other day between two women who were talking about their need to follow a wheat-free lifestyle. I pointed out that the more people who can't eat wheat, the more demand there will be for goods that make eating wheat free easier for all of us. He pooh-poohed my Pollyanna comments! He probably thinks I'm a copycat wheat-freer!