Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Special Week of Birthdays

Between April 8 and 15, our family celebrates the birthdays of four very special people.


My dad turned 70 last week on April 8. These are some of the things I love about my dad:

His giving spirit and belief in social justice--after earning his M.S. and teaching math for a number of years, he went back to school to get his Master's in Social Work, and until he retired he worked for Portland Public Schools as a social worker and child development specialist. For many years, he worked in the inner city in predominantly black schools and made home visits to some very disadvantaged families. As an adolescent, I wanted to teach emotionally disturbed kids and follow in my dad's footsteps, working with needy kids. When I got to college, I realized that I didn't have it in me to do that. But my dad did, and I will always admire that about him.

His strong sense of moral values and integrity--I was taught to be honest and truthful, and my parents believed in being strong role models for their children. For example, my parents would NEVER have fudged any of our ages to get us in for a less-expensive admission fee to any venue. It conflicted with their values and their sense of right and wrong.

His thriftiness--We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so we were raised in a spirit of thrift and efficiency. I never felt deprived in any way; however, we rarely ate out at restaurants or spent money on travel or luxuries. My parents found ways to give us full childhoods without investing in material goods or services. Vacations were road trips where we camped or stayed with friends or relatives along the way. One of the best road trips was when I was 16, and we drove cross-country for a 6-week trip, with camping gear, clothes, and food for our family of 5 packed into the trunk of our car. My parents are comfortable in their retirement because of all those years of thrift.

His resourcefulness--Never one to hire help unless absolutely necessary, my dad will find a way to fix anything that is broken. When we moved into the house my parents currently occupy (I was 13), my dad built me a beautiful and very hip loft bed/dresser/desk combination in my incredibly small closet of a bedroom. Until that time, he had never even built a drawer!! Years later, he would build their wonderful beach house in Nedonna Beach, after finding a builder who would work side by side with him to do the initial framing work. Dad never shies away from anything he has not done before. He has an amazing mechanical and resourceful mind.

His love for travel and adventure--My dad hitchhiked through Europe after graduating from college. He visited Russia in the early 60s (something not many Americans did). He came back to marry my mom and then they went to live and work in Germany, where I was conceived. I guess travel was in my blood. In 1986, my parents saw my sister and me off at the airport, within a week, and gave us each their blessing to spend the year in China and Japan. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been.

His sensitivity and love for his family--When I was growing up, my dad was a great model for us of a sensitive, loving, and compassionate man. I'm sure that his modeling contributed to the fact that Nadine and I both married sensitive, loving, and compassionate men ourselves. My parents gave us the belief that, even though it's not always easy, marriage can enrich your life and fill your heart with love. He continues that modeling through the generations by showing his grandsons how much he loves them.

Kieran with his grandpa

Fix-it Grandpa

Nicholas absolutely ADORES his grandpa!


Kieran turned 5 on April 9, and he continues to entertain us daily with his quirky personality, creativity, and spunk. For example, this morning he went to his 5-year-old checkup at the pediatrician in Harry Potter costume. He has his first "crush" on a girl in his preschool class (doesn't 4 or 5 seem too young to have a CRUSH???), and he has created a "love machine" so that she will fall in love with him. He's written her love letters and has been caught staring into space and muttering "she's beautiful..." Apparently he declared his feelings for her and she told him that she already has a boyfriend, which prompted him to feel jealous and invent his love machine.

A few weeks ago, Kieran and I stopped by one of our favorite children's resale shops, Hoot-n-Annie's, and Kieran spied a t-shirt hanging up behind the counter with a big, bloodshot eyeball front and center. One of the co-owners, Michelle, custom appliques t-shirts with cute, creative designs. Last winter I had her make a wonderful t-shirt for our vacuum-obsessed nephew Ryan with, you guessed it, a vacuum on it. (Can't buy those off the rack!!) This particular eyeball shirt had been special ordered and was waiting to be picked up, much to Kieran's dismay. On the way to the store, he had told me that he wanted to see "Sesame Street Live," and I proposed that he ask for tickets for his birthday. He agreed...until he saw the eyeball shirt. That was all he wanted. I showed him all the other shirts in stock with what I thought were much cuter designs...but no, all he wanted was the eyeball shirt.
He was absolutely thrilled--and not one bit surprised--when he opened up his very own eyeball shirt on the morning of his birthday. Apparently, it was quite a hit at preschool as well, so he knows what's popular amongst the preschool set much better than I do. Hands down, it's now his favorite item of clothing. He thinks it makes him look like Mike Wazowski.

With one of his teachers at school, receiving his "birthday book"

Celebrating his big day

(Saint) Annette

My parents went to Pacific Lutheran College (as it was known back then) with Annette and her husband Neal, but I didn't get to know them well until after they returned from Africa and Asia in the early 90s. They have since become close friends of ours, as well as my parents.

Annette is one of the most generous, giving, and genuinely altruistic human beings I have ever met. Not only is she caring and nurturing, but she is also incredibly well connected. I love to tease her about the fact that everywhere she goes, she meets someone she knows. It is amazing. I think it must be her positive magnetism that draws people to her.

As the photo above says, Annette was the first person at Mike's side when I was having an emergency c-section for the birth of Chris. Throughout the biggest crisis of our lives, Annette was our own personal parish nurse and friend, and we will always be grateful for her tender loving care. She has provided the same level of caring and loving dedication to many members of our community when they have gone through crises. In recent weeks, Annette's been caring for a woman at our church who is suffering from a very painful cancer in her mouth.

In recent months, she and Neal have regularly cared for Nicholas so Mike can get some writing done in the morning, which has been tremendously helpful to him. Nicholas can say two people's names clearly at this point, and one of them is "Annette." He has developed a very special relationship with both of them. Our family has christened her "Saint Annette," because of her giving and loving spirit.

Neal and Annette

Olga/Mum/Grandma England

I never join in on mother-in-law jokes, because I'm very lucky to have the mother-in-law I do. We haven't seen her as often lately because of some health concerns, which has been unfortunate for all of us, but we're hoping that will change and she'll be back to her jetsetting ways soon. Olga was born to Russian parents in Hong Kong and raised in Panama, where she met Mike's dad (a diplomat in Panama) and married him, and they lived all over the world during his working years.

Mike and his siblings have all sorts of funny stories about their childhood that get repeated frequently...many of them about their mum. She has a wonderful ability to laugh at herself, thank goodness! She too raised her children with a love for travel and adventure--proven by the fact that two of her three children live in Australia and the U.S. and married "foreigners."

Olga is incredibly creative and a gifted craftswoman. She has made all of us beautiful gifts out of paper, yarn, beads, and other materials. She's a talented knitter, quilter, seamstress, and beader. She shares my dad's love for a good deal, and they actually went dumpster diving together at Grand Central Bakery once for day-old bread!

Sadly I knew Mike's dad for only a few years before he died suddenly soon after we were married, so Olga was widowed at a shockingly young age (in her 50s). What is truly inspiring is how she has transformed herself into an independently spirited and adventurous woman. When she visits Portland, she loves to take the bus or walk all over town on her own and visit all of her favorite haunts. She has traveled extensively in recent years with friends and regularly visits her sons in New York and Australia, and Oregon.

I feel very lucky indeed to have an interesting, book-loving, creative, and loving mother-in-law. I would NEVER tell a mother-in-law joke, unless it reflected positively on my mother-in-law!

Mike and his mum on our recent trip to Florida

Nicholas, me, and "Grandma England"

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