Friday, August 31, 2007

My Growing Boys

As I blogged earlier, my eldest son turned 11 on August 23, and my youngest son will turn 1 on Sept. 4. We celebrated Christopher's birthday with an "America's Got Talent" party with several of his friends--it was a hoot! It's obvious that he's getting older because he actually invited two girls!

Christopher's 11th birthday!

We had a cello solo, a piano solo, a knock-knock joke performance, two "dances," an original song, and an original, impromptu skit. Three of the kids got stage fright--totally understandable--but they received awards for "best audience members." Each of the kids got a trophy. Very fun!! I also had a craft project for them instead of a goody bag--I'd bought CD cases and pens for them to decorate them...and they all dove in, but it lasted a total of 2 minutes before they were done! So much for that idea to occupy their time!

Chris and Kieran seem to be born performers and love the spotlight. It's interesting to note that both Mike and I liked to perform when we were kids too...although I think that our children have surpassed that comfort level. I still get nervous when speaking in public, although Mike doesn't seem to. However, I've always enjoyed singing or playing musical instruments. Chris and Kieran seem very comfortable in the spotlight and in fact seem to crave it! Chris wrote a song for the talent show and didn't seem nervous at all about performing it. Kieran continues to do his nightly "plays" each evening before bed. We've got them both enrolled in theater classes in the fall!

My big 11-year-old!! Can't believe it...

We celebrated both Nicholas' and Chris' birthdays jointly with family and a few close friends. This past year has totally flown by, and it's amazing to realize that our little surprise baby is almost one already. Parenting certainly sheds additional light on how quickly time passes.

Nicholas had his first taste of cake--he enjoyed it but seems to like ice cream even more. He seemed a bit overwhelmed by all the attention. On his actual birthday, we will be at the beach and returning that evening, so we're not sure how we will celebrate.

First taste of cake: lemonade cake!

His favorite gift so far is his Jane Austen finger puppet doll! Years ago Mike gave me one for Christmas, and Chris has somehow ended up with it. It is his beloved Cookie Monster's "girlfriend"! (Don't ask!) Nicholas adores it, and he's constantly trying to get his hands on it to Chris' chagrin. So I ordered another one off eBay so Nicholas could have his own. He absolutely loves it and even says "Jane"!

My tropical masterpiece!

Kieran went to my parents' house this week for a sleepover, and as he was eating dinner with them, he said out of the blue: "You think I'm the bee's knees, don't you?"

What a funny family we have.

Having fun at Grandma & Grandpa's house with cousin Garrett

Playing the piano--all of my kids love music, but I think this one will be the MOST musical of all three, judging from his reaction to music...

Reading the Simpsons while the little ones play...
the calm eldest statesman of the six boy cousins!

Here’s an Easy, Tangible Way to Help the Refugees in Darfur

Here’s a way to reach out across the miles and provide needed help to the thousands of refugees from Darfur who are stranded in camps in hot, dry Chad . In many developing countries, women and girls must gather firewood for cooking fuel. When they venture outside of the refugee camp, they become prey for militia and roaming bandits. They are often raped, beaten, and even branded.

In addition, the age-old practice of building fires to cook meals has damaged the ecosystem and is believed to contribute to global warming. The United Nations reports that 52 percent of trees cut across the world are used for cooking fuel. In addition, women in developing countries often suffer from lung and eye diseases because they inhale smoke equivalent to smoking 10 to 20 packs of cigarettes a day.

What can you do to help?

Jewish World Watch and the American Jewish Committee are raising money to outfit every refugee family with at least two solar cookers. Use of the solar cookers cuts use of firewood by 40 percent, cutting back on the need for dangerous treks outside of the camp.

For just $30, you can purchase solar cookers for two refugee families, or for $90, buy stoves for six families.

Here's some more information about this project.

If you’d like to donate online, click here. I can't think of a better way to help preent violence against women and children, along with helping them be more independent and be able to focus on greater uses for their time.

On Larry Craig, Sting Operations, and Republicans Running as Fast as They Can

I happened to be in Boise, Idaho, when the news about Idaho’s Senator Larry Craig hit the news. Flipping the channels in my hotel room, I found coverage on nearly every station, but especially on the Idaho news. What I found particularly fascinating was the scant details provided about what exactly prompted the arrest. Based on the Idaho television news coverage, it appeared that Craig had touched the undercover officer’s foot with his foot, and I was thinking “This is arrest-worthy??” It wasn’t until I returned home that I learned more of the details from my husband. In the early hours of the scandal, it appeared that Idaho news outlets were treading very carefully on this issue.

Now it’s been a few days, and Craig’s supporters are dropping like flies. He’s been stripped of his committee appointments and has stepped down as Mitt Romney’s Idaho campaign chair. I have to confess that the part of me that abhors self-righteousness, homophobia, intolerance, and hypocrisy feels secretly vindicated at Craig’s downfall. However, another part of me has to chuckle at all the hoopla it is causing.

Last night while driving home from work I heard a wonderful commentary on “All Things Considered” by Marc Acito, who challenged the vindicated feelings in all of us to question whether this “bringing down of the senator” is really more complicated than it appears. It’s a thought-provoking essay, and I suggest you listen to it.

And this morning, I read this editorial in the New York Times online, which asks the question of why the Republican party is so quick to get rid of Craig, yet looks away when Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens is being investigated BY THE FBI, for so much worse than a little footsie? Yet the Republican party is silent on Stevens’ and others’ complete lack of ethics and accountability.
I actually feel sorry for Larry Craig. He’s obviously a very troubled soul. And the person I feel most sorry for is his wife, whose life is clearly ruined, one way or another.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Latest Addiction

On Tuesday I took the afternoon off and accompanied the boys to Portland's historic amusement park on the Willamette River, Oaks Park. We went with one of Chris' friends, James, and his mom and sister. Unfortunately I didn't get around to taking photos of our outing, probably because I was too busy going on the rides!

Both older boys were quite brave--Chris went on the big roller coaster with me, in spite of last-minute trepidation. He's been on it before, but he got the jitters as we were waiting in line. Kieran went on the "Scrambler" and the ferris wheel for the first time and did great! I do realize that I'm not as young as I used to be, because the roller coaster combined with some of the other rides gave me a headache!

Oaks Park's Newest ride, the Disko--very fun but gave me a headache!

But here's my addiction: the Screamin' Eagle. It looked positively terrifying when I was watching others on the ride, but for some bizarre reason I decided to give it a whirl. James was the only other person in our group who wanted to ride it, so we went together. I LOVED IT!!! Basically, you jump up into this seat and a bar comes down and locks you into your seat, and then the floor drops out and you're lifted up into the air. The ride spins around very fast, and then you're violently hurled into the air back and forth (while spinning around at breakneck speed). You're encouraged to take off your shoes, which contributes to a very freeing feeling!

The viewpoint from below

Akin to how I felt on Disney's "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror," as soon as the ride was over, I wanted to go again! I've never been addicted to anything more hazardous than coffee and books, but I had a revelation of what it must feel like. James and I went on it three times, and I would have gone more if we had started earlier. I've always enjoyed that feeling of falling! Crazy, eh? Mike thinks I should take up skydiving, but that's too risky for me. Somehow I feel more secure being on an amusement park ride than totally unsecured flying through the air.

You can bet that I'll look for another opportunity soon to go back to Oaks Park and hit the Screamin' Eagle!! It looks much, much more scary than it actually feels like!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Beautiful Boy

11 years ago today, my dear son Christopher was thrust suddenly into this world 4 months too early. He was way too sick and tiny to survive without intensive care and artificial respiration. We knew absolutely nothing about premature babies until we were having one.

Even though I had experienced bleeding on and off during my pregnancy, I was not considered at risk for premature birth. Needless to say, I was in shock when my water broke and the umbilical cord ruptured when I was just 24 weeks into my pregnancy. When we arrived at the hospital, the nurse checked me out and informed me that I must have been mistaken—everything looked fine. I will never forget the nurse’s loud gasp when my OB came in to check me out and gestured her over to take a look.

Because the baby was breech and at great risk of becoming hypoxic (suffering from lack of oxygen because of the prolapsed cord), my OB gave us a choice: have a radical c-section and the baby would have a 50 to 60 percent chance of survival (and all my future pregnancies would need to be c-section), or deliver the baby naturally and he would die. I didn’t even pause to consult my husband before I blurted out “I’ll take the c-section.” I knew that Christopher was meant to live.

Christopher was born weighing 610 grams (1 lb, 6 oz.) and measuring 11 inches long. Amazingly, he did not have a brain bleed. My OB later confessed that she thought that he looked like a fetus when he came out, and that she was convinced he would never make it. (I’m glad she waited awhile to inform me of this.) He was red and bruised with translucent skin, scrawny and tiny, and very, very sick. To us, he was the most beautiful creature we had ever seen. I remember how much it meant to me when our family members expressed how beautiful he was. I needed to hear that.

Early days in the NICU
Christopher was in the NICU for 117 long days. The entire time, he struggled with weight gain. (He’s still skinny, at 11 years old!) The most terrifying moments were three crises during his first 7 weeks. At one point we thought that his lungs were going to give out, and the NICU staff called us into the unit early in the morning, informing us that they didn’t think he would make it. The second crisis was a bad reaction to a drug, which resulted in cerebral edema and low flow to the brain. We were told that he would probably have massive brain damage and would die. (Then the next day he had another ultrasound and his head was totally normal!) The third incident was at about seven weeks, by which time we really thought he was in the clear. A life-threatening infection had us scared out of our wits for several hours. Each time, the NICU staff saved his life and expressed great skill, caring, and dedication to both Christopher and to us.

Christopher was on the vent for about 5-1/2 weeks, went onto nasal cannula for a few days, and back on the vent until he was 7 weeks old. The hardest thing was not being able to hold him until he was 5 weeks old. Even then, we were only able to hold him once a day until he moved to Level 2. I so desperately wanted to cuddle him and make him feel better!

We sang to Christopher constantly and soon became known on the unit as the singing parents. We made him a tape to play in his isolette when we were not there. We found that music calmed him and made his sats go up. To this day, Chris absolutely adores music. He loves to play the guitar and the piano and sing. Today, his birthday party featured a talent show with his friends, and he performed a song he had written. (I told him that I wrote my first song when I was around his age too!) There is no doubt in my mind that this love of music comes from those days before he was supposed to be born, when his understanding of us was the songs that we sang to him daily.

Right before discharge with primary nurse Marcia

Chris had his challenges during the first year at home. He had major feeding problems and suffered from reflux. (It's amazing to imagine now that we call him "The Bottomless Pit," because he can't ever get enough to eat!!) I will never forget my first Mother's Day, when both of us dissolved into tears because he didn't want to eat, and I was afraid of what would happen because he wouldn't eat (and the doctors had us very concerned about his slow weight gain).

About 7 months old (adjusted for prematurity); 11 months actual

Chris' First Birthday! (at 8 months adjusted)

One of his kidneys is damaged from a spike in his blood pressure during one of his crisis periods. When he had a followup MRI because of the cerebral edema, we were told that he had a mass of veins in his cerebellum that could cause a stroke…and that he would have to have brain surgery. Fortunately we talked the neurosurgeon into performing another MRI 6 months later just in case, and the MRI was normal.

Around 4-1/2 years old (Photo by Laurie Bentley)

In the past few years Chris has been diagnosed with epilepsy after suffering from a frightening grand mal seizure. Just when we thought we were "in the clear"... :) We can always count on Christopher to surprise us.

In addition to the incredible staff in the NICU, we will always be grateful for the love and support of our family and friends who helped us through Christopher’s first year of life. The only way I kept my sanity was to visualize Christopher as a happy, healthy toddler running on the beach.

Age 6

My visualization of Christopher has come true so clearly! He is extremely active, bright and inquisitive, and loves life. He is imaginative, highly verbal, and affectionate. And now not only is he running on the beach, but he's also boogie boarding and swimming in the ocean! Through the years, we have continued to experience some of the “two steps forward, one step back” in a variety of health issues he’s had. However, given the odds he faced, we are all extremely lucky that he has done so well.

Age 8

The "dark side" of having a preemie or a child who has fought for his life is that anytime I get annoyed or angry with Chris (and believe me, I DO!!!), I feel incredibly guilty. After praying constantly for his survival and his ability to stand up to me and challenge me, how easy it is to forget. 11 years--it seems like a lifetime ago in some ways, and at other times--like when I visit the NICU and smell that very distinctive disinfectant soap--it all comes screaming back to me. Or when I fainted when Chris had the grand mal's all much more firmly etched in my psyche than I realize. It has not been an easy journey by any means, but the rockier the road, the better the flowers by the roadside smell.
Every year on Chris’ birthday, we say a prayer of thanks for everyone who cares for premature or critically ill babies and a prayer of hope for all the babies in the NICU. We are grateful for each person in Chris' life who loves him unconditionally and realizes how far he's come.
And we thank our lucky stars that Chris is alive and kicking, singing, swimming, drumming, reading, and EATING! :)

July 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

This Is the Life!

Watching my nearly-1-year-old, it is so clear to me how life gets so much more complicated as we age. Nothing can match the pure bliss on a baby's face when he or she tastes ice cream for the very first time.

Spa Days

So here it is, nearly 1 year from the date of the birth of my third child, and I have five—count them, five—gift certificates for spas stacked up on my dresser. Two from Mike for Christmas or my birthday (can’t remember which), for a massage and aesthetician services; two spa certificates from coworkers on the occasion of Nicholas’ birth; and one massage gift certificate given to me by my health club to congratulate me on my pregnancy. It’s a sad commentary on the hectic state of my life that I had not used any of them until this month.

It’s not like I didn’t try. One day while still on maternity leave I valiantly tried to make three separate appointments, but was foiled for various reasons—massage therapist on leave, the spa location I wanted was not open yet, etc. So here it was, August, and two were set to expire.

So I’ve had two weeks of spa luxury. The certificate at the fanciest spa expired first, so instead of saving the best for last, I had the best first. Last Friday I had a 3-hour spa treat: a massage, manicure, and pedicure at Dosha Spa on Hawthorne. I’m such a spa novice…I didn’t realize that they would have an inviting hot tub and steam room…otherwise I would have gone an hour early for my appointment and lingered.

It was wonderful—they give you a robe and spa sandals when you arrive for your massage, and you’re invited to partake of the hot tub and steam room…although being co-ed, you need a swimsuit for the hot tub. I did venture into the steam room for a few minutes and immediately became drenched in sweat. The massage was wonderful and followed by a hot shower with nice-smelling Aveda products. Then I went downstairs for a manicure and pedicure. I have only had a manicure once in my life, the day before my sister’s wedding. I especially enjoyed having the pedicure done while sipping hot tea.

Then today I had a facial at Montgomery Spa near Multnomah Village. Calling it a “spa” is a bit of an exaggeration—it’s basically a salon with spa services—but my aesthetician was nice and the facial was very relaxing. In some ways, I think I might relax more with a facial than a massage—who knows why? At any rate, in the midst of my facial (before she got to the blackhead-pinching part!), I was thinking to myself that I must do this type of thing more often!

I am the kind of person who finds it very difficult to really relax—hence my procrastination of using my spa certificates—but after my week of massage, facial, manicure, and pedicure, I’ve reminded myself that I’m worth it!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Go, Hillary, Go!

I’m watching the beginnings of the presidential campaign with a “wait and see” attitude. I’ve long been an admirer of Hillary, in spite of her flaws, yet how strange to find myself leaning toward one of the more conservative candidates in the field.

I discovered this interesting blog, titled “How Dare She?”, which chronicles the ensuing battle between Senators Clinton and Obama. Today I read an article in the Oregonian by a Republican who, along with other conservatives, is beginning to view Sen. Clinton in a much more favorable light. This is why I’m feeling ambivalent.

In reality, I realize that for a woman to win, she will have to be more moderate. Of all of the world’s female leaders, very few of them are abashedly liberal and feminist. Although Hillary does call herself a feminist and has championed the rights of women and children, she voted for funding the war in Iraq and has been less aggressive than I would have liked on the issue of pacificism, for one. For a woman to have a good shot of winning, or even being the Democrats’ candidate, in this day and age, she cannot be too liberal. This is a sad fact, and one I suspect Hillary has learned over her years in politics.

As a candidate and as a person, she has grown tremendously since the “Stand by Your Man” phase. Sadly, when she stopped using “Rodham” as a surname, she must have realized that she would have to adapt her strong personality if she wanted to be a successful political wife and politician in her own stead. I find this to be terribly sad, but a reality in our country. Whether you are a man or a woman, it would be nearly impossible to win if one is too far to the left…and for a woman and a Clinton, even moreso.

I cried along with Pat Schroeder when she withdrew from the race years ago. But surely she was definitely too liberal to win. I still remember going to hear Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro when I was a young 20-year-old, and the excitement of being able to vote for a woman on the ticket in my first presidential election. I adored the show “Commander in Chief” and was devastated when they took it off the air after one season, despite an Emmy Award for Geena Davis.

I would love to see a Clinton-Obama ticket. I think that would be phenomenal…being vice-president would be a great growth opportunity and stepping stone for Obama. And I’m hoping the ticket would draw the young and apathetic away from their iPods and into the voting booths (or to their mailboxes, in Oregon).

Even though I haven’t always agreed with the decisions the Clintons have made or their approach to things, I am very excited about the prospect of being able to vote for a woman in this election. A few years ago I read Hillary Clinton’s memoir Living History and it only increased my respect for her. In the back of my mind, I’m a bit worried about whether she is “electable” in the red states. As much as I hate to admit it, maybe it’s a good thing that the conservatives are viewing her more favorably.

However, just as I got ready to post this entry, I saw an article in Yahoo about the number of Democrats who are afraid that Clinton’s campaign is going to drag others down and hurt Democrats overall. They say that her unpopularity will be too hard to overcome. That is discouraging. I fear that Democrats’ polarization and lack of unity could hurt us in the end.
With the recent horrible decisions coming out of the Supreme Court (the most recent of which the judgment against Lily Ledbetter in the Goodyear Tire Company discrimination case), we desperately need a Democrat in the White House more than ever before. I have confidence that Hillary Clinton would do her best to restore justice to the Supreme Court and pay attention to the plight of underprivileged women and children. Maybe she would reach out to Muslims and find a way to bring some peace into this violent world. And maybe, just maybe, I could travel outside of the United States and not be ashamed of being an American.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

We're Going to the Hukilau

Kieran channeling Elvis as "Stitch"

We’ve been home from Hawaii for a little over a week, although it feels like much longer. None of us wanted to return home, but we’ve all settled back easily into our Oregon routine. The day we got back it was 95 degrees, hotter than in Hawaii, but now it’s reverted to the generally gray, cooler days typical of Oregon.

The second part of our Hawaii trip was very relaxing. The last night we were in Honolulu, Chris got to participate in the “King’s Jubilee” celebration at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. He paraded with several other children behind the “king” and the hula dancers. Kieran was bereft that he was too young to participate. The rest of us paid an exorbitant fee to watch the parade and show from the poolside and drink bad cocktails (and a virgin pina colada for Kieran). The fireworks at the end were wonderful, and I was surprised to see that Nicholas didn’t flinch at all at the noise since they were nearly overhead (and spectacular!).

The next day we left for the north shore, but first we stopped in Chinatown to revisit a wonderful vegetarian Chinese restaurant we’d been to before, for dim sum. Having eaten dim sum in a variety of locales, I’m always suspicious of what I’m eating…so it’s a relief to eat vegetarian! Honolulu’s Chinatown is bustling and the center of the lei-making craft and trade.

We took our time driving up to the north shore and when we arrived at the condo (Pat's at Punalu'u), we were a bit dismayed to see the condition of the building. It looked a bit down and out, to say the least! We pored over the complicated instructions for retrieving our keys and using the elevator to go up the 4th floor unit. Walking into our oceanview corner unit, we were delighted to see that it was nicely decorated and spacious, and had magnificent views. Typical of island condos, there was no air conditioning but nice windward breezes from the ocean. The lanai was fabulous and wrapped around the unit.

The next four days were spent exploring beaches, revisiting old haunts (such as Romy’s Shrimp Shack, where we have shrimp every time we go to Oahu), and eating lots of shave ice! Kieran has become quite the shave ice fanatic. In fact, our one solitary preschooler tantrum of the trip occurred one day in Honolulu, when the rest of us were going to have ice cream at Haagen Dazs, and Kieran was determined to have shave ice. He pitched a fit, of course eliminating his possibility for shave ice! What a difference in shave ice between Honolulu and the North Shore, though…there was no comparison. In Waikiki, it’s $3.75 without ice cream, and in Halei’wa, it’s $2.50 for the same size with better selection and flavor of syrup, with ice cream on the bottom. Ice cream on the bottom vastly improves shave ice.

Our condo had a kitchen, so we ate most of our meals in and had one meal out each day. Mike and Chris discovered that going to the movies is cheap in Hawaii, and they saw the Simpsons’ movie one day for $3 apiece. Our condo was near La’ie, which is owned by the Latter Day Saints and the home of the Polynesian Cultural Center. Everything in the town, including the beach but except for McDonalds, closes on Sunday. The local supermarket doesn’t sell alcohol but does sell caffeine. (We laughed to note that the store in the neighboring town had alcohol prominently displayed in the front of the store—they probably get a lot of their business that way!) We also chuckled when we saw that the two movies playing in the La’ie movie theater were the Simpson’s movie and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”! What’s up with that? Maybe the movie theater is owned by the 5% non-LDS family and just can’t resist the irony.

At any rate, our time on the North Shore was immensely relaxing and enjoyed by all. Nicholas loved to sit in the sand, Kieran very bravely ventured out into the ocean (last year he was frightened by the waves), and Chris tried snorkeling for the first time.

Kieran began a new ritual while we were in Hawaii: every evening before going to bed, he would put on a “play,” and we were recruited to act in it. Most evenings in Hawaii it was “Lilo and Stitch,” with him playing the part of Stitch, Elvis impression and all, and Nicholas being Lilo. Nicholas was quite amused by the whole thing and actually seemed to take part, in his own way. No doubt Kieran has picked up this new ritual from years of watching Chris create his own little plays. Our boys do love theatrics.

One of the highlights of the week was going to our “Turtle Beach” and seeing lots of giant sea turtles. Nicholas was bemused. One of his favorite past times was standing on the lanai, pointing out to the beach, and saying “Eee! Eee!” At first we thought he was saying “tree,” but then we concluded it must have been “beach.” Who knows?!

Lovely La’ie beach was one of our favorites…on one side, it’s called “Pounders,” because the waves pound you into the sand. If you walk a ways down the beach, you discover a wonderful little protected stretch called “Bathtub Beach,” which was perfect for the little ones.

The day before we left, as I was floating around on a boogie board, I realized that I felt truly relaxed. I do not find it easy to relax, so this was luxury for me. Next time I am determined to stay an additional week after I’m done with work. Four days was not long enough.

We flew out of Honolulu on the red eye, at 10:50 p.m., so we left the north shore in the afternoon and experienced culture shock when we hit Honolulu traffic again. We had our final Hawaiian meal at a Japanese buffet restaurant—not gourmet food but our kids do love buffets! Right before the plane took off around 11 p.m. to return to PDX, Chris finally finished Harry Potter.

Dinner at Halei'wa Joe's on the North Shore

One of our many shave ice tastings, at Aoki's in Halei'wa

Nicholas' favorite viewpoint, on the lanai

Trying out the swimming pool--colder than the ocean!

Boogie boarding at Pounders

More shave ice! This time, Nicholas slept through and missed out!

View from our lanai

Our last night, having our Ahi dinner on the lanai

Nicholas loves broccoli!

Last day, on our Punalu'u Beach, making friends

Our little hula girl! (Doesn't he make an adorable girl?)