Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finally--My Book Addiction Pays Off!

Researchers in Toronto have concluded that reading fiction leads to stronger people skills. They found that people who read fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than those who read nonfiction. They believe that fiction might act as a simulator...when people read about fictional characters solving problems or having adventures, they might be better able to face those issues in real life. Read more about the research here.
I've been a book lover since I was a child, and I didn't require much convincing for an admired Advanced Composition professor to get me to change my major from education to English. I realize how lucky I am to be one of the few English majors out there in the world to actually use my degree and education in my work. I get to read and write all day long, although very little of it is fiction!

I am one of those people who will read the back of the cereal box if that's all that is in front of me. At times, I do think that my reading addiction keeps me from enjoying real life instead. But I can't help it. I know that there are far more worse addictions to have.

And in tribute of my obsession and this recent research about the benefits of novels, here are a few of my favorite book-oriented places and some good book quotes.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." —Marcus Tullius Cicero

"Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance."— Lyndon Baines Johnson

"For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die." — Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)

"Read me a book and I'll be entertained for a day, teach me to read and I'll have a nervous breakdown when I realize I can't read every book I see." — Drew Goodman

Best Hotel for Book Lovers
The Sylvia Beach Hotel is a wonderfully quaint and eclectic hotel, with each room designed in honor of a different author. It's our favorite couples' getaway. Favorite rooms are Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. One day we will splurge and stay in one of the top-notch, corner suites (Colette, Agatha Christie, or Mark Twain). For now we content ourselves with the midprice rooms, all with views of the ocean and en suite bathrooms. No phones, no televisions, an oceanview library on the 3rd floor with comfy chairs and that serves hot spiced wine at 10 p.m. and coffee and tea at all other times, an restaurant that prepares exquisite and affordable seven-course meals, and time to read and relax. Indescribably wonderful! If you haven't yet discovered the Sylvia Beach Hotel, I highly encourage you to check it out! (Not only is it quite a romantic spot, but they also have an insanely inexpensive dorm room, for singles or anyone who is wanting a cheap, great place to stay!)

Mike outside the hotel on our last visit--too long ago!

Reading in a comfy chair in the library--pregnant with Nicholas!

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey)

"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. "—Mark Twain

"I have always imagined that paradise will be some kind of library." — Jorge Luis Borges

"She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." — Louisa May Alcott

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" — Henry Ward Beecher

"A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe." — Madeleine L'Engle

"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." — Lemony Snicket

Best Bookstores in Portland

When it comes to brick-and-mortar bookstores, I have many favorites, but two are at the top of the list. We are very lucky to be living within walking distance of one of the best bookstores in Portland, Annie Bloom's in Multnomah Village. Then of course there's Portland's great institution, Powell's. I never get enough time in either of these stores!

Inside venerable Powell's Bookstore

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life." — Walt Disney

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive." — James Baldwin

"A house without books is like a room without windows." — Heinrich Mann

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library." — Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. " — Paul Sweeney

"Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I'll have a long beard by the time I read them." — Arnold Lobel

"In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you." — Unknown

"You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help?" — Mark Twain

The Best County Library System in the Country

(The Multnomah County Library system has the highest circulation of any library in the United States, and Central Library is the oldest library west of the Mississippi.) The only way I can afford my book habit is to use the library HEAVILY and stock up on paperbacks at our local school's annual used book sale. I rarely buy books for myself, but instead for others. I have a great system for the library--I put the books on hold online, and Mike and the kids are my free delivery service! Here's a shot of the lobby and stairwell of our beautiful neighborhood Hillsdale Library:

"What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it." -- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

"A book is a garden you can carry in your pocket" — Arabian Proverb

"One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures. " — George W. Bush (couldn't resist adding this one!)

"Take no heed of her.... She reads a lot of books." — Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair)

"Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book." — Jane Smiley

""The library is inhabited by spirits that come out of the pages at night." " — Isabel Allende

"The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books." — Katherine Mansfield

"All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. ... But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not." — Nick Hornby

"I was with book, as a woman is with child." — C. S. Lewis

"The world was hers for the reading." — Betty Smith

"Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for." — Alice Walker

Best Web Sites for Voracious Readers

And finally, I have two wonderful web sites that are great sources of book ideas and books themselves: and If you want to know more about how these sites work, read this post.

"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." — Phillip Pullman

"Only bad books have good endings. If a book is any good, it's ending is always bad - because you don't want the book to end." — Pseudonymous Bosch

"Wear the old coat and buy the new book." — Austin Phelps

"I can think of few better ways to introduce a child to books than to let her stack them, upend them, rearrange them, and get her fingerprints all over them." — Anne Fadiman

I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” — Anna Quindlen

I thought it fitting to end with this quote, because Mike and I--both English majors--have by nature and habit instilled the love of books and reading into all three of our boys. We started reading to them as babies, and I had to laugh when Chris was in kindergarten and all of the parents were admonished to read to their children for 30 minutes a day.

Many of my complaints about clutter and chaos in our household relate to the large number of books we have, both ones we all own and ones we get from the library. I'm forever weeding out our books and posting them on paperbackswap or donating the more well-used ones to Goodwill (much to my children's dismay)...but they multiply quickly! But I do know that I could have far worse problems than too many books!

Go forth and read (and improve your people skills)!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Enchanting Forest

Last Monday I took a "play day" from work, and we went to a family favorite, the Enchanted Forest, near Salem, Oregon. Enchanted Forest officially opened in 1971, the brainchild of one man and his wife (who are still involved in its operation), and I remember visiting it with childhood friends who lived in Salem. We've been going there for several years now, and I've been wanting to share it with my sister Nadine and her family. Finally, we were able to engineer a day trip there together. My mom came along, too--she had never been to the park either. I believe that she was surprised to discover how much she enjoyed it!

It's a big forested property full of fairy tale adventures, a mock English village and western town, kiddie rides, and a few grown-up ones too. Every summer they have a comedy/musical play, presented three times a day in the theater. They are always very broadly silly and fun, and our kids love them!

We had a great time sharing the Enchanted Forest with Nadine, David, and the boys. It was also Nicholas' first visit there--the last time we went, I was pregnant with him! He too had a wonderful time. Chris enjoyed the thrill rides, but also enjoyed the younger attractions as well.

First arriving in the park and touring through
the fairy tale and nursery rhyme area--
with Humpty Dumpty and Hansel & Gretel's house

Going down the fun slide that comes out of
"The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe"--
We had to literally drag Nicholas away from this!

The cousins arrive! (we drove separately)
Kieran and Chris loved showing them around!

Posing in the Wicked Witch's mouth!
(which is a door into her house,
out of which comes another slide)

Posing in an old wagon in the Western Town
Kieran and Daniel in the bumper boats--
Nicholas was desperate to go on them but was too small

On the kiddie train, the one ride Nicholas COULD go on...

Our nephews on the Frog Hopper!

Now it's Kieran's turn--
he was brave to go on it all by himself!

Photos of the English Village, which has audioanimatronic
English figures shouting to each other across the street
over your heads...

Nicholas loved this little chair he discovered in Pinocchio's play house!

This is a stock photo of the log ride...
I dragged my mom on this because she'd never been on a log flume.
I LOVE these types of rides!!!

Until next year, Enchanted Forest! :)

Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican

Okay, so you know my political stripes. Bear with me for a moment.

Know anyone who is still on the fence, or who is planning to vote for McCain because he's "genuine," "his own man," or a "strong individual"? Or they're confident he'll be different than W?

It continues to baffle me that so many people out there are undecided voters. How can they be undecided between McCain and Obama? If you vote on the issues, there is NO QUESTION. How can people not delineate the difference between the two candidates? I'm convinced that anyone who has not yet made up his or her mind votes purely on personality and who they would rather share a beer with. Or they don't give a flying f__k about the issues (sorry, Mom, Dad, and Chris!). One such acquaintance of mine (a coworker) said that he's liberal on the issues but conservative on economics, so he votes Republican and "holds his breath that they don't destroy the Supreme Court." Uh....hello? Where have you been during the past 8 years???

If you need ammunition with McCain-leaning friends, check out this great blog post, "Johnny Doesn't Know," which outlines a number of murky areas for McCain. Similar to when Ellen asked McCain how he feels about gay marriage, when he's in the hot seat on a liberal issue, he really stumbles. Believe it or not, he actually appears to be dumber than Bush at times. He doesn't know whether condoms prevent the spread of AIDS? The difference between Somalia and Sudan, or Sunnis and Shiites? How can people think McCain would be stronger on Iraq when he doesn't even know how many troops are there??? Or that Iraq doesn't share a border with Pakistan?

And if your friends think that McCain will be anything less than George Bush the III, check out these chummy photos of McCain with his best buddy. I can barely bear to post them on my blog!!!

A vote for McCain is a vote for four more years of Bush. Off my soapbox for this evening...

The Wind Knocked Out of Me

I was just checking my regular blogs and learned of another horrible loss this week. I follow a writer at, Vicki Forman, who writes a beautiful column called "Special Needs Mama." Vicki had premature twins nearly 8 years ago, a boy and a girl. The girl died soon after the birth, and her son Evan survived. He had quite a few disabilities--he was blind and nonverbal, along with many other issues--and Vicki wrote eloquently and honestly about the challenges of raising a disabled child. She had an essay in a wonderful book I recently read, Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.

Her beautiful son, Evan, just died yesterday, less than a week short of his 8th birthday. I am just stunned.

Because of our association with the NICU, we have known many parents who have tragically lost their beloved children. Starting with Chloe, who was a 25-weeker in the NICU who died after we began getting to know her parents, and Jacob, Parker, Olivia, Collin, Sadie, Ashleigh, and many others who we never got to meet but have had our lives enriched by getting to know their parents.

Then, in November 2001, our dear friends lost their beautiful, 4-1/2-year-old little boy, Zacary, who had a heart defect. Witnessing their deep-seated grief and anguish over his death changed my life. Watching all of these wonderful parents grieve for and honor their children for years after their deaths has inspired me. It has deeply affected Chris, too, who knows that he was very close to dying himself. The loss of Zacary, his little buddy, continues to affect him to this day. Whenever we mention Zacary, it brings tears to Chris' eyes. He was only 5-1/2 when Zac died.

Zacary Coy Bentley

I only have a fraction of understanding of what Vicki and her husband (and their older daughter) must be going through at this time, but my heart goes out to them, and all parents whose babies and children die too early.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I just discovered another addictive web site: Wordle. It could be a very dangerous place for word lovers!!!

You can type in any text you like, and it will jumble the words up and make it look pretty. Then if you click "randomize," it shows you the text in a different look. Take a look:

Here's another one:

And one more:

Have fun!

Randy Pausch Dies at Age 47

Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who became famous when he developed cancer and delivered what he called his "last lecture." He died today, at the age of 47.

He was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in September 2006. The last lecture he gave at Carnegie Mellon in September 2007 attracted international attention and was viewed by millions on the internet. He also published a book expanding on the lecture (which is at the top of the nonfiction bestseller lists). (I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list...)

In the lecture, he told his students how important it is to live each day fully, and he celebrated the fact that he had lived the life he had always dreamed of instead of concentrating on his impending death. It's interesting that Professor Pausch died the same week as my coworker Kristi, because she too had that attitude throughout her cancer journey. I admire people like Professor Rausch and Kristi, and I suspect that if I were dying from cancer, I would not be that stoic or brave...especially if I were leaving children behind, as both of those two have done.

"I don't know how to not have fun," Pausch said in the lecture. "I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there's no other way to play it."

In a statement Friday, his wife thanked those who sent messages of support and said her husband was proud that his lecture and book "inspired parents to revisit their priorities, particularly their relationships with their children."

If you want to read more about Randy Pausch, go to Carnegie Mellon's web site.

Kristen Schaal Does It Again

I have to give a "shout out" (as my Canadian friend says) to my friends Catherine and Brad, who first introduced me to comedian Kristen Schaal and "The Flight of the Conchords." Thanks, you two!

Because I'm in the dark ages with no cable and no access to "The Daily Show" (which I'm sure I would watch daily if I had cable), I'm a bit behind the times. Thank goodness for the internet! (and Blockbuster Online, so I can watch old episodes of the Conchords...)

In her latest commentary on "The Daily Show," Kristen Schaal skewers the sexist label, "cougar," which describes older women who end up with younger men. It's always been socially acceptable for much-older men to end up with much-younger women, so what's the big deal with the reverse? She is hilarious!

While I was searching "The Daily Show" web site, I found this older video of Schaal talking about the Chinese Olympic mascots (below). She manages to be funny and insightful while taking on China's human rights policies and views toward women and girls.

Some of the comments on the site accuse Schaal and "The Daily Show" of slandering China in this clip. I remember when I was the only foreigner in a jam-packed bus in Shanghai in 1986--we were in a horrible traffic jam caused by one of the first student uprisings in the late '80s. A Chinese student sitting next to me took me under his wing and tried to convince me that women in China had much better status in society than they did in Japan (I had told him I was living in Japan). In some ways, that might be are probably more likely to find Chinese women working side by side with men in equal or close-to-equal roles than you would in Japan. However, you wouldn't find female infanticide or abandonment in Japan. (Incidentally, the student also fed me some propaganda line about the protests being caused by some offense some American students had done to the Chinese. Clearly, that was what the media was saying.)

At any rate, this clip is bittersweet, but very clever.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Becoming an Authentic Parent

My dad subscribes to a weekly reflection from the Henri Nouwen Society, and he forwarded the piece below. It arrived on a perfect day: Mike and I were feeling that we were failing in raising children who take personal responsibility and clean up after themselves. We felt that we were drowning in clutter and chaos.

It's helpful to read this message from someone who has gained perspective from raising children and seeing them out the door. I know that someday I will long for these days of clutter, chaos, and noise and desperately miss my children underfoot.

Another thing directing me back to PERSPECTIVE is the fact that a coworker of mine in Boise died earlier this week. She was 49 and died of a very aggressive cancer recurrence. She left behind two sons in their 20s who are now left bereft without her company. She was an amazing, positive, warm person, and she will truly be missed. Her death reminded me how important it is to cherish each moment of my blessed life.

On the Journey to Becoming an Authentic Parent

At some point early on in our journey of raising four children, a friend gave Stephanie and me a sign, which ended up on our fridge door. It read, "Children Grow Up to Be the Love They Have Known." I used to read that sign often, but I did not really understand what it was calling me to until the children were all grown up!

While the kids were at home, it was a daily challenge to keep up with the physical and emotional demands of parenting, and I often got lost in the practicalities of family life and trying to do the right thing. So often, doing the right thing from my perspective was doing the wrong thing from my kids' perspective! We read parenting books, tried to do things differently from our parents, made conscious choices to do this or not buy that, but nonetheless there were the typical family arguments, breakages, hurts and pains.

Now that our children are no longer at home and are finding their own way in the world, I realize that all the details that seemed so important at the time, that caused worry and dissension, are finally not so important. What the kids remember most, what shaped their lives most profoundly, were the family moments when they felt loved and safe and the apples of our eyes. Now when we play the game "Remember when . . . ," the things the kids talk about are the small but intimate times when we were a family, the times they knew they were loved.

- JOE VORSTERMANS is a husband and father of four adult children, director of Intercordia Canada, a university-level, engaged-learning program inspired by L'Arche (a faith community for disabled adults)

Thanks, Joe, for reminding me yet again that the memories we create with our kids and the love we share are far more important than how clean our house is, or how many educational enrichment activities they have, or whether others think our children are well behaved enough.

Botox for Bridesmaids

After I returned from Japan and was searching for a meaningful work opportunity, I temped. My nightmare temp job was working for a small bridal firm owned by a married couple from hell. My job was to type their annual report, which outlined the firm's strategy to sell hordes of bridal accessories on top of the bridal gowns (because that's where they make their real money). The year was 1990, the era of disgustingly ruffly, frilly bridal gowns, floral bridesmaid dresses, and teal and pink, and I was also preparing for my own wedding. We opted to go simple: I wore a simple tea-length dress and a hat; we had three attendants each; and we saved $ in every area we could. This was necessary because we stubbornly insisted on paying for our own wedding. I was 25, and Mike was 27, and I figured we had been on our own long enough to be independent.

I've always had a hard time understanding how people can spend thousands of dollars on weddings. The ritual, vows, and personal nature of the ceremony and reception are so much more important than couture gowns to be worn only one day, an enormous wedding party, and extravagant feasts. With that said, I love attending weddings. But it's probably a good thing that I don't live in southern California or the east coast, where I suspect the expectations for big-money weddings are higher. I have little patience for gratuitious spending.

And now, the New York Times reports that botox and plastic surgery are the latest things for brides--some brides are even encouraging or requiring their wedding parties, mothers, and mothers-in-law to get nipped and tucked.

I have strong opinions about cosmetic surgery. Why take a risk by going under the knife purely to look younger or more "beautiful"? I have great respect for plastic surgeons, having been born with a cleft lip and palate, and one of my favorite charities is The Smile Train, which raises money to perform plastic surgery on children in developing countries with cleft lips and palates.

But how can people spend gobs of money on temporarily looking younger...when so many are in need?

The New York Times article mentions one bride who had a falling out with her bridesmaid who refused to get a spray tan in preparation for her wedding. It's very hard to imagine any of my own friends requiring such a thing...and I'm glad I don't know any people like that! I pity such shallowness.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oompa Loompa, Doodly Doo...

I blogged last week about New Moon Productions' musical version of Willy Wonka, which turned out to be great fun. They are performing the adult version of the show every night through Sunday, July 27. We went to see the show with our friend Shelia and her kids, who were visiting from Idaho last week, and it was a great hit. Even Nicholas is wandering around the house now singing "Oompa Loompa!"

Kieran with his buddy Myla, holding up his "golden ticket"
(which he and Mike had created and wrapped in a chocolate bar for the show)

The most enthusiastic members of the audience!

Posing with Willy Wonka after the show
(Chris is wearing his hat)

We grew up attending free concerts and plays in the glorious Washington Park Amphitheater. When I became older, they stopped doing free events and instead hosted rock concerts. That has since stopped, I'm guessing because of complaints from the neighborhood association. Now the events are generally more low key and not as invasive to the surrounding neighborhood.

I talked to my sister Nadine after the play, and she expressed interest in attending when she and her family passed through Portland on the weekend. She asked if we would like to see it again, and we thought, "Why not?" We can't resist free or cheap family fun events, especially in the beautiful Oregon summer (which goes from July to September!). So we went yet again on Sunday evening, this time with Nadine and David and their family, and my parents.

This time we bought six Hershey bars and Kieran and Mike planted a "golden ticket" in each one of them, for each of the six boys. My mom was amazed that Nicholas was able to eat the whole chocolate bar. Not me! Nicholas must have gotten the theater gene, as well, for he very attentively and quietly sat through both shows. The kids got to sit down in the front, and Kieran loved getting all the actors to sign his program after the show!

Daniel and Ryan posing with Chris in the roses after the show

The cousins, minus Nicholas, who we couldn't drag
away from the water fountain...

God Bless Iran

A coworker just sent this very moving video (below) to me. It brought tears to my eyes.

My sister's best friend from medical school, Shadan, is from Iran, as is her husband, Ali. In fact, her husband escaped during the revolution and can never return because of his political activities. They are amazing people. I met Shadan's mom at their medical school graduation, and at the time she and her husband were still living in Iran (they've since emigrated to the U.S.). It was hard to imagine how she could hide her vivacious, dynamic personality and stylish, colorful clothing underneath the chador she was forced to wear in public. Shadan's parents sent their daughters to the U.S. for their education, knowing that they would have more freedom here.

They are the face of Iran for me. I'm again reminded of that quote by the late George Carlin I love (and which I included a few months ago in a blog post, so forgive me!):

"Another plan I have is 'World Peace through Formal Introductions.' The idea is that everyone in the world would be required to meet everyone else in the world, formally, at least once. You'd have to look the person in the eye, shake hands, repeat their name, and try to remember one outstanding physical characteristic. My theory is, if you knew everyone in the world personally, you'd be less inclined to fight them in a war: 'Who??? The Malaysians??? Are you kidding??? I know those people!!!'"

If everyone had a Shadan and Ali (and their family) in their lives, we would all be saying "Who? The Iranians??? Are you kidding??? I know those people!!!" Even though they personally haven't lived in Iran in years, that country (and every other country the U.S. is thinking of attacking...) is filled with people just like them.

If you have not yet read the books Persepolis and Persepolis 2 (or seen the movie), I highly recommend them! Don't be put off by the comic book format--they are beautiful books.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Down-Home Fourth of July in Rockaway, Oregon

The best thing about spending the Fourth of July in Rockaway Beach is attending the very hokey, hometown parade. We sat with our long-time family friends, the Barrett clan (who built a house in Nedonna Beach long before my parents did), and enjoyed watching the rinky dinky floats and family representation. A big part of the tradition is throwing candy to the kids!

Nicholas' favorite part of the parade, hands down, was the many fire trucks!!!

Even though you can't tell that by this photo!!

"Fire truck!!" he says...

Watching with Grandma and Grandpa

Watching with Bruce, Sue, Amy, et al.

A wider-angle photo of the group

I had to capture this one...the Beavers truck, and the driver hanging the stuffed duck out the window...

Only in Oregon...

This guy was one of the most-popular features of the parade--on stilt-jumping shoes!

Here was a big whale float, complete with squirting spout (which squirted upon applause)

Check out this cute little pony!

I thought this car was adorable!

Yet another Beaver-themed truck!

After the parade (the latter of which we were drenched in a torrential Oregon summertime downpour), we returned to the house and Nicholas and I had a nice long nap. Mike took the older boys back into town, and Kieran participated in races and a treasure hunt, during which he found $2, more to add to his Chipmunk fund:

That evening we joined some friends at their house in Manzanita, where we hung out, had dinner, roasted marshmallows, and watched fireworks. Fun!
Here is Kieran with his very spirited face:

Mike enjoyed his first Fourth of July as a true American! :)