Friday, November 30, 2007

Are You Having Problems Deciding Between a Fake Tree or a Real Tree This Year?

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

What a 4-year-old Is Thankful For

I asked my 4-year-old what he is thankful for on Thanksgiving. This is what he had to say:
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Frank Baum
  • Halloween
  • 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
  • Books
  • Hogwash and Zhei (his two most cherished stuffed animals)
  • My brothers (I might have prompted this one a bit...)

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Tribute to Fortysomething Friendship

"With each true friendship we build more firmly the foundation on which the peace of the whole world rests."
~Mahatma Gandhi

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.

Once you reach your 30s or 40s, a new friendship is a rare gift.

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.

Kieran and his buddy "Nancie B" (as he calls her)

At Nicholas' Post-baptismal Blessing

At dinner on Monday, Nancie and I talked about the choices we have been making about our own friendships. At this point, life is too precious to spend time with people who do not warm our souls or make us laugh.

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!

With our dear friends Catherine and Doug

In September, on a business trip to Boise, I reconnected with a college friend who also was in Japan with me, whom I had not seen for 10 years! Tami and I had a great dinner together, and it was truly like no time had passed at all. I left our evening together committed to seeing her more frequently and staying in touch better.

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!


Then there are our dear friends Neal and Annette, who have been taking Nicholas lately on several weekday mornings, so Mike can actually get a chance to do some writing. This has been a blessed gift for him, and for me too because he's happier when he's able to write! Nicholas has been developing a very special bond with them, and we are so happy they are part of our "village" that's helping us raise our children.

Neal and Annette

These are just a few of the people I've been thinking about lately as I think about our wonderful friends. We are truly blessed to have a wide community of supportive, caring, and fun friends to share our lives. I could blog all day about you! Thank you for blessing us with your presence.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Bondwoman's Narrative

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

Soap in Bed?

No, it's not the title of a new R-rated movie.

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?"

My brother's girlfriend had happened to give me a lovely-smelling herbal soap for my birthday, so on a whim I placed it in the bed one evening. You probably already have guessed the result: yes, it actually works!! I have been free of hip pain all week! One night Kieran walked off with my soap (which was on a bedside table), so I grabbed an old bar of Ivory that had been in our upstairs bathroom for God knows how long. It didn't work. I woke up with hip pain again.

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 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? :)

But if you are suffering from any kind of leg or hip cramps or pain in bed, what possible harm could a little soap do? Give it a try, and tell me if you have any luck!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Family in My Heart

I was one of those people who always knew that I would have children someday. To be honest, I always pictured myself having a son and a daughter. Mike used to tease me about my hypothetical daughter who would hide her issues of Seventeen and Glamour under her mattress and resist any efforts on my part to get her to read Ms.

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:

"Maybe no one would sign up for the family that they've created, but honestly, not all of us would, if given the choice beforehand, choose exactly what we've gotten with our families, either. It's only after your family is in your heart that you can say, 'This, this is what I want. What a surprise.'"

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.