Monday, July 30, 2007

Aloha Oe!

Our time in Hawaii is drawing to a close, and I am definitely feeling some ambivalence about returning to the mainland. That is probably more due to the fact that we have left busy Honolulu behind and I'm now on a few days of vacation!

We spent a week in Honolulu. The kids and Mike hung out at the hotel or explored the city during the day while I went into the office. The major purpose of my visit was to hire a new group leader for our Honolulu group. I had a few interviews lined up, but I wasn't feeling very optimistic because our best candidate withdrew a few days before we left for Hawaii. Our HR rep came as well (from Seattle) to assist with interviews. We had one candidate we liked and called back for a second, panel interview...but the rest of the interviews were disappointing. One who wouldn't stop talking, one who was painfully shy and would hardly talk at all, and one who didn't show up and didn't make any attempt to contact us to explain! The second interview was disappointing as well, so by Friday I was feeling that the trip was fruitless...when I got an e-mail from our top candidate, who had accepted another position but was having second thoughts. I met her for lunch, with my outgoing group leader and our office manager, and she is a great candidate! So now I'm crossing my fingers that our continuing conversations will be successful. I was really glad that I was still here on Friday to meet with her.

Mike and the boys enjoyed the pools, beach, and wildlife at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and they also visited the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Children's Discovery Museum. In the evenings, we had some nice dinners out--at Genki Sushi (revolving sushi bar), Singha Thai, the Shorebird, and the good ol' Ala Moana Hotel food court.

I'll post some more photos and information about the second part of our trip later on...but here are some photos from the first week:

Mike and Nicholas in the pool

Nicholas in the Children's Discovery Museum

Me & Kieran at Singha Thai (Chris was the photographer)

Before dinner at the Shore Bird

Nicholas eating his cheerios




On the beach after dinner

With Lisa (my HR friend) on the beach, with Diamond Head in the background




Sunday, July 29, 2007

Long Live Harry Potter

Our own little Harry Potter lookalike

As promised, Mike and Chris attended the big party at our local bookstore, Annie Bloom’s. I must confess that we have purchased previous editions from barnesandnoble.com, because we love the early-morning delivery. But because of our flight the next morning to Hawaii, and also because it’s the very last Harry Potter, Mike decided to brave the crowds and take Chris to one of the many parties around town. Annie Bloom’s had presold 900 copies—quite an amazing number for a small independent. Mike estimates that there were 500 people at the party, many of whom they knew (in the parking lot of John’s Market, for those of you who know that 500 people wouldn’t fit in dear Annie Bloom’s). Chris was able to be in the costume parade, and Mike was the lucky winner of a rare t-shirt: “Independent Muggles for Harry Potter!” (which Chris now owns)...

Mike and I both were able to do a bit of reading on the airplane, swapping back and forth. One of my coworkers from Seattle who came to Honolulu to help out with interviews finished the book on Saturday, so she lent us her copy. It wasn’t until Monday night, though, that we both finished it. I must be a slow reader, because we were in exactly the same place when the kids went to sleep, and Mike finished a good hour and a half before me. I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. to finish it.

Chris with friend Garen

The verdict from both of us: JK Rowling’s best story yet, and a great way to end the series. It wasn’t perfect (what book is?) and even though at first I thought she had tied up all the ends very neatly, later I realized that there were still a few hanging. The book was immensely satisfying, compelling, and filled with action.

Chris is finally reading the book now. It seems that as the series has progressed, it attracts more adults than kids. He has already commented, 150 pages in, that it’s too sad because so many people die. I think the dark tones of the stories have led him to slightly lose interest. The very first few books were much more geared to children.

If you have never read Harry Potter, I encourage you to dive in. But please start with the first book. You’ll miss so much if you jump in halfway.

Holding the book at last, at 12:15 a.m.!

Friday, July 20, 2007

It Takes a Village: Holden Village 2007

It's taken me awhile to getting around to posting my photos and stories of our week in Holden Village in late June. Here is a link to the photos from the week--oddly enough, mostly of my children! Ah well...

Holden Village is set on the site of a former mining camp. It was donated to the Lutheran church back in the early '60s, and now it's a retreat center and self-contained community. People live there year round, but village capacity hits its peak over the summer months, when people come from all around the world (many from the Lutheran midwest) to visit, learn, and relax.

Part of the adventure of Holden is getting there...for us, it involves a 6-hour road trip to Lake Chelan, an overnight stay in Chelan, getting up early in the morning to catch the boat uplake, taking a 2-hour boat trip halfway up the lake, and then getting on schoolbuses to ride up a rocky, dusty mountain road full of amazing switchbacks up into the Cascade wilderness.

Once there, you are assigned a room in one of the lodges. Families stay in one or two rooms, with bathrooms down the hall. We were very lucky this year to score two adjoining rooms, while most of the families were crammed into one room. I'm guessing it's because Mike's mum was planning to come with us, but she had to pull out for health reasons. Meals, too, are done family style. The food is wonderful--low on the food chain, so lots of vegetarian meals (and always vegetarian and vegan options, if there is any meat or dairy in the standard meal). The food has always been excellent, but it was especially good this year. The current directors used to run a restaurant. I bought a food grinder so we could mix up meals for Nicholas, and he loved the food!

The village is full of things to do: people come from all over the place to teach classes, and there are lots of arts and crafts options too. The children have programs in the weekday mornings, leaving the parents free to attend classes or go on hikes, etc. Last time we went, 2 years ago, it was Kieran who refused to go to "Narnia," as they call it, but this time it was Nicholas. Chris and Kieran had a blast at Narnia, and I just kept Nicholas with me. I told Mike that he could spend each morning writing, so that's what he did--found a spot by the river every morning and sat on a rock.

We went with a huge group from our church--about 50 people. That makes it so much more fun, because everywhere we went, we saw someone we knew. The kids had a great time together, too. I really enjoyed making friends with some people from church who I hadn't spent much time with before, as well as renewing old bonds and hanging out with some truly wonderful people. One 80ish couple from our church came along, and it was so great to spend more time with them. They have known me since I was a little girl, and I love to see them with my own children.

Holden is in a beautiful setting, and many in our group took day-long hikes to lakes or into the mountains. Our longest hike was 1 mile each way! When the children are older, maybe I'll tackle one of those longer hikes. There's too much to do in the village, so I don't like to leave too much. I enjoy sitting on the covered bridge that sits over the river...what a peaceful place to listen to the gushing water running over the rocks.

My favorite things to do at Holden are music and crafts. I did a batik scarf, a tye-dyed t-shirt, and a inkle loom woven strap for my mandolin. Many people in our group did beautiful large weavings...Holden has many looms that you can check out during your stay. Perhaps next time I will tackle a larger project. Kieran and Chris did the tye-dye with me, and I must say our shirts came out nicely. Maybe one of these days I'll take a photo of our shirts and post it!

I always look forward to singing in the choir, because it's filled with incredible talent from around the world--people who REALLY know how to sing. Typically the songs are very ambitious, and we run through them very quickly, so it helps a lot to be a good sight reader and not to get intimidated. Choir wasn't as enjoyable for me this time as it often is, because the music director for much of the week was a very traditional choir director and music professor from Luther Seminary, and his style of music wasn't really my cup of tea...very somber and serious. I did really enjoy listening to him coach the choir and provide us guidance; he was an excellent choir director. If we did well, he would say "Bravo!"

One day it was announced that there would be a children's choir. Many of our kids were thrilled at the prospect, especially the very young ones. However, it was not what we imagined. No "This Little Light of Mine" or easy songs. It was serious stuff! The kids really needed to know how to read to follow along, and the music was not very kid-friendly. Sadly, Kieran and his 4-year-old pal Nora had to drop out, because it was just too hard.

My best accomplishment of the week was to learn to play the mandolin. I received a mandolin for my 40th birthday nearly 3 years ago, and I had not really mastered the basics yet. I practiced some in the car on the way up (great advantage of it being a small instrument!), and I plucked away at it on our first day there. A mandolin has eight strings with four notes (like a 12-string guitar, with double strings). They are all steel and sharp! I had to develop new callouses on my fingers. The chords are also very different from guitar chords, and I've been playing the guitar for 32 years! The second day we were there, someone asked at lunch: "Is there a mandolin player in the village?" One of our church party said "Yes--we have one in our group!" and I was volunteered. At first I thought they wanted to BORROW my mandolin, but no, they wanted me to play at vespers! I told them that I was a BEGINNING mandolinist, but I would give it my best shot.

It was the best thing that could have happened, because I was forced to learn those chords and put myself out there! That night they did a wonderful bluegrass vespers, with guitar, banjo, string bass, etc., and I was the mandolin. It was so much fun! My mom said that she could tell I was still getting comfortable with it because I looked so serious and I didn't sing much. (It's hard to multitask when you're learning a new instrument!)

Our children loved Holden--back to the title of this post. It is so freeing to go to a place where you can let them run around without fear of cars. Christopher we gave a longer leash to, and we generally knew where he was but we trusted him for the most part to act responsibly and not leave the boundaries of the village. I think back to when I was 10 years old, and I had so much freedom! Our kids nowadays don't get to experience that amazing freedom, and I think that is sad. As for Kieran, we kept him in sight at all times, but he too was able to run around much more freely than at home. Nicholas was passed around from arm to arm, and he enjoyed Holden as well.

The highlight of Chris' week was the talent show. Last time we were there, they had a talent show, and he was determined to perform this time. In the car, he memorized a song from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," complete with motions and voices. When we arrived, we discovered that they planned the Open Mike for Friday night, after we were scheduled to leave. He pitched a campaign for them to schedule another Open Mike for Wednesday night, and he was successful! He performed his Charlie Brown number without a hitch (I seem to have a family of performers!), and many others in our group performed as well. Chris' pal Beck did a chicken impression, Sophie sang a song from High School Musical with her friends, Dave sang an original song he had written, and I sang and played "I'll Fly Away" with our pastor, Laurie, and Joene. Very fun.

Kieran's favorite things about Holden were the costume closet, which he hit daily. He paraded around the village in dress and wig, calling himself "Azalea" the witch! He also loved the ice cream parlor, which has the cheapest ice cream in the country ($1/scoop). Kieran also "married" a couple of the sweet girls in our church--Quinn and Sophie. He's already been married twice at age 4!

Another highlight was the GBLT Pride Celebration, which also had an open mike, and I was invited to accompany my friend Dave and his sister Susan on the Indigo Girls song "Closer to Fine." WITHOUT REHEARSING! We did okay in the end, and it was fun. Mike read a poem he had written, and we had the most delicious chocolate-mint blonde brownies and lavendar shortbread. The kids had their faces painted with rainbows and drew with sidewalk chalk.

We also enjoyed partaking in the wood-fired sauna and hot tub.

Best of all for me was the friendship and creativity, and watching my children have good, clean fun in a healthy, outdoorsy community. Coming down from the mountaintop was quite a shock after a week...

Everyone Should Be Loved This Much: The Girls, by Lori Lansens

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Beneath the Marble Sky as the best summer read yet. Equally as excellent is the novel I just finished last night, The Girls by Lori Lansens. I was racing to finish it, because it is due back to the library while we are in Hawaii next week.

Lansens is a Canadian writer, and this is her second novel. It's the story of a pair of conjoined twins, Rose and Ruby, who grow up in a rural area in Ontario. Rose, the more intellectual of the women, has decided to write her autobiography. She eventually convinces Ruby, who seems to be more shallow but actually has a wisdom of her own, to write her own perspective as well.

Although Ruby and Rose are abandoned my their teenage birth mother after she gives birth, they are adopted by the nurse at the hospital, who they come to know and love as Aunt Lovey. She is married to a Slovakian immigrant called Uncle Stash. Even though the world mostly treats the girls as outsiders and they have no friends except for one another, they are raised by people who love them completely and unconditionally. I loved the stories of Uncle Stash's immigration to the U.S. and the whole family's traumatic trip to Slovakia when the girls were teenagers. Rose and Ruby write with beauty about growing up on a farm, experiencing puberty and their first crushes, and encountering the world around them.

Lansens deftly presents their totally unique personalities, through their interests as well as their voices. At the same time, they have an overpowering and complicated love for each other. It was one of the most beautiful books about sisterhood I have ever read.

It is the kind of book that sticks with you for a very long time. I wanted to cry when I reached the ending, and I didn't want to say goodbye to the main characters or to the story.

Read it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Poem Often Attributed to Maya Angelou

I recently saw this lovely poem and thought it was worth sharing. It is attributed to Maya Angelou and has taken on a life of its own on the internet (as these things do). It was actually written by Pamela Redmond Satran and published in Glamour.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ...enough money within her control to move outand rent a place of her own even if she never wantsto or needs to...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ....something perfect to wear if the employer or date of herdreams wants to see her in an hour...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ...a youth she's content to leave behind....

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ....a past juicy enough that she's looking forward toretelling it in her old age....

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE .....a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a blacklace bra...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ....one friend who always makes her laugh... and one who lets her cry...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ....a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ....eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal that will make her guests feel honored...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE....a feeling of control over her destiny...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...how to fall in love without losing herself...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...how to quit a job, break up with a lover, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...when to try harder...and WHEN TO WALK AWAY...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...that she can't change the length of her calves, the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...that her childhood may not have been perfect...but it's over...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...what she would and wouldn't do for love or more...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...how to live alone...even if she doesn't like it...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...whom she can trust,whom she can't, and why she shouldn't take it personally...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...where to go...be it to her best friend's kitchen table...or a charming inn in the woods...when her soul needs soothing...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...what she can and can't accomplish in a day...a month...and a year...

Alternatives to Plastic Bags Are In!

Here's one way to banish plastic bags: create a stylish cloth bag alternative and make it so desirable, people trample others to purchase their own! Oy!

Plastic bags are an out-of-control menace in our society. I have to admit to some socialist tendencies in my admiration of cities and countries who have outlawed plastic bags or associated some sort of fee to them. Apparently, Portland is one city considering such a regulation.

The other day I went to Trader Joe's (which uses paper bags instead of plastic anyway), and I realized on my way there that I had forgotten my bags. (They were sitting on the kitchen table, waiting for me to take them out the door!) Trader Joe's has these really cool new PVC shopping bags ($1.99 each), and I decided to buy a couple of them because our old (cloth) bags were getting pretty grimey looking. You can't begin to imagine my guilt at using new paper bags when we already have a plethora of bags at home.

I'm especially curious to learn more about Japan's apparent plastic bag reduction program, because that is definitely a country that loves packaging!!

I'm sure that nationally, we will do nothing like banning or reducing the number of plastic bags anytime soon. Not as long as we have W in office and industry has so much power.

Great Summer Reading: Eye Contact

I have been on a "good book roll" of late, with the exception of Prep, by Curtis Sittenfield, which I put down and went back to later. For some reason, I was determined to finish it. It wasn't bad, really, but the characters were annoying, pathetic, and shallow, and there wasn't much of a plot.

When I'm reading a great book, I wonder why I waste my time occasionally on books that are not either well written or enjoyable. But back to my book recommendation: Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern.

It's about a 9-year-old autistic boy, Adam, who goes into the woods near the school playground with a female classmate. Later, her body is discovered, along with a traumatized Adam. As the book progresses, Adam's mother and others try to pull the story of what happened from Adam's mind. Along the way, Adam's mother (Cara) has to face difficult choices that she has made along the way, and the way she has treated others. Another prominent character is a boy in a nearby middle school who has unidentified developmental issues of his own.

Many of the characters in the novel are affected by the autism spectrum or other developmental issues. The author's oldest child is autistic, so she has an in-depth understanding of the mother's perspective.

I found this novel to be compelling, well written, and disturbing. Whatever her faults, Cara is a dedicated mom who loves her son intensely, in spite of the hardships associated with raising him. What was most disturbing about this novel was to be reminded of the way children (or adults) treat others who are different in some way.

One of my big fears about middle school for my oldest son is the possibility of bullying. He's already been the victim of some minor bullying in the early grades, but fortunately he attends a school that tries to nip that kind of thing in the bud. I was bullied in junior high and miserable as a result. It's amazing that I emerged from it with my self-esteem intact. In those days, I just endured it until we grew older and they lost interest in me. Now I often wonder where they are in the world and what they are doing, and I imagine that they are very unhappy, unfulfilled people. Do they have regrets for the way they treated me? Or are they continuing to be mean and disrespectful to others?

My greatest challenge is this: to do what I ask other people to do when they get to know my quirky son (to love him for who he is, in spite of his being different or having sometimes-annoying behaviors). I am challenged to look beyond other children's bullying or mean behaviors, accept them for who they are, and forgive them for how they treat others. This indeed is a hard one for me.

You are mean to my son? You don't appreciate him for who he is? Stay out of my way! :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Best Book of the Summer: Beneath a Marble Sky


This is the book I haven't been able to get off my mind since I finished it: Beneath a Marble Sky by John Schors. It's a historical novel about the building of the Taj Mahal. Mike and I were fortunate to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal way back in September 1989, and after having read this book, I wish we'd spent more time there and knew more about its legend at the time.

The book, exquisitely written by the way, tells the story of Princess Jahanara, the daughter of Mumtaz Mahal. She is married off to an abusive husband in a political arranged marriage, but when her mother dies, her father arranges for her to be the court liaison to the principal architect, and she eventually becomes his lover. Jahanara (and her mother and daughter) are feisty, intelligent, strong women. They are respected by the enlightened men around them and abused and dishonored by the others. Jahanara's brother Aurangzeb forcibly takes the throne from her father, and the empire is thrown into uproar. Although much of the story is based on history and legend and the author fictionally expands on what is factually known, Mumtaz Mahal was recorded to be the emperor's favorite wife and she often ventured to battle with him--not your average submissive wife of the period!

I found the story especially interesting because it was a period of Islamic rule in India and before Aurangzeb assumed the throne, it was a relatively peaceful period between Muslims and Hindus.
If you enjoy stories of strong, interesting women in other cultures, you'll enjoy this book. If you have been to India and have been lucky enough to see one of the NEW SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD, you'll get even more out of it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Don't Die, Harry Potter!

What will you be doing in 12 days? If you’re a reader like me, you’ll be devouring the last in the series about the great boy and girl wizards. (Hermione's my favorite!)

The first time I ever heard the words “Harry Potter,” I assumed it was a nerdy fantasy series for kids. The person who told me he was reading them with his kids struck me as the sort who was obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons when he was younger. This was way before Harry hit the big time. I’m not a fantasy/sci-fi sort of person, and in fact, will run screaming the other way. The only sci-fi books I’ve read were written by L’Engle, LeGuin, or Atwood, or involve time travel.

I have to thank my English mother-in-law for introducing me to HP. After my first miscarriage in 1999, I was lying in bed feeling depressed and she brought me the book and convinced me to give it a try. It was just the sort of distraction I needed, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Yes, I know there are better-written books out there, but JK Rowling sure tells a great story with memorable characters. I’m anxiously awaiting the upcoming Movie #5 and Book #7. Could our family's fascination with HP have anything to do with the fact that Chris has countless times been told that he looks like Harry? He even acquired a real scar on his forehead to complete the look!

Our little Harry Potter--circa 2003



My DH is convinced that Harry is going to die. Isn't that uplifting? It reminds me of seeing “The Piano” with him, when he declared at the end of the movie that it would have been better if the protagonist had drowned instead of being rescued when she threw herself overboard. The tragedian in me sees his point, but the overwhelming optimist in me likes a good happy ending.

Today, the NYT published five op-ed perspectives on the ending of HP. Will he die, or won’t he? (Clearly, one of the writers has been channeling my DH.) Will Hermione demolish them all? Will Harry do Letterman?

Because we are flying out to Hawaii on July 21 (work for me), we have already engineered a book purchase plan. Our local bookstore Annie Bloom’s will issue numbered tickets on Friday morning, which will indicate the order of the books being released at midnight. We plan to be there bright and early to pick up a ticket, and Mike and Chris will join the revelers at midnight and pick up our copy. Who will get to read it on the airplane? We might have to take turns!

In the old days, when our family tradition was to read the book slowly, together, before it turned into Mom and Dad staying up and reading at all hours of the night so we could find out what happens...
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